Chapter 1: Rescue and Recovery
Jon frowned at the sudden spike in noise. They’d put him in a completely bare block room after the fifth time he’d nearly made it out. The rat bastards. There was normally no outside noise at all. Jon stood up from the corner he’d designated his bed and then crouched back down as a massive piece of the wall caved in. “Wow.”
The huge green guy blinked at him and then went right on down the hallway, smashing as he went. Jon stared after him for a few seconds before grabbing the boy in the next cell over by the arm.
“Move it.” He started herding them up and out. They hit the sub-level with the little kids and Jon suddenly found himself staring at Captain America. Which, wow, they really got someone to start that up again? He took the little boy the guy passed to him.
“Keep moving up.”
Well, those sorts of orders he could handle. Jon grabbed the hand of one of the older kids. “Come on.” He kept them moving up. One of the goons that they used to restrain him appeared on a landing above them and Jon started to set down the child he was carrying so he could fight when a knife went zipping past to embed itself in the goon’s neck.
The redheaded lady pushed on the last-most kid. “Keep going.”
Jon made sure to kick the downed goon on the way past.
On the surface it looked like they were tearing apart the whole place. There was a man in a suit beckoning to kids and moving them all towards a large helicopter. Jon approved of this and tugged on the boy he had ahold of. The kid was staring at the sky like he’d never seen it.
Jon needed to find a damn phone. He pulled the kid along. When they reached the helicopter he put the kid he was carrying up and in and then boosted the boy in. He went back and picked up a kid that was sitting and rocking on her heels, crying.
The redhead put a little girl down next to the helicopter and they all ducked as the place gave a huge crack as something down below gave way.
“Up and in, kid.”
The little girl stared at him. “Wow.”
Jon had gotten used to it. All the kids they made come stand in the same room with him had the same reaction. Or they started screaming and crying. Jon still wasn’t sure what they could do that caused it. “Just wrap yourself in the cargo webbing, okay?”
She nodded and started helping the crew wrap the unresponsive ones in securely. Jon turned and boosted the next little kid.
Jon watched the Centre, as he’d heard someone call it, collapse in on itself as the helicopter rose up into the air. The green guy had pulled it down it looked like. The noise of the helicopter kept anyone from asking anyone else questions. The skyline of New York was a beautiful sight. Jon leaned back against the side of the helicopter and fell asleep.
He woke up as someone started to pick him up. He held still and cracked an eye open. Captain America was carrying him into a hospital. His life just kept getting weirder. Jon closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
Jon kept quiet. None of the kids in his ‘age’ group were talking, so Jon didn’t either. He watched them shy from the windows and not touch anything unless it was literally put in their hands. The nurses were trying. They even brought in a shrink that reminded Jon more of Dr. Frasier than any actual shrink he’d dealt with.
He smiled at the woman, but still wouldn’t talk. He kept hoping he’d get a chance at a phone. He had a vague idea he’d been in the Centre for at least several months. No natural light had made it a bitch to keep track of time. Then he got a look at the date on the TV news and just stared. Years, it had been years.
He found a window that overlooked the wing they had the younger children in. Jon spent his time watching the little kids not be kids. It was really weird. He’d only seen other people in the Centre when they made a kid stand in the same room with him. Or when he’d tried to escape again and the goons, Cleaners, had beaten the hell out of him.
Then came the day Captain America came to visit. Jon just stared. The man looked just like him. It was really disconcerting. Jon had collected the trading cards when he was little. Well, the original him had. Stupid cloning.
He watched a one of the kids approached and sat down on the floor with the man. Jon finally turned away when the nurse called them for breakfast. At least they got cereal. He was the only one that seemed to like it.
The rest of the kids avoided him. The nurses smiled sadly at him, but Jon didn’t respond to that either. He really needed a damn phone, but he knew they’d ask him a million questions instead of just letting him at a phone.
Shortly after breakfast, the Captain America wannabe showed up. Jon stared at him along with everyone else as he sat on the floor and spread crayons and paper out around himself.
The man started to draw. Really well, like one of the comics said Captain America could do. Jon walked over and stared down at the man.
“Uh, hi.” He pushed a crayon at Jon. “You want to draw?” He went back to the green man he was drawing.
“Who is that?” Jon couldn’t help himself. He’d never seen anything like it.
The man looked startled. “He’s called the Hulk. His name is Bruce Banner when he isn’t green.”
Jon nodded. “Okay.” He took the gray crayon and started drawing Thor choking Loki. The man frowned at Jon’s drawing.
“Who is that?”
“Thor and Loki.”
The guy did a double take. “Really?” He quickly stretched something that looked like that huge blond guy that had been putting kids into the other side of the helicopter from Jon. “This is Thor.”
Jon frowned, debating revealing classified information before mentally shrugging. It had been years, after all. “Mine is an Asgard.”
“So is Thor.” The guy tilted his head. “When did yours come to Earth?”
Jon raised his eyebrows. “Lately? Last time I saw him was in 2003.” Jon pointed at the other Thor. “What address is he dialing from?”
The guy looked down at the picture of his Thor and then back to Jon. “I don’t think they dail anything. Tony said they used negative energy to open a space tunnel or tear thing. He got to babbling, so I’m not exactly sure.”
Jon blinked. “Huh. Different technology then.” He took a blank sheet and started a diagram for his favorite jet. “How’d you get talked into taking up the job of Captain America?”
“Uhm” The guy started to blush. It reminded Jon strongly of Daniel. “I am Steve Rogers. They pulled me out of the ice and I wasn’t dead.”
Jon cleared his throat. “No cerebral meningitis?”
Rogers blinked again. “No.” He looked at Jon. “You aren’t a Pretender?”
“There was one guy that called me that.” Jon put down the gray crayon and found a nice brown that matched what Jon remembered of Daniel's hair. “I broke his neck trying to escape a few weeks later. They never called me that again.”
With a nod, Rogers went back to drawing.
Chapter 2: Jon meets Hanna
Jon is busy during the attack on the hospital.
Jon huffed as the other kids backed away from him as they gathered for lunch. He got his lunch and retreated to his window. He watched the little kids chatter at each other, but still no playing. A few drew pictures.
Bored with kid watching, Jon got up and started wondering his ward. The nurses had propped most of the doors open so they couldn’t close. It had helped with some of the kids that would just sit and rock.
Jon eyed the phone on the nurse’s desk. He didn’t want to hurt anyone to get at a phone, because these people certainly weren’t like the ones in the Centre. He rubbed a hand through his hair.
The shrink showed up and Jon didn’t feel like listening to her today, so he went back to his window and frowned. There were adults huddled under the little kid’s window. They were in tactical gear. Small squad formation.
“Shit.” Jon turned and ran for the nurses station. He slid on his socked feet until he hit the desk. The nurse looked up with wide eyes. “There’s armed men outside the little kids’ window.”
Jon didn’t wait for her to catch up. He snatched her keycard from her scrub top and darted around the desk. He got out of the ward and was mentally working out how to get to the kids’ floor the fastest, when an alarm started to sound.
Jon dodged a security guard and slipped down the railing of the stairs to get himself to the first floor faster. He never wished for his old special ops team more than that moment. Hell, he’d have taken the team that had left him seemingly dead in Iraq right now.
One good thing about being a clone was his knees were young again. Jon slid along the hallway and slapped the keycard to open the fire escape door for the ward just as the power went out. The emergency lights kicked right in. Jon sidled up to the corner of the hallway and used the reflection in metal cabinet across the way to check for hostiles.
He’d need a weapon first thing. Jon headed down the hall and went for cover as an explosion sounded. Small, well controlled. He’d bet on C-4. Jon peeked out into the main hall and saw the little kids backing away from the advancing hostiles.
Trained, armed with what looked like tranquilizers. There were a couple with canisters. Jon wished he had shoes on for this. Fighting barefoot against combat boots was going to suck.
“Hey!” Jon blinked as the whole group of hostiles turned towards him. He’d expected them to split up. Well, shit. He dodged a tranq dart and flipped off the rat bastards as one of the little girls launched herself at one of the hostiles.
Jon ran forward and grabbed her as the guy she’s stuffed a crayon up the nose of went down with a howl of rage. Jon kicked him in the temple and that laid him out. The girl grabbed a food tray as Jon retreated back around the corner and she used it to deflect several darts on the way.
He sat her down beside him. “Okay?”
She smiled up at him. “Yes.” She leaned out around him to assess the room. “They came during the day. That’s stupid.”
He’d just been thinking about how stupid a tactic that was. “Yeah, stupid.” He narrowed his eyes at the girl. “I’m Jon.”
She watched the man chase some of the kids towards them. “Hanna.” She used the edge of the metal food tray she’d grabbed to stab a hostile in the ankle as he started to rush by after a couple of the kids. He ended up on the floor beside them and Jon wasted no time in putting an elbow into the guy’s throat.
He started stripping the guy of useful weapons. “Think you can get the kids into the air vents? It’ll be hard for them to reach you in there.”
She nodded. “I can do that.” She took a deep breath and then, suddenly, it was like she just changed. The scared little girl tremble disappeared and she straightened up, holding the food tray like a shield. She looked up at him. “Don’t get taken.”
He raised his eyebrow. “You be careful, Hanna.” Jon double checked the tranq gun and started targeting the hostiles. The kids disappeared in droves and soon it was just Jon and the last two hostiles playing cat and mouse around the ward.
Stupid hospitals with their circular mazes for hallways. Jon finally got the drop on the next-to-last goon and hurried back down the hall at the sound of shouting. He hit the last goon as a canister came back out of the vent, hissing. Jon hurriedly backed away as the hostile panicked, tripping over his own feet trying to get away from the expanding cloud of smoke.
Jon tranqued him again, watching warily as the guy finally dropped. Jon leaned in close to the vent. “Stay here. Anyone but me you attack, okay, Hanna? You are doing a good job.”
“Okay.” Hanna’s eyes were huge over the edge of her little shield. “You know lots of ways to kill people.”
“Yeah. I was Special Ops before I ended up...younger.” Jon pulled the boots off of the skinniest guy and slipped his socked feet into them. Quick lacing, with the extra length of shoe lace wrapped around his ankle and out of the way, Jon hurried back towards his ward.
He started up the stairs and heard a commotion on level two. Jon slapped the keycard on the panel and peeked out into the hallway. There were more hostiles, but a bunch of nurses were throwing scalpels at them. It seemed to be holding the bastards at bay. Jon could see at least one nurse down, tranq sticking out of a shoulder.
Jon sighted carefully and used his last two tranqs to take down the leader and the strongest hostile. Then, Jon left them to see if his ward was okay.
Coulson mentally sighed as he surveyed the damage. He checked the headcount and was pleased none of the children were missing. The older ward had been missing a male through most of the attack, but he’d reappeared with an empty tranquilizer gun and a pair of combat boots.
Coulson eyed the unconscious attacker with missing boots for a moment before heading for the ward with the now-not-missing male.
One of the nurses blinked as she looked him up and down.
“Suits bother the children.”
She nodded and nudged a pair of combat boots on the counter towards him. “The kid talked for the first and only time. He’s back to being silent, but he’s the reason I called down to check with Katie before it occurred to me he couldn’t have seen Katie’s ward since they are directly below us.”
Nodding, Coulson took the empty tranq gun from inside the left boot and tucked it away into an evidence bag. Her calling her counterpart had given the ward with the youngest children just enough time to arm themselves. “The boy?”
She pointed down the ward. “He’s back in his room. Huddled in a corner, not talking or moving. It is the fourth door on the left.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Coulson avoided wandering kids as he went down the hallway. He stopped in the doorway and watched the boy watching him for a while before he slid down the wall next to the door, making sure there was more than enough room to get past if the kid decided he needed out.
The kid uncurled and stared at him. Coulson leaned back against the wall.
“You took out quite a few of the attacking men on your own. The last time I had a conversation that started like this the man I was speaking to turned out to be a Norse god.”
The kid blinked. “Thor?”
Coulson forced his expression to stay neutral. “Yes.”
“I’m not a god.” The kid shuddered violently and curled his arms around his knees. “They get the kids out of the wall okay? The nurses wouldn’t let me back down there and I told Hanna to attack anything that wasn’t me.”
“She’s fine. They are alright.” Coulson looked around the room. “The nurses say you don’t interact with the others.”
“They are scared of me.” The kid frowned. “You are in suit pants and a sweatshirt. Why?”
“Suit ties and jackets are not calming for anyone held by the Centre.”
“Ah.” The kid nodded. “The suits were usually nasty. I got a few of them in escape attempts. Snapped a neck on one.” With a snort, the kid uncurled a little. “That was mostly luck. The tie, you know?”
Coulson did know. He wore clip on ties into possible combat situations. Not that he let anyone know that. “I know. I’m Agent Coulson.”
“Jon.” They shook hands and Jon blinked. “Agent?”
“Yes.” Coulson explained how he was an agent with SHIELD and Jon rubbed his hair.
Clint appeared in the doorway. “Cap has a parasite attached to him in the form of a little girl. And Stark is busy corralling the Hulk.” He looked at Jon. “Wow.” He stared.
Coulson looked between Clint and Jon several times. “What is it, Barton?”
Clint crouched down and cocked his head. “You must give the little ones such headaches.”
Jon blinked. “They either stare at me or start crying. I don’t know why.”
Coulson raised his eyebrows. “Have you heard of Pretenders?”
“They called me that once. No one has ever explained what they meant.”
Clint waved a hand towards Jon. “I can pretend you. Know what you know, in a way. You have far too much knowledge for your body’s age. It is...creepy.”
Jon snorted. “Well, going from old to new knees was...interesting.”
Coulson blinked. “What?”
“I’m a clone. Only I wasn’t supposed to be young.” Jon shrugged. “I’m a bad copy.”
Clint pulled on Coulson to get him upright. “What was your name before?”
Jon sighed and closed his eyes as he leaned back into his corner. “Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neill, two L’s, United States Air Force.”
Coulson jerked. “SGC? You were SGC’s O’Neill?”
Barton turned his head to stare at Coulson.
Jon straightened up. “You know what that is?”
“Stargate Command.” Coulson shoved up his left sleeve until the staff blast scar showed. “I was assigned to SG-5 before SG-1 ended up in 1969. I was loaned out and injured during an ambush.”
Clint made a face. “SG-5, SG-1?”
“Teams that do things for Stargate Command. Classified.”
“Ah.” Clint wrinkled his nose. “Don’t mention time travel around Stark. That’s all I ask, Coulson.”
“Time travel sucks.” Jon drummed his fingers on his knee. “Do you know how SG-1 is doing at all?”
Coulson pulled on the hem of his sweatshirt. “If you wouldn’t mind watching over the children for a while longer, I’ll find out for you.”
“A phone would be nice too.” Jon smiled. “Thanks.”
Colonel Davis sat down next to Coulson and threw some breadcrumbs to the begging geese. “I thought you were happy with SHIELD?”
“I am.” Coulson sighed. “We have a situation. When exactly did the Air Force lose track of the clone of O’Neill?”
Davis grimaced. “Somewhere between one alien attack and the next. You remember how it is.”
“Sometimes I’d rather not remember.” Coulson handed a folder to Davis. “I’m going to need to borrow War Machine in a few days.”
Davis opened the file and read. “Fuck. That is a lot of clinics to take out in one night.” He pulled a different file out of his bag and handed it to Coulson. “You know we’re trying to consolidate the programs. I don’t want to go back to square one on getting Rhodes into the SGC without worrying Mr. Stark.”
“Think of it as a way to make Rhodes try out your program without having to transfer him straight in.”
With a sigh, Davis threw the last of his bread to the geese. “Good work not letting New York become an alien playground.”
“Same goes for you and Colorado Springs.” Coulson stood and shook hands with Davis as he stood as well. “Always nice to see you, sir.”
“Staff Sergeant.” Davis smiled. “Agent, sorry.”
Coulson waved it away. “Thank you for the file.”
“My pleasure, Agent Coulson.”
Colonel Davis, formerly Major and liaison for Stargate Command to the Pentagon, approached General O’Neill’s cabin carefully. “Sir?”
“Around back.” There was a pause. “You better have brought beer!”
Davis rolled his eyes and plastered on his best we-are-so-screwed expression. “Sir, I don’t think this a good time for beer.”
O’Neill looked up at him from the chair he was sitting in to fish. “Trust me, Davis. It is almost always a good time for a beer.” He eyed Davis. “Wanna chair?”
He sat down and allowed the General a few more minutes to get his pole secured. “Sir, we found the clone of you.”
“Good, good.” O’Neill looked at him. “Dead? ‘Cause years without any contact with Daniel is...worrying.”
“No, sir.” Davis handed over the file on the Centre that he’d gotten from Coulson. “He was held captive.”
O’Neill blinked. “Seriously?”
“He attempted to escape several times from what little information about his captivity was retrieved.”
“Yeah, that’s not good.” O’Neill eyed him. “You seen him?”
“Not in person.” Davis took the file and opened it to the attempt on the children that had been made. “He kept the others safe, sir.”
“Well, that sounds like him...Me.” O’Neill made a disgusted face. “You know what I mean.”
“Yes, sir.” Davis turned the file back to the attack plan for the clinics that the Centre had controlled which the Avengers were going to take down. “They’ve asked to borrow War Machine.”
O’Neill nodded. “Talk to the Odyssey and see if we can have it in place in case they need the backup.”
“Of course, sir.” Davis mentally sighed. Getting the Odyseey into the proper position in orbit wouldn’t be the trouble. It was the possibility of having them actually need to help that was the headache. “Perhaps giving the Avengers clearance would save time, sir.”
“I do not want to deal with Fury. That man is a spook.” O’Neill looked up at him. “Besides, let’s not give Stark any ideas, huh?”
“Super-soldier armor that flies is bad enough.”
“I think Iron Man’s armor is better than super-soldier armor now, isn’t it? And it hasn’t ever tried to kill me.” O’Neill waved dismissively. “Nevermind, ask Carter if you really want to know.” He cast out his fishing line. “Go away, Davis. I’m fishing.”
“Yes, sir.” Davis nudged the little cooler with the beer closer. “Have a good weekend, sir.”
Chapter 3: Jarod meets Jack and Jon
Conversations with Jon.
Jarod always picks a last name based on someone famous or a founder in the field he's pretending to be. If you are a Stargate person and you remember names well, you might catch who he's using the last name of. :) If not, just wait. Someone will catch on to it within the story later.
This chapter takes place just before and during chapter 14 of A Team, A Safe Haven.
Jon hid in his room when they moved the other wards in with his. No one bothered him. The kid assigned to his room wouldn’t come in. It gave him too much time to stare in the mirror at the changes in himself. He remembered being this young...younger...whatever. He looked older than when he’d been cloned. Made. Jon sighed.
A knock on his door made Jon jump. He went and opened the door to find the big blond guy Steve had sketched standing just outside his room.
“Captain Rogers has informed me you know a person called Thor that is not myself.”
Jon raised his eyebrows. “You are definitely taller.”
Clint appeared from behind Thor. “Go in, Thor.” Clint smiled at him and fended off a child that was clinging to Clint’s leg.
Jon backed up until he was sitting on the bed and watched Thor look around before picking the other bed to sit on. Clint closed the door and sat on the chair between the beds.
“Jon, sorry to bother you, but Thor got excited when Steve told him about your other kind of Asgard.”
“They are well?” Thor looked at him hopefully.
Jon blinked. “I don’t know.” He rubbed his hand through his hair. “I haven’t seen them or talked to my Thor since I was cloned.”
Thor nodded. “You have been held captive.”
With a shrug, Jon leaned back against the headboard. “I can’t really remember. Everything is fuzzy.”
Clint nodded. “Only clear memories are pain or lots of light?”
“Yes.” Jon narrowed his eyes at Clint. “Drugs?”
“They used to use a lot of stuff.” Clint rubbed his hands on his thighs. “In the destruction a lot of data was lost, so we don’t know exactly what they did to you.”
Jon sighed. “That’s not surprising.”
Thor gestured towards the closed door. “You are not the only adult amongst the rescued.”
“There’s eight adults, counting me.” Jon thumbed his eyebrow. “The rest don’t talk at all.”
Clint smiled slightly. “The Centre doesn’t let go of Pretenders easily.”
“I’m not a Pretender.”
Thor leaned forward and set his forearms on his knees. “The Lady Hanna has told me of being a Pretender.”
“Indeed not.” Thor looked at Jon. “You are a clone?”
“Yeah.” Jon tapped his temple. “I’ve got all the memories of Old-Me from before getting copied.” He pulled on his pant leg. “I just didn’t age right. My Thor fixed the gonna-die-because-of-it-not-going-right problem and now I’m...well, Mini-Me according to the original.”
Clint frowned at Thor.
Thor nodded. “I wish to express my despair on knowing you will outlive all those you once called friend.”
Jon stared at him for a moment. “Thanks? I think.” He tilted his head. “Is Rogers really the actual first Captain America?”
Clint nodded. “Yes.”
“Uh.” Jon clasped his hands over his stomach. “Coulson promised me a phone. You didn’t happen to bring that with you did you?”
General Jack O’Neill ignored Daniel as he elbowed him in the ribs.
“Jack, why are you up here? And why did you tell Odyssey to orbit instead of patrol once we got back?”
“Patience, Daniel. The show is about to start.”
“Show? Will there be popcorn? I do like popcorn.”
Daniel half-turned towards Dr. Jarod Gruber and smiled. “No, no. Jack’s shows aren’t always popcorn worthy.”
Jack smiled at Daniel. “This one will be. The Avengers are going to blow up around about half the fertility clinics in the US tonight.”
“What?” Daniel looked at the map on the main screen. “Wait...Who?”
“Oh, right.” Jack slung an arm around Daniel. “You were on Atlantis and missed it. There was a near alien invasion of New York, but we didn’t cause it. Or stop it.” Jack leaned towards Jarod. “Daniel likes to cause invasions.”
Daniel shoved on Jack’s arm. “I do not.” He grimaced and ducked his head. “Usually.” He waved at the screen. “Fertility clinics?”
“Yeah-sure-you-bet-’ca.” Jack pointed at Delaware. “There’s this idiot place called the Centre...well, there was. They stole one of the Avengers and promptly got destroyed while the Avengers got back their teammate.”
“Okay.” Daniel looked at Jarod staring at the map for a moment before turning back to Jack. “And that relates how exactly?”
“I’m getting there, Daniel.” Jack pointed across the map. “So the Centre was using fertility clinics to breed these genius kids called Pretenders...And, I should probably mention they had Mini-Me.”
Jarod rasied his eyebrows. “Mini...Me?”
Daniel sighed. “Jack got cloned once. The clone didn’t age right and was about fifteen. That was in 2003.” Daniel frowned. “He’d be, what, about 24 now, right?”
Jack shrugged. “About. He’s still got my brain. The hospital that is treating the rescued kids was attacked. Jon helped stop them.”
“And the Avengers are just destroying all this property because they are still upset about their teammate?” Daniel pointed at the map. “All in one night?”
Jarod looked at the map. “They must have a very good means of transport.”
Jack stage whispered to Daniel. “What’s he do again?”
Daniel smiled. “Jarod knows almost as many languages as me. He picked up Ancient in about five hours.”
Jarod turned away from the map. “It was harder than I expected since it is so closely related to Latin that I kept having trouble remembering to use the Ancient version of the word.”
Daniel beamed. “He could speak it better the first day than I did after two weeks.”
“Ah.” Jack looked at Jarod. “What did you think of Atlantis, Doctor?”
Jarod smiled, a dimple appearing in one cheek. “Magnificent.”
Jack nodded and then stabbed his finger at the map. “Did War Machine just buzz a bunch of drunk people?”
Daniel leaned in to read the map’s information field. “Uh, looks like it.”
“Oh, Davis is going to hear about that.”
Colonel Davis lead Dr. Jarod Gruber down the hallway. “I’m really not sure this is a good idea, sir. These children don’t act normally and it can be quite disturbing.”
“I’ll be fine.” Jarod smiled at him and stepped past the nurses’ station. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”
Jarod looked around at the children and he wished for a moment he could tear the Centre apart as the Avengers had done. He’d known there were other Pretenders. He’d almost escaped with a couple of others, he’d seen the footage of Mrs. Parker’s mother trying to get the children out, but he’d not realized there were quite so many.
One of the little children blinked and then smiled at him.
Jarod smiled back and moved through the crowd. He was looking for the ‘Mini-Me’ that Dr. Jackson and General O’Neill had spoke of. He wanted to see why the Centre had stolen a clone when they could already make them.
He found a closed door at the end of the ward and gently knocked before opening it.
The man inside was young, but...not. Oh. Not at all. That would terrify the younger Pretenders. Jarod stood in the doorway.
Jon looked up as a knock sounded. “Yeah?”
The door came open and a clean cut looking guy stood in the doorway looking at him. Then the guy broke into a huge grin.
“You are very complex.”
Jon made a face. “What?”
The guy shook himself. “Sorry.” He came in and extended a hand to shake. “I’m Jarod.”
Jon shook and then tightened his hold on Jarod’s hand. “The Jarod? The one Clint came by this morning and lamented to me they hadn’t found yet? The one with a bunch of half-siblings? That Jarod?”
Jarod cocked his head. “Yes? Who is Clint?”
Jon pulled Jarod off balance and then grinned as Jarod immediately countered the move. “He’s an Avenger.”
“Oh.” Jarod sat down on the edge of the bed by the door. “Is he the one they were rescuing when the Avengers destroyed the Centre?”
“Think so, yeah.” Jon flopped down on the other bed. “Shouldn’t you be hiding?”
Jarod smiled. “I was. On Atlantis, the lost City of the Ancients.”
“Uh.” Jon nodded. “Daniel must have figured out the location.”
“He found an eighth symbol.”
“Eight?” Jon frowned. “Wait...that means it was another galaxy.”
Jarod looked surprised.
“What? You’re a Pretender. You know Old-Me has a brain in his head.”
“I know he finds it amusing when people think he is less intelligent than he appears.”
Jon snorted. “Yeah. That is always fun.” Jon waved at Jarod. “Why all the way out there? You could have just gone around Milky Way. Seven digit dials are far easier to power.”
Jarod sighed. “I wanted to get as far away from the Centre as I could. My being alive puts all my family at risk.”
“Not so much now, though.”
“No.” Jarod stood up. “I need to find my family.” He stuck out his hand. “Thank you for saving the world, Jack.”
Jon beamed as he shook hands with Jarod.
