This is a completely AU one shot I wrote for svetlanabril on Tumblr a few weeks ago. I've been tossing up whether to post it or not here ever since since it only really ties in to Crystallize in my imagination and thinking about the 'what if'. But here it is. This adorable little piece that was prompted by a gorgeous photo. I've been a bit more active on Tumblr lately, posting a few things about Crystallize if anyone wants to pop over there and have a look under my author name.
Riley stood with his chin resting on his hand as he stared out in the scene in front of him. The hot summer's day had turned into a stormy afternoon. The clouds hadn't long dissipated leaving the air sticky and humid. Sweat dripped down the back of Riley's shirt as he lent against the fence. It was only a minor inconvenience as he watched the scene in front of him. The toddler in the chicken pen wandered around, his hand in plastic bucket as the chickens squawked around him.
"That's it buddy," Riley coaxed the young boy in front of him. "Throw it to them."
The toddler looked up at him with a toothy grin. Riley felt his heart melt at the sight of the blonde haired and green eyed little boy. Riley still pinched himself every single day, even though it had been 15 months now, that the adorable boy was actually his. All of his dreams had come true. Marrying the girl of his dreams and them finally getting the family Riley had wanted for such a long time. Life had thrown them plenty of bumps in the way. Some of those bumps still woke Riley up at night, shaking and terrified from the nightmares of what could have been. But Kari was always there with him. Then Riley was always there for her when she had the same.
"When's Mommy going to be home?"
Riley's attention went back to his son with a gentle smile. Beyond the blonde hair, there was never going to be any denying he was Riley's son. He was the spitting image of him, even at 15 months old.
"Soon Troy," Riley said patiently. "Uncle Jared will drop her off when she's done in New York."
All three of them were meant to be going to New York that morning. Troy had woken up with a stuffy nose and a slight temperature so Kari had gone by herself. It had been the first time since Troy had been born that Kari had gone away and Riley found himself missing his wife terribly. All the meetings with the various people within Stark Industries had gone well. The new technology to make their free range chicken farming the ability to expand exponentially was going to be ground breaking. Riley still couldn't quite believe it that they personally knew Tony Stark and that Stark himself had been working on the invisible barrier systems fully powered by arc reactor technology for them. It made it a power source able to be put anywhere. It meant they could fully utilise all the woodlands around the farm without costing a fortune in fencing. Not to mention the new surveillance systems, heating systems and everything else Stark could think of. They were about to become to most technological advanced farms in the entire world. It had been Kari's idea one day when they were talking about expanding. The idea had rolled on from there to it being a commercially viable option.
Troy's little face lit up at the mention of his favourite person in the world. One of the chickens got impatient and jumped up pecking at the bucket. Riley shifted, ready to swoop into the pen and save his son. He'd been on the receiving end of cranky chickens far too often as a boy. He'd spare his son the same pain.
"Shoo." Little Troy scowled at the chicken, shooing it away with his booted foot. The chicken scuttled away in haste, flapping her wings to get away from him. It made Riley smile even wider. His son was a brave one. He may have looked like Riley but his temperament was all Kari. If you told Troy he couldn't do something it was guaranteed they'd find him doing exactly that not too long afterwards. It was endearing and horrifying all at once. At least he hadn't picked up swearing just yet.
Riley felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out, squinting at the screen brightly reflected the afternoon sun back in his face. It was a text message from Evans.
What are you doing to your poor wife? She looks exhausted. I just ran into her as she went into the last meeting with the marketing people. You better put Barton's cooking lessons to good use and have something on the table ready to go in an hour and a half when she's done.
A pang of guilt hit Riley. While Evans namesake had been unwell this morning, Kari hadn't looked the greatest either. She'd been off colour but brushed it off as nothing more than a bug. Little Troy had been going to playgroup and bringing home all manners of bugs and rashes, as small children tended to do. Kari was sure she'd picked up whatever was bothering their son. Riley had tried to get her to reschedule all the meetings. Kari had been adamant about attending them.
Little Troy was sick this morning and Kari thinks she might have picked up the bug as well. He's fine this afternoon so I hope she only needs to sleep it off. Thanks for the heads up though. Are you guys still coming over for the weekend?
