Autumn, the year Isobel turned six, felt like a time of upheaval for Clint. The Avengers were coming together; Phil Coulson came back to them, and then came to him; they were still taking the first steps in what promised to be a terribly confusing and enjoyable dance around each other when Isobel started school.
It was horrible.
Clint took Izzy to class with a crowd of other anxious parents, none of whom he really noticed, senses focused on his daughter as she let go of his hand and went to play with the other kids. She'd brought her train engine, the big red-and-gold one Tony made for her, and was instantly the center of attention. Clint didn't move until the teacher gently but firmly shooed all the parents into the hall, where the principal gave them a nice speech about first days that Clint didn't hear. He was trying to peer through the window in the door to the classroom.
Eventually he found himself in a crowd of dispersing adults in front of the school. It was unreal, honestly.
Clint had spent time away from her for days on missions, and he'd left her in daycare when he was doing the Tesseract job, but after all the bullshit with Loki he'd kept her close and only taken very short jobs for SHIELD. Sitwell was steering him away from the long ones anyway. When he was home, he took Izzy to her soccer practice and stayed, watching, the entire time. When he took her to the playground, he did his best not to hover. He suspected he wasn't as good at it as he would have liked.
And this was permanent. Every day for the next twelve years he'd have to do this. And after that would be college.
Clint looked around as everyone else left, walking down the street or getting into cars.
What the hell happened now?
Two hours later, his phone rang.
"Barton, go," he said, tapping the bluetooth in his ear.
"Clint, where are you?" Phil asked down the line. "School started hours ago."
"Yeah, I know."
"Are you still there?"
"Well, not really," Clint said, adjusting his position.
"It's her first day!"
"Where are you?"
"There's a tree across the street from the school," Clint said. "It's a perfect blind."
He could hear Phil's expression of tolerant frustration. "You're spying on your child's first-grade class."
"Yes," Clint said defiantly. "It's not uncomfortable. Better than that time in Maine. Also this way no other snipers can get into the tree."
"You have to get out of the tree."
"I don't have to."
"Yes, you do."
"Fine, but I'm taking the tree down with me, it's dangerous."
"She's my baby!"
"Agent Barton, you are ordered to descend the tree and return to HQ," Phil said.
"You're on leave, you can't give me orders."
"I will send Steve and Natasha to pull you out of the tree bodily."
"You wouldn't," Clint said.
"Do not test me, Barton."
"Fine," Clint sighed, slipping from branch to branch. A couple of people looked startled as he dropped from the tree to the pavement. "What, you never saw a man up a tree before?" he asked, annoyed.
"She'll be fine, Clint. Come back to the Tower," Phil said. "I'm hanging up. If you're not here in twenty minutes, I'm sending Captain America."
"Okay, okay, I'm coming," Clint said, jogging towards the Tower.
"Good. You can monitor her from here."
Clint stopped. "Did you put cameras in the school?"
"No. I have her GPS up on the computer." There was a brief pause. "Don't make me send Natasha, she's watching it too."
Day two was easier, especially since Coulson made some calls and the tree had been hauled away in the night.
Still, Clint got home and watched her on GPS for a few hours, and then wondered what he was going to do with himself for the rest of his life. He had more time than he was used to, and not much to fill it with. He mostly fretted. He'd heard the phrase "separation anxiety" before -- Izzy had a bad case of it when she was two -- but he didn't think it was supposed to apply to grownups.
At least Izzy was happy; she'd made friends, something Clint had always found much harder than she did, so he was glad for her. And when he picked her up at two each day, he got to take her home and listen to her talk about her day and curl up with her next to him on the couch, or watch her lie on the floor with a long sheet of butcher paper and draw with the busted up art markers Steve had handed down to her.
Which was better, really, because Izzy was squirmy. And, if she was on the floor drawing, that opened up the couch for Phil, who had taken to sitting with Clint with a cup of coffee or a beer while Clint watched her play.
Phil's existence was pleasure enough, given the mourning he'd gone through since the Chitauri attack, but then Clint could very subtly reel him in until Phil was leaning on him, warm touch all up his side. He had to remind himself that Phil wanted this, that he'd wanted to belong to their little family and hadn't thought he had. Clint was the one who got to let him in.
"This must be boring for you," Phil said, on the afternoon of day four of Izzy Goes To School. He had his back to Clint, slumped down so that his head rested on his shoulder, body curled around his coffee. Clint had one arm settled on Phil's shoulder, hand resting with proprietary affection on his short hair.
"Why?" he asked. "Got my baby, got you, got a beer. I'm good."
"I'm not a baaaaby," Isobel sing-songed from the floor.
"No, you're a little monster," Clint said. "What are you drawing?"
"A flag," Izzy said. "It's for Steve."
Clint craned his neck, trying not to dislodge Phil. She'd drawn about ten stars and maybe thirty red stripes, outlining each uneven white stripe carefully in black.
"Why don't you go show him?" Phil asked. Clint looked down, surprised. Izzy scrambled to her feet and picked up the sheet of paper.
"Can I, Poppa?" she asked.
"JARVIS, where's Steve?" Clint asked.
"Captain Rogers is currently in the common kitchen. He is not engaged at present," JARVIS replied.
"Okay, go on, but don't wander too far," Clint warned. Izzy went running off, paper flapping behind her, the red marker still in her hand. He was turning to Phil to ask him what he was up to when Phil twisted around and kissed him.
Clint was the parent of a small child and therefore a reasonable opportunist; he kissed back.
"I am very fond of the Avengers," Phil said, around a second kiss, "but they never leave me alone until Izzy gets home. And then Izzy's here."
"I see your point," Clint replied, and nipped his lower lip. "How long you figure we have?"
"Five minutes minimum."
"Probably seven maximum."
"Long enough," Phil said, pushing himself up for more leverage. Clint nosed against his cheek and kissed him again, years of ignored longing and months of grief and a few bare weeks of pent-up want making him a little reckless.
"You know," Clint said, breathless, "I bet if I asked, Natasha would watch Izzy for a night -- "
"I'm not that useful yet," Phil said, and Clint leaned back to look at him, reminded of what he'd been through by the high arches of his cheekbones, the hollows of his throat and clavicles under the sweater he wore.
"Hey," he said. "Seriously, I know we all keep asking, but are you okay?"
Phil nodded. "I'm okay. It's just...slow coming back."
"We can go slow."
"We don't really have a choice," Phil answered.
"I don't intend to interrupt, Agent Barton, Agent Coulson, but Ms. Barton is en route with Captain Rogers," JARVIS said. Clint huffed, resting his forehead against Phil's briefly, and then leaned back. Phil sat up, picking up his coffee mug, and was sipping casually from it as Izzy burst in, dragging Steve after her.
"Poppa can I go to Steve's to help him hang up the flag he says it's okay and it won't take long," she said, all in one breath. Steve looked sheepish.
Clint glanced sidelong at Phil.
"Tell you what, Izzy, why don't you take the butcher paper, and you and Steve can draw," he said ruthlessly. "You could take like, an hour. Or two."
