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Daughter Potential and Laundry Therapy

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Clint was getting too old for all this weird shit, he thought. It wasn't so much the missions: killer robots, giant dodos with jetpacks, the occasional mutant crime boss… arrows went into most of them the same way. But he never got to get away from it. SHIELD was… there was something really screwy going on with SHIELD right now. He didn't know what it was, but there was something. And Cap and Iron Man were at daggers drawn again about… pretty much everything, really. But today, today took the cake. He should not have to be running security on his own laundry.

FRIDAY, he tapped into his phone, who's the girl with her nose in my sweater?

The answer came back on the screen a moment later. The phone didn't even buzz. FRIDAY wasn't JARVIS but she did understand stealth mode. Ms. Lewis is the manager for Lab Six, and personal assistant to Dr. Foster. So… if she was infiltrating this place, she was really good. Clint sighed, very, very quietly.

Please record this next interaction with her. Just in case. FRIDAY could pull audio from his phone if nothing else, but there was probably a camera around somewhere, because Tony was like that. He cleared his throat loudly and watched Lab Manager Lewis jump about a foot and squeak. “You do realize that’s not your laundry you’re folding, right?” he asked mildly.

The girl dropped the sweater immediately and looked at him guiltily through big blue eyes, flushing bright red. “Sorry,” she squeaked. “I know this has to look weird, but I promise this is entirely, one hundred percent not creepy. It’s just, it’s been a day… well, a month, really, and life sucks right now and I just wanted to pet something. Plus my stuff’s in the washer. So… sweater.” She waved one apologetic hand at the rest of Clint’s laundry, neatly folded on the table beside her, and bit her lip.

She was cute, Clint observed, in an obvious, hamsters-on-the-internet kind of way. And she might be feeding him a line to get him to talk, but… “What’s going on, then? Bad boyfriend? Someone break physics again?” He'd never get anything if he got too menacing too fast.

“Nooo….” Ms. Lewis looked rapidly around and then hitched herself up onto the sorting table, the better to slump and hug herself. Her arms crossed over, not under her breasts; and she was wearing a baggy sweater even fuzzier than the one of Clint’s she’d been holding against her cheek. If this was a seduction attempt it was a very, very subtle one, but the needle on Clint’s bullshit meter was still sinking slowly toward the “legit” side of the dial.

“Look,” she said, “I haven’t seen you around here much before and I don’t know how much you know about the ways Stark R&D works with the Avengers, but just believe me when I tell you, if things are not going well upstairs, the secondhand stress in the labs is enough to turn the walls yellow. Plus, my boss is banging Thor, when he can manage to show his fine godly ass around here, and so Jane and I see them socially sometimes, so there’s that. All of which means, I pick up on, y’know, the atmos.”

“Yeah?” Clint tilted his head. How did this whole mess look from the outside, anyway? “And?”

“And the atmos, they are not good. We’re like, this far from a major shitstorm, I can feel it.” The kid held her finger and thumb about half a centimeter apart.

“This whole Accords thing?” Clint suggested. “Which way are you leaning on that?”

“Urrghh!” Ms. Lewis groaned, and threw her head backward on her neck, as if the force of her eyeroll had given her whiplash. “I don’t even care. I got my poli-sci degree; I can write you ten pages for either side about why the other guy is wrong. This isn’t about policy anymore. This is body language and people not listening and feelings. Tony’s so scared he thinks giving a bunch of power-hungry old white dudes the same directives Ultron had is somehow going to lead to a better outcome than murder-bot. He’s sliding into like, Gulag mode – these messy humans aren’t doing the right things so we have to lock them up, oops, things are messier let’s lock up more. And meanwhile Captain Steve’s gone feral.”

“Feral?” Clint didn’t know whether to laugh or push the screamer on his comm.

“My pack, my people, if I love you I’ll do anything, if I hate you you’re collateral damage… He’s a friggin’ werewolf, dude.”

