"We really need to do something about Ducky," Phil says, in between hurried bites of omelette. "It can't stay in the house."
Clint hasn't said anything, but he's pretty sure that Ducky nearly became an ex-duck a few hours ago when Phil got up to take a shower before work and heard an unexpected rustling sound from the tub, or at least, that was the impression that he got when Phil stepped back into the bedroom, shaving cream in one hand, towel in the other, and said, very calmly, too calmly: "I did not know that the duck was living in our bathroom now."
They work with some of the most highly-trained agents in the world, but Phil remains one of the only people Clint knows who could turn shaving cream and a towel into a lethal weapon. This might seem scary to some people, but really, Phil's endless resourcefulness has never steered him wrong, so Clint's not complaining.
Still, the duck can't live in the bathtub forever, not theirs and not the guest bath, either, or else one of these days one of them is going to have to have the awful conversation with their daughter about why Ducky isn't around any longer.
"About that," Clint says. "I had an idea. Thought I might build it a pond in the backyard. I looked it up, shouldn't be too tough. We don't even need building permits if it's small enough, and you can get those pre-fab things for the actual pond and the underlayer. I think we can do it."
Phil nods. "Sounds like a plan. Can you do that today, if possible?"
"Sure," Clint says. "I'll take her to the store with me; she can help me pick out some rocks or something, I don't know."
"Sorry I can't help," Phil says.
"We can wait 'til you have a day," Clint offers, even though he knows the duck really needs to be out of the house. The duck needed to be out of the house a week ago, but Clint Barton and Phil Coulson, the Avenger and the Badass Secret Agent, have one gigantic weakness, and that weakness is the quivering lower lip of their precious daughter, who really, really loves that goddamn duck.
"No, no," Phil says, polishing off the rest of his omelette. "I have the last round of evals for the junior agents all day, and the duck needs a home."
"Agreed," Clint says. He pours some coffee into a travel mug for Phil, adds some cream and sugar, and hands it over. "Have a good day. Don't freak the juniors out too much, boss."
"I'll do my best," Phil says, taking the coffee and leaning in for a kiss.
Clint and Ororo haven't even so much as roped off the ground where the pond is going to be when Tony Stark strolls into the yard, followed by Pepper and some random guy that Clint's never seen before.
Clint frowns. "Tony? To what do we owe this, uh, unexpected visit?"
"I heard I was needed; I came," Tony says, sweeping his arms to his sides and taking a slight bow before offering one hand to Ororo, who slaps his palm and giggles.
"Hello, Uncle Tony," she says.
"And what did you think we needed you for?" Clint asks.
"Landscaping, obviously," Tony says. He points at the unfamiliar guy standing next to Pepper. "This is Joel. He's my landscaping guy. Did all the work for the house in Malibu."
"Nice to meet you," Clint says, only aiming to be polite because he wants to set a good example for Ororo. "Still not entirely sure what you're doing here, Stark."
"I saw Phil at the office earlier, he mentioned you had a little home improvement project going on, I thought I'd lend a hand," Tony explains. "No need to thank me."
"Phil sent you to help us," Clint says.
"Don't sound so surprised," Tony says.
"It's just that I'm pretty sure Phil would call in help from the DoD building contractors before he called you, and you know how he feels about them."
"I do, and my feelings are a little hurt, Barton, but I'm going to ignore that because my adorable buddy here has a pet who needs a home."
"Stark--" Clint begins.
"Excuse me, Clint, I'm sorry, Tony," Pepper interrupts. "You said you talked to Phil about this."
"I did!" Tony protests. "Scout's honor."
Pepper sighs. "One, you can't say that, because no Scout troop would have you, and two, I now realize where this went off the rails: what did you talk to Phil about, exactly?"
"Ducks," Tony insists, and Pepper just stares at him until he finally caves, which only takes about ten seconds; an impressive feat, considering. "There... might have been some mention of other things, maybe a few words in other languages, like, à l'orange, you know, that sort of thing."
"Tony, you can't just take over other people's home improvement projects."
