Author's Note: I'm sorry this chapter was so delayed! A lot of you asked for Thor and Jane interaction in your reviews. But here's the thing. I am awful, legitimately awful, at writing Thor. His character speaks in such a strange way that I cannot quite wrap my head around it. That being said, I also know little to nothing about Jane's character. Thus, they probably won't be making any major appearances soon. I do apologize; I just don't want to butcher the characters beyond recognition.
Author's Note 2: This is the ending of this particular story. If there's enough want for a sequel of the kids as teenagers, I will definitely write one. I appreciate all of the reviewers and readers who have stuck with me through all 15 chapters of this story. Hopefully, it won't be the end of the saga. As always, I would love to hear what you have to say. Any ideas you want to see in the sequel or another unrelated story are welcome as well!
Disclaimer: I don't own the Avengers or any such Marvel characters; it makes me sad on a daily basis.
"You're retiring," Banner asked, a little flabbergasted.
"Can one simply retire from our team," Thor boomed.
"Not from the Avengers," Clint reassured quickly. "Just as full-time SHIELD agents. We'll still be part of this team in the field."
"That's not going to go over well with the Cyclops," Stark noted.
"Won't they assign other SHIELD agents to the team? Your place was originally to allow SHIELD to maintain some semblance of control over our team, right?" Rogers clarified as he pushed himself off the counter.
Tony scoffed. "Fury just likes to think he has control. I'd like to point out as the monetary backing for the Avengers that I refuse to train and acclimate two new SHIELD agents to the team."
There was a general consensus amongst the superhero members of the team. Clint grinned broadly. He knew their comrades wouldn't allow them to be replaced by new SHIELD agents. The archer looked across the room, locking eyes with his wife, who sported a small smile as well. The redheaded woman cradled the recently turned four-year-old to her chest and kissed Philip's temple.
"Mommy," the little boy asked as he tilted his head up to look at his mother.
"Can we have a sleepover in the bounce castle?"
"Can we please, Mommy," Amelia squealed happily.
"You want to sleep in this?" Natasha tried to keep the humorous hint out of her voice when she tried to clarify. Both of her children nodded vigorously with wide, excited eyes. "When you have such cozy, warm beds upstairs?" Of course, neither child wanted to sleep in their rooms when a bouncy castle was an option. "Stark, is this contraption you built safe to sleep in?"
"I'm insulted you think I would build something for our gaggle of children that wasn't tested for their safety," he mocked. "I made sure it was Pikachu-proof and everything." When he was met with her questioning gaze, he amended. "Yes, Red, it's perfectly safe for the hawklings to sleep in. I value my package where it is; thank you very much."
"So can we?" Philip asked, jumping up on his knees.
"Why not," Natasha conceded. "But we have to go upstairs to brush teeth and get in pajamas. Then we can come back and have a sleepover."
"You're going to sleep here too? And Daddy?"
"I don't know if you can get Daddy in the bounce house," Natasha teased.
"Amelia, go ask Daddy," Philip declared.
"Because I said so," Philip countered. He put his hands on his hips as he balanced easily on the bounce floor. Clearly, it was a stance he learned from his mother.
"That's a Daddy reason. You're not Daddy, so that doesn't work," Amelia retorted. She mimicked her brother's stance with her hands balled into fists on her hips. She stuck her tongue out at him.
"Just go ask, 'Melia," Philip sighed.
"No. It's my birthday."
"It's your party, not your birthday. Go ask Daddy."
"Nope," she insisted, popping the p.
"Ugh," he groaned exasperatedly. He threw his hands in the air and dropped to the ground of the bounce castle, clearly giving up on the pointless argument. "Shithead," he grumbled. Natasha's head whipped around and she glared at him.
"What did you just say?"
"Shithead." He shrugged, as the word didn't mean much to him. Behind him, Banner stifled a smirk behind a raised hand. Rogers' eyebrows were arched dramatically in disbelief. Clint walked towards the bounce house.
"Philip," the archer asked. "Who taught you that word?"
"Murphy," the boy responded easily.
"Told you that kid was a piece of work," Tony mumbled. Pepper elbowed him in the stomach.
Natasha and Clint switched into Arabic as they quickly discussed the situation. Banner leaned onto the kitchen counter and watched the scene unfold. "I never, in a million years, thought I would see the world's best assassins talking about their child's cussing in a different language with one of said agents inside of a giant purple bounce castle," he whispered to the adults within earshot.
