Summary: Short stories set in the Hawkeye And Anklebiter universe.
I. Freedom Bracelets
Clint didn’t have a normal childhood, or a normal adolescence, or…well, his twenties were weird and his thirties weren’t looking to be any different. So basically he had never been normal. And he had never really cared, but it meant that there was a certain gap in his knowledge when it came to parenting.
Oh, Izzy was a sweet child and he kept her fed and clothed and he’d homeschooled her for a little while, it wasn’t that he didn’t know how to be Poppa. He thought he was actually pretty good at being Poppa. But he didn’t know about stuff kids with normal parents did. And he sure didn’t know about stuff little girls attending elite private schools did. Even though his child now was one.
Izzy came home one day with a bit of braided string around her wrist and showed it off to him; she said it was a friendship bracelet, and she and her best friend Kayla had made and exchanged them. Which was nice, he was glad she was making friends.
Then she made him one, and that was nice too, but the thing about being a secret agent superhero badass was that wearing jewelry of any kind was a no-no, including bracelets that could snag on stuff. But Clint knew she’d be heartbroken if he didn’t wear it, so they compromised and he tied it around the handle of his bow case.
Izzy tried to teach him how to make friendship bracelets so that he could give them to the Avengers, and Clint’s heart melted a little but he did have some grownup pride, so he pretended to be really bad at it. Pretending to be bad at things often got him out of doing them, at least with Izzy, who was still too young to call him on his bullshit.
Steve Rogers, however, had not yet learned how to manipulate small children. Clint supposed it was a skill he probably shouldn’t learn ever, but it did put him at a disadvantage. The mortification that crossed his face when Clint came across Izzy teaching him how to knot a friendship bracelet was epic.
"She insisted," he said haplessly.
"No, it’s very cute, very you," Clint said, grinning, arms crossed. Steve’s bracelet was made of strands of red, white, and blue, in a chevron pattern. "Who are you going to give it to?"
Steve’s jaw dropped. Then, squinting, he offered it to Clint.
"Nuh uh. Izzy already gave me one."
"Steve," Izzy said, tugging on his arm to get his attention. His bicep was as thick around as her waist, and the impression often given when Izzy tried to boss Steve into doing things was that of a terrier trying to herd a brontosaurus. "Yours is for Tony."
"Oh really?" Steve asked. "Why Tony? You think he’s my best friend?"
"He will be when you give him your bracelet!"
Steve glanced at Clint, who shrugged. Sighing, he let himself be pulled off to the workshop by Izzy.
A couple of weeks later, Tony gave a press conference in which, at one point, a keen-eyed photographer caught a glimpse of the red-white-blue bracelet under the cuff of his suit. Rampant speculation over the meaning of the bracelet ran the gamut from a charity fundraiser of some kind to some weird new-age variant on a red Kabbalah string. Tony howled with laughter when they caught a weekend morning news program dedicating an entire segment to it.
"What do you think, kangaroo?" he asked Izzy, who was cuddled up under his arm on the sofa, eating toast. "Should I tell them it’s because Captain America’s my BFF?"
"Mmmmm no," Izzy decided. "Everyone would be jealous."
"Everyone’s jealous of me anyway," Tony said.
"It does take a lot of muscle to hold up all that ego," Steve said.
"You’re supposed to be on my side."
"Hey, I gave you the friendship bracelet, I don’t know what else you want," Steve said, turning the page of the newspaper.
"Best friends are nice to each other," Izzy recited. "And share lunches and team up against anyone who doesn’t like them."
"Well, whaddaya know," Steve said, grinning at Tony. "We are best friends after all.”
"Wonders never cease," Natasha said, coming into the room. Izzy gave her toast to Tony, who looked at it, glanced at Clint, and then ate the rest of it, while Izzy ran to Natasha and held up her arms to be picked up. Natasha swung her up on her hip and poked her in the nose. Clint reflected that for a trained and talented assassin, Natasha had a soft streak a mile wide. Then again, so did he.
"Are you bored with news, little one?" she asked Izzy in Russian.
"Yes, I want Auntie Natasha cartoons," Izzy replied. "Tony’s hogging the TV."
"I heard that," Tony said around his toast. "I don’t know what you’re saying but I definitely heard my name."
"Remote, please," Natasha replied, settling on the couch with Izzy perched on her lap. She accepted it from a reluctant Tony, fiddled with it for a moment, and tuned in to a channel that Clint suspected nobody else in the entire United States got on their television. It was indeed showing cartoons. In Russian.
Clint, from long lessons with Natasha, picked up most of the words; he suspected Izzy, who had a young and elastic brain, now spoke more than he did, courtesy of her Auntie. She giggled occasionally, commenting on the cartoon to Natasha, while Tony worked on something on a StarkPad and Steve continued reading the newspaper.
Then Steve said, in flawless, unaccented Russian, "We should take her to a tea room sometime."
Every adult in the room looked at him.
"I don’t like real tea," Izzy said.
"You speak Russian," Clint observed. Steve glanced at the cartoon.
"I picked up a little in the war," he said. "You know how it is. You hear it around the place, you just sort of absorb it."
"Uh, no, that’s your crazy enhanced brain chemistry," Tony said.
"Is it weird?" Steve asked, a little distressed.
"It’s fine," Natasha said. "Now Izzy will have someone to practice with. Yes, little one?”
"Okay," Izzy said. "We can have a tea party in my room and talk Russian," she offered Steve. Steve kept a very straight face, but Tony — clearly picturing him sitting at Izzy’s little table drinking pretend tea out of tiny cups, like Clint was — couldn’t stifle a laugh.
II. Steve And Izzy Go To The Zoo
It wasn't that he didn't like working for SHIELD, for the most part, but it meant he still sometimes ran missions where he was away from his baby girl for days at a time. And this one didn't even seem that vital -- it was just a training mission, taking a gang of baby snipers applying to SHIELD out for a survivalist test to evaluate their readiness in the field.
But, after all, Izzy was six, and Clint lived with five other superheroes, their handler (also his boyfriend), and the CEO of Stark Industries. Surely they could swing this. Phil would totally babysit Izzy for days on end, because he loved her and also because Clint would repay him with many nice things later.
So he went off to the woods, where there was no Phil and no Isobel and no showers, either, to train his baby snipers.
There was also no cellphone reception.
It would have gone fine, if Steve hadn't volunteered to take Izzy to the zoo.
It was uncharacteristic of him, honestly. He was still a little shy around her. But Phil was still getting over being dead and could probably use a break, and it wasn't like Steve didn't like Izzy. He just didn't spend much time alone with her.
Still, after all, how hard could minding one child at the zoo be? So he picked her up from Phil after breakfast and took her to Central Park, which was so much fun, even if it was crowded on a Saturday. He was just hoisting her onto his shoulders so she could see better (and pretend to be a giraffe) when he noticed that there was a sort of...general drift in their direction.
This happened sometimes, when people recognized him. He had been so sure that the sunglasses and the child on his shoulders would totally scream NOT CAPTAIN AMERICA, JUST A NICE ORDINARY GUY, but maybe he'd been wrong. And so he braced to sign autographs when a lady came up next to him with a toddler in tow.
But instead of the expected "Are you...?" and a vague gesture, she said, "Your daughter is adorable."
Steve realized that he had made a fatal error. Clint even warned him once about the effect a single man with a small child has on people in public places.
What could he do? He hadn't prepared for this. So he made clumsy small talk with her, and didn't dare correct her that Izzy was just...kind of like a niece? Goddaughter, maybe? Though that implied a level of responsibility he wasn't entirely comfortable with. He was still trying to work out what his relationship to Izzy specifically was when the woman asked for his phone number.
And he froze. Because a couple of years of being Captain America was not yet enough to overcome a lifetime of being unsuccessful with women.
Izzy, bless her, piped right up.
She'd memorized Clint's phone number in case she ever got lost, and she sang it out easily before Steve could stop her. The lady thought it was super-cute and it was true that now Steve wouldn't ever have to explain to her that Izzy wasn't his daughter, or speak to her on the phone.
But then it kept happening. He felt helpless to stop it, his already minimal social skills taking body blows left and right, from the guy at the facepaint booth who painted Izzy's face to the woman at the table next to them when he bought Izzy mini corndogs for lunch (admittedly, on his list of cool things about this century, Mini Corndogs With Izzy was pretty much at the top). The nice gender-ambiguous punk with blue hair and an equally gender-ambiguous four-year-old in front of them in line at the gift shop struck up a conversation. So did the cashier. And everyone asked for for his phone number and Izzy kept giving Clint's, until finally Izzy was tired and Steve made his escape back to the Tower.
He didn't really think about it much afterward. He was just glad to be home and away from all those people. He actually forgot all about it until three days later, when Clint walked into the living room with Izzy riding piggyback and threw his cellphone at Steve's head with maimworthy accuracy.
Steve caught the phone with a wide-eyed look.
"Apparently eight different people met me at the zoo on Saturday," Clint said, hands on his hips.
"Steve made so many friends," Izzy announced, pleased.
"I can explain," Steve said.
"Please do, because Phil heard my phone blowing up when I got home and turned it back on, and he's still laughing," Clint retorted.
"Izzy gave your number before I could stop her!"
"They asked," Izzy explained, unperturbed.
"Don't blame my infant daughter for your sins, Captain America. Why did you do this to me?" Clint asked, giving Steve a wounded look.
"I didn't mean to! Your child is a powerful weapon in the wrong hands! I had no training!"
Clint's lips twitched, and then he started laughing. Steve gave him a sullen look, which continued as Clint explained what happened to every single person Steve knew over the next few days.
He comforted himself, eventually, with the thought that in ten years or so Izzy would start bringing boyfriends home, and Steve could tell the story of the Zoo Flirtation in order to embarrass her.
Slow revenge is the best revenge.
III. Russian Tea
They had made a plan to introduce Bucky to Izzy, as much for his sake as for hers.
It was a good plan; Sam and Clint had come up with it together. It involved putting Bucky somewhere he felt safe and then Clint bringing Izzy in while Steve stood by in case…well, in case something happened. Bucky hadn’t been violent since Sam and Steve had found him and coaxed him back to the Tower, but even Bucky wasn’t sure he wouldn’t be, if someone said the wrong word or did the wrong thing. They’d had him on lockdown at his own request.
Clint, who had some experience of unmaking, had gone to see him as soon as Sam and Steve said it was okay. He liked what little he saw of the man beneath the conditioning, and he came back whenever he could. While they hadn’t talked directly about the trauma of their respective experiences, they had talked around it enough for Clint to feel he had, at least, given some comfort.
Bucky knew about Iz, of course. Clint talked about her and showed off photos like any proud parent. Once in a while the quiet, taciturn man even asked after her. Steve always seemed pleased when Bucky took the initiative, so Clint made sure he was rewarded for asking with the funniest stories about Isobel’s misadventures, up to and including video of her tying her loose tooth to an arrow and using the tiny bow he’d given her for her seventh birthday to remove it.
