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The Uncle Bet

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It had been five months since Bucky had returned to Avengers tower after his stint in Wakanda, and the Bartons had invited them all over for Thanksgiving dinner. Natasha would be there anyway, and Laura had suggested they invite everyone else as well, which Clint and Nat had both readily agreed to. Nat then proceeded to make fun of Clint for tearing apart his dining room because ‘everyone eats in the kitchen anyway.’ Granted it was a logical argument, even one Nat had agreed with at the time, but it hadn’t been her idea, and now Clint didn’t know where they were going to eat, so of course, Natasha took full advantage of the opportunity to taunt him.

Steve accepted the invite with enthusiasm. He was overjoyed when they told him Bucky was invited as well and told them they’d both be there. (“Because you’ve been skulking around the gym for five months and barely seen daylight, much less humanity, that’s why!”) (Bucky was not excited.)

Thor agreed as well, as did Sam, Wanda, and Vision. Lang was having dinner with his family, as was Rhodey. Apparently, his mother wouldn’t let him off the hook no matter what. Tony, Pepper, and Bruce all agreed as well. Laura was thrilled that they all wanted to come, but the more people who said they’d be there, the more anxious Clint became. Nat was positively gleeful, and wouldn’t stop adding to his stress with small, incredibly unhelpful reminders that kept piling on. He looked like he might just burst into pieces one morning three days before Thanksgiving when he and Nat walked into breakfast at the tower. Tony thought this was hilarious as well, and began to assist Natasha in whatever way possible until Pepper told him to knock it off.

The day of, Laura finally reminded Clint of the long table they had had in the dining room before he demolished it, which was being stored in the rafters in the barn. He and Nat brought it in and rearranged the living room furniture so that it would fit, and then Cooper and Lila set the table. Baby Nate was four years old now, and despite Natasha’s insistence that he was a traitor while in utero, she had since decided he was pretty stinkin cute and had apparently forgiven the transgression.

The Avengers started arriving at about two, starting with Steve, Sam, and Bucky. There was some judgment from Sam on Nat’s music choice, and Cooper immediately made him take a time-out on the back porch, something that had Steve and Bucky roaring with laughter, and Nat puffing her feathers out and looking incredibly smug. Lila frowned seriously and asked what was wrong with Auntie Nat’s music choice, and Bucky looked like he might just melt into the floor from the adorable way she referred to the terrifying Black Widow. “Nothin’s wrong with Auntie Nat’s music choice, Sam’s just a stick in the mud.” Lila seemed satisfied with this answer and promptly went back to her colored pencils.

(The way Bucky said ‘Auntie Nat’ made Steve stare at him in shock for a moment, and made Nat turn pink.)

Sam tried to come back in three minutes later, but Cooper caught sight of his grimace at the speaker and crossed his arms, pointing toward the back door again. Despite his exclamations and protests, he turned around and went back outside anyway. Laura giggled, ruffling her son’s hair on her way to the kitchen, and Nat gave him a broad grin. He grinned back.

The next to arrive were Tony, Pepper, and Bruce. Tony, too, made the mistake of commenting unkindly about the music, and Cooper turned on him. The billionaire gaped in shock at the kid, before doing as he was told, stumbling out the door and standing next to a shivering Sam. Pepper giggled uncontrollably as Laura led her to the kitchen and put a glass of wine in her hand, while Bruce just smiled and said hello to the kids. There was absolutely nothing unusual about Tony getting put into time-out.

Bucky had settled himself at the island in the kitchen, where he had a good view of most of the downstairs. Natasha was leaning against the counter near him, smiling and chatting with Laura and Pepper, her red curls almost reaching her shoulders. The song changed, and Lila came skidding in on her socked feet, seizing Nat’s hand and tugging her out into the middle of the kitchen, apparently to dance. Nat laughed joyously, spinning the little girl around as she giggled, and swept her up in a half-assed fast-paced waltz, spinning her around and lifting her off the ground every few minutes. Bucky grinned, watching them dance and listening to the lyrics of the song. He didn’t know the artist, but he could understand why Nat and Lila like the song.

“I still feel the same way I did when I was 17.
I still look over my shoulder waiting for the world to change."
“But these are the good old days,
These are the good old days.”

