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It's Not Where You Come From (It's Where You Belong)

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Emma was sitting on Thor's shoulders as he did squats, laughing at the look on Jane's face. Not only was Emma bearing down on him with her weight, he was holding a barbell, and he was doing biceps curls like there was no tomorrow. 

"How-" Jane said, then cut herself off and shoved a knuckle into her mouth, staring Thor up and down. Even Bucky looked a little uncomfortable at the ease with which Thor did both of these things, his laughter booming through the gym with Emma's all the same. 

"That's gotta make for some amazing sex," Darcy said frankly, and Jane smacked her arm with the hand that wasn't occupied with getting a finger gnawed off, not taking her eyes off Thor. 

"Hey Thor, c'mon, sparr with me!" Emma said, grabbing his cheeks and tilting his head up. His long, flowy hair had been braided into a tight bun with some braids to go along with, a hair-do deemed 'work-out worthy' by Sif, and anything Sif deemed worthy, Emma deemed worthy. Thor found great amusement in this.

"I do not wish to harm you, young one," he said solemnly, despite his face being squished in her hands. 

"It's fine, my bones can heal as fast as in two hours!" Emma said cheerfully. Thor dropped the barbell with a loud clanging onto the gym floor, grabbing Emma around the waist and hoisting her onto the floor. 

"Just because you have bones to break, does not mean you have to," Thor said equally solemnly, and Emma pouted, turning around to face Bucky. 

"Sparr with me!" she demanded, and Bucky snorted. 

"You sure you wanna do that?" he asked pointedly, noticing the trembling of her hands. She's been too hyped all morning, in his opinion, and her parents hadn't noticed. They were very perceptive, but Emma was a good liar, and if she was really not in the mood for talking about something, she would disguise it with a happy mood and a smile. 

"Yeah, yeah, sure, c'mon!" Emma exclaimed, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Bucky sighed, and shrugged. If what she needed to get some of that nervous energy out through a sparring session, why shouldn't he take the brunt of her blows? He was a nice guy, occassionally. He could do this for her. 

Slipping out of his hoodie and his socks, he put them on the edge of the mats just as Emma flipped her way onto them, slipping into a handstand effortlessly, and tipping over into a bridge before standing up. 

They stood facing each other, the backs of their hands touching in the air, and Emma gave him a quick grin before she tried to flip him like a pancake.

Their sparring lasted for a full ten minutes before Bucky managed to press Emma into the mats, her arms immobilized. Emma was giggling, a high-pitched, weird little noise that made Bucky flip her over on her stomach to keep her from laughing in his face.

"You gonna tell me what's wrong now?" he asked, sitting on her, and effectively making her stay put. 

"Nothing's wrong," Emma argued, wriggling underneath him. Goddamn, but she was strong. He seriously felt himself being rocked a little bit backwards by the wiggling, and he was, what, 220 pounds of muscle and metal? 

"Something is obviously wrong," Bucky pointed out before she gave such a ferocious wiggle that she flipped him over and elbowed him sharply in the ribs as she did, quickly righting herself and getting off the floor. 

He was on his feet again in a second, loving that sparring with her was such a challenge. 

"Just had a weird dream last night, is all," Emma said, dodging his kick and staying out of his range. "I dreamt I was married to Damian, and there were a bunch of kids and it just stressed me the hell out." Bucky couldn't help himself; he laughed a little, and Emma got in a punch on his knee, where she knew he'd been hurt last time they'd been out fighting monsters. 

"You're imagining your future," he teased. 

"I'm never having kids," Emma declared, and did a beautiful backflip to get away from his punch.

"Hey, Em, you've got a visitor!" Darcy yelled over the gym, and Emma stayed in position just long enough for Bucky to grab her and twist her down on the ground again. 

"Using your girlfriend as bait? You sneaky fucker," Emma laughed breathlessly. 

"No, you seriously have a visitor," Bucky said, looking over at Darcy and the man in a suit next to her. Jane and Thor must've left during their sparr, understandably enough. Emma turned to look too, and tapped out on the mat. Bucky let her go, and she sprang to her feet, skipping over to Agent Coulson. 

"Ouch," Darcy was saying just as Emma approached. "That hurt. You need to get laid, Phil."

"Please, Ms. Lewis," Coulson said mildly, giving Darcy a look that he usually reserved for Tony on his most annoying days. Darcy shrugged shamelessly. 

"Just saying," she sing-songed when Emma slowed to a stop in front of the two. "Here's your package."

"Hey, I'm no package," Emma pouted. 

"No, but you sure need to unload," Bucky called distantly from the other side of the room, and Darcy burst out laughing.

"This is why I love you. The puns," she grinned, and Bucky looked up from where he was putting his socks back on, eyes a little wide. Darcy winked at him, and walked out of the gym, and Emma pouted up at Coulson. 

"Sup, Agent?" she asked. 

"We need to have words," Coulson said, and Emma blinked up at him.

"What? What did I do?" she asked incredulously. 

"Let's go upstairs," he said instead of answering her question, and shooed her into the elevator with that look of his. He was silent throughout the entire elevator ride, and it was actually making Emma a little anxious by the time they reached the kitchen. "Sit," he demanded, pointing to a chair by the kitchen table, and despite herself, Emma sat down. 

Coulson pulled out a chair of his own, and sat down, and now Emma was really nervous. Why was Coulson here? Clint and Natasha weren't on a mission, so it couldn't be about them. Jane and Thor couldn't possibly have gotten into trouble in the last half hour, and they'd just seen Bucky and Darcy. So the question remained: what the hell was going on?

She decided to brave the silent abyss between them, and cleared her throat. 

"So, you wanted to talk to me?" Emma asked, looking up into Coulson's eyes.

"I just wanted to see the one who's silently and secretly trying to break the Avengers apart by leaving adoption pamphlets everywhere," Coulson said calmly, and Emma gaped. 

"I resent that implication. I'm not ripping anyone apart!"

"You left a pamphlet in Tony's lab. He thought it was Steve who had, and panicked. You left one in Bruce's lab, he thought Dr. Ross had put it there, and nearly hulked out. Thor found one, and called Jane asking how many children they could adopt. And Clint called me last night, in a tizzy about if I'd heard Natasha talk about having another child. They're running in circles and it's making them inefficient and careless and touchy."

"I'm just nudging," Emma said defensively.

Coulson sighed deeply in reply, and leaned back a little in his seat, correcting his tie. It was red, and had tiny birds on it, and Emma had a niggling suspicion Clint had gotten it for him.

"Do you know how long I've known your parents?" he asked patiently. Emma raised an eyebrow at the segue, but shook her head.

"A long time, probably."

"I've known Agent Barton for over thirteen years, Agent Romanov for nearly twelve. I have had dozens and dozens of psych-evals done on them, sat by their hospital beds when they've nearly gotten themselves killed, when they've walked on broken bones just because they can. I know them very very well, and I can tell you with certainty that there is no way you're getting a sibling."

Emma gaped at him.

"People change their minds all the time!" she sputtered. "Just because they didn't want kids when some fancy shrink got their mitts on them-"

"Oh, no. That's not it at all. Barton has an uncanny ability to fall in love with kids and/or animals and bring them home for protection. Even Natasha has some sort of fondness for kids, always distant but wanting to be better, striving, even. No, the reason you're not getting a sibling is because you've set the bar too high."

"What?!" Emma exclaimed. "No way! How could I have set the bar too high?"

"You are an amazing child. Exceptional capacity for learning, adapting, and despite your not entirely sane disposition, you're compatible with everyone on the Avengers team. You see past the hero-worship and you can put them on their knees if needed. You're too special. You've given the supposed new kid impossible standards, and despite themselves, the agents won't be able to deal with a child that won't adapt as fast as you did. You've been in the foster system. Tell me, how many kids there would jump for joy at being forced into another huge family and it's complicated patterns?"

Emma stared down at her feet for a few moments, and then she cracked her toes against the tiled floor.

"I just wanted a sibling," she muttered. To her surprise, Coulson let out a chuckle from his usually tense lips. 

"Your family is one of the bigger ones I've seen, and it's going to be expanding soon. Maybe you should look at what you have rather than what you want."

"What do you mean, expanding soon?" Emma asked. Coulson just kind of stared at her, and she let out a gasp. "Is someone pregnant? Did the pamphlets work?" 

Coulson stood up, sliding the chair back into it's place, and smiled at her. 

"Please stop trying to coax your parents into having another child. The outcome won't be like you want it to be, and the world needs them half-sane and ready to do anything to save the world. If they're distracted by things like these, it could compromise them. Are we clear?"

Emma stared at him thoughtfully for a while, and then she cracked a grin. 

"Y'know, you're sorta like my grandpa," she decided. Coulson exhaled heavily through his nose. 

"I'm going to take that as a yes. Tell your parents I'll be expecting them at the office tomorrow," he said as a way of goodbye, and took off for the elevator. 

"See you at dinner tomorrow, gramps!" Emma called after him with a grin. Coulson didn't even dignify that with an answer, just disappeared. Emma laughed, and there was a burst of wind, and then Pietro was standing next to her. Emma jumped. "Christ, how have we not put a bell on you yet?"

"You forget about stairs, and think that since elevator didn't ding, I'm somewhere else," Pietro said smugly, grabbing a whole box of poptars from the cupboard. 

"Hands off that one," Emma said, standing up from the kitchen table and pulling the box out of his hands. She held it up to his face, and Pietro squinted at the box. "Do you see these letters in large red marker?"

"Thor," Pietro read, a tiny frown on his face. "He won't notice."

"Oh, dearest, sweetest, darlingest Pietro. Thor is very serious about his poptarts," Emma said gravelly, and put the box back on the shelf. "Hey, wanna raid Steve and Tony's place for Lucky charms?"

"And crawl in vents?" Pietro asked skeptically. Emma nodded brightly, and then Pietro disappeared in a wind gust. He returned, seconds later, crunching on Lucky charms, and Emma pouted.

"You take all the fun out of cereal hunting," she huffed, but poured them each a bowl. Then she handed the box back to him, and Pietro was gone in a swoosh of air again. Sighing, she sat down by the kitchen island, and began eating her cereal as she scrolled the news outlets. 

She didn't get to be all alone in the kitchen for more than a few minutes, when Tony appeared in a greasy tank top and with an equally greasy Peter on his hip. 

Peter was a curious toddler nowadays, waddling places he wasn't allowed to waddle, climbing the kid's gate to his room and making his dads crazy with worry. A bundle of energy, the toddler was always thrilled to ride on Pietro's shoulders as he ran, or play with Thor in the air, or climbing the padded walls Tony had added so he wouldn't ruin his knees already. And hell if he wasn't cute enough to get away with all of these things. 

"Why not?" Peter was asking his father curiously just as Tony walked out of the elevator, barefoot and a little scruffy. Steve was probably busy doing something heroic and important if he hadn't pulled Tony away from his work long enough to clean him up.

"Because your pop doesn't like it when I bring you down to the workshop, but you love the workshop, don't you, Pete?"

"Yeah! N' Dummy n' You n' Butterfingers," he giggled sweetly, and then Tony looked up and saw her. He froze in his tracks like a deer in headlights, and Peter beamed at her. "Ma!"

"Hi, Pete," Emma said amusedly. "Have fun in mama's workshop?" 

"Yeah!" he said happily, stretching his arms out towards her from Tony's arms. 

"Ugh, Pete, baby, we need to work on your secrecy skills," he groaned, but when Emma wiggled her fingers in a 'gimme' motion, he set Peter down on the floor so he could run over to his favorite cousin/sister. 

"Ooouf, you're getting heavy, Petey-pie. Soon I won't be able to pick you up," Emma groaned theatrically as she settled the toddler on her knee. 

"Nuh-uh!" Peter said, sounding as offended as a small child like him had the capability to be. "'Cause you're super strong! You can always pick me up!"

Emma laughed as Tony got himself a cup of coffee and set about making Peter a snack.

"But what if you get, like, taller than Thor! Then I won't be able to pick you up," she pointed out, poking him lovingly on his cute little button nose. Peter gave her a surprised look.

"I can't gets taller than Thor," Peter told her dismissively, and Tony snorted.

"Pete, you can be whatever you want. If you wanna be taller than Thor, then that's exactly what you're gonna be," he said, giving his son's soft brown hair a kiss before picking him up. Tony set Peter down on his own chair by the table with it's little booster seat, and brought him a plastic glass of milk and an apple and a sandwich. 

Emma watched Tony dote on his son before he even considered getting himself some food, and smiled to herself. He'd been worried, she knew, that he'd be a horrible dad. Terrified, even. But here he was, doting and loving and cherishing, and she knew it wouldn't always be that way, because Tony was still Tony, still a little messed up and not the greatest at remembering dates and important things, but he would try his hardest to be the best. He would.

When Emma's cereal was done, she put the bowl in the dishwasher, and looked up at the chart to see whose turn it would be to unload it later. The chart proved it was Wanda's turn, and that was always the greatest, because Bruce would be here with a clipboard and Wanda would make flicking motions with her fingers as red light stacked plates and put the utensils in the right place. Like a light show. 

Just as Emma thought that, the elevatorbell dinged again, and Wanda and Bucky exited the elevator, giving each other weird looks. 

"What's the matter now?" Emma asked suspiciously as Bucky's look snapped away from looking at Wanda disgustedly. 

"Wanda's a morbid bastard, is what's the matter," Bucky said, shaking his head, and Emma's eyebrows rose. 

"Okay, honestly, Wanda, what has dad said about thought-sharing?" she said, putting her hands on her hips. 

"It's not intentional," Wanda snapped, retreating into her burgundy sweater like an angry turtle, teeth flashing in an angry grin at Bucky, who looked as neutral as ever. 

"Just... Stop poking at me, alright? I'm old and fragile," Bucky said in a total deadpan before he made his way over to the fridge. That turned the grin into a shocked little smile, and damn it, Emma loved Bucky more than anything in this world. 

Wanda backed up until she was pressed against the wall next to the elevator, and sank down on the floor, curling her arms around her knees and giving Emma another small smile. 

"You and your feelings," she said, making a sweeping motion with her hand. "Like a shock wave."

"Really?" Emma laughed, walking up behind Bucky, who was getting some eggs out. "Cool. Bucky, hug me."

Without really recognizing her request verbally, Bucky held his elbow up so that she could sneak her arms around his middle and press her face into his pecs. She gave him a squeeze, and felt that overwhelming love again when he gently squeezed back, and Wanda made a noise that was a mix between an 'ugh' and an 'ack'.

"It's alarming," Wanda said. "You're so loud." Emma cackled happily when Bucky lifted her and hoisted her up over his shoulder, making her face swing just above his perky butt. 

"She's always been loud," Bucky said, jostling her when he turned to make himself an omelette. "Always, always, always. I don't even think she knows how to whisper."

"I totally do!" Emma squeaked indignantly, proving Bucky's point with her volume. 

"See that? Uncontrollable," Bucky tsked as Emma wiggled until she was off his shoulders and standing comfortably in a handstand. 

"Mean," she said as she walked away from him on her hands, and Tony laughed, along with Peter. 

"How is this my life," Tony asked nobody in particular, and Emma slipped into a bridge and then standing again, beaming at him from behind the kitchen island as the hissing from the omelette hitting the hot pan came from behind her. 

"Hey, buddy, you were the guy who was all like, 'hey, Avengers, don't you wanna live with me since I'm so awesome?'" Emma said in a poor imitation of his voice, and Peter laughed through the apple slice he had in his mouth as Tony's face took on a mock-hurt shape. 

"How dare you. I pay your bills, young lady!" he said, but didn't get much further, because Wanda had stood up and started making her way over to elevator. "Hey, Wanda, what've you eaten today?"

"Who are you to talk?" she shot back, but then she and Tony locked gazes, and she sighed. "Not much."

"Grab an omelette," he said, his voice all parent-y and firm. Wanda stood still for a moment, contemplating, weighing the chances she had of getting away with not eating, when Bucky flipped the finished omelette onto a plate, grabbed a fork, and shoved the plate into Wanda's hands. 

"Eat," he said firmly, and Wanda's eyes were big and brown and emotional for a few seconds, and then she dashed into the living room, omelette and all, fleeing their prying eyes. 

"You're so sweet," Emma said lovingly to Bucky, who just pulled out a few more eggs from the fridge, and began making another omelette. 

"Her skinny elbows poke me when she sits next to me on the couch, this is me being selfish," Bucky said dismissively, and Emma smiled secretively, leaning against the kitchen island again, happy to be in such good company when Jarvis interrupted their calm. 

"Sir, there's a woman downstairs demanding that she gets to see her granddaughter," he announced.

"And this concerns me, why, exactly? I thought I had secretaries to deflect the crazies. I thought Lewis was one of them!" Tony stated as he sipped his coffee.

"The woman says her name is Anne Darkholme," Jarvis said. Emma tensed, eyes snapping up to look at Bucky in panic. "She claims her granddaughter is Ms. Emma, and since Ms. Emma doesn't have the clearance needed grant people access to the living quarters, I thought I should bring the query to you." 

"Holy fuck," Emma said quietly, grabbing hold of the countertop and nearly cracking the stone it was made of. Tony turned his brown eyes at her, and raised an eyebrow.

"Whoah. Your real last name is Darkholme? Not nearly as scary as I thought it would be," he decided. 

"Jarvis, tell mom and dad to get down here," Emma said, breathing heavily.

A grandma. She had a grandma? That was impossible. Theodore and Beatrice had no family, that was why they could work as independently as they did. There was no way... 

Emma's breathing was now more like dry heaving, and Bucky grabbed her face with both of his hands, angled it up to meet his eyes. 

"Why now?" Emma asked him, and he thought about it for a moment before understanding crossed his features.

"You did the damn photoshoot," he said, and Emma grabbed hold of his real arm, breathing harshly.

Natasha and Clint came bursting in seconds later, both looking a little sleep rumpled and confused. Clint's hair was sticking up in one spot on his head, and Natasha's hair was still pulled back into the braid Emma had made yesterday, albeit now it was a little messier.

"Where's the fire, sweetheart?" Clint asked worriedly, striding forward with Natasha hot on his heels. "Jarvis said to get down here immediately."

"I have a grandma?" Emma said slowly, questioningly. Natasha brushed a strand of hair from Emma's face and stroked a hand down her shoulder. 

"Yes, for your mother to have existed, you'd need a grandma," Clint agreed. "Again, where's the fire?"

"She's here," Emma said, grabbing hold of Bucky's arm again. 

There was silence for a moment, as the agents processed that. 

"Uh," Clint then said intelligently. "She's here? Right now? As in, here in the tower, here?"

"Jarvis, show me surveillance," Natasha demanded, and a holo-screen appeared in front of all of them. 

The screen showed the face of a woman, maybe nearing her sixties, with dark hair cropped close to her shoulders, straight and sharp. Her face was heart-shaped, and her lips were thin, but then there was the nose, and Emma recognized that nose, she'd seen it in the mirror enough to recognize it, and the shape of her eyes was just like her's too, and she was definitely hyperventilating now. 

"Okay, wow," Clint breathed as Bucky tugged Emma back against his chest. "That... Could definitely be your grandma." 

Natasha's knuckles were resting on the stone surface, looking calm and collected, but the bottom had dropped out of her stomach as she stared at the woman, who looked stern and ready to fight her to get to see her grandchild, and Natasha suddenly remembered Bucky telling her how everything was going to go to shit soon. 

That had been a week ago. Natasha had called him paranoid. Oh, how she wished she'd listened to him. 

Shit. 

---

Chapter Text

 

"Do you want to meet her?" Clint asked Emma, who was curled up on the couch in Bucky's lap. Tony had been sent down to grab the supposed grandma, run a DNA test and ask her insensitive questions for a while, as Emma gathered her wits. "If she's your real grandma, I mean. Would you want to meet her?"

Emma shrugged in Bucky's embrace, burrowing in further. 

"Dunno," she said quietly.

"Because it's okay to want to meet her," Clint said, sitting down on the coffee table in front of them. "That's not weird at all. Me and Tash won't be offended just because you want to meet your grandma. You know that, right?"

Natasha was standing behind Clint, hearing him say the words and nodding, even though what she selfishly wanted was for Emma to send her grandma away. It made her feel surprisingly nauseous, the thought of Emma seeing her own flesh and blood. 

The possibility of another, safe family, a mean little voice whispered in the back of her mind, and Natasha told the little voice to fuck off and sat down next to Clint. 

"If you want to, it's alright," Natasha agreed, because Natasha would do anything for Emma, anything at all. 

Emma sat quietly, thinking for a while, and then she peeked out at them. 

"I don't wanna meet her all alone," she said, her voice wavering a little. "I want you two with me."

And God if that doesn't make Natasha's quietly possessive instincts just sing with joy. 

"Of course, Возлюбленный," she said soothingly, and Emma nodded.

"Alright then," she said, standing up. She was only wearing sweatpants and a loose shirt, both different shades of bright blue, but the look on her face resembled that of a soldier going into combat. 

"Hey, hey, no rush. Tony hasn't even given us the all-clear yet," Clint hurried to say, firmly planting Emma back onto the couch. "This is shocking. You need to sit down for a little while, sweetheart."

Emma nodded, licking her lips. 

"I can't believe Theodore and Beatrice have parents that are still alive," she said incredulously. "That just... Seems a bit odd."

"Sir has asked me to inform you of the DNA results," came Jarvis' voice. The tv lit up to show two codes, and red lines were drawn between them. Some of them turned green, and even seemed to line up on the screen, and Natasha felt her heart leap into her throat. "It seems that this Anne Darkholme is indeed your paternal grandmother."

"Well, I'll be damned," Bucky whistled. 

"Holy shit," Emma breathed, and Clint just stared at the screen for a while, unblinkingly. 

"Right," he said, after a minute of silence. "Right, okay, um. I guess we better go get dressed? Only the best duds for grandma."

"Y-yeah, okay," Emma agreed. "You think it's okay if I stand up now?"

"You make the call, kiddo. If I were you, I'd need to sit around for a while," he said, patting her knee. Emma took his hand in hers and squeezed, and Clint squeezed back. Then she let his hand go, and clenched her fists in front of her chest, and opened them quickly. Scared.

"It's gonna be fine, sweetheart I'm sure she's a nice lady. She'd probably like to get to know you. Would you want that?" Clint asked. Emma nodded, and gave him a cute, crooked smile. 

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I'd like that," she decided, and Natasha stamped out the little jealousy trying to flare up inside of her, and met Emma's smile with one of her own.

---

They got themselves cleaned up, fixed hair and put on real pants and Emma was jittery throughout the whole ordeal. She'd promised to call Damian today, but her phone was forgotten in her room as they took the elevator to one of the office floors.

"Alright, sweetheart," Clint said as they walked toward the empty office where Tony had placed Emma's grandma for the time being. "You feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or just plain don't want to be in her presence anymore, say the word 'photosynthesis', and we're out of there before you're done with the word. You got it?"

Emma nodded, and clung to Natasha's hand a little desperately. 

"Doesn't even have to be a smooth segue, just 'photosynthesis', no questions asked. Alright?" Emma nodded again, but she still wasn't looking at him, so Clint stopped them, crouched down a little, and nudged her chin. "Hey. I wanna hear a verbal response. You hear what I'm saying?"

"Yes," Emma replied, looking him in the eyes. Clint nodded, and brushed a hand over her shoulder. 

"Alright, kiddo. Here goes." He knocked on the door, and Tony opened almost immediately. 

"Oh thank god, I was running out of bullshit," he breathed as he swept them into the room. 

"How is that even possible?" Natasha asked him. "That's all that comes out of your mouth."

"And genius! Don't forget about the genius things I say," Tony said as he swept out of the room and closed the door behind him. 

It wasn't so much an office as a conference room. The walls were white and the floor fancy marble, and there was a conference table and ergonomic chairs around it. Anne Darkholme was standing looking out of the floor-to-ceiling windows, her coat thrown over one of the chairs. 

The sound of the door closing made her turn around, and for a second, Clint could definitely see the family-resemblance between Emma and Anne. The calculating gaze was the same, the nose, the frustrated quirk of the lips. 

And then the frustration turned into utter shock when her eyes fell on Emma. 

Emma, who'd put on her favorite green pants for this occasion, just stared at the other woman, mouth a little bit agape.

Anne took one good look at her, and immediately slapped a trembling hand to her mouth, making a sort of aborted motion towards her. Her eyes flooded with tears, and a tiny, sob-like sound left her lips. 

"Oh my god, Emma," she whispered. 

"Yeah, that's... That's me," Emma breathed. "And you are?"

"Oh, god. I'm sorry, it's just... You look a lot like your dad," she said, wiping a finger underneath her eye to get the tears to go away as she took long steps forward, until they were barely a yard apart, not taking her eyes off Emma for a second. "I'm Anne Darkholme. Teddy was my biological son."

"Biological?" Natasha asked mildly, and Anne looked up at them, and now she didn't look so weepy anymore. 

"Yes, I... Had to give him away. I was much too young," Anne said ruefully. She stretched a hand out. "Hello."

"Hello, ma'm," Clint said as they shook hands, and Natasha put on a polite smile and shook hands with her too. 

"Are you aware..." Natasha began, but Anne cut her off. 

"I'm well aware that Teddy's dead, yes," she said, sort of derisively, and that rubbed Natasha all the wrong ways, but she nodded anyway, because this was Emma's grandmother. "And Beatrice. I thought they'd gotten you too."

With that, she stroked Emma's cheek, and Emma looked up at her grandmother with sort of adoring eyes.

"You remember them?" she asked, almost carefully, scared of getting her hope crushed, and that look made Natasha want to hunt down whoever had crushed her like that ever before, and murder them agonizingly slow.

Anne smiled, and Emma mirrored it, cranking it up a notch. 

"Of course I do. Oh, poor child, can you even remember them at all?" she asked, getting a sad frown on her face, and Emma shrugged. 

"Just a little. Maybe you can fill in the blanks?" she asked, hopefully this time. Anne stroked her cheek, and nodded. 

"I'd be happy to," she said softly. "But I'd be much happier to talk about this in... Other circumstances. Maybe a café?" 

"Yeah!" Emma announced happily. "There's one nearby that has this cookie that's the size of my face! It's delicious!"

Anne glanced at Clint and Natasha, and Natasha put both of her hands on Emma's shoulders, squeezing.

"It's a nice day. We can bring Lucky out for a walk," Natasha suggested, and Emma nodded enthusiastically. There was something off in Anne's face as she agreed, but Natasha kept her mouth shut as Emma enthusiastically showed Anne into the elevator. Clint rode with them, and Natasha was told to grab the essentials, and Lucky, and meet them downstairs.

"How's Emma doing?" Bucky asked as she came into the kitchen, grabbing Lucky's leash off the little hook and whistling for him. 

"Good, I believe," she said distantly as Lucky came dashing out from the living room, barking happily. She put his collar on, and he ran around her in circles for a while until she got the clip on his collar, and he was ready to go. 

"And what's the grandma like?" he asked. Natasha bit her lip, and met his eyes. 

"I don't know. I have a weird feeling about her, but Emma's practically half-way to adoring already," she said. Bucky nodded distantly. 

"We'll keep an eye on her," he soothed. "You got a date?"

"We're going to a café, apparently," Natasha said, and stepped back into the elevator. "Don't wait up."

---

Emma ordered two of the humongous cookies she loved so much, and Natasha watched Anne look a little confused, and then a little disgusted, but she shook it off in time to order herself some coffee and a cream puff.

They sat down, Clint with Lucky resting with his head in his lap, and Emma between her parents. Anne was on the other side of the table, and Natasha got the distinct feeling that they were supposed to pass some sort of test of Anne's. 

"So," Natasha began. "What's the story?"

"What story?" Anne asked, sipping her coffee. 

"Well, you're pretty young to be a grandma," Emma remarked as she chewed on a piece of one of the cookies. Anne laughed quietly. 

"Thank you. I... I got pregnant when I was just sixteen years old," she told Emma, and smiled a little ruefully. "I had a lovely baby boy, and had to give him away to keep my family from feeling the crippling shame of having a teenage mother around. I gave him away to a couple down in Kansas, but they let him keep my name. I was grateful for that. 

"Later, when I felt old enough to take care of him again, I traveled down to meet him, only to hear that he'd taken off for the army. Ditched high school, faked his intake to dive waist deep into bombs and shoot people." Anne snorted, shaking her head wistfully. Emma's eyes were huge as she chewed on the cookie.

"He got older. Got offered a raise and a new job, as an agent someplace. He met the love of his life there. Beatrice. He was twenty five years old and singing love songs about her to his adoptive mother over the phone. They were partners too, when he found out about me. I was... 41 I think, when I first met him, face to face. She was there too. He called her Bea and hugged me. I only got to really know him for three years, before he and Bea disappeared off the map. Never heard of them, until they'd had you." 

Anne reached out a hand, running a thumb down Emma's jaw with wet eyes.

"Do you... Do you have a picture? Of them? Or... Or me?" Emma asked carefully, unsure if the touch was wanted or not. Anne drew a deep breath, and nodded as she rooted through her bag, pulling her wallet out.

A faded picture the size of two square inches appeared in front of her, and Emma stared, along with Clint and Natasha.

"Oh my god, you were so tiny, Em!" Clint laughed quietly as he picked the picture up. The baby in the picture was at most a year old, sitting on a rug with a pacifier in it's mouth, and a tiny bow in the little tuft of red. 

"This one is of my son and his wife. Your parents," Anne said, sounding sad as she slid the photo over to Emma.

Emma picked it up thoughtfully, and found a man and a woman grinning at her. The man's hair was red, and he had dimples, eyes like hers. The woman next to him was blonde, smirking but not quite grinning. His hand was on her hip, and her hand was in his hair. They looked happy, but there was that calculating glint in their eyes that Emma associated with military people. Her biological parents looked no less haunted than the ones she had now. She remembered glimpses of them now, wrapped up in childlike wonder. Her mother's soft hands. Her father's smile, so much like her own. The birthmark on her mother's neck.

She sees the same tiny birthmark on her neck here, a fleck of dirt to those who hadn't seen her before her death. 

Emma swallows the lump in her throat and takes a shaky breath. 

Natasha's hand brushes through her hair, and it's so comforting that Emma takes the picture and leans back into Natasha's touch, staring at the people who created her, gave her life. And she'd been a mistake, she knows that now. She was as much of a mistake as her father had been in the beginning. As sad as that is, she's here, her mother and father are not, and she has them to thank for it. 

"Em, sweetheart, you're going to rip it." Clint's gentle words sliced through her reverie, and she blinked her eyes back into focus. She let Clint tug the picture out of her hands, and tightened them into fists in her lap. "Oh, yeah. I see why people keep asking if we're sure she's adopted."

Emma laughed at that, and Clint gave her a surprised smile, shocked she'd laughed. 

Natasha watched Anne's microexpressions, the downwards quirk of her lips, the quick wrinkle of her eyebrows. Definitely not pleased with that joke. 

"We're sorry for your loss," Natasha said, and made to slide the pictures back over the table, when Emma made a sound of disagreement. 

"Wait," she pleaded. "Can... Dad, can you take pictures of these?"

"Sure, sweetie," Clint said, and immediately whipped his phone out to take pictures of the photos. "Where's your phone?"

"I left it at home," she said distantly, looking over at her baby picture. "Did I seriously look like that?"

"At some point, yeah," Clint chuckled. "You know how AJ is super tiny? He's gonna grow up, just like you, and he'll ask you 'did I seriously look like that' when he finds cute photos of him too, and you're gonna feel old as dirt."

"His name isn't AJ," Emma protested. "It's Arthur Happy Junior Hogan. Just baby Artie."

"There's a name starting with A, and a Junior in his name. It's obviously AJ," Clint said, and Emma snorted, and petted Lucky, getting her hand licked for her troubles. 

"You were the sweetest little baby," Anne said gently. "Rarely fussed. Never cried. Slept through the night very early."

"Was she an early talker too? That would be on par for the course," Clint smirked, and Emma laughed.

"I don't know where you guys get the idea that I'm constantly talking from," she protested. 

"It's alright," Natasha said distantly, watching the way Anne stirred the artificial sweeteners into her coffee. "The world could use a little more of your voice, Возлюбленный."

"Very average in the speaking department, if I recall correctly," Anne said, taking another sip of coffee. "But a fast walker. Ran before you could toddle, more like it. Drove your mother up the wall by disappearing as soon as she looked away for a second."

Emma chuckled, and Natasha smiled. 

"She still pulls the disappearing act," Clint reassured Anne, who smiled politely at him.

"I'm sure," she said quietly. 

Emma talked a little about school, her love for science mostly, and Anne smiled at Emma's dramatic mini-rendition of To Kill A Mockingbird, but then it was nearing lunch, and Emma looked ready to go home and cool off a little. 

"Hey, you two should trade numbers," Clint suggested. "Before we leave."

Anne gave him a look, that might've been a little angry, but she quickly wiped it off her face and traded numbers with Emma gladly, before the little family strolled out of the café, sans Anne. 

"So?" Natasha asked Emma before handing over Lucky's leash to her daughter and stroking her hair. 

"Weird, but cool. Did you see the way she kept tucking her hair back behind her ears? I do that all the time too!" Emma exclaimed happily. 

"You sure do, sweetie," Clint said, giving Emma an amused smile. "That means you might want to talk to her some more, then? Get to know her better?"

"Yeah," Emma nodded. "I do. Hey, what time is it?"

"Nearly one pm. Why?" Emma's eyes widened. 

"Shit! I promised I'd call Damian! C'mon!" she exclaimed, and took off running down the street towards the tower. 

Natasha rolled her eyes lovingly, and hooked arms with Clint, speeding his steps up a little. 

"So, what do we think? Are we gonna let her hang around?" he asked her quietly. 

"We have to, don't we? Denying Emma access to her one living blood-relative would be shit of us," Natasha mused. "She deserves some blood and flesh. She lost her biological parents. If someone else can help her keep them alive, why shouldn't we let them?"

"Anne doesn't like us," Clint added. 

"Oh, god no. Definitely not. I'm glad I wasn't the only one feeling that. I thought your powers of observation were lost." Clint scoffed. 

"Me? Never. I'm in pristine condition."

"Alright, now, let's not overestimate ourselves here," Natasha teased. Clint kissed her cheek. 

"I'm hurt, Tasha," he said dramatically, as they finally slowed to a stop in front of the tower. Emma was pacing outside, with Lucky still on his leash. 

"C'mon, hurry up slowpokes! What took you so long?" she asked as they opened the doors, and Emma skidded into the lobby, making a dash for the elevator. She didn't see the wet floor sign, and didn't account for her own sneakers being wet, so when she nearly fell on her face, she was absolutely taken by surprise. 

Clint was close enough behind her to grab ahold of an arm and keep her upright. 

"Calm down, little lady! Damian will still be waiting for you when you get up to our floor safe and sound," he said as he put her on her feet again. "Don't brain yourself because you wanna talk to your boyfriend so badly."

"I'll be safe," Emma said distantly, and nearly slipped again when she moved, prompting a little snort out of Natasha. 

"No need for running, Возлюбленный," Natasha said, and effortlessly strode over the wet floor, not slipping even once, and Emma gaped as Clint restrained his oogling of his partner's ass. "He'll come to you anyways."

"Oh, I'm sure he will," Clint murmured to himself before shooing Emma into the elevator. Natasha gave him a sultry grin over their daughter's head, and Clint made sure the doors were closed before giving in to his impulses and giving Natasha a deep kiss. 

As Emma made grossed-out noises from somewhere around their elbows, Natasha kissed Clint, and shoved her apprehension and fear of the way Anne was capable of ruining her world out of a metaphorical window.

---

Chapter Text

 

Anne and Emma kept contact continuously throughout the next week, and on a Tuesday in late October, Emma decided that she was brave enough for more. Their phone calls had been a near daily thing, and Emma had gotten to know more about Anne, and Theo, her biological father. 

Apparently Theo had sounded just like her when he laughed, and her freckles being so pale was also a trait she'd inherited from him, and Anne told her stories of how brave Theo had been. But Emma wanted to know more about Anne, too, and so she decided, during that next Tuesday, during their phone call, to invite her over.

"So, what're you up to tomorrow? Anything fun?" Emma asked.

"Not really. Work, as usual. Then nothing," Anne said distantly. 

"You can come over tomorrow after school, if you wanna. I could show you around the tower? You've only ever seen that one place and the lobby," Emma said questioningly, biting her fingernail. 

"Alright," Anne agreed. "What time do you get home?"

"Uh, my bus is usually back by the stop at around 3: 25, so I'll meet you at the tower around 3:30. Is that cool with you?"

"That works," Anne said. "I'll see you then. Bye Emma."

"Bye Anne," Emma smiled happily, and hung up. Immediately she bounced out of the kitchen and into the living room, where there was a couple's yoga thing going on on the TV.

Bucky and Darcy were intertwined in the odd yoga position easily, both wearing comfy sweats and smiling brightly at each other. Victoria was curled up on her signature spot on the loveseat armrest like a very large snowball. She was growing bigger and heavier, and was nearly big enough for Peter to use as a pony. Emma was loving it. 

"How was Anne?" Darcy asked cheerfully as Emma made a sssk noise to get her cat's attention. As soon as Victoria saw her, she made a happy, purring sound. 

"Hi baby," Emma cooed, kissing Victoria's head and stroking her white, majestic fur. "Anne was fine. She's coming over for a visit tomorrow."

"Did you invite her?" Bucky asked distantly as Darcy carefully uncurled from her position on top of his feet, putting her feet back down on the carpet and smiling down at him.

"Yeah," Emma said as she sat down on the couch, patting her thighs invitingly to get Victoria to curl up in her lap instead. The kitty obliged, spreading out like Emma was her personal throne. Emma huffed out a little laugh. "It'll be fun. Won't it, Vicky my babe?"

Victoria meowed, and Emma replied in kind, earning a snorted laughter from Darcy.

"You're gonna be a crazy cat lady one day," she said wistfully as she dragged Bucky to his feet. 

"Hey, it's not sad if you do it together," Emma said, giving Bucky an exaggerated wink. His lips twitched. 

"I don't know, doll," he said thoughtfully. "I don't think the crazy cat lady life is for me."

"No?" Darcy said as she walked around the couch, brushing a hand distantly over Emma's hair as she did. "What sort of life is for you?"

"Somewhere with you," Bucky said, and Darcy locked eyes with him. 

"Goddamn, Buck," Emma laughed. "Romantic today, are we?" Bucky shrugged, his eyes not leaving Darcy's. 

"Not tryin' to be." Finally, Darcy broke their eyelock, and laughed quietly. 

"Alright super soldier, I'll see you downstairs in five minutes, max," she said firmly, and Bucky's lips twitched. 

"Yes, ma'm," he said, and Darcy wiggled her eyebrows at him, before disappearing through the doorway, only for Wanda to appear a few moments later, her eyes alight with suspicion. 

"Where's Pietro?" she asked them. 

"I haven't seen him since this morning," Emma told her. "Why?"

"Tony's missing and I hear fireworks. Can't be coincidence," she said. "James?"

"Jarvis, where's Pietro?" Bucky asked. 

"Mr. Maximoff is on the roof with Sir," Jarvis said, sounding despairing. "They're doing an experiment."

"Oh, this I gotta see," Emma cackled, and plucked Victoria out of her lap before hopping up on the armrest and reaching for the vent in the ceiling. 

Wanda rolled her eyes and murmured some expletive before she took the elevator up to the roof, arriving at around the same time as Emma, and at the exact same time as a ginormous firework took off from the tower and flew into the cold New York City sky. 

It exploded into a white star, and Pietro cheered, dashing from one side of the roof to the other, making the noise sort of wonky. 

"What are you doing?" Wanda asked curiously, wrapping her arms around herself as she and Emma walked up to them. 

Tony turned around, the same crazy scientist face he always had on when he was inventing. 

"I just found my non-lame firework plans from New Years!" Tony grinned at them, whipping his arms out as if to show them his great work. "I did some modifying, and bam! Awesome fireworks!"

"In the middle of October," Emma laughed. "Alright, cool. Can I see the blueprints?" 

As Tony showed Emma the blueprints, Pietro swept up behind his sister with a gust of wind. 

"What do you think you're doing?" she asked him in sharp Sokovian. 

"Having fun," Pietro replied easily. "You should try it sometime."

"We're not here to have fun. We're here to learn how to-"

"No, you're here to learn how to control yourself," Pietro interrupted her, just as sharp. "And I'm here to live. Maybe you should just accept that we don't have to hate everyone trying to help us just on principle."

Wanda stared at her brother, eyes flashing with hurt. 

"It's what's kept us alive so far," she replied softly. 

"They don't want to hurt us. They feed us. Clothe us. Keep us safe. Train us. They don't want us to be hurt." Wanda considered that. 

"Fireworks are stupid," she said childishly in English, and stomped back to the elevator, making Pietro roll his eyes at his sister.

"Hey, can you make the firework look like an arrow?" was the last thing Wanda heard before the elevator doors closed. 

---

The next day at school, Emma was pumped as hell. Anne was coming over! Obviously, her excitement was clear to her friends, and during lunch, when they were all sitting around their little table, Layla asked.

"What's got you so cheery today?" she asked, taking a bite out of her pizza.

"My grandma's coming over today!" Emma said happily.

"Your grandmother," Damian said, with that tone implying he had some secret information he wasn't going to share unless she pried it out of his cold, dead hands. Or kissed it out of him. Emma liked the second option much better. 

"Yeah, Anne. She's coming over today," she said happily, dragging Damian's arm over her shoulder and preparing to launch attack.

"To the tower?" Hope asked incredulously. "Oh."

Wait a minute. Emma leaned back from where she was ready to give Damian's nose a kiss, and turned to look at her friend.

"'Oh'? Why 'oh'?" she asked with a wrinkle forming between her eyebrows. 

"Well... It's just...." Layla began carefully. 

"It's just what?" Emma asked, firmer this time. 

"It's an odd sort of environment unless you know all the variables involved," TJ said simply. When Emma gave him a look that told him just how simple she thought it was, he shrugged. "When I first met your family, I nearly had a freak out."

"Well, what for?" 

"Because, one," Layla said, holding up a perfectly manicured nail, "not only are they super scary, they're also super intimidating and super hot, and it's sorta daunting. And, two, the place is a mess nine times out of ten."

"It's always clean, the bots wouldn't leave it any other way," Emma argued, and Hope made a noise. 

"I'm talking about the other kind of mess, darling," Layla said, shaking her head a little with a cute frown on her face.

"That. That too. That you just have random robots all over the place. Like, what? Who even has robots! I mean, yeah, Damian has a butler because he's super rich, but you have a robot butler, aka a disembodied voice that does your laundry and orders your food. And that is scary as hell," Hope said firmly.

Emma gaped at all of them. 

"C'mon, it's not that bad," she pleaded, turning to Damian for support. He made his cute -tt- noise as he wrinkled his eyebrows at her.

"Not only did I get attacked by your slobbering dog last time I was there, your cat sheds all over me, and your cousin, or little brother, or whatever he is, shot webs into my face. And that's not even taking into account the amount of chaos the witch likes to create when she's feeling a little moody," he said. "Don't expect me to defend your family just because you have me in a vulnerable position."

"Ugh, sometimes you're so distrusting it makes me itch to hurt your mom," Emma said with an eyeroll, but remained underneath his arm.

