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When the daddies are away, Natasha will play

Chapter Text

Natasha was very upset.

Her daddies weren’t around and Clint was snoring softly so she was alone in her upset and she hated feeling alone.

Normally, she would be okay with dealing with it, since everyone was alone from time to time and she knew that, she was a big girl. But she'd woken up pretty small. And Natty hated to be alone even more than big Natasha did.

She rolled over in bed, whining softly under her breath, hiccuping weakly as she rubbed her hands over her eyes to clear them of both sleep and budding tears.

Stop it, silly baby. There’s no reason to cry, you’re not really alone, so stop being a stupid-head and calm down!

"Daddy?" She whispered, blinking in the soft light of the room, coming from the little chink in the curtains from where she hadn’t closed them properly the night before.

She had gone to sleep the previous night in her own room, with Clint beside her, after a very busy day training. She’d been so tired that she hadn’t even dropped at all, just collapsed on the bed after somehow getting herself out of her day clothes.

Her daddies were usually up by now, coming around the rooms of those who had dropped to check on them, and she grew more anxious at their disappearance.

What if they’re gone forever? What if they don’t want me anymore?

She anxiously stood up from the bed, freezing on the spot when she noticed the uncomfortable, icky sensation that told her she had had an accident sometime during the night.

Oh no! That’s not good. They’re gonna be so mad, you didn’t wear your night pants and now you messed up more!

She sniffled, arms wrapped around herself as she tried to filter through the nasty feeling in her stomach and the pins and needles creeping up her body. That was when looked over at the bedside table, seeing a pink post it note settled there, propped up by the alarm clock.

She reached for it, still hiccuping softly in her attempt to stifle the tears building.

"Nat and Clint, Bucky and I were called to Shield. Don't worry, we'll be back soon. Love, Steve"

Gone.

Her daddy's wording showed he didn't know he'd be leaving behind a little, ‘cause he’d not used any special names that made Natasha’s tummy go all warm and fuzzy, just Nat.

Gonna be gone all day.

Natasha whined again, fists rubbing against her eyes as she tried not to cry, the post it note dropping to the floor as she agonized over what to do.

She had to change the bed and herself without letting anyone know about her accident, because she’d be in trouble and then no one would want to take care of the gross baby who messed everything up.

But she couldn’t clean the bed because Clint was still asleep under the covers.

She stood by the door, shifting from foot to foot as she tried to decide.

Can’t pull the covers up without wakin’ him up. You can’t do it on your own, you’re just a stupid baby.

Eventually, still sniffling, she moved to Clint's side of the bed, more than a little reluctant.

"Clinty." She whispered, touching his shoulder and shaking lightly.

"Wha'?" Clint's head poked out from under the covers. "Natty?"

"Sorry." She whimpered, lower lip trembling.

Instantly Clint was sitting up, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Natty, what's wrong sweetheart?" He asked softly.

"Daddy a...an' papa are gone." She whispered, pointing dejectedly at the discarded post it note. "And I woke up an' the bed was wet. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I was tired an’ I didn’t put my pants on an’ I messed everythin’ up." A few tears rolled down her cheeks, finally free after being pushed back all morning.

Clint pulled back the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed, eyes soft and expression holding no anger whatsoever.  "Come here, baby." He murmured, holding out his arms.

"'M wet and nasty." She mumbled, hastily wiping her flushed cheeks, shuffling on the spot.

"I don't care." Clint shook his head. "You're my family, now come give me a hug?" He left the choice up to her, never willing to actually demand she do anything she didn’t want to do. Some caregivers had rules and the kids had to follow but for the most time, they offered suggestions or asked questions and if the kid didn’t want to, then they didn’t want to.

In a few seconds, Natasha was barreling into his arms, crying softly with ragged, hiccuping breaths interrupting every once in a while.

Clint tightened his arms around her, pressing little kisses to her hair and temples as he swayed them, knowing Natasha liked the feeling of being rocked. "I'm sorry you woke up like that, baby, but accidents happen." He hummed, stroking her hair. "You're okay."

"Sorry." She sniffled, the shoulder of his sleep shirt wet as she continued to hide her face against his shoulder.

"I know, sweetheart, but there is no reason to be, Talia, it was just an accident." Clint said softly, pulling back a little so he could cup the girls face. “Accidents happen to everyone, baby, okay? No one is ever gonna be mad at you for an accident. And no, you’re not stupid or silly, I know what goes on in that little head of yours.”

Natasha flushed, clearly her daddy could now read minds too and had heard her being mean to herself. “Okay.” She breathed, inhaling slowly and nodding. “Not stupid.”

Clint nodded along with her. “Never ever stupid.”

Ten minutes of cuddles and kisses later and Natasha was ready to get cleaned up.

"Into the bath for my baby, hmm?" Clint murmured softly to his little girl, lifting her and placing her on his hip as he walked to the en-suite bathroom.

