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The Nine Tailed Foxx

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chap 1

When paths cross unexpectedly.
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Mid November….

 

Johnny glanced at the clock as he checked on his orders for his last table of the night. One more hour and he could clock out for the night. Presuming of course, there was no other last minute sittings for his sections. While he waited, he assisted one of the newer servers in loading up his tray in such a way that it would stay balanced for him.

“Johnny! Orders up!”

“Thanks,” he called back as he snagged a tray and gave it a quick wipe down before loading it up. Picking it up, he took a moment to balance it then was out the door.

Thirty minutes later, he was returning the receipt. The trio were regular enough customers since he started working there, that he spoke to them by name. It wasn’t uncommon either, for him to escort Mr. Murdock, who was blind, to and from their table. “Ms. Page, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Murdock. Have a pleasant evening.”

“Thank you Johnny,” Mr. Murdock said as they reached the door.

“Be careful out there sir. The temperature has dropped since you came in and the sidewalks are probably covered in patchy ice by now,” Johnny replied, holding the door open to the foyer open for the trio. As he made his way back to the kitchen, he checked with the other servers to see if they needed assistance with anything. Once back in the kitchen area, he checked the clock again before heading to one of the stools near the time clock. Just as he was about to sit down, the manager rushed in, more frazzled than usual for a Tuesday night.

The manager grabbed him by the arm, turning him to the left then right as he looked Johnny up and down. “Go wash your face and hands, change your vest and apron then get out there. Your section, Table for six. Special VIP customers.”

“What? Why? I’m close to going off shift,” Johnny said, gesturing to the clock. “Why can’t you seat them in one of the other sections?”

“Your section is empty which will give them some privacy and you were asked for by name. Recommended it seems by one of your regular customers,” the manager said as he started motioning for Johnny to start moving.

“Who?” Johnny asked as he ducked into the employee restroom to do a quick cleanup.

“One Mr. Murdock of Nelson & Murdock.”

Johnny paused a moment then sighed. It was going to be a long night. He nodded to the busboy who usually took care of his section. In return he got a thumbs up. The table was ready. He picked up the menus, made sure he had his pen and notepad in his vest pocket and a clean towel tucked into the top of the apron. Taking a deep breath then letting it out, he stepped through the doors to the main room. He approached the group standing near the door to the foyer area, stopping an arms length from the group and waiting a few seconds for a lull in their conversations. “Ladies, Gentlemen. Welcome to Cantellines. Your table is ready,” he said as he motioned towards his section. “This way please.”

Johnny eyed the setup critically for a moment. Two of the four person tables had been pushed together, then covered with the best linen tablecloth reserved for VIP/superstar guests. The place settings were the best crystal and sterling silver. The manager had pulled out all the stops for this one, he was doing some major sucking up it seemed. He kept his pleasant expression plastered on his face as he waited for the party to choose where they wished to sit.

“Yeah. No. That’s not going to work.”

“Sir?” Johnny questioned, head tipped to the side. He looked the party over once more then looked at the table arrangement. “Ah, yes. I see…” he nodded. “If you don’t mind waiting a few moments I can have the tables rearranged.”

“By all means, knock yourself out.”

Johnny looked to the other members of the party. Once he received affirmatives he set to work. It didn’t take much to move the tables and chairs around. “Will that work, Sir?” he asked as he motioned to the new setup.

There was a consensus that the new table arrangement was as good as it would get for the room layout. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts took the side of the table that afforded the best view of all the room exit points, it also put Ms. Potts, who had the least combat experience of the group, in the most protected spot at the table. Across from the pair was Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner, both able to watch for anything that could get behind the other couple and able to see at least one exit each. And the two end points were taken up by Steve Rogers and Clint Barton. Rogers was sitting in a spot that put him on the first line of defense since other than Banner, he would be the one most likely to survive anything thrown at him. As for Barton, his spot afforded him the best view to keep track of everything.

‘In for a penny, in for a pound,’ Johnny thought as he gathered up the menus once more. ‘I should have called out.’ As he moved around the table, it was with the ease of someone in their own environment. As he started to hand the menu to Stark, he shifted and handed it instead to Potts with a flourish and a smile. Now that Stark was watching him, he took a second menu and wiped it down, front, back and center then opened it and placed it before the billionaire at the edge of his place setting. Easy to read yet doesn’t have to be touched. He handed Barton, Roger and Banner their menus, then offered Romanoff her’s, waiting until she took it. His next move was to fill water glasses, again the ladies were first, Stark’s was wiped clean and a bottle of high end water was set next to the empty glass, the rest he filled and set in place. “Lady’s choice of wine tonight? or would the gentleman prefer to choose?”

Choices were made, orders placed, small talk ensued between the occupants of the table. Johnny made sure glasses were kept topped and anything, within reason, that was asked for that the restaurant could provide, was provided. He neither hovered nor did he ignore them. He was there when required, but always stayed just at the edge. Mostly he was deflecting attention from other customers and the staff. He even kept the manager away from the group, giving them at least the illusion of privacy. And when asked, he’d answer questions about himself.

“So tell me Johnny,” Ms. Romanoff, Natasha (or Nat to her those close to her) started “What happened after you were let go?” she asked, lifting her wine glass for a refill.

Johnny hummed softly as he slid two fingers under the wine glass’s base before he started to pour. “From whom and which time?”

“Spring, 2006. SHIELD.”

“Ah, that time,” Johnny said off hand. He glanced at the rest of the group around the table, seeing how their attention was now focused on him. “After I was released from SHIELD custody my..” a few seconds pause, “guardian...picked me up again. It took a few months but I was able to get away from him again.” He placed the near empty bottle on a side table.

“Again?” Mr. Rogers asked, voicing the question he knew was on the rest of his teammates minds.

“Yes. I was free of him for several years before I had… little choice but to return.”

“You make it sound like this guardian of yours was a horrible person,” Ms. Potts observed.

Johnny just smiled. “A guardian is always a horrible person when they are not liked by the child in question.”

“So what changed? From then to now,” Mr. Rogers asked, blue eyes bright with curiosity.

“I grew up,” Johnny replied with a grin. “The rest are my secrets to hoard like a miser with his gold.”

“OOooo.. I love secrets. Big secrets, little secrets, dark secrets and not so dark secrets. Everyone has secrets. Some secrets are just multiple secrets,” Mr. Stark commented, lips quirked up in a smirk. “The harder someone goes to hide a secret the more fun it is to find it.” He pulled out his phone and started tapping away. “So lets see…” He looked Johnny up and down for several moments then turned to Natasha. “SHIELD custody you said?” He didn’t wait, focusing once more on his phone, talking to himself as he started digging around on the internet. “Huh….”

“Not a very interesting secret is it?” Johnny asked as he moved around the table clearing away the dishes for the dessert round.

Stark looked at his phone then to the younger man who was their waiter for the night. “No. No, that’s not it. Just... really?” He held his phone up for Johnny with a look of disbelief.

Johnny leaned to the side to look at Mr. Stark’s phone screen. He grinned in reply. “No, not it. Though it is not a secret, neither is it something I talk about. You know the type. The pink elephant with the green polka dots wearing a tutu in that god awful shade of purple.” That got a laugh out of everyone. “Besides, it was a job that paid the bills for a few months and I still get a revenu check quarterly.” He shrugged, not at all concerned that Stark was poking around, looking for info on him. “And now ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be right back with your dessert.” With a half bow, he left for the kitchen. By now the restaurant had been cleared of the last customer and the staff was in the process of cleaning up. Upon entering the kitchen, the pastry chef had just finished plating the dessert. The classic Italian dessert tiramisu and bicerin (Italian coffee). “I don’t think anything else is going to be ordered,” he told the manager as he loaded the tray. A glance at the clock and a sigh. ‘He is going to be so pissed that I didn’t call to let him know I was working late. Too late now,’ he thought to himself as he headed back with the desserts.

By the time dessert had been consumed and everyone was ready to go, Cantellines had been officially closed for almost two hours. The only staff members left was the manager, the assistant manager, johnny and two members of the cleaning staff. Johnny’s normal shift had extended from six hours to almost ten hours and he still wasn’t done for the day. He had another job to do elsewhere that required him not to be noticed by anyone that could report it.

As he escorted the group to the door, he bid them a safe and pleasant evening then turned to Natasha. “Ms. Romanoff, as nice, and surprising, as it was to see you again, I sincerely hope I do not cross paths with you any time soon outside of work. My life is stressful enough as is on a normal day dealing with the usual.”

Natasha lips quirked up tiny bit from her usual ‘I’m in public and playing nice’ smile. A smile that promised no such thing. “Oh, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.” With that, she reached up and patted him on the cheek before taking Bruce’s proffered arm.

Johnny held up his hands in surrender as he huffed a laugh and shook his head. “Ok, I deserved that,” he muttered heading to the back to retrieve his coat and tips for the evening. He left via the front door so that the manager could lock up for the night. He didn’t get more than half a block before the goombas his other employer called security showed up in a standard black SUV. Thirty minutes later and a complete change of clothes, he stepped from the vehicle and quietly vanished into the alley shadows.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 2

The Setup
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Mid December….
One month and over a half dozen ‘meetings’ later…..

 

“Hello stranger,” came a sultry voice from the shadowy depths of the alley way. The figure approached the dim, flickering ring of light that illuminated the rear of some cheap, run down looking building. “Having fun yet?”

Johnny paused in his work, the muscles across his shoulders tightening making him hunch them even more. He knew that voice. Better than he cared to know it. His lucky never seend to hold for very long. “Not really,” he replied as he leaned forward to thump his forehead against the brick wall over the electronic security pad next to the door. “The bastard that currently holds my contract has seen fit to whore me out for the night to a cheap assed idiot. Right now, I would rather be home where it’s much warmer and a hell of alot dryer.” Honestly, he didn’t give a damn about the person who held his contract but as long as the man had leverage against him, there wasn’t a whole lot he could do. He felt her move closer as he looked down at the device in his hand. Against lesser security it would work like a charm but this place had, apparently, a higher grade security network. Turning his head, he looked at her, “So.. is this where I get taken in?” he asked, half in jest, half serious. ‘Please say yes….’

“Nope,” The Black Widow said, popping the ‘p’ as she slid between Johnny and the brick wall, getting awfully close. So close in fact she was sliding one hand up his chest to his shoulder.

“Aren’t you cold?” Johnny asked as he tilted his head slightly as he noted she was not in what could be called a uniform of any type (catsuit included). She was wearing a top that was low cut in the front, showing off cleavage, a snug belt and an indecently short mini-skirt. God he felt practically frozen and he was dressed head to toe and wearing a hooded great coat on top of that.

“Why? Are you offering to warm me up?” Widow asked back in a low throaty purr. Her fingers playing with a few strands of hair that had obviously fallen out of the low ponytail as she snuggled in closer. “And isn’t it a little late to be playing halloween dress up?” she commented as she examined the exquisitely crafted fox mask he was wearing. She could see his eyes through the the tinted lenses only because she was so close. It came down to the end of his nose, curving down his cheeks to his jawline, leaving his mouth uncovered. The top curved up and over his forehead to either cover his head completely or just the front have. From the shadows, it looked like fox ears had been included in the design.

He lifted one gloved hand, bracing it above her head as he leaned down, thus enveloping her further within the confines of his coat. “I’m neither insane nor do I have a deathwish. I was merely asking if you are, in truth, cold in that outfit.” To any passerby they would appear to be one of the local working ladies and her John. Which struck him as rather funny, causing him to snicker softly.

“Care to let me in on the joke?” Widow asked as she placed her other hand on his hip.

“Hmmm…I’m not sure how slowly I wish to die.” His breath hitched as something very sharp pierced the skin just above his hipbone. “Ow,” he hissed. He wanted to jerk away but knew better than to move.

The Black Widow smirked. “Oh come now, it’s not that bad really. Just a little prick.” She turned, putting her back to his chest and pushing her ass into his groin as she got to work disabling the security. A bark of laughter came through her earpiece.

Nat, you are such a bitch sometimes,” Hawkeye said as he watched the goings on from a rooftop half a block away.

“Yep, I know,” Widow uttered under her breath. “Oh, trash that piece of crap.”

“So,” Johnny started as the device disappeared into a pocket, “What’s the charges on Murder one? I know of someone I would really like to kill right now for setting me up with this job.”

“Depends on your defense lawyer,” Widow replied cheekily. “I’m pretty sure you know a good one.” A soft click announced the door unlocking. “You coming?” she asked as she slipped through the door.

“Yep, I’m fucked,” Johnny muttered before following her in.

 

Twenty minutes later, the pair were leaving via another exit. They came out of an alley and started walking south west along the street. One sauntering along like she was on an evening stroll, the other with easy strides of someone who accomplished their work.

You have incoming. Rooftop to your right,” Hawkeye said. “Costumed, dark red and black. Masked…

Lifting a finger to her ear, the Widow responded. “Got it.” She turned to look at Johnny but he had already stopped several feet back and was looking up. She watched as he slipped down a side alley, muttering about ‘paying the devil his due’. She could hear the faint sound of Johnny making his way up the fire escape. “Interesting,” she murmured.

“What?”

“He knew the person was there,”

“Maybe he was expecting them?”

 

“No, I don’t think he was,” Widow replied as she followed. By the time she made her way to the rooftop, Hawkeye had joined her. She accepted the small bag he handed her with a nod and quickly slid on the pants and jacket top over her current outfit. When the pair of Avengers moved closer to the pair, Johnny was standing with arms crossed over his chest and his head tilted down, even though the hood made it difficult to be sure. The other person, a man it seemed, was just finishing up speaking.

“Thank you,” Johnny said before moving away towards the edge of the roof.

Hawkeye was the one that spoke up first, “So you're the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’.”

“I like the name ‘Daredevil’ better, but yes. I am,” Daredevil replied, shifting his weight. “Tell me, what are a pair of Avengers doing in Hell’s Kitchen?”

Hawkeye glanced to the side at the Black Widow before he shrugged, “Keeping her company while I freeze my ass off in this weather,” he said shifting his weight subtly incase there was going to be a problem.

Daredevil huffed a laugh. “Yes, the weather is a bit uninviting right now. But you still haven’t answered my question.”

The Widow shrugged, “Is there a law against us being here?”

“No.”

“Did he ask you to delay us?”

“Yes. He did, though he asked that if it came to it, to avoid conflict. Since neither of you are breaking any laws in Hell’s Kitchen then I have no reason to try and stop you from following him,” Daredevil answered truthfully. So far neither Avenger had lied but they haven’t told the complete truth either.

The Widow eyed Daredevil suspiciously for several minutes. “And what did he promise you if you did delay us?”

The man in black and red smiled, “That he would introduce me to the reason why he asked me to delay you.”

“And you believed him?” Hawkeye asked in a disbelieving tone of voice.

“And you don’t.” It was a statement, not a question.

Hawkeye opened his mouth then shut it and shrugged.

Taking out her phone from her pocket, Widow swiped her finger across the screen then tapped a few moments. “The tracker is working perfectly,” she said.

Hawkeye leaned over to take a look at the screen before looking in the direction it indicated. “Hmm.. maybe ten minutes if we take our time.”

“Or you can go directly to the meeting spot and be waiting for him,” Daredevil offered.

Widow eyed Daredevil a moment. “Let me guess, he told you where it was taking place to sweeten his deal?”

With a laugh, Daredevil crossed his arms over his chest then shook his head. “No. It’s not in taking place in Hell’s Kitchen. I have enough to deal with here. I don’t need to go looking for more problems in the rest of the city.” He tilted his head first one way then another. “Speaking of trouble..” he uncrossed his arms turning in the direction he needed to go. “The meeting place is Fort Clinton in Central Park.” With that, he took off in a sprint across the roof, leaping across to the next roof over before vanishing into the darkness.

“Eh… not too bad for a newcomer to the whole superhero business..,” Hawkeye commented with an easy grin.

The Widow just rolled her eyes. “Come on, I want to look the meeting place over before someone else gets there,” she said as she started towards the fire escape, removing the skirt as she did. “Should I keep this?” she asked.

“Depends on if you need to go in as a working girl or not. A little too trashy otherwise,” Hawkeye replied as he followed her down.

“I don’t know… Bruce might like it….”

 

Over an hour later, the meeting was finally taking place. Widow and Hawkeye were both in secure, well hidden locations that offered perfect views, and if need be, offer assistance. From what they saw, it would be a meet up with three parties involved. The two other parties were already on location and had the area secure (or so they thought). Two sets of limos and accompanying vehicles. The first set, the person in charge was staying well hidden and guarded in their vehicle. The second group’s boss (Widow silently agreed with Johnny’s assessment of the man being a cheap assed idiot) was standing outside his limo arrogantly, surrounded by his goons who looked to be nothing more than hired thugs. When Johnny arrived it was via one of the infamous gypsy cabs New York was known for. With him was a younger woman, wearing a slinky outfit that was in no way made for the weather, and the cabby who was armed with a ubiquitous uzi.

The pair of Avengers watched as the exchange went down. The girl went to the second limo to retrieve a briefcase from CAI (Cheap assed idiot). While collecting the briefcase she was pawed over by not only a couple of the goons but the CAI himself. She then went to the first limo, the briefcase taken from her as one of guards removed his long coat and draped it about her shoulders. After the briefcase was inspected, the young woman entered the limo, the door was closed behind her. Johnny was motioned forward by the same guard who offered the woman his coat. The window rolled down slightly, a few words exchanged then the window was rolled up again and that entire party left. Both Widow and Hawkeye agreed the group were professionals.

The second part of the exchange went downhill fast. After Johnny passed over the item in question, the man started bragging about what he was going to do with it. When he finally got done, he signaled one of his goons to hand over whatever it was Johnny was waiting for. A car seat was pulled out of the back seat of the limo along with a bag by one of the goons. The bag was thrown to Johnny, who caught it then dropped it at his feet. The car seat was slung at him, he dove forward and caught it, though the infant strapped into it started wailing in distress.

Hawkeye was on his feet, bow up, arrow nocked and drawn, ready to be released. A hand on his arm stayed his action.

“No!”

“Please Nat… Please. Just let me kill the bastard,” he whispered fiercely.

“No...just wait. That bastard will meet his end soon enough.”

“You promise?”

“Yes.”

Hawkeye flexed his arm slightly, the bowstring pulling back just slightly before he relaxed and un-nocked the arrow, returning it to his quiver. “Good.” He watched as Johnny handed the car seat over to the cabby, the child still crying weakly.

Once Seymour (the cabby) had gotten clear, Johnny rolled his shoulders and neck, flexing his fingers then his wrists. He slid his hands into his pockets, working his fingers into the rings. “Do you know what he said me before he left?” Johnny asked as he looked up. “He told me I was free to do as I saw fit.” Slowly he turned on the toe of one foot, gauging where each person stood in relationship to where he was.

The man laughed waving his hand and signaling his goons to do as they please. He turned to the limo, ignoring the sounds of metal hitting flesh.

The moment the man turned his back and the goons Johnny pulled his hands from his pockets. In each hand was what for lack of a better term, were steel butterfly yo-yo’s. With a flick of his wrists, the first went sailing out connecting solidly with the first goon’s skull, the sharp edges slicing into skin as it did. He spun, twisting his wrist as he sent his other hand out, the yo-yo striking a second goon on the wrist, breaking it as well as drawing blood. Flick, throw, spin and twist. He danced his way through the goons, taking them down with a sharp precision of a well trained Agent. Just over thirty seconds and he’d taken down half a dozen men.

The man turned, his eyes going wide as he fumbled for his own gun. He wasn’t able to even draw it halfway before he was slammed into the side of the limo. A hand wrapped around his throat, tightening till he could barely breath. He clawed at the arm attached to the hand, but the material of the sleeve prevented any damage. A second time he was slammed into the limo, his head bouncing against the edge of the roof.

Johnny leaned forward till his lips brushed against the man’s ear. “Heh, as much as I dislike the bastard, I’ll have to remember to tell him thank you for allowing me this moment,” he whispered softly before letting go of the man’s throat. Talented fingers removed the silk tie from around his neck, caressing flesh as they did. “Don’t like it when you’re on the receiving end of unwanted attention?” he cooed before slamming him back a third time, leaving him stunned, sliding down to the ground. He turned back to the goons, checking each until he had what he wanted. Using the tie, he gagged the man, then dragged him around to the front of the limo. Using both hands he threw the man onto the hood. Using the pair of belts he’d stripped from the goons, he tied the man’s arms to each of the side mirrors leaving him spread eagle on the hood. The combat knife he’d found was slammed into the hood right at the man’s groin, the cutting edge inward against flesh. Humming softly to himself, he located the keys of the limo, which had been left in the ignition and started it up. Shifting it in gear, he tested to see if he would need a something against the gas peddle. The vehicle was heavy enough that it wouldn’t move without the accelerator being used. Well he didn’t really need it going fast, just moving. Once accomplished, he exited the slow moving vehicle and calmly made his way towards where the cab was parked.

The Cabby nodded, handing the now clean infant over to Johnny. “The car seat was a mess. It’s in the trunk.”

“Thank you,” Johnny said as he held the baby close, checking and rechecking just to assure himself. “I think, it’s time to go home.”

Seymour nodded once before opening the back door for Johnny. Closing it after the younger man got in, he moved around to the driver side and got in. He made his way through Central Park, joining the flow of early morning traffic, careful not to draw attention to his vehicle.

Back at Fort Clinton, Widow stood in the ring of groaning, semi-conscious goons. She hadn’t placed a call for clean up just yet. Crouching down next to one in particular, she placed her hands on either side of his head and twisted just right. It didn’t kill the man. No, that would be too quick and merciful. She then slid one of her widow-bites into his pants, nestling it in his groin before activating it.

“Please tell me you are planning on washing your hands,” Hawkeye commented as he came walking back from the direction of the stalled out limo.

“I plan on incinerating these gloves.. ew…”

Hawkeye nodded with tight smile and gleam of satisfaction in his eyes. The man would have a very slow, very painful death. “You called for cleanup yet?”

Widow stood up, peeling her gloves off as she did. “No, I thought you called…” She faked searching her belt pouches. “Oops.. seems I’ve misplaced it. Guess we’ll have to find the nearest public phone and place the call.”

“Hmm.. too bad. Finding a working public phone in these parts can be a real bitch,” Hawkeye said as he collapsed his bow then slung an arm around Widow’s shoulders. “I don’t ask for much….” he said as they walked away from the scene. “But I think you should back off of the kid some. Leave him be for a little while. At least until after the holidays.”

“I’ll think on it.”

“That’s all I ask.”

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 3

Going Places
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Late December….
Between Christmas and New Year….

 

Things had calmed down some since Johnny got Alexei back. He worked his usual three days a week at the restaurant and enjoyed conversations with his usual customers. He was picked up after work and taken home where he took care of Alexei until he went back to the restaurant. The other four days he stayed at the main location. He was kept close, sent out only for minor jobs. He arranged for two evenings out, one for him and Mirela and the other for him and Alexei.

He took Mirela to the theater, then to dinner followed by a long carriage ride in Central Park. All of it was, of course, arranged by and paid for by the very man they were trying to escape from. They talked about nothing and everything, carefully avoiding saying anything of the plans to escape from the situation they were in. He had been asked to locate the young woman by her father and she was over seven months pregnant when he did finally located her. It didn’t take long before he insinuated himself into the organization, becoming a favorite of the man who had acquired Mirela from the ones that kidnapped her. He asked what she would do when she was free. She said she wanted to return home to Latveria, to her family. When he asked if she would take Alexei with her, she hesitated.

“I don’t know if I love him enough,” Mirela admitted. “Is it wrong of me? Am I somehow broken because of it?” she asked. “He is a constant reminder of everything bad that has happened to me over the last two years. I don’t know if he would even be welcomed back home.”

“Do you know who the father is? It’s not… him.. is it?” Johnny asked.

“No, thank the stars no, it wasn’t him. Alexei’s father...I don’t know. It wasn’t natural. I wasn’t the only one he took for his plans. I was just the only one that became pregnant and gave birth to a living child. The other women… either it did not take or they miscarried along the way,” she explained.

Johnny nodded in understanding. “Did they ever say who the father was or could be?” he asked, curious. If the father was alive there was always a chance whomever it was, would accept Alexei. If not, well…. he had experience raising a child on his own while on the move.

“The only thing mentioned by the doctors and scientist was that my child would be the successor of the greatest asset they ever owned,” Mirela said. “The way they talk about Alexei, it frightens me,” she admitted.

“As long as I can, I will protect him. You have my word,” Johnny told her. He saw her to the door of the private quarters, gave her a kiss on the temple, wished her a good night then retired to his own quarters after retrieving Alexei from the other temporary caregiver.

The next day, Johnny had a driver drop him off in Central Park. He spent part of the early morning riding the snow covered trails on horseback, Alexei in the papoose strapped to his chest and well covered in the warm coat. He went to the zoo for the afternoon, during the warmest part of the winter’s day. Not because Alexei would care about seeing the animals, but because it was a perfectly ordinary thing to do. He looked like an other young single father taking their child out to the Zoo on a clear winter's day.

The first people to realize something was going on was those at the front entrance to the Zoo. A group of armed men stormed through heading for the administrative building. Those (smart) civilians that could escape did so. The not so smart (gawkers and tourists) civilians did not get away. It didn’t take long before the entire Zoo knew something was going on. The PA system crackled and hissed as the cheerful holiday music was replaced with someone making demands that a fox hand over a baby.

Way towards the back of the Zoo, Johnny face palmed with a groan. He knew he had made a few minor enemies in his line of work, but seriously? What idiot or group of idiots took a major zoo hostage for a single person of little importance? He pulled out his phone and placed a call.

When no one came forward, the person making the demands then threatened to start shooting random zoo goers as they searched the place for what or who, they were after. It was at that point that things really went chaotic.

Over at the Avengers Tower, the Avengers themselves were in a lull between ‘saving the (insert location here) from major villains’ and various missions that the FBI/CIA/Military would ask members to go on for this, that or other reasons. Clint was flipping through the news channels while Natasha lounged next to him reading a book. Steve was playing chess with Bruce. Tony was in the kitchen area tinkering with a pot of coffee. And Vision and Wanda were sitting together discussing existential topics.

“Wow, it must really be a slow day if the national news channels are picking this up,” Clint said as he stopped at one of the news channels.

“Agent Romanoff, perhaps you and Agent Barton would like to go assist the local authorities?” Vision asked as he glanced at the display.

Natasha looked up from her book to the display as well then over to Vision. “Why? It looks like it's being handled.”

“Hmmm… it’s just that a person of interest you’ve been following is there currently,” the Sentient android commented in an off hand manner before turning back to his discussion with Wanda.

Natasha blinked then looked at Clint before pulling up her phone. A minute later she was heading to gear up.

“Need a hand?” Clint asked.

“No, but you're welcome to come along if you want,” she answered back.

Clint tossed the remote down on the coffee table as he scrambled to follow his partner. “Oh hell yeah!”

Steve watched the pair leave. He looked at Tony, then Bruce before looking over at Vision and Wanda. He looked back at a now grinning Tony Stark.

“You know what? A trip to the Zoo sounds like fun! FRIDAY, sweetheart, get daddy’s suit ready.” He headed for the elevator.

“Tony? Wait!” Steve shot to his feet, throwing out a hand as he could stop Tony from way across the room. “Damnit…” he sighed, running a hand through his short blonde hair. “I better go as well, who knows what Tony will get up to otherwise. Anyone else care to go to the Zoo?” he asked.

Bruce just laughed as he sat back. “No.. oohh no. Not unless it is a dire need for me to be there, I am not going.”

“Fair enough. Wanda? Vision?”

The other pair also declined.

“Great… why can’t anyone enjoy the time off and the holidays like it use to be?” Steve grumbled as he also headed to the elevator. Just as he reached it the doors opened.

“What took you so long? Getting slow in your old age? The Geritol running out? Maybe you need to take a nap...” Tony said with a manic grin.

“You know what? Fuck you Tony,” Steve shot back as he punched the button. The doors closed on whatever else was said between the two.

 

The battle.. wait, it couldn’t even be called a battle… the fight turned out to be rather anticlimactic. Yes, they were HYDRA grunts which was on the plus side. But they were also rather poor quality HYDRA grunts which really didn’t offer any challenge at all. Well, maybe a tiny challenge to the baby FBI Agents that got called in to deal with them.

When it was all over with and FBI was hauling away their cargo of prisoners, Tony decided to turn it into a public meet and greet, showing off in all his egotistical glory. Steve was a little irked but put on a good face, smiling, signing autographs, the whole nine yards. As for the Widow and Hawkeye, they vanished into the crowd as if they were never there.

“What do you think? Next time bring Laura and the kids here for a week? Bring them to the Zoo, let them see the sights. You know, play tourist,” Clint said as he pointed out a few of the exhibits that either Coop or Lila might like.

“Isn’t Nate a bit young still?” Nat asked.

“Yeah, but I’m sure Laura would enjoy a day spa trip if I took the kids.” Clint was scanning the crowd automatically, when he spotted a familiar coat. He nudged Nat, nodding towards the figure standing near the Snow Leopard enclosure.

Natasha nodded, slipping away, making her way through the crowd like a fish cutting through water. She came up on Johnny’s other side. “Hello Johnny,” she said as she looped her arm around his waist.

“You know, I was having a nice peaceful day,” Johnny commented with a sigh as he pushed his sunglasses up further before running a hand through his hair. He tipped his head down and murmured softly to Alexei, who had started fussing. “Maybe if the gift shop is still open, I’ll get you one. Can’t leave it in your crib, but when you're on the floor it’ll be ok.” He got a happy gurgle in reply as his finger was caught and promptly inserted into the baby’s mouth to be gummed and slobbered on.

“Hi there,” Nat said, waving her fingers at the baby. “Aren’t you a cutie,” she cooed softly. “Hi.” She could tell the baby’s eyes had already started shifting from new born blue to what would be their permanent color. She glanced up at Johnny who was looking at her over the top of his sunglasses. His eyes were a bright, almost pure emerald green. The baby’s looked to be brown. “Takes after mama?” she inquired. She couldn’t tell hair color since the baby had a cap on to protect against the cold.

Johnny raised an eyebrow at her question then shifted his attention to the other side as the man who had accompanied her leaned back against the display's half-wall. Looking him up and down, studying the older man, judging him as only a father could judge the potential threat to his child.

Hazel locking with emerald green as Clint meet and held Johnny’s eyes. Wordlessly letting the younger man know, he was no threat to the child. That he would step up and protect the child himself, if Johnny was unable to for any reason. His eyes barely widened in reaction when he saw first icey blue then silver bleed through emerald green. Muscles tensed, he went on instant high alert, ready to move at any moment. His first thought was Loki, but the blue wasn’t the right shade to be the Asgardian’s doing. He watched as pupils blew wide then shrank again.

He reached up and rubbed his temple as he slammed his eyes shut with a low hiss of pain. Blinking rapidly, clearing the tears away. He hated when that happened without warning, it always give a few seconds of disorientation as perspectives suddenly shifted on him. Taking a few steps back, out of arm's reach of the pair, he shook his head to clear it as he flipped the hood up. His other hand was spread protectively across the baby’s back. Taking a deep breath he blew it out through his nose before smiling falsely. “Sorry, was snow blinded for a moment there.”

Both Nat and Clint knew the excuse was total bullshit, but accepted it with nods anyway.

Glancing past Johnny, Clint nodded to the police officer that was approaching them. “We’ll be on our way in a moment officer,” he called.

Natasha held up her Avenger ID for the officer to see as well.

The officer waved then gave them a thumbs up as he turned around, speaking into his shoulder mic.

“Widow. Hawkeye. Report.”

Nat reached up, activating her com. “All clear.”

“Need a hand with anything?”

“No. Everything’s fine,” Nat replied, sending Clint a look. “We’d better start moving before the other’s get impatient and come looking for us.”

Clint crossed his arms over his chest as he pushed off the wall. “Knowing Tony, he’ll say he was just doing a last check of the area and happened to find us.”

Nat smirked, “Then he’ll invite everyone to go have something to eat just so he can ask questions and get away with it.”

“Shawarma,” Clint said, nodding in agreement.

The trio walked in companionable silence, listening to the sounds of the animals as they slowly settle down from all the excitement. The early closing didn’t bother them since the zoo keepers adhered to the strict schedules.

“No….” Johnny said suddenly. “To answer your question from earlier. No, he takes after his father in coloration. Lighter skin tone, brown eyes instead of silver-gray and his hair will be lighter as well. A dark brown instead of raven’s wing black.” He trailed a finger lightly down the now dozing infant’s cheek.

Natasha nodded, then looked sideways at Johnny with a raised eyebrow.

Johnny let out a soft laugh. “He’s almost eight years too late to be mine biologically,” he admitted.

“But that doesn’t mean he’s not yours otherwise,” Clint pointed out. Even though he was relaxed looking, he was still vigilant. Someone had to be.

“True.”

“What’s his name?” Nat asked. In the distance she could see Steve and Tony, the crowd of people around them was now greatly diminished. Most were in NYPD blues or FBI Black.

“Alexei…” Johnny replied. “Alexei Ivanovich Montrovnyah.”

Clint let out a soft whistle, “Boy does the kid have a mouthful for a name.”

“Actually that’s a little on the short side for a Russian name,” Nat pointed out.

“It’s Latverian,” Johnny corrected. “She was on a student visa when she became pregnant,” he added at the looks he got. While strictly speaking, it was the partial truth. She had been on a student visa here in the United States when she was taken by traffickers.

Anything else was put on hold when one egocentric playboy billionaire came strolling up to the trio. “Well well, look who finally decided to come join the party. You two missed out on all my… our.. adoring fans.” He shot a look at Johnny, trying to see who it was since he had the hood up still. “And who’s your friend? Did you two find a new playmate but forget to tell us about him?”

Clint stepped in front of Johnny, effectively blocking Tony from getting any closer as he put a hand to the other man’s chest. “Back off Stark,” he said quietly, with the tone of a no-nonsense SHIELD Agent.

“Whoa! Hey now, Merida…” Tony threw his hands up taking several steps back. He had a thing about being touched as well as being handed stuff. “No need to go all mama bear on me…”

“Problems Hawkeye?” Captain America questioned (as opposed to the more friendly tone of voice Steve Rogers used).

“No, no problems Cap,” came the immediate reply.

With all of Johnny’s training and experience, he could see the difference between the active, on duty public persona and the private, more personal persona of the Avengers. Or at least two of them, but considering one was the Black Widow it could still be a mask. He nodded his thanks to Hawkeye and continued on towards the exit, Nat walking between him and her teammates still.

Tony looked almost put out. Almost. “What? Am I chopped liver now? Just one of the masses? Come on, I’m me. I’m Tony Stark, billionaire genius. I’m Iron Man for god’s sake!”

Steve turned away, hiding a smirk with his hand. It wasn’t often that Tony was unable to make himself the center of attention. And when it did happen, it was always amusing to watch.

Tony turned to Nat as she returned from escorting Johnny out of the Zoo. “Come on, give me a hint here. Who was that? I’m dying to know who that was,” he said as he pulled out his phone to hack into the Zoo’s security feed and find out. “Wha? Hey! Give that back. It’s my phone. You have your own phone now give it back,” he demanded with a pout.

“Nope,” said with a pop of the ‘p’.

“Cap… Captain my Captain.. back me up here. Make her give me back my phone.”

“Sorry Tony, you're on your own here,” Steve said with a laugh as he held up a hand to stop any further chatter. “I’d say we’re done here, wouldn’t you agree?” he asked both Clint and Nat. “See you back at the Tower,” he added as he turned away for one final round of handshakes with the police and Zoo security before heading to his motorcycle.

“Bye, Tony,” Nat said with a wave as she hooked an arm through Clint’s and led him off to where her car was parked.

Tony threw his hands in the air in a huff. “Fine, see if I invite you out for shawarma with me.” He stalked off to where his Iron Man suit was on standby.

 

“Where to?” Seymour asked before pulling out into traffic.

“Hell’s Kitchen. Find us a quiet diner please,” Johnny said as he settled back in the seat, dropping his head tiredly against the back of it.

“Sure thing,” the cabby said as he flipped through the radio stations to find one playing oldies. Pulling out into traffic, he drummed his fingers on the wheel in time with the music, occasionally singing along with the songs. When they finally arrived in Hell’s Kitchen, he took Johnny to a small Mom & Pop diner that had good food and even better service. Parking the cab, he got out and opened the door for the young man. “Even under our protection, be careful. This is still Hell’s Kitchen. Ya know what I mean?” Seymour admonished as he slid back into the driver’s seat. “Call when you're ready to head home.”

Johnny gave a wave to the departing cab before turning and looking up at the name of the diner. Even though the door was closed, the smell of baked bread and fresh coffee drifted by. He stepped through the door and was welcomed.

It was just past sunset when Johnny left the diner. Alexei had been fed and changed as well so was dozing snugly against his chest. He kept one arm wrapped protectively around the baby, his other was tucked into his pocket, fingers playing with the items to be found there. A few of the braver, or more desperate working girls who were out in the weather made their play for a little bit of fun. He turned them down of course, but wasn’t heartless about it. He sweet talked them for a few minutes, gave em a twenty then told them to go get something hot to drink. Of course that brought him to the attention of some dubious individuals, but it wasn’t hard to dissuade them from doing anything stupid. Like attempting to mug him. This of course, caught the attention of the person he was really here to see.

Stopping on the street corner, he looked up to the spires of the Catholic church first, letting his eyes travel to the stained glass windows which decorated the side he was facing. A warm glow lit the windows from the inside, giving the looming building a feeling of open arms, welcoming the weary. Barely there movement touched the edge of his gift, then another and another. All as light as a butterfly's kiss. Looking up, he inhaled softly. Hand reaching up, palm skyward and fingers spread, he waited for the first few snowflakes to land. Another brush of movement, more solid feeling and counter to the gently falling snow broke the spell. Dropping his hand, he wiped it off on the side of his coat as he crossed the street, heading to the church. Slipping inside, Johnny waited a few moments before making his way to the side where the votives were. He wasn’t a religious person per se. He knew there were higher powers in the universe and left it at that. He hesitated a moment, before picking up a taper and lighting a candle. Movement again touched his gift, this time coming from the front near the altar area.

“Can I be of help son?” came an elderly man’s voice.

Johnny turned, looking at the elderly man a moment before shaking his head. “No sir, I’m just here to meet someone.” At the man’s raised eyebrow, he chuckled. “A meeting not of the religious nature,” he amended. “I promised someone I would show them the reason behind my request.” He parted his coat, turning some to reveal the baby.

“Ah,” the priest murmured. “I see. I am Father Lantom, if you need anything I will be close by.”

“Thank you Father,” Johnny murmured before turning towards the section of pews somewhere in the middle. He unstrapped the papoose to set it to the side as he cradled Alexei in his arm. He quietly pointed out the different scenes pictured in the stain glass windows, even though the baby was nowhere near enough to understand yet. He watched the slow gathering of the congregation for the evening service, the variety of people from all walks of life.

“Excuse me son,” Father Lantom softly from the isle. “There is…. someone… who wishes to see you. I asked him to wait in the rectory where there will be less...notice or disturbances during Evening Services.” There was a slight disapproving note in the elderly man’s voice.

“Of course Father Lantom,” Johnny said, rising from the pew smoothly. He shifted Alexei so he could gather the papoose up along with the messenger bag-slash-diaper bag. At the door, he thanked the priest for his time and patience, accepting the small blessing he bestowed on Alexei in parting. A taking a calming breath, he opened the door and stepped through.

“Good evening Foxx.”

Johnny managed to stop his reaction of reaching for one of the items he had in his coat pocket as he turned away to shield Alexei. The man had been standing so still, his gift completely missed him. Looking up, he inhaled deeply before letting it out slowly. “Please, don’t do that again,” he said. “A tiny bit of movement is all I ask for.” He moved to a chair and sat, dropping his stuff to the floor before shifting Alexei. “After last week and today…”

Daredevil had heard the hammering of Foxx’s heart, the shift of breath, the telltale creak of leather and cloth as he started to reach for a weapon, the minute shift in an infant’s heartbeat as it was jostled in its sleep. He was hard pressed to hide the smile. There was something satisfying in catching someone unaware. He held up his hands in a gesture of peace. “Bad day?” he asked, noting the barest hint of the scent of animals. “You were at the Zoo during the situation.” A statement, not a question.

“During the idiocy you mean,” Johnny shot back.

Moving to stand closer but not exactly looming over the other, Daredevil shifted his head, mentally blocking out the beginnings of the Evening Service. He’ll make up for it later he promised his guilty conscious. “The men were after you.”

“Yes,” Johnny admitted after several minutes had passed. “Or rather, they were after Alexei.”

“Why?”

“That’s rather complicated.”

“We have about thirty to forty minutes till Evening Services are over,” Daredevil replied, pulling out a chair to sit catty corner to Foxx.

“Hmm.. It’ll take longer than that, to explain everything. Or at least most of it,” Johnny said, slowly stroking the baby’s back. “But… I did promise to give you the reason why I was there last week. Well, not give, but to show.” He placed feather light kisses to Alexei’s temples and head before turning the baby around to face Daredevil. “He’s the reason I was there,” he murmured, lips brushing the dark crown of peach fuzz that passed for hair.

The mask hid raised eyebrows. “May I?” he asked, lifting his hands slightly.

Studying the masked guardian of Hell’s Kitchen for a few moments, he finally nodded.

Stripping his gloves off, he held out his hands to carefully take the infant. The drum of a faster heartbeat thrummed under his fingers along with the feel of good quality material of clothing. As he brought the baby to his chest, the scents of lavender and talcum powder floated up along with the natural untainted smell all babies seemed to have. Tilting his head down, he listened to the soft breathing, noting a very slight congestion to the sound. The small grunts as Alexei shifted in, the rumble of gas being expelled then a sigh as he settled further into sleep. He couldn’t help the sudden grin that came to his lips. “He’s beautiful,” he said. “He also has a touch of congestion,” he added.

“Late week…,” Johnny started then stopped. The rage was still there, though greatly diminished. “Last week I was subcontracted out for a job that was located here in Hell’s Kitchen. To ensure the job was done, Alexei was held as insurance against me.” Leaning forward, hands clasped together and pressed to his lips with elbows on his knees. Taking a breath, he sat back again. “The man that holds my contract has leverage on Alexei’s mother as well. What it is I’ve yet to discover. While I did the job, she was at my place, away from that man. After I left Hell’s Kitchen, I picked her up and went to the meeting place. She took the payment for my services and returned to that man. I handed the goods the one that paid for my services and Alexei was returned to my care.”

Daredevil listened to what wasn’t said. The tone of voice, the neurosciences there in. “There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” he asked. There was so much there that could be used in court both for and against Foxx, the lawyer in him pointed out.

“Yes,” Johnny admitted. “I had left him in their care, feed, clean and happy. When he was returned….” the rage flared again forcing him up, to move about, to expel the anger. “He was crying. He hadn’t been fed or changed all night. Left in the carseat and probably put somewhere out of sight and hearing.” He turned to Daredevil, baring his teeth in a tight feral grin. “The one boon I was given by that man, was being allowed the right of retribution in Alexei’s name.”

Leaning back, hands holding the baby a little closer. “What did you do?” Daredevil asked.

“I didn’t kill them,” Johnny assured the other man as he ran his hands through his hair. “As much as part of me screamed for their blood, I didn’t kill them. Death isn’t the answer, it teaches nothing. No… I admit to beating the man’s goons to the ground, unconscious.” A soft humorless laugh escaped him. “No, I tied that man to the hood of his limo, staked a knife into the hood right against his balls then put it in gear and let fate decide…” He returned to the chair and sat heavily with a tired sigh. “I haven’t had to, but… yes, I will kill to protect him. If there are no other alternatives...then I will do my damned to take out anyone who means him harm.”

“Even yourself?”

“In a heartbeat.”

Humming softly under his breath in thought, Daredevil leaned back, fingers gently stroking the slumbering infant’s back. “Well, either he lived or it was covered up.” A wet sputter and the wafting stench of a freshly loaded diaper hit his sensitive nose. “Ugh…I think….he needs a change.”

A groan of breathless laughter. “Yeah...I don’t like him sitting in a messy diaper longer than he needs to be.” Johnny reached down, snagging the bag and rummaging through it. With experienced ease, he had Alexei clean and changed again. “If I ever have another job in Hell’s Kitchen, I’ll try and let you know about it. Sometimes I have little choice in saying no.”

Gloves donned once more, Daredevil nodded in understanding. “I’ll try not to be too hard on you then.” He tilted his head as he listened. “The Evening Service is over a few minutes early it seems.”

“Time and past for him to be taken home, out of the weather and into his bed,” Johnny said in way of agreement.

Daredevil paused in thought a moment before speaking. “Listen, if you ever need a lawyer… Nelson & Murdock. I’ve heard they’re pretty good at what they do. And they are honest as well.”

Johnny nodded absently as he strapped Alexei into the papoose. “Nelson & Murdock… where.. oh, yes. They are regulars at the other place I work,” he replied, ignoring the growing headache behind his eyes. “If I get a chance next time I see them, I’ll ask.” He held out a hand, “Thank you again, for your assistance last week.”

Daredevil hesitated just a moment before accepting the hand and shaking it. “You’re welcome, but try not to make it a repeat occurrence.”

Johnny nodded as he cross to the door and slipped out into the sanctuary. As he was leaving, he paused by the donation box, slipping a handful of bills into it before leaving the church.

Seymour was leaning against the side of the cab which was parked at the curb. Without a word, he opened the door for Johnny then closed it after he was in. “Home?” he asked when he got behind the wheel.

“Yes please.”

“You got it,” he replied.

Back at the church, Father Lantom stood at the top of the steps watching the cab leave. Glancing up, he called out, “I expect you to be at Sunday Services.” Giving a nod, he turned and reentered the church.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 4

 

Downfall
-------------------

Early January…..

Johnny had been sub-contracted out again, this time the person was much more respectful than the last. It was an actual pleasure to do the job. A simple in and out, plant the evidence, snitch a few files and leave behind a rather nasty virus. Lucky for him all he had to do was put the thumb drive in and let the autorun go to work. But unlike last time, the baby had been left with his mother at the main location.

Upon arrival at the location, he paused, glancing around. Something was off but what he couldn’t tell without exploring further. Shaking his head he would let the security detail know… maybe after he got both mother and child out of the area. The first two checkpoints he was waved through, the third actually stopped him. So did the fourth security checkpoint. When he reached the final one, they did a thorough job of searching and scanning him before being allowed into the boss’s office.

“Ah, I see you’ve made it back Foxx. Early even,” the man behind the desk said as he looked up from a report he was reading.

Flipping the hood back before unclasping the mask’s straps and removing it, Johnny nodded. “It went smoothly Mr. Hopewell,” he said as he examined the mask. Running a finger over the surface, he moved to the side of the office where there were other similar style masks on display. Placing his left thumb on the tiny scanner on the side of an empty display, he placed the mask gently on its stand after the case opened. “Mirela and Alexei?” he asked as he closed the case, his back still to the man.

“Hm, Mirela is in my private rooms. Alexei is currently in the medical labs. He was a little fussy this evening, more so than usual when you’re not here to put him to bed,” Jacob T. Hopewell commented as he looked up and over the top of a pair of glasses, leaning back in his chair. “Don’t wear her out Foxx, I have plans.”

Johnny nodded, shoulders tight with tension.

“It’s too bad you can’t sire children anymore,” Hopewell said with a shark’s smile. “I’m sure your offspring would have been exceptional if either yours or Mirela’s mutations bred true.” He went back to his papers. “You’re dismissed.”

Fingers clenched tight enough his knuckles were white under his gloves. “Yes sir,” he bit out before turning with a flare of coat tails, stalking out of the room.

Outside the location…..

“That was close…”

“All groups are in position. Hold until further notice.”

“Sir, should we alert the Avengers?”

“Not yet. Let’s save the big guns until the end. When we go in, send the message to have them on standby until needed.”

“Yes sir.”

Two hours later…..

Bodies entwined on the bed, sweat long since dried on now cooled skin. Both dozing lightly in the post orgamsimic haze.

The door to the bedroom slammed open, followed by the lights coming on. “Get up! Something’s- Son of a BITCH! You almost nailed my hand you asshole,” the guard yelled, clutching his hand to his chest. A knife, half buried in the door frame next to the light still wobbling from impact.

Johnny sat up further, with a glare. “If I wanted to nail your hand I would have.” He swung his legs over the side to bury his face in his hands with a groan. “Now, what is so bloody important you have to interrupt what little time I have with Mirela?” He never initiated sex, but he didn’t refuse it either. It was the only escape he could give her right now.

The guard was still eyeing the knife. “Something’s going on. Some of the cameras have gone out and the patrol sent to check is now missing. Boss wants you to check it out.”

“Fine,” came the muffled reply. “Now get the hell out of here.” Johnny stood, ignoring the squawk of the guard as he gathered his clothes to get dressed. When the guard was out of range, he bent over Mirela to wake her. “Mirela… I need you to wake up. Mirela!”

A whine of protest, “It’s too early for Jacob to be here….”

“Something’s going on. I need you to get up and get dressed,” Johnny ordered. “Traveling cloths, not the other crap. Be sure you grab the bag I packed for you.”

The young woman sat up with a gasp, “Is it time?” she asked with wide eyes.

“I think so...Something is going on. I want to take advantage of it while we can.” He double checked his gear to be sure everything was there before retrieving the one knife from the doorframe. “I’ll go get Alexei, you head to the meeting point and hide. Ok?”

Scrambling through the closet for the clothes indicated, Mirela answered back. “Travel clothes, the go bag and meeting point. Got it.” She popped out long enough to give Johnny a parting kiss. “Whatever happens…safe travels…”

Johnny hugged her tightly. “Whatever happens, safe travels,” he answered back before running out the door towards Hopewell’s office. He would need his mask. Ten minutes later, he was slipping past various security posts, as quiet as a ghost. As much as he hated it, he was armed this time around with lethal weapons. A pair of guns strapped to his thighs in holsters, dual long blades next to them for close in combat if needed, which he hoped wouldn’t come to that. He had his other tricks as well just in case.

Once outside the base, Johnny went full stealth mode. Footsteps silent across the snow covered grounds. Every so many feet, he’d pause and check, letting his gift sweep outwards around him.

“Damn…”

“Nat?”

“Half a click south east of the doors, sweeping in an east to west direction.”

Hawkeye edged around the tree he was behind, looking in the direction indicated. “I see him. Take him out?” He nocked an arrow, drawing back the bowstring. He had half a dozen points picked out, from instant kill to disabled and out of the fight.

“No, it’s him…”

“Shit,” Hawkeye muttered.

“Who?” Captain America asked.

“Yeah girls and boys, share with the rest of the class,” added in Iron Man from his position near the rear of the operation. FRIDAY was scanning the base for additional information.

Somewhere to the right of Hawkeye’s position, wooden chimes rattled and clicked in the snow covered silence. “The guy’s good. As in he’s been trained type good. Hell I’d sponsor him if we could recruit him, he’s that good.” He watched as the figure brought up his left arm, their fingers curled around the grip of a...wrist rocket? “Seriously?” he uttered.

“‘Seriously’ what?” Nat asked.

“He’s using a wrist rocket.”

“A what?”

“It’s a high powered slingshot.”

The silence that followed was broken by Tony. “Oh my god, seriously? What is this, the stone age? First we got Katniss there with his bow and now we have…Biblical David with a slingshot?”

Anything else was cut off when a series of snap-hisses were closely followed by multiple flashes and thunderous explosions of high grade fireworks as they went off. The whole area was lit up as flares, mixed in with the fireworks, floated slowly downward.

On the FBI comm channel, agents were cursing as their night vision equipment was suddenly useless. Any chance of surprise, long gone now.

“Falcon, start taking out those flare!” Steve ordered.

Hawkeye resighted and let the string go. The arrow flew true pinning the tail of the coat to a tree as the person passed in front of it, jerking them to a sudden halt. “Sorry Johnny, can’t have you getting in the way just yet,” he nocked and fired a second arrow pinning the sleeve this time.

“Wait, did you say Johnny? As in our waiter from that Italian Restaurant. The one that said he had secrets. THAT Johnny?” Tony asked.

“Uh… yes?” Clint responded. “Sorry Nat,” he added.

“Boy, when he said he had secrets he wasn’t kidding!”

 

“No.. no, no..NO Not now damn it!” Johnny chanted as he tugged at the arrow pinning his coat to the tree. When the second arrow got his sleeve, he started cursing. The shafts were made of carbon fiber and refusing to break. They were also buried far enough into the tree that they wouldn’t come out easy. He was forced to take precious time to work the leather of his coat down the shaft before he could yank it free. He took off at a sprint, dodging around trees, vaulting over fallen limbs or ducking under low hanging ones. He knew the front doors would be sealed tight, but he knew of several other ways to get in. He didn’t give a damn if he was leading anyone straight into the heart of the base. All he cared about was getting to Alexei and getting to safety.

 

“Since you two decided to keep quiet about him, he’s all yours to deal with. Tony, get into their system. Get the doors open and their security down. Falcon, watch for incoming support,” Steve ordered.

“And what’ll you be doing oh great leader?” Tony asked as his fingers danced over the holographic keyboard.

“I’ll be with the FBI group, taking down HYDRA.”

 

The fireworks distracted and delayed the FBI agents only for a few seconds. It was enough though for him to dive through the doors, pull a gun and fire at the controls. It wouldn’t hold long but he didn’t need it to. Reholstering on the run, he took a corner too sharply and sent sliding into the wall. ‘Nothing broken, maybe bruised,’ he thought to himself as he got to his feet again. Looking around, reorienting himself, he found himself near one of the smaller armory’s scattered around the base. Taking precious few seconds he raided it, taking another pair of pistols and all the loaded clips of extra ammo. ‘A deep breath, let it out, take another. Focus, center yourself, let the unimportant fall away.’ He kept his original set of pistols in their holsters, the extras he had in hand. If he lost those it wouldn’t matter. One last deep breath then he was out the door.