"You guys are weird," Aaron stated as he slid into the seat next to Layla with his tray of food, immediately making the blonde light up. "Hi," he smiled at her, giving her cheek a quick kiss. 

Emma had no qualms about Aaron's existance, really. He was sorta cute, dorky enough that he and TJ could argue about music for nearly an entire half hour, and had a sort of quirky humor that suited him. He was also gangly and nearly taller than Damian, which served to make Damian huffy and angry and a little clingy, which Emma was totally cool with.

"Hi," Layla said with a totally adoring smile on her face, and Hope rolled her eyes at them, scooting a little further away. 

The one person Aaron hadn't managed to sway with his charms was Hope. Probably because that letterman jacket was associated with bad things in her mind, and he rarely took the damn thing off.

"Anyway, it's not that bad! It'll be fine," Emma said. "Anne will be fine."

"Just make sure she brings a change of clothes so that when her three hundred dollar shirt is ruined, she has something to change into," Damian said distantly before sipping his juice, and Emma scoffed. 

"You're still salty about that shirt? Are you kidding me?" she asked with light laughter. "You know me better than to come to my house with a three hundred dollar shirt."

"Obviously not."

"Why are you so salty today? Is your family okay?" she asked him, and Damian's hand slipped from her shoulder down to her hip, and he squeezed.

"They're fine," he replied. 

"So you're just being pissy?"

"Not more than usual," Hope said distantly, scooting even closer to TJ when Layla ran a hand through Aaron's hair gently. 

"I fought with father," Damian said silently under the guise of giving her hair a kiss. 

"Ah," Emma said. "Isn't that a constant in your life nowadays?" Damian made an indecisive noise. 

"Depends on how much he takes me out," Damian said distantly. "How much he excludes me."

"Seriously dude, Dr. Kyle would probably love to get his mitts on you and your dad and analyze your relationship. I myself, a person who likes to ridicule psychology, can't imagine what's going on inside your head," Emma said incredulously, and stole one of Damian's cookies from home. When he rolled his eyes at her, she nudged his chin towards her with a smile and kissed him. 

"Honestly, what happened to everyone being awesomely single?" Hope asked loudly and pointedly, making both couples snap out of their trances. "I miss that."

"You sure you're not just jealous?" TJ asked with a smile. 

"I'm definitely not jealous," Hope declared. "Honestly, I have so much more free time to myself and time for clarity."

"If you want, I could try to set you up with a guy from the team," Aaron offered kindly, and everyone at the table scoffed. "What?" 

"Oh, you sweet, naive boy," Layla sighed. "That's not how it works."

"Why not?" Aaron asked incredulously, smiling distantly at Layla's exasperated expression. 

"First of all," Hope began, staring straight into his eyes and holding up a finger to count on. "The majority of the guys on your team has at one point shoved me into a locker. Second-"

"They don't like band kids for some asshole-ish reasons. They call me gay just because I'm in band and I play the clarinet, and not that being gay is wrong, but using gay as an insult is," TJ said firmly. 

"Third, are you ignorant or just dim-witted?" Damian asked with a scowl on his face. "There are entire hierarkies built in junior high, and you even engaging with us, the supposed outsiders, is an anomaly in it self. You coaxing others to do it is even more impossible than your existance in our circles."

"Ah, how I love how socially aware you are nowadays," Emma smiled at him. Damian smirked at her, raising a sly eyebrow and making her heart beat a little faster. Ah fuck, but he was great sometimes. 

"Don't be an ass, Damian," Layla said as Aaron gaped like a fish. 

"They've pushed you?" he asked Hope. Hope gave him a look that strongly implied she thought he was pretty stupid. "Well that's shit. Which ones? Tell me."

"What?" Hope asked incredulously. 

"Was it Greg? He can be such a dick sometimes, I'd suspect him to be able to do that," Aaron said, rising out of his seat. 

"What is happening right now?" TJ asked with wide eyes. 

"White knight complex," Emma said breezily as Hope grabbed Aaron's arm. 

"Jesus christ, sit down!" she hiss-whispered, and Aaron gave her a shocked look. 

"They push you and you let them get away with it," he said. "They're not gonna get away with it." Layla was staring at Aaron with her mouth slightly open, looking a little flushed and very distracted. 

"Yeah they are! I don't want to start a war and overrule the delicate power structure of Junior high," she said quickly, shoving Aaron back into his seat next to Layla in a surprising show of strength. 

"You guys just... Don't do anything about it?" Aaron said. 

"Well, I've beaten up this one guy, but that was just an accident. The second time. The first time, he was a fucking asshole. I think after that, they stopped wanting to go after me," Emma said with a shrug. "However, sometimes they still go after Hope and TJ with surprising ferocity. It's almost like a smart girl and a dude who's comfortable in his masculinity is super scary to them and must immediately be bullied into submission."

Aaron gaped at them for another few seconds. 

"Well, that's just shit," he said firmly. 

"Insightful as always," Damian remarked, and Emma shut him up with a kiss.

"You didn't stop to consider why whenever I try to sit down with the cheerleaders, they all move away from me?" Layla asked him, much more kind. Aaron's eyes grew dark. 

"Did they shove you into a locker too?" he asked. 

"What? No," Layla said quickly. "No, they just froze me out. It made me switch from cheerleading to ballet though, so I'm sorta grateful. It was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made."

Aaron still looked over at his friends over at the other table, a frown on his face. 

"It's fine," she continued to soothe him. "Just ignore them for now." 

He listened to his girlfriend, but that darkness never left his eyes.

---

After school, Emma practically skipped off the bus, trying to hurry back to the tower. She was sort of nervous. Her friends' words were running on a loop through her head, making her feel antsy and worried. 

But then she saw Anne standing outside of the tower, in a grey coat and with her dark hair hidden underneath a hat, and her nervousness left her. 

"Hi!" Emma said happily, and Anne smiled down at her. 

"Hi honey," she said sweetly.

"Let's go inside! I have so many things I wanna show you," Emma told her excitedly as she took Anne's hand and dragged her into the lobby. 

Bucky was standing by the elevators, probably waiting for her to come home, like he did sometimes, when he had nothing better to do. Right now, he looked a little pensive. Which wasn't really clear to anyone but the people who knew him well. When they came closer, Emma grinned at him.

"There's Bucky! Anne, this is my best friend," she said proudly, waving towards Bucky enthusiastically. Bucky a smiled at the other woman, nothing soft or genuine about the action at all. "Bucky, this is Anne, Theo's real mom."

"Have you told her...?" he waved toward his head, and Emma shook her head, linking their fingers together as she did. Telling Anne that the person who had killed her son was also the best friend of her granddaughter might not be the smoothest way to getting Anne to like her family. 

"Nope." 

"Told me what?" Anne asked, but not like Natasha when she assumed Clint had done something extra stupid. Suspicious, instead of a grandparent's gentle scolding. But then, Anne had never been a mom, let alone a grandmother. 

"What?" Emma asked innocently. Anne's mouth tensed, and then Emma tugged on Bucky's arm, leading them into the private elevator. 

"You're... Her best friend," Anne stated rather than asked Bucky, who nodded a little. "And... How old are you?"

"Ninety-eight," he replied, and Anne scoffed. 

"No, really."

"Oh, he's not kidding. He's really ninety-eight. He's just been brainwashed and in an ice box on and off for the past seventy years," Emma said distractedly as she pressed the button for the common floor. "Steve's also been in the ice for a long fucking time, but they both look like they're in their late twenties. It's awesome as hell. Science at it's most marvellous." 

Emma didn't notice Anne's shocked look at the expletive, but Bucky did, tightening his hold on Emma's hand for a moment. 

The doors opened, and they were met with slight chaos.

Bruce's face was going green, and he was breathing heavily as Tony sweet-talked, soothing, while Steve tore a robot apart with his bare hands. 

On top of the fridge sat an entirely too amused Clint, with Natasha next to him, lips pursed. Thor was standing by the elevator, hammer in hand but dressed too casually to be very Thor-y. His hair was up in an intricate braiding that Emma herself now knew how to make, and he looked over at them as soon as they entered. 

"Sup," Emma said with a nod up at Thor, who towered over her. Thor sighed, his broad shoulders moving effortlessly under his thin red shirt. 

"It seems the Man of Iron crafted a new robot that tried to attack Banner," Thor said in his warm voice, frowning a little.

"Explains Steve's ripping party," Bucky said as he let go of Emma's hand. "Darcy around?"

"Lady Darcy and Lady Jane are enjoying a 'Girls day' with baked treats at the café," Thor replied. 

"Why isn't Nat with them?" Emma asked worriedly. 

"She declined. She seemed to be waiting for you to arrive," he said. Bucky shrugged, and walked into the living room immediately, and Emma gave him a weird look that he brushed off.

Just at that moment, Natasha's eyes slipped towards them, and she hopped off the fridge. Clint noticed a moment later, and followed her lead, dropping down into a smooth crouch until he stood up and smiled at the three of them.

"Hiya!" he said cheerfully. "How was school, sweetie?" 

"Cool. Did you know that there are tiny little creatures in water called plankton?" Emma asked him. 

"That makes so much sense, seeing as that green thing that looks like a corndog named Plankton is on Spongebob," Steve said distantly. 

"You like Spongebob?" Clint asked a little incredulously. 

"I watch an occasional episode whenever Peter wants to," Steve shrugged. "I have to admit, I'm more of a Loony Toons fan."

"Of course you are, you're a man of classics," Tony said as he wrapped his arms around Bruce, who was trembling a little, the heart-monitor he'd gotten from Betty still beeping a little angrily.

"I also find the Toons of the Looney quite amusing," Thor boomed, and Steve patted him on the back with a smile.

"Hey everyone, this is Anne," Emma said loudly. "She's my grandma. You've heard me talk about her before."

Everyone greeted her.

"Hi again," Natasha said with a sweet, albeit fake, smile. Emma had told her parents yesterday that she'd invited her grandma over, and they'd encouraged her. If she wanted to show her grandma how they lived, fine. They could be civil for Emma's grandma.

"Hi," Anne said, her eyes a little narrowed and her smile just as fake as Natasha's. 

Wanda popped her head in from the living room with furrowed brows. 

"Who's... Oh." Her eyebrows raised, and then she hummed, before popping back into the living room. 

"That's Wanda. She has magical powers," Emma told Anne. "She can shoot beams of energy from her hands and control things with her mind. She makes teacups float if I ask her to. She's cool."

"Cool," Anne repeated, like she didn't know what that word meant, but Emma took it as confirmation, not a question.

"She has a twin too! Pietro!" Emma yelled, and a second later, Pietro appeared, a smile on his face. 

"How was school, Tiny?" he asked, and ruffled her hair, not taking notice of Anne's shocked expression. 

"Hey, I'm not that tiny," Emma retaliated, smacking his thigh when she had no other way to reach him. Immediately Pietro put her into a headlock, and Emma squawked indignantly as he gave her a noogie, which she fought off by elbowing him in the stomach and sweeping his feet from under him. 

Clint chuckled as he took a cup out of the cupboard, pouring coffee into it as Tony eased Bruce into a chair by the kitchen table, still talking soothingly to him. Steve had walked into the living room with Thor, where Peter's happy squeals were coming from. 

"Don't make me separate you, kiddos," he called warningly. "I'll put you on separate floors for days if you keep the squabbling up."

"Yeah Pietro," Emma taunted, and Pietro stuck his tounge out at her before he stood up and smirked at Clint. 

"You'll have to catch me first, old man," he said teasingly and then he disappeared in a gust of wind. 

"Don't start," Clint said as soon as Tony opened his mouth. "Don't you start. I'll use my parenting powers and put you away too, don't try me."

"You got me fuckin' quivering in my boots, Barton," Tony said dramatically. Emma grinned at them, not noticing Anne's horrified look.

"Yeah, I'm gonna show Anne our floor, how's it look?" Emma asked. 

"Oh, it's fine," Natasha said as she took out Bruce's specific tea blend that he used to soothe himself after near-Hulk-outs and put the water on. "I can't speak for your room though."

"Alright, cool," Emma laughed. "Cool. Who's making dinner?" Everyone's eyes drifted towards Bruce, who chuckled a little weakly. 

"It's alright, guys, I think I can manage," he said, taking a deep breath.

"Yeah, it looks like it's me, sweetie. Any requests?" Clint asked, looking away from Bruce. 

"Really, guys, no need-" Bruce protested. 

"Shush," Tony said, laying his hands firmly on Bruce's shoulders.

"Pasta?" Emma suggested innocently. 

"Any other food groups you'd like to include, except for pasta? Say, hotpockets?" Clint asked sarcastically. 

"Puttanesca," she suggested. 

"Ah, yes, the whore sauce," Tony said, and made Bruce chuckle weakly, which made Tony grin mischeviously. 

"Whore sauce and pasta it is," Clint said, making a thumbs up at them just before Emma shoved Anne back into the elevator with a laugh.

"Are they... Always like that?" Anne asked slowly. 

"Well yeah. They're pretty funny, yeah?" Emma said with a smile up at her grandmother. It took a few moments for Anne's mouth to smile back down at her, but Emma didn't think too much about it when they arrived on their floor. 

Immediately Lucky came running at her, and Emma set down her bookbag to embrace the dog. 

"Hi Lucky," Emma said lovingly as she got licked in the face by their golden retriever. "This is Anne. Be nice to her, alright?" 

"Is this your dog?" Anne asked pleasantly, and Emma made a so-so motion with her hand. 

"Well, it's my dad's dog, but he shares Lucky with Kate, and I'm pretty sure dad got him from some gang anyway? So yes, but also no. He's practically the family dog, since Steve and Bucky like to take him out running, and Peter likes to cuddle him, and he calms Wanda when she's having bad days and is feeling destroyer-y," Emma replied with ease. "Dinner's not gonna be for another two hours. Want a snack?"

"I'd like some tea, if you have any," Anne said as she pulled out one of the chairs by the kitchen island. Victoria sprung from the seat with a hiss, and Anne yelped, smacking away the kitten's paws so that she dropped onto the floor. 

"Oh christ! Sorry, that was Victoria. She's my cat. Hey, babe, don't worry, it's alright," Emma said soothingly, rushing around the corner of the kitchen table to sit down next to her frazzled cat. "C'mere. It's alright."

"I'm sorry, she surprised me, is all," Anne said, crouching down a little. Victoria hissed at her again, and ran over Emma's legs towards her bedroom, her white tail swooshing behind her angrily. 

"Yeah, I get it. She'll get over it," Emma said distantly, looking after her cat as Anne sat down on the high chair. "What sort of tea would you like?"

"Green, please," Anne said, and Emma rose again to make her grandmother her tea.

---

Anne stayed over for dinner, but as soon as dinner was over, she got up from the table, stating that she needed to get up early tomorrow. She said goodbye and Emma took her back downstairs to the lobby, and as soon as the elevator doors closed, Wanda took a sharp breath. 

"What?" Clint asked.

"Something bad will happen," Wanda said distantly, her eyes flashing scarlet. 

"See, it's not paranoia if it's actually going to happen," Bucky said, and Natasha expelled a sharp breath through her nose.

"Well, you're still sort of certified, you see why I'd think your judgement was impaired," Natasha said sharply. Then she turned to Wanda. "What's your read on Anne?"

Wanda mulled that over, and bit her lip. Then she said something in Sokovian, and Natasha, Bucky, Pietro, and Clint hummed. 

"Hello? Let us non-billion-linguals in on the secret," Darcy said, nudging her boyfriend with an elbow. 

"Iffy," Clint said distantly. "Yeah, I agree totally. She really doesn't like us at all, does she?"

"No," Wanda said decisively. 

"Ah, this is what you get for being a defender of the public," Tony sighed, leaning back in his chair. "Some people just despise you for what you do. Like they could defend the Earth better than we could."

"I don't think that's it," Wanda said, tilting her head to the side in thought, which struck Natasha as a very Clint-gesture. From Bucky's little huff of breath, he'd probably caught it too, and was as amused as she was. "She's just... Not happy with us."

"That clears it right up. Thanks, Wanda," Tony said very sarcastically, and Steve gave him a chiding look. 

"Don't listen to Tony, he's just cranky," Bruce said distantly as he typed something on his phone and set it down. It chirped only a few moments later, and he picked it up, and smiled. 

"Say hi to Betty," Pietro said with raised eyebrows, and Bruce blushed a little, mumbled something intelligible, and rose from the table with his plate. 

"You gonna go to sleep now?" Tony asked patiently. 

"Coming from you, that thinly-veiled threat is not nearly as scary as it could be," Bruce laughed. 

"You're going to sleep now, aren't you Bruce?" Steve repeated, with that look on his stubborn, beautiful face that told everyone in his vicinity that he was fully ready to flip Bruce like a pancake into a bed and strap him down if he had to.

"Now, see, that is a very encouraging threat," Bruce said as he walked towards the elevator, pointing to Steve. "I'll probably read a little, meditate, and then I'll sleep. Don't worry."

"I'm putting Jarvis on you!" Tony called right before the doors closed. "Jay?"

"I'll monitor Dr. Banner's pulse," Jarvis promised, "and alert someone if he should decide to stay up."

"Awesome," Tony said. "You're the best, Jarvis."

"How very gracious of you, Sir," Jarvis droned, and everyone gave a chuckle as Emma reappeared. 

"Did Anne get on her way okay?" Clint asked as Emma came over to where he was sitting and wrapped her arms around his neck, laying her cheek against his stubbly one. 

"Yeah," she replied softly. "Hey, can we watch Indiana Jones?"

"Really? Now? Sweetie, it's getting late," Clint said, looking over at the clock on the wall. 

"Pleeeease?" Emma pleaded, and Clint looked around at everyone else, and their raised, expectant eyebrows. 

"Oh geeze. Fine. Help Steve with the dishes and we'll get the popcorn going," he sighed, and Emma cheered, grabbing his plate and dashing over to the sink, calling for Steve to get his ass over there. 

Clint met Natasha's eyes, and they smiled at each other for a few, peaceful seconds, before Pietro dropped a slippery plate and the peace and quiet was interrupted by Peter's frightened screaming, and then the chaos was back on again.

---

Chapter Text

 

"Hey Tones?" Emma asked distantly as she stared at the blueprint on her tablet. It was nearly twelve-thirty AM, but Emma couldn't sleep, and Tony was still in his workshop. He was crouched over the robot Steve had torn to pieces earlier in the day, a screwdriver in his mouth. When Emma said his name, he looked up. 

"Whugh," he asked, screwdriver still in his mouth. His hair was a little crazy, and he had a grease smear that ran from his nose to his forehead, and his greasy tanktop had a tiny hole in it from welding, a corresponding scar peeking through the hole. He looked like a mess, and Emma sort of loved him for it. 

"What's this?" she asked, flicking the plans up onto the big screen in front of his workbench. Tony pulled the screwdriver out of his mouth and used it to pry a shredded piece of metal out of the pile of metal on his concrete floor. He was sitting on one of the pillows from the couch, which had in some previous life been blue, and which was now more gray. 

"Oh that. That's Ultron," he said distractedly. "It's an AI I started making maybe a year or two after Loki showed up to take over the world with the Chitauri."

"Is he finished?" Emma asked curiously. Tony smiled and made a sweeping motion towards the metal chunks on his floor. 

"He's right here," he sighed, rubbing his brow ridge, leaving another smear of grease behind. "He targeted Bruce and called him a threat, and well. He's not supposed to do that. So I got Jarvis to activate his shut down protocols so I could fix him, and when he didn't respond, Steve took some dumbass but very effective action and ripped him apart."

"Well, what was Ultron gonna do?" Emma asked curiously, slipping off the couch where she'd been curled up and taking a pillow with her. She sat down on it next to Tony. 

"Help people. Like we do. So that people like you," he said pointedly, nudging her chin with his knuckle, "don't have to."

"Superheroes are popping up everywhere," Emma protested. "Wanda and Pietro and the Professor's kids, they're just the start."

"Yeah, but for every superhero, there's a supervillain lurking in the background," Tony sighed, scratching the back of his neck before looking her dead in the eye. "I want to make this world better. For you, for Peter, for any future kids Barton decides to drag home. I just want to make it better."

"You're already a philanthropist, a superhero, working for clean energy, donating all the money you can to charity, and a doting dad," Emma said softly, gripping one of Tony's fancy circut boards from the scrap heap and fiddling with it. "You really don't have to carry the fate of the world on your shoulders. I know how heavy that gets."

"Then what do you think I should do?" Tony asked her sharply. "Nothing?"

"Nothing?!" Emma exclaimed, smacking her forehead exasperatedly. "Tony, what the fuck. Are you deaf? Because I will repeat the entirety of what I said in sign language if that will make you listen to it and absorb it; in French, if I have to! I could probably get Damian to do it in like Finnish if you want me to." Tony scoffed, and his dark eyes swept over to Dummy, who was tossing a tennis ball against a wall and rolling around after it like a puppy. 

"No thanks. I hear you."

"You obviously don't. And who the hell told you you're the one who's supposed to fix the entire world in one fell swoop? Not even Jesus did that."

"I can outdo Jesus any day," Tony said off-handedly. "I could make flotation devices that could let me walk on water if I want to. Hell, I'm sure I could turn water into wine if I wanted to."

"Ugh, my point just- woosh," Emma said, making her hand fly over her head exasperatedly. "My point is that you've got a team. And a kid, and friends and family, who'd all love to help you fix the world. You just can't expect that it'll happen in a snap. You can't build AI's especially dedicated to fix the world. Have you not watched any 'robot's rule the world' movies?" 

Dummy whirred, and with a bang, he ran into the wall. 

"What are you doing, you idi- oh my god, Dummy, no," Tony sighed, standing up quickly to stop Dummy from rotating his claw to try and push away from the wall. "Your wheel is- Dummy, stay still!"

Emma laughed as Tony chased Dummy around his workshop, until finally, he got the AI to stop long enough for Tony to fix Dummy's wheel. Dummy chirped happily and nudged Tony's side with his claw like an affectionate animal. 

"Oh you're welcome. Next time you pull that I'm shipping you off to some random university in Denmark," Tony warned, but it was too fond to be any sort of threat, and when Dummy butted his side again, Tony ran his hand over the claw like a petting motion, sliding his fingers over the servos and delicate wiring. "See, this, this is why I have trouble seeing robots take over the world."

"Trouble, yeah, but it's not impossible," Emma remarked, and yawned. "Pro tip: don't dive in over your head with the saving the world thing. You're doing enough. You are enough. You've always been enough, no matter what anyone's ever said, alright?"

Tony stared at her in shock as Emma stood up. 

"Toss Ultron down the chute, Tones. He's got nothing on the human helpers," she called as she walked out. "G'night."

Tony stared after her, and then he grabbed the tennis ball Dummy had been chasing, and threw it further into the workshop. Dummy, You, and Butterfingers immediately buzzed after it, chirping and whirring all the same. 

"Jarvis? How's Hank Pym doing? Can he work?" he asked as he sat down in his chair, poking the heap of what used to be Ultron with his toe. 

"Dr. Pym is currently taking his medication, in therapy, and tenatively friendly with Ms. Van Dyne," Jarvis replied easily. "Shall I have him call you at a more reasonable time?"

"Oh, wait, what time is it?"

"Nearly one pm, Sir. Captain Rogers has already requested you join him in bed," Jarvis said, in a resigned tone. 

"I'm gonna stay up. Scrap the Ultron project. Let's get a... fresher perspective on things," Tony said, twirling the screwdriver between his fingers distantly. "Entirely new vision. Start over."

"Yes Sir," Jarvis agreed, albeit reluctantly, and brought up clean slates on the holo screens.

---

"How'd it go?" Damian asked suspiciously, and Emma hiked Peter higher up on her hip as she squished her phone harder between her shoulder and her ear. 

"How'd what go?" Emma asked distantly as she sat rummaged around in Peter's chest of drawers for something that looked like day clothes.

She found a t-shirt with a pi sign on it, with the word 'cutie' above it, and she snorted. Of course, Tony Stark couldn't have a child without utilizing the possible science puns. She held the shirt up for Peter's approval, and snagged a pair of gray sweats and tiny socks. Why not, right? He was a baby. Why'd he even own jeans? 

The Avengers had been called away to deal with Dr. Doom, who was running around with a bunch of Doombots in central Manhattan, trying to steal some artifact from some museum and doing some serious damage along the way. 

Since it was Doombots, the entire team was sent out, mostly as damage control. Clint had called and cleared with Fury, and then they had brought Pietro with them. Wanda was still asleep, and seeing as she'd been up for four days straight before that, everyone decided it was probably for the best for her to sleep.

Emma had already eaten breakfast by the time the call came, and was promised a ride to school by Darcy if she got Peter dressed and ready to go out on some errands while Darcy got her shit together.

"Your grandmother's visit," Damian replied. 

"Oh. Yeah, it was great. I got to show her my room and we had dinner together, and it was nice," Emma smiled. Peter grabbed the shirt from her hands, and wiggled a little to show that he wanted to be let down on the floor. 

"Is that so," Damian said distantly. Emma narrowed her eyes.

"I also had a space burrito, with kale and space goo. It was delicious," she said, and Peter giggled when Emma helped him put on his shirt. She smiled at him, and he held onto her shoulder when he hopped into his sweat pants. 

"That's nice," Damian said. 

"You're not even listening to me!" Emma accused. When she tried to help Peter with his socks, he snatched them out of her hands, and she gave him a stern look. 

"I can do it," Peter protested. 

"Prove it," she said.

"I am," Damian protested, and Emma snickered when she heard the same petulant tone in both of their voices. She sat back on her haunches as Peter wrestled one foot into a sock.

"Really?"

"Space burrito. Kale. Space goo," Damian said. 

"And you believed that?" she said incredulously. His silence was surprisingly tense, and Emma shook her head in surprise, nearly dropping her phone. "You're weird. Count yourself lucky I'm really into weird."

"I hadn't noticed," he deadpanned, and Emma grinned as Peter wrestled his other sock on. 

"Look, 'Ma!" Peter said, pointedly waving his tiny feet in her face. 

"Yeah, Petey, I see. Good job," Emma said, hoisting him up on her hip again. 

"What?" Damian frowned. 

"Holding two conversations at once, here, babe," Emma said patiently. 

"Oh. Well, I just... Wanted to hear your voice," Damian said, and God, did he sound nervous? That was weird. Emma hadn't heard Damian nervous since, like, last Christmas, at the very least. It was nearing November now, the snow coating the New York skyline like powdered sugar. 

"Really?" Emma asked, maybe a little more shy than she had intended, and she heard Damian swallow quietly through the reciever. 

"Yeah," he replied quietly. She bit her lip, and then Peter got a grip on her phone and tugged. 

"Hullo?" he said, pressing the phone to his face with both hands, and Emma burst out laughing. 

"You wanna say hi to Damian, Petey? Here," Emma said as she walked into the elevator, turning on the vid-call function. Peter's face showed up on the tiny window in the corner of her phone, and Damian's confused face stared back at her, a sleep crease still on his cheek, his hair a little ruffled. He was drinking tea, and suddenly Damian's father peeked over his shoulder with slightly wrinkled eyebrows. 

Emma was struck by how alike the two of them were sometimes when Bruce's lips twitched into a small smile for but a second before he was gone again. 

"Dames!" Peter exclaimed happily, and was entertained by just Damian's scowl for the four minutes it took for Emma to meet up with Darcy and Jane in the kitchen and hand Peter over to Jane. 

"Alright, I'll see you in school, beloved, bye," Emma said, and Damian smirked at her for just a second before he hung up, leaving Emma's heart fluttering a little in her chest.

---

"'S anyone got eyes on Doom?" Iron Man asked through the comms, just as Steve held up his shield for Natasha to use as a trampoline. 

"Not yet," she grunted, launching herself into the fray of Doom bots. "Hawkeye?"

"Um. Maybe?" Clint said as he shot off arrow after arrow into the robot clump. "Not entirely sure. I see a green hood. Could be him."

"No one rivals Doom!" came a boom from the green hood.

"Yup, definitely Doom. Ten o'clock for you now, Widow," he said. There was a grey blur on the battlefield, and six more Doom bots dropped. "Good going, Pietro. We're really gonna have to hook you up with a codename if you're gonna keep coming with us."

"Emma makes up good names," Pietro said, and Clint saw the kid grin up at him from where he was perched on a rooftop.

"She sure does. Iron Man, I'm gonna need a boost to get closer," he said. 

"I shall assist thee, Eye of the Hawk!" Thor boomed. 

"That works too, I gue- uuugh!" 

"Hawkeye," Cap snapped. 

"Yeah, I'm good," Clint groaned. "Thor just snagged me very ungently."

"His organs are fragile, be careful with him, Thor," Natasha said, her words punctuated by a grunt as she stabbed her bracelets into one of the Doom bots and pressed the button to fry it. 

"I resent that. My organs are hard like stone," Clint grunted. "That there will do, thanks Thor."

"That explains why you're so damn heavy," Iron Man said. 

"Hey!"

"Maybe lay off the donuts, huh?"

"Jackass," Clint muttered. 

"Language!" came Cap's exasperated exclamation, the Brooklyn lilt coming out in full force in his hurriedness. "If Peter starts swearing, I swear to god, I'll just have to smack some sense into the lot 'a ya."

"Hot," Darcy said into the comms, and Bucky snorted.

"Hypocrite, Stevie," he drawled, his AK up and aiming, getting some damage in on the latest wave of bots. "You're such a damn hypocrite."

"Are you seriously tuned in on your phone?" Tony asked incredulously. 

"Yes, because I'm out cleaning up the messes you're making, and I've taken Emma to school and now I've got Peter riding on my back," Darcy said impatiently. "He's cute but he's also a ball of energy and it's really wracking all the nerves I have."

"No kids in the future, Lewis?" Clint asked, and he saw Bucky freeze up for just a second.

"I thought we already went through this, fu-"

"Language," Steve barked, and then immediately backtracked to Polite Steve. "Please, Darcy, not in front of Peter."

"-Fishface," Darcy finished. "You darn fishface. Stop being a butt." Pietro burst out laughing on the comms, and Darcy's light laugh joined in in a second. "I just wanted you to know that Peter's fine and chill and enjoying himself, because I'm a good babysitter."

"Thanks, Darcy," Cap said. "Appreciate it."

"Sure thing," Darcy said. "Darcy out." Pietro was still giggling, and Clint saw him stop on the battlefield.

"If you're laughing you're not fighting," Clint reminded him, and watched Hulk slam a Doom bot to the ground like a doll and roar. 

"I'm fast enough to do both," Pietro said cockily. 

"Oh really?" Clint challenged, and took a potshot in his general direction. It nearly hit Pietro in the foot, blowing up the nearby Doom bot, and he yelped. "Slackin' off already?"

Pietro dashed through a cluster of four Doom bots, all of them dropping in his wake. 

"I'll show you slacking," Pietro grumbled, and took off towards Doom. 

"Hey, no, Pietro, fall back," Clint said. 

"Where's he going?" Natasha asked sharply. 

"Straight for Doom! Pietro!" Clint yelled, shooting an arrow and setting off an explosion just as he rushed by. Pietro just kept running, and Clint growled.

"Pietro, stand down, that's an order!" Cap yelled in the comms, but yet the grey blur prevailed, zig-zagging between the Doom bots and taking some down on his way towards Dr. Doom.

"Hey," Bucky yelled as Pietro sped by him, and tossed a bolo after him. It hit a Doom bot who went down like a rock, but by then Pietro was right in front of the real Doom. 

"Hey metalheap!" he yelled, and Doom didn't hesitate to punch Pietro right in the face. Of course, Pietro managed to dodge the fist, but right behind him, a Doom bot opened fire. 

By bullet number three, Bucky tore the arm shooting right out of it's socket, but Clint was fucking breathless. 

"Widow," Bucky said sharply, and Natasha, god bless Natasha, appeared out of practically nowhere, and tazered Dr. Doom. He dropped like a brick house, and if Clint hadn't been in love with Natasha before, he would be by now.

"How's he doing?" Clint asked, shooting an arrow right into the face of a Doom bot going after Natasha. Bucky dropped down next to Pietro as Natasha covered him, pulling more arms out of their sockets and wringing necks like there was no tomorrow.

"His heartbeat is speedy, like a mouse!" Tony called, his voice followed by the sounds of his repulsors going off. "It's harder to feel his pulse than a normal person's. Just feel like you should know that before you declare him dead. 

"Two bullets clean through, another one lodged in his shoulder," Bucky said as Pietro whimpered. "Conscious. We need an emergency evac. for him. He's not walking this one off."

"Right, Coulson?" Tony said. 

"Sending a team in now," came Coulson's calm voice, and everyone relaxed a little on the inside, but kept blasting the robots. Coulson didn't even sound the least bit distressed. "Stay with him."

"Goddammit kid," Bucky sighed, rolling Pietro over on his stomach, making the lanky kid groan. "Yeah, I bet that hurts, huh, punk? Better not think about running off again like that."

"Winter," Natasha snapped through gritted teeth as five came at her at the same time, and Bucky took a couple of shots at them, careful not to hit Natasha, because Clint would bitch about it forever and ever. 

Two of them dropped, and Natasha took care of the other three easily enough. 

A couple of SHIELD medics came rushing forward from a nearby bakery, and Bucky decided not to question it, glaring at them as they strapped Pietro in and carried him off. 

"Pietro's safe," he called as he turned around, and looked up to the sky. "We might not be."

"What the hell is that?" Iron Man asked, as the bright red blur came hurtling towards them. 

"Aw, Wanda, no," Clint said under his breath. "Hey, remember the whole 'we're twins, the only family we can remember are each other, we hold discussions in our heads when we don't want to talk to other people' thing?"

"Oh, fuck," Tony said in a deadpan.

"Yeah, that might be the best words we can say about this situation," Cap said as they all looked up to the sky, where the red flame stopped in it's path. Or maybe because it had reached it's destination.

And the red flame was definitely Wanda, who was glowing an alarming amount of red, her eyes bright, bright scarlet, her arms extended to her sides, and her hair was doing a weird no-gravity thing, and for a second, Clint realized just how they managed to destroy a whole city block all on their own. 

Wanda opened her mouth, but she was too high up for anyone to hear whatever she was screaming, and the scarlet flames that had engulfed her began to crackle. 

"Get out!" Clint yelled. "Get out of range!" Thor swooped by and snagged Natasha from the fray, and Iron man had Bucky and Cap hanging from his arms. Hulk roared and leapt over to the next block just in time for when Wanda exploded. 

The bright scarlet light engulfed the ground, and now Clint could hear Wanda's scream as the robots on the ground sparked and fizzled and exploded in turns. 

It was over in a few seconds, and the red light went out like a candle had been snuffed. Wanda, who'd been floating, lost the red glaze, and then she began dropping. 

"Thor!" Clint yelled, his throat feeling raw with worry as he watched Wanda fall. Thor caught her a couple of yards off the ground, and Clint clutched his chest in shock, his senses still on hyperdrive. "Awesome. Coulson?"

"We're moving in," Coulson said, and thank God for Coulson too, what the hell would they do without Coulson. 

Thor and Tony landed in a relatively undestroyed spot on the asphalt, dropping off their respective passengers. 

"How's Banner?" Cap asked. 

"I'll go get him," Iron Man said just as Clint hooked his grapple arrow onto the roof and jumped. He got at least three fourths down the building before the line went taut, and Clint grunted, shooting a foam arrow underneath himself and unhooking himself from the damn grapple arrow. 

He bounced on the red foam, and rolled, managing a good landing before running over to his team. 

"Hey, how's she doing?" he asked breathlessly as he came up to them. 

"How'd you get down?" Cap asked, and then tracked his trajectory. "You should've just waited for Tony to come pick you up."

"I'm disabled, but I'm not a paraplegic, thanks," Clint snapped as he dropped down next to Wanda, whom Thor had set down gently, his cape bundled up underneath her head like a pillow. Quickly he checked for a pulse, and could breathe a sigh of relief. "She's got a pulse. Wanda? Wanda, honey?"

"I really doubt she'll be getting up anytime soon," Bruce said through the comms, and Tony whistled. 

"Yeah, she's out of the game. Maybe she'll get some sleep for once," he said to the others, and then tuned to a separate channel with just him and Jarvis. "Jay, please tell me you got the energy readings on all that."

"I did, Sir. It's alarming to say the least," Jarvis said, showing him the figures. Tony sputtered. 

"What the hell. So that's Wanda when someone hurts her brother, huh? I hope she doesn't have to live through his death. I don't even wanna know what she'd do."

"Stupid kid," Clint growled as he swept a strand of Wanda's hair out of her face. Natasha smiled down at him secretively, and Bucky noticed, snorting. 

"I like it when you go into full dad-mode," he said, and Clint looked up to see him sign 'cute'. 

"Hey fuck you, man," Clint said, but he let out a shaky laugh. "If Wanda and Pietro fuck up, it's on my ass."

"Speaking of," Tony said as he landed next to them with Bruce leaning against his frame, standing on his boot. "Fury's on his way, and he does not look happy." 

Everyone looked to where Tony was pointing, and Clint inwardly winced. Nicholas Fury was standing in the middle of the stream of SHIELD agents flooding the scene, arms behind his back and glaring at them. 

"Briefing, now," he barked, and everyone looked to Steve, who sighed. 

"Alright, team, let's move out," he said. "Thor, could you get Bruce and Wanda back to the tower and then get to SHIELD?"

"Hey, I can go," Bruce piped up. Everyone gave him equally unimpressed eyebrow-raises, and he frowned. "I'm not that fragile after I Hulk out, guys."

"Have you taken a look at your, ah, ensemble?" Tony asked, flicking his visor open and making a waving motion towards Bruce. The scientist looked down, and blushed. 

"Ah. Yes. I'm- I see your point," he said sheepishly, wrapping his arms around his naked torso. "It's sort of cold." 

"Besides, someone's gotta keep track of Sleeping Beauty there," Clint remarked. 

"You're the only doctor on the team," Natasha remarked cheekily, and Bruce rubbed the bridge of his nose like he was about to get a headache. 

"Honestly, I'm considering getting a MD just to keep up with Clint's medical record," Bruce sighed. 

"Come, Doctor," Thor said, carefully lifting up Wanda in a bridal carry. Bruce climbed up on his back, grumbling about how undignified that was and blushing, and then they were off. 

"Avengers!" Fury yelled, and everyone gave a collective sigh. 

"Coming, mom!" Tony yelled back, and then they all braced themselves for debrief. 

---

Chapter Text

 

Whilst Fury was yelling about irresponsible teenagers and whatever, Clint sat in the back of the room with Natasha, trying to contain himself and get rid of the excess adrenaline that was making him a little shaky. He'd gotten a text from Coulson saying Pietro was patched up and on some of the best drugs to beat his metabolism, and he was as high as a kite and happy about it. That had definitely eased some of the tension in his chest. 

Then Emma had texted and demanded to know if anyone was hurt, and he'd texted back saying Wanda was conked out and Pietro was shot, but he was gonna be fine. Which had lead to his phone flashing and vibrating like crazy as Emma tried to call him. 

Fury ignored the vibrating for a good minute before he snapped. 

"Barton, I swear to god, unless that's future you calling about getting down and licking my boots to prevent your own death, I don't wanna hear it!" he yelled, the vein in his forehead pulsating angrily. 

"Um, yeah, tiny child, worried about her family?" Clint said, holding his phone up to show who was calling. 

"Romanov," Fury snapped, and Natasha sighed quietly, grabbing Clint's phone out of his hand and walking out of the briefing room. "Problem solved."

"Hey, why does Natasha get to go?" Tony asked, looking up from his phone. "'Cause this meeting is obviously a ploy by Coulson to get you not to murder Clint without at least a few witnesses being around. And I don't wanna be here. I'm working on a project and Darcy sent me cute pictures of my baby son. I wanna leave."

"If I may have the word?" Steve asked politely, and Fury chewed on his tongue for a few moments in rage, but then gave Steve a slight nod to indicate that he could go on. "Thank you, Sir. Now, we realize what Pietro did was... Incredibly stupid, and foolhardy, and believe me, we'll be having words with him. And Wanda... Well, what Wanda did was effective, but not very smart. We can go through this as a team without any SHIELD interference."

"Oh believe me, they'll get their hides tanned," Bucky muttered under his breath.

"We're not just gonna let this slide, alright? We can deal with this," Clint said, staring at Fury head-on, locking eyes and smiling innocently. "They're good kids. You don't always do that great the first time you're out in the field."

"SHIELD trained assets do," Fury said pointedly, and Bucky scoffed. 

"Oh fuck off," he said sharply, and Steve kicked him under the table, but Bucky locked eyes with Nick's one anyway. "You're just trying to find ways to get them under your thumb."

"Yeah, sorta gotta agree with Capsicle's buddy here. We're training them to be Avengers, not your standard issue SHIELD agent," Tony said firmly. "You're not touching them and their awesome powers." 

"The Avengers only exist because of SHIELD," Fury said in a monotone, looking at the one guy who was actually on his payroll in the room. Clint sighed quietly, and refrained from rolling his eyes. 

"Yes, because it's mutually beneficial. If SHIELD pulls out, the Avengers are gonna keep fightin', Sir," Steve said, the only one still restrained by military mannerisms. 

"Good thing SHIELD isn't going to pull out then," Coulson said as he strode into the room, Natasha trailing after him. 

"How was Emma?" Clint signed as everyone relaxed back in their seats. As soon as Coulson was in on the game, Fury's blank face turned into a frown, because it was hard to win an argument against Coulson when he decided that something was going to happen a certain way.

"Fine. Worried, until I told her about how the others were doing." He nodded, and started paying attention again just in time to see Coulson give Fury his signature, tiny smile, just as Fury steamed. 

"If you weren't so goddamned good at your job, your ass would be out on the streets," Fury barked, and Coulson just kept up his miniscule smile. 

"Yes Sir," he replied in a total monotone. He turned to Clint and raised his eyebrows. "Don't you all have somewhere else to be?"

Everyone clambered out of their chairs, making a beeline for the door. 

"Barton," Fury's voice whipped through the room, and Clint made a grimace. 

"Yes sir?"

"Stay."

"Oh boy. So Barton is getting murdered. I'll hack the cameras and keep track, so we'll get the bastard who does it," Tony said, patting Natasha's shoulder as if she was already grieving her partner. 

Except Natasha had stopped in the doorway too, nudging Clint back into the room with her elbow. 

"See you guys back at the tower," she said, giving them a sweet smile that wasn't normally present on her face. "Feed the dog, the cat, and Emma. We'll be a while."

And then she slammed the door in their face. 

Clint was staring at Natasha with slightly raised eyebrows, and she shrugged a shoulder at him, making a vague sign that could've been many things, one of them being 'partner', and yeah, okay, he really did love Natasha goddamn Romanov like crazy. 

"You're not needed here, Agent Romanov," Fury said, his tone chilly. 

"I'm just back-up," she reassured him, shoving Clint into his seat and leaning against the wall, her arms crossed and her hair tossed over one shoulder. 

"His or mine?" 

"I'll decide as we go." Fury tore his eye away from her to glare at Clint, and he steeled himself, holding his head up high. 

---

As soon as Emma got home, she made her way to the twins' floor in the tower. They'd gotten to decorate it on their own shortly after moving in, but there wasn't a whole lot of furniture or trinkets in there. It was on the same floor as Bucky's apartment, except a couple of doors down. As soon as she entered their apartment, she took off her shoes. 

