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The Hunters and the Prey

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Crystal was riding Clint piggyback, and Daisy couldn’t help the silly smile at the sight of her new sister laughing as the Elf bounced her around, his exaggerated steps graceful despite the fact that he was acting like a fool.

It was all for Crystal, and if Daisy hadn’t already liked Clint it would be just one more tick in the “Clint Barton is a Nice Guy and will be Good for My Dad” column that she’d been keeping in her head. 

Already, they’d gotten Crystal several new dresses – most of them in various shades of yellow, one of which she was wearing now – three pairs of shoes, a couple of nightdresses, and a new cloak for when it turned winter as well as bedding and a few decorations for her new room.  The little girl had seemed overwhelmed by it all at first, as evidenced by her freak-out at the first clothes shop.  However, once she’d realized that she had control over things Crystal seemed to accept what was going on and got used to asking for what she wanted. 

Daisy knew she should have taken it a bit easier, but she’d just got carried away by the very idea that she now had a little sister, and blanket permission to get her whatever she needed.  Daisy should have remembered the first time Dad had taken  her shopping; it had been scary for a lot of reasons, especially because she just hadn’t had any experience with kindness.  Her Dad had been patient until Daisy had been able to accept that he was doing this because he loved her, and had wanted her to have everything she’d ever needed or wanted. 

To be fair, he’d been as inept at being a parent as Daisy had been at being a daughter, but she liked to think they got it figured out in the end.

She couldn’t wait until she told her friends about her new sister.  She just knew Crystal would love them, and they would love her, too.

Natasha was shadowing them from behind, so subtly it didn’t seem like she was.  Daisy felt as if she truly had a bodyguard, and that was a bit of a relief for her.  Hydra was still out there, but really…how would they even manage to find her there, in Triskelia Town?  And, chances were, they wouldn’t even come after her again, not after Dad had managed to close their pet Void Point.  Still, having someone watch out for them meant that Daisy herself didn’t need to keep her own eye out, and could relax and show her new little sister a good time.

Although she wasn’t fooled at all that Clint wasn’t doing the exact same thing that Natasha was; he was just a lot less overt about it.   Or, at least he could have fun while keeping watch.

Crystal giggled when Clint pretended the arms she had around his neck were choking him; even Daisy could tell that little girl didn’t have the strength for that.  He was really good with her.  It made Daisy wish that Clint had been around when she’d been a kid, because it would have been nice to have two Dads.  Not that her one Dad hadn’t been amazing; he had been.  But just in the days since she’d met Clint had her imagining what it would have been like if Dad had gotten in contact with Clint instead of letting the Elf think he was dead.  Daisy still didn’t get why Dad had done that, but she liked to think he had a good reason for it.

Up on the right was the shop she’d been heading toward, because there were a few things they hadn’t gotten for Crystal yet.  Sure, they’d picked up the necessities; now it was time to be frivolous.

Crystal’s gasp told the young woman that her sister had finally noticed where they were going.  “Is that…” she squeaked in surprise.

“A toy shop,” Daisy confirmed.  “We’ve got you things that you need, but now it’s time to play.”

Crystal wriggled enough to communicate to Clint that she wanted down, so he obliged.  She started to run forward…but then, she stopped in her tracks, looking back over her shoulder, eyes wide with joy.  “I used to have toys, but I don’t anymore.”

“Then it’s time to get some.”  Daisy held out her hand, and Crystal took it, the simple trust that the little girl was showing touching Daisy in a way she couldn’t explain.  With a bright grin, she escorted her new sister into the shop, determined that she would get everything that Crystal showed an interest in.

She wasn’t the only one whose attention had been caught by the very idea of being inside a toy shop.  Skye was bobbing about excitedly, and the young Wizard was concerned her dragon might take a header off her shoulders.  Lockjaw, who’d been following, made chirping noises that were just on this side of audible, they were pitched so high. 

The only dragon who didn’t show the same interest was Lucky, but then he was just happy to stay with Clint. 

Daisy still thought Clint having a dragon was awesome.  If anyone deserved it, it was him.  She’d seen how he was like with Lola, and with Skye to a lesser extent – simply because they hadn’t spent all that much time together yet – and he was just awesome with dragons.  His guilt at killing Raina’s dragon had been real, and heartfelt. 

Still, she was a little jealous that he’d gotten to meet the Queen of Air and Fire.

Anyway.

The toy shop.

Crystal came to a halt, her mouth open, and Daisy was a little afraid she’d been overwhelmed once more, only this time by the sheer number of different sorts of toys and games that the shop had.  Then, with a happy squeal, she let go of Daisy’s hand and practically ran toward the stuffed animals, Lockjaw following behind just as excitedly.

Daisy’s heart swelled at seeing her act like a kid for really the first time.