Chapter 4: Fates, Time, and Fishsticks
Jon ends up in Stark's tower and he's still not sure about anything.
Just in case: fishsticks are usually thinner than fishfingers, but they amount to the same thing; breaded fish bits that have been deep fried. It is the only way I'll eat tartar sauce.
:) And forgive me for the relation I'm springing on everyone in this chapter, but it is why I kept not giving Jon a phone. The look on everyone's faces. If only I could draw. ;)
Tony sat down next to the Air Force general that Clint had assured him was really important right now. After hacking the reports from the night they’d destroyed the fertility clinics, Tony was inclined to agree that Jack O’Neill was important. “You didn’t look too hard for your clone.”
O’Neill grimaced and cast his line out. “No leads and right in the middle of a really bad alien invasion. What would you have done?”
“Stuck a tracker in him in the first place?”
With a snort, O’Neill sat down his pole and turned towards Tony. “Think I’d leave a tracker in? That he would have?”
Tony pursed his lips as he nodded. “Yeah, okay. I can see how that wouldn’t have worked.” Tony looked around the area. “You don’t seem eager to get him back.”
“What exactly would I do with him? He’s...well, me. And I know just how much I gave up to keep alive doing what I did before they put me in charge of the whole planet’s defense.” O’Neill shrugged. “He’d feel too much out of place. That’s why he didn’t stay in the first place. He's going to outlive everyone I know. Think it through, Stark.”
Tony thought about having a younger him running around trying to also be Iron Man. Then he winced at the thought of outliving the others. “Oh.” He frowned. “I was thinking about offering him a position at the school I’m making for the children rescued from the Centre. Do you think he’d do it?”
O’Neill smiled. “Depends on what you want him to do.”
Tony stood up. “We’ll have to see. Don’t think we’ll just hand him over if your program’s oversight committee decides to go against your recommendation.”
O’Neill stood up as well. “I’ll remind them you have a Hulk.”
Hanna held onto her father’s hand very tightly as they rode the elevator up to the combined ward of the hospital. Francis was on the other side of Clint with Bruce beside him.
“You won’t forget me when it is time to go home, right?”
“No, Hanna.” Clint swung her by her arm up and around to be grabbed by Bruce, who settled her on his hip. “Here, Bruce will carry you and then you don’t have to worry.”
Bruce smiled at her. “We would not forget you, Hanna.”
Francis started to lead them out of the elevator when the people coming on made him freeze.
The man in the Air Force uniform stepped to one side out of their way. “Sorry.”
The other man started to move until Clint grabbed his arm.
Hanna watched them stare at each other for a few seconds. “What’s wrong?”
Her father swallowed. “Which one are you?”
The man flinched and tried to pull away. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Then it occurred to Hanna why the man looked like Francis and father with his changing body language. “You’re a Pretender.”
Francis retreated behind Bruce and peeked out at the man. “You just lied.”
The man closed his eyes and sighed as the Air Force man crowded closer.
“Jarod.” The man opened his eyes and turned towards the Air Force man. “I’m sorry.”
Hanna leaned away from Bruce towards Jarod with her arms outstretched. “We couldn’t find you and it was upsetting JARVIS. And Tony will be happy we found you because Bruce won’t have be so sad now.”
“What?” Jarod caught her as Bruce’s arm went slack. “What are you talking about?”
Clint herded them out of the elevator and past the nurses’ station into a small breakroom. “Hanna, don’t squeeze too hard.”
Hanna let up on her hug a little, but made sure her hands were tangled in Jarod’s shirt. She wasn’t going to let Bruce lose Jarod now.
She smiled as Jarod absently stroked her back as Jarod listened to her father explain about hiding in SHIELD and being taken by the Centre. She could feel Jarod tense as father talked about finding out about Francis and deciding to destroy the clinics after Tony had started stripping the Centre’s supporters of their money.
Jarod turned a little to stare at Bruce when Clint got to the part where they found out about Bruce being related to Jarod.
Hanna broke in then before Bruce could say something awful about the Hulk. “And I used to have to do sims against your old finish times. I always lost.”
Jarod started and looked down at her. “I am sorry, Hanna.”
She smiled up at him. “That’s okay. You are nice and you wouldn’t have made me if you’d been in charge.” She turned her head and looked at Bruce. “Bruce was an only child, but now, when we find the rest of your family he’ll have lots of siblings.”
Jarod took a shaky breath. “That might not be as simple as you want, Hanna.” Jarod looked at the others. “I haven’t found most of my family.”
Hanna looked at her father. “Does finding Jarod mean we aren’t picking up Jon like Tony wanted us to?”
Clint smiled at her and patted her on the shoulder as he went by. “I’ll get him. Jarod can explain to the nice Colonel how he got past whatever security and background checks they did while you all wait.”
Jon sat down on the fluffy couch and silently laughed as the Avengers and Coulson gave Jarod the third degree. Captain America came to sit down next to him.
“Are you alright with this? You don’t have to stay here, Jon.”
Jon smiled. “I’m fine.” He laughed. “Still haven’t gotten a phone call.”
“Oh.” Steve fished around in a pocket. “Here. It makes calls.”
Jon took the cellphone and dialed a number that had better not have changed. “Hey, Old Me.” He looked at Steve. “No, I’m good here. You need to get Mom on a plane to New York though. No, really. That Captain America they’ve got? He is Steve Rogers.” Jon nodded. “Yeah, yeah, he still owes Mom that dance.”
Several heads snapped around to stare at Jon.
Jon smiled wider. “Well, it isn’t like anyone would have told him. Sheltered to death, probably. Plus, Mom did say she was never speaking to Fury again. Or she’d shoot him, wasn’t it?” Jon nodded. “I’ll ask Stark to send a car around to pick her up. Thanks....No, I’m fine.” Jon snorted. “No, not like Daniel-fine.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t. Yeah? How bad?” Jon blinked. “Oh. Wait, you need to tell their Thor that. Hold on.” Jon held the phone out towards Thor.
Thor shook his head. “I can not.”
Stark took the phone. “Hey, sorry, Thor fries phones. What were you needing him to know?” Stark grimaced. “Wow. Yeah, that’s...Are there any left?”
Thor straightened up.
Tony glanced at him and then looked at Jon. “Uh huh...No, I think he’ll be okay.” Tony snapped the phone shut. “Thor, uh, the other Asgard blew themselves up. They were stopping some really nasty aliens from getting to Earth.”
Thor smiled wide and clapped his hands. “We must drink to their courage.”
Jon leaned over towards Steve. “Is he sane?”
Steve made a face as he took his phone from Tony. “Sometimes I’m not quite sure.”
Bruce couldn’t help it. He kept staring at Jarod. Real and right there. Tony sat down next to him and stole a couple of his fishsticks.
Bruce nodded. “I’m fine.”
Across the table, Jon pointed a fishstick at him. “That sounds like Daniel-fine to me.”
Hanna bounced her bouncy ball and then tucked it into her shirt. “What’s Daniel-fine mean?”
Jon smiled softly. “I had this friend named Daniel. He always said he was fine. Didn’t matter what had just happened. He was always fine. Got shot, he’s fine. Almost became a caveman, don’t ask you don’t want to know, still fine. Died and came back...Well, you get the idea. I don’t believe Daniel-fine is actually fine.” He pointed at Bruce.
Hanna leaned forward to look at Bruce. “Yeah.” She turned towards Jarod on her other side. “You aren’t either.”
Jarod smiled at her. “Mostly I am.”
Francis frowned as his fishstick broke in the tartar sauce. “Why is Thor not sad if these other Asgard are dead?”
Thor turned from the counter where he’d been getting himself coffee. “Ragnarok went well.” He smiled at them. “The timelines have set properly and the darkness will not win the Nine Realms.”
Bruce exchanged looks with Tony. Bruce leaned back so he could look down the table at Thor. “Are you saying you were expecting Jon’s Thor to be dead?”
Thor nodded. “My people could not be allowed on Midgard until after your year 2008 for fear of upsetting the Ragnarok.” Thor made a circle motion with his free hand. “The Asgard destruction gives life to the Asgard. The Realms are linked.” He looked at them like they were stupid. “You do not know of Ragnarok?”
Natasha rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Not like that, Thor.”
Jarod put down his fishstick. “I don’t know what that is.”
Thor thumped Jarod on the shoulder as he went past him to sit next to Coulson. “It is a great story.”
Bruce watched Jon as Thor explained how his people existed because of the Asgard having blown themselves up and let their legacy with the Legendary O’Neill, which Jon snorted at. And how many centuries after that there was a time travel event involving the person guarding the legacy who then planted the Yggdrasil which in turn nurtured the Nine Realms and allowed the Asgard that were Thor’s people to exist.
Jon frowned and scratched his eyebrow with his thumb. “So, you’re saying that my Thor died and because he did, you exist?”
Thor smiled. “Indeed. Is time travel not great?”
Jon about choked on his beer.
Hanna approached Jarod carefully. He looked absorbed in the maps and the searches happening on the screens in front of him. “You won’t hurt Bruce, will you?”
Jarod started and turned to look down at her. “No, Hanna. I will not hurt Bruce.”
She clambered up onto the stool beside him. “Want to see the neat thing Bruce can do?”
“Yes. I’d like that.” Jarod switched a screen to blank in front of her and Hanna reached for the screen.
Jon turned his head to stare at Stark. “Seriously?”
Stark made a face as he waved his hand around. “It isn’t very good, I know...”
Jon smacked him on the arm. “Shut up.” He looked around the huge room again. “Why are you careful to not get out of my line of sight?”
Stark grinned slightly. “You know Agent Coulson will strain muscles stopping himself from attacking if you come up from behind him and startle him because you turn out to be too quiet at the wrong time?” Stark lifted his chin. “You are wound too tight.”
“I’m not going to break.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t say you were.” Stark pointed at the ceiling. “JARVIS is good about telling you the date and your location if you need it.” He waved a hand at the door as he turned towards it. “The door will lock for you, only I can override it, but it’ll give you an alarm if I do, okay?” He looked at Jon. “Once you’ve decided we aren’t in the middle of a warzone I’ve got a job opening to discuss with you.”
Jon stared at the closed door for a few minutes after Stark left. “What’s a JARVIS?”
“I am, sir.”
Jon jumped and looked up at the speaker the voice had come from. “Computer?”
“Ah.” Jon blinked. “Oooookay.” He looked around the room and then back at the ceiling. “What did Stark mean about you being good at telling a person the date and location?”
“During a panic attack, flashback, or upon waking from a nightmare it is often helpful to give the date and location. Occasionally, the weather forecast as well.”
“Uh.” Jon nodded. “Yeah, that’ll be...helpful. Is there a layout of this building I can look at?”
“Of course, sir.”
Jon felt better after working out routes around the building. He flopped down on the couch and wallowed a bit in the cushions. “JARVIS, is it possible to get the Simpsons?”
“Which season would you like to start with?” A screen across from Jon came to life.
Chapter 5: Did someone say Dancing?
Talk of dancing and hugs. There's a lot of hugs.
Peggy huffed as her doorbell rang. She opened the door to find her boy standing there with another man. She narrowed her eyes at what looked like a dead man. “Jonathan?”
Jack smiled and hugged her. “Hi, Mom.” He backed off and gestured to the younger man with him. “This is my friend, Dr. Daniel Jackson.”
She raised her eyebrows. “The Dr. Jackson that’s dead? With, what is it now, three or four obituaries?”
Jack grimaced as he came in as she moved aside to give them room. Dr. Jackson looked sheepish.
“Yeah, uhm. Mom...”
Peggy followed them into the kitchen and watched as Jack laid out papers all over her nice clean table. “Don’t ‘Mom’ me, Jonathan. What is going on?”
Jack held a pen out to her. “You need to sign the non-disclosure forms first.”
She took the pen and looked down at the nearest form. Then she barely kept herself from throwing the pen at her son’s head. “No.”
“No. Jonathan, I have told you before I’m never speaking to Director Fury again. Unless it involves shooting him, I have no interest.” She’d seen the news where they’d gotten someone to take up Steve’s role. They’d even replicated his shield. And she wasn’t going to get anywhere near any of it. The rat bastards.
“Uhm, Mom...I can’t tell you until you sign, but you really, really want to sign.”
Peggy could see Dr. Jackson cross and uncross his arms from the corner of her eye. She sat down and sorted through the piles of forms. Several from the Army, loads of Air Force, an international one, SHIELD, the DOD, two from Russia...She looked up at her boy standing there, earnestly looking back at her.
“Really, Mom. I promise there is no talking to Fury involved.”
She poked a pile with her fingertip. “Well, if I don’t have to speak to that rat bastard...I suppose...” She worked her way through the various forms. Carefully reading everything before signing her name to each one. She sat back and pushed the last form away from herself. “Well?”
Jack smiled his pretty smile and tugged on her arm like he used to do when he got really excited. “You’ll love it. It’s a surprise. Oh, and I’ve saved the world with Daniel more times than I remembered to count.”
Dr. Jackson smacked Jack in the shoulder. “Jack.”
Jack smiled. “Daniel.”
She stood up and gathered the forms up into a single pile. She could torture them for stories later. “Where exactly are we going, Jonathan?”
Her boy smiled wide. “New York City.” He pulled her in to stand between him and Dr. Jackson. “We’re taking the express route.”
Jarod sat down across from Bruce. “You have a nice workspace.”
Bruce glanced up and then back down to his screen. “Ah, thanks, Tony can be very generous.”
With a nod, Jarod pulled a screen Bruce wasn’t using closer to himself. “How much gamma radiation were you exposed to?”
“What?” Bruce’s head snapped up and he stared at Jarod.
“Hanna showed me footage of what she call the neat thing you can do.” Jarod sketched several equations onto the screen.
Bruce closed his eyes. “She did.”
Jarod smiled. “It is very neat. The ability to grow in mass and then shrink back down without affecting your equilibrium to the point you would be unable to stand up is astounding.”
Bruce rubbed the bridge of his nose and opened his eyes. “Seriously?” He blinked. “You are...Neat?”
Jarod nodded and his smile became more confused looking. “Of course. Should I have not said anything?”
“No.” Bruce rubbed his hand through his hair. “Uh, no, no. I’m just not exactly used to anyone starting a conversation about the other guy like that.”
"It is quite interesting."
"Uh, yeah." Bruce sat back and just marveled as Jarod went into how the transformation affected, well, everything.
Peggy let go of her son’s arm as they materialized in what looked like Tony Stark’s living room. She tried not to think about whether the transporter worked like those in Star Trek or not. “Jonathan.”
“You okay, Mom?”
She stepped towards the windows showing her the skyline of New York. “Of course, Jonathan.” She turned as an elevator across from the windows opened up. From it came several people, Stark, who she recognized, strode right over to Jack and got in his face.
“You can’t call? Knock? Something? JARVIS about had a heart attack.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “JARVIS can’t have a heart attack, Stark.”
Stark shrugged and turned towards her. “Wow, you look great, Auntie.”
“You look good. All grown up.” Peggy smiled at him and then tried not to act too surprised when he hugged her. She held the side of his face for a moment before she let him back away. She’d not seen Tony in so very long. “Jonathan seems to think I needed to be here for some reason.”
Tony looked at Jack like he'd never seen him before. “You haven’t told her?”
Jack shrugged. “Haven’t gotten around to mentioning my clone yet either.”
She turned and glared at her boy. “Your what?”
Jack made a face and waved a hand in a what-can-you-do motion. “I, uh, might have gotten kidnapped by an alien and he made a clone to replace me, but it didn’t age right and the clone is about the age Charlie would have been if he’d lived.”
She closed her eyes, took a breath, and opened them to a Steve look-alike standing in the doorway of the elevator staring at her. “And I suppose the alien managed to clone him, too?”
The look-alike grinned. “No, ma’am. I just got frozen in the Arctic and missed a date to go dancing with my girl.”
She blinked, looked at Jack, who was grinning, then at Tony, who was just starting to smile, and then back to...Steve. Actually, Steve. Standing right there, alive...Alive! Peggy moved over to stand in front of him and put her hands on her hips. “And who said I was your girl?”
He was tearing up. “Uhm...Well...”
She smacked him on the arm. “You still don’t know how to talk to a girl.” She wrapped him in a hug as he started to laugh. He picked her clear up off her feet, which wasn’t going to make her back happy, but she didn’t care. Not in the least. “Have you learned how to dance?”
Steve huffed a laugh into her hair. “No. I was waiting for the right partner.”
Hanna climbed up beside the nice lady that was Jon’s Mom, who was reading reports on a tablet Tony had given her. “Hi.”
She smiled prettily. “Hello, I’m Peggy.”
Hanna gestured at Francis standing in front of them. “That’s Francis. I’m Hanna.”
Peggy glanced at Francis and then back at her. “And, Francis is a clone of Agent Barton, is that correct?”
Francis smiled. “Yes, but I don’t like heights and Clint does.”
Hanna nodded. “You’re Jon’s Mom.”
Peggy cocked her head. “Well, yes, I suppose I am.”
Francis crawled up onto the couch with them. “General Jack said Jon’s almost Charlie’s age. Who’s Charlie?”
With a sad smile, Peggy told them about her wonderful grandson and how he died accidentally when he was ten. Peggy then asked them about Steve and Hanna got to tell her about trying to make Steve and Tony be friends.
“Maybe you could help.”
Peggy smiled. “Yes, I think I can help with that.”
Darcy flopped down next to the young hunk with the arms. “Hi. I’m Darcy.”
The guy stared at her for a moment before jerking his chin at the screen on the wall. “You like the Simpsons?”
She shrugged. “They’re okay.”
He smiled. “I’m Jon.”
“You a friend of Thor’s?”
Jon poked at her ipod. “Sort of. What do you listen to?”
She grinned and started rattling off all the music she had loaded up after Tony gave her iTunes gift cards to quit singing in his kitchen.
Clint watched Jarod charm Bruce into not being nervous for a while before crawling down the ducts until he could drop down into Betty’s lab. “Ma’am.”
She smiled at him. “Agent Barton.”
He hoisted himself up onto a countertop that looked non-dangerous at the moment. “What are you working on?”
She smiled and turned the screen in front of her more towards him. “Just eavesdropping, actually.”
He watched as Cap hugged the crap out of an older lady. Pretty gray hair with a commanding air about her. “Wow, nice.”
Betty nodded and shifted so they could watch together. “I think she’s like I am for Bruce only she’s for Steve.” Betty leaned against his shoulder for a moment. “Thank you for accepting Bruce and not handing him over to my father.”
Clint looked over the top of Betty’s head to the plush Hulk toy on her desk. “No problem.” He motioned towards the toy. “Has he seen it yet?”
Betty giggled. “It was great.” She split the screen and pulled up a video file. “JARVIS recorded it for me.” She hit play.
Clint laughed as Bruce stared and then looked at Betty. Then, Bruce shook his head and started to smile. “I like it when he really smiles.”
Betty flicked the file closed. “I miss his smile so much. He hardly smiles in a true way anymore. I’ve seen him happier here than I have since it happened.”
Clint nodded. He knew what she meant. “He has been nice to me. And I want you to know if anyone ever manages to hold him against his will, it’ll only be because I’m already dead.”
Betty ducked her head a little and then she smiled at him. “Thank you.” She pulled him into a hug for a moment. “Let’s go get him and see if we can convince Tony to buy out a nice place to go dancing.”
Clint hopped down off his counter. “For Steve, of course.”
Betty laughed. “Sure. We’ll go with that. I’m certain it’ll convince Tony.”
Clint followed her. “Well, we could just make it Hanna’s idea. Tony’s just as wrapped around her little finger as the rest of us.”
Betty giggled as they left her lab.
In my headcannon Peggy was around Tony until he was about seven. Peggy than had to move away from New York to continue working for SHIELD which had folded the Strategic Science Reserve into it's operations when SHIELD was formed. Which is why he calls her Auntie. Tony and Jack never met as children and Tony doesn't know General O'Neill is the same Jack he heard about from Peggy until Jon makes his phone call.
Also, yes, I know her name is actually Margaret, but most people think of themselves as the name they allow others to call them. So, Peggy thinks of herself as Peggy, not Margaret. Nor does she introduce herself with the full first name.
Chapter 6: Prelude to a Dance
Talking, more talking, and Natasha gives Bruce a hug.
Jon settled next to Peggy as she read through another report. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get clearance to tell you when it happened...when I was...made.”
She sat the tablet down and pulled her son into a hug. She didn’t care that it was just a copy of his mind stuck in a younger body, this was her boy too. “Hush.”
Jon buried his face in her shoulder and just breathed.
Tony threw down the wrench he’d been about to use as Bruce came into his workshop. He pushed his goggles up onto his forehead and watched Bruce check for Francis before taking a seat.
Bruce clasped his hands together over his stomach. “You okay, Tony?”
“Hmm.” Tony flicked his schematics around and squinted at the wire layout. “Okay with what?”
“You didn’t exactly plan for the extra people that have more or less invaded.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve got plenty of room.” Tony glanced over at Bruce and frowned. “What’s with you? You’ve got that frowny line in between your eyes. That never bodes well for the floors or the walls...You mad at me, Bruce-y?”
Bruce rolled his eyes and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t have frown lines.”
“Sure, you didn’t smash the crap out of Loki either.”
“That wasn’t m...Nevermind.” Bruce sighed. “Jarod is...extremely odd.”
Tony made a face. “And this surprises you how?” Tony cocked his head. “Wait...how odd are we talking?”
“He thinks the other guy is interesting. He was asking questions about mass conversion and how the gamma radiation binds to my blood.” Bruce rubbed his hand across his mouth. “He was cheerful the whole time.”
“Cheerful equals odd in your world?”
“No. Tony.” Bruce stood and paced towards the nearby wall and back to Tony’s desk. “Jarod said his full brother, Kyle, died to save him. He was sad for about three seconds and then he told me how much Kyle would have liked to have known about me.”
“Ah.” Tony stepped in beside Bruce and steered him towards the table for planning projects. “Here, take a look at the upgrade I’m working on for Natasha and tell me if you think she’ll rag me for making her weapons.”
Bruce watched Tony explode the weapon plans into the component details. “You think she’ll tease you for making her a weapon?”
Tony turned the plans and shoved them towards Bruce. “I honestly don’t have a clue. Not the point, though.”
With a grin, Tony cocked his head and pointed at Bruce with a nearby screwdriver. “Really. You need to quit being scared.”
Bruce blinked. “What?” He moved a joint separation over a couple of millimeters so it wouldn’t be right on the knob of wrist bone when Natasha wore it. “I’m not scared.”
“Yes, you are.” Tony peered at the change and nodded, making the mirror change to the other wrist’s plan. “You are scared shitless because he’s not only your brother, but he doesn’t despise you for anything.”
“I don’t think Jarod could despise someone.”
Tony gave him an exasperated look. “Ask him about the Centre and then stand back and you’ll see despise up close and personal.”
“You talked to him?” Bruce turned the plan over and started checking the way the band would sit on the body.
“We talked about the rest of your shared family. There’s a clone of him, you remember Clint saying something about that, right? Well, it turns out he’s about the age of Jon now. They should get along. The younger one is getting called Jay, which is just stupid.” Tony made a face at Bruce’s raised eyebrows. “It’s a lot of J names. That’s all I’m saying. Lots. Do you know that the clone was being raised by an evil old geezer with a horrible smoking habit?”
Bruce wrinkled his nose at the sudden mental image of a balding man with a oxygen tank and a cigarette. “What does that have to do with...Nevermind.” Bruce flicked the plan to Tony. “You’re to the point of needing Natasha to try them.”
“Yeah.” Tony turned away from the table. “JARVIS, save the plans and close it down.”
“The plans have been saved to your private sever, sir. Also, Miss Potts has asked me to remind you that the Congressional meeting on Dr. Banner’s status in relation to the Army is tomorrow.”
Tony clapped his hands together. “Right, totally forgot about that.” He looked at Bruce. “You can’t come.” Tony flapped his hand at Bruce as he walked towards the door. “They would arrest you before we could get anything decided and then there’d be bad press when the rest of the team and I defied them and broke you out.”
“Not to mention that I think they’d probably try to strip me of the Iron Man suit if I were to put it on in Congress and blast...Well, no, given the current approval ratings I might get a medal...”
Tony turned and blinked at Bruce. “What?”
“I don’t want to go anyway.”
Tony frowned. “Oh.” He pressed the call button for the elevator. “Why not?”
“They’re going to decide to give me to the Army, Tony. I might as well enjoy the last days I have free here with Betty and everyone in the Tower.”
Tony’s expression hardened. “Right.” He strode into the elevator and turned with his for the press grin firmly in place. “We’ll just have to see about that.”
Coulson frowned and passed the pile of papers to Pepper. “I don’t think we are going to win this one.”
“Well, not having you for counter petitions just after the battle did gum things up some.” Pepper adjusted her seat as Francis climbed up into her lap. “And, hello, to you too, Francis.”
“Are we going to give Bruce to the Army? He thinks we are and we shouldn’t. He belongs here.”
Phil frowned slightly. “Francis, where did you hear that?”
Francis shrugged and ducked his head. “Uhm...”
Pepper brushed his hair of his forehead. “Nevermind that, Francis.” She looked at Phil over Francis’ head. “We’re working on getting Bruce cleared of some charges that the Army have against him because of the Hulk.”
Phil looked Francis in the eye. “The Army thinks they own the Hulk, which means Bruce as well.”
Francis frowned and slid down from Pepper’s lap. “This Congressional, they decide who gets Bruce?”
Phil nodded. “The Congressional meeting will decide the issue, yes.”
“Okay.” Francis nodded and ran out of the room.
Pepper watched him go. “That didn’t sound ominous at all.”
Jon stared at the little grim faces staring back up at him. “And what do you think I can do?”
Hanna climbed up beside him on the couch. “You’re old enough to have an idea about how to convince the Congressional people that Bruce should stay here.”
“Congress, just say Congress.” Jon looked at Francis, who was staring back at him. “Are they just deciding whether to order the Army to dismiss the charges against him, or are they making a recommendation on Bruce’s custody?”
“Personhood status, custody, and charges.” Francis scrambled up beside Hanna. “That’s all I got read of the papers Phil and Pepper were filling out.”
Jon rubbed his cheek. “Well, alright. Do we know how many people the Hulk has killed?”
“Unprovoked or when provoked, Jon?”
They all started and glanced up at the ceiling.
“You have stats, JARVIS?”
“Indeed. Would you like them ranked by severity or probability they were the direct result of upsetting the Hulk?”
