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Revive

Chapter Text

Prologue

 


“Sir, I don’t understand.”


“Understand what Agent? A direct order?”


“No sir I understand the order, but a full wipe?” Agent Douglas Addams didn’t make it a habit of questioning orders, especially when they came from someone so high up, but it was a peculiar order never the less, S.H.I.E.L.D was currently working at “full load” which meant everyone was called in. The events of the last two days had resulted in S.H.I.E.L.D escalating the threat level to Code Black, a direct threat to the general population.


Many of the agents, including Addams, had been working zealously for over forty-eight hours gathering the necessary intel for the team deployment in an hour. Douglas was the senior system technician on the floor now, which was why his station was within a special tinted glass office overlooking the other system agents on the floor. The glass allowed the senior operative to be able to look out, but no one to look in. Taking the events of the past days into consideration, it didn’t catch Douglas off guard when a member of the World Security Council wandering into his office. He was surprised however when the Councilman didn’t ask for a mission report update but wanted Addams to abandon the vital work in favor for another matter altogether.


“You have your orders Agent Addams – please proceed.” Lacking any other option other than to comply with the command, the agent’s hands went to the keyboard and typed the required sequence of codes. The Councilman was watching the process for the sole purpose of ensuring that the task was completed, not how it was done. This oversight did not go unnoticed by the technician, he was suddenly in survival mode. He wasn’t in this fight just for himself but for every agent around the world. Quickly before hitting the last key that would activate the given order. Addams punched in an additional six keys then hit the final button that would change everything.


A second past, then another. Addams blinked a few times and turned away from the computer and surveyed his surroundings. An older man in a gray suit stood before him. Panic flashed in the agent’s eyes once he recognized who the gentleman was. The councilman couldn’t hide the smile of amusement as the agent stumbled to get to his feet. “Sir, apologizes. I didn’t know you were there. How may I help you?” Douglas turned slightly and caught sight of his computer monitor seeing an open data coding screen processing. Returning his attention to the Council member he could see past him to the beehive of activity that was occurring down below. While he could not hear anything that was being said on the floor he could see the system analysts were in distress. Using all the variables available and applying them to the equation, Agent Addams deduced what had happened. They had been wiped.


The smile left the Councilman’s face as he turned his attention to retrieving an item from his suit jacket. “Dismissed agent.” Addams didn’t need to be told twice, he needed to inform his superiors immediately of the Council’s actions. Agent Addams never made it out of the tinted office. As soon as his back was turned, a bullet went through his skull. Returning the gun to his pocket the Councilman went into his pants pocket for his cellphone. Looking around the room to confirm his solitude his thumb traveled to a button on the cellphone and pressed it. Raising the phone to his ear he knew that there would not be any greeting or even an acknowledgment. The man waited until he was sure he had established a connection and spoke “It’s done”.

Chapter Text

Chapter One

 

“What was I just saying?”

“No clue. What happened to your arm?”

Clint Barton looked down and noticed that his right arm was in a sling. He also recognized a familiar pain in his chest. After a quick assessment, he concludes that he had no less than three cracked ribs with the possibility of at least one of the three being broken. Looking at the woman in front of him, Natasha Romanoff, he saw bandages on her forehead and collarbone. The redhead’s green eyes had a look that he had seen multiple times before which never ended well for him. She was judging the situation and evaluating the threat level. Deciding to get ahead of her assumptions he offered in a joking manner, “Maybe we both have head injuries. It wouldn’t be the first time”

Natasha stared at him for a moment not finding anything amusing about their current situation and countered his offer. “Would we both be just walking around here if we had a head injury bad enough to affect our memories?”

“Well” he paused “it is you and me so it is highly possible that we just walked out of medical against orders. Again – not the first time. You know as well as I do if it’s really that bad they will find us. They always do.”

As if on cue, Agent Phil Coulson rounded the corner of the hallway towards the agents. The impact of his polished shoes against the titled floor caused a sound to echo through the empty hall that Clint could only compare to the Jaws’ theme. Never looking at either of them or breaking his stride, he stared ahead. It was only when he passed by and put some distance between himself and the agents he called over his shoulder “Romanoff, Barton, my office now”. Phil was their handler. He wasn’t the first but the only one that could keep Romanoff and Barton in line and alive. He was responsible for selecting which missions they went on, what they did during the missions, and their recovery from any injuries sustained from the missions.

The last responsibility was the bane of Phil’s existence. Neither one of the members of Strike Team Delta openly reported any injuries, often believing that in-the-field medical treatments were “good enough” or taking the “walk it off” approach. When injuries were detected by either himself or the injury was too obvious to conceal, persuading either of the agents to receive medical treatment was often a challenge. Director Fury had gone as far as to have it added to Clint’s medical profile that he is to be restrain in a hospital bed, and when possible kept under heavy sedation anytime he was in medical. This was a result of numerous complaints about injuries the medical staff obtained while providing medical care to Barton. It became so bad that doctors would refuse to even assess a broken toe on Barton without him being sedated.

Standing at his office door, Agent Coulson waited until both Natasha and Clint were inside before closing it. Watching as they passed by him he made a mental checklist of the visual injuries the agents had. It seemed with his brief inspection that whatever happened they had received treatment. That was good enough for now. Broken bones, bumps and bruises were the least of their problems currently. While the situation was high enough that Fury had ordered “full load”, which some reason was already in place. The agency could afford a few days of recovery time for Clint and Natasha. Whatever had happened could result in the need for their specific skill sets. S.H.I.E.L.D needed them at their peak performance level for whatever was going to happen. Taking his time making his way to the desk chair Agent Coulson debated the best way to start the conversation. Politely gesturing to his agents that they should sit down in the chairs across from him he decided to be honest and blunt.

“What year is it?” he asked.

Natasha and Clint looked at each other and back to their handler. The question being posed to them seemed to all but confirm Clint’s earlier assumptions. Natasha and he had been injured somehow and in addition to their visual injuries suffered some sort of head trauma as well. They probably went to medical for treatment and left. Someone in medical got butthurt that they left without authorization and tattled on them to Phil. And here they were…

“Listen Coulson, I don’t know what they told you, but Nat and I…”

“What year is it?” Phil repeated cutting off Clint’s lame attempt at an excuse.

Natasha decided to answer the question cause unlike Clint she did have an evident head injury and while she didn’t know how bad it was, the latest edition of “Clint vs. Phil” was causing her head pains to spread to behind her eyeballs. She propped her left elbow on the chair’s arm and rested her head in her hand looking towards the wall “2001 and do you have any Advil?”

Opening the desk draw to his right Phil fished around for the requested item. “No on the year, yes to the meds”. He threw the bottle across the desk to Nat which she caught with her right hand without even turning from the wall. Closing the desk draw Phil bluntly stated,“It’s 2008”.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

 

“So, I’ll just be taking my runner up prize of this brand-new sling” Clint declared pointing to his injured arm, “calling bullshit on the whole situation and taking my broken ass home”. With that statement left hanging in the air Clint hauled himself out of the chair and made his way to the door. He was almost there when Phil stopped him with a simple question.

“And where exactly would that be Agent Barton?”

“What?” Clint asked turning to Phil.

Coulson rephrased his question “Where do you live?”

“Why? Do you want to come over and watch the game later?” Clint was trying his best attempt of sounding light, like nothing was wrong but internally Phil’s question had him freaking out. He had no idea where home was. The worst thing was that Clint didn’t feel any pain in his head. While most of the time that is a good thing, wouldn’t his head be bothering him if he was hurt so bad that it prompted memory loss? Perhaps he was still under the influence of whatever they gave him in medical and it was blocking the pain and recall abilities. That revaluation didn’t comfort Clint any better, knowing that as soon as the medication wore off he was probably going to be in a world of hurt.

Clint gathered that if he could just keep talking then the information would come back to him. That was it – just keep talking. It’s a head injury, he just needed to wait it out until the meds left his system. He was just about to start up again with some smartass remarks when his cell phone rang. Pulling it out of his pocket, a piece of paper fell onto the floor, bending down to retrieve it, he read the caller ID: Laura – Home. Unfolding the paper to see if perhaps it held some clues he inhaled sharply. It was a sonogram.

Showing it to Nat and Phil, Clint answer the phone cautiously on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Hey, sorry to interrupt you at work. I know you are busy finishing things up before tomorrow. I just wanted to confirm plans before I went to bed”. The woman’s voice that he assumed was Laura, hastily said.

Clint was processing a lot in very little time. The sonogram confirmed Phil’s story about the year since a date was printed clearly under the name Barton in the top left corner. “Tomorrow?” Phil was typing away at his computer. Obviously trying to get information to help Clint out.

“Please don’t tell me that another mission came up. We have been planning this for weeks. You promised that you would be home this weekend to help. The nursery needs to be painted, the crib is still in a box, plus Cooper really misses you.”

“Copper misses me and I promised to be home this weekend.” Clint was repeating the information for his audience in the office. Phil turned his monitor around so Clint could see. He recognized as one of the SH.I.E.L.D. sub personnel file. Everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D had a personnel file as with any employer, but only a select few agents had a sub file that was encrypted. Only certain people had the clearance level to access such information. Clint even as a level seven agent would not have the clearance needed to access his own file. Such a setup was the closest thing that S.H.I.E.L.D had to “off the record”. While he could identity his own picture on the screen the two others, who were probably the reason for the sub file, were a mystery. There was a picture of a woman with the name Laura Mitchel Barton captioned under it with a hyphen following the name and the word WIFE. The second picture was of a toddler captioned with Cooper Francis Barton – SON. Clint felt pure fear. He didn’t have any idea who these people were, and he was able to understand enough of the situation to assume that there would soon be another picture added to the file.

Phil never changed his expression during the phone conversation. He had a poker face that many would sell their own mother to be able to imitate. He tapped on a section on the screen to draw Clint’s attention to it. It was a set of coordinates. Phil clicked on the numbers and a map appeared which a location was clearly marked by a blue dot. Clint leaned in closer to get a look.

“Iowa!?” Clint couldn’t keep the disgust out of his voice. He grew up in Iowa, it was not fun times. All the places in the world to pick for settling down, he picked the location of the first act of the shitshow that would become his life?

“Clint? Are you alright?” Laura asked.

Clint shook his head in his latest attempt of mental recall without success. “Yeah…I’m good. You know me, just a bit banged up from a mission.” He suddenly wondered about his arm and ribs. What the hell happened? Hopefully he gave as good as he got. However, in the grand scheme of things that wasn’t important right now. Looking at Phil he mouthed “tomorrow?” Phil nodded. He had already decided to approve recovery leave for both Natasha and Clint in preparation for whatever would happen next. Clint continued “Yeah, I’ll be home tomorrow. I don’t know how much of the chore list I will be able to do. I busted a few ribs, but I’ll give it a go.”

There was a heavy sigh on the other end. Clint may not remember his wife but he sure as hell remember that sound. He has had the privilege of being on the receiving end of it numerous times in his life. It was the sound of a female frustrated with Clint Barton. “Did you even bother to ask Natasha if she wanted to visit?”

That got Clint’s attention. If he was going to this shitshow then at least he gets a plus one. Looking right at Natasha, Clint started in on his lie. “Of course, I invited Natasha. She is excited to come out and see you. She has a few bumps and bruises but between the two of us we should be able to knock off what needs to be done. Just pick us up tomorrow at the airport please. Once I have a flight number I’ll send it to you.” While Clint was mentally congratulating himself on how smooth he sounded, Natasha was softly cursing in Russian. He knew that should explain to Laura about the memory loss, but seriously, how do you explain to your wife that you have “lost” the last seven years which must have included meeting, marrying and producing one and a half kids with her? Hallmark definitely missed that target demographic.

His train of thought was broken by the sound of a child crying in the background. Something in the pit of Clint’s soul screamed out. His mind had no idea who these people were, but his heart knew the sound of his son.

“Okay hon, we will see you tomorrow. I’m looking for… Cooper stop… Hush… Okay one minute... I swear he acts like he doesn’t even know who I am. Love you. Bye.” Clint has never been so happy for someone to hang up on him. It saved him the awkwardness of having to respond to Laura’s “love you”. He found himself thinking back to the comments made just moments ago about Cooper’s behavior towards his mother.

Clint glanced at the sonogram one more time before refolding it. He shoved the photo and phone back into his pocket as he mumbled to himself, “like father like son.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

 

“Everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D has been wiped?” Natasha asked. Even as highly trained as she was to adapt to any event thrown at her, the surprise was clear in her question.

Phil nodded, at this point Maria Hill had joined them. Director Fury was out in the field when the crisis had occurred. He was currently on his way back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in Washington D.C. Having a higher level of clearance and a firmer grasp of what was happening than Phil, she could explain the situation better. They had agents running data of possible outcomes of the entire S.H.I.E.L.D organization being crippled for no apparent reason. None of the results were promising. Director Fury had assigned Agent Hill to fill in the two senior mission operatives in case the situation became hostile and their “skills” were needed for containment. “Everyone from Fury to the pool cleaner at the gym doesn’t have any memories from 2001 to today.”

“So,” Clint interjected, “at any point in time you guys can just push a button to fry our brains making us forget everything.” He waited for a response and didn’t receive one so continued. “That’s just lovely. Did we agree to that or is it just part of the sign on bonus?”

Hill looked at Clint with a face that easily conveyed her annoyance with his interpretation. “When someone joins S.H.I.E.L.D they are required to participate in numerous screenings and assessments. The biggest one being the medical evaluation. During part of the evaluation the agent is put under and a cognitive recalibration unit is implanted on the prefrontal cortex within the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex. The agent does sign an agreement prior to the surgery, but of course, the patient is ‘wiped’ once the procedure and recovery are completed. We can’t have our employees walking around paranoid that their memories could be erased at any moment. Plus, the initial wipe is more of a ‘test’ to ensure the implant is functioning correctly.”

Clint stared into the coffee cup that he had been given upon Hill’s entrance wishing it would magically refill before his eyes. “No, you surely can’t have that, now can you?”

“Think of it as a reset button for the brain. We deal in the world of spies and information. A lot of the latter is highly sensitive and a matter of world safety. To ensure the security of said information we occasionally must reduce the amount of people privy to it.”

It was Natasha’s turn to interrupt, “Even if that includes the people who risked their asses to retrieve the information?”

Without blinking Hill looked right at Natasha “Almost exclusively. Information can’t be interrogated out of you if you don’t know it.”

“Cause telling the nice torturer that I don’t know is a sure-fire way to get them to stop beating me”. Clint added dryly. He leaned back in his chair and rolled his eyes at Natasha.

Maria wasn’t going to take the bait. “Sometimes we do it to protect our agents. You two know better than most that there are plenty of tough calls made out in the field. Sometimes the actions and consequences of those calls follow the person home. Prior to the launch of the wiping program we had a seventeen percent suicide rate among our field agents. The last audit conducted just a few months ago now has us at three percent.”

Sitting up Clint placed his empty cup on the desk and stood. “I have just two questions, why did this happened and how many times have you had to wipe me?”

Clint could have sworn he saw Coulson crack a brief smile but when he looked again to confirm it Phil was back to what Clint liked to call “The Gambler” mode. Natasha’s face was expressionless to anyone who didn’t know her, but he did and knew that she was wondering the same things. Maria looked to Phil and arched her perfectly manicured eyebrow. This was her signal for Phil to take over. He understood her signal and accepted the responsibility, “The only entity that can authorize a full organizational wipe is the World Security Council. They answer to no one. Director Fury will be meeting with the W.S.C. as soon as possible requesting an explanation, but it is highly doubtful one will be offered. We can only assume that they had a valid reason to do so. The only option now is to move forward. This wipe has occurred and there is nothing that can change that. We must now just be prepared. A situation like this is unprecedented. There is no way for us to predict the fallout of this many people being affected. Missions have been compromised. Agents who were in deep cover are dead now because of this. We predict it will take a few days for the full impact to show, so I suggest, no I order you two to take this time for recovery from your injuries. Be back Tuesday at the latest and be ready for anything.”

There was nothing left to do. Phil was right. There wasn’t any way for them to know what would happen next. Clint and Natasha dialed back their anger about the whole thing, but there were numerous agents within the organization who would not. Fury, Hill and Coulson were in for an all-nighter of planning how to react to the actions of thousands of angry agents. It was easy to assume that there would be a lot of resignations over this mess. Clint could empathize with that.

Clint pushed the whole thing out of mind. Dealing with the aftermath was “Tuesday Clint’s” problem. He had a few days off and a wife and son to get reacquainted with. Perhaps he would find an opportunity to talk to Laura and be honest about everything. On second thought, the “fake it till you make it” plan was sounding like the better option.

Natasha gestured to Clint for them to leave. They had a flight to catch once it was booked. There was an entire department in S.H.I.E.L.D. for the sole purpose of travel arrangements. All that was needed to be said was when and where, and a ticket appeared. Clint and Natasha quickly said their goodbyes. Together the two Strike Team Delta agents walked towards the door. Natasha was the first person through it and as Clint had one foot over the threshold Phil casually threw his last comment at Clint, “And to answer question number two, more than you would want to know. Have a great weekend Barton.” Clint never looked back, he just nodded his head and over his shoulder extended his middle finger.

Once they were both in the hallway again Natasha glanced at her watch. “It’s 11:30 now, how long does it take to get out to Iowa?”

Clint answered as he took off walking. “The map shows my place about two hours northeast of Cedar Rapids. The flight itself is under four hours if we can get a nonstop.”

Nat matched his pace and the two took off to the travel department. “What’s wrong? You just answered my question without any stupid jokes or remarks.”

He stopped and turned to Nat. He wouldn’t look her in the eyes. He focused at an area off past her right shoulder. “I’m sure I’m a dick husband. Which makes me not even want to think about what kind of father I am.”

“Well you can be a dick, not going to argue with you about that one. When you are, there tends to be some sound sense behind it. Why don’t you think you’re a good husband and father?”

“Other than not remembering them?”

“Other than that. There is a very simple explanation for that one.”

Clint could not help but laugh at that statement. “Simple? If you call me allowing the government to do brain surgery on me for the sole purpose of erasing it when they believe it is warranted, then for Christmas I’m getting you a dictionary. That aside, the other reason is because she is picking us up from the airport.”

It’s not often that Natasha is speechless, but she decided to go easy on herself given the conditions. “Because she’s offering us a ride?”

“Yeah, what kind of husband does that? The airport is two hours away. That’s a four-hour roundtrip that she’s doing pregnant and with a toddler. It sounds pretty shitty to me.”

“Or perhaps you are such a great husband and father that she is excited to see you. Try being an optimist for once.” Natasha noticed that Clint seemed to relax a bit at her last comment. She knew he had demons from his childhood whose reappearance were probably prompted by the extremely sore topic of husbands and fathers. She wondered how many times they have had this conversation. How many times had Clint’s confidence taken a beaten leaving her to pick him up again? Blue eyes met her green ones. She could tell he was tired and scared. Natasha knew that he was never one to shrink away from a challenge, so he would take this one on and overcome his demons.  

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

 

 

Ten Years Later

 

 

“It’s not a bribe!”

“Tony, you show up to my house unannounced with a brand-new tractor and a puppy! How is that not a bribe.” Clint hollered as he made his way to his workbench in the barn. Tony Stark had arrived approximately ten minutes ago in a three-piece suit looking as if he was about to present the annual stock report to shareholders. Stark had magically appeared in the gravel driveway. The archer had no idea how Tony had gotten to the farm. He didn’t see any mode of transportation, but this was Tony Stark, so just because it could not be seen didn’t mean it wasn’t there. The numerous alarms that were set up to warn of approaching visitors didn’t go off either, that was something Clint would have to investigate later. The last time that he had seen Tony was when they were separated by a thick pane of glass at the Raft prison two years ago. Heated words were exchanged during that time, but Clint have mellowed greatly in the time apart. Especially since he believed Tony played a significant role in him being granted house arrest instead of being thrown back in jail for his part in the Avengers’ “Civil War” as the media dubbed it.

Tony really didn’t like having to explain himself, but he would if it resulted in him getting what he wanted. “It’s not a bribe because I don’t want anything from you. I just want you to have a nice tractor and a guard dog once he gets older. Which may I add you are in desperate need of. Do you know how easy it was for me to get on your property? It would also be swell if you could just forget the last two years and let me off the hook to the unfortunate remarks I said to you within earshot of Secretary Ross.”

“That is wanting something. Look, Tony, when I brought you all here during the whole Ultron mess, what was the first thing I said?”

Tony looked off into the distance trying to recall an event from almost four years ago. “I want to say that you said, ‘honey I’m home’. A bit too 1950’s for me, but who the hell am I to argue with the classics?”

A voice called from the haystack that was piled up towards the back of the barn. “Uncle Tony said a bad word! He has to pay a dollar!” Clint had forgotten Lila was there. She was so excited when Tony arrived and presented her with the dog. Clint was so angry at the impromptu visit, he didn’t even invite Tony into the house, just brought him into the barn for a talk. Lila had followed with the promise to behave and to let the grownups speak. He didn’t know until they arrived that Lila had brought the puppy with her. Laura must be having fun up at the house keeping the boys away from the barn.

Exchanging a quick glare with Tony, Clint shouted up to his daughter, “He’s not your uncle. You call him Mr. Stark, and he won’t say anymore bad words. Why don’t you go up to the house and let your brothers have a turn with the puppy?” He didn’t want to disclose it to Tony, but Clint had been begging Laura since Lila was little to get a dog without success. Now that the dog was here, Laura wouldn’t be able to pry the animal from the children, or him.

Tony placed his hand over his heart in a mocked gesture of offense, “If she feels that she needs to call me Uncle Tony then I think she should be able to. Clint you need to let your daughter feel her feelings.” Knowing that Clint was perhaps three seconds away from punching Tony for his last remark about parenting, he called the child over. “Sweetie come on down here”.

Lila climbed down with the puppy held under her arm from the haystack with the grace of a ballerina despite never wanting to participate in the activity much to the chagrin of Natasha. She skipped over to Tony excited to be included in the conversation. He kneeled to be at her level and reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve a wallet. “So, it’s a dollar a bad word, right?”, and handed her a fifty-dollar bill. “Here’s fifty because it’s going to be a long day. Your daddy is being a stubborn hawkass to Uncle Tony.” Clint stepped forward, this time he was going to hit Tony. Tony looked back to the girl and continued, “that is two bad words, I have forty-eight to go. That’s called subtraction.” Patting the girl on the head twice, he took his attention away from her and gave it to her father, “See Clint I’m teaching her. I can be a positive influence on children.”

Clint shook his head and shoed the child away happily with the cash held tightly in one hand and her new furry friend in the other. Once he knew she was far enough away, Clint watched Tony start to fiddle with tools laid out on the workbench. It was apparent from the millionaire’s clumsy handling of the items before him, Tony was anxious.  While Clint didn’t appreciate Tony using his daughter as an awkward buffer, he was pleased to know that he was able to intimidate the Ironman.

“I said ‘Fury helped me set this up when I joined S.H.I.E.L.D and kept it off the record and I would like to keep it that way.’ That was my way of trusting you with my deepest and most treasured secret. I did that because you were my friend. What did you do? When you were given the first opportunity, you gave them up! You gave up the little girl that you want to call you Uncle Tony. You gave up my son who looks up to you and wants to invent things just like you do. You gave up the three-year-old that you have never met and has his whole life ahead of him. You gave up the woman who offered you sanctuary when you needed it because you created a murder bot. You didn’t even bat an eye. You were mad and hit where you knew it would hurt me. Guess what? It did. It hurt like hell. I was stuck in some cell miles under water losing my mind because I didn’t know if my family was safe or not.”

Tony’s attention to a hammer was broken by that. He didn’t know what to say. What can a person say when all their sins are laid out like that? All that can be done is to own it. Placing the hammer back down he turned to the marksman, “I messed up - there are you happy? You’re right, I was mad. No one knew if Rhodes was going to survive and if he did what the condition he would wake up in. You were already gone and enjoying your retirement. Hell, I was even trying to hang the suit up. Let the younger kids take over. We still don’t know where Banner and Thor are, but I’m sure they will show up sooner or later. We weren’t together, but we weren’t apart, you get me?” 

 Clint nodded, “We weren’t avenging but we were friends.”

“Exactly! I didn’t think the Sokovia Accords were going to be that big of a deal. Everyone who was active just had to sign the first draft that had a clause for the document to be revised with input from us within a year. Everything Rogers and the others didn’t like would’ve been fixed. The United Nations needed something – anything, to take the weight of the Avengers’ collateral damage off them and plus it was good PR for us.”

“What are you doing now? Is this the Tony Stark version of a reunion tour? Is everyone getting a visit and explanation of the inner workings of your mind, or is it just me?”

Kicking one of the tires on the recently replaced tractor Tony answered, “Rhodes and Vision have to listen to me every day about this. Rogers, Wilson, Romanoff and Maximoff are off secretly avenging” He placed the last two words in air quotes with an eyeroll, “I know where they are. They aren’t keeping it a huge secret and they are doing alright. Sometimes they get the bad guys and sometimes they don’t. If it wasn’t just the three of them and sometimes Wanda, I would swear Hydra had an inside man. They’re still out there fighting the good fight.” He added with a sly smile that disappeared when Clint gave Tony the ‘wrap it up’ cue with his index finger and proceeded with his testimony. “I really don’t know Scott, but he seemed cool. Got a kid himself you know? I made sure he made it home to her. He got a similar deal as you did, however not nearly as nice. While you have 160 acres to be restricted to, he has a two-bedroom apartment and roommates fattening him up with waffles. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, this whole thing snowballed out of control and I’m sorry for my part in that.”

“So, you thought if you got me on board with your apology then everyone else would follow? We could just forget the stupid, put the last two years out of mind and move on?” Clint concluded.

Tony looked at Clint with puppy dog eyes, “What do you say Hawkass?”

“Listen, I don’t care about the Accords. I didn’t then, really don’t now. Before you start in on me, I’m not trying to excuse my way out of what went down, but honestly, Steve just asked me to pick up Wanda and Scott and get them to the airport. Once we got there, everything changed. So, I say if that was your apology then I guess I accept it… Ironshit.” Tony stepped towards the archer to hug him, Clint put his hand up to stop him and shook his head, “Nope, we’re not like that,”

Tony left his arms out since he didn’t know what to do with the refusal of his affections. After a moment he pulled his hands together making an audible ‘clap’ and released the breath he didn’t know he was holding. “So, I do want something.”

Clint threw his head back and let out a groan. “I knew it!”

“I need your help with some S.H.I.E.L.D files. The ones that Romanoff and Rogers dumped on the www years ago. You remember that incident, right?” Clint grunted in acknowledgement. It was hard to forget something like that. “Well there are some interesting reads from about ten years ago that I need someone who was there at the time to help me sort.”

That whole event still gave Clint nightmares. What Natasha and Steve did with the data dump was nothing compared to the “2008 Full Load Wipe” as agents called it. In fact, the wiping indirectly led to the data dump. In all the confusion that was caused, HYDRA took advantage of the chaos to place their people within S.H.I.E.L.D. There were still some within the agency that believed the dump didn’t eliminate all the enemy agents. Clint was one of the subscribers to that belief, and it really didn’t help with his trust issues. Clint offered, “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that there are S.H.I.E.L.D files from ten years ago, but nothing from eleven to seventeen years ago?”

“That’s the thing Barton, there is.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

 

“You just find yourself injured without any knowledge of how it happened?” Tony asked as Clint placed a cup of coffee in front of him. The men had made their way back to the house and begged Laura to take the kids somewhere. The conditions of house arrest where very simple, stay at the house. Clint had an ankle monitor that was state of the art because of who he was. The government was also kind enough to bestow upon him four guards to watch his every move. In the beginning they were constantly on him, the guard detail following room to room changing out every twelve hours. In the two years they had been there they had let up a lot and had become family friends, even on occasion helping with some of the work around the homestead. He still didn’t like them being there, but at least they weren’t total assholes.

Clint sat down opposite Tony at the kitchen table with his own cup. “Yup, dislocated shoulder and some banged up ribs. Back in those days that was called ‘Thursday’, so being hurt wasn’t anything concerning to me, but…”

Tony interrupted, “Not knowing anything did?” Since the data dump Tony had been combing through the files more as a hobby than anything else. The files discarded were everywhere on the internet. Anyone with a decent encryption file on their hard drive was able to access it. He didn’t like the enemies of the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D.  having information that he did not. The mind wipe ten years ago took time for him to find out about since S.H.I.E.L.D never referred to the event in any of the reports afterwards. It was a dirty little secret that the agency went to great lengths to keep hidden. However, once he found out about the secret he unearthed one of his own that reemerged from the darkness that Tony referred to as the 80’s. When Tony exposed it, he created a program that filtered the files. The filtering system became the foundation of the investigation. He needed help. Tony had been looking for a reason to speak to Clint for a while now and the discovery he came across a few days ago motivated him to act. “So how did that work with all this?” he questioned as he waved his arms around the room.

“Honestly not great in the beginning. Laura and I had only been married for three years. Cooper was barely three himself and Lila was more than eager to make her debut at any time. I made Nat come with me here, so I would have backup. I attempted to fake it for a while and by ‘a while’ I mean maybe half a day. Laura, well you’ve met her, she knew something was wrong with us. By dinner I was confessing everything.”

“How did she take it?”

“Surprisingly well.  She didn’t miss a beat. She pulled out some photos and told stories, it was great.” Letting out a small chuckle, “It was almost like I was there. Cooper didn’t handle it well though.” It was still hard for Clint to explain it. He had heard that children are highly receptive to adult emotions and body language. The archer thought at the time, and since looking back, that he did a decent show of hiding his emotions during that unpleasant incident. Somehow Cooper picked up on a trace of something, that was the only reason Clint could come up with for how his son acted for the first few weeks afterwards. “Like I said, he was only a toddler at the time, but his behavior was strange. He wouldn’t go near Laura and only wanted me. She told me that it was because I hadn’t been home in a while and he missed me. Even after I left to get back to S.H.I.E.L.D he was standoffish with her. I guess he picked up on me seeing Laura as a stranger and copied it. He stopped by the time I got back for Lila.”

That was very interesting to Tony, Cooper was a good kid. The boy had quickly become a target of Tony’s probing into files on the internet in the past days, but now wasn’t the time to open that Pandora’s box. Tony had as of today only met the eldest Barton offspring twice, but he seemed to be a smart kid with the promise of perhaps being a decent human being when he got older, which in the grand scheme of things is all you can hope for with this generation. Clint’s earlier comments about Cooper’s infatuation with him didn’t go unnoticed and Tony had already made a mental note to send some tech stuff to encourage the young inventor’s passion. “And S.H.I.E.L.D? How did it function afterwards?”

“We lost a lot of good people. There were agents in deep cover that with the wipe forgot their mission objectives and cover story. Most of them were killed, if you ask me they were the lucky ones.” Tony gave Clint a puzzling look but allowed him to continue without commenting. “The undercover agents that weren’t killed concluded that they were enemy agents and stayed on with the enemy. I have been unfortunate enough to meet some in my assignments around this big blue marble of ours. Others handed in their notice and left the agency behind. S.H.I.E.L.D is nothing if not resilient, when knocked down they pull themselves up by the bootstraps and keep going. It wasn’t overnight, but we got there with acceptable lost.” Knowing that Tony was going to interject on that last part, Clint quickly added, “Even with all the horrible things that happened, it could have been a lot worst.”

The two Avengers sat in a comfortable silence drinking their coffee. Tony studied Clint’s face, it was apparent that the man was lost in thought about what he had just disclosed. He had never really spent too much time thinking about Clint outside of work. He knew about the family, but how much did he really know about the man? During his research into the memory wipe and the events beforehand Tony had found that he may know more about Clint’s life in the 2000’s than the man himself did. While the memory wipe was a known event for any agents around during it, there were things that the higher ups kept from the employees. The most important in Tony’s opinion was that all the files in the S.H.I.E.L.D database were also wiped. That meant that there wasn’t any official documentation of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s activities from 2001 until 2008. Since Clint already told Tony that he knew there weren’t any S.H.I.E.L.D records for those seven years, it was easy to assume that Clint was one of the few in the “know”.

“You were telling me as we were coming up to the house about how you found out about Laura after the wipe. That was a very lucky coincidence for you.” Clint threw a questionable look. He knew Tony was trying to imply something without just coming out and saying it. The whole song and dance was never Clint’s thing, but he was giving Tony some slack.  “I mean imagine if she didn’t call at that precise moment. You would have been in the doghouse for not showing up that weekend and maybe missed the birth of your daughter.”

Clint replied remorsefully, “I did miss my daughter’s birth.” A father shouldn’t miss the birth of any child, but the birth of his only daughter still stung. “Nat and I were out on a mission cleaning up after the wipe. We were on radio silence due to the sensitive nature of the assignment for a week. Once we were on the chopper heading back to headquarters Coulson called and told me she was here. Lila came two days early, if she just waited ten hours... but that girl has never done what she was told to.”

Tony responded with a forced laugh, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. It had been years since he had heard Phil Coulson’s name. He would never admit it out loud, but he missed the stable presence of the S.H.I.E.L.D agent. Tony wondered what Coulson would say if he saw the Avengers in the state they were in today. It probably would have broken his heart, he was the driving force behind the formation of the group and had faith in them. Phil Coulson was a soldier and when he fought it was with everything he had. Tony had never seen Coulson in the field but following his death, Thor shared a story about his adventures in New Mexico and Phil’s role had impressed Tony. Of course, that wasn’t the best part of the story, that was when Thor was asked a question about something that happened there, and he was unable to answer. Clint interjected with the answer. It turned out that Clint had been on “hammer watch” down there and almost took Thor out in mortal form with an arrow to the head, the only reason it didn’t happen was because Coulson retracted the order at the last minute. This time the smile did reach his eyes, remembering how the group banded together to tease Thor about how close he came to the business end of one of Hawkeye’s famous arrows. 

Now it was Clint’s turn to watch Tony lost in thought. “Tony, I know you are here about the wipe. The apology was just a way to get in the door. What do you want to ask me?”

Studying the open shelves that separated the kitchen from the living room Tony wondered if the variety of colored glass containers were family heirlooms or if someone had an obsession for collecting it. He was stalling and both he and Clint knew it. “Did you ever wonder why your personnel file was the way it was? Everything was wiped going back seven years, but your file was perfectly intact. It had your home location, a wife of two years, and a one-year old son. Do the math. None of that should have been in there.”

Without even hesitating Clint answered, “It was my private sub personnel file. Whoever did the wipe didn’t know it was there. It was off the record.”

“See that’s the problem here. You keep throwing ‘off the record’ around and I don’t really think you know what that phrase means Clint. ‘Off the record’ means there is no record of it.” Pulling out his Stark Pad Tony pulled up a screen and showed Clint. It was the “off the record” file that they had been talking about. “See – record.”

“There had to be some documentation of my family. If anything happened to me, S.H.I.E.L.D needed to know who to send my pension and insurance to. Only two people Fury and Hill, three if you count yourself, have access to it. It is called being responsible.” Clint stated in a matter of fact way.

“Yeah you are really responsible. I caught that while going through your information for the past seventeen years. You have always been sure to take care of the people who matter to you in case you never made it home one day. You know who you remind me of – Cap. You and he are cut from the same cloth you know. You two must be good friends.  I wonder if you still would be if he found out you didn’t offer to help when he needed it?”

Clint didn’t like where this was going, it was getting dangerously close to sounding like Tony was suggesting that he was a coward for taking the home arrest offer and leaving the others to be fugitives. It was a sore subject for him despite having no regrets about the decision.  “Steve understands I could not be on the run with a family back at home. We parted on good terms.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about, but I’m happy to hear that you guys are good. No, I was talking about how Rogers would never take a dime from me for personal use. Especially when I offered to put him up in a ‘luxury apartment in the sky’ over in Brooklyn. You know he has always wanted to go back to his old stomping grounds.  You on the other hand, he may have taken up on the offer.”

Tony was dangling a carrot hoping Clint would take the bait. Admitting to himself that he was curious about what Tony was getting at, he took it. “What the hell are you talking about? I get a pretty decent pension from S.H.I.E.L.D., but not nearly nice enough to be adding to my real estate holdings.”

Returning to the Stark Pad Tony swiped a few times and placed it before Clint. “Bedford-Stuyvesant Apartments, built in 1932 in Brooklyn, New York, current owner – one Clinton Francis Barton.” Touching the pad to swipe to the next frame he continued, “that is your signature on the deed correct? Dated Wednesday, October 6, 2004.”

Clint leaned in to study the document. Shaking his head in disbelief, “I have no idea about this honestly, but yes, that is my signature. I did live at that building when I was younger and stationed with S.H.I.E.L.D in the city.”

In his best game show host impression Tony said, “But wait, there’s more!” Then changed back into his normal voice, “You apparently before the wipe knew what ‘off the record’ meant because this building isn’t anywhere in your files or anything S.H.I.E.L.D has on you. Like I mentioned, you take care of people. There was an account set up to collect rent, pay bills, and miscellaneous odds and ends. It’s still active today.” Tony reached over the tablet to touch it again to show Clint the account information. “You even had a will to ensure everyone including your tenants were alright if anything happened to you. It was last updated in March of 2008, again ‘off the record’.” Tony leaned back into his chair, “And that my newly reestablished best friend is where things get…interesting… for both you and me.”

“That was two months before the wipe. What is so interesting about it and how does it involve you?”

Tony was again back to the tablet and with a few more swipes changed the world as Clint knew it, or remembered it forever, “It’s interesting because you left everything to a Katherine Elizabeth Bishop-Barton.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

 

“Who the hell is Katherine Bishop? Let me see that.” Clint demanded picking up the Stark Pad.

 “Wipe” was too broad of a term for Tony’s liking. The technology that would be required for thousands of people to have a specific timespan erased did not exist currently, and certainly not the twenty or thirty years ago when the S.H.I.E.L.D implants were initiated. The memories were still contained within the brain, the person affected just didn’t have access to it. The implant was merely, in layman terms – a lock and storage system.  To further complicate the situation, each time the device was stimulated to do a wipe, a different key was used. The research that he had conducted led him to the conclusion that while the wipe was permanent without some type of “key”, there was a possibility for something to be triggered. The information recovered didn’t support remembering a wiped event, but a trigger could have the capability to make the person feel a since of déjà vu. The effectiveness of the device came from the fact that there wasn’t a known key for the lock. While Tony would have gladly accepted the challenge to find the key for the specific 2008 Full Load Wipe, there were more than a few ethical dilemmas involved with any reversal effort. The wiping had resulted in the deaths of many and endangered international security which may have indirectly led to the deaths of thousands more around the world. The lives that were not ended were forever changed. Any interfering with undoing the implant system could cause similar results. S.H.I.E.L.D. would have to execute numerous safe guards prior to any reversal attempt. The behavior Clint was currently displaying was giving the impression to Tony that the name had triggered something in Clint’s mind just as he had hoped. “I think it would be easier to explain if you answer a few questions for me.

Clint was aggressively jabbing his finger on the pad’s screen, “What do you want to know?”

Tony stood up and walked around the table to take the tablet away from Barton. He worked quickly to bring up the will, positive that Clint would break the tablet trying to find it himself. Tony zoomed in on a specific passage of the legal document. There was no reason to show the entire paragraph yet. “I get who Cooper is, but who is L. E. Barton?”

Taking the device back Clint looked at the passage Tony was pointing to. “I know who that is. Don’t worry about it, you will think it’s stupid, so just continue please, before Laura gets back.”

“You don’t know what I think is stupid. I think it’s stupid when the Barista fills up the coffee all the way to the top then directs you to the cream and sugar counter. I mean – really? You just filled the cup completely full of hot liquid and I’m expected to somehow find some room to add…”

“Tony… just stop.” Clint surrendered, “To get this moving - fine, L. E. is Lila.”

“Why didn’t you just write down Lila then?’

“Because we didn’t know what her name would be, just her initials.” Clint countered as if that explanation would be satisfactory.

Tony wasn’t leaving it alone, “That doesn’t make any sense. How do you decide what the initials are but not the name? More importantly, this was drawn up before the wipe, you wouldn’t have any recall that you guys were struggling to find a name for the wee lassie.”

Clint could see the refrigerator from where he was standing, it was covered in school papers, takeout menus, and drawings being held on by a variety of magnets. His focus was locked onto a picture finger-painted by Nate. It was a family portrait, at least that is what Laura told him it was. “My grandmother, my mom’s mom, her name was Ellie. Her name was really Eliza, but everyone called her Ellie.” Returning his attention to Tony, “Died a year before my parents did.”

Tony thought he had a bad father but after reading Clint’s S.H.I.E.L.D file he realized that Howard Stark had nothing on Harold Barton. “Why not just call her Eliza or Ellie then?”

Clint sat back down in his chair and played with a paper napkin that one of the kids left on the table from lunch. He twisted the corner until it came to a point that reminded him of the toy unicorn Lila had. “Because that would have hit too close to home. She was the only person I ever saw stand up to my dad. She saw what was going on at home and she tried to do something. I don’t know what happened, but never saw her again after that. I decided a long time ago that if I ever had a daughter I would name her after grandma Ellie. Didn’t want to give her either of those names because it would just bring back too many memories, some good, but mostly bad. I figured that Ellie sounded like the letters L and E. It was the least painful way to honor her.” Dropping the napkin onto the table Clint looked up at Tony standing beside him still.  “See told you that you would think it was stupid.”

Returning to his chair as well, Tony threw a quick peek to the window that overlooked the front yard. He needed to hurry this up before the family returned, but he needed to do it at Clint’s pace. “No, no, I don’t think it’s stupid at all. In fact, I hope you don’t lose some of your respect for me when I say that it is very…sweet and touching.”

Clearing his throat and sitting up in the chair Clint composed himself. “Have to have respect before you can lose it Stark.” He joked with a smile and a sparkle in his eyes.

Tony returned the smile, “Touché. Back to the matter at hand, you had a will that read…” taking back the document and taking in a very deep breath, “I bequest all my worldly possessions to my wife, Katherine Elizabeth Bishop-Barton, in the event she has preceded me in death I leave everything to my children, Cooper Francis Barton and L. E. Barton under the legal guidance of Natasha Romanoff.”

Clint answered as if it would solve everything. “That’s not my wife’s name.”

“No shit sherlock, solve the next case.” Stark joshed.

“But, why would it be like this?” The question was more for himself than Tony. “Everything in this will is something I would do. Leave everything to my wife, and if not, I would have Nat watch the kids until they were adults. I could go upstairs right now and show you Laura’s and my current will, the wording is the exact same, just the name has been altered.”

“I agree with you that the document has been altered, however I don’t think in the manner you’re thinking.” This time Tony reached into the briefcase that Clint didn’t realize he had. A thick file emerged. Tony dramatically dropped the file on the table which made a ‘thump” sound upon impact. Opening the file, he took the first page and placed it in front of Clint. “Meet Katherine Bishop, or Kate as she preferred.”

Clint looked down at the paper. It was a copy of an expired New York driver’s license. The black and white photo did not reveal a lot but her stats on the side of the license did. She was five feet seven inches, a hundred and thirty pounds, with black hair and blue eyes. There was something familiar, but Clint couldn’t put his finger on it. Then again, a tall woman with black hair and blue eyes running around New York wouldn’t stand out in a crowd.

“Do you know this woman? Some of the information I’ve gathered indicates that she may had been an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the early 2000’s.” Clint shook his head, so Tony continued, “I know it’s an old photo, but it was the most current one I could find. This was the last legal acknowledgement of her existence until your will. Kate graduated early from M.I.T. with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics at twenty. Her transcripts show she was highly trained in numerous classes of martial arts, fencing…and archery.” Clint’s eyebrows rose at the mention of that. “She’s a trust fund baby, but due to an ‘incident’ in her teens, decided to go into public service. Visitor logs from M.I.T. at that time show S.H.I.E.L.D. recruiters meeting with her numerous times. There are even entries of S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to get appointments at Bishop Publishing, but they never made it through the front door.”

Clint knew of Bishop Publishing, it was a major company that did not only limit their focus to publishing but a variety of fields. The business was almost in the media as much as Stark Industries.  “Why was S.H.I.E.L.D. trying to get into the company, and why has no one looked for her until now?”

“She is the daughter of Bishop Publishing owner Derek Bishop and pharmaceuticals heiress Eleonor Macintosh, at least that is what her birth certificate says.” Stark added the last part under his breath. “The mother died when she was younger, and dad quickly remarried.” Clint caught something in Tony’s face, was that sadness? He didn’t want to inquire, whatever was going on wasn’t just because of S.H.I.E.L.D. Tony was invested in this missing woman, and it was personal.  “There is an older half-sister Susan, by the father, who got married almost twenty years ago. Apparently, something went down at the wedding and Kate cut off all ties with the family. She hasn’t touched her money, if fact it has been invested very well on her behalf. My best guess about the lack of searching for her was that as long as daddy had the money, he didn’t care where she was.”

“You think her birth certificate was tampered with?” Clint inquired thankful for the attention being off him for the moment.

“Not like government tampered, no, I think it was more like her prissy pants mother didn’t want to acknowledge the biological father because she was of the opinion that he wasn’t ‘mature’ enough to handle being a father and his parents agreed with her, so she married some dip-ass to give the kid a name and not embarrass her family kind of tampering.” The man said in one long breath.

Clint’s mouth hung open while he was trying to find the right words to reply to Tony’s confession.  All he could come up with was, “Wow that was a lot there Tony, feel like sharing?”

Taking the picture back, Tony placed it into the file and closed it. “I think we have advanced to the part of this gettogether where we will need something stronger than coffee feather brains.” Clint got up in silent agreement and went into the living room. When he returned it was with a bottle of some brown liquid. Tony didn’t care what it was if it did its job. Holding up his mug to Clint he waited until the acceptable amount of liquor was poured until waving it off. Taking a long sip, he welcomed the familiar taste of bourbon into his system. “I knew Ellen was pregnant, really didn’t care at the time. I was eighteen. Put it all out of my mind until I found your will. Didn’t know anything about the kid, and I was fine with that.  I suspect my dad threw money and Derek Bishop at her family to silence the potential high society scandal. The birth certificate and facial comparison from this photo,” gesturing to the closed file in front of him, “places Kate at a seventy-two percent chance of being my daughter.”

The archer drained his coffee cup and refilled it with straight bourbon. “Man, that…that just sucks. I’m sorry. I really wish I could help you, especially now that it’s your kid we are talking about. But I got…”

“Bathroom here?” Tony asked throwing a thumb behind him towards the door next to the far counter.

“No, that is the pantry, and my family and I would appreciate you not using it as a bathroom. I’m renovating the downstairs one, go on up, third door on the right.”

Tony stood and went up the stairs, looking at the pictures that decorated the ascending structure. Happy family pictures. No one ever puts up an unhappy or upsetting photo on the wall he thought to himself. Looking at the Barton family pictures the viewer would just assume it was a plain old normal Middle-American family. They would never guess the father was a trained assassin or the mother was …. what was Laura, he wondered. There was practically nothing on her from his research, but that was probably Fury and Clint’s doing.  Completing the much-needed task, Tony quickly rejoined Clint at the table.

Taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out, Tony decided to rip off the band aid. “That wasn’t the only facial comparison I did.” Returning to the tablet that was abandoned to the side, Tony struck it a few times and presented it to Clint. The retired spy looked down and recognized the two pictures displayed. On the left was Kate, as he now knew her to be, and on the right, was Cooper. Tony hit the screen again and parts of the two faces were highlighted. “Clint, my program, which not to brag, but is the best out there puts these two people at a sixty-three percent match with facial comparison. That means that they are closely related.”

He activated the screen again and this time Kate’s face was replaced with Laura, a second tap by Tony highlighted the faces once more. Not as much was highlighted as in the last screen. “The system places Laura and Cooper at a nine percent match.  The result – no relation. I’m not ready yet to make a definite conclusion on this data, I just need some DNA samples then we can …”

“Get the hell out of my house.” Clint demanded in a low and dangerous tone.

Collecting everything off the table to get it out of Clint’s view Tony rationalized for the archer, “Clint, I know this is a lot to take in all at once. I can get us answers, I just need your assistance. Let’s find out what we are dealing with here and then expand to the bigger picture. One step at a time.”

 Clint stood up and in a hostile manner approached Stark. If he wasn’t going to leave on his own, then Barton would make him. The budding altercation was interrupted by Cooper and Lila running into the kitchen followed by Laura carrying the toddler, Nathanial. Clint casted one last angry glare at Tony before morphing into his ‘happy dad’ façade, catching as Lila jumped into his arms.

Placing Nathanial down Laura took off the numerous bags that were crisscrossed across her body. “Sorry we are back so soon, kids were getting hungry, and the state likes it when I feed them at least three times a day.” She grinned to Tony, “Mr. Stark, will you be joining us for dinner tonight? You are more than welcome to stay the night, I just need to prep the bedroom.”

Tony did hear Mrs. Barton but was too busy watching Cooper to answer the invitation. Clint’s saw this and made a sound that caused Tony to break off the captivation. “Sorry, thank you very much for the offer, but I got to be getting back. I have plans with Pepper later.” Focusing again on the boy, “Hey Cooper, your dad and I were talking about getting you to Stark Industries soon. What do you say? Want to play mad scientist with me?”

The boy moved his head up and down in an earnestness that Tony was sure would result in brain damage if not stopped. Releasing a small chuckle, he picked up his briefcase. “Then we will get to work on that, won’t we Clint?” Clint didn’t say anything to that, but offered a warm smile that the child could, and would, interpret as a ‘yes’. “Well then, I’ll be off. Thank you Laura for your hospitality, and Clint – we’ll be in touch.”

“Thank you for coming over. I know Clint has been going stir-crazy without outside contact.” Laura said looking down. “Mr. Stark what did you do to your pants? Do you need me to throw them in the dryer quickly before you leave, I’m sure Clint has something for you until they are done?”

Looking down Tony saw that his right pant leg had a softball size wet spot on it. “Oh, no it will dry, but thank you. Can’t take me anywhere you know”. He smiled at Laura, and with a final glance to Clint left as mysteriously as he arrived.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

 

Dinner that evening was uneventful for the most part. Laura had taken the kids to a craft fair that the local high school was hosting to get them away, so Tony and Clint could speak in peace.  Lila had taken pictures on her mother’s cellphone of the items she was excited to try to make herself instead of buying at the fair for a ridiculous price. In between bites of chicken she rattled off a supply list of what she would need. Laura interacted in the conversation while Clint was clearly only half listening.  It was an important trait for her and Clint that the children were interested in crafting. While other kids at the fair were begging their parents for things, the Barton children saw the challenge in replicating and improving the items they were interested in.

Seeing that his mother and sister were busy planning a crafting day, Cooper took the opportunity to ask his father about what happened earlier. “Dad where you and Mr. Stark serious?”

“About what?” asked Clint as he pushed food around on his plate. Tony’s words had invaded his mind. He understood why Stark would be looking for Kate. Hell, if Clint found out he had a kid caught up in the wipe mess he would be looking under every rock himself.  However, including Cooper and himself in it was the confusing part. Clint Barton wasn’t stupid, he knew what Tony was trying to get at with the comparisons of Laura, Kate, and Cooper. There had to be another explanation. Maybe Kate was in S.H.I.E.L.D. with him, perhaps they used her as a cover for Laura. Kate baring similar facial features as Cooper would have only strengthen the cover. It was very possible that he used Kate’s name in place of Laura’s to maintain the family’s security. That would explain why Cooper and Lila had been part of the pre-wipe will that he was shown earlier, but not Laura. Clint had also noticed that the document showed him as a resident of New York, not Iowa, when the document was filed. Those factors alone would keep any potential threat to his love ones caught up for days following the wrong lead.

“Taking me to New York, letting me see Stark Industries? I’ve never been to New York, I could see S.I., maybe even the Avengers compound?” He paused for a moment, then all the enthusiasm dropped from his voice, “never mind”.

Now the child had his father’s undivided attention. “Hey, what’s up Coop?”

Resisting eye contact with Clint, Cooper responded. “Even if you were serious about the trip, you can’t go.”

The tone of disappointment in his son’s words caused the weight of the ankle monitor to increase by twenty pounds.  “Look at me Coop”, waiting until the younger blue eyes met his, was that a feature that was highlighted on Tony’s facial recognition software? Clint just always assumed that Cooper had inherited his eyes, while the other two took from their mother. He cast away the thought as quickly as it came. Tony messed up his chance for a family so in turn was trying to screw up Clint’s. “I’m sorry. I know this hasn’t been easy on you. This,” gesturing to the monitor, “and them,” pointing at a guard, “aren’t forever. This mess with the Accords will get sorted out eventually. Then we will go to New York. Have a nice vacation and see whatever you want. I promise.”

Laura stood up from her seat at the table. Clint didn’t realize that she and Lila had stopped their conversation and watched the Barton men talk. In a successful effort to end the heavy topic she produced a tray of brownies, onto the table and pulled from the freezer a tub of vanilla ice cream.  Dessert wasn’t an everyday occurrence in the household, so the children were delighted. Placing one brownie and a scoop of ice cream on each plate she passed the treat around the table.

“So, you all thinking of putting the band back together?” she asked nonchalantly sitting back down.

Clint was feeding Nate some ice cream which required his complete attention unless he wanted to be wearing it. “Huh?”

He had been ‘going through the motions’ since Tony left. The kids didn’t seem to notice, but she did. He had been unfocused all evening, whatever he and Tony talked about earlier was still kicking about in his head.  “You and Tony this afternoon? Is there a mission going on?”

The ‘clank’ of a spoon being dropped onto the dessert plate caused both parents to turn to the sound. What they found was Lila glowering at them appearing as if she would burst into tears at any moment. “Is dad leaving again?”

Laura quickly shut her eyes. Years ago, she established a ‘no shop talk’ rule at the table. The reason was because Natasha and Clint would entertain the children over meals with stories of their latest adventures, which would not always be age appropriate. She chided herself for breaking her own rule. Why didn’t she just wait until after the children went to bed? Opening her eyes, she saw that Clint was watching her, probably wondering the same damn thing.

In a fast attempt to defuse the situation, Clint filled his spoon up with equal parts brownie and ice cream. Just before eating it, he said “nope”, being sure to pop the ‘p’. Swallowing his food, he returned to the plate for a refill, “It’s nothing like that. He just wanted to ask me some questions about something that happened a long time ago.” Looking to his wife, “You know Tony…he’s exhausting.”

Laura knew a “dodge” when she heard one. They needed to talk, he needed to talk. She was thinking about how to persuade the kids to leave them alone for a moment. Then with perfect timing, as if it knew a distraction was needed, the puppy made its way over to the front door and begun to scratch at it. Wherever the dog had come from, she was grateful it was at least house trained. “Hey guys, if you’re done eating why don’t you take the puppy out while your dad and I clean up?” The teenager and his sister took off faster than one of Thor’s lightning bolts. Laura didn’t know if it was because of the puppy or the rare opportunity to get out of cleaning. She stood up and walked over to the sink to wet a paper towel for Clint to clean Nathaniel off with. Handing it to him in hopes that the cloth would aide in the rediscovery of their youngest child under the chocolate and melted ice cream, she asked seriously, “are you alright, you seem upset?”

Clint kept his eyes on the boy, “Nah, just feel off. Tony brought up some old memories, or to put it better – lack of old memories.”

“The wipe? That was years ago, and was Tony even around S.H.I.E.L.D. at that time?”

“He wasn’t around for the wipe. I believe his memory loss is probably due to his extreme partying back in the day.” Clint had assisted in prepping Natasha before she went out for an assignment to become Tony Stark’s new personal assistant. They discovered that his behavior in the 1980s and 1990s was extremely self-destructive. The concept of a child being conceived during that period wasn’t by any means a stretch of the imagination.

Clint had to stop and ponder what he was about to confide to Laura. He had never been one to keep secrets from her. Over the years he had repeatedly dismissed S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ‘suggested’ psychological sessions, in favor of talking to Laura in bed late at night without fear of anything getting back to the agency. She was his sound wall, and nothing bounced off. “Tony thinks he may have a daughter.”

At that announcement Laura made a “hmmm” noise that translated to “surprise… surprise...” and started to make her way around the table cleaning, and to gather the dishes.

“I know shocker, right?” Clint agreed. “All that playing around finally caught up with him. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner…or more often. Anyways, Tony thinks he has her being recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. right out of college almost twenty years ago. That is as far as he could track her because….”

“Everything is gone from that time.” Laura concluded for him as she stacked plates on each other.

“Yeah.” Clint admitted sadly, “it’s all gone. The trail goes cold after the recruiters.” Clint elected to keep the will screw up to himself for now. He had been thinking all afternoon about it and how with his limited resources at the farm to better investigate. When all the information was collected, then he would tell Laura. There was no need to possibly upset her with someone tampering with such a sacred document without all the information first. Perhaps Natasha could aide in some field reconnaissance since he wasn’t allowed pass the mailbox at the end of the driveway. It was probably a good idea to give her a call anyway and to let Nat know what Tony was up to in case any of his S.H.I.E.L.D. meddling caused her group’s missions some problems. Turning his attention again to Tony’s visit he continued, “I almost feel bad for the guy. Find out he may have a daughter, only to find out that she was caught up in that. The thing is that if she was there, and isn’t now, the reason cannot be good.”

Adding another dish to her stack she questioned, “What reason would that be?”

“Because she was probably killed in the fallout.” He answered lacking any emotion in his voice, Laura’s eyes widened in shock of the comment and sadness for the childless father, but Clint went on. “Only logical explanation there is Laura. Tony knows the intel on the wipe, he is fully aware of what happened afterwards. He’s smart, he is conscious of the probable outcome, especially after our discussion today. Tony is trying his best to place her at S.H.I.E.L.D. at that time, but right now all he has is circumstantial evidence that someone from the agency spoke to her a few times about signing up. Her recruitment, if it happened, would not be in the system because it lines up with the timeframe of the wipe.  I think Tony came here to see if I knew something, just to give him…hope.”

“And did you?” She probed as Clint leaned back so she could have access to the used dishes in front of him.

“I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean he won’t stop looking for some. Tony walked into here with a lot of information to throw around and I am still processing it.” Laura was bringing the stack of dirty dishes to the sink while Clint decided that their son was clean enough to rejoin society. Undoing the buckles on the highchair to free the prisoner, Clint thought of something. “Hey, Did I ever mention an Agent Bishop to you?”

In the presence of anyone else, the small sudden body stiffening of his wife would have gone unnoticed, but Clint wasn’t anyone else. Just as quickly as it appeared, her body relaxed as she continued with what she was doing. “I think you and Nat have cursed out every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent there is at that very table, and I don’t remember a Bishop ever being mentioned.” She lightly called over her shoulder towards him.

‘Releasing the Kraken’, Clint placed Nate on the floor and followed the child to the entryway of the living room. Nate quickly discovered his toys and became distracted, allowing Clint to return to the conversation at hand. “It was a long shot. I’m going to give Natasha a call, just to give her a heads up that Tony is playing with the S.H.I.E.L.D. databases and see if she knows anything. Think you can handle bath and pajamas solo tonight if I do tuck in?”

Aggressively scrubbing some type of congealed substance from a serving platter she complained, “Calling Natasha is like a thirty-minute process and that is even before you actually speak to her.” Even before the Civil War, Clint and Nat would use burner phones to communicate with each other. They had a system set up relying on how many times to let the phone ring to signal the urgency of the call, and wait periods established on when to return the phone call. Laura didn’t have the patience to decode the system, but it worked for them. “It’s Saturday, we can postpone bedtime a bit for Lila and Cooper. Nate is the strict one.”

“Thanks, I really do appreciate you giving me some time alone today with Tony, but I just need forty-five minutes more. Then it’s back to business as usual for us.”

Placing the last of the dishes into the machine, Laura started the dishwasher. “I need to set up for bath time, can you call the kids in and watch Nate?”

A genuine smile appeared on Clint’s face. “No problem.” He leaned down to kissed her. Laura returned the smile and made her way upstairs as he walked to the front door. Cracking the front door a few inches he called out for Cooper to take out the trash, and for Lila to bring the dog in and get ready for bed. There were the expected protests from the pair, but without any additional prompts needed from their father, the duo returned to the house.

Clint supervised as the children wiped off their feet prior entering the house. A skill that was taught to them at an early age. It was mostly out of habit that Clint watched them. At thirteen and ten, Cooper and Lila were fully capable of handling this task alone. The puppy, who was still unnamed did not get the message and ran pass everyone to get to the water dish in the kitchen. One of the guards, Bobby, was a self-professed ‘dog guru’ and hastily took it upon himself to run to the local pet store for all the necessary items a dog could ever want or need. It wasn’t in Bobby’s job description to run errands for them, but Clint appreciated the flexibility.

Clint replaced the trash bag as Cooper brought the full one out. Listening to Nate babble and Lila play with the dog made him take a satisfying inhale of the life he had built for himself, a decent amount of land, a beautiful wife, three great kids, and now a dog. He was living the American Dream, if that dream included an ankle monitor and round the clock watch detail. Even with all the drama, it was still a good life. It was more than he ever dreamed of or deserved. His life inventory was suspended when Laura called down the stairs, “This is a weird question but do you by chance know where all of the toothbrushes are?”

Dropping his head to his chest he instantly became aware of what had occurred. Damn it Tony! Clint was pissed more at himself then the millionaire. All the signs were there and Clint missed each one. Tony’s trip to the bathroom, the request for DNA, and most importantly, the wet spot on the side of his pants. This was a new low for the Ironman, Tony stole his family’s toothbrushes. Quickly coming up with a story, he lied, “No clue honey, maybe the dog got to them. I’m sure they looked like chew toys to him.” Looking apologetic to the puppy, “sorry boy, but I need you to take one for the team.”

Laura conceded with a sigh, “We are all just going to have to deal with it then, it’s too late to go out tonight. I’ll run out in the morning and pick some up. Send Nate and Lila up.”

 Clint knew there was a silent ‘I told you so’ about the dog somewhere in that comment. He directed the children upstairs and yelled up. “They’re coming up, I’m going to make that call now.” Once outside, Clint held the door for Cooper to go back in. He took in his surroundings. The sun was just kissing the horizon goodnight and giving off a beautiful orangish red glow against the darkness of the approaching night. He saw one of the guards on the opposite side of the porch. With a quick nod of acknowledgement, the man left giving Clint his privacy. No, they weren’t assholes. Pulling his phone out of his back pants pocket he scrolled through his contacts. The contact he needed didn’t have a name to identify it, just a phone number. Finding what he was looking for he hit ‘call’.

~~~

The top floor of the Barton home was where most of the bedrooms were. In addition to the five upstairs which were mostly for the family, there were two more on the ground floor. From the top of the stairs facing the house’s back, straight ahead was a guest room with Lila’s room to the left. A bathroom separated Lila’s bedroom from Nate’s. In the front of the house, Clint and Laura’s were across the hall from the toddler’s, with Cooper’s next to it. Originally, there were six rooms, but Clint’s first project of home renovation was to add a bathroom to the master bedroom. The guest room and the masters were diagonal from each other and the two larger of the five rooms. Clint did this for a reason, from these two rooms he would be able to see any threat that was looming and be able to create the proper counter measures.

Laura watched her husband pace in the front yard from her bedroom window. Clint said forty-five minutes and that was fifteen minutes ago. Nate had gone to bed surprisingly easy, but he did have a long day. Since they didn’t have toothbrushes, Laura went for broke and made Cooper and Lila hot chocolate to drink as a rare treat before bed. They were still downstairs drinking it when Laura came up to get an aerial view of her husband.

“Mom?”

Laura turned from the window and saw her son standing there. The wave of emotions that passed through her were hard to identify, and none that she wanted to, even if she was able. The boy who was almost a man. He had been through so much in his thirteen years on this earth, did he have any idea of it? Finding her voice and pushing down all the emotions, as she tenderly asked, “Did you finish your drink and put the cup in the sink?”

Cooper nodded, “Yes ma’am, so did Lila. I think the dog wore us out more than we did him.” He yawned as he waited for a response.

“Early night then?”

“Yeah, Lila went straight to her room. She almost fell asleep at the table. Think I’m going to lay down and read some before going to sleep. ‘Night mom.” Laura walked over to her eldest child and kissed his cheek.

“Good night Coop.” She waited until he left, pulling the door shut behind him before checking the window again. Clint was still walking back and forth, which meant Natasha hadn’t called back yet. She leaned down to roll up the small area rug that was in front of the bed. She pushed with force on the end of one of the floor boards. Hearing a ‘click’, she was able to lift the board exposing what was hidden underneath. Laura quickly pulled out the black bag and unzipped it. Within the bag held a burner phone, a gun with a silencer already attached, ammunition, a few days’ worth of clothes for everyone, passports, and a lot of cash. She often wondered how Clint could pack so much into a small bag, he would tell her it was a spy’s gift.

Clint had always told Laura and the kids that it ‘isn’t paranoia if everyone is out to get you’. There were bug-out bags hidden everywhere around the home and property. The driveway to the house was two miles long. There were several trails that would accommodate a car around the property. Clint had Laura practice driving the trails often at night since that was prime time for an attack. He taught her how to navigate the trail without the use of any light.  The genius to this plan was that the ‘roads’ he created where a shorter distance to the main road then the driveway was. The head start they had on any enemy by use of the trails was four to six minutes which Clint explained could be the difference between life and death. A car was parked behind the barn always with a full tank of gas and previsions for an extended road trip.

As soon as Cooper could understand, Clint had taken him around the house and showed the child what to do if anything ever happened. Since the boy turned twelve last year, Clint had started to take Cooper to the barn for ‘training’.  Laura wasn’t enthusiastic about her son learning how to fight and shoot a gun but understood the necessity of it.  Soon it would be Lila’s turn and before Laura could blink, Nate’s. Where had the years gone she wondered as she loaded the gun. Clint was, and always would be, the front line of defense for the family, but it gave him peace of mind knowing that if anyone or anything got through him, the family could handle themselves. The bug-out bags, the training, hidden car, and numerous trails resulted in the fact that at any point the Barton family could ‘disappear’ and fall even further off the grid then they had been before the Accords affair.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Eight

 

Clint, as a trained assassin was accustomed to waiting. Glancing down at his watch, he counted twenty-eight minutes since he let the burner phone ring twice before disconnecting. Two rings were Natasha’s and his signal for ‘not urgent, need to touch base’. The appropriate reply was a thirty-minute wait, followed by two rings, then Clint would call her again. At thirty minutes exactly, his screen lit up with the alert of an incoming call. One ring…two rings…then missed call notification. Immediately Clint hit ‘call back’ and started walking away from the house up the driveway, so the tree coverage would conceal his voice.  “Hey Nat, how is everything going?”

“Same old-same old, how about you guys? What’s going on?” Clint heard a conversation take place on Nat’s end but could not make out the words until she told him, “Steve says hi.”

She knew from the system established that the Barton family was probably alright, or there would had been a different signal used, so Clint kept it cheerful. “We’re good here. Tony stopped by today.”

Again, the exchange on the other end started but this time he could make out Natasha saying, ‘Tony was at the farm today’ and Steve’s ‘what did he want?’. She inquired to Clint, “Was he alone or did he bring Ross with him to make sure you were being a good boy?”

Clint knew she was having a dig at him about the house arrest, back when the deal was offered and accepted she had been very supportive of his decision. “No Ross, but I’m sure the guards have reported back by now that Stark was here. Tony visited to apologize and ask some questions. His questions are actually what I was calling about.”

“He apologized to you?” The back and forth with Rogers started again.

Clint proposed, “Hey ‘Tasha, would it be easier just to put me on speaker?  Unless you enjoy playing ‘telephone’?

Suddenly the sound on the call changed, Clint knew she had taken him up on his offer. He heard Steve’s voice bitterly getting straight to the point. “Clint, what did Stark want?”

Rolling his eyes, “Hello to you as well Steve, and yes thanks for asking, the family is doing great. What were you raised in a barn? It’s called proper phone etiquette.”

Steve actually sounded a bit embarrassed, “I’m sorry you’re right. Hello Clint. How are you? How is the family?”

“We are all good, but that’s not what this is about. Stay on target Rogers. Tony just apologized. Explained his role and why he did what he did. Well, he didn’t just apologize, he tried to bribe me with a tractor and gave my kids a dog?”

 “What kind of dog?” The new energetic voice on the line was obviously Sam Wilson. Leave it to Sam to only take away the dog part from the conversation.

Clint was aware that each word was driving Steve insane, but he loved it. He had missed the back and forth with the gang. “There is a stack of paperwork inside, haven’t had the time yet to read through it. I think it’s a Labrador Retriever. Cutest little thing, only seven weeks old.”

“Got a name for it yet?” From the tone the Falcon was using it was clear to Clint that he was playing along.

“No, the kids are in discussions. I gave them the deadline of dinner tomorrow to name it or I will.” Clint knew he was pushing it with Steve’s patience.  

He was correct, Steve had enough, “As interesting as this canine is, can we get back to Tony’s visit?”

“Damn Steve, it’s not like I’m fighting HYDRA out there like you guys. A new puppy is the most exciting thing that has happened on the farm since Bobby got stung by a bee, and he was allergic by the way.”

Getting more frustrated by the moment Steve asked, “Who’s Bobby?”

 “Oh, he is just one of my keepers.”

“You have guards on you?” Rogers sounded offended on Clint’s behalf. 

Did Steve really have no clue about the conditions of the house arrest? He would have supposed Natasha had filled the group in by now. “Like CNN - twenty-four, seven. It was part of the house arrest deal, that and the jewelry.”

“So, these questions?” Natasha asked redirecting everyone back on point.

Leave it to Nat to ruin a good time. “Yeah, Stark has been digging in the Wipe of ’08. Part of the reason I was calling was to let you know that he is playing in the S.H.I.E.L.D. databases in case it has some effect on your missions. Just be cautious, I don’t think he is going to stop anytime soon. His real reason for coming was to ask me about a possible S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Do you know anyone by the name of Kate or Katherine Bishop?”

The wipe was a touchy subject for any of the agents involved. It was rarely referred to, so Clint using their phone system to be asking anything about the event set off alarms in Natasha’s head. “I do not, should I?”

“Don’t know. Tony seems to have some documents that suggest I may have known her at some point. That is a long story. Anyways, her time, if any, in S.H.I.E.L.D. would have been erased.  I’m thinking if anything, she was a cover for Laura. I was just checking to see if it rang any bells with you.”

“No sorry, why is Tony looking?” Nat was failing to see the urgency. A lot of people went missing after the wipe. There were probably many people in this Bishop woman’s position, lost and forgotten.

‘Here we go again’, Clint thought maybe it would just be easier to send out a group text about Tony’s paternity crisis. “Again, long story, but it is possible that Kate is his daughter.”

Steve had been tolerantly waiting for a pause in the dialogue between the two friends before interjecting, “I think I’m missing some information and back story, so I just need a few facts. First, who is Kate, what was the “Wipe of ‘08”, and why is he asking you about all of this?”

Clint and Natasha simultaneously took a deep breath, but Clint beat her to the explanation. “As far as I can tell Kate Bishop is a smart, rich girl from the city who is possibly the bastard child of Stark. The Wipe was when the World Security Council decided that they needed to erase seven years of memory from every agent in S.H.I.E.L.D. by using an implant that was installed on our brains during recruitment. And for the final question, I think Tony believes I had a connection to the lady.  Anything else?”

There was a long silence on the line. Finally, it was Sam who found his voice. “Ok, that... wait, you have an implant in your head?”

Natasha added smoothly. “Every agent does. I doubt the agency stopped the procedure after the wipe.”

Steve threw a side glance to the Black Widow in disbelief of her indifferent attitude to the event. Then he alleged, “I am sure there is more to that, but we will have to wait on the whole story. Why don’t you just have it removed?”

Clint was insulted by the simplicity of Steve’s question. “Out of curiosity Steve, how many times have you volunteered for brain surgery? Don’t you think I have asked about that when I found out I had it and asked again when I retired, hoping that perhaps there had been some medical advancements over the years? The medical staff told me that removal could do more damage than the implant itself. Frankly Captain Sir, I have been hit in the head too many times in my life to roll those dice.” Clint never heard Steve’s response because the conversation was disrupted by the sound of a car speeding away behind him. Odd, he was staring down the driveway at the two cars the Barton’s owned, Clint’s truck and Laura’s SUV. The watch detail wasn’t scheduled to change for another hour, and they parked next to Clint’s truck. There was only one other car on the property. “Shit!”

“Clint?”

“Hold on.” Arriving behind the barn, Clint’s suspicions were correct. The ‘getaway’ car was gone. Running back up to the house he could make out the shouting that was coming through on the phone, Natasha was screaming at him for a ‘report’.

Clint threw the front door to the house wide open, causing the door to smash into the wall. He took a hard left into the kitchen. What Clint saw made his blood run cold. The four bodies of his guards were spread out on the floor. Every night before the end of a shift the detail would gather in the kitchen for a cup of coffee, sometimes Clint would join them with something a bit stronger.  Each man laid dead with a bullet to the forehead, an assassin’s shot. Clint stood in horror as the familiar smell of blood invaded upon his highly tuned senses. His nearest weapon was in the cabinet above the sink. Jumping over the bodies, Clint ran to the area. He was reaching up to open the cabinet when he saw it. Placed in the sink were two cups, he recognized each one immediately.  Laura had given each child a personalized coffee cup with hot chocolate mix as a stocking stuffer last Christmas.  Checking the coffee maker Clint saw that the machine was off, so the guards hadn’t yet begun their nightly ritual. He distinctly recalled that Laura had emptied the sink and started the dishwasher prior to getting the kids ready for bed, so there should not be any dirty dishes. There was a bit of dark substance on the bottom of Lila’s cup with white particles floating on the surface. Placing his index finger into it, he brought it up to his mouth and tasted. Clint recognized the danger immediately. In that second his instincts kicked in, reaching up into the cabinet, he pulled out two guns. He stuffed one into the back of his pants and retained the other in his left hand.

“Laura?! Cooper?! Lila?!” He screamed taking the steps to the second floor three at a time.

“Clint! Damn it Barton! What is going on?” Steve’s muffled voice demanded.

Without even speaking into the phone Clint shouted back, “I’ve been compromised. Someone shot my guards, there’s sedatives in the kids’ cups and my getaway car is gone.” Lila’s room was the first room accessible from the stairs. Hurling through her door, he found the girl sleeping in bed. Her breathing was much deeper than it was normally due to the use of the sedative. A quick check of her vitals proved she wasn’t in any immediate danger.

Running across the hallway to Cooper’s room, Clint found the boy in a similar state. Kneeling at the bed he placed the cellphone on the floor. The phone had long since gone quiet, but he knew they were still connected. If Clint had the time to guess, he would think they put him on ‘mute’ while they strategized. Cooper’s breathing wasn’t as deep as Lila’s was. Placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder Clint lightly shook. “Coop? Wake up Cooper.”

Cooper’s eyes shot wide open as he jerked his body upright. “Dad? What’s wrong?” He was only thirteen, but he was Clint Barton’s thirteen-year-old son. The teenager could easily comprehend something was happening, and it was bad.

“Coop how are you feeling?”

“Not great. My stomach hurts.”

Clint breathed out in relief at that statement. While none of the children had any known allergies, Cooper always had a sensitive stomach.  The boy had already eaten ice cream and brownies for dessert, running around outside with a puppy and a hot chocolate drink spiked with a drug would have undoubtedly cause his to be upset. “Did you throw up?”

The boy nodded, and Clint thanked God as he told the kid to get up. Clint went back into the hallway only to reappear a moment later carrying Lila on his shoulder. With his one free hand Clint grabbed the back of Coopers head, pulling the teenager’s face towards his own, forcing eye contact. “Cooper, I need you to do something right now. All the training in the barn, everything I have taught you, you remember it, right?” Again, Cooper nodded. Clint broke the eye contact only to reestablish it with a remorseful look.  Whatever innocence his son still had, Clint was about to rob him of it. “I need your help. Someone has been in the house. The guards, they are dead. The barn car is gone. Someone put something in yours and Lila’s drink to make you fall asleep.” Clint gestured with his eyes towards Lila. “I still need to find your mom and brother.” With the sigh of a heartbroken man, Clint released his son’s head and reached at his back to retrieve and hand Cooper the second gun.

Clint picked up the cellphone again and motioned for them to leave the room. Keeping Cooper behind him and Lila over his shoulder, they went to Nate’s. Much to Clint’s surprise, the toddler was standing up in his bed with hands on the crib’s railing, jumping up and down.  Clint tried his best to sound like ‘daddy’ and not like ‘Agent Barton’ or ‘Hawkeye’. “Hey little man. Did daddy wake you up with all the door slamming?” Clint sure as hell hoped so. Of all the children, Nathanial was the lightest sleeper. The idea that his youngest son woke up to the sound of gunshots was too much to handle right now. Clint placed Lila in the rocking chair and instructed his son, “Cooper, I need you to stay with your brother and sister.” Lifting the cellphone to his ear Clint reported, “Lila has been drugged, but I have Cooper and Nate with me in the nursery. I need emergency services here to handle the bodies and the kids. I’m going to give you over to Cooper now to tell him what to do next while I look for Laura.” He then gave Cooper the cellphone, “Aunt Nat is on the phone, so is Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson. I need you to talk to them and do exactly what they say until I get back. Don’t let anyone in this room but me.”

Cooper watched his father leave the room. Willing his voice not to sound shaky or scared he spoke into the phone, “Aunt Nat.”

“Cooper, do you have a gun?” She asked bluntly.

“Yes.”

“Good. Go over to the door and lock it.” Cooper complied. “Now I need you to open the closet, there should be a black backpack behind a box of Nate’s winter clothes.”

The teenager opened the closet door and pushed around assorted items until he found the bag. “Got it.”

“Check it, you should have another gun, some bullets, a phone, and clothes. There should also be two plastic bags, one full of money and the other with papers in it.”

Mentally checking off the items as she said them, he could confirm that everything was there. “Yes ma’am. All of that is in here.” He looked over to his baby brother still in the crib. Nathaniel was playing with a stuff animal, totally unaware to the danger he was in.

“Sam is working on getting the police over to you.” Wilson was on his own burner phone and using a laptop to bounce the cellular signal off numerous towers to hide the Secret Avenger’s location and to make the phone call look like it was coming from the house. “What is going to happen next is important. The police are going to show up along with some government officials. They are going to want to take you, Lila and Nate to the hospital to get checked out. The officials are going to want to talk to your dad, so he won’t be with you.  Don’t fight it, your dad probably will, but you just go. You must be sure to take the bag with you. It looks like a normal bookbag but just in case they do go through it, I need you to wrap up the gun and bullets into some of the clothes and pack them at the bottom.  Take the money out of the bag and put it in your pocket along with the phone. The second bag with the papers, throw into the winter clothes box.”

Cooper was working franticly following each instruction as soon as it was given. He paused when he heard his father screaming out his mother’s name. Nate heard it also and started to cry. Cooper said loudly over his brother’s cries, “Aunt Nat, dad is screaming.” The older brother moved to the toddler to comfort him. “Aunt Nat?”

“It’s ok Cooper, he’ll be fine. Police are on their way.” Natasha hoped she wasn’t lying to the child about his father. Sam showed her on the laptop that the E.T.A. for emergency response was under three minutes. “You just try to calm Nate down alright?” It was doubtful at this point there were any threats still inside the house, but she wasn’t in the habit of taking chances.

A voice called through the door. “Cooper, it’s me- open up.” Cooper slowly opened the door, peering around it to be sure it was his dad, with the gun hidden behind his back. Nate was quickly silence by the reappearance of his dad.  Clint walked into the room, leaving the door open. That small gesture would have made Cooper feel more comfortable, but the look on Clint’s face told him that they were anything but safe. His father walked over to where Lila was still sleeping and bent down to check her, taking her pulse and checking her breathing. Clint returned to Cooper once done, “I need to talk to Natasha, stay here until either me or the police come. Don’t forget the bag.” Taking both the cell phone and the gun from Cooper, he left the room.

Clint walked back into his bedroom, so he could watch out the window for approaching vehicles. The house was clear, but he still preferred to keep all the children together in the nursery and away from the kitchen if possible. He could just barely see a glare of blue and red lights in the distance approaching. Raising the phone to his ear he said, “Nat, she’s gone.”

“Laura?”

“She’s gone,” he repeated in disbelief. “The bug-out bag from the bedroom floor has been tossed. The gun, phone and money are missing.” Rubbing his hand over his face he raised his voice, imploring for another explanation than what his brain had already concluded, “Shit Nat, the kids were drugged and put to bed! The bag was pulled out and gone through. The person used the car and back trails without turning on the headlights…”

“Clint don’t jump to conclusions.” Despite her warning, Natasha was already there, and she knew Clint was painfully also. To say that they were both emotionally invested was an understatement, but both agents were professional enough to sort the evidence. She wished she could say she was shocked, but she had learned a long time ago that the people allowed to get the closest were the first to betray. Poison was a woman’s weapon, add the intimate knowledge of where specific things were located, and it all painted a horrifying picture of the unbelievable.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Nine

“You know we have plans tonight right?” Pepper Potts called out as she punched in the keys to be granted access to inside Tony’s lab.

Tony was spinning around on his stool in front of his workbench. Every monitor in the lab was working at capacity shifting through data. He was now just waiting for a hit on his search filters and results from a few tests. Astonishing enough the room was clean. Usually when Pepper had to come down to get him, the room was cluttered with machinery and tools. “Yeah, something came up. How do you feel about ditching the reservations and finding a little hole in the wall down in Brooklyn?”

Looking up to see what had his attention she saw nothing, “Why Brooklyn? What is threatening the world now?”

“My genes.” Jumping off the stool, he went to where Pepper was.  

She understood straightaway the meaning. “Kate.” Tony had come to her days ago and apologized for it. She let him explain, then when he was done she told him that there was nothing for him to apologize to her about. Many women would have been angry with a fiancé informing them of a long-lost child, Pepper was anything but that. She had been supportive from the start and encouraged the search. She was the one who urged him to go see Clint. “Did you talk to Clint?”

“Yes, I did.” Tony said walking to another monitor and with a hand gesture casted a 3-D interactive image to project around him.

Pepper probed. “And?” 

As he was tapping on the hologram, Tony shook his head at the projection, and swiped it away. Informing Pepper of the developments, or lack of, “He doesn’t remember her. I think I may have triggered something, but nothing definite.”

She observed that he looked so tired. When was the last time he slept, three, four days ago? “So, you are back to the data dump autopsy?”

“Not quite.” Strolling to the workbench next to Pepper, he picked up a plastic bag filled with toothbrushes and shook it. “I didn’t come back empty handed.”

“How did you get those?” She didn’t know why she asked, there really wasn’t any acceptable answer to her question.

“I borrowed them,” Pepper rolled her eyes, “Don’t give me that look, if they really want them back I’ll overnight it. Clint hasn’t said anything… yet.” Checking his watch, “He may in a few hours, but nothing yet. If these results say what I think they will, I will need to go to Brooklyn.”

Right on cue, the tablet on the desk beeped. Tony ran over to the device and picked it up. Pepper waited until she thought he had enough time to study it. “Well? Are those the results you were waiting for?”

“That and some. I compared the DNA on all five toothbrushes and for a little spice added my own. FRIDAY run the results please.”

The large monitor on the far wall from where Pepper stood showed a screen of six pictures. Five of the images were of Clint, Laura, Cooper, Lila, and Nathaniel Barton, then there was a photograph of Tony. Tony’s natural-language user interface computer system, FRIDAY, started the announcements of the results. Pepper watched as a purple line from Clint’s photo connected to both Cooper’s and Nate’s picture. “Clinton Francis Barton is the father of both Cooper Francis Barton and Nathaniel Pietro Barton with a ninety-nine-point nine percent match of DNA.” Laura’s had a red line and linked to Nathaniel’s as well. “Laura Mitchel Barton is the Mother of Nathaniel Pietro Barton with a ninety-nine-point nine percent match of DNA.” Tony’s line was gold and went to Cooper’s picture. “Antony Edward Stark is the grandfather of Cooper Francis Barton with a ninety-nine-point nine percent match of DNA. Would you like anything else boss?”

Feeling pleased with himself Tony instructed the system, “Continue running the data on possible S.H.I.E.L.D activities within a week of the wipe please.”

Pepper whispered as she was looking at the screen, internalizing the implications of the results, “Oh my God.” Then resumed her normal volume, turning to Tony. “What does this all mean? What about Lila? Clint is only the father of Cooper and Nate.”

“I don’t know what it means. Clint told me earlier that he had the sonogram of Lila on him at the time of the wipe. Laura was pregnant when he got back to her, and he missed the girl’s birth by only ten hours due to early delivery.” Tony summarized, hoping that he had his facts straight.

Pepper just stared at the picture of Lila, the only picture without a line connected to it. “But how could that be if Lila isn’t biologically theirs? Perhaps an egg donor?”

Tony shook his head, “It’s doubtful that there were fertility issues.  If you ask me, Laura got pregnant pretty quick after the battle of New York with Nate.”

Pepper felt the need to point out, “I think it is also doubtful that Clint would have just casually discussed with the Avengers if they were having difficulty conceiving.”

“I never got the impression that Nate was ‘planned’. I guess I always assumed after the whole ‘Loki thing’ Clint was put on the bench from S.H.I.E.L.D. until they were sure he was fit for duty. There is only so much work a person can do on a farm before its time to find a better way to spend the time if you catch my drift.” Taking a deep breath, Tony looked around the workshop, “I am not going to get any answers sitting here, I am going to have to talk to Clint again. The immediate takeaway right now is that Kate must be Cooper’s mother. Clint knew her.”

Pepper added sarcastically,” I think he did more than ‘know’ her Tony.”

Tony agreed, “I think so, but I still can’t for sure place her in S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Rolling her eyes again, Pepper stated, “That’s not what I meant.”

Not catching what Pepper was throwing, Tony questioned, “What?”

Tony wasn’t naïve by any means, but, Pepper believed that he may have not seen anything pass his goal of confirmation that Kate existed past 2001 when she graduated. He just gained four years placing her in 2005 giving birth to Cooper. “Tony, you are aware that Clint and Kate had to ‘be together’ for there to even be a Cooper, right?”

Tony stared at Pepper like she had a second head, searching for her meaning. All Pepper could do was wait him out, he would get it eventually. Suddenly, Tony’s eyes got wide. “That son of a bitch!”

“There it is.” She said with a sly smile.

It was the first time Tony had actually thought about the relationship of his friend and daughter, he screamed with a little panic mixed in, “Clint slept with my daughter. Do you know how many bro-codes that breaks?”

Counting off the reasons as she went, “Does the ‘bro-code’ apply when, one- you have never had anything to do with Kate, two- you didn’t know Clint back then, and three- they were grown adults?”

Tony was attempting to control his breathing, “FRIDAY add to my calendar to kick Clint’s ass. Sub note – bring the suit. I don’t stand a chance against him without it.”

The system responded, “Yes sir.”

Tony was more driven than ever, “I have to get to that apartment building.”

“Why? “A building owned by Clint that he hadn’t been in for ten years didn’t appear to Pepper like a goldmine of information.

He explained, “Clint didn’t just own the building, he used to live there. If I can get in that apartment, I may be able to find something.”

Pepper didn’t want to see Tony get hurt, and this was looking like a dead end. “It has been ten years at least since he has stepped foot in there. The building is probably abandoned and condemned by now.”

It was obvious that Tony had researched the situation, “Clint had the whole building outsourced to an apartment management company. They collected rent and did the everyday running of the building. When a tenant had an issue, they called the company. Clint was ‘hands off’.”

“Tony, you know I support you in almost all your endeavors, but again, it’s been ten years, what if there is nothing to find?”

Tony let Pepper’s words sink in as he leaned against the workbench for support. In a small vulnerable voice, he swore, “There has to be.”

The way Tony said that frighten her, “Why? What is so important about placing Kate at S.H.I.E.L.D. for the wipe?” It was time to be direct. While Pepper had been supportive in the beginning, every piece of new information was making it look worst for the fate of Kate. “You know that if she was there and no one has had contact with her…you could be chasing a ghost.”

The words hurt. They hurt hard. Of course, he knew of that possibility but refused to accept it until he had a grave or a witness. “She was recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. it’s the only explanation that fits all of this. If it wasn’t the wipe, then why isn’t there anything else on her? She has a bank account stuffed with money that she hasn’t withdrawn a dime from since her sister’s wedding. The evidence points to her not remembering S.H.I.E.L.D. but recalling enough of her training to go into hiding. Something happened. I’m telling you Pepper.  If she ...died after the wipe, then Derek Bishop would have drained that account by now. Someone is watching it and preventing him from access but investing and investing wisely.”

Pepper looked down to find strength in what she was about to say, “Her being…gone would explain Laura. Let’s go with the ‘she joined S.H.I.E.L.D.’ theory of yours for a bit. What if she wasn’t taken out by the fallout of the wipe. What if it was a mission? Would it be possible that Clint married Laura afterwards? If for nothing else but to provide Cooper with a mother?”

Pushing himself upright, more determined than ever to prove his point, “If she died before the wipe, then Clint or Cooper would have inherited the money. Everything I have found on Kate tells me that she was too smart to die leaving a child behind without means to be supported.”

Pepper rationalized, “Then that would explain how Clint would have been able to buy the apartment building.” 

“Pepper, please stop. She’s alive. I know it. She could not have been taken out by a mission. I couldn’t handle it.

“What?” Pepper wondered how he could be acting this way about a person he had never met. Tony knew Kate existed, and never mentioned her before, why the sudden change?

“The primary enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D is HYDRA, and the thought that she was killed by HYDRA… not again. Because if it’s true then HYDRA killed my parents and my daughter. They would have taken from me my past and my future.”

Pepper almost erupted in tears at the raw confession. In that statement, Tony Stark opened the door to all the demons that have been plaguing him since he found out the truth behind his parent’s death. She grabbed Tony gently and held him close to her. She could hear his heart racing. “No, they didn’t. They can’t take away all the amazing things you have done or will do. They didn’t take away me, they didn’t take away Cooper. You have Cooper now. You have a grandson Tony. He is the future.”