“She’s going to need a bigger room,” Clint joked. 

“And Dad will be more than happy to get her one, even if he has to use magic to make hers grow.”

“You’re not kidding.”

Daisy took the chance to hug the Elf, who was more than happy to hug her back this time, a lot less surprised by it than he’d been back at Ianto’s just the other day.  They’d been through a lot together, and the young woman was really glad he was going to be staying.  She might tease him, but she could see how good he was for her Dad.  It hadn’t really occurred to her until Clint had come into their lives just how much Dad had needed someone that wasn’t his daughter.  Oh, that wasn’t to say he’d never dated; Daisy vaguely recalled a couple of times he’d gone out with others, but it had never amounted to anything.  She was just now realizing that he’d put his entire life on hold for her, and it made him even more special to her, but it really was time for Dad to do something for himself.

As she watched, Crystal began to pet at several of the stuffed toys, and there were a lot of them. One entire aisle was dedicated to them, and Daisy wondered just how her sister was going to be able to pick out what she wanted.  Hells, Daisy was having a hard time, although that one bear with the rainbows on the pads of its feet was absolutely adorable.

But this wasn’t about her.  This was about Crystal.  Daisy could come back anytime to pick something out for herself.

Suddenly, Clint was gone and, startled, Daisy turned to watch as he headed toward the toy weapons.  She couldn’t help the grin as she watched him pick up a toy bow that had been painted a pretty vivid purple, arrows tipped with large cloth balls next to it.  His eyes were lit with unholy glee as he clutched the set to his chest. 

“Clint…” Natasha said in warning.

“Mine,” he practically hissed at her, although it had to have been an act because Lucky was giving the dragon version of an insane chuckle.

Daisy started laughing at them, which set Skye off.  The sight of a grown man going nuts over a toy was hilarious.

“Daddy’s silly.”

Startled, Daisy glanced down to see Crystal standing beside her, watching as Clint tried to keep Natasha from wrestling the bow away from him.  What had actually made the sight funnier was the very real bow and quiver that were strapped to his back, and the idea that he’d want a toy version was absolutely precious.

Then, it caught up to her what Crystal had just called Clint.

For that, Daisy had to kneel and give her a big hug.  “Yes, he’s very silly.”

“Daisy?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you help me pick a stuffed animal?”

She gave the little girl a bright smile, pleased that she’d asked.  “Why just one?”

Crystals’ blue eyes went wide.  “I can get more than one?”

“Sure!  I don’t see why not.  You can get other toys, as well.”  They’d gone through much of Dad’s money for the clothes and necessities; they could use Uncle Nick’s letter of credit for other stuff.

Crystal grabbed Daisy by the hand, leading her over the aisle of stuffed toys.  It took them a little bit, but the little girl finally picked out five, one of them the bear that Daisy had noticed, the one with the rainbows on its paw pads. 

Then, to her surprise, Crystal walked right up to Clint and said, “I want a bow and arrow, too, please.”

The expression on his face…if Daisy had even doubted that he loved her, that was wiped away.  He handed over the set that Natasha had been trying to take away from him. “I’ll even teach you how to use it, if you want.”

“Please, Daddy.  I want to learn.”

Being called Daddy made the Elf all sappy, judging from the glitter of unshed tears in his eyes.  “You got it, baby.  It will be my genuine pleasure.”

Crystal hugged his legs, almost poking him in a delicate place with the arm of the bow.  However, Clint didn’t even flinch, resting a hand on her hair. 

“Go and keep looking around,” he urged her.  “We’ll make sure what you’ve already got will be taken care of for you.”

“Okay.”  She handed the bow back, then headed down to the dolls.

This time, Natasha didn’t try to take it away from him.  But then, it wasn’t his anymore, apparently, so it was no longer fair game.

“Her pile is over there.”  Daisy pointed toward the counter, where she’d stacked the animals that Crystal had claimed.  Standing behind the counter was a young man who looked pleased as punch to be standing guard over the selection so far.  And Daisy hadn’t even mentioned the letter of credit yet.  She could only imagine that reaction.

“Do you think Phil will mind that she calls me Daddy?” Clint looked and sounded in awe of that name, and Daisy supposed she couldn’t blame him.

“Are you kidding?” she scoffed lightly.  “He’s gonna love it.”

That had him smiling rather dopily.  Daisy would have teased him for it, if she wasn’t aware that she had the exact same expression on her face.

As Crystal looked around, other children and their families came into the store.  Daisy kept an eye on her sister, not wanting her to get upset or anything at the other kids, but she seemed to be handling it just fine.  In fact, Crystal got into a discussion with a little boy about the merits of building blocks; she was obviously getting his opinion.

She did eventually decide against the blocks. 

