In Tony’s defense, all he wanted was another beer. Then again, he didn’t need to take the burly guy’s pint out of his hands. He could have just waited for the bartender. Also, in hindsight, Tony had been drunk enough and hadn’t really needed another beer.
It wasn’t the first time that he found himself in a back alley brawl but it was the first time that a stranger had come to his aid.
Of course, Burly had two friends with him. Large friends with both a crooked nose and facial scars, respectively, that had Tony wondering if he was trapped in a horror film. Burly, Nose, and Scar quickly dragged him off of his stool and out the door.
The three men were towering over Ton and had previously shown no signs of stopping the barrage of punches, now kicks, since he was on the ground. Luckily, the blond shortie who appeared didn’t give them an option. He rammed right into Burly, pushing him onto Scar.
“Every. Damn. City.” He punctuated his words with punches. “Going after townies like it’s your fucking job. We’re stuck in this town…tired of your….assholes….your own size…” Tony start zoning in and out while watching the fight. Well, blacking out and then waking up but he tried to pay attention from his spot on the sidewalk. Blondie could definitely hold his own in a fight but three guys twice his size? Tony wasn’t feeling too good about those odds.
Well, Tony wasn’t feeling too good in general.
He must have blacked out for more than a few minutes though because the next time he opened his eyes, Blondie was on the ground next to him, flat on his back with Burly’s boot resting on his chest.
“You li-little shit.” One of the men, Tony wasn’t sure which, spat out a tooth on the sidewalk. Even drunk and injured, the man still staggered towards them both and Tony braced himself for an impact but the look in Blondie’s eyes caught Tony’s attention and the billionaire groaned. Blondie looked a bit resigned, as though he just realized that he took on three monstrous men in order to help a stranger. Tony debated on taking offense to that but instead, he rolled himself over and blinked blood out of his stinging eyes. Even with marginally cleared vision, he couldn’t see his cell phone anywhere.
“You don’t want to go another round, moneymaker?”
Moneymaker? From his spot on the ground, Tony idly wondered if the man saving him was a prostitute. Finally, finally, he felt his phone underneath his armpit.
Tony gave himself a mental reminder never to question Pepper again as he pressed the button on his phone that would bring the police right to his GPS location.
“Is he dead yet?”
“You want him dead?”
“Boss might kill us.”
“I ain’t telling.”
“What the hell is that?” It took Tony a few seconds before he realized Nose was pointing at his cell phone. The screen said 911 Emergency Response and had a blinking radar for their location.
It was a surprisingly quick retreat after that but not before crushing Tony’s phone under the heel of a massive boot and using the same boot to kick Blondie in the chest one last time.
Tony glanced at the remains of his phone. That was the third in the past month. At least it wasn’t a lab accident. Pepper couldn’t blame him for this one.
“You’re good, right?” The man who saved Tony’s life could barely talk but even now, he was asking if Tony was okay. Ridiculous.
“What? Yea, I’ll…I’ll be fine.” Tony hoisted himself off the ground but only made it a few inches before collapsing again. “What’s your name, kid?” Tony asked through a mouthful of gravel and blood.
“Kid?” Said kid shifted himself to his side and started vomiting. Tony was pretty sure he was taking offense to being called ‘kid’ rather than being confused about the question. It was an impressive response for someone who looked to be bleeding out. And maybe “kid” was a little too off the mark. Blondie looked around his early twenties from what Tony could tell.
“Yea, kid. What’s your name?” Tony tried not to look at the vomit. He needed the kid’s name. He knew he would be asked it and Tony couldn’t take care of him unless he had something to go on.
“Cli-Clint.” More spew and Tony was about to be sick himself. Those guys had done a number on both of them but Clint had clearly gotten the worst of it.
“They called you a moneymaker. Are you uh….” Even when he was out on the ground, Tony couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
“What?” Clint coughed, eyes shut, and Tony tried not to look away even though blood was dribbling out of the blond’s mouth.
“Sorry. Never mind. You need to stay awake until the ambulance gets here, okay?”
“No ambulances.” Clint tried to roll away but he could barely move to begin with so the attempt was unsuccessful.
“No, sorry, you don’t get to decide that.” Tony managed a single laugh before he too started coughing.
“Insurance…money. Probably fired.” Clint groaned and managed to lift an intact arm to gesture to where the three men had ran off.
“Great coworkers you’ve got there.” Tony could do sarcasm under any circumstance.
“No money.” Clint croaked out again.
“Yea, well, lucky for you, I’m here.” Tony grimaced. His mouth was filled with blood and he could feel it running down the back of his throat. He wished it would start raining to wash it out.
“Do you know who I am?” Tony never felt so relieved to hear police sirens.
“Should…should I?” Clint’s breathing was sounding worse and worse.
Huh. Tony wasn’t used to that. Kid really wasn’t from around here. “Maybe not. What do you do?”
“An archer? Like with a bow and arrow?”
“Circus.” Clint sighed. Tony vaguely remembered Pepper mentioning something about a circus or carnival being in town. That explained a lot of the dialogue thrown around between the men and Clint.
The next time Tony woke up, the ambulances had arrived and the alley was cornered off. There were two police officers and too many EMTs trying to fight for his attention and his version of the accounts. No Pepper in sight. He saw Clint being lifted onto a stretcher and found the strength to raise himself off the ground and right into the arms of an EMT.
“I can walk. I can walk.” He tried swatting the woman away but his coordination was understandably off.
“I can walk!” Tony insisted, with more force. “I need to go with him.”
“You really cannot walk, sir. We’re doing our best to take care of the other man.” The EMT was practically holding up Tony.
“We need to be in the same ambulance. He’s, uh, my brother.”
“Mr. Stark, you…you don’t have a brother,” The EMT said with a voice of uncertainty. “You’re intoxicated.”
“Yes but I also own the nearest hospital. If I say he’s my brother, then he’s my brother. Maybe he’s my son.” Tony could tell that he was slurring his words but he was persistent.
“Already had a brother. It didn’t really work out.” Clint said, in a daze. He was wincing at the bright lights but for a half second, Tony was impressed that he had formed even half-assed sentences.
Then, he looked over and sobered up at finally being able to see the extent of Clint’s injuries under florescent lights. “Well, that wasn’t me, Clint.”
That was the last thing Tony said before passing out and sinking down the floor.
Waking up not knowing where he was and feeling an incredible amount of pain was never a good thing for Tony. He managed to get a nurse to cry within five minutes of opening his eyes. All it took was a few big words and threats from a billionaire to have the male orderly calling in a substitute.
He wasn’t even trying to escape from the hospital. Tony was much more interested in the condition of the Clint, who remained motionless and with his eyes closed on the next bed over. His breathing was labored and his face was covered in bruises. Tony was sure that what he couldn’t see under the thin hospital sheets would be even worse.
However, since he wasn’t listed on any of Clint’s nonexistent paperwork, the nurse insisted that Tony couldn’t know anything about his condition. Hence the argument.
“I left to get breakfast. You managed to cause this much havoc within a five minute time span.” It wasn’t a question, rather an accusation, but Pepper was still smiling and apparently pleased to see him alive so Tony would take what he could get. “I’ve gotten calls from hospital board members and doctors.”
“You always look so happy to see me.” Tony had a perfect leer, even from the hospital bed with a bruised jaw. Pepper’s glare didn’t lessen and Tony tried a different approach. “Clint caused all the mayhem. Not me.”
“Your friend Clint seems to be lacking the skills to do anything at the moment.”
That wasn’t entirely true. Clint let a soft moan pass through his cracked lips and Tony immediately tried and failed to sit up. Pepper used one hand and pushed him back down anyway. She looked over at the other bed. Clint’s head moved slightly but other than that, he was still.
“Clint?” Tony called. Clint’s head moved again, this time towards Tony’s bed.
“Huh?” Clint’s voice cracked even on the small word.
“Tony, he’s on a lot of pain medication. He probably doesn’t know who you are right now or what happened last night.”
“He didn’t even know who I was last night. It was awesome. Clint, this is Pepper.”
Clint’s eyes were swollen shut but he still gave a groggy wave at the direction of Pepper’s voice. “Pleasure, ma’am.” He said hoarsely.
Pepper mouthed ‘Ma’am?’ at Tony who just gave a lopsided smile of pride at Clint who had already fallen back asleep.
The remainder of the day was spent with Tony talking to Clint whenever he woke up. Clint was in and our of a drug-induced sleep and Tony tried to find out every possible bit of information from the archer who had saved him.
“So if you weren’t in the circus, what were you planning on doing?”
“Opening an orphanage.” Clint slurred and slowly turned over on the bed to try and face Tony. “Grew up in one. Might be nice.”
“I’m not sure if they just let people open orphanages.” Tony wasn’t an expert on obeying laws and he certainly didn’t know specifics.
“Mmmm.” Clint tried to shrug but winced instead, “S’long as I can help kids, I’ll do whatever.”
“Where’s my bow?” Clint’s slurred question came out of the blue and the man immediately fell back to sleep after asking it.
“What is he talking about?” Pepper looked up from his blackberry and over at Clint.
“He’s an archer. All his stuff is probably still at the circus. Can we send someone to get it?”
“I don’t think they will just give us his stuff.”
“He’s not going back there. Just take it.”
“You have a college degree?”
“Up until two hours ago, I shot arrows at a target for a living.” Clint’s voice cracked and he let loose a harsh cough. He hadn’t managed to eat any of the food brought to their hospital room. “No, I don’t have a college degree.”
“Well, then. That’ll be the first step.”
“You know of a cheap motel around here?”
“Here is New York. There are plenty of sleazy places. Also, I’m not telling you any of them because you’re staying with me!”
“I appreciate the offer, Tony, but it’s okay.”
“No it’s not. It’s not okay! You saved my life, got fired, and was left for dead. And do you know who I am?”
“Tony from the bar?”
“I’m Tony Stark.”
“Well, that’s a name.”
“Oh god, you have no idea who I am? Really? Seriously? This is going to be awesome.”
“Pepper wanted to know more about who saved me. Apparently, it’s all over the news. Tony Stark landed himself in the hospital yadda yadda.”
“Don’t do that.” Clint said instantly. Pepper shot Tony a glare because Clint had just been about to eat his first bite of food all day. He moved the piece of toast back down to the tray in front of him.
“Don’t tell anyone about it. About me.”
“It doesn’t matter if I’m out of the circus. Those guys still know who I am. They think I’m dead. It’s…it’s better that way.” Clint let his sentence trail off. He wasn’t sure how to continue the sentence without insulting Tony. He was grateful for the hospitality but didn’t want to cause anymore trouble.
“You think they’ll come after you again?”
“I’ve got a security team, you know.”
Clint didn’t hesitate before snapping a comeback. “Where were they last night?”
“Touché.” Tony searched Clint’s expression and for the first time, Clint seemed scared. He wasn’t scared the night where he had immediately charged his coworkers to defend a stranger. To Tony’s disappointment, Clint didn’t pick up the toast again. Instead he pushed the tray away and closed his eyes for another nap.
“When can I take him home?”
“I have a hospital bed.”
“You have a couch.”
“That means yes.” Tony told Clint, ignoring Pepper’s shaking head.
“Do not corrupt him.”
“He used to work in a circus.”
“He called me ma’am.”
“He does that. He’s polite. Clint’s polite. Polite boy from Iowa.”
“More polite than you.”
“Well, that goes without saying. Can we keep him?”
“Um. Hi. I’m right here.” Clint waved his bandaged hand at them, the cast went up past his elbow.
“And you’re doing a very good job of being right there in that hospital bed. Pepper couldn’t find your high school grades. You’re going to need to get a GED before you apply for the scholarship.”
“I didn’t go to high school. And scholarship for what?”
“The Stark Education Scholarship for Education Majors.”
“Education majors? Scholarship?” Tony grinned at Clint’s confusion.
“Early childhood, right? Orphanage? Kids? Helping children? Remember that? You might need a business degree too. I’ll have someone look into it.” He looked pointedly at Pepper who just shook her head.
“Tony, have you filled Clint in on his future? Or did you just plan it all?”
“It’s all up here.” Tony tapped an un-bandaged part of his head. “You told me that you wanted to help kids, right?” He glanced over at Clint for clarifiction.
“I told you that?” Clint’s eyes were wide, which had to be hurting him because they were pretty bruised.
“While you were on some of that lovely morphine you did. And I’m going to help you do that.”
“Of course I am.”
“Of course he is.”
“Are you…are you fucking with me right now?” Clint couldn’t stop the words from tumbling out of his mouth.
Pepper rolled her eyes fondly and lightly patted Clint’s bruised hand. “You and Tony are going to get along just fine.”
“You live here?” Clint said in disbelief from his spot lying down in the back of one of Tony’s limos. The escape from the hospital had gone better than expected but Tony did acquiesce to a nurse coming in twice daily to check on Clint’s injuries. Clint didn’t like the hospital anymore than Tony did so it was an easy promise to make even if Clint did have to lie down across the backseat of the car for the drive back.
“I’m home, JARVIS! This is Clint Barton. He’ll be staying with us until further notice.”
“Yes, sir. Ms. Potts has already informed me of our new houseguest.”
“What the…” Clint looked around the house, trying to locate the voice. Tony was mostly holding him up and poked an unbruised part of his shoulder in order to get him moving again.
“That’s JARVIS. He runs the household.”
“And JARVIS is..?” Clint still hadn’t stopped searching for JARVIS and he nearly tripped over his own feet as Tony guided him inside the house.
“He’s an AI. I made him.” Tony bragged. “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System.”
“You…made…him…okay. You make magical voices and you live in a mansion. And you’re Tony Stark.”
“There will be a quiz once you wake up.” Tony joked and helped Clint to settle down on the couch.
Clint didn’t have much time to sleep though because only a few minutes after he closed his eyes, somebody burst through the front door of the mansion. Clint woke up to Tony and another man arguing in front of him.
“Tony, first you look like you’ve been in a damn car accident and now you’ve got a mental patient on your couch. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for days and now Pepper tells me that you’ve been in the hospital?”
“He’s not a mental patient. I just stole him from the hospital. He lives here now.” Tony glanced over and saw Clint watching them with a tired and confused gaze. “And now he is awake and he can hear you. Clint, this is James Rhodes. Rhodey. Rhodey, this is Clint. He’ll be staying with me.”
This James Rhodes guy looked pretty angry to see Clint on Tony’s couch. Clint didn’t say anything. Just kept observing the exchange with careful eyes and gave a wave when his name was spoken. He had been giving that wave a lot over the past thirty-six hours.
“I got into a little…situation two nights ago and Clint, well, he fights back much better than I do. Turns out the guys kicking the shit out of me were part of his circus act and they don’t take kindly to betrayal.”
“Circus act? He’s a carnie?”
“Rhodey, I swear if you are not nice and courteous to him, I will revoke your lab access.”
“Only Pepper has the power to do that.”
“And Pepper already loves Clint so it’s two against one right now.”
“Pepper approves of him?”
“He did save me. And nearly killed himself in the process. I think that might be all it takes for the time being.” Tony narrowed his eyes.
“Wait, did you say circus act?” Rhodey looked between Clint and Tony. ”The news reported that a performer from the carnival went missing.”
“Carsons?” Clint perked up.
“Yep, that’s the place.” Rhodey was flipping through articles on his smart phone and he flicked it to Tony’s television screen.
‘World’s Greatest Marksman Misses Cue’
“They couldn’t come up with anything better than that?” Tony cocked his head to the side.
The video started playing and Clint paled when he saw one of the men being interviewed by the reporter. It was one of the grunts from the bar. Scar, if Tony remembered correctly.
“Carson doesn’t take kindly to those who abandon in the middle of a tour. The kid is a pretentious young punk and was always a bit off. Hope he knows that he won’t be welcome back here anytime soon.” There was a glint in the man’s eye that made Tony want to resort to physical violence. He exchanged a glance with Rhodey before looking at Clint.
“I’m going to call you ‘young punk’ from now on,” He informed Clint. “Is that okay?”
Rhodey just shook his head and sat next to Clint on the couch.
“So, you’re staying with Tony now.” It wasn’t a question.
“How about we order a pizza?” Neither was that, really.
Clint didn’t respond but instead, just took a deep breath. He leaned his head against the back of the couch and after a few minutes, opened his eyes to find that Rhodey was gone. In front of him was just a worried Tony Stark.
“I wasn’t sure I was staying until that video.” Clint admitted, not meeting Tony’s gaze.
“JARVIS wouldn’t have let you out of the house.” At that, Clint looked up and somehow felt relief at Tony’s smirk.
“Mouthy little shit.”
Clint took another deep breath. He could handle this, right?