Steve looked back and forth between the two men, a little light going on in that big blond head. Isobel tugged on his hand pleadingly.
"Bring your markers and we'll draw," he said. Izzy gathered up her markers probably faster than Clint had seen in his life, and Steve tucked the butcher paper under one arm.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," he said over his shoulder, as he followed Izzy out.
"I'm honestly unsure what that covers," Clint announced, when Steve was gone. "And a little surprised he worked it out. Kind of surprised he's okay with it, actually."
"I'm sure worse happened in war," Phil said drily. Clint had a momentary paradigm shift with regards to Steve Rogers. "I think he knows you have to hold onto what you can."
"Speaking of," Clint replied, and leaned back, tugging Phil with him. "JARVIS, another Izzy alarm would be appreciated but in the meantime, a little privacy?"
"Of course, Agent Barton."
Clint couldn't remember a time he'd just made out with someone -- frankly remembering the last time he'd had actual sex was difficult, all things considered -- but he enjoyed it. Lying on the couch with Phil draped over him, kissing and touching, was nice.
A little frustrating, when Phil started to nod off, but nice all the same.
"Think maybe it's naptime," he said with a grin, the third time Phil's head nodded against his.
"I'd be sorry, but I'm too tired," Phil mumbled. Clint laughed and got them both upright, and was just coming out of his bedroom after putting Phil to bed when JARVIS said, "Alert as requested, Agent Barton."
"Good timing," he replied, meeting Izzy and Steve at the door. She had a sheaf of drawings in her arms and a folded piece of butcher paper for a hat on her head. It had blue stars on either side.
"The printers at the news presses used to wear them," Steve said.
"Look at you, all tiny and adorable," Clint said. Izzy preened.
"Thank you, Steve," she said, without even being prompted.
"Good girl," Clint said. "Let's play quiet now, okay? Phil's asleep."
Steve lingered in the doorway as Izzy went to the table at the window, where she had a stack of books and a puzzle to work on when it was quiet time.
"Is he okay?" he asked softly.
"Hell if I know," Clint replied. "He says he is."
"How would we know if he's not?"
"Dunno. I'm working on it."
"You and him, you're..." Steve tilted his head. "I mean, I got no problem with it, just...never mind. Idle curiosity, and that's rude."
"I don't mind. We weren't, before, but then he died. I'm not risking that again, you know?"
Steve nodded. "Better than you think."
"Suppose you would." Clint glanced at Izzy, who had pushed the hat back on her head and was studying her puzzle intently. "That why you're not that comfortable with her? Worried you'll disappear one day? Or she will?"
"Huh? Oh, well," Steve shifted his weight anxiously. "I lost soldiers before, I could...I could survive that. But half the time I go to bed I'm not sure I'll wake up in the same place. It's unnerving. And she's so small. Leaving a kid behind, that's harder."
"Tell me about it."
"I like kids. I do. I want some, someday," Steve blurted. "I like Izzy."
"Well, I'm fond of mine, I can take or leave the rest," Clint said with a grin. "Hey, look, I wasn't completely happy bringing her here, but she's got all of us looking out for her. So, you know, we look after each other. We wouldn't let anything happen to you."
Steve looked surprised, and then depressingly grateful.
"I hadn't thought of it like that," he said.
"Plus the chances of freezing in a penthouse in Manhattan are relatively low," Clint added.
Steve chuckled. "So I keep telling myself."
"Hey, how'd you like to babysit?" Clint asked. "Say, Saturday night. I'm gonna ask Natasha to look after her, she'd probably appreciate the help."
"Oh, I dunno -- "
"It'd be a favor. You know. Poppa's date night," Clint said.
"I guess I could help Natasha," Steve admitted. "Anyway, I should..." he jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Bye, Izzy!" he called.
"Shhhhhhh!" she called back loudly. "Phil's sleeping!"
Clint rubbed his face with one hand.
After that first night, when he'd slept in Clint's bed with Clint's hand on his chest to make sure he stayed there, Phil retreated politely but firmly to the guest quarters. He came up for breakfast each morning, and sometimes didn't go back until evening, but he still slept in his own bed, and Clint...
Well, Clint wasn't sure if it was moving too fast, but he wanted Phil in his bed, even if it was just to sleep. He thought he maybe understood why Phil did it -- after all, there was Izzy to consider, and Phil was one to observe proprieties. Still.
"Izzy's sleeping over at Natasha's on Saturday," he said that evening, after putting Izzy to bed. "And I would um. Like it if you slept over here."
Phil cocked his head. "Clint, I -- "
"Just to sleep," Clint said. "I mean. I'd like -- but nothing you don't, um, want to do, or can't...do?" he said carefully.
Phil rubbed his forehead. "This is embarrassing."
"If you can't, it's cool, I mean I hope that's not permanent, for your sake, because wow, but you said slow, slow is fine, I just want you here and I want to do this right. I haven't had an actual relationship since Izzy was born, or really before that, I mean one or two, but nothing real, and I kind of think this is real. It is, right?"
Phil gave him a look.
"I'm gonna stop talking now and you can say whatever you need to," Clint said, and sat back.
"I have nonexistent stamina," Phil said. "I'm fairly anemic and ten pounds underweight. I have low blood pressure. Yes," he added, "this is real, but I'm literally incapable of proving it to you, and probably will be for weeks. That's not a great feeling, Clint."
"So let me feed you a rare steak and we'll make out on the couch again," Clint said. "And when you're tired you can go to bed and I'll come with you. You're sick, I get that. But you'll get better, and I spent months thinking I missed my chance with you forever. I want you close. I want you here. For Izzy's sake too. You don't have to stand back anymore."
"And if I die again?"
"That won't happen."
Phil raised his eyebrows.
"Well, what do you want?" Clint asked. "If you do, at least you were here. At least Izzy and I got you for however long."
"Are you sure that won't be worse for her?"
"Worse than telling her you died the first time? If you don't want it, that's one thing. If you do and think you shouldn't, that's just stupid. I don't need sex as proof, Phil."
"Well, that's good, at least," Phil muttered. Clint leaned over and kissed him.
"Stay with me Saturday night. Sunday we'll take Izzy to the playground. You get to be Dad now, if you want that," he said. "I am giving you Dad Authority."
Phil was a smart guy, smart about relationships, and getting involved with Clint was probably not the best idea. But Isobel was his weak point, and Clint was merciless when it came to weak points.
"Saturday night," Phil said.
"All right," Phil said, and leaned over to kiss him. Clint smiled into the kiss.
Saturday morning, Clint woke up to his phone sounding the insistent klaxon of an Avengers summons.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," he muttered, fumbling for the phone. Izzy stumbled out of her bedroom looking alarmed and Clint got an arm around her, lifting the phone to his ear.
"Go," he said.
"Agent Barton, please report to SHIELD for briefing," a crisp voice said on the other end of the line. "Pickup in ten."
"Copy. Agent en route for Isobel?"
"Confirmed, but the nearest briefed agent is twenty minutes out."