Jon grinned. “Okay. Let’s start with the direct results list.”
Natasha settled across the table from Jarod. “You seem calm about all of this.”
Jarod smiled at her. “I have more living family. I’m extremely happy.” He cocked his head. “I will do my best to not hurt anyone here. I know how much Barton means to you.”
With a nod, Natasha leaned back a minute amount in her chair.“You aren’t in very many of the videos we got from the Centre when we took it apart to get Clint back.”
“No, I wouldn’t be.” Jarod touched the table between them and pulled up the list of footage they had. “You got the main server, but not before I did.” He took a thumbnail drive out of his pocket. “I stole money and data from the Centre shortly after I escaped. I’d been planning a while by then. I even tried to get out some of the others.” He sat the drive down on the interface plate. “Stark’s IA can pull the data off of this.”
They waited while JARVIS uploaded and slotted the new data files in with the rest.
Natasha stared at the screen. “Is there anyone that was nice to you?”
“The man that usually had control over me, Sydney. He was nice to me.”
She nodded. “Clint didn’t have that.”
“Neither did my brother, Kyle. He was trained by Raines and wasn’t completely sane as an adult.”
Natasha pulled up a new file and they watched a young Jarod talk about snowflakes to a dark haired girl. “Who’s the little girl?”
“That’s Miss Parker. She’s...They ordered her to chase me after I escaped.” He smiled softly. “She shot at me.”
Natasha got up and moved to the tea pot. “She wasn’t amongst the adults we rounded up.”
Jarod nodded and closed the video file. “Neither was Sydney or Mr. Broots from the list Stark gave me to look over.”
“You’ve seen video of what Bruce does that makes him an Avenger?” She sat a cup in front of each of them as she sat back down.
Jarod pulled up a different video file. “Hanna wanted me to see the neat thing she said he could do. So...” He smiled widely. “Yes, it is very neat.”
“You are crazy.” Natasha put her chin in her hands. “The Hulk is anything but neat.”
“It just depends on how you look at it.” Jarod opened a shaky amateur video of the Hulk punching the large flying monster-thing. “Most people see something to fear when he does this. I see someone protecting himself. Bruce was dosed with enough gamma to kill him several times over. Instead he got an ability that’s taken him some time to control. To learn how to use it to protect others.”
She blinked at the file as the Hulk punched another invader. “He’s better at control than when he started out.”
“Of course he is. Give him some practice time were the Hulk isn’t required to run away from being shot at and see what he can really do.”
She smiled with one corner of her mouth. “Thank you, Dr. Gerber.”
“Are you done getting a soundbite for the Congressional meeting I’m supposed to not attend tomorrow?”
She grinned. “You knew.”
He shrugged. “You are very good, if that helps.”
“You believed what you were saying about Bruce?”
“Yes.” Jarod nodded at her. “You did about what you were saying, didn’t you?”
“He got hunted like a rabid dog just after his accident.” She took a sip of her tea. “He didn’t have time to learn anything useful about his condition.”
“And if General Ross had not feared him so much, do you think that the invasion would have been stopped as it was?”
She blinked. “Bruce would be...”
“I would be what?” Bruce pushed his glasses back up on his nose as Natasha stood up from the table.
“Nothing.” Natasha gave him a quick hug and left with Bruce staring after her.
Bruce turned to Jarod. “Do you know what just happened?”
“Not really.” Jarod got up to help Bruce make dinner. “Has Stark decided where he’s taking everyone to go dancing tomorrow night?”
“I didn’t pay attention. I’m probably going to be busy anyway.”
Jarod smiled at Hanna peeking at them from around the doorjamb. “We’ll just have to see how busy you end up being. I’m sure Hanna wants to learn to dance.”
She smiled back and disappeared out of the kitchen.
Sorry about the delay in posting. I had a few days of couldn't write because of work issues and then a day of mad about something someone said, which turned into realizing I had gone the longest amount of gen writing ever (for me) without writing smut. I wrote smut and then promptly got derailed from writing by zentangles. Oh, yes, loving drawing those. Way too much.
Anyway, thanks for waiting. I only have a couple of more characters to introduce. I promise I'll quit adding people after that. :D
Chapter 7: Dancing with Words
The Congressional meeting becomes more interesting than Coulson expected.
Bruce tried to not worry, but it was very hard as he watched Betty follow Tony into the elevator. Hanna leaned into his side as the elevator doors closed. “Thanks, Hanna.”
She patted him on the hand. “Jon says that you shouldn’t worry.”
He smiled down at her. “I’m sure he is trying to help.”
Darcy dropped into a chair across from them. “So, no going to the boring meeting for you?”
Bruce raised an eyebrow at her. “No, and you know why. What’s going on? You usually avoid me.”
Darcy smiled. “Thor asked Jane a question that I wondered if anyone had asked you. I’m thinking probably not.”
Bruce tilted his head. “What’s the question?”
“Has anyone asked Hulk his opinion about what to do with him?”
“What?” Bruce blinked, looked down at Hanna’s wide eyes, and then to Darcy with her head cocked. “When do you think there was ever time to ask him anything?”
Darcy nodded. “Yeah, I suppose running from gunfire to protect the innocent has taken up most of his time.”
Bruce rubbed his face, pinched the bridge of his nose, and tried not to feel cornered. “He was trying to protect the soldiers too. He...” Bruce swallowed. “He doesn’t like killing.”
Darcy looked beyond him and Bruce turned to see Steve standing behind him. Hanna squirmed and leaned over the back of the couch.
“Did you get that?” Hanna turned to smile at Bruce even as Francis stood up.
“Yes.” He looked up at Bruce. “You wouldn’t have said if you thought we were going to send it to Tony to use on the Congress people.”
“Congressional people.” Bruce leaned his head against the couch and listened to Steve pick up his shield from near the wall. “They are going to give me to Ross. We all know that and arguing is just a waste of time.”
Steve looked down at him with the shield on his arm. “Jon was right. And I’d like to apologize in advance.”
Bruce blinked and started to ask what Steve was apologizing about. Hanna scrambled over the back of the couch and in the next second all Bruce knew was shock.
Jon stared at the Hulk glaring at Darcy where she was huddled behind Steve and his shield.
The Hulk huffed and flared his nose as he drew a huge breathe. “Not nice.”
Steve nodded and edged Darcy further back. “We know and we’re sorry, but Bruce is very protective of you.”
Hulk blinked, shook his head, and turned towards the mess of the couch he’d been sitting on. “Puny Bruce, stupid.”
Hanna moved from Jon’s hold and waved at the Hulk. “Hi. I’m Hanna. When you are Bruce you carry me around. Will you still carry me now?” She held her arms up and out.
Hulk reached for her and Jon could see Steve tense up. Hanna giggled as Hulk picked her up in his palm.
Hanna nodded. “Yes. Would you answer questions to help keep General Ross from getting Bruce? I don’t want him to get Bruce or you.”
Hulk looked at her and then up at the rest of them. “Hulk protect Puny Bruce.”
Hanna flung herself around as much of his wrist as she could reach as Francis ran over and wrapped himself around the Hulk’s ankle. “Thank you, Hulk.”
Coulson wouldn’t admit it upon pain of death, but he was proud of Stark and the picture he was painting for the Committee. Between Tony, the public support evident in the gallery, and the various interviews that had been put forth, Coulson was starting to think they might get a favorable outcome.
Then Jarod walked in. Coulson frowned at Nat, who gave him her I-have-no-fucking-clue eyebrow back. Phil started to move to intercept, but Jarod called out that he had very important testimony.
General Ross objected and the head of the Committee demanded silence.
Coulson edged up beside Jarod as he sat a briefcase beside Tony’s elbow on their table. “What do you think you are doing?”
Jarod smiled widely. “Giving the Hulk a voice.”
Tony looked at him and Coulson forced his face into a neutral expression.
It took a short argument, but Jarod got permission to give his evidence.
Steve fidgeted as Hulk sat down on the kitchen floor where Hanna pointed.
Francis scrambled up onto the kitchen table, which put him at Hulk’s head height. “Okay, you can refuse to answer any question you don’t want to answer, okay?”
Hulk looked around at all of them. “Hulk talk to friends.”
Jon looked surprised and Steve made a mental note to speak to him more. Hanna climbed up on the counter as Darcy took a seat across from the Hulk at the table.
“So, I just want to say I’m sorry I had to tase Bruce. That wasn’t nice of me.”
Hulk nodded. “Not nice.” He pointed at himself. “Had to be not nice to Puny Bruce for Hulk to talk.”
Francis nodded. “Yes, we did. You protect Bruce, is that right?”
Hulk smiled. “Yes.”
Darcy smiled. “Do you want to hurt anyone?”
Steve held his breath. They were doing this in one long shot. Something that Jon said was important so that no one could say they’d influenced how the Hulk answered, but it was also a risk because no one had told Hulk to go easy in how he spoke.
“Hulk hurt bad men.” He frowned and showed Darcy his fists. “Hulk smash. Protect Puny Bruce. Spaceman. Friend Coulson.” He put his fists on his knees. “Hulk have friends now. Bad Army Leader Man not hurt Hulk friends.” Hulk turned towards Steve. “Not hurt Star Man. Or Hulk smash.”
Darcy nodded. “When you’ve smashed in the past people have gotten hurt.”
Hulk sighed and pointed at his own face. “Army try to hurt Hulk. Catch Hulk. Hulk smash when Army mean.”
“What about the people who aren’t Army? Did you hurt them because they hurt you?”
“No.” Hulk patted his knees. “They hurt Puny Bruce.” He frowned. “Tase mean people too close when Hulk smash?”
Darcy looked at Steve. “Tase?”
Hulk reach slowly across the table and touched Darcy on the head as she stared at him. “Tase.”
“Oh.” She smiled. “Okay, sorry. I didn’t know you meant me. Yeah, the people that were in the way, where they not important to you?”
Hulk scratched his head. “Hulk protect...Bad Army Leader Man shot at Hulk always.”
Francis frowned. “Do you mean that you’d have protected them, but General Ross was ordering you shot at no matter where you were standing?”
Hulk smiled. “Yes.” He ran a huge fingertip across the edge of the kitchen table. “Only Spaceman ever like Hulk before getting home.”
Darcy frowned and Steve shook his head at her to let her know he didn’t know either. She put out her hand towards the Hulk. “What about Betty?”
“Betty.” Hulk’s expression went happy for a moment before he looked sad. “Betty like Puny Bruce best. Careful with Hulk.” He folded his hands into his lap. “Hulk protect Betty for Puny Bruce.”
Francis patted the Hulk’s hand. “I’m sure she likes you too.”
Hulk sighed. “No.” He turned his head and looked at Steve over his shoulder. “Star Man say go with Bad Army Leader Man?”
Steve sat his shield on the counter, walked to one of the chairs on Hulk’s side of the table, and sat down. “Why do you call me Star Man?”
Hulk pointed at Steve’s chest. “Star.”
“Oh, when I’m in the Captain America uniform. Okay.” He lifted his chin a little. “Who’s Spaceman?”
“Stark.” Hulk said it carefully like he was worried he’d get it wrong. Then he smiled huge and showed Steve his fist and mimed catching it with his other hand. “Caught Spaceman.”
“Yes, you did.” Steve smiled at him. “I don’t have the say on if you have to go with General Ross. I want to be able to tell you that you don’t have to go, but we don’t know that yet.”
Hulk nodded. “Property?”
Darcy and Steve exchanged glances. Steve shook his head. “What do you mean?”
Jon piped up from the kitchen counter by Hanna where he was holding the camera. “He’s asking if you think he is just property.”
“Oh.” Steve grimaced. “Did you know that at one time people considered me property of the Army? For the good of America, I overheard once.”
Hulk’s eyebrows went up.
Steve gave the camera his best war bond selling smile. “Luckily, I live in the future now, where everyone is supposed to be free. Not enslaved.” He turned back to the Hulk. “What do you want, Hulk?”
The Hulk looked surprised and then confused. “Hulk have home now. Like Hulk-triggered door. Hulk stay home unless Avengers say smash.”
Steve smiled. “You and Bruce are one person, right?”
The Hulk nodded.
Steve gestured to the camera. “Could you prove that for me?”
Turning towards the camera, Hulk frowned. “Scare Tiny Girl?”
Hanna smiled at him. “No, I like you and you don’t scare me. You saved me.”
Steve watched the Hulk smile and then he started to shrink. Jon grimaced behind the camera as the popping noises started. Steve waited until Bruce was done. Then he carefully wrapped the bath towel they had ready around Bruce’s shoulders and looked up at the camera.
“I read the new regulations book when I thawed out. A person is only the property of the Army if they volunteer. They are not to be forced, coerced, or threatened into military service. Maybe someone should have General Ross reread the regulation on that one.”
Jon cut the film. “Okay, done.”
Bruce exploded up from his huddle and punched Steve hard. He stood cradling his hand, shaking as Darcy bit her lip. “That was stupid. Dangerous and...”
Hanna touched Bruce’s arm. “You wouldn’t let him talk. Hulk just wants to protect you.”
Bruce rubbed his forehead and kept taking deep breaths. “Dangerous.”
Steve pulled him into a tight hug and patted him on the back gently. “No more than the rest of us.” He rested his chin on Bruce’s shoulder as the man clung to him. “You were never property.”
Bruce started to cry softly.
Tony sat back to enjoy the show as Jarod turned a screen to face the Congressmen on the Committee. He knew they had a majority of them won over because of the amount of frowning the men were doing at General Ross whenever the pompous ass opened his mouth.
Jarod started up a tape. “This was shot in one take. The Hulk uses descriptive words as names in many cases, but he is understandable.”
General Ross shot to his feet. “You can’t be serious! That monster is a danger to everyone and you can’t just expect...”
“Shut up and sit down, General!”
Ross dropped back into his seat as the video showed a tiny girl leading the Hulk to a kitchen table. Tony could tell it was the kitchen they’d been using for lunches. He watched with everyone else as the Hulk talked. When it was done, Tony stood up.
“I’d like to remind the Committee that the Hulk stopped Ross’ second attempt at a super soldier in Harlem. Yes, there was a lot of property damage involved. Most of which was the direct result of Blonsky tearing things up just for the hell of it. If I remember right the only things the Hulk damaged, that he wasn’t thrown into, was a rooftop of one building and a police car. How much damage did Ross’ soldier do to Harlem?” He smiled at them.
Tony grabbed Bruce around the shoulders in a one arm hug. “I told you.”
Bruce glared. “No you didn’t.”
“Yes, actually.” Tony pulled Bruce along with him into the team room where everyone was settling in to watch Galaxy Quest. “I told you that you and the Hulk are one person. He proved it today.”
Bruce allowed Francis to climb into his lap as Betty spread a blanket across them. “How do you figure that?”
“He said Avengers.” Betty smiled at him as she sat on the other side of him from Tony.
Hanna wiggled in between Tony and Clint. “Hulk said it while he was talking. He said he wanted to stay home unless the Avengers said smash.”
Bruce stared at them.
Tony nudged him. “You know we didn’t ever say Avengers where Hulk could hear it, right?”
“Nope. He doesn’t have a comm. Which is something I’m working on.” Tony smiled. “I’m pretty sure Hulk makes up names for us because no one except Coulson has ever shook hands with him right off.”
Jarod settled on the edge of the pillows near Francis’ feet. “Actually, most of the time Hulk uses descriptions because he thinks names are very important. He likes naming things for the feeling of control over his environment.”
Hanna kicked Jarod gently. “Bruce is feeling shaky enough.”
Jarod turned his head to look at Bruce. “Hanna’s correct. Sorry, Bruce.”
Bruce shook his head. “It’s alright. No one has ever...Thank you to everyone.” He looked at Steve. “Let’s just never repeat that level of dangerous, okay?”
Steve nodded. “Okay.”
Peggy settled into her seat across from General Ross. “I understand you’ve been reassigned to a new project.”
Ross glared at her. “What is it to you?”
“You are going to be taking orders from my son, General O’Neill. He’s not very impressed with your record. From what I understand he’s thinking of putting you in charge of a base.”
Ross perked up a little. “A base?”
She smiled at him. “Yes, I think they are calling it Hoth. Something like that. Very hush-hush.” She leaned forward. “If you survive to retirement I suggest you leave my family alone. I’ve a lot of chosen family, you met a few of them today, and I’d hate to have to feed you to something nasty just because you can’t remove your head from your posterior.”
He mouthed ‘Hoth’ to himself and frowned as she walked away.
Jarod slipped from the movie room with Hanna. “You don’t sleep?”
She touched the wall panel and it showed the hospital ward filled with children. “Not as much as they do. JARVIS shows me the other children.”
“Ah.” Jarod pulled up the video of the Congressional meeting. He scanned the gallery and frowned. “I thought I saw her.”
He zoomed in on the back row and cocked his head as the picture resolved to show Miss Parker sitting on the end of the row. She was smiling just a little, the expression Jarod had always had to work hard to put on her face.
“Miss Parker.” Hanna touched the picture. “She’s proud of you.”
Jarod brushed Hanna’s hair from her face. “She’s almost always been proud of me, when she wasn’t mad at me.”
“JARVIS, can you find Miss Parker?”
“I will start a search, Miss Hanna.”
She smiled up at the ceiling. “Thanks, JARVIS.” She turned back to Jarod. “Thank you for helping today.”
Jarod picked her up and headed for the kitchen. “You are welcome. You should make sure to thank Jon for coming up with such a daring plan.”
She nodded against his shoulder as she started to tire.
I didn't think about the time of year last time I posted or I'd have explained that August sucks for vital records offices. If you ever go to send your child to school in America just assume they are going to ask for a birth certificate and don't wait until the week before school to get it. Please, I beg of you.
So, work would be why I haven't gotten anything written and why I'm not all that happy with this part. I've been going to be right after dinner for weeks now and sleeping most of my weekends away. It'll get better now, though. :)
Chapter 8: Dancing Lessons
Bruce gets cheered up. The destination of General Ross is discussed. Hanna and Steve get a dance lesson.
:) Hanna is having conversations with people: Hanna and Alfred Pennyworth This is out of the timeline as it is a single conversation involving Hanna, Alfred, and Tony.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Clint watched from his seat on top of the kitchen counter as everyone gathered for lunch.
“Mom!” General Jack O’Neill glared at his mother. “Why did you say Hoth?”
“Everyone that has ever seen Star Wars remembers Hoth.” Peggy shrugged her shoulders from her seat amongst everyone at the kitchen table. “I figured your soldiers would give names to the planets they visit. In more than a decade at least one had to be frozen.”
Coulson shook his head. “Actually, most of the gate connected planets are temperate to desert type.”
Jack rubbed the back of his head. “Well, there’s actually a Hoth, but it is way too cold to stick anyone on to live for more than, say, forty-five seconds. Also, it is in the Pegasus galaxy.”
Peggy nodded. “That would do nicely.”
Clint slipped out of the kitchen as they continued arguing.
Clint sat down beside Bruce and looked over the edge down the side of the building. “Nice day.”
Bruce sighed. “I’m not going to do anything to hurt myself.”
“Didn’t think you were, Doc.” Clint leaned back on his hands and cocked his head to one side. “We both know you jump we get an upset Hulk.” He looked up at the sky. “And I didn’t think you were going to jump.”
Bruce lay back and clasped his hands over his chest. “Why didn’t you think that?”
Clint flipped around so that he was on his stomach looking down the building’s side. “Besides the Pretender feelings? You fell out of the helicarrier and didn’t die.”
With a snort, Bruce pulled a foot up onto the edge and wiggled his knee back and forth. “Not to mention I jumped from a helicopter into Harlem.”
“That too.” Clint rolled over and sat up to look down at Bruce. “You know they were trying to help, not make you feel unsafe in your own home.”
“It isn’t really mine, is it? It belongs to Tony.”
Clint shook his head. “The whole world could belong to Stark if he cared to pay attention. We should all be happy he’s got hobbies that don’t include ruling the world.”
Bruce tilted his head back. “I don’t feel unsafe.”
“You haven’t eaten lunch with us in three days. The kids think you hate them.”
Bruce rolled his eyes. “We both know they know I adore them.”
“Well, yeah. Maybe Steve thinks you hate him.”
Bruce rolled himself up into a sitting position. “He does not.”
Clint grinned. “Okay, maybe...”
“Stop it.” Bruce ran his fingers through his hair. “You were going to mention Darcy next weren’t you?”
Bruce turned and looked at Clint with his eyes narrowed. “Really?”
“Three days of moping. Tony started talking about buying you a medical program in a third world country this morning.”
“I’m not moping.”
“Then what are you doing?”
Bruce stood up and held out a hand for Clint. “Trying to come to terms that my coping strategy has probably hurt me more than it helped.”
“And that needed more than three minutes?”
Bruce looked at him as they walked inside. “What?”
Clint touched Bruce on the forehead. “You are a very smart man.” He stepped back and settled on the arm of the couch behind him. “Three minutes is being generous.”
Pushing his glasses up, Bruce rubbed at his eyes.
“Look, Bruce, everyone regrets things they’ve done.” Clint gently laid a hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “You can let it destroy you or you can get off your ass and enjoy Ross getting kicked off Earth because Hulk asked Captain America if he was property.”
Bruce smiled a little. “Peggy said he was going to Hoth.”
Clint grinned. “Big snowball in a whole different galaxy.” He wrapped an arm around Bruce’s shoulders and pulled him along. “Francis looked up all sorts of things to help you feel better. Don’t be surprised when Hanna and him give you the puppy dog eyes.”
After Clint stepped out of the kitchen, Jon pointed at Jack. “There’s always that black hole we almost lost Earth into.”
Everyone turned their heads towards Jack.
“We can’t dial it, we’d end up needing another nuke to disengage it. You know how the paperwork is for nukes.”
Steve shook his head. “No.” He pointed at Jon. “Even though that was sarcastic, still no.”
Jon propped his chin on his hand. “What about selling him? There’s that one tribe...”
“Ah!” Jack held up a finger.
Jon stuck his tongue out at Jack.
Peggy raised her eyebrows at Jack. “You have a better solution?”
Jon started to laugh so hard he fell out of his chair.
“I take it there’s mud involved.” Tony pointed at Jack with one of his fries.
Jack smiled. “It is cold, slimy, and clingy mud.”
“Semi-intelligent. It likes to make friends.” Jon pulled himself back into his chair. “And it stinks.”
“It took Daniel nine showers to get it out of his hair.” Jack thumbed his eyebrow. “We were on planet about two minutes.”
Coulson smiled. “The Gate Room had to be pressure washed.”
Peggy smiled. “Sounds perfect.”
Clint pushed Bruce into the room. “Found him.”
Francis and Hanna rushed Bruce and wrapped themselves around his legs. Bruce smiled down at them and cupped the backs of their heads.
Francis climbed up beside Tony as he worked. “Tony, did you have a teddy bear when you were small?”
Tony flicked a part on the design into a new spot. “No. I didn’t like them.”
“Phil says the teddy bear in my room is mine, but I don’t want it. Can I give it to the Hulk?”
Tony dropped his hands out of the design and turned towards Francis. “He’d squish the stuffing right out of it.”
Francis sighed and pulled up his feeder robot design. “We could make him one he couldn’t squish.”
Tony stood up. “Okay, come on, kid. Let’s see if we can make a fiber with a high enough tensile strength to be worthy of Hulk-hugs.”
Tony was proud of himself, if he did say so, which he usually did. The restaurant hadn’t even quibbled about the possiblilty of Thor breaking crockery. The whole place for a night cost Tony less than he’d expected. Not that it really mattered since he got to watch Captain America learn to dance with a seven-year old girl-child.
Hanna frowned at Steve’s feet. “Are you sure I won’t hurt you?”
Steve held her tiny hands out and slowly tipped his toe up as she stepped gingerly onto it. “You can’t hurt me, Hanna. Peggy says this is the best way to learn.”
Peggy rolled her eyes. “Just sway to the beat, Rogers.” She grinned at Hanna as the music started.
Around them the rest of the Avengers were dancing or watching the dancing.
Tony split his time between watching, building a new fiber, and the various searches JARVIS had going.
Bruce sat down next to him. “Francis asked me if I ever had a teddy bear as a child.”
“He asked me that too.” Tony flicked the pattern he’d looked up for making a teddy bear off his screen as Bruce leaned in.
“I think he’s plotting again.”
Tony smirked. “That kid is always plotting.”
Bruce settled back in his seat. “He gets that from you.”
With a smile, Tony tweaked the amount of titanium in the planned fiber. “Better than some things he could pick up. Just ask Pepper.”
Jon finished checking his apartment. He settled down in the bed and stared up at the ceiling. “JARVIS?”
“Yes, Colonel Jon?”
Jon smiled a little at the rank. “Are the kids alright?”
“The persons you have designated ‘the kids’ are all within acceptable ranges.”
“Good.” Jon let himself sleep.
Jarod sat down across from Miss Parker. He would need to remember to thank JARVIS for giving him the information when he got back to the Tower. “You don’t seem eager to catch me now.”
Miss Parker put down her paper and smirked at Jarod. “Where would I drag you back to, exactly? The entire Centre is...gone.”
He frowned. “Do you know what happened to the others?”
She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Wait. You didn’t get us sent to Alaska a couple of days in advance? You are telling me you didn’t know we watched the damn news from a shitbag hotel?”
Jarod smiled. “No, Miss Parker, I most certainly didn’t. So, the question becomes, who did?”
Miss Parker disparages everything, that's just how she is.
Hoth is used as a nickname for a planet in Pegasus Galaxy in an episode of Stargate: Atlantis. As far as I remember they never nicknamed a Milky way Galaxy planet Hoth. They said something about it being so cold they couldn't send people there. It has been a while since I watched it.
The Mudball planet wasn't named, it was a bit at the beginning of an episode of Stargate SG-1 where the entire SG-1 team comes through the gate covered head-to-toe in mud. General Hammond greets them and wrinkles his nose.
The black hole Jon mentions was an episode. I adored it because of the time-delineation and how much Jack just wanted to get some sleep by the time it was over.
Sorry the chapter is short. Work become hell when almost half my unit was out for varying reasons all last week. I am still tired.
Chapter 9: Slow Dancing
There's a lot of talking about painful things.
There is a lot of things implied in this chapter and I made myself cry while writing it. Just so you know.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Pepper cornered Tony in his workshop. “What’s wrong?”
Tony looked up, blinked blearily, and frowned. “Wrong?”