The entirety of the floor was covered in carpets, making her steps soft and practically unnoticable. Natasha wouldn't have been able to sleep a wink in here. Or Bucky. Clint was sort of apathic about the whole thing now, but out of habit, he probably wouldn't be able to deal either. There were drapes for the huge windows too, but they weren't shut, and by the kitchenette, there was a bowl of fruit. Always with the fruit. 

Emma grabbed a couple of frozen grapes from the small freezer, and made her way over to Pietro's bedroom, knocking on the door. 

"Hey Pietro? I come bearing gifts," she said, sliding open the door just a little. 

Pietro's room looked like a tornado had been through there, but that was really sorta how it had always looked. Pietro was splayed on the bed, face down, arms spreadeagle, and he grunted when the light from outside hit his face. 

"Frozen grapes," she sing-songed, and Pietro grunted, looking up blearily. "Oh boy. You're on drugs. Good for you. Mom told me you got shot because you're an idiot."

"Am not," Pietro slurred, the accent stronger than usual. Emma snickered, and dropped her bookback down on a relatively clean surface, hopping onto the bed and offering him a frozen grape. He bit into it, and giggled. "Cold."

"Scoot," Emma said, poking his hip, and Pietro groaned as he moved slowly, which, whoah, weird as hell, inwards on the bed. When Emma could cross her legs on the messy blue-grey striped sheets, she handed him another grape. "Good boy."

"Not dog," Pietro mumbled into his pillow, and Emma ran her hands through his hair distantly as she ate another grape. 

"No, but tactile and high," she smirked. Pietro made a sort of humming noise as she scraped her fingernails lightly against his scalp. "Jarvis, what's Pietro's status?"

"Stable. His body seems to do everything very fast, so Dr. Banner and Sir have determined that he should be back to full health faster than the average human. However, he's sore and ill-humoured," Jarvis replied.

Pietro mumbled something that sounded like a curse word in Sokovian, and Emma snickered. 

"Oh, c'mon. No need to be pouty. Jarvis says you're gonna get all better," Emma cooed, offering him another grape. Pietro swallowed it down without hesitation, and turned onto his side, hissing a little, before cursing in Sokovian again. "Sit up and I'll give you another one."

"Not dog," Pietro grumbled, but sat up and recieved his treat. 

"How fast will he burn through the morphine high if he runs, Jay?" Emma asked as she handed the frozen grapes over to a fascinated Pietro, who squeezed one

"In approximately 4,82 seconds, miss Emma," Jarvis replied, and Emma grinned. 

"Awesome," she declared. "Where's Wanda?"

"Here," Wanda murmured from the doorway, where she was blearily blinking at them, leaning against the door jamb. Damn carpet. Emma couldn't stand the silence it created either. Her eyes locked on Pietro, and she stepped up to him, wrapping her arms tight around her confused brother. "I thought I'd lost you."

"Me? Never," Pietro replied, his Sokovian just as slurred as his English, and Wanda chuckled, pressing a loving kiss to his forehead. 

"You're high," she accused as she stumbled over to them, and crawled up on the bed on the other side of Pietro's long legs. 

"I'm pretty," Pietro declared, loudly, and Wanda and Emma snickered together. 

"Yes, you are," Emma agreed, and handed Wanda a frozen grape. Wanda popped it in her mouth and smiled at Emma. 

"What are you doing here?" she asked quietly.

"Heard you guys were on your first outing and it didn't go down too well," Emma shrugged. "Seeing as you're dead on your feet and Pietro's as high as the Empire State Building, I believe that's pretty true."

Wanda looked over at her brother, and smiled gently. 

"His thoughts are like... Sugar fluff."

"You mean cotton candy?" Emma asked, and Wanda nodded, brushing some silver strands out of his face. 

"He's adorable, yes?" she giggled quitely. 

"Shit, what are those lights in the ceiling?" Pietro asked in slurred Sokovian, looking up at his ceiling, and Emma raised an eyebrow at Wanda. 

"He asked what the lights are in the ceiling," she relayed. 

"Does he mean the lamp?" Emma asked, looking up above her at the lamp. 

"Probably," Wanda admitted, popping another frozen grape into her mouth. 

"Hey, you should be sleeping," Emma pointed out. "What with the whole, being up for days in a row and then crashing and waking up only to try and avenge your brother's death, except then passing out again, ordeal you just went through."

"I don't want to leave him alone," Wanda replied, her eyes flashing scarlet with protectiveness, and Emma held her hands up. 

"Hey, man, I get it. How about this, we can move the two of you to the couch so I can keep an eye on you? Just so he doesn't do something idiotic now that he's toked up and you're asleep and nobody's here to help him. Things like that," Emma said. 

Wanda considered that, and just to nudge her along, Emma gave her another frozen grape. Wanda took it, stared at it, and then narrowed her eyes at Emma. 

"You didn't convince me because of the grape," she said slowly, before chewing it. "But because I'm tired." Emma beamed at her. 

"Whatever works for you!" she said happily, hopping off the bed to grab Pietro some sweats and a hoodie.

---

By the time the Avengers came back, Emma was doing her homework on the wrong side of the kitchen island, her eyes drifting up to watch Pietro giggle at an infomercial every now and then. 

The elevators opened up to reveal a tired, but clean, Bucky, and she smiled at him. 

"Hey, Buck. How'd the asskicking go?" Emma asked as Bucky came to stand behind her. He immediately noticed her view, and huffed in amusement.

"Fine. Pietro got shot, but you know that," he replied, pulling a jug of orange juice out of the fridge. "We did pretty good though, even before Wanda came around. You should've seen the way your mom took out Doom. She was the real asskicker of the battle."

"Nice," Emma smiled at him. "Where is mom, by the way? I texted a while ago, but she didn't answer."

"Yeah, Barton's getting chewed out for Pietro's fuck up, and Nat stayed behind to back him up, I'm pretty sure," he replied, taking a gulp of the juice. "You and I are making dinner, by the way. Our turn."

"Yeah, right," she replied distantly, looking back into the living room at the back of Pietro's head."They're not gonna kick the two of them out, are they? It was just one fuck up." Bucky shrugged.

"Nah. I don't think so," he replied, opening the fridge again to peer at the contents inside. "But, anyway, if they did, Barton would fight tooth and nail for 'em. They're not going anywhere, no matter what SHIELD says."

Emma let out the breath she was holding with a smile. "Awesome."

"We got all the things for vegetarian lasagna. You wanna go for it?" Bucky asked distantly. 

"Yeah, sure, just lemme finish the reading and I'm with you," she replied, just about to pick her highlighter and papers back up, when Anne called, just like usual. But before Emma could even open her mouth to say hi, Anne interrupted her. 

"Hi Emma, I'm just calling to tell you I'm getting you out, okay, don't worry," she said soothingly. "I've talked to my lawyer, he says we can build a solid case, we can be in court by the end of the week."

"What? What are you talking about? Get me out? You can't just-" Emma began, and there was a sigh of impatience and pity and derision on the other side of the line.

"Where you live isn't safe. I can't let you stay with them, not now. I have a second chance with you, Emma, darling."

"What? No, it's perfectly safe," Emma protested. "I don't want to leave them."

"I'll get things moving, honey, you'll see," Anne said, not listening at all to what Emma was saying, and hung up. Emma gaped like a fish for a few seconds, and stared at her phone. 

"That was not what I think it was," Bucky said, his voice surprisingly sharp, and Emma looked up at him, still gaping like a fish. "Oh, fuck. It was."

"Anne said something about custody and in court by the end of the week?" Emma said, her voice high pitched with shock. 

"Jarvis," Bucky said. 

"It's fully within the right of a grandparent to take custody of a child if the parents are declared unfit," Jarvis said, his voice sounding suspiciously monotonous. Bucky glared at the ceiling for a little while, and then he punched one of the cabinet doors, making the entire structure of cabinets rattle, and the shelves to be destroyed, along with the damn door. 

But Emma wasn't hearing any of this, her world was narrowed down to the light of her phone screen and her sharp breaths as she tried to steady her world again.

---

"She can't do this," Clint exclaimed, running his hands through his hair angrily. "She can't. Can she?"

"She can," Tony replied, his eyes somber as he looked over to the pacing Clint. Bucky and Steve were in the gym, trying to beat the shit out of each other, and Natasha was sitting on the coffee table, glaring at the carpet like it had fucked her over and should fucking watch it's back. 

Tony looked at the two stressed agents, and then at the baby monitor for Peter's room, with the little screen. He could see Peter's little chest rise and fall under his sheets, and he rubbed a hand over his stubble, liking the scratch. 

"Look, guys, you don't think we're gonna take this lying down, are you? Because we will fight like hell for your kid, alright? In fact, I'm gonna call Susan down in Legal, right now, and she's gonna come here and fix everything, alright? You'll see," he said, already whipping his phone out of his pocket. 

"Yeah," Clint said, stopping just in time to meet Natasha's eyes for a second before she started staring at the wall instead. 

"Jarvis, how often do blood relatives win custody cases in comparison to non-blood relatives?" she asked in a monotone.

"It is far more likely that a blood relative wins custody of a child than someone who is not related to the child through blood," Jarvis relayed, showing statistics by state on the TV, and Natasha ran a hand through her hair, tugging at the red curls. 

"Hey, hey, no need to be so negative, Nat," Clint said soothingly, and Natasha refocused her stare at him again, standing up with the silent grace of a panther. "We'll get through this."

"Will we?" Natasha asked silently, and the only reason he caught that was because of his lip reading skills. "How?"

"I... I don't know. But we will. Okay?"

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Hawkeye," Natasha said sadly. 

"So, what, you're just gonna roll over? Give up already? Let her take Emma away from us?" Clint asked sharply, and Natasha's eyes flashed with returning fire. 

"Of course not. Don't be stupid," she replied, just as harsh in her tone, and Clint nodded. 

"That's what I thought. So, what we're gonna do, is we're gonna calm our spooked kid, we're gonna have dinner, and then tomorrow, we're gonna talk to Susan from Legal, okay?" She stared at him blankly for a while, but he could see the gears turning, her laying out a plan of attack.

"At least you have a plan this time. Unlike Budapest," Natasha said distantly, and then she trailed around the couch. When she reached the doorway, she turned around and arched an eyebrow. "The calming the kid part. Might wanna do that now."

"Yeah, fair assumption," Clint agreed, and hopped over the couch, walking with Natasha into the kitchen. 

Emma was layering lasanga sheets over other stuff that Clint had no clue what it was called, but whenever Bucky and Emma did their vegetarian lasanga, it was always appreciated and tasty as hell, so he wasn't gonna question it. 

"Hey, Emma, sweetheart, could you sit down with us for a second?" he pleaded. Emma didn't look up.

"I have to finish this first," she said. 

"We can wait," Natasha assured her, sitting down by the kitchen island with ease. Wanda made eye contact with the two of them, and bit her lip. 

"I can do it," she piped up. Emma looked up from her careful layering, and raised an eyebrow. 

"Seriously?"

"It can't be that hard," Wanda said, her eyes flashing scarlet. "I can ask if I need to." Emma hesitated for a few more seconds, but then she held a finger up. 

"Ask immediately if you get stuck, okay?" she said as Wanda shooed her away from the lasanga, and she rolled her eyes. 

"Don't worry," she replied as Clint herded Emma towards the huge dinner table. 

They sat Emma down between the two of them, both turned towards her, and gave each other a look. 

"Emma, возлюбленный, we understand that this isn't easy for you," Natasha began soothingly. 

"But, we want you to know that we're gonna fight for you," Clint added. 

"If you want us to," Natasha threw it, wanting to swallow down bile at the thought of Emma wanting to leave them. Clint's eyes widened for a second too, but he looked at Emma. 

"If you want us to," he restated, firmer. Emma looked up between the two of them. 

"Well, yeah, I wanna stay with you guys," Emma said firmly. "That sorta means you have to fight for me, right?"

"Yeah, honey, it does," Clint affirmed. "We're gonna have to fight really hard, but we'll do it for you, okay? We don't want you worry about it now, though. It's not even certain she'll get to court with her papers. Alright? Don't worry about it just yet."

"Yeah, alright," Emma said. "I guess that makes sense."

"Our strong girl," Natasha murmured, kissing Emma's forehead, and Emma grinned. 

"Well yeah. I can arm-wrestle Steve! Wanna see?"

"Maybe as post-dinner entertainment," Clint laughed, stroking Emma's hair, and Emma smiled so brightly at him that he thought he might go blind too, and not just deaf. 

But it was all worth it just for her smile, for her chatter, for her hugs. They weren't gonna just let this be. They would fight it. It would be alright.

---

It was so not alright the next morning when a greasy lawyer in a charcoal suit came in and handed them a notice that Anne was seeking custody of Emma, and that they were due in court the next day. 

---

Chapter Text

 

Of course, the press caught wind of it like the hyenas they were, and by the next morning, the bottom of the tower was swarming with them, yelling about getting a comment. Clint stared down at them through the windows as Coulson fixed his tie. 

"I can't believe this," he muttered under his breath, and Coulson hummed.

"They're just doing their jobs," he reassured him. 

"Doesn't mean they have to be assholes about it," he grumbled. 

"Said the assassin," came Darcy's voice from the elevator, and he turned around to look at her, wearing a light grey blazer with a matching skirt and a lilac blouse, looking very good and very professional. Bucky was standing next to her, also in a suit, looking very sharp. 

Good thing about Bucky being an ex-agent was that he really was good at putting up a facade when he had to. Now, he looked confident and stylish, and a little bored. Darcy was coming as an SI representative, Bucky as moral support for Emma, and Coulson as moral support for both Natasha and Clint. 

Pepper, Coulson, and Darcy had all agreed that they should keep the others out of court for as long as possible, if only because Tony had a bad track record, Thor was likely going to be appaled by how America's court system worked, Steve was probably going to be angry, Peter's face hadn't yet been plastered all over the media, Pietro was injured, and Wanda was much more comfortable watching from home. Bruce didn't like crowds, and Jane, well, Jane was sort of busy with trying to crack the Bifrost again. 

"Hey, ex-assassin," Clint said, smoothing his hands down the front of his suit. He really wasn't a fan of suits. Limited your range of motion too much for his liking. 

"Ex-assassin or no, you're still an asshole," Natasha said as she confidently strode out of her room with a black pantsuit on, and a white blouse. She was absolutely striking, and Clint had to blink a couple of times just to regain perspective. Her legs looked even longer than usual in the pantsuit, and goddamn...

"Ouch, Tash. Harsh," he laughed weakly, but the joke fell flat in the stale air of their floor. Today wasn't a day to joke about, no matter how much he thought it might help. 

"Are we ready to leave?" Emma asked as she too came out of her room. She was wearing a blue skirt and a blouse with stripes. Surprisingly boring for coming from her closet, and surprisingly appropriate for court appearances. 

"Yeah, sweetheart, whenever you're ready," Clint said soothingly. "You think you can deal with this? You don't have to go."

Actually, she sort of did, but he'd fight the system if she wanted to stay home. 

Their brave little girl took a deep breath, and nodded. 

"I'm good. I got this. Let's go," she said, and Clint and Natasha met eyes. 

Years of knowing her showed the vulnerable glint in her eye, and Clint herded everyone into the elevator except for her. 

"You guys head down, we'll be with you in a minute, okay?" he said, smiling reassuringly at Emma. She took Bucky's hand, and nodded, and then the doors closed. 

Natasha raised an eyebrow at him, and Clint laughed hollowly. 

"Cut the shit, Nat. This... This officially sucks," he said, raking a hand over his face. Natasha swallowed and put his free hand on her hip in a surprising show of intimacy. 

"It's awful. What if we lose her? What then? What are we going to do then?" Natasha asked lowly. 

"We'll fight for her," he promised. "We just gotta trust the system." Natasha laughed. 

"Right. If we trusted the system to do what it's supposed to, I'd be in the electric chair, and you'd be in jail for several life-time sentences," she said quietly. Clint stared at her in shock.

"Oh, wow, you're really running with the negatives right now, aren't you? Is it because you're afraid that one of the things making you happy is going to disappear?" 

Natasha didn't really know what she was doing until she'd slammed Clint up against the wall, hating the understanding look on his face. 

"No," she said firmly, but the grip on his shoulders said otherwise, and Clint's 'oh really? I call bullshit' eyebrow raise really wasn't helping. 

"Look, Natasha, I get it. I'm fucked up about it, too. But it's court day. Alright? We gotta hold it together for Emma. She can not see us freaking out, because that will start a chain reaction of freak-outs that we can't deal with because we're freaking out."

"I was holding it together until you came and ruined everything," Natasha said with an annoyed wrinkle of her brow that was awesomely intimidating as well as utterly adorable. 

"Isn't that sort of the story of us summed up into a single sentence?" he asked innocently, and Natasha's lips twisted into a small, unguarded smile before she released him. 

"You think you're so funny," she began, and Clint grinned, liking the smile on her features. 

"Yeah, well, that's because I am pretty funny," he said. "We ready to face court now?"

"I think we are. I am. I don't know about you," she said, and tipped her head up high before striding into the elevator as it softly chimed open. 

Clint grinned as he followed her into the elevator, pressed the button. 

They rode downward in silence when he felt the fear start to creep under his skin, and he swallowed hard.

"Hey, we'll get through this. Right?" he said, and damn it, maybe he needed some reassuring himself. That must've shown on his face, because Natasha's features softened. 

"Yeah," she said quietly, and interlaced their fingers. "We will."

---

As soon as they'd gotten themselves settled in, the brown haired, middleaged Judge introduced herself as Julianna Goodman, and Anne went after them like she was ready to pick them to the bone to get her hands on Emma.

As it turns out, Anne was there to prove that they were unfit parents. And boy, did she have an entire arsenal to pick from.

"Why do you think that Mr. Barton and Ms. Romanov are unfit parents, Ms. Darkholme?" her lawyer asked leadingly, and Anne looked up at the judge.

"Not only do they give her knives for her birthday, they make my granddaughter stay in a tower that's already been ruined countless times, with weapons lying everywhere, with knives under her pillows!" Anne exclaimed. "Her best friend in this hellhole is a brainwashed Russian guy who could kill her at the drop of a hat!"

"Hey, now-" Darcy began, almost rising out of her seat, but the judge gave her a look, and Darcy grit her teeth. Bucky pulled her back down onto the bench, and Emma gave her a wide-eyed look.

"And, that! There! All of this rule-breaking! Soon enough, she'll become some ruthless delinquent, and get landed in jail!"

"We're superheroes, not supervillains," Clint said under his breath.

"Some people don't know the difference," Coulson said soothingly from where he was sitting between the two agents. Emma was next to Natasha, holding her hand tightly, and next to her was Bucky, with Darcy on his other side. All in all, pretty strategic, except Clint couldn't hold his daughter's hand. 

It looked like Natasha might need the handholding more though, so he hadn't made her switch with him yet. 

"My granddaughter is living with a bunch of unstable, unreliable, dangerous people, who are unable to care for her, and I would like to take her to a safer place."

"Thank you, Ms. Darkholme, we understand your passion," Judge Goodman said with a curt smile. "If Mr. Barton would step up?"

"What do they want with me?" Clint asked the SI lawyer in front of them, and he squinted. 

"They want to make you look bad. You got any baggage?" he asked. 

"Uh," Clint said eloquently, and the lawyer bit the inside of his cheek. 

"Right," he said, sighing through his nose before standing up. "Your honor? If I could have just a moment with my clients?"

"This isn't a football game, Mr. Ludner. There are no time-outs. You should've talked to your clients before you walked into this court room," Judge Goodman said. "Mr. Barton?"

"Do I have to?" Clint asked the lawyer, and he shooed him off. 

"Are we fucked?" Natasha asked the lawyer intently, and the lawyer bit his lip. 

"Really depends on what sort of dirt they have on him," he replied, and turned back around. 

Finally, Clint settled behind the stand, and he fixed his tie in a nervous gesture he hated himself for making. He was in front of the press, goddammit! He couldn't let his nervous gestures shine through now. He couldn't be weak in public. 

"Mr. Barton!" He looked up. 

"What?" he asked quickly, and the look on Bucky's face told him that they were already losing and it was all his fault. He grit his teeth and smiled at the lawyer, who smiled back. Not a very pleasant smile. 

"Lost you there for a second. Mr. Barton, do you have a criminal record?" Anne's lawyer asked, and Clint opened his mouth, and then closed it. 

Oh screw you Anne, screw you and your slimy lawyers and your grubby hands trying to take Emma away from us, he thought viciously. 

"Mr. Barton, it's a simple yes or no question. Please answer," the lawyer said, and Clint grit his teeth. 

"Well, yeah, but-"

"Arrested for breaking and entering, robbery, battery, aggravated assault, just to name a few. Is that correct?" 

"What, you went back and poked in my juvie records?" Clint asked with a snort. The SI lawyer glared, and Clint sighed. "Yeah, that sounds about right, but like I said, that was-"

"What about anger management issues?" 

"Oh wow, really? You wanna see-" The SI lawyer pinned him with another sharp look, and Clint rubbed his hand over his face. "I got counseling for it years ago."

"Yes or no, Mr. Barton?"

"Yes," he sighed, and turned to look up at the judge, meeting her eyes to show his sincerity. "But like I said, I'm better now."

"How many have you killed, Mr. Barton?" the lawyer said, and the judge's eyebrows rose. 

"I'm a superhero. Casualties occur on my watch, and I can't do anything about it," he said, feeling morose just thinking about it

"I didn't ask how many casualties occured on your watch, I asked how many people you've killed." He looked over at Coulson, only to see a slight downturn of his lips. Uh oh.

"I'm sorry, that's classified information," he said. "What do I do then, do I plead the fifth? Yeah, I do that. I plead the fifth."

"Your Honor!" the lawyer complained, and Coulson stood up, clearing his throat. The SI lawyer, Ludner something, stood up too. 

"Your Honor, if Agent Coulson could approach?" he said pleasantly, and the judge furrowed her eyebrows, but made a motion allowing it. Coulson walked over to the judge, and they had a few moments of silent conversation. When Judge Goodman leaned back again, she had a pinched look on her features. 

"I've been informed that Mr. Barton's work is classified and not for the public. Mr. Jude, please move on in your questioning," Judge Goodman said with a curt nod at Coulson. He nodded back, before he exited the area, and sat back down next to Natasha.

The lawyer, obviously displeased with this, cleared his throat, and moved on.

"Mr. Barton, when you were a child, your father was an abusive alcoholic, wasn't he?" 

"Objection, Your Honor, relevance?" the SI lawyer said angrily, standing up. Clint sort of looked a little gobsmacked.

"It's well known that children who are raised abused tend to repeat the same patterns as they were taught when they have children of their own, Your Honor," Anne's lawyer said. 

"Oh, fuck off," Darcy said under her breath, her eyes flaming. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck that guy." Natasha's stare was murderous to say the least, and she was imagining the many creative and painful ways she could turn him into a human pretzel if she got her hands on his scrawny little ass.

"Overruled. Mr. Barton, answer the question."

"Yeah, alright, my dad beat me. That doesn't mean I hit Emma. I would never hit Emma." Natasha squeezed Emma's hand, and Emma looked up at her. Natasha's look was intent, and she let go of Emma's hand for a second.

"You know that, right?" she signed, and Emma's smile was tiny but sincere and lovely when she nodded. Natasha took her hand again, and this time, Emma was the one squeezing her hand, trying to give comfort.

"And yet, the child in question spent nearly three months in the hospital earlier this year, didn't she?" 

"Not because of me," Clint said firmly. "She was kidnapped by some bad guys."

"Bad guys you're supposed to fight? Your job affects the child in question's life a lot, doesn't it? The Avengers Tower, where you live-"

"Is perfectly safe," Clint interrupted, giving the lawyer a curt smile. "Probably safer than a house in the suburbs."

"It attracts monsters and wormholes," the lawyer stated plainly. 

"The city of New York sort of does that fine all on it's own."

The lawyer stared at him for a few moments, and then smiled. 

"No further questions," he said, and sat back down next to Anne. The SI lawyer stood up and tried to save the situation, but nothing Clint said redeemed him in Judge Goodman's eyes, and Natasha's questioning was even more of a disaster. The dirt they had on them made Coulson worried, because what had been a nuisance suit was now something serious, something dangerous. 

By the end of the proceedings, Judge Goodman leaned back in her chair. 

"After everything I've heard here today, I believe..." she sighed, and leaned forward again, spinning the gavel around in her hand. "I believe that it is in the best interest of the child to go with her paternal grandmother, Ms. Anne Darkholme. Ms. Darkholme can pick the child up tomorrow at her current residence."

The bang of the gavel made the world feel like it was going in slow motion, Natasha's ears were ringing with the noise. She'd heard bombs go off, but oddly enough the sound of bombs wasn't nearly as damaging to her as that gavel banging, and she flattened her palms on her thighs as a way of remaining calm. 

There was no air in the room, Emma couldn't fucking breathe, and Bucky quickly let go of Darcy's hand, afraid that he'd crush it without thinking about it. 

Coulson and Darcy made eye contact over the heads of the panicking redheads, and he could see the fear in her eyes too, the grief, the anger. He sighed and silently went through how to file an appeal in his head, and resigned himself to many sleepless nights to come.

---

By the time they got back to the tower, the judge's call had reached the tower, as well as the media outlets. The TV was blasting images of them leaving court, Natasha's face cold and hard, and Anne smiling at the cameras happily. 

The moment they stepped out of the elevator, Lucky came running, happily licking Emma's hand as she stared at him blankly. 

"Oh buddy," Clint sighed, and tried to nudge him away, but Emma dropped to her knees on the floor, fancy skirt and blouse and all, and wrapped her arms around Lucky's furry body. 

Not wanting to disturb Emma whilst she was having a slight break-down, Bucky and Darcy stepped out of the elevator to the side, and Bucky almost walked directly into Thor, which really showed how off his game he was.

"Shield brother, I am sorry about today's events," Thor said morosely, his voice for once silent and sad. "Come. Let us sparr away our anger."

Bucky looked down on Emma, still just hugging a happy Lucky, and nodded slowly. 

"Yeah, I could go for a good sparr right 'bout now," he said, his voice sounding a little wrecked. "You don't have custody battles in Asgard, do you? You just steal babies left and right."

Thor gave him a chiding look as he gently shoved Bucky into the elevator. 

"No, we don't."

"Your brother was a stolen baby," Bucky pointed out just before the doors closed again, and Darcy stepped out of her heels before heading over to the liquor cabinet, grabbing an expensive bottle of wine, and disappearing into the stairway down to her and Bucky's place. 

Natasha just stood there, rigid and angry and sad, her hands clenched into fists and her jaw clenched tightly. Clint leaned against the wall, sliding down on the floor, ignoring that he was wearing an expensive as shit suit, and stared at Emma. 

Lucky had settled in for the long haul, sitting down, with his tail wagging a little, gently bumping into Emma's face with his wet muzzle. 

Clint thumped his head on the wall with a chuckle, staring up at the ceiling instead, because the ceiling didn't make his heart want to shred itself into tiny, cracked little pieces.

"What's so funny?" Natasha asked lowly. 

"Because we just... We just lost custody of a kid we... That we never should have been able to get in the first place. Y'know. Because we're apparently shitty parents for having less than squeaky clean pasts. Fuck the system. Fuck it."

"It's stopped bad people from getting kids they don't deserve," Natasha said in a monotone."

"So, what, we're bad people who don't deserve kids?" Clint asked angrily, and finally a bit of Natasha's mask was starting to crack as her eyebrows furrowed with anger, and her lips twisted into a snarl.

"Who was the one who said that New York attracts enough danger on it's own?" she asked sharply. 

"Who was the one who decided that putting me on the stand was such a fucking great idea? Huh?" he yelled back, banging his hand on the floor.

"Hey guys?" Emma said softly, and the two of them shut up really quick, turning to look at Emma as she peeked out from under Lucky's fur. "Out of all the parents I've ever had, you guys are my favorites. Okay? Ten out of ten. Adopt more kids and give them an awesome home."

Natasha and Clint gaped at each other for a few moments, and then Natasha gracefully sank to her knees next to Emma, Clint crawling close. 

"возлюбленный," Natasha murmured, tipping Emma's chin up with a finger. "Don't you dare think we'd just give up like this. We love you more than anything, okay? No one's going to take you away from us. Not even America's court system and it's bullshit."

Emma giggled a little at that, and Natasha pressed a reverent kiss to Emma's forehead in a rare show of intimacy, which in turn made Clint wrap his arms around both of his redheads. 

"We'll fix this, alright? Maybe me and Nat can't fight the American justice system with our bare hands, but that doesn't mean we can't try."

"You bet your ass we're going to try," Natasha said in Russian.

"Hey, no fair," Emma mumbled into Natasha's ribcage, and she laughed, stroking Emma's bright red hair gently.

"Don't lie to me, I know you know more Russian than you let on. I'm glad we've at least taught you the act of pretending not to get what someone is saying and gathering information," Natasha murmured. 

"All I caught was 'ass', because Bucky doesn't think I hear it when he says bad words," Emma said with a small grin, and Natasha actually chuckled a little at that, which in turn made Clint smile, just a pull of his lips.

"Alright, what did I miss?" Tony said with a yawn as he came out of the elevators. "Susan from Legal just called me and yelled at me. I don't know why. I don't remember what she said. What day is it? Wait, no, don't answer that. Jarvis?"

"Sunday, Sir," Jarvis replied. "Just like it was when you asked me seven hours ago."

"Oh. Huh," Tony said distantly, already on his way to the puttering coffee machine. "Did Pepper tell me what to do yet?"

"No, but Captain Rogers has demanded that you stay inside today."

"Whoah, wait, what. He wants me to stay inside? What's going on?"

"We lost," Clint said from the floor, and Tony looked over at their little heap, before snagging his coffee cup from the cupboard. 

"Oh boy. Yeah, that explains Susan from Legal. Shit. That's awful," he said with a frown. "Now who's gonna use their itty bitty fingers to grab things that have fallen behind the desk in the workshop?"

"I'm glad you think I have at least some purpose, Tony," Emma laughed. He grinned, and then paled. 

"Oh shit. They're gonna question if we get to keep Peter. Shit. Shit," he exclaimed, already running towards the elevators. "Jarvis! Call Steve right fucking now!"

"Yes, Sir," Jarvis agreed before the doors closed again after him. 

"When Steve's done with whatever's happening there, could you get him and the rest of the team into the living room? We need to have a sit down with the twins," Clint said. 

"Now?" Natasha asked skeptically. 

"Yeah, now," Clint said distantly as Lucky licked him in the face. "We should've done it yesterday, but, y'know. Pietro was so high, he probably wouldn't have grasped what we were saying anyway, and Wanda was still messed up about the whole thing. Also, if we don't do it now, the same shit will happen again, and Fury will chew our asses out again, and-"

"I hear you," Natasha said abruptly, cutting him off. "You heard him, Jarvis."

"I shall alert everyone at once, Agent Romanov."

---

"We're doing this now? Really?" Bruce said as he walked into the living room. 

"Yes, now! Why not?" Clint exclaimed, and Bruce's eyebrows raised. 

"Sorry, sorry," he mumbled and settled down in the couch. 

"No, no, Bruce, we're standing, we're doing the thing," Tony said, pulling Bruce standing again.

"Oh gosh," Steve said as he too entered the room. "N-"

"Now, yes, now! If anyone, I thought you'd like this. Us being efficient in executing things and fixing problems," Clint said, throwing his hands in the air. Steve raised an eyebrow. 

"Well I mean, you guys just lost-" 

"Upupupup," Clint said. "No. Pietro and Wanda. We're focusing on their fuck up now. Alright?"

Steve's ridiculous sad puppy eyes appeared, but he nodded empathetically, and joined the rest of the group. Next to appear were Bucky and Thor, who joined them in their standing without questioning. Of course, only after Clint had glared angrily at them. 

"Alright, we're all here, yeah? Jarvis, get Wanda and Pietro up here," Clint said.

A few moments later, Emma came strolling in with Darcy and Victoria on her heels.

"Oh boy," Darcy said, raising an eyebrow. "You're gonna pull the gloomy Avengers on them?"

"More like the silently furious Avengers," Bruce said. 

"Maybe a dash of disapproving Avengers, a splash of tired Avengers, and a healthy dose of tired-of-Fury's-bullshit Avengers," Tony added. "We'll see. Clint's got the lead on this one, we're just here to, y'know, be the other pieces of Voltron. The cooler, SI version of Voltron."

"You watch Voltron?" Emma asked incredulously. 

"I make robots. Why wouldn't I watch Voltron?"

"Because it's made for young adults, and you're weirdly enough neither?" Bucky suggested. 

"Hey, at least I'm not a grown-ass man and watch Powerpuff Girls. Now that show-" Tony said back, but was nearly immediately cut off by Darcy snapping her fingers

"Do you want to finish that sentence, or do you want to stay in one piece?" she asked fiercely. "Because I will shred you."

"Wow, Lewis is fiercely protective of the Power Puff Girls. Who knew?"

"Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup are national treasures," Emma said firmly, and sat down in one of the plush chairs that adorned the living room on the common floor. Darcy joined her, wrapping her arms around Emma and pulling her in to sit between her legs. 

"The two of you are just going to sit there as we yell at Wanda and Pietro?" Natasha asked a little incredulously. 

"Hey, someone's gotta have their back," Emma shrugged as Darcy pressed their cheeks together. "Dee, you gotta give me some breathing space here."

"Sorry," Darcy said, and loosened her embrace just a little right around the time when Wanda helped her brother through the door. Despite having magical powers that could levitate him, she insisted on supporting him with her slim frame. 

"Why's Natasha wearing a suit? She looks hot," Pietro giggled as Wanda dumped her brother in the couch. 

"He better still be high," Natasha remarked. 

"Yes. Definitely," Wanda said, and whacked her brother upside the head, making him whine. "You're gross."

"I'm pretty," Pietro retorted in English, and Wanda pinched the bridge of her nose. 

"That was funny first two times. Now, not so much," she said, and Pietro giggled anyways. 

"Twins. Sit," Clint said in his Serious Adult voice, and all the Avengers adopted equally serious faces to match. 

Wanda dropped down next to her brother, sighing as she gave them a challenging look. However, Wanda hadn't slept much lately, or eaten, so her eyes looked sunken and her frame surprisingly small. Her glare was more like having a very wet kitten staring at you.

"Kiddos. You knew this was coming. However, before I chew you out," Clint began with a sigh, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly. "I'd just like to point out that your fighting isn't terrible. You've obviously got sick moves you use when you're fighting, and they're impressive. But being a superhero on a team isn't just about having moves, it's about working together as a team just as much."

"To cut his stint short, you can't be a dumbass about what you do in the field," Bucky said, crossing his arms over his chest. "If everyone on your team is telling you no, maybe don't fucking do it, huh? That too hard for ya?"

"Especially not on your first damn time out, alright?" Tony said sort of angrily. 

"Isn't that exactly what you did?" Emma piped up. When all eyes turned on her, she shrugged. "He flew a missile into a portal of nothingness, didn't he? Right into the alien's faces? That's what Happy told me."

"Well it wasn't my first rodeo as a superhero," Tony argued. 

"Dad said 'superhero on a team'. That was your first time as a team," Emma pointed out. Everyone glared, and Emma's hands went into the air. "Just saying. You gonna call 'em out on their shit, at least stick to the premise you presented." 

Steve sighed.

"The heart of our issue is just that... If you can't learn teamwork, the Avengers is not a place for you," he said seriously, and Pietro looked up at all of them with wide eyes. 

"Yeah, you can't just run into shit like that, Pietro," Clint sighed, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly. He was angry and sad, and fuck, he wanted to punch something. He was trying really really hard not to make that fuck up this conversation with Pietro. "You could've gotten yourself killed."

"Nearly did," Wanda remarked, nudging his chin. 

"I was helping," Pietro pouted, crossing his arms over his chest. 

"Listen to your teammates, is what we want you to remember. Don't pull stunts when it's not life or world threatening. Don't do stupid things while you're out on the field if you don't have to," Bruce said peacefully. "Maybe understand that we sometimes know better because we've been doing this a litte bit longer than you have."

"The point of having team is different opinions. Not mindlessly agreeing. You told me that," Pietro argued, pointing to Clint. 

"Oh, buddy," Clint said softly. "Yeah, but you got shot. Three times, even. Your opinion got you into trouble, and despite having this conversation and being angry with you, we still busted you out of your trouble. That's also what a team's for. Without a team, you hide out in deserts and go on the run, or try to drink yourself to death, or become a homeless war veteran, or you kill and torture for faceless people. That's why we took you guys in."

"If all a team was was different opinions, we'd never get anything done," Bruce pointed out. 

"Well, we'd probably just ignore each other and Steve'd be eating his cowl when we all skipped off in different directions. Also a lot more civilians would be hurt, which is just unnecessary when we could've just worked together," Tony pointed out. 

Everyone made various sounds of agreement, and Thor chuckled sheepishly. 

"Yes, that has happened before," he said, his rumbling voice sounding suspiciously like thunder. 

"Oh yeah, definitely. I only listened to Steve in the beginning just because I was being paid to do it, but then, y'know, he sort of proved himself when he rescued my life those times. And Nat approved of him, and I approve of who Natasha approves of. Most of the times," Clint said. 

"Anyone you've ever disagreed on?" Tony asked curiously. 

"You," Natasha and Clint said in unison. 

"What? What'd I do?"

"Classified," Clint shrugged. At Tony's look, he held his hands up. "No, dude, seriously. It's classified. I can't tell you. Shield will wipe me off the face of the earth."

"You agents are lame," Tony accused. 

"Are we done yet? Pietro needs rest," Wanda asked. 

"And you! You just fricking flew out of the tower, no warning, and fried everyone!" Clint exclaimed, and Wanda fell back into the couch with a slight pout. "Nearly every single person on this team was on the ground. If we hadn't anticipated your moves, Natasha, Bucky, Steve, Bruce, they'd all have been fried!"

"I thought Pietro was dead," Wanda said. "I wasn't responsible for my actions."

"Yeah, and we obviously haven't dealt with you really out of control yet," Bruce said thoughtfully. "Tony and I looked it over..."

"Looked it over?" Clint asked. 

"I recorded the whole shebang, y'know, for research purposes, and we've got ourselves a nuclear reactor of chaos energy right here," Tony replied, waving towards Wanda. "She just needs to learn to control it better."

"Have you guys even watched Frozen?" Emma asked incredulously. "'Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know' sound familiar to anyone? Just find her an outlet, like sparring, or like, boxing a bag thingy, or shooting things. We even got me crappy plates to break when I want to! If puzzles don't work when she's crazy with anger, get her one of those fighting robots to rip apart."

"I'm working on a prototype for a new generation of robots, I might be able to hook her up," Tony murmured to himself, his eyes showing just how far away he was from this conversation already. 

"Until then, you might have to share your plates, Em," Clint sighed.

"We didn't really think of the whole Frozen thing," Bruce admitted, scratching his cheek distantly. "Good analogy, by the way."

"Yeah, because the lot of you don't have crazy as shit powers that do things you don't intend to do. I mean, you do, Bruce, but you have, like breathing exercises and fail safes and shit. I've got plates, Bucky, and my willpower. And my willpower fluctuates, and when I'm really mad, I start hearing things that fuck with me and I feel a weird surge of gross things like power, and all hell breaks loose. You can't conceal it, you can't not feel it, you just... Gotta touch and go with it," Emma said firmly, and Wanda stared at her, wide eyed. 

"You're right," she murmured. "Twinsies." Emma snorted. 

"Oh, so now you think our powers are twinsies? Now that I'm leaving? Great," she sighed dramatically. 

"Leaving?" Pietro asked, a look of alarm on his face. 

"Yeah," Steve said sadly. "Emma's leaving." Pietro locked eyes with Wanda, and then cursed up a blue streak in Sokovian, and just as everyone started berating him and exclaiming incredulous insults back, Emma just stared at her family, breathed in Darcy's perfume, and tried to burn the image of the craziness into her brain and make it stick.

--- 

Chapter Text

 

After a muted dinner where the only real chatter was Peter happily telling Bucky about his new spider book, everyone sort of crowded in the living room, creating a circle around Emma like they didn't really know what to with her. Bucky was closest, pulling Emma in under his arm, and on her other side was Thor, a silently distressed look on his face.

Pietro was lying on the floor by her feet, his head in Wanda's lap. Bruce was sitting next to her, the two of them leaning their backs against one of the three couches. Jane was curled up on the seat, Darcy next to her, and their looks went between their respective boyfriends, then over to Emma, and then over at each other.

On the opposite couch, Tony and Steve were sat, sort of baffled looks on their faces, cradling their own little boy tightly. Peter was conked out in their laps, looking for all the world like nothing was wrong. And he probably didn't think it was. 

Natasha was pacing around in the kitchen, and Clint was staring into the coffee cup he had his hands wrapped around, his sharp eyes not really seeing anything.

Finally, the elevator doors dinged open, and both Nat and Clint turned to look, Natasha finally standing still. 

Coulson emerged, and Clint stood up quickly, approaching the agent.

"What've you got? Anything?" he asked hopefully as Coulson handed him a file. 

"55, in perfect health, a well paying job as a manager, never married, owns a house, few loans. Ideal candidate for getting custody of her grandchild," Coulson replied sadly. "Clean as a whistle. A DUI from when she was young, but after 16, she cleaned up her act."

"After she had Emma's biological father," Natasha said in a monotone. "And what can a defected russian and a disabled archer who can't talk about their jobs present that's better than that."

Clint flipped through the file. 

"No ties to any organization? No AIM, or Hydra, or some other bullshit crime syndicate that hasn't tried to attack us yet? Any of our enemies that could be funding her?" Coulson sighed quietly.

"No. She's just Emma's blood relative, and really dedicated to doing what she thinks is the best for her granddaughter, even if she's going about it in the wrong way."

"Fuck," Clint said, handing the file over to Natasha and running his hands through his hair angrily. "There's nothing we can do?"

"We can try to overrule the court's decision," Coulson said. "Bring the case to another judge. See if they agree."

"Do you know someone who actually knows that SHIELD exists? That would be great," Natasha said sharply, and when Coulson remained silent, she sighed. "Sorry, Phil. We're just... Really messed up about this... Entire ordeal."

"It's understandable."

"You gonna call us out on getting a kid when it's idiotic to do so in our line of work?" Clint asked bitterly, and Coulson raised an eyebrow at him. 

"No, Barton. I'm not. Emma has allowed the two of you to grow. Her entrance into your life allowed the two of you to finally realize that you loved each other. She's been a gift to everyone. Even I have been charmed by her."

"The man has a heart," Clint tried to joke unsuccessfully, but Coulson gave him a small, rueful smile anyways. 

"That is one great kid you've got there. And we will do what we can to aid you in getting her back, but currently we've filed an appeal and we're waiting. That's all we can do for now. Wait."

Natasha and Clint looked over at each other, and in response to what they were seeing in each other's eyes, Clint slipped an arm around Natasha's waist, drawing her close to him. She stroked the back of his neck distantly as they sighed quietly in unison. 

"Go sit with her. Watch a movie. Enjoy your time with her," Coulson suggested. "Eat popcorn and give her love. That's all she needs right now. It's what you need."

"Yeah," Natasha agreed silently. "Good idea, Phil."

"Wanna join us?" Clint asked. 