Laughing it was. This kid would make a decent analyst if he could get her to come to SHIELD. Plus, she would get so far up Sitwell’s nose…

“Or maybe he’s more like one of those sweet Baptist kids who really likes you, they really care, only, they genuinely think you’re going to hell because you kissed another girl. It’s all us-them, and I have been a Them too friggin’ often to trust that shit, and I don’t know what weird thing might make Cap stop seeing me as a person. So we’ve got Tony Lenin and Steve the Werewolf getting all clompy and alpha male shoulders at each other, and then on top of that there’s whatever the fuck is going on with SHIELD.”

The bottom dropped out of his stomach. Clint glowered at her. “What do you know,” he demanded.

Lewis met his gaze without flinching or eyerolling, her soft features as serious as she could manage. “I know the memos and the paperwork and the demands have been flying fast and furious and contradictory, and I know everything’s more and more restrictive, and I know you don’t clamp down like that unless you’re losing your grip.” Her attempt at a fierce expression melted and she let her head drop into her hands. “I am scared, bro,” she admitted, her voice muffled and thick, “I am so fucking scared. I am scared of the people Tony thinks he has to work with, I am scared of what Steve thinks he has to do, I am scared of whatever is going on inside SHIELD, and I am scared of what’s coming down the pike from the bad guys while we deal with this shit. AND,” She unfolded and took a breath, glaring out into the middle distance, “It scares me worse because I live with all these people who say they want to protect me, and I am fucking invisible to them! They’d all say they’re fighting for people like me, but all they care about is the fight…” the rest of her words were lost in a sob.

“Aww, kid…” Without thinking about it too much, Clint wrapped and arm around her and pulled her in for a hug. She melted into his neck as easily as one of his own children, not flirting at all. “The invisible thing,” he promised, “we can do something about.”

 

*****

Nat helped him put the video together, swearing viciously the whole time about how much easier it would have been with JARVIS, not FRIDAY, behind the security feeds. Jarvis would have actually moved the camera and zoomed in on the conversation, making sure those wet blue eyes stayed in focus, because JARVIS had understood the uses of puppydog eyes. But artificial, post-facto zoom and the clarity of the audio pickup would do enough of the work to be effective. At the next team meeting, Clint interrupted the argument Tony and Steve had begun before they even sat at the conference table and said, “I have a recording for us all to watch.”

Steve had recognized Lewis immediately. “Is that Darcy?” His cheeks were a little pink, Clint noticed. “Did something happen to her?” There were other mutters of recognition, or confusion, around the room.

They got quieter, though, as Lewis’ rant got more heated. The line about Ultron’s operating parameters made Tony pound his fist on the table and yell at the screen. “Stop saying true things, Lewis!”

Steve huffed like he’d been gut-punched by the Hulk when he heard Lewis – Darcy? say she was scared of him. Agent Hill’s eyes narrowed at the SHIELD stuff. When the recording ended, the room stayed silent for a full fifteen seconds.

“That,” Natasha said, “Is one of our closest civilian friends and most useful support staff members. Or was. We need to fix this.”

 

*******

Six months later…

“You realize that none of this is my business anymore?” Fury scowled at the tiny camera screen while the other two people seated at the table kept eyes on the milling crowd at Tim Horton’s.

“Mm,” Agent Coulson said, “But my job is quite stressful these days, and sometimes I just need a pick-me-up. Such as hearing you say…”

Fury growled. “Fine. You. Were. Right. The Avengers need her.”

Director Hill nodded. “Bringing Wilson in helped, too: he’s running meetings like VA group therapy sessions, now. Nothing’s ever easy with that bunch, but at least they’re not actively trying to kill each other now.”

“And it’s because of Lewis?” Fury repeated skeptically.

“She’s much better at being the glue than I was,” Coulson said. “I am of the opinion that it may be an actual mutant power. Xavier agrees.”

“I wish there was a better name for it than ‘daughter potential,’ though,” Agent Hill complained.

Fury glared. “Do you think you’re running a goddamn PR firm, Maria?”