In the month and a half that it took Clint to get his GED, Tony accidentally blew up three of his classic cars, slept with two of Clint’s nurses, and managed to get both Clint and himself banned from all the Applebees in the eastern hemisphere.
Although, Clint could definitely take some of the blame for the Applebees fiasco, henceforth known as the Chicken Finger and Sangria Explosion. They had been trying to do a low-key immediate celebration of Clint getting his arm cast off by going to the nearest restaurant that served booze. Then Clint wanted to make sure he could still hit any target and Tony doubted his skills. As a result, Tony demanded a performance from ‘The Amazing Hawkeye.’ Additionally, Tony also thought it was a necessity that the target explode.
Which is how Pepper came to find them sharing a jail cell in a local police station, still laughing even though Clint’s shirt was nearly burnt to a crisp. The following day, Tony was ecstatic to buy Clint more shirts. Almost all of them were different shades of purple thanks to a night the previous week when Tony and Clint went through Clint’s circus bag (The appearance of which, Clint politely ignored and did not comment upon) and found his bright purple costume.
Clint received full the Stark scholarship for his undergraduate degree, mostly because Tony was in charge of any grants given out in his company’s name. It came with a living stipend but Clint insisted on working. He kept up a small apartment near campus and worked nights at a local bar and restaurant. Clint, smartly, refused to tell Tony which bar. Tony and Pepper also insisted that he come home to the mansion on the weekends.
Tony originally wanted Clint to come work at Stark Enterprises but that conversation went something like this:
“You don’t want to work for me?”
“You make weapons.” Clint made a face that wasn’t quite a frown.
“And what are your thoughts on that?”
“I like things that explode.” He tried but Tony just narrowed his eyes.
“Could do without the death.” Clint admitted.
“I’ll keep that in mind. But you know, you use weapons too. Bows and arrows. Still weapons.”
“I performed in a circus.”
“Are you telling me that you never shot a man with your bow and arrow?”
Clint never answered the question but he did let a very drunk Tony tuck him into bed for his last night before he moved out to start his degree.
“Welcome home, Clint.” JARVIS’ voice rang out through the hallway and Clint let himself smile. It had been a long first week at the university, especially since he was three or four years older than most of the students. He was glad that he agreed to Pepper’s request (read: order) to come home on the weekends. It would be a welcome relief from his empty apartment and assignments.
“You’ve been in orientation for almost six whole days and I didn’t contact you once!”
“Orientation was for the weekend. I started classes. Also, your self-control is amazing isn’t as good as you think it is.”
“You’re coming out with me tonight.”
“I’ve got stuff!”
“No you don’t. You promised Pepper and I we could have most weekends unless your job absolutely needed you.”
“And since you won’t tell me where you work, I can’t coerce them into letting you have the day off.”
“It won’t take me long to find out, you know. Sooner or later, someone will slip. Which, by the way, reminds me: I’m hurt that you told Pepper and not you. And she got free drinks!”
“Tony!” Clint finally caught his attention and he pointed towards the garment on his bed. “What the hell is that?”
“Your tux.” Tony said simply. That reminded him that he should probably put on his suit soon. The party started nearly an hour ago so he should think about getting dressed soon.
“I thought you meant just, you know, out. Like with you and Rhodey at the bar. You didn’t tell me that I had to be your date to a damn charity ball.” Clint wasn’t yelling but he was pretty close to it.
Tony stepped back from Clint but still didn’t register the anger. “Technically, Pepper was coerced into being my date. Then I blackmailed Rhodey into making you his plus-one. Platonic plus-one if the government asks him.”
“I’m sure he must have loved that.” Clint’s voice was muffled through his hands over his face. He started backing away slowly but DUM-E and U had him cornered.
After an intense struggle, the result of which had DUM-E making little robotic whimpers in the corner of the main room, Clint was definitely dressed in a tux. However, he was no where to be seen.
“JARVIS, where is Clint hiding?” Tony yelled at the AI. He had searched the entire first and second floor. No Clint.
“I’m not at liberty to say, sir.” Even JARVIS was on Clint’s side. And he sounded smug about it. Traitor. It wasn’t fair that Tony’s creations liked Clint more than him.
A knock came from the doorway. “Did you lose Clint and I missed it?” Pepper peered into the living room.
“Pepper! Hey! You look great! Did you see Clint when you walked in?”
“No…” Pepper made sure to get directly into his line of vision before talking to him again. “Did you lose Clint?”
“He’s in a tux and ready for the party but then he ran away from me.”
“Why do you want to bring Clint to the party?”
“Because he was working too hard.”
“He only had his second day of classes.”
“He hates these things. You know he feels out of place.” Pepper crossed her arms over her chest and set Tony with her best glare.
“I wanted company!”
“Selfish ass. Clint, take off the suit, you don’t have to come.” Pepper called over her shoulder.
“Ohgodthankyou.” A mumbled but grateful voice came from underneath the couch.
“You know, you keep this up, whenever we go out, people will just start calling you ‘my dirty little secret.’” Tony wagged a finger and his eyebrows at Clint as he dragged himself out from the underside of the couch.
“That would be the opposite of keeping a low profile.” Clint narrowed his eyes at Tony as he crawled out from underneath the bed.
“We have kept you safe for the past five months!” Tony reasoned.
Pepper interrupted them before they started the same argument they had been having since Clint came to live with Tony. “Clint said low profile and you promised. He likes his privacy.”
“Half of the paparazzi already think that we’re fucking!” Tony gestured between the two of them.
“And the other half think that you’re brothers so just keep a tally like the rest of us.” Pepper draped Clint’s discarded bow-tie over the extended arm of U.
A few months later, Clint came back for the weekend just on schedule for his new favorite pastime: Watching Pepper kick Tony’s one night stands out of the mansion. Immediately after walking in the house, JARVIS informed him that they had a guest and Tony had already locked himself in his lab. Clint settled down on the couch and waited for the show, which, as always, was brilliant.
“I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally, taking out the trash. Will that be all?”
“Zing!” He couldn’t stop his laugh, this time, an almost a childish giggle, from coming out. Pepper peered over the back of the couch and he grinned at her. “Morning, Pepper!” He said brightly.
“Good morning.” Pepper handed the girl her dry cleaned clothes but she wasn’t paying attention to Pepper or the house anymore. Her eyes were on Clint.
“You know what people say about you, right?” She said in a passive aggressive voice that almost made Clint want to tell JARVIS to zap her a bit.
“I don’t watch much television.” Clint shrugged off her tone and handed off the coffee he had brought for Pepper. The container to hold four cups was perfect for them. One for Clint, one for Pepper, and two for Tony.
“You know where is he.” Pepper gave him an exasperatedly fond look that clearly said ‘You don’t have to deal with this.’
“I know, but I like this part and he’s got stuff to do before he leaves.” Clint gestured to the woman still standing in front of them and smirked at Pepper.
That got him a full and genuine smile from Pepper. He kissed her on the cheek and whispered “Happy birthday,” before leaving the coffee with her and heading up to his bedroom, presumably to catch up on the sleep that he missed while working during the week.
It was the first time since coming to live with Tony around three years prior and becoming a part of his ridiculous world that Clint felt honestly terrified.
He was back at the bar for the night, substituting through someone else’s shift when one of the busboys told him he had a phone call. No one ever called Clint at work. The only people Clint had in his life always waited until his shift was over and only one of them actually knew where he was employed.
“Clint, Tony’s gone missing.”
He nearly dropped the phone into a Long Island Iced Tea.
“I thought he was supposed to be with Rhodey?” His voice didn’t sound right. Neither did Pepper’s. It was wrong. All of it.
“He was with Rhodey. Now he’s missing.” Pepper sounded wrecked and lost and a million other things that Clint didn’t want to think about but he couldn’t stop himself from asking.
“Over there? Isn’t that an active war zone?” He didn’t need her answer. He knew it was. He knew that Tony had had a weapons demonstration.
“Clint…” Pepper’s voice was really going to be the death of Clint. He couldn’t handle her tone.
“I’ll be home in twenty minutes.” He said gruffly, threw the phone back at the busboy, and slapped his towel down on the bar. “Family emergency.”
Two and a half months later, nearly no progress in finding Tony had been made. Clint hated living in an empty mansion with just JARVIS for company but up until his graduation, he hadn’t gathered the courage to leave it.
“You know, he built the range so you could practice. Not so you could destroy it.”
“You and I both know that’s not entirely true.” Clint retorted but allowed his shoulders to drop and sighed. “I just miss him is all.” He placed his bow on the floor and settled himself next to it.
Pepper sighed and sat across from Clint, among the broken arrows and target pieces, a few of which were still on fire. “Me too. Happy graduation day.”
“Thanks. And thanks for coming.”
“Rhodey and I wouldn’t have missed it. And you know that Tony would be here…”
“I know.” Clint whispered.
“You also know that Tony would be pissed to know that once he was out of the mansion, you moved back in.” Pepper pointed out.
“It won’t be for too long.”
“Where are you going to go?” She had heard him mention a few things offhand about graduate school but hadn’t thought it was so soon. She also knew Tony had been on about him for applying for the Stark scholarships in order to get a masters degree.
“Looking for some stuff.” Oh. Pepper knew that tone.
“Yep.” Clint cut her off. He hated talking about his brother. They didn’t know much about Clint’s brother, other than his name, which was Barney. That had come out during one drunken night where Tony and Clint had blown up one section of the wall on the cliffside where the mansion was located.
“They’ll find Tony.”
“I know they will.”
“Don’t do anything stupid. I can’t be without you both.”
“Not longer than two weeks.” Clint promised.
Of course, it was during those two weeks that Tony came home. Pepper knew Clint would kick himself if he ever caught a glimpse of the news before heading home and she tried her best to contact him. All the calls ended in static with Clint saying “Pepper? Can you hear me?”
“Next time, you ride with me.” Rhodey said again during the long flight back to the states. Tony’s grin was more of a grimace with his injuries but he still managed to respond.
“Repeat it as many times as you want. I’m not going to disagree with you. Pepper?”
“She’s fine. Worried sick. She’ll be waiting when you get off the plane.”
“Would probably first want me to tell you that you missed his graduation.”
“Smart ass…I missed his graduation?”
“Graduated early and walked with honors. He wanted it to be a surprise before you disappeared.”
“It’s okay, Pepper and I went. You know, his real parents.” Rhodey didn’t bother trying to fight his grin. He finally had Tony back.
“Maybe I can use this opportunity to try and adopt him again.” Tony laid back on the medical bed and played with the strap on his sling.
“You might be able to guilt him into it. The state, however, might question the lack of age difference and as much as you try, you cannot adopt someone as a brother. He’s going to freak when he finds out that we found you.”
“Excuse me? I found you. Not vice-versa.”
“You never hug me this way when you just come home for the weekends.” Tony mumbled his smart aleck remark into Clint’s shoulder. They stayed in the hug for a good five minutes, eventually moving over to the couch and flopping on top of each other, Tony ignoring his injuries and Clint trying his best to be wary of them.
After nearly two hours of silence and just being in the same vicinity as each other: “You’re not building weapons anymore.” Clint finally said. He raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything further and Tony shook his head.
“You finally watch one of the press conferences and that’s the one you see?”
“Pepper said it was important. I think she’s right. No more weapons?”
Tony looked at the hopeful smile on Clint’s face and didn’t know if it was for him or the lack of weapons in the future of Stark Enterprises. “You might be the only person in the world who is happy about it.”
“I don’t count.”
“It’s your brain. You have to count.” Clint said grumpily and Tony immediately pictured a sullen seven year old Clint, who no one listened to. Speaking of Clint’s childhood…
“I heard that you left.” Now it was Tony’s turn to raise an eyebrow.
“Only for a little. I always planned on coming back.” Clint said defensively.
“I know you did. You find anything?” Clint just shrugged and Tony thought it would be an excellent time to change the subject. “Hey, how big are your hands?”
Clint didn’t respond but he did raise an eyebrow again. It was their main form of communication. It was better than an actual response when it came to some of Tony’s questions.
“Go finish your graduate school forms and send Pepper down to the lab. Don’t tell her the question though. If you do that, then she probably won’t come down.”
Clint’s foray into grad school went much similarly to that of his undergraduate experience: too much Tony Stark, Pepper calling him so he could yell at Tony, and random pieces of archery equipment as apology presents from one or both of them.
The only downside turned out not to be a downside at all because even though Clint was a few states away, his self-proclaimed brother could fly him home whenever he wanted. Which was good because Clint had just gotten Tony back and wasn’t quite ready to let him go just yet. Clint had to take advantage of that not shortly after he got settled in order to “deal with Tony” before Pepper murdered him.
The visit didn’t really go well.
Clint was an avid supporter of Tony’s anti-weapons brigade. He never liked the things to begin with but apparently, Tony’s company and shareholders felt quite the opposite.
“What are you building?”
“Are you moving back in?”
“Not just yet.”
“Once you finish your masters?”
“It’s a year long program and I’ve only just left. You’re the one who wanted me to get it in the first place.” Clint frowned at him but Tony didn’t look up.
“That wasn’t a no. And I never said that I wanted you to move states away in order to get the degree.”
“I’ll think about moving back in. And I’m only three states away. What are you building?”
Tony wasn’t in the mood for any of this. If Clint wanted to play Pepper’s advocate, Tony would hit back just as hard. “Where were you?”
“Pepper said you disappeared for two weeks while I was gone. After your graduation. She told me that you showed up on the same day I got back to the states.”
“It was about your b-”
“Yes, it was.”
“Did you find anything?”
“Tony…” Clint gritted through his teeth.
“I’m not building anything. And tell Pepper nice effort but she’ll have to try harder than just getting you to ask about it.”
There was a few moments of silence and mutual glaring before Tony finally set aside what looked like a medieval gauntlet and gave Clint a tense smile:
“I am glad you came and visited. I am. I just. I just need to do this. You understand? I’ll explain it all soon.”
Clint couldn’t deny Tony anything. Not after what he had done for him. So, of course, he agreed. “Yea, Tony, I understand. But unless you let Pepper in on what you’re doing, you’re going to lose her.”
They didn’t see each other again until after Tony’s press conference. The press conference. The one that got him in trouble with nearly everyone he knew and all international and domestic government agencies. Everyone, of course, except Clint.
The first thing Tony noticed when he walked back in the house was a giant banner hanging up in his foyer, on which was scrawled: I AM IRON MAN!
“Damn it, Clint! If Pepper sees this, she is going to murder both of us!”
“I also asked JARVIS to only call you Iron Man. He thinks it’s hysterical.” Clint vaulted down the stairs and onto the sofa, his laugh cackling the whole time.
“Did you come all the way back just for this?” Tony grinned. At least one person didn’t hate him. It was a good feeling.
“What do you mean just for this? Pepper said the government was involved and one of your buildings blew up! And Rhodey said it was a training exercise so, clearly, something ridiculous went down.” Clint said pointedly, expecting an answer.
“Well, that’s what happens when you move states away to go to some graduate program. If you would have stayed, we wouldn’t have had these problems.” Tony sat down next to him and groaned as he put his feet up on the table.
Clint examined Tony, taking in the bruises and cuts. Then, more seriously. “What did happen?”
“It was Obie.” Tony said simply.
“What?” Clint pulled back a little, confused.
“It was Obidiah. The kidnapping, the board issues, the double dealing. Everything.”
Clint swore and stood up. Tony grabbed his arm and pulled him back down on the sofa before he grabbed his bow and tried to murder someone who was already dead. “Sit down. SIt back down. It’s not a problem anymore.”
“Yea?” Clint looked up at Tony and again, he swore Clint was a little kid, hoping to god that everything was going to be okay. Clint’s fist clenched around the smooth fabric of Tony’s t-shirt as he waited for an answer.
“I’m safe. You’re safe. Pepper is safe. Rhodey is safe.” You’re not about to lose another brother.
Of course then, once Clint falls asleep with his head in Tony’s lap, an old action film playing in the background, SHIELD comes calling. Safety was never something that Tony was going to take for granted again. Well, maybe.
The at-first-unknown man glanced at Clint’s banner and read it aloud: “I am Iron Man. Think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.
Who the hell are you?” Tony asked defensively. His hands were tense but he still was running them through Clint’s hair.
“I’m Nick Fury. Director of SHIELD. I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative. It’ll be quick and quiet and you won’t have to wake him.” Fury gestured to Clint.
The meeting ended up taking less than five minutes. Clint woke up as Fury is leaving. Mostly because Tony pulled his hair a little bit. He needed Clint’s opinion because he wasn’t entirely sure that the meeting he had, had actually occurred.
“Was that the director of SHIELD?” Clint murmured groggily, rubbing at his eyes.
