Francis hadn’t been himself since their mission against AIM- that much James knew; what he wasn’t aware of was why his friend had suddenly devolved to his old, closed-off self.
For the last few days, whenever they were in their brand-new, SHIELD granted playhouse, Francis would fall either on the couch or his bed, and stare at the ceiling for what seemed- and often were- hours, sometimes sighing, many times seemingly lost in his thoughts.
James wasn’t a stupid, nor an idealist and childish and naive dreamer like Francis liked to portray him (often with girls, always to annoy the hell out of him); of course he suspected it had something to do with their parents- but like way too often, he couldn’t figure out Francis. Couldn’t he see that they were all in the same boat? They were all feeling the same, after all. Stranded on their accord in a still livable past, so that their hellish future wouldn’t come to be, with SHIELD- and God help them, Director Hill – as their only ally, doomed to look at the world where their parents lived.
Parents that all of them had grown up without. Parents that many of them had lost at birth. Parents that, in the past they were stranded- their present- didn’t know they were there- didn’t know of their existence- and that weren’t even together.
James, at crossed arms, stared at his long-time friend, judgingly; he wondered if he and Torunn knew how lucky they had been; Francis had lost his father shortly before joining them- and he still resented Stark for not having taken him in- but Francis had had his father, and Torunn still had both of her parents. This was a luxury that had been granted to none of the other teenagers.
“Ok, you know what? Whatever you want to say- either you say it, or get lost, because, pal- you are thinking so loudly you are practically screaming in my head. I swear, you are giving my headache an headache.”
James lifted a perfect light brown eyebrow, grinning lightly. “Eh. Didn’t know you were a telepath, archer.” He expected some crude remark, or maybe a joke from Francis, but it didn’t came. Instead, the archer simply sighed, his gaze far away, his eyes as sad as James had never saw them before.
None of them spoke for the longest time, until Francis, going to sit on the modern couch in a fluid movement, with the grace of a ballet dancer, muttered few words that James hoped he got wrong.
“Forson said Mockingbird- Bobbi Morse- isn’t my mother. Back on AIM island.”
James shook his head, a bit frustrated, and stood at crossed arms before his friend and team-mate.
“Ok, first, why are we suddenly believing a madman who wanted to bring the end of all times? And second, it’s been almost one year, and you didn’t think you could tell us- any of us- that this whole thing had been bothering you?”
As he finished talking, James slapped Francis on the back on the head, not too strong, and yet, he made sure that his friend would feel it. Francis needed to know- needed to understand, to remember- that they were all part of a team. They were all friends. Brothers in arms. If they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, trust each other, then whom?
“Pym knew.” Francis pouted like a child- looking actually way younger than his years- as he massaged his injured head; but then, he chuckled, as James went to sit at his side and smiled at him, their argument already forgotten.
James turned to face the youngest member of the team- a child, in comparison to them- and looked at him annoyed and disappointed, his eyebrow lifted in a manner that was all his mother. “Henry?”
Henry was sitting on a recliner, right before them, and as soon as the subject of Francis’ maternity had been touched, he had feared that his friend would have spilled his guts and admitted that the two of them had been up to something. Sort of. Right now, he was a little scared, and he would have given anything to be anywhere but there – hell, even back to the future-because of course people respected Captain America, but James was too much his mother, the Black Widow, and she was the one who filled hearts and dreams with fear and terror.
“Listen, man, the only reason he knew it’s because I asked him to do a DNA test, all right? SHIELD has all the powered beings listed and the likes because of the Super Hero Registration Act, so, if she was a meta, Mockingbird or not, she will be in the system.”
“But I thought your father told you that Mockingbird was your mother…” James went on.
“Nah.” Francis sighed, looking at the ceiling, his hands behind his head. “I never met my mother, and dad never told me her name, just that she had loved me since discovering she was pregnant, and that she had been among the first causalities when Ultron had taken power. I just added two to two, because he and Morse had been on and off for so long that people always expected them to end up together again, and because she had died during the first wave. But I can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe…”
“You should have told us, Francis.” Torunn joined them, she and Azari having overheard the conversation; she was on her feet at the back of the couch, her hands either side of Francis’ head, while the heir to the power of The Black panther was grinning, leaning at crossed arms against the doorframe that divided kitchen and living room. “Even if I can’t help but agreeing with James. Why are you feeling like that only now, after months?”
“It’s because I got the results. She indeed is in the system. Which means she is a registered hero. Or whatever they call them right here right now.” Pym said like he was talking about the water, between mouthfuls of burgers; he was definitely his father’s son, and someone who had been raised by Stark, with little to none tact.
