Actions

Work Header

My Phone Wrote My Prompts: 50 Ficlet Challenge

Chapter Text

  1. Steve bats at his forehead.
  2. Bucky wore them to the side.
  3. Natasha lets herself in his life.
  4. Tony! It’s been here for a while.
  5. Sam and I will be a good decision.
  6. Peter knew he was blushing horribly.
  7. Tony, stop by and pick up the phone.
  8. Bruce was a little bit of a headache.
  9. Getting ready to go to sleep. JARVIS?
  10. Clint was pretty much all of the couch
  11. Rocket, but he could see how it works.
  12. Bucky ignores the floor and he is cute.
  13. Wanda and the post-mission high school. - No pairing, T, Family feels
  14. Bucky caught up with it and it was laundry. - Bucky Barnes/Tony Stark, T
  15. Clint wasn’t even really good at all times.
  16. Rhodey, the man who couldn’t get the leash.
  17. Scott has been nothing but a useful lesson. - No Pairing, T
  18. Steve Rogers was posted by the time I saw him.
  19. Natasha knew something was not burnt out there. - Natasha Romanov/Clint Barton, G
  20. Rhodes. He was planted in the corner of her life.
  21. Natasha absently settled in the middle of the couch
  22. Natasha took over the past few years of his psyche.
  23. Scott has not changed the password for his own life.
  24. Pietro, I am not sure what the fuck is wrong with you.*
  25. Steve knew that the windows were going to stay closed.
  26. JARVIS? Might have been able to do anything surgically.
  27. Scott has been very carefully trying not to fall asleep.*
  28. Bucky had pushed back to work on getting right and wrong. - No Pairing (Possibly pre-WinterHawk), G
  29. Pietro and Clint nearly bored his roommate to the ground.
  30. Getting ready to go to sleep. James couldn’t help himself.
  31. Rhodes, the fact is choice if not really feasible for you.
  32. Clint Barton the man who couldn’t get it to you in October. - No Pairing, T
  33. Phil tested the window a final time to get the best Danish.*
  34. Peter was just wondering if anyone else in the world pulled out.
  35. Pietro, I am not sure what the heck is going on with the curtains.
  36. Rhodey, but he was being held on a tight budget for the first time.
  37. Rocket, of course you want to use those skills and knowledge to be a problem.
  38. Tony had thrown on a pair of shorts that did nothing to hide his face. *
  39. Peter had been working on getting some necessary data from his roommate.
  40. Coulson wanted to let her know it was a very different post on Craigslist.*
  41. Pepper, I am not sure how long it takes to get your: free time(.1)/ass(.2)
  42. Clint had scraped up the phone with a lot of weird texts from his own life. - No Pairing, G
  43. Steve heard from them in total darkness and he could vaguely remember sunrise.
  44. Clint slid his head beneath the lone window and it was still warm in his hands.
  45. Pietro, I am not sure if it’s scanning the other end of this glass of milk and sugar.
  46. Tony nodded. He could still feel the burning on the back of his neck and down his arms.*
  47. Wanda and Clint couldn’t deny he was barely drugged enough for handling multiple people.
  48. Rocket, the only thing that we can provide you are not going to be made from recycled paper.
  49. Rodey, the man turns out that way if he has been nothing but a lot of: weird(.1)/sweatshirts(.2)
  50. Getting ready to go to sleep. James couldn’t help wincing at the thought of something potentially worse than the other day.




Chapter Text

Bucky didn’t get paid nearly enough for all of the work he did around this stupid resort. He hadn’t even wanted this job, not really, but he’d owed Steve a favour. That favour had started with covering one shift, then a few, then just taking over the job once Steve decided he would rather spend the summer with his new girlfriend than be a responsible adult.

It wasn’t usually so bad, since he was here so late. Bucky worked the night shift, after all. Tonight, though, it was surprisingly busy, and he hadn’t had any time to waste. First, two kids had climbed up the fake palm tree screaming that they were spiders. Then someone had thought that a beach resort was the perfect place to try and keep a falcon in their hotel room. At a little past eleven, a drunken group of college kids had gone larping through the lobby, the biggest one smacking into everything with a giant foam hammer.

Now, it was just past midnight, and the current source of his frustration was a runaway cart. Bucky had been stacking the chairs around the pool when he’d heard a high-pitched shriek and a soft whump. Moments later, the cart had gone careening by, bouncing across the concrete surround on its way towards the ocean.

Bucky had caught up with it, and it was… laundry. No joyriding kids. No drunk adults. Just a cart full of dirty beach towels at the edge of the sand.

At least, he had thought that was all it was, until he saw it start to wriggle, saw one skinny arm poke up from the pile to grab hold of one side of the cart, followed shortly by a second grabbing the opposite. As he watched, a man pulled himself slowly out of the rolling laundry cart, face set in a grimace.

“Ehk… Moist…”

The man finally caught sight of Bucky, staring back at him, cheeks flushing. “Oh. Sorry, I’ll just be a minute, and then you can take this to, um, wherever you need to take it, I guess. Just let me-!” He caught his leg on the metal edge of the cart and pitched forward.

Bucky reacted without thinking, catching him before he could hit the sand and hauling him free of the linens. They were about the same height, but the other man was much lighter; wiry in comparison to Bucky’s own bulk. He had a neatly trimmed beard, square-framed glasses, and the kind of nose that spoke to having been on the receiving end of at least a few punch-related breaks. He was in rumpled sleep pants and a tank top, which had ridden up just enough to show a hint of dark hair above his waistband. He was sort of cute. Especially for being the kind of guy who popped out of laundry carts in the middle of the night.

The stranger quickly stepped back once he was upright, eyes tracing over Bucky. His voice was brusque, almost embarrassed, when he spoke, again. “Thank you, um…” He squinted, and Bucky realized he was reading the name-tag pinned to his polo shirt. “… James. I appreciate the help. I’ll…” He nodded to the stairs, edging towards them. “I’ll just be going.”

“Bucky.” He wasn’t sure what made him blurt that out, but it did make the other man pause.

“I’m sorry?” Cute laundry stranger blinked back at him, owl eyed.

He grinned, tucking a loose wisp of hair behind his ear out of habit. “Usually, the guys that fall into my arms call me Bucky.”

“Huh. Well, I guess that is pretty much exactly what happened, so… Nice to meet you, Bucky.” There was a spark, the tiniest flash of something in the other man’s eyes as he gave Bucky another once over. The stranger offered his hand. “Quite nice, all things considered. I’m Tony, and I’m hiding.”

Tony’s grip was firm when they shook, but his words made Bucky tilt his head in question. “In a laundry cart?”

“It was right under my window.” Tony grinned, patting the canvas side of the cart. “Perfect for an escape.”

Bucky wondered what insanity he’d gotten himself mixed up in. “Escape? From what?”

A woman’s voice echoed over the lounge deck, “Stark!” and Tony startled.

“From Pepper; my editor! I told her I was busy tonight, but she came by my room to check my progress, anyway. Shit!”

Bucky could see someone slowly making their way past the tennis courts. He could hear the soft click of shoes on the concrete, and just could tell that the woman was blonde. “Is she that bad?”

“She wears spike heels in the sand-!” Tony whisper-shouted through his teeth, ducking down behind the cart to look up at him. “How bad do you think she is?”

Given what he’d seen of similar guests, Bucky would have gone with somewhere between pretty bad and terrifying woman not to be crossed. “And she’ll be mad if she finds out you weren’t busy?”

“Yes-! And gallivanting around in a laundry cart isn’t going to work as an excuse.” Tony pressed the fingers of one hand to his temples, beginning a quiet mantra to himself. “Shit, shit, shit, shi-”

Bucky felt a twinge of sympathy. The other man looked genuinely upset, but there wasn’t anything he could do, really, with nothing but a bunch of dirty beach towels, and- “Tony. Shut up and grab a towel.”

“What?”

“Never mind. C’mon.” Bucky snatched two towels from the cart, throwing the soggy fabric down onto the sand behind it. He pushed Tony towards them as the other man made a protesting sound of disgust. “Just lay down.”

“Why?”

The same voice echoed from across the pool, closer now. “Anthony Edward Stark, I know you’re out here, and I’m not leaving without those revisions!”

Bucky used the momentary distraction of Pepper’s yell to force Tony to lie back on the towels. He positioned himself over him on all fours, reaching back to pull out the tie holding his hair. It curtained around their faces as he leaned in close to whisper. “Bite up your mouth and fake it, okay?”