"Jarvis, is there anyone else I need to be taking care of right now?" He asked as leaned over and put the plug in the bottom of the bath,  turning on the taps to start filling the tub with water.

"Not that I can determine. Sir and Master Bruce are in the kitchen and seem to be in adult headspace." Came the reply from above.

"Hear that, Natty?” Clint cooed, “you have all my attention." He pressed the tip of his finger to her nose, grinning as she giggled and batted at his hand, not actually put out at the attention. She was loving it. She hadn’t had time with Daddy on their own for ages!.

"There we go, that's something I love to see." He hummed, smiling as a flush crept over Natasha's cheeks.

Clint quickly went around, filling the tub with Natasha’s favourite colourful bubbles (red of course), her toys and for good measure, some from his box too, and then her bath time staple (rainbow bath crayons) were laid out on the rim, ready for her to draw across the white tiles.

He set Natasha down on her feet, making sure she was steady before carefully peeling off Natasha's damp clothes, throwing them in the wash basket to deal with later. He took her hand in one of his, since she was a little shaky, testing the water with his other. Deeming it an acceptable temperature (hot but not too hot), he lifted Natasha up. “Okay, baby, in three…two…one.” He gently lowered the girl into the bubbles, murmuring soft words of encouragement. Natasha wasn’t the biggest fan of water, and having her panic in the tub could turn into an absolute nightmare for the little girl.

“There we go,” he cooed as he got her settled on her behind, calloused fingers running through her hair, “such a good girl, you’re doing so good, Natty.”

Natasha looked up at him, expression both forlorn at her having to have a bath, and pleased at Clint’s praise.

“We’ll get this done quickly, hmm, Princess?” The archer hummed to her as he lathered up a washcloth with her favourite strawberry milk body wash. “Then we can have a nice day together.”

Natasha still looked a little like a kicked puppy but she nodded and reached for a toy boat, very tentatively starting to play; crashing the boat in and out of the water.

Whilst she was occupied, Clint made quick work of washing up and down her body, making sure she was completely clean so she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable or get a rash from her accident. He wrung the cloth out and threw it, with perfect accuracy, into the wash basket.

“Okay baby,” Clint murmured, “let’s get this over with. We’re gonna wash your hair next, so close your eyes and put your hands up, yeah?” He doubted any pee had gotten into her hair but whilst he had her in the bath, it was best to wash her hair and get it all done in one go so they wouldn’t have to do it later.

Natasha dropped the boat she’d been playing with, holding her hands up to cover her eyes. Clint was very careful to never ever got any water or soap in her eyes, but it made the girl feel a little better to also be in control of stopping anything like that happening.

He quickly wet her hair with the hand held shower head, having her tilt her head back a little so there was even less chance of anything going in her eyes. Placing the shower head down for a moment, he lathered her strawberry shampoo into her hair, humming softly but loud enough for her to hear. She liked the humming, liked singing too, she could focus on that instead of the sensations of the water. “Nearly done, Princess, just got to wash it out now.” It was also good for the redhead to know everything that was going to happen before it happened. Especially because her eyes were closed and covered and she was completely trusting him to look after her.

Clint rinsed out the shampoo in record time, rubbing at her forehead and hairline with a towel to get rid of any excess soap and water. “And you can open your eyes.” Clint leaned in and pressed a sneaky kiss to her temple as the girl slowly lowered her hands.

“Done?” She asked softly, reaching up to touch the top of her head, as if to double check.

“Done.” Clint assured, rubbing his thumb over her cheek. “Why don’t you carry on playing a little? Daddy’s just got to clean up himself.”

It had dawned on him that he might have rolled over in the pee during the night so he very quickly stripped to his boxers. He used a clean cloth to quickly wipe himself down, keeping an eye on Natty as he did so, just in case anything went awry. The tub was big, and he wasn’t taking any chances. If she slipped under the water, or splashed too hard and water got on her face, things could go wrong very quickly.

During Clint’s quick clean up, Natasha happily splashed around, her tears from earlier all gone.

The archer couldn't help but smile. It had been a while since he'd been a proper caregiver to Natasha, not just big brother, since her headspace tended to trigger his own. It was usually something along the lines of ‘aw Natty is playing, and now I wanna play’. Until Natasha came into his life, he’d never once considered being a switch. And he wasn’t, in the traditional sense anyways. He was somewhere around 85 percent little and 15 percent caregiver. And he wasn’t a natural at caregiving, not like Phil or Nick. He had to know the little quite well, couldn’t just look after random agents or anything without dropping himself. However, he'd been at home for the last week and had dropped quite a lot, whereas Natasha had been at Shield training for pretty much the whole time, and hadn’t been able to drop. Phil and Nick had been away with Melinda, and Maria had been just as busy as Natasha so despite the redheads’ best attempts at stopping that certain behaviour, she had pushed Natty away. Sure, she could have gone to the daycare, but she wasn’t quite at that stage yet. Dropping in front of someone was a big thing, a very big thing, and she stubbornly refused to do it in front of anyone she didn’t trust. Dropping with Bobbi Morse could have been fun, but she was wasn't Natasha's designated big at Shield so protocol dictated she would have to go to the daycare, and…not happening.

