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The Marble Fall

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Chapter One

Shady

Moving his chair onto its back two legs, Tony leaned and balanced against the wall in an attempt to find some comfort. “Well, you did it this time kid.”

Peter Parker lifted his head from where it was resting on his folded arms on the cold steel table. “I knew they weren’t up to anything good. I just had to wait until they did something.”

“They did ‘something’ over international waters.” Tony pointed out. “You are just lucky that I have a tracker on your ass or at best you would still be a stowaway half way to Brazil or somewhere by now.”

“I could’ve handled them Mr. Stark. I don’t always need you to bail me out.” The word ‘bail’ was fitting for their current situation. They were both being detained in an Interpol interrogation room. Peter had personally never dealt with the group, but Tony seemed to be calm.

“And if and when that day comes. I will buy you a cookie.” He settled the chair back onto all four legs as the door to the room opened.

“Gentlemen.” A suited man greeted as he was walking in. He looked to be the typical government worker. A gray suit with a white shirt and blue tie. He was carrying in each of his hands a water bottle. As the man sat down, he offered each detainee a bottle. “A long night huh?”

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Peter answered, “Very, I have homework I still need to do.”

“And to top it all off, you did this without finishing your homework? Your aunt is going to kill us both.” Tony declared throwing himself into the back of the chair.

“My name is Agent Garrett Boseman. I have been charged with retrieving as much information as I can before my agency is ordered to hand you over.”

Peter’s head turned to Tony. “Hand us over to who?”

Looking into the lens of the security camera in the corner of the room that he knew was being watched by many, Tony said with exhaustion heavy in his voice, “Shit, I’d rather deal with Interpol then her right now.”

“After the phone call I just listened in on, I would have to agree with that Mr. Stark.”

“Who are we being handed over to?” Peter requested again, then added, “Do I get my one phone call?”

Tony started to play with his watch, it was almost midnight. “This isn’t prison, it is an Interpol interrogation room.” Cutting his eyes to the agent, “We don’t have any rights because the fact we are sitting here means someone deemed us an international risk.”

“You would be correct Mr. Stark.”

Pushing himself off the edge of the table in a teenage huff, Peter’s chair made a slight squeak. “An international risk? We didn’t do anything.”

“Then who blew up the yacht that was carrying all those weapons?” Looking to Tony, “Our salvage team will be combing the waters for weeks trying to find all the debris from your mess.”

This wasn’t the first mess Tony had ever made, and probably wouldn’t be the last. He had taken measures years ago to ensure that whatever mess he created was cleaned up. “Let me have a phone and I will get you some help from Damage Control.”

“Damage Control has already offered their assistance. However, due to your joint ownership of the department, my bosses feel that their aide in this situation could be bias.”

“We didn’t do it.” Peter stressed.

Garrett really did hate dealing with teenagers, especially in the interrogation setting. They all believed they were the smartest person in the room and whatever they said would be taken as the God’s honest truth.  “Then who did?”

“It was those guys on the boat. When Mr. Stark showed up, they did something and the whole thing just went kaboom!” The teenager gestured with his hands something that resembled a mushroom cloud with his last word.

Leaning back in his seat, Boseman challenged the ‘story’. “We haven’t found any survivors or bodies.”

“In my experience, I have found that an explosion of that caliber wouldn’t leave either.” Tony contributed. “I grabbed the boy just in time before they detonated the explosion. A few seconds in delay and neither of us would be sitting with you right now.”

“Why were you even on the boat Mr. Parker?”

The simple question caught Peter off guard. It was an easy enough question for him to answer, but the use of his name was unexpected. He was still in his red spider suit, sans mask, but still no one knew his real identity. Mr. Stark had gone through painful measures to ensure it. “How did you know my name?”

“We are Interpol. Your little costume can’t hide you from us.”

Tony bent forward towards the agent. “I know you are trying to scare the kid, but I think we can all be honest here. Someone gave you that information, correct?”

Lifting and lowering his eyebrows to confirm Tony’s assumption, Garrett took a degree of enjoyment in his response. “I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.”

“Should have just stayed on the boat.” Tony groaned rubbing his hands over his face.

Hiding the smile that was threatening to appear, Boseman repeated, “Mr. Parker, why were you on the boat?”

I followed them.” Peter explained, not seeing any malice or wrong doing in what he had done hours prior. “I was on a field trip to the docks at the harbor, you know, for oceanography class. I saw these guys looking all kinds of shady, so I tagged them.”

“You tagged them?” Boseman was given limited information regarding Peter Parker. Correction, he had everything on Peter Parker. He was a teenager living in Queens, New York in an apartment with his Aunt. On the other hand, the information on Spiderman was scarce. “What on earth compelled you to do that?”

Puffing his chest out in pride, Peter informed his captor, “I’m an Avenger.”

“In training.” Tony was quick to add.

“Am not.” The teenager retorted to Tony then started to speak to the agent again. “I saw this guy.”

“One of the shady guys?” Garrett asked.

“Yes, this guy turned blue, and into a woman.”

Folding his hands, Boseman moved himself closer to the table and leaned in. “A shady guy turned into a blue woman?”

“Exactly! She had two other guys following her with these big ol’ crates. They all went to the boat.”

“I’m sorry. I tried to have his aunt raise him better than that.” Tony turned in his seat to speak to Peter. “Just because someone is blue doesn’t mean that they are shady. That is called discrimination."

“Under normal settings, I would agree with you. However, the evidence does support that Mr. Parker was correct, they were…shady.” Then he asked Peter, “Tell me, what else did you see?”

Grateful that someone believed him, Peter was about to start in on his exciting tale of tagging the group around the docks and sneaking onto the boat. Before he could start, the sound of men talking in the other room could be heard. The other room’s audio ceased with the new sound of a soft metallic ‘pop’ of the room’s door unlocking. The light that the opening brought into the room was blinding. All Tony could make out was the outline of whoever was standing in the entryway. It took but a quick moment for Tony to figure out who had entered. “Hey there Rhodey. What brings you out at midnight?”

The Deputy Secretary of the Department of Mutant Affairs, James Rhodes fully entered the room. Sticking his hands into his suit pants, he took on a more relaxed stance. Taking in the sight that was in front of him, he had to find some humor in finding his best friend and his protegee confined to Interpol custody. “What else, your tin-canned ass.”

Offended by the comment, Tony corrected his friend, “It’s nano-tech, not tin.”

Indifferent to whatever Tony had implanted, installed, or injected in or onto his body to produce his suit, Rhodes pushed on with the objectives he had been asked to handle. “Agent, this interview is over. Mr. Parker and Mr. Stark are both supervised under the Sokovia Accords and as American citizens will be taken into the custody of the Department of Mutant Affairs.”

At the mention of the department, Tony looked to Rhodes and pleaded, “Please leave me here.”

Garrett Boseman wasn’t going to cower to a Deputy Secretary. This type of investigation was the kind of stuff that had the potential to build careers, can make a name for someone like himself. He refused to let it pass through his fingers. “This incident occurred thirty-two miles from the furthest point of New York Harbor. That explosion happened on international water, it is an Interpol investigation.”

Rhodey allowed a small smile to appear that resembled a cat about to pounce upon its pray. “Maritime Law agent. The boat was rented from a charter company in Manhattan. The owner of the company swears that every boat of his flies the American flag. We also have intel the suggest strongly that most of the passengers on the vessel at the time of the explosion were American citizens.” Nodding his head at the two suited figures in the doorway to communicate that they may enter, Rhodes continued, “I would hate to insult an Interpol agent like yourself by having to explain that crimes which occur on the high seas fall under the jurisdiction of the country of the flag flying, and in cases there isn’t a flag, the nationality of the passengers aboard.”

“Boom! Mic drop Rhodey!” Tony proclaimed as he gestured the action.

Looking to the men who had just entered with annoyance thick in his speech, Rhodes ordered, “Get them out of here.”

Agent Boseman watched as a man stood behind each ‘prisoner’ and guided them to a standing position. “They are still in violation of the Sokovia Accords. That is an international law.”

“No one is arguing that. However, it is currently a domestic situation that will be handled as such until the United Nations requests differently.” Taking his hands out of his pockets, James reached into his jacket and pulled out a gold business card holder. Tony gave it to him as a gift when he was appointed. Handing Garrett a card, he advised, “Please if you have any questions, contact my office. I will be more than happy to help.”

Rhodes waited a brief moment for any reply the Interpol agent might have. Seeing that there wasn’t and would not be any, he bobbed his head towards the door, cueing his people to escort Tony and Peter out. Having full faith in his staff to do as he directed, James Rhodes left the room knowing that Tony and Peter would be behind him.

Passing through the doorway out of the room, Tony waited until there weren’t so many agents around him. Speeding up his pace to catch up to Rhodes he asked in a hush tone to prevent others from hearing him. “How pissed is she?” Peter heard the question. Once Tony started to walk faster to get closer to Rhodes, he had done the same. He had never seen Tony look worried. He had seen the man upset, angry, happy, witty, but never worried. Tony was afraid of someone. A person didn’t have to be a genius to know who incited that emotion in the Ironman.

Not looking back, Rhodes informed Tony that it wasn’t just Interpol’s wrath he had temporarily saved him from, “Let’s just say you are extremely fortunate that I am here.”

~~~

May Parker had been praying for, and at the same time, dreading the knock on the front door to her Queen’s apartment. When the sound finally, after hours of waiting, echoed through the apartment, she felt her heart drop into the pit of her stomach. It wasn’t a ‘friendly’ knock, if such a thing was real. This sounded more authoritarian and commanding. The knock wasn’t the prelude to requesting to be permitted into her home, this was a demanding sound, ordering her to open up and get out of the way. Getting to the door, she stood on tippy toes to see through the peep hole out into the hallway. It didn’t do any good, all she could see was the back of someone’s head. May saw enough with the limited vision of the hole to know that the person, a man it seemed, was alone. He was not dressed as a police officer, she knew that he could still be police just in street clothes. She couldn’t stop her mind from running through the possibilities of what awaited her on the other side of the door. Don’t police always travel in pairs? Stealing a quick glance to the wall clock, she scolded herself for the action. She had known the exact time for the past three hours, ever since Peter didn’t come home in time for curfew. She had been constantly checking the time since nine thirty.

Unbolting the door and releasing the chain lock, May opened the door wide and inhaled deeply. She spat it all out at once, wanting to get everything out and avoid any pleasantries or police procedures. “I am May Parker. Yes, my nephew is Peter Parker. Yes, he lives here. No, I haven’t seen him since this morning, and he knows he is to be home by nine thirty on weeknights. I haven’t heard from him nor have any of his friends. Please just tell me that he is alive.”

The man was dressed in a blue and black flannel button up shirt with a black leather jacket over it. There was a nagging feeling in the back of her mind that the man was familiar to her, but for the life of her, she couldn’t place him. When the door opened, he shoved his cell phone into the back pocket of his dark blue jeans. When May started speaking, his eyebrows went so far up, she was sure they would disappear into his hairline.

Breathing heavy after her improv speech, trying to catch her breath and at the same time emotionally prepare herself for whatever the man would have in response to what she had said. May watched as the man processed everything that he had just heard and relaxed his features. “He’s alive.”

“Oh thank God.” She exhaled, her legs felt like jelly.

“We’ve met once before, but it was a crazy day.” The man explained as he held out his hand in greeting. “Clint Barton.”

“Of course, I’m sorry. It has been an awful night.” Realizing that it was past midnight and the hallway wasn’t the best or most polite way to have a conversation, she moved out of the doorway to allow him entry into the apartment.

“Thank you.” Clint said walking past her into the living room. “Lose Peter often?” He wanted to take the words back as soon as he said it. It did sound like a criticism of her parenting and that wasn’t the impression he wanted to make within the first half minute in her home. Turning to May he clarified on his question. “I mean you had that whole speech prepared and ready to go as soon as someone came-a-knockin.”

“I knew something was wrong.” While true she had a feeling, she knew she was only able to identify the feeling because Peter had done stuff like this before. “And yes, Peter tends to get ‘lost’ frequently. I’ve tried to set rules and guidelines, but…”

“He’s a teenager.” Clint finished for her. “Got one myself, just a couple of years younger than Peter. Probably doesn’t help that he has enhanced abilities and the need to help the ‘little guys’ out in the world.”

Sitting on the couch, she gestured for her visitor to do the same. “No, it doesn’t help. What happened? Is he in some kind of trouble?”

Taking her up on her offer, Clint sat down. “Some stuff did happen and yes, Peter is in a bit of hot water with Interpol over it, but he’s not alone. Tony Stark was, and still is, with him. I was asked to come get you and bring you to the Avengers’ compound. The Department of Mutant Affairs has a satellite office there. Once they are released from Interpol’s custody, Peter and Tony will be taken there for questioning. Peter is a minor, so it has been requested for you to sit in on the questioning.”

“If he is in Interpol custody already, aren’t they questioning him without me? Why are the rules different for the Department?”

“They aren’t, the DMA can question him without you being present, they just prefer not to.”

“The DMA or the Secretary?”

“It is just a lot easier for me personally to think of them one in the same.” Clint confided with a smirk. “By the way, I heard that Peter was still in his suit, so I am sure he would appreciate it if you grab him of set of clothes to change into.”

Feeling relief at the suggestion that would allow her to contribute in some productive way to the situation, May quickly got up. “Of course, clothes are always a good thing to have.” She commented as she left to go down the hallway and into a room that Clint assumed was Peter’s. Taking out his cell phone to check his messages, he heard May call to him from the bedroom, “Should I pack him some dinner? He probably hasn’t eaten since lunch, if he even had that.”

“Don’t worry about food for Peter. They will either feed him on the plane, or at the compound.” He replied as she reemerged into the living room with a red bag that had a white Nike check logo on it crisscrossed across her body.

“When will he arrive?” She asked.

“I don’t know. It all depends on the Department and Interpol’s pissing match.” Clint crudely answered as he offered to take the bag from May and started walking towards the door to leave. “It would just be best if you were there waiting in case someone tries something while Peter is in the Department’s custody. A legal guardian present is always a great way to stop any attempt of the hostile interrogation of a child.”

May grabbed her purse and car keys from the small table next to the front door. Clint was waiting for her in the hallway as she turned off the lights and locked the door behind her. Following him down the hall she asked, “You think they will be hostile towards him?”

“I’d rather not find out.” He said as he passed the elevator in favor of going down the stairwell. If anyone tries anything, Tony and I will be around to stop it. It will just escalate from there. Absolutely no good way for that scenario to end without everyone being arrested. It’s just better if you are there and identify yourself. That way it stops before it even starts.” He stopped to give her a encouraging smile. “That is the worst-case scenario. Odds are the people from DMA will just talk with him and release him into your custody. Everything should be done before the sun comes up.”

She knew that Peter had in the past been implicated in some high-risk events. After May discovered what he was doing she made her nephew confess everything that he had done for the past year or so. It turned out to be a lot of stuff. Somehow the child had gotten to Germany at one point. Tony flew him there she later pieced together under the ruse of taking the teenager for an internship training weekend and was in a fight at an airport that left him injured. When May thought about everything that had occurred recently and the trouble that resulted from it, never had she been picked up in the middle of the night by an Avenger and taken to their compound to act as a shield for her nephew from aggressive questioning. She still didn’t even know what happened that was so bad that Interpol was investigating it.

Walking out of the building, May continued to follow Clint as he approached a dark colored SUV parked against the curb right outside. Forcing herself to ignore that he had parked in a fire lane, she paused as he opened the passenger door for her then threw the red bag into the back seat. Waiting until he was in the car and pulling onto the road, she probed for answers to the multiple questions she had about what took place hours before. “So, what happened? Why is Interpol involved in this?”

Keeping his eyes on the road Clint replied, “I don’t have the entire story yet, so keep that in mind. From what I understand, Peter was somehow involved in a weapon smuggling attempt gone wrong and blew up a yacht.” Putting his hand up to stop any of May’s attempts to interrupt, he glanced at her. “He is fine, not a scratch on him. The explosion happened over international waters, so Interpol grabbed him." Returning to the road he added, “Still not sure how that happened if Tony was there, he should have just been able to grab Peter and fly away without Interpol even knowing they were there. The Department of Mutant Affairs is intervening on their behalf to get them released.”

“You don’t work for the Department, do you.” It was a statement, not a question. “No offense, but why are you here and not some agents from the Department, or even Interpol officials.?”

“No, I do not work for them. I am just picking you up and taking you up state.”

“It’s because of your wife isn’t it? She is the Secretary. She asked you to come get me.”

“That would be Kate.” May noticed the smile that appeared on the driver’s face at the mention of his wife’s name, but then the face turned cold and he once again met her eyes. “Listen, I am going to be honest with you. I am beyond infuriated at Peter and Tony right now, but I’m not going to let anything happen to them, nor will Kate. I am saying this because I plan to have a few choice words with them, and I don’t want you to be caught off guard.”

“Why are you mad at them?”

“They know the rules and went against them. While most of the time, I can give two shits about what the Ironass and Spiderlad do, this time it landed at my door. What they did was stupid and reckless and as a result, my very pregnant wife, who is supposed to be on bedrest, was awoken by an ass chewing from the President two hours ago.”

“She only found out about this two hours ago?” That seemed a bit late for a government department leader to be notified of an international incident involving two of the Avengers.

“Rhodes, that’s Deputy Secretary James Rhodes, was trying to handle it all without telling her until it was over and just brief her on it in the morning. It’s kind of his show until Kate is back from maternity leave. The President didn’t like the way Rhodey was handling the situation and brought Kate into it.”

“I know they are coming to New York but where are they now?”

Searching his mind for the answer, Clint gave her what he had. “Last I heard, Washington.”

“Why isn’t Secretary Barton there?” May questioned, thinking that if the President was making midnight phone calls about this, she would assume part of the “chewing out’ Barton told her about would include an order to report to the Oval Office.

Again, turning to Mrs. Parker, Clint educated her to the real reason he was acting as chauffeur tonight. “You are the only reason I was able to convince Kate to stay in New York and not fly down the D.C.”

Decoding the message, May understood why Clint was the one who came to her and not a government official. “You played the ‘mom card’.”

“Damn straight I did.” He returned, sounding very proud of himself. “Like I told you, got a teenage boy myself at home. Asked her to put herself in your shoes. Her kid being alone after a horrible event and questioned intensely by scary government men in suits. Swayed her to hang out at the compound to make sure that no one tried to intimidate the kid, or you.”

“I’m here, so I guess it worked.”

“It did.” Clint agreed, elongating the pronunciation of ‘did’, indicating that there was more to the story. “However, I played the card a little too hard. Forgot about the pregnancy hormones.” He used the turn signal before making a left turn onto the road which would take them out of the city. “I would have been here a half an hour ago, but I had to make sure she was done crying and understood that I was speaking in hypotheticals.”

That made May feel bad, she was feeling responsible for dragging Clint away from his upset pregnant wife, who was taken off bedrest due to her nephew’s actions. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“You ma’am have nothing to apologize for. Peter and Tony on the other hand are about to have a ‘come to Jesus’ with me.”

She knew she should defend Peter but there was nothing she could say. They didn’t know the whole story yet, but what they did have sounded a lot like Peter bit off more than he or apparently Tony, could chew. “She is on bedrest and is still working?”

“She gets daily briefings, and she advises at that time. Really, it’s the only thing she does now. Rhodes is a great Deputy and handles ninety-nine percent of the Department’s business. Tonight was an abnormality, you know, with the big bang and everything. She has a medical condition that is aggravated by stress. Being pregnant is stressful enough without being the Secretary and having a pre-existing condition."

It was unknown to her how long they would be driving. May had never been to the compound before, and the directional term of ‘up state’ had a wide assortment of meanings depending on who the speaker was. It was best to play it safe and attempt to make it a somewhat less awkward drive with Clint by taking the focus off her nephew and Mr. Stark. “Girl or boy?”

“I am confident that it will be one or the other.” Clint dryly joked with a deadpan expression.

“You guys don’t know?” May asked, genuinely curious in the mystery. “You don’t hear about people doing that anymore.”

“Kate thought it would be ‘fun’,” Clint took his hands off the sterring wheel to gesture air quotes for the word ‘fun’. “to not know and just find out when Vee is born.”

“Vee?” May went through her brain trying to figure out what ‘Vee’ was short for. What gender-neutral name started with a ‘V’?

“Cool, huh?” He said sending a smile in her direction. “It is what I named the kid. He or she will be my fifth, and the Roman numeral for that is a V.”

“Creative.” She commented wryly, not really knowing what to say in response to that.

Now he laughed, and the smile reached his eyes. “That’s a word for it. Kate was a tad more ‘colorful’ with her descriptor. Unfortunately for her, I think it has caught on. Our other kids are calling the baby that, as are all our friends and family now.”

“Vee can be short for something I’m sure. I just hope whatever Peter did doesn’t cause any harm to your wife or Vee.”

“Doubtful. Believe it or not, Kate is currently just the ‘face’ of the department. Like I said, she’s supposed to be on bedrest. Once Rhodes gets there with the boys, he will take over the specifics. Kate is just running interference now to buy them time to get to the sanctuary of the compound. Anything else that needs to be done, Kate can do from home and be fine.”

“Well, the sooner we get there, the sooner this all can be over. Let’s get this taken care of so everyone can get home, back to bed, and Peter can start being grounded for the rest of his life.”

Applying pressure to the accelerator to increase their speed Clint approved of May’s plan. “Works for me.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Two

Best Shot

“Quite frankly, I am offended by the allegations against my department and myself.” Secretary Katherine ‘Kate’ Barton nee Bishop spoke with an expressionless face, refusing to give her audience anything. She was standing in a glass office that was designed for this very purpose, to have a ‘face-to-face’ meeting by use of holographic representation of the meeting’s participants. Her current meeting participants were the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Defense, along with the President of Interpol. Steve Rogers was in person with her in the room. He didn’t have an official role in the meeting, but both he and Kate felt the need for him to be included.

“Are you denying the claims against you Madam Secretary?” The defense secretary asked.

Turning her head sharply to the speaker, she defended herself. “Of course I am. My staff has been nothing but supportive during this effort. When the Defense Department ‘noticed’ those missing weapons.” The word ‘noticed’ was said laced with ridicule of the lapse in security and action from the agency. “and Homeland Security was able to pull suspects from facial recognition, it was my department that assisted with filling in the holes of those agencies’ dossiers.”

The Homeland Security Secretary, Sebastian Cruz stood and slammed his hand against the surface he was sitting at to drive home the point of his frustration. “Because the suspects were mutants and your department doesn’t make individual mutant information freely available for interagency collaboration without a formal request and a lot of red tape.”

“Everyone has the right to some degree of privacy. I shudder to think what you gentlemen would do with free reign over that information.” Kate countered the group in a casual tone, not allowing the anger and frustration she was feeling to enter her voice. “However, a formal request was made, and we complied fully with it.”

“That may be but not before you alerted the Avengers and arranged for them to intervene and hijack an entire joint agency operation.” The President of Interpol, Josiah Rajan alleged.

“Why would I get involved in stolen weapons?” Kate asked while scanning the ‘faces’ in the room. “I think we all can agree that such an undertaking is far removed from not only my department’s capabilities, but also jurisdiction.”

“We all can agree on those points, which is evident by the disastrous outcome we are now dealing with.” Rajan said speaking about the mess his agency was now charged with, cleaning up the debris from the ocean and having three criminals on the run.

Steve Rogers spoke up for the first time, “I would like to go on the record by stating the Avengers were never notified of this mission.”

The Interpol leader followed up, “Are you Captain Rogers denying that two of the Avengers were involved?”

Kate watched as Steve looked down as if gathering his thoughts on how to answer the question. Jumping in, she offered clarification. “One Avenger and a New York based neighborhood vigilante were involved, and both are in custody.”

“In the custody of your department.” The Homeland Security Secretary pointed out.

“They both signed the Sokovia Accords which put them under my department.” She challenged as she stared at the men, defying anyone to interrupt her as she continued. “Listen, they didn’t get away with the weapons. The weapons are accounted for, even if it is not in the manner you hoped. Mr. Stark and Mr. Parker are not the problem. Your three on-the-run suspects are. I will, of course, keep my ear to the ground for rumblings of your suspects whereabouts and pass along any imperative information to the appropriate agency. However, Mr. Stark and Mr. Parker are my problem. I acknowledge they acted outside the parameters of the Accords and will deal with their actions fittingly.” Through the glass enclosed room, Kate saw Rhodes walking to her. “If that is all gentleman for the time being, I have other obligations to see to.”

“This isn’t over.” Secretary Thomas Williamson of the Defense Department promised.

Sighing, she conceded “I’m sure it isn’t.” Lifting the remote in her right hand, Kate hit a button which resulted in the three holographic figures to dissolve away. Waiting until her deputy closed the door behind him, she asked, “They give you anything?”

“Three people, two men and one woman. Parker reported to Interpol that the woman turned blue.”

That was useful information to Kate. They haven’t been able to get a positive identification on the third suspect in the weapons’ robbery. “Mystique?”

“Who’s that?” Steve asked.

Kate shook her head at the Captain. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t want to give you anything without proof in case I need to call your team in.” Steve was about to inquire further into the topic when Kate cut him off with a request. “Do you mind running interference downstairs? Clint isn’t happy with Tony or Peter right now. I need someone down there to deescalate the situation. Peter’s aunt May, will be with him, but I doubt her presence will do anything if Clint has decided to hand Tony his ass.”

There wasn’t anything that Steve could do right now regarding the explosion and blame falling on both the DMA and the Avengers, but he could do something about the potential death of two people downstairs. “Good idea.”

Kate looked physically relieved to both that Steve wasn’t going to ask any more questions and that he would play referee between her husband and father. “Thank you. We will be right behind you.”

Rhodes and Kate watched Steve leave the conference room and when there was enough distance between the two and the Captain, Rhodey followed up on the Mystique angle. “Anyone else fit that description?”

Looking through the glass walls as Steve continued his journey to going downstairs to see to the charges that Kate had given him she again sighed, “No, we need to be a hundred percent certain on this one. The Homeland Security footage showed a shape changer of sorts, and Wyngarde is already accounted for. So the traits and now the physical description seems to solidify the identification of the third suspect.

Taking out his phone, Rhodes scrolled through to find the information needed. Reading from the screen he told her. “The other two are confirmed as St. John Allerdyce and Jason Wyngarde. You add Mystique to that and the picture is not too pretty.”

“No, it’s not.” She agreed putting her hand to her eyes and down to her nose before pulling it away, she was so tired. “I was willing to hand over the weapons information to the other departments because I knew there was no way in hell anyone would be able to catch Pyro and Mastermind. Tony and Peter screwed up on that one royally. This was supposed to look like we were aiding the other departments, not hording information to ourselves.”

“All the while we were handling things behind the scenes.” Rhodes added feeling just as upset as Kate was that all their hard work could have just literally blown up in their faces.

Kate started to walk out of the room with Rhodes following her. “If anyone gets a whiff that we are dealing with the Brotherhood here, then it’s over. We have to keep it confined to the department.”

Rhodes held the door to the conference room open until Kate passed through. “Agreed, but how?”

“No clue.” She reluctantly admitted taking a long pause before continuing. “But a gigantic explosion in the ocean didn’t help. That was the very reason we alerted Interpol, so they would be in place, ready to intervene and to secure the load. Not to have their ship act as a landing pad for Ironman.” Turning around to face Rhodey, “Where are they now?”

“The communal area downstairs.” He informed bobbing his head downward to indicate the location of the area that served as a ‘group living room’ for the Avengers when they were in residence. “I think it was smart sending Steve down there first.”

“Clint is on the way with Mrs. Parker. They should be here anytime now.” Kate pulled out her phone to check for any messages Clint may have sent her about their arrival time. The pair were slowly moving to the elevator to meet up with everyone. “We aren’t out of the woods with Interpol or the other departments yet. I want a legal guardian here in case someone shows up wanting to question the boy before we release him to his aunt. Once he is officially in her custody they can’t touch him without her or us being present.”

Pressing the button to call the car to their floor Rhodey asked, “Are we not going to question him?”

“Yes we will. We will be questioning them both. I want to know what and who they saw on that boat.” The doors opened and Rhodes placed his arm in to keep it open for Kate to get in. Once she stepped into the elevator she turned and asked, “What the hell were they thinking getting on a boat full of weapons, a shape shifter with a serious grudge against humanity, an illusionist that scares even Professor Xavier with what he can do, and a guy with a fire fetish?”

All Rhodes could come back with was, “Its Tony, so who knows. He was probably trying to book them for one of the kid’s birthday parties.”

“That would be funny if it wasn’t a serious concern.” Kate confided as Rhodes stepped into the car. “Remember the underwater mermaid party he threw for Lila?”

Hitting the button for the first floor, he turned and asked, “I do remember that. What ever happened?”

Slanting her head to the side she disclosed to her second in command, “We settled with SeaWorld.”

Shaking his head as the elevator doors closed on them Rhodes empathized, “That poor seal.”

~~~

The single use coffee maker just spit out its last drop of black gold into the waiting mug. Tony picked up the container and held it up to his nose, permitting the bitter smell to invade his senses. He had had coffee on the plane, but it was government-grade coffee and wasn’t the best. He was about to take his first sip of what he suspected would be many tonight when he was interrupted by shouting. “Damn it Stark!” Tony carefully maneuvered his cup which he almost dropped at the surprising call directed at him. When he turned, he saw Clint coming at him with May Parker not far behind. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“Oh, hey Clint.” Tony replied calmly and gestured to the teenager sitting on the bar stool at the counter in the communal room. “You remember Peter Parker? The teenager didn’t even turn around to any of it. Tony surmised the kid was exhausted and using the last bit of energy to focus on the sandwich reaching his mouth. All Peter did to acknowledge the introduction was a wave of his hand over his shoulder towards the shouting man.

Clint walked into the kitchenette and into Peter’s view. Pointing a finger at the boy who called himself Spiderman, Clint warned the child, “You’re next.” Then readdressed his intended target, “Tony, what was going through your mind?”

Knowing that Clint was very mad, Tony took a sip from his cup, a gesture that was guaranteed to outrage the already upset Barton. “I don’t know, not let a teenager get kidnapped or blown up, the same ol’ stuff.” Looking to the woman who had walked in with Clint, Tony greeted, “Mrs. Parker, don’t you look nice.” That got Peter’s attention, the kid turned in his stool so fast, Tony was sure he broke it.

“Don’t start.” May said to Tony as she moved next to Peter. “Peter I can’t even think of a punishment right now to go along with this one.”

Rubbing his face Peter explained, “Aunt May, it’s really not a big deal.”