“You know him?” Tony maneuvered Clint’s head to look at him in the dark. After that conversation, Tony was wide awake even if his body was still screaming at him.
“It was him, right? Nick Fury of SHIELD? What did he want?” Clint made motions to sit up but Tony held him down on the couch.
“You know them?” He asked again but Clint refused to look at Tony. He just kept staring out at the front door where Fury had been moments earlier.
“Yea.” Clint wasn’t moving and Tony took that as a clear dismissal of any further questions. He would obey, for now. They had all had a pretty long day. Clint was tired. Tony would come back to it. He’d tell JARVIS to remind him.
“He wanted to talk to me about something called the Avenger Initiative.”
“Oh, great. That sounds safe. Pepper will love it.”
“You let me worry about our mom.”
One of the only downsides to spending time at mansion during a long weekend was that JARVIS was usually on Tony’s side and kept Clint’s door unlocked at all times.
“Are you coming to the convention?" Tony’s voice managed to echo through his room and Clint was positive that wasn’t an accident. He really needed to convince JARVIS to keep Tony out of his room during the weekdays.
“You know me, I love crowds of people. And publicity. They’re my favorite.” Clint chuckled but didn’t look up from where he was writing a paper on his laptop.
“So that’s a no. I’m almost insulted.” Tony called over his shoulder on his way to the lab.
“No you’re not.” Clint smiled and pulled one of his textbooks closer to him, eyes still trained on the screen. “Bring back burgers!”
Clint prided himself on being the only person that Tony lets get away with not coming to fancy parties and conventions. For Pepper and Rhodey, attendance was mandatory for the opening night. Sure, Tony would eventually drag Clint to the exposition but they would go in after-hours and Tony would let (read: insist) he shoot at Justin Hammer’s set up.
It was been a good and relaxed few months since the press conference. Well, relaxed for those used to Tony Stark’s life. Sure, Tony was dealing with government fall out but his company was doing better than ever. Tony and Pepper were back to bickering in the lab and to Clint, it felt like home. He was glad to get in some time at the mansion before starting his thesis.
He should have known that it wouldn’t have lasted.
“JARVIS just welcomed someone into the house. Tony’s new assistant was cute. Distractingly cute, to Tony at least.
She tried again. “Who is that? In the house, sir. JARVIS just let someone in.”
“Clint? It’s probably Clint.” Tony said. He wasn’t sure if he was more distracted by his current project or Natalie Rushman but he knew that the only person that his assistant hadn’t met yet that had access was Clint.
“Who’s Clint?” Natasha Romanov was a trained agent. She wasn’t about to freeze up. Of course SHIELD knew where Clint had been for the past four years. The World’s Greatest Marksman doesn’t just disappear. At least, not from SHIELD’s radar. She was not, however, prepared to see him while she was undercover. As far as she knew, he did not live with Tony and was finishing his master’s degree in education.
“It’s Clint.” Tony waved his hands impatiently. “Clint! I have a new assistant!”
“Does Pepper know?” A voice from the first floor was making its way down the stairs. A man with short and spiky blond hair peered into the lab and grinned at Tony’s mess of a desk.
“Pepper is CEO now.”
“You’ll have to excuse my brother.” Tony leaned back to his assistant, conspirationally. “He’s been on thesis lockdown. I’m lucky if I get a response for the delivered food a few states over.”
“I mean. Pepper said she had something to tell me. I guess congratulations are in order. Where is she?” Clint rubbed a hand over DUM-E before entering the main section of the lab and Tony swore that the machine cooed.
“At the office. I tried to get her to take a company retreat with me and she said no. She also said you would have been pissed if we left without you. We were already in Europe though.” Tony was talking more to himself than Clint but they were both used to conversing this way.
“Oh.” Clint’s attention was soon taken by the young woman standing behind Tony. And if Tony had been paying the slightest bit of attention, he might have noticed Clint’s slip-up of: “Nat?”
“My name is Natasha.”
“Can I call you Nat?”
“Is my three syllable name too long for you, Mr. Barton?”
“Clint! This is Natalie Rushman, from the Stark legal department. And sort of my new assistant, maybe. If Pepper doesn’t kill me before it’s officially cleared..”
Clint didn’t take his eyes off of her but he did call over his shoulder to Tony, who was now digging through one of his six tool cabinets. “How long has she been here?”
“A few weeks maybe?” Tony called back.
“Why are you here?” Clint hissed quietly and narrowed his eyes at the assistant who called herself Natalie and she copied his facial expression. This just confirmed for Clint that he wasn’t making it up in his head. He did know her. She was a SHIELD agent.
“Protection for Mr. Stark.” She said in all seriousness.
Clint stared at her for a few seconds but then decided he had more important things to worry about. One problem at a time. Pepper first, then deal with Tony’s new assistant.
It took an hour for Clint to make it to Stark Enterprises and back again to talk to Tony once more before going back out to school. This time, when he went back to the mansion, Natalie/Natasha was no where in sight.
“Pepper didn’t want to tell me about her promotion, Tony.” Clint bit his lip. He was nervous. He was anxious about talking to Tony. That was a terrible feeling. Not as bad as dying but still pretty terribly. “She said you are exhibiting more self-destructive behavior than usual. She said that you drove a racecar and you guys got attac-”
“Can’t talk right now Clint.”
He had seen Tony like this before and it had ended in the explosion of a Stark building. Clint really wasn’t looking forward to it.
And of course the next time he spoke to Tony was right after Tony’s fiasco of a birthday party.
“So I was watching the news…”
“Since when do you watch the news? Is this a new thing? First the Iron Man press conference and now the news? It’s been a big year for you.”
Clint ignored that jab and barreled through. “Pepper set up a Google alert for me. Only when you do something ridiculous.”
“I don’t even want to know what the keywords for that alert are.”
“Also, what’s this about Rhodey having a suit now?” He peered down at the email from Pepper, explaining what had happened, how busy she was, but wishing him luck on his presentation.
“He stole it.”
“He…stole it? Are we talking about the same Rhodey?”
“That explains way he wouldn’t return my calls.” Clint murmured, “What are you doing now?”
“I’m…I’m safe, Clint. I’m not supposed to have outside contact but I’m safe, okay? I’m onto something big and I’ll contact you as soon as I can.” Tony promised. Clint really wanted to believe that promise but with Tony, anything could happen.
“Who isn’t allowing outside contact? You’re not allowed outside contact but they didn’t take away my link to JARVIS?”
“I don’t think they expected anyone to want to call me. I don’t exactly have a lot of friends right now. Aside from you.”
“Oh.” Clint wasn’t entirely sure what to say to that. It turned out that he didn’t get a chance to say anything at all. Another voice sounded with Tony’s and within a few seconds, the connection was cut off.
The google alerts would come in handy pretty soon after that phone call and thankfully, for Clint, just in time for him to come home to Tony in the wake of a another battle. This one nearly destroyed Tony’s entire expo, not to mention a couple thousand people.
Tony opened the door to his house, bruised and covered in medical gauze. “Don’t tell me. You’ve been watching the news again.”
Clint grinned, dropped his duffel bag, and threw himself at Tony, forcibly putting him into a hug, ignoring all the injuries in exchange for making sure Tony was still alive and with me.
“Done your masters degree?” Tony strained but in reality, he was hugging Clint back just as tightly.
“Didn’t want to walk at graduation again?”
“Didn’t want to jinx anything.” Oh. Okay. Tony guessed that was fair considering his behavior over the past few weeks and his track record for trouble.
“Going to stay for a while?”
“If that’s okay with you.”
“Welcome home. Go put your stuff upstairs. I’ll order us some food.” At Clint’s eyebrow, he quickly added: “And then I’ll explain what happened at the expo.”
Tony silently counted the steps as Clint went up to his room.
A loud yell pierced the whole household.
“Did you put a new robot in my room!?”
And okay, maybe Tony had definitely known when Clint was headed back to the mansion.
“I made him just for you! Welcome home!” Tony hollered up the stairs.
“He just lit me on fire! Tony!”
Natasha Romanov was annoyed enough at her Stark job. She did not need Tony Stark to seek her out in order to annoy her. Said man was leaning against her desk, knocking her paperwork out of their perfect piles.
“Earlier, when I wasn’t paying attention. I remember now. You and Clint. You know each other.”
“Acute observation.” She was actually a little impressed with his memory.
“He said your name before I introduced you. I went over it in my head.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Nat.” He said with purpose. “That’s what Clint called you.”
“You finally noticed?”
“I thought I was dying.” Tony defended himself.
“Are you still pissed at me for that?”
“Not me. I’m not the one that had to deal with the paperwork.”
“That agent? Coulson?”
“He’s pretty lethal when he’s annoyed.”
Tony didn’t care about other SHIELD agents. “What do you want with him? With Clint?”
“What do you mean?” She looked honestly confused but Tony didn’t trust her as far as he could throw her. Which, after seeing her in action, was probably not very far at all.
“I mean that SHIELD has already tried to control every other aspect of my life. Clint isn’t hurting anyone. Leave him alone.” He was going finish there but then thought better of it. “How do you know him?” Tony asked. She looked at him and leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest. Her eyes swept across the room but no one was paying attention to him. Most people in the company were used to Tony popping up in various sections of the building for no reason.
“We worked together. Once. Accidentally. He helped SHIELD out and then we helped him out more. Now he owes SHIELD.” She said this all very matter-of-fact, as though Tony should have already known the information
“Wait what? I’m going to need more information than that.”
“He was in the circus, yes?”
“Yes…” Tony wasn’t entirely surprised that SHIELD knew about Clint’s past. He was just a little frustrated that they seemed to know more than him.
“I thought so. The Amazing Hawkeye?” Natasha’s voice lowered into a murmur, as though she was remembering at that very moment.
“I saw him when his circus traveled to Russia. It was the same week that SHIELD tried to recruit him.” Natasha met Tony’s eyes again.
“SHIELD tried to recruit him? When?”
“Around nine, ten years ago.”
Tony did the math quickly and he pictured a much younger Clint Barton, almost legal but not quite. “He was only a teenager then. Why?”
“SHIELD only chooses the best. He never misses.” It was as simple as that.
“You said that he helped SHIELD out but he still owes you guys?”
“A favor, yes. And he knows that. One day, SHIELD will call on him.”
“How can I make that not happen?”
“Please.” Tony grabbed her wrist. “Please.” He repeated.
“He never misses. That’s something we do not take lightly.” With a quick flick, her wrist was out of Tony’s grasp and Natasha was halfway across the room.
“I got a job!”
“I thought you already had three.” Tony said absentmindedly. Clint was an on-call substitute at two area kindergartens in addition to getting back to bartending at night. “Also, I thought we agreed ‘no jobs at all’ because I’m a billionaire?”
“If we were in the same room right now, I’d throw something at you.” Clint’s laughter was possibly the greatest noise Tony had heard all week. He hadn’t been able to get that conversation with Natasha out of his head.
“I instinctively ducked, actually.” Tony informed him happily.
“Like that would have saved you.” Clint laughed again.
“What’s the job?”
“An old couple who own a teaching daycare. They want a full time instructor and I’m able to live on the top floor of the building if I want it.” Clint said all of his so quickly so Tony made him repeat it and then ordered him to take a deep breath.
“I’m so damn proud of you. You realize Stark Industries is going to officially involve itself right? Those kids are going to have some damn awesome toys to play with. Did you call Pepper yet? Call Pepper. Tell her that I said we’re celebrating and she can’t stop us. And she has to come. I’ll try to see if I can convince Rhodey to leave an active war zone in order to hang out with us.”
“Wait, Tony?” There was some sort of shuffling on the other side of the line. “SHIELD’s name is all over my contact.” Clint swore and Tony took him off speaker phone, waving his hand at a few of STARK Enterprise employees, shooing him out of one of his workrooms.
“I’ll take care of it, Clint.”
“Tony, it’s fine. I’ll-”
“Clint, I’m taking care of it.”
It only took a handful of minutes for Tony to locate Natasha inside the Stark building. This time, instead of polite annoying her at her own desk, he grabbed hold on her arm and pulled her into the nearest office.
“I thought I told you to stay out of his life.” Tony growled. Natasha didn’t even pretend as though she didn’t know what he was talking about. She just smirked at him.
“Fury needed someone to run a government daycare and kindergarten class. He’s perfect for the job. He can handle any government children as well as ones placed there by SHIELD for their own protection.”
“You don’t know that.” Tony said angrily.
“Of course I know that.” She huffed at him and once again, removed herself from Tony’s grip.
“Is this about Clint owing SHIELD?”
“No. This is something else entirely. He is extremely capable and has dealt with unusual situations before.” Tony could hazard a guess that the ‘unusual situation’ was him but he couldn’t be sure. It could have been a reference to Clint’s time in the circus.
“So this is what? A gift for him?”
“A gift for everyone. We need someone with his skill set and he needs a job.”
Later that night, after a long Tony Stark style night of celebrations, the billionaire had given up on trying to convince Clint that it was a horrible idea and possibly a trap.
“If it’s a trap, I’ll bring my arrows. Kids will need protection anyway, right?”
“Maybe that is the trap. Getting you to shoot for them. Hey, I can still fund it, right?”
“Tony, it’s already an exclusive daycare for kids. And don’t worry, I still want to do good work with orphans. This is just going to be a temporary job.” They both knew Clint was lying but were too drunk enough to point it out. Once someone got into SHIELD, they never really got out. In any capacity.
“Fine, then I’ll fund all the orphanages in the city. Done and done.”
“Oh my god. Can he even hear me right now?” Clint smushed his face against Pepper’s shoulder. She looked up from her phone and put it behind her, out of Tony’s reach, in order to stroke Clint’s hair.
“I don’t think so. He’s imagining tiny children in Stark Enterprises sweatshirts. He already put in an order for their designs.” She told him sadly.
The following morning, Clint and Tony woke up on top of one another on the couch, with DUM-E poking them, offering water bottles and aspirin. Clint groaned but took the offered objects, balancing a water bottle on Tony’s arc reactor. Tony grabbed it and sat down, steadying himself against the back of the couch.
“So…” He leaned his head against Clint’s shoulder.
“So…?” Clint didn’t move but crossed his eyes at the water bottle lying on his own chest.
“SHIELD still wants me too. They think that they want me to be part of a team.”
“That Avengers Initiative? It’s a team? Have they met you?”
“My file literally says that I ‘don’t play well with others.’”
“So they have met you.”
“Wow…are you going to do it?”
“I think so, yea. So, we could both work for SHIELD now.”
“They tried to get you a few years ago? That’s what Natasha said.”
Clint hesitated only for a moment before settled himself back down into Tony’s side. “A few years ago, yea.” He murmured.
“You said no.”
“Because they only wanted me.”
“Who else didn’t they want?”
“The same brother who-” tried to kill you, sell you, and when neither of those worked, abandoned you?
“For the record. You’re a much better brother than he ever was.” At that, Tony wrapped an arm around Clint’s shoulder and kissed the top of his head.
“You have paint in your hair.” That was actually an understatement. Clint had paint everywhere but Pepper only mentioned the obvious black that stood out against Clint’s normally bright hair.
“You should see the other guy.”
“Oh?” She patiently waited for another story. Clint adored his job and his kids at the daycare. He was always ready with a new tale of terror and insanity from the new job. He did, however, still manage to come back to the mansion most weekends.
“Well, he is a she and all of four years old but Cass dipped her whole arm into the black paint and told little Timmy that she wanted to be ‘the night.’ I managed to stop her from enlisting him into dumping the entire bucket over her head.”
“Oh is that all that happened?” Pepper shook her head.
“Well, Tommy wanted to paint himself bright blue but couldn’t convince Billy to be blue with him so he was pretty upset that his plan tanked.”
“Tommy and Billy are the twins, yes?”
“That’s them. Tommy and Cass were surprisingly well behaved today. Minus the whole bucket of paint thing.”
“Your kids sound like small Tonys.”
“He might take that as a compliment. My kids might too.”
“Miniature hurricanes then.”
”Nah, they’re the best. You know, for mysterious toddlers without origin placed there courtesy of SHIELD.”
“You don’t know any of their origins?”
“I didn’t really want to read the files. I have clearance to access them but I’d rather not. If I treat them all the same, things will be easier.”
“I don’t think you’ll treat them differently either way. You’re better than that.” Pepper chastised him “What do you know?” She asked curiously. “Or, what can you tell me?”
“Nothing exciting or classified. I know that Jason and Tim are the same Jason and Tim who belong to the Waynes. Just because Bruce Wayne himself came and dropped them off one day last week.” Clint offered.
“Actually, speaking of the Waynes. And philanthropy.”