"You and me both," Rogers agreed with a small smile. "What are they saying?"
"They're trying to call a play," Banner informed him. "If they make a big deal out of it, Natasha is saying Philip will just say it more, knowing that it gets a reaction. Barton wants to make sure he knows he's not supposed to say the word to begin with."
"Parenting an infant is like devising strategies in the field," Thor asked.
"In a way," Pepper nodded. "The parenting strategies have more long term effects than battlefield calls. I'm going to take the girls upstairs and get them ready for bed. They've had a long day." Tony kissed each one of his daughters before smiling softly as his three ladies moved quietly towards the elevator.
"Actually, the last thing in the world I thought I would ever see would be a civilized and tamed Tony Stark." Banner amended his previous statement, throwing a smirk towards his science buddy.
"Oh shut up. You staying for a while, Thor? I bought a closet of PopTarts for your enjoyment, just in case."
"Why thank you! But alas I must depart. There is business on Asgard that requires my steadfast attention. I came only to celebrate young Amelia's birthday."
"Safe travels." Rogers wished, clapping Thor soundly on the back. The demi-god nodded, waved to the Barton family still engrossed in conversation, and departed to the balcony to take flight. "One day, I will get use to that." He promised himself aloud. "I got used to the talking yet nonexistent butler and YouTube and email. I can get use to Thor swinging a hammer like a helicopter and flying into the sky with a cape."
"Not much of a chance, old timer." Stark nudged Rogers with his shoulder. "But hey, for a 70-year-old popsicle, you're doing pretty damn good. Soon, we'll tackle the smart phone."
"I am content with my current phone. It fulfills its purpose," Rogers insisted with a strong shake of his head.
"But Cap, you need a smart phone. The one you've got now, well, it might as well be as old as you are," Stark returned.
"No, we did not have cell phones when I went under. We were lucky to have landlines at all. People still appreciated the value of a handwritten letter." As he reminisced, his shoulders dropped slightly in a homesick way.
"Rogers, your cell phone is a brick. A smart phone could be useful. Just think about it. Stark Industries has a million easy-to-use models we could set you up with," Tony encouraged.
"We'll see. We'll see. Let's just focus on making sure Fury doesn't reassign our team. I can't see the Council letting those two retire and stay on as Avengers. Logistically, it would be a bad move to try and adapt two new agents when this team is already functioning at such a high rate. New agents could be a major detriment in the field." As Rogers spoke, Banner couldn't help but agree. Throughout the years, the general attitude about Nick Fury, the Council, and SHIELD had decreased from tolerated to quiet disdain.
"The thing is, Cap, we're holding all the good cards. The Council wants the Avengers to keep international peace and fight galactic crime, fine. The Avengers, though, includes Romanov and Barton. They want us to fight. If we say we don't fight without our resident assassins, the Council will eventually see reason and allow them the retirement plan they want." Stark shrugged, laying out the facts as he would a winning hand in a poker match.
"You don't think Fury is going to be an issue," Banner asked. He was concerned, though he definitely saw the merit and strength in Stark's logic.
"I think ultimately Fury has a soft spot for those two agents, if only because they were Coulson's favorite duo. Coulson and Fury were, oddly enough, friends. Because Coulson respected and trusted the Black Hawk partnership, Fury respects and trusts it as well. I think Fury adopted them under the guise that they're the agency's best agents, but in reality, he adopted them because they were always Coulson's favorites."
"Stark, I hope you're right," Rogers conceded.
"There's another thing I never thought I would hear in my life," Banner laughed. "Wow, today is a day of surprises, isn't it? Well, I'm off to the lab. I'm working on analyzing that toxin SHIELD sent that appeared as a side effect of one of the new weapons they're designing. Care to help?"
"Do I get to blow stuff up," Stark asked excitedly.
"It's a toxin," Banner countered. "And knowing you, I'm sure you'll find a way to make the substance implode." The doctor shook his head in pretend exasperation, though his eyes sparkled with excitement.
"Have fun," Rogers mock-saluted. "I'm going to call it a night." Barton waved in recognition before turning back to the bounce house.
"You want to retire?"
"You want to leave the agency?" Fury tried to clarify. "Both of you? Simultaneously? Not a leave of absence or a sabbatical, but you both want to permanently retire?"
"We were thinking of being labeled as agents on inactive duty, sir." Barton interjected. All in all, he thought the meeting was going much better than expected. Fury's vein hadn't started pulsating nor had the older man started yelling obscenely loudly. It seemed a little odd, but Clint couldn't help but remember the anti-climactic meeting years ago in which the agents had informed the director of the birth of their first child. He hoped this meeting would have equally positive results.