May screamed as she threw her hands out at the simplification of the night’s activities. “No big deal?! You were arrested! By Interpol! I am standing in the Avengers’ compound at almost one thirty in the morning because this is where the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Mutant Affairs brought you. What is your definition of ‘not a big deal’?”

Tony put a hand out and gestured a ‘calm down’ motion with it. “This is one of those times where things just sort of snowballed out of control May, don’t be too hard on the boy.”

“And don’t tell me how to handle my nephew.” May demanded with fire in her eyes focused at the Ironman.

“Ah, I see everyone is here.” Steve reported in a fake happy tone at the scene he had walked in on.

Leaning down on the counter’s surface with his elbows, Tony let his head drop at the newest addition to the drama. “Steve what are you doing here?”

With his ‘serious Captain America’ face, Steve summed up the turmoil of the last few hours. “Two Avengers sabotaged a multi-departmental operation. You didn’t think certain people would have questions about our role in that?” Then a small smile appeared, replacing the strict face, “That and Kate asked me to make sure Clint didn’t kill you two.”

“Still on the fence on that one.” Clint piped in.

Pushing himself up, Tony questioned with concern about the inclusion of his daughter in the conversation. He knew that Kate was probably made aware of the situation, it was sort of her job. The Interpol agent who questioned Peter and himself took absolute delight in alluding to the fact that Kate was caught up in this, but Tony just assumed it was part of interagency collaboration. Rhodey was handling things, wasn’t he? Then why was Clint here? “Why? Did something happen to Kate?”

Folding his arms Clint answered, “No, but you know she is supposed to be on bedrest Tony.”

“Why is she not on bedrest anymore? Because of a little explosion?” Tony joked, trying to still brush off the entire affair.

Steve directed his eyes upwards. “She is upstairs talking to Rhodey, after a very insulting conference call with leaders of the agencies you messed with tonight.”

Shaking himself out of whatever was going on in his head, Tony observed as if it was as simple as breathing. “She shouldn’t be here.”

Tilting his head at the very obvious statement, Clint commented, “No shit Sherlock.”

Breaking away from the staring match he was having with his aunt, Peter warily asked, “So what is the damage?”

Steve raised his eyebrows and took a breath. “I don’t know yet. You are in DMA’s custody. I’m hoping Kate will be able to talk her people into just letting the Avengers deal with this ‘in house’.”

Looking up from Peter to Steve, May asked for the Captain to explain what dealing with Tony and Peter ‘in house’ would entail. “What are you going to do to them if she does go along with it?”

“Oh, you know Steve.” Tony interrupted and lifted one of his hands up. With the hand, he opened and closed it numerous times, gesturing a mouth talking. “He will give us a long lecture about responsibilities and doing the right thing. We will promise to be good and move on with our lives. Right Steve?”

“Something like that.” Steve agreed, then made an effort to straighten out his back and push out his chest. “You are going to need to debrief with me.”

“Yeah, well Rhodey wants to talk with us.” Tony informed the Captain. Apparently, the debriefing could not happen on the plane due to security reasons. Tony had practically begged Rhodes to take his statement on the ride to save time and get them all home and into bed faster.

“Rhodes and Kate want to talk to the both of you.” Steve clarified. “Again, I am hoping she will let me sit in on the ‘talk’, so we don’t have to do this twice.”

Checking his watch, Tony observed. “Would appreciate it, it is getting late.”

Kate unexpectedly appeared in the room with Rhodey behind her. “And I would appreciate not being woken up to the President of the United States yelling at me for the antics of my father and his…” Looking at Peter, Kate stumbled with the correct label for the child. “ward, sidekick, community service obligation?”

“Just call me Peter.” The teenager supplied. “Hello Mrs. Secretary.”

“Peter.” Kate returned, then acknowledged her father. “Tony.”

“Hello darlin’.” Tony raised his hand in Kate’s direction and wiggled his fingers in a childish wave. “You know this whole ‘Tony’ thing is getting old fast. Why can’t you just say ‘dad’? Like ever?”

“Because I know you want me to.” Kate unemotionally stated. “That and the last guy I called that put at least two hits out on me and attempted to destroy my family.”

“I will concede to half of that logic.” Tony declared before taking another sip of his coffee.

“Plus, I am keeping that card up my sleeve for when I need it.” Moving past the group of men, Kate approached May Parker and extended her hand. “Mrs. Parker, thank you so much for coming.”

Shaking the offered hand, May started immediately with the apologies she felt she owed the woman. “Madam Secretary, please call me May. Mrs. Parker makes me feel so old. I am so sorry to inconvenience you like this. I can assure you I will punish Peter for tonight.” May stopped for a moment then asked, “Actually, what did happen tonight?”

Kate held her hand out to the sitting area of the room, silently requesting that they sit for this portion of the conversation. She didn’t want to admit it, but her entire body hurt. Once the phone call with the President ended, Kate received a request for the conference call. That required her to put on a presentable outfit fitting of her position complete with hair, makeup and high heels. Then there was the stressful meeting itself, to show her strength and determination, Kate stood for the duration, not wanting to present any weakness that a seated position may have conveyed to the meeting’s participants. Kate sat in one of the recliners in the room while Peter and May sat on the sofa next to her. Tony remained in the kitchen with Clint drinking coffee, and Steve took the second recliner. Rhodey sat in the stool that Peter vacated and motioned to Tony for the man to get him a cup as well.

Kate positioned a pillow behind herself and sank into it. It didn’t give her the support she craved, but it was better than nothing. “This evening Peter decided to be a stowaway on a boat that was the vessel being used to transport stolen weaponry that was taken from a storage facility of one of the biggest suppliers to the military.”

“Why would you do that Peter?” May asked her nephew in utter shock of the sentence she had just heard. “They stole that stuff from the military, and you thought you could get it back better than they could?”

“Aunt May, I was there, they weren’t. I had to do something.”

Kate retorted to that statement with a harsh tone that reminded Tony of Nick Fury. “’They’ weren’t there because it was a high covert mission. People were in place, just not in plain sight.”

“Then why didn’t they stop me?”

Everyone with the exception of Kate and Rhodes’ eyebrows went up in question to that very valid inquiry. Kate remained emotionless. “They didn’t know you were there. An error clearly on both the defense and homeland security departments. You’re good Mr. Parker, but not that good. This operation wasn’t a complete failure, but it could have been so much worst. How long do you suppose you could have stayed hidden below deck?”

“I don’t know.” Peter admitted and for the first time since the events took place, looked to be ashamed of the actions he took.

Kate knew that face, her own son Cooper had perfected it already at the age of fourteen. She knew from that expression that the boy was acknowledging that he didn’t think things through and never considered the consequences of when being a ‘superhero’ goes wrong. Now they could have the conversation they needed to. “Thank you for being honest about that. What was going through your mind when the yacht’s engine started up? Did you ever consider, I don’t know, getting off?”

“I was afraid they would see me.”

Nodding her head, Kate had to agree. “A legitimate concern. So what was the plan?”

Putting his hands out in front of him, Peter searched for the right words to say. “I was going to wait until we stopped, then I don’t know, apprehend them.”

“You were going to conduct a citizen’s arrest on three mutants? In another country?” Kate leaned forward to make firm eye contact and stress the environment he had placed himself into. “Peter, you do realize that they were leaving the country, right? If your plan, at least part of it came to fruition, then you would have been attempting to, as you say, ‘apprehend’ them in some ‘off-the-map’ port in South America?”

Dropping his head onto his knees, Peter divulged his ignorance. “I didn’t know they were mutants.”

Clint commented under his breath at a volume that everyone heard. “Honestly, I think that was the least of your problems.”

Kate sent a warning glare to her husband at his commentary. “Clint…” Looking to Peter, “But he does have a point. You were on a boat filled to the brim with top level weaponry, some stuff that hasn’t even had its user manual published yet. Very volatile and sensitive equipment. Anything could have happened, and if it did, no one would have known to even look for you there.”

Pointing to Tony in the kitchenette Peter exclaimed as if it would pardon him from his foils. “Mr. Stark knew I was there.”

Throwing his hands up in the air, Tony hollered back, “Thanks for beeping the horn before you threw me under the bus kid!”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Kate said turning her attention to Tony. “We’ll get to that.” Tony flashed a smile to his daughter as she focused on Peter. “You are lucky Tony knew, because I sure as hell didn’t. Deputy Secretary Rhodes, did you know Peter was on the boat?”

“No, I did not Madam Secretary.”

“Do we really need to be so formal?” Tony asked the room. “It’s just us. Looking for a point here Kate.”

“My point is, we, and by ‘we’ I mean Deputy Rhodes and the Department, helped the other departments and Interpol develop this operation. I added a few things here or there, but this was Rhodes’ baby.”

“A comment I have not heard in years.” Tony observed looking lost in thought.

Rhodey pointed with an extended arm to his best friend. “Hey! The man in trouble with his estranged daughter from a teenage pregnancy needs to shut it.”

Tony put his hand over his heart. “Ouch.”

“Gentlemen, really? May I continue?” Kate requested leaning back into the pillow more. “The Deputy Secretary supplied the agencies who had boots on the ground who and what was on that boat. There was the chance, very slim, but a chance of you being found. However, that would have been contingent on you being able to stay hidden until Interpol inspected the boat and stumbled across you. The people on that boat were really bad people Peter. I can’t stress that enough. If they would have found you, your best shot was that they would have used you as a hostage until they didn’t need you anymore. Again, that was your best outcome.”

“Well then he is lucky I showed up and became his new ‘best shot’.” Tony announced moving to the stool next to Rhodey.

As Tony sat down, Rhodey put out there, “Why didn’t you call me Tony?”

“Why would I?” Tony questioned shrugging his shoulders at the suggestion. “I got an alert that Peter was moving. I looked at the map and saw he was over water. Even my best upgrade to his suit doesn’t give him the ability to fly, so simple deduction told me that he was on a boat. I didn’t know who or what was on that boat, just that Peter was were he shouldn’t be. It was a school day after all.”

Clint bent forward on the counter and spoke to the back of Tony’s head. “So responsible you are Tony. What would we do without you?”

“Well, you probably wouldn’t have Vee on the way.” Tony said turning around. Clint shot him a questionable look. “Hey, I get math. I know that ‘date night’ you and Kate had eight months ago that I volunteered to watch the kids overnight for ended in that.” Tony said pointing across the room to Kate’s stomach.

Clint looked over to Kate and asked curiously. “Is that when it happened?”

“How the hell should I know?” Kate shot back to her husband and addressed her father. “Is this something we need to talk about right now, or ever?”

“Just wanted it out there what you guys would do without me.” Tony used his index finger to make circles in the air. “Please Kate, continue with traumatizing the teenager about how brutal his death could have been tonight.”

Rolling her neck to relieve the stiffness she was feeling, Kate stopped to shoot daggers at Tony. “That’s not what I’m doing.”

“Sure feels like it.” Peter observed.

“Then heed the cautionary tale.” Scanning the room Kate then glanced at her watch, it was almost two o’clock. She looked to her second in command and asked, “Are we secure?”

“Yes ma’am we are. There are personnel on duty, but none with clearance to the Avengers’ residential area. Well, the janitorial staff does, but they have an exit time stamp of eleven forty-two.”

“Any reservations about who is in attendance?” She followed up with.

Rhodes looked around the room. The only person he didn’t fully trust with information was May Parker and that was because he didn’t know her. She had kept her nephew’s identity a secret, so odds were that she was trustworthy. “I don’t have any concerns with anyone here. The information will be all over the news in a matter of hours anyway.  A lock down can be instated if you prefer to do this here.”

“I think everyone is tired, and there isn’t a need to prolong this more than need be. If no one has any objections?” When no one said anything, Kate pushed on with the agenda. “Deputy Secretary, if you please.”

“Yes.” Rhodey already knew what she wanted him to do. They were planning on questioning Peter and Tony separately and in another room, but it looked like that had changed. With a tablet in hand, he swiped a few times then placed the screen in front of Peter. “Is this the person you saw? The man that became the blue woman?”

Peter moved up in his seat to get a better look at the picture he had been presented with. The image was a woman with blue skin, yellow eyes, and vibrant red hair. “Yes, that’s her. Who is she?”

“Never you mind about that.” Kate waved her hand at the question. “Thank you for identifying her. Now Peter, and or Tony, was she there when the boat exploded?”

The Spiderman took a second to think about it and seemed as surprised as anyone with is response. “No, I didn’t see her on the boat. Just the two guys. I saw her go to the boat, but I don’t think she ever got on.”

Everyone looked to Tony for his input on the topic. “I didn’t see a blue woman on the boat, but honestly, I wasn’t looking for one either. I landed, grabbed Peter and got out.”

Kate’s expression was a doubtful one regarding Tony’s timeline matching the events she was told about. “I feel that there are certain parts omitted from that story Tony.”

“Kate, why would I lie?” Tony looked to be heart broken at his daughter’s accusation against him that he would be anything but truthful with her. They had a deal, Tony would always be the one to tell her the truth, no matter what.

“I never said you lied.” Kate spoke calmly knowing that she had offended him. “I said you omitted. When you landed, was Peter right there waiting for you or did you have to look for him?”

“I looked for him, but it was only for about a minute or so. I had a tracker, so it was just a game of ‘follow the blinking red dot’ on my helmet’s HUD, you know, heads up display.”

“Did you encounter any hostiles?” Steve inquired. Kate and Rhodey needed to know all the mutant political information, while Steve needed to know what fight had gone down.

“Not until we came up.” Tony replied casually. “I went down to get Peter. I didn’t think anyone saw me board. Apparently they did because when we were ascending the stairs to get back on deck, we were attacked.”

Steve immediately asked, “How many?”

“Just two.” Peter answered, happy that they had moved on from the ‘ripping Peter a new one’ part of the interrogation.

Clint spoke up and probed, “Did you engage?”

“No, it happened really quick. One of the guys suddenly had fire.” Tony took a fast survey of the room and saw that everyone was looking at him peculiarly. “I know that sounds strange but come on. In our line of work, what isn’t possible. He had a palm full of fire and I knew that wouldn’t end well. We were on a boat with no where to go if the thing caught on fire. I was clueless there were any weapons on board. I just grabbed Peter and got the hell out of there. The explosion caught up with us and the force played with my systems. While I still had control over my suit, I landed on the nearest spot, which unfortunately, was an Interpol ship.” Clasping his hands together, Tony concluded, “And here we are.”

Rhodes swiped a few more times at his tablet and showed Tony a picture. “Is this the guy that had the fire?”

Tony just glanced at the electronic device. “Yup.”

Rhodes moved back to Peter and showed him the picture for verification. The boy nodded, and Rhodes took back the item and swiped again. “By chance was this the other guy?”

Peter looked for the third time and nodded. Rhodes walked to Tony and repeated the action and in return received another confirmation on who the Department of Mutant Affairs suspected was involved. “Madam Secretary, the witnesses have officially verified the two suspects as Wyngarde and Allerdyce.” He told Kate as he handed her the tablet.

Taking the tablet from him, Kate looked down at it. “Thank you Deputy Secretary.”

Peter sat in silence waiting for either Kate or Rhodey to continue with the suspects’ identification. Sensing that they were done, he probed. “What about the woman?”

Kate glanced up with a confused appearance on her face. “What woman?”

“The blue one.” The teenager answered wondering where the breakdown in communication occurred.

Rhodey fielded this question with a simple, “There was never a blue woman.”

Peter’s eyes darted back and forth, scanning the people in the room. Slowly he disputed, “Yes there was.”

“Tony never saw her.” Kate pointed out, then showed a warm and maternal smile to the boy. “You have to admit that it sounds a little strange. A man who morphs into a woman, and blue?”

“But I did.” Peter protested then pointed to Rhodes. “You showed me a picture and I said that was her.”

“No, you didn’t.” Kate replied in a very matter of fact manner, dropping the smile.

“Oh, I see what is happening here.” Tony resolved standing up to address the entire group. “Since no one but Peter saw it, it didn’t happen.”

“The Department would appreciate it.” Kate verbalized about the indictment without admittance.

Tony emptied his mug and put it on the counter. “Kate, if you don’t want anyone to say anything that’s cool. But please don’t play with the kid’s head like that.”

May harmonized with Tony’s concern. “I agree, he doesn’t need any more problems.”

“Aunt May?” Peter called out at the insult.

“The least you can do right now is to keep your mouth shut.” May shot back at her nephew then asked the officials in the room, “Will anyone else be asking him questions? Can he go back to school tomorrow?”

“Can I not?” Peter requested about attending school in the morning. “I sort of didn’t finish my report that is due tomorrow. It’s a major part of our quarter grade.”

“I think we can handle that. No one will bother him as long as we pass along the intel to our counterparts that we gathered here tonight.” Rhodey said to prevent the aunt from not worrying. Always the cautious one, he added, “If they do, please notify us immediately. For the most part, if he remains quiet and hangs up the suit for a little bit, everything should be fine.”

Kate had been listening to everything but was obsessing on one tiny piece of information Peter had given. “Excuse me, if I may ask one more question. That paper that is due tomorrow, did you just learn you had to do it today? If it was a quarter paper, then wouldn’t you have had the quarter, like nine weeks, to complete it?” Everyone just stared at Kate following her observation of Peter’s procrastinating. “Sorry, used to be a teacher and have four kids myself. I didn’t mean to insert myself into your domestic affairs.”

“No, you are a hundred percent correct.” May said turning to Peter.” Well?”

“Well what?” Peter had no idea what they were talking about or why he was involved.

“Well is the Secretary correct, you had a project for the entire quarter to do that is due tomorrow that you haven’t even started?”

“I think we are done here.” Kate said as she didn’t even try to hide her smile. “Like the Deputy Secretary said, if anyone gives you any problems, don’t hesitate to call us. Rhodes will take you two up to my office to sign some paper work. It’s no big deal, just that the DMA is releasing Peter into your custody and you will stay within the area in case we have any more questions.”

Peter questioned in bewilderment of the dismissal, “That’s it?”

Rhodey was directing May out of the room to take her upstairs to the floor that Tony had designated for the Department of Mutant Affairs. Calling over his shoulder to the confused boy, he said, “Unless you want to be arrested for interfering in a federal investigation, yeah, paperwork and that’s it.”

May stopped her progress with Rhodes to bid a proper farewell to Kate. “Thank you Kate for what you did tonight. Please let us know if we can do anything for you.”

Kate probably should have stood for the parting, it would be both polite and professional, but she really didn’t want to. Instead she just smiled and bobbed her head to the woman and called over to Tony. “Do you mind giving them a ride back to Queens?”

Steve offered his assistance, “Actually, I’m heading back into the city. I can give them a lift.” With the travel arrangements sorted, Rhodes ushered the Parkers to the office.

Letting out a loud and dramatic sigh as she stood up and moved to the couch to lay down Kate said, “Thank you so much for everything Steve. I really do appreciate it.” Clint left the kitchen area to also move to the couch. Kate lifted her legs for Clint to sit down. Once he did she rested her legs across his lap.

Taking Kate’s empty seat, Tony challenged, “What the hell did he do?”

“Well,” She started as she moved her head to look at Tony, “he thought it would be a benefit to have him at my side as I met with the other department leaders. Not a united front per se, but an alliance against the claims that you and Peter were acting with the Avengers, Department of Mutant Affairs, and United Nations Accord committee’s blessing.”

Tony didn’t think of that. He knew that Peter and him being involved in the operation would somehow get twisted to be a violation of the Accords, no matter how innocent their motives were. However, he didn’t think his actions of the evening would cause problems for the Avengers or the Department. “Oh, that was nice of you Steve.”

“Tomorrow you and I need to talk. If you want this kid on the team, we need to set up some rules.” Tony only nodded to that, Steve was right, he just didn’t want to admit it, and absolutely not in a room full of witnesses.

Steve pushed himself up and out of the chair. “I’m going to go up to the office and escort them out. Kate, call me if you need anything. Clint you call me if Kate needs anything and won’t call me. Tony, see you tomorrow.”

“You got it. Thanks man.” Clint thanked as he let his head fall back against the couch and closed his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah it’s a date.” Tony answered dryly. Once Steve rounded the corner to take the stairs up, he instructed Kate and Clint, “Ok, go ahead, no witnesses around, lay into me.”

Kate shook her head at the invitation. “Not going to do it. I was going to. Even told Clint where to hide the body, but not going to anymore.”

“Which was insulting.” Clint added, still behind closed eyelids. “Like I need to be told where to hide a body.”

“What changed.” He had been mentally preparing himself since the Interpol interrogation room for this altercation.

“Now I have all the information. Before when it was just the President and other agencies talking to me, I had a jumble of miscellaneous facts that added up to you and that boy going rogue. Now I understand. You were just helping him when he got in over his head.”

Slowly, not believing that this conversation had gone this way, he agreed with his daughter’s interpretation of the evening’s events. “That was exactly what I was doing.”

Clint opened his eyes, “Tony, you got to get him under control. Like Kate said, this could have been bad.”

“I know.”

“That kid idolizes you.” Clint observed. “You need to do right by him.”

Kate sat up, swinging her legs off Clint and placing them on the floor she looked Tony directly in the eyes. “Peter is what? Two, three years older than Cooper?”

“Something like that.” Tony said doing the math in his head of the age difference.

Hitting below the belt, Kate asked, “Would you allow your grandson to do half the shit that Parker has?”

“Hell no, I would kick his ass for even thinking about it.” Tony declared.

Kate responded immediately, “So why is it ok for Peter to?”

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Tony exhaustedly replied, “I don’t have an answer for that one darlin’. Maybe because Peter has enhanced abilities?”

“Cooper has the X-gene.”

“Don’t even go there Kate.” Tony demanded in a harsh tone. “Stop! You know I would never… I would never!”

Kate knew she was pushing the line here, but she did have a point to make. “Calm down. I never said you would. What if Cooper was triggered today? He would be the exact same age of when it happened to Peter. Would you get him a nice suit and teach him how to fight the bad guys?”

While Clint did support Kate’s attempt of talking Tony into taking more care regarding Peter, her last comment was meant to hurt. “Kate that isn’t fair.”

Tony’s face was stone-cold to hide how much that question hurt him. “No it is not.”

“Fine, maybe I went too far with that one.” Kate relented. “But Clint is right, you need to do right by him. When you are with that boy, I want you to see Cooper. Do for him what you would do for your own grandson.”

“You’re right. You are absolutely right. I’ll talk to Steve tomorrow and go from there. I just don’t want you upset about this. Are you doing alright?”

Kate put a hand on her stomach. “I’m fine. Tired with swollen feet and a back ache that would put Sisyphus to shame, but I’ll live.”

“Vee?” The grandfather next questioned about the wellbeing of. 

Kate rolled her eyes at the stupid nickname. “Why is everyone calling the baby that?”

“Because we have nothing else to go by and calling it ‘it’ sounds demeaning.” The man proclaimed. Not knowing was killing him slowly. It was probably the one and only thing he and Clint had agreed on in recent months. “I know your OB knows the gender, you just won’t let him tell anyone.”

“I’m sure Dr. Honeycutt does, but I am requesting not to know the sex until he or she enters this world.”

Clint knew this argument. He had also wanted to know the gender of the baby, but surrendered a while ago to Kate’s wishes and hadn’t pursued it again. “Tony, I fought this battle and lost.”

“I don’t know how you did it, but you even put a firewall around your medical files that the Pentagon would envy.” Shaking his head in disbelief over what he thought was the impossible. Tony hated to admit, “I can’t crack it.”

Kate pointed to herself, “Apple.” Then pointed to Tony, “Tree. Did you really think I didn’t consider you hacking into my OBGYN file? Which by the way, gross.”

“Did you hack her lady-doctor records?” Clint inquired with a disgusted expression. “Man, that’s…like she said – gross. There are certain things a father should not know about his daughter.”

“Not my proudest moment granted.” Tony acknowledged. “But come on Kate, this isn’t fair.”

“One more month Tony, that’s it.”

“I don’t want to wait one more month. I want to plan! I want a name!” Tony wined impersonating throwing a childlike tantrum, complete with fists banging on his knees.

Laughing at Tony’s antics, Clint offered, “Cooper was two weeks early, so there’s that.”

“And Charlie was over a month early.” Kate contributed.

Any enjoyment Clint was having was dashed by that statement. “Too soon to joke about that one Kate. Too soon.”

“Sorry. My point is, patience is a virtue.”

“Does it look like it has ever been one of mine?” Tony asked. “Ok, I concede, but only because its like two thirty in the morning and Vee must be pissed. Can’t have them coming out already hating grandpapa.”

Refusing to use the nickname, Kate disregarded the concern. “The baby is fine. Been sleeping for most of the night, only made their presence known when they didn’t like a position I was in and even that was quickly remedied.”

Tony had never really been interested in pregnancy and that kind of stuff until Kate announced Vee’s impending arrival. Now he couldn’t get enough information about gestation. “You can tell that?”

“Yup, I know when the kid is awake and when they are asleep, for the most part. It woke up a bit during the conference call, but I was walking around, so the baby went right back to sleep. Walking is soothing to them, it’s like being rocked.”

“That is so cool.” Tony commented with a dorky smile on his face.

“Isn’t it?” Clint said. “The miracle of life.”

“So,” Tony began as he stood up. It was late, everyone needed to go home and go to bed, especially Kate and Vee. “I need to make some stuff up to you both for tonight. How about I take car pool for the kids in the morning, or in a few hours? You guys would just have to get them ready to go then you can go right back to bed. Wanda takes Charlie, right?” Clint nodded. “So, I can take Cooper and Lila to school and drive by my place and hand Nate over to Pepper to take to preschool. Would that smooth things over a bit?”

The very idea of being able to not have to do school drop off in a matter of hours was very appealing to Kate, but she wanted to see just how much she could profit from her father’s guilt. “You add french fries afterwards and we are squared.”

Without hesitation, Tony agreed to the terms. “Deal.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Three

No More Humans

Tony had arrived a little after five, knowing that at least Charlie would be up. After the night before, he was on such an adrenalin rush that he didn’t even try to go home. He just sent Pepper a text message, or essay, about what had happened and where he would be if she wanted to meet him in the morning. He then played around in his lab at the compound until it was an acceptable time to go to the Bartons’ house. He pulled up the house’s driveway just as the sun was kissing the horizon with the promise of a beautiful blue-sky day after being waved through the driveway’s entrance by the agent on duty.

When Kate became the Secretary, she was given Secret Service agents to protect her. It wasn’t just due to the DMA but also for her role of being the Chairperson for the overwatch of the Sokovia Accords committee of the United Nations. At first, Kate declined the service, but as her pregnancy progressed as well as anti-mutant protestors hiding behind the safety of their keyboards started making threats she was ordered to utilize the service. Kate always had at least one agent with her. If she was at a public event or traveling, then the number of personnel increased to accommodate the security need. The service wasn’t just for her, each of the four Barton children had an agent assigned to them also when they were not at home. After Kate was confirmed by the Senate of her appointment, it was strongly recommended that the children be protected. Clint and Kate both were former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents with an enemy list as long as their arms. The potential danger of a public political life after that type of career did have the tendency to put bullseyes on the foreheads of the ones a person holds nearest and dearest. The children risked being targets for those who still harbored ill feelings towards their parents.

Clint despised the agents, not personally though, they were all nice people who he had hand selected for each member of his family. However, the whole ‘round the clock guard dog’ thing reminded him too much of when he was on house arrest following the Avengers’ ‘Civil War’ and the fact that they were there to protect his family, which was his job, caused him to dislike the concept even more. Clint had literally laughed in the face of the Secretary of Homeland Security when he offered Clint an agent for himself, and told him not so politely, ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

As suspected when Tony walked through the foyer of the house into the living room, Charlie was up. “Hey princess. How goes the ‘rat race’?” He asked referring to the stocks report program she was watching on the television.

Forgoing any greeting to her grandfather in favor of increasing her stock portfolio, Charlie Barton inquired, “Is Stark going to reveal that new enhanced storage chamber for solar power this season?”

With a confused expression Tony returned, “Why?”

“Just asking. SI is down in Europe this morning and people are selling.”

“Shit, really?” Tony observed then rationalized, “Pepper is going to be mad about that, but it happens. We are in renewable resources and the weather is changing. People are always ‘iffy’ about alternative energy sources during the colder months, especially anything running on solar when the days are getting shorter. We aren’t by any means new to the renewable energy game, in fact SI made the game, but we are late to the solar energy buffet.”

“That didn’t answer my question.” Charlie retorted in a voice thick with annoyance. Tony wondered if she had any idea about what happened over night. Odds were, she didn’t because that would have been the topic he would have been met with when he walked in.  “What about the new chamber you and Peppy were talking about during the summer?”

“I don’t know Princess, that’s a Peppy question.” Tony answered looking at his watch then a thought hit him about what he was doing. “Wait a minute…are you trying to get me arrested for insider trading?”

“What?”

Sitting down on the end of the ‘U’ shaped couch so he could spread out and see the television on the far wall about what the child was speaking about Tony thought about what to do and how much time he had to do it in, “You know what, I can’t do this with you right now. If you have the money, buy up what you can. You are a Stark, it’s your family’s company. Nobody will think twice about you acquiring the stocks. If you need money, I’ll give it to you, just get what you can before New York opens.” Then under his breath, “And your grandmother wakes up.”

With a nod of her head, Charlie picked up the laptop to her right on the couch and placed it in her lap and went to work. “Yes sir. Coffee is ready.”

Not wanting to, but knowing he needed it, Tony disobeyed his body’s screams to remain seated and comfortable in favor of going to the kitchen and getting a cup of coffee. “Thank you.” It truly amazed Tony how brilliant the girl was with the stocks. She actually had more shares in Stark Industries then Tony or Pepper did combine. Charlie was the majority stockholder in the company. However, Kate, as the legal guardian of the minor majority stockholder, signed over voting rights to Pepper once Charlie achieved that title. While Charlie legally owned the stock, Pepper was the only one who could do anything with it until the girl became eighteen, then Tony could only assume at best, they were screwed. He knew Charlie didn’t want SI, she just like collecting the stocks and seeing a return on it. Again, another issue they would have to deal with when she came of age.

A little after five thirty, Wanda Maximoff came downstairs to start her day. “Good morning Charlie.” She greeted, then saw Tony, “And good morning to you too Tony. What are you doing here?”

Tony was standing behind the couch, so he could watch what Charlie was doing on the computer. “I’m on car pool duty this morning so the parents can sleep in.” Looking up from his granddaughter’s computer he asked Wanda, “How does this whole ‘morning’ thing work?”

“Well, everyone is pretty much independent once they finally get out of bed. Cooper’s alarm goes off at five thirty. Clint and Kate don’t worry about him until six and just check to make sure he did in fact wake up and is not playing with the snooze button. Lila wakes up at that time.”