Since SHIELD fell and a lot of people found themselves jobless, Evans had found himself being offered a position as head of security for the Avengers Tower. The job offer had been far too good for him to turn down. Riley was sure some of it had been Kari's doing but she shrugged it off with a knowing smile whenever it was brought up. The Avengers were moving to a new facility in upstate New York in the next few months. Evans and the rest of his family were going to come out for the weekend for a visit before it got too busy. The thumbs up back from Evans was all the confirmation Riley needed.
"You finished buddy?" Riley tucked his phone back into his pocket, turning his attention back to his son. Troy had finished throwing the corn out to the chickens and was now patting one of the more tolerant ones. Troy nodded, grabbing his empty bucket and came running over the fence. Riley opened the gate for him, scooping up the toddler as soon as he was in arm reach. Troy shrieked in delight, laughing as Riley spun them both around.
"Come on, let's go put some dinner on before Mom gets home." Riley couldn't help but give his son a hug before he put him back down. "What should we have for dinner?"
"Nuggets!" Troy suggested brightly, clapping at his brilliant idea.
"Why am I not surprised?" Riley laughed. Troy would eat chicken nuggets for breakfast, lunch and dinner if he was allowed to. "How about spaghetti bolognese?"
It was Kari's favourite meal. Barton had taught Riley to cook it years ago when he'd started giving Riley cooking lessons. It was fail safe and Kari always begged him to cook it at least once a week. After a long day, it would be guaranteed to put a smile on her face.
Troy pulled a face, showing his disgust at eating something besides chicken nuggets. He ran ahead a few steps and jumped feet first into a puddle, sending mud and water splashing up at them both. The sound of childish laughter rang around the quiet farm as Troy's overalls got soaked with mud and water. Riley mentally added getting his son clean to the list of things that was currently piling up before Kari got home. Still, the smile couldn't be wiped off his face as his son ran ahead of him making a mess of himself, the laughter never stopping all the way to their house. Riley had never been so content in his life as he was now. Some people might tease him about being a house husband but he couldn't be happier. Life was perfect.
Dinner was on the stove and Troy was cleaned up from his romp in the mud when Riley heard a noise downstairs. The muffled sound of his name came up to him a few seconds later.
"Mommy!" Troy shrieked. He jumped off the bed before Riley could stop him, dressed in only a nappy. With only the freakish speed a toddler could posses, Troy was out the door and down the stairs before Riley could even made it out of the bedroom. Kari kept joking that their son didn't need powers at the speed he ran at. Riley always pointed out that knowing their luck that would be exactly the power he possessed and they'd never keep up with him.
Riley followed at a more sedate pace down the stairs. When he got to the living room Troy was in Jared's arms, talking at a million miles an hour. Kari was standing to the side looking every inch the power woman she was. The sharp grey skirt business suit with the light blue shirt had been Pepper's doing. When Kari had shown it to him this morning, Riley fought the urge to drag her back to bed and peel it off her. Her first pregnancy had softened the hard lines of her body slightly, giving her a hint of curves. The suit was extremely flattering and hugged her in all the right places. Kari's tired expression melted into one of pure adoration as Riley crossed the room. Riley pulled her into a tight hug, enjoying the moment of peace while it lasted.
"Hi," Kari breathed into his ear. "God I missed you today."
Riley hugged her even tighter at those words. Her cherry blossom perfume mixed with the vanilla shampoo she loved reached his nose. Riley couldn't help but to breath in deeply, soaking in the scent that was all her.
While they were in STRIKE, there had been times when they'd barely seen each other for a month. It came with the job and every moment together then was precious. He always missed her terribly when they were apart but neither of them ever voiced how hard the separation actually was. They simply took every moment they had together like it could be their last. There had been plenty of close calls. Riley's near miss after their mission in Syria, an inch to the left of the gunshot wound he'd gotten and he would have bleed out within minutes. Kari coming back half dead after Pripyat. Something Riley had never quite forgiven Jared for. That horrible moment when Kari and Natasha's car was shot off the road near Odessa. The fall of the Triskelion where both of them had barely made it out alive. Plus countless other missions that Riley didn't want to think of. Every single shitty moment was made better with her in his arms right now.
