Clint had been in the kitchen eating lunch with Thor and Loki when the stack of books arrived.
Thor was doing his best to be calm and nurturing towards his brother. After nearly a month, Loki seemed a little less confused by the Asgardian. He still hid behind Phil whenever Thor got angry but Tony had pointed out that most people had a similar impulse. They just didn’t act on it because they weren’t two years old.
There was a thud as the books were set down on the counter.
Thor eyed them all thoughtfully. Then poked at them. “They seem like ordinary books.”
“They are ordinary books,” Phil said.
Clint gave the books a dirty look before offering up a smile to Loki. The kid was more comfortable talking to them, but he seemed to occasionally stop everything just to watch them like he was on some kind of safari. And Clint was wary of letting any of his bad habits rub off on his son. Besides, Clint didn’t hate reading completely. Not exactly. He just wasn’t a big fan of reading unless it was to someone else, and even if that hadn’t been the case… All of the titles in front of him reeked of responsibility.
“What’s all this?”
“This is what I’ve been doing all day. You need to read them too. Then we need to make a short, simple version to present to your team.”
“We’re making some progress already,” Clint insisted. “Steve made a swear jar. And Tony bought a crib for each floor. He’s tricking them out as we speak.”
“That’s very nice of them,” Phil decided after a long pause. “I’m sure the money placed into it will be enough to pay for both undergrad and graduate school. But that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.”
“And so ends the babymoon,” Thor observed with an amused smile.
“Whatever, Thor. You’re going to have to read these too.”
Thor’s smile faded away. “Must I?”
“You must but only after Clint is done with them,” Phil insisted. “I need your help with something else.”
Thor perked up. “My aid is required? For what purpose?”
“Baby-proofing everything so that Loki doesn’t hurt himself.”
“I am up to this challenge.”
Clint rolled his eyes. “What’s Loki going to do?”
“Books,” Loki said, clearly assuming he’d been addressed.
Clint laughed. “No, those are for daddy. And you don’t want them. They’re all boring.”
Loki eyed Phil and then Clint again. “Get toys?”
“Yeah, you’ll get toys. In a minute, okay?”
Phil looked at his watch. “In half an hour Loki is going to take a nap. Then you’re going to work on your homework for two hours while he sleeps. Then you’re going to wake him up and provide him with entertainment until dinner time.”
Clint sighed. “It’s not that I object to any of those things…” Because—as weird as it sounded— he was pretty happy doing anything with Loki. “But I don’t think adhering to a schedule is very realistic given our professions.”
“We’ve done a good job with it so far.” Phil knelt down in front of Loki’s high chair and his face took on the dopey, smitten look it usually did when he was about to be mushy. “Loki needs consistency, don’t you, sweetheart?”
“Toys,” Loki said helpfully.
“And those too,” Phil agreed.
“Loki enjoys just about anything that involves you,” Clint pointed out. “He doesn’t know any better.”
“Exactly. I have to enjoy it while it lasts,” Phil said. He grinned when Loki took possession of his hand, inspecting his fingers with great interest. “And when he grows up, he’ll be very successful at whatever he aspires to because he will have learned the value of time management at an early age.”
Clint read Loki a picture book then rocked him to sleep. And although Phil felt it was important that Loki get used to his crib, Clint kept his son in his arms as he read the books he’d been given, skimming whatever seemed only slightly important and highlighting anything that seemed like essential parenting knowledge.
Phil came back towards the end of Loki’s nap and after baby-proofing a few levels of the Avengers Tower. The rest would get done in stages since it wasn’t the highest priority seeing as the floor they lived on and any communal living quarters had been baby-proofed well in advance.
Clint set Loki in his crib. Loki wasn’t quite ready for a bed yet although eventually they’d have to go shopping for one. So far most shopping trips had resulted in a lot of toys and wall decorations for Loki’s room. It was on the other side of Phil and Clint’s floor in the tower. It gave them just enough space to pursue adult interests, but it wasn’t so far away that they would have a hard time getting to him if he had trouble sleeping. Since all the walls of the tower were sound-proof per Tony’s request, they had the requisite baby monitor in addition to JARVIS who seemed more than willing to monitor Loki.
Once the kid was all settled, Clint gestured to the books and the purple highlighter lying next to them. “I read some.”
“Good.” Phil sat down on the couch and opened up the books.