“We all have to be seated at the table for breakfast by six-fifteen.” Charlie volunteered.

Wanda arched an eyebrow at the child, “And you are running out of time young lady, go finish getting dressed before Lila wakes up.” Then looking to Tony, “What did you do to get saddled with this?”

“Just feel bad about last night, trying to make it up to them.” Tony knew Wanda was aware of what had happened over night. Kate told her before she and Clint left the house, so Wanda knew why she was the only adult in the home if the children woke up. “What about Nate?”

“Kate gets him ready in the morning. He’s simple, throw some clothes on him and bring him down to eat.”

“Okay, do you mind helping me with that? I would prefer Kate to just not get up. I know you take Charlie with you to Xavier’s. I will grab the other three.”

“Not a problem.” Wanda assured. It was part of her morning routine to help the Bartons gather their children before the start of the day. “Let me grab some coffee and I will get myself ready.”

~~~

“Girls I swear I will shave you both bald if you don’t get out of the bathroom right now!” Wanda threatened through the door that led to the bathroom that she shared with Lila and Charlie Barton. The Barton house was huge with five bedrooms and four and a half bathrooms. The downside was that only Kate and Clint got their own private bathroom. Wanda’s room connected to the girls’ room through the shared bathroom. It was the same set up between Nate and Cooper on the other side of the hallway.

On the first floor of the house, there was only a half bathroom off the living room. In the basement was for some reason another full bathroom. Clint thought that the previous owners were probably working towards finishing the basement and adding another bedroom before they left. The abandoned project turned out to be a good thing for numerous reasons. There was another Barton on the way who would need a place to sleep. Cooper was beyond happy to move into the basement to free up his current bedroom to Wanda. Clint had first offered the new room to Wanda, but she liked being surrounded by the Barton family on the second floor. The new baby would move to Wanda’s room, so the youngest children would have the rooms closest to the parents. This gave the teenage boy his own bathroom and area away from his parents and younger siblings.

Clint practically jumped for joy at the prospect of having a project to do around the house. Tony had, of course, offered to take care of it all, but Clint would have none of it. At the Iowan farm, there was always something for him to tinker with, always a project that needed to be done. The suburban New England home didn’t offer that for him. So, the challenge of turning a basement into an area that offered a full laundry room, a recreation area and bedroom was a starving handy man’s dream come true. Once Cooper moved downstairs, Wanda would pretty much have her own bathroom, since it was doubtful Nate would take as much time to get ready in the morning then two eleven-year-old girls. However, none of that helped Wanda currently. Bringing her hand up to the door again, “Charlie and Lila, you have to the count of three, then I’m going to…”

“What are you going to do?” Clint asked from behind her. He was in his pajamas leaning against the door frame that led into her bedroom. “I’m not fighting it, just want to be prepared. Are you sure they are even in there? It wouldn’t be the first time one of them locked the door and left.”

“They’re in there.” Wanda confirmed with a scowl. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturbed you guys. I know you got in late this morning. I was trying to get everyone up and ready to go to lessen the morning stress for you.”

“And the gesture is appreciated.” Kate thanked coming up from behind Clint. “Why don’t you use our bathroom?”

“Thank you, but I need some stuff from in there.” Just then they all heard the door unlocking and the sound of the two girls running through their bedroom, out into the hallway and down the stairs. Apparently, it was one thing to mess with Wanda, but when they heard that their parents were involved, they high tailed it out of there. Wanda didn’t waste any time running into the bathroom and locking the door behind her.

Clint observed as he moved into the hallway just in time to see the back of Lila’s head as she descended the staircase. “They are really horrible children.”

“They are your daughters Clint.” Kate pointed out. She wasn’t disagreeing, but there are just some things a parent should not say out loud.

 “Doesn’t negate the fact. Haven’t they learned by now not to mess with a witch and her bladder?”

“You would have thought after Wanda threw them out the bathroom’s window, they would have gotten the hint.”

Clint shook his head as he spoke, “Told her not to cushion the landing.”

Swatting him in the back of the head playfully the wife reprimanded her husband. “Clint, that is just mean now.”

“Only way they’ll learn Kate.” Clint commented as he started to walk down the hall to join the kids downstairs.  “The only way they’ll learn.”

~~~

Tony had made a wonderful breakfast for his grandchildren that morning. He had placed three cereal boxes on the buffet along with a gallon of milk. There was an assortment of fruit cut up in a bowl in the refrigerator, so he ensured a well-balanced meal by putting that out as well. After Charlie went back upstairs, Tony was alone on the first floor until six-ten, then Cooper showed up.

“Morning Coop.”

“Hey grandpapa, what are you doing here?” The teenager said as he went straight to the buffet and grabbed a bowl.

Tony had switched the stocks report off in favor of the morning news cycle to see how big of an impact the actions of just a few hours ago had made in the world. The short answer – a lot. When Cooper arrived, he quickly found the remote and turned off the television. Getting up off the couch to go into the dining area that connected the living room to the kitchen Tony answered the question he was sure he would have to answer at least one more time this morning to Lila, “Can’t a grandfather just show up and make his grandchildren breakfast?”

Cooper scanned the buffet of the ‘breakfast’ Tony had made them and looked back at his grandfather, unsure of what he missed. “You put out cereal.”

Tony’s face dropped at the comment and was replaced by an emotionless authoritarian expression. “And fruit. Eat it or go hungry, those are your morning choices.”

“I’m eating, I’m eating.” Cooper said laughing at his grandfather’s defense and brought his breakfast to the table to eat.

If his altercation with Cooper didn’t signal the start of the morning chaos for Tony, the running of Charlie and Lila past him to the food did. “What is up with you two this morning?”

In a unified voice, both automatically responded, “Nothing.” and went about getting their morning meal ready in a hurry for some reason.

The reason became clear to Tony when he saw the next person arrived. “I thought Wanda was handling the kids this morning while you and Kate slept in?” Tony asked as he saw Clint. “I had it all arranged with her earlier.”

“Well, I think that was before Lila and Charlie barricaded themselves in the bathroom.” Clint said staring daggers at his daughters as he walked through the dining room to get to the kitchen. Both girls kept their heads down looking at the contents of their bowls and he decided not to start with that conversation until he was properly caffeinated. Bending down to the coffee machine, Clint caressed it, “And how is daddy’s favorite child?”

Tony moved to the entrance to have eyes on the kids and speak to Clint in the kitchen. “Going to give the kids a complex talking like that to objects.”

“Yeah cause we’re so stable now.” Cooper observed walking past Tony to get something to drink.

Pouring coffee into his cup, Clint called after his son, “Cooper what did I tell you about being a smartass in the morning?”

In a sing-song voice, Cooper answered, “Wait until you had your first cup of coffee.”

“Thank you.” Clint said as he took a sip from his cup.

“I have this Clint if you want to go back to bed.” Tony offered.

Waving him off Clint informed the man, “I’ve gone out on high-stakes missions successfully with less sleep, but thanks for the offer.”

“Kate?”

“Getting Nate ready for you to take.” Clint said returning to the dining room and taking a seat at the head of the table. “Then she is going back to bed.”

“She said that?” That didn’t sound like Kate to Tony. Kate tended to be ‘up once she was up’.

“No, but it is what is going to happen.” Clint instructed, then moved onto his parental duties.  “Girls, what happened in the bathroom this morning?”

Again, both Charlie and Lila started talking at once and over each other. Clint held up his hand for them to stop. Once they were quiet he pointed at Lila, gesturing for her to talk. “Nothing happened. I saw a video online about a special ponytail that I wanted Charlie to do for me this morning. It just took a bit more time then normal for us to get out of the bathroom because it was a new hair style.”

“Then why didn’t you say anything when she knocked on the door?”

“Cause I was deep in concentration.” Charlie replied with more attitude then Clint wanted to hear first thing in the morning.  

Clint had been absent for most of Charlie’s life, her and Kate only returning less than a year ago. Within a matter of months, Clint had figured his eldest daughter out fast and learned that it really wasn’t worth the fight with her. Not when Lila was also involved and was easy to get the truth out of. Most of the time, Lila was the path of least resistance. “Charlie being focused on your ponytail didn’t stop your ability to communicate to Wanda through the door Lila.”

“No, but I didn’t want to distract Charlie.” Lila lied quickly in all one breath. Clint didn’t release her from eye contact. Finally, Lila broke and casted her eyes down. “We heard you guys were sleeping in and wondered how long it would take to get Wanda to yell at us and wake you and Kate up.”

“You know Kate needs to sleep. Vee is coming soon, and she has to get a lot of rest before that happens. I had to take her to work last night for something very important,” Clint cut his eyes to Tony then back to Lila. “We only just got home about three hours ago. That’s not good for Kate or Vee.”

Lila looked as if she was about to cry. “I’m sorry daddy.”

Not forgetting Charlie, Clint went for her next. “I’m disappointed in you too Charlie. You, more than anyone knows what can happen if your mom gets upset, and this morning you tried to prompt that?”

“I’m sorry.” Charlie replied a little to fast for Clint’s liking. Then she reconsidered her response. “I wasn’t trying to make mom sick. I wouldn’t do that.  I just wanted to see if Wanda would yell at us or do something with her powers. It was an experiment.”

It seemed that Charlie was always trying to figure people out, what made them tick. It didn’t matter to her if they were human or mutants, she was always looking for the motivation in a person. Clint often found himself wondering what career field would be best for her with that type of interest. Charlie’s ‘experiment’ or not, it wasn’t acceptable.  “And as far as trying to get Wanda to yell, haven’t you two learned not to play with her like that? It’s not nice, and I will not tolerate disrespect within this family. If we don’t respect our family from inside, then why should we expect anyone to respect us from outside?” Looking down into his cup he let out a deep breath, at both the predicament and that he was out of coffee. “I just need to finish the basement, and this whole bathroom mess will be over. Then we may actually have a morning when you three girls aren’t at each other’s throats to get in there.”

Tony pointed out, “I believe I told you that it would be disastrous to have three women sharing one bathroom.”

Getting up to get a refill, Clint threw at Tony in passing, “Not now Tony.”

Following Clint into the kitchen, Stark couldn’t resist the urge to poke fun at Clint. “And what’s your plan when Lila and Charlie start going at each other for use of the bathroom? Puberty is right around the corner.”

The thought of Charlie and Lila going through puberty was scary to say the least to Clint. Not only would it signal the start of ‘womanhood’ and the end of them being his ‘little girls’, it would also come with hormones and new challenges that he didn’t know if he was strong enough to endure. The other scary part was that they would probably go through it roughly at the same time, which would only end in tears, from Clint. “Personally, when that day comes, I plan to move out into the back shop and let Kate raise the children on her own.” Clint didn’t have a barn anymore, but he did have a little ‘shop’ building out in the back yard to work out of.

Tony thought about it and didn’t really see any problems with Clint’s idea. “Not a bad plan.” He waited until Clint finished before taking the pot from him to refill his own cup. He was placing the pot back when he heard Kate and Nate enter.

“Tony, can you grab me a cup?” Kate asked poking her head into the kitchen.

“Don’t do it Tony.” Clint yelled from the table in the next room.

“Damn it Clint, I have had two hours of sleep. I need it. The doctor said I can have one cup a day.”

“I know how this works Kate, this isn’t my first rodeo either you know. After we get the kids off with Tony, you are going right back upstairs. If after you wake up you want coffee, I will get you a cup. You need at least eight uninterrupted hours before that happens.”

“I hate being pregnant.” Kate muttered under her breath as she opened the refrigerator to search for something that her body would tolerate as an acceptable substitute for coffee, as if such a thing existed. “I never get to have any fun.”

Moving past her to go back to sit with the children, Tony joked, “Then maybe you shouldn’t have had so much fun eight months ago?”

“Go to hell and die.” Kate said solemnly as she pulled a bottle of juice out and shut the door behind her.

Looking back behind him with a shocked expression at Kate’s comment, “And a fine good morning to you as well darlin’.”

“I’m sorry, the lack of caffeine and sleep is causing my dislike for the human race to show through.” Kate rationalized as she poured the juice into her glass and joined everyone in the dining room. She was happy to find that Clint had already made Nate’s breakfast and had the four-year-old seated and eating.

“The human race sucks.” Charlotte stated before taking another bite of her cereal.

Kate was fast on the scolding. “Charlotte!”

“What?” Charlie questioned with her mouth still full. She waited until she swallowed before continuing. “They want to get rid of mutants because we are better than them.”

“Okay,” Clint started, not sure of what to say to anything that Charlie had just said, but felt it was his turn to say something. “A lot to sort through with that. Number one, no one wants to get rid of anyone. Two, no one is better than anyone else.”

“Mutants are better than humans. That is why the humans want to kill us.”

“Charlotte Henrietta Barton,” Kate started, having never heard her daughter speak like this about anything or anyone, “who on earth is filling your head up with this nonsense. You have never spoken like this before.”

“Ethan said it.” Charlie defended as if that would sort everything out for everyone.

Tony, who had very limited experience of being the role model for children, came back with, “Well, Ethan sucks.”

Seeing that Tony was only going to escalate the situation, turned to her husband, “Clint, some help here?”

“I don’t know Kate, Tony may have a point. Ethan does sound like he sucks.”

“Ethan doesn’t suck. He is really smart and says that the only way any of us will be safe is if we attack first against the humans before they can get to us. He wants to protect all of us from the outside!” Charlotte screamed at the adults. When all anyone could do in reaction to her outburst was to silently stare at her, Charlie pushed her chair away from the table and stomped off.

“Does Charlie want to kill us?” Cooper questioned the room once his sister left. “Just want to know what the deal is before I go to bed tonight. You know, do I lock my bedroom door, or don’t I lock the door.”

Feeling every moment of being eight months pregnant on two hours of sleep, Kate took in some air to calm herself before answering her eldest child, “Cooper go get your stuff ready to leave please.”

Cooper cleaned up his area and moved towards the kitchen sink. “Fine, but I would really appreciate an answer when I get home.” 

“Kate?” Lila asked unsure of what just happened.

“Lila honey, Charlie is just upset. Don’t listen to Cooper. If you are done, please rinse out your bowl and get ready.”

“Yes ma’am.” With the departure of Lila, that left Kate, Clint, Tony, and Nate in the dining room.

“Shit.” Tony started in response of his granddaughter’s eruption.

“Yup.” Clint concurred as he looked up to see Wanda enter.

Wanda was hit immediately with an energy of imbalance. “What did I miss?”

Folding both of his hands around his cup, Clint summed up the morning’s table discussion. “Charlie hates humans and has gone completely radical. Apparently, this boy Ethan at the school will be the savior for the mutant community by striking first against the humans and my own mutant daughter is absolutely alright with this plan.” Looking over to his wife who was still taking in everything that just happened, “Did I miss anything Kate?”

“Oh Ethan.” Wanda replied in a dismissal fashion.

Clint attempted to catch her eyes as she walked over to the buffet. “What do you mean ‘oh Ethan’?”

“I think Charlie has a bit of a crush on him.” Wanda said back over her shoulder as she spooned some fruit into a bowl. “He’s a new student. As you said, bit of a radical. Didn’t grow up with accepting parents like Charlie did. Believes the only good human is a dead one. Professor Xavier won’t confirm my suspicion, but I think there is a very specific reason that Ethan was enrolled.”

“Containment?” Kate guessed.

Sitting down next to her, Wanda nodded, “I think so.”

“What does that mean?” Tony asked knowing that Clint didn’t know what it meant either. Often Kate and Wanda would talk in what he and Clint had dubbed ‘Xavier code’.

“Ward of the state for some reason or another, the school takes custody to ‘contain’ the student to campus and to give them a home. Usually because the child’s previous placement was not the best to raise any child in, better yet a mutant one.” Kate wouldn’t say it with her in the room, but Wanda herself was labeled a ‘containment’ student. While she suspected the woman knew, she still didn’t feel the need to poke the sore issue of Wanda and the American government over the Accords.  “I’ll call the Professor and explain what happened here this morning. Perhaps he can talk to Charlotte later.”

The idea that Kate had to call another person to speak to her own daughter baffled Tony. “Aren’t you two her parents, one of you go up there and talk to her now.”

“It’s not that easy Tony.” Kate was going to go on in her explanation of how it would be best if a mutant explained to Charlotte why another mutant was wrong regarding their assessment of the human species, but Clint interrupted her with a matter he found to be more important.

“What do you mean she has a crush on him?”

Kate closed her eyes in frustration. “Clint, not now.”

He went on as if he didn’t even hear his wife and continued his questioning of Wanda about this boy Ethan that Charlie liked. “I mean, is this like a crush-crush, just likes him, or is it a mutual crush thing?”

She knew it was pointless, but still Kate tried to get Clint on point. “Clint priorities.”

“Yeah Kate, I understand, and I have picked my priorities. Wanda?”

Knowing that Clint had a one-track mind, Kate dismissed herself, “I’ll go up and talk to her while Clint processes that his daughter actually likes a boy.”

Scratching his head in bewilderment Clint pushed on, “Are we sure about this? She likes him? Charlotte is eleven.”

“What were you doing at eleven Clint?” Tony asked having not really processed enough to react like Clint did. Where as Clint had at least two hours of sleep, Tony had had none. The concept of his eldest granddaughter liking boys already would hit him later, probably in the middle of a much needed deep sleep.

With a horrified face Clint disclosed, “I know exactly what I was doing when I was eleven which is why I need a hell of a lot of additional information here.”

~~~

Kate knocked on the bedroom door. “Charlie, can I come in please?” When she didn’t hear a reply, she opened the door, happy to find it unlocked. Charlie was sitting at her desk, leaning back in the chair and scrolling through her cell phone. Kate looked around the room for a place to sit, there were two beds, a few bean bag chairs that if she even tried to sit in would be her permanent home until birth because she would never get out, and Lila’s desk chair. Pulling Lila’s chair, Kate moved it to Charlie’s desk and sat down in front of her. “You want to tell me what all that was about?”

Charlie put her phone, screen down, onto the desk. “I was just talking about school then dad and grandpapa started to say that stuff.”

“That stuff about Ethan?”

“Yeah.”

“Is Ethan your friend? You have never talked about him before?”

“Yeah, a friend.” Charlie confirmed with an eyeroll that gave Kate the impression that Wanda was onto something with her assessment of the ‘relationship’.

“Okay. That’s fine. Wanda told me a bit about him.” That information rewarded Kate with a suspicious expression from Charlie. The girl would allow her mother to continue in order to gain what Wanda had told her family about Ethan. Kate proceeded carefully, remembering being this age and having a crush. Her own mother had died before Kate could hide a crush from her. She assumed it would have felt awkward and be timid to share information when confronted about it. Kate’s best guess was to circumnavigate around it. “He’s new to the school. I’m glad you are reaching out to the new students to make them feel comfortable in their new environment. New places and people can be overwhelming and scary. That is really important and shows me that you have leadership skills.”

“Ethan is a good leader.”

“Leader of what?” Kate asked, having trouble remembering when, or even if she had ever had this much trouble talking with her daughter. Up until the S.H.I.E.L.D. memory wipe reversal, it had always just been Kate and Charlie. Now Charlie had both of her parents, an older brother, two half younger siblings, and a new one on the way. Maybe the mother and daughter relationship wasn’t as solid as it had been, or maybe Charlie had grown up a lot in the last few months with all the changes. Either way, Kate needed it back to what it was, for the sake of both of them.

Charlie looked to her desk, then down. “I don’t know. He talks, and people listen.”

“Talks about people hurting mutants?” It was a touchy subject, especially for Charlie.

“He says it happens a lot.” Then the girl’s eyes met her mothers. “Is that true? Are humans killing mutants because they are afraid of us?”

“I’m not going to lie to you honey. It has happened in the past.” Kate added as an afterthought, “But times have changed.”

“Logan said the same thing. He said that in the past anyone who was different for any reason was hurt because of it.”

Kate had to smile at that. While a lot of things had changed in their lives recently, Charlie still thought Logan hung the moon. “Well, Logan is the history teacher, he would know.”

“Yeah,” Charlie concurred, “but Ethan says it’s happening now.”

“Did it happen to Ethan?”

“Yeah.” Charlie said picking at the case on her still turned down phone.

Watching for a reaction, Kate probed. “Who hurt Ethan?”

“His dad. His dad didn’t like that he was a mutant and hurt him.  That’s why he lives at the school now.”

“I’m sorry. That is awful.” And it truly was. Kate just prayed that one day a file with Ethan’s name wouldn’t be on her desk for the Department to investigate. Too many of the ‘bad ones’ had a similar backstory. Blaming a child for something that they had absolutely no control over was beyond cruel.  At least Ethan was now at the school, where he stood a chance of making it in the world. “There are some bad people in this world, humans and mutants both. But you know what, for every bad person, there are at least a hundred good ones.”

In a small voice, almost a whisper Charlie revealed why the words said by this ‘Ethan’ rang true with her. “I was hurt by humans because I was a mutant.”

She knew it was going to come back around to this. “Charlie…”

“No mom, you said you weren’t going to lie. I was hurt because I am a mutant, Ethan was hurt because he was a mutant. A lot of kids at the school were hurt because of who they are.”

So there were more students than just Ethan and Charlie in on these discussions at school. This had the potential of ending badly. She needed to as soon as possible make her way up to the school and conference with the Professor to let him know just what was happening in his halls.  “I know sweetie, but that is why there is a school. To protect you all, to give you the education you need to confront all the hate and violence. To make the world a better place so that no one is ever hurt again because they are different.”

Shaking her head at the incorrectness of her mother’s statement Charlie challenged. “I don’t believe that. It won’t make a difference. They are always going to want to hurt us.”

Kate was struggling wrapping her mind around the words her eleven-year-old was speaking to her. They were older words, words spoken from experience. “Charlie, what do you believe?”

Clint appeared in the doorway just in time to hear his daughter utter, “I believe that humans are always going to be looking for a way to hurt us.”

“So what do you want to do about it?” Kate demanded. Charlie’s mutant ability was the capability to create anything she had seen, a perfect replica. The power only intensified with her hyperthymesia, her perfect memory. If the child wanted to do something, she probably could, and that worried Kate more than anything.

“I want to save them all.”

Every warning bell was going off in Kate’s head. She was positive the child would find a way to achieve her desires if she sought to. “Charlotte, look at me. What do you want to do about it? How are you going to save them all?”

“Kate?” Clint called from the entrance. He was just as worried as Kate about what he had overheard.

“One-minute Clint, answer me Charlotte.”

Charlie paused to collect her thoughts. However, there was not any amount of time delay that could have prepared her parents for what she was about to say. “I think for mutants to be safe, there can be no more humans.”

Clint walked into the room, “Charlie?”

Kate looked to Clint out of the corner of her eyes while facing Charlie. The child was young, she didn’t understand what she was saying, she didn’t understand the ramifications of such a proclamation. “You understand that everyone you love outside of the school, your entire family, are humans.”

“Not Wanda.” The girl came quickly back with.

“No, not Wanda.” Clint agreed as he sat down on the edge of Charlie’s bed, so that Kate and he boxed the girl into a corner without an escape. He didn’t know if such means were needed, but the child was talking about there not being anymore humans, containment was probably wise at this juncture.

Then Charlie smiled, “Vee could be a mutant.”

“The baby…” Kate started them realized the best way to navigate this was to use Charlie’s vocabulary, even if she hated it. “Vee isn’t a mutant Charlie.”

“Vee could be. You don’t know.” Charlie accused her mother. Charlotte appeared hurt, her previous smile of just moments ago gone. As if Kate revealing to her that her new sibling would not be a mutant devastated her. It was a thought that had never crossed either of her parents’ mind, Charlie would want a sibling just like her, someone she could relate to. “You didn’t know I was until you woke up and the Professor told you. Remember after they saved us from HYDRA.”

When Kate first woke up after the X-Men had rescued her from the HYDRA medical lab, Kate thought for sure her child had died. The first two people who came to her were Dr. Hank McCoy and Professor Charles Xavier. They explained that her baby was alive and perfectly healthy. Then they dropped the hammer and explained to her that her newborn daughter had been ‘triggered’, the X-gene in her DNA makeup activated, making her the youngest mutant ever. Kate didn’t care about all that or that she couldn’t remember the last seven years of her life. Not even the fact she had gamma radiation poisoning from the lab’s explosion that would eventually kill her, all she wanted was her baby. “Yes Charlie. I remember.”

Clint pushed into the conversation to make a point of something Charlie had said clear. “Charlie, you understand for there not to be humans, people would die. Correct?”

“But then we would be safe.”

That was all Clint could take, he looked to his wife. “Kate, I need to speak to you…now.”

“I know.” Kate agreed, but wasn’t yet ready to give up. “Listen Charlotte, you need to be careful what you wish for. People are bad, not because they are human or mutant, but because they are bad. Bad people hurt good people, period. It doesn’t matter who or what they are. What if it was reversed and a mutant hurt a human, a human you loved?”

Charlie locked eyes with her mother. “The human probably did something to deserve it.”

“Kate, now.” Clint demanded, standing up and putting his hand on Kate’s shoulder.

Kate nodded. This had gone too far, and the parents needed to converse and figure out where to go next. Standing up she pointed at Charlie. “Don’t leave this room.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Four

Speed Bump

Erik Lehnsheer, known publicly as Magneto stood in front of the table setup within the empty steel mill facility. He silently took in the sight before him of Mastermind and Pyro looking exhausted sitting at the table and looking up at him. “So please explain to me again why you blew up a billion dollars’ worth of military grade weapons?”

“Ironman showed up.” Explained the man coded as Pyro, St. John Allerdyce in a thick Australian accent.

Magneto nodded as he once again took in the answer for such a response to the arrival of a mortal man on his boat. “And your solution to that dilemma was to blow up not only the weapons, but the boat as well?”

The illusionist mutant, Mastermind answered next. They had been going over this for the past forty-five minutes, ever since he and John had returned. “Listen boss, it was a spur of the moment kind of decision. This kid apparently was on the boat hiding out, that spider kid, an Avenger. He knew the payload we were hauling. We had to get rid of all the evidence.”

Mystique had been watching the questioning from the far wall of the room where they had set up their communication equipment. Finally, deciding that she had had enough of the back and forth about how stupid John and Jason were to blow up the boat, she moved her way to the group. “So we are back at square one?”

Turning to her, Magneto pondered the question then shook his head. “Not exactly. Yes, we lost the weapons and the financial security they offered, but we did acquire the attention of the world. The news programs have continuously been running reporting about the explosion and forced the government to admit that someone was able to sneak into a secure weapons storage building and procure a fairly large quantity of the supply without anyone being the wiser until it was gone.”

“What exactly does that do for us?” Jason asked. They needed money for the campaign. This job was supposed to set them up rather nicely and it was now all gone. While he had a few ideas of where else they could pick up a few bucks, it wouldn’t be anything remotely comparable to what they would have gotten with the weapons’ deal.

“A lot.” Magneto informed them. He was surprised that they didn’t see how this outcome almost better served them then the money from the cargo would have. Money was inconsequential to Erik, there was always a way for someone with his capabilities to obtain some. Money couldn’t have brought them the outreach they had accomplished from last night. Yes, there would be people upset about not receiving their American military weapons, but as the minutes rolled by, Erik was becoming less concerned about the explosion. He was much more concerned about the impulsiveness and almost cowardly actions of his men to go off the plan all because two Avengers showed up.  “They haven’t released any names yet, but I can promise you certain people in certain agencies and departments know that we are involved.  The American people now know that mutants were able to walk right into a highly secured location and take what they wanted, and no one stopped us. It shows our power.”

Mystique summed up the point of Magneto’s. “Insights of fear.” Fear wasn’t what the Brotherhood was about. The organization, still in its infancy, was founded on the belief that in order for the mutant race to survive, it had to band together. They had to present a united front to show the humans that they cannot and will not be controlled. That was to be done through a show of power not invoking fear in the masses.

Fear was the oldest and sadly, most successful technique to use for control. It was a tool used by the weak. Erik would never be accused of using fear to spread his message and to increase his ranks. “Insights of reality. Everyone knows what we are capable of now. We may be few in numbers but mighty in strength. The truth of what a group of a few mutants can do should cause people to see the reality of what we could accomplish with additional membership. The government’s Department of Mutant Affairs has always been a magic show. The country believes the department is ensuring freedom and equality for our race, but the real reason for its conception was to control us. We proved with the weapons that we will not be controlled, in fact, it is us who controls them. Tell me Jason, how did you and John escape the explosion?”

John contributed in obvious pride of his actions. His containment of the explosion was not only a life saving measure but covered their escape. “We got on the dinghy and I controlled the flames of the explosion to cover us until we were able to out run the blast and anyone who may be trying to get us.”

 Leaning against the table, Mystique looked behind Erik to the television. “Is this the type of reality that you want them to see?”

Erik, upset with the disruption of the point he was trying to make about how Jason and John should have stood their ground and not escaped, turned around in time to see the newscasters introduce their next interview. Seeing who it was, he demanded of the group, “Someone turn it up!”

“Good morning everyone, I am Hailey Godwin and joining us this hour are two esteemed guests. I would like to welcome both of you gentleman, from the Department of Defense, Secretary Thomas Williamson. Also, we have with us from the Department of Mutant Affairs, Deputy Secretary James Rhodes. Gentleman, thank you for joining us today.” The screen split into a trifold so that the reporter was in-between both men, who were broadcasting from different locations into the studio. “Let’s start with Secretary Williamson, sir do you have anything to share with the public regarding the explosion of American military-grade weapons off the coast of Delaware?”

The older bald gentleman smiled pleasantly at the camera. “Good morning Hailey and thank you for the invitation to speak on your show today. First, I would like to correct an inaccuracy. The explosion was not off the coast of Delaware. The explosion was on a vessel traveling approximately thirty miles from the nearest solid spot of American soil. It was in international waters. As far as sharing any new intel we have, I’m sorry. It is still an active investigation.”

“What about the suspects?” The newscaster asked. “Has anyone been arrested or even questioned yet regarding this incident.”

There was a brief delay while the Secretary listened through his earpiece to the questions posed to him. “Currently, we have people of interest that we would very much like to speak with. However, it requires a degree of interdepartmental collaboration that my counterparts are unwilling to offer.”

“And that brings us to you Deputy Secretary Rhodes. Early information implies that the suspects in this explosion were mutant individuals, and that some or all of the Avengers were part of an attempt to recover the stolen weapons which led to this explosion. How to you answer to Secretary Williamson’s claim that your department is not sharing valuable intelligence with his?”

Rhodey allowed a brief smile to appear on his face before vanishing. “Good morning Hailey. The Secretary is correct, we cannot say a lot about an ongoing investigation. I can only repeat the information I released this morning, at least two individuals were involved with breaking into a military weapons storage center in upper Pennsylvania earlier this week and stealing a large quantity of weapons. Obviously for security reasons, we cannot go into the specifics of what was stolen. Security footage of the center was able to produce two faces of the people who broke in. When the military ran the images through their facial recognition software, the results were of two individuals who happen to be mutants. At that point my department was contacted to inquire if we had any information on the suspects that could aide in the investigation. The Department of Mutant Affairs collected and turned over the requested information and that was the end of our involvement. As far as the Avengers being sent in to recover the weapons, that is incorrect. Never did the DMA contact the Avengers or anyone else to aid in the investigation. My department has fully corroborated with other departments and was only used in this investigation as intel support, that was it.”

“Secretary, what do you have to say in response to the Deputy Secretary’s remarks.”

“Hailey, pardon my French, but I call bull on the Deputy Secretary. Yes, the DMA provided us with information, and it was pretty damn good information at that. Stuff we wouldn’t have been able to put together in time to attempt to intercept the shipment. The defense department is beyond appreciative for that. However, the DMA does not corroborate with anyone and hoards information from other departments and agencies, information that is instrumental to public safety.”

An eyebrow arched on the Deputy Secretary, the only feature that would clue a viewer in on a crack in the man’s resolve. “What information are you talking about, what are we hording that could hurt the general population?”

“A list of mutants.” The Secretary rose his voice and quicken his speaking pace. “Tell the truth Deputy Secretary, your department has a database that lists every mutant.”

Rhodes spoke over Williamson. “That is incorrect, such a database does not exist at our department.”

Thomas went on acting like Rhodes never spoke at all. “And you refuse to share that information with anyone, such as the Department of Homeland Security or Defense, or agencies such as the FBI. Government departments and agencies that could use that information to ensure the safety of the public.”

“Again, there is not a database of mutant names in the department, that is an urban legend.” Rhodey repeated in a calm voice with a deadpan expression.

“Hailey, I am promising you and the American people that there is in fact a list of mutants that the Department of Mutant Affairs has and refuses to disclose to counterparts. I am so sure about this that I am using your show as a platform to ask, no demand, from Congress an investigation into this matter. One department cannot be the controller of this critical information. Today it is a boat full of weapons that exploded, which thank the good Lord didn’t hurt anyone, but what about tomorrow?”

Rhodes finally permitted some emotion to show. Shaking his head side to side with a confused look on his face, he attempted to sum up the entire event in simple terms. “You are trying to scare people. It was two or three people who stole the weapons, the fact that they were mutants had nothing to do with it.”

The Secretary banged his fist on to the surface in front of him. “I beg the American people to contact their representatives to back me in my plead to Congress to investigate this matter.”

Suddenly the screen that was showing the television program caved in on itself. Pyro, Mastermind and Mystique looked to Magneto to watch him gesture the crushing of the equipment with one fist, using his magnetic field controlling ability to destroy the item. Mystique held up the remote, “I could have just turned it off.”

John looked to be relieved by the broadcast. “They didn’t release our names, that either means they don’t know for sure it was us, or…”

Magneto pulled the television off the wall and threw it in the direction of the two men, interrupting John’s hopeful takeaway. “They know it is you. Don’t be a fool.” He took a calming breath, “It appears that there is a specific reason they are not notifying the public of their suspects.”

John wasn’t about to give up the hope that they were ahead of the law. “The Deputy said two or three mutants stole the weapons. That is a pretty vague suspect list.”

Jason looked over at his accomplice and explained how it all works. “It’s either a trick to make us believe that we are ahead of them, or they really don’t know how many of us were involved.”

Conceding that it could all be a game of ‘smoke and mirrors’ and Interpol or someone could be busting through their door at any minute, John moved on to the other topic of the television interview. “What about that list they were talking about towards the end.”

“That was… bothering.” Magneto admitted. Everyone knowing who was behind the stolen weapons wasn’t a concern, as long as if was clear it was mutants. The public declaration of a database containing the list of mutants however was a different matter.

Looking around to the others, John questioned. “Do you think there is a list?”

Magneto quickly came back hissing, “I know there is a list.”

Mystique got closer to Magneto and with deep concern asked, “Would Charles give it to her?”

Meeting her yellow eyes Erik had no choice but to be honest in this situation. They both knew such a ‘collection’ of names existed. They were instrumental in the assembly of the first group of X-Men when Hank McCoy invented Cerebro, the device used by Professor Charles Xavier to detect humans and mutants.  “I don’t know this Secretary Barton, but I highly doubt anyone would hold that position without Charles’ blessing.”

It meant little to Mystique if Charles ‘blessed’ this human becoming the government official who was tasked with controlling their people, that being the official job description or not. It was improbable after Hank’s time as the Secretary that they would ever allow a mutant to have the job again. However, there were some lines that could not and should not be crossed.  “But to actually hand a list of mutants over to a human?”

“He must trust her greatly.” Magneto observed looking off into the distance.

“What about the demands for an investigation.” Jason asked finally standing up from his seated position. “The government wants that list.”

“That,” Erik started, then decided the fewer words said the better, “cannot happen.”

“What do we do?” Mystique questioned, thinking about numerous places the list could be hidden. There was the Department of course, but that was too easy, especially if other officials were looking for it. Her home perhaps, but would Secretary Barton keep such important information that people could possibly kill for near her loved ones? Then there was the New York office that the Deputy Secretary just broadcasted from. That was the obvious choice to hide such a precious item. The office was located within the Avengers’ headquarters and would have security for the security. It wouldn’t be any problem for Mystique to gain entrance and look around.

Magneto knew Mystique was already planning to steal the list. The problem was simple, not one of them knew what form the list was in. Back in the day, it was a list of coordinates typed out on paper. This modern technical age broadened what the ‘list’ could be. The solution was straightforward to him and required much less work and energy. “We make it clear to the Secretary that it cannot happen.”

John queried the group, “How?”

Looking to each member of his party, Magneto could almost hear the inner workings of their minds. They were all expecting him to divulge some complex plan in retrieving the list. He would need none of their assistance, he would handle this entirely on his own. “Leave that to me.”

