Babysitting, Part 2
Bedtime Story

A small bump shuddered quietly under the quilt on Clint's massive king-size bed. A few sobs escaped, and he sighed. What was the problem now? He had already dealt with finding the correct pajamas (because apparently, you can't mix and match a Hannah Montana top with Princess Jasmine bottoms), getting a glass of water (the first one was too warm and the second one had a speck in it), and threatening JARVIS within an inch of his electronic life to not speak during the night. The practical part of Clint's brain knew that dealing with young children required plenty of patience, but for heaven's sake, couldn't she just go to sleep? He approached the lumpy bedspread cautiously.

"Ellie," he whispered in his gentlest voice. "What's wrong?" The top of the blanket receded to reveal two wide, wet eyes. She had been crying for so long that her answer came in gasps.

"I, hu-hu-huh, I don't, hu-hu-huh, have my, hu-hu-huh, ted-dd-dy bear!" A fresh stream of tears leaked out and cascaded down her face, but she looked at him with a child's faith that having stated the problem, he – the adult in the room – would fix this for her.

Where the hell am I going to find a teddy bear? Clint looked around his room in mild panic. Unless Bruce – or possibly Thor – had a stuffed animal tucked away in a trunk somewhere, he was fairly sure that there was a distinct lack of teddy bears in the house, or any other kind of comfort-giving bedtime toy. As his gaze fell on a pair of socks in the laundry basket, inspiration struck.

He opened his sock drawer and dug out the largest sock he could find. He stuffed it with two undershirts and tied a knot at the end. Then he rummaged through his closet and pulled the silk handkerchief out of his tux pocket and tied it around the sock tube like a super hero's cape. With a lot of imagination, the makeshift sock doll looked vaguely like Larry the Cucumber. He approached Ellie again, who was trying to find the most comfortable way to suck her thumb. Her teeth had probably changed since the last time she'd tried it, and now her thumb didn't fit properly in her mouth. He knelt down next to the bed.

"You know this is a special hou..castle, right Ellie?" She took her thumb out of her mouth and nodded. "Well, that means little girls have to have special protectors during the night, and I don't think your regular teddy bear is up to the job." Shock exploded across her face, and she opened her mouth (presumably to tell him off for insulting her teddy), but he bulldozed on.

"In this castle, you have to have," he lowered his voice dramatically, "a superhero doll." Her mouth snapped shut, and Clint grinned, warming to the story that he was clearly making up on the spot. "Now, most superheroes, they're pretty busy. Rescuing people, saving the world, it takes up a lot of time. But there are everyday superheroes too. This particular one I'm talking about is really good at fixing little emergencies, like when your mom can't find her keys and she's late, or when there's not enough milk in the carton for your cereal in the morning. That's when he swoops in, cape flying, da-dada-da! and saves the day!" Ellie was completely enthralled.

"What's his name?" she whispered.

"Well, I'll tell you about that. Superheroes can't just pick any old name that suits their fancy, you know. They have to earn their name. Well, this particular superhero was flying around, looking for an emergency to fix, and he was flying over a castle…"

"Like this one?" Ellie interrupted.

"Even bigger," he answered. "And inside, there was a prince. And the prince was getting dressed for a big date with the princess, but…"

"Who was the princess?" Ellie interrupted again.

"What?" Clint was thrown off course. "I don't know, just some royal chick."

"Was she pretty?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess…"

"Was the prince handsome?"

"What-why…"

"Did he kiss her on their date?" Clint cut her off.

"Ellie, let me tell the story, ok?" She fell silent. "Anyway, the prince was getting dressed, and he had to look just right for his date. But when he went down to the dryer, one of his socks was missing! He didn't know what to do, because he couldn't go on his date with the princess in mismatched socks! And he said" –here Clint affected a falsetto voice- " 'oh no, my sock is missing, and now I'm going to be ruined!' And the superhero was flying by and heard him, and flew in the window and said" –dropping his voice, Clint intoned something close to a football announcer's tone-" 'Da-dada-da! Have no fear! Your neighborhood superhero is here! I shall find the missing sock and save your date!' And then he flew into the dryer and found the missing sock. The prince went on his date with the princess with his matching socks and they fell in love and got married and lived happily ever after. And from that day on, the superhero was called…" Clint paused for emphasis, then pulled the sock and handkerchief creation into view and announced: "Captain Sockman!"

Ellie gasped and held out her arms for the makeshift doll, all thought of tears abandoned. Clint presented it to her, and she hugged it tight to her chest happily. Lest he spoil the moment, Clint crept away quietly and dimmed the lights.

As he settled into the nest of pillows and blankets on the floor that would serve as his bed for a few days, he heard Ellie talking very quietly to 'Captain Sockman.' It sounded as though she was telling him not to be afraid of the dark, because Jarbit the ghost was actually very nice and in the morning, there would be waffles for breakfast.