He felt incredibly lighthearted watching Natasha with the people who had clearly become her family, so carefree and happy and filled with so much love. Laura grinned, watching her daughter and her friend with a fond look in her eyes, and he could see Clint watching from the other room as Nat danced with his daughter, both of them giggling uncontrollably as they danced around the kitchen.

The next to arrive were Thor and Wanda, along with Vision. Wanda seemed positively delighted by the cheery, warm house, happy music, and the fact that Natasha was dancing with Lila and laughing. She’d never felt the other woman so happy before, and it proved to be contagious.

Thor inquired as to why Sam and Tony were out in the cold, and Cooper solemnly informed him that they had both been judgemental of Aunt Nat’s music selection, and so they had been put in time out. Thor seemed to think this was perfectly reasonable. He did frown and ask what was wrong with the Lady Natasha’s music choice (this description of Natasha absolutely made Lila’s day, and she gleefully drew Natasha as a queen shortly thereafter,) to which Cooper scoffed. “Nothing, Sam and Tony just have sticks up there butts.” Natasha cackled, and Bucky snorted into his beer. Clint frowned, but with Laura sniggering behind him, there wasn’t much he could say to reprimand the comment.

Dinner passed smoothly. Natasha was between Bucky and Lila, and across from Clint and Laura. Tony and Pepper were beside Bruce on the same side as Clint, and Steve and Sam were on Bucky’s other side. Cooper and Nate were between Thor and Wanda, who was beside Vision. The meal was filled with playful, lighthearted conversation, part of which consisted of Natasha and Bucky taunting Steve about the fact that they both kicked Captain America’s ass while sparring. This soon turned to which one between the two of them would win.

“Oh please, I would wipe the floor with that mop on your head.”
Bucky scoffed, narrowing his eyes at her. “You would not! And it is not a mop!”
Natasha just grinned, crossing her arms. “Yes I would, and yes it is. We both know it.”
“You wish, lisichka.”
At that Natasha grinned widely, flicking his ear lightly. “Oh, I don’t wish, I know.” She paused, a positively devilish look on her face. “Lyubovnik.”
Bucky’s eyebrows went up, and he grinned like the Cheshire cat. “My zakonchim eto pozzhe.”

The argument was dropped after that, though the two still exchanged heated looks throughout the rest of dinner. When Lila finished eating, she crawled into Nat’s lap and nestled against her chest. Nat smiled, tucking a strand of light brown hair behind the little girl’s ear. Bucky thought his heart might just melt at the sight and the look in Nat’s eyes. Moments later, Lila shifted in Natasha’s lap and looked up at Bucky.

“Can I braid your hair?”
He blinked, startled, and then smiled, nodding. “Of course.”

He turned in his chair so his back was to Natasha (it physically hurt to not look at her,) and settled in so she could reach his hair. She reminded him of his baby sister Eileen, with her light brown hair and her big blue eyes and spunky personality. The feel of her little hands running through his hair and separating sections at the top of his head (apparently she was doing a French braid,) was soothing somehow, and it made him smile softly.

(He wouldn’t find out until later that Natasha was also braiding Lila’s hair, and that Cooper had moved to Lila’s empty chair and was braiding Natasha’s. Clint took a picture of the four, and Bucky kept it on his nightstand for as long as he lived.)

When Lila finished braiding his hair, he was feeling warm and happy and sleepy. A couple minutes later, a soft hand that was slightly larger than Lila’s little one reached over and stroked the back of his neck, and he turned his head to see Nat gazing at him warmly. He smiled softly at her and turned his head enough to press a quick kiss to her palm, before turning away again.

After dinner, the kids and Thor plopped themselves in front of the tv to watch cartoons for a while. The others stayed at the table and talked for a long time. Natasha, in the middle of laughing at some story Bucky had told about his uncle, turned and pointed at Clint and Laura. “Tell these guys about your ‘Uncle Bet.’” Laura grinned, and Clint rolled his eyes. “Lor and I have a bet going on about which one of you the kids will start calling ‘Uncle’ first. They call Tasha ‘Auntie Nat,’ so we figure they’ll start picking up the same habit with you guys as they did with her.” Nat gestured for them to continue, and Laura giggled. “Well, I think it’ll be Steve. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want Captain America as an uncle?” Steve turned pink but smiled all the same. Clint shook his head. “No, she’s wrong. I think it’ll be Thor. C’mon, the guy’s barely more than an overgrown kid himself. He’s all kindsa fun to have has a playmate.” Steve chuckled, nodding. “You know, I have to agree with you there.”