~~~

Clint shut the bedroom door behind him. Turning around he saw that Kate had gone in to the walk-in closet. “What are you doing?”

“Getting real clothes on. I’ll take Charlie to school today.” She called out. “I need to speak to the Professor about a few things, might as well add this to the list.”

“Kate, come on out here please. I don’t think she should go today.” Clint suggested to the open closet door that his wife was somewhere near. He felt like a soldier who had just pulled the pin out of a grenade and was now looking for a spot to throw it before it went off.

Kate reemerged holding a dress. “You don’t think she should go to school?”

Placing a hand up he offered, “Hear me out.”

Kate shook her head and put the dress on the bed and went back into the closet, dismissing Clint’s suggestion. “No, unacceptable. She has to go to school Clint. Education is a nonnegotiable.”

Clint walked over to the closet and stood in the doorway. “Can I say two words?”

Kate turned around from where she was selecting shoes and moved towards Clint. “So she said a few things that are admittedly, concerning. I will talk to the Professor about it and it will all get sorted out.”

Folding his arms, Clint leaned in and stressed the importance of the situation. “She is talking about destroying all humans so that people like her can survive. All because a boy told her so.”

Not liking the idea of being stuck in the closet without an exit for this conversation, she pushed past Clint and went back into the bedroom, calling behind her, “She doesn’t mean it. When I was talking to her just now, she told me that a few kids were comparing ‘humans hurt me’ stories.” Kate sat down on the bed and looked to Clint. “She can relate so it is stirring up some emotions in her. It’s a delicate age Clint. She won’t do anything.”

All Clint did was turn around, he kept his arms folded and used the door frame for support. “Can you promise me that?”

“What?”

“Can you look me in the eyes and promise me that Charlie won’t act out on her threats?”

“What threats?” Kate said throwing her hands dramatically in the air. “Damn it Clint, this is our daughter we are talking about. How can you even think she would do something like that?”

Slowly walking towards her, Clint kneeled in front of her and forced eye contact. “Look me in the eyes and tell me that you aren’t scared shitless by what she said.”

Not given any hint of a response to Clint’s questioned, Kate asked one herself, “And your answer to this is to take her out of school?”

“It’s not my long-term answer, no. It is the answer I got for today.” He offered and he stood back up and sat next to her on the bed. “Wanda already left, she is going to see if the Professor has any time today to speak to me. I will go up there and talk to him.”

“It would be better…”

He shook his head. “No it wouldn’t be better if you went. You have a strange way of rationalizing everything, especially when it comes to Charlie. Our son just asked us if Charlie was going to kill all of us and if he needs to lock his bedroom door.”

“That was Cooper just being Cooper.” Kate said with a wave of her hand, rejecting the concerns of their son.

Clint bobbed his head and raised an eyebrow. “It was a valid question.”

“No it wasn’t”

Clint put his elbow on his knee and placed his head in his hand. This wasn’t an argument that he wanted. They had only had two hours of sleep and this was a serious topic that they were discussing, and here they were arguing about the severity of it. There was also Kate’s condition to be cautious about.  This type of discussion historically had a tendency to aggravate her condition. In the past months, Clint had become a quick study of gamma radiation poisoning and the effects of stress on it. Finally, there was the pregnancy, and it was widely known to not make a pregnant woman upset, particularly during her third trimester. In a cool soft voice, Clint had to disagree with her. “Yes, it was Kate. The way she was talking, the things she was saying, yes I believe Cooper had a rational concern about the potential actions of his sister.”

“I refuse to believe…”

He threw himself up and faced her. “That right there. That is the problem Kate, you refuse to believe. How many kids have done horrifying things in this world and the parents ‘refused to believe’ that their child was capable of it? Guess what? News flash Kate, our child is capable of it! If something happened, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn Charlie did it. Disappointed, angry, sad yes, but not surprised. Consider my foot down, it’s not happening under my roof and not with my kids.”

“Your foot down?” She didn’t know what Clint meant by that, he had never said that phrase before, but it didn’t sound like anything good.

“Yeah, I am taking the wheel on this. Tony has taken Cooper and Lila to school. He will drop Nate off with Pepper then come back here to get Charlie. She will spend the day at the compound with him. He says that there is always some nominal work that needs to be done, or something that needs to be stapled.”

“Great, give her a weapon.” Kate said under her breath as she adjusted herself and the bed’s pillows, so she was still sitting up, just against the headboard.

“She is a weapon!” Clint yelled at his wife suddenly, causing Kate’s eyes to widen in shock at the statement. Pushing his lips together at his improv outburst, Clint looked to the ground to ‘check’ himself. When he felt he was in control of his emotions, he looked back up and continued. “I will go to the Xavier school and speak with the Professor. When and if I feel comfortable with the actions he proposes to take in order to guarantee my daughter a safe and proper education, Charlie can return tomorrow.”

“What if you aren’t happy with what the Professor says.”

In a matter of fact manner, Clint told her what he would be doing if he wasn’t satisfied with the Xavier school’s response to his concerns. “Then my next stop will be to Lila’s school and enrolling Charlie there.”

Taking a deep breath and letting it out a ‘huff’ in annoyance of Clint’s ‘foot being down’ Kate explained why his plan was destined to fail.  “Clint, you can’t do that. She has to be at the Xavier school. She needs to be there. Isolating her from her peers would only escalate her current feelings.”

“She doesn’t have to be anywhere but with her family.” Clint countered then admitted to the benefits that the Xavier school did offer his eldest daughter. “Yes, she receives an incredible education from the Xavier school, but Lila’s isn’t to shabby itself. Anything else she needs; you and Wanda can supplement at home with Xavier consulting.”

“You just decided all this in what, the last ten minutes?” Kate shot at Clint in clear hostility. Almost a year later, and Kate was still hesitant to lessen her grasp on the reins of parenting Charlie alone.

“Something like that. Tony and I spoke after you and Charlie left the table.” He acknowledged, fully detecting the defensiveness and rising attitude in his wife’s voice. “Kate, I’m not going to say this isn’t worth getting stressed out about because that’s a lie. This is a big deal, but I need you to stay calm. It will not help the situation if you get stressed out and I have to take you to Hank. How much help will you be to Charlie or any of the kids if you are in the hospital? You need to rest, as much as you can.” He could see that she was about to protest so he pushed on with logic. “Not only are you going without sleep, but I know your blood pressure is probably through the roof right now which can’t be great for the drug protocol. You know Tony wants to hire a nurse for you, and this behavior is not helping to prevent me from allowing him to interview applicants.”

“I don’t need a nurse. I can take care of myself.”

“Then prove it. Just let me handle this. I’ll go to the school and talk with Xavier, then head over to the compound. I need to talk with Steve today anyway about some HYDRA activities in the Balkans. That should take me until its time to pick everyone up. Cooper has basketball practice after school, so I am going to pick up Nate and the girls and take them to the park afterwards. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe being out in the general public playing on a nice day will deter Charlie from wiping the human race from the planet. If everything goes as planned, she should love people again by five. Just in time to go get Cooper and be home in time for homework and dinner.” Any further details Clint was going to give Kate about his agenda for the day was interrupted by his cellphone beeping that a new message had been received. Assuming that it was Wanda with a time for him to go meet the Professor, Clint pulled it out.

New Message from Grandpapa Ironass:

Take her cellphone now! Rhodey messed up big time on national television. On my way now with french fries and intel.

Clint stared at the message and thought about what the best way would be to deal with the newest problem that was just dumped in his lap. Shoving the phone back into the pocket of his pajama pants he paraphrased Tony’s message. “That was Tony, he is on his way back to get Charlie. He is bringing you french fries. Good thing he texted, I didn’t know my phone was about to die. I think my charger is broken, can I plug into yours?”

“Yeah, sure.” Kate looked to her nightstand. “My phone is still on it, but it should be full.”

“Thanks.” Clint said walking over to her nightstand and disconnecting her phone. He waited until she moved to get under the covers and used that distraction to hide her phone in his pocket, turning the sound off as he did so.  Clint knew it would at most be thirty minutes before she realized that her phone wasn’t within arm’s reach. However, it was thirty minutes that hopefully would give him enough time to get the story from Tony and prepare for whatever hellfire was about to rain down on them. “I’m going to go get a quick shower in and change, then explain the plan to Charlie.” He watched as Kate nodded and laid down in the bed and reached for the remote control. “Hey, don’t make me treat you like one of the kids.” He scolded, taking the remote from her. Whatever Rhodes had done was probably replaying on every news station. He just needed Kate to get some rest before she had to get involved. “No T.V. no electronics, just go to sleep please.”

“But…french fries.”

“They will keep.” He promised as he leaned down to kiss her. “Just please for the love of God go to bed. I can deal with Charlie or I can deal with you. But for the life of me, I can’t deal with you both.”

“Love you too.”

“Hey,” He started and looked deep in her eyes. “We will be okay.” He put his right hand on her stomach. “We will all be okay. This is just a little speed bump.”

Kate placed her hand on top of his. “That is your child.”

Clint laughed and it felt good to laugh after everything that had happened since last night. “Not Vee, this whole ‘Charlie mess’. It’s just a little hiccup. I will sort it out. Odds are she has already gotten over it. I’ll talk to Xavier, and we will go from there.”

Shifting down lower into the bed and under the covers to find a comfortable position for five minutes before Vee decided Kate had to change positions, she imparted her wisdom of pre-teen girls, “There is no way in hell she has already gotten over it. A boy is involved, if what Wanda says is correct, you and Tony insulted him. If you ask me, that is what caused this reaction from her, you guys saying Ethan sucked.”

Standing up so Kate could get comfortable Clint confessed, “I stand by my earlier analysis. Charlie better get use to it, any boy she likes is going to suck in my eyes. I know she is going to get all ‘teenagey’ and stuff, but I just can’t allow this to be her reaction to that.”

“I understand, and you are probably correct.” Pointing a finger in his face before he started to gloat about ‘being right’. “Probably. Talk to Xavier, find out what is going on over there. Give me a call later?”

“It will be much later, but yes. You need to sleep.” He agreed as he started to walk into the closet to get his own clothes for the day.

With eyes closed and a tired voice Kate pointed out the hypocrisy in his orders. “You only got two hours yourself.”

Reemerging from the closet with his outfit for the day in hand, he closed the door behind him and started towards the bathroom. “Yes, but I am used to it and I am not pregnant with gamma radiation poisoning.”

“Lucky.”

Chuckling as he prepared to shut the door and shower he reminded her, “One more month, you can do it. Nighty-night.”

“It’s eight o’clock in the morning.”

Calling from the other side of the bathroom door in a voice that was louder then he meant for it to be, “I said, nighty-night.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Five

Attention Seeking

“Aww, did you shower just for me?” Tony teased as he watched Clint descend the steps onto the first floor of the house. He was sitting on the couch eating french fries as he watched the news. Diana, Kate’s assistant had set up shop on the kitchen island. It was normal to find Diana hanging around the house, especially since Kate went on bedrest.  Clint called her the ‘Gatekeeper’, no one got to Kate without speaking to Diana first. She could be scarier than any of the Secret Service agents, and Clint loved that. She was an older woman than Kate, if Clint had to assign an age to her it would be late fifties early sixties. Diana, even though Kate was her superior, acted very maternal to her, and wasn’t afraid to tell Kate to ‘calm the hell down’ when the need arose. Clint never had to worry about Kate when her assistant was around, and the peace of mind the woman’s presence with his wife gave him was priceless.

Sitting on the couch across from Tony, Clint watched as the Ironman stuffed a handful of fries into his mouth. “Aww, did you just eat the pregnant woman’s french fries?”

“Like I would do that…again.” Tony replied with a sharp pull of his head back at the claim.  “No, these are mine. Kate’s are in the microwave to keep warm.” Adjusting himself to look up the stairs, or at least as much as he could without physically moving his entire body he asked, “Where is the destroyer of humans?”

Clint projected a serious face, any back and forth humor between the men squashed at the mention of Charlie’s earlier comments. “Please don’t call my daughter that, and she is on her way down.”

Tony nodded, this was serious and had to be handled as such. Even though his normal response to anything even remotely solemn was to make a joke, this was his granddaughter.  Her threats were disturbing, and it seems they were not only troubling to Tony by Clint’s face. “How is she doing?”

“Charlie isn’t happy that she isn’t going to school. Imagine a child upset that they have to stay home. However I think, or at least want to think, she understands she crossed a line this morning.”

“It’s probably best she doesn’t go today anyway.” Tony jerked his head toward the television mounted on the wall, “With what transpired this morning with Rhodes and Williamson, humans versus mutants will be the talk of the school I have no doubt.”

“What are you talking about, what did Rhodes do this morning?” The text message Tony had sent Clint alluded to something big brewing, and now it seemed he was going to be enlightened to what constituted such a message.

Checking to make sure Charlie wasn’t around Tony filled Clint in on the current events. “Apparently the Secretary of Defense believes Kate has a database with all the mutants listed on it.”

Clint had seen this kind of thing before and was easily able to read between the lines. “And he wants it.”

“Yup. He is demanding a congressional investigation into the matter. This may sound stupid but does Kate have a database like the Secretary is talking about?”

“I have no clue.” Clint turned his upper body around to face Kate’s assistant. “Diana?”

Diana looked up from her laptop that she was working on at the kitchen island. “That is top level security clearance information Mr. Barton. That being said, I have no idea what the Defense Secretary is talking about, really, I have no idea what he is talking about. Deputy Secretary Rhodes is en route now to discuss the matter with Secretary Barton.”

“She just went to sleep.” Clint informed her, knowing that Diana would accommodate the situation.

“Then the meeting will be brief.” The assistant decided immediately. “It is doubtful anything will happen today anyways.” She assumed as she made her way into the living room. Crossing her arms, she elaborated on her educated guess, “In my experience these ‘investigations’ can happen anywhere from twenty-four hours after the request is made to weeks later. Secretary Williamson has publicly requested the hearing, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. If anyone on Capitol Hill is willing to take this on it has to be assigned to a committee, or an entirely new committee must be formed due to this being a special interest. Of course, there is always the possibility that both congressional houses will want to investigate, it is an election year. Then you either have each house conducting their own hearing, which is just a headache, or a joint committee. In the case of the latter, that will take longer to set up because they have to go through a selection process of which Senators and which Representatives will be involved. And let’s not forget the actual investigation part of it. Whoever is in the committee will have to have their staff research the issue and study the research themselves, so they can claim to be an expert on the matter. Then they have to decide, if it even gets that far, which questions will be asked and to whom they will ask these questions of.”

Giving the woman a big smile, Clint complimented, “Diana, is there anything you don’t know?”

Rolling her eyes at the empty flattery the assistant wittily answered, “How to retire.”

Nodding his head at that answer, Clint raised both hands, “Preach sister, preach.”

“Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to be doing something in Croatia or somewhere?” Tony knew that there was a mission being developed regarding a lone HYDRA cell out in that area. Last he heard, Steve was floating the idea of Clint and Natasha doing some recon before the entire team was deployed.

“All I know is it is somewhere on the Balkan Peninsula, so it could be there. I am going to head up to the school to talk to Xavier, then the compound. I’m hoping to take the kids to the park this afternoon, you know, some bonding time before I ship out.”

Carefully dancing around this next inquiry as to not imply that Clint wasn’t thinking about the well-being of his family. “Is now a great time to leave?”

“Who knows.” Clint admitted looking just as apprehensive about the situation of leaving as Tony was. “Steve says they will pull me off the mission if something happens here. I don’t like leaving this close to Kate’s due date either, or while Charlie is acting like this, but it’s important.”

“I’ll keep an eye on them.”

Clint knew Tony would look after his family. He was more worried about Kate taking advantage of him not being there and cram as much work in as she could. That would only end with her in the hospital, and Vee arriving while he was away. “Thanks, but I was thinking about revisiting the nurse idea.”

“Dear Lord, she will kill you.” Diana threw over her shoulder going back to sitting at the island and resuming her work.

“Thank you Diana.” Clint replied to the commentary in an annoyed tone, then back to Tony. “I know both Kate and I said ‘no’ when you offered, but I may be leaving, and who knows how long I will be gone. With everything going on now, I would feel better if someone was here to watch Kate.”

“And out of curiosity, what do I do all day, my nails?” Diana asked looking up from the computer.

“I mean someone with medical knowledge.” Clint clarified. “Someone who will take her blood pressure, monitor her medications and report to Hank or her OBGYN if anything is wrong. No offense Diana, I just need someone with a medical background in this type of thing.”

Returning to the email she was typing; the assistant informed the men. “I’ve had three babies myself, I think I can handle it.”

“At least someone has my back in this nonsense.” The three people in the room looked over to the stairs to find Kate standing there. She wasn’t in her pajamas anymore, but a gray sweater and jeans. The clothes themselves made the statement of ‘I am up and staying up’.

“You are supposed to be asleep.” Clint moaned throwing his head back against the couch. Sometimes, Kate was worst then all the children combined.

“Yeah, and you were just supposed to disconnect my phone to charge yours. Where is it?” Clint pushed his pelvis up to fish into his front pants pocket, producing Kate’s cell phone.  He held it up and she quickly grabbed it from him. “You turned off the sound.”

“Yes I did.” Clint admitted with a head nod, not looking at her.

“Any particular reason for such extremes?”

“Other than you are eight months pregnant with gamma radiation poisoning going on practically no sleep for two days?”

Kate dismissed the rationale. “You sound like a broken record.”

Retorting right back Clint asked, “Oh, is that why you aren’t listening?”

“Rhodey has called five times.” Kate rose her voice at Clint in irritation over him taking her phone. Looking to her assistant for answers she called out, “Diana?”

Clint jumped around at that, facing the kitchen, he was on his knees over the couch’s back pointing a finger at the woman. “Diana! Whose side are you on?”

“The one that does my evaluation and approves my raises.” The assistant answered to which Kate raised an eyebrow at her husband in triumph. “Ma’am there has been some accusations from the Department of Defense about a collection of mutants on a database that you are withholding at the risk of public safety.”

“If I could fire you, I would.” Clint groaned as he turned back around and flopped onto the couch.

“No, you wouldn’t.” Diana shot back at the man then returned to her boss. “The Deputy Secretary has denied the existence of such records; however, Secretary Williamson has petitioned for a congressional investigation into the matter.”

Whatever reaction everyone was expecting from Kate, her cool collective response wasn’t it. “Any progress on that front as of yet?”

“Nothing official has come to you, no ma’am. I have been monitoring your emails.” Diana answered bringing Kate over a tablet with her daily communication on it for her review. “However, it is early. Deputy Rhodes will be here soon to conference.”

At that moment, Rhodes knocked on the front door and entered the house. Diana had told him to walk right in and not to ring the doorbell. The reason was that Kate was sleeping and that Tony, Clint, and Charlie were at home. “Good morning everyone.”

Giving Rhodey a look that was eerily similar to the one she would throw at one of her own children when they did something wrong, she asked in an innocent voice, “I haven’t seen the news yet, so now is your chance to tell me what happened before I do.”

Shrugging his shoulders, he relented, “The broadcast speaks for itself. Williamson is mad that we withheld information and is bringing the public into it by scaring them.”

Handing back the tablet to Diana, Kate requested, “Please bring it up for me.”

“No need for that darlin’.” Tony offered and lifted the television remote. “The whole interview is running on a loop.”

“Wonderful.” Kate replied dryly, maintaining eye contact with Rhodes.

“Ready for my punishment now.” Charlie declared coming down the steps. The girl had taken the time Kate and Clint had given her to ‘think over her behavior’ to change her outfit. Her previously worn purple sequin long sleeve shirt with light blue jeans had been exchanged for a bright orange tunic top and matching leggings. Walking up to Rhodes, Charlie placed both hands out, “You may take me in now.”

“What the hell is this?” Rhodey questioned the room at the child surrendering herself to him dressed as a prisoner.

Kate pinched the bridge of her nose and looked down. “Please don’t ask.”

Tony had busted out laughing at Charlie’s appearance. Struggling for breath between laughs he was able to choke out, “Just get in my car princess. Your mother is going to have a stroke if you aren’t removed from her sight now.”

Clint felt the headache building at the base of his head. Composing himself, he ordered his daughter, “Go upstairs and change Charlie.”

Tony interrupted the father’s demand. “Oh, hell no, this is awesome. I am taking her to the compound like this.”

 “I don’t care what she is wearing. Get her out now.” Kate hissed through clenched teeth at her daughter’s theatrics.

Tony polished off his basket of fries and threw the empty container on the coffee table. Getting up he walked over to Charlie and put his hand on her shoulder. “Come on prisoner two-four-six-oh-one, you have some community service to do.”

“I think I’ll be heading out as well.” Clint said standing up and going over by Kate. Kissing her he looked to Diana and Rhodes, “A short meeting, right?” Both nodded their agreement to the husband’s terms. “Get some sleep, I’ll call you later with an update. Love you.”

Returning the kiss Kate repeated. “Love you too. Call me as soon as you know.”

Reemphasizing his early remarks, “I said I would, but it won’t be until later.” Directing his next comment to Diana, “I look forward to hearing from you that she got some sleep while everyone was gone.”

“Of course sir.” The assistant replied. Clint knew that was as good as a promise as he was going to get and trailed behind Tony and Charlie as they all left through the front door.

Watching the three leave the house, Rhodey waited a moment before he asked, “Do I even want to know?”

