ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This story was written for the Asexy Valentines Fest, partly inspired by [personal profile] aceofannwn. It also fills the "game night" square on my card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This fest features fundamental motifs that will be familiar to most readers. It encourages writers to analyze storylines and characters, then reinterpret them in new ways.

I got to thinking that there isn't much family-love fiction, compared to sexual-love fiction. There isn't much non-sexual ageplay, compared to sexual ageplay. There are all kinds of stories about fights and explosions, and far less about cleaning up the mess afterwards. And all the Avengers have a broken past in one way or another, as do most superheroes. So all those things came together to make this story.

A note on feedback: While it's not necessary to comment on every post I make, remember that I don't know who reads/likes things if nobody says anything.  Particularly on long stories, I've discovered that I get antsy if there's nothing but crickets chirping for several posts.  So it helps to give me feedback at least once, even if it's just "I like this" or "This one doesn't grab me."

Fandom: The Avengers
Characters: Phil Coulson, Clint Barton, Natasha Romanova, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, Nick Fury, JARVIS
Medium: Fiction
Warnings: No standard warnings apply.
Summary: Phil Coulson is SHIELD's best handler for a reason: he can deal with the broken people that nobody else can manage but desperately need anyway. So he comes up with an unusual teambuilding idea to shore up the Avengers.
Notes: Asexual character. Aromantic character. Asexual relationship. Flangst. Dysfunctional dynamics. Mention of past abuse. Incidental self-injury. Non-sexual ageplay. Games. Cuteness. Teambuilding. Personal growth. Howard Stark's A+ parenting. Hurt/comfort. Trust issues. Making up for lost time. Odin's A+ parenting. Teamwork. Family of choice.

Skip to Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12Part 13, Part 14.  

Read the rest of the series: "Eggshells," "Dolls and Guys," "Saudades," "Turnabout Is Fair Play," "Touching Moments," "Splash," "Coming Around," "Birthday Girl," "No Winter Lasts Forever," "Hide and Seek," "Kernel Error," and "Happy Hour."


"Love Is for Children" Part 1


The problem with teambuilding, Phil mused, was that you couldn't do it without a team. He could corner any one of the Avengers, but he had yet to get more than two of them together for more than a few minutes, outside a mission. Tony spent most of his time hiding in his lab making things. Bruce spent most of his time in his lab trying to unmake the Hulk. Steve just hid in his room. Thor was stuck in Asgard for the foreseeable future.

Clint and Natasha came within Phil's reach slightly more, because they'd been his assets the longest. So Phil knew exactly how many hours Clint spent in the archery range before blisters rose even through his tough skin, and popped, and peeled away to leave raw pink fingers that he tried to conceal when he finally came up for supper. Clint was trying to forget what had happened to him. Phil knew exactly how many books Natasha had read, and that every one of them was nonfiction and in English, desperate attempts to anchor herself in what was here and now and real. She was also perpetually ready to obliterate anything that threatened her teammates. This awareness of them made it easier for Phil to gauge the level of trouble at hand, compared to worrying about how much food Tony might or might not eat, and what precisely constituted Bruce's complete list of triggers, and whether it was really good for Steve to decorate his entire apartment in vintage 1930s goods.

They healed well from physical wounds; emotional ones, not so much. The more they forced themselves to buck up so they could fight supervillains effectively, the more Phil worried. The Avengers had taken a lot of damage before and during the Battle of New York, some of it from "friendly fire," which was just a disgrace. Friendly fire isn't, Phil grumbled to himself. All of that made it awkward to practice cooperation with everyone limping inwardly and trying to avoid putting weight on their personal issues. It was doubly awkward attempting to work out communal living arrangements in Tony's enormous, rebuilt tower where none of them -- possibly even Tony -- really felt at home.

Phil looked at the ruins of his team, tallied up the harm done by Fury's savage trick with the bloodied cards, and tamped down a desire to murder his boss. It wouldn't help. Phil needed a way to fix what was broken, but he hardly knew where to start.

By the time he'd shaken off the miserable backlash from Loki destroying Phil's Life Model Decoy, the team had thought him dead for a week. Steve had personally arranged a funeral and interred what was left of Phil's prized collection, all signed, along with the closed casket. Fury still hadn't owned up to the deceit. No, he left that mess for Phil to clean up after he could finally walk out of SHIELD medical -- "So they'll know it's really you, Agent." What a disaster. No wonder nobody wanted to see him, or each other. It all just hurt too much.

So Phil sorted through his toolbox of teambuilding techniques. It was his fluency with things like this that made him SHIELD's best handler, the one who got the brilliant but broken people that nobody else could manage and desperately needed anyhow. Phil knew how to work with whomever and whatever he found at hand. Right now he needed something simple, something safe. It had to be something they could reliably do. He wanted to rebuild his people's trust in themselves, before even trying to broach the topic of trusting each other. There was just too much betrayal in the past to start anywhere but the very foundation. They urgently needed a way to relax and unwind.