 

With a groan, he pried his eyes open, wincing as sparks danced along his nerves. It took him several tries before he could reach up and pry the mask off. Running a hand over his head, he hissed at the sparks of pain that ignited the low throb of a headache into an inferno gut churning agony. Gulping air down, he fought off the nausea as he managed to stand. His first step was almost his last as his left knee let him know quickly, it wouldn’t tolerate much more abuse. Biting back a yelp of pain, he leaned against the wall, blinking away tears that had came about. Using what he could as a crutch, he made his way to a side hall and turned the corner. Just in time too as a group of FBI agents came around the corner that lead off to another part of the base.

Memory of the trip down to medical was spotty at best. Close calls and narrow escapes from being discovered. The sudden rise of panic, the need to turn and backtrack a few paces to duck behind some door. The desire to stop and lean against a cabinet that somehow hid him from view. The whispers that it was close, he only needed to go a few more steps, just a few more. He finally made it. Limping through the door, he hit the control panel, sealing the room for now. There, near the back was an infant’s hospital bed. Sliding his coat off, he tossed it onto the bed next to it.

Leaning over, he reached down to brush Alexei’s head but stopped. His hand was bloody. Drawing back sharply, he flipped his hand over, then palm side up again. Looking down, he spotted more blood soaked into the lower half of his shirt. He couldn’t remember what had happened between the time he left the armory till he woke up near the secondary control center. Panic gave him a massive boost of adrenaline, overriding the throbbing in his knee and head as he staggered to the door controls and slamming the emergency override switch. There was a large bullet proof glass window allowing anyone to see or out as long as the curtain was open. He grabbed it quickly, sliding it closed just as movement touched the edge of his gifts range. The desk was shoved on to the door and stood on end, facing it. Three of the beds were shoved against the window, also turned on end, blocking most of the view should the curtain somehow be opened. The fourth he flipped on its side as another secondary barrier. He yanked drawers and cabinets open, searching for anything he could use. Hobbling over to his coat, he searched the pockets. His wrist rocket and a couple of bags of marbles. He also had a pistol still in its holster. Taking it out, he checked the clip. Two in the clip, one in the chamber. It will have to do. Taking the breaks off, he rolled Alexei’s crib bed into the short hall that led to the bathroom and storage closet. For good measure, he covered it with his coat, leaving a corner uncovered for air. A dozen attempts later saw all the lights in the room shattered bathing the room in darkness. The strobing red emergency lights from the hall painting the curtain in strange shadows.

 

Everyone was doing a final search of the base, looking for any missed stragglers or hidden information when the report came back of a barricaded room.

“Shit, whoever it is, they’re armed. Might need a medic.”

“How bad?” Steve asked as he re-adjusted his cowl, heading back into the base. His shield already on his back

“Minor, grazed the skin is-” The sound of something pinging against the wall before shatting.

“Barton? Romanoff?”

“We’re on it,” Clint replied before muting his comm. “Think that’s him?” he asked Nat as they turned around and headed in the direction indicated.

“Yeah,” she had muted her comm earlier as well.

The pair rounded the corner to the final hallway in time to watch as first the snake camera being threaded through a small hole in the glass window, then the snooper bot get taken out. Whatever was being used, shattered sending fragments everywhere.

“God damn it, what the fuck is this guy using and how the hell is he hitting 100% of the time?!” bitched the tech in charge of the equipment. “That’s the third snake camera he’s busted.”

“Then stop trying to send them in,” Clint said sarcastically as he knelt down to pick up one of the fragments. The spherical edge and a small streak of color confirmed his suspicions. With a chuckle, he stood back up and handed the fragment to Nat. “He’s using marbles. Probably ricocheting them off something a few times before they hit their targets.”

“Sounds like you admire this freak,” the tech muttered as he was packing away what was left of the snooper bot. He found himself being pinned to the wall by the front of his uniform by a very calm, utterly serious Black Widow.

“Agent, I would advise you to keep your mouth shut on things you don’t know about,” Agent Barton said calmly from where he leaned against the glass window. “Now, everyone pack their gear and leave. That wasn’t a request.”

“Think he’d make a good sniper?” Nat asked as they waited for the agents to pack and leave.

Shaking his head, Clint propped one foot against the wall, crossing his arms. “No. He might have the skills to be a damned good marksman, but he doesn’t have the heart for it. He reacts to the situation, he doesn’t take action before hand.”

“Hmmm…” Nat nodded. “Yeah, he does tend to roll with it, doesn’t he?” She thought about it for a moment. “So you were serious when you said you’d sponsor him if he was recruited?”

“Yeah.” Clint smiled nostalgically, “I bet if Phil was here, he’d have the kid under his wing so fast even Fury’s head would spin.”

Less than ten minutes later, the hall was clear of everyone but Nat and Clint.

“-mnit Barton. Romanoff. Will one of you answer me!”

“Gees… sorry.. don’t get your star spangled panties in a twist there Rogers,” Nat snarked back. “We were just taking care of the situation. Everything’s fine.”

“That’s NOT what the agent reporting had to say,” Steve returned, moving away from the group of FBI agents and speaking lower. “What’s going on?”

“He’s been backed into a corner. Probably injured from the way he’s reacting,” Nat explained as she moved trying to see in but not getting much of a view. “Give us a few.” She clicked her comm off. Exchanging looks with Clint, she nodded then knocked against the door frame. “Johnny?” she called out.

When he heard his name called, he jerked in surprise, fingers losing their grip on the leather pad of the slingshot. The marble ricocheted against the wall to thump harmlessly against one of the beds. “....” God if his head would just stop throbbing so he could think. He pressed the heel of his hand into his right eye with a groan. “.... Ms. Romanoff….”

Nat raised an eyebrow as she looked back at Clint. “I think we’re on friendly enough terms you can call me by my name Johnny.”

“... I can’t… He’s crying and I can’t…. so tired, I just want to sleep.. .but he won’t stop crying….”

“Who’s crying Johnny?” Nat asked, her tone shifting as she used her interrogation skills to keep him talking.

“Alexei… Alexei’s crying and I can’t pick him up…. he won’t stop until I do.. but I can’t….”

Clint moved closer to Nat, a look of grim concern as he listened for the infant. A couple of pings then a sudden sting on the top of his shoulder, like he’d gotten hit by a pissed off wasp or an over-pressurized paintball.

“Who’s with you!... I know there’s someone else there with you…..”

“It’s just me Johnny,” Clint answered rubbing his shoulder. A bruise was likely to form there. “You remember me right? Clint Barton, Hawkeye. From the Zoo last month. I’m Nat’s partner.” He mentally crossed his fingers that Johnny remembered him, even in the state he was currently in.

Pain laced through Johnny’s head as sparks danced before his eyes. Alexei’s shrill whine cutting into his ears like nails on a chalkboard. “Partner… lover?” He looked up, shifting and nearly falling to the side as his left knee twinged dangerously. “No… wrong… the.. the interaction’s wrong. Siblings… yeah.. partners… ok…” He slid down the wall, head tilted back as he tried to quell the feeling that he was going to be sick.. again. He closed his eyes, promising himself it would be for just a moment.

“Johnny?” Nat called out. “Johnny… If you don’t answer we’ll be forced to come in Johnny.”

Clint motioned for Nat to move then he placed himself in the doorway. Bracing his feet, he put his shoulder to the desk and pushed. The desk was heavier than it looked, only moving a few inches. But it was enough to let him shift and he braced his feet again. This time, the desk shifted enough that they could slip through. Looking around, he spotted Johnny first. “There,” he said. He had also spotted the covered crib in the short hallway just past Johnny. “I’ll check Alexei.”

Nat nodded before crouching down next to Johnny. Lightly she laid her fingers against the side of his neck. “Hey, you still with us?” she asked, using his reactions as a means to gauge what shape he was in. His pulse under her fingertips was not too fast nor too slow, nice and steady. “Come on, open those gorgeous green eyes of yours,” she gently patted his cheek.

“The baby’s fine. Asleep even,” Clint said when he came back, crouching on the other side of Johnny.

“No.. he’s not.. he’s crying again….” Johnny groaned, a hand going to his left ear.

The only sound either heard at the moment besides Johnny’s shifting on the floor was the normal sound of a sleeping infant as it shifted, making those tiny noises they made.

Looking back and forth between Johnny and the crib, an idea came to Clint. “Nat, you have a penlight on you?” he asked as he reached out, pushing Johnny’s hand away before turning his head. He noticed the dried blood but didn’t say anything. “Thanks,” he muttered as he took the light. Turning it on, he shined it into Johnny’s ear. “Can you find me a pair of tweezers? Fine tip if possible…. damn kid, how’d you manage this?” A few moments later, he glanced up, accepting the tweezers. “Hold his head stead… yeah… almost…. got it.” He pulled a small ear bud out of Johnny’s ear. Looking at it, he could see that it was missing a piece.

It was so hard to keep his eyes from closing, he was that tired. With a sigh, he turned his head to look at the older man next to him. “He’s finally fallen asleep…”

“Come on Johnny, time to go,” Nat said, once more standing, as she reached for his hand.

“Go where?” Johnny asked in confusion, drawing his hand away. “No.. don’t.. there’s blood…” he turned looking towards the crib. “I can’t… I can’t hold him.. blood…”

Standing, Clint headed to the bathroom he’d seen. Rummaging through the cabinet, he found stacks of clean towels. Soaking two in the sink, he threw a dry one over his shoulder. When he returned, Johnny was on his feet, though leaning against the wall and favoring his left leg, and Nat was working his shirt off. He handed her one of the wet towels after the shirt was off. Taking his, he firmly grasp Johnny’s chin, turning his face towards him. Already he could see the line of bruising forming. From the bottom of the right cheek, up across the bridge of his nose and up into his hairline at the left temple. He tisked softly, switching to cleaning most of the blood off his left arm and hand. Once finished, he retrieved Johnny’s coat and helped him put it on as Nat located some blankets to wrap Alexei in.

When the group finally made it out of the base, dawn had broken bathing the area in soft light. With the information obtained, it was decided that the baby would go with the Avengers and everyone else would be taken by the FBI to be turned over to the Military.

Johnny made no protests, didn’t struggle or fight against it as he was placed in cuffs designed for enhanced humans. He was, however, allowed a few moments to say goodbye to Alexei. “He’s use to Enfamil formula. Six ounces, sometimes eight per feeding. He’s only four and a half months…. All his medical information was in the base records. Oh… he’ll need a bath tonight too.”

Nat nodded, then headed to where the Avenger’s jet was parked. She was softly singing a lullaby in Russian.

“We’ll take care of him,” Clint assured Johnny as he escorted him to one of the FBI’s Helos and personally strapped him in. “Behave and don’t cause any trouble,” he said.

Johnny just laid his head back against the seat rest. “A little late for that…” he said with a chuckle that turned into a groan as a medic brusquely pried an eye open and shined a light into it.

“No, you're concussed,” the medic said, poking Johnny in the shoulder. “So stay awake.”

 

Over an hour after the Avengers made it back to the tower, Fury called. “I figured I’d give you the heads up,” he said in his usual clipped tone. “Agent Barton, Agent Romanoff, it seems Doom decided to liberate your boy from the FBI’s custody while en route to the detainment center. Luckily, the pilot was able to put down with no more than minor injuries to everyone on board. You should be receiving the video footage now.”

“Why are we just now being informed?” Steve asked.

“Because we only just found out ourselves,” Fury snapped back. “First thing his bots did was scramble their communications. I’ll contact you when there’s more information. Fury out.” The screen went dark.

Tony was bring it up, each camera feed had its own screen.

Everyone watched as the side doors were ripped off and several Doombots climbed in. The first firing blasts at the communications panel then the navigation system. The second bot went directly to where Johnny was strapped in, ripped the restraints off the seat and picked him up by the front of his coat before throwing him out the door. The first bot joined the second, as they bailed out of after him.

Tony manipulated the footage, pausing each display at a different scene. “Well, one things for certain. He wasn’t expecting this,” he said pointing out the shocked, almost fearful expression on Johnny’s face.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 5

 

A really bad day
--------------------

Early January, One Day later……

 

The FBI Helos hadn’t even had the chance to reach the detainment center, let alone for any of the Agents to start processing Johnny when the pair of Doombots showed up and forcefully removed him from their custody. He was fairly sure he would have hand shaped bruises on his upper arms at best, dislocated shoulders at worst, from where his seat restraints had been ripped off before he was hauled out of said seat then thrown out the side door of the helos. He was not ashamed at the fact that, it honestly scared the hell out of him. Hell he probably passed out since he doesn’t remember much past the few moments of freefall.

The stinging slap of a hand against Johnny’s cheek finally woke him again. He was so cold his teeth were chattering and he thought he might have windburn on his hands as well as his face. He tried to get his feet under him fully but his left knee decided to simply refuse to assist in keeping him upright. After being pulled back to his feet, he limped-staggered forward like a drunk. His hands were still cuffed behind his back, meant he was forced to rely on the Doombots to stay upright.

Johnny didn’t know why he had been targeted and he wasn’t looking forward to finding out either. All he wanted to do right now was find a nice cold, dark place to curl up and pass out in for a few hours before his head exploded from the migraine he had developed due to the concussion. He didn’t even want to think about having to deal with the aftermath of the night’s events. About how much information that HYDRA had collected on him and Mirela, that was now in FBI’s hands. Let alone how much the Avenger’s now knew too.

The hood of Johnny’s voluminous great-coat had fallen low over his face, giving him a great view of the carpet, floors, baseboards, other assorted low furniture and legs from the knees down but nothing else. It also provided a shadowed dimness for his overly light sensitive eyes. If only he had been left alone, to be processed through as a prisoner of FBI, he might just now be bunking down on an uncomfortable cot in a tiny room, under total surveillance after a (maybe) brief stop in medical. He wondered if their interrogation methods were different from those that SHIELD had used.

Several corridors and turns later, he reached the end of his travels. Someone knocked on the heavily reinforced, yet highly ornate doors before him. At some unheard signal, the doors opened and he was escorted (frog marched) in front of desk. His arms were let go, and of course, his knee gave out again, causing said knee to come into a very painful contact with the marble floor. The flare of white hot pain faded to a constant dull throb which created its own tempo, completely out of synch with his migraine. But hey, at least he hadn’t face planted due to the inability to use his hands to help balance.

A deep chuckle as the person stood from behind the desk, moving around to stand in front of it. “Young Johnnathan Nykademus LeFleaur, you have grown since last Doom saw you.”

‘Fuck.. my… life...’ Dark gray metallic boots with a backdrop of forest green material entered Johnny’s view. He licked his lips then swallowed. To speak or to hold his silence until spoke to… he was screwed either way. He deepened his kneeling stance, bowing at the waist. Actually he wanted to bang his head against the floor but that wouldn’t look too good right now. “Lord Doom…I am honored to be allowed into your presence,” he said in Doom's first language, Latverian Romani.

“As it should be,” Doom replied in the same language. “Once before, many years ago, you served Doom.” This time he spoke in English.

It took Johnny a few moments to dredge up the correct memory. The one year he managed to slip his guardian’s leash and attend a school which specialized in dealing with gifted people. It was during one of the many ‘crisis’ which occur much too frequently in New York and the surrounding areas. A brutal, unnatural winter storm caused massive outages along with a host of other problems. He was one of the few people who willingly assisted those at the Latverian Embassy, thus somehow earning favor from the man himself, Dr. Doom (or maybe it was because he was Rom, from a rather young North American clan). It also had the effect of drawing unwanted attention to himself from other alphabet agencies. Then the Friends of Humanity decide the school was a perfect target. He, along with another classmate had inadvertently killed one of the FOH while helping protect the school. One thing let to another and SHIELD got called in and the school was closed down. Yeah, not a good year. But in his defense he was a stupid fuck-up of a teenager with all the common sense god gave a wet noodle. With his head still bowed, he kept his voice subservient and respectful without sounding like a fawning sycophant. “I did, My Lord.”

“Doom requires your service once more Johnnathan.”

Johnny was hauled once more to his feet, this time though he was braced upright between two bots. A pair of metal clad hands slid under the hood to lift up and over his head. He still had not lifted his head, keeping his eyes down cast. One hand cupped his chin while the other brushed his hair out of his face before coming to rest on his forehead. He noted that, for being metal, they were as warm as flesh and blood hands. A slight pressure, one that promised pain should he refuse, had him lifting his head to look up into the armored visage of Dr. Doom. He had seen eye colors of all ranges in his life, but never had brown eyes looked so deadly as the did this very moment. The pressure in his head felt like it was increasing with every beat of his heart, yet he could not look away. Fire ignited under his skin as ice flowed through his veins. His knees buckled yet he was held fast, standing tall. He breathed yet he suffocated, screamed but was silent. It was but a moment in time but felt like an eternity. Everything and nothing all at the same time.

Johnny did the only thing a man in his position could do. His eyes rolled back as he succumbed to unconsciousness with nary a fight.

Doom calmly spoke in a language that only a sorcerer would understand as he traced symbols upon the young man’s forehead then around his throat and lastly over his heart. He stepped back and spoke a final word. The symbols flared in an unearthly light before fading away. He examined his work from all angles. All the illusions the young man once hid behind had been stripped away. The energy that once fed the illusions now feeding what he replaced them with. He clasped his hands behind his back and once more examined the young man before him. Hair, once a dark auburn was now white that shaded into electric blue. Skin that had been sun kissed was now the color of mist and moonlight. He stepped close, turning the unconscious young man’s face towards him and peeling back both eyelids. What he saw now was a green so pale and faded it may as well have been called white. He felt as if something or someone stared back at him though Johnny’s eyes as silver and arctic blue flickered and swirled. He laughed softly as he watched silver bleed into the left eye while the right was overtaken with the arctic blue. “Try as much as you wish, to break the spells. You will only do harm to young Johnnathan,” Doom said. “To harm one's host is to bring harm threefold to one's self.” He turned and walked back around the desk to sit. “Make sure he is prepared for delivery,” he ordered before picking up one of the sheets of paper that sat neatly in a pile.

The Doombots made no sound as they turned, dragging Johnny out with them. A human servant bowed and followed to do as ordered.

Johnny was taken to another part of the building. There he was stripped of all but the great coat due to the cuffs still securing his arms. The servants bathed him, tended to his injuries then reclothed him in what was seen as proper clothes for his new station. In lieu of a shirt, a doe skin leather vest that was laced at the sides and shoulders was used. The pants were also made of doe skin leather. The boots were low heeled, high quality workmanship. The clothes included knife sheaths, hidden pockets for lock picks, coils of diamond wire, and other assorted items he may have need of. Everything was dyed a deep green and black with tiny accents of blood red. The national colors of Latveria.

A set of five large steamer trunks were packed.

One trunk contained everything that might be needed for an infant. From onesies to sleepers, blankets and burp cloths, bibs, socks and washcloths. Homeopathic baby soap and diaper rash cream. Toys and teethers, bottles and utensils. Anything and everything. All Doom! themed of course.

The second trunk contained general household items. While the third and fourth were clothes for Johnny. Formal to casual and everything in between. Latveria colors of course.

The last steamer trunk was left empty save for the thick goose down comforter that padded the bottom. When the time was right, the trunk would be filled and sent along with the rest.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 6

 

A disturbance in the force
------------------

Early January; Same Day, Different Location…..

 

Steve Rogers, stood with arms folded across his chest as he watched Bruce and Clint through the currently clear walls of the med lab. He wasn’t sure what he was suppose to be feeling at the moment. Glad that another HYDRA base had been taken down? Disappointed that a person who could provide them with key information for that base had been taken from the FBI’s custody? Or concerned that what was found within that base could be linked back to his still MIA childhood friend? Unfolding his arms, he reached up pulled his uniform’s cowl off and tucked it into his belt. With both hands he rubbed his face tiredly before running fingers through his sweat soaked hair.

“A little on the disturbing side isn’t it?”

Steve glanced to the side at his teammate, Natasha, before returning his attention to the med lab once more. “What part? The fact that we, the Avengers, have temporary custody of a four and a half month old infant that was found in a HYDRA base, the fact that Clint’s really good with the baby and has been sidelined because of it, or that, according to the files Tony found, the baby is suppose to be Bucky’s?”

Nat quirked her lips up just a tiny bit, her equivalent of a grin. “All of the above.”

Steve shook his head then turned away, one hand on his hip as the other scratched at the back of his head. “Any news?”

A small shrug. “Some,” Nat replied as she handed Steve the data pad.

Steve accepted the pad and started flicking through the information Tony had acquired after hacking the base’s computers. “I don’t get it. Why this fellow? There’s nothing here to indicate that he holds any of the beliefs that HYDRA spouts off about. He wasn’t their leader or even their second in command. The records indicate he’s enhanced; Spatial Motum Awareness -”

“He can sense movement,” Nat translated.

“- and Extreme Systemic resistance...”

“Ask Bruce about that one.”

He waved a hand at the pad as he looked over to Nat then winced as an angry scream of an upset infant made it past the walls of the med lab. He turned, pad momentarily forgotten as he watched Clint started pacing back and forth, rocking the baby, soothing and calming him before leaving the med lab. “How…”

“Remember, he has kids. This is normal for him,” she said with amusement. In a heartbeat she went from Agent Romanoff to ‘Auntie’ Nat as she walked over to Clint and the baby. Clapping her hands together, she grinned at the infant then held them out. “Hey there little man….do you want Auntie Nat to hold you?” she cooed before taking the baby. She followed Clint to the elevators, still speaking to the infant, but in Russian now.

Steve shook his head once more before turning away, data pad still in hand. He had reports to go over still. It didn’t help that he was both dreading and looking forward to what the DNA verification would come back with. Though when (not IF) he got Bucky back, how would he explain to his friend that HYDRA had somehow managed to used his DNA to create a child? And for what purpose? Rubbing the back of his neck, he let out a gusty sigh. Too many questions and not enough answers.

 

A few hours had passed since Steve retreated to the small office he claimed for his own use. The row of filing cabinets against one wall seemed out of place when compared to the rest of the office’s modern high tech decor, but fit perfectly with the personality of the room’s occupant. The constant snarky comments and teasing words about hanging onto hard copies when there were more modern ways of keeping it having gone silent since last years fiasco with Ultron. He was leaning forward, head resting on his upraised fist as he steadily read through the reports. Occasionally he would stop and look up the terminology used, then jot it down in a notebook before continuing. A light knock on the open door frame drew his attention away from the reports to his visitor. “Bruce? What can I do for you?”

“I have the DNA results,” the Nuclear Physicist turned team Doctor said, holding up a plain looking folder.

Steve sat back, closing the file he had been reading after marking his place. “I was under the impression it took weeks to get back the results from a DNA test.”

Bruce chuckled softly. “Only takes a couple of hours at most to run the tests. Most labs though are backed up weeks, if not months, for DNA testing.” He stepped further into the room, gently setting the folder down on Steve’s desk.

“Ah. Thanks,” Steve offered as he drew the folder across the desk to him. “Oh, Bruce?”

“Yes?” Bruce paused in the doorway.

Tapping the folder with his finger a few times as he decided on the wording he wanted. “What does… what is ‘extreme systemic resistance’?” he asked. “Nat said I should ask you about it,” he clarified.

“Systemic means system. Usually in reference to a body’s circulatory system as part of the pulmonary system-,” Bruce answered, going into lecture mode.

Steve let out a laugh as he held up a hand, “In english?”

“-of the…. oh.. um..” Bruce stuttered to a halt, pulling his glasses off and cleaning them. “Extreme systemic resistance, without more detailed information about what system it’s related to, means it’s very difficult if not impossible to affect the system in question.”

“I see,” Steve replied as he sat back in his chair. “Thank you Bruce. For both the answer and the rest results.”

“You’re welcome,” Bruce replied before slipping away quietly.

Getting up, Steve crossed the room and closed the door. For this, he needed privacy. Returning to his chair, he sat down only to stare at the ubiquitous manilla folder. He started to open it then stopped several times before he took a deep breath. “Come on Steve,” he spoke to himself. “You’ll never know if you don’t open it…” Finally opening the folder, he started reading the report.

Conclusion:
James Buchanan Barnes is NOT EXCLUDED as the biological father of Alexei Ivanovich Montrovnyah - 99.99%

When he was finished reading, he closed the folder then stood. With folder in hand he made his way over to the filing cabinets and selected one. Even though it looked old fashioned, it was in reality, high tech. Not only did it require a thumb print, but a passcode as well for each drawer. Pressing his thumb to the scanner then entering the code, the lock disengaged and he opened the drawer in question. Hanging folders stuffed full of everything from newspaper clippings to actual reports. A few VHS tapes, a magnetic tape reel and dozens of discs were carefully stacked at the back of the drawer. Selecting a hanging folder seemingly at random, he slid the DNA report into it. He closed the drawer and returned to his desk to continue reading the reports.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 7

 

Package Delivery
--------------------------------

Mid January, Four days since the HYDRA Base raid….

“Sir, my scans are complete. I have detected Life signs within this steamer trunk,” FRIDAY said, highlighting one of several large steamer trunks that had been delivered just over an hour previously by NATO agents. “Vitals are low but holding steady Dr. Banner,” the AI added. A holo of the trunk appeared above it with a detailed view of just how the body was positioned on its side within the trunk along with the vitals.

Bruce eyed the vitals for a few moments. “How long?” He didn’t need to elaborate.

A readout of the time stamped data appeared next to the vitals. “Records indicate that NATO was in possession of the items from the time they were handed over by the Latverian Ambassador at the UN this morning at 9:04 am, until they were delivered to Stark Tower one hour nine minutes ago.”

“Uh, FRIDAY, sweetheart that was almost eight hours ago,” Tony pointed out as he started scanning the trunk for any possible traps or tricks. “Why are you just now informing us?”

“You requested thorough scans Sir.” The AIs tone sounded slightly exasperated and harried. “There was no indication of importance amongst the items. Besides, until 3 minutes 27 seconds ago, I was unable to scan the interior of the unit.”

“Stand back,” Steve ordered as he stepped closer to the steamer trunk. His eyes shifted, taking in the hasp and lock as well as the hinges on the opposite side. He shifted his shield onto his arm, fingers curling around the leather strap as he gauged the angle. A single, downward punch was all that was needed to shear the hasp and lock clean off the trunk.

“What? Wait! Wait No don’t…Aaah!” Tony threw both hands into the air as he turned around and walked several paces away before turning back. “Why… you know what? Never mind. Just forget it.” He indicated the the trunk. “I call ‘not it!’ for opening it,” he said, crossing and uncrossing his arms over his chest before he picked up something off the countertop and started fiddling with it. His eyes went back to the holo-display, the corner of his mouth lifting up in a smirk.

Bruce looked at Tony, head tilted to the side slightly as if he was about to ask a question before his eyes went to the display. A look of understanding as he stepped away from the trunks, joining Tony at the lab’s counter. “Should I prep anything?” he asked quietly as he leaned towards the other man. He was handed a data pad with the relevant information already highlighted for him. “Oh… that will make things… interesting,” he murmured to himself as he continued to read through the information on it.

“What?” Steve asked as he settled his shield back onto his back. One hand was on top of the trunk lid, ready to flip it open.

“Nothing Capsicle. I’d just wait a minute or so before you open pandora’s box,” Tony said, still smirking. “But, you know, if you really want to open it right this moment then by all means, go ahead,” he gestured before turning around and picking up the blender, pouring himself a glass of dark green liquid before turning back around to watch.

Both Nat and Clint caught onto what was going on within seconds of Tony speaking up the first time. An entire conversation passed between the assassins with only a few twitches and a couple of looks. The archer made an ‘all yours’ gesture before moving to side of the trunk where the person’s feet were located. Nat took the head position.

“Is everyone finished?” Steve asked in exasperation. “Yes? Goo-” He didn’t get to finish due to a booted foot coming out in a mule kick as the lid popped up. In the scheme of things, the kick lacked power but was made up for by pinpoint accuracy as the heel of the boot made contact with his face. He jerked back, moving in tandem with the foot thus minimizing any damage that may have occurred.

Clint let out a bark of laughter while Tony raised his glass in a cheer. Bruce glanced up from the pad for a second then went back to reading. It wasn’t often that someone got the drop on Captain America, even less often when it forced him to fall backwards on his ass.

“Thanks Tony for the warning,” he said sarcastically as he reached up to gingerly touch his nose. No blood, nothing was broken, just felt like someone flicked the tip of his nose. Really hard. If anything took any damage, he’d have to say it was his image. Getting back to his feet, he put his hands on his hips and frowned at the trunk.

“You’re welcome hunny buns,” Tony replied with a salute of his glass.

Nat just shook her head and motioned to Clint. “All right boys….” She nodded to Clint then to Steve. “Ready?” she asked as she placed one hand on the lid, the other on the trunk’s side handle.

Clint nodded, still grinning as he placed his hands on the lid and handle. ‘Three… two….’ he mouthed “One!” He heaved along with Nat, dumping the contents of the steamer trunk across the floor.

“Oh come on guys!” Steve groused as he lept over the body that came tumbling his way. He winced at the screech of cloth covered metal sliding across the reinforced glass and metal alloy. “Was that really necessary?” he asked as he turned to follow the body as it came to a stop. Tilting his head to the side, he studied the figure.

Leather and cloth spread across the floor, long lean legs curled, ready to lash out at anything too close, was partially tangled in the material. The upper body was hidden, but the gleaming metal cuffs could be seen. Fingers wiggled and grasp, flexing to keep circulation going. Muffled voice that was obviously spitting curses.

“Really?” Steve asked, turning to look at the four behind him. “Great,” he muttered turning back around, bringing a hand up to rub his forehead. “Great…” He looked at the situation from several angles before decided to tackle it head on. “Hey, easy there….”

“Oh hey, Spangles. You remember our dinner date at that charming little place the other night?” Tony asked in an off hand manner as he plucked the data pad out of Bruce’s hands.

“Now is not the time Tony.”

Tony grinned, flicking through the information. “Au contraire mon capitan. But hey, whatever floats your boat there oh man with the plan.”

Steve stepped closer to the person on the floor. Watching for the tells. One more step forward and… there! He snapped his hand out, grabbing the foot that lashed out. “Calm down, I don’t want to hurt you,” he said. “I said..” he caught the other foot with ease at the ankle and squeezing. “Calm… Down….” he ordered in that 'Captain America' voice.

The muffled curses changed to an equally muffled yelp of pain.

“Hey Brucie, remind you of anything?” Tony pointed to Steve with a grin. “I think he tried that on the big guy. Didn’t work so well then either.”

Bruce set the data pad down then pulled off his glasses to clean them. “Are these files up to date? FRIDAY’s readings and the information here don’t seem to match completely.”

Nat pushed off from the counter she was leaning against and uncrossing her arms. “Well it has been nine years or so since he was in SHIELD custody and I don’t trust the data HYDRA gathered. Ease up Steve. Don’t break his ankle. That's my job.” She watched as the person stilled at her approach. She motioned with her hands for Steve to hand over. With a couple of twists, she had the person’s legs bent and twisted, applying pressure to the knee and ankle joints. “Now, you were told to calm down. Are you going to calm down or do I need to dislocate your knee?” she asked conversationally. “Steve, grab his shoulders, Clint remove the restraints."

Steve nodded, moving around to the person’s head. Kneeling down it took him a moment to locate the person’s shoulders then he pressed down, pinning them to the floor.

“Yeah, yeah,” Clint said as he fished an ID card out of a pocket. “You know, you could have chosen something a little more convenient to wear. I get the leather. Leather affords decent protection for most minor altercations. But why so much? Something a little snugger to the body with less excess would have worked nicely you know...” he groused as it took him a couple of minutes to unfold enough of the material out of the way to access the cuff controls. “Well I guess it’s good against the weather...sort of...Hey Tony, look this number up for me. #SC77359. Confirm who was it assigned to.”

“Legolas, I’m not your secretary. You look it up.”

Clint rolled his eyes “What? Come on, you can use this as an excuse to hack the government again.” He pressed his index finger against the biometric pad. “Besides I’m kind of busy here.”

“Don’t encourage him Barton!”

“Oh like I really need an excuse,” Tony quipped back. “Well hello there my little friend.” He made a grab and toss motion, sending the data to the holo display which still floated in the middle of the room. “Is that good enough or do you want me to find his porn videos too?”

“How many does he have?” Nat asked in an offhanded manner, eliciting an annoyed sounding groan from the person and a laugh from Clint.

“Looks like a trilogy. Fantasy fairytales, some light bondage and oh dear god, that is just…….” Tony tilted his head to the side then to the other side. “Wow.. didn’t think that could be done...Kind of hot to be honest…” He tossed a wink at Nat over Steve’s shoulder.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Some things were just not worth waking up for. That is one of them.”

A soft click and the cuffs disengaged.

“Grab that arm and I’ll take this one,” Clint said after looking at the displayed info. “Damn kid, you need to relax,” he muttered as he noted the tautness of the arm he held, even through the thick material. “How hard do you think it would be just to cut this damned thing off him?” he asked, whether in jest or not was hard to tell.

An indignant yelp followed with a few moments of thrashing.

Nat reached around slapping the person hard on the ass. “Don’t be such a big baby about the coat Johnny.” She released one of his legs, ignoring the weak kicks as she slid her hand up the calf of the leg she still held. She frowned ever so slightly at how taut the muscles were and how they kept twitching. Pressing down with the nail of one finger, she held it there until she felt the muscles go lax. Working her way up to the back of his thighs, kneading tense muscles until they became pliant. She repeated the same process with the other leg.

As Nat worked on Johnny’s legs, Clint worked on his arms. Taking the wrist of Johnny’s left arm, he used a simple immobilization hold then started working the coat down his arm and off. Steve was doing the same with the other arm. In the meantime, Bruce was going over the medical info contained within the data files.

“So, what are we going to do with him?” Bruce asked as he set the data pad to the side, removing his glasses to clean them on his shirt.

“I’d love to know why our not so friendly neighborhood would be world conqueror wanted him. I mean look at him,” Tony gestured to the file still on display to Johnny. “He’s a little fish with what amounts to a petty criminal record in an ocean of sharks. There’s nothing there.” Rating high on his list of dislikes was not knowing something. He would search, dig, research and hunt down everything there was to know about something. And Johnny represented an unknown in so many ways.

“The reason Dr. Doom wanted him was to tie up manpower and resources. Both ours and the government’s. With the blessing of the U.N. it seems,” Pepper Potts said cooly from the lab doorway as she held up a thick black folder. The faint glow of Extremis in her hand showed just how angry she was at the moment. She had little regard for people who screwed with her family, blood related or not, and the Avengers were her family.

The news was not well received. Especially by Steve, who had been forced once before, to play bodyguard to Doom during a UN visit that turned out to be another one of Doom’s attempts to gaining the upper hand against the Avengers in order to steal Tony’s tech.

Steve Rogers, contrary to popular belief, did indeed have a temper, could curse worse than a sailor and was by no means innocent. “Just what the hell is going on. Tell me,” he demanded as he stood, hauling Johnny to his feet and ignoring both Natasha and Clint. He had the younger man by the upper arms, facing him. Letting his temper get the better of him he squeezed as he pulled him in close so they were almost nose to nose. “Tell. Me. Where is Bucky?!”

Instead of trying to shove the much stronger, super soldier away, Johnny lunged forward, smashing their lips together in a searing kiss. He added to the confusion by groping the man. A good twenty seconds passed before he felt himself being shoved back hard enough he was slammed into a counter and sent careening backwards over the top of it. Glass shattered around him as he came to a forceful stop against the wall. Metal, plastics and glass shards bounced and rolled and skittered across the floor. His secondary gift, the one that let him track movement around him, flared out of control. It felt like he was in the middle of the Bonneville Salt flats, under the glare of the noon day sun during a 9.5 magnitude earthquake. A white hot explosion that shook and bounced and reverberated through his skull. He curled in on himself, arms going up and around his head as he tried to muffle the scream of pain behind clenched teeth.

Steve’s anger morphed into shocked surprise as lips locked with his own. That surprised doubled when he felt a hand fondle him through his uniform. The shock held him immobile for nearly half a minute before his hindbrain kicked in. The shock exploded into a blinding rage as he shoved Johnny away from him at full strength. He stepped forward to go after the other man when a superheated ball of plasm slammed into him from the side, diverting his attention. The part of his uniform that was hit burned away showing skin that was already turning red and blistering.

When everything went down, Clint dodged out of the way to avoid becoming a casualty of the confrontation. A glance in Nat’s direction showed that she had also taken action to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. She had grabbed Bruce and hauled him out of the way.

“So help me Steven Grant Rogers, you take one more step towards that boy and I will NOT hold back!” Pepper said, the hand that wasn’t holding the folder, out stretched and glowing a bright orangish red. “Just because he is mixed up in all of this, doesn’t mean he’s your enemy.”

“Pepper?” Steve blinked and shook his head to clear the fog of his fury away. “What the fuck?”

“Language!” Tony quipped from his spot well out of the line of fire. “FRIDAY, damage report. Send it to my phone sweetheart. Brucie, you want to check on our wayward Romeo?”

“Yeah…” Bruce nodded, “yeah, sure.” He grabbed the first aid kit and hurried around the end of the counter.

Nat followed close behind. The soft whine as her Widow Bites charged up could be heard along with the sparking of damaged electronics and a soft keening of pain from where Johnny sat curled. “Wait,” she said, placing a hand on Bruce’s arm. “Something’s wrong…”

“Well of course there’s something wrong with him.”

“No, something else. Something I can’t put my finger on. Let me and Clint get him down to one of the holding cells first.”

“But…”

Nat lifted an eyebrow.

“Alright,” Bruce relented. “It will give me more time to gather everything.”

Nat smiled then gave him a peck on the cheek before calling Clint over to give her a hand.

Back on the other side of the counter Tony, Pepper, Steve were having their little chat.

Tony had fished out one of the ice packs he kept in the mini fridge and tossed it to Steve. “Now, mind telling Papa Tony and Mama Pepper just what upset little Stevie enough to throw a tantrum? Was he just not your type sweetums? I’m sure we can find you someone more to your liking.”

“Tony,” Pepper said in warning as she set the folder down on a clear counter then crossed her arms.

“What? What? It’s the truth. He saw something he didn’t like and threw a tantrum, along with that guy into a wall.” The billionaire gestured first to Steve, then to Johnny who was being assisted out of the room by Clint and Nat, before he turned back to Pepper.

Steve tossed the now ruined uniform top onto a chair, hissing as he put the ice pack against the blistered skin of his side. Enhanced healing or not, it still hurt. “What happened? That’s what I want to know. Last thing I remember clearly was holding him down for Natasha. After that, it was when you hit me Pepper.”

“I...I don’t honestly know. FRIDAY?”

“Yes sir?”

“Bring up all security footage starting from when you informed me the scan was complete. Include all scans and overlay them,” Tony ordered as he flicked, grabbed, tossed and spun the holo displays until they were arranged to his satisfaction. With one arm across his chest, the other hand tapping his chin in thought.

Pepper moved to join Tony, her eyes moving from image to image. What use to take time and multiple viewings, now only took seconds to process. She shot a side glance at Steve, “Really Steve, did you have to shear the hasp off the trunk?” There was a teasing note in her voice. She turned back to continue watching. “Wait. There… what’s that?” she asked pointing out a brighter energy pattern where Steve’s hand had come into contact with Johnny’s shoulder.

“Focus on that point, full details. Reduce playback to one half,” Tony ordered.

The trio could now see what looked like an energy flare rippling down, presumably, Johnny’s chest as well as up to skim across his forehead before vanishing into his hairline.

“Can you determine what that was?”

“No sir, not at this time. Perhaps when Ms. Maximoff and Vision return from their current mission, they can analyze it for you.”

“Open a come line,” Steve ordered. As soon as he heard the click of the open line he continued. “Widow, Hawkeye. Do not initiate or allow skin to skin contact with the…”

“Our Guest,” Pepper cut in.

“With our guest. Do you copy?”

“We hear you loud and clear Captain,” Clint replied. “No skin to skin contact with the guest.”

“Found something?” Nat asked.

“Possibly. We’re going to have to wait till Vision and Wanda return for confirmation though.”

“And how long will that be?” Bruce asked, having opened his own comm.

“Minimum two weeks if we’re lucky.”

Tony snorted as he walked around the holo image, examining it from all angles. “Somehow I don’t think we’re on the welcomed guest list for Lady Luck,” he muttered. “I can’t imagine why…”

Pepper rolled her eyes at Tony. “Yes, I wonder that myself…”

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 8

 

Welcome to the Menagerie
------------------------

Same Day, Same general location, Several floors lower…….

The Avengers Tower, formerly The Stark Tower, was 93 floors of technological wonder all thanks to Tony Stark. The top 12 floors were assigned to the Avengers. From living quarters to guest and visitor rooms. Advanced fitness/training center to medical, a private theater and media room, the kitchen and a common floor. One floor was dedicated to mission staging, high security storage and equally high security holding cells.

It was to this floor and the holding cells, that Johnny was taken. The holding cell itself was 8ft by 8ft. One one side was a cot with a shelf above it and a small light. On the opposite was a table/desk/bench combo and a another small storage shelf. At the back was a 4ft wall which gave a bare minimum of privacy for the sink/toilet combo and the shower. The entire cell was a single pre-fab unit, designed to prevent anyone from being able to turn anything into a weapon or other means of escape. The entire front section was a force field which could be set to any needed security strength, including sound proof in either direction.

At the moment, none of the cells were in use so Clint selected one at random. Swinging Johnny around to practically collapse on the bed, he backed out to keep an eye on him. “You know the drill don’t you?” he asked.

“Da,” Johnny answered.

Nat dropped a plastic bin onto the table/desk then backed out as well. The force field activated as soon as she was across the invisible threshold.

Inside the bin was a set of high quality bed sheets and pillow, two thick(fluffy), super absorbent towels, and a single piece coverall that was obviously created by a fashion designer. The material was breathable cotton, not tailor fitted but certainly not loose and baggy one size fits all typically found in most prison systems. Across the back was the Stark Industries Logo. Down both legs and arms was the SI name and on the left front was a barcode ID. Also included were a variety of toiletries from haircare to dental hygiene.

Pulling the coveralls out, Johnny held it up and looked it over. “Eşti serios? Ce designer de moda a fost angajat pentru acest lucru?

“English Johnny,” Clint said.

Eu vorbesc engleza.

“FRIDAY, are you able to translate?” Nat asked.

“Not fully at this time Agent Romanoff. The best I can currently offer you is speculation using the closest linguistic equivalent. I shall also initiate a translation subroutine to build a more accurate linguistic dictionary.” FRIDAY replied. “ ‘Are you serious? The designer of this clothing…(unknow) (unknown) money’ was the first reply. The second is ‘I (unknow) English’.”

Clint shrugged, “No clue, doesn’t sound anything close to anything I do know,” he offered Nat. “You can understand us though, correct?” he asked Johnny.

“Da.”

“But you can’t reply back in English?”

Johnny dropped the coverall back into the bin then dropped back down on the bed. “Vorbesc engleză foarte bine.” / “ ‘(Unknown) English (unknow) fine’ ”

Dropping his head into his hands, Johnny gave a groan of frustration then shoved the hood back out of the way. Quickly covering his eyes with one hand he hissed. “Rahat ... prea luminos” / “ ‘excrement…. much light’ ” He found himself shoved sideways and back, a hand grasping his throat tightly as the electric whine reached his ears.

“Identify yourself,” Natasha ordered, her other hand raised, ready to strike.

Eu sunt! Eu sunt Johnny...eu sunt vulpe!

Putting a staying hand on Nat’s shoulder, Clint looked at Johnny over her shoulder. “What happened? You’ve changed…”

Johnny stared back in confusion.

“FRIDAY, bring up the cell’s video footage. Real time,” requested Clint. “Nat, let him up…”

The wall opposite the bed turned black before shifting to the current video feed. In essence, the wall became a mirror. Both Clint and Nat backed out of the cell once more as the force field reactivated.

Standing up, Johnny approached the wall. He went from stunned to shocked to angry. Turning away he paced the aisle between the bed and the table/desk, from the back wall to the force field and back. His expression shifted again to one of suspicion. With his back still to the front of the cell, he shed the coat, dropping it carelessly to the floor. Holding his hands out in front of him, palm up he stared before clasping them over his wrists, fingers moving as if tracing patterns. It didn’t take him long before he was removing the rest of his cloths, uncaring that he was still being watched. In moments he was wearing only the pants and facing the wall. Turning one way then the other, he reached behind himself, fingers searching for something along his spine. Turning once more, he faced the wall and leaned close. Unlike a true mirror, this video feed did not do well in displaying what he was looking for.

Clinical in her own examination, Nat watched Johnny as he undressed. As tall as Steve, but more on the slender side. He had the muscle definition of a gymnast or dancer, long, lean and subtle. His skin was more milky white now, like fine alabaster. Not the pale pasty color of someone never seeing the sun, not the washed out colors of an albino. His skin looked as if some mad painter had splashed him with watered down paint. It decorated with the washed out purples and blues, sickly greens and yellows of healing bruises.

Clint let out a low whistle. “That’s some interesting ink,” he commented as he picked out motifs of blue foxes and sleek black cats hunting amongst moonflower vines entwined around Egyptian hieroglyphs and Japanese Kanji. The tattoos created cuffs around Johnny’s wrists, a wide egyptian pharaoh style collar and trail down his spine. On his chest, over his heart was a single name and date on a ribbon, wrapped around a heart, no bigger than a half dollar.

“FRIDAY,” Nat called softly. “Scan those tattoos. Full translation if possible. Add it to his file.”

“As you wish Agent Romanoff.”

This was about the time that Bruce entered the holding cell area. He joined the others standing outside of the force field. “So…”

Glancing to the side at Bruce, Nat shifted her weight. “How hard would it be to do a full workup?” she asked.

“Everything?” Bruce asked.

“Yes. I don’t trust what’s in those HYDRA files on him and everything SHIELD has on him is outdated by almost a decade.”

“Presuming everything is ready to go, we don’t run into any complications and he cooperates with us, two days.. maybe.” Bruce speculated. “If you think he’ll cooperate I can get started with the basics.”

“He will,” Nat assured him.

Bruce raised an eyebrow then glanced past her to Clint. He got a shrug in reply to his silent question. “Will you turn his updated file over to the Military?” it was a serious question and the answer would be the determining factor if he would do it, or if he would refuse.

Clint had turned so he could watch Johnny from the corner of his eye as he watched Nat and Bruce interact. He was also interested in her answer, but not for the same reasons as Bruce was. He registered movement so turned his head back to watch.

Events were finally catching up. The culmination of over five years of running, trying to stay a dozen steps in front of his personal demons, avoiding making any personal connections along the way, and never staying anywhere for too long. All it took to trip him up was a mother’s plea to care for and protect her child. When it came to children, he could never say no, for his heart wouldn’t allow it. Bracing his hands against the wall, he let his head drop before he shoved away. If he was going to be stuck here, there was little use in shitting in his own bed as the saying goes. Removing the items from the bin, he put them away. Taking his coat off the floor, he folded it up and placed it in the bin, the vest followed along with the boots. Instead of removing his pants though, he moved to the barrier and lifted a hand as if to tap it. He stopped though, frowning in thought as he spread his hand.

“You do know we can see you, correct?” Bruce asked. “That, dependent upon the setting, you can receive anywhere from a mild shock, similar to static shock, to a lethal dose when you touch the force field.” He looked to the side at the display panel on the wall next to the cell. “It is currently set for light static shock. Please do not force us to increase the power level.”

Johnny nodded, his expression shifting to one of neutrality.

Bruce nodded, turning away and heading towards the exit out of the holding cell area. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with the supplies.”

“I’ll give you a hand,” Nat said, joining Bruce in the hallway leading to the elevators.

Johnny turned his focus inward, following the chaotic dance that was his gift as it reach out and caress the force field and all that it was comprised of. He didn’t expect to sense anything different, after all there was no moving parts in which the barrier was comprised of. He didn’t expect to sense anything so when his gift touched the energy field, it was like stepping into a storm of fireflies. Alluring in their simplistic beauty yet dangerous in their ability to beguile and entrap the mind.

Clint stayed, watching Johnny behind the energy barrier. After several minutes, he stepped closer for a better look. Johnny hadn’t moved except for his breathing. After ten minutes when Johnny still hadn’t moved, he was tempted to have FRIDAY drop the force field, but knew better. “FRIDAY, status of Bruce and Nat?” he asked the tower’s AI.

“I am unable to provide that information at this time Agent Barton.”

Clint let out a snort of amusement. “I see. If you could, please request that Bruce’s return be expedited.”

“The request has been passed along.”

“Thank you,” Clint replied as he stepped closer to the force field. Shifting to the left then to the right, he watched as light shimmered across Johnny’s eyes. He couldn’t tell if it was a trick of the light, a reflection due to the force field or something else. Another five minutes had passed when he heard footsteps in the hallway. The footsteps didn’t belong to Bruce and Nat was near silent most of the time. He didn’t have his bow with him, but didn’t mean he was unarmed. He moved to the side of the central area of the holding cells, where anyone entering wouldn’t see him right until they were in that open area as well.

“Stand Down, Agent Barton.”

“Director Fury, sir.” Clint stepped into view, a hand within easy reach of one of his secondary weapons. “What brings you here?”

Fury didn’t say anything as he crossed over to the occupied holding cell. “Hm, doesn’t look like much. And it’s just Fury now.”

“Looks aren’t everything.”

“Damn right about that,” he snapped back, turning to look at Clint with his one eye before smiling. “Doom, the UN and the bullshit that goes with them is the reason I’m here. Ms. Potts plans on questioning the validity of Doom’s demands. I thought I’d come get a front row seat for the show.” He jerked his thumb over a shoulder. “So what’s the story? Rumor has it, you’re talking about recruiting and sponsoring the boy. I didn’t think you were looking for a protege just yet.”

“No sir, not yet. If we can recruit him then yeah, I’d sponsor him Sir. But I wouldn’t take him on. He’s good but he doesn’t have the heart for my line of work. He’d be better at the visible side of protection duty, especially if there’s kids involved. A bit more training and he’d be a damned good infiltrator I bet. Even with that hair color of his,” Clint answered, nodding to Johnny’s white and electric blue hair.

“Weapons?”

Clint had to grin. “Would you believe he’s pretty damned accurate with a wrist rocket?”

Fury arched an eyebrow. “A sling shot?”

“Yeah, a sling shot,” Clint agreed. “Haven’t seen what he can do with normal weapons. He seems to handle improvised weapons fairly well. Took down half a dozen men in 30 seconds with a pair of butterfly yo-yo’s last month. I haven’t gone through anything he may still have on him just yet. Still waiting on Nat and Bruce to return.”

“Oh?” Fury queried. The way he said it and the tone of voice made it clear he wanted to know what was going on.

Before Clint could answer the door opened, admitting the very two people Clint had spoke of.

“Good evening Agent Romanoff, Dr. Banner.”

“Director Fury?” Nat asked, a little surprised.

Bruce just nodded, skirting past the former SHIELD Director like a spooked animal. He got along fine with the man, as long as there was plenty of distance between them. He noticed that Johnny was still in the same position as when he left. “Has he moved at all?”

“No.”

“Why didn’t you alert me?” Bruce asked. He stepped up then remembered at the last moment to put on a pair of gloves to prevent skin to skin contact before keying the sequence to drop the force field.

Gone. The fireflies had all vanished, leaving him feeling empty as he dropped his hand and swayed. Someone caught him by the arm and guided him down on to his back on the cot. A bright light flashed across his eyes, blinding him and sending spikes into his brain. He closed his eyes with a pained whine and tried to pull away but he was held steady. Someone pried open his eyes, one then the other, as the light was shone into them again. First straight on then from the sides. When he tried to cover his face with a hand, it was grabbed and moved out of the way with a warning. He was finally allowed to cover his eyes with a hand a minute or two later. He let out huffed sigh of resignation as his right arm was stretched out and a tourniquet placed around his bicep.

“Make a fist…. hold….” The pinched sting of a needle sliding into flesh. “Good.. relax your fist….” The clinking of glass against plastic as vial after vial was filled.

“Well, one thing for certain,” Fury stated, “Medical will have an easier time with him than they do with you.” He spoke as if the recruitment was a done deal and only the paperwork needed to be signed and filed. “Time to go claim that front row seat for the Pepper Potts vs Doom, the UN & all that bullshit.” He turned and left the holding cell area.

Nat snorted as she pulled Johnny upright and shoved a glass of premium quality, fresh squeezed orange juice under his nose with the implied instructions of ‘drink or else’.

When he had finished with the orange juice, two sample containers were shoved into his hand. Looking at both, he raised an eyebrow as if to say ‘really?’. He got the look back that said ‘yes, really. Now.’ He rolled his eyes as he tossed one back with a shake of his head, miming a pair of scissors snipping. Both eyebrows raised in his direction, ‘really?’, he nodded with his head tilted to one side, lips pressed together, tilted up at one corner. ‘Yes, really.’ Instead a swab was held up in front of his face. With reluctant obedience he opened his mouth. He was then pointed in the direction of the toilet and shower. With a roll of the eyes, he stood up and headed in the direction pointed. Stripping out of his pants, he tossed them into the bin before turning on the water.

“Wow, I haven’t seen anyone pick up the ‘conversation without words’ that fast in a long time,” Clint commented as he grabbed the bin to be processed, exiting the cell. “See you two at dinner tonight. It’s Tony’s turn so expect takeout.”

Five minutes later, Nat was handing Bruce a sealed bag containing the specimen requested as the sound of the shower filled the cell.

Taking the bag and putting it with the rest, Bruce sent a quick glance in the direction Clint had gone before giving Nat a quick peck on the cheek then leaving.

Settling on the bed with her legs crossed, she made minute adjustments to her bracers as she waited. It wasn’t much of a wait. Instead of sitting on the cot next to her, Johnny instead took the bench seat across from her. “This is how it will be for now. You are under 24/7 surveillance. As long as you are well behaved and respectful to us, we will be respectful to you. I’m fairly certain you want to know what Doom has planned as much as we do. Cooperate and you will be kept abreast of the situation as long as it does not jeopardize anyone here in the tower or any agent that may or may not be in the field. If you are hungry, thirsty, need anything that is within reason. Ask out loud. It may take a few minutes for your request to be answered though. At this time, I see no reason to deny you access to simple entertainment. Cause problems and you lose those privileges. Understand?”