Because Clint had had quite a lot of little time, he wasn't really anywhere near headspace. Natasha hadn't been little for over a week though, so her drop wasn't out of the blue. Littles usually dropped at least once a week, probably more, and pushing that back often lead to a big, sudden drop. Not only that, but for some reason the youngest littles tended to need a little more time. More time was fine by Clint.

The archer knelt back by the tub after getting himself clean, and they both played with the boats and various plastic sea animals floating along the water. When the bubbles faded and Natasha looked a little bored, Clint lifted her out, settling her on the fluffy bathmat. He quickly reached back to pull the plug from the tub, before facing Natasha.

“Okay then, Princess, we’ll get you all dry, nice and quick.”  Clint hummed, wrapping her up in a massive soft towel. “Just hold this closed for a second and I’ll make sure your hair isn’t dripping.” Clint placed her hand over where the towel joined at her neck and she carefully held it closed. Whilst she did that, Clint carefully rubbed another towel over her hair, making sure that it wasn’t dripping all over her shoulders because that was no fun.

“And up we go.” Clint murmured, picking Natasha up, being extra careful to keep the towel around her. He settled her on his hip, rubbing up and down her back as he walked through to the bedroom, lowering her onto the bottom of the bed. He walked over to the wardrobe, opening the double doors and stepping to the side so she could see inside and look over her clothes to pick something out for the day. Everything she chose was always the freaking cutest.

Natasha didn’t take too long to pick, pointing at different items. Definitely adorable.

Clint got Natty over to the changing station, laying her down and tickling her tummy as he got the things ready. He made quick work of powdering her up and getting a diaper secured around her, making the whole thing easier by peppering kisses to all her ticklish spots, making her squeal and giggle. “Up we come,” He helped her hop off the changing table, taking her hand.

Clint knelt and Natasha steadied herself by placing her hands around Clint’s neck. One foot at a time, he got her red woolen tights on, sliding them up over the diaper before gently maneuvering Natty’s arms and head through the holes of the matching red sweater.

“Nearly done, Moya Zvezda.” Clint hummed, pressing a kiss to her forehead as he grabbed the last item of clothing. Once her legs were through the holes of the denim shortalls, he attached the straps around her shoulders and stood back up. “Look at you!” he cooed, brushing a thumb over her cheek. “You look so cute. Here, you go sit over at the desk and I’ll be right there.”

A flush rose over Natasha’s cheeks at the compliment and she dutifully traipsed over to the desk, hopping onto the seat.

Clint took a pair of jeans and a tee from his side of the ‘big’ wardrobe, completely separate to the ‘little’ wardrobe, and much less fun. He got himself dressed quickly before gathering the sheets from the bed, shoving it into the laundry basket and carrying the whole thing over to the door so he’d remember to take it out and actually do it.

He walked over to Natasha, taking her hairbrush from the desk. Standing behind her, he carefully pulled the brush through her damp hair. She didn't like to blow dry it so he left it as it was (it was always towel dried enough that she wouldn't get sick or be uncomfortable). She loved to have her hair brushed so Clint took his time with it, working long after the knots disappeared. Once her hair was silky and soft, he ran his fingers through it a couple of times and pressed a kiss to her temple.

Natasha beamed up at Clint, not needing to say anything for the archer to understand that she was grateful. He kissed the tip of her nose, earning a soft giggle from the girl.

“What now, Princess?” He held out a little chest, opening the top to reveal a mountain of various hair accessories all shoved into it. They really needed to get a bigger box.

Natasha hummed softly, sticking her tongue out a little as she scanned the items, picking some up and dropping them, digging right to the bottom. She chose a couple of hair clips; one with a bee on top and one with a cloud on top. Clint secured them carefully to the sides of her hair, twisting a little hair from the front underneath it. He’d gotten very good at doing pretty hair. Tony loved hairclips and would have up to about ten in his hair at all times if allowed, especially since he was letting it grow out a little. Even Bucky liked to have his hair done and don’t ever suggest playing hairdressers with Thor, that could last for hours.

Clint placed the items back on the desk and smiled down at his little girl. "Now, how about some breakfast? Then we can watch some tv or play, whatever you want, sweetheart."

"Play?" Natasha asked softly, big puppy eyes looking up.

Damn how am I ever supposed to say no to that little face.

"Of course, baby.” Clint hummed, offering his hand to her, “How about we pack your bag with stuff so we don't have to come back?" he suggested.

"'Kay!" Natasha squirmed with excitement, grabbing onto his hand and hopping to her feet. Immediately she was moving around the room to collect her stuff. She chose both BunBun and Marshmallow, a Disney princess Jigsaw puzzle, a good selection of colouring books and her fancy pencils and crayons (she’d been watching Steve draw one night and had asked to see his pencils, the next afternoon he’d gave her a wrapped package, a brand new set of colorful pencils inside.) Since she was the only little at the moment, she left her group games where they were.