So Bucky knew the kid was a firecracker, and he wasn’t terribly surprised when she showed up in his living room one morning. Startled, yes; his hand went for the sidearm he no longer carried. But not surprised.
"Hello," he said carefully, when his heart stopped racing. Barton the Younger gazed up at him, eyes huge, a doll clutched under one arm. "How’d you get in?"
"It only locks from the inside," she said, pointing at the door.
"Well, you sure are Barton’s kid," he said.
"And why…?" he asked.
"Cause on account of it’s Saturday and nobody’s awake and I was bored and Aunt Tasha says you speak Russian," she said in a fast breath.
Bucky examined himself carefully for violent impulses and, finding none, relaxed a fraction. “Yes,” he said in Russian. “I do. Your father says you’re learning.”
“I can’t read it yet,” she replied. Her accent was despicable, but then, his wasn’t that great either. “Poppa says you have a fake arm.”
Bucky crouched and held it out, not towards her, but away from his body. She lowered the doll a little as she inspected it. He wiggled his fingers and the movement rippled the plates up his arm.
"Oooooh," she said, impressed.
"I’m Bucky," he said, though the name still sounded strange in his mouth. "Your name is Isobel."
"Yes," she agreed. "You can call me Izzy."
"Who’s this?" he asked, pointing to the doll.
"It’s Rebecca," she said. "She’s Russian too. Aunt Natasha gave her to me. Do you like tea?"
He blinked at her. “Tea?”
"Aunt Natasha and Steve take me to Russian tea sometimes," she said.
"Steve takes you?" Bucky asked, surprised.
"Yep." She gave him a hopeful look. "I like blini."
"I don’t have any blini, zaichik," he replied. "I can make some tea."
"It’s mostly milk when I get some," she said, following him towards the kitchen and clambering up on a chair. He put on the water for tea and then dug in the cupboards, but his experience of feeding small children was minimal.
"What do you eat?" he asked, as she settled the doll on the chair next to her. It occurred to him he hadn’t eaten much. Usually Steve just put something in front of him and he ate it, or Sam brought him food. He should probably…he should probably start eating on his own. That’d make Steve happy. And be good for him, too.
"Cake," she said promptly.
She pouted. “Eggs?”
"Eggs, those I can probably do," he agreed. There were eggs in the fridge, and a memory skittered its way across his brain — that was happening more and more, now, which was pleasing but unpleasant. He remembered frying eggs and sausage for Steve, trying to feed him up, always upset by the hollows in his cheeks.
Amazingly, there were sausages in the fridge, and he put them in the pan along with the eggs.
“You’re Steve’s best friend, aren’t you?" she asked, watching him cook.
"I was, once."
"Did you have a fight?"
"Something like that."
"But you made up."
"Nosy little thing. Yes, I suppose so. He forgave me, anyway."
"What did you fight over?"
Bucky sighed, pouring water into the teapot and setting it aside to steep. “That is too long a story to tell, and not for little children.”
"I’m not little."
"You are little, you are the littlest matryoshka doll," he told her.
She was opening her mouth, no doubt to argue with him, when they both heard yelling. Clint burst into the apartment, still calling for her, and Bucky turned the stove off, setting the spatula down and holding up his hands so that when Clint barged through the kitchen, he’d look as harmless as possible.
"Izzy!" Clint said, skidding into the doorway. He looked at Bucky, who waved his hands a little, and then back at his daughter. "Izzy, I swear to God — "
"I was bored!" Izzy whined. "Nobody was awake and Bucky made me breakfast AND spoke Russian AND he’s Steve’s friend."
"I told you — "
"But Poppa — "
"Don’t you but-poppa me — Barnes, I’m sorry — "
"It’s fine," Bucky said calmly. "There was a plan, I know. But she showed up and wanted tea. I should have sent her back."
"Bucky!" Steve roared from the hallway. Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose.
"It’s fine, we’re in here," Clint called back, putting his hands on his hips.
"JARVIS said Clint was here and losing his — oh," Steve said, joining Clint in the doorway. "Uh. Isobel. You’re probably not supposed to be here."
"Bucky’s making me breakfast," she said.
"Bucky’s supposed to be resting and you are supposed to stay out of places I told you not to go," Clint retorted.
"Um," Bucky said, and both men looked at him. "I’d like to point out that not only did I not hurt your kid, I made her sausage and eggs." He indicated the pan, where the fried eggs were probably starting to crisp.
"Undermined," Clint said to Steve. "My parenting is undermined at every turn."
Izzy, sensing she’d gotten away with something, giggled. Bucky lowered his arms and went to the stove, sliding the contents of the pan onto a couple of plates and pouring out tea — three full cups and one quarter-cup, filling it the rest of the way with milk. Izzy accepted it from him and slurped it gleefully while he passed two more cups to Steve and Clint.
"You make enough eggs for everyone?" Steve asked, with a visible attempt to dissipate the tension in the room.
"Not enough for your hollow leg," Bucky replied, but he handed Steve a plate. "Here’s a snack."
Steve smiled, looking pleased. “That’s a lot of backtalk from you, Sergeant.”
"Perk of the position," Bucky answered automatically. It was an old joke they used to make in the war, he thought. Probably so; Steve smiled the way he always did when Bucky remembered something.
Clint pulled a chair around behind Isobel’s and began braiding her hair while Steve settled at the table with his food. Bucky sat himself next to Steve and basked in the domestic peace of it all — Steve devouring his breakfast while Clint and Izzy bickered over an appropriate punishment for disobedience and the steam rose gently from the tea. There had been nothing like this before, not since he’d been captured, and precious little of it even before that, in the war. It felt like life was slotting together again finally, like he was finding something he’d lost a long time ago.
"Nice to see you smiling," Steve said to him in an undertone. "Good morning?"
"Yeah," Bucky agreed. He glanced sidelong at Steve. "Thinking maybe we can take the lockdown off."
"Fine by me, I didn't want you locked down in the first place."
"The kid says you take her to real Russian tea," Bucky said.
"Sure, it’s a nice afternoon out. You could come next time. Get you some caviar, put on airs like we’re fancy," Steve added with a grin.
Bucky nodded, smiling back. “I think I’d like that.”
"Well, it had to happen sometime," Tony says philosophically, when JARVIS puts up the People Magazine cover on the big screen in the kitchen. It's Saturday morning, and those fucks didn't even warn any of them. Bucky made a low, feral growling noise when he saw it; Steve bent a fork accidentally. Clint is white as a sheet and holding Izzy more tightly than she'd like to be held.
"Poppa!" Izzy insists, smacking him on the arms as she tries to squirm free. Steve finally reaches over and tugs her out of Clint's arms, settling her on his lap so she can eat her toast. Natasha leans over and kisses her forehead. Clint is still staring at the screen.
"My apologies, Agent Barton," JARVIS says.
On the screen, there's a photograph of Clint standing at the edge of a playground, watching Izzy play on the monkey bars. Half of Phil is visible on a park bench behind him. Clint can't work out how they even got the goddamn photo but he suspects it's a cellphone photo taken by that horrible woman whose son kept bullying the little kids until Izzy shoved him in a puddle.
Neither Clint nor Izzy are sorry. Well, they weren't, until now.
The photo is headlined "HAWKEYE'S CHICK?" and subheaded "This Avenger Is A Father -- So Who's The Mom?"
"We planned for this," Bruce points out. "The school is secure, the Tower is safe, we have a monitor bracelet for JARVIS to track her with."
"My baby's on the cover of People Magazine," Clint says. "This is officially my nightmare."
Phil, who wandered in at some point while Clint was freaking out internally, rests a warm hand on the side of his neck, standing behind him. Clint leans his head back into Phil's chest, searching for grounding.
"It'll be fine," he says, and Clint believes Phil when he doesn't generally believe anyone else.
"It's a bad picture," Izzy observes.
"It certainly is," Steve agrees. "Lopsided composition, poor lighting."
"I'm all fuzzy," Izzy adds.
"That's our girl," Tony says with a grin. He can afford to be amused by all this; Tony's been so media-exposed he'd feel uncomfortable not being in the public eye. "Izzy, take a tip from Uncle Tony, always make sure they get your good side."
"Which side is that?" Izzy asks, looking at her hands as if maybe one is nicer than the other.
"Oh youth," Tony sighs. "Right now, Sparrow, you're screamingly photogenic on all sides."
"What's photogenic?" Izzy asks Natasha.
"It means you're pretty," Natasha tells her.
"I knew thaaaat," Izzy replies with a giggle.
"You know, we could do some studio shots," Tony says to Clint, whose horror, if that were possible, mounts. "A few posed formals, a few casuals, a slow release. It'd be more controlled. On the other hand, why play the game, I suppose."
"Agent Barton, the firm retained by the Avengers for public relations issues would like you to contact them," JARVIS says.
"Oh, God," Clint says faintly.
"They're going to want details," Tony points out. "Everyone on the planet wants details right now. Including parentage. Biological and adoptive," he adds, with a significant look at Phil, who gazes back with blank serenity.
Clint rubs his eyes. "I gotta come out as a bisexual superhero in the national news media."
"Probably not," Pepper interjects, walking into the room. Most of the Avengers are in sweatpants, and none of the men have shaved. Bucky isn't even wearing a shirt. Pepper, by contrast, is in a business suit, hair done, makeup flawless, and carrying a tablet. "I mean, you could, but you don't have to. Don't let Tony steamroller you just because he loves press conferences."
"I hate press conferences," Tony protests.
"You are a liar," Pepper says. "You love them. You love ruining them. You'd dress up as Clint and hold a press conference as him if you could."
"That's maybe true," Tony admits.
"It explains a lot," Natasha murmurs to Bruce, who laughs into his coffee.
"What do I do?" Clint asks Phil, tipping his head up to look at him backwards.
"Stop panicking," Phil replies. "Eat your breakfast. I'll handle it."
"No," Steve says, and suddenly he looks very resolute. He has one large hand protectively splayed around Izzy's little body. "I'll handle it."
"What are you going to do?" Clint asks.
"Don't worry about me," Steve says. He passes Izzy to Natasha, who seats her on the table so that she can braid her hair. "I'm just going to call in a favor or two. Buck?"
"Yup," Bucky says, rising to follow Steve out.
"Let him work," Phil says, when Clint opens his mouth to protest.
"What's he gonna do?" Clint asks.
"I have no idea, but it's Steve. It's bound to be useful," Phil points out. "Come on, it's Saturday. Izzy, do you want cartoons?"
"Yes!" Izzy yelps, jumping off the table with reckless abandon. She lands easily, stops, turns back to Natasha, and hugs her leg while thanking her in Russian, without even any prompting from Clint.
Clint, who is fine with armed confrontation but sucks terribly at emotional things, allows Phil and Izzy to distract him for the morning, along with about a million episodes of some terrible children's cartoon about Captain America that was made while Steve was in the ice.
"Good morning," Steve says to the assembled press corps, with his best Bond Sales smile and his hair neatly combed. He actually doesn't mind doing press stuff anymore, now that it's not all he does. And Bucky's there, and Steve always did better in front of the cameras when Bucky was nearby. "Thank you for taking time out of your Saturday to come down to the Tower."