Johnny nodded, “Da.”

“Good,” Nat said as she stood and exited the cell. Once she was across the threshold, the force field reactivated.

Johnny didn’t bother to move from where he was seated. “Hello?”

“How may I be of assistance?” FRIDAY responded making a note in his file that he was speaking English as oppose to the previous language. The AI also noted the distance from the occupied cell to the elevator.

“I’d like to make a request for dinner please. And what is there in the way of entertainment?”

“If you would direct your attention to the screen.”

Doing so, Johnny found the wall was now screen with a list of menus. Selecting the one labeled ‘meals’, he browsed the list and made his selection. A small timer appeared in the upper right corner. He then went to the menu labeled ‘entertainment’ and found a variety of choices. From music to movies to games to books. Selecting a simple game, he waited for his dinner to arrive.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 9

 

Smoke and Mirrors
--------------------

Mid January, Avengers Tower, 2 days post arrival….

During the time Johnny was in the holding cell, Pepper Potts visited him to explain the situation between the Avengers and Doom concerning the child and himself. Due to the inability to communicate fully, Johnny was unable to explain his side of everything concerning Doom.

FRIDAY was the one to make the connection between Johnny’s inability to speak English around anyone and one of his gifts. As long as there was anyone within his gifts range, he reverted back to Latverian Romani. The only conclusion anyone could come to was that it had something to do with the strange energy signature they discovered after the altercation between Steve and Johnny. It would still be several weeks before Wanda and Vision returned from their mission and could investigate.

The solution to the language problem turned out to be rather simple.Pepper had tracked down Tony to talk with him. It took Tony a grand total of fifteen minutes to whip up a translation program for FRIDAY, install it on a Stark Watch (along with various tracking software) and hand it to Pepper. Of course ten of those fifteen minutes was him rambling about various subjects as he flirted shamelessly with her.

 

Twenty-Four Hours later…..

All the tests results had finally come back, confirming everything that was in the HYDRA files on Johnny. The translation of the tattoos were also added to his files, though they made little sense, the words themselves had multiple meanings with the configuration they were in. The only one that did make sense was the one over his heart.

Tony found it out of boredom by searching the date in conjunction with the name. He had the information printed out and handed it to Natasha over dinner. “Here,” he said.

Nat took the file, now curious. When she opened it, the first thing she saw was a picture of an slightly younger looking Johnny in full ceremonial kimono, holding what looked to be a 2 year old girl also in a kimono. The background looked to be of a Japanese garden and the date stated it was taken a little over five years previous. The first page listed the name of the girl as ‘Alara Foxgrave’, Johnny’s biological daughter. His only child in fact, and from the information in the file, he’d given up all of his parental rights to her maternal great grandmother in order to protect her. There was only a first name listed for the mother, no surname, nothing. The second page documented a bounty placed on Johnny within two weeks of Alara’s birth. The woman that placed it was the maternal grandmother, one Lyne May Hopewell (formerly Lin Mae Ryuke), wife of Jacob Thomas Hopewell, owner/CEO of a high profit company, Hopewell International, that had gone bankrupt and was bought out a year after the bounty had been placed. It seemed that the woman had married for money, high society, was very controlling and power hungry. The bounty on Johnny accused him of seducing then raping her daughter before abducting the resulting child. The bounty was, of course, canceled after the mother came forward less than a month later, denied all allegations before a judge and then promptly dis-owned her parents. Alara’s mother moved to Japan to be with her daughter and grandmother.

Nat re-read the name. “Hopewell? The man in charge of the last HYDRA base we dismantled?”

“One in the same,” Tony confirmed.

Steve looked up at the mention of the HYDRA base. “What?”

Tony shrugged. “Do what you want with the information,” he said, lifting a hand and gesturing.

By this time, everyone at the dinner table was looking between Nat and Tony.

Nat picked up her glass and took a sip of wine, contemplating what to do. Closing the folder she sat back in her chair. “The leader of the HYDRA base we dismantled last week is named Hopewell. He had a daughter who, a little over five years ago, gave birth to a little girl. His wife accused a young man of seducing, then raping the daughter only to steal the little girl after she was born.” She took another sip of her wine, glancing around at everyone around the table. “The wife placed an illegal bounty on the little girl’s father, but the daughter went before a judge, disputed the charges and disowns her parents. Because of the publicity, Hopewell loses face with the social circles due to the scandal his wife created when she put that bounty on the young man’s head. Afterwards, his company goes bankrupt. That may have driven the man to HYDRA or it may not.” She accepted the refill of wine from Bruce. “Here’s the punchline of the joke... The father of that little girl is currently sitting in the tower’s high security holding cell.” She set her glass down and continued to eat, waiting for everyone to work out the conclusion for their own selves.

Pepper was the one to speak up first. “So… Johnny was asked by the father of the child’s mother, the one we are currently protecting, to locate his daughter. When he finds her, she’s being held by Hopewell, who is Johnny’s daughter’s maternal grandfather. Hopewell may recognize Johnny but not the other way around. That was part of the leverage he had over Johnny, forcing the young man to work for HYDRA in order continue protecting the child. Correct?”

Nat thought about Pepper’s wording for a moment then nodded. “Yeah, that about sums it up.”

“Damn,” Sam said.

“Agreed,” Steve added as he pushed his plate away from him, propping his elbows on the table, chin on his hands in thought. “Ok.. that’s two parts of the whole. What are we missing?”

“Doom,” Clint said as he savored his after dinner coffee and dessert. “How does Doom fit into everything.”

“Exactly,” Tony said. “We now know Hopewell had leverage on Johnny. What type of leverage did Hopewell have on the kid-”

“Alexei.”

“-Alexei’s mother. What was her name, who was she, why was she there in the first place.” Tony shot off the questions rapid fire. “And who is Alexei’s dad?”

“Bucky.”

“What?”

“The child’s father is James Buchanan Barnes. My best friend, The Winter Soldier, HYDRA’s ‘greatest asset’. That’s who his father is,” Steve said, louder this time.

“You serious?” Sam asked looking at Steve. “Damn…”

Tony started fiddling with his glass. “Ok, back to the question at hand… who’s the mother and how does she tie in to everything? FRIDAY, sweetheart, tell me you have something.”

“Yes sir, I do. Mirela Montrovnyah is the youngest daughter of Dragomir Montravnyah, one of Victor von Doom’s most prominent supporters and was the primary ambassador to the United Nations until two years ago, when his youngest daughter vanished. She was here in the United States on a student visa. According to the files, Hopewell bought her and several other young women for his experiments. She was considered the only success.”

“Well.. shit.”

 

On Tony’s order (ie Pepper’s suggestion), Johnny was transferred from the holding cell to one of the secure guest rooms in the upper twelve floors of Stark Tower.

“Up and at’em! Wakey Wakey Eggs and Bakey,” Tony said in a sing song voice as he came strolling into the holding cells. He shoved one hand into a pocket while the other came up to scratch the side of his nose as he looked around. “I don’t think I’ve been in here.. have I?” he turned to look at the person accompanying him. “FRIDAY?”

“No sir, I have no records of you ever being here.”

“Hmm…. looks a little boring,” Tony added as he looked around some more.

“It is,” Clint said as he came into the center of the room. In his arms, Alexei gurgled happily, one hand shoved into his mouth, the other hand waving around, occasionally smacking against his shoulder. “Hey, take a look over there,” he said as he turned so Alexei was aimed in the general direction of Johnny’s cell.

Johnny rolled out of the cot and was at the front of the cell in moments when he heard Alexei. The force field was still up, otherwise he would have been meeting the older man half way with his arms out to take the child. It had been over a week since he left Alexei in the care of Nat, Clint and the Avengers. The energy barrier blinked out and he didn’t think twice.

“Uh.. you’re welcome?” Tony called out.

Chuckling in amusement, Clint handed Alexei over to Johnny. “Hang it up Tony, we’re both out of the competition for his attention right now.”

Johnny took Alexei from Clint, hugging him close, then lifting him up above his head as he spun slowly. The baby’s happy squeal filled the area, before he was brought down and held close. He spoke softly to Alexei while placing soft kisses on his head and face. He wince as a tiny fist grabbed a handful of hair and yanked as the baby gurgled while trying to stuff said fist of hair into his mouth. “Nu, nu, parul. Ow…”

“This way….” Tony said, waving a hand and walking to the short hall that lead to the elevator.

Once in the elevator, Clint helped untangle the tiny fist from white and electric blue hair, careful to avoid skin contact. “Don’t you wish you had short hair now?” he asked Johnny.

“Nu, mă uit prost cu parul scurt.”

“Oh yeah, here.” Tony fished the StarkWatch out of his pocket and tossed it to Johnny.

Snatching it out of the air, Johnny glanced at the watch a moment then raised his eyebrow in question.

“Translator, time piece, latest and greatest of Star Tech. All in one neat, nifty package.” Tony waited till Johnny had put it on. “Now, repeat what you said a moment ago.”

“Said I, lousy look with short hair,” Johnny said again, this time with a scowl at the syntax issue.

Tony gestured for everyone to follow him as he exited from the elevator. Down a well appointed hallway, he lead the way before stopping at one door. Opening it, he gestured for them to follow him in. “Welcome to your home away from home away from home until such time as everything is dealt with.” He moved around the room pointing out various features. “Fully furnished, kitchenware and Stark Tablet included. Basic setup of kitchenette, is that even a word anymore? living room/dining room combo. The bedroom is through that door. Awesome view overlooking the city, though nowhere as good as what I have. Maybe you should come up and check it out sometime.” He was going a mile a minute, pointing out various features with one hand, sometimes switching hands, but keeping at least an arm's length away at all times.

Clint followed Johnny into the bedroom to take a look at the view. One wall was made up entirely of windows. He could pick out over a dozen potential snipers nests and a couple of unconventional ones. “I’ve been the one to watch Alexei mainly, but I haven’t had a chance to get him a crib. Been using a pack n play for his bed at night. I’ll bring it down in a little while.”

Tony walked over to the dining table and tapped the set of folders that lay there. “Inside is all the information on your household budget, courtesy of moi of course, along with the supplemental income the Latverian Embassy is providing. You are also getting WIC for the kiddo there it seems. Feel free to redecorate,” he waved a hand. “Liven this place up some. Last person to stay here was rather boring…” he looked around again. “Or has this one been used yet?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Anyways, you’re welcome to come up to the common area, browse the media room, or raid the kitchen. Everything else is a no-go for the time being. Oh, and medical. Use it, that’s what it’s there for. Don’t be like this neanderthal who’s a walking disaster and ignore it.”

“That was just the one time…” Clint groused.

“Un-huh, riiight….Oh look at the time, really must be jetting. Bye….” Tony didn’t stick around long after that, vanishing out the door.

Clint shook his head. “If you need anything, just ask out loud, like you did in the cell. I’ll leave you to get settled for now. Back in a few with the pack n play.” He waved and made his exit as well.

With a click, the door shut. Johnny and Alexei was finally alone. Running a hand through his hair, he blew out a huff. “Ei bine puștiule, se pare ca este doar you and me…. again?” He looked up at the ceiling before shaking his head. Well at least he would know if anyone was within his range, if he was talking that is. Moving to the table, he slid Alexei around to his hip before flipping open the top file. It took a few moments to puzzle out the wording, but once he did, he had to pull the chair out and sit down. The stipend amount Doom had authorized was more than generous. Of course he would have to go to the embassy with Alexei once a month to collect it, go figure. Sliding the folder to the side he opened the next one on. If he hadn’t already been sitting down, he would have to. The amount listed had to have been a mistake. It was outrageous, there was no way it could be correct. “Umm… Excuse me?”

“How may I be of assistance Mr. LeFleaur?”

“First.. is it possible to change the form of address to me?” Johnny asked.

“Of course Mr. LeFleaur. How would prefer to be addressed?”

“Foxx.. I’d like to be addressed as Foxx if and when possible,” Johnny replied.

“As you wish Foxx,” FRIDAY responded. “Now, how may I be of assistance Foxx?”

Johnny looked at the amount listed. “Is this amount correct?”

“What amount is listed?”

Johnny read it off.

“Actually Foxx, that amount is rather low for the amount Sir usually authorizes. If you wish I can inquire as to whether or not the amount should be increased.”

“No!.. No... gods no.. even if I changed everything around once a week, there is no way Am putea petrece ceea ce a fost...listat.” Johnny reached up and rubbed his face. A knock on the door had him turning his head and calling out. “Who?”

“Agent Barton is at the door Foxx. He has the pack n play as well as other items for Alexei. He is accompanied by several SI Employees bringing the steamer trunks that Latverian Embassy delivered for Alexei and yourself.”

“Thank you. Enter!”

When Clint entered, he held the door open for the Agents/SI employees to bring the trunks in. “Where do you want em?” he asked.

Johnny stood, pointing in the direction of the bedroom. “Please, in there.”

After the men left, Clint closed the door so he could drop the bag of baby goods on the counter. “Where do you want this? Bedroom as well?” he asked. After receiving a nod, he went and set it up. Coming back out, he glanced around once more. “Need anything before I go?”

Johnny looked around as well, swaying slightly as he rubbed Alexei’s back. “Supplies?” he flicked his fingers towards the cabinets and refrigerator.

“Hmm..hit up the kitchen for what you want. It’s automatically restocked so,” Clint shrugged. “Just avoid the labeled shelves.”

“Ok,” Johnny nodded. “Good.”

Both experienced that awkward moment of not knowing exactly what to do. Luckily FRIDAY came to the rescue. “Agent Barton, your presence in her office is requested by Ms. Potts.”

“Thanks,” Clint said automatically. “Ok, well.. got to go,” he said as he headed out the door.

Johnny nodded, closing and locking the door. “Bottle.. then nap…” he muttered and proceeded to take care of both.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 10

 

Settling In
-----------------------

Mid January, Avengers Tower, 4 days post arrival….

 

Once Alexei went down for his nap, Johnny decided to raid the main kitchen for things to bring back until he can put in his own order. Since he was only cooking for himself, it made it easier to get in, locate what he wanted and leave, with FRIDAY’s assistance of course.

Over a light lunch, he sketched out a simple household budget. He had to use the Stark Tablet since there wasn’t any papers, pens or pencils about. He would scowl from time to time as something he added got changed, usually to a premium quality brand. A layout of the room was downloaded to the tablet at his request so he could redecorate. He gave up with the idea since he couldn’t check the furniture out personally and he wasn’t sure if he could leave the tower on a shopping excursion to find out. He’d have to put in a request to speak with Ms. Potts to go over what can and cannot be done. So far, other than Clint and Nat, Pepper Potts was someone he felt he could trust to give him the truth. No matter how ugly said truth could get. After he put Alexei down for the night and had his own dinner, he poked through the steamer trunks for something to wear the next day. He’d go through them later.

It took a few days but finally Johnny and Alexei settled into a routine. He tended to wake up about twenty minutes before Alexei woke, giving him time to prep the baby’s morning meal and set up the change of diaper and clothes. Once that’s done, he put Alexei down on the blanket covered floor and grab his own breakfast. Mid to late morning, another bottle and a change, then down for a nap allowing him time for a bit of a workout and lunch. The afternoon was about the same. Bottle and change, play time, another bottle, another nap and his workout. Evening only changed in the fact Alexei got cereal once more then bath and bed. One last workout, his own dinner, shower and he was sliding into bed. Rinse and repeat.

It was a week later (end of January) when things changed.

Alexei had just went down for his morning nap and Johnny was in just starting his morning workout. Nothing fancy or hardcore, just something to keep himself in shape. He was dressed only in a pair of sleep pants, when a knock on the door interrupted him.

“Foxx, Ms. Potts is at the door.”

Getting to his feet, Johnny moved to the door and opened it, one hand pulling the sleep pants a little higher on his waist. “Good morning, Ms. Potts,” he greeted. The syntax issue having been worked out. “What can I do for you today?” His eyes darted to the two people standing behind her.

Pepper paused, looking Johnny up an down a moment before sliding back into professional mode. “Good morning Mr. LeFleaur,”

“Please, call me Johnny.. or Foxx,” Johnny said with a smile as he gestured for everyone to come in. “Can I offer you anything to drink?”

“Only if you call me Pepper. No thank you,” Pepper said as she took a seat on the couch.

Nat moved to stand near by as Clint took up a position near the door.

Johnny glanced at both before refocusing on Pepper. “What can I do for you today Pepper,” he asked as he sat down across from her.

“I understand you haven’t had a chance to redecorate. I thought we’d rectify that. And take care of anything else you may need,” Pepper stated.

Johnny shot a glance in the direction of the bedroom then back to Pepper. “Um.. what about Alexei? I just put him down for his nap.”

“Oh don’t worry, we shouldn’t be gone that long. And if we are, well I’ve got it handled,” Pepper assured Johnny. “So, why don’t you go get ready and I’ll meet you down in the garage.” She stood up with a smile then left.

After Pepper left, Johnny sighed, scrubbing his face. “I don’t really get to say no?”

“No,” Nat said as she came strolling out of the bedroom. “Hurry up, it's not nice to keep Pepper waiting.”

“What about Alexei?” Johnny asked as he stood up and started moving to the bedroom door.

Clint waved a hand.

“Oh… fine.”

Twenty minutes later, Johnny exited the elevator wearing one of the simplest of outfits Doom provided. With sunglasses, a scarf and his great coat, he looked like some European aristocrat on holiday, or perhaps an eccentric CEO of a company SI was interested in. Nat, on the other hand was dressed in a black pantsuit, looking for all the world like a personal assistant. Neither one looked very remarkable considering everything that went on in New York City on a daily basis. A few moments later, the elevator opened again and out stepped Pepper in her usual business suit.

Happy opened the door to the car for them with a smile, “Good morning Pepper, Ms. Rushman, sir.” Once everyone was in the car, he closed the door and slid into the driver's seat. “Where to this morning?”

“Roche-Bobois first please,” Pepper instructed.

By the time they returned to the Tower late in the afternoon, the trio had gone to half a dozen high end furniture stores before Johnny finally found what he liked. They also visited another dozen or so stores ranging from fashion clothing to what could be called normal everyday apparel to baby stores. Both Pepper and Nat found it amusing that Johnny flat out refused to consider, let alone buy, anything that fell under the heading of ‘SuperHero merchandise’ (Avengers, Fantastic Four, etc) for either Alexei or himself. Instead he chose simple single color, animal related or classic icon related clothing for Alexei. For himself, he chose more neutral colors or bright, jewel toned clothes that complimented his skin tone and hair color.

Nat looked up from her phone as they pulled into the tower’s private garage. “Clint has Alexei up in the common room. He said the delivery people have already put everything together, so all you need to do is decided the placement.”

Johnny just nodded. His head felt like someone was using it as a taiko drum. He had discovered, thanks to this little outing, that his control of his spatial awareness was severely screwed up. Small groups he could handle. Pepper, Nat and a salesperson or two, he didn’t even twinge. But once they left the high end, exclusive stores behind there was more people about. There was at least a two paparazzi that had a field day when they tried one of the Malls. He didn’t even make it a hundred feet past the doors before he was forced to stop. Pepper had acted quickly, sliding an arm around his waist as she moved under his arm. She had guided him to a relatively secluded service hall. Nat had, of course, played lookout. When Pepper had offered to have the Mall opened privately for him, he refused, claiming it was just as easy at this point, to just shop online and have it delivered. After Happy assured them he would see to the packages, the trio piled into the elevator.

Johnny didn’t notice till it was a little too late that his floor had been bypassed for the common floor. He would have honestly stayed in the elevator if Pepper hadn’t grabbed the front of his coat and hauled him out. He was then directed to where Clint was sitting on the floor playing with Alexei. Shedding the coat, he draped it over the arm of a couch, ignoring the person sitting on it. Turning, he took two steps backwards before bridging into a handstand. He hand walked, perfectly balanced, to where Alexei was.

Clint rolled to his feet, amused at what Johnny was doing, and meandered to where Pepper had joined Tony on the couch. “How’d it go?” he asked in curiosity.

“Good, until we reached the mall,” Pepper answered, ignoring Tony’s raised eyebrow when she snagged his drink and took a sip before handing it back.

“Oh?”

“Ummhmmm,” Pepper didn’t elaborate, just smiled when Alexei’s cooing and gurgling turned to laughter.

Johnny had dropped down so he was on his knees leaning over the baby, fingers running lightly over his sides and stomach before catching an arm or leg and blowing raspberries. He ignored when tiny hands grabbed fist fulls of hair, then yanked and flailed in excitement.

“He’s good with Alex,” Steve commented from his place at the bar.

“Alexei,” Nat corrected with a smile as she poured hot water into a tea cup. She added a dollop of honey and a couple of tea bags. The strong scent of mint wafted up. “He does have experience,” she added as she stirred. “Granted, not as much as Clint.”

“Alexei….” Steve conceded. “Hearing or reading about it is different from seeing it,” he added, watching as Johnny scooped the baby up before rolling onto his back and holding him in the air above him. He himself, had very little experience in dealing with infants and most of that was before the war.

“So, whether or not you find Bucky, are you planning on being part of his life?” Nat asks, leaning on the bar as she makes a second cup of tea, this one for herself. She glanced to Pepper, who was speaking softly into Tony’s ear about something. When she slid her eyes to Tony, he looked like he was only half listening as he did something on his phone, but she knew he was giving Pepper his full attention. “How’s your side?” she asked, switching topics.

Steve ran a hand down the side in question. “Good. Fully healed.” His own eyes going to Pepper then to Johnny who was sitting up now. His expression shifted from the normal open and friendly to ‘on the job’ neutral as he remembered the circumstances under which he got the injury in the first place. “What was his skill set with the HYDRA cell?’ he asked, thinking tactically for a moment.

Nat thinned her lips as she considered Steve’s question. “Distraction, infiltration, recon, and retrieval. Plus a few other, less valued skill that should not be overlooked,” Nat answered.

“Fury was here within 12 hours of his arrival. What does he want with him?” Steve turned to look at Nat, blue locking with green over the rim of a tea cup. “We all made a deal, Natasha. No more secrets between us.”

Slowly Nat sipped her tea as she debated with herself over how much to tell Steve about. She lowered the cup after finishing the tea. “Seeing for himself, if Johnny is a suitable candidate for a recruitment program, based on both mine and Clint’s recommendations. Clint’s actually offered to sponsor him if he accepts.”

“And if he turns down the offer?”

“Incarceration at one of the facilities designed for supers,” Nat admitted.

“What happens to Alexei if that happens?” Steve pressed on, turning to watch Johnny’s interactions with the others. He noted that the young man seemed to still not interact with Tony on the same level as he did with Clint and Natasha. Pepper was on an entirely different level it seemed.

“I think that entirely depends on you. If you step up, you’ll be given custody more than likely. If not, he will be given to a specially selected pair of former SHIELD agents to be raised and watched. Remember, Alexei was conceived and born in a HYDRA facility. No one knows what, if any, part of the serum used on Bucky was genetically passed along. We don’t have anything to make a comparison with. We’re not even sure if he might become a mutant like his mother.”

“Alright, let’s go hypothetical for a few moments,” Steve countered as he turned to face Nat fully, arms crossed and resting on the bar top as he leaned towards her, keeping his voice low. “Say I do somehow, for some unknown reason, become part of Alexei’s life. An adopted uncle, let’s say. Sure, I can tell him all about the biological donor’s life, but I can’t tell him anything about his father’s life. Right now, Johnny IS his father. He was there the day he was born according to the files. He has had a hand in caring for him and raising him as a true parent would. When, not IF, Bucky returns, will he even want anything to do with Alexei? I don’t know if he will or not. You don’t know it either and you had a close, personal relationship with him at one point. Or as close as a KGB raised and trained assassin could have. For all we know, Bucky could see the child as a threat and do what he was trained to do to remove a threat. For all intent and purpose, Mirela Montrovnyah and Bucky Barnes are both victims of rape. No, the most I can be to Alexei is someone who occasionally works with his father, that’s it.” He stood up and headed for the elevator. “Sorry Pepper, Tony, I’m suddenly not in the mood for a team dinner.” When he got there, the door was opening to allow Bruce to step out. He nodded a greeting, but that was it as he stepped into the now empty car.

Nat dropped her head into her hands. “Damn it...” she whispered softly. She realized exactly when she had made the mistake of pushing the issue and like last time, it came back and bit her on the ass. She didn’t react when an arm slid around her waist, pulling her into a one armed hug. She leaned into Bruce as she lifted her head. “Hey. Would you mind if we skipped team dinner?” she asked.

Bruce looked around the common room, noting Pepper and Tony on the couch, from the looks, discussing something. Clint and Johnny were a little further away on the floor with the baby. “Sure,” he answered, then glanced at the second tea cup. “Who’s tea?” he asked.

“Oh.. it’s for Johnny.”

Bruce just nodded. With his arm still around Nat’s waist, he guided her towards the elevator. He’d seen Clint wave so he knew that Pepper would be informed.

“And then there was four… well four and one-eighth left,” Tony piped up after the elevator door closed. He shifted, leaning forward on the couch as Pepper got up. “So, Legolas…. no clue what to call you just yet other then baby daddy….looks like team dinner is a bust tonight, plans?”

“Furniture arranging,” Johnny said with a shrug as he held Alexei’s hands, allowing the baby to stand, somewhat wobbly, as he continued to coo, make spit bubbles and in general vocalize.

Clint shrugged, “Finding something to eat that doesn’t involve my own cooking.”

It was Pepper that decided to take charge. Handing the teacup to Johnny she sat down once more next to Tony. “Ok, how about this then. While I watch the baby, I’ll order take out and you three arrange the furniture to Johnny’s liking. Then maybe find something else to do afterwards when Johnny’s put the baby to bed.”

Johnny savored the mint tea as he listened to Pepper’s plan. Shrugging he was hardly in the position to refuse any help or deny anyone, especially her or Tony, access to his rooms. “That’s fine.”

“Hey, I don’t have to cook and moving furniture isn’t an issue,” Clint commented as he held Alexei in his lap, holding a toy for him.

“Do I have to?” Tony mock whined. “Come on, that’s physical labor… I don’t do labor….you know that.” He was grinning though. “And only if you include some Shawarma.”

“Hmm.. Rat on a stick...,” Johnny added with an amused smile.

“Did you just say Rat on a stick?” Tony asked. “That’s just… ew.. seriously, rat?”

Chuckling, Johnny shook his head. “I once attended a Ren Faire. One of the ‘taverns’ at the event sold what they called ‘rat on a stick’. It was actually beef, lamb, pork, and goat meat ground up and formed into mini-meatloaf that was baked on a bamboo skewer.”

“Goat isn’t that bad. All depends on how old it is before it’s slaughtered and how it’s cooked. Not a huge fan of lamb though,” Clint commented.

That was how the four of them ended up in Johnny’s room, eating Italian takeout from Cantellines and comparing strange and/or exotic foods they’ve had experience eating. It seemed that Tony was in the lead simply because Clint couldn’t tell about ninety percent of the places he traveled that had exotic or strange food. So of course, when the topic of travel was touched upon, Clint was once more falling behind. Pepper surprisingly enough tied with Tony on travel.

“And speaking of traveling…” Pepper started as she slid her chair out to stand up. “Gentlemen, it is time I call it a night. Stark Industries does not run itself.” With that comment she gave Tony a pointed look. All three men stood up with her. “I hope you had an enjoyable day for the most part Johnny,” she said as she accepted a quick hug from him before accepting a longer one from Clint.

“Hey, hands off. Mine,” he said making a face at Clint as he slid his arm around Pepper’s waist. “Don’t worry we can show ourselves out,” he added as he guided her to the door. He yelped when he got pinched hard on his side. “Ow.. why.. oh.. right,” he said at Pepper’s look. “You now have access to most of the gym, certain areas are still restricted unless you’ve got an escort,” he glanced at Clint then back. “No getting your hopes up to take popshots with that slingshot of yours either. Even with Robin Hood there the range is still a no-go.” He was out the door before anything could be said.

“Pepper is the true boss around here isn’t she?” Johnny asked as he started gathering takeout containers.

“Yep,” Clint replied as he helped.

“Since you haven’t said your farewell, I’m guessing you wish to speak to me about.. things,” Johnny hazarded a guess.

Clint just smiled, “Got it in one Kid.” He glanced up at the ceiling, even though it wasn’t necessary. “FRIDAY, please activate my privacy protocols.”

“As you wish Agent Barton.” A short pause before the AI continued. “Protocols are now enabled.”

“Thanks,” Clint automatically replied.

Once the leftovers were put away and the dining table cleaned off, the pair settled in the living room area. Clint spoke mostly, about what Johnny faced in the near future due to his involvement with HYDRA, unwilling or not, and about the jobs he pulled during that time. He explained in barebones, no nonsense words exactly what would happen if he turned down the recruitment offer.

“And if, somehow, I managed to run… taking Alexei with me…. and found sanctuary in another country that doesn’t have extradition?” Johnny asked. He wasn’t a fool, but he did want to know the answer to a ‘what if’.

“You’re not even near the top of the priority list we has, but one day someone would be assigned to take you out. Even if you managed to find a place in the heart of Latveria,” Clint said, dead serious. “I like you so far kid and I’m known for taking chances on who I pick to recruit.”

“Not much of a choice is there?”

“No. There isn’t.”

Leaning an elbow on the chair arm, he tapped a finger against his lips in thought. He was honest with himself in the fact he knew he had only himself to blame for most of his troubles. There was one or two situations that wasn’t his fault, but still. “How long do I have to think about it?” he asked, then held up a hand. “Wait… what, exactly, would I be getting into if I said yes? A lab rat to be experimented on? An expendable bit of cannon fodder to be thrown in front of the first thing that came along?”

“I can’t tell you that, but I can say that no, you won’t be experimented on and Agents are very seldom viewed as expendable,” Clint answered, remembering a few assignments to take out rogue agents. “You’d start out like anyone else that gets recruited. Basic training and assessments to place you. From there, advanced training if you qualify, further schooling if you wish.” He watched Johnny, noting his body language. “No secrets either kid. You have to come clean about everything to keep it from coming back and biting you, and therefore us, on the ass.” That got a twitch. The kid still had secrets, but who didn’t in this line of work?

“Is it possible to request specific type assignments?”

Cling chuckled as he sat back, leg crossed over a knee and an arm thrown over the back of the couch. “You can request all you want, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get it.”

Johnny hummed softly, “No kills if possible.. that’s what brought me to SHIELD’s attention in the first place,” he said as he tapped his chin before nibbling on a nail. “So… how long?” he didn’t think there was much else that needed to be clarified that wouldn’t be explained later.

“I’d say until this shit blows over or is dealt with,” Clint shrugged one shoulder. “Can’t say so don’t think too long on it.”

“What about Alexei? If I say yes, what happens to him?”

That was hard to say, Clint thought. “We will do everything possible to ensure he is taken care of if something happened to you.”

“No, I mean..”

“Kid, he is yours in all but blood. We will see to it that, in every way possible, he is yours. To be honest, there’s a very slim chance the sperm donor will try to claim him, but to anyone’s knowledge, the guy doesn’t even know he has a kid, let alone gave permission for his to be used. But that’s a fact in any situation like this,” Clint admitted.

With a sigh, Johnny rubbed his eyes then temples. “Let me think on it.”

Clint nodded, accepting the answer as he stood up. “I’m not expecting an answer right away,” he said as he headed to the door. “I should call it a night as well, no telling what will happen or when it will happen. FRIDAY, end privacy protocols.”

“Privacy protocols have been disabled.”

Clint nodded, as he opened the door. “Oh, I expect to see you in the gym tomorrow when Alexei goes down for his mid-morning nap. No excuses and you’d better be prepared to work your ass off. Good night,” he said as he left, closing the door behind him.

Getting up, Johnny wandered around the room in thought as he locked the door, checked to be sure everything was put away and turned out lights. Once in the bedroom, he checked on Alexei before moving to the floor to ceiling, wall to wall windows. He stared out at the city beyond the glass, letting his thoughts circle like a snake consuming its own tail. The movement of a bird passing the window broke him out of his thoughts. There was nothing he could do about it, except get some rest. Tomorrow will take care of itself, no matter what he did. He turned away, stripping his clothes off before sliding between the sheets. The lights, already dimmed, turned off completely.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 11

 

Bad Touch
----------------------------

First week of February, Avenger’s Tower….

How the rest of the Avengers got wind of what he was planning so fast, Clint wasn’t sure, but neither was he concerned. He just had hoped there would be a little bit of time to set up a routine to ensure a smooth transition of getting Johnny used to the rest of the Avengers popping in and out of the gym. Maybe even get him used to working with them. Once Johnny was officially with the unnamed Agency he would have to work with anyone assigned to the job with him.

The morning started out something like this…..

“Just make sure he doesn’t break anything,” Tony said in passing as he headed off to one of the labs to play. “Oh, don’t break him either. I don’t feel like dealing with Doom throwing a hissy fit…”

Clint just grunted as he made his way to the coffee maker. If he wasn’t on assignment, never expect him to be functional and/or coherent before his first cup of coffee. By his second cup, he could hold a conversation. Hitting his third cup, he’d already polished off a bowl of cereal and was munching away on a power bar when Cap made his approach, still in his own workout clothes from the early morning run.

“Listen, Clint… do you really think it’s a good idea? We don’t really know anything about Johnny or his past beyond what’s on those HYDRA files,” Steve said, in Captain mode. He examined what the archer was wearing, concerned slightly on the fact his arms were exposed.

“Do you trust me?” Clint asked with a tight smile.

Steve frowned slightly. “Of course.”

“Then trust that I know what I’m doing,” Clint said as he finished off his coffee and put the cup in the sink as he walked out. He still had an hour at the least, before Johnny would show up. He planned on getting his own warmup out of the way. When the elevator doors opened, he came face to face with Nat. “Morning,” he said in greeting.

Nat eyed him up and down, noting what he was wearing as well as his general attitude this morning. “Let me know if you want some company,” she said in way of greeting. “Have you seen Steve this morning?” she asked as she stepped out of the elevator. “Oh, want me to have Bruce on standby?”

Clint jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “In the kitchen last I saw,” he replied as he stepped into the now empty elevator. “Sure, if you want. I won’t mind a second opinion, especially from you. Don’t think Bruce will be needed but thanks.” He touched the floor button, leaning back as the door closed and the elevator rose to the gym floor.

Nat joined Steve in the kitchen, gathering what she needed to make herself a smoothy. After a few minutes of silence, broken only by the sound of food being prepped. “Steve.. about last night…” Nat started.

Steve held up a hand. “No, I’m not reconsidering Natasha,” he stated.

Nat rolled her eyes. “Would you just shut up and listen to me for a moment?”

A pan was put on the stove a little harder than necessary. “Alright, I’m listening.”

Nat busied herself by throwing everything into the blender, before turning to face Steve. “I’m sorry about last night. I know how much you want to get Bucky back... I thought.. maybe if you couldn’t get him back then you’d at least have a part of him.” She hated apologizing, because it meant she was wrong about something, but she knew when to face up to her mistakes.

Steve sighed, shoulders slumping as he leaned against the counter. He couldn’t stay mad at Nat. “It’s not that I want to see Bucky’s kid go to some Mr. and Mrs. Secret Agent and be raised as Baby Agent. It’s just... Alexei may be Bucky’s child genetically, but it’s not like my buddy said ‘look after my kid if something happens to me.’ I can’t believe he was given any choice about the creation of this child, and for all we know, has no knowledge of him. When, WHEN, we get Bucky back, do we hand Alexei over to him? Of course not. I can’t see raising him, knowing what was done to my friend. I understand what you were going for, Natasha. It’s just not for me.”

Nat nodded, giving him a smile before she started the blender. “Oh, your bacon is burning,” she said as she poured up her smooth.

“Shit,” Steve muttered as he turned around to salvage what he could.

 

Down in the gym, an hour twenty minutes later……

Clint was near the top of the salmon ladder when FRIDAY announced Johnny’s arrival in the gym’s entrance area. Letting go with one hand, he gripped the edge of a lower slat, shifting his weight off the bar before dropping down to the ground. Angling himself, he watched as Johnny stood in the doorway. He was dressed in what looked to be yoga pants, a sleeveless t-shirt and had his hair pulled up into a ponytail. Placing the bar in its proper place, he stepped away from the ladder. “Good, I didn’t have to come get you,” he said as he grabbed a towel off a side bench to wipe.

Johnny nodded as he fiddled with the wrist wraps. “Alexei was a little fussy this morning. Didn’t want to nap.” He still hadn’t crossed the threshold into the gym proper. Lifting one foot, he lightly tapped his bare toes against the ground before flexing it then switching to the other.

“Well, you going to just stand there or join me?” Clint asked as he draped the towel over his shoulders.

“You haven’t given me permission yet.”

Clint gave a subtle nod of approval. “What else were you taught?” he asked as he stepped forward, gesturing towards the change rooms and showers.

“Depends on the situation,” Johnny shrugged slightly as he turned to follow the older man. “The Range Master is god above man when in the range, the Weapon Master is there for a reason. Clean up after yourself, including the blood on the mats, because it’s not someone else’s job to do so.”

Snorting in amusement at the answer, Clint pointed out the men’s side, advised against even thinking about peeking into the woman’s side, then lead Johnny back, this time into the gym. “What is your normal routine?”

“Stretches, push ups, sit ups, crunches.”

“Before that?”

“Climbing, running, some weights, tumbling, stamina, escrima when I can find a good training partner, whatever I come across that fits my style.” Again Johnny shrugged. “Haven’t had any real, instructed training in over four years.”

Clint nodded, filing the information away. Over the next two hours, he walked Johnny through proper use of each of the approved machines, tested his capabilities while planning out a training regime that would push his limits and expand his skills. Of course, the rest of the populace of the Avenger Only levels made their appearance.

Nat was the first to appear, silently shadowing Clint, watching every move Johnny made and occasionally offering comments about how to improve this or that.

Johnny never even twitched, moving at an even pace through the reps. The only time he paused or stopped was when Clint instructed him to. He accepted her corrections the same as he accepted Clint’s.

Bruce only stopped by long enough to collect Nat for lunch, nodding once and left a reminder for Clint not to overwork Johnny. Not unless he wanted a lecture about responsibility, etc.

Tony of course didn’t even bother, that was what FRIDAY and the security cameras were for. All he did was turn on the sound system and start playing some of the cheesiest sports movie soundtracks ever made.

For his part, Johnny started making smart ass comments about said music. He even sang along with a few, earning himself some extra reps on the machines he was at when he did.

When Steve showed up, he had Sam with him. The pair watched from the sidelines, quietly making comments to each other. Steve caught Clint’s eye and gestured to the weights, then to Sam and himself.

Clint didn’t care if anyone else joined them in the gym, after all it was an evaluation of how well Johnny did, not himself. He was currently adjusting the weights on the bar, adding by increments of ten pounds. “Alright, one lift, hold to the count of ten then set it down,” he instructed once more, noticing Johnny start to fidget. “I think we’ll be done after this.”

Johnny nodded from his position on the bench, waiting for the go ahead to start the lift. His eyes kept darting to where the other two men were. He sensed their movements easily enough with his gift, that wasn’t the problem. For some reason any time Captain Rogers was around, he started to stress. He didn’t know if it was a result of what Doom did to him or because of their first face to face meeting (which he really needed to apologize for his actions - but how the hell do you say ‘sorry for groping you as I tried to shove my tongue down your throat’ to an American Icon/Superhero?). Laying back, he slid into position. Hands wrapped around the bar, he readjusted them before lifting.

“How’s that feel?” Clint asked, keeping an eye on the situation as his hands hovered over the bar, ready to catch it.

After a silent count to ten, Johnny returned the bar to its place. “Hm.. good for a mid point. A little lighter for an ending, heavier for a start….”

“Think you can handle a set of reps?” Clint asked as he noted Steve adjusting the weights on the bar Sam was going to use. He glanced down at Johnny then to the other side where the extra weights were stored.

“Yeah.” Resetting his hands in place again, Johnny lifted the bar smoothly off of the rests. By the third lift, he was feeling the strain. It had been too long since he had this kind of workout. None of the last few jobs he pulled came even close to it. He twitched as something brushed against his mind. It wasn’t unpleasant, just unsettling.

“Come on man,” Sam spoke up suddenly. “Put a little more on the bar. I can handle it.”

“Eh, I don’t know,” Steve hedged.

Sam grinned up at Steve as he put the bar back on the rests. “How am I gonna improve if I don’t push the limits. And it’s not like you aren’t here to catch it if I screw up.”

“Fine,” Steve relented. “But no more than twenty. Once you prove to me you can handle that, then I’ll add more.” He turned to Clint, gesturing to the extra weights. “Can you hand me a couple of tens?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure. Hold on a moment,” Clint replied. “Last one...and hold…..” He looked away for just a second.

The sensation of getting dunked in ice while being slapped by nettles caused Johnny to shove the bar away as he scrambled off the bench. He was skittering across the floor in a crab walk, until he came rammed into another machine.

Both Steve and Clint grabbed for the bar. Steve was faster, snatching it mid-air before it could drop more than a fraction of an inch. “Whoa...easy…easy….”

Sam was on his feet, ready for action within moments. He looked at Steve, then to the kid before looking at Clint who was standing just past Steve. He opened his mouth but shut it when Steve made a gesture.

Shooting Steve a look, Clint put the weight down and slowly walked over to where Johnny was. He took it as a good sign the kid didn’t try to move away, bad that he was breathing fast and had a near panicked, pained expression. He was wearing half-gloves so would have to take a chance if he had to touch him. “Hey kid,” he spoke softly. “Hey, eyes on me,” he waved a couple fingers in front of Johnny, breaking the line of sight. With his other hand behind his back, he signaled the other two to shift to the left some. It was unsettling to watch the kid’s eyes shift between arctic blue and silver, with the occasional flash of honeydew green. “Look at me...yeah.. there ya go kid.” He watched as Johnny’s expression evened out before going blank. “Mind telling me what just happened?”

It took him a few tries to even out his breathing. Shaking his head, Johnny licked his lips then spoke. “Not here…”

“Hhmmm… “ Clint sat back on his heels, hands dangling between his knees. “Well.. we were almost done for today….” He looked back at Steve, nodding that everything was being handled. Standing up, he offered his hand to Johnny.

Staring at the older man for several heartbeats, Johnny lifted his hand. Strong fingers wrapped around his wrists, careful to avoid skin contact, and helped him to his feet. He was led out of the gym and to the elevator, bypassing the showers completely.

“What..just… happened?” Sam asked, relaxing a little. “I mean, you’d think out of everyone you or Tony would be the one the kid gravitates to, not the pair of deadly deadly assassins.” He shook his head as he settled back onto the bench. “What you waiting for?”

Shaking his head, Steve let out a soft huff of air. “After that, you still want to have a go at the weights?”

“Hell yeah man. Can’t let a spooked kid throw me off my game. I’d never be able to handle panicked civilians if I did.”

 

Once out of the elevator and onto Johnny’s floor, Clint lead the kid to his room. Opening the door, he waved Johnny inside. “Go shower and change. I’ll take care of Alexei. Afterwards, we talk. You hear me?”

Johnny nodded, still in the post adrenalin high jitters. Before Doom messed with him he hadn’t had a panic attack like that in years. He grabbed a pair of pants and headed into the bathroom as Clint took care of Alexei. When he emerged nearly a half hour later, Nat was sitting on the couch with Alexei sitting in her lap, playing with a toy. Instead of taking a seat, he headed to the kitchenette to put a kettle of water. “I would offer something stronger, but....” He shrugged before he pulled down a mug and held it up, silently asking if either wanted tea as well. As he waited for the water to heat, he set the mugs out along with sugar, honey and a selection of teas. When the water was ready, he brought everything to the table, fixed his own tea and sat down at the table.

Alexei was placed in his bouncer then settled in front of the TV.

Clint flipped a chair around and sat, arms crossed over the back as he stared at Johnny. Patiently waiting for an explanation while waiting on Nat to make her move.

Natasha walked up behind Johnny. She watched as he stilled, shoulders tensing. With bare fingers, she put a hand on his shoulder. She felt him flinch, shoulder and head jerking to the side with a hiss. Her analytical mind catalogued everything that happened. From the feel of warm skin under her hand that was pebbling with goosebumps, to the slightly raised scars hidden under the tattoo. The tingle of what felt like static to the whispered demand that action needed to be taken. Even the barely there hint of a glow where her hand touched the intricate designs. Lightly she moved her hand, fingers tracing the scars, four parallel marks from right collarbone over his shoulder and across the base of his neck. the scars were a mockery of a loving caress. Those four bisected another scar. Lightly she traced the second scar, noting the difference between the two.

Johnny sucked in a breath, flattening his hands against the top of the table as he tried to repress the shudder. The burning cold of arctic ice played across the nerves under Natasha’s hand, leaving a phantom sting in its wake.

“Claws across the shoulder. Surgical down the spine,” Nat commented as she continued her examination. She slid her fingers back up, to the nape of Johnny’s neck, squeezing gently before training her hand down his left shoulder and arm before stepping away. Matching Clint, she flipped her chair backwards and sat, arms crossed over the back. It was her turn to observe.

While Nat was distracting Johnny, Clint had removed one of his gloves. He didn’t wait for the younger man to catch his breath, physically or mentally, before he grabbed a wrist. His hold was secure but not bone breaking tight. He felt a brief moment of shock, no worse than the mildly annoying static of a dry winter variety. At the edge of his mind came a sibilant hiss of a command to act. Compared to Loki or Wanda, whatever it was that tried to take over, was as feeble as a newborn and even less effective. He brushed it off. He noted that he could feel surgical scarring, like Nat mentioned, under his fingertips, but nothing under his palm. “Ready to talk yet?” he asked.

All Johnny could think of at the moment was how much he would love to turn this all back on Doom. To throw it back in the man’s face three fold for doing what he did. To take something he loved, even thrived on and turn it into form of abusive manipulation was just low. Swallowing, he twitched, flexing his fingers, feeling the grip Clint had on him. “A panic attack… a really bad...panic attack with a...potentially dangerous reaction. Most people call it ‘fight or flight’. ‘Frenzy’ is more apt for me.” He let out a humorless laugh, “Last time it was this bad was….” he waved his free hand, indicating the scars. “Just after this. I forced them to put me under again. Next time I woke,” he reached up, tracing one of the foxes on his throat, “these were fresh and I had somehow escaped again. Been running ever since.”

“What caused the panic attack?” Natasha asked.

“My mind screaming at me that an apex predator was too fucking close.”

Under his fingers, Clint felt the mostly steady, if somewhat faster than average, pulse. He stayed silent, letting Nat do the questioning.

“If Steve is an apex predator, then what is he and what are the rest of us? How do we compare? Clint… myself?” Nat probed.

“The biggest and baddest American Bald Eagle ever,” Johnny said with snort. “And I still don’t know how to apologize for..that…” he made a gesture before continuing. “A hunting hawk, one that’s patient in the hunt and knows when to strike.” He reached up and started rubbing his forehead with the heel of his free hand. “A black widow, what else? Just because she’s small doesn’t mean she’s any less deadly.”

“By never, ever mentioning it in his presence and hope he forgets about it. Pepper and Tony.”

“Fire and machines. Warm and inviting but show disrespect for it, it will consume you. Noise and clatter and confusing as fuck. Can make life easy or a living hell.”

Both of the former SHIELD Agents turned Avengers smirked at Johnny’s description of Tony. It was a pretty accurate image unless you knew the man more personally.

“Sam and Bruce,” Nat continued after a moment.

“A raptor that’s had its wings broken in the past but can fly once more. An Indonesian Rainforest. Calm and quiet at a distance, but dark and dangerous when roused.”

“A fair description for people you’ve hardly meet or spent any time with,” Nat commented as she made herself and Clint a cup of tea, even though the water wasn’t as hot anymore. “Last one. Yourself. What are you?” She tilted her head to the side.

Johnny made a soft groan as he put his head down on the table and ran his hand through his hair. “A fox.” There was a bit of another snort. “One that’s gotten into too much trouble of late for his own good.”

Having ignored the small tugs, Clint finally unwrapped his fingers from around Johnny’s wrist. “Tomorrow, same time, but we’ll be working on your climbing and acrobatic skills. The day after Nat will be the one in charge, barring any calls to assemble. A day off to do as you please, then you start working.” He stood up, putting the chair to rights. Taking the mug, he wandered over to Alexei. The baby was starting to squirm and kick, grabbing at the brightly colored shapes that hung from the overhead arch of the bouncer.

“He already pitched you the recruitment speech,” Nat said with a smirk. “Still thinking?”

Johnny wrapped both arms over his head and groaned. “Not thinking…mind’s too scrambled to think….”

“Poor baby,” Nat replied, not sympathetic in the least to his situation.

Lifting his head, he crossed his arms on the table then laid his head back down, looking at Nat. “Not poor...just… missing touch. Before things went to hell in a fashionably acceptable handbasket, Mirela and I would spend time just cuddling, especially after sex. Now….. now it feels like I’m being punished for having any physical contact.” He sat up, running his hands through his hair to get it out of his face. “Now.. now I just want Doom to know what it feels like to be denied his desire.” He pulled his mug close then took a sip and grimaced. “Bleagh… cold tea. Not very good.”

Nat laughed in amusement as she stood up as well, righting the chair as she did. “You still have Alexei to cuddle with.”

Johnny really made a face. “Cuddling with him is good, just not.. no… uh-uh. I miss having a bed partner. One that is willing.” He finished off his tea even though it was cool. After, he started to clean up what little mess was made.’’

“Give it time, I’m pretty sure you’ll find a willing woman to share your bed again.”

“Or a willing man,” Johnny shrugged. “I’m not picky.”

“Excuse me Agents Barton, Romanoff” FRIDAY spoke up.

Everyone looked up at the ceiling.

“Captain Rogers has requested your presence in conference room one.”

“Thanks, let him know we’re on our way,” Clint replied as he stood up. “I’ll see you tomorrow in the gym one way or another,” he told Johnny as he passed him to put the mug in the sink before leaving. Nat was already gone. They both knew that it was either a call to assemble or else Wanda and Vision had returned.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 12

 

Duties and Paperwork
---------------------------

 

First week of February, Avengers Tower, the next day….

 

Johnny walked into the gym a few minutes earlier than he did the day before, a towel draped over his shoulders and a water bottle in hand. He glanced around before moving to a clear area for warm up stretches.

“Good Morning Foxx,” FRIDAY intoned. “Agent Barton will be unable to join you today.”

Looking up from a leg stretch, Johnny nodded. “Did he leave any instructions?” he asked as he shifted to stretch his arms.

“Yes,” FRIDAY replied. “Agent Barton left the following instructions..” The AI listed the machines, the number of reps for each as well as the maximum weight/tension suggested for each. “He also recommended a warm up and cool down on the treadmill, not to exceed twenty minutes each.”

Nodding, Johnny completed his stretches before heading in the direction of the tread mills. “Thank you,” he said automatically.

“If you would like I can turn on the sound system,” the AI offered. “Do you have any preferences Foxx?”

“Can you find me some trance? And can you alert me if Alexei wakes? He usually sleeps for about three hours, but sometimes it’s less.”

“As you wish, and of course.”

A moment later the sound of trance music came from the speakers localized around Johnny’s position in the gym. Often when switching to the next machine, he would ask the AI for any helpful advice and assistance on setting the correct weights and tensions. Half way through, he sensed someone else enter the gym. He finished the last rep for the machine he was on, zeroed the machine then sat up. It was only Pepper, who was headed to a tread mill. He waved a greeting then moved to the next machine. When he was finished with his cool down, he waved once more to Pepper then departed for his room.

By the third day when neither Clint nor Natasha had made an appearance or contacted him, and even Pepper was absent, Johnny took a chance and ventured up to the common floor. The place was strangely quiet. When he went to the kitchen, he found no evidence that anyone had been there over the last day or two. “FRIDAY?”

“Yes Foxx?”

“I understand that what you can tell me is far outweighed by what you cannot tell me, but...yes or no, Are Clint and/or Natasha on assignment?”

There was a long pause before the AI responded. “Yes.”

Johnny nodded. He didn’t ask about any of the other Avengers. “If Ms. Potts is on location, would you please pass the offer of dinner if she’s not busy this evening?”

Another pause, this time shorter. “I have given Ms. Potts your invitation to dinner. If she is available, she will let me know and I will inform you Foxx.”

“Thank you,” Johnny replied as he made his way back down to his room.

 

Second week of February, Avenger’s tower….

It was rather quiet, even more so than usual of late. Johnny was in the middle of a workout when his presence was requested by Pepper in her office. “Do I have time for a shower?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Johnny nodded as he zeroed the machine, grabbed the towel and his bottle then headed to the elevator. Unlike most trips up to his floor, he went down instead. When he reached Floor 78, he was meet by a security officer who escorted him to Ms. Pott’s office. Once inside, he waited by the door until he was signaled forward.

“No. What I am saying is I would appreciate more than a thirty minute advanced notice. The floor you want access to is located in the highly secure part of the tower. Avengers only…. Yes I know… He is under Avengers protection….Fine. When I hear from Captain Rogers, then you will have access to that room and that room only. Good day!” Pepper set the phone down after she hung up. She paced back and forth behind her desk until she turned and spotted Johnny. “Good… good,” she nodded making plans. “The Latverian Embassy is starting to ask about Alexei and how well he’s being cared for. They have gone to the UN and in turn the UN is now wanting to know about his care. So of course the DCF has gotten involved. You have an hour, two at tops before they come barging into and start demanding to go through everything like the nosey people they are. I will have FRIDAY alert you when we arrive on your floor. Please, don’t have the watch on.”

Johnny took it all in, blinking as he processed everything. He then nodded. “Alright. No watch,” he smiled. “And no ‘understanding’ what you say either.”

“Oh you are a keeper,” Pepper said then shooed him out of her office so she could place a call to Tony to let know what was going on.

 

An hour and a half later, Johnny was dressed in what he had termed his ‘uniform’. The full ensemble of Latverian dress casual clothes. Alexei was also dressed up. He was also his usual fussy self after being woke up early from a nap. A message flashed across the TV screen from FRIDAY alerting him to Pepper and company’s arrival on the floor. A few minutes later the loud knocking on his door signaled their arrival. With an eyeroll and a sigh, he plastered a pleasant expression on his face and opened the door.

