Life with the Avengers ~Reader-Insert~

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7. January

January

Phil C. Bear had not left (Y/N)'s side since Christmas, a furry little bridge between (Y/N) and Clint. The archer watched with interest and slight pride as she toted it with her around the mansion, but the two still danced around each other, neither quite comfortable with making the first move.

"You're acting like a kid asking a girl to dance for the first time," Tony finally told Clint, sick of watching the pair eye each other like two leery cats. "Stop acting like an idiot."

So Clint did.

Natasha was in her room, cleaning her pistols, and did not look up when he entered. Tony had cranked the heat to sweltering temperatures, in deference both to Steve's time in the ice and (Y/N)'s inclination for warm toes without having to wear socks on the hardwood floors, and so Natasha was wearing only shorts and a worn tank top. Clint shifted silently on his feet.

"I want to try again."

Natasha stilled, flicking her eyes up. Clint stood in the middle of the room, perfectly motionless, which told Natasha that he was more nervous than he'd care to admit. Slowly, she put the gun on the desk and turned to face him.

"It won't be easy," she finally said, after a few minutes of letting him sweat. She turned back to her gun, dropping a bit more oil on the barrel. "Even after Christmas. And it will take time."

"I know," he replied with a quiet earnestness that almost had her smiling in approval. "But I have to try, right?"

"You don't have to." She pursed her lips, turning back to her weapon. "But it means something that you think you do. So I'll help you."

She felt him walk up behind her and hover just behind her. Bending low, Clint pressed his forehead into her shoulder, a silent gesture of thanks. Pecking her exposed skin gratefully, he quickly left the room.

It had been days since he'd gone to Natasha for help, to no avail. Knowing that there would be some kind of signal, Clint been scrutinizing his partner's every move for an indication that he was supposed to take over, but the sign never came.

Resigning himself to another day of waiting, Clint stole into Steve's room and picked up a novel at random to occupy himself. He was leaning against his headboard, halfway through the story, when Natasha walked in.

"Come practice with me."

Clint glanced up from his book, eyebrows arched curiously. He flicked his eyes over Natasha's frame, decked out in a slinky lavender dress. He frowned, immediately wary. "Practice what?"

"Dancing."

Clint groaned, slumping in place. She raised one brow sardonically at him, crossing her arms in irritation.

"Am I that unpleasant?"

"No." He narrowed his eyes at her, refusing to be caught in her trap. "But it's been years since I was on a mission that required me to dance. I might not remember how, and then you'll yell at me."

She rolled her eyes and held out a hand entreatingly. "I promise not to yell. Now get up."

Grumbling beneath his breath, he marked his place and set the book on his bedside table. He grudgingly accepted her hand and allowed her to lead him downstairs. When they stopped at the lounge, where Steve and Thor were clearing the last of the furniture out, he dug his heels into the floor.

"We are not doing this here."

Natasha frowned at him. "It has the most space." Looking closely at his pink cheeks, she grinned. "Are you embarrassed?"

"No," he ground out as a smiling Steve grabbed his coat and shoved Thor outside to the patio. Clint tracked their movements longingly. "Why don't you ask Steve to help you?"

She glared at him. "Great plan, Mister Sensitive. Let's ask the super soldier, who only ever wanted to dance with his sweetheart and never got to, to help me practice for my mission."

"Tony?" Clint winced, suitably chastened, but still more than willing to hand the reins to one of his teammates.

"Doesn't dance." Natasha picked up the remote to the stereo and pressed play, holding her arms out for Clint to step into. The sounds of a slow waltz filled the air and she wiggled her fingers. "Don't be a girl."

Snorting, Clint resigned himself to an afternoon of torture and took her right hand in his left, placing his right between her shoulder blades. They moved stiffly with the music as Clint counted the steps in his head. When Natasha tried to help him lead them in a turn, Clint nearly took out her toes with his foot and she spun away from him, glowering.

Heaving a sigh, she restarted the song. "You know this, Clint. I know you do."

"And you know that I can only dance well when I'm really drunk," he muttered, resisting the urge to snap at her.

She frowned and pushed him in front of her, trying to lead him from behind. "Let's try it this way."

It took roughly two minutes for the both of them to realize that Natasha's new attempt to lead Clint in the correct steps was an utter failure. "This feels weird," he complained, his hands held aloft in the air. "It's like I'm dancing with a ghost."

She dropped her grip on him and he faced her, grimacing. Natasha pursed her lips for a moment, then stalked away to the labs. He had nearly breathed a sigh of relief when she marched back into the room, (Y/N) trotting behind her.

Clint froze as the two females approached him. Giving (Y/N) one last glance, Natasha leaned down to pull the little girl's shoes off and picked her up, placing her small, socked feet on top of Clint's. Of their own accord, Clint's hands drew up in front of his torso and gripped (Y/N)'s fingers when she curled them around his to keep her balance.

She blinked her large eyes at him for a moment, giving Clint the feeling that she was debating a hasty retreat. Instead, she dropped her gaze and squeezed his fingers, steadying herself. He let out a huff of surprised relief, shifting to adjust to the extra weight on his feet. He gradually became aware of Natasha's gaze and raised his eyes to hers.

"Again," Natasha murmured, and began the music, leading Clint in the waltz.