"If they need my expertise, I don't see why not," Tony says.
Pepper pulls on his arm, tugging him away from the others, speaking quietly, but Clint's gotten pretty good at hearing things other people don't want him to, and he catches most of their whispered conversation anyway, which begins with Tony's "Come on, Pepper, it'll be fun," and Pepper saying, "Tony, don't you think that maybe this is something Clint wanted to do with his daughter?"
Clint has to smile at that. Pepper is, as usual, one-hundred percent correct; Tony is, as usual, one-hundred percent surprised that people make plans that don't include him.
The thing is, even with stuff like this happening all the time, they can't help but love the guy. He may be Tony Stark, but dammit, he's their Tony Stark.
Ororo tugs on the leg of his jeans, and Clint looks down at her. "I think Uncle Tony is in trouble," she whispers.
"I think Uncle Tony pretty much stays in trouble all the time," Clint whispers back.
"Listen, Barton," Tony says, not quite apologetic, but not quite unabashedly Tony, either. "If you want to do this with Ororo, you know, father-daughter duck pond day, just say the word and we'll be out of your hair."
There's another tug on his jeans, and he doesn't even have to look at her to know that Ororo is going to ask if Uncle Tony can stay. He sighs. "It's really up to Ororo; it's her pet duck. What do you think, kiddo?"
She claps her hands. "Uncle Tony can stay," she declares, and that's that.
There's a long conversation between Tony and Pepper and Joel that Clint only kind of follows; they're talking about sustainable this and enviromentally friendly that and using the natural slope of the yard to accomplish some kind of something or other and making the pond bigger and deeper and then there's a long list of plants and maybe some fish and imported rocks that he doesn't really pay much attention to at all, and then Pepper steps away to make some phone calls about permits and finally Joel brings up a backhoe and the logistical problem of getting it into the yard, and that's when Clint tunes back in, because there's no way to get something that big through all the trees by the back gate, and he doesn't like where this is going.
"No, absolutely not," Clint says. "I put my foot down. You cannot uproot all of our trees to get a backhoe in here to dig a hole I'm pretty sure I can dig myself, which was, I would just like to point out, my original plan."
"But--" Joel starts to say, and Tony cuts him off with a wave of his hand.
"It's fine, it's fine, I know a guy," Tony says, a little too breezily.
"No, no way. The guy can't be you, in the suit, carrying the thing over the fence," Clint says. "Phil will have your-- Ororo, cover your ears-- Phil will have your ass if you do that, you know how he feels about keeping a low profile, and goddammit, Tony, I will not have the fucking paparazzi swarming all over my lawn and bothering my daughter because you needed to film Iron Man's Guide to Landscaping for StarkTube."
"You are the opposite of fun, Barton," Tony sighs. He pulls his cell out of his pocket. "Let me make some calls."
Clint looks over at Pepper, now returned from her permit-related phone calls, and she makes a hand motion that somehow manages to convey mild irritation, affection, and assurance that she'll handle this, all in one efficient gesture.
It's no wonder she and Phil get on so well, really.
"Thank you," Clint says to her, and she smiles and follows after Tony, who's already jabbering away at ninety-miles-a-minute to whatever poor soul he's picked to help with this project.
"Daddy, can I listen now?" Ororo asks, hands still over her ears, and he nods.
"Sorry, about that, kiddo," he says, and picks her up. She loops her arms around his neck and smiles.
"I can still hear you through my fingers," she confides.
"Yeah, I know," he sighs. "Just don't tell your dad, and don't swear in front of him, okay?"
"Okay," she beams.
Tony's alternate plan for excavating the hole that will eventually become a duck pond becomes clear the second Thor strides into the backyard, carrying Mjolnir; Darcy follows quickly behind. Ororo hugs Darcy and then attaches herself to Uncle Thor's leg fairly immediately; Thor greets her with his usual enthusiasm and walks over to the others, Ororo still holding onto his leg.
"I'm sorry," Pepper says. She pats his arm. "I tried to talk him out of it."