"Understood, will report in ten," Clint said, and hung up. JARVIS could probably keep her out of trouble for ten minutes, but it worried him. "Izzy, Poppa's got a work call. Go brush your hair and get dressed."
Izzy nodded and ran for her room. Clint was in the middle of pulling on his uniform when Pepper burst in without knocking.
"Tony got the alert, he's already on his way," she said. "I was here, I didn't know if Isobel -- "
"You're a lifesaver," Clint replied. "She's in her room getting dressed."
"I'll take her to the safe room."
"Thank you, thank you so much," Clint said, as Izzy emerged. "Izzy, c'mere."
Iz had a pretty good sense of when not to argue; she ran to him and Clint scooped her up.
"Listen to me," he said, kissing her forehead. "I love you and I will always love you, no matter what."
"I love you, Poppa," she replied, hugging his neck. He transferred her to Pepper's arms just as Phil came running in, looking slightly grey.
"Go with Pepper and Phil and be good for me," he said, shouldering his bow-case. "Stay safe," he added to Phil, and Phil grabbed his shoulder, leaning in to kiss him. Clint allowed himself two seconds to savor the moment and then he was running for the helipad of Stark Tower, quiver bouncing against his hip.
He hit the helipad as the quinjet landed, leaping in after Natasha, Steve hot on his heels with his uniform shirt hanging loose on his shoulders. Bruce was in the back, on the line with SHIELD.
"Tell 'em Isobel's in the safe room with Potts and Coulson," he said, and Bruce nodded, relaying the information. He listened intently, then frowned.
"It's not in New York," he called, as the quinjet lifted off. "SHIELD's saying we're going direct to the site. Tony's already halfway there."
"Tell him if he tries more than recon without the team, he's going to be in a world of trouble," Steve said.
"Yeah, he heard you," Bruce replied, with a small smile. "He says Pepper's hit the lockdown on the safe room. Izzy's with her."
"I hope they have snacks," Clint muttered, unpacking his bow.
The briefing was hasty and curt. Bruce and Tony's knocked-together gamma scanning network had been left in place after the Loki incident, and an isolated island off Greenland was showing dangerously high levels of gamma radiation that it hadn't yesterday. SHIELD research said it was owned by some shell corporation, and Clint could tell they were scrambling to work out who really had possession.
Tony reached the island well ahead of them and started rattling off readings that only Bruce appeared to understand, and which made him grave and quiet, hunched over a monitor as they spoke. Two minutes from visual, a shockwave hit them and skewed the jet for a second.
"What the hell was that?" Steve asked, peering out the cockpit window above the pilot. "Bruce, you got word from Tony?"
"He's underwater," Bruce said. "No harm, but he definitely felt it."
"What's he got for us?"
Natasha, on the line with SHIELD research, sucked in a breath. Clint looked at her.
"The island is owned by a group called the Sons Of Odin," she said.
"Awwwww fuck," Clint breathed.
"Pull back," Bruce called, and when the jet didn't react fast enough, "Pull back! Now!"
The jet shuddered as it skidded through the air, not reversing so much as diving around the island. Clint could see the skies darkening. He was familiar with the sight.
"That's a portal from Asgard forming," he said.
"What do you want me to do?" the pilot asked.
"Can you get to land safely?"
"In the weather, sure, but if they've got anti-aircraft...."
"Not a problem," Steve said, looming behind Clint. He was buckling a harness around his chest, with a pay-line on one side and a parachute on his back. "Done this before. Can you open the cargo door?"
"What are you gonna do, punch the missiles?" Clint asked. Steve hefted his shield. "Are you serious?"
"Suit up and come along," Steve replied, tossing him a payline harness and chute. Natasha was pulling a parachute on, no harness.
"Bruce?" she asked. Bruce held up a hand, still talking with Tony. When the cargo door opened, he grabbed onto a handle and let them rush past him.
"Tony's set to catch you if they hit your chute. I'll follow," he called.
Steve dove out the door first, playing out the cord on his harness until it snapped tight, swinging him under the jet. Clint followed, the rush of air sucking his breath out as he fell. He saw Natasha, a blur of black and red, as she free-jumped.
Clint twisted and turned in the air, scanning the island for gun emplacements or possible silos; when he was reasonably sure it was clear, he gave Steve a thumbs-up. Steve nodded and hit the release on the harness, parachute opening as soon as he was clear. Clint counted to ten and followed.
Halfway to land, Bruce tumbled past him with no parachute and no shirt. Clint had to admit, the guy had guts to spare. He watched as Bruce's body rippled, Hulk coming to the fore, and a puff of dirt far below indicated he'd...landed.
The sky was still swirling overhead when Clint landed, ten feet from where Natasha was helping Steve out of his harness. Rumbling in the distance said Hulk was already securing the perimeter, in his own fashion. Tony, rivulets of water frozen to the Iron Man suit, touched down lightly next to them.
"I'm guessing the problem is there," he said, pointing at a blue column of light rising from the center of the island, creeping slowly upwards.
"I get the feeling nothing good is gonna come through that," Natasha said.
"Clint, you see anything from the air?" Steve asked.
"Nothin' worth mentioning," Clint said. "Whatever they have, it's underground or very well hidden."
"And hydroelectric," Tony added.
"Is this radiation harmful?" Steve barked.
"Maybe the column," Tony replied. "Background levels around it are pretty basic stuff. You want me ahead in case that changes? Suit can take it."
"Can you screw up their hydroelectric whatsit?" Steve asked.
"If I can find the source. Might take a while, I'll have to go underwater again."
"Do that. I'll run point. Hawkeye, you know this Asgard drill," Steve said, pointing at the sky. "Follow me. You see something, yell. Widow, circle around to the far side if you can, and try and work out where Hulk went. Everyone stay on radio."
Natasha took off through the sparse tree cover, and Tony took a vertical leap, repulsors kicking in. Clint wondered, as he followed Cap at a jog, how much quad work you had to put into a jump to get that far off the ground wearing a suit of armor.
By the time they reached the low, squat, camouflaged building the light was coming from, Natasha had called in to say she'd found Hulk, who was ripping the hell out of what was presumably the escape route for the Sons of Odin. Apparently about two dozen people in black uniforms had scattered when Hulk burst through, and she sounded like she was enjoying taking them out. Steve said "Acknowledged, keep at it" and broke the high-tech lock on the door with a swipe of his shield. Clint grabbed him by the back of his jacket as he started inside.
"Let me go first," he said.
Steve looked at him. "You have a child," he replied.
"And that's not relevant right now. I'm smaller than you and no offense, but your shield is a giant target," he added over his shoulder, pushing past Steve. "I can pick off whoever's left before they hear me coming."
The hallway was dark, humming with distant machinery. Clint crept forward slowly, bow taut, looking for anywhere he could get some altitude, but the ceilings were low. He nailed two security guards silently and went up an access ladder while Steve secured them.