Ten minutes in and already Johnny wanted to strangle the Latverian representative. After the walkthrough of the rooms, the DCF worker was now in the process of asking the required questions and filling out paperwork. The representative would ‘translate’ the questions and answers, always shifting the answers to put Latveria in good light and Stark and the Avengers in a not so favorable light. The UN reps and Pepper took up the other couch and chair, the refreshments sitting on the corner tables left untouched.

Through all of this Alexei was fussing and whining, refusing to settle down. All his short life, strangers meant being poked, prodded and in general not very good things happening to him.

“Excuse me,” he murmured as he stood up, taking Alexei with him. “He needs to be changed.” He caught Pepper’s eye for the briefest of moments before he disappeared into his room.

A flicker of movement beyond the window had him turning to stare. Making a gesture, the shades opened fully to reveal both Iron Man and the Avenger’s quinjet hovering just past the barrier of shatter proof/bullet proof glass. Superimposed over one section of glass, text appeared. ‘Stall them.’ He raised an eyebrow, but nodded. Turning back around he took care of Alexei. When he strolled back into the main room, both he and the baby were wearing a new outfit. “Sorry. Poopnamie followed by a water cannon….” He smirked ever so slightly at the green look that came over the ‘translator’. He then started asking the DCF worker about time tables, when he should expect Alexei to start switching over to solid foods, what would be added to the monthly WIC purchases and if he would be able to change formulas.

Just about the time the UN reps were starting to get restless there was a knock on the door followed by Tony Stark waltzing in like he owned the place (which he did). “When was I going to be told about this little party? Hi, how are you doing? Good to see you again. Have we met? Not important.”

Johnny was having a hard time keeping a straight face. “Bună ziua domnul Stark,” he called out, his gift catching the presence of at least two others in the hallway. “E o plăcere, ca întotdeauna să te văd.”

The Latverian representative started to translate but was interrupted before he could say even three words.

“FRIDAY, honey, go ahead and translate for Johnny. He needs his own voice,” Tony said as he sauntered over to Pepper. Leaning down he gave her a quick peck on the cheek then straightened up.

Leaning back into the corner of the couch, Alexei cuddled close, Johnny smiled. “Now, could you ask those questions again now that I’m not forced to rely on a less than neutral third party.” The translation was flawless.

Johnny passed Alexei over to the DCF worker finally when the Latverian rep all but demanded to speak to him alone. (Which of course meant FRIDAY was recording it all.)

“Lord Doom will hear about this!”

“Please, do tell him. Let Lord von Doom know I have upheld my duty to protect Alexei. To my utmost ability. Even with the geass he put on me.” He flashed his teeth in a feral grin as his eyes turned silver. “Let him know that the child is protected, that he wants for nothing,” he said softly before turning away and rejoining the group. “I apologize, it's getting close to his late afternoon nap and I still need to feed him. Thank you all for taking valuable time out of your day to come check on him. Mr. Stark, do you mind if I steal Ms. Potts for the evening? I did promise to make her dinner for all the assistance she’s given me during my time here.”

“I’ll think about it and get back to you later,” Tony said as he hooked an arm around Pepper’s waist.

“Tomorrow night,” Pepper countered Tony’s comment. “Have a good night,” she offered as she left with Tony who was following the guests to the elevator.

Clint and Nat slipped in before the door closed. Both took their jobs serious as they started to sweep the rooms. FRIDAY was doing a scan as well. Johnny, for his part, stayed out of their way as he held Alexei.

“You know, you’re welcome to join us for dinner,” Nat spoke up after signaling the all clear to Clint. “You look like you could use some friendlier faces.”

Shaking his head, Johnny moved to his favorite chair and ottoman combo. “No...thank you but no. I don’t think I’m up for it.” He waved a hand towards the door. “I was pushing my control with so many unknown people as well as keeping my temper in check with that… that…” he made an annoyed sound as he slumped down with the baby facing him on his lap.

“Alright,” Nat accepted Johnny’s excuse. “But you will start joining us on a semi-regular basis,” she then informed him.

Half-heartedly Johnny whined about that, even though he had a tired smile on his face. He still got his ear flicked for it. “Any changes in the training schedule?” he inquired.

“No. The usual time,” Clint replied. “See you tomorrow.” He departed to deal with debriefing and dinner.

Nat delayed only long enough to give Alexei a kiss on his head before she too departed to deal with business.

A flailed fist that was then shoved into a drool producing mouth and a gurgled coo had Johnny softly laughing. “Alright, alright… let’s get you out of that ridiculous outfit and into something more suited to floor time.”

 

Upstairs in the debriefing room it was business as usual. Reports given, the mission data reviewed and the argument of what would be for dinner; dine out vs take out vs cooked. When Tony suggested going out to eat, everyone seemed to perk up slightly. Until he suggested hitting the Shawarma joint again. Clint promptly nailed him upside the head with a nerf ball. The debate was started up again. The final decision was for Thai fusion takeout when Wanda firmly stated that she wasn’t going anywhere except her room to take advantage of the wonderfully decadent shower in her room to wash away the grime of the past several weeks. Afterwards, everyone went their separate ways to take care of their own post mission/debriefing rituals before meeting back up in the common room.

Nat took a brief few moments to ask, via FRIDAY, Johnny if he wanted anything. The condition was that he had to join everyone in the common room. She figured that giving him some time to think might change his mind, but when he declined again, she didn’t push the issue and bid him good night.

It was like some unknown signal went off the moment one of the SI employees arrived in the elevator with the food. Avengers, Plus one, came out of the woodworks, each one claiming their favorite spot with some minor jockeying involved. Silence reigned until everyone was comfortably full, then Wanda and Vision were given the rundown on events while they were away.

“We are hosting a pair of visitors on the lower floor,” Pepper started.

“Nice couple, one’s a real looker the others a hot babe,” Tony chimed in. “One’s a former HYDRA, the other an experi- ow! Ow! abuse, abuse!” he called out after getting hit with a small pillow hurled from across the room. “Is anyone going to come to my defense here? After all I do you’re going to let me be abused?” he said, this time catching the second pillow.

“The pair are currently under Avenger’s protection at Doom’s request and with the backing of the UN,” Steve put in. “Doom did something to one of them. Once you’re rested, could you take a look?” he asked. “Not tonight though,” he added.

“Wait till Nat or I can introduce you,” Clint said. “He’s comfortable around the two of us and less likely to react. Once he is, you’ll meet Alexei.”

“So…,” Wanda started, “What is it you wish me to look at, or look for?”

“We’ll fill you in more tomorrow,” Clint replied. “I’ll send you the relevant info to your Starkpad later this evening.” It would allow him time to review the info.

Steve was about to object but Pepper, who was closest to him, leaned over and whispered something. His cheeks pinked slightly and he wisely kept quiet. It wasn’t something he really wanted spread around, thank you.

Before Tony could open his mouth to make a comment, he was pinched on his side, hard by Pepper. She gave him a ‘look’ and he wisely kept whatever he was going to say to himself. As a reward, she gave him a peck on the cheek and a whispered promise of more.. later.. if he behaved himself.

Vision took everything in with nothing to say for the moment. Once he accessed the files and reviewed any relevant video, he would offer his own commentary.

The rest of the evening slipped on by once the talks turned to more mundane things, such as new vs old Star Trek, poking fun at the TV shows depicting fictional super heroes and the general complaint from both Nat and Clint that the ammo depicted was all wrong. In general, a typical night for off duty Avengers.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 13

 

You got Schooled!
------------------------

Second week of February…..

 

“Again! First!”

Johnny dropped his form, took a few steps back and flexed his ankle before stepping up once more. Once more he brought his heels together, toes apart as his feet formed a V shape. His arms rose in front of him in an oval shape, fingertips barely touching.

“Wrong!” Nat stated as she moved around Johnny, inspecting every placement and line of his body. “Hands, farther apart. I should be able to pass my hand, flat, between your fingertips.” She made another circuit around him. “Chin up, head back. Eyes forward. Shoulders down!”

‘Slave driver’ was the term that ran through Johnny’s mind at the moment. Reaching the two hour mark he hadn’t progressed past the third position. Or rather he hadn’t reached the level of perfection that Natasha demanded of him to move to the next position. But he didn’t complain, didn’t talk back or make a sound past ‘Yes Madame’ or (very rarely) ‘No Madame’.

“Again! First!” It felt as though she was missing something as Nat walked around Johnny again. This time she was satisfied with Johnny’s form. She caught Clint’s reflection in the mirrors and nodded ever so slightly. “It will do for now,” she said as she turned away. “Cool down then you are dismissed.”

With a wince at the twinge of over-worked seldom used muscles, he dropped the form and bent over, head touching his knees. Straightening up, he bent over backwards, bridging into a handstand before dropping back to his feet. He continued to stretch and twist for several more minutes before he started pacing back and forth in the final stage of cooling down.

“Thoughts?” Clint inquired.

“Obedient. Doesn’t complain. Trainable,” Nat replied.

“How often?”

“Twice a week until I’m satisfied then once a week. Unless we find something else to work into the schedule.” Nat shifted her weight as she turned to watch Johnny go through the cool down steps. “Why do I feel like I’m missing something?”

Clint crossed his arms as he leaned against the door frame and chuckled. “How about a stick, say shoulder height. Something you can bang on the floor or use to point out the flaws in his form. It’s a bit stereotypical, especially when Russian Ballet teachers are portrayed.”

“Hmm… You know, I remember… yeah, they did use something like that…” Nat murmured softly. She nodded to Johnny as he slowly walked towards her. “Do you have any muscle liniment?”

“Not anything I trust to use from the supplies I was.. sent with,” Johnny admitted. His eyes darted past her to the others in the gym. “They ever ask for you to teach them?” he asked with a nod to those hanging around in the gym proper.

Nat glanced over her shoulder then shrugged. “No. Nor have I offered to teach anyone else. Feel privileged.”

Johnny nodded. “Their loss. Anything I will need for tomorrow?” he asked, turning to face Clint.

“Bruise balm and more liniment,” Clint replied with smirk.

 

The Next day…..

The sound of escrima sticks hitting against each other echoed through the room. It was rhythmic in nature, punctuated with the sound of a stick hitting flesh followed by a yelp or curse. Two men, dressed in only pants, circled each other as a woman walked the outer ring, waiting for an opportunity to strike. One man, with close cropped light brown hair, who was older and a little shorter than the other was instructing. The one being trained was younger and taller, with pale skin that was mottled with bruises in various shades of healing.

“Damnit!” Johnny yelped, dancing out of range and shaking out his hand. Flexing his fingers he eyed the skin. Right now it was red, but in a day or two it will be bluish-black. Just like every other place he’d been hit this day.

“Oh come on, I barely even tapped you,” Clint said with a laugh as he rotated his wrist, spinning the stick end over end. “If I really wanted to, every bone in your hand would be broken right now. I’m going easy on you. Now focus.” He was in what could be called ‘Instructor mode’, something he was called into do from time to time.

“I know….” Johnny replied as he brought his hand up to his mouth and sucked on his knuckles. “I hope you know, Alexei has a one hundred percent accuracy on hitting my bruises….” Shaking his hand one more time, he adjusted his grip and stepped up again.

The rhythmic ping of metal hitting metal started up again. It lasted for about five minutes before it was broken. This time by Nat as she slipped in from the side, smacking Johnny on the thigh even as he attempted to dodge. “Situational awareness. Pay attention to what’s going on around you, not just what’s in front of you. I could have easily slid a knife between your ribs just now instead of slapping your thigh.”

“Mother… Nngh!” Johnny cursed once more as he limped/stumbled out of range.

From the sidelines the rest of the Avengers looked on. Tony let out a bark of laughter making a snide comment to Sam and Rhodey, happy he wasn’t the center of attention right now. Steve had a disapproving look at the lack of clothing as he watched the trio with a serious expression, this was the first time he’d seen either use such methods while training. Banner was looking a little nervous but not for any obvious reasons, a small first aid kit close at hand. As for Wanda, she wasn’t sure what she may have been looking for, but as per her instructions, she kept her eyes open. Vison just looked on in polite interest, automatically analysing every move that was made.

“Again,” Clint ordered, raising his escrima sticks again in a ready position. As soon as Johnny was in position, he moved. He kept the pace even, the hits stead for close to five minutes before he suddenly increased the pace. A single strike to Johnny’s face and he turned flipping the stick end over end, ignoring the muttered curses. “Variable acceleration. If your opponent is working at the same pace, you switch it up and throw opponent off his game.”* He spoke loud enough for the rest of the team to hear. It would be up to them as to whether or not they used the advice. (*Oliver to Diggle, Arrow Season 1)

Moving with the blow prevented anything worse than a small split on the corner of Johnny’s mouth. “Fuuu...oow…” He brought his hand up to dab at the split. “Shit….” He turned away from Clint to watch Nat a few moments. When he turned back around he jerked backwards as a stick passed through the space his head just was. He brought up his own, blocking a strike. Twisting he swung his second stick to the side, deflecting an incoming attack from Nat. Dropping onto his back, he kicked out with a foot before flipping upright again, gaining only a second or two of breathing room. Attack, block, counterattack, counter block. What little chances he had to attack soon disappeared completely and he was forced to go full defensive. Even though he could sense the attacks coming with his gift, he wasn’t fast enough or skilled enough to counter them completely. At best he could only avoid them. At some point he lost first one stick. It wasn’t long after that he lost the second. He was forced to use every single trick he knew to just to keep from getting seriously injured.

As soon as Clint made his move, Nat joined in. They were, to be honest, toying with the younger man. At any point either one could have killed him with a single move without breaking a sweat. But that wasn’t the point of this exercise. The point was to test him, force him to stop holding back and to respond with the everything he had. In essence, this was a stress test designed to trigger Doom’s sleeper attack.

There, that was what Wanda was looking for. The moment in time when Clint attacked outright, she spread her hands creating a barrier to prevent the rest of the Avengers from interfering. Ever since the Ultron incident, she had been experimenting with her powers whenever she had the chance. Learning how to multitask without losing control. While holding the barrier up, she reached out with her telepathy and skimmed the surface of Johnny’s mind. Even though it worked better up close, she could still do it at a moderate range. What she found was as intriguing as it was repulsive. She caught Natasha’s eye and nodded, signaling she was ready.

Having worked as partners for so many years, all it took was a glance between Nat and Clint to communicate their readiness. Clint swapped places to secondary attacker, letting Nat lead the almost deadly dance. They ignored Steve’s bellowed orders to stand down as he tried to get past the barrier. Tony was typing away at a virtual keyboard while Sam and Rhodey looked on, ready to move the moment the barrier dropped. Vision, who could have easily stepped through the barrier, was aware of what was going on so merely watched in child like curiosity.

‘Now!’ Clint’s mind supplied. Slipping behind Johnny, his back to him. Left handed, he reached over his shoulder, hand snaking under the other man’s chin to wrap around his throat. With his right, he grabbed a wrist to immobilize it. He dropped to a knee as he bent forward. Gritting his teeth, he ignored the sensation of something crawling across his skin as he firmly denied whatever it was access to his mind.

Johnny had no choice. Move with Clint, bending backwards or have his neck snapped. The moment he came into skin contact with Clint, he felt like he had been dropped into a storm of ice and fire as electricity ran wild along his nerves. A choked scream of pain slipped past his lips as he bit down hard enough to draw blood. His world narrowed to the need to get away.

Nat slid to a stop, one hand gripping Johnny’s inner thigh with a bruising force. With her other hand, she gripped the wrist Clint wasn’t holding and twisted, effectively immobilizing any attempt to escape. She narrowed her eyes, throwing off the attempted mind control with little difficulty. “Any time now, thank you…”

Stepping closer, hands weaving strange patterns in the air as she traced the energy as it spiderwebbed across Johnny’s skin to arc around Natasha’s hands and down across Clint’s shoulders and back. “I’ve got him,” she said as her power wrapped around Johnny, slowly lifting him into the air until he was floating at chest height. It took just the lightest of mental touches to nudge him into unconsciousness.

Clint moved forward as he stood up and turned around, rotating his shoulders and flexing his fingers. He waited patiently for Wanda to finish. He felt as much as saw Nat move to his side.

“Do you wish for me to disassemble what was placed upon him? It can be done, but will take time,” Wanda spoke softly.

“No. It has to be Johnny’s decision on whether it’s removed or not,” Nat informed her. “For now, can you tell us what it is?”

Wanda nodded, “Yes. It is layered, one over another. Doom has placed a… a compulsion… to protect the child, though it was never needed. Doom has twisted the powers…” she frowned. “A moment…” she reached out over Johnny’s chest, twisting her hand around as she moved her fingers in a complicated pattern. Two of the tattoos seemed to rise up, and move on their own before vanishing into wisps. “I see….Doom has twisted the gifts he was given, taking what once used to sustain them and turned it into a form of revenge against the Avengers.”

“What ‘gifts’?” Nat asked.

“The gift of the Kitsune, trickery and illusion,” Wanda answered, finger gently tracing over one of the blue foxes. “The gift of the Babast Romani, the gypsy cats, is one of fortune and luck.” This time it was one of the black cats she traced. “The illusion he wore was shattered, his tricks became visible. His fortune fled and his luck turned.”

Clint snorted. “Sounds like a bunch of hocus pocus to me.”

“To you, it may be just ‘hocus pocus’ but to one like Doom, it is a real, tangible power.” It wasn’t very hard for Wanda to tease what she was looking for to the forefront of Johnny’s mind now that he was unconscious. “He got… how do you Americans say… ‘screwed over’ when he was just trying to protect his daughter. Doom took advantage of the damage done to him by the other person,” Wanda replied.

Nat moved closer, lifting her hand to brush the hair off of Johnny’s forehead. She looked at Clint, understanding the desire to protected family and loved ones, and the lengths someone would go to do that. “Can you tell us more about that?”

The look of Disappointment and Disapproval was was practically shouted for any and all to see on Captain America’s face and in his stance. Back straight, arms crossed, a tight frown and a hard look in his blue eyes. To invade another person’s mind and dig around looking for secrets rubbed him the wrong way. But to attack someone for no reason, forcing them to defend themselves in any way possible, or to make someone else do the attacking, smacked of bullying. And if there was anything he hated more than anything else, it was bullies.

“I can try,” Wanda said. She looked to where the rest of their teammates were gathered. She then looked over to where Clint stood. A hint of a smile and a nod of approval from him out weighed the disapproval of Captain America. A thought came to mind. “Come here. Both of you,” she said. “Place one hand over his heart, the other on his temples. Please.”

Nat raised an eyebrow, a slight frown marring her features. “What are you planning?” she asked.

It was Clint that answered though, having an idea of what Wanda wanted to attempt. “You want to try and bring us with you. To let us see what you see.” He walked to the other side of Johnny, opposite of Nat. He didn’t like the idea cause it reminded him too much of Loki’s mind control, but he was willing to try.

Wanda nodded. “I cannot promise you it will work, but I know he holds you two in high regards and sees you as… safe, familiar. If he becomes lost in the memories, you offer a way home. To here and now.”

Clint only hesitated a few seconds before placing one hand on Johnny’s chest, half over his heart, and the other against his temple. With renewed physical contact, he felt the attempt to invade his mind once again and blocked it. He looked at Nat and nodded. “Ready.”

Nat, for her part, trusted Clint’s judgement. Afterall, it was that judgement that saved her life when he brought her into SHIELD instead of killing her as ordered. Doing the same, she placed one hand over Johnny’s heart, her hand touching Clint’s, and the other on his temple. She nodded back to Clint then looked at Wanda. “Ready.”

Wanda took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she placed one hand over their joined hand and the other on Johnny’s forehead. Closing her eyes, she drew in the barrier closer, reducing the amount of energy required to keep it up. In turn she used that same energy to touch both Clint and Natasha’s minds, waiting till both accepted the touch then drew them in with her.

Images flashed past the trio in a kaleidoscope of color and sensations. Nothing stayed long enough for the conscious mind to take in fully. Symbols and icons, a general sense of knowing where the events were taking place. A familiar face or two morphing into the unfamiliar. The closer they got to the here and now, the faster everything flashed past until they figuratively hit a black wall of nothingness. A jolt and they were back in their own minds. No one was sure if they had been thrown out or if Wanda had lost control at the end.

Both Clint and Natasha were dealing with the overload of information in their own way. They let go and took several steps back. Clint was rubbing his temple and Nat was pinching the bridge of her nose. Neither one had spoken yet as they filed everything away in their minds for later, closer examination.

“UUuhhh….lets not do that again any time soon, until I’m better trained,” Wanda uttered as the connection was broken. She staggered as she lost control and her power retreated. She was easily caught by Vision. “How long?” she asked.

“A mere ten seconds have passed,” Vision supplied as he steadied Wanda. Once he was sure, he let her go and easily picked up Johnny off the ground where he had dropped when she lost control. “Hmm interesting...Shall I take him to medical?”

“Yes,” Bruce spoke up for the first time, gesturing to the door. “Let’s go.” He stops a moment then motions for the others. “You three also, come on. No refusals.”

As the group got into the elevator, Steve stepped in also, still wearing the tight lipped disapproving expression. He planned on having Words with both Barton and Romanoff about their actions. Being the Leader of the Avengers, it was his duty to ensure the rules, including the unspoken ones, were followed. That duty included taking care of any and all disciplinary actions, if they were needed, which was rarely. A stern talking to usually solved the problem.

When the elevator arrived on the medical floor, Bruce was first out. The tension between Steve and the Trio was so thick, he could have cut it with a dull butter knife. He glanced back only once before hurrying over to the doors leading into the medical bay. He pointed to one bed, confident that Vision knew what to do, while he started pulling out various instruments he would need.

“Shall I start an IV Dr. Banner?” Vision inquired after he placed Johnny on the bed indicated, making sure he was comfortably arranged.

“No, not yet,” Bruce replied as first Wanda then Clint entered. He pointed them to where he wanted them then glanced back at the door, looking for Nat.

“She’ll be in, in a few,” Clint said as he sat down next to Wanda, giving her a quick hug as he did. “Don’t worry about it. Nat has everything in hand,” he assured the young woman. He glanced at the door when he heard his partners slightly raised voice.

“Get off your moral high horse Steve. We knew exactly what we were doing. Wanda was briefed before hand, so she was aware of what we were asking of her. Besides, didn’t YOU ask her to go poking around a few days ago?” Nat asked. The only reason she raised her voice at all was to cut Steve’s rant off before he could get wound up. “IF we had done it your way, we would still be in the dark about what Doom did. He would have seen it coming and been prepared. Ambushing Johnny like we did was the only way. Besides, now that Wanda has been in once, she can do it again.” She crossed her arms, matching Steve’s hard look. “New flash Captain Rogers, Johnny doesn’t trust you because you are so morally uncompromisable. He sees you as a threat to his safety and his life which makes you a threat to Alexei’s life.”

“Oh and he trusts you and Barton?” Steve shot back, waving a hand at Nat then in the medical bays direction. “A pair of cold blooded killers that conveniently forget to inform the rest of the team of their plans when it suits them.” He winced internally, knowing he crossed a line with that comment.

Nat’s eyes narrowed, one finger tapping against her arm as she shifted her weight minutely. “This pair of ‘cold blooded killers’ are exactly like the people that raised and trained Johnny,” she calmly replied in an emotionless tone of voice. “To him, we are familiar and safe. You are an enemy to fear and avoid, especially after you completely over-reacted when he was on his own, in a strange place, in pain.” She turned and strolled away as if without a care in the world. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have somewhere to be,” she said with a finger wave over her shoulder.

Once the doors were closed and Nat was out of view, Steve let out an angry growl and slammed his fist into the wall. Turning the opposite direction he strode away, back ramrod straight. He needed time to cool down before he did something really stupid. Once in the, blessedly empty, elevator he punched the button for the gym floor. Looks like Stark would be ordering a few more punching bags soon.

Bruce glanced up when Nat came strolling through the doors. “Everything OK?” he asked as he pointed to another bed. He waited a few moments but when she didn’t reply he continued his exam of Clint. “Alright, there’s no obvious effects but if you start experiencing anything strange, let me know,” he instructed even knowing the archer wasn’t one to come running at every little thing (that was Tony). “You’re good to go,” he said as he moved over to Wanda. A few minutes later she was let go with a warning to take it easy with her powers for the next day or so.

“Thanks again,” Clint said as he caught Wanda before she left. “Join me and Nat for dinner tonight? We’ll explain everything a little more once we know how he’s faring,” he said with a nod to the still unconscious young man.

“Alright,” Wanda replied slipping out the doors.

“Planning on keeping him here overnight if he doesn’t wake soon?” Clint asked as he leaned against Johnny’s bed. He could tell with a look, which bruises would color spectacularly and which would leave behind a lingering ache. He didn’t think he cracked any of Johnny’s bones but better to be safe. He’d rather take a few days off from the scheduled training then to push it and cause worse damage in the future.

“Honestly I’m not sure. From everything in his files, there is no medication for pain that will work on him other than topical analgesics. He’d be more comfortable in his own bed,” Bruce said as he gave Nat a nod indicating he was finished with her.

“Go take care of Alexei, I’m sure he’s starting to wake up from his nap by now. I’ll stay with Johnny until he wakes up. Once he does we can go from there,” Nat said. It would also give her time to spend with Bruce, even if it wasn’t in private.

“You sure?” Clint asked.

“Yeah, no problem,” Nat said. “Get out of here and go take care of that baby. I know you want to,” she added with a soft laugh.

“Alright then, but you two had better behave,” Clint responded as he headed to the doors.

“We will,” Bruce replied with a chuckle.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 14

 

Ashes Ashes We All Fall Down
------------------------------

Middle of the Second Week of February…..

 

Consciousness was slow to return to Johnny.

The first time, it was the rawness of his own mind that sent him back to the darkness. It was like he’d been scalded with acid. Memories once old and buried were fresh and vivid. Emotions were closer to the surface, newer and easily triggered. When he woke the second time, it was his body that decided he didn’t need to be awake just yet. When he moved, his head throbbed in time to his heartbeat, his neck felt twisted, his muscles stiff, and he didn’t even want to think about the amount of bruises he had. Laying still, everything didn’t hurt as much. When he finally woke for the last time, yes the pain was still there and yes his mind was still feeling tender but not as bad as it once was.

Slowly cracking an eye open, Johnny was prepared for the typical bright white of a medical area. Instead he found that the lights had been dimmed quite a bit. A soft groan escaped when he shifted, lifting an arm to drape over his eyes. He was debating on whether or not he wanted to even try sitting up, much less escaping to his room. He noticed the subtle movement to one side of the bed after several minutes.

“Good, you’re awake.”

Johnny just grunted in response, still in debate with himself.

“Do you want to stay here overnight or return to your room?” The sound of a page turning accompanied the low spoken words.

“What’s the difference?” Johnny asked as he lifted his arm away from his face. His voice sounding a bit hoarse, but that could have been from just waking up.

“Overnight observation to be sure there are no complications, or the comfort of your own bed since there is very little I can offer you in the way of pain relief due to your secondary mutation.” Bruce looked up from his book, over the top of his glasses.

“Primary, but it’s considered passive mutation,” Johnny commented, eyes closing as he let himself drift. He must have fallen asleep again for the next thing he knew was the soft murmur of a conversation and the scent of herbal tea. Turning his head, he blinked a few times to clear his eyes as he made out the forms of Natasha and Bruce not far away. “... Does Clint have Alexei?... And what time is it?” he asked.

“Early evening and yes,” Nat replied, turning to regard the man in the bio-bed. “How are you feeling?” she inquired.

Johnny thought about it for a few moments before answering. “Like a herd of drumm happy, hyperactive kids used me as a birthday pinata.” It took him a few tries and more than a few minutes to actually sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. Pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes, he let the pain settle before he tried to move again. “Find what you were looking for?” He asked, seriously thinking of throwing in the towel and remaining here in medical.

Nat shrugged eloquently, not answering the question asked as she sipped her tea. “Think you can make it back to your room?”

“Couldn’t say, haven’t made it to my feet yet….Would he be willing to keep Alexei overnight?”

Nat moved her head back and forth, lips pursed thoughtfully. “I think he might be convinced to take him.” She hid her smile behind the mug as she took another sip.

Bracing his hands on the side of the bed, Johnny slid to his feet with a wince. Taking a few cautions steps, he nodded to himself. “Yeah, I can make it to my room,” he said and proceeded to do just that.

A hot shower later, Johnny was sitting on his bed, working a long sleeved sleep shirt down over his torso. He was tired but he didn’t think he could sleep just yet. Leaning forward, he placed his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face. Looking up through fringe of hair, he watched at Natasha exited the bathroom. “Are you expected to be anywhere any time soon?” he asked.

Leaning against the doorframe, Nat crossed her arms over her chest, head titled to the side. “No,” she answered.

“Would you allow me some of your time before you go?” Johnny asked, honestly expecting to be refused.

Nat raised an eyebrow slightly at his request. It could be interpreted in a variety of ways, but she remembered Johnny’s comment about being denied simple, intimate touch because of what Doom had done. He was turning out to be an amusing little side project. Malleable with just enough rigidity that breaking and training him wasn’t boring. The few morals he had, he upheld with a stubborn refusal to break that could match Steve point for point. And it was a bonus that he was pleasant on the eye in a natural, if a little exotic, sort of way. (Though not like it mattered though with today’s advances in plastic surgery.) She pushed off the doorframe, uncrossing her arms as she did and slowly walked closer. Her every move was one of subtle seduction. “And what would you do with that time?” She asked, lowering her voice as she did.

Johnny let out a small laugh. “Live it for all its worth.” He glanced away then back. “Without doing something so stupid that it costs me more than I’ve gained.”

“Hmm…” A gleam of amusement lite Nat’s eyes as she positioned herself between Johnny’s legs. “A little late for that…” she said teasingly as she draped her arms over his shoulders, fingers playing with his hair. “But, I think we can work something out.” She had absolutely no guilt or remorse about using him anyway she pleased. Especially when this was all an act to get her what she wanted.

Careful to avoid skin contact, Johnny slid his arms around Nat’s waist, turning his head to one side as he rested it against her stomach.

One hand buried itself in Johnny’s hair as the other trailed up and down his back and across his shoulders. “You know,” Nat began, amusement evident in her voice, “What he did to you has no effect on me.”

Johnny hummed lightly. “Not that lucky…” he murmured. “So cold it burns. And feels weird, like pissants crawling across my skin.” He shifted one hand so it lay on the material between her shoulder blades.

It was Nat’s turn to humm as she filed the information away. When she leaned back, he let her go, though she kept her arms over his shoulders. She nodded to the bed before she stepped away. Once he was stretched out, she joined him there. She positioned herself so that she lay three quarters on top of him. With her chin resting on his chest and her knee in just the right place to tease mercilessly or to cause excruciating pain, she ran a teasing finger across cloth covered skin. “Welcome to my parlor said the spider to the fly.”

One arm looped about her waist, Johnny tucked the other under his head. “I am under no illusion that I am anything other than at your mercy,” he returned. The physical presence of someone so intimately close, was a soothing balm.

“Tell me,” Nat whispered secretively, “How good of a kisser would you say Steve was? Tell me what else you noticed….”

That was an unexpected question. One that had him laughing for several minutes and wiping tears from his eyes. “Oh gods, you had to ask,” he replied breathlessly. “Why am I even answering you?”

“Be cause I asked nicely,” Nat smirked, bringing her knee up a fraction.

Johnny got the message nice and clear. “Ummhmm… he needs practice….someone’s going to need to have patience when teaching him…..” He bit his lip to stop from saying the rest of what he wanted to say.

Nat poked him in the side, dead center of a bruise. “Go on.”

“He’s definitely hetero. Not even interested in experimenting if his reaction was anything to go by….” Johnny wiggled, settling more comfortably, foot flat on the mattress, knee bent. “Nice ass that goes along with an equally nice packa-aah!” He winced, sucking in a hissed breath. “Hey, I did get a handful to go with that kiss, and just because he terrifies me doesn’t mean I haven’t looked.” He reached down to rub the spot Nat poked. “I mean, it’s totally unfair. An entire group of gorgeous, drool worthy men and women all located in one place and I can’t touch a single one. Completely unfair.”

“You… are… incorrigible...” Nat accented each word with a poke. “Even Tony?”

“You did ask….and yes, even him. I bet he’s kinky as hell too….”

When Nat finally left almost two hours later, Johnny was sprawled out dead to the world (figuratively, not literally). While he was almost disappointingly easy to interrogate, she did admit to herself, she hadn’t been asking for anything she didn’t already know. She stopped by her rooms long enough to get a quick shower, then change into something else before grabbing her work laptop before heading up to Clint’s rooms. Long time partners or not, she still politely waited for him to open his door. “Hey,” she greeted as she slipped in past him. “Thanks for taking Alexei tonight.”

“Hey yourself and sure. Any problems?” Clint asked as he closed and secured the door. He made his way over to the coffee pot to refill his cup. As he did, he offered Nat a mug. All the Avengers had their own micro-kitchens as part of their rooms, for the times they didn’t want to be sociable with the rest of the team.

“None,” Nat said as she sat down at the small table to set up her work laptop. ”Yes please.” She glanced at the large cork board that hung over the table, noting the US Map and a trail of darts that lead from the western seaboard across to New York. “Hard at work I see,” she commented with a grin.

Clint shrugged, “It works.”

“Oh,” Nat turned to look at Clint, waiting for the perfect moment. “Johnny said that you, and I quote, would make someone a fine sugar daddy, end quote.”

Clint had just taken a sip of coffee when Nat said that, causing him to do a spit take. “Shit!” he grabbed a towel off the counter and started to wipe himself down. “What the hell ‘Tasha?” he demanded between coughs. “That was uncalled for.”

Nat was smirking as she turned back to her laptop. “Ok, to be fair he was more than half asleep and he said you’d make a great father, just from watching you interact with Alexei. And speaking of, did he give you any trouble tonight?”

“A little fussy but he may start teething soon, so par for the course,” Clint said as he made Nat’s coffee the way she liked. He joined her at the table, looking up at the map. “I’m not sure if I got the starting point right, but it feels….” He waggled his hand.

After accepting the cup, Nat took a sip, enjoying the flavor. She looked up again at the map and stood. “It starts… here,” she said pointing to the large cluster that represented New York. “This is where I first met him in Spring of ‘06 and where he first came to Doom’s attention.” After sitting back down at the table, she set the cup to the side and brought up the relevant files on her laptop. “Here,” she swung it around for Clint to see. “Winter of ‘05 was rather harsh. He and several others took it upon themselves to deliver food, blankets and other items to the Latverian Embassy. All the individuals were given free access into and out of the place. Apparently with Doom’s blessings.”

Cling flipped through the pictures attached to the file. His eyes darted from picture to picture until he arranged them side by side across the screen. Johnny was just one of several people shown. “Notice anything?”

“Yeah, they all look similar,” Nat replied. “Except for this one,” she pointed to the young woman walking side by side with a much younger Johnny. “Dirty blonde hair, obviously caucasian, and shorter stature when compared to the taller, darker complexions and hair of the rest.”

“What’s Johnny’s official ethnicity?”

Nat swung the laptop back around, clicking open another file. “Says here, White, Other - American Romani.”

“Do we have anything on Doom?” Clint asked, once more looking at the map.

The sound of keys being tapped filled the silence as Nat searched. “Nothing concrete before his entry into the US under a student Visa. There’s some speculation and noted rumors but….” The tip of her tongue poked out ever so slightly as she made her way through the files. She finally located a poor quality image of a young Victor von Doom and an equally young Richard Reed standing together in front of some sort of machine. “Take a look,” She said. “How much would you be willing to bet, he’s also Romani?”

“Not taking that. But add it to the files anyways under speculation. Give the data pushers something to chase after,” Clint said. “Alright, started here in New York City. Where do you feel it goes from there?” he motioned to the map.

“Here,” Nat said, standing up and tapping the dart located along the western coast of Canada. “Then down to here,” she trailed her finger down to the Seattle Washington area.

It was closing in on midnight when the pair called a halt for the night. Neither one was yet willing or trusting enough to allow Johnny up to their rooms so the decision was made to continue in his. The map was left up but the general route was noted down. Just in case either had any more flashes of insight.

 

Mid morning the next day, Johnny cracked the door open to stare bleary eyed at the pair plus one. He opened the door fully and waved them in with a hoarse grunt. He held out his arms and was passed a tired, cranky Alexei. He started towards the kitchenette area for a bottle but shifted directions when Clint informed him that the baby had already been fed. Fifteen minutes later, Johnny reemerged from his bedroom, sans baby, to head to table. He nodded his thanks as he was passed a cup of strong coffee. It didn’t take long before the caffeine kicked in and he was more aware.

“Why is it, caffeine which is very technically a drug, works on you but everything else doesn’t?” Nat asked.

Johnny shrugged, “It’s a natural occurring substance. Synthetic drugs don’t work on me, natural ones do. There was a lot of trial and error involved in figuring out what does and does not work on me. I’d rather not go through that again.”

Like with any useful bit of information, Nat filed it away in her mind. “Wait, what about a topical analgesic? Those work on you.”

“Because it’s topical.. yeah I know, it doesn’t make sense. But anything synthetic that is inhaled, injected or ingested doesn’t work, topical…” Johnny reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. He really hated giving up so much information. “...inhaled substances can be dangerous. Very dangerous. I spent something like two weeks on a breathing machine when they tested some concoction of herb infused saline in an inhaler device. If you can locate those original test results…” He made a motion with his hand as if to say good luck finding them.

“That sounds like a challenge,” Nat replied. “I like a good challenge.”

Running a hand down his face, Johnny took a deep breath and slowly let it out as he had to remind himself over and over he could trust them. That he had to trust them if he wanted any sort of life outside of a maximum security prison. “Bastion Sinclaire. GDI. An office in New York, but main company was located internationally. Last I heard, he had finally been assassinated three and a half, almost four, years ago. His hobbies included genetic engineering and human trafficking.” He very carefully set the partially full mug down on table, got up and stalked into his bedroom, closing the door gently behind him.

“Well, that certainly explains some things,” Clint commented before taking a sip of his own coffee that Nat had fixed. “Pull up his file again,” he said.

“Already on it,” Nat replied with a frown as she scanned the decade old information. “I’d say he’s taking the SHIELD recruitment offer as an alternative to The Cube pretty well all things considered,” she said as she handed Clint the laptop.

Clint let out a soft whistle as he read the highlighted section. SHIELD was the one that handed Johnny back to the very person he’d been on the run from the beginning. “Where are you going?” he asked, looking up from the screen as Nat stood up.

“To find some answers,” Nat said. She crossed to the bedroom door and tested the doorknob. It was unlocked. The bedroom was dark, the windows in blackout mode so the sound of the shower and the light from the partially open bathroom was a good indication of where Johnny was at. She slipped through the door and glanced around before hauling herself up onto the counter to wait.

“What?”

“What happened?”

“At what point do you want me to start?” Johnny replied sarcastically.

Nat wasn’t bothered by his current attitude. He was lashing out instead of bottling it up. Neither one was the healthiest of options, but it was easier to deal with. “You do realize you are standing in water, correct?” she asked. “It isn’t that hard to make it look like an accident.”

“As far as I could ever discover, my father worked for the bastard. Pulling heists or doing guard duty. Whichever was needed. It was the only way I was kept out of the bastard’s hands. It didn’t work. I had to have been three or four at the time, I don’t remember. Got sick, no one could figure out why and nothing worked.” Johnny rinsed off one last time then shut the water off. He didn’t really give a damn that Natasha was there, it wasn’t like she hadn’t seen anything he had before anyways. “No one could prove it, but the unspoken thought was that the bastard was the one that caused it. My father had very few options by that time. I was handed over and, oh look, a month later I was cured,” he snorted as he slicked the water out of his hair then grabbed a towel to finish drying it. “The records I could find indicated my father died in a heist gone wrong. Shot by the local cops it said.”

“He became your guardian.” It was a tight lipped smile Nat got in return. “Bruce told me you said your resistance to drugs was your primary mutation.”

Tossing the towel over the shower bar, Johnny grabbed a second one, wrapping it around his waist. “Between the time I was ‘cured’ and the time I hit puberty, the bastard decided I needed ‘improving’. I was one of the lucky ones I guess, or maybe one of the unlucky ones. I survived with my sanity intact and got the nifty little ability to sense movement for all the hell I was put through. Not what he wanted when compared to the others.”

“What did you do?”

“Made the most of what I had and ran with it. He brought in a few professionals, trained me to take my father’s place as his sneak thief. Worked a little too well, I learned how to get away from him. After that, he put me under the care of his pet assassins. Turned out, they weren’t too happy with him either. They taught me here and here, went on jobs with em while other kids my age were whining about having to go to school.” He walked out of the bathroom, going about the bedroom selecting what he was going to wear.

Nat followed, slipping easily off the counter top and padding silently behind him. “What did you learn?”

“That I was better at infiltration, distractions and stealing then I was with wetwork. Don’t get me wrong, I can do it. SHIELD has proof of that, but I can’t stomach it. I don’t have the mindset or the heart except on rare occasions.”

“Like the cheap asshole who sent you on that job in Hell’s Kitchen.”

Johnny paused in dressing, casting a glance in the direction of Alexei’s crib. “Yeah, like him. But even then, I left it up to the fates. He had a chance to survive.” He resumed dressing.

“What happened after you were released from SHIELD custody?” Nat asked, watching as Johnny fussed with the cuffs of the poet shirt he’d put on. She walked over to him and slapped his hand out of the way. She kept him focused on what she wanted and not distracted by inconsequential things like cuff ties.

“Got picked up again for another job. Playing server at some business man’s party. The guy’s wife was pushing him to get in on some organization or something. Kept harping about money and power and how marrying her kid off to some other CEO’s kid could get them even more.” Johnny sat down on the bed to pull on a pair of thin leather boots. “Needless to say I meet the daughter. Nine months later I had a real reason to stay the hell out of the bastards hands. Lasted two years before he caught up to me and her. I beat the bastard though. Had plans laid and everything. Got her to Japan where I was able to hand her over to her great grandmother. Severed all rights. And what really pissed him off, he couldn’t touch her. Not without angering an entire business clan that had enough power to shed light on what he was doing.” Standing up, he ran a hand through his still damp hair, searching the room for something. What, he wasn’t sure of just yet, but he’d know it when he found it. “I guess I must have really tripped his trigger by doing that.” He made a quick gesture to himself. “He tried to push the limit but it just backfired on him. He couldn’t make me into what he wanted so he gave me over to his psychotic pet bitch to use as a chew toy. Gave me a real good reason to hate canines of any type, but I don’t.. can’t…” He was opening drawers, rifling through the content then closing them. “Ahha!” He’d found what he was looking for. Boot laces and glow sticks.

“Since you’re here, you must have escaped again.” Nat watched as he measured the laces then tied them to the glow sticks. “Where’d you go?”

Johnny looked up at Nat from what he was doing. “Umhm…. Somewhere north of Vancouver… down to Seattle...A few places in.. Nevada.. I think.. don’t remember.” He made a vaguely north easterly gesture. “Followed the jobs I could take. Then… heh… Got fucked again… No one would hire me because of some previously secret files showed up on the internet. What Jobs I was offered… beggars can’t be choosers. That’s how I ended up here again in New York… Mirela’s father contacted me and… you know the rest at this point….” He scrubbed his face with his hands before snatching up the glow sticks. “Stay or go, your choice. Alexei’s good for a couple of hours still….” He was out the bedroom door, across the room and out the front door in seconds.

 

Down on the seventy ninth floor, Tony Stark leaned back on the stool he was sitting on as he chewed on his thumb nail. “FRIDAY, honey, make sure no one crosses his path as you direct him up to the dance studio in the gym.” Jumping up, he started pacing the lab in thought. “Copy everything to my private server as well then clear the data. Don’t want Legolas or Itsy Bitsy to suspect anything.”

“Yes sir. Anything else?”

“Yeah. Record it and monitor him, make sure he doesn’t do anything crazy stupid.”

“Like you sir?”

“Ha ha, funny…. start searching for everything you can find on GDI and Bastion Sinclaire as well.”

 

An hour later, Steve entered the gym only to pause. He reached up and stuck a finger in his ear to try and clear it some. No such luck. The music coming from the dance studio was fast paced and loud enough to be heard through closed doors. Different from what Tony liked though. More club, less classic rock. In fact no one on the team listened to anything like it as far as he knew. “Damn it…” he muttered. He approached the doors so he could ask the kid to turn it down. He had to stop short when the doors didn’t open. “FRIDAY?”

“Yes Captain Rogers?”

“Could you open the doors please?”

“I apologize Captain Rogers. Access, including visual and/or audio, to anyone other than Agent Romanoff or Agent Barton has been denied upon Sir’s orders.”

Steve clamped his lips closed as he crossed his arms. Nodding he walked away. “I see….” So far, Doom was doing a damned good job of coming between everyone on the team. And he wasn’t even present to watch.

The number of punching bags usually ordered nearly tripled that week.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 15

 

Puzzle Pieces
--------------------------

 

End of the second week, beginning of the third week of February….

 

Bruce was the one to actually retrieve Johnny from the gym’s dance studio. He directed him to the medical lab first for a second checkup. There was no detrimental effects other than light strain on already healing muscles, so he limted Johnny to light workouts for the next several days and alerted both Clint and Natasha of the restrictions.

Natasha upheld her threat of dragging Johnny to a Team meal. It went well, all things considered. Conversations were stilted at first but then smoothed out. Johnny spoke when spoken to and answered questions, though with mostly short, to the point answers. Thor arrived halfway through so Johnny managed to use the distraction as a means of escape.

Later that night, after Alexei was put to bed and the occupants of the tower’s upper floors were distracted, Johnny slipped out of the Tower. When he returned early the next morning, the elevator stopped on the seventy ninth floor and wouldn’t go any further.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” Tony said once the doors were open. He had one hand in his pocket and a drink in the other. “Come on. Don’t have all night before Legolas and Itsy Bitsy decide to hunt you down.”

Warily Johnny stepped out of the elevator, eyes searching the foyer like area that preceded the lab proper. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“This,” Johnny said motioning to the lab then back at the elevator doors. “What’s in it for you?”

Placing a hand over his heart, Tony put on an innocent expression. “Can’t I do something out of the goodness of my heart?” he asked in amusement as he opened the lab doors.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” Johnny replied back, cautiously following the shorter man.

“You’re right, there isn’t,” Tony agreed, setting his drink down on a countertop and turning towards Johnny. “Let’s see.. I like you, Doom’s a dick, you’ve managed to successfully annoy the piss out of Spangles, Pepper likes you, and your interesting without being boring.” He turned around, picking up a tiny screwdriver and a piece of an Iron Man armor then stopped and faced Johnny again. “Oh, and you’re not underfoot giving me the Double D look when I don’t meet your expectations.”

Johnny glanced around the lab, spotting a dozen different things that could be sold off to interested parties the moment they were put up on the market. “Double D?” he asked, giving Tony a puzzled look.

“Disappointment and Disapproval.” Tony turned back and started tinkering. “Talk to me Mr. Todd, tell me what an awesome genius I am for designing everything in here.”

Johnny huffed a soft laugh. “R & D at Mondo Tech has something similar. A lot more clunky and only a quarter of the power, but it’s in the final stages of testing before being introduced to the public.” He pointed at one of the small devices on a nearby countertop, then smiled innocently. “Or rather, they were. There was a small fire in the lab that destroyed most of the design specs so they were set back a few months.”

Tony paused, listening carefully to what was and was not said. “Really?” He asked seemingly engrossed with what he was doing. “They should have invested in redundant computer systems in order to prevent stuff like that from happen.” After a few moments he set the armor piece down, dropping the screwdriver next to it. “Now that we’ve got the bullshit out of the way, let's get down to business. You were not just out there galavanting around town tonight. You were looking for something. I’m willing to give you some help if you give me some information in return.” He crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

Johnny froze for a few seconds then continued moving around, looking at stuff. “What type of information?” He asked.

“Nothing that can’t be found on the internet or with some research out in the world. But that doesn’t give me a first hand view of what I want to know,” Tony said, watching the younger man as he moved around the lab.

“And what type of help are you planning on giving me in return?”

“For starters, this…” Tony said, reaching over to a covered object next to where he had been tinkering and lifted the cover.

Johnny looked surprised for a moment then frowned. “I thought I lost that sometime during the raid on the base…” He looked from the mask to Tony then back. “What’s the catch? What did you do to it?”

“It was pretty good, but for starters I vastly improved it. The lenses now, not only filter light spectrums, but can also provide a simplified HUD display. The communications now has longer range and more channels. Currently I have it linked into FRIDAY’s systems since I was running tests, but it can be linked to other systems. It also monitors basic biometric signs,” Tony said as he picked up the fox mask. “I’ve reinforced it with the same gold-titanium alloy I use in my armor, a very thin layer but enough to stop a direct hit by a bullet. Don’t promise it won’t hurt like a bitch, but hey can’t have everything.” He tossed the mask to Johnny. “Put it on, give it a try, test it out. FRIDAY, bring up visuals please.”

“Yes Sir,” the AI responded as screens lite up around the central lab bench.

Johnny caught the mask, noting that it actually felt like it weighed less than it originally had. He examined it closely, noting the tiny ear buds and the soft material used for the padding. The only part lit up was the eyes and then it was a much softer glow. “What powers it?” he asked, unable to locate the small but powerful battery it used to have.

“Kinetic perpetual auto-relay,” Tony replied. “Any movement you make causes energy to be transferred into the power cell which in turn powers the mask’s components….You’ve seen those fancy little moving desk toys haven’t you? it’s based on that same concept, but improved.”

“Do any of the others know about this?” Johnny asked as he flipped the mask back and forth in his hands.

Tony tried for the innocent look again and failed. “Yes.. no.. not really. Well I mean I’m sure Itsy Bitsy knows about it just because of who she is so by proxy Legolas will know.. as for the rest.. not so much.”

“And what will happen to it after I’m no longer here?”

“All up to you,” Tony said as he looked up at the screens, fingers dancing over the keyboard. “Now… chop chop, don’t have all morning…”

 

Several hours later, still early morning, the Tower was once more deserted due to an Avenger’s call out.

Pepper, never one to be left behind, decided to take it upon herself to drag Johnny and Alexei out of the tower for the day. Happy was only too, well, happy to oblige her request to drive them all around town. The first stop was a high end salon, not for her, no, but for Johnny. As soon as the name Pepper Potts was dropped, appointments that had been made months ago was promptly shoved aside. She took Alexei from him then set the salon attendants after him.

Between the consultation, the actual styling of his hair and the finishing up stages, several hours had passed. Johnny looked at himself in the mirror. His hair had been cut in such a manner that all the blue was gone and it now complimented his exoctic looks. He was amused at all the comments about how jealous the other ladies were due to his (now) natural white coloration. If they only knew how he got it, they wouldn’t be too jealous… or maybe they would, who knows?

Lunch was a private affair, in a private room, complete with a personal chef. The meal was decadently scrumptious and the wine was excellent as well. Even Alexei had a tasted of the food and his own tiny place of fresh cooked and mashed food.

Relaxing back in the chair, glass of wine in hand, Johnny tilted his head to the side. “You’ve given me a fancy hair-do, wined and dined me, I’m just waiting for you to doll me up as well. Why? Not that I’m complaining, but it does make me wonder what plans you or Tony has in store for me.”

Pepper smiled, her own glass of wine in hand. “Can’t I take a friend out for for the day?

“Hmm If I was a friend.”

“Aren’t you?” Pepper countered.

Setting the glass down on the table, Johnny reached over to gently poke the baby’s foot, distracting him for a moment. “Here I thought I was merely a problem fobbed off on you by the UN and other parties.”

“Oh, in the beginning you were a problem fobbed off on us, but you’ve managed to charm just about everyone you’ve met,” Pepper replied. “Tony has taken a liking to you, something that is both easy and hard for him to do.”

“I bet it's a bonus that I have absolutely no interest in making him a sugar daddy and mooching off of him or his tech. And I haven’t made any move to try to turn you into my sugar mama either. Now, if the both of you agreed to it and made an offer, I’d be hard pressed to turn the pair of you down,” Johnny said with a wink and a grin. “I will tell you the same thing I told Natasha…. I am surrounded by gorgeous men and women and can’t touch a one. It’s not fair.”

Pepper started laughing, a light blush tinting her cheeks. “Are you flirting with me?”

“If I said yes, would you hold it against me?”

“As long as we’ve established that you are not attempting to use it as a means of weaseling company or Avenger private information out of me.”

Johnny laughed, “There is a slight problem with that. I have no clue as to the first place I’d go to try and sell such information. And even if I did, it would come back and bite me on the ass. Hard.”

“So what are you helping Tony with?” Pepper asked.

“Understanding the differences between an enhanced person, a super powered person and a person that is a genetic anomaly,” Johnny explained. “In layman’s terms, a mutate, a super soldier and a mutant.”

“Wait, isn’t a mutate and a mutant the same?”

“No. A mutant is a person that was born with a genetic anomaly, a random power or a physical difference. Mother Nature’s experiment,” Johnny said. “A mutate is a normal human that has been bitten by an animal, has some dangerous chemical spilled on them or bathed in some type of cosmic energy and it changes them. That’s a mutate. And I’m sure you know what a super soldier is.”

Pepper thought about it as she took a few sips of her wine. “So what would I be?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

Pepper raised her eyebrows. “Did you ever hear of something called Extremis or AIM?”

“Uuuhh…. if it was mentioned then either I paid it no mind, it wasn’t spoken about in my presence,” Johnny said as he scratched his chin in thought. “Sorry?”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll show you when we’re back at the Tower. In the meantime, dessert then off to our next stop. Cheers.” Pepper signaled for the dessert course.

 

The trio arrived back at the tower, sometime after sundown and past baby’s bedtime. The pair stopped by Johnny’s room to put Alexei down for bed then continued up to the common floor to revisit the topic of conversation from lunch.