Clint disappeared into the bathroom for a minute then sighed as he glanced around. “There’s a very blue whale in our bathtub,” he announced before flopping down on the couch.
“He’s there so Loki can’t hurt his head. I know he hasn’t even come close yet, but I don’t want to take any risks.”
“Understandable. But. You’ve named the whale?”
“That’s the name it came with.”
“Did they have any other colors? Because honestly it’s like every other thing we ever get him ends up being some shade of blue.”
“Consistency,” Phil said.
“I’ve just about had it with you and the word consistency,” Clint muttered.
Phil just laughed. “I think it’s good to keep up with the blue theme. Loki needs to know that being blue is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I think he could use some purple and green in his life. Something more manly too. Like a dragon.”
“Then buy him things that are purple and green,” Phil suggested. ”Get him some dragons. He already has more dinosaurs than he knows what to do with.”
Clint glanced over the crib. Loki was still sleeping, but even so he turned the baby monitor on and tugged Phil out into the hallway to their room.
Once they were there, Clint said, “I don’t know if I want to have sex in there with that whale around.”
Phil snorted. “The whale won’t be around when we decide to conserve water and shower together.”
Clint grinned. “Good.”
“You get so bent out of shape about things,” Phil said with a fond look.
“Not true,” Clint insisted. “I don’t get upset about the whole having to do a retinal scan anytime I want to use the gym or my shooting range. I don’t mind the stupid door stoppers. Or the coffee table guards. Or the gates. Or the drawer magnets.”
“Magnetic drawer latches. I added them to the kitchen cabinets too.”
“Not a bad idea,” Clint said with a shrug. “But he’s really not a very nosy kid.”
“He will be once he’s more comfortable.”
“Yes. He’s still getting used to everything.”
“True. I mean, it won’t be long until he realizes he’s got you wrapped around his little finger.”
“He’s got a hold on you too, Barton.”
“Well, I’d hope so,” Clint said. “You think he’ll have bad separation anxiety?”
Phil smiled. “You did read the books.”
“Three of them. But I skimmed some stuff.”
Phil nodded then frowned thoughtfully. “I think he’ll have a hard time when either one of us is gone. But he’ll be okay. How long do you think it’ll take you to finish the rest of them?”
“A day or two? Three tops.”
“Then on Friday, we’ll do the baby briefing. It’ll give me enough time to finalize the list of lullabies our baby-sitters will be allowed to use.”
“I thought we were going with ‘Hush, Little Baby.’”
“As part of the standard evening routine,” Phil agreed. “Along with a bath, backrub, diaper change, and that grasshopper picture book.”
“I know all that,” Clint insisted. “I may not like scheduling, but I adhere to it.”
“Of course, but we both know that if Loki can’t sleep, one song isn’t going to cut it. And I need to know that whoever he’s with can provide him with a reasonable selection of soothing melodies.”
Clint laughed. “You are so cute.”
Phil shrugged. “The hardest part was coming up with songs for Steve, but I can show you what I’ve got so far. Obviously you’re welcome to provide input and add to the song selection.”
“Gee, thanks. Don’t you have actual work to do?”
“It’s called multitasking. I can lecture junior agents and make a list of songs at the same time. It’s good practice too.”
“I’m planning on taking Loki to work with me when you’re on missions that last for four days or longer.”
“You are such a sucker for that kid.”
“And you’re such a sucker for both of us.”
“Totally. I would put up with anything for you. That includes whales, swear jars, and drawer magnets.”
“Good to know.”
The magpie found Clint the next morning when he was heading back after a long jog. It circled overhead and then settled down on top of a bench.
Sometimes Phil and Clint went together on jogs provided they got up before Loki was likely to. That morning Phil had resolved to tackle paperwork and was currently locked in his tower office.
Loki was in one of the living rooms a few floors down with Thor and Steve. They’d been working on getting Loki used to everyone slowly since Loki was a bit shy around most of them, but Clint wouldn’t be surprised if everyone else ended up slowly filing into that particular room while Clint and Phil were occupied elsewhere. But it would be fine even if Loki had a tendency to clam up completely when a lot of people were around.
“Don’t think I didn’t notice you before,” Clint said, wiping at his brow. “Because I have on several occasions.”
“You were meant to,” the bird pointed out. “But now I must speak to you.”
“Buzz off. We’re keeping the kid.”
The bird tilted its head. “You assume that I am your enemy even now, but that is not the case.”
