AN: Unbeta'ed, in the grand tradition of Dickens-verse. Thank you to egelantier for the alpha and for allowing me to give one of the fics in this universe, which is her, always hers, forever, away. Used for the "captivity" square of my hc_bingo.
In honor of hoosierbitch's birthday. Happiest of them, dear.
Phil lost the kids within five hours of bringing them home. In fairness, he'd only let them out of his sight for ten minutes, while taking a work call and putting some dinner together, but all the same, it was discouraging. He'd gotten used to them pulling all kinds of escape routines at the hospital, but he'd rather hoped they'd settle once out of an environment filled with strange people, sharp instruments and even sharper smells.
Phil abandoned the broccoli and cheese casserole he'd been throwing together, and went to go search the nooks and crannies of his home.
He checked the air vents first, because they'd been a favorite in the hospital, but he didn't have any luck. The closets, both clothes and utilities, also yielded nothing. Phil didn't have a storage area, his split-level two bedroom apartment having always been enough room for himself and all of his possessions. With this thought, it hit Phil that he did have some storage space. He went and peered into the one space in his place he hadn't thought about in quite some time, the storage closet under the stairs.
Sure enough, Tasha and Clint had found their way into it and were curled up around each other, blinking sleepily awake. No sooner did she realize they'd been caught than Tasha was pushing Clint backward, putting herself in front of him. There wasn't really much of anywhere to go, and Clint wasn't having it anyway, hissing up at Phil.
Phil considered the situation and asked, "Can I get you a pillow? Or some blankets?"
Both kids frowned up at him, as though he'd told them they had to take a bath, or something equally distasteful to persons below the age of eighteen or so. They were both so small, despite the fact that the birth certificate they'd finally managed to dig up on Clint proved him to be thirteen, and Phil was pretty certain Tasha wasn't more than three years younger than him. They looked no older than seven or eight.
Phil weighed the likelihood that they would disappear the moment he went to go get them the items he had offered. He figured it was pretty high. He also figured he could probably find them again and hand over the goods. He walked off to collect some of the quilts his aunt had sent him over the years, and a few of the throw pillows a partner from a million years ago had insisted on and then left when she'd thrown him over for a banker.
He ferried all of this back to the storage space, from where, indeed, two tiny people were conspicuously absent. He nodded and rechecked all the spots he'd tried in the first place, eventually finding them under the guest room bed. He left the stuff on the floor right to the side of the bed and said, "I'm making a casserole. Come out when you're hungry."
Then he left them to their own devices.
Phil heard them sneak out of the guest room at around midnight, because the door of that room had needed a good oiling for the better part of six months now. He gave them a few minutes while he tried to decide if going out and getting them to deal with him was a good idea, or if he should let them have some space. In the end, he decided that it helped precisely nobody in the situation to let the distance between them stand, not if they were going to live together and the kids were going to feel safe here. And Phil was set on that. It wasn't that Phil had never been denied anything in his life—he was a pro at that, really—but he rarely fell short of his goals. Those kids were going to be his. And they were going to love him at least a fraction as much as he'd loved them from the first moment he'd set eyes on the pair.
The feeling was completely inexplicable to Phil, never having had it before, but that was really beside the point. Those kids were going to be safe and healthy and happy if Phil had to kill all three of them in the process of making it happen. With that thought in mind, he left his room and headed to the kitchen.
He'd left the casserole out, putting sizeable portions on two different plates and covering them with plastic wrap. He made noise while approaching, but even so, when he got to the kitchen, two suspicious pairs of eyes looked over at him. It was Clint who broke first, digging one bare toe into the kitchen tile and saying, "We weren't gonna take the food."
Tasha glared at him, daring him to challenge the statement. Instead, Phil just asked, "Why not? I left it out for you. Is there something wrong with it?"
Phil made himself as non-threatening as possible while moving toward the dishes, uncovering them, and putting them in the microwave, one at a time. He set them both on the table in his breakfast nook, bright and sunny in the morning, quiet and moonlit at night. He put the lights on low, having noticed that brightness often made them squint. The doctors said that would get better as time went on—they'd spent several formative years in cement cages—but in the meantime, Phil was going to make them as comfortable as possible.
He asked, "Water or orange juice?"
They looked at each other, having a conversation with their eyes, and Tasha said, "Orange juice," her tone still suggesting it was some kind of dare. Phil went and poured them each a glass and brought it to them. They both looked, if anything, confused by this, but Phil felt confused as well, so it was only fair, really.
Phil left them to eating and went to check his freezer. He'd done what he always did when shit hit the fan and went on an ice cream buying spree. As a result, he currently had six flavors sitting in there. He blithely ignored the fact that this meant he'd gone through four half-gallons in the month-and-a-half since they'd found Sara's kid and the others.