She sat a coffee cup down by his elbow. “Yes, wrong. I want to know what’s wrong with you. Are you dying? Again?”
Tony took a sip of the coffee and rubbed his face with one hand. “Okay, I’m lost. What are we talking about? I’m not dying. No more than normal, at least. Did I miss the end of the world or something?” He cocked his head. “What is your problem?”
“My problem?” Pepper rolled her eyes as she dropped a tablet with the current news onto the table between them. “You haven’t gotten drunk or done anything remotely crazy lately. For you, I mean. I haven’t had to do more than the slight bit of clean up after the night of burning clinics in weeks. Something is going on with you and I want to know what it is.”
“Huh.” Tony took another gulp of coffee, then he turned the stool he was on to face Pepper more squarely. “Pepper, I’m tired.” He scratched his head. “Just...tired. Nothing can fix it, or change it. The kids stave it off. The team makes me forget for a while.” Tony looked down at the tablet and flicked through the news. “I told everyone that I could stop drinking if I wanted and I wanted to.”
He held up a hand as she started to protest. “I know. Look, I know it isn’t supposed to be that easy.” Tony slipped off the stool and went over to the screen he’d dedicated to help keep him sober and he turned it on. “And it isn’t easy, Pep.” He pushed her until she stood in front of it. “I’m not a good person. I know that. Hell, everyone knows that.” He touched the estimated number of people dead because of him and under that the small list of people saved. Bruce’s name near the top of the list.
“Oh, Tony.” She reached out slowly and traced the list of things he knew were true about him. “You...” She tapped one of the phrases and shook her head. “I yelled this at you once. I’d worked for you for less than a month.”
“Twenty-three days, actually. I was sure I’d made you quit that day.” Tony touched her forearm to get her to look at him. “You weren’t wrong.”
She smiled at him with tears in her eyes. “Maybe not then. I’m not yelling that at you now.”
He snorted. “You probably should. Keep my massive ego in check.” Crisis averted, he went back to the fiber he was working on.
Pepper took a photo of the screen he’d shown her and quietly left.
Jon stared down at the fluffy teddy bear design on the tablet Francis had handed him. “This won’t work.”
Francis frowned. “What do you mean?”
Jon touched the listed stuffing. “Bruce will have it out of the bear before you can blink, kiddo.”
“Tony is working on a new fiber to use for the outside.”
“To weave or something?”
Francis grinned. “Or something.” He pulled the tablet closer to him. “Are you okay?”
Jon scratched his head. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You trust JARVIS, but you wouldn’t normally even like being near an artificial intelligence, which is understandable since you think they are going to kill you.” He frowned. “I was wondering if you were okay.”
“Wow.” Jon thumbed his eyebrow. “That’s creepy, Francis.” He rubbed his hand across his chin. “I...don’t mind JARVIS. He reminds me of Daniel. Being reasonable, always willing to listen to me, that sort of thing.” He cocked his head. “You ever have anyone that just listens to you?”
Francis shrugged. “Not until I met Phil. He always listens.”
Bruce sat down by Betty. “I’m sorry about your father.”
She elbowed him. “You know better than to be sorry for that, Bruce.” She sighed. “He dug himself a hole and then kept digging.”
“Doesn’t mean we should be talking about putting him on another planet.”
Betty smiled. “Mudball planet is the latest one.” She wrapped her arms around her torso. “He’s my father and I love him.” She lifted her chin. “And I want to kick him off the planet myself for what he’s done. To you. To me.” Betty leaned into Bruce’s side. “I wish I’d known they were going to trick you into being the Hulk for that interview.”
He looked down at the top of her bent head. “Why?”
“I would have told the Hulk I like him too. That it isn’t a matter of liking one part of you better.” She straightened up. “Even the Hulk thinks he’s separate from you.” She turned her body more towards him. “Bruce, why does he call you puny?”
Bruce flinched and hunched in on himself. “I don’t know.”
Betty frowned at him. “Yes. Yes, you do.”
He took a moment just to breathe. “I...he...I can’t...”
Betty gathered him into a hug. “Okay, alright. You don’t have to talk about it, Bruce.”
Pepper found Steve working on a layout of the farm and the mostly built school. “Steve.”
He barely turned to look at her before going back to the layout. “Ma’am.”
She didn’t correct him, there was no point. “When you get to a stopping point I need to talk to you.”
Steve moved two more buildings into what he thought would be their permanent places. He turned and sat down across the sofa from Pepper. “What can I do for you?”
“I need a little help.” She handed him a cellphone with a picture on the screen.
It looked like a picture of a screen. He carefully did the double tap motion that would make the text bigger and sharper. He read through it to the end. “Is this Bruce’s or Tony’s screen?”
“What?” She took the phone back. “What makes you think it could be Dr. Banner’s list?”
Steve raised his eyebrows. “You have met Bruce, right?”
“Well...” She looked down at her phone and then back up at him. “It’s Tony’s list.”
“What do you want my help for?”
Pepper sighed. “I...I don’t even know. Tony is...he’s an ass.” She tucked the phone away. “I don’t want him depressed anymore than I want him walking around drunk.”
Steve frowned. “Did anyone ever ask Tony what he wanted?”
“Want to you mean? All I ever do is what Tony wants.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Steve rubbed the bridge of his nose. “The more I watch Tony the more I realize that he’s always watching everyone. He’s wary and tightly wound. He pokes and prods everyone where he wants them to go, but it actually turns out that’s where they needed to be in the first place. I wonder when he started doing that.”
Pepper blinked. She thought it through. “JARVIS?”
“Yes, Miss Potts?”
“How many times did Tony start to tell me he was dying from radiation poisoning?”
There was a pause. “I’m not allowed to tell you that. Mister Stark believes it would only make you mad.”
Pepper blinked. “Oh.” She looked at Steve. “He made me CEO on a whim!”
Steve shook his head. “Was it really a whim?”
She looked up. “JARVIS?”
“It was not. The papers were put in place in your fourth year of working for Mister Stark in the event of his and Obadiah Stane’s deaths.”
Steve cocked his head. “Did he just sneer when he said Stane’s name?”
Pepper sniffed and wiped at one eye. “Yes.” She looked at him. “He tried to kill Tony.”
“Wait. Is this the ‘friend’ that took Tony’s reactor?”
“Yes.” Pepper leaned forward and took calming breathes. “Tony is...”
“He’s very good at making people see what they want to see. He puts up a mask for everyone. Even us.”
“I thought I was better at seeing through it.” She stood. “If you excuse me, I need to go look at all the footage of Tony’s expressions during our conversations where I wasn’t looking at him.”
Hanna held on tight as Phil eased out of the roof access door. “I hate this.”
“You’ll be fine, Hanna.” Phil eased them down onto the bench they’d brought up and sat by the door. He eased Hanna around so she had her back to his chest. “I understand that you’ve told Thor about your life before coming here.”
Hanna kept her eyes closed. “Yes. He kept stroking my hair. Even when I told him about my parents dying.” She leaned her head back into Phil’s shoulder. “Do you think it is okay that I think of Clint as my father?”
“I think that Clint would be very happy to know that you do, Hanna.”
Hanna wrapped her hands around Phil’s wrist. “My first Dad wouldn’t be mad, would he?”
Phil kissed her on top of her head. “No, Hanna. I think he’d be proud that you are so very brave for letting Clint into your heart.”
“Is it alright that if I didn’t have Clint, I’d want you to be my Dad?”
“Yes.” Phil stroked her hair softly. “And if you didn’t have either of us?”
Hanna smiled. “I’d want Tony and Bruce.” She twisted her head and peered at him. “Can I have two fathers? If I can I want you and Clint.”
Phil laughed. “You can have all the fathers you want, Hanna.” He checked his watch. “Let’s go inside and see if we can find Natasha.”
Hanna slid off him onto the bench so Phil could stand. “She said she’d teach me more tumbling.”
Bruce held Hanna close as she snored through the movie’s credits. “I’m surprised she’s asleep.”
Tony swept her bangs off her face. “She was learning tumbling all afternoon.”
“Ah.” Bruce watched Tony squirm his way out of the pile of people, blankets, and pillows. “What are you working on?”
Tony smiled mischievously. “Francis wants to make a teddy bear.” He disappeared into the kitchen.
Bruce turned his head towards Clint. “Why was he smiling about helping with a teddy bear?”
Clint patted Bruce’s arm. “You’ll see, Doc.”
I'm pointing out something about Tony and Pepper and how Tony appears to me. This may not be your view of the character. He's an utter ass, yes, I never deny that. I just also think he's paying way more attention than people give him credit for. I'm not bashing Pepper. Yes, I make her feel bad for a bit, but again, given what she knows when she knows it she makes total sense in the movies. And she has every reason to worry in this. Tony is prone to...displays after all.
Chapter 10: Francis picks up the Tempo
Jon gets a helpful gift and discussion from Steve.
Jon looked up as Steve sat down beside him. "You here to give me the everyone here is my friend talk?"
Steve glanced at him and then pulled a notebook from the bag he had with him. "No, actually. I thought I'd give you this." He held the notebook out to Jon.
With a frown, Jon opened the book and cocked his head. "What?"
"I know you don't trust us completely and that's understandable. I just..." Steve took a breathe. "I don't want you suffering from shell shock, PS...whatever they call it now, and not have any coping instructions."
Jon thumbed the page about how to sooth hyperawareness. "Huh." He looked up. "Thanks. This is...more than..." He closed the book and pulled it into himself. "Coulson has been really nice about listening to me worry. JARVIS is really helpful too." He gestured to Steve. "You know."
Steve smiled. "Thank you." He leaned back into the couch. "I can't run cold water across my hands now."
Jon dropped his head back against the couch. "I don't like windowless rooms now."
"Ice in my drinks can bug me, but only sometimes." Steve clasped his hands across his stomach.
"Once my team left me for dead in the desert. I ended up a prisoner of war for four months."
Steve closed his eyes. "I lost a soldier, my best friend, and life just went on."
"Me too, but Daniel wasn't a soldier."
Steve turned his head to look at Jon. "Dr. Jackson, the man that is usually with the older O'Neill?"
"Yeah. Sort of." Jon looked at his hands. "The Daniel you met is actually from an alternate universe. My Daniel, the original Daniel for this 'verse, is dead." He rubbed his thumb cross the back of his other hand. "It is my fault. I let him talk his way into going along during the first mission through the Stargate. He be alive if he hadn't gotten involved."
"And the Daniel that's here now? Would he be alive?"
Jon frowned. "No, probably not. They were going to be invaded. Daniel doesn't take invasions well."
Steve nodded. "It doesn't really help, but at least the live one is here and not somewhere you can't talk to him."
Jon blinked. "Huh." He stood up and clapped Steve on the shoulder. "Thanks, Steve." He hefted the notebook. "For this too."
Steve watched him go, then he looked up at the ceiling. "Think it will help, JARVIS?"
"I believe it will, Captain."
Steve nodded and went to find something to eat.
Bruce frowned as Tony shut down the display in front of him with the main power switch instead of just minimizing things. "Tony."
Tony spun around and grinned, holding his arms wide. "Bruce! My best buddy!"
Bruce let Tony sling an arm around his shoulders. They moved towards Tony's desk for a few steps before Tony pulled away and pointed him at a swatch of...something. "What is this?"
"New fabric." Tony poked it with a pen. "What do you think? Scratchy or anything?"
Bruce turned the fabric over and examined it. It looked crocheted, well, he thought it might be crocheted. He pulled on it and it didn't stretch. "What is it for?"
"Francis." Tony pointed at the swatch. "He has a theory we're testing. Feel smooth to you?"
Giving Tony a look, Bruce put the fabric down. "Feels fine. What is it really for, Tony?"
Tony smirked. "Super secret project." He snapped his fingers. "I had a thought the other day about your..." He twiddled his fingers at Bruce. "...rage thing."
Bruce sat down and put his chin in his hand. "And what was that?"
Tony spun around on his stool. "You said to Cap that you're always angry, right?"
"Okay, well, after you've been green are you as angry?"
Bruce frowned and thought about it. "No." He looked at Tony. "What are you getting at? You want to, what? Let the other guy out for walkies? I...It doesn't work like that."
Tony rolled his eyes. "No, look, what I'm saying is I wonder if you'd have more control if you transformed to train with the whole team." He held up a hand. "Hear me out. I've got an island. Don't give me that judgmental look, I'm flithy rich." He brought up a map. "See? In the middle of nowhere. Literally. Big enough for training and small enough to wrangle you if we have to."
"What about dangerous don't you people get? He'll smash someone! You! Or...or he'll get frustrated and punch someone else like he punched Thor."
Tony narrowed his eyes at Bruce. "Should I show you the footage of him worrying about scaring Hanna? Or maybe the bit where he sat down right where she asked him to? He's destructive, yes, but it isn't just random shit, Bruce!"
"That just makes it worse!"
Tony blinked. "What?"
Bruce hugged himself. "If I hadn't run then no one would have died in the chase to capture me. If I had just worked on controlling..." He grabbed the back of his head where Tony had just hit him. "Ow!"
"Quit being stupid."
Tony hooked a foot through Bruce's stool's legs and pulled him closer to the workbench. "Here, look at this."
Bruce watched as Tony pulled up a jumble of footage. There was gunfire and Tony scrambling for a weapon that he attempted to shot back with, but it wouldn't fire. Then a bomb went off beside Tony and the footage scrambled right after that.
"Now, someone telling me that if I'd just made that weapon better so it wouldn't have jammed or that I should have been able to run through SPORTS faster doesn't change that I got blown up."
Feeling lost, Bruce looked at Tony. "What?"
"You didn't ask for your weapon, right? We all know that. You didn't get a better weapon. You got one that needs a little work. So you haven't run through SPORTS very fast. That doesn't mean you get to blow yourself up."
"Oh." Bruce keyed the video back up. "What's SPORTS?"
Tony laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Here, see where I pulled back the bolt, checked the chamber and safety? That's all part of it." Tony mimed going through the motions. "It stands for Slap, Pull, Observe, Release, Tap, and Shoot."
Bruce chuckled. "I can't believe you just compared my situation to a jammed weapon."
Jarod watched Clint draw his bow. "That is an impressive weapon."
Clint let loose an arrow. "Thanks. It is my second favorite." He kept firing. "You said that Miss Parker doesn't seem interested in capturing anyone?"
"I don't think she was very interested even when she was chasing me." Jarod examined one of the arrows Clint had laid out. "I'm concerned about who manipulated the itineraries to put the few people I care about out of the Centre during the destruction."
"I'm worried because none of the children came up yours."
Jarod blinked. "Why?"
Clint loosed another arrow and turned towards Jarod. "You're the best Pretender they've ever had. You don't think they'd make kids from you? Hell, they were making them from me."
"Oh." Jarod rubbed his thighs with his palms. "I never thought about it."
Clint nodded. "I didn't think about it until I was told Hanna is mine." He gathered up his gear. "Come on, we can't be late for the argument about the school. I want to make sure they realize not to overcomplicate things."
Phil Coulson resisted the urge to put his head in his hands. The argument over the layout of the school's final buildings had devolved into a pissing match between Stark and Rogers. As much as Phil admired the two for various reasons, he was one step from telling them both to go sit in a corner.
Natasha hitched Hanna higher on her hip as she slide silently up beside him. "We could take a firehose to them."
"No." He ruffled Hanna's hair as she looked over the school's map. "You remember you stay here. As long as you want, Hanna."
She looked up at him and then back down at the map. "I know." She pointed at the layout. "Where's the room for the Hulk?"
Everyone else's arguments trailed off into silence as people turned to either look at Bruce or stare at Hanna.
Bruce leaned forward. "What do you mean, Hanna?"
"He should have a room. I get a room, and Francis. There's a room for Avengers to stay, but that's too small for Hulk. So, where's his room?"
"Hanna, he doesn't..."
Tony elbowed Bruce in the ribs. "It just isn't built yet, Hanna. Where do you think it should be?"
Phil raised an eyebrow at Tony over Hanna's bent head. Tony cut his eyes towards Bruce, who looked dumbfounded, and then Tony lifted his chin just a little. Phil let the corners of his mouth quirk up. Tony smiled wide when he saw that.
They slowly picked back up the arguments Hanna had interrupted, but Phil could tell a complete difference in tone.
Francis crawled along the air duct until he reached the furthest junction on his floor. He carefully pulled the burn phone from its hiding spot and stared at it for a long time. He was in a blind corner for JARVIS and he didn't have much time before someone was sent to check on him.
He fingered the buttons on the phone. He had heard Clint and Jarod talking about Miss Parker and Francis didn't want to report, but he didn't want to be taken back either. He knew that the Centre would come. He couldn't keep his breathing even, it kept speeding up. They wouldn't get just him if he didn't report.
He had a deadline to met. If he didn't report by tomorrow they would come. They would take him and make him a number again. They catch Clint, Hanna, and Bruce. They'd kill everyone they didn't take. He should have called much sooner, but he'd been putting it off until the deadline. Francis felt wetness on his cheeks. He sniffed and wiped at the tears he was shedding.
Bruce frowned down at Francis as he barreled into Bruce's leg. Francis was crying, sobbing. He was babbling, but it was so distorted with sobs Bruce couldn't understand a word of it. "Oooh, okay. Francis?" He gently pulled on Francis until he could pick the boy up. "What is it?"
Francis just clung tighter and cried harder. Bruce left the experiment he was in the middle of and went looking for Tony or Coulson. Clint if he found him first. As Francis continued to loudly sob, Bruce decided he'd settle on anyone he came across.
Chapter 11: Quick Change Step
I didn't want to leave you with the cliffhanger from last chapter too long. I thought this chapter would take me a bit longer, but since it didn't here you go.
Bruce came across Tony first. "Help, please."
Tony patted Francis on the back. "Hey, little guy, what the hell?" He followed Bruce into the movie room and tried to get Francis to transfer to him, but it didn't work. Francis clenched his little fists and sobbed harder, still babbling between sobs.
"He came in and grabbed my leg and started crying. I can't understand him." Bruce sat on the couch and tried to duck his head to look at Francis' face, but Francis was buried in Bruce's shirt.
"Well, okay." Tony pulled at Francis' pant legs, checking for injuries. "You hurt, Francis?"
Bruce started to unbutton his shirt. "Just a second, let me get this off so we can see him."
Francis started to readjust his hold, but Tony caught his hand and tugged, trying to check it for injuries. Francis heaved another sob and then started trying to scoot away.
"Hey, hey. It's okay." Tony caught Francis before he could fall off the edge of the couch. "Francis. Francis!"
Bruce rebuttoned his shirt and sat still as Francis crawled back into his lap, getting away from Tony. "Okay. Stop. Please?"
Francis pressed his forehead to Bruce's sternum. "I'm sorry!"
Bruce looked at Tony over top of Francis' head. "Whatever it is, it'll be okay, Francis."
Tony jerked as Bruce grabbed his hand. He frowned at Bruce, who frowned back. Bruce sat Tony's hand on Francis' back and started him rubbing in a circle.
Coulson came in from the hallway. "JARVIS said there is a problem." He looked at them and turned towards the kitchen. "I'll be right back."
Bruce tried to get Francis to say what was wrong, but he kept repeating he was sorry and sobbing. Coulson appeared with a warm wet washcloth and mopped the tears and snot off of Francis' face.
"Give me your hands, Francis." Coulson washed each hand as well before turning the cloth over and wiping Francis' face again. "Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth."
Francis tucked his face into Bruce's chest, but he followed what Coulson said to do. Tony started to pull back, but Coulson put his hand on Tony's shoulder to hold him still.
Bruce gently wrapped his hand around the back of Francis' head. "Can you tell me what happened, Francis?"
"I'm sorry." Francis' hands clenched and unclenched on the shirt over Bruce's ribs.
"That's fine." Bruce glanced up at Coulson. "I accept your apology, alright? Can you tell me what you are sorry for?"
Francis nodded against Bruce's chest. "I don't want to."
Tony patted Francis' back. "That's okay. We aren't going to yell at you."
"Sir? There is an urgent call from Stargate Command."
Tony huffed. "Now? It can wait, JARVIS."
"Sir, I don't think this can wait."
Tony threw up the hand that wasn't on Francis' back. "Then tell us."
"It would be advisable to view this alone, Sir."
Tony shook his head and stood up. "I'll be right back, Francis. It'll be fine. We'll fix it. I promise." He grabbed Coulson's elbow and put him in the seat Tony vacated. "Hand on back, circle. Bruce will show you."
Coulson gave Tony an exasperated look as Tony turned, hurrying into the kitchen as he grumbled under his breathe about what he was going to turn JARVIS into. "Francis, have you calmed down enough to tell us what's wrong?"
Tony got to the screen in the kitchen and made sure the connecting door was closed. "What, JARVIS?"
The screen flared to life and showed him a mess for what had to be the lower levels of Stargate Command. "Shit. What happened?"
"Stark?" O'Neill sounded pissed.
"Yeah, what happened?"
"You want the bad news first?"
Tony made a face. "Sure, why not? What is it!?"
"Good news is that we'll be able to tell Ross and the Hulk apart. Bad news is Ross is a Hulk. Well, red, but big." The screen changed to show a dented Stargate. "The Stargate is still working, which is good. I'd hate to have to lease one again."
Tony's eyebrows went up. "You are totally explaining that sometime."
"Yeah, sure. Really bad news is Ross went through the Gate." O'Neill showed up in the screen. "You have any idea how the hell he could have made himself into a Hulk?"
Tony grimaced. "Don't call him Hulk. I have a hard enough time getting Bruce to accept it as a name without attaching it to Ross. I don't know. I've been a little busy."
"There's no gamma radiation research here. And he's been watched since the Congressional hearing."
"We'll figure it out." Tony cocked his head. "Is your place going to fall down around your ears?"
O'Neill grinned. "Nah. It has seen worse. Lots worse."
Tony nodded and cut the feed. "Shit." He leaned his head back against the refrigerator. "JARVIS, do we have any idea what set off the boy child?"
"He entered one of the blind spots in my surveillance network, stayed less than five minutes, and emerged in emotional flux."
Tony rubbed his eyes. "Yeah, emotional flux called a damn meltdown." He pushed off the counter and headed back into the other room.
Bruce was having trouble following Francis' garbled babble, but Coulson just nodded and made encouraging nosies when Francis paused to breathe.
When Francis finally trailed off, Coulson threaded his fingers through Francis' hair. "You were very brave to tell us that, Francis." He kissed Francis' head. "I'll made sure it is fixed, alright? No one will be gotten."
Francis sniffled and nodded with his face buried back against Bruce's chest. "I'm sorry."
Bruce patted him on the back. "Just rest."
Francis slowly relaxed and started hiccuping in his sleep against Bruce.
Once, Bruce was sure Francis was really out of it he looked up at Coulson. "How did you understand a word of that?"
"Practice." Coulson eased Francis onto the couch between them. "JARVIS, please find Clint and tell him I need him to go into the vents on mine and Francis' floor."
"Right away, Agent Coulson."
Bruce raised his eyebrows.
Coulson rubbed his neck. "I'm not sure yet how much of a problem this will be. He was under orders to report all actives to his former caretaker. His deadline to report before they came to get him is midnight."
Bruce frowned. "They can't get him. There isn't anyone to left to come, right?"
"Maybe." Coulson stood up. "The older man giving Francis orders in the videos wasn't among the adults captured at the Centre. I'll do some checking."
"Did he report?"
Coulson smiled his I'm pleased smile. "No, he did not. He thought not reporting meant he was going to cause you and anyone else with the Pretender gene to be taken."
"Oh." Bruce soothed a hand down Francis' back as he hiccuped again. "Oh." He gathered Francis into his lap. "I'll stay with him."
"Thank you, Doctor."
Tony met Coulson as he came into the hallway. "We have a problem."
"Yes, we do." Coulson frowned at Tony's failing hands.
"Bigger than that."
Coulson cocked his head. "Really?"
"Yes." Tony moved down the hallway several feet and Coulson followed him. "Ross messed with something and now he's red and the size of the Hulk."
Coulson raised his eyebrows. "Alright. I give you that's a bit bigger than Francis' problem."
Tony nodded. "What is his thing anyway? He going to be okay?"
"Yes." Coulson started down the hallway and this time Tony followed. "He was ordered to report on what was going on here. His report deadline is midnight, but he hasn't called in. He was threatened with the capture of himself and others if he failed to report."
"Son of a bitch." Tony shook his head. "Wait, wait. He'd have to get a signal out for that. JARVIS?"
"Indeed, Sir. Francis has not made any attempts at outside communication."
"There you go."
Coulson sighed. "That is good, but if the location of the man that threatened Francis is still unknown." He leaned in towards Tony. "That is unacceptable."
Betty stared. "That's not good."
Tony flipped the video off. "Nope, not really. I haven't told Bruce yet."
With a nod, Betty stood up. "I'd better be there when you do. Just in case. Does anyone know where he ended up? What world?"
Tony shrugged. "O'Neill didn't say, but I'd think so. From what I've read the Stargate needs an address to lock onto another gate at the other end to make a wormhole between them."
"Okay. So they know where he is?"
"Think so, yeah." Tony followed her into the movie room and stared. "What's this?"
Everyone was ranged around the pile of pillows and blankets. In the center was Bruce with Francis tucked against his side.
Hanna grinned up at him from beside Francis, who was looking tired, but better. "This is a cheer up Francis party. Steve says you can't join unless you tell a story where you made a big mess."
Tony grinned. "I've got millions of those." He wormed his way in between Bruce and Francis. "I've even got a new one about General Ross."
"Tony." Betty frowned at him from the edge of the pillows.
"What? You don't think the mess is big enough?"
Bruce frowned. "What?"
Tony patted Bruce on the arm. "Nothing much, just you know, Ross managed to make himself into a monster. He's red though. Makes identification during battles much easier."
"He what?" Bruce leaned forward and looked from Tony to Betty, and back. "He did what?"
"Don't know just how yet. I'm betting a series of injections just before the hearing. Anyway, he's big, red, and not on this planet."
Steve sat down heavily from where he'd started to stand up. "Red?"
"Not on this planet?" Bruce looked at Steve. "Why is the color important?"
Steve rubbed his chin. "Schmidt was red. I was told it was because the serum had amplified all the bad in him. That's why I was chosen. They didn't think there was enough bad in me to outweigh the good."
Bruce blinked. "Wait, what? You think..." He turned to look at Betty.
She shrugged. "Makes sense. You aren't evil or crazy. Dad let himself go batshit with his obsession over the Hulk."