Sliding his right foot forward, Natasha quietly counted him through the steps. He gradually began to remember the directions, moving more of his own accord and less because Natasha indicated that he should. As the first song melted into the next, Natasha backed away completely so that Clint was dancing around the room with only (Y/N).

As he began to remember more and more steps, his movements gained fluidity. He threw in a spin, simply because he could, and nearly tripped at the sound of (Y/N) giggling happily. Grinning himself, Clint relaxed his arms slightly, letting her throw her head back as he spun again.

Her feet slipped and Clint stopped immediately. The music continued to play and she began to pout, so Clint let some deeply repressed instinct guide him. Leaning down, he fitted his hands beneath her arms and lifted her, setting her gently on his hip. She stared at him with some surprise, her left arm curving around his neck unconsciously. The music track changed again and, holding her right hand aloft, Clint danced her around her around the room. She laughed with delight and Natasha looked on approvingly as they spun past her.

Bruce walked in as Clint executed a perfect dip, (Y/N)'s ponytail brushing the floor, and Clint paused with the little girl nearly upside down. The scientist smiled warmly, waving at her.

"Please," he said. "Don't let me stop you."

Clint slowly brought (Y/N) upright, the music still playing merrily in the background. Natasha intervened, plucking (Y/N) out of his arms with aplomb and setting her on the ground.

"I'm cutting in, serdce," she told (Y/N) as she nudged the little girl towards Bruce with a grin. "It's my turn."

(Y/N) hopped up on the window seat, watching the assassins dance with rapt attention. Clint, barefoot and in his most worn jeans, twirled Natasha gracefully around the room, her gown billowing out around them as they moved in the steps of the foxtrot. By the end of the playlist, the entire team had gathered to watch the show.

It was obvious to everyone that Clint and Natasha were perfect partners. Every movement was exquisitely executed and flawless, riveting. They were magnetic. The last note was struck and the assassins froze, holding out their last pose. (Y/N) burst into applause.

Clint blinked, finally realizing that whole household was watching. Releasing Natasha, he took one step back, feeling the bridge of his nose heat with slight embarrassment.

"What are you all staring at?"

Steve's eyes flicked from Clint to (Y/N), her little face practically glowing, back to Clint.

"Nothing," the soldier murmured, smiling rather mysteriously. "Nothing at all."

Her first experiment having worked marvelously, Natasha became relentless in her attempts to help Clint and (Y/N). Phase Two of her plan seemed to include the standard nighttime ritual of tucking (Y/N) in after her bath.

"Tasha, I don't know how to do this," Clint whined, bracing his hands against the doorframe. He could feel the weight of Natasha's glare between his shoulder blades, but he stubbornly ignored it. He could not, however, ignore her questing fingers when she began tickling the edge of his ribcage. (Y/N) giggled as he pulled his arms in and Natasha shoved him through the doorway.

"Tuck her in," she commanded, hands on her hips.

Clint sighed, frowning at the bed as if it were a stack of paperwork two feet high. (Y/N) sat on top of her pillow, her feet tucked beneath her, smiling at his expression. Making shooing motions at her, he stepped up to the edge of the mattress.

(Y/N) scooted off the pillow and fell back, sprawling contentedly and looking up at him with hopeful eyes. He flung back the bed covers, letting the little girl straighten her legs out, and dropped them. Turning around, he was met with Natasha's steely glare.

"Tuck her in," she repeated in clipped tones. "Properly."

Hovering, the redhead gave Clint step by step instructions, patiently teaching him how to properly pull the covers back and up to (Y/N)'s chin, smoothing out the wrinkles. Exasperated, Clint moved to leave and Natasha locked her fingers around his wrist.

"Now," she instructed. "You kiss her goodnight."

Clint stared at his partner, brows rising nearly to his hairline. "Seriously?"

Unable to meet her scowl any longer, he dropped his eyes to the little girl, who was looking up at him with a wistful expression that tugged dangerously at his heartstrings. Uncomfortable with the sentiments in her eyes, he bent quickly at the waist and dropped a sloppy kiss to her forehead, exiting as hastily as he could.

Natasha glanced back at (Y/N) as she left, her lips quirking at the purely happy smile on the girl's face. She quietly closed the door and looked at Clint, standing at the top of the stairs. He groaned at the look on her face.

"I'm going to do this every night, aren't I?"

"Of course not." She smirked at him. "I have Monday nights, Tony takes Tuesdays, Steve laid claim to Wednesdays, and she's coerced Bruce into Thursday nights. The rest of them, you can have," she said, clapping his shoulder as she passed.

Darting one hand out, Clint snagged her arm and tugged her gently to her room, shutting the door behind them. "What was that, back there?"

Natasha raised an eyebrow at him. "Bedtime?"

"No." He scowled at her. "The, you know." He waved a hand fervently at the wall. "That."

She smiled lightly at him. "The fact that she was happy to see you?"

"Yes."

Natasha laughed at him, and Clint's frown deepened. Still smirking, she explained, "You danced with her."

"You made me," he reminded his partner, crossing his arms. "What does that have to do with anything?"

She shook her head. "It doesn't matter that I brought her in there to begin with or not. You danced with her. That's enough to win over any little girl." She eyed him for a moment, letting him mull things over. "You've got a fighting chance, this time."