“Nice segway.” Clint told her, already suspicious.
“Hush. Tony has a party tonight.”
“And…” Pepper pointed behind him to where a suit was laid out on his bed.
“Oh, no. Pepper, no. Just…no. Why is tonight different?” Clint shook his head and tried to light the suit on fire with just his glower.
“Because all of the Avengers will be there. As well as a few higher ups from SHIELD.”
“And, Tony really wants you to meet his new team. Not to mention that you’re technically a SHIELD employee and are required to attend. Thanks to a rule that Natasha and I just invented earlier.”
“Pepper…” Clint was not convinced. Pepper walked over and put her hands on his shoulders, looking directly into his eyes.
“Tony asked me because he said it was important and if he had asked you himself, you would have blown it off or given him puppy dog eyes. You know damn well that they don’t work on me.”
Clint just sighed and rubbed his hand through his short hair. “He really wants me to come?”
“He wants to introduce you to people. And Captain America.”
“I had to listen about Captain America all last weekend. He tried to make me watch footage of one of their battles.” Then, in a more serious tone: “He really trusts these people?”
“He’s working on it. He’s having some trouble with the ‘teamwork’ element but, well, you know Tony. Are you really telling me that you don’t want to meet the guy who has him losing focus?”
“Okay. I’ll come.”
“Good, go shower. Have JARVIS inspect you for paint once you get out.”
“Nat!” Clint finally recognized someone other than Tony and Pepper. They had been inside the party for twenty minutes and he already wanted to run far away.
“Nat? You two are back on nicknames now?” Tony grumbled good-naturedly and took another swig of his drink.
“She comes by all the time. The kids love her.” Clint just beamed at Natasha, who, in turn, glared daggers at Tony.
“Are we talking about the same Natasha?” She gave him a wicked grin. “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Tony glared back at her, skeptically, but apparently approved somewhat because he left Clint in her care as he went off to find Pepper.
“Did Jason get over his cold?” Ntasha asked politely. Clint could see that she was tired. He wasn’t sure what the Avengers had to deal with today but their missions never seemed to go as planned.
“He’s fine now, thanks.” Clint smiled at the memory of little Jason sneezing over Natasha’s leather jacket only a few days prior. “I just hope that none of his siblings or any of the other kids get the same cold.”
“God help you if that Tommy catches anything.” Natasha said with a faux-shudder at the thought. She had a good point. Little Tommy terrorized everyone on good days but even then, Clint didn’t want to see any of his kids getting sick. He was making a mental note to get more orange juice for the school fridge when Natasha pulled him over to meet someone.
“This is Tony’s stray, Clint Barton. Clint, this is Agent Phil Coulson.” Natasha affectionately squeezed Clint’s shoulder. He wasn’t sure if he liked the term but he supposed it was accurate. Better than most of the papers called him when they got close enough to speculate but after five years, Clint was glad it was all anyone knew about it. Tony had kept his low-key promise. For the most part.
“You know Tony’s friend?” The man, Agent Coulson, was dressed in a fitted suit but wasn’t looking at Clint. He seemed a bit annoyed with Natasha.
“He practically has the same job that you do.” Natasha smirked at the two of them before heading off to a nearby champagne tray. For a moment, Clint looked relieved, though Coulson still seemed annoyed. Clint chalked it up to the Avengers having a long day. He tried to smile disarmingly at the agent and stuck out his hand.
“Oh, thank god. Do you hate these things too? Kids are so much easier to deal with, right?”
“I am not a babysitter, Mr. Barton. And I don’t need any friend of Tony Stark’s calling me one.” If Coulson spat ‘friend’ more harshly than he meant to, he didn’t correct himself. Not that it would have mattered; the damage was done. Clint’s face looked shocked for a moment and then fell. He quickly took back his outstretched hand and looked down at it, as though it was the limb’s fault.
A blond military man, in full dress uniform, heard the angry voice and came over. “Agent Coulson? Is everything okay?”
“Fine, Captain. Just meeting one of Tony’s strays.” And wow. Ouch. Coming from the agent in that tone was meant to be a lot more hurtful than Natasha’s introduction. It took on a whole new meaning that Clint wasn’t too happy about.
“Ah, you’re the secret friend of Tony’s that he wanted everyone to meet.” The man looked at Clint up and down with something in his expression. Jealously? Distrust? He said the word ‘friend’ just like the other man had done. Clint felt sick to his stomach. This is probably the opposite of what Pepper and Tony had in mind for tonight. Clint had never been much for people unless he had a mask on and was performing amazing feats. Kids were so much easier to deal with.
Clint opened his mouth and then closed it again. He felt like an idiot. He didn’t even know what to say to either of them and he wasn’t sure how the introduction went so sour so quickly. Natasha was still nowhere in sight and Clint felt his face getting redder. He mumbled an excuse and then left the ballroom as quickly as possible.
“Is this the closest you could get to hiding under a couch?” Clint heard Pepper’s voice and immediately perked up from his hiding spot. He wasn’t really hiding. He was just…concealed…outside…on the one the balconies that connected to a room on the second floor. Far, far away from the ballroom.
“You know, Tony has a tracking device in your shoe and now I see the reason.” Pepper smiled at Clint. She sat down on the cold concrete next to him, tucking in her legs and ignoring the fact that she was wearing a very expensive dress courtesy of Tony.
“I don’t know what I did.” Clint sounded miserable and frustrated all at once. “Nat introduced me but then the guy just snapped at me. Then he found a friend. Tell Tony it was an honorable effort but I’m going home. Tell him that I was sick or something.” Clint contemplated the pros and cons of just jumping off the balcony. It would definitely be a faster escape. Sure, he still worked out and practiced with the bow everyday but acrobatics were something that he never kept up with after ‘leaving’ the circus.
“Who snapped at you?” Pepper asked, concerned. Clint really loved that most of the time, her and Tony were prepared to take on the world for him but it wasn’t necessary. Clint just didn’t fit in here. He was okay with that, really, he was.
“I’m not sure.” Clint shrugged. “He called me a babysitter and then implied something about Tony and I that I’d rather not think about. Then the big blond came over and did the same thing.”
“Which big blond? The Norse god or Captain America?”
“Oh god.” Clint turned and looked at her. “That was Captain America? The guy Tony has been after? Oh god.” He threw back his head and Pepper winced at the noise it made when it hit the balcony railing. Clint didn’t even seem to notice. “Captain America thinks I’m a prostitute.”
“He called him a WHAT?!”
Clint had just walked into Pepper’s apartment on account of Tony had called an impromptu family meeting at midnight. After the party had ended but before the afterparty started and shortly after when Tony realized Clint had left the ballroom.
“He didn’t call him that. It was more…implied.” Pepper’s smoothing over wasn’t about to work on Tony this time.
“I can’t believe that you told him.” Clint snapped at Pepper.
Tony spun around and pointed at Clint.“Yes, she told me, you little twerp! Why didn’t you tell me?”
Pepper stood up from the couch so she was between Clint and Tony. “He asked why you left and I told him. Did you think he wasn’t going to find out?”
“They had a long day. It wasn’t their fault. Tony’s rep-”
“My reputation has nothing to do with this. I told them I had someone that I wanted them all to meet!”
“Did you explain that it wasn’t someone you were sleeping with?” Pepper asked him, expectantly.
“No but that shouldn’t have mattered.” Tony argued.
“I thought something important had happened. Why couldn’t this wait until the morning?” Clint asked quietly. His hands were clenched in fists and hung by his sides. He hadn’t taken more than two steps inside the apartment.
“You are important.” Tony growled but he stopped himself from going on a rampage when he turned back around to Clint. The look on Clint’s face was nothing short of uncomfortable disappointment.
“You guys had a long day yesterday. And I’m sure that Captain America and Agent Coulson didn’t want to be at some charity dinner.” Or, at least, that’s all Clint hoped had happened. It’s how he had rationalized the situation in his head. But no matter how Clint tried to downplay the situation, Tony still looked furious at his teammates.
Clint didn’t want to tell Tony that he had no interest in reacquainting himself with the Avengers. Tony was enjoying the whole experience too much. He couldn’t be the one to tell him that Clint had no place in his new world. Hell, Clint had never really had a place in Tony’s original world.
“Stop thinking so hard.” Pepper said gently. She took Clint’s hand in her own and patted the back of it. “And Tony, calm down. You can fix everything tomorrow. Go home. Drop Clint off too.”
Clint wrinkled his nose at that. Tony was still in his Iron Man suit. However, Clint acquiesced and the ride back to his apartment was silent until Tony dropped him off at his door.
The Iron Man mask retracted and Tony’s rare apologetic look appeared.
“I’m sorry. For them.”
“It’s okay.” Clint shook his head. Tony should have to apologize for anyone.
“It’s really not.”
“Clint. Let me be sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have left you at the party. I should have introduced you. I’ll make it up to you.” Tony paused and Clint wanted to back away slowly. He knew an idea face when he saw one and too many of Tony’s had left him bruised and/or in jail. “I’ll make it up to you.” He repeated, looking at Clint with a frightening grin. He leaned in quickly to give Clint a rough Iron Man hug before taking off again.
“Well. That’s never a good thing.” Clint muttered to himself as he waited outside until Tony disappeared entirely. Last time Tony tried to make something up to him, he had built a second basement with a full range and exploding arrows, a whole quiver of which exploded in Clint’s face when he tried to pick them up.
Natasha thought that the regular days with the Avengers were tense enough. New teams always had trouble getting started. What she walked in on the morning after the party was possibly worse than any battle the team had seen since forming.
“And you!” Tony paused his yelling at the team to spin around and glare at her. “I thought you were supposed to be watching him!” Tony turned to Natasha.
“This is about Clint? He is a grown man, Stark.” Natasha responded calmly and walked right past Tony, Steve, and Coulson. Thor and Banner were nowhere in sight. Pepper had updated Natasha on what had happened. It was a very long email that Natasha wanted very much to erase from her brain. That email was the opposite of what Clint would have wanted.
“Who didn’t know anyone!”
Coulson decided it was his time to interfere. He had spent the last ten minutes listening to Stark ramble on about his ‘brother’ and how Steve had implied that he was a hooker. “I was the one in a pissed off mood after that stunt you pulled during the battle, Stark. Agent Romanov called me a babysitter and I didn’t want to be talking to someone who I thought was your latest floozy. I apologize.” His voice was balanced perfectly between genuine and ‘Stark, you’re testing my patience.’
“Weird, you don’t sound sorry.” Tony spat sarcastically. “And I don’t want an apology. I want Clint to get the apology.”
“Yes because, you know Clint,” Natasha said loudly and over everyone. She rolled her eyes, “What he definitely wants is for people who insulted him to come and apology to him because Tony Stark told them to.”
“That wouldn’t be why I’m apologizing.” Coulson turned towards Natasha, frown on his face. “I tried to find him during the party after he disappeared but Ms. Potts told me that he had left.”
“I know that, Coulson. You know that. Clint doesn’t. In fact, Clint actually said that you and Rogers were still tense from battle and had a long day. Which Tony neglected to mention.”
“I’d still like to apologize as well.” Rogers spoke up.
Coulson held up his radio. “It’ll have to wait.”
“We lost the civilians down past the blockade.” Said the voice of one of Tony’s teammates over the comm.
That was a nice way of saying that Iron Man had lost the civilians. Sue him, he wasn’t a trained superhero. He did his damn best.
Because of said best, (and, okay, he maybe didn’t want to face his teammates either) Tony also didn’t stick around for the debrief.
It had been a difficult twenty-four hours. He deserved a break. Especially from a team that he wasn’t sure even thought that highly of him. Sure, Coulson sounded guilty that he had such an impact of Clint but the whole situation had still happened. Tony hated not being able to protect his family. He shut off his communication links with the team and flew directly to Clint’s building.
“Do any of us know where Tony is?” The team had headed to the mansion after the debriefing and medical check but JARVIS informed them that Tony had never returned home.
“I’ll go get him.” Natasha cracked her neck and took Coulson’s car keys right out of his hand.
“Where is he?”
“The usual place.” Natasha told them. They didn’t need specifics. She stopped and whipped her head back when she realized that they were following her out to the SHIELD- issued vehicle. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To get Tony.” Rogers answered, confused.
“Absolutely not. This is not a team building exercise. Thor, Banner, Rogers, stand down. You too, Coulson.” Coulson was too busy listening to a message coming in over his radio.
“He wants us to trust him and his friend and we can’t even see where he hides after a battle? Not exactly pushing the whole ‘team’ thing.” Rogers fired back.
Again, Coulson stood between them and waved his radio. “You are assembling again, Widow. As a team. Unknown threat. We need to get Iron Man and get this team back on track. We’re coming with you.”
Clint opened up the door to the classroom and then immediately shut it. He looked over but none of the children had woken up. Nor had Tony.
Tony had arrived shortly before naptime. He had taken off his Iron Man suit in Clint’s apartment, which was the second story of the daycare, and then proceeded in helping Tommy and Jason make a ruckus.
Now Tony was curled in between Timothy and Billy, with Cass and Cassie sharing chest space next to the glowing arc reactor. Teddy had been commandeered by Jason and Tommy but all were still curled up near Tony. It was adorable and Clint would have taken a photo if he didn’t already have a dozen like it.
Before someone could pound on the door again, he opened it again and slipped out, making sure to quietly shut it behind him.
“It’s naptime.” Clint hissed. “What the he-heck, Nat?” Clint was sure to censor himself even though he wasn’t inside the classroom. After all, the kids weren’t too far away.
“I came to collect Tony. The rest followed.” She wasn’t apologetic. Just matter-of-fact. Clint liked that about Natasha.
“I…” Clint lowered his voice to a whisper. “I don’t want them here. Any of them.”
That much was obvious but having it spoken aloud didn’t help the awkwardness of the situation. It was hard to miss the look passed between Natasha and Coulson as well as the kicked-puppy look of Captain America.
“Then, the sooner we get Tony, the sooner we can leave.” She smirked at him. “And you might be the only person other than Coulson and our director to try and order around the Avengers. You are a SHIELD employee.” She reminded him gently.
“He had a bad day. That’s why he was here.” Clint tried.
“It’s not our call, Clint. It’s the director’s.” Natasha waved a hand at Coulson who held up his radio.
Clint’s face grew pale. “Assembling?”
“That we are. Again. The second time today.”
Clint’s head dropped to his chest in an act of defeat. Natasha kissed his cheek before moving past him and into the room. She spotted Tony immediately and determined the simplest way to wake him up without disturbing the children or touching him. Staring at him very closely until his eyes opened.
It took all of thirty seconds.
“How did you get here?” Tony asked in a groan whisper as he gently moved the two Cassandras off his chest and set them against little Timmy.
“Took a car.” Natasha deadpanned. Tony looked around the classroom and saw Clint. He was leaning against the wall, watching the exchange out of the corner of his eye. Tony saw that he was only acting calm. In reality, Clint was tense and worried for his kids.
Not that the kids didn’t love Tony. Hell, they even loved the Avengers. Tony had bought them all t-shirts. He couldn’t help it. Billy was wearing his Captain America right then, his tiny fist clenched around the star symbol. Clint was more worried about the danger brought about by the Avengers. He saw Agent Coulson head over to talk to Clint and knew it was time to leave.
“You run a daycare.”
“Problem with that?” Clint asked quietly. He wasn’t being defensive but he wasn’t sure how to respond.
“You run SHIELD’s daycare.” Coulson corrected himself. “I wanted to apologize.”
“Did you?” Clint let loose a single, near-silent laugh and kept his eyes on the pile of children.
He could see Teddy already starting to show the signs of a nightmare. The poor kid. His mother had passed away two weeks prior and every naptime ended in tears for little Teddy Altman. SHIELD had placed Teddy in Clint’s care almost immediately and he had instantly bonded with the twins so Clint didn’t have the heart to argue with SHIELD’s director.
“Excuse me, would you?” Clint said, not impolitely. He was much more focused on Teddy than the apologies of Tony’s teammates. He pushed through Captain America and Thor to get to the kids, even bypassing Tony, too zeroed in on Teddy’s tiniest whimpers to pay them any mind.
“Shhh, it’s okay, baby. It’s okay.” Clint scooped up Teddy and held him close. The four year old’s eyes were sleepy but very aware. “You’re safe here.”
“Mama.” Teddy whimpered, sobs and hiccups wracking his body. Clint remembered exactly how it felt when he had been six. To a four year old, he couldn’t guarantee anything today other than himself.