"It's not your fault," Clint says. He clears his throat and points to Mjolnir. "No, Tony. You cannot have him do this with the hammer. This is a terrible idea."
"This is a great idea," Tony amends. "Thanks for bringing him, Lewis."
"Sure. Also, you promised me money, don't forget," Darcy says, and Tony gives her a thumbs-up before swinging an arm up and around Thor's shoulders. He almost makes it. Close enough for government work, anyway.
"Thor, buddy, I have a job for you. Ororo, can I borrow him for a minute?"
"Yes, Uncle Tony," Ororo says, disengaging herself from his leg and running over to Steve and Natasha, who are just walking in through the back gate. Clint leaves Thor with Tony and Darcy and goes to meet them.
"What are you doing here?" Clint asks, and Nat grins wickedly at him.
"I heard that Tony Stark is going to destroy your backyard," she laughs. "Should be a good time. I don't know what's going to be more fun: watching that happen, or watching Phil tase him. Again."
"Ororo's happy and the duck is out of the house, that's what he'll care about," Clint says.
"Mmmhmm," Nat murmurs.
They walk back over to Tony and Thor, where Tony is describing the impact speed Thor should be aiming for in order to make the appropriate size hole for the pond.
"Don't screw it up, or we'll end up with a crater, which is clearly not what we want," Tony's saying, and Steve, Nat, and Clint exchange a concerned look.
"Yeah, okay, this is going on StarkTube," Darcy declares. She pulls a video camera from her messenger bag and flips it on. "Smile, Tony."
He grins and tosses up a peace sign, and Clint sighs.
This is not going to end well.
"Can I take this moment to officially record an objection?" Clint asks. "Because I have one."
"Sure. Here, I'll introduce you," Tony says, waving at the camera. "Ladies and gentlemen of the internet, one of the most difficult parts of any experiment is, of course, dealing with people who think they know better than you, even if you're a genius. With that in mind, I present to you the naysayer of the day, Clint Barton."
"The ground is too soft for this to work," Clint points out. "We wanted to do this today because it rained yesterday, right? So the ground would be easier to work with a shovel. But you don't want to hit this with a hammer; if you do, there will be mud three counties over."
"He has a good point," Steve puts in. "Maybe you should just let him do it his way, Tony."
"His way is incredibly boring," Tony says dismissively.
"Look, I can lend a hand," Steve offers. "It won't take that long if we all pitch in."
Steve and Tony argue for a further five minutes, Steve calmly protesting that Tony should really just let Clint do his own thing because it's his house and Tony ardently advocating doing anything else, because shovels are boring, and Clint stands there and lets them argue it out while Ororo dances around between Thor and Pepper and Natasha just shakes her head and laughs silently the whole time.
"Okay, big guy, you're up," Tony says finally, calling Thor over, and Steve frowns apologetically at Clint.
"I'm really sorry," Steve says. "I tried, but once he gets an idea in his head--"
"You're not his keeper," Clint says. "I think that's Pepper's job, and it's not her fault either."
Thor takes off, speeding up into the sky like a missile. Clint scoops Ororo up, and they both watch as he heads back to Earth. Now more than ever, Clint knows that this is not going to end well. Just before Thor hits the ground with Mjolnir, Clint turns his back, shielding Ororo from the inevitable storm of flying mud. He can feel it thudding against his back after Thor makes contact with the ground, and he nearly falls over from the shockwave, but he grips the deck with one hand and stays steady.
"Uh-oh," Ororo says, after a moment, and Clint turns to look around.
There's a huge Thor-shaped hole in the ground, and from where he's standing it looks to be about ten feet deeper than it should be.
There is also, as he predicted, mud everywhere: all over the nice white siding of the back of the house, splattered across the second-story windows and the French doors leading into the den, spackling the deck chairs, the grill, and the plants on the patio, and, naturally, covering pretty much everyone in the yard, except for Natasha and Pepper, who had cleverly stepped inside before impact.
They see him looking and wave through the small clear place on the window. Clint shakes his head and sighs.