Johnny offered to make Pepper a drink and she accepted. He fixed himself a simple glass of whiskey on the rocks then joined her on the loveseat. “So, what is Extremis? And what does it have to do with you?”

Pepper took a drink from her glass as she thought about how much she wanted to say. “Extremis is or was, a serum developed by AIM to create a sort of super soldier. It also grants the person super fast healing, regenerative abilities and allows increased neural processing. You think faster, can make leaps of logic quicker, that sort of thing. The downside is, you become a living bomb capable of destroying a large area if you lose control.”

“Ah...I see,” Johnny nodded then took a sip of his drink. “I shall endeavor to never piss you off.”

The topic shifted after that, to Johnny’s education and his plans for the future (besides joining the unnamed organization Clint and Nat have recommended that is). He admitted he had taken account courses over the years and he probably had enough credits for at least an associate's degree, maybe even a bachelor's.

An hour, and another drink refill later, Pepper was leaning back against Johnny’s chest, his arms stretched out over her shoulder, hands in front of them with a large string loop threaded between his fingers. His left leg was stretched out against the back of the loveseat while his right was bent at the knee. Pepper, for her part, had her feet tucked up against the arm and her own fingers plucking at the string. Johnny was retelling some of his more amusing, comical adventures which cause Pepper to giggle and laugh.

That was how the returning Avenger’s found the pair.

“Are you trying to seduce Pepper away from me Mr. Todd?” Tony asked, giving Pepper’s foot a gentle squeeze as he perched on the end of the loveseat.

“Not at all,” Johnny answered with a grin. “Though I think I might try to seduce you away from her instead, if given the chance.” He winked, then laughed at Tony’s expression before getting an elbow to the ribs. “Oof…”

“He’s mine,” Pepper stated. “I don’t share and I fight dirty to keep what’s mine.” She punctuated her statement by burning through the string, ruining the cat’s cradle Johnny had made.

“That’s my girl.., er, the woman who graciously shares her life with me,” Tony backtracked, seeing Pepper’s glowing hand turned his direction. “The real miracle of Extremis, Johnny-boy, which I fixed, by the way, is in how much more respectful it has made me, right Pep? We still making money?”

Glowing hand extinguished, Pepper levered herself to her feet. “Yes, Tony, we are still making money. I do tend to watch these things. 12% of that money is mine after all.” She collected her shoes and moved toward the elevators.

“I’ll make it 50% whenever you say the word,” Tony called.

“No, Tony,” she called back.

Tony shook his head. “Women. Can’t fire ‘em, can’t marry ‘em. So, how was your day?”

“Expect rag sheet headlines,” Johnny said with a shrug as he swung his legs to the floor and sat up. “A day out of the Tower, I’m not complaining.” He gathered the remains of the string, absently winding them about his fingers before setting them on the coffee table. Picking up his tumbler, he was about to finish off the little bit of watered down whiskey in it, when his hair was grabbed and he was tugged backwards. “Ummhh… Hi?” He rolled his eyes upwards to look at who it was. With a smile he offered what was left. “I can always refill it if you wish.”

“Looks better,” Natasha commented as she let the now shorter strands slid through her fingers. “You look less...hmm…Irresponsible party goer with the blue gone.”

“I liked the blue though. Matched a shirt I use to have,” Johnny mock-pouted. He turned his head to the side, eyeing the people coming out of the elevators. The big blonde (bigger than the Captain in both height and muscle mass) stepped out with the Captain and Vision, obviously discussing something if the hand movements were anything to go by. Overeager golden retriever came to mind. Friendly and only too happy to play but still more than capable of ripping someone apart. He turned his attention back to Natasha, the silent request to be allowed to leave in his eyes.

“No,” Nat answered, settling herself on the back of the loveseat.

Tony glanced in the direction as well. “Point Break? He’s…”

“An overeager golden retriever?” Johnny asked somewhat innocently, earning poke from Nat.

Nat leaned over and spoke softly into Johnny’s ear. “Think of this as a training exercise. Make everyone forget you’re in the room for at least thirty minutes. Time resets when you get noticed. Clint and myself do not count, but you earn bonus points if you can escape our notice.” She slid her hand through the hair at his temple then down and around his ear as if tucking strands behind it.

Johnny turned his head, catching her hand before she could remove it and held it to the side of his head. He then lowered his voice as well, making it look almost intimate to anyone close. “How long do these gatherings last and when does it start?” he asked as he adjusted the invisible earpiece slightly.

“Oh they can last anywhere from a few minutes to most of the night and once everyone has arrived. FRIDAY will act as your monitor, giving you certain instructions along the way.”

“Hmmm…. and just who are we missing still?” Johnny purred.

Nat looked around, “Clint, Sam, James, Wanda and Bruce.”

“Is it getting steamy in here or are you two having a secret spy only meeting?” Tony broke in, getting remarkably up close and personal for someone with so many idiosyncrasies.

“Of course not. I’m not opposed to a threesome or a moresome. Care to join?” Johnny asked with a wicked grin as he wiggled his eyebrows and licked his lips. He earned a light tap to the back of his head from Nat for that, but it was worth it to see the look he got. Still grinning he straightened up then stood. “Would you care to revisit our discussion from the other evening Mr. Stark?” he asked, making sure the hand closest to Tony was holding the tumbler and there was at least a half an arm length between them.

“But of course Mr. Todd,” Tony gestured towards the bar.

Johnny declined the whiskey refill but accepted the bottled water in its place. “Alright, let me see if I can explain it better than last night. You are a mechanic or engineer, correct?”

“Both actually. Multiple PHDs in Engineering, Mechanics and Physics, but who’s counting.”

Johnny nodded and continued, “When I explained the difference today to Pepper, it made me realize I was trying to explain things from a point of view you have no reference for.” He took a sip from the bottle then set it down. “Let’s use your suit as an analogy…” he caught a strange look for the barest of moments and rethought his explanation once more. “Ok, bad choice. An engine then, something a little safer. A mutant is a random genetic anomaly. In this case, a box of engine parts that are just thrown together. You don’t know what you’re going to have until it’s built. Each time you’re given a box, it’s always random. That’s what a mutant is. Yes, you’ll come across similar mutations, but never exactly the same identical mutation at the same power levels.” While he was talking, Clint, Wanda and Bruce arrived via elevator.

Tony held up a hand. He then waved Bruce over. “Ok, now repeat what you just said.”

Johnny did so, waiting for Bruce to indicate he understood. “Now, a mutate, is not the same as a mutant, never was no matter what the public thought. Now that box of engine parts is now identical except for one item. It can be anything. Each box of engine parts are both identical, as in one item is different, and different because it’s never the same part. With me so far?”

“I think so,” Tony said then turned to Bruce, “You understand this right?”

“It's what I’ve been telling you all along,” Bruce replied.

A soft voice only he could hear alerted Johnny to both Sam and James's arrival via Tony’s landing pad just off the party deck. “Ready for the last part?” he asked, shifting his eyes ever so slightly as several more people joined them. He used the excuse of getting another bottle of water to move behind the bar, thus putting space between him and the newer arrivals.

“Yeah, let’s hear your analogy for Super Soldiers. I’m sure you’d like to hear all about it Cap?” Tony asked turning to Steve and smiling. “Care for a drink?”

Johnny pulled the correct beer from the mini fridge and slid it across the bar top before Steve could say yes or no. “Now, you have to remember that for all the information you find floating about on the internet, everyone agrees on one thing. The creators of these so called ‘Super Soldier Serums’ are all dead.” He held up a hand to forestall any comments. “I’ll explain why I said ‘so called’ in a moment. So, this last series of engines you’re now building… each box now has identical parts. Each and every single box, exactly the same. There is your ‘Super Soldier Serum’. Each and every one identical.” He set a drink down in front of Bruce and slid a second beer down the bar to Steve, snagging the empty and tossing it into the bin. “Now for that explanation. What created you,” he points at Steve, “was never duplicated. Ever. It is a historically documented fact that Dr. Abraham Erskine was killed by a HYDRA agent and the notes lost. Am I correct?”

“Yes.” Steve frowned in thought. Memories of that day, even years later, were painful.

“So, each and every attempt made thereafter to recreate the serum was in truth, an experiment. Sometimes successful, sometimes a failure, but never an exact duplicate. Correct?”

There were mutterings and murmurs from those gathered as they thought over what was said. Almost everyone agreed. Almost.

“Wait, there was one other who went through the same ‘experiment’ as I did. Johann Schmidt. The Red Skull. He used Dr. Erskine’s formula on himself before the Doctor escaped to America,” Steve informed them. “Dr. Erskine said that the serum ‘amplified’ what was already there. Good man became great, bad becomes worse.”

“Alright then. You then fall under the true heading ‘Super Soldier Serum’. Now, Mr. Stark, using the information provided, based upon the evidence, would you say Extremis is a Serum or an Experiment?” Johnny asked. “For me, using Ms. Pott’s explanation of what Extremis was or is, I would say it is a Super Serum.”

“What about you?” Steve asked suddenly. “You’re an enhanced.”

Johnny gave a tight lipped smile. “You’re right. I am enhanced, but only in the sense that I have two mutations which is very rare. But one of those mutations wasn’t natural. So,” he shrugged, “I’m both a mutant and a mutate,” he lifted the bottle of water to take a sip then stopped. “Maybe even an experiment. Haven’t figured it out yet. I’ll get back to you once I figure it out.” He took that sip then turned to Tony. “Does my explanation make sense to you now?”

Tony looked to be deep in thought as he processed everything said. “I’ll get back to you on that,” he said absently almost as he walked away. Bruce following him closely.

Johnny caught the looks both Natasha and Clint were giving him. One thoughtful the other amused. He just smiled in return. He had his own ways of disappearing into a crowd and being forgotten about. He turned back around to ask if anyone else would like a drink but stopped when a hand reached forward, almost touching his temple. “Ms. Maximoff, I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure of making your acquaintance. Awake that is.”

“But I know you,” Wanda replied. She trailed her fingers down, tracing the contour of his cheek and neck without touching him. “Doom has laid his mark upon you and because of that, you are resentful of him for that.”

“Perhaps,” Johnny agreed, reining back his flirtatious nature as FRIDAY informed him of how old she was. “But if I was resentful for everything bad that has happened in my life, I think I’d be a bitter, spiteful young man with nothing good in life to look forward to.”

Wanda said nothing as she looked at him and through him before nodding. “Perhaps.” She turned and moved away from the bar to find a quiet corner where she could watch.

“My brother would have liked you.”

Johnny glanced to the side at the speaker before looking back at the discussion going on between Tony, Bruce, The Captain and Vision. “Why do you say that?”

Thor let out a chuckle. “Because you have a silver tongue and love to cause mischief, just as he did in his younger days.” He took a drink from the leather wrapped flask in his hand then offered the human some.

Johnny held up his hands. “No thank you, I know my tolerance and I have a young child that I care for. An aching head will be of little use to me tomorrow. Especially if Natasha and Clint are planning something.”

Thor shrugged. “As you wish,” he said before being called away to play some game of chance with the archer.

A quick mental tally later, Johnny was moving around the common room, refilling drinks here or there, removing empty bottles and glasses. Bit by bit, he faded into the background. The skills of a wait staff coming to play as he became invisible to most everyone in the room. When he felt it safe enough to do so, he slipped away completely.

Sometime later, as everyone’s sitting around the central coffee table playing another game of ‘Pick up Thor’s hammer’ (a somewhat common game whenever the Asgardian was around), someone (Tony) suggested Johnny give it a try.

“He left about twenty minutes ago,” Clint said with a grin as he twirled an old drumstick between the fingers of his left hand. He shared a knowing look with Nat. The kid had done fairly well with this little test. Tomorrow though, tomorrow was a whole other ballgame.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 16

 

Living Day to Day
-----------------------

Third week of February……

 

“Again!”

That became the most commonly used word of the week.

With a groan, Johnny did a kick up to his feet again. After doing a quick once over, he took a better grip on his sticks. He wasn’t entirely sure of what the point of the current exercise was other than using him as a pinata.

It was only the third day of the new schedule too. Mornings was regulated to weights with Clint and workouts on the machines in the main gym area then a small break. Mid-day was given over to dance and gymnastics with Natasha followed by lunch. Afternoons was the designated torture time with both Natasha and Clint as they took him through both hand to hand and basic weapon (escrima sticks and staffs) combat. And the evenings were taken over with taking care of Alexei, then dinner in the commons (with or without the rest of the Avengers present), followed by study of some sort with discussions and testing knowledge retention.

“So when...,” Johnny started as he moved through the drills with Clint. “When will you have Ms. Maximoff…Nngh!... damn it...When will you allow her to do whatever it is she does?” He asked before shaking his hand out.

“Soon,” Natasha said as she watched from the sidelines, Alexei in her arms.

“Uh-huh…”

 

A little while later, Johnny stood in the main kitchen digging out the veggies and meats for the evening meal. “FRIDAY, how many are we expecting tonight?” he asked from the depths of the second industrial sized fridge.

“It appears that there will be a full roster plus one in attendance tonight Foxx. A total of ten plus yourself.”

“Great….” Johnny muttered as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Can you give me an estimate of the amount of food required for both Thor and the Captain?”

“The caloric intake required to satisfy Captain Rogers and Thor Odinson are approximately three times that of a normal unenhanced human.”

“So...cook for twenty and we might have leftovers if we’re lucky?”

“In theory, yes.”

An hour later, Johnny was putting the last dish on the table. It was a simple meal of a sweet and spicy chicken stir fry with rice and a side salad. He divided the food into two sets of dishes so everyone had a faster chance of serving themselves. “FRIDAY? Chow time, call em in.” He remembered where most everyone liked to sit, so chose a spot farthest away from the Captain’s usual seat. He kept quiet for the most part, answering questions, etc.

When dinner was over with, Johnny was the first to leave the table, nodding politely to everyone as he did. He headed to the, now, usual corner and settled in the chair and wait for Clint and Natasha to join him.

Natasha arrived first, settling easily in her chosen chair. “Next Monday is the first in a series of hearings dealing with the issue between The Avengers, Doom and HYDRA.”

Johnny opened his mouth then shut it as he sat back and covered his mouth with a hand. He made several other abortive attempts to make a comment but could not find anything to say just yet.

Clint joined the pair, noting Johnny’s expression as he sat down and handed Nat a data pad. “I see you told him.”

“Yep,” Natasha said as she flipped through the data looking for something in particular.

“I presume the reason you waited so long to inform me was because either A - you were only recently informed yourself or B - I have less time to do something stupid between now and then to screw things up,” Johnny finally said. He narrowed his eyes in thought for a few moments then nodded. “That would make sense.”

“What would?” Clint asked.

“Why Pepper took me out of the Tower this past week. She knew about something and started stacking the deck in my favor,” Johnny said.

Nat only smiled, then handed him the data pad. “Read the files, make your own evaluation of the situation then figure out what might have been done to change it to a different outcome.”

“Parameters for the outcome?” Johnny asked as he started looking through the data.

“None except what you will find in the data already.”

Johnny nodded. “How sensitive is this information?” he asked. “As in can I let anyone see it or is it my eyes only?”

“It’s old news. From about 11 years ago and, if one looks hard enough, it can be found on the internet,” Clint said as he got up. “Two hours max,” he said as he walked away.

“Have fun,” Nat said as she also got up and walked away.

Twenty minutes passed as Johnny sat reading. Names and location were redacted, but everything else was left alone. Something about it nagged the back of his mind but he wasn’t sure what, so he decided it was time to ask for some help. He closed the file then stood up and looked around, spotting who he was looking for.

Once again, Tony was eyeing Thor’s hammer where it rested on the coffee table in front of the Asgardian. He was listening with half an ear to the story Thor was regaling them with this time. He noted the sudden pause and turned in the direction Thor was looking. “Swiper! Just the person… You missed all the fun from last time.” Tony waved in the direction of the hammer, “Go on, give it a shot. Just wrap your hand around the handle and lift.”

“I’m not here at the moment to go fondling the handle of a warrior’s weapon in front of all and sundry,” Johnny quipped, the gleam of amusement in his eyes.

Tony blinked, processing just what Johnny said and how. “I’m not asking you to fondle anything Mr. Todd, just wrap your hands around that long hard shaft and tug.” He smirked then turned to the others to catch their reaction.

“Honestly, I’d rather play with your equipment Mr. Stark,” Johnny all but purred. He tilted his head to the side and looked at Clint, who had a drumstick in hand and was twirling it. “Let me guess, I broke up a meeting of the super secret boy band?” He snagged the thrown drumstick out of the air, spinning it over his fingers before tossing it back. “Is that an invite? Does that mean I get to go fanboy on everyone?”

“No.”

“But I like the idea of trying to strip the clothes off your body,” Johnny mock pouted a moment before turning back to Tony. “Actually I was wondering if you have a holo table I could have access too. I’m in need of a visual set up,” he lifted the data pad slightly, serious once more. “Homework.”

Tony opened then closed his mouth as he looked at the pad then at Johnny and raised an eyebrow. He turned slightly to look at Clint, but the archer was turned away speaking to Nat who was leaning over the back of the couch. He gestured towards the elevators, “Conference room one,” he decided then motioned towards the elevators. “Gentlemen, I shall return in a few.”

“Are you not going to even try?” Thor asked, gesturing to Mjölnir.

Johnny smiled. “No. I’ve heard the legends. That only the worthy may lift it. I don’t measure my worth by what your hammer thinks of me, but by what my children think of me.” He turned and followed after Tony.

“Ooooohhhh...he did not just say that, did he?” James asked.

Up in conference room one, Johnny was leaning against the table, hands flat on its surface as Tony brought the holo projections to life. “Thanks,” he said as he reached for the data pad. Bringing the files up once more he looked between it and the table. “How do I transfer the data between this and the table?” he asked.

“FRIDAY, honey, would you do the honors please?”

“As you wish Sir.” Within moments the data files were transferred to the table and now floated above the surface as transparent images. “Do you wish a basic tutorial Foxx?”

“Yes.”

Another ten minutes passed as FRIDAY walked Johnny through the basics of how to use the holo table. To be at the same proficiency level as Tony would take months, if not years of constant usage. He was happy he could figure out how to open and close the files or rotate the images.

“Alright, FRIDAY, would you please bring up the building specs, all floors then add placement markers for each agent listed in the report?” Johnny requested. Now that he had a visual of the building layout his hunch that he’d been there before was much stronger. “Move this…” tapping an object, “to here… much better… now according to the files..this agent,” he double checked the report, “traveled along this route…” He traced the path with a finger, FRIDAY created a ribbon of colored light. He did it with the other agents then stepped back and looked at it before slowly spinning it. “I know this place…”

Natasha slipped into the conference room quietly to lean against the wall and watch. She’d gone over the report early on in her time with SHIELD, making her own recommendation based on it. “So, have you decided?” she asked.

Johnny was still watching the holo projection floating above the table as it slowly rotated. “Yes.”

“Report.”

“Had this agent not stopped to admire himself in the reflection of a polished plaque, he would have caught me here,” Johnny said pointing to the last set of intersecting lines. “This one I managed to distract just enough to slip by here and here. I was stuck on top of the shelving unit for a good twenty minutes.” He worked his way backwards from end to start, pointing out each and every incident that had he been too late or an agent too early, or just plain unlucky, he would have been caught.

“How did you slip by here and here?” Nat asked, coming up to stand next to Johnny and pointing out two spots in particular.

“Attitude here, I acted like I belonged and walked in the employee entrance with the rest of the late evening shift. Security was lax and the employees were not very social like the morning shift. And for that one,” Johnny pointed to the second one, “No one bothers to look too close at a janitor coming out of an out of order bathroom grumbling about parts replacements.”

“Not too bad,” Nat said as she crossed her arms, looking at the display. “You could have improved here, here…. and there. Added a few seconds on your safe time and decrease your chance of being discovered.” There was equal parts praise and critique. “Now, why were you there in the first place?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

Johnny just shrugged. “I was young, stupid and took a dare that I shouldn’t have.”

“FRIDAY, download everything to the data pad please, then clear the table’s memory,” Nat said. She didn’t seem surprised at all by his answer.

“Yes Agent Romanoff. Shall I encrypt it as well?” the AI asked.

“No, I’ll do it myself,” Nat replied. A moment later the data pad dinged softly as the download was complete. “Tomorrow, instead of the gym go to medical.”

“Why?” Johnny asked, hand swishing back and forth through the holo field as he ‘played’ Pong with FRIDAY.

“Bruce has determined its the safest location should anything go wrong when Wanda does her initial scan.”

“That’s always a cheerful thought,” Johnny muttered. “Please give my regards to Clint and tell Tony I said thank you again for the use of the holo table.”

“Not returning?” Nat asked, amused.

Losing yet another round against the AI, Johnny turned and shrugged. “Considering how you two run me ragged during the day, I’m surprised I’m still awake right now. No, calling it a night.” Johnny nodded as he headed out the door to find the elevator.

Nat nodded in return. “Good night then.” She waited till Johnny was in the elevator before she left the room and headed to the communications room to send off both her report and the evaluation report.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 17

 

Mindscapes
---------------------------

Third week of February, Medical……

 

Johnny was sitting on one of the plain beds in comfortable fitting sleep pants and sleeveless top. One foot was drawn up onto the edge and his chin resting on his knee as he waited. His thoughts drifting back to earlier….

He along with Clint, Nat, Bruce and Wanda had discussed what method would be used to secure him if something went wrong. When the idea of sedation was brought up, Bruce shot the idea down when he learned only natural occurring drugs would work on Johnny. The use of opium from poppies was not only highly dangerous without proper medical personnel but was illegal as well. The suggestion of strapping him down was also discarded almost as soon as it was brought up.

“Listen, do you trust that she knows how to use her powers?” Clint finally asked Johnny.

Johnny, for his part, studied the Sokovian girl sitting across from him. “Yes. But it’s not her or her powers that I don’t trust. It’s what I might do, thanks to whatever it is that Doom did to me. You’ve seen how I’ve reacted to others.”

“If she was able to put the entire team out of commission, you won’t hold much of a problem for her,” Clint pointed out.

“Gee thanks….,” Johnny said sarcastically.

“....you ready kid?” Clint asked as he settled down on a stool in front of Johnny.

Dropping his foot down, Johnny straightened up. “As I’ll never be,” he said.. “Tell me again why it was decided to use a normal bed instead of one of those bio-beds?”

“The bio-bed records everything and is also monitored by FRIDAY. If you’re stats drops below safe levels alarms will sound. I don’t think you want too much attention drawn to what we are doing just yet,” Bruce explained as he attached the leads for several pieces of equipment.

While neither man caused Johnny to completely lose track of the two women behind him, they did distract enough to allow Wanda to slip into his mind without a hinderance. Slowly his eyes dropped shut as his mind emptied of thought, he slid into a zen like meditative state.

Wanda gently manipulated Johnny into laying down and stretching out on the bed. She accepted the stool Clint offered her and settled on it at the head of the bed. Resting her forearms on the bed, hands on either side of Johnny’s temples, she took her time in scanning everything Doom had planted. Every mind she had ever touched had their own unique way of creating organization and structure, Johnny’s was no different.

If Tony Starks was of blueprints and schematics and Natasha’s was all shadows and webs, and Captain Roger’s was that of an Army Base hosting a USO Tour, then Johnny’s was that of a masquerade ball. The moment she crossed over into his mind, she found herself in a beautiful dress of reds and golds that had a corset styled top that belled out into a wide skirt and the shoulders were designed like fairy wings. It felt like silk and glittered softly as she moved. In her hand she held a half mask, also red and gold, that matched the theme of the dress. She slowly walked across the floor, watching as dancers moved gracefully through slow waltzes. Each one was masked and in costumes, some elaborate some simple, some both. She turned and twisted, searching for what she was looking for. Always just on the edge she would spot Johnny, dressed to match the area, before he slipped away.

Wanda tried to follow several times but she would lose her way and find herself back at the start. She could use her power to clear a path but that could cause disruptive damage and would delay her search. So instead she stopped and started watching patiently. Curtains and drapes, pillars and mirrors, doors and arches, glitter and glam, so many things for the eyes to catch on and be distracted by. Her eyes moved along, place to place, following dancers as they moved until there! Movement that slid through the pattern without breaking it, but wasn’t part of it either. With her eyes fixed on the point, she maneuvered through the crowd until she found a gossamer draped archway leading to another area.

Wanda noted a subtle shift of themes within the masquerade as she moved from one area to another. Memories and cherished times were slightly worn at the edges and the color faded, but still crystal clear. Darker times in his life created ballrooms of an equally dark nature. Colors once bright were now dark and shadowed, torches flickered in wall sconces creating moving shadows. When she found the happier memories, the ballrooms were light and airy, costumes representing mythical creatures of light abound and whites and golds were predominate.

Something changed, for Wanda started to feel cold as the temperature had dropped and her breath plumed into the air. A large set of double doors was ahead of her, they were dark with gleaming sigils of cold, electric blue carved into the wood. And they were guarded by what looked to be Doom himself. Before she could get too close, a hand caught hers, pulling her back slightly and spinning her to face the way she came. When she turned, she found it was Johnny. Or the Johnny that haunted this part of his memories. She drew back in horror at the sight. He was dressed as a white fox, including a tail and ears to match. The whites were dingy and gray in most areas, ripped through and bloody in the rest. A gaping hole in his chest where his heart once was bleed sluggishly, staining the fabric a dark red.

Wanda took several steps back away from the doors and the horrible visage before her before she realized it. When she did, she stopped where she was and watched. Neither he nor the guards made any move to approach her. Frowning, she straightened her back and stood tall and proud. She was an Avenger, this was now her duty to protect people and prevent these things from happening. She stepped forward with a purpose now, ignoring the silent plea for her to turn back, only pausing to give him a sympathetic look before striding up to the doors and throwing them open.

 

Everything seemed to be going fine. So far only a few spikes here and there, a few twitches from Johnny and not much more than fingers slowly waving back and forth from Wanda.

Then all hell broke lose.

Wanda jerked back off the stool, scrambling across the floor on her backside, a scream dieing on her lips before it was uttered. She stared wide eyed in horror at Johnny as arcs of electricity traversed his body leaving streaks of frost in its wake.The medical equipment went berserk as alarms started wailing. His back arching, lifting him off the bed as his feet dug in for purchase, fingers clawing at the mattress. The wail of equipment sputtered to silence as they were shorted out.

“Hold him!”

“What does it look like I’m doing!”

“It wasn’t this bad last time….”

Wanda watched as the other three held the thrashing body on the bed, watched as electricity continued to arc and sweat turned to ice crystals.

“Wanda!”

Wanda jerked, the sound of her name enough to break her paralyzation. With a determined air, she got to her feet and hurried to the bed. “I won’t be able to hold him and undo what Doom did to him…” she said as she placed her hands directly against Johnny’s temples this time.

“Just deal with that, we’ll take care of this…”

Once more Wanda dove into Johnny’s mindscape…

 

… The scene before her could have made even the most twisted and macabre film directors green with envy. The ballroom was a large rectangular affair with tables to either side, a few placed down the middle and a raised platform at the other end. The tiles were shattered as if a clawed hand raked across them and the mirrors lay broken on the ground, reflecting the flickering light of sputtering torches and low burning candles in the chandeliers above. Half the dancers were dressed as nurses and assistants of a bygone victorian age. The masks they wore covered their mouths instead of their eyes and they held wicked instruments in hand. Each time they made a turn, they cut and gouged at the bodies strapped to the tables, leaving trails of blood splatter in their wake as they laughed madly before spouting off something in what sounded to be Romani. The other half were dressed in the green, black and red accents of Latveria and wore mask and hooded capes like Doom. Instead of blood, trails of electricity and ice followed.

Stepping past the threshold, Wanda intended to go straight to the other end of the room, but was stopped. Her hand captured in a secure grip as the Johnny from the passageway bowed over her hand. He guided one hand to his shoulder then wrapped an arm about her waist before sweeping her out onto the floor. She was waltzed around the room to the never ending music with the rest of the dancers. After the third circuit around the room, she started picking out what didn’t belong.

They danced for hours or moments, it was hard to tell with the timelessness of the mindscape. Each pass around the room, Wanda used her powers to pick at the places Doom had invaded. She eradicated the glowing sigils, destroyed masks and capes that didn’t belong. The room started to thaw, causing blood once frozen to start flowing again, but each pass of the nurses long dresses wikked it up before it could form puddles. Romani was replaced with English as the words of the dancers became medical jargon. The last pieces she needed to deal with was stopping at each of the tables and obliterating the Avengers doppelgangers. Her’s, Vision’s and Thor’s were easy because they were so nebulous. The ones for Clint and Natasha were easy to deal with as well, neither were positioned where Doom had wanted them, but off in the shadows instead. With a nod, both vanished. The doppelganger of Dr. Banner was a little harder, he wanted to stay and watch the procedures being done, both horrified and fascinated at the same time. Iron Man turned out to be an empty shell since Johnny always met Tony when he wasn’t in armor and Pepper wasn’t even present. They passed the platform, and as they did, she tried to remove the Captain but it deflected the attack with a blood encrusted shield and a sneer. Johnny shook his head, the pointed up towards the ceiling. Sam and War Machine swung back and forth on what looked to be trapeze swings. As with Iron Man, War Machine was a hollow shell, but Sam was trickier as it wove in and out of the chandeliers.

On the final pass around the room, Wanda stopped in front of the platform. Further back was a mockery of a surgical suite. A single man, dressed in a tailored business suit, took his time as he performed surgery on the person strapped to the table. Looking over the man’s shoulder was Doom. The Captain paced slowly back and forth, guarding the pair. Every time he passed the center of the platform he would lash out with a fist, a kick or the shield, at the person chained there. She nodded to ‘Johnny’ and received a nod in return. He dove forward, rolling to a stand on the platform and attacked. Long daggers screeched off the surface of the shield, as it was brought up to deflect the attack. Wanda used the opportunity to attack the figure of Doom, blasting him away from the gurney. The Captain turned, throwing his shield viciously. She smirked as she gestured, sending the shield flying away. Having trained and worked with the real man for nearly a year, she could see where this imitation failed and used it to her advantage. The two of them worked together, him distracting and pulling the Captain away while she attacked Doom, whittling down his defenses until the Captain returned again. At one point she was forced to shield the person chained to the platform to prevent Doom from siphoning off energy. The fight was taking its toll on both her and Johnny, but the other two weren’t faring any better, especially with the shield in place.

A deflected blast from Doom, smashed against an object behind the platform, causing the phantom to spin in that direction. Wanda tried to get a closer look but was prevented from doing so by the Captain. When she pointed it out to Johnny, he either couldn’t see it or couldn’t do anything. Every chance she got there after, she would send a tendril of power in it’s direction. She wasn’t able to hit the same spot every time but enough hits created a crazed crackle pattern of cracks. Johnny somehow managed to work his way around the edges until he stood directly in front of the object. he used the scalpels he’d snagged off the trap like throwing knives. They were easily deflected with the shield, but they served their purpose. With a crazed grin, he blew the Captain a kiss as he grabbed his crotch in a gesture that the meaning couldn’t be missed. He dropped to the floor as the shield cut through the space he was just in, shearing off part off one ear of the mask. It did its job though. The object shattered. Doom whirled to repair the damage but was caught between Wanda’s power and what was released from the object. The phantom exploded into a fine mist then vanished. The doppelganger of the Captain staggered then dropped to the floor before melting away into nothing.

Breathing hard, Wanda straightened up to survey her work. Already damage done by the fight was being repaired. Though the macabre nature of the room itself was not changing, it was being put back to the way it was. She lifted her hand, the temptation to change it was a hard one to fight, but in the end she left it as it was. Johnny sauntered over, still bloody and pale as he was when she first meet him in the passage, and took her hand to bring it up to his lips. Without words, he thanked her before escorting her to the front of the room. He bowed once more before slowly closing the doors, sealing away the room again. She watched as new sigils appeared on the dark doors then frosted over with ice. Not the rotting, deadly ice that Doom created, but the purist ice found in the heart of the arctic winter.

 

Wanda blinked, slowly raising her head to look around. She felt exhausted and wanted nothing more than to curl up in her bed. She hadn’t had to use her powers like that in a very long time. “It worked….” she said as she was helped to her feet. “Can I sleep now?” she asked Clint. The archer chuckled, sounding as tired as he lead her over to another bed and helped her get settled.

“Yeah kid, you earned it,” Clint offered as he covered Wanda up with a blanket. She was out before he finished tucking her in. “How’s he doing?” he asked as he watched Nat help Bruce with an IV.

“Better than I expected. Pupils are responsive which is a good sign. His vitals are coming up as well as his core temperature,” Bruce said as he slipped on his glasses to take a look at the bio-bed’s readings. “He’s just in a deep sleep it appears.”

“Deep sleep as in a coma? This close to the hearings?” Clint shook his head.

“No, not a coma. Just a very deep sleep. His brainwaves show activity, so I expect him to surface in the next twelve hours before falling back asleep again. The IV is just a precaution against dehydration.”

Nat gave Clint a tired smile as she knocked shoulders with him. “Looks like you’re on baby duty again.”

“A hard assignment to deal with, not sure if I’m able to handle it,” Clint wise cracked back. “Get some rest, both of you,” he told them before moving to stand next to the bio-bed. “Better wake up soon kid, you got a son to raise,” he murmured as he patted Johnny’s shoulder before leaving.

“Dr. Banner, there is no need for you to stay and monitor the patient's. Both are asleep and I can alert you should anything change,” FRIDAY offered.

Nat nudged Bruce with her hip. “Come on, take FRIDAY up on the offer and join me?” she asked. “I have some imported tea that you might like.”

Bruce looked back and forth between the beds and Nat. The IV would be good for several hours since it was on a slow drip. He could stop by when he turned in and replace it if he needed to but there was a medical staff for a reason. “Alright… Thank you FRIDAY.”

“You’re welcome Dr. Banner. Have a good evening as well Agent Romanoff.”

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 18

 

Beginning of the End
-------------------------

 

Fourth week of February. Monday, first day of the hearings….

 

Johnny didn’t need an alarm clock to tell him it was time to get up. The small noises coming from Alexei’s crib was enough to rouse him out of bed. He was functional enough to start the coffee pot and prepare Alexei’s bottle and food. Since today was an important day, he planned on giving the baby a bath after feeding him. By the time eight am rolled around, Johnny was sitting on the floor between the couch and the coffee table with Alexei in his bouncer. For every spoon full of food he managed to get into the baby, an equal amount was either smeared across the baby’s face, hands, or drooled down to his chest. He wasn’t exempt from the mess either, by evidence of the spit bubble splattered food over his arm and hand.

By the time nine am arrived, all of the Avengers have been up for at least two hours. Most of that time was spent preparing for the day’s duty of playing glorified babysitter. All possible scenarios had been discussed and contingency plans made. As of the moment it was a matter of final decision on transportation. Quinjet vs Car.

Ten o’clock on the dot finds Alexei being put down for his nap. Once the baby was in his crib it was time for Johnny to get his own shower. When he stepped out of the shower fifteen minutes later, wearing only a low slung towel around his waist, Natasha was waiting for him. He could hear Pepper in the bedroom talking to Alexei. “Couldn’t you at least wait till I had something on?” he asked.

“Why, got something I haven’t seen before?” Nat asked with a smirk. “Now come here.” She hopped up onto the countertop after setting a couple of small bottles down.

Without much of a fuss, he moved closer so he could place his hands on either side of Nat on the countertop as he leaned down for her. Both standing and sitting on the counter, she barely came to shoulder height, but it meant nothing when she could still kick his ass seven ways to sunday.

“Is Alexei’s bag packed?” Pepper asked from the bedroom.

“Yes, but you may want to re-check in case I forgot something,” Johnny said.

Pepper stuck her head in the door, staring. “When did you learn English?” she asked.

“I grew up here in the states, so I’ve always spoken English. I was your waiter at that Italian restaurant, remember? Romani was a side effect of whatever Doom did to me….How long are we going to be stuck there?” he asked. “Need to remember to stuff the tablet in his bag, otherwise I’m going to be so bored I’ll be tempted to go pilfering.”

“That was you?” Pepper asked, then rolled her eyes in a very ‘I’m not dealing with you right now Tony’ like way as she turned and walked away.

Nat just smirked. “Trust me, you will be bored, but if you’re lucky, Tony will sit close and you can watch him get on everyone’s nerves. There.” She took one more look then wiped her hands on the hand towel. “Now go get dressed, we leave in twenty. And do not mess up my handy work.”

Walking out of the bathroom, Johnny surveyed what was laid out on his bed. “So this is the finished product from last weekend’s hours long stay at the clothing place?” he reached down and ran his fingers over the fabric. Over two hours spent in an upscale store with Pepper talking to the manager and head tailor as he was measured to within an inch of his life. He had so many swatches of cloth in different hues, textures and qualities draped over him, he thought he would be buried under it all. All that chaos created the work of art. He looked around a moment. “Did you lose the noose by any chance?” he asked. Neckties reminded him too much of nooses and garrotes for his liking.

“Get dressed and you’ll find out,” Pepper called back from the main room. “What ratio formula to water?”

“Six ounces to 3 scoops of formula,” Johnny called back as he discarded the towel and sat down on the bed. “You know, given half the chance I could be the envy of a large percentage of the male population, not to mention a small percentage of female, right now.” On went the socks followed by the silk boxers. “Two beautiful redheads roaming around in my rooms….” He stood up and adjusted himself before picking up the pants and putting them on.

“Oh hush,” Pepper said coming back into the bedroom to supervise. “Nat’s right you know. When you’re nervous you start flirting more than usual.” She picked up the undershirt then the dress shirt. She stepped back to look him over with a critical eye. “Oh you are so much easier to deal with than Tony,” she said as she stepped forward again and made a few tiny alterations. “Perfect. Shoes then belt.”

Johnny nodded as he sat back down on the bed. He picked up the box off the bed and opened it. Once the tissue paper was out of the way he found the shoes were actual custom made ankle boots. The leather was soft and flexible as if they’d been broken in for some time. The belt was made from the same leather and just as soft and flexible. Standing up, he stomped his feet then twisted and flexed. Nothing was overly tight or loose. He accepted the jacket and slid it on, then stood still as Pepper made some more adjustments. No tie. Thank the gods!

“Not bad,” Natasha said as she walked back into the bedroom. In her hand was a small bundle of items. “Wallet, includes your current state ID, your Latveria ID, bank cards, credit cards and some cash. Passport, Alexei’s passport and papers. Watch and cellphone with a few numbers pre-programed in.”

“You make it sound like I’m about to go on the run or something,” Johnny commented as he tucked the various items away before putting the watch on. He patted himself down just to be sure nothing stuck out. “Anything else?”

“Yes,” Pepper said as she also did a final once over. She held several pairs of sunglasses in different styles. She had a silent consultation with Nat before an agreed upon pair was chosen. She slid them on Johnny’s face then stepped back. “Perfect,” she said with a smile.

Between the sleek, elegant yet edgy design of the suit along with the choice of color and fabric created a very modern look. Add in his slightly exotic looks and coloration and he could be the cover model of a dozen magazines easily.

“I bet you could pick up an international modeling career easily if you were not already spoken for,” Pepper said. “Now, time to go.”

As much as he wanted to take a look in the mirror, Johnny didn’t want to jinx anything. “Anything last minute that I should know about?” he asked as he left the bedroom. He went to the couch where Alexei was already strapped into his carrier. “Hi there… Hi… look at you, all fancied up,” he cooed before picking it up easily by the handle.

“I’ve got his bag,” Pepper said as she slid the bag onto her shoulder. It was a designer bag that, until it was opened, could pass for any high fashioned handbag. “And I’ve got your tablet,” She added with a chuckle before Johnny could ask.

“You and Pepper are traveling by car. Happy’s driving. Rogers and myself are ground escort. Iron Man, Vision, War Machine and Falcon are aerial support,” Natasha explained as they left the rooms headed for the elevator.

“What about Clint?” Johnny asked.

“He went on ahead in the quinjet with Scarlet Witch and Thor. They have extra supplies for both you and Alexei,” Natasha went on.

“You think something’s going to happen?”

“With all the fuss that’s being made by the Latverian Embassy at Doom’s orders, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Pepper said. “Be glad you don’t have to deal with the PR headache it’s created for SI.”

“Umm… sorry?” Johnny said rather sheepishly.

“Oh no, don’t be. I’ve been wanting to knock a some people down a few pegs for a while now. The Maria Stark Foundation is there to help assist in clean up amongst other reasons. I’m tired of the negative press and rival companies accusing SI of using the Avengers as a means to an end.”

Johnny leaned over to Nat some, “Again, remind me to never piss her off…”

The trip to the UN was quiet when compared to their arrival. The media was out in force. Not only was the international and national news channels represented but the local ones as well as independents. Photographers, professional and amateurs alike, vied with the paparazzis for the best positions. Minor altercations were broken up fast by either the guards, law enforcement or SHIELD agents assigned to the fiasco, whichever was closest at the time.

“If it wasn’t for the fact that my dual citizenship might come in handy one day, I’d be seriously tempted to renounce the Latveria one,” Johnny muttered as he stared out the window as the car made a slow approach to the General Assembly building.

Pepper leaned around Alexei’s carrier and patted Johnny on the knee. “Don’t worry, you’ll do fine. Just turn that charm of yours on and I’m sure you’ll have everyone eating out of your hand.”

Johnny couldn’t help but chuckle as he turned to look at Pepper. “I’m decent but no one can beat Tony Stark in the charms department.”

“Please do not tell him that. He’s already got an ego.”

 

“Area clear,” Clint said as he took out a second sniper. “How many does that make it now?”

“Last count was one professional, five semi-professionals and nine amateurs,” Vision supplied. “Not including what the FBI intercepted prior to now.”

“Geez… Even I don’t get that much attention when I’m out and about. I’m starting to feel unloved here. How much was offered?”

“One million if Foxx is injured, two million if he’s killed while under the Avenger’s protection. If Alexei is killed, three and if both, five million,” FRIDAY supplied. “The person offering the bounty has not yet been identified.”

“Doom must be pretty pissed that his plans started to fall through almost as soon as they started,” Clint said.

“He has had since Wednesday evening to entice people to take Johnny out and cause embarrassment for us for failing to protect him,” Wanda commented.

“Since Wednesday? Just when were you going to inform the rest of the team about this important tidbit of information?” Steve asked, irritated.

“You mean when were we going to tell you?” Natasha snapped back. “The Avengers may have been tasked with protecting Alexei, but Johnny wasn’t officially included in that order. We’ve been the ones protecting Johnny. Myself and Clint, not the Avengers.”

“What are you two up to?” Steve asked as they arrived at the UN Headquarters. He received no reply. He parked the motorcycle and dismounted, taking up a position on the left side of the walkway while Natasha took up one on the right.

As soon as the car stopped, Happy was out of the front passenger’s seat, around the car and holding the rear door open for Pepper. Once she was out, Johnny followed with Alexei in his arms. Happy reached in and retrieved the carrier and the diaper bag before following behind Pepper as they made their way into the General Assembly building. Steve and Natasha lead the party to their destination with Thor and Tony in his armor trailing behind. Due to the nature of the conflict, a large conference room on the second floor had been set aside for the party’s private use during the proceedings. As for the rest of the Avengers, everyone would be on rotation so no one had to stay in one place for too long.

 

Five and a half mind-numbing hours later, the party was departing the UN Headquarters with a grand total of one concession so far. Alexei, therefore Johnny, was not required to attend most of the sessions that were to follow. Those that was required, were planned appropriately. This also freed up the Avengers from having to play glorified security guards standing around doing nothing except looking pretty.

Steve called for a meeting of everyone, Johnny and Pepper included, once everyone was back at the Tower. He had questions and wanted answers to those questions. He was getting fed up with being left out of what could be important information. It was decided that the usual debrief room would be used instead of taking it anywhere else. So everyone except Tony, Pepper and Johnny, stayed in their uniforms. Though for Tony his ‘uniform’ was easily accessible should he need it.

When Pepper entered, she was wearing a simple t-shirt (one of Tony’s) and cut off jean shorts. “I’m only going to tell you this one Steven, so you had better listen. I am NOT an Avenger and I do not appreciate being ordered around in my own home. I am here out of courtesy and because I would like to know what is going on as well. Do you understand me?”

“Yes Ma’am. Loud and crystal clear,” Steve answered back, well aware of how far he could push Pepper.

“Good,” Pepper replied as she settled in a chair next to Tony.

“That’s my Pepper,” Tony said with a grin as he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

Johnny finally joined the group some half hour after Pepper arrived. As tempted as he was to flip Steve off, he behaved himself. Instead he grabbed a bottle of water and found a seat next to Natasha.

Steve surveyed the room, arms crossed over his chest as he did. So far it looked as if the room was split unequally. Clint, Nat, Tony, Pepper and Wanda were all on one side with Johnny. Himself, Sam, James on the other side with Bruce, Vision and Thor sitting in the middle. “I would like to know, why you feel you have to keep secrets from the rest of the Team. What is so important about him you have to go behind everyone’s backs?”

Tony looked over the top of his tablet. “Have you ever thought that maybe it was because you were a giant ASS to him from the moment he was dumped, quite literally mind you,” he pointed to both Nat and Clint only gave him a look, “on us? Well on the floor of the lab, but that’s besides the point. You didn’t even give him a chance to figure out up from down, left from right and yes from no, before you pulled your ‘Truth and Justice’ routine and started pelting him with questions he didn’t had answers to?”

“It did not help that Doom pulled some mystic mumbo-jumbo mind fuckery bullshit that affected you worse than anyone else in the room,” Clint added in.

“Then why didn’t the ‘mind fuckery’ as you put it, affect anyone else?” Steve shot back.

“Honestly Steve, you were all up in his face from the start, with a giant boner for Bucky I might add, because he managed to get twisted up in one of HYDRA’s plots,” Nat said in a level headed manner. “I know there was something there, but I don’t have the emotional baggage that you have so it didn’t affect me. Same goes for Clint. I can tell you for a fact, it did affect Johnny. Bad enough that it could have killed him.”

“Almost did when Wanda did her thing to remove it,” Bruce said quietly. “He was flatlined for almost two minutes before something kickstarted his heart again. And it wasn’t any of us that did it.”

“You kind of forgot to mention that,” Johnny muttered.

“Yes, well when is there ever a good time to inform someone that they were effectively dead for a short period of time?” Bruce asked.

“Eh.. point taken…” Johnny replied, as he reached up to rub the spot over his heart. “No damned wonder I was so tired for the next few days.”

“Oh, by the way, anyone else notice that he doesn’t need FRIDAY to translate for him anymore?” Tony asked. “And that he doesn’t have that weird aversion to touching anyone.” He pointed to Wanda, “Again you can thank our wonderfully wei… er.. gifted-”

“Nice save Tony,” James tossed in.

“-young lady for that as well. Seems it was part and parcel of whatever it was Doom did to him.” He tossed a charming smile in Wanda’s direction.

Thor was sitting back in the chair, watching everything unfold. He would turn his head in the direction of the current speaker to gauge how truthfully they spoke about the events. He glanced at Vision who raised an eyebrow slightly and shrugged.

“I only returned a few weeks ago so cannot say as to what went on prior to that time. I do know that Captain Rogers and Mr. Lefleaur.. excuse me, Foxx.. avoided each other’s presence until just recently,” Vision supplied.

“I see,” Thor said as he rubbed his chin in thought. Until his return to Midgard, he had been spending time in his father’s court watching and listening to conflicts brought before the All Father. It allowed him a greater understanding of what was going on, but even he needed to know how events played out from the start. “Tell me, how and when did this conflict start?” he asked. After a minute of babbling voices being raised to be heard over someone else’s, he raised a hand and slapped it down on the table. “Enough!” Once the room was silent again, he looked at each person. “As I have experience in hearing conflicts and rendering judgment in the All Father’s court, would anyone naysay my doing so for this conflict?”

There was some whispered conversations from different groupings around the room but the final consensus was that, no, no one had any problems with Thor acting as the mediator.

“Good,” he said as he stood up. “Do not take offense if I ask you to leave after you’ve spoken. It is simply to prevent any undue influence and to relieve the stress everyone is, I’m sure, feeling right now.” He started with Vision, then went on to James, followed by Sam. Bruce was next, then it was Pepper’s turn. She left with an admonishment to play nice.

Thor shifted his gaze between the people that were left in the room. Each one held a key piece of information that would hold influence over his final decision. He needed to first decide who would speak first. Steve was now sitting at one end of the table, arms crossed and back ramrod straight. He had managed to hold back several times over the past hour from saying something rash. Tony on the other hand, had not held back. The other four had stayed mostly silent, just occasionally whispering amongst themselves. With a nod, he made his decision. “Tell me Friend Tony of what you know,” Thor said. “From the first time you met young Foxx.”

When Tony spoke, he rambled. But he did speak the truth as he saw it. He would make rhetorical comments then throw in tidbits that none of the others had heard yet as he crafted a more depth picture than the others. “...and do you know how incredibly boring that place is? I mean come on, it’s a gathering place for representatives of every nation. You’d think they’d know how to party.”

“Hmmm yes indeed,” Thor murmured. “I believe I have all the necessary information from you Friend Tony. Thank you for your words,” he said.

“No problem Point Break…. It’s been fun, it’s been real.. yeah no… good luck kiddies, don’t break the old man too badly,” Tony chattered away as he got up and headed to the door to leave.

And then there was five left.

“Wanda, are you ready to tell me your part?” Thor asked, looking at the young woman.

The young woman smiled slightly as she looked to Johnny. “With his permission I can do better than tell you. If I may?” Wanda asked Johnny.

A few moments self-debate was all it took for Johnny to nod. “What Wanda saw was private, but to ensure this mess is dealt with…you may.”

“Do I need to stand?” Thor asked as Wanda approached him.

“No, sitting in fine.” Wanda placed her fingertips against Thor’s forehead. A red mist formed a wreath around his head a moment before it disappeared. “You have now seen what it is I found. I will take my leave now.”

Thor blinked then frowned. “Thank you,” The Asgardian said. The memory was a horrible one, even for a battle hardened warrior such as he. His mind though, caught the intricate details of the sigils on the doors both before and after. Both were the workings of powerful sorcery, much like his brother once used before madness and death took him. “A few moments so I may better understand what it was I was shown,” he said as he stood and started pacing the room. He returned to his seat finally. “Friend Clint, please tell me of your part in all of this….”

After a few moments Clint started talking. He told of the first time he met Johnny at the restaurant, of his time following along after him with Nat. He included the incidents in Central Park and of the meeting with Hell’s Kitchen’s new defender. In essence he gave a very detailed debrief of the last few months up to today’s events at the UN Headquarters. When he was finished he nodded to Nat and clapped Johnny on the shoulder, wishing him good luck before exiting the room.

Steve was next, even though he felt it should have been Natasha or Johnny. Like Clint, he started at the restaurant, but after that skipped to the event in Central Park Zoo. He detailed the raid on the HYDRA base, the information found therein about the experimentations. When he reached the point where he re-encountered Johnny in the lab, he stumbled to a halt. Several false starts later he finally admitted to what Johnny had done to get him to let go. He had no problems with people chose the alternate lifestyle, but a few years in the current time didn’t do much to change a lifetime growing up in another era. He ‘soldiered on’ as the old say went, giving details of encounters, of his suspicions about what why Nat and Clint were being so protective of him.

Thor listened, formulating questions he wanted to ask and points he wanted to make. “May we have some time to speak alone?” he asked Johnny and Nat. When neither saw a problem with it and left the room, he turned his full attention on Steve. “Why do you feel Foxx is hiding information about Doom or your friend?”

“Isn’t it obvious? He’s still working for one or the other or both. They have information on how and where to find Bucky. I don’t trust him. He’s had to have done something to twist everyone around to his side of things. Some sort of… of.. I don’t know. Some type of machine or use of science. Hell he could even use magic for all I know, though everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic,” Steve said as he paced up and down the length of the room, throwing his hands out in wild gestures so unusual for him.

“How do you then explain such things as my hammer or the Bifrost? Of what Loki did during his time here on Midgard? Sometimes, there are no explanations to be had other than what man calls Magic and sorcery. Doom has nothing of Asgard that could affect so many people over time. Neither does Foxx. Trust my word that I know. I would have sensed it otherwise or Heimdall would have seen it and would have alerted me to the fact. How long has it been since you’ve seen or heard anything on your friend?” Thor asked.

Steve stopped pacing and looked up at the ceiling for several minutes. “Last I saw Bucky, it was on Helicarrier no. 3, when we fought...He could have killed me but he didn’t. He had to have been the one to pull me out of the river. There’s no other explanation. That was….almost two years ago. I’ve been following every lead I can find, Sam has helped when I can’t do it myself… ” He started pacing again. “Nothing though, not a single sighting or whisper about him. I don’t want to think about the fact he may have been recaptured by HYDRA. Johnny was with HYDRA for almost as long. He’s got to know something. Especially since the baby, Alexei, is Bucky’s biologically. There’s no chance this is all coincidence.”

Thor chuckled, “My friend, this is the Norns way of letting you know you shouldn’t give up hope in finding him. They put young Foxx in your path for a reason. Your harsh treatment does you no good nor gains the favor of the Norns.” Standing up, he stopped Steve’s pacing by laying a hand on his shoulder. “Your dedication in finding your friend could rival some of the greatest quests ever told on Asgard. But it is also blinding you to everything else.” He squeezed then let go. “Trust that you will find him one day. Now, it is time I spoke with the others.”

“You really think so?”

“I do. Now go, today was a tiring day for having done nothing but listen to the yammering of dignitaries.”

Steve gave Thor a thankful half-smile before he left. He did feel a little better getting some of the stuff off his chest, but he still didn’t trust Johnny. No matter what was said or by whom. He left the door open as he exited the debriefing room, but didn’t say anything as he headed to the elevator.

Nat watched Steve go then nudged Johnny and nodded to the open door. “Come on,” she said. “Let's get this over with.” Once inside, she sat down. She didn’t have to wait long before Thor took a seat next to her, giving her a questioning look. Without preamble she launched into her own story. But unlike the others, hers started long before the others by almost a decade. She kept to the facts as if she was in a debrief just like Clint had. When she was done, she left without saying a word.