The conversation turned to other topics and continued late into the evening. At some point, Baby Nate wandered in and marched up to Natasha, already half asleep.
“Late. Tired.”
He looked exhausted, and Natasha scooped him up and settled him in her lap. He seemed satisfied with that arrangement, and two minutes later he was sound asleep.

Eventually, the evening drew to a close, and the Avengers began taking their leave. (All except Thor; he’d passed out on the couch, and Laura had put a blanket over him and said to leave him till morning.) Wanda and Vision were the first to go, followed closely by Pepper and her boys, as Laura had started referring to them as. Tony and Bruce both seemed to like the term, and it made Pepper smile. Sam and Steve finally stood as well, leaning on each other and half asleep. Bucky gave them a dirty look and turned to Natasha.

“Those two are disgustingly cute. Please shoot me.”

Natasha giggled, and Bucky grinned, clearly feeling accomplished with himself. She wandered toward the front door with the three of them, her hand curled around Bucky’s upper arm loosely. Steve was mumbling incoherently into Sam’s shoulder, bleary-eyed and smiling sleepily. Sam was trying hard to seem exasperated, but he was clearly too absorbed in how adorable his boyfriend was being. Finally, he cracked a smile, rubbing the sleepy super-soldier’s back and kissing his temple gently. Natasha gagged.

“God, they’re so sweet I can feel my teeth rotting.”

Bucky giggled, leaning against her side heavily. She chuckled, shoving at him gently. “I think we all had a little too much of Thor’s alien booze.” Bucky just giggled harder, and Natasha soon followed. Clint frowned at them, and then at Sam and Steve, both of whom were leaning against the wall by the door kissing, clearly lost in their own little bubble.

“Bucky, where are you sleeping tonight?”

The giggling came to an abrupt halt, and the fearless metal-armed assassin turned to stare in apparent horror at his two roommates. His head whipped around, and he looked like he might fall to his knees and plead when he asked: “Please let me stay here!” Now it was Clint’s turn to start giggling, and he agreed easily. “Believe me, I wouldn’t wanna be in the same building as those two right now either. Speaking of, oi! Scram! No scarring my children with your tonsil tennis!”

Sam pulled back, and Steve turned cherry red. They made a hasty exit, though Steve looked a little sad that Bucky was staying with the Bartons. At least until Sam squeezed his thigh, and then he turned red and told Bucky he’d see him in a couple days. The brunet frowned, shuddering. “I was originally thinking ‘tomorrow,’ dick…” he mumbled, crossing his arms and pouting.

“Oh, he’ll be getting plenty of that tonight…”

Bucky burst out laughing at the tone in Nat’s voice and the look on her face as she said that, grinning like the cat that caught the canary as she looked up at him. They stumbled toward the stairs snickering, Natasha reassuring the Bartons that ‘they could handle making up the guest room, you handle wrangling your children.’ Lila spotted them heading up and came running full speed from the living room, skidding to a stop at the foot of the stairs.

Natasha leaned down and scooped her up, hugging her tightly and kissing her cheeks repeatedly. “Goodnight my little chickadee, I’ll see you in the morning.”
Lila grinned brightly. “G’night Auntie Nat!”
The redhead smiled and set her niece back down, before turning and heading up the stairs. Bucky had been intercepted by Laura, hugging him and telling him to make himself at home, there were snacks in the fridge if he was up early and extra blankets in the hall closet if he was cold. Clint pulled him in for a hug as well, smiling and telling him it was nice having him for dinner and that he was welcome all weekend. “Judging by the display by the door a few minutes ago, you won’t want to go anywhere near those two for a few days.”

Bucky readily agreed, shuddering again at the thought. Then Lila scampered over to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and hugging him tightly. He patted her back and smiled, telling her goodnight fondly. She pulled back, grinning at him, and waved as he went up the stairs.

“G’night Uncle Bucky!”

Clint did a double take, gaping at his daughter, and Laura’s eyebrows shot up, both parents equally stunned. They had not been expecting that. Bucky positively beamed, puffing up like a proud chicken. “Goodnight, moya plemyannitsa.” Lila grinned like she knew exactly what that meant, and skipped off toward the living room again. Bucky made his way up the stairs, grinning all the way, and Clint turned to gape at Laura. They were silent for several moments.