"Captain Rogers -- " a man starts, and Steve tuts, and the man falls silent. The burden of the uniform is a heavy one, but it has its perks.
"I think you're all aware of why an Avenger would call a press conference on a quiet Saturday morning," Steve continues. "I understand this morning the news broke that my teammate Clint Barton has a daughter. I feel it was unkind not to warn us, particularly given that there's a child involved, but I understand not all news outlets are as classy and well-mannered as all of you."
There's a ripple of nervous laughter. Most of these journalists have encountered Steve before. They know that smile. They are not reassured.
"Clint's daughter's name is Isobel Barton. She won't be making an appearance today, though she isn't very happy about the quality of that cover photo," Steve says. "Izzy's a sweet, stand-up little kid, just about what you'd expect from an Avenger's child. But I'm not here today to brief you about that."
And there it is. The smile drops away.
"What I would like for all of you to understand, and to report on, is that Isobel Barton is, by necessity and by our choice, a child of all of the Avengers. We care deeply for Izzy, and consider her in some part ours. She lives in our home. We cook for her, we look after her, we teach her, and we love her. We understand that makes her a target. It turns her into a way to hurt Agent Barton, and by extension, to hurt all of us. I know there are people out there in the world right now who are depraved enough to be considering this. Maybe depraved enough to be making plans. So let me be crystal clear."
He inhales, and his eyes harden, and everyone in the room is reminded that this is the man who led five other people against an army and won. And if some of the harder cases out there in the wider world are watching, Steve made sure Bucky, in his new black uniform, is visible behind him. One or two of them will know that face. Nobody's going to mess with a little girl with Captain America and the Winter Soldier backing her.
"Anyone who touches her, who harms her in any way or attempts to do violence against her, is going to die," he says. "That's not a threat. It's not even a factor I personally control. It's simply a reality that I'm explaining to you. You won't get close enough to actually take her, that I can guarantee, and if you try, you will suffer for it. If you succeed in harming Isobel, you'll die slowly. So think very carefully about whether you want to make a try for her. Because you'll fail, and then you'll die."
The room is dead silent, until one very brave soul pipes up, "How old is Miss Barton?"
Steve's smile settles back on his face. "She's just going on seven. Smart as a whip. We think she'll probably be skipping a grade soon."
"Who is her mother?"
"I'll let Agent Barton address that in detail if he'd like to; Izzy's mother is not involved in her life, for reasons that aren't mine to discuss."
That unleashes a torrent of questions, but Steve holds up his hand.
"I've said what I came to say. The rest is either not your business or not my place to talk about. I'm sure in the coming weeks Agent Barton will share what information is appropriate to share about his, and I can't stress this enough, six-year-old child. Who is protected by the Avengers and by SHIELD. No, no more questions now; please go spread the word. Remember the part about the dying," Steve adds, and leaves the Stark Tower press conference room through the back door, followed by Bucky, while the reporters clamor for just one more question.
"Jesus, Steve," Clint says, when he sees the video later. "You're like a serial killer. Look at the thousand yard stare on you. You're giving Barnes a run for his money."
"A pre-emptive strike is usually best in cases like this," Steve replies calmly. Bucky's smile is deceptively pleasant.
"Would you kill someone coming for Izzy?" Natasha asks. Izzy is napping in a chair nearby, curled up under a blanket and clutching an Iron Man stuffed doll that Tony pretends he didn't give her.
"Yes," Bucky says.
"I know you would," she replies.
"I said I was sorry about the bikinis."
"I wouldn't have to," Steve replies, before it can devolve into another fight about That Time The Winter Soldier Shot Natasha In The Stomach. "You two'd get to them first, or Phil would. JARVIS would probably actually just taser them with one of those robot taser monsters Tony thinks we don't know about."
"It would be my pleasure," JARVIS puts in.
"But you would," Natasha presses Steve.
Steve glances at Izzy. "Of course I would."
Clint is pretty sure he shouldn't feel a warm glow of pleasure and belonging at hearing his coworkers discuss murdering people, but he can't help it. Izzy is clearly the luckiest little girl in the world.
Even if she totally spent the afternoon making an epic mess in her room and then decided to get out of cleaning it up by taking a nap, the little brat.
IV. Big Sister
Notes: Written with permission from scifigrl47 but not vetted by her, so any mistakes of characterisation are all on me. Set shortly after the events of Fairy Tales and Clockwork Hearts.
The original draft of this story may be found here.
copperbadge: It surprises me how popular Izzy was. Usually people get sick of a kid after a while
tehnakki: DJ and Izzy are my faves. And now Lucy too. I demand all the OC fics!
copperbadge: Haha, I should write Izzy meeting Lucy
tehnakki: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
tehnakki: YES YES YES YES SAM YES YES YES YES YES
tehnakki: SAM SAM SAM SAM SAM YESYESYESYESYESYES
copperbadge: *cracks up*
tehnakki: I would like that.
copperbadge: Nakki, make a note, remind me sometime after november 11th :D
"Hey DJ, I'm h -- "
When you get home from an all-summer boarding camp for young potential Olympic archers, what you do not expect is to visit your little brother and find a girl in his workshop instead.
Granted, Izzy knew that she had an unconventional life, and that her relationship with DJ Stark was an unconventional, chosen-not-genetic siblinghood, but still. There were, she felt, limits, and this was not within them.
Also, she was not entirely sure DJ was incapable of turning into a girl, if he really wanted, so this was --
"....ooooh awkward," she finished, standing in the doorway of the workshop.
The girl in the workshop, who had been standing and typing at one of the consoles, jerked around in surprise and nearly fell over. Izzy, deciding this was a talk-not-fight situation, raised her palms and held them at shoulder level.
"Friend, not foe," she said. "I mean, at least, I think so. Unless you're like, the youngest corporate spy ever. And hacked JARVIS. Not super likely, but..."
"Lucy, did you say someth -- " DJ's voice echoed out from a back chamber of the workshop, and he stopped in the other doorway, mouth forming a small "o".
The three of them stood there in a tableau of hilarious teenage indecision for what felt like a painfully long time, until JARVIS cleared his virtual throat.
"Ms. Barton," he said. "This is Lucy Piero, an intern at Stark Industries. DJ, it appears Ms. Barton has returned home."
DJ gave the nearest camera a look that clearly said You think?
"Just clarifying -- you're meant to be here, definitely not a corporate spy?" Izzy asked Lucy.
"Not a corporate spy. Not sure about the rest," Lucy said, with an amused tilt of her mouth.
"Ms. Piero is DJ's guest," JARVIS added, because DJ had that look that said words were being difficult.
It took Izzy, who was marginally more socially adept than -- well, Phil said "than all of the Avengers put together" but at any rate, better at this than DJ -- about two seconds to work out that "guest" could possibly mean another word that started with "g".
"Well, it's nice to meet you," she said with a smile, lowering her hands and offering one of them. "Any friend of DJ's."
"I didn't mention you," DJ announced suddenly, as they shook hands. He looked frantically from Izzy to Lucy. "Sorry! This is Izzy! She's my kind of sister!"
"It's cool, DJ, no freaking out required," Izzy said, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. "I should have warned you I was getting home early. Looks like you've had a fascinating summer."
"That is one word for it," JARVIS put in. "You have an extended briefing awaiting you, Ms. Barton."
"Can it wait? I managed a hot shower before I got in but I'd stab a friend for a real Starbucks coffee," Izzy said. "I need caffeine before I face Dad doing his My Baby Princess Is Home routine."
"Phil's the real threat," DJ said to Lucy.
"Threat to what?" Lucy asked.
"You ever hear the term 'helicopter parent'?" Izzy asked. "He sewed GPS chips into my clothes until I was twelve and started cutting them out again."
"I'm a little confused," Lucy said. "Like maybe twelve percent confused, but still."
"That is normal, Bartons exude a confusion field," Izzy said. "Hey, you should come with me. I will explain this all once I have half a latte in me."
DJ, eyes wide, looked like he wanted to protest but wasn't quite sure what he was protesting.
"You wanna come, Deej?" Izzy added. DJ didn't usually leave the workshop, but as Steve said, that was no reason to be rude and not invite him.
"I'm grounded," DJ said, at the same time JARVIS said "He's grounded."
"Okay, well, wow. Maybe you can explain some stuff to me too," Izzy said to Lucy. "You want us to bring you anything back?" she asked DJ.
"Nobody's really going to stab anyone, right?" DJ asked. Izzy patted his arm.
"I promise we'll both come back in one piece. Lucy?"
"Sure," Lucy said, glancing at DJ. "I can take Furbro if you're worried."
DJ nodded and scooped Furbro off his shoulder, depositing the little bot on hers. He scuttled into her breast pocket and peeped over the edge. Izzy beamed. Anyone Furbro liked was probably at least interesting.
"So," Lucy said, once they were in the elevator. "Is this going to be a shovel speech kind of situation?"
"Jeez, no," Izzy said, appalled. "I mean, I am not the biggest threat on your horizon, and if you're in the workshop, Tony already cleared you. Also, it's good for DJ to make new friends. He needs a little more rough-and-tumble in his life than the 'rents sometimes let him have."
"He's had uh. Probably more than was good for him, recently."
"And I am super-duper excited to hear about that, believe me," Izzy agreed, as they stepped out into the lobby and then onto the street. "But I've known DJ since I was six, and I have known you for like two minutes, so you know. Who are you, what do you do? Your shoes are really cute."
Lucy looked perturbed, but Bartons did not let little things like awkward introductions get in their way, so by the time they'd worked through the coffee line and found a table, Izzy felt like she had a handle on this whole "hey look my baby brother who is sometimes a robot is dating a girl" situation. Also, it sounded like the last few weeks had been actual facts horrible for everyone involved, and probably a good half of her extended family unit was having some kind of quiet breakdown. Izzy didn't mind; she had seen it as her job, since the age of six, to make sure the Avengers ran smoothly, and she was well-used to quiet breakdowns and how to fix them.
It wasn't arrogance if you actually pulled it off, she felt.
"So you're smart and heroic and I can't restate the cute shoes enough," Izzy said, when Lucy was done telling her the story of what Izzy was already mentally calling DJ's Best Also Worst Summer Ever. "I see why Deej is enamored. I may have to steal you from him. Mind you, my dad's not a billionaire, but the chance of you being abducted or harassed by random magical beings around me goes way down."
"I think I'll stick with DJ," Lucy said with a half-smile. "No offense."
"You say that now," Izzy said darkly, and they both broke down laughing. "I should get back, Dad's gonna flip when he finds out I'm home and didn't come straight to him. Thanks for the coffee break."
"Can I ask you something?" Lucy said, as they left the cafe.
"What's it like?" Lucy asked, and Izzy turned to her, frowning. "Being...part of all that. I mean, not the crazy of the Avengers, I got a crash course in that. But you know. The media and the life and all."