Tony blushed, quite cutely, but nodded, chewing into his lips in a way that Bucky found all too enjoyable to watch.

He dropped his hips, not quite pressing in against the man beneath him, but getting as close to Tony as he could. Bucky used one hand to muss the other man’s short hair to better sell the illusion. In the dark, with only the wan security lights, it would probably work.

He dropped his hand back down to cup against Tony’s cheek, lowering his head until their foreheads touched. It was just in time.

Only a moment later, Bucky could hear the sound of Pepper’s footsteps change as she stepped onto the sand, could see the toe of a black pump come into view around the edge of the cart. “Tony, I know you’re down there, and… Oh… I didn’t realize you were making out with the pool guy.”

“I did say I was busy, didn’t I?” Tony leaned his head to the side, knocking their noses together as he did so. He looked past Bucky’s shoulder, but made no other attempt to move as he spoke. “Besides, he’s a very cute pool guy, Pepp.”

Bucky nodded, trying to ignore the little flip in his stomach at Tony’s complimentary lie. He put on his best shit eating grin, turning his head and staring up at Pepper’s incredulous glare. “I’m a very cute pool guy, Pepp.”

Pepper rolled her eyes, heeled shoe digging into the sand at her indignant little stomp. “Don’t blame me when you chafe something important out here on the sand.” She huffed, arms folding over her chest. “If I don’t have something to present by noon, I’m tying you to the chair until it’s finished.”

“Speaking of finishing, Pepper, would you mind if we..?” Tony winked, nodding in his direction, and Bucky forgot to breath for a minute.

“Fine, fine…” She turned, click-clacking her way back up the stairs and past the pool, still muttering fine until she was far enough away that they couldn’t hear her.

Beneath him, Tony giggled softly. “Excellent plan, pool guy.”

Bucky nodded, looking back down at him, still trying to find his voice.

Tony’s glasses were a little crooked, hair still messy, flush just beginning to fade on his cheeks. Even in the wan light of the security lamps, Bucky was close enough to tell that his eyes were a deep, beautiful blue. He could feel the slight puffs of Tony’s breath on his face, smelling like stale coffee. He knew he should move, get up now that their ruse had worked, but he didn’t.

Instead, he leaned back down, voice low as he asked. “Hey… Are you busy right now?”

Oblivious, Tony shook his head, eyes darting in the direction his editor had gone. “No, I’m not. Just gotta wait a few more minutes until I’m sure she’s back in her room.”

Bucky snorted out a nervous chuckle, brushing his thumb over Tony’s cheek until the other man looked up at him. He tipped his head further down, bumping their noses together with a teasing grin. “You’re sure you’re not busy now?”

“Of course, I’m not. I just told you-” Tony blinked, realization blooming in his eyes, dragging a blush with it back across his face. He nodded slowly, tilting his head up, until their lips were almost brushing at he spoke. “Actually, I might be busy for a while, depending on when your shift ends…”

“I usually get off at two.” It was lame, even for him, and started Tony giggling. At least for the few seconds that he could before Bucky’s tongue slipped past his lips. After all, they didn’t exactly have time to waste. Bucky worked the night shift, and, tonight, it was surprisingly busy.

Chapter Text

🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜

It had been twenty-six days since Clint Barton had realized he couldn’t handle normal. Twenty-seven since he’d come back, and twenty-two since he’d come clean, about all of it, to his wife. Twenty days since Laura had asked him to sleep downstairs on the couch, and nineteen since he’d woken up without her. Fifteen days since he’d gotten the divorce papers, and fourteen since the first time Lila had screamed that she hated him.

For two weeks, Clint had tried, anyway, to keep things as normal as he could for the kids. He’d be up at five, have breakfast hot and ready by quarter ‘til six, get all three off to the carpool for school by half-past. That left him the rest of the day to try to repair the farm, to figure out how he was going to rebuild his life after all of this.

That had worked until now, only leaving him to struggle through the awkward pauses of the weekend, but school was over at the end of the month. The kids would be home, with free time to spare; hanging out, staying up late, and asking more questions.

Clint wasn’t sure he could handle it full time: Nate, wanting to know when Laura would be back from her trip; Coop, talking about vacations in the city with Auntie Nat; Lila, standing in silent judgment, glaring at him from her bedroom door before she shut it in his face.

He’d have to tell them. All of it, or as much as they could handle. In a week or so, he’d have to start tearing into that, again, this time with his kids along for the ride.

Clint sighed into his palm and went back to folding laundry.

The phone rang, unbidden and unwanted, and he snatched it up with a glare. The number was from California, the name was unlisted. He really hoped it wasn’t Rhodey, again. He answered on the third ring. “Hello?”

Hey!” The man on the other end of the line coughed, restarting his greeting. “Hi, Clint? This is Clint, right? HawkGuy?”

Clint rolled his eyes with a bewildered huff. He recognized the voice – lively, if a little nervous – but couldn’t quite place it. “Yeah. This is Clint. Who is this?”

Oh, it’s Scott.” The man paused, possibly waiting for Clint to recognize him from the name. Clint didn’t. He heard a deep breath and sigh before the man spoke, again. “It’s, uh, Ant Man? The guy that shrinks, but also gets really big sometimes? Scott Lang?”

“Oh, yeah.” Unexpected, to say the least. Clint shifted the phone up onto his shoulder, going back to his folding. “Did you want something, Scott?”

Well, I… Look, this is gonna sound weird, but I heard you were dealing with some stuff right now, and I am, too, so I thought maybe we could help each other out. Maybe I could – you know – visit for a bit? Help out with the, um… chickens?”

He fought the urge to hang up the phone. Bruce, Phil, Rhodey, fuck, even Fury had all called at least once recently to check up on him. Now, it seemed they were recruiting guys he barely knew. He growled his reply back into the phone. “Who put you up to this?”

Nobody! I mean, I heard about the whole… divorce thing from Bruce, but I just… it seemed like a good idea.”

It really drove home how desperate the whole situation had been, that they had needed to rely on this guy for help at the end. What kind of fucking moron was he? “You thought it was a good idea to ask the guy watching his life fall apart if you could come and hang out? That sound like a good idea to you, Lang?”

“No.” Scott’s voice dropped, oddly serious, and with an air of authority Clint hadn’t heard before. It cut into the rage building behind his eyes, made him feel strangely chastened with a single word. “Look, before last month, I’d never been to space. Or helped test a really terrifying method of time travel. Or talked to a raccoon that I’m pretty sure thinks he’s smarter than I am.” Lang scoffed. “Heck, two months ago, I hadn’t even left my house for two years, at least that’s how it felt, anyway, and, let me tell you, San Francisco housing is tight, and gets boring real fast.”

“What’s your point?”

My point is, it’s only been a month or so since I had practice being a divorced dad. I’ve got that experience, right, the whole way through, and Maggie and I still talk and everything. I’ve been good at that… But I have no idea how to handle a teen girl.”

Frankly, Clint wasn’t sure he knew how to either, anymore. He started to talk, but Scott cut him off and kept going.

Now, you, though? You haven’t been a dad in five years, and you’re not totally divorced yet, but you’ve got tweeny-teen experience, and two other kids that maybe you could use a second set of eyes to look after.” Scott cleared his throat, tone walking back to its usual mode of semi-deferential and perplexed. “I mean, not as good as yours, but... Just thought... maybe we could help each other out?”

It wasn’t the worst idea Clint had heard this month. Having someone else around would give the kids someone new to spend time with, and offer him the chance at getting a few things in order with another adult around to be a distraction. Plus, it wasn’t like Scott really knew him all that much, or all that well. If things went to shit, Clint wouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about it after he ran the guy off. “Yeah, I get that. Can’t say I’ll be a model host, but…”

Great. It’ll take us a few weeks.”

“Us?”

Cassie and I are doing a daddy-daughter road trip. You’ll be our last stop, if that’s okay?”

“I guess. Lila might take to some company besides her brothers and me.” He smiled sadly; that was an understatement.

Awesome! See ya, Clint.” The call ended with a soft bree-beep.

Clint went back to his folding.

🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜

It had been twenty-one days since the phone call, seven days since school ended, when Scott and Cassie rolled up in a bright blue Nissan cube.

