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'Tis The Season

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“Mommy! Mama! Wake up!” The shrill cry of a four year old jolted Pepper and Natasha both out of the deep sleep they were in, curled around each other in the conveniently claimant control environment that was their bedroom, thanks to JARVIS.

“Go back to bed, munchkin. It’s far too early.” Pepper groaned, trying to hide her face back in the pillows. It had been a long night because as expected everything went wrong on Christmas Eve, and all she wanted for Christmas at that moment was to go back to sleep.

“It is 7:30 AM Mrs. Potts-Romanoff. I kept young Miss contained to her room until it was an appropriate time to wake you, as she was awake at 4:57 AM.” JARVIS informed them, something akin to apology tinting his voice.

“Nikita Ann Potts-Romanoff!” Natasha hissed at their daughter. “Mommy worked very late last night so she could be here for Christmas, let her go back to sleep for a little while and I will go make breakfast.”

“But pweasents, mama!” Nikita whined.

“One.” Natasha said.

“Mama!” Nikita stomped her little foot, still clad in footie pajamas decorated with little elves.

“Two.” Natasha said, a bit more force behind her voice.

“Mama.” Nikita said defeated, knowing if Natasha got to three there would be no presents on Christmas. Last year Nikita had thrown a fit and woke them early, and Natasha made Nikita open all of the presents and then go with her to a woman’s shelter and donate all her presents to the women and their children. It was a hard lesson for a three year old at the time, but Natasha didn’t regret it at all.

“Go get your brother up and I will go make breakfast.” Natasha said, waiting for the little girl to run out of the room before she bent over Pepper’s back, digging her wife’s face out of her pillows. “Go back to sleep, Pep. I’ll try to keep the munchkins entertained for a few hours.”

Pepper nodded turning enough to capture Natasha’s lips. “You wouldn’t really make her donate everything again would you?”

“Damn right I would. You have to work for things in life, even if it is just being patient until your moms get up.” Natasha responded before sliding out of bed and grabbing her black robe from the closet door and leaving the bedroom quiet for Pepper to go back to sleep.

Natasha padded into the kitchen with the smell of brewing coffee guiding her way to see Alexei, their nine year old son, lifting Nikita up onto her stool at the breakfast bar, the only one with arms, his little muscles flexing in his back that was shirtless, sleeping only in plaid flannel pants.

“You’re going to make some woman real happy Alex.” Natasha said, walking past him and ruffling his strawberry blonde hair.

Alexei cringed but quickly righted his face when Natasha tilted her head, looking at her son in concern. “Mama, can I go use the gym?”

Natasha nodded. “I’ll have JARVIS let you know when I have breakfast done. Is something wrong, малютка?”

“No, mama.” He said before making a quick retreat to his bedroom, changing into a leotard and a pair of shorts before jumping into the elevator and disappearing from sight.

“Brother’s sad.” Nikita said, playing with the Lego set that they kept at the breakfast bar to entertain her while they cooked.

Natasha turned and looked at her little girl, the red-brown hair hanging over her face in waves as she worked intently on her Lego building. “What?”

“Brother’s sad, mama.” She repeated, her tone clear that she thought her mama was an idiot, it wasn’t that complicated.

“Why is Alexei sad?” Natasha asked, leaning against the counter with her cup of coffee.

Nikita shrugged. “Beats me.”

“Stop stealing my sayings, маленькая девочка.” Natasha said shaking her head.

Nikita rolled her eyes but went back to playing, and Natasha turned to start working on Christmas tree shaped pancakes, something that had been a tradition since Alexei had been four, sprinkling sugar crystals through the batter so that when it cooked they melted to look like multicolored lights or ornaments. She was halfway through all the batter, the finished pancakes sitting in the oven to keep warm when JARVIS interrupted.

“I do not wish to alarm you, Mrs. Potts-Romanoff, but it would appear that little Sir has injured himself on the parallel bars.”

Natasha turned off the burners and was scooping Nikita off of her stool by the time Pepper came stumbling out of the bedroom in just a cami and sleep shorts. It was the longest two minutes of their life, waiting for the elevator to carry them to the gym level.

Alexei was sitting on the padded floor, on his knees, holding his left arm close to his chest and taking shaky breaths, the tears he had shed already dried on his face.

“Alexei!” Pepper yelled, running across the space and skidding to a stop, dropping to her knees to look at their son.

“I hurt my arm, mom.” Alexei said, his voice quivering with his attempt to withhold his pain.

“Let me see.” Pepper demanded, gently pulling the arm away from Alexei’s body, feeling it as she did (she had a lot of experience diagnosing wounds thanks to marrying Natasha), and coming to the conclusion that their son had broken his arm. “Alexei, we have to go to the hospital, honey.”

“What? No! It’s Christmas!” Alexei cried, letting go of his harsh control on his emotions to wail.