Taking in a deep sigh and releasing it at a loud volume to show her annoyance Kate replied honestly, “After everything that has already happened today, no, you really don’t want to know.”

~~~

Storm was busy directing students to class when Clint walked into the Xavier School of Gifted Youngsters. “Good morning Storm.”

Turning her head in the direction of the greeting, she smiled back. “Good morning to you too Clint, where is Charlie?”

Running his hand through his short dirty blond hair he answered, “Long story, but I have an appointment with the Professor about it. Wanda said he would see me at ten.”

Checking her watch Storm observed, “A bit early, but I’m sure he will see you.” She dropped the smile and approached Clint, taking him by the upper arm, she directed him to an abandoned corner away from the traffic of students running to class. “What’s wrong?”

Clint mentally debated how much to tell Storm. Then it dawned on him that perhaps she may have some insider information on the instigator Ethan. “Do you know about this kid Ethan?”

“Yes of course.” Storm said suddenly filled with anxiety about what the new student had to do with Charlie being absent. “He is a new student. Ethan has only been here maybe three weeks. What’s this about?”

Bobbing his head deciding to go ‘all in’ on his reason for being here, and damn whoever he told. “Well he has been filling my girl’s head with the idea that mutants are better than humans. That all humans want to do is to hurt mutants. Charlie solution to that problem was to suggest that there just shouldn’t be anymore humans. To further my dilemma, she believes that if a mutant hurts a human, then the human probably deserved it.”

Neither Storm nor Clint saw Logan come up behind them and listen in on their conversation. He made his presence known with a question, “Shit. The pup said that?”

The facial expression that the Wolverine made mirrored Clint’s own that morning when Kate and he heard the remarks from Charlie herself. “Yeah, she did. Apparently, Ethan has been talking to a few of the students here. They are all comparing stories about what humans had done to them just because they are mutants.” Clint looked to both of the X-Men. “I would assume no one here needs a history lesson on why perhaps that could be a trigger for my daughter?”

“No, just like Charlie, it’s burned up here.” Logan said pointing to his head. The man put both hands on his hips and looked down, deep in thought of what to do. Finally, he looked back up, “Who else is sharing their story? How big of a group are we talking about?”

Storm cut off any response from Clint by attempting to put an end to the matter. “Logan, it’s just a phase. We all have gone through it.”

“That’s rich coming from you.” Logan countered. “Remember what happened when you went through that ‘phase’ yourself?”

Clint was always the kind of guy who minded his own business, but he was unable to stop himself from asking for more information about this ‘phase’ and Storm’s own experience with it. “What happened?”

“Nothing, its ancient history.” Storm tried to brush the whole thing off.

In a nonchalant tone, Logan informed Clint of some of the X-Men history. “She joined an extremist group and tried to take down humanity.”

She looked up at the ceiling to maintain a civil tone. “That is an overstatement Logan and you know it.”

Logan’s eyes widened in shock. “Really? I am exaggerating that whole thing with Apocalypse?”

“You weren’t even there.” She said shaking her head and dismissing the event.

Putting his hands out Logan defended his point, “Doesn’t matter, it happened.”

Clint bent his upper body slightly forward, inserting himself between the two bickering mutants. “Excuse me, my daughter, threats against humanity.”

Casting a dirty look to Storm Logan took the lead. “Have you spoken to the Professor yet about this?”

“I was on my way to his office now. I have a meeting set up.”

Logan nodded at that, glad that Clint was taking this matter seriously and had acted accordingly. “Good, let’s go.”

“Logan, you have a first period class.” Storm reminded him, knowing that it was pointless to do so.

“Find someone to cover it for me.” He said it sounding more like an order then asking a favor from her. “If we have a sect of the Brotherhood sprouting up here under our roof, then I think we should know about it.”

Both men walked away leaving Storm behind to absorb everything that just went down. Clint was curious about the group Logan had mentioned in his excuse to pry his way into Clint’s meeting with the Professor. “The what?”

Eyes straight ahead as they continued their journey, Logan briefly explained the faction. “The Brotherhood, it is a group of people with similar intentions to what the pup was spurting off about with you this morning.”

Arriving outside Professor Xavier’s office door, Logan knocked twice and waited for a response. It didn’t take any time at all. As soon as he knocked the second time, they heard through the door, “Come in.”

“Look who I found in the halls.” The Wolverine commented casually walking into the office with Clint following.

Professor Charles Xavier greeted each of the men with a kind smile. “Clint, please sit. Logan thank you for showing Clint the way.”

Walking further into the office, Logan informed the elderly man, “I’m staying.”

Without a pause, Xavier directed. “You weren’t invited to.”

Logan crossed his arms in a defiant stance. “He told Storm and me what Charlie said.”

Xavier allowed no emotion to show on the subject. “And?”

“And I’m worried about the Brotherhood getting a school location.”

“As disquieting as what Charlotte said is, I doubt it is that severe.” The Professor believed, knowing that it would not comfort the Wolverine. Logan was too emotionally invested in Charlotte to contribute anything productive to this meeting. Wanda had informed Charles that morning about what had happened, and the family’s reactions to the child’s comments. Emotions were already high, hence why he presumed Clint was participating in the meeting, not Katherine. Logan would only add fuel to what he assumed was an already blazing fire going on within Clint. Wanda had even told the Professor that Tony and Clint briefly discussed taking Charlotte out of the school and enrolling her in the same one her sister attended. Yes, emotions were high, and the situation needed to be checked before impulsive and reckless actions were taken that could have a harmful impact on the girl. “I will speak to Clint, then later have a staff meeting to address his concerns with everyone to ensure this type of talk among the students halts.”

“So that’s it?” Logan questioned of the obvious dismissal from the meeting.

“No, that is not it.” Xavier said leaning back into his chair. “Please shut the door on your way out Logan.” The two men engaged in a staring match for a brief moment until Logan relented and left the room, slamming the door behind him. “I apologize for that Clint. I believe Logan was using the excuse of the Brotherhood to mask his concern for Charlotte.”

“And I appreciate his concern for her.” The Professor sent Clint a look of disbelief over what he had just said. “I have come to realize that Logan was a very important part of Charlie’s life, Kate’s too. I owe their lives to him. To all of you actually.”

Charles didn’t need to read Clint’s mind to know that the Wolverine’s relationship with his wife and daughter still hurt, he was using logic and reason to allow himself to accept it. “That is a very mature stance on the matter. I commend you.”

Looking away Clint offered, “Well I guess the therapy is working after all.”

“I would say it is.” The Professor agreed with a smile. He was genuinely happy that Clint had made progress in his mental health. The man had a lot to work through, many demons to slay, and though he hadn’t won the war yet, he had claimed victory in numerous battles.  Charles now had to help him through this fight. “Wanda told me about what transpired in your home this morning. While we encourage the students to talk about their experiences and lean on each other for support, we do not condone any acts of retaliation against those who had wronged them. I can promise you, Charlotte knows this. I, myself have spoken to her numerous times over the years about such things. Believe me Clint, she understands.”

The awareness that this has been a previously visited topic with his daughter didn’t sit well with the archer. “You have spoken to her about this before?”

“Yes, you are aware of her hatred towards a particular terrorist organization for performing some horrendous acts on her and her mother. Charlotte and I have had many discussions about why revenge doesn’t work.”

“Good to know that my daughter has had to have ‘many discussions about why revenge doesn’t work.’. It doesn’t make me feel any better about my morning conversation with her.”

“What Charlotte was forced to endure as an infant was so ghastly, that most adults wouldn’t have survived it. In that particular case, her Hyperthymesia was a curse. Her being able to recount the events in perfect detail keeps the memory, thereby the animosity, alive.”

“How do I stop it?” Clint asked in a low and sad voice. He knew what Charlotte and Kate had endured at the child’s birth. Kate still had nightmares of her torture. She would toss and turn sleepily calling out for her baby until Clint would wake her up. It was in those vulnerable early morning hours under the cover of darkness, so he couldn’t see her tears that Clint learned the true extent of what had happened. He pledged that if it took the rest of his life, he would make it up to Kate for leaving her behind to suffer that agony. Even if everyone repeatedly told him it wasn’t his fault, hearing his wife cry at night from remembering the birth of his daughter as not a blessed moment, but as a horrific tragedy caused the guilt he felt of the event to weigh heavy on him. Perhaps that was why he was so strict with her regarding this pregnancy. He knew that he often crossed the line from concern husband to authoritarian dictator regarding her condition, but it was because he was so damn scared of losing her. If there was anything worse than a husband losing his wife, it was a husband losing his wife because she succumbed to the effects of gamma radiation poisoning that she was exposed to because he didn’t do his job of protecting her. Now he was being told that he could lose Charlotte as well, not in the sense of death but losing her soul, losing the innocence and everything good that made up his eldest daughter. Hearing that she was suffering the same, if not more than her mother was a knife to his heart. Charlie had never said anything at home, at least not to him. Charlotte was never anything but a happy and eccentric child with Clint. Yes, she pushed the limits at least ten times a day, but always with a smile on her face. Apparently, she was a different person at school. A person filled with anger and thirst for revenge.

The Professor broke Clint out of the pit of despair he was falling into, if only for a moment so he could push him further down with reality. “Unfortunately, you have done all you can. You have provided her with a loving home, a supportive family, she wants for nothing. What Charlotte decides to do with her feelings, whether physically or emotionally, is all on her. We can just hope that we have given her enough guidance and support to know what to do.”

“So like flipping a coin. You hope for heads, but lose it all when tails come up?” Clint asked. “I’m sorry but I am not willing to ‘just hope’ she does the right thing when she’s older, or hell, tomorrow.”

“At least the coin has two sides. Some mutant children aren’t even given that. They do not have what Charlotte has, parents that love her no matter what. An assortment of friends and family that accept her as who she is. A fifty-fifty chance is a lot better than none at all.” Charles had been preparing Katherine for years of the possibility of Charlotte rebelling in her teenage years. It was a normal behavior for any child. Charlotte wasn’t a normal child, or honestly, not even a normal mutant. While Xavier didn’t actually subscribe to the belief that Charlotte would ever do anything as horrible as she had spoken about that morning, the threat was, and should be, enough to reevaluate the education she was receiving.

“A fifty-fifty chance.” Clint repeated back to the Professor, then raised his voice at the absurdity of it all. “A fifty-fifty chance?! Who gives a child, my child, a fifty-fifty chance of being a good person?” Clint settled himself down. It would not do Charlie any good if he got into it with her principal. “Can she even do it?”

The Professor didn’t need to ask what ‘it’ was Clint was speaking about. First, he wanted to address the odds the man had placed on his child of being a hero or a villain. “Honestly Clint, everyone has a fifty-fifty chance of being a good person. I am positive that I don’t need to tell you that. However, I don’t think it is like that at all. We don’t even know the full extent of Charlotte’s abilities, so it is safe to assume that she doesn’t either. Is she capable of destroying the human race? In a sense, yes. She is. She is able to manifest the weaponry to be used to carry out the deed. That is just one of the many ways she could do it. Charlotte knows what she is doing, and she knows that it is wrong. I think it is an attention seeking behavior.”

“Attention seeking behavior. That is the label you are attaching to this?” It seemed to be a copout in Clint’s opinion.

“Please listen to me fully before you nay say it.” Xavier wasn’t trying to sweep this affair under the rug and move on as it nothing had happened. He had known Charlotte far longer than her father and knew there had to be a root cause for the child’s behavior, and it wasn’t as simple as the ‘crush’ Wanda implied. “Last year, Charlotte was an only child, and her mother’s sole priority. She was a child of this school, raised and loved by everyone here. She was for many of us, the only infant we had ever encountered, better yet had a hand in raising. She was, and still is, precious and sacred to us all, the first of her kind. Now, she is being brought up in a home with two parents and additional siblings. She isn’t the center of attention anymore. There is a new baby on the way, someone who will be receiving for the better part of the foreseeable future, her mother’s full attention as mothers do with infants.”

“She did mention this morning that she hoped the baby would be a mutant.” Clint remembered then pieced it all together. “Now that she knows the kid probably won’t be like her, she is reaching out to people who are.”

“I believe that could very well be the underlying issue here. There aren’t any mutants living with her like there were when she resided here. Her mother being confined to bedrest due to the pregnancy and her condition was the final straw for her. In Charlotte’s mind, the baby is taking her mother. Hoping the child would be a mutant was the only balance she had to that.  I’m not saying that she dislikes the child, maybe just a bit jealous. Perhaps she was hoping to be able to relate to the new baby in a way that she is able to relate to the children here.”

“That makes a lot of sense.” Clint agreed. “Kate has been busy. She is running the Department, raising three other children in addition to Charlie and is pregnant with the fifth. Maybe Charlie isn’t getting enough time with her mother.”

“Not just her mother Clint, you as well.” The Professor corrected, being sure to point out that Clint was just as responsible for giving his daughter the attention she craved as her mother, if not more so. “I think it would be a good idea for you to be involved in the school more than the occasional drop off and pick up. Show your daughter that you are alright with her being a mutant and attending here. Support her educationally.”

It was the first time Clint had actually stopped and thought about his involvement in Charlie’s school. He had only been in the school a few times, mostly hanging in the car waiting for Charlie to get in or out. “How?”

“How about an archery camp or after school club?” Charles suggested. “All you would need to do to start it up would be to give me a list of supplies you require.  That way you can meet the other students, Charlotte’s friends. It will show your daughter that you are a part of our community and respect her own place in it.”

Meet Charlie’s friends? Again, something Clint had never thought about. He didn’t know any of Charlie’s friends. Cooper had friends over often, as did Lila. Even Nate had playdates at the house. However, Charlotte did not. She would either ask to spend extra time at the school to socialize with her friends or stay overnight in the dorms. Clint realized that Charlie had never asked to have her friends over. Was that because Charlie felt her friends wouldn’t be welcomed? The isolation his daughter felt must have been very lonely. If Clint hanging out at the school more was what she needed to feel that her father supported her, then Clint would spend all his free time there. “Do you really believe that will help Charlie?”

“I do. Her seeing you here more often will make her feel more at ease with who she is both here and at home. Witnessing you interacting with other mutant children will cause her to see you as she does her mother, a friend and champion of the mutants. It can only improve your relationship with her.”

“What about this Ethan?” Charlie had a few problems that needed to be dealt with, but in his mind, Clint believed the ringleader was the new student Ethan. Everything was fine before that boy started to fill his daughter’s head with anti-human propaganda.

The Professor moved his chair from behind the desk to be in front of the window. There was a gym class outside running drills. With attention fully on his students, the man supposed over the motives of Charlotte. “I suspect whatever the relationship between Charlotte and Ethan is has a foundation build in a shared background. It provides the ability to feel included and supported in a manner that isn’t addressed anywhere else. Ethan had never been in an environment such as this one and has appeared to take his new-found freedom a bit too far. Charlotte in her attention wanting state gravitated towards Ethan over their similarities and his vocalizations of the prospects of how to ensure safety for the mutant race. Ethan’s supposed words and conduct would have given Charlotte a feeling of being heard, related to, and above all, an avenue to the preservation of her safety against anyone with ill intent towards her.” Charles rotated his wheelchair to again address Clint. “The children need to feel heard by the adults. If they believe we are listening to them and respect their words and feelings, perhaps they will be more incline to reciprocate and listen to us. I will be speaking to Ethan. I will also be speaking to Charlotte. Is it safe to assume she will be here tomorrow?”

“I feel alright with that.” And he was. It wasn’t just the school who dropped the ball with Charlie. Kate and he had as well. She wasn’t getting the attention and support from the people who regularly supplied it, so she went searching for a new source. It was like a fishing rod that was cast and left alone, only to have it get caught in the current. Charlie got caught in the rapid current and it was now time to reel her in.

“Wonderful, I’m glad.” The Professor went back to his desk and typed a few keys on his keyboard. Looking at whatever he had brought up on his screen the man informed the father. “I make a point of seeing every student here at least once a month for a half an hour. I feel it is important for me to have one-on-one time with everyone. I just brought up Charlotte’s schedule. She has a study hall every other day. Her grades are perfectly fine, Katherine requested the class for extra homework time. I don’t really feel the need for Charlotte to have it. How about I take her for that period? It will give her extra time with me, and I can keep a better hand on the inner workings of her mind. I do believe it would be a better use of her time than a study hall.”

“As long as her grades don’t suffer, and you have the time, I would appreciate it.”

Xavier nodded to Clint’s conditions. “Of course.” Clint stood up to shake the Professor’s hand, happy with the meeting’s ending and everyone satisfied with the actions that needed to be taken. “I will start my one-on-one class with Charlotte tomorrow. Please do think about the archery club and send my regards to Katherine.”

Releasing the Professor’s hand, Clint promised, “I will talk to Kate and Charlie about it and get back to you. I think it is a great idea.”

“I look forward to speaking with you more about it. Probably would be best to wait until after Katherine delivers to set anything up formally.” The Professor didn’t want to add anything else to Katherine’s list of activities she had to coordinate for her family while she was at the end of her pregnancy. It all could wait as long as Charlotte was alright, and he had no doubts whatsoever after his discussion with Clint that the girl wouldn’t be. Clint turned around to leave the office when Charles Xavier called out, “Logan you can come in now. You don’t need to stand outside the door any longer.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Six

Ashamed

Since no one was at home but Diana, Kate pulled a pillow and blanket into the living room and camped out on the couch. That way she could keep her feet up, watch the news, work on her computer, and speak to her assistant in the same area. When her phone started to ring, Kate had to search around for it. The device had somehow made its way to the coffee table and out of arm’s reach. Diana was fast getting up and retrieving it before Kate had to. The assistant handed the phone over, which Kate thanked with a head nod. Swiping the icon that would allow her to accept the call, she brought the phone up to her ear. “Hello?”

“Hey honey, its me.” Clint greeted through the line. Kate could hear that she was on speaker. Clint was probably in the car, using the hands-free feature set up through the car’s stereo.

“Yes, I know. There is this wonderful new thing called caller ID.”

Just one time he would like his wife not to respond to him with sarcasm, but judging by her father, Kate came by it honestly. “You still in your meeting with Rhodes?”

“No, he left a while ago to get to the compound for a meeting. Something about approval for a mission in Southeastern Europe? “

Lifting his right hand off the wheel, Clint checked the time on his watch. “Yeah, I am supposed to be at that meeting.”

“Where are you?” She asked because it was only about a fifteen-minute drive between the school and compound.

“About five minutes out, I was just checking in while I had the time.”

“Thank you for fitting me in.” Kate mocked then got straight to the point of the purpose for the phone call. “What did the Professor say?”

“He is taking this seriously.” Clint explained. That was probably the most reassuring component of the meeting that Clint took away. His concerns were heard, and he had acted in the right to go to the school this morning against Kate’s wishes. “He believes that Charlie is craving attention, and this is how she is trying to get it.”

“Attention?” Kate took that as a personal attack on her parenting. Her children didn’t want for anything. Clint and she had made it a priority that every child received personal time with their parents. It wasn’t what Charlotte had previously experienced, but it was still good.

“It makes sense I guess when an outsider points it out.” Clint started knowing that Kate would take the Professor’s observation as a critique of her mothering skills. “Xavier was talking about how Charlie can’t relate to anyone at home and is craving that mutant-to-mutant interaction outside the academic setting. The Professor pointed out about how just a year ago, the mutants were all she knew, and you were the only human she had encounters with. She was the center of your world, now she has to share you with the other kids and me. You and I are being pulled in so many different directions. Charlie is feeling neglected and trying to regain some of the attention she needs, even if its negative attention. Ethan and these other kids were willing to give it to her, and she can relate more so with them because not only are they mutants, but they all have damaging experiences with humans in their pasts.”

Some of what Clint was telling her rang true. Charlie’s adjustment from living at the school to living in the suburbs with a large family hadn’t been easy. In the early days after they moved into the new house, Charlie would beg her mother to stay at the school overnight or remain after at the mutant sanctuary longer than academic hours. “What does he suggest?”

“A few things. He wants to take her out of study hall and use that time to pull her into his office and talk. Apparently, some things similar to this morning have been said previously to him by Charlie, and he would like to spend more time with her. She hadn’t said anything to him like she did to us about killing anyone or ‘no more humans. But she seems to have a history of talking about revenge against HYDRA. I told him it was fine to do as long as she maintains her grades.”

“I agree.” Kate was fast to say. It was Kate who wanted the study hall. As long as Charlie kept her grades up, she wouldn’t protest the removal of the class. Clint wanted to ask how much Kate knew of the Professor and Charlie’s ‘talks’ about revenge but discarded that line of questioning when she asked another one. “What does the Professor recommend we do at home?”

“Spend more time with her, listen to her. Above all, make sure she knows we are listening and even if we don’t understand what she is talking about, that we respect her words and feelings behind it.” It was all ‘therapy talk’ to him, the same stuff he had heard from Lila and Cooper’s therapist at the start of them going. It was easy enough to do, Clint just had to make the effort to do it. “He suggested I become more of a presence at the school. Show Charlie that I acknowledge the mutant part of her and embrace it. It was thrown out there that I do like an afterschool archery thing for the students.” Then he recalled a thought he had during the meeting. “This may sound strange for a father to say, but does Charlie have any friends?”

“Of course she does.” Kate exclaimed, shocked by the question. “She is a social butterfly at school. The girl would rather talk to her friends then pay attention in class. Its ninety-nine percent of the reasons for her detentions. Don’t you read the referrals?”

“I do read them.” Clint defended himself. “Most of them are because she is disrupting class.”

Kate snickered a bit at that, how did Clint think she was disrupting class? “Because she is talking to her friends and won’t shut up.”

Kate had called Charlie a ‘social butterfly’, that didn’t match with the Charlie Clint knew. At home, she played with Lila sometimes, but the two girls had vastly different interests. Mostly Charlie kept to herself. He guessed that was why he always thought of her as a loner, like he was. Now everything he thought was turning out to be wrong. “Does she have…I don’t know, like a best friend?”

Without any pause, Kate supplied the name. “Alysia.”

The speed Kate’s answer was given gave Clint the impression that Kate knew this girl and had interacted with her. He attempted to keep the jealousy out of his voice towards his wife for her relationship with their daughter. “Why have I never met this girl… or even heard of her?”

Kate wasn’t one to beat around the bush, but to answer Clint’s question she would have to. Just coming out and bluntly telling him the reason would be cruel. “Charlie doesn’t talk a lot about school at home. She is very guarded about her mutant relations. I think the Professor has a legitimate point about you spending more time up there. Charlie isn’t really sure of your feelings towards mutants.” She heard Clint try to break in but refused to let him. “You don’t let her use her abilities at home without permission, and you rarely give it when it is asked for.” Kate hated what she was about to say because she knew it would hurt Clint. She and Charlie had spoken about the very concern Clint was just now a year later bringing up.  She didn’t want to say it, but it would be best if she was the one he heard it from. “She thinks you’re ashamed of her for being a mutant.”

Clint slammed the brakes and swerved the car to the side of the road. “What?!”

“You heard me.” Kate said in a voice laced with sadness and empathy.

“She said that?” Clint demanded. “She thinks I am ashamed of her for who she is?”

The line went silent for a while, just when Clint thought that maybe the call had dropped, Kate rejoined the conversation. “Yes.”

Slamming his hands down on the dashboard of the car, Clint shouted, “Damn it Kate! When did she say this, and why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it hasn’t even been a year Clint. I thought with more time, Charlie would reevaluate her theory. I knew it would kill you to hear it. I was trying to handle it without you knowing.”

Clint put his head against the steering wheel and softly banged his head against it. He was so stupid, of course she thought that. At the school, she was allowed to freely be herself and use her mutant powers limitlessly to a degree. In contrast, Clint had a strict ‘no powers’ rule at home for both Charlie and Wanda. It was highly possible everything that happened this morning was his fault. He wasn’t giving her enough attention and to top it all off, he was restraining her ability to be herself at home. Suddenly it was all clear, Charlie wanting him to stay in the car during pick up and drop off wasn’t just a pre-teen tendency of not wanting to be seen with her father in front of her friends, it was shielding her friends from her father. He didn’t even know her best friends name until a minute ago. Charlie had perfectly separated her home and school life, Kate being the only one allowed to cross the line.

“Clint?” Kate beckoned with concern. 

“Yeah, I’m here.” He acknowledged lifting his head and running his fingers through his hair. He thought he had a pretty good relationship with Charlie. It wasn’t as good as his with Lila, but he had been Lila’s father for eleven years, and only in Charlie’s life for a year. Now being told that Charlie was probably ‘just going through the motions’ because she thought Clint didn’t like who she was, caused him to feel physically ill. “How the hell do I fix this?”

“Do the after-school thing the Professor was talking about. We make sure Charlie joins it. You know she is always looking for an excuse to stay longer.” Clint knew Charlie often requested to stay after. She had to be the only kid who enjoyed being at school longer then needed. Guess the reason was clear now. Between talking with the Professor and now Kate, Clint understood all too well how the school was providing more for his daughter’s social and emotional wellbeing than he was. He didn’t say anything, just let Kate continue. “Then you can see her interacting with her friends. And more importantly, she will see you interacting with them. Through your actions, not words, you tell her its ok to be a mutant and you love and support her no matter what.”

“The fact that Charlie doesn’t know that already is a punch in the throat, you know that Kate?” He confessed feeling like the worse father ever. “Being told that my child doesn’t think I love and support her and am ashamed of her because she was born with a condition is really a hit below the belt.”

“Well, it may help if you stop referring to it as a ‘condition’.” Kate wisely suggested. “She is a mutant. It is who she is, it is a major part of how she identifies herself, it’s what makes her Charlie. You calling it a ‘condition’ makes it sound like something is wrong with her, it gives the impression that she’s broken and needs to be fixed. Not the greatest way to build self-confidence.”

“So you have just been sitting on this? Kid thinks that I hate her. Then I make it worse by mislabeling the mutant thing, and you have just been letting this happen?” He despised to admit it, but he was very irritated with Kate right now. How could she have hidden this from him? If he was truthful, he would admit he was more upset with himself for fostering Charlie’s feelings.

“No, not letting it happen. I talk to Charlie about it when she brings it up.” Clint wanted to interrupt and ask about how often was the topic brought up between mother and daughter and where these ‘talks’ were happening behind his back but allowed Kate to continue with her ‘defense’ for not telling him. “She doesn’t think you hate her Clint. Never has she said that.” She stressed to him, hoping it would bring him some peace. “I have just been reinforcing that you love her and could never be ashamed of her.”

In utter disbelief over the conversation Clint observed, “And that has worked great.”

“Perhaps I handled this wrong.” Kate divulged. She didn’t want it to be like this. She thought with patience and time, the issue would resolve itself without the need to break Clint’s heart. “I probably should have told you.”

Staring at the stereo as if he could see Kate’s face in the glossy black plastic that housed the system, Clint threw back at her, almost yelling, “’Perhaps’? ‘Probably’? Are you being serious right now?”

“What do you want me to say? Sorry?” Because she was.

“No,” Clint answered checking himself. He didn’t want to upset her. He also needed to deescalate himself. He was about to meet up with Charlie at the compound, and he couldn’t in the state he was in now. Clint needed to relax and breathe, the same thing he was always telling Kate to do. Now it was time to take a dose of his own medicine. “I guess it is a good thing the kid trusts at least one of us.” Deciding to alleviate the temperament of the conversation before emotion overcame both of them, he joked, “While I have you on the phone, do any of the other kids think I hate them?”

“Now that you mention it,” Kate responded, and Clint’s heart sunk even further at the possibility of more coming at him. “Nate did say you were mean last night during tuck in because you told him he couldn’t bring peanut butter into the tub.”

Smiling as he checked the rearview mirror for oncoming traffic, Clint pulled the car back on the road. “I’ll proudly own that one.”

~~~

Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson had just finished their morning workout in the gym at the Avengers compound. They both shared an apartment with Natasha in Brooklyn, in fact the building was owned by Clint. He brought it in his early S.H.I.E.L.D. days and after marrying Kate and starting a family with her, the archer realized that the one-bedroom apartment wouldn’t accommodate the expanding Barton clan. To remedy the lack of space he combined two of the apartments into a three-bedroom home. When the Wipe was reversed, Clint remembering the property, offered it to Steve. Steve was hesitant to accept the apartment at first. In the end he took Clint’s generous present and invited Sam and Nat to move in with him. Every morning Sam and Steve would run ten miles around the borough, then drive to the compound to lift weights and workout. Usually by the time they finished their morning routine, Natasha would arrive at the compound for her own workout schedule.

The men were passing the Avengers’ conference room on their way to the kitchenette in the communal room when they noticed Charlotte Barton sitting at the conference table with stacks of paper in front of her. Entering the room, Sam was the first to greet the child using his nickname he had gifted her with.  “Hey Wallstreet, teacher workday?”

There were six piles of papers lined up in front of the girl. Steve and Sam watched as she took the top paper off each stack and stapled them together, placing the assembled packet in a seventh pile. “No, I’m in trouble.” Stapling another packet, she expanded, “I’m not allowed to go to school today. I have to spend the day with Grandpapa until my dad comes and gets me.”

Steve walked further into the room and looked at what the child was doing. It appeared to be some paperwork associated with one of Stark’s many charities. It wasn’t uncommon to see one of the Barton children around the compound, but as far as Steve was aware, it was the first time the place had been utilized as a mean to discipline one of the kids.  He should mind his own business and carry on with his day, but the curiosity got the better of him. “What are you in trouble for?”

“Being a mutant.” The child casually informed her audience without looking up or disrupting her flow of actions.

“Young lady!” Tony yelled out at the comment, walking in from behind Steve and Sam. He had two empty boxes with him. Moving around the table to where his granddaughter was, Tony placed the boxes on the table and lifted the stapled papers into one box. Staring down at the seated child, Tony reprimanded her gross exaggeration of why she was on punishment. “That is not why you are in trouble, and it doesn’t help the matter at all by spreading that rumor.”

“But it’s true.”

“No it isn’t. You are here because you threaten to expunge the human race from the world in favor of the mutant race being the superior life form. Am I incorrect?” Tony asked, purposely not looking to either Sam or Steve. He was fully aware of what he had just said would cause both men to fix their sight on him for further explanation, and he really wasn’t feeling in the mood to go into details right now.  Voicing anything more would just bait the child into another verbal altercation.

“Depends.” Charlie answered with the perfect mixture of brashness and sarcasm that every Stark is born with. She cut her eyes up to her grandfather. “What does expunge mean?”

In a condescending manner as the reply to the attitude she just threw at him, Tony bluntly informed his granddaughter of the extremes her words meant this morning. “In this situation, it means to kill.”

Charlie thought for a moment about that, then imperturbably responded. “Then yes, you are incorrect. I didn’t say that.”

Bringing his hands up to massage his temples, Tony closed his eyes and forced himself to remain unruffled in his reply. “You sure as hell implied it. And your mother can’t take much more of it. Because of all that, you are here until your father gets back from your school after speaking with the Professor.”

Sam saw that Tony was struggling with Charlie. Any other time, it would be damn hilarious. However, it was easy to see that whatever had gone down earlier was bad. It was severe enough that the child wasn’t in school and had to be removed from her mother. Then add in the fact that Clint, not Kate, was at the school speaking to the Professor solidified for him that ‘bad’ wasn’t the correct word on how to label the situation. Attempting to lighten the mood in the room Sam amusingly asked, “Rough morning?”

“You have no idea.” Tony answered as he moved away from Charlie to where Steve and Sam were standing. He felt like a circus juggler. Every time he got into a rhythm with how many balls he was juggling, someone upped the ante by throwing one more at him to put into the rotation. Despite the recent conversation with Charlie, they were actually doing alright this morning once Tony got her in the car. He assumed a lot of what just was said was an act to get a rise out of him in front of the guys. Charlie, like her grandfather, did love an audience.

Steve turned his back to Charlie as he switched places with Tony. Wishing for the child not to overhear his question. “Is this something we should be worried about?”

Matching Steve’s hushed tone, Tony tilted his head left to right in uncertainty. “Honestly, I don’t know. Clint is talking to Xavier now about it and I guess we will go from there.”

Steve would have to accept that response for now. Like Sam, he knew if Clint and Tony had gone to the extremes of prohibiting the child from attending school and bringing her to the compound, then there was a whole lot more to the story beyond a pre-teen girl arguing with her parents. Perhaps Clint would be more forthcoming with information. He had sent Steve a text earlier that he should be at the compound for the Balkans mission update by noon.  At least Steve now knew what Clint had meant by ‘have to deal with something this morning’.

They weren’t in any hurry, Nat was still not there, and they needed James Rhodes as well for the mission meeting. In line with the Sokovia Accords, the DMA had to be made aware of any mission the Avengers were planning if the time table permitted it. That last part was a loophole. If a mission was being prepared more than twelve hours ahead of the team being deployed, then the Secretary had to be notified so she could report it to the Accords committee of the United Nations for approval. Less than twelve hours, and in an emergency, the Avengers could act as they saw fit and fill out the paperwork later. In the event such as the one they were currently in, if Kate wasn’t able to be at the mission presentation, Rhodey acted in her place. “While we are waiting for Clint and Rhodes, we can talk about this morning and our wayward recruit.”

Accepting his fate, Tony submitted to the request. “Fine, let’s get it over with.” Pointing to Charlie he took on a harsh and demanding tone. “Charlotte Henrietta Barton, you stay here.” The only reply he received from the girl that she had heard him was an eyeroll directed his way. Tony wasn’t just going to trust his granddaughter to do as she was told to. He knew her better than that. Calling out into the room, he summoned his artificial intelligence assistant. “FRIDAY let me know if she leaves this room.”