“I’m sorry. I know it hurts. I know but I’m here, baby. Look, there’s Tommy and Billy and Cass and Timmy and Jason and Cassie. They’re all for you. And I’m here. It’s going to be okay.” A few minutes of rocking and quiet singing and Teddy was back to drooling on Clint’s shoulder. He bent back down and placed a cocoon-wrapped Teddy right between Tommy and Billy.
When Clint looked up from his sleeping charges, he was surprised to see the Avengers still there. The one, Agent Coulson was looking at him with wide eyes while Dr. Banner and Thor were just smiling at him. Captain American was looking at Clint as though he had never seen him before. Tony and Natasha though, they shared an evil smirk. He felt a blush fill his face and immediately ignored it.
“Days like this that I’m glad I found you.” Tony grinned at him. “Never knew anyone else who could keep the Avengers quiet like that.” Clint huffed. Leave it to Tony to break the silence. “After we get back from this, you’re coming to mansion,” He pointed at Clint. “You’re going to take deep breaths and be introduced properly to everyone.”
“I heard you’ve been invited to a victory dinner at the Avengers mansion.”
“Have they even saved the world yet, Pepper? And how did you find out about it so quickly?”
“Security footage from the daycare.”
Clint had been nervous about a lot of situations in his life but meeting the Avengers for a second time was up in the top five.
Thankfully, JARVIS was the calming voice that Clint first heard upon entering the mansion that used to be his home.
"Welcome home, Clint."
“Thanks, JARVIS.” Clint murmured and rubbed a hand over the AI's front door controls.
“Is that how you get him to take your side instead of Tony's?” A voice came from behind Clint, carrying a paper bag full of what looked to be health food. “Tony has been setting my alarm for late at night so I can check out his midnight lab experiments and JARVIS refuses to yield. I'm Bruce, by the way. Bruce Banner.”
Clint knew who he was. “Nice to meet you Dr. Banner.”
“Call me Bruce.” He said nonchalantly and motioned for Clint to follow him and they walked towards the walk-in pantry closet. “I heard you were at the party but I didn't attend. Not my sort of thing.” The pantry had gotten much more organized since Clint had moved out. And with food that Tony probably didn’t even know about.
“Me neither.” Clint grinned, just a small one. He liked this guy. “I can teach you where the secret passages out of this place are,” Clint offered.
“I might have to take you up on that,” Banner smiled as though he saw Clint but didn’t see him before slipping away. Clint made a mental note to ask JARVIS to shut off all of Bruce’s Tony-alarms before leaving.
“Tony is in the kitchen.” Natasha informed Clint and he started when he heard her voice.
“Jeez, Nat. Don’t do that.” Natasha didn’t address her appearance. Just turned, started walking, and expected Clint to follow. Which, of course, he did. “Tony is going to cook? Terrible idea.”
“Coulson is supervising. “
“Right. Coulson. Him.”
“He feels as bad about what happened as the Captain does. It's just in his SHIELD contract that he can't show emotions.” Natasha stopped him before they went into the kitchen. “Coulson is a good man.”
“I didn’t say he wasn’t.” Clit felt as though he was being briefed on a mission and he still wasn’t even a SHIELD agent.
Natasha ignored him. “Darts?”
“I’d rather not.” Clint said suspiciously. He knew what she was up to.
“Are you chicken?” He wondered how her voice stayed calm and collected at all times.
“You know I'm not. And I don't have to prove myself to anyone.”
“True but it'll be fun to watch their faces when you hit every bull’s-eye.” She smirked and he smiled back. And okay, maybe that would be a little fun.
“Why do you have knives? I thought you said darts.”
But before they could start, Tony happened.
“ATTENTION AVENGERS! THIS IS MY BROTHER, CLINTON FRANCIS BARTON-STARK.” Tony’s voice boomed throughout the mansion. “Be nice to him, or else!” Tony walked around the corner and slung an arm around Clint’s shoulders, directing them both into the kitchen.
“Did you…did you try to change my name again?” Clint twisted to look at Tony.
“Your signature is hard to forge. Pepper wouldn’t help me. I don’t even know if the paperwork got approved.” Tony shushed him. “It’s not important now. Clint Barton-Stark, this is Captain America.”
Clint really never thought he’d see a day where he was shaking hands with a living legend. Or a different day where said hero was wringing his hand and apologizing for a misunderstanding.
“Steve. Steve Rogers. I want to apologize for the other night. I heard Agent Coulson was angry and I just-
“Tried to protect him. It’s okay, Captain Rogers. I’m pretty sure that’s what a team leader is supposed to do.” Clint tried to give the most non-threatening grin that he could and in return, Captain America smiled at him. A huge, completely Captain America smile. Wow. That was a showstopper and yeah, Clint could kind of see why Tony would be gone for the guy.
“Just Steve, please. Call me Steve.”
Clint never got a chance to continue the conversation because he was picked up from behind in a great embrace.
“Dearest Clinton! I have heard much about you! I am Thor of Asgard. Son of Odin Allfather.”
“Um…hi. Nice to meet you.” Clint attempted to squirm out of Thor’s grasp. He could see, out of the corner of his eye, Natasha just looking smug and he did not appreciate that at all.
One victory dinner later with some burnt cooking courtesy of Tony and some real cooking courtesy of Dr. Banner, Clint felt more relaxed. He wasn’t just thinking that to be generous either. He even took Natasha up on her game of darts and ended up showcasing his marksmanship. Knives weren’t the same as arrows but he could handle the target well enough.
He grinned at Natasha’s approving smirk but a pleasant shiver ran down his spine when he had noticed Coulson’s eyes had widened just slightly in response to his skills. He didn’t get a chance to dwell on it because Tony spoke up:
“That’s not fair. You can’t have Clint on your team for darts anymore.”
Natasha leaned over to Clint and whispered loudly. “He’s just jealous because he has no aim.”
“I hit everything I aim for!”
“JARVIS hits everything you aim for.” Clint corrected him.
Tony turned to Natasha, “I liked you a lot better when you were just a hot assistant and weren’t best friends with my brother.”
Clint fucking beamed at Tony. Damn if that wasn’t a great feeling and exactly what Tony had hoped for. He sat down on one of the empty barstools and watched Tony explain to Thor that his hammer couldn’t be used for darts. Thor seemed a bit too upset by this and Tony promised him that they would make an extreme Avengers dartboard.
It took a minute or so for Clint to realize that Agent Coulson had slipped in to stand next to him. He wondered if that was a SHIELD thing or just a Natasha and Coulson thing.
“I’m sorry, for last night and today. I didn’t mean to imply-”
“Yea, you did. But it’s okay.” Clint cut him off with a wave off his beer.
“Is it?” Coulson asked, almost in surprise but not quite. Natasha had been telling the truth about that unflappable bit.
“Anyone who has to deal with Tony on a regular basis understands.” Clint raised his beer where Tony was trying to coerce Steve (Clint was calling Captain America, Steve. What was his life?) into a game of strip poker. Subtlety really was not Tony’s strong suit and judging by the exasperated look on Agent Coulson’s face, he had been having to deal with it since the formation of the team.
Clint really did understand. Tony has a reputation. It hurt, sure, but Clint had been through more ridiculous situations than that. He would get over it. Eventually. The beer helped. So did showing up Thor’s aim in darts.
“He calls you his brother.” Coulson told him, a question hidden behind the statement.
“There’s no truth to that.” Clint shook his head. “But it’s not for lack of trying on his part.”
“He’s gotten drunk and tried to adopt me numerous times, insisting that orphans should stick together.” Clint smiled at the memories.
“How long has that been going on?” Coulson gestured to the empty seat next to Clint and Clint pulled scooted it out for him.
“Since we met around five years ago, I guess. I helped him out with some old coworkers of mine but…” Clint looked up from his drink. “You’re a SHIELD agent. You must already know all of this. I know you guys have been keeping tabs on me ever since Russia. You can’t tell me you didn’t look me up again after the party.”
Coulson just smiled unassumingly, not confirming nor denying the accusation.
“Why are you letting me tell you again?”
Coulson shrugged, a spark in his eye, and Clint wasn’t really sure what to do with that but it made him smile and look down at his empty beer.
“Another?” Coulson asked quietly. Clint’s gaze looked up to where Coulson was waiting patiently for an answer with a small smile on his face. Clint just nodded and Coulson grabbed his empty bottle, fingers brushing over Clint’s as he went.
He could maybe get used to hanging around with SHIELD personnel. Especially if one of them was Coulson.
Over the next three weeks, Clint became used to his new life. An existence where Thor called him in the middle of the day to ask if there was “any truth to Anthony’s tales of madness,” Dr. Banner taught him how to cook healthier but still delicious meals for the kids, and Coulson always seemed to be nearby whether Clint was aware of him or not.
It would be disconcerting or even a bit worrying if Clint didn’t find the man so fascinating and okay, yes, a bit hot. That suit? The man could wear it. Impeccably. To the point where Clint was totally okay with Natasha making fun of him for staring.
Three weeks was also all it took for Agent Coulson to seek him out at the daycare. The man either taught Natasha how to be a ninja or vice-versa because Clint didn’t even realize Coulson was in the room until he finished reading aloud Where the Wild Things Are.
“Agent Coulson?” Clint did a double-take and shooed Billy from his leg so he could rearrange his classroom from the storytime circle to lunchtime tables. Billy happily scampered off to where the other kids were checking on their pet caterpillars on the windowsill.
The sides of the agent’s mouth briefly twitched upwards. “I’m not your boss, Clint. You can call me Phil.”
“Phil.” Clint sounded it out. He liked it. “Are you looking for Thor? He stopped by earlier, with Bruce. Tommy still can’t lift the hammer, in case you were wondering.”
Phil rounded one of the circular tables and followed Clint’s actions to set up the chairs, one-handed, his other hand occupied by a large, brown paper bag. “I’m not looking for Thor.”
“You’re sure?” Clint sort of wanted to kick himself for asking that. He sounded way too hopeful but he was also too distracted by SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson helping him prepare a daycare classroom.
“I’m positive. I’m here for a different reason.”
Clint felt a sense of dread creeping up on him and he asked, in a rush: “Is Tony okay?”
“What?” Phil looked up from the line of chairs. “Yes, Tony is fine. I was just wondering if you’d like to have lunch.”
“I’m sort of working.” Clint’s perplexed look made Coulson falter and switch his bag from one hand to the other. Clint wasn’t too sure that he had ever seen the man nervous.
“I know that, Clint.” He said it in a way that Clint could tell Phil was amused but he definitely wasn’t teasing. “I brought lunch and was hoping to eat it with you and the kids.”
“Oh. Oh. Yea, that’d be fine. I mean, I’d like that.” Clint didn’t bother trying to subdue the grin the spread across his face. “So would the kids. Guys? Go to the fridge and get your lunches from Dr. Bruce.” Clint smiled as his students made an orderly line at the fridge. Well, almost orderly. Jason was trying to give Tim a piggyback and Tommy was trying to cut in front of Teddy and Cass.
“They really like Bruce’s food but sometimes he forgets a portion or two, so I always keep extras in the fridge.” He walked around the round table, double checking all the lunches, making sure everyone had their drink, sandwiches, and snacks.
“I actually brought you lunch too.” Phil placed the bag next to Clint’s seat and went to drag over a chair from one of the children’s tables. Clint was used to squeezing himself into the children-sized chairs but watching Phil do it in a suit was a little endearing. He peeked into the bag as Phil got himself settled.
“Shawarma?” Clint looked up at him. “How did you know I liked shawarma?”
Phil motioned with two fingers for the bag and Clint passed it over. He began pulling out the meal and placing it inbetween Clint and himself. “The first thing Tony insisted the Avengers did after their first battle was try a shawarma restaurant that someone named Clint recommended to him. I put two and two together.”
That was the only time the Avengers were mentioned during the lunch. No SHIELD talk, no Agent Coulson, or talk of one Tony Stark. Just Clint and Phil and Clint’s kids, eating lunch. Phil asked questions about the kids that Clint was sure he already knew but Clint appreciated the effort. Natasha had told him that Phil’s security clearance needed security clearance so there was probably little that Phil didn’t know.
In return, Clint asked about Phil’s family. His mother, two sisters, three nephews, and one niece.
Clint was shocked to realize that thirty minutes had already passed and the kids were finished their meal. He wanted to keep talking to Phil and hear his stories about his childhood.
“When is your lunch over?”
“I’m free until my one thirty meeting.”
“Well, Wednesdays after lunch we watch a film so you’re more than welcome to stay as long as you like. And thank you, again, for lunch. It was great.” Clint didn’t even have to try, it was pretty easy to give Phil a genuine smile.
“Anytime.” Phil said sincerely. “I’ll stick around as long as I can.” Clint tried and failed to ignore the warm spot that had flared up inside his chest. Instead, he turned back to the kids.
“Okay, guys. Whose turn is it to pick the Wednesday movie?”
“Cassie!” Tim piped up.
“You have a Cass and a Cassie? Does that get confusing?” Phil asked, leaning against the classroom wall, keeping himself out of the way.
“Nah. What’s your pick Cassie-girl?” Clint leaned down and nodded as Cassie stood on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear.
“Bug’s Life? Excellent choice. I can get behind that one hundred percent.” He told her excitedly. “What letter does Bug’s Life start with? Bbbbbbbuuuuhhh.” Clint’s over-exaggeration had all the children giggling.
Cassie bit her lip and guessed quietly, “B?”
“Great! Now remember our movies go by alphabet order so see if you can find it. Everyone else, get your blankets.” Cassie soon brought to the movie back to Clint, who praised her extravagantly before slipping the disc into the DVD player. He kept one eye on Phil and the other on the children. He hid his grin when Billy gave Phil Clint’s blanket and he laid it out on the floor next to the group.
“Saved you a spot.” Phil said quietly once Clint had turned off the lights. They sat on Clint’s blanket and kept an eye out on the students watching the first part of the film, bumping shoulders every so often.
Of course it didn’t last. Clint and Phil’s phone beeped at the same time. He wasn’t entirely surprised that it was Tony.
“Turn on the lights, children. No fraternizing in the dark.”
Clint swore under his breath and then looked over at the children. None of them noticed. Well, Tommy hadn’t noticed. Tommy was really Clint’s only concern when he accidentally cursed. He shot back a quick text to Tony. “Fuck off!”
“I just like keeping an eye on you.”
“Tony for you too?” Clint didn’t say anything, just gritted his teeth and nodded. “Yes, I believe I’m getting the same messages.” Thankfully, Phil didn’t sound amused. “I have to get going anyway.” He got up on the floor so quietly that the children didn’t even turn around.
“Come back anytime.” Clint blurted out in pretty much the opposite of the smooth way that he had planned to say.
“Yea?” Phil asked, matching Clint’s smile, not saying anything as Clint walked him to the classroom door.
“Definitely.” Clint told him firmly.
The battle was not going as planned. Unknown aliens and an unknown target. Well, no, there was just unknown reasoning behind their target. The few ships and green humanoid aliens, huge with leathery wings, all seemed to congregate around Stark Tower.
“Your tower is quite the hot spot.” Natasha said over their communication links.
“No. No no no no no.”
“You’ve repaired the tower once. You can do it again.” Cap told him, confused.
Coulson caught onto the fear behind Tony’s rambling though, “Stark? What is it?”
“Fuck it. Just. Clint took the kids on a field trip today.”
“Don’t tell me…” Coulson pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers.
“Yep. To the Stark tower.” Tony told them.
“Damn it.” Coulson said aloud, covering his comm’s microphone.
“What sort of field trip is that?” Natasha asked, angrily skewering a nearby alien.
“I made high quality kid games on the viewing floor and Clint designed them to teach the kids about clean energy so the SHIELD daycare kids were going to be the beta group. Do you really need specifics right now?” Tony yelled frantically.
“Is our Clinton in danger?” Tony wasn’t sure when Thor started to have a claim over Clint for all of the Avengers.
“I’ll let you know, buddy.” Tony shot towards his tower, Thor close on his tail. Tony intercepted some of the hostile aliens as Thor gave a report.
“I see Clinton and three of his young children.”
“Only three?” Coulson asked. His viewpoint came from four blocks away on a nearby roof.
“He’s only supposed to have three today. Just the twins and Teddy.” Tony grunted and dipped in his flight pattern as an alien grabbed onto one of his boots.
“They have spotted Clinton! The floor’s windows have been breached!” Thor reported. Before Coulson could order him into the tower, Thor was already flying directly towards it.
“Keep sending updates.” Natasha demanded.
Thor made it inside the tower where Clint had backed the kids against the wall and was shielding them with his own body. Thor managed to burst through the twelve aliens surrounding the group. Clint urged the kids through one of Tony’s secured rooms , usually used for the Iron Man suits. Before he could slip Teddy through and close the door, one of the aliens tore through Thor’s barrier, grabbed hold of the blond boy, and began to fly off.