"Paperwork. I'll come around tomorrow before she leaves, though," Coulson promised, and the two of them nodded, before they gloomily retreated into the living room with the others. 

---

Everyone had gone to bed, although Emma doubted anyone was asleep. She sure wasn't. It was late, and by the time Emma had had the good sense to remember to tell her friends, three of them were asleep. She'd tried to reach Damian, but she'd gotten no reply. 

Honestly though, Emma was having a slight break-down, and she needed to hear Damian's voice, and his 'so what' attitude, which meant she was dedicated to tracking his ass down. 

So dedicated that she called Tim. Out of all of the other Wayne boys, Emma enjoyed discussing things the most with Tim. He was a coffee junkie, and she'd once seen him fall asleep in a basket of warm laundry, which just. Tim was a sweetheart, and awake pretty much always. 

She lay in her bed with the phone to her ear, Lucky curled up in bed behind her, and Victoria asleep on the chair by her desk, wondering if her life had been this messy since she was born.

"Whu'?" came Tim's intelligent reply from the other side.

"Hey Tim, why isn't Damian picking up? 'S he okay?" Emma asked worriedly, biting her thumbnail.

"Who? Damian?" Tim said, like he actually forgot that he had a brother named Damian. Honestly, with all the stuff crammed into Tim's head, that wouldn't even be all that weird. 

"Yeah, Damian. Sort of lanky, dark hair, blue eyes, usually sort of an asshole and a huge dork. You've tried to kill each other a bunch of times."

"Oh, right. Damian," Tim said distantly. "Of all of the things that could be possibly preventing him from getting back to you, he lost his voice because he got a cold."

Emma chuckled, petting Lucky's fur gently and getting a snuffle for her efforts. Goddammit, she was gonna miss Lucky.

"Oh, well then. But he's at least got all of his limbs? That's good," Emma stated. 

"As far as I know, yeah." 

"God, he's gonna miss even more of school if he's sick. How little attendance does he even have? I'm honestly shocked Bruce ever even put him in public school," Emma smiled to herself.

"Well, he just had a bunch of tutors until he was like, eleven, but then Dick nagged that he needed social skills, and Bruce put him in school. Makes living here much easier," Tim replied.

"'Cause you don't have to see him?"

"Exactly. It makes both of our lives much easier, and he's smart enough to pull all of the school stuff off. So I won't have to spend all our money getting a new place and move out and be an adult about it."

"Hey, what about New York?" Emma asked. 

"Got waaay too crowded for my kevlar covered ass."

"Heh. Fair point. But hey, I'm sure there are towns that need their own cool vigilantes."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll let the little brat know you called. He's probably shoved his phone underneath one of the couch pillows and fallen asleep. Apparently I'm his answering machine now."

"Hey, you like talking to me. Don't deny it," Emma laughed quietly.

"Yeah, you got a point there. Hey, isn't it late? Isn't it a school night?" Tim asked. 

"Yeah, I'm going to bed now, Tim, relax. Bye."

"Yeah, bye."

Not quite soothed by that conversation, Emma curled up underneath her covers, and closed her eyes tight, tight, and tried to fall asleep.

---

The next morning saw Emma in the garage of Avengers Tower, a backpack tossed over her shoulder with some of her most valued belongings, and the residents of the tower standing around. Even Pepper, Happy, AJ, and Sam was there, standing around with grim looks on their faces. 

They'd been the first to get their hugs and well-wishes, too, Emma kissing little baby AJ sweetly goodbye. She'd tucked Peter in the night before, just so that he wouldn't have to suffer through this. He was just big enough to know who she was, and that she loved him. She'd be calling them as much as she could, anyway.

"Hey, remember you're enough, okay? You are an awesome, amazing, great dad, and all you do is enough," Emma said as she kissed both of Tony's cheeks, giving him a good squeeze too. "Text me when you figure out what happened to Ultron."

"Yeah, alright," Tony said, clearing his throat a little uncomfortably, and then Emma moved on to Steve. She hugged him tightly, and Steve lifted her off the ground just to prove how annoyingly tall he was. She kissed him on the cheeks too. 

"Don't buy Peter a pet tarantula," Emma said very seriously as her feet dangled a good foot from the ground, and Steve laughed, a sad, bitter sort of laugh. "I know you're tempted, because his doe eyes are killer, but honestly, that spider will probably get eaten, and if it doesn't get eaten, Tony's going to accidentally smash it out of pure shock. Don't get Peter a tarantula."

"We won't," Steve promised, and set her back down on her feet again. "Don't give up. Keep fighting."

"I will," Emma promised right back, holding out her pinkie to him. Steve smiled sadly as they hooked pinkies, and then Emma moved on to Jane. 

Jane was biting the skin on her thumb distantly, like she wasn't entirely sure how to feel about all of this, and it was making her stressed.

"I'm sure she's not that bad," Jane tried to soothe in her oh-so-Jane way. "There aren't any evil grandmothers in Aesir mythology. Just stepmothers." Emma laughed, and hugged Jane gently. "We'll get you back."

"Yeah, okay," Emma said softly, and turned to her left to catch Pietro in a hug. 

He hugged her right back, still moving slowly and stiffly from the bullet wounds. But he was starting to heal, and now he could speed around in bursts, just a few feet at a time without hurting. She would miss that too, not being able to yell 'Pietro' and get him to appear in a woosh of air. 

"Raise hell," Pietro said very seriously, and Emma snorted. 

"Yeah, no. I'll leave that to you guys," she said. Pietro shrugged. 

"Good plan. We do that all the time."

"That you do. Be good for me. Don't hassle your sister. Try not to rip all of your stitches out. Don't be an asshole," Emma said. 

"Nag, nag, nag, Tiny," Pietro said, and ruffled her hair. 

"I'll kick you, don't tempt me. I don't care if you're injured, I will kick you," Emma said as she fixed her hair and grabbed him by the neck to pull him down simultaneuously. She kissed his cheek gently, and then patted his other cheek. "Do stay positive. You know how fucking gloomy this bunch can get, yeah? Be their light in my place, okay?"

"I can try," Pietro agreed. Emma turned around, and there stood Wanda, a small frown on her face. 

"Won't you miss me at least a little?" Emma asked teasingly, and Wanda hummed. 

"Yeah," she said quietly. "I'll probably still hear you, because you're like speaker. But I'll miss hearing you talk. You're always talking."

"Why do you guys think I constantly talk! I really don't!" Emma laughed. Wanda kept her hands in the pockets of her hoodie and made no move to hug, so neither did Emma. If Wanda didn't wanna hug, that was cool. 

"Maybe I just always hear you," Wanda said thoughtfully. Emma rolled her eyes, and then smacked her forehead as she remembered something. 

"Right! You guys, in case you decide that Pietro and Wanda are allowed to be full-fledged baby Avengers soon, I've got suggestions for code names!"

"Oh?" Clint said with a soft, sad smile. 

"Yeah!" Emma pointed to Pietro. "Quicksilver." She pointed to Wanda. "Scarlet Witch."

"Oh, that's so sick," Darcy whispered under her breath. 

"Awesome," Pietro grinned widely. "Quicksilver. I like it." 

"Scarlet Witch," Wanda said distantly, opening her hand and making a little ball of scarlet flame appear floating above her palm. "It fits."

"Yeah, it does, dunnit? I've been thinking long and hard about this. I'm surprised you haven't heard me."

"Me too," Wanda said distantly. "It's the twig that called me witch, wasn't it?"

"You mean Damian? Yeah, he's called you a witch, but he's not entirely clued in on the mutant PC terms," Emma said. "I'm trying to teach him."

Wanda cracked a real smile, one of those beautiful bright ones she rarely showed the world. Emma loved Wanda's wide smile. 

"I'm the Scarlet Witch," she said. 

"Sick," Darcy repeated. "I want a code name."

"Lewis works fine," Clint said. 

"But it's boring!"

While Clint and Darcy bickered, Emma wrapped her arms around Bruce's neck. 

"I always believe in you. Always," she told him quietly. "So does every single one on this team. And Betty. And Darcy, and Jane. You can manage a relationship and superhero duties and being an awesome uncle at the same time. You're a sweet, gentle person who deserves nothing less than the best and I need you to not forget that. Alright?"

Bruce nodded silently, and hugged her a little tighter. 

"This isn't the end. We're not giving up on you," Bruce promised. "Keep your head high. Stay yourself."

"Didn't plan on doing anything else," Emma smiled, and let go of him. 

Before she knew what was going on, she'd been swept up into Thor's gigantic arms, and was being cradled like she was a little child. Without questioning it, she wrapped her arms around Thor's neck, and hugged like her life depended on it. 

When Thor finally set her on her feet again, he crouched down on one knee in front of her, meeting her eyes intently. 

"This was given to me by Lady Sif. She is very intent on knowing your destiny and where you go," he said, his voice rumbling and sounding vaguely amused. He held his huge hand out towards Emma, and opened it. Lying in his palm, was a small chain, silvery and with glowing bronze text on the tiny little chain-links. "She wonders at the existence of such a small but intent warrior here in Midgard, and wishes you well."

"Honestly, whenever she's in town, please dear gods, tell her to drop by! I feel like I own the majority of her jewelry box by now," Emma laughed, but slipped the cool chain around her wrist. It immediately tightened, and the bronze letters flashed before fading into the silver again. "Awesome. Magic."

"It's just to make the chain indestructible," Thor explained. "But it does look quite... Awesome, yes?" Emma grinned. 

"Yeah! It really does. Thank you, Thor. Tell Lady Sif thank you from me."

"I wish you well in your travels," Thor said sadly, and swept her into another bear hug. Once she was back on her feet again, Emma was starting to get a little weepy, because what. She was leaving the best family she'd ever had to live with her grandma who she barely knew.

No. She had to stay positive. She could do this. 

That didn't mean she wasn't gonna cry a little bit about it.

"If this was a musical, we'd all be singing a sad song in unison right now," Emma said with a wet laugh, and Darcy wrapped her up in her arms tightly.

"Promise you won't outgrow me before we've fixed this mess," she said with a quiet laugh. 

"You're short and my biological parents were tall. I'm probably gonna outgrow you either way."

"I know," Darcy said as she loosened her grip around Emma. She cupped her face, and smiled sadly. "Just... Not yet. Okay?"

"Okay," Emma promised quietly, and got a kiss on her forehead for that. 

Finally, there was Bucky, and he was standing an entire eighteen feet away from her, his body partially hidden by Thor. His silliness made Emma want to laugh and cry at the same time. 

"Bucky," Emma said exasperatedly. "You're a grown ass man. Please tell me you're honestly not trying to think that if you ignore this I won't go."

"No," he said petulantly, and Emma laughed this time, making smiles appear on everyone's faces, because that goddamn laugh always did them in, didn't it.

"Quit it and come hug me," she said, and god, now she sounded teary. "It's real, okay? It sucks, and it's weird, and new, but it's real. Come hug me."

This time, Bucky stepped out from behind Thor and swept Emma into his arms without hesitation. Maybe he'd resigned himself to the fact that she was right.

"The weather's getting cold again," Emma sang quietly into Bucky's ear as she hugged him. "Promise me you won't try to mimic it."

"We're really not in a musical, doll," Bucky said, but his voice was a little choked, and Emma ran her hand through his hair gently as she kept singing.

"I know how exhausted you must be," she sang quietly as he sank to his knees, still with his arms wrapped around her. "Ripped apart and tearing at every seam."

"Now is really not the time for you to make me cry," Bucky said quietly. Emma kissed both of his cheeks lovingly. 

"I think this is an excellent time for me to make you cry, because then you have to turn to someone other than me to feel better. And that's gonna be important now," she said firmly. Bucky groaned. 

"You're gonna preach 'lean on other people than me' now? When we're saying goodbye?" he said incredulously. 

"Yes, because you gotta have a support structure that isn't just me."

"I have Stevie and Darcy," Bucky said quietly. "Maybe your mom. If I get her a little drunk."

"Ugh, you need more friends. What about Sam? You like Sam," Emma said, wrapping her arms around his neck. 

"I like that he isn't scared of me, and he can pack a punch. I like that," Bucky admitted. 

"Yeah, see? Make more friends. You're a fucking delight, once you get to know ya," Emma beamed at him. Bucky stared at her for a few seconds.

"You know I could take you out of the country in less than an hour, if you asked. I would do it," he said with conviction. Emma kissed his forehead too, much like Darcy had just kissed hers.

"I know you would. I also know that's not the answer. I was on the run for a couple of years, and while you'd make it fun, I wanna stop running," Emma replied softly. "You're sweet. Don't shut down on them around here, okay? Promise me that."

Bucky didn't say anything, but his eyes shifted from her and over to the garage door, that was suddenly opening up. 

Anne's car appeared from outside, and drove in, parking just a few yards away from their group. Bucky stood up again, and backed off just in time for Natasha and Clint to take their places behind Emma, reassuring and comforting.

Anne stepped out of the car, her lawyer coming out with her too. Anne looked at them all coldly, but smiled at Emma. 

"C'mon, Emma, darling. Let's go," Anne said, making eye contact with Clint and Natasha as she said it. It was her victory, and she was revelling in it, shoving it in their faces. Clint had to restrain himself not to reach for an arrow and just take her out here and now, because he was a reasonable human being. Or at least that was the mantra he was repeating his head right now. 

Natasha had no such qualms. If that vile woman looked at Natasha like that again, she was going to break her arm and feel zero regret. None whatsoever. Zilch. Nada. Natasha was ready to snap this woman's neck to keep Emma in their home, she was, but Coulson had told her that murdering Anne was really not an option. That would sort of only prove her point about them being bad, scary people. 

That didn't mean Natasha wasn't going to glare holes in Anne's skull. No one could stop her from doing that. And when Anne locked eyes with her again, it wasn't for long. 

"Alright sweetie," Clint said lovingly as Emma turned around to look at her family one more time. Clint and Natasha crouched a little to get more on her level. "You need to go. We'll call every day, okay? Text or call any time. We don't give a fuck if it's in the middle of the goddamn night, okay? Anything at all, call us. Okay?"

"Yeah," Emma said, her voice wobbling as she looked over at her parents. "Alright."

"Oh, sweetie, don't cry," Clint soothed, stroking her cheek gently. "You'll make all of us cry, and I honestly don't think the oceans could deal with Thor crying."

Emma giggled a little, and Natasha's heart ached as she wrapped her arms around Emma, memorizing the scent of her hair, the way Emma's hugs felt like. Her small hands clinging to Natasha's back, her breath against Natasha's shoulder. That quiet heartbeat, all that love crammed into this small body. 

"You'll be fine, Возлюбленный. We're just a call away," she promised, and stroked Emma's hair. "Always. We're always here for you. Don't forget that. We'll fix this."

The words didn't feel like enough, like the weight Natasha was trying to put into them just wasn't there, like the words were falling flat. But then Emma smiled, and a tear found it's way down her lightly freckled cheek, and she sniffled. 

"Yeah, I know," she said, her voice absolutely shot to hell. Natasha smiled at her, and Emma smiled back, before she wrapped herself up in Clint's embrace too. 

"Don't you worry. We've got you," Clint murmured, stroking her back gently. "We can do this. Okay?" 

Emma nodded into Clint's shoulder, and swallowed hard before she pulled back. 

"Emma," came Anne's impatient call.

"Coming," Emma called back without turning around. She stared at her family for a full five seconds, and then she wiped her snot on her sleeve, and tipped her chin up. "I love you," she said, and smiled at them. Then she turned around and walked over to Anne. 

Her grandmother placed her hand on Emma's shoulder, squeezing, and then she was sitting in the backseat, her body entirely on auto-pilot as she just stared out the window. 

The car started again, and Emma stared out the back window long enough to see Clint fall forward onto all fours like he was about to hurl and Natasha slowly getting back to her feet, a pained expression on her face. 

---

Chapter Text

 

The trip to Anne's place happened in a daze, because Emma's mind felt like a tornado, and she had to focus on the grey sky to try not to puke in the back of Anne's nice car. All the way there, there was lightning, and thunder, and rain, and Emma closed her eyes and listened to it, trying to soothe herself.

Once they got there, Anne's house was nice, the couch was cozy and there was a wooden staircase covered in grey carpet, which Emma loved to climb like a monkey, with all four limbs out and about. Anne told her she looked weird when she did that, but Emma kept doing it no matter what. 

She had to see the bright side of things. 

Anne had showed her to her new room on the second floor, and how weird was that, this place only had two floors, with two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, a kitchen and living room on the first. Very average. Her lesbian foster parents had had more room, but there were two of them. Anne was all alone. 

"Did you never marry?" Emma asked her quietly over a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. Emma was barely poking her food, but Anne wasn't really noticing. She was reading her work emails and barely looking at the young redhead in front of her.

"No," Anne said distantly. "I focused on my career instead." Emma nodded to herself, and ate the rest of her dinner in silence, standing up after she was finished. Anne looked up with surprise. "Did I say you could leave the table? Sit."

Emma gaped, but sat back down. She sat still in silence for a moment, and bit her lower lip. Maybe Anne wanted her to ask?

"May I leave the table?" she asked quietly, and Anne gave her a curt smile, looking up from her emails. 

"Yes, you may," she said, as if she was being gracious, letting her leave like this, and Emma put her dishes in the sink and ran upstairs to her room, only to hear "No running in the stairs!" from the kitchen. Emma slowed down in the middle of the staircase, and utilized her stealth training to completely silently sneak up the stairs and slip into her room. 

There, she threw herself down on the bed, and stared at the ceiling for the hour and a half it took before she could brush her teeth and go to bed.

She closed her bedroom door after calling down a 'goodnight' to Anne in the living room, and tucked herself in, missing Lucky, missing her nightlight, missing her family so much it ached in her bones. 

As if some god was listening to her, her phone began ringing on the bedstand, and quickly, Emma hid it and herself underneath the covers, trying to muffle the sound before she answered.

"Hey you guys," she said softly into her phone, and she could hear collective sighs of relief on the other end. There was a chorus of 'hi Em', 'hi sweetie', and 'hi Emma!', and Emma smiled so wide her cheeks hurt. 

"How are you, sweetheart?" came Clint's soothing voice, and Emma smiled at the covers pulled over her head. 

"I'm fine. Miss all of you," she said, and recieved choruses of the same sentiment back at her. "So what's happened today?"

"Lots of crying," Tony relayed. "I think even Bucky shed a tear."

"I know I did," Pietro said, and Emma chuckled. 

"No need to cry for me, you guys, I'm fine," she said quietly, shifting under the sheets.

"How's your grandma treating you?" Bucky asked, and she smiled at his gruff voice.

"She's treating me fine," Emma said, and that wasn't a lie. Anne was just... different. But she was her family. She couldn't deny that. 

"She better," Steve said very seriously. Emma smiled at that, imagining the face he was making as he said that, those slightly wrinkled brows, that slight frown. His serious face. 

"She is," she reassured them again. "Don't worry about me, guys. If anything happens, I promise, I'll give you a call. Just like I expect the same service from the lota ya'. If someone gets hurt during a battle, I expect a goddamn report on my desk, neatly written, with dotted i's and crossed t's. You hear?"

"Yes ma'm," Clint snorted as everyone chuckled around her. Natasha rejoiced in hearing her daughter's voice, however mechanical. 

"Do you want us to bring anything by? Anything you've forgotten?" she asked, just as an excuse to hear Emma talk again. 

"Uumm. No. I'm good. Thanks, mom." 

"Sure, Возлюбленный. Don't hesitate to ask."

"I never do," Emma claimed. "Tony, what happened to Ultron?"

"Slight malfunction in his code. I programmed him to help humanity, and he tried to do that by eliminating threats to humanity. Aka, humanity," Tony said with a rueful grin. "I've called some of my... Associates, to give me a hand."

"What associates? Who's willing to work with you, except for like, Bruce, me, and the robots you made for yourself?" Emma asked, and Tony made a mock-hurt noise, but he was grinning.

"Well, Hank Pym. You remember him, from the wedding? He was hanging onto Jan's arm for dear life."

"Tall, pale blonde? Looks like he'd rather be anywhere else than here constantly?"

"You should see him when he's fiddling with his ants. Then that's the only place he wants to be."

"Ants?" Emma said, sounding equal parts delighted and skeptical. "He likes ants?"

"He's Ant-Man," Tony relayed. Emma hummed. "Yeah, so I got Pym, and I got this gal named Dr. Cho, she's pretty cool, you'd like her."

"Too bad I won't get to meet her," Emma said, and immediately, Tony's grin died a little. Everyone who'd been smiling went a little dimmed at that. 

"You never know, doll," Bucky said quietly from where he was sitting in the couch, Darcy's arm wrapped around his shoulders. 

"Yeah, fair enough," Emma said softly, but the conversation never really found the same light tone it had had before, and soon enough, Emma was yawning too much to get out even a sentence. 

"You should go to bed, Возлюбленный," Natasha said gently, and there was the sound of another yawn from Emma's side. 

"No, no, it's... It's fine. You guys keep on talking," she said sleepily, and Clint smiled softly at the soft tone her voice had taken on. 

"You need to sleep, sweetheart," he said, no matter how much it hurt him to say that they needed to part once again. "You have school tomorrow. We'll still be here by then, don't you worry."

"Never know with you goddamn Avengers, maybe you'll get tossed into another dimension while I'm sleeping," Emma grumbled, and everyone laughed softly. 

"We'll be here," Jane promised, stroking Thor's back gently as the great god of thunder stared at the floor forlornly.

"Yeah, alright. Maybe I should try to sleep. I have to wake up for school in... Five hours. Great. Good going, me," Emma grumbled. "Goodnight, guys. I love you. Jarvis, I love you too."

"The sentiment is appreciated, miss Emma," came Jarvis mildly surprised voice from the ceiling. 

Everyone said their goodnights, and then Emma hung up with another yawn. Everyone settled back into the couches in the common room.

Neither of them had cried in that parking garage, but Clint had looked like he was gonna puke any second, and Bucky had looked like he'd lost another one of his limbs.

Everyone had coddled each other on the way back up to the common room, offered words of reassurance, and Natasha didn't hear a thing, but she participated in the conversation anyway. From Pietro's confused look, she must have looked calm and relaxed like always. 

That's a thought she finds amusing, so she chuckles quietly, which gets her one of Steve's patented concerned looks. She fakes a yawn and tells everyone she's going to bed right after that, when all of them feel hollow and cried-out, and she does intend to sleep. It's been a long day, and she's tired. She's bone tired. 

Jarvis doesn't talk to her on the way up to their floor, or when she gets there. With the way he was acting, it made her think the AI was as upset by this as everyone else in the tower.

And Natasha was fine, really, she was, until she walked past Emma's room. She froze mid-step, staring into the room with the olive green walls, the slightly cluttered desk, the comfy chair, the messy bed. She closed the door and took a deep breath.

Natasha barely remembered what happened after that. It was like she blacked out, and when she finally saw things around her again, it looked like someone had tossed the place. The plates were destroyed, tossed against various walls and shattered, and the chairs and tables were overturned. Natasha's hands were bruised and bloody, and she was currently sitting on the floor, leaning against Emma's closed door. Clint was staring at her from the doorway, his face still looking as crestfallen as earlier.

But then he smiled. Raw and angry and sad, his smile was heartbreaking, and that's what this was, wasn't it? Heartbreaking.

Natasha's heart is breaking. It hurts like no wound ever has before.

"God, are we a fucking mess or what," Clint laughed shakily as he put his back against the wall next to her, and slid down.

Natasha felt something wet slide down her cheeks, and was genuinely surprised to find herself crying. When was the last time she'd cried without it being a part of a mission?

"Yeah," Natasha agreed as Clint wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Yeah we are. I miss her. I hope we get her back soon."

Even that felt like too much information, but the way Clint was hugging her, he was probably in just as much need of comfort as she was. And that was awful, Natasha should push him away, but she was tired and hurting, and Clint's embrace was so warm. They were all alone on their floor. She could allow herself to collapse this one time. Just this once. 

"You and me both. I'll go talk to the lawyers tomorrow, alright? We'll try to sort this out," Clint whispered into her hair, and Natasha nodded as he dropped a gentle kiss on top of her head. Natasha took a deep breath, and curled her hand into a fist, extending her pinkie, pointer finger, and thumb and holding it out to Clint. 

I love you

Clint chuckled, and made the same sign with his larger, calloused hand, putting the back of his hand against her breastbone, making warm feelings flood her chest. 

"We'll get through this, Nat. I promise you," he soothed, and Natasha let herself be comforted by his gentle rocking and soothing words, closing her eyes and letting herself drift.

---

The next day, Emma got out of bed, got dressed, and walked down the stairs in a daze. She still hadn't heard from Damian, but she'd gotten good-morning texts from Steve, Bucky, Natasha, and an apology from Thor. 

He'd texted her something about wolves and rock trolls, and Emma had read the asgardian history book. She knew exactly what those nasty things were, and understood that he needed to assist in getting them out of Asgard again. She doubted he got reception in Asgard, but she still replied, saying that it was fine and that she hoped he had some fun for her while he was up there.

She hopped into the kitchen, where Anne was making pancakes. 

"Awesome," Emma stated, and Anne smiled at her from the stove. 

"I thought you might like some. I usually don't make any, but I thought that today was sort of a special day," she said, and flipped a pancake in the pan. Emma grabbed a plate and slid two pancakes over onto it. 

She sat down at the table with a bit of syrup and began eating. She'd only made it through maybe half a pancake when her phone rang, and Emma picked it up, relieved to see Damian's face on the screen. Finally. 

"Who's that?" Anne asked over her shoulder, sliding a pancake over to her on a plate. 

"Oh, this is Damian. My boyfriend," she said distantly, and she was just about to answer him when Anne's hand covered her screen. 

"Boyfriend?" she asked, a note to her voice that sounded distinctively dangerous, and Emma blinked. 

"Uh, yeah, he's my boyfriend."

"Your adoptive parents let you have a boyfriend at this age?" 

"Um. Yes?" she said incredulously, trying to pull her phone out of Anne's grip. There was a brief tug of war, before Anne got her to release it with a vicious tug. "Hey, give me my phone back!"

"No boys in this house," Anne declared, slamming her phone down on the counter firmly. 

"That's mine," Emma protested, and Anne shot her a glare. 

"I pay for it, don't I? I pay for everything for you, now. I think you should be grateful for that," Anne shot back. "Your adoptive parents weren't firm enough with you, but I'll make sure to fix that, don't you worry." 

Anne shut down the call, and put Emma's phone into a cookie jar, shoving it up onto the highest shelf in the kitchen. 

"When you learn some respect, you'll get your phone your back," Anne declared at Emma's gobsmacked look, and walked out of the kitchen. "Get your stuff ready, and I'll drive you to school!" 

Emma's heart lightened at the thought of seeing Damian, and Layla, and TJ, and Hope, and she shoved the pancake into her mouth and grabbed her backpack full with her school stuff, before jumping into the car with Anne. 

She was humming happily until she started really looking around. 

"Hey, wait, this isn't how to get to my school," Emma realized, pressing her face against the window as they passed a city block she was pretty sure she'd never seen before in her life. 

"I got you enrolled in a new school," Anne explained. 

"What?!" Emma exclaimed, and Anne shot her a scolding look. 

"Don't yell, young lady. This school has a much better curriculum than your old school did, and it's much closer to our house." She sighed when she saw Emma's gobsmacked look. "Don't make this any more difficult than it has to be."

"Why didn't you ask me?" Emma asked. 

"It'll be alright," Anne said soothingly. "Just don't try to stick out too much, and you'll be fine, alright? Maybe don't go around yelling about the things you usually do."

"So don't be myself?" Emma questioned. 

"Don't be stupid, is all. Try to fit in," Anne repeated reassuringly. Emma frowned, but swallowed the words she had welling up in the back of her throat angrily. 

"Yeah, alright," Emma said softly, because defying Anne did not seem to be a good plan. Her phone vibrating in a cookie jar was proof of that.

Anne pulled over by a gray, concrete building, with windows tinted black, and a dusty looking schoolyard. 

"Morrisson Middle School," Emma read out loud. Anne smiled at her. 

"Try not to bring too much attention to yourself," she said, frowning at Emma's bright blue shirt underneath her purple jacket, and her red hair. "Make some friends. Go on."

Emma opened the door and hopped out, giving the building a skeptical look. Anne's car skidded out of the school area as quick as it had arrived, and Emma made her way into the office, sighing quietly to herself. She had to do this.

Like Anne had said, she should be grateful.

---

By lunch time, Emma had been shoved into two lockers by two different groups of eight-graders, teased for her red hair by a couple of fifth-graders, been laughed at by sixth graders, and the seventh-graders hadn't so much as looked in her direction.

She tried to start a conversation with someone at the tables, but there were such clear groups that Emma couldn't wedge her way into a single one. She decided that sitting in the bathroom was fine, if there wasn't another option. Her pizza was soggy and the science teacher didn't know what the hell he was doing.

All in all, Emma wasn't the biggest fan of Morrison Middle School.

But, instead of whining about it, she took a deep breath, and remembered times when everything had been much worse. Much, much worse.

Maybe that wasn't the greatest plan.

The pizza tasted just as bad coming up as it did going down, and Emma sat clutching the toilet bowl, coughing up nothing, until the bell rang, signaling that the next lesson was starting. Then, she rose on shaky legs, and powered through, not caring that she was already hungry again.

---

Chapter Text

 

The first day of school definitely sucked. The entire next week wasn't any better. Nobody would talk to her, and she didn't even know why. Even her lab partner during science class only looked at her like she was some sort of pest, and his words were clipped and his sentences short. She was behind in every subject since she'd switched in the second quarter of the school year, and had a bunch of make-up homework she needed to do to to catch up. Besides, all of her study buddies were unavailable. 

The math homework looked like a bunch of gibberish to her, too many letters in odd places, with mathematic signs she'd never seen before in her life, that she was entirely sure Bruce would be able to decipher. Since she didn't have her phone, she wouldn't even be able to google it. Anne only had a work computer, that she doubted she'd let Emma use. The French, god, it had so many apostrophies Emma thought she might have to draw in new letters just to figure it out. The reading? Without Hope's notes, how was Emma going to figure anything useful out of the ridiculous text?

When she pointed this out to Anne before dinner, as she sat in the kitchen doing homework, Anne just frowned.

"Even better. You'll get to learn hard work, instead of just slacking off and leaning on your friends. That's how I got where I am today, by working hard and pushing through." 

Learning difficulties aren't really something you just push through, Emma thought to herself, but nodded silently. Anne gave her a smile like she'd just fixed all of Emma's problems, and turned back to making dinner. Emma stared at the math homework for another twenty minutes, before she shoved it back into her bag, swallowing the disappointment at herself. She should know better. She should be able to do that.

Everyone in the Avengers kept telling her she was smart, that she just needed a little help. They'd always offered their own. Bucky had helped her with many vocab quizes, asking her things in rapid-fire French and helping her spell and pronounce words she couldn't figure out. Darcy's history skills were surprisingly killer. Bruce was her science and math go-to, for obvious reasons, and Natasha was a nit picker for English essays, which was amusing in itself. 

Sometimes Clint would try to help, and he'd always say things that were right were wrong, and Natasha would tell him that it was a miracle he ever got his G.E.D. as he complained that she, Russian enough that she didn't wear a coat during the winter, couldn't possibly be better than him at English. 

Emma smiled just thinking about them bickering and then Natasha's victorious raised eyebrows as Clint said, very gravely, that he was sorry that he doubted her Americanness. Natasha liked to point out that if she was American through and through, her grammar would be as terrible as his was, which would in turn make Clint laugh and kiss her cheek, dashing away as Natasha tossed something soft after him. 

After being equally unsucessful with the reading homework, Emma tossed that back too, moving onto the science. At least she found that fun. She skimmed the text book she'd been given, and found a whole chapter on parasites. She dog-eared the corner of that section, and shoved that back into her backpack just in time for Anne to tell her to get rid of her books so they could eat. 

They ate in relative silence, because Anne was yet again skimming her work emails, and Emma swallowed the spaghetti and meatballs without actually tasting anything, because she was so starving. After her second plate had been practically licked clean, Emma looked over at Anne and bit her lip.

"Is there any more?" she asked politely, because Anne wanted her to be polite, and Anne gave her a weird look as she looked up from her phone. 

"No. I made enough for two people. That'd be your third plate. Do you usually eat this much?"

"Usually more," Emma said. Anne gave her apraising look that made Emma feel suddenly overly conscious of how her thighs spread on the chair.

"This is all there is."

"Oh. Okay," Emma said, biting her lip and ignoring her protesting stomach.

"You'll get fat if you eat all that food. We can't have that, now can we?" Anne said, smiling pleasantly. Emma nodded obediently, and helped clean up after dinner.

---

The seventh day after Emma had left them, the Avengers kept sending Natasha and Clint sad looks. And yeah, Natasha appreciated that they were just as miserable and shocked as they were, but after a while, even Tony had tried to comfort her, and she'd taken off for their floor, hiding out there ever since dinner. 

They'd both been at SHIELD all week, because Nick Fury waited for no man's child custody problems to be solved, and thought that they should just dive into their work and forget about Emma. Thank God, they had Coulson, who sent them both home early so that Clint could go hassle lawyers, and Natasha could get some goddamn sleep (You look like a ghost, Romanov. Eat something. Have a nap. You'll feel better when you don't look like you might keel over from nausea.)

So yeah, after yelling at lawyers the whole afternoon, Clint was pretty exhausted. It was late, and he was getting worried. She hadn't replied to any one of them since the first day, and maybe that meant she was having so much fun with her grandma that she didn't want to talk to them anymore. The thought of it made him restlessly flip his phone through his hands as he took the elevator all the way up to... His and Nat's floor. His throat ached, and his vision was a little blurry as he stepped off the elevator, kicking off his shoes and tossing his jacket on the coat rack. 

He was just about to lumber into his room and collapse on the bed, when he noticed Natasha, standing in the doorframe to Emma's room, and his heart just fucking broke.

Natasha was clutching the doorframe, leaning against it like it was the only thing keeping her standing, staring into Emma's room like it had done her physical harm. Her shoulders were a little slumped, and her other hand was clenched into a fist, a defeated note to her posture.

He stopped behind her, slid his arm around her hip in a show of solidarity. They stood next to each other in silence for a full minute before Natasha took a shaky breath.

"It's not... It's not fair," she said quietly, her voice just on the edge of cracking. Clint swallowed the lump forming in his throat, staring into the room along with his partner. Emma's sheets were still rumpled, like she'd come home from school any moment now and drop into it with a groan. Like she was just a second away from hopping in bed with Victoria and Lucky and babbling on the phone with her friends at an ungodly hour, like she didn't have school the next day.

"It really fucking isn't," Clint agreed, his heart aching. He grabbed Natasha's shoulders gently. "C'mon. There's nothing more we can do tonight."

Reluctantly, Natasha let herself be dragged to bed, and Lucky came into their room, nudging Clint's hand with a whimpering noise. 

"I know, buddy," Clint sighed, patting the bed next to him. Lucky jumped up, still whimpering. "We miss her too."

---

Emma decided that despite the fact that she didn't really like reading all that much, she was going to find the library at Morissons, and check out some science books, just to have something to do at Anne's house that wasn't staring at her ceiling and waiting for school to roll back around the next morning. Of course, she'd been doing chores, too, but the TV was off limits unless it was a weekend, and even then, she was only allowed to watch when Anne wasn't watching a soap opera or 'The Price Is Right'.

She'd gotten nearly all the way through her text book's section on parasites when she heard Anne calling something from downstairs.

"Another five minutes, and then it's lights out!" she yelled upwards, and Emma sighed. 

"C'mon, it's not even ten p.m.!" she called out her door. 

"Emma... Don't make me come up there," Anne said warningly, and Emma grit her teeth, and let out a loud breath through her nose as she closed her book, brushed her teeth, clicked the light off, and then shoved the book into her bookbag and tucking into her wrong-smelling sheets. 

She lay awake, staring at the ceiling for over an hour before she could hear Anne's steps in the creaking stairs. Emma held her breath, her heart hammering in her chest as Anne's steps walked past her room, and only then did she breathe out again. She missed getting kissed goodnight, she missed getting hugged, getting randomly swept into an embrace or tossed over Bucky's shoulder, or any physical contact at all. Anne didn't touch, barely looked.

Emma buried her face in her pillow, pressing and breathing shallowly, imagining that she was back in her old room, with the pale green walls, and the dark wooden floor, and her closet.

She imagined that it was movie night at the tower, that Thor was laughing that booming laugh of his and tugging her into his lap, that Natasha was petting her hair soothingly, that Clint was giving her a hug. That Bucky was grinning lazily from the other couch, one arm wrapped around Darcy, who was yelling at the tv. That Tony was tinkering with something in the couch, something child friendly that would be colorful and enticing, and Peter would be stuck in his pop's lap, looking longingly at the toy until it was finished. That Bruce was comfortably wedged between Betty and Thor, smiling as he pushed his glasses up on his nose. Sam and Rhodey on the floor with Lucky, Victoria curled up in Natasha's lap, nose butting her hand.

She was almost asleep, burying herself in happy thoughts, when there was a click. 

Emma's head snapped up, and she looked back at her door. It was a little open, just like she'd left it. There was another click, and this time, she realized it was coming from the window.

Quickly, Emma scrambled out from her cocoon of blankets, and pulled the curtains just as another small pebble landed on her window. She looked out, and saw a dark shape standing on the lawn.

She opened the window and leaned out, her heart beating fast in her chest with need.

"This is so cliché, it's gross," she said shakily, and she could see his shadowy shoulders move in a shrug. 

"You weren't answering your phone," Damian accused, tilting his head enough that she could see the familiar shapes of his face from the light of a streetlight nearby. He looked a little paler than usual, a little ashen, and his voice was sort of rough, like he'd had a nasty cough and he hadn't really recovered yet. "I had to take to more nineties methods."

Emma laughed quietly, love swelling her heart and making her feel remotely whole again for the first time in a week. He was bundled up in a scarf, a hat, and his thick, gray coat, even though it was fairly warm for November in New York. She didn't doubt that it was his coddling butler that had wrapped him up, and despite what Damian kept saying, he really did like his butler like a grandfather. He'd take his advice, sometimes.

"I would invite you up, but Anne is strictly against boys in the near vicinity of me, and I'm sure she'd flip her cap if she saw you," she said. Damian reached a hand out. 

"Get down here then."

Emma bit her lip, and then she disappeared into her room again, quickly pulling on a hoodie and a pair of sweats, along with her old purple Converse, the shoes Clint had gotten her for her first day of school. 

She hopped down to the snowy ground, rolling at the last second and slipping, nearly braining herself on a rock in the artistic flower bed that was currently dead and sad. Damian grabbed her arm before she could do any such thing, and when she'd righted herself, she attacked him in a hug, throwing her arms around him and smelling the first familiar thing in a week. 

Damian hugged back, pressing close to her and letting her steal his hat when they pulled back. She shoved her hands inside his coat, and he wrapped his arms tightly around her again, warming her up.

"Hey, you," she sighed, leaning her forehead to his neck. 

"What the hell is happening?" Damian retorted. "I've been calling you practically non-stop for the past week, and you haven't been coming to school, and when I called Jarvis, he wouldn't tell me shit." The anger in his voice was just worry, and Emma felt her heart warm. 

"Remember my grandma? Anne? Yeah, I showed her where I lived, and she freaked out and took custody of me."

"What."

"Yeah, I know, shocker, right?" Emma laughed awkwardly. "Anyway, she has much stronger... Policies, than my parents do. Did. I dunno, she just took my phone and enrolled me in a new school, and that's why I haven't been replying. I should be grateful, really, she took me in and did all these nice things for me, y'know? 'S not like I'm honestly worth her while."

Damian went very, very still. Carefully, he grabbed her chin and tilted her head back, making sure she was meeting his eyes. 

"Just because she's your blood doesn't mean you owe her anything," Damian said slowly. "Family doesn't end in blood, but it doesn't start there either."

"That means a surprising lot, coming from you. I'm touched you remember that Supernatural quote, you 'adoption-doesn't-make-these-people-my-siblings' asshole," she chuckled weakly. "And really, it's not that bad."

Damian raised his eyebrows. 

"Why did she take your phone?" he asked. 

"Well, you called."

"So, because you're in touch with me, you're not allowed to have your phone?" he asked, sounding annoyingly reasonable. Emma bit her lip. 

"And because I'm disrespectful, and I don't listen enough to what she says," she added. "And I'm just young and useless, I mean, I don't even have a job yet, so why should I..." She quieted at the look from Damian.

"When was the last time your parents took away your phone?" he asked. "Wasn't it that time when you, oh, I don't know, let a known criminal slip away because he used to be your best friend?"

"They're pretty slack when it came to rules," Emma said weakly. "Were."

Damian scoffed, and she slipped her hands out of his coat, shoving them into her armpits instead. 

"This is incredible. She's already made you believe it's all your fault. You haven't done anything wrong!" Emma swallowed, and looked away from him, casting a quick glance at the window to Anne's bedroom. "God, this is as bad as when you were back under the heel of Ralph."

Emma's look snapped back to Damian, at the enraged look on his face, and Emma's eyebrows furrowed, and her eyes narrowed as she gaped. She stepped out of the warm circle of his arms.

"Don't you dare liken my grandma to that-that fuckass!" Emma hissed. Damian threw his hands in the air. 

"Why not? Ralph stole you from your family, abused you, uprooted you, took your freedom away, made you feel like you owed him something. Look me in the eye and tell me that's not exactly what she's doing." Emma glared at him, and Damian took a visibly calming breath. "I can't for the life of me not understand why you're not fighting this with every fiber of your body."

Emma swallowed down the tears threatening to overcome her, and looked down at her feet. 

"She's family, Dames. I can't just... I can't just ignore that."

"But she's not. Family doesn't make you feel like a piece of dirt. Family makes you feel loved, and wanted, and deserving of all of it. Has she even let you talk to your parents since you were forced to leave them?"

Emma stomped in the snow, shrugging, and Damian sighed quietly. 

"Like I said. No phone until I start respecting her rules."

"What's her parenting philosophy? No boys, no friends, no breathing?" he asked sharply, and Emma laughed quietly. 

"Something like that."

"And you're, what? Okay with it?"

"I don't have a say," Emma said automatically.

"Why not?" Damian demanded. "This is America." She laughed at that, but Damian was still scowling, still unhappy.

"Just... Please, Dami. Leave it," she begged.

"Your parents always let you have a say," he said firmly. Emma ran a hand through her hair nervously. 

"Please," she pleaded, looking up at him with large, wet eyes. His rage seemed to deflate a little at that gaze, and he swallowed. "Please don't."

"This is not like you," he added, softer, and Emma shrugged a little weakly. 

"It's not like me to cave under a strong hand?" she asked with a short little bark of laughter. "It sounds exactly like me."

"It sounds like that ghost that takes over your body every time someone shoves it too hard and it jangles loose from it's cage," Damian said lowly. "Like the other you that doesn't want to fight anymore. You always were better at fighting for others than for yourself."

Emma stared at him in surprise, and swallowed the lump of tears forming in her throat.

"Wow, I'm really dating the artistic type, aren't I?" she croaked, and Damian swallowed hard too as he just stared. "Poetry, music, drawing. What can't you do, wonder boy?"

"Boy Wonder," Damian corrected silently, and Emma rolled her eyes fondly.