Clint grabbed two pacifiers, her soft yellow baby blanket and a couple of her favourite books for her nap later on. He was worried she was still not feeling so good after the morning, so it was important she had all of her favourite, familiar and most comfortable items. They had a couple of changing rooms around the tower, so he didn't need to take any baby powder or diapers and whatnot.

"Hold my hand or carried?" Clint asked as he finished stuffing the backpack full of the chosen items, apart from BunBun of course, who was cradled in her hands. He slung the backpack over his shoulder and opened his arms, already sure of what the answer would be.

"Carry!" Natasha insisted, beaming and rubbing a soft white bunny ear against her cheek as Clint lifted her to his hip, getting her settled.

"You are the cutest." Clint murmured softly, bouncing her a little as he held her in one arm, picking up the laundry in the other. Thank God he was able to carry everything. He thanked whoever was listening for his stamina because he was no super soldier or god and lifting Natasha didn’t come quite as easy as it did to Bucky or Steve. Clint would hate it if he wasn’t able to lift his little girl.

After a quick walk, they were entering the kitchen, and he was met with two warm smiles.

"Morning guys." Bruce hummed, sliding a cup of coffee towards Clint with a wry smile.

"Morning. And thank you." Clint grinned, realizing that Jarvis must have told them about Natasha.

It was a little rare for only one of them to be little, but the others had also had quite a lot of time to drop during the past week.

"Hey little Red." Tony grinned, offering his hand to help the little climb down from Clint’s hip. She took his hand and Clint let her slide down.  

 "You wanna help an old man like me make pancakes?" Tony asked as he led the girl over to the kitchen counter, where he’d already gotten everything they could possibly need spread out ready.

"Yeah!" Natty beamed, clapping her hands in excitement. "If we can make blueberry ones." She quirked an eyebrow.

"Absolutely!" Tony chuckled at her little sassy stance. That girl had everyone wrapped around her finger. They both gathered the batter and moved over to the stove to start making breakfast. As Tony passed the pair, he pointed a glance at Bruce.

Clint stiffened a little at the look, raising an eyebrow, hands wrapped around his coffee mug. "What is it?"

"It's nothing to be worried about. We just didn't want to say in front of Natty." Bruce said quietly, glancing over to make sure the little girl was occupied. "Bucky and Steve were called into Shield for another of Buck's psych evals."

Clint sighed, shaking his head, rubbing at his forehead. "How many is that now? Four? Five? They cleared him for combat, they can't keep putting him through these." Shield had been Clint’s home for a long time and he agreed with a lot of the things they did, but this was pushing it. It was beyond ridiculous at this point and he was pretty sure that even Natasha had been capped at three evaluations.

"I agree." Bruce shook his head, looking upset. They all hated how Bucky got treated sometimes. He’d been clear of ‘The Soldier’ for almost two years but it seemed like no matter how many evaluations he passed, they still wouldn’t clear him for work. "Therapy is fair enough but these evals are unfair when he's already been cleared multiple times."

"I mean, I'm sure he'll pass. Again. But still." Clint sighed, feeling awful at the knowledge of what one of their family members would be going through right in that moment.

"Steve told me that Phil has been advocating for him,” Bucky murmured, “telling Shield that it's enough."

"Good," Clint muttered, a little warmth in his chest as he pictured Phil having a go at his very scary boss, who also just happened to be Phil's husband. "I'd chew him out if he was pushing it too."

They both looked over at Natasha and Tony, having a great time attempting to flip pancakes. Somehow, they’d avoided pancake batter getting everywhere and Tony was actually pretty good at landing them back in the pan.

"He'll need us when he gets back." Bruce said quietly, pulling his gaze from the pair.

"Of course.” Clint nodded.  “And Buck seems to feel better when we're around, little or big."

"And little Natasha gives the best cuddles." Bruce smiled softly, watching as the girl in question helped Tony scatter blueberries into the batter in the pan.

"We can have a sleepover in the main room, if anyone else drops that's okay." Clint said firmly, already planning the rest of the day. "As long as we take care of Buck too." Though he really didn’t need to say that, family took care of family, always.

They all had to go through psych evals, at least twice a year, and had all at some stage had to go through many in a short amount of time, but it was bordering on ridiculous now, this was the fifth in just as many months.

"Hey, Tasha." Bruce called over to her. "How do you feel about us making a nice dinner for everyone tonight?"

Natasha nodded enthusiastically, blueberry goo smeared around her mouth. "Yeah! What gon' make?"

"What do you think we should make?" Bruce hid a soft chuckle at the sight. It was obvious she’d just had a bath and already she was mucky.

Natasha pursed her lips, looking thoughtful before humming softly. "S'ghetti? Papa loves it." In fact, it was Bucky’s favourite meal of all time since it was the same recipe his mama used to make whenever they had the spare money for the ingredients.