He hit a walkway and leaned forward, studying the scene below. A couple of men were securing a door on the other side, probably against the Hulk, and a few more were standing at some kind of controls around a huge lens that was focusing the blue light. One called for more power.
"Iron Man," Clint whispered. "Now would be a really good time to kill the lights."
"Doing my best. Their access hatches are -- aha, gotcha. Almost there," he said.
"Hawkeye, report," Steve said through the earpiece.
"Got seven. I don't want to fire until we know we can shut this down. Once I hit one I gotta hit all of 'em."
"I need maybe another minute."
"That's not going to be fast enough," Clint said. "Give the word, Cap."
"Can you hit them without damaging the equipment?"
"Yep," Clint replied.
"Copy," Clint said. He drew three shafts with bullet tips and lined them up, narrowing his eyes.
The world, as it always did when he was behind the bow, slowed down to a crawl. His breathing felt flat and unreal, like he didn't really have to inhale at all, and the smooth shafts pressed dents into his fingers. He adjusted slightly, lined them up, and fired.
Three men went down immediately. Clint drew and fired again just as the others began to panic; he loved it when they panicked. Made them easy to hit. Two more dull thuds, a scream, one down and one to go --
Fire ripped up his side and he swore loudly, aware he'd heard the gun go off but too focused to notice until the bullet hit him. He wavered, stumbled, then righted himself. Ah, one of the guys he'd hit had managed to get up; he plugged the gun with one arrow and took him down with another, then took aim at the final target.
"I gotta shoot through the column," he said. "Don't know what that's gonna do."
"Iron Man?" Cap demanded.
"Make it ten."
"Fuck you very much, Cap, I'm doing the best I can -- " Tony said, which was when a boom sounded somewhere far overhead. Dust tumbled down over Clint's eyes, and he blinked it away without moving.
"Was that you, Stark?" he asked.
"Was what me? God dammit -- "
"Cap, now or never," Clint said.
"Hold!" Cap yelled, and Clint saw him burst into the room below. "Hold, don't fire."
Clint kept his draw on the single man now cowering behind the base the light emerged from. He saw Cap run forward and then fall back, the light turning from shimmering blue to blinding white. There was another loud boom, this time much closer, and Clint threw his arm up to protect his face and eyes.
"WHO SUMMONS THE SON OF ODIN?" someone bellowed, and the lights went out.
Clint managed to get back to the now-landed jet under his own steam, pressing one of Steve's gloves to the wound to stop the bleeding. Tony was sitting on a pile of blankets with his helmet off, ice melting off the armor slowly. Thor arrived about the same time they did with an unconscious Bruce in a fireman's carry over one bulging shoulder. Natasha was limping.
"You should see the other twelve guys," she said with a grin.
"SHIELD cleanup's en route," the pilot called.
"Good, get us out of here," Cap ordered. Clint dropped into a seat and began peeling the glove from his side as they lifted off. Natasha immediately joined him, helping him out of his tac vest.
The lightweight kevlar in his vest had done its job; it hadn't stopped the bullet, but it had deflected it along his ribs, turning a kill shot into a graze. He had a bruise the size of a fist below his right pectoral and a long bloody gash in his side, but it was nothing a few stitches wouldn't fix. Natasha ripped open a bandage and applied it while Tony made disappointed noises over the remains of the vest.
"You need medical?" Steve asked Clint.
"He's not bleeding internally," Tony volunteered, tapping his helmet. "Did a scan. I've got medical staff on call if you want to get back to the Tower."
"Yeah -- " Clint hissed as Natasha pressed the bandage down. "If nobody else needs medical, let's just book it."
"This was not the way I had intended to return to you," Thor said, pacing in the jet. "I am glad there were no mortal wounds. Fine to see you so stoic," he added, clapping Clint on the shoulder.
"Yeah, nice to see you too," Tony said. "What the hell happened?"
"I was torn from Asgard by some force," Thor replied. "I know it not."
"I'm sure SHIELD will, soon enough," Steve grumbled.
"Five bucks says they were after Loki," Clint put in. "By the way, Cap, if you ever pull that don't-go-first bullshit on me again I will kick nine kinds of hell out of you."
Steve looked like he was torn between apology and amusement at the idea. "I'm sorry, Clint. You're right, it was uncalled-for."
"Damn right it was. Ow, Nat, stop it," Clint said, as she added another layer of tape for good measure. "I gotta take this thing off in like half an hour to get stitches. Hey, Stark, can you get through to JARVIS from here?"
"Already done," Tony said. "They're out of the safe room. I told them we're fine."
"I had a date tonight," Clint said mournfully.
"Well, tell him to kiss it better," Tony replied.
"Kiss my ass."
"I leave that to the professionals," Tony said loftily.
Clint stared at him for a moment and then started to laugh, even though it hurt his side. Thor did too. Steve sat down next to him on the bench and took off his other glove, undoing the catches in his jacket. Clint looked up when Steve casually settled the jacket around his shoulders.
"How's Bruce?" Steve asked, turning away, but not before Clint saw the concerned look in his eyes.
"Vitals are strong," Tony replied, gesturing at where Bruce was lying, covered in whatever blankets Tony wasn't sitting on. "He should wake up soon. So I spent my whole time on this mission working my way through an access tunnel and dealing with some exceptionally shoddy wiring work. Someone want to fill me in on why we have a surprise Thor?"
"I think the inferences are there to be drawn," Natasha said.
"Indulge me," Tony drawled.
"You got a secretive cult called the Sons of Odin," she said. "Gamma radiation, big blue lights in the sky, and when the circuit completes..." she gestured expressively at Thor, who nodded back regally. "Seems pretty clear they were trying to summon someone. Maybe got the wrong son of Odin, maybe not."
"Maybe they thought he'd be a lot more biddable than he was," Steve said.
"Fury's going to be all over this," Natasha continued. "Clint's not wrong about that. How some random militia worked out a way to open a portal to Asgard is going to be high on his list."
"What makes you think it's a militia?" Steve asked. "I'm not disagreeing, just curious."
"Neo-nazi groups, especially in the US, are fond of nordic imagery," she said. "It's the only real connection they can safely make to some imaginary Aryan culture."
Steve paused. "Neo-Nazi?" he asked carefully. "Is that what I think it is?"
Natasha nodded slowly.
"Like the Bund? Here, now?"
"Nobody briefed you on neo-Nazis?" Clint asked. He was feeling exhausted, the aftereffects of the adrenalin surges and his wound making him sleepy.
"Because he's clearly taking it so well," Tony said. Steve was lit up with rage and only barely reining it in.
"Are you telling me," he said, carefully regulating his breathing, "that after everything that happened, after the Holocaust, there are still people out there -- "
"Who are idiots," Natasha said. "Yes. Sorry, Cap."
"Thus was ever so," Thor said, startling them. Steve glanced at him, and he spread his hands. "The hardest enemy to kill is the idea. Even the bad idea."