“Nay, Clint Barton. I am quite content with Thor’s decision.”
Clint scratched his head. “Huh.”
“As to other concerns you’ve yet to voice, I am not going to advocate the child be sent to Asgard. In truth, I hope he never goes there. Furthermore, I have no desire to seek an audience with my younger self. There is no need.”
“No need ever?”
“No need yet,” the magpie admitted. “Clint Barton, there is much you can and will do for this child. There is much that you cannot know.”
“Such as how to contend with the enemies I have made on this planet and in other realms. You are surprisingly open-minded and it is a commendable trait, but those I had offended do not possess the ability to separate my former self from this one.”
“If someone like that shows up, I’ll deal with them myself. And if you try to do something tricky, I can definitely put you down.”
“The sentiment is appreciated but that is all it is. Sentiment. You cannot safeguard your child with an overabundance of feeling.”
Clint gritted his teeth but said nothing.
“You must not lie. Even in an effort to be loving or kind, you must not bend the truth. It is imperative that you be honest with the boy.”
“What do you think honesty entails exactly?”
“That you know your limitations and own them. Admit to them. All children think the world of their parents. Some do not maintain that faith for long and so it must be preserved through the utilization of the truth.”
“So what? I should constantly fail him?”
“Of course not,” the magpie said. “Only know that the boy will think very highly of you no matter what you can or cannot do. You are not magical in any way, Clint Barton. The boy must protect himself from magical threats just as he must rely on you when it comes to physical threats or emotional slights.”
“That makes sense. I guess.”
“He will also have need of me. He is likely to leave you from time to time, after all. He shall do so in pursuit of education or in the misguided need for answers.”
“And what? You’ll go with him?”
“I won’t let you twist him or remake him in your image.”
“I exist only to protect Loki and to keep him from suffering needlessly due to the misdeeds of another. If my goal had been to find a larger vessel for all that I was, well, I had ample opportunity to do so. Instead I brought Thor to the child. Instead I am trying my damnedest not to be involved with the child in any real way save the ones that simply cannot be avoided.”
“That all sounds very nice,” Clint admitted. “Thing is, you say all kinds of bullshit all the time. Or did. So this could just be another trap.”
The bird cawed. “You trust me so little. It is one of your finest qualities, but there is no trap. My brother is forever soft in the head and the heart. He is full of love and compassion for all manner of undeserving things. I doubt even this new Loki will be so generous and giving, but this Loki will love you and Phillip Coulson.”
“And you want this because?”
The magpie was quiet for a moment. Then it said: “Having the ability to genuinely love anyone at all without fear of the consequences will make him the very antithesis of his former self. Yet it is only by being loved in return that this boy can become more like himself and less like me.”
“How can you know that he won’t end up just like you?”
“His life will be different. He will never become as I was. He will never be set up for failure. He will not be abandoned.”
“We could still fail him. Disappoint him in some incredibly scarring way.”
The magpie couldn’t sneer, but his tone managed to convey the same sort of expression anyway. “Anyone who goes to the trouble of providing Loki with all things blue just so that he may associate the color with something good is unlikely to disappoint any version of me. Phillip Coulson has conviction and faith. He puts little stock in destiny. And you have a strong heart. You care too much to fail.”
“And you haven’t changed all that much. Have you, Loki?”
The magpie ruffled its feathers and took to the sky. “I am so very glad that we had this talk, Clint Barton. You will not see me for some time, but when you do… I should like to be called Ikol. There is only one Loki, and he is yours.”
When Clint got home, he spent a long time holding the only Loki he cared about before taking a very quick shower.
“I’m never going to see this bird, am I?” Phil asked sometime later.
“He probably knows you’d shoot him on sight.”
“Not if he’s necessary to Loki,” Phil admitted with a sigh. He turned back to his desk and then looked over at his printer. “Oh. Here’s the song list.” He set it down on the desk. “Read it whenever you get a chance. The meeting’s in a few days.”
“I will and I remember.”
“Where is Loki?”
“With Aunt Nat.”
“Out playing Ultimate Frisbee with Tony. I let him eat lunch with us then shooed him away. He hovers too much and I figured he could use some fresh air.”
Phil rubbed his temples. “I don’t know what’s worse: Stark treating an alien god like he’s a golden retriever or the fact that you left Natasha alone with our son.”