Tony arched backwards and patted her side. "Way to acknowledge the insanity there, Doc."
Betty batted at his hand absently. "The question is, do you think he's stuck or will he change back like Bruce can?"
Jarod and Miss Parker both startled as Coulson smoothly pulled out an empty chair over to their table and sat down.
"I apologize for the interruption. I was hoping one of you might know where this man is?"
Both, Jarod and Miss Parker frowned at the photo.
"Why do you want to know about him?"
Coulson put the photo back in his pocket. "He attempted to gain information from Francis."
Miss Parker tilted her head. "Who?"
Jarod smiled. "You should come up and met him, Miss Parker. I think you'd like him." He smiled at her.
Miss Parker narrowed her eyes at Jarod. "Really? He's a kid, isn't he?"
Coulson cleared his throat and as soon as they looked at him he tapped his pocket where the photo was. "Who is he?"
Jarod dropped a hand below the table to tap his fingers on his thigh. "We grew up calling him Dr.Raines. He has lost the license to practice medicine since then."
Miss Parker pushed her plate away from herself. "He experimented on Pretenders. Made little clone Jarod. The man's complete evil."
Jarod nodded. "Worse than the Emperor in Star Wars."
Miss Parker rolled her eyes. "Oh, gods, you've learned pop culture references. God, help us."
Coulson stood. "Thank you for the information. I'll let you get on with your date." He moved his chair back to where he got it from and left.
Miss Parker stared at Jarod, who was staring back. "Date?"
They both shook their heads.
Chapter 12: It Takes Two to Tango
Coulson is busy trying to help with Ross and look for the man that threatened Francis.
Colonel James Rhodes glared at the dent in the ring of metal that he'd been told was a Stargate. "You want me to what?!"
General O'Neill clapped him on the shoulder. "Help track Ross. The dumbass managed to end up on an ally's planet. We need to rein him in before he does something extremely stupid."
"More stupid than turning himself into another Hulk?"
Tony swept by Rhodey and stuck his head through the ring to look at the inside edge of the Stargate. "Don't call him that. Pick another name." He poked at one of the glyphs on the face of the ring. "So, what does this do exactly to make a wormhole to another planet?"
O'Neill gestured to them to follow him. "We'll show you."
Bruce frowned at the data he'd been cleared to look over. "We're sure this is how much of the serum he injected himself with?"
Coulson shrugged. "To the best of our knowledge, Doctor."
"Not good. This is very not good." Bruce flicked another piece of data up into the center of his display. "Steve, do you remember how much serum they used on you? The research notes on your transformation were lost."
Steve settled next to Bruce and put a cup of coffee in front of him. "I don't know the exact amount. There was a number of vials hooked to Howard's vita-ray machine. It wasn't really explained to me."
Bruce's eyebrows drew together and he turned his head to stare at Steve. "Howard's what?"
Steve looked from Coulson to Bruce. "You don't know about that? I thought you were trying to recreate what was done to me?"
Bruce blinked. "Wait, hold on. You think I was..." He turned to Coulson. "SHEILD thinks I was trying to make another super soldier? Really?"
Coulson closed the file he was working on. "That is the information in your file."
"Huh." Bruce tapped his fingers on the side of his cup. "That makes sense if Ross... I wasn't though."
Steve straightened. "What?"
Bruce flicked up more information onto his display. "I was working on radiation resistance. I wasn't even supposed to get hit with the amount of gamma I exposed to." He glanced at the other two. "Betty was my lab partner. Her father visited the day we did the test."
"So, how did you get injected with the serum if you weren't making it?" Coulson opened a new file.
With a shrug, Bruce rearranged the information graphs he was working on. "When you work with radiation you get used to the preventives we do have. I never did well on the pill form, so mine was an injection, which is blue in color. The blue was a little off that week, but I didn't really pay attention because I was excited about the test." He smiled sadly at Steve. "I should have paid more attention."
Steve shook his head. "You weren't to blame."
"Yeah, right." Bruce frowned at his display. "Howard's machine, do you remember what it did?"
"It hurt." Steve grimaced as the other two turned to look at him. "I don't think they expected it. They injected me and the machine closed and it was really bright. Howard almost stopped the whole thing because I was screaming." Steve waved away their concern. "I made them keep going. And it worked."
Bruce pushed his glasses up his nose from where they'd slipped down. "Steve, do me a favor and never mention that machine to anyone else."
Steve looked confused. "Why? If none of the research includes it, what does it matter?"
Coulson stood up. "There are people that would attempt to extract information from Stark thinking that he would know what happened to his father's inventions."
"Oh." Steve blinked. "That's..."
"Tony's been kidnapped before for less of a reason than making super soldiers." Bruce sighed. "Don't mention it to him, Steve."
Steve nodded. "I try not to mention Howard around Tony anyway."
Jon hitched Francis higher on his hip. "You know that no one is mad at you, right?"
Francis nodded into Jon's shoulder. "I know."
"Okay. Just checking." Jon checked that Hanna was following them, her tiny hand in Natasha's. "This place is better than the Centre, I promise."
Hanna frowned. "You miss being here."
"Sometimes." Jon smiled as they met Daniel by the guardhouse. "Hey, Daniel."
Doctor Daniel Jackson smiled at Jon. "Hi." He shook hands with Natasha and then Hanna when she stuck her hand out. He waved at Francis, who was clinging to Jon. "Uhm, Jack said that you all were going to help track Ross. He keeps destroying the MALPs and the one UAV we sent through the gate was downed in under fifteen seconds."
Jon nodded. "Did Ross seem smart when he was rampaging through the base?"
Daniel lead them into an elevator. "Not exactly." He leaned against the wall of the elevator. "He got hit by a staff weapon and that turned him into the Gateroom. I think the only reason he went through the Gate was because he was being shot at."
They exited the elevator, went around a corner, went through a checkpoint, and onto another elevator.
Jon ruffled Hanna's hair with his free hand. "You alright, kid?"
She looked a little green around the edges. "Why does he hurt?"
Jon glanced at Daniel, who was frowning, at them. He knelt down to Hanna's level. "Daniel has had a lot of stuff happen to him. He's been forced to change when he shouldn't have had to. Lots like you and Francis, but I caused a lot of his changing."
She frowned. "You when you were older. Before your new knees and the blank space in your head."
Jon pushed himself upright and adjusted Francis into a more comfortable postion. "Pretty much."
The elevator arrived and Daniel gestured for Natasha to go ahead of him. He leaned towards Jon as she stepped out.
"I don't blame you, Jack."
Jon snorted. "I made you more of a soldier when all you wanted was to be a linguist and archeologist, Daniel."
Daniel herded Jon ahead of him. "Still not blaming you."
Hanna demanded Tony pick her up as soon has she saw him. He swung her onto his hip and went right on arguing about how much Ross was intending to destroy. She hooked her hands tightly into Tony's shirt so he couldn't leave her behind.
The base was very different from the Centre, but that didn't mean she wasn't worried someone would try to make her stay. Tony had said she could stay in his Tower, so if she stayed with him she'd get home for very sure.
The map of the world Ross had ended up on was laid out on the table. It didn't look complete. She leaned forward to see if there was a good place to chase Ross into so he'd get tired and turn back into his human size.
Hanna didn't listen to the argument happening because she could tell they were really just unsure of what to do, instead of really arguing. "Can't Bruce stop him?"
They all quieted down and looked at her. She pointed at the only canyon on the map that might work. It wasn't really deep, but if they could get Bruce to chase Ross around some beforehand, the walls might be high enough.
"What do you mean, Hanna?" Tony looked down at her.
She could tell he was happy, so she thought she was probably right. "Ask Bruce to chase Ross around and then into that canyon. Bruce changes back when he is tired. Ross probably will, won't he?"
Jon smiled at her. "Which is fine, but there's a city of people that we have to keep them away from."
Hanna frowned at the map. "Can't we just show the map to Bruce once he's the Hulk?"
She looked at Francis as surprise rippled through most everyone in the room. He shrugged at her.
Tony patted Hanna on the back. "We could try, but I don't know that the Hulk can read a map." He cocked his head. "We could make him a treasure map though."
Jon's eyebrows went up. "A what?"
Pepper looked up as Coulson came into her office. She shut down the video she was currently on that showed Tony paying attention to how Pepper's car's brakes were working. "Phil." She smiled. "What can I do for you?"
He sat down across from her and pushed a file across the desk. "I need to know if you have seen anything like this in Stark Industries archives."
She opened the file to a sketch of Steve's. "Hmm. No. I don't think so. You haven't asked JARVIS?"
"No." He put another file on top of the open one. "On another note, we have a problem."
She read the new file and grimaced. "I heard Francis was upset." She looked up. "You think this Raines is still out there somewhere?"
Coulson flicked through the pages of the file to a photo. "This was taken the night of Centre's collapse. This man is not among the adults we arrested. He was there. Natasha remembers him laughing, but no one has seen him since." He leaned back. "I'm hoping you've found information I don't have."
"You think I might have run across him skimming from the Centre funds and not realized it?"
She hummed as she pulled up all the files for tracking the Centre's funds. "It is a complete mess to follow. I don't...Wait." She punched through until she got to the table showing the funds going to the cloning program. "There's this one. The program isn't listed on the Centre's main funding sheets after a certain date, but the funds were still being moved."
"Raines was in control of Jarod's clone." Phil came around the desk to look at the information Pepper was putting up.
"Oh, no." Bruce shook his head and pointed at Tony's face on the screen of the video phone. "I am not agreeing to that."
Tony grinned. "It was Hanna's idea."
Bruce glared. "I don't care. I'm not as wrapped around her finger as some people."
"You do remember the Big Guy adores her, right?"
Bruce rubbed his forehead. "Not helping yourself, Tony."
Tony grinned. "Look, just think about it. They can't get anything through the Gate since Ross keeps smashing everything. We can't send a person unless it is Thor, but considering we don't know if Ross is stronger than you...Do you really want a Thor-shaped hole in another planet, Bruce?"
Bruce huffed. "No." He narrowed his eyes at Tony. "I can see what you are doing, Tony."
Tony nodded. "I didn't think you couldn't." He pointed at Bruce. "You don't know for sure that your green self won't agree to help. Although, I distinctly remember the Hulk saying he'd stay home unless the Avengers said smash."
Bruce hung up on Tony. "Damn it."
Clint settled across from Peggy at the kitchen table where it looked like she had a file for every child they'd rescued. "Ma'am?"
She looked up and smiled. "Hello. Clint, isn't it?" She gestured at the files. "You are a Pretender, correct?"
He nodded. "Yes, I am."
"I've been going over the files of the children to see if I could help Darcy with the school." She nudged a file that was trying to fall off the table into a more stable postion. "What do you think would help the children with fostering a sense of self?"
Clint blinked. "What?"
Peggy smiled kindly. "If this pretending you do is a constant ability that can't be simply shut off, then I would think you had trouble figuring out what is just you."
"You should probably ask Jarod."
"And I probably will, but right now I am asking you."
With a frown, Clint stood and moved to the counter. He pulled down a glass and filled it with orange juice. "I can't help you with that one." He turned to face her and leaned against the counter.
Peggy raised an eyebrow. "You can't help because you have no answer, or because you don't know how to apply the answer to the children?"
Clint looked at his feet. "I don't have an answer."
Betty followed Jarod through the airport. She knew that Stark's driver was behind her somewhere keeping them both in sight, but she couldn't focus on that. "I still don't understand why you asked me to come with you."
Jarod smiled at her. "In case something goes wrong my clone would go with you and Mr. Happy will get you both back to the Tower."
"That doesn't help you, though." Betty clutched the strap of her purse to herself as they squeezed through the crowd.
Jarod looked up as the intercom garbled something. "I can take care of myself."
She almost stumbled as she tried to follow Jarod's sudden change of direction. "Where are you going?"
"Didn't you listen to the intercom?"
She frowned. "You understood that?"
He blinked. "Oh." Jarod turned and started to say something to her, when his eyes went over her shoulder. "Jay."
She turned and there was a boy with a backpack hanging off one shoulder. Well, calling him a boy was a disservice. He looked about Jon's age, but he had an air of innocence around him Betty was sure Jon hadn't ever had. "Oh, hi."
Jay looked from her to Jarod and tightened his grip on his backpack strap. "Hello."
Jarod smiled and slowly moved forward to hug Jay. "I'm glad to see you."
Betty eased them out of the flow of the crowd as Jay just stood there awkwardly. She offered her hand to shake when Jarod moved away. "I'm Betty Ross."
He looked down at her hand and then hesitantly took it in his hand. "I know."
She bit her lip and then turned to look for Stark's driver. "Do you have luggage?"
Jay looked at Jarod and then back to her. "No."
Jarod smiled. "That's alright." He started them back the way they had come. "Have you spoken to Dad lately?"
Jay moved so Betty was between him and Jarod. "I got an email from him yesterday. He was worried about you being in that Congressional meeting."
Jarod nodded. "That's the least of our worries right now."
Chapter 13: Hulk gets to Dance
Hulk mets Dr. Daniel Jackson, amongst other things.
Bruce looked up at the entrance of the mountain. "I am completely insane."
Natasha smiled at him. "You are not. You would like to catch Ross and make him sorry. That's not insane. I would like to catch him myself."
"You..." Bruce blew a breathe out. "I thought we were timing this so we could flush out Raines while the children were surrounded by a bunch of Coulson's former coworkers."
"Clint can get Raines without you for backup. I'll be going back as soon as you are settled."
He gave her a 'you are weird' look. "You don't exactly settle me."
"I know." She patted him on the arm. "There is a shaft that was a missile silo that goes clear down the levels inside the mountain. It is more than big enough for the Hulk to use if you need out." She headed for the car he'd just came from.
He turned. "Do you need the keys?"
She shook her head. "I need to practice hot-wiring. Good a time as any."
Bruce shook his head and headed for the entrance. "I am completely insane and surrounded by lunatics."
Jarod looked around the table and wished he'd known these people far earlier. Coulson was spreading files out and explaining to Jay their tentative plan to capture Raines by letting the extraction team that would come for Francis to get Jarod instead.
Clint sat down next to Jarod. "You don't have to be the bait. He hates me too."
Jarod took the drink Clint handed him. "Raines wouldn't take his time with you. He'll keep me alive longer."
Clint huffed. "It is a crap plan." He turned his drink around and around. "You are going to get killed."
Jay looked up from the papers in front of him. "Raines wouldn't kill me. I can be the bait."
Coulson stilled and looked towards them. Jarod and Clint both shook their heads.
Peggy pushed another file onto the table. "You will be the back up bait. If the extraction team appears to be just shooting every decoy instead of looking for people to take, then you will be the bait."
Jarod glared. "No."
Peggy cocked an eyebrow at him. "What exactly do you think we should do? We aren't handing that man a child. Jay is an adult and if he ends up being the bait, then we will just have to move that much faster."
Clint pursed his lips and brought up the layout of the Tower. "Okay, so we have Betty holed up here..."
Darcy stared down at the little sea of faces. "Okay, so someone, well, several someones think it'd be a good idea for me to met you all." She waved at them a little. "Uhm, I'm supposed to be helping make you all a school with...stuf."
They just stared. Darcy was pretty sure there were several that weren't blinking.
"Okay. What about music? Have you all heard "7 8 9" before?" She pulled her new ipod out of her bag and the speaker dock to go with it. If she was being sidelined into 'protecting' the kids in the hospital, she was going to get at least one of them to smile.
Tony could see that Bruce was more nervous than he'd been since moving into the Tower. "Hey, here, she's being heavy."
Bruce took Hanna gently, they worked her tiny hands loose from Tony's shirt and Bruce sat down with Hanna in his lap. "This is not a good plan."
Jon clapped Bruce on the shoulder. "Older me won't let anyone leave you stranded. We'll come with one of the spaceships if the gate gets destroyed. It will just take a week or so to get there."
Tony leaned against the table. "Besides, you aren't going alone. I'll be there too."
Bruce looked up at them and with his eyebrows lifted and a frown. "What? You can't just go...What about JARVIS? You need his help with the armor."
Tony shrugged. "As long as they keep the gate open JARVIS has a connection. And I can fly it without JARVIS, just not as well."
"Tony." Bruce turned as the door opened.
Steve stepped through. "We're ready."
Jon lifted Hanna from Bruce's lap. "I won't let them out of my sight."
Bruce nodded. "Well, let's see if we can convince the other guy that the gate isn't for smashing."
They'd cleared the Gateroom already. General Jack O'Neill cleared the control room and had the blast shield for the conference room lowered.
Bruce took off his shirt and handed the folded shirt to Steve. "I still don't know that this is the best idea."
Steve took the shirt and handed it to Dr. Jackson. "It will be alright. If Hulk appears to be afraid we'll open the blast doors for the silo and Iron Man will follow him up and out."
Bruce nodded. "Right. That's lots better for everyone outside."
In the control room, Jon sat Hanna on a chair. "Don't touch the buttons."
She rubbed sleepily at one eye. "I won't." She peered over the console into the Gateroom. "After this we go home, right?"
Jon put Francis up next to Hanna. "As soon as we can, we will go home, Hanna."
Jack patted Hanna on her shoulder. "Don't worry, kiddo."
The Hulk huffed and looked around himself. The big ring against one wall was a sharp smelly thing. He turned and looked at Spaceman grinning up at him.
"Hey, Hulk." Spaceman waved. "We thought you might want to hunt Bad Army Leader Man."
Hulk crouched down. "Where?" He turned his head to look at Star Man, who'd been quietly standing near an open Hulk-sized door. "Smash?"
Star Man stepped forward and put his shield on his arm. "Yes, Hulk, you get to smash General Ross. We have to open a door for you to go through to get him. It's loud." Star Man turned towards the wall away from the ring. "Let's try it."
Hulk looked that way and waved back at the Tiny Girl and Tiny Boy waving at him through the thick glass. He turned when the ring started to make noise.
Spaceman pointed at their feet. "You have to stay back here behind the yellow line, okay?"
Hulk nodded and moved towards the back wall, away from the yellow line on the floor. The ring kept moving, it had another light on it now. "Lights?"
Spaceman nodded. "It uses an address to open the door." He held up a paper. "Hulk, can you remember this?"
Hulk knelt down and looked over the paper. "Not letters."
"No." Star Man pointed at the ring. "To get back we have to hit the not-letters in that order and then the big red button."
Spaceman tapped the paper. "Softly. Like your door. No smashing it."
"Hulk remember." Hulk huffed and watched the ring move. "Ring smell."
Spaceman and Star Man traded looks.
Star Man looked at Hulk. "Smell? What do you mean?"
Hulk tapped Spaceman's chest carefully so it didn't smash him. "Chest tiny smell. Ring big smell." He turned and tapped Star Man's shield. "Also smell."
From the control room, Jon hit a control. "Stark, what is your arc using for a core?"
Tony shrugged as the ring kept turning. "It uses an element..."
Jon interrupted. "We'll talk about it later. The last chevon is locking."
Hulk turned towards the ring as it started to whine. Then it pulsed a huge bloom of blue which reached the yellow line that snapped right back into a wavy surface across the face of the ring. "Door?"
Star Man straighten up. "Door. Hulk, Ross is on the other side and he's going to try to smash you."
"Bad Army Leader Man is puny, puny. Hulk smash." He jerked his head towards the open Hulk-sized door as a small rolling thing appeared.
Spaceman patted his wrist, pulling his attention back around. "That's just my relay for Voice. You need to not smash it, okay?"
Hulk nodded. He went up the ramp to the ring and touched the wavy surface. It tingled. "Cold." He backed up a step and bounded through.
Steve blew out a breathe as Hulk disappeared. "Okay, that went well."
Tony clumped up the ramp after the MALP. "Yeah. How long are we giving it?"
"Minute and a half. First time through the gate, he might be throwing up. Most people do." Jon shrugged as Tony made a face at them through the control room's glass. "You might not."
Tony shook his head and ignored him. Steve stepped up behind Tony as the MALP trundled froward.
"Tony, is this really a relay for JARVIS?"
"Boosts the signal well enough that as long as we don't go clear around the planet he'll be able to reach me. If we're going to make a treasure map for Hulk to take Ross along, I have to lay the path."
Steve nodded. "I still don't like this plan."
Hulk came out and landed on his knees as everything was different. He rubbed at one ear and then he was being hit by a huge red thing. Hulk roared and they tore across the ground. Getting to his feet, Hulk grabbed at the red puny thing that smelled like the Bad Army Leader Man. Hulk growled.
The Bad Puny Red smiled. "Banner."
Hulk narrowed his eyes. "Hulk smash." He ran towards the Bad Puny Red.
Tony stepped through the gate with his helmet still off. He knew Steve didn't like it, but Tony would be damned if he threw up inside the armor. He went to his knees on the other side. "Okay." He clutched his stomach, contracted on breathing through the sudden nausea, and listened to the fighting roars off to his left somewhere. "Okay, I see what they mean."
Behind him Steve stepped through and braced his hands on his thighs. "Woah."
"Yeah." Tony took a breathe and straightened up. "You okay?"
Steve nodded. "I'll be fine. You?"
Tony put his helmet on and flipped down the faceplate. "I won't be barrel rolling anytime soon."
"Why didn't you mention the time limit to either Banner or Hulk?"
Tony braced himself to fly. "Bruce would have bulked. Hulk would be distracted." He kicked in the thrusters.
Behind him, Steve stood guard over the MALP and looked around at the remains of the other MALPs.
The Tower was quiet and Clint waited. Natasha was a few floors down, also waiting. JARVIS had warned them someone had attempted to cut the power lines, so they'd let the Tower go dark in response.
Clint watched Coulson shift below him. "You okay, sir?"
"Barton, what about radio silence do you not understand?"
Clint smiled at the exasperation in Coulson's voice. Some things never changed. "I asked first."
Coulson sighed. "I'm stiff."
Below them the distant sound of a door breach came up the elevator shaft.
Natasha sounded bored as she reported hostiles coming in.
Clint readied his tracking arrows.
Jarod let himself go limp and stay that way as the invaders grabbed at him. They bagged his head and started to carry him towards the elevator. He heard the whoosh ping of Clint's tracking arrows.
Coulson downed two invaders before they started firing back heavily. Jarod worried about Coulson until he heard one of the whoosh pings again. If Coulson had been hurt, Clint would have shot someone in the eye.
Jarod felt them jab him in the neck with another drug. He blacked out.
Coulson frowned at his arm as the tracking data showed the kidnappers as still moving. "I'm fine."
Clint pulled the bandage a little tighter. "Just a flesh wound. Right, sir."
Jay pointed at them. "That's a movie reference!"
Natasha tried not to smile. "Yes, it is." She punched Clint in the shoulder. "You were supposed to protect him."
Coulson frowned. "I am fine."
Peggy waved her hand for them to all be quiet. "They are slowing down."
Everyone crowded around the display as the tracking stopped. Half the trackers weren't active yet. They watched as six trackers went out.
Coulson tapped the controls and started one new one. It came online smoothly. They watched as all of the trackers in Jarod's clothes stayed in place as the rest of the trackers began to scatter. Coulson made his call. "Boss, the foot soldiers have been paid."
"Roger that. The package?"
Director Fury nodded on the screen. "Understood. Fury out."
They watched the scatter continue and then Clint zoomed in on the biggest cluster of trackers still together and moving steadily. "This one."
Coulson nodded. "My thought as well."
Hulk caught the Bad Puny Red and got to smash him once before he shoved Hulk into a tree and jumped away. Hulk roared as he went after him. They chased across the forest until there was a flare of light off to the right.
Bad Puny Red stopped to look at it. Hulk grabbed him and bounded towards it. Hulk knew Spaceman made light. He might need help.
They didn't get far before Hulk was busy fighting Bad Puny Red as they blew through trees.
"Stupid Banner." Bad Puny Red punched Hulk in the head several times. "Stupid Hulk."
Hulk growled and backhanded Bad Puny Red off himself. "Puny, puny."
The light flared up again. Hulk left Bad Puny Red behind to check on Spaceman. Too much light might be as bad as no light.
Bad Puny Red roared and followed.
Tony grimaced as his HUD told him both Ross and Hulk were following the flares he was laying down. "JARVIS, remind me to finish something on Hulk's communications so we can talk to him during these fights."
"Of course, sir, in the middle of a first flight on an extraterrestrial planet you are worried about communications with the Hulk."
Tony snorted a laugh. "Yeah, well, priorities." He looked at the countdown for the 38 minute window on the gate. "Let me know when they start gaining, J."
Hulk stopped after finding the third light. He turned and waited for Bad Puny Red to catch up so he could smash. He roared as Bad Puny Red hit him, throwing them across the ground where it was rocky.
They tore at each other, the ground, Spaceman came and hit Bad Puny Red once with the light from his hands. Hulk used that small bother as an opening to hit Bad Puny Red hard in his stomach. Hulk kept on him as Bad Puny Red doubled over, coughing, and holding his stomach.
Spaceman hovered near Hulk. "Hulk can you bring Ross after me?"
Hulk beat on Bad Puny Red's head, smashing him into the ground several times, cracking the rock under them. "Hulk follow Spaceman."
"Great." Spaceman flew away.
Hulk smashed his enemy a few more times and then grabbed him up to follow Spaceman.
Jarod woke and shivered.
Jarod curled around himself on his side and tried to ignore the tingle in the back of his throat from the cigarette smoke.
There was a scrap and then slow footsteps. "You thought you would be clever with tracking units in your clothing. On my Cleaners."
Jarod had a momentary fear that all the trackers had been found. Then he calmed himself and lay still.
Raines leaned down to speak in Jarod's ear. "We are going to have such fun."
They watched the group of trackers stop and start to go out again. Coulson waited. Clint paced behind him, something he normally couldn't do while waiting.
Peggy watched the data from the trackers flatline one by one. "Ready?"
Coulson shook his head. "Wait." The remaining trackers went down in a burst. Coulson let out a sigh. "Start up one in thirty seconds."
They waited the thirty seconds and then a tracker came to life. It was a small distance from the last known position and moving. They watched it until it stopped again. It went out.
Coulson waited two minutes before activating the next one, this time on a different person from the small group. They followed it until it stopped again. It began to make slow loops around the warehouse it was in.
Natasha looked at Coulson. "Should we start one on Jarod?"
Coulson nodded. "The one in the surface of his foot."
That tracker appeared in the same warehouse as the guard. It was near the center, not moving.
Coulson flicked his fingers at Clint and Natasha. "Go. Be safe. Get him back."