Clint suddenly, desperately wanted to get home, to hug Izzy and immediately give her a long speech about how terrible the world was so that she'd be ready to kick ass when it inevitably became necessary. He stifled it, because Natasha was already teaching her the rudiments of hand-to-hand and she'd asked for a bow and archery lessons for Christmas. (He'd never tried training her; wanted her to love it naturally or not at all, and anyway you try teaching a five year old about projectile weaponry from the Paleolithic.)
His comm beeped in his ear, and he tapped it. "Barton."
"It's Phil. SHIELD said you're clear? Izzy wants to say hi."
Clint got up stiffly and wandered towards the back. "Please."
"Hi, Poppa," Izzy said in his ear. He leaned against the rear bulkhead, a feeling of relief washing over him.
"Hi, Iz," he said softly. "How are you, sweetheart?"
"I'm fine. We watched a movie in the safe room."
"JARVIS showed me Brave Little Toaster."
Clint grinned. Brave Little Toaster was a point of terrible contention among the Avengers. Tony refused to acknowledge its existence, Natasha had to leave the room after a certain point, and the first time Bruce had watched it with her he'd grown increasingly horrified until finally he turned to Clint and said, "What's wrong with the people who made this?"
They'd agreed not to show it to Steve.
Clint wondered how Pepper fared with it. Phil was immune to it by now through repeated watchings with Izzy over the years. Izzy loved it with an unbridled affection that took no note of how strange it was to show a desk lamp attempting to sacrifice himself to save an electric blanket, or a vacuum cleaner leaping off a cliff.
"I'm glad you had fun," he said.
"And then I drew with Phil. Pepper says if you say so we can get ice cream," she added meaningfully. It was ten in the morning.
Clint was vaguely grateful for her age-appropriate narcissism; it meant he could put off explaining what he himself had spent his morning doing for a while. "Let me talk to Phil again and we'll see," he said. "Love you, Isobel."
"Love you Poppa," she said, and he heard Phil clear his throat as he came back on.
"Ice cream's probably not a bad idea," Clint said. "I think we should get her out of the Tower when I come home."
"Why?" Phil asked, clearly alert to the weariness in Clint's voice.
"I took fire. Nothing serious, Tony's got his doc on the way to patch me up, but I don't want to freak her out."
"Nothing serious?" Phil asked.
"Winged me, the vest did its work. Bruising and I'll need stitches, but Tony says internally I'm clear."
There was the briefest hesitation before Phil said, "Glad to hear it. Have you debriefed?"
"SHIELD's still sorting out the clusterfuck. Steve'll probably make a report that covers it."
"We can reschedule tonight, if you want," Phil said, almost blurted really.
"Why?" Clint asked.
"You're injured -- "
"Don't care. Unless you don't want to."
"No, I -- no, I do."
"Fine then," Clint said. "Look, I'll be there in ten. I'll be fine as soon as I get stitched up. Pick me up a pint of chocolate to go."
"I'm glad you're all right."
Clint filled with warmth. "Me too. See you soon."
There were four people waiting for them on the helipad when the quinjet landed. There was a man in a sweater-vest with a wheelchair that Clint assumed was a doctor, two SHIELD agents, and Phil.
"I thought you were with Izzy," Clint said, as Natasha helped him out of the plane.
"Pepper took her. And an escort agent, she's fine," Phil said. Clint didn't want the wheelchair, but his legs weren't working quite right, and he eased into it gratefully. Phil was opening his mouth to say something else when suddenly he disappeared.
Clint looked around wildly and saw Thor had swept him up in a painful-looking hug.
"Son of Coul! You are returned to us!" he said joyfully, setting Phil down. Phil staggered. "How has this come to be?"
"Long story," Phil said, straightening his cuffs, slightly flushed. "Inside, maybe?"
Clint was wheeled into a medical suite a floor down from the Avengers level, and the doctor gave him a local and stitched him up, talking all the while in an unnecessary but soothing monotone. He gave Clint a bottle of painkillers and said he'd email him instructions on wound care that were very likely unnecessary, given how many injuries Clint had sustained over the years.
On a monitor nearby, he could see the hallway leading to the suite, so he saw when Izzy returned. He watched, entranced, as Phil crouched down next to her and spoke with her, clearly demonstrating where Clint's wound was and why Izzy couldn't jump on Poppa like normal for a few weeks. Izzy nodded soberly, drinking it in. When Phil was done, he held out his arms hesitantly and Izzy went into them, hugging him tightly around the shoulders.
The accidents of Clint's life often worked out for the best. Accidents were how he'd been recruited to SHIELD, how he'd helped Natasha into the fold, and how Izzy had come to be. Still, it wasn't like he'd gotten used to that; the first twenty-odd years of his life had sucked badly enough he felt karma was still making up for it.
"Hey, monster," he said, when the doctor left and Phil brought Izzy in to see him. She climbed up on the bed and carefully settled on the edge, avoiding his injured side. "How was ice cream?"
"It was okay," she said, kicking her feet. She glanced at him, then away again. Phil stood awkwardly in the door. Clint sighed.
"You wanna see?" he asked. Izzy nodded, still not looking at him. Clint pulled the hem of his scrub shirt up to his armpits. "See? No big deal."
"Does it hurt?"
Izzy chewed on her lip. "Did you get the bad guy?"
Clint beamed. "Yeah, we did."
Izzy twisted so her legs were up on the hospital bed where he sat, and burrowed under his arm on his good side. Clint's world settled, everything falling into place. He lifted his other arm and gestured for Phil to leave the doorway, to come in. Phil pulled up a chair and was opening his mouth to talk when Thor filled the doorway and boomed, "Aha! I have found the princess!"
Clint looked at Isobel. She had a bright, awestruck look on her face.
"Izzy, this is Thor," Clint said.
"Our Captain informed me there was a young milady Barton living in the tower," Thor said, coming forward. The hammer was nowhere in sight, which was probably good. Still, the cape had a pretty impressive effect. "Thor Odinson, at your service," he said, offering his hand. Izzy reached out, and Thor grasped her tiny hand and bowed over it. "But where is your crown and retinue?"
Izzy let out a giggle, two parts amusement and one part nerves.
"I don't have a crown," she said. Then she turned to Clint. "Would Tony make me a crown?"
"What wouldn't Tony make you?" Clint said.
"I am bid come to ask if milady would care for escort to the Captain," Thor said. He gave Clint a significant look.
Oh. Steve, that sly bastard.
"You want to stay here, or go see Steve?" Clint asked. "I'm probably gonna be pretty boring, Iz."
She considered it. "Can I go with him, Poppa?"
"If you want," Clint said.
"Okay," Izzy answered, and went to climb down. Thor caught her and swept her up onto his shoulder. She shrieked happily.
"I am very fond of little ones," he said to Clint. "She will come to no harm."
"Yeah, just don't feed her any more sugar," Clint said. Thor nodded.
"Bye, Poppa! I'll bring you a drawing," Izzy said, as Thor carried her out. Clint leaned back and looked up at the ceiling, feeling weary. He felt Phil's hand slip into his.
"Are you freaking out?" he asked Phil.
"About?" Phil inquired.