"Don't fuck it up," he murmured to himself, slipping back into the hallway with an air of worry about him as his mind raced. Glancing up at a soft noise, he watched Steve step out of his room, meeting Clint's gaze as he pulled his door shut. They stared at each other for a moment, frozen.

Steve rallied himself first, eyes flicking to Clint's shaken expression. "Everything alright?"

Clint nodded jerkily, hoping that he looked more reassuring than he felt. Steve finally released his hold on his doorknob and stepped closer.

"You sure about that?"

Clint's mind was whirling, fragments of thoughts chasing each other, and he honestly had no idea what his response was going to be until his mouth opened of its own accord. "I think it would be better if Natasha didn't force me and the kid into things."

Steve's brows shot skyward. "Considering you're still in possession of all of your limbs, I'm going to assume that you didn't tell her that."

Clint glared slightly at the captain, who sighed and reopened his door. Clint walked in, dropping into the desk chair and making himself comfortable. Steve carefully closed the door and crossed his arms, scrutinizing Clint.

"Did you have a particular plan in mind?"

The archer ran a hand through his hair, frowning. After a moment's consideration, he shrugged. "Something more subtle."

"I can do subtle," Steve murmured, his eyes distant. The archer huffed a laugh, and Steve's eyes refocused with a snap. "Did you want my help, or Natasha's?"

Clint stopped laughing and the soldier smirked smugly. Sullen, Clint shifted in the chair. "You going to share your plan?"

"When I think of one, I'll let you know," Steve replied. At Clint's sudden look of indignation, he continued patiently. "You can't plan for these kinds of things, Clint. She might have a daily routine, but that doesn't mean she sticks to it. Or that we do, for that matter."

"So I wait," Clint said.

Steve smiled kindly. "You're good at that."

Clint glared sardonically at him from under his lashes, but silently agreed.

The labs were mercifully quiet, both Tony and Bruce with their noses in articles and lab notebooks and new designs, when JARVIS broke the silence.

"Sir, Captain Rogers is requesting your presence outside."

Tony stilled, neck deep in blueprints for a new type of Quinjet, and glanced at Bruce incredulously. "Seriously?"

His fellow scientist snickered, placing a pen in his notebook to mark the place.

"I'm afraid so, sir," JARVIS continued blandly. "He would also appreciate Doctor Banner accompanying you and wishes me to remind you both to dress warmly."

Tony raised a skeptical brow at Bruce. "Warmly?"

"It is cold outside," Bruce replied, shrugging into his coat and nudging his friend. "Come on."

Tony was still grumbling when they opened the patio door and were greeted with a blast of icy winter air. "Why the hell does Spangles want us outside?"

His answer was a face full of snow and (Y/N)'s laughter echoing across the yard. Wiping his eyes, he glared at the soldier, noting Bruce's muffled snickers beside him. Steve simply chuckled, scooping more snow into his hands. He inclined his head at the billionaire. "You're going to need some ammunition, Tony. I'd get started, if I were you."

Tony turned to Bruce, his face deadpan. "Science bros?"

"Science bros," Bruce agreed, crouching down to scrape a few snowballs together.

"You're going down, Rogers," Tony called, forming his own pile of projectiles.

"I wouldn't say that," Steve yelled back, disappearing behind the training rooms. He and (Y/N) emerged with armfuls of perfectly rounded snowballs. "We came prepared."

The snowball fight was fast and furious. At the commotion, Thor joined the Science Bros and Clint dragged Natasha to (Y/N)'s side, shooting the little girl a grin before launching a snowball that nailed Thor in the face. None of them had the heart to hit (Y/N), so she was the only one with dry clothes when the siege was over.

Bruce, the diplomat, declared the match a draw. Natasha and Tony both put in fitting arguments for their side winning, and the debate grew to an intensity that Bruce and Thor felt the need to intervene.

Clint, huffing a sigh at his partner, spread his arms and fell backwards onto the snow, scissoring his arms and legs. Steve, smiling, offered him a hand up and they both grinned nostalgically at the image left behind.

(Y/N) tugged on Steve's pants leg. He glanced down at her, reading the question on her face. "It's a snow angel," he explained. "Have you never made one before?"

"No," Clint murmured, answering for her. "Phil liked winter, but he never really liked snow. Thought it was too cold and a nuisance."

Steve shifted his gaze from Clint to (Y/N) and back again. "Here, sweetheart." He stepped away, nudging (Y/N) towards Clint. "How about I make some hot cocoa for everyone and Uncle Clint teaches you how to make snow angels?"

He met Clint's eyes for a moment, just long enough for Clint to realize that this was Steve's plan. With that, the soldier turned on his heel and walked away, earning an approving nod from Natasha. Clint stared blankly at his retreating back, dropping his eyes when the little girl tugged hesitantly at his jeans.

"Okay, kid," he muttered, leading her to a clean patch of snow. "First, you let yourself fall."

She met his gaze dubiously, and Clint saw her concern as plain as day.

"It won't hurt," he assured her. When she made no move, he wrinkled his nose. "Can you trust me for a second?"