Even without the unnecessary white and silver flames down the side of the car, and the vanity plate he just could make out – BUGGNYU – Clint would have known it was them, immediately, by the obnoxious horn. It was very wrong, hearing the tooted version of La Cucaracha coming out of the tiny car, but somehow appropriate from what little he knew of Scott Lang.

Clint dropped himself out of the loft window, walking around from the back of the barn. He thought about calling the kids over, but then Scott beeped the horn a second time. There was no way anyone was going to miss that.

By the time he made it up to the house, both Langs had already gotten out of the car. They stood next to it, Scott’s arm casually around Cassie’s shoulder. Lila was walking up the drive to them, Cooper, with Nathaniel in tow, not far behind.

Scott waved, shouting – “Hey, Clint!” – before extending his hand to the closest Barton. “You must be Lila.”

She stopped, just out of reach, arms folding up over her chest. Even though he was behind her, Clint could tell by the sound of her words that she was scowling as she spoke. “You work with my dad, right?” The accusation in that last word was palpable.

“Um... adjacent to your dad?” With no hand to shake in return, Scott shoved his hand back into his pocket. He didn’t frown, so much as he seemed to sober, the normal geniality bleeding out of his face at the edges, hovering at the line of nervous and concerned. “I mean,” Scott shrugged, “I’m not full time, and I'm not really supposed to…”

“Lila,” Clint cut in before Scott had any more time to fumble. He wiped his hands on his pants, awkwardly settling his hand on his daughter’s shoulder, unthinkingly mirroring their guests’ pose. At least Lila didn’t flinch this time. “This is Scott and Cassie Lang, and, um...”

He nodded to the two enormous ants crawling out of the trunk and back seat, dragging a few suitcases with them. The first was blood brown with a thick, square head, jaws that looked like a trash compactor, and frighteningly long legs. The second was nearly twice as large, but sat just as low to the ground, with a black head and body, brown wide-set legs, and long, wiggling antennae.

His sons drew up behind him, and Clint felt his daughter stiffen, lean ever so slightly closer, at the sight of the enormous insects.

Once they set down the luggage, both ants took off, skittering over to the edge of the horse paddock far too quickly for his comfort.

“Uh, Lang?”

Scott looked back, jumping slightly before he whistled. “No, hey, woah, those aren’t food – not food, right? – Antonia, Antsel, get back here!”

The larger of the two ants clicked its mandibles until the smaller one snapped at it. Both walked slowly back to stand next to Cassie, who petted the bigger ant’s head.

“Sorry about that. This is Maria ANTonia -” The smaller ant clicked, stumpy antennae flicking briefly in their direction. “- and ANTsel Adams.” The larger one reached out with one jointed black antenna, waving it at them in what Clint assumed was meant to be a friendly gesture.

“They’re here to help out, but maybe don’t pet Maria. She’s kind of... testy.” Scott nodded slightly, giving the brown ant a steadying rub between her domed eyes. “Also poisonous.”

“Neat!” Cooper started bouncing, excitedly, on the balls of his feet. “Can she eat a cow?”

It wasn’t an inappropriate question for a nine-year-old, but Clint thought it was kind of gross. “Coop.”

“Probably not? I mean, mostly she just goes after stray cats and the occasional toddler when she gets this size.” As if realizing that, at four, Nate wasn’t so very removed from being a toddler himself, Scott pushed Maria back behind him.

The ant walked back to sit by the car, and Scott relaxed. “Now, Antsel? Maybe he could eat a cow? But mostly he just likes dog food and old hot dogs. You can pet him, if you want.”

Cooper clearly wanted, if the speed at which he immediately ran over and started climbing on the giant ant was any indication. Antsel settled onto the ground, giving Coop the chance, with Cassie’s help, of clambering onto his back.

Seemingly ignoring the pouting girl right in front of him, Scott walked up to the him, smiling down at his youngest child. “Since that’s Coop over there, that must make you, um..?”

“This is Nathaniel, but we call him Nate.” Clint settled his free hand atop his son’s head. The little boy clung to the back of Clint’s leg, peering up at Scott from behind his hip. “We, uh... named him after his aunt.”

“Oh, yeah?” The other man frowned, lips pressed thin. He reached into his coat pocket, pulling out a fresh deck of cards as he squatted down. He tore the plastic from the box and slid out the fresh deck, cutting and shuffling the cards without looking as he smiled at the youngest Barton. “Do you like magic, Nate?”

Clint could feel a tiny, nodded yes against his leg.

“Me, too, buddy.” Scott fanned the cards in his hand. He held them out, tapping at the backs. “Pick one, and show your dad, but not me, okay?” Scott closed his eyes, free hand covering them as well.

Nate plucked out a card – eight of spades – and then, at Clint’s prompting, tucked it back in another space.

Scott peeped through his fingers, grinning, and began to reshuffle the cards. He did a series of running cuts, first on one palm, then the other. He split and bridged the deck, then arched the cards in a fluttering line from left hand to right. Lang cut the deck a final time, grinning, and shoved it into his back pocket and pushed up his sleeves. With exaggerated care, he reached up behind Nate’s ear, plucking a card seemingly out of nowhere.

Clint had seen a lot of hustling, a lot of street magic, but even he had to admit: Scott Lang was good at it.

“Is this your card?” Scott spun it between two fingers. It was the eight of clubs.

Nate shook his head no.

“Oh, my mistake. Must’ve sent it a little too high. Lemme just-” Standing, Scott reached over Clint’s own shoulder with a wink, leaning back to reveal a hand with not one, but two cards. He showed the first – seven of spades – and the second – nine of spades.

Nate shook his head both times, but Scott seemed unfazed.

“Oh, but I’m close right. So close. I can feel it. I can feel… Oh… Oh, no. I think…” Lang squatted close to the ground, making a sound very close to a retch, hand coming up to cover his mouth. “Oh, I think I’m feeling something …!” Scott reached his other hand up to his mouth, then pulled both away at once. “Bluuuugghh!”

A torrent of cards, what looked to Clint to be an entire deck, fell through his fingers, seeming to pour straight out from his mouth. Every one of them was an eight of spades.

From beside his hip, Clint heard Nate start to giggle, little hands up on his face as he snorted.

Behind them, Lila had sidled over close to Cassie, who was sighing with an indulgent eye-roll in Scott’s direction. “Dad, that’s so lame.”

“Of course, it’s lame. I’m your dad; I’m not allowed to be cool, jellybean.” Scott finished picking up the cards from the gravel drive, shoving them back into his coat. “Grab your bag; it’s time to go inside.”

“But there’s horses out here.”

“Yeah.” Scott took his suitcase from where Antsel had dropped it earlier, already walking towards the house. “But there’s a toilet inside, and we haven’t stopped in three hours…”

🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜

The next two days could charitably have been called somewhat awkward. They were, in reality, exceedingly uncomfortable, at least for three of the four Bartons, if Lila’s pinched silence and Coop’s darted looks were any indication. Clint knew he certainly felt like garbage, hosting the Langs and showing them around the farm. Watching Scott beam, as Cassie showed the boys how to shrink and unshrink the tractor. Listening to Scott talk about the weird old drive up motels, the unusual roadkill they’d spotted, and the hour they’d spent tailing the wiener-mobile through Washington and trying to get free hot dogs.

It wasn’t that both of them weren’t wonderful, polite guests; in spite of Scott having a not-so-secret fear of horses, and Cassie being allergic to everything, they seemed to be having a good time. No, the problem was far simpler than that.

Scott and Cassie got along. Well. Ridiculously so, considering they hadn’t seen each other in two months, or five years, depending on whose time perspective they were counting. It was like looking back into a warped mirror; a picture perfect version of the life Clint had lost, regained, and was losing, again.

It was painful, listening to the in-jokes and hearing the nicknames. Seeing the casual affection, even if Cassie was hitting the awkward, parents are weird, teenage phase. Staying in a home that used to feel like that, but now felt hollow; hostile.

The moment the kids left the table after lunch, running off while he and Scott cleared away the dishes, had been a relief. All too soon, though, they’d been finished, with Scott ambling back out onto the porch to feed the leftovers to Maria Antonia and watch the kids.

Clint had reluctantly joined him, just in time for both girls to run over. Lila stopped at the base of the stairs, but Cassie clambered right up onto the porch beside her dad, excitedly patting against his knee. “Dad, Lila says there's a bear trail in the woods. Can I go see?