"Me getting hurt. I mean. It hasn't happened since..." He heard a soft laugh, and lowered his head. "What?"
"I'm not any more worried about you than I always am," Phil said. "I've watched you go headlong into danger for years, Clint. I've gotten used to that. This..." he held up their hands briefly, "is just me getting to do what I used to want to do."
"So we're good for steaks tonight."
"I think we'll order in, but yes," Phil said.
"Wow. Delivery and a night on the couch, the thrills I bring you," Clint sighed.
"Trust me. I don't lack for thrills," Phil assured him. He set Clint's hand down and reached up, smoothing a stray lock of hair. "Get some rest. I'll come get you in a few hours or when Izzy gets fussy, whichever comes first."
Clint didn't honestly remember much of their date night, having taken a perhaps inadvisably large dose of painkillers in order to be as able-bodied as possible; the plan backfired when he found it difficult to stand. He didn't think Phil minded, since it meant they spent the evening curled up together in a nest of blankets, watching Phil's favorite Captain America biopics (including the latest Made For Television one which boasted an extensive subplot about Hawkeye that Clint found hilarious).
Clint did remember feeling warm and satisfied with the world, and not all of that could possibly be the drugs.
It seemed like Phil started to improve after that -- possibly he'd had some kind of subconscious realization that Clint was also mortal and at least one of them would have to be healthy for Izzy, but more likely he'd just finally broken the plateau and between being able to work out again in the gym (gingerly, at first) and being able to eat more heartily because of it, his health was finally on the upswing. Which was good, because Clint's graze got a minor infection and took forever to heal, and meanwhile there were little girls who sometimes needed to be picked up or hugged in ways Clint simply couldn't.
"I can walk her to school today," Phil said to him one morning, brows drawing together.
"I know you can," Clint sighed. "But I miss it. I want to."
Phil's lips curled upwards. "Not quite ready to let go of baby bird yet?"
"I just like it better when I personally see her go into the school. It's not about trust, you know that, right?"
Phil, returning from putting his breakfast dish in the sink, bent and kissed his head. "I know. I'm aware of your dislike for letting specific people out of your sight. I'm only suggesting that you're still fighting off the infection, and if you are too tired, I can do it."
"If I keel over, I'll take you up on that. A fine pair we make," Clint added in a grumble, just as Izzy yelled "POPPA, TIME FOR SCHOOL!"
Izzy had become very enthusiastic about school, now that she was getting it on a regular basis.
"Okay, Iz, I'm coming," he called back, and got up from the table.
Izzy already had her backpack on. It was an Iron Man backpack; Clint felt it was probably egotistical to give her a Hawkeye one (they made backpacks with his face on them, what was up with this world) and the Iron Man backpack was, objectively, the coolest anyway. It had LEDs that lit up on the shoulder straps.
Izzy's school was only a few blocks away, convenient to the Manhattan offices where most of the parents worked and to Stark Tower, as well. Convenient for Clint. And he liked the walk, Izzy's hand in his, dodging around the morning commuters going to their jobs. He had a sense that another few years and Izzy's independence wouldn't allow for this anymore, and he should savor it.
Once the school was in sight, Izzy took off running, and Clint watched to make sure she got inside. She encountered her new best friend on the steps -- Kayla something -- and their heads bent together over something Kayla had to show her. Then they ducked inside, and Clint let out a breath, pivoting and dropping onto a nearby bench, one hand subtly holding his side.
He was just recovering from the ache of the three-block walk when a shadow fell over him, and someone said "You're Isobel's father," in a surprised tone.
Clint turned carefully to his left; there was a woman standing there, clearly doing the same make-sure-your-kid-gets-inside move as him.
"Clint," he said, offering a hand.
"Mary, I'm Kayla's mom," she replied, seating herself gracefully.
"Oh!" he said, unsure what else to say.
"I'm sorry, that was awkward," she said, laughing. She was older than him, he thought. "Kayla's mentioned Izzy. She didn't mention Izzy was Hawkeye's daughter."
"Oh," he said, more sheepishly now. People didn't often recognize him on the street. They seemed to expect he would have a bow with him. "Yeah, Izzy hasn't really connected me with the action figure yet. Probably for the best."
"Should I take the awkward moment to thank you for your service to New York now, or wait until the next PTA meeting?"
"Aw, we can knock that off altogether if you don't mind," he said, rubbing the back of his head. "Just doing my job."
"Then I won't mention it. Though I was hoping to meet you anyway -- Isobel's-dad you, not Hawkeye. Kayla wants to invite Izzy over for a doll party. She has one of those dolls..."
"Oh, I know the dolls," he said ruefully. "Izzy's got one too."
"Well, you should both come over. Izzy can play with Kayla and my husband and I can get to know you better. How does Saturday afternoon sound?"
"Sure," Clint said, checking his mental calendar. He'd been thinking of taking Izzy to the park with Phil, but they could do that in the morning, or on Sunday. And going to Kayla's parents' home would probably involve more sitting down than the park, which right now was very appealing.
"Great! Here, trade phones -- give me your number and I'll give you our address," she said, offering him her phone. He fumbled his number into it and handed it back, accepting his in return. "It's so nice Kayla's found a friend. Izzy's very sweet."
"She cultivates the illusion," Clint said with a grin. "I should get back. See you Saturday."
"Looking forward to it," she replied.
So this was Clint's life now: mornings with Phil in his apartment, work with the Avengers, SHIELD business, and playdates for Izzy.
"Man, okay, I know I live in luxury in a penthouse, but the Hernandezes have a literal mansion on the upper west side," he said at dinner, the night after Izzy and Kayla's tea party. He'd already fed Izzy and left her with Bruce in his lab, where she was probably napping on the sofa Tony had installed there. "They served finger sandwiches."
"What do they do?" Tony asked. "I probably know them. What's his name, Raul Hernandez?"
"The judge," Clint said, nodding gloomily. When Mary had mentioned that Raul was a judge, all of his youthful indiscretions had come back to haunt him momentarily, even if Raul had turned out to be a pretty nice guy who mostly wanted to talk about something complicated to do with school governance.
"Right, yeah. And she does something medical, pharmaceutical," Tony said vaguely. "I think they give to the Stark Foundation."
"She's an eye doctor. That got awkward."
"Wanted to poke at your corneas, huh?" Natasha asked with a grin.
"There was some discussion," Clint agreed. "Nothing pushy. Nice enough people. Kid's a sweetheart."
"What's their security like?" Natasha asked.
"Bodyguard, pretty good automated alarm system -- not uncrackable, but nothing's foolproof. Pretty sure they've got a panic room," Clint replied.
"Did you ask?" Tony said, looking appalled.
"I might have looked around while I was using the restroom," Clint admitted. "Force of habit."
"Seems sensible enough to me," Phil put in.
"My worlds are colliding and it's your tiny offspring's fault," Tony announced.
"Just wait until Izzy invites Kayla over," Clint said. "You're not the one who's going to have to explain to Judge and Doctor Hernandez that Izzy has five daddies. And an auntie," he added, with a nod at Natasha, who nodded back.