Even little, she had clearly figured out that Bucky would need some extra love that day.

Bruce smiled softly. What a special little girl. "I think that sounds lovely. Great choice, baby."

Natasha beamed and turned back to the stove, hopping from foot to foot in excitement. Pancakes were the best!

Soon, breakfast was being plated up. The pancakes were all different shapes and thickness, and maybe just a little too crispy around the edges, but Tony had checked that they were thoroughly cooked and pancakes were pancakes at the end of the day. They were unique, just like their family and Natasha was clearly proud of them, eyes bright and cheeks flushed as Tony helped her carry the plates to the table.

Clint fixed the girl up a sippy cup of strawberry juice and made sure the others had tea or coffee before they sat down to eat. Natasha and Bruce had the blueberry ones and Tony had snuck some chocolate chips into a batch for him and Clint. Happily smearing her pancakes in syrup, Natasha tucked into her breakfast.

“Wow, Natty, these are so good!” Bruce exclaimed, making little exaggerated faces as he ate.

Natasha flushed softly, smiling sweetly at the compliment.

“Very very good,” Clint agreed, “thank you, babygirl.”

“Hey, where’s my thank you?” Tony asked, obviously teasing, sticking his tongue out and pretending to sulk.

Bruce laughed softly, rolling his eyes. “Thank you, Tone.”

It was a fairly calm breakfast, even without the daddies, and Natasha was excited for the rest of the day.

She loved her family.

Chapter Text

After breakfast, the four of them trailed into the living room and spread themselves out across the sofas and the floor.

Natasha was still the only one in headspace, despite Tony’s playfulness earlier, but she was currently trying very hard to fight it. She was still very much little, but doing everything she could and thinking everything she could to try and age herself back up again. She knew something was wrong with Bucky, and knew he would need them when he got back. Natty may have been young, but she wasn’t stupid and it was times like these when big Natasha had one foot in the door.

She was still trying to come to terms with wanting attention, and when anyone else was upset, she hated needing attention still. She didn't want to take something away from someone who needed it. Natasha could be needy sometimes, and she knew that, she didn’t like it but it was what it was. Her daddies and her family loved looking after her, she also knew that, but the guilt often crept in. It wasn’t fair for her to make Bucky look after her when he would be upset and sad when he came home. When she should be looking after him.

Natasha sat in front of the tv, trying to ignore the bright colours of the animated show Daddy...Clint had put on, which was proving difficult because it was one of her absolute favourites. She’d originally gotten comfortable on a blanket laid across the floor, back against one of the couches. The show had been put on and she’d held her bears in her lap as she watched. But quickly, her thoughts had drifted to Bucky and worried about how he’d be when he got home, so she’d started to push the little out.

Her pacifier sat beside her on the floor, the nipple on the carpet so if she did suck on it, she'd get dirt in her mouth, and then it would make her not want to use it anymore. It would serve her right for being selfish. Her stuffies had been pushed to the side and she very firmly refused to look at them. Even though she really just wanted to hold them tight and say sorry for being mean to them.

The girl fiddled with her hands and tried to think over her training sessions and moves from the last week, anything to pull her away from one of her favourite shows. She thought about the gun range, about hand to hand fighting techniques, about the different ways she knew to subdue someone. It wasn’t really working very much. Pushing Natty away had been so much easier before anyone had known about her. She’d gotten comfortable, soft, and now she couldn’t age back up when she wanted to.

Stupid, selfish Natasha. Don’t deserve their love.

Clint watched her shuffling and wiggling for almost ten minutes before he realised what she was trying to do.

Oh no.

He hated that he hadn’t noticed earlier, it had just been a while since it had happened and Clint hadn’t been expecting it. Though, he realized dimly, he should have known something like this would be coming. Just because they’d been quiet discussing the evaluations, that didn’t mean that Natasha didn’t know what was going on. Big or little, she was as clever as anything.

Cursing silently, he pressed mute on the tv screen and walked over to sit down beside her, picking up her now grimy pacifier, pulling a face as he picked a bit of fluff from the nipple. They had back-ups in every single room but Clint thought that getting one out now could very potentially end in a very rare tantrum.

"Natasha?" He asked quietly, ducking his head so he was in her line of site.

Natasha flushed and tried to look away, crossing her arms over her chest, lower lip jutting out in a way that Clint thought might suggest a tantrum coming anyways.

"Moya Zvezda,” Clint shifted so he was now in front of her, very much wanting to stave this off before Natasha got very upset, “can you tell me what's going on?"

Natasha sighed and took a deep breath, fiddling with her hands, eyes as downcast as they could possibly get.

"Don't wanna." She mumbled with a soft shake of her head.

"Why not?" Clint frowned, resisting the urge to reach out and hug her. Touching could go one of two ways, and he really didn’t want to stroke her hair or try and lift her chin up if it was going to go very wrong. One wrong touch and Natasha could freak out and all hope he had of fixing this would go out of the window.