He honestly hadn't realized what he'd said until he'd said it, the implications and deeper meanings curling through the air. He held his breath for a long moment, letting it out with a whoosh when she gave him a tiny nod. Smiling, in what he hoped was a reassuring manner, he held his hands out for hers and gently leaned her back into the snow.

Quietly, he instructed her on the proper way to fall on her own and to remember to get full extension to make the best angel possible. When he felt she was finished, he held out his hands again and lifted her completely from the ground.

Turning around, she giggled with delight at the impression she'd left and Clint couldn't help but grin at her happiness.

The snowball fight succeeded in lightening everyone's mood. Dinner was a laugher-filled affair for the first time in weeks and Steve was still whistling when the team gathered for breakfast in the morning.

"You are far too chipper, Spangles," Tony complained, cradling his head with one hand and his cup of coffee with the other. "Think you can be a little less of a morning person?"

"Drink your coffee," Steve advised. "That'll help."

"You're unbearable without caffeine," Bruce laughed, reaching around Tony to grab an orange from the basket. He slid into the chair beside the billionaire. "You should make a pill or something."

"I tried," Tony groaned, curling his upper body around his cup. "I couldn't make the delivery system fast enough to work."

Steve burst into laughter as he set a stack of waffles on the table. "Poor you," he murmured, retrieving the coffeepot and refilling Tony's cup. "It's reassuring to know that some things are still beyond your grasp."

"That was practically mean of you," Tony muttered, greedily clutching his coffee. "Stop hanging around me. I'm a horrible influence."

"I think I can resist your charms," Steve replied as Clint stumbled into the room.

"Coffee," the archer mumbled. "Need coffee."

Steve handed him a steaming mug, glancing in the direction of the stairs, and Clint groaned gratefully. "I wonder where (Y/N) and Natasha are?"

Clint grunted, swallowing a large sip. "Nat's dressing the kid," he informed them, looking longingly at the plate of waffles. Bruce pushed the plate closer with one fingertip, smirking when Clint picked one up and took a bite as if it were a piece of toast.

"Are there plans for today?" Tony asked, finally in a state of relative consciousness.

Steve snorted. "Do we ever have plans?"

Tony glowered at him, reaching out his empty cup. "I was just wondering if I was going to ambushed again?"

"I have no plans to that effect," Steve assured him, obliging Tony with a refill as Bruce laughed aloud.

"Good," Tony murmured. "Then I'm going to the labs. Keep away, Spangles. I don't trust you."

Steve chuckled at his retreating back. Tony waved at (Y/N) as she skipped lightly down the stairs to the breakfast table, and promptly lost himself in his work.

"Good morning," Natasha greeted, slipping into a seat at the end of the table. (Y/N) hopped to Steve's side, looking hopefully at the countertop. He smiled, giving her a prepared plate. She took it with a grin of thanks and plopped herself right next to Clint.

Blinking once, he eyed her as she tucked into her food. Shaking his head, he drained his cup. "I've got some work to do," he said, speaking more to Natasha than anyone else. "Think Stark will clear the snow from the range if I ask him nicely?"

Natasha shook her head, thanking Steve when he set a plate in front of her. "I'd just threaten him. It gets the job done much faster." Smirking, Clint stood and headed down to the lab.

"Hey Stark." Clint poked his head around the doorframe. "Go burn the snow off the range for me."

Tony raised his head, staring at Clint. "I'm not quite a fan of the orders, in case you haven't noticed."

"Go burn the snow off of the range for me or I'll shadow you for the rest of the day, breathing in your ear."

Tony debated the threat for a moment, his scowl growing blacker and blacker. "Oh, you would," he finally sighed. "Fine. Give me a sec."

"Pleasure doing business with you, Iron Ass," Clint said amiably, retreating back upstairs and passing (Y/N) on his way to change into his gear.

"Be right with you, munchkin," Tony called as the Mark VII assembled itself around him. "I'm doing Clint a favor real quick."

He shot out of the garage and over the range, clearing the snow and drying the ground out in a matter of minutes.

The mansion was oddly silent when he returned, and Tony frowned at the lack of noise. Disassembling the suit, he checked every corner of the lab, beneath all the tables, and the break room. "JARVIS, where's (Y/N)?"

"Miss (Y/N) is following Agent Barton to the outdoor range, sir."

Tony processed the information. "Does he know she's there?"

"It would appear so, sir."

"Alright then," Tony muttered, turning back to his desk and opening a display.

Clint had changed into his tactical gear and was barely out of the yard when he noticed his little shadow. (Y/N) trailed a few yards behind him and met his gaze unrepentantly when he glanced back at her. He sighed slightly and had a fleeting sense of panic at the thought of spending time with her without Steve or Natasha as backup. After a few moments of hesitation, he motioned her forward, waiting until she caught up with him.

He consciously shortened his stride, allowing her to walk beside him to the archery range. Setting up at one of the lanes at the far end, he nudged the little girl well behind the firing line. Breathing out slowly, he raised his bow and allowed the repetition of hitting stationary targets calm his mind.

He emptied the first quiver with relative swiftness, and walked calmly to retrieve his arrows, aware that she was following at his heels. She took the last one from his hand, looking up at him uncertainly when her fingers clamped around the shaft.