"Yeah, but she's also got a kick-ass train set," Tony said smugly.
Clint would not normally have counted himself as a fretter. That was Phil's job, even when it came to Izzy, and Phil was so good at it that Clint hated to steal his thunder. The freakout on Izzy's first day of school had been a rare anomaly and Clint was sure that he was, most of the time, the picture of a sane, rational parent (if not a sane, rational adult).
The sad thing was he knew he was coming off at the moment as intensely irrational, but he just couldn't stop himself.
"You've got the number for my phone," he said, and Thor rolled his eyes.
"Aye, written in ink on Izzy's shirt and my own hand," he said. "Heimdall sees all and can find you faster even than this 'Verizon', you know that."
"And if she's sad or scared she can call me," Clint insisted.
"Your paternal duties are admirably discharged," Thor said, which Clint knew meant You can stop now.
He really should stop, too; he was the one who'd asked Thor, after all, if he'd look after Izzy for a few days so Clint and Phil, now both finally healthy again, could have a weekend to themselves. Thor had suggested a visit to Asgard, and unfortunately he'd mentioned it in front of Izzy.
Izzy, who had heard that Asgard was in space.
Izzy, who was obsessed with space and being princess thereof.
And then he hadn't heard the end of it for days until finally he'd capitulated, because he was actually pretty crap at the hardass parent thing. So now Izzy was going to space. With Thor. And it would be fine. Of course it would.
"Are you sure she should go?" Clint asked, chewing his lower lip.
"Isobel will be in the best of hands. My mother has promised to oversee the visit and she would never allow a mortal child to come to harm in her realm." Thor patted Clint's shoulder. "You should enjoy your holiday, Clint. In two days' time I will return her to Tony's care, and I cannot say I think he will be a safer guardian than myself."
"Yeah, but she knows her way around the workshop, she's never been to Asgard -- "
"COME OOOOOON," Isobel wailed from the balcony, where she was waiting with her backpack and overnight bag, the latter branded with backflipping cartoon Black Widows. "I wanna goooooo."
"Okay, honey," Clint sighed, jogging out to her, crouching to hug her goodbye.
"BYE, Poppa," Izzy said pointedly, kissing him on the cheek, and then raised her arms to hug Phil goodbye. "Bye, Phil."
"Be good for Thor and Frigga," Phil said, kissing her head and smoothing down her hair. "Remember to say please and thank you."
"And don't take any crap from any Asgardian kids," Clint added.
Thor, gently but firmly, pushed Clint back a few feet and picked Izzy up, balancing her easily on one hip. She waved, beaming, and they both dissolved in a shower of gold sparks.
"Come on," Phil said, wrapping an arm around Clint and kissing his temple. "The jet's waiting. You'll love Budapest when you're not trying to kill anyone."
Izzy's gratifying first reaction to Asgard, as seen from the Rainbow Bridge chamber, was "Whoa."
"Welcome home, Prince Thor," Heimdall said, though it was clear this was a formality, because he swooped down on them and scooped Izzy out of Thor's arms delightedly. "And hello, finest princess of Midgard! Finally we meet. I am Heimdall, the all-seeing."
"I like your hat," Izzy said, wide-eyed. Heimdall beamed.
"Thank you!" he said, carrying her across the gateroom, to where Sif and Thor were conferring across the back of a tall horse. He set her down and she scrambled forward, holding up both hands to be sniffed. The horse's nostrils flared. Sif looked wary.
"Come, Izzy," Thor said. "The Lady Sif has brought us a fine steed. We must take you to the throne room to be presented to Frigga."
"Hello," Sif said awkwardly.
"Hi," Izzy replied, stretching up a hand to shake. Sif looked at it, then at Thor, then took it like Izzy might explode.
"Are you certain this is a wise idea?" Sif asked Thor.
"Possibly not, but it is a fun idea," Thor replied cheerfully. "Up you go," he added, swinging Izzy into the saddle, pushing her up to the front, and then mounting behind her. "Hold on quite tight to this, but do not pull it," he said, pressing the reins into her hands. "Do not be afraid. If you fall, I will catch you."
Izzy watched as Sif swung up on a second horse. "Can I ride a big horse alone when I'm twelve?" she asked, as Thor guided the horse around towards the gateroom door.
"Why twelve?" Thor asked.
"Poppa says I can have sniper training when I'm twelve."
"Huh," Thor said thoughtfully. "In Asgard, we are allowed to ride when we prove we have a good seat. So, if you are very diligent, perhaps. Would you rather ride a horse, or a large goat?"
"Goats are more practical," Sif said, ambling along beside them on a second mount.
"Horses are cooler," Izzy countered.
"I don't know, goats have horns," Sif pointed out, amused. Izzy considered this, then shook her head.
"Still not as cool as horses," she decided. "Do you have unicorns in Asgard?" she asked, twisting to look up at Thor.
"No, but if you're lucky, you'll see a Bilchsteim while you're here," Thor said. "Now you must hold tight for the gallop!"
Thor had tried to convince his father to be present when he brought Isobel to the high court. After all, she was practically Thor's fosterling, and as humans went, of excellent pedigree. Odin should know his foster-granddaughter, and Jane had said it would be good for Asgardians to be exposed to Midgard more. But Odin would not bestir himself for a mere Midgardian girl-child, even the daughter of a shield brother, so only Frigga and some of the more curious nobles were present when Thor brought her into the throne room.
"Just as we practiced," he whispered to Izzy, who followed him down the long aisle and, when he knelt and nodded at her, bowed deeply to Frigga.
"Mother, may I present to you Isobel Barton, of the Isle of Manhattan of Midgard," he said. Frigga's lips twitched in amusement. "Her father has asked me to foster her for a few days."
"Good afternoon, Isobel Barton of Midgard," Frigga said. "Welcome to your foster-realm, even if your stay is to be only brief. I understand we are to take you hunting."
Izzy looked up at Thor. "Hunting?" she asked. There was a gleam in her eye.
"Camping," Thor said, giving Frigga a long-suffering look. "I told your father we would take you camping. But of course we must catch something for dinner."
Izzy beamed. "What weapon do I get?" she asked.
Thor looked at Frigga. Frigga gazed back serenely.
"We will assuredly find something both suited to your station and...safe for one of your age," she said finally, gathering her skirts and descending from the throne. "Now, shall we go to the kitchen and see what has been prepared for lunch?" she asked, offering her hand. Izzy took it, eyes alight, and bounced along next to the queen of Asgard as they went.
Volstagg was the only one of the Warriors Three currently in residence on Asgard when Izzy visited; he had a brood of his own, and thus came prepared with a camp bag for her to sleep in, several age-appropriate (gore-filled) stories to tell, a child-sized lance and dagger set that Thor found suitably dull, and Izzy found excitingly sharp, and two of his sons as playmates.