“She’s probably trying to teach him about dinosaurs. Again. And he’s probably beeping her nose with the stegosaurus. Again.”
“She does know he’s two, right?”
“She tends to treat people the same way or ignore them. And considering the rest of us, she’s had plenty of experience with children.”
Clint rolled his eyes. “When I left, Steve was already lurking in the background. I’m sure he’ll end up getting involved. It’ll be fine,”
Steve seemed to delight in coaxing Loki out of his shell. He especially liked making wooden block buildings for Loki to smash into on his Batman trike. They usually ended up playing Dinosaurs vs. HYDRA sometime after that. And Nat would spend the time watching them, pretending she was too mature for such things, but smiling about it when no one else was looking.
Phil beamed. “I am so glad that a hero of Captain America’s caliber is taking an active interest in my son’s development.”
“Our son. Mostly mine.”
“Yeah. I’m not a doofus and I get to talk to the bird.”
Phil gave him the bird.
Clint grinned as he picked up the list.
Clint headed back down to their floor. He picked up his books before joining Loki, Steve, and Natasha in the Loki’s room, which currently looked like a stuffed animal war zone. And even when it was clean, it still seemed like a ridiculous FAO Schwartz showroom.
Sensing an opportunity to do something else, Natasha filled Clint in on what little had happened and took off.
Steve offered to stick around, and Clint set up some of the colorful sports equipment they’d bought for Loki. He adjusted the basketball hoop so it was on the lowest setting. Then handed Loki the ball.
“Remember this? You have to get ball in the hoop. So take your time and line up the shot. Then throw the ball.”
Loki seemed a bit confused, but eventually he dunked the ball through the net, nearly knocking the hoop over in his enthusiasm.
“Awesome shot, Loki,” Clint said in an admiring tone. “You took your time on that one. You aimed the ball really well and got it in.”
Loki beamed then handed Clint the ball. “You play.”
“I guess it is my turn. So all right. Then you can go again.” Clint took his time just to set a good example then tossed the ball at the hoop. He let Loki retrieve it.
“That’s pretty much how most of the games we play work,” he said when he finally looked back at Steve. “So, do you think you can handle a lot of pep talk?”
“Seems pretty simple. Does he understand all of that?”
“Some of it. He picks more up every day so. Just tell him exactly what he did and how good he did it. Use complete sentences. And he’s much better at shooting then kicking so switch to soccer in about fifteen minutes.”
Steve saluted him.
But it was hard to get much reading done. Even with Steve there, Loki wanted Clint’s undivided attention and clung to his leg when it seemed like he wasn’t going to get it. So Clint ended up tossing the books aside and watching Loki. And occasionally going over to pick Loki back up or demonstrating how to kick the soccer ball.
Phil wandered in an hour later to let Steve know he had a meeting with Fury. He seemed to want to round up the scattered stuffed animals but was willing to put the desire on hold when Loki insisted they watch him play basketball again.
“He probably needs an n-a-p,” Clint murmured.
“In forty-five minutes,” Phil agreed as he took the ball from Loki. “Do you want to keep playing basketball, Loki? Or I could read to you. What do you think? Book or ball?”
Loki looked up. “Book and ball.”
Phil just smiled. “How about you bring some toys with and I read to them too? So toys and a book. I found one about a pigeon.”
That seemed to be the magic word. Loki selected a blue elephant and a blue horse, kicking lightly at a red octopus that had apparently displeased him at some point.
Clint made a light tsk-ing sound and picked the poor stuffed toy up. “No kicking things that aren’t soccer balls, Loki. We don’t kick people. Or octopi. Poor guy. Look how sad he is now.”
“Bad. HYDRA,” Loki explained.
“Ah.” Well, it had only been a matter of time until someone found a drawback to playing a game called Dinosaurs vs. HYDRA. “Then I guess we do kick them.”
“Clint,” Phil admonished.
Sensing one parent was more sympathetic than the other to his plight, Loki moved closer to Clint. “He’s bad.”
Clint crouched down and kissed Loki’s cheek. “He’ll be nice tomorrow though. Good later?”
“I bet hearing a story will make him be nice,” Phil reasoned. “Stories help. We’ll read in the living room then come back here.”
Loki looked unconvinced, but he let Phil scoop him and the three toys up just the same. Then he grabbed at Clint as he walked past them. “Daddy comes with?”
Clint looked at Phil. “I guess I could. Right?”