"Where's Uncle Thor?" Ororo asks, concerned, but then Mjolnir appears at the top of the hole, Thor floating gently up after it.
"I think this is not what you had in mind, Anthony," Thor says.
"Well, it could be worse," Tony says. "Dummy could be here."
"Tony," Clint sighs, running his hand across his brow to scrape away some of the mud.
"Yeah, okay," Tony says calmly, wiping dirt off the lens of his sunglasses. "We need a new plan."
"We need a cleaning crew," Clint grumbles. He waves at the house. "Look at that."
"I can clean it up," Steve offers.
"God, no," Clint objects. "If Phil comes home to find Captain America scrubbing our siding, I'll never hear the end of it."
"Seriously, I feel bad about this," Steve tells him.
"As do I," Thor says. He claps Steve on the back. "I shall help you with your labors, Steven."
"I can't talk you out of this, can I," Clint sighs, and Steve shakes his head, jaw set in that determined, earnest, heroic way that he has. Clint gives in. "Okay. Ororo, will you show them where the garden hose is, please?"
She nods, and he sets her down so she can dash off to the garage.
"Well, now that that's all taken care of," Tony says, as Ororo skips off ahead of Steve and Thor. "It's time for Plan B."
The "B" in Plan B turns out to stand for "Bruce Banner." Clint would say that he doesn't believe it, but it's Tony, and it's the team, so this is all actually pretty typical.
"Absolutely not," Bruce says, the minute Tony begins to explain why he's called him out to Clint and Phil's on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
"Bruce, look, I did the math, and my math is never wrong: your fist would be the perfect diameter, really."
"Why can't you just use shovels?" Bruce asks.
"Because Tony," everyone choruses, and Bruce raises his eyebrows for a second, and then nods.
"It's sad that we all consider that a valid reason for all this madness, you know," he murmurs. "Look, Tony, this is a terrible idea and I'm not participating."
"Ducky needs a home," Tony says, pointing over at Ororo, who is standing next to her pet duck and trying to get it to eat a piece of bread. "C'mon, Banner, do you really want to disappoint that adorable little girl?"
"I really think we can just use shovels, and then nobody is disappointed and/or maimed," Bruce says. "You already used shovels to fix what Thor did, you can do it again."
"The man makes a good point," Clint says, and Bruce smiles appreciatively at him.
"Come on, here, I'll sweeten the deal: not only do you get to make that adorable little girl happy, but I'll give you access to the large hadron collider; I know you were lusting over it last week," Tony offers. "Or I could buy you a waterjet cutter for your lab at the Tower."
"You're the one who wants both of those things," Bruce says, but Clint's pretty sure Bruce is wavering now.
"How about, both of those things, an electron microscope, and I have R&D fabricate my version of the N-16 calibrator," Tony says, and even at a short distance, Clint can see the exact moment that Tony's won Bruce over.
"You might have lead with that," Bruce grumbles. He looks down at his clothes. "But hey, what do you know? I didn't bring any spare clothes. Sorry, no can do, Tony."
"Barton, be a dear and get the nice scientist some threads," Tony says.
Ororo is unexpectedly enchanted by the Hulk, so much so that it takes Clint a full fifteen minutes to drag her away from him and get her to go help Ms. Pepper, please, so that Bruce can be naked in their backyard without questions or commentary from a curious little kid. Finally Pepper tempts her into the house by asking if she can see Ororo's latest drawings, a request Ororo is gleefully happy to oblige, and so Bruce switches places with the Other Guy, Clint tosses him a t-shirt and some jeans, and Tony congratulates everyone on a job well done and starts organizing people into teams to start leveling and lining and bringing in plants and rocks and whatever else he's decided has to go into all of this.
"See there," he says, pointing at the perfect pond-shaped hole the Hulk's fist had made in the ground. "I told you my math was right."
"You're welcome," Bruce says, rolling his eyes. He looks at the house and then over at Clint, who knows exactly what he's going to ask before he even says anything. "Do you mind...?"
"You know where the kitchen is, man," Clint says, inclining his head toward the house. "Make yourself at home."