“Francis is scared of opening the file, or even just asking me what I discovered. Which is totally stupid, because from what I read his father could have done so much worse. I mean, he dated Moonstone. And even a girl from the Mafia. And Songbird. And a robot without knowing she was actually a robot. And, “He added shivering, “My mother. Which is creepy.”
“Francis, if you feel like this, maybe you should hear what Pym has to say. “ Torunn told him sweetly, an hand squeezing his shoulder reassuringly. “Maybe it’s time to learn the truth about your lineage. Maybe your heart’s desire will be granted and you will discover that Barbara Morse is, indeed, your birth mother. You shouldn’t have listened to Forson- he did call you an abomination, after all, and I can assure you, my friend, that I know that to be a lie.”
Pym dismissed her with a wave of his hand, still eating burgers. “Ah, no, actually, I think I know why he called Francis an abomination. It was a racist comment, sort of. Seriously, Forson had joined the wrong band. He was better suited for Hydra.”
Francis stood, trying to get some breathing room; he knew his friends meant well, but they weren’t supposed to get involved in this. This wasn’t about a battle or an enemy or even a secret. This was about him, and his blood and everything he had always believed in suddenly not being true and honest any longer.
“Why do I need to know it, thought? As far as we know, our future may never even come to be. Maybe when the Avengers came to the future to fight Kang something happened that changed the future as we knew it, and we’ll never be born!”
“But we are alive, Francis. It means that we’ll come to be. It has to, right?” Torunn asked, a bit worried. She had hoped that coming here would fix her family, her relationship with her parents, but if the guys were right, it would be all for nothing, and knowing- even just contemplating this- made her suffer more than any words spoken from her father, more than the distance he had put between her and her whole blood family.
Pym lifted an eyebrow, clearing his throat. “Actually, that’s the theory of time-line multiversal displacement: when the timeline is modified, all the possible futures change along with it, some of them diverging so much at that point that they become a new reality altogether. In simple words.” Pym sighed as his team-mates looked at him at loss for words. “It means that this may not be our dimension any longer. Either that, or Stark wasn’t too objective. I mean, The Winter Soldier is the man on the Wall- which is not a bad thing- and he should have turned into a Nazi double agent by now. James’ father is married to Sharon Carter. My father has merged with Ultron and became a vengeful monster. Torunn’s father is nowhere to be seen and the current Thor is a woman, and Mrs. Munroe isn’t with the Black Panther any longer, Bobbi Morse is dating the Chair Committee, Doctor Doom is the new and improved Iron Man and Banner is dead.”
“I think, “Azari started, serious and deep. “That I get what you mean. This could still be our past- just not as we knew it. Because we’ve never lived it. The only one who did was Mister Stark… and forgive me, but I’m not sure Tony was still in right mind at the end.”
“Yes, and you don’t have to forget that he was a mortal plagued by guilt.” Torunn turned to face Francis, smiling reassuringly. “Francis, this is your decision, but I think it may do you some good knowing the truth.”
“It could do all of us some good. Maybe it’s time we stop playing for Hill and we join the real heroes. Do you know that here they don’t have a Young Avengers team any longer? Maybe it’s time we stop going adjective-less.” Pym explained, proud of himself for his quick thinking. Besides, he wanted for Azari to be right. Maybe there was still a chance for Hank Pym to be saved and become his father…. Maybe, just maybe… they could fix it, all of it, they could all come to be but this time in a world filled with peace. An Avengers World.
James, the team-leader just like his father before him, looked between his team-mates, grinning, a new light in his eyes; maybe Azari and Pym were right; this could very well be the starting point for the battle of the future; they had thought that not getting involved could be the best course of action, but maybe theirs was a time of action. And maybe, just maybe… to get to a better version of their world, they needed their parents to acknowledge them first. So that they could all be at peace. All have hope. Starting with Francis.
“So, it’s decided, we are gonna leave the shadows and meet our parents and tell them about us. Are we all in?” He turned to face his companions, and all of them nodded, enthusiast and filled with renovated hope. “Francis?”
Francis rolled his eyes, and sighed dramatically, like to pretend he was being bossed into this; but James knew him enough well to understand that it was all a mask, that he was just faking it, that he was trying to protect his heart. He had never had a mother- what if he was disappointed? What it telling her about him would make it worse? He remember Stark saying that, once, Beast of the X-Men had dragged the original five X-Men away from the past, and that, when the young Summers had been hurt and his heart had stopped beating, for a fraction of second the “Old” Summers had vanished, ceasing to exist. Was it going to happen to him as well?