~~~

Autumn in New York was always a crapshoot. Currently the weather was a tad crisp but not enough for a jacket or sweater. Pepper knew the temperature would drop with the sun and scolded herself for not bringing some sort of covering. The weather be damned, she was just thankful to be standing on solid ground. Tony had broken various traffic laws getting them here in record time. In the case that Tony was correct, then the apartment that was supposedly untouched for ten years wasn’t going to go anywhere in the additional ten minutes it would have taken to stop at red lights, let people go in the crosswalk, or not take turns on two wheels. She didn’t know what he intended to find in the apartment. There was clearly a connection between Kate and Clint, and that connection was named Cooper, but there wasn’t any evidence to link the two together in the apartment. But if this is what he needed to get closure, she would stand by him every step of the way.

“This is it.” Tony proclaimed as he shut his car door and met Pepper on the sidewalk. They were both looking up at the older brick building wondering what treasures it held. The neighborhood seemed quiet compared to the bustling city life just a few blocks over. The few people who were outside were conducting domestic affairs, walking the dog, taking out the trash and so on. There was a very ‘suburban’ feel to the environment.

“I can’t believe Clint owns it, which one is his?”

Checking his phone for the details, Tony informed her, “Hawkeye? I’m shocked you have to ask, of course, he would be in apartment H.”

They went up two flights of stairs and down a hallway before arriving at the desired location. “Remember, this is a spy’s home, stay behind me. FRIDAY run a scan for potential hazards.”

“Boss, I do not detect any threats outside or within the apartment.” FRIDAY informed.

Tony and Pepper shared a concerning look. The lack of security of the apartment caused Tony to feel a bit uneasy. He had put a lot on this still being Clint’s apartment. It was customary practice he assumed for spies to set up traps and alarms for intruders. Trying the door knob first Tony wasn’t surprised at all that it was locked, but it was worth a try. Retrieving a gadget out of the bag he had on his shoulder he made quick work of unlocking it. Putting his hand once more on the knob he turned to Pepper, “What I am about to say comes from the heart, so I really don’t want to hear ‘I told you so’.”

“What are you talking about?”

He turned the knob to open the door a hair, “I think we could possibly be breaking into a stranger’s home.” With that, he opened the door all the way and walked in.

Pepper stood in a daze but followed suit, “Tony, I told you…um”

“Yeah, I know. So, I guess I told you so.” At first appearance, the apartment was bigger than it should be. The place must have at one point been two apartments consolidated into one. A white chair rail wrapped around the entire length of the apartment separating a gray bottom from a purple top paint job.  Left from the door was a cozy kitchen that opened into a large living area. Taking a right from the entrance would send a person down a hallway with two doors on each side and one at the end. If anyone else would have walked in, the focal point of the apartment would be the big balcony doors that were straight ahead, but to Pepper and Tony it was the item that hung ornamentally over the couch, a bow.

After turning on the lights Tony saw the neglect of the home. Ten years of dust was caked on everything. The evening twilight coming through the window highlighted the particles that they had disrupted upon arrival floating in the air. They had only seen the living room and kitchen, but despite the dust, the place seemed clean and tidy. Two words that one would never use for Clint Barton. There wasn’t anything on the floor and the only surface that contained any items were the bookcases placed on each side of the balcony entrance.  The cases were six shelves each with nothing on the bottom two. Since it was as good of a place to start as any, Tony gestured for Pepper to ‘divide and conquer’ the search.

Each taking a bookcase, Pepper was still skeptical. “Are we a hundred percent sure this is his place, or are we just running with the assumption since there is a bow hanging on the wall?”

Keeping his eyes trained scanning the numerous books, “It’s his place alright, if not we just found the mother of all coincidences.  Imagine leasing to a person that also loves bows…” taking one book off the shelf, “and classic spy novels?” The book had seen better days for sure. The jacket was barely one piece. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Tony read out loud. The 1974 John le Carre classic must have been a very relatable read for Barton. Flipping through the pages, a photo fell out onto the light purple rug. Pepper watched as Tony bent down to retrieve it, causing more dust to fly up. Still in a kneeling position he turned his body to hand it to her and said in a tone that she couldn’t identify, “Pepper.”

Taking the photo from him she made an audible inhale. The photo was of a couple wearing S.H.I.E.L.D. uniforms, sitting on a wall with the Pyramids of Egypt as a backdrop. A young Clint Barton sat with his arms draped over the woman Pepper now knew as Kate Bishop. Kate’s arms were crossed at the wrist in front of her chest holding his hands, both were looking at the camera and smiling. Two bows could be seen leaning against the wall. In Pepper’s eyes, the intimate picture showed two young people clearly in love and proudly showing it. She was now able to identify the tone Tony was using, it was hope.

Standing up to take the picture back, Tony stated about the photograph, “This proves everything.”

Agreeing, Pepper said, “It’s hard to dispute anything with this.”

Placing the photo into his bag he directed, “Let’s check out the other rooms.”

Going down the hallway, Tony opened the first door on the left. It was the master bedroom. The room at first glance didn’t give any clues to who the occupant could be. The far window had white sheen curtains that permitted the evening light in. The purple color scheme continued into the bedroom, taking the form of a bed spread that complimented the steel gray walls. The bed was against the center of the right wall with a night stand on each side. Across from the bed was a lowboy dresser in metallic finish. All the furniture they had seen so far in the apartment was very modern, even for ten years ago, which Tony again disbelieved highly was Clint’s style. The dresser had a few odds and ends scattered on it. The first personalization of the space other than the hidden picture they noticed. Pepper looked at the objects. Any doubt she had that it wasn’t Clint’s home were wiped out when she saw the various arrow heads littered all over the surface.

“Clint was never one to clean up after himself. Probably just dumped out his pockets.” Tony’s attention was on the ring jewelry box that sat towards the back of the dresser. Picking up the box he opened it. Seeing what it was he pulled the photo out of his bag. “It’s the same ring.”

Looking at the photo Pepper realized that she missed an important detail that apparently her fiancé had not. On Kate’s left ring finger was a small purple jeweled ring. The box that Tony was currently holding did indeed look to be storing the same ring. Seeing it in person it was not small but modestly sized. The purple gem which she assumed was an amethyst was shaped into the shape of an arrowhead set in white gold. The ring wasn’t the only inhabitant of the box there was a second ring also, a white gold wedding ring. Along with the photo, Tony placed everything in his carrier and walked to the left of the dresser into the ensuite.

Hitting the light switch, Tony was momentarily blinded with the reflection of the lights over the mirror onto the white tiled room. His eyes needed to adjust after only using natural light sources. The first thing he saw was a hairbrush laying carelessly on the sink counter among various other toiletries.  Picking up the object for a closer inspection he could see the black hairs weaved into the bristles. Yet another thing to add to his collection. There was no doubt in his mind that Kate wasn’t his child but running her hair through his system against himself and Cooper wouldn’t hurt.  Taking a tool out of his bag he used it to scan the brush, “FRIDAY darling please compare this hair against Cooper and myself.”

“Yes boss” the system obeyed.

Tony swept the room visually, not seeing anything of interest he opened the medicine cabinet. There wasn’t much there other than the staple items one would expect, pain relivers, cold medicines, bandages, and other types of medication. Going through the full prescription bottles he saw that they were all in Clint’s name, nothing for Kate. So, either she never needed medication, or she actually took hers unlike Clint. Examining the meds, he noticed that it was everything you would expect to see in a spy’s cabinet, pain killers, muscle relaxants and antibiotics.

“Tony, come here!” Pepper shouted.  Throwing one of the bottles into the sink he ran out into the hallway. Pepper must have been checking out the other rooms. The door at the end was another bathroom. The room across from the master’s was a second bedroom. Tony stole a quick glance into the room then halted at what he saw. The room was painted in a soft blue. There wasn’t any question as to who’s room this was. A small bed was set up in the corner with the name Cooper decorated on the wall above. There were toys dispersed around. While the rest of the apartment lacked any personalization or sense of being lived in, this room shouted it.

Tony forgot all about Pepper’s call and entered the room going straight to the tall dresser. Unexpected since the only photo they had discovered was hidden, the dresser acted proudly as a display for the young family’s pictures. One picture in the center was apparently the designer’s intent to be the first one to catch the viewer’s attention. It was of Kate, Clint and a newborn Cooper. It was obviously taken in the hospital given the background and generic blanket and hat the baby was wrapped in.

There was a picture of Clint holding Cooper in his lap in front of a cake, with a “1” birthday candle on it. Another of all three in Santa hats beside a Christmas tree. The captured family moments were all here abandoned and covered in dust. The last image caused a feeling in Tony’s chest that he had never experienced before. In a wooden frame with the words ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ burned into the bottom panel was a picture of Kate holding her smiling son, throwing her head back in a laugh.

He was contemplating taking the picture with him when Pepper called again, “Tony you really need to see this.” Deciding to take the only picture he may ever have of his daughter and grandson together he carefully tucked it away with the other objects he had accumulated. Pepper was calling from the room right next door to Cooper’s. It took two steps into the bedroom for Tony to understand the panic from Pepper. This room was painted in a lovely rose pink, that’s hue instantly put out a soothing effect. A white crib was set up in the center of the far wall. White and pink were the color scheme in this room. The dressers and changing table all had a glossy white finish. The glider tucked into the corner did as well with pink upholstery.

Pepper was standing next to the dresser that like the other room was a showcase for pictures. However, this room only had two photographs displayed. The smaller of the two was a sonogram. The second was a family portrait. Tony felt his chest tighten and his breathing become labored. Clasping his hand to his chest he bent forward. Pepper had seen this many times before, he was having a panic attack. It had been a long time since he had experienced one, or at least that is what she had been told.  Under these conditions she wasn’t surprised at all that this was happening now. Gently taking him by the upper arm she led him to the glider to sit in. Dust flew up from the cushion as he sat. She took his heavy shoulder bag from him and placed it on the floor beside the chair.

“I’m fine.” He assured Pepper, waving away the dust. “I just need a minute to think,”

“Tony what happened here?” She asked looking around the room and back to Tony.

“I need to think.” He repeated more for himself than her, “Please bring me that picture.”

Pepper didn’t need to be told which of the two he was requesting. Grabbing the bigger frame, she handed it to Tony. The picture featured the three Bartons. Clint and Kate were standing in front of the apartment building. Cooper was balanced awkwardly on Kate’s left hip. Clint was to the right of her with his left arm around Kate’s shoulders so that he could rest his hand on Cooper’s arm. His left hand was in front on Kate’s visibly very pregnant stomach.  The white frame that Tony was holding with both hands had an engraved plaque on the bottom, “Coming Soon – Summer 2008”.

It all made sense. Moments ago, he was wondering about the lack of security in the apartment and the empty bottom shelves to the bookcases. They had a toddler running around and a newborn on the way. What good is the best security system when it was a possible threat to the very people it was installed to protect? Clint and Kate probably only had external measures in place to alarm them of any danger to the home. Ten years of exposure to the elements and lack of maintenance would make any system useless now.

“Tony? Is that baby Lila?” Pepper asked hopefully, but sadly already knew the answer.

Shaking his head at the impossible. “Would have gotten a hit off of Clint, Cooper and myself during the DNA test.”

 “Then where is the little girl who was expected in ‘Summer of 2008”. Taking a deep breath to clear her mind Pepper reasoned. “Ok, so this isn’t all bad. You were attempting to attach Kate to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the wipe. You have accomplished both. However, this does mean she was pregnant when the wipe happened.”

Haven’t yet taken his eyes off the photograph he tiredly responded, “Appears that way. Now we just have to find out where she was at the time of the wipe.”

“What do you mean?”

He reasoned, “She wasn’t here or else she would have seen these pictures and done something to find her husband and son. Kate wasn’t at S.H.I.E.L.D. clearly. “

“And she wasn’t with Cooper because he was in Iowa with Laura, who was expecting Lila.” Pepper finished.

Tony had been thinking the same thing. Lila was born in June of 2008, possibly the same time Kate was due. Tony couldn’t even rely on government documents to help with the exact dates since he now knew they had been tampered with. Tampered by either S.H.I.E.L.D. or someone else. Cooper was already at the farm with Laura from what Clint had told him earlier. Tony started, “Clint said…” but drifted off in thought.

“What?”

The only way any of this would make sense is if someone knew the wipe was going to happen. This was a long play, but what was the game? “Clint told me about the day of the wipe, or at least the part he was ‘permitted’ to remember. Laura called while he was in a briefing on the situation.”

“So?” Pepper asked.

“So, Cooper was acting up while she was on the phone with him. Laura said, and I quote, from Clint of course, ‘I swear he acts like he doesn’t even know who I am’. That’s because he didn’t!”

Pepper was not following at all. “Didn’t what?”

“He didn’t know her!” A light bulb went off in Tony’s head. “Clint said the kid was shy around Laura and clingy with him. It was because he was in a different house with a different mom. Clint was the only person he knew.” Tony held the frame up to Pepper, “He knew this was his mom. He knew who his family was.” Standing up he surveyed the room that was designed to belong to his granddaughter, “And some bastard took him from all of it, away from his mother.”

Having already had a panic attack, Pepper didn’t want Tony to work himself up to another, “Tony…”

“He was three Pepper!” He shouted, but quickly composed himself. “He was three and someone took him from this place.” Indicating the apartment. “They had Cooper, which meant they had Clint. He had the sonogram, he knew another baby was on the way.” Tony walked over to the dresser where one picture remained. “How much do you want to bet that sonogram was a copy of this picture?”

Pepper was processing everything Tony was telling her and arriving at her own conclusions, “But for that to work, someone…”

Tony finished her thought for her, “Someone would have had to know he had it. Yup, it’s an inside job Pep. Clint had a sonogram and I’m pretty sure he showed it around. Kate was also an agent so there would not be a need for anything to be a secret at S.H.I.E.L.D., like Laura and the farm were. People in the agency would have known that Clint and Kate were married with one kid and another on the way.”

“Why would someone do this?”

A lot of work went into rearranging the Barton family for their own purposes. Tony’s thinking turned to Laura Barton, the sweet farmwife. She had to be in on it. She wasn’t a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was wiped so she always knew she wasn’t Cooper’s mother. The more Tony thought about it the worst it appeared for the second Mrs. Barton, “It had to be HYDRA, but I don’t know why. Why was Clint and his family so important that they went to these extremes?” Grabbing his pack off the floor, “I need to go back to the farm tonight. I have to know what happened to Kate and her daughter after the wipe.”

Pepper’s head was spinning, “Clint already told you he doesn’t remember anything, and what are you going to tell him anyways?”

A cunning smile appeared on Tony’s lips, “It’s not Clint I need to speak to, and before I blow up Barton’s life, I would like some more information.”

“Boss.” FRIDAY’s voice spoke from Tony’s phone.

“Yes darling?” he answered.

The system reported, “There has been a call requesting police and emergency services at the Barton residence.”

Tony and Pepper turned to each other mirroring their partner’s look of terror. Tony knew that for Clint or Laura to call 911, there had to be a life or death situation, preparing himself for the worst he asked, “why?”

Immediately FRIDAY answered, “Gunshots fired, poisoning, and fatalities.”

“Prep the jet. We will take off as soon as I get there.” Addressing Pepper, he requested, “Can you drop me off at the airfield?”

“No.” Tony’s eyes went wide in shock of her refusal. “But I can drive to the jet since you are in no condition to drive.” She was right, Tony’s hands were shaking with rage and anxiety, and another panic attack was looming. “Then I will go with you to Iowa and help you find some answers.”

Clutching Pepper’s hand. Tony brought it up to his lips and placed a tender kiss on it while looking her straight in the eyes. “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Ten

Never one to know what to do with his free time, Tony was thankful that FRIDAY had created a list of possible S.H.I.E.L.D. activities around the time of the wipe. Flying to Iowa gave Tony the time needed to narrow down the list to three possible events. In Los Angeles, California, a Romanian drug cartel was running a human trafficking ring out of a basement of a Children’s hospital. Four days before the wipe the group was arrested. While very possible for S.H.I.E.L.D. to be involved in, it was hesitant that the arrest of twelve people would have caused the need for the wipe by the World Security Council.

Two days later, the HYDRA research base, The Sandbox, had a contained explosion that gave off a decent amount of gamma radiation. Only a quarter of the facility was demolished at the time. A week later, the entire base was destroyed. The first part matched S.H.I.E.L.D.’s motives perfectly, but the attack a week later wasn’t in any of the agency’s records. Destruction of a HYDRA research lab would have found its way into a missions’ database no matter how secret it was, so Tony was quick to conclude that S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t the one who attacked second. The question was who went in afterwards to clean up S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mess?

The third incident was in Germany, an American Congressman was assassinated in Berlin while hosting the grand opening of a new embassy.  The Congressman was rumored to have close professional and personal ties to HYDRA. Someone that deep in Washington would have shown up on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar in a big way. It happened six days prior to the wipe which would have given S.H.I.E.L.D plenty of time to cover it up. A major player in Washington being taken out of the game that way would give the W.S.C. a reason to wipe everyone. Especially considering how imbedded HYDRA was with the Council before the data dump.

Eliminating the Los Angeles’ arrests from the list, Tony was left with two possible causes for the Council to ‘push the button’. He had FRIDAY focus on the explosion and assassination. The computer notified its creator of the results from the hair sample that Tony submitted back in the apartment, which came back unexpectedly fast. The results were just as Tony had expected, Kate was a match to both Cooper and himself. Knowing it was one thing, but having the hard proof was another thing entirely.

“It’s official,” He started as he handed Pepper the tablet that he was reading the results from, “it’s a girl.” They were in a small two-person self-flying jet with the logo of Stark Industries plastered on the sides. Tony had somehow convinced the hospital into allowing him to land the jet on top of the parking garage that connected to the hospital. 

 “Congratulations.” Pepper said somberly as she quickly scanned the tablet’s screen and handed it back to its owner to put away before they arrived. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s activities weren’t the only thing Tony had been working on during their flight. He was also diligently collecting all the information on what had transpired at the Barton home that evening. What Tony was able to collect was very disturbing and she hadn’t yet been able to get past it, at least not until she saw that the children were safe. In a matter of a few days she had obtained a future step-daughter and step-grandson. This evening she learned of a step-granddaughter. Already Pepper had made the promise to herself that she would never use such labels as ‘step’ but embrace them as Tony’s family. In the event Kate was alive, Pepper would make every effort to be a good friend that just happened to be married to Kate’s father. The children were a different matter altogether, she was sure that she and Tony would enjoy every minute of grandparenthood, spoiling the children much to the irritation of their father. That was of course once Tony got past the shock of suddenly being a grandfather.

Waiting until the jet powered down, Tony opened the door and exited. When he had two feet on the ground he turned to assist Pepper while she made her descent. Pointing towards the door that connected the parking garage to the hospital, she followed, and got on the elevator. “Hospital records show them on the fourth level, the pediatric ward, “Tony said pushing the button that would get them there.

“Anything on Clint yet?” Pepper knew the Clint was originally supposed to go with the children to the hospital and give his statement there, but then the government officials arrived on order of Secretary Ross and demanded that he be detained.

“He was taken into the local police station and placed in an interrogation room.”

“He must be worried sick about the kids.” What a horrible situation for a husband and father to be in, Pepper contemplated to herself.

“Probably, I’m just thankful he hasn’t done anything stupid yet.” Tony had hijacked the tracking software to see where Clint was after the attack.  Stark was very surprised to see that Clint didn’t even attempt to tamper with his ankle monitor. His best estimate was that it wouldn’t take Barton longer than five minutes to get out of it if he needed to.

“Like what?”

A ‘ding’ indicated that they had arrived on the fourth floor. “Oh, I don’t know, what could a spy and trained assassin possibly do to get out of a small-town police station if he wanted?”

Tony placed his hand in the elevator door to keep it open for Pepper to step out of. The nurse’s reception area was directly ahead of them. A young woman who couldn’t be any older then twenty-five greeted the pair with a warm smile, Tony supposed that she must have just started her shift. He could see that the floor was crawling with police and people in black suits with ear pieces. The white technology was obvious against the dark colored cloth. He assumed the latter were government agents. Apparently, Tony wasn’t the only person who was unsure of what Clint would do if he really wanted to leave police custody and retrieve his children. He observed that as soon as he stepped out the elevator onto the ward, the suits started speaking into their communication devices. 

“May I help you.” The nurse whose badge said ‘Vicki” inquired.

Pepper decided to handle this since Tony was distracted watching the guards, whose presence didn’t go unnoticed by Pepper either. “Yes please, we are looking for the Barton children. Would you please be kind enough to direct us to their rooms?”

The woman’s smile never fell, “I’m sorry, but no one is allowed to see them without approval from CPS.”

Tony didn’t even know that he had a line, but quickly did when he learned the children were put into ‘the system’. He asked in a voice louder then he intended, “Why is Child Protective Services involved?”

“Sir, please. We have patients sleeping. I ask that you keep your voice down. CPS was called in since there isn’t any immediate family to make the patients’ medical decisions. I’m sorry, but this department’s policy is that if a visitor is not with a patient, they must leave.”

That could have been the nicest ‘get the hell out’ that Tony has ever been on the receiving end of. He was about the take out his phone to wake up a hospital board member when Pepper did her magic on the nurse. “Ma’am, this is Tony Stark, also known as Ironman. I am sure that you have a ward full of children and parents who are sick of staring at the same four walls everyday wishing for something to break up the monotony. What better way to brighten their day then the real Ironman bringing them breakfast?  All we would need is a room to wait in until you start serving. Tony you have a suit correct?”

Damn he loved that woman. The expression on Vicki’s face showed that she was buying it. Currently it was three o’clock in the morning, another four hours and the staff would be starting the breakfast deliveries. He may not be able to get into the Barton children’s room now, but Pepper had found a way to at least keep him on the floor with them until the morning. “I do have a suit. Like Pepper said, we just need an office or something. Can’t be sitting in the waiting room because, well, that would ruin the surprise, wouldn’t it.?”

“Of course, Mr. Stark what a lovely gesture. I would just need to run this by my supervisor.” As Nurse Vicki left, two of the guards positioned themselves on opposite sides of the reception area.  Knowing that they wouldn’t do anything without being provoked, it was the children’s department after all, Tony just gave them a little wave of acknowledgment.

Vicki soon made her reappearance a bit out of breath. That poor lady must have run to her supervisor and back. “Nurse Ridgeway is beyond thrilled at your offer. She is with a patient now but would love to meet with you later. She has offered a small office down the hall that is not being used until the morning shift for you two to wait in. If you’re ready, I would be happy to show it to you.”

Tony was only half listening as he followed behind the two women. He made out Pepper’s remarks of gratitude to Vicki, but really nothing else. He was too busy scanning the floor. Finally, he found his target. There was one patient’s room that had two “Men in Black” posted in front of it. The cold stare that the men threw at him, Tony interpreted as ‘dare you to come over here’. This confirmed in his mind that he had the correct room. The children must be all in the same room since it was the only one guarded. It made sense Tony concluded, it would be easier to prevent unauthorized entries and exits of one room versus three.

His internal discussion was cut off when Pepper ordered, “Tony get inside”, as she held the office door open with one hand and pointed into it with the other. She wasn’t blind, she saw the stare down between the three men, and needed to remove Tony from the likely confrontation that would not only get them kicked off the ward, but probably the hospital as well. With one last look in the guards’ direction, Tony obeyed and entered the office.

The room was the typical hospital office to Tony. There was a desk to the left with a computer on top and two chairs in front. A dorm size refrigerator was behind the desk with a microwave on top. Next to the mini fridge was a small file cabinet with a coffee maker on it complete with cups and fixings. Against the wall to the left was a small couch. The chairs and couch were done in the common teal and pink abstract print fabric that was all the rage in 1986. A strong smell of disinfectant coated the air. Lacking any ventilation in the office, he wondered how long it would take for both Pepper and himself to get a headache from the overpowering odor. As Pepper and the nurse exchanged goodbyes, Tony made himself at home by sitting in the executive chair in front of the computer.

“What are you doing?” Pepper hissed in a low tone while she shut the door.

Looking up over the monitor Tony cynically replied, “I am almost hurt that you have to ask. You should know better by now, I’m tapping into the hospital’s patient records. That was some impressive work you did back there. Remind me to kiss you once I have had the chance to shower and brush my teeth.”

Deciding on one of the chairs in front of the computer, Pepper took a seat, “You do know how to make a girl feel special, I’ll give you that Tony Stark.”

Successfully breaking through the hospital’s firewall and passwords, he had access to the entire computer system. Tony swore to her, “I promise when this is all over you and I are going on a vacation somewhere far away.”

Letting a little smile appear Pepper returned, “Promises, promises.” Returning to the illegal matter at hand, “Find anything in the records database?”

“Yeah, I was able to pull up their vitals and such. Looks like Lila got the worst of it. Cooper was sick and threw up most of the sedative so there is only a trace amount left in his system. Nathanial interestingly enough didn’t have any foreign chemicals found in his blood work.”

Pepper didn’t see why it was interesting, Nate probably had a strict bedtime routine so there wasn’t a need to sedate him. “Why is that interesting?”

“The only kid who wasn’t poisoned was the only child who was actually Laura’s.”

Pepper didn’t even think to factor in the biological connection between Laura and Nate as a likely reason why the toddler was spared. “You think Laura did this?” Pepper could just see it now, Tony was going to go bankrupt with the therapy expenses these children were going to accumulate in the coming years.

Tony leaned back in the chair, “It’s hard to argue another way.” Laura still had not been located. Police were out now looking for her and the car. The poisoning, shooting and missing car all pointed to her or Clint. They were the only two people at the farm who knew and had access to everything.  Hence why Clint was now being interrogated at the police station.

“If it was her, how did she have access to a sedative?”

“Come on Pep, the amount of times Barton gets injured on missions, you don’t think that house isn’t full of pain killers and some muscle relaxers? The part that made the situation extremely dangerous was that the person gave Lila enough of the medication to possibly kill her. The poisoner didn’t adjust for weight, a rookie mistake probably due to lack of time. The amount of a sedative a doctor would prescribe for Clint is vastly different then what would be suggested for Lila.”  

“Will she be alright?” She was still struggling with the concept of someone deciding and carrying out drugging children.

Reading from the patient file, Tony summarized, “They have both Cooper and Lila hooked up to IVs to flush the stuff out. It doesn’t appear as if any permanent damage was done.”

The unlocking of the office’s door caught both by surprised. Tony didn’t know that Pepper had locked the door when she shut it earlier. She probably knew that whatever he was going to do in the office would require notice of any visitor. Quickly shutting off the computer, Tony leaned back in the chair and put his feet on the desk.

A hospital security officer appeared and used his body to prop the door open to allow one of the guards dressed in black in. The suit found a place to stand between the couch and the chairs. This position allowed the man to see absolutely everything that was transpiring in the ten by twelve office. Tony was just about to make a comment about the overkill of security when Secretary Thaddeus Ross entered.

In a condescending voice the salt and peppered headed former Army general started, “Tony, imagine my surprise when I was informed of your visit.”

Matching Ross’ tone, Tony asked, “Which one?” Secretary Ross wasn’t going to catch Tony off guard. He was fully aware that Clint’s detail reported back that he was at the farm earlier today, or was that yesterday? Checking his watch, it was four o’clock in the morning.  

Releasing a chuckle, Ross took the seat next the Pepper and sat, crossing one leg over the other. “Oh, I do want to discuss with you about what you and Barton talked about yesterday, but right now I’m interested currently in your new vocation as a Candy Striper.”

Lacing his fingers and placing it behind his head Tony said, “You know I’m a giver.”

Ross countered quickly. “Such a giver that you flew out here twice in twenty-four hours?”

“I’m a busy man, I have to be in a lot of places within a day. Which is why I own jets.” Tony hadn’t moved from his lax position for the sole intent of showing the Secretary that he was in control of the conversation.

Uncrossing his legs, Ross leaned forward, “Cut the bull Stark! I know why you are here.”

Kicking his feet off the desk, Tony sat up, “Never was hiding it. Asked where the kids were as soon as we got here.” Pepper sent him a worried glance to which he answered with a reassuring smirk. “So, since you are here now, I guess you can speak with Child Protective Services, and have Pepper and I added to the list of allowed visitors?”

Thaddeus resumed his comfortable position and did his best phony attempt of reassuring Tony and Pepper, “I saw the children before I came in here with my own medical staff, the younger two are sleeping, the boy Copper…”

“Cooper” Tony corrected

The Secretary didn’t care, “Whatever, he seemed on edge. My staff believes that he is displaying symptoms of shock, not surprisingly at all considering everything that has happened. The boy refuses to lay down better yet sleep, just sits on his bed watching his siblings rest and clutching his school bag. My doctor has advised me that he plans on giving it another hour, if the kid doesn’t sleep, then they will give him something.”

“Your medical team is prescribing a sedative for a drugging victim? You do see the flaw in that logic correct? Pepper observed.

Ross nodded his head in admission. “I do, but I need the boy in top shape before he speaks to his father tomorrow.”

That sent a shiver down Tony’s spine, he knew there was no way that Ross was letting Clint see his son out of the goodness of his heart, there had to be an angle. “The kids don’t get visitors, but Clint does?”

Ross asked with a slimy smile on his face. “Are you aware that the use of psychological torture is an acceptable method of interrogation?”

Every alarm in Tony’s head was going off. Pepper was staring a hole into the side of his head willing him to look towards her. “No, I actually believe it is anything but acceptable. And I know that the use of children in any of it is strictly prohibited.”

Waving off Stark’s comment, the Secretary continued, “I wasn’t asking for your opinion on the method. As far as the ‘use of children’ goes, it’s all in how you interpret the law. I’m assuming you have read Agent Barton’s file at some point.”

“I may have.” Everyone in the room knew Tony had.

Standing up, Ross began to pace the short distance of the room. “Then you would be fully aware of the fact that Barton’s parents died in a car accident when he was six years old?”

Tony did not like where this was going but pressed on to see if Ross was ignorant enough to tell them his plans. “Yes, the father, Harold, was drunk and crashed the car with the entire family in it. What of it?”

Halting his stride, Thaddeus looked at Tony, “My point is, Clint and his brother were put into foster care following the death of their parents. All because their father essentially killed their mother.

The dots started to connect for Tony, standing up to match the stance of the Secretary he accused, “That’s why you called CPS, so you could use that against Clint? Having experienced “the system” himself, he would never want his children in it. That’s heartless even for you Mr. Secretary.” Tony was quickly thinking of who he could contact about this mistreatment of the children.

Facing his accuser, Ross glowered right into Tony’s eyes. “There is an eerie resemblance between the two unfortunate events, I will give you that Tony. Harold killed Edith Barton and Clint killed Laura Barton.”

“You know that’s not true.” Tony mentally kicked himself for not being able to hide the panic that he knew his face was showing. Ross couldn’t keep Clint in jail after the Airport Fight, and not even after the Raft break out. Finally, the Secretary could capture and jail one of the members of ‘Team Cap’. 

Ross tilted his head to the side and back in disinterest. “Perhaps, but the evidence fits the story. I can even incriminate the rest of them, Rogers, Romanoff, Wilson and Maximoff. I am actually still debating whether or not to charge you as an accessory to the crimes.”

“What evidence do you have against anyone, and why do you need Cooper’s involvement? Hasn’t he been through enough?” Pepper asked remaining seated with her hands grasping the arms of the chair in frustration and anger.

Disregarding Pepper, Thaddeus kept his attention on the man known as Ironman. “I want Clint to look in his first-born’s eyes and know that I am the one in control. I want the boy to ask him ‘where’s mom’ and see how Barton reacts. I want that child in his father’s presence when CPS removes the boy from the room and away from Clint. You see, I’m not trying to interrogate information out of an agent, but a father. I can’t break Agent Barton into telling me where Rogers and his group of criminals are, but ‘daddy’ might.”

Every part of Tony’s body and soul was focused on not killing the man standing in front of him with his bare hands right then and there. Pepper saw the internal struggle her fiancée was experiencing and knew the options that he was weighing. As concerning as that was, she was more concerned about the fact that she didn’t know if she would stop him if he went through with it. 

Ross turned to Pepper to answer the first part of her question, “As far as evidence Miss. Potts, I have plenty. Tony was at the farm mere hours before everything went to shit, then shows up here a few hours later attempting to get access to the children. Is everyone supposed to believe that is just a fluke?  My men back at the farm were killed with a single bullet to the head. Presented to a jury, who do you think they would believe did it? I’ll save you the time, obviously it is the trained sniper. The children were poisoned with medication prescribed to Clint Barton, circumstantial of course, but when added to the rest of the story, it makes it’s point. We may not have Laura’s body, but any decent attorney could provide evidence to show that Clint was trained to never let a body be found.”

“What does this have to do with the rest of the Avengers?” Stark knew he was going to regret asking.

“Who do you think made the 911 call?” Lifting his cell phone up, Ross pressed a button and audio filled the silent room.

“Hello? I need to report a shooting. There are four men dead, all with gunshot wounds to the head. We have children present who may have been drugged ages thirteen, ten, and three. We need police and medical assistance immediately.” Ross hit the button again and the recording stopped.

Tony had of course heard the 911 conversation, and there wasn’t any doubt in his mind who was the voice behind it. “Could have been anyone.”

The Secretary sighed deeply, “Let’s stop playing games, you know as well as I do that it was Sam Wilson. I know they weren’t on the farm with the family when the shootings happened, which can only mean that Barton had to have contacted them. That alone is a violation of his house arrest. He was prohibited from contact with known criminals. Wilson scrambled the signal, so we are unable to currently track the origins of the call. I know that when we do, they won’t be there anymore.”

To gain any ground or control in the situation Tony knew that he would have to concede a few undeniable points. “Yeah, sure, that does sound like Sam. If I was you I wouldn’t even waste the man power on tracking that call because as you said, they will be long gone by the time you have boots on the ground. You spin a nice yarn sir, but it doesn’t hold up.” Tony sat down on the edge of the desk and motioned for Ross to take his seat back.

“First, you lack a motive. Why would Clint pick today of all days to snap? Why hurt the children, in fact why hurt Laura? Second, Clint didn’t tamper with his tracking device at all. I know the first thing I would do if I just went on a killing and drugging spree would be to get the hell out of dodge. Clint didn’t do either. And third…”

“And third, you are a dumb ass for thinking any of this would work Secretary Ross.” Everyone in the room looked towards the source of the comment. Standing within the entrance to the office was Director Nick Fury.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Eleven

“Director Fury.” Secretary Ross greeted and extended his hand while walking over to Nick.

The hospital security personnel could be seen peeking behind Fury but was smart enough to remain outside the office. The government officer who was in the room put his hand on his gun, unclipping the snap that held the weapon in place on his belt. Director Nick Fury stood blocking the doorway with his hands in his pockets ignoring the customary greeting offered by the Secretary.

Fury returned, “Secretary Ross, seems that we have a bit of a problem here. Mr. Stark and Miss. Potts were acting on my behalf to secure the Barton children. They were able to get here clearly faster than I was.  What is the reason that they are in here?”

Tony amused himself by thinking if Fury had two eyes, one would be winking at him to go along with the story. “We decided since the kids were sleeping we would do a little Avengers public relation while we were here. Secretary Ross was kindly helping us bide our time until breakfast with his tales of horrible threats against everyone we know and hold dear, and how he was planning to psychologically scar Clint’s kids later. I would love to say that it’s been fun, but it really hasn’t.”

It was evident on the Secretary’s face that he wasn’t sure if anyone was telling the truth. “I think the better question Nick is why are you here? S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t have any jurisdiction here, especially since there is no longer a S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Laughing in a manner that made the hair on Pepper’s arm stand up, Nick took a few steps into the room. “I used to like bedtime stories as well Thaddeus, but then I turned eight. Whoever you have as your informant must have their information mixed up. S.H.I.E.L.D was never gone, just went underground until we could resurface.”

Ross’s slimy smile returned. Tony was starting to use that facial marker as a tell for when the Secretary thought he had the advantage. “That could very well be so, but it doesn’t change the Bartons’ status. The children are in custody of the government being cared for by CPS under my guidance.”

Nodding his head Nick agreed, “I agree, the children are in the custody of the government, but I’m afraid you have the wrong agency.” Tony was jumping up and down inside. He knew whatever trick Nick was about to pull from behind his eyepatch was going to be awesome. He caught Pepper’s attention and gave her a smile that said, ‘It’s all going to be alright’. He watched as Nick carefully formed his next sentence. “S.H.I.E.L.D. code 52281 subsection B, ‘all offspring of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are immediately put into the guardianship of S.H.I.E.L.D administration in the event the parents are unable to fulfill their parental duties’.”

The smile fell from Thaddeus’ face, “Nice try.”

“No, not a try, it’s happening. Children of agents may be privy to classified information that we cannot have out in the real world. The children must be contained within the agency to be properly vetted prior to finding an alternate placement. You are the Secretary of State. S.H.I.E.L.D. is a global agency. It is you who doesn’t have jurisdiction sir. I have already been in contact with the Secretary of Defense, who may I add is the only American official I have to answer to regarding domestic affairs, he has approved my request. I would very much appreciate it if your medical staff could catch my people up. The children’s health shouldn’t suffer because we have a bit of a disagreement, don’t you agree Secretary?”

Tony leaned over from his perch on the desk to Pepper and whispered, “Were we the only ones who didn’t bring our own medical staff? I feel left out, no one told me.” Pepper cut him off by hitting his arm and shushing him.

“If that is all Mr. Secretary, we don’t want to keep you up. Thank you for supervising the children until we arrived.” This time Nick did extend his hand, and Thaddeus accepted it in defeat and started to leave. “Oh, and Thaddeus.” The Secretary turned to the speaker, “I will also be needing my agent back.”

On a hairpin, Ross turned around and fired back at Fury, “There is no way in hell, absolutely not, he is still under investigation.”

Shrugging his shoulders Fury replied, “Trust me, he’s been under worse.” In any other circumstance Tony would laugh at that. Now he wasn’t sure that what Nick said was just a comment or innuendo and since he now had a daughter in the game, it wasn’t funny.

“You want me to release a man who murdered four of my guards, his wife and poisoned children.” The tension in the room thickened with the modest summary of what took place the day before.

The director repeated, “Like Stark said, you have no motive, not to mention, your evidence sucks. I have my Assistant Director enroute currently to collect Agent Barton from police custody. I would suggest you do as she asks; Assistant Director Hill isn’t as nice as me.”

The ‘tell’ appeared again, “Oh, I have a motive. Agent Barton was cuckolded. Stronger men than him have snapped due to such issues.”

Tony’s eyes got wide, “Wait, who held Clint’s what?  He has only been in prison for maybe six hours?”

Pepper snapped, “Tony shut up!” She knew that Tony’s ‘play on words’ was a lame attempt of his to lightening the mood, but it really wasn’t the time or place.

Director Fury took a long step to close the gap between himself and the Secretary. “If you want to say something, just spit it out man. However, a word of caution, you are speaking about one of my finest employees and a good friend, so tread carefully.”

Ross didn’t allow himself to respond to the attempt of physical intimidation by Nick, “My staff ran the children’s blood work to isolate the sedative that was used in the drugging. Not only were they able to identify the substance but were also able to determine that Clint’s medication was the only thing of his that was in Lila Barton.”

Tony and Pepper looked to each other sharing an alarmed expression. Tony understood at that moment that this was probably the first time any of the Barton spawns have had their blood work done in a public medical facility. Clint undoubtedly had S.H.I.E.L.D. handle all the kids medical needs to avoid exposure of the family. Of course, Ross would have jumped at the opportunity to dissect the results.

Thaddeus continued to justify his actions, “Agent Barton spent a lot of the children’s early years away working. It was in the last two years that he became more of a stable presence in the home because of house arrest. Clint spending more time with the girl, caused him to suspect something wasn’t right. A man with Barton’s resources would be able to run a test without any barriers. Once he found out that his daughter was another man’s he acted out and killed his wife. This would also explain why Lila received the heaviest of the medication.”

That accusation hung heavy in the air within the silent room. The Director and Secretary were still imbedded in their staring contest, it was Fury who broke the silence, “Well then, I guess you are not only a stupid ass, but also a half ass for stopping at matching Miss. Barton to her father. If your people did their job properly they would have notice she doesn’t match her brothers or mother either. So, I would suggest before making false statements about a man’s wife, you be more thorough in your research.”

 “You’re covering for him.”

“Sadly, you will never know. Again, it’s out of your jurisdiction.  In the faith of interdepartmental collaboration, please see that your people work with mine regarding the Secretary of Defense’s orders.” Glancing at his watch, “I have to apologize Mr. Secretary, I have taken up too much of your time as it is, and you still have a lot to do. I won’t be taking up any more.”

Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross didn’t get to where he was by picking the battles he knew he would lose. This opportunity slipped through his fingers but there would be another one, and soon. The tragedy of the Barton family would cause certain people to come out of hiding, and when they did, he would be there. “Yes, of course Director. I will instruct my team to provide you with the children’s medical records and release Agent Barton into your care.” Showing that he was raised with manners, the Secretary said his partings, “Good bye Director, Tony, Miss. Potts.” With a final nod to his bodyguard, Secretary Ross finally left.

Tony rushed over to the door and checked the hallway for anyone remaining behind to eavesdrop on their conversation. Satisfied that no one was there, he shut and locked the door. “Natasha sent you.” It was a statement not a question. Tony had expected Natasha to kidnap the kids during the night, probably while Steve was breaking Clint out of jail again.

Fury removed his black leather jacket and draped it over his arm then sat down on the couch. “She was on the phone with Barton when he discovered the guards dead.”

Pepper, deciding that she had been sitting for far too long stood up and walked behind the desk to start up the coffee maker, casually stating as she did so, “I’m surprised she isn’t here. From what Tony has told me, she loves that family as her own.”

Leaning back to sink into the cushions of the couch Nick informed, “She knows that I can only play this card once. I can’t bail out every Avenger that Ross collects in his travels. Clint was technically retired from the Avengers and with a little creative backlogging on our agency’s personnel files, Clint was being used as a consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D. since the house arrest started, so the United Nations can’t do anything to him without the agency’s approval. Believe me, if Romanoff needed to be in this hospital she would be. It wouldn’t matter if Ross was present or not.” Returning his attention to the people in the office, “I thought it would be best to minimize the people involved given the nature of the evidence.”

Fury was referring to Lila’s paternity, Tony didn’t even want to think about what Natasha would have done if she was in the office when Ross started bragging about obtaining that information. “So, you know?”

In the typical Director Fury, ‘I’ll answer your question with a question’, spy technique, he responded, “I know everything Stark, so I will need you to be more specific.”

“About Lila?”

“Yes, I know. I’m hearing rumblings that you are investigating the wipe of 2008, a dangerous rabbit hole to enter.”

 “Getting that.” Pushing himself off the door he was propping himself against, Tony propelled forward to the seats that Pepper and Ross vacated earlier. “Does Clint know any of this?” He arranged both chairs so that they were facing the couch now, a bit cozier, Tony thought to himself.  

“No, could never find the words. In the beginning I was of the same belief as Ross, pretty farmwife, husband away for months at a time. There are some who wouldn’t blame her for straying. But damn if Clint didn’t love her, and the kids. I had no right to mess with his home.” It was probably the sincerest that Nick Fury had ever been with Tony. He knew that the director had it in him, Nick had a similar ‘talk’ with Tony about his father years ago, but not as ‘raw’ as this one.

Positioning himself in the chair, Tony rested his elbows on his knees and cupped his face in between his hands. “And how do you know any of this, weren’t you wiped as well?”

“While you have only had a few days to sniff around this, I have had ten years. Do you really think I would let the wipe happen and move on? Every second I had to spare when I wasn’t maintaining the safety of the world as Director was dedicated to my search for the reason why it happened. Things really didn’t start to click until after the Battle of New York and got a hell of a lot clearer after the data dump. Following the dump, I went underground by playing dead and was found pretty damn quickly.”

Pepper rejoined the men with three cups of coffee. It had been a long night and morning, and she didn’t see an end coming anytime soon. “How were you found?”

Nodding his ‘thanks’, Nick took the cup and answered. “I went to visit my godchildren at their family’s farm, to test a theory.”

“Clint’s home?” The idea of Nick playing Godfather was straight up hilarious to Tony.

“Yes, a place that had always been a safehouse. Wanted to see if it was still safe after my “death” at the hands of HYDRA.”

Finishing the story for him, Pepper resolved, “I’m assuming it wasn’t.”

“It was until I left the house. I was attacked about ten miles out from the homestead. They were waiting for me.”

“Laura?” Tony asked.

Nick confirmed with a head nod, “Laura. That one hurt more than losing my eye. The woman was never anything but kind. Even did my laundry for me. She washed my underwear for the love of God, that was sacred.”

“Clint was clueless?” The questions were forming faster than Tony could ask them. How could a highly trained spy and assassin not know what was going on under his very roof, and for ten years?

The way Nick was looking at Tony made Stark think that the Director was reading his mind. “It was the perfect cover. Something we never even thought about, better yet trained our agents to deal with. Clint was being groomed to one day be the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, and he would have done a great job. What better way to infiltrate the top then by starting at the bottom? By the time Clint was in power, Laura would be untouchable. HYDRA had people on the Council and with Laura, someone in a position of power in S.H.I.E.L.D. There would have been no end to their capabilities. Everyone in the agency was wiped, a woman claiming to be the wife, pregnant with baby number two, and a son who calls you ‘daddy’, it’s hard to not believe that they aren’t telling the truth.”

Stark was quick to respond, “Cooper was telling the truth, but how does Lila fit into this?”

“Yeah, he was.” Nick settled apologetically. “My best guess is that Laura was faking her pregnancy with Lila. Clint only saw her pregnant for two days. It would be easy enough to hide for that amount of time. At the ‘birth’, HYDRA procures a child and she passes it off as hers.”

Taking the seat next to Tony as she passed him a cup, Pepper asked her own question, “What happened after she found out that her planned attack on you didn’t work?”

“I don’t have anything to prove it, but I believe Laura knew after I survived that she had to strengthen her cover in case Clint started to suspect her. In the intelligence world we call it a blood cover. Something that strengthens the bond between the spy and their target. Something that the two have a common interest in.”

Another light bulb went off in Tony’s head, “Nathaniel. Damn, just when I thought we hit the bottom of this well of insanity, there is another three hundred feet to fall. You said that Clint was being trained for your job, what changed?”

“Loki and New York. Clint shot the current Director and attempted to kill the Assistant Director in a car chase. Not to mention the hundreds of people who were on the helicarrier who almost died when he blew it up to free Loki. Shit like that hurts morale. It was apparent that the organization wouldn’t trust him as their leader after that, mind control or not.” A heavy uncomfortable pause settled among the room’s occupants until Fury asked Tony a question for a change. “You just told me that you knew Cooper was telling the truth to Clint all those years ago, what do you know?”

“You know what they say about idle hands. Pepper is running the company, and I do love a puzzle.”

Pepper was tired. The adrenalin she had been using to get by these long hours was wearing down.  “Tony, just tell him maybe he can assist.”

Admitting defeat, Tony confessed. “Fine, I was investigating Katherine Bishop.”

The Director’s eye brows rose in comprehension. “Now it’s all coming together. Tell me, is that why you went to Clint’s?”

“It was one of the reasons, he didn’t know anything.” Tony wondered, how was Kate’s involvement making the picture clearer to Fury?

“Does he know anything now?” Tony shook his head in answer, much to the quiet relief of Nick. Tony didn’t want to go into the will, apartment deed, and facial comparison data that he had shown Clint. “Good, probably not going to be able to keep it that way for much longer. Especially since you blew Laura’s cover which caused this turn of events. I would rather that information come from me.” Tony looked away in guilt, as he put all the pieces together and realized that his presence and actions at the farm earlier had set this in motion. The Director’s intent wasn’t to blame Tony or to cause him to feel guilty. “I’m not saying this was your fault. A cover like this could not be maintained forever, ten years was a damn good run if you ask me.”

A cover? Tony thought as the feeling of anger swelled up inside of him. A cover is what Natasha did when she came to Stark Industries as his new assistant. What Laura and HYDRA had done was not a cover, it was psychological abuse to Clint and his children. Who knew how any of them would handle this when everything was over and done with. Then there was Kate, there was no telling what condition she was in. Odds are that HYDRA didn’t set her up on a farm somewhere. It was the stuff that nightmares are made of. “Do you have any idea why this all happened? I get that HYDRA wanted someone with Clint as an informant. That would explain why some of Caps more recent missions have not worked out as planned. Natasha must have been talking to Clint, and he told Laura. HYDRA must have known the wipe was about to happen and placed Laura and Cooper at the farm prior to pushing the button. Two birds, one stone.”

Nick unearthed his cellphone from his draped jacket’s numerous folds and pockets, scrolling through his screen, he typed something and stated coolly, “Tony, what you had uncovered in less than a week took me years. There are undoubtedly some things you know that I don’t and vice versa. Tell me what you know, and I will do my best to fill in some gaps.”

It seemed like a good deal to Tony, “I have it narrowed down to a politician being killed who was in with HYDRA and a contained gamma explosion at a HYDRA research lab. One of these events caused the W.S.C. to wipe everyone.”

Fury looked up from his cellphone, placing it screen down on his thigh and followed up, “Did the assassination in your research lead you to any conclusion that HYDRA was negatively impacted?”

“No, at least there wasn’t any evidence of a lasting impact.” Tony admitted. The assassination was his best guess of a wipe cause and Nick’s response dashed any hope in that theory.

Processing the information Nick surmised, “So, you are left with a contained explosion of a research base operated by HYDRA that contaminated the area with gamma radiation in 2008. Anything else happen that year involving gamma radiation?”

Tony searched his mind, he was exhausted emotionally and physically. “Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything.”

Pepper impatiently answered, “Bruce Banner came out of hiding; the world was introduced to the Hulk.”

Giving Pepper with a small smile, the director stated, “Very good Miss. Potts. The Hulk made his first appearance, but he wasn’t the only one.”

Tony stood up and shouted, “Thunderbolt Ross!” The military nickname for Secretary Thaddeus Ross. “He tested Bruce’s serum on one of his men.”

The director acknowledged Tony’s statement, “And the world changed for the worst.”

Stark started to pace. Pacing always helped him to process intel and new intel was arriving by the second needing to be understood and connected with the whole picture. “Because it was used as a military weapon. HYDRA saw what happened in Harlem and wanted to replicate it.”

Watching Tony pace back and forth Pepper added, “If HYDRA was successful, who knows what would have happened. A contained blast would take out all their research and any samples they may have created. Especially if they were so far in their research that it was being tested on humans”

“Gold star for you.” Nick rewarded to Pepper.

“Yeah, she’s brilliant.” Pepper cut her eyes sharply to Tony. “Sorry, however there was a second blast that I don’t think your people were responsible for.”

“I know we weren’t the ones, but I know who did. It was a group with similar objectives as S.H.I.E.L.D. and I appreciate their assistance during a time where S.H.I.E.L.D. was weakened.”

Tony would bet his entire company that there was a lot more to Nick’s answer about the second attack.  The information that Fury did provide aided in Tony’s conclusion of the reasoning behind the wipe.  “There would have been no way in hell that HYDRA would be able to obtain the duplicate of Bruce’s serum without government input, specifically the World Security Council. The Sandbox mission exposed the depth of HYDRA’s cover in the Council. That would justify a wipe, they were ensuring their job security. But of course, this is all just a bunch of assumptions, we need proof.”

Standing up Nick rolled his neck from side to side getting the kinks out. He was half way around the world when Natasha contacted him. “Would copies of the research being sent to an anonymous database that didn’t have any connection to S.H.I.E.L.D. suffice you?”

Tony had to blink twice before what Fury had said sunk in, “Very much so, however, it seems impossible that such a database would exist. For anyone to successfully accomplish anything like that, they would need access to numerous mainframes at the same time, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s, HYDRA’s and the anonymous one.  Not to mention the person doing it would have to be the best encryption specialist and decoder ever, especially doing that in a hostile situation. Everything I have looked at doesn’t even hint at another database, and I am the best.”

Nick walked over to where Tony was standing next to Pepper, he looked Stark dead in the eyes, “Yes, you were. But then again, science was your passion, not math. Remember, at S.H.I.E.L.D. we only recruit the best.”

“Kate?” Tony asked in almost a whisper.

Fury dipped his head in affirmation, “How do you think I knew who she was? The Council was exposed, she knew she couldn’t send the intel through proper channels. It was a crazy ass move that ended in an explosion when HYDRA tracked her location and computer activities, but the mission was a success. The apple really didn’t fall far from the tree Tony, you would have been proud of her. She saw what was happening at the base and acted to save the world.”

“She was pregnant, why the hell was she even on the mission.” Pepper accused.

Nick looked to Pepper to acknowledge her question but returned his attention to Tony and answered. “I said it earlier, we only hire the best. I don’t know the details of the mission profile obviously. I can only hypothesize off the evidence I had accumulated throughout the years. I do know the best practices within the agency regarding medical conditions and participating in missions. Kate’s involvement on the mission must have been critical, a major player in the successfulness of the mission. We wouldn’t have just sent her in. We would have made every attempt to ensure her safety at all times.”

Sometimes you must be careful what you wish for. Tony had been searching for Kate’s involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. and now he had most of his questions answered. “Then why wasn’t she at S.H.I.E.L.D. when the wipe happened? The events are days apart.”

Breaking off the eye contact with Tony, Nick stated, “Like I said, we would have attempted to ensure her safety, but that doesn’t mean we were able to.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twelve

Assistant Director Maria Hill walked into the interrogation room with two S.H.I.E.L.D agents flanking her along with Mr. Townsend who was a representative from the Department of Defense. Her entrance was a shock to the government agents who were questioning Clint. “Thank you, but Agent Barton is now in the custody of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division. We can take it from here.”

Both interrogators stood up to face the intruders, the man on the right was hesitant but said, “Excuse me but this is a closed interrogation.”

Hill was expecting some resistance but wasn’t in the mood for it. “Yes, it is closed to you. Please Mr. Townsend, explain the Secretary’s order to the gentleman…outside.” Townsend showed his identification to the men and motioned for them to leave the room. Without any additional instructions, the officials left. Maria waited until the door closed before taking a seat opposite Clint at the interrogation table. She hadn’t seen Clint in almost three years, not a lot of time for someone to change, at least physically. Hill chalked it up to the recent events as of the reason the man looked like he had aged ten years. Clint’s hands were handcuffed and chained to the table, as were his feet. Without a single word to anyone Maria gestured to the restraints and one of the agents stepped forward to unlock the shackles.

Once his hands were released Clint started to rub the circulation back into his wrist, “How bad is it Maria?”

Maria looked at the man in front of her. He was drowning and begging her to throw him a life preserver. “Clint you are too good of an agent to ask me that question, and I’m too good of a friend to answer it.”

“But, Laura?” he asked in a barely audible whisper.

“We are looking for her, we will find her. I know it is asking the impossible but try not to think about her right now. The children are fine. Medical is just about to clear them for discharge.”

“They’re alright, really?”

“I wouldn’t lie to you about that.” She would about a lot of other things, but not the health of his children. “Director Fury is with them.” She hesitated for a moment then added, “As are Tony Stark and Pepper Potts.”

“What the hell are Tony and Pepper doing there?”

“Frankly Clint, I think Tony feels guilty. His visit to the farm yesterday is probably what triggered the events of last night. Director Fury messaged me that he walked in on Stark and Secretary Ross ‘having it out’ over the children.”

“Ross” Clint hissed out. “He was supposed to show up this morning to question me with some irrefutable evidence on why I killed Laura and drugged the kids. Least I forget, also killed four innocent men who were just doing their jobs. What did he want with my kids?”

Director Fury did fill Maria in a little bit about Ross’ sick plan, but it was probably for the best to generalize it for Clint. “Nothing good, but Tony and the Director stopped it.”

Clint knew there was a lot more to it than ‘nothing good’, but he also knew that there would be no way in hell that Nick Fury would let anything bad happen to his children, so he would let it go for right now, but he and Secretary Ross were far from done. “I want to see them.”

Maria nodded, “We are going to meet up with the Director and your kids at the airport.” With that said, Agent Hill stood up and walked towards the door, “Oh, and if anyone asks, you have been a S.H.I.E.L.D. consultant for the past two years,”

“United Nations loophole?” Clint asked as he politely pushed in his chair before leaving.

Giving Clint a small sad smile, Hill confirmed, “United Nations loophole. Your house arrest has been lifted, let’s go.”