"Thanks," Bruce says.
"Hey, if you're not going to help out here, at least make me some cream puffs while you're in there, those were delicious," Tony calls, and Bruce makes a rude gesture at him without even turning around. "I meant it! They were!"
"I think the thrill is gone, Tony," Steve says, and everyone looks over at him in shock. "What? I notice things!"
"Good one, Rogers," Natasha laughs, and Tony claps his hands.
"We can congratulate Steve on his newfound powers of observation later," Tony says. "At the moment, we have a pond to build."
Clint has to hand it to Tony: for a kid who must have grown up with more luxury than Clint can even imagine, he's certainly not averse to a little hard work. This whole day might have seemed like a way to avoid manual labor, but Clint knows better and so does the rest of the team, because Tony, their favorite-- and only, thank god-- genius billionaire playboy philanthropist really does just get terribly bored with the usual way of doing normal things. Plus, Clint suspects that Tony actually enjoys spending time with all of them, but because he's Tony, he can't just call them up, he has to have a reason, because otherwise they might all catch on to the completely obvious fact that Tony likes them and needs them around for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with anyone's superstrength or supersmarts or ability to turn into a giant green rage monster.
One of these days someone is really going to have to tell Tony that it's okay to wake up and find yourself in the middle of a family you didn't even know you needed. When that day comes, Clint's nominating Pepper, not that he knows anything about that himself. Certainly not.
Right on cue, Ororo and Pepper come back from their tour of Ororo's latest artwork.
"Ms. Pepper liked my drawings," she says proudly.
"She's quite the artist," Pepper says, smiling warmly, and Clint grins at both of them.
"Also, Daddy, Doctor Banner would like you to know that he's making tarts and he wants you to know that he will wash all the dishes," Ororo reports.
"Thank you, sweetheart," he says.
Ororo, bored with the building project, decides that she wants to play ultimate frisbee, which in Ororo's world is basically like tag, dodgeball and frisbee all rolled together, so Clint, Nat, and Pepper chase her around for the next hour or so while Tony, Steve, and Thor work on the pond. Darcy kicks back in a lawn chair and continues to film everything.
Eventually, Clint goes to check in with Bruce, who is standing serenely in the kitchen, whipping cream and humming along with whatever jazz station Phil leaves the kitchen radio tuned to.
"Sorry about all of this," Clint says, grabbing a pack of bottled water from the fridge for his fellow frisbee players.
"At least I'm back in the lab, in a manner of speaking," Bruce says. He pulls the beaters from the cream and eyes the peaks carefully. "Hmm. Not quite there."
He and Bruce share a fondness for cooking, something Clint didn't even know he enjoyed until he moved in with Phil and finally accepted that he could have more possessions than he could fit in a backpack. For Clint, cooking's about precision and perfection, but Clint suspects that for Bruce, it's the closest thing to peace he can find, the comfort of knowing that the right amount of the right ingredients will turn out the right kind of cake or pastry or bread or whatever.
Then again, if anger's the emotion you're after, you'll definitely get there trying to work with phyllo dough.
"I'll leave you to your experiment, then," Clint says, saluting him with a water bottle and heading back out, just in time to find that Tony is finally satisfied with the State of the Pond.
"Perfectly level," Tony says, brushing dirt off his hands.
"Now what?" Clint asks.
"Now we fill it up, install the pump, add some rocks and all those plants my people brought in, and voila, it's a pond. Where's Ororo? C'mere, Weather Girl, this is your show now," Tony says. He points at the hole in the yard, finally level and topped with sand and underlayer. "We need to fill this up with water. You think you can help us out with a little spontaneous summer storm?"
She looks up at Clint. "Daddy?"
"It's okay," Clint says, smoothing her bangs out of her face. "I'm right here; you'll be fine."
"What if I mess up?" she asks, biting her lip, and Clint kneels down so he's at her eye level.
"Hey, nobody could mess up more than your Uncle Tony has today," Clint points out, and Tony opens his mouth to protest, but Pepper lays a hand on his arm and shakes her head. Tony pouts a little, but Pepper raises an eyebrow, and he smiles.