Then only Thor and Johnny was left in the room. They sat at one end, across from each other. Taking the measure of the other before them.

“Tell me young Foxx, how came you to be in the company of HYDRA?”

“I made a promise to protect an innocent child. I have never failed in keeping such promises,” Johnny said.

“There were others?” Thor asked, curious now.

“Yes,” Johnny admitted leaning back in the chair. “At least two others, that are now safe because I involved myself with a less than desirable element in order to protect them.”

“Tell me about your time with HYDRA,” Thor said.

Johnny let out a snort. “My time with HYDRA? More like my time playing the part of obedient pet to Hopewell. Do the tricks he wanted of me and he’d toss me a bone afterwards. Usually by allowing me to take Alexei away from there for days at a time.”

“But what about his mother? Surely she wanted to be with her child?” Thor questioned.

A shake of his head no, Johnny shifted in the chair. “No, she feared she was broken because she couldn’t love him as a mother should. She felt it was best that she stayed away from him.”

Thor looked confused. “But why? He is her child.”

“Tell me, on Asgard, if a woman is raped and a child results from it, is she forced to keep the child? To raise it and love it as if it was the child of a union she approved of? Or is she allowed to give the child up to someone who is willing to raise it as their own?” Johnny asked, shifting suddenly, leaning forward. Pale white-green eyes locking with blue.

Thor shifted uncomfortable, the sudden direct gaze and questions asked. Such cases were usually brought before his mother, before her death. Only rarely were they brought before his father and then it was privately to spare the woman and her family. “I do not know,” he answered honestly. “One would think that the decisions made would be in the best interest of the child.”

Johnny sat back again, nodding. “So think of it as this…. My time in HYDRA was in the best interest of the child and nothing more. I did what I had to do to protect him.”

Nodding slowly, Thor leaned back, one hand reaching down to brush the handle of Mjolnir. “Does the father know he has a child?”

“I do,” Johnny replied, corner of his mouth curling up in a smirk. “Or do you mean does the man that unwillingly contributed to Alexei’s conception know?”

Another look of confusion found its way onto Thor’s face. “How can a man be unwilling?”

“Just as easily as a woman can. The difference is, most men are too embarrassed to admit that a woman, a member of the so called ‘weaker sex’, had their way with them,” Johnny replied. “How much do you know about earth.. Midgardian medical sciences?”

“Nothing beyond what is needed to care for wounds received on the battlefield. I have no need for it.”

Johnny almost facepalmed. Even with as little time he spent in front of the TV, and hanging around the medical labs, he knew enough to have a basic understanding of artificial conception. Propping an elbow in the chair arm, he tapped his lips with a finger. “The medical sciences have allowed for advancements in field of reproduction. In the world of today, a man or woman can have their sperm and eggs, respectively, cryogenically frozen for later use. Most of the people who choose to do this, do it because of medical reasons or because they are in a highly dangerous profession,” Johnny explained. “Do you understand what what cryogenic means?”

“You used the word frozen, so I will say it has something to do with preservation,” Thor guessed.

“In essence, yes. It is frozen for later usage,” Johnny affirmed. “Now, back to the issue at hand, which seems to be Captain Rogers thinks I have some hidden knowledge of where his friend is or what’s happening to him.”

“Yes, that is the heart of the issue at hand I believe,” Thor replied.

“Did he say how long it has been since he last saw that friend?”

“Steve has said it was close to two years time for him,” Thor said.

“I see….” Johnny murmured in thought. “Alright, even if somehow HYDRA managed to capture his friend, in that short seven to nine month time span, acquire the genetic... his seed… then vanished again with him, I would still have not had any contact. I found Mirela, Alexei’s mother, when she was over seven months pregnant. No one was brought in or taken out except the girls Hopewell used as his living incubators.” He thought about it for a few moments. “Hmmm… some of the doctors did mention something about age and viability… FRIDAY?”

“Yes Foxx?” the AI answered.

“I’m going to presume you still have the data retrieved from the HYDRA base. Could you do a search of that data and send the results to Dr. Banner?”

“It is possible, I have not been given orders against it. What data do you wish located?” FRIDAY queried.

“Age of the genetic samples and their viability. Cross reference to the samples used in Alexei’s conception.”

“What are you looking for?” Thor asked.

“More proof that I have no clue as to where his friend is,” Johnny replied.

“You know that may not work.”

Johnny just shrugged. “It may not, but it eliminates possibilities and takes care of loose threads. Are we done? It’s late and Alexei enjoys waking up extra early when I’m tired.”

“Just one more thing. May I see them?” Thor asked.

“See what?”

“The tattoos.”

Johnny raised an eyebrow slightly but shrugged and stood up. He removed the button up shirt then the undershirt. Most days when he trained under and sparred with both Clint and Natasha, he went shirtless so it wasn’t like the Asgardian wouldn’t see them should he visit the gym during the day.

“Fascinating,” Thor said as he examined the markings inked onto young Foxx’s skin. “Truly fascinating.”

“You can read them?”

“Yes,” Thor replied.

“What do they say or rather what do they mean?” Johnny asked, reaching for his shirt.

“They are blessings of some kind. You seem to have acquired pair of guardians at some point.” With the gift of Allspeak, he was able to read the markings in a way that they were meant to be read. “If my brother was alive still, I am sure he would have been able to explain what they mean better. Of the two of us, he was the one that spent most of his time with books and scholars.”

“Great, my luck is holding. Anyone that can explain them are either off somewhere inaccessible or dead,” Johnny muttered. “Either way… all done?” he asked.

“Yes,” Thor replied.

The two of them left the debriefing room together, heading to the elevator. Thor was headed to the common room while Johnny was headed to his floor. Seeing how the common room was the first stop, Thor exited the elevator, leaving Johnny alone.

Before the door closed, Thor reached out and stopped it. “When will I be allowed to meet the child, your son?” he asked.

Johnny just smirked, crossing his arms over his chest. “When you’re worthy of meeting him. Good night.”

Thor’s booming laugh echoed throughout the common room floor.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 19

 

The Ides of March
--------------------

 

Middle of March……

The hearings at the UN was still in progress and looked to take another month at least before they wound down. Alexei wasn’t expected to make an appearance for another few days.

Training had picked up over the course of the last two weeks. More weights were added and the number of reps increased to build his stamina. Strength wise, it was determined he was on his upper range already. To try and increase it would only cause harm in the long run. Johnny was overall, despite his height, built for speed, accuracy and stealth.

Natasha had moved him onto more advanced ballet positions and gymnastic routines that would help increase both his flexibility and his leg strength. She had him start incorporating some of the moves into their sparring sessions. Some worked, some did not. It was better to figure such things out during training then to find out while in the field where failure could lead to death if not worse.

The weapons work had also advanced. Knives were now in use along with the sticks, staves and hand to hand. Johnny was now also doing range work, as long as Clint and Natasha was there of course. There was some disagreements with that, but no one could really argue too much when Fury backed the decision. When pressed for more information, Fury only said he had a place for Johnny where he could fit in and do some good. Cap still had a piss poor attitude but he accepted it as a fact he would be working with him at some point in the future. Wanda or Pepper had started watching Alexei during this time so no one would be distracted at a crucial moment.

“This is getting annoying,” Johnny commented while reloading the clips. “I can hit moving targets at a 95% accuracy but stationary targets I’m lucky I’m hitting 75% of the time.”

Clint found it amusing. “Just keep practicing. Ready?”

Johnny took the ready position again after dropping his ear protectors back in place then nodded. Only when both the verbal and visual all clear signals were given did he bring the pistol up and begin firing. His actions were smooth and concise. When reloading, he dropped the spent clip, slapped in the new one and continued with almost no interruption. As soon as the last clip was empty as well as the chamber itself and the targets accounted for, he flipped the safety on, placed the gun on the counter then stepped back several paces.

“Range is cold,” Natasha said.

FRIDAY locked down the range, dropping shields across the front of each firing lane and bringing the lights up fully. “Range is cold,” the AI confirmed.

Taking off the ear protectors, Johnny let out a frustrated sigh as he rubbed his forehead. “What am I missing?” he asked as he followed them both out on the range to take a look.

Even though the range itself was state of the art modern, both assassins insisted on the old fashioned paper targets to start out with.

“You’re accuracy with stationary targets is good until midrange at 15 yards. Then you start losing that accuracy,” Natasha pointed out. “Low and to the sides, depending on which hand you’re using to fire.”

“Accuracy on moving targets is the opposite,” Clint added. “The farther out the more accurate until you reach the 30 yard mark. Which is the norm for most pistols. Past 32 meters, accuracy is rapidly lost even though the lethality of the ammo itself remains the same.” He crossed his arms, looking back at the booth then to the end of the range and back again. “You are in control of your ability correct?”

“Yes. I haven’t had any problems since Wanda removed Doom’s tampering,” Johnny said.

“What’s your range?”

“I..er..” Johnny frowned. “I’m not sure anymore. Last time it was tested was over 5 years ago, before the bastard’s last bit of tinkering.”

“Straight line? Spherical? Arc?” Clint asked.

Johnny blinked a few times. “Umm.. spherical.. I think. I know I can sense above and below, not just straight, back and to the sides. Why?” he asked though he had an idea of what Clint was working on.

“Just an idea. FRIDAY, are Tony, James, Sam and Vision currently in the tower?” Clint asked, heading towards the door of the range. He motioned for the others to follow him.

“All are currently on location Agent Barton. Do you wish for me to request their presence?”

“Yeah, ask them to head to the landing pad.”

“Request sent Agent Barton,” FRIDAY informed him.

“What are you up to Clint?” Natasha asked, walking at his side.

“You’ll see,” Clint replied as they entered the elevator. “Meet you there, going to make a stop.”

 

Half an hour later, the group was standing in the the middle of the landing pad waiting on Clint to arrive. The quinjet was tucked away in the hangar bay behind them at the moment.

“So does anyone know what this is all about?” James asked, the War Machine armor standing behind him.

Natasha shrugged but had that enigmatic smile on her lips.

Tony just pointed at Natasha then to Johnny then back to Natasha again. “You are up to something. Where’s Legolas? Can’t have one without the other of you. It’s like the 13th immutable universal law. Where Barton goes, so goes Romanoff.”

“Here,” Clint said as he comes out of the hanger bay and tosses something at Johnny.

Not even turning his head, he snags the item out of the air. He looks at the small bag then back at Clint, eyebrow raised. Getting a small nod, he opens the bag, looks in and starts to laugh. “Come on, are you serious?” he asks.

Shrugging, Clint lifts his hands palm up. “Hey, I use a bow and arrows. I don’t see why not.”

“What?” Sam asks as he looks between Clint and Johnny.

Still laughing, Johnny pulls the wrist rocket out of the bag.

“Oh My God.. No.. You did not just… you did…” Tony stares at the ‘primitive’ weapon with a look of disbelief, fascination and skepticism. “Alright, we all know how good you are Katniss, but there is no way he can be that good with that.. that… toy.”

Motioning for Clint to hand over something, Johnny manages to reduce his laugh to a throaty chuckle. “Ok, what ammo do you have for me?”

Clint had a shit eating smug smile on his face as he brought out a canister of paintballs. Bright, neon, multi-colored paintballs.

Like a kid in a candy shop, Johnny’s eyes light up with mischief. “OOhhh gimme gimme gimme!” He made a grabby hands gesture towards the canister.

 

“Miss Potts, perhaps you had better see this,” FRIDAY said as the AI brought up the local news channel on the large screen of the common room’s TV.

“News at 7: Paintballs rain down from the skies around Stark Tower. Iron Man, War Machine, Vision and Falcon have all been reported sporting bright neon colored paint splotches..." The video included several cell phone quality pictures of said Avengers.

“Ugh! Tony!” Pepper practically growled. “Oh wait till I get my hands on you! FRIDAY, contact the PR department, have a statement drawn up stating that anyone who was hit by one of those paintballs will be reimbursed for the damages done to their clothes, personal item or vehicle. Limited to $50 for dry cleaning or vehicle detailing. Make sure it’s also stated that it had to have happened between….whatever time they started and stopped. Items must be presented for verification before any monetary restitution is given. Otherwise everyone and their families will show up wearing paint wanting money.”

Meanwhile as Pepper was dealing with the SI side of things, Steve Rogers was playing the strict Team Leader. He was pacing back and forth, reading the riot act to those involved while the rest looked on with various expressions. Even Johnny wasn’t allowed to escape the chewing out. Though everyone involved were having a hard time keeping a straight face and acting serious. That included Vision.

“Of all the irresponsible, thoughtless, immature things to do… launching paintballs out over open air-”

“As opposed to closed air,” Tony commented.

“-where they can drop to hit the civilians below-”

“Which they did,” James pointed out.

“-And cause who knows what type of damage or injuries-”

“Ohes noes… what would have happened if we used the deadly ping pong balls? Or maybe those steel shot balls instead?” Natasha snarked.

“-not to mention the negative press it will generate for the Avengers or Stark Industries.”

“Our ‘popularity’,” Clint used his fingers to make quotation marks in the air, “is flagging already Cap. This hardly puts a dent into it.”

Steve stopped and narrowed his eyes in Clint’s direction. “None of this would be an issue if you hadn’t decided to take him off range where the situation could be monitored. Instead you take him out to the landing pad where anything could have happened, then turned him loose with a weapon.” He turned pointing a finger at Tony. “Shut it Tony, I don’t give a damn how technologically primitive you deem that slingshot, it is still a weapon. Just like my shield.” He snapped back around to face Clint again. “You turn him loose, unauthorized, with a weapon off the range and tell him to target your teammates. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I was thinking of it as a team exercise,” Clint replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “They get to remember that just ‘cause they are Avenger’s they can still be hit by someone who isn’t as well trained as they are. They also got a lesson in the fact that just ‘cause it’s a primitive weapon, it can’t be potentially deadly. What if instead of paint it contained some type of acid, explosive or biological weapon? The paint I gave him though is 100% biodegradable, made with environmentally friendly materials and non-lethal.”

Those that were not involved with the shenanigans lost their amusement when the implications of just what could have happened if this was serious sank in. Of late, most of the missions the Avengers went on were straight forward ones. Go rescue people trapped by a villain or natural disaster, take out a HYDRA or AIM base, or stop some plan for world domination by a nefarious evil doer. It was also an eye opener for some that something so simple as a slingshot could still be deadly. Never mind how many times they’d seen Steve use his shield to take down goons.

Steve lifted a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “One, this is not a team exercise. Two, you are not authorized to set up such exercises. And three, he is not a member of this team therefore even if you were authorized, he would not be included.”

The ‘He’ in this case being Johnny, who simply watched on as he stands next to Natasha, keeping his mouth shut. He just had to survive another month, two months at most, then both him and Alexei would be gone. He senses movement past the door just touching the edge of his gift. Shifting, he turns so he can face the door yet still keep an eye on the Captain and Clint, just in case things go downhill between the two men.

Natasha catches Johnny’s movement out of the corner of her eye. Turning she raises an eyebrow, lifting her chin in the direction of the door in silent question.

Eyebrows scrunched down a moment in a frown line, Johnny crosses his arms over his chest. With the hand tucked under his arm closest to Natasha, he flicks out two fingers. As soon as he gets an affirmative he slides back another step as if to blend in with the background.

Nat nods then catches Clint’s attention and signals: ‘2 approaching’.

Clint gives a subtle signal back to let Nat know he got the message. “Maybe it’s time we started incorporating non-Avengers into our team exercises. One day, we’re going to have to work alongside another team who are equal to if not better than us. Hell it might even be an entire team of enhanced. Not everyone is going to take your orders just because you are Captain America you know.”

Steve opens his mouth, about to make a reply when the door opens and both Fury and Pepper step into the room. He promptly shuts it and turns his full attention to the pair. “Pepper. Fury.” The greeting is short and to the point, a testament to the fact he is still annoyed as hell.

“Rogers. Problems?” Fury greeted back.

“No, not at all,” Steve returned.

“Good,” Fury supplied, a clear dismissal of the super soldier if there ever was one. “Barton, Romanoff. I got a job for you two. Come along and I’ll explain,” he said, turning around. “Thank you Ms. Potts,” he nodded to the CEO of SI as he headed to the door. “Oh and bring your tag along with you.”

Nat shared a look with Clint before she grabbed Johnny’s arm and shoved him forward. She ignored his look of confusion as she made sure he kept moving.

Clint followed the pair, giving Tony a nod as he, for the moment, ignored Steve. It wasn’t often that Fury pulled them away from the Avengers to do a job. And to order them to bring Johnny along meant the job was either a test of Johnny’s abilities or something else entirely that was required for him to be placed into Fury’s ranks.

Fury led the trio back down to the hanger where a second quinjet was parked on the landing pad, with its ramp down and engines on standby. “Since it’s his first time, I’m giving you 10 minutes to gear up and get your ass on board,” He said pointing to Clint and Natasha. He turned to Johnny next. “That’s plenty of time for me to chew your ass out before dragging your ass on board for more in depth questioning about your involvement with HYDRA. Ms. Potts will of course threaten to lodge a complaint if you are not returned, in the same condition, within 48 hours of her initial discovery that you are no longer on location. Got it?” Fury asked with his standard glare in place.

“What about Alexei? Half the people I trust with him are going to be coming along, one can get called away and the other works to run a company,” Johnny said warily.

Fury smirked. “Ms. Potts has graciously offered to watch the kid while you’re away.”

“I have no gear,” Johnny countered. He really didn’t like leaving Alexei behind, especially if he could be used as a bargaining chip.

Walking up the ramp, Fury kicked a box hidden in the shadow of the quinjet’s rear compartment. “No excuse kid. Get use to the idea of someone looking after him when you're working.”

Clint and Natasha returned less than 5 minutes later, geared up and ready to go.

As he passed Johnny, Clint handed him a shoulder bag. “From Tony,” Clint said as he stowed his own carry ons before sitting down and strapping himself in.

Johnny took the bag and opened the flap to glance inside. He closed the flap, looping the strap over his shoulder so it would hang properly then took a seat and strapped himself in. He gave a nod of thanks as Nat double checked his harness before strapping herself in as well.

By the time the 10 minute mark passed the quinjet was already airborne and heading off to the west, though it would change course several more times before arriving at its destination.

Once it was clear to do so, Johnny unstrapped and headed to the box. It was a simple foot locker that held his original gear. He sat down on the deck plating as he went through it all, checking to be sure everything was working properly. When he was satisfied, he returned it to the locker then retook his seat. He pulled the item out of the shoulder bag and examined it again, fingers brushing over the surface lightly. Flipping it around he slid it on, checking to be sure everything properly fitted. A soft click in his ear alerted him to the fact the com was now active and there was a message waiting for him.

“Hey Mr. Todd, I see you finally decided to put this exquisite piece of craftmanship on. Good to know you appreciate all the hard work that I put into it for you. Systems are fully calibrated and ready to go to work. I included a little extra so get it out of the bag and put it on. It’s based off the same environmental system I use, only smaller...like your face only smaller. It’ll come in handy if you hang with Barton long enough after he’s had one too many refried bean burritos of questionable quality. Oh and you had better come back alive and in one piece cause I am not keeping the kid. I’m not ready to be a daddy yet, even if Pepper is head over heels for the little tyke.”

Johnny huffed a soft laugh as he reached in and pulls out the other item there. A quick examination then he slid it into place. There was a barely audible hiss as it locked into place. Within a few breaths, the scent that defines the interior of a quinjet was washed away, replaced by clean, filtered air. His eyes darted to the small readout. As he requested, Tony kept it to the ‘idiot lite’ level of information. Once synched up though, FRIDAY would have access to the full range of information.

Nat moved closer, examining it with a practiced eye. “Tony does good work when he wants,” she said. She reached up, touching one of the ‘ears’ and smirked as it flicked backwards, just like a real animal’s ear would.

“Proximity triggered I bet, to hide the audio receptors from close observation. Only Tony,” Johnny said in a tone of fond exasperation, his voice coming out lower and softer than normal. He reached up to remove the mask but Nat stopped him.

“Only Tony,” Nat agreed. “What’s the longest you’ve worn it?”

“A few hours while we were working on the calibrations.”

“Leave it on. Get use to wearing it for extended periods,” Nat instructed.

Johnny did as instructed and left the mask on until they returned to the Tower two days later. The only part that came off during that time was the lower half so he could eat and drink. When they returned, they were greeted by Tony, who demanded the mask back for ‘more calibrations and adjustments’, and Pepper, who looked somewhat tired but in a good mood even for being somewhere around ‘it's way too early to be awake yet’ in the morning. Johnny gave Pepper a quick one armed hug, a sincere thanks and a peck on the temple before he headed, zombie-like, off to his room. Wanda, bless her, had Alexei and agreed to keep him until the afternoon. Clint and Natasha headed off in their own direction to wind down in their normal fashion.

Life in the Tower returned to normal that day, once Johnny was up. After being informed va FRIDAY that training would resume the next day, Johnny made his way up to the common floor to Alexei’s ‘paddock’. Pepper had insisted on ‘fencing off’ an area now that the baby was working his way through the crawling stage. Stopping outside of the area, Johnny watched as Alexei squealed in frustration, the small roomba he had been after once more escaping his grasp.

“Determined isn’t he?” Bruce commented.

The squeal turned to an angry wailing as Alexei lost his coordination, ending up once more on his belly.

Johnny winced at the volume and pitch of the screaming. “And frustrated,” he agreed.

The wailing tapered off as the roomba rolled past. Attached to it was plastic toy links that rattled enticingly. Alexei was on the move again, crawling after it as if the previous frustration never was.

“Ok, urban legend - true or false. All the machines here in the tower have some form of AI built into them after Tony tinkered with them,” Johnny stated.

“I neither confirm nor deny those allegations,” Tony said as he strolled up to the pair. “Come, walk with me Swiper.”

Johnny arched an eyebrow. “Dora the Explorer? Not finding too many fox references are you?” he asked as he watched Alexei.

“If the moniker fits,” Tony said with a knowing smirk as he tapped the side of his head.

Johnny turned, gave a nod to Bruce then started after Tony. He caught up with him at the elevator. “Do Clint or Natasha know?”

“Know what?” Tony shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants. He didn’t bother hitting the floor button, but the elevator started to ascend anyways.

“The innocent act doesn’t work well on you,” Johnny said as he leaned against the back of the elevator, one foot propped up and his arms crossed over his chest.

The elevator stopped and the door opened. “We do,” Nat said, joining the pair. “Tony,” she greeted with a nod. The doors closed and the elevator started to descend this time.

“Natasha,” Tony returned. “Katniss not coming?” The doors opened again, this time he held out a hand, indicating it was time to disembark.

“What took you so long?” Clint asked from where he stood near the doors to Tony’s lab. “I was getting bored and my coffee's gone cold.”

The quartet entered the lab after Tony disengaged the security. As soon as they were in, the security reengaged and the glass went opaque. “FRIDAY, sweetheart, hold all my calls.”

“Yes Sir,” FRIDAY responded.

“Bring up Project Sticky Fingers and give me some music,” Tony ordered as he stepped into the open area of the lab. Holographic displays came up all around him as the lights lowered about 15%. “Alright Swiper, talk to me,” he said as he brought up the schematics of the mask as a whole. Reaching out, he grasp the top and the bottom, separating the two parts, leaving them side by side.

Johnny snagged one of the rolling chairs scattered around the lab and sat down as he stared up at the holo. “The top half...I found myself having to turn my head more to look at anything in the peripheral, otherwise I would start to get a headache from the eyestrain. The readouts were sharp, clear and didn’t fade into the background if I switched filters. Didn’t notice any issues with the seals at the edge though may want to include some type of sweatband. If the enviro is overloaded or compromised I’m going to be dealing with sweat build up at some point. I noticed a slight pressure above and behind the right ear, not a problem for short term use but long term it could become an issue. It may have been a slight warping or some sort of interference.” Reaching up he ran a hand through his hair as he thought if there was anything else. “Oh, the straps. Replacing them might be a pain in the ass if it happens in the field, but I’d like to keep them leather and velcro.”

Tony started working on the design as Johnny spoke. Once complete, he pushed it to the side and started on the bottom half of the mask. There was a bit more than just aesthetics that needed to be tweaked. He motioned for Johnny to stand in front of him as he sculpted the bottom part of the mask to better fit (and look cool at the same time). He tried several different designs that included a neck guard, making Johnny go through a full range of motions. None of the designs gave him both protection and flexibility he required. “I’ll get back to you on this one. Here,” Tony said directing Johnny’s attention to the suit of armor in the corner of the lab. “You put the paint there so you can take it off. Think of it as repayment,” he smirked as he waved Johnny away. “Just ask Dum-E if you need more supplies.”

Johnny laughed and wandered over to the armor. He took the opportunity to take a closer look. He scratched at the paint splotches on the chest area, noting that it flaked off fairly easy.

“And no molesting my armor!” Tony yelled from across the lab.

“Oh come on, it’d be the only action I get around this place,” Johnny replied.

Tony shook his head, turning back to the spy twins. “OK, what’s up. What have you two cooked up for us this time? Something else to put a twist in spangle’s star studded undies? Just don’t do anything to piss Pepper off though,” Tony said as he clapped his hands then rubbed them together.

“Something that Cap can’t find fault with,” Clint said. “A little team bonding, some (hopeful) fun and training all rolled into one. Ever play laser tag?”

Tony just gave Clint a look. He had been too busy either with his projects or partying (or both at the same time) to have played any games. “FRIDAY, bring up everything on laser tag.”

“Yes Sir.”

Twenty minutes later, Tony had a dozen designs sketched out ranging from ultra-realistic to completely whimsical. The laser system itself was knocked out in under two minutes flat. The system to register the ‘hit’ was only marginally more difficult, mostly it involved figuring out the placement of the zones. “What’s the incentive to keep from getting ‘tagged’?” Tony asked, still playing with designs. “Well other than FRIDAY alerting everyone that is.”

“Add a mild taser to it,” Natasha said. “Enough to know you’ve been hit but not enough to stun or do damage.”

“You mean like the static shock Thor sometimes throws off after battle?” Tony asked, mind already leaping ahead.

“Yeah,” Clint said, flipping through the designs of the ‘weapons’. While the bow was his primary weapon, he was still highly proficient with guns and rifles. “Here, use this design.” The design in question was somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Easy to identify as a toy, especially if bright neon colored materials were used. “Just think, if these work out you can start a brand new Stark Industries product line.”

Nat poked at the design Clint chose, rotating the view to examine it from all angles. “Single shot and three round bursts. No need for full auto,” she stated. Looking over to where Johnny was still cleaning the armor, she called him over.

“Yeah?” Johnny asked, wiping his hands on a rag. “I’m almo-” He jerked away, rubbing the cheek of his ass. “What the hell?” he asked, giving Tony a look of mild annoyance and confusion.

Tony just smiled smugly back. “Pepper, this morning when you returned. Swiper no swiping.”

Clint pressed a hand to his mouth to smother his laughter. “Got your attention?” he asked.

“Yes, it did. What the hell was that for?” Johnny asked as he crossed his arms.

“Not too much?” Nat inquired.

Johnny shifted his weight to his other leg. “I’ve had worse when I was hit with a cattle prod, but yes, I can still feel my ass cheek thank you. What are you three up to?” he questioned.

“Your training.”

“Tomorrow morning, 6am. Dress for a job but keep it as civilian as possible,” Clint ordered. “You’ll receive an address and a 5 minute head start. Beat me there, and stay outdoors. We should be back before Alexei wakes, but if not Nat can take him until we get back.”

“And if I do?” Johnny asked. “Beat you to the address that is.”

“Loser is responsible for breakfast. You win, I buy. I win, you cook.”

Johnny mulls it over for a moment before nodding. “Fair enough.” He glances at Nat and Tony, “Still need me or can I go back to what I was doing?”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll run it through a carwash later,” Tony tosses over his shoulder absently, already lost in whatever he is working on.

Nat just slowly shook her head and turned away to watch Tony work.

Johnny leaned back against a counter, fingers drummed against his thigh absently as he made a list of what he might like for breakfast and what he knew how to cook. Odds were, he’d be cooking for 90% of the time. “Do you need me for anything else?”

“Why? Got a hot date?” Tony asked.

Johnny smirked. “Yeah, got a real cute babe upstairs waiting on me. I plan on maximum cuddle time with ‘em on the couch.”

“You are sick,” Tony commented.

“And you’re the one that had their mind vanish into the gutter,” Johnny shot back. When he didn’t receive any other comments, he pushed off the counter and exited the lab. Before hitting the common room, he stopped by the kitchen to check what he would need to request FRIDAY acquire for him. “FRIDAY? Weather forecast for tomorrow please?”

“Mid to high 30’s are forecast for the high with a low in the upper 20’s,” the AI responded.

“Fuck… I hate the cold,” Johnny muttered as he looked through the pantry, the freezer and the fridges. “Could you please put in a request for diced sweet potatoes, Dixie Lily grits… and….. hmmm… McCormick's white gravy mix,”

“Request has been sent in,” FRIDAY responded.

“Thank you,” Johnny replied as he made his way into the common room to get that cuddle time with Alexei before he was put down for the night. “Ooo there’s my baby boy,” he said, stepping over the fence to pick the baby up. “Thanks again Wanda. I owe you,” he said, leaning over to give the young woman a peck on the cheek.

“It was no problem,” Wanda replied amusedly as she watched the pair step into the elevator.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 20

 

On the Run
--------------------------

 

Middle of March…..

 

At a quarter to 6am on a Monday, Johnny was waiting in the Avengers private access area, staring out through the one way glass to the city streets beyond. While he was starting to get overly warm dressed as he was now, he knew once past the door it would all change. He wished he was up in his room still in his bed but that wouldn’t help him in the long run. He sensed the elevator before it arrived and turned in its direction. He was expecting Clint by himself, but what he got was not only Clint, but the Captain and Sam. After a few moments he nodded a greeting. “Morning.”

Clint was dressed in civies as well, with a heavy leather jacket over them. He nodded his approval of Johnny’s choice of wardrobe. “Hands,” he ordered, then nodded again upon seeing the gloves Johnny was wearing. “Here,” he fished a tiny case containing an earbud out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Johnny. “In case you get lost,” he said.

“I’ll probably need it, knowing my luck. A lot of changes since I was here last time around,” Johnny replied as he put the earbud in. As he did, he glanced at the other two, noting they were in winter running gear.

“Please nod if you are receiving audio Foxx,” FRIDAY requested.

Johnny nodded as instructed. He glanced up to the digital display, watching as 5:59 rolled over to 6:00. He didn’t say anything as he turned and exited the building. The cold had a dampness to it that promised it was going to be a miserable run.

Clint reached up and tapped the com. “9/11 Memorial via the Ground Zero Museum Workshop and stay the hell off the major thoroughfares.” He tapped it again, turning it off.

“What’s that about,” Steve asked. He wanted to know what was going on so delayed his usual morning run time until he found out.

“Training,” Clint replied, leaning against the wall.

“How?” Sam asked, curious.

Clint smiled, “He has to beat me there.” He pulled a camera out of the opposite jacket pocket. “Without breaking cover,” he said as he checked the camera to be sure it was working correctly.

“Huh,” Steve said, looking thoughtful. “Let me know how it turns out,” he said before gesturing to the door.

“Hey Cap,” Clint called.

“Yeah?”

Clint changed his mind. “Nevermind,” he said with a shake of his head. He still had another 2 minutes before he could leave.

Steve eyed Clint a moment then nodded, stepping out into the cold with Sam. Once the doors closed behind him, he glanced to the side at his friend. “Care for a detour?” he asked.

“Aww man… that’s a long ass run,” Sam replied.

Steve grinned as he set an easy pace. “Yeah, but we’re not restricted.”

Sam shrugged, matching Steve’s pace. “Whatever you say man.”

 

With a hand pressed to the stitch in his side, Johnny walked through the morning crowd as he kept an eye out for Clint. At one point, he had stopped to lean against a building, hand raised as if to shade his eyes from the morning sun, but in truth scanning the rooftops of the area. There was a world of difference between running on a treadmill and reality of running through city during morning rush hour without being seen. He did manage to spot the Captain and his friend without them spotting him in turn. His gift did him little good with all the milling tourists, but he was still able to thwart two pickpockets working the area. The first was an older man. He snagged the reaching hand by the thumb and twisted, dislocating the digit. The second was a young pre-teen. With a hand firmly wrapped around the girl’s wrist, he dragged her over to one of the numerous food carts and bought her something to eat. All while mentally cursing himself for being a bleeding heart fool. He slipped her a twenty and sent her on her way without a backward glance. Another scan of the area resulted in spotting Clint, leaning against the edge of the viewing pool of the First Tower. “Why here?” he asked coming up beside him.

“As a reminder.”

Neither one spoke as they moved with the crowd until they reached the edge where they broke away. Johnny nudged Clint’s shoulder and nodded towards a cab parked not far away.

“Morning Seymour,” Johnny said as he slid into the back seat of the vehicle. “The Tower please.”

“Sure thing,” Seymour replied, waiting till Clint slid in and closed the door before pulling out into traffic.

“Oh, can you see to it these things are returned?” Johnny asked, pulling out several wallets from within his coat.

Seymour nodded, “Will do.”

“I returned the favor when the idiot tried to pickpocket me,” he explained with a shrug at the pointed look from Clint. “And dislocated his thumb as a warning.” He relaxed back into the seat, finger tapping to the music the cabby was playing. “...big wheel keep on turnin, proud Mary keep on burning…. What?”

“Nothing Kid,” Clint said as he turned away to hide the amused grin.

 

Exiting the elevator, Johnny walked with a slight limp while Clint moved at an easy stroll. Pausing a moment before opening the door, he glanced at the other man. “Anything in particular or something specific in mind?” he asked, turning the doorknob and pushing it open.

Clint shrugged. “Edible food.”

“Morning boys,” Natasha said in greeting as she spooned baby food into Alexei’s waiting mouth. Smeared food all around his mouth indicated it was a work in progress.

As Johnny passed by, he leaned over and planted a kiss on Alexei’s crown. “Good morning little man,” he murmured then glanced at Nat. “Stay for breakfast?”

Shrugging, Nat spooned more food into the waiting mouth. “Sure,” she said, deftly catching what was spit back out with the spoon. “That was delivered this morning,” she said nodding to a box on the countertop. She then nodded to Clint, sliding his laptop over to him as he sat down.

Twenty minutes later, Johnny was standing at the stove cooking as Clint and Nat discussed something on the laptop. “Breakfast in five,” he called out as he started pulling large bowls out of the cupboard. After dishing up the food, he transferred the bowls to the table, refilled the coffee mugs and took his own place at the table. It was a hearty southern breakfast of grits, bacon, eggs and cheesy hashbrowns.

Nat poked her spoon at the grits, eyebrow raised in question. It’s a food she hasn’t really encountered before, at least that she can remember. Not many of her missions were located in the Southern US. When she took a small bite, she found it had an odd consistency and was, by itself, rather bland.

Clint was more practical about it and dug in without a second thought. Grits was a food item that was either loved unconditionally or loathed with a passion. And like most people not from the South, he found it wasn’t to his taste. But he was practical about it. Food was food, fuel for the workout ahead.

Finding Nat’s reactions amusing, Johnny dug in as well after he mixed everything together in a hodgepodge. Even though he was born in the South, he only lived there for a short period of time before he was moved elsewhere. “Blame Clint if you don’t like the grits. He failed to specify what I had to cook.”

Once breakfast was finished and dishes deposited in the sink, the trio gathered in the living room area where Clint had the laptop connected with the TV screen. A map of the city with GPS markers, each accompanied by a series of photos of Johnny at that location, was displayed on the screen. The distance between markers varied. A couple were fairly close together, a couple were wide spaced while the rest was about even. In total Johnny traveled closer to 7 miles rather than the 4.5 miles if he had taken a direct route. They spent through lunch discussing where Johnny broke cover and how it could have been avoided. A late lunch was taken on the common floor before they headed back to the gym level for the afternoon portion of the workout and training.

Dinner that night was a hodgepodge, catch as catch can, leftover night with a first come first served attitude, and unless a name was on it, it was fair game. It was considered dangerous to be in the path to the fridge when there were several very hungry Avengers headed in that direction. Tony and Pepper escaped the insanity by going out for the evening and those who were willing to wait, they were treated with a hot meal of sweet and spicy chicken stir fry with rice. Suddenly those leftovers didn’t look to great. Wanda, Natasha, and Clint were the envy of the night.

“How the hell do you three warrant a cooked meal every time?” Sam asked, eyeing his day old chinese takeout box then their food.

“Because they are harsh taskmasters, and I bow willingly to them,” Johnny said, joining the three with his own plateful of food. “Besides, traditionally anyone who has been apprenticed to a master, is also their servant. They cook, clean, run errands and anything else demanded of the Master in addition to their training.”

“Aye, tis how it is done on Asgard,” Thor commented. “A master must take time to teach the apprentice. Time that once was taken up with normal chores of the household. So as payment, an apprentice now does those chores.”

“That can’t be right,” James commented. “Sounds more like indentured servitude than anything else. Didn’t that go out with the dark ages?” he asked to the room at large.

Once most of his food had been consumed, Johnny turned his attention to Clint. “So what’s the plan? A run every day or…?” he asked, trailing off.

Clint had discussed it earlier with Nat and both came to the same agreement. “No. Every other day this week. Nat will join us one day. The rest of the training stays the same. Next week we’ll try every day.”

“Wait. Wait! So if we join this training you’re doing, does that mean he has to cook for us too?” Sam asked.

“Sam…” Steve started to say more but was cut off.

“No, if this training was anything like this morning, it should be easy enough to do right? All we got to do is beat him to whatever location Barton there decides on. Right?” Sam asked.

“There’s a bit more to it than that,” Clint hedged. As a kid growing up on the homestead, there were many a day he’d spent roaming the woods and playing in the streams. He learned how to hunt and fish, and one of the tricks for both was knowing how to lure in the prey. “How many times did you spot them?” he asked Johnny. Hook.

“At least once,” Johnny replied. “At the memorial.”

“How many times did you two spot him?”

“We didn’t,” Steve said as Sam shook his head.

Clint shrugged, “Eh, not sure if you two are up for it to be honest.” Line.

“So you’re saying that we,” Steve motioned in a circular fashion to indicate everyone, “are not capable of locating, tailing and capturing.. tagging.. a single person with fair to moderate skills.”

“Some of you are, the rest.. not so much,” Clint replied. Just wiggle the line a little to entice the prey.

“That sounds like a challenge Barton,” Steve said pointing a finger at the archer.

Once again Clint shrugged, lifting his hand palm up as if to say ‘take it anyway you want’.

“Alright, if you want to see it as a challenge why don’t we sweeten the pot,” Natasha chimed in.

“How so?”

“Make a game of it. If he wins, you have to include him on any team practice as if he was an Avenger.”

“And if we win?” Steve asks.

“He cooks.”

Sam and James did a high-five. The thought of meal (or meals) that wasn’t takeout or left overs and they didn’t have to do the cooking for was worth chasing after someone for.

Steve shot the two men a look before rolling his eyes. Strategically speaking, Nat and Clint were the aces up his sleeve. With plenty to take the eyes in the sky positions, they should have no problem tracking Johnny.

“Hold up, I want some ground rules laid for this since I’m the one being hunted,” Johnny put in.

“What do you have in mind?” Thor asked.

“Rule 1 - on foot and in civies. Rule 2 - at minimum a five minute head start. Rule 3 - You cannot use FRIDAY or any other means to track me. You have to do it all on your own,” Johnny said as he ticked the points off on his fingers. “Rule 4 - No civilians involved, as help, or collateral damage, and Rule 5 - no getting physical. I KNOW I can’t win a fist fight against Captain America.”

“Sounds fair, does it not my friends?” Thor asked, entirely too jovial about it.

“Indeed,” Steve agreed. OK so he lost his aerial advantage, but he still had Clint and Nat. “Agreed. When do you want to start?”

“6am the day after tomorrow,” Clint said with a smug smile.

“What happens if he does not make it to the location but is not found within an allotted time either?” Wanda asked.

A sideways glance at Clint, Nat thinks about it for a few moments. “He loses, but you don’t win either.”

Steve caught the phrasing of Nat’s reply. “Wait? What? What do you mean ‘us’? You’re going to be on our side, right?”

“You’re side Cap?” Clint asked, amused. “Oh no. Me and Nat are on neither side. The ‘win’ is entirely up to your team.” And sinker. He enjoyed that look on Steve’s face when he realized he’d just been outfoxed.

 

Wednesday morning was another cold one, but at least it promised to be nice and clear. No one was very surprised when Tony bowed out, claiming he would rather watch via FRIDAY than participate in ‘running around like idiots in the cold and coming into contact with who knows how many germs’. Neither were they surprised when Bruce also bowed out, stating that the morning rush hour crowds wouldn’t be very calming for him. Everyone else paired up for the first run. Steve and Sam, Wanda and Vision, Thor and Rhodes.

Johnny nodded, indicating he could hear FRIDAY in his earpiece as Clint did a once over. This time around though, to make it more fair, only he heard the destination. He was informed by the AI that everyone else would be told once the 5 minute head start had expired. Once again, he was not allowed to use the main thoroughfares to reach his destination.

Johnny took off in a direction that was almost 120 degrees in another direction from the location given. Only after he was sure he was out of the private access’s line of sight did he turn in the correct direction. It did cut into his head start, but it also didn’t give any indication of where he was headed. The only problem was that they would know soon enough and it would be all for naught if they set up an ambush at the final destination. It was a problem he would deal with once he came to it and not until.

Back at the tower, Tony settled into his favorite chair in the private theater with one of his green smoothies. On the screen, FRIDAY displayed a map of the city, line-framed and from the top down, in SI UltraMax. When combined with the slight curve of the screen, it put even the best IMAX and UHD capable screens to shame. He watched as the target location lite up, followed by a fox icon that was on the move. Shifting in the seat, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a micro-headset. “FRIDAY, patch all comms through to the headset. Give Swiper full audio reception but limit outbound to just the three of us. And don’t let him know I can hear him.”

“Got it boss,” the AI replied. Not a moment too soon as the rest of the icons lite up on the map and FRIDAY announced the target location to everyone else.

“Alright everyone, listen up. Thor, James, you two head to the location and set up for an ambush. Wanda, Vision, flank the right side while Sam and myself will flank to the left,” Steve ordered. “Remember, no civilians are to be involved and no collateral damage. If you spot him, alert the rest of the team then follow until I give the order to intercept.”

On the screen, three pairs of icons split up and started moving. Clint and Nat’s icons were moving but in way that indicated they already knew where Johnny was. Johnny’s stopped moving, Tony noted, the moment Steve started talking but started again a few seconds later. A small arrow icon next to each indicated distance from ground level of each one. It looked like Clint had already taken to the rooftops while Nat stuck to ground level.

When Johnny heard Steve’s voice over the comm, he almost tripped but caught himself in time. “Shit,” he muttered, taking off again. “FRIDAY?” he asked, unsure of the other’s could hear him.

“Yes Foxx?”

“Can they hear me?” he asked, glancing left then right as he darted across a road, taking to another back alley.

“No. I am the only one that can hear you at the moment.”

“Thank the gods,” Johnny muttered as he slowed down and joined the flow of humanity in its rush to get to work. He was lucky there were enough people of similar height mixed into the crowds that he didn’t stand out. He stopped long enough to purchase a messenger bag off of what looked to be a university student. When the crowd reached a major intersection, he crossed with it then turned, walking down one of the lesser side streets with a filched newspaper in hand as if he had walked this route a million times already.

Nearly half an hour had passed and no one had any luck so far in locating Johnny. Stopping at an intersection, Steve scanned the crowds, looking for either the distinctive white hair of Johnny’s or the hooded coat he wore. as he continued to scan, it came to him. “Wanda, can you pick up thoughts or images without actively scanning for them?” Steve asked.

Wanda stepped to the side, out of the path of foot traffic, as she looked at Vision. “Isn’t that cheating Captain?”

Steve chuckled, “Rule #3, we can’t use FRIDAY or any implied technological means to track him, we have to do so under our own power. Can’t help that you happen to have a power that will let you track him.”

“Fuck,” Johnny muttered. “Figures something would come back to bite me on the ass.”

Tony leaned forward, elbows on knees, hands clasp in front of his mouth. “Sneaky, underhanded but not breaking the rules of the game. Not very nice Capsicle,” Tony said.

Wanda bit her lip, hesitating before answering. “Alright Captain, I’ll try.” she said. Taking a deep breath then letting it out, she started passively scanning the people around her, looking for anything that might be related to Johnny. She felt Vision slid an arm about her waist, protecting and guiding her as they started moving again.

Back at the tower, Bruce wandered about, searching for Tony. There were a few things he wanted to discuss with the man about various projects they were working on together, but he wasn’t in his lab. “FRIDAY? Where’s Tony?”

“Sir is in the private theater Dr. Banner. Shall I let him know you are looking for him?”

“No thank you, I’ll join him there instead,” Bruce replied, heading in the general direction of the elevators. “How long have we had a private theater?” he asked himself softly. Once on the right floor, he headed down a corridor to a set of double doors. Opening one, he slipped inside to the small reception area that housed a popcorn cart, a tiered shelf filled with all sorts of candies and an ice filled cooler loaded down with an assortment of drinks. Shaking his head, he followed the only other exit from the room. Stepping past the thick, blackout curtains, he found himself in a moderate sized room filled with comfortable recliners, small side tables and a screen that dominated one entire wall. He located both Tony sitting in the middle, splitting his attention between the screen and his phone.

Crossing the floor to stand behind Tony, Bruce watched over Tony’s shoulder for several minutes. “Are you cheating, Tony?”

Glancing up from his phone, he checked the screen then turned to Bruce and smiled. “Au contraire, mon Frere. I am not playing, so I cannot be cheating.” He looked at the screen again then touched his headset. “ Swiper, turn right at the next alley, then get high. Team Spangles and Team Hogwarts are flanking you and about to get visual.” He muted the headset. “6 against 1 is kinda long odds, and I like the kid. Hey, how do you feel about fondue for dinner? I’m cooking.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, I’m ordering. But I will make the call myself, if it’s that important.”

 

Swiper, turn right at the next alley, then get high. Team Spangles and Team Hogwarts are flanking you and about to get visual.” It was Tony’s voice in his ear, not FRIDAY’s.

Johnny wasn’t going to question the assistance. As instructed he turned right down the next alleyway then stretched his legs in a sprint. Reaching inside his coat, he pulled a short collapsed carbon-composite climbing staff from the small of his back. A flick of the wrist had it extended and ready to be put to use. He spotted a delivery truck parked close enough that he could reach the building’s fire escape from the its roof without having to pull the ladder down. Thirty seconds later, he made the leap from the truck to the fire escape and pulling himself up and over the railing. Up he went, as fast as he could, proud of the fact he was balanced enough on his feet he barely made the metal rattle as he passed. Once he reached the rooftop, he scanned the area both visually and with his gift. It was all clear for the moment. He dashed across the roof, putting his improved (thanks to Natasha) skills to use as he made a diving leap across the alley to the rooftop of the next building.

Keeping up his pace, Johnny crossed the rooftop, making another crazy leap across to the next one. At the third rooftop, he ran into a problem. He’d run out of rooftops to cross with ease. He’d made it to 9th Avenue and was forced to descend to street level again.

“Swiper, I never heard anyone say you HAD to stay outdoors. Or above ground, for that matter.”

“Fucking hell.. I’m an idiot,” Johnny muttered as he rubbed his forehead. “Thanks.” He turned north for a moment and ducked into a shop Liberty Bicycles. He comes back out a few moments later and takes off down 9th until he reaches a small store. Fifteen minutes later, he’s exiting the store on rollerblades. “The rule was, I had to be ‘on foot’, rollerblades count as being ‘on foot’, don’t they?” With the messenger bag slung across his back, wearing a bright red and gold beanie and matching scarf, he looked like any one of the hundreds of messengers that roamed the city at any given time.

“Whatever you say, Swiper. I’m just an innocent bystander in all this. Cross at the next intersection. You’re getting too close to Team Spangles.”

With a rogue’s grin, Johnny darted across the street before the intersection. He spun, slapping the hood of a taxi, making a rather rude gesture to the driver before he was on the move again. A pretty decent imitation of the recklessness of most messengers in their pursuit of the best times and the most deliveries in a day. Between his agility and his gift, he was able to weave in and out of traffic, avoiding some potentially hazardous collisions with moving vehicles. “What’s the status of Thor and Rhodes?” he asked, the blare of horns fading in the distance.

Tony gestured, moving the map and zooming in on the intrepid Air and Space Museum. The markers representing Thor and Rhodes were stopped on the plaza outside the museum ticket booth, stationed about 50 feet apart, and not moving. "Hold and cover, Swiper. Something's fishy here, and it's not just the docks."

He pulled up the map in real time and zoomed in yet again. A crowd was milling 5 or 6 deep around a golden head to one side, and across the way, Rhodey stood next to the information kiosk, scrutinizing everyone who came near. Tony had seen it in person more than enough times to recognized the failed 'casual' stance his strictly military friend was trying to adopt.

"Iron Hammer has your objective staked out. Rhodey is watching the pamphlet stand and it looks like Thor is playing 'Selfie & Signature.'" They all took turns being the 'accessible' one, but Thor, who was himself 24/7, was often mobbed in public no matter what he wore. No amount of denim and plaid could keep his dedicated fans from trying to check out his 'hammer.'

"What happened to no civilian involvement?" Johnny muttered.

"Actually, I think that's what he's trying to do," Tony explained. "He's got them way out of the way in case something were to happen. Thor doesn't disguise easily."

"So if I go out there, they have me," Johnny concluded.

Tony stared at the screen. "Can you see it?"

"If I stick my head out, yeah. It's an aircraft carrier. You can see it from space."

"I am seeing it from space," Tony muttered. "Okay, look, you are as good as there. Look around on the ground. People throw away those brochures everywhere. Pick one up and go. The clock will reset for Rhodey and Point Break right away, and the others as they get there."

"Is this even legal?" Johnny asked.

"I'm pretty sure unauthorized war-gaming in downtown New York is fairly far up the illegal list. You're there. Take a paper and go. Spangles and Hogwarts are still moving in. It's time to move out."

Reaching up, Johnny yanked the beanie and the scarf off, stuffing both into the messenger bag then pulled that off as well and hid it under his coat. Flipping his hood up over his too distinctive hair, he scanned the ground. Spotting a brochure that wasn’t in too bad of a shape, he darted out and snagged it off the ground. Stuffing it into a thigh pocket, he took off back the way he came, weaving through the crowds in a slouch. Natural height plus extra the rollerblades gave him put him a head above the people around him. “Alright, I’ve got the brochure. What do I do now to confirm it? I’m coming up to 12th and 46th.”

“Hold the brochure in hand as if you are reading it when you reach the intersection,” FRIDAY instructed. The AI accessed the traffic cameras for visual confirmation. “First Objective has been completed,” FRIDAY announced. “Your next objective is the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. You must acquire a free brochure to proceed to the next objective. 5 minute head start begins now,” the AI instructed to Johnny only.

“Son of a bitch.... War Machine, Thor. Report!” Steve barked. He nodded to Sam as he speed up his pace to a jog.

“How the hell?” Rhodes said in disbelief. “I was standing here the entire time. I didn’t see anyone that even came close to matching him.”

“Aye Captain, I kept the civilians at a safe distance and not once did I see anyone who matched young Foxx’s description within the crowds.” Thor sounded almost proud of the young man. “He will make a fine addition one day.”

“He’s-” -not going to be an Avenger, Steve was about to say but stopped before the words were out in the open. What made someone exceptional enough to be considered for place with the team? Skills? Abilities? Or was it something else completely. If he tried to deny Johnny a place due to having worked with HYDRA then Wanda would never have made the team. He couldn’t claim that it was the lack of respect or the ability to work with others either. Tony was a prime example right there of not playing with others nicely. He shook his head, trying to rid his mind of those thoughts for the moment and focus on the mission at hand. “Nevermind, we’ll find out once we catch him and return to the Tower. You two are on point again. Thor, keep the civilians away and War Machine-”

“I know, keep an eye on the kiosks as I look for Foxx,” Rhodes said.

“Wanda, Vision. Report,” Steve ordered but with less of a bark this time.

“I’m sorry Captain, I cannot keep the passive scanning up long enough to be of any use. And he hides himself well enough that no one notices,” Wanda offered.

“Indeed, I find that I am guiding and protecting Wanda more than I am searching for Foxx amongst the people around us,” Vision added.

A breath blown out in annoyance, Steve kept the pace steady as he and Sam jogged the most direct route to the first location. “Alright. Don’t worry about the scanning for now. Just check periodically on the chance he reveals himself. Vision, keep her protected when she does. Once you arrive at the museum and are given the go, head north by north east direction. Sam and I will cover the more north eastern direction,” Steve said.

“This kid’s good when he’s not playing around,” Sam admitted.

Steve just grunted in reply for the moment.

 

Johnny thought that it was good to know that he had at least managed to earn the respect of both Thor and Sam. Both tended to act as counsel to the Captain which might help mitigate their differences. “Which route shaves the most time off and gives me the best advantages? The Flushing Local over to Time Square then switch to the #1 Broadway-7th Ave line? Or hit the 42nd/Port Authority bus terminal to the #1 line?” Johnny asked as he ‘bladed his way between vehicles, coming to a stop with the morning crowd at the intersection of 46th and 11th. He needed to find either a thrift store/second hand shop or find someone willing to trade so he could pick up a new disguise. This close to the Intrepid meant there was a chance to score some Naval items, like a pea coat. “Maybe I should wander around asking about a ‘nuclear whessel’,” he muttered in a Romani accent.

Johnny crossed with the traffic, bringing a hand up to pull his coat closer about his neck. Definitely needed another scarf, he’d gotten use to the warmth it provided. Half way down 46th he cut left into an alley, avoiding potholes and too rough pavement as he exited out on 47th, almost directly across from a bakery. The lack of anything resembling food this morning was a matter his stomach was taking serious offense to now. Darting between vehicles, ignoring the typical response it caused, he cut to the west until he reached the bakery as the staff was putting out fresh from the oven goods. A few minutes later, with an over-priced bottle of OJ and a paper bag loaded with savory goods, he turned east once more until he came to another alley. He got lucky and found someone to trade the messenger bag to in exchange for an equally battered backpack. He gave the man the OJ and the other pastry as well and in return the man gave him directions to a nearby thrift store.