Phil dismissed the cloak-and-dagger stuff first, then the batch of entrepreneurial options that probably wouldn't work for anyone but Tony. He set aside the soft tangle of cotton loops and wooden beads. Nobody would find the two-person rope puzzle fun right now. They weren't musically inclined enough for a drum workshop, either.

He flipped through a handbook of cooperative games, wishing again that Fury had just listened to him and not cut him out from under Steve before they could even start to bond. It would've been easy to use Steve's innately gentle, playful nature to form a strong team around him -- if he'd had one good trustworthy connection to start. The way things went, though, Steve wouldn't have any heart for cooperative games right now. Without him, there was little chance of convincing anyone else to give it a try.

There were other kinds of games, however, Phil mused. Clint, Natasha, and Tony all played video games, poker, and so forth. Steve had never seen video games until recently, but according to old records he had played at least pinball and checkers. Most soldiers knew how to play poker too. Bruce ... was an enigma. Phil didn't know what kind of games he might like or hate. Card games were common, though, and relatively safe. Maybe something would work out.

The first game night was almost a total loss. Steve sent his regrets in a politely worded message. Bruce just said "No," and vanished back into his lab. Tony neither responded nor arrived. Clint and Natasha both came to the common room because Phil had asked.

Phil suggested card games. They looked at him with suspicion, and he died a little inside. He sighed and let them play video games. Predictably, they chose player-vs-player. They tossed a coin to see who got to pick the game for each round. Clint always chose fantasy so he could use a bow. Natasha invariably went for modern or sci-fi military games. Neither of them ever chose anything except first-person-shooters. They also picked on each other the whole time, mocking every mistake.

"This is stupid," Clint said after two hours, tossing his controller onto the couch.

"You're just saying that because you lost again," Natasha said as she picked off the last of the game-generated enemies to finish her score.

"Sportsmanship, Natasha," Phil said gently. "Nobody likes a sore winner."

It was the wrong thing to say, not for Natasha but for Clint. He was still upset about how well he had performed under mind control. "Winning isn't everything," Clint muttered.

Clearly he blamed himself for what had happened on the Helicarrier. Clint had a nervous edge to his energy these days, and dark circles under his eyes. Phil knew that he was sleeping, on average, about two hours a night. It left him prone to dozing off during the day, only to force himself awake again. Natasha fared only a little better, still skittish around Bruce and reluctant to let either Clint or Phil out of her surveillance range, for all she kept watch from a discreet distance. She jittered unless she concentrated on remaining motionless.

Worse, Clint and Natasha seemed uneasy with each other, both willing to offer comfort but hesitant to accept it. They had been partners for years. Their relationship was not romantic as people tended to misread it -- Clint was asexual and Natasha was aromantic -- but they had a tight platonic bond. Natasha preferred to exercise her distinctively predatory sexual interests during missions only. (Her code name was no accident.) Clint had no such interests at all; sexuality frankly bored him, as anything more than a subject for sassy banter. That made social connections more challenging for both of them, so they relied a great deal on their partnership. Seeing them rub each other the wrong way was painful to watch.

"It's how you play the game that counts," Phil said to Clint, hoping to take the edge off the competition that was turning from fun toward fight.

Clint picked up that thread, offering, "You pick the next game, Natasha. Maybe one of the spy games? We haven't done one of those yet, and you used to love playing--"

"Love is for children!" she snapped.

"All right," Phil said mildly. An idea was dawning on him, not coming on all at once like a cartoon lightbulb, but rather brightening slowly and steadily like a dimmer switch being turned up. It was a much more advanced exercise than he would ordinarily have tried at this stage, but then again, it was really Natasha who suggested it. That held promise, and Phil had long since learned to trust his instincts. "I think I can work with that."

* * * 

Notes:

See the two-person rope puzzle.

Among Phil's books is Everyone Wins! Cooperative Games and Activities.

[To be continued in Part 2 ...]

(no subject)

Date: 2013-02-15 03:45 am (UTC)
dreamwriteremmy: Alexis Bledel, a smiling brunette girl wearing a pink shirt, sitting on a bench (Default)
From: [personal profile] dreamwriteremmy
I'm not familiar with Avengers canon, but I'm enjoying this and your other Avengers works even though I'm not familiar with the canon. :) Haven't had much spoons to reply to most of these, but I am reading your recent stuff. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-02-15 07:26 pm (UTC)
alee_grrl: A kitty peeking out from between a stack of books and a cup of coffee. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alee_grrl
I adore the Avengers (I haven't seen a movie that many times in the theater in years), and Phil is my absolute favorite. My ambition in life is to make a superpower out of being competent and Phil and Radar O'Riley are two of my role-models. :) This is a very intriguing beginning and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-08 01:24 pm (UTC)
jeshyr: Blessed are the broken. Harry Potter. (Default)
From: [personal profile] jeshyr
your stories are bestest.