Clint launched himself at the alien and for a second, he was airborne. He could hear Thor yelling at him before being covered and forced to the floor by aliens. Clint ripped Teddy out of the alien’s grasp and let out a pained yell when they hit the roof.
The only problem with hitting the roof in motion was that Clint couldn’t stop. Additionally, Tony’s balcony railing had already been destroyed when the aliens had blasted their way into the tower.
As they tumbled off the building, Clint situated themselves so that Teddy was curled into his front and would hopefully be unharmed by the impact.
Oh god. The impact.
Suddenly, Clint was no longer free falling towards the ground. Instead, he was moving back up towards the building’s roof. Also, Teddy no longer looked like a human toddler. He had grown at least twice his size andwas green with wings. Not unlike the alien creatures that had caused them to drop off the building in the first place.
“Oh god, Teddy!” Clint’s jaw dropped. He hoped to god that someone else was seeing this and it wasn’t just his imagination.
“Mister Clint!” Teddy looked surprised himself but happy to be no longer falling. He continued to propel them up and back towards the roof. Clint held on tight to Teddy’s torso and looked around, relieved to see that some of the aliens appeared to be leaving through some kind of portal that was floating two blocks away.
What the hell?
When they landed back on the roof of Stark Tower, Teddy began shrinking and within a few seconds, looked like a human toddler again. The two of them were immediately tackled by the Billy and Tommy. Of course, they hadn’t stayed in the secure room. Of course. They were talking to Teddy about how awesome he was and asking if he was the Hulk.
Thor was no where in sight but Clint couldn’t bring himself to think about it just yet. He just laid back and let the kids climb all over him. He needed a few minutes to catch his breath.
When Clint finally looked up from his lap of babbling toddlers talking about how they wanted to be Avengers (seconds, minutes, hours later?), he saw Iron Man land on the other side of the roof. He was carrying Captain America (which Clint was not about to forget). They were closely followed by Thor who had Coulson in his arms. Clint wasn’t quite sure how Natasha had gotten onto the roof but there she was, behind him. They were all in their battle-torn uniforms, except Coulson, he was in a suit.
Though, Clint thought, sort of the same thing.
Clint!” Tony’s mask flipped up and he ran over.
“I’m fine. Tony. I’m fine. We’re all fine.” Clint said, breathlessly. Tony looked like he wanted to come closer but Cap and Natasha stopped him.
“What the hell was that?” Natasha asked Clint, gesturing to his lap of children.
Clint just shrugged. “That was Teddy.”
“What is Teddy?” Cap asked.
“Teddy is Teddy.” Clint hissed and waved them away. “I don’t have any other information and if you want to know, then SHIELD can help you.”
“Teddy was one of SHIELD’s placements?”
“Yep.” Clint punctuated his sentence by kissing the top of Teddy’s head. Coulson had to hand it to him, he protected his kids above all else.
The portal, still open and a few blocks away, crackled back to life.
“We aren’t done yet.” Tony’s mask snapped back down. “Coulson, you stay here. You guard him with your life.”
“I will.” Phil sounded so sure in his convictions that Clint had to search his face in order to make sure he wasn’t kidding. That was a serious directive that Phil had quickly agreed to.
Agent Coulson though, not Phil now. He does this all the time with the Avengers. Clint reminded himself. But it didn’t stop him from blurting out: “You will?”
“Good.” Tony blasted off of the roof and into the fray.
Teddy giggled at Clint’s dropped jaw. Billy was trying to keep a tight hold on Tommy and Teddy at the same time. Tommy just looked like he wanted to join the fight. Clint debated getting a lease for the hyperactive twin, or alternatively, never letting any of them leave the daycare ever again.
“Are you okay?” Phil asked him, not taking his eyes off of what was left of the battle. Just a few stray aliens and an open portal.
Clint nodded. Answering with his voice wasn’t entirely on his to-do list.
“We’ll talk after the battle, okay? I have a job to do.”
Clint just nodded again. He would never question the importance of Phil’s job or anything the Avengers did. Not in the heat of battle and certainly not when his life and the lives of his charges had been threatned. Though, neither of them bothered to comment on the fact that Coulson’s current duty was to protect Clint.
All the kids and Clint had to go to medical. The kids were not happy to be in a hospital-like area and Clint couldn’t blame them. However, he was also incredibly bruised so for the most part, they calmed down and let him pull them to his side. Say what you will about Clint Barton but he was awesome cuddler, if he said so himself.
The kids barely knew they were getting scanned for injuries and everything went smoothly. Except with that whole ‘getting himself checked out’ thing. Clint had time for that after the children were safely home.
Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Kaplan picked up all three boys right from SHIELD headquarters. Clint started to apologize to her and she cupped his cheek. “We’re aware of the dangers in world. It’s why we entrusted our children with them. They’re safe, Mr. Barton. That’s what matters. You kept them safe.”
“Bye Mister Clint!” Tommy yelled from his mother’s hold even though he was a whole three feet away. “Thanks for the awesome field trip!”
Billy was looking at his twin as though he was crazy but refused to let go of Teddy’s hand.
“Bye, guys. I’ll see you Monday morning.” Clint waved at them.
A crash sounded behind Clint and he whipped around just to find Iron Man clunking towards him. “There you are! Let’s go.”
“Tony? Where are we going?”
“I have to go to that?”
“Did you or did not you just fall off of a building.”
“I’m fine. Just. So you know. I’m okay.” Clint pulled Tony towards him into an uncomfortably bulky hug.
“Thank god.” Tony mumbled. They both took deep breaths before continuing down the hallway.
The debriefing was mostly just an uncoordinated mess. Also, there was a depressing lack of Phil Coulson in the conference room. Clint was sandwiched inbetween Tony and Natasha and tried his best to keep up with everything that was being discussed.
“Were they after Stark tower, Clint, or the toddlers?”
Clint was about to open his mouth to say that there was no one anyone would be after him but Natasha cut him off.
“Any threat to Clint so far has been neutralized as far as we know. Given the proximity to the time frame of the murder of Theodore Altman’s mother. We have concluded they were after him.”
“What is he?” Cap spoke up.
Clint was about to speak then too, to defend his charge but he got distracted by what Natasha had said.
There have been threats against me?
This time, it was an agent that Clint had never met before but had an ID tag on her that read Hill. She spoke up: “They are called Skrulls. Teddy is a lost prince. Their prince. We’re going to try to work through some diplomatic relationships. Teddy is under the care of the Earth and we are not letting anyone take him only so he can get dragged into a war.”
“You couldn’t have worked out the diplomacy before this happened?” Tony asked angrily. Hill ignored him.
“Keep an eye on the media fall out from this. Any footage of Clint and Teddy exists and I want it erased. This can not be publicized. We cannot call attention to this. Everything will continue as it has been, with the daycare taking primary care over the children during the day. Until this is all resolved, Mr. Barton, you need to be wearing a SHIELD communication link just like the rest of us. If they come back again, we need to know about it immediately. We will set detailed security around the daycare during the weekdays and Agent Coulson will provide you with the comm link.”
It was a testament to how tired Tony was that he didn’t even make a comment about Phil ‘providing’ anything to Clint.
The only problem was that Phil wasn’t even in the room and SHIELD was a maze.
Luckily, that turned out to be a short-lived concern because Phil was walking through the first hallway Clint turned down.
“Found you.” Phil said firmly, more to himself than Clint.
Clint smiled, tired but happy. He really wanted to go back home. Everything hurt. Though, Phil hadn’t even been in the meeting so how did he know? “You were looking for me?”
Phil’s voice got softer and suddenly, Clint was looking at Phil instead of Agent Coulson. “Of course I was.” He placed a hand on Clint’s arm and turned him around. “Let me collect a few items from my office, the communication link you need, and then I’ll take you home.” Even if Clint had the strength to argue, he wouldn’t have tried. Phil in his apartment after a long day sounded nice.
Clint wasn’t sure how Phil got the keys out of his pockets but he was grateful not to have to fumble with SHIELD’s complicated safety lock on the daycare.
Once they were upstairs, Phil gently pushed Clint down on the bed and checked his body for any and all bruises. The lack of space between the two of them while Clint had his shirt off was making him dizzy.
“You didn’t go to medical.” Phil observed the unwrapped injuries.
“I took the kids. Then Tony dragged me to that debriefing.” Clint winced as Phil hit a tender spot.
Phil nodded and mouthed an Ah before leaning his forehead against an unbruised part of Clint’s shoulder. “You need to stay out of trouble.” Phil murmured. “My objectivity is compromised when you’re in the line of fire.”
“I didn’t do it on purpose.” Clint frowned. He felt a little chastised.
“I know that, Clint. Just. I didn’t mean it to like. I meant-” Phil cut off, frustrated. Instead of continuing his sentence, he curled a hand around Clint’s neck and moved closer to kiss him. Clint was tired and in pain but damn if it wasn’t the best first kiss he had ever experienced.
When Phil finally pulled back, Clint couldn’t stop himself from showing a tiny smirk and leaning his forehead against Phil’s. “I think you did a great job, objectively, I mean. No complaints here.”
“I did.” Phil smiled and kissed him again. “But the director is still coming to talk to us.”
“Director?” Clint held his hand over one of his eyes. “Fury is coming here?”
Phil reached up, chuckling, and pulled Clint’s hand away from his eye. He didn’t let go though, he intertwined their fingers and held on tight. “Yes. The very same.”
“Well, last time he met me, I wasn’t awake and-” Clint yawned and curled up on his side on top of the his bed, all while not letting go of Phil’s hand. “That might happen again. No offense to him. It’s just that it’s been a pretty long day.” And if Phil kept stroking his hair like that, Clint was going to be asleep within twenty seconds.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened.
He woke up while they were still talking, letting loose a small moan when his back twinged. Without opening his eyes, Clint felt the smallest relief of a heat pack on his lower back.
“What about your, Mr. Barton?” Fury was addressing him now. That probably meant he should open his eyes.
“Sir?” He croaked out.
“Is this relationship going to be a problem?”
“No.” Phil said adamently. He had most likely said that ten times while Clint had been asleep. If Clint had known it was going to be a relationship talk from his boss, he would have tried harder to stay awake as moral support for Phil.
“Yes.” Clint let out with a breathy laugh.
“Oh?” Fury asked and Clint was about to curse because Phil had removed the heat pack, probably for punishment due to answering the question incorrectly.
“I want the codes.” Clint murmured nonsensically. He heard Phil’s laugh from somewhere above him. It was a pretty sound. Clint liked it. He wanted more of it.
“What codes?” Fury asked, slightly annoyed.
“All of them.” There it was. The laugh again. That was awesome.
“Go back to sleep.” Phil said fondly, gently rubbing Clint’s bruised back. It didn’t take long for Clint to obey those orders, especially with Phil’s touch.
Clint woke up with his head cushioned on a warm body. He inhaled deeply and nearly let out a purr when a hand started going through his hair. “Morning.” He murmured and turned his head slightly in order to kiss Phil’s chest, disappointed that it was covered by a t-shirt. Then again, Clint wasn’t really up for any strenuous physical activity.
“Morning to you too. How are you feeling?” Phil’s voice was low, rough from sleep. Gorgeous.
“Never better.” Clint smiled into the t-shirt, ignoring the pain that shot through the bruises on his chest.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“Mmm. You hungry? I could make us some food.”
“You could?” Phil sounded skeptical. It was warranted.
“Course I could.”
Phil’s laugh was just as brilliant as Clint remembered from the previous night. And it didn’t even impede the agent’s ability to stroke Clint’s hair. “You’re a walking bruise. How about I make you some breakfast instead?”
“You’re the guest.” Clint lifted his head and blinked at him.
“That’s exactly why I should make you breakfast. I’m only the guest because you’re injured.” Phil chuckled softly and ran his fingers up and down Clint’s arm.
“Can I officially make you a guest for a different reason?” Phil moved to get up but Clint pinned him down. “No, stay here.” Clint buried his face in Phil’s neck and mumbled: “I like you here.” In his bed, in his life. Phil needed to be within the general radius from wherever Clint existed.
In reality, Phil probably could have easily gotten Clint off of him. That whole secret agent of SHIELD nonsense. But Clint appreciated Phil letting him plaster them both to the bed.
As they were both about to doze off again, SHIELD’s familiar ringtone sounded from the nightstand. Clint moaned and reached out his hand only to find that Phil had gone for his own phone as well. They looked at each other in surprise and shared a smile.
“It’s mine.” Clint murmured, gesturing to the ringing and vibrating bright, purple phone.
“How do you have a purple SHIELD-issued phone?” Phil slid back down so Clint could reach over him.
“Tony.” Clint smirked and clicked the accept button. “Buckler Daycare. Clint speaking.”
Phil idly wondered if anyone but Clint ever answered the phone. Did SHIELD have a substitute caretaker? It wasn’t Agent Coulson’s division. He was a bit out of his element.
Also, Buckler Daycare? Clever.
“Yes, Mr. Wayne…They’re never a problem…Of course…I’ll see you then.”
“Did you just agree to watch the three Wayne kids? You know you’re still injured, right?” Phil raised an eyebrow at Clint, who had tossed his phone back on the nightstand. Phil winced as it hit the wooden surface with a loud bang but he was distracted by Clint tucking his face back between his neck and shoulder.
“Not just Tim, Cass, and Jason. All of them. Mr. Wayne sounded frazzled. That never happens. I need to get dressed.” Clint mumbled but showed no signs of moving. He was thinking about it though so that counted for something. Maybe.
“Don’t forget this.” Phil tapped a small, black earpiece that on Clint’s nightstand.
“Right.” Clint stared at it for a moment and Phil shook his head with a sleepy smile.
“Come here.” Phil beckoned him forward. He cupped Clint’s cheek, intending to balance himself in order to put the earpiece in place. He allowed himself a moment and instead, used his hold on Clint to pull him forward into a kiss.
“Good morning.” Clint whispered when he finally leaned back. Phil smiled and this time fitted the earpiece snugly in the groove on Clint’s ear. Before they could kiss again, the daycare’s doorbell sounded through the apartment.
“That’s them.” Clint groaned and reluctantly pulled away from Phil. He sat on the edge of his bed and tugged a clean t-shirt over his head.
“He was already on his way over here. I mean, I wouldn’t have said no anyway.” Clint said, more to himself than Phil as he stumbled down the hallway stairs to open the door.
“Morning, Mr. Wayne.” Clint gave a half-assed salute for no reason other than he was tired and wasn’t ever sure how to greet one of the richest men in the country let alone while he was still in his pajamas.
He doesn’t blame Mr. Wayne for doing a double-take when the door opened. The side of Clint’s face was bruised and he was dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt that read Stark Expo 2008 on the front. However, Mr. Wayne being who he was, quickly recovered and was back on track in an instant.
He started speaking but moved aside to let four children walk through the door. He shifted the baby carrier from one hand to the other. “I’m sorry to bother you on a weekend-”
“I already told you, Mr. Wayne. It’s really not a problem. It’s my job.” Clint reached out and took the baby carrier, which held a tiny, wide-eyed Damian Wayne.
“Please, keep them here.” He looked over his children, as though he was counting them over and over, making sure they were all still there.
“No field trips, got it. Mr. Wayne. It’s okay. They’re safe here.” Clint gave as much as a reassuring smile as he could with a black & blue face. By the confused expression that Mr. Wayne had sported when he had first opened the door, Clint guessed that he didn’t know what had happened the previous day.
“I should return in a few hours. You have my emergency number.”
“Good luck. With whatever you’re doing.” Clint said quietly and made sure to bolt the daycare door after watching Mr. Wayne quickly walk back out to his car and speed off.
Jason piped up and asked: “Is it pajama day, Mr. Clint?”
“It can’t be pajama day. He doesn’t have pajamas on.” Dick pointed to the open doorway for the stairs that led to Clint’s second floor apartment. Phil was on the bottom step, in yesterday’s suit which was magically wrinkle-free. Maybe it was made of Asgardian material or something.
Brushing off Jason’s question, Clint addressed Phil instead: “Can SHIELD help him?” Clint whispered, still at his spot by the door.
“Mr. Wayne is a very specific kind of talent. He plays by his own rules. From what I heard, he only compromised and came to SHIELD for the sake of his children.” Phil spoke under his breath, eyeing said children to make sure weren’t within earshot.
“That’s a good dad, I think.” Clint mused. “Well, Phil.” He turned and grinned. “You already know Jason, Tim and Cass. The tiny baby is Damian.” Damian was chewing on Tim’s bookbag from his removable car seat. “The one that Tim is dragging around the classmate is Dick. He’s around…ten or eleven. I can’t remember.”