Daisy got the distinct impression that her sister was going to be more into ‘girly’ toys at that point.  Which was perfectly fine, really.  Daisy had been the same way once she’d figured out that it was alright to be a girl and not a tomboy who had to give up pretty dresses for trousers and dolls for knives.

Alright, yes, there was still that little bit of tomboy in her, and she still had her old knife in her bedside drawer, but she was proud of it and she’d earned that title.  Just ask the trees outside the Keep and the still slightly visible scars on her knees.

They were in the store for a solid hour.  Natasha had managed to convince Crystal that the bigger the dollhouse, the better…although that hadn’t taken all that much convincing, actually.  Dad was going to have fun putting that together, even though she was certain Clint would help.  He would have to, because she was pretty sure that was going to be a two-person job, and that didn’t even count unwrapping all the tiny furniture which was going to be a real bugger.

She’d just finished paying – and yes, the letter of credit had caused a minor uproar, which was awesome – and was just arranging to have everything sent to the castle and then Dad could magic it forward to the Keep, when a cheeping noise came from her pocket.

It was her speaking stone.

“What is that?” Crystal asked curiously.

Daisy knelt so she could see.  “It’s my speaking stone.  I made it.  Watch.”  With a touch of her magic, she activated the stone and called out into it. “Hello?”  It could have been any of her friends, or Dad.

It was Dad. “Hello, Daisy.” His voice warm even through the stone.

“Hi, Dad,” she greeted.

Crystal was bouncing a little.  “Hi, Dad!” she shouted a little louder than was strictly necessary.

Dad didn’t speak for a moment, and Daisy just knew he was being all mushy about Crystal calling him that.  Then, he said, “Are you both having fun?”

“We are!” Crystal answered, once again fairly shouting. 

Daisy shushed her a little, letting her know she didn’t need to speak to loudly.

“Sorry,” she said, in more of an indoor voice.

“That’s alright, sweetheart.  I’m glad you’re having a good time.”

“I’ve got clothes and Auntie Nat helped me with my dollhouse and Daisy helped me pick out some stuffed animals and Daddy said he’d teach me how to use my new bow – “

“New bow?” His voice was calm, but Daisy could tell he didn’t think her having that sort of thing was a really good idea and that he was going to have words with Clint about it.

Yep, Clint could read between the lines as well, judging from his rather sheepish expression.

It hadn’t hit him yet that Crystal had called Clint, ‘Daddy’.

She knew it would, though…and there it was, that flash of pleasure accompanied by a blush that had his ears turning red.  She would have teased him about it, if it wasn’t such a big deal.

“It’s a toy, Dad,” she assured him.  “Not a real bow.”

“That’s good.” Once again, he didn’t really say anything, but Daisy knew the moment his brain caught up with what Crystal had said.  “And I’m sure your Daddy will be able to teach you a lot about the bow.  He’s very good at it.”

Oh Gods, and there was that same sappy tone Clint had gotten earlier. 

Daisy couldn’t remember if he’d ever sounded like that with her, but she was willing to bet he had. 

For a former evil Wizard, her Dad was a real marshmallow.

“If you’re about finished, you both should be heading home.  There are a couple of things I need to talk to you both about.”

Daisy was willing to bet it was about Crystal’s adoption, and what had led up to it. From what the young woman could recall of her own adoption, there had been a few people who hadn’t thought that a Void adopting a Cardinal was a good idea, and had fought Uncle Nick on allowing it to go through.  Dad had prevailed with the Baronial Council and the magistrates, which was a good thing, because she would have just run back to him the moment she could if they’d tried to take her away from him. 

This would be different, because Crystal was Void and there were a lot of important people on Dad’s side in this.  It didn’t matter that Crystal’s birth parents were around; Daisy was willing to bet whatever Barony she’d been living in had already begun dissolution paperwork.  If everything went the way Daisy was hoping, then Crystal would be her legal sister as soon as possible.

“Can we go home now, Daisy?” Crystal asked.  “I got everything I want now.”

“Sure, and if we need anything else then we can always come back another time.”  She’d been hoping to stop by the bookshop down the street, but that could wait.  Dad had some books of fairy tales that she could borrow if Crystal wanted to have a story read to her.  They’d also need to see about her reading comprehension and writing level, and get her caught up if she was behind.  There were books for that, and she was sure they could find something to help out.  Andrew might even be able to suggest something.

“We have plenty of time to get anything else later,” her Dad concurred. 

“We’ll head on back to Uncle Nick’s now,” Daisy said.  “We have quite a lot to move back to the Keep.”

“Thanks for the warning, although I think I assumed that just from Crystal’s list.”

Daisy laughed.  “We’ll be home soon.”