Clint clapped him on the shoulder. "Right away, sir."
Natasha nodded and touched the spot on the screen that was Jarod's tracker. "We'll get him."
Steve stared as the Hulk stepped out of the forest with Ross wrapped up in some sort of fiber Tony had assured everyone would work for this. "Is that braided?"
Tony landed near them. "Yep. Francis and I worked it out for a present for Hulk."
Hulk frowned and dropped Ross at their feet. Hulk kicked Ross in the side. "Puny, puny." He looked at Tony. "Present?"
"A gift, yeah, Hulk. We're making you something for you to have."
Hulk blinked and frowned down at Ross. "Hulk not own things."
They startled as the gate shut down. Hulk walked over to it and knocked on the side of the gate.
Tony retracted his faceplate and laughed. "No. We just have to dial...Say, Hulk? You want to put in the address for home? Like I told you before?"
Hulk came through the empty ring and looked down at the DHD thing that Jon had shown Steve a picture of before Bruce had arrived at the mountain.
Steve stepped closer. "Just push the buttons. Right, Tony?"
Tony stayed were he was. "Yeah, it'll do that plasma bloom again, so you know, move out of the way."
Steve moved the MALP while Hulk dialed. The thing whooshed like before and then JARIVS' voice came from the MALP.
"General O'Neill would like to know if the mission is a success, sir?"
Tony smiled as Hulk bent down to stare at the MALP. "Tell him we're ready to come back home, J."
Hulk poked the MALP. "Voice moved homes?"
"No, Mr. Hulk. Voice only came to insure that Hulk came home with Tiny Girl."
Hulk huffed, stood, and picked up the MALP. "Good." He turned and grabbed the drag line for Ross. Then he looked at Steve. "Home, Star Man?"
Steve nodded. "Yeah. Let's go home, Hulk."
Tony clomped up beside him as Hulk disappeared through the gate. "How's it feel to be on a whole different planet?"
Steve looked around at the downed trees. "Like there's a lot of trees."
Tony laughed and they stepped through the gate together.
Clint pulled Jarod's limp body up and put him into a fireman's carry. "Nat?"
She was breathing a little heavily over the comm line. "Got the bastard." She made something make a whimpering sound. "How's the package?"
Clint moved them across the warehouse. "Not in good shaped." He clicked over to Coulson. "We need medical."
Coulson's voice was calm in his ear. "Waiting for you to come to them. Southeast corner."
"Got it." Clint moved them along a wall until he got to the door to the outside. Nat came from another direction, dragging a bound up man. Clint went first through the door.
Hanna clapped her hands as Hulk lifted her up. "You got him."
Hulk smiled and lifted the Francis too. "Bad Puny Red leave Hulk alone now."
Jon nudged Ross as he started to shrink. "Oh, look he can change back."
Tony and Steve came down the ramp. Hulk turned to watch them.
Steve looked up at the Hulk. "You did great, Hulk."
Hulk blew a breathe out and blinked. "Great good?"
Tony patted the Hulk on his elbow. "You did awesome. Both of which are good. Saved the day. Hey, Hanna."
Hanna waved from her perch on the Hulk's shoulder. "Can we go home now?"
Tony smiled. "As soon as Coulson calls."
Hulk sat down next to the MALP. "Friend Coulson home?"
Steve tightened the bindings to match Ross' new size. "He is at home." Steve leaned in towards Tony. "Why isn't he changing back?"
Tony shrugged and made a face. "He's not done yet? I don't know. Ask him."
Dr. Jackson appeared from the side of the Gateroom. "Uh, hi."
Hulk cocked his head. "Marine?"
Jon laughed and fell over as he kept laughing.
"Ah, no." He looked at Jon. "Don't mind him." He turned back to the Hulk and put out his hand. "I'm Daniel."
Hulk looked from Daniel's hand to Jon laughing and back. He took Daniel's hand and shook carefully. "Hulk."
Daniel smiled and sat down on the MALP. "Pleased to met you, Hulk."
Hulk raised his eyebrows, turned to look at Tony. "Pleased?"
Tony stopped shedding his armor and looked up. "Uh, yeah. Means he likes you. Probably wants to talk to you." Tony nudged Jon on the foot. "Why is he laughing?"
Daniel adjusted his glasses. "He finds the idea of me as a Marine hilarious."
Jon clutched his sides and rolled onto his back. "Wormhole Extreme."
Daniel sighed and covered his face with his hand. "Oh, God."
Hulk sat down and pulled Jon into his lap with a small yelp from Jon. "Breathe."
Jon wiped at his cheeks. "Yeah, I'm breathing."
Hulk patted him on the back and looked at Daniel. "Talk?"
"Uh, yes." Daniel leaned forward. "Do you have other words for 'puny'?"
Hulk rubbed the back of his neck. "Puny is...bad."
Jon watched Daniel map Hulk's vocabulary from his place in Hulk's lap. Daniel looked happy, which was good. Jon missed having Daniel around. Jon let the rumble of the Hulk's voice lull him into relaxing. "You should ask him about smells."
Tony settled on the MALP with Daniel. "Yeah, good idea, Jon."
Hanna slipped down the side of Hulk's chest to sit with Jon. Francis followed and soon Jon had two sleeping children nestled against him in the lap of someone that could wreck the whole mountain. Jon wondered about his life sometimes.
Natasha handed off the prisoner and went back into the warehouse because she'd seen a problem. The size of the inside of the warehouse didn't mesh with the loops of the guard on the tracking map. It took her a few minutes, but she found a hidden entrance.
"Coulson, I found more space to check." She eased the door open.
"Roger that. Hawkeye is on his way to your location."
"Alright." She waited for Clint. He appeared from around the corner, streaked in Jarod's blood. "Status?"
Clint pulled his bow over his head. "He'll live." He lifted his chin at the entrance. She nodded and they went in.
Chapter 14: Hulk goes Home
The aftermath of capturing Raines isn't as clearcut as anyone would like. Coulson frets about how to deal with that while Hulk insists on taking Hanna and Francis home.
When Phil had gotten a call from the hospital his first thought was that someone had gotten through Thor to Darcy and the children. The noise over the line was a surprise. "Are they singing?"
"We're videotaping it for you, sir. I just thought you'd like to know that Ms. Lewis has gotten the most reaction out of them as a group yet."
"Thank you." Phil shook his head has he ended the call. He turned to the screen showing tracking for the final stage of the building clearing Black Widow and Hawkeye were conducting.
Peggy was flicking through the status report on Jarod's injuries. "Stupid boy."
Phil read the list and frowned as he looked across the table to Jay. "He'll be fine."
Jay nodded. "I know. I've been a doctor before." He pointed at the tracking dots on the screen. "They got Raines?"
"Yes." Phil pulled up the feed for the prisoner transport that was taking Raines to the helicarrier. "He's in SHEILD custody." Phil checked the report from the agent riding along with the man. "Looks like he isn't speaking." He didn't mention the non-stop laughing.
Clint covered Nat as she moved through the next doorway. She moved on and he followed right behind. They got to a closed door. He stood beside it and nodded at Nat to open it up.
Clint went through and cleared the room for hostiles and adults. Then he just stood there staring at the child huddled in the back corner.
Nat came up beside him and looked down at the kid. She nudged him with an elbow. "Are we good?"
Clint slung his bow over his head. Then he crouched down and held out his empty hand for the kid to see. "Hey there. I'm Clint."
The kid tucked their head down and whimpered.
Clint settled onto his butt because this was going to take some time. "It's okay. No one is going to make you do anything."
He listened to Nat slip back out of the room as he worked on getting the kid to lift his head to look at them.
Natasha leafed through the papers on the desk outside of the kid's room as she waited for Coulson to get back to her on arranging transport of the kid. She stopped when she found the notes for the child's origins. "Coulson, this isn't good."
Coulson snort came across the line. "Tell me something I don't know."
She read down the page and flipped it over to read the list of failures. "Please tell me that I'm going to be allowed to kill that man."
"What have you found?"
Natasha gathered up the paper evidence as she reported her intel.
Steve silently fretted as he watched Hulk and Dr. Jackson talk. Tony followed Ross out of the Gateroom leaving Steve to watch over the children as they slept.
Hulk cradled them carefully as he talked to Dr. Jackson. "Hulk smell good."
Steve stepped up beside Dr. Jackson. "What's he mean?"
Dr. Jackson grinned as he looked up from the notes he was taking. "He means he has a very good sense of smell. Hulk, you said the gate, Star Man's shield, and Spaceman's chest all smell the same?"
Hulk rumbled. "Good Hit's puny hammer smell same." He twitched his nose. "And poky shock too."
Steve and Daniel exchanged looks as Tony came back in without his armor on.
Dr. Jackson looked back up at the Hulk. "Poky shock? What does that mean?"
Tony reached over Hulk's arm to brush Hanna's hair. "Thor's lightning. Like static electricity for Hulk."
Steve nodded. "So what is Hulk smelling, Dr. Jackson?"
"Just call me Daniel." He tapped his pen on his notebook. "The Ancients used naquadah to build the Gates. It is really rare here on Earth. Our supply of it comes from off-world."
Steve looked down at his shield. "Howard said what they put in my shield was all their known supply back then."
Tony tapped his reactor as he thought about it. "And I created what I've got for my cores. So, we're looking at a substance that Hulk can detect. Awesome."
Hulk rocked forward a little, causing Jon to brace against his chest. "Hulk help?"
"Yeah, that helps." Tony patted Hulk's knee. "You ready to go home yet? You usually have gone to sleep or something by now."
Hulk cocked his head. "Hulk take Tiny Friends home."
Steve raised his eyebrows and looked at Tony who was making one of his 'well, shit' faces.
Tony thought for a minute before snapping his fingers. "Tell you what, buddy. We'll get a transport to get you from here to the airfield, but it isn't Hulk sized. I don't have that made up yet. We'll talk about what you want for comms on the way. Okay?"
Hulk grinned and lifted Jon out of his lap to the floor. Then he gathered Hanna and Francis carefully so he could stand up. "Hulk go home."
Tony shrugged at Steve as he made a face. Tony leaned in close. "You want to tell him no?"
Steve shook his head. "Not really." He turned to find General O'Neill standing a few feet away.
General O'Neill steadied Jon as he looked up at the Hulk. "If you don't mind small spaces we can put you on the elevator, but if that's a problem I'll get the silo opened up."
Hulk bent down and looked O'Neill over carefully. "No Army?"
"Nope." O'Neill jerked his thumb towards Jon. "I'm Air Force like he was. No Army."
"Hulk" Hulk shifted Francis so he could stick out his massive hand towards O'Neill.
"General O'Neill." O'Neill eyes widened as Hulk to his hand in between his thumb and finger to shake. "Pleased to meet you."
Hulk blinked and turned towards Steve and Tony. "Pleased?"
Tony smiled. "Yeah, not Army people like to met you."
The Hulk rumbled and walked towards the Hulk-sized door. "Hulk go home now."
Tony followed hurriedly tapping something into his phone.
O'Neill turned towards Daniel and Jon as they followed the weird looking group towards the supply elevator. "You know the thing I don't get, Daniel?"
Daniel raised his eyebrow as they turned a corner. "What's that, Jack?"
"Why do those kids have bouncy balls? Don't kids like stuffed animals anymore?"
Thor watched over the hospital until Coulson came to tell him they were safe on again. Young Darcy had made merry with the children recovering from their captivity in a way that Thor was pleased to see. He turned as Coulson came from the rooftop door.
"Son of Coul."
"Indeed." Thor nodded towards the windows showing Darcy trying to teach the children some ritual dance. "Darcy is making friends heartily."
"I see that." Coulson settled beside Thor on the roof. "The others are on their way back. The Hulk is refusing to change back into Banner."
Thor resettled his hammer next to himself. "Is my help required?"
"No." Coulson checked his tablet. "He's just insisting on taking the children home, so Stark has arranged a transport that can handle Hulk's weight and size."
Thor nodded. "General Ross has been captured?"
"Yes." Coulson sighed. "I was hoping you could tell me what Hanna told you of her life before."
Thor turned his head to look at Coulson. "Is there a problem?"
"We've found another child." Coulson sighed as he sat down next to Thor. "We had to sedate him to get him out of the room he was being kept in. I need a better idea of what is typically done to the children than I can get from the research notes. You are currently the only non-Pretender that possibly has this information that I can ask quickly."
Thor nodded. "Hanna was sorely mistreated." He picked up his hammer and turned it over in his hands slowly. "No affection was given to her. No hugs nor smiles. She was reprimanded or punished for any show of emotion."
Coulson nodded. "Frightened as well."
"She was told to fear the world." Thor smoothed his fingers across Mjolnir's cool surface. "That she is capable of any trust is remarkable."
"If you had to try to gain this new child's trust, how would you go about it?"
Thor stood up and held his hand out to Coulson. "I would pick a single person to be the child's lodestone."
Getting Hulk from the plane onto a transport to get him to the Tower was proving to be more difficult than getting him out of the O'Neill's base.
"I'm coming with you."
Hulk eyed the opening and looked down at Tony again. "Hulk no like."
"I know. You've said. If you would just let Bruce back out I promise he'll take you and the kids home."
Hulk huffed and moved Hanna from one arm to the other next to Francis. Both of them were still asleep. "Hulk protect not puny Bruce."
Tony nodded. "I get that. I do. You just can't walk across the city." Tony gestured towards the city's skyline. "It'd be too much noise and it'll wake up the kids."
Hulk blinked and frowned. "Hulk make noise stop."
Steve shook his head at Tony who made calm down motions with his hands.
Tony reached up to pat Hulk's forearm. "That'd just make more noise when someone called the Army. Trust me."
Hulk cocked his head and then snorted. He eyed the transport again. "How long?"
Tony climbed up into it and stuck his head back out. "Fifteen minutes."
Hulk frowned. "How long is minutes?"
Tony wrinkled his nose. "Uhm...Okay, something you don't remember from Bruce. Let's see...Fifteen minutes is the time in between the tiny mom bird to coming to feed the tiny baby birds and coming back again."
Hulk nodded and leaned down to look in the transport. "Friend Jon come too?"
Steve clapped a surprised Jon on the shoulder. "What do you say?"
Clint watched the kid scramble down from the bed they'd left him in to scuttle into the furthest corner from the door. The exam while the kid had been out told them the kid was male, around eight, and covered in bruises of various shades.
From his place in the vents, Clint could see the kid working the baseboard off the wall.
Nat leaned against the wall just inside the door and waited for the boy to notice her.
"I won't help you."
Nat's eyebrows climbed. "Okay. I wasn't asking for you to help with anything. May I know why you are prying a baseboard from the wall?"
The boy looked at her over the edge of the bed. "No." He went back to what he was doing and then stopped. He peeked at Natasha again. "Why aren't you beating me?"
She tucked a hair behind her ear. "You won't be hit here. No one will beat you for saying no or anything else."
"Great. A new test." The boy went back to what he was doing to the baseboard and ignored Nat completely.
She looked up at him and Clint gave her the hand sign for how-the-hell-should-I-know through the vent covering. She rolled her eyes and kept watching the kid.
Tony followed Hulk down to his room and watched with amusement as he insisted on tucking Francis and Hanna into his pillow pile. Hulk came back over to his door once the kids were arranged to the Hulk's satisfaction. "Thanks, Hulk."
Hulk sat down and pushed Jon into the room past his knee. "Sit with Tiny Friends."
Jon nodded. "Yeah, sure." He settled in between the kids and grinned when the Simpsons appeared on a screen beside Hulk's hummingbirds. "Sweet."
Tony sat in the doorway to the room. "Are you ready to switch back to Bruce?"
Hulk looked around his room and then nodded. "Hulk home." He leaned against the wall next to his door and closed his eyes.
Tony grimaced as the popping noises of the transformation filled the air.
"Gross." Jon wiggled his fingers at the transformation. "Does that hurt him?"
"Probably." Tony leaned forward to catch Bruce as he listed to one side. "He won't say, but I figure it does." He pulled on the outside edge of the purple pants he'd given to Bruce. "The pants worked great, though."
Jarod mentally groaned as all the minor injuries from Raines' anger made themselves known. He pried open one eye and stared at Miss Parker sleeping on a couch next to the bed he was in. Jarod started to push himself up, but Jay appeared at his side and pressed him back down.
"You need to hold still. You will heal faster if you do not aggravate the injuries."
Jarod nodded and relaxed into the bed. "We got him?"
Jay climbed up to sit cross-legged on the end of Jarod's bed. "Yes. He was raising another child."
Jarod tensed up. "Another clone of us?"
"No." Jay frowned down at his own hands. "He is a clone, though. Raines appears to have made him after losing me."
It made sense to Jarod. Raines' experiments had never been stopped, only hindered, by setbacks like losing the location that had held Jay. "Who is he cloned from?"
Jay shrugged. "The tests aren't done yet and the papers called him a clone without saying who he came from."
Rhodes frowned as they moved Ross in a mix of chains and some woven fiber Tony hadn't named yet. He'd been happy when O'Neill said he wasn't needed to go off-world until he heard that Tony had gone instead.
Ross's eyes widened as an older woman stalked into the holding cell they were moving Ross into. He struggled against the chains and fiber-rope as she stomped right over to him and leaned in to glare.
She reminded Rhodes of some of the Military Training Instructors he seen just before they tore up whatever cadet had pissed them off.
She smiled grimly at Ross. "Well, it appears you've managed to endanger my son and his friends. You've even managed to offend an off-world government into asking if they can charge you under their laws. I rather liked their punishment. Sticking you on a lifeless moon for a few decades might straighten you out a little."
Ross rolled his eyes. "You don't scare me, old woman."
She smiled. "No, I wouldn't expect a berserker like you know enough to fear anything. Just remember that the Hulk enjoyed smashing you into the rock hard enough to break it. I'm sure he'd like to do it again. I'll be sure to mention where you are being held to Dr. Banner."
Ross frowned as she swept out.
Rhodes clomped over to the door guard. "What was that about?"
"She's General O'Neill's mom."
Steve watched the video feed of the child Clint and Natasha had pulled out of Raines' small base. "Has he said who he is?"
Betty shook her head. "Clint spent three hours trying to get him out of that room he'd been held in before they tranquilized him."
Tony came in and snagged a banana from the counter. "Bruce is normal sized again. I left him to sleep it off in the movie room." He came over and leaned in to see the video. "What this? That the new kid...Holy shit."
Steve startled at Tony's outburst and dropped the tablet with the feed. He turned to find Tony standing there hyperventilating. "Hey, Tony." He grabbed Tony and sat him down. "Deep breaths. Slow down and just concentrate on breathing."
Betty moved the tablet out of Tony's line of sight. She came around the table and rubbed at Tony's back. "What's wrong, Tony?"
Tony shook himself and reached for the tablet. "I must be seeing things." He zoomed the feed in on the boy in the corner of his room pulling on the baseboard. "I am not seeing things." He dropped the tablet and put his head between his knees.
Coulson came in from the hallway followed by Thor and Darcy. "What's going on?"
Steve held out the tablet with the video feed. "Tony seems to know who the child is."
"Who is it, Tony?"
Tony wrapped his hands across the back of his neck still hunched over. "He's me."
Chapter 15: Time isn't Linear
Tony's clone glomps onto someone while Tony himself isn't handling the whole thing very well.
Bruce listened to Coulson's explication as he watched the video feed on the child clone. The boy was still huddled in the corner. Natasha was sitting next to the door where they could barely see each other around the end of the bed.
The boy fingered the baseboard he'd pried off the wall and glared at Natasha.
Bruce cocked his head, made a decision, and stood up. "Uhm, sorry." He bit his lip as everyone around the table looked at him. "I think I know why he pried off the baseboard." He gestured towards the hallway. "I, uh, want to talk to him."
Phil nodded slowly. "We still aren't sure how to adress him."
Bruce shrugged. "I'll just ask him." He headed down to the room they'd put the boy in between Phil and Francis' rooms. He gently knocked and eased the door open.
Natasha looked up at him. "Bruce."
"Hey. Hi." He didn't look towards the boy. "I'd like to talk to him."
She nodded. "Of course." She slowly stood and stretched out her back. She looked at the boy glaring at them. "This is Bruce." She turned to him. "He'll need food in another hour at the lastest."
Bruce ignored the rumble of the boy's stomach as he nodded. "I'm sure he'll let me know if he's hungry."
"Hey! I'm sitting right here!"
Natasha gave him one last glance as she slipped out the door. Bruce propped it open a couple of inches and went as far as the end of the boy's bed. He sat down on the floor and looked at the boy glaring at him.
"You were checking the date, weren't you?"
With a jerk, the boy huddled himself back into his corner. "What? I...don't know what you are talking about."
Bruce gave him a bland smile. "Yes, you do. I'm Bruce, by the way. What's your name?"
The boy frowned and looked down at the baseboard. "No one thinks about baseboards when they are lying to you, you know?"
"I do." Bruce hunched forward to put his elbows on his knees and tuck his chin in his hands. "What's your name?"
"I..." The boy tapped his head back into the wall behind himself. "I'm not who Raines tells me I am. The dates are wrong." He waved the baseboard.
"He told you that you are Tony Stark and that you were...what? Sold to him by your father?"
The boy jerked and blinked several times. "You're like me, huh? That funky thing I can do where I can tell when people are lying."
"Sort of." Bruce pointed at the baseboard. "The manufacturing date. It's what, 2011 or 2012, right? The Tower we are in is very new."
The boy looked down and nodded. "Yeah, 2012. I...Raines was insisting it was the 1980's. He kept saying I could help save the world." He looked up at Bruce. "I'm not Tony or Anthony."
"No, you aren't." Bruce reached out slowly to touch the end of the baseboard. "You are a clone of Tony Stark, but you aren't him. I am...none of us...are going to ask you to work for us." He tapped the end of the board. "You are extremely smart, just like my friend, Tony. And you look hungry."
The boy pushed the end of the baseboard into Bruce's fingers. "I'll find the test in this and I'll make you sorry."
Bruce smiled. "No tests. We're still convincing Hanna and Francis of that. I don't expect you to believe me. Do you have a name you like that we can call you?"
Bruce bit the inside of his cheek as he shook his head. "No, sorry. We've got a Steve. Something else?"
The boy thought about it as he fingered the baseboard. "Edward?"
Bruce nodded. "I think we can live with that."
Tony locked himself in his workshop, changed all the inputs so no one could come in, and ordered JARVIS to override all the overrides so even Coulson couldn't just waltz in. Then he used his lock-cutter to snap the lock on the cabinet he'd put all his alcohol from around the workshop in.
He glanced up at the ceiling tiles and headed across the workshop to grab a sheet of metal to make a barrier.
Edward stuck his head out into the hallway slowly and stopped. "No brutes."
Bruce let him go at his own pace and stayed out of arm's length the entire time. "No. You don't call them Cleaners?"
With a shrug, Edward ran his fingers across the wall panels as he creeped down the hall. "No. They're brutes. They like to..." He glanced at Bruce and then stopped talking.
Bruce didn't say anything as he lead them to the stairs. "There's an elevator if you'd rather..."
"No." Edward stood against the wall, shaking as he pressed himself into the wall. "Stairs are great. I like stairs."
Bruce nodded and went ahead of him through the door. He kept himself half-turned, ready to lunge for a catch if Edward started to fall as they went up the stairs. "You always knew you weren't really Tony?"
Edward leaned over the rail to look down the stairs. "No." He looked up. "I thought I'd been sold to him for being too stupid until I was about five." He touched each stair with his bare foot before actually stepping up onto it. "Someone had a cellphone. It was way ahead of what Raines had let me have."
Bruce held the door to the common floor open and let Edward take his time easing through it. They worked their way down the hallway to the kitchen. Someone, Bruce figured it was Coulson, had propped the door open.
They could smell food and Edwards' stomach rumbled again. Bruce stuck his head in and glanced around. They'd cleared the kitchen except for Coulson, Jon, and Steve. Bruce gave them a careful smile before pulling back to give Edward plenty of room.
Edward saw the people and went stock still. His breathing sped up until he was nearly panting. Bruce shook his head as Steve started to stand. They waited as Edward stared at them all.
Hanna clung to Clint as he carried her and Francis down the hall away from Hulk's room. "And this little Tony doesn't trust anything?"
Clint nodded as they got into the elevator. "He's terrified and Tony is upset enough he's locked us all out of his workshop. Bruce is trying to help the little Tony right now, so I need you both to stay with Thor until we can get some food into him, okay?"
They both nodded and wiggled to get down as Thor greeted them. Hanna stared around them because she'd never been to Thor's floor before. Clint settled them and reassured Thor they were helping Tony by doing things like they were.
Peggy settled across from Raines as Agent Romanoff leaned against the wall behind her. "I'm here to learn what you have been doing to the clone you made of Anthony Stark."
Raines giggled and the oxygen tank cycled a puff of air. "Fuck off."
With a polite smile, Peggy leaned forward. "You will tell me what I want to know before you die."
Jon ate as he watched Edward touch the table and the counter. The boy had looked at everything's copyright dates or manufactured by dates. He'd even opened the refrigerator to read the use by dates.
Bruce smiled at him from across the table as he took another bite and made way more noise chewing than normal.
Jon got what they were trying to do, and he got that Edward understood it too. Trusting was a bitch when you were wounded. Jon dug into his carrots. "You want a bite of this?"
Edward drifted over to look at Jon's plate. "You are just going to drug me into compliance, aren't you?" He poked at the edge of Jon's food with a finger.
Coulson handed Jon another fork. "We are just trying to feed you, Mr. Edward."
Jon put the fork he'd been using down next to Edward's hand and started eating with the new fork.
Edward blinked and gave Coulson a weird look before touching Jon's used fork with his fingertip. "Don't call me mister. I don't like it." He rolled the fork over and looked at it as Jon took another bite of food.
Coulson nodded and passed the rolls to Bruce. "Of course, my mistake, Edward."
Jon forced himself not to smile as Edward picked up the fork and sniffed it. Edward glanced between Jon and Coulson before grabbing a carrot from the middle of Jon's pile with his fingers. He sniffed it.
Bruce took a roll and sat the basket between him and Steve. "We've got four different ages here all eating the same food, Edward. If we wanted to drug you we could just overpower you and use a needle."
Edward snatched a roll and slid under the table. Jon peeked under there when Bruce looked astounded. Edward was sitting between Bruce's feet, one arm hooked around Bruce's right leg as he chewed the carrot while sniffing the roll he'd broken open.