Clint groaned softly. Great; first he was the pre-divorced dad whose daughter hated him. Now, he was still that, and also the guy who didn’t know said daughter had gone off chasing after bears. Top notch parenting right there. The disappointment seeped into his voice, though he wasn’t sure who it was for; probably himself. “Lila, you know I don’t like you going out there.”

She ignored him, talking directly to Scott instead. “It’s not like the bears even come close anymore. Dad scared everything off when he got back.”

The unvarnished accusation stung, made almost worse by the euphemism. Clint knew exactly who everything was, and she wasn’t coming back here any time soon.

Caught between them, Scott directed his answer to his own daughter, nodding gently in Clint’s direction as he spoke. “I mean, Mr. Barton knows more about wildlife than I do. If it’s dangerous…”

“We can take our phones with us.”

Because, of course, that would help if either of the girls ran into a bear. Clint frowned. “That’s great Lila, but-”

“Oh, wait!” Scott cut him off. “I got this.” He reached up and slipped off what looked like a little hands-free headset, tossing it to his daughter. “Hey, doodle-bug, catch.”

Cassie beamed back at him, turning it over in her hands, awestruck. “Really, daddy?” At his nod, she clipped it over her ear, blinking confusedly, but still grinning. After a minute, her face settled, and she stood, taking a tentative few steps away from the porch.

Maria Antonia got up from her spot leaning in against Scott’s leg, walking down the steps to stand at Cassie’s side.

Antsel – with both Coop and Nate riding him like an insectoid pony – lumbered up towards them, but Scott put a light hand out and he stopped, clearly the better trained ant. “You’re staying here, buddy. Go play.”

Antsel twitched his antennae, but turned around, carrying the boys with him.

Clint watched as Scott stepped up from the porch to give his daughter a quick squeeze, smiling fondly, with the barest hint of concern. “Just like we practiced, okay pumpkin? Keep Maria out in front. She’s a tough little gal, but no petting. Remember, you’ve got the short range one, so only fifty yards. And, um…” He looked back at Clint over his shoulder, fishing for more parameters.

“Um…” Right. He could do this, just like he had before. Lila would be fine. Scott wouldn’t send Cassie off if he honestly thought it was dangerous, and the girls would have a mastiff-sized, poisonous guard ant with them. “Back before dark, girls, and no bringing in snakes. You call in right away if you see a bear, and we’ll be right there.” He nodded, and Scott flashed him a quick thumbs up.

“Okay. Bye, Daddy! Love you!” Cassie grabbed Lila’s wrist, both girls taking off running, the ant rushing along beside them as they darted past the tree line. “Bye, Mr. Barton!”

“Get her in front, Cassie! Before dark, no bears or snakes…” Scott sighed, relaxing his hands into his pockets before shouting, vainly, at the spot where the girls had disappeared into the underbrush. “No raccoons, either! Especially not talking ones!”

🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜

It had been one day since the great bear trail adventure.

Scott had been nothing but a useful lesson. In patience. In puns. In not panicking when the girls came back in forty minutes past sunset; chasitizing them without actually yelling, but still managing to guilt them into dish duty for the duration of the Lang’s visit and a full day of chores today.

Now, with the girls’ day of penance over, and with all four kids asleep, Clint sat awake on the porch; and for the first time in a long while, he did so without being wracked with guilt. He took a sip of his coffee, not looking at Scott as he asked. “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“The whole split household thing. How do you keep it all so normal? How do you not fuck up?”

“Oh, that’s easy.” Scott shrugged, looking back out over the yard. “I don’t.”

“You don’t fuck up?”

“I don’t not fuck up.” Scott frowned contemplatively, then turned back to smile at him. “Which is to say that I do. All the time. Everybody does.”

“You’re serious?”

“Clint, you know I went to prison, right?” His face fell as he spoke, gaze drifting downward until Scott was staring into his coffee mug. “And, I mean, this was way before the whole superhero-jail sea-fortress thing. I’m talking actual, orange jumpsuit, might get shanked prison. During the divorce proceedings, so…” He flicked his eyes back up at Clint, startlingly sincere. “So, yeah, trust me, I have fucked up. A lot.

“You might not know it, but Cassie had to get stitches nine times between when Maggie and I split – when she was three – and when that whole quantum snappy thing happened. And six of those times were because of something she was doing with me. Two were bike crashes. That last one was Mrs. Parr’s old beagle, but he’s not a problem anymore, and-” Scott took a deep breath, and set his mug down on the porch. He rested his hand on Clint’s shoulder, head tilting to the side. “Look, what I mean is: It’s going to happen, Clint. You’re going to fuck up. The point is that you do your best not to, and that you do it the right way when you do.”

“Right now, you’re fuc-” Scott cut himself off with a slight grimace and a shake of his head. He stood abruptly, dropping his hands into his pockets, pacing in a slow circle as he spoke. “You know, I’m not used to cursing this much; I had an eight-year old before this summer, so, just… Yeah, that’s kinda…”

Scott stared out into nothing for a moment, expression uncomfortable. Clint didn’t blame him. Scott might not have actually disappeared – died, vanished, whatever – when the decimation had happened, but no one had known that. The guy had walked into an ugly van and traveled five years into the future by the time he walked out.

Sure, Clint had gone months, once almost a year, without actually seeing his children, but they’d spoken. They certainly hadn’t thought he was dead. It might have felt sometimes like he’d blinked and his kids had just grown up, but it hadn’t actually happened.

They were silent a long while before Scott spoke, again.

“You’re going to screw things up. Big time. All the time. Lila is probably gonna hate you for months – years in some ways – the boys, too, but you can't let that stop you from doing the right things for them, even though it’s all going to suck.” Scott crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back against the wooden roof-support post with a sigh. “Look, I think about it like an engineer. Kids are kinda like emotional plastic, right? Flexible, and pretty bouncy; but they get brittle when you’re cold. Just… just keep being their dad. That’s really all you can do.”

Clint nodded, digging the toe of his boot into the dirt, trying to process the quixotic torrent of advice that had just poured out of the other man. It wasn’t much of anything that he hadn’t heard or read before, but somehow it seemed different coming from Scott. Maybe it was because Lang had made it through – the divorce, and the Avenger-ing, and everything else – without losing everything.

He couldn’t really think of anything to say, but his nod seemed to be enough. Scott sat back down next to him.

It had been four weeks since he’d been out here this late without being miserable. It felt strange, feeling so normal, even if it was only for one day.

🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜 – 🐜

Chapter Text

↞ | ↞ | ↠ | ↠

Clint Barton had a stalker. A bona fide, creepily observant, probably had a string-wall dedicated to him at home stalker; he knew it. He had never seen anyone following him. There had been no strange footsteps, no tails, no vehicles circling his block. Nothing had moved or gone missing from his apartment, or even his locker at the gym.

He had trusted the cover he’d built, comfortable in the fact that no one much was looking for him, and that anyone who was wouldn’t find him. It had made the realization even worse. He had only been tipped off to the whole thing when he’d heard the crack from beneath his boot. He’d lifted his foot, stared down at a mess of wire, circuits, and shattered glass pressing into the snow.

Clint had scraped up a phone with… a lot of weird texts from his own life. Texts he hadn’t thought he’d been sending to the same people. Texts that they’d sent to him, but that he’d never gotten. That wasn’t even counting the pictures. Fuck, the pictures…

He had thought to hand it off to Tony, but… that was still a touchy subject. Clint agreed with Steve on more points than he didn't, but he was trying to stay out of the constantly snarky tête-à-tête those two seemed to keep falling into.

Instead, he’d taken the phone back to his apartment, run it through every bit of SHIELD tech he had available, and printed out all the notes, all the texts, all the pictures – and, jeez, were there a disturbingly high number of those – and then yelled to Hawkeye across the hallway. With Kate’s help, and about three pots of coffee split between them, Clint had built his own stalker wall, purple string and all.

From his spot on the couch, Clint stared at it, chin in hand. “What do you think, Katie-Kate?”

From her spot on the other end, Kate shrugged. “The shots would make me think you took them yourself, if you weren’t in them.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, see?” She pointed to the top row of pictures, a series that had been taken shooting down into the alleyway, consisting mostly of him walking the dog or taking out the garbage. “The angle is from pretty high up, and at a distance, with how grainy they are. Whoever this guy is, he shoots like a sniper.”

“Might not be a guy, Hawkeye.” He grinned, elbowing her.

“Not too many long-sighted female snipers, Hawkeye.” She smirked back, taking his coffee, emptying the remainder in one long gulp.