“Ten!” Tim told him proudly.
“Right, ten. Thanks, Tim.” Clint called over to him. “Sorry that I didn’t get a chance to make you breakfast.” He told Phil and gave him an sheepish shrug.
“I was going to make you breakfast. I still am. Well, I’m going to bring back breakfast for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I'll come back and still spend the Saturday with you.”
“Are you sure? I mean, you don't have to. I’m technically working now.”
“Go upstairs and change into real clothes. When you come back down, I'll leave, grab food for us and then come back. You’re still injured, Clint. I’m not leaving you alone the whole day. I’ll bring a SHIELD tablet to do sit-reps of yesterday’s battle but I won’t leave.”
“It's cute how you think you're going to get work done when the whole Wayne brood is here. They are curious little devils. Also, did you notice that I have all five of them today?”
Phil maybe took a little longer than expected but he didn’t think he had been gone long enough for the daycare to become seaworthy. Clint had transformed the entire classroom into a faux-pirate ship, complete with blanket sails and a paper plate as a steering wheel with baby Damian at the helm, still in his car seat with an adorable grumpy expression on his face.
“Ah, he has returned to us! Let me introduce you to our pirate crew!” Clint gave a huge flourish towards the ‘ship’ and leaned over to Tim. “What did we decide on, little man? Tim the terrible?” Tim frowned. “Tim the timid?” That only got Clint a shake of his head. “Tim the timidly terrible.” A giggle. That meant definite success.
“Jason the just?” Jason just gave a deadpan and very un-six-year-old ‘Argh’ and then went back to fumbling with Tim’s cardboard sword and sheath from where they had fallen down around his ankles.
“Dick the daring.” Phil really didn’t want to know why the kid was doing a handstand on top of Clint’s desk.
“Damian the…uh…also daring.” Clint popped Damian’s binky back in his mouth from where he had spit it out. “And last but far, far from least is Cass the courageous.” Cass had gotten a cape from somewhere and looked more like a superhero than a pirate but Phil wasn’t about to mention it to her.
“They sound like warrior names.” Phil told Clint.
“Well, they are the honorable warrior pirates of Buckler.”
“That sounds nice.” Tim whispered. He had gone over to Phil’s side and tugged on his jacket. “What’s your pirate name Mr. Phil?”
“Coulson the calm. Phil the patient?” Clint tossed out ideas from the helm of the ‘ship.’
“And Barton the birdbrained?” Phil said in that fond voice that made Clint’s mind glaze over for a half second.
“They didn’t call me Hawkeye for nothing.” He smirked and pecked Phil on the cheek before the older man could move away and claim unprofessionalism.
“Can we watch a pirate movie, Mr. Clint?”
Clint pulled his gaze away from Phil and smiled at TIm and Cass. “Sure guys, which one?”
“Peter Pan!” Tim said excitedly.
“That’s not a pirate movie!” Cass rolled her eyes impressively for a four year old.
“It’s got pirates, don’t it?” Jason took Tim’s side. Between Jason’s persuasiveness and Dick succumbing to Tim’s puppy dog eyes, the whole group soon found themselves watching Peter Pan.
Phil and Clint sat behind them, on the same blanket they had shared before during Phil’s first visit to the daycare. Clint was finally scarfing down his breakfast sandwich while simultaneously trying to explain the Wayne situation.
“The kids freaked out for a good fifteen minutes because they realized they’re not meant to be here on a Saturday and that’s why I was in my pajamas. And Bruce was tense and Alfred wasn’t there when they woke up. Too many changes. They know something is up.”
“The Wayne butler went missing?”
“Yea.” Clint bit his lip. “Dick is trying not to think about it so he doesn’t make the rest of them nervous.” Then, under his breath. “Speaking of...” Clint plastered a grin on his face and opened his arms out to Dick, who had scooted off his blanket and towards them. “Come here, buddy.”
“Mr. Clint?” Dick said hesitantly. He moved a little closer and sighed in relief when he settled into Clint’s lap.
“It’s okay, Dick.” Clint said softly, wrapping his arms around the young boy and tilting slightly to the left so his shoulder nudged Phil’s.
Quiet murmurs and half sentences tumbled aimlessly out of Clint’s mouth until Dick looked a fraction calmer than he had been for most of the morning.
“You know what will make you feel better?”
“What?” Dick sniffled and leaned his head against Clint’s chest.
“Putting on a circus show for your brothers. Let’s get to work while they’re watching the film.”
Phil knew it wasn’t his place to remind Clint about his injuries. Nor, he suspected, would it do any good.
Just as quickly as the daycare had become a pirate ship, it only took the rest of the film for Clint to rearrange the blanket sails so they looked like a circus tent.
“Presenting the amazing circus boys. Ta-dah!”
Off-synch flips and impressive handstands had the younger Wayne children clapping and cheering for their older brother. Phil found himself with a lap full of Cass as she gasped whenever Dick did something that seemed remotely dangerous. Clint beamed when he saw them and was distracted enough that Dick had to nudge him for their next sequence.
Only five minutes into their act, there was a knock at the daycare door. Clint peered through the window and pulled back with a grin on his face to unlock and open the door.
A huge chorus of “Alfred!” exploded in the daycare and the older gentleman was quickly weighted down by all the Wayne children attempting to, presumably, hug him and never let go again. Even eleven month-old Damian looked as though he was about to overthrow his car seat in order to get to Alfred. Mr. Wayne took pity on his youngest and lifted him out of his seat to bring him to the family pile.
Clint watched happily as the Wayne family became whole again, right before his eyes. He tilted his head and sighed, finally beginning to feel the weight of the last few hours reach his bruises. But before he could think about going back upstairs and convincing Phil to come with him, Dick let go of Alfred and quickly ran over to Clint.
“Do you think that…maybe…one day, you and I could just go to the circus?” Dick sped up after that and Clint could barely keep track of his rambling. “It’s just that I love my family and Bruce and Alfred but they don’t get it and I want to take them to the circus but I’m not ready cause sometimes I miss it so much and it hurts but you know that cause you were in a circus too so-”
“Hey, slow down, there.” Clint said quietly. He knelt down in front of Dick and gave the boy a huge hug, ignoring his aching back. “I’d be more than happy to take you to the circus whenever you want, okay?”
For a moment, he had forgotten Phil was there. He knew that Phil, or at least, Agent Coulson, knew his whole background but that didn’t make him any less defensive of his past. Realization came to him that Phil’s understanding of Clint’s past is why they had had lunch together at the dacyare. In a familiar setting for Clint where Phil could tell him about his own life. Phil was incredibly clever, Clint noted with a small smile as he watched Dick rush back to his family.
“Do you want the heat pack?” Phil asked, lightly laying a hand on Clint’s back.
“God, yes.” Clint said with relief, for a couple different reasons.
On Clint and Phil’s fifth date, Tony made use of his tracking device on Clint and found them at a coffee shop.
Phil would have been annoyed but the feeling was dampened by the sight of Clint’s adorable blush. Phil had had the blush trained out of him but not Clint. It was like dating a real civilian who still had SHIELD clearance.
“Is that Iron Man outside?”
“Maybe it’s just a cosplayer.”
“There’s no convention in town today.” Phil said immediately and then shut his mouth. Huh, Clint smirked but Phil took a sip of his coffee and ignored him. Clint was going to have to inquire about that at a later time. Phil was quick to change the subject: “And Tony already threatened me, by the way.”
“Please. Please tell me that you’re kidding.”
“Clint.” Phil reached across the table to hold Clint’s hand. “It’s not a problem. I’ve had worse than Tony Stark.”
“Still. I should threaten golden boy or something.”
“Stark and Rogers? That’s actually a thing? Tony isn’t just trying to mess with the guy?”
“You cannot tell him that I told you that!” Clint bent his head over the table and Phil followed in suit until their foreheads were nearly touching.
“Fine. I didn’t hear it. But it was harmless, Clint.” Phil ran his thumb over Clint’s knuckles. “All he said was: “There’s something you need to know about Clint. And it’s very, very important so you should listen. If you hurt him, I will break your face.”
“Those were my exact words, yes.” Clint’s head snapped up and Phil followed much more slowly. Tony lifted his sunglasses to the top of his head and placed his Iron Man suitcase on the seat next to Clint.
“Speak of the devil.” Clint groaned and leaned back his chair.
“The devilishly handsome.” Tony winked.
“Stop putting GPS trackers in my shoes.”
“Never.” Tony grinned and took a seat next to Phil, slinging his arm around the agent’s shoulder.
“He didn’t dump me on prom night.” Clint hissed. “There is no need for you to be an overprotective brother right now.”
“How do you know about proms?” Tony asked.
“Every television show ever?” Clint answered, confused.
“You don’t watch television.” Tony countered.
Clint knew exactly what Tony wanted him to say: “You make me watch MTV and 80s films with you once a week.”
“And I’m glad those lessons are sticking.”
Clint closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, he looked directly at Phil. “Excuse us a moment would you?” He asked, abruptly getting out of his chair and dragging Tony outside.”
“Please stop this. You still owe me from the time you discovered a new element in the house and jackhammered the floor in my room.”
“First off, it was re-discovered. Second, I was dying.”
“Tony, come on.” Clint rubbed his hand over his face. “Dad, I like this boy.” Clint joked weakly. “Please leave us alone so he doesn’t think I’m crazy.”
“I think it’s too late for that. I’m just trying to be a good brother.”
“You’re a brilliant brother. I just. I like him. And he likes me and we’re going to have enough trouble and I just need you on my side.”
“I…” Tony stopped and stepped back from Clint. “I’m always on your side.”
“Tony…” Clint closed the space between them and gave him a head, leaning his head on Tony’s shoulder. His voice dropped to below a whisper. “I like him, Tony. He’s a secret nerd and good with the kids and we know the same people and… well. He looks at me like you and Pepper do. Like…” I’m worth the insanity.
Tony’s huge smile caught Clint off-guard. Tony dragged him back into the coffee shop and pushed him into the chair next to Phil’s instead of the one across from him.
“I’ll see you tomorrow night for family dinner, Clint. Use protection, Agent Coulson.” Clint’s mortified look was absolutely worth the earful that Tony was going to get from Pepper.
Oddly enough, the next day at the daycare, Phil wasn’t the guest Avenger. It was Captain America.
“Steve? What are you doing here?”
“Looking for Tony.”
“Ah, you just missed him, sorry. He dropped off way too much food for lunch though so feel free to grab a bite with us.” Clint gestured to the table that was groaning under the weight of the sandwiches.
“Sure, that’d be great. I’m starved. What’s going on with the kids?” Steve subtly tilted his head to where Tommy was eating by himself at a separate table.
“Tommy is in a time-out courtesy of their mom due to his attempts to dye Billy’s hair to look like his because one of the neighborhood kids said they weren’t actually twins.”
“Did it work?”
“Billy sort of just looks like a blond now.” Clint discreetly pointed to where Teddy had just split his sandwich in two and given the larger half to Billy. “Not all the way white like Tommy wanted.”
Steve didn’t leave the daycare until well into the afternoon. He was caught off-guard by how much the kids enjoyed playing with adults, especially when that adult was Captain America. He even signed Billy’s mini Captain America shield after the boy asked with wide eyes and a hopeful voice.
The second the kids were picked up for the day, Clint whipped out the handy JARVIS/SHIELD communication link and called Tony. The conversation was basically the same one that the two had been rehashing since Tony first met Steve.
“I do not like like Steve, Clinton. Shut your mouth.”
“He might be the only one who doesn’t see it. And I think you’ll have to give him a pass on that because, I don’t know if you know this, he is from the 40s.”
“That’s the problem.”
“They had homosexual people in the 40s, Tony.”
“Not open homosexuals.”
“They still existed.”
Clint had a feeling that Tony wasn’t telling him something. He shook it off, knowing that either Tony would tell him eventually or Pepper would update him.
As annoying and repetitive as the conversations were, Clint would have wished for more of that monotony if he had known what was coming up next in his life. The universe just couldn’t let Clint Barton(-Stark (pending)) be happy with a family, job, and boyfriend.
Clint had only ever had a part of one briefing and two debriefings. All three had been awkward and made him wish that he brought his quiver and bow around with him like a modern day Robin Hood. For this briefing, Natasha and Pepper were the ones who called him in so already with SHIELD and Stark working together, Clint knew that this wasn’t good news.
That thought only doubled when he saw that Tony and Phil had been relegated to the outside of the room. The door on the large office (Phil’s office. It must be. A Captain America poster was framed on the wall) was left open but they were both waiting outside.
Phil’s computer was turned towards Clint and Pepper moved closer to him as Natasha started the video footage. It was clearly from a shitty security camera but it was obvious what was happening. The Skrulls had cornered a man on the street. There were three of the aliens surrounding the human, who was lying on the ground. One of the Skrulls used his foot to turn the man over and-
“Oh god.” Clint choked out. “Pause it. Please. Nat.” Natasha consented and even zoomed in on the face of the human.“Barney.” Clint breathed.
“I thought you said he was dead.” Pepper asked but didn’t ask in that gentle tone of hers. It did the opposite of what it was supposed to do and Clint immediately tensed up.
“I heard that he was dead.” Clint said, uncertainty dripping from his words. “From a not-so-reliable source, apparently.”
Natasha spoke up next, in a steady tone that Clint wanted to cling to. “Using their technology, they searched the earth for blood relatives of yours. They will stop at nothing to get Teddy. It looks like Barney appeared to agree to help them.”
Someone (Tony? Phil?) touched his shoulder but he flinched and the hand pulled back immediately. Clint pressed the heels of his palms against his closed eyes and tried to control his breathing.
Barney was alive.
Barney was working for the aliens.
Barney was threatening his kids.
Clint could only handle so much at a time. He would have honestly been okay if Barney had returned to compromise his own life again. At least he was used to that.
But the life of Teddy and the other students? Absolutely not. Not for the first time in his life, Clint wondered what the hell had happened to his older brother. The one that used to protect him from his drunk father and from bullies at the orphanage.
“The security watch on the daycare will be doubled. If you believe anything to be out of the ordinary, call SHIELD or one of the Avengers right away.” Agent Coulson ordered and broke the silence, snapping Clint out of his own thoughts.
“That’s code for me, right? Call Iron Man if anything smells funky.” Clint could tell that Tony was debating adding more panic buttons to the six that were already hidden in his building.
“I got it.” Clint whispered in quiet disgust. He turned his head away from both of them. He saw both of them optioning to take a step forward but Nat intervened with a single glare. He needed time to process.
Clint looked down from where he was currently stacking boxes of craft supplies on the overhead shelves. Billy’s eyes were a bit shiny, and not in a good way. His hair though, that was still bright blonde and Clint had to do a double-take each time he took head-counts of the class.
“What’s wrong, Billy?”
“I can’t find my Captain America shield.” Billy bit his lip. That was actually pretty surprising because Billy hadn’t let the thing out of his sight ever since Steve signed it. Clint could already see Teddy and Tommy looking through the classroom play area for the shield.
“Did you have it when you came in today?”
“I think…I think I had it in the car? Maybe it’s outside!”
In hindsight, Clint probably should have known it was a terrible idea. But he had stepped foot outside his classroom before without incident. And Billy could see the shield from the window. It was against the curb of the sidewalk, only a few feet away from the front door. Billy held tightly onto his hand as they stepped forward.
“It’s no wonder that you and Mr. Phil get along so well, Billy. You guys will have to talk about Captain America together sometime. Maybe when Steve is around so he can get embarrassed.” Billy giggled and reached out to grab the shield.
Too bad it was right as someone reached out to grab them.
Clint spun around, one arm wrapped around Billy but they were surrounded by Skrulls and a bright portal. Thinking quickly, Clint activated his communication link before he and Billy were dragged through the shining circle.
“TONY—-PHIL——HEAR ME?——THE KIDS——SKRULLS!——ME AND——TAKEN——PORTAL——”
The first thing Tony did was drop his cup of coffee.
The second was freak out.
The third was freak out aloud, to Agent Coulson and whoever else was listening to the Avengers and SHIELD communication channel. He quickly wished that Pepper wasn’t in Europe for company business.
“Stark. Get to the daycare. We’ll review the tapes and the Avengers will assemble.” Agent Coulson’s voice sounded steady but his words were hurried. Tony could relate. He knew that Coulson had heard the original message right away just as he had. They were always tuned into Clint’s channel.
“The security footage shows him being taken away with a little blond boy.” Hill informed Tony as he landed in front of the daycare.
“Teddy.” Tony nodded. It made sense. It’s who the Skrulls were after.