“You should. I’d feel better about having some back-up. Loki might be right about the octopus.”
By the end of story-time, Loki seemed to have arrived at an uneasy truce with the octopus. And Clint noticed that Phil wasn’t much better about putting Loki into his crib right away than he was.
They walked back to the living room. Phil tugged Clint back to him when the archer tried to go retrieve his reading. “Before you get back to that, I want to ask you something.”
Clint sighed. “If you want me to get anything done, I need to actually get some reading time in.”
“It’s really good that you’re taking this seriously, but don’t get too caught up in it,” Phil suggested. “Just read as much as you can. The sections and statements you’ve highlighted in other books already are more than enough for the packet we’ll give to the others. And potential baby-sitters.”
Clint doubted they would ever end up looking for baby-sitters outside of the team or their friends, but he didn’t say so. “Well, I’d still like a few hours. I think I might be learning something and I want to be a good parent.”
Phil kissed him. “You are a good parent, but you can have a few hours. Even when Loki wakes up, I can keep an eye on him. And Thor’s around somewhere. He’ll be more than willing to come up with games to play with his brother.”
Clint nodded and crossed his arms. “Okay. Ask.”
Phil got down on one knee.
“Oh, Phil... I get a speech first, right?”
Phil smiled, taking Clint’s hands in his. “If you let me give one.”
Phil had clearly memorized what he was going to say because he stared at Clint the entire time he said it, looking very sincere and affectionate.
“Clint Barton, you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love you and I want to marry you. I know it’s not something we’ve thought of as being an essential part of finalizing anything. I plan on being with you forever and I know you feel the same way… But I think we deserve an official date for our anniversary. We deserve a ceremony too, and I don’t want to wait until you think the only reason I’m asking is that we have a child. So will you marry me?”
Clint had always expected that, when this moment finally arrived, he’d offer up some kind of sarcastic answer like Obviously. Instead he found himself unable to say anything before clearing his throat. Then he just said: “Yeah.”
“You okay?” Phil asked as he got back to his feet.
“Sure," Clint said. He looked down at their hands then went back to looking at Phil. "Just… It’s strange. I mean, I knew you were going to ask. We’ve talked about it. But I didn’t think it would really happen. My luck’s not usually this good. I’m not really the kind of guy people marry.”
“To hell with people, “ Phil pointed out as he let go of Clint’s hands. “You’re the kind of guy I get to marry. And that’s all that matters.”
Clint smiled. “True.”
“Given our lines of work, I’ll wear a ring more often than you will… But since I asked and everything, I got you an engagement ring.”
He handed Clint a black velvet box.
Clint opened it and eyed the silver ring inside. One end of the ring was shaped like an arrowhead. The other end was shaped like fletchings. “Not bad.”
“No, and it has the additional perk of being easy to replace.”
“Unlike you,” Clint pointed out.
Phil took the box back and put the ring on Clint’s finger. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“That being the case, I have books to read and a list to sigh over.”
“You don’t like my selections?”
“I don’t like the fact that everyone is expected to learn Raffi songs.”
“You can pick and choose at random.”
Clint made a face. “You’re going to memorize all of them, aren’t you?”
“Probably,” Phil admitted. “Look. We’re not in a competition here, Clint. If you don’t read all of those books by sundown, your parenting license won’t be revoked. If you don’t like Raffi, come up with something else.”
“I know. I just feel like I’m going to mess up his development or something.”
“Raising a child isn’t simply a matter of memorizing rules or song lyrics. It just helps to be versatile.”
Clint rubbed the back of his neck. “Then… Can we compromise? You learn half the list and I learn the other.”
“That’s fair. Speaking of compromises, how about you save some of those books for next week and show me some appreciation. Or at least kiss me. I did just ask you to marry me.”
Clint grinned. “I like compromises.”
Loki ended up throwing a fit when it became clear that Phil and Clint were going somewhere without him that was relatively nearby. And he remained inconsolable for quite a while, turning blue and then pink again depending on how bent out of shape he was at that given second in time.
Mostly, Phil pointed out, because Loki couldn’t quite explain to them why he didn’t want them to go.
Clint reminded himself of what the books said about giving in on every little thing. But mostly he just imagined punching the authors of such unfair statements in the face. Saying as much would have been very childish so he just cuddled Loki until the kid calmed down, silently hoping he wouldn’t end up getting frostbite.