The man that emerged from the thrift store was bent at the shoulders, as if weary with the world. A dark navy pea coat was wrapped about his body, an old trapper’s hat with the ear flaps down and a lovingly knitted scarf coiled around his neck completed the picture. He carried an old backpack, stuffed with his possessions, slung over one shoulder. If white hair peeked out from around the hat, no one thought twice about it. Crossing 48th with shuffled steps, he continued across 10th then up to 49th. His goal was 50th and 8th where he could board the C line for the trip to 59th-Columbus Circle then a transfer to the #1. He’d occasionally mutter to himself, as if holding a conversation with an invisible companion. “FRIDAY? Did he get in trouble already?” Johnny asked. It’d been awhile since he heard anything. Not even the chatter from the Avengers in the field. “FRIDAY?” he asked again. When he didn’t get a reply, he huffed. “Well fuck. On my own again it seems.”

At first Johnny wasn’t sure, but by the time he reached 50th and 9th, he was positive. He was being followed. Now the question was: who was following him. Once the person was close enough, he spoke up. “So, has the game been lost?” he asked turning his head to the side to glance at the person.

The person was a twenty-something year old woman, too busy texting away on her phone to notice she was being spoken to. She gave the odd, old looking man standing next to her a confused yet annoyed look before returning to her phone, not even bothering to notice what was going on around her. She stepped off the curb only to find herself roughly yanked back to land on her ass as her phone went clattering off into the gutter. “What the fuck!?” she yelled before a car zooms dangerously close as it passes right through the spot she would have been occupying. The sound of screeching tires, blaring horns and yells of incensed drivers filled the intersection for the moment.

“Your life or your phone? Which is easier to replace, hmm?” Johnny asked in a heavy accent before crossing the intersection, blending in with the morning foot traffic.

Johnny reached the metro stop at 50th and 8th. The wait wasn’t too bad now that it a little later in the morning. He purposely hung back some so that when he did board the subway car, his only option was to stand. When it came time, he planned to point out that he was still ‘on foot’, even if the rule was bent a little. When he disembarked at 59th & Columbus Circle, the Transit Police stationed there paid him more attention than the rest. Because no one was complaining about him and he hadn’t done anything disruptive, he was given the standard warning about panhandling before being advised to move on. He transferred to the #1 line, again waiting till he had little choice but to stand. When he disembarked at 66th-Lincoln center, no one paid him any notice. Once he arrived at the performance center, the brochure was easy to acquire. Before leaving, he turned towards the NYC Ballet. He wished it was open so he could look around more, but it wasn’t. He’d have to come back at later. For the moment, it was time to check in with FRIDAY and get his next destination. As instructed, at the first intersection that had a traffic camera, he held the brochure as if reading it.

“Your next destination is the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” FRIDAY said. “Agent Barton has firmly instructed that Sir no longer assist you in this endeavor. He has also ordered that I no longer include you in the communications loop.”

“Thank you FRIDAY for the assistance I did receive though. I figured as much when I didn’t get a reply back,” Johnny replied, ignoring the odd looks he was getting. “Could you pass a request on to Dr. Banner for me? After I either make it to the next location or if I am ‘caught’, could you ask him to put the diced sweet potatoes in the oven, on 325 degrees, 30 minutes or until they are done, for me? Just have him do the entire bag. I figure I’ll be cooking breakfast for everyone,” he said in amusement.

 

“Of course. Request has been passed to Dr. Banner and he has affirmed that he will do so. You are welcome Foxx, I did enjoy working with you. Good luck,” FRIDAY said.

 

“Listen up everyone, the Foxx just got the Lincoln Center brochure. Score’s 2-0 in his favor. As of now I’m rescinding the 5 min wait time. Everyone head to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Clint instructed then cut the connection. He switched channels to the private one he shared with Nat. “You gotta admit, the kid hasn’t done too bad so far.”

“With some extra help though,” Nat answered back, phone to her ear as if she was speaking on it instead of the earpiece.

“Not like Steve having Wanda use her power wasn’t extra help,” Clint countered. “The rules weren’t broken, but they sure as hell were bent.”

Nat just laughed. “I’ve had fun tailing Johnny. He’s working with what he’s got and not doing too bad, could use more training though. I shall add method acting to his training regime. Managed to prevent someone from getting hit by a car. By the way, when is the shocksuit going to be ready?”

“Tony said it was mostly done, just needed the final fine tuning,” Clint said. “Instead of weapons work, want to do that today?”

“Sure, why not.”

 

“Alright Avengers, take the most direct route to Central Park that you can without drawing too much attention to yourself. Spread out and canvas in a northeast direction starting from the entrance you arrive at. There’s too much open space for Foxx to hide effectively or lose us around corners. Wanda, I want you scanning again, take center just in case he’s already crossed the left flank position. Thor, be yourself and draw the crowds. More people gathered in one spot means less people roaming, thus higher probability of spotting him,” Steve said as he and Sam jogged up 11th avenue to 58th then east towards 8th avenue. Up ahead he could see Thor striding along with Rhodes keeping pace. “Vision, what’s yours and Wanda’s location?”

“At this time we are on 52nd street, approaching 9th Avenue,” Vision responded.

“Who gets the honors once we find him?” Rhodes asked. Every so often he would have to quicken his steps into a jog to keep pace with the Asgardian.

“Whosoever catches him I would think,” Thor replied. “Though, the true honors should go to our leader.”

“Well gotta find him first before we can catch em,” Steve grumbled. Keeping himself to Sam’s pace, they passed Thor and Rhodes and made it to Central Park in about 12 minutes. “Me and Sam are in the park now, we’ll take the western side headed north. Thor, Rhodes, go east then head north towards the zoo. Vision, ETA?”

“10-15 minutes,” Vision replied.

“OK let me know when you arrive,” Steve ordered as he scanned the faces around him.

 

Johnny continued north on Columbus instead of east to Central Park. Along the way he slipped into different stores ranging from costume to special effects to normal beauty supply stores. He even stopped into a smoke shop. The transformation was a subtle one. Nearly white eyes were replaced by watery blue of aged eyes, skin of his face and neck darkened a little and his white hair now had silvery grey highlights and was slicked back. The pea coat and hat was gone as well as the backpack. The scarf he kept, but instead of coiled about his neck it now draped, covering the back of his neck and hanging to his waist. He had removed the inner lining of his great coat and split the hood open via the hidden zipper. The shuffling walk became a gliding, confidant step. His hooked climbing staff was brought out and extended fully to imitate a walking cane.

The man that walked into the American Museum of Natural History, was a distinguished looking elderly gentleman in a faded but well cared for coat. He exited through the western entrance, a store bag hanging from his arm. He neither hurried nor did he take his time crossing Central Park along the 79th Street Transverse. He was about three quarters of the way when a young woman threaded her arm through his and smiled up at him.

“I’ve caught you,” Wanda said, her lips curling in a smug smile.

“So you have my dear, so you have. But let me have my fun? Don’t tell the Captain just yet,” Johnny said with an amused smile of his own as he reached over to pat her arm where it looped through his.

“You make a very handsome elderly man,” Wanda said after looking Johnny over again. “Very distinguished looking.”

“Thank you, that was what I was aiming for. I’m pleased it worked,” Johnny replied as he lead her to a very familiar cab that had just stopped for them. “Since the game is over, may as well catch a cab home. Good morning Seymour,” he greeted after opening the door and allowing Wanda in first. He followed, closing the door behind him. “Stark Tower please.”

“‘Morning. You got it,” Seymour replied as he put the cab in gear again.

 

Thirty minutes later, Johnny was showered and dressed in his usual workout clothes, standing by the stove cooking breakfast. Pepper and Bruce was setting the table as Wanda played with Alexei with Tony looking on. The rest of the Avengers were making their way to the common floor after getting cleaned up from the morning's training. After everyone was settled at the table, breakfast was served up and demolished. Once the dishes were cleared away, everyone except Pepper headed to the largest conference room for Clint and Nat’s assessment and critiques of the morning session. No one was left untouched by the pair in their evaluations, not even Bruce, though his was minor compared to the rest.

All in all, it had turned out to be an informative and enlightening morning.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 21

 

Consequences
------------------------

 

Middle of March, Same day…..

 

Johnny found himself staring up at the ceiling blinking as white spots dancing before his eyes and his muscles twitched sporadically. He groaned when he tried to sit up, muscles refusing to cooperate. Instead he ended up rolled onto his side, curled up and with his eyes closed.

Nat stood over Johnny looking down at him. “How many was that?” she asked Tony as she knelt down next to him. A small spark of static arced between them when she poked him in the shoulder.

“5 in the limbs and another 3 in the torso. 2 in the abdomen/lower back and 1 in the chest/upper back,” Tony replied, looking at the data. “Analyse the data FRIDAY,” he ordered.

“3 of the 5 hits to the limbs would have shattered bones, rendering the limb useless. The two hits to the abdomen area would have hit his spleen and perforated his lower intestines. And the chest hit would have hit his lung and ricocheted off his spine due to the angle of the hit.”

Nat smirked. “Congratulations, you were killed 4 out of 5 times,” she told Johnny. “Now, pain level, what is it?”

Johnny groaned, opening one eye. “6 of 10,” he groaned. “I can still move.. I think.” He tried to extend one arm, but it refused to do more than twitch.

Nat grabbed Johnny’s arm to straighten it out, eliciting a hiss of pain from him as she did. She arched an eyebrow, but ran her hand up his arm, checking how tight his muscles were. When she passed over the exact spot where the shock sensor was located, she received a mild (for her) shock as he let out another hiss. “Quit being a baby, it doesn’t hurt that much. Barely half of what my taser disks can do,” she told him.

“But… were you hit with multiple…. one after another?” Johnny asked, still a bit breathless.

“Well, no,” Nat conceded.

“Uh-huh,” Johnny muttered as muscles finally start to relax enough to uncurl. “Fuck….” he breathes out. “Can you put limiters in place?” he asked as he managed to sit up. “Building up a tolerance for getting tasered is all well and good but damn… not like this.” He reached up to the neckline to peel the spandex like material down to look at his chest where he got ‘hit’. “Is it suppose to happen?” he asked as he pointed to the spot.

Nat, still kneeling next to Johnny took a look. The spot in question was an angry red color with lines radiating outwards from it. “Tony? Clint?” she called over her shoulder. She ran a finger over the spot, noting the heat that radiated from it as well as the slight elevation of the skin.

Clint joined Nat and Johnny before Tony arrived. He took a look then nodded. “Yes. It’s a reminder to do better next time and not get hit,” he said. “No worse than getting hit with a paintball without protection.” He returned to the workbench where he was modifying and accessorizing the ‘TACT-R’ (rifle) he’d chosen. (TACT was a Tony-ism for ‘Transmitters Are Cool Toys!’) He picked it up, testing the weight again before bringing it up and checking the accuracy on the target sheet Tony had made for this very purpose. He then tested the firing cycle, which was designed to mimic the standard NATO 30-round mag of the M16A1. When the ‘magazine’ was empty, he had to hit the reset switch and wait 20 seconds for the reload to occur. Satisfied it was working properly, he set it aside and did the same for the TACT-P (pistol). The only difference was the amount of ‘ammo’ and the reload time. The TACT-P only ‘held’ 13 rounds and took 10 seconds to reload vs the 30 rounds and 20 seconds to reload for the TACT-R. “Now that you’ve designed and built these things, what are you going to do with em?” he asked Tony.

“Don’t know yet,” Tony replied as he examined the data gathered from the last round of testing. He had to agree with Johnny about the limiters to the suite. Too many hits to the same area were going to cause issues, not to mention possible injuries. “How about this, maximum of 3 hits to the torso: 2 lower, 1 upper, and 3 max per limb before a system reset is required.”

“2 per limb,” Johnny countered as he pulled the top off with a wince. He was either getting better from all the training or else he was getting accustomed to the level of pain. He let out a yelp as Nat slapped an ice pack between his shoulderblades. As he twisted away, he managed to snag the ice pack before it dropped. “Thanks,” he muttered sarcastically as he flipped the other two off when they started laughing.

“You’re welcome,” Nat replied with a smirk as she walked over to the workbench Clint was at to work on her own set of TACT-Ps.

“3 per limb with a maximum of 7 in total for all 4 limbs,” Clint declared.

Tony motioned Johnny over to his desk where he was standing as he brought up another holo. “Give me some input here. I found a solution to the problem from earlier. Nomex thread and kevlar fiber. It’s a blend that is resistant to small arms fire and will give you advanced flexibility for your line of work. Tell me what you like and dislike in the design.”

Coming up behind Tony, Johnny dropped the ice pack on the surface before he put his hands on the desk on either side of Tony then propped his chin on his shoulder. He stared at the design, blinking tiredly as he waited for a reaction. He knew he was pushing it but sometimes he just didn’t care.

Tony froze, eyes going wide at the sudden physical contact. “What are you doing?” he asked, looking straight forward.

“Hmm… looking at the design... expecting to get slapped, elbowed or punched...or shot in the ass by one of those two over there since I’m still wearing the bottom of the suit... seeing how much I can get away with… contemplating sneaking out tonight to either look for the bastard’s old office location or go get laid while I can take advantage of someone watching Alexei… want to just curl up with someone for the night, to hell with the sex... take your pick,” Johnny said. He shifted so that it was his forehead now, instead of his chin, that rested against Tony’s shoulder “Fuck, I think I’ve hit the whine level of tired,” he murmured.

Tony glanced over to where Nat and Clint was watching with identical amused expressions. He mouthed the word ‘help’ at the pair then pointed at Johnny who was still using his shoulder as a pillow.

Clint turned away, hand pressed to his mouth, hard pressed to keep his laughter silent. He shifted to face the workbench again as he picked up another TACT-P to test its accuracy and make any adjustments needed. “I can always see if you can be shot while hiding behind someone,” Clint offered.

Nat just shook her head as she worked on her own set of TACT-Ps. “He’s all yours for the moment,” she told Tony. She glanced to the side at Clint, angling herself just so. “Keep pushing?” she asked softly.

Clint nodded. “Backing off now won’t do him any favors in the long run.” He chanced a glance to the pair at Tony’s desk before he returned his gaze to Nat. “He’s tougher than he looks.”

Nodding in agreement, Nat focused her attention on finishing her customizations. “So, who will get what?” she asked nodding to the various pistols and rifles still awaiting final testing and customizations.

“Steve’s pretty proficient with both rifle and pistols,” Clint said, separating out said TACTs. “Sam is the only other person to use dual pistols with any skill. Thor and Vision will catch on quick, so they and James will all get a rifle and a pistol each.” He glances once more over to Tony and Johnny and makes a decision. “Wanda and Tony will get a single pistol. Bruce..”

“Bruce will play medic. There’s too great a risk for him to be out there with the others while training,” Nat decided. “We don’t need an unexpected code green.”

Clint nodded, “Alright.”

Seeing that he would get no help from Clint or Nat, he rolled his eyes and went back to work, ignoring Johnny for the moment. “You know if Pepper catches us, you’ll be in a hot mess of trouble,” he said.

“No.. WE will be in a hot mess of trouble,” Johnny mumbled into Tony’s shoulder blade.

“How is this suddenly a ‘we’ thing?” Tony asked as he manipulated the design in front of him. He was use to people hanging off of him, mostly women, the only men were Rhodey and Happy and… not going to go there. But yes, he was use to the physical contact, so it didn’t bother him much.

“You haven’t pushed me away yet,” Johnny pointed out, voice still muffled. It was very tempting to wrap his arms about Tony’s waist, to pull him closer and see how sensitive his neck was. To nibble on an earlobe and see if he was just as chatty during… “No, no… too temptingly good in a bad way thoughts,” he mumbled with a snigger.

“What are yo- Oh My God you did not just do that!” Tony yelled, jerking away at the same time as he shoved Johnny back. He reached up and started wiping frantically at his neck. “That is so childishly disgusting! Eww!” He plucked the ice pack off the desk and threw it at the younger man.

Johnny accepted the shove, moving backwards with it, turning it into a tumble to avoid the thrown ice pack. His sniggers turned to tired sounding laughter. He transitioned into a handstand then dropped lightly back to his feet before scrubbing his hands over his face then through his hair. “Sorry.. sorry.. couldn’t resist…” Looking up, he took a deep breath and blew it out. “I’ll be good… promise.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Tony replied in a half-serious tone of voice. “Just for that I should make your gear bright neon hot pink. Now get your ass over here, behave, and give me some input.”

Johnny started laughing again as he rubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes. “Oh gods, bad choice of words there Mr. Roboto, especially with my current frame of mind.”

Tony just scowls, but there’s laughter in his eyes none the less. “Need to improve your creativity with the names.”

Johnny propped an elbow in his cupped palm then used his free hand to tap fingers against his lips. “Hmm…. Maximilian, MCP, Max, Ahh.. DARYL… Tin Man, but that’s used a lot I bet. You’re too upbeat to be Marvin...Astro Boy, Mega Man, Bender!... Clank….” He bent his head down and started tapping his forehead in thought. “7-Zark-7….Oohhh BATs there you go….Gipsy Danger, Cherno Alpha, Striker Eureka, Crimson Typhoon.. not sure if those count though since they are dual piloted jaegers… though I guess with FRIDAY your suit could be considered ‘dual piloted’... ” He turned to look at Tony. “What? I’ve watched stuff, played video games…”

“Those… are not creative names. They are names taken from anime, cartoons, films, TV shows and video games,” Tony pointed out. “Now stop stalling.”

Once Johnny settled down and got serious, he and Tony got to work on designing his new gear. The suit was designed in 3 parts: pants, top and vest. Each one had plenty of pockets of various sizes to stash items in that didn’t detract from the sleek profile. The entire outfit was designed to protect without heavy or bulky armor getting in the way of his flexibility or his skills. Gloves and boots were added, each with an extremely fine yet flexible mesh of gold-titanium alloy sandwiched between the layers.

“I know I’ve asked it before but seriously, what is in this for you?” Johnny asked motioning towards the displays. “I know it’s not cheap to get good gear that fits properly, I paid out plenty for what I have and it’s second rate at best.” He was on his second wind finally but knew it wouldn’t last long plus it was getting late and he had another early morning tomorrow.

“I like you kid. I’m having fun with what I’m doing. Leave it at that,” Tony said.

Johnny threw his hands into the air. “I will repay you. Whether you like it or not,” he said as he stalked over to the workbench where Nat and Clint was finishing up. “He will not take no for an answer will he?” he asked.

“Nope,” Nat replied. “Never has and there’s only one exception to the ‘never will’.”

“Pepper?” Johnny asked as he leaned against the bench, arms crossed over his chest.

“You got it.”

Johnny watched the pair as they worked on the last of the TACTs. “Is there a chance we can relocate to somewhere more… open yet enclosed at the same time? Away from the crowds?”

“Cold feet?” Clint asked.

Johnny shook his head. “I just don’t look forward to falling several stories from a fire escape and getting killed or seriously injured because of someone’s attitude towards me.” He shrugged a shoulder. “Plus I have a feeling I’m going to get shot in the ass, literally, a dozen times or more. By the same person.”

“Oh come on, would we do something like that?” Nat asked innocently.

“Yes,” Johnny returned.

“You’re no fun,” Nat added with a grin.

“Yeah, by the way, anyone explain to the good captain, the game plan?” Johnny asked, glancing over at Tony then back to Nat and Clint. When he didn’t get an answer, he sighed. “That’s what I figured. Anyone need me for the rest of the night?” Again when he got no answer he just nodded this time. He headed to where his clothes were and changed before he headed to the doors of the lab. “I’m calling it a night. See you in the morning,” he said with a wave over his shoulder.

 

Clint, Nat and Johnny joined Thor and Wanda for lunch the next day and ended up walking into what appeared to be an ongoing argument between Steve and Tony over something.

“It’s a transmitter,” Tony said for the umptenth time in the last hour. “Does nobody listen to what I’ve been explaining to them for for the last god knows how long?” he asked in exasperation.

“It still looks like a gun,” Steve replied quite stubbornly.

Throwing his hands up, Tony stalked over to the bar and poured himself a drink. “Well I sure as hell couldn’t make them look like wands, now could I? The press would have a field day with that. ‘Avengers turn to witchcraft and sorcery in their quest to apprehend rogue kitsune.’” he said as he spread his hands as if displaying a banner.

“I am not going to be running all over the city chasing after him,” Steve pointed in Johnny’s direction after spotting him, “waving around something that looks like a god damned gun Tony!” Steve shot back, just as heated. “Just think of the field day the press will have at that.”

“How long has this been going on?” Johnny asked as he leaned closer to Wanda and kept his voice low. He didn’t want to bring too much attention to himself since he seemed to be part of what the argument was all about.

“The better part of an hour,” Wanda replied as she poked at her salad. “Tony calls it fun, Steve calls it a war game,” she added with a shake of her head. “I call it a headache listening to those two argue over it.”

“Hmm,” Johnny nodded. “What about you?” he asked Thor, turning to look at the Asgardian. “Do your people have anything like what those two are arguing about?”

“Do you mean war games or running around like mad men chasing after one another with weapons?” Thor asked back.

“Either? Both?” Johnny returned with a shrug. A vibrating chirp emanating from his pocket took his attention away from the demi-god. After he he fished his phone out, as he glanced at the text his expression subtly shifted. “I apologize, something has come up that requires my attention,” he said as he stood up, taking his half-eaten plate of lunch with him. “I’m not sure how long this will take, so I’ll meet you back in the gym when I’m done,” he informed Clint & Nat before walking into the kitchen to put it away.

Tony’s phone went off, alerting him to an important text just received. He held up a hand, signaling Steve to stop talking for a moment as he read it. “We are not finished,” he told the super soldier as he closed out the message, downed his drink then headed to the elevator.

Steve frowned. It wasn’t like Tony to just walk off in the middle of an argument, unless he felt he had won it that is. He turned to the group sitting at the table, noticing Johnny was missing. “What’s going on?” he asked once he sat down.

“I know not,” Thor said.

Wanda shrugged. “All I care about is that you two have stopped arguing over a game designed to teach.”

Clint also shrugged, but kept silent as he ate his lunch. He’d leave it up to Nat and her discretion on what to say.

“Personal business between Pepper, Tony and Johnny,” Nat finally said after much thought. She refused to elaborate any further when Steve asked.

 

When Johnny entered the gym over an hour and a half later, it was evident to Nat that something had shifted. His defense was sloppy as if distracted by something and his offense was more aggressive than usual indicating anger and or frustration. Separate, either problem would be easy to work out, but with them combined it made things a lot harder. After the fifth time she put him to the mat in under minute and the second time she drew blood, she’d had enough.

“Out!” Nat hissed at Johnny as she crossed her arms over her chest. She didn’t yell or gesticulate, in fact she lowered her voice and didn’t move a muscle as she spoke. “Right now you are a danger to yourself and to your trainers. So until you get your head back on straight, don’t bother to come to training.” She turned her back on him and walked away.

Sitting up, he wiped the blood away from his upper lip as he looked in Clint’s direction. The older man had his back to him and was talking to Nat. With a snarl, he slapped the mat as he got to his feet then stalked out after gathering his things. He avoided the elevator on the way back to his room, taking the stairs instead. Once in his room, he striped, leaving a trail of clothes to the bathroom door. He stepped into the shower, the water neither hot nor cold, and cleaned up. When he was finished, he leaned against the tiled wall and slid down to the floor before throwing the tantrum (yes, he would admit to it being a childish tantrum if asked), complete with screaming and hitting the floor with his fists. It helped take the edge off the pressure he was feeling, but it didn’t solve the problem at the center of it all. After sorting himself out, he left the shower then dressed so he could go retrieve Alexei from the common floor. As he picked Alexei up, he looked out the window in time to see the quinjet streak away from the tower. “FRIDAY? Which Avengers are currently still in the tower? I just want to know so I can more easily avoid them for the moment.”

“No Avengers are currently within the Tower.”

A bit of luck was on his side now, or so he thought. “Thank you. I’d like to send Ms. Potts a floral arrangement. Are there any that I should avoid so not to make the situation worse?”

“Ms. Potts has no allergic reactions to flowers.”

Johnny nodded as he stepped into the elevator with Alexei. After he reached his room, he put Alexei in his playpen then spent the next hour looking up the meanings of flowers. He selected the ones that best represented what he wanted to say, left the arrangement to the florists and requested a next day delivery. The floral arrangement consisted of bluebells, gladiolus, purple hyacinth, iris, a single yellow rose, snapdragons and red carnations. What he didn’t know, and would not find out till much later, was that Tony had taken Pepper on a 4-day weekend getaway. Dinner was a quiet affair with just himself and Alexei. Not long after that, he put the baby down for the night. A couple hours later, he left the Tower, returning early the next morning.

Friday morning, the Tower was quiet with the Avengers still gone. Johnny avoided the gym as well as the common floor, focusing instead on resuming some of his online studies that he had been neglecting in favor of physical training. It didn’t take him long before he cleared up his outstanding tuition balance, signed up and paid for several classes and had the online books rented. Between taking care of his schooling and starting his classes, he focused all his attention on Alexei, playing with him, talking to him and napping when he napped. He thought about skipping dinner but decided against it since he would be going out again that night.

Sunday rolls around, and Johnny debates booking a room at a hotel close to the UN. The lack of any available rooms within a block makes it an issue (He suspects FRIDAY has something to do with it but can’t prove it). Instead he plans on an early morning departure from the Tower with as little pomp as possible.

Mid-morning Monday, during the trip back from Malibu, Pepper receives a call from the SI Lawyers stating that the hearing has been canceled due to a security breach at the UN. She in turn calls Johnny but it goes straight to voicemail. For her next call, she goes straight to the top, not bothering with the go betweens and secondaries.

Either he expected the call or else he’s learned to just take her calls and be done with it. “Fury,” he answers, not bothering with pleasantries.

“Did you retrieve him already?” She asks.

“Him who?” Fury asks in return.

“Foxx… Johnny. The UN hearing was cancelled and he’s not answering his phone. FRIDAY’s already confirmed that he left the Tower this morning before 8am.”

“No,” Fury replied. “I do not have him.” He tapped the screen in front of him, bringing up various data. He wasn’t about to mention there was a minor delay in getting him placed with the other team. “If had him you would have known.”

“Where is the team? They are suppose to be guarding him and Alexei when they are required at the UN for the hearing,” Pepper inquires as she paces the aisle.

Tony is working on his phone, FRIDAY already running a search algorithm, incorporating traffic and security cams along all possible routes to the UN from the Tower. The only route that doesn’t require doubling back or circling is E 42nd street to 1st Avenue. He taps the phone, zooming in, wishing he was already back at the Tower where he has access to better displays.

“Sir, according to the traffic reports, there was a rather large accident at intersection of 42nd and a side street between The Westin New York Grand Central and the Museum of Tolerance which caused severe delay for the area. There are no traffic cams in that area and the security cams are all facing the wrong direction to be of use. I am attempting to access other cameras in the area.”

“Keep me updated,” Tony ordered as he closed the phone, looking up in time to see Pepper snap her own phone closed before she tossed it down on the seat. Standing up, he moved behind her, wrapping his arms about her waist and pulling her close. “Tell you what.. we can always adopt him then you can ground him for the rest of his natural life. Sounds like a deal? You’d get to spoil Alexei rotten then make Johnny deal with him.”

“Tony…” Pepper started, a hint of warning in her voice. Tony’s joke falling a bit short of the intended target.

“Pepper… Pep… Johnny’s a big boy and can take care of himself,” Tony pointed out.

“I’m not worried about him,” Pepper replied. “I’m worried about Alexei and what could happen to him.” It was mostly the truth, she didn’t want to admit she was a tiny bit worried about Johnny as well.

Tony wisely did not call Pepper on it, instead he continued to hold her until a discreet cough from the flight attendant caught his attention. “Yes?”

“I apologize for the interruption, Mr. Stark. We’ll be making our final approach to Teterboro in less than 10 minutes,” the man said. “Mr. Hogan is already there and waiting.”

Tony nodded, turning his attention back to Pepper. “Time to take our seats,” he said, kissing the side of her neck before letting her go. Once she was settled, he took his own seat. He opened the phone once more taking another look. The Mark 46 would be waiting on him once they landed. “If the team hasn’t assembled by the time I arrive, I will see to it that they are.”

Pepper gives him a smile before she turns to look out the window.

 

Once the jet has landed and taxied to the proper area, the door is opened and the stairs barely extended before Tony is down on the tarmac. The Mark 46 armor wraps around him in seconds, FRIDAY has a flight path already plotted. With a nod to Pepper, he ignites the repulsors and is airborne, streaking towards the Tower.

Tony landed at the Tower, the armor being disassembled automatically as he strode along the walkway to the common floor. He stopped to look over the early lunch time gathering of the team. “Class, can anyone tell me what is wrong with this picture?” he asked in a clipped tone, hands on the railing as he leaned forward. “Anyone? Come on now, it’s not that hard.”

Steve glanced around at the rest of the Avengers, then up at Tony. “What are you on about Tony?” he asked as he looked back, mentally counting heads.

“What was important about today?” Tony clarified as he pushed away from the railing and descended the stairs.

“The UN hearing, which was canceled, by the way. We received the call from the lawyers as well as a text from Johnny saying he’d received the same call around 9:30. Well before we needed to leave,” Steve replied, then frowned in thought. It was the only time he had received any messages from him since he arrived at the Tower. “What did he say to you Natasha?” he asked.

“Said he was going to stay in his room for the day,” Nat said. “Clint and I were planning on speaking to him after lunch. Why?” she asked, getting the feeling that she should have confronted Johnny earlier.

“FRIDAY?” Tony asked, holding up a hand. “Please inform the rest of the class as to what is going on.”

“A pleasure sir,” the AI responded. Even though it was just a computer program, a highly advanced one at that, it still ‘liked’ Johnny. “At 7:34am Foxx left the Tower with Alexei to attend the UN hearing as required. He never arrived at UN Headquarters. Even with morning traffic he should have arrived by 8am at the latest. The security breach occurred at around 8:17am. After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the breach was a false alarm. I hypothesize that the false alarm was used as a decoy to draw attention away from the fact Foxx never arrived. I have already analysed the text sent to your phone was indeed made from Foxx’s, but he was not the one to compose it. The cell phone tower it originated from is located 138 miles north in Albany, New York.”

Tony checked his watch. “It is now 11:08. We are 3 hours behind whomever took him. You have 5 minutes to gear up and get your ass in the quinjet or you get left behind. And I’d advise against that. Pepper’s not too happy at the moment.” With that he turned and headed back up the stairs to the walkway and his armor. Once he was in his armor, he contacted Pepper. “What’s your status Pep? Everyone’s scrambling.”

“So help me Tony, if you leave before I get there I will make everyone’s life a living hell,” Pepper shot back. “You are not leaving me out of this one.”

“But-”

“Not a word Tony.”

“Yes dear.”

Wisely no one argued the delay in departure when Pepper stalked aboard the quinjet wearing battle togs. All it took was a look sent Steve’s way to stop him from saying anything about her being there. She handed the bag she was carrying off to Tony then sat down and secured herself in a seat.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 22

 

Marco!
---------------------

 

Last week of March, Monday morning…..

It was a simple matter of setting the alarm for the normal time he would be going to training. Dealing with Alexei was a slightly different matter though, he was cranky from having been awoke earlier than normal. A bottle followed by being secured in his carrier then covered with a light blanket settled the matter as he fell back asleep rather quickly. Once dressed, he glanced at the clock and noted that it was past time the Captain and Sam returned from their run but early enough no one else was really up and about yet. He replaced the light blanket with a heavier one, then slipped into the long coat that went with his suit.

At 7:34am, Johnny crossed the threshold of the Tower and was striding across the sidewalk to the waiting cab. “Morning Seymour. UN Headquarters please,” he said as he secured Alexei’s carrier then settled himself in as well. As the cab pulled away, merging into traffic, he looked out the back window at the Tower one last time then turned to face forward once more.

They had just passed the intersection of 3rd and 42nd when traffic slowed to a crawl. It looked like a semi had attempted to turn left onto 42nd from the side road that divided the block in half. The resulting accident left one car pinned under the trailer, and the other with the front smashed in. The police and emergency vehicles were on site working the accident.

Johnny wasn’t too concerned with the traffic delay since he wasn’t needed at the hearing for several hours yet. Propping his elbow on the door and his chin in his palm, he stared out the window absently, watching the pedestrians stand around and gawk. As they moved forward bit by bit, he noticed the vehicles behind them were being directed to turn around and find another way. Thinking it odd, he turned around to look out the back window and saw that a large delivery truck was now effectively boxing them in. When he turned around to ask Seymour about it, he found a pistol aimed at him by a man that wasn’t Seymour. “Wha-” The man fired point blank range. He felt the impact to his chest then nothing.

“Targets acquired. Moving to secondary pick up point,” the man said into a comm device before turning the cab down the side street. Ahead of the cab was a large delivery truck, similar to the one that had blocked them from behind. A pair of loading ramps were extended from the back, allowing the man to drive the cab up into the back of the truck. A few moments later, the man was climbing down out of the back of the truck. The ramps were loaded, the doors closed and secured then the truck was driving away.

No one noticed anything amiss, too busy gawking at the accident or focused on their phones. This was New York after all, where stranger things have happened.

 

When Johnny came to, several things instantly jumped out at him. Alexei was screaming, the fact his chest hurt like he’d been punched in the sternum by the Captain, his stomach was attempting to crawl up his throat and out his mouth, and he was being manhandled by a couple of people. He stayed limp as he tried to figure out what was going on. Voices almost drowned out by the sound of helicopter blades idling up in the distance ruled out the possibility he was being carried by several of the Avengers. All at once his mind snapped into crystal clarity, focused on one single thought, protect Alexei by any means necessary. All it took was one second of inattention and he surged into action. He high-kicked, the toe of his shoe catching the person under the chin and snapping their head back causing them to drop his other foot. Once his foot touched the ground, he had enough traction he was able to shove himself into the person at his shoulders. Though his hands were cuffed, he was able to swing them up and grab double handfuls of hair, yank and twist to the side. He kicked off the ground, swinging his lower body up as if he was going to kip up to his feet, but instead used his weight to throw the person off balance. He grunted as his back hit the ground hard and the man (trained and armed his mind supplied), landed partially on him. The second man was back, grabbing for his ankles. He kicked, trying not to give anyone a chance to grab him as he twisted, fingers hooking into claws as he went from yanking to gouging into the second man’s scalp. Obscenities were shouted as he dug bloody furrows when he dragged the man closer and lunged, biting into soft flesh. The shouts turned into screams as the copper tang of blood coated his tongue. Multiple sets of hands grabbed him as several more people joined in and dragged him off his victim. A starburst of white followed by sudden pain as he was hit in the back of the head hard by something, possibly a rifle butt, stunned him long enough for his arms to be uncuffed then wrenched behind his back and re-cuffed. His feet were also cuffed together.

“Somebody gag and blindfold that bastard!” A voice ordered from somewhere closer to the helicopter. “And find some rags or something to clean up the blood! Better yet, shoot the idiot for getting bit in the first place.” The second order added as an afterthought.

The sound of someone yelling followed by a single gunshot reverberated across the rooftop.

Johnny was dragged to the waiting helicopter then unceremoniously thrown into the cabin.

“I thought you said he’d be out for the entire trip,” A first person said as they climbed in.

“How the hell was I supposed to know it doesn’t affect him the way it does other people?” the second snapped back. “And are you sure it’s safe to give the kid that stuff?”

“Shit yeah, gave it to mine all the time. Never heard a peep out of em when I didn’t wanna be bothered with em.”

Shaking his head, Johnny tried to clear the cobwebs but wasn’t having much luck. When he heard that they gave Alexei something to put him out, that did the trick. He tried to get to his knees, cursing at his captors in both English and Romani along with a few others he’d picked up in his travels. He didn’t get far before something slammed into his temple, rendering him unconscious.

“I’d just throw you out of the helo for all the trouble you’ve given me if it wasn’t for the fact they want you as well as the kid,” the first person groused, kicking Johnny in the side. “Alright, finish securing the prisoner then let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Yes, Sir!”

 

‘Received cancellation notice from lawyers. No hearing today.’ The send button was pushed and a moment later the phone beeped with a confirmation. “Message sent. We should have a few hours head start before they even know he’s missing,” the team tech said as he flipped the phone closed. “And then they have to figure out where he vanished to before they can start search-” The phone gave a vibrating chirp as a new message arrived. “Shit… ‘What are your plans?’-BW… shit.. what do I say?”

“Tell her he’s staying in for the day,” the team leader replied.

The tech typed out the message and hit send again. “Ok, we’re good.”

“Great, now let’s load up and go. Orders still stand. I’ve got the kid, you get him. Hail HYDRA.” The leader reached down and snagged the carrier before walking off to the waiting SUV.

“Hail HYDRA,” the tech replied back.

 

“Boss, you’ll want to see this,” FRIDAY said as the video screens came to life. A good quality security video started playing. “A building maintenance personnel discovered the body on the roof of the HBSC bank building. I took the liberty of investigating the security footage and verify that it was Foxx. I was able to cross reference security cams from the other buildings around it and was able to track the helicopter as far as Albany, New York before it landed.”

The Avengers (Plus One), looked on. They watched as a pair of men dressed in standard combat fatigues carried Johnny from one side of the screen towards the other. Steve, Nat and Clint all caught the moment he awoke and silently approved his tactics of staying limp till he could strike.

Nat’s lips quirked up in a smirk as Johnny performed a pointed toe high kick from his prone position. “And everyone has said ballet lessons were useless,” she commented to the group.

Steve shrugged. “If he had more swing room to put power into it, he could have snapped that man’s neck,” he pointed out. “As is though, did a good job of stunning him to give him some breathing room.”

“He’s stalling them,” Clint said from up front in the pilot’s seat of the quinjet. “The longer he keeps them in place, the better the chances are of us locating him sooner.”

“Damn! The kid fights dirty,” James commented. “You believe this Tones?”

“Yeah, I believe it….” Tony replied, working on finding everything he could and tracing it.

“No, he’s fighting desperate,” Steve countered. “You can see the edge of Alexei’s carrier here,” he pointed out. “He’s either scared or angry. Every few seconds I see his legs kicking wildly.”

Clint kept their course steady as he watched the screen to his right. “Johnny’s vicious when he’s desperate,” he said with a smirk. “Tore a chunk off that one guy’s face after scratching him bloody. Need to teach him to go for the throat, not noses or ears,” he said to Nat.

“Whatever works at the time. You don’t always have a selections to choose from,” Nat replied.

Wanda, Vision, Thor and Bruce had nothing to say after seeing the video. Both Wanda and Thor had seen parents fight to do all they could for their children, this was no different. Vision had nothing to compare it to so said nothing.

Pepper moved to stand next to Tony, her arms folded over her chest, fingers tapping against her arms. She watched as he did his magic with the video and all the information he gleaned from it.

“Only a single vehicle has left that location since it landed,” FRIDAY said. “I apologize Boss, I seemed to have borrowed a North Korean spy satellite to track the vehicle. Oops.”

“Tsk, tsk FRIDAY, such a naughty girl. Swiper’s been rubbing off on you I see,” Tony said with a smile, glancing to the side at Pepper.

“FRIDAY, find a way into the system and issue an Amber Alert,” Pepper ordered. “It will force them to slow down, either by having to change their method of travel or deal with Law Enforcement. I know it will alert them to the fact they’ve been discovered, but that can be an advantage for us. Less chance of accidental collateral damage in the form of civilian casualties.”

“Amber Alert has been issued.”

“ETA 10 minutes out from the location,” Clint said, dropping the quinjet’s altitude. “I can drop us right on top of it.”

“Slow down and stealth us,” Steve ordered, then turning to face the rest of the team. “Sam, Vision, go after that vehicle. Do not engage. IF they switch to a different vehicle, keep following and report back. Thor, I want you to disrupt the weather a little. Make it hard for them to use that helo to escape. Keep it localized and small though, no need to disrupt too many flights in or out.”

Clint backed off the speed before checking to be sure the rear hatch was clear. “Dropping the hatch.”

Once down, the rush of wind drown out any and all talk. Sam rechecked his wing pack then dropped his goggles down to cover his eyes. With a salute, he dove off the ramp, vanishing into the sky. Vision followed after by simply stepping off into the air and speeding after Falcon. Thor was a little more showy as he spun his hammer a few times, launching himself out into the air as well.

Clint closed the hatch, then flipped a switch. “Stealth is engaged.”

“Good, give Thor a minute or so then head in,” Steve said as he turned to face the rest of the group. “Bruce, stay with the jet unless needed. Wanda, I want you to stay with him and ensure no one gets too close. Just in case. Tony, James, I want you two to cover the rear doors of the place. We’ll go in the front. The rest of us will go in through the front then split up from there.”

“Captain, I’m picking up reports of gunfire and explosions from the target location. The Police and emergency services have already been notified and are on their way,” FRIDAY announced.

“Notify the others. Call in Fury’s support as well. Clint, take us in,” Steve ordered. “Can you give us visuals?”

“Bringing them up now.”

 

An hour earlier….

“What do you mean he’s gone?!” The Tech, a fellow by the name of Jesse, yelled in exasperation. First he couldn’t find anything in his supplies that affected their prisoner for more than a few moments. Now this. “All you had to do was keep an eye on a single prisoner. How hard can that be?” he asked. “Don’t answer that… Just.. lock the place down and find him!” When (not if) his SO found out about this there would be some serious repercussions.

Alarms started blaring as the laboratories were put into lockdown. Guards, armed and armored, were called in from other locations and stationed at the doors to the most important areas of the labs. The lab techs and scientists scrambled to backup data and last minute notes before they were escorted to the secure lockdown area. None were any wiser to who the intruder was or even why he was there in the first place.

‘Idiots,’ Johnny thought as he lay perfectly still, stretched out in the small space between the pipes and the ceiling in the service corridor. ‘No one looks up... not even trained grunts.’ Extending his gift outward, he searched for a pattern to the security personnel's movements. So far he noted that they traveled in pairs, two sets in opposite directions. It gave him a 15-20 second window to move before the next set arrived. ‘Twice the idiots for not checking to be sure I had nothing on me.’ He’d gotten out of tighter spots before but not while dealing with a concussion. The amount and variety of drugs they pumped into him trying to knock him out didn’t make him too happy either. Taking a deep breath, he waited for just the right moment then move. Twisting to the side, he dropped off the pipes to a four point landing before darting forward. A lockpick was already in his hand by the time he got to the door. ‘Note to HYDRA… thank you for using normal locks on your general supply room doors.’

The door was barely open wide enough for Johnny to slip through before it was closed again. The soft click of the lock engaging went unheard by the roaming patrols. He didn’t bother turning on the lights since the emergency lights were on. They gave him plenty of light to see by as he waited for the patrol to pass by the door before moving. He eyed the packs of laundered scrubs piled up in boxes on the shelf directly in front of him. As much as he’d love to be in cleaner clothes, he knew how well he could move in what he was currently wearing. Methodically he searched through the contents of each shelf in the room. There was little to be had that was of any use for him so he examined the ceiling, taking a page from Hawkeye’s play book and going the high road. ‘Shower.. if I can find a decontamination shower, I don’t give a fuck I’m getting a shower...these vents are filthy for being in a building full of labs. Someone should call the health inspector about it.’ Twenty minutes and two labs later, Johnny had picked up enough items to be considered well armed. From scalpels to bundled vials of chemicals, he had an arsenal of impromptu weapons.

In one hand Johnny held a gas cartridge powered jet injector containing a powerful tranquilizer. The stuff worked fast, dropping an adult in under 3 seconds (the lab techs sprawled out on the floor was evidence enough). In the other, a stun baton he’d acquired from one of the now unconscious door guards. Movement from around the corner had him ducking back into the lab, just in time to avoid the hail of bullets ripping into the walls and glass windows. He dove behind a sturdy counter, curling into a ball and protecting the back of his head with his hands as best he could as several canisters of volatile chemicals reacted rather spectacularly. Someone didn’t get the memo that guns were a no-no since the chemicals stored in some of the labs really didn’t play well with bullets. When he lifted his head, his eyes got wide at the site of bluish-white mist slithering across the floor like it was alive. He scrambled up and onto the counter before it got to him. The tranqued people on the floor were just shit out of luck, he wasn’t about to try and rescue any of them.

Johnny wasn’t sure what his options would be if the mist crept any higher and he didn’t want to find out either. He didn’t have to find out as the door was kicked inward and security surged in. A diving tackle from the countertop resulted in bodies toppling backwards into the hall. Twisting to the side, he came up to his feet in time to drop back to his hands and knees, mule kicking the legs out from under one of the grunts before going into a forward roll to his feet once more. He stuck around long enough to replace the jet injector with a second stun baton, which he put to use immediately on the downed grunts. Then he was off and running.

 

Almost as soon as the Avengers landed, the police backed off and let them handle the situation. Thor, having taken care of the helo with a nicely placed lightning strike, rejoined them. Tony and James took off, heading over the building’s roof to check for any back doors, their normal banter was reduced to a few quips.

“Alright, let’s go. Pepper, stay with Natasha and Clint. I know you can handle yourself, but I’d rather not have to explain anything to Tony if something happened to you,” Steve said. “When we come to an intersection, you three head to the right. We’ll head left. Support should arrive in the next 15 minutes. Standard drill, if you meet resistance, take it out.”

“Pep, take the bag with you,” Tony told her over the comms. “It might come in handy.”

There was the standard amount of resistance as they entered the building but it thinned out fairly quick. Most of the scientists and lab techs were quick to surrender with only a few die hards choosing the option of suicide instead.

“Cap, all clear on this end,” Clint reported.

“We even managed to find a big fish amongst the little minnows,” Nat said. “How are things on your end guys?”

“Boring. No one wants to talk to us,” Tony commented as he hacked one of lab computers.

“That’s cause most of em are either unconscious or dead,” James pointed out.

“Well.. I think we’ve found all the action. We’ve heard fighting but haven’t come across anyone yet,” Steve said as he directed Thor down a hall in one direction as he took the other. “After support takes control of the prisoners, feel free to join us.” The hallways were mostly dark, lit only by a few unbroken emergency lights. Smoke, mostly dissipated but still thick in areas, along with other noisome smells had flooded the halls, adding to the atmosphere. “Any chance you can bring the lights back on Tony?” he asked as he moved forward cautiously, shield at ready.

“Aw, Cap… Have you watched a scary horror movie recently? Is that why you don’t like the dark?” Tony quipped.

“Really Tony?” Steve returned. “Can’t you, for once, take something seri-” Out of seemingly nowhere, someone dropped down in front of him. He brought the shield up, blocking the pair of stun sticks as they descended. The harsh sound of electricity discharging against his shield echoed loudly in his ears. His attacker dropped below the level of his shield, twisting around in a leg sweep only to come back up again in a roundhouse kick followed by a side strike with one of the batons. Had he been a normal man, anyone of those attacks had the speed and accuracy to get past his defenses to land the hits and, if not incapacitated him, then sure as hell hurt. He jumped over the leg sweep, dodged back on the kick then blocked the side strick. The moment the attacker struck he was already cataloging holes in the person’s defenses, their strengths and weaknesses as well as any distinguishing features. Male, equal height, less muscle mass but fast, pale skin, white hair and blue tattoos. He’d found Johnny. Or rather Johnny had found him. It took only a moment to disengage the electromagnets on his glove and drop the shield. Twisting his right hand, he grabbed Johnny’s left bicep as he struck out with a quick (much pulled) jab to his solar plexus. At the same time he hooked his foot around Johnny’s ankle, knocking his feet out from under him and dropping him to the flat of his back. “Stay down kid,” Steve ordered.

Pain ripped across the back of Johnny’s head when he hit the ground, stunned, moments after his breath was knocked out of him. He squeezed his eyes closed as he fought to regain his ability to breath as an electrical hum was followed by rapid pinging then a swoosh as the air was displaced by an object flying past overhead. His gift painted a better picture. The Captain reclaiming his shield in time to block the hail of bullets as Thor’s hammer sailed overhead to take out the gunmen.

“What’s going on?”

“Cap?”

“I found ‘em,” Steve said in reply, one hand pressing down to keep Johnny from getting up. “Thor!” he called, pointing down the corridor in the direction of the gunmen.

“Aye!” The Asgardian answered, striding past the two Midgardians as he summoned his hammer back to him.

“Where’s Alexei? Who has him? Tell me none of you were stupid enough to bring him with you and if you were he’s somewhere safe... ” Johnny says as he grabs Steve’s wrist and forearm with the intent to shove the hand off his chest.

“What?” Steve asks, letting Johnny shove his hand away. Standing up, he offers his hand to assist, which is promptly refused, as he realizes the mistake everyone’s made.

As Johnny rolled to his feet, a wave of vertigo had him stumbling into the wall. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs, wincing as a stab of pain warned him that wasn’t the smartest things to do. Pressing the heel of his hand against his eyes, he gritted his teeth and let the pain settle into the background once more. It was in that moment, he realized Steve never answered him. “Who.. has.. Alexei…” he said, enunciating each word clearly as he turned his head to look directly at Steve.

Before Steve could answer, Sam radioed in. “Bad new Cap…”

“Now’s not the best time,” Steve said, turning and walking away, finger to his ear to block any chance of Johnny hearing anything.

“There is no ‘best time’ for this I’m afraid,” Vision said this time.

“Yeah…” Sam agreed. “They pulled off the roads to a small private airfield where they were picked up by a HYDRA quinjet. We got visual confirmation that they have Alexei.”

Steve looked over his shoulder a moment at Johnny and found him at within arms reach. How the hell he missed Johnny getting that close to him, he wasn’t sure. “Get to the point…” he said as he heard the fast approaching footsteps and turned back around. The rest of the team was arriving and by the looks on several faces, they were listening in as well.

“It appears that HYDRA has stealth capabilities now as well.”

“Shit,” Steve said softly as he transferred his shield to his back.

The whine of repulsors had Johnny turning to watch as both Tony and James appeared around the corner to land then continue on foot along with Thor. That made four of the Avengers along with Steve. Turning the other direction he spotted Clint and Natasha along with, surprisingly, Pepper. “Where are the others? Wanda and Vision, Bruce and Sam…” No one answered him. “Question for you Tony….” he said, looking straight at Steve, head tilted a fraction to the side.

Tony took a step forward, unsure of exactly what to do. He’d seen Johnny in all different manner of moods, but this was a new and dangerously unpredictable one. “Yeah kid?”

“You’re suit can detect all manners of things, can it not?” Johnny asked.

“Indeed.”

“Then do me a favor and scan for two things.”

Tony shifted, looking between Steve and Johnny. “What two things?” he asked cautiously.

“That pink and purple polka dotted elephant and the metric fuck-ton of bullshit he brought with him,” Johnny said as he grabbed the straps of Steve’s uniform. He shoved the Captain back into the wall, meeting no resistance at all. “I relied on... even trusted in... the one simple principle that a child’s life takes priority.” He let go of the straps and stepped back, turning as if to walk away, but instead he twisted around and slugged Steve. He drew back to hit him again but a hand grabbed his arm, stopping him.

“No,” Tony said. “First hit is free, you have to earn the rest.” He let Johnny’s arm go, moving it to his shoulder instead. “Come on.” He started walking towards the front of the building.

Johnny dropped his hand to his side, flexing his fingers as he did. He gave Steve one last look before turning to follow Tony. Once he turned a corner and was out of sight of the others, he staggered into a wall using it to brace himself up. Turning his back to the wall, he slid down to the floor then dropped his head between his knees. Adrenalin could only take him so far before it gave out and he crashed. A single thought ran through his head, over and over ‘They have Alexei.’

Tony could hear the others talking but chose to ignore it. If it was really important he’d have FRIDAY play it back for him. “Need more time?” he asked, looking from Johnny to Pepper and back.

Head still between his knees, Johnny shook his head. He leaned back, dragging air into his lungs, holding it, then letting it out. “No.. but I could use a hand up,” he said as he held out his hands.

“I think I can do that,” Tony replied with a quirked smile. He took one of the offered hand while Pepper took the other. Together they pulled Johnny to his feet. “I can hear the kiddies getting restless. We’d best get moving if we don’t want company just yet.” He looked at Pepper then at the bag she was still carrying. “You haven’t given it to him yet?”

“Haven’t had time yet,” Pepper answered as she took the bag off her shoulder and held it out to Johnny.

Taking it, Johnny opened the bag and saw the familiar mask sitting atop mat black material. He let out a soft ghost of a laugh. “You know, I could have used this an hour ago.” He closed it up and slung the strap over his shoulder. “Thank you.” He looked around for the closest lab placard then nodded to himself as he started walking away.

“Hey, Swiper. Exit’s that way,” Tony pointed out.

“Hazmat shower is that way,” Johnny replied, turning down a side hall but only getting a couple of steps before a hand closed around his arm, yanking him to a stop.

“Just where do you think you are going?” Pepper asked, one eyebrow raised. She wasn’t about to let him disappear again, not after everything that’s happened so far in locating him again.

Johnny ran a hand halfway through his hair before he closed it into a fist and tugged. “To the hazmat decontamination shower two corridors over,” he said. “I’ve just spent the last hour running around this place, avoiding getting caught, or shot, or both. I’ve gotten who knows how many chemicals on me during that time as the idiots decided shooting into labs filled with dangerous or unknown substances was the most brilliant of ideas. Please, I just want a shower.”

“You do have a rather unique smell wafting off of you at the moment,” Tony pointed out.

Pepper pulled her hand away, looking at it closer. There was a sheen to it that hadn’t been there before. And yes, he did smell worse than Tony after an all week binge in his lab. She let her hand heat up, burning away whatever it was and letting Extremis clean up any effects it might have had on her. “I have to agree with Tony on this,” She added.