He wandered back in as they were each scraping their plates clean. It had taken the better part of three weeks for them to reacquire a healthy appetite, so it was a relief to see it. He asked, "Strawberry, Cookies 'n Cream, Chocolate Chip, Peppermint, Caramel Praline or French Vanilla?"
Another silent conversation and this time it was Clint who spoke up. His, "Chocolate Chip?" was more of a question than an answer.
Phil tilted his head. "Have you ever had ice cream?"
Tasha deepened her ever-present glare. Clint shrugged. "Maybe. Before. We've heard of it."
"I thought you weren't supposed to give kids sweets before bed," Tasha said.
"Well," Phil said, "you're not supposed to lock kids in cages and make them fight each other, either. I guess we all have our own approaches to child-rearing."
Tasha blinked. Clint said, softly and with heartbreaking bravado, "I want to taste all of them."
Phil absolutely knew, deep down in his bones, that Clint expected a rejection of this proposal. He also knew there would be times he had to tell them no, had to be the bad guy to be a good parent. He didn't think any of them were ready for that yet. He nodded. "That's really the only way to make an educated decision in this instance."
He went to go get them all spoons.
The next day Phil found a contractor to come and turn the below-stairs closet into a sort of reading-nook, with built in cushions and soft lighting. Then he decided to just have the guy do all the closets, while he was at it.
He told Tasha and Clint, "You can hide in the vents, or under the bed, but come out if you get hungry."
Clint went with option one. Tasha, evidently for the pure purpose of testing boundaries, planted herself on the living room sofa. Phil sat down as well, pointed to the TV, and asked, "Got anything you want to watch?"
She took the remote like it was some kind of weapon and flipped through every single channel before deciding on the taped showing of one of the Cirques airing on public television. After about half an hour, Phil felt a steady gaze joining them from up above. He didn't look back.
Tasha said, " h8;k6;l0; l2; l5;k2;l4;, m5;m1;m5;kl3;l2;l6;", and after a second, Clint obeyed, scrambling down from the vent and fitting himself between her and the couch's arm.
Then, two days later, while Phil was at work, the two of them somehow got caught in the stair closet. It was mostly done, and all Phil could figure was that they must have crawled in before the contractor had left, and he'd locked the outside not knowing they were there. He hadn't yet installed an inside lock, since that had been the last part of the project. The kids must have been too freaked to make any noise and so when Phil called home mid-afternoon—as he had told them he would whenever he had to work or leave them alone for any extended period of time—nobody picked up the phone, and the nicest thing that could be said about Phil's reaction was that he didn't kill anyone while breaking every traffic law on record in order to get home.
The closet was the first place he looked and when he found them there, he was all set to yell until he actually saw them—Clint curled up and rocking frantically, Tasha stock still, tears on her face that belied how completely motionless everything about her was—that his brain went backward a bit and realized he'd undone the lock.
He got down on his knees and said quietly, "Hey, come on out."
Tasha blinked at him, as though just realizing he was there. Clint mumbled into his knees. Phil wasn't sure, but he thought the kid was saying something like, "No, no more. No more."
Phil did a once over and noticed immediately that Tasha's hands were bleeding, like she'd pounded on the door until she couldn't. He wasn't going to be surprised if Clint had the same issue. Phil tried, "Clint," gently, because if Clint came out, so would Tasha, if only to protect him.
Clint's head snapped up at his name, his eyes wide and scared. Phil said, "Just me. I'd really like you to come out of there, now."
Phil didn't understand what happened next, except that the two of them seemed to both try to get out first, keeping the other in. Tasha won and said, "Me. I'm fighting."
Which was when Phil realized neither of them was at all aware of where they were and what was going on. Luckily, Phil worked for the FBI, he'd seem more than one type of PTSD and dissociative episode. He said calmly, "Nobody's fighting. We don't need a fight today."
Tasha frowned. "There's always a fight."
Phil made himself think. He didn't want her to assume he was lying. "Facilities problem."
She could tell something wasn't right, it was written all over how she held herself, but she couldn't seem to figure out what. He pressed, "Please come out."
The look Clint gave her, the one that so clearly said, we'd might as well while he's still asking nicely, nearly made Phil swallow back tears. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd wanted to cry as much as he had in the past month. He repeated, "Please," and sat back to give them some room.
Tasha crawled out, the set of her shoulders tired, and Clint followed, somehow even smaller than usual. Phil just managed to hold himself back from grabbing both of them and cuddling them in close. Later, he would never be able to explain how he'd done it.