"Your dad isn't technically wrong," Tony says. "Although I would like it pointed out that it is possible to screw up more than I have today, as I believe I have proved on several other occasions."
"How magnanimous of you, Stark," Clint says, but he's laughing when he turns back to Ororo. "Seriously, though. It's okay, unless you don't want to. You never have to use your powers, okay? It's always up to you."
"I know," she says. "But nobody will think it's weird?"
"Somehow I think these fine folks are not going to be too concerned about it," Clint says, pointing around at the team, who, helpfully, pull together at the right moment and give Ororo nothing but encouraging smiles. "So. Do you want to?"
She considers this; he watches her turn it over in her mind. "Yes," she says finally. "For Ducky."
"'Kay," Clint says, standing. "Just like we practiced, right."
She nods and turns to Tony. "Okay, I'm ready now."
Tony grins. "Alright then, sweetheart: make it rain."
To celebrate the successful completion of Project: Duck Pond, Tony outright demands that they have a cook-out, and wouldn't you know, he's got a case of grass-fed beef already on its way to the house, and it would just be an absolute waste to make the delivery guy turn around at this late hour, plus, the delivery guy is actually Selvig, because he was already on his way to pick Jane up at the airport and Tony's already promised them perfectly grilled steak, et cetera, et cetera.
Clint doesn't really care about any of that, he just wants the house put back together before Phil comes home, and he tries to send everyone off, but Ororo makes the saddest possible face before he can even get a whole sentence out, and of course, of course, he folds like a house of cards when her lip starts quivering. At some point that's going to be an issue, but not tonight.
Tonight's for food and family, apparently, and it's just as well: as it turns out, nobody grills a steak better than Tony Stark, even if Cooking With Tony involves a little too much of Tony barking orders-- "I need garlic, finely chopped, not minced, there's a difference, learn it, love it, live it, come on, people; I need beer, an IPA, and not just any IPA, but a good one, the hoppier the better; I need root vegetables and some smoked paprika, preferably Hungarian, not the cheap stuff, and I would like some Hawaiian salt, that pink stuff, and some freshly ground black pepper, and where the hell is the bourbon I asked for thirty minutes ago?" -- and not enough of Tony quietly grilling, but then again, it's Tony, and he doesn't do quiet very well, or at all, and he certainly doesn't do normal, as the days events have proved, as if anybody needed any proof of that. Tony's a walking QED for that theorem.
Ducky looks pretty damn happy sailing around in the duck pond, though, which Clint does have to admit is a fine piece of landscaping and a nice addition to the yard.
Everybody looks pretty damn happy, really, and that's something: even Bruce looks moderately pleased with himself as he wanders the yard with a tray of tiny tartlets that he made while Tony was bossing everyone around about the steaks.
"I didn't know we were having a cook-out," Phil says, coming to stand quietly next to Clint on the deck.
"I didn't either," Clint tells him. They watch their friends and their daughter in peaceful silence for a while, or at least, what passes for peaceful silence in the company of their friends and their daughter.
"Is Doctor Banner wearing your clothes?" Phil asks.
Clint studies his water glass carefully. "Might be."
"I see," Phil says.
"Look, events occurred, the whole team showed up, eventually a duck pond happened," Clint says, waving his arm toward the pond. "That was my day in two words, Phil: events occurred."
Phil snorts. "Stark occurred, you mean, but he's pretty much a production all on his own."
"Got it in one," Clint says. He leans over and kisses Phil's cheek. "Glad you're home. Sorry you missed all the action, though if you'd been here, I doubt there would have been any."
"Did Ororo enjoy it?" Phil asks, and Clint grins at him.
"Are you kidding? All her favorite people helping her build her duck a home? She ate it up. All smiles, all day long."
"Then I probably wouldn't have been any better at saying no than you were," Phil says.
"I don't know how to tell you this, but you've gone soft, Phil Coulson, I think you are officially a marshmallow."
"I think," Phil says, reaching over and taking his hand, "that was always true."