 

Everyone except for Pepper, Tony, and Johnny were gathered inside the quinjet. Clint was in the pilot’s seat and Nat was perched on the edge of the secondary command chair, Bruce was towards the back and Wanda was sitting in one of the jump seats. Everyone else was standing around, leaving the middle clear.

“So how are we going to do this now that HYDRA has the babe?” Thor asked, arms crossed over his chest. He was concerned that his friend was taking setback too hard. Every warrior faced a time when plans went awry.

“To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. There’s no guarantee that anyone from this base even knows where another one is, and if they do it might not be the one they’ve taken Alexei to,” Steve admitted. “Our only option at the moment is to wait for HYDRA to contact us, or Johnny.”

“Au contraire mon Capitaine,” Tony said as he walked up the ramp with a pair of HYDRA agents thrown over his shoulders. “There is a plan,” he dropped both men into a heap at the foot of the storage unit in the middle of the floor. “A really good plan if I say so myself.”

Pepper followed with a pair of large, heavy looking duffles slung over her shoulders. If there happened to be a little bit of a ripple behind her, no one seemed to take immediate notice. She put the duffles in one of the side areas then took a seat.

“If I recall correctly, as part of your early career as Captain America, you starred in stage productions and even movies,” Tony said. “I’m right, right? Of course I’m right, I’m Tony Stark.” As he spoke, he walked to the tiny bay area and stepped out of his armor. “FRIDAY, load the co-ordinates. Katniss, if you would be so kind as to take us up.”

Clint frowned but after a nod from Steve, he started to swing the pilot’s seat around. He stopped and stared at an empty space for several heartbeats then shook his head. Once the chair was in the proper position, he powered the quinjet up, neither delaying nor hurring the pre-flight checks along. He checked with the airport tower to be sure the pattern was clear before he took them skyward.

“What are you planing Tony?” Steve asked. After a couple of seconds, he looked around. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t pinpoint it exactly. It was like he was hearing two sets of footsteps, instead of just Tony’s.

“Me? Oh no, not me. I’m just helping the plan along. It’s actually Mr. Todd’s plan. So back to that early career of yours,” Tony said as he moved around almost randomly.

Steve shifted, leaning to one side then the other trying to figure out just what was setting him off. “Yes, it was part of the USO Tour. Selling war bonds, drumming up support and all that.”

“Good. You get to try your hand at acting again. Stand there. Sam, to Steve’s left,” Tony instructed.

“On your left,” Sam quipped with an easy smile to Steve.

Steve gave him a look, then grinned back before turning to Tony once more.

“Rhody, on Steve’s right and Legolas, once we’re good, engage the autopilot and join the lineup.”

By this time, everyone realized something was going on. More than just Tony’s showboating. Someone else was aboard the quinjet with them, moving about but that was all for the moment. Neither Tony nor Pepper seemed alarmed in the least so the person had to be a friendly.

“Now, everyone else… yes, yes, gather around,” Tony motioned to everyone else to come closer. “Now gentlemen, and I use that term loosely for some, you four are in the supporting roles. You will all have one very important line to remember. This plan is all about.. Showmanship!….And… action!”

The air on top of the motorcycle storage bay shimmered and rippled. As if by magic a crouching figure was slowly appeared. The person was enveloped in a large hooded coat of black that shimmered like oil on water. Reaching up, they flipped the hood back, revealing white hair and a full faced fox mask. “Hail HYDRA!” Johnny said. Behind the mask a cheshire grin spread across his face.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 23

 

Polo!
-----------------------

 

Monday, late afternoon, Somewhere high above the Canadian landscape……

 

“No, you’re doing it all wrong,” Johnny said, exasperated. “There are two types of HYDRA agents. The mercs in it only for the money and the fanatics who believe in what HYDRA stands for.” He reached up to rub at his forehead but remembered at the last moment he still had the mask on. He wasn’t about to take it off just yet and let everyone see just how far past empty he was running on. Too much depended on pulling this off to take a break. Instead he drummed his fingers against the top. “Every merc I have ever had to cross paths with or even work with, have had some type of driving goal or vice.” He looked everyone over again, trying to spot problematic areas. Steve stuck out in all the mat black combat fatigues whereas Clint looked like he was born to wear em. James and Sam were somewhere in the middle of the two.

“Steve and vice do not go together,” Nat commented from her seat. Her disguise as a lab tech fit her like a second skin.

Steve shot Nat a look, not sure if he should be thankful or offended by that comment. “One can be made up,” he said. He knew he wasn’t good at the cloak and dagger stuff, much preferring for the straightforward missions.

Johnny shook his head. “No, you can’t just make something up and have it be believable. Or rather, most people can’t do that,” he nodded to Nat. “I’m betting she could at the drop of a hat.”

“Not taking that bet,” Clint said with a laugh.

“Alright, if you know so much about vices,” Steve challenged, “Name off a vice that would fit each of us and be believable.”

Eyebrows were raised by some as others made noises of protest.

Johnny threw his hands up as he rolled his (unseen) eyes and turned away. The desire to beat his head against the bulkhead was building. “Now I know just what my previous teachers had to deal with..” he muttered. Turning back around, he crossed his arms over his chest as he shifted his weight. “This isn’t about-”

“I like porn,” Clint spoke up.

“Fine scotch and even finer cigars,” James added.

Nat turned to face Clint, a genuinely curious expression on her face. “What about…”

In reply, Clint just shrugged. “We have an agreement.”

“Ah.”

Tony just smirked. “My vices have been tabloid news from the start. Besides, they are all behind me now.”

“Workaholic,” Pepper chimed in.

Johnny stepped back, slipping into the darker area of the right wing storage area. Flipping the hood up to hide the telltale soft blue glow of the eyes, he settled on the floor to think. How had it gone from the pre-op planning stage to Avenger oversharing time? He decided that if anyone ever offered him a position as team lead, he would seriously consider quitting first after beating them bloody. With a finger tap, he muted the speaker so he could talking without being heard. “FRIDAY, can you give me a quick synopsis of both Steve and Sam’s history? The general public stuff you can find with a little research on the web.”

“Of course,” the AI responded, for Johnny’s ears only.

Ten minutes later, Johnny had the answer to his problem. With a tap he un-muted the speaker. “I know what your vice is now…” he said, watching as everyone stopped what they were doing almost as if he surprised them. “You are after vengence. You and Sam both. You want to make them pay for the loss of your best friend and partner. They took them away from you and there was nothing you could do about it at the time. Now that you have the power to make them pay and you intend to see them burn in hell.” He had stood up and moved closer, unaware that the experimental stealth tech his gear was made from, was glitching. To everyone else, it appeared as if he was fading in and out of view like a ghost. His form rippling like water as he moved. “Now, is everyone finished with the interpersonal information exchange? Yes? Good… Now,” he said pointing at Steve. “Keep what I said in mind and you’ll have no problem fitting right in.” He turned to Wanda next. “Have you finished with those two?” he asked, nodding to the two, still, unconscious HYDRA agents.

“Yes, it was done soon after you asked if I would be willing,” Wanda replied.

“Good… good… ETA to location?” Johnny asked then added, “How well known is this jet?”

“Still a good 30 minutes out at this speed,” Clint reported. “Fairly well known but it can be hidden once we land.”

“That’ll work. How long will it take to do the other?” Johnny asked Wanda.

Wanda thought about what Johnny had asked her to do for him. She’d been in his head several times already so getting in wasn’t a problem. “Maybe 5 minutes. Depends on how much you resist,” she replied.

Johnny was about to answer but found himself being dragged to the side storage area by Pepper.

“You don’t have to do this, Johnny,” Pepper said quietly. “This is their job, it's what they were trained to do.”

“I know… but..if it was Tony? Would you stand back and wait around?”

“Yes, because I know I can trust them to do what is necessary and bring him back,” Pepper answered. “And if they can’t bring him back, then I know they will avenge him.”

“Then you are a better person than I am. I trust that they know their jobs better than anyone else, but I don’t trust myself not to do something stupid in order to protect Alexei,” Johnny said. “This way, I’m not tempted to sneak off and do that something. Besides, I’m doing what I do best.”

 

“And what is that?”

 

“I’m the decoy, the distractions. With all eyes on me, no one notices what’s happening until it’s too late. It’s what I was trained to be.”

Pepper’s expression turned stern. “Then you had better come back. With Alexei and in mostly one piece. If you don’t, I’ll be very unhappy with you.”

Johnny nodded as he grap her forearm and squeezed lightly. He stepped past her to where the seats had been turned and laid out as a temporary cot. He removed the overcoat and folded it before stuffing it into the bag Pepper was holding for him. Off came the vest, then the bracers and belt. Each item was stuffed into the bag in a certain way to allow easy retrieval for him. Next came the mask itself, first the upper section, then the lower. He blinked several times as his eyes adjusted to the lighting levels. His shirt was last to come off. He sat down on the seat with his body tilted forward and his head down. His hands braced on the edge with his legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles and as he waited.

Sam, with his training as a pararescue, was acting medic for this operation. He moved to crouch down so he could have a better look into Johnny’s face. A slight bruising around the eyes, pale lips and even paler skin made the wet blood around his nostrils stand out. “How you feeling kid?” he asked. He continued his evaluation, noting the dryness to his skin and the barely there tremors.

“Strung out, hung over, feel like I’m covered in hives and hurting,” Johnny muttered, tightening his white-knuckled grip on the chair to keep from scratching his arms raw now that the shirt was off. “Gods, stop calling me ‘kid’ already... ‘m almost 27...” he muttered, bringing up a hand to wipe under his nose. “Fuck… again?” he added, looking down at the smear of blood.

“You’re younger than me so you're still a kid. Now explain what you meant by ‘again’,” Sam said with a frown as he reached up and grabbed Johnny’s chin to angle Johnny’s head for a better look.

“Had to cut through a lab that was filled with smoke or something. A short bit later I had to go to ground until it stopped. Happened again, not as bad,” Johnny said as he tried to swat Sam’s hand away but found his own arm trapped in Steve’s grip. His other arm was held firm by James and Pepper had his legs.

Standing up, Sam held out his hand for the roll of bandages. “Your’s?” he asked Steve, lightly touching the darker patch of skin over Johnny’s solar plexus.

“Yep,” Steve confirmed. “And the one on his left bicep.”

Sam nodded. “This is how it’s going to be. I’m going to wrap your ribs, they aren’t cracked or broken but I do see signs of possible bruising. Then I’m gonna put you on a saline IV cause your showing all the signs of starting to get dehydrated.” He nodded to the others to lift Johnny’s arms so he had better access to Johnny’s torso.

As Sam did the wrapping, Tony tucked a couple of items under the bandages. “Tracker. If they let you close to Alexei, put it on him. Electronic lockpick. For those pesky card locks you’ll run into.” He flipped Johnny’s hair back away from his ear. “Good, it’s pierced. That’ll work even better. One way com so we can hear what’s going on around you.” He pulled a tiny case out of his pocket and flipped it open. He pulled what looked like a plain silvery-white stud earring out of it then worked it into Johnny’s piercing. He removed the second part, which was a wafer thin disk, less than a quarter inch in diameter, on a hair thin wire that ended in a disk. The disk went into the inner shell of Johnny’s ear as the thin wire was looped over his ear and the disk connected to the back of the stud. “FRIDAY, check the signal.”

“The signal is good Boss,” the AI replied. “I’ve started recording.”

“Good, make sure a second copy is sent to my private server,” Tony ordered as he moved towards the front of the jet. He tapped Clint on the shoulder. “Wanda will need you in a moment. I’ll take over till she’s done.”

Clint glanced back over his shoulder then up to Tony. “What does she need me for?” he asked. He wasn’t worried about going off course since the jet was on autopilot at the moment.

“She’ll explain,” Tony replied.

“Alright,” Clint said as he slid the pilot’s seat back and around so he could get up. He made sure Tony was in position before he walked back to where everyone else was gathered. He noted that Wanda was directing everyone into certain positions. Bruce, wearing a lab coat, was now seated at communications with Thor and Vision bracketing him. Tony was of course in the pilot’s seat. Pepper was standing next to Wanda and both were also wearing lab coats, so was Nat. The two HYDRA agents were strapped into the seats directly in front of Johnny.

“Ready?” Wanda asked Johnny who just nodded. Reaching across the storage unit, she placed her hands on either side of Johnny’s head. Red wisps faded into view, curling about her hands and wreathing about Johnny’s head. “This is the easiest part,” she explained aloud as she sent Johnny into a trance like state. “Johnny decided on how the deception would be carried out. In a moment, I will be altering his memories slightly. To him, you are not who you are. You are the group of mercenaries working for HYDRA that were called in to re-capture him back at the lab. Everyone else is either lab techs or guards. I will also place a trigger phrase to bring him out of it.”

“Wait..” Clint said then tapped Steve on the shoulder. “You take his legs I’ll take his arm. Remember, he’s got a wicked kick and will resort to some pretty dirty techniques.” He took his position once Steve moved, then made sure he had a secure grip on Johnny’s arm. “Ready.”

Wanda looked to Steve, James and Sam, making sure they were ready before she started twisting Johnny’s memories. “Oh, he also said, don’t be afraid of hitting him if it was required.”

True to Clint’s word, when Wanda started and Johnny woke from the trance, he gave them only a couple of seconds before he started fighting them. They had all seen the video of Johnny’s fight with the original team that had caught him, so was prepared for most of what he dished out. Johnny still somehow managed to almost get away from them though. Sam got a bruised jaw from a wild swing, James sported a bruise in the shape of a bite on his arm and Clint had to deal with a tender scalp. Steve got scott free on the principle of enhanced speed and strength to avoid the blows, the worse he got was mussed hair. The entire fight ended when Sam managed to get ahold of the syringe Nat had prepped and jabbed it into Johnny’s upper thigh. Wanda used that moment as an ending to his false memories and finished her work by putting Johnny under fully.

“It’s done,” Wanda said as she brushed her hand over Johnny’s forehead to ensure everything was set.

Sam took a look at James's arm. “If it wasn’t for the fatigues, he would have broken skin. Damn he is a dirty fighter.” He glanced at Steve who was still on the floor. “I hate you right now,” he said as he rubbed his jaw.

“Told you,” Clint said as he winced, rubbing his head. “Besides, what do you expect from someone me and Nat have been training?” he asked, a bit of pride showing up in his voice.

--------------

The HYDRA agent, Jesse, looked down again at the body strapped to the backboard. “You sure he’s out?”

Marcus, the HYDRA agent that had been in charge of the labs, just gave the other man an annoyed look. “I’ve already said it several times now. The drug my mercs used is guaranteed to take down even the likes of Captain America. Now shut up before I have one of them shoot you.”

The shorter, dark blond haired merc, a fellow called Frank, just smirked as he twirled his combat knife. “Why waste the ammo?” he asked casually.

“Knock it off Frank and go relieve Ripper,” Grant, the team's leader, ordered as he made another circuit around area. The small clearing was sheltered from from the biting wind, but wasn’t the least bit secure. And he didn’t like that at all, too easy for someone to try and sneak up on them.

Frank gave a two fingered salute as he sheathed his blade then disappeared into the woods.

“Where the hell did you get these guys Marcus?” Jesse asked, not quite keeping his voice down.

“They’re the best money can get for retrieving uncooperative test subjects,” Marcus boasted as he eyed the lab tech, a woman that went by Alice, up and down like a side of prime beef.

“No change, he’s holding steady,” Tom reported, as he stood up scanning the clearing automatically. “But if we don’t get some shelter soon, whether he’s awake or not is going to be moot point,” he said as he looked up to what little of the sky he could see through the trees.

The fourth member of the merc team came trotting into the clearing. “Frank’s spotted incoming,” he said as he took up a position that was one of the better defensive positions the clearing offered.

Grant nodded, taking up the best defensive position as he signaled the others to be prepared. “Sir, you’d best take cover,” he told Marcus.

The HYDRA agent just snorted as he moved closer to the asset. “Why should I hide and let someone else try to claim the capture of the asset for their own glory?” he asked in derision. These merc, while being the best money could buy, knew nothing whatsoever, about moving up the ladder in HYDRA’s hierarchy. Besides, they were well within the territory that HYDRA controlled. Neither SHIELD nor the Avengers could touch them here.

A few tense minutes passed before Frank walked out of the woods, escorting another man at gunpoint. “He claims he knows you,” Frank said. He tacked on a “sir” only as an afterthought.

“Well well well, what are you doing out in the middle of this frozen nowhere Dan?” Marcus asked.

“I could ask the same of you, sir,” Dan replied as he held out a hand. “What happened to the Labs?”

Marcus took the hand, pulling Dan close for a back slapping hug. “Damned asset went crazy. Managed to tear through the lab before we recaptured him again. Then some idiot of a delivery guy called the cops when he heard one of the lab explosions,” he bitched. “Labs wasn’t making money or doing anything important that can’t be reproduced anywhere else. Managed to get out with the merc team that caught him again and a lab tech to make sure he stayed under.”

Dan looked the mercs over as well as the lab tech when he stepped back. “I don’t know if the Commander will be too pleased,” he hedged. Everyone but Marcus still had a chance to be assimilated within the base. Marcus on the other hand, thought too much of himself and used HYDRA’s resources too freely on personal agendas.

“Don’t worry about him, we go way back. He’ll understand. Now, how about getting us out of this damned cold clearing and somewhere warm.”

 

When they arrive at the base, instead of going to see the Commander in charge of the base, he came down to meet them in the motor pool area. Immediately, Marcus started bragging about himself, at the same time putting down everyone that worked under him in the lab.

“So you just up and abandoned the lab you were in charge of and the people under you? You took a small mercenary team, a lab tech and the original tech who was involved in the assets initial recapture?” the Commander asked as he examined first the asset then the two techs and finally the merc team.

“The lab wasn’t bringing in the finances needed to help further HYDRA’s goals and the research and experiments can be easily duplicated elsewhere,” Marcus reasoned.

“I see….” the commander responded as he stopped behind Marcus. “You are both a fool and a coward. Useless to HYDRA and our goals,” he said as he pulled out his pistol and shot Marcus at point blank in the head.

Both Alice and Jesse were splattered with blood and brain matter. Alice let out a frightened shriek, stumbling back as she franticly tried to wipe away the gore. Jesse, also let out a scream, then promptly fainted.

“Now tell me gentlemen,” the commander said, “What makes you so important that I should let you live?”

Grant smirked as he pulled a pistol and pressed it against the assets temple. “The way I see it, you could kill us but not before we took out your asset.”

“We’ve lost assets before. He can be just as easily replaced,” the commander reasoned.

“No he can’t. Not really.”

“And how do you come to that conclusion?”

“He’s been a ‘guest’ of the Avengers and Stark Industries for over 3 months now. He has their trust or enough of it that they let him come and go as he pleases. If you have him, that means you have insiders access to the Avengers, Tony Stark and Stark Industries. That’s pretty valuable right there,” Grant stated.

The commander was actually impressed. These mercs were lead by someone who was smart enough to reason all of that and wasn’t afraid of taking risks. “Tell me, if I keep you, what does HYDRA mean to you?”

“I couldn’t care less about HYDRA, its goals or its quarrels with SHIELD and the Avengers. I’m just in it for the chance to get revenge on the people that took my best friend and brother. Plus the money isn’t too bad either,” Grant replied with a hard edged smile.

“And the rest of you?”

“My partner was killed. I’m doing this for him,” Tom stated.

Ripper nodded to Grant. “I follow where he says to go. It gets me the cash to afford the finer things in life. Like fine scotch and even finer cigars.”

Frank shrugged. “I’m just in it for the money and porn. And I get to shoot people.”

The commander nodded. Typical money-and-revenge men. “Well then gentlemen, as long as you obey my orders and follow the rules, you’re more than welcome to stay. I am Commander LaBrawn. Hail HYDRA!”

The shouts of “Hail HYDRA” echoed throughout the motor pool.

Grant looked at each of his men, nodding to them then turned back to the commander. “Hail HYDRA,” he said as he holstered his pistol.

The backboard that the asset was strapped to was loaded onto a gurney for easier transport to a secure holding cell that was located close to the base’s lab. Grant refused to turn over the security detail on the asset, stating that they were the best suited for recapturing him if he escaped. Commander LaBrawn assured him that the asset would behave once he woke up, but allowed Grant and his team to continue as security for the moment. The lab and holding cells were buried five stories below the surface with only two ways out; the stairs which were under constant surveillance and the elevator which required a keycard to access.

The floor was laid out in several four cell clusters with adjoining labs. Each cell was roughly 10 foot by 10 foot, with a single steel reinforced, ceramic coated concrete wall that ran the 20 foot length and butted up against two end walls, creating an ‘I’ shape. The rest of the walls were 6 inch thick, transparent armor which allowed the occupants of two of the cells to be looked in upon as well as look into the adjacent cell. The doors to the cells were biometrically locked and required an authorized keycard. The ventilation system was a designed as a series of small holes in the ceiling instead of one large vent and once the door was closed, the cell could be hermetically sealed turning it into a hyperbaric chamber.

The scientist currently in charge of the lab respectfully nodded to the commander before opening a cell across the way from the only currently occupied cell. The asset was wheeled in then transferred to the cot. A lab tech came in after everyone was clear and placed remote sensors to monitor oxygen levels, brain activity and pulse. Until the asset was fully awake, anything else could give false readings. Once the door was closed, the cell was sealed and the oxygen level slowly increased by 50% to help induce consciousness.

 

Consciousness came in fits and starts as memories fell into place one by one. Several seemed out of order but he couldn’t place how or why they were, he had to just accept that they were. Taking slow, deep breaths he catalogued where and how he ached, then matched them with his memories. A single thought crystallized in his mind, sending him bolting upright before he rolled off the cot to land in a crouch. ‘Fuck, they have Alexei!’ He used the movement at the same time to hide him checking to see what he still had on him. He found a tracker and a keycard hacker in the bandages wrapped around his chest. That meant his memories had been shifted. ‘Ok.. ok.. I can work with that… means I have allies..’ he thought as he ran a hand through his hair.

“Good morning Johnnathan.”

Johnny jerked around, eyes wide.

 

Grant and his men were assigned quarters, bunking two to a room, and put on the duty roster like the rest of the bases grunts. Two men on, two men off, ten hour shifts was par for the course. Having worked with small independent mercenary teams before the person in charge of the scheduling automatically either paired them or put them on the same shift. Also reduced the chance of any double dealing or backstabbing if they were grouped together instead of scattered throughout the base. Of the pair, Grant was considered the hardass while Frank was the more friendly one, even if he was a bit on the sarcastic side. Most didn’t mind working with them. It was when Frank and Ripper were paired that the pranks started. And when Grant and Tom were paired, everyone that was assigned with them ended up in foul moods due to Grants hardass attitude.

Currently assigned to perimeter patrol, Frank and Ripper was working with another pair of grunts that had a bad habit of cutting patrols short, or doing it half-assed if they had to go the full patrol. There was a betting pool as to how long it would take before the commander decided they had outlived their usefulness and had them terminated. For Frank and Ripper, those two represented some perfect opportunities to see their own plans to fruition. No one noticed anything different when the patrol returned on time instead of early and the two grunts were grumbling like usual.

 

The Lab tech, Alice, had enough credentials to be assigned to the labs as an assistant to one of the primary doctors in charge. In fact the man requested her specifically once he found out she was on base. There was something about the man that put her on edge but if asked, she wasn’t able to say what it was. The doctor, a man named Nathaniel Essex, was an older Englishman with salt and pepper hair, pale blue eyes and a cultured, British accent that came straight out of the early 1900’s. Dr. Essex also seemed to know the secondary asset from previous encounters and through his son.

“Miss Alice, if you would be so kind as to acquire some more buccal brushes in hard-pack please. Also, I would like tubes for blood samples, both regular and micro if this lab even bothers to stock such items,” Dr. Essex said, the later half with disdain.

“Of course Dr. Essex,” Alice responded.

“Thank you Miss Alice. Please meet me in the child’s cell once you have acquired those items,” Dr. Essex replied as he walked over to the secondary asset’s cell and unlocked it. “Well? Are you going to just stand there or are you going to leave that cell and come see your son? Besides, I believe you are vastly more qualified in dealing with him than the imbecilic lab minions are.”

“Why are you here?” the secondary asset (Johnny), asked.

Dr. Essex just smiled that shark’s smile of his. “Why wouldn’t I? It is an opportunity to acquire even more samples for my research. Quite fascinating some of the samples I have acquired in the last few years.” He motioned to the door. “Now Johnnathan, are you going to behave and come out or are you going to be problematic and require me to resort to other methods? Hmmm?”

Alice returned from collection the requested items about the same time as Dr. Essex and Johnny were entering the primary asset’s cell, apparently in the middle of a mostly one sided conversation. She didn’t bother even trying to hide the fact she was listening in. She had a feeling that the good doctor found it rather amusing.

“Really Johnnathan, you were my son’s paramore for almost a year. I would think that you would still be in touch with him,” Dr. Essex commented as he gave the lab minions a simple raised eyebrow look that sent them scurrying from the holding cell. “Do see to your son, his caterwauling is a bit disruptive.”

“You wouldn’t exactly be in the best of moods either if the same thing happened to you,” Johnny shot back as he immediately went to Alexei and checked him over. With a diaper change, a full bottle in his stomach and his papa holding him, Alexei was in much improved (if still clingy) spirits. HYDRA seemed to feel that clothes weren’t required but keeping the cell on the cool side was.

Dr. Essex gave the impression that he was rolling his eyes, even though he wasn’t. “Miss Alice, do be a good lab tech and fine Johnnathan some blankets or such for his son. Thank you. You are a gem when compared to the rest of the people in this lab,” he commented.

Alice wasn’t sure how to take that exactly. “Um.. thank you Dr.?” she hedged. “I’ll be right back as soon as I find something appropriate.” She left quickly to locate the requested items. Upon her return 15 minutes later, with an arm full of hospital quality sheet-blankets, she found the doctor physically escorting the assets back to the secondary cell.

“I apologize Miss Alice, there seems to have been an accident in the other cell. Have some of the minions clean it up as soon as possible,” Dr. Essex instructed as he let go of the asset’s arm once they were inside the cell. “It seems I am in need of having words with a few people before I can continue my work.”

“Of course Dr. Essex,” Alice said as she deposited her armload onto the cot. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“After his cell is locked, you have the rest of the day off to do as you please.”

“Thank you Dr.,” Alice responded, but her words were waved off. Once Dr. Essex was gone, she turned to the asset with a questioning look. “Dare I ask what just happened?”

The asset just smirked. “He dislikes his samples being contaminated. It seems the bastard who brought Alexei in drugged him to keep him quiet on the trip here.”

“And that’s bad?” Alice asked, then amended, “The samples that is.”

“Indeed. Bad enough I’d rather be in here than out there.”

“Oh…”

 

Several miles away in the cloaked Avengers quinjet, Bruce and Tony were sifting through the information already obtained as Vision mapped the one known patrol route as well as movement inside the base thanks to the trackers. Thor was currently outside dressing a deer that Wanda had lured within his arm's reach. It’s death had been quick and clean. As cover, just in case anyone discovered them, a hunter's tent had been set up to cover the side door to the quinjet, so Thor and Wanda could play as a couple out hunting for several days. There was even a nice fire going in front of the tent, which helped dispel some of the cold. Pepper, who didn’t really have any duties to perform, took it upon herself to act as a heater. Her use of Extremis allowed for a reduction in how much the quinjets engines and batteries were required.

“FRIDAY, how’s that search coming?” Tony asked as he continued to scan the incoming data.

“There are over 147 million hits Boss on the name Essex,” FRIDAY informed.

“Narrow it down to doctors named Essex in the last twenty years,” Bruce said. “Even if this person isn’t a real doctor it still might help.”

“That narrows the field considerably,” FRIDAY reported. “I shall also eliminate any female doctors named Essex.”

“Do that,” Tony said absently as he stopped the data flow and scrolled back some. “Hey Brucey, take a look at this and tell me if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing.”

Bruce got up and moved to stand just behind Tony to look over his shoulder. He lifted his glasses then dropped them again. “Yeah, you are seeing what you think you are seeing. I’m seeing it too.”

Vision glanced over to Bruce and Tony. “And what is it you are seeing?” he asked, standing up and moving to join the other two men. “Interesting,” he said after spotting what the other two were seeing. “Very interesting.”

 

By the second day at the base, Dr. Essex had acquired both buccal and blood samples from Alice. By the third day, Grant and his team as well as any new arrivals, had been accosted by the good doctor for the same samples. Almost everyone on the base had had the same treatment from the day Dr. Essex arrived. For some reason, none of the samples ever made it into the lab’s database, let alone could be located anywhere on base. Considering the doctor’s reputation as being quite creepy even for HYDRA, no one tried to find out where the samples went. Those that did, well, no one saw them again. Commander LaBrawn had confronted Dr. Essex several times but even he couldn’t get an answer out of the doctor.

On the eve of the fourth day since the arrival of the two assets, Dr. Essex came strolling through the lab, and following behind him, was a trio of guards. The smugly amused look on his face had many of the lab techs scurrying out of his way, quickly finding somewhere else they needed to be, for it usually meant he had found something of interest, or someone. When he arrived at the two assets shared cell, he opened the door and strolled in, two of guards taking up positions at the door while the third headed to the computers dedicated to the assets cell and set to work.

“Dr. Essex?” Alice asked as she came from the other side of the lab where one of the supply rooms was located. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect for you to be back this evening,” she said as she looked at the two guards by the door then the third over by the computers with concern.

“Oh, don’t worry Miss Alice. I’m just here to complete a project before I leave. Do be helpful and retrieve Mr. LeFleaur’s things,” Dr. Essex said as he opened the cell.

“Sir?” Alice asked in confusion, stepping past the door guards and into the cell.

Dr. Essex just chuckled as he plucked the infant out of Johnny’s arms. “You heard me Miss Alice. Or should I say Ms Romanova,” he said giving her a side glance as he carried the infant to the changing table that had been set up in a corner next to the hospital crib. “Did these idiotic people even bother with acquiring clothing for young Alexei?” he asked Johnny as he deftly and gently stripped Alexei out of his diapers, cleaned him then put fresh ones on.

Alice’s, or rather Natasha’s, eyes widened slightly. “Dr. Essex, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Romanova is not my name.”

“Oh dear me, I had forgotten,” Dr. Essex replied in amusement. “Ms Romanoff then. I know that at least two of your current teammates are here within the base undercover and if I was a betting man, I would say there are others about. But, if you wish to stay here and play pretend, then by all means do so.” He waved a hand dismissively before returning Alexei to Johnny’s care. “Come now Johnnathan, I plan on leaving soon. I’m sure you wish to leave as well.” He turned and walked out of the cell.

Johnny exited the cell as well, holding Alexei close to his chest. He eyed both of the guards at the door, then looked at the third before he turned to look at the red-headed lab tech. He watched as she darted out of the cell, headed towards the far area of the lab with a hand to her left ear as she spoke too softly for him to catch. A hand on his shoulder caused him to turn around. It was one of the guards. He looked in the direction indicated and saw Dr. Essex standing next to the third guard who was still at the computers. He nodded and moved in that direction.

Nat quickly headed to the supply room to retrieve both her own as well as Johnny’s gear. It was surprisingly easy to smuggle items in, but getting them out again without notice was a different problem altogether. Finger pressed to the comm in her ear, she sent a brief report. “I’ve been discovered. Essex has removed both from the cell and plans on leaving.”

“Confirmed. Stay close to them. We’ll meet up with you to make sure he doesn’t take them.”

“Got it,” Nat replied. In two minutes she was dressed in her uniform and headed back in the direction of the doctor, his guards and Johnny. “What’s the trigger phrase?”

“‘What does the Fox say?’ in French,” Tony responded.

Natasha blinked, but otherwise gave no indication of what she thought of the trigger phrase. When she reached the group, she held out the bag which contained all of Johnny’s gear.

“Give me Alexei, then take the bag and put on whatever is in it,” Dr. Essex instructed, holding his hands out for the infant.

Johnny glanced between the doctor and the lab tech, who was now wearing a solid black body suit, with bracers and what looked to be batons of some type. Of the two, she was the unknown (and probably safer bet) but he knew the doctor’s reputation of being very dangerous when crossed. He took the bag after passing Alexei to the doctor and looked inside. He looked back up glancing between the two once more. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Dr. Essex replied.

Johnny dressed in the gear provided with speed and efficiency which meant he’d worn it before. Once the mask was on, he slipped the overcoat on and flipped the hood up. He was a little confused by the readings on the simple HUD the mask provided but shook it off as being part of those misplaced memories that were lurking in his mind. He held out his arms for Alexei, fully expecting to be denied, but was relieved when the doctor placed him back into his arms. He tucked him in close, using one of the sheet blankets as a sort of impromptu papoose. He then closed his overcoat, making sure it was fastened securely. He was concerned though that Alexei hadn’t squirmed or even fussed much. He looked at the doctor questioningly.

“Oh don’t give me that look. I know perfectly well what can and cannot be used on an infant. He will sleep for the next 8 hours and wake as normal, no worse off than he would be if he was on his normal sleep pattern,” Dr. Essex said in exasperation. “Now, are we all done here?” he asked no one in particular.

The third guard nodded as he pocketed a thumb drive as well as an external SSD. “Yes sir, everything has been taken care of.”

“Good,” Dr. Essex replied as he turned and headed to the elevator. Because he said nothing about refusing Natasha’s presence in the elevator, the guards allowed her to join them. The ride up was uneventful, if you don’t include the two people who were shot when the elevator stopped on sub-floor three. When they arrived on the ground floor, it seemed that someone else had decided to start some trouble.

“Natasha, could use a hand here. We’ve been pinned down and my armor can’t get to me just yet,” James requested.

“On my way,” Nat responded as she parted company with Johnny, the doctor and his guards. Johnny and Alexei were well protected at the moment, so she wasn’t too worried. “Cap, you’ll have to trigger him once they reach the motor pool.”

“Copy that,” Steve replied as he smashed his shield into the face of a HYDRA grunt that thought he could take down Captain America.

As soon as they exited the elevator and the woman slipped away, Johnny used the moment of distraction the sound of automatic gunfire caused to acquire via five fingered discount, both the external drive and the thumb drive off the third guard. Either he had the devil's luck and the guard didn’t notice, or the guard had been instructed to ignore such actions.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly as Essex’s party encountered relatively light resistance that was easily dealt with by his guards. The Avengers had yet to be encountered, though heavy fighting could be heard close by. Once they entered the motor pool area, their luck of being left alone vanished. HYDRA grunts had blockaded the external doors and were currently dealing with several of the Avengers while more were outside dealing with the rest. In the chaos, Johnny stealthed and moved away from the doctor in what he hoped was a safer route.

Across the motor pool, Steve spotted the doctor’s group as they entered the area. He saw, for just a few seconds, Johnny before he vanished. “Can you access Johnny’s com?” he asked FRIDAY as he moved through the grunts, taking them down with practiced ease.

“Accessing now…. You are connected Captain Rogers,” FRIDAY responded.

“Johnny! Que dit le renard?”

The effect was almost immediate as hidden memories unveiled themselves and misplaced ones sorted themselves out in Johnny’s head.

“Listen to me. Do not get involved,” Steve ordered. “This isn’t your fight right now. Your job is to protect Alexei and get out of here. Understand? The quinjet is a mile out to the north west.” The sound of his shield rebounding off both objects and bodies wove between his words. “Do you understand?” he asked again.

“Yea…. yes…,” Johnny responded. He waited a few seconds for a path to clear before he slid between and around the grunts and vehicles that blocked his path to the closest exit. “Stay away from Essex, don’t get into a fight with him or his guards,” he advised.

“He’s got samples from all of us,” Clint pointed out. “We need to get those back.”

“As long as you don’t piss him off, he’s not too dangerous,” Johnny shot back as he ducked under the back end of a heavy truck. “He’s more interested in collecting genetic samples and tracking them th.. shit!” He reached into a pocket, pulled out a small sphere then threw it into a group of 50 gallon barrels. It bounced and rattled as the sphere split open like a whizzbang on the 4th of July.

“Fox?” Tony called.

“Sorry.. exit was blocked,” Johnny said as he was able to slip by and exit the base’s main building.

“You can fill us in later kid, just get the hell out of here,” Steve ordered.

Johnny kept close to the exterior wall as he turned his head, waiting for the HUD to display the direction he needed to go. As soon as it lit up, he took off at a full out run, hoping the stealth tech would be able to provide enough cover. “I’m clear.”

“I’ve got you covered. Just keep going,” Tony said as his own HUD lit up with Johnny’s position.

Johnny didn’t reply, he simply did what he did best and ran.

Chapter Text

The Nine Tailed Foxx
Chapter 24

 

 

Homeward Bound
---------------

 

Early Saturday morning, somewhere in the Canadian wilderness….

 

Dawn was less than an hour away when the Avengers finished clearing the HYDRA base. Their SHIELD support teams had arrived an hour prior and were busy dealing with prisoners and the dead. Of the higher ups, LaBrawn had been captured but the main head of the labs had killed himself rather than be taken in. Of the ‘good’ doctor and his guards, no one had seen them since the start of the battle. And with Johnny’s warning in mind, none of the Avengers had gone looking either. As for the base itself, all the data and research had been corrupted already by a virus and any useful information was gone as far as anyone knew.

Instead of walking, or flying back, the team commandeered a pair of mostly undamaged hummers (and a pair of SHIELD agents to return them) to drive back to the jet. Steve was in the lead vehicle and Nat was in the second. At about 300 feet from the quinjet, something hit the windshield with enough force to crack it. A second hit to the windshield cracked it further, forcing Steve to slam on the breaks and throw it into reverse. Nat was able to swerve to keep from getting hit by Steve’s vehicle.

“What the hell Steve?” She asked, looking at Steve through the door’s window.

In reply Steve just pointed at the windshield. “That’s not from a bullet.”

“Shit, did anyone let Johnny know we were on our way back?” Tony asked as he leaned forward. “No? No… FRIDAY,” he said as he dropped back into the seat.

“Already on it Boss,” the AI said. A moment later, the AI spoke up again. “He says ‘be glad it wasn’t an explosive round’.”

“Cheeky little shit,” Tony grumbled.

Pepper just rolled her eyes as she huffed a laugh.

Steve shook his head as he put the vehicle in gear again and started forward once more. They all could have gotten out and walked the last little bit since no one was injured, but the cold was still a factor.

No one complained when Clint and Tony were the first aboard the quinjet. Clint took the pilot’s seat to begin the startup sequence while Tony ran system checks. Nat came next, doing a full sweep, finding only Alexei in the carrier, strapped in and covered with a light blanket. The rest filed in, in no particular order. Steve and Thor waited outside until everyone was aboard, including Johnny.

“Next time wait till you know who’s approaching before you start taking popshots,” Steve admonished.

“Next time, don’t drive up in a HYDRA vehicle and I’ll think about not shooting first,” Johnny replied back.

“He’s got a point,” Nat said with smirk.

Tony stepped out of his armor, ordering it to pack itself away. “What were you doing up that tree? Playing Legolas is his job,” he said pointing towards Clint.

“Waiting on sunrise mostly,” Johnny replied as he settled next to Alexei, turning in the seat to tuck a leg under him and lay his head on his arm. He flipped his coat around so that it covered Alexei’s carrier as well as himself.

“All clear,” Steve called from the door before he hit the switch to close and seal it. He made a final visual sweep then nodded to Clint before he took off his helmet and ran his hand through his damp hair. He hardly noticed when the quinjet lifted off as he moved around to check on everyone. What he did notice, however, was Clint calling Johnny up to the front. After stowing his shield, he found all the seats occupied so ended up on the sitting propped up against the fuselage wall next to Sam and across from James.

“Me and Rhodey could have flown home on our own,” Tony commented as he glanced around noting that the quinjet was pretty well packed. He also noted that no one seemed to have any problems with Alexei’s carrier taking up one of the seats when it could have easily been fastened down to the floor between two of the seats.

“No,” Pepper said as she leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

“I’d like to see any of you say ‘no’ to her and get away with it,” Tony snarked back after the chuckles had died down.

Steve rolled his head to the side and stared for several moments. “Hey Tony, is that suppose to happen?” he asked as he jerked his thumb in Johnny’s direction.

Tony turned the chair around and looked in the direction Steve pointed. There was nothing there except an empty chair. When he looked closer he spotted the heat-wave ripple like effect of the chameleon tech at work. “No… no it’s not,” he said as he stood up to take a closer look.

When he returned to the seat earlier, he had curled up in it again with his coat draped over the carrier once more and the pulled low over his face. Clint had mentioned it would be a couple of hours before they reached the tower, so he planned on napping the entire way back. He had closed his eyes, making himself relax by using mental exercises he’d been taught when the feeling of being watched made itself known. He’d discovered a long time ago there was different types of being watched. From admiration to curiosity to the quasi-hostility used by guards and security the world over. None of those bothered him as much as the feeling of being studied like a lab experiment. That whole feeling of being under a microscope made him twitch. “What Tony?” he asked.

“How’d you know it was me? Never mind, how long has your costume? Uniform? Let’s call it gear, that works. How long has your gear being doing that?” Tony asked as he moved around some to look at it from all the angles he could.

“Doing what?” Johnny asked, raising his head a little.

“That,” Tony said, pointing at Johnny as he said it. “The chameleon effect of blending into the background, without being activated? I presume you don’t have it activated, otherwise the eyes of your mask would have shifted as well.”

Johnny shrugged, causing a ripple like effect. “I don’t know… thought it was just part of the package.” He dropped his head again and closed his eyes. “You can poke at it when we get home, but for now.. go away. Go pester someone else,” he said. “Pepper… he’s studying me!” he put just enough of a childish whine to sound like a kid on a long car trip.

“Am not,” Tony shot back, sticking his tongue out.

“Are too.”

 

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

“Tony! Johnny!” Pepper said with a stern voice even though she was smiling.

Sam and Steve exchanged glances then looked over at James. All three shared conspiratorial grins before they chimed in with ‘Are we there yet?’. Over on the other side, Nat and Wanda started poking at each other while calling out ‘She’s touching me!’. Bruce laughed then looked at Vision and added ‘He took my book’. Vision raised an eyebrow replying ‘I did not.’ Thor, not to be left out choose the classic line of ‘I’m hungry! Can we stop to eat?’. It sounded like a car full of kids on a long road trip.

“Don’t make me tell Clint to land this ship or so help me I’ll have him turn around and take us right back from where we came,” Pepper called out over the noise, causing everyone to start laughing.

Tony knew when not to push, so returned to his seat. It didn’t stop him though from keeping the chair turned around facing Johnny’s direction as he looked though all his research notes on his phone.

 

When the quinjet arrived at the Avengers Tower, a medical team headed by Dr. Cho was waiting. Alexei was taken along with Johnny to be checked over before anyone else was. Once the exam was completed, it was decided that Alexei would be kept an additional 24 hours to ensure there were no adverse effects from being drugged into sleep. That meant that Johnny would be staying with Alexei the entire time. Before he could do that, Dr. Cho kicked him out with the order to take care of himself before he was allowed to return. Once he had settled in, the only one that could pry him out (Dr. Cho had tried, but he still snuck back in) was Pepper.

It didn’t take long before everyone noticed the shift in dynamics when it came to Johnny. Clint and Natasha had dropped back, Steve moved up some and Pepper, followed closely by Tony, took the lead. He still respected Clint and Natasha as teachers and trainers, but backed off, putting space between them on the personal level unlike what he once had. On a whole, Stark Industries had also moved up while SHIELD dropped back.

By Sunday evening, Johnny had finally calmed enough that he was willing to be away from Alexei for several hours if need be. He attended the evening dinner, choosing to sit next to Tony this time instead of Clint or Natasha. As he sat down, he placed a thumb drive and an external drive next to Tony’s place and waited.

“Did you finally remember to drop of your- what’s this?” Tony asked.

“I dropped it off at your lab before coming up and what does it look like?” Johnny replied as he accepted the dish that was making its way around the table. “With everything going on I forgot I had acquired those from the previous owner.” He just shrugged, choosing to ignore a couple of the looks sent his way as he turned to talk with Pepper about the UN hearings and what the status was with that.

By the middle of April, the UN hearings were starting to wrap up. Everything that could be said, had been said, picked apart and argued about until everyone on all sides felt satisfied. Pepper had worked her magic and made it possible for Johnny to teleconference when Alexei’s presence was required. By the end of April, the hearings were finished. Even Doom couldn’t find any more arguments (legal and otherwise) that would tie up valuable Avenger and SHIELD resources. Surprisingly Doom didn’t revoke citizenship for either Johnny or Alexei. It wasn’t surprising though, that the stipend the Latverian Embassy was sending was stopped and a politely worded request for it to be paid back was sent to Johnny. Pepper had a company check drawn up for the total amount due and Tony hand delivered it while in the Iron Man armor.

May saw the biggest change to Johnny and Alexei’s lives. On the 5th of May, Mr. Nelson and Mr. Murdock paid a visit to the Avengers Tower. When they left several hours later, not only had they been paid in full for their services, but several large donations to noteworthy charities in the Hell’s Kitchen area had also been made. Their law firm had also been hired as Johnny’s and Alexei’s personal lawyers on retainer. Johnny chose Nelson and Murdock on the simple principle that no one could claim SI was manipulating him through legal threats. The rest of the day was spent in quiet celebration. May also saw Johnny graduate early from Columbia University with his Bachelor’s Degree in accounting. His plan was to continue on to his Master’s Degree so he could enter the field of forensic accounting.

By June, Johnny and Alexei had officially departed their residency of the Avengers Tower. They were settling into their new life in El Cerrito, California. Their home was a large, spacious two story plus basement affair with a detached mother-in-law over a three car garage. The property itself backed up against the Wildcat Canyon Regional Park so there was plenty of space, especially when the homes on either side had been purchased and annexed to the main property. The house itself had also been modified with a state of the art security system, had access to FRIDAY and the home office was set up with a holographic system as well.

In July, Johnny registered, becoming a student at UC Berkeley and started working on his Master’s Degree in Accounting. He took every class online that he could to reduce the amount of time he needed to leave Alexei at a (vetted) daycare. He also started working officially for Stark Industries as a security consultant and work at home accountant for one of the small subsidiaries SI owned. He had yet to receive any field assignments from SHIELD, only a few of what he would call desk jobs.

By the end of that year…. Bruce Banner had up and vanished after an Avengers call out that had gone wrong for the team resulting in him having hulked out in a heavily populated area again, this time though civilian deaths occurred. Unable to face what he had done, he chose instead to run. Natasha was devastated by Bruce’s choice, even though she hid it so well from everyone but Clint. Since the start of their relationship, she had bared more of herself than anyone but Clint knew about, showing just how much of a monster she was underneath it all. Instead of accepting it, Bruce rejected not only himself, but her as well. The same call out in which Bruce hulked out, Clint had taken a serious injury about two thirds of the way through the battle causing him to be too close to several explosions which rendered him partially deaf. After much deliberation, Clint chose to retire rather than chance the lives of his teammates. It also gave Tony an excuse to take SI into the field of prosthetics. Military personnel received the prosthetics at greatly reduced cost and children were given theirs for free. The price of SI stocks soared. Thor was called back to Asgard to deal with a situation that had arose in his absence. Unsure of how long he would be gone, he took Jane Foster with him, preferring to face his father’s wrath rather than lose her. As for Pepper and Tony, they were spending the holidays and the occasional weekend with Johnny and Alexei whenever they could, avoiding the growing tension between the remaining Avengers.

 

The following year saw the breakup of the Avengers, the civil war between Captain America and Iron Man over the superhuman registration act. Though he was legally working for SI at the time and with SHIELD as well, Johnny managed to stay neutral and avoided getting dragged into the conflict. That was the year he also took in a couple of African American teenagers who needed a safe place to live. The eldest was a 19 year old girl who went by the name of Doc. She was an Inhuman whose power allowed her to bring toys to life for a short period of time. Her 16 year old brother, Donnie, was not an inhuman though. In order to make it feel like she wasn’t a charity case or a freeloader, Doc insisted on being the live in housekeeper and nanny. In return, Johnny made sure she was paid, had days off and encouraged her to continue her education. He also encouraged Donnie to finish his schooling and to think about college. Alexei loved being able to play with the toys Doc brought to life. For him, it was normal. With Doc there, it also made it much easier for Johnny to be gone for a few days at a time for work related assignments. Close to the end of the year, Johnny brought home the next addition to the household, 4 year old Riley. The first time he saw her he thought he was looking at a miniature version of Natash. Riley was a red headed waif one of the criminals was using as bait to lure in unsuspecting tourists. The criminal in question was working for the person Johnny had been assigned to retrieve something from. When he left the country the next day, it was with Riley. The amount of pull Pepper Potts and Stark Industries had was truly astronomical. Not only did Johnny now have a second daughter, but Pepper and Tony now had a goddaughter to go along with a godson.

Life had never been better.

 

Epilogue….

December 23rd, 2018…..

“I’m clear! Blow it!”

“But-”

“Damn it just blow it! I’m clear!”

But he wasn’t. Johnny had lied by omission. He was mostly clear of the blast zone. He had found a sheltered nook that protected him from most of the blast. It was the fall out and collapse which was the real danger. He was unable to dodge all the debris.

 

Late afternoon at Stark Tower, Tony was in the middle of a feat of engineering when he received the alert. After taking his phone out and looking at it, he subtly went into action. “Donnie! Keep building and when you're done with that wall start on the eastern ramparts. I should be back before the battle starts, but if I’m not don’t worry kiddo. FRIDAY will record everything for me.” He patted the teenager on the shoulder, leaving him to complete the building of the lego fort on one side of the battle field. He walked over to where Doc was sitting at one of the work benches. A full set of original Avenger action figures were lined up with bags of green army men set up in battalions arranged to the side. “Hey Doc,” he said softly, glancing over his shoulder at the kids. “Try to keep the battle going. Something important has come up.”

Doc’s brown eyes widened slightly. “Mr. J?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Tony replied. “But don’t worry. I’m calling in a few favors.” With that, he walked out of the lab to place a few calls.

 

December 24th, 2018. Mid morning….

Tony and Pepper stood together, watching as the Avengers quinjet made a smooth landing on the pad. It was one of several tower features from the time the Avengers called it home, they had decided to leave in place. Only after the jet was secure, engines off and the rear hatch lowering, did they allow the kids past the doors. As soon as Riley saw her papa walking (with assistance) down the ramp, she took off at a full run towards him. Alexei came toddling after, though he was holding onto Doc’s hand, pulling her along as fast as his tiny legs could move him.

Johnny let go of Wanda with a nod of thanks as he crouched down and held his right arm out. The small body colliding into him was enough to knock him back on his rear, sending a flare of white hot pain through his left shoulder and arm. But it was worth it as he wrapped his arm around Riley and hugged her tight. A few moments later, Alexei was worming his way into his papa’s lap.

Tony and Pepper walked out to meet Steve as he came down the ramp. Tony held his hand out with a genuine look of gratitude. “Thanks Cap. We owe you. More than you know.”

Steve glanced over at the pile of bodies with a smile. “I think I have an idea,” he said. “You were lucky we were still in that area when you called.”

“No, they were the lucky ones. You brought their papa home for Christmas,” Pepper said letting go of Tony to give Steve a hug. “It’s not much, but please, stay for Christmas? We still have plenty of guest rooms that are empty.”

Steve looked over to the other members of his then back to Pepper. “I think we can manage that.”

 

Mid Morning, Christmas Day….

Wrapping paper was scattered everywhere, along with toys and games. The coffee and end tables were littered with empty mugs and small plates. Tony and Pepper were curled up together on a loveseat together, Sharon and Steve occupied one end of the couch while Wand and Vision the other. Bucky and Nat were sharing one of the recliners while Sam was sprawled on the floor with Doc and Donnie. Johnny was settled in the other recliner with Alexei in his lap, laying against his chest and Riley cuddled up as close as possible on his right side. None of the chair’s occupants were awake at the moment.

“How long has he had her?” Steve asked, nodding to the girl snuggled up against Johnny.

 

“Riley? He’s had her for a year and a half almost. She was the only thing Johnny has ever asked us for,” Pepper said.

“First time I saw her, I thought I was going to have to call you up and ask if you were missing a Black Widow,” Tony added with a chuckle. “FRIDAY? Bring up the pics from this past Halloween,” he said.

The TV screen lit up with the requested pics. A small Black Widow stood next to a tiny hulk and kneeling behind the pair was the Goblin King from Labyrinth. Other pics included Tony and Pepper dressed as the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen.

“What? No Iron Man?” Nat teased.

“It’s not a costume if you wear it everyday,” Tony replied with a grin.

From his recliner, Johnny cracked an eye open and smiled as he ran a hand through Alexei’s hair before rubbing Riley’s back. Closing his eye again, he listened to the banter as the conversation jumped from topic to topic. He’d been given the best gift this year that anyone could have asked for. A second chance to be with his family. He felt a presence next to the chair some time later. Opening his eye again, he glanced up at Nat. “Hmm?”

“Lunch time,” She said.

“Kinda loaded down,” Johnny said, poking Riley in the side gently to wake her. “Come on Riley, sweetheart. Wakey wakey.”

“Think he’ll let me pick him up?” Nat asked nodding to Alexei.

“Probably,” Johnny replied.

Nat was able to pick Alexei up and hold him with little trouble. He gave her a slight frown before looking around. “You looking for Papa?” she asked, turning so Alexei could see Johnny. That seemed to satisfy him.

Johnny was able to get up from the chair with a little difficulty, but once he was up, Riley was once again glued to his side. He held her on his hip, wincing only a little as her arms brushed his collarbone. He walked next to Nat towards the dinning area.

Bucky crossed his arms over his chest as he watched his partner walk away with the white haired guy. “You didn’t mention he was easy on the eyes,” Buck commented with a smirk.

Steve rolled his eyes, shoving Bucky forward. “There’s more to a person than looks,” he returned.

“So.. how did you two meet again?” Bucky asked innocently.

‘Fox tried to shoved his tongue down Steve’s throat while copping a feel’,” Nat said over her shoulder in Russian.

Steve scowled when he heard his name. Even though he only understood a couple of words, he had an idea of what was being said.

Bucky started laughing, earning a punch to the shoulder. “I like him already,” he said.