The AI immediately answered. “Of course boss.”

~~~

The three men walked into the sitting area of the communal room. Tony took the chair facing the hall that led to the conference room. Steve sat across from him in the matching chair while Sam stood and wondered around the area looking out the glass doors that opened to the patio. Tony decided once he was comfortable to get the show on the road. “The Parkers get home alright?”

Placing his elbows on the chair’s armrest, Steve answered with a nod of his head. “Yes, I made sure to walk them to their apartment door.”

Looking to where Sam was, Tony muttered under his breath. “Always the gentleman.”

Steve acknowledge the quiet comment with a smile. “Tony, jokes aside, Peter with the proper training and guidance could be a valuable part of our team.”

Stark knew where this was going and beat Steve to the punch. “But?”

Dropping the smile, Steve leaned forward in the recliner. With a sincere expression, Rogers rationalized to Tony the doubts he had regarding Peter Parker. “But, I am not comfortable with him being under eighteen. He is just a kid, and still in school.”

“He should be worrying about getting a date for prom, not what three mutants are up to aboard a yacht.” Sam contributed as he turned away from watching the groundkeepers trim the hedges.

Tony had to admit that Steve and Sam were correct about what Peter was, and what he should be doing instead of crime fighting. He would admit they were right if they would admit that Tony knew a little more about the situation then they did. Providing Peter a new suit and placing him on the team was acting in the kids’ best interest. “The fighting, it’s in his blood now. Peter joining the Avengers or not it won’t be a factor in him stopping any time soon. He will do it with or without us. I figured ‘with’ would be a hell of a lot easier to ensure he is safe and stuff like yesterday doesn’t happen again.”

“Ok, he will be out in the streets no matter what we do or say.” Steve said it more just to say it out loud to process, not for anyone in particular. There was apparently more Steve and Peter had in common than just both of them being brought up in the city. They both had the drive to help despite being told they couldn’t. They found a way to overcome and succeed in their goals. Steve found a certain amount of respect for the teenager at that revelation. “We can create a training program for him. If he is serious about this then he will stick to it. The solo missions stop now. Peter is already affiliated with our team, officially or not. The public thinks he is one of us. We act as a team, he strays from that, and Peter is out.”

Tony was surprised by how easy it was to get Steve to change his mind on the kid. “I believe that is very reasonable.”

The captain saw that Tony’s attention was directed to something behind him. Turning around, he saw that Natasha had arrived and was coming to join the group. Knowing that she was smart enough to fill in the blanks and figure out who and what they were talking about, he continued with the discussion without catching her up to speed on the topic. “You are too close Tony. Parker only trusts you. Again, that doesn’t work on a team. He has to come to trust us all and us to trust him in return. He must trust each one of us with his life, because it very well may come to that in the field. I will develop his training program and he will train with all of us. Not only does it foster trust in each other but teaches Peter which specific skill sets each of us possesses.”

Once again, Tony had to concede that the Captain was reasonable with the requirements placed on Peter. There wasn’t one word he said that Tony could dispute or even wanted to. “Sounds good. You set up the program and a schedule then we will present it to Peter for his consent. Rhodes asked last night for Peter to hang up the suit for a while. Just until the attention on the events of last night die down some. So you have some time to work on it before the DMA will allow any of what you have suggested.”

“What am I allowing?” James Rhodes asked entering the room.

“Peter Parker officially joining the team.” Natasha supplied having done exactly what Steve assumed she would. Without any information of the conversation before she joined, she had figured out everything.

Rhodes pulled his head back in disbelief at the suggestion. It hadn’t even been a day since the explosion and this conversation was happening. “That will need to be a very long and detailed discussion with all interested parties. I don’t foresee any problems with the committee. Peter signed the Accords. Any resistance you guys encountered will be from the boy’s aunt and the Secretary.”

At the mention of his daughter, Tony inquired an update. “How’s my girl?”

Unbuttoning his suit jacket to sit on the couch, Rhodes answered his best friend and father of his boss. “She is anxious about a lot of stuff. I think the emotion is so high right now because she can’t do anything but sit and wait. She has to sit and wait to see what will come from Secretary Williamson’s threats. She has to sit and wait for the committee to get back to her about what to do about you and Peter. She has to sit and wait to hear back from Clint about Charlotte.”

“What about Charlie?” Natasha asked scanning the room for information. She apparently had not seen the child in the conference room when she entered. Nat missing a body in such close proximity to her was doubtful to anyone who knew her. The more plausible solution was that Charlie was no longer in the conference room and had disabled FRIDAY to prevent the AI from telling on her. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Tony ignored both Charlotte’s disappearing act and Natasha’s question. Clint would show up sooner or later to deal with his daughter and fill everyone in. Plus, his granddaughter wasn’t stupid, if she had escaped, she wouldn’t have gone far. Odds were she was just trying to prove a point to Tony that she can escape the watchful eye of FRIDAY again, for no other reason than to say she could. It was moments like this, Tony wanted to apologize to his parents. That girl was Tony to the bone regarding her behavior and thinking. He often wondered if Charlotte was his penance for his own unruly behavior at her age.  Even with all of that, Tony kept it to himself that Charlie was his favorite of the children. Charlie’s whereabouts aside, he was more struck by the somber tone Rhodey used to speak about his daughter in. “Should I be worried?”

Rhodes leaned onto his knees. “I don’t know if you should be worried, but I would certainly advise being concerned. She’s what, four or five weeks out from delivery? The doctors didn’t even think she would carry this long and here we are, weeks away from being full term. I don’t like this all happening now, Kate has come too far and done too well for this to ruin everything.”

Tony was beyond appreciative for how much Rhodey had done for Kate during her pregnancy. There was always someone to watch Kate. That was the real reason they had made it this far without complications, the amazing support system the Barton family had of family and friends. “I’ll put a call into Hank McCoy and ask him to check up on her. Clint brought up this morning perhaps getting a nurse for Kate for this last month. I will speak to the medical team here and see if anyone is willing to take her on with hazard pay.”

“So you think any of this will affect the Balkans mission?” Steve asked looking between Tony and Natasha. Between the two of them, they should be able to provide Steve with a reliable answer. “I really need Clint on this one, but if his head isn’t in the game, I don’t want him in the field.”

“As of this morning, he said he was still on it. I think it would be good for him to get away for a while and get his hands dirty.” Tony projected about the man. In his opinion, it would only help Clint to get him out and allow him to hit something. The archer was all kinds of frustrated and repressed. Sending Clint away also benefited Tony. “Maybe while he is gone I can get a team in and finish that damn basement, so Vee can have a nursery. We are running out of time, and Pepper has brought out all the baby stores in New York City. My living room looks like a showroom for nursery décor.”

The group of five collectively laughed at Tony’s remarks about his wife’s shopping spree. Suddenly the compound echoed loudly with the sound of thunder, shaking the walls and causing items to fall off shelves. Tony’s first thought was of his granddaughter, jumping up he started to franticly search for Charlie. Seeing Tony get up everyone followed suit. Following the source of the sound, they faced the windows and were blinded by a bright light that seemed to project from the middle of the back grounds of the compound. Bringing his hand up to his eyes to shield them, Tony was able to see the outline of Charlie running to the doors from outside into the communal area. Moving fast, Tony got to the door before she did and opened it, reaching for her as he did so. With Charlie secured in his arms the child shouted, “I didn’t do it!”

Tony went down to his knees, so he was at her level. He rubbed her back in comfort and tried to sooth the shaking child. “It’s ok. What happened?”

“Tony.” Rhodes said staring with everyone else out into the yard.

Tony looked up and the light started to fade away. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Standing back up he pulled on Charlie’s arm to move her behind him and started to follow the group that was already exiting the door onto the patio. The smell of burnt grass filled everyone’s noses. Standing in the middle of a branded symbol burnt into the yard was Bruce Banner and Thor.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seven

Unicorn

“Bruce? Thor?” Steve kicked himself for the question as soon as he asked it. Of course it was them.

“Aye, hello again friends.” Thor greeted walking up to the group of six that had assembled on the patio overlooking the landscape that Thor just destroyed.

“Thor, how many times do I have to tell you about my yard? You are fixing it this time.” Tony chastised; he was pretty happy with himself for maintaining a stern looking expression.

Natasha, Steve, and Sam walked down the stone steps to meet the pair of new arrivals. Rhodes and Tony stayed up on the patio while Charlie remained hidden behind her grandfather. The girl was pressed against him so hard, Tony thought she was trying to merge into him. Watching the reunion of hugs and handshakes below Tony looked behind him, “Charlie, come on, it’s just Thor and Bruce. They are good guys I promise.” All he got in answer was the feeling of a head shaking against his back from the girl. Rolling his eyes at Rhodes for either the shyness or terror of his granddaughter, Tony decided to let the group come to him instead of trying to force Charlie to detach so he could walk.

Seeing Tony was when the reality of Bruce finally being back on earth hit the scientist. After greeting the group that came to him and Thor, he walked up to meet with Tony and Rhodes. “Rhodes, Tony.” He reached and embraced the surprised Tony. The appearance of a child hiding behind the Ironman peeking at him, who bore a more than minor resemblance to his friend, made Bruce question the timeline. “Tony. How long have I been gone?”

It wasn’t a hard calculation for Tony to conduct, he had been worried sick about his friend and had counted the days since his disappearance after the Avengers defeated Ultron. “Over four years Bruce, where the hell have you been?”

In total exhaustion, Bruce answered, “I don’t think you would believe me if I told you.”

“We’ve been bravely vanquishing the enemies of the nine realms.” Thor proudly proclaimed leading the welcoming committee up to where they were. “And who is this fair maiden?” Thor asked referring to Charlie.

Tony reached behind him and pulled Charlie loose. “Come on, be polite and introduce yourself. I’m here, no one will hurt you.” If the last part of Tony’s comment startled Bruce, he didn’t say anything.

Charlie, knowing that she was going to have to say something put on a mask of confidence and stood upright as she let go of her grandfather. “I’m Charlotte Barton, who the hell are you?”

“I taught her that.” Tony said proudly smiling to the group, then disclaimed as he dropped the smile, “Please don’t tell her parents.”

“And I am Thor Odinson, son of Odin.” The tall blonde-haired man said with a bow of his head towards the girl.

Taken aback by the greeting, Bruce quickly recognized the last name. The child was somehow connected to Clint, but he thought Clint’s daughter was named Lila, and a blonde. However, it had been four years, so he could have remembered the girl incorrectly, but he was pretty sure he had never met this Charlotte before.  He kneeled to the child and extended his hand. “Hello. I’m Dr. Bruce Banner.”

Charlie reached out to shake his hand. Professor Charles Xavier was a heavy presence on her upbringing, and strongly instilled proper manners in her from an early age. The same manners that Tony, within a year was corrupting by his influence. That and her mother’s job had forced Charlie to introduce herself and shake hands on more than one occasion. Shaking the man’s hand, she noticed that his neck was changing colors. He had green tinted veins slowly running up his neck. Tony had also seen this. “Bruce?” Bruce started to shake his head, as if he was fighting something. “Bruce?” Tony repeated and pulled Charlie away as he sent an alarming look to the group. Bruce wouldn’t let go of her hand, in fact he was trying to keep a hold of the girl.

“Bruce, let go!” Tony shouted. Steve was by his side within nanoseconds, helping him to pry the man’s grip off the child who was starting to panic. The two men were able to remove Charlotte from Bruce’s grasp just in time to see him morph into the Hulk. “Someone get her out of here.” Tony screamed. Natasha was fast on the command, but Tony stopped her. “Not you, I need you for a lullaby.” Natasha halted and looked around for the best avenue to get to the Hulk and conduct a lullaby, the code they used for the soothing technique to calm the beast into yielding back to Bruce. Tony shouted at the Falcon, “Sam, hurry.” Sam didn’t need to be told twice. He ran over and picked up the girl in a fireman’s carry and ran into the compound. Then full gravity of what was happening hit everyone by the Hulk’s actions, he followed them.

“What the hell is going on?” Rhodes shouted in question.

Hitting his chest piece to activate the housing unit for the nanotech particles that would dispense his suit Tony answered as he waited for the suit to form around him, “I have a horrible idea, but it really isn’t the important thing right now. He’s after Charlie!”

Only Tony had any sort of weapon, unaware of Thor’s new-found abilities in the wake of his father’s death. Natasha had a gun concealed in the back of her pants as she always did on any day that ended in a y, but that wasn’t going to help them in the least bit against the Hulk. The only easy solution to the problem right now was for Natasha to get in front of him somehow and attempt a lullaby. She darted around the compound to get access to another door. Hopefully the size of the Hulk in the narrow halls of the compound would slow him down enough for her to be able to cut him off by going through the gym. That was too much of a risk for Tony to gamble on, Natasha being faster than the Hulk. He knew Sam would try to protect Charlie but he wasn’t anything against the green powerhouse. Powering up his repulsors, he lifted off the ground, only to see that Thor was out running Nat. They stood a chance to intervene against the Hulk if Thor got to him and delayed him enough for Natasha to get in there.

Steve and Rhodes had followed the Hulk’s path into the compound. The path of rumble made it easy enough to trail him. Rhodes broke off with Steve to run to the storage room where the War Machine suit was. It had been a long time since he had suited up, but now was as good a time to break the streak as any. Running into the room, Rhodes went to his unit and entered in the code to open the suit’s containment locker. He caught movement in the corner of the room. Looking towards the area he found Sam crouched down covering Charlie. Somehow, Sam had lost the Hulk in the maze of the compound.

Now with the locker open, the War Machine armor moved out and opened up for the user to step in. Knowing that options were limited when, not if, the Hulk found them, Rhodes stepped in and the suit encased him. He would not last long against the creature, but hopefully whatever time he got would be enough for Sam to keep Charlie safe.

The sound of crashing was getting closer to them. Sam moved in tighter around the child as Rhodey took up his position in front of the huddled pair. Between Sam almost physically being on top of her and the War Machine standing in front, Charlie was as hidden and protected as she could be.  Right outside the door they heard metal bending, releasing a straining sound until whatever it was had enough and snapped. Hearing that, the frightened eleven-year-old let out part of a scream, the second part was quieted by Sam covering her mouth.

What happened next was the beginning of the end of their ‘hide and seek’ game. A gigantic green fist made impact with the thick steel door. The impression of the impact showing through to their side. Rhodes guessed less then two more of those would cause the door to fall in and they would be face-to-face with the legendary Hulk.

A second punch was thrown at the door as the War Machine powered up to its full capacity. The fight wouldn’t be long, so he could use all of the power now. As predicted, the third punch at the barrier granted the Hulk access. The door flew in, slamming against the far wall before thundering loudly as it fell onto the tiled floor. War Machine took two steps towards the creature, then suddenly the Hulk was gone. Looking to the left he saw Thor and Tony on top of the attacker. They had shown up just in time to remove the Hulk from his goal. Sam stood up holding Charlie against him and moved towards the opening, ready to run to a new location with the child if the two men were unable to stop the threat. Steve and Natasha were running towards the skirmish from opposite directions in the hall.

“Stop friend.” Thor yelled at the green ally straddled underneath him.

Tony had one of the Hulk’s arms pinned down with all the strength he could muster and screamed, “It’s a little girl. It’s Clint’s little girl. You don’t want to hurt her!”

The Hulk’s head turned towards Tony. The lock in eyes made Tony wish he used the bathroom when he first needed to go ten minutes ago but put it off. The beast blinked a few times, if no one knew better, it seemed the green face softened some at Tony’s words. The eyes looked away for the man on his arm and moved to Sam who was holding Charlie, who had a tear stained face. Asking Sam, the Hulk spoke to the entire group for the first time ever, “Little girl hurt?”

Tony answered before anyone else could. “I don’t think so, but I need Banner to look at her and make sure.” It was a lie, he knew Charlie was physically fine. Maybe telling him that the kid could be hurt would be enough for the suddenly concerned Hulk to release to Bruce to check the kid over. “She needs Bruce.”

“The sun is getting real low.” Natasha said walking up to where Thor and Tony still held the Hulk down. She kneeled down next to his head and softly caressed the side of his face. “The sun is getting real low.” She repeated as the men felt the Hulk stop struggling underneath them.

Somewhere between Tony’s request for Banner and Natasha’s actions, the Hulk relented. Slowly, Thor and Tony sank to the floor as the mass they were on top of decreased in size. Leaving a nude Bruce Banner in the middle of them. Thor detached his cape and covered the gradually coming-to man.

~~~

Everyone was sitting in the ruins of the communal room in silence as the compound’s cleaning and maintenance staff worked around them.  Bruce was sitting between two of the kitchenette’s stools on the floor drenched in sweat almost rocking from the events that just unfolded. Steve was standing nearby as a precautionary measure with Sam next to him. Tony was sitting in a recliner, beside him on the floor was Charlie sheltered in what he had named ‘the iron bubble’. It was still a prototype, but it was better than nothing at the moment. The sphere was done in the same gold and red color scheme as the Ironman suit, but the front was a shatter-proof clear material, so the occupant could see out and others could see in. Natasha and Rhodes were on the couch. In the other recliner across from Tony was Thor. If the Hulk reemerged, he would have to go through Steve, Sam, and Thor before getting to Charlie.

It hadn’t been all silence since Bruce was able to regain control over his counterpart. Once Bruce was able to communicate, all he could utter was ‘sorry’ repeatedly. Charlie, as soon as Tony had her in his arms was also on repeat, asking for her parents. She demanded someone to call her dad and ask him to hurry up, since she knew Clint was on his way. The demand from the child brought up questions from both Bruce and Thor of the girl’s origins. A quick recap of everything that had happened in the last year was supplied and resulted in Bruce isolating himself under the kitchen island over the Hulk attempting to attack the daughter and granddaughter of his friends.

The silence was disrupted by the sound of running coming at them. Everyone adjusted themselves to be able to look down the hall to see Clint dashing towards the room, jumping over debris as he did so. Finally arriving at the group, Clint had to take a lot in at once. The first thing was Charlie in some kind of a ball, then there was Thor and Bruce’s presences after being God knows where for almost five years. Thor smiled welcomingly at him while Bruce refused to make eye contact. “What…the…hell?” Was all the man could get out while he was catching his breath. Everything was fine until Clint entered the residential area of the compound. Seeing the ruins of what used to be the main hall and knowing his daughter was around was enough to give him a heart attack.

 Charlie had her own agent to watch her, Debbie, but she wasn’t as ‘hands on’ as the other agents were with his other children. Professor Xavier had concerns about a government agent being in the school, and Charlie was not endangered within the Xavier school’s walls. The compromise was for Debbie to stay in the car and receive updates throughout the day. The same kind of ‘protection’ was the method used whenever one of the kids was at the compound. The agents either waited in the car or stationed themselves on the floor dedicated to the Department of Mutant Affairs and conducted check ins every once and a while. The destruction upon first inspection seemed to be contained to the residential and training areas of the compound. The areas that were reserved for Avengers’ use only. It was highly possible that no one else in the facility even knew there was an incident.  Clint didn’t receive any communication from Debbie, so it was safe to assume the woman didn’t know anything had happened either.

Charlie started to scratch at the ball, trying to get out at the arrival of her father. Tony pressed something on the side of the device. “Just don’t touch Bruce, got it?” He instructed warmly as the front lifted, the child pouncing as soon as she could towards Clint. She practically climbed up him to get him to hold her. Clint stared at Tony looking for an answer to his question. “We had a bit of trouble with introductions.” The man glossed.

Charlie delivered on more of the ‘exacts’ of her grandfather’s claim and filled her dad in. “He,” she started pointing at Bruce, “Turned big and green. He chased me.”

There was a brief moment that Clint thought he may drop Charlie at that revelation. Tightening his arms around his daughter he looked to Bruce. The clearly guilt-ridden man again refused to look his way. “The Hulk attacked my daughter?”

“In simple terms, yes.” Tony replied then tried to explain why. “Something happened when Charlie shook his hand. I think the physical contact is what set him off. When was the last time McCoy ran Charlie’s gamma levels?” The HYDRA Sandbox base housed the experiments they were conducting with Bruce’s ‘Hulk’ serum. The group blowing up their lab with Kate in it was what cause her poisoning. Being pregnant with her daughter at the time, Charlie was also exposed to gamma radiation. The difference between Kate and Charlie was that Charlie had the activated X-gene which protected her from the lasting effects. The girl always tested high in her gamma levels, but not dangerously high like Kate did. Charlie and Kate weren’t the only Bartons affected by the Sandbox, the newest addition would be also. It was a concern that Vee’s levels would mirror his or her sister’s. However, Dr. McCoy would test the infant immediately after birth to find out how much of the mother’s poison reached the child. So far, all test had shown it wasn’t really a concern. Life threatening or not, both Charlie and Vee would need frequent level checks for the rest of their lives due to being exposed to their mother's blood in utero.

“Um, about two months ago.” Clint hesitated to reply, fearful of what path Tony was on. Bruce finally moved his head up to listen in on the conversation once the words ‘gamma levels’ were used in reference to the young girl.

“It was Bruce’s formula that did this to Kate and Charlie.” The grandfather started then realized that information was omitted from the quick ‘recap’ to Thor and Bruce. Quickly turning around, he found Bruce gawking at him. “Bruce, it’s not your fault at all, but it was your serum. I’m thinking the Hulk reacted to the fact that Charlie has the same chemical make up. Probably just took the big guy by surprise.”

“What happened to them?” Bruce asked of the new information as he was standing up.

“I told you that Kate was pregnant when she was ‘separated’ from Clint right?” Banner nodded so Tony continued. Clint looked muddled about the word ‘separated’ being used as an acceptable term for what happened to Kate and himself but didn’t cut in on Tony’s explanation.  “Well separated is a very general term for what happened. After the other guy redecorated Harlem, HYDRA got a hold of your serum, there is a very long and depressing story that goes with that one.” Tony took a deep breath, “Don’t get me started on that one, anyway, back to the main story, HYDRA started to experiment with it. Kate worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. at that time and they wanted to stop it. She was sent into their lab to hack a server. It so happened that the lab was housing a very large quantity of your serum right next to the equipment Kate needed to be at to do her work.  HYDRA knew Kate was there and they blew up the lab. Fast forward some, and Kate has…gamma radiation poisoning from that. She is on a drug protocol that keeps her alive, but…” Looking to Charlie who was staring at him, Tony stopped his explanation and turned back to Bruce and just shook his head hoping the scientist would understand the gesture, Kate would eventually succumb to the effects.

Bruce was silent. He looked to the floor and took in what Tony had told him. Looking up, he stared at Charlie. “And her?”

“She’s fine Bruce.” Natasha interjected, seeing the guilt in his eyes and hearing it in his voice. “There is a lot more to Charlie then the gamma radiation.” The full account of who and what Charlotte Barton was could wait.

Trying to maintain his breathing for fear of hyperventilating at the revelations, Bruce questioned with eyes still trained on the child in her father’s arms. “But she also has it because of me. A mother and child were hurt due to my serum?”

“No, because of HYDRA.” Clint enforced, knowing that if asked, Charlie would agree with her father’s choice of who to blame for the devastation that befell on her family. He just had an entire parent-teacher meeting devoted to that topic.

“But you can help Bruce.” Stepping closer to Banner, Tony offered him a way to help, a method to make things right in his mind over the guilt. “I would have appreciated it a year ago when I had to help develop a new drug protocol for Kate, but you’re here now.” Turning to look at Clint behind him. “Are you cool with me handing him Kate and Charlie’s medical files?”

“Would have to ask Kate about that one Tony. I don’t have a problem with it. Don’t really see her having one either.” Glancing at Bruce, “In fact I would very much so like your input on her condition. Maybe you can find something that McCoy and Tony couldn’t.”

“McCoy?” Bruce quired because that was the second time now that name had entered the conversation.

Bobbing his head Tony concluded. “There is a lot to catch you up on. Why don’t you take a shower and change? Then we can all sit down, order some lunch, talk about where you and Thor have been. Then we can discuss Kate, Charlie and Vee.”

Another new name for Bruce. “Who’s Vee?”

“The baby that Kate is carrying.” Natasha informed him.

“She’s pregnant?” Bruce questioned to Clint in doubt over what his research told him was the impossible. “With gamma radiation poisoning? How is that possible?” He was still a bit unclear of the ‘Kate and Clint thing’ and what happened to the last wife Bruce had seen Clint with. Nat and Tony both promised to fill Thor and him more in-depth later when Charlie wasn’t there. What he did understand was that Charlie was the product of the current Mr. and Mrs. Barton. Now apparently, she wasn’t the only one because a sibling was on the way. 

“I obviously don’t want the details.” Tony reported as he walked over to where Clint was still holding the girl. He put his hands over her ears and loudly whispered to his audience. “But how I understand it, Clint and Kate were attempting to revisit their youth. It had something to do with a date night of skee-ball, greasy pizza and cheap beer.”

The room once again fell into silence, no one really knowing how to follow Stark’s comment. Bruce brought a fist to his mouth and coughed into it. “That’s not what I meant.”

Clint pulled Charlie away from Tony’s hands and moved over to the chair the grandfather was sitting in earlier. “For someone ‘who obviously didn’t want the details’, you know way too much about that night Tony. I have to admit I am concern and a bit scared right now.”

Clint swore that Charlie’s face changed into Kate’s as she chastised him. “You went to the boardwalk without me?”

Clint was in awe of it all. The child was just chased down by the Hulk and she was upset that he and his wife went to the boardwalk for a date night eight months ago? “Honey, mommy and daddy just needed some time to themselves. You got to spend time with Peppy and grandpapa.”

Shaking her head at the absurdity of it all Charlie stated, “Moms and dads shouldn’t do that, it’s wrong.”

Sam couldn’t help himself. “Well if moms and dads didn’t do that, they wouldn’t be mommys and daddys now would they?”

Thor, gravely misreading the environment, happily praised his teammates.  “I think it is wonderful that you and Stark have decided to combine your houses. Your descendants will be fearless warriors and great leaders.”

Dryly Clint replied to Thor. “Yeah, cause just like my children, I planned this.”

“What does that mean?” Charlie asked.

Pausing for a second Clint over simplified his meaning. “It means that daddy got a little overzealous and now has to spend the rest of his life paying for it.” Rhodes, Natasha and Sam all laughed at Clint’s reply to his daughter and Thor joined in, not really understanding but going along with the group chuckle.

Tony pointed at the father of his grandchildren. “You sir, are a dirty bird.”

“I think it would be a good idea for us all to take a break.” Steve suggested. There was a child in the room, two if Tony’s maturity age counted. He then addressed Clint. “The window for the Balkans is sixty-eight hours out, we have time. Why don’t we postpone the meeting until tomorrow morning?” Looking to Charlie he told her father, “She needs you. What happened, it was…intense.”

Clint’s conversation with Kate just minutes ago still fresh in his mind, laid a kiss on top if his daughter’s head. After everything that was said this morning, by the Professor, Kate and Charlie herself, the child ran to him for comfort, was sitting with him now for safety and security. How could his daughter doubt his love and commitment to her? That he would want her to be anything but what she was? Turning the girl so he could meet her eyes, eyes identical to his own, “Are you alright? Are you hurt anywhere?”

With a shake of the head, she reported, “No, when Dr. Banner turned green, Mr. Sam grabbed me and helped me get away. It was really scary.”

Clint pulled her in for a hug and moved his sight to Wilson. “Thank you Sam.”

“Not a problem. Don’t know how much I could have done if he got to us. But everyone,” he nodded to the rest of the group, “put themselves between us and him. It was a group effort.”

Charlie broke the embrace to gain his attention. “Am I still in trouble.”

Clint surveyed the room. While the child did threaten the human race mere hours ago, the Hulk did just try to kill her within the last hour. How the hell does a parent keep a child on punishment after that? “We have a few things to discuss, but you don’t have to stay here anymore and can go back to school tomorrow. Charlie why didn’t you do something when the Hulk started to chase you?”

“What?” The child asked confused by the question. She understood that she was done stapling Grandpapa’s papers and she was able to go to school tomorrow. However, the rest of what her dad said didn’t make sense.

Clint never really knew what to call what Charlie did. He was even more hesitant to attach labels to things after learning from Kate that referring to Charlie being a mutant as a ‘condition’ was wrong. “With your…um…powers. Why didn’t you make something to stop him?”

“Because you would be mad.” There was a light patronizing intonation in how Charlie said that, like it was the stupidest question she had ever been asked.

Clint wanted to scream, throw something, anything to release the anger and fright he was feeling. Charlotte’s life was in danger and she didn’t do anything because he would be mad at her. He had spent the last year in weekly sessions with her, teaching her how to fight and defend herself. Apparently, the child was smart enough to know that wouldn’t help her against the Hulk, but she did have another powerful weapon in her arsenal, and she decided not to use it because of him. “Oh sweetie. I love you, you know that right?” Charlie nodded her head and Clint questioned if she was placating him, telling him what he wanted to hear. A pain gripped his stomach, does she doubt I love her? “If you are in trouble like that, you stay alive, whatever the means you have to use to achieve that end. You could have been hurt or worse. You have to use every tool in your toolbox.”

If Charlie wasn’t confused before by her father, then she sure as hell was now. At a slow speaking pace, she reminded him, “But you said ‘no’.”

“Like I said we have some things to discuss, and one of them is going to be a revamp of some of the rules.”

“Can we still go to the park and ride my bike around? They have that big hill there.” Clint had to laugh at the excitement the child had about riding her bike down a big hill. Despite the threats, mutant powers, and schoolboy crushes, she was still just a little girl.

“Yeah, sure.” Clint told her with a smile on his face at the innocence of it all. “We just have to go by and get Lila and Nate. I loaded all the bikes into the back of the car before I left the house.”

Seeing that Clint was about to leave, Tony proposed arranging a get-together for later. “I was sort of hoping since Thor and Bruce are back, we could do a dinner thing if that’s doable?”

Sliding Charlie down to stand on the floor, Clint stood up. “I don’t think tonight is in the plans for me. I’m going to take my kids to the park, pick up my boy after practice and go home to eat a dinner cooked by my wife. Then I intend on sleeping until I have to do it all over again tomorrow.”

Remembering that he had postponed the meeting, Steve asked the room. “Nine o’clock alright for everyone tomorrow morning to try this again?”

Everyone nodded in agreement to the meeting time, and Clint asked, “Do you think we will be heading out tomorrow?”

“I think it would be best, but that’s up to you and Natasha." Steve answered. The recon was totally on them, it was their decision on when they thought was the best time to do it.

Clint pulled Tony off to the side and softly conferenced. “You should set something up for tomorrow evening.  That way Kate can talk to Bruce. Perhaps after she speaks with him, she will allow him to work with Hank on her case. I wouldn’t mind an expert in the field being around when Vee comes. However, as you know, it’s all contingent on Kate trusting him. Let’s get them together for a meal and hope it works out as intended. Just call her up and invite her to dinner since I am out of town. Spring Bruce on her then.”

Tony thought to himself that every once and a while, Barton had a good idea. “I am in love with that idea.”

“Charlotte.” Bruce called out to request the child’s attention. Clint quickly left Tony to place himself between his child and long-lost friend. In fact, everyone in the room moved to get closer to the young girl.  Bruce put both hands up to convey to the group that he wasn’t going to do anything that could provoke what had happened earlier. Returning to the child, Bruce spoke genuinely and apologized, “I’m really sorry about what happened, I didn’t mean to do that. Again, I am so sorry if I scared you.”