Izzy shrugged. "Sometimes you don't notice it's strange, when you grow up with it. Steve always made sure the media left me alone, more or less. It's weird when someone leaks your report card and People Magazine prints that you almost failed French -- which was not my fault by the way -- but it's not like there's another option. They're family, you know?"
"So you're okay with it?"
"Yeah, I guess. I never knew anything else, really. The Chitauri invaded when I was five, so since then it's been normal life for me. You're coming late to the game, and DJ's a pretty well-kept secret. It'll be different for you. But!" she added brightly, punching the elevator for the workshop level, "I'm basically always available, JARVIS can give you my phone number, and Deej is super cool. You get used to the rest. Besides, you'll do fine."
"How do you know?"
"Trust your elders."
Lucy narrowed her eyes. "You're like, six months older than me."
"Still counts," Izzy said, as the doors to the workshop level opened. She waved to DJ, who was standing in front of the glass waiting for them. "Hey, uh, Lucy," she added, and Lucy turned back to look questioningly at her. "Thanks, for real, for everything you did for DJ. I owe you one. Call if you need me. Or if you just want to hang out with someone else who gets it."
Lucy smiled. "Okay, I'll do that."
When the doors closed, JARVIS said, "Shall I notify your fathers of your arrival, Ms. Barton?"
"Lemme surprise them," she replied. "It's my day to surprise people, apparently, and I never get to make Phil double-take."
V. Someday My Prince Will Open A Transdimensional Portal
Notes: T. Stark Lokason is the son of Tony and Loki from my fic Extremely Hot And Currently Female.
When the dark-haired boy with the familiar smile appeared in the game room on a wet Thursday afternoon, Izzy barely batted an eye.
"DADPHIIIIIIIL," she yelled, putting down her game controller. Dad Phil could hear better than Dad, and anyway was more likely to respond, whereas Dad would have made her get up and find him out of pure cussedness even if he had his aids in.
"Yes, Iz?" Dad Phil called from the kitchen.
"There's a transdimensional portal in the game room!"
"Beg pardon?" Dad Phil asked, appearing in the doorway. The dark-haired boy whirled, hands up.
"Interdimensional traveler. At least I'm assuming. Otherwise teleporter," Izzy said, pointing at him. "He just showed up."
"Is this Stark Tower?" the boy asked.
"Yep," Izzy said, popping the ‘p', as Phil tapped his earpiece and summoned Uncle Tony.
"Then yes, interdimensional, not teleportational, this isn't my Stark Tower. I can also teleport," the boy said. He lowered his hands and held one of them out, so she took it, and he kissed her knuckles. Izzy, accustomed to the occasional Asgardian visitor who did this, accepted it with composure.
"T. Stark Lokason, gentleman adventurer, at your service," he said.
"Excuse me," Dad Phil interrupted. "Did you say Lokason?"
"Also Stark," Izzy said.
"Great," Dad Phil sighed. "Tony, you better bring Thor."
"I'm sure this is a mistake, it shouldn't be hard to fix," T. Stark Lokason said. He looked to be about seventeen, a little older than her, wiry and slim, and now that she looked she could see he was unmistakably related to Tony, even if he had really vivid green eyes. He checked a gauntlet on one hand, then flinched when it popped and fizzled. "Uh, if you have a place I could do a few repairs."
"Tony will," she said. "How are you related?"
"Son. Call me Stark, nearly everyone does. And you are?"
"Oh, delightful! Daughter? You have his nose."
"Yeah, he still apologizes sometimes."
"He shouldn't, it's a good look on you."
She grinned. "You're going to be trouble, aren't you?"
"Almost always, but I'm actually very nice to know."
"Smile at her like that again," Dad Phil said, interrupting his conversation with Uncle Tony, "and I will make sure you don't smile for the remainder of your time here."
"Phil!" Izzy scolded.
"Lokason," Dad Phil replied unrepentantly.
"Loki's my mum," Stark said. "Is she around?"
"Oh boy," Izzy muttered, as Dad came running from one direction and Uncle Tony and Thor came running from another and Steve clattered down the stairs, shield in hand. "Stick with me, okay, I'm used to managing them."
"Very kind of you. Ooh, Dad looks young. He always said I was the reason he had grey hair," Stark added. He bowed to Thor, who had his hammer half-raised. "Uncle Thor."
"Name yourself," Thor ordered.
"Thor Stark Lokason, Duke of Asgard, son of Anthony Stark, the Crimson Iron Knight, lord of the Isle of Manhattan of Midgard, and Loki Laufeyson, renounced prince of Asgard and Jotunheim," Stark recited.
Izzy glanced at Uncle Tony just in time to hear him say, "What." in the flattest voice she'd ever heard.
Once they'd gotten a little more information out of Stark and explained a few things, he was banished from the conference room while the adults debated what to do with him; Izzy wasn't privy to the discussion but she could imagine how it was going, especially with Uncle Tony having fits over the idea of a universe where he and Loki were voluntarily having sex.
"I brought burgers," she said, letting herself into the little antechamber where they were keeping Stark. "If you're anything like our Tony, you eat like a snake."
"My own body weight once a week? About right," he agreed, unwrapping a hamburger and tearing into it. "You know, I'm surprised we don't have one of you in my universe. Or maybe I'm surprised they do have one of you here. I don't think Clint ever procreated, at least that he knows of."
"Not that surprising, I wasn't planned," she said.
"But wanted, I hope. Clint's an ass but he's not a jerk."
"Oh, well, yeah -- I mean he did some pretty frantic legal and illegal gymnastics to get to keep me. I can't imagine you weren't a little bit of a surprise. Tony's daddy issues have daddy issues."
"Mum has a way of sweeping that kind of thing aside with the power of denial," Stark said with a grin, around a mouthful of fries. "Do you suppose every Avengers child in every universe is an accident? Most of ours are."
"Well, yeah, there's five or six of us in my universe. You should come see it sometime."
"Are you asking me to come to your homeworld, alien boy?" she asked with a laugh.
"Well, our first date's going swimmingly, I don't see why not."
"Oh, this is a first date, is it?"
"Yes," he said. "Thank you for paying, by the way, it's very equitable of you."
"What if I don't want a second date?"
"Why wouldn't you want a second date? I'm exceedingly interesting."
"You're definitely a Stark," she said.
"Point for or against?"
"Mostly for. I'll know once I see how well you repair your dimension-hopper glove."
"It's not really supposed to hop dimensions, just time and space. Super handy for getting to Asgard on short notice. Doesn't work for anyone but me, though. It needs a hint of magic," he said, green eye glowing for a second. Izzy rested her chin on her hand, gazing at them.
"You are a slick-talking, overconfident butt," she said.
"Does that bother you?" he asked, grin widening from Tony Stark Being Charming to Loki Making Trouble.
"I'll let you know after our second date," she told him.
Being fair to Dad and Dad Phil, she really should have told them before she let Loki's teenage son take her to an alternate universe. By the time she got back, which was only like ten minutes after she'd left, they were both ready to ground her for the rest of her life.
On the other hand, totally worth it. Besides, if she played her cards right, she'd get to go to two proms this year, like the girls in her class who were dating boys from other schools. It'd be awfully exciting to go to prom in another dimension.
As long as she figured out a way to keep Dad from shooting Stark on sight, anyway.
VI. Tea And Superheroes
Summary: Nothing can shake Izzy's faith in the superhero Bucky Barnes.
Notes: Written to a prompt by ophelia-rising: I was hoping for something with Bucky and Izzy in the "Hawkeye and Anklebiter" 'verse. I think a piece of day-to-day life would be fun!
Clint had done his best, when Izzy was small, to shelter her from the realities of his life, and when he joined the Avengers he tried to keep it up, but the older Izzy got, the damn cleverer she became, and he just couldn't hide everything.
Especially the action figures.
Good Christ, the action figures.
Tony, damn him, had put all of their likenesses under his protection and licensed them appropriately, and thus Tony was the one who got big boxes of merch every time some new marketing venture took place. And because Tony loved nothing more than being Izzy's indulgent big brother, Izzy got big boxes of merch too.
Fury had sent Izzy one of the very first Hawkeye action figures as a birthday gift, but since then, thanks to Tony, her collection had grown extensively. She liked to set them all up at one of her dolly tables like some kind of deranged Last Supper, serve them tea, and make them pretend to have argument with each other over who got to save the My Little Ponies.
"How come you don't have an action figure?" she asked Bucky one day, after she'd hijacked him into having "tea" with her. He spread some almond butter on a cracker and offered it to her.
"Because I'm not a superhero," he said, his voice neutral.
"Izzy, leave Buck alone," Clint called from the kitchen.
"She's fine, Barton," Bucky called back.
"You are so a superhero," Izzy argued, getting up from the table.
"Iz, where are you going?"
"Just to the bookshelf, Poppa," she replied, standing on her toes to take down one of the books. She carried it back to Bucky and presented it to him.
It was a pictoral history of Captain America, one of Phil's books, and it was, Clint had to admit, chock-full of Steve looking heroic and Bucky in the background looking amused.
"See, there's Steve, and there's you, and that says heroes," Izzy said with the air of a lawyer during closing arguments, pointing to a full-page color photo of the two of them.
"Well, I'm unemployed right now," Bucky said, with what Clint recognized as his driest smile.
"Are you gonna be a hero again?" Izzy asked, resting her chin on her hands.
"Maybe one day," he said, offering her another cracker.
"But who's looking after Steve?" she asked. "When you all fight bad guys who looks after Steve?"
"Hey, it takes your Poppa and Auntie Natasha and Bruce and Tony and Thor to replace me," Bucky said. "Steve's just fine."
Izzy looked sullen. "You do it best. The book says so."
"Thank you, Zaichik," Bucky said. "But I don't do it right now."
"I'm gonna be a superhero when I grow up," Izzy confided.
"No you aren't!" Clint called.
"I am so, Poppa!"
"Not if I have any say in it!"
"I'm gonna be a superhero in space," Izzy confided to Bucky in Russian. "You can be my sidekick if you want."
"It would be my pleasure," Bucky replied. "Clint, you're going to have to tie her to some heavy furniture."
"That can be arranged!"
"It's okay, I'll come break you out," Bucky whispered. Izzy beamed and hugged him, smearing almond butter in his hair.
VII. Forever Home
Summary: Clint and Coulson probably won't be thrilled about this.
Notes: Written to a prompt by lilbrarian: Bucky with Izzy Barton and a dog or cat.
When they arrived at the veterinarian's office, Bucky took out the cellphone he nearly never used and called Clint.
"We're gonna be late gettin' home," he said, when Clint answered.
"That's all right, so am I," Clint said. There was an explosion in the background. "Op went south."
"How does an Op in Jersey City go that explosively south?" Bucky asked, distracted.
"Dunno, but we're going to be mopping up for a while. Why, what happened to you?"
Bucky looked across the exam room, to where a doctor was carefully clipping the matted fur off a truly filthy stray dog, rinsing him down with sterile solution. Izzy, eyes taking up about half her face, was watching avidly.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, but we're gonna have a surprise for you when you get back," he said. "Want me to call Coulson?"