Shaking his head, Clint followed Maria out of the room, “Thank you for sitting on that one for two years.”

~~~~~

“So, she is dead?” Tony asked lowering his head and stared at the factory grade carpet that covered the floor of the small office he had been inside of for hours.  He said that he would stop once he had a body or a witness to the death of Kate, and Nick’s testimony seemed to be the closest he would get.

Fury placed his right hand on Tony’s left shoulder. The Director lowered his own head to meet Tony’s eyes, willing the man to look up at him, “No Tony, your daughter isn’t dead.”

Of course, Nick Fury knew Kate was Tony’s daughter. This man’s secrets had secrets. As hope and tears filled Starks eyes he asked, “How did you know, who she was I mean?”:

Removing his hand, the Director remembered a time before the wipe, “Peggy Carter was always interested in Kate and worked tirelessly trying to persuade your father into recruiting her once she got old enough.”

“My father?” Tony’s parents knew about Tony and Eleanor and the ‘situation they created’ as his mother delicately phrased it all those years ago. Howard and Maria Stark never spoke of it again once Eleanor and Derek were married. Tony just plain put it out of his head, believing he had dodged a bullet.  He never thought about his parents following the child through her life, but it didn’t surprise him. His mother would have made sure the child was cared for and loved as any grandmother, involved or not, would do. His father on the other hand would have watched the child with an interest to see just how much ‘Stark’ she had in her.

“Howard had a ‘Stark ban’ on S.H.I.E.L.D. He was very clear that you and Kate were never to be involved in the organization.” Nick had spoken to Tony before about Howard not wanting Tony in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s affairs, he had conveniently omitted the inclusion of Kate in the discussion. 

“And yet here I am, and Kate was.” Tony knew about his father’s wishes, but it extending to Kate meant that his father knew that S.H.I.E.L.D. would want her at some point. It signified that Howard had to know that Kate’s strengths and abilities would align with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s objectives. Tony wondered if his parents had ever met their only grandchild, it was a small city. His mother would have bumped into the Bishop family during any of her numerous charity fundraisers. What relationship did his mother have with his daughter? Just how disappointed had Maria Stark been with her son for his reckless behavior that prevented her from openly playing the dutiful grandmother?

“Yeah, but you are stubborn,” Nick accused as he took out his phone again and appeared to be sending a message, then added, “and Peggy was too.”

“What does that mean?” Pepper asked, attempting to take some pressure off Tony. She knew that he was dealing with a lot now, separating the actions of the past from the happenings of the present.

Putting his phone away Nick answered Tony’s fiancée. “It means that Peggy assumed that Howard’s orders ended with him. As soon as Kate was enrolled in college, Peggy started sending me to recruit her.” Nick hated to say anything bad about Peggy Carter, but he believed then, and still believed today, that it was an ill-timed move to make in the wake of Howard and Maria’s death.

There was a knock on the door. Fury went over to open it to be confronted with a member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. medical staff. “Sir?” The man in a white coat asked as Director Fury ushered him into the office, this time leaving the door open.

Nick made the introductions, “This is Doctor Simmons, I brought him to lead the medical team. Dr. Simmons, this is Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. You may speak freely in front of them. They are concerned parties.”

 Dr. Simmons shook both Pepper and Tony’s hand. Returning to his boss, he filled the director in of his finding since taking over from Secretary Ross’ team. “The latest blood work shows that the ‘rapid detox’ of the IV treatment worked wonderfully. The children do not have any traces of the drug in their systems.”

“So, Lila woke up?” Pepper asked enthusiastically, the relief clear on her face and in her voice.

“Yes ma’am. All three children are awake and very responsive.” The doctor returned to the Director, “I would like to recommend a therapist to speak to them. They have a lot of questions.”

“I’m sure they do, why should they be any different than the rest of us?” Tony said not so quietly to himself to which he received annoyed looks from everyone in the room.

Nick Fury indicated for the doctor to ignore Stark’s remark and continue, “The eldest,” checking his notes on the medical tablet, “Cooper Barton recognized the S.H.I.E.L.D badge on my coat.” The doctor pointed to the logo that was embroidered onto the pocket on the lab coat under his name. “He asked to speak to the team leader.”

Nick looked to Tony and Pepper and gestured to the door, “Shall we?”

Tony, always the gentleman allowed Pepper to be the first person out, following her, he looked out into the hallway and proclaimed, “About damn time.”

Without needing to be told which room the children were in, Tony got in front of Pepper to the room where the guards had earlier been stationed. The room was still being protected but the men in black suits had been replaced by men dressed in the familiar S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform. The men must have recognized him, or a better guess would be that Nick Fury was right behind him, because the men moved from the door and silently permitted entrance.

The sight that Tony was greeted with in the hospital room was a comforting one. All three children were in one of the hospital beds, watching cartoons on the television that was placed high up on the wall. Nathaniel sat comfortably between his brother, who as Ross stated earlier was holding a black backpack, and his sister. Abandoned, was the second bed that was separated from the occupied one by a recliner and a crib below the television.

Putting on his ‘game face’ Tony alerted the children to his arrival, “Hey little agents, long time no see!”

“Uncle Tony” Lila screamed as she jumped out of the bed and into his arms. Tony had never been hugged by a child, better yet Lila Barton. He assumed her actions were because she was scared to wake up in the hospital and relieved to finally see a familiar face.

Nick and Pepper entered behind him. That was when Cooper’s face lit up, but then became blank. He had to control his voice to hide the fright and exhaustion. The boy greeted the Director, “Uncle Nick.”

Tony watched Cooper’s behavior from over Lila’s shoulder since the girl refused to release the death grip on him. He resolved that Cooper was trying to act like Clint. Tony thought back to the pictures that were displayed in the apartment of his milestones as an infant and toddler. The pictures of Kate’s little boy compared to the present before Tony’s very eyes. A child trying to be a man, trying to protect his siblings, trying to be strong. Not trying, he was strong. Even if he wasn’t Tony’s grandson, he would still be damn proud of the kid. 

Nate made eye contact with the only woman in the room and put his hands up, “up”. Pepper took the cue and picked the toddler up and sat down in the recliner with him. Whispering things into the boy’s ears that no one could hear. Tony thought that Pepper looked so natural holding and comforting a child. That left Cooper alone in the bed, still clutching the bag.

“Hey Coop,” Tony called out waiting for the child to make eye contact with him, “why don’t you put that bag down and rest. We are here, no one will take it.”

Tony froze when he saw the alarm set in Cooper’s eyes. The blue eyes of the barely teenage boy darted between Tony and Nick, “No, I can’t. Aunt Nat.”

“Natasha told you not to let go of the bag, correct?” Nick asked, and the boy nodded. Nick looked to Pepper and Tony, “It’s a bug out bag in case anything happened. It has everything the kids would need if they escaped.”

Prying Lila from him, Tony said in disbelief, “What the hell? They are children. What do you mean if they had to escape?”

Nick defended, “Clint trained Cooper what to do in a situation such as this, and I am happy to see that Cooper did his job perfectly. I’m sure that when I tell your father and Aunt Natasha about this, they will be very proud.”

“Well, grandpa isn’t exactly over the moon about it.” Tony said under his breath and was relieved to see that no one had heard him. Lila was now holding his hand and swinging it.

“I know you have a lot of questions. That was some scary shit you went through, and I would be lying if I said it was over. As soon as you guys get some food in your bellies and discharged, I will be taking you all to New York. Cooper, I know you haven’t slept at all, so why don’t you get some kip before breakfast arrives?” Nick was sure to use Clint’s word for nap with Cooper to enforce the necessity for him to take one. Pepper felt the need to comment on Nick’s language choices but kept it to herself when she saw the Cooper was responding to the Director. Cooper understood the message and obeyed, he handed his bag to Fury and lied down. 

Tony watched the exchange between Cooper and Fury. It didn’t take long before the room was filled with the deep breathing of a sleeping Cooper. Tony took this opportunity to finish his conversation with Nick. “Pepper do you mind sitting in here with Lila and Nathaniel while I speak to Nick in the hallway?”

Reaching for Lila’s hand, Pepper replied, “Of course, we will just wait in here.”

The two men walked into the hallway, it was still early which meant that there were not a lot of people around. Nick knew that Tony wanted the whole story about what happened to Kate, and he was willing to tell Stark what he knew.

Tony started, “So, Kate is not dead. How is she not dead if she was in the explosion?”

Shaking his head at the conundrum Nick responded, “I don’t know how she survived, but she did. HYDRA grabbed her after the explosion. They held her for a week before she was rescued,”

“By ‘a group with similar objectives as S.H.I.E.L.D?’” Tony asked, using the Director’s words from earlier.

“Yes, that group. I didn’t know about Kate’s rescue until recently, up until then I just assumed she died in the explosion.” Fury said rubbing his hand over his eye.

The short answers were eating away at Tony’s patience, “What changed recently?”

Checking his surroundings, he pulled Tony by the upper arm away from the S.H.I.E.L.D. guards to a small alcove a bit down the hallway and started, “Two years ago, I was contacted by an informant I used occasionally. The guy, Paul, is well known to always have his ear to the ground. Not only is he a good source of reliable information, but he also has a talent for setting up meetings between people who normally wouldn’t. Long story short,”

“Too late.” Tony observed dryly.

“As I was saying, my guy got a hold of me. Everyone knew S.H.I.E.L.D. was up and running again to a degree after the whole Ultron chaos. A party Paul was representing didn’t want to contact me through official channels, so they used him to initiate contact. The group had an employee, who was injured and required a CT Scan. When they were studying the scan, they discovered an implant on the brain that they were able to track back to S.H.I.E.L.D. They weren’t contacting me to return the agent, but to ask for any medical records the agency may have had on the person in question. They made that part very clear, the former agent was going to be remaining with them due to the ‘uniqueness of the situation’.”

“It was Kate.” Tony felt for the first time in the last twenty-four hours his heart return to a normal rhythm. She was alive and being care for by the ‘group’.  “Hold on, HYDRA never contacted S.H.I.E.L.D. for a ransom or anything?” Tony would have thought that HYDRA having an agent like Kate in their hands would have been an advantage to any dealings between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the terrorist organization.

Nick really hated this conversation. It was everything he hated, HYDRA winning in a strange sort of way, innocent people being hurt, and someone else having to clean up his agency’s mess. Fury knew that as hard as it was to explain everything to Tony, it would be nothing compared to having the same discussion with Clint which would have to happen sooner rather than later. “They weren’t interested in the fact that she was S.H.I.E.L.D. HYDRA had been conducting human experimentation with Banner’s research without any success and suddenly, a pregnant woman is there. A woman, who is basically given a quadruple blast of the serum in pure energy form along with her unborn child, and both survived. It was the answer to their prayers.”

“The baby survived?” Tony questioned in confusion. It was beyond anything he could have hoped for given everything that had happened. When he heard about the explosion and capture, he just assumed the worst.

“Yes, she did, hence the ‘uniqueness’ of the situation that prohibited mother and baby from returning to the agency, well that and HYDRA.” Nick quickly added the last part. HYDRA was still a threat. Even more so now that Laura was involved in the mix.  From the conversation Fury had with Natasha he knew that Clint was asking about Kate Bishop. It was highly likely that Clint had also asked Laura. By now Laura was probably debriefing with her people and informing them of the Kate search. HYDRA had to know that S.H.I.E.L.D. was linking the wipe to them and odds were that the organization was planning accordingly hoping that it would cause Kate and her child to resurface. Not to mention that Laura would be wanting Nathaniel back. The entire thing was a cluster. “Tony, the gamma radiation that Kate was exposed to in the blast affected her and the infant in different ways. Kate got the worst of it and there is no good way to put it, but she has been living with gamma radiation poisoning for the past ten years.”

And just like that, any optimism that Tony had shattered. “Oh my God.” And there was the fast heart pace again, “And the child?”

Now Nick had to get into the science of the whole mess, which he knew would require follow up questions from the science genius that Nick wouldn’t be able to answer. “Somewhere in the child’s DNA was what is referred to as a dormant X-gene that Kate didn’t have, which means it was on Clint’s side. Have you ever heard of it?”

Tony had, but that area of study was more Bruce’s thing. “Just in published studies. I read up on it when Wanda Maximoff joined the Avengers. It’s the mutant gene. It is dormant until activation which can be prompted by age, puberty, stress, or trauma. Millions of people have it and live their whole lives without the gene being activated.”

‘Here we go’ thought the Director, “Millions of people weren’t born premature in a HYDRA research base and tested on moments later.”

“Please explain what you mean by ‘tested on’,” Tony requested in a cold tone.

Director Fury put his right hand up to stop Tony before he proceeded, “Now isn’t the time to get into all of that. Just know that the infant was activated almost at birth. From what I have been told, it’s a first for the mutant world. They are safe with a group of similar people who are not only teaching the child how to control her ‘enhancements’ but keeping Kate alive with a drug protocol.”

Tony demanded of the Director, “Where are they now?”

“It’s a special school in upstate New York. The girl is enrolled as a student and Kate is employed there as a math teacher. Tony, they are safe there. I promise you that. “Tony believed Nick and allowed him to continue without interruption. “HYDRA never stopped looking for them. I’m positive they know Kate and her daughter are in the school, but HYDRA doesn’t have the man power to infiltrate the grounds. The moment they leave, that kid would be a target. Kate also needs the medical attention that can only be provided by the staff on campus. That is the way it is, accept it or not, but it’s for the best. Hell, if Banner was around to assist in a cure, and the Avengers were still together to provide protection, it could be an entirely different story but it’s not.”

Tony was about to ask no less than ten follow up questions when a voice behind him requested his attention. Turning around he found the voice belonged to Nurse Vicki. “Mr. Stark, we are about ready to start serving breakfast.”

“What?” Tony asked confused then he swiftly remembered, “Oh yeah, breakfast, let me get the suit on and I will be right there.” Vicki smiled and started to leave.

“Ma’am,” Fury asked to call the nurse back, “Could you please start the discharge process for the Barton children? I would like to get them back to their father soon.”

Vicki smiled at the Director. This woman must really love her job Tony assumed, cause here she was in the middle of her shift and still smiling. The world needed more people like Nurse Vicki. “It has already been started sir. Shouldn’t take too much longer. They should be ready to go by the time the kids finish their meals.”

Fury offered his hand to the Nurse which she happily accepted and shook. Releasing the handshake, the nurse looked down into her palm to see a business card with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo embossed onto it, had been placed there. Vicki looked up at the Director confused as he said, “Thank you very much. I know that this hasn’t exactly been an easy situation for you or your staff, but please know that the government appreciates it and your work here today won’t be forgotten.”

As the puzzled nurse left, Pepper joined them in the hallway, “They are starving, when is breakfast going to be served?”

“I would assume as soon as I deliver it, now wouldn’t it?” A smile appeared on Pepper’s face. She had forgotten the deal she made so they could stay in the ward. Tony was pressing a sequence into the bracelet on his wrist that would produce the Ironman suit, “So, I will meet you all back in New York. Pepper do you mind riding with them? Just so Nick and Clint have an extra set of hands with the kids? Where exactly are you going, S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters?”

“At the Avengers’ compound does Clint still have rooms there?” Director Fury inquired. Tony nodded his head. Each of the Avengers had a set of rooms inside the compound. Nick followed up, “Would it accommodate the kids?”

“I can ask Vision and Rhodes to work on it. With FRIDAY’s help it shouldn’t take long at all, can have it done by the time everyone arrives. Since I am going to be busy serving breakfast, Pepper would you see to it?” Pepper bobbed her head at Tony’s request already mentally writing a list of things that would need to be brought and done to make the compound ‘kid friendly’.

“Good, you do that. I think the compound would be the safest option now. We don’t know if Ross is going to try anything else, and honestly, I don’t think we have heard the last of Laura.” The Director explained cryptically in the manner that Tony was used to, but Pepper was not.

Tony was more than willing to let Fury take the lead on this as long as it resulted in him getting what he wanted and soon. He just needed to know where the man stood on certain issues before Tony saw Clint again. “So, you’re not planning on telling Clint about them, Kate and the baby?”

“What?” The mention of Kate and the missing child broke Pepper out of her concentration. Tony gave her that look of ‘tell you later’ which she accepted.

“Not today I’m not. The man will be dealing with a lot in the coming hours. Throwing a first wife and another daughter at him may be too much to handle all at once.” Pepper didn’t have nearly as much information as she needed to be an active participant in the conversation. She trusted the two men but had some conflicting feelings about withholding such valuable information from Clint. Nick Fury must have known what she was thinking and resumed, “I’m not saying that he won’t be told, let’s just give him some time to process everything on his plate first before we hand him anything else.” Addressing Tony, “I’m not asking you to drop this, I know you won’t. If I was in your shoes I wouldn’t. I am just asking that you wait to make your next move until everyone is safe back at the compound.”

That, Tony could promise to do. It was a realistic request. With a final tap on his bracelet, the Ironman suit pieces appeared and attached to Tony. Once the suit had completed its assembly and was ready to go, Tony opened the face mask to ask Nick a question. “These people who saved Kate and the baby, and run the school, they got a name?”

 “Yeah, they have a name,” Nick Fury answered with a smile, “they call themselves the X-Men.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Thirteen

The drive from the hospital to the small rural airfield had taken less than forty minutes. Nick Fury had been driving the large SUV that Pepper wouldn’t be surprised to learn was fitted out in all types of defense weaponry. It was just her, Nick and the children in this vehicle, her in the passenger seat and the children in the back two rows.  Fury hadn’t trusted anyone but himself to safely deliver the children to Clint. Two similar cars followed them with one consisting of the medical team the Director had brought with him and another full of a security detail.

Pepper could see a similar convoy already parked on the tarmac as Nick took the final turn onto the runway. Behind the parked cars was a plane that was large enough to be a commercial aircraft, which was great given the amount of people who needed to board it. The plane was matte black with the logo of S.H.I.E.L.D. displayed proudly in silver towards the tail. The waiting party, seeing their arrival got out to meet them. Pepper could see Clint standing by Maria Hill, the anxiety clear on his face.

Lila was the first one to see Clint due to her position behind Nick in the car. Cooper having the longer legs sat behind Pepper while she moved the seat up as far as it would go to accommodate him, even if it meant crushing her knees in the process. Nate was one row back strapped into a car seat, blissfully oblivious to the events occurring around him.

“It’s dad!” She yelled and waved at the window, unknowing that the windows were deeply tinted and there was no way that she could be seen from outside.

Pepper twisted in her seat to face the back and saw that Lila was taking off her seat belt. “Just hold on until Director Fury tells you that it’s alright to get out, okay?” The girl paused in mid-motion deciding that it was not the best time to test the newly acquainted Ms. Potts’s limit and ceased. Finding Nick Fury watching her in the rearview mirror she decided on a different path.

“But Uncle Nick… “

Speaking as a person who had been in this exact situation numerous times before, Nick Fury didn’t delay. “You heard Miss. Potts, don’t you start Lila Evelyn Barton. It’s been a long day, night and day again, just don’t start. You stay until I tell you to move.” Pepper had to turn back around to look away and bite the inside of her cheek to not laugh. Tony would be so upset that she didn’t record the famous Director Fury disciplining a ten-year-old girl. Lila crossed her arms with a huff and forced herself further back into the seat.

Putting the car in to park and sending one last warning glance to Miss. Barton, Nick and Pepper opened their doors and met the assembled group. Maria had worked for both Stark Industries and the Avengers during the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., so she and Pepper were familiar with each other and exchange smiles. Clint shook Nick’s hand and looked to Pepper and greeted her, “Pepper.” The greeting was short, probably since a ‘good to see you again’ or anything resembling the sentiment was not fitting for this scenario, and he had nothing else to offer. “Where are the kids?”

Tilting his head in a small movement towards the car Nick replied, “In the car of course, couldn’t leave them on the side of the road to sell oranges with HYDRA and Ross watching us, now could I? Lila is lucky however I didn’t throw her out on that last turn. That girl is trouble, just wait another few years and you’ll be gray.”

Clint rolled his eyes, which Pepper interpreted to mean that he knew exactly the behavior that Nick was speaking about and deserted the group to unload his offspring. The door closest was the side Lila was on. The child sprung forward at her father like a tiger being release from a cage. Lila held onto Clint as if her life depended on it and he returned the gesture in the same intensity. It was then that Pepper saw that Lila was crying. The poor girl must have been scared to death, come to think of it Pepper thought, Clint must have been experiencing the same emotion. Clint didn’t have the luxury to give attitude, or cry, as was apparently Lila’s way of emoting, because he had to be ‘dad’ right now. She could hear Clint’s voice quietly speaking to Lila in a comforting manner. Whatever he said must have worked because Lila let go of the hug and nodded her head. Clint then told Cooper to come on out and watch his sister while he released Nate from the car seat. With so many people around willing to help it really wasn’t needed for Cooper to watch his younger sister, but Pepper figured it was Clint’s way of giving the boy something to do and to be responsible for.

As soon as Clint ducked his head into the car Nate started to bounce in his seat. Showing his years of experience, Clint made quick work of the belts and snaps to liberate his youngest. After a quick cuddle, the father put the child on the paved ground to walk after being in the hospital and car for so long, knowing that with as many strange faces as there were in the crowd, Nate wouldn’t wander off far. By this time the rest of the cars’ inhabitants had started to board the plane. This confirmed Clint’s feeling because Nate stayed close but was captivated by the lengthy line of people passing him, but never requested to be picked up. 

Director Fury spotted one man making his way to the plane and called him over. “Clint, this is Doctor Martin Simmons. He was the leader of the medical team I assigned to monitor the children while they were in the hospital.” Clint and the Doctor shook hands and Clint expressed his gratitude for the man’s service. “I have asked Doctor Simmons to stay until we get everyone settled.” The fright was apparent in Clint’s eyes of his children continuing to need medical assistance. Nick was quick to calm him down, “just as a precaution. They are fine, I only want to ensure they stay that way.” Clint understood and appreciated the concern. The S.H.I.E.L.D. base was immense, with an entire wing devoted to medical. Personally, he hated every inch of the wing but knew Cooper would be thrilled to see the technology used there.

As every parent is trained to do, Clint took a moment from the conversation to do a head count. Lila and Nate were still within arm’s reach. Searching the area, he saw Cooper looking around, “Where’s mom?” Clint felt his stomach drop at the teenager’s question that he knew would eventually be asked.

Refusing to make eye contact with any of the adults that he knew were looking at him and waiting for Clint’s answer. Knowing that the lack of a prompt response to his son’s question was speaking louder than any words he could form. Clint had had some time to process what had happened last night at the farm. While none of it made any sense to him, Maria Hill told him on the drive over that the evidence fit with Laura taking out the guards and driving away. There hadn’t been any sighting of the car, and it was doubtful that there was a body to be found. There weren’t even any demands made. Everything lined up perfectly with Laura being HYDRA, at least that is what Maria had informed him. Exhausted from both the physical and emotional aspects of the last few hours, Clint had nothing in him to fight Maria’s story. His head and heart had declared war on each other, and he wasn’t sure who was currently winning. Clearing his head, Clint decided that he could not afford to think about that right now, he had responsibilities, one of those responsibilities was watching him with big bright blue eyes waiting for a response. Finally deciding to speak plainly, he truthfully said, “Mom won’t be making this trip with us Coop.” The blank expression on Cooper’s face told Clint that his son understood a lot more then he should, something bad had happened and his mother wasn’t coming back.

Lila was the next to twist the knife deeper into her father’s chest, “We can’t go to New York without mom, dad, where is she?”

“This is a daddy trip. Just you, your brothers, and me. We are going to see where dad and Uncle Nick work.” Clint explained hoping that his daughter wouldn’t bring up the fact that Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Pepper Potts, a medical team, and a very large security detail of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were also accompanying them on this ‘daddy trip.

Clearing his throat to get Clint’s attention, Nick Fury updated him, “We were thinking a place a bit more secluded and comfortable for the kids while we sort out our next step.”

“We’re going to the Avengers’ compound!” Cooper announced excitedly. Clint was taken aback by his son’s excitement considering the conversation they just had three seconds ago.

With a sideways glance at the boy for just blabbing out the plan like that, Nick rephrased, “I know things are tense with Stark and you now, but I have asked Tony if he could accommodate the large group.” Clint recognized what was going on immediately. Nick was trying his best to shield the children from the recent events, and by saying it was a trip to the compound sounded a hell of a lot better than ‘I can’t guarantee your family’s safety at headquarters because your wife went batshit crazy and we don’t know who to trust anymore’. “I was just trying to find the best way to ask if that was alright with you.”

Indifferent to the whole conversation, Cooper, since he was finally going to get to see the compound, came back with, “Well, Dad always says ‘shit or get off the pot.”

All the adults in the group looked at Clint disapprovingly. “In my defense, I am usually referring to the toilet.” The looks didn’t stop. “Hey! I currently have one working bathroom and five people needing it, one who is toilet training, they’re lucky I didn’t install a timer.”

There was laughter from the small group, but it wasn’t real. No one felt it was a suitable thing to do right now, not in front of Clint and not in the presence of his children. Their lives had been forever changed, it wasn’t the time to laugh. The pilot of the plane stood at the loading door and signal to them it was time to board and take off. Ushering his children up the steps and onto the plane he wasn’t surprised at all to see that Nick had thought of everything. The plane had numerous rows of seats, in groups of two. Towards the back, one row had been turned to another with one seat having a child’s seat installed onto it. Pepper helped to get Lila buckled in while Clint handled Nathaniel.

The entire seating and take off took less than ten minutes. Clint felt something in his chest as he watched the landscape of Iowa become further and further away. He asked to himself if they would ever return as he pressed his head to the window seeing clouds start to obstruct his view. The kids were safe, that was what was important right now, no, that was the only thing that was important. That was the last thought Clint had before the need for sleep consumed him.

Clint was hitting the cold steel door with his left hand formed into a fist, but it wasn’t cold, it was burning hot. That doesn’t make sense, his brain attempted to rationalize with his unconscious. He was screaming at something, no for someone. Bracing his right shoulder, he charged into the door, multiple times all the while, still screaming. Someone had a hold of his other arm, pulling him away. He looked at the person but could only see a dark shadow void of any shape or identifying physical trait.

The person was saying something, but he couldn’t make out any of the words in his dream. His swung his hand around and made contact with the puller’s head. Clint didn’t know why, but he felt instant regret at his action. Ignoring the emotion, he swiftly went back to the task of trying to get through the door. His shoulder hurt like hell, but he continued, again and again. The force was back trying to move him away, only there were two now. Words were being exchanged, he could not comprehend anything but the tone. Whatever was being said was being done so with urgency and emotion.

Summoning up all the strength he had, Clint was able to push both people away from him. He rammed his shoulder into the door again and screamed. He screamed out like a wounded animal, but it wasn’t because of the physical pain, it was because of whoever he was separated from. Hands grabbed his face and forced him to look at them. Again, it was the shadow, still unknown but strangely familiar. Hushed tones were being spoken to him. He felt his eyes sting with tears, heat, and soot. Where was the soot coming from? Looking around he was surrounded by the ruins of a building with debris still falling. The hands pulled him back to concentrate on the shadow and the words being said. Clint was unable to do either. His heart raced, he needed to open that door. Breaking free from the hands holding him, he rushed towards the door once more, slamming his already damaged shoulder into the immovable object.

He realized that he had never stopped screaming. His throat burned from the strain, but Clint didn’t know what words were coming out of his mouth, just that it needed to be said. Thankful that there were not any more attempted to remove him he retuned to his attack on the door. He was just setting himself up to strike the entry again when he felt a burning pain course through his body. There was only darkness afterwards.

Clint awoke with a start. Taking in his surrounding he saw he was still on the plane. Willing the vision from his sleep away he found that he could not. The dream, no nightmare was so vivid. He swore that he could still smell the burning in the air. Wiping his eyes, Clint discovered that there was moisture on his hand. Had he been crying in his sleep? He had experience with this type of thing. After Loki, Clint couldn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time without waking up screaming from the dreams. It took a long time and a lot of work before he could achieve any amount of restful sleep. The trauma at the farm must have brought it all back.

 The feeling was the same, but at the same time, different. He couldn’t place any part of the dream. Usually when this happened, it was a flash back to something he had done while under Loki’s control. The most frequent dream had been him remembering his fight with Natasha on the hellicarrier. The dream tended to end once Natasha threw his head into the hand railing.  It was a while before he could break the habit of waking up and immediately calling Nat to reassure himself that he did not fulfill Loki’s promise of him killing her.

His heart was still pounding against his chest from the adrenaline his dream form had mustered. Getting himself under control, Clint search the immediate area. He was briefly concerned when the only child who was near him was Cooper. Nick had filled Clint in a bit about Cooper’s role in watching over his siblings in the hospital, forfeiting any rest himself to ensure theirs. The child must have taken the cue from his father that it was safe to get some sleep since Cooper’s head was resting on Clint’s shoulder in a deep slumber. Counting one child safe, he looked around for the other two. He didn’t need to search long or far. Nate was sitting in Pepper’s lap diagonal from Clint and Cooper, smacking the tablet she held with both of his palms. Lila was a few rows further up sitting on the floor in front of Maria. She was sitting quietly as the Assistant Director to S.H.I.E.L.D. braiding her hair while reviewing mission profiles with another agent.

Feeling Cooper stirring, Clint looked back out the window. Slowly coming into view as the clouds became thinner was the property that housed the Avengers’ compound. Moving his right shoulder that his child rested on, Clint had to pause because something in his shoulder ached. He quickly shook it off, telling himself that is was only numb from Cooper’s heavy head and not a phantom pain from his dream. Moving his shoulder slightly to wake his eldest up he prompted, “Hey Coop, wake up. Have a look, it’s the compound. Here, switch seats with me so you can have a good look.”

Cooper was fast to take Clint up on his offer. Standing up to vacate his seat, Clint took his time walking up the aisle to where his daughter was. He needed to stretch his legs anyways. Coming up from behind the child he noticed she jolted a bit when he started his comment. “Lila, I need you to go back to your seat now honey. We are about to land.” Without any protest, she got up and returned to her seat across from her brother and joined in staring out the windows.

“Two down, one to go.” Clint announced approaching Pepper and Nate. He was greeted with the familiar sight of Nate’s smile that appeared whenever Clint showed up. “Think you have a new friend.” He said addressing Pepper.

Handing the boy to Clint, she held onto the toddler’s foot playfully. “He is a wonderful child Clint. I think we became fast friends in the hospital.”

“Yeah, about that. Thank you for what you and Tony did back there. I don’t know half the story yet, not by a long shot.” Pepper had to suppress the need to tell him that he didn’t even have a quarter of the entire story yet. “But I do know you and Tony stepped up and helped. You didn’t have to do that, and I don’t know why you did, but I am grateful.”

Pepper let go of Nate’s foot and placed her hand on Clint’s forearm. “Tony told me what you two talked about yesterday. You know why he did it, and even if that wasn’t the case, we would have been there anyway because we are friends.” A response wasn’t needed from Clint. It wasn’t the time or the place. Besides, Clint needed to make sure everyone was buckled in before landing.

It was twelve-thirty by the time everyone had exited the plane and entered the compound. Vision and Colonel James Rhodes greeted everyone in the foyer of the building. It had been awhile since either of them had seen Clint, and the last time wasn’t a party. Tony had updated Rhodes on the events, who in turn, told Vision. Tony hadn’t told them everything, feeling it was cruel for everyone but Clint to know about his own life.  Rhodes instantly upon hearing the tragedy that have befallen his friend and his family decided to forgive and forget all of it. If there was any doubt in Clint’s mind that it wouldn’t be awkward back at the compound, it was forgotten when Rhodes pulled him into a hug. If any part of the embrace was surprising to anyone who witness the act, it was that Clint hugged back.

“This sucks man, I’m sorry.” Rhodes said in a low voice, so the children wouldn’t hear, unknowing to him that they had heard worst, and recently.

Releasing Rhodes, Clint nodded, “It definitely does, thanks.”

Vision took advantage of the pause in conversation to inform the party, “I have prepared lunch in the dining room. I didn’t know if your flight provided you with a meal, so I took it upon myself to set something up.”

“You’re the Vision.” Cooper said with awe.

“I am sir, and you must be Cooper Francis Barton, Clint’s eldest son.” The android responded very formally.

“Yeah, sorry, so introductions, this is Cooper as we just established.” Clint said as he pointed to the teenager, “this is Lila,” gesturing towards the girl next to Nick Fury, “and the tiny person with Pepper is Nathaniel, Nate. Kids, this is Colonel Rhodes and Vision.”

Rhodes walked over to greet Pepper, Fury and Hill. Then he leaned forward toward Pepper to look at Nate. “Wow Clint, Tony told me you had kids, but seeing is believing. How did you find the time?”

“The reproductive act can be accomplished at a minimum average of thirty seconds.” Vision informed Rhodes.

The room became very quiet after the impromptu trivia session, mostly since none of the adults wanted to laugh at such a statement with children around. It was Clint who took the responsibility to break the silence, “Well, Vision, if I had any self-confidence left after the last two days, you took care of it. How about we get the kids fed in the kitchen while everyone else uses the dining room?”

Vision was happy to help, and grateful Clint was allowing him to. “Very good Clint. Also, your rooms have been prepared for the additional company. If you find yourself needing anything else, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I would like to assist you and your children.”

Approaching Vision, Clint put his hand on Vision’s shoulder, “Thank you. I mean it, I could not thank either of you enough.”

“We didn’t do it for the ‘thanks’, we did it for you.” Vision informed Clint. After that, nothing else was said. Everyone followed Rhodes up to the Avengers’ personal communal floor to eat.

~~~

It turned out that serving breakfast to an entire ward full of children with their parents takes a while to complete. It seemed that every patient wanted a picture with Ironman. The staff had predicted this and assigned someone to follow Tony with a camera. When Tony was finally done the hospital had a floor filled with happy and well-fed patients, and it was almost time to start the lunch service. Tony had always thought of himself as the “throw money at it” kind of charitable person, the physical acts were more his mother’s thing. As a child, Maria Stark would often drag Tony around with her to a variety of fundraising and charity events, and he hated every moment of it. Those days were now in sharp contrast to the helpful activity that he just participated in that morning. Perhaps he would ask the public relations department at Stark Industries to make a habit of this, every month visiting a different hospital around the country. The words his mother told him years ago had finally made sense to him, ‘it feels good to do good’.

As far as Tony knew, the flight back to New York had been uneventful. Mostly because he slept for the entire duration of the trip. It was only when the jet landed, he woke up and checked his phone. The notification screen that displayed when the phone was activated was a never-ending scroll of messages. Most of the messages were from Pepper, narrating her own flight and arrival back at the compound.

It was almost seven in the evening by the time Tony arrived back at the Avengers’ compound. He wasn’t only delayed because of the hospital, but he had made what became a long detour back to the farm. Tony had faith that Pepper, and the gang had supplied everything the Barton family could need and more. However, he had learned at the hospital today that children need certain things from home to make them feel safe. Tony had seen in the children’s hospital rooms various ‘home comforts’ that the patients cherished. For some it was as simple as a favorite stuff animal, others needed items like the blanket from their own bed to help them sleep.

Tony had searched the farm house from room to room for such objects. It was a challenge since he didn’t know the Bartons, and definitely didn’t know what would make the children feel safe. The one thing he did find was the puppy he had given the family the day before. The damn lucky thing was hiding under the bed in Lila’s room. The S.H.I.E.L.D. clean up team had done an excellent job cleaning the crime scene, excluding missing that there was a puppy in the house. Walking in, one would have been clueless that a mass murder had occurred there the day prior. Hours later, and a lot of snooping, four boxes were full. He had one additional box full of the dog’s items he found in the corner of the kitchen. Someone, in the limited time between Tony’s visit and the attack, had gone out and purchased supplies for the animal, but other than food, everything was still in the shopping bags. Tony also grabbed a few pictures that he found, avoiding any with Laura in them. It was doubtful that after everything that had happened that the family would come back here. Tony’s goal wasn’t to clean out the house, Clint would have to do that when he was ready. He would help Clint with any moving that would need to be done in the future, and by ‘help’, he meant he would hire the moving company.

Standing next to the jet, Tony watched as the puppy did his business on the tarmac. He was positive that the dog had gone on the flight as well, but a quick command to FRIDAY arranged that clean up. He then texted Pepper that he was there and would meet up with her after he saw to a few things. She quickly texted back that she, along with a large group were outside on the patio and it would be nice for him to stop by. Responding with a quick ‘ok’, he then contacted Vision to ask him to carry the boxes inside for Clint to sort through later.  Leaving the boxes for Vision to handle, Tony walked towards the patio carrying the puppy with him. By a ‘large group’ Pepper meant Nick Fury, Maria Hill, James Rhodes, and numerous agents. That didn’t even include the security guards that Nick had apparently stationed on every square foot of the property.

“Any updates?” Tony asked walking up towards the Director.

He caught the Director’s quick glance to Hill before he spoke, “A few, nothing urgent.”

Tony knew the Nick trusted Maria, Pepper and Rhodes, but he wasn’t so sure about the other agents. He kissed Pepper in greeting then spoke to Rhodes, “Hey Rhodey, do you mind bring this” holding the dog out, “up to the kids? I’m sure they are worried about him.” He handed the dog to Rhodes who turned and left to do as requested. Tony asked Nick, “Want to walk and fill me in?”

The Director stood as an answer to the question and followed Tony’s direction. Walking into the communal area of the compound, Tony was surprise to find it empty during this time of the day. Looking at the clock on the wall, he saw it was only eight-thirty. He assumed with all the drama and excitement over the arrivals, everyone went to bed early. Tony parted from Fury and walked over to the bar that took up the entire far wall. Picking up a bottle, he held it up to Nick and was returned with a nod of the head. Tony poured two glasses and rejoined Director Fury next to the window that overlooked the property. Each man took a sip and watched the scenery in quiet for a moment until Nick started, “I wanted to let you know that I have been in contact with Professor Charles Xavier.”

The name sounded familiar to Tony, but he couldn’t place it. “And who would that be?”

Neither man took their eyes away from the picturesque landscape that was laid out before them. “He is the leader of the X-Men and runs the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. I wanted to warn him about the potential threat to his staff member and student.”

Turing away from the window Tony observed, “Hey Fury, I know you use labels like staff member, student, child, and so on, to detach yourself from the situation.” Fury looked to Stark, it was an accurate note that didn’t need a comment from him, so Tony went on, “But I don’t work that way, I need names.”

“What name would you like me to use?” Nick questioned, unmindful to Stark’s endgame.

Rolling his eyes at how clueless the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. could be sometimes, Tony decided not to make too much of it. Nobody could be top for the spy game all the time. He answered the posed question mockingly, “I don’t know, did Kate ever get around to naming her daughter?”

The Director understood immediately and kicked himself for not mentioning it earlier. He used to be very skilled at shifting between speaking to agents and civilians. Agents, he didn’t have to tell anything to that he felt they didn’t need to know. Civilians needed the personal attachment, they needed the reasons. He responded with just one word, “Charlotte.”

Tony let that sink in. His granddaughter’s name was Charlotte. The whole thing was so foreign to him. “Charlotte, that’s pretty. Clint is going to be pissed that Kate didn’t follow his ‘L and E initial’ rule for a daughter, but I approve.”

Smiling over the brim of the glass Nick joked, “Kate will be over the moon to have it I’m sure. I don’t think she openly ignored Clint’s so-called rule.” He recalled after Lila’s birth, Clint explaining the significance behind the girl’s name. “Other than not remembering it was the father’s wish, I think Kate named her after Xavier, you know, for saving their lives. Oh, side note for the coming days, Charlotte prefers to be called Charlie.”

Holding up his glass Stark smiled, “Then to Charlie.” Nick matched the gesture and the two drained their glasses. There was something in Nick’s tone during his comment that gave Tony the impression that the Director’s information didn’t come from a phone call with the mutant leader. Tony assumed it was straight from the source. “So, I take it you have met them?”

“About a year ago.” Nick admitted setting his empty glass down on a nearby table. “Once the school knew I was safe. Kate remembered me from recruitment, so she vouched for me.”

“How was she?” When an innocent probing into S.H.I.E.L.D. files uncovered the wipe and connection to Kate days ago, Tony didn’t even allow himself to dream about anything even remotely resembling the conversation he was having now. Kate and Charlie were literally an hour’s drive from the compound. Tony hadn’t research the school or the X-Men yet, but anywhere ‘upstate’ from the Avengers compound was about an hour.

“Confused, with good reason” Nick added, and Tony had to agree. “She just always assumed that it was HYDRA that cause her memory loss. Apparently with the X-Men, government preformed memory loss isn’t a rare occurrence. They asked that I allow her to continue believing it.” It was apparent from the expression Fury made along with his intonation that he didn’t agree with the request.

“It’s not like you were lying to her” Tony defended. “HYDRA was the reason for the wipe, you are just omitting a few things. Did she ask any questions? I’m sure she had plenty.”

“She did. She inquired about her work at S.H.I.E.L.D. I told her what I could. Her doctor, Henry McCoy requested that I keep my explanation to a minimum so not to overwhelm her.”

“Because of the gamma poisoning?” Tony would have given everything he owned to have Bruce Banner here right now. Bruce would be able to examine Kate’s medical file and explain it all to Tony. Earlier Nick had said that things would be different if Bruce was around, that perhaps he could develop a cure. Tony wasn’t as optimistic about a cure since Bruce struggled with his own condition and remedy for it. At the very least maybe Bruce could consult on the case. Who knew, maybe whatever drug protocol they had Kate on could help Bruce as well.

“Yes, he didn’t know what the stress of the ‘enlightenment’ would do to her condition. I agreed once he told me that. We have all seen the effect of stress on a person living with gamma radiation exposure.”

“Did she ask about Clint, or about the father of her child?” Tony knew she wouldn’t remember Clint, it was a long shot, that he felt needed to be ask. He would think for the benefit of Charlie, Kate would think to inquire about the other fifty percent of her daughter’s makeup

“Put yourself in her place Stark, after the wipe Kate found herself in premature labor in a terrorist organization’s medical room without any memories of how she got there. She was separated from the child at birth and left to die from gamma radiation poisoning, alone, while HYDRA experimented on her newborn. By the time I met her, it had been nine years since the wipe, that’s a long time and no one had come looking for her. The reason for all of that cannot be good in any way. So, to answer your question, no, she didn’t ask. As far as she knows, there isn’t a Clint. I honestly don’t know if the lack of questions about Charlie’s paternity was because she assumed I didn’t know anything about that, or she was afraid of the answer.”

The gravity of Fury’s explanation of what Kate had gone through and his observations of her behavior hit Tony like a semi-truck. Leaning against the wall next to the window, Tony slightly bent his knees, willing himself not to collapse, at least not until he understood it all. Fury had been keeping things to himself, probably by justifying to himself that Tony didn’t need to know the worst of it. The torture Kate experience…and his mind wouldn’t allow him to think about Charlie’s treatment. “Kate’s baby was taken from her and she was left to die?”

Nick moved in front of Tony. Professor Xavier said that he will let Nick know if HYDRA made a move on Kate or Charlie. During the phone call, the Director informed Xavier that there had been some recent developments in the ‘situation’. Charles’ practical response was to arrange a meeting soon to discuss it. Nick wanted to be the one to tell Tony and Clint about what happened at the HYDRA base. Fury himself had a similar reaction as Tony did, shock. The only difference is that Nick waited until he was alone to express it. Tony needed all the information before the meeting in case the details came up in conversation. “Kate was never the prize, it was Charlotte, always Charlotte. HYDRA was handed the opportunity by S.H.I.E.L.D. to raise a mutant from birth, who could possibly be a match to anything S.H.I.E.L.D. could throw at them. That baby and her DNA are worth more than gold. Still today, HYDRA wouldn’t hesitate to grab Charlie and resume their experiments.”

With Nick’s last remark, everything suddenly made sense to Tony. A giant disco ball of comprehension illuminated within his mind.  “So that’s why the wipe was specifically a seven-year memory removal. They wanted everyone to forget that Kate ever existed within S.H.I.E.L.D. HYDRA probably had the same information I found. Kate wasn’t in contact with her Bishop family. No one outside the agency would be looking for her. Without the wipe, she is the wife of the future Director and mother to his children, one of which is also within HYDRA’s custody. Even if they assumed Kate died in the explosion, the Council would have still been exposed. Clint would lead countless S.H.I.E.L.D. missions himself to kill every Council member, and HYDRA goon, also to destroy every HYDRA base. Every agent in S.H.I.E.L.D. would have followed him into that fight because it was personal and hit the heart of the agency – the World Security Council.  HYDRA didn’t stand a chance. Eliminating Kate from the equation got HYDRA their test subject and protected the Council’s cover.”

“The flaw in that logic Stark is that Peggy and I knew about her.”

Tony needed to pace and talk this through. “Not a flaw Fury, an unknown factor. HYDRA was working with Derek Bishop being Kate’s father, not me. We don’t have anything to say that Kate knew any different. You and Peggy knew she existed, but did anyone look for her?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Nick replied, “Peggy did a few times, but to no avail.”

The pacing distance became shorter and faster, “Because she was in hiding with these ‘X-Men’. Kate was wiped also, lying in a HYDRA base dying. A few days later she and her daughter are saved. The X-Men tell her that she is sick, and her child is in danger. Of course, she goes with them, its basic survival. She knows her family is high profile. She can’t go home, her own name would bring too much attention outside the safe confines of the school, so she stays. Why didn’t you ever try to undo it?”

Director Fury was highly offended by the question, “That is just a dumb ass question Stark. Of course, I investigated it. I investigated the hell out of it for ten long years. Don’t you think that I wanted to bring them home? Tell Clint everything and reunite his family? Take Laura in for questioning and see who else is involved within the agency? “

Feeling the anger and frustration coming to a boil, Tony yelled, “You could have done all of that. You could have at any point pulled everyone in off their missions and precious covers and undo the wipe.”

Nick matched Tony’s volume, “Yes, I could have done that, if we have the ability, but at what price? How many missions would have been compromised in the meantime? How many innocent people would have been killed or worst while S.H.I.E.L.D. shut down to cater to our own needs? Who else in the agency is in a cover like Laura’s who would tell their bosses about our “lunch break” and take advantage of it? To undo a wipe this big it would have to be done quickly without anyone knowing so the agency’s weakness doesn’t have time to be discovered. Not to mention that there isn’t anyone who could coordinate all the pieces precisely to prevent massive loss of personnel, and the general population.”

It was that moment that Tony ran out of patience. “No because the person who had that capability forgot she does and is now teaching a math class right down the damn road! For God’s sakes Nick, my daughter, and Clint’s wife was right down the God damn road this whole time!” Tony stopped yelling. He didn’t want to be so loud, he wanted to be clear and concise so that the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. could fully comprehend what he was going to say next, “I’m done, actually, I am the opposite of done, I’m starting. I am going to reverse the wipe, so you better find a way to ensure everyone’s safety cause it’s happening.”

“Um, is this a private conversation or can anyone join?” A voice inquired from across the room. Both men located the source in the form of Natasha Romanoff. The Black Widow was standing in the middle of the room. She had somehow not only gained access to the compound without anyone being alerted, but damn far into the room without either man being aware of it.

Tony was fast to regroup, “Natasha, how long had you been there?”

Continuing her journey to where Nick and Tony were, she matter-of-factly stated, “Long enough to know you guys are playing a dangerous game. Aren’t the stakes high enough as it is? Now you are withholding critical information from the man who is in desperate need for any of this to make sense to him?”

There were certain things that one doesn’t mess around with regarding Natasha. One being her missions, two being her weapons, and three and probably the most important, Clint Barton. Both Stark and Fury knew this, so Nick proceeded with caution. “Natasha, I was wondering when you would find your way here. A bit longer than I thought.”

Natasha knew that Fury didn’t mean it as a criticism of her abilities, “It wasn’t easy.” She started, “Secretary Ross had the hospital and airfields closely monitored. He has people stationed around the compound as well. There are check points set up and down every road that leads here. Oh, and did I mention that there are pockets of HYDRA agents dispersed around a five-mile perimeter?”

“In my defense, I knew about the Secretary’s men.” Tony revealed to the spy.

Fury added, “And I knew HYDRA would be tracking us.”

Romanoff waved it off, “Don’t worry, Steve has been looking for a rematch with HYDRA ever since our last mission. The intel was bad, by the time we got there, it was cleared out. He and Sam are taking care of it.”

Great Cap and Sam were in the area, that wouldn’t cause too much attention to the compound Tony told himself. “Did you by chance mention to Clint that you were heading that way?” Many of Tony’s theories had turned out to be accurate, he wanted to see if this last one kept his record intact.

In a roundabout way to confirm Tony’s assumption she replied, “So, it’s true, about Laura?”

It saddened Tony to know that Clint had been used as an informant by his ‘wife’ for ten years which had resulted in the failure of some missions. “Seems like it.” Addressing Director Fury, “before we do anything else, we have to tell Clint everything.”

Natasha snapped, “No, you’re not telling him.”

That was not the way either Nick or Tony thought the conversation would go. Natasha found Tony’s bar and started to look for something. Finding the item that she desired, she grabbed three shot glasses with her left hand and motioned to the men to sit down on the couch. Joining them, she placed a bottle of Stoli Elit Himalayan Edition vodka down. Natasha reminisced to herself as she arranged the glasses on the table and pour a sizable serving into each. Even with everything that had gone down with the Avengers, Tony still made sure to always have good vodka on hand. He had given Natasha a bottle of the same stuff a few years ago and she loved it. For a limited-edition brand, there didn’t seem to be any end to Tony’s supply of the liquor. Sliding a glass to both Tony and Director Fury she sat down in the armchair that faced the couch. “You are not going to tell him anything, I will. So, settle in gentleman. You are going to tell me everything you know or think you know, and we will drink our way through it.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen                                                 

 

“Thought I would find you up here. Couldn’t sleep?” Natasha asked stepping through the access door onto the roof of the compound.

Clint turned briefly, he was sitting on the ledge with his legs draped over the side, he knew she was there and had been for a while. He had abandoned all hope of rest after the twentieth kick from a sleeping Nate into his stomach. Rest was what he wanted, he knew sleep wouldn’t come. Clint only wanted to lay there and listen to the deep breaths of his children, knowing they were safe. The thoughts that plagued his mind were another barrier from any hope of a reprieve from reality. High places always exuded a feeling of safety and peace for the man.  “Sleep isn’t my friend right now. I needed to think.”

“Well, you sure have a lot of that to do.” She stated as she sat next to him and swung her legs over the ledge to mirror his stance.

Clint dropped his head, “Yeah, I know.”

Natasha scooted closer to Clint, bumping her shoulder into his. “How are you doing? I know, stupid question, but are you hanging in there?”

Lifting his head to look out over the tree line, he was honest, “Barely, if it wasn’t for those kids down there, I don’t know what I would do.”

“I do,” she told him as she tilted her head a bit and offered a smile. “You would still make it, just not in the emotionally or physically healthiest way.”

Moving away, he gave himself room to pull back one leg on to the roof top, so he could straddle the ledge and look at her. “Why are you here? It’s too dangerous.”

Tracing the mortar line between the stones that made up the ledge she sincerely asked, “Where else would I be? Remember, I was on the phone with you. I heard your voice, I spoke to Cooper. I know what happened, this is where I need to be.”

Hearing Cooper’s name made Clint think about his kids, who were all tucked into the master bed, refusing to sleep anywhere that their father wasn’t. Even the teenage Cooper wasn’t shy about his need to sleep in dad’s bed. A king size bed wasn’t big enough for four people and a puppy, but they made it work. Clint assumed that he had a few more nights of this before they moved to the beds that Rhodes and Vision set up for the kids in another bedroom. The weight of the fallout was heavy on him. The children, his children, were afraid to sleep alone, were afraid that he would go away like mommy did. Why did this all happen? They were a happy family two days ago. Everything was good, they were good. Why did it change in a blink? Looking at Natasha, he felt the walls come down. “Damn it Nat, what the hell happened?”

“I’ve been talking to people about that.”

Clint knew what ‘people’ she was referring to, he had been using the same source for the past twenty-four hours. “I know what S.H.I.E.L.D. says happened. We both know how much the truth is worth to them, nothing if there isn’t an advantage. The problem I have been experiencing, among a lot of other things, is that I don’t see the advantage anywhere.”

Natasha understood, they were trained to look for the advantage, the gain in any mission as a motivation. Clint was handling it all by looking at it as a spy, not a husband and father. “Cause the only party that gained anything was HYDRA. Tony and Fury have an outline of what went down damn solid. Odd, since no one can remember any of it.  They have witnesses and proof, it’s the details that are missing.”

There was an ever so slight slur in Natasha’s words that only a person who had the privilege of drinking with her numerous times over the years would have been able to pick out. “You’ve been drinking?”

“What I discussed with Nick and Tony was heavy. I don’t have to tell you that this whole mess hurts. Alcohol helped dull it a bit”

Clint had thought about a similar coping technique to help numb the pain. It was harder to do with kids running around afraid to let you out of their sight. “No, you don’t, I know.”

She would be lying to herself if she said that she was fully capable of doing this sober. Nat wasn’t drunk by any means. That job was being fulfilled by Tony, who was currently passed out on the sofa in the communal area. Any other night, she would have just called that ‘Tony being Tony’, but not tonight. Not after hearing everything that Nick and Tony told her. After that she didn’t blame Tony one bit for his actions. “Unfortunately, Clint, it is going to hurt a lot more before you totally understand the full scope of what happened.”

“See, that is where I think you are wrong. I know what happened, I was there, and nothing could hurt me more than that. ‘Tasha, I am being told that my wife of thirteen years was a HYDRA agent who was feeding intel back to the organization the entire time. Intel, she was getting from us when we thought my home was a safe place to talk. My home! Stark shows up and starts talking about the wipe and missing agents, and Laura supposes that her cover is about to be blown, so she poisons her own children, my kids, and starts killing people to escape. She hurt her own children, so she could get out, she knew I wouldn’t follow her if the kids were endangered. So, tell me, do I fully understand the full scope of what happened?”

Natasha took a deep breath, “No Clint, you’re not even close.”

He demanded, “Enlighten me.” Clint was done with the games that he and his family were pawns in.

Taking in the surroundings, Nat requested, “Let’s get off the roof and go inside.”

Natasha started walking back to the access door and realized that Clint was not following her. Turning around to ask again, he stopped her with a plead. “’Tasha, I don’t want to go back inside. You are stalling and removing me from any potential danger because you are afraid of what I am going to do. I’ve known you long enough to know that I should be a little more than concerned if you are afraid.   So, away from everyone else, especially my kids, please just tell me.”

Natasha justified to herself, it was Clint’s life, he should be the one making the calls on this. “Ok, how do you want to do this?”

Understanding that she was giving him control about how the information would be given only heightened his concern of what he was about to be told. “Rip the band aide off. What about Laura?”

Nat braced herself as she broke her best friend’s heart, “HYDRA. Always has been. Our best intel suggests that they had been trying to get someone into the chain of command for a while. Fury saw potential in you, and had Coulson starting to train you to be able to one day be Director. Then, after S.H.I.E.L.D. conducted a mission in Africa in 2008, the World Security Council’s HYDRA connection was discovered. That was the reason for the wipe, it was to cover their own asses. The HYDRA people inside the Council gave the organization a twelve-hour window to set up their people inside S.H.I.E.L.D, and establish the cover for Laura, complete with family, at the farm. After that clock ran down, they wiped us. They knew that after a wipe no one would question your wife and children being anything other than what they said they were, and the Council would still be intact.”

“Set her up at the farm complete with family? No one would question my wife and children being anything but what they said they were. So, what were they?” Clint asked not completely sure he wanted the answer.

Natasha knew what was going on in his head, “Clint, Cooper is your son. I promise you that. S.H.I.E.L.D. and Stark have the proof if you need to see it.” She knew that Clint wouldn’t, Cooper’s weren’t the results he would want to see. “But, Laura was not your wife, and never was.”

Thinking back to his conversation with Tony the day earlier, Clint reluctantly conceded to the theory that Stark danced around. “Katherine Bishop.”

The Black Widow was stuck on the way Clint had said the name. It was as if he was ‘trying it on’, seeing if he felt anything as his mouth formed the syllables of his real wife’s name.  Reaching into her back jeans pocket, she pulled out a picture that Tony had requested she show Clint. He told her before he passed out that he had more when Clint was ready. Tony even had shown her Kate’s engagement and wedding rings he had found at their apartment. “Here.” She said as she handed him the picture that featured Clint and Kate at the Pyramids. She noticed a small tremor in his hand as he reached for it.

“What’s this?” Clint asked as he pulled the picture towards him to view. All Nat did was raise her eyebrows and gesture for him to look. Looking at the picture he was speechless. Part of his head screamed that the photo had been altered, the other part knew that if Natasha was showing it to him, then it was real.  Finding his voice, “When was this taken?”

“My best guess would be sometime between 2001 and 2005. Kate was recruited around 2001 and it would have taken some time before she would have been ‘mission ready’, and Cooper was born in 2005. That ring she is wearing is your engagement ring to her.”

Holding the picture closer to inspect the ring, “How do you know that?”

“Tony and Pepper went to your old apartment.” Lifting her hand to block any interruption attempt. “Tony told you already about the building. After he left the farm, he went there. The room that he assumed was yours and Kate’s had the rings on the dresser.”

It was all surreal, he was looking at the face of a stranger in the picture. However, this woman wasn’t a stranger, it was his wife and the mother of his child, and he felt nothing. The man in the picture was young and happy, obviously in love with the woman he had his arms around, and still nothing. “So, Tony was correct, Cooper’s mother is, or was, Kate?” Knowing what Tony’s relationship with Kate could be, Clint would need more details later. Now he needed to ask the hardest question he would ever have to ask, or so he hoped, “and Lila?”

Natasha prepared herself mentally, ‘shit, here we go’. “Lila isn’t your daughter, at least not biologically. Director Fury believes that Laura was faking her pregnancy after the wipe. While we were away on that mission, HYDRA found a newborn and gave to her to pass off as yours. The whole ‘she was born early’ story was just a way for them to place the baby without anyone being suspicious.”

Lila was his child, blood or not. He knew that in his heart, but it didn’t cause the truth to hurt any less. There were some components surrounding Lila’s birth that still needed to be made clear, but it could wait. Cooper’s birth happened during the forgotten time of the wipe, so he could only assume he was there. He knew he was not present at Lila’s birth for numerous reasons, the biggest one being that Laura didn’t give birth. However, he was there every second, from water breaking to final push for his youngest’s arrival. “And Nate?”

Relieved to finally provide some good news, Natasha informed her best friend, “Yours, and Laura’s. He is the only child that you two biologically share.”

“Why?” For such a small word, it carried so much weight for Clint. He understood why Laura was placed. The question now was why the children had to be involved.

“The working theory is that they used Cooper to complete Laura’s cover. Cooper knew you, he was three. Him running up and calling you daddy with Laura waddling behind pregnant with baby number two, damn Clint, it was a good cover.” Natasha had to admit. “No one thought anything about it. We all lost our memories. Even if after the wipe you were doubtful of the story, a test would prove Cooper was your son. You really wouldn’t be able to believe Cooper without believing Laura. Laura was placed so as you rose in the ranks, she was privy to more classified information to feed HYDRA. A prime example is when Nick faked his death and hid out at your place. Laura told her people that he was still alive, and they jumped him outside of town. Of course, Fury survived, and the pieces started to fit about who was a mole. Laura had to create a blood cover to secure herself.”

Walking away from her, Clint went to the ledge once more. He stopped to place the picture of himself and Kate gently down on the ledge as if it was made of thin glass. He then paused for a moment. Natasha thought briefly that Clint just needed time to process the life altering information he had received. The thought was dashed when he started slamming his fists repeatedly into the ledge and let out a scream that crushed her heart.

Staying still in her place, she gave him the space and time he needed to vent his frustrations. Hoping that the people who were still up and walking around the compound would do the same. The last thing Clint needed was a bunch of concerned agents running up here and asking questions. Clint would need medical attention after he was done. He was hitting the stone ledge so hard that there was a sound created on impact. Knowing the Clint would refuse all medical assistance, Natasha put money on her ability to guilt him into it because of the children. Knowing that he would have to explain his injuries to the kids may be enough for him to cover the bruises and cuts up.

Regaining composure, Clint turned back to Natasha, “They grabbed a baby and called her mine, so a cover could be strengthened. That wasn’t good enough, so HYDRA told Laura to conceive her own child with me, because the cover was compromised. Nate’s entire existence is due to a mission’s objective and not a product of a loving marriage.” She knew he wasn’t saying it to her, he just needed to say it out loud to wrap his mind around it. “HYDRA put hands on my son Nat. They had to move him from where ever he was at the time to Iowa before they did the wipe.” Clint would kill any HYDRA agent he found from that day on, for that very reason.

“That part is still unclear. We don’t know where Cooper was before the phone call from Laura asking you to come home for the weekend.”

“Wasn’t he with Kate?” He didn’t know why he assumed that. Guess it just made more sense in his head that if HYDRA was going to do a ‘wife swap’, they would need Kate and Cooper.

“No, in fact that is the only hard proof we have. Kate was on a mission to the Sandbox, the HYDRA research base in Africa.  Director Fury has her electronic signature on an intel transfer from the lab to an anonymous database on that day. After the wipe you and I ‘came to’ in the hallway, remember?” Clint nodded, trying to sort the timeline out in his head, “We were injured, Fury thinks we were also on the mission, but came back to headquarters to regroup and go back out.”

That was a huge assumption on Director Fury’s part, Clint alleged, “There could be as many as ten active missions going on simultaneously at S.H.I.E.L.D. on any given day, what makes Fury think that we were all on the same mission?”

“It is highly doubtful to anyone that knows you, that Kate would have been on that particular mission or any mission really, without you as back up.”

“Why? You just told me that there was a twelve-hour window to do everything in.” Twelve hours to deconstruct his life and reassemble it in HYDRA’s vision. There were too many moving parts in this conspiracy, the mission they were on, moving Cooper and setting up the farmhouse, now precious time was taken in the time allowance for Clint and Natasha to get back to S.H.I.E.L.D. without Kate apparently.  Remembering back to that day, Clint was in a sling, so there is more time subtracted before the wipe because he must have seen a doctor. “How could that be, all of that in twelve-hours? Whoever was coordinating the events before the wipe must have been highly skilled to ensure that everything and everyone lined up perfectly. Because one wrong move by anyone in this, would have caused HYDRA to fail. There had to already be people from HYDRA inside S.H.I.E.L.D.

Natasha agreed. “Yes, it is the only way HYDRA would have had all the intel they did to line up the wipe.”

That comment was all Clint needed to get off his line of questioning. There were people in S.H.I.E.L.D. setting up everything for the Council to wipe them. “After the wipe, Laura called to ask about if we were still coming for the weekend. I had to lie my way through it because I didn’t want to come clean about what had happened.” He couldn’t help but laugh. He remembered being terrified to tell Laura that he had lost his memories, memories of her.  His consideration of his ‘wife’s’ feelings were laughable now, she was in on it from the beginning. If Clint could afford the time, he would really like to evaluate himself, it was slightly concerning to him how fast Laura went from his loving wife who could do no wrong in his eyes, to his worst enemy, literally overnight. Natasha nodded to communicate that she remembered the phone conversation, and the visit to the farm afterwards. “Do you remember when she called, I found what I believed was Lila’s sonogram? How does that work with the time constraints? Someone would have had to place that on me. Again, that is a lot of work to do in little time.”

She knew that this was going to suck big time. “Clint, Kate was pregnant when the wipe occurred.” The look on Clint’s face upon hearing that was sheer horror, but Nat pushed on. “That was the sonogram you had in your pocket, it was your child with Kate. It wasn’t planted by HYDRA. Since Kate was also an agent, it’s doubtful that you kept your marriage and children a secret like you did with Laura. It makes sense that HYDRA’s people reported back that Kate was expecting again. You had the sonogram and Cooper was old enough to know that another baby was on the way. Laura’s ‘pregnancy’ not only cemented her cover, but it avoided any questioning by Cooper about a ‘new baby’.” Natasha remembered going to the farm that weekend, her first time it appeared. Cooper only wanted Clint, guess that mystery was solved now as to why. Natasha recalled Cooper running through the house talking about the new baby that would be there soon.

Clint was thinking the same thing, “I remember Cooper talking about ‘Mommy’s new baby’.” Bringing his hand up, he rubbed his forehead. “God damnit Natasha, he was talking about Kate! Cooper was attached to me for weeks because the woman who said she was his mother wasn’t and the kid was confused. And this whole time I thought it was my fault because he was picking up on my emotions.” The pain was visible on Clint’s face when he lowered his hand as he fully realized the pure hell his three-year-old was put through, and Clint’s ignorance of it at the time. “Why was Kate on a mission if she was pregnant?” It wasn’t as if Kate would have been the first agent who became pregnant working at S.H.I.E.L.D., but there were policies to follow in those cases, or so Clint thought there were. The main one being that the agent was almost automatically placed on desk duty until after delivery. Why was it different for Kate?

Natasha moved towards him, getting closer, but still permitting him his space. “The Director believes that Kate was ‘necessary personnel’ on the mission, pregnant or not. He would have put you and me on the mission as well to cover her and ensure she got through it. Plus, and this is my own two cents, I don’t think you would have been able to just sit back and listen to the communications of the mission knowing she was there, you would have wanted to be the one to take point and make sure she was always covered.  And I would have gone to keep you in check.”

Natasha was damn right he would have been there. If asked, he didn’t even think he would have trusted Natasha enough to go in his place. Knowing himself, Kate’s safety would have trumped any mission objectives in his mind. So, what went wrong? Kate was gone, and so was the baby. The hits kept coming. “And we failed.”

“Didn’t fail the mission, and that was because of Kate. She did her job.” Natasha offered knowing it wouldn’t be of any comfort to him, not now, knowing what he had lost.

She was right, it didn’t help him at all knowing the mission was a success because he responded, “But, I didn’t do mine.”

“HYDRA tracked her to within the lab of the Sandbox base. The base’s communication lines were open and streaming live to the database to be stored, a database that only a few knew about. Fury has the entire recording when you want to hear it.” She would beg him not to but knew Clint would. “They knew where she was, and unfortunately, she was right next to a reactor that was storing the gamma radiation raw materials before it was added to the serum. They couldn’t get to her fast enough to stop what she was transferring, and she was transferring vital information. Information that would expose the Council, show the research and experimentation that HYDRA was doing on humans. The intel was imperative for the protection of not only S.H.I.E.L.D., but the world.” Natasha thought that knowing the stakes in the mission would help Clint compartmentalize the sacrifices that were made. “They weren’t able to get to her to stop what she was doing, but they could push a button and blow her and the file transfer up, along with their lab and all the progress they had made up to that point.” Taking a deep breath and looking up to the sky she excused their actions after the explosion more for herself than Clint, “Clint, we probably didn’t even know HYDRA was going to do it, we just found ourselves in the middle of an explosion. We weren’t killed or taken so it’s easy to assume that we were not in the room with Kate. Probably stationed somewhere close, but not with her. That big of a blast, S.H.I.E.L.D. must have put her as Killed in Action, and had us withdraw.”

The dream of him pounding on a door and screaming reappeared in the forefront of his mind. It wasn’t a dream, it was a flashback to right after the explosion, when Clint lost everything and everyone in one fiery moment. The scenes flashed before him again, this time he could make out that it was Kate’s name he was screaming. Why the hell was she on that mission, it didn’t matter to Clint if she was ‘necessary’ or not, she shouldn’t have been there. The baby shouldn’t have been there. The reality of what he had lost tightened in his chest making it difficult to breathe. It was not only the wife and child he had lost, but also any memory he had ever had of them. It was beyond cruel. He had to sit down before he passed out. Scanning around, he saw nothing nearby, and the ledge was not the best option right now. The roof was covered in rocks for rain collection, deciding it was better than nothing he sat down on the roof top leaning against the ledge as support. “I didn’t protect them.”

Natasha watched as Clint processed everything. The man had lost two wives in a matter of hours, and both to HYDRA. The unknown baby was just the cherry on the top of a disgusting sundae.  Kneeling in front of him, she took Clint’s face into her hands. “Clint, they are alive. Both, alive.  Nick has seen them himself.” The was a flicker of something in his eyes. He was a dead man coming back to life.

Not trusting his brain yet to complete full sentences, he put out the two words that stopped the world from spinning, “They’re alive?” Seeing her smile as an answer, she then released his face. His head was finally clear, “Damn it Nat, start with that information first!”

A quick reevaluation of their conversation caused Natasha to see his point, she did not do this in the best way. “You said ‘rip off the band aid.”

Clint leaned his head against the wall and let out a sigh, “Yeah, but most people don’t poke at it to make the wound reopen.” Thinking about what he was just told, he asked Nat, “If S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t know about the mission because it was before the wipe, and Kate was wiped from all records, who got to her?”

Deciding to take the pressure off her screaming knees from the kneeling, Natasha shifted back and sat down across from Clint, “There is a group, they are called the X-Men. They heard that HYDRA was experimenting with Banner’s serum on humans, trying to create mutants. That was what the mission in Africa was. It was a planned attack on The Sandbox to put an end to the experimentation.” She stopped her explanation, looking for some comprehension from Clint. His eyebrows rose as a cue for her to continue. “First, they just let S.H.I.E.L.D. handle it, and the explosion happened. We were probably getting ready to go back out to finish the job and to find out what happened to Kate when the wipe occurred. We were clueless the attack even happened, so we obviously wouldn’t know that there was still some clean up or even a rescue/recovery mission planned.” She was trying to give Clint all the information that would allow him to let himself off the hook for leaving her there, even though Natasha knew this was going to be a cross Clint would now carry the rest of his life. He left his wife and child behind. He would never forgive himself. “A week after S.H.I.E.L.D attacked and days after the wipe, the leader of the X-Men, a Charles Xavier saw that there was still a mutant there. He can see where any mutant is at any time by using a special machine. He sent his team to investigate and save anyone they could.”

Clint didn’t know anything about the X-Men, he had of course heard the team name from his time in S.H.I.E.L.D. but that was as far as his knowledge went. “They found Kate?”

Looking up from the tiny rock tower she was building on the roof, Natasha clarified, “They found Kate and the baby.”

Shocked at the inclusion of the baby in the rescue, Clint asked, “She had the baby in the lab?”

Dramatically knocking over the tower with the back of her hand Natasha decided to start with a disclaimer, “We are working with limited intel. Everything we know after the wipe is provided from Fury and Stark’s research and by the X-Men. The X-Men’s information is the combination of talking to Kate and interrogating HYDRA goons after the raid.  HYDRA possibly matched Laura’s ‘pregnancy’ up with Kate’s since you had the sonogram. That means Kate would have had to be in her third trimester at the time of the mission. The explosion caused injuries to Kate, and she went into labor. HYDRA delivered the baby in the Sandbox, the part they didn’t blow up.”

Clint didn’t see why HYDRA would take time after an attack to deliver a baby, their humanitarian effort was not what the terrorist organization was widely known for. “Why go through all the trouble of delivering the baby and keeping them alive?”

 “Kate was the golden goose that HYDRA didn’t even know about until they had her. It was the set up to a perfect storm. Kate was the only person who knew of HYDRA’s penetration into the Council and S.H.I.E.L.D., they didn’t know about the hidden database. HYDRA deleted all the agency’s databases going back seven years, all the ones they were able to access. That erased not only Kate but anything they assumed she transferred during the mission. HYDRA would still be in the clear by eliminating her. No one would be looking for her, because no one knew about her. She was your wife, and a valuable agent, the wipe gave them the opportunity to replace her with Laura. Her surviving the blast and gamma radiation, as well as her child is probably the only reason HYDRA didn’t take her out when they found her. Like I said, perfect storm.”

“That doesn’t add up to me Nat. If there were any mutants in the lab, they would have been terminated with the blast. That is unless they were like the Hulk, and in that case, they would have been pissed. We would have never made it back to HQ alive. And how the hell did Kate and the baby survive a detonation like that?”

“I didn’t say mutants Clint, I said Xavier saw that there was still a mutant there, singular. How Kate survived, I have no idea, but neither did HYDRA. Most of HYDRA’s experimentation of human subjects failed as soon as they were injected with Bruce’s serum. The ones that could have in any way been labeled a success were taken out in the explosion. The data Kate transferred prior to the blast suggests HYDRA was researching the X-gene but didn’t have any subjects with the chromosome mutation to confirm it was the key to successfully being able to administer the serum, so HYDRA was over joyed when tests confirmed the baby had it.”

None of what Natasha was saying was answering Clint’s questions, “A what gene?”

Natasha suppressed her laughter. She had said the exact same thing when Nick and Tony were explaining it to her. “An X-gene. It’s a mutation on the 23rd chromosome that causes a, well, a mutation or enhancement. It turned out to be a good thing the kid had it.  Fury was told that HYDRA was shocked that the infant was born alive after the explosion, even more so given the raw radiation exposure. Those two factors should not add up to either Kate or the child surviving. They worked quickly to do their tests to see if the X-gene was the child’s secret to being alive. HYDRA lost all their research, but it didn’t work anyway, so the kid’s DNA gave them a fresh start in the right direction to creating their own mutants. Due to their testing, the baby was ‘activated’.”

The terms ‘testing’ and ‘activation’ being spoken in the same sentence as ‘baby’ did not give Clint a good feeling. He was about to question what it meant when Natasha predicted his question and provided, “It was the only thing that saved the baby’s life. She was too premature and weak without it to have survived.”

“She?” Clint had stored and processed all the medical and science information for later follow up, the only thing he currently needed additional knowledge on was the child.

“Yeah, she. Her name is Charlotte.” Natasha provided.

 “And Fury has seen them, Kate and Charlotte? Where?”

Natasha worked fast to recall the details of the mutant school, “With the X-Men in Westchester County. They run a school up there for mutant children and serve as a haven for mutants. The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters.”

“Westchester County, like in New York? That is maybe thirty minutes up the road.” Clint calculated as he stood up and extended his arms to assist Natasha up.

The irony of how close Kate was to the Avengers’ base did not go unnoticed by Natasha. “Yes, it is. HYDRA is still looking for them, so it was the safest place for them to be. Kate is apparently a teacher there and Charlotte is a student, so she can learn how to control her mutation.”

Upon hearing that his newly discovered family was in danger from the terrorist organization, Clint started planning, “HYDRA is still looking for them?”

Natasha clarified, “They are looking for Charlotte. They believe the secret to Bruce’s serum is in her blood. The interrogation ten years ago provided the intel that HYDRA was scanning for gamma signals, so they know where she is. It is the X-Men’s educated guess that as soon as Charlotte takes one step off campus, HYDRA will attempt to grab her. Fury thinks HYDRA has stepped up their game. Did you ask Laura about Kate?”

Clint nodded. That is what sparked this whole damn thing. The mention of Kate to Laura. Him telling Laura that Kate was Tony’s daughter and he was searching for her was the start to Laura’s cover being blown. She knew enough to understand that when Tony sunk his teeth into something, he didn’t let go. Add to the fact that Tony had brought Clint in to it, and the missing toothbrushes, it was just a matter of time before Laura was exposed. “Last night. It was after Tony questioned me about it. I thought that maybe you or I mentioned something at home about her that Laura may remember.”

“That would support Fury’s claim as of why HYDRA is stationed all over the outsides of the compound. They are waiting for you or Tony to bring Kate and Charlotte here.”

“HYDRA is outside the gates?” How did he not know about that? Clint really needed sleep, he was off his game, for several reasons.

Natasha added, “So are Secretary Ross’ men. They are hoping that your family drama will cause Steve and me to come out of hiding. It is very crowded out there. Steve and Sam are working on ‘crowd control’.”

“Ok, so, that is a hell of a lot of information. I do have a few follow up questions obviously. However, before I start that, is there anything else I should know?”

“Nothing that I can think of...” Then it hit Natasha, hard, there was one more critical piece of information that needed to be conveyed. “Yes, there is, while Charlotte was enhanced because of the gamma radiation exposure, Kate was…poisoned.”

“Come again?” How someone like Natasha could forget to provide that information was beyond him.

“Kate has gamma radiation poisoning from the explosion. That’s why HYDRA didn’t just kill her after she delivered. They wanted to see the effects of that much poison on the human body. The X-Men got to her and have been keeping her alive all this time with some type of medication.”

There was so much wrong with everything Natasha had just said, but Clint was able to pull out the life-threatening relevant intel, “But the medication is working?”

Being quick to reassure him, Natasha said, “Yes, but she has to stay close to the school because the dosage needs constant monitoring to be efficient.”

As far as bad news went, Kate needing to take a pill or two wasn’t a major issue. Clint could work with that, well he would have to. Moving on, he asked, “So, Charlotte, she like a mini Hulk? Is she green?”

Natasha was puzzled, “What?”

“You said it was the raw form of Bruce’s serum. That’s how the Hulk was created. She must go to a special school to learn how to control her mutation. What is her mutation?”

That was a good question she thought to herself, then admitted, “Shit, I never asked.” Clint moved quickly past her to the access door, “Wait where are you going?”

Answering over his shoulder, “Thirty minutes up the road, I’ll be back before the kids wake up. Do you mind watching them?” He stopped, remembering something, “and take the dog out please.”

Running after him, she reached the door before Clint did and placed herself between it and him. “You can’t just go up there in the middle of the night and demand a woman and her child who have no idea who you are. That shit is what makes up police dramas on television.” Pausing for a moment she added, “what dog?”

Conceding that Natasha may be right about what he was about to do, he stopped trying to get to the door. “So, what do I do? Just let it go, or wait for something to happen to them, again? Nat, you said it yourself, HYDRA is looking for them.”

Releasing the force she had on the door, Natasha caught her breath, “They aren’t looking for Charlotte, they have known where she and her mother have been for ten years. HYDRA doesn’t have the ability to go up against the X-Men. HYDRA is waiting around for you to do exactly what you were just about to do. Get emotional and attempt to take your wife and child off the school’s campus. Don’t do the bad guy’s work for them Clint, think smart. I’m not saying let it go, because there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of you doing that. Director Fury is arranging a meeting with Professor Xavier to discuss everything. Just wait until Fury provides us with additional information. He may even still be up, he was walking around the compound after our little ‘debriefing’.”

“Yeah, that debriefing I can smell from here.” Natasha moved her head back in offense, then put her hand up to exhale on it, smelling it, she knew Clint was right. Rolling his eyes at how easy it was to distract her, he pulled at another lose end, “How did Tony handle it?”

“Not well at all.” Nat informed.  “He wanted to do the same thing, march up to the school and demand to see Kate and Charlotte. Tony is even threatening to undo the wipe, screw the consequences.  The Director has talked him down and asked him to wait until the meeting. Fury is trying to get it set up for tomorrow, knowing that neither of you two are going to wait more than that. Tony didn’t like being told to wait, so he did what Tony tends to do, and as a result, he is passed out on the couch in the common area.”

Dropping his head, then lifting it, Clint asked, “It is true? Tony is Kate’s father.”

Tony spoke openly about it downstairs, and the way he was saying it gave her the impression that Clint was aware. “It is true.” Natasha confirmed, “Tony not only had Cooper’s DNA, why he had it I don’t know, but at your apartment he also found Kate’s hairbrush.”

Taking a few steps back, Clint laced his fingers together and place his hands on his head.  “So, this has unbelievably gotten even worse.”

Nat understood what he meant, Stark was a liability. “I know, Tony acts on emotions. Fury has him on a tight leash though. I need you to think logically. Be the Yen to Tony’s Yang.”

Looking at her, Clint stated with a blank expression on his face, “I really need you to rephrase that, but that is not what I meant.”

Natasha combed through everything that was developing and could not come up with the threat Clint was referring to. “Really, I can’t think of anything that could possibly be worst then what we are dealing with now.”