The girl seemed to study the man for a long minute before she said anything back to him. “Are you sick like my mom?” Charlie didn’t understand a lot of what the adults were talking about, but she was taking away from the conversation that Dr. Banner was sick like Kate was.

Bruce didn’t have Kate’s medical file. He had to admit he was beyond curious about the woman but would wait until either Clint or Tony gave him the files before he came to a solid conclusion of the similarities of their ‘conditions’. It was best now to be abstract with the child. “I think so, but I can’t be sure until I see your mom’s file.”

“My mom doesn’t turn green, she just gets really sick. Dr. McCoy helps her, he works in his lab and mixes things until it will work for her.” She glanced up to Tony. “Grandpapa too. Maybe they can help you.”

Bruce smiled at the girl’s faith in science. She really was Tony’s. “Maybe they can.”

“Ok, so we are heading out.” Clint reported clapping his hands. “There is just one more thing that has to be sorted before we leave.”

Steve ran through his head the list of things that needed to be done and couldn’t figure out what Clint was referring to. “What’s that?”

“What the hell do I tell Kate about…” Clint bobbed his head towards Bruce. “and,” he pointed at Charlie. “that?”

Natasha, always the practical one simply suggested, “Honestly, if the little one can keep her mouth shut, I wouldn’t say anything.”

Charlie knocked down Nat’s idea by enlightening every one of her inability to remain quite about anything. “I cannot keep my mouth shut. All my teachers say so.”

Biting the inside of his cheek to stop any snicker from escaping his mouth, Clint thought about a suitable response, “It has recently been revealed to me that Charlie is a social butterfly.”

“Isn’t that nice.” Thor commented, not sure what it meant, but it seemed like a good thing for a girl to be a butterfly.

“Not when she gets detention at least three days a week for it.” Clint shot back.

Rhodes stepped up and voice the only real option Clint had in this situation. “Then I would beat Charlie to the punch. Better she hears it from you then,” looking to Charlie still dressed in her ‘prison’ garb, “that”.

“Dad.” Clint felt himself being pulled out of the room by the child. “Let’s go please.”

Clint put his hand up in Charlie’s direction to gesture for her to wait a minute. He understood her haste to go, she was probably still scared and just wanted to leave the compound after what happened.  Addressing the team, Clint said his goodbyes. “Let me know if anything changes with the mission. If not, I will see you all here at nine on the dot. Come on Charlie.”

~~~

The rules were simple at the park, stay where you could see Clint. When the children couldn’t see him, they knew that they had gone too far and needed to come back. There were Secret Service agents positioned all around, but the kids had to be within eye sight of their father.  Other than that, he allowed the children to have free reign. They had a back yard, a pretty big one for the community they lived in. It was nothing compared to the park located just five minutes east of the compound and a ten-minute drive from their home. There were chess stations for people to play, and Charlie sometimes enjoyed just watching the people play the game. Clint wasn’t a chess player, but Charlie was. She would play with her mother and the Professor. The thought suddenly hit Clint as he watched the girl ride away and he directed Nate to the playground that perhaps he should ask Kate and Steve for some chess lessons, another way to bond with his daughter.

As Charlie had earlier spoken about, there was a big hill that the sidewalk followed right next to the chess area. Perfect for children not experienced yet to take on the bike trails that were all over the park and through the surrounding woods. There were two playgrounds, one for toddlers that was fenced in with soft cushiony material on the ground in case of fall and another for school age children surrounded by mulch. Watching Charlie and Lila ride out in different directions on the path, Clint sat down on the bench and watched Nate run to the swings.

Charlie was just about to take the bend to bike up the hill when she caught in the corner of her eyes in the sun’s reflection, a metallic item falling down the hill. Reversing the petal of the bike to brake, she got off and pick the item up before it rolled onto the pavement and became scratched up. Looking up, she saw an older man looking down at her. Closing her hand around the item that she recognized to be a bishop chess piece, she set down her bike and ran up the hill.

“Thank you very much young lady.” The elderly man in a gray fedora wrapped in a tweed jacket with the collar flipped up to meet the hat’s brim said as he accepted the piece back.

“You’re welcome.” She replied with a smile and set about returning to her bike when the man asked her a question.”

“Do you play?”

Turning back around she nodded. “Yes, with my teacher.”

“Do you win?”

“No, he is really good.” The disappointment was clear in the child’s voice over her inability to win a chess game against Professor Xavier.

The man chuckled at that comment and dropped the retrieved bishop into the cashmere bag that contained the other pieces. “Well then, maybe if you played with your own set,” he supposed as he handed the bag to her, “you would have better luck.”

Declining the offer, Charlie explained, “I can’t take your chess pieces.”

“You aren’t taking them, I am giving them to you.” The man assured her with a warm and friendly smile.

Charlotte had been taught not to accept anything from strangers, but she also had been taught to be polite and respectful, especially towards the elderly. It certainly was a moral dilemma for the young girl. Luckily for her, at that moment Clint and the agents realized that they didn’t have Charlie in their sights. Clint came running up the hill at the vision of his daughter speaking to a stranger.

“Charlotte!” He yelled to get the child’s attention. When Clint reached her, he grabbed his daughter’s upper arm and pulled her towards him. “What are the rules?”

“I’m sorry.” The man interrupted to prevent any reprimand the girl was going to receive due to assisting him. “It was my fault sir. I dropped my chess piece down the hill and this wonderful child was kind enough to help me. The knees aren’t what they used to be and I’m thankful for her for saving them from the potential injury I could have sustained going downhill myself.”

“Dad, he said I could have his set.”

“His set of what?” Clint asked cautiously, changing his eyes from being trained on Charlie to the man in question.

“Sir, again I apologize for any alarm I caused you and …” He looked towards the woman in a black suit that was coming up behind the father. There was another woman watching Lila and a third man still down below at the playground watching Nate. “your people. You have obviously raised a bright, polite and considerate child. Those traits are rare enough in this world, add to that your daughter plays chess, and she is a unicorn among her peers. I wanted to gift her with my chess set for the kindness she showed me today.”

“Dad?”

Sending Charlie a stern glare, Clint refused the gift. “Thank you, but she doesn’t need to take yours. It is a very nice offer however I don’t want her doing the right thing expecting to be rewarded."

“As I said, she is a unicorn.” The man looked to the child then back to her father. “Perhaps this one time?” He again offered the bag, but this time to Clint. “Every player needs their own set and maybe it could be a reminder to her to always do what she believes is right. I have other sets and want to encourage the game for the youth.” The elder then dropped the pleasant intonation from his voice and replaced it with a monotone pitch. “It is more for me than her, makes me feel I did my part for the cause.”

“Dad, it would be so cool to go to school tomorrow with my own pieces to play against the Professor. Please?” She begged Clint. He had told her in the car that she would be with the Professor every other day instead of study hall, and Charlie was ecstatic at the change in schedule.

Clint eyed the man suspiciously. There was something in the last comment that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He quickly weighed the pros versus the cons of the offer. The guy seemed genuine enough, the feeling Clint was experiencing could just be paranoia with recent events. If there was any doubt, Clint could always hand over the set to the agent to check out for him. Releasing a sigh which let Charlie know she had won, Clint nodded towards the man and accepted the bag. “Thank you.”

Charlotte released a short high pitch sound of joy as she took the bag from her father and expressed her gratitude to the man. “Thank you so much!”

“You are very welcomed my dear. Next time I see you, I hope you tell me that you had won against your teacher.” Tilting his hat at Clint, “Sir, you have a blessed day.”

“You do the same. Come Charlie, your brother and sister are probably looking for us by now.” Clint observed taking Charlie by the hand and leading her down the hill back to her bike.

“A unicorn indeed.” Magneto said to himself watching the family regroup at the bottom. He remained for a moment longer before leaving the park, having successfully set in motions the events to complete his task and knowing his message would be received.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

There are No Debts in Family

Clint heard the alarm going off. He even heard and felt Kate get up. He however, refused to answer the demands of the clock. Last night was hard. After the park Clint drove Lila, Charlie and Nate to Cooper’s school and waited for what seemed forever for the boy to get in the car. Charlie had used the time to fill in her siblings on the activities of the afternoon. By the time Cooper finally got in the car the story had morphed into a ‘kill or be killed’ heroine tale between her and the Hulk that Charlie was the victor in.  The children did have enough sense to not run into the house yelling to Kate about it, but that was probably more due to Clint’s threats of taking all electronics and being grounded. He also thought he had made it pretty damn clear that he would be the one to tell Kate after dinner. He wasn’t asking them to lie to her, just not to stress her out. Clint felt slightly guilty about playing the ‘you know Kate gets sick when she is stressed, and no one wants her to be sick.’ card to his children. But desperate times and all that.

However, he was only able to plug the dam for so long. Once dinner was served and everyone started to eat, Kate, as she or Clint did every evening, asked how everyone’s day was.  Charlie, always the diva knew she had the best story, regardless of being told not to tell it, and waited to be last all the while staring Clint down with a wicked grin on her face.  He could feel it deep in his soul that Charlie was going to spill it all. Wanda watched in silence the staring match between father and daughter, picking up emotions of excitement, shock, and from Clint, worrying.

“Charlie, how did it go at the compound?” Kate asked the last child.

Stabbing her carrots with a fork Charlie answered her mother very casually. “I stapled some stuff. Then two of dad’s and grandpapa’s friends showed up. One of them turned into the Hulk and ran after me. He tore the place up. Mr. Sam hid me from him, and Colonel Rhodes put his Avengers suit on and protected me. Grandpapa put his suit on too and stopped the monster from killing me.”

It all went to shit from there. Kate calmly asked Charlie to ‘start at the top’ which the girl was happy to oblige. At the end of the storytelling segment of dinner, Clint watched his wife wipe off her mouth with the napkin and place it on her plate, get up, and very politely ask to speak to Clint out back on the deck. The one-way screaming match ended with Kate slamming the deck door and every door she went through leading into the master bedroom. Clint made a call to Tony and arranged a nurse to start the next day for Kate after filling in his wife’s father in on the potential medical emergency that they had narrowly missed that evening.  Finally, when he figured enough time had passed and his bedroom light was off, meaning Kate must have gone to bed, Clint reentered his home.

Turning on his side, he saw it was almost six o’clock. Sitting up he could see into the bathroom Kate doing her makeup. He pushed aside the nagging need to question her where she was going because last time he checked, full hair and makeup wasn’t needed in the carpool lane. “Are you speaking to me today?”

Applying mascara to her eyes Kate replied, “No, and tomorrow isn’t looking so good for you either.”

“Come on Katie-Kate, it wasn’t my fault.”

Putting the mascara wand back into its container with more force then was needed, Kate threw it on the vanity and walked out the bathroom door towards Clint. “I wanted her to go to school. I wanted to speak to the Professor myself, but you ‘put your foot down’. Tony took her to the compound while you went to a meeting. As a result, the Hulk tried to kill her, and you weren’t even there because you were talking with Xavier. Then after you found out it happened, you didn’t even call me! You took her to the park to play?”

Mumbling under his breath as he passed her to go into the bathroom, “If you are going to use facts to come to a logical conclusion, then I can’t talk to you.”

Kate debated her next words as Clint started to brush his teeth. At last she decided on informing him of the new statute she wanted in place. “She isn’t going back to the compound as long as Banner is there.”

Spitting into the sink, Clint wiped his mouth off with a hand towel. “Well that will make dinner awkward to say the least.”

“What about dinner?”

“Tony and I would like you to speak with Bruce.”

“Do you two share a brain cell and it’s Tony’s turn this morning?” Kate insulted in surprise of the request from her father and husband. “What is to say that Bruce’s reaction to Charlie won’t be the same with me?”

“Oh no, Tony is positive that it will be the same reaction.” He lightheartedly reported then saw that Kate didn’t see the humor in any of this. Taking a more solemn approach he explained what Tony had told him on the phone last night.  “He thinks it was the shock of Bruce and the Hulk encountering the same serum in another being. Now that the Hulk knows Charlie isn’t a threat to him, it is presumed that he won’t do it again. Just don’t touch him and there won’t be any problems.”

Kate just stared at her husband. “Out of curiosity, do you even believe one word of what you just said to me?”

Clint didn’t know what he believed. He wasn’t a scientist, so he had to form his thinking based on what a scientist did tell him. Tony told him that Bruce wanted an answer to the events of yesterday, afraid that it could happen again. Not just to Charlie, but anyone who was ever exposed to the serum. Banner wasn’t a ‘people person’ to any extend of the meaning, but the added fear that an act so simple like shaking hands could unleash the Hulk could force the man further into isolation.  Not wishing to burden Kate with the problems of the Avengers, he summarized what he supposed. “I don’t know. I do believe that Tony wouldn’t chance it happening again. So I sort of have to go with his theory here. I got to hope that if there was a remote chance of the Hulk coming out again against Charlie, Tony wouldn’t just go on his best guess with his granddaughter’s safety at risk, he would have something to back it up.”

“You guys still yelling about the Hulk?” Lila asked coming into the bedroom with one shoe on and the other in her right hand. She presented the shoe towards Kate.  “Kate I can’t get the buckle to undo to get it on. Please help.”

Kate sat down in one of the chairs in the sitting area of the bedroom and motioned for Lila to bring the shoe to her. Undoing the buckle, she gestured for Lila to give her the unshoed foot. Balancing herself with one hand on the small table between the two chairs Lila raised her foot and Kate put on the shoe and fastened it. “There you go dear.” She said to her stepdaughter. “As far as yelling about the Hulk, we are not. We are just concerned about safety, for all of you.”

“Dr. Banner stayed at the farm with us once.” Lila informed looking to her father for verification. “He was really nice. He didn’t become the Hulk then.”

Gently holding Lila by both arms so the child would pay attention, Kate enforced a point that may had been misheard last night and again this morning. “I never said Dr. Banner wasn’t a nice person. He is like me. He got sick and can’t control what the sickness does to him. The same way I can’t control what the sickness does to me.”

“You can control it, just like he can. You both have to calm the hell down, and everything will be fine.”

With her ‘what the hell Clint’ expression on her face, Kate released Lila and put both hands up in a question. “Do you think you’re helping right now?”

He wasn’t, and he knew it, just couldn’t pass up the chance to rebuke her comment about not being able to control the effects of the poison on her body.  “I’m going to go take a shower.”

“Good choice.” She dryly replied. Waiting until he closed the bathroom door behind him, Kate finished her discussion with Lila. “That being said, when I get sick it only hurts me. When Dr. Banner gets sick, he can hurt a lot of people.” Seeing the she had lost Lila somewhere in her comment to the inner workings of the girl’s mind, Kate called the child back. “Lila? What’s wrong?”

Lila was clearly hesitant to say anything and looked down to her shoes. “I think you are wrong.”

“About what?” Kate thought she had explained the situation in the best possible way to a young girl for comprehension.

“Saying that it is just you who gets hurt when you get sick.” Lila looked up into Kate’s eyes. “You hurt a lot of people too Kate.”

Kate didn’t have any response to that innocent observation from her stepdaughter. How much did Lila know about what happened last year when Kate almost died following the wipe. They were practically strangers to each other at the time, however over the past months, Kate had come to love the child and treasure her as much as she did her biological daughter. All she could do was nod and fake a smile at the girl. “It is almost time for breakfast and I still have to get your brother ready. Go on, finish up getting ready for school please.”

~~~

“And every other day, I get to go to the Professor’s office. Just him and me for forty-five minutes!” Charlie excitedly told her mother.

Kate was at the stove frying up bacon for breakfast. The scrambled eggs were already done, and Charlie was helping by making toast for the family. “I know, it is really exciting. However, you know this is only for as long as you can keep your grades up. The moment you fall behind, I will have the Professor put you right back into study hall.”

“Yes mom.” Charlie knew the terms of her continuing her one-on-one class with the Professor. Her father had made it crystal clear to her yesterday in the car. Remembering her new chess set that she had forgotten all about, she asked, “You think he will play chess with me today?”

“Isn’t that what you normally do with him?” Kate asked as she was about to take down some plates out of the cabinet. “Go ahead and sit down please.” Cooper, Lila and Nate were already seated at the table awaiting their meal, and she saw Clint and Wanda coming around the corner into the room.

“Sometimes.” Charlie described as she made her way to her chair next to Lila. “Other times he makes me take a walk with him around the school or practice with my powers.”

Clint stepped in front of Kate to pull the stack of plates out for her, not liking the idea of her reaching up and holding that much weight above her head.  “I think it all sounds good.” He said about the activities Charlie may be doing today. “Might I suggest you bring up what happened yesterday and discuss with him what you could have done in that situation with your abilities?” Everyone became hushed at Clint openly talking about Charlie using her mutant powers. Even Wanda was taken back by the statement. Clint knew he was doing something that he had openly spoken out against his oldest daughter doing. Taking two of the plates that Kate had already dished up, he walked into the dining room and placed them in front of Nate and Lila.  Being sure to maintain a relaxed tone, like it was something they always discussed, he glanced at Charlie before going back in to the kitchen to retrieve more plates. “Like should you have tried to make a barrier of some sort to separate the two of you until someone got there?”

Cooper was the first child to supply an idea as he leaned back so his dad could put breakfast in front of him and Charlie. “If I were you, I would have made a pit of quicksand for him to fall into, or a pit of tar like the dinosaurs.”

“Dinosaurs!” Nate exclaimed which resulted in everyone laughing at the preschooler’s contribution to the conversation, seeing that he had an audience the boy added sound effects.  “Roar!”

“You could have made flying shoes like Grandpapa and flew away.” Lila offered before she put a fork full of eggs into her mouth.

Clint gave Wanda her plate as he sat down with his own as Kate walked in with her plate and hers and Clint’s coffee cups. Taking the cup from Kate, Clint complimented the children’s suggestions, “Those are all great ideas.” Addressing Charlie, “Talk to Professor Xavier, see what he says. Hopefully it never happens again, but it would be good to have different solutions already solved in your head so you can react fast.”

Charlie was unsure about what was happening in the dining room of her home. They were all talking about what she should have done with her abilities. This had never been the meal topic before, or really anywhere with her family. This was the type of conversation she had at school with her friends. Looking to her mother for endorsement that it really was ok, Kate smiled back at her reassuringly knowing what her daughter was thinking. Turning to the other end of the table to her father, Charlie asked for clarification. “So, if someone is trying to kill me, I can use my powers?”

Charlotte was the master of ‘double talk’ and finding a loophole. Anything Clint said had to be black and white with no room for misinterpreting. Staring her in the eyes, Clint stressed his message. “I told you already. If your safety is at risk, you do anything you can. If that means making a wall, quicksand, tar pit, or flying shoes, you do it and you do it fast.” Directing his eyes to his plate to start eating he added, “Your mom, you and I are going to sit down and talk about this more later. If you are going to be practicing with your abilities at school with the Professor, then I would like to see what you are learning when you come home.”

“Use them at home?”

Kate hadn’t touched her plate yet. She was leaning against the back of her chair watching the table with an emotionless face other than the smile she threw at Charlie earlier. Clint didn’t know what was going on in her mind, but she hadn’t said anything to support or rebuff his statements. That meant it was a crabshoot right now if she was mad or something else. “There are still going to be rules, but I believe between us, we can figure it all out where everyone is happy.” Now he was going to attempt going in for the kill, “You are a mutant Charlotte. That doesn’t mean you stop being one when you get in the car after school. You are a mutant here too. I don’t see it helping you to just being allowed to be yourself for seven hours a day, five days a week. You are who you are twenty-four hours a day. You can’t ‘turn off the mutant’ when you walk in the door, it’s who you are.” Addressing the entire table to all of his children, “I was a kid once too you know. I know there is a difference between who you are at school compared to who you are at home. I get that. However, I do not want anyone believing that they can’t be themselves at home. That there is a mold that your mother and I want you to fit. You are all unique and individuals, and we respect that.”

Wanda was watching Charlie out of the corner of her eye, careful not to give the child more attention than she wanted during Clint’s speech directed mostly at her. When she felt Clint’s gaze on her, she looked to him with a smile and a nod. The Scarlett Witch’s meaning was clear, Charlie got the message Clint wanted her to.  Wanda then ever so slightly bobbed her head at Kate and raised her eyebrows telling Clint that something was going on in his wife’s head that Wanda thought he should know about. He didn’t want to call his wife out at the table in front of their children, so he searched the room for a reason to get her attention. Lucky for him, his youngest child was dressed differently than normal, the boy was in jean overalls with a red long-sleeved shirt underneath. “Kate? Why is Nate in kid handles?”

Kate was jarred out of her thoughts when she heard her name called. “I’m sorry, what?”

He really wanted to ask if she was alright and what was wrong, but again, there were children present. “Nate.” Clint repeated looking to the boy, “In overalls?”

“Oh, he is going on a field trip today to the apple orchard. I thought overalls and a long-sleeved shirt would be best to reduce sun burn and ticks.”

“I’m going to go pick apples with Peppy.” The child added.

Pepper was the CEO of Stark Industries, often working until midnight to successfully manage the company. It didn’t sound right to Clint that the woman would take an entire day off to attend a field trip, even if it was with her step grandson. “Pepper is going?”

“Well I really can’t run after an energetic four-year-old in the woods right now and you maybe shipping off this afternoon.” She explained placing her hand on the top of her baby bump for emphasis of why she wasn’t going. “Tony wanted to do it, but Pepper asked if she could. A Stark Industries corporate representative was needed anyway, something about community outreach and good PR, really wasn’t following. My best guess is the public relations department wants a picture of their CEO out picking apples with children to show the ‘human’ side of SI. I think Pepper just made it up so she could go on the field trip and call it work.”

“Get a lot of apples Baby Nate.” Charlie ordered her little brother using the nickname she and Lila had for him. Clint thought it would be interesting to see if the name continued once Vee was around. “Mom, can you print me out recipes for stuff to make with apples?”

“Of course honey.” Kate quickly agreed to. Charlie’s coping mechanism was cooking, and after everything that had happen yesterday, the mother knew the child was itching to create something in the kitchen. “I will see what I can find after I get some work done and before I have to leave. I wouldn’t mind having some apple turnovers for breakfast one morning.” She moved from speaking to Charlie to the child seated on her immediate right. “Nate, you going to pick a lot of apples for Charlie and make sure to get me a big red apple?”

Nate sharply nodded to his responsibility. “The biggest mama.” It was still a puzzle to Clint why Nate called Kate ‘mama’. It was the name the child picked and attached to his stepmother all on his own. Cooper and Charlie called Kate ‘mom’, both moving away from their youth tendency of calling her ‘mommy’. Lila went with just plain ‘Kate’, having been ten when Laura betrayed them and later was killed. Nathaniel had called Laura, his biological mother, ‘mommy’ but that name was never used with Kate. Just one day about five months after the wipe’s reversal, Nate just called out for Kate’s attention in the store by simply saying ‘mama’. No one made a big deal about it and acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Kate looked at her watch. “Okay guys, I need you to finish up and get upstairs for teeth brushing.” She stood up with her untouched plate and grabbed Nate’s empty one.

Clint grabbed his own and as he leaned over to grab Wanda’s she whispered to him, “She’s not feeling well, and worried, about a lot of stuff.” While he had rules about Wanda and Charlie using their powers in the house, there was some stuff Wanda couldn’t ‘turn off’. One being the emotions of others. She described it once to him as an ‘energy’ that exuded off a person that she couldn’t ignore. Clint nodded at Wanda’s heads-up, and followed Kate into the kitchen.

Waiting until after Kate scraped off her plate into the trash and moved to the sink, Clint probed about her well-being. “Hey, are you alright this morning? You didn’t touch your breakfast.”

Opening the dishwasher after cleaning off the plates she had, Kate reached behind her to grab the two plates in Clint’s hands. “I’m good. You know my daughter was almost killed by the Hulk yesterday and my husband and father want me to sit down to a meal with him this evening with my children present, but I’m good.”

“That’s it? That is all that is on your mind this morning? You’re not feeling sick or worried about something other than Bruce?”

Kate studied Clint for a minute. “You and that witch are going to be the death of me. Am I not even allowed to feel my emotions anymore without someone tattling on me to you?”

“She wasn’t tattling on you, she was concerned. You know Wanda doesn’t come running to me every time you feel something.” Really, this was the first time Wanda had come to him about something going on with Kate. Clint had in the past asked the woman for ‘insight’ when Kate said she was fine and he had doubted the authenticity of the statement, but Wanda had never done it before unprovoked. “Kate, there is a good shot I am leaving for a few days, and I need to know if there is something before I take off. I can’t be worrying about you and successfully conducting a mission.”

“Then don’t worry about me. Simple. I’m fine. I am eight months pregnant, everyday can’t be a winner”

Clint was going to have to accept that for the moment. He wasn’t going to push her if she didn’t want to talk. He was just happy she was talking to him after last night and this morning. Odds were that he was going to be receiving the silent treatment when he got back once her new nurse showed up in the afternoon. He had taken the easy way out and asked Tony to send the nurse over later, once Clint had left the country. He had already informed Wanda this morning before they went downstairs of the storm looming in on the horizon that she was going to be caught in this evening. “Alright. How do you think it went with Charlie?”

Reaching out for the dishes that Cooper was bringing in, Kate answered, “I think you did well. It will need to be reinforced a few times before she totally buys it, but it was a good start.”

Clint took the dishes from her, so she didn’t have to bend down again to put them in the washer. “I just wanted to start the conversation. Give her something to think about while I was gone.” Standing straight up again he went back to a comment she made a bit ago. “You said to Charlie that you had to leave later. What are you up to today?” He tried to make it sound like an off-the-cuff inquiry, not an interrogation.

“I need to speak to Scott Summers about this whole mess. I don’t know if I will be able to stop Williamson from getting his way about a hearing, but I would like to get ahead of it if I can. Rhodey is going to be with all of you for the mission debrief today, so it falls to me to go up to the school.”

“You’re calling the X-Men up?” It sounded like a drastic measure for a simple arms deal gone wrong for Clint.

“The committee approved it already.” Kate supplied cueing Clint that the matter may be more critical than he was led to believe originally. She didn’t mention anything about the committee being involved in it yesterday when she was speaking with Peter and Tony. He knew she was in contact with the committee at various times yesterday, but he had assumed that was due to the two violating the Accords and she was trying to smooth it over. “I need a team to handle this and now. The Avengers are busy and honestly, I don’t want you all near this one. The X-Men have encountered the suspects before. It would be similar to if Ultron came back and I asked the X-Men to do it over the Avengers. It doesn’t make any sense, it’s reinventing the wheel. I don’t have to brief Scott in detail or hand over a dossier. I just have to tell them that these people are players again and I need them brought in. The X-men will take care of the rest. It will look a lot better to everyone if the X-Men brought the wayward mutants in, shows that the community can police itself to a degree.”

 “That’s not how it works Kate.” She was smarter than that and they both knew it. “The moment isolated groups protect and police themselves, the entire judicial system breaks down. You know this, you have seen what happens. How many times had Fury sent us on missions that were because of that very reason?”

“It has to in this situation. I can’t have people, high ranking people, spreading vicious rumors to the general public that all mutants are bad and causing panic.” Kate leaned back on the sink and quickly rubbed her forehead.  “Showing that the X-Men will go after any threat to the common good, mutant or not, proves that. It demonstrates there isn’t a bias regarding an enemy of the state. A fugitive is a fugitive despite any enhancement they possess”

“I hope it all works out the way you plan.” Because he knew it wouldn’t. All Clint could hope for was that he was back in time to shield her when it all blew up. “They know you are onto them, they will have to make a move soon.”  He meant ‘you’ as in the government, but even he didn’t believe it. Deep down he was aware that Kate was a target if these ‘fugitive mutants’ knew a human was in control of their destiny and possibly had handed them over to the Department of Defense and Interpol. The results of that were too frightening to even think about. Clint hadn’t asked Kate yet if this ‘list of mutants’ existed; life got in the way of that question. Now with the opportunity to ask, Clint decided not to. Too many people would be asking her that in the coming days, and he didn’t want to be a voice lost in the crowd.

Kate let out a small laugh and nodded her head to Clint’s prediction. “I am actually very surprised a move hasn’t been made yet by the group. It would make finding them a hell of a lot easier.” Not exactly the words Clint wanted to hear before he left town, but she was right. In this kind of situation, it was easier to react, develop a defensive game and adjust as needed. “They aren’t the type of people to sit and hide out only because the government may be on to them. These people believe they are supreme over humans and wouldn’t bat an eye over the ‘human’ government coming at them, even the Department of Mutant Affairs. They are avoiding Xavier, which means they don’t want the X-Men to find them. That makes the X-Men the perfect people to send.” Kate took a deep breath, “For all I know they have already made a move to show their strength, and I just have to wait until the message is revealed. I need Scott on this before that because any message they send in retaliation to any of this, the weapons intervention or Rhodey and Williamson going at each other over the list, won’t be good.”

Kate had actually given Clint more then he asked for, which was a rarity. Maybe she needed to talk, needed someone to listen to her who was not in the Department or mutant community. He wasn’t naïve enough to believe that all of this mess was what Wanda warned him about. Kate had a path already paved regarding the weapons robbery and Williamson. There were some weak links in her plan, but she knew it and would take it as it came. She was still hiding a deeper issue from him and he needed to know. “Just so I understand this correctly, you are driving up there and handing this off to Scott. That’s it?” Clint gestured wiping his hands. “You’re out?”

“It’s all I can do currently. That isn’t the only reason I need to go up there.” Clint let out a deep breath, here they were finally getting to the point. He was going to send her a dental bill for the teeth he had to pull to get to the main issue. Lifting an eyebrow up for her to continue, he looked out into the living room to see that none of the children had returned yet downstairs, but they needed to hurry. “Dr. McCoy and Dr. Honeycutt want to put an inducement on the calendar, and I need my weekly checkup. Now that I am a month out, Hank wants to get weekly levels and its standard obstetrician practice to have weekly appointments at this point anyways. They don’t see a reason for me to have to see them separately every week. Honeycutt is going to the school with the more specialized equipment, so I can get it all done at once.”

Clint wanted to yell ‘aha!’. She has to see Hank today, that explains everything. She was worried about her levels after the last twenty-four hours. If they were high enough, she would be hospitalized, simply put – forced bedrest. He, of course, didn’t want her numbers to be high, but the prospect of her forced to rest while he was away was an attractive thought. Even with all the ways her checkup could turn out that he should be concerned about, Clint picked up on one point that he probably should have known about prior to this morning. “You’re picking Vee’s birthday today?”

“They are picking the day when I am induced, that doesn’t mean that the baby will be born that day. They need to collaborate with the hospital’s schedule and their own to select the most convenient day for everyone. Don’t worry about it, I will let you know.”