“When he’s older, I’m sure he’ll make very eloquent arguments about everything and anything,” Pepper said with a small smile. She set down some coloring pages and crayons. “But I think he’ll feel better once he had something to do.”
Even so, Clint felt like an absolute bastard when they waited for Loki to get caught up on coloring and then ducked out of the room.
In the meeting room, Clint sighed and rested his head on the table.
“It’ll get easier. But we handled that well. You did a great job.”
Clint sat up and shrugged. “Maybe I should retire. Become a housewife or something.”
And, since the day was heading in that direction anyway, he ended up making this observation right as his team filled in.
“Nice mental image,” Tony said. “I’ll buy you the apron if you make my breakfast.”
Natasha sighed loudly. “You are a total marshmallow.”
“Clint is not a marsh or a mallow,” Thor insisted. “He is merely a concerned father. That said, Loki will be fine. Children are much heartier than they oftentimes appear. Particularly younglings who hail from Jotunheim.”
“I think the term is househusband,” Steve said, patting Clint’s shoulder. “It’s important to be politically correct, you know.”
“Thank you, peanut gallery,” Clint muttered.
“If we’re all done talking for the sake of hearing our own voices,” Bruce began, “I for one would like to actually discuss something relevant.”
Phil smiled. “Thank you, Dr. Banner. First I have something for each of you to read over and sign.”
There was some grumbling from Thor and Tony as packets were handed out, but everyone turned their focus to the paperwork after Phil offered up a coaxing gesture. Followed by a glare.
“Clint’s not reading,” Tony pointed out.
Bruce poked him with a pencil. “Clint’s read it already. Obviously.”
“Yeah well… I don’t know if I want to watch this kid now that there’s rules and regulations.”
On the other end of the table, Thor was busy wiping at his eyes and sniffling as he moved from one page to the next.
“You care so very much for him,” the Asgardian said. “It is very moving and so very beautiful. I only wish my father had been so thoughtful.”
Natasha handed him a tissue box before wheeling her chair over towards Steve who was dry-eyed and taking notes in the margins of his set of instructions.
“Are you sure that ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ is appropriate?” Steve asked. “I think it indirectly relates to prostitution.”
“I think it’ll be fine,” Phil insisted.
“I’m definitely learning that one,” Tony said. “What page is that on? And what was it called again?”
“If you actually read the packet, you can figure it out for yourself,” Steve said, giving Tony a pretty flinty look. “Is there going to be a quiz on this stuff to make sure we actually retain something? Because I think there ought to be a quiz.”
Bruce glanced up. “I second that suggestion.”
Tony snorted. “I am not doing something just because the grumpy old men think I should.”
“This kid deserves a good life, Stark," Steve said. "He’s got world-class parents and a team of superheroes. If that means taking a quiz, you’ll take a quiz.”
“And if I don’t?”
“If you don’t, you can’t go near the kid.”
“Give me one good reason.”
“Your lack of priorities, maturity, and focus is a major concern.”
“Okay, that’s three good reasons… But I don’t see how it’s any of your business. Loki’s not your kid.”
Thor frowned, fists clenching in a way that suggested he was debating whether or not to summon Mjolnir. “The happiness of any child is a precious gift and the most sacred of all obligations.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. It taketh a village,” Tony muttered.
“I sure as hell wouldn’t mind if it doesn’t require a village idiot,” Steve gruffly pointed out. “And for the record, Loki’s my godson.”
“Since I asked a week ago.”
Clint glanced over at Phil, hoping he’d say something. Instead Phil rubbed his temples and told Clint to hold down the fort until he got back. Then he left the room.
“Listen up, Drama Club,” Clint said loudly, not really wanting to be in charge but also not wanting the meeting room to have to be rebuilt. Again. Pepper had enough on her plate already. “Can you please just read the damn packet in something remotely resembling silence? Then Phil will be happy to provide you with a very mandatory test when he comes back.”
“And if you’re not quiet, Stark,” Natasha said, “Or if Phil doesn’t come back and we get reassigned to Sitwell, I will personally end you.”
Before Tony could make any remarks in his own defense or start another argument, Phil came back into the room with Loki. He set the kid down on the carpet and smiled when Loki made a bee-line for Steve to show him the picture he’d been coloring.
Clint crossed his arms as Phil joined him at the head of the table. “I thought we weren’t giving in to the demands of our two year old son no matter what.”