"He is currently running this murder game we call an op, I'll let him know," Clint replied. "Love to the kidlet, treat her to something tasty for dinner."
"We'll get enough for the team," Bucky said, and hung up the phone. "Are you annoying the doctor, Zaichik?" he asked.
"No!" Izzy said, then clapped her hands over her mouth.
"She's fine," the doctor replied, smiling as she trimmed the last of the mats off the dog's coat. "This fellow, however, needs a bath and about fifteen different antibiotics."
"Is he contagious?" Bucky asked. The dog, who apparently hadn't even needed sedation, gazed up at Bucky with the serene resignation of a creature who has nothing to lose.
"He's not, actually. He's in reasonably good health, under the dirt -- no parasites, no mange. A little malnourished, but that's to be expected. He was doing pretty well, at least until the car hit him. I don't suppose you got the license plate?"
"No, we found him," Izzy said.
"Well, he's luckier than most. No broken bones, just some nasty road rash. No collar either, though, and no chip; probably abandoned. I assume you'll want to surrender him to the clinic?" she asked. "We can find him a place at a no-kill shelter."
Bucky, having anticipated Izzy's immediate pleading look, shook his head. "No, we'll take him with us."
"We can work out a payment plan for the treatment -- "
"No need. Trust fund baby," he said, nodding at Izzy. "I have very good credit cards."
The doctor laughed. "Well, I'll run him through the wash, get him a cone and get you some prescriptions for him; we'll do a few blood tests just in case. You, princess," she added to Izzy, "can go pick out a harness and a leash for him from the reception room."
"And a bed and a toy and treats!" Izzy said, but she at least looked at Bucky for permission first. He nodded and she jumped down, running to the door.
"I'll be out in a minute, Iz," he called after her. The doctor looked amused.
"Are you sure about this? You're not going to get in trouble for getting her a dog while her father isn't looking?" she asked. Bucky tilted his head. "I read the gossip page. That's Hawkeye's kid, isn't it?"
"He won't mind. If he does, I'll take the dog. After Izzy, I'm sure he won't be much trouble," Bucky said, stroking the dog's close-shorn fur gently. It turned its head and lapped at his palm. "He seems pretty mild. Besides, her family's more or less in the business of strays."
"Well, if you need the name of a good trainer, call the clinic," she said. "I'll bring him out once he's been washed and treated."
Bucky had to admit to a moment of heart-attack over the bill, but it was mostly contextual; he had to remind himself that a cup of coffee cost three dollars, and you couldn't expect a dog in that condition to cost less than a couple of hundred at least. Besides, once they got him cleaned up, he was a pretty attractive creature.
"Can we have pizza for dinner?" Izzy asked, as the three of them walked out of the clinic, the dog heeling demurely at Izzy's side. He was wearing a bright purple collar crusted with rhinestones, and his leash was printed all over with PRETTY PRINCESS.
"You just cost me a grand for a dog and now you want pizza?" he teased. "I'm not made 'a money, Zaichik."
"Pleaaaaase -- "
"I'll think about it," he replied, hailing a taxi, which took a look at the dog and zoomed off again. He threw the bird at it. "What're you gonna call him, anyway?"
"Pizza dog," she said, sticking her tongue out. The second cab he hailed pulled up, and the driver actually smiled when he saw the dog.
"Pets ride free," he said, as Bucky loaded Izzy and the dog into the back. "What you call that dog, huh?"
"Lucky," Bucky said, before Izzy could say Pizza Dog and curse the poor animal forever. "Avengers Tower, please."
Izzy spent the whole ride back with her arms around Lucky's neck, whispering to him in Russian. Bucky wondered if they could teach him to sidet and myesto before Clint got home.
VII. Captain Nanny
Summary: The Avengers take Izzy skating. Izzy decides the best part about skating is snacks.
Notes: Written to a prompt by madcitypaxie: Hey Sam! I took my little sister ice skating yesterday. It was the first time for both of us and it got me wondering if Izzy went ice skating and what that was like.
For the papparazzi, who had caught onto Clint’s tiny, photogenic offspring only a few months before, Izzy Barton was still clickbait the winter after she turned seven. The press was more or less positive, since Steve Rogers had put the fear of God and Captain America into them about mistreating the little girl under his protection, but it was also semi-constant. Soon the gossip sites had photos of everything from Clint taking her shopping for new shoes to James Barnes taking her and Natasha Romanoff to lunch at the local Russian tea room. (The brand of shoes Izzy eventually selected sold out within a week.)
Tony, immune to press coverage from long exposure, collected the best clippings of her debuts, informing Clint that “I was doing the Tonight Show when I was her age, and I turned out fine” which was not as reassuring as he probably intended. Then again, it was hard to know with Tony where genuine enthusiasm ended and faked enthusiasm to maintain a sense of normality began.
Tony’s favorite clipping, which hung for years in a makeshift plexi-and-gaff-tape frame in the kitchen, was the one taken just after Christmas, at the skating rink at Rockefeller Center.
The invasion of the Avengers wasn’t planned, exactly; Clint had just said he and Phil were taking Izzy skating, and Thor had been super enthusiastic about it, so Clint said he could come too. Bucky had actually offered to go along, one of his first voluntary forays out of the Tower since arriving, and Natasha had seen the significant looks of the others (Someone needs to keep an eye on Bucky while he keeps an eye on Izzy) and agreed she’d like to skate too. Rhodey, on leave for the holiday, had said he’d go, which meant Tony wanted to go and wanted to drag Pepper and Bruce. By the time Steve and Sam got back from a brisk morning run, it was just assumed that this was going to be a Team Outing, which Steve had admittedly been pushing for more of anyway.
Izzy, it turned out, was a natural at many things, but ice skating was not one of them.
While Thor turned athletic triple-axles and Tony and Pepper made a romantic spectacle of themselves, Izzy clung to Clint, fell down a lot, and eventually decided she would rather watch Phil do laps around the rink than skate herself. Steve, who had been sitting with Bucky and watching Natasha determinedly compete with Thor for the best ice tricks, took Izzy from Clint at the rink exit.
"Go, have some fun," he said. "Izzy and I will watch, won’t we?"
"Are you sure?" Clint asked. Izzy was looking like she was maybe one frustration away from a meltdown, which were rare but could be epic, and he preferred to handle them himself.
"I know a little bit about benchwarming," Steve said in a low voice. Clint frowned. "I used to have vertigo. Not so great for learning how to ice skate."
"Is that why you’re not out here?" Clint asked.
"Among other reasons," Steve said, tipping his head at Bucky, who was eating sugared chestnuts and looking like he was apprehensively approaching the idea of enjoying himself. "C’mon, Izzy and I will have a snack and cheer you on, won’t we, kid?"
Izzy nodded. “Phil’s waiting for you, Poppa,” she pointed out, as Steve knelt to unlace her skates.
"Are you sure, baby?" Clint asked.
"I like watching the skating," Izzy informed him, putting a slight emphasis on watching.
Clint kept his eye on them for a long time, until Steve had settled in with Izzy, holding her cup of cocoa while she messily demolished a child-sized slice of pizza, picking the pepperoni off and letting Steve and Bucky eat it for her. She was apparently enjoying narrating everyone’s skating, to judge from how Bucky was leaning in to listen to her talk (with her mouth full, which was a “let’s learn good manners” project for the spring, perhaps). After that he relaxed and let himself be distracted by Phil, as well as by Rhodey and Tony’s increasingly competitive ice tricks, which turned into increasingly competitive falling-over while Pepper laughed so hard she had to cling to the railing.
He had to admit, when the photo surfaced the next day, it was difficult to be mad about it. Someone had snapped a picture of Steve on a bench on the sidelines — Bucky must have seen it coming, because he was nowhere to be seen in the photo. Steve not only had Izzy on his lap but had zipped her into the front of his big stretchy blue-and-white parka, so that she was just a head in a purple knit hat sticking out of the collar of his coat. The photo was captioned CAPTAIN NANNY.
As awful as it was, he was sort of grateful, too, because out of focus, on one edge of the image in the foreground, he and Phil were drifting along on the ice, a little closer than professional boundaries would have dictated. Phil was uncharacteristically beaming, though you could barely tell -- and while Clint wasn’t ashamed of their relationship, he wasn’t keen on sharing it with the whole damn world.
"Do you mind?" Pepper asked over breakfast, as Tony fussed about framing the clipping and Bruce helped Izzy read the little blurb below it.
"Mind what?" Steve asked. "It’s not my first time in the papers."
"Oh, you know. Captain Nanny," she said. "Not the most flattering name."
Steve smiled shyly. “I don’t mind that,” he said. “I think it’s sort of nice. I like to be needed. Besides, Izzy and I made plans.”
"Oh?" Clint asked, raising an eyebrow. "Were you planning to consult Poppa about these plans?"
"Izzy decided she doesn’t want to learn to skate," Steve said. "She wants to learn to -- Natasha, what’s it called?"
"Parkour," Natasha replied.
"She says there’s how-to videos on the YouTube, so I said I’d take her to a gym to practice," Steve said.
"You don’t want Poppa teaching you?" Clint asked with a brief pang. Of course it was nice that the others helped look after her, but if anyone was going to teach his daughter about how to avoid breaking her neck in neck-breaking situations, he should get first refusal.
"No," Izzy said.
"Are you mad I took you skating?" Clint asked, genuinely hurt and confused now.
"No," Izzy repeated. "It’s because of Auntie Natasha said you and Phil should have some alone time for fun."
The silence in the kitchen was sudden and absolute. Tony had a hand over his mouth, eyes wide and gleeful. Rhodey was in the middle of buttering a slice of toast. Sam’s head had snapped around to stare at Natasha, whose mouth was open in surprise.
"I didn’t say that," she said.
"Yes you did," Izzy said. "When you and me and Bucky went to tea last time you said in Russian — "
"That was not for little ears," Natasha scolded.
"You’re going to have to start speaking Latin to get around her," Phil said, seemingly unruffled. "I warned you, children learn languages fast."
"Izzy," Clint said, much more worried than hurt, now, "you never have to go away so that Phil and I can have time together. You come first, sweetheart." He shot an apologetic look at Phil, who shook his head.
"But we’re always together, Poppa,” Izzy said. “I want Steve to take me to Parkour.”
"I think that’s a fine idea, Isobel," Phil said, leaning over to ruffle her hair. "And maybe later your father and I can come see how you progress."
Izzy beamed at him, nodding.
"Natasha, you and I will discuss Izzy’s Russian language skills a little later," he added. "Barnes, don’t think you’re escaping that discussion either."
Natasha and Bucky looked like teenagers caught smoking in the bathroom between classes, which was at least a little recompense for the whole new world of worries that was suddenly unfolding in Clint’s mind.
That evening, when he was putting her to bed, Clint sat down on the blankets while Izzy cuddled up to her doll and said, “I want to make sure you understood what we talked about at breakfast today.”