"Cause." Natasha huffed, eyes scrunched up, her whole body vibrating with how tense she was.

"That's a shame." Clint hummed, trying not to let his worry show. One word answers were never a good sign. "Because I'd really like to know what's wrong, and try to help my best girl."

Natasha tutted, frustrated, hands balled into fists. Her cheeks were flushed pink and her eyes full of exasperated tears.

Clint looked behind him at Bruce and Tony, their worry matching his own. None of them had been expecting this. It had been almost six months since the last time.

"I was gonna play hide and seek later, but I guess if Natasha doesn't want to..." Tony murmured, sitting forward in his seat.

Natasha's nostrils flared and she crossed her arms over her chest, teeth gritted.

"I guess I could play on my own with Brucie." Tony continued, humming, "but it would be nice to play with someone else too. And Natty always finds the best hiding places."

Natasha had shifted again, and her eyes were watery with tears that didn’t seem so frustrated anymore. Her expression just looked resigned and sad and it made Clint’s heart actually hurt.

"Can't." Natasha mumbled, almost too faint for them to hear, still refusing to look up for fear of seeing their expressions.

"Can’t play? Why not?" Bruce asked softly, unable to stay quiet and just watch anymore.

"Cause...cause..." Natasha hiccuped, rubbing her fists over her eyes, "cause 's not fair an' 'm bein' selfish." She rubbed at her eyes hard enough to see stars, not wanting to be needy and cry when she was trying to be good.

Clint closed his eyes for a second. He had been right; she was trying to age back up for fear of taking attention away from Bucky.

"Why isn't it fair, Tash?" He knew why but it was important for her to tell them, they couldn’t always give her the answer.

"’Cause...’cause Daddy is gonna need us. 'M not stupid. I know where he is." She mumbled, pulling her knees up to her chest and winding her arms around them.

"Why can't you be small and still be there for him?" Clint tentatively and slowly touched her chin, waiting to see how she reacted to that before gently coaxing her face up to him.

"’Cause he takes care of me. He can't take care of me if he's not good. 'S not fair." Natasha said insistently, sniffling.

"Nat, Bucky is your daddy and he loves taking care of you. He might need some extra love when he comes home, but that doesn't mean you can't be little." Clint murmured, thumb brushing over her cheek.

"'S not fair." She repeated tearfully, a few wet tracks sliding down her cheeks.

"What have we always said, Tash? That we can't control when this side of us comes out, and we can't force it to go away. It's not healthy, baby girl." Clint kept his voice soft and warm, not telling her off, just trying to remind her.

Natasha sighed, shuffling on the spot. "Don't want him to take care of me t'night. Wanna take care of him."

"Natty." Tony murmured, standing and stepping over to her. He got down on his knees besides Clint, facing Natasha.

"There are four other people in this family that can take care of you tonight if you need it. But try and remember that Bucky likes doing it, sweetheart. And even if he doesn't feel up to it, he loves you and wants you around. Big or little." He gently brushed a tear from her cheek.

Natasha sat still for a minute, thinking through what had been said.

Clint hoped they’d come far enough for the girl to realize that pushing Natty down wasn’t healthy, and that everyone wanted to take care of each other. He just wanted her to know that her being little didn’t meant that she was taking anything away from anyone else and that it was perfectly fine and normal to need attention and love.

"S not selfish to be little when he needs me?" Natasha asked weakly, looking up for the first time during their entire conversation.

"It definitely is not." Bruce murmured, leaning forward on the sofa to ruffle her hair. "We can all take care of him in our own special ways."

Natasha paused for a moment, looking around at them all. "Like...like making a card? Or...colourin' somethin' for him?"

Clint smiled, nodding. "I think he would appreciate either of those things very much, baby girl. That’s such a good idea."

"An' still help makin' s'ghetti?" She asked, looking hopeful.

"Absolutely you can. I mean how else is it going to be just right?" Clint kissed her forehead, brushing hair from her face and re-securing the hair clips in their rightful places.

"Now, how about we get you a clean paci and we start your show again?" He asked kindly.

Natasha pursed her lips before nodding. "Okay, daddy." She mumbled, her cheeks flushed a soft pink.

"Hmm but first..." Clint grinned, "I think the tickle monster wants to play!"

The three men then dove towards the girl, gently tickling various places; her chin or her ribs were the most sensitive and soon she was squealing and laughing between every breath, having a great time.

"Noooo stop!" Natasha giggled, playfully batting at their hands as she squirmed away from their touch. They knew when to stop and once they’d finished playing, the four of them shared a big hug, Natasha smiling widely in the middle. They stayed that way for a couple of minutes more, nearly all piled on top of each other.

"Stephen Universe?" Natasha grinned, pointing at the screen, her head sticking up from the human cuddle pile.

Clint beamed. "Absolutely, moya solnyshko."

Chapter Text

After way too many episodes of Stephen Universe, many cuddles, a snack and even a nap (thank God she’d actually gone down for it, a cranky Natty was not a happy Natty), it was time for them to make dinner.