Clint said nothing, letting her keep the arrow as they walked back to the end of the lane. He noticed her watching him with avid curiosity as he drew the bowstring back and let another arrow fly. Turning to her, he cocked his head. "Did you want to try?"

The smile that lit her face was blinding, and Clint felt himself grin in return. "It's hard," he warned her, allowing her to step in front of him.

She reached eagerly for the bow, and Clint bit back a chuckle at her enthusiasm. Seeing that the bow was nearly as tall as she was, he moved the range table in front of the target and lifted her on top. Clint removed his armguard and strapped it carefully to her arm, ignoring the frank way she watched him.

He placed her little palm around the grip as he helped her support the weight of the bow. She curled her fingers around the bowstring and pulled with all her might, bending the string back less than a quarter of the way. Turning to him in frustration, she looked up with an expression of pure dismay.

Clint couldn't help but chuckle at her dismal look, murmuring instructions as he righted her position and placed his fingers gently over hers, pulling back on the string.

"Now, keep your eye on the target," he muttered, watching with amusement as her tongue poked out of her mouth in concentration. Quickly gauging her aim, he steadied her arms with his. "Now, when I count to three, you let go. One, two, three."

Clint loosed the arrow a split second after her fingers released the string, and she laughed in delight when it hit the bull’s-eye. She turned in the cage his body made around her and threw her arms around his neck, pressing a happy kiss to his cheek. Crawling down from the table as Clint froze in astonishment, she proceeded to dance wildly around the range. Shaking his head, he herded her behind the line of fire and continued his practice.

He'd worked his way through three full quivers when he heard her cry out in surprised pain. Moving quickly, he knelt beside her as she cradled her skinned palm. She looked up at him, eyes brimming with tears. Calmly, Clint popped open one of the compartments on his uniform belt and pulled out the field med kit kept there. Wiping away the bit of blood that welled up, he smeared a dab of cream on the scrape and smoothed a band aid over the top.

"Better?" He tilted her chin ever so slightly to meet her gaze, like he'd seen Steve and Tony do on so many other occasions. (Y/N) nodded, to his relief, and rubbed a fist across her eyes. He stood, ruffling her hair, and walked back to retrieve his arrows. He slipped them back in their holders and loaded his bow, clicking the case shut. "Ready to head back?"

She nodded, walking beside Clint to the path towards the mansion. He glanced back to see if she was there, somewhat surprised to see her at his hip. She looked up at him with large brown eyes for a moment, and then held her little hand out.

Clint stared blankly at it for a moment, his brain aware that he was supposed to take her hand without quite registering the information. Her fingers twitched in a wiggle and his palm reached out of his own accord, grasping hers.

Clint stoutly ignored the knowing glances sent his way as they walked into the mansion, hand in hand. Steve immediately pressed warm mugs of cider into their grasp as they came in from the patio, smiling kindly at (Y/N)'s cheerful face. They'd been out long enough to warrant a stern lecture from Natasha as to the evils of cold weather and skipping lunch, which Clint bore with resigned patience.

"The kid is fine," he protested when his partner paused for breath. "Look at her. Happy as a fucking lark."

"Language," Natasha hissed, her eyes spitting fire. She turned to Steve. "What's that baseball phrase? About kids and eavesdropping?"

Steve paused in the process of peeling off (Y/N)'s outerwear, floundering for the idiom. "Little pitchers have big ears?"

"Yes, that," she crowed triumphantly as Steve finally untangled the girl's scarf and wrested her arms from her coat sleeves, turning the whole garment inside out.

Clint rolled his eyes and leaned over in front of (Y/N), resting his hands on his knees. "I use bad language. Words like shit and fuck and damn," he told her candidly. "If you don't hear Steve say it, then you don't say it. Deal?"

Solemnly, she nodded and Steve snorted with laughter. Natasha looked decidedly unamused, but her tirade was cut short by Thor's entrance.

"It appears that you have received a package, Barton," he rumbled, holding what looked to be an evidence box out to Clint. Frowning, Clint took it from him, inspecting the sides, which were marked with little other than his name and ID number written boldly on a Post-It.

"From who?"

Thor shook his head. "I believe it is from Director Fury. I was visiting Jane Foster and Dr. Selwig entrusted the package to me, claiming that I could deliver it swifter than your mailing system."

"It's probably just some old files and stuff." Clint shrugged, tucking the box behind the couch. "I'll take a look at it later. In the meantime, where's the food? I'm starving." (Y/N) jumped up, silently but resoundingly agreeing.

"There's a casserole in the oven," Steve assured them. "It should be done within fifteen minutes, which is just enough time for you two to get cleaned up for dinner."

Clint rolled his eyes, but headed for his bathroom nonetheless. "Sometimes, you really sound like a mom."

"Keep talking, Barton," Steve teased back good-naturedly. "I'll stop feeding you."

Clint paused on the stairs, leaning back to allow (Y/N) to scurry past him. "I can feed myself, you know."

"And I bet it tastes awful," the soldier replied, pulling on a pair of oven mitts. "Think about that."

Frowning as Natasha began telling horror stories of his time in the kitchen, Clint hurried upstairs. Testing Steve's bluff was not actually on his agenda for the day.

It was almost two in the morning when Clint remembered that he'd left Fury's package downstairs. Groaning, and knowing he'd never be able to sleep now that his curiosity was well and truly piqued, he rolled out of bed and shuffled barefoot to the lounge.