"How'd you find me, anyway?" she asked with a wobbly smile, her eyes burning uncomfortably. Damian swept her back into his embrace, and she felt so grounded and safe she thought that she was gonna melt into a puddle. "Since you didn't know my grandma had me. What, did ya stalk me again?"

"No, this time, to be safe, I had one of father's friends stalk you. Well, listen to find your voice. It was hard. You don't talk that much anymore."

"Oh, that's so much better than you stalking me. Really," Emma laughed wetly. Damian hummed, grabbing a strand of her hair sticking out from under the hat, and began twirling it. 

They stood there for what felt like hours when it must've been minutes, and then Emma pulled back, wiping her eyes on her sleeves and smiling up at him. So beautiful, Damian thought, and Emma laughed softly. 

"Same time next week?" she asked him. 

"How about tomorrow?" he asked, and she nodded, gripping the lapels of his coat and pulling him into a kiss. It was a soft kiss, filled with hope and tenderness and longing. She ached for relaxed movie nights with her family, like that last time when Damian had been there and she'd had her hand in his hair for the entirety of the movie, and while Clint had looked a little sad, and a little hurt, he hadn't been screaming bloody murder like Anne would've. 

"Gimme a boost?" she questioned when she pulled back, and Damian nodded, helping her get back to her window. Before she closed it, she blew him one last kiss, and he smiled, and then he was jumping over the fence like he came and went here everyday. 

Emma nearly jumped with joy, but she managed to rein herself in, tugging off her wet shoes and the hoodie and the sweats. Then she rolled into bed with a smile on her face, and fell asleep peacefully.

---

Bucky woke up in the middle of the night because of a beeping sound. Darcy groaned next to him, swatting at his pecs to make him grab the offending device, and he fumbled on the table next to him, nearly crushing the phone with his metallic hand.

"What the fuck do you want," he grunted, rolling out of bed. Darcy grumbled a little, but then stole his pillow and all of his covers and seemed content again. 

"I just saw her," came the little twig's voice in his ear, and oh, Bucky was not equipped to deal with him right now. Then he backtracked, and repeated those words in his head. 

"What'd she say? 'S she okay?" he asked, walking into the bathroom and closing the door. 

"She's... Subservient." Bucky scoffed. 

"Emma? Subservient? You're shitting me."

"That- that hag has taken her phone away, enrolled her in a new school, and she's not even allowed to call you. You need to get her back, right now," Damian growled, anger and a tad of fear in his voice. A little bit of panic, too, now that Bucky thought about it. 

"We've still got people searching how safe the tower really is, and considering if Steve and Stark are gonna get to keep their kid. The media is raving, SI's legal department is spread so thin that they're barely even called a pack anymore, and everyone's running themselves ragged trying to get Emma back. We're trying, alright?"

"You need to try harder."

"There's nothing we can do!"

"And you can sleep well, knowing this?"

"Are you fucking kidding me? Of course not."

"Then do something. Help her run away," Damian urged. 

"That would only be making the hag's point. She says we're turning Emma into a delinquent." Damian fumed on the other end of the line. "What school is she enrolled in?"

"I don't know. Since it should probably be in the area, and close to the hag's place of work, it can't be that far. I'd say... Morrissons," Damian said thoughtfully.

"Right. Let me get to the resident hacker and I'll call you back."

"I could-"

"I know you could, but you shouldn't toss your cape somewhere revealing just because you're in a rush to help Emma. Haven't you ever been on a stakeout?" 

"Of course I have," Damian spat angrily, and Bucky rolled his eyes. 

"Think of it as a stakeout, then. Sit. Wait. Watch." He could practically hear the twig gritting his teeth angrily at being told what to do. 

"Fine," Damian snapped, and hung up.

---

Chapter Text

 

Tony was asleep when he asked Jarvis, so Bucky borrowed Darcy's computer and, with Jarvis' help, managed to hack into the school enrollment records. Damian was right, at Morrissons, an Emma Darkholme was enrolled, and that pissed him off on so many levels. He was pretty sure Anne hadn't asked her if it was okay to put her down under her previous name, because Emma might be feeling weak under Anne, but she loved being Emma Barton. There was no way she'd give away being Emma Barton.

Emma Barton was proof she'd been reborn, proof she could overcome her past as a criminal and a murderer for other people's gain. That she was her own person again. That was why she didn't like her old last name anymore. 

Bucky found her schedule, and decided that he'd pick her up from school tomorrow, maybe take her out to have some food. They'd have fun, and he'd get to see his best friend again. 

"Buck?" came Darcy's mumble from the bed, and he looked up from where he was, sitting on the floor, hunched over her computer. 

"What?" he asked, squinting to adjust his eyes to the dark of the bedroom part of his apartment. 

"'S that my computer?" she asked drowzily, sitting up slowly. 

"Yeah," he replied, wrinkling his eyebrows as she yawned and rubbed her eyes. 

"How'd you get on it? I mean, it was locked and all," she pointed out.

"The password's 'sergeant_whiskers'. Because that's your favorite character in Dog Cops," Bucky said slowly, and Darcy laughed quietly, and now he could see her better. She had the covers pulled up over her chest, despite her wearing a shirt with an owl on it, and her dark hair was rumpled.

"It's cute that you remember those sort of details about me, but in this context, it's a little creepy. What'cha up to at..." She squinted over at his alarm clock, the numbers shining a dim green. "2:30 am?"

"Emma's grandma is terrible," he told her, and she sighed. 

"Yeah, babe, I know. She took Emma away from us. She's an absolute dickcheese fucker, alright, I totally agree. Still doesn't explain why you're up."

"Anne's moved Emma to a new school, stolen her name, and won't let her talk to any of her friends or us," Bucky replied in a monotone, and Darcy's jaw dropped.

"Oh, oh no. What a fucking bat that old hag is," she said fiercely, and yeah, Bucky loved Darcy. He did. 

Had he ever told her that? He looked over at Darcy as she ranted angrily in the bed, rolling over and grabbing her phone angrily, probably to call some people and yell at them. Had he ever actually said that he loved her? Out loud? He'd told Emma, when she was in a hospital bed, but had he ever told her?

Emma had nagged him about a support-structure for ages, and he did have Darcy, but did Darcy have him? He wasn't the easiest person to open up to, and he wasn't great at giving advice, and... But, if Darcy didn't love him back, she would've left him by now, wouldn't she have?

"Darcy," he said quietly, and she looked up in the glow from her phone screen. 

"Yeah?" she asked, obviously mid-rant about Anne, and he smiled at her, thinking about all of the little things Darcy did that made him love her. The smile came easier as he thought about her soft hands, her understanding eyes, the way her thigh turned into hip, turned into stomach. The way she helped him remember things. 

"I love you," he said, and Darcy's mouth dropped open a little bit. His heart had started beating fast, curiously enough, and it kept beating very loudly until her gobsmacked expression cracked into a smile. 

"I love you too," she said softly, biting her lip, and his stomach did a flip that he distinctly did not remember it ever doing before. They were both unused to those startling words, being used in their full capacity like this, but it felt... Right. 

"Huh," he said intelligently, and the small smile turned into a grin and Darcy laughed a little, a lovely blush rising on her cheeks. 

"It's that surprising that I love you, huh?" she said, quirking an eyebrow at him. "We've been together for over a year, and you're shocked?"

"Well, not shocked, per se," he said, shutting the lid of the computer and making the room dark again. "Just... Happy."

"Yeah," Darcy agreed empathetically. He saw her stretch a hand out towards him. "Come back to bed. We can't make angry phone calls at three AM. Well, we could, but no one would pick up. All we can do now is sleep."

"I managed to show human emotion," Bucky pointed out as he got to his feet, his head spinning a little at the way Darcy's smile held the universe in it. "I think there are other things we could be doing than sleeping."

"Oh yeah?" Darcy said teasingly as he got back into bed, her warm, soft hands sliding over his chest. "I think we can do that. Think you can say it again?"

"I love you," he breathed, and heard Darcy's silent gasp as she straddled his hips, fitting her mouth against his in the dark. " моя дорогая..."

"Ugh, don't you dare speak Russian to me, I will ride you hard enough that you'll break your hip," Darcy groaned, and Bucky burst out laughing. 

"It'll be the best injury I've ever had," he replied lovingly, and Darcy kissed him quiet again, maybe because it was a painful joke, but probably also with the intention of showing him how much she loved him.

---

Emma sighed as she hiked her bag further up on her shoulder. She'd been kicked out of the library during lunch for yelling at some bullies, and the kid they'd been bullying had just glared at her like she should've stayed with her nose in a book. All in all, she wasn't having the greatest day, but it had been a while since she'd had a good day, wasn't it?

"Who rained all over your parade?" she heard a familiar low voice say, and her head snapped up to find Bucky standing by the gates, hands in the pockets of his parka and a hat. His hair was long enough to tuck behind his ears now, and he seemed to enjoy it immensely. 

"Bucky!" she exclaimed happily, running to meet him and getting swept into a warm, loving, bear hug. He clung hard to her, and Emma clung just as hard back, inhaling the scent of sandalwood and slight smoke that brought tears of happiness to her eyes. 

"Hi, doll," he breathed into her hair, and Emma swallowed hard as he set her down again, but not letting her out of his embrace. "How you doing?"

Emma opened her mouth and closed it again. She didn't want to seem ungrateful, her grandmother was doing her best, really. She shouldn't say anything hurtful.

"I'm good," she said, and Bucky took a good look at her, a real good look at her, and met her eyes. 

"Oh, doll, we both know you're lying," he said quietly. "Huh. Damian was right."

"Oh no, what's he said now?" Emma sighed, hooking her arm in his as they began their walk down the sidewalk. 

"That you're not quite right anymore," he replied. Emma sighed, and shook her head, making her red curls jump. 

"He's just angry I won't swoon in his arms and beg him to help me out of this situation," Emma said dismissively. "Anne's just... Different. He's not used to it yet. I'm not used to it yet."

"We're working hard to get you back," Bucky replied, grabbing one of her long red strands of hair and curling it around his finger. "I promise."

Emma nodded, feeling reassured that at least her family still loved her. 

"How's everyone doing?" she asked, skipping a little next to him to keep up with his long strides. She was feeling light for the first time in a week, like nothing was wrong, because how could they possibly be wrong when Bucky was there with her?

"Your mom and dad are absolutely out of their minds, Stark and Stevie's got a CPS visit looming for them to check up on Peter, Betty has stayed over at the tower three nights in a row just to be there for Banner, and Wanda keeps saying cryptic things about the end of times and chaos. Thor went back to Asgard to battle trolls or something," Bucky told her, and Emma bit her lip. 

"I'm sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry for," Bucky replied immediately. "We love you. We'd do anything for you. If it means being out of our minds with worry about you, then that's what we'll do. Shitty of Anne to move you like this."

"She was just looking out for me," Emma protested, and got wrinkled eyebrows in return.

"She's trying to pull you out by the roots, that's what she's doing," Bucky protested right back, and Emma shrugged half-heartedly. 

"Yeah, yeah," she said, brushing it over. "How's Darcy?"

"A little angry, a lot upset. She was still sleeping when I took off for a run with Sam, Steve, and your mom this morning, but I think she's otherwise okay. I told her I loved her at two AM this morning."

"Oh my god, why didn't you lead with that?!" Emma exclaimed happily, stopping him only to squeeze his middle in a hug. "You finally told her? I'm so proud of you! Look at you go, being in touch with your feelings!"

"Yeah," Bucky agreed, and a small smile grazed his face, making Emma light up just that bit more. 

"We should get donuts to celebrate," Emma declared, and Bucky huffed as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and kept walking down the street, now towards the nearest donut shop. 

"You like to solve and celebrate things with sweets."

"Say to my face that it hasn't worked," Emma said, poking his nose, and Bucky chuckled lowly. 

"It has worked," he agreed, and Emma grinned at him.

"Yeah, see? Magic of sweets. Gotta love it."

They had a couple of sugar-glazed donuts at a nearby Dunkin', and then Bucky walked Emma to Anne's house, chatting happily about one of the books Emma was currently reading. 

When they got to the driveway, the door opened, and Anne was standing in the doorway, a furious look on her face.

"Where the heck have you been?" Anne asked angrily, and Emma gaped at her in surprise. 

"I was just- Bucky came around," she said, making a vague motion towards him. 

"Come inside," she said angrily, and both Emma and Bucky began taking steps towards the steps when Anne snapped a hand out, stopping them. "Not you. Get off my property before I call the cops on you,"

"Anne!" Emma exclaimed. "He's my friend, remember? This is Bucky."

"I know exactly who he is," Anne said disgustedly, and made a face like she was sucking a lemon, reaching a hand out towards her again. "Come here." The authoritative note in her voice makes Emma's hands shake, and her body screams that she should stay right where she is, but she makes eyecontact with Anne, and then her legs are moving clumsily towards her, up the porch steps. 

"Emma..." Bucky said slowly, but Emma couldn't hear him over the blood rushing in her ears when Anne clamped a hand down on her shoulder.

"You heard me," Anne barked, glaring at him, and Bucky huffed, giving her a considering look. Then he tried to lock eyes with Emma, but alarmingly enough, her eyes were trying to drill a hole in the porch. 

"We love you," he said simply, and Emma met his eyes, albeit slowly, giving him a small, frail smile. 

"Leave!" Anne barked again, and Bucky stayed for an additional few seconds, before he jumped the fence easily, walking back down the street.

Emma was immediately herded inside, the door closing after them like the door to a prison cell. She stared at the door for a few moments, entirely missing the beginning of Anne's angry rant.

"-Don't want to hear about them coming around, you hear me? I don't want those people near my house," Anne said angrily. "If I ever hear about them coming here, you're going to bed without dinner for a week. Understood?"

Emma nodded silently, and let Anne guide her into the kitchen, her hands still shaking violently in her pockets.

---

"I'm going to murder her, I really am," Clint said very loudly, as he slammed his hands down against the kitchen island surface. "I have murdered before and I will do it again."

"Maybe don't say that where they can record you," Tony remarked, standing on the opposite short side of the kitchen island as Clint, but he too looked angry, glaring at his phone. "Much easier to get away with it then."

They were all gathered around the kitchen island on the common floor. After listening to Bucky's rendition of what had happened at Anne's, nobody had really been able to keep their cool.

"You guys are way too overprotective," Darcy said from where she was sitting on the barstool, arms wrapped around the one leg she'd pulled up on the stool with her. "Let's just ruin Anne's life by making all of her life savings mysteriously disappear."

"Well, I'm glad you've all still got your morals," Jane said sarcastically, and earned looks from all of the Avengers gathered around the kitchen island. She threw her hands in the air. "I get it, you're angry! We're all pretty damn angry, okay? No doubt about it. But I think we need to have just that little bit of faith in the American justice system. Alright? I think we need to take a step back from the situation, take a couple of deep breaths and act a little more rationally. Please?"

"Ugh, Jane's right," Darcy said lowly after a beat of silence, reaching a hand out towards her. Jane smiled, wrapping her arm around Darcy's shoulders. "As always, she lures me away from the dark side."

"Glad to be of help," Jane said sweetly.

"Yeah, I'm still in the dark. I like it here. I'm staying. Nat, where's my bow?" Clint said angrily, but when he looked over at Natasha, he was met with a blank face. "Oh come on. Not you too."

"Avengers," Natasha said slowly, tapping her nails against the stone of the kitchen island top. "We're Avengers first, people second. Jane's right. We can't do anything but wait on the appeal to come through, and hope that Emma will surivive until then." Steve nodded a little somberly, and Tony flipped his phone over in his hands a couple of times, before he met Steve's eyes, and nodded too.

Clint gave his partner an incredulous look, and Darcy bit her knuckle, looking over at a silently seething Bucky. He kept tapping his fingers against his thighs in a nervous gesture, which was very unlike him.

"So what, you- you're cool with this?" Clint exclaimed incredulously, and was immediately slammed into the wall next to the elevator by Natasha, her fierce green eyes glaring holes into him. 

"Of course I'm not 'cool' with it!" she yelled right into his face, and everyone's eyebrows shot up. It was rare to see Natasha lose control, and Clint glared back just as fiercely. 

"Stop acting like it then," he said lowly, and Natasha shoved him back into the wall and stormed off, disappearing down the staircase. Pietro popped his head out from the living room and whistled lowly. 

"Mom and dad fighting?" he asked, and Clint dragged a hand over his face roughly. 

"Not now," Bruce said quietly to Pietro, and Clint laughed wetly. 

"No no. It's fine. It's hard to be mom and dad when there's no kid around," he told Pietro. He wrinkled his eyebrows, and part of his fluffy, pale hair fell forward into his face. 

"You liked each other before that, though," he remarked. 

"Just because you fight doesn't mean you don't like each other anymore," Clint said soothingly, and from the amused look Tony was shooting him, he was using his dad-voice. 

"Nat's just angry and sad," Steve said, a concerned frown on his face. 

"I'll admit, I've never seen her this upset, but that just sort of proves that Emma's been a relaxing influence on all of us," Bruce remarked. Clint chuckled lowly. 

"Maybe you should go talk to her," Pietro suggested, and Clint fiddled with his hearing aids distantly. 

"Nah. She'll come around," he said dismissively. "Maybe if she doesn't reappear in like two hours, you could check on her, Steve?" 

"Sure," Steve agreed. 

"Don't do anythin' stupid," Bucky warned when Clint walked towards the elevators, and Clint shot him a crooked grin. 

"I would never," he promised as he stepped on, and Darcy narrowed her eyes at him. 

"If you start a PR mess, I will murder you," she yelled after him just before the doors closed. 

"Encouraging," Bruce remarked, and Darcy sighed, grinding the heel of her palm into her eye tiredly. 

"Had to at least give it a shot," she shrugged hopelessly. 

"How are you this upset?" Pietro asked as he stepped further into the kitchen, a slightly baffled look on his face. "You worked fine without her."

"Oh, sweetheart," Tony said with a sigh that clearly said 'you're lucky you're sweet'. "When you have a kid, you're gonna know why we're all this upset. You think of Emma as a sort of pseudo-sibling, right?"

Pietro made a 'well yeah' motion with his head. 

"Imagine them coming for Wanda," Bucky spoke up, locking eyes with him intently. "Imagine them catching up to you and taking her away to experiment on her. Imagine them taking her away from you because they think she's going to lose her mind and destroy the world. Despite everything you've done, every tear-streaked night you've spent trying to soothe her when she's having nightmares, when she's seeing ghosts, you can't do anything when they lock her up in a padded room. You think you could deal with that? If they gave her drugs that made her powers useless, so that you could never hear from her again. Complete silence."

Pietro's eyes were wide, and he turned his head, and there Wanda was, appearing from the living room like she'd heard his internal scream, and she practically jumped into his arms, shooting Bucky a scolding look. 

"You fucker," she said angrily in Sokovian as Pietro hugged his sister tightly, burying his face in her hair, his knuckles white around his sister's waist. 

"He asked. I just answered," he said tonelessly, and Wanda frowned at him, brushing Pietro's hair away from his forehead. 

She said something soothingly in Sokovian, and Pietro nodded, now clinging to her stubbornly. Wanda gave Bucky another pissed look before she tugged her twin back into the living room. 

"I knew this was tough on you, but tough enough that you gotta go give the kid nightmares? A little cruel," Tony remarked, and Bucky turned ice-cold eyes on Tony. 

"Don't underestimate how cruel I can be," he said lowly, and Darcy grabbed his hand. 

"Please don't do that," she pleaded with him, turning her baby-blues on him, and a little of the tension in Bucky's shoulders slipped out. 

"Sorry," he said quietly, and she leaned forward for a quick kiss that seemed to soothe him just that little bit more. 

"So, dinner?" Bruce said into the silence that had suddenly descended on the gloomy Avengers. "We need sustenance. It's pretty important. I know we keep forgetting important things, but I can make some curry and naan, if you'll give me an hour or two. 

"That sounds great, Bruce," Jane said encouragingly. "You should call Betty, tell her to join us. Tony, call Pepper and Happy. Have them bring AJ. Steve, call Sam. Let's try to fill the gaps at the table. We need a family dinner. A show of strength."

"You're a genius," Bruce replied, and Jane flipped her hair over her shoulder. 

"I've got a couple of doctorates, so I know, but thanks," she said sweetly, and everyone chuckled a little at that, however frail. 

---

Chapter Text

 

Clint jogged to SHIELD and broke into their weaponlockers, found a compound bow, and invaded one of the training rooms. He tried different trick shots from around the room, gathering quite the audience by the time Hill came in and nearly got shot in the leg. She managed to dodge just in time, and he made the shot, much to the audience's amusement, but Hill gave him a death glare and ordered him out of the still-rings.

He dropped easily, and was informed of the gathering at the tower. Clint really wasn't feeling up for it, though, so he went to his favorite coffeeshop nearby and grabbed a grilled cheese there. 

When he looked up, feeling something bad brewing, he saw a man looking a little nervous, something in his hoodie pocket. He began making his way over to the man, only to see a familiar mane of red curls move towards the same target. Natasha and him met eyes, and then she bumped into the man.

"Oh gosh, I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed as she spilled her coffee on the man, who pulled out his gun in shock. Before he got off a shot, Clint had sacrificed his grilled cheese to wrench his arm down and shoot the floor. 

"Everyone stay calm!" he heard Natasha yell to the panicked guests as he wrestled the man onto the floor, and gave him a solid punch to the temple. He conked out immediately, and Clint tossed Natasha the gun over his shoulder, trusting her to catch it. 

"We're Avengers!" he added loudly. "Everything's fine! We got the guy." Then he lowered his voice, and turned his head to look at Natasha. "Right? Just the one?"

"He was the only one I saw," she agreed, and didn't meet his eye when she held the gun between her pointer finger and thumb. "Can I get a plastic bag please?"

One of the baristas came rushing forward with a plastic bag, eyes huge, and handed it over to Natasha. She smiled, a curt smile, and plopped the gun into the bag. 

"You don't happen to have any cuffs on you?" Clint asked hopefully, and Natasha reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of silvery cuffs. "You're amazing. What would I do without you?" 

"Crash and burn," Natasha replied, sounding slightly amused, despite herself. She tossed him the cuffs, and Clint rolled the guy over as the rest of the people in the room began chattering again. 

"Has anyone called the police?" Clint asked the restaurant as a whole, and a teenage boy held his phone up. 

"Yeah, on the phone with them now," he replied. 

"Awesome! Good thinking, kiddo," Clint said, rubbing the back of his head as he got back on his feet. Natasha still didn't really meet his eyes as they waited for the police and the manager to come running in. 

The cops were nice, and quick about the whole ordeal. The manager thanked them profusely, and Clint pulled out his wallet to pay for the damaged floor, but the manager wouldn't take the money. Instead, he made Clint a new grilled cheese, all for free, and got Natasha a new chai latte, and let them sit in a corner booth to hide from the press. 

"So," Clint said casually, trying to meet Natasha's eyes. She resolutely stared into the foam in her tea. "I'm sorry I blew up on you earlier."

Natasha seemed to weigh his words in her head, and finally those piercing green eyes met his. 

"I'm sorry I pushed you into a wall," she said slowly, as if she was trying to stop herself from sounding genuinely sorry. "I was a little...unhinged."

"I get it. We're both in a bad mood. Pietro reminded me that we liked each other before Emma came into our lives," he remarked. 

"We did. We do," Natasha agreed, taking a sip of her chai latte. After a while, she bit her lip. "I don't really want to go back to the tower tonight."

"You read my mind," Clint said through a mouthful of grilled cheese, holding up his purple keys. "Hawkeye nest?"

"That's what you and Kate are calling it now?" Natasha asked amusedly as she took another large gulp of the warm liquid. 

"Yeah. Apparently America was living with Kate for a while, but now I'm not so sure anymore. I'm pretty sure they're dealing with L.A. shit right now, but I guess I should text her so that she can scram."

"You just don't want to walk in on them doing something indecent."

"Of course not. That'd be like walking in on Barney and one of his girls. Probably a little more traumatic since Kate wouldn't stop to shout at me. She'd just keep doing what she was doing," Clint murmured to himself as he picked his phone up with a frown, texting Kate to scram.

Natasha's laugh was soft and gentle, and Clint looked up at her to smile. 

"We're gonna be okay," he said, and Natasha nodded, feeling for the first time in a while that it might be true. 

"Yeah," she agreed as their fingertips touched secretly on top of the table.

---

Emma recalled the last time she'd sat in a principal's office. She'd been angry that time, righteously furious, but this time she just felt small and bruised. Her head hurt like someone was trying to split it in half with an axe, and since Emma had once gotten an axe literally bashed into her head, she knew what that felt like. 

Flecks of black kept appearing behind the principal, who was talking very seriously to her and Emma was trying to focus, she really was, but the black spots turned into birds and Ralph, and Emma had to rub her forehead to get some relief. 

"Can I please have some water?" she asked loudly, and the principal didn't even cut himself off, like she wasn't really there, and Emma wondered if she really was here, in this small, garishly green painted room. 

Her head was throbbing. She really wasn't up to this dude's shit. 

"Look," she said sharply, using her mom's Black Widow voice, and that finally cut off his monotonous rant. "I only beat that dude up because he was beating another kid up. And when I called him out on his shit, he punched me. I punched back. Him being a big baby about getting his ass kicked is his own problem."

"No, Emma, it's yours," the principal said tiredly. "Walton is a good student. He's smart and has a bright future ahead of him. He's captain of the lacrosse team, and-"

"Oh, so since he's got a bright future ahead of him, we're gonna skim over his kicking a kid while he's down, writhing in the frozen grass? Great. Wonderful," Emma said acidly, and the principal's tired look disappeared behind one of cool indifference.

"I have to suspend you," he said, sounding sort of like he was enjoying this conversation, and Emma rubbed both of her hands over her face, and missed her parents so much her entire body ached with it. 

"What about the kid? That they were beating up? What'd he say?" Emma persisted. 

"Ryan said the boys never laid a hand on him."

"Right. Because they only kicked him in the ribs. No face or hands. No evidence unless he pulls his shirt up, and he's too spooked to speak up." She chuckled grimly to herself. "Right."

"Like I said, we'll wait for your guardian, but I'll have to suspend you for at least a day."

"It was my first warning!" Emma said incredulously. The principal smirked, and Emma was filled with such anger the coffee cup on his desk rattled warningly.

"We've heard complaints earlier," he said vaguely, and gave Emma a once-over. "We don't want another troublemaker on our grounds, however pretty she is."

"Oh, fuck you," she said, out loud, and just at that moment, Anne was let through the door, and all hell broke loose. 

Emma had landed a three day suspension by the time the meeting was over, and Anne was absolutely furious. She'd yelled at Emma all the way home, and Emma's head had still been throbbing, the migrane-shadows more prominent than ever. She was now mildly nauseous, but with the way Anne was angrily yelling, it didn't sound like Emma was going to get any dinner as it was, anyways.

"I had to leave work for this! I can't believe you got suspended! You need to clean up your act in school, young lady!" Anne kept repeating in different variations, and the only reason Emma hadn't puked yet was because Ralph had taken too much pleasure in seeing her weak and vomiting, so she'd taught herself to stop it.

Finally, Anne pulled into the driveway at her house, and Emma went willingly into the house, carrying her heavy bookbag over one shoulder. 

"Hey, listen to me, you little-" she grabbed Emma hard by the chin and jerked her around, and that really wasn't helping Emma's headache or nausea situation, but Emma met her grandmother's eyes anyway. "You were idiotic today, going after that sweet boy."

"Sweet boy?! He was beating the crap out of that kid! I was just trying to help!" Emma protested, pulling her chin out of Anne's grip and feeling the scratches of nails against her skin as she backed up onto the first step of the staircase. Anne glared at her, and shook her head in disgust as she crossed her arms over her chest 

"Go to your room. Don't come out until I say you can."

"What?" Emma asked incredulously. 

"You should've minded your own business, Emma!"

"He was being bullied! Was I just supposed to stand and watch him?" she asked. 

"You shouldn't have gotten yourself in trouble," Anne said sharply. "I never got in trouble when I was your age."

"Yeah, well, standing idly by as someone gets beaten up by bullies doesn't make you any better than the bullies!" Emma exclaimed. Anne's face hardened. 

"Go to your room before you do anything you'll regret," she hissed, and Emma flinched at the maliciousness in her grandmother's voice. It angered something inside of her, and she swallowed the angry, hurtful words threatening to spill over as she and Anne stared at each other angrily. "Now!"

Emma spun around so fast on the staircase that she got a little dizzy, and got two steps before she heard Anne yelling "no running in the stairs!". It took Emma great willpower not to make something explode, but the bannister creaked threateningly when she clenched her hand around it and took the stairs two at a time to quickly get to her room. 

She would've slammed the door, except Anne might come back up here, and all Emma wanted to do was sleep.

---

Emma wasn't allowed to leave her room for two out of her three days of suspension. On the third day, Anne opened her door on the way down for breakfast in the morning, and Emma gratefully stumbled after, too hungry and exhausted to do much more than wolf down the eggs she made for herself quickly. 

Weak and shaky, she asked Anne if she could use the tv today, but Anne's cold indifference to her existance and the way she ignored her proved that Anne was still angry about the whole suspension thing, and was only being merciful when she'd opened the door this morning. 

Emma stared wistfully at the cookie jar on the top shelf, and wished her grandma wasn't sitting right there in front of her just right now. 

Damian had been absent during her two days in lock-down, too. Of course, she didn't expect him to be there every night, but that didn't mean she didn't miss him. 

With nothing else to do, Emma had tried to catch up on all her subjects, but the letters kept switching places, and it only frustrated her, because she just felt so stupid. Why wasn't she getting any of this? Anne said she hadn't needed help at all with her schoolwork when she was Emma's age. That she'd just pushed through. 

With that in mind, Emma stared at the math problem she was trying to do, concentrating with all her might. The lightbulb in her desk lamp exploded, and Emma nearly slammed her hands down against the table for one hot, red second, but instead dug her nails into her skin and took deep, slow breaths. 

"What was that noise?" Anne called up the stairs, and Emma swallowed hard, wondering if she dared reply. "Emma?"

"My desk lamp went out!" she called back, and heard Anne's steps in the stairs. Emma's heart began beating faster, the dread making it hard to breathe. What if Anne found out she was the one who broke the lamp? What if there was no more food in Emma's near future anymore?

Anne opened the door without knocking, giving the lamp a glance. 

"Odd. We'll buy a new lightbulb at the grocery store," she said, shrugging it off. 

"We?" Emma asked, letting herself get a little excited. Anne nodded. 

"I'm going shopping and I'm not leaving you alone in the house. Put on some jeans and we'll go," she said slowly. Emma immediately jumped up, schoolwork forgotten as she dashed to her little chest of drawers, pulling out a faded pair of jeans and quickly jumping into them. 

When she was done, Anne regarded her coolly, and then sent her out to the car. The car was freezing, but Emma relished in feeling something other than anger and sadness for the first time in a while. 

While at the store, Emma was very helpful, and that seemed to help her get a toe back onto Anne's good side. Anne even put some vanilla apple yogurts in the cart when Emma asked nicely.

"Can I get some gum too, please, Anne?" Emma asked pleadingly, and Anne didn't look up from her list. 

"Fine. Go get it," she said dismissively, and Emma sprinted off towards the cashier. She found the Ice Cube gum she was looking for, and out of habit skimmed the headlines of the gossip rags, trying to find anything about the Avengers.

Her heart stopped when she saw the headline of one of the glossier, thick ones on the rack.

Exclusive! Wayne Enterprises heir dating Avengers' daughter! 

Underneath the text was a grainy picture of Emma and Damian at that gala they'd visited last year, when she'd worn a pretty dress and gotten his suit jacket draped over her shoulders, and next to that was a picture of herself and all the Avengers in court, much more recent. 

"Someone connected the dots," she said under her breath, and she eyed the security cameras and the people, and then she snagged the magazine and shoved it under her shirt. Emma had been a thief once, she could be one again, and while this time she felt sort of regretful, she knew Anne wouldn't want her to read anything like this. 

The word 'Avengers' was banned in Anne's household, and anything relating to it. No old friends either, even though Anne never cared to ask about who they were. When she mentioned any Avenger in any capacity, Anne went pale with rage, and Emma was promptly shoved up to her room and locked in there.

Emma had learned her lesson, so she quietly zipped her jacket up, still holding the Ice Cubes securely in her hand, and walked away to find her grandma, acting like nothing had happened. 

Later, when she'd helped put the groceries away, she made her way up to her room, closed the door tightly, and pulled the now slightly crinkled magazine out from her front. 

Quickly, Emma flipped over to the page with pictures of her and Damian, and her with Clint and Natasha in the courtroom. She thought she looked like two completely different people in the pictures, laughing and happy at the gala, and sad and scared in the courtroom.

Essentially, the rag corrected other rags by saying that she was in fact sort of short, a redhead, and besotted with Damian Wayne. After that, they sort of delved into spouting bullshit again, saying that he'd given her a purebred pony for her birthday and other weird, untrue things. But other than that, they'd practically hit the nail on the head. 

When Anne called her down for lunch, Emma hid the slightly crumpled magazine under her mattress, and hurried down the stairs before she changed her mind.

Emma sat down by the small kitchen table, and Anne put down her own plate of pasta in her spot, and then stood there, holding Emma's plate. When Emma reached for it, she pulled it away from her.

"What do we say?" Anne asked her leadingly, giving her granddaughter an intense look. Emma stared at her in confusion, which was obviously the wrong answer, because Anne's eyes darkened. "I'm being nice, now. I'm letting you off easy. You better appreciate that."

"Thank you," Emma said quickly, because that's what Anne wanted to hear. "Thank you. Can I please have the plate?"

"You can," Anne said, sounding like Emma should be even more grateful she was making this kind gesture.

"Thank you. Very much." Finally, Emma got the plate in her hands, and she fooled herself into thinking everything was fine, that she could eat as much as she wanted, but she was a fucking idiot. 

When she woke up later the same night after a bad nightmare and puked over the side of her bed, she could barely breathe, and her eyes filled with tears as the acid nearly came up her nose. 

Crying, snot running down her face, and nauseous, Emma crawled out of bed and across the hall to the bathroom, and had a glass of water. Then she silently walked down the stairs on shaky legs, and grabbed paper towels. When she'd cleaned up her own puke, she was still so exhausted her head kept rolling around against the edge of her bed.

"This is... This is not good," she told herself under her breath. Just when she'd announced that out loud, her stomach revolted yet again, and she scrambled to her feet to make it to the bathroom across the hall and puke up whatever bile was left in her stomach. 

Luckily for her, Anne hadn't woken up from the noise, and Emma could crawl back to the bed again. Well there, she pulled the crumpled gossip rag out from under her mattress, and flipped open to the page where she could see Clint and Natasha's faces. She traced their features reverently in the gloom from the street lamp outside, trying to find a reassuring curve in her mother's lips, aching from her cramping stomach to her cloudy head with the need to be enveloped in her arms again. 

Clutching the pictures, Emma fell into another restless sleep.

---

Clint and Natasha stayed at his apartment for the night, and it felt sort of foreign, but at least better than staying on their floor in the tower without Emma. They ordered chinese and watched a nature documentary on the tv and Clint was reminded of the times before the Avengers. When it was just the two of them.

"Do you ever miss this?" he asked out loud. Natasha had her feet pressed against his thigh, laying down on the other side of his couch.

"Miss what?" Natasha asked, looking away from the tv.

"Just you and me. No team, no kids, no cats. Just us." Natasha contemplated that for a while.

"Sometimes," she admitted. "I miss the first year at SHIELD."

"When you hated me?"

"It was easier, then," she said silently. "No attatchments."

"But you like me, now," Clint pointed out. "Love me, even. Sometimes." Natasha smiled at him.

"I do," she agreed. "And the team is reassuring. A...Family to fall back on." Clint smiled happily at her.

"Yeah," he said, and squeezed her foot. "But when it was just the two of us. Strike Team Delta. You and me against the world."

"It was nice," Natasha murmured. "You were my first." Clint smiled at her. First friend, first companion, first trustful friendship. First everything important.

"You know you're my best friend, right?" he said silently.

"Yeah," Natasha said, and reached a hand out towards him. Clint took it, his rough thumb stroking over her palm. "You're my best friend too."

Clint smiled at her, that sweet, sunny smile that made Natasha feel like the room got warmer, just from it's brightness.

"I think we needed this," Natasha said after a long silence, with only the nature documentary on in the background. "Needed to ground ourselves a little. Not get carried away with rage and fear and longing."

"Definitely," Clint agreed. "Hawkeyes' nest rules!" Natasha chuckled, and kissed Clint sweetly, because this loving idiot was such a ball of light in her life. When she pushed him down on the couch, she worried about how much of herself she could lose in him before she closed herself off completely.

When Clint's hands slid up her back, she made herself forget all about it.

---

"Would you believe it? Anne's gotten her lawyer to try to pin a goddamn restraining order on us," Clint exclaimed incredulously as he paced circles on the kitchen floor in the tower. He'd just gotten a call from Coulson about it, and he was absolutely furious.

Clint and Natasha had come back at around noon, and no one asked where they'd been or what they'd been doing, which the two agents had really appreciated.

"It's pretty rotten of her," Tony agreed as he bounced Peter in his lap, and despite the agreeing tone, he looked pretty goddamn happy.

Of course, since Tony and Steve had passed their CPS check-up earlier this morning, that wouldn't be all that surprising. They were still sad about Emma, but until earlier today, losing Peter had been on all of their minds. Steve had been a bit of a nervous wreck, and Tony had spent essentially every waking moment with Peter the entire week, cancelling SI plans and plans in general just to be with his baby boy.

The CPS-man hadn't found a single thing to complain about when he'd visited the tower. Peter was happy, well-fed, and obviously adored his dads and his family. All floors Peter might visit were baby proofed, and Bruce had even said hello. He'd made the CPS-man laugh, and everything had gone surprisingly splendidly for the first time in practically forever.

Peter laughed giddly from his dad's lap.

"Mama, stop!" he giggled breathlessly as Tony kissed his cheek reverently, brushing Peter's soft brown hair out of his face.

"Want something to eat, squirt?" he asked, standing up from the kitchen table and putting Peter on his hip.

"Orange," Peter told him very seriously, and Tony nodded, kissing his cheek again.

"You got it, little man," he said. Steve couldn't stop staring at his little family with a smile, barely able to contain his happy energy. Obviously, Clint wasn't going to get any sympathy or passionate agreement from these two, so he stalked into the living room, where Bucky stood bracing his flesh arm against the large windows, staring out into the November darkness. Victoria was lounging in one of the loveseats, looking sleepy.

"Did you hear about-"

"Yeah," Bucky said shortly, cutting him off almost immediately, and Clint took a moment to really look at him then. There was a tension in his shoulders that he hadn't seen since pre-Emma. He stood ram-rod straight, his jaw clenched and his eyes more gray than blue. Like there was a storm going on in there.

"How... How're you doing?" he asked a little cautiously. Bucky took a deep breath, and made a so-so motion with his head that he'd definitely picked up from Emma. Clint stepped a little closer.

"It's like I'm- I'm drowning, and she's not there to tell me the water isn't real," Bucky said slowly, trying to put words to the feelings, still staring straight out the window. "Darcy helps me keep my head above the water mostly, but it's murky and cold and deep and sometimes I submerge and I'm not sure I'll be able to get back to the surface. I need Emma, and that is some psycho-bullshit, but it's true." Bucky shook his head vehemently, and clenched his jaw. Under his breath, he said, seemingly to himself, "I am an asset. I am a weapon. I am unattached."

Clint gave a weak chuckle as he noticed Victoria stroking herself a little against Bucky's leg.

"Buddy, not only do you currently have a kitten nipping at ya, you're pretty damn stupid if you think you're still all of those things."

Bucky lunged at him, and alright, Clint had sorta been expecting that, and he really needed a good goddamn fight right now, so he rolled with it and clocked Bucky straight in the jaw. Victoria yelped angrily, and ran out of the room, but the two of them were too occupied to notice. 

It didn't take very long for Clint to get body-slammed into the coffee table and getting the breath knocked out of him. As he wheezed to get some air into his lungs, Bucky delivered a blow to his face that fucking smarted, and the coffee table collapsed under them, sending them both tumbling to the floor, Bucky getting kneed in the crotch on the way down. 

They were rolling around on the floor, trying to grab at each other, when there was an angry shout. Clint hadn't even noticed his hearing aid rolling out during the brawl, so he didn't register it, but Bucky did, and he froze just long enough for Clint to get a good right hook in and roll them over.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Darcy yelled as Steve and Natasha came dashing into the room, Steve going directly for Bucky and Natasha for Clint.

Since he was already on the ground, it wasn't hard for her to gracefully restrain him, but he sure didn't make it easy for her.

When Natasha's repeated "Clint!" of various volumes didn't work, Natasha redid her grip so that her arms were free, and bent over to sign "CLINT" in his face. He stopped struggling.

"What?" was his quiet reply, and she spelled out "calm" quickly. He took a couple of deep breaths as they looked out at the destruction in the living room. 

There was a fist print that Clint didn't remember making on the wall, the coffee table was broken, one of the two side tables, a lamp, and Clint's hearing aid was laying on the carpet. Natasha let go of the lock she had on him, but remained sitting on him a little while longer, trying to find even an ounce of fight left in him. But his muscles remained relaxed as she reached for the hearing aid on the floor, and when she handed it to him, he put it in and patted her thigh in a "I'm good" gesture.

She rolled off him and looked over at Steve and Bucky, who were obviously still struggling with each other.

"What the fuck happened, Clint?" Darcy asked him angrily, hands on her hips.

"We were discussing shit, bad idea obviously, since he clocked me," he said, moving his jaw around to make sure it wasn't broken. Nope, just sore. His ribs were probably not as lucky. The bionic arm delivered one hell of a punch. 

Natasha noticed his short breaths, and pressed a hand to his ribs, making the archer hiss.

"Cracked, probably," she muttered. Then she turned her head towards Bucky and yelled: "хуесос!"

Steve looked up from where he had Bucky in a headlock, and Bucky too looked up.

"I'm pretty sure that was a bad word," Steve said, and Bucky flipped Steve over on his stomach, but not harshly. Steve remained on the ground as Bucky straightened up, and licked his lips.

"It was a pretty bad word," he agreed lowly.

"How you doing, babe?" Darcy asked carefully, and Clint held a hand up to stop her.

"That's how we got into this trouble in the first place," he said, gently pressing against his cheekbone with his other hand. No cut, but probably a bruise in the making. At least Bucky looked a little roughed-up too, a black eye on the way and blood coming from his nose.

To everyone's surprise, Bucky let out a small, strangled laugh.

"I needed that," he said, almost to himself. "You're a good punching-bag."

"I think that's the first time you've ever sincerely complimented me, which is sorta sad and weird," Clint said, and Bucky shrugged.

"We're all pretty sad and weird," he said dismissively. He looked Clint over appraisingly. "We good?"

Clint nodded, and Darcy let an incredulous noise slip out.

"You guys just had a fucking brawl in the living room and now you're good? How are we all still alive?" she asked the room at large.

"Convenience," Natasha replied critically.

"Vents," Clint said very seriously.

"Good team unity," Steve protested.

"Very frequented gyms and very wild sex," Bucky said with an affirming nod.

---

Chapter Text

Emma's nightmares were back. 