"About you and Phil?"
He nodded. “I like Phil a lot, Iz -- “
" -- but you are the most important thing to me. I never want you to think you can’t spend time with me or come talk to me. Even if it means interrupting me and Phil."
She looked up at him, sleepy and unworried. “Okay, Poppa. But I want Phil to stay with us forever.”
He grinned at her. “Well, I can’t promise anything, but I’m working on it.”
"Sorry I didn’t like skating," she added.
"Not everyone likes everything," he told her. "It’s okay if you don’t want to do something. Unless it’s school," he added, as she opened her mouth. She gave him a mildly annoyed look as she closed it again. He kissed her forehead. "Bedtime for little chicks."
Out in the living room, Phil had settled on the couch with a laptop propped on his thighs, working on what looked like very boring Avengers-SHIELD liaison paperwork.
"Well, you’ll be happy to know Izzy wants you to stay forever," Clint said, dropping onto the couch and leaning on Phil’s bent knees.
"Good, that was the general idea," Phil replied, not looking up. "Pending your approval."
"I’ll let you know. Sorry about the awkward at breakfast."
"If I wanted to avoid awkward, I wouldn’t have involved myself in the life of a tiny child," Phil said, a smile flitting across his face. "Or taken you into the fold, for that matter."
Clint hummed thoughtfully, raising a hand to close the laptop, slow enough that Phil could stop him if it was something important. He didn’t.
"Stay the night," he said, leaning in to kiss Phil. "We can have some fun time."
"At least Natasha approves," Phil replied drily, but he leaned back and pulled Clint with him, into the cradle of his body. "Did you see today, in the photo — "
"Yes. I like the way you smile," Clint interrupted, hands sliding up under Phil’s shirt. "I’m very lucky, really."
"I’ve heard dating when you have a kid is hard," Clint said.
Phil smiled against his lips. “Yes, you are uncommonly lucky to have found me.”
"Oh, I was just thinking about all the built-in babysitters I have," Clint teased, and Phil snorted and tugged on his hair. He was about to elaborate on how nice it was that Izzy had role models like Natasha when there was a yell from down the hallway.
Clint let his head fall to Phil’s sternum, shaking it gently before yelling back, “YES, DARLING?”
"CAN I HAVE SOME WATER?"
"I’ll get it," Phil said, wriggling out from under him. Clint stayed where he was, collapsed on the couch.
"I’m very lucky," Clint called, as Phil got a glass from the kitchen and filled it with water.
"So I hear," Phil called back, just as Izzy came thundering out of her bedroom, apparently impatient for her water. Clint popped his head up just in time to see Phil catch her with one arm, heft her against his hip, and offer her the water with his other hand.
"Thank you, Phil," Izzy said, as he carried her back to bed.
"You’re welcome. Now sleep, so Poppa can get his beauty rest," he heard Phil say.
"Ridiculously lucky," Clint muttered into the couch cushion.
VIII. It Takes A Superhero Commune
Summary: Izzy has a meltdown at school, and Clint might be having a tiny freakout as well. Tony Stark, it turns out, has all the answers, or at least knows where to find them.
Clint had not spent a whole lot of time in formal education as a child, but he was well aware that when someone wanted to talk to you in The Office, it meant trouble. What little time he had spent in formal education had often included trips to The Office.
"It's not a major incident," Izzy's teacher said, as Phil took Izzy's backpack so she could get into her coat. He caught Clint's eye and gave him a nod; Clint mouthed 'I'll catch up.'
"Did she punch someone?" Clint sighed. "We've talked about not punching but she's seemed eager lately."
"No," Ms. Burnam said, leading him down the hallway and into an empty office. "Nothing like that! She had a little meltdown today in class, and I wanted to have a word with you about it."
"A meltdown?" Clint asked, alarmed.
"Yes, well. It's her first, but it's not the first we've dealt with this year -- she'll be fine, this is how children are," she replied, sitting down at the desk. Clint sat across from it, fidgeting. She offered him a piece of paper with Izzy's childish art all over it.
"We had the children draw pictures of their families today, so that we could talk about how peoples' families are different," she said, as Clint studied the image. There was him, twice as tall as anyone else and with a messy scribble of yellow hair. And Phil, basically a necktie with a head on top, holding his hand.
Next to Phil stood Tony, a bright blue circle dominating his body, and next to him was Steve with a giant marker in one hand. There was a black blob with red hair that was probably Natasha, and the outline of a purple shirt that would be Bruce. No Thor or Sam, he thought, perplexed. No Bucky either.
"Izzy took a rather long time drawing her picture, and we ran out of time before she was done," Ms. Burnam said. "She got upset about that, but I told her it was meant to be family only, not everyone she knew. Then she just exploded. Clearly I said something wrong, but I'm not entirely sure what."
"Did she say why she was upset?" Clint asked, frowning at the picture.
"She said she wasn't done drawing her family," Ms. Burnam shrugged. "Mr. Barton, I know your living arrangements are a little more unusual than most of our parents -- "
"You mean the boyfriend, or the superhero commune?" Clint asked, lips twitching.
"Mainly the commune," she said with a small smile. "And it's not that we want to tell our parents how to parent or what their living situation ought to be. But this seems to be an emotional situation for Izzy for some reason."
"She seemed okay just now."
"Children bounce back quickly. I put her in the quiet corner for a little while and she calmed right down. But you might want to be a little gentle with her this afternoon."
"Sure. But...the drawing...what do I do?" Clint asked, seized with a mild parental panic. It wasn't often anymore that he didn't know what he was doing when it came to Izzy, and the sensation was unsettling, reminding him of early days when it was just him, at a total loss every time she cried.
"Well, I'd recommend talking to Izzy, seeing what she thinks. If you like, I can give you the name of a therapist for her to talk to about it. But I honestly don't think it's that drastic, she's a very well-adjusted little girl otherwise. Perhaps all she needs is a little reassurance, or maybe a more thorough understanding of the difference between family and community."
Clint nodded. "Can I uh, can I take the drawing?"
"Of course. It might help her get some closure to finish it. Please let me know if I can help," she said, and Clint shook her hand as he stood and shuffled hurriedly out, mind a million miles away, mostly with his towheaded little girl who was --
Cheerfully climbing a tree, as she and Phil waited for him outside the school. Phil had untied Lucky from where they'd hooked his leash to a nearby bicycle rack, and he looked hilariously domestic, holding a pink backpack in one hand and Lucky's PRETTY PRINCESS rhinestone-studded leash in the other.
"Come on, monkey," Clint yelled up at Iz, and she dropped about ten feet, straight into his arms. He'd long since given up being terrified or even annoyed by her acrobatics. She came by it honestly, after all.
"Everything all right?" Phil asked, as Clint set her down and they started the walk home.
"Yep, just had to collect Izzy's drawing," Clint said, handing it off to her. Izzy looked momentarily pensive, then stuffed it in her backpack and took Lucky's leash from Phil, running on ahead to Lucky's favorite tree to pee on at the corner.
"What happened?" Phil asked.
"Tell you later," Clint said. Phil frowned. "Nothing serious, honest. Just gotta think some stuff through."
Clint had, actually, learned a lot of parenting techniques from the way Phil had treated him and Natasha early in their Secret Agent careers, and one thing he had learned was that after an upset, normal was best. He made a point not to treat Izzy any different from a usual evening -- he let her watch a few cartoons when they got home, then let Natasha take her off to the gym to do some ballet before dinner. But he was quiet during dinner, watching the way Izzy interacted with the rest of the team, and he knew at least a few of them noticed.
"Something eating you?" Bruce asked, as Clint watched Tony build a giant slide out of forks for Izzy to send her peas whizzing down. At the bottom, the last fork neatly flipped each pea onto Steve's plate. Steve was batting about half of them back at Tony and Izzy without even looking, busy discussing baseball with Sam.
"Just thinking," Clint replied. "Dad thoughts."
"Hm. Is Izzy okay?"
"Oh, sure. Little incident at school today, that's all."
"Not like Izzy to act out."
Clint gave Bruce a dry look.
"You know what I mean," Bruce said. And he did, really. Izzy could be a handful and she certainly could misbehave, but she wasn't...malicious, and she rarely defied him deliberately. She might sneak out to watch TV with Bruce or bother Steve when she knew she wasn't supposed to, but she didn't make trouble for the sake of making trouble. "What happened?"
"Not sure yet, I have to talk to her about it. She had a tantrum, I guess."
"Well, if you need advice..." Bruce gave him a half-smile. Clint chuckled.
"If she's having anger management issues you can do your freaky abdominal breathing thing with her," he agreed. "It's nothing, Bruce, really."
Bruce nodded and went back to his meal, cheering along with everyone else when Steve deflected a high-velocity pea with his fork and nailed Tony in the direct center of his forehead. Izzy nearly fell in the serving bowl when she leaned way over the table to give Steve a high-five; only Phil's quick grab for the back of her shirt prevented a spill.
After dinner, while the others were clearing the table, Clint brought out Izzy's favorite coloring book ("Black Widow's Avengers Adventure") and sat coloring in a hilarious cartoon version of Natasha while Izzy filled in the Avengers logo with blue and purple stripes.
"So, Ms. Burnam said you had a little trouble in school today," Clint said, and Izzy's face went obstinate. It was amazing, he thought, how much she managed to look like him when she made that face.
"We were s'posed to draw our family," she said.
"And you did a great job, I saw the drawing."
"It's not done," Izzy said pointedly.
"Well, we can finish it tonight. But Ms. Burnam says you got really upset when it was time to stop."
"She didn't give us long enough! I hate hurrying," Izzy declared. "Steve says art isn't for hurrying, you have to take your time."
"Well, maybe, but you can't spend all day drawing, Iz," Clint said gently.
"Why not? Steve does."
"Steve's already been to school. When he was in school he didn't get to do any art at all until he was a grownup."
Izzy looked up at him, eyes round. "Do I have to stop doing art?" she asked, her voice tiny.
"No! No, sweetheart, that's not..." Clint sighed and started over. "Izzy, she's just a little worried because you got so upset. Normally you don't mind stopping."
"I wasn't finished." Izzy's jaw set stubbornly. "And she said Bruce and Sam and Thor and Bucky weren't family."
"Iz," Clint sighed. "Is that really what she said?"
"I said I wasn't done and she said only family but I wasn't done with family!" Izzy said.
"Well, you know everyone here loves you, baby, and we'll always be there for you," Clint said carefully. "But I'm your Poppa, and Phil's your Dadphil, and everyone else is our friends."
"Except Auntie Natasha," Izzy pointed out.
"Okay, but -- "
"And Tony says he's my big brother."
"Yeah, but he means -- "
"And he says Steve is my bigger brother, which is a joke 'cause Steve's so tall," Izzy continued. "And Auntie Natasha and Bucky take me to tea -- "
Clint gave up and sat there, listening, as with seven-year-old logic she detailed the way in which every single one of them was a relative. And the logic of a seven-year-old, not really being of this Earth, was actually pretty hard to refute.