She wasn’t wrong. He really didn’t know of any besides her; definitely not any that would have been foolish or desperate enough to risk taking him on as a target. Of course, the list for male snipers was almost as short. There was him, maybe Barney, if he was alive, and… Yeah, that was really about it. At least that Clint knew of for sure. There was always the rumour mill, the collection of whispered warnings that hinted there was at least one other person out there, but he had his doubts. Firstly, that the guy even existed at all, and secondly, that he would be coming after someone like Clint Barton.

He was mostly out of the assassination game, so he wasn’t really competition. He also wasn’t much of a threat to the guy; for the moment, there was minimal risk of him going for anyone above the level of tracksuit thug on his own without an order from SHIELD or a request from Cap. Even if he was part of a more troublesome collective, now, Clint had finally hit the point where he might be worth more alive than dead; the knowledge in his head more valuable to the team than his actual skills.

Clint sighed, getting up for another cup of coffee. It really didn’t make any sense. He glanced back out to the living room, watching as Kate pulled on her purple beanie and puffy coat. She knelt to clip Lucky to his leash and slip the little snow booties onto his feet. “You want anything from the store?”

“Nah. I’m just gonna sit here and, well, stare at the wall, I guess.” Clint opened the door for them, getting a quick shoulder pat from Kate before Lucky started yanking her towards the elevator. He looked down at the piled high garbage with a soft sigh. Might as well; for now there wasn’t much he could do except wait.

↞ | ↞ | ↠ | ↠

He was a long-time member of SHIELD, and partner to the last surviving Black Widow operative. He was avoiding some of his teammates at the moment, but that didn’t matter. It was what he knew, and about whom, that was really important. Even if he had found that phone, it was of little concern. He wasn’t going to chase down a rumour. Especially one that didn’t actually pose a threat. Not really; not anymore. Not to him.

Hawkeye left the building, walking the dog out the front, probably on her way to the corner shop. A moment later, Hawkeye stepped into the alley, tossing out a few boxes into the dumpster before walking back up the four flights of stairs, letting the door slam behind him as he picked up his coffee and went back to the sofa. Clint Barton was alone in his apartment. Clint Barton had answers.

The Asset had questions. Many, many questions, and plenty of time. He settled back into his new nest, already blanketed in a thin layer of snow, and lined up the next shot.

↞ | ↞ | ↠ | ↠

Chapter Text

Clint was on the phone, again. Had been, on and off, for most of the morning. Usually that meant they had a job. Wanda kept one ear out to listen, still typing away at her computer, slowly completing another asset transfer. Scott was a great locksmith, but he burnt his aliases like firewood.

Captain? It’s Clint Barton… The man who couldn’t get it to you in October… Yeah, well, I got a lead on that particular item. I'm in the market to pick something up from the same shop, myself. I thought maybe we could negotiate splitting the travel costs… "

Snatch and move job, then. She preferred the white-collar work; she could do that without having to leave the house, but those weren’t the sorts of jobs that brought in the quick, big money. She could use that kind of cash. After three years with Barton Brothers Imports – a cover company her own skills helped prop up – Wanda had managed to squirrel away nearly enough to pay a finder’s fee. This last job, and she could, even if she had no plans to get out, at least not have to stay in alone.

"… oh, I'd say maybe 75? 80 kilos? Street value's low, but high risk, same as your product. We could probably get it to you in… Three weeks sound good? … Three weeks. Appreciate your business, Captain.”

“We have a client?”

“Looks like.” Clint slipped the phone into his pocket, ambling close to drape over her back, face next to hers as he spoke. “How is my favourite little witch today, hmm?”

She chuckled at the sobriquet, knocking her head sideways into his. “Not a witch today, either, Hawkeye.”

“Aww... Scarlet, c'mon, don't pout.” He poked her other cheek, grinning. “Your birthday's coming up next month, right? What do you want?”

What did she want? Wanda frowned, looking down at the dog-eared photo stuck with blu-tac to the lower edge of her monitor. She didn’t really want much, certainly didn’t need anything at this point.

Clint and Natasha had already done more than enough to help her get comfortable, especially after they’d none to subtly recruited her during that poker game. She hadn’t planned to stay this long, but she fit alright here with them: with Scott, all weird dad advice and contagious enthusiasm; with Jess, no nonsense and crass, but surprisingly soft when she wasn't pissed-off; with Natasha, who’d taught her how to use, and maim with, a flat-iron; and with Clint, always laughing, but never quite joking.

They’d needed a tech. She'd needed a crew. It worked, and she didn’t need much of anything else. At least… “Not anything you can give. I'm fine.”

“Wanda, seriously; name it. If we can't get it, I doubt anyone could.” He stood, ruffling her already frazzled hair. “Come on; what do you want? You're only young once, and we're family.”

“Are we?”

“Huh?”

Wanda shrugged up at him, then turned back to her screen.

⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛

Scott ran his fingers through his hair, breath puffing out his cheeks. Jessica had finally coerced Wanda to leave the building with the promise of hitting a new alternative fashion store, a look of abject horror stretched across her face when the youngest member of their operation had agreed. They could fill her in on the plans later. This was a surprise, after all.

“It's hard to get good intel without going across.” Natasha clicked her tongue, waving a hand over the grainy photographs Clint had gotten from their newest client. “But I can get the transfer processed once I’m there.”

“Our client will cover the transit fees for labour.”

“D’you think Scarlet’ll do it, though?” Scott knew it was what she wanted, but they had all learned how private she could be. He’d thought the two children in that picture were her secret kids until just recently.

“She's just running the comms, and we can keep identifiers out.” Clint met his gaze with a nod. “Facility is low-tech; you can cover it Ant. Me and Jem on the inside, Widow on the outside. Scarlet will be working out of the place in Bucharest.”

Scott nodded, tracing a finger over the paper map. “I assume that means you and Scarlet will be handling Winters?”

“With Widow coming back to sit on the Captain at the drop point. You and Jem will have the other package.”

“Got a stupid name for him, too?” Scott grinned as Clint flipped him off. In truth, he loved their silly little codenames, but that didn’t mean they weren’t dumb as shit.

“Not yet. Ideas?”

Scott looked down at the picture Jess had gotten the week before of their second priority.

The kid was tall, though not too much taller than Scott had expected, but wiry looking inside the prison jumpsuit. His bright eyes were the same – that and the height proof they’d once been a matching pair – but time on the inside had worn away any of the softness. It had changed him on the inside, too; Scott would know.

Still it was the hair that really caught his eye. Whatever it might have been before, it had turned, gone grey-white, leaving the kid almost otherworldly. But Grey was a stupid name, and he couldn’t be Kid forever. “How about Silver?”

⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛

“All set, Scarlet?”

Wanda nodded, shutting her laptop as Clint packed the last of his equipment away into their luggage. They'd just docked. Now all that was left was unloading their shipments and getting paid. Just in time for her birthday. She snorted to herself; another job, another pay cheque, another year of maybe next year. Maybe next year she’d tell them the whole story. Maybe next year she’d have enough to hire the rest of the crew, to finally get what she’d been taking all these jobs for. Maybe next year.

Between them, their recently sprung cargo sat perched on the bed. He prodded at the sling strapping his prosthetic across his chest his before, once again, tucking his hair back behind his ears. “What happened to the other guy?”

Turning, Wanda batted his hands down, quickly pulling his hair into a little half bun on the back of his head. It was hard enough to move live cargo to begin with. Fussy cargo tended to draw unwanted attention, another reason why she hated these sorts of jobs. She honestly had no idea where the other man they had sprung was going. She hadn't even seen him; keeping the scheduled delivery information separate was an easy way to safeguard the crew. He could check on his little cellmate once they got him to his pickup. “I'm sure he’ll be fine, James.”

“It’s Buc-”

Clint interrupted him with a snap. “It’s James Winters, at least until we get you dropped off. Unless, of course, you want us to go back to calling you Ass-et?”

“No. Sorry.” James nodded, tired blue eyes looking up at her as Wanda straightened his collar. He kept talking as she checked over the last of his new – if slightly ill-fitting – civilian clothes. “Was just in there a while. Kinda surprised the kid got transferred in with me, least until you guys sprung us.”

“You shouldn’t worry.” Wanda knew that Scott could make anyone feel comfortable, and even Jess could be very pleasant when she wanted to. “Our associates will see that he’s well cared for.”

“We’re rolling.” Clint hefted their shared suitcase, holding out Wanda’s bag with his other hand.