Not the really really bad kind, where she lashed out into the darkness with her mind, breaking things in her sleep. Not the pretty bad kind, where she woke up and tossed her lamp at people. Just the bad kind, where she woke up, sweating, stared at her ceiling for a while, and then went into the bathroom to puke before rolling back into bed and falling asleep.

Dr. Kyle was associated with the 'before' in this house, so Dr. Kyle was not to be called, ever, because Emma was fine. Anne said that 'mental illness' was something that Emma's generation had made up, and on days when Emma couldn't get out of bed, Anne shoved her out of it and shuffled her into the car and drove her off to school anyways. Because Emma was fine. 

Really. She was.

Damian noticed right away, of course.

"Are you alright?" he asked as they huddled against the side of the house, pressing up against the brick, shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee.

His presence was probably what was keeping Emma alive. He tried to drop in as often as he could, and when he did, he was always touching her, stroking her hair or nudging her chin with his fingertips. Always reassuring. Emma clung to the contact like a lifeline. She was a tactile person, and Anne only touched her if she couldn't avoid doing it.

"Yeah, sure, I'm fine," she said dismissively. 

"How much sleep are you getting?"

"I dunno, Mr. Nag. I don't count hours," Emma scoffed, and Damian put a hand on her ribs suddenly, his hand worming it's way in under her thick jacket, and Emma smacked his hand away, meeting his eyes with a 'not the time' look. 

"You've lost weight," he accused, and Emma's reprimanding look turned to shock. 

"I... Guess? I haven't noticed," she said distantly, looking down at the loose shirt she was wearing. "How the hell did you notice?" Damian gave her a blank stare, and Emma rolled her eyes with a fond smile. "Right. The Wayne-boy look."

"Why aren't you eating enough?" he asked accusingly, and Emma rolled her eyes. 

"Geeze, would you quit it? Tell me about Layla and Aaron. How are they doing?"

Damian stared at her for a few more moments, and then he looked down on his shoes. 

"He went after one of the jocks who'd gone after Hope," he reported dutifully, but she could tell that his jaw was clenched angrily. They kept talking for another half hour, but the atmosphere just wasn't the same anymore, not the way it was supposed to be. Damian was still angry, and Emma was sorry, and feeling like a bleak excuse for a human being that particular night. 

When it was almost time for Damian to leave, Emma took a deep breath and instead of sitting next to him, she grabbed his knee and made him spread his legs enough for her to sit between them and lean back on his chest, laying herself to rest with her forehead to his neck. 

Without hesitiation, Damian wrapped his arms around her, and they sat there in silence for a while, staring at the few stars visible above them. And in that moment, Emma felt at peace, for just a little while. 

"We're going to the mall on Saturday. Jones keeps insisting that we should start shopping our Christmas presents already. Also that we should go ice skating again this year," he told her silently. 

"I'd say that's pretty smart. I'll ask Anne if I can go," she said, watching her words turn to mist in front of her face. "I'd like to go ice skating, as long as Layla stays the fuck away from me."

Damian laughed behind her, making her weary eyes twinkle with mirth. 

"I'll keep her away from you, beloved. Don't worry," he chuckled, and Emma rubbed her cold nose against his neck. 

"I think me and Hope will just stumble around on our own and then crash into TJ just to make sure he goes down with us while you and Layla skate circles around us. How are they, by the way?"

"Worried about you."

"Oh. Who isn't, nowadays?"

"Your grandmother, obviously."

"Hey, shut up, I don't want to fight with you right now," Emma said irritably, and Damian snapped his jaw shut so hard his teeth clicked together. They sat in irritable silence for a while, still cuddling in the chilly November night. After a while, he relented.

"Do you think it'll get better?" Damian asked her quietly, breathing the words quietly into her hair. 

"I don't know," Emma sighed back, watched her breath rise like a cloud of mist. "Maybe. I hope so."

"Don't give up," Damian said quietly, squeezing her. "Promise me that."

"Yeah, alright," she said softly, and brushed a kiss right where his jawline turned into his neck, before she stood up. "Boost me?"

Damian helped her up, and she tossed him a kiss from her window before it closed. She turned away from the window before she could see Damian's head lower and his shoulders drop. 

---

Anne was surprisingly okay with Emma going to the mall with her friends, but then Emma had asked her when she was reading work emails during dinner, so maybe it shouldn't be that much of a surprise when she, giddy and ready to have fun, was stopped in the staircase by Anne.

"Where do you think you're going?" Anne asked. 

"Um. To the mall with my friends?" Emma replied, suddenly feeling uncertain. "I asked you yesterday and you said I could go if I was done with my homework. And I am. So..."

"Your new friends or your old friends?" Anne asked, crossing her arms over her chest. What new friends? Emma thought bitterly.

"My old ones," Emma replied, hating that that's what Anne called them. They weren't her old friends, they were her best friends, the people she wanted to spend her free time with now that the Avengers were banned. Her grandmother's lips pursed.

"No."

"No? What do you mean no?" Emma asked incredulously. 

"No, as in, you can't go," Anne said firmly. 

"Why not?"

"Because I say so."

"That's not an answer!"

"It is if I say it is," Anne said sharply. "Go back to your room. You're not going to the mall."

"C'mon, Anne! It'll just be for a few hours! I'll be home for dinner!" she said, quickly switching tactics. Anne was obviously not concerned with fairness. 

"No!" Anne snapped. "Go to your room. Now."

"You're mean!" Emma yelled back, and Anne grabbed her arm and yanked her off the staircase, pulling her close enough that a bit of spittle flew into Emma's eye when her grandmother spoke her next words. 

"Don't you dare call me names," she spat, and then shoved Emma off. "Room. Now. I don't want to see you until you stop being so childish."

Hurt and angry, Emma stormed back up the stairs, stomping loudly, and when she heard Anne's footsteps start up in the stairs, she ran to her room and shut the door, shoving her chest of drawers against the door with her heart beating in her head, the windowpanes rattling precariously. 

She stared as Anne banged on the door, and tried to open it. The handle rattled when her grandmother tried and tried, yelling all the time, but Emma just stared, and when she was sure the door would hold, she fell back onto her bed and stared at the ceiling. 

When Anne had stopped yelling, and the handle was no longer rattling, Emma pulled the crumpled magazine out from under her mattress and wrapped her arms around it, like it was the stuffed giraffe Tony had made for her, or her father, or Lucky, or Victoria, or Peter.

---

"Where's 'ma?" Peter asked Jarvis insistently. "I wan' ma'!"

"Master Peter, Miss Emma isn't in the tower," Jarvis said gently. Peter grumbled. Then he thought of something.

"Is she in s'ool?" he asked.

"I don't know, Master Peter. Miss Emma hasn't been living in the tower for an entire month," Jarvis replied. "I'm sure she misses you as much as you miss her, however."

"I miss 'ma!" Peter yelled at the top of his lungs, and Steve appeared from the kitchen. 

"Oh, Petey," he said gently as he picked his son up from the carpet. "I know you miss Emma. We miss her too. We're trying to get her back."

"Back from where?" Peter asked his father, resting his head against his shoulder. Papa always smelled nice, and was very warm. Didn't have a night-light like Mama did, but was very warm. Peter's eyelids began fluttering a little. He was post-snack, pre-nap, and Steve had been waiting for him to sort of collapse like this.

"Back from her grandmother," Papa replied in his rumbly voice, and walked into Peter's bedroom. He was tucked in with his Iron Man plushie, and Papa kissed his forehead, humming softly and soothingly. Peter mumbled something about 'ma' again before he fell asleep, and Steve sat by his son's bedside for a little while, stroking his soft hair. 

"Jarvis, do you have any recordings of Emma that Peter can have a look at if he wants? I don't want him forgetting his 'ma just because she's not here to cuddle him," Steve murmured, and finally tore himself away from his son, standing up. 

"Of course, Captain," Jarvis replied silently. "I'll see to it."

"Thank you, Jarvis," Steve said, smiling at the ceiling even though Tony kept complaining that that's not where Jarvis was. Wanda was still a little freaked out that she couldn't get a read on Jarvis, when he seemed like such a person. Her powers didn't work nearly as well with androids. She still called him 'voice in ceiling' sometimes.

"Where's my husband hiding out?" Steve asked, grinning goofily as he rubbed the ring around his finger. The married life suited him, he'd decided after these six months. Even though it wasn't all that different, what with their routines being largely the same, there was the ring that he twisted so much he'd nearly rubbed the skin underneath raw, and the whole... Husband thing. He didn't think he'd ever been happier in his life, before the whole Emma business started. 

"Sir is in his workshop with Mr. Maximoff and Dr. Banner, trying to determine how fast he would have to run to break the space and time continuum," Jarvis replied in an exasperated tone. 

"Oh boy. Sounds like something we oughta put a stop to," he said, hurrying to the elevators. "Really don't need the three of them dropping onto another dimension just because they're bored."

"Sir has a lot of SI work to complete," Jarvis said, almost mournfully. "I'm sure Mrs. Potts-Hogan would appreciate it if you could steer him in that direction instead."

"I'll keep it in mind but don't promise Mrs- I mean, Pepper anything."

Just as he exited on Tony's workshop's floor, the alarm started blaring, and Steve shrugged internally. Mission accomplished, sort of. 

"What's happening, Jarvis?" Steve asked as Bruce and Pietro burst out of Tony's workshop, and rushed into the elevator with him. 

"Zemo and his Masters of Evil are attacking people in the central park. They have a device with them that Sir is on his way to analyze," he replied. "Threat level: High."

"Pietro, you're not going out," Steve said firmly, and Pietro pouted, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Why not?" he complained. 

"Partly because of your rashness last time, and partly because the bulletholes in your chest aren't healed enough for any of us to be comfortable putting you out in the field," Steve explained patiently. "Jarvis, could you please tell Darcy that Peter's taking a nap right now and to please check up on him in half an hour? I don't want him waking up without someone to hold him if he gets scared."

"I'm sure young Master Peter is confident enough in your abilities to remain calm, but I'll relay the message to Miss Lewis," Jarvis said, sounding a little miffed.

"I'm sure you could comfort Peter if he woke up alone, Jarvis, it's not that," Steve said, and Pietro gave Steve an incredulous look. "Your presence always helps him feel more safe, but I'd just like Darcy there too. Nothing but the best for Petey."

"Of course, Captain," Jarvis replied, seemingly mollified. 

"He's comforting computer," Pietro said in an equally incredulous tone. "'No Pietro, no fighting for you'. 'I'm sorry for doubting you, Jarvis'." Pietro's tone was mocking, and he was tapping his foot against the floor irritably as they stopped at the common floor. He disappeared in a gust of wind, and Steve sighed. 

"Really not helping your chances of getting to go out next time, kid!" he called after him as Bruce exited, and unbuttoned his shirt, hopping out on the hover-scooter waiting outside and zooming off. "I'll grab my shield and we'll go."

"Sounds good," Bucky said from the kitchen table, where Natasha was popping tiny explosive balls Tony had made into Bucky's arm. Steve pressed the button, and the elevator was off again.

"I can't believe they're doing this now when we've got the Emma thing going on!" Clint exclaimed angrily as he came from the stairway, pulling his long sleeved shirt on as he went, his quiver and bow in hand. 

"You're right, Barton, it's almost like the supervillains have no sense of decency," Bucky drawled, and Natasha cuffed him upside the head. 

"Мудак," she snapped.

"хуй," he muttered back, rubbing the back of his head as he stood up, patting down his tac vest, making sure he had everything he needed. "I was making a joke, fuck off, Romanova."

"We appreciate the effort," Clint growled as he pulled his quiver over his shoulder. The three of them crowded by the window to hop out onto the hover-scooter hanging in the air, and Clint was just about to hop onto the scooter floating outside the window when he froze. "Wait! Wanda!"

She peeked out of the living room with a baffled look on her face.

"Now?" she asked skeptically.

"Hey, don't you want to try it when you're actually aware of your actions?" he asked.

"She's going with?" Bucky asked skeptically.

"Let's go," Natasha said impatiently, obviously wanting a reason to beat someone up. Wanda shrugged, and held her hands out to her sides, her eyes glowing scarlet.

"I agree," she said, her voice echoing a little.

"Sick," Darcy exclaimed, coming out of the living room just as as Wanda flew out the window and lead the way towards the battlefield like a huge scarlet torch.

---

The stomping-in-the-stairs incident had gotten Emma ignored for three whole days, and during that time, the Avengers defended NYC from Zemo and his goons. When Emma managed to spot it in a tv-store on her way home from school, she saw that Steve had gotten a crack on the head, and Clint had gotten stitches on his arm, but other than that, they looked fine, and Emma smiled stupidly at the tv-screen until the owner of the store shooed her out.

At least she was allowed to leave her room this time, which meant she was allowed snacks now. Anne only ever made food for herself now, so Emma quietly snuck snacks into her pockets when Anne wasn't in the kitchen. She'd given up hope on ever getting her phone back, and Anne had taken her charger, and while StarkPhones had good battery time, Emma doubted that after a month she'd still have even one percent.

Anne ignoring her had it's upsides though. She got to walk to school, because Anne just took off in the mornings. However, she was sure that if she skipped school, Anne's eyes would bug out of her skull with rage, so even though she was reluctant, she still went to school.

Besides, Anne didn't get home from work until at least a good hour after Emma came home, so if Emma was quick about it, she could watch some TV while she tried to do homework.

All teachers had expressed their concern about her grades, but Emma couldn't do it. She just couldn't do it. In her honest opinion, it was miraculous enough that she was still trying to learn. Without help, Emma had so much trouble in school that she couldn't remember why she'd begged Clint and Natasha to let her go to school in the first place.

Emma was reflecting on this as she walked home from school in the chilly November afternoon. It took her a while to reconcile the feeling of being followed with the tingle in the back of her neck, but when she did, she heard the laughter of a couple of the eight-grade bullies that had shoved her into a couple of lockers earlier today. 

Clenching her fists, Emma turned down a street she wouldn't usually go down, and kept watch in the glass windows in the building next to her. 

Like she thought, some guys were following her. Five of them, maybe six. Taller than her, but she could wipe them all out if she had to. She just hoped it didn't come to that.

She took another turn she wasn't familiar with, trying to shake the guys off, and managed to back herself into a fucking alley with a brick wall about eleven feet high. Cursing under her breath, Emma stared at the wall, considered trying to climb it or maybe blowing it up. She could do with some explosions right now.

But then she heard the shuffling of feet, and the alley became even darker as the bodies of six people blocked the light from the lone street lamp.

"Hey ginger, does the carpet match the drapes?" the leader called to the roaring laughter of the other guys, and Emma turned around with an exasperated expression on her face, even though she felt the rage start to simmer in her veins.

"Christ. Were you dropped on the head as a baby? Is that why you're incapable of being a polite human being? " she called back, and the dude next to the guy who'd called after her snickered, and was promptly elbowed in the ribs. 

Now that she could see their faces, she could identify the guy in the middle. Jackson Danzig. Not the nicest boy. Stocky, loud, brash, and rude. Thankfully not the other eight grader she'd had to hit when he'd been bullying that kid. Otherwise, this showdown might become a little more bloody, a little too fast. She could still talk her way out of this.

"Just asking a question is all," Jackson grinned sleazily, and Emma rolled her eyes heavenward.

"Yeah, great way to pick up girls, ask them immature questions and corner them in alleys. And with all your buddies with you. I'm surprised the girls aren't flocking around you," she said very sarcastically. The guy next to Jackson giggled again. 

"Shut up, Larry," Jackson growled, and Emma smirked. 

"Maybe not so many buddies, huh, Jackson?" When he squinted towards her, she raised an eyebrow at him. "Yeah, I know who you are. Surprise surprise. Stick a dry-erase marker in your near vicinity and you write your name all over the place."

"Hey, I know you. You're that girl that beat up Nick," Jackson said, and something dangerous appeared in everyone's eyes at that. Uh-oh. 

"It was only in retaliation," she pointed out. "If he hadn't beaten that kid up, I wouldn't have had to beat him up. Do bad shit, get hit." 

The other guys imitated her mockingly, and she rolled her eyes at them, but they were slowly advancing now. Oh boy. She hadn't eaten nearly enough to deal with this.

"Six against one, guys? You don't get the joke, but that's not really a fair fight."

"How's that a joke?" Jackson asked, still with that glint in his eye that made her think he was going to find out if the carpet matched the drapes whether or not she wanted him to. Emma grinned, that grin she hated that her lips could twist into but was very useful. The guy who kept giggling, Larry, took a step back, looking a little wary now.

"Oh, honey," she said sweetly, that voice that had made grown men tremble in their chairs before she interrogated them. "I could turn you all into bloodspatter on this nice, clean brickwall in a second." They looked a little uncertain now, but Jackson was still pissed about her beating Nick up, apparently. "Need a demonstration? Fine. Take a swing, hotshot."

That set him in motion, and Jackson did take a swing, a clumsy one. She swatted at it like she'd swat a fly, and while she didn't enjoy beating people up, per se, she felt a fierce anger boiling her blood today. She needed to get it out of her system.

So, instead of just sweeping his feet out from under him, she grabbed the other fist he sent flying at her, and twisted that arm behind his back, making him squeak when she kicked the back of his knees, getting him on the ground in a second and grabbing his hair. Barely breaking a sweat, but it made the adrenaline flow, and her muscles were practically vibrating with happiness as she wrapped her free arm around his neck. 

"Now, I could break your neck in this position," she said calmly as the other guys stared at her, wide-eyed. "I could slit your throat, choke you, stop blood from going to your brain and making you pass out." She pressed her knee against his back threateningly. "I could snap your back in half like a pencil. What's it gonna be?"

Jackson blubbered a little, fingers digging into her arms, but Emma held tight. 

"Maybe break your nose? Very bloody, but not that damaging. You'll look a bit like a raccoon for a while, but at least that injury means you'll have to explain to your mom that you cornered a younger girl in a fucking alley and asked her what her pubes looked like," Emma hissed in his ear.

She hadn't noticed how hard her arm was pressing into his windpipe, but he was looking a little red, so she let go and kicked him in the back, just to prove a point. Jackson spluttered as he fell, face first, but at least his nose didn't crack. He scrambled to his feet, and ran out of the alley.

"Anyone else wanna fucking take me on? Huh!?" she yelled at them, and the lot of them ran out of the alley after their leader, white in the face, yelling about how she was crazy, but Larry just stood there, looking starstruck.

"Marry me," he said in a reverent tone. 

"Yeah, no. Fuck off, Larry. Get new friends," she said, and shoved him out of the way, stalking out of the alley. 

She found her way back to the path she walked on her way to and from school, and speed-walked home, a little shaky. For the first time in nearly a month, it wasn't the sort of shaking associated with fear. Emma felt like she could fight an army and win.

Dropping her bag on the floor in her room, she walked back down the stairs and settled down in the couch, still a little jittery. After just a minute, there was the sound of tires crunching on gravel, and Anne's footsteps on the porch steps.

The door opened, and Emma quickly stepped into the kitchen, snatching one of her apple-vanilla yogurts, opening it like she'd been eating for the last ten minutes. 

"Emma?" Anne called, and Emma's eyebrows rose. She was back in Anne's good graces already? What for?

"Yeah?" she replied, walking into the hallway to find Anne standing there in her suit, smiling brightly at her. Emma was a little taken aback. The only time her grandmother had smiled at her like that was when they'd first met, and even then had the smile quickly morphed into her lips pressed tightly together with displeasure. 

"There you are. We're going out for a celebratory dinner," she told her, tucking her light brown hair behind her ears, still smiling. 

"Oh? What are we celebrating?" Emma asked, feeling a spark of hope in her stomach. Maybe she'd get some real food tonight, not just crackers. Her stomach grumbled excitedly. 

"One of my employees managed a big sale today, and the office is celebrating. We're bringing families. Go change into something pretty and we'll go in a couple of minutes, okay?"

"Yeah, alright," Emma agreed, and hopped up the stairs happily. She changed into a glittery, purple tank top she'd gotten one time when she was out shopping with Layla. Her friend had told her she looked amazing in it, and Emma hadn't been able to resist. She really liked the tank top. 

Going back down the stairs to show her grandmother, who was checking her phone, Emma smiled at her. 

"So, are we going?" she asked. Anne looked up at her. Her eyes narrowed.

"Oh, no, you're not going out in that," Anne said sharply. 

"In what?" Emma asked incredulously. 

"Yeah, good question. That flimsy piece of fabric shouldn't even be called a shirt."

"It's a tank top," Emma said slowly. "What's so wrong about a tank top?"

"You're just that young and naive, aren't you?" Anne sighed derisively.

And because Emma was exhausted, and hungry, and feeling belittled, and that buzz in her muscles hadn't quite stopped, she stared up at Anne, and she felt that egg-shell approach to Anne start to crack. 

She widened her stance, and set her jaw, and felt like a person for the first time in nearly a month, and she stared Anne down. 

"Stop trying to make me feel like I'm a toddler. I'm a teenager, yeah, but I'm a person, just like you, so I feel like I deserve at least a little respect," Emma said, her voice waivering a little as she gathered her strength. "It's my body. If I wanna wear a tank top, what are you going to do to stop me from wearing it?"

Anne's look turned shocked, and then a little angry.

"You don't talk to me like that. Go change your slutty shirt. We're not leaving until you change your shirt," Anne said firmly.

"Oh my god! It's a tank top!" Emma exclaimed. 

"You don't raise your voice at me, you little whore," Anne snapped, and Emma took a step back at the way those words stung, nearly tripping on the staircase. 

"Whore?" she said, her voice quieting a little. 

"Didn't you hear me? That shirt makes you look like a whore." When Emma raised her voice to protest, Anne cut her off. "God, you're thickheaded, aren't you," Anne said, and sighed sharply, looking up at the ceiling as if asking God why her grandchild was such an idiot, and yeah, that hurt a little too. "You don't ever listen, do you? Change your shirt."

"You're so mean," Emma said, feeling her throat burn with unshed tears. "I'm not a whore, but you're a real fucking bully!" Anne's facial expression darkened. But Emma wasn't afraid, she was on an adrenaline kick, feeling brave and more than a little hurt, and angry

"Emma..." Anne began slowly, warningly, but Emma didn't listen. 

"Just because you fucked up when you were my age, doesn't mean you have to punish me for your mistakes! I'm not you, I'm me! But you're not even interested in me, you're interested in you, and fixing your mistakes, when all you're doing is starving me for standing up for people! And giving me shit about having a boyfriend, and making me feel guilty about wanting to wear tank tops! What the fuck, man, that's so sad, have you even looked at me in a tank top? I look amazing in a tank top, I feel confident in a tank top, there's absolutely nothing wrong-"

She didn't see the hard slap to her face coming, and once she'd registered it, Anne was grabbing her arm, hard enough that her bones felt like they were grinding together, pulling her close with a snarl on her face. She was shocked, an enraged, and her eyes were glowing with anger as she glared at Emma.

"Don't you dare talk to me like that," Anne barked, and Emma was still reeling, because had Anne just slapped her? Honestly hurt her in order to correct her?

Ralph stole you from your family, abused you, uprooted you, took your freedom away, made you feel like you owed him something. Look me in the eye and tell me that's not exactly what she's doing.

Damian's words kept ringing in her ears, or maybe that was still just the slap, and her cheek felt warm with it, and she could see Anne's mouth moving but it kind of felt like her vision was tunneling, and christ, she needed to get away from here, right fucking now. 

Emma ripped her arm from Anne's grip, turning towards the door, trying to run, when Anne's strong, limber hand closed around her wrist again and pulled, hard.

It was like sort of a shockwave, and Emma barely knew what she was doing when she turned her head, fueled that shock and anger and fear, and sent it off with an exhaled breath. Anne's hand went slack around her arm, and she screamed, and Emma made her escape into the cold November night, barely breathing and still seeing black at the edges of her vision. 

---

Chapter Text

 

Clint was yelling at another lawyer, yet again, he could barely remember what his real job was anymore, maybe all he did was yell at lawyers, begging to get his daughter back, when his cell began ringing. 

"Excuse me," he grit out, and picked his phone up to find Wanda calling. "Yeah, what's up Wanda?" He never let her know how busy he was, because he wanted her to always come to him if they were in trouble of any sort. Even though she could read his mind and be able to call him out on his shit, he still wanted her to feel safe with him.

"It's Emma," Wanda said, no preamble at all, and Clint's heart leapt into his throat. 

"What, what, what about her? Is she okay?"

"No," Wanda replied, and Clint had to grab onto a table. 

"What do you mean, no?" he asked, trying to regain control of his breathing. 

"She ran away. She's so, so scared," Wanda replied, her voice hushed. "You need to find her."

"Okay, alright. Wait, what's happened to her- what happened with Anne?" 

"Anne's in hospital," Wanda stated.

"Aw shit," Clint declared. "Did Emma..."

"Yes."

"Ah hell!" he repeated, louder, glaring at the lawyer. "Alright. Alright, you need to tell Natasha, and Steve, and they need to organize a search party, right now. Put Bucky on her trail, he'll find her." 

He pressed the phone to his ear, grabbed a piece of paper that was probably very important if the look on the lawyer's face was anything to go on, and scribbled the situation out in quick, messy handwriting. He handed the note to Coulson before grabbing his coat and practically running out of the room. 

"James knows," Wanda said reassuringly. 

"Christ, what happened? I thought she was in paradise, living with her grandma and all," he asked worriedly. 

"No," Wanda scoffed. "Anne will barely let her breathe a breath of fresh air without permission."

"And you haven't told us this before, why?" Clint exclaimed as he dashed down the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.

"Because it'd only make you upset," Wanda replied. 

"Damn right it makes me upset! Is that why she hasn't been calling lately?"

"Anne doesn't like you," Wanda said, and he could practically hear her shrug as he sprinted down the last flight of stairs, running out into the street. 

"You got Tony out looking?" he asked. 

"Stark is suiting up now," she replied. 

"Have him pick me up, we'll swing by her friends, make sure someone stays at the tower in case she comes by!" Clint said hurriedly, pacing the street, staring at the Avenger's Tower in the distance. A tiny figure shot out from it, and he rubbed a hand over his face. "You should stay where you are. If Pietro so much as breathes heavily when he moves his torso, bench him too. I'm not gonna risk him getting hurt. Okay?"

"Alright, dad," Wanda said condescendingly, and hung up, but Clint had to crack a grin anyways, because yeah, alright, maybe he was a little protective of the twins. 

Iron Man slowed down just enough for him to grab onto his arm, and Clint climbed on, wrinkling his suit as they took off into the New York City sky.

---

It took them nearly four hours, because Emma was a fast little critter, and incredibly small in comparison to the entirety of New York City. After hour number two, Anne's lawyer had called, spat something about 'suing them and their mutant hides', and Clint had felt a sick sort of satisfaction hanging up on the jackass. 

So, end of hour number four, and Bucky was the only one still out there. When the snow had started gently floating down, and Steve was about to lose the tip of his nose to frostbite, the others had decided to go home and warm up, and continue looking in about an hour again. 

Bucky didn't mind the cold. If anything, it was soothing, because his best friend was missing, and that pissed him off, and the cold was a good way of reminding himself to focus, to stay alive. 

He was walking around in a slummy block, the people on the streets not meeting his eye, seeing him for the danger that he was. Parents held their children's hands tight, kept them close to them. His sort of block. 

Emma's sort of block, really. She knew how to blend into slummy blocks. 

Which is why he shouldn't be surprised that he found her sitting next to a beggar in an alley, speaking animatedly in Romani but looking devastated all the same. He stopped in his tracks, just watched her for a moment, stared at the gray striped hood she'd pulled on under her thick jacket, the blanket she was sharing with the woman. She had a head-scarf to protect her from the wind, and looked like any beggar could, the only glaringly obvious thing being her pale, untarnished, lightly freckled face, and the chipped nailpolish still on her fingernails.

"Your subterfuge skills are surprising, and admirable," Bucky said when she paused to take a breath. Emma's eyes stayed firmly on the woman, and Bucky shook his head fondly. 

"You get a word of what she's saying?" the woman asked him with a Chicago lilt to her words, a smile on her weathered face. 

"Not a single word," he admitted. "Didn't even know she was fluent in it. She's a sneaky little bastard." He could see the corner of Emma's lip twitch, and she began speaking to the woman next to her again, still in Romani, trying to get what she was saying across. 

"She yours?" the woman asked, smiling indulgently at Emma. 

"Sorta," Bucky shrugged. "Not really. It's more the other way around." The woman frowned, and he sat down on his haunches in the alley, right in front of the two of them. "Hey." Emma didn't turn to him now either, and he stretched his left hand out, the metal glinting in the alley, and flicked her nose gently. "I'm talking to you, păpuşă."

At that, Emma actually turned her head to look at him with surprise. 

"What happened to not knowing a word of what I'm saying?" she asked in English, and the woman's eyes widened. 

"You like that?" he asked, eyebrows raising just a smidge, teasing her. Fuck, but Emma had missed Bucky more than she would admit. "I've got a bunch of hidden talents, păpuşă."

She smiled widely at him, and Bucky stretched a hand out. Emma took it, letting him pull her to her feet and into his arms. 

"I've missed you," she sighed happily into his jacket, and Bucky tugged her headscarf down to reveal her bright red hair, feeling something warm up in his chest at her smile. 

"I've missed you too, doll," he replied quietly, and Emma patted his cheek happily, before letting go of him. She chirped a goodbye in Romani to the beggar woman, and Bucky pulled out a 50 and gave it to her with a 'thanks for keeping her in one place', and then they walked out of the alley. 

They didn't walk directly to the tower, just kind of strolled around in companionable silence until Bucky announced he wanted donuts. Then they stopped at Dunkin', and Bucky sat Emma down in a booth with a huge box of donuts. 

Immediately, Emma shoved a sugar-coated one into her mouth, eyeing his coffee with two sugars and some cream. 

"Did Anne put you on a diet, too?" he asked with a raised eyebrow, and Emma shrugged. Actually, now that he thought about it, her wrists looked thinner than he'd ever seen them, and wasn't that just shocking.

"I eat a lot. And since I'm a girl-"

"Oh my god," Bucky said, interrupting. "Am I seriously going to hear something demeaning to women come out of your mouth? Because I will fight you. Right here, right now. Don't think I won't." Emma smiled through her next donut. 

"Anne thought that since I was a girl, I shouldn't be eating so much. Had to watch my weight. Besides, she used it as punishment, most of the time," Emma shrugged. 

"You're a growing teenager with enhanced metabolism," Bucky said slowly. "If you weren't eating at least half your body weight, I'd be concerned." Emma shrugged, looked down on her donut like she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to eat the whole thing anymore, and he resisted the urge to get up and go smother Emma's grandma in her hospital bed. 

Now he got what Damian meant by 'subservient'. 

"Holy fuck," he said, out loud, and a mom walking by with her kid shot him a sharp look. Emma looked up from the donut she'd put back into the box, and quirked her eyebrow. 

"What?" she asked warily. 

"The twig was right. I don't think I've ever seen you this subservient. Jesus, what has this woman done to you?" Emma opened her mouth to protest, and Bucky felt a flash of white, hot anger in front of his eyes, and he bit the inside of his cheek until he tasted copper to make sure he hadn't accidentally blacked out and actually killed someone. 

"She just... Brought some structure into my life," Emma shrugged. Bucky pointed to the half-eaten donut she'd put back, and glared at her. 

"Eat it."

"Buck-"

"No, honestly," he began, and took a deep breath to reel himself in at the slightly alarmed look on Emma's face. Other patrons were beginning to stare, and Darcy kept reminding him that he was an Avenger now, he wasn't allowed to freak the fuck out in public anymore. "You're saying sexist shit, not eating nearly enough, and you still think you owe her shit? You don't. She fucking slapped you, Em. Do you think Clint or Natasha would ever, and I mean ever, hit you?"

Emma stared at him for a moment, and then she picked the donut up quietly. 

"No," she replied with certainty. 

"Damn straight, they'd never do that to you, because they love you. They understand that hitting you isn't an acceptable way to correct you, because you are a human being with feelings and traumas, and they get that's not the way to make you understand what you did wrong. Instead, they had conversations with you, made sure you wouldn't do the same thing again out of respect and understanding. Anne is using fear and pain to control you, which is actual fucking bullshit."

"You sound like you're not a fan of hitting kids," Emma replied, a small, sad smile on her face. 

"I just don't like bullies." Emma snorted. 

"That's Steve's line."

"Where do you think he got it from?" 

That made her smile, a genuine smile, as she took another donut. 

"How do you know she slapped me?" she asked, silently, and Bucky swallowed. 

"Well, your cheek is still red, and there's a little cut on it, surprisingly," he said. Emma touched her cheek and hissed quietly when she came in contact with the laceration.

"Huh," she said thoughtfully.

"Also, remember the first time Damian came to visit you, when you'd moved to Anne's?" Emma met his eyes again, and nodded. "Well, he got pissed off, and called me to yell at me about how we weren't doing anythin' to help you get out of there, and after that, I asked Wanda to keep better track of you, and she... Likes to freak me out by walkin' up to me with her red hands, smacking me on the forehead and tossing me right into your mind."

"Nosy."

"Oh, yeah. You betcha. When Wanda heard you yelling, she made me live through the beginning of the argument with you, but then your mind started getting too messy and she had to pull out. You nearly had a panic attack." Emma shrugged weakly. 

"I managed to calm down," she said distantly, and Bucky had to clench his hands into fists underneath the table to be able to calm himself down. 

"So, she yelled, then slapped you. What happened next?" he asked quietly.

"I... I think I broke her arm," Emma said, staring at the table in front of her. "It was an accident."

"Did you do it by grabbing her, or without?" he asked. Emma's next breath was shaky with tears. 

"Wi-without," she sniffled, wiping her cheek with the sleeve of her striped hoodie. Well, that made sense, seeing as Anne's ulna had been shattered, turned into tiny little microscopic pieces like a fine dust. The doctors were baffled. Anne had passed out, and the only thing that had saved her life was the nosy neighbor hearing Emma and Anne yelling at each other. "She thinks I'm a freak now."

"It's true," Bucky said as he slid over into her side of the booth. Emma sniffled again as Bucky wrapped an arm around her, pulling her to his side. "You're a real freak. It's one of the things about you I love the most."

Emma laughed wetly, and buried her face in his shoulder, feeling safe and loved, and now she knew why living with Anne hadn't been all smooth sailing. Just because they were related by blood didn't make them family. Bucky was family, Clint was family, Natasha, Thor, Tony, Steve, Bruce, Pietro, Wanda, all of these people were family in a way Anne never was. 

You don't get to choose your relatives, but family? She'd chosen her family, and she planned on keeping it for good, this time. 

---

The moment Emma stepped onto the common floor of Avengers Tower, her entire being filled with a sense of belonging, so tangible she could practically taste it, like it had some sort of specific flavor, and she took a deep breath and felt her eyes well up.

Bucky's hands were on her shoulders, steady and firm but still gentle, holding her up as she stood there, taking it all in, the aching parts of her feeling whole again. 

And then she saw her family. 

And it was her family, goddammit, her real family no matter what DNA had to say about it. 

Everyone looked like they'd been put through hell, exhausted and emotionally drained, and when Emma saw them, it felt like her heart was going to burst through her chest, because this was her family, and Wanda's knees buckled on the other side of the room, and Emma remembered that Wanda kept calling her emotions loud enough as they were. Now it must feel like they were amplified through stadium speakers, yelling her love at all of these people. 

There was a collective commotion as Natasha and Clint practically launched themselves over the kitchen island, skidding over to her but stopping just short of touching her, like they were waiting for permission, and if Emma hadn't been crying before, she was definitely crying now.

Clint, who had skidded to a stop on his knees before her like a rockstar, reached a hand out, an awed, worried, happy, loving smile on his face.

"Hey, hey sweetheart, are you okay?" he breathed, that hand coming up to cup her head, feel around for any bumps, and Natasha came around on the other side, running her hands down Emma's arms, making sure she was fine. 

She'd missed them so much.

Overwhelmed, Emma practically launched herself at the kneeling Clint, hugging him something fierce as Natasha's arms came around her on the other side. 

"Hi Возлюбленный, hi," Natasha laughed breathily, sounding raw and ragged even to her own ears as she wrapped her arms around Emma's surprisingly thin midsection and buried her face in the bright red curls like there was nowhere she'd rather be. 

"It's alright, sweetie, you're good," Clint said, laughing a little too when he realized how silly they must look. Natasha murmured soothingly in Russian as Emma's hands twisted in his ironed shirt and wrinkled it, and he could really not give less of a shit about that right now.

Emma's shoulders shook with sobs as she pulled her head up from where she'd smushed it in Clint's neck, bringing her level with his ear.

"I'm sorry if I ever made you feel like you weren't enough family for me," Emma sobbed, and Natasha gave Clint a baffled look. 

"No, Возлюбленный, that's never been the case," Natasha shushed her gently, cupping her face and swiping away the tears streaming from her eyes. "You needed to find your blood. That's okay. All adopted kids want to know more about their blood family."

"But you're my real family," Emma said firmly, and Clint stroked her back, smiling. 

"If you say so, who are we to say no," he said, rocking the three of them a little unconsciously. 

"Oh this is probably bad," Tony said to no one in particular as everyone else started to make their way over to the little family piled on the floor. "This is... This is probably really, really bad for us."

"Tony?" Steve said quietly before sinking to his knees next to the three of them. 

"Yeah?"

"Shut up."

"Yes dear," Tony agreed, and dropped to his own knees to hug the crap out of the lot of them. 

"Ma!" Peter shrieked happily, struggling out of his dad's arms to hug Emma. 

"My Petey-pie!" Emma cooed back, brushing back his hair from his forehead and smacking kisses to both of his cheeks from the safe cradle of her parents' arms. The room filled with chatter and Peter's happy shouting as they eventually just turned into one gigantic heap of bodies on the kitchen floor, Bucky looking down at them with his eyebrows crinkled with concern.

---

Later that same night, Coulson rang. Emma currently had her head in Natasha's lap, buried underneath a pile of Lucky and Victoria, soothingly talking to her cat and running her hand through Lucky's fur gently. Victoria was a goddamn hellion without Emma around. The only one she decided that she tolerated except for Emma was Bucky. Natasha got to pet her when she gave her food, but anyone else's affection was not wanted. 

So now, Clint was just watching amusedly as Emma told Victoria about all the things she was going to do tonight. Natasha had a sort of happy, baffled look on her face as she threaded her hands through Emma's coppery hair that Clint absolutely adored. Practically everyone was hovering around her and her couch a little awkwardly, ready to step in at a moments notice to hug or give food or comfort, which was, in Clint's honest opinion, completely ridiculous. 

He was obviously doing it too, but that didn't mean that he wasn't aware of how completely ridiculous it was. 

"Heads up, CPS is coming your way," Coulson said warningly through the phone

"Are you on your way?" Clint asked, making Natasha's name sign distantly. She saw it out of the corner of her eye, and reluctantly rose and followed him into the empty kitchen, one eyebrow raised. 

"Yes, and I'm not entirely sure what they're going to do, so stay sharp. I'll be there in a few minutes," he said, and hung up. 

"What's up?" Natasha asked intently. 

"CPS is on their way. They've heard about the break-out probably," Clint said, and Natasha nodded. 

"What are we going to do?"

"Yell more, I guess? I don't know, Coulson is on his way."

"She's not leaving this tower," Natasha said, iron in her voice, and Clint smiled at her happily. 

"We're on the same page there, then," he agreed. "Let's just hope the CPS people feel the same way." Natasha made a doubtful face, but they clasped hands, tangling their fingers together as they waited for CPS to come bursting through the elevator doors.

"She came back to us," Natasha stated, but Clint could hear the wonder, the happiness. When they met eyes, there was no tension in her smile, no tension around her eyes. She was so goddamned beautiful.

"She did. I've missed someone calling me dad without a trace of sarcasm," he admitted, and Natasha's smile widened even more. 

"She still likes it when I run my hand through her hair," she said, sounding almost a little giddy, which was just absolutely adorable. Clint laughed softly, and Natasha punched him in the arm. 

"Ow!" he laughed. "No, no, it's nice, Nat. It's great. It's amazing. You're allowed to like that."

"I know," she said, and sounded confident about it. 

"Oh, man, you do not know how happy I am to hear you say that," Clint grinned, and Natasha quirked an eyebrow, but just then Jarvis gave them the heads-up about a CPS woman entering the building. 

"Let her in, Jarvis," Natasha said grimly, and a moment later, a woman in a pressed pant-suit stepped out into the kitchen. Her hair was dark and pulled into a slick ponytail, and she had freckles on her nose.

"Hi, I'm with the CPS, Laura Hartmann. I've been told you have a child in your home that isn't supposed to be in your custody," she said, flashing her ID in front of them. 

"Right. Yeah, no, she's not coming with you," Clint said, crossing his impressive arms over his chest. "I'm sorry, I get that you're trying to do your job, but it just ain't happening." The CPS lady smiled patiently at them. 

"Mr. Barton, I understand your reservations, but it's for the good of the child. I can't let her stay with you," she said kindly, and in another situation, Clint would be able to appreciate her proffessionalism, but right now, it just sort of pissed him off. 

"Hey, where'd you guys go?" came Emma's voice from the living room. She took two steps into the kitchen, and then she froze, staring at the CPS lady and her ID, hanging in a clip on her side. Emma paled.

"Hi Emma," the woman said, smiling gently at the young redhead, who's eyes were so wide they might as well be saucers.

"I'm not coming with you," she said sharply, stepping back into the living room like there was an invisible barrier hiding in the doorframe. Not entirely impossible actually, not with a bored Tony around. "You can't make me."

"Emma," the woman said pleadingly, but Emma shook her head, her face white. 

"I'm staying here. I don't care about the rules. You can't make me," she said angrily, her voice trembling just the slightest bit. Natasha wanted to reach out and reassure her, but with the way Emma was clamping onto the doorway, she figured that might not be the greatest idea just yet. 

"Yeah, isn't that a thing, caring about what the kid wants?" Bucky asked, coming up behind Emma with a menacing look on his face as he stared at the lady, who gave him an exasperated look.

"Well of course it is," the CPS woman replied. "But we also have to take into account that you're not allowed by law to have this child in your custody, despite what she says."

"I'm not leaving. You can't make me," Emma said again, and she looked like she was seriously ready to just burrow her hands into the plaster in the walls and anchor herself there to stop the CPS lady from taking her away. 

"Hey, what's going on?" Tony asked, crowding up behind Bucky, nudging him half-way out of the way. 

"CPS is here," Bucky remarked, and Tony furrowed his eyebrows. 

"Well shit," he said eloquently. "I mean- shoot."

"Your adoptive parents don't have custody of you," the CPS woman said gently, ignoring Bucky and Tony, sounding like she was soothing a skittish animal. 

"Well, she's not going back to her grandmother's place, that's for fucking sure," Bucky said sharply. The elevator doors opened, and Coulson appeared, tie and suit immaculate as he gave the CPS lady a small, quick smile. 

"Hi. Phil Coulson," he said, shaking her hand, and she introduced herself, a surprised look on her face. "Jarvis has tuned me in, and I can definitely agree on the fact that Emma's not returning to her grandmother's home." He said it in that tone of his that had so much force behind it, it usually made sure he got his way. 

"Well, then we'll have to put her in a foster home until the case can be tried again," the CPS woman said with a sigh, rubbing a hand over her forehead and giving Emma a glance out of the corner of her eye.