Dropping his hands to his sides, he walked back up to her, “I can, Tony Stark is my father-in-law.”

~~~

The communal area was dark with only accent lightening casting shadows across the room. The bit of light allowed Clint to make out the sleeping figure of Tony Stark. He was carrying a tray that contained everything Clint and Tony would need for their conversation. A fresh pot of coffee balanced on the tray along with everything anyone could want to go along with it. Alcohol was Natasha and Stark’s way to cope and deal with stress. Clint’s was more caffeinated. He was sure to include in the coffee accessories, Stark strength pain reliever for the monster hangover Tony was sure to have.

Quietly with the grace of the spy he was, Clint set down the tray and poured two cups. He had been sure to have four in case Natasha and Nick showed up. Placing everything within arm’s reach from the couch, he looked towards the window. Clint thought about Steve and Sam out there taken on the numerous enemies that surrounded them. He would have to go out in the morning and locate them. They were here and in danger from the Secretary because of him and his family.  Natasha had already come in, and he fathomed from the pass out form of Tony, the two had made up over the Accords issues. Next, he would have to talk to Tony about bringing Steve and Sam in. He had a few ideas of where Wanda was, and would reach out later. He knew that Vision would appreciate that.  HYDRA was a player in this, and Clint needed all his friends and allies on board with him before his next move. Throwing himself down on the end of the long couch with great dramatics, so that the impact would wake the man, Clint loudly informed, “Wake up Stark, we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Fifteen

Feeling himself being thrown up into the air, Tony was jostled awake, and quickly moved into a sitting position with his feet on the floor. Clint reached him before Stark could activate the Ironman suit. “Whoa, whoa, Tony is just me.”

“Barton? What the hell?” Tony looked around the room wondering why he was not in his bedroom with Pepper lying beside him, then he remembered – vodka. Returning to Clint he saw the man shake two pills out of a bottle into his hand and stretch it to Tony. Nodding his thanks, he took his medicine and was surprise to see that now Barton was offering a cup of coffee. This gesture could only mean one of two things, Natasha was behind him about to slit his throat and was using Clint as a distraction, or Natasha had done as she said she would, and had spoken to Clint. Betting on the latter, he asked, “Nat talk to you?”

Grabbing the second cup of poured coffee, Clint leaned into the corner of the couch between the back cushion and armrest, angling his body so he could see Tony, “Yeah, we spoke. Thanks for not calling Ross on her.”

Assessing the man before him, Tony thought Clint looked aright. He appeared tired, but that was going around. No one would have suspected that this man before him had just had his entire life transformed in the past hour. He discerned that Clint was just holding it together, putting on a front. It was the right call having Natasha tell him, she probably handled it better than Tony or Nick would have. The fact that Clint didn’t jump off the roof or do something to the compound was reason enough for Tony to keep Nat around in the coming days.  Somehow, she had managed what Tony thought was the impossible, but he wasn’t going to tell Barton that. “Who said I didn’t?”

Stating the obvious, Clint pointed out, “She’s still here, which means there isn’t a threat to her inside these walls. She also told me that Rogers and Wilson are out there beating back HYDRA.”

“Well, everyone needs a hobby.” The bitterness was unmistakable in Stark’s voice.

Clint ignored the tone, “Yeah, but people don’t come out of hiding for a hobby. They came out because I was in trouble. We could use some help in the coming days. There’s a fight coming Tony, I can feel the heat of it moving in.”

“You can feel the heat? Who says that?” However, Barton was correct, and Tony knew it. “Who do you suppose this fight is from? The X-Men, Secretary Ross, or HYDRA? Take your pick, there are all a potential fight waiting to happen.”

“I doubt the X-Men will do anything unless we provoke a fight with them.” Clint realized how close he had come to doing that very thing just minutes ago. Who knew how it would have ended if Clint had driven up there and demanded to see his newly discovered family.

Tony thought about the group, the X-Men had never contacted the Avengers. They had similar goals, but each stayed in their own corners and didn’t interfere with the other. “They could even be potential allies if we play this right. Like you said, we could use the help. People that protected Kate and her girl against HYDRA for ten years would probably be more than willing to join up, if only to protect the investment.”

“We could use any help we can get on this one. I don’t know if S.H.I.E.L.D. is a dependable resource to tap or not. Do you believe the data dump uncovered every HYDRA agent in S.H.I.E.L.D.?” Clint asked.

Shaking his head as he took another sip of coffee, Tony theorized, “No way in hell did it get rid of all of them. I don’t like kicking a man when he is down Clint, but Laura? And I think we are lying to ourselves if we truly believe that she was the only HYDRA informant looking to get access to Charlotte and Kate under the ruse of being a S.H.I.E.L.D. ally.”

“Good point.” Since the recent events, Clint had grown to suspect a few individuals from within the halls of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the little time between his discussion with Nat and coming down to speak with Tony, he had become wary of the entire organization. What would prevent S.H.I.E.L.D. from doing the same thing to Charlotte that HYDRA wanted to do? Of course, they would justify it to him as ‘research’ and ‘noninvasive’, things he had heard them lie about before. “You know, my first instinct after Nat told me was to drive up to Westchester and speak to Kate.”

Tony had wanted to do the same thing, but Fury requested for the X-Men to tell Kate. There was no way to predict what the news would do to her condition, and they were the best people to gauge her reaction and act accordingly. Tony wondered if Clint had taken that into consideration. He wasn’t judging the archer, just wanted to know his angle. “What changed your mind?”

“Natasha, she didn’t think it was an excellent idea to do late at night, or is it early in the morning? Damn, I need to sleep. I can feel that I’m off my game.” Refilling his coffee, Clint downed the freshly poured cup in one swig and filled it again. “Probably be smart to get some rest before the meeting, whenever that is going to happen.”

“Not trying to ‘one up’ you or anything, but I haven’t known the date since before I got to your farm that day.” What day, he had no clue. Clint was right, everything was running together, and they would be of no use to their cause if they couldn’t even track day and time.

A silence fell between the two men, it wasn’t awkward or comfortable, it was just silence. Both lost in their own thoughts, wishing different choices had been made years ago. Finally, Clint quietly said, “Tony, I’m sorry.”

While he always loved to hear someone apologize to him, Tony liked to know what it was for, “For what?”

Clint moved his head side to side, some audible ‘pops’ were heard, which caused Tony to cringe. “For not believing you when you told me.”

It wasn’t something Clint should feel the need to apologize for in Tony’s opinion. A crazy man showed up at his home and told him a story about some government conspiracies he thought up, and to top it off, stole his toothbrush. There wasn’t a sane person alive who would have believed it. “If it is any consolation, I wouldn’t have believed me either. And I’m sorry also.”:

Now it was Clint’s turn to be confused, “For what?”

“For being right.” This could be the most important conversation he had ever had. This would determine not only his and Clint’s relationship from here on out, but possibly the relationship he would have with Kate and Charlie. Every fiber of Tony’s body was telling him to take this seriously, it was not a joke, but then he ruined it, “And the vasectomy I am going to schedule you for once this is all done.”

Clint’s eyes widen at how quickly the conversation had changed from HYDRA to birth control. Drinking from his cup, he smiled at the joke, at least he hoped it was a joke. “That was low.”

Shrugging it off Tony confessed, “Yeah, well it was supposed to be. ‘Mister I have more kids than fingers’.”

Knitting his eyebrows together in puzzlement, Clint asked, “How many fingers do you have?”

Waving him off, Stark excused himself, “Lay off, I’m still drunk.” He resumed his position laying down on the couch with his hand covering his eyes, “What do you want?”

Taking another swallow of coffee, Clint coolly requested, “I need you to forgive Steve for the Bucky stuff and Accords mess. Bring him back into the fold.”

Pushing himself up with the support of his arms behind him, Tony kept his legs stretched out. He could not believe the words that just came out of Clint’s mouth, “Bucky stuff? Steve helped the man who killed my parents.”

Clint didn’t want to go through this all again, been there, done that, got arrested. “But he could help your daughter and granddaughter live.”

Shifting all his weight to his left arm, Tony used the right one to point at Clint. “Now, that was low.”

“Did it work?” Tony bobbed his head slightly as a ‘yes’.  Sitting completely up he ponder the need for another cup of coffee, having finished the first one. Clint was on his third cup and stated earlier that he hoped to get a few hours of sleep before the meeting. Tony wasn’t sure how that was going to work out but figured Clint had it covered. Deciding to forgo the coffee, he grabbed one of the water bottles that Clint had on the coffee tray, drinking half the bottle in one gulp he gave Clint his undivided attention, “Listen, I don’t know who to trust anymore. The one person I trusted with my life, my home, and my family turned out to be HYDRA. I know you are just as invested as I am in this, and Natasha will follow me to hell if I asked. But we are incredibly outnumbered here. We won’t know until we speak to these X-Men if they will help, but I know Steve would. No one knows HYDRA better then him. I would like to go out tomorrow and bring him and Sam in, but I won’t do anything that would upset you. This won’t work if you and I aren’t on the same page.”

Placing his right elbow on the armrest, Tony placed his forehead into his hand. He sat there filtering everything Clint had said. Running every possible scenario of how to do it without Cap didn’t get him close to the goals of the mission. “You’re right. I can’t believe I am saying this, but you are right, so go ahead, bring in the strays.” Throwing himself back into the couch, Tony covered his face with his hands and muffled, “You know, I hate HYDRA, like a lot.”

“Well, I think they are off the Barton Christmas card list.” Clint countered.

The actuality of Clint’s comment struck Tony as he uncovered his face, “I know you are making a joke, but the sad truth to that is they probably were on it.” Clint’s body stiffened, telling Tony that his comment was received in a way that was not intended. “So, I take it that we are not to the point yet where we can laugh about it.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Understood, I am sorry.”

Shaking it off, Clint replied, “No worries, you’re probably right anyways. The thing now is to protect Kate and the kids.”

“Well, they can’t get in here.” If there were any possibility of the security not holding up against HYDRA, Steve Rogers having a presence here would ensure failure of any attack attempt, Tony considered. “So that accounts for three of your progenies. We just have to find a way to get Kate and Charlie here.” Tony already had FRIDAY running schematics on improvements to the security system at the compound. He would need to find some time the next day to make each child a profile into the system, so FRIDAY would recognize them.

Clint was going to ask for access to the mainframe for reviewing FRIDAY’s security protocols, but the mention of the apparent nickname for his daughter caused him to lose his train of thought. “Charlie?”

Tony provided the explanation like the name was as natural to him as breathing, “Yeah, Fury told me Charlotte prefers to be called Charlie.”

“Huh,” Attempting to dislodge the lump in his throat, Clint brought his hand up to his mouth to cover a ‘cough’. “Nat didn’t mention that. Tony, what Nat did tell me about them, they can’t come here. Kate needs medicine and Charlotte, I mean, Charlie needs to go to school."

“The school is thirty minutes up the road. That is not a bad commute.” Tony was working under the assumption that everyone would stay and live at the compound like a big, happy, totally dysfunctional family. Tony wasn’t so far gone in his delusion to know that a discussion would have to happened between Clint and himself about relocation from Iowa. Kate would still be able to work, if she wanted to continue working, and Charlie could attend the mutant school, but Cooper and Lila would need to be placed in a school soon.

“No, it’s not.” Clint agreed, but supposed to himself, who said Kate would want to leave the school? They knew little to anything about Kate after the rescue, and here he was planning with Tony about her life without any input from her. What would their relationship take the form of once confronted again after years apart, would there even be a relationship?  Who was to say that either of them would want one. Without the memories, just because Kate and he were married long ago, didn’t necessarily mean they would want to stay that way. It was beyond strange for Clint to be referring to someone else as his wife. It had only been a day since the end of Laura and him. The end of his marriage to Laura, that was a concept Clint was still struggling to accept. Kate could have remarried and had more children like himself. What if she hadn’t?

That one ‘what if’ opened the flood gates and that became all Clint could think about. What if what Nat said was true, and Tony could undo the wipe, what if he couldn’t. What if he and Kate found that even without the memories, something was still there between them and they wanted to try to make a ‘go’ of it again? God, how was he going to handle the ‘two extra kids’ conversation? ‘Hey honey (did he call her honey?), sorry it took me so long to find you. Who are these kids? Well, interesting story there, this is my daughter, Lila, who was given to me by HYDRA to replace Charlotte, and this toddler who already hates you for not being his mother is Nathanial, my child with a HYDRA agent who usurped your place in the family for ten years without me questioning it at all.’ What if, Kate couldn’t accept Laura’s children after everything that had happened?  Using the little strength that he had left to control his voice, Clint summarized his internal monologue for Tony. “In the end it needs to be their choice. Right now, you and me, we are strangers to them. They have had ten years to build a new life, a safe one. After everything they have been through, I wouldn’t blame Kate for slamming the door in my face.”

From what Tony had learned about Kate, ‘being safe’ didn’t seem to be her priority. Without question, it was the priority regarding her daughter, but Kate appeared to be a fighter. “I thought I handled waking up in Afghanistan damn well, but I got nothing on giving birth in a HYDRA lab after being blown up. That Kate must be something special, to be able to survive all that.” Fury said that Tony should be proud of Kate. He had never met the woman, but she was already his greatest creation. Tony now understood the meaning behind the similar words his father recorded all those years ago for him, and with that, a part of him forgave Howard Stark.

He noticed that Clint’s face changed. Tony had seen the look before, many times, but it was usually staring back at him in the mirror, it was regret. “Torture aside, none of this is your fault.” Clint opened his mouth, but Tony wouldn’t let him speak, “No, really, none of this was your fault in any way. I didn’t know you back then, but I know you now Clint. I have been in battle with you, I have seen you with your kids, hell, I’ve even seen you with Laura. If you could have done anything on that mission to prevent what happened, you would have. You know that, so you got to let yourself off this one.”

“Easier said than done.” Tony had never heard Clint sound so defeated as he did saying those four words. Who wouldn’t sound like that after experiencing and learning everything the man had within a single day?

Tony decided to try the ‘tough love’ route, “Get it done then. This isn’t about you. You have three kids upstairs and one more down the road to protect. It’s not just Charlie you need to worry about. Do you really think Laura is not going to make a move for Nate? Who knows, maybe Lila also. HYDRA owes Laura for the job she did, and when she cashes in, we are in for a fight.  So, put down the cross Barton, we need the wood.”

Clint hadn’t considered Laura still being a player in the game, but Tony’s assessment of the threat was accurate. He had the responsibility to make sure his family was safe. “Maybe Kate won’t even want anything to do with me and the problem will solve itself. Everyone goes back to how they were, and I try to rebuild off the grid to protect the three I have. But shit, I have known about Charlotte for less than an hour, and I would swear upon anything you placed in front of me here and now that I would kill for her. I don’t think I could just walk away from her. No matter what my relationship is with Kate.”

“I get that.” Clint gave him a look that Tony could interpret immediately. “Before you start, yes. I have known about Kate for over thirty years and didn’t care or did a damn thing for her. However, this past week, learning everything about the wipe and the life she had. Finding out that she was a real person, with her own family. Not just an inconvenience of one of my many bad relationships.” Taking a deep breath Tony attempted to organize his thoughts, “It didn’t hit until I saw Cooper, I mean I really saw Cooper. The boy is my grandson, the child my child brought into the world.” Uncomfortable with how much he was sharing, Tony switched gears, “Don’t get me wrong Barton, I know you had a hand in that, and believe me when I say we are going to have a conversation about your intentions towards my daughter.”

“Tony, if the wipe never happened, Kate and I would have been married for over thirteen years, and we have had two children together. My intentions should be very clear.” Clint had no idea if that was true or not. He was going off Cooper’s age, but for all he knew, they could have gotten married before Cooper was born, shot gunned it, or years afterwards. All he could confirm was that a marriage took place at some point in time because Tony had the rings. On the plus side, Tony didn’t know the truth about when the marriage happened either. “I had a dream, at least I think it was a dream."

Interested by the random comment, Tony asked, “Yeah, what about?”

Clint thought it would show his trust in the Ironman, and if he was honest with himself, Clint wanted to talk to someone about the dream. Even before he found out everything with Kate, the dream had been in the forefront of his mind, “An explosion. I was separated from something that was really important to me, and I was banging on the door to get it to open. People were trying to get me to leave and I fought them off. I was screaming at this damn door while stuff was falling from the sky.” He broke off the recollection and looked to Tony, “I had it before Nat talked to me. After she told me about the Sandbox mission, I now think I was yelling for Kate in the dream. I felt scared. I’m never scared on a mission. Pissed, angry, paranoid, but never scared. Scared gets people killed. How is any of that possible if I was wiped?”

“Memories can be triggered. Regaining the full memory isn’t possible that I know of, but little bits here and there are.” Tony was fixated on Clint’s confession of being scared, only one possible scenario fit the dream, “You were probably recalling the Sandbox mission.”

“That’s what I thought as well. It fits I guess, watching my wife and child blow up in front of me.” Clint trailed off towards the end. Obviously, he was having trouble fully accepting the situation.

So, there they were. They had spoken about their hopes, regrets, and their fears about the situation their lives had brought them to. Clint was correct, they had the same goal, but that is where the similarities ended. Tony had always set out to design the world to his expectations and predicted the best results from his actions. In contrast, Clint took it as it came and prepared for the worst. A quick study of Barton’s life presented a good case for the fact that the man probably didn’t know how to hope. The one good thing that he could claim was his family, and that had been tainted. Clint wasn’t the ‘all eggs in one basket’ type like Tony, no, Clint was the ‘let me smash all my eggs and set the basket on fire before anyone else could’ type. Tony took it upon himself to put things into perspective for Barton. “Clint, I am promising you right now, and you have to believe me. Not only because I am your friend, but I am now your family. Like it or not, we are stuck together for life. I will find a way to undo this. Maybe you and Kate find your way back together, pick up right were you guys left off ten years ago. A real fairy tale ending to this story. Perhaps you don’t, and you resume the lives you are living, as much as that would suck for you, given your current situation. That’s the gamble you have to take. However, there are children involved, and this is non-negotiable, Cooper and Charlie deserve to know their real mom and dad, and you and Kate deserve to know your children. If in the end, that is all that happens, you guys co-parent, then I would still say the good guys won. But you have to try.”

Clint froze as he managed what Tony had just said, then needed additional time to comprehend that it actually was Tony Stark who had said it. “Wow Tony, that was good. Like really good, and deep. Did you practice that speech?”

Feeling the tension in the room lift slightly, Tony admitted, “A little. Remember I have had more time to process this then you.”

“Dad?” Simultaneously, both Clint and Tony turned left to the speaker. Standing there with a distressing expression on his face, which was clearly the result of hearing part of their conversation, was Cooper.

“Cooper, what are you doing down here?” Checking his phone, Clint saw it was two thirty in the morning. It was way too late to even think about having this conversation.

Appearing to be afraid to enter the room, Cooper stood there unsure of his next move. Deciding if he was going to get in trouble for walking around the compound late at night and eavesdropping on adult conversations, he should just put everything out there. “I was looking for you. Are you guys talking about mom? Did she do something wrong? Is that why we are here and she’s not?”

A long time ago, Clint had made a promise to his children, he would never lie to them. The job that he did was dangerous, and there was always the possibility that he would not come home. The kids had no control in the situation, so Clint gave them some. They could ask him anything they wanted or needed to with the knowledge that their father would always answer and answer truthfully. If the answer was ‘I don’t know’, the kids could take comfort in the fact that it was the truth and he wasn’t trying to hide anything from them. That’s not to say that there hadn’t been the occasion that Clint had to stretch the definition of ‘truth’. Such was the occasion he found himself in now. “In a sense.”

“Clint, just tell him. He deserves to know.” Both heads now flew to the right to see that Nick Fury had joined them. Their necks were going to break if anymore unexpected company arrived.

“How do people keep getting into this room without me knowing it? Clint aren’t you supposed to be some sort of super spy, how are they getting the drop on you?”

Clint defended himself against the critique of his skills, “Nick is the one who oversaw my training, and I taught Cooper how to enter a room undetected. Besides, told you, off my game.” Clint slid over towards the middle of the couch, leaving the end open, “Come here Coop.” The boy did what was asked. Watching his son sit next to him, Clint put his arm around Cooper’s shoulders and pulled him closer. He wasn’t stupid, nor was his son. Clint knew this conversation was going to have to happen eventually, but he was hoping for a little more time.

Nick walked into the sitting area of the room, “FRIDAY, lights please.” The three men on the couch all winced and shielded their eyes at the sudden illumination of the room. Taking an evil satisfaction in it, Fury went on, “I spoke to Professor Xavier again, they will meet us here tomorrow at ten o’clock.”

Tony had expected that Professor Xavier would meet with them at the school. The leader had probably done his homework and didn’t want Clint or Tony on campus without speaking to them first to see where they stood, or what they were planning on doing. “Who is they?”

Taking the seat across from the couch, Fury revealed details from his phone conversation, “Professor Xavier and Doctor McCoy.” Nick then focused on Clint, “I strongly suggest you tell Cooper what is going on, not only do I feel he is old enough, but it affects him. Clint, the Professor has asked to see him.”

Clint was taken back by the Director’s ‘feelings’ of what he believed his son was old enough for. Nick had been a pillar in his children’s lives, but the final ruling of what Cooper was able to handle at his age should be Clint’s call. Defensively as a father, and not a spy, Clint retorted, “We can discuss it after the meeting, once I have more information to work with.”

“Again,” Nick said through clench teeth, trying to control his temper and to emphasize his point. There was a time not so long ago when Clint wouldn’t question him, just trusted Nick to do what was right. Those days were gone. “I would recommend telling him now, because for starters, he is awake and did hear some of your conversation with Stark.” Nick had watched the private session between the two men, knowing that it was vital that they spoke. Especially about Clint convincing Tony to bring Steve in. He was waiting for them to finish before joining with his information about the meeting when Cooper interrupted.  “Also, when Xavier and McCoy go back to the campus to speak with Kate they would like to be able to inform her about Cooper and yourself.  It would behoove them to be able to say that they had seen Cooper, and he is safe. As I said before, Dr. McCoy is concerned about how the revelations will affect her medically. Assuring her that you and Cooper are alright, may be the key to deescalating any reaction she has.”

Cooper was watching everyone speak and growing more confused and anxious by the moment. It only increased when Nick argued about him needing to be told something that seemed to be important, and his father disagreeing. He had no idea who these people where or why they were coming for a meeting and why they would want to see him. Cooper could only assume the worst. “Tell me what? About mom?”

Clint took a deep breath in, holding it for a while before letting it out. His eyes were down casted to the floor as he decided what to do. “Alright.”

The last thing Tony needed tonight was to witness the destruction of his grandson’s childhood. The kid didn’t need an audience when he was told that his life was a lie, and not only did Laura leave him, but his real mom had no idea he even existed. Also, he really should go to bed. “I’ll leave you guys to it, I’m going to sleep this off, so I can be cute and annoying at the meeting tomorrow.”

As Tony stood he heard a quiet voice call behind him. Turning he was surprised to find that the voice belonged to Clint, who had yet to look up from an apparently very interesting spot on the floor. “Tony, please stay.” Finally lifting his head to face the room, he spoke up and elaborated on his request, “This is about you as well. Cooper may have questions for you.” Facing the Director across from him, “You too Nick, I may not have all the facts straight.” The four men sat in the communal area as Clint explained to his son the events that led them to the Avengers compound that day, and for the foreseeable future. With the assistance of Tony and Nick, Cooper was informed of a life he had lived in the city with another mother. A life that he was robbed of at an early age, all for a small role in a HYDRA performance. A captivating tale about spies, lovers, and enemies.

 

 

Chapter Text

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Chapter Sixteen

Pepper had purchased full wardrobes for the entire Barton Family. While Clint appreciated the gesture immensely, the clothes available in the high-end stores in New York City were not what the rural Iowan based family was accustomed to. Lila was on cloud nine and taking forever deciding on an outfit to wear for the day. Both she and Nate woke up around six this morning and decided that it was a fine time for their father to wake up at as well. It wasn’t the first time that Clint had been responsible for getting the kids up, dressed, and fed in the morning. However, this morning was taking forever to get everyone ready. When they arrived yesterday afternoon, everyone stayed downstairs, it wasn’t until the kids started to get sleepy that they came up to Clint’s rooms. When they got up to the apartment finally, everyone went straight to the bedroom. Now in the light of day, Nate and Lila had to investigate their temporary, and they were temporary Clint told himself, living quarters. At the Avengers tower, everyone had their own floor, here at the compound, apartments were provided. Each apartment had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen and living room. Rhoades and Vision had of course stocked the kitchen for them before they arrived, so Clint was able to make breakfast.

There was also a balcony overlooking the picture-perfect manicured landscape that the compound sat on. Someone had the foresight to put down grass patches and install a doggie door, for the dog to relieve himself. The access for the dog worried Clint, Nate was a curious child. Supervision was needed while the puppy was outside in case Nate decided to escape, and Clint couldn’t cook in the kitchen and watch Nate in the living room.  Picking up Nate and resting the child on his hip, he entered the bedroom, “Just pick something Lila. Everyone is hungry, and I need you to watch Nate while I cook.”

Lila’s head turned from the clothes laid out on the bed towards him in a motion that Clint could only compare to The Exorcist. “Fine”, she said in total annoyance at her father. She then grabbed some outfit off the bed and stormed the bathroom. Deciding that it was too early for her attitude, Clint walked away to check the second bedroom. Cracking the door just enough to peek in to see that Cooper was still asleep. Last night’s discussion was tough for everyone, but mostly for Cooper. Clint could honestly say that last night was the toughest night he had ever experienced. Cooper’s questions had ranged from simple ones about his family to more complex enquiries about gamma radiation. Clint, Tony and Nick had tried their best to answer every questioned posed by Cooper. In the end, he had agreed to participate in the meeting. Clint didn’t blame the boy at all when Cooper had requested to stay in the spare bedroom afterwards, saying that he wanted to be alone to think.  If either of the Barton men got any sleep, it was only for about two hours. Clint hated to wake the kid up, but they had a busy day ahead of them. Opening the door fully, Clint instructed, “Cooper start getting up. I’m making breakfast.”

Cooper stirred in his bed, “ok”.

Returning to the living room, Clint put Nate down and saw that the puppy had returned from outside. Relieved that he could lock the doggie door and allow Nate to wonder freely without fear of an accident, by either the dog or child. “Alright, I am now starting breakfast”, Clint announced to no one in particular.

He started to pull out some pans, thinking about making a simple meal of bacon and eggs for the family. “Dad, can you take a picture of my new outfit and text it to mom?” Lila asked from over the counter that separated the living room from the kitchen.

Clint deemed that the outfit she was wearing was actually very cute. She had picked out a pair of jeans that probably cost more than his first car, and a light blue peasant top that was decorated with beads along the collar.  The whole outfit was pulled together with a pair of tan moccasin style sandals. Lila looked to Clint for an answer to her request, while he was chanting repeatedly in his head, ‘Don’t lie to your kid’. There would have to be a conversation with Lila soon about what had happened. Just telling her the diluted truth that Laura wasn’t coming on this trip would only pass for so long. A talk needed to happen, but Clint couldn’t do it now. The notion that his schedule was too packed to be truthful to his daughter didn’t sit well either with him. He was torn and searching for a solution, it was Cooper that answered the question. “No, he can’t.”

Lila was just about to start up when Clint put a stop to the whole thing, “Lila, not now.” Again, he was stretching the truth. Where Lila would interpret the ‘not now’ to mean he would take and send the picture later, Clint meant it as in the conversation about her ‘birth’ and family was ‘not now’ happening. “Cooper be nice to your sister.” With that routinely uttered phrase, he felt somewhat better at the normalcy, and attempted to start cooking. Opening the refrigerator to get the eggs and other supplies that would be needed, Clint had to halt at his son’s rebuttal.

“She’s not my sister.”

The scene that played in Clint’s head was the red alarm going off in a submarine like in the movies, complete with the sound effect.  Shutting the door to the refrigerator emptyhanded, he growled in a low and dangerous voice towards Cooper, “Yes, she is.”

Cooper wasn’t going to give up, “Just like Laura was my mom?” Clint was worried about how quickly it went from ‘mom’ to ‘Laura’, but he was guilty of the same thing, swiftly going from ‘wife’ to ‘enemy’ in a matter of hours. There were a lot of emotions going on in the kid’s head, he would need to see someone about that, and soon. Clint checked himself for being a hypocrite about psychological services. However, this was a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do’.  

The confused look on Lila’s face brought him back to the present. Returning to Cooper he pointed towards the spare bedroom, “Room now!” Cooper didn’t need to be told twice, the kid turned heels and marched into the room with typical teenage grace, complete with a door slam.

“Daddy?” The ‘daddy’ versus the normal ‘dad’ killed Clint. Lila knew that something was going on. The vail was falling faster than he could keep up.

“Lila, would you please take Nate to the bathroom. Then pick out some clothes for him?” The distraction of clothes was all Lila needed to get off the track she was sniffing out. Clint paused to ponder if he was setting his daughter up to see clothes and shopping as a coping skill. Well, if one kid was going to be seeing a therapist, why not see if they had a multi-family member discount? Watching as Lila ushered Nate into the master bedroom, Clint turned and headed to the other room.

Reaching the door knob, Clint was thankful to find that it wasn’t locked. Opening the door, he saw Cooper lying in his bed staring up, looking like he was lost in thought. Clint sat down at the end of the bed and picked out a spot on the opposite wall to talk to.  “Coop, I know this is hard.”

Not taking his eyes off the ceiling Cooper replied, “You don’t.”

Clint could only put up with Cooper’s insolence for so long. “Excuse me? In case you didn’t notice, you are not the only one who had his life turned upside down. Yes, you have a lot to deal with right now, but buddy, so do I.” Exhaling loudly, feeling the pressure release from admitting that he was struggling also, Clint resumed, “What you just did out there, to Lila, was totally unacceptable. She didn’t do anything to you for you to treat her like that. You were told that Laura wasn’t your mom, but you now know that Kate is. You know where you fit, and where you came from.  Lila won’t have that, we don’t know where or who she came from. There is going to be a void for her that I don’t know can be filled.” Not receiving any feedback that his son was even listening to him Clint looked to him and asked, “Cooper? Say something.”

Cooper sat up in the bed and glared at his father, “Why didn’t you save her?”  Clint rapidly turned his head away as if the comment had physically hit him. Cooper’s question had been imprinted on Clint’s brain since he first heard about the failed mission. The mission was a success by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s standards but would always be a failure to Clint. Hearing his son ask him that was more then he could handle. It wasn’t bad enough that Clint would never forgive himself for not saving Kate and Charlie, but it appeared his son wouldn’t either, and he didn’t fault him for it. Summoning up all the courage he could to look at his son he saw tears streaming down the boy’s face.

That was it. Like Cooper, Clint had held back the tears. Hadn’t let one fall in this whole thing, telling himself to be strong. Cooper had done the same thing last night. There were plenty of times that Clint believed the boy would cry, but he held it together. The lump in his throat released and Clint let the tears fall. “I don’t know Cooper. I don’t know. I’m sorry, I am so sorry for this whole thing.” Cooper had never seen his father cry. The sight was scary, if his dad was acting this way, then they were in trouble. Wanting to do something, he moved to hug his dad. Clint grabbed the boy like his life depended on it. “I love you Coop, I failed you, I failed your sister, and I failed your mom.” All the walls came crashing down as the father and son held each other and cried.

“So, I am going to assume that things aren’t going well?” Both look to the door to see Tony standing there. He had a concern look on his face and a garment bag draped over his arm with a box under the other.

Releasing Cooper, Clint wiped his face with the back of his hand. “What gave you that impression?”

Tony lifted his arm that had the bag over it in front of him with the palm facing out, he moved the hand in a small circle towards the father and son, “this mess did.” He then turned to put the box down on the nearby dresser slowly, for the intended purpose of giving Clint and Cooper time to compose themselves. “I sent Lila and Nate downstairs with Pepper. Everyone is down there, so the kids will be supervised, well not everyone, Hill brought back a majority of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to headquarters this morning. Only a handful are still here, for protection Fury says. Vision made breakfast, and Lila said they hadn’t eaten yet and she was hungry.”

Lila complaining about not eating when she was a prime culprit in him not being able to cook made Clint smile a little, “Not by any lack of trying on my end. Every time I started, something happened.”

Still somewhat embarrassed by what he had witnessed between the father and son, Tony answered, “Yeah, I can see that. Hey, the guys and Pepper have volunteered to watch Lila and Nate while we are in our meeting.”

“Great, that solves that problem.” Clint didn’t want either of the two younger children there but didn’t want to explain to Lila why they couldn’t be at the meeting, but Cooper could. “I haven’t said anything to Lila yet, so I would prefer she not be within earshot of the meeting.”

Tony nodded in understanding of Clint’s dilemma, “Not a problem. We are going to hold it in my private office I keep here. Going for an intimate vibe with it, also sound canceling technology.”

“Sounds good. Thank you, Tony for everything.” Clint felt that he had been thanking people for the past two days. It was an unfamiliar position for him to be in, others stepping up and helping without being asked to. “I have a few things to do before the meeting, but I’ll be quick about it.”

“The prodigal son’s return?” Tony asked.

“Yes.” Clint responded, hoping that Tony wouldn’t recant on his earlier decision about Steve and Sam’s return.

Deciding that it was best to leave any ‘Captain’ talk for later, when Clint had returned with him. Tony addressed Cooper, “Cooper, Pepper made sure to get everyone clothes. Nothing formal, just everyday stuff. So, when Nick told me yesterday that he was going to get a meeting set up with the X-Men for today, I asked Pepper to order you and your dad a nice suit for it. I know your dad’s size from years of improving his uniform, but I had to guess on yours. I will get you a custom deal once things settle down. Shoes are in that box.” Tony pointed to the box he had just placed on the dresser and handed the garment bag to Cooper. “Clint, Pepper laid your gear out on the bed in your room.”

Cooper accepted the gift graciously, “Thank you, Mr.…Uncle…Tony…I’m confused, what do I call you now?” If anything that had transpired last night could be labeled ‘good’, it was Cooper’s acceptance of Tony being his grandfather.

Tony smiled, he was eager for this topic to come up by someone other than himself, “I was actually thinking about that when Lila called me Uncle Tony. Clint, we got to do something about who I am. I can’t have one of your kids calling me Uncle Tony and the other saying Grandpapa. That will get us a reality show of our own in five minutes.”

“Grandpapa?” Clint questioned with raised eyebrows and a grin on his face.

Tony returned the smile, “Like it? You have to say it with a European accent or it doesn’t work. I think the name screams class and dignity, don’t you agree?”

“Whatever, it is between you two, just keep it on the downlow until I speak to Lila please.” Clint said standing up and slapping his son on the back, “Come on, let’s get some food in you, and coffee in me. Once you have finished eating you can shower and dress for the meeting.”

~~~

Stepping off the elevator onto the communal floor of the compound, Tony, Clint and Cooper went straight to the kitchen.  Like Tony said, a lot of people had left. Only Natasha, Pepper, Rhodey, Vision, and Nick were there sitting at the table. Lila sat at the head of the table eating her breakfast, with Vision to her left, and Pepper beside him. Vision, from the looks of it was in deep discussion with both. Not being able to eat himself, he still liked making the meals and contributing to the conversation. Natasha was to the right of Lila with Nate in her lap feeding him. Clint noticed that the dog had made his way down and a water and food dish had been provided for its breakfast. A name for the animal really did need to be made a priority.

As Tony and Cooper made their way over to the food that was set up ‘buffet style’, Clint went right to the coffee skipping any actual food. As he was pouring the beverage he asked Cooper, “Hey, while I’m gone could you please talk to your siblings and name that dog?” Cooper smiled and nodded his head. “Nat, how do you feel about a walk in the woods. See what we can find, maybe something spangled?”

With a side glance to Tony, Natasha asked over Nate’s head, “You sure?”

“He’s sure, go with him to keep him out of trouble, would you?” Tony called over while making his own plate.

Pepper stood up to take Natasha’s seat next to Rhodey and to take over the feeding of the toddler. The eagerness of her actions made Tony suspect that Pepper had been waiting for an opportunity to hold Nathaniel again, but wanted to respect the Widow’s rare time with her namesake. Tony saw that the provided booster seat had been discarded onto the floor. It was highly doubtful that between Nat and Pepper that Nate would ever use it.

Natasha joined Clint as he drained his mug. Reaching into a container that was on the counter, she grabbed a handful of protein bars out and filled her pockets. Watching her, Clint placed the cup down, he started to search the cabinets for something. “What are you looking for?” Tony asked as he barely avoided a cabinet door to the face.

“Any thermoses?” Clint questioned, combing the area.

Vision got up, as he had said yesterday, he was enthusiastic to help.  He went to a specific cabinet and produced the desired item. “Clint, here you go.” Clint grabbed the thermos and thanked Vision.  Returning to his precious coffee maker, Clint started to fill the container up. He didn’t even notice that Vision had followed him to that area of the kitchen. In a low voice that it was unlikely that the others could hear, Vision queried, “Clint, if the true goal of your excursion is what I believe it to be, then would it be safe to assume that it is possible for Ms. Maximoff to be joining us as well?”

Twisting the top tightly on the thermos Clint responded, “That was a lot of words to ask if Wanda is coming back. But, yes, I am going to put Nat on it as soon as we get back.” Vision smiled and returned to his place at the table. Grabbing two more coffee mugs, Clint gestured to Natasha for them to leave.

“Those cups better come back Barton, they are part of a set.” Tony yelled as the two trained assassins left, and he sat down next to Rhodes. Cooper watched as he took Pepper’s earlier vacated seat.

Rhodes asked the room, “Are they doing what I think they are doing?”

Placing his napkin on his lap, Tony answered, “Yup.”

Rhodey continued, “But Ross and HYDRA?”

“Yup.” Tony repeated taking a bite of bacon.

“They didn’t take any weapons, just coffee.” He observed.

Swallowing a mouthful of orange juice, Stark confirmed, “Yup.”

Letting a deep breath out Rhodes concluded, “Ok, I just wanted to make sure I had a good grasp on the situation.”

“Yup”

~~~

It wasn’t that hard to locate Steve and Sam, just had to follow the ruins of HYDRA sites. They had left Secretary Ross’ people alone it seemed, knowing that any attack on them would send the Secretary to the compound’s door.  Finally, Natasha and Clint found an active one. Clint examined the site and determined where the most advantageous overlook would be, and voilà, there Rogers and Wilson were. Clint had them both jumping at least three feet in the air as he announced his and Nat’s arrival, “The people you run into while walking alone in the woods.”

Out of breath with the sudden shock, Steve smiled and extended his hand, “Clint.” He nodded to Natasha.

Shaking Steve’s hand then repeated the greeting with Sam, Clint asked, “Cap, Sam. How is the HYDRA hunt going?”

Sam placed both hands on his hips and reported on their activities as he looked over to the HYDRA cell below them, “Good, very good. We have taken out a few cells out here. But they are popping up faster than we can take them.”

Looking where Sam was, Clint commented, “Sounds like you need some help.”

Shaking his head, Steve rejected the offer, “You have enough going on with your family to be out here fighting.”

“You are out here fighting because of my family.” Clint countered as he produced the thermos of hot coffee. Nat was holding the two cups. “Steve, I’ve talked to Tony, he knows that you are a key player in this fight, and assistance is needed.” Natasha handed Steve and Sam each a cup. Clint poured the liquid gold into each and continued, “There are a lot of variables in this that you are not aware of. You can’t just fight this because it’s HYDRA, you have to know the mission.”

“Nat filled us in, we know Ross and his men are out here too. Real sorry about your, um, Laura.” Sam awkwardly offered as he savored the first sip of the warm drink.

Filling the top of the thermos up, Clint offered it to Nat to which she declined as she handed the protein bars she had gotten earlier out. Shrugging it off Clint took a gulp, this was taking too long. He didn’t have the time for a debate, so he just got to the point, “I need you to come in.”

“Come in where?” Steve asked skeptically.

 “Steve, Clint is right. There are too many players in this. The only way we can do this is together.” Stopping Steve before he could add anything Natasha continued, “Together, all of us. Tony is on board. There are innocent people in the way, Clint’s kids, and an entire school possibly if HYDRA dares.”

Clint could see that Natasha’s words got to Steve, but he was still on the fence. The look on Sam’s face told Clint that the threat against children was enough to get him back onto the team but would follow Steve’s decision. Clint decided to hurry this up by hitting below the belt. “Steve are you going to stand there and let Stark be the mature and reasonable one of the two of you? It’s not just my kids, if HYDRA gets desperate they will attack a school. And judging by the trail of HYDRA we followed to find you, they are going to get desperate soon. Any lost is acceptable to them if they achieve their goal. They don’t care if thousands of HYDRA agents, school staff, and students get taken out, as long as they get Charlotte.”

Steve looked up from the brim of his cup, “Who’s Charlotte.”

Clint knew that a long explanation would be necessary later but hoped they would just take what he offered now. “My daughter, she is a student at a school up the road. HYDRA wants her.”

Sam pointed out, “So, you have a missing daughter too? I thought that was Stark’s story.”

“If it helps with clarification at all, Stark’s missing daughter is Clint’s missing daughter’s mother.” Natasha offered as resolution, the amusement clear on her face.

Shaking his head with each syllable, Sam answered, “It…does…not.”

“HYDRA is active here because of a school?” Steve inquired in total disbelief. “Then why are they out here and not scouting out the school? What’s so special about Charlotte and this school that HYDRA is doing all of this?”

Clint put both hands up, “Gotta pay to play Rodgers, you in?”

Steve looked down at the HYDRA cell again. They weren’t doing anything, they must be the back up to the back up. Steve presented his conditions of joining up again to Clint, “This doesn’t mean I support the Sokovia Accords. I want that clear.”

“Crystal.” Clint agreed.

Sam and Steve exchange a knowing look, as if mentally between the two coming to a decision. Finally, Steve resolved, “Ok, we’re in.”

~~~

The walk back to the compound was considerably longer then it was to get to Sam and Steve. The reason was that with the action of the two, HYDRA had increased their presence closer to the base of the Avengers. There was of course also Secretary Ross to worry about. It was easier for Clint and Natasha to sneak around, that was their job as spies, but Steve and Sam didn’t have that type of training.      

There were only two people around when the four Avengers walked in, Cooper and Tony. The grandfather and grandson were absorbed into whatever was happening on a laptop that Cooper was holding in his lap and angling it towards Tony. They didn’t even notice the four people’s arrival.

“Hey Cooper, where is everyone?” Clint asked.

Both looked up at the greeting. Tony saw who walked in with Clint but decided for the moment to ignore it. “Hey Clint, the kids are outside with Pepper and Rhodey. They are trying to teach Lucky some tricks.”

Throwing himself down on the couch Clint questioned, “Lucky?”

Cooper’s face lit up in excitement, “Yeah, we did what you asked. We named the dog Lucky. Tony, I mean, grandpapa came up with it.”

Shutting the laptop and putting it to the side Tony affirmed, “Yeah, well anything that survived that shitshow that took place at your house should be called Lucky.” Clint threw a ‘what the hell? My kid is right here, watch your language’ look at Tony. “Please Clint, you’re his father and he was exposed to Natasha and Fury from a young age. I’m sure he has heard worse.” Tony looked at Sam, Natasha and Steve standing in front of him. God, the guys looked like hell.

“Tony.” Steve greeted in a monotone.

Tony returned in the same tone, “Steve.”

“I’m going to go shower and change.” Steve notified the group as he started to walk out of the room.

Tony just nodded at that, “Sure, everything is waiting for you in your rooms.”

Sam was stunned at the exchange, once Steve had left, he exclaimed, “That’s it. Two years of hiding out, and that’s it?”

“What were you expecting?” Natasha asked taking a seat next to Clint, leaving Sam as the last one standing.

“I don’t know, screaming, hugging, anything in between.” He replied in a voice that gave away just how exhausted he was from the fighting.

Clint smirked, “Don’t worry, it will happen.” Clint continued his explanation as if Tony wasn’t in the room listening, “They’re tired and both busy with their own agendas. They just don’t know that they have the same one. When the time comes, they will both suit up. Then, the ‘screaming, hugging, anything in between’ will happen.”

Tony felt the need to remind everyone that he was in the room, “Geez Clint, thank you so much for your vote of confidence in Steve and I.”

“Anytime grandpapa. Man, that’s just stupid, Grandpapa. Sorry Coop but accept it, it is.” All Cooper did was laugh at that. Clint was delighted to see his son laugh, it was a real laugh, even if it was only for a moment. If he and Cooper could laugh and forget about, as Tony so adequately phrased it, ‘shitshow’ for a moment, because of something as mundane as Stark’s title, then they could find their way to happy again. “Think Steve had the right idea. It’s getting close to ten. Cooper come on, let’s get ready.”

~~~

Tony, Nick Clint, and Cooper all sat in the living area of the communal floor dressed in their Sunday best. Everyone was quiet, they were all anticipating the possible implications of this oncoming meeting.  Tony’s system came online, startling everyone out of their contemplations, “Boss?”

Tony composed himself after the sudden alert, “Yes FRIDAY.”

The automatic voice informed, “Professor Charles Xavier and Doctor Henry McCoy are here for your ten o’clock meeting.”

Standing up and adjusting his tie, Tony announced, “Well Gentlemen, it’s show time.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seventeen

Nick had volunteered to escort Professor Xavier and Dr. McCoy to the office. Tony sat behind his desk, while Cooper and Clint sat on the couch, leaving three chairs for the two X-Men and Fury. The tension in the room exuding off the three men was thick. There was no way to tell how this was going to go. Xavier and McCoy were the gate keepers to any of them having access to Kate or Charlie, they needed to make a good first impression.

Director Nick Fury had failed to mention a few things that most people would have thought to inform others prior to setting up a meeting. One specific thing would have been the physical appearance of the X-Men they were meeting with. Clint had been trained to maintain a blank expression in response to varies situations, and it seemed Cooper had been raised with impeccable manners. Tony didn’t have the benefit of either the training or the upbringing, by no fault of his mother, it just didn’t stick. So, when a bald man in a wheelchair and a big, furry, blue man walked in, Tony was unable to hide the surprise on his face. As soon as the men walked in with Fury trailing, Clint and Cooper stood up, seeing this, Tony quickly followed suit.

There was a look of hilarity on the older man’s face, apparently, he had anticipated Stark’s reaction. “Mr. Stark, I presume. Professor Charles Xavier, this is my colleague,” Xavier greeted with a posh British accent and gesturing towards the blue man next to him, “Doctor Henry McCoy.”

Tony extended his hand to welcome the professor. The doctor had set his eyes on Cooper as soon as they walked in, an action that didn’t go unnoticed by Clint or Nick, who was still standing behind the visitors. Dr. McCoy seemed to sense that his staring was making the men feel uncomfortable, “Which would have to make you Agent Barton and Mr. Barton?”

Clint offered his hand to both the Professor and the Doctor, then stepped back so Cooper could do the same. Tony was fascinated again by the manners the boy had, Clint had done something right. He was pulled out of his head when Clint spoke, “Yes, but please, call us Clint and Cooper. It’s a pleasure to meet you”

Smiling at the father and son in a way that conveyed to Clint that this doctor had a vested interest in this meeting. “Likewise,” he said, “my name is Hank.”

“What do you say we get down to it.” Tony proposed, thinking that the sooner they get this song and dance over with, the sooner the family could be reunited. He just had to tell them what they wanted to hear, so they would conclude that Clint and he weren’t a risk to the school and let them in.

I do believe Mr. Stark it will take a lot more than a song and dance for me to permit you access to the school, and the people in it.

“What the hell, who said that?” There was a voice in his head that sounded just like the man staring in his direction. Clint and Nick looked at Tony confused at the remark. Cooper was suppressing a chuckle at his grandpapa’s comment.

I did. I am among other things, a telepath. I felt in the need of full disclosure to let you know of my ability. I know you want to see them, lets work together to find the best solution for everyone. There is not a need to impress us, just be honest.

Not knowing how telepathy worked, Tony responded out loud, “Ok, we play it straight.” The looks around the room didn’t cease so Tony explained with a finger pointed at Xavier, “the guy can get into your head and talk to you.”

“Yeah, he’s a telepath.” Nick said as if it was common knowledge.

“Oh, is he now? It seems like you failed horribly in prepping us for this meeting Nick. Everyone, please take a seat.” As all the men and the room took their seats, Tony folded his hands and placed them on his desk and started the meeting, “So, where do we start?”

Dr. McCoy spoke up, “We would like to get a blood sample from Cooper if that is alright with his father.”

Clint answered to the request with a look to his son, “It’s his blood, ask him,” with a look back to the doctor he asked, “but what for?”

Xavier offered up the explanation, “DNA comparison to Katherine. We only need the confirmation, there isn’t any doubt in my mind, just looking at the young man its clear to me that he is hers. There are also some other things we would like to check for.”

“How so?” Clint asked, feeling uncomfortable with strangers seeing the resemblance between his son and his biological mother when he could not, for various reasons.

“He has her eyes,” Hank said warmly to the archer. He must have known that Clint was searching for answers to his hidden memories. “and some other physical traits.” Clint flashed back to the facial comparison that Tony had shown him between Kate and Cooper. Suddenly Clint wanted to know everything about her. 

Cooper had yet to say anything Tony noticed, just sitting there being all polite. How was this kid a Stark? Then Tony got his answer with Cooper’s remarks, “You want my blood to see if I’m a mutant like my sister. Let me save you the trouble, I’m not. And before you start with all the ways that a person can become one, I know them all. I’m thirteen, and I went through a hell of a traumatic experience this week, that I honestly don’t see ending anytime soon. All of that and I wasn’t triggered, so I would assume it is safe to say I’m not a mutant.”

Apparently, Cooper sitting quietly was the calm before the storm, because it was all coming out now, “I’m just a kid from Iowa who was originally from Brooklyn until HYDRA took me. Which even though I don’t remember, must have also been traumatic, and still no triggering.  Just because a girl they say” he pointed at his dad and Tony, “is my sister and a mutant doesn’t mean that I am too.” Clint didn’t do anything regarding his son’s outburst, Tony assumed he was allowing Cooper some slack.  

 “Well, if I felt there was any further need to confirm his maternity, that was it.” Charles said to Hank.

Laughing at his friend’s comment, Hank added, “Nature versus nurture I gather.”

Cooper was confused with the reaction to his burst, “What?”

Professor Xavier clarified, “Nature versus nurture. That means that you are your mother’s son despite not being raised by her. You share similar characteristics with her.” He went on seeing that the child needed additional information, “Katherine doesn’t believe what she can’t feel and touch. I could, and have, sat all day with her trying to explain something, but my words were worthless to her if I didn’t have the proof to support my statements. She is a mathematician, two and two are always going to equal four in her mind unless I provide a formula to arrive at a different conclusion. You appear to be the same way. People you love, and trust have told you about a different life, a life you had with a different mother. You want to believe them, because you have faith in them not to lie to you. Yet, you still can’t get yourself to accept it as true.”

Cooper crossed his arms and leaned back into the couch, taking a more laxed position as he scrutinized the speaker. Sarcastically he retorted, “Sounds cool, wish I remembered her.” Clint gave Cooper a stern ‘dad’ look which told the boy to stop the arrogance. The tone and body language that Cooper was using reminded Clint of Tony. It was exactly something he would say and do. Had his son always acted like this or was the behavior something new? He thought back to all the times someone told him that Cooper got his behavior from his father. It turns out that wasn’t the case, the Stark genes were strong in this one.

“Would you like to?” Xavier asked.

Clint didn’t see where this was going. The boy was only three when everything happened, the chances of any memories from that age were near impossible. He was already worried about the effects of the disturbing event back then and the ones recently on his son’s emotional health. The best solution to this mess was for Kate and Cooper to create some type of mother and son relationship and move on, forgetting the past. It didn’t matter if Clint and Kate got back together, the priority was for the kids having a somewhat stable and happy lives from this point on. But the chances for that were slim if these people were leading his son on with promises of remembering someone and something from long ago. Clint attempted to nicely get around the offer, “He wasn’t effected by the wipe.”

Xavier was aware of everything Clint was thinking. He didn’t want to evade the man’s private thoughts, but this was a unique situation. He needed to know how this father acted towards his children. Would he help or hinder Charlotte if permitted into her life?  He was pleased to see that the agent seemed to be a good father, as Director Fury had told him earlier, but Professor X needed to see it himself. “Agent Barton, you can’t remember her because you do not have access to the memories. Your son doesn’t remember because he was too young to recall certain memories, not because he can’t retrieve them. I could assist in that, with your permission of course.”

This guy wasn’t taking Clint’s hint to leave it alone. What did he mean by assisting Cooper’s recall of his memories? “I don’t understand.”

Charles wanted Clint to allow him to investigate the child’s mind. He had spent ten years with Katherine, curious of her past. The implant that S.H.I.E.L.D. had installed on her brain had barred him from the seven years prior to her arrival on campus. He knew the implant was there, but Hank didn’t want to do a scan on Katherine, fearful of what the x-rays would do to the gamma radiation poisoning within her.  Two years ago, two students got into a fight in the school’s hallway.  Katherine attempted to break it up and only received a concussion for her troubles. The medical staff was concerned about a skull fracture, so Hank had agreed to a CT Scan on her, under his supervision. That was when finally, they saw the implant and tracked it to S.H.I.E.L.D.  Xavier was also curious about Katherine’s relationship with Agent Barton, hopefully the young man would process memories of his parents together. It would make talking to Katherine later much easier if he had some of the more personal information, but he needed Clint’s permission to do anything. “I have the ability to read minds and recall the memories of others. I could access Cooper’s memories of Katherine and let him have them.”

Cooper tried to get his father’s attention, “Dad”

Putting his index finger up in Cooper’s direction, Clint protested, “Hold on Coop, Professor Xavier, I appreciate the offer, but I am afraid that will do more damage than it would help.”

“Dad, “the teenager tried to interject once more.

“I understand your concerns Clint,” Professor Xavier used his first name to make it more personal, “I can recall his memories with Katherine, in a sense giving him back his mother. I would stop prior to the switch and wipe. That is probably best left unknown to Cooper at this time.”

Cooper stood up, hoping that Clint would take notice of him, “Dad”

Clint quickly glanced to his son, then back to Xavier, “Can you guarantee that? I can only imagine how traumatic that experience was for him. He was three years old and someone took him and gave him to Laura. He was just a toddler and placed with a stranger. The only saving grace we have is that he doesn’t remember that.”

“Dad.” Cooper was starting to become frustrated. They were talking about him, but not allowing him to comment or express his opinion.

“God damn it Barton.” Everyone looked to Nick Fury who up until this point had not said a single word since the meeting started.  Once Fury had everyone’s attention he continued, “Cooper would like to say something. Cooper, what were you trying to tell your dad?”

Suddenly the child was shy when he discovered that he was holding the room’s attention, finding his confidence he told his dad, “I want to do it.”

Clint stood up to match his son’s stance. “Cooper, this isn’t a magician asking for a volunteer at a show. This is serious.”

Cooper tried to unearth the words to support his thinking to his father, and everyone else. “I know, but I’m thinking if I remember her, then when I meet her it won’t feel weird. Because I’ll already know her.”

Thinking of others had never been a strong suit of Tony Stark, but there had recently been some changes to his priorities. In a matter of days, Cooper had become one of the most important people to him, and like Clint, had concerns about the boy’s mental health if he did this. Tony could only assume that Cooper thought that by remembering Kate, all his troubles would be over. Unfortunately, Tony had to burst that bubble, “Yes, you would have some memories of her, but she still won’t remember you.”

Charles didn’t have to read Clint and Tony’s mind to know what they were thinking, it was distinct on their faces and in their voices. He wasn’t sure if what he was about to suggest would help his argument or give them a stronger one against him. “I can give her the memories that Cooper has, and you also Clint. You won’t remember all of the seven years; just what Cooper has.”

Clint’s eyes widen in disbelief, and spoke so low as if he was trying his best to hide any emotion that may escape with his words, “Can you really do that?”

Professor X smiled at the notion of finally gaining some headway, “I wouldn’t have offered it if I couldn’t. I would just need a quiet place for us to do it in. Think about it Clint, you don’t have to decide anything right now, we can do it after the meeting has concluded. You know Cooper wants to, so it’s up to you now.” He didn’t like putting it all on Clint’s shoulders, especially when considering everything the man had just  gone through, but he had a feeling that this Agent Barton could handle it.

Tony had watched the discussion with a rapid heartbeat that he was positive everyone in the room could hear. He was willing every cell in his body against going over and shaking Clint until he agreed to do it.  Finally, when it looked like Xavier was making some progress, Tony was able to calm down. He was waiting until Cooper and Clint sat back down before continuing the meeting, “While Clint sits over there debating the moral implications of probing his son’s memory, tell us about Charlie and Kate.”

Professor Xavier addressed Tony, “Of course, that is why we are here. That and a few other matters we can get to later.” Then he turned away from Tony to ask Clint directly, “What would you like to know?”

Clint had a million questions, but suddenly he could not think of any to save his life. Reflecting on the numerous conversations he had about Charlie and Kate in the past days, he tried to pick out any question that he had asked and not been given an answer to. There was one such question he had with Natasha, “Charlie is a mutant correct? What are her abilities? Why is HYDRA so engaged in retrieving her?” For someone who was just searching moments ago for a question, he couldn’t stop them from coming, then another thought hit him, “I’m sorry, is that the acceptable term? I’m new to this and don’t want to start off by offending people.”

Charles released a small chuckle at the remark, “The scientific term is Homo sapiens superior or simply Homo superior, but the term mutant is perfectly acceptable. You aren’t offending anyone. Regarding your daughter’s specific mutation or enhancement, Charlotte has a condition known as Hyperthymesia.”

Tony cut in, “That’s like a photographic memory?”

The Professor was used to people interjecting when he was talking, but he hadn’t completed his diagnosis of the girl’s mutation before her grandfather interrupted with his layman term for the child’s condition. “They are commonly used interchangeably, but no. Hyperthymia is the condition when a person can recall every moment of their life, every image, date, day, color, and sensory input.

Stark started to laugh, the looks he received as a result made him swiftly stop. Why was he the only one who saw the ridiculousness? “I’m sorry, that was not appropriate, but that’s her super power? Her memory?  I understand HYDRA wants her to use her DNA to create more mutants, but the ability to recall isn’t’ really a big deal to me. A cheap cell phone can do that. They could grab any mutant off the street and get their blood, why stalk a little girl for ten years?”

Not seeing the amusement in the issue at hand, Xavier countered in a serious tone, “Not a lot of mutants were exposed to gamma radiation in utero and had their X-gene triggered moments after birth. In fact, Charlotte is the first one. She is the youngest mutant we have record of. There are only a few cases of Hyperthymesia documented worldwide. And as far as her ‘super power’ goes, her main mutation is that she can manifest anything she has seen. Can a cheap cell phone do that Mr. Stark?”

Accepting that he had been put in his place, Tony replied, “Obviously not Professor Xavier.”

Clint had listened to each and every single word that had been said about his daughter and her abilities and understood that it was all important. The issues brought up, he would need to research for a better understanding of later. However, he was obsessing on a specific comment that the Professor made, “Before you go into all of that. Could you please expand on what you mean by ‘triggered moments after birth’? You aren’t the first one to mention that to me, but you are the only one who would have the explanation. I have heard about these triggering episodes, and there isn’t anything that I like about them.”

Xavier had always seen himself in the grandfather role for Charlotte, having been a part of her life since she was a week old. So, the topic of her triggering was difficult for Charles to discuss. Deciding that it was best for everyone, including himself, to generalize the information and avoid the unpleasant details, he explained, “The terrorist group was astonished to discover that mother and child lived after the explosion. Immediately following Charlotte’s birth, they started the testing. Blood test conducted on the infant informed the scientists that the child carried the X-gene. HYDRA believed that was the missing component to their experiments. While it is true that there was a level of success to their experiments, it was not at the level of their expectations.  The organization had to conclude that the X-gene was crucial. The actual testing prior to the triggering of Charlotte is vague, but from what we have come to understand by questioning HYDRA agents at the scene is that HYDRA conducted a type of stress test on the infant. The purpose was so she would experience high stress and trauma, forcing the X-gene to activate.”

Clint wished he could unhear what the Professor just told him. A baby, HYDRA did that to a baby, his baby. The nightmares this conversation would inflict upon him would be nothing compared to his recent one. He had one card left to play - denial, “Then you really don’t know it happened. The guy could have been lying. She was a newborn.”

The Professor had to remind himself that he was speaking to Charlotte’s father, a man who appear to already care for the girl. He had to wonder if things would have been different if Clint had a hand in the upbringing, but then remembered the girl was only ten, there was still time for Clint to be a positive influence on her. Not saying that Charlotte didn’t have numerous people around her these last ten years, guiding her and teaching her about the way the world worked. And probably most importantly, how it would work for her as a mutant. Hank was staring at Charles, knowing what he was thinking. It was often that a mutant child had one supportive parent, but both parents on board was rare. Taking the lead on the conversation Hank answered Clint’s remarks, “We know it happened because the child was activated, and as Cooper pointed out earlier, there are only a few ways for a trigger to occur. Also, because Charlotte has told us. She remembers it. Her Hyperthymesia started with the activation. The few proven cases of the condition have the disadvantage of being influenced by personal interpretations of the memory, Charlotte’s is accurate without any of her own personal input into the memory. She described an incident in the HYDRA base where a nurse was feeding her, she was still hungry after she finished the bottle, so she created and placed another in the nurse’s hand. That nurse informed her superiors of it, and the experiments and testing were escalated. It only ended when we attacked the base and recovered her and Kate.”

Nope, that was the comment Clint wanted to unhear, in fact he wished he never agreed to this meeting. Should have just let Nick and Tony handle it, not involved himself or Cooper. That phone call about a multi-family member discount at the therapist’s office was moving higher and higher on Clint’s priory list. Cooper seemed to be handling the news of his sister’s torture better than himself due to the question the boy asked, “So, if I ask her to make me like a hundred dollars, since she has seen money, she could do that?”

Clint quickly shut his eyes, the entire topic of what happened to his infant sister, and Cooper asked that question? The teenager once again had the attention of the room on him. Professor Xavier took his time, finding the right words for the mutant’s older brother, “Yes, she could, and we have had a similar situation involving pennies and a fountain on campus. We however, do not encourage that type of behavior.”

Fury spoke up with concern, “Following that question about her ability, suppose if she had seen news footage of the battle of Sokovia. Would she be able to manifest an Ultron of her own?”

The professor nodded, “Director Fury, in the time it took you to say that sentence, she could have made thousands of Ultrons.”

Tony wasn’t buying it, “As the creator of Ultron, I am doubtful a ten-year-old could create a copy that would do as much damage as the real Ultron. It would probably just be a walking talking robot, it wouldn’t have the intellect or abilities of the original.”

“She doesn’t need to know how items work, it just does. Charlotte creates perfect replicas of the objects. Even as the creator, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the one you made versus the one Charlotte did.” Hank explained. “It’s actually very fascinating.”

Everyone just lapsed into silence, letting the weight of what was just said sink in. The importance of Charlie’s abilities and the danger it could cause in the wrong hands. It was the girl’s father who summed up the dilemma, “Ok, so that would be another reason for HYDRA to want her. Apparently, her blood isn’t the most valuable thing about her. Not only could she hold all the secrets to creating mutants in a lab, but she could single-handedly cripple both global economy and security.”

Charles Xavier agreed with the evaluation, “That would be on a small scale a fair assessment of the scenario.”

Clint question the recent change, “Why has HYDRA stepped up now? All because Laura’s cover was blown?”

The Professor answered, “Director Fury explained to me your domestic situation Agent Barton. Prior to a few days ago the only thing standing between HYDRA and Charlotte was the X-men. Things have now changed.”

Now that the meeting had turned strategic, Fury reported what he knew, “Our people inside have reported that Laura has been debriefed.” Clint was still needing a moment before getting into the mind frame of Laura being HYDRA. He was trying to digest Fury’s statement, his entire marriage and life to Laura had been reported to HYDRA as a mission debrief. Sadly, because to her all it was, was a mission.

Tony was always happy to call out hypocrites, and did so in a mocking manner, “And pray tell, how do you know that?”

The Director had nothing to be ashamed of as the tone of Tony’s voice implied, “Did you think it only worked one way? HYDRA had people in S.H.I.E.L.D. and we had no one there?”

“What did the debrief uncover?” Clint asked while keeping one eye on Cooper, unsure how the teenager would respond to a discussion about the terrorist acts of his ‘mother’.

Fury didn’t seem to have a problem with Cooper in the room and didn’t water down his report for the child’s behalf. “Laura’s recommendation is for HYDRA to strike now against the school before the Avengers get involved. They are hardly a match for the X-Men, but it is damn impossible with the X-Men and Avengers working together for a common goal.”

Sensing that there was more to the report, Clint prompted, “Was that all?”

“No, she also reported that it was highly likely that Clint would take the child off campus and hide her at the compound with the other children, undoubtedly with Tony’s assistance. That would be the reason why HYDRA is camped out all over the place.”

Hank followed up to the Director’s report, “We have had confirmation of HYDRA cells stationed off campus grounds, there was also a report of suspicious visitors attempting to get into the school just before classes started this morning. They, of course, were not granted access, and took off before they could be questioned. We have everyone on standby, waiting for instructions. We can coordinate between our two groups if that is alright. I don’t see the advantage in us both fighting the same fight alone when we should do it together and present a united front. That way everyone knows what everyone else is doing.”

The X-Men would help, that was one problem dealt with. HYDRA was breathing down their necks. The organization was slowly growing their presence and would have to make a move soon with that much manpower. Tony was silently grateful that he let Clint convince him to bring Captain in, “And Kate?”

Knowing that the question would come up sooner or later, the Professor had an answer ready to go, “She knows that HYDRA is up to something, but not the details. As you can imagine with her history, just saying the group’s name causes her to tense up. Hank and I have a meeting with her set up for this afternoon, in the meantime, we have added a few security measures for her and Charlotte.”

Clint was reassured to hear that Kate and Charlie’s safety was being seen to. “You’re going to tell her everything?” he asked.

“As much as she can handle, yes. Hank will ensure a safe environment.”

Dr. McCoy could see that Charles’ answer caused some to eye him with concern on what was meant by ‘safe environment’, and decided to expand on the explanation, “We are concerned about the impact of the information on her wellbeing. Don’t worry, she is perfectly fine, I just want to be cautious.  I will be reading her vitals the entire time, and ready with a sedative if need be. Of course, you will be informed as soon as it is over.”

This was almost too easy for Clint. He seriously could not be that close to seeing Kate and Charlie himself, if she agreed to the meeting of course. Nothing in this whole mess had gone easy, there had to be a catch. “What happens then?”

Xavier saw the change in the facial expression on the archer’s face, the man almost looked hopeful. “Then you and Katherine take over. I hope I speak for everyone here when I say if Charlotte and Katherine are safe and healthy, then it’s your relationship to do with as you see fit. I fear there is a lot of trouble coming our way in the coming days, and there is no need to add anymore limitations on you two. If you allow me to access your son’s memories, and he permits me to share them with Katherine and yourself, then perhaps that could help things. Make the first meeting a little less awkward so to speak.  I understand that Mr. Stark is working on a way to undo the memory wipe entirely.”

Nick Fury was quick to input, “That hasn’t been decided yet.”

Just as fast, Tony snapped, “Like hell it hasn’t. I just haven’t had the time yet to start, and you need time to get your people safe for it.”

Assuming everyone was on the same page when it came to Katherine and her child, Professor Xavier decided to move the meeting along to address what he considered lesser affairs on the agenda. “Now if there aren’t any more questions about Katherine and Charlotte, we have a few additional matters to discuss. We are interested in one of your members, or former members as it were, a Wanda Maximoff. I believe that the X-Men could help her control her abilities.”

Tony had been waiting for the X-Men to ask for something in return. He knew there was no way they would just volunteer to help. “So, what is this, a prisoner exchange? We give you Wanda, you’ll give us Kate?”

“Not at all Mr. Stark.” Xavier said starting to get irritated by the Ironman. “No one is giving anyone to anyone. Everything is dependent on their consent. However, I wouldn’t be honest if I said I haven’t seen the news, I know what happened to your group. Ms. Maximoff was never taught how to use her powers. It appears that she is just getting stronger without any guidance. I have experienced many students with a similar issue and would like to offer our assistance.”

Clint thought it was a good idea. Hell, they didn’t know how to train Wanda past anything physical, such as self-defense. The Avengers didn’t have the abilities to help Wanda control her powers, mostly because her full potential hadn’t manifested yet. There was however one tiny barrier, “Even if she was willing, she is in hiding after the Sokovia Accords, and…prison break.” Clint added the last part under his breath, but everyone still heard him.

Concluding that Clint was probably the most reasonable person in the room, Charles addressed his suggestion to him directly. “I believe that could be worked around. We have friends in D.C. and are attempting to make new ones. I am positive that a case could be presented for the United Nation to allow us to house Ms. Maximoff and train her.”

Clint nodded, seeing potential in the proposal. The Professor continued, “That brings me to our final piece of business. The Avengers have caused a bit of trouble for us with the Sokovia Accords. Secretary Thaddeus Ross has requested to visit our school and determine how much of a threat we are since he is in town already.” Xavier looked to Tony to drive home the point that the Avengers’ actions had consequences on others, not just themselves. “As I said, we have friends in the government who have been able to keep the United Nations and Secretary Ross off us for the past two years, but it seems they can’t buy us anymore time. The school is hosting a gathering tomorrow evening to honor the Secretary. Just a small get together with administration, staff, and a few selected students. We would be pleased for you all to join us.”

“Staff and students?” Clint inquired to the doctor.

Hearing both the posed question and the unspoken one, Hank answered Clint, “Pending on her emotional and physical reaction to this afternoon, yes, Kate will be there. The administration feels it is important to showcase our human instructor in unification with the mutant members of staff. I can’t guarantee Charlie’s attendance however, with the threat against her, it would probably be for the best to keep a low profile.”

“I’m game if you all are.” Tony said to Nick and Clint about the invitation. They didn’t say anything, so he took it as a ‘yes’.  “So, Clint, come to a decision yet?”

Clint hadn’t been listening, just focused on his impending meeting with Kate. “About what?”

‘Seriously?’ Tony thought, “What else, getting your head messed with again, you know they say third times the charm.”

Turning to Tony, Clint stated to him, “I know you think you’re funny.”

“But?” Tony asked waiting for the punch line.

Disregarding Tony with a shrug of his shoulders, “Nothing, just I know you think you’re funny.”  Pointing his interest to the Professor, “So, this memory thing, how does it work?”

“I can assure you, I am not ‘messing with your head’. I explore Cooper’s memories with a self-filter of only ones associated with Katherine. I have no need to see anything else, or desire to.” The last part of the statement was directed right at the teenager, knowing what possible fears Cooper may have of what Professor Xavier could see. “Once I am done, you will have full recall of anything I accessed. Then I will submit those same memories to your father’s mind. Then I will do the same thing to your mother this afternoon if she wants.”

Clint looked to Cooper, “You sure you want to do this?” The boy took a minute, then bobbed his head. “We’re ready when you are Professor.”

Nick Fury got up, “We will leave you to it then.”. He signaled to Tony for them to leave, seeing the indication, Hank stood up to joined them. The three left the office, giving Cooper and Clint the privacy that such an event would need.

~~~

Clint held his breath as the Professor placed a hand on each side of Cooper’s head. His son was lying down on the sofa in Tony’s office. Clint was standing across the room watching every move either Xavier or Cooper made. Charles Xavier leaned over Cooper’s head, “I’m about to start. You won’t feel anything physical.” Clint saw the rise of his son’s chest and the child said something that Clint could only assume was along the lines of ‘ok’. And just like that everything became silent and still. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Xavier spoke, “there she is”, as he turned his head towards Clint and smiled. The breath that Clint had been holding slowly released when he saw that Xavier wasn’t the only one smiling. Cooper, in his dream-like state had a smile on his face, clearly having a good memory.

About ten minutes later, the Professor opened his eyes and leaned back into his chair. He removed his hands from Cooper and folded them in his lap. Clint remained standing and waited for the older man to say something. Cooper stayed in his position lying on the couch, his eyes still shut, but Clint could tell that he wasn’t sleeping. Then he noticed it, a single tear had dislodged out of his son’s eye and was trailing down his face. “Cooper?”

At the sound of his name, Cooper opened his eyes and looked to his father. Suddenly aware of the tear, he brought his hand up and wiped it away. “I’m good dad.” The boy said knowing that the tear was why his dad was concerned. Cooper sat up on the couch and used the arms of the furniture to push himself up to be standing. Clint hastily made his way over to meet his son to steady him. “I’m good”, he repeated, waving off Clint’s assistance.

“Cooper?” Clint asked. It was a one-word question, but the teenager understood the whole meaning to it.

“Yeah dad, it worked. I remember her, I remember all of us, together. I remember my mom.” Cooper’s voice dropped with his last comment, he sounded sad. Clint wondered if the reason was the memories themselves or the lost the memories represented. The smile that had been on Clint’s son’s face slowly slipped away only to be replaced by a vacant expression. “Can I go to my room? I mean the room I used last night?”

There were a million things running through Clint’s head with Cooper’s request. He knew this was a bad idea. It was selfish of him to use his son in order to get answers to his own erased past. He was at a loss for words, the shame of what he just put his child through paralyzed him. “Clint,” a voice called him back to reality. Looking over to the Professor, Clint made eye contact, so the man knew he had his attention, and could speak, “he is alright, just as he said. I only gave him the good memories. A mother who loved him and his father, a happy home. He just needs time to process it all.” The older man grinned again, “Like I said, he is like his mother, he must see it to believe it. He has now seen it, so he needs time to accept and believe it.”

All Clint could do was accept Xavier and Cooper at their words, the child was alright. “Yeah, Coop, go right on up.” He scrutinized every aspect of the child as Cooper walked out the office, looking for something to be wrong. When the boy opened the door, Clint could see Tony sitting there in a chair against the hallway wall. As soon as Tony looked up to see Cooper coming out, he was up on his feet. He was just about to start bombarding the kid with questions when Clint yelled into the hallway, “Hey Tony, can you take Cooper up to my apartment? He can do it on his own, just watch him please so no one bothers him on his way there? He needs some time.” The look Tony gave told Clint that he got the message loud and clear, ‘leave the kid alone for now’.

“Are you ready now Clint?” Xavier asked, still in the same stance as Clint last saw him in.

Looking back into the hallway, Clint couldn’t see Cooper or Tony anymore. Shutting the door, he inquired skeptically, “What did you mean when you said that you only gave him the good memories?”

Xavier held out his hand towards the couch, indicating for Clint to come over and sit. “No one is perfect all the time Clint.”

Doing as required, Clint sat down decoding the meaning behind Xavier’s cryptic comment. “You mean we fought, in front of Cooper.”

Seeing that Clint was feeling uncomfortable by the X-Men leader having seen his domestic life, when he didn’t have access to it, Charles clarified. “It wasn’t just that. Yes, there was the occasional argument. Nothing that I doubt isn’t going on in every married couple’s home, I didn’t see the need for him to remember that. However, I was referring to the numerous, and unfortunately, I do mean numerous, times either you or Katherine came home injured. It frightened him at that age, as I’m sure it would now. So, I blocked his recall of those events.”

“Thank you?” Clint wasn’t positive that was the appropriate response, but it was all he could come up with in a timely manner.

“I can give you everything however, if that is what you want.” Xavier knew what the answer would be but still wanted to give Clint the option.

Clint swallow down any doubt he had about what he was about to do and demanded all of his courage to come to the surface, “Can’t take the good without the bad sir. Life isn’t just good memories, and that’s what I want, my life back.”

A person didn’t need to be a telepath to see that Clint was saying it for himself.  Professor Xavier predicted during the meeting that Clint was going to become someone he could respect, after seeing Cooper’s memories of his parents, he now knew that he did not only respect the man before him, but possibly liked him. It wasn’t a mystery anymore to him what Katherine saw in the archer, and soon it wouldn’t be one to Clint either. “Then please lay down, and we will begin.”

~~~

Tony had stayed with Cooper until the boy went to take a nap. He assumed the stress of all the recent events finally caught up with the kid. He knew that Cooper hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep since the day before his visit to the farm, and the start of all of this chaos.  He patiently waited in the living room of Clint’s apartment until FRIDAY informed him that the child had fallen asleep. Tony had hoped the boy would have come out of his room to talk with him about what Xavier had shown him, but no such luck. Realizing that his grandson would sleep for a while, he returned to his chair in the hallway to wait for Clint to emerge from the office.

Xavier’s time with Clint was much longer than it had been with Cooper. However, finally Clint opened the door. Tony stood as he saw Barton moved back from the doorway to allow the Professor through first. “So?” Tony asked.

Charles Xavier offered his hand to Tony, “We are done here Mr. Stark, I look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow night. I will just collect Dr. McCoy and see ourselves out. We have another appointment to get to.”

Tony shook the hand and questioned about the participant of the next appointment, “Kate?”

Nodding his head, the Professor confirmed, “Yes, Katherine will be done with her classes by the time we get back.” With that, the Professor left, leaving Tony and Clint alone in the hallway.

“So?” Tony repeated, this time with a hint of annoyance.

“How is Cooper?” The concerned was thick with Barton’s question of his son’s wellbeing. That didn’t help Tony’s anxiety over what to two had been shown.

Tony was about to throttle the man if he didn’t give up the information soon, “Taking a nap upstairs. FRIDAY will inform me when he wakes up.  Are you going to make me beg?  What happened in there?  What did you see?”

There was something funny about Tony using FRIDAY as a baby monitor, but Clint didn’t have the strength to make a joke. “That’s good, he needed to sleep.” Everything in the present was taking a back seat to the past playing in Clint’s head. At last, he processed that Tony said something after informing him of Cooper’s whereabouts. Deciding that he couldn’t emotionally or physically handle getting into everything now, he offered, “Cooper had a lot of memories of her. I know who she was to me now.”

Tony was in utter disbelief, “That’s it?”

“Stark,” Clint said in a very formal tones showing his seriousness, “I need to be alone for a little while. What I now know…it’s a lot.” Clint understood now why Cooper reacted the way he did after his own session with the Professor. “We’ll talk, I promise. But now, I have some thinking to do, and we have a whole heap of work to get going on. I’ll meet you all in a few hours.”  Clint moved past Tony and started down the hallway to the elevator.

Not doubting that he had work to do, there was always work that needed to be done. However, clarification was needed, what work was Clint referring to?  “What heap of work?”

Clint didn’t look back, “finding a safe way to both getting my wife and daughter back and undoing this damn wipe.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

Kate was so engrossed in her grading that she didn’t even hear the request being made from the doorway. When her brain finally recognized that she was being spoken to, Kate lifted her head up to the source. When she saw that it was her daughter standing there she asked, “What? I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

The child was used to her mother being lost in her thoughts, so the request for a repeat wasn’t anything new. “I said, can I go play in the courtyard with Aisha and the others?”

Checking the time on her computer, Kate became suspicious. Classes had been over for forty minutes, why was Charlie just now showing up? The child had a strict routine of reporting to her mother’s classroom right after school ended. “Where have you been?”

The girl with raven black hair and piercing blue eyes which were identical to her mother innocently replied, “Nowhere.”

In the tone that every mother becomes fluent with at delivery Kate stressed, “Charlotte.”

Conceding, the girl admitted, “I had detention.”

Closing her eyes, prepping herself for the follow up, “Why?”

“It’s all in the note.” Charlie said casually as she walked over to the desk and handed her mother an envelope that was sealed shut.

Taking the envelope from the child, Kate looked it over and sarcastically replied, “Yay, a note.” Placing the paper in front of her, she stared at her daughter, “Now, where is the real note?”

Kate could see the wheels in her daughter’s head turning, probably planning her next lie. Having a child that could create anything that she had seen definitely did have its drawbacks when it came to discipline. A mother had to quickly develop several coping techniques regarding a child such as Charlie. The current game that was being played wasn’t in any way original and had been done countless times before. A teacher would write Kate a note about Charlie’s behavior in class, and Charlie would produce another note to give to her mother. How Kate and the teachers got around this one was for the teacher to mark the envelope in some way. In a way so small that Charlie wouldn’t think to look at it. So far it had worked, and Charlie was unaware to the reason why. The envelope that she was just handed was pristine, lacking any modifications or marks.

Charlie jumped when a voice spoke from behind her, “I’m going to assume that this is something important that the pup was trying to throw away.” Turning around she saw that James Logan, the Wolverine, was standing behind her with another envelope in his hand. “What did you do this time?” he asked as he reached over the desk and handed Kate the real letter. Kate opened and read it quickly, hearing the back and forth between her daughter and Logan.

“I didn’t do anything wrong, the game was too easy.” The girl protested to the taller man who was hovering over her.

Sitting down on top of one of the student’s desk, Logan asked, “What game?”

Charlie started to take off her backpack but struggled due to having both a sweater and jacket on. Kate guess that she was wearing both because Charlie was hoping to be allowed outside to play as she finished reading the note. Charlie explained to Logan what game she was referring to, “Dodgeball in gym class today.”

Logan assisted the child who seemed to be having difficulties getting the bag off her shoulders. “You guys are still allowed to play that?” Looking to Kate, “Thought it was banned in schools nowadays.”

“It’s not here, at least up till today it wasn’t. Charlie, this says that you replaced the soft foam balls with identical ones that shocked on impact?” Logan couldn’t help but start laughing at the picture Kate painted. She was fast to put a halt to his amusement, “It’s not funny, someone could have been seriously hurt. How did you even think of such a thing? Where have you seen that?”

“Not funny, but this one is on me.” Kate rose an eyebrow at Logan and he continued, “I may have brought Charlie down the other day to the weapons and defense lab while you were in that staff meeting, you remember, the one I skipped? Well, they were working on a light weight ball that could be thrown at someone and incapacitate the person on impact. I may have said, in a joking way of course, ‘dodgeball just upped its game’.

“Well, that may be, but she still needs to be punished. In fact, you both need to be punished. So, Charlie, no, you may not go out and play, and Logan, you are on babysitting duty. And that does not mean take her down to the lab again. I have a meeting to get to, and no, I don’t know how long I will be.” As far as the punishments Kate could lay down, this wasn’t bad Logan thought as he pulled out and lit a cigar. Kate bent down to kiss Charlie on top of her head and left the room, only to pop her head back in a moment later, “And please don’t smoke around her.”

Logan called back knowing that Kate was already gone, “If I recall correctly I was smoking a cigar when I killed the HYDRA nurse holding Charlie and you didn’t say anything about that?”

Charlie looked at him confused, “Because she wasn’t there. She was sick in the other room.”

“Yeah, I know pup. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” Logan felt bad for saying something like that in front of Charlie, especially since the kid remembered the whole damn ordeal. That moment still gave them both nightmares, seeing the nurse holding the crying infant with tubes hanging off her, it set something off in his head. A memory of a similar experience of him as an adult being experimented on. He snapped, and by that he meant he snapped the nurse’s neck and grabbed Charlie before the nurse could drop her. That moment, Logan and Charlie bonded, and they had been thick as thieves since.

~~~

Kate knocked on the office door, then waited for a response. She didn’t have long to wait. She hadn’t even lowered her arm all the way back to her side when the door opened revealing Doctor Henry McCoy.

“Good afternoon Kate, please come in.” The doctor said stepping aside to permit her entrance to the room.

Kate smiled, “And good afternoon to you too Hank.” Seeing Xavier behind his desk, Kate extended the greeting, “and to you Professor.”

Charles nodded in greeting, “Hello Katherine, please sit down. We have a lot to discuss.”

Taken back by the comment she questioned, “Do we now?”

Xavier didn’t want to delay the inevitable, “Yes, where is Charlotte?”

Sitting down in one of the two chairs opposite the Professor as Hank took the other, Kate answered, “With Logan. Did you hear about what happened in the gym?”

Allowing a rare playful smile to quickly appear, the school’s superintendent acknowledged the incident, “I did. I was planning on talking to Charlotte tomorrow about it.”

Kate was just about to throw Logan under the bus for his part of ‘shocking dodgeball’ when Hank pulled out his medical kit, “Would you mind if I put this blood pressure monitoring cuff on you and pulse reader?”

She didn’t, Hank had been her doctor since her first day with the X-Men, but she was curious as of the reason, “Why?”

Grabbing her attention, Xavier explained the reason for the meeting, “Katherine, we need to tell you some things that have recently come to light. They could be hard to hear, and we want to make sure that you are all right during it.”

This wasn’t good, if Hank and the Professor were going through all this trouble to tell her something, it wasn’t because they wanted to have a friendly chat with her. “You’re afraid that I am going to stress out and the drug protocol won’t work.”

Using some of the end space on Charles’ desk to set up the monitor’s display, Hank confirmed, “Unfortunately, that is a possibility. I will be monitoring your vitals, if I feel that anything is going wrong, I will sedate you.” The doctor pulled out a syringe from his bag and placed it alongside the display. “The sedative is fast acting, so the poison’s effects won’t have time to surface before you are put out.”

She was confused, “It’s never happened before, why do you feel the need to go through such precautions now?”

Adjusting himself so that he could face Kate in his seat, Hank elaborated on the situation they were currently in, “While that’s true, you have never been placed under this specific type of stress before. We don’t know how you will react, so we want to be ready. I rather have everything here and not need it then have nothing and need it. Do you trust me?”

Without hesitation Kate replied, “Of course I do.” Doctor McCoy took that as consent and wrapped the cuff around her upper right arm, placing a pulse reading device on her index finger.

Jumping right into it Xavier asked, “Could you please tell us if the name Clint Barton seems familiar to you?”

“No sorry, should it?” Kate had experienced this ‘test’ before, people would ask her something to test her memory. She really wasn’t in the mood for the game today.

The Professor jotted something down on a writing tablet in front of him, the whole scene made Kate feel like she was connected to a lie detector machine. Laying his pen down on the tablet, Xavier continued, “Yes, but we will get into that later. What about the name Cooper Francis Barton, does that ring any bells?”

She took a minute to think about it and was surprised as anyone with her answer, “Cooper? Yes, that does seem familiar, I’ve heard that name before. In fact, it rings more than a bell, who is he?”

Hank observed, “So, Stark’s theory was correct, a memory could be triggered.”

It was a blast from the past for Kate, “Stark, as in Tony Stark?” Seriously? This meeting was about him? It wasn’t a mystery to Kate about Stark, she had always known about her true paternity. Her mother told her at an early age that Derek wasn’t her real father. It had all come out after a dinner party one night that Derek hosted. Her ‘sister’, Susan, had been away at school at the time, so Kate and her mother had the responsibility of showing what a good and trustworthy family man Derek was in front of his colleagues. Someone had a little too much to drink and said something about Kate to him, and Derek exploded. A lot of the things that were said still echoed in Kate’s ears even almost three decades later. Afterwards, her mother came to her room and explained everything.  It was never mentioned again after that. If anything, Derek kept a tighter rein on Kate from then on. She was his ticket to high society, as long as the world thought he was the father of the heiress to both Bishop Publishing and McIntosh Pharmaceuticals, he was untouchable. Even Stark Industries, the biggest name in the corporate game, had to take notice of Derek Bishop, and he loved every minute of it. So, if she was here to discuss Stark, she was fine, she had made her peace with it a long time ago.  Kate didn’t have anything against the guy, just didn’t know him. It was a silent agreement between the two, each knew the other existed and left it at that.

“That’s why we are here? To discuss my mom’s baby’s daddy?” She laughed at all the drama she was just put through. “Well Hank, rest assure, I’m not going to undo all of your hard work by freaking out over Tony Stark.”

The Professor treaded lightly with his next words, “Yes, well that’s good to hear, but we spoke to him and a few of his acquaintances today, one being Director Nick Fury.”

That name did cause Kate to feel uneasy as was evident when the monitor her arm was attached to beeped once. Looking to McCoy for an explanation, he smiled reassuringly at her, “No big deal, your reading is just a bit higher than the last one. Nothing to be concerned about yet.”

‘Yet’? What the hell did he mean by that Kate wondered. A doctor should never say, ‘nothing to be concerned about yet’, there is no such thing as ‘pre-concern’. Redirecting her mind back to the meeting they had earlier she inquired, “Fury? You met with Fury today? Does this have anything to do with the increase of security around here? It’s because of Charlie isn’t it? How does Stark fit into this?”

The Professor confirmed, “Yes Katherine, there is an escalated danger against Charlotte. I would prefer that you and Charlotte move back into the mansion until the threat is neutralized.” Kate and Charlie lived in a small cottage on the campus’ grounds. It was a gift from Professor X when Charlie turned one. Kate had always suspected that he did it to achieve a decent night’s sleep. Charlie was never a good sleeper. And during the first year, half the staff walked around the campus like zombies from the baby’s refusal to sleep. Charles Xavier watched as Katherine thought about his suggestion and continued, “There have been some recent developments with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the wipe.”

Being shaken out of her thoughts about what would be needed for a move, she asked for clarification, “The what?”

Charles had to backtrack, he forgot that they had purposely kept Katherine out of the loop when the Director first came to them, for fear of what such news would do to her, “The wipe, that is what S.H.I.E.L.D. called the event that happened back in 2008 that erased every agent’s memory.”

Kate sat there in bewilderment, carefully weighting the implications of what she had been told. “Every agent? It wasn’t just me?”

Kate had always been under the impression that whatever happened to her memory ten years ago was because of the treatment she received at the hands of HYDRA.  Even when Director Fury came and informed them that thousands had been affected, they shielded Kate from that information. Her medical condition due to the gamma radiation poisoning didn’t start to stabilize until just last year, when Hank finally figured out the right formula to block the gamma radiation particles from taking ahold of her white blood cells. Her condition improved literally overnight.  She was still in the trial stage of the medication protocol, but it had been working. Xavier just prayed it would continue to now as he told her what had happened to her and all her former associates. “No, the World Security Council issued a full wipe on everyone with the implant.”

She had heard about the Council before, the Captain American debacle in Washington D.C. a few years ago had been all over the news. She remembered watching the congressional hearings that followed.  “I thought HYDRA did it?”

Hank didn’t want Charles taken the full load of responsibility for telling Kate that they had not been honest with her back then. They had to own up to the choices they had made a year ago, “Yes, but back then HYDRA and the Council were, and maybe perhaps still to this day are, one in the same. I’m sorry, we weren’t completely honest with you when Director Fury visited. We had concerns what the knowledge would do to you. At the time, we didn’t have even a quarter of the information we do now.”

The questions generating for Kate were too many to count, but one stuck out in the forefront of her mind, “Why did they do it?”

This conversation was a lot easier back at the compound, but then again, Professor Xavier didn’t have any relationship with that meetings participants. Katherine was a friend and colleague to him, and now he shared with Hank the responsibility of explaining everything that had happened to her. “The common factor was…you.” Katherine’s eyes begged him to expand on that, so Xavier pushed on, “You were about to expose HYDRA’s deep cover within the agency. They had to take you out of the equation, for many reasons. One was because of your connection with a up and coming agent, another, was your exposure of the HYDRA invasion into S.H.I.E.L.D., and lastly, Charlotte. They needed to be sure that no one would come looking for you”

She was just a mother and math teacher. Her past life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was unknown to her. Kate was told last year that she had been part of the organization, but she had never been able to internalize that into how she identified herself. Her attention turned again to her daughter, “What’s changed and how does this effect Charlie?”

Checking her vitals again, satisfied with the readings, Hank gave the abridged version of the string of events that had led them to this moment, “Simply put? Someone came looking for you. Tony Stark, your father.”

“Why?” She then shook her head and gestured a circle as she spoke again, “Timeout, I feel that we are stuck in a loop here. You tell me something, I ask a question, and you answer by telling me something new, and around and around we go.” They were jumping around, she needed them to start from the beginning.  “So, let’s start from the top. You both attended a meeting today with Nick Fury and Tony Stark. You mentioned earlier that there were others in attendance?”

Professor Xavier knew they were closing in on the real purpose of the meeting, not that telling Katherine about the wipe wasn’t important, it just wasn’t at the top of the list of knowledge she needed to have today. “There were only two others, Clint and Cooper Barton.”

Those were the names she was tested earlier about, now perhaps she could achieve some clarity on their importance, “And they would be?”