Tony had been hovering between headspaces for a couple of hours. In that pre-drop kinda haze, he’d been able to gently ease himself down. It was always better for them to let the drop occur naturally and over a little bit of time. Sudden drops and in particular, panic drops, pretty much always ended in tears. So after watching the cartoons with Natty, Tony had slipped slowly.

Bruce had led the boy down to his room and ten minutes later, Tony was all diapered and dressed in shortalls (because the youngest kids liked to match) with a long sleeved yellow shirt underneath, and his 'best brother’ pacifier clipped to the neck. The four of them met up in the kitchen, washing hands and getting out everything they needed.

Clint and Bruce started prepping the veggies for the sauce, whilst Natasha and Tony added the spices and tomatoes to the saucepan, not really trusted anywhere near the fancy knives the latter had brought. They did a lot of home cooking and Bruce in particular loved the activity, so Tony had kitted out the whole kitchen with expensive equipment; all the gadgets that they could possibly ever need.

Natasha giggled as her and Tony stirred the sauce, both with one hand wrapped around the wooden spoon, splashing a little over the side of the pan and onto the stove.

"Tone, careful!" The girl laughed softly, leaning in and kissing his cheek.

Tony laughed too, a flush rising up his neck as he tapered back his stirring so it was a little less enthusiastic. He was just so excited to be helping make dinner for everyone.

Their talk from earlier had reassured not just Natasha but himself too. They couldn't help when they dropped, it was as natural as breathing and pushing back a drop was never ever healthy. Tony was small now. That was okay.

Soon all the veggies were prepped and frying in a pan and the sauce was thoroughly mixed up. It was pretty simple but they did good simple.

"Okay, we're going to make the meatballs now, but it's time to feed the animals." Clint hummed, looking pointedly at Natasha and Tony. Clint and Bruce would be making the meatballs, with normal beef for most of them, and a veggie alternative for Bruce and Natasha. They were fiddly though so the it was the youngests’ job to look after the animals instead.

"M'kay." Natasha smiled sweetly, taking Tony's hand and leaning over to pull up Liho and Lucky's food bowls. Natasha and Tony hovered at about the same age sometimes and if they had dropped to the same age, Natasha liked to act like the big sister and Tony was more than happy to go along with it. Natasha carefully scooped Lucky’s biscuits from the big bag under the counter, before handing the scoop to Tony who poured it into the bowl. They repeated that with Liho’s food and each carried a bowl over to the little mats.

Sometimes, when things were busy or none of them were up to going outside, they paid a dog walker to take Lucky out twice a day. Liho was fine exploring the entirety of Avengers Tower on her own. She would wander back upstairs when she got hungry and would probably curl up on Natasha’s lap when they watched a film later.

Lucky came bounding in, ears flopping all over the place as he ran around, making sure to greet everyone before his head tilted, nose sniffing before he ran over to the food bowl.

With the meatballs in to cook, Clint gathered up the art supplies, laying out their play mats across the kitchen floor, out of reach of the flurry of activity. He spread out all of Natasha's stickers, papers, glitters and their massive bin of crayons, for the kids to make cards or draw for their daddy.

With only the pasta left cooking, the oldest two set the table for dinner. They went the whole nine yards; tablecloth, place mats, coasters, cutlery, their fancy glasses.

'Star Spangled Man' filled the room and Bruce chuckled, as he always did at the ring tone, holding his phone to his ear. "Hey, Steve. Yeah, that's fine. Of course. See you soon."

Bruce glanced at the kids before nodding at Clint, and speaking quietly. "They're on their way back, Bucky's not doing so good. Steve said they approved him, again, but he had a panic attack and got confused."

"Flashbacks?" Clint murmured. Flashbacks were awful, resulting from the PTSD a couple of the family dealt with. They pulled them back into the moment or in their cases, moments, that had caused the PTSD. It was like being there all over again, feeling everything all over again. Once they came out of it, they could be confused and overwhelmed and scared and it was always so important that they weren’t alone.

"Sounds like it." Bruce sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, letting out a shaky little breath.

"Crap.” Clint shuffled closer, arm winding around Bruce’s waist. “Alright, we'll figure it out, we always do." He squeezed the other man tightly, pressing a kiss to his cheek before pulling away, that happy caregiver smile on his face.

"Okay, kids, are you all done? Daddy and Papa are on their way back so it's time to put dinner out." He crouched down to help the kids gather up the papers.

“Yup!” Natasha smiled and nodded, dutifully cleaning up most of it, packing away all their stuff in their craft case.

Ten minutes later, the warm spaghetti and meatballs were placed on the table and everyone was pouring out their drinks when Steve and Bucky came in.

Steve had his arm around Bucky's shoulder, carefully leading him into the apartment. The long haired man was leaning against him, and his eyes were red-rimmed and glazed over.