"I missed you too." Riley pulled back enough so he could press a kiss on his wife's lips. He could feel her smiling against him as they kissed. "Good day?"
"Mmm." Kari's noise of non committal was muffled as she buried her head into Riley's shoulder.
Riley didn't take offence to her not wanting to talk about the day. While Kari was proving to be very business savvy, she hated the rigmarole of everything. She didn't look much better than she had this morning either. He simply pressed a kiss to the side of her head that was visible and tightened his arms around her again. They only got another few seconds of peace before Troy's fascination with Uncle Jared waned and he flung him at Kari.
"Hey my little man." Kari untangled herself from Riley and picked up their son. "Did you keep Dad in line all day?"
Riley felt his heart swell from happiness seeing his wife hug their son. It had been a long road before they had any luck falling pregnant. After three failed IVF attempts and a miscarriage, they'd both decided to stop trying because the heartbreak was getting too much. They'd both joked about actively not trying but not avoiding it either. It wasn't until nearly a year later with no luck Kari had to take a routine pregnancy test after she fell off the quad bike and needed an x-ray of her hand. The x-ray had suddenly turned into an ultrasound and they found out she was 13 weeks pregnant. There'd been nothing to hint at her being pregnant. She had sailed through the pregnancy with no problems and barely looked pregnant until she was 32 weeks along. Then she resembled a beach ball with limbs. Troy had been impatient and decided he was ready four weeks later in a big rush. Riley had barely gotten them into the birthing suite before Troy was born, a mere two hours after Kari felt the first signs of labour. It had been a wild ride and Riley hadn't missed a second of it all.
"Thanks for dropping her back." Riley turned to Jared while Troy told Kari all about their day. "I appreciate it. Are you staying for dinner?"
It had taken a long time after Pripyat for Jared and Riley to be on speaking terms. It wasn't until after SHIELD fell that they even got close to being where they were originally. Riley had hated how much it hurt Kari in those few years it had taken to patch things up between them.
"Nah, I've got date night with the ball and chain," Jared said with an easy smirk. "I got tickets to Swan Lake and I would be a dead man if I missed it."
"You'll be a dead man if she ever hears you call her that," Kari said, scowling over at her twin. Her gaze flicked to Riley and she switch to Icelandic, talking rapidly to Jared.
Even after the years they'd known each other, Riley had only picked up some very basics in the complicated language Kari and Jared spoke. She was talking to fast for him to understand anything now but there was a clear warning in her tone. Whatever she was saying made Jared roll his eyes and hold his hands up in defeat with a placid reply.
"Say goodbye to Uncle Jared," Kari switched back to English, hitching Troy up on her hip a little higher.
"Bye Jared," Troy obediently parroted, waving a chubby fist at him.
"Bye." Riley barely had time to get the word out before Jared was gone. He looked over to Kari, wondering if he should push the issue about whatever her and Jared were speaking out. The exhausted look on her face made Riley quickly switch tactics. "I cooked spaghetti bolognese for dinner."
"Have I told you how much I love you today?" Kari reached over and gave Riley a quick kiss. "Shall I dress this monster?"
"Go sit down," Riley said gently, reaching out his arms to take their son off his wife. "Have a drink and I'll finish dressing our little mud monster."
When Riley came back downstairs with a dressed Troy, there was a bourbon poured for him sitting on the table as well as a cup of juice. Kari was sitting down sipping on her drink, flicking through her phone. She hastily put it up before Riley could make a smart ass comment about no working at the dinner table. Riley put Troy in his chair and started to finish dinner off as Kari filled him in on the day. The conversation drifted lazily around what Riley and Troy had done all day to the success of the meetings. Riley was impressed to hear Kari only threw one thing at Stark the entire day. While they'd grown to be close friends over the years, Tony liked to push Kari's buttons to get a reaction out of her. Unluckily for Tony, it usually involved him getting some kind of injury.