Professor Xavier moved closer to the desk in front of him and folded his hands, “Katherine, I feel the need to be blunt. There isn’t a delicate way to put any of this that would lessen the blow, Clint Barton is your husband.”

Kate’s eyebrows disappeared into her hairline in shock, “Come again?”

Xavier glossed over her question and pressed ahead with defending the man. “He is as confused and anxious as you are. His memory was also wiped, he had no idea who you were until a day or so ago. Tony pieced enough together to put you with him, and Director Fury filled in the gaps.”

“That was nice of Director Fury to be honest with Tony,” The sourness was clear in her voice, and she didn’t care. Fury had located her at the school, spoken to her about her past career as his employee, and didn’t think it worth a mention about a husband who also had his memory wiped. There was probably a lot more to that revelation, the second name that was more familiar to her may be the key to fully understanding, “and pray tell who this Cooper is?”

McCoy’s eyes went straight to the monitor display and grabbed the sedative, nodding his head to Xavier that he could go ahead and drop the bomb, he was ready to go if need be. With a deep inhale the Professor told her, “Your son with Clint.”

Kate’s body froze in place, she couldn’t hear anything in the room and was unable to focus her eyes, just spots of color all around her. First thought was that Hank had used the sedative on her. That was the least of her problems, a good nap would be welcomed after hearing that type of news. A son. She had a son. A son with Clint Barton. If the Professor and doctor were telling her this, it had to be the truth. She understood now why she was connected to the medical equipment, if anything was going to cause her stress, being told of a life and family abandoned to the past, would do it.  Slowly the world came back to life around her. The face of Professor Xavier became clear, he was looking at her to say something. What does a person say to a surprise such as that? Struggling to have her brain transfer words to her mouth, she said the first thing that came to her, “Wow, when you say you’re going to be blunt, you don’t hold back.”

The two men looked to each other, stunned as much at her reaction as she was. Out of the corner of her eye, Kate saw Hank release the sedative filled syringe and reclined into the chair. She must still be doing alright she deduced to herself.  Taking calm and relaxing breaths to keep herself under control she continued as she watched Hank mess with the monitor, “And you sat in a meeting with both of them today?”

Realizing she was looking at him, McCoy turned towards her, “Yes”

Offering him a small smile as her way to promise him that she was indeed alright, she contemplated what type of question a mother should ask when she learns about her child’s existence. “How was he?”

The Professor started in with his impression of the child, “Cooper appears to be a brilliant young man. The meeting was highly tense, but he kept up and contributed along with everyone else. Takes after his mother I would say.”

Kate waited tolerantly for him to continue, when he didn’t she pressed, “What else?”

Charles searched his memory, trying to think of anything he noticed about Cooper, “His father is very protective of him, especially with everything that has happened recently, but the boy seems able to handle himself well.”

Tilting her head slightly, she asked, “Recently?”

“When the wipe occurred, HYDRA set up their people within both S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Barton home.” Hank summarized for her, “Clint was very important to the future of the agency and placing someone in the home that Clint felt he could confide in was critical to the success of the infiltration.”

“They replaced me.” It was a conclusion, not a question. Kate was smart, smart enough to read between the lines.

“They did,” Xavier admitted, “her name was Laura. Clint was at S.H.I.E.L.D., and probably arranging your rescue from HYDRA at the time it happened.  She contacted Clint immediately after the wipe took affect and had him and another agent come to her, a farmhouse in Iowa. She claimed it was their home, hers and Clint’s. Clint didn’t have any memory of his time with you. He couldn’t dispute anything she told him, and he didn’t see a reason to try. No one did. Her name showed up in his cell phone, she had Cooper, and told Clint she was expecting again. Clint had a sonogram on him at the time, so her being pregnant collaborated the evidence he had on him. Nobody at S.H.I.E.L.D. saw the con.”

“A sonogram?” Kate asked thinking that it was an odd object to carry around.

The Professor grinned, as he did any time the child was mentioned, “Charlotte.”

Nodding as she processed the concept of a total stranger having her sonogram, not really a stranger she had to remind herself, but at this point might as well be. The concept of a husband was too much to compute at this time. She was a math teacher, at least now she was, so one and one does equal two, “Listen, I don’t want to be that person, but I have to ask.”

Hank knew what she meant, and answered the unspoken question, “Clint is Charlotte’s father.” While the Professor was working with Clint and Cooper in the office back at the compound, Dr. McCoy was able to procure a DNA sample of Clint’s to compare with Charlotte. Not trusting the system at the Avengers’ base, he had waited until he returned to his own lab at the school.

It was the conclusion to a ten years old matter for Kate. She had a child and found herself alone in the world. She knew that she didn’t get Charlotte by herself, but obviously the other contributing party was absent. “Thank you. I honestly didn’t know where to go with this if you said differently.” She ended her remark with a small embarrassed giggle, then became serious again. “How is he? As a father?”

The Professor restated his earlier comment, “Like I said, he seemed to be very protective of the boy. Everything indicates that he is an exceptional and supportive father. I had to persuade him to let me read Cooper.”

“I know this is a lot Kate, but it will get better. They are coming tomorrow to attend the reception for Secretary Ross.”

Kate didn’t acknowledge Hank’s attempt at reassurance, she heard it, but did not address the approaching meeting of her family. She kept her eyes on Xavier, “You read him? What was the reason for that?”

“You and Clint don’t remember, but Cooper did. He was three when the wipe occurred. I was able to give the child access to his memories of you prior to the wipe. He loved you Katherine, Clint as well. Cooper allowed me to let his father see his memories also, so they would know who you… who you used to be. Through the eyes of your child. Cooper said that I could also share them with you.”

“Kate, I know you have a lot of questions. Let me try to bring you up to speed on what has occurred. The details can wait until later. Tony Stark started researching the wipe with the documents that Steve Rogers emptied onto the internet. He connected some dots and figured out that you were involved in it. Suddenly feeling the need to act paternal towards you, he started a search for your whereabouts. In the process he blew Laura Barton’s cover as Clint’s wife. She acted out, but everyone is safe.” McCoy purposely left out the four dead guards and the poisoning, fearing that would be too much. “Clint was both a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Avenger, so he and Cooper have taken refuge in the Avengers’ compound here in New York. HYDRA knows they must make a move for Charlotte before either, the X-Men and Avengers join up to take HYDRA out, or Stark finds a way to undo the wipe altogether, and they have the rage of S.H.I.E.L.D. raining down upon them for revenge. Most likely a very violet combination of the two, in my opinion. Either way the situation goes, they have to move now.”

“That was… a lot… to get caught up to speed on.” Kate slowly stated, then composed herself, “Like you said the details can wait. What do we do to ensure Charlotte’s safety?”

“As I mentioned earlier, I would like you two to move back into here for the time being. Also, it would be best if Charlotte always has someone with her at all times, one of the X-Men. I will be developing a schedule for shift rotation.”

Feeling as if finally, she had some control in the conversation, Kate agreed to the request, “I will pack us a bag, let me know where else I can assist.”

Pleased that she was going to move back into the house without any protests, Charles offered, “It should only be for a short time, then you can move back to your residence. Now, do you have any additional questions?”

That was a loaded question if Kate ever heard one. Of course, she had questions. She had just been told that she was part of an international spy organization whose bosses decided to erase everyone’s mind and if that wasn’t bad enough, her family was torn apart in the process. What sane person wouldn’t have a few follow up questions regarding that? “I do, and I don’t know why with everything going on, I want this question answered, but I do. How did Laura get Cooper to the farmhouse? I was in Africa with HYDRA, and Clint was setting up a rescue mission, who had Cooper?”

Charles had to admit he took some liberties with Cooper’s memories. While it was true Cooper only had the good ones with Katherine, Xavier had dug a bit deeper into the child’s subconscious to access answers to the questions he knew Katherine would have. One such predicted question was the riddle of how Cooper ended up in Iowa with Laura directly after the wipe. It was answered by the child’s own memory of the event. A painful and terrifying one that the Professor kept blocked in the child’s mind. It was bad enough he had to experience the event once, there was no need to give Cooper the ability to replay it over in his mind. It sadly was also preluded by the child’s last memory of his mother, her leaving for the mission. “You had a friend who lived across the hall from you and Clint. Her name was Simone.”

This story didn’t sound like it was going to end with ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ to Kate, “Was?”

“Yes,” Professor Xavier continued, “you would often put Cooper into Simone’s care whenever you and Clint had an overnight mission. She was in a sense, your daycare provider. You were only supposed to be gone a day, but as you know, that didn’t go as planned. In the middle of the night, HYDRA broke into Simone’s apartment. She was a good person. She did everything in her power to protect Cooper, to the point of giving her life.”

“Oh my God.” Kate didn’t know how she was with Cooper, a situation that the Professor had offered to rectify, but she knew how she was with Charlotte. She wouldn’t let just anyone watch her child, especially for an extended period of time. For Kate to be able to do that, she must have trusted this Simone, a trust that given the result was rightly placed. Simone had given her life to save her son. If nothing else came from this meeting, Kate would make it a priority to visit Simone’s grave and thank her in person.

“They killed Simone and took Cooper. Giving him to this Laura woman to impersonate Clint’s wife, and Cooper’s mother at a farmhouse in Iowa.”

Permitting Kate some time to process the sacrifice that a good friend made for her son, Hank pulled out of his medical bag all the equipment that would be needed for withdrawing a small amount of blood, “I think it would be a good idea to take a blood sample now.”

Suddenly feeling very tired, she complied, “Sure, whatever, why not? Everything else has been taken, why not my blood as well?” She didn’t even feel as the needle punctured her skin, she was numb.

The last time either Xavier or McCoy had seen Kate this defeated was in the early days after her rescue, when they had to tell her the severity of her injuries and illness. The Professor attempted to find a resolution to the downward spiral Kate was caught in, “Everything hasn’t been taken from you, and anything that was can be given back.”

Gravely, she stated the obvious, “Not the last ten years.”

“No, sadly, those are gone. However, I can give you your son’s memories of you.” Xavier told her as the Professor turned to Hank, “Dr. McCoy, we will be moving to the couch so please adjust the equipment to reach that far. I would like for you to continue monitoring her vitals during this process.”

~~~

“Why is it important?” Charlotte asked looking up from her earth science textbook.

Logan hadn’t been paying attention to anything the kid had been reading out loud to him, he quickly assessed the situation and responded in a way he thought was most appropriate. “Because it’s your homework, that’s why.”

Charlie seemed to accept his answer and went back to her book. The concentration was clear on her face, enough so that Logan wondered if she was having trouble with the text. He was just about to ask her if she needed help when her head popped up again, “Since I’m looking at the picture now, could I do it?”

They were sitting on a bench in the courtyard. Kate said the kid couldn’t play, not that she was prohibited from going outside. Logan thought that by getting the girl to do her homework before Kate came back would get Charlie off punishment, and Logan some brownie points. Looking down at the diagram on the page she was focused on. He didn’t see anything interesting there, just a picture of how the earth used to look when it was Pangea and how plate tectonics worked.  Failing to find what she was struggling with he asked, “Do what?” Then the reality of what the child was suggesting hit him, “Oh, no, please don’t reconnect the continents.”

Returning to the book Charlie questioned, “Do you think I could?” Focusing her attention now on him, “I could make a new Pangea. Then we all could live there, and no one could hurt us.”

Charlotte was like her mother, not dumb. She had seen the increase in security that had started this morning on Xavier’s orders. He issued them right before he and Hank went away for a meeting off campus, which was a rarity. The girl knew something was going down.  Feeling that it wasn’t his place right now to discuss the terrorist organization that had given her nightmares her entire young life resurfacing and plotting to take her, he thought about her question.  Logan assumed in theory she could. She had seen the picture in her textbook, so she should be able to copy it. However, a manifestation of anything resembling what she was asking about hadn’t been tested on her, so he didn’t know if it was past her ability, or if she even had a limit.   “I am not the best person to ask about this kind of thing. I think you should talk to Professor Xavier.”

“I will,” That seemed to quiet her down for the moment. The Professor always entertained Charlie’s questions. “There’s mom!” The child yelled as she stood up and pointed behind him. Turning he was shocked by Kate’s appearance, whatever happened at that meeting did a number on her.

The concern was heavy in his voice as he and Charlie walked over to meet Kate, “Is everything all right?” She looked pale, paler than normal. For a quick second he worried about her health, which was always a concern. Seeing that she had a band aid on the inside of her arm, he assumed that she had some blood taken during her meeting, which didn’t put him at ease.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it she confided, “I, I honestly don’t know. Do you mind taking Charlie to dinner in the cafeteria tonight with the other students? We need to move back into the big house for the time being. I just need to pack a few things and think.”

This was not good, but he didn’t want to say anything in front of Charlie. “Of course, but Kate…”

“I’m fine, or I will be. Just need a moment that’s all.” She kneeled to face Charlie, “You look so much like him.” She kissed her daughter on the cheek and pulled her into an embrace. Letting go as she stood up, she tenderly placed her hand on Logan’s bicep, “Thank you.” He was speechless as he watched her walk away.

“Logan did Mom pop a stitch?” Charlie asked using his own phrase for someone going crazy, as she took his hand to hold.

Forcing a smile on his face he looked down to the child, “It was bound to happen eventually pup. Let’s get some grub.”

~~~

Kate didn’t remember the walk to the cottage. She just knew that she had arrived. Opening the door, she took more care then was needed to softly shut it behind her. With the twisting of the lock she lost her last bit of self-control. Finally, alone, she was able to sink down into a heap on the floor and cry uncontrollably. She didn’t cry when she came to in the HYDRA lab after the explosion, having no idea how she got there. She didn’t make a peep when they delivered her baby via caesarean section without any anesthesia and took the child away as soon as the cord was cut. She didn’t even shed a tear when she was rescued and had remained perfectly silent when her daughter was put into her arms for the first time. She didn’t need to be told she was strong, she knew she was because she had to be, but this, this was her breaking point. She cried for the son that she didn’t even know she had, and the memories he had gifted her with about a loving family in his early years. She cried for the husband, who she knew she had to have loved to have such memories, and the pain he also was now experiencing. She cried for the daughter she had dedicated the last ten years of her life to, who had never known anything but fear and hiding from danger. And lastly, she cried for the woman she used to be, before this damn wipe.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Nineteen

Jazz Hands

“So, how have you been?” Tony asked Steve as an attempt to end the awkward silence that had settled between the eight people sitting at the conference table within the meeting room.  Lila was laying down on her stomach in the corner of the room playing on a Starkpad and cuddling with the newly named Lucky. Nate was happily banging on the glass table top from his position in Pepper’s lap.

“Constantly looking over my shoulder for the past two years, and you?” Steve answered bitterly, challenging Stark to a staring contest in the process. Natasha pulled him out of his apartment in the late afternoon to join the group with promises of strategic discussions on how to take down HYDRA. The first two hours of the meeting was Nick Fury catching everyone up on what had happened. Everything from the Sandbox mission to the meeting with the X-Men.

Vision watched the intense exchange between Tony and Steve and took the opportunity to not only defuse the situation, but ask a question, “Professor Xavier said he could help Wanda?”

Breaking from eye contact with Rogers, Tony paraphrased the proposal from the Professor, “He offered to train her. Honestly it might be the best option to get her out of hiding. Xavier has friends in the government, he seems to think he can persuade the UN into letting him sponsor Wanda here in the States. He has in the past been granted visas for his international students. Not only would Wanda be safe, but legal.”

Sam had become close with Wanda during their time together on the run, seeing her as a little sister. The prospect of her returning to a safe environment and being trained in her abilities sounded too good to be true. “When can she return?”

Tony was quick to put out a disclaimer, “I don’t want to act too quickly. Ross is still all over us, and if he even gets a sniff of what we are trying to do, he may try to shut it down. Remember, he is on the UN committee that oversees the enforcement of the Accords. We have to do this in a certain way that the Secretary doesn’t find out until it’s too late.”

Steve protested at the stall in action, “We can’t just leave her out there unprotected.”

“And it should be her decision to enroll in the school.” Natasha contributed, reminding everyone that Wanda should be the person making the calls in her life.

Vision presented his own resolution to the problem, “Perhaps I could offer a solution. What if I went to her? I could protect her and inform her of the proposal. It would be easier for you to contact me directly than trying to get ahold of her. We can just lay low until arrangements are made.”

“Anyone have a problem with that?” Tony asked looking around the table, seeing that no one saw the need to speak up, he continued.  “Then it’s decided, she’s in Scotland,” He ignored the looks that were sent his way. Did they really think that he wasn’t tracking them for the last two years? “Natasha can provide you with more details. Leave as soon as you can. It won’t take long before Ross figures out she is alone.” Vision immediately stood up and walked over to Natasha who was typing on a tablet.

“Here are the coordinates.” She said handing over the tablet. “I will contact Wanda to let her know to expect you.” Vision accepted the object and held it as if it was his most treasured possession. With the coordinates in hand, he left the room, and moments later, the compound.

“Tony, maybe I should order some pizza for dinner?” Pepper’s eyes drifted to the child in her lap and the one in the corner, “They will be getting hungry soon, if they aren’t already.” It was almost seven o’clock in the evening, and if she was feeling famished, then she was positive the kids were too.

“We can send someone out, either you, Rhodes or myself, but please reduce the number of deliveries to the compound until HYDRA isn’t such a threat.” Director Nick Fury cautioned.

“Speaking of threats to the compound. What is our plan against HYDRA?” Steve asked, reminding everyone of why they were there.

“There isn’t a reason for them to strike here unless they believe it would get them Charlotte. They know she is still at the school.” Tony said as he brought up a projection of the blue prints for the compound, “If they do for some reason decide to attempt an infiltration of the compound, as you can see here, we are pretty much a fortress. A person can’t even come in by way of the air vents without an alarm being triggered. There are too many security protocols that an intruder would have to have to get access.”

“Unless you are able to shrink down to the size of a tic-tac.” Sam said under his breathe.

Satisfied with the security precautions, Steve concluded, “So, the assumption is that they will strike the school?”

The Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., disclosed his thinking of when the organization would make a go at the X-Men. “Possibly, the window is tomorrow during the reception. Outsiders have been invited to attend. It would make sense for HYDRA to attempt to sneak someone in.”

Natasha had been listening to the plan, but only had one concern, “But Charlotte will be protected?”

Fury was dumbfounded that Natasha would ask such a senseless question. If the girl’s safety was questionable in her current environment, of course they would have removed her. “I would hope so. The X-Men aren’t stupid, they know that there is a threat against her. It’s not their first rodeo.”

 “So, we stake out the party, and wait for them to make their move?” Sam asked.

Fury revealed the plan, “Everyone will be on comms. Tony will be sure to get video up and working. Obviously, you, Rogers and Natasha can’t go. You will remain outside the party, but you will have eyes and ears on the event.”

Wilson internalize the plan, and voiced his objection, “I don’t like the idea of being so far away if something does go down.”

Not fond of anyone being contradictory with his plan, the Director was fast to shoot back, “And I don’t like the idea of having to negotiate your release from the Raft when Ross finds your fugitive asses.”

Tony got the plan, go to the party and wait for an attack. There was a certain sense of simplicity with it, but he was already over the whole thing. He was focused on what he thought as a more immediate issue.  “Great, so we have a plan. We now can sit here and conduct small talk, while Clint and Cooper bond upstairs over a nervous breakdown?” Looking up he declared, “I should just go up there.”

Natasha had it with Tony’s new-found feeling of entitlement towards the Barton family. “You think being a sperm donor thirty plus years ago gives you the right to barge in on Clint and Cooper and ask about their feelings?”

Pepper was shocked at the outburst, “Natasha! There are children around.”

Natasha looked behind her to see that Lila was still engrossed in whatever she was watching on the Starkpad. “Shit, sorry.”

Steve was the next one to call Nat out, “Natasha! Language.”

Tony jumped a bit when he heard Clint speak suddenly from behind him, “Nat corrupting the children again?”

~~~

Logan and Charlie had finished dinner and were just about to start down the dirt road that would take them to what was called the ‘Carbonell Cottage’. When Kate and Charlie came to live at the school, the last name Bishop was too high profile for Kate or her daughter to use. Professor Xavier had the foresight to know that Charlie would eventually need a birth certificate and social security number, for when she was able to go out into the world. When presented with the dilemma, Kate decided to go by her biological paternal grandmother’s last name, Carbonell. The reason was that no one would be looking for her under that name and having met Maria Stark a few times growing up, the woman had never been anything but loving and kind to her. Legally, they were Katherine Elizabeth Carbonell and Charlotte Henrietta Carbonell of San Diego, California.

A voice called from behind the pair, “Hey you guys, wait up.” Stopping to see who was calling them, they saw Ororo Munroe, who preferred to be called Storm, and Scott Summers.

Greeting them as they caught up to where Charlie and Logan were waiting, Logan said, “Storm, Scott, what are you doing out this way?”

Catching her breath from the sprint, she got out, “Probably the same as you. The Professor filled us in.”

Logan was not enjoying one bit of being out of the loop. “Well, I would like it if someone would help me out with it.”

The look Storm gave him was a troubling one, she quickly morphed into a smile and stated to the child, “Charlie, why don’t you go with Scott? I think since you have been so good lately…”

Placing a hand up in warning, Logan alerted, “Precede with caution there Storm, you obviously didn’t hear about gym class today.”

Looking puzzled at the statement, Storm abandoned the method she was using, “Well, anyways, why don’t you sleep in the girls’ dorm tonight? I’ll tell your mom and get you some clothes and your toothbrush.”

“Really?” She looked around to each adult, eyeing them with suspicion, “What’s the catch?”

Scott scolded the child, “Charlie be nice.” Inside, he was impressed. Any other child would take the prize of staying the night with her friends at face value. Charlie was raised to always be on guard and to analyze any offer that sounded too good to be true.

“It’s fine.” Storm told Scott as she readdressed the child, “You’re smart, so I’m not going to lie to you. There are some people who are not allowed at the school trying to get in. Until we get rid of them, you and your mom are going to move into the school. Tomorrow you guys will have connected rooms, but for tonight you can sleep with your friends, alright?”

Still not believing that she was really going to be able to attend, for lack of a better word, a sleepover, Charlie decided to just go along with it, “Cool.”

Storm was up to date on everything that was going on and the threat hidden behind the walls of the campus, “Charlotte, look at me, this is serious. Do you remember the secret words that someone will say to you if we send them to get you?” The child nodded. “Good, if a stranger comes up to you and says that your mom or us sent them to get you, make them say the secret words, if they can’t, don’t go with them no matter what they say.”

Rolling her eyes for being told the same thing every day for ten years, Charlie replied with the response that had been drilled into her, “Yes ma’am.”

Happy with Charlie’s answer, Storm dismissed the child, “Good girl, now you go with Scott. I’ll be along soon with your pajamas.”

Scott put out his hand for Charlie to take. Once he had her hand secured in his own, he directed her back to the school. Once they were out of ear shot, Logan demanded, “Can someone please fill me the hell in?”

Making sure the child was far enough away, she informed Logan, “They found Charlie’s father.”

Logan made a sound that was a mix between a laugh and a cough, whatever it was supposed to be got stuck in his throat. “Was he missing?”

Storm knew to expect a response like that. Logan had been involved since Charlie was a baby. A little jealousy was anticipated from the Wolverine. “Come on Logan, that’s not fair. We don’t know the guy. We can’t make assumptions about his absence from Charlie’s life. Especially since we now know the reason for it.”

“What’s his reason, went out for smokes and got lost on the way home?” Logan predicted mockingly.

Any other time, Storm would have called him out for his attitude, but understood he was acting out of protectiveness for Kate and Charlie.  “He had his mind wiped, just like Kate did.”

Kicking a rock and watching as if flew across the road and fell into a bush, he observed, “How convenient. And all of a sudden he remembers that he had a child?” 

“It wasn’t as easy as that.” Storm defended as she gestured up the road, “I can fill you in as we walk, Professor asked for me to check in on Kate and help with the move to the house.”

Walking beside her as they saw the cottage come into view, he asked, “So, what does this ‘dad of the year’ want?”

Keeping her eyes on the road while she walked, Storm filled Logan in on what Professor Xavier told her. “Again, not fair. He had no control over it. He is genuinely interested in reconnecting with Kate. He will be here tomorrow for the party, along with a few other members of the Avengers. Kate knows all about it.”

Doing his best ‘jazz hands’ Logan proclaimed loudly, “Yay, the Avengers, can’t wait.”

“Are you ok with this?” She was serious now, she needed to know the answer before they saw Kate. Storm needed to know Logan’s view on this matter.

Shaking his head, “I’m not ‘ok’ with any part of this. But if Kate gave it her seal of approval who am I to disagree.”

Stopping abruptly, she turned to him, “Do you think I’m blind and stupid,”

Logan had taken a step or two before he realized Storm had stopped behind him. “Never thought you were blind. What’s your point?”

Filling the space between them, Storm decided to put everything out there, she wasn’t going to ignore what had been going on any longer. “Nice, my point is that I have seen you walking down this road in the morning, going towards the school.” She placed a heavy emphasis on the word ‘towards’ to make her meaning clear. “The looks you and Kate share across a room. Kate and Charlie aren’t going to be the only people affected by the coming changes.”

Logan placed his hand behind his neck and rubbed it, looking around him, anywhere but at Storm, “It’s not what you think, we were never serious.”

Smiling at his embarrassment of being called out, Storm probed, “So, what was it, friends with benefits?”

Putting his hand back at his side he turned to continue the walk, “That is exactly what it was.” Sensing that Storm wasn’t going to let the topic drop, he brought the attention of the conversation back to the Avengers, “Which one?”

Catching up to him, Storm was confused by the question, “Which one what?”

Annoyed that he had to clarify his request, “Which Avenger did the deed? Bet you it was the black spider.”

Laughing at his guess of who fathered Charlotte, Storm replied, “No, and it’s the Black Widow, not to mention that she’s a woman.”

Raising an eyebrow at the additional information, Logan stated, “Really? And just like that I became more interested in the Avengers. Seriously, was it that rich asshole, the Ironman?”

“Again, no, but he is Kate’s father, Tony Stark.” Feeling Logan’s eyes on her, she didn’t look at him and continued, “I know, the whole thing is crazy. The man who ‘did the deed’ as you so elegantly put it, was Hawkeye, Clint Barton. And before you start with jokes about arrows hitting their targets, they were married, actually, I guess they still are.”

“Married?” He was unable to conceal the shock in his voice.

“Yup, and just so you know because it probably will come up once we get to the cottage, there is another kid.”

Now it was his turn to stop, “You’re shitting me.”

Taking a deep breath, Storm disclosed sadly, “I’m afraid not, a boy. He is a teenager. The Professor and Hank saw him today.”

Logan looked to the house and quickly summarized the events that had led them there, “So, they told Kate about her forgotten husband and son and let her go off alone?”

Not seeing the issue, Storm justify the action, “She told them she needed some time. I don’t blame her, it was a lot to get hit with all at once.” Seeing Logan take off, “Why are you running?”

“Trust me.” He yelled over his shoulder. Storm was right behind him. Arriving at the entrance to the cottage in record time, Logan fished a spare key out of his pocket. Ignoring the raised eyebrow from Storm, he tried the door. “Something is against it. Get medical here now.” He ordered as he gently applied weight to the door, forcing it open.

Storm pulled out her cellphone, “Hank, we need you at Kate’s.” Listening to his response, “We don’t know, just get here please. Logan is getting in now.” Disconnecting the call, she told Logan, “He’s on his way. It’s not locked, what is against it?”

“My guess, her.” Logan reported as he gently pushed the door open, moving whatever was behind along with it. He did it slowly because if his hunch was correct, he didn’t want to hurt Kate. Finally, when there seemed to be enough room for Storm to fit through, Logan ushered her inside.

Storm got half of her body through the entrance when she saw that Logan was correct. “It’s her, she’s out.”

Now that someone was inside with her, Logan had stopped trying to open the door. He would wait until Storm moved Kate. “She’s out? Like out of the way of the door, or like passed out.”

A moment later, Storm’s voice came through the door, “Both, come on in,”

Opening the door all the way, Logan got his first glimpse of Kate. Storm had Kate laying down on the floor, holding her head in her lap. Storm was gently patting Kate’s cheek, coaxing her awake. He was about to check her pulse when Logan saw Kate’s eyelids flicker. “She’s coming to. Kate? Kate, come on wake up.”

After nothing short of an eternity to Logan, Kate opened her eyes. “Hey, there you are. You’re alright. Just stay there. Hank’s coming.” Logan placed both hands on the sides of her head and with his thumbs gently pushed down the bottom lid of her eyes, checking for any signs of injury. Suddenly, the natural light he was using to check Kate was blocked. Looking up towards the door, he saw that Hank McCoy was standing in the entryway. 

Coming inside to kneel beside Kate, Hank opened his medical bag taking out a blood pressure kit. “Katherine” he said in a mocking paternal way, “haven’t we had this conversation before, not passing out when there isn’t anyone around.”

“Was that before or after the conversation about not letting her wander off by herself after receiving life altering news?” Logan accused at the doctor.

Placing the blood pressure cuff on Kate and starting the monitor, Hank looked to Logan, “Every indication showed that she was fine after the meeting.” Giving his attention to the patient, Hank questioned, “Kate do you remember what happened?”

Kate attempted to get up, Logan and Hank without any communication between the two, each took one of her shoulders, lightly pressing it back down. Understanding their meaning to stay down, Kate recalled the earlier event, “I couldn’t breathe, I must have passed out.”

Alarmed looks were exchanged all around. Quickly Hank pulled an oxygen monitoring device out of his bag and put it on her index finger. The device scanned and beeped as it displayed the results. “It’s not an oxygen problem, you’re reading a hundred percent.” Hank examined her by doing the technique that Logan had started. Looking into her eyes, he noticed they were red. The picture became clear then, “Kate, how are you doing? I mean really doing?”

Searching for his meaning Kate stated, “I’m fine. I just passed out that’s all.”

Hank started to gather his equipment back into his bag. Once everything was back he looked directly at her, “Kate, it is me, Logan and Storm.” Kate didn’t even realize that her head was in Storm’s lap until Hank told her that Storm was there. “We’re friends. We know you, you’re as tough as they come. There isn’t a person I know who would have been able to experience half of what you have and not lose it by now. So, when my friend passes out because she says she was unable to breathe and has red eyes, I tend to suspect that she had been crying.” Kate opened her mouth to dispute the claim when Hank put his hand up to stop her, “and if that same friend decides to tell me I am mistaken, then I would not have any other option then to admit her in the infirmary until I come up with another reason, or she comes clean.”

Looking away, Kate had no choice but to admit, “Fine, when you put it like that, I may have been,” swallowing what she thought was her last bit of dignity for admitting to such a thing, “crying.”

Hank paused, knowing what it took for her to admit to something she perceived as a weakness. “That a girl. Now when you are ready, you can slowly try to sit up. I don’t want you standing just yet. Give your head a chance to adjust.”

“That’s it?” Logan asked in disbelief of the recommended medical treatment.

Standing up himself Hank confirmed, “That’s it. I suspect that she had a panic attack. Kate started to cry, it probably got a bit uncontrollable,” looking to Kate for validation, “she hyperventilated, and passed out.”

Storm was next to question the diagnosis, “Will she be alright?”

“It’s a panic attack, nothing serious. It isn’t anything that a mild sedative and good night’s sleep won’t cure.”  He looked to Kate who was now sitting up against the wall by the entrance. “Sleep, that is the best medicine for you. I will get you a light sleeping aide to take the edge off. I’m sure your mind is going a million miles a minute right now; the medicine will slow it down enough for you to fall asleep.”

Kate produced a small smile, “Thank you Hank.”

Speaking to both Storm and Logan, Hank asked, “Can you stay with her and get her to her room at the school. The medicine will be waiting on the night stand. I have a phone call to make.” Logan and Storm nodded, “Thank you, and with that my work here is done. Everyone, please have a good evening.”

Once Hank left, Kate held out her arms to be assisted up, Logan without comment helped and kept his hands on her until she was stable enough to be on her own. Suddenly remembering that her daughter should be with the Wolverine, Kate asked, “Where’s Charlie?”

“Charlie is already in the dorms for the night.” Seeing Kate’s reaction to that Storm clarified, “She’s suspicious, but went willingly. It’s probably best to leave her there for tomorrow night as well since we will all be at the party.” Then Storm added on a lighter note, “If she is in the dorm, then we can have some fun getting ready for the party beforehand.”

As much as Logan loved to hear about spa days, he felt the need to point out, “Yeah, about Charlie staying in the dorms, she knows something is up. No one, I don’t care what school you go to can electrocute their classmates and receive a sleepover as a punishment. Might as well just tell her it’s about a HYDRA threat rather than her thinking that she got one over on us.”

Sighing at the statement, Kate agreed with Logan’s logic, “Well, she needs to be told a few things.”

~~~

All eyes were on the archer as he stood in the doorway. He had sequestered himself to his apartment for almost six hours. Clint had used that time to contemplate what Xavier had shown him. He studied every aspect of the memories, laughing at some, and was silent at others. Finally, when it became too much, he slept, but the memories came in dream form. There was no escaping them now, they were part of him. He had wanted to ask about Kate, seeing if there had been any news. Perhaps share a few things about the woman that no one knew but agreed without hesitation to fight for. However, seeing that his son and daughter were in the area, Clint decided to dance around the elephant in the room. “Have you heard anything from them yet about ‘her’ and how she handled the news?”

Tony shook his head, “Nope, everyone has been unbearably quiet so far.” Clint understood the meaning; the meeting had ended around noon. Clint and Xavier didn’t finish their session until closer to one o’clock. Tony wanted to know what Xavier showed him, and he had promised to talk to him about it. Now just wasn’t a good time. He hadn’t been around Lila and Nate since this morning, and he didn’t want them to feel neglected. He walked into the meeting room and took the empty seat at the end of the table, close to where Lila was laying down. Nate, seeing his father, attempted to climb up on the table to get to him. Pepper stood up and brought Nate to Clint. “Thank you, hey buddy. Have you been a good boy?”

“They have both been perfect angels Clint.” Pepper informed him.

Looking to Lila and back to Pepper, Clint questioned, “Really? Guess the novelty of being here is still going strong, give it some time. Just wait until they get hungry, then you will see what’s hiding behind the masks of the ‘angels’.”

Rhodey took that as his cue that there was something that he was able to help with, “I’m making a pizza run. Any preferences? What does Cooper like?”

Hearing the mention of pizza, Lila got up and went to the table, “Cooper likes food.” She informed Rhodey as she tried to sit in Clint’s lap along with Nate.

Shifting Nathaniel to one knee to allow Lila access to the other, Clint guessed, “I think Cooper is down for the night, but I’ll take some pizza up in case he wakes. Thank you for doing that.”

“Not a problem at all. Here to help.” Rhodes said as he moved over by Tony, who took the signal and produced a credit card. “I’ll just get a little bit of everything, any special requests, just text me.”

Seeing Rhodey leave reminded Lila of an important development that had occurred earlier, “Dad, Rhodey got Lucky a dog bed, but I think he wants to stay with us in our bed for a little while longer.”

Clint wasn’t a therapist by any means but even he was able to interpret Lila’s comment to be a request for her to stay in his bed again that night. “That’s great Lila, what’s one more in the bed?” The dog was in the bed last night, so it really wasn’t ‘one more’, but then again, so was Cooper. Cooper had slowly over the course a day claimed the second bedroom as his own. Clint didn’t see a good reason to force the boy to share, especially since his siblings weren’t on board with the idea yet either.  Perhaps tonight he would be able to get some sleep.

Figuring out the cramped conditions that Casa de’ Hawkeye must be, Tony enlightened Clint to what he had been working on since the meeting had ended. It was one of the many things he had been working on, the other vital item was a decryption program to unlock the wipe. It wasn’t even close to being ready to go, but it looked like it could be a success. “Yeah, about that. You need more room. Two bedrooms won’t cut it. I’m thinking about the space one floor up that isn’t being used. There are two empty apartments right on top of yours. We can do as you did at the Brooklyn apartment, make it one big one.  My suggestion would be to do that and extend it to your current apartment so that it becomes two floors with a bedroom for everyone.  You would just need to live in a work zone for at the most a week.”

Clint knew he had Nate and Lila with him. Nate wasn’t that big of a deal, but Lila would be able to comprehend the conversation. Everyone was doing this for him and his family. He couldn’t put a limit of not speaking about it in front of the kids, and the alternative of banishing the children to another location while the adults talked wasn’t fair either. Lila would have to be told everything before the gathering tomorrow, but until then, he could speak in generalizations, “Tony, I don’t know if that would work. I haven’t decided yet what we are going to do about accommodations.” God, he hoped Tony was picking up the hint he was laying down, “I don’t see myself or anyone else wanting to go back. But I don’t think the compound is the answer.”

Tony did comprehend what Clint was attempting to do and respected it. “Let me do the work anyways, so you have the compound arrangements as a backup plan. That way you have accommodations here to visit the school anytime you want.”

Being raised by a spy, Lila was fast to pick up on the meaning of what the men were talking about, “We’re moving?”

Tony honestly didn’t see the girl move from the corner to her father’s lap. Her question caught him off guard. “Shit, how long have you been there?”

Giving Tony a look for cursing in front of his daughter, to which Tony just rolled his eyes. Clint looked out to everyone sitting at the table, their eyes screamed pity for the predicament he and his family were in. Deciding on when and how he would tell her, Clint suggested, “Lila, sweetheart, why don’t you and I go for a long walk tomorrow after breakfast? Then we can talk about our ‘vacation’.”

Lila aimed her sights on Nate and up to her father, “Just you and me?”

With a fake smile Clint promised, “Just us.”

The tender father and daughter moment was disturbed by the sound of Tony’s cell phone ringing, pulling it out of his pocket, he checked the caller ID, “It’s the blue doctor.” Stark told the group as he answered the phone.

Sam leaned towards Natasha, “psychologist?” He then saw Nick Fury watching him, understanding that the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. was willing him with his mind to shut up.

Pepper knew Clint would want to be an active participant in the phone call, so she got up again to take Nathaniel back and guided Lila off her father’s lap, “Come on, I’m sure Lucky needs to be walked and fed.”

Lila raised a few objections, but after a stern look from Clint, complied with Pepper’s request. As she slid off his lap, Clint assured her, “Lila just for a minute while Tony is on the phone, then Colonel Rhodes will be back with dinner and we all can sit and eat together.”

Once Pepper shut the glass door behind her, Tony greeted, “Hello?”

“Hello Tony, Doctor Hank McCoy here. I told you I would be in contact after I met with Kate.”

Tony put a hand over the mouthpiece and informed the group, “She knows.” Uncovering the piece, he asked, “How did she take it?”

“Better than I expected, had a little hiccup just now, but I think she should be fine.”

Again, covering the mouth piece, Tony relayed the comment, “Had a bit of a hiccup, but she should be, wait a minute.”  Uncovering the phone again, Tony asked in alarm, “What do you mean she should be fine?”

“Damn it Tony, just put it on speaker!” Clint demanded, his voice thick with worry over what Tony just said.

“Hey doc, can I put you on speaker?”

“Of course, you may.”

Tony pressed a button on the phone and placed it on the table. “Hank, you are now on the phone with myself, Clint, Nick, Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson, and Steve Rogers, everyone Doctor Henry McCoy.”

“A pleasure I’m sure. As I was telling Tony, Kate had a slight medical situation after hearing the information. It was dealt with, and I see no reason to believe it will affect her overall health.”

Clint stood up to move closer to the phone’s speaker, “Dr. McCoy, it’s Clint, what is a light medical situation? What exactly happened?”

“About thirty minutes ago, Kate was discovered unconscious in her home.” Concerned glances were shared all around the table. “It was a panic attack. She hyperventilated and passed out. Giving the nature of what she learned today, it isn’t a surprise that this happened.”

All eyes in the conference room turned to Tony at the mention of Kate suffering a panic attack. Tony took the hint and inquired, “Are panic attacks hereditary?”

“I wouldn’t say that an attack itself is hereditary, but panic disorders and the symptoms associated with the condition are. Is that a contributing factor you, Mr. Stark, are recommending me to look at?”

“Yeah, I suffer from them myself. Never passed out but have gotten pretty damn close. You said that you doubt this will affect the gamma poisoning? How is that? She had to have been stressed when it occurred.”

“But she passed out. That slowed down the heart rate considerably. When I got to her, all vitals were normal. I would assume the whole incident was short.  I am going to give her a sleeping aide to help tonight, hopefully a good night’s sleep is all she needs. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me, I am going to go see to the sleeping medication now. Have a good night and see you all tomorrow.”

Without giving anyone an opportunity to respond, Dr. McCoy severed the call. Everyone returned to their place at the table. “Well, she now knows, and we are still invited to the event tomorrow. All and all? I’m going to take that as a good sign.” Tony offered trying in vain to bring some levity to the situation.

Natasha didn’t see where Tony’s optimism was coming from, “Tony, she stopped breathing and passed out.”

“It was a panic attack, nothing more. I think Tony is right.” Now everyone was staring at Clint for his sudden support of the Ironman. “She didn’t ask that we not attend. If she did, I doubt Hank would have even mentioned the party tomorrow.”

Tony asked Clint, “In any of the memories you were given, did she ever have a panic attack before?”

Shaking his head, Clint said, “She didn’t, at least not in front of Cooper. If she did with me or in private, I don’t know. She was always,” He paused, searching for the right words to explain her personality around their son, “energetic and loving.  Hell, only one memory I got had her sad or afraid in it.” The people around the table all noticed that his voice got quieter when he revealed that particular memory.  

Clint saw that he was the center of attention and quickly put the assumption to rest, “it wasn’t bad.” He swore to the group, then added, “In fact, it was one of the best memories I was given.”

Looks were exchanged all around until Sam prompted, “Feel like sharing?” Tony thought he may go over the table and kiss Sam for his suggestion.

Natasha defended her best friend, “Damn Sam, don’t push him.”

Then of all the people in the room, the one who Clint would have thought would be the most considerate regarding a person’s intimate family moments, Steve Rogers piped in, “Maybe if you told us your best memory of Kate, it would help us to learn about her. Who knows, it may even help you Clint to talk about it.” Clint scoffed at the notion of ‘story time’, he had come to the room with the idea of sharing things about Kate. Not to tell of the exact remembrances, of course, those were sacred.  Then he saw it, the faces of his friends watching him, silently willing him to disclose. Maybe there was something to it if Rogers was recommending it.

Preparing himself mentally, Clint opened his mouth, “Alright, it happened I would guess almost eleven years ago…”

~~~

“Hey Kate, you’re here early.” At the mention of his mother’s name by Ms. Simone, Cooper looked up from where he was playing. His mommy was here, which meant that he was going to go home.  Running over to her with his arms opened wide, she complied and picked him up.

With a smile on her face and placing a kiss on each of his cheeks Kate greeted, “Hello my love. Were you a good boy for Ms. Simone today?” Cooper didn’t respond, he understood the question, just didn’t want to answer it.

Ms. Simone didn’t miss a beat with telling on him, “We have a new fascination with putting things in the toilet. But it’s common at this age. We put them on the pot so often to train them to use it, it becomes a toy.”

“Well, we will just need to watch out for that. Right buddy?” Mommy wasn’t mad, she was smiling at him.

Cooper looked away from his mom to watch as Simone walked around the living room, collecting his toys and packed them away in his bag. With the last item safely tucked away, she zipped up the bag and asked, “Any reason you are doing bank hours today? We weren’t expecting you for a few more hours.”

Bouncing Cooper on her hip, Kate looked at him and answered, “Yeah, well something came up. I’ll be doing nine to five for the foreseeable future.”

“I hope everything is alright, but happy the Cooper will get some sort of routine.” Simone said as she handed Kate the bag.

Looking away from him, Kate looked at Ms. Simone, “Alright may not be the best word for the situation. On that note, if you hear shouting from our place later, don’t worry about it, it’s just Clint having a meltdown.”

Cooper watched as Simone’s face changed in understanding and she smiled at his mommy, “Oh, I get it. Do you want me to keep Cooper for the night?”

Cooper tightened his grip around his mom’s neck, “No, I go home,” he requested.

Kate turned her attention away from Simone for a second to reassure her son, “We’re going home.” Then returned to her friend, “We will be ok, thank you for the offer. Have a good night Simone and we will see you in the morning.”

“Good night Kate, night Cooper.” Simone said as she followed them to the door and opened it for Kate.

Hearing Ms. Simone’s door shut and lock behind them Cooper held onto his mom as they walked across the hallway to their apartment. Opening the door, she placed Cooper down. He didn’t want to be put down, so he attempted climbing Mount Saint Mama. “Ok, come on back up.” She said understanding what he wanted, his mommy always knew what he wanted. “Ms. Simone said you were playing in the toilet water, so I think a bath is the first order of business tonight,”

Bringing him into the bathroom, she started to run the water and undress him. Bath time was always fun when mommy or daddy did it, not so much when Ms. Simone did. She had placed him in the water and started to wash his hair when she started, “Cooper, we need to have a talk.” Oh no, was this about the toilet? Maybe mommy was mad after all. “Things are going to change around here.” The last time she said that, he had to start using the ‘big boy potty’ and that has not been good for anyone, just ask Simone’s earrings. “Mommy is going to have a baby. You’re going to be a big brother. Isn’t that exciting?”

Cooper just stared at Kate, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that is the exact reaction your daddy is going to have. Mommy wanted to wait a bit before telling you guys, but work caught me. So, your daddy has probably already figured out by now that I am on desk duty. It may get loud here.”

“Baby.” Cooper repeated back. He had no idea what she was talking about.

She smiled really big, “Yes a baby. What a smart boy. I do love you so much.” She bent into the tub to kiss Cooper on top of his head, “you know that right?”

Kate was busy making a tower of bubbles and blowing it away when he heard his daddy from the other room, “Kate? Are you home?”

She made a funny face at Cooper as she stuck out her tongue, and he laughed at the sight. Hearing dad yell for mom a second time, she rolled her eyes and pulled Cooper out of the bath, wrapping a towel around him she called back, “Yeah, we are in here. Coming.”

Cooper went running out of the bathroom towards his daddy’s voice. Coming around the corner he saw his dad pouring a cup of coffee in the kitchen. He must have heard Cooper coming because he placed the cup down and kneeled to pick up the boy. “There’s my naked man. Did you have fun today with Ms. Simone.”

“Earrings bye-bye.” Cooper responded, and only received a questionable look from his father in return.

“I’m slowly putting together that he flushed Simone’s earrings down the toilet today.” Kate said coming into the kitchen holding the toddler’s pajamas.

Clint smiled then got a serious look on his face while he shook his head, “Cooper don’t do that.”

Taking Cooper from his dad, mommy sat him on the counter and started to put his clothes on, “I’m sure hours after the fact he completely understands what you are telling him.”

Picking up his cup again, Clint said, “Well, I don’t know what else to do then. Speaking of hours after the fact. Do you mind telling me why when I check the Darkstone mission profile for tomorrow I saw that Mills had replaced you on the team?”

“Don’t mind at all. I’m on desk duty.” Kate told Clint without taking her eyes off her son, keeping a smile plastered on her face that even Cooper knew was fake. Now that he had clothes on, she put him back on the floor, and he went straight for his daddy again.

Gulping down his coffee, Clint bent down to pick Cooper up again, “Desk duty? What did you do?”

Now Kate’s smile was gone. Cooper didn’t know why his mommy wasn’t happy anymore. “What did I do? More like what did you do?”

Now he could see that his daddy wasn’t happy either. “Excuse me? Care to explain that?”

Cooper started to push against his dad. There was something in the way Clint sounded and looked that made Cooper want to get away from him. He was scared and about to cry. He didn’t like what was happening. Then it came to him, how he got mommy to smile in the bath, “Baby.”

Clint and Kate both looked at Cooper. He was happy to see that his mom had a little smile again, not like the one last time he said it, but now daddy looked different too. Clint slowly turned his head to Kate, “Kate?”

Pointing at Cooper, she answered, “You heard your boy, we’re having a baby. I’m on desk duty.”

Clint put Cooper down again. With his arms now free, he was able to grab each of Kate’s hands. “Kate, a baby?” he asked, and Cooper watched as his Mommy nodded. “A baby, we’re having a baby!” Clint exclaimed. Both once again looked to Cooper as he let out a howling sound that quickly became a crying fit. Clint released Kate and kneeled before his boy. “Hey bud, we didn’t forget about you.” The tears dried up instantaneously.

Kate came behind Clint and put her hand on his back causing him to look over at her, “So, we are ok with this?”

Clint was still looking at Cooper making sure he wasn’t going to cry again, “Of course, we are” Then he looked to Kate.” Why, did you expect me not to be happy about another kid?”

She eyed Cooper as she recalled, “Well, when you found out about Cooper….”

Clint sat down on the floor next to where Cooper was standing. Seeing him do it, Kate did the same thing. “That’s not fair,” Clint countered, then conceded, “but I will admit it wasn’t my finest moment, I would like to point out in my defense, that you didn’t tell me about Cooper, Fury did, and in front of a lot of people.” Cooper observed that as his dad finished talking he turned and put a hand on his mommy’s tummy for some reason, then started again, “We got this. Look at Cooper, he is almost three and still breathing. We got this.”

With the feeling of Clint’s hand on her still flat belly, Kate started to cry, Cooper wanted to go to her, mommies shouldn’t cry, but watched as his dad got to her first. “Hey, its ok. What, were you afraid I was going to be mad or something?”

Kate wrapped her arms around Clint’s neck and put her face into his chest and cried. Why was mommy sad Cooper wondered and watched as his Daddy rubbed his hand up and down her back like he did when Cooper cried. So, lacking any other course of action, Cooper did what he always did when he was confused or scared, he cried. Clint saw him and pulled him in with the other hand and rubbed his back too. “Don’t like when mommy cries, well neither do I Coop.”

Cooper was trying to put himself between his mom and dad, so he could be with both. Kate leaned back so he could achieve his goal. She wiped away her tears with her hand, but Clint grabbed it before she could, “Hey Kate, I’m sorry that I gave you the impression that I wouldn’t be happy about this baby, but I am.”

Kate confessed in a tone that Cooper didn’t understand, “You have made it clear to anyone who will listen that Cooper wasn’t planned. You never wanted this.”

Kissing Kate’s hand that he was still holding as he pulled it to his chest Clint corrected, “I never knew I wanted this. Our little life and family, it’s now the only thing I want. The only thing I’m worried about is space. We need more of it.”

Kate laughed at that which made Cooper feel better. “Yeah, we ran out of room when it was just your bachelor pad.”

Clint kissed the top of Cooper’s head then Kate’s. “Well, no one is next door. We could tear down a wall and add a few more bedrooms and another bathroom. I always wanted to build something.”

~~~

At the completion of the story, Clint thought if nothing else, he now had a better understanding of his son’s mind. The kid was trouble from the beginning. Not only did Xavier give him memories of his wife, but also his son, and the treasured memory of being told about Charlie’s existence.  Reliving the moments through Cooper’s eyes, gave Clint an outsider’s view on how people could perceive him. He didn’t like the fact that his son was sad because his mom cried, or that his dad’s body language stirred fear in the child. That just hit to close to home and was everything Clint tried not to be as a father and husband. He would have to be more mindful of what he did around Nathanial. Clint broke away and surveyed the room. Steve was looking down with a hint of a smile. Natasha was lost in her own thoughts staring at the wall. Sam and Nick still had their attention on Clint with blank expressions. Tony was also watching Clint, but the look on his face was haunted.

“Tony?” Clint asked after observing the painful appearance on the man’s face.

Being pulled back by Clint’s voice, Tony wondered what kind of marriage and relationship Kate and Clint had that she would have been afraid to tell him about a pregnancy. He suddenly felt the need to protect his daughter, “Why was she scared to tell you about Charlie?”

“Honestly don’t know. I did something that gave her that impression.” Knowing that Tony wasn’t happy with his answer, Clint acknowledged, “I don’t like it either.”

Nick cut in with his own takeaway from the story, “I’m more curious as to the reason why I had to tell Barton about Cooper.”

At that moment, Rhodes tapped on the door holding up a plate with pizza on it, indicating that dinner was being served. Thankful for the distraction, Natasha, Nick, Tony, and Sam got up and walked out, leaving Steve and Clint alone at the conference table.

Steve took the quiet moment to ask Clint, “How are you really doing? None of this can be easy.”

Clint looked to Steve, debating what he was about to ask. Finally figuring out that Cap would be the best person to answer his question, he went ahead, “Is it possible to miss someone when all you have is a few memories of them?” Sliding his hand through his hair in frustration he quickly added, “Hell, and the memories aren’t even your own?”

Steve nodded his understanding of the question. He knew exactly what Clint was referring to, he had been there himself in a strange sort of way. “Speaking as an expert in the subject of only having the memories of loved ones to cherish. It doesn’t matter why or how you miss someone. You miss a person because they were a part of the important moments of your life. You worked with Kate at S.H.I.E.L.D., married her, and had two children together. I think it is a safe assumption to make that the most important moments of your adult life had Kate at your side. I would be even more concerned for you if you told me that you didn’t miss her.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty

Spoiled

“Pepper, I appreciate everything you are doing, but I don’t want them to get spoiled. Back home, when you could reach the cabinet to get a bowl, you were old enough to make your own breakfast. Cereal is fine for them, it was only on weekends that we went all out on breakfast.” Clint said as he bounced Nate in his lap and watched as Lila filled her plate at the buffet laid out on the counter.

Handing Nathaniel a piece of bacon, which he gleefully accepted, Pepper responded, “Is it spoiling to make sure that they have a good meal? Come on Clint, if I am going to be grandma, then let me act like it.”

Clint hadn’t thought about that, Tony was Kate’s father and engaged to Pepper. In a few months’ time, Pepper would in fact be Cooper and Charlie’s step grandmother. The issue before them now was that Clint was a package deal, all or nothing. He had four children, only two of which were related to Kate and Tony. Would either of them accept the entire Barton family? Lila was in a unique situation, for lack of a better word, she was adopted. Perhaps with time, Kate would see Lila as another innocent victim in this horrible wipe and accept her as her own. Nathanial was a different story altogether, he was biologically Clint and Laura’s. A means to a deeper cover.  Could Kate love and care for Laura’s son? Tony, still unsure of his place in Kate’s life would probably go with whatever she decided, but he did offer to and had already this morning, started on the renovations to expand their living quarters. Would Tony do that if he wasn’t ready to accept all of the children into his family?

It was almost as if Clint had said everything he was thinking out loud by Pepper’s offer, “I don’t know if that would help your ‘walk’ with Lila.” Noting the puzzled look Clint flashed her she expanded, “Mentioning that I would become her grandmother. It may prove to her that nothing has changed, she still has all of us, some even closer than before. She loves Tony, now he won’t be Uncle Tony, but grandpapa. I won’t be Ms. Pepper, but, I don’t know what they would call me. How about we let them decide?”

“Things have changed Pepper, they won’t have Laura.” Clint reminded her in a low whisper. “I have to go out and tell my little girl that her mom isn’t coming back, and dad already has someone new set up.”

Pepper respected the situation that Clint was in, “That’s not fair to you or Kate. Maybe if you just start by telling her that Kate is Cooper’s mom. Probably be a good idea to mention Charlie as well.  Lila is ten, she has had to see blended families at school before.”

Clint dryly observed, “This isn’t a blended family, this is a chopped and pureed family.”

Reaching out her hand, Pepper placed it on top of Clint’s, “It is what you make it out to be Clint. You just need to be honest. Tell her that her mom did something bad and is gone now. Yes, she will cry, and she will scream, but as long as you show her that she still has her brothers and her dad, she will be alright. It will take a long time, so buckle in, but she will be alright in the end with the proper help and guidance.”

Realizing that he was in over his head, he asked, “What do I tell her about HYDRA?”

“Honestly?” Pepper inquired to which Clint nodded, he wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t want her suggestion on the matter. “You may want to tell her that Laura was part of it, a bad group of people who did some dreadful things. You know she will ask what terrible things her mom did that was so bad she had to leave. You also may want to add that is why Kate and Charlie were gone for so long. That is where I would leave it, I wouldn’t mention Lila’s own connection to the group.” Clint was about to protest, refusing to lie to his daughter, “You’re not lying, you are just omitting things right now, for her benefit. I think we are all in agreement that the kids are going to need some professional help. Let Lila start to go for a few sessions, then meet with the therapist and ask them how to tell her.”

Watching as Lila sat down at the table, he turned to Pepper and in a hushed tone asked, “What if Kate doesn’t want anything to do with them.”

Astounded by the question, Pepper wondered, “Why would you think that?”

Keeping a careful eye on Lila to make sure she didn’t overhear anything, he confided to Pepper, “I don’t know, how does someone react to their husband showing up after ten years with two additional children. Put yourself in her shoes.”

“They aren’t the same size, but I have a pair of shoes just like hers.” Pepper assured him, “Remember Tony? Out of the blue, ‘hey so I have a daughter…’. Been there, and I accept Kate as part of Tony. Just like I accept all the children, and Tony does too, and something tells me that Kate is going to do the same.”

That sure didn’t sound like the Tony Clint knew, “And Tony is really fine with all of this?”

Pepper let go of Clint’s hand and leaned back into her chair, “Yes, he has already told me that he wants them all to think of him as his grandfather. It’s not fair to Lila or Nate to be left out. It’s not their fault this happened to them. We are a family now Clint, all of us.”

“I’m done.” Lila announced from her seat. True to her word, the mountain of food she had piled onto her plate was gone. “Can we go on that walk now.”

Feeling like a prisoner walking to the electric chair, Clint handed Nate over to Pepper. “Yeah, sure, let’s go.”

~~~

Kate called over the courtyard full of children working off their breakfast, “Charlie, come over here please.”

The girl stopped in mid run, she was participating in a makeshift soccer game, “I didn’t do it.”

Throwing her hands in the air in frustration, Kate yelled back, “Didn’t do what? You know, I really don’t have time for this today. Just get over here.” Having a serious discussion by yelling to each other across the yard in front of everyone wasn’t what Kate had planned.

Charlie accepted her fate and walked over to her mom. She has had people watching her all day, she hadn’t had the opportunity to do anything wrong, and not for want of trying. When she got to her mom, she saw Kate wave to Logan who was ‘on guard’ right now and pointed to the secluded bench that was in the corner of the courtyard away from everyone. Logan nodded as he leaned back against the brick wall and pulled out a cigar.

“Charlie, come have a seat with me.” Kate said, and she sat down and patted the space next to her. “We need to talk about something really important.”

Sitting down next to her mom, Charlie knew this was something entirely different then what she anticipated when Kate called her over. “What’s wrong? Is it HYDRA?” There were only so many reasons why she would be so closely watched, and the terrorist organization was never far from her thoughts.

Kate had never been able to get one over on her daughter starting at an early age. “Yes, HYDRA is a problem, but that isn’t what we need to talk about right now. Remember that meeting I had yesterday? What am I saying of course you remember it.”

Watching her friends continue the soccer game without her, Charlie answered, “The one that Logan had to watch me during because I changed the gym balls.”

Kate had forgotten all about that, “That one. Well, I met with Professor Xavier and Doctor McCoy. They wanted to let me know that they found some people. People I use to know or knew of.”

“Before HYDRA hurt us?” Kate really did hate that Charlie used that as a time marker. Everything was ‘before’ and ‘after’ HYDRA.

Taking a different approach Kate rephrased, “Before you were born. They met with four people. One of the people was my old boss, Director Nick Fury, he was here last year and visited us.”

Charlie paused, recalling the details of when the man came and spoke to her and her mom. “The guy with the eye patch, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, former Colonel Nickolas J. Fury.” When Kate didn’t say anything else, Charlie asked, “Who else was at the meeting?”

~~~

“Do you want anything else?” Pepper asked as she watched Cooper clean his plate. The teenager had been missing since early yesterday afternoon, so an appetite was expected. In response to the offer, Cooper return to the layout of food.

Rhodes was refilling his coffee as he did his best British documentarian voice impersonation, “We are witnessing the American teenage boy in his natural habitat – a buffet line.”

Tony looked up from the tablet he was working on, “I don’t remember doing that at his age, but I was an eccentric teenager.”

Natasha couldn’t help herself, “Tony, all of this is happening now because you were an eccentric teenager.”

Avoiding the bait of Natasha’s, Tony countered, “Hey, what I did drunk in the backseat of my car is my own business.”

Coming to her fiancée’s defense Pepper was fast to point out, “And if he wasn’t, we wouldn’t have Cooper with us, now would we?”

Steve was sitting on the couch looking over some research about the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, preparing for the evening’s mission. He was going in and out listening to the exchange taking place behind him in the dining area. Only hearing bits and pieces of the conversation, Steve turned around to face the group and asked, “What does Tony driving around in a car have to do with Cooper?”

Sam was sitting at the table looking over topographic maps of both the compound and the school’s campus with Nick when he went to his friend’s aid. “Procreation Steve. They are talking about sex.” Steve’s face got red and he turned back around to look like he was reading, but Sam decided to take things further by calling over to him, “Tony did the dirty in the backseat of a car with Kate’s mom, and Kate did the deed….”

Tony stopped Sam’s genealogy explanation of the Stark family, “Now that is not funny.”

Nick straighten himself, allowing the stress of being bent over the maps to release. Crossing his arms, he stated his counterview, “Like hell it isn’t. Of all the people in the world for Clint to get with, he got with your daughter. I mean what are the odds of that?” He looked at Sam, “I want to know how he got her in the first place. She’s an attractive lady now, I wish I could remember what she looked like ten years ago. Cause damn.” Nick added with his famous authoritative sarcasm.

“She was beautiful.” Everyone looked to Cooper, who had said the comment in a soft voice as he stared at his reloaded plate. Pepper and Tony traded a concern look. Cooper hadn’t said word one about what Xavier had shown him yesterday. It was the first time Cooper had acknowledged the memories in their presence.

Natasha was seated right next to Cooper, so she took the lead. “Cooper, I have known you for a long time. I hope you know that if there was anything you wanted to talk to me about, you don’t have to ask, just start talking. Do you want to talk about yesterday, and what you saw?”

Cooper took a moment to consider, then nodded his head. He was just about to start talking when he saw Clint walk in with Lila over his shoulder. A shiver ran down his spine as he had a flashback to that night at the farm when she was drugged.  “Dad?”:

Clint looked over to see Cooper’s face. He immediately figured out what was going on in his son’s mind, and went over to him, “It’s alright Cooper, she is just upset.”

Knowing that she was being spoken about, Lila lifted her head and took in the scene before her. Her eyes darted around until she found what she wanted, “Auntie Nat!” she screamed and launched herself into the red head’s arms and away from her father.

Natasha stood up and caught the girl in midair as she drove for her. “Hey honey, I’m here.”

Then the sobs came out, “Dad said…mom isn’t…coming back.” Natasha held the child tighter as an attempt to comfort her. “Mom did something…bad…can’t come back.”

“I know sweetie. It’s sad.” Natasha looked up at Clint. Being partners, she had seen Clint beaten, battered, and bruised. She had seen him tortured and near death, but none of that was remotely close to the pain he looked to be in now. He told her one drunken night after Lila was born about the car accident that killed his parents and left him an orphan. He explained how it was his worst fear to have his children go through the same thing, losing a parent.  It was what drove him to retiring right before Nate was born. Now here he was, Laura was gone, and Clint had to explain why to her children.  Honestly, how much longer would Clint be able to maintain his composure before he broke from this madness? Returning her attention to the child crying in her arms, Natasha noticed that there was dirt and pieces of dried leaves stuck everywhere.

Clint saw Natasha’s inspection and informed her in a very tired voice before being asked, “I don’t want to say that she didn’t handle the news well, but she did unsuccessfully attack a log and fell down a hill.”

Knowing that there were probably a few vital facts missing from the story of Lila’s reaction to the news, Natasha put it in the back of her mind to ask later. “Lila, Lila?” The girl looked up, “You are filthy, let’s go get you in the bath, I want to make sure you didn’t get hurt falling, and there isn’t anything living in your hair.” A bath was the perfect cover to move the girl away from the assembly of concerned people who were watching her. Also, it was for the best to take Lila away from Clint, because right now he was the bad guy to his child, and she needed the space and time process the blow she was just dealt.

Clint appreciated Natasha taking charge of the situation and thanked her as she led his daughter up to the apartment. It was for the best that Lila be taken somewhere more private and having her Auntie Nat to confine in without him hovering. Suddenly feeling every day of his age as he went to the living area and collapsed into one of the recliners. Everyone froze in anticipation of what would happen next. It took about three minutes for Clint to convince himself enough into believing that he was able to move onto the next child’s maternal crisis, “Hey Cooper, how are you doing?”

Tony was taken back; Clint and Cooper were far apart in distance. Clint sitting in the communal area, and Cooper at the dining table. There weren’t any physical barriers between the two areas, but there was a lengthy distance between the two and a lot of people filling in that space. It seemed uncharacteristic of Clint to openly ask his son about his feelings with an audience. Thinking back to earlier when Tony interrupted the father and son talking in private during an emotional moment it occurred to him that perhaps Clint was doing this in public to reduce the chances of him dropping his strong façade again. At this point Tony could only assume the mind games that Clint was playing with himself to be able to continue going.

Cooper got up and washed off his plate and put it on the drying rack. Walking over to his dad he calmly explained, “I was doing good until I learned my mom was conceived one drunken night in the backseat of a car, that and you know, seeing my sister learn her life was also a lie.”

Clint shot a look to Tony then matter-of-factly commented as his son sat down on the couch next to Steve, “Well, it definitely has been a day of discoveries. Where’s your brother?”

Rhodes called from his position between Sam and Nick, “Just put him down upstairs to take a nap after breakfast. FRIDAY is watching him.”

Checking the time Clint saw that it was probably the right move, “Natasha is up there now, so he’ll be ok. Should nap for another hour at least. Cooper, other than your freaky grandfather and traumatized sister, you are handling everything?”

Steve saw that Cooper was struggling with an answer in front of some many people. He tried his best to help the kid out, “Cooper was just telling us that his mom was pretty.”

“I believe he said ‘beautiful’.” Tony clarified from his spot next to Pepper at the table. He was working on an algorithm for his wipe reversal program while Pepper was looking over Stark Industries emails and contacting contractors regarding the Barton apartment improvements. Tony would had preferred to be in his lab, as he would be on any given day. However, he didn’t want to miss a moment in case Cooper spilled the beans on his memories of Kate. There were also tactical discussions that he probably should be involved in going on at the end of the table between Rhodey, Sam and Nick about tonight’s events.

Soberly Clint replied, “Yeah, yeah she was.”

Rhodey chose that moment to have a little fun at Tony’s expense, “Nick says she is still pretty hot.”

“Did he now?” Looking to Nick then back to the boy, Clint offered, “Is there anything else you remembered and wanted to talk about?”

Cooper didn’t need to, he knew if he wanted to talk, his dad would listen. “Not really, she was mostly always happy, laughing and playing with me, you too dad. Our life was good.” Cooper didn’t know that Xavier only gave him the good memories, while Clint was burden with everything. The Professor allowed Cooper to keep the rose color glasses on but removed them for Clint. He received the memories that were created before Cooper could attach meaning to it. Sometimes, like in the recall of learning about Charlie, Clint was a witness to his son’s internal monologue, but others were not like that.  Meaning that while Cooper was able to see and hear the scenes, he was too young to process what was happening. They weren’t always happy and laughing, but it was clear that they loved each other and Cooper.  

If Cooper thought that the return of Kate meant the return of the life he believed they had back then, Clint needed to prepare him for reality. “Life isn’t all tickles, hugs, and piggyback rides Coop.”

Cooper didn’t need to be told that, not after the lessons he had learned in the last few days. His dad did mention something that generated a memory, that he for some reason felt the need to share with the group. They were all asking if he wanted to talk, so he decided to share the memory that his father triggered, “I remember this one time, I heard something one night, so I got up. I went to your room, and saw that mom was trying to give you a piggyback ride.” Cooper laughed at the absurdity of the memory, while everyone’s mouth hung open at the innocent recollection. Obviously, he did not think the whole thing through prior to sharing. He just heard the word ‘piggyback’ and reverted to what his young mind interpreted the moment to be and was clueless to what he had just revealed to the group of friends and family. The teenager continued as if it was the funniest thing in the world, “I remember being so mad that she would give you a ride, but I had to go to bed.” Cooper wasn’t a toddler anymore, and as soon as he saw the reactions he got to his story, he quickly processed the event, “Oh my God, she wasn’t giving you a piggyback ride, was she?”

Clearing his throat, Clint confirmed, “No son, no, she wasn’t.” Then he wondered to himself why Xavier would give his son that memory, perhaps because Cooper didn’t attach the real meaning to it?

An awkward silence hung in the room, nobody wanted to be the one to break it. Finally, Cooper stated, “I may throw up.”

Tony was looking through the glass table to his shoes underneath lacking anything else to do. After that story he was positive that he would not be able to focus on his research and work, the visual plaguing his mind prohibited it. All he could do was to agree with his grandson, “Right behind you.”

Clint caught Rhodey and Nick smirking, Sam had his back to him, so all he could see was Wilson’s shoulders slightly moving. Clint knew that the reason Sam was turned away was so that no one could see him laughing.

“Speaking of traumatizing the children.” Pepper slowly stated, giving everyone time to collect themselves from Cooper’s recall of catching his parents having sex, “Clint, Maria Hill just sent me a list of therapists that specialize in this type of thing, who work with children. S.H.I.E.L.D has contracts with them, so they have been vetted.”

Tony leaned over to see the email on Pepper’s tablet, “Who specializes in counseling children who have been lied to, kidnapped, and poisoned?”

Still staring at the maps, Nick answered, “You would be surprised the cases S.H.I.E.L.D has been involved in.”

Ignoring both Tony and Nick, Pepper continued, “Clint, would you like me to pursue this? They all do house calls.”

“I have to see a shrink?” Cooper shrieked

“Ya think?” Clint sarcastically shot back at his son’s question. “Thank you Pepper, if you don’t mind could you please forward that to me? I will look over it before I leave tonight.”

Rhodes brought the topic back to the mission, “We need to go over the plan before you guys leave.”

Tony wasn’t worried, “There is a lot that has to happen before the party, we will get it all done.”

“Can I go?” Cooper asked with the puppy-dog eyes that had never worked with Clint.

“Listen Coop, I know you want to see her, but I don’t think tonight is the best time.” Clint said choosing his words carefully. “There could be some trouble, and I don’t want two kids in the line of fire.”

Cooper was clearly disappointed with his father’s decision, but he understood it, “What will you tell her, about me, if she asks?”

Happy that there wasn’t going to be a fight over Cooper’s attendance, Clint asked, “I’m sure she will ask. What do you want me to tell her?”

“I don’t know, you’ll think of something.” He concluded after a moment of thought on the matter, “Tell her I miss her, and I want to see her soon.”

Not sure if it was his place to suggest but Steve offered, “Why don’t you write her a note?”

Cooper processed the idea then asked his dad, “Do you have her email address?”

Clint dropped his head to suppress a laugh. Steve shook his head, “This generation is doomed. No, I meant you physically pick up a pencil or pen and write her a letter…on paper.” Steve gestured with his hands the act of writing something to make sure the concept was clear.

~~~

Driving through the gate of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters was like driving into a Jane Austin novel. The entire property screamed ‘summer in New England”. Clint didn’t know what he expected but knew that this wasn’t it. The school was only marked with a small bronze plaque on the right side of the school’s entrance. The actual trip took more than the anticipated thirty minutes. Nick had them leave two hours before they were expected so that they could drive around, to see if anyone was following. This was done with the goal of ditching any tails prior to arriving. Steve and Natasha followed for just that reason. Clint or Nick would identify someone following them, then communicate to Steve to take them out. Sam and Rhodey stayed back at the compound to offer support on comms, and to provide protection in the unlikely instance that the compound was compromised.

They weren’t trying to hide the fact they were going to the school. The goal was to reduce the amount of HYDRA agents that were lurking around, and this was the best way to go about to accomplish that objective. Once Nick pulled into the school. Natasha and Steve kept driving until they were able to find an isolated place to hide that was far enough away from any HYDRA cells, but close enough in case they were needed. As far as plan’ A through Z’ went, Steve and Natasha crashing the party was ‘plan N’ according the Clint’s logic. The Secretary was going to be in attendance, and wouldn’t think twice about ditching a party, even one in his honor, to arrest the fugitive Secret Avengers. Tony had filled him in on what had happened when the kids were at the hospital, and the horrible interrogating technique that Secretary Ross was going to do to him, while using Cooper as a pawn.  Thaddeus Ross didn’t know it yet, but he was dead just for thinking about doing that to his son. Then there was the whole Accord mess and Ross trying to frame Clint for Laura’s murder. Ross was a dead man walking. Clint of course, was keeping that part to himself.

Pulling up to the front of the school, Nick parked the car. “Let’s check the equipment before getting out. Mobile unit, you have audio and visual?”

Natasha’s voice came through, “Confirm. Stationed approximately two-miles northwest of the campus. Can reach you in four minutes.”

Nick quickly processed the location and predicted ETA, “Make it two minutes. Compound unit, you read?”

Sam confirmed that he and Rhodes could hear and see the transmission. A video unit was attached to Tony’s glasses and the eye patch Fury wore. Clint had a device installed onto his tie clip under the ruse of a simple diamond against a silver background.  “Confirmed. Nice place.”

Confident that the equipment was working, the Director opened his door. Tony and Clint followed suit and exited the vehicle. They waited while Nick handed the keys to the valet before making their way approaching the school’s entrance. Clint fell behind the group when he felt like he was being watched. Taking a skillful glance around his surroundings he looked up at the mansion and saw a curtain move on the second floor.

“Your feeling is correct Agent Barton.” A voice called, breaking Clint’s train of though. He looked back to the house and saw Professor Xavier there, welcoming his guests. He walked up to greet the host.

“Someone was watching me?” Clint said as he accepted and shook the Professor’s hand.

Xavier looked up to where Clint was previously looking, and informed in a hushed tone, “Girl’s dormitory. I believe someone was trying to see you”

Grasping that the Professor didn’t want it out there where Charlie was, he waited until the next group of visitors greeted the Professor and went inside for the party. “There are a few people I want to see myself. She isn’t attending?”  Fury and Stark were waiting in the doorway, moving out of the way when needed to permit a guest in.

“Only the older students will be gracing us with their presence tonight. However, pending how things go, we shall see if we can fit in a quick visit before ‘lights out’.” Charles offered as compensation to the obviously disappointed father.

“Yeah, if HYDRA and or the government doesn’t ruin the evening, family reunions all around.” Tony said in a triumphant manner as he led Clint away from the Professor and into the party.

~~~

At first look, Clint guessed that there were about a hundred people in the ballroom as he entered. Seemed a lot for the ‘small gathering’ the Professor invited them to yesterday. As soon as they were in, a server brought them over a tray of drinks to pick from. All three of the men accepted a glass.

“Secretary Ross, center left.” Natasha informed. 

Nick answered amusingly, “Yes, Natasha, I still have one good eye.”

Tony rolled his eyes, “Great, we have Captain America and Captain Obvious in our ears.”

“Mr. Stark, Director Fury, and Agent Barton. Funny how we keep meeting like this.” The Secretary said as he met them.

Clint debated the best way to kill the man with the weapons he had on him and was fairly confident that Fury was thinking through the same scenario, while Tony decided to go an alternative route and start the small talk. “Secretary, you should feel pretty damn good about yourself right now.” Ross threw a questionable glance, so Tony clarified, “Being honored by Professor Xavier in such a lavish way.”

Thaddeus smiled, “Of course, I am. You know for mutants, they sure know how to throw a party.” Clint heard the abhorrence in the Secretary’s voice when he uttered the phrase ‘mutant’ and added one more reason to kill the man to his list. “I know why I am here, and it’s highly doubtful that you would be attending to honor me. So, enlighten me, what brings you three here?” He asked taking a small sip from his cocktail.

“Donation to the school. If I am going to give money I like to see where it goes.” Tony explained. It seemed a likely reason for him to be there. Gesturing to Nick Fury, “Director Fury and Agent Barton were my way in. They have had dealings with the school in the past.”

“The school or the X-Men?” Ross inquired,

“I believe they are one and the same.” Tony expressed, “My understanding is that the X-Men are also the staff here. A marvelous business plan if you ask me. I’m thinking of how I would replicate something like it on the west coast.”

“Interesting, I didn’t think that Xavier accepted donations. It’s all privately funded by his own family’s money. Better and older families than the Starks have tried to give.” And with that observation left hanging in the air, the Secretary left the group.

Rhodes observed from the compound unit, “Is he talking about…”

Tony cut him off, “He sure is. He’s talking about Kate. The Macintosh family. He knows.”

This was all new information for Clint, “What the hell?”

Energetically talking as he worked out the equation, Tony proclaimed, “Her money. It’s been sitting in an account untouched for almost twenty years. By untouched I mean that there hasn’t been any withdraws. It’s been invested with incredible returns.”  Tony then addressed Clint specifically, “At first, I thought the trust fund money was there because you and she refused to touch it, being all prideful and shit.”

Clint angled his head to the right, thinking about everything that Tony just said. From what he could understand of the topic, it did sound like something he would do. Clint would never be able to live off another person’s trust fund, or any trust fund for that matter.

Fury concluded, “Kate probably offered up the trust fund when she came here, and Xavier refused any compensation, but took control of it to get it away from Bishop.”

Tony continued with the theory, “Xavier takes control, and makes sure that the account has activity on it. That way Derek Bishop can’t claim anything, like she’s dead or something to inherit it.”

Clint had apparently missed a lot of Kate’s backstory. Now wasn’t the time to ask any questions, and it seemed that Tony and Nick figured out whatever the mystery behind Kate’s money was. He only had two concerns at the moment, his wife and daughter. “Just because Ross may or may not know who Kate is doesn’t mean he is a threat to Charlie.”

“True, but it also means that he could be. Remember what he did to Wanda.” Tony cautioned the group as if anyone needed to be reminded about the whole ‘Raft’ situation.

“That happened to her because someone didn’t get his way and had everyone arrested.” Clint said in an effort not to sound passive aggressive.

 “Thought we were going to let that go.” Tony alleged while looking genuinely hurt by Clint’s statement.

Sam piped into the conversation, “When was that agreed?”

Before anyone could say anything else, Dr. Hank McCoy joined the group, “Welcome to our school. I hope you are enjoying yourselves.” Looking towards where the Secretary walked to, he continued, “I see you have become reacquainted with our guest of honor.”

Skipping the niceties, Fury questioned, “How much does Ross know about the school?”

Hank pondered his answer for a minute, “The school itself? I would assume a lot. With the forming of the Accords, he was given unlimited access to all government records regarding mutants and any other enhance beings. For the past three years he has been trying to gain entry to the school.”

Following up on that, Clint asked, “Would he know about Kate and Charlie?”

Oblivious to the prior conversation with the Secretary that led to this line of questioning, Hank informed them, “I don’t see any reason he would. It is very clear that the laws of the country that a person involved with the Accords resides in must be followed. For Americans that would be the right to privacy concerning both medical and educational records. It doesn’t matter that currently we are not ordered to sign it; the rules still must be followed. Secretary Ross may know we are a school for mutants and the base of operations for the X-Men, but he would not have access to information about specific students. As far as Kate goes, her identity was changed when she came here.” Focusing on Tony, “You know better than anyone that there isn’t any legal evidence of her since 2001. Her teaching credentials, her medical records, and Charlie’s records are all under the new identity.”

“A new identity? That may have been a good thing to know before we bumped into her and blew her cover.” Rhodes observed.

Ignoring his point, which was a valid one, Clint requested, “And where is she now?”