“Well. I guess we both lost.”
Clint snorted. “I’ll say.”
Silence.

“Although technically I won because he and Captain America have been attached at the hip since second grade.”

Clint gaped at his wife for a long moment, before busting out laughing. “I love you, my little dork.”

Laura just smiled, pressing a kiss to his lips. Then she turned and followed her daughter into the living room. Clint could tell by her body language that she intended on finding out why the little girl had referred to the Winter Soldier as her uncle before any of the others, and Clint followed her quickly.

Cooper was passed out in the recliner in the corner, his baby brother in his lap. Laura covered them both with a blanket, and then looked at her daughter with a smile, kissing her on the forehead gently.

“So, Uncle Bucky, huh?”
Lila smiled innocently, nodding. “Yup.”
She didn’t seem inclined to explain her apparently obvious reasoning, and Clint settled down beside her on the floor.
“Why’s that?”
She looked up at him, her expression clearly asking whether or not he was serious. Upon determining that he was, she shrugged.
“Well, cause he’s gonna marry Auntie Nat.”
Clint stared at her, gobsmacked.
“He is, is he? You sure about that kiddo?”

Lila looked at him again, and once again she nodded calmly. “Of course. He’s her true love. Her soldat.

Clint looked at her blankly. “Lila, sweetie, what are you talking about?”

Lila sighed, setting down her pencil and paper, where she was apparently drawing Nat in a wedding dress. She had the air of someone trying to patiently explain something incredibly simple and obvious that the other person was completely failing to grasp, and it made Clint want to burst out laughing. Lila was absolutely adorable sometimes. Scratch that. All the time.

“Well yeah. She knew him Before, in the Bad Place. He was the first person to show her what love meant, and she gave him her heart. Auntie Nat said that he was the only good thing about her life for a long time and that he told her she was the only good thing in his, too. They saved each other, but they had to keep it a secret. And then one day, the Obrabotchiki found out, and they took him away from her and stole his memories.”

She looked down at her page, picking up her pencil and adding a few more lines to the flowing white dress her Aunt was wearing in the picture.

“And now they found each other again, and Auntie Nat said she doesn’t ever want to let him go again. She said she doesn’t know if he has his memories back yet, or if he still loves her, but I know he does. It was written all over his face all night.”

Laura’s eyes were filled with tears, and Clint was staring in stunned silence at his little girl. He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her small head, trying not to burst out crying, and rubbed her shoulder.

“Well, I bet she’ll want you to be her maid of honor.”

Lila scoffed. “Don’t be silly. You’ll be her maid of honor.”

Clint chuckled quietly, shaking his head. “Well, I’ll be honored if she asks me to.” Then he stood, offering Lila a hand. “Now, why don’t you get up to bed, and in the morning you can show Uncle Bucky that picture you’re working on.”

Laura didn’t miss the evil glint in his eye when he suggested that, and she smothered a laugh at the mental image of Bucky snorting coffee out his nose when Lila announced to him that she’d designed Auntie Nat a wedding dress.

With Lila in bed, Laura and Clint set about cleaning up what was left of their Thanksgiving dinner, which they’d forbidden the others to help with, saying they could get it themselves. Even Captain America hadn’t dared to mess with Laura’s ‘You do as I say’ face, and had left well enough alone, despite the fact that he wasn’t happy about it. After they finished cleaning they sat and had a glass of wine together, and finally headed up to bed a couple hours after Lila had gone up. As they made their way down the hall, Laura stopped and pushed Natasha’s bedroom door open, peering in carefully.

Natasha’s red hair was splayed across the pillow and covering her face, and Bucky’s metal arm was draped over her back, holding her close to him. They appeared to have every single blanket in the house piled on top of them, despite how warm the house was and the fact that they were curled up beside each other. Naked, from what Laura could tell.

She pulled the door shut and tugged Clint down the hall to their room, grinning.

The next morning, two sleepy assassins stumbled downstairs hand in hand, smiling happily despite their bleary eyes. Much to Clint’s disappointment, when Lila presented them with the picture of Natasha’s wedding dress and an additional drawing she’d done of an engagement ring, the two just smiled and asked if she’d be their maid of honor.

(She gleefully accepted, grinning and hugging them both in turn.)