She helped James stand, taking the lead, grabbing her bag from Clint as they left the two-bedroom suite that had been their home for nine days. Wanda knew she was going to have a headache tomorrow; ocean travel only agreed with her until she got off the ship.

Slinging her bag over her shoulder, Wanda hooked her arm around James’ waist, carefully steering them up the hall, navigating the throngs of other disembarking passengers as Clint peeled off for the secondary gangway. They would meet back up at the house; he was trusting her to handle this portion of the transfer on her own.

James was tense and silent, even once they were on the dock, but he was easy enough to manoeuvre. She had no idea what his ride looked like, but had little difficulty spotting Natasha’s red hair in the crowd. The older woman was perched on a man’s shoulders, waving a Welcome Home sign, the model picture of a friend excited for someone’s return. Grabbing James’ real arm, Wanda tugged him behind her through the throng until they reached the pair.

By the time they did, Natasha had dismounted; she stood with her arm looped through that of a sober looking blond. His face twisted when he caught sight of them. Wanda could see him lurch forward, only to stagger back. Nat had him in an arm lock; regardless of her small size, he wasn’t moving unless she wanted him to.

Wanda held on to James in the same way, keeping their pace casual as they reached the pair.

Natasha smirked. “I have our payment.”

“I have our package.” Wanda smiled back.

She released James’ arm at the same time Natasha let go of the Captain, and the slight straining both men had been doing sent them stumbling into each other. After a moment of fumbling, they managed a hug around the fake arm, the taller man actually lifting James off the ground for a moment. “Missed you, Buck.”

It was sweet to see, one perk besides the money to these sorts of live cargo jobs.

Natasha hooked her arm in Wanda’s, steering them away, back towards the transit station and the train that would get them home far too early tomorrow morning. “Come on. Big day tomorrow, right, birthday girl?”

Wanda nodded, yawning into her hand.

⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛⚝⟛

The angle of the sun told her it was still definitely morning when she felt the hard poke against the bottom of her foot. Wanda kicked down at whoever it was, only for the hand to grasp her around the ankle and tug, pulling her half-off the bed, feet first.

“Get up, birthday girl. I had to be awake before ten for this.”

Of course. Because who else would be ballsy enough to literally pull her out of bed? “No… Jess…” Wanda yanked her leg back under the blankets, pulling the pillow back over her head and grumbling a few more choice words in Sokovian.

“You really need some new material; my whole life is stony paths and bleeding feet.” Jessica sat on the bed next to her, rubbing her back gently, despite the gruff edge to her words. “Believe me, I’d like to fuck right on out of here, but Clint already made us all put on party hats. The faster you get your ass downstairs, the faster they come off.”

She peeked out from beneath her pillow, pushing away a frizzled lock of hair, catching sight of Jessica’s half scowl from beneath a red stripe and tinsel party hat. “Is there cake?”

Jess rolled her eyes. “Would I have agreed to the stupid paper hat if there wasn’t?”

“You might.” Wanda yawned. “For vodka.”

“There is also that downstairs, but not enough for me to wait. C’mon.” Jessica tugged at her hand, hauling her upright. “You’re too big, even for me to carry.”

“Five minutes?”

“Clint’s waiting outside.” Jess’ words were dripping with snark as she slipped back out of her room. “There’s a surprise for you.”

Wanda staggered upright, blinking groggily and stumbling toward her closet. She debated putting on an outfit she actually liked, versus one that was merely serviceable. A preponderance of surprises involving Clint, and Scott for that matter, also involved either glitter or low-grade explosives. Sometimes both. Still, if Jess was going to be here, then Natasha probably was too; they would have, hopefully, tempered the two men.

And it was her birthday.

She pulled on jeans, a black tank, and her lucky coat. It was shorter than when she’d first gotten it; the red leather hem getting tattered enough that she’d had to take it up several times. She rubbed the cuff between her fingers. It creased easily, softened from years of wearing. The coat was comfortable. Comforting.

Clint was leaning against the hallway wall when she stepped out, paper party hat and all, grinning like an idiot. “There she is!” He yanked her into a hug, crushing her in for just a moment. When he stepped back, he lifted a floral-patterned sleep mask. “Okay, blindfold on.”

“What?” She put up her hands, but he reached around her, sliding it over her face.

“It’s a surprise, so no peeking!”

“It’s ridiculous, that’s what it is.” She considered smacking his hand away just for purpose when he reached for her, but refrained. Instead, she let him lead her at a ridiculously slow pace, down the hallway, down the stairs, and through to the back of the brownstone to the kitchen.

Clint brought her to a stop in front of the dining table. She felt him tip her head down; she would have been looking at the tabletop if she could see anything. “Can I take it off now?”

“Not yet…”

By the way his voice was shifting, Clint was moving around to the other side of the table. There was a murmur of several voices, someone batting their hand into a few things, and a steady, tittering giggle, before she got an answer, this time, from Natasha.

“You need to read the cake first.”

Wanda took that as her cue to lift the blindfold, leaving it perched on the top of her head like a hairband, and looked up, anyway. Clint and Scott were standing close together on the other side of the table, Clint straighter than usual, both with shit-eating grins. She was pretty sure the giggling was Clint, who’s hand half-covered his mouth. Scott’s arms were crossed over his chest, but he still managed to knock an elbow into Clint’s ribs as Natasha nodded. “Told you she wouldn’t listen.”

Wanda smiled back at the four of them; they were such a fucking mess. Natasha, looking like a runway model who moonlit as an assassin, and Clint, who could pass for homeless if you didn’t look at his shoes. Scott, who had decided that the correct number of party hats was five, and Jessica, looking ready to murder despite being clearly happy, camera in hand. She wouldn’t have set out to chose them, but they fit, and she fit with them.

She sniffed, feeling a little prickle at the edge of one eye.

“I’m not eating that cake if you snot all over it, and I’m only here for the cake… and the booze.”

Wanda laughed wetly, flipping Jess off, but looking back down. The cake in question was white, piped with red florets. Across the top, piped in handwriting she could still somehow recognize as Scott’s, were four words. Not three, four.

Happy Birthday, Scarlet & Silver!

Wanda blinked – Silver? – head tilting a little to the side before she looked up. There was Jessica, already lining up her shot, and Natasha, looking painfully smug, standing to either side of the guys. Clint and Scott had stepped apart, framing the space between them with their hands; Clint once more giggling like a loon, Scott looking very close to joyful tears.

And, between them, anemone spray of ribbon tied around his neck and little silver party hat perched in his too-white hair, stood Pietro.

Wanda’s jaw dropped, just as the flash went off.

Chapter Text

Making decisions sucked, and Bucky Barnes was getting sick of having to do it all the time. Remembering how to be a socially functional human had been harder than he thought. He hadn’t been an asshole before, not at all, but getting used to the niceties of human interactions kept taking more time than he expected, and Bucky kept finding himself fucking up on the regular. He’d let the door slam on Steve three full weeks before he remembered that, when someone was carrying things, it was polite to hold it open.

But he was trying, putting in as much effort as he could, working to make up for any flub-ups. The simplest thing he’d worked out was to try and set up interactions with only two choice options. Dichotomous decisions. Yes, much easier than complicated things with multiple steps, and far less prone to social gaffes. Nodding to himself, Bucky pushed back to work on getting right and wrong.

The situation: There was a very fluffy dog in the middle of a bench in front of the training facility Steve was working at today, and Bucky very much wanted to pet it.

The issue: Bucky did not know the dog, and he did not know the man over whose lap the dog was draped, whom he assumed to be its owner.

The options: 1) Pet the dog anyway, with the assumption that he could outrun or take out the dog’s potential owner if this caused a problem. Or 2) Introduce himself to Cute Guy Who Probably Owns the Dog and ask to pet it.

The first option would certainly be the fastest, but presented the issue of possibly having to punch someone right in front of a SHIELD facility. Also, Bucky had promised Steve that he’d stay out of trouble for the next hour, and assault was definitely trouble. Of course, option two also presented a few problems. The man might say no, which would end his chances of petting the large, fluffy dog altogether. Bucky didn’t want that; it looked like a very nice, soft dog. And there was also the issue that option two would mean introducing himself to said owner. That was honestly the bigger problem, especially around here.