Taking one of the drinks off the nearby server’s tray, Hank said, “She was here up until a few minutes ago, right before I saw you. There was an issue with a student upstairs that she had to deal with.”

 “I’m just going to go all in and guess it was Charlie.” Tony assumed.

Taking a deep sigh that screamed annoyance Hank reported, “Yes, it is. She saw you all enter and decided that she didn’t want to stay upstairs with the other students anymore which was the previous agreed plan. When she was told ‘no’ by the dorm supervisor, she elected to manifest some very impressive lock systems on all of the doors upstairs.

Tony and Nick appeared to be impressed by Charlie’s stunt, but Clint was already in ‘dad’ mode. He was fighting the urge to suggest that he should go upstairs and put an end to the standoff that was occurring just above their heads. However, he had no idea how Charlie or Kate would react to him if the first meeting was due to a behavior issue. If his daughter wanted to see him, why not just let her? There were a few obstacles with that solution. The first being that as an experienced father and spy, Clint knew to never give in to the demands of terrorists. Another issue was that Ross was keeping an eye on them from his prime position in the center of the room. The last thing that he wanted to do was to give the Secretary another excuse to enforce the Accords. By exposing the capabilities of not only Charlie, but also her fellow students would provide such an excuse. Clint’s internal struggle was disrupted when a woman came up to the group. She was an attractive woman, tall and slim with a dark complexion and white hair. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt.”

The doctor put his hand on the woman’s shoulder and presented her, “Storm, please let me introduce you to some people. This is Director Nick Fury, Tony Stark, and Agent Clint Barton. Gentlemen, this is Storm, she is both a member of the X-Men and a teacher here at the school.”

Storm grinned and nodded her head in welcoming, “Nice to meet you all, especially you Agent Barton.” Placing her hand on Hank’s arm, she asked, “Dr. McCoy, may I speak with you for a moment?”

Depositing his empty glass on a passing server’s tray, Hank said to the men, “Excuse me please.”

Natasha thought about the actions of the newest member to the Barton and Stark family and questioned, “Hmm, someone has an issue with authority and being told ‘no’. Steve if you had to guess which one we could blame for that, father or grandfather, which one would you go with?”

Steve never liked chit-chat during active missions. He subscribed to the belief that comms should only be used for mission related information but couldn’t stop himself from commenting. “I don’t know, the actual act of defiance I would put on Barton, but how she did it, inconveniencing others because she didn’t get her way, that is all Stark.”

In unison Clint and Tony took offense, “Hey!”

 Fury had to concur, “It’s a Stark move. I have had the privilege of knowing now four generations of the Starks, and believe me, they are all assholes.”

Clint was stunned by Fury’s statement. Conceding to himself, Clint admitted that Cooper did have his moments, as any teenager did, but Clint wouldn’t go as far to say he was an asshole. Not knowing Charlie apart from second hand information, it appeared the kid was not used to being told ’no’, which was a Stark thing for sure, not that Clint was any better. From the initial impression of the school, it also seemed that the students didn’t want for a lot, which may be a component in the overindulged behavior the ten-year-old was displaying. The girl may be a spoiled brat, but that is where he drew the line at name calling, especially regarding his own children. Clint did know better than to say anything in front of Tony about it. Anything Clint would say would be interpreted as an excuse for Tony to go off on Fury and so far, the man had kept his mouth shut about the insult against his family. Clint was however curious why Kate was included in the offence, “Even Kate?”

Nick didn’t hesitate for a second before replying, “Wait for it, she wasn’t exactly nice to me last time we met, very defensive, not that I blame her. Kate was very polite in the ‘answer my questions or get out of my face’ kind of way. Then you must factor in that she is Stark’s kid, married you, and worked for S.H.I.E.L.D., so it’s doubtful she’s a saint.”

The woman who was previously introduced to them as Storm reappeared, “I’m sorry about that. Dr. McCoy was needed for hosting duties, so Professor Xavier could help upstairs.”

The fact that another man had to go up to stop his child’s tantrum was enough to hit Clint hard enough in the ego to offer, “Would it just be easier if I went upstairs?”

Storm shook her head, “Charlie is just not happy that she didn’t get her way, it happens, not a lot, but it happens. We already had one guy up there trying to talk to her and he punched a hole in the door. So, it is probably for the best to let Kate and the Professor handle it from here.” Looking over to the Secretary who was standing curiously near, she continued, “The timing wasn’t the best, but it’s being dealt with.”

Clint was concerned that it had gotten physical, “Someone punched a hole in the door?”

“Yes, no big deal there. Charlie knows how to push his buttons and did just that. Kate made him leave after, before he escalated the situation further. Oh, there he is.” The men turned to where Storm indicated, “Logan, come here please.”

A man with scruffy dark hair, carrying a bottle of beer approached them. The man totally ignored the others and spoke directly to her, “Storm, I’m telling you, today may be the day I kill that girl. I told you not to put her in the dorms, she thinks it’s a party up there.”

“You’re so funny Logan, shut up. This is Director Nick Fury, Tony Stark,” Storm looked Logan dead in the eyes with a stern face, “and Clint Barton.”

Taking a sip from his beer, Logan looked Clint up and down, “So you’re…”

Clint kept it simply, “The father of the girl that you may kill.”

Looking indifferent to the introduction Logan stated, “Well, I’m not apologizing. Kid is spoiled rotten. Someone needs to lay the law down around here with Charlie. Kate is just too soft on her, especially these last few days.”

“Clint don’t do it. He is the Wolverine; your first punch wouldn’t even make contact.” Natasha warned through the comm. Steve had used the time driving here to fill Natasha in on the research he had done on the school and group. She knew what was going on, this Logan was challenging Clint.  He probably saw Clint as a threat to the child he had been protecting for so long. It was bad enough they were talking about Charlie with Ross walking around, but an altercation would make it obvious. They were all talking in hush voices, so the man couldn’t eavesdrop, but a fight would alert the Secretary to a bigger issue then the Accords.

Clint was weighing the options when he saw the different groups of people scattered throughout the room, allowing Professor Xavier through. The man directed his wheelchair to them.  Clint’s heart and breathing halted when he saw that the Professor wasn’t alone, there was a woman with him. Flashes of every memory of Cooper’s instantly replayed in his head as he watched them come closer until finally he had a recall to the explosion dream again, when he lost her. Professor Xavier looked sincerely pleased when he said, “Gentleman permit me please to introduce to you one of our finest teachers, Ms. Katherine Carbonell.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One

Rainbows and Bullets

“Ms. Carbonell?” Tony asked, trying to think hard to place the familiarity of the last name of the woman dressed in a knee length dark purple dress and black high heels. The dress was pretty, it was a halter dress with a high ruffle collar. One hand held a black clutch purse while the other had a half drank glass of white wine. Tony assumed she did this to make sure that both of her hands were full, so she wouldn’t have to shake hands in this uncomfortable situation. Kate’s hair was up in a messy bun that reminded him of his mother’s. In fact, Kate looked quite a bit like the late Maria Stark.

Offering a nervous smile, she stated, “Kate, please.”

Xavier saw that they were being watched so kept up the ruse of introductions, “This is Tony Stark and Clint Barton, and you have already met Director Fury.”

Tony didn’t care who was watching, his daughter was standing in front of him. His flesh and blood alive and talking to him. Then the reason why the last name sounded familiar hit him, “Carbonell was my mother’s maiden name.”

Tilting her head a tad, the nervousness of her smile left, being replaced with more of a smirk, “Interesting how those things happen, isn’t it?”

Tony looked at his daughter. Cooper was right, she was beautiful. Of course, he had seen photos, but it was nothing compared to seeing the real thing. Hank’s earlier comment about comparing features of Cooper and Kate along with his own facial recognition program were correct, Kate and Cooper had the same eyes. How could Tony have walked away from those eyes? He hated himself more at that moment then at the lowest point of his life, which was turning out to be when he walked away from Eleanor and forfeited his daughter to Derek Bishop. “So, you know?”

Kate had made her peace with the ‘idea’ of Tony a long time ago. She could see that Tony was struggling with this discussion, so decided to put an end to his obvious anxiety over the topic, “Since I was very young, yes, I know.”

Releasing an anxious chuckle, Tony downed his drink, “Well, that’s one awkward conversation out of the way.” Patting Clint on the back, Tony moved the attention off of him, “Clint, you’re up.”

“People who have just met would not be having heart-to-hearts after introductions. Ross is watching.” Natasha advised from the van.

Sam’s voice came next, “Screw that, am I the only one thinking Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ should be playing during this? Come on Clint, say something.” Then continued on by humming the chorus to the song, while hitting his hands on the table in the conference room back at the compound to the beat.

Clint felt the air return to his lungs and his heart beating again, well aware that he hadn’t said a word yet. What does someone say to their estranged spouse when they had only learned the other even existed a few days ago? It wasn’t that Clint didn’t feel anything, in fact he felt a lot. That was the main cause of his hesitation. He knew that from the memories he was given, he would feel something for the past he had lost, but now that the lost past had been found and standing before him, looking as beautiful as Cooper remembered her.  How the hell did he get a woman like her, and how the hell did he allow himself to lose her? He wondered if this was how he felt the first time they met over thirteen years ago, instantly in love. Knowing that he needed to say something and soon before Tony started in again, Clint searched for a common topic, “I heard there was an issue with a student, I hope everything is fine now.”

Kate paused, she was standing opposite to Clint. So many thoughts were going through her head, she didn’t know where to start comprehending them. After all these years, and his first question to her after everything was about the wellbeing of their daughter. The Professor did say that Clint seemed to be a good father, and this proved his theory to Kate. “Yes, there will be further discussion with that student later, but it seems they have calmed down. Some students are just more…spirited then others. Do you have any experience with such children Agent Barton?”

She was asking about Cooper, and Clint searched for something to give her about her son, “A bit, obviously not to the extreme you had, but my son once packed up all of his stuffed animals and told me he was going to, and I quote, ‘run away up to Mexico’. All because I turned off the wifi until his chores were done.”

“I seriously need to take over his education.” Tony said softly as he turned to survey the room to confirm no one was watching or listening in.

Cutting her eyes to Tony for his comment, she looked amusingly at Clint. “That’s a sweet story, thank you for sharing.” Kate said in a professional way, working hard to keep up the con of strangers speaking at a social gathering. 

Logan emptied his beer and signaled to the staff for another, “Do I need to go back up there, or is it sorted?”

Kate’s head snapped to Logan, in a low and angry tone she warned through clenched teeth, “Go back up there and I will shoot you dead, regeneration abilities or not, shoot…you…dead.” Turning her attention back to Clint and the topic they were discussing before Logan interrupted, her expression lightened, “I was under the impression that there would be more in your party.”

“I decided that it would be best to leave that additional person back at the compound. They are eager to see you and send their best wishes.” Clint reached into his jacket to produce an envelope. He handed it to Kate, which she tenderly accepted. The envelope was blank except for three letters written on the front, ‘mom’.

Opening her clutch, Kate tucked the letter safely away, wanting to read it in a more secluded location. Taking out an item, she laughed as she handed it to Clint, “Seems they were thinking the same thing, must be related. Part of the deal to unlock the doors was that I would give this to you.” Clint watched as Kate handed him a rainbow keychain, knowing that further explanation was needed, Kate offered, “It’s her favorite. She loves rainbows. Every diaper bag to backpack she has ever had has had that keychain on it.” Feeling a nostalgic moment hit her as she watched Clint examine the object, she continued, “She knows if I tell you how valuable it is to her, you will come see her.”

The comm lines were silent. Everyone felt like they were intruding on a private moment, and they were, but it couldn’t be avoided. Two people who have been to hell and back with the scars to prove it were finally together again and talking about their shared children. The group surrounding them was able to shield them from the sight of unwanted viewers during the exchange of gifts from the children.  As awkward as it was for them to be standing there in person or watching from afar, it was worse for Kate and Clint. They had to keep the game going that they were just people meeting at a party, nothing more. It was almost a relief to the couple since they were unsure what to do in this situation. Do they shake hands, do they hug, do they go somewhere private and talk?

Clint would never get back the ten years of his second daughter’s life.  However, the simple rainbow keychain signified a lot to him, it had always been there with her. The edges of rainbow had chipped off from years of hanging off of various bags.  As he pocketed the object he asked, “When can I see her?”

Xavier looked over to where a podium had been set up, “The upper -level students will be presenting some of their projects shortly. That would be the best time.”

This whole thing was beyond ridiculous to Logan, “The kid just held most of the student population here hostage because she wanted to see him, and now you are giving Charlie what she wants?”

Xavier cautioned, “Logan.”

Not wanting to heed the warning, Logan continued, “Don’t ‘Logan’ me. Aren’t you the one who keeps saying that ‘Charlotte has the ability to save the world or destroy it’? That the only way she will make the right choice when the time comes is dependent on the lessons and values we have raised her with? What is this teaching her?”

Rethinking the idea Kate conceded to the group, “Logan does have a point.”

Nodding his head in agreement, the Professor explained, “He does, but I believe some consideration is needed in this unique situation. The girl just learned a lot of life altering information. She is only ten years old, all and all, her reaction this evening wasn’t unexpected.”

Picking at the label on his beer bottle Logan remarked “So, she gets off the hook, again.” Clint couldn’t understand if Logan was upset because he cared for Charlie and wanted her to be a good person, or if he openly didn’t like her and wanted to see her punished.

Taking offense to the public criticism of her parenting, Kate shot back intensely, “What do you mean ‘again’?”

Logan flared his arms outwards in exasperation, “Dodgeball? Almost electrocuting half her gym class. Remember that ordeal?”

Choking as he swallowed his drink, Clint got out between breaths, “She did what?”

“Man, your girl is a badass Clint.” Sam said, meaning it as a compliment.

Holding her index finger up to Clint, Kate told him, “I’ll tell you later.” Then focused her sight back onto the Wolverine, “I punished her for that. She didn’t get to play outside with her friends. And, if I remember correctly that was half your fault for bringing her to the lab and showing her that stuff.”

When his lungs finally registered to start drawing air again, Clint got out, “So, just so I have a clear understanding about what you two are arguing about, Charlie attempted to electrocute her classmates, and you punished her by not letting her play outside afterschool?”

Taking another sip from his beer, Logan confirmed, “Yup. Then today we had the dorm locking issue.”

“And what was the punishment for that?” Clint asked Kate.

Rhodes was quick to advise his friend on the mistake everyone heard Clint about to make, “Abort Clint, abort. You’re not going to make any headway with her if within the first ten minutes of you two being reunited, you critique her parenting skills.”

Kate visually stiffened up, “There hasn’t been one yet. I will talk to her tomorrow about it. You heard the Professor, it’s a unique situation. A reaction from her was expected.”

Clint was taking in what he was being told, Logan seemed to be the right one in this situation, as much as he hated to admit it, “Kate, I’m sorry but expected and accepted are two different things. She needs to be punished, I agree with Logan.”

“You are making it so much worst for yourself, just stop, will you?” Natasha alleged.

Logan was appreciative to see that someone was able to see the ludicrous of the matter, “Thank you Hawkguy.”

Putting his hand up Clint corrected, “It’s Hawkeye, and Clint will be fine.”

Now Kate’s attention was on Clint. The glare she was sending his way reminded him of numerous memories Xavier had given him. That look in the past heralded the start of one of their disagreements, and this time would prove to be no different, “You have only been in the same vicinity of Charlotte for what, a half an hour? And you think that gives you the right to tell me how to discipline her?”

Yup, they were married. If there was any doubt in his mind that what he had been told and shown in the last few days was inaccurate, it was all gone now. In a voice that was still low in volume but harsh in tone Clint explained, “I have been a father for thirteen years, I know a thing or two, especially about children with our DNA coursing through them. Give them an inch and they will walk all over you.”

Tony was shocked by how quickly everything had escalated, and did not like how Clint and this Logan guy were ganging up on Kate, “Are you running for asshole of the year or something Barton? Calm the hell down.”

Steve’s voice piped in, “As defending champion are you worried he’s after your title?” Tony and the rest of the party with comm units were stunned into silence at Steve’s remark.

The Professor took the silence as an opportunity to change the subject before they received anymore unwanted attention due to the increase in volume between Kate, Clint and Logan, and asked, “Mr. Stark, I know it has only been a day, but any headway on the reversal?”

Thankful for the change in subject, he flashed a stern look to Clint before speaking, “It’s a matter of breaking a code that was used during activation. Simple enough to do with the correct system and equations, just have to make sure that everyone is safe when the reversal occurs.”

The S.H.I.E.L.D. director added, “I have my people back at headquarters working on a method of extraction of personnel from missions and covers for the duration of the reversal. Stark believes that it would only take a few minutes to do, but additional time will be needed for the agents to cope with the aftereffects.”

“If I can be of any assistance, please let me know.” Kate proposed as she grabbed another glass of wine.

Tony was hoping she would offer. He was fully capable of doing the reversal himself, but Kate helping would expedite the work and give him some quality time with her. “I may just take you up on that offer. Perhaps tomorrow you can either come to the compound or I can come back here?”

Feeling bad once he played back what was said in his head during Kate and his exchange, Clint extended an olive branch, “If you come to the compound, you can see Cooper.”

Kate’s whole face lit up at the mention of seeing her son, it appeared Clint was back in her good graces, “I would like that very much. Professor can someone cover my classes tomorrow?” Clint forgot that Kate actually had a job, as it appeared Tony did as well.

The Professor thought about his schedule for the next day, seeing that there wasn’t anything pending on his calendar he accepted the position for himself, “I will gladly cover them myself. I do enjoy being in the classroom. We can review the lesson plans in the morning.”

 Pleased that everything worked out so well and quickly, Kate confirmed, “Gentlemen, sounds like we have a date.”

With the arrangements for tomorrow sorted, Dr. McCoy returned to the group, “It seems that everyone is getting on well here, unfortunately, we will need to pause this conversation, it is time for the presentations to start.”

Charles looked up at his friend, “Not unfortunate at all. I am looking forward to seeing what our marvelous students have been working on for the past semester. I’m sure our guests will find many of our presenter’s papers very interesting. Please everyone, excuse me, I need to address the room and present the students.”

Clint saw Kate lean over and whisper something in Storm’s ear. Storm asked something back to which Kate replied simply “thank you”. His confusion didn’t end there, after the hushed exchange, Storm left the room. He wanted to ask Kate what that all was about, but the Professor started his speech at that moment.

“Ladies and gentlemen, for those who do not know me, I am Professor Charles Xavier. First, I would like to extend the warmest of welcomes to each of you and my gratitude for attending tonight. We are here for two reasons, the first is to honor Secretary Thaddeus Ross, and salute his work for pursuing peace in our nation and world.” A polite applause was started and continued until the Professor raised his hands for it to stop. “The second reason is no less important, we are here to recognize the work that our students have been working tirelessly on for the past months. The assignment was centered around the Sokovia Accords that Secretary Ross presented to the United Nations and was approved by a hundred and seventeen countries a few years ago. The students were charged with examining the Accords and weighing the implications such a legal document would have on their own lives. The goal of this assignment was not to make a political point about the law, to protest the involvement of the X-Men or not. It was to use the law to prove to the students that they need to be aware of what is happening in the government and to be active in it.”

Clint was very interested in what these kids thought about the document that caused the Avengers to go at each other and fracture the group. He now had a child who would identify with them, and he was curious what mutant students thought of the Accords. Clint was focused on the first student as they started their presentation when Kate came close to him and whispered, “Want to come upstairs to my bedroom with me?”

Kate’s mistake in this was that she whispered into the ear that had the comm unit in it. Tony’s head turned so fast towards them that he looked to be possessed. There were numerous comments and hilarity on the line which made Clint suppress his laughter. Kate was puzzled by the way Tony and Clint were looking at her. He then decided to share the joke with Kate by pointing to the clear device that was in his ear. Looking at where Clint was pointing, Kate saw the unit and her eyes got wide upon realization of how her comment was interpreted. “I had Storm bring Charlie to my room to see her father.” She clarified to Clint as she looked to Tony.

Seeing Tony relax a bit, Clint wanted to get back at him for his earlier ‘asshole of the year’ comment by stating, “Kate, we’re married and have children together, we don’t need your dear old dad’s permission to go to your bedroom. Lead the way.” The expression on Tony’s face was priceless, but not yet good enough to make them even, so Clint added, “Tony, don’t wait up.”

The couple was already out of the ballroom when Tony finally found his voice, “I hate you so much Barton.”

Kate led Clint back to the foyer of the mansion and up the massive staircase that was in the center of it.  Once they were at the top she directed him to the right. “Male staff and students to the left, and females to the right.” She informed him as they walked down the hallway.

“Excuse me.” They turned to the speaker to find Secretary Ross standing at the end of the hallway near the staircase behind them.

“What do you want Ross?” Clint asked thinking of a reason why the man would be upstairs while students were in the ballroom presenting specifically to him. Someone should have noticed he is no longer there. Other than being rude, it wasn’t the smartest political move. Citizens tend to look negatively on their political leaders snubbing children.

Walking up to them Ross said in an obviously fake polite voice, “I haven’t been introduced to this lady yet. I would assume you’re the human teacher, Carbonell isn’t it?” If Clint had to put a label on the manner in which Ross said Kate’s name it would be mockingly, which caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up. Ross was up to something, and from personal experience, Clint knew it wasn’t anything good.

‘Reading the room’ Kate was able to notice that there wasn’t any love lost between Clint and Ross. She wasn’t exactly forming warm feelings about the Secretary herself since he had referred to her as the ‘human’ teacher. “Kate. Nice to meet you Mr. Secretary.” Still having the glass of wine in her hand, knowing that she would need it for Clint and Charlie’s meeting, she placed her clutch under her arm and extended her now empty hand to the Secretary.

Accepting her hand and shaking it. He looked the couple over and asked, “Why does Agent Barton get a private tour, and me as the guest of honor doesn’t?”

Kate was quick to reply much to the shock and enjoyment of Clint, “He doesn’t. We were talking downstairs, and it came up that I was somewhat of an archer myself. Unfortunately, the bow I work with is having difficulties and Agent Barton offered to take a look at it.”.

The Secretary wasn’t buying it. “An entire weapons lab on campus and you wait until Agent Barton arrives to get it fixed?”

Kate was becoming irritated by the questions, and didn’t hide it when she shot back, “It just happened. I don’t see why you feel the need to question it. In fact, shouldn’t you be downstairs listening to the students present to you?”

Waving off the last part of her comment about the presentations, the Secretary said, “The opinion of mutant children about the Accords means nothing to me. Regarding the question Ms. Carbonell, I feel the need to inquire on everything regarding the Avengers and the X-Men, tell me is this bow by chance in your bedroom?”

It was now Kate’s turn to ask, “Excuse me?”

Ross wanted to imply, not offend. He was a gentleman and a political leader after all, “I’m not judging, you are both consenting adults, not to mentioned married. Ten years is a long time to be separated. Tell me, are you planning on just locking the door between you and Charlotte’s room or did you put her in the dorms for the night while you and her father got ‘reacquainted’?”

Clint just wanted to punch Ross right in the face. He was going to kill the man, that was a given, but now he was going to suffer. Before they went any further Clint had to ask, “How did you know?”

“It doesn’t matter, just know that I and a few interested parties know.” Ross closed the distance between himself and the couple. Clint stepped between Kate and Ross, which caused the two men to be almost nose to nose. Ross wasn’t intimidated by the move, “And who may I ask is watching your children Agent Barton, all alone in that big compound without anyone to protect them?”

Tony had been listening to the entire conversation and growing more worried by the minute. Not only did Ross know about Charlie and the wipe, he seemed to have just threaten the children at the compound. The kids needed to get somewhere safe now, thank God he left Rhodes and Wilson back at the compound for this very scenario. In a low voice to not attract attention to himself or Fury, or disrupt the presentations, Tony tried contacting the Avenger’s base, “Rhodey?” There was no answer, “Sam?”, again dead air, “FRIDAY, give me a location on Rhodes and Wilson.” Taking out his cell phone as he issued the command the screen only showed red letters against the black background ‘NO SIGNAL’. With a voice that was increasing with each uttered syllable Tony informed everyone who was left on comms, “Shit, FRIDAY is off line, Natasha, you and Steve get back to the compound now!”

“Already on our way.” Steve’s calm voice responded to Tony’s command.  Natasha was driving, which meant the thirty-minute drive would be less than fifteen minutes, especially since it was the Barton children whose lives were in danger.

Nick pulled out his cell phone as he walked out of the ballroom, leaving Tony alone, “I’m contacting Hill to get you some back up. Should have a team dispatch to the compound in ten minutes by chopper.”

Clint heard the panic through the comm units, it mirrored his own. The only thing he could do now was protect Kate and Charlie and pray to God that nothing has happened at the compound. His concentration on the comms was cut off when he felt the familiar feel of a gun being pressed against his abdomen. A person couldn’t do Clint’s job for as long as he had without having a gun or two held against him. Looking down, he confirmed that Secretary Ross did in fact have one in his hands aimed at Clint. “Is this really necessary, what’s to gain by shooting me?” Clint made the comment to the group on comms, for them to be aware that he and Kate were being held at gunpoint by the Secretary.

Thaddeus didn’t care if Clint knew his motives or not, he would be dead soon enough anyways. That would be the only way the plan would succeed, with both Clint and Kate dead. After everything the Avengers had done, from Bruce Banner’s relationship with Ross’ own daughter to the Accords, it was time for them to feel an ounce of the pain their ‘help’ has caused the innocent people of the world. At least that would be the official reason behind his actions. He would be a vigilante for the helpless victims of the Avengers. The truth was never to be known, a promise that would be ensured with the pulling of the trigger.

 Not wanting to draw this out any longer then needed, he was at a party in his honor. Eventually someone would come looking for him, then what would he do? It was highly doubtful he would be able to shoot his way out. If that was possible, HYDRA would have taken Charlotte years ago, and Ross would have never been pulled into this mess. But he was in this mess, he had debts to pay that had been called in.  That really didn’t bother him as much as what really irritated the Secretary.  That annoyance went to the way Clint was looking at him. The facial expression of the archer was not of fear but of disgust and discontent in the man holding his own life in his hands. The last time Ross had seen that mixture of emotions in another’s face, it was his daughter, Betty. He wanted to put a bullet right in Clint’s face to wipe away that reminder.

Deciding to answer the question Clint posed about what Ross would gain from this action. The Secretary figured that he could gain much, most of all closure of his disastrous relationship with Betty. Achieving the closure through revenge, by destroying another father’s relationship with his children. He wanted Clint to hurt knowing that he was useless in saving his children, that his selfish death would cause a lifetime of misery for his offspring, “A lot actually. You see the interesting position you have placed yourself in is not only chivalrous, but convenient. One bullet would kill you both. Then were would Charlotte go? Both of her parents being dead, she would have to go to Grandpa Bishop. Her and Cooper both. And that is only half of them…” The speech was disrupted when he caught Kate reaching up and grabbing Clint’s arm at the mention of her father’s name. Ross didn’t want to hurt Kate, that was the one part of this he already regretted. He was now feeling remorse for killing her despite not pulling the trigger yet, and her not remembering him.

Tony didn’t conceal the anger in his voice as he looked around trying to figure out a plan, “Son of a bitch! They can’t forcibly take Charlie with their people, so they are going to do it legally. Bishop is behind it.”

Pushing Clint with the gun towards the hallway wall, the Secretary regained his composure and continued, “Professor Xavier can have all the friends he wants on Capitol Hill, he won’t succeed in keeping the girl here. The world saw what the Maximoff girl did. Really, the world saw what the Avengers did. There is no way in hell they would allow another one running around without government control, and let’s face it, Derek never had a need for Charlotte. Cooper on the other hand, an heir is needed for the businesses and trust fund.”

Clint saw red, this was the long play. HYDRA and Bishop had been working together this whole time. Derek Bishop had probably been funding the terrorist organization for years, and Cooper was the key to ensuring the financial support for HYDRA for years to come. Just as Charlie was the instrument they would use to make minions to carry out world domination.

Without any other avenue at the moment, Tony attempted his last resort, before he went upstairs himself and confronted Ross. Thinking really hard he thought, “Professor Xavier can you hear me?”

Much to Tony’s surprise an immediate answer came, “Yes. What is wrong?” Xavier could feel the pain and rush in Stark’s mind. He had been concentrating on the presentations, giving the students his undivided attention so he didn’t even notice that something was amiss until then.

‘Secretary Ross left the party, he has Clint and Kate at gunpoint upstairs. Ross knows everything and wants Charlie.’ A second later Tony saw the Wolverine start to make his way out of the room in a hurry. The Professor must have communicated with him to get upstairs fast. It was odd to Tony that Xavier had only sent one person, but assumed it was due to knowing that Logan would be able to handle it by himself, and not wanting to cause a distraction with all of the X-Men leaving the room at the same time. With a quick nod to Xavier who was looking at him, Tony followed the man.

There wasn’t any way for Clint to disarm Ross without the possibility of Kate being shot in the process, or someone else in the dorm hallway getting hurt, including Charlie. It was the girl’s dorms, anyone could come out at any time and get shot. There was the possibility that Kate had received some training from the X-Men, but it would be nothing compared to the training she had long ago wiped from her from S.H.I.E.L.D. Probably just basic self-defense stuff in case the school was ever attacked. Not knowing her capabilities, and lacking the time currently to ask, Clint decided it wasn’t a chance he was willing to take.

The only hope now for Kate’s survival was that Clint’s body would slow the bullet down enough to only wound her. A smile appeared on Clint’s face, there was still hope that the children would be safe, even if Kate and he were shot dead right here and now. Ross didn’t know about Tony being the real grandfather. Apparently, all of Laura’s debrief didn’t get to Ross, which implied he was a low man on the totem pole, a minor player. If something did happen to Clint and Kate, Tony would spend his last dime to ensure his grandchildren’s safety, that Clint was definite of. The feature didn’t go unnoticed by Thaddeus Ross, “Smiling Clint? An interesting approach to oncoming death, but to each their own.” And with that the safety was taken off the gun.

Thinking back to his circus days, ‘leave them always wanting more’, Clint enigmatically replied “Yeah I’m smiling, because the results you’re going for isn’t a possibility here.”

Not rising to the challenge, Ross countered, “I would say the same thing to you. The romantic in me is disheartened that you will die before Stark can reverse the mind wipe. You two will never know what you meant to one another. By the way, Derek and Laura say ‘hi’.”

Tony had caught up with Logan as the two climbed the staircase. Nick Fury was close behind. Logan pointed to the right and the two men took the turn. They arrived just in time to see and hear Secretary Thaddeus Ross pull the trigger and Clint and Kate fall. “Shit!” Tony and Logan said at the same time as they ran with all their might towards the scene. Tony stopped at the bodies while Logan let out a feral growl while extending his claws and charged at Ross who was trying to run down the hall.

As soon as Ross made it to the end of the hall, where a large stain glass window was display two people that could only be agents of HYDRA came crashing through it. Glass shard were sent everywhere as the agents grabbed the Secretary and left back through the window.  It all happened so quickly that Logan almost didn’t have time to stop himself before falling through the hole in the wall created by the escape. Peering over the broken glasswork, Logan surveyed the scene outside and started to sniff the air for his prey. Looking back over to where everyone was examining Clint and Kate, Logan knew his services would be better served outside. With a final glance to the landscape below, Logan jumped out the window to track down the shooter.

“Medical is on the way,” Xavier informed Tony through telepathy. “I am unable to find the Secretary, HYDRA must be blocking my ability somehow.”

Nick Fury was coming up the hall followed by others. Children were standing in their doorways watching the scene that played out in their dormitory hallway. That was all but one door, it didn’t take a genius to guess what was in that room. It was probably Kate’s room, and Storm was keeping Charlie behind it to shelter the child not only for safety, but from seeing her parents bleed out on the expensively carpeted floor.  

Fury kneeled beside him applying pressure to the wound on Clint, who was still conscious and was trying to get up, while Tony mirrored the action on Kate. “Shit, the bullet went through him into her.” Tony informed as he saw the exit wound on Clint’s back while Nick examined him.

Tony wondered how Clint was still awake and not screaming in pain. He watched as Nick pushed Clint to his side on the floor. “Barton stay down.” The Director ordered. Tony heard Clint’s wet breathing mixed with what sounded to be words. Nick leaned down to hear what Clint was saying and responded. “She’s alive.” With that knowledge Clint closed his eyes and his whole body relaxed. Nick pressed two fingers to Barton’s neck and looked to Tony, “He passed out, but still with us.”

“Tony?” Steve asked as he watched Natasha clench the steering wheel tighter and increase their speed which Steve didn’t think was possible.

“Clint and Kate are down. Ross shot them.” Tony announced, allowing a moment during the chaos to think of the possible reasons why Rhodes and Wilson were not responding. His stomach dropped even further, realizing that he hadn’t heard from Pepper either. “Just get to the compound. Ross is still out there somewhere.”

Natasha’s emotionless voiced filled the line, “We’re almost there.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

Shot through the heart and you’re to blame

The total ordeal played out in slow motion for Tony. The paramedics showing up, taking Kate and Clint away on stretchers.  There were people talking to him, but Tony didn’t’ comprehend a single word that was being spoken. He watched as Nick was on the phone, judging by the facial expression, he was yelling at someone. Children had exited their dorm rooms, and were standing in the hallway, crying. The tears were either from the tragedy that just occurred, or the language Nick was using, or perhaps a combination of the two.

“Tony? Tony!” He had to blink a few times before understanding that Fury was speaking to him.

Holding Stark’s head, Fury looked directly into the man’s eyes. Seeing Tony blink, Nick knew he had his attention, and repeated the question. “I said, do you want to go to the hospital or what?”

Returning to reality, Tony weighed his options, “Any reports yet?”

Releasing Tony’s head, Fury took a step back and conveyed, “Yeah, this whole damn thing was a trap.”

~~~

Ten minutes earlier

“The system is down.” Natasha informed Steve as she scanned the compound.

Feeling defeated that they were taken on their own turf, Steve concluded, “So, it’s open season on the Avengers?”

Sharing the feeling with Steve, Natasha had to agree, “Seems that way.”

“I thought Tony said this place was a fortress, no one could get in.” He asked thinking back to their earlier conversation and using Stark’s own words.

“It should be.” Natasha confirmed as she put the scanner away and took out a second device. Waving it around the front entrance to the base, she reported the results, “The place is clean. I don’t get it. Access here is contingent on codes, facial recognition, fingerprints, and DNA. Anyone entering would have to have at least three of the four to be granted entrance. Codes and fingerprints can be worked around, but DNA and facial recognition are harder to fake.”

“First, they would have to get in, then they would have to disable FRIDAY.”

“Again, something I thought impossible.” The device beeped, and Natasha looked down.

The way Natasha looked at the reading made Steve ask, “What’s going on?”

Urgently she threw the device on the ground and jogged away, “Traces of halothane vapors in the air.”

“What is that?” Steve called after her.

Natasha ran back to the van they were driving to grab a bag. Running back up, she explained to Steve the problem as she removed two masks, throwing one to him, “A component of knockout gas, it prolongs the effects of anesthesia. Not widely used in America anymore, mostly in other countries. Maria, are you on comms?”

The newest addition to the comm line came through, “Yes.”

Relieved that they had backup Natasha replied, “Good, we will need emergency services. They sprayed the place with knockout gas.”

“Understood, we are on the roof. Entering now.” The Assistant Director answered.

“After you.” Steve gestured towards the door.

As the S.H.I.E.L.D agents swept the top floors, Natasha and Steve searched the bottom, the plan was to meet in the middle. Since it was after hours, and due to the danger of HYDRA in the area, the compound had been running on a skeleton staff during the day, and almost no one on duty at night. Knowing that Natasha was in a hurry to get upstairs and check on the children, Steve sent her up while he went to the conference room, which Rhodes and Sam were working out of tonight for mission support. 

Steve didn’t have to get far into the room before he saw them. Sam and Rhodes were both lying unconscious on the floor. Leaning over Sam to check his vitals, Steve heard the ventilation system turn back on. Someone must have been able to restart the systems and set the airing system on reverse to extract the gas out of the building. Being one of the smaller of the room on the base, it didn’t take long before the men started to come around.

“Steve?” Sam asked, struggling to open his eyes.

Helping Sam into a sitting position, and moving on to do the same with Rhodey, Steve explained, “The place was gassed, you will be fine.”

Standing up with the support of the conference table, Rhodey tried to clear his head, “How did that happen?”

Shaking his head Steve replied, “Don’t know, someone got in. You guys feeling alright?”

Placing his hands on his hips and looking around the room Rhodes answered, “Things are a little foggy, but I’m ok, Sam?”

Moving from the floor to one of the chairs, Sam said as he reclined, “Yeah, I’m good.”

S.H.I.E.L.D.’s medical team started to move into the room to tend to Sam and Rhodey. Both waved off any assistance. “Anyone else?” Steve asked one of the agents as they were leaving the room since their services had been dismissed.

The agent removed his gas mask, “Two more, a boy and woman upstairs on one of the residential floors.” The agent looked to where Sam and Rhodey were, “They’re in the same condition as these gentleman, but should be fine. I would suggest everyone go to the hospital and get checked out.”

“Nah, I don’t need a hospital.” Sam countered.

Speaking to both of the recovering men, Steve informed, “Well, we are going to the hospital anyways for other reasons, so might as well get a look over.”

Sam silently conceded to a medical evaluation at the hospital, then questioned, “Why are we going anyways? What happened?”

Steve spoke without emotion, because right now they couldn’t afford any. With a short answer, because that was all he could handle, Steve filled the two men up on what had transpired at the school, “Clint was shot. Kate too.” Any follow up questions were cut short when Steve readdressed the agent’s assessment of the other victims, “Cooper and Pepper were the others I would assume.” The agent nodded and left the room.

A thought hit Steve like a ton of bricks and urgently called after the departing agent, “What about the other two children?”

Natasha was suddenly there with her arms protectively around Cooper and Pepper by her side. Cooper looked confused and Pepper appeared as if she had been crying, or at least the gas had made her eyes water. Nat motioned to the ear piece and took hers out. The three men in the room took the hint and did the same. Whatever Natasha was about to tell them was something she didn’t want everyone to know. “They’re gone. Someone took Lila and Nate.”

~~~

Present

Maria Hill had called in to report the activities at the compound to Director Fury. She informed her boss that she was escorting everyone to the hospital, then would come to the school to assist in the search for Secretary Ross. When Tony had asked for a report, Nick caught him, and Professor Xavier, who was now on site, up to speed on what happened.

“It was Laura. Had to be. I put the kids into FRIDAY’s system this afternoon. I thought I was being proactive. They were going to be living there, at least I hoped they would be. The kids needed access to the compound.” Tony had warned Clint that they hadn’t seen the last of Laura. He just didn’t think she would make her move so fast, or like this.

Nick decided now wasn’t the time to debate if putting the kids into the security system was right or wrong. It had happened, and this was the consequence, now they needed to fix it. “How would Laura gain access?”

Staring at the red stains on the carpet, Tony went into auto-pilot and explained his security system that just earlier today he was so proud of, “To get in, a person has to provide three of the four identifying features. A fingerprint, DNA sample, facial recognition, or a code. Laura’s DNA would have gotten her one, because FRIDAY would have matched it to Nathanial’s. Even if she only matched fifty percent, it would be enough to get a hit on the boy and ‘green light’ her on that requirement.  She probably had something with Nate’s fingerprints on it, that’s two. After that, a code would have been simple to hack for her.”

He told Clint that his children were safe at the compound, he told himself the children were safe. They had left Cooper there instead of bringing him to the party for that very reason, he was safer at the compound. A grandfather for just a few days, and Tony felt like he had already let down each child, and their parents. “I would like to get the kids back before Clint wakes up.” Tony refused to believe that Kate and Clint’s condition was anything but temporary, they would recover. However, despite Tony’s best hopes, loudly the stain and broken wine glass on the floor screamed differently. Pulling himself out of the spiral of ill-thinking Tony added, “I will contact Dr. Helen Cho in Seoul right now to get over here with her regeneration cradle.” He pulled out his cell phone as he spoke.

“Hill had already taken care of that. Cho is enroute. Let the surgeons work on them until she gets here. As far as getting Lila and Nate back sooner rather than later, that’s a given.” Nick said as he typed on his phone. Finishing whatever it was he was typing, Nick looked up, “I don’t get it, why not just grab Cooper while they were already there?”

“Because they need to do this legally. It’s the only way it works. Bishop must legally gain custody of Cooper and Charlie, it’s the only way HYDRA wins. You heard what Ross said. We all knew HYDRA wouldn’t be able to walk in here and take Charlie. They found a loophole, kill the parents and send in the HYDRA’s rat of a grandfather in to take them. They didn’t have to sacrifice one person on their team, and they still win.”

Understanding that a legal battle as well as a physical one was brewing Xavier decided, “I will get our lawyers on this right away.”

Getting the lawyers involved sounded like a good idea to Tony, “Yeah, I should probably call mine as well. Petition for emergency custody.”

The Professor felt the need to point out before anything further was done, “Katherine made a will a while ago placing Charlotte into our care if anything were to happen to her.”

“I’m not disputing that, this is the best place for her.” The last thing that they needed was to fight among each other while the kids were displaced and the parents on their way to an operating room, “We are on the same team here Xavier. As back up I also have a will that Clint made when Kate was pregnant giving a woman named Natasha Romanoff guardianship of both Cooper and Charlie. It was made before the wipe happened. Natasha is another Avenger, and best friends with Clint, she won’t argue with Charlie staying here while her parents recover.”

 “My understanding is that Ms. Romanoff is also a fugitive of the Accords,” Professor Xavier said, choosing his words very carefully as to not offend. Tony being granted custody was the best option at the moment. The school didn’t have any claim to Cooper, but Tony did. It would be a better argument for Stark, as the biological maternal grandfather, to fight for them as a pair instead of individually. “I would suggest we leave Clint’s will out of the equation. Right now, we need to get the children awarded to you for the time being.”

Fixated on the stains which were slowly becoming darker as they dried, Tony asked, “Any word on Ross?”

“Logan and Scott are still searching the grounds along with others. If he is still here we will find him, but I doubt he is on the property any longer.” The Professor informed.

“What’s going to happen now, with Ross?” Tony asked Nick. The man just shot his daughter and her husband, Tony’s teammate and friend, in an attempt to gain control of his grandchildren and payback against the Avengers. Anything that would previous be considered too cruel of a punishment was now polite.

Putting his phone away, Fury cast a light onto the situation, “Don’t know, we would have to find the bastard first. But once we get him, I can’t imagine anything good happening. He was not only on the UN’s council to oversee the Avengers’ activities under the Accords but also had a seat on the newly rectified World Security Council. The Defense Security and what remains of the Council would like to speak to him. The best place right now for both security and safety would be the Raft.” Then the Director interjected his opinion for the future of Secretary Ross, “Would love to give that man a taste of his own medicine. However, it’s not my call. Again, we have to find him.”

Tony noticed that while Nick was explaining what would happen to Thunderbolt Ross, Xavier looked to be out of it. “Professor are you alright?”

The Professor turned his head to the closed door that Tony earlier guessed belonged to Kate, “She’s scared. Storm is struggling to calm her, but she knows something has happened.”

“Charlie.” It was not a question, but a statement knowing that Charles Xavier would only be talking about a student’s emotions in their presences unless they had a connection and vested interest with the child.

Moving his wheelchair towards the door, the Professor replied, “Yes, I should go speak to her.” He then stopped, unsure of his next move, “Explain…something, I don’t know.”

Tony knew there was nothing he could do for Kate and Clint right now. Pepper and Cooper where alright, they would still need to go get checked out by a doctor. Probably after that, just go sit in the waiting room with the others to wait for news. That poor boy, Tony thought to himself, he had been poisoned by Laura twice in one week. The one thing Tony could do was help in comforting the pair’s daughter, “Would you mind if I came with you?”

Xavier understood the predicament that Tony was in, the man had just witnessed something that somewhere deep in his subconscious, felt responsible for. “You may”, the Professor agreed.

“I will wait for Hill here and meet you at the hospital later.” The S.H.I.E.L.D. Director informed the men as he turned to descend the stairs to wait by the entrance.

The Professor knocked on the door and without waiting for an answer, opened it and went in. Tony followed feeling slightly nervous and uncomfortable walking into his daughter’s bedroom to comfort his scared granddaughter. Storm was seated in a Princess Anne styled chair, clearly an antique, that was next to the bed. The shape of a tiny body was visible, beneath the comforter on the bed.

“Charlotte please come out from under there, we need to talk.” The Professor said in a stern voice that Tony found inappropriate given the situation. However, the child instantly obeyed the strict instructions, and uncovered her head. She adjusted herself to be leaning against the pillows.

Tony was dazed when he saw his granddaughter for the first time. There could be no debate over who her parents were. Charlotte was the perfect combination of both Clint and Kate. At first glance, she was a carbon copy of her mother, pale skin, black hair, and blue eyes. Knowing her father, Tony was able to notice that the eyes were a cold blue, almost gray that were Clint’s coloring. Tony had been involved in many staring matches with Clint over the years and could tell that the exact same eyes were staring at him now. She had her mother’s high cheek bones, but Clint’s jaw line. She was very beautiful, and he wasn’t just saying that because Charlie was his granddaughter. She was a pretty child with the promise of becoming a stunningly beautiful woman. Tony and Clint would have their hands full when it came time for her to date he predicted.

“You’re the Ironman, I’ve seen you on television.” The child stated to him.

Tony couldn’t tell by the tone if she was asking or telling him who he was, so to hedge his bets he simply answered, “Yup, that would be me.”

Charlie added dispassionately, “You’re also my grandfather, Tony Stark.”

So, Kate had told Charlie everything, that made it easier, much to the relief of Tony, “A very smart girl you are.”

Getting straight to the point, and at the same time proving she was a member of the Stark family Charlie asked, “I know. Where is my mom?”

Storm informed them before either man could answer, “She heard the shot.”

Charlie looked to the Professor and ask the questions that broke Tony’s already fragile heart as it made him truly understand the hell that Kate and her child had been living in for the past ten years. “Was it HYDRA? Did they hurt my mom again?”

Deciding to be both truthful and vague at the same time, Xavier responded, “The details aren’t clear right now Charlotte, but it does appear that way.”

Charlie inhaled through her nose and wiped at it, trying not to let the tears that filled her eyes fall. “Where is she?”

“At the hospital.” The Professor knew what Charlotte was thinking without reading her mind.  The ten-year old was scared. Katherine had left campus before to run errands, but was never gone long, and never overnight. Charlotte had spent nights away in the dorm numerous times, for various reasons, but her mother was never far from her. She always knew where her mother was, and vice versa.

Charlie started to play with the bedsheet, focusing hard on her hands, “Is Dr. McCoy there?”

Charles Xavier answered, “Yes, Charlotte, he is.” Tony didn’t know that piece of information, but Hank being there was probably a good idea.

Releasing the sheet, Charlie looked up again. She seemed to have relaxed a little. “He’ll take care of her, he always does.” The faith this child had in the X-Men amazed Tony, she believed in what they said to her.  Tony had never in his life experienced that level of trust from anyone. In that moment, Charlie having that same faith in him became a life goal. “I want to go see her”, Charlotte demanded.

The Professor shook his head, “Charlotte, you know you can’t leave the grounds. It’s too dangerous.”

Pushing herself up onto her knees, she refuted to Xavier, “It’s dangerous here also, mom got shot. The school isn’t safe anymore!” That comment hurt Professor Charles Xavier, a lot. A place he prided himself as a safe-haven for mutants had been violated. Children should always feel safe in the place they called home, and now the school would forever be tainted for Charlotte.

Casting a look around the room, Charlie commanded, “Where’s Clint Barton? He is my dad, mom said so. He was supposed to come see me, he’ll take me to my mom.” Interesting Tony observed, Charlie already thought she could persuade Clint to do her bidding. Tony stepped in, “He is at the hospital, Clint, your dad,” Tony quickly added in an effort to get both himself and the child used to the title, “was hurt also.”

“I want to go.” The voice of the girl sounded pitiful, vulnerable and innocent all at the same time. The sound made Tony want to just pick her up and take her to Kate. He would give his grandchild anything she wanted, just to make her stop sounding like that.

Xavier looked to Storm, then closed his eyes only to reopened them a second later, “Charlotte, I’m not going to make you any promises. Let’s wait and see what happens in surgery, then the staff and I will discuss if you can go, and the safest way it can occur, if it can happen.”

Charlie seemed to accept that arrangement for the time being, but followed up with, “Are you going to the hospital?”

“I’m going to stay here with Director Fury for a while. Your grandfather will go be with them and call me when there is something that we need to know.” Xavier explained looking to Tony for validation, which he provided with a head nod.

The child got out of the bed and walked past everyone to the desk that was in the corner. While the seated participants could not see what she was doing, Tony could from his standing position. Charlie was getting a cellphone, as she unplugged it from the charger, she directed at her grandfather, “What’s your phone number?”

Storm chided the girl in a drained voice, “Charlie don’t play with your mom’s phone please.”

“Hey, give me the phone princess.” Tony surprised himself how quickly the pet name rolled off his tongue. Charlie complied, and Tony brought up the contact screen with one hand while the other retrieved his own phone from inside his jacket. A few clicks later and his phone rang, “All done. Now you have my number and I have your mom’s. If you need me Charlie, no matter what reason, you call.” He said as he handed her back the phone.

Charlie scrolled through the phone and once satisfied that Tony had indeed put his number in it, questioned him, “Are you going now?”

“Yes, unless you want me to stay.” Tony didn’t know what he would do if she asked him to remain.

“No, you can go,” The comment had Tony standing there in a stunned silence, was he seriously being dismissed by his ten-year-old granddaughter? To add insult to injury she instructed him, “Call me when you get there.”

Storm stood up and walked up behind Charlie, placing her hands on the girl’s shoulders, “Charlie, you need to try to get some sleep. How about he calls you in the morning?”

Charlie looked up and turned her head to see Storm, “And tomorrow I can go to the hospital and see her?”

Reminding her of their conversation of an entire minute ago, Xavier repeated, “I said no promises.”

Charlie pointed out to the older man, “But you didn’t say ‘no’.”

Smiling, Storm patted one of the shoulders and told Tony, “Kate always said that the girl is destined to be a lawyer.”

“Heaven forbid,” Tony said out loud, thinking what a lawyer with Charlie’s abilities could do, she would be successful, there was no doubt about that. “That reminds me, I need to call one. Good night Charlie.”

The girl approached him, Tony didn’t know what to do, so he kneeled to her level. Charlie seemed to study him for a moment, before finally saying, “Good night Tony Stark. I will see you tomorrow.”

“A demanding little thing isn’t she?”, Tony said to the room, the looked back at his granddaughter, “I’m afraid I am also going to have to say, ‘no promises’, there is a lot of stuff happening right now, and the adults are going to be busy trying to fix it. I will promise you that I will call tomorrow morning, so keep that phone on you.” Standing up, Tony informed her, “You know Cooper, your brother, he calls me grandpapa.”

Literally laughing in his face, Charlie proclaimed, “That’s just stupid,”

“Charlotte.” Professor Xavier scolded.

Standing up, Tony looked down at the child, “Well, you are Clint’s girl, that’s for sure.”

~~~

Pepper walked into the waiting room where Sam, Rhodes, Steve, Natasha, and Cooper were all present. Steve was pacing the room while Natasha, Sam, and Rhodes were seated nearby. Cooper was laying across three chairs, pretending to be reading a magazine. “Tony asked me to get the lawyers involved and have them petition for emergency custody. They’re working on it now. There is apparently another player in the game now.”

 Natasha nodded, she had heard what Ross said about Derek Bishop and asked about Tony’s whereabouts, “Where is Tony now?”

“He is on his way, Charlie needed some consoling before he could leave. The shooting happened right outside the room she was staying in.”

Steve stopped his pacing and addressed the room, “When will any of these kids catch a break?” Lila was just told this morning that Laura had done something wrong and had to go away, only to have Laura show up hours later to take her and her younger brother away. The trail was cold, but everyone was busy on their phones pulling at threads, contacting sources, and calling in any favors they had squired away for a rainy day. They were trying to find something that would give them anything on where Lila and Nate were.

Tony walked in on Steve’s comment and replied, “As soon as we get them back and take care of ‘she who shall not be named’, the kids will be fine.”

“Hey Gramps.” Cooper called over the magazine in a tired voice. Tony thought it was somewhat casual for someone who had been drugged twice in a matter of days by the same person, a woman he had called ‘mom’ for ten years. Then calculating in the kidnapping of his younger siblings and shooting of his parents by a government official. Yeah, Tony deduced, Cooper’s greeting was odd.

Deciding to start off this conversation lightheartedly, Tony joked, “Gramps? Pepper these kids have no respect for me. Thought we all decided I would be Grandpapa, first Charlie calls me ‘Tony Stark’, and now this one” he pointed to Cooper, “calls me ‘Gramps’.”

Putting the magazine over his face, Cooper apologized from underneath, “Sorry, hello Grandpapa.”

“Thank you, that’s better.” Tony accepted the apology, while giving Pepper a questionable look.

Pepper leaned in and whispered into his ear, “The doctor gave him a sedative, he is very relaxed right now. We have a prescription even.”

Doing a double take at Pepper once he processed what he was told, Tony observed, “So, he has been drugged three times in,” he checked the date on his watch, “four, five days?”

“It’s only been three days.” Cooper corrected from still under his magazine tent.

“Are you shitting me?!” Tony screamed, shocking everyone in the room at the outburst. Three days, there is no way that was correct.

Everyone in the room yelled in harmony, “Tony!” Pepper swatted him on the arm. Tony noticed the magazine was moving up and down on top of Cooper’s face, indicating that the kid found this humorous.

Putting his hands out in front of him in defeat, Tony excused, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled that in a hospital, especially with Cooper right there.”

Once again from the hidden depths of the magazine, the teenager remarked, “I’ve heard worst, have you ever met my dad?”

Tony pointed to his grandson, which was useless since he couldn’t see the gesture, “Doped up peanut gallery, quiet.” He turned to Pepper, “Why did you let them medicate him?”

In a hushed voice, Pepper summarized her reasons, “Tony, the kid was on edge. Even before tonight’s events he was hanging on by a string. Then he wakes up, not from a nap, but knockout gas and finds Lila and Nate gone. He feels responsible that he didn’t protect them, not to mention the rejection he must feel that he was left behind. He understands Laura isn’t his mother, but tonight cements that. She was his mother and left him twice in three days.”

Interjecting his point Tony said, “There is no way it has only been three days.”

Not allowing him to stop her explanation, Pepper continued, “Three days, not to mention his parents were just shot and are down the hallway fighting for their lives!”

Having someone lay out all the turmoil that Cooper had incurred over the last three days really put it in perspective for Tony as to how much the kid had to be suffering, “Okay, I will concede, you may have done the right thing.” He then asked the room, “How are Kate and Clint?”

Steve took the lead, “Damage was pretty bad to both of them.” He looked briefly to make sure Cooper was not paying attention, but how could anyone tell?  Just to play it safe Steve lowered his voice and got closer to Tony, “Clint flatlined twice, once during transport and another on the table.”

 Tony knew it was bad but was hoping that it wasn’t that bad. Fearing the answer to his next question, he asked it anyways, “And Kate?”

“Massive blood loss, but no damage to the organs that can’t be fixed.” Natasha said speaking from experience, then added, “It’s a gut shot for both, not pretty and hard to repair.”

Bringing his hand to his forehead Tony held it there for a moment before confirming, “Yeah, I saw.” He didn’t need to be reminded where they were shot, he was there, he had to hold his daughter’s stomach together with just his hands. Tony’s pants and lower part of his shirt were caked in her blood. In an attempt to reassure more himself than anyone else he said, “The cradle will fix it, doctors just need to keep them alive until Helen gets here. How far out is Dr. Cho?”

Sam threw a glance to the door that was the entrance to the operating rooms, “Already here.”

“What?” Tony inquired. Even with the fastest jet Tony owned or could design, it was at least an eight-hour flight from Seoul to the hospital.

Pepper expanded on Sam’s comment to answer the question, “She was presenting at a conference in Boston about the cradle. She got here about twenty minutes ago.”

Tony breathed a sigh of relief, maybe, just maybe things were starting to turn. “It looks like our luck is finally changing.” Turning to Pepper he retracted his earlier request, “Then I guess the lawyers won’t be needed.” Then he addressed everyone, “Where are we with finding the little Bartons?”

Never being a person to leave things as important as this to chance, Pepper advised, “I think we need to pursue the emergency custody until they are released from the hospital. Better safe than sorry.”. Again, Tony had to concur she had a point. He agreed with a quick nod to confirmed that she could continue with the petition.

Steve brought the attention back to Tony’s last question, “As far as Lila and Nate go, we don’t know. Have a few leads that Hill is checking out for verification. If anything pops up, we’ll be ready to move.”

“We better have more than verification for when Clint wakes up.” Natasha counted, looking as angry as anyone had ever seen her before.

“I don’t know if you told us, or Clint did.” Rhodes started as he stood up. The combination of not sleeping and being knocked out, made him anxious to do something physical. At the time, all he could do was take over the pacing responsibilities from Steve. “But someone said that when the wipe happened, people in deep cover stayed with HYDRA, not remembering that it was an assignment. They probably just believed that they turned to the dark side at some point in their career.”

Natasha didn’t really care, her best friend was having surgery or getting tissue regenerated, she didn’t know what the doctors were actually doing. What she did know was that he was hurt and had technically died twice already. The last thing she needed right now was a trip down memory lane, “Yeah, so?”

Rhodes pushed forward to get to his point, “So, if you undo the wipe, these ‘HYDRA/S.H.I.E.L.D. agents’ will remember that they are in deep cover. They’ll call in and ask for an extraction. That’s ten years’ worth of HYDRA intelligences these people have.”

Steve saw where Rhodes was going with this, “Someone may know where Laura and the kids are.”

“Someone may.” He confirmed. “Hell, they could be privy to the entire mission profile.”

Natasha had to identify the problem with a reversal that had been discussed countless times already, “It’s a great idea, but there is no way Fury will approve the reversal for two kids, even if they are Clint’s. You are putting two children’s lives against thousands of agent’s and countless civilians. He won’t ‘ok’ anything, at least not until he is comfortable with the possible consequences. Just ‘pushing the button’ so to speak has too many variables.”

Liking what Rhodes was suggesting, Tony refuted Natasha’s caution, “Variables that he is trying to contain. Just not fast enough for us to get going. It’s not just intel on Laura that we would get from reversing the wipe. Like you said Rhodey, its ten years’ worth of information on HYDRA. Seventeen if you count the people who were already in deep cover years prior to the wipe. That’s stuff on their mission, their research, people, everything. It could be the biggest takedown of the organization since World War II. It could even destroy it in its entirety if the information is good enough.”

“The reversal of the wipe could be the endgame.” Steve declared in astonishment of what was possible. A fight that he has been part of for over seventy years, having the potential of being completed in the not so distant future. “Tony, can you really undo it?”

“I’m close.” Tony confirmed. “A few hours of work in my lab, and I can crack the code. The problem is, as soon as I hack it, I must install the reversal virus within the wipe control system in three minutes. The clock ticks to zero without a code and the program will burn out and I start from scratch.” Seeing that Steve was coming up with a plan, Tony handed control over and in doing so buried a part of the Civil War, “What’s the call Cap?”

Accepting Tony’s peace offering, Steve started calling out the plan, “Natasha, you have been with Fury the longest. Call him, do whatever you have to in order to sell him on this being done tonight, at the latest tomorrow morning. Let him know, we are not asking for permission, it’s happening. However, we would appreciate tactical support, and any attempt at lessening the collateral damage.”

Having no intention of leaving the hospital until Clint could do the same, Natasha welcomed the distraction, “On it.”

About tactical support, Steve asked Tony, “Will the X-Men help?”

Crossing his arms, Tony confirmed, “They were willing to help before the shooting, I doubt they would retract the offer now. That Logan almost killed Ross in the hallway, he’s looking for a good fight right about now.”

“Good, Rhodes and I will go over there and strategize with them. Pepper and Cooper, you two come with us. The school will be the safest place to wait until this is over.” Cooper had already fallen asleep on the makeshift couch, so Pepper agreed for the both of them. Steve continued, “We also need Professor Xavier to start the process on getting Wanda here legally and here now. We need her and Vison in this fight, but if this Bishop does what Ross threaten, they could use Wanda’s past as a way to get to Charlie. We don’t know where this fight is going to take us, and we can’t be watching our back for the United Nations while HYDRA comes at our front. I doubt they will be worried about Sam, Natasha or even myself with everything going on with Ross right now, but Wanda will remain high on their list.” He asked Tony, “What are the odds we will be able to procure a second marksman from this?”

Knowing that Steve was referring to Kate’s S.H.I.E.L.D. past Tony rationalized, “Well, if the bullet to the stomach didn’t piss her off enough to join the fight, waking up to remembering she is a trained assassin with the desire for revenge over losing ten years with her family will. Add Derek’s involvement and the kidnapping of the kids, and I can safely say she is a sure thing to join up.  I can make up a kit for her similar to Clint’s while I’m running the reversal program.”

Satisfied with Tony’s answer, Steve moved onto Sam, “Sam go back to the compound with Tony. You will be coordinating between the X-Men, Avengers, and S.H.I.E.L.D. We will need the agents for the removal of the deep covered ones. We could possibly be hitting numerous bases at once and the more the merrier.”

Everyone had their assignments and were about to depart to their designated responsibility when the doors opened to Dr. Cho and Dr. McCoy entering the waiting room. In greeting Dr. Cho addressed the room, “Ah, I see everyone is here now. Good to see you again Tony.”

Returning the welcome, Tony replied, “Helen, really wish we wouldn’t keep meeting because Barton hasn’t learned yet that bullets don’t bounce off him.”

Smiling at the joke, she attempted one herself, “Well, three more times and he will get a free frozen yogurt.”

Wanting to put an end to the joking, Steve interrupted, “How are they?”

Remembering that she was a doctor, and in a room full of the patients’ concerned friends and family, Dr. Cho reported, “The doctors did a great job keeping them stable until I arrived. We were able to repair the damage. Kate is stable now, but Clint may need another blood transfusion before I agree to pull back on the anesthesia.”

Thinking that it was a good plan to keep the Bartons asleep for the next few hours, Tony suggested, “Is it possible to keep them under for a bit longer?”

Dr. McCoy had only known Tony for two days, but could tell the man was up to something, “Why?”

“Other than they both probably need the sleep?” Tony asked and could tell that Hank needed a better reason than sleep for approval of keeping people under heavy anesthesia longer than necessary. He guessed that is what made McCoy a good doctor, “Clint’s kids are gone, the younger two. HYDRA grabbed them around the same time Ross shot Kate and Clint. He will not be happy, for lack of a better word, when he wakes up and we have nothing to go on.  We are reversing the wipe to get a lead to come forward. My reasons for keeping Kate under is that with everything she went through with just getting Cooper’s memories, I’m concerned what will happen when she gets everything back.”

The suggestion was a good one to Hank. He would actually prefer Kate be under medical supervision for the aftermath of the memories being returned, “If that is the case then I believe we could order they be kept under for the night. Dr. Cho, any reservations regarding adjusting the orders?”

Helen shrugged her shoulders in indifference, “I already stated that Clint would need to remain sedated to give his body an opportunity to heal and see if he needed another transfusion. The cradle rebuilds the tissue but can’t create blood, at least not yet. Both he and Kate took a hit, we must give their systems a chance to reboot, so to speak. By morning, they both should be fine.”

Sam shook his head in amazement, “That’s amazing. The man flatlines twice in the last hour, and he’s going to be able to walk out of here tomorrow?”

“Isn’t science great?” Tony asked they posed a question to Hank, “Are you heading back to the school, or are you staying here?”

Hank answered, “I need to go back and retrieve Kate’s medication for her morning dose. The matter had slipped my mind entirely with everything taking place. I will be returning shortly. Why?”

“Bring enough medicine for at least a few days, we don’t know what is going to go down. I’ll find a way for it to be secure in her uniform.” Already Tony was thinking about designs. He would need to alter one of Natasha’s uniforms for Kate. It would give him something to do while he was running schematics for the wipe reversal. “Steve can give you a ride. Do you think there would be any objection about Pepper and Cooper staying at the school for a while? We would like to keep them safe, plus, it would give Cooper and Charlie some time to get to know each other.”

“No objection at all.  I thank you for the ride.” Hank said towards Steve and Pepper, then emphasized a point to Tony, “I hope you will notify me before you do anything.”

Tony didn’t come this far just to lose Kate, not to a bullet, but to a medical condition. That would be very counterproductive to his goals. “Of course, Hank. I also wouldn’t mind a copy of Charlie and Kate’s blood work to compare against Bruce’s.”

Suppressing a chuckle at Tony’s attempt to obtain his daughter and granddaughter’s medical records. Hank calmly pointed out, “I think you have enough on your plate at the moment, and I would like Kate’s permission before I hand out any medical information. If you are in a hurry to start the comparisons, why not just send me Dr. Banner’s information.”

“I’m sure Bruce wouldn’t mind.” Tony commented as he watched Cooper slowly roll off the chairs. He was fine to let the boy fall, he had to wake up anyways to go. However, Steve displaying his quick reflexes caught the boy before he fell the whole two feet to the carpeted floor. “I think you guys need to get going before Cooper becomes a patient again.”

Steve was holding the unconscious teenager, cradling the boy in his arms, and it only added to the dramatics when he announced, “Avengers, let’s go to work.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

A Great Man

“Tell me this wasn’t your plan all along.” Natasha implored of Director Nick Fury as she kept her sight on Clint’s sleeping body in the hospital bed. “Wait long enough for deep cover agents to collect a sufficient amount of information, then reverse the wipe.”

Brushing off the accusation, Fury revealed, “Life hands you some lemons, you make lemonade.” He wasn’t going to insult her intelligence by saying she was wrong. While others were focused on the negatives associated with the wipe and the loss of personnel, Nick saw an opportunity. Agents wouldn’t have to work so hard to keep their stories straight, dealing with the burden and stress of living a double life. None of it was a factor if they didn’t know they were doing it.

She watched as the newest reading appeared on the monitor connected to Clint. Dr. Cho had reassured her that he was fine, and the cradle worked fantastically, even better since there had been numerous improvements since the last time he utilized it. Now they were just letting his body rest, so he would be ready for the coming fight. “So, you just let it happen?”

Walking to the other side of Clint’s bed so he could look at Natasha while they spoke, Nick defended himself, “I didn’t let shit happen Agent Romanoff. Nothing happened to my agents that didn’t happen to me as well. I wasn’t just going to sit around on my ass and accept that HYDRA got one over on us. “

Sharply Natasha pointed out, “You didn’t lose your wife and child.”

Nick refused to take the blame for what happened to Kate and Clint, or their young family, “Like I told Tony, I thought Kate was dead, blew up in Africa while doing her job. Surprised the hell out of me when I found her at that school. I didn’t even know Clint was the father of that kid until Stark started to put the pieces together. I was under the impression that the ‘Laura cover’ and the ‘Kate situation’ were two totally different messes that I had to deal with. How the hell was I supposed to know that Clint and Kate were together?”

Nick was right, and Natasha knew it, but she wouldn’t put it into voice. It was a low blow to blame him for the Barton Family’s drama. It had taken Natasha maybe five minutes into her conversation with Nick to realize that she didn’t have to sell him on the reversal plan at all. Director Fury was always prepared for the wipe to be reversed. He knew it would eventually happen, just wanted to reduce the number of casualties that would occur with the process.  “Are we prepared for this?”

He knew she was changing the subject from Clint’s family to the wipe. “Yes, after the shooting, I knew Stark would finalize his reversal program in a hurry. I had Hill speed up getting our people off the streets and somewhere safe.”

“You got that Tony?” Natasha asked as she put her finger to her ear, isolating the comm audio against the beeping of the medical equipment. Stark had been working in his lab for the last three hours.

Tony’s voice came through, “Yes, I do, we are a ‘go’ on the reversal. The program is syphering now. You and Nick bunker down and be ready. This will either give you back those seven years or liquify your brain. Positive note – either way it goes, memory loss won’t be a problem for much longer.”

Natasha sent Nick an alarmed expression, “Wait, what?”

Pressing the start icon on his screen, the display came to life running data against the S.H.I.E.L.D server that contained the wiping program. He transferred the screen to his cellphone, so he could be mobile while the system was working, “Too late, program has started. I’ll let you know when the code is generated, should be less than an hour. Cap, how are we with a plan?”

In an authoritarian manner, Steve responded, “We have at least three teams, more if S.H.I.E.L.D. can thin out into multiple groups. We have the quinjet ready to go once we have a solid lead, and the X-Men have their own transportation.”

Lifting two large black plastic tubs onto the lab table, Tony started to pack each with Clint and Kate’s mission items. Clint’s kit was just a matter of getting stuff out of Barton’s locker. Tony was impressed with the job he did on Kate’s. For being under such a strict time crunch, he pulled off a miracle. Tony had to speculate a lot but went off her college application as what she was trained in and attempted to design a kit to reflect that. He had Natasha check out the dress Kate was wearing at the party to get an estimate on her size. With minor alternations and added ‘flare’ in the design, Natasha’s old Black Widow uniform transformed into Kate’s. Clint was ambidextrous, but favored his left hand, proven by his decision to wear the wrist guard on the right arm. In contrast, Kate was right handed, so Tony had a wrist guard installed into the design on the left sleeve of the outfit. Knowing that archers prefer their drawing arm to be unrestricted, there wasn’t a right sleeve, the material stopped on the right at the armhole.  

The MIT application from about twenty years ago showed a similar skill set to what Clint had. Tony allowed a moment among all the disorder of his own creation to a certain degree, to wonder about his daughter’s relationship with Barton. What was the deal there? Clint would have already been in S.H.I.E.L.D. years prior to Kate joining up. It seemed odd that a seasoned agent would be paired up with a rookie, so they probably weren’t partners, at least not like Natasha and Clint were. Taking the parallels in the two’s talents, it presented to an outsider as more of a mentor and protégé situation. Tony had to force himself to stop when his thoughts drifted to theorizing about how and why the relationship changed from professional to romantic. Clearing his mind, he returned to the mission, and threw out to Steve, “Want me to meet you there, or will you all come back here?”

“I think it would be best for the Avengers and X-Men to be based out of the school. Their air field can accommodate two crafts on the runway idling. We should meet here and wait for S.H.I.E.L.D. to notify us when they have a hit on the kids.” Steve explained to both the group in the room with him and the people on the line.

Steve’s plan sounded logical Tony agreed, as he shut the second tub closed and signaled for Sam to start moving them to the car. “Alright, Sam and I will head over there. We will stop by the hospital and pick up Clint and Kate.”

Suddenly a new voice, Pepper’s, piped in on the units, “Tony, you have to get to the courthouse now.”

Lifting one of the tubs, Tony followed Sam out of the lab. In a strained speech, he asked his fiancé, “I’m busy, what’s going on?”

In a voice that had a hint of panic in it Pepper described the seriousness of the newest development, “Bishop woke a judge up.”

“Bishop, that’s Kate’s father isn’t it?” Rhodes asked from where he stood next to Steve in Professor Xavier’s office. He and Sam had already been gassed when Ross explained Bishop’s role, so they were playing catch up now.

Speaking between breaths as he carried the very heavy tub full of archers’ equipment out of the compound to the waiting car, “Her step-father technically. Pepper are you serious?”

“The Stark Industries lawyers just called me. They believe that the judge is going to grant it because Derek is Kate’s father on record and he is contesting your DNA results since it wasn’t run through a reputable lab.” She said through gritted teeth knowing that Tony would be more upset by the criticism of his lab results then the court case.

Throwing the tub into the back of the SUV with more force than needed, Tony endorsed his own work, “I ran it, are they seriously going to doubt Stark Industries equipment and results?”

Pepper tried to keep calm and clear as she explained the legal dilemma, “Yes they are, when the Stark who ran it has an obvious bias towards the results. Just get over here and pick me up. Maybe we can convince them to continue it.”

Tony threw his head back in defeat and looked at Sam who, like everyone else, was also on the line and listening to the conversation, “Kate and Clint will be fine by sun up.” Checking his watch, it was almost three o’clock. “In fact, they are fine now, just keeping them sedated until I finish my program. Let Bishop waste the court’s time.”

Pepper demanded Tony’s full attention, “Listen to me, if Derek wins, they are going to have police over here demanding that the Professor hands over Cooper and Charlie before sun up. Then we are going to be looking for four kids!”

Fury’s strict voice took over the conversation and broke down the situation, “Stark, I can guarantee you that Bishop has people waiting outside the campus gates to go as soon as that order is signed.  If Derek gets those kids, we may never find Cooper and Charlie. They hid Ross already, HYDRA knows how to get around Xavier’s ability to find them.”

“Alright, I got you.” Tony closed his eyes to think, this was a case of one step forward, two steps back. He was so close to the wipe being undone, and now this. “Sam, run upstairs and grab Clint’s suit. He’s a slob so it should be on his bedroom floor. Make sure to get a dress shirt and tie as well. Pepper, there is a woman there at the school, her name is Storm, she’s a friend of Kate’s. Ask her to go to Kate’s house and find Kate a court outfit. Have her bring it to the hospital. Then I need you to ask for a car from the Professor and go over to the courthouse now and try to delay until we can get there.”

“Why? What are you going to do?” Pepper asked.

Slamming the back shut he got into the driver’s seat waiting for Sam to join him in the car.  “Just you get to the courthouse and stall.” In record time Sam was back and getting in with a bag Tony assumed held the suit. Pulling the car around the front of the compound and traveling down the driveway to the road, Tony tapped a few times on his cell phone and set it up for hands free, allowing the phone conversation to take place over the car’s stereo system. After a few rings the phone was answered. Not allowing time for the customary greetings, Tony got straight to the point, “Hey Dr. McCoy, change of plans, please notify Dr. Cho, we need them up now.”

The doctor questioned, “Is the wipe reversed? I didn’t see any change in Kate’s vitals.”

Impatiently, Tony stated as he pulled onto the road and slammed his foot down on the accelerator, “I’m getting around to it. Hoping I can get it done shortly, but they have a court date to make an appearance at like ten minutes ago. Kate’s’ father has asked the courts for guardianship of Charlie and Cooper. We need the parents to show up and prove that there isn’t a need for anything like that.”

“It will take at least a half an hour to bring both of them out of the anesthesia. It’s not an off and on switch you know. Even after they wake up it can take hours to be fully clearheaded.”

Hitting his hands on the stirring wheel in rage at the situation, not the doctor, Tony shouted, “Then shoot them up with adrenaline. I don’t care, get them up and moving.”

Understanding that Tony’s remarks were not directed at him, Hank comprehended the gravity of the request and suggested, “I can give them a low dose of Ritalin, studies have shown it can bring a person out of anesthesia almost immediately. The recovery time is cut from hours to minutes.”

Calming himself down Tony said, “Sounds like a plan. Please get it started. Storm is bringing clothes for Kate, and I’m coming with Clint’s”. He disconnected the call and let out a sigh.

Throwing the phone to Sam, Tony instructed, “What does the screen show, I’ll walk you through it.”

Sam caught the phone and described the screen, “Uh, there are six boxes, all outlined in red.”

Nodding at the description Tony explained the importance of it, “That’s good. My program found out that the code is six characters long. Now it is trying to figure out which six characters the code is. We are close.”

“One of the boxes is now green.” Sam exclaimed in a voice that was both excitement and panic.

Keeping his eyes on the road as he passed a car, Tony requested further details, “Is it the first one? The furthest box on the left?”

Sam looked to Tony to confirm, “Yes.”

“Great, the first character has been detected.” Tony said as he turned onto the road leading to the hospital, “Natasha where are you and Fury?”

“Clint’s room.” Natasha answered watching as the doctor worked on Clint, “Dr. Cho just injected something into the IV.”

Amazingly with everything going on Tony posed questions that to everyone else were completely off point, but highly relevant to him, “Good, two questions for you, is he wearing pants and is Storm there yet?”

Exchanging a confused look with Nick over the questions, Natasha responded, “Storm is with Kate now and who is the ‘he’ you are talking about wearing pants?”

“How did Storm already get there?” Sam asked, they were making record time getting to the hospital and had a good head start on her.

“Mutant powers?” Tony offered up as a possible explanation, then returned to his instructions, “Natasha, I would hope Fury is, if not take a picture. But I am referring to Clint. The reversal is about to happen. I would strongly suggest he have more than just a hospital gown on when he gets his memories back. It’s doubtful he is going to stay in the bed.”

“Yeah, he is going to want to get into someone else’s.” Sam contributed, cracking himself up in the process.

Slamming the brakes so hard that Sam was propelled forward, Tony promised as he started to drive again, “I will crash this car, I swear to you, just keep talking like that.”

Massaging his neck from the abrupt stop, Sam apologized, “Sorry, two green boxes.”

Breaking again, only this time it was to turn into the hospital, Tony informed all on the comm link, “We are pulling in front of the hospital now.”

~~~

“’Tasha?” Clint asked as he blinked trying to focus his eyes. He heard her voice and assumed the red blob next to him was the abstract outline of his best friend.

Being told he was alright by medical personnel was not enough for Natasha to relax but seeing him actually open his eyes and speak to her did, “Hey look who decided to grace us with his presence.”

Recalling the events from earlier hours Clint summarized, “I was shot…by Ross.”

“Can’t get nothing past you.” Natasha couldn’t help but smile at him.

Clint lifted his hand and placed it on his abdomen where he remembered the gun being pressed against. Surprised not to find any medical dressing on the area and a lack of pain when he applied pressure to his stomach, he quickly concluded, “Cho again?”

“Yup, she Frankensteined your ass again.” Natasha told him then beat him to his next question, “Ross is still at large.”

With his head now clear from the drug’s influence, Clint was able to slip back into ‘agent mode’ and replayed his conversation with the hopefully former Secretary of State, “The things he said, it’s not just him Nat. We got to get moving. How is Kate?”

Clint was attempting to get up from the bed, and there wasn’t any medical reason for him not to be up, but with the reversal moments away it was best for him to stay put. Natasha placed her hand on his arm, “Hey, hang on for a minute. Tony is bringing you some clothes, He will be here in a second.”

Realizing that clothes would be a good idea before he went walking around into other patients’ rooms, he caught that Natasha hadn’t answered his last question, “Kate? How is she?”

Natasha said assuring, as she handed him a cup of water, “She is fine, also won a trip to the cradle.”

Gratefully taking the cup and draining it in one gulp, he followed up, “Where is she?”

Natasha moved her head to the right, “Next room over, possibly getting dressed also.” Clint started to get up again, this time Natasha was ready for it, and got him by both shoulders holding him down in his seated position on the side of the bed. “She is fine, you got the worst of it and look how well you’re doing. You need to stay here for a bit. At least until Tony gets here with your pants. He is about to undo the wipe, so we just need to hang tight until then.”

“He’s really going to do it?” Nothing less than a guarantee about the reversal was going to keep Clint in the hospital room for a minute longer. There was too much that needed to be done for him to be wasting time in here.

Tony appeared right on cue in the room’s entrance, “I said I would, didn’t I?” Throwing a garment bag at Clint, “Here, put it on, we’re running out of time.”

Sam appeared behind Tony holding a cellphone in front of him, “Three boxes are green.”

Tony started to clap his hands in an effort to get everyone moving, “Ok people, we are half way there.” Pointing to the patient’s bathroom Tony instructed, “Clint put the suit on.”