“See you all then. Oh, and tell Auntie Nat she’s welcome to come as well.”  He sounded amused by that, which was fine because Natasha seemed to feel the same way, judging from the small smile in her eyes.

There was a single little ping, and that was the stone being disconnected from the stone Dad had back at the Keep.  She slipped it back into her pocket, then stood up.  “Let’s go home.”  She held out her hand to Crystal, who took it without hesitation.

They really weren’t that far away from the castle; it rose up in front of them, the road they were on leading right up to the front gate.  It was a bit crowded, and Clint and Natasha walked behind them to avoid getting in the way of the foot traffic that was going to and fro along the large stone slabs of the sidewalk, eventually falling even further behind.  From what Dad had once told her, Triskelia had once been run by a madman who’d been set on bleeding the people dry, until Uncle Nick had come in and stolen the Barony right from under the man.  Once he’d taken over, he’d fixed things, and now Barony Triskelia was one of the more prosperous among the Twenty Baronies of the Western Lands.  Uncle Nick had done good work here, and Daisy was proud of him.

Foot traffic was getting heavier the closer they got to the castle; Daisy realized it must have been some sort of market day, and she hadn’t known. Although, to be fair, she really didn’t get to town that much, spending most of her time at the Keep or at school.  She’d wished she’s thought to ask Uncle Nick before leaving out. 

Daisy gripped onto Crystal’s hand a little tighter.  She could tell her new sister was getting a little scared, because she squeezed right back and didn’t loosen her fingers.  Daisy was about to stop and pick her up, but something grabbed her and yanked her toward the alley they were passing.   In the process, Crystal’s hand was torn from hers, and a tiny scream sounded as the little girl was swallowed up by the bustling crowd.

Before Daisy could fight off whoever it was who’d forcibly pulled her into the alley, a cold wetness touched her neck, and suddenly the world slanted, and the young woman grew dizzy.  Daisy staggered, slamming bodily into the side of one of the buildings that formed the alley, her shoulder colliding painfully against the brick as she slid down the wall to collapse against the cold stone walkway.

Daisy felt as if she wanted to throw up.  The dizziness was throwing off her equilibrium; her vision swam as she tried to discover just who’d done whatever the hells it was to her. 

She couldn’t bring her magic to bear; it felt almost like it was back in Hydra’s house, when the Void was stifling her.  It was also different, because her magic was there, it was just that her head was so swamped by pain and nausea that she didn’t have the strength to use it anymore.

Blinking her eyes to clear the vertigo, Daisy managed to glance up…

To see John Garrett standing over her, a nasty grin on his face.

Tunnel-vision warped his features as he leaned over her, the nastiness of his grin fading into pleased superiority.  He knelt in front of her, and Daisy raised a shaking hand…but he easily batted it away.  “No, I don’t think so,” he laughed.  “My little spell has you all messed up, little girl.”

Daisy did the only thing she could.

She leaned forward and vomited all over his boots.

It didn’t make the nausea any less, but she still felt better emotionally.

Garrett cursed as he stumbled back out of the way of any more puke.  “Bitch!  If I didn’t want you alive, I’d kill you right now.” 

He slapped her, and that made her head hurt even worse even though Daisy knew, intellectually, that he hadn’t been in the best position to do much damage.  Somewhere, far away, she could hear someone shouting her name, and she thought it might have been Clint but she couldn’t be sure. 

The only sound she could make in reply to that was a harsh croaking noise that had Garret smirking. 

“Having a hard time talking?” he taunted.  “Not that they could actually come to your rescue.  I’ve got wards all over this alley, so the chances your bodyguards finding you are nil.  We won’t be here long, anyway.”

Daisy wanted to scream.  Garrett was going to take her away, and if there was anything she’d learned from past events was that she hated being kidnapped and used against her Dad.  Because she was absolutely certain that was what Garrett had in mind.  It would probably mean he’d kill her this time, since he’d go for what hurt Dad the most.  

“Let’s get you out of here, shall we?”  Garrett got an arm around her, hefting her to her feet.

“Oh, I don’t think so.”

The young woman managed to get her head flopped toward the voice, her heart lifting at the sight of her Dad, standing at the mouth of the alley, with Clint coming to stand just behind his shoulder, his bow out and aimed at Garrett.  Natasha was on the other side and, while she wasn’t armed, Daisy didn’t doubt that she could take out Garrett with her little finger.

Garrett looked gobsmacked.  Daisy wanted to laugh, but all that came out was some sort of crazed sounding gurgle.

What had he done to her?

“How did you get here so fast?” Garrett demanded.  “I didn’t sense you anywhere close by!”

Dad just raised a single eyebrow.  “Do you think you can take me, John?” Then he smiled, an almost viciously amused thing that had Daisy wondering if it was something he’d once worn as the Dark One.  “Would you like to try?”