Clint eased his way through the vents and wasn't surprised Tony had blocked his way into the workshop. He moved further down and looked in using the small hole he'd carefully made just in case of this sort of thing.
Tony had trashed a good portion of his desk. Broken screens and papers littered the floor around the desk. Tony himself was sitting cross-legged in front of an open cabinet, sobbing.
It didn't take Clint even a moment to decide what to do. He touched the donator and braced as the tiny explosives popped dropping him and his part of the vent into Tony's workshop. Jarvis said something Clint missed because Tony was screaming, scrambling away from him.
Clint worked his way out of the vent and then settled down into a cross-legged posture like Tony had been in. "Sorry."
Tony threw a wrench at him, but Clint didn't even have to dodge because it skidded across the floor to stop at his knee. "I locked the damn door! Don't you understand a locked door?"
Clint spread his hands. "Nope. Thor doesn't get it either, by the way."
Tony scooted closer and pointed at Clint. "You drew the short straw?"
"No straws." Clint looked up at the full cabinet. "Were you going to blow yourself up?"
Tony laughed harshly as he scooted close enough to lean against Clint. "I'm fucked up."
Clint gathered Tony close. "I've been you. I know."
Tony sniffed and dropped into sleep as he hiccuped.
Clint eased him into a more comfortable postion. "JARVIS? If he muted you, can you unmute for me?"
"Thank you, Agent Barton."
Clint smiled up at the ceiling. "No problem. How long has he been awake now?"
"He was approaching thirty-seven hours." JARVIS voice went steely. "He is most upset about the clone, Edward."
Clint rolled his eyes. "What is with the middle names, seriously?" He took the blanket Dum-E was offering. "Thanks, buddy. Do you think you can unblock the door for me?"
Dum-E clacked his gripper claws together and rolled off.
Clint looked over the cabinet. "JARVIS, did Tony actually drink anything? 'Cause it looks like he just piled bottles in groups."
"No. He handled several bottles, but did not open any."
"Awesome." Clint looked up as Jay came in with Pepper. "He's fine."
Pepper looked around the room. "Well, this isn't actually that bad. He's asleep?"
Clint lifted Tony up into Jay's hands. "Yeah, I startled him when I blew the vent. He crashed right after. I probably triggered him enough to cause nightmares."
Pepper nudged a sheet of paper into Dum-E's dustpan with her foot. "He's been having them more, I think." She looked up at the ceiling. "The reinforcement in the ceiling held up."
Clint looked up at it. "Yep. I think Tony'd blow out the door before he blew into the floor above or below." He stood up and took part of Tony's weight back from Jay. "Thanks."
Jay looked around as he shrugged with the shoulder not covered in Tony. "He's hurting very loudly."
Clint grimaced. "Yeah, well, what did Jarod feel like when he first found you?"
Jay blinked. "Like someone had destroyed his whole world."
"Pretty much." Clint followed Pepper as she lead the way out of the remains of Tony's workshop.
Betty stared down at Hanna. "You want to what?"
Hanna scrambled up into the chair next to her as Thor stood at the stove in his apartment's kitchen cooking pancakes. "I want to make a teddy bear for the little Tony. He might like them better than Tony does."
Betty looked at Darcy, who shrugged, and then at Francis, who was poking at a tablet. "Well, okay." She cocked her head. "Why a teddy bear?"
Hanna grinned up at her. "We made one of the Hulk. Tony says it should be able to handle a little smashing and he crocheted the outer casing." She and Francis exchanged glances. Hanna turned back towards Betty. "You don't know about the crocheting though, okay?"
She bit her lip and nodded. "Of course."
Hanna nodded. "We're going to put it in Hulk's room and Tony says we don't have to wait for Hulk's birthday or Bruce's birthday or anything." She frowned. "Why can we give gifts whenever we want?"
Betty ruffled Francis' hair as he looked up to see her answer. "Gifts are things from your heart, Hanna. You can give those any time you feel like it."
Jon watched the chicks as Coulson changed their water. "He's a mess."
Coulson nodded. "Not unexpected. Natasha says that he was an experiment to see if they could make him exactly like Stark."
Jon nudged one of the chicks away from the second water dish so Coulson could pick it up. "Do you think it is going to stress Bruce too much to be the kid's lifeline?"
Coulson frowned as he sat the refilled water back down. "I think that he wouldn't have gone into Edward's room if he thought he couldn't handle it." Coulson looked at Jon. "Are you alright?"
Jon snorted. "Hell no. I'm tense. Hulk decided to like me without asking if that was okay with me." He gestured around the room. "I'm mooching off a billionaire with more trauma to his name than I've got." He folded his arms. "That's saying something, you know?"
"I do." Coulson sat down across from Jon. "I was in the mountain when the Gate was connected to a black hole. I know what you've done, sir."
Jon blinked. "Sorry." He rubbed his cheek. "It's just all...weird."
Coulson nodded and stood up. "Normal is overrated."
Jon laughed and pushed himself up. "Yeah. Let's go see if Steve convinced Eddie to let go of Bruce's leg yet."
Chapter 16: Calming Nerves
Eddie tries to trust. Hanna is impatient. Tony sleeps, sort of. And Bruce manages not to Hulk-out.
There were days Phil Coulson didn't like his job. Then there were days like this when he was certain he'd made a difference. Phil stayed still against the wall as Hanna tried to convince Eddie to look out the kitchen to see the chicks.
"You should look. They have to go to their coop on the roof tomorrow."
Eddie clung to Bruce's leg and peered at Hanna around the doorjamb of the kitchen door. "What is this testing?"
Hanna frowned and looked at Bruce. "We don't take tests, do we? Tony said no tests unless we wanted to take them."
Bruce hovered a hand near Eddie's shoulder. "No tests, Hanna. Edward is just worried like you were before Tony said you could stay."
"Oh." Hanna came closer and looked up at Bruce. "Tony's upset right now, so asking him if Eddie can stay should wait, right?"
Bruce smiled as Hanna put up her hands to be picked up. "Yes, Hanna." He picked her up and settled her on the opposite hip from the leg Eddie was latched onto. "Though, I'm sure Tony will let Edward stay."
Hanna leaned out a little to look down at Eddie. "You should listen to Bruce. He's usually right about what Tony will do."
Eddie frowned. "Tony is Anthony?"
Bruce glanced at Phil as he spoke. "He is Anthony Stark. Everyone calls him Tony."
"Who Raines wanted me to be." Eddie nudged Bruce's foot with his toe as he looked at Hanna. "Why did you pick her up?"
Hanna put her arms up and out. "This is the pick up posture. If you do it to an adult they'll pick you up."
Phil eased forward and stopped when Eddie flinched and pressed himself tighter to Bruce's leg. "Eddie is heavy enough that only Thor or Steve will be able to carry him for long, Hanna."
Hanna huffed. "Hulk could carry him forever."
Bruce hugged Hanna into his side with the arm she was resting against. "Let's not involve the other guy until Edward feels more secure, alright?"
Phil detangled Hanna's hands from Bruce's shirt and they transfered her to him. "Come on, Hanna. You were supposed to stay with Thor until we had a chance to introduce Eddie to everyone."
Hanna sighed as she hitched her knees higher into Phil's ribs. "You were taking forever. He's a little Tony, not a potato chip."
Bruce's eyebrows went up and he mouthed 'potato chip' at Phil.
Phil rolled his eyes. "Hanna, what did I say about listening to Darcy's way of comparing things in the world?"
Hanna cocked her head. "That it will only make sense to Darcy and me if I do."
"Yes. So, no comparing potato chips to people."
With a frown, Hanna kicked one foot. "Potato chips are fragile, and Tony isn't. Eddie isn't either. So why doesn't that work?"
Phil turned and headed back to the elevator. "It's a social convention." He turned them at the door and waved at Bruce. "Like waving. Something that's expected of you."
Hanna sighed. "Okay." She smiled as she waved at Bruce and Eddie. "You'll like it here. When Tony's workshop gets all fixed I'll show you the fiber Francis and I helped Tony invent."
Bruce pried Edward's hand away from his thigh, again. "You're alright, Edward."
"Eddie." He put his cheek against Bruce's hip and watched the door carefully. "She called me that."
"She did, yes." Bruce tugged and pushed until they were next to the couch near the chicks. "I'd like to sit down, please."
Eddie let go of Bruce and huddled down next to the couch as he sat down on it. "Why does she like being carried?"
Bruce patted the cushion next to him. "You can sit too." He raised his eyebrows at Eddie as he frowned at the couch like it was going to attack him. "She likes being up higher and getting skin contact. I also think she enjoys getting people to do something that she asked for."
Eddie nodded and scrambled over the arm of the couch to sit next to, but not touching, Bruce. "I don't understand the rules here."
Bruce gently ran his hand over Eddie's head, just barely touching the hair. "I know. You'll adjust."
Eddie snorted and curled his knees up into his chest and wrapped his arms around them. "Why dosen't anyone want me to take tests?"
"You've been in the control of a pretty insane person, Eddie. Everything here is going to be different for you. No beatings. No hitting you." Bruce perused his lips. "Would you like me to set you a test?"
Eddie turned his head to rest one cheek on his knees as he stared at Bruce. "What sort of test?"
Bruce shrugged. "I set math problems for Tony to solve while he talks to me. Clint solves them sometimes too."
Eddie rubbed his nose. "Raines always wants me to do math."
"Wanted." Bruce gestured to the room at large. "Raines doesn't control you anymore."
Eddie made a face. "So? No math?"
Bruce smiled. "No math."
"Huh." Eddie shifted until he was sitting on the front edge of the couch. "I saw one of the brutes doing something once that I want to learn." He looked up at Bruce. "I don't know the name for it."
With a nod, Bruce put his forearms on his knees. "What did it look like?"
Eddie made motions with his hands. "There was a metal stick and soft thick thread. The metal stick made the thread turn into shapes."
"Only one stick?"
"Yes." Eddie looked around the room. "Are there cameras here?"
Bruce glanced at the ceiling. "JARVIS could tell you were all the cameras are." Bruce stood up and got a tablet from the chair next to the chicks. "Here, is this what you saw?" He pulled up a search page and showed Eddie the results.
Eddie looked surprised. "Yes, that's it." He looked up at Bruce. "How did you know?"
Bruce tapped the tablet and pulled up a site for crochet stitches. "I've seen it before." He held the tablet out to Eddie. "I know how to knit, but I don't know crochet. We'll ask my friend Betty and see if she knows how."
Eddie frowned at the tablet and poked it with a finger. "She'll just help? Just like that?"
"Yes." Bruce sat the tablet aside and stood up. "Let's go find her and we'll see if she'll help."
Eddie slid off the couch and looked up at Bruce for several seconds before putting up his arms in an approximation of what he'd seen Hanna do.
Bruce bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing as he picked up Eddie. "Okay?"
Eddie leaned one way to look down and then the other. "And children like this?"
"Most do, yes." Bruce hitched Eddie a little higher. "I can put you back down if you'd rather."
With a quick shake of his head, Eddie clung tight to Bruce. "No."
Hanna waited patiently for Phil to put her down so she didn't hurt him since his scar wasn't completely formed yet. "He's really scared."
Phil turned them so he could put her down on Thor's couch. "Yes, he is. You were asked to stay on Thor's floor, why did you leave?"
Hanna scrambled down and gave Phil's legs a hug. "Tony is hurting. Everyone is worrying. You aren't calm inside." She looked up at him. "I want to fix it."
Phil cupped the back of her head and nodded. "I know, Hanna. I want to fix it too."
Jon watched Betty work from a quiet corner in the back of her lab. She reminded him of a far less cocky version of Carter. Jon frowned down at the tablet of results he was working his way through on the children in the hospital.
Betty glanced at the ceiling and then looked at Jon. "Can you tell if Clint is in my ceiling?"
Jon looked up at the ceiling and then at Betty. "Are you worried about it?"
She shrugged. "He takes breaks above my lab. I sometimes hear him snor a little."
Jon raised his eyebrows. "That doesn't tell me if you are worried about it."
Betty came over and pulled a stool out to sit across from Jon. "I'm not worried about weither he is in my ceiling, but about him. You've read what the Pretenders do, right?"
Betty flicked her hair over her shoulder. "Right. So, that's the thing. What's just Clint? He likes mint in his water, that's Bruce. He flits through projects like a hummingbird, that's Stark. I've seen him focus on something with an intensity that makes me think of Natasha. You see what I'm saying?"
"Yeah." Jon leaned back. "You're worried he's picking up you when he's in the vents."
Betty sighed and shook her head. "No, I mean...It's fine that he picks up a mannerism or a phrase. I'm just...Can he be stable long term? It is something that he can get lost in?" She clasped her hands together in her lap. "What about when he's ill or injured? What about Jarod right now?"
Jon nodded as he tapped his fingers on his knee. "You've got a point. From what I can tell they can get lost in it. Jay said something about someone named Angelo that is barely functional when he's deep in pretending." Jon tipped his head back to look up at the ceiling. "I figure if they are adult and sane they're about as stable as they can get."
Betty looked thoughtful. "True." She stood up and put the stool back in place. "I'm trying to map the Pretender gene and see why the Centre was so interested in yours."
Jon frowned up at the flash of red that he could see through the vent. "Mine? I'm not a Pretender."
Betty cocked her head. "You've got the gene."
"No, I have the ATA gen...Wait, wait, wait. Is there a degree of this gene? Like really strong and sort of so-so?"
Betty nodded. "Yes. What's the ATA gene?"
Jon scrubbed his hand through his hair. "Old me is going to shit a brick."
Clint motioned Francis forward as he kept up circling his hand on Tony's back. "Hey, kiddo, what are you doing here? I thought you were staying with Thor for now."
Francis crawled into Clint's lap and buried his face in Clint's neck. "Everyone hurts."
"Ohhhh." Clint settled Francis into a better postion. "I know, but it'll get better. Tony will feel better when he wakes up. Bruce will feel better when Eddie starts feeling safer."
Francis sniffled. "It's all my fault."
Clint nudged Tony more onto his side and laid Francis down next to Tony. "Hey, Francis, it isn't your fault at all." He smiled and nodded as Francis shook his head. "Really. If you are made to do something against your will that isn't your fault."
Francis froze as Tony's arm snaked over him. Tony muttered in his sleep and pulled Francis in against his stomach.
Clint went back to circling his hand on Tony's back. "You are both going to be okay."
Francis yawned and closed his eyes. "Can I sleep here?"
Clint met Tony's half-open eyes. "I'm sure Tony won't mind, Francis."
Steve wasn't expecting Bruce and the little clone of Tony to be coming from the stairs. It caught him out in the hallway, between Bruce's lab and Betty's.
Eddie screeched and tried to fling himself off Bruce's hip. Bruce twisted and pressed them into the wall as he concentrated on breathing.
Steve froze with his shield half-raised.
Bruce made a face and tried to let Eddie down. "Hey, okay. What's wrong?"
Eddie batted at him as Betty and Jon came from Betty's lab. "You lied!"
Steve exchanged helpless looks with Bruce. "About what?"
Eddie huddled down and and started prying at the baseboard as he sobbed.
Jon looked from Eddie to Steve and back. "Oh."
Steve looked at him as he lowered his shield. "Oh, what?"
Jon grimaced and crouched down. "Hey, Eddie? He got frozen that's why he looks the same."
Eddie froze with the loosened baseboard in his hand. "What?"
Jon jerked a thumb at Steve. "He crashed into the ice and froze. He got thawed out just a few months ago so he's still young."
Eddie swiped at his cheeks and stared up at Steve. "You didn't abandon me...him?"
Steve dropped down to one knee. "I did not know about you until Clint, Natasha, and Phil brought you here." He ducked his head a little to catch Eddie's eyes as they started to lower. "I had to put the plane into the ice to save a lot of people. I wouldn't have abandoned anyone if I had been given a better choice."
Eddie sniffed and rubbed his nose. "Can I touch my Dad's..." Eddie frowned. "The shield his Dad made you?"
Steve nodded and extended his arm with the shield. "Sure you can."
Eddie looked at Bruce, who nodded, and then he gingerly reached out to touch the shield.
Steve frowned as he stood with Bruce outside of Eddie's room as the boy slept having crashed. "I don't understand. He'd met me in the kitchen when we were eating."
"You didn't have the shield on your arm then." Bruce pointed at Steve's workout clothing. "Or red, white, and blue clothes on."
Steve looked down at himself. "Oh."
"Yeah." Bruce rubbed at the back of his neck. "We're going to need to get him comfortable with Hanna and Francis as quickly as we can. Hanna isn't going to leave him alone."
Steve nodded. "She's something."
Bruce laughed. "Yeah." He clapped Steve on the arm. "I'm going to check on Tony."
Steve motioned towards Eddie's room. "I'll watch over him."
"Thanks." Bruce smiled as he headed for the elevator.
Chapter 17: Questions and Fear
Bruce finds out something about himself. Tony and Clint talk clones. Eddie asks for something for himself.
Bruce nodded to Miss Parker. "Ma'am."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not that old yet. No ma'am-ing me." She gave Jarod a little smile he couldn't see with his eyes closed. "Keep an eye on him for me? I need to see if some of our mutual acquaintances are still in the safe house I left them in."
Bruce nodded and moved far to the side to let her pass. He turned back towards Jarod and smiled as Jarod watching them. Bruce turned, closed the door, and turned back. "You heard her?"
Jarod closed his eyes. "Yes. She cares. Don't let her armor shell deceive you."
Bruce settled on the edge of the chair Miss Parker had been using. "How are you feeling?"
Jarod half-smiled. "LIke I let myself get caught by Raines. Again."
Bruce clasped his hands together. "Clint and Natasha found another child Raines was holding."
"Jay said it was a clone."
With a nod, Bruce frowned. "A clone of Tony. Raines was trying to see how close he could make the child to the original. We're calling him Eddie."
Jarod stared up at the ceiling. "What happened that's upset you?"
Bruce took a deep breath. "He was clinging to me and we ran into Steve. Eddie thought we were lying because Steve still looks the same, like in the comics. He..." Bruce hunched over. "He was so afraid. I didn't just see it." He looked at Jarod. "I could feel it."
"Oh." Jarod turned his head towards Bruce. "You've never had that happen?"
"Not..." Bruce swallowed. "Not in a very long time. I thought I'd imagined it back then." Bruce swiped his cheeks. "I can't..." He took another breath. "I thought I could help Eddie. That I knew what he needed, but..."
"You are exactly what he needs." Jarod hitched himself a little higher on his pillows. "Bruce, feeling what others do is a very rare and special ability. You are going to be alright."
Bruce shook his head. "I'm still affected. It didn't go away when I left him."
Jarod grimaced. "You're feeling me."
Bruce froze. "What?"
"You are feeling me." Jarod tapped his fingertips on his thigh. "I let Raines near me again. I told myself I wouldn't ever again after the last time. He had me that time because I had to save..." Jarod stopped, blinked, and looked at Bruce. "It took me a while to quit feeling terrified inside last time. I estimate it will take 20% longer this time."
"Oh." Bruce leaned forward and poked a finger into the back of Jarod's hand. "You idiot. Why didn't you let someone else play the bait?"
"And let someone else be held by Raines?" Jarod shook his head fiercely. "No. Never."
"I understand." Bruce leaned back. "How do I control it?"
Jon looked up as Phil came into Betty's lab. Phil nodded to Betty and sat down on a stool across from Jon. "Thanks for being willing to talk to old me."
Phil shrugged. "It isn't a problem, sir. What was your concern?"
Jon pushed the report Betty had printed out for him. "The Pretender gene is the ATA gene."
Phil grimaced. "That both complicates and simplifies things."
Betty gave Phil a disbelieving look. "Simplifies?"
"The ATA gene is the Ancient Technology Activation gene that allows certain people to command and use a certain people's technology. They called themselves the Ancients." Phil frowned over the report. "It is a fairly rare gene." He glanced up at Jon. "This does explain certain behavior in some of the gene holders."
Jon gestured at the report. "It also explains why we weren't finding an even distribution through age groups like Carter and Frasier expected."
Phil blinked and focused on Jon. "Did you happen to ask JARVIS about your former co-workers, sir?"
Jon raised his eyebrows. "Do you mean, did I found out that Frasier got killed? Why, yes, Coulson, I did manage to hear that one." Jon sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Sorry. Sorry, I'm just..."
Phil waved it away. "Don't worry about it." He cocked his head. "I was told that you knew right away exactly why Edward was upset by Captain Rogers."
Jon shrugged. "I had the same thought in the hospital when I first saw him without the cowl on. Here's this guy, looks just right, you know? He's just casually saying, oh, yeah, I'm him. I just got froze. Oopsie." Jon shook his head. "Like it isn't the biggest thing ever." Jon blinked. "Well, shit."
Phil scowled. "What?"
Jon rubbed the back of his neck. "Did anyone think to check him for the gene?"
Phil leaned back. "I...don't think so."
Betty sat down near them. "Why is it important? I can check."
With a frown, Jon looked down at his hands. "There was that Ancient in the ice, what's her name, Aiyana, right? She was froze and just woke up when she thawed out enough."
Betty's eyebrows climbed. "What happened to her?"
Jon made a face. "She got the whole research team sick and then she tried to heal us and died after."
Phil tapped his fingers on the table. "I wonder if Rogers had it before the serum..." He stood up. "Thank you for the help, sir."
Jon and Betty watched him leave.
Betty patted Jon's arm. "Life sucks sometimes. You want some coffee?"
Jon snorted. "Sure."
Hanna sighed as Thor sat down next to her. "I should be sorry that I left your floor without permission, but I'm not."
Thor brushed his hand down the back of her head to cup her tiny shoulder. "You are affected by the collective worry. That is what the Son of Coul has told me."
Hanna nodded. "Everyone is upset." She looked up at him. "Even you."
Thor looked surprised. "I had thought your ability would not work on an Asgardian."
Hanna looked up at him and scrunched up her face before shaking her head. "It isn't the same. I can't be you like I can Steve or Natasha. You are more..." She frowned. "Distant? It just isn't the same feeling."
Thor nodded. "I am versed in mental shielding for defense against some magics. It is possible this interferes with your birthright."
"Maybe." Hanna crawled over and snuggled against Thor's side. "No one is going to let Raines come for me, are they?"
Thor cradled her close. "No, little one. If he should try there will be all of the Avengers in his way." Thor kissed the top of her head. "Though, I believe that he will not live to see the morrow so it is no consequence."
Hanna tucked her hands into the folds of his shirt and hung on as she closed her eyes. "Make sure Natasha knows she can come home even if she's still thinking about blood." She yawned. "Francis, Dad, and I don't mind."
Thor made a small rumbling sound in his chest to help her drift off. He held her close as he rose. "Sir JARVIS, would you kindly inform Lady Natasha of Lady Hanna's request she return to the Tower when her work is done."
"Of course, Prince Odinson."
Francis woke to find Clint sprawled partway across the bed from where he was sitting in the chair beside the bed. Behind him, Tony was working on a tablet. "Thank you."
Tony glanced at him. "For what?"
Francis yawned and rubbed his eye. "Oh. You wanted me near you so I'm not supposed to thank you for letting me sleep here." He cocked his head. "Is that proper social behavior or just your proper?"
Tony grinned and turned the tablet so Francis could see what he was doing. "Mostly me. Here, take a look."
Francis looked over the modified floor plans. "Why do you think the little you will want share Natasha's floor?"
"JARVIS said he's decided on Eddie." Tony expanded the layout. "If the evil doctor got enough about mini-me right he's not going to feel safe around adult males for a while." Tony poked at the tablet. "Maybe around Steve, but that's just because of the spangley stuff."
Francis frowned. "It's because you thought Captain America would rescue you." He looked up at Tony and his hunched shoulders. "Sorry."
Tony shrugged. "Nothing to be sorry for, Francis. You didn't make me idolize someone to the point wishing I'd never been born." Tony smiled wide and changed the program on the tablet. "I grew out of it."
"No, you didn't." Francis climbed into Tony's lap and carefully laid his hands on either side of Tony's arc reactor. "You find fault with him because it hurts how much you just want to be near him."
Tony froze and stared.
"You hoped remaking yourself into a superhero would help the bottomless helpless feeling you get, but it just made you feel guilty that you might be faking." Francis patted Tony's chest with one hand. "He think he's a fraud now, you know. He feels like everything is closing in on him and is going to just eat him alive."
Tony blinked and gently wrapped his hands around Francis' shoulders. "Francis..."
"And Steve feels guilty about Bruce's situation because if he'd just been faster they would have had the proper serum to reproduce instead of having to go from notes. Which would mean a whole different life for Bruce because General Ross would have been busy instead of desperate."
Tony gently shook Francis. "Hey!"
Francis blinked and buried his face in Tony's shoulder. "Don't tell anyone! I didn't mean to."
Tony used the rubbing technique Bruce had shown him to rub Francis' back to help him slow down his breathing. "I won't tell on you, Francis."
Clint waited until Francis was breathing slow and steady to lift his head. "I won't tell on you either, you know."
Tony rolled his eyes. "You've been me, you get it." He frowned. "What do you think about me and him talking? Bad idea?"
Clint stretched his arms. "I think it is good. You feeling better?"
"Did you feel like everything fell out from under you when you frist knew about him?" Tony pointed with his chin at Francis laid out across his chest.
Clint stretched out each hand in turn. "I...Sort of. I had resigned myself to the idea they'd try to reproduce me at some point so I just decided to think of him as my kid along side Hanna. It helped."
Tony blinked. "Uh. That'd work."
Tony pulled the tablet to himself by his fingertips and started tapping on it. "Eddie. At some point there will be speculation about him. He looks exactly like I did." He looked at Clint. "That's how we explain the clinics when someone finally connects us with the destruction."
"Uh." Clint twisted to each side to stretch his back. "Makes sense. You're known for you over-the-top reactions. Your kid, made for blackmail purposes, by the company behind the clinics."
"I usually let Pepper take care of the details." Tony ran a hand through his hair. "You blew the air duct just to get in."
Clint smiled. "Not to get in. To get to you because you needed someone beside you."
"Oh." Tony blinked. "Team thing?"
"Close enough." Clint reached in and gently picked up Francis. "Come on. Let's go freak you out with the little you."
"Eddie." Tony touched his arc reactor. "He's his own person."
Clint touched Tony's shoulder. "I know. Trust me, I know." He hitched Francis a little higher on his hip.