"What are you defining 'inactive duty' as, Agent Barton?"
"We take missions only as a favor to you when there is no other possible way to accomplish them. We both recognize we owe you that much for your professional help and courtesies over the years. Apart from the few missions you call us in for personally, we will not complete regular missions as agents. Our children are at a point where they need our presence. As their happiness and wellbeing are our utmost priorities, we have reached the inactive duty status as a reasonable solution." Barton sat with his shoulders back and his chin up as he professionally and respectfully laid out their case for Fury. "Regardless, we will continue our roles within the Avengers Initiative."
"Inactive duty isn't a problem. I can grant you that. With inactive duty, SHIELD will maintain your benefits and offer payment on a per-case basis. In other words, you will both become consultants to SHIELD. You're still not to take contracting work from other organizations as you both remain on SHIELD's payroll." Fury rubbed the top of his head as he paused to think about the next segment.
"We'll have the flexibility to accept or decline offers to consult," Natasha clarified.
"Of course," Fury nodded. "As inactive agents, you choose whether you wish to accept any request made by myself or the agency. The choice is entirely yours. Remaining as liaisons on the Avengers Initiative may be a more complicated task."
"How so," Barton inquired. "We aren't just liaisons, Director."
"You're still the only two mortals on a team of immortal superheroes. You are the best, yes, but you are replaceable. What I believe isn't the issue; what the Council believes and insists upon is. They're going to demand active SHIELD agents be assigned to your positions on the Avengers Initiative." Barton smirked at Fury's words. "I don't want to know why you're making that mischievous look, do I?"
"Probably not," Barton agreed.
"Stark," Fury asked. Natasha nodded. "Of course, it is always Stark. What's he doing this time?"
"The superhero sector of the Avengers is ready to refuse and ignore any orders if new agents are assigned to the team in the place of Agent Romanov and myself." Barton couldn't wipe the smirk off his face as he informed the Director that the Council didn't have much choice in the matter. "Basically, if the Council wants the Avengers to fight, they fight with us or not at all."
"Well this should go over swimmingly." Fury muttered, though he was already resigned to the fact. He could see what a good team the Avengers made in the field, and he knew it would be a bad call to disband the team. He also knew that the Council would raise hell. He also knew that ultimately Stark would win and the Avengers would remain in tact because Stark doesn't lose.
"So, sir, are we clear?" Barton asked.
"I'll file the paperwork. By the start of business tomorrow, your statuses will change from active field agent to inactive agent/ consultant. Any idea how I'm going to find another equally successful partnership?"
"Find a smartass circus trickster who is obsessively attached to a stupid medieval weapon that can't obey a simple termination mission," Natasha offered with a shrug and a rare smile that barely lifted the corners of her mouth.
"Neither of you can obey simple mission guidelines if I recall, Agent Romanov." Fury replied. "Throughout your partnership, I clearly remember one too many missions when you flailed from a building or Barton blew something up. One of these days, I was hoping the two of you would learn the definition of discreet."
"You should have your hands full trying to replace us," Barton laughed. "And my bow is not a stupid medieval weapon, woman."
"Woman, eh? Well, you and your bow can get nice and cozy on the couch," Natasha teased.
"Sounds like a pleasant evening. My beautiful bow lets me call her sweet pet names."
"Before this turns into something that I really would rather not hear, get out of my office." Fury grumbled, though there was a humorous edge to his tone. As the two agents stood to leave, the director reached out a hand, offering a polite handshake. "Mr. and Mrs. Barton, thank you for your service."
"How does it feel," Clint asked as they drove away from base.
"When it hits me, I'll let you know." Natasha turned and watched the building blur by outside. "What do we do now?" Her question was quiet.
"We live the life neither of us ever dreamed of having."
Natasha nodded, a soft smile playing at the corners of her lips. She twisted her wedding ring around her finger, enjoying the familiar feeling of the jewelry rubbing against her skin. It was, in fact, nothing she had ever dreamed of. She never thought she would be walking away from that life. She never dreamed she would be willingly choosing family and love over training and experience.
"You've got to admit, Tasha," Clint commented softly. "It's got a nice ring to it."
"That it does," she agreed. He smiled, rolled down the windows, and turned up the radio. She laughed freely, smiling wide, as she closed her eyes and let the wind tousle her red curls. "It definitely does."