Agent Coulson walked out of the building and nodded to Tony. He held up a portable screen and turned it towards him. The looped feed of Clint being taken played only twice before Tony pushed it away from him and looked into the classroom. Tommy and Teddy were clearly still inside. “Negative, Stark. We still have Teddy.”
“Then who does he-” Tony took a quick glanced again at the video screen. It was a little blond boy.
“Oh god.” Steve interrupted. He looked back and forth between Teddy and Tommy. “Clint said something about Tommy trying to dye Billy’s hair white to look like his.”
“You think it turned blond?”
“I saw it. It was definitely blond. And if they were only looking for a yellow haired kid and Teddy was inside…”
“When did you see it?” Tony asked, confused. Steve almost never went to the daycare unless it was with another Avenger.
“I was here looking for you.” Tony stared at Steve, who was avoiding eye contact, for a moment before snapping his gaze away and onto Agent Hill
“Teddy and Tommy are going back to SHIELD headquarters where Mrs. Kaplan is already en route.. The other children will be back with their guardians within a half hour.”
A loud thud came from the second floor and everyone turned towards the noise.
“Are there junior agents upstairs?” Natasha asked, moving towards the stairwell. Thor had already barreled halfway up to the apartment.
Agent Coulson shook his head sharply. “No one was given orders to go to the second floor.”
“I have found the impostor! He looks of our Clinton! Is it a trick?” Thor was holding up none other than Barney Barton, who had failed to get out of the apartment before Thor thundered up the stairs.
“That’s his brother.” Natasha growled.
“Are you ransacking your brother’s apartment after you gave him up to aliens?” Steve looked horrified and confused, as though he didn’t want to believe it. Clint’s drawers were open and most of his belongings were strewn over the floor.
Tony didn’t say anything. Rather, he just took a few Iron Man strides across Clint’s main room and socked Barney across the jaw, armor and all.
He hit the ground, out cold, as Steve held onto Tony’s arm before he could punch him again. “Tony!”
“He sold my brother, Steve.” Tony said angrily, shaking him off.
“And now we won’t be able to get any information out of him until he wakes up.” Coulson snapped. He glared Stark, daring the man to call him wrong.
He didn’t. Instead, Tony let Steve lead him away from Barney so Thor could lift the unconscious man over his shoulder.
“Take him back to SHIELD, Thor.” Coulson pressed his communication link. “Unconscious Barney Barton is headed back to SHIELD. I need him restrained in an interrogation room and I need to be alerted immediately when he wakes up.”
It was a long two hours of Tony and Coulson staring silently at Barney’s newly bruised face. Steve sat in between them to make sure no one did anything rash while Hill and Natasha quizzed Teddy and Tommy on the events of the day. Thor had immediately traveled back to Asgard in order to see if the Skrull portal could be recreated.
None of them should have been surprised that the first thing Barney did when he groggily came to was start running off his mouth.
“Oh. You. I knew my brother could fuck his way into a good situation but Tony Stark? Shit. Wish the kid had it in him when I-” Barney was cut off by another punch, this time from Agent Coulson.
It didn’t knock him out but his head lolled against the steel chair as Coulson ignored a reproachful look from Steve and an approving smirk from Tony.
“What do you even want from me?” Barney spat out blood and it landed on the table, near Steve’s hand. Tony narrowed his eyes.
“You tell me. I haven’t seen him. Hell, I didn’t even know the bitch was alive til those aliens found me.”
“So instead of seeing your brother for the first time in years, you agree to help extraterrestrials?” Steve questioned.
“I haven’t had a brother in years. Money in exchange for the “the prince and his brave guardian” was no contest.” Barney tried to do air quotes with his wrists still restrained to the chair. He leaned forward towards all three of him.
“You’re not going to find him.” His grin was bloody and this time, it was Tony again who punched him.
“Challenge fucking accepted.” Tony stood up and strode out of the room.
Steve quickly caught up with him and grabbed a hold of his wrist. Tony tried to shake him off but he wasn’t in the Iron Man suit. No one could get away from a determined Captain America.
“Tony, we’re going to find Clint and Billy.” Steve said, soft and insistent.
“I know we are.” Tony resisted the urge to growl at him. He couldn’t handle Steve at the moment. He wanted to let loose on Barney Barton and Captain Boyscout refused to let him.
“Take a deep breath and come with me back to Agent Hill. I’m on your side.” Steve let his voice drop so only Tony could hear.
“You are?” Tony said, more harshly than he meant. He knew Steve was only trying to be rational when he attempted to stop him from physically harming Barney. But Tony Stark wasn’t exactly rational on his good days. Let alone days when his family was in danger.
“Tony. Of course I’m on your side.” Steve looked horrified that Tony would think otherwise. “Tony, I’ve always been on your side.” He slid his hold on Tony’s wrist down to grasp at his hand and without even looking to see who was around them, leaned in and gave Tony a kiss.
As he pulled back, Steve looked nervous. Tony was just sort of blinking at him with wide eyes and a fast pulse that Steve could feel with their hands still attached.
Relief came over him as Tony let a smile grow on his phone. It wasn’t irrational or angry, but it was Tony Stark at his best.
“We’re going to find Clint. Then you might have to stop me from committing murder. Then we’re going to do that again. A lot.” Tony gestured between the two of them and oh god, Tony just made Captain American nearly blush. He mentally added that to the list of things that were going to happen again soon.
Clint wasn’t used to waking up inside a prisoner cell on an alien ship.
He was, however, used to the screams of children.
“Go ‘way!” Billy yelled at the aliens.
“S’okay, Billy.” Clint murmured. His head was pounding but he needed to sit up, for Billy. Billy, who, with his bleached hair and tiny Captain America shield, looked just like a miniature Steve Rogers. Only at the moment, Clint supposed that he was the civilian.
Clint groaned as he sat up and pulled Billy into his lap. “We can’t get out but I don’t think they can’t come in right now either, Bills.” And then, much softer. “I’ve got you, Billy. No one is taking you from me.”
Billy curled up into a ball and squeezed his eyes closed. Clint hoisted him up so his head rested on his shoulder. Billy’s fists clenched and unclenched. He flinched everytime one of the aliens passed their jail cell.
It went on for a half hour before one of the aliens knocked into their cage by accident. Billy jumped in Clint’s arms and what felt like a static shock knocked into the side of Clint’s head.
“Ow. Shit. I mean. Um. Billy.” Clint’s eyes grew wide. Billy turned around in his arms and slid back into Clint’s lap.
Billy’s hands were glowing blue with sparks and electricity. He was looking at his hands in shock.
“What is with you kids and getting powers in the middle of a crisis?” Clint left out a laugh in disbelief and Billy wiggled his fingers. “God, I hope your twin doesn’t get gifted with anything crazy.” That had Billy laughing which only caused the sparks to flicker even more. Clint’s head snapped up and saw that more Skrulls were coming towards their cell.
“Shit. Billy. Hide your hands.” Clint started to turn Billy to face him.
It was too late. Their excitement inside the cell had attracted the attention of one of the guards. In seeing Billy’s hands, not only did they probably realize they had the wrong child, but they also realized that their prisoners were no longer unarmed.
“What is with you kids and getting powers in the middle of a crisis? Shit. Billy. Hide your hands.”
Everyone’s comms crackled to life.
“Is that…Clint?” Tony asked aloud. He put pressure against the comm link as though it would make Clint’s voice sound again.
“Clint? Can you hear us?” Agent Coulson asked over his headset.
Clint’s amazed voice came over the speakers “This thing is on?”
“Did the Skrulls do something that could have turned it on again?” Hill asked.
“Um. I guess you can say that.” Clint grinned at Billy, who was taking turns between staring at his hands and giving the incoming guards a nervous look. “Are the kids okay?”
“They’re safe. Wayne has his own, Cassie is with her dad, and Mrs. Kaplan has both Teddy and Tommy with SHIELD at -”
“Clint? What’s happening?”
Billy just tried to push backwards into Clint’s chest and shot a bolt of lightning at another alien. Although impressive and appreciated, Billy’s lightning wasn’t going to be able to protect them against an entire Skrull army that was looking for their lost prince.
“Billy is happening.”
“Can’t talk! Gotta run!” Clint barreled through the guards who had just opened his cell, shielding Billy in his arms even as the boy continued to shoot bolts of lightning out of his hands. Clint didn’t know where he was running to, he just had to keep moving. He had to keep Billy safe.
As they became boxed in by the extraterrestrial soldiers, Billy whimpered and Clint heard him whispering: “I wanna go home. I wanna go home.” Before Clint could even try to pacify him, a blue light was surrounding them.
“Billy…” Clint looked down at the toddler in his arms but Billy seemed as surprised as he was. Within two seconds, they were both outside the Kaplan townhouse.
“Hawkeye? Report!” Phil’s voice commanded.
“Well, Billy is magic and we are now in a civilian area.”
“On Earth? Were you followed?”
“Oh. Not in any danger. I mean, as far as I can tell. Though, I really think this should have been in Billy’s paperwork.” Clint scrambled up off the ground and hoisted Billy against his hip.
“Where are you?” Tony’s voice was frantic.
“Tony, I’m fine. We’re outside the Kaplan’s house. Don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry? He can’t be serious.” Natasha muttered.
“Hawkeye & Kaplan 1 are clear.” Agent Hill’s clear voice came over his radio.
“You know, I meant to say this earlier but I have a really cool nickname for someone who watches kids all day.” Clint tried tickling Billy under the chin and to his relief, it worked and Billy let loose a little giggle. “I mean, I know it was my stage name but it sounds so much cooler as a secret agent name.”
“Hawkeye. Just a reminder. These comms go both ways.” Phil’s voice was a comfortable mixture of exasperation and fondness.
“Yes, sir.” Clint turned his attention back to Billy, though, it had never really left him. “Billy, try to say ‘I want to be at SHIELD headquarters.’ “
Billy repeated it a few times but no flashes of blue light and they stayed put.
“Well, I figured it was worth a try.”
Tony looked back and sighed. Steve was following him. Again. And not in a good way. Which was sort of expected giving his direction. “I won’t knock him out again.” He gestured to his destination, Barney’s interrogation room.
“I’m just here to supervise.” Steve held up his hands. “Natasha already tried to get in to him when no one was looking but Bruce is keeping her back.”
“Just give me some time alone with him. Please. I swear to you, Steve. I’ll only maybe touch him once.” Tony held up his human hands, still no Iron Man suit. Steve hesitated but nodded and stood guard outside the door. He was only able to catch snippets of the conversation but it was mostly Tony talking while Barney flinched away from him.
“You’re damn lucky he’s okay.”
“Where the hell were you when he was dying? Where the hell you went he had nothing but still protected a god damn stranger? You don’t deserve Clint as a brother, you worthless piece of trash.”
“You come back here after years of abandoning him only to try to dick him over again? Not on my watch, asswipe. Clint has a new brother and it’s me!”
Tony punctuated the end of his sentence with a punch that had Barney knocked off the chair and into the ground with a dislocated shoulder. Tony looked up and saw Agent Coulson and Steve, just in the doorway.
“Agents. Get him out of our sight. I want him dealt with.” Coulson muttered.
But before that could happen, Barney was able to maneuver the hand his dislocated shoulder to reach into his pocket and press something. Just like that, he disappeared.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Tony yelled and kicked the steel chair into the wall.
“Stark.” Coulson’s serious voice caught his attention and he looked over. “He failed them. You really think Skrulls are going to allow that?” Coulson hadn’t said it to see the satisfied look on Stark’s face but it couldn’t be helped.
“Now what do we do with the rest of the Skrulls?” Steve asked, hand on his shield, prepared.
“Fury is closing a deal with them as we speak.” Hill informed them. “Stand down, Captain.”
“That’s never a good thing.” Tony muttered under his breath.
“A good faith agreement. Ten years.” Hill stated and shot an annoyed look at Tony.
“So Teddy is going to be sixteen the next time they come?” Steve asked.
“Unless we can strike another deal before then.” Phil told them. “Which will hopefully be taken into account.”
“We can’t do much else for the time being.” Hill said in a firm tone that meant the conversation was over. “We are coming to get you, Hawkeye.”
“Nah, it’s cool. Billy and I are already on the subway.”
“Of course they are.” Phil deadpanned, completely unsurprised by the news.
“Hawkeye, you realize you were supposed to stay put for transport, right?” Hill said into to her end.
The speaker crackled again: “Billy wanted froyo. I figured the kid deserved it. Don’t worry, I’m bringing enough back for everyone.”
“He is so your brother sometimes.” Natasha muttered and Tony didn’t stop himself from feeling pride at her words.
“Yes. Yes, he is.” Tony grinned proudly.
The first thing that happened when they stepped inside SHIELD headquarters is that Billy is plucked right out of Clint’s arms and into his mother’s. Clint is so distracted by how happy Billy is to be with his mom, Teddy, and Tommy that he doesn’t see Hurricane Tony about to slam into him.
“Last night, during family dinner, you didn’t mention any off-world trips.” Tony mumbled into his hair.
“Forgot, I guess.” Clint laughed weakly and hugged Tony back just as tightly. Tony pulled back, eyes shining, not that Clint would ever point that out. Tony peered into the massive amount of bags that were in Clint’s hands.
“What? No toppings?”
Clint managed a tired grin and peered behind Tony. Phil was there, along with the other Avengers and a few agents that Clint didn’t recognize.
“You better do it now before he gets called in to explain the last few hours.” Tony winked at Agent Coulson but for once, Phil agreed with Tony. He took the bags of froyo out of Clint’s hands and carefully pressed Clint against the nearest wall to kiss him.
When he finally pulled away, Clint just blinked at him. “Hi Phil. I missed you too. Want to get out of here? Maybe grab a movie or something?”
“Afterwards.” Phil promised him, pulling him towards the meeting room, Natasha and Tony following close behind them.
The reunion turns into a debriefing, which, yes, Clint kind of expected but that was another reason for the frozen yogurt. Frozen yogurt made everything better, even debriefings. He also entertained himself by making bedroom eyes at Phil while the agent was trying to ask him important questions about the Skrulls.
He was safe. His kids were safe. His family was safe.
Clint really couldn’t think of anything else he needed. He’d sit through the longest debriefing ever to keep it that way.
Teddy and Tommy refused to let go of Billy the whole time. They just ate froyo on top of the conference table, while being closely watched by Mrs. Kaplan.
When it became clear that no one was paying attention to anything that Agent Hill and Director Fury were saying, Clint was dismissed. He gave hugs to each of the children again, as well as the Avengers, and of course, Tony. In the end, it was Phil and Clint, watching as Tony kept turning back to make sure Clint was still there.
“He’s going to call me at three AM to double-check and make sure I’m still alive.” Clint guessed fondly, squeezing Phil’s hand as they watched Tony blast off towards his tower.
“And if I answer the phone?” Phil raised an eyebrow and Clint felt his heart speed up.
“Well,” He started slowly. “Be prepared for a lot more inappropriate comments about our relationship.”
“That’s what the taser is for.”
Instead of just telephoning at three AM, Iron Man actually came calling. A knock on the window woke up both Clint and Phil, who had drawn his gun.
“Clint, go talk to your brother.” Phil murmured and put his gun back on the nightstand. He gave Clint a kiss and then stole all of his covers.
Clint was pretty sure he was in love.
“Come with me? Only for a minute.” Tony asked.
“Tony…” Clint grumbled but consented and stepped into Iron Man’s grasp. Tony slowly flew them up to the roof.
“Christ, Clint, I almost lost you yesterday. You can’t do that to me.”
“I can’t do that to you? You’re the one fighting out there everyday?”
“WIth a suit! And a team!”
“I didn’t plan for this Tony. I work with kids!”
“You know that I didn’t mean that. I need to keep you safe. I can’t lose anymore family.”
Clint concluded that it would never not be awkward to hug Tony while he was in the Iron Man suit.
“Also, I may have made out with Steve.”
“You kissed Captain America while I was kidnapped by aliens?”
“It sort of just happened. And then it happened again when we got back to the tower.”
“I wouldn’t have to tell you these things if you just moved back in. Have you given any thought to that?”
“To moving into your giant mansion that you built on top of your tower? I think I’m pretty set with the apartment above the daycare. Don’t give me that look. Timmy Wayne does it so much better than you. What if something happens again? Like a parent needing to drop off their kids at a moments notice?”
“I’ll fly you over there. Or the kids can just come here. A daycare in Stark Tower!”
“It’s not safe for kids in this building. …You won’t always be there, Tony.”
“Don’t. Don’t say that.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know but still. Don’t.”
“I’m making you your own floor anyway. Even if you share with Agent Sourpuss.”
“Don’t call him that.”
“Have fun trying to share bunk beds.”
“Don’t you dare.”