i didn't know it was here until now, but i'm reading all of it that there is now! I like it a lot.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-08 01:25 pm (UTC)
jeshyr: Blessed are the broken. Harry Potter. (Default)
From: [personal profile] jeshyr
(sorry for not very coherent comment - bad day. but thank you so much for the story :))

(no subject)

Date: 2013-06-01 10:39 pm (UTC)
shoaling_souls: Fish swimming independently but still together in a group (Default)
From: [personal profile] shoaling_souls
Oh good, I like stories about after. Most stories are about during. Most stories go "Once upon a time everything was good and wonderful for fifty pages and then there was fourteen books of everything was horrible and then they fixed it and spend one page living happily ever after the end." and there are two things I'd rather. I'd rather stick with the good and wonderful and not slog through the horrible especially when the "and then they fixed it the end" tends to be about two pages at the end of the book. alternatively, talk about the after. about the rebuilding and the making things okay again, the part after "and then the good guys won the end". This looks like it will be a story about after, and I like after. After is hard to find, but it's a lot more interesting.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2013-06-04 09:11 pm (UTC)
shoaling_souls: Fish swimming independently but still together in a group (Default)
From: [personal profile] shoaling_souls
I don't mind if stories have some plot too. I don't mind triggery stuff or violence or bad stuff. I especially don't mind the bad stuff if it is treated responsibly and is not just there to add tensions or give someone a tragic backstory or whatever.

But sometimes it's wearying to have to slog through a lot of "everything sucks and then it sucks and then it keeps sucking" without any reward at the end. Like, A Song of Ice and Fire would have been a lot better if they would have just stayed at home and played with puppies. And if they'd cut all that boring stuff about thrones, but kept the fighting ice monsters thing because that part was cool. Or, imagine A Wheel of Time if they never left the village and there weren't any trollocs and Rand learned magic with Nynavae and nobody tugged their braid or smoothed their skirts every other paragraph. Or, imagine the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where there was more than a paragraph of "and then the kids spend a decade or so in Narnia and had lots of adventures that you will never read about" before cutting to "and then they found their way back to England and they were children again and that sucked."

What if there was a decade's worth of character growth and adventure and teatime with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver at Cair Paravel? You could have milked "relearning agriculture after a century of snow and ice" for at least several chapters.

Most children's stories have this problem, and that's somewhat forgiveable because children's stories need to be shorter, but "and then Snow White and the prince kissed and they lived happily ever after."

I've been living happily ever after myself for the past four years after finding my princess, and believe me, it was worth slogging through the bad stuff to get to this part, and this is the best part of the story and it happens after the end of most stories! unconscionable!

I will look at these stories. thank you for the recommendations!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-08-29 05:40 am (UTC)
natalief: (Default)
From: [personal profile] natalief
Commenting to let you know that I have just found these fics and am reading. Have I missed these on LJ? I read DW much less frequently but have now added your DW to my feed reader.

Edited to fix the autocorrect errors.

ETA: To be honest, I did not realize that you wrote prose as well as poetry!
Edited Date: 2013-08-29 05:46 am (UTC)

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2013-08-29 12:34 pm (UTC)
natalief: (Default)
From: [personal profile] natalief
Yeah I may just have forgotten but I have you in my head as the one who writes great poetry. ;-p

(no subject)

Date: 2014-02-24 05:21 am (UTC)
helgatwb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
Natasha's reading choices put me in mind of a short fic I read, wherein she comments anonymously to various LJ accounts. She does this because, when the CAPTCHA asks her to prove that she's human, she can do that, and it reminds her that she is, indeed, human. It was heartbreaking.

Re: Aww...

Date: 2014-02-26 03:06 am (UTC)
helgatwb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
Oh, hits me right in the FEELS.

de-lurking

Date: 2014-08-21 03:22 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] mockingbirds_song
Hi
I stumbled on Love is for children a few months ago on AO3 I've been working my way through the series since then. I decided to to reread the series and work on commenting while I'm at it.
This first page got me hooked quickly The problem with teambuilding, Phil mused, was that you couldn't do it without a team. had me interested the third paragraph confirmed I wanted to keep reading coming from a family where everyone is brilliant in a crisis but where everyone tends to suffer long after once the pressure is off this rang true to the sort of issues I'd expect this sort of group to have functioning fine to outsiders but all screaming on the inside.

Re: de-lurking

Date: 2014-08-22 07:53 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] mockingbirds_song
Yay! Feedback is candy. I try but talking to people and writing are struggles individually combine them and well yeah.
The Avengers absolutely need time to relax and heal from the damage As well as the know how as to how.

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