After dinner, despite Kari's protests, Riley made her move to the couch and promise to stay put while he put Troy to bed. Even though he slept a lot more than usual during the day, Troy had a quick bath and went to bed with no protest. It was a flip of the coin whether he'd stay up for hours or go straight to bed these days. His little personality was exploding and he was getting a mind of his own. Something Riley both cherished and dreaded.
Going back downstairs, Riley quickly cleaned up the kitchen. The TV was playing in the background too low for him to hear. It was enough noise to cover up the sound of him cleaning up. When he was finished, he walked into the living room and found Kari laying across the couch with her eyes closed. The show on TV she'd turned on was forgotten.
"Hey." Riley reached over and gently shook her awake.
"Not sleeping, just resting my eyes," came the sleepy reply from her. Kari blearily opened her eyes, smothering back a yawn as she looked up at Riley. "Game of Thrones is on. No one can sleep through that."
Riley chucked as he took the remote from Kari's limp grip and switched the TV off. He wasn't a fan of Kari's favourite TV show and would only tolerate watching an episode once. He had no idea why Kari would always watch the repeats of the same episode she'd only seen a few days ago.
"Come on, bed time for you too," Riley said, bending down next to her. He easily lifted her up off the couch into his arms. He snagged up her phone as he straightened up, knowing she'd want it if she woke up properly
Kari said nothing and snuggled into the crook of Riley's neck as he carried her up the stairs. She didn't stir until Riley put her down on the bed.
"Shit, where's my phone?" Kari sat up looking a little more awake.
"Right here." Riley took it out of his pocket and handed it to her. "No work in bed. You've done enough today."
"No, it's not work," Kari said around a yawn. "I've got something to show you."
Riley didn't miss the look of nerves cross across her face as she unlocked her phone. Riley sat down on the edge of the bed next to her as her fingers hovered above the screen. Kari bit her lip before her fingers slowly moved across the screen as she pulled up whatever she was going to show Riley. The hesitation wasn't his imagination as Kari's fingers finally stopped. She was holding her phone angled away from Riley so he couldn't see the screen.
"What's up?" Riley felt his own tug of nerves at her obvious hesitation.
"Remember when we teased Evans about Abby falling pregnant with William?" Kari said slowly, looking up at Riley from underneath her eyelashes.
"Yes, vividly." Riley held back a chuckle. It had been a total shock to everyone that Evans and Abby had fallen pregnant again. Evans admitted to Riley that they had so many problems conceiving Alexi they hadn't bothered with contraception afterwards. They'd had no luck falling pregnant naturally so it had never crossed their mind it might actually happen.
"The karma fairy finally pissed in our cereal for that one," Kari said dryly, turning the phone screen around and handing it to Riley.
On her phone screen was the photo of an ultrasound. In the black and white image, a small blob looking thing was floating around. Riley felt his eyes go wide as he looked back to Kari.
"Is that?" Riley didn't have the breath to finish the sentence.
"Our little 9 week old blob," Kari said, her voice shaking. "I didn't believe the doctor when he told me those antibiotics could mess with my pill. I guess I'll pay more heed to his warnings next time."
Riley's mind stretched back to what had happened back then. Kari had stood on a rusty nail 10 weeks ago and needed a course of antibiotics when it became infected. The doctor's warning about the antibiotics messing with Kari's contraceptive pill had made both of them scoff at the time. Over the last few weeks Riley had been tossing up when to bring up the conversation of a second child. Life kept getting in the way and it hadn't happened. This had just settled that perfectly for him.
"Say something?" Kari said quietly, breaking into Riley's thoughts.
He realised he'd been staring at the ultrasound for far too long. His silence could have been mistake for something else entirely.
"I'm…" Riley trailed off as he felt his voice hitch. It was their little secret between him and Kari that he'd cried tears of joy when they found out she was pregnant with Troy. Right now, he could feel the same tears threatening to choke him. He was so happy he could barely make a word. He forced it through before the moisture in his eyes got too much and his throat closed up completely. "I really want a girl this time."
Riley reached over and pulled Kari into a crushing hug. She relaxed under his strong grip, hugging him back just as hard.
Just when Riley didn't think life could be any more perfect, it had gotten better.