“Ok, All right, you can tell me what you know Hank, but guys, I swear that if I’ll cease to exist I will hunt you like a ghost until your death, just so you know.”
Azari chuckled, and patted Francis on the shoulder, grinning. “Wouldn’t expect any less from you, man. So, Henry? Spill the beam. Tell Ol’ Francis here who’s his mother!”
Henry chuckled as he connected a primitive thumb-drive into an even more primitive personal computer; on the screen of the huge flat screen television, huge strings of data and words appeared, DNA sequences, pictures, icons of folder and sub-folders, all still encrypted and not making any sense to any of them. “The AIM supreme Leader didn’t called you an abomination because you are a rogue experiment gone wrong or whatever- it’s because AIM used to be all about science. And you mother… well, she was- is- a scientist, but there’s much more about her. According to SHIELD data, she was rumored to have a connection to the deepest and oldest mystical forces of the Universe; she used to be the human incarnation of the Balance, descendant of both The Darkness and The Angelus between the world was remade. “
“Also,” He continued, “the fact that she is your mother would explain a lot. I don’t think you are such a talented archer just because of your father. She was a mutant with computer-like abilities. You may have inherited part of her power-sets. This may be why you never miss. It could not be instinct. Just your brain doing all the math even if you don’t know it.”
“That’s all fine and good, Henry, but get to the point: who’s his mother?” Azari demanded. He was the son of royals- and way too often in his tone, and his words, his blood, his whole lineage, would show.
Henry sighed. “You see, on one side, it all made sense, but on the other one, it’s just…” he pause, looking for the right word. “strange, I guess? Because, if she is his mother, why her brother didn’t tell you? How could he not know? I know there are record of how stranded their relationship came to be… and Azari said it himself, he wasn’t exactly in his right mind at the end… and he had always been a tad manipulative… but to do something like that…”
“Henry? We are all expecting an answer…” James demanded. Francis was again sitting on the couch, his fisted hands sweaty as he gulped down mouthful after mouthful of saliva.
Words and images on the screen started to make sense, appearing in all their glory, in close-up, the image of a brunette, probably a little older than Sam and Roberto had been when they grabbed them from the future.
“All right, I’d tell you that I’ve got a bad news and a good news, but I will not, as I don’t know which one may be. So…” Henry sighed. “News number one, you and Forson were right. Mockingbird isn’t your mother. But… the reason it doesn’t make any sense? It’s because your mother was- well, is –Stark’s sister. Christine.”
Francis looked at the screen in concentration, not sure how he felt about the sudden discovery. “Well, it could have been worse. My mother could have been Kate or a criminal. Or I could have been a clone. Or I could have been in reality Uncle Barney’s secret son that Clint adopted or maybe stole for some unknown reason…” He was trying to be not too serious; he didn’t want to think about what it meant if Stark was his uncle. Had he lied to them? nd if it was the case, why? And if he hadn’t… how came he didn’t know of his own nephew?
Azari lifted an eyebrow, still unsure. “She and my mother used to know each other… they were friends, from what I was told; it’s rather strange that she wouldn’t leave anything written where she spoke of this. Are you sure of what you are saying, Pym?”
Pym lifted a perfect eyebrow in response, quite frankly a lot offended. “Of course I’m sure of what I say. I’ve checked multiple times. Either all the tests came back wrong all three times, or Chris Stark is indeed Francis’ birth mother.”
“Wow. You do look a lot like her, man…”
Francis hit James in the back of the head. “Are you saying I’m feminine, Rogers? Because if you did, I’ll just show you what kind of man I can be!”
Torunn studied the screen with a small smile, tempted to skim over the picture of the smiling woman with a single digit. “I think I can see you in her features, Francis. You are indeed your mother’s son, my friend.”
As Torunn spoke, both guys stopped playfully hitting each other, and blushing, they regained their composure, their eyes as fixed as before on the screen; strangely, the young Barton didn’t feel offended any longer- not when it was such an angelic creature such as Torunn to tell him he looked like his mother. Somehow, if she was the one saying it, it seemed a compliment. Even if he guessed that Rogers too didn’t mean bad- they were guys. And they were the best at doing what guys did, aka teasing each other merciless pretending they were machos without any other feeling than pride.
“Francis, I read here that your mother lives here in New York City…. What do you say, you want to go and meet her?”
Francis chuckled at Azari’s words, and lifted his eyes, focused not any longer on the screen but his surrogate family of sort. “What do you guys think?”