Repressing the sarcastic response of ‘gee, thanks for letting me know the date you need a ride to the hospital’, he let his wife’s last comment go. Clint decided instead to question his participation in her appointment. Obviously wanting input on the inducement date as well as being a party to the discussion of what happens to Kate if her levels were questionable. “Is there any way I could be on the phone for that? I have a schedule too you know. I would like to hear the options of days. Personally, I would like an even number date.”

Kate laughed at Clint’s preference on the birthday for their child. She was fully aware he was trying to get in on the appointment. She didn’t really care if he was on the phone, but the time didn’t work out for him. At that point, the girls had come down and went straight to the foyer to collect their backpacks. “My appointment is at ten o’clock. You could still be in your briefing or on a plane by then, but I will express your preferences to the doctors.”

Both parents walked out of the kitchen when Cooper, Wanda and Nate came down. They had to get themselves ready along with the kids. Clint grabbed Nate’s bag and handed it to Kate and jabbed sarcastically, “I think I can step away for that call.”

Adding her purse to the hand that also held Nate’s bag, Kate presented a counteroffer. “How about I text you afterwards and when you can, call me back.”

“Because I don’t trust you regarding this kind of stuff and you know it?” Clint shot back in a low voice so the kids wouldn’t overhear. “Have Hank call me.”

“He is a busy man Clint, he may not get around to it. And it is just plain hurtful that you don’t trust me to tell you what happened.”

“Cooper, Lila, my car now please.” Clint called over at the two who obeyed immediately. Turning back to Kate, “Here’s the deal, you text, I call back when I can. If I think or even think I think you aren’t being truthful, I will have Tony move in here until I get back.”

“Guess I have to take the deal.” Kate coolly said back. Looking to Charlie who was getting ready with Wanda, “Charlie say goodbye to your father, he is leaving for a work trip this afternoon and you won’t see him for a few days.” He would say a proper farewell to Lila and Cooper once he got them to school, but this was it for Nate and Charlie.

Charlie looked up to her mother then to her father, “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.”

“Gotta stop letting her hang around Tony.” Clint observed to his wife when he turned around so the girl couldn’t see him smiling at her comeback. Turning back, “Come here girl.” Charlie bounced over and Clint kneeled down. “Please be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught.”

The girl dutifully returned, “Yes dad.” 

“Clint, you just said Tony was a bad influence.” Kate chastised rolling her eyes at Wanda.

“Yes he is, what I am doing is teaching her a life skill Kate.” Returning to Charlie. “Kidding aside, use your head.” Clint poked her on the forehead. “You know right from wrong, always choose right. I love you.”

Charlie wrapped her arms around Clint’s neck and returned the farewell. “Love you too.”

Releasing Charlie, Clint casted away any doubts he had about the honesty of Charlie’s response. He next went to Nate who was holding hands with Kate. Picking the boy up, “You have fun with Peppy today alright? I will video call later and I want to see the big apple you picked for mama.” Nate shook his head up and down in excitement over his trip to the orchard. “You’re going to be a big brother really soon, just like Cooper, so I need you to help mama take care of Vee. Vee needs to sleep and can only do that when mama is sleeping.” Clint lied to hopefully get the boy to guilt his mama into resting while he was away. He caught Kate to his left shaking her head at the lame try.

Nate paused to process the great duty he was just charged with. “Mama can sleep after she eats the apple.”

Giving his son a big smile at his idea Clint approved, “Sounds like a plan. I love you.”

Nate leaned in to hug Clint, “I love you dad.”

Still with Nate in his arms, Clint leaned over to embrace Wanda. “Thank you for taking care of them while I’m gone. Seems I will never be able to pay back the debt I owe you.”

Returning the hug, “There are no debts in family. Didn’t you tell me that?”

“That sounds a little bit too profound for it to be something I said, but I’ll take credit.” Clint said as he passed her Nate. “Kate and I will be right out if you can buckle Nate in for her please.” Wanda took Nate and motioned for Charlie to get moving. Hearing the door shut behind him, it was just Kate and him in the house. Walking up to her, he put a hand on each side of her stomach. “I am leaving Vee here, I expect Vee to still be here when I get back.”

Placing her hands on his, “It’s a few days, not months. Vee isn’t going anywhere.” She then moved her hand to grasp him under the upper arms. “Be smart, be safe, be alive.”

Clint looked down and grinned. They were old words, words that they would exchange back in their S.H.I.E.L.D. days when one was leaving the other to go out on a mission. He hadn’t heard the saying in over a decade. He bent forward and kissed her as if it was the last time he ever would. It pained him to force himself to part from her, but he did. “Yes ma’am.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Nine

Chess

Steve, Sam, Thor, Natasha and Clint were seated at the large glass conference table. It was already nine fifteen and so far, Bruce, Rhodes and Tony were a ‘no show’ to the meeting. It didn’t faze anyone that Bruce wasn’t there, he really didn’t have a part to play in this mission yet. If Nat and Clint came back after recon and told them that the team needed to ‘remove’ the HYDRA cell, and that a ‘code green’ was in order, his role could change. Tony was always late, so it wasn’t anything new and shocking. Rhodes however was critical, he was needed to run between the team and the UN committee.

The room’s occupants were conducting small talk about how it was amazing what Tony’s construction and repair staff could do. A person would have no idea that the Hulk went crazy in the area just yesterday. Tony appeared in the doorway and beckoned the seated archer, “Hey Clint, come on over here for a minute will ya?” Clint exchanged a questionable look with the group and got up to meet the man. He left the room and followed Tony down the hall that led to his private office. Shutting the door behind him, Tony pointed to a woman who was sitting in one of the two chairs in front of the desk. “Clint Barton, this is Jade Conner. Miss. Conner, Agent Clint Barton.” Clint scanned the room and found Bruce Banner sitting on the couch against the wall with a tablet in his lap.

The woman stood up and extended her hand, “Agent Barton, a pleasure.”

Clint shook the offered hand and threw Tony a puzzled expression. Then it hit him who she was. “You’re the nurse Tony hired for my wife?”

The tall, brunette haired, paled skinned woman who had to be roughly the same age as Kate smiled at him.  “That would be me.”

Tony passed by the pair and stood behind his desk and set about filling Clint in on why the person was hired. “Miss. Conner has impeccable experience in this area and outstanding references.”

“Experience?” Clint questioned the woman, thinking who possibly could have experience in this type of thing. There was a small nagging feeling that the woman looked familiar to him. Clint prided himself on being able to recall names and faces but drew a blank of where if ever he had seen the woman before. There wasn’t anything extra ordinary about the lady, in fact she looked pretty generic which could be the cause to the familiar feeling.

“I am an oncology nurse sir.” Jade responded with clear pride in her vocation.

Clint was speechless at that and spoke to Tony of the potential lethal error he made. “A nurse who works with cancer patients?”

“It’s the closest someone is going to get to being experienced in this field Clint.” Bruce spoke up as he stood. “Tony spoke to me last night after you two talked.”

Stark followed up on Bruce’s recount of yesterday evening. “Then we had a little conference call with Dr. McCoy and he sent over Kate’s latest records.” Begrudgingly Tony added as he motioned for the nurse to sit back down, “Minus the baby’s gender of course and I know that big blue bastard knows.”

Clint did ask Tony last night after Kate had what he liked to call ‘an episode’. An Episode to him was when he was scared beyond words that Kate would work herself up too much and the gamma radiation side effects would surface, causing her to pass out or worse. He was even more weary of that situation with Vee involved.  Last night was a close call and he believed Kate knew that as well. Which was why he suspected she walked away from him and went straight to bed. She was stubborn, not stupid, she wouldn’t do anything that could have a negative impact on or hurt the baby. Maybe that was what scared him the most and pushed him to call Tony about the nurse, Kate recognized that something damaging to herself was going to happen if she didn’t stop. That meant to Clint that she was feeling the poison coming to life within her and reacted before she couldn’t. Now Bruce was involved and reading her file, without Kate’s authority. He must have seen something in there that caused him to tell Tony to get a specific type of nurse. “Hank sent you Kate’s medical file? Without speaking to her?”

“Kate already authorized me to have access to it. Hank sent it to me, and I just handed it to Bruce.” Tony gestured to the tablet Bruce was holding that told Clint that on the screen was Kate’s medical file.

Proving Clint’s assumption of what the tablet held to be true, Bruce glanced down and swiped downward on it. “She is an amazing case study. I would love to speak to her about her experiences with the drug protocols.”

“Well you know my feelings about it, the more eyes on this, the better.” Addressing Tony as Clint sat down in the available chair next to Jade. “I thought you were just going to grab someone from medical here for her? She doesn’t need something this severe.” Looking to the nurse, Clint apologized if he had offended her, “No offense ma’am, but I just need someone to make sure she is following her bed rest instructions and to take her blood pressure every once and a while.”

Tony tilted his head and let out a sigh as he held his hand out to Bruce to take over. “This,” Banner started pointing to Jade, “is the type of nurse you need for Kate. I have been up all night reading her file. In the simplest of terms, she has a grave case of radiation sickness also known as acute radiation syndrome. If I didn’t split into ‘the other guy’ during my exposure I would probably be in the same boat as Kate. The fact that she is even still alive is nothing short of a miracle, and as a scientist, I don’t believe in miracles.”

“I know all of this thank you.” Clint answered in a cynical tone to the scientist. “I also really enjoy it when people point out to me that my wife should have died a decade ago. You going somewhere with this Bruce?”

“I’m sorry. It’s just very interesting to me.” Bruce apologized once he thought about the comment and realized it was slightly too honest with the husband and father of the patient in the room. His strong suit was never talking to people. Walking over to stand beside Tony as he continued with his justification of why this specific course was taken. “Cancer patients sometimes receive radiation therapy as a treatment. In some cases, very rare, patients experience a degree of radiation sickness from their treatments.”

“My clinic specialized in those rare cases Agent Barton.” Jade offered to explain why she was the best person for the job and not some technician Tony pulled down from the medical wing.

Bruce moved around the desk to get closer to Clint and explained the significance of the woman hire to care for his wife. “Miss. Conner here has seen this sickness up close and personal. She knows what it can do to a person. You don’t need someone to just make sure she takes her pills and has her feet up Clint. You need someone to gauge her stress levels and look to the symptoms of the disease. Someone who knows when it’s an emergency and when it’s not.”

Clint looked to Tony, Bruce was a hundred percent correct. What he was stating this lady could do almost sounded too good to be true. Everyone in the room was in agreement that Nurse Conner was what Kate needed, but that didn’t mean Kate would just accept the extremes Clint authorized on her behalf. “She is going to kill me for sending over a nurse, I am not sure what will happen to me when she finds out that Miss. Conner is an oncology nurse.”

Tony sat down on the corner of his desk. “Unfortunately Barton, I feel that will be my fight with her since you will be God knows where for the next day or so.”

“And you just found Miss. Conner overnight?” It was a little too convenient for Clint. Even with all the resources Stark had at his disposal, someone so ‘specialized’ should have taken time to obtain.

Getting back up, Tony reached for a file folder and handed it to Clint. “Yup overnight. Don’t look so paranoid there Barton.” He called out in response to the raised eyebrow Clint had thrown at him. “Anyone would sell their own mother to work for the Avengers or SI. We have all the best toys and practically unlimited research and development resources. There are even people out there who are willing to work unpaid just for the opportunity to be in one of these labs. Her name has apparently been in the system for a while looking for employment here or at Stark Industries. I have no idea why we never interviewed her. I gave her a call this morning, and she was here within the hour and accepted the job as soon as I offered it to her.”

Clint took the file and opened it, quick inspection told him it was her application and references for him to look over. Satisfied in the fact that Tony wouldn’t just hire anyone to oversee the medical care of his daughter and future grandchild, he closed the file without reading and addressed the woman again. “You know that she is pregnant, correct?”

Jade nodded at the question. “Yes sir, that point was very clear.” She held up a tablet of her own. “Mr. Stark has already provided me with the names and numbers of Dr. Honeycutt and Dr. McCoy to establish communication with. If I have any questions or concerns, I am to immediately contact them.”

“Did they make anything else clear for you?” Clint timidly asked Jade with a sideways glance to Tony.

“Are you referring to the fact that I was informed that your wife will refuse my services. Try to get me to leave your home, and make my life a living hell?” Jade enquired with a smile.

Shocked by the honesty that Tony had shared with the stranger about his daughter, Clint confirmed the description of what would happen. “That was where I was going with it, yep.” Clint couldn’t help it, he was suspicious that this woman knew what she was walking into and was smiling about it. Perhaps he needed to read through the file before allowing her in his home and life.

Sensing Clint’s apprehension about the new hire, Tony attempted to put Clint’s suspicion to rest.  “Miss Conner knows she works for me. You gave me permission to assign her to your residence. The Secret Service already has been given her information and she has been approved for entrance into the home, thank you Rhodey and Diana. Kate does not have the authority to dismiss my staff who has been approved by you, even in her own home. Let’s say she did find a way to remove her, Diana and Rhodey will not permit it. I don’t see Kate fighting them, us yes, but not Diana and Rhodes. I think she respects them too much to waste her time arguing with them. You know, when it is you or me, it is her favorite pastime, but not with them.  Miss Conner works for me but reports to you. She will periodically during the day be sending you texts about Kate. Once Steve’s meeting is over, Rhodey will drive Miss. Conner over to the house for proper introductions.”

Clint bobbed his head along to each of Tony’s comments, seeing nothing left untouched. He covered it all but one thing. “It seems you have thought of everything. That still doesn’t mean Kate will be nice to her.”

“Agent Barton, I can assure you, I have dealt with worse.”

Clint thought to himself that Tony did a pretty good job with this. While he would like to spend some more time with the woman who would be in his home for a while, time was fleeting. They still had a mission briefing to attend, not to mention the mission itself. He had asked Tony for help, and this was the help offered. Clint had to accept that Tony and Bruce vouched for the woman, and that was good enough. If anything bothered Clint about Miss. Conner it was that she seemed a little bit too confident in her duty.  “We will speak again about that theory of yours when I get back. Welcome aboard Miss Conner, I look forward to receiving your updates.” Looking to Tony and Bruce, “We have a meeting to get to.”

~~~

 “Good morning Charlotte.” Welcomed the Professor from behind the computer on his desk as the child entered his office. “Are we having a better day today?”

Leaving her backpack against the wall by the door, Charlie started walking towards him. “Yes sir, a much better day.” Stopping suddenly, she did a faceplant and exclaimed, “I almost forgot!” She turned and ran back to her bag.

Xavier didn’t even try to conceal the amusement that Charlotte’s actions gave him. Sitting up straight, he stopped in his composing of an email he was typing. “My goodness child, I would say you are in high sprits today. Tell me, what on earth is so important that you are acting this way?”

Unzipping the backpack, Charlie reached in to search for what she wanted, “Can we play chess?”

Xavier folded his hands and placed them onto the surface of his desk. “We need to talk about yesterday and a few other vital items first.”

Charlotte stopped going through her bag and looked up, “I know you want to talk about what happened at home yesterday. Can we play and talk at the same time? Please?”

Professor Xavier debated for a moment. Perhaps the distraction of a game would allow the child to express herself more rather than sitting across the desk from him answering questions fired at her. “Alright, go ahead, set up the board. Scott and I started a game this morning and didn’t put it back afterwards.”

Finally finding in the bag what she was looking for, Charlotte pulled the purple cashmere bag out. Without zipping the bag back up, she carelessly threw it again towards the wall. With energetic speed, she raced back up to the desk. “Can we play with my new set? They are really pretty. They aren’t black and white stones like yours, they are gold and silver and really, really heavy. Can we use mine please? I’ve haven’t played with them yet and this would be my first time.”

Laughing at the excitement the child was showing regarding her newly inquired items Charles observed, “Charlotte my dear, I’ve never seen you this excited before.”

Jumping up and down a few times returning she giggled back to the man, “I’m excited because I want to play with you. You know, I’ve never played with or even had my own chess set before. This would be the first time.”

“Yes Charlotte, you have told me this already.” Xavier said enjoying seeing her happy. He hadn’t seen her at all yesterday and could only imagine from how Wanda and Clint described it. She had to be the polar opposite then as to how she is now. With a smile that reached his eyes as it always did when he was with the child he granted her request. “Well? What are you waiting for? Go on, set up your pieces. Allow me to finish this correspondence with a parent then I will meet you at the table.”

Charlie put the bag down on the desk, which made a weighty sound on impact, the girl was correct, her pieces where heavy. She placed both hands on the desk and used it as leverage to jump into the air in delight of getting her way. “Thank you Professor Xavier, thank you so much!” Once again grabbing the bag, Charlie jetted off to the table that the board was on to do as instructed.

Xavier could hear Charlotte placing the pieces on the board as he finished his email. When a piece fell, the older man looked up at the sound. He couldn’t see the pieces in detail, but from what he could see, they did look to be high quality. “Did your grandfather give you the set?”

“No, some guy at the park did.” Charlie replied nonchalantly righting the piece and moving it to its proper place on the board.

That got his attention, and quickly. Moving away from his desk, he went to the other side of the table she was at. “Some guy?”

“Yeah, he dropped one down the hill while I was riding my bike.” Charlie explained and met the Professor’s gaze, “I picked it up because it was the nice thing to do, right?”

Sending her a reassuring small smile, this time not reaching his eyes, he confirmed her actions, “It is always right to help others.”

Continuing with her story, not seeing the possible harm in it as Charles did, “I gave it back to him and he said since I was polite and liked to play chess that I could keep the whole set.”

“Because you were polite and a fellow chess player he let you keep this set?” Xavier repeated looking more closely at the pieces. There was something familiar about them that he couldn’t place. It was not a common feeling for him and he didn’t enjoy the emotion at all. Picking up the silver queen he examined it in detail demanding his mind to recall why he felt he had held the exact same item before.

“That’s what he said. The guy said maybe if I had my own set, I could beat you. He told my dad that I was a ‘unicorn among my peers’ and giving me the pieces made him feel that he did his part for the cause.” It felt as if all the oxygen was extracted out of the room as Xavier dropped the queen onto the board at Charlotte’s recount of yesterday’s innocent events. The chess set, the word spoken of her beating Xavier and her being a unicorn. Then the famous one, ‘the cause’.

“Be careful Professor.” Charlie pleaded as she bent over to retrieve the piece that hit the board and rolled off onto the rug the table was in the center of. Sitting back up she found Xavier staring at her, all the color drained from his face. “Professor are you alright?”

Attempting to recover from the sudden shock, Xavier pushed forward with his questions, not being able to stop the quick pace he asked them in. “Your father was with you when this man spoke to you? What about your guard?”

The manner in which she was asked wasn’t normal for the Professor. Thinking back to yesterday she wondered if she had done something wrong. Clint already yelled at her for not following the rules and talking to strangers, but it seemed the Professor was going to do it too. “First I just gave him the piece back and walked away. He called me back to talk to him, that’s when dad and Debbie came running up the hill.”

“And your father allowed this gift?” It seemed odd to him that any parent would allow a stranger to hand their child something, it sort of went against the whole ‘taking candy from strangers’ scenario that children are taught early on. Clint was an Avenger and former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Xavier would assume that he would know better.

“Eventually.” The girl said hesitantly not certain who if anyone was in trouble. The conversation had quickly turned to focus on her dad. Did he do something wrong? Then quickly added because she didn’t want to get her father in trouble with the Professor, “The guy was nice, and I begged my dad to let me have it.”

He knew he was causing the girl some anxiety with his questions, but he couldn’t focus on that right now. Charles Xavier had a good theory of who this ‘nice chess player’ was that Charlotte had encountered. “Charlotte was this an older man, like my age?”

Nodding her head with apprehension clear in her eyes, “Yes sir.”

“Charlotte, I would like to see this man. Would you mind remembering yesterday at the park and letting me into your head to watch?”

“Am I in trouble again?”

The Professor saw that she was about to cry. Softening his facial features, he understood that he had pushed too far without an explanation. “Oh no dear, of course not. I believe the gentleman you met yesterday is an old friend of mine, and I would like to see if that is correct. Do you mind?”

“No sir.” Charlie answered, then laxed her body and asked, “But then can we play?”

Xavier dissolved his fears from his face with great effort. “My dear, I have a strong feeling you are already involved in a chess game being played by expert players.”

~~~

Once again Natasha, Clint, Sam, and Steve were sitting around the conference table waiting for the meeting to start. The difference now was that Tony was sitting among them. They were just waiting for Rhodes to appear. Bruce had politely declined the invitation to attend the meeting, not seeing his place in it. He preferred instead to play tour guide to Miss. Conner in the medical wing in case she ever had to bring Kate there. Vision spent most of his time at the Xavier school nowadays. When he was needed at the compound, he was easy enough to get a hold of. He just mainly was wherever Wanda was. It wasn’t all bad, Clint got his lawn mowed last weekend by the android since Wanda was helping Lila in her garden. Thor was asked to attend, but he just plain didn’t want to. He said if it wasn’t preparation for a battle and just ‘talk’, then he would find a better use of his time until he was needed in a fight.

Glancing at his watch, Clint observed silently to himself that it was five minutes after ten o’clock. Kate would be with McCoy and Honeycutt now. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out his cell phone and placed it directly in front of him. Steve had strict rules about briefing and debriefing meetings, all electronics not pertaining to the meeting were to be turned off and out of sight. Catching that the Captain was watching him, Clint explained, “Kate had an appointment at ten. They are picking the inducement date and checking her gamma levels.” Glancing down at the phone, he added, knowing that Steve would understand, “Just in case.”

The mention of his daughter brought Tony into the conversation. Up until then he was just sitting there deep in his own thoughts of how he could improve the iron bubble since yesterday was technically his first trial run with the device. “With Dr. Honeycutt or McCoy?”

“Both, she is going to Hank’s office at the school. Kate will be seeing them together weekly from here on out until the baby is born. They both have to be in the delivery room and finding a hospital where they both have privileges is taking some time, but I believe they found one.” He searched hard in his memory for the hospital’s name since Kate only brought it up in passing. “St. Michael’s, I think.”

“That place is a shithole.” Tony loudly proclaimed. “Give me three days and I can build a maternity ward here with better equipment then even the best hospital has. The doctors wouldn’t need privileges.”

“I don’t care where it happens Tony. Talk to the doctors and Kate about it.  As long as the result is a healthy mother and child, its all good to me.” That was all Clint cared about, the actual place of birth meant nothing to him as long as a few days later he could drive his wife and newborn home.

Any additional discussion stopped with the arrival of the Deputy Secretary. “Good morning everyone, I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long.”

“We said nine o’clock.” Steve commented. It was well known that a pet peeve of his was tardiness. Especially when it regarded the potential take down of HYDRA agents.

“I’m sorry. It couldn’t be avoided. Since I have already delayed this meeting long enough, how about you give me the cliff notes and we can get this moving?”

Steve didn’t understand the reference. “Cliff notes?”

“It means ‘summary’ in a sense.” Natasha offered as an description on the concept.

Nodding that he understood the meaning, Steve gestured for Sam to start the briefing. “Sam.”

“Reliable sources from within the area have reported a lone group of former HYDRA associates hiding out in the southwestern area of Pazin, Croatia.”  Sam started the meeting with by lifting a remote and pressing a button. From the middle of the conference table a projection appeared of the geographical location in discussion.

“How reliable are these reliable sources?” Tony inquired, not trusting any information that he didn’t collect himself.

Clint leaned forward onto the table to see and speak to Tony who was on the same side as he was, but Natasha was between them and blocking his view. “Reliable enough that they handed us a name that checked out as a person of interest who has gone underground ever since we took out the Tarantula HYDRA base last fall.”

Crossing his arms at the information, Steve questioned, “Who’s that?”

“Fredrich Schulz.” Sam reported pressing another button and a picture of the man in question replaced the map. “As pure blooded as someone can be within HYDRA. Both his father and grandfather were high ranking officials in the organization.”

“Heir to the throne?” Natasha remarked after hearing that the suspect in question could believe the terrorist organization was his birthright to control.

Sitting back in his seat Clint observed, “Possibly if he can get enough backing, personnel wise and financially.”

In a stern and strict forceful voice, Steve declared, “We can’t let that happen.”

“Really Steve? Why?” Tony requested with thick sarcasm which only got him an eyeroll from the Captain.

Steve Rogers stood up and addressed the entire group, “Barton and Romanoff, I need your eyes on their location as soon as possible. Watch them, collect as much intel as you can, but do not engage.”

“We good for this?” Clint asked looking across the table to James Rhodes.

Rhodes knew that Clint was asking about the Sokovia Accords United Nations committee’s approval to enter foreign land. “I don’t see any reason why not. It is only for the purpose of reconnaissance, and you are being instructed not to engage. I can make a phone call and get you formal approval. Can you keep the whole thing, landing to departure in the country to within sixty hours, two and a half days? Anything more than that and I will have to have the Secretary make contact with the State Department and the Croatian UN ambassador.”

Natasha nodded to the limits placed on her and Clint. “We can do that.”

Rhodes stood up and buttoned his suit jacket. “Give me an hour, and I will get your approval.” Directing his next comment to Clint and Natasha. The committee may come back with stricter guidelines for the mission, so don’t suit up just yet.”

~~~

 “Alright Kate, if you still don’t want to know the sex, turn your head away from the screen now please.” Dr. Matthew Honeycutt warned with eyes still trained on the machine’s screen showing the images of the ultrasound he was performing.

Kate did as she was instructed and saw Hank McCoy watching the screen. “Hank, no hints or giveaways.”

Dr. Hank McCoy glanced away from the screen and down to were Kate was laying in front of him. “I’m not even paying attention to that factor Kate, and even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you.”

“Looking for mutations?” She questioned with a bit of humor in her voice. She knew if it was anything physical that they could pick up through the sonogram or blood tests, then they would have already been made aware of it by now.

“Among other things.” McCoy admitted returning his gaze to the images on the screen. “Once Dr. Honeycutt sends me the data I will look with more precision”

“Anything noticeable right now?” Kate did this at every appointment, asking if anything was wrong with the baby. The child was being developed within a body that was consumed by gamma radiation. It was a blessing they had made it to eight months, and she knew her luck would eventually run out.

“Nothing.” Matthew said taking the device off of Kate’s stomach and grabbing a hand towel. He did a quick wipe off of the area and handed the towel to Kate to do a better job of it. “Perfectly healthy baby. Everything is where it should be. Actually, the kid is coming in a little big. Approximations right now have it currently being around six pounds plus. Add another few weeks, and we could be coming in around nine if not more.”

Cleaning off her stomach and pulling down her top, Hank offered his hands to help Kate into a sitting position. “If that’s true then this one would be my biggest baby. Thank God he or she is my last one.”

“Are we performing a Tubal Ligation following delivery?” Honeycutt asked. If that was something she wanted, then he needed to add the surgical order to her induction.

With a very serious face, Kate denied the offer of surgical means of birth control for herself. “Hell no if I’m getting my tubes tied, I’ve done enough. Clint will be getting the ‘snip’.”

“Well since in an odd way, surgery has been brought up.” Dr. Honeycutt carefully started with rolling the stool that he was seated in for the scan over to the end of the table, so he was facing Kate who perched there with her legs dangling off. “I would like to again, especially with the weight now coming in higher then anticipated talk about the possibility of a…”

Kate cut him off. This debate had been going on for over six months now, ever since she found out she was pregnant. “No c-section.”

Hank moved to stand by the other doctor. “Kate, I know your concerns.”

“I don’t have any concerns.” She countered. “Concerns are feelings you have when you are debating options and have uncertainty towards one or more of them. There are no other options here then me just delivering my baby. I don’t want to be cut open again.”

“It wouldn’t be like last time I can assure you.” Dr. McCoy promised. He was the doctor who cared for her following what HYDRA had done to Kate. To believe the scars were only contained to Kate’s stomach from the birth of Charlie were a fool’s dream. “You have to at least consider the cesarean section. It’s the safest option for you and the baby.”

“No I don’t.” Kate defended against being told what she did and didn’t have to do. “And if I did have concerns, going back to your earlier comment, it would be that my doctors are not listening to my preferences.”

“Kate…” They were interrupted by the beeping indicator of the blood pressure monitor Kate had wrapped around her upper left arm. Checking the numbers and seeing them more then elevated, the doctors had no choice but to let it go, despite their better medical judgment. Hank glanced to Matthew and shook his head. “Ok, no c-section.” Hank moved on to the next problem, “Kate I am not liking these numbers. I expected at this point in the pregnancy they would be high, but this is unacceptable. Are you following your bedrest protocol?”

Kate never lied, she just never told the full truth. “For the most part.”

Hank sighed deeply. If there was any solace to take in this it was that when she went home, a nurse would be waiting for her. Revealing that information to Kate was way above his pay grade. Tony said he would handle it, and Hank was beyond appreciative for Stark accepting the wrath of his daughter. “I am going to be flexible this one time because I know Clint is out of town and you want to be with the kids at home. Even though I know you could arrange child care in five minutes. Next week however, if these numbers are the same, you are either be staying in the hospital, here or at the Avengers compound in the medical wing until delivery. Understand?”

“You’re in the last leg of the race now Kate, don’t give up, you can see the finish line.” Dr. Honeycutt consulted, deciding the two doctors would play ‘good cop versus bad cop’ with their patient. “In fact, how about we decide when you can cross that line?”

“Clint wants an even day.” Kate supplied, thankful that she was going to be able to go home and not sent to medical for a month.

Exchanging a comical look with Hank, Honeycutt scooted on his stool to his laptop and brought it to life with a tap on his keyboard. “Ok, even number date is a preference from the daddy, let’s see what the hospital has open.” The phone in the examination room started to ring and Hank excused himself to answer it. Once Dr. Honeycutt brought up the hospital’s schedule he factored in the variables needed to select the correct date. “You are thirty-four weeks and four days along, congratulations. If everything goes as it has been we can schedule you at thirty-nine weeks.” Looking to Kate, “That’s only four more weeks and 5 days Kate, you got this.” Typing some more information into the system, “Add Clint’s wish for an even day. How do you feel about the twenty-second? It’s a Monday, you will be thirty-nine weeks and two days at that point.”

“I’ll have my assistant Diana put it on the calendar.” Kate joked. Like she wouldn’t be counting the minutes until the twenty-second and need someone to remind her of the date.

Hank entered the conversation. “Did I hear correctly we are doing this four Mondays from now?” Honeycutt nodded in confirmation and Hank spoke to Kate, “That was Charles, he would like you to report to his office as soon as possible please.”

“Are we done here?” Kate asked the men and received a bob of the head from both as an answer. “Then I will see you two next Wednesday. Thank you very much.”