Eddie had checked every date he could find in the room they'd put him in. He'd run his fingers over all the sleek technology around him. It was all much better than Raines had ever let him have. Eddie found a little handheld board that reoriented itself when turned around.
Eddie tucked it under one arm as he stared at the doorknob. "Lying. Not lying." He pressed his lips together and reached for the knob. It turned easily and Eddie froze with it partway turned.
From the other side of the door came a voice, "You can come out or stay inside. Whichever."
Eddie let go of the knob like it was on fire. "You are lying!"
The door eased open and Steve's face appeared in the opening. "No, Eddie, I'm not lying."
Backing away, Eddie shook his head. "You are! Everyone..." He stopped to catch his breath where it was trying to go too fast. He'd be beaten for it if he couldn't slow it down.
Above Steve another face appeared. "Hey. I, uh...Uhm. Hi, Eddie, right?"
Eddie blinked and nodded as he tried to catch his breath.
"I'm, uh, the original." The guy scrunched up his nose. "Tony Stark." He pushed on Steve with his leg. "Move, Capsicle. I want to talk to Eddie."
Steve smiled at Eddie and moved out of the way. Tony came in and pulled the door closed so it was just the two of them.
"I don't know what the asshole that had you told you, so I can't just point at something and say, yep, I'm really Tony." He settled cross-legged on the floor. "Best I can do is drop a little bit of blood into an analyzer and show you the DNA pattern is the same as yours." He cocked his head. "Probably the same, might be some damage on mine from some poisoning when I was still figuring out my arc reactor issues."
Eddie took his handheld board from under his arm and held it up. "What is this called?"
Tony's eyebrows went up. "A tablet. That one is a StarkTab, but there's other inferior ones out in the world."
Eddie put in down in front of himself and looked up at Tony. "What colors do you like?"
"Red and gold." Tony put his chin on his hands. "You want to fly?"
Eddie nodded. "You like lima beans?"
Tony stuck out his tongue. "Horrid things. I like hominy, though."
"White or yellow?"
"Both mixed together."
Eddie relaxed a little bit. "What are you going to do with me now?"
Tony shrugged. "We'll tell the world you're my long lost kid that was kidnapped. You'll learn whatever you want and go on to be whatever you want to be. I don't expect you to run the company if you don't want. That's it."
Eddie leaned forward and wrapped his arms around himself. "I...I want Bruce near me." He looked up uncertainly. "Is that okay?"
"Sure, it is." Tony put his arms down to clasp his hands in front of himself. "Bruce is awesome. He's likely to worry around you because he can turn into a really big green guy called Hulk."
Eddie blinked. "Really?"
Tony nodded and smiled. "It is awesome to see. He's all uptight about it, so you probably shouldn't ask him to change or anything."
"How did Captain America survive?"
Tony cocked his head. "He froze after the plane sank. I think he probably was awake enough to remember drowning, given how he doesn't like water...Anyway, he was found and they started to thaw him out. He freaked them out when they realized he was alive. Best anyone can figure is that the serum made him so he can hibernate like those frogs that can freeze solid and then wake back up in the spring."
"Oh." Eddie rubbed his fingers along his forearms. "I scared him."
"I think you scared everybody." Tony sighed. "Look, Eddie, it's going to take time for you to know that you are as safe here as I can make you." Tony spread his hands. "I wish I could take it all back and give you a good childhood instead of whatever that asshole twisted what he could find of mine into."
Eddie scooted forward and took ahold of Tony's pant leg. "Can I?"
Tony shifted his leg out from under himself. "Sure."
Eddie pushed up the pant leg and the sock down and ran his fingertip along a faint line going around the ankle. He looked up at Tony. "What's the red head lady's name?"
"Normally? Natasha." Tony pulled his pant leg back into place. "I thought you might like a room for yourself on her floor."
Eddie reached back and pulled the tablet forward. "Can...can I stay with you?"
Tony opened his mouth, closed it, and turned towards the door. "Uh, I..."
Steve opened the door a little. "He means, yes, Eddie."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Yes, Eddie, you can stay with me."
Chapter 18: Brewing Trouble
Natasha does her nails for an upcoming mission. The chicks move to their coop.
Natasha sat down at the kitchen table and spread her nail polish bottles around herself. She poured water into a small cup and looked over her various colors. "You can come in."
Eddie eased through the door and glanced back at Bruce sitting on the couch by the chicks before turning towards Natasha. "What are you doing?"
"I have a mission to go on and I need to look very put together for it." She pulled out the chair next to herself. "Bruce! Come in and sit with us."
Eddie climbed up into the chair as Bruce appeared in the doorway.
Natasha smiled at him. "If I've brown hair which polish will look good on me?"
Bruce eyed her as he sat down across from them. "The dark green?"
Eddie poked the side of the cup of water. "Why do you have this?"
"I'm going to do water marbling." Natasha opened her white polish and started painting her nails. She looked at Bruce through her eyelashes. "Are you alright?"
Bruce shrugged. "Just working on something in my head."
She nodded and pushed her collection of bottles closer to Eddie. "Pick two that will go with the green."
Eddie frowned as he studied each bottle.
Coulson came in from the hallway. "Fury briefed you?"
Natasha smiled at him. "Yes. Did he corner Peggy yet?"
"She's evading him." Phil poured himself a cup of coffee.
Eddie pushed a shimmery gold and a creamy white to Natasha's elbow. "What about these?"
"Good choices." Natasha finished putting the white base color on. "Coulson, what do you think of the threat level in Gotham?"
Bruce looked from one to the other. "Gotham?"
Natasha glanced at him before turning in her chair to look at Phil, who shrugged. She huffed and turned back to Bruce. "There's some intel that suggests there might be a problem developing."
Coulson sat down across from Eddie, next to Bruce. "Clint is going to Asia to check some connections. There was a death several months ago that, well, I think it was too convenient. There's no evidence of a switch out, but..."
Natasha rolled her eyes. "The plane brunt too hot for good evidence. I still say that's where he was grabbed if he was taken."
Bruce cocked his head as he watched Natasha drip drops of nail polish into the water in her cup. "Is this a death that was in the news or something still very classified?"
"Dr. Leonid Pavel."
Bruce leaned back in his chair. "He was a nuclear physicist."
Eddie leaned forward to watch Natasha drag a toothpick through the polish to make a pattern. "If he's not dead is that bad?"
Phil tapped his fingers on his cup of coffee. "It could be."
Natasha dipped her nail into the water and used a toothpick to pick up the rest of the polish from the surface of the water. "That's why we are going to check into it."
Eddie's eyes went wide as Natasha pulled her finger from the water and turned it to show him the pattern of polish on her nail. "That's awesome." He poked the side of the water cup. "It is just water in the cup?"
"Yes." Natasha started dripping in more polish to do another nail.
Jack flopped down next to his mother. "How is it I can make my own life difficult and I didn't even try that hard?"
Peggy smiled at him before looking back down at the report in her hand. "You have talent, dear." She sighed. "I take it you were told about the possible connection between the Pretender gene and the ATA gene?"
"Yeah." Jack picked up a file and fidgeted with it. "One of my former teammates, Sam Carter is going to compare data with what they've got here. She'll be able to tell if we're really dealing with the same gene."
"You think we are, don't you?"
Jack put his feet up on the coffee table. "It makes a certain amount of sense. It explains why we've got holes in the expected ages. I think if we can get the ATA gene holders to talk about it we'll probably find more Pretender traits in them."
Peggy took the file Jack was fidgeting with and replaced it with a different file. "You're going to ruin your lovely little dumb act if you admit to Pretender traits."
Jack shrugged. "Everyone that needs to be fooled will still be fooled. Enemies never think past the end of their noses."
"Hmmm." Peggy compared files. "As long as you aren't fooled, dear."
Hanna held Thor's hand as Phil shifted the chicks from the box they used to carry them into the coop's fenced in yard. "They'll be okay, right?"
Thor picked her up and put his hand on Francis' shoulder. "They will be well. The Captain's work as insured their safety."
Francis looked up at Thor. "You're talking about Steve, right?"
Thor smiled. "Yes."
Francis nodded and watched the chicks explore. "Is there some way to thank him?"
Phil latched the fence door, and looked over the wires that formed the mess on the top of the enclosure for the chicks' yard. "I think I know something you can make him."
Tony looked up as Bruce carried Eddie into the workshop. "How's it going, Big Guy?"
Bruce frowned at the glass of liquor on the end of Tony's desk. "Okay, I guess." He settled Eddie on the couch and covered him with a blanket before turning to look at Tony. "What about you?"
Tony shrugged. "I'm fine."
"Sure." Bruce sat down next to Tony. "Are you working on Natasha's weapon?"
"Widow's Bite, yeah." Tony shifted the design. "I've fallen behind."
Bruce scratched his head. "No one is going to blame you, Tony. It has been a little crazy around here."
Tony flicked the design away and pulled up a different file. "Yeah, well..."
"No. Stop for a little while." Bruce touched Tony's shoulder. "You need food. Come on."
Eddie watched silently as everyone settled onto the huge pile of cushions and blankets. He watched Hanna flop onto Tony's legs and Francis snug himself down between Steve and Tony. Eddie stayed near Bruce at the edge of the huge pile. "I don't understand."
Hanna smiled at him. "We're going to watch a movie together." She pointed at the pile. "You have to sit."
Phil lifted him up onto the edge of the pile. "You can stay here on the edge if you'd rather."
Eddie looked to Bruce. "Okay?"
Bruce smiled. "Yes, Eddie."
Thor came from the kitchen. "I have conquered the battle to create popped corn."
Tony leaned back to see Thor around Bruce's back. "You didn't fry the microwave with Mjolnir, did you?"
Thor sat down bowls of popcorn amongst the group. "I did not do battle with the food, Tony. I only conquered the way of making the popped corn correctly."
Hanna sniffed a piece and then tried it.
Eddie poked a finger into the bowl nearest him. "What is it?"
Francis took a big handful. "It's popcorn. You eat it while watching movies." He leaned into Steve's side. "Clint and Natasha are okay, right?"
Steve glanced at Phil and then looked down at Francis. "As far as I know they are fine. Clint is probably still on a plane and Natasha is in another city."
Phil sat down near Eddie. "Natasha is attending a gala in a few days to get a feel for the distribution of power in the city. We should be able to catch a glimpse of her in the coverage for that."
Eddie nodded. "She'll have brown hair."
Hanna touched her own hair. "She said it would wash away and be red again later."
"That's right." Phil blinked as Thor sat down next to him. "Her natural color is a statement she can't always afford to make."
Tony snorted. "She's incapable of not making some sort of statement." He leaned forward to talk to Eddie. "She stabbed me in the neck once."
Phil rolled his eyes. "She was trying to help you."
"I could get out my taser, Stark."
Tony beamed. "Just for that you don't get to pick the movie."
Steve shook his head. "We already decided on BFG. Which I'm assuming stands for something?"
Phil turned to stare at Tony. "Really? I didn't think many people knew about that one."
Tony shrugged. "I don't know it either. It was Bruce's idea."
Bruce wrung his hands. "We don't have to..."
"No, no." Steve shook his head. "I just don't know what it stands for. I wasn't criticizing the choice."
"It stands for Big Friendly Giant." Bruce smiled. "It has always made me smile."
The water marbling technique for nail polish is something I learned about on Friday and have spent the weekend teaching myself how to do. It takes a lot of polish, but it super cool. If you like nail art and haven't seen it I suggest you watch some of it on YouTube.
Yes, there is a BFG movie. :) BFG
Chapter 19: Presents and Sadness
Jon hugged Daniel as he and Samantha Carter emerged from the elevator. "Daniel." He held on for a moment to remind himself of the friend he'd had in Daniel. Then he let go and wrapped one arm around Sam's shoulders. He remembered she felt uncomfortable with men just hugging her out of no where. "I hear you managed to not blow up your command. Good job, Carter."
She rolled her eyes as she gently pulled out of his hold. "Yes, sir."
Jon huffed and watched Daniel stare around himself. "Lose the sir, Carter. I'm not him. I haven't been for a long time now."
She frowned and moved towards the desk along the far wall. "Uh, sorry. Force of habit, uhm, Jon."
He nodded, because he knew how that felt. "So. What did you geniuses decide?"
Daniel crossed his arms. "Uh, well, there's a problem."
Jon grimaced. "There's always a problem. What is it?"
Sam brought up reports, graphs, numbers, lists. Jon tried to ignore it because he didn't need it all rearrange itself in his head without his permission.
Daniel pointed at one of the graphs. "They are the same gene for the people like you or Sheppard with the full gene."
Sam waved her hand at another graph. "The people that have or had the recessive version of the ATA don't show the blood marker that Pretender gene holders do."
Jon squinted at the graphs. "What about people like McKay that took the gene therapy to activate the ATA gene so they could do stuff like fly Jumpers?"
Daniel sighed. "Well, that's where it gets weird. They show the blood anomaly, which we now think is what the Ancient tech is checking for. They don't show the empathy or borderline telepathy."
"It isn't telepathy, Daniel." Jon poked at the graphs. "So the Centre wouldn't have picked up people like McKay because he didn't show the blood thingy they were checking for?"
Sam started to slap his hand and then stopped herself and just rearranged the chart when Jon quit messing with it. "Why didn't we tell you this at the same time as General O'Neill? You're asking the exact same questions."
Jon purposefully flicked a list off into space, but Daniel caught it and put it back at the edge of the workspace. "We don't like each other, Carter."
Daniel gave Jon that sure-whatever look that he liked using so much. "Then there's people like me. I show the blood anomaly, but I don't have the ATA gene at all. I don't fall neatly into any of the groups."
Jon blinked and gripped Daniel's shoulder. "The kids." He left Sam and Daniel staring after him as Jon went to find Stark.
Bruce looked down at Hanna and Francis staring up at him. Eddie watched from where he was not exactly hiding under Bruce's chair. "You what?"
Tony smiled at him. "Please?"
Bruce frowned at Tony. "Tony, explain to Hanna and Francis why transforming into the other guy isn't a socially acceptable idea."
"I do socially unacceptable things all the time." Tony grinned his media smile for a second before going serious. "Bruce. It is important."
Bruce sighed and leaned over to look down at Eddie. "Stand by Tony, please."
Eddie scrambled out from under Bruce's chair and huddled behind Tony. Bruce stood up, carefully pushed the chair under the desk, and turned towards Tony.
"This is a bad idea, Tony."
Tony spread his arms. "Would I have a bad idea, Bruce?"
Rolling his eyes, Bruce drew a deep breath, on the exhale he let go.
Hulk blinked and smiled without his teeth at the Scared Tiny. No teeth smile meant no mad fight. "Tiny Friends." Hulk rumbled as Hanna and Francis hugged his legs. "Why always ask for Hulk? No like Puny Bruce?"
Tony-from-inside-Spaceman kept one hand on Scared Tiny's head. "No, that's not it at all. Remember how I said Hulk gets a present? They made you a present."
Hulk blinked. "Hulk no have presents. Ever."
Scared Tiny edged around Spaceman-not and touched Hulk's calf. "You broke the law of Conversion of Mass. How did you do that?"
Hulk looked to Tony-inside. "Hulk smash law?"
Tony laughed. "No, no. Eddie means you should be impossible. It isn't a smashable problem."
"Oh." Hulk looked around himself. "Tiny Friends?"
Tony made sit-sit motions. "They are getting your present. Sit down for me, please."
Hulk huffed and dropped to sit on his butt. "Why present?"
Hanna appeared with Francis from around the desk. They held a box between them.
They sat it in front of him and Hulk touched the corner of it with his fingertip. "For Hulk?"
Hanna pressed her hands together. "All for Hulk." She smiled at him. "Not for smashing."
Hulk gingerly pushed the top up and off the box. Inside was not-paper nearly Hulk's skin color. Hulk pushed it around trying to get at what was underneath.
Tony came closer, Eddie following, clinging tight to Tony's side. "Here, Big Guy. Let me help."
Hulk folded his hands together so he couldn't smash the puny not-paper and watched as Tony pulled a red and gold Tiny Friend size not-person from the box. Hulk leaned over to look closely at the not-person.
"It is a teddy bear." Spaceman flapped one of the arms like it was waving. "An Iron Man teddy bear."
Hulk gently took the not-bear-not-person teddy and rubbed his fingers over the head. "Not Spaceman."
Tony-inside smiled up at him. "Sure, that works."
Hulk hugged the Not Spaceman to his chest and blinked, looking down at the Spaceman-bear. "Hulk like warm middle."
Hanna tugged on the knee of Tony's pants. "We didn't make it warm."
Hulk huffed as Tony shook his head. Tony patted Hulk's leg. "No, Hanna, we didn't. He means it makes him feel good."
"Oh." She looked up at him and narrowed her eyes. "Bruce is all worry. You are all happy and not unhappy inside of what did I do wrong now." She glanced at Tony. "That's not feeling good."
Tony looked up at Hulk. "No, but it's getting there."
Hulk frowned and shifted Spaceman-bear to one hand so he could pick up Tony with the other. Scared Tiny scrambled under the desk and watched, wide eyed. Tiny Friends both moved closer. "Tony-inside not okay. Smell wrong bad."
Tony made a face. "Ask before manhandling, okay, Big Guy?"
Hulk rumbled and sat Tony down gently. "No smell, Puny Bruce no shiver worry. Bad smell, Puny Bruce worry." Hulk touched his finger to Tony-inside's tiny flat smell in the center of his chest. "Make bad smell go?"
With a sigh, Tony sat down in the chair Puny Bruce liked best. "I had quit drinking and now I'm drinking some. I'm..." He looked at the various Tiny Ones. "I'm an engineer. A designer." He rubbed the side of his face. "I don't know how to parent. I tell you no math and no tests because forcing you isn't going to help."
Hanna pulled on Eddie and all three gathered around Tony. Hulk watched them with his Spaceman-bear held close.
Tony rubbed his nose. "There's so much to do. I don't..."
Hulk went careful slow and wrapped his arm around them all. "Tony-inside was first...Only person like Hulk as Hulk. No smash." He settled Spaceman-bear into Tony's lap next to Francis. "Tony-inside hide Tony. Tony put on Tony-inside and then put on Spaceman. Spaceman make loud boom noise."
Tony sat there staring up at Hulk.
"Tony hide. Tony afraid all leave, no like Tony." Hulk touched Tony's hair. "Hulk like Spaceman. Even booms. Like Tony-inside." Hulk smiled, careful not to show his teeth. "Hulk very much like Tony. Even bad smell."
Tony buried his face in Spaceman-bear. The Tiny Ones started patting and touching Tony. Hulk rubbed his fingertip across Tony's shoulders.
"Puny Bruce like home. Like Hulk's room." Hulk frowned as Tony's shoulders hitched under his fingertip. "Puny Bruce know Tony is good parent. Better parent than Puny Bruce Father."
Tony leaned back and wiped at his wet face. "Hulk, anyone is a better parent than Bruce's father."
Hulk nodded. "Hulk know." He unwrapped his arm from around them all. "Hulk think Tony just tiny smash. Tony get not-smashed."
With a shaky smile, Tony took Spaceman-bear as Hulk handed it to him. "Thanks. I know you mean that in a non-liquor way."
Hulk snorted. "Take Spaceman-bear to Hulk's room?"
"Good." Hulk touched the top of Spaceman-bear's head. "Hulk tell Bruce help Tony know he not puny parent." He flopped over sideways and closed his eyes.
Bruce came back to himself hungry and covered in a blanket with kids on all sides. "Oh."
Eddie's face appeared blurry as he stared down at Bruce. "You broke a Law. I like you."
Bruce gave a wary smile. "I'm glad to see you too."
"Hulk names everyone. Hanna said. Do you know what he named me?"
"Uhm." Bruce threw his arm over his eyes. He could feel the material of his pants was still the same, so it had stretched and snapped back just fine. "He thought you were scared so he called you Scared Tiny, I think."
Eddie looked down at himself. "I'm short compared to him. Neat."
"He took Hulk's present to Hulk's room." Eddie laid down next to Bruce. "Tony is always worried. Like me, but not about the same things. Does he get beaten for it?"
Bruce took his arm away from his face and turned his head to look at Eddie. "No. He doesn't get beaten."
Eddie's shoulders relaxed. "Good." He looked at Bruce from the corner of his eye. "Hulk protects you, right?"
"What do I have to do to get him to protect me, too?"
Bruce lay there, staring at the ceiling for several moments. "You...you don't have to do anything, Eddie."
Jarod frowned at Jay smoothing his blankets. "What is wrong?"
Jay sighed and sat down on the edge of Jarod's bed. "Raines is dead."
Jay pressed his lips together and then carefully made himself room beside Jarod to lay down. "He was evil, I know that. I never wanted to see him again..."
"And, yet you mourn for him."
"Why?" Jay turned his face away from Jarod. "I know I shouldn't..."
"No, no." Jarod grunted as he shifted to get an arm around Jay. "He raised you until I stumbled onto your existence. You can hate and mourn him."
Jay sniffed hard and pressed his face to Jarod's blanket. "I'm so mad at him. He's dead and I'm still mad."
Jarod hummed as his eyes slipped closed. "That's alright too."
Steve sat down next to Peggy and watched her read reports for several minutes. "Ma'am..."
"If you are going to tell me off for being happy to help kill Raines, I can and will shoot at you again."
"Oh, ah, no." Steve ran his hands over his knees. "He would have just found another way to hurt someone if he hadn't have been killed. I actually had a thought about Tony and I wanted to know what you thought."
Peggy sat down the report she was on and turned in her seat to face more towards Steve. "What is that?"
"Tony." Steve rubbed his forehead. "He was nearly killed by Obadiah Stane and the public doesn't know that. Tony had to publicly mourn the man that took the arc reactor from his chest."
"You assume Tony mourned the man."
Peggy patted him on the forearm. "Your mistake is thinking in a victim mindset. Tony isn't a victim in his own mind. He mourned in public, but I would bet you my nickers that he mourned the loss of a father figure, or trust, or perhaps even the shirt he was wearing when it happened."
"I...hadn't thought of it that way."
"I know." Peggy went back to her reports. "Now quit blushing, soldier." She held out a report to him. "Above all else don't pity him. He survived. That's what matters, Steve."
Steve nodded and took the report as he tried to will down the blush creeping up his ears.
Chapter 20: Waiting for a Hero
Darcy swallowed heavily as the children systematically explored their new home. No running around, no screaming at the top of their lungs, just quiet squad-like formations that reminded Darcy of cop shows and made her want to tase people she couldn't get at.
Thor wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "They appear well."
"Yeah." Darcy looked down at her tablet that gave her location markers and total count on the kids. "I still can't believe Stark thinks I can be the principal here."
Thor pulled her closer and rested his chin on her head. "You are very brave and strong. These children need the gifts you have within you to give."
Darcy blinked and pulled away. "Thanks. I think." She poked at the tablet. "I'm going to go check on the batch that just went into the kitchen."
Jon settled on a stool across from Stark. "Hi."
Stark looked up and sighed. "Hey."
"I have a problem."
"Get in line."
Jon smiled. "Can you run DNA on the kids against the SGC personel?"
Stark's eyebrows rose. "What? Why?" He brought up a list on the nearest monitor and frowned at it. "You think some of your ATA gene holders have kids in this mess?"
"Or half-siblings. I know you checked your people against them, but the SGC has people with the Pretender blood anomaly that don't have the ATA gene."
Stark took a sip of his drink. "Alright. I'll have J give it a look." He eyed Jon. "Do you think Hanna and Francis are going to come out okay?"
"What?" Jon cocked his head. "What? You're worried about them?"
Stark waved his hands around as he spoke. "Normal kids take tests, get grounded when they disobey...just stuff. You know?"
Jon rubbed his thumb across his eyebrow. "They aren't normal though, are they?" He gestured to the spot where Francis would normally be setting. "We talking about traumatized kids that are terrified of tests, the simulations were tests, right? We're working on trust with them." He smiled ruefully. "Trust issues abound around here. Those kids have lots more love than they know what to do with all of a sudden. They are learning whole swaths of new things, Stark."
"So? You think I'm not scaring them for life."
Jon snorted. "No, Stark, I don't think you are scaring any of them. I don't think group parenting them is going to hurt them either." Jon smiled to himself as Stark blinked and pushed his glass a little away from himself.
Phil Coulson frowned at the news as it unfolded. Natasha's report was even worse and she'd already asked for permission to stay in Gotham, which Phil was happy the Director denied outright. He looked over at Bruce who was watching and shaking his head. "Is he the only one that can deactivate it?"
"No." Bruce pushed his glasses up his nose. "In that city, oh, yes, but if I can get to it I can probably fix it."
Tony's fingers were flying across a keyboard. "The kids first day in their new school and here we are locking them down."
Darcy had to grab Thor's arm to keep him from haring off. "No. Oh, no. You can't go try to help. The bad guys will blow the whole city."
One of the kids tugged on her sleeve. "We can help. Can we have a map of the city?"
Darcy blinked. "Ah, sure. We can do that." She herded the kid towards the computer center. "Which one are you? I haven't gotten all the names learned yet."
Hanna and Francis huddled in Betty's arms as they watched the news coverage as the bridges leading into and out of the city were destroyed. Eddie watched from his huddle in the corner.
Hanna patted Betty's arm. "Dad, Tony, and Bruce will fix it."
Betty kissed her on the top of her head. "Sure, kiddo."
Miss Parker cursed under her breathe as she hurried from her cab to the Tower. Sydney and Broots were fine, still safe, and then Gotham goes to hell while she's on her way back to Jarod.
"If I didn't know better I'd swear the universe hates me." She glared at the stupid people in her way on the sidewalk. As soon as she was inside the doors, she looked up at the ceiling. "Hey, computer butler guy, is Jarod still here?"
"Yes, Miss Parker, he is where you left him."
She smiled at the cold tone of voice. "Thanks, bucket of bolts." Jarod had been in one place here longer than she'd seen him in any place outside of the Centre.
Natasha dropped her coat on the end of the counter and stepped up beside Coulson. "How bad has it gotten?"
He shrugged. "Chaos."
She huffed and sat down next to him. "The school is alright?"
"They are mapping the possible routes for the trucks, giving estimates on how long the city can feed everyone without supplies, and how likely it is we are going to have the bomb blow before we can defuse it."
Natasha nodded. "Alright. Stark and Banner are working on pinpointing the nuclear device, right?"
Coulson nodded. "Clint is running down leads still. Steve is with Jarod and the children are in Betty's lab."
She put her chin in her hand. "So. We wait."