The lid was taped down, so Clint pulled one of Natasha's knives from its hiding place beneath the couch cushion to slit the packing tape. Replacing the knife and prying the lid off, he peeked inside to find an odd assortment of objects and a bulky envelope, his name on the front in Coulson's handwriting.

"Well, fuck," he muttered through a suddenly choked throat. Rifling through the first few layers of objects, his questing fingers reached something furred and rough. Tugging, Clint pulled out Coulson's most prized possession.

Tears pricked at his eyes, unbidden, and he clamped down on the urge to let his exhaustion rule his emotions. Slapping the cards gently against his forehead in silent rebuke, he set them in the box, on the very top. Shaking his head at himself, he replaced the lid and tucked the carton beneath his arm.

The moon was large and full, shining brightly though the windows, so Clint did not feel the need to turn on any lights. Picking his way through the room by silvered sight, he focused his attention on moving silently and avoiding the creaky floorboards.

He let out a small 'oof' of surprise as something small and decidedly little girl-shaped barreled into his legs, breaking his concentration. He dropped the box, frowning slightly when the lid popped off and some of the content spilled out onto the floor. Reaching down, he hauled (Y/N) to her feet, finally noticing the tear tracks on her face in the moonlight.

"Where's the fire?" He eyed her for a moment, his tired brain first realizing that the girl had had another nightmare and was on her way to Tony for comfort, and then noticing that her eyes were fixed on a point on the floor.

Tears streaming steadily down her face, she knelt to the ground and gingerly picked up the stack of Captain America trading cards that had scattered on the hardwood. Clint made a move to stop her, but he paused at the careful way she was holding the cards to her chest. He dropped to the floor beside her, leaning back against the wall, and tugged on her nightdress until she slid next to him. Cautiously putting his arm around her, he pulled her in close and rested his chin on the crown of her head, pressing a soft kiss into her hair.

"Yeah," he murmured as her little body shook with silent sobs. "Yeah, I miss him too."

They sat for hours, until (Y/N) finally cried herself to sleep, small hands still grasping Phil's trading cards. When he was sure that she was in a deep enough sleep, Clint rose, taking her smoothly into his arms. With one hand, he swept the scattered items back into the open box and replaced the lid. Tucking (Y/N) more securely against his side, he picked up the case with his free hand and ascended the stairs.

He carried her into her bedroom and set the box near the door. He turned down the covers, gently laying her in bed. Pulling the blankets up like Natasha had taught him, he plucked the stack of cards from her lax grip and set them reverently on the bedside table. She caught his finger as he turned to leave, looking up at him with liquid eyes.

She said nothing, but Clint knew what she wanted. Folding his legs beneath him, he dropped gracefully to the carpet. Propping his arm on the edge of her bed, he let (Y/N) maintain the firm grasp she had on his left hand as he settled back against the mattress.

She sighed contentedly, curling her little body around his forearm as she fell back to sleep. Clint stayed awake the rest of the night, only moving when Natasha opened the door in the morning. She looked slightly startled to see him there, but her roving eyes took in the look on Clint's face, the desperation in (Y/N)'s grasp on his arm, and the stack of cards on the table.

Nodding in understanding, she slipped back out into the hallway, leaving Clint to keep his watch.

"What do you mean you're leaving?"

Natasha rolled her eyes, carefully folding a pair of pants and stuffing them into an open suitcase. "It's only for one night," she soothed. "I'm helping one of the new agents out on her mission and she needs me to run interference at a gala."

Clint stared incredulously at her. "Are you joking? I feel like you're joking."

"It's not that big of a deal," she said, frowning. "I'm just her distraction. It's not like I'm doing anything important."

Clint nearly growled. "That is not what I meant, and you fucking know it," he ground out. "Steve is at the helicarrier for the monthly meet up, Hulk and Thor are playing Brokeback in the Catskills, and now you're stealing away on some fucking mission for a newbie whose name I can't even remember?"

"Stealing away?" She smirked at Clint. "At least I'm warning you that I'm leaving."

"You're leaving that kid alone with me and Tony for two days," he reiterated. "This is the stupidest plan ever."

"One night," she corrected patiently. "And you will survive."

"I wasn't worried about me," he muttered petulantly. She snorted indelicately.

"Yes, you were," she told him. "Calm down. You know her routines, as does Tony and (Y/N) herself. Just keep her fed and clean and she'll entertain herself. It's not that difficult."

Zipping her bag shut, she slung it over her shoulder and walked towards him. Patting him on the cheek with the slightest hint of condescension, she smiled as she passed.

Clint raised his eyes heavenward. "We are so fucked."

Natasha was right, as it turned out, which he would never admit. Steve had left a few meals in the fridge that were easy to reheat, and Tony was rather adept at making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (Y/N) spent most of her day in the lab, playing while Tony worked, and emerged only when she was hungry or extremely bored. By the end of the afternoon, Clint was thinking that he might actually survive.

And then came nightfall.

Tony and (Y/N) surfaced from the labs to find Clint channel surfing on the couch. At the sight of them, the archer stood hastily, pointing at the little girl.

"She needs a bath," Clint stated, crossing his arms to emphasize his point.