"Smile for the hilariously primitive camera!" Volstagg said, and Izzy stretched out her arms to show off the Asgardian child's armor Volstagg's wife had sent along, waving her lance menacingly. Volstagg handed the phone to Thor, who debated immediately sending it to Clint, then decided to crop out the lance and the spiky boots first.
Child gone native, Clint sent back. She's yours now.
Enjoying Budapest, are we? Thor sent, and got a thumbs-up emoji in return. Asgardian communication technology was far more advanced than human, but Thor had to admit it was also overly dignified, and he wished he could introduce the emoji somehow.
"Tony says Asgard's special," Izzy said, holding onto the reins of their mount as they rode towards good hunting grounds outside the capital. Sif and Frigga rode next to them on horses, with Volstagg and his boys trailing behind on goats. "He says you have all kinds of special stuff we don't."
"That is true," Thor allowed.
"So how come you won't share?" she asked. "Friends are s'posed to share."
Thor considered this. "Well. You know your father won't let you train with rifles until you are of age?"
"Why do you suppose that is?"
Izzy shrugged. "Cause grownups hate fun."
Thor laughed. "It's because you might hurt yourself. You're too young to understand all the moving parts. Your father's concern is always for your safety, little one. Likewise, when your people are ready, Asgard will be happy to share. Until then, we must be good guardians."
"Hmf," Izzy said. Thor patted her shoulder.
"You are very lucky to be fosterling to the Avengers. Not just any child can visit Asgard, you know. And Earth has many special things Asgard lacks."
"Emojis. Coffee. Dora the Explorer."
"I do like Dora," Izzy said solemnly.
It was late evening in Budapest when Clint's phone booped, a special noise indicating a message from Izzy; he'd had Tony program a tone that was audible but not intrusive and didn't sound like any other phone noise, just for messages from her. Sometimes when she wanted his attention she'd do an impression of the phone boop, which occasionally worried him.
He rolled over, snaking an arm out of his amazingly warm bed, and pulled the phone under the covers. Phil stirred next to him and propped his chin over his shoulder so he could see it too.
There were two images and a text box; the first image was of Izzy in some kind of child-sized Asgardian armor, leaving Clint torn between why does she need ARMOR, THOR and Aw, safety first! as a reaction. The second image was Izzy, still in the armor, standing in front of what looked like an enormous, dead elk the color of indigo.
The text read POPPA!! THOR KILLED DINNER AND SIF TAUGHT ME TO PEE IN THE WOODS!! I love you and Phil see you in two days.
Clint's brow furrowed. "Are they eating that for dinner?"
"Apparently so," Phil said. "Peeing in the woods is an excellent life skill for a young woman. Natasha will be pleased."
"How close do you think she got to that thing while it was alive?" Clint asked.
"Closer than you should think about," Phil said, kissing his shoulder. "Send my love when you reply."
Clint paged through the photos he'd taken that day and picked out a selfie from that afternoon, standing on the Chain Bridge, the Danube flowing past below, Phil leaning on the railing behind him.
So proud of you, little monster! Phil says hi and love you! he texted back. He clutched the phone, not sure how fast people could respond from other dimensions, and before the phone dimmed he got a response, another photo, of Izzy and two other small children, all three smeared with grease, holding a large leg of meat. Thor was leaning into the corner of frame, giving a thumbs up.
"I'm going to be a mess when she goes to college," Clint said, setting the phone back on the table and rolling over, huddling up to Phil.
"At least you're getting your practice in," Phil told him.
"How are you so calm about her running around with demigod kids in another dimension, shooting at purple elk and peeing in the woods?"
"I'm never calm about Izzy," Phil said. "I'm in a constant state of low-level terror for her life."
Clint blinked. "Since when?"
"Since I met her," Phil said. "But I have a lot of practice appearing outwardly calm, and she doesn't need me hovering any more than you or any of the Avengers do when you're on an op. So I cultivate an air of detached interest."
"Am I not being a good dad? Should I be doing something different?" Clint said, worried.
"Why do you think that?"
"Because you're terrified for her life!"
"You're fine," Phil said, drawing him close. "It's the rest of the world that worries me. But Izzy's got a good head on her shoulders, and she's got her Poppa's survival instincts. She'll do whatever she sets her mind to, sooner or later."
"Hopefully later," Clint grumbled. "I wouldn't mind her being tall enough to do the dishes, but otherwise I don't want her to grow up."
"I'm going to remind you that you said that the next time she tries to take one of Tony's robots into the bath with her, or decides to do a full-wall mural at six-year-old eyeline height in the living room," Phil said. "Or when she practices falling by leaping off Steve's weight rack, or -- "
"Point taken," Clint said, laughing. He rested his forehead against Phil's shoulder. "So you're saying I should stop worrying about my baby eating food prepared for her by aliens and get some sleep."
"Yes, that was exactly my message," Phil agreed, ruffling his hair.
They got back from Budapest right around dinnertime on Monday; Thor had brought Izzy back earlier that day and deposited her with Tony, who appeared in the doorway of the living room as soon as Clint and Phil walked in, Izzy in his arms.
"She has literally not stopped talking since Thor brought her back," Tony said, handing her off to Clint as she screamed Poppa! and clung to his neck like a particularly affectionate monkey. Clint hugged her tight, amazed at how much he could miss her presence after only a few days.
"Now you understand how Pepper feels," Phil said brightly to Tony, as Izzy began a nonstop monologue in Clint's ear about everything she'd done on Asgard.
"Words hurt, Agent Dad," Tony said.
"Phil!" Izzy cried, squirming in Clint's possibly too-tight hug. She reached for Phil, startling both him and Clint, and Phil automatically took her weight. She squirmed into his arms, patting the collar of his thermal shirt and exclaiming about how Thor shot the Bilchsteim and it tasted like barbecue and Sif convinced her to try riding a goat but she still liked horses better. Tony gave Clint a knowing look and withdrew with more tact than Clint thought he could possibly have.
Phil carried Izzy over to the couch and plonked down with her, leaving enough room for Clint to settle in next to him and pull Phil over against his shoulder. Izzy busted free from Phil's grasp and climbed with surprising care from Phil's lap to the little pocket made by their bodies, settling into it and only using her elbows to tenderize Clint's ribs a little.
"Can I go back to Asgard, Poppa?" she asked.
"Maybe in a month or two," Clint said. Phil coughed. "Or maybe next weekend."
"Did you have fun with Phil?" she asked. Phil coughed again.
"I did. We saw a lot of architectural...things," Clint said, because they had walked around the city a little and also he'd seen a lot of the ceiling over the bed, though admittedly he'd been paying attention to other things at the time.
"Did you miss me?" she asked Phil, who rested one large hand on her head affectionately.
"More than you know," he said. "How about next weekend, instead of Asgard, we'll take you to the park and then see if you want to stay with Natasha and Steve again?"
"That's okay too," Izzy decided. Clint leaned back and relaxed, listening to Izzy narrate her adventures and Phil's indulgent replies, and thought about maybe taking Izzy to Budapest with them, sometime in the spring. It couldn't be more dangerous than running around Asgard eating purple elk, after all.