"I'm a registered foster parent," Coulson said with an entirely straight face. "I'll take care of her until the trial."

"You're fucking kidding me. Agent is a foster parent?" Tony exclaimed incredulously, and even Clint and Natasha sort of boggled at that. 

"I'm sure you need to check your paperwork and all, but I can assure you it's all in order," Coulson continued, undeterred. Emma's formerly terrified face was regaining some color, and suddenly a wide grin appeared. 

"Grandpa Phil!" she crooned pleasantly, and Coulson gave her a despairing look as Tony laughed out loud. "Okay. I'll stay with Coulson. If I can't stay with mom and dad, I'll stay with Coulson. That's my final offer."

The CPS woman seemed to consider that, and then looked around the kitchen. 

"I see. And where's would your current residence be, Mr. Coulson?" she asked with narrowed eyes, as if she knew exactly where this was going.

"Why, in the Avengers Tower. Just five floors below us right now. As you will also find in your paperwork, the Avengers Tower has been approved as a safe environment for a child by CPS," he said calmly, without a hint of humor.

"He's got his own suite and all," Bucky told the CPS woman very seriously. A hint of a smile flashed on her face, and then she bit her lip, glancing at Emma. 

"And you're sure this is what you want? Entirely sure?" she asked Emma, and Emma met her eyes and nodded very firmly. 

"It's Coulson or I'm not going anywhere," she stated, even firmer. The woman considered them all for a few moments, and then she gave them a rueful grin. 

"You miss your parents that badly, huh?" she said, and Emma nodded, sort of shyly this time. "Personally, I've met much worse parents who want to keep their kids for all the wrong reasons." She smiled kindly at Emma. "You strike me as an experienced girl. A four, and they straightened you out? Good on you. I'd love to stuff some other fours in here, see if they'd react the same way."

Emma grinned at that, looking over at Coulson happily. 

"I've been told I'm a special case," she replied with a shrug, walking over to Clint and tucking herself under his arm. Tony put on some coffee and sank into a chair by the kitchen table as the CPS lady whipped out paperwork and a computer from her bag, putting them down on the kitchen island. Coulson followed.

"A four what?" Steve asked curiously as he came in through the door, and sat down by the kitchen table, kissing the back of his husband's neck. 

"Supervision score," Bucky replied, leaning against the doorjamb now that it didn't look like his best friend was going anywhere. When everyone gave him looks of confusion, he rolled his eyes. "One means 'can be left without supervision' and five means 'don't let out of your sight for a second'."

"And you were a four?" Natasha asked incredulously, giving Emma's hair a gentle, happy stroke. "Why, Возлюбленный. Is there something you've been hiding from us?"

"I remember there being a four on the adoption documents, but I didn't actually give it any attention," Clint said thoughtfully as he rubbed circles on her back. "A four, huh? Our little monster."

Emma scoffed, but still squirmed happily underneath her parents' gentle minstrations.

"I'm not surprised you don't pay attention to things on important documents, Barton," Tony scoffed, which turned into a groan when Steve's thumbs dug into his trapezius muscles. 

It took maybe five minutes before the CPS lady and Coulson resurfaced from signing things, and by then, they were chatting politely, the CPS lady giving him some looks that had Tony convinced Agent was the best agent of them all. 

"Well, I'll be happy to turn Emma over to you then, Mr. Coulson," CPS lady said, tucking a stray hair behind her ear and shaking Coulson's hand. She smiled at Emma again. "Be safe, sweetheart."

"Yeah, bye," Emma said sweetly, smiling when the CPS lady disappeared behind the closing elevator doors. 

"So, I suppose I'll have to pack a bag," Coulson stated as he stared at the paperwork in his hands. He seemed composed, and had that look about him like the paperwork was properly filed and filled out. 

And that was when it really hit them. Coulson had offered to take Emma to keep her safe. Keep her in the tower.

"Coulson... Phil," Clint said, at a loss for words, and even Natasha looked a little wide-eyed. 

"I've been meaning to have my entire apartment repainted. The fumes make it a very unsafe sleeping environment. I can't take her there," Coulson replied off-handedly, but Clint could honestly not control himself anymore, so he just threw his arms around the other man. 

"Thank you," he pressed, and felt a light pat on his back. 

"Hm. Yes. She already calls me grandpa, might as well-" Coulson began as Clint pulled back, only to be attacked around the middle by Emma, who was beaming up at him. 

"You're my favorite person right now, Grandpa Phil," Emma claimed, and he scoffed, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder much like he'd just patted her father. 

"Not even Uncle?"

"Well that just wouldn't be right," Emma claimed very seriously, and Coulson sighed good-naturedly, prompting her to grin again. "You can get the bag later. Where's Lucky? Lucky!" 

"My suit is expensive, dog hair sticks to everything," Coulson protested as the big golden retriever bounded into the room, happily running circles around all of them.

---

Chapter Text

 

Emma's first night back in the tower was spent in Clint and Natasha's bed, with Lucky curled up by their feet. Emma had only had so much food for dinner, because Clint and Natasha noticed her slimmer figure, her bony knees and elbows, and knew that she'd probably just puke if she had enough to fill her stomach. 

She was also fed nearly a gallon of pink lemonade, because Emma didn't want water and Clint and Natasha needed her to drink something. Pietro kept ruffling her hair, and even Wanda smiled at her kindly. 

"Thor's not back yet?" Emma asked as she cuddled up to her mother in bed, and Natasha breathed in the scent of Emma's newly-showered hair, apples and flowers.

"No. But we're pretty sure he's fine. He's got his warriors up there," Natasha murmured, leaning her cheek against Emma's hair. Clint's got his hearing aids out, and is sound asleep on the other side of Emma. Emma's arm and leg is wrapped around his hip, and Natasha's curled around Emma. 

It's comfortable and warm and safe, and it makes Natasha realize how fucking scrawny Emma has become, which makes her want to find her brass knuckles and give Anne a visit.

"I miss his hugs. He just picks you up and envelops you like a burrito," Emma mumbled sleepily into the crook of Natasha's arm, and Natasha smiled into her daughter's hair. "That's probably what I missed the most. All the hugs. We hug an unnatural amount."

"Complaining?" Natasha murmured gently, and Emma shook her head sleepily. 

"Not at all. It's just a lot of hugs. Large quantities." Whatever Emma said after that was just mumbles, probably very logical in Emma's sleepy opinion, and Natasha couldn't help but grin at that, and squeeze Emma a little tighter to her. 

She was safe again. Natasha felt her broken heart start to mend, the pain mellowing out as Emma's hand that was tucked in underneath her, appeared, and intertwined itself with Natasha's. When Natasha was sure Emma was fast asleep in her arms, she kissed the back of her head again. 

"You are so, so loved," she murmured, stroking her fingers down her precious girl's arm. "Please don't ever doubt that."

Emma was still sleeping soundly, but her fingers twitched in her sleep, and Natasha smiled, falling asleep right after her.

---

The next morning, Steve made a bunch of pancakes for everyone, and Bucky made omelettes, and everyone sat at the breakfast table like a humongous, normal family, and Peter firmly planted himself in Emma's lap and would screech at ear-piercing volumes if anyone tried to take him away from her. 

"It's fine, really," Emma said for the sixth time when Steve tried to remove his reluctant toddler from her lap again. "I'm serious, Steve. Next time he screams, I scream, okay? Just let him stay with me. He's just missed me, haven't you, Petey-pie?"

Peter nodded sullenly, eyebrows a little furrowed and with a piece of pancake in his mouth. Emma kissed the top of his head, and adjusted his weight in her lap again, popping a blueberry in his mouth.

"Alright," Steve said skeptically. "You just tell me if he's too much, and we'll move."

"No!" Peter yelled very loudly, and Emma shushed him gently. 

"Don't worry, Petey-sweetie. I'm not going anywhere," she said soothingly, rocking a little in her seat. 

The only other person who was equally glad to have her back, was probably Bucky. He only took his eyes off of her maybe twice, and the couple of times he decided he should probably blink. After breakfast, they moved into the living room for some Saturday morning cartoons, and by then, Peter could be persuaded to sit on the floor and play with his building blocks, with his dad right behind him. 

Emma dropped gracefully down into Bucky's lap, and grinned at him, kissing his cheek and giving it a fond pat. 

"I've missed having a gaming chair," she announced, and he snorted as the chatter of the others in the room nearly drowned out the sounds of the cartoons. "Y'know what? I've decided I'm having lots and lots of kids. That way, it'll never be quiet again."

"Was it quiet at Anne's?" Bucky asked, because he assumed that's where that came from. Immediately, Emma's sparkling eyes dulled a little. 

"Always. I don't like it when it's quiet. Easier to hear voices then. I like this. It's chaos-y. My favorite sort of adverb."

"Adverb?" Bucky snorted. "Wow. Technical terms, huh?" 

Emma laughed, and Tony grinned at them over his shoulder just from the sound of it.

"Hey, screw you, man, I know technical terms for English words. Adjectives! That's a word. I don't remember what the names are called, or the he-she-it ones, but I know there are adjectives and adverbs!"

"You're pretty damn smart," Bucky relayed, and something vulnerable flashed in Emma's green-grey-blue eyes. 

"Really?" she asked, and her voice sounded pecilularly small. Bucky felt a bit of rage flare up in him, but he shoved it aside to deal with Emma's suddenly sort of shy manner. 

"Of course," he said with conviction, but Emma still looked a little unsure, which really pissed him off this time. "You're very smart, kiddo. And clever, and sharp, and kind, and strong. As I was told when we had our first Disney movie marathon, those are the most admirable qualities in a Disney princess."

"That they are," Emma agreed, and Bucky squeezed her a little tighter to him. He can't believe he let that old hag take his best friend away from him. 

"And since you are all of those things, that would make you a Disney princess," Bucky said very seriously. 

"Well, you too. Nobody wants to be a Disney prince. They don't grow like the princesses do," Emma claimed, and Bucky smirked. 

"You're absolutely right, doll." Emma laughed at him, and played with his metallic fingers distractedly as she watched the cartoons, looking only mildly interested in what was going on. 

Darcy dropped down next to them, folding Emma's legs into her lap. 

"Hey, Em, Steve was talking about taking Peter out to play in the park, but since he's super duper cranky about you leaving the room, would you mind going with them?" she asked, a small frown on her rosy lips. 

"No, not at all. I've missed going outside to play in the snow," Emma smiled, and Darcy's frown deepened for a moment, before she squeezed Emma's leg lovingly. 

"Awesome. I'm sure you guys'll have fun," Darcy smiled. "Me and James would go with you, but I've got to fix some PR messes that've been popping up, and James has promised to keep me company while I yell at people about said messes."

"Oh christ, I've made a mess, haven't I?" Emma asked, a pained look on her face, and Darcy's eyes widened. 

"Oh, sweetheart, no," she hurried to soothe. "Bucky punched a paparazzi and Tony called a reporter a bad name. This isn't new at all, just gotta kick some asses about it. It's not your fault at all, just the two of them being a little indiscreet. Totally fixable. Besides, any mess you've created, I'd be happy to clean it up if it meant getting to keep you here, okay?"

Emma nodded, but still looked a little unsure. Clint rose from his seat in the loveseat, and disappeared into the kitchen.

"Hey, bring me coffee!" Tony yelled after him, and got no reply. He sighed. "Jarvis, please write the birdbrain a note about giving me coffee?"

"Agent Barton is currently having a video call with Director Fury, but I will alert him as soon as he is off the phone," Jarvis replied calmly. 

"What does Fury want?" Natasha asked suspiciously. "Because we're both on leave until we've cleared this up. He's given us the okay, even. He better not be sending us on a mission."

"I'm sure Agent Barton will relay the news if there are any, Agent Romanov," Jarvis replied. 

A few moments later, Clint entered the room again, a gobsmacked look on his face. 

"Hey, fun thing that just happened? Fury called," he said slowly, handing a happy Tony his coffee mug.

"Yeah, we heard," Pietro replied, eyes narrowed with suspicion. Wanda's mission with them had gone fine, but Pietro was still on the bench since his last stunt. Fury had mostly kept to his promise about letting the rest of the Avengers deal with him as a team, but he was still wary. "What'd he want?" 

"Yeah, uh... He got us a court date tomorrow?" Clint said, sounding a little unsure of himself. The whole room erupted in a mix of cheers, various confused noises, and stunned silence. 

"You're kidding!" Jane exclaimed, eyes wide. 

"What? Court was gonna be in like a month!" Emma exclaimed incredulously.

"Yeah, well, Fury was annoyed that we kept taking leave to deal with everything concerning you, and now Coulson is legally bound to the whole thing," Clint hurried to say. "So he, to quote the honorable Director Nicholas Fury, 'went and lit a fire under their collective asses' and now the date is set for tomorrow." 

"Y'know, I think we need more legal help," Bucky said. "I'll make a call."

"A call? You have legal friends?" Pietro asked incredulously from the floor. 

"Legally educated contacts, sure," Bucky corrected, pulling his phone out of his pocket and dialing a number. "I'll have him come over."

"Do I know this contact of yours?" Darcy asked curiously.

"Probably not."

"Do I?" Emma shot in. 

"Yeah, you do." A slow smile spread on Emma's face. 

"Oooh. Alright. Cool. Yeah, hopefully he'll be able to deal with this," Emma nodded very seriously as Bucky flipped her out of his lap, next to Darcy, and smirked at her. He then put his phone to his ear, and disappeared into the kitchen. 

"Well," Darcy said, a frown on her face. "We'll meet the contact today then, I guess. Jane, you have paperwork. Bruce, you've got a date with Betty-"

"It's not a date!" Bruce groaned loudly. "We're friends, and we're going out to dinner and a movie. Like friends do!"

"Whatever you say," Darcy said mockingly. "Wanda, you wanna go to the mall later? Pietro too. You guys could use the air, and I could use the retail therapy, as well as the sugary coffee."

"Sure," Wanda agreed, looking away from the TV. "I need to make arrangements for my suit anyway."

"I've told you, I could-" Tony began, sounding annoyed. 

"I know, Stark, but I want to get this on my own. I've seen your sense of style. I know better what I want than you do," she argued, and he pursed his lips in annoyance, and muttered angrily under his breath.

"They're letting you have a suit?" Emma crowed happily, and Wanda grinned. 

"Yes," she said very proudly, and Pietro crossed his arms over his chest, mimicking her 'yes' very mockingly. She kicked his shoulder, and he hissed, swiping after the offending foot. "Pietro is being sour-patch."

Everyone chuckled. 

"You mean sour-puss," Clint provided, and Wanda said something in Sokovian. Clint nodded. "Yeah, sour-puss. Or something less PG."

"Sour-puss," Wanda smirked, and Pietro grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest again. 

"You'll get to have a suit soon too, don't worry, Quicksilver," Emma teased, and at least the name made his lips quirk.

After lunch, which had been eaten together, just like breakfast, Emma took Peter away to get dressed for going to the park, Bruce and Jane retreated to do some physics-defying experiments with the twins, and the rest settled in, Steve and Clint doing the dishes while Darcy and Bucky sat by the kitchen table, talking silently to each other. Natasha drummed her fingers against the kitchen table surface impatiently.

"Your guest has arrived, Sergeant Barnes," Jarvis relayed, and Bucky looked up at the ceiling, nodding as Steve dried his hands and Clint pulled the plug in the sink. 

"Right. Put him on the elevator."

"Anything we should know about this fella before he makes his appearance?" Steve asked curiously. Always wanting a strategy, a vague plan of attack. Bucky shrugged. 

"Not really. He's chill most of the time, but he punches like a mean bastard," he said very seriously. Everyone's eyebrows raised, and the elevatorbell dinged silently. The doors slid open, and a man came out of the elevator.

"I hope I'm on the right floor now, because the voice didn't tell me what button to press to get where I was supposed to be," the man said, scratching the back of his neck.

"That's Murdock," Bucky said, pointing to the lean man in the suit, who was smiling gently. He was wearing round, red sunglasses, and had a cane, that was one of those tapping canes. His hair was a sort of reddish-brown, and he had a cut on his jaw, covered with a band-aid. "He's blind and a lawyer. Deal with it."

"Hi Bucky. Curt introdution, but I'll take it," Matt said, smiling at them. "Hi everyone. I'm here to help?"

"Murdock? Matt Murdock?" Clint said with a grin, and Matt raised his eyebrows. 

"Barton? Nice to find you in another place than a dumpster," Matt said, reaching a hand out. Clint shook it firmly, still grinning, despite himself. 

"Hey, same," Clint said. 

"You met in a dumpster?" Tony said skeptically, looking over at Matt and his nice suit, the red-tinted hair.

"Sometimes you meet the kindest of people in the oddest of places," Matt conceded. 

"Can I out you?" Bucky asked him from where he was still sitting, arm around Darcy's shoulders, by the kitchen table, and Matt bit his lip. 

"Yeah, maybe not," he said with a slight grimace, and Bucky shrugged. Natasha inhaled sharply, and signed 'DD' to Clint, who smiled and signed a yes back. "Oh geeze. Miss Romanov, I assume? I like your perfume. I don't think we've met."

"Thank you. We haven't, but I've heard... And read... Good things about you," she said as they grasped hands. His handshake was firm, and his smile small. 

"Huh. I certainly haven't, so it's nice to know someone has. So, you've got legal trouble?"

"Child custody issues," Bucky said shortly. Matt clicked with his tongue against his teeth.

"Right. I was wondering where Emma was."

"You haven't been watching the news?" Steve said incredulously, and Matt gave him a rueful grin. Steve immediately blushed. "Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

"Don't worry," Matt said amusedly. "You're not the first to make the slip up and you won't be the last. I would've loved to have watched the news, but my news consummation is mostly limited to podcasts, and I don't listen to gossip pods."

"Right," Steve said, still looking embarrassed. Then the elevator bell dinged, and Emma appeared, wearing a bright blue down jacket and a purple hat, a red scarf wrapped around her shoulders. Peter was settled on her hip in the same amount of outerwear, except he had ski pants on too. Both looked ready to treck to the park and roll around in the snow.

"C'mon Steve, I'm starting to sweat in this amount of clothing, and soon Peter's gonna pass out from heat exhaustion!" she said loudly, stepping out of the elevator whilst fussing with Peter's red hat, and nearly walking into Matt as a result.

"Okay, now, that voice I recognize," Matt said, and Emma gasped, eyes immediately taking in the man in the coat.

"Matt!" Emma squealed, such a happy squeal that Matt laughed when she tossed herself at him, nearly squishing an annoyed Peter in the process of hugging the crap out of the taller man. 

"Hi Em, how you doin'?" he asked, and she reached out to grab his chin and pull him down to kiss his cheek.

"I'm doing better," she said as Peter shot web into Matt's face with an angry yell. "Hey! No! We don't shoot strangers with webs, Peter!"

"My 'ma!" Peter yelled, and Emma rolled her eyes. 

"Okay, Peter, you are adorable, but you also need to understand that 'ma chooses on her own who gets to touch her, okay? 'Ma is her own," she said, very sternly, and Peter stared at her, his lower lip pouting out and his brown eyes wide, possibly ready to tear up. "I know, that sucks for you, but I love you very much anyway. Okay, Petey? I'm not mad, I just want you to learn."

Peter kept looking like he was on the verge of tears, but then he buried his face in Emma's neck, and Emma turned back to grin at Matt. 

"Sorry about that, he's been really clingy since I got back. I had to sit in at bath time yesterday, or he wouldn't stay in the damn tub," she said, wiping the web off of Matt's face with her free hand. "What're you guys up to?"

"Well, we thought we'd do some plotting when you're at the park with Steve and Peter," Clint relayed as Steve put on his own winter-coat, and a hat that was red, white, and blue, as well as some thick gloves. 

"Nice. What sort of plotting?" Emma said with a mischevous grin. 

"Not the fun kind that you're thinking of, sadly," Darcy sighed ruefully. "No, more like, 'let's trick the legal system into giving us Emma back'. Which is why Mr. Murdock is here."

"Oh, Matt, please," Matt said with a smile. "I can tell you must be the lovely Ms. Lewis. You do the press."

"Why, that would be me," Darcy agreed with a grin. "How do you know I'm lovely?"

"Miss, I've been blind more than half of my life. I've got my tricks," Matt said, stretching a hand out. Darcy shook it, and Bucky scoffed. 

"Alright, Murdock, cool your fucking jets," he said with narrowed eyes, and Matt laughed. Darcy raised her eyebrow at her boyfriend, but he didn't meet her eyes, and Matt held his hands up in surrender, his tapping cane still in one hand. 

"It was cool that you came around, Matt," Emma said as she and Steve stepped into the elevator. "If you're not still here when I get back, tell Foggy I said hi, and be nice!"

"Will do," Matt said with a smirk, and then they disappeared. He rubbed his hands together. "So, plotting? I'm sure coffee goes well with plotting."

"My kind of man," Tony smirked, and Clint put a hand on Matt's elbow, guiding him towards the kitchen table as everyone settled down.

---

A cup of coffee and a couple of chocolate chip cookies later, Matt's fingers were running over the paper in the file in front of him. 

"I say we just make Emma like, ruin a lightbulb or something, show them exactly what sort of thing they're dealing with," Tony said fiercely. 

"Not tangible proof," Matt reminded him for the fifth time, and Tony grumbled a little, sinking back into his chair. 

"The law is annoying."

"Well, she's ruthless, that's for sure," Matt replied absently. 

"How about proving we're good parents or something? Can't someone who has a good reputation sign off on it or something?" Clint asked. 

"Also not tangible proof, however something to keep in mind," Matt agreed. His fingers stopped in the middle of the page. "Wait. You're not even married?" 

"Why does that matter?" Natasha asked sharply, and Matt tapped his fingers against the tabletop.

"It always looks better on paper when the parents are married. The religious judges like that, too. Makes the home seem more safe and stable. Less risk a parent will take off."

"That can't be statistically correct," Bucky argued, tapping his real fingers against his own coffee cup. "Aren't like 50% of couples getting divorced or something?"

"You sound very pessimistic about the prospects of holy matrimony, Mr. Barnes," Matt remarked. "How come, when you've got such a great girl?"

"You're a sweetheart," Darcy smirked. "Catholic boy, yeah?"

"What gives me away?" Matt grinned back.

"Just the aura of being shamed and being all about holy matrimony."

"We're not getting married to prove that our home is stable," Natasha protested, bringing them back to the point. 

"Yeah, man, she's already ditched the whole marriage thing," Clint said with a shrug at Matt. The red-haired man raised an eyebrow. 

"Ah. Yeah, that makes sense," Matt agreed, and Clint whacked him on the arm. 

"Fucking rude."

"Hey, I'm doing this pro-bono. I'm allowed to be a little rude."

"I'll pay you if it means you'll stop being an asshole."

"Hey, no. Bucky's calling in a favor."

"You owe Bucky favors?" Clint asked incredulously, and gave the blank-faced Bucky a surprised look. 

"Long story," Bucky said shortly, and Matt shrugged when all looks turned to him. 

"Like the man says. Long story. So anyway, I think that's literally the only advice on how to make you guys look more solid. Be married. All the other things that's considered wrong here, is the whole 'weapons everywhere' thing, but even I know that's at least forty percent Emma, so I don't really know what to tell you. Tony tells me he built safe rooms that can drop from the top of the tower and won't break, so that's good. There's literally nothing more you can do to look more suited for custody."

Natasha and Clint met eyes, but they both looked hesitant. 

"Nah man," Clint said, shaking his head. "We're not getting married to prove we're good parents. My parents were married, didn't make them any better at being parents."

"Yeah, second that," Tony said with a salute of his coffee mug. 

"Why can't we just let Emma tell them what she wants?" Bucky asked, sounding annoyed. Matt frowned. 

"They didn't let her speak in the other trial?" he asked incredulously. "How old is she again?"

"Fourteen, give or take," Tony replied. "Why?"

"That must've been an oversight. She's old enough to speak for herself," Matt remarked. "Wait, why'd you say give or take?"

"Well, she doesn't even know herself how old she is," Clint explained. "She's been kidnapped a couple of times and hasn't been entirely sure how long she's been anywhere. But she's definitely in her teens, that much we can all determine."

"Maybe there's no legal documentation involved in the case stating how old she is, then."

"That's a technicality," Bucky protested. Matt drummed his fingers on the table absently. 

"Technicalities are what make up the law. Technicalities and loopholes go hand in hand. I'm sure that's what her grandmother's lawyer was aiming for, taking away Emma's right to speak. Well, let's flip the pancake on them."

"Hey, as much as I love Emma, she's got a tendency to go off on tangents," Darcy pointed out. 

"Not about this," Bucky said lowly. "Trust me. She can tell her own story without going off on tangents." Everyone nodded grimly. 

"Right. Was there anything else her grandmother took away from her, except for love, comfort, and basic human decency?" Matt asked, ticking them off his fingers. 

"Food," Natasha said. Everyone turned horrified looks on her. "You haven't noticed? She's skin and bones. She can't eat too much now, or she'd probably die, or at least black out. Her body's not equipped to eat real food. Jarvis, how much does she weigh now?"

"Around 99.2 lbs, Agent Romanov," Jarvis replied, his otherwise mechanical voice sounding a little angry. "Before she left the tower in the first place, she weighed a healthy 108.6 lbs."

"Holy shit," Tony said, eyes wide. "The fucker starved her?"

"Well, she wasn't laying out buffets for her, anyway," Bucky remarked sharply, crossing his arms over his chest and clenching his hands angrily.

"Oh boy," Matt said, in an oddly detached voice. "Well, that's pretty old school of her. However, it's something we can use against her grandmother to prove that she's unfit for guardianship."

"Oh happy day," Clint grit out.

"Well, at least we've got a plan of attack this time, rather than just defense," Darcy pointed out. Everyone made various 'well I suppose that's true' noises.

"So, have we heard any dates yet? For court? What month are we talking?" Matt asked distantly.

"Well, November. Tomorrow, actually," Clint said. Matt's eyebrows could touch the skies.

"You better be kidding me, Barton," he said sharply.

"Nope," Clint said, with a nervous laugh. "Tomorrow." 

Matt sighed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose underneath the glasses. 

"Christ Almighty. Okay, I'm gonna need more coffee. And to call Foggy," he said, as if to himself. 

"Sounds like a good idea, buddy," Bucky said, patting his shoulder firmly. "Darcy, you said something about the mall?"

"You've got a mean streak in you, y'know that, babe?" she asked with a rueful shake of the head. 

"It's not so much as a streak, as multiple stripes," Bucky said very seriously as he shuffled into the elevator, hand on her lower back. "Thanks, Murdock."

Matt just sighed.

---

Chapter Text

 

 

Matt stayed the night at the tower just so he could help, and showed up to eat breakfast with all of them. He seemed a little confused by all the noise and how shouting across the table was considered polite conversation, but he was amiable enough, sipping his coffee silently.

Today, Peter wasn't plastered to Emma's side anymore, but he started yelling for her if she wasn't in eyeshot. Emma'd been tucked in with Peter just so that he could sleep, and she'd listened to Tony reading Robin Hood for like an hour. He'd kissed both Peter and her on the forehead when Peter was asleep, and nudged Emma to bed afterwards. 

Well on her own floor, Clint and Natasha had been sitting on the couch, and she'd fallen asleep with Clint's hand in her hair and Natasha's fingers tracing circles into the skin on her arm. 

Earlier in the morning, super early in fact, Emma had been nudged into Dr. Kyle's office for the first time in a month and a half, and the sound of his voice and the chess board on his desk was so achingly familiar she'd immediately started to relax again. 

Again, Dr. Kyle's session left her feeling a little scrubbed raw, but in a good way. Cleansed, sort of. Or at least beginning to be. Walking out of there, she'd appreciated the cold in her lungs and Natasha's warm hand in hers.

Emma had forgotten what such overwhelming love could feel like. She was almost tearing up just looking around the kitchen table as she heard Wanda's rare, but ringing, laugh.

"Hey, you okay, honey?" Steve asked her quietly, brushing a hand over her shoulder. Emma nodded, taking a shaky breath. 

"Yeah," she answered honestly, taking a pop tart out of the box and biting into it. "Yeah, I'm good, Steve. Thanks."

He narrowed his eyes at her, like he was trying to see if she was telling the truth, and she'd missed that too, someone checking in on her, making sure she really was okay. Steve seemed satisfied that she really was fine, and tossed an arm over Tony's shoulder, looking at the clock and giving his husband a nudge.

Tony looked up, glanced at the clock, and then kissed his husband's cheek. Then he turned his charming smile on the rest of the table.

"Well, should we get dressed?" he asked loudly, silencing the others at the end of the table, bouncing Peter in his lap.

"If you're going outside, sure. Pants are always appreciated, no matter the situation," Clint said, eyeing him suspiciously. "But Pepper's definitely trained you well enough that you should know that by now, Tones." Tony rolled his eyes.

"I meant family support, man. We're coming to court with you, obviously," Tony stated, flicking a blueberry at him. Clint caught it, an alarmed look on his face.

"Oh, yes, I'm sure the press would love that. Team unity and whatnot. Also, a rare sighting of Peter, and Bucky. And the twins! God, the twins," Bruce said with a little laugh, scratching his scruffy cheek. Wanda reached out to stroke the stubble with barely-there finger brushes, looking silently pleased with the texture.

"There was a reason we kept you out of court last time," Natasha said coolly, leveling Tony with a flat stare.

"Yeah, but you lost that time. I figure we'll be like lucky charms." He smiled charmingly at the redhead, and her eyes narrowed to slits. 

"Like cereal?" Pietro said, an absolutely adorable confused frown on his face. Emma snickered. Bucky said something in Sokovian. "Aah. Okay. I don't want to sit still that long, but I'll do it."

"Because family supports," Jane said, and put a hand on his shoulder, smiling and squeezing. Pietro nodded a little, a small frown on his face. Wanda's hand retreated from Bruce's face, and she wrapped her arms around 

"At least it's supposed to," Steve said firmly, obviously noting the looks on Wanda and Pietro's faces. "Which is why we're coming to court."

"Guys, come on!" Clint protested, and looked to Matt for support. When he got no reaction, he berated himself. "Matt, c'mon. You can't honestly think that we should let these people be in on the deliberations."

Matt made a so-so motion with his hand.

"On one hand, I've heard Ms. Romanov testify, and I've read how you testify, and to be real honest, I'd like to keep the two of you out of court," he said, sipping his coffee as Clint gasped, mock-hurtful. "On the other hand, what does Emma need?"

Everyone's eyes turned to Emma, and instead of smirking or raising an eyebrow at them, like she would've before Anne, she just sort of shrank in on herself for a second, looking back at them in silence.

"Yeah, doll. What do you want?" Bucky asked her silently, and Emma met his eyes. He looked strangely intent.

"I... I want them there," she said quietly, signing at the same time. "I want you all there, if you want to go."

"Of course we do, Em. Because family supports," Tony said firmly, almost to himself, as if he's had this talk many times with himself. Steve squeezed the back of his neck lovingly. 

"Exactly," he said, sounding pleased. "However, I'm not entirely sure I own a suit that I didn't wear to my own wedding."

"Jarvis?" Tony said, looking sort of alarmed. "Please tell me I've gotten my kept man some suits he's forgotten about."

"Captain Rogers has several suits that you had made for him after your wedding, Sir," Jarvis soothed as Steve chuckled. "They hang in the guest room closet because you said he'd need his own closet."

"And Steve only takes up like an eighth of my closet," Tony exclaimed, smacking himself on the forehead. "Right. I'm more worried about Bruce's formal wear."

"Hey," Bruce protested as everyone chuckled and began cleaning up. When everyone had cleaned up a little, and Wanda had appeared, in a dress and a red coat that made her look like the Scarlet Witch, looking fierce, everyone was ready for court. 

This time, Emma looked a little more casual, dark jeans and that sweater Pepper had gotten her for Christmas nearly a year ago now. It was a little short in the sleeves, since Emma was still growing, but Emma just rolled the sleeves up to her elbows. 

This time, Natasha's pantsuit was grey, and the blouse light blue. She looked smart, as always, and had let Emma tuck her hair into a stylish little clip at the back of her neck. Coulson arrived in the kitchen with a slightly alarmed look on his face just from seeing all of them dressed up. 

"What's this?" he asked slowly.

"Emma wanted us all in the courtroom with her, Agent. Support, y'know," Pietro said very seriously. He'd refused a suit, or even a blazer, so he was just wearing a blue hoodie and a pair of shiny new sneakers. 

"Oh boy," he said in a deadpan, and Emma grin. 

"Hi Grampa Phil!" she said happily. Phil sighed again, but accepted the hug he recieved.

"Alright, let's vamoose, people!" Tony called over the chatter in the room, and everyone filed into the elevator, except for Pietro, who thinks that the elevator's way too slow.

---

"All rise for Judge Walter White," the baliff said loudly, and everyone stood up. The press had practically raved when the Avengers, almost all of them, had strode into the court room, filling up almost two rows. Jane and Bruce had been arm in arm, if only because Bruce hated crowds, and immediately, people had yelled, asking if they were a couple. Bruce had laughed a little awkwardly, and Jane had rolled her eyes at them.

Now, though, the court room was silent and serious as an old man walked up to the judge's chair. Emma tapped her finger nervously against her father's thigh. 

"Good morning everyone," the judge began, his voice loud in the silent room. Even Peter looked a little startled by the voice, asking his mama 'Thor?'. Tony silenced him with a smile. "I understand that this case is big, in it's own way, but don't think I'll treat superheroes any different than I would any other parent. Democracy is based on everyone being equal before the law, no matter the services they perform for society."

"New judge, if not superhero positive, then at least not negative. I like this," Foggy murmured to his friend. Foggy had met them outside of the court room, been a little bit starstruck, and then moved on, immediately in lawyer-mode. 

Clint was a beginning to be a little surprised at the sheer amount of people that greeted Emma with hugs instead of a handshake or an awkward wave.

Matt nodded distantly as the judge allowed them all to sit again. Anne's slimy lawyer rose, looking a little angry, still. Clint smiled pleasantly at him when they locked eyes, and the lawyer composed himself. 

"Stop bugging the lawyer, Agent Barton," came Coulson's immediate, silent reprimand. Clint shot him an innocent smile, and caught Natasha's lips twitching with the need to smile. 

"Sorry, Coulson." 

The normal formalities to start a trial was performed, and then Matt rose fluidly.

"Your Honor, I'd like to call the child in question to the stand to answer some questions," Matt said immediately.

"Has the child not been consulted in these proceedings?" the judge asked as he flipped through his papers, slightly baffled.

"No," Emma replied loud enough to ring out through the courtroom, and just as the commotion began in the courtroom, she jumped the gate to the area for the lawyers, and walked up to the stand, hearing Foggy's annoyed little breath behind her before she settled in the little chair-stand.

---

"How old are you, Emma?" Matt asked when the court had finally settled into almost complete silence, giving her a smile.

"Fourteen," Emma replied easily. "Fifteen next year."

"And why didn't anyone ask what you wanted earlier?"

"Uh. I guess because no one's entirely sure when I was born or where so they can't verify me as being fourteen? And they can't check my biological parents' records, because they were secret agents and no one's got the clearance to check their records. And I mean I was in the system for a while, foster care system y'know, but then I got erased from the publicly available records so no one would come looking for me, and my rap sheet doesn't state my birth date, so I guess you can't check that either. Maybe. Or maybe nobody's asked me because the system is fuc-"

Bucky made a sharp clicking sound with his tongue, and Emma zipped up. 

"Right. Sorry. Wrong crowd."

"Do you know when and where you were born?" Matt asked, looking a little amused by her spiel.

"June 21th," Emma replied easily. "I'm pretty sure I was born in America, but uh. Not much else. Maybe in Kansas? Iowa? North Dakota? South Dakota? What other states are there out there in the blob that isn't north east America?"

"Not what year?"

"I'm pretty tiny, so I guess I'm in my teens? I was kidnapped and held captive for a while when I was like eight, and I've never really been sure of how long I was captive, but I've always guessed it was a year. So I've determined I'm around fourteen years old from that."

"You're were kidnapped and held captive?" the judge asked incredulously. 

"Well yeah, first that time when I was eight, and then that second time when I was like twelve," Emma replied, tapping a finger to her lip thoughtfully. "That was when mom and dad found me. They saved me."

"You're referring to Mr. Barton and Ms. Romanov?" Matt clarified, and Emma's cheeks flushed a little.

"Well, yeah. I don't remember my biological parents all that well, and the only guy who really took care of me for a few years left me on my own before I got kidnapped the second time. So they're mom and dad to me," Emma said with a light shrug, and Clint smiled encouragingly at her. 

"You were kidnapped. Twice. And in the foster care system. And you have a criminal record," Judge White stated incredulously. "How did you cope with being kidnapped, Emma?"

"First or second time?" The judge looked sort of mortified that she actually had to ask him that, but then he relented.

"First."

"Uh, I dunno. I learned how to beat people up, and did that. Broke into some houses. Set a couple of things on fire. The guy who was sort of taking care of me at the time helped. We traveled with a circus, so I did trapeze stuff. Walked on wires high in the air. Broke a couple of bones. Why?"

"This was before the Avengers took you in?"

"Yeah."

"And how did you cope with being kidnapped the second time? After they took you in." Emma stared at him for a couple of seconds in stunned silence, and then she swallowed quietly. 

"I... I got a lot of hugs," she said softly. "And I drank a lot of hot chocolate. And dad's dog, he sleeps with me. Tony made me a nightlight that wakes me up when my heartbeat reaches a certain rate. Bruce taught me breathing exercises for when I get too scared. Thor taught me how to braid when I couldn't sleep. Mom and dad let me sleep in their bed when it got really bad." She smiled at Bucky. "Bucky built pillow forts with me."

"When was the last time you committed a felony?"

"Before I was kidnapped the second time," Emma replied, astonished. "Huh. I hadn't thought of that." 

"Your Honor? If I could... Yes, thank you," Matt said with a small smile. "Emma, how much do you weigh?"

"Uh, whata?" Emma said incredulously, but Bucky's look told her this was important. "Uh, I dunno. Last time I weighed myself was like a hundred years ago." 

"Your parents gave me the information that before you were put in your grandmother's custody you weighed 109 pounds. Does that sound right?"

"Uh, yeah, sure. That sounds plausible, I guess. BMI and all that jazz."

"Your parents tell me that Jarvis weighed you two days ago, when you first came back to them, and by then you weighed 99 pounds." Emma swallowed. 

"Yeah, that, uh, that also sounds about right."

The crowd was mumbling now, sounding equal parts shocked and horrified.

"Why is it that you lost ten pounds during a month?" Emma bit her lip, and looked up at the judge as if she didn't wanna answer this. 

"Internalized misogony, that's why. Child abuse, is why. Fucking Anne, is why," Bucky grunted, and Darcy blinked a couple of times. 

"Do you even realize what that does to me? When you're socially aware like that? Ugh, when you say things like that, I just want to shove you up against the nearest sort of flat surface and ravage you," Darcy groaned quietly, and Bucky snorted. 

"If we win this, I swear we'll find a nearest sort of flat surface asap," Bucky said, and Darcy raised her eyebrows at him, and scoffed. 

"No, we won't. You'll sit and stare at Emma for like five hours and then fall asleep," she said with a sweet smile. "And that's okay."

Bucky was just about to protest when Darcy raised an eyebrow at him, and took his hand.

"Answer the question, Emma," Judge White said intently.

"I um..." Emma began saying, and scratched the back of her head. "Anne didn't... Want me to get fat. And she didn't like it when I... Talked about the Avengers."

"You're a growing teenager, Emma. That didn't strike you as sort of odd?"

"Well, yeah, but I mean, there wasn't really anything I could do about it."

Matt let everybody soak in that for a few moments, before he ran a finger over one of the pages in his notes. 

"Before you came into your grandmother's care, you saw a psychiatrist, isn't that right?"

"Yeah," Emma agreed. "I did."

"And what happened when you came to live with your grandmother? Were you able to reach your psychiatrist?" 

"Anne said I was fine, so I didn't need to go," Emma shrugged. 

"And your adoptive parents? And the Avengers? Were you allowed to talk to them?"

"No. She took my phone when I tried."

"No contact whatsoever?" the judge asked incredulously. Emma shook her head, and the judge furrowed his eyebrows. "And you felt safe with the Avengers?"

"Yeah," Emma said, looking out over the crowd to Clint and Natasha. "I did. I still do. They're the only people who..." She cut herself off, took a deep breath. "They're the only people who know what to do when I have nightmares. And what to do when I have one of my bad days and don't want to get out of bed or breathe anymore. And they love me. They make me feel safe, and loved, and cared for, and I wanna go back home."

"Oh sweetie," Clint said lovingly from the bench, and immediately regretted it when he realized just how weak Emma made him, in public nevertheless. He heard shutters going off as people undoubtedly took pictures. 

And hell if that wouldn't get the presses raging again.

"Please let me go back home," Emma pleaded, looking straight into the judge's eyes, and Bucky found himself holding his breath, Darcy clutching his hand tightly.

The judge gaped at them all, and then shook his head to himself.

"Mr. Jude? If you would?" the judge offered, and Emma leaned back in her chair with a silent sigh.

"Emma, your grandmother is in the hospital right now with a broken arm. How did that happen?" Anne's lawyer asked, standing up. Emma bit her lip. 

"She hit me," she said in a small voice.

"What the fuck," Darcy said, sort of loud. 

"Miss, order in court, please," Judge White said with a frown. Darcy frowned, but settled back in her seat. 

"And you broke her arm," the lawyer said sharply.

"In my defense, before that, the last time someone hit me, I was beaten half to death," Emma said a little angrily, rapping her knuckles against the pew with shaking hands. "That does tend to color ones feelings about getting hit."

"You assaulted your grandmother," the lawyer pressed. "She was only using corporal punishment. You're a minor."

"Not by far the worst I've ever done, believe me. Besides, has anyone ever come out fine on the other end of corporal punishment without being absolutely wrecked?" Emma asked him pointedly. 

"Fact is, it's still legal. Assault isn't," the lawyer point out. 

"Objection, Your Honor, this is a child custody case, not the assault case Mr. Jude is trying to make it into," Matt said, standing up.

"Sustained. Mr. Jude, please, stay on topic.

The lawyer seethed, but asked a couple of curt questions, which Emma gave some sharp answers to, but he was pretty done by the time the door cracked open, and Emma saw a familiar mop of brown hair, the sharp frames of his glasses, and the blue blazer.

"Hey, Dr. Kyle!" Emma said, waving towards him. He smiled warmly at her, and waved back, and Matt didn't even look back as he stood up.

"Which brings me to the next person I'd like to take the stand."

---

"So, Dr. Kyle Wyatt, you're Emma's therapist, correct?" Matt asked a couple of minutes later, when Dr. Kyle had sat down in the stand, correcting his smart, light blue suit jacket.

"I'm Emma's therapist," Dr. Kyle agreed, and rattled off some sort of impressive resume where he sat, mentioning articles and where he got his degree.

"Yes, yes, the court acknowledges that the good doctor is qualified," the judge said, a little impatiently.

"How long have you been Emma's therapist?" Matt asked Dr. Kyle.

"Around nine months. However, I haven't seen a lot of her lately," he remarked.

"How come?"

"She'd been feeling pretty good, lately, before she was moved to her grandmother's care," Dr. Kyle stated. "School was going well, she had a lot of support from her family, and I believed she was adjusting well."