"So I DID draw my family and she didn't let me finish AND THEN she said they weren't family at all," Izzy concluded, increasingly annoyed.
Clint sighed and stroked her hair. "Okay, I see what you mean," he said. "But Iz, you still can't throw a tantrum every time someone's wrong about something. Ms. Burnam didn't understand, that's all."
"Just 'cause my family's bigger and cooler than everyone else's," Izzy muttered rebelliously. Clint smiled. At least if he had to get a stubborn kid, she was stubborn about all the right things. (Probably to some extent Steve's influence; he could give lessons to mules.)
"We'll talk about it more later, all right?" he said, as Bucky put his head through the doorway.
"Natasha's teaching Steve to french-braid," he announced. "She needs someone with long hair."
"Can't she use you?" Clint asked, as Izzy hopped down and ran to Bucky, grabbing his metal hand.
"Steve's learning on me," Bucky said, with a roll of his eyes. "All right if I steal the zaichik?"
"Sure, she could use a break. Be good, Izzy," he called.
"I will, Poppa! I want a ribbon too like last time," he heard Izzy say to Bucky, as they headed for the living room. Clint rubbed his head with his hands and sat back.
"JARVIS, is Tony in the workshop?" he asked. "Is he busy?"
"Sir is playing Grand Theft Auto," JARVIS said.
"Cool, I could use to blow some shit up," Clint replied, and headed for the workshop.
"So," Tony said, about ten minutes after tossing Clint a controller and telling him to ride shotgun, "What's up with Izguana?"
"Am I obvious, or is she?" Clint asked.
"Coulson's been watching her like an unexploded grenade all night and you've been sulking so hard it's actually audible," Tony replied. "Bruce said she had a bad day at school."
"Not bad, just difficult," Clint said. "And not getting any easier with a heart-to-heart from Poppa."
"What'd she do, punch someone?" Tony caught his tongue between his teeth briefly as he pulled a sharp turn in the video game. "I told you letting Bucky and Steve teach her to box was a bad idea."
"She loves it, though."
"Of course she does, seven year olds love hitting things. When I was her age I was really into ranged weaponry."
"When you were her age you were in the sixth grade."
"Yeah I was," Tony said smugly.
"No, she didn't punch anyone. She got mad because they were drawing families, and the teacher didn't give her enough time to finish. Then the teacher said not everyone in her drawing was family. And when I tried to, you know, explain that family and friends are different, she laid this case on me like some kind of lawyer."
"Well, who all did she think was family?"
"Pretty much everyone who lives here. Me and Phil, okay, that I get, and maybe Natasha and you, but she added in Bruce, Thor, Steve, Sam..." Clint gestured with one hand briefly. "Everyone."
"She's not wrong, really."
"No. But that's a little worrying, you know?"
Tony paused the game, turning to him. "Why?"
"Just..." Clint shrugged, sitting back, eyes still on the TV screen. "Is it weird? Maybe Phil and I should move back to Bed-Stuy. Bring her up like a normal kid, two parents, none of this superhero frat house stuff."
"Do you...not like living here?" Tony asked, voice carefully neutral.
"No, I love it. I really like the superhero frat house. Izzy does too. It's nice to have all the built-in babysitters, and I like being with my team. But if it's not good for her, Izzy always comes first for me, you know that. If she's...I dunno, confused about family because of it..."
"That's bullshit," Tony said. Clint looked at him, and saw a shocking amount of anger on his face. "You're always telling her there's no such thing as normal. We all love her. Bucky would be bereft without her, he'd probably still be all effed up. We can protect her better than you and Phil could alone, her school's near here, and anyway single-family parenting is actually pretty unusual. Tons of anthropologists say so."
Clint blinked at him. "What?"
"Two parents raising kids alone isn't the way it's been for like, ninety-nine percent of human history," Tony said. "This is how people used to raise kids. With lots of siblings and aunties and grandparents and conspecifics."
"What the hell's a conspecific?"
"What have you been reading?" Tony asked.
"What have you been reading?" Clint retorted.
"Everything I can get my hands on," Tony said, and Clint shut his mouth because he didn't know how to respond to that. "When she moved in I had JARVIS find the best parenting books on the market and everything about family structure and supportive environments for kids and I read them all."
"Because there was a tiny child living in my home! Research is what I do when I feel incompetent!" Tony said. "You must have read parenting books."
"Well, yeah, I mean, like, years ago, so I knew what not to feed a baby..." Clint stared at him. "You read books on raising kids because of Iz?"
"Yeah, and they say a big family of adults is better because then everyone takes a turn and the kid gets a break and learns different stuff," Tony said. "I know you want to be better at parenting than your old man, and most of us had shitty childhoods, I don't think Natasha even had parents at all and Bruce probably would've been better off if he didn't. So someone had to figure out how the rest of us were going to avoid screwing up your kid. But it turns out that lots of screwups working together is how the thing has been done for centuries, so if you move out of Stark Tower it'll be worse for her and I'll be really pissed at you."
"Oh," Clint said.
"So don't do that," Tony finished. "And don't google your name in the mommyblogosphere, by the way, because there is a hot debate going over whether Izzy should be raised in a family of superheroes and it's really making me want to buy Wordpress and kick some specific people off it."
"Don't google that either. Though at least the smart ones are on your side."
Clint put his head in his hands. "Being a dad is really complicated, Tony."
"Shoulda kept it in your pants," Tony said with a grin.
"That's almost word for word what Phil said the first time he saw her."
"None of us mean it. Coulson adores her. You know how Steve is, he's flat out told the media he'll kill for her. I think Thor has seriously considered kidnapping her and declaring her Asgardian royalty. Which technically would fulfill her desire to be a space princess," Tony said thoughtfully.
"Still doesn't solve the problem of what happens the next time someone asks her to describe her family and it's a five-minute monologue," Clint sighed.
"Well, everyone knows who we are. Just have her say we're the Avengers," Tony said. "They make her draw it again, tell her to draw Stark Tower and tell her teacher everyone's inside and too tiny to see."
"That might work, actually."
"See? This is why you co-parent. A parent for every problem. Also I call not-it on giving her the sex talk in like five years."
"No offense, but you wouldn't be my first choice."
"Hey, of the two of us, who has the accidental child? I am the king of safe sex. But I think you should make Steve do it because it might make his head explode."
"I think that's a job for Auntie Natasha," Clint said.
"Better you ask than me, then. Hey," Tony said, elbowing him. "Go see how the braiding lesson is going. Bond with your extended kinship group and engage in mutual grooming. I'll be up soon."
When Clint arrived back in the common room, Bucky had two neat french braids down the back of his head and Natasha was tying ribbons into Izzy's pigtails while she recited her times-tables for Sam and Bruce. Phil, casually sewing a GPS tracking chip into a pair of Izzy's new purple overalls under the cover of putting a Captain America patch on them, grinned at Clint.
"Conspecifics," Clint said, settling in next to Phil.
"Nothing. Hey Izzy, when you're done getting ribbons, let's finish that drawing for tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay, Poppa," Izzy said. "Steve can help."
Steve rolled his eyes, but he grinned and gave Bucky a gentle shove. "You're done, punk. I gotta help the half-pint with her art."
"I have to finish Bruce and draw Sam and Thor and Bucky," Izzy said, then frowned at the drawing, looking up at Clint. "Right, Poppa?" she asked uncertainly.
"Right, kiddo," he said. "Better go get another piece of paper and tape them together, you don't wanna run out of room."
Izzy's smile was normally full of sunshine, but that particular one felt like it lit the whole room.
The inspiration for this story came from a passage in Wednesday Martin's book "Primates of Park Avenue" near the end of Chapter 7:
One of the biggest shifts in the last decade of anthropology, one of the discoveries in the field that has changed everything, is the realization that we evolved as cooperative breeders. Bringing up kids in a nuclear family is a novelty, a blip on the screen of human family life. We never did child rearing alone, isolated and shut off from others, or with just one other person, the child's father. It is arduous and anomalous and it's not the way it "should" be. Indeed, for as long as we have been, we have relied on other females -- kin and the kindly disposed -- to help us raise our offspring.
Something I've thought a lot about in Avengers kidfic is whether any given parent or child would find it weird to be raising children in a huge family group that way, so this flipped that thought on its head for me. I thought it would be interesting for one of the Avengers to get it and be baffled that the rest didn't.
IX. What Does Not Kill Me
They came off the mission laughing, which was nice; it'd been an easy take-down, unambiguously on the side of good, and the Maggia wouldn't be hassling Brooklynites again for a good long while. Steve was pleased because they'd worked well with the local police (the Nine Nine were good people) and Bucky was pleased because he'd been out on what was practically a solo mission -- just him and Steve with Natasha as backup.
"Hey, what happened, anyway?" Steve asked Coulson, who met them at the Tower helipad as the quinjet dropped them off. "I thought Clint was going to be our sniper. Not that it wasn't fun," he added to Natasha, "just didn't know we were changing things up."
"I had fun," Natasha said, with a sunny, I-know-a-lot-of-secrets smile.
"Clint had to beg off early this morning," Coulson said. "Izzy's down with the flu, she wanted Poppa."
"Ah," Steve nodded. Izzy got clingy when she was sick; she'd had a pretty bad cold last year and Clint had barely been able to leave her bedroom for a week.
Neither of them noticed the thump of Bucky's tac-gear bag hitting the ground or his sudden disappearance until Steve turned to ask him if he wanted coffee before the debrief.
"Where'd Buck go?" he asked, brow furrowing.
"I thought he was stowing his..." Natasha began, then looked down at his gear bag. "I guess not."
"Agent Barnes is in the stairwell between the ninety-sixth and ninety-fifth floors," JARVIS replied smoothly. "Captain, Agent Barnes' heart rate indicates he is agitated."
"Agitated about what?" Steve asked, but he was already running for the stairs himself.
"Agent Barnes' heart rate rose sharply when Ms. Barton's name was mentioned," JARVIS told him.
"Ah, shit, did we trigger something?" Steve asked. He could hear Bucky's boots on the metal stairs, and then the slam of a door; he jumped the rest of the way down and burst into the kitchen entry of Clint's apartment after him, ready to take Buck to the floor if he had to. They'd cleaned out his Soldier triggers pretty thoroughly, but you never knew, and if Izzy was sick Clint was in no condition to defend her --
" -- to the doctor," he heard Bucky saying, and stopped in the doorway between kitchen and living room. "Has she been seen? Are you under quarantine? It's okay if you are, I can't get sick."
"Hey, buddy, take a breath," Clint said, glancing past Bucky to catch Steve's eye. "It's just the flu, we're fine."
"I know a thing, my ma swore it got Steve through the -- " Bucky was turning, heedless of Steve behind him, and nearly ran into him. "Dammit, Steve, you make a pretty fine wall!"
"Whoa, slow down, what's going on?" Steve asked. "Clint...?"
Clint was sitting on the sofa, back against the arm, Izzy in his lap with her head in the crook of his neck. Both of them looked like hell warmed over, Clint pale with red eyes, Izzy flushed and visibly dribbling snot out of one nostril.