“I know, honey. We have to go though, I think you have broken your arm.” Pepper said, helping their son stand and move them back towards the elevator where Nikita was perched on Natasha’s hip, looking with wide eyes at Pepper and Alexei.

They moved quickly and efficiently, Natasha taking Nikita to go get dressed before dressing herself in record time, while Pepper changed, leaving Alexei in his gymnastic clothing and grabbing one of her jackets for him and wrapping him up in it.

Thankfully driving through the city was semi-manageable on Christmas day, and Natasha was pulling their SUV into a spot near the ER in less than thirty minutes. Alexei was trying his hardest to be stoic in the back seat in front of his little sister, but the occasional tear broke through.

Within fifteen minutes Pepper was going back with Alexei to get x-rays, the bones set, and casted. Natasha sat with Nikita, playing on her phone while Nikita’s little fingers slicing at the fruit as it popped up as well. After three hours though, Pepper was walking back out with Alexei sporting a red and green cast on his forearm, in a sling.

“We have some pain meds for him, and he needs to see a doctor in six weeks to check things out.” Pepper said, guiding their son with a hand on his back.

Natasha nodded, picking up Nikita and walking with them out to the car. “How you doing, buddy?”

“Okay.” He murmured. “I’m sorry, mama. You tell me all the time not to practice distracted and…”

“Hush. I’m just glad nothing worse happened. You could have broken your back or neck, an arm will heal, baby.” Natasha said, helping him up into the SUV after putting Nikita into her car seat.

Alexei nodded, hugging her one armed. “I’m sorry, mama.”

“I know, baby.” Natasha reassured.

The drive home was quiet with both Nikita and Pepper yawning.

By the time they pulled into the underground garage, Nikita was asleep in her car seat and Pepper was leaning against the window in the passenger seat.

“Pep, wake up.” Natasha said, nudging her wife just enough to wake her.

“Do I ‘ave to?”

“Yes, you have to get up. We have two kids who haven’t opened Christmas presents and it’s past noon.” Natasha teased.

“Merh.” Pepper said, forcing herself awake.

“You help Alex, I’ll get Nik.” Natasha ordered before getting out and opening the backdoor and unbuckling their daughter while Pepper helped Alex climb down with one hand.

By the time they got up to their floor, Nikita was wide awake again, insisting that her and her brother had earned their presents now. Natasha put her down and nodded, watching Nikita run towards the tree in the corner of the living room and start sorting the presents while Alexei went to take his spot beside her.

“Something is bothering him.” Natasha said hushed, holding Pepper’s hand as they walked much slower behind their kids.

“What?”

Natasha shrugged. “Nikita told me he was sad this morning, and then he fell off the parallel bars. Something is bugging him.”

Pepper hummed but just pulled Natasha down to sit on the couch as they watched their kids open their presents.

They didn’t revisit the issue until that night, Nikita was tucked into bed, tuckered out from playing with her new Lego set (a build your own Lord of the Rings adventure – the whole set) and Alexei was getting ready for bed, Pepper holding a pain pill for him.

“Baby, mama thinks something is on your mind.” Pepper said, carding her fingers through his strawberry blonde hair, ruffling it.

“Nothing, mom. I’m just sorry I messed up Christmas.” Alexei answered, pulling on his sleep pants.

“Don’t lie to me, baby. Mama said Nik noticed something is bothering you.”

Alexei sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well too bad. I want you to talk about it.” Pepper said, sitting on the bed and tucking him in.

“You said if we don’t want to talk about something, we don’t have to.” Alexei responded.

“Yes. I suppose I did, but I am mom, so I get to make you do things you don’t want, like eat your veggies.”

Alexei sighed, leaning into her. “I think I like boys.”

“Is that all, baby?”

Alexei nodded.

“Why were you so worried, munchkin? It’s okay if you want to like boys like Uncle Clint and Uncle Phil. You don’t think anything is wrong with them do you?”

Alexei shook his head.

“And you know we don’t think anything is wrong with them, right?”

Natasha stood in the doorway, catching the end of the conversation while Alexei hid in Pepper’s body and Pepper had her attention turned towards their son.

“I know, mom.” Alexei responded after a moment.

“Then, munchkin, why did it bother you?”

“It’s my fault.” Natasha spoke up from the doorway. At Pepper’s puzzled look, Natasha continued, “I kept saying things like he would make some girl very happy someday.”

Alexei nodded, confirming that her off handed comments were indeed what stressed him out.

“Oh, baby. Mama loves you no matter what, don’t you, Nat.” Pepper said, rubbing their sons back.

“To the moon and back, no matter what.” Natasha said, sitting on the other side of him with a sharpie. “Now let me draw on your cast!”

“Mama! No!” Alexei yelled, remembering the last time Uncle Clint had a cast and his mama had spent hours writing all kinds of things in Russian on it.