Natasha stood nervous behind Clint, her card cradled against her chest, her other hand curled around the archer’s shirt. Their talk had helped but she was still nervous and feeling guilty about being little when Bucky needed them. He looked so sad and scared and big Natasha had edged into her head a little, reminding her that she knew that haunted gaze and that she had to do anything possible to push those ghosts away.

"Hi, daddy." Natasha said softly, chewing her lower lip, peeking her head out from behind Clint.

"Baby!" Bucky smiled, pulling away from Steve, crouching a little and holding his arms out.

Natasha exhaled and ran over, jumping into his arms. Bucky lifted her up and swung her around in circles, burying his face against her hair, arms tightly wound around his little girl.

"Are you okay, daddy?" She asked quietly, eyes searching his face as he gently set her on her feet.

"I'm much better for seeing all your faces." He murmured, pressing a kiss to her hair, just now spotting Tony hiding behind Bruce.

"My baby boy!" Bucky cooed, offering his arms to Tony too.

Tony flushed and teetered forward, squealing as Bucky squeezed him and swung him around, peppering little kisses against his hair. He gently placed the little boy on his feet.

"We made dinner." Tony said shyly, pointing at the table. "S'ghetti."

"You did?" Bucky beamed, eyes lighting up as he took in the tablecloth and laid table, with his favourite meal and favourite soda and his loves.

"I don’t-." Bucky said softly, swallowing thickly, his eyes watery and threatening to spill tears.

"Kids, go wash your hands." Clint hummed, nudging them in the direction of the sink.

"How are you?" He asked quietly, leaning in to wrap an arm around Bucky's waist and kiss his cheek.

"Been better." Bucky murmured, shrugging a single shoulder, gratefully sinking into Clint’s touch. "It was rough." He sighed.

"I can’t believe they made you do it again." Bruce shook his head, sliding in on Bucky’s other side, leaning up and kissing his jaw, gently squeezing his hand.

"Yeah.” Bucky sighed again, rubbing at his eyes to try and wipe the tears that had escaped away.

"We'll sort it out." Bruce reassured, tenderly brushing a strand of fallen dark hair behind his ear. Bucky seemed upset still, which was understandable, but he didn’t seem quite as confused or lost as when he came through the doors, which was a small step in the right direction.

"I know." The man smiled weakly, looking over at Steve, standing a little to the side as he kept an eye on the kids, playing a clapping game as they waited for the adults’ conversation to end. "Thanks for coming with me. And thank you all for dinner."

When it seemed like they’d finished, Tony shuffled over, pulling Natasha by the hand.

"Daddy?" The boy asked shyly, a piece of brightly coloured paper in his hands.

"Yeah, baby?"

"Natty and I made you somethin’." He whispered, holding out his drawing; Bucky surrounded by the ones he loved, at least twenty hearts, lots of stickers and words like 'best daddy', 'strong' and 'good' all around the border.

Bucky swallowed, kneeling down to accept the picture, unable to speak for a moment.

Natasha gave him her card next; bright red with 'get better soon, daddy' written very carefully in bubble letters. Also covered with stickers, and signed by all of them, plus Thor and Phil and Maria and Nick, and even two shaky paw prints drawn, one bigger for Lucky, and one smaller for Liho.

Bucky cleared his throat and rubbed his eyes quickly. "Thank you." He said quietly, voice catching. Both of the kids came closer, wrapping their arms around his neck.

"Thank you, my loves. These and you, make me feel so much better already." Bucky whispered, squeezing the kids tightly. They stayed that way for a little while longer as the man gathered himself ready for dinner.

Clint rubbed his back and helped him stand. "C'mon, let's eat. We have a film lined up, it's been vetted and is super non-violent."

Bucky chuckled softly. "Thanks, Clint." He hummed.

Natasha shyly walked to the table and pulled Bucky's usual seat out for him, a flush rising over her cheeks. She’d seen the bigs do that for one another sometimes and since they were taking care of Bucky, he deserved to be treated right.

"Natty." Bucky grinned, kissing her hair as he sat down, letting Natasha push him into the table, with only a little help from himself. "Thank you, princess.” He cooed softly.

"Course, daddy." She grinned, still flushed as she took her own seat.

Once everyone was sat down, Bucky held up his drink, holding it in the centre of the table. "To family." He smiled, a real smile, unmarred by the events of the day.

"Family!" Everyone chimed in, happily clinking their glasses together, all smiling as they tucked into their food.

Lucky sat at Clint's feet and even Liho was in the room, watching them from the breakfast island.

As Bucky looked around, he couldn't help but feel emotional, in a completely different way from earlier.

He had the best family and was really the luckiest guy in the world.

Chapter Text

Hey guys! I've been going over every single chapter of all the other fics in this series and making them longer, more detailed and all around better. It would mean so so so much to me if you guys went back and re-read everything. I assure you that it is so much better now, there's details you might miss and not understand if you don't re-read and I really put my heart and soul into every line. Of course, no one has to, but it's much appreciated. Thank you so much for the support and I genuinely hope you enjoy. <3