"Yeah, we're fine. Well, we were until Dr. House over there burst in," Clint said, as Bucky darted past Steve and began clanking around in the kitchen. "What's going on?"
"Buck?" Steve asked, turning. Bucky was dumping mustard out of a bottle into a bowl. A pot of water was already heating on the stove.
"They got the flu," Bucky said pointedly. "You remember that thing my ma used to do?"
"A mustard poultice?" Steve asked incredulously.
"Hey, you got any cheap liquor?" Bucky called, digging in the pantry for, apparently, some baking soda.
"Cheap liquor's the only kind I got!" Clint called back.
"Bucky -- Bucky, seriously," Steve said, catching him by the arm as he turned to the fridge. "Buck! She doesn't need a mustard poultice, those things are traumatic. Your ma's poultice broke me out in a rash for a week!"
"Yeah, but you didn't go blind or die!"
"Izzy's not gonna die of the flu!" Steve shook him until Bucky stopped and looked at him, brushing hair out of his eyes. "It ain't like when we were kids, Buck. They have antibiotics and things now, cough syrup that hasn't got heroin in it. Kids get the flu all the time and survive."
Bucky frowned at him. "But it's the flu," he said desperately. "It almost killed you twice. You remember the winter it got half the building?"
"Yeah, but this isn't the thirties anymore, and anyway Izzy's a lot sturdier than I ever was. She's got medication to take, she's not in any danger."
There was a soft noise from the living room and then Clint came into the kitchen, Izzy wrapped in a blanket in his arms. Bucky chewed on his lip, eyes following her.
"Hey, look who came to see you," Clint said, as Izzy rubbed her eyes irritably. "Bucky and Steve. You two cool?" he asked, with a slight edge to his voice.
"What's her temperature like?" Steve asked.
"Ninety-nine," Clint said, snuffling to clear his throat. Izzy pouted and reached for Bucky, who glanced nervously at Clint. "Please, God, take her, she's killin' me," he said, passing her over. Bucky hefted Izzy in his arms, brushing her hair off her forehead.
"Hello, Littlest Matryoshka," he said. "You sick?"
Izzy gave a sad little nod and faceplanted into his shoulder.
"Whatever she gets, I get," Clint sighed, going to the kitchen counter and pouring cough syrup into a shot glass, downing it in a smooth movement, grimacing after. "What were we freaking out about and are we done now?"
"Buck was having a moment," Steve said.
"Okay," Clint agreed, clearly too tired to push further. He looked down at the counter. "Why is there a bowl of mustard?"
"Mustard poultices are good for you," Bucky said.
"Oh my God, they're not good for you! Your ma's mustard poultices were like doing penance," Steve replied.
"I'm making one anyway."
"You are not applying your mother's mustard poultice to a tiny baby child who does not need it," Steve said sternly.
Clint sniffled. "What does it do, anyhow?"
"Clears the lungs. Purifies the blood," Bucky said, with a pointed look at Steve. "The vapors, you know, they...deal with the...miasma."
"Okay. I'll take one."
"What?" Steve asked.
"I'll take one. Might help. You try to put one on Izzy and she'll scream the world down, but I could use with some blood purifying. Does the booze go in the poultice or in me?" Clint asked, poking the mustard in the bowl with a finger.
Bucky shifted Izzy to one arm and picked up a whisk. "You go sit. Steve, get the cheap stuff."
"You're going to be sorry," Steve told Clint.
"Hey, if baby Steve Rogers can take it, I can take it," Clint told him. "Anything to get this snot out of my chest."
"He said snot," Izzy repeated, with a quiet giggle.
"Yeah he did, Zaichik," Bucky agreed, as Steve resignedly found some cheap tequila in the freezer and poured a measure out into the bowl. Bucky hummed to Izzy as he took the boiling pot of water off the stove and dumped some of it on top of the mustard, whisking vigorously while Izzy turned to watch. He added half the box of baking soda, waited until it had foamed up, and then kept mixing until the whole thing became an alarmingly yellow paste.
"Here, Iz, come with me, nobody should witness this," Steve said, taking her from Bucky and pulling her head down against his chest while Clint stripped off his shirt and Bucky slathered a washcloth with the poultice.
At which point Coulson entered the room.
He looked from Steve, holding a sniffling Izzy, to Bucky, to Clint sitting shirtless in the kitchen chair.
"Superhero thing," he said, finger waggling between them.
"Only in the sense of people doing stupid things to themselves in the name of dubious science," Steve replied.
"Izzy, sweetheart, you okay?" Coulson asked.
"Mmhm. Steve's warm," Izzy replied, from her nest of blankets and Steve's arms.
"Okay, well, I'm going to go meet the delivery guy who is arriving with fresh cold medicine and juice," Coulson said. "Nobody kill anyone while I'm gone. Also I have a message from Tony," he added, holding up his phone and clearing his throat. "Tell anyone who has touched a Barton within the last 72 hours they are banned from my home and my presence, I am a delicate flower and will die if germs touch me."
"He has a hole in his chest," Steve said. "Seems reasonable to institute a lockdown."
"I want Tony," Izzy mumbled. "He gives good hugs."
"Sorry, you're stuck with me," Steve said. "Bucky'll come hug you once I'm certain he isn't going to put a mustard poultice on you, how's that?"
"M'kay," Izzy said tiredly.
"That was easy," Steve remarked to Clint.
"Yeah, she's super obedient when you've crammed a bunch of cold medication into her," Clint agreed, just as Bucky slapped the poultice on his chest. "Oh, that's -- BURNY," he yelped, as Bucky held him down and kept his hands away from the washcloth. "Why, why is that -- oh dear God -- "
"Come on, Izzy, let's go watch cartoons while Poppa learns things the hard way," Steve said, carrying her out of the kitchen to a chorus of protests from Clint and triumphant noises from Bucky.
X. The Captain America Adventure
"No," Steve said, crossing his arms.
"Pleaaaaaaaase," Izzy begged, hopping up and down with both hands on one of his arms.
"I said I'd look after her today so Clint could go to the beach. I told Clint and I told you, Izzy, that I wouldn't go on the Captain America ride," Steve said. "And you agreed!"
"But I didn't know it would be so cool," Izzy said. "Please, can we?"
"Hey," Bucky said, leaning on Steve's shoulder, speaking quietly. Sometimes if you were quiet enough, Izzy was too short to hear you. "Go get one of those cinnamon sticks or whatever they are -- "
" -- churro -- " Steve couldn't help but say.
" -- and sit down and rest, you're crankier than she is. I'll take Matryoshka on the ride."
Steve turned to him. "You sure that's wise?"
"Why not? It's not the Bucky Barnes The Winter Soldier ride," Bucky said, sounding more reasonable than an adult who'd spent an entire day at Disney World had any right to sound. "I'll be fine, Steve. These ain't the memories I'm worried about."
Steve looked from Bucky to Izzy, her eyes huge in her pleading face.
"I'm going to the ice cream parlor at the ride exit," he said. "I'm gonna have a banana split. Izzy, if either of you get scared -- "
"I know," Izzy said, holding up her wrist. Tony had modified a little FitBit for her; if she pressed the panic button on the side, all the Avengers would be alerted and Steve would, though not happily, come tear-assing through the Disney's Captain America Boat Ride to get to her.
"Okay. Go get in line," Steve said. Izzy shrieked and grabbed Bucky's hand, dragging him off.
The ride was, really, even more harmless than Bucky had expected. It was funny as hell to see Disney's interpretation of what Steve's life had been like growing up, and by the time they hit the Howling Commandoes he was having a hard time containing his laughter. Izzy, like the other little kids, was totally distracted by the animatronic dioramas, pointing and squeaking whenever something caught her eye. Bucky kept one hand on her shoulder to make sure she didn't fall into the water they were floating on, and pressed the other to his mouth to muffle his laughter. Colonel Phillips was spinning in his grave. Howard was probably about to ascend out of his and kick Tony's ass for allowing him to be put into the Erksine's Secret Lab scene.
Even the train scene left Bucky's climactic death out, and Bucky could breathe deep and get past it.
But then the boats started to climb, as Steve led the final assault on the Red Skull's lair, and Steve reported in by radio right at the crest, and then the boat plunged steeply down into darkness, just like the Hydra bomber…
It was sad, of course, seeing the plane with Steve inside it, crashed and sinking into the ice. But the narration after that was cheerful, all about how Steve slept for seventy years and was eventually found, how he helped to rescue New York from the Chitauri. And there was a great diorama of him and Tony high-fiving over the body of a dead alien.
Izzy was silent, mouth open, as the boats pulled to a stop; Bucky hefted her out of the boat and led her quietly down the short corridor to the ice-cream-and-gifts shop. Steve was sitting in a corner, empty ice cream bowl in front of him, fiddling with his phone --
Izzy burst into loud, wailing tears and ran across the shop, startling a number of nearby parents, and Steve set his phone down just in time to scoop her up before she leapt on him.
"What happened?" Steve asked, as Izzy sobbed into his shirt. He looked up at Bucky. "You okay?"
"Yeah…" Bucky looked down at her, bewildered. "She was fine until we got out…"
"I don't want you to fight the Red Skull," Izzy hiccupped, burrowing into Steve's chest. "I don't want you to fly the plane into the snow! It's not fair!"
Steve's face softened, and he petted her hair. "Aw, Izguana," he said, using the nickname usually only Tony bothered with. "You don't have to worry. I already did all that. That's why it's in the ride."
Izzy sniffled, but she let him push her back by the shoulders a little so he could wipe her face with a napkin.
"You did?" she asked.
"Yeah," Steve said. "That all already happened."
She scowled. "Promise it won't happen again?"
Bucky snorted. Steve shot him a look.
"I promise, I will never crash a bomber in the snow and sleep for seventy years again," he said. "And if I do crash, your dad and Bucky and Tony and the others will come find me."
Izzy looked pensive. "Can I come?"
Steve kissed her forehead. "I promise if I get lost in the arctic again I give you permission to come find me. Now, you want an ice cream?"
She shook her head, but she pointed towards the gift-shop side of the store, where there was a huge display of Captain America branded Mickey Mouse hats -- blue beanies with an A on the front and patterns of his shield for ears.
"I want a hat," she said. "With my name on it."
"I think my budget can stretch to that," Steve agreed.
"I got it," Bucky said. "Give her some water, let her sit for a bit."
Steve turned Izzy around so she could sit on his lap, and held a cup of water out for her. She settled in, sipping the water and eventually starting to ramble a little about the better parts of the ride, until finally Bucky returned. He had two hats, one child-sized and one adult-sized; Steve cocked an eyebrow at the second hat as Bucky placed the first on Izzy's head.
"You got me a hat?" he asked.
"If you don't go on the ride you don't get a hat," Bucky said, putting it on his own head. He took Izzy back from Steve and hoisted her onto his shoulders. "Let's go on Space Mountain again, huh? Steve likes that one."