Holding the garment bag out, Clint questioned the unusual attire for the early morning hours, “A suit? What exactly went down while I was out?” Doing a quick recap, he thought about how he had been wearing a suit when he was shot. Clint rationalized that the suit in the bag was probably the one from his meeting with the Professor and Doctor McCoy from two days ago. Odds are the suit he was wearing during the shooting was already in the trash, due to the fresh holes that had been put in it.

“A lot, but I am going to withhold that information right now.” “The wipe is reversing soon. I don’t know how it is going to affect everyone, so I don’t want any of your vitals to increase beforehand and adding more problems onto our growing list.”

The look that Clint sent to Tony made the Ironman think for a brief moment that his instructions were not clear, then Clint probed, “And you think me knowing that something bad happened, but not what exactly, will keep me calm.”

“Four boxes.” Sam alerted the room.

Time was running out, once they had six boxes, a three-minute window to commence the reversal would start counting down. Nick had his people safe, now it was Tony’s turn. “I would like to think after all of this I have earned the right to say, ‘trust me’. Have I Clint?”

Clint had to let that request sink in. Tony was the reason this all had started in the first place, and as a result, his children were beyond traumatized. However, the man was also the reason why Clint would be in mere moments receiving all of his lost memories of a forgotten life and family. Not to mention gaining a brand-new kid to screw up. The actions of Stark during these last couple of days did earn the archer’s trust, “Yeah, alright.”

“Just hurry up, go change and get back into bed please.” Tony again requested, and this time Clint complied. Once Clint shut the door to the bathroom, Tony directed Natasha and Nick, “Natasha, you and Fury keep watch and stay safe. Nick, you may want to give Hill a heads up that we are close. I’m going to go check on Kate.”

~~~

Tony walked into Kate’s room to see that she was sitting on the bed putting her black heels from last night back on. Storm had picked out a black shirt and gray pencil skirt for Kate to wear to court. There was a matching gray jacket laying on the bed beside her. Chuckling to himself as he thought how cute it was that they matched. He had brought a gray suit for Clint as well, but he had a light blue dress shirt to go under the jacket.

Storm and Dr. McCoy were in the room with her. Storm was texting on her phone. Tony could only assume that she was conversing with one of the X-Men. The requests for updates on Kate’s condition were doubtlessly blowing up her phone. Hank’s attention was focused completely on one of the monitors in the room. He was recording information into a notebook, a little ‘old school’ for Tony’s liking. Kate wasn’t connected to any of the numerous medical devices in the room, probably disconnected to allow her to dress. It was safe to guess that Dr. McCoy was making notes of Kate’s vitals from her being under both physical and emotional strain to add to her medical file back at the school.

“Can you hand me my purse please?” Kate requested from Storm, while she kept her attention fixed on her shoes.

Sliding her phone into her back pants pocket, Storm moved over to the counter that was against the wall, “Your purse or clutch, because I have both over here.”

Standing up and pulling her skirt down as she flattened out the creases with her hands, Kate specified, “The clutch from last night please, there something in it I want.” Storm handed the small bag to her. Reaching for the purse Kate saw that Tony was standing in the doorway. “Good morning Tony.”

He walked in accepting the greeting as an invitation to enter, “Kate, my program is just about done processing the code for the undoing of the wipe. I just wanted to check in and make sure you were ready.”

Pulling the envelope out of the purse that Tony recognized as Cooper’s letter to her, Hank motioned for Kate to lay down on the bed. Kate silently submitted and as she did so, opened the envelope. Looking and speaking to Tony as she did so, “I think I am as ready as a person can be for such an event.”

Tony was thankful she wasn’t questioning him as to why she had to wear a suit at 4:00 in the morning. Odds were that as a teacher, Kate was used to being in business casual attire early in the day. That or Storm and McCoy told her about Charlie and Cooper. Kate’s body language didn’t give anything away, so Tony mentally scratched her knowing about the court case out. “Should be any time now, so Dr. McCoy, if you want to go ahead and hook her back up to the equipment, now would be the time.”

Hank adjusted the bed, so that Kate was more sitting up than laying down. She pulled the letter out of the envelope, then moved her right arm towards Hank, to wrap the blood pressure cuff around her forearm. Flicking her left hand a few times, she was able to get the letter to unfold one handedly.

Dear Mom,

This is Cooper, your son. I know we haven’t seen each other in a long time, and I hope to see you soon. I wanted to come tonight and see you in person, but dad thought it wasn’t a good idea. It was suggested that I write you this letter. I really don’t know what to write, just that I miss you.

Love,

Cooper

Kate stared at the letter hypnotized by the meaning of the message. Her son loved her and wanted to see her. Kate’s little boy, her first baby wanted his mom back. Storm had filled Kate in that Cooper and most of the Avengers were at the school planning for something. The clearing of a throat brought Kate out of her daze and she turned to Tony, the source of the sound.

“You know he is a good kid. Cooper, I mean, he is genuinely a good kid.” Tony informed her coming further into the room.

“Really?” Kate asked as she patted the side of her bed for Tony to sit down.

“Five boxes, one to go.” Sam interrupted through the comms.

Taking Kate up on the offer, Tony sat, if only for a minute before he had to leave to initiate the reversal.  “Yeah, he cares about people. He takes care of those that are important to him.” The words sounded familiar to Tony. Thinking back, he remembered saying those exact same sentiments about Clint. Tony poked the device in his ear to mute his end of the conversation from others hearing it, “He’s like his dad, a good boy who will be a great man.”

Kate put a hand on top of Tony’s, which was on his leg. “Speaking of his father, Storm told me Clint was alright. Have you seen him?”

Stunned by such an intimate movement from his daughter Tony told her, struggling to keep his voice sounding relaxed on the topic, “Just came from his room. He’s good. Antsy to get out of here, but he’s good.”

Sam reported, “Six boxes all green, it’s go time folks. Tony what do I do?”

Tony took the mute off his comm, “Don’t do anything yet Sam. Meet me in the family waiting room, I don’t want to be near anyone with an implant in case there is electrostatic feedback from the initiation.” Tony turned to where Hank was standing and nodded to him, indicating that it was about to happen. With his available hand Tony placed it on top of Kate’s, making a ‘tower of hands’. “Here we go. I’ll be back when it’s over.”

“Tony.” Kate said as she closed her hand onto his.

Alarmed by the gesture, he responded, “Yes? Is everything alright?”

“It’s not that, I’m fine. I just wanted to say before this happens.” She paused to form her thoughts into words, “I just wanted to say, ‘thank you’. Even if this doesn’t work, ‘thank you’”. Tony didn’t have the words to respond, he just mirrored her gesture by squeezing her hand back and stood up. With a final glance to his daughter, Tony left the hospital room.

~~~

As directed, Tony met Sam in the empty waiting room. Taking the phone back, he was able to see that as Sam said, all six boxes where filled with an asterisk and outlined in green.

Sam asked in an expression thick with concern, knowing what was at stake, “You sure this will work?”

Tony arched an eyebrow and tilted his head, stating, “Only one way to find out.” His index finger floated above the icon on the screen that would begin the undoing of a decade long obstacle for countless people, more if their theory of a HYDRA take-down was correct. A timer was on top in bright yellow, counting down how much time there was left before the entire process would be scrapped. They had one minute and thirty seconds left, “Nat and Nick, and any other S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel that have access to this line, take out your comms. Only come back on after the reversal. You have twenty seconds.” Tony waited until the timer ticked down to one minute and ten seconds, then tapped the icon.

From the waiting room’s open entrance, Sam and Tony could see both Clint and Kate’s doors. So far nothing had happened, there were no sounds coming from either room or commotion from the nurse’s station of concerning readings from either’s vitals. Sharing a worried look with Sam, Tony felt a sense of dread that his program had failed. Waiting another minute, Tony was coming to the painful realization that it hadn’t worked. Putting his phone away, Tony motioned for Sam to leave the room with him. Both men had stepped out into the hallway heading towards Clint’s room when the door flew open. Clint without any notice or words, pushed Tony into Sam to get them out of his way as he ran into Kate’s room.

~~~

Clint pushed the door open without any warning of his arrival. It was if the pounding of his heart and panic in his lungs that started with the explosion at the Sandbox all those years ago had been in hibernation and with the reversal, had resurfaced. He knew she was alive, he had just been speaking to her hours ago, and Natasha had reassured him that she was fine after being shot. The logic in his head was sound, Kate and the baby, Charlie, had survived the explosion. However, he wouldn’t truly believe it until he saw her. Saw her, not just as a teacher at a special school who was supposed to be his wife once upon a time. But saw her as the woman he married, loved and had a family with. The woman he had failed, who he had vowed to ‘always find’, even if at the time he promised that to her it was meant more as a humorous threat. The woman whose assumed death he had witnessed on a mission that had broken him, if only for a few hours before the wipe erased it all.

Once in the room, he slowed down and took in the sight. There she was, laying on the bed with Storm by her side. Hank was writing down some numbers from the monitor stationed next to the bed. When they saw Clint enter, they took their leave. Silently agreeing to give the two some privacy for their reunion.

Waiting until he heard the door shut behind him Clint approached the bed, “Katie-Kate”

Kate smiled at the old nickname that he knew she hated, “Hey Hawkeye”

Feeling all the emotions from the aftermath of the Sandbox mission wash over him, Clint confessed all in one breath, “I am so sorry.”

Kate shook her head, “You have nothing to apologize for.” She then held out her hand to him.

Clint grabbed her hand like it was his very own life line. He sat down in the spot that Tony had previously vacated. Leaning down to embrace and kiss his wife, Clint half closed his eyes as his lips were met with cold hard metal. Opening his eyes, he saw the familiar gold and hot-rod red colored palm of the iron man suit. Looking over to the person standing next to the bed he saw Tony, “Yeah, we don’t have time for that now, or really at any time in my presence. Things got a whole lot worst while you two were sleeping.”

Standing up Clint asked, “Are you going to tell me now what the hell happened?”

Retracting the glove back into the confines of the storage bracelet Tony explained, “Derek Bishop,” Kate stiffened up at the mention of the name, “is trying to get the courts to grant him Cooper and Charlie”. Taking a deep lungful of air, Tony added, “Then there is Laura, she got Nate and Lila while you two were bleeding out in the school’s hallway.”

Eyes widen in fear over the night’s activities, Clint exclaimed, “What? How did any of that happen?”

“Who are Nate and Lila?” Kate inquired as she forced her way into the conversation. She had already been told about this Laura who was a HYDRA agent pretending to be Clint’s wife and Cooper’s mother, but the two other names were unfamiliar.

Sending Tony a glare that could cut through vibranium at his bad timing, Clint turned back to Kate and started, “So, what happened was when Laura…”

Shaking his head at Clint’s pitiful attempt of explaining his ‘second family’, Tony summed up the past ten years, “Again, no time for that. Lila and Nate are Clint’s kids with the HYDRA agent Laura, who was pretty much pretending to be you for ten years. Let’s go already.”

Without turning back to his wife, he asked still facing the door Tony exited out of, “I’m going to guess that there is no way in hell you are going to take that as an acceptable answer and feel the need to never question it?”

Sighing, Kate informed Clint, “Not even close, we will talk about this later.”

Under his breath as he turned around to face her, Clint muttered, “I’m sure we will.”

Of course, she heard his comment but chose to ignore it. Kate looked directly into Clint’s eyes, searching for the truth, “But they are your kids?” she asked.

Not breaking the eye contact, Clint confirmed, “Yes, the details aren’t important, but they are my children, and they are in danger.”

Kate nodded, letting that information sink in. The details were very important contrary to Clint’s belief.  Clint had two additional children with a HYDRA agent. As far as her priorities went, that fact was pretty damn high on the list. However, Kate would have to let it drop a few places down to give the necessary attention to the two other problems they were currently experiencing. Derek Bishop’s involvement took over the top space on the list. Derek was a problem from the day Cooper was born, claiming that all he wanted was to be part of his ‘grandson’s’ life. Kate and Clint disagreed with that, and it was the last time she ever saw the man who raised her. While he probably was aware of her second pregnancy with Charlie, he didn’t reach out to Kate at all.

Then there was the problem with this Lila and Nate that needed to be dealt with. They were children in the hands of HYDRA, and she had experienced firsthand the horrors associated with that exact scenario. Clint watched her, willing her to say something, anything in response to the information she had just learned. Taking a deep breath, she spoke in a matter-of-fact manner, “Ok, first things first, let’s go get the kids away from Derek, then find and go after your other two.” Clint looked visually relieved at Kate’s words and as he got up, offered his hands to assist Kate out of the bed. She quickly got out of one of Clint’s holds, so she could grab her purse. He led the way, pulling Kate behind him out of the room and into the hallway.

Both agents were surprised to find that Tony, Sam, Nick, and Natasha were waiting for them in the hallway right outside the door.

Director Fury was the first to speak, and greeted Kate in a formal way, “Agent Bishop, good to see you again.”

Kate wasn’t going to have any of it, “Yeah right. You and I are also going to be having a conversation later. Showing up at the school with some vague ass story and walking away, what’s wrong with you? Just leaving a woman without any memories alone with strangers? Did your mother not raise you right?”

Tony had never witnessed anyone speaking to Director Nick Fury that way. No one in the hall said a word after Kate’s outburst, waiting for Fury to come back at her in a similar fashion. Then a small, thin smile appeared on the Director’s lips, spreading into a wide tooth-showing grin complete with a short chuckle, only to be cut off when Nick said, “Oh, how I have missed your attitude Kate, come here.” Nick stepped forward and embraced the woman. The gesture was shocking to Tony and Sam who had never seen the Director act so warmly to another human being.

Natasha was next to grab Kate into a hug, “I can’t believe it.” She looked Kate up and down, “How did you make it?”

“No clue, guess I was lucky, but somehow we did.” Kate responded.

“This is Sam Wilson.” Natasha introduced as she let go of Kate.

Sam stepped up and shook her offered hand. “It’s good to finally meet you.”

Tony hated to break up the reunion among lost friends, especially since he had never seen most of the group participants this happy before. Most importantly, Kate was happy. Tony may not have been able to give her anything up until this point of her life, but he did give her this. He was the reason she was now by her husband’s side again and reconnecting with old friends and coworkers.

The wipe didn’t have any physical effect on anyone with the implant, but Tony could swear, Nick, Natasha, Clint and Kate all looked like different people, compared to only minutes ago. He wanted to stay in this moment, or at least allow them a few more before the real world came back, but time was a factor. “Hate to cut this short, but we can do this at the school once we sorted out Bishop. Natasha, you, Sam and Nick get a ride back to the school with Hank and Storm. S.H.I.E.L.D. should have already started to receive extraction requests from their deep cover agents, and someone may have seen Laura and the kids, or at least has an idea on where they could be. We need to start formulating a plan and work on the particulars when we have more. Everyone needs to be ready to go as soon as that intel comes in.” Concentrating on his daughter and her husband, “Kate and Clint, you are with me. Pepper and my lawyers can only stall the judge for so long.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four

A Simple Truth

The drive to the courthouse was, for severe lack of a better word, awkward. Tony believed his presence in the car was mostly, if not all, to blame for it. He was positive if he wasn’t there Kate and Clint would be having a long conversation, among other things, which he refused to think about. When the silence got too much to bare Tony finally broke, “So where did you two kids meet? Where did he propose? Where was the wedding?”

“S.H.I.E.L.D., S.H.I.E.L.D., and um…S.H.I.E.L.D.” Clint answered staring out the window from the passenger seat. Kate was busy in the back doing her makeup and hair for her court appearance. Apparently being shot, operated on, and having tissue regenerated played havoc with the skin and hair, or so she said.

Tony conceded, “Not exactly Match.com, but hey, looks like it worked.”

“You proposed in Egypt.” Kate mumbled since she had a hairbrush in her mouth as she was trying to tame her long hair into an updo.

Clint smiled and turned so he was facing Tony and Kate could see half his face, “Oh yeah, but it happened during a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D.”

“That picture I found?” Tony asked thinking about the photograph found within the novel in the apartment.

“Picture?” Kate asked as she moved on from her hair to applying lipstick that was a brownish pink shade.

Clint turned again to address his wife, “You remember, after you said ‘yes’, Phil used the evidence camera to take our picture.” Clint concluded his comment with a soft, yet sad sounding laugh.

Closing the compact she looked to the front of the car, “Good old Phil, how is he?”

“Dead.” Clint somberly answered. “Killed by a god from another world, with my assistance.”

Staring forward out the front window Kate replied, “Oh.” And with that comment the chit-chat in the car ended. Each lost in their own thoughts about how much the world had changed in ten years.

~~~

Tony didn’t know how they got to the courthouse, his brain was elsewhere. Before he knew it, he was pulling into a parking spot and putting the car into park. Without delay everyone jumped out of the car and moved towards the courthouse’s main entrance. It was now five thirty, and the maintenance personnel were arriving for their morning shift. Tony retrieved his phone and scrolled through Pepper’s multiple texts until he finally found the one that told him which courtroom they needed to get to. As they past security, Tony directed Kate and Clint to the second courtroom.

Throwing the doors open with great enthusiasm, Tony announced dramatically, “I object!”, as he entered. The Ironman was trailed by Kate and Clint, who had purposely distanced themselves from Tony after the show he had just put on for the audience of nine people. Pepper was to the right huddled at the defense table with two S.I. lawyers. Derek Bishop was on the left doing the same with his three lawyers at the plaintiff table. The only court officials in the room were a bailiff and court clerk, there was not a judge seated at the moment.

Everyone in the room turned to Stark when he broadcasted his arrival. Pepper excused herself and came down the aisle to meet the newest arrivals and had them follow her to the front calling over her shoulder as she walked, “Tony, we are in recess. There isn’t anything for you to object to.” Then she abruptly stopped and turned to scrutinized him in a low hiss, “This is serious, stop playing around.”

“Nothing to object to other than this whole mess?” He asked being sure to be loud enough for everyone to hear him in his condescending tone. Then he changed to sound more jovial, mentally brushing off Pepper’s ‘dressing down’ comment.  “Look who I brought.” Tony gestured to the couple behind him and locked eyes with Derek Bishop, who seemed less than pleased at their arrival, “The parents, this is over. Bring out the judge.”

The Stark lawyers heard their boss’ directive and moved towards where the clerk was seated off of the bench. Seeing this, Bishop’s team hurried to joined them before any words were spoken out of their earshot. After about a minute of discussion, the clerk disappeared to a room behind the bench. The lawyers went back to their clients to whisper about the recent activities. Kate and Clint sat in the first row behind Pepper and Tony, slightly anxious about not being able to hear what anyone was saying. Clint justified to himself that if the conversation was something they needed to know, Tony would relay the information.  It still didn’t sit well in his stomach, it was their children’s custody that was being discussed, but it was a legal battle technically between Stark and Bishop. Casting a reassuring glance to Kate, he was able to read her mind, ‘this was only the beginning of the mess they had to clean up’.

It was about ten minutes before Judge Morrison entered the courtroom. Everyone rose until he was seated, and it was evident that he looked to not be in the mood for anything either party was about to do. Once seated, the judge opened the file folder in front of him, “We are here at this ungodly hour to discuss the emergency custody issue of minors, Cooper Francis Barton and Charlotte Henrietta Carbonell.”

“Henrietta? You actually gave a child of mine, the middle name Henrietta? That’s… that is just horrible. Like the kid didn’t have enough problems, you saddled her with that name?” Clint whispered to Kate. “Thought we agreed on Lucille Elizabeth.”

Kate didn’t match Clint’s volume in fact she was loud enough for her voice to carry, “Yeah, did you retain that information this entire time, cause I sure as hell didn’t.”

“Excuse me? And who are you two?” The judge demanded.

Clint held his hand up, “Don’t mind us, we are just the parents of the children in question. Sorry to interrupt, please continue.”

The judge looked to the lawyers at Bishop’s table, then to Tony’s attorneys, and back to Derek. Pursing his lips together, Judge Morrison shifted his glare to the plaintiff, “The parents? Mr. Bishop, your petition states that the parents were…” He scanned the motion in front of him for the exact wording, “The parents are medically indisposed for an uncertain amount of time.” Reaching for another sheet of paper, Morrison quickly glanced at it and addressed Tony, while holding the paper up, “Mr. Stark, your order mirrors that motion.” Slamming the paper back onto the hard-wooden surface of the bench, Judge Morrison commanded of the room, “Can someone please explain what is going on and why the court is involved in it?”

The lawyer to Bishop’s right stood up and explained as he walked to the center of the court, “Mr. and Mrs. Barton were involved in an incident late last night; their prognosis was grim.” Looking behind him to where Clint and Kate were, the lawyer returned to the judge, “Their condition obviously improved.”

“Obviously.” The judge repeated, looking not to be amused at all in the events that were unfolding in his courtroom. The last thing he needed at almost six o’clock in the morning after a night of phone calls from Bishop’s attorneys was a pissing match between billionaires regarding children that weren’t even theirs. However, Judge Morrison wasn’t stupid, he knew that the legal teams for these men would pull out all the stops to achieve their employers’ goals, So, he had to do this ‘by the book’, Morrison was too close to retirement to get on the bad side of two of the wealthiest men in the world. Again, speaking to Kate and Clint, he asked, “Mr. and Mrs. Barton, as ridiculous as this may sound, do you have proof for both your identity and relationship to the children?”

Clint stayed where he was seated next to Kate behind the railing looking at the judge like the official had just grown a second head. Proof? He wanted proof that he and Kate were who they said they were, and Cooper and Charlie were their children? Clint didn’t have time for this, at least he currently knew where those two kids were, he still had to find Lila and Nate. Laura could be anywhere now with them, and every second of this insanity was another mile Laura was putting between him and his youngest two.  Clint allowed the frustration and annoyance to enter his voice, there was also the added act of rebellion by refusing to stand when addressing the court, “Proof? Like what? I’m sure I have Cooper’s real birth certificate at the old apartment. I have my license right here with me.” Turning to Kate, “And Charlie, what do you have?”

Kate shifted and put her left elbow on Clint’s right shoulder and cupped her chin on top of her left hand, “I have Charlie’s birth certificate, but you aren’t on it.” She answered to Clint, then looked back to the front of the room to speak to the judge, “In addition to that I also have a driver’s license and a C-Section scar that looked like it was performed by Jack the Ripper. What else do you need?”

“The ‘real birth certificate’ for Cooper Barton is at the old apartment?” Morrison questioned as he jotted down that bit of information onto a legal pad in front of him. Putting the pen down, the man folded his hands and leaned forward in his seat as he continued, “Also, Mr. Barton isn’t on Charlotte Carbonell’s birth certificate. Did I understand that correctly?” Kate hesitantly nodded, not sure where this was going but didn’t say anything, allowing the judge to go on. “And let’s not even discuss why she has a different last name then her parents and older brother.”

Standing up Kate defended her family’s makeup, “Believe it or not, there is a very simple explanation for that.” Morrison inclined his head as an invitation for Kate to go ahead and clarify. Kate squeezed her eyes shut, as if the words she was about to say were physically painful for her, “I forgot Clint was the father until about an hour ago.”

“For the love of God Kate, please stop talking. Just sit down.” Clint begged from behind the face plant he had done in response to her ‘defense’.

“No, no, it’s alright Clint.” She said waving him off without breaking contact with the judge, “I know this sounds crazy sir.”

“You know that, but are still sticking with this story?” Judge Morrison asked in bewilderment.

Understanding she had dug a pretty damn deep hole, Kate tried to get out of it, “See Your Honor, I knew he was the father of Charlotte. I mean, my boss and doctor told me a few days ago. It wasn’t until I got my son’s memories and my implant was reversed that I believed them.”

Pepper turned to Tony and murmured in disbelief, “Tony, she is your daughter.”

Tony knew that she didn’t mean that as a compliment, but had to agree with Pepper, “She is going to get those kids placed as a Ward of the State. I know it.”

“Ma’am are you on drugs?” The judge asked finding no other rationalization for the tale he was being told.

Caught off guard by the offensive question Kate answered honestly, “Probably, but only what the hospital gave me.”

“I know I am going to regret asking this.” Judge Morrison speculated, “But please enlighten the court as to why you were in the hospital. What was the medical indisposition that originally was predicted to keep you both hospitalized for the foreseeable future, that was miraculously cured?”

She had to admit to herself that her approaching this situation with a plan of ‘honesty is the best policy’ was severely backfiring. Kate was fully aware of how irrational she sounded, but it was too late to turn back now. Clearing her throat, she replied, “We were shot.”

Judge Morrison sat there in silence while he absorbed the information. Looking to the right side of the room, then the left, no one was objecting or adding anything, so he had to believe this was the story everyone was going with, the truth or not. “Bailiff, please retrieve the police report from the Barton shooting.”

Tony’s lawyer stood up to aid, “Your Honor, it was filed as an attachment to the Stark petition.”

Morrison shuffled through the documents in front of him until he found the needed report. Reading through the brief, he would occasionally stop and look to Clint and Kate, then back down to continue reading. Judge Morrison was noticeably not believing the connection to the gruesome account of the incident and the two healthy individuals seated in his court room. Once he was done he slowly closed the folder and reclined back in his chair. The drumming of his fingers on the leather armrests echoed throughout the room. Finding his words, the judge readdressed his audience, “As unorthodox as this case is, the court must follow the letter of the law, especially in a situation that has the potential of becoming high profile in the public’s eye. That being said, before me sits two gentlemen, both claiming to be the maternal grandfather of the Barton children seeking guardianship until their parents are well enough to resume their duties. Behind them, sits the parents of the children. Before we proceed even further, does either party doubt the claims of Mr. and Mrs. Barton?” 

One of Bishop’s attorneys stood up, “Mr. Bishop is not disputing that Mr. and Mrs. Barton are the parents of the children.”

Tony countered, “No, he is disputing that I am the father of Kate.”

“Kate?” The judge inquired about the new name that had entered in the discussion. Checking his notes, he realized that they were speaking about the mother of the children. A person, who until this moment was only referred to as ‘Mrs. Barton’.

Kate acknowledged as she raised her left hand up, “That’s me.”

Shaking his head at the madness the situation had become, the judge observed, “You are an adult.”

Kate moved her raised hand to point at Morrison, “I can see why you’re a judge, very observant.”

Deciding to disregard the mother’s comment, he pushed on with his train of thought. In a professional manner, reopening the folder and pulling out two pieces of paper. “I see here that Mr. Bishop has submitted into evidence a birth certificate for a Katherine Elizabeth Bishop that lists him as the father. I also have a DNA test from Mr. Stark, processed through Stark Industries’ medical department, that states he is the father of Katherine.” With clear annoyance, Judge Morrison threw both pieces of paper behind him, “The court doesn’t see the need to debate the paternity of Mrs. Barton. The only scenario that the argument would be entertained here is if I was to proceed with the original petitions, which I am not.” Focusing on Kate and Clint, “Is there any reason you two are unable to take care of your children?”

Clint was about to speak some carefully chosen words, a few which may be four letters, when Bishop’s lawyer beat him to it, “Other than they can’t keep them safe?” The man moved back to the middle of the room, between the two tables. “Your Honor, Mr. Barton has two additional children from an adulterous relationship that his mistress, who may I add is on the most wanted list by a top international intelligence organization, took last night. The children were under the care of Miss. Potts,” The attorney pointed to the blonde seated beside Tony, then eyeballed Clint, “while Mr. Barton went to a party.”

“Oh shit.” Kate said in totally inappropriate amusement at the statement and leaned back to wait for the real show to start.

At the grossly generalized and exaggerated version of the events that brought them all to court that day, Clint and Tony stood up and started to scream their protests. The men were so loud, trying to shout over the other, that specific words could not be heard or understood. Pepper was trying to pull at Tony’s arm to get him to sit while Kate just sat there and watched the scene unfold.

Pepper yelled, winning the shouting match, “Tony, sit down!”

Tony looked down to her, “Pepper I’m not going to stand here while they blame you for what happened to Lila and Nate.”

Bishop’s lawyer, happy with the results of his statement, returned to his seat. The judge banged his gavel repeatedly to stop the disruption. “Everyone will come to order right now. I will have silence in my courtroom, or I will start finding people in contempt!”

The men sat down at the warning, and as they did Kate softly said into Clint’s ear, “You know, there is a simple truth to that statement.”

Clint threw her a look, and shook his head. Very clearly conveying to her with the gesture to not start going down that path right now. Tony’s lawyer stood up to challenge the Bishop team’s narrative, “You’re Honor, it is true that Mr. Barton has two children from outside of his marriage to Katherine Bishop Barton, but we are not here to discuss those particular children or the state of the other relationship. The petition is for the children Charlotte and Cooper.”

“I see.” The judge said as he scanned over the paperwork in front of him, “There is nothing in either petition that states the children in question are in danger at their current placement with their parents. The mother and father are present, and I can see no reason why they can’t continue their parental duties. Is there anything else before I throw this whole case out and go home?” Both sides were quiet. “Well then, case dismissed.” The gavel was once again hit, and the judge left grumbling under his breath how ridiculous the situation was.

Everyone stood as the judge left then sat back down. They all remained seated until all the court officials left the room. Derek was the first person to stand up, unknowingly making himself the target of Clint Barton. Tony watched with a morbid curiosity as Clint rose and approached Bishop. The initial assessment by Tony was that nothing was going to go down between the two, a table separated them, so the odds of anything physically happening were slim. Clint would probably just glare in a threatening style at his step-father-in-law, then walk away.

That theory and all of Tony’s hopes of a quick getaway back to the school were killed when Clint opened his mouth, “I thought I told you when Cooper was born that if I ever saw you again, I would put an arrow through your eyeball. I also recall telling you that if I saw you anywhere near my wife or child I wouldn’t be so nice and jam the arrow somewhere else.”

Kate moved over by Tony and Pepper and confirmed the story, “He did, almost got him kicked out of the hospital.”

Leaning against the railing, being sure to keep the physical barrier of the plaintiff table between them, Derek opposed, “And I thought I told you that same day that you would only bring my daughter heartache and misery. That you didn’t have it in you to be a good husband or father, you would only ruin them. Thirteen years later and who was correct that day?”

Clint was too fast for anyone to even try to stop what was about to happen. Before anyone could register the danger, Clint was over the table and had Derek against the wall with a knife to his throat. Tony suited up instantly, ready to get involved in the situation. “Clint, stop! The police are right outside.” Kate beseeched as she attempted to pull the arm of Clint’s that had the knife away from Bishop’s body.

Tony squeezed his arm that was covered in the Ironman armor between the two men, “Where did the knife even come from?”

“Trust me, you don’t want to know.” Kate informed as she continued her attempts to disarm Clint.

At that moment the cellphone in Tony’s jacket started to ring. The jacket had been thrown on the table at the beginning of the tussle. “Clint, Clint, listen to me!” Tony screamed to the side of Clint’s face. “This could be a hit on the kids. Pepper take the phone call.” He charged to his fiancé, then back at Clint, “Leave Bishop alone.”

Kate knew how to handle Clint when he was like this, and Tony’s method wasn’t going to get Clint to walk away from a still breathing Derek Bishop. Not after everything he had done to them, and the numerous things that they suspected he did. What Derek tried to do, take away the children, that was personal. In order to balance that, Kate had to give Clint something else that was personal to focus on. “Clint let’s just walk out of here. Leave Derek alone, because that is what he is – alone. He will never touch our family again. So, let’s go,” she repeated, “Cooper and Charlie are waiting for us, and there are too many witnesses here for this.” Kate then went right for Clint’s heart, “Please Clint, I want to see my babies, don’t you?”

Clint kept his eyes on Bishop, memorizing every line on the old man’s face as Kate’s pleads sunk in. With a flick of the wrist, the tip that was pressing against the underside of Bishop’s chin was flipped downward. Clint then passed the knife, handle first over his shoulder to Kate.  Tony was unsure where it went after that. Kate pulled Clint away near Tony, with an unspoken agreement that he would watch Clint. Kate then moved herself so that she was standing in front of her father.

Rubbing his neck where it appeared Clint did cut him, Derek Bishop greeted, “Katherine, you look well considering… everything.”

“Thank you. You on the other hand have aged terribly.”  The truth was that he looked the same he did the last time she saw him; the day Cooper was born. A bit on the heavy side, balding with brown hair around his crown. Kate hadn’t had any exposure to her family since she signed up with S.H.I.E.L.D., then her father shows up out of the blue in the maternity ward of the hospital asking to see her. A moment that was sacred between her husband and first-born child in the afterglow of a successful pregnancy and delivery was ruined by Derek’s arrival. Derek of course had the regular baby gifts, a bouquet of flowers and ‘It’s a boy’ balloons, but neither Kate nor Clint brought that he was just there as a happy grandfather. Quickly words were exchanged between her father and husband that escalated very rapidly. Threats were made on both sides until hospital security got involved.  The situation was completely diffused when Natasha and Phil showed up to visit. Kate to this day didn’t know what happened, blaming the lack of recall on a long delivery, a few stitches, and a hell of a lot of pain killers, but Derek had left the hospital.

Wanting to end this once and for all, Kate threatened, “If I was you, Clint wouldn’t be the one I would be worrying about. I know where all the bodies are hidden. Don’t make me expose it.”

Derek smiled at that, a cold smile that reminded Kate of several unpleasant memories from her childhood, “Don’t play cards you don’t have darling. You already played that hand Katherine and enlighten me on how the past decade has been for you as a result. Mind you, however it was, it was a lot better then what was supposed to happen.”

That was all Clint needed to go after Bishop again, now for the kill. However, this time Tony had seen it coming, and was able to get a decent hold on Clint, with a lot of help from the Ironman suit. Hearing the shuffle occurring behind her, Kate stood her ground, refusing to break off the eye contact with Derek. Every fiber of her being was fighting against reacting to the revelation that her father was probably behind the explosion. Calmly she requested, “Where are the kids?”

Derek sighed and refuted in a scolding pitch, “Shouldn’t you know, you are their mother.”

They didn’t have time for these games, and Kate was losing the ability to remain calm, “Not Cooper and Charlie, where are Lila and…Clint?”

Tony still had a hold of Clint refusing to let him go until he was positive there wouldn’t be another altercation. Clint responded in rage, “Nathaniel.”

Forgetting the argument she was having with Derek, Kate turned around to challenge Clint. “Really you are going to give me shit about Henrietta and you named your boy Nathaniel?”

Tony professed as he was still holding onto a pissed off Barton with dear life, “Is now really the right time for this?”

“You’re right.” Kate confessed, then refocused on Derek, “Where are they?”

Indifferent to the whole ordeal he said, “Don’t care. I had a debt to pay back and I did so in full. What happened afterwards was of no mind to me.” Knowing that Clint would break Tony’s hold at any moment, especially after that comment, Bishop signaled to his legal team that it was time to go.

Kate knew that if Derek had the wanted information, he would be dangling it over their heads. Returning to old games, he would be challenging them and making demands in exchange for bits and pieces of whereabouts of Lila and Nate. That was the only reason he was able to walk out of the courthouse alive. If Kate suspected her father knew even a small amount of the intel to find the kids, she would had released Clint upon him.

Tony watched as Bishop motioned for his team to leave. Before the defeated man passed the rails to the audience section of the courtroom, he turned and locked eyes with Tony. Just like that, he was eighteen years old again. Eleanor had brought Derek with her to tell Tony about their impending marriage. She wanted to tell him before he read it in the papers or heard it from mutual friends. She was only about three months pregnant with Kate at the time and wanted the wedding to happen before a bump was noticeable and questions about her husband not being the father were asked. It wasn’t the best moment of Tony’s life, but he thought he had handled it well. Just pretended that he didn’t care and tried to get them out of his home before he fell apart. When Elly and Derek left that day, Derek had stopped and looked at Tony the same way he was now. It was a look that said, ‘I won’. Back then, it was obvious what Derek had won, Tony’s child. Now, he had no idea what Bishop could possibly be winning. He had put all his chips on this court case, at least the chips they knew about. Waiting until what Tony assumed was enough time for Bishop to vacate the building he released Clint and disarmed the suit. Pushing Clint away from him Tony ordered, “Get a hold of yourself Barton, he’s gone.”

Punching the wall in frustration Clint returned, “Why the hell didn’t you let me go after him Tony? He pretty much just confessed to setting Kate up to die that day. He has to know where Lila and Nate are.”

“Well, he didn’t succeed in killing me, now did he? And as far as him knowing where your children are, I doubt it.  Derek likes to hear himself talk and to have control of the room.  Possessing that information would have given him both, and he said nothing.” Kate explained as she propped herself against the wall Clint was still attacking. She wasn’t reacting to Clint’s behavior which gave Tony the impression that Kate had experience with her husband acting like this.

Pepper reappeared with Tony’s phone pausing for a moment to evaluate the scene and mentally fill in the blanks of what she had missed while on the call, “Guys, that was Steve. They have a lead on the kids.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

All of Them

Since Pepper had driven to the courthouse in her own car, courtesy of the Professor, it made the most sense for Tony to ride back to the campus with her. This would let Kate and Clint drive to the school by themselves in Tony’s car. ‘Let’ may not have been the correct term, since Pepper and Clint demanded the driving arrangements for the purpose of giving each couple the needed time to talk and prepare for what would happen next.

Pepper had been talking for the entire drive about meeting Charlie, and how ‘unusual the child was’, but in a good way. ‘Whatever that meant’, Tony thought to himself. Then she drifted into telling the tale about being there when the girl met her brother for the first time, and Charlie having absolutely zero interest at all in her older sibling. She just kept questioning the adults about her mother’s whereabouts and wanting to go to her. Charlie had only finally acknowledged Cooper when he stated that he was at the hospital before arriving at the school. Then she wouldn’t stop talking to her brother, asking all sorts of questions regarding her mother’s medical situation, and requesting nothing about Clint’s. Pepper used her college ‘Psych 101’ education to deduce that Charlie had not yet understood the significance of Clint to her but would with time and exposure to the man. At first Tony was really interested in it, but as the drive and conversation went on, he became distracted. That didn’t stop Pepper from going on, “You didn’t even introduce me.”

Tony was focused on the deserted road. The back-county road was probably never congested, especially at this time in the morning. He was totally aware that Pepper was talking, and even knew what the topic was, but was not paying any attention to the conversation’s content. Her last comment was said in a tone that caught his awareness, “What?”

In a teasing tone she repeated her statement, “Ah, now we have a dialogue instead of a monologue, welcome to the conversation. I said, you didn’t introduce me to Kate.”

Thinking back to the whole courthouse affair, Tony realized that Pepper was correct. The entire thing happened so quickly that the introduction of his fiancée to his daughter never occurred, “I’m sorry, I didn’t even think of it. A lot of stuff was going on. I will do it all proper-like when we get to the school.”

She wasn’t trying to yell at him, that was all she wanted, a proper introduction to the woman who would become her step-daughter, “Thank you.”

“Do you even see them anymore?” Tony asked looking in the mirror searching for the car that Clint was driving, contorting his body into different positions to gain a better view through the rear-view mirror and keep an eye of the road before him.

Pepper smiled at the paternal protectiveness Tony had quickly developed towards Kate but understood if they had fallen behind there was a good reason for it. “Just keep driving. They will meet us there.”

~~~

“I’m slightly concerned about Secretary Ross’ ability to hide from the Professor’s powers.” Kate disclosed from the passenger’s seat. “I’ve heard of two different cases about other mutants being able to do that, but it was always with the use of technology. One guy made a special room, but Xavier was able to get past it and take him down. Consequentially with the help of the second instance, and he uses a metal helmet to block out the Professor. I think it was the person with the room who gave Magneto the idea on how to do it, but I can’t promise that, not that it matters. I don’t think a human has ever been able to disappear from Xavier completely. That just can’t end well for us”

Taking his eyes off the road temporarily to address Kate with his own question about the prospect of even more enhanced beings’ involvement, and on the opposing side, “Are you thinking it’s another mutant behind all of this?”

“It’s always a possibility.” She said in a casual voice, which gave Clint the feeling that she had experienced something similar to this before, they really needed to talk about what had occurred in the last decade while separated. “Just like there are good and bad humans, it’s the same for mutants. It was one of the reasons the Professor established the school to begin with.”

“Because of this guy with the special helmet, Magma?” He asked trying to wrap his head around the brand-new world he had been exposed to in the recent days.

Keeping her sight on the road she continued in her laidback manner, “Magneto,” she corrected before going on, “Doubtful. Professor Xavier has always said that Magneto shouldn’t be an issue until Charlie is older.” Feeling Clint’s stare on her with that last statement, she turned to him to give some details to settle his nerves, “Apparently, there is a painful history there that Xavier believes would hinder Magneto from taking a little girl from her home just because she’s a mutant. However, once she grows up, he could be a player we need to watch out for.”

“Magneto?” Clint needed a little more than that about a man who could potentially be a threat to his daughter.

Mentally kicking herself for even bringing it up, she went on, “A guy that used to be friends with the Professor. He believes in mutants’ rights, but not like the X-Men do. Magneto feels that the only way to ensure the mutant species survival is to become the dominant race on the planet. It has caused a bit of tension to say the least.”

Sensing that Kate didn’t want to discuss this topic any longer, Clint compromised, “I’m willing to put this on the back burner for the time being, since you are confident he isn’t involved.” Kate nodded her sureness in the matter, “But we are going to have a long talk about this later.”

“Fine by me, just add it to the list. So, moving on, how are Ross and Laura connected?” Kate asked gladly changing the subject, “Any word yet if they were able to find Ross?

 “I’m not sure about either of those questions, I haven’t heard anything from Nick since the hospital.” Clint replied. He had been filling Kate in about Lila and Nate during their drive, before the discussion switched to this Magneto guy. The conversation about the kids wasn’t as bad as he expected. She asked about their age, and interests. Things that a stranger would ask another about their children to keep a conversation going. Not really the questions a wife would have about her husbands’ offspring by another woman. Clint assumed Kate was doing that on purpose trying to keep the peace. He was fully aware there was a storm brewing behind her baby blue eyes, he just hoped it would wait until they found the kids and they were somewhere private. Taking her hint that they should talk about the situation as if it was just another mission, he continued, “I honestly think the missing link is Derek. It sounded like, you know, before he shot us, that Ross was working for Bishop.”

“I can buy that. Derek was the reason I was even on that damn mission.” Kate stated.

Clint understood that reference, in fact, he understood it all now. The difference a few hours can make. Where everything was a mystery yesterday, today he had all the pieces to the puzzle. Bishop was caught with his hand in the cookie jar funneling money to one of HYDRA’s accounts.  It was a dirty money laundering scheme. HYDRA used his publishing company as a way to make their dirty money legit. HYDRA representatives would give Bishop the money and he would bribe a high-ranking government official with it to be awarded government and international contracts. When a contract was fulfilled, Derek would take the money earned. Once he had the clean money, he would pay his employees and hand the rest of it over to HYDRA, keeping a ‘finder’s fee’ of course.

S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t get involved until they were able to track the clean money coming from a dummy corporation account going to the Sandbox. Further investigations revealed that it was being used to finance human experimentation with Banner’s research. After that discovery, both Derek Bishop and the Sandbox became high on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ‘take down’ list. Kate, whose idea of ‘killing time’ was playing with program codes and hacking databases, was the best agent to task with breaking into the HYDRA’s isolated mainframe within the African base. The bonus was that since she was raised by Derek, she also knew her way around Bishop Publishing’s system. The probability that the two systems were similar due to the connection and money transfers were very high. The fact that the mainframe was isolated regrettably meant that someone had to physically be within the base to access it. The mission was designed to give Kate just enough time in the systems room at the HYDRA base to find a solid connection between Bishop and HYDRA. It was unknown at the mission profile briefing prior to deployment to Africa, that a member of the World Security Council was the government official Derek was bribing.  Nick was correct, Kate’s participation in the Sandbox mission was critical to its success, despite Clint’s protests.

Kate silently contemplated her next remark, choosing her words carefully, afraid of the response she would receive. “You know Clint, the only way this ends, is by taking them all out.” She turned to him in the driver’s seat and emphasized, “all of them.”

That was just about all Clint could handle, they had discussed everything but what really needed to be talked about. They had been dancing around the ‘elephant in the room’ too long. This was going to happen, he refused to put off the conversation a moment longer. He didn’t say a word as he pulled the car over on the shoulder in spite of Kate’s objections, “We need to get back and briefed on the kids.”

Putting the car in park Clint adjusted himself in the seat to face Kate, “Are you telling me, among a lot of other things, to kill Laura?”

Kate confirmed his suspicion, “I guess I am.”

Clint looked away, he had thought the same thing, but didn’t allow himself too much time to dwell on the matter. He figured it would be a battlefield decision. If he took her out in the field, he might be able to live with that, he didn’t know if he could in any other setting. What Kate was talking about was planning Laura’s death, the act would now be wholly premeditated.

The past four days had put Clint’s head and heart through utter hell, and he still didn’t know how he truly felt about Laura. He hated her, the HYDRA agent ‘her’ that is. How could he rationally feel any other way?  However, there was still a part of him that remembered the wife and mother Laura. There were holidays, lazy Sunday mornings, and so much more that cause him a rollercoaster of emotions. He had spent ten years loving that woman, creating a family with her, dreaming of a future for them. She was Nate’s mother, hell, she was the only mother Lila ever knew and up until recently, Cooper as well.  If he did what Kate was preparing him for, how could he ever look at his children again without feeling overwhelming guilt over the killing of their mother, no matter who she was or what she had done. Up until the poisoning four days ago, Laura had been nothing but a caring and loving mother to the kids. Maybe his whole concept of the maternal Laura was untrue, and every component of the last ten years was an act.

Kate had known Clint a long time and knew the struggle he was burdened with. She needed to put the situation into perspective for him, give him an outsider’s take on what was at stake.  “Clint, if she is allowed to breathe another breath you will be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life for her. Fearing every minute that she will try to grab them again, and you damn well know it.”

Kate was right, and Clint did know it. The only way any of them would know peace would be with the ending of Laura’s life. She had displayed this past week the extremes she will go to achieve an end. It wasn’t only his life with Nate and Lila to considered, there were others to be concerned about as well, “What about you?”

“What about me?” Kate didn’t understand what he meant by that. She had no issue with taking Laura out, in fact, she would love to be the one to do it. That would have to be Clint’s call though. The only way Kate would take the choice away from him is if he couldn’t do it or was compromised.  As far as killing Derek Bishop went, well, he raised her, and said he loved her. She grew up loving him as well as a daughter does to her step-father. However, he also used her and her inheritance for personal gain and celebrity status in the business and social world. Then blew her and her unborn daughter up, was probably in some twisted way behind the wipe, sent Ross to shoot her and Clint, then tried to take away her children to benefit a terrorist organization. Sleep was not going to be a problem for her after killing either of them. “I wouldn’t mind killing them all from the head of HYDRA to the groundskeeper. Not after what they did to us.”

Smacking both palms against the arm console that separated them, Clint exclaimed, “That’s what I mean, what about us?” Staring straight ahead past Kate, but not focused on anything except calming himself down, he explained, “You just said I would spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder for Laura to kidnap the kids or extract her revenge.” He locked in with her eyes, “What will you be doing?”

“What is this, you trying to catch me in a Freudian slip or something?” Kate asked meeting his gaze with the same intensity.  

“Maybe I am.” He confessed as he leaned against the seat and pressed his cheek into the head rest. He was so tired. It wasn’t so much physical, he had gotten some sleep last night due to the sedation, but his body and head screamed to be in bed for a week. He just now needed to know if he would be in that bed alone. “You know this is all because of the wipe, right? This was something that was done to us, and we had no control over it.” Kate was unsure if he was saying it to convince her or himself. “I would never have been with Laura if I remembered you. I would have never put our son through that.”

Taking a deep breath, he continued, “Shit Cooper, he was taken right from the babysitter and given to another woman. God, how did I not know that day I went to Laura at the farm and he refused to let me out of his sight? Damn it, how didn’t I know!” He was screaming now, and Kate recognized that it was at himself. “They killed Simone Kate. She died protecting our son, and he saw it all! He watched as Simone tried to fend off HYDRA. He was so scared. She was just a babysitter, not a spy, but damn she tried to save him.” It was the first time that Clint had allowed himself, except for the brief moment with Cooper, to release everything that had been building up within him. Raining himself back in at his own stupidity, he pleaded, “I would have never gone to her, please tell me you know that.  I need to know where we stand Kate, I need to know what happens to our family and if HYDRA won.”

The memory of HYDRA attacking Simone’s apartment as she shielded Cooper from the enemy was something that neither Kate nor Clint would ever be able to forget. The only saving grace in that mess was that the Professor had blocked the recall from their son. “Like you said, we didn’t have any control over that. What happened to Simone,” She had to swallow her emotion to continue, “was horrible, and she didn’t deserve that. Clint, none of us deserved what went down, especially Simone and Cooper. She was a good friend and she loved our boy as if he was her own.”  Kate looked down to her folded hands and addressed the root of the problem, “And as far as your other domestic affairs go, the truth is that you did go to another woman, because of the wipe or not, you had an entire life with her. You loved her Clint, I think that is what hurts me the most in all of this, you loved her.” Lifting her head, she looked off in the front window into the distance, “Even if I could get past all that, there will be two reminders of it running around.”

Clint stopped her right there, he didn’t know why he said what he said, perhaps it was because he thought Kate was accusing him of betraying her and their family. Maybe it was that she was confirming his worst fears that she wouldn’t be able to handle the upbringing of the children of a HYDRA agent, who took her spot in her very own family. The best educated guess was a mixture of the two, but he regretted the words as soon as he said them, “And where were you for ten-years? Living in a nunnery?”

Kate took a deep breath in and slowly exhaled. He had interrupted her before she got to her main point. She counted to ten in her head to prevent herself from yelling something that she wouldn’t be able to take back. One of them had to keep a leveled head, and as usual that responsibility fell to Kate. Satisfied that she was in check of her emotions, she replied, “For the past ten years, I was at a school with a group of extraordinary people, that kept our child and myself alive and safe. Everyday waking up and praying that today wasn’t the day that the medication stopped working and I would leave Charlie alone in the world.”  Kate had known Clint long enough to know which words would hurt and which would make her point. She had carefully picked a combination. Her goal was to make her point so clear, it hurt. Forcing Clint to meet her eyes, she finished her previous comment, “I said they would be reminders of what happened, not that I couldn’t do it. They are children. They are innocent in all of this, and I will be damned if anyone calls me a hypocrite for holding a child to the sins of their parents.”

If Clint didn’t already feel bad about what he said, Kate’s response made him feel a hell of a lot worse. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.” He would have said a whole lot more, but Kate had heard enough and leaned over and kissed him. All of a sudden, the desire kept dormant by ten years of separation consumed them both. Both wrestled out of their suit jackets between kisses and threw the garments into the back seat. Clint was reaching under his seat to push it back and recline, pulling Kate towards him. It took a bit of adjusting but ultimately, he had Kate straddling his lap.  Hands rediscovered aspects of the other long forgotten. Clint was pushing up her skirt when Kate was the first to come to her senses before it was too late. Between heavy breathing, and a lot of other heavy stuff, she was able to get out, “Clint, the kids. We got to get to the campus for the briefing.”

Clint didn’t have any intentions of stopping, “Vision says I only need thirty seconds.”

Pulling her head away, Kate looked at Clint with a confused expression, “Yeah, well you can tell whoever Vision is, that I need more than that. Let’s go.”

Forcing himself to allow Kate to pull away from him and return to her seat, Clint settled himself proper in the driver’s seat, and took a few calming breaths to get everything under control. “Yeah, the kids.” Clint repeated, as he shifted the car into drive and pulled back onto the road. The rest of the ride was done in total silence.

~~~

“Where the hell are they?” Tony exclaimed as he paced the entrance to the school. He and Pepper had arrived five minutes ago. When they all had left the courthouse, Clint was on his ass trying to get Tony to drive faster. Now here they were with an obvious far distance between the two parties. “If they stopped to do what I think they did, I swear I am going to neuter Barton myself.”

Steve and Natasha along with Pepper stood watch with Tony. Steve had been busy going over the details of the information that Hill called in and needed to get some fresh air. Wanda and Vision had shown up about an hour ago, and Professor Xavier had called a break in the mission development so that he could take Wanda into his office to talk. Wanda, who was understandably alert about strangers had asked Vision to accompany her.  

“Get your mind out of the gutter.” Natasha said in the defense of her best friend and his wife. However, Tony’s presumption of the Bartons’ activities weren’t totally off the mark, pun intended. Kate and Clint were known for always finding the time to get a ‘quickie’ in before a mission. It had become a joke among agents who knew the couple. Hell, that was the reason that there even was a Cooper and Charlie. The pregnancy announcements for each came roughly two months after missions that had a grim survival prediction for the strike teams.  Lying through her teeth, Natasha followed up with, “They’ll be here. Probably just got stuck in traffic.”

“It’s a back road in the middle of nowhere. There isn’t any traffic, not even a stop sign.” Tony was going to continue on but was stopped by the ringing of his phone. Fishing it out, he didn’t even check the number before answering, assuming it was Clint, “Yup?”

“You were supposed to call me in the morning. You promised.” The voice belonging to Charlie chastised.

Refusing to be scolded at by his ten-year-old granddaughter, Tony overlooked the comment, “Good morning princess, did you sleep alright?” He informed the group, “It’s Charlie.”

“No, I did not. I want to go to the hospital and see my mom.” The child was definitely a Stark, no small talk, straight to business.

In a sweet but very patronizing voice to anyone who knew him, Tony explained, “Your mom and dad are on the way here. Should be pulling up any minute now.”

“Here?” The girl asked waiting for an explanation on the location Tony was speaking of.

Stepping in front of the school, Tony looked up to the windows. He used logic to guess which set of windows led to Kate’s room, “The school, I’m outside by the front door waiting for them.”

His guess was correct, because the curtains of the window selected parted, and Charlie’s face appeared through it. Tony wasn’t able to get a good look at her, but her voice sounded a little more uplifting once she saw him, “I will be there in a minute. Goodbye Tony Stark.”

“It’s grandpapa.” Tony corrected but the call was disconnected before he could get it out. Looking to his audience, “I am starting to get the impression she is doing that on purpose.”

Natasha was confused, but it was Clint’s kid, so it wasn’t as if that statement had never been used against one of the Barton children, “Doing what?”

“Calling me Tony Stark, not Mr. Stark, not Tony, not even gramps.”

True to her word, Charlie appeared a moment later still in her pajamas with Cooper trailing slowly behind. Tony supposed that the zombie-like motions was an effect of the medication given to him at the hospital. Charlie even walked like Clint, with a purpose. He knew that Natasha recognized it as well from the tiny hint of a smile on her face. Charlie used her thumb to point over her shoulder at Cooper, “He followed me down here.” She said offhandedly as if her brother’s presence needed an explanation to the group. Pepper told Tony on the car ride there that Kate had a set of connecting rooms to accommodate her and Charlie when they needed to be in residence at the school. Since Charlie refused to leave her mother’s bed last night, they let Cooper sleep in Charlie’s room, with Pepper and Storm keeping watch until they got called away to the hospital and courthouse. Then Logan took over the guard duties, thankful to have a purpose since the trail on Ross had gone cold.  

Pepper had already met the girl briefly before Charlie finally went to sleep. However, it was Natasha’s first time seeing the little girl that she helped paint a nursery for and felt kicking in her mother’s stomach all those years ago. Steve was even caught off guard by the child’s demanding presence and authoritarian manner.

Cooper was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and wearing the clothes from the hospital still. Tony felt bad for the boy and wanted Charlie to not be so…like himself. “You know he is your brother right, be nice.”

Cooper remembered a time when he begged his dad to see the Avengers, but now was getting used to seeing them often. The novelty was wearing off. He was starting to associate the group with turmoil, and just wanted it all to be over. Cooper needed to go back to a normal life with his family, whatever that was. Speaking to no one in particular, Cooper stated, “Charlie said they were coming.”

Tony was the one to speak up, “Yes they are, and guess what?” Cooper looked at him with a tired face, so Tony continued, “They remember everything.”

Cooper’s eyes widen and broke out in a huge smile, “You undid the wipe? My mom remembers me? Thank you grandpapa!” Cooper ran over to Tony and hugged him.  

Returning the hug, Tony look down the driveway, “There they are, finally.”

The black SUV was slowly making its way down the dirt driveway, then suddenly it accelerated, causing a massive dirt cloud to kick up and coat everything and everyone. At first Tony was upset by this action, now he had to get the car detailed. Then realized that Clint had probably sped up when he saw his children standing out front. One child that been gassed in the last twelve hours, and another he had never laid eyes upon. Clint pulled the car in front of the school and yanked out the key with one leg already out the door. Kate bolted out of the passenger side and went up the first two steps, holding back a sob that was invading her vocal cords. She was able to get out one word before the noise escaped, “Cooper.”

Cooper just stood there staring at his mother, Tony gently pushed the child forward, “Go on now, go say ‘hi’ to your mom.”

Kate met her son half way and cupped his face in her hands, memorizing his face and comparing it to his infant one. “I can’t believe it. What happened to my baby boy?” She pulled the child into her arms and buried her face into the top of his head, breathing in his scent, allowing her son to invade all her senses.  Cooper was unable to say anything, so overwhelmed at the time, he just let his mom hold him. They would have time for words later, they would be a family later.

“He grew up, and don’t worry, he’s not done yet.” Clint called as he rounded the car and took in the touching moment. Memories that were now intertwined of his point of view and Cooper’s, danced in front of his eyes. The moments of Cooper’s life that he had shared with Kate, his birth, first smile, first steps, and so much more. Clint couldn’t believe that he was there for all the milestones.  It probably had something to do with living in the city and not an isolated farmhouse out in middle America. Now seeing Kate and Cooper together it was hard to believe there was ever another woman in her place. Natasha caught something when she saw Clint and went down to greet him, or so that is what she made it look like she was doing.

When she got to Clint, she pulled him back to the driver’s side. Clint went along with it and leaned over like she was helping him to get something out of the car, but instead whisper to him, “You’re wearing lipstick, and Kate isn’t.” Pulling his suit jacket from the back that he had earlier thrown while he was getting reacquainted with Kate. He wiped the inside of the sleeve against his lips until Natasha gave him a ‘thumbs up’. Natasha grabbed the jacket from him along with Kate’s which was discarded for a similar reason, and her purse. Walking back up the steps, she returned to her space next to Steve, and saw that Pepper and Tony were staring at her. “I thought their hands would be full reuniting with the kids.” She offered as an explanation for her actions. They seemed to buy it because without any follow up, both went back to watching the scene below.

While Kate’s sight went directly to Cooper, Clint’s lined up to the small girl standing barefoot next to Tony. Both she and Tony were standing the same way, arms crossed across the chest and shifting their weight to the right hip with the left poking out acting like Clint had kept them waiting for an hour. The sight was downright hilarious. “And you must be Charlie.”

Charlie moved closer to the steps that Clint was standing at the bottom of.  It was clear to everyone she was wary of the man but was trying to hide it. She knew who he was supposed to be. However, being brought up in the strict mantra of ‘stranger danger’, she was cautious, but brave. “I am, are you Clint Barton?” she called down loudly, as if the distance between them was a half mile, not less than a hundred feet and six steps.

Repeating her answer, Clint replied, “I am.” She was beautiful, a miniature of her mom with a bit of himself here and there. Clint just wanted to hold her and never let her go. He wanted to apologize for the life she and her mother have had to endure without him. Wanted to promise that nothing bad would happen to them ever again. However, Clint knew the world they lived in, and knew that such promises were bound to be broken. He needed to be Agent Barton, Hawkeye right now, he had to reunite his entire family. Then the father in him took over, “Where are your shoes Charlotte? It’s cold out here.”

Charlie looked down at her feet, apparently not noticing the lack of footwear in her rush to get outside. Suddenly, there was a pair of shoes on the top step about two feet away from her. Without a word she sat down on the top step and reached for the shoes to put them on. Clint watched in fascination. He had been told what the child could do, but really didn’t believe it until then. “That is going to take some time to get used to.”

With her shoes on Charlie descended the stairs until she was next to Cooper who was still in a long-delayed hug and talk with his mom. Without notice of the intimate moment she was intruding upon, she interrupted her mom and brother’s conversation, “Are you hurt?”

Clint moved next to Kate, he wanted to bond, if only shortly before the mission, with his daughter, and guarantee that Cooper was alright after the gas attack last night. Since Charlie and Cooper wanted their mother right now, standing next to Kate was his only option.  Clint got down to Charlie’s level, the girl urgently grasped her mom’s hand in response to his movement, Clint would need to work on gaining his child’s trust, “Not anymore. How are you guys doing? Cooper, feeling alright?”

Kate released the boy, so he could go to his father, Charlie immediately took up the vacated spot in her mother’s arms. “I’m fine dad, the doctor gave me some medicine. Grandpapa calls them ‘calm the hell down pills.”

“Grandpapa?” Kate asked with a smirk.

Returning to an upright position since to speak to Cooper or Kate, Clint didn’t need to kneel, “Tony has requested that to be the name the children refer to him as.” Calling up the steps to the waiting group Clint questioned, “Why does he have medication?”

Pepper had been recording the meeting on her cellphone, thinking that it would be something to look back on for years to come. Tony was standing behind her watching and directing how to get the best shot. Without losing focus on the phone’s screen, he returned, “Because he’s your kid, and this week has sucked.”

With a sideways glance to Kate, Clint acknowledged, “Fair enough.”

Kate had her arms wrapped around Charlie and was swaying with her, whispering soft reassurances to the girl. Clint was allowing them to talk but was fighting the urge to join in the comforting of his child. He was trying to make out what Kate was saying when Cooper asked his question, “So, it’s all over?”

Having already gotten rid of his suit jacket, Clint was now messing with his tie, pulling it off. The knot of the tie having already been undone in the car. “Not quite, we still have to get your brother and sister… other little sister back.”

Charlie untangled herself from Kate and turned so she could ask her mom, “Cooper has another sister and a brother? Where are they?”

Cooper was establishing his relationship with his new sister which was apparently ‘don’t hold back and be honest’, “HYDRA took them, just like they took you and mom years ago.”

Charlie froze and looked down to her new shoes, when she looked up she was staring right at Clint which got him a good look at the girl’s eyes, and she looked haunted and scared, “Oh, you need to go get them. HYDRA hurts kids.”

Clint looked at his baby girl, but she really wasn’t his baby girl, that title was still held by Lila. If the timeline was correct, Charlie was born within a day of the explosion, Lila was ‘born’ about two weeks later. Charlie was his eldest daughter, and what she had just said stabbed him in the heart. ‘HYDRA hurts kids’ was a phrase that he had never heard an adult, better yet a child, his child, recite. What made it worst was that the child spoke from experience, she had experienced the ‘hurt’ that HYDRA does to kids, and it was scarred into her brain, and now his as well.

The first words uttered to him by Charlie gave Clint more insight into the child then anything Kate, Tony or the X-Men had told him about her. Charlie was damaged, her childhood was stolen from her at birth. She was experimented on in infancy and witnessed her mother’s torture at the hands of HYDRA. In that instance, her abilities were a curse, condemning her to remember every moment in vivid detail. She had never known youthful innocence, only fear of the pain that the outside world could inflict on her and her loved ones. Professor Xavier probably identified this early in Charlie’s life. It was clear now to him that the X-Men and Kate compensated for this travesty by raising her as a little adult, forgoing Charlotte’s childhood and adolescence due to the actions of HYDRA. Perhaps being removed from the school and raised as a normal child with her family by her side would help remedy some of Charlie’s ‘difficulties’.  Again, that was another conversation he would have to have with Kate when everything was over.

Realizing that Charlie was watching him for some type of response, Clint rolled the dice and reached out to take Charlie’s hands in his own. It was the first time he had touched the child and he didn’t know what her reaction would be, but Charlie allowed him to do it. The girl carefully watched his face, unsure what to do. It reminded Clint of a deer being caught in headlights. He knew her instincts were telling her to run but she was unable to move. Not exactly the idiom Clint hoped for as a description of his first meeting with his daughter. Clint looked into her blue, almost gray eyes, his coloring. “Charlotte,” he used her full name to stress the importance of what he was about to tell her, “I’m sorry that HYDRA hurt you. But I am going to spend the rest of my life making it up to you and trying to prevent it from happening again, starting today. Do you believe me?”

Charlie studied the face of the man speaking. She didn’t know why, but something was telling her to trust him. Slowly she nodded that she believed him when he said he would protect her. Charlie looked to her mother, and Kate raised her eyebrows and did a slight signal towards Clint with her head. A motion that was undetected by the group, so subtle that only a child would pick the gesture up as coaching from a parent. Charlie was timid to do what her mother was silently telling her to do, but in the end yielded. She did what no one would have ever expected her to do, the girl moved closer to Clint and hugged him.

If the embrace took him by surprise, Clint didn’t show it. Charlie’s touch was light like a feather, still hesitant. It was clear she was just going through the motions, only doing what she felt she was expected to do. Clint didn’t care why she was doing it, he tightened the hold he had on his daughter, savoring every moment of it. He wanted her to know what a hug from her daddy felt like, a hold that promised protection and love at the same time. Clint wanted her to crave his hugs, the way his other children did when he returned home from a mission. Looking around he saw that Kate had her hands resting on Cooper’s shoulders facing them as they watched the father-daughter moment. When he looked up towards the group he saw that everyone, sans Steve, had their cellphones out taking pictures. 

“We have a briefing to get to.” Steve announced, “The informants are calling in, and we have enough intel to go from now.”

Kate didn’t know the man who was speaking to her, walking up the stairs she extended her hand, “Hi, we haven’t met, I’m Kate. Is there a plan of attack?”

Chiding himself for his lack of manners, his face heated up in embarrassment, “I apologize, I’m Steve Rogers. And yes ma’am, we do. At least two teams with S.H.I.E.L.D. ground and air support. Once we are all in the briefing, we will hear about the location and develop a more specific plan.”

Clint broke the contact with Charlie, “I have to go to work now alright.” The girl again nodded, as Clint brought both children up the stairs with the rest of the group, “You stay with your brother and Ms. Potts.”

“Not to contradict you Clint, but she needs to get dressed, eat breakfast, and go to class.” Kate stated, stressing the last instruction right at Charlie.

“Do I have to go to classes today?” Charlie asked Clint, knowing that she wouldn’t get anywhere with her mother around this issue, but her father was fresh territory to explore. She already had Tony pegged as someone she could play with, while Pepper seemed old fashion and strict.

Clint looked to Kate then back to Charlie, “That’s what your mom said.”

Satisfied that Clint backed her directions, she then spoke to Cooper, “I’m sure we can find you something to change into, then go with Charlie and get something to eat. Once you are done eating you can do as your father said and stay with Ms. Potts.” Hearing herself say it, Kate inquired at Clint, “Who’s Potts?”

Tony remembered his promise to Pepper in the car and grabbed her arm and walked over to Kate, “This is Pepper Potts, my fiancée.”

Kate hid any emotion on her face as she reached out her hand to shake Pepper’s. She had seen the woman in the courtroom seated next to Tony, but just assumed she was part of the legal team. “Nice to meet you. Thank you for looking after the kids.”

“It’s my pleasure, they are wonderful children.” Pepper didn’t know why she was so nervous but was having difficulties concealing it.

Kate smiled, it was an awkward meeting. But she attempted to keep the conversation light, “It’s so sweet for you to lie, at least about Charlie. She is very…energetic.”

“I didn’t really get to spend a lot of time with her last night, but she seemed nice.” Pepper offered before Tony removed her. The conversation was becoming painful to watch.

Steve stepped forward, “Guys, we really got to get going, who knows how long this intel is good for. So, kids, do as you were told and everyone else with me.” With that Tony and Steve walked into the school.

“Is he talking to me?” Charlie asked her parents. Pepper moved to take responsibility for Cooper and Charlie. Keeping her attention on Kate and Clint as Pepper attempted to direct her away Charlie continued to question, “Who does he think he is, telling me what to do?”

Clint clapped his hands together and declared in a sarcastic tone, “That is wonderful! She has her mother’s attitude, that should be loads of fun in a few years.”

Natasha met Clint near the doorway and put her hand on his back, “Loads and loads of fun Clint, because you will have two teenage girls to deal with in a few years.”

That revelation stopped Clint in his tracks. He didn’t even think about that. Lila and Charlie were only two weeks apart. Before he knew it, both of them would be no longer girls, but young women. They would be changing, growing, moody and dating. There was still Cooper to consider as well. In a mere two and a half years he would have three teenagers under his roof, where ever he and Kate decided that roof would be. There was only one way to avoid this disaster, Clint called after Tony, “Hey Stark, next time I get shot, let me die!”

Kate quick with her own response quipped in as she walked past Clint, “Keep that up Hawkeye and you won’t have to wait a few years to experience ‘her mother’s attitude’.”

Clint laughed and followed the group inside, “Yes ma’am.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six

Off Script

Tony was impressed by the briefing room at the school which he had been led into. While every other room he had been in so far was designed in a traditional motif, this room was modern, sleek and displayed technology that was state of the art. It was possible that it could rival the system at the Avenger’s compound. The walls were covered by a glossy metal, which reflected the ceiling lights, creating an almost unbearably bright setting. Tony assumed the metal casing of the room was probably some sort of protection against eavesdroppers.  Sam, Rhodes, Vision, and Wanda of the Avengers were in there. As were Professor Xavier, Storm, Logan and a man with very interesting glasses on, who was introduced as Scott of the X-Men. Nick Fury and Maria Hill were participating in the meeting via video conference from a helicarrier hovering somewhere unknown.

Logan watched as Tony, Steve, Natasha, Clint and Kate entered. It was the first time he had seen Kate since the shooting.  Making a path to her past the many people in the room, he finally got to the doorway to pull Kate aside, “Are you alright.” He asked placing a hand on her hip. Kate put her hand on his arm and nodded that she was fine. Tony watched the interaction, thankful that Clint was talking to Natasha with his back to the couple. Tony felt suddenly very uncomfortable in the room as he witnessed the interaction. He had to be realistic, of course Kate had relationships over the past decade. As much as he or any father, would love to believe his daughter had never been with anyone, Charlie and Cooper’s existence proved that point untrue. As far as Kate had known prior to the reversal, she was a single mother suffering from memory loss and gamma radiation poisoning, not dead. However, if Tony had to pick someone out of the group that Kate would connect with, it wouldn’t be Logan, that was just…interesting.

Any thoughts going through Tony’s head were cut off when Clint turned around and saw what was going on. The confusion and processing were very clear on his face at the intimate position his wife was in with Logan. Tony found himself stuck to the floor, unable to move in the very awkward situation between his daughter, her husband, and whatever the hell Logan was. How was this going to go down? Luckily before Clint could move over to the couple to question anything about what was happening, Kate parted from the Wolverine to take a seat at the conference table.

Professor Xavier started the meeting, “Assistant Director Hill please explain to those who have just joined us the intel that has been gathered.”

Hill started as requested, “As expected within an hour of the wipe, numerous techniques were used to contact us for extraction and intel reporting.”

Clint was eager to get this show on the road, “Anyone report in on seeing Lila, Nate, or Laura?”

Maria continued, pleased that she was able to provide some positive news to Barton, “Yes, in fact there were many reports regarding them. Agents expressed concern about seeing children within HYDRA, and were quick to call it in. In fact, they were more worried about the kids then their own extraction.”

“Why were they worried?” Storm questioned, the alarm heavy on her face, “Were they harmed?”

“There isn’t anything to lead us to that conclusion. Agents who are aware of what HYDRA is capable of just didn’t like the idea of kids being there.” Nick encouragingly stated.

Rhodes had been there all night and was starting to think that the sleep deprivation was causing him to miss information, “Where is ‘there’?”

“Interesting enough, all the extraction calls are coming in with the same location, a place in Australia. Seems like HYDRA is relocating their people in anticipation of our next move.” Fury said as he and Hill disappeared from the screen and were replaced with a map, a white dot blinked over the area in discussion.

“Isn’t that the Tarantula?” Clint asked getting close to the screen to confirm his guess.

Natasha filled the group in on the location, “The Tarantula. It’s a former weapons base of HYDRA’s out in Western Australia.”

Steve didn’t like the sound of that, it was starting to feel like a dead end, “Former?”

Nick explained the history of the base, “Yes, about twenty years ago, a strike team took it out, but afterwards, the structure still stood. HYDRA decided since S.H.I.E.L.D. had already taken it out once, we wouldn’t go back without a good reason and they were right. The site was in a good location, HYDRA didn’t want it to go to waste. They went onto set up a kind of a retirement community for HYDRA agents there. About five years later, we sent a recon team out to confirm the base’s use. Once we had confirmation that they were using it to house their ailing and discharged agents, we just kept an eye on it. We monitored intel regarding the base, but never touched it again.”

“A HYDRA old folks’ home?” Tony asked reading between the lines.

Shrugging his shoulders, Clint said “Essentially. HYDRA believe it or not, has a pretty damn good pension and retirement package. That is if the agent lived long enough to cash in on it.”

“On the plus side, it’s good to know that HYDRA hasn’t changed their playbook in ten years. They are still using the World War II edition.” Kate offered thankful that the terrorist organization hadn’t really change during her ‘break’ from the job.

The mention of the war caught Steve’s curiosity, “What?”

“It’s common practice in war time, the enemy stores their ammunition near medical facilities knowing that we won’t attack. We tend to value human life on this side and would never risk bombing a hospital. There has never been a strategic gain in attacking the Tarantula again for the same reason. Like the Director said, we always knew what was going on at the base. The place is mostly full of the elderly that require some type of medical assistance or agents that are out of the game now and just want a quiet and safe life.”

Scott concluded, “Like Laura and the kids.”

Pointing to the map that was transferred to the big screen, so Fury and Hill could come back on the monitors, Kate offered, “With this intel, that would be my best guess. It looks like HYDRA is relocating their key personnel to the Tarantula knowing that we won’t strike it. In a strange way it’s the same as running into a church after committing a crime and claiming sanctuary.”

Nick surely had missed Kate. She had a soldier’s brain with the Stark’s intelligence. He could tell that Kate had already figured it all out and was waiting for everyone else’s light bulb to turn on. “So, Laura is key personnel to HYDRA, easy to believe given the amount of intel she must have gathered against S.H.I.E.L.D. in her tenure as a cover.”

Natasha answered in a way that caused the room to believe she wasn’t talking to them. She was just thinking out loud, putting it all together for her own comprehension. “I believe that it is just a coincidence that Laura and the kids are heading that way as well. Laura is probably transferring permanently to the Tarantula. She has done her time with HYDRA and going into retirement with her family now. With two young children, it’s the safest option available to her. She can’t just go off into the sunset, not with everyone here looking for her. She still needs the safety blanket of HYDRA.” Kate moved her head up and down, silently agreeing with Tasha’s take on Laura’s action and motivation.

Scott Summers, also known as Cyclops was the leader of the X-Men in the field and when Xavier wasn’t there, was still coming to terms with who and what Kate was. It was hard to accept that the math teacher was really a super spy and trained assassin. Hearing about it, he could only compare it to a plot of an awful spy comedy. After he was briefed about Kate’s history this morning, he found the time, after he wrapped his brain around it, to speak with Professor Xavier and Hank about developing a training routine for her. While she didn’t possess any mutant abilities herself, she had proven herself many times over the years as a supporter of the cause and would welcome her addition to the team. Scott had spent much of last night well into early morning researching the members of the Avengers, knowing that a team up was looming with the events in the hallway. From his findings, Scott had expected Natasha to know about the various HYDRA bases scattered throughout the world, but Kate’s insight took him by surprise. Skeptically he inquired of the woman who had become like a younger sister to him, “How do you know so much about it?”

Kate replied as if everyone knew her record, “Because I was on the recon team back in the day, to check the place out and make sure it was what our sources said it was. Plus, the Tarantula always had their accounts on a system that was separate from the HYDRA core mainframe, always good for a quarter million here and there.”

Logan may not have had the privilege of knowing Agent Bishop, but he knew Kate and was able to easily enough interpret her statement, “You stole from them.”

Looking insulted by the accusation, she asked, “Is it stealing if you happen to come across stolen money?”

Shooting a glance to Tony and Clint who were both sporting amused expressions from Kate’s response, Steve explained, “Yes, that is still stealing.”

Justifying her actions, she went on, “Hey, S.H.I.E.L.D. has needs. If the funds used to purchase safe houses or bribe a source are traced back to a terrorist organization and we keep our hands clean, all the better.”

The Professor had been silent since the start of the briefing. He had been listening to Kate and was impressed by the woman’s past. Scott’s point of adding her to the roster may be sound. “And no one ever caught on? HYDRA never traced the transfers back to S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Kate responded coolly, the pride in her work apparent, “Nope, I am just that good.”

Sam leaned into Natasha and whispered, “Anyone have any doubts she’s Tony’s kid?” This caused a smile to form on Natasha’s lips. There was a tiny resemblance in appearance between the two, but Kate’s last statement nailed it for her and many others in the room that she was Tony Stark’s daughter.

Steve was ready to go, they had a location and the people to infiltrate the base, but they lacked experience, “So, you have been there and gained access to their systems?”

Kate nodded unsure where this line of questioning was going, “Yes, like fourteen years ago. I don’t see why that’s important. You already have the blueprints, and Tony should be able to disengage the systems.”

She wasn’t saying anything that wasn’t true. However, Steve liked the idea of having a backup in the case something didn’t go as planned. “Suit up.” Steve ordered as he stood up dismissing the meeting, or so he thought.

Clint was fast to question the order, standing on the opposite side of the conference table from Steve, “Steve, I don’t think that is a good idea. She hasn’t been in the field in ten years and her last mission wasn’t exactly perfect.”

While Kate had to admit Clint had a point, she felt the need to point out the inaccuracies in his statement, “My part was. I got the job done, didn’t I? Plus, I can do it. It’s like riding a biker.”

Clint put his head down giving himself a reprieve, keeping his head down he corrected, “A bike. The saying is ‘it’s like riding a bike’.”

Looking to Clint who was still looking at the floor, she countered, “I’ve heard it both ways.”

Clint banged his fist on the table and looked at Kate not caring that they had an audience, “Isn’t this the exact same conversation we had ten years ago? I’m caught in a time loop. I didn’t want you on the Sandbox mission then, and I don’t want you on the Tarantula mission now.”

“You need me on this one Clint. I want to be on this one, if for nothing else then to get the kids and get some closure.” Kate confessed. “These people took seventeen years of our lives Clint, I really would like to hit something.”

Steve saw that Kate’s words resonated with Clint, and he was working on wrapping his mind around the idea, not that he for one second believed that Kate was waiting for permission from Clint to do what she wanted to. Clint just needed a little push to give the idea his blessing, “Clint, Kate will be with us the entire time. If you want, keep her with you and take out targets from a distance.” Clint remained silent, processing the mission and calculating the risks. Finally, he nodded his agreement to the conditions.

Logan didn’t like the idea of teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D. or any government agency. There was a trust issue there from Logan’s own past. Since the Accords, the Avengers were pretty much also government people. He especially didn’t like them taking point on this mission and now taking one of their people, specially Kate, “I’m not comfortable with that. I would prefer if she is in the fight, it’s next to me.” He scanned the faces in the room, daring anyone to argue with him.

Scott hated to say it, but needed to, “I agree, Logan will ensure her safety.”

“Heard that before.” Clint said under his breath. He had been guilty of saying the same thing years ago and they were all now dealing with the consequences of him failing on following through with that promise. Then something hit him, the way Logan acted last night about Charlie’s behavior, the way he touched Kate, and her reaction in response. Now, him wanting to play the role of protector to her on a mission. It all added up to some sort of relationship that went beyond platonic. Something called his attention, looking to his left he saw Wanda staring at him, she was reading his emotions. She sent a confident smile at him and shook her head, sending a warm feeling his way, telling him what he thought was correct but not an issue. As her projection of emotions hit him, his anxiety and anger lessened. When Wanda knew she had his undivided attention, she flashed images of the two children that they were going to go after through Clint’s mind. She was willing him to focus on the mission, reminding him of his priorities.  