Bucky had no illusions that he was, at best, barely tolerated by most of the personnel within this building, or just generally by anyone associated with SHIELD. It was only a few months prior that some of them had actively been on his future target list, and he had definitely been responsible for the deaths of more than a few of their colleagues over the years. Cute Guy Who Probably Owned the Dog also probably worked for SHIELD, and might not be too keen on a former Hydra assassin petting his furry friend.

Of course, in naming the man that, even inside his own head, Bucky had brought up another wrinkle in this whole plan: The dog’s probable owner was kinda cute. Scruffy, sure, but definitely attractive, and Bucky wasn’t sure whether it was in spite of, or partially because of, the security with which he wore the multiple Hello-Kitty bandages dotting his arm and face.

Bucky knew he didn’t look like garbage – he had still fuzzy memories of regularly being called handsome – but he didn’t feel like he was living up to those praises now. He was still working out how to put up his hair without catching it in his fingers, so he left it swishing around his face most days, which meant it kept getting into his mouth. He was only allowed one safety razor a week, leaving him with a constant five o’clock shadow. Worst of all, the return of his memories brought with it guilt and insomnia he hadn’t needed to manage back when he hadn’t known how to care; he wasn’t sleeping, and the dark smudges beneath his eyes were likely a constant for the foreseeable future. He looked like he’d just woken up from a terrible bender all the time, and he couldn’t even really get drunk.

He sighed. Even with a preponderance of personal reasons not to do it, Bucky knew he would have to go with option two. He took a deep breath and stood from behind the shrubbery next to bench, only just then remembering that popping out of the bushes was the wrong way to approach anyone who worked for any kind of counter-intelligence agency.

The man immediately pivoted, hand coming up almost to strike before he froze. “Uh… Oh, holy shit, it is you.”

The man seemed to know who he was, and he had lowered his hand, so that was probably a good sign. Bucky focused on the more important matter at hand. “May I pet your dog?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure.” Waving at the empty spot on the bench beside him, Cute Guy Who Definitely Owned the Dog nodded, “Pet away.”

Bucky sat in the space beside him, having to press in pretty close to him since there was so little free bench space left, petting the dog’s head where it rested in his lap.

Cute Guy cleared his throat. “His name is Lucky.”

That rhymed with his name… He hadn’t told this person his name… He’d forgotten the first step in the plan, and the plan had only had two fucking steps! Bucky sighed, shifting to offer Cute Guy his hand. “Sorry. I’m Bucky. I… um… I came with Steve… it’s uh…” He fumbled, not quite sure of how to explain his social monitoring requirements.

“Cap filled us in: Bring Your Friendcicle to Work Day.” Cute Guy nodded, reaching forward to shake his hand, grip warm. “Clint Barton. Looking forward to working with you, Bucky.”

“Um…” Bucky was weighing the options for responding to that. There were so many and, while some – like screaming and jumping up in the air – were definitely wrong, he couldn’t be sure of what, exactly the right one was. He was flying blind, but he could only hold that ‘Um’ for so long before Clint might think he was crazy. Bucky snatched at the phrase drifting through his head, settling on a smile to go with it. “Yeah. Me, too.”

Chapter Text

It was Clint’s muttering that woke her up, startling Natasha out of her pain-tinged doze.

“Aww… kettle, no…”

She shifted from her position on the sofa, bracing against the wall once she was upright and hobbling toward the garage door. “Clint?”

“Shit! Sorry- Sorry, ‘Tasha. I’m fine.” His tone told her he was anything but.

Clint had been acting strangely all day. Not strangely for a civilian, or even strangely for a spy; not strangely for being stuck in a bombed-out war zone. Strangely for Clint Barton. Strangely for a man that was always armed, but usually half-dressed. A man that was just as comfortable on her arm at a white tie gala as he was eating pizza he’d fished back out of his own bin. A man who – after re-rechecking the hand-made splint on Natasha’s leg – had been locked in what had once been this home’s garage for… almost five hours?!

Natasha hadn’t meant to sleep that long. Clint wasn’t supposed to have let her sleep that long. It might have just been sweet if it was less… concerning. Natasha tested the garage door and found it locked. “Barton, what’s happening in there?”

“It’s- uh… You can’t come out right now! Something’s – Fuck! –” She could hear a tumble, a familiar ‘Oof!’ and the impact of skin on concrete; Clint had fallen from or over something, probably a chair. There was a subsequent wooden knocking and a scrape across the floor; definitely a chair, then. “Uh… Something’s burnt out here, Nat!”

Natasha knew something was not burnt out there. Even injured, she could force the door easily enough. “I’m coming out there, and if you’re on fire-” Again.

“I’m not! Just… just wait… Just- Five minutes, ‘Tasha. Okay?” The door unlocked and swung open so quickly she would have fallen if Clint hadn’t caught her. He blocked most of the doorway, blinking down at her with a panicked, nervous smile that left Natasha hard-pressed not to just push past him. “Please? Five minutes?”

“Five minutes.” She leaned back against the wall, arms crossed over her chest. “Then you’re going to explain why you’ve been locked in there longer than a Kubrick double feature.”

“Two Thousand One followed by The Shining would give me another eight minutes, but it’s a surprise, and…” Clint ducked his head, backing into the garage and closing the door with an embarrassed shrug. “Five minutes.”

The banging might have subsided, but Natasha could still make out soft mutterings as Clint continued whatever he’d spent the better part of the day working on behind the door. It left her unsettled; Clint rarely kept secrets from her, and those times usually ended up with him hurt. Natasha looked down at her watch.

Two minutes, forty-six seconds.

Clint’s surprises weren’t always that much better than his secrets. The last had been a surprise stab wound that he’d forgotten to get treated before heading back to his on base quarters. Getting back from a mission to a groggy, bleeding Barton had been a sort of surprise, but not a fun one.

One minute, eighteen seconds.

It probably wouldn’t explode. Clint might be reckless about his own health and safety at home, but her partner was a professional. Hawkeye wouldn’t do anything to put them at risk. That only made this whole thing more confusing. They were a team in the field; a unit. A matched pair that should have been working together. She might be down a leg, but Natasha wouldn’t have expected Clint to refuse her help, even if it was limited.

Thirty-two seconds.

Clint opened the door with an accomplished sigh. He smiled at her, then looked back over his shoulder before closing the door behind him. Clint offered her his arm and a grin. “All done. You ready?”

“For what?” Words aside, Natasha sidled next to him, looping her arm around his neck so that he could hold her around the waist. It didn’t make for the easiest walking position, but it left her with one hand free to draw a weapon. Just in case.

“For your surprise.” Her partner opened the door with the flourish only a trained performer could and walked them carefully out into the garage.

Without electricity, they’d been using it for their kitchen since they could make a fire without incinerating part of the floor. Clint had cooked dinner – boiling water to pour into their MREs counted as cooking for both of them – and set the table for two. Clint’s quiver stood upright on the table, holding a few newspaper flowers attached to the ends of arrows; looking up, Natasha could see lines of them strung across the ceiling. There were two reclaimed soup-cans filled with tactical glowsticks placed in front of the quiver, looking almost like pillar candles. If she squinted.

“Ta-dah.” Clint looked down, gauging her reaction.

“It’s not my birthday?”

“No.”

“It’s not your birthday, either, so…” Natasha gestured to the table and decorations with a little wave, not wanting to over balance as she turned to look up at Clint. “So I’m surprised, but also pretty confused right now.”

“It’s our anniversary, Tasha.” He deflated as she kept staring, teeth sinking into his lower lip with a sigh. Clint tugged at his shirt collar, pulling it to the left, and exposing the faint scar just above his collar bone. “Ten years since you gave me this.”

“You…” Natasha blinked. She surveilled the room – the food, the decorations – then turned back to the man beside her. He wasn’t wrong, but… This was so much; here, and over something like that. Natasha couldn’t keep the shock out of her voice. “You remembered the anniversary of the first time I shot you?”

“I remember the day we met, but – yeah – that was the first time you shot me.” With her still leaning on him to stay upright, Clint had no trouble pulling her into a hug. “Straight through the heart.”

She had been aiming for the centre of his torso that day, but Hawkeye had been more agile than his bulky frame had led her to believe. Natasha chuckled, glad to have been wrong about Clint, for the first time of many over the years. “You’d have been dead in that case.”

“You got close enough.” He bent down, forehead resting on hers. “I’m trying to be sweet.”

“You are being sweet. It’s just…” Natasha tipped forward until she could rest her head under his chin, fingers tracing along the ridge over his clavicle. “It’s sweet.”