“We weren’t. We didn’t. Loki wasn’t allowed in here until I brought him in. And, despite how ironic this might sound, Loki is here to save what’s left of my sanity,” Phil quietly explained.
“I’m done,” Bruce said, and when everyone else glared at him, he added: “I’m a genius. I read fast and since I’m done…” He picked Loki up and moved to a corner of the room away from the table. “I’m going to entertain Loki while everyone else stops behaving badly and reads. Isn’t that right, Loki?”
“Bad,” Loki agreed.
“Absolutely,” Bruce said.
Everyone else, except for a very smug-looking Natasha, grimaced and went back to reading.
In the corner, Bruce quietly admired Loki’s artistry. Then he told Loki and Thor, who was the next one to finish the packet, a very long story about some trolls getting out-witted by a gnome until it was time to take the test.
Clint eventually exercised his right as a parent to snatch back his child for the duration of the meeting. Then he spent most of the time drawing really lousy pictures of zoo animals for Loki’s amusement.
Phil proctored the baby briefing exam, and seemed just as confused as everyone else by the fact that all of them passed it with flying colors. Bruce got a perfect score, Steve missed a handful of questions, and Natasha got points deducted by adding in her own answers when none of the multiple choice solutions appealed to her sensibilities.
Tony ended up with the lowest score, but Clint suspected Phil had just deducted points for ego and attitude. So, in all likelihood, Thor had done the absolute worst. He seemed pretty depressed about doing so poorly if not at all surprised. Since Clint was apparently a sucker for aliens, he handed Loki to Thor just to prove that they weren’t going deny the Asgardian access to his brother simply because he’d gotten some questions wrong.
“I will gladly take the challenge again and master it,” Thor insisted before hoisting Loki up onto his shoulders. “For what I lack in brains, I make up for in tenacity. Provided I may be given ample time in which to study, of course.”
Phil seemed about to argue until Clint shook his head.
“That would be fine,” Phil said. “No rush though. And Tony’s going to need a chaperone until his score improves.”
When Steve started to say something along the lines of I told you so, Bruce cleared his throat. “Now that I know what Loki can eat, I’m going to make dinner. Tony and Steve are going to help.”
While they waited for dinner, they deviated a bit from Phil’s schedule and watched old episodes of Sesame Street. They meaning Phil, Clint, Loki, and Thor. Natasha had gone off with Pepper for some kind of spa night. But technically watching an educational program was part of the schedule since all of their evenings were tentatively marked as Family Bonding Time.
Thor could have done something else if he’d wanted to with his time, but when alternatives were offered, Thor always sheepishly admitted that nothing would please him more than the ability to participate in their bonding rituals. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble. And it really wasn’t. The Asgardian also felt that Sesame Street was the greatest gift Midgard could bestow on the remaining Nine Realms. He was very fond of the Bird that was Big and the Ladybugs Twelve.
Loki was less impressed and seemed to base a lot of his reactions off of Phil’s very subdued ones or Clint’s amused smirks. In terms of his own feelings, Loki initially hadn’t been a fan of anything outside of Oscar the Grouch. Now he seemed to be developing a fondness for Bert and Ernie. Clint figured it was only a matter of time before Tony made some obvious jokes. Loki also seemed to really like Captain Vegetable, which was a source of unspeakable consternation for his older brother.
But this time around, Thor had pulled his hair back and was making copious amounts of notes. “These tunes of education… Can they be sung to Loki as well?”
Phil glanced over at Thor and smiled. “Feel free.”
“Including the Song of the Aardvark? I feel it would be most unwise to rule out the Aardvark song.”
Phil’s brow furrowed. “The what?”
“Any of them are good,” Clint said, indicating that he’d explain later.
“And will it be appropriate to offer congratulations on your impeding nuptials soon? I noticed the ring, but you did not mention it at the meeting.”
Clint laughed. “We’ll announce it at dinner. But you can offer them up at any time, Thor.”
Thor grinned. “Then I am very happy for you both. It had been a long time coming and truly I am surprised that you have waited so long.”
“Yeah well. It wasn’t really a priority but I’m looking for to it. It’ll make things easier for Loki.”
“I suspect that Loki is pleased as well in his own little way,” Thor reasoned with a frown. “Only, I do worry about his sense of humor. He does not seem to find the Count to be the very soul of wit.”