"Why was it that the Avengers sought you out in the first place?"

"Emma had been in the hospital after being kidnapped earlier this year, and they were worried about her mental health."

"Hold up," the judge said incredulously. "This child has been kidnapped three times?"

"Forgot to tell you about that time," Emma called from her seat, back between her parents. "First day of this year, got snatched by the same dude that got me the first time. He wanted to finish the job he started."

Judge White rubbed his forehead distractedly, and muttered 'christ'.

"Please," he said, making a go-on motion towards Dr. Kyle.

He cleared his throat.

"So, they had concerns. We had a talk, and I've diagnosed Emma with PTSD. With the proper support, she has the occasional nightmare and bad days, like with any recovery, but she still manages to live a fairly normal life."

"And without?"

"She's prone to panic attacks, being violent, an insomniac, and having trouble making distinctions between what's real and what isn't. Especially troublesome is the schoolwork and social interaction. Emma has attacked people when she hasn't been in full control before, but when she has the support she needs, she's mostly just a danger to herself, if even that."

"Did you know that Emma was being moved?"

"No, I did not. And had I known, I would've strongly advised against it. I assumed that since I hadn't heard from her parents in a while, that she was doing better and didn't feel the need for a session. I was happy to think my patient was flourishing."

"And you met with her earlier today?" Matt said a little leadingly.

"Yes," he agreed, and his face pulled into a frown. "She's suffered major setbacks in her progress. Without her previously established support structures and coping mechanisms, I fear she might continue to spiral."

"And her support structure would be the Avengers. Correct?"

"Without a doubt. She mentions their support and understanding regularly. Seeing as at least some of them must be battling PTSD as well, I can imagine that they would understand and care more about keeping a routine and helping her cope."

"So your advice would have been, if you had been asked in the original trial, to place Emma where?"

"With the Avengers. No matter how kind her grandmother could have been, Emma was snatched away from her support structure, the place she'd finally started calling home. It was unwise and cruel," Dr. Kyle said ruthlessly.

"Thank you, Dr. Wyatt. No further questions."

Now all the Avengers and co were staring at Emma, who sort of hunched her shoulders, and blushed.

"What now?" she asked, and Darcy leaned over both Natasha and Bucky to kiss Emma's cheek.

"Nothing, sweetheart. We're just flattered," Darcy assured her.

"Hey, I got you two hooked. You came into this family after I did. If anything, I should be flattered you're still here and like it," Emma said weakly. Darcy smiled at her softly, and Emma pulled her mother forward to shield her from Darcy's smile. Natasha chuckled lowly, and wrapped an arm around her daughter's shoulders.

"Ssh,возлюбленный. The judge doesn't like it when the crowd talks," Natasha whispered, and Emma smiled a sort of nervous smile up at the other redhead.

They tuned in just in time to hear Anne's lawyer say something bitingly about Emma's mental state.

"Yes, but I am the one with the degree in psychology here, aren't I? So I think I should be the judge of that," Dr. Kyle said calmly. Darcy huffed a breath.

"Ouch. I like him."

"Dr. Kyle is pretty sweet," Emma agreed silently. The lawyer seemed to fume for a while, but then sat down again, and the judge pondered in silence for what felt like forever, before he spoke up.

"When the Avengers first took Emma in, they passed thorough security checks. CPS has cleared them. They have provided care, love, and help for this child in need. If the child wants to stay with the Avengers, who have legal documentation stating that they're her adoptive parents, I don't see why there was any problem in the first place," he said slowly. "I say it's in the best interest of the child to return to her adoptive parents." The gavel banged, and Emma practically leaped into Natasha's arms, Clint closing around them.

The entirety of the two front rows cheered, and everyone stood up, crowding around to hug Emma.

They'd won!

---

Chapter Text

 

"A toast!" Clint said, very loudly, holding his glass of non-alcoholic champagne high. Everyone was strewn around the couches, high heels stacked on the floor, along with ties and suit jackets tossed over the backs of the couches and loveseats, like they'd shed the hardened skin this had required of all of them. 

"A toast!" various members of the couch residents crowed back at him, and Clint hopped up on the coffee table that had been recently purchased to replace the one he and Bucky had broken.

"To the little lady we all love and adore, almost as much as Steve loves Lady Liberty," Clint said sweetly, earning some laughter, and grinning down at Emma, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Victoria in her lap. "The reason we have all grown to love each other in the end, and only other reason I crawl home after a fight."

"The first reason is plain stubbornness," Natasha said fondly, earning more giddy chuckles.

"And if I didn't crawl back, you'd probably come find me and kick my ass, and then drag me back," Clint smirked, raising his glass to her. Natasha, who had her feet kicked up on the table, felt indulgent, so she smiled sweetly up at him.

"Which proves I'm the brain of this outfit."

"And the brawn. But I'll claim the beauty title."

"Yeah, Natalia's the beast in every situation," Bucky snorted, and Natasha tossed the olive from her martini at his head. He swatted it off, and laughed, an honest to god laugh, which dazzled Steve, Darcy, and Emma. 

Darcy kissed the giddy laughter from his lips, and Emma tucked her hair back behind her ears, smiling brightly at them all. 

"Cheers," she said happily, and all the adults with actual drinks took a swig. Emma looked around another time, just staring at each happy face, before she got up. 

"What's up, Em?" Clint asked, who'd hopped off the coffeetable again, now instead sitting on it, with Natasha's feet in his lap. 

"Nothing, gotta pee," Emma said with a quick smile, and disappeared into the kitchen. Well there, she stared out the huge windows, looking down at the twinkling lights of New York City. 

The city was covered in a thin sheet of snow, the November cold making the edges of the windows look a little frosty. The tower was always warm and toasty. She leaned against the side of the kitchen island, and slid down on the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees. Even the tiled floor she was currently sitting on was warm under her butt. 

"Are you alright, Miss Emma?" Jarvis asked silently, and Emma smiled up at the ceiling. 

"Yeah, Jay. Just a little overwhelming, is all. It's been a while since I had so much commotion. I don't think it's quite sunk in yet." There was the sound of nails clicking against tile, and before Emma knew it, Lucky was curled up next to her on the kitchen floor. She buried a hand in his fur as his head settled on her thigh, and she petted him slowly, still looking out at the bustling city spread out in front of her. "Y'know, I sort of started to like reading. Do you know any books you think I'd like, Jarvis?"

In the upper corner of the window, a small list appeared.

"Seeing as you enjoyed the movies, I believe you would enjoy these titles, Miss Emma," Jarvis said, still using the same soft volume.

"Thanks Jay. Order the books for me?"

"Sergeant Barnes already has 19 out of 21 suggested novels in his bookshelf," Jarvis relayed. Emma chuckled quietly.

"My little bookworm. What's he reading?"

"Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, your tome about Asgardian mythology, etc."

"He's reading YA stuff, isn't he?"

"I believe Sergeant Barnes prefers them to gorey thrillers about serial murderers, crime novels, and books about the world being a figment of one's imagination," Jarvis observed.

"Yeah, that's for sure. My poor Bonnie," Emma sighed tiredly, rubbing Lucky behind his ears. "How'd he do without me?"

"Sergeant Barnes punched a paparazzi, fought Agent Barton in the living room, and began to isolate himself," Jarvis replied, like he was reading a report.

"Well, I'll just have to kick his ass back into gear. Has Darcy kept him afloat?" she asked gently.

"I believe Miss Lewis influence on Sergeant Barnes has been entirely postive," Jarvis admitted. Emma smiled.

"Nice," she said, almost to herself, getting licked on the cheek by Lucky. She giggled quietly when she heard footsteps coming into the kitchen.

"Hey, there you are! Some champagne?" Tony asked with a grin, holding out a glass towards Emma.

"Uh. No thanks. I can't really handle alcohol. Not due to, like, metabolism reasons, but it just... Brings bad memories," Emma said, her throat tightening as she looked at the glass. Tony quickly pulled it back. 

"Wow, no. This is non-alcoholic. I'm recovering, Em. Also, you're like, twelve. You shouldn't be drinking alcohol," Tony chided. Emma shrugged.

"Fourteen. Besides, not like I had a choice at the time," she muttered. Tony blinked.

"You're kidding me. Who forced you to drink, kiddo?"

"Well, Charlie thought it might toughen me up a little, at the time. Said it worked for him. And... They tried to give heroin to me to knock me out when I was still with Inferno, y'know the guy that kidnapped me? Just made me bite harder. And uh, I've smoked. Drank. I've done a variety of drugs, but they don't take. The only thing that my body doesn't count as an attack is marijuana, and I can't do that without screaming my fucking head off. Hallucinations, and all that." Tony stared at her.

"Shit, that's absolutely awful," he said morosely, and she shrugged.

"Yeah, well. Life used to be pretty awful."

"Fucking hell. I'll get you a soda. You stay right here." Emma laughed.

"Dude, I don't think soda will help me forget my awful past," she said, peeking up over the kitchen island as she watched Tony pull a can of Mt. Dew out of the fridge.

"An Eggo as well, perhaps, Sir?" Jarvis said, and Tony raised an eyebrow, thinking. Then recognition sparked.

"Right. The food plan! Eggo it is," he said, pulling the box out of the freezer.

"Food plan?" Emma asked skeptically, standing up entirely, Lucky heeling without being told.

"Yeah. The whole 'starved' thing really messes your body's systems up," Tony said with a concerned frown as he popped an Eggo into the toaster, who chirped happily. Had Tony seriously given the toaster an AI while Emma was gone? Man, he was going a little nuts, wasn't he? "Bruce made a sketch."

"Seriously? I have a food plan now?" Emma laughed a little as Tony set down a glass of milk in front of her, instead of the Mt. Dew can. "Hey! Swindler. Where'd my soda go?"

"Says the thief," Tony said, his eyes dancing, and Emma rolled her eyes. "Like I said, food plan. Totally forgot you might actually keel over if you eat too much right now."

"Hey, it's not that bad," Emma protested, and Tony raised an eyebrow.

"Sweetheart, you remember in the beginning of everything, when I thought you were Clint and Natasha's secret child?"

"You kept calling me baby birdspider," Emma recalled, and Tony grinned.

"Hey, I'd forgotten that. Y'see, little birdspider," Emma groaned, "I only let you stay in the tower and get your own room because Natasha threatened me to grievous bodily harm if I didn't. And I like my limbs in their original places, y'know? But then, you encouraged me to propose to Steve, and you help with Peter, and you're one of the few people I know that spreads so much light around them, it's practically blinding. So I've sort of started to care about you. Can't have you dying on me now."

Emma's eyes teared up a little, and Tony smiled, that warm, slow smile that was so genuine and tenative that it broke Emma's heart. Without caring about any sort of manners, Emma crawled over the kitchen island and hugged him. 

Tony patted her on the back gently, and cleared his throat.

"Right, kiddo. Buzz off," he said gently as the toaster pinged happily. Emma hopped off the kitchen island, taking the offered Eggo with a 'thank you' to the toaster, which chirped even more happily, the display going from blue to green.

She walked back into the living room, and was immediately dragged into her mother's loving arms. Natasha pressed a kiss to the top of Emma's hair, and Emma smiled up at her as Clint

"Hey, can we do pizza for lunch? It's been too long since I had Domino's," Emma said loudly, spelling out Domino's in ASL as she spoke.

"Hell yeah," Clint exclaimed. "Jarvis! We need pizza!"

"As you wish, Agent Barton," Jarvis said, sounding like he was on the tailend of a sigh.

---

By mid-afternoon, Clint got a text from Matt.

"All of Anne's suits for custody have been dropped," Clint read with a huge grin. Natasha smirked evilly back at him, and Emma smiled quickly, but then bit her lip.

"Does that mean we can go get my stuff?" she asked, her voice small. Clint and Natasha made eye-contact, and she nodded.

"Of course. When do you wanna go?" Natasha asked.

"As soon as possible," Emma said, and rubbed the back of her neck, looking down, as if hesitating, before adding "I haven't heard from Damian in a couple of days. I wanna make sure he's okay."

"What does he do all the time?" Clint said a little incredulously, and Emma shrugged.

"His dad goes on a lot of trips, and they've had a rough couple of years, so he tries to spend time with Damian more," she lied, although it wasn't entirely untrue. They'd had a rough couple of years, and they were trying to spend time together; that just wasn't the reason Damian was busy all the time

"Makes sense, I guess. Billionaires don't seem to do great with their kids."

"Hey," Steve said sharply from where he was slaving over some meatballs, and Clint raised an eyebrow.

"What? Isn't Tony like, a gazillionaire?"

"I'm pretty sure a gazillion isn't a real prefix, dad," Emma snorted.

"It isn't," Bruce confirmed, reading his newspaper over by the kitchen table.

"When's Betty coming over?" Clint tossed back in his direction, and Bruce looked up from the paper, frowning.

"I don't think she's coming over tonight," he said hesitantly.

"Why not? Invite her," Emma said with a smile. "Aren't you guys together?"

"No," Bruce said, just as everyone else in the room said 'yeah'. Emma laughed at Bruce's shocked expression.

"You want to go now, возлюбленный?" Natasha asked. Emma considered it.

"Sorta yeah. I miss my phone," Emma admitted.

"Put on something warm and we'll go then," Natasha said.

"I could get you a new and better one in like a second," Tony protested. Emma frowned.

"But then it wouldn't be my phone?"

"What? Of course it would be. Just better." Emma gave him a skeptical look.

"Look, dude, I think you forget that I didn't really own anything before I came to live here. I had two knives, and shoes, and a pair of pants, along with a jeans jacket. What few possessions I have, I keep, and keep them close, alright?"

Nobody really had anything to say at that, so Emma just sort of nodded, and hopped up on the kitchen island, springing up into the vent with practiced ease.

"Damn. I can't believe I forgot 'birdspider'," Tony said almost distantly to himself.

Emma returned a couple of minutes later, wearing a hoodie and a jacket. They took one of Tony's more nondescript cars, and Natasha saw Emma tense up a little bit more the closer they got.

Once they got there, Natasha noticed lights inside, and frowned. Anne was definitely still in the hospital. They were still trying to figure out how to set bone dust to help it solidify back into an arm.

Emma knocked on the door, her posture oddly shy and shrunken, completely unlike her. Someone who was definitely not Anne, probably the nosy neighbor that had saved Anne's life, opened the door, and gave Natasha a very disapproving look.

"Hi Mrs. Anderson. I'm just here to pick up my stuff," Emma said, her voice slipping into a quieter register that Natasha had learned to hate. Instead of show that, Natasha gave the old lady a look that clearly signalled 'get out of my way', and Mrs. Williams pursed her lips in dismay at Emma's hoodie, which had the words protect trans kids printed on it in big, white letters on the black background.

Natasha was seriously ready to fight this little wrinkly old lady if she tried to break Emma's spirit and her activist side. She would crush her, and Coulson would be disapproving and Darcy would yell about bad publicity, but Natasha would do anything to protect the tiny pieces of Emma's confidence left in Anne's wake.

That must've been visible on Natasha's face too, because Mrs. Anderson moved out of the way, and let them into the house.

"Thanks," Emma said quietly, and Natasha walked behind her like a human shield as Emma walked straight into the kitchen, reaching towards a cookie jar on the top shelf. When she couldn't reach it, Natasha was ready to offer her services as a ladder, but Emma grabbed a chair to reach it and stood on it with her shoes still on, wetting the striped fabric with her snowy shoes.

She pulled her phone out of the jar, and Natasha's eyebrows flew up.

"She kept your phone in a cookie jar," she stated as Emma hopped down from the chair.

"Yeah," Emma said distantly, and walked out of the kitchen, taking the stairs two at a time to reach the second floor. Natasha followed her into the guest room, which had been Emma's room, and was struck by how small it was, the old bed, and the tiny closet.

Small wasn't necessarily bad, but when Emma began pulling things out of drawers and was ready to go in less than fifteen minutes, Natasha was saddened.

"You got everything?" Natasha asked slowly. "Nothing you want to say goodbye to?" Emma looked around, and held up a hand. She pulled a wrinkled magazine out from under the mattress, and held it to her chest protectively.

"We gotta go to this store and pay them 2.99 for this," Emma said firmly. Natasha raised an eyebrow.

"You stole it?" she asked incredulously. Emma shrugged a little sheepishly.

"Borrowed. We're gonna pay them back. Right?"

"Sure, возлюбленный. That sounds like a great plan," Natasha said, wrapping her arm around Emma's shoulders. They passed Mrs. Anderson in the hallway, and she opened her mouth to say something, but Natasha narrowed her eyes at her, and Mrs. Anderson promptly shut up.

"Thanks Mrs. Anderson," Emma said silently, and Natasha closed the door, only then breaking eye contact with the wrinkly lady.

The store manager was overwhelmed by the presence of an Avenger, and thanked Emma for being an honest young lady and fessing up. Natasha thought it was all pretty amusing, and she was still sort of amused by it on the way back to the tower.

Just then, the dark clouds hanging over the city of New York flashed with lightning, and Emma gasped.

"Mom! It's Thor!" she exclaimed giddily, and Natasha smiled.

"Well, that's good. We'll need him if the alarm goes off," she murmured to herself. Emma urged her to go faster so that they could go home and see him.

Once there, Emma burst into the room, schreeching happily as she saw Thor's huge form standing by the kitchen island, chewing a pop tart angrily. He lit up when he saw them though.

"Young Emma!" he boomed as she launched herself into his arms. Thor caught her with ease, and swung her around a lap before hugging her close to him.

"Hi Thor," Natasha said, maybe not entirely as enthusiastic as her daughter, but still pleased. Thor beamed at her. 

"I have been informed of the battle you have fought, Warrior Natasha," Thor said very gravely, giving her a look that sort of reminded her that despite how sweet and naive Thor could be, he was older than all of them. "You persevere. It's an admirable quality in a warrior."

Natasha swallowed, and was too preoccupied thinking that she too, was swept into Thor's huge arms. Quickly she extracted herself, and looked around the room. 

Tony was drinking coffee and doing something on his tablet. Bruce was texting, probably Betty, sitting next to Tony with a cup of tea. Steve had Peter up in his high chair, feeding him a snack before dinner-time. The meatballs he'd made earlier were in the oven, making the kitchen smell amazing. 

Pietro was yo-yoing, and Natasha was a little confused as to how he'd gotten the yo-yo in the first place, but that didn't really matter. Wanda sat next to him on the kitchen island, eating a pop-tart from Thor's box. Bucky was sitting across from Bruce, reading a book very seriously. It was in Russian, but Natasha saw from the title that it was a poetry book. No Clint to be found. 

"Where's Clint?" she asked nobody in particular. 

"SHIELD. Fury called and asked if you guys could go back to do the work he fucking paid you to do now," Pietro said as he sent his yo-yo sailing through the air before pulling it back with a flick of his wrist, obviously quoting.

"Language," Steve chided automatically, and Pietro grimaced as Emma laughed. Peter made an angry little noise, turning around in his seat and reaching out for Emma. Emma wiggled out of Thor's embrace, and kissed the top of Peter's head. 

"I'm right here, Petey, don't worry," she said sweetly, booping the now quietly giggling baby boy on the nose. 

"Ah," Natasha said, tamping down on a smile. "Me too, then?"

"He would've called you if it was you too, right?" Tony said distantly. "We're just filling in the big guy on what's been happening. Maybe you can add a few important lines here and there."

"Where are we in the story?" Emma asked as she sat down in Bucky's lap. He shifted so that she could be comfortable in his lap, and kept reading, unperturbed. Natasha went over to the boiler and started heating up water for tea. 

"Anne and you haven't clicked. She's taken your phone away, and you've moved school," Tony said, and Emma shrank back a little in her seat. 

"Oh," she said. "Well, my new school sucked. And nobody liked me. At all."

"Quite impossible!" Thor boomed, sitting down next to Emma. "I could never imagine such a thing. Mortal children are mean." Emma laughed a little weakly. 

"Yeah. I guess. Anne was mean too. Firm hand and all, but man, I don't need a firm hand. I need gentle hands," Emma said softly, and Bucky shifted so that he was holding his book with just the one hand, wrapping the other around Emma's waist. 

"Don't worry, doll. Ain't ever gonna be any firm hands on you again," Bucky promised silently, and Emma leant her forehead against his neck as Natasha stroked her hair.

"Well, I uh... I wasn't okay for a while. Damian came to visit sometimes to make me feel better. When Anne was asleep. When she couldn't hear anything. And I nearly killed a kid because he and his buddies cornered me in an alley. And uh, when I got back to Anne's place, we had a fight, and I ran off."

"And it took us a good five hours to find her," Tony said. Emma blushed. 

"You should have just used the bracelet," Thor said, and everyone stared at him. Even Bucky looked up with slight confusion at that.

"What now?" Tony asked slowly.

"The bracelet Emma received before she left us. It is infused with magic for all things lost. If the right incantation was spoken, the bracelet would have guided you to her."

"You thought I was gonna get lost?" Emma laughed. 

"No, I assumed you would run away. You are loyal to a fault, tiny warrior, but your patience can run thin."

"That's not what they're supposed to look like though," Bucky pointed out, grabbing Emma's wrist and touching the silver chain. "They're supposed to be bigger. More like shackles. That's what they look like in the book, anyway."

"Yes, well," Thor said, looking mildly embarrassed. "Mother Frigga found that would be quite tedious to try and put shackles on a child, so she had that made instead."

"Wait, what?" Emma said, holding her arm up, the silvery bracelet glinting in the lights from the kitchen lamps. "What about Frigga? I thought Sif gave this to me."

Thor looked a little more embarrassed, odd on a man with that big of a frame, until he met eyes with a shocked and angry Natasha. He shrank a little more. 

"Yeah, Thor," Natasha said, her voice sweet and filled with venom at the same time. "How come it's from another goddess we haven't met and approved of?"

This time, Thor's shoulders slumped, and he sat down heavily on one of the bar stools by the kitchen island, making it squeak in protest. 

"Mother Frigga feels... Bad for the suffering that my brother bestowed upon our fine and undeserving archer," Thor explained slowly, his voice stepping down to normal volume with his serenity. "She is the best with the secrets, what you mortals would call magic, and since my brother touched him, he won't go near anything infused with the secrets. She is repaying a debt by protecting his spawn."

"But... Lady Sif's ring?" Emma asked, eyes wide.

"Lady Sif is a shieldmaiden. She does not wear jewelry. However, she does know of you, and is very proud of your actions. She has stated her intentions of meeting you," Thor said with a reassuring smile.

"You gave Emma a cursed bracelet so that when she ran away, we'd find her? Without telling us?" Steve said, eyes a little wide too. "Thor, buddy, I know you meant well, but you know how uncomfortable magic makes us. Especially after Loki."

"What did this Loki do?" Pietro asked curiously.

"Oh shit, right, you don't know!" Tony said incredulously. "Well-"

"He took over Clint's body and made him kill for him. It took me nearly giving him a concussion to get Loki out of him," Natasha cut him off, her voice a surprising calm. Considering how seeing Loki still makes her want to break all of his bones and then slit off all his tendons and leave him in the middle of a highly trafficated highway, she supposes that's to be called a win.

"Ouch. I suppose he must have hurt you much for you to want that," Wanda said thoughtfully, her eyes flashing scarlet at Natasha. 

"What've we said about poking?" Natasha tossed back, giving Wanda a stern look. Wanda rolled her eyes and kicked her legs a little.

"Wanda, did you know this?" Bucky asked, nodding towards Emma's wrist. Wanda shrugged. 

"My magic is chaos. What's in that, is light," she said thoughtfully. "Golden. I don't want to touch it."

"See? The magic is safe," Thor said very calmly. 

"It is a very nice bracelet. You think Sif would teach me how to swordfight?" Emma asked Thor, running her thumb along the slippery silver.

"I'm sure of it," Thor relayed, his voice getting louder again as his sunny grin returned.

"Sweet," Emma beamed.

---

When Emma tossed her stuff back where they belonged in her room, she noticed her phone screen lighting up, telling her that it was fully charged. She turned it back on, sitting down on her bed waiting as the little SI logo swiveled around on the screen. 

She unlocked her phone and the minute she unlocked her SIM card, her phone vibrated like crazy as notifications and snapchats and messages and missed calls came in, and Emma sorta laughed breathlessly, waiting it out until it stopped its wild vibrations. 

She skimmed all of her messages, the majority from her family and friends asking how she was doing, if she could call them. 

And then there were the texts from Damian.

They were angry and hurt and then worried and scared and then they were suspicious and then she came to the end of the entire thread of messages, and texted him "I'm fine".

Not a minute later, her phone rang, and she laughed as she put the phone to her cheek.

"Hey Dames," she said, and Damian sucked in a breath like he was dying.

"You're okay," he breathed. "Are you with your parents?"

"Yeah, I'm back at the tower," Emma said, petting Lucky and loving how he was, yet again, resting his head against her leg. "I'm feeling good. Wanna come over?"

"Yes," he said, no hesitation. "Expect me over in four minutes."

"Four?! Damian!" Emma laughed, genuine, unbridled laughter. "Chill out! Take the normal people way, cmon."

"No," he replied fiercely, and she could hear his feet against carpet she laughed again. 

"You've been that worried about me, huh," she said smugly. Damian made his sweet, so longed for, -tt- noise.

"Shut up," he said, and hung up, and Emma laughed some more, cuddling her dog lovingly. 

Five minutes later, Emma made her way over to the elevator, with Lucky happily running around her legs again.

"No, Lucky, I'm sorry, I don't have any food for you. It's okay, pizza dog, soon it'll be dinner, and I'll slip you as many meatballs as you want under the table," she promised as the doors opened, and Lucky ran between her spread legs and straight into Damian, barking happily and sniffing at him, and Damian stepped out of the elevator to stare at her.

"You look happy," he said, and one of those rare, adoring smiles grazed his face. 

Emma smiled at him, feeling her eyes well up a little as she stared at him, and then she nodded.

The next second, she was wrapped up in Damian's arms, hugging him tightly. She took a deep breath, smelling his lovely shampoo and the cold from outside. They just stood there for a while, breathing together, and then she pulled back a little. 

"Hey Jarvis, tell Steve to set another plate," Emma said, looking into Damian's wide blue eyes. 

"May I say who this mystery guest is, Miss Emma?" Jarvis asked, a little snottily, and Emma grinned. 

"Of course, Jay. You know who it is," she smirked, and kissed Damian solidly on the lips, feeling warmth and happiness burst inside of her as his arms slipped down to wrap around her waist instead, and pull her tighter to him.

---

Dinner was a loud and bustling affair. Kate, Sam, Coulson, Matt, and Foggy joined them, along with Betty, who hugged Emma and smiled sweetly at her. Kate gave her a noogie and a chocolate bar with pop rocks and tiny jelly candies in it, and then painted her nails purple after dinner, in her typical 'I love you but I'm not gonna tell you I love you' way, and Emma hugged her as fiercely as she could anyway. 

Sam was a little more awkward, but he still hugged her back gently, so she'd call that satisfactory. Damian wouldn't leave her side, and neither would Bucky, which was sorta hilarious, seeing as they didn't like each other in the least. 

"Treasure this," Darcy said, wrapping an arm around Emma's shoulders as they watched from across the room as Bucky and Damian glared at each other. "The next boyfriend probably won't be this brave."

"Or prideful," Emma remarked. "I honestly don't know why they do that. They're pretty alike, y'know."

"I think that's probably why they do that. They're a little too alike, I think. That's why they're like that." Emma considered that as she watched her broody boyfriend try to stare down her two feet taller best friend, who was just as broody. 

"Bucky, Damian," she called gently, and both turned to look at her. She smiled at them, and both's features softened. Darcy laughed softly behind her. 

"I'll take the big one, you get the other one, we'll distract them," she whispered conspiratoriously, before striding forward to sit down in Bucky's lap and utterly distracting him as Emma grabbed Damian's hand and pulled him out of the overly full living room. 

It was pretty late by now, but Emma didn't want Damian to leave. His presence was soothing her, his calloused hand in hers feeling all sorts of right. 

"Want something to drink?" Emma asked, tossing him a look over her shoulder, and nearly bumping into him. He was standing like two inches behind her. She giggled. "Dude, relax. I'm not gonna just disappear in a puff of smoke."

"Weirder things have been known to happen," Damian pointed out, and Emma nudged him back with a gentle elbow to the ribs. 

"Well, don't worry. I'm not going anywhere."

"You thought you weren't going anywhere and then you disappeared," Damian said, his voice low and silent, and she looked back over her shoulder to find him, in the cover of the shadows, looking a little sad. 

Emma cupped his face, bringing it back into the light, stroking her thumbs over his cheekbones. 

"Hey. Don't worry. I've got a bunch of people in super-suits looking out for me. I'll be fine," she soothed, but Damian still had that haunted look on his face. 

"Everything I care about keeps getting snatched away from me," he said thoughtfully, and then looked like he seriously regretted saying that out loud. Emma wrapped his arms around her own waist, and then smiled up at him. 

"I promise I'm not going anywhere. Okay? Now grab that bag of popcorn. We're going up to our floor in a sec. I haven't seen Layla's face in like a month, or Hope's, or TJ's, and it's making me want to scream. Jay?"

"Agent Romanoff has been alerted. Also, if you'd look at the food plan, you'd know that you shouldn't be eating popcorn yet," Jarvis chided. 

"Ugh. What can I have that's snacky then?" Emma asked impatiently. 

"An apple or a banana." 

"Jarvis! That's not snacky!" Emma complained as she dragged Damian into the elevator. 

"Well, it is a snack," Damian pointed out.

"I wanted something snacky. Snacky and a snack are not the same things."

"There you go again, creating new words," Damian said, sounding fondly exasperated as he looked up at the ceiling of the elevator with a smile on his face. Emma looked at his stunning profile, and smiled at him. 

"Well there's a difference," she protested. "Just because something's a snack doesn't make it snacky, y'know?" 

"No, Barton, I honestly don't," Damian replied, a small smile on his face. 

"Well snacky things are in pieces, like goldfish, and popcorn, and chips. A snack could be like, a sandwich, or, like Jarvis suggested, a banana. A banana is not snacky as well as a snack, but goldfish are both snacky and a snack."

Damian stared at her for a solid, silent two seconds, and then the doors opened to their floor.

"I hate that what you just said makes sense," he told her, and she grinned at him as they strode out of the elevator. 

"You love it, don't lie. It's not becoming of you," Emma said haughtily as she hopped over the backrest onto the couch. Damian laughed lowly and then followed, dropping down next to her on the couch. 

Immediately, Emma pushed Damian down to lie with his head against the armrest, and put her head to his chest, which was covered by a navy blue sweater. 

"Nice," Emma said, almost to herself. "Your pecs are getting bigger."

"Are you saying you're using my pecs as pillows?" Damian snorted as Emma pulled her phone out, and he wrapped an arm around her waist gently, holding her in place but making sure she could move if she wanted to.

"That's exactly what I'm saying," Emma confirmed, and Damian's other hand came up to tangle in her red curls. Emma tapped some of the icons on her phone familiarly, and within a minute, she'd dialed TJ, Hope, and Layla into the same video call. 

The first to pick up was a confused Hope, who immediately lit up, and soon after came TJ, and last, but definitely not quietest, Layla. She screeched like she was dying, and both Damian and Emma winced. 

"The gang's all here, and we've all lost our damn hearing," Hope said, rubbing her ear distantly. 

"Oh my God, Emma!! I heard about the court decision! Does that mean you're coming back to school with us?" Layla exclaimed. "No, wait, scratch that, I don't care yet, can I come over tomorrow? I haven't seen you in absolutely forever, and Damian has been a solid fucking brick wall when I've tried to talk to him. I'm so glad you're okay! Smack Damian for me!" 

Emma laughed as she watched Layla's bright blue eyes dance with joy, as well as TJ's relieved grin, and Hope's tired smile. 

"No, I'm not gonna smack him. I won't do your dirty work for you, Lay. Yeah, I'll be going back to school. Probably not tomorrow though, seeing as mom and dad still have to fix with the papers and stuff, but uh, I'll be back soon. I'm sure you can come over tomorrow, but after school! Don't skip for me, Ms. Perfect Attendance."

Layla pouted, and TJ scoffed. 

"So, can we all come over tomorrow? It's been waaay too long, Em," he said, grinning at her. 

"Hell yeah. I mean, I gotta ask mom and dad, but I'm 90 percent sure they'll say yes," Emma smiled, and felt Damian's fingers tangle further into her hair. "Having fun back there, beloved?"

"Your hair is so long," he said, sounding surprised. "How did it get this long?" Emma laughed. 

"I dunno. It just grew out. My hair grows fast when it's got nothing better to do," she grinned at him, and Damian made that -tt- noise again, tugging on a curl. 

"You're silly," he accused. 

"Says the guy who just tugged on my hair and said it suddenly got long!"

"Well it has," Damian said defensively, and Emma scooted up a little, pecking his jawline. 

"You're the oddball here, noticing my hair getting longer. It's been at most a month. Hair doesn't grow that fast."

"It can," Damian argued, and Emma kissed his lips to shut him up. again

"Ugh, I'd forgotten that they were this cutesy. I'm gonna go throw up now," Hope said from the phone, and Emma pulled back to laugh, feeling happy and light again.

---

Damian was picked up by Alfred in the middle of the night, when the rest of the guests had either passed out and been carried to guest rooms (Kate, Sam), or taken off. Obviously reluctant, Damian lingered in front of the elevator until Emma shoved him in, saying that she'd see him tomorrow. 

She slept in her own bed this time, but by morning, she'd relocated to Bucky and Darcy's bed. Bucky wrapped her up in his part of the covers, and carried her up to the couches, where she was later joined by Pietro, Peter, and Tony. Bucky and Steve teamed up to feed all the people currently staying in the tower, and created a delicious breakfast.

"Wow, Winter can cook," Kate said amusedly as she nursed her coffee, Lucky trying to lick off the band-aid she had on her finger. "That's new."

"You obviously can't, Hawkeye," Bucky breezed back as he popped a milk jug onto the table. "Maybe you need glasses. Can you see the date on this jug?"

"Oh, fuck off," Kate snorted, and Bucky shrugged. 

"Fine. No pancakes for you," he said, and dropped the pancake he was about to drop on Kate's plate onto Emma's instead. Kate gasped in mock-shock. 

"Clint!" she exclaimed, and Clint, who was currently resting his head against the kitchen table, holding onto a mug of coffee in one hand, let go of the mug to sign 'quiet' at her. "Rude."

"What were you thinking of doing today, возлюбленный?" Natasha asked, quietly chuckling at Clint's exhausted antics. Emma shrugged a little. 

"I figured..." She bit her lip hesitantly. 

"Go on, sweetheart," Steve said gently. Emma took a deep breath. 

"I'd like to visit Anne at the hospital," she rushed out to say, and the room went so silent that Clint looked up, confused where the murmuring had gone. 

"You want to visit Anne at the hospital?" Natasha asked incredulously, and Clint's eyebrows furrowed. 

"Yeah. I mean, I just wanna say sorry to her. Her arm might never really heal," Emma said worriedly, and Natasha brushed Emma's hair back as she viciously thought, hopefully

Clint and Natasha locked eyes over the table, and he raised his eyebrows at her. What do you think? 

Natasha bit her lip, but nodded silently. Her daughter was a good person, who wanted to apologize to a person she had injured. He nodded back, just as minimal.

"Alright," he said. "But 'photosynthesis' is still the panic word. No questions asked, we're out of there in a second, okay?" 

Emma nodded and smiled at them, that sweet smile that they had both missed like crazy during their time apart.

---

Natasha didn't like Anne anymore in a hospital bed than she had liked her when she was running around. Anne's entire arm was in a cast up to her shoulder, disappearing in under her gown and suggesting that the cast was using her ribcage as support. 

"Hi Anne," Emma said, and Anne's eyes narrowed at Emma. 

"I don't want to see your face around here. You're nothing like your father was. He'd be very disappointed in you," Anne said acidly. Emma blinked once, twice, and Clint wondered how much trouble he'd be in if he actually murdered Anne here and now. 

"You don't know him any better than I do, obviously," Emma said very seriously, then, and Anne looked suspicious in response. Her face looked evil now, Natasha couldn't believe she hadn't seen it before. 

"What do you mean?"

"I talked to Coulson, a dude who knew Theo's handler. Said that Theo told him that he met you just once, and that you didn't click, so his mom kept him away from you. And I get that that pissed you off, but dude, you really should deal with things healthier. And that's coming from me, who's already in therapy for my coping techniques."

Anne's eye twitched, and Emma smiled, a small little smile. 

"I just wanted to say I'm sorry for shattering your arm."

"Mutant scum."

"Yeah. Sorta. I'm still a little sorry. You're making me feel less sorry," Emma relayed, her voice hardening a little, and Clint stood behind her, hands on her shoulders. Natasha was so proud of her little возлюбленный. 

"Get out. Get out of here!" Anne yelled, and Clint clicked his tongue against his teeth. 

"Yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and say we're not welcome here. Let's just go, honey. You've apologized," Clint said soberly, and Emma nodded, letting herself be guided out of the room without protest. "Nat?"

"Right behind you," Natasha promised as Clint and Emma disappeared into the elevator leading down to the lobby, but she remained imobile. Natasha stood there, watching Anne, and the other woman met her eyes angrily. 

"I just gave her the sort of firm guidance she needed. I don't know what you-" 

Without warning, Natasha's hands had wrapped around Anne's throat, pressing into her windpipe. Immediately, the machines started beeping angrily, but Natasha didn't take any notice of that, just staring into Emma's grandmother's eyes. 

"You took her away from us, and you crushed her. Took away her spirit and her freedom. And you hit her. I am a murderer and a liar, and even I know that's terrible," Natasha said calmly, and Anne weakly tried to bat her hands away with just the one good arm, gasping for breath. Natasha had maybe forty-five seconds before anyone showed up to check the beeping machines out. 

"Emma might forgive you for what you did. But I never will. You've made yourself a very dangerous enemy, with many dangerous allies. And I'm not talking about the Avengers." Anne's eyes were practically bugging out of their sockets, and she was trying to scratch Natasha into letting go. Natasha smiled sweetly at her. "No, no, you wish I was talking about the Avengers. I know worse people. People who could wipe you off the face of the planet without anyone ever finding out. If you ever, and I mean ever, come anywhere near me or my family again, no one will ever find your body. Not even a hair."

Natasha heard steps and quickly sank back behind the door. Anne was gasping for air, her breaths more of a wheeze, when a nurse came running, and Natasha took her chance, sliding out the door, grabbing the next nurse that was coming and putting on her most panicked face. 

"I don't know what happened, she just started wheezing like she couldn't breathe, I didn't know what to do!" she said, playing on the nurse's emotions as she nodded at her, and said "please step back, ma'm".

Natasha made eye contact with Anne once more before she left, and now Anne's eyes were filled with fear. 

Good.

---

 

"What happened to your hand?" Clint had asked her later that day, when all of Emma's friends had taken off again, hugging and crying out happily, and Natasha hummed.

"Victoria didn't want to be petted suddenly," she had stated, holding up her hand, and Clint frowned.

"That doesn't look like cat scratches. That looks like human scratches."

Natasha had looked at her hand thoughtfully.

"Maybe Victoria is secretly a human in cat form then," Natasha had said with a cocked eyebrow. Clint laughed.

"Honestly, that wouldn't even be all that surprising. I'd just feel a little weird about giving her all those belly rubs." The look on his face had said that he wasn't that damn dumb, but he didn't call her out on her lie.

The teenagers had appeared on their doorstep earlier that evening, when Natasha and Clint had still been at work. Fury was really putting his axe to the grindstone now, making them work regular hours until he had a mission that was gruesome enough for them to be needed.

Anyway, they'd all been gone by dinnertime, but Emma seemed much lighter afterwards than she had been earlier today after visiting Anne. Paperwork still needed to be processed, so she'd start school in two days rather than tomorrow, and since Clint and Natasha were now working, and Tony, Jane, Bruce, and Steve were too, the most responsible person in the tower during the day was probably gonna be Darcy.

When Pepper had heard about this, she'd said 'well when they break the tower, at least you can move into the mansion'.

At least Bucky and Emma had decided on a project that wasn't too dangerous.

They'd taken up a spot in Tony's huge garage, and Bucky had filled the spot with boxes full of parts until they'd had enough for their damn motorcycle. Of course, they hadn't started building it, because the twins had happened, and school, and then the whole mess with Anne, but now? Now they had two days free of all of that.

They decided to get a jumpstart that very evening, and was engaged in easy conversation as much as easy silence.
"I think I could become a firefighter," Bucky relayed suddenly, fitting two parts of the frame together smoothly.

"A firefighter," Emma repeated, looking up at him. Bucky shrugged.

"It sounds like something I could do."

"Let me get one thing straight," she said, holding a hand up. "Your normal job is kicking ass in a hot costume and rescuing people, and you want your side job to be you kicking ass in a hot costume and rescuing people."

"A firefighter's uniform is not a costume," Bucky said, eyebrows furrowing just a little like when he was pouting. Emma laughed, a sound he'd grown to miss, and opened another box.

"You know I love the hell out of you, right?" she asked him.

"Yeah, doll."

They worked in companionable silence for a while, Emma putting some of the smaller parts of the engine together as he cranked the frame up on a stand, and then the fun part began.

They managed to get by with only minor misshaps until there was a snort from the doorway to the garage.

"You're actually going through with that New Years promise? Now? In November?" Darcy said incredulously as she stared at Bucky and Emma on the cement floor of the garage, boxes half-unpacked around them in a messy circle.

"Starting late, but yeah," Emma said, handing Bucky a wrench when he grunted, and distantly unpacking another box, pulling out a large part of the motorcycle they were currently building. "Why wouldn't we?"

"Because motorcycles are dangerous as hell!" Bucky appeared from under the skeleton of the bike, raising an eyebrow. Darcy resolutely ignored the heat curling in her belly at him in a tanktop, his muscles discernible through the poor excuse for fabric.

"You know I do more dangerous things than ride bikes, babe," he said, in that smooth, dark voice that meant he was having a good day. She actually felt goose-bumps rising on her arms from just taking him in, and suddenly she didn't want to pry him away from his and Emma's dangerous projects.

Well, yeah, she did; she sorta wanted to jump him right then and there and ride him, but well. Emma was here, and Darcy had walked in on their alone time together. That wasn't cool.

"Do either of you even know how to build a motorcycle?" she asked feebly, trying to cover up how happy she was. Bucky and Emma gave her equally unimpressed looks at the question.

"Of course we do," Emma said, sounding almost offended. "You think we're amateurs?" Darcy held her hands up in surrender.

"Right, right. Sorry. How's it going, my two greasy engineers?"

"Fine," both replied in sync, and then they locked eyes. Emma laughed, and Bucky smirked. Darcy smiled too.

"Alright then. I'll leave you to it. Have Jarvis call if you need anything edible, alright?"

"Yeah, alright," Emma said, smiling at Darcy as she disappeared back into the elevator.

"Hey, you think enough shit's happened this past month that we'll be scot free for the rest of the year?" Bucky asked her distantly to the sound of Darcy's retreating steps.

"Knock on wood, buddy. Don't say shit like that. For all we know, maybe next time it'll be like, an alien invasion or something," Emma complained, and Bucky shot her a smile.

"I think we could take them," he shrugged, and Emma rapped her knuckles against his head and told him in no uncertain terms just what she thought about that stupid statement.

---