Phil made apple cider with nutmeg and cinnamon, scooped out some vanilla ice cream and covered it in caramel. Then he brought everything into the living room, from where the kids hadn't moved, and set the tray he was carrying down. "I would like it if we could all try to finish our respective bowls."
Phil didn't feel like eating in the least but he figured he had a better shot of getting the others to if he did. He took a few slow bites and didn't watch as the two of them slowly approached their respective bowls. He listened to the sound of their spoons, though, which was why he heard when Tasha, who was closest to him, started shaking.
She set her bowl down and put her hands over her mouth and looked terrified, but also, like she was back with him. Phil said, "Breathe for me, Tash, just in and out."
Clint broke a second later, also trembling like he was going to come out of his skin. He said, "It-- We got locked in."
"I know," Phil said. "I'm sorry, we were going to make it so that it locked from the inside tomorrow."
Tasha wrapped her arms around herself and said, "Couldn't get out," a bunch of times over and over again, like a mantra, only without any of the calming effects.
Uncertain of what to do, Phil stood up and found them each throws, which he tucked around them. He put on some Debussy softly in the background and waited the worst of it out. He pretended not to watch as they found their way to each other, wiggled around a bit so they were both under the same throw. Eventually, they fell asleep. Phil cleaned up the food, called Sara to check in and said, "I need to work from home today."
She said, "Call me when they're doing better."
Phil hoped that happened.
Clint woke them up, flailing and whimpering. Phil stayed where he was, watching them from the couch. When they both startled and then stumbled their way up from sleep, two pairs of eyes found him. From underneath the throw they had wrapped securely around them, Clint said, "Sorry."
Phil shook his head. "Nothing to be sorry about. Sorry you got locked in."
Both sets of eyes looked so excessively miserable that Phil couldn't help getting up and going to them. "Can I hug you?"
Tasha immediately looked suspicious. Clint looked like a kid who'd been offered comfort and had it taken away too many times to really even believe in it anymore. Phil figured that problem was one he'd just have to overcome with long-term commitment. To Tasha he said, "Just like the two of you do for each other. Nothing more."
He noticed the hand she placed on Clint's shoulder, tiny, but so strong, firm, before climbing from their tangle of blanket and saying, "Me first."
Phil recognized that she wasn't asking, this wasn't about desire, this was about making sure it was safe for Clint. Evidently Clint was pretty sure it was, but Phil could still see that under the blanket, he was ready to pounce, if need be. Carefully, he took her hand and pulled her down so he could put his arms around her, soothe her hair, generally just pour as much comfort into his touch as possible. It felt like forever, but Phil suspected it was all of a few minutes before she began to relax, seeming to go limp against him.
At some point she murmured softly in Russian and Clint sprang at what was evidently permission—or an order—to join them. Phil cuddled both of them to himself, saying softly, "I got you. I've got you."
Tasha fisted his shirt and Clint dug fingernails into Phil's arm and none of them moved an inch.
After that, cuddling became a night-time routine. Sometimes, a middle-of-the-night thing, if there'd been nightmares, which there often were. Occasionally, it was a way to start the morning. It had even happened once or twice, just because. Phil might eventually have to say no to something, but it was never, ever going to be a hug.
A month after the Closet Incident, Phil woke the kids up on a Sunday morning and said, "There's something I want to show you."
They followed quietly, holding each other's hands, still not good at trusting. He didn't blame them. He took them on the elevator, then up the final stairwell that led to the apartment's rooftop. Phil had talked to every single tenant in the building and the landlord to get permission to use part of it as a small garden or green space. Nobody had seemed bothered in the least, although a few people asked if they could borrow it. Phil said so long as the kids weren't upset by things, it was open space.
He brought them over to where there was now a portioned off section, grass beds laid into it, potted plants and trellises with ivory surrounding it, but not blocking it off from the rest of the roof, from the sky and the edge of the building. Clint went straight to the edge, and although Phil's heart actually stopped, he just said, "Be careful."
Natasha took off the socks she'd been wearing in bed and sunk her feet into the grass. It wasn't a particularly warm day, winter's presence starting to make itself known, but the sun was shining and Phil would get them heated back up quickly once they were in the apartment.
Phil didn't miss much, but Clint was in his space, hugging him, before he'd even noticed the kid had moved. He squeezed back. "Hey there."
Clint said something against his leg that he didn't catch. He moved back a bit and dropped down. "What was that?"
Phil almost laughed, bitter and sad, at the way such a normal child's question was being perverted, turned into something no kid should ever have to ask. He pushed a hair out of Clint's eyes and said, "Because I can't actually give you the sky."
"You're stupid," Tasha said, but she said it into his arm, from where she had plastered herself up against him. Given the circumstance, Phil could take a little criticism.