“You deserve sweet, ‘Tasha.” Clint’s lips pressed to her forehead, holding her carefully, fingers stroking her hair.

Chapter Text

ᙎ∴⇒

“It won’t be so bad…” Clint kept his voice light, flopping down on the couch beside Wanda, gently mussing her hair. “It’ll be just like one of those wizard adventure books: Wanda and the Post-mission High School.”

“It is not post-mission.” Wanda grumbled back. Wrapped in a crocheted afghan, pulled up over her head to form a cowl that covered her face, she looked like a fuzzy couch gargoyle, a tiny wool-swathed demon, glaring out her rage at the coffee table. The glowing red haze around her head and hands didn’t help that image much. “It is the mission.”

He rolled his eyes. Clint had hoped to only have to deal with this sort of teenage angst once – the first time through – with Kate.

After Sokovia, though, they hadn’t exactly been able to place the lone Maximoff twin with anyone else. Bruce was too unstable. Steve could barely remember to feed himself. Wanda still only just tolerated Tony. Natasha had nothing but one room apartments.

The terms of Wanda’s surrender – which was a bullshit term, but what the paper pushers in Washington had insisted they call it – stated that she had to be monitored for the next two years, with a guardian until she was legally an adult under Sokovian, not US, law. Either that, or they could mete out punishment under US codes, which would mean sending her to The Raft until she turned nineteen; assuming they ever let her leave.

Clint had volunteered without thinking at that tidbit of information, and Wanda had agreed more quickly than he’d expected. Two weeks later, he’d been moving her into what had once been his target practice room, apologizing for the still un-patched holes.

Now he just had to get her through her senior year without one of them driving each other – or the innocent citizens of Bed-Stuy – completely starkers.

“You might think of it like a mission, but it’s just life. It’s what teenagers are supposed to do.” Wanda liked Hawkeye enough that, sometimes, rarely, Clint could drop her name and get the teenager to agree to something. “Kate went to high school.”

“Kate cannot do this.” Wanda hovered his coffee cup a few inches above the table top, drifting it in a slow circle.

“Well, Peter goes, and he sticks to the walls.” Clint snagged the cup, breaking it out of her crimson hold and taking a sip. “So there.”

Wanda hunched further, pulling down the makeshift hood until it hid her eyes.

“It’s just for a little while, to catch you up on a few things you missed during your-” He paused. Stay seemed too pleasant. Captivity was appropriate, but hearkened to thoughts of helplessness, something with which Clint knew Wanda was already struggling. He started, again. “During your time with Hydra.”

The Wanda lump shifted, red tendrils tugging back the blanket just enough that she could meet his eyes as she asked. “Did you go to high school?”

“I got my GED.” Clint shrugged; it still counted.

Wanda frowned back at him. “But you didn’t go to high school, did you?”

“I ran away from a place where people beat me on the regular.” Doing his best to channel Steve on a bad day, Clint made his voice as guilt-inducing as possible, “So I didn’t really have the opportunity.”

She pulled the blanket fully over her face, but scooted a little bit closer. “What if I don’t understand?”

“Then we get you a tutor.”

“The language. It’s hard to learn.”

Clint frowned. He flicked at the fabric on her face, lifting his hands to speak. ‘You. Are. Smart.’

Wanda’s hands slid from beneath the blanket, quickly signing out. ‘Difficult. And. Scary.’ It was only when she heard him chuckle that Wanda seemed to realize what she’d done.

He laughed again when she flipped him off. “See? You’ve already picked up another language since you moved it.”

“I won’t have friends.”

“Wanda, you will have too many friends.” Clint rested his hand on her shoulder, giving her a light squeeze. “Trust me; every American kid – especially in New York – wants a cool foreign exchange student friend with an accent.”

“I won’t have… I’ve never been to school without…” Wanda tipped her head toward the little sideboard beneath the window, where a framed picture of Pietro Maximoff sat between ones of Edith Barton and Phil Coulson.

Right. Clint wrapped his arm around her, pulling her in against his side. “I know…”

They sat, and she slowly unfolded to lean into him; she slipped out one arm from beneath the afghan, then the other, hugging around his waist. Wanda witched back the cover from on top of her head, pressing her face against his chest. Little wisps of red flowed from her as she sniffled, drifting her hair on a crimson breeze, brushing across his shoulder and through his brain; warm and bright and aching.

He held her until the scarlet glow dimmed and ebbed away, until Wanda pulled back to look at him, eyes dry but red-rimmed.

“If you don’t want to go alone, me and Lucky can go with you?” Clint brushed her messy hair back from her face, trying to keep up his smile. He dropped his voice like he was sharing a secret. “I never went to high school.”

Wanda looked incredulous; confused, but not angry. “You said you had a GED.” She pulled back, but turned to sit facing him, hands resting on her crossed legs.

“I do, but I never went to high school. Might be fun.” He nodded, trying to look wise, but knowing he probably came off looking like an idiot. “Getting my little carton of milk. Wearing uggs and yoga pants. Hanging out with you and the other cool kids.

“You can’t. You are not cool.” Wanda snorted and scrubbed her eyes. “And you are not funny.”

“You’re laughing.” Clint winked.

“Because it is ridiculous.” She leaned further into the opposite corner of the couch. “Stupid, not funny.”

“Still laughing, aren’t you?”

Wanda stuck her tongue out at him.

“Look, it’s like a team requirement, okay? Seriously, SHIELD made me sit for the exam before they posted me in the field. Tony’s not even letting Peter come on as a full-time member until he’s done, either. You’re seventeen, so technically you don’t have to go at all. You could just sit for the GED like I did, but…” Clint spread his hands and shrugged.

“Alright. I will try it.” She slouched back in to the corner. A moment later, Clint saw his coffee cup drift straight into her hand. She sipped at it, face set in a challenging smirk as she looked over the rim. “But you are not coming with me.”

ᙎ∴⇒

Clint wasn’t going with her; he’d promised. Still it got him all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that she trusted him enough that he was someone that let her feel safe, if her insistence on wearing one of his hoodies on the first day was any indication. Clint thought that Wanda looked downright silly, but it was a shot straight to the heart.

Wanda claimed that the eye-catching red leather jacket she’d brought back with her would make her stand out too much.

Clint had countered that at least that had fit her.

Wanda had, told him in succinct, vulgar Sokovian exactly how she felt about his argument, before witching the sweatshirt out of his grip and down over her tank top.

She might be tall, but the black and purple Hawkeye hoodie swamped her, making her denim clad legs look even skinnier. Clint hadn’t been able to talk Wanda into tennis shoes, either; she’d insisted on calf-high boots, accented by knitted red boot cuffs she’d made herself. With the whole thing topped off by a pom-pommed black beanie, the ensemble landed somewhere between laundry day desperation and strangely bohemian.

Really, she didn’t look any more normal in this outfit than she had when Clint had first met her. Still, Wanda looked her age, and not at all like someone that went around exploding people’s heads with her mind, so it was a start.

They were still a few crossings out from the corner where Clint planned to stop; close enough that he could watch the entrance, but far enough away that Wanda could pretend not to know him if anyone saw them together. Lucky walked between them, occasionally nosing at Wanda’s messenger bag. “Got your lunch?”

“Seven times, yes!” Wanda shoved her hands further into her pockets with a huff, kicking a wad of paper to skitter against the wall. After a few more steps, she nudged him with her elbow, still exasperated, but with a bare hint of a giggle. “I still can’t believe you made rabbit.”

“It’s traditional, right? Little taste of home?” They were almost to the corner now, so Clint pulled Lucky back to walk at heel, preparing to go the other direction. “There’s also some of that... the p one? With the raisins and the noodles? Pori-”

“Stop, please. You speak it like you are choking on cabbage.” Despite the edge to her tone, she surprised him, hooking her arm around him, forcing Clint to move Lucky to his other side as she gave him a hug. “Thank you. You didn’t have to.”

“Well, I know, but, it’s like… you know…” Clint let his words drift off. They stood at the corner long enough for Lucky to lay down by his feet.

“You’re still not cool.” Wanda pulled back and grinned, shoving one hand into her pocket, petting Lucky’s head with the other. She left him there, walking her way to the entrance and up the front steps, nearly disappearing in the throng of students before she turned back to look at him.

Most people would have missed it, but Clint saw the little sparkle of scarlet that fluttered across the green before it brushed against his forehead. “But the best uncles never are…”

ᙎ∴⇒