Tony stared at him, incredulous. "What? Why?"

Clint shifted, somewhat uncomfortable. "She always gets a bath before she goes to bed."

Tony looked down at (Y/N), who simply stared impassively back at him. Frowning, he bent down and nosed at her hair. "Whatever," he turned to Clint. "She smells fine."

"Are you fucking kidding?" Clint gaped at Tony. "Did you just smell her?"

Tony rolled his eyes and picked (Y/N) up, holding her out to Clint. "Seriously, sniff that hair! She doesn't need a bath at all!"

"I'm not smelling her," Clint informed him. "And she's getting a bath. It's routine."

The two men glowered at each other for a few moments, until Tony caved in the face of Clint's certainty. He sighed. "Fine. Let's go, kiddo. Apparently, you're getting a bath, even though it's not nearly bedtime. Oh, and Clint," he pierced the archer with a glare. "You're helping."

Clint frowned at Tony, but followed the pair as they traipsed up the stairs. Tony ran the bathwater, frowning at the myriad of bath products that seemed to have taken over the bathroom and selected one at random, pouring it ruthlessly under the running water. Turning off the taps, he stepped back and eyed the tub like it was a poisonous snake. Clint sighed and glanced down at (Y/N).

"Well, get in." She looked dubiously at him, but compliantly began to remove her clothes.

"Whoa!" Tony clasped his hands over her arms, stopping her from stripping. She huffed in frustration, wiggling at his grip. Straightening, he frowned and clapped a hand over his eyes so that she could continue. Peeking out after a second, he slammed a hand over Clint's eyes as well. Clint was silent, but Tony could feel the weight of his scowl.

The bathwater splashed and Tony dropped his palms, relieved. Picking up a rag, he soaped it thoroughly and eyed the little girl. Clint bit his lip. "Just give it to her."

"Really?" Tony turned to look questioningly at him. "Can she do that herself?"

Clint threw his hands up. "How the hell should I know? I don't remember being five. Could you bathe yourself at that age?"

"I have no idea," Tony admitted. (Y/N) sighed, holding out her little hand for the cloth. He passed it to her, somewhat relieved when she began to wash herself. Suddenly realizing what came after her bath, he turned to Clint. "Where are her clothes?"

Clint arched an eyebrow at him and pointed to the pile of dirty pink clothes on the floor.

Tony glared at him. "Clean clothes, dumbass."

"Probably in her room," Clint replied dryly. Tony dismissed him.

"Go get something for her to wear."

Clint balked. "You go get it."

"Someone has to watch her," Tony reprimanded him. "And I don't trust you. Besides, this was your idea, so you get to ransack her clothes."

"Oh, for fuck's sake," Clint groused, exiting the bathroom and heading to the dresser. He rifled through the drawers for a minute and returned as (Y/N) was emerging from the bathwater. Tony, eyes screwed shut, quickly wrapped a towel around her and turned to Clint.

"Here you go," Clint said, handing over the tiny pair of pink princess panties he gripped between two fingers.

"Where's the nightgown?"

Clint shrugged, shaking the panties for emphasis. (Y/N) reached up, one little hand clutching the towel around herself, and snatched the underwear from his fingers. "There wasn't one in any of the drawers."

"She's always got one of those tiny dresses." Tony frowned. "She's got to wear something more than underwear to bed."

(Y/N) let the towel drop and Clint glanced down at her. In one swift movement, he stripped the shirt from his torso and pulled it over her head. She beamed at him, and he offered a small half smile back.

"Barton, she can't wear that," Tony protested, wrinkling his nose as (Y/N) grabbed the hairbrush from the counter and began to try and untangle her wet hair.

"Why not?" Clint asked as he gently pried the brush from her fingertips and set about working the tangles out of her locks. "It's clean."

"You were wearing it," Tony replied dryly. "That automatically makes it dirty."

"Deal with it," Clint retorted, picking at a particularly stubborn snarl. "She's fine."

Tony watched him brush (Y/N)'s hair from a few more minutes, his face growing more and more contemplative. "It's Friday."

"No shit," Clint murmured absently.

Tony flicked his ear in reproach, silently thankful that Clint was too occupied with (Y/N) to punch him in retaliation. "I know what we do on Friday," he muttered, thinking. "But what do little girls do on Friday?"

"Not a clue," Clint answered, giving the brush one last run through and separating her hair into two pieces. "Ask JARVIS."

"JARVIS," Tony called, placing a comforting hand on (Y/N)'s shoulder. She leaned forward, burying her nose in his stomach as Clint began to braid pigtails into her hair. "What do girls on Friday nights?"

"Females ages twenty-one to forty-five appear to spend Friday evenings at bars of all sorts and strip clubs," the AI responded. "Ages sixteen to twenty-one, when not in possession of an illegal license, prefer house parties."

"Younger, JARVIS," Clint advised, exasperated. "The kid is five."

"Females ages five to twelve appear to engage in what is known as a sleepover."

Tony clapped his hands together. "Alright JARVIS, send me all the information you have on them to my tablet. We're having a sleepover."

Clint arched a brow at him. "I am not a girl."

Tony scowled. "Get your ass down there, princess. We're having a sleepover."

It turned out that sleepovers for five year olds mostly involved pizza, snacks, movies, and hair braiding. Hair braiding having been accomplished, Tony set about completing the other tasks on his list. Clint popped popcorn and ordered pizza, while (Y/N) helped Tony string twinkle lights across the ceiling. Tony pulled comforters down to the main lounge, cushioning the floor with them and rigged a top sheet into a roof for their makeshift fort.

Nodding proudly at their work, he glanced down at her. "What's next, munchkin?"

She moved to the rack of DVDs and began plucking out any case that had either the Disney logo or a princess on the cover. She handed him a stack that was nearly taller than she was, and Tony laughed.

"You got it, kiddo." He turned towards the kitchen. "Hurry up, Katniss. It's movie time!"

Clint simply glared at him, setting two large bowls of popcorn at the edge of the fort and retreated back to the kitchen for beverages. (Y/N) darted up the stairs and brought down a large kit of pastel, glittery items, smiling broadly at Tony's skeptical face. Plunking it down, she rummaged through it for a moment and picked out a long pink ribbon. Stepping forward, she sat herself on Tony's lap and tied it in a sloppy bow around the strap of his tank top.

"For me?" He eyed her questioningly, picking at the tails of the bow. She nodded proudly and he dropped a kiss to her hair. "Thanks, kiddo. Let's find you one too."

He was tying a shiny silver ribbon around her waist, effectively belting Clint's shirt somewhat so that she stopped tripping over the hem, when the doorbell rang. "Clint," he yelled over his shoulder. "Go pay the social outcast that's bringing us food."

Clint ducked under the tent and snickered at Tony's new accessory. "You go pay him. You have the cash, and I'm only half dressed."

Tony grumbled slightly, his mood lightening when (Y/N) held a purple ribbon out to Clint entreatingly. He picked his way gingerly over the toys they had left in the hallway and opened the door.

The delivery boy was, predictably, pimply-faced, barely out of driving school, and absolutely of insufficient coolness to be able to laugh at Tony's pink bow without retribution. Tony narrowed his eyes at the kid's stifled chuckle.

'You know," he began conversationally as he pulled bills from his wallet. "If you breathe a word of this to anyone in the town, they A, won't believe you, and B, will tell me. Do you think that would be wise?" The kid looked appropriately terrified as he shook his head no. Tony smirked, slapping the money into his suddenly sweaty palm, and took the pizzas. "Glad we had this chat. Move along."

The billionaire smiled with satisfaction as he sent the delivery boy packing and carried the pizzas into the fort. Clint had piled every pillow he could find beneath the roof and they'd started How to Train Your Dragon, which was more palatable to Tony than a princess movie.

Clint was now sporting the purple ribbon firmly around his left bicep and was working more ribbons through (Y/N)'s hair. Tony grinned, but said nothing, setting the pizza boxes on the carpet and settling back to watch the movie.

It was still dark when Natasha returned to the mansion. Her mission had gone flawlessly, she'd rushed Hill through her debriefing and broken triple-digit speeds on the drive home. Parking the car and moving through the house silently, she frowned at the dim, flickering glow coming from the lounge. She bemusedly eyed the large sheet over the couches, strung up with Christmas lights, and then peeked beneath it.

Tony was sprawled over what had to be every comforter in the house, most of his limbs spread in wild abandon. There was a pink bow tied loosely around the strap of his tank and she was certain that the bits of string knotted around his wrist were called friendship bracelets.

Clint was on his side, facing Tony, with (Y/N) nestled happily in the crook of his arm. Bracelets similar to Tony's encircled her little wrists, giving Natasha the impression that Clint was hiding a matching set beneath the coverlet. Both of the child's hands were reaching out, grasping Tony's left arm, even in sleep.

The scene was ridiculously heartwarming, and too wonderful to disturb. Natasha smiled, leaning against the wall for a moment, and shook her head at Clint's transformation. Tossing her bag over her shoulder, she headed upstairs for a quick shower and few hours of sleep.

Steve returned from the helicarrier a couple of hours later and stopped short at the sight beneath the fort. Grinning broadly, he tiptoed to the television and turned it off, finally stopping the flickering light. He lightly climbed the stairs to drop his duffle in his room and check on Natasha. Finding everything as it should be, he crept back down the stairs and starting fixing breakfast.

Bruce and Thor joined him in time for the first helping of eggs and pancakes. Bruce merely smiled at the makeshift campsite and shook his head. Thor said nothing, but the vibrations from his footsteps woke Clint. The archer shifted, tightening his grip on (Y/N) and raised himself up on one arm. Glaring blearily out from beneath the fort, he glanced down at the little girl and frowned.

"Still sleepin'," he slurred tiredly. "Shut up."

Bruce snickered with amusement, placing two large mugs of coffee at the entrance to the fort. "Should we wake them?"

Steve snorted, handing him a cup of tea. "For the first time since we moved in, it's quiet," the soldier announced dryly. "Let's try and keep the peace a bit longer."

"Besides," Thor whispered. "If we wake them, we must share the morning meal, correct?"

"Too right," Natasha muttered, gliding silently down the stairs and filching one of Bruce's peace offerings. Sipping at her stolen coffee, she gently herded the others back into the kitchen. "Let them sleep."

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