Xavier knew where this argument could possibly lead and decided to end it before it got too far gone, “She is S.H.I.E.L.D., or was. They know what she is capable of, we don’t...” Glancing over to Scott, “yet.”

“What about the children here?” Vision asked seeing a potential problem with the proposed plan.

“What about them?” Storm demanded sounding both offended and protective at the same time about her charges.

Having been programmed to detect tone, Vision recognized that he may have upset the woman, “Apologies ma’am, I am not questioning the security precautions in place here, just the timing. My understanding is that HYDRA wants Charlotte. If everyone is in Australia, however short of a time it may be, it would finally give the organization an opportunity to acquire the child with minimum resistance.”

Tony was milling over that concerning observation and had to concur. The night before they were duped, everyone except for two Avengers were away from the compound, and HYDRA got in. There was no way to guarantee that the same thing would not happen again. A mission of this scale needed everyone, there wasn’t a person to spare to babysit Charlie without any backup. However, a babysitter of sorts was needed on this mission. If they were somehow able to find Nate and Lila before securing the Tarantula, they would need someone to guard them. At the very least they would need a caretaker and someone on watch to alert the group if the children became in danger. If someone was already being tasked with watching two children, what harm would there be with adding two more? Arriving at the only option that he saw available to them, Tony enlighten the room to his conclusion, “Simple, we take her with us.”

The room erupted with raised concerns. Rapidly it intensified to a shouting match between the participants, with various threats of bodily harm thrown in occasionally. Logan made more than one reference to heads being forcibly shoved into uncomfortable orifices.  It was Scott Summers who stood up and won the battle of the voices, “Are you stupid? We have spent the last decade keeping her away from HYDRA and you want to put her on a plane and deliver her to their front door?”

“We have gone on numerous missions throughout the years and she was left here. She has never been in any danger.” Storm contributed as backup for her friend and colleague.

Tony remained seated. “Yeah, but the game has stepped up here. They know it is now or never, and HYDRA is desperate. We have pushed them to this point. They tried to do it legally to no avail, if you considered shooting her parents to gain custody of her legal. That didn’t work so now they are going to do it illegally. The safest option is to keep her with us.”

The room was at a loss for words to reply to Tony’s comments.  Kate focused her eye sight on him and asked, “May I please speak to you in the hallway?”

There was no way in hell that Kate’s request was any way good. In quiet dignity, Tony stood up and accepted his fate, “Of course.”  

~~~

Walking into the hallway, Kate continued until they were far enough away from the conference room door, “So, what is this? You found Jesus? Maybe you joined AA?”

Starting with her first question, Tony worked down the list to answer each one, “This is a mission briefing. Was he missing? Nope, I am not in AA. What’s with the questions?”

Not finding anything comical about his responses, she explained the reason behind her questions, “I am just trying to find your angle here Tony. A reason to why all of the sudden you are a family man. You never gave a shit before.”

“And I have been meaning to apologize for that.” Tony extended to her, as he put his hands in his pant pockets.

Kate couldn’t help herself but a small laugh escape, “Apologize? For leaving my mother and me? You do understand this isn’t something you just say, ‘I’m sorry’ about?”

Always quick to anger as a first option when being pushed into a corner, Tony hostilely clarified, “I didn’t leave anyone. It was like a group vote or something. I wasn’t good enough for your grandparents, either set of them.”

Kate wondered how she knew more about the situation then he did, or was he playing dumb thinking she didn’t know the facts. “Don’t blame my grandparents for your decisions. They have all been dead a long time.”

“Your mom didn’t want me.” He reluctantly said, embarrassed by the statement being said out loud.

Nope, he wasn’t going to cop out on this one by blaming the dead. Kate had prided herself on being able to overcome the obstacles that life chose to place in front of her.  One of those obstacles was her paternity. Two men had claimed her as their daughter and she couldn’t decide which one was worse. Yes, Derek was probably a terrorist who had ordered no less than two hits on her, but Tony rejected her at conception. He had also been an arms dealer, proclaiming it in the name of national security, but there was still innocent blood on his hands.  She overcame this problem with a hell of a lot of therapy and accepting that she can’t change people, she could only change herself. That people must be taken at face value, and that was what she was trying to do now, get the face value of Tony Stark. “She’s been dead a while also. That’s the other thing, if none of this was in your control, which I highly doubt, why not make a move after she died? I was ten. And don’t even try to tell me you didn’t know because your mom told me that you knew.”

Tony had earlier been curious about the relationship between his parents and daughter. Kate taking his mother’s maiden name only enhanced the interest, “You spoke to my mom about me?”

“Yeah, at the funeral,” The way she said that made him think that she thought he knew it. “She came. In fact, your mom and dad came. I was told that you were studying somewhere. Seriously, didn’t you graduate college when you were thirteen or something, what were you studying abroad? You know, instead of attending the mother of your child’s funeral.”

“I started MIT when I was fifteen, but I had multiple areas of study and continued my education years following graduation. And yes, I was out of the country when Elly died. I didn’t think my presence at her wake would be well received, to say the least.” Moving on to what he really wanted to know, “Is that all my mom said to you?” Kate rolled her eyes and started back towards the conference room, believing that this was not the time or place for them to have it out. Tony disagreed, and reached out to grab her by the upper arm, pulling her back towards him. Ignoring the fiery look of death in Kate’s eyes as an answer to his action, he repeated, “Kate? What else did she say?”

With sad blue eyes, Kate revealed the path her life could have taken, “She said she was going to take me home.”

~~~

November 1991

Kate understood the concept of death, and the ceremony of a funeral. She had attended both of her mother’s parents’ funerals over the past five years. First was grandpa, then three years later grandma followed him. Her mother had explained that they went somewhere to a better place where they didn’t hurt anymore and weren’t sad. Now Kate held onto those words praying they were true. Eleanor’s battle was short but ferocious. She gave the fight everything she had, but in the end lost. Now Kate was alone. She had her dad, Derek, but he wasn’t really her dad, figuratively or literally. However, Derek, as either a father or step father, was all she had.  Since her mother’s death he had barely spoken an entire sentence to her.  Susan, her dad’s biological daughter, told her that Kate would be going away to school soon, somewhere in Europe. It hurt, Derek was all she had anymore, and he wanted her to go away.

“Katherine?” A woman asked from beside her. Kate had found a corner to hide herself in during the wake for her mother. She didn’t want to talk to anyone and wanted to be left alone. Once in a while Susan or Derek would find her and pull her into a conversation, but Kate always found a way to slowly escape back to her hideout.  “Katherine?” Looking to the woman, Kate recognized her as Maria Stark, her real dad’s mom. The older man next to her was unknown to Kate.

Preparing the script that had been hammered into her head for today’s event, Kate started to perform, “Hello, thank you for attending today. It means so much to my family.”

“Does it really?” The man asked.

Kate was confused, that hadn’t been a previously received response to her greeting. She just stared at the couple unsure of what to say next. Maria saw that the child was in distress and reprimanded her husband, “Howard, stop it. Pay him no mind dear. This is my husband Howard.”

With her most proper voice Kate replied, “Hello Mr. Stark.”

Howard looked at her, “Katherine, stop with the Mr. Stark nonsense. You know who I am, so either call me Howard or something else, but not Mr. Stark.”

“I said stop it, she is just a child.” Maria glared angerly at her husband then warmed her features to address the child, “Are you alright?”

Again, a rehearsed line, “Yes ma’am, I am fine. My father has taken very good care of me during this time.”

Usually when Kate spoke with adults, they would complement her parents about how well behaved and spoken she was. Howard Stark looked upset with her remarks. “The kid is on a script Maria.” Howard observed and kneeled in front of the child, “Katherine is that how you really feel or is someone telling you to say that?” Kate looked over to Derek who was talking to some of his business partners, still unaware that she had left the group once again. Howard caught the eye movement. That was all the confirmation that he needed to his question. “You’re ten now, right? How is school, are you receiving good marks?”

“I like school,” Kate exclaimed then for some unbeknown reason to her added, “I will be going to a new one soon.”

Howard’s eyebrows rose with that comment and asked, “Who says you are?”

Looking down at her new black shoes, she answered, “Susan says I’m going to a new school in Europe.”

Maria and Howard shared a look as if silently coming to a decision. Howard release a heavy breath and said to his wife, “I’m making an executive decision. We are going to have to pull the trigger on this fast. She’s a Stark, she belongs with us, especially now.” Maria smiled so brightly that her entire face lit up in happiness, which Kate thought was very inappropriate given the setting they were in. Howard took both of Kate’s hands in his own and looked her in the eyes, studying her. “I’m sorry about your mom Katherine.”

Glancing quickly again to Derek, Kate told Howard, “Only my dad calls me Katherine, I don’t like it.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere, what name do you like to be called?” Howard questioned with a smile.

“Kate”

“Well Kate, you know about Tony, right? Well, your father’s real name is Anthony, but he doesn’t like it. Perhaps there is more Stark in you then I thought. He is studying in Europe right now. He will be home in a few weeks for Christmas.”

Why was he telling her this? She had a prepared line for any remarks about the approaching holidays as well, “I hope you and your family enjoy the holidays.”

Howard shook her hands in an attempt to take her off script, “Kate, stop with the rehearsed answers please.  I know you have probably been preparing for days with a nanny or someone about what to say to people today. You have been trained to act like a puppet, to perform for an audience. You aren’t a puppet, you are a Stark. When Tony gets home Maria and I will be going to the Bahamas to speak to some people that will help us to be able to take you home.”

“Home?” That didn’t make any sense to her. Was she going back to her house or were the Starks taking her back to their home? Someone surely would have mentioned it to her if she was going somewhere else after this.

Maria was standing behind Howard and put her hand on his shoulder, “Yes dear, we would like you to come live with us. Your father and grandparents. We have a big house on Long Island.  Is that something you would like?”

Kate would like her mom back and her normal life with her normal school. In lieu of that, living with the Starks didn’t sound like a bad plan. She liked Maria. Whenever Kate had to accompany her mom to a fundraiser or charity event, Maria Stark would always sneak her treats and ask about her. Howard Stark didn’t seem bad either. “I don’t want to go to Europe.”

Howard promised, “I am going to do everything in my power to prevent that.”

~~~

“They never made it to the Bahamas. Hell, they never even made it to the Pentagon.” Seeing that Kate was confused by the inclusion of the military base, Tony explained. “Really long story full of smoke and mirrors, but they were stopping by the Pentagon.”

“I know, they died on the way.” Kate confirmed. “I just didn’t know you knew about the Pentagon meeting.”

Of course, she knew. She was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Even if she only knew the story that the Starks were killed in a car accident, as an agent, she would be able to see the records for the real story, the car accident was just a cover for an assassination.  “Kate, I didn’t know they were going to fight Bishop for custody. They never spoke to me about it. I’m sorry for that. It should have been me leading the charge for custody of you, not my parents.  I can’t fix anything that happened back then. But I need you to let me fix what is happening now.”

“Why?” A simple question that could be applied to so many things.

Needing more to respond to, he asked, “Why what?”

Answering with a blank expression, Kate rephrased, “Why did you leave?”

Shaking his head, “I didn’t leave, Eleanor did.” Kate rolled her eyes, which turned out to be the last straw of Tony’s patience, “Listen, I messed up. Is that what you want to hear? I royally messed up. I was eighteen Kate. Do you remember being that age?” Kate sniggered at that and looked away, disregarding the excuse. Tony wasn’t going to have his confession fall on deaf ears and pushed, “You think the whole world is yours and you’re invincible. I was a smart-ass rich kid that could do no wrong in the public’s eye. I was the heir to the Stark empire, everything we touched turned to gold. I wasn’t used to things going not the way I planned.”

Kate’s left eyebrow rose at the claim and pointed to herself, “Me?”

Not exactly where Tony was attempting to go with it, but here they were, “Yes, you. For everything I just said, that was the world’s opinion of me. Anyone who knew me thought the exact opposite. I was a screw up, a spoiled brat who never had to work for a damn thing in his life.” Looking away, because it was the God’s honest truth that he was about to speak, and he wouldn’t be able to say it and see her face hearing it, “And everyone knew if I was given the chance to, I would do the same thing to you. The person I was back then, that guy, that kid, “he emphasized, “would have never been a good father to you. Your mom and grandparents saw that disaster coming and avoided it at all costs.”

“So again, you are just going to blame everyone else for you being a dead-beat dad?” She couldn’t believe this. Kate wasn’t a teenager when she had Cooper, but she had been a young mother in a sense and didn’t understand Tony’s rationale for his absence from her life, “I am a parent, and you might as well be speaking a different language, because I cannot understand you or your reasoning. Clint is a parent as well, and what is going on in that conference room now is a perfect example of what a father will do when there is a barrier erected between them and their children. You overcome it and get your kids back. You don’t say ‘not my fault’ and move on like they never existed.”

“I know, “he admitted. “I wish I had been half the father to you that Clint has been to his kids. Kate, I swear that you’re not telling me anything I haven’t been telling myself over the years. I know I let you down. God, I have let so many people down.” Tony breathed in deep the remorse he felt with the story of the consequences of his actions, “Did you know it broke your grandmother, Maria’s heart when she found out? She would go to events in the city and see Elly or her mom, hell, even see you,” Releasing the air and pulling another lung full because he had to confess this all in one breath to control the quake in his voice, “she would come home and just lock herself in her room for a day or so. I did that to my mom. I made my mother a grandmother, without her grandchild, and it destroyed her. She never looked at me the same after that. She would never just come out and say it, but I knew she was disappointed and perhaps even to a point, hated me for giving you up.”

Kate pressed, if there was even a remote possibility of anything resembling a relationship between them, she needed to hear him say it, “So, what did you do about it?”

“Honestly, I pushed it away. I drank, partied, and so much more, pushed it deep and away. It was easier to just pretend that you didn’t exist, and to become the disaster that everyone labeled me as.” Knowing that Kate was about to accuse him again of blaming others for his bad decisions, he beat her to it.  “Before you start, I’m not blaming anyone for my actions or behavior, it’s on me. I could have at any point filed for visitation, custody, or hell, simply gone to your house and knocked on the door and demanded to see you.  As the years went on, I allowed the memories and feelings to fade into oblivion.  After a while I was able to disregard my parents’ disappointed glances and go on living my life. I was able to classify my relationship with your mother as just a simple association and push you out of my mind for the most part. It was the only way, the only way I could go on.”

With a mocking ‘pout’ face, Kate taunted, “Poor Tony.”

Feeling drained from the raw emotions and memories he had been forced to revisit, he decided to make his final argument, “I’m not expecting your forgiveness. I have no right to it. I have no right to even ask for it. However, like it or not, I’m here now Kate. And I’m staying.”

“Do I get any input in this, or is it still the ‘Tony’ show and I am just a reoccurring character?” Kate questioned.

Tony was not beyond begging, and this discussion had reach that point unfortunately, “Let me protect my grandchildren like I should have protected you. Please, you have to trust me.”

“Why do I have to trust you? You reversed the wipe, and I thanked you for that, but I don’t owe you a damn thing. You’re right, you don’t get my forgiveness, and sure as hell don’t get my trust. And where do you get off making decisions about my daughter?” Kate shot at Tony. “These people,” she gestured to the hallway that belonged to the X-Men, “have been protecting her since she was seven days old! Up until a few days ago we were fine. I didn’t have my memories, or my family, but my children were safe. You unexpectedly start feeling guilty about a decision you made and want to play happy family. You and your friends do not have the right to come in here and start dictating her or my life.”

“We are trying to save her life Kate.” Tony pleaded and was going to continue but Clint appeared in the hallway.

“You guys doing alright, or do I need to separate you two?” Clint asked as he approached them.

Sending Clint a look that he had seen many times before, and was thankful it wasn’t directed at him for once, Kate answered, “Fine. Just explaining to Tony that I don’t trust him, and he doesn’t get to make decisions about Charlie.”

Clint took in a deep breath as he looked down and placed both hands on his hips, “But I do.” Letting the air slowly escape from his lungs he looked at Tony, “What’s your idea about bringing Charlie along?”

“Clint…” Clint brought his hand up to Kate to silence her interruption. The look he received in response from his wife was easily translated by Tony to mean ‘I know you didn’t just do that. Wait until we don’t have a witness.’

Seeing that convincing Clint was probably the only way Tony would get his plan executed, he explained, “Not just Charlie, Cooper and Pepper as well. We have to have someone to watch the kids, and I don’t feel right leaving Cooper behind at the school, he doesn’t know anyone here. The kid has already been the target too many times this week for any of us to let him out of our sights for long.”

Kate must have also known that Clint was being persuaded by Tony’s plan, “You can’t be taking this seriously? Take the children on a mission?”

Clint paused, absorbing the idea and weighing the potential consequences. Quickly in his trained mind he was able to play out numerous scenarios and their possible outcomes, and the closest thing to a ‘sure bet’ that he would be able to provide security for his children was Tony’s plan. “Tony is right. We can’t leave them here. At least on the quinjet, we know they are safe. We would just have to land somewhere far enough from the fight but close enough to be able to get back to if something happens.” Knowing that he was asking a lot of a mother who had spent a decade within the safe confines of the campus ensuring her daughter’s wellbeing he turned to her, “Kate, if you don’t trust Tony, can you trust me?”

Kate closed her eyes wishing it would all go away once she reopened them, when she did she saw Tony and Clint watching her, “I swear, if just one hair is touched on Cooper or Charlie, I will kill you both.”

“Great, I will go tell everyone the plan.” Tony informed as he walked away before Kate or Clint could change their minds.

That left Clint and Kate alone in the hallway. Clint thought quickly that he should ask her about her recognizably intense conversation with Tony, but there was something else he needed information about that took precedence over the father and daughter troubles. Clint estimated that this could possibly be the last time he would be alone with her until the mission was over and even then, that was questionable.  If everything went as planned, they would have four children wanting their attention. He took advantage of the private time to ask her, “So, you and Logan?”

Without hesitating a second, she answered, “Met at the nunnery. Never was anything serious like attending Mass but we got together for a few prayer groups.” Leaving that revelation in the air, she moved past him to return to the conference room.

Now alone in the hallway Clint started to follow Kate’s lead, “I knew I was going to pay for that comment.”

~~~

Walking back into the room was like walking into a bar brawl that hadn’t yet turned physical. It was simple enough to see who sided with who. It was the Avengers versus the X-Men. Clint saw that Kate was the odd person out, standing by the door watching the events unfold on each side of the table. It was difficult for him to hear specific comments that were being thrown out but was able to pick up just enough to understand the argument was about Charlie’s presence on the mission.

“How about a compromise?” Kate proposed. “Since Charlie hasn’t even seen the other side of the main gate better yet flown somewhere, I think she should travel with Scott and them.” Tony and Clint started to object the suggestion, but Kate didn’t even look in their direction, clearly still upset with them, and continued, “She knows the X-Men and I would feel a whole lot better about her being under their supervision. I know what type of safe guards are onboard and trust them to protect her.” Looking to the side of the table that was occupied by the Avengers, “No offense.”

Logan had been brooding in the corner abstaining from the conversation until then, “I don’t think it’s a great idea to take her, what if HYDRA gets a whiff that she is with us?”

Kate met the gloomy eyes of the Wolverine. Clint felt his chest tighten at the held glance between the two, there was obviously a lot more history to Kate and Logan then she had shared. The tone Kate decided to use was full of concern and need, “Then all the better for the other students.” Logan looked away when the truth of the statement settled on him, so Kate addressed the entire room, “HYDRA has known Charlie’s whereabouts her entire life. How much do you want to bet that they have a gamma detector aimed at the school? They are constantly monitoring, more so these last few days. The cloaking mode on the jet will block the gamma detector. That would mean HYDRA will only know where Charlie is not.  They will be aware that she has left campus. HYDRA will have no need to attack the school if she is gone. Everyone left behind here will be safe.”

“That is a valid argument.” Professor Xavier said to disrupt the long pause on conversation as everyone absorbed the points Kate brought up. “I think it is fair to say that no one is content with this decision but lacking any other option we cannot handle a mission of this magnitude and protect the school with Charlotte in it. Katherine’s concern is rightly placed. If Charlotte were to remain here, then the moment the jet takes off from the school and far enough away, HYDRA would not hesitate to send people here to seize her. I will go along and help with protecting the children on board.” Not happy with the decision, Logan got up and left the room. Others took that as a cue for the meeting to end. They had a plan but needed to move fast.

~~~

As far as plans went, this mission’s profile was pretty simple, the X-Men would land south of the base while the Avengers would set down north. They already had S.H.I.E.L.D agents scattered around the boundary conducting recon and getting the intel they needed for the assault. Director Fury would be taking point on the mission calling out orders from the helicarrier. Pepper and the children went with the X-Men while Kate flew with the Avengers. She would have preferred to be with the children, but Tony convinced her to stay with him, so he could explain her suit and kit during the flight and use her assistance on infiltrating the base’s security system.

Kate was watching the live video feed on a StarkPad from the X-Men’s jet of the kids. Every once and a while Clint would glance over and steal a quick peek. Cooper was sitting next to Pepper, knowing the gravity of the situation he had been placed in and was handling it all in a sort of silent dignity. In contrast was his sister who was all over the place asking what every button and switch did. It was fascinating to Clint how Cooper in his quiet thinking reminded him of his mother. Kate was all fun and games until there was a job to be done, then she would become serious and objective driven, until the assignment was completed.  Then there was Charlie, and she was all Clint. He easily recognized the nervous energy the child was displaying as one of his own dominant traits. Isn’t that what Hank was talking about, ‘nature over nurture’? These children were the replica of their parents, despite not having any exposure to them.  God help the world when they got older, because that was destined to be a show. He watched the feed a little longer, captivated by the personality the little girl had.  She was curious, brave and perfect. How could a child who had gone through everything Charlotte did still have a smile on her face and happiness in her voice? Especially in this situation? In Clint’s eyes, Charlie was nothing short of a miracle, his miracle child. He had so much to make up for, and just prayed he was given the time to do it.

Clint’s thinking was ended when Wanda came up behind him to speak to Kate, “Excuse me, Mrs. Bishop, Barton, Cap…”

“Kate. Please just call me Kate. You’re Wanda correct?” She stated without looking up from the tablet.

Not knowing what else to say Wanda could only confirm, “Yes ma’am.”

“Thought I said to call me Kate.”

Clint moved from his position behind Kate and pulled Wanda with him as they moved in front of her, “I’m sorry, with so many new faces around, I forgot to introduce you two. Wanda this is my wife Kate, Kate this is Wanda Maximoff. She is sort of my third daughter.”

Kate finally looked up and made direct eye contact with Clint, “At this point, I can’t tell if that is a joke or not.” Her face was expressionless, which made the hairs on Clint’s arms stand on end.

Wanda was pulling at her fingers in a nervous gesture, “I wanted to ask you about your daughter, Charlotte.”

It was obvious that Wanda was cautious of Kate. Clint could see that Kate also noticed the stand-off impression she was sending and attempted to soften her face to be interpreted as more approachable by the young lady. “You want to ask me about her training?”

“Yes ma’am, I mean Kate.” Wanda was fast to correct. Vision had heard the start of the conversation and had moved over to the group. His presence gave Wanda some confidence to continue, “Professor Xavier told me that if I enrolled in the school, my training would be similar to Charlotte’s. We may even do group sessions together with the Professor.”

“Is that something you would like to pursue, enrolling?”  Clint inquired. The concept of Wanda and Charlie learning how to control their abilities together was a very appealing thought to him.

Wanda nodded, “The Professor said that a student visa would not be a problem, however I would have to stay in residence at the school. I wouldn’t be able to stay at the compound, and after everything that has happened I don’t think I would want to.”

It made sense to Clint, all of it. The government would not allow the Avengers to house Wanda after the Accords mess, there was just too much liability involved. Wanda not wanting to be at the compound was justifiable, it probably brought back a lot of bad memories. Vision didn’t look happy about Wanda’s confession of housing preferences, but it seemed he supported her decision, whatever it would be. He was just happy she was back on American soil and with him.

“There is another option that has been used in the past for Xavier’s students.” Vision offered hesitantly, “The school has a student sponsorship program where a visa student can be housed with another student’s family.” He ended the comment staring a Clint, hoping that the suggestion was accurately conveyed.

Clint thought for a moment about what was being asked, “Wanda, you know you are welcomed wherever I am. But I am in the middle of housing right now. My house is in Iowa, and you can’t be at the compound.”

Kate offered, “I live in a cottage on campus. It’s only two bedrooms, but we could arrange something.”

“Are you planning on staying there?” Clint assumed that wherever they ended up, it would be together. Kate’s comment about offering the cottage to Wanda threw him.

“Well, I guess it depends on the outcome of this mission now doesn’t it?” Kate responded in a condescending way with an arched eyebrow.

That was all Clint needed, ‘hope’ that they could go back to something like how they were. A life and family together. He started planning for his family, “So, we need a house. Somewhere in between the school and compound. At least five bedrooms, the girls can share since they are so close in age. “

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Kate interjected waving her hands in Clint’s face as she did it. “This is the cart before the horse.” Her voice was a bit louder then she planned because she now had the attention of everyone on the quinjet. Sam was piloting the jet with Rhodey in the copilot seat. Natasha, Tony and Steve were in the back conferencing with Assistant Director Hill and Scott Summers via teleconferencing about what the S.H.I.E.L.D agents on the ground had uncovered about the HYDRA base so far. They had all looked towards Kate at her outburst. Lowering her voice at Clint she said, “Let’s just get through this alive, then we can talk about our domestic situation.”

Not loving that she referred to it as a ‘domestic situation’, Clint had to accept that as the end of that particular conversation. Turning to Wanda, he reassured her,” We will take care of it, no worries.”

Wanda and Vision went back to their seats on the side of the quinjet and quietly conversed. Steve left Tony and Natasha in the back to approach the Avengers in the front part of the jet, “Hey guys, current mission layouts are up on the tablets. Check out your positions and ask questions now if you have them. During a firefight isn’t the time to question orders.” As he spoke, Steve handed both Kate and Clint a tablet with their orders on it for review.

With one last glance to the live feed of Charlie and Cooper on her other tablet, Kate placed it on the empty seat next to the left of her, Clint had taken the seat to the right, “Charlie is beyond excited to be off the school grounds. It’s awful that it’s because of this. I always hoped that the first time would be Disneyworld or something like that. You know, a positive experience of the outside world.” Kate was looking down and swiping at the new tablet, but Clint knew she was speaking to him.

Clint searched for the right words to say. There weren’t any that would fit, the child had been in hiding her whole life for the sake of her safety. Her first venture into the real world and it was to a terrorist base who had spent ten years trying to take her from her mother. Before Clint could say anything that would even remotely be considered reassuring, Stark butted in, “Don’t worry about that. Once this mission is done, HYDRA won’t be that much of a threat, if any at all. We will take all the kids to Disneyworld. Steve’s never been either, and Clint is now off house arrest. We can make it a team building thing. Total tax write-off.” 

Clint acted like he was ignoring Tony but secretly was liking the idea the Ironman had suggested.  Turning his attention back to the screen he noticed that the mission was straight forward. Clint and Natasha’s priority were to find and secure the children. Since they didn’t know what Laura had told Lila or Nat, it would be best for people the children were familiar with to approach them and bring them back to the jet.  Kate would have their back until the kids were recovered, then she would take point. While Natasha would still be able to use her weapon and carry a child, Clint would not. If they came under heavy fire on the way back to the jet, Clint knew that he could change roles with Kate at any point. He still had some reservation of Kate being in the fight but trusted her to say if she got in over her head.  She had been a good agent, and would never risk a mission, better yet the lives of children, just to prove her abilities. “You know hiding top HYDRA agents within a retirement community that S.H.I.E.L.D. allowed to be an asylum is dirty, its beyond cheating.”

In a low voice, almost a whisper, Kate made the comment, “Well, you would know about cheating wouldn’t you.”

Clint took a deep breath in to still himself before he responded. Apparently, the conversation in the car about Laura wasn’t the end of it, not that honestly, he thought it would be. But a man can dream, can’t he? Earlier he had said some things in the heat of the moment and didn’t feel like repeating that episode. In a monotone voice he defended, “There is no cheating with a memory wipe.”

Kate scoffed loudly, “You just made up that rule. You cheated.”

“Then so did you.” Clint hated that he sounded so childish with his response. Then he became fully aware that the back and forth had resulted with everyone, who was horribly pretending that they weren’t overhearing the conversation, to turn and give the couple their attention.

“Children. Don’t make me turn this quinjet around.” Sam warned over his shoulder from the cockpit. He was trying to lighten the mood and save Clint from whatever hellfire Kate was about to rain down on him.

Tuning Sam out, Kate stood up and faced Clint then rationalized in a voice that one would assume was reserved for the classroom when she had to teach new content, “No, you fell in love, that means you not only cheated physically, but emotionally as well. Which may I add, can arguably be far worse. I only cheated physically. That’s two-points against my one point and points cancel out in this, which leaves it at one to zero, you cheated.”

The only sound in the cabin was the low hum of the engine while everyone attempted to decode Kate’s formula. Finally, Clint closed his mouth which was left hanging by the previous statement to be able to ask, “What the hell are you talking about.”

Kate was about to go through it all again when Tony came up in front of her, “Kate, blood made us related, but what you just did there – confusing and at the same time winning an argument against Barton – that made us family. I have never said this in a non-sexual way but,” Tony opened his arms, “come to daddy!”

“You both are idiots!” Kate screamed as she slapped Tony’s arm away and stormed off to the back of the jet.

“I forgot how much fun it is to be on a mission with you and Kate.” Natasha observed dryly as Kate passed her, then threw the still confused Clint a small smile.

Rhodey turned to the cabin and announced, “We’re five minutes out, let’s get ready.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Gonna Hurt

The HYDRA base the Tarantula, former weapons manufacturing station turned retirement home, resembled a five-star luxury health resort. S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel in the field had been sending surveillance imagery to the quinjet for the duration of the flight to aide in development of the attack. The building was a rounded structure made up of a mirror glass exterior consisting of four stories. The specific type of metal used on the outside of the building made it impossible for Professor Xavier to read anyone’s mind within the confines of the unit. He had a similar experience with such materials when he was younger. The same technology used must be the reason why Professor Xavier had been having difficulties finding Secretary Ross.

Wanda had a comparable hindrance, since it was HYDRA whose experiments gave her the mind-altering ability, there were for sure some safeguards the organization had put into place. There would have to be precautionary measures developed by the HYDRA scientists in the event she ever used her abilities against them. To err on the side of caution, the Professor politely requested that Wanda not use her mind controlling abilities on this mission, fearing that such safeguards could affect the outcome of the mission. It would take years to understand what the Scarlett Witch was fully capable of, and this was not the time or place to figure it out.

Mirror glass aside, the architecture had the possibility of both benefiting and hindering the mission of the Avengers and X-Men.  The lack of corners made it easier to prevent a sneak attack by HYDRA agents on their approach to penetrating the base, but at the same time, prevented them from doing the same thing. The terrain was flat with very little foliage or natural cover near the building. A smart move on the terrorist organization’s part again, any attack attempt would be seen, and counter measures initiated before any of them could clear the wooded coverage of the forest. The attack would need to be fast and hard for anyone to successfully enter the base.

The Tarantula was located southwest of the Gloucester National Park, a park managed by the Australian government through their Department of Environment and Conservation. The park essentially wrapped around the base. That was their one and only bout of good luck with the mission. Being a government owned property, a few phone calls by Director Fury and both the X-Men and Avengers had clearance to land their jets on government property without starting an international problem. The Sokovia Accords were still in effect, even with Ross’ actions, Australia was one of the hundred and seventeen countries to approve it. It was probably best left unanswered what favors Fury had to call in or promises made for the country to permit the Avengers to step foot on their land. While the attack plan was still sound, one team would head to the north side and the other to the south, the X-Men would need to land more to the west of the forest to provide any shelter.

“How are we looking out there?” Steve inquired to the helicarrier via the screen on the side of the jet that displayed Nick Fury, as he contemplated the most efficient way to get into the building.

“Quiet on the outside. Waiting for you all to confront the enemy before I send any of my people in.” Fury explained from the findings that his ground agents had reported. The lay of the land had made it difficult for him to get any of his agents close to the base. Agents had been set up around the border with relay equipment that had the capability to send and receive data on such an obscure frequency that it would be impossible for HYDRA to detect it, let alone hack it.

Turning away from the screen, Steve asked the Avengers, “Everyone ready for this? We have to move fast if we have any chance of getting in before they hit the alarm.”

Walking towards where Steve was, Tony expressed, “Not yet.”

“Tony what is it?” Steve questioned already feeling exhausted and the mission hadn’t even started.

“You aren’t ready.” Tony specified then reached up into a compartment reserved for their gear and produced Captain America’s trademark red white and blue vibranium alloy shield, “You need this.”

Steve inquired skeptically, “You sure?”

“It’s yours isn’t it?” Tony remarked as if it was as simple as that, then armored up and headed out the door. He then passed Steve as he exited the jet, the rest of the team followed leaving a speechless Rogers as the last to depart.

~~~

“If anything seems wrong, you call us.” Storm instructed towards Pepper as she handed her a comm unit to place in her ear. “They will notify you before they approach the jet” she said referring to the Avengers, who were tasked with bringing back the children, “And the jet is in stealth mode, so honestly anyone knocking on the door should be friendly.”  Professor Xavier was there to protect the children as well, but Storm didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

Moving over to be by the only female member of the X-Men on the mission, Xavier assured, “We will be fine. Our part of the mission isn’t the dangerous portion.”

“I would just like to again go on record saying that I do not approve of any of this.” Logan expressed as he lit a cigar and stepped off the jet to take a look around the surroundings. They were far away from the compound, but that had to be done to both not alert anyone that they were there and to keep the children as far away as possible. They also needed to be close enough that help could get back if anyone found the plane. Storm would make sure that the commute to the entry point was short as well as any return trips that may be needed. Still, the whole thing didn’t sit well in his stomach.

“Noted.” The Professor called over to him as Charlie tried to get a look out of the door. It was her first time anywhere, and she wanted to see anything and everything. Xavier trusted her not to get off the plane, but Logan did not.

“Get your ass back in there pup!” He shouted and pointed at her with his cigar.

“Logan, really?” Scott scolded from the door at the choice of Logan’s language towards the ten-year-old girl.  

“Can I kill any HYDRA agents who try to get us?” Charlie asked from next to Scott, indifferent to Logan’s last comment to her.

“Yes” Logan answered nonchalantly as he gestured for her to move away from the door. 

Giving a disapproving look to Logan, Scott contradicted to the child, “No.”

“Well, which is it?” Charlie questioned with a hint of attitude in her voice.

Moving Charlie away from the door just in case they were being watched, Storm explained as she handed the girl over to Pepper, who was still in shock that the child would ask such a request, “Charlie, you know better. If there is a problem the grownups will handle it.”

“Everyone ready to move on your end yet? We need Storm to provide cover.” Steve questioned over the line.

Logan sighed at the question, “Not yet, Cyclops and Storm are explaining to Charlie that she is not allowed to kill anyone.”

Clint was fast on that comment with worry and horror mixed in his voice, “You’re explaining what to Charlie?”

“Tell her that mom says ‘no’. That should end it.” Kate said casually which got her strange looks from the Avengers.

“Charlie your mom says you can’t kill any HYDRA people today.” Logan repeated to the girl. It seemed to work, because all Charlie did was walk away and sit down between Cooper and Pepper.

Satisfied that the odds of HYDRA finding the jet and Charlie acting out in that unlikely situation were settled as best they could be, Cyclops decided to get things moving, “Ok, that crisis is averted. Storm get us to our entry point and make a mess.”

~~~

The Avengers split into three teams. Natasha, Steve, Clint and Kate were to find the kids and take out any opposition in the process. Tony and Rhodey would case the building and move inward until they met up with Scott and Logan. Basically, trapping any hostiles in the middle of the compound. Storm, Vision, Sam and Wanda were to monitor the outside of the compound and contain anyone who attempted to escape the siege. They were also responsible for getting any S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel in and out of the compound and keeping watch in case of any HYDRA reinforcements arrived.

“In position yet?” Steve asked the second team over comms. Everyone was taking cover within the first five hundred feet to the clearing. Once Storm started, they would all run up to their entry points.

Scotts’ voice answered the question, “We are ready to take the south, however there isn’t any entrance.”

Sending a concerned and questionable glance to his group Steve followed up, “What do you mean?”

“He means that there isn’t a door, just a wall.” Logan’s annoyance being detected through the technology. 

The Avengers looked to Tony who defended, “The blueprints are old, they probably boarded up the south entrance to reduce how many doors they had to guard.” 

“Any suggestions on how to get them in there?” Steve directed to Tony. Tony had the ability to bring up the blueprints on his screen within the Ironman helmet, but any answer was halted at Scott’s interruption.

“Oh, I can get in, it’s just not going to be pretty.” He coolly replied.

Tony understood what Scott was hinting at doing but offered a disclaimer, “Wait until we get in and I disable the alarm, then do your redecorating, alright?”

Scott answered shortly, “Copy that.”

With Scott and Logan on hold until the alarm system could be deactivated, Steve moved onto the main event, “Storm how are we doing with the visual distraction?”

“Waiting on your mark. Just be careful, some of these trees may uproot. Be on guard." Storm alerted as she began the process of summoning up a wind storm that would be the perfect cover. The storms were common in this area of the Outback, and HYDRA assuming, at least for a few minutes, that there was nothing out of the ordinary would be their ticket in.

“I can incapacitate their exterior security from here; the frequency is visible, and odds are that HYDRA will blame the system outage on the storm. So, as soon as the ‘weather’ starts, we can go.” Tony explained as he had FRIDAY bring up the backdoor entrance he had discovered, with the assistance of Kate, into the HYDRA exterior security system. The base had basic exterior security measures in place. Cameras, trip sensors, and motion detection.  “I would imagine that they will send people out to protect the entrances until their security department is able to get the system back up and running, so that will be the main opposition for us getting in. I have to be in the building to shut down anything else, it’s an entirely different system running the interior defenses.”

Taking in the mission plan, Steve instructed to Clint, “If you can get a shot, take it, but don’t take any risks.” He was referring to the gale force winds that would soon be starting, and the arrows Kate and Clint would be shooting in his direction. “Get to a high point to call out what is going on from your position. You will be able to see a lot more than us on the ground.” 

Accepting the adaptions to his assignment, Clint signaled for Kate to follow him. He knew the perfect vantage position to take that would still utilize the covering from the forest. If Storm kept the windstorm limited to the clearing around the facility, then the archers would still be in play, providing coverage from behind the storm.

“Storm, when you are ready, so are we.” Steve declared.

It started as a low hum, something no one would take notice of. The skies darkened with clouds that threatened an approaching rain shower. Then a light breeze brought a cooling relief to the high temperatures of the landscape. A notable change was apparent when a few scatter leaves and light weight branches started to lift from the ground and were carried away. From there the winds increased, causing larger objects to be elevated and caught in the wind current. A slow-moving fog crept from the forest across the barren land and engulfed the base. They had their opportunity now to walk right up to the front door without anyone being any wiser.

Standing next to Natasha, Steve lifted his shield in front of her. Natasha was the only one except for Steve without armor, or the ability to fly, moving in for a direct hit on the base to gain access. “Let’s move in. Everyone needs to keep a watch out. Clint and Kate, yell out if you see something big coming at us from behind.”

“Roger that Rogers.” Kate called back being rewarded by a chuckle from Clint at her little joke.

Even though it had already been addressed that they would need to quickly get to the entrance, the wind storm and fog presented challenges in the way of speed. Walking up to the front of the compound did present the possibility of encountering any agents who would be sent out to check the area to compensate for the security system being down. However, there wasn’t another entrance that was faster to get the team in and off on their mission goals. Sam, Vision and Wanda went off to cover the perimeter with Storm joining them once she got the others in.  First Storm had to move with the remaining four Avengers to ensure that the front entrance had zero visibility from the inside. Tony blasted the front doors to the point of rumble, which resulted in a group of HYDRA agents running out of the building. Natasha and Steve ran up to confront and draw them away from the entrance, trying to get them far enough away so that Tony could get inside and take down the system. As Storm moved closer to the building, the storm lessened behind her. This gave Kate and Clint the ability to move closer and stay behind the storm to be able to call out patterns and take out the odd agent from getting an upper hand on either Steve or Nat.

Once the goons were far enough away, Tony and Rhodes flew in and attacked from the back. The technology in their suits gave them the capability to use infrared to see through the wind and fog. Rhodey attacked from behind while Tony made his way into the building.  As soon as Tony was standing inside what could only be called a reception area, void of anyone, he deactivated the security protocols and system. “System is down.” Tony called out as he watched Steve take out the last of the three standing agents. Throwing his shield in such a way that it looked like a live action pin ball arcade game, ricocheting off one into another, bouncing off the second person across the area and taking the last one out. As the three men fell, the shield dutifully returned to its owner.

Once everyone was inside they were able to get a good look at the facility. It appeared to just be a large circle. A large amount of electricity was coming from the center of the building. Shutting off the electricity was easy, Tony once again had FRIDAY pull up the mainframe that they had previously been playing in to shut down the security and figured out where the database for the power was located on the server. When that was found, FRIDAY implanted a simple virus into the coding that would result in everything running off electricity with the exceptions of the central air and the emergency lighting to shut off. With that much power dedicated to the center, it was easy to assume that the middle was where all the HYDRA business was, the outside was for the ruse of appearing to look like a legit retirement community. The first matter of business was to clear the first floor before penetrating the center of operations and recovering the children. Eventually they would need to move up the floors, but if the children were found and removed, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents could handle the clearing.  The team split into two to accomplish their specific assignments. Tony and Rhodes going left, Steve, Clint, Kate and Natasha going right.

The right hallway consisted of numerous closed doors, that only revealed to be abandoned offices when they were opened.  Softly moving about the bend of the hall Natasha saw four guards standing watch outside of a room further down the hallway. Turning quickly, she motioned for everyone to get into one of the previously cleared offices.

“Four watchmen three doors down.” She informed when she was met with questionable glances for her actions.

Talking his way through the scenario Steve explained, “Even with the system down, it’s the first floor. They would have heard the explosion, they know there is an attack happening.”

“Which would mean that by them still being on guard, what is in that room is very important.” Clint summarized.

Natasha knew that taking out four HYDRA personnel wasn’t a challenge, the challenge being not to let the people in the secured room know about their impending arrival. “Now we have to figure out how to take out four armed guards without alerting the occupants.”

Looking to Kate, Clint asked, “Domitian?”

Shaking her head at the code word they used about the Roman Emperor who was said to have been able to fire off four arrows at once, she answered, “I have been out of the game too long for a Domitian. But, it’s the best plan to take them out as quietly as possible. Can you do it still?”

Taking obvious offense to his wife’s question of Clint’s accuracy with firing off multiple arrows simultaneously, “What kind of question is that? Of course, I can do it, I just don’t like being a showoff.”

Following that the two archers were developing a plan out of their predicament, Steve was unsure exactly what they were discussing, “What are you two talking about?”

Reaching behind him, Clint retrieved four arrows and nocked them all.  “Doesn’t matter, you’ll see. Just know I got it. Be ready to move.”

Stepping out into the hallway, Clint moved up to the four men, not hiding his presence. With the structure being round, it didn’t take more than three seconds for the guards to see the approaching threat of Clint Barton. They didn’t have the chance to even lift their guns or radio for assistance before each man fell with an arrow to their chest.

Running up from behind Clint to kick away the agent’s weapons, Steve took a moment to check their vitals, preparing to call for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s medic to take them away, but discovered it wasn’t needed. While he was impressed by Clint’s ability to take out four guards with one draw of his bow, Steve had to question, “Couldn’t you just have immobilized them? Did you have to kill them?”

“Why the hell would you want me to do that?” Clint asked in bewilderment of the question from the Captain. “Would you have preferred me to shoot them in the leg? They can still shoot at us or radio to back up and warn every one of our location.” Clint broke away from Steve and went about pulling out the arrows from the chests of the fallen. The reasons for his actions was both to conserve arrows to be used again later and take away his classic ‘calling card’. An arrow sticking out of a HYDRA agent’s body would be easily tracked back to him which would alert Laura that he was in the building and tracking her. 

Clint had a point, but it still didn’t sit well with Steve. He was aware that Clint had specialized tech arrows that would restrained the enemy, why didn’t he use them? The simplest answer to Steve’s unspoken question was that Clint was out for blood. He wanted revenge for the wrongs committed against him and his family and would extract it from every HYDRA agent he came up against. “I just have a problem with killing people who despite who they work for, are just following orders. Honestly, I have problems with killing in general.”

Walking up to Steve, Clint put his hand on the Captain’s shoulder, “Well, fortunate for you Cap, I have never had that problem.”

Kate ran up to meet the men with Natasha following, who was watching their backs. “If you gentlemen are done with your moral soul searching, how about we see what’s behind door number one?” Kate said nocking an arrow of her own in preparation of another fight.

Natasha opened the door for Steve to enter first into the room. The area looked to be the type of room you would find in any day care center. Brightly painted walls in the primary colors with activity centers set up in each corner. An area rug that had the alphabet displayed on the sides had been placed in the middle of the room. There were five children present with three adults watching them. It appeared that none of the adults were armed, probably just caretakers of the ‘HYDRA day care center’. No one was naive enough to believe that the room was void of any defense measures but trusted since it was a room designed for children, any weapons were safely locked away, out of reach of little hands. Natasha and Steve moved quickly and confronted the three adults. They ushered them out of the room quietly to not disrupt the children and let them know something was going on. The detainees were silent and therefore cooperating with their captors for the same reason, not to alert the kids. It seemed to work since none of the children even looked up from their activities. Scanning the youngsters for familiar faces, Clint only recognized one of them, Lila.

“Director Fury, we have children here in need of extraction. I also have three noncombatant HYDRA personnel that need to be taken in.” Natasha requested once she and the other adults were out of the room.

“How many?” Maria Hill’s voice asked as she sent the request for the nearest cell of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to go to Natasha. The cell of S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel were able to get to the requested location swiftly since the outer defense measures were vanquished due to the opening attack. Sam, Wanda, Vision, and Storm were still outside making sure that entry and egress were without interruption as quickly as possible.

Waiting for the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to get to her location for Natasha to be able to hand over custody of the captured adults, she reported in, “Four, the fifth child here is Lila.”

Nick’s voice was the next to ask a question, “Nathaniel?”

“Not here.” Steve stated looking over the room once again to be sure that the toddler wasn’t there. It appeared Kate was doing the same thing, checking under and behind things, just in case the boy was hiding somewhere.

“Laura?” Fury followed up with.

Natasha repeated, “Not here.”

Lila was sitting at a table drawing with her back to the room and was so focused on what she was doing that the child didn’t notice what was going on behind her. Clint walked up and put his hand on her head, the girl jumped at the unexpected touch and was surprised when she turned to see who did it.

“Dad!” she exclaimed and jumped into his arms.

“Hey there.” Clint said trying to come up with something better to say to his daughter after the ordeal she had been through. Kate positioned herself behind Lila and put her hands up in an unspoken question that Clint caught instantly. Pulling himself away from Lila he asked her, “Where is Nate?”

Noticeably ignorant to the danger she was in, Lila innocently answered, “Mom took Nate upstairs for a nap.”

S.H.I.E.L.D. agents entered the room to take charge of the agents and the other children. Moving out of the way to let them do their job, Steve said, “Let’s get her on the jet and then try to find Nate.”

“I don’t want to waste time.” As protective as he was over his children, Clint couldn’t justify the need for four people to be escorting his daughter back to the jet. “If someone saw us they could have warned Laura of our location by now. She must know we are in the building. How about you and Nat take her, and Kate and I continue the search?”

Hearing her aunt’s name, Lila started to look around for the first time. It took her a minute to take in the scene in the formerly quiet and happy room. People were everywhere, and children were asking why they had to go with strangers and where their parents were. Natasha held out her hand for Lila to take, but the girl had her attention on someone else, Kate. She was dressed like her dad with a bow in her right hand. Also, her position standing next to Captain America helped Lila to conclude that the mysterious woman was a good guy but didn’t know who she was. “Who are you?”

Kate looked to Nat and Clint for one of them to field the question. “This is Kate, remember I told you about her yesterday.” Clint explained.

“You’re Cooper’s real mom.” Lila stated bluntly as she sized Kate up. The child had been raised around people like Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury. First impression showed that this woman appeared to be in the same league as them to Lila.

Impatiently Kate answered, “Yes I am.” Then made a face at Clint to convey that they had to get moving. The mission had resulted in children being taken in, that fact alone could cause the entire mission to escalate very quickly to a much more dangerous point if the parents were top HYDRA agents. Time was more of a priority now than ever.  

Natasha pulled Lila with her towards the entrance. Steve got in front of them and looked down both ends of the corridor before motioning for them to exit. Putting his hand to his comm unit Steve reported in as Nat picked Lila up and he placed his shield in front of the child’s body to protect her from anything that could hurt her until they reached the jet. “Romanoff and I are escorting Lila back to the jet. Barton and Bishop are continuing the search for Laura and Nathaniel Barton.”

~~~

“Sounds good.” Tony answered back as he and Rhodes were about to enter the main hall of the first floor. They, like the other team had experienced some resistance. When they did meet a small cell of agents, they either attacked or ran away.  When HYDRA picked option A, Tony and Rhodes easily took care of the opponents and requested S.H.I.E.L.D. to deal with the cleanup. Option B was by far the more entertaining of the two choices. Each time the cell ran away it was to outside the compound by way of the nearest exit. Unbeknownst to the escapees, someone was always waiting for them on the outside for the capture.  Sometimes they would be caught up in a mini tornado, courtesy of Storm. Others would be encased by a red presence created by Wanda. Sam and Vision would just swoop down and grab the deserters, scaring the shit out of the person in the process. 

From the doorway of the main hall, they could see that there were tables set up with people seated, all of them were facing the front. A presenter was standing on the stage. They couldn’t hear from where they were what was being said, but it was HYDRA so that narrowed down the topic from being anything good.

“There looks to be about sixty people in there.” Rhodey commented with another glance into the room then back to his stance on the outside of the room so they couldn’t be seen.

“At least.” Tony confirmed, then called through comms to the helicarrier, “Hey, we have what looks to be a propaganda meeting going on in the great hall. Definitely going to need some back up here.”

“I have teams moving in on your location. Vision clear the outside exit to that room to allow a team in.” Fury ordered while looking over the 3D projection of the compound’s blueprints. With a matter of three taps on the projection, a team was deployed to the requested location.

It didn’t take any time at all for a S.H.I.E.L.D. team to appear on both sides next to Tony and Rhodes. Vision’s voice came to life next, “The entrance to the specified location is clear and a team is assembled outside of it ready for your order to infiltrate.”

“Ok, everyone moves in on my mark.” Fury commanded and waited a moment, “go!”

The strike was conducted just in time for everyone to hear what the presenter had to say, “B 5, again B 5”

Almost every participant in the room ignored the intrusion, staying focused on the game until one woman stood up and excitedly proclaimed, “BINGO!”

Director Fury allowed the humor to be heard in his voice, “Congratulations Stark, you just successfully captured a HYDRA BINGO hall.”

~~~

Waiting on the south side of the compound within the woods, Scott and Logan waited until they heard Stark had deactivated the security system. When it finally came over comms that it was down, the two senior X-Men moved in, not taking as much time or care as the Avengers did regarding the storm and fog. Having been in similar situations many times before, they knew how to maneuver around one of Storm’s creations. As had been previously discussed, there wasn’t a south entry. That information was vital, it meant that whatever the base was harboring in the center of its compound, the south part of the building was part of it. Scott adjusted his visor and blew an entrance into the south side. Just like at the north attack, as soon as an opening was made, there was hostile fire charging towards the men.

Bullets rained down on them. It appeared HYDRA was waiting for some attack on its southern side and well prepared for it. Scott was fighting his way through the attack, narrowly missing numerous opportunities of being shot. With an adjustment to his visor, Scott weaken the strength of the optic blast, so it just knocked the assailants out. Logan on the other hand walked a straight line right up to the entrance, slashing his way through the enemy, all the while taking numerous bullets to his body. While each bullet invading his body hurt like hell, it didn’t slow him down in the least. Approaching one specific guard who was standing in the middle of the makeshift doorway, the guard emptied his ammo into the Wolverine.

Waiting until he heard the repetitive ‘click, click, click’, signifying an empty clip, Logan caught the look of panic in the man’s eye. A boy who couldn’t be older than twenty and was watching his young life flash in front of his eyes. “You done?” The Wolverine asked in a laidback tone. He was using the ploy of intimidating the man-child as a chance to give his body the needed time to regenerate and eject the hardware the HYDRA boy had given him. 

In visual terror and astonishment of the Wolverine’s abilities, the young man slowly nodded his head. Logan pointed to the gun then to the ground. Following the order, the agent threw the weapon down and raised his hands in surrender. “Good boy, you’re smarter then you look. Now just walk that way.” Logan instructed by again pointing, this time to the right, “and some nice, but strange ass people will take you in.”

Scott caught up with Logan and watched as the agent did as he was instructed, “Storm, we have a surrendering agent coming your way for take in.”

“Yeah, he’s just a kid. He probably needs a new pair of pants after all of that.” Logan commented and gestured to the whole in the wall, “After you Cyclops.”

Knowing that Logan was sending him in to take the first wave of whatever was heading towards them, he accepted the invitation, “Why thank you Logan, that is so nice of you.”

“Well, you know me, always the nice guy.” He returned with a smile as he took his position behind Scott and entered the compound.

Logan had just placed both feet inside the walls of the Tarantula when he heard the sound of approaching military issued steel-toed boots stomping on the floor.  Looking down at his hole decorated shirt, which at this point showed more skin then it did material, he watched the last of the bullets slide out of his abdomen and create a ‘clank’ sound as it hit the ground.

“We have incoming.” Scott said looking over his shoulder at his teammate.

Deciding not to wait for the welcoming committee to come to them, the men continued to move inward, it didn’t take long before they were within the sight of the cell. The group stopped and took position, the first five kneeling down with guns drawn, and the second five standing behind also with guns pointed at the duo. Logan pushed Scott aside, while Cyclops could do a lot of damage to this group, it would be impossible to do as swiss cheese. Scott’s willingness to be moved told Logan that he was on board with the unspoken plan. Logan would act as the distraction while Scott followed up with disabling the troops.

Hearing the echoes within the concrete hall of ten safeties being switched off, all Logan could say as he accepted what was about to happen, “This is gonna hurt.”

~~~

“Pepper, we are approaching the jet with Lila.” Natasha announced through her comm piece when they were in the clearing in the woods where the jet should be. Immediately a flicker occurred, and the X-Men’s jet appeared, Xavier having turned off the stealth mode. The hatch opened, inviting Steve, Nat and Lila onto the jet.

“Lila are you ok?” Cooper asked running up to her when the trio boarded. The frightened girl was relieved to see her brother and grabbed him without any intentions of letting go soon. Cooper just wrapped his arms around Lila and rubbed her back comfortingly as he had seen Natasha do the other day. Natasha thought back to when Clint had filled her in on Cooper’s outburst that Lila wasn’t his sister, however after witnessing the concerned brotherly love the boy just displayed. She knew it was safe to assume that Cooper still considered Lila his sister and loved her as such.

Pepper walked over to the siblings pushing a hesitant Charlie with her, wanting to get introductions out of the way, and give Lila something else to focus on then the affairs she had just been a part of, “Lila, this is Charlie.”

“She’s our sister.” Cooper explained letting go of Lila but keeping one arm protectively wrapped around her shoulders.

Lila looked the girl up and down and it seemed Charlie was doing the same thing. “My dad told me about you”, she finally said.

Showing that she could care less about what Lila was or wasn’t told, Charlie set about her own agenda, “How old are you?”

“Ten.” The confused girl responded looking towards her brother for support to the odd question. Cooper just nodded his head, cueing Lila to engage in the conversation.

Getting closer to Lila in what could be interpreted as a confrontational manner she questioned, “Me too, when is your birthday?”

“June 3rd, 2008.” Lila answered cautiously still unsure about her new-found sibling. Charlie’s body language was sending warning signals to Lila’s brain.

Satisfied with the answer, Charlie seemed to relax her aggressive stance, and then bragged, “Mine is May 18th. I’m older.”

“By like two weeks.” Pepper pointed out.

Quickly waving off the minor detail that reminded Pepper of a move Tony would make, Charlie proclaimed, “Still, I am the older sister.”

Dumbfounded by the topic of choice, Steve inquired to Charlie, “Is there a reason this conversation has to take place right now?”

Charlie seemed to actually puff out her chest, “I’m asserting my dominance. Logan says you have to do that in groups.”

“This isn’t a prison yard young lady, it’s a family. Calm down.” Steve countered while he suppressed a laugh. He and Nat needed to get back into the field. There was still the matter of one more Barton child to find and a terrorist organization to take out.

“It’s her first time out.” The Professor rationalized for his student to the others, “Charlotte please come here.” Charlie did as she was told and followed the Professor as he distanced himself from the rest of the group, so he and Charlotte could speak privately. Happy with the space between them to avoid anyone overhearing, Xavier took Charlie’s hands and looked her in the eyes, “Charlotte, remember when your mother was shot, how you felt?”

“Scared.” Charlie admitted breaking off the eye contact to look away, having learned long ago that lying was pointless when speaking with the Professor.

Moving his head to force the eye contact again, Xavier advised with a sad smile, “Yes, you were scared. Lila is feeling the same way right now.” He explained looking over at the young blonde girl. Releasing Charlotte’s hands, he gently nudged her towards Lila, “Go over and say something comforting to your younger sister to make her feel better.”

With heavy stomps to emphasize the point that she was not happy with the directions she was given, Charlie walked back over and stood in front of Lila. With a final look to the Professor who nodded at her to go on, Charlie did her best attempt of ‘comforting’, “I’m sure it will be quick, and your mom won’t suffer a lot.”

“Charlotte!!” The Professor uncharacteristically yelled at the girl over the loud cries of her sister, shocked by the blunt statement.

Throwing her arms up in frustration, the girl called back to her teacher, “You said to say something comforting.”

Natasha leaned in to Steve and whispered, “I know an Aunt shouldn’t have favorites, but Charlie just may be mine.”

“That was unacceptable.” Cooper scolded Charlie, repeating his father’s words to him when he said something like that to Lila days ago. “You can’t say things like that.”

Pepper in all the chaos had pulled Lila to her to try to somehow calm the child down and stop the tears. “Lila, Charlie didn’t mean that. Did you Charlie?” Pepper scowled at Charlie with her best attempt of being an authoritarian to the girl. Realizing that the chances of Charlie withdrawing her comment were slim to none, Pepper returned her attention to the traumatized girl in her arms, “Are you alright?”

“I’m cold.” Lila whispered, but the sound carried throughout the metal chamber of the jet for all to hear.

Pepper passed Lila back to her brother and reached up into a compartment to pull out a gray blanket. During the flight, Storm and Scott instructed Pepper on where assorted items were located, in case a need arose. With the blanket in hand, Pepper went back to where Cooper and Lila were standing and wrapped the girl up in it. “Are you warm now sweetie?”

 Moving her head in affirmation, then burying it into her brother’s chest as he led her to a seat Lila said, “It’s scratchy, wish I had my blanket.”

Cooper explained for the individuals who didn’t understand what his sister was talking about, “She had a purple furry blanket at home that she uses.” Then he remembered seeing a similar item in Charlie’s room, “Like that pink one you have back at the school.”

“The one your daddy brought you back for your birthday?” Natasha knew exactly which blanket Cooper was referring to. Clint missed Lila’s birthday a few years ago, and when he finally returned, he gifted her with the blanket. Clint told her that whenever she missed him to wrap herself up in it and it would be like daddy giving her a hug. Thankfully it was one of the items Tony brought back with him after his final sweep of the Barton home looking for personal items. The other day when Natasha took Lila up for a bath following her walk and talk with Clint, Lila remained in the blanket for the rest of the day. It did surprise Natasha that Laura didn’t grab it when she grabbed the girl, everyone knew how much Lila loved that blanket. The time constraints with the abductions must have been tight for them to leave without such a precious item, that or Laura didn’t want the reminder of what the blanket represented to Lila of her relationship with Clint. Either way in Natasha’s mind, shitty parenting.

“We have to go.” Steve told Natasha, breaking her from her thoughts. The children were safe with Pepper and Xavier. They still had a job to do. With one final look towards the children, Natasha followed Steve off the jet and started back towards the HYDRA base.

Charlie watched the doors close again then turned to Cooper and Lila, “What kind of purple?” she asked rejoining the conversation after she was ostracized by her last comment. Not receiving an immediate answer, she rephrased, “What shade of purple is your blanket?”

“Lilac.” Lila informed lifting her head just enough to answer the question then put it back down.

“That’s my mom’s favorite flower and color.” Charlie volunteered, sounding for the first time friendly towards her sister. That little bit of information Pepper tucked away for later use as the girl continued. “She always wears lilac perfume.” Charlie turned to the Professor. He knew what she was thinking and silently gave his approval with a smile. Charlie held her hands out and suddenly a folded lilac colored faux fur throw blanket appeared. Drawing nearer to Lila, Charlie pushed the blanket at her, causing the wrapped child to reemerge from her cocoon, “It’s not the one you have, it’s a new one.”

“It looks just like mine. How did you do that?” Lila asked in wonder, sitting up to accept the gift.

“It’s what I do. Is the blanket alright?” Charlie asked. She knew deep down that she had crossed the line from being irritating to mean with telling Lila that her mom was probably going to die and wanted to do something to make her feel better.

Shedding the scratchy gray blanket onto the floor in a heap, Lila wrapped herself in the new blanket. “Thank you, Charlie.”

Looking to Cooper, he grinned at Charlie’s actions approvingly, and once again wrapped his arms around Lila. Pleased that she made her siblings happy Charlie responded, “You’re welcome Lila.”

Pushing her luck, Lila said with sly intent, “Now I wish I had my puppy.”

Charlie’s eyes widen in excitement, “What kind of puppy?”

Professor Xavier was quick on the draw, knowing what was about to happen, “Charlotte, no. Just no.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Damaged Foundation

Every corridor was the same, nothing separated their current location from the other hallway of the top two stories of the facility. Since both floors were identical, Clint and Kate returned to the third floor to start clearing the rooms. There weren’t any physical security measures enforced on either floor. It was a guarantee that there was a security system for this area, doubtlessly for the purpose of monitoring who was coming and going within the halls, but Tony had shut that down some time ago. Unlike the first floor, there were not any guards directed to secure this area.  All the information gave the impression of whatever was housed at the top wasn’t vital to the day-to-day operations of the terrorist facility.  

Clint slung his bow over his shoulder and pulled out a knife. With so many doors leading to unknown areas, anyone could get the drop on them in such close proximity that would make using a bow in any efficient way impossible. Kate kept her bow in hand knowing that one of them needed to have fast access to a long-range defense. Between the two of them, they should be able to secure the hallway against any appearance of HYDRA agents, despite which side they came from.

“One at a time?” Kate asked lacking any alternative to ensuring their mission objectives.

Annoyed with the time it will take, but seeing no other way, Clint answered, “Seems like the only way. Tony, Rhodey, and Sam are the only ones with thermal imaging abilities and they are…busy.”

Reaching behind her, Kate grabbed an arrow, “You open the doors and I cover?”

“Just like the good ol’ days.” Clint observed as he positioned himself against the wall and placed his hand on the doorknob.

“And look where that got us.” Kate said as she nocked an arrow, drew back and gestured towards the first door for him to open.

Clint turned the knob and threw the door wide open and once again placed his body tightly against the hallway. Kate quickly moved towards the door frame to scan the room. The room was obviously someone’s living quarters. The accommodations bared a resemblance to the type of hotel room a high roller in Las Vegas would be given as a bribe to keep spending their money. The floors were a light-colored marble which perfectly complemented the dull green walls. The room opened to a living area with dark navy sofas and matching chairs. The coffee and end tables were all glass with silver fixtures. The right side of the room was a small kitchenette, separated from the living area by a countertop that matched the floor. A hallway was to the left of the kitchen towards the back of the quarters. Clint put away his knife and pulled out his sidearm, switching off the safety he used his left hand to hold the gun and his right to cup the bottom, steadying his aim. He moved past Kate and signaled for her to follow as he made his way to the hallway. Kate provided coverage for both Clint and the open entryway, as Clint cleared the bathroom and bedroom, no one was there.

Walking back through the living area to reenter the hallway, both Kate and Clint jumped a bit when Steve’s voice came to life over the comm units intruding the silence, “Reports?”

~~~

Tony was the first to report in, “A lot of old people, most don’t even know where they are. At least that is the story they are giving S.H.I.E.L.D. Haven’t found any heavy hitters yet. Rhodey and I are working our way deeper into the center of operations.”

“We have met some fire at the southwest entrance. This place is like a big rounded maze. I think this is where the fight is. There not being an entrance and how hard they came at us, this is definitely where your heavy hitters are if I was a betting man.” Scott explained as he adjusted his visor once again to a higher setting in order to take out a load bearing pillar which caused the supporting beam across the room to collapse on four incoming HYDRA guards.

Logan ran towards two agents with his claws extended. He only stopped with the physical barrier of both men being skewered onto his claws. With a third coming at him from the left, he turned and threw the impaled goon on his right hand into the oncoming threat rendering the man unconscious on the ground, trapped beneath the body of his partner.  With one hand free now, he was able to push the second speared agent off his left hand on the pile he had created and stepped over their bodies. He took a whiff of the air to gauge where to go to next.

Tony had FRIDAY bring up the blueprints that S.H.I.E.L.D. had on the base. There was no way to know for sure that the layout was the same as it was back when the blueprints were developed, which had already been proven by the lack of a southern entrance, but the structural components should be the same. “Sounds like you are having all the fun. I’m looking at the blue prints now. If that was a support beam I just heard crash, then I have a good idea where you are at. There are only so many of those exposed for you to be able to pull down. You and Logan keep moving inward, Rhodes and I should be able to come up from behind and we can box them in.”

Following Logan further into the labyrinth, Scott confirmed the plan, “Sounds good, meet you there.”

~~~

Vision spoke up next regarding his current location and activities, “Sam, and I are scanning the perimeter for anyone trying to escape capture. So far, we have immobilized a few HYDRA personnel. They are mostly scientist and technicians trying to save their research. Storm is running down anyone who gets past us and turning them over to S.H.I.E.L.D.  Wanda is providing a holding center for the captured agents and keeping watch.”

“Romanoff and I just dropped Lila off with Pepper. Vision stay on perimeter watch, Sam, can you find us a clear entry point near the X-Men?” Steve asked as he and Natasha were running back from the plane to the southwest entrance to the compound.

“On it.” Sam responded as he turned direction in flight to accommodate Steve’s request.

“Clint? Kate?” Steve asked. “Report in.”  Steve had reservations of leaving them alone in the compound to continue the search. In his opinion, they were both too close to the situation to be trusted enough to follow the plan. Having already seen Clint kill four people who were standing between him and his daughter. Rodgers had concerns about the casualty list growing in the search for Nathaniel. He didn’t know Kate at all beside the basic bio stuff. She was pulling her weight on the mission and had already proven to be an excellent marksman. The apprehension was that Steve didn’t know if she would be a calming effect on Clint and cause him to think before he acted, or someone who would escalate his drive for revenge and taking out anyone in his way. The way things could go down were on the two opposite ends of the spectrum, and that uncertainty of what actions two members of his team could go with weighed heavily on him.

Clint informed as he took his place against the wall again preparing to infiltrate the second door in the hallway, “Looks like Kate and I are in the residential area of the base. So far, it is just her and I up here. Security hasn’t shown up yet if they will at all. We are just going to clear the rooms, seeing if by chance the room Lila was talking about that Laura was taking Nate for a nap in is one of these.  There’s about a dozen rooms we have to check out on this floor and another twelve on the fourth.”

Rogers stopped running in case he needed to change directions, Natasha followed suit. “Can you two handle it or do we need to come to you?”

Kate permitted the scoffing of aide in clearing empty rooms to carry in her voice over comms, “We are already approximately nine percent done, easy breezy.”

“Math nerd.” Clint kidded towards his wife that got him a smile for his efforts at comic relief in this stressful time. Then he returned to the question that was asked by Steve, knowing that while the others on comm may understand Kate’s interpretation of ‘we are good, don’t need help’, Steve may not completely understand it and is staying quiet hoping someone will fill in the blanks.  “Currently we have it I think. That may change once we find Nate, depending on who we find him with.”

“Check,” Steve replied, still trying to comprehend what Kate was talking about with percentages and the wind. “We are going to continue towards the X-Men’s entrance and assist there. Let us know if you two run into some trouble or need assistance with egress. You need to call in if you have both Nathaniel and Laura with you. That will be a fire fight trying to get out.”

“I think it is going to be a fire fight trying to get in personally.” Kate commented in a low voice, forgetting that whispering and talking under your breath doesn’t work with a communication unit.

“I certainly hope it is not a fight, especially if Nate is present.” Natasha responded feeling as uneasy as Steve did about leaving the Bartons alone to search for the missing toddler. However, unlike Steve, Nat’s apprehension wasn’t due to the means she knew Clint would use in order to save his child, or the influence Kate’s involvement in the matter would be. Natasha was worried about the confrontation between Kate, Clint and Laura that was undoubtedly about to happen, especially if Nate was caught in the middle. Natasha had known Clint a long time but had no idea what he would do in that high-risk scenario.

~~~

Tony on the other hand had absolutely no reservations at all of Clint and Kate taking on the duty of finding the children. In his mind, they were the best people to oversee such a sensitive assignment. He understood more than anyone the need to be on the front line in the search for a missing child.  “Let me know if you need some back up, I think that I can get there faster than anyone else can.” Tony offered while he scanned the closed off room he and Rhodey were in for any hidden entrances. From within his helmet, Tony could see that FRIDAY was indicating something in the far-left corner of the room. The screen display changed to infrared, accentuating an area with readings being shown for air current, temperature, and heat markers. A quick reading of the data directed to him a simple conclusion, there were people behind the wall.

Once FRIDAY collected all the necessary data and ran it through filters to narrow down the questioned part of the wall, the highlighted area altered into a more specific outline that was shaped like a door frame. Silently gaining Rhodey’s attention, Tony pointed to the zone of the wall in question. Rhodes, having similar equipment, just not as complex as Tony’s, was able to get a similar reading off his program that there were heat signatures behind the stone. Both men started to feel the wall, searching for some type of handle, knob, or trigger that would allow them access to the hidden room.

Knowing that it was not going to be as simple as turning a knob or handle, but at least they tried, the men started to push at the random stone blocks that made up the cold thick wall. Rhodey jumped back at least three feet when the section of wall he was feeling around let off a red glow and released a shock. The jolt would have surely killed him if he wasn’t in the War Machine armor, which insulated him. “Damn!” He called out in both surprise and pain.

Watching Rhodey shoot back was as much as a scare to Tony as it was to Rhodes. He had turned off the security system, the only electricity that was running on the base was for lighting and central air. The mainframes should have been shut down when they entered the building. That could only mean that there was yet another operating system that was completely off the grid, and it was obviously still up and working at full capacity. Tony went to his best friend’s side and had FRIDAY run Rhodes’ vitals in case of injury. A flashing ‘NO INJURIES DETECTED’ displayed on Tony’s screen, as he watched the man compose himself and indicated that he was fine by pushing Tony off him. Satisfied that Rhodey was all right, Tony turned back to the wall and examined the four by four tile that had illuminated red prior to the energy release. “Hate to tell you this Rhodey, but I think you tripped their alarm.”

Shaking off the small amount of pain that went along with the HYDRA failed attempt of an electrocution, Rhodey observed, “Yeah, I got that by the red warning light and tasering, thought you said that you shut down the system?” Tony shrugged at the comment, taking a deep breath Rhodey asked more motivated than ever to catch these people “So, what’s the plan?”

Grabbing Rhodey by the metal encased arm, Tony positioned him next to himself in front of the invisible entrance. “At this point, I say let’s go in hot. They know we are here, and now they know we are outside the door.”

The sound of both the War Machine and Ironman armor charging up the hand repulsors resonated in the empty room. Tony counted down from three and blasted the concealed door open. Filling both the room they were in and the recently discovered one up with dust and debris. Entering they were met with gun fire. Bullets bounced off the armor of both suits and the men continued their journey into the room. Before being able to switch over to thermal imaging, the sound of something heavy sliding was heard by Tony. He assumed it was a second door that the room’s occupants had used to escape, not knowing that the X-Men would be on the other side waiting to welcome them. Once the air cleared from the explosion, Tony was able to see who was shooting at them. There were about seven agents with guns drawn in their directions. Rhodey returned fire into the agents, rendering them immobilized with a variety of injuries to both their bodies and weapons. Tony, seeing that Rhodes had the agents under control, walked further into the room.

First sight led him to believe that they were in the command center of the terrorist base. Monitors and control panels occupied the room. Other than the unconscious guards that Rhodey had taken out, the room was empty. Opposite the wall from where he and Rhodes entered, there was just as Tony suspected, another doorway that was left open in the user’s hast to evacuate. “Hey Scott, we just stumbled into the control center. The heavy hitters I was looking for earlier are coming right at you. Vision and Sam, I need you ready and watching in case there is a secret exit to outside the building. If there is such an exit, it would be around the south side of the complex.”

Sam responded back as he set off from the southside of the base, “Moving into position now, will keep you apprised of the situation.”

“Finally, a good fight. I have a lot of frustration to work through, and a fight is just what the doctor ordered,” Logan commented as he clutched his fists, so his claws could extend in anticipation of the crowd coming at him.

Turning to look at the Wolverine who was standing next to him as they were waiting for the party to start, Scott asked, “What have we been doing this whole time, ballet?”

“Just a kindly reminder, we do need as many of them alive as possible.” Nick advise but knew was useless.

Releasing a smile that would send a shiver down the spine of the devil himself Logan responded smugly as he readied himself for the fight, “We’ll see.”

~~~

The routine was getting old fast. Every time was the same, Kate would take point with the bow and Clint would open the door and follow her in. Then they would switch positions, so Clint could check out the back rooms. So far, each of the eight rooms they had checked were empty of anyone. There were little personal touches here and there to drive home the point that it was a retirement community where people lived.

When photos or small items were present, it took longer to clear the room. Kate had to stand guard while Clint checked out each picture to see if it was of his family in case it was Laura’s quarters after all. The one thing they had yet to come across were any children’s items. So far it appeared that Laura and her children were the only young family residing on the property. There was the matter of the four other children found in the nursery where Lila was, but either they hadn’t come across those families’ residence yet, or they lived off base. The lack of anyone on the floor was concerning to Kate, but Clint assumed it was due to most of the occupants being older and downstairs when Stark apprehended the Bingo hall.

Now at the ninth door Kate wearily gestured for him to allow her access to the living quarters. Her arms were getting fatigued with the repetitive drawing of the bow. While over the past decade she had made archery a priority if for nothing else as a stress reliver and daily exercise, it was nothing compared to bow use during a mission. Kate also knew Clint and knew that he was itching to draw his own again. The man was beyond frustrated at the situation, and she remembered that he could be calmed easily by just slipping a bow into his hand. It was the equivalent of a comfort blanket for him. When he had it, he knew he had control, he knew he wouldn’t miss and knew it was safe. She decided that after this room, despite the fact she hadn’t shot a gun since the wipe, she and Clint would change positions to the benefit of everyone.

As they went through the motions yet again for the ninth time, Kate saw Clint’s demeaner change drastically once he followed her into the living quarters. This room was different. There were suitcases and backpacks on the couch, as if whoever resided here had just arrived and hadn’t had the opportunity to unpack yet. Like someone traveling with two small children after a very long commercial flight from New York to Australia for example. Laura wasn’t important enough to HYDRA to send a private plane for, not when the agency was busy trying to get the, as Tony phrased it, ‘heavy hitters’ safely here to protect their assets and secrets. A flight wouldn’t be a problem for Laura, no one would question her boarding a commercial international flight with two children she had the proper identification for.

Clint holstered his gun and readied his bow. He was aware just as Kate was, someone was home. And that someone was probably Laura and Nate. “You stay out here.” Clint whispered. “Block the door in case she gets by me.”

Kate didn’t like the idea of him going in alone but understood this was something he had to do. The risks to the toddler were too great if Kate went in there with him. Laura may act out against the woman whose life she had stolen. Kate backed herself against the wall in the kitchen that opened into the hallway. If Laura was able to somehow get pass Clint, she would not see Kate until it was too late. 

Trusting Kate to continue covering him if the need arose, Clint walked down the hallway to the bedroom. Soundlessly entering the room, Clint saw her. Laura’s back was to him as she was leaning over the bed putting socks on a sleeping Nate. The breath of relief from seeing his son was louder then he intended for it to be, because he saw a little jerk in Laura’s shoulders in response to the sound.

“I was wondering when you would show up. I must admit it was faster than I thought. Tony use the cradle again on you?” She asked without turning around, still messing with Nate’s uncovered right foot.

Setting his bow down onto the dresser that was nearby, Clint made a show of disarming, “Yeah, lucky for me that Dr. Cho was in town.” He answered as he scanned the room for any possible dangers.

“There’s nothing in here to help or hurt you, so save your energy.” Laura explained once she turned around and saw what he was doing.

Cautiously with a slow pace, Clint inched himself nearer to the bed where his sleeping son was. If he could just grab Nate and get out, then this wouldn’t have to go down the way Kate had predicted. Once he was far enough away and sure his son was safe he would call into Fury to send someone to take Laura in.

Laura saw what Clint was trying to do and rooted herself to the ground. He would have to go through her to get Nathanial.  “I take it that by you being up here, you have already gotten Lila?”

Clint confirmed her assumption with a bob of his head, “You shouldn’t have done this Laura. You know what, hold up. Before we go any further, is that even your real name? Just want to know if that was the one truth you told me or just another lie I brought.”

“Does it matter now?” She asked curious what having such knowledge accomplished at this point, after everything that had happened. “But, yes, that is my real name.”

Clint caught sight of one of Lila’s shoes sticking half way out underneath the dresser he had put his bow on. Thinking back, he struggled to remember if Lila had shoes on when she went off with Steve and Nat. Bending down to retrieve it he continued with his questions, “So, what did they give you? A pin, big promotion, cash bonus? What is the prize for a decade long, mildly successful con?”

“Well, I don’t have to worry about money, but it wasn’t what I wanted in the end.” Laura confessed sitting down at the end of the bed, still acting as a physical barrier between Nate and Clint. “It may have started out like that, wealth and being a high-ranking agent, but,” she rubbed the back of her hand against Nate’s cheek, “but that’s not how it ended.”

Twisting the shoe lace around his finger, unwrapping it, then repeating the motion, Clint agreed, “No, that’s not how it ended.”

“How does this end Clint?” She asked looking up at him with her big brown eyes, the same as Nate’s.

Clint paused to remind himself that Laura was the enemy. His brain fully comprehended this concept, but his heart and soul blatantly refused to cooperate with the idea. Seeing her sitting there, caring for Nate, all he could do was remember her as his wife and mother of his children. Clint was by no means a religious man, it kind of went against everything he did for a living, but he found himself at that moment praying for a way out of the hell he was in. “That depends on you Laura. The best option for Nate would be for you to just hand him to me now and let me walk out that door. We will be ‘wheels up’ and in the air before he even wakes up.”

“Who is ‘we’?” She questioned. There was no way in hell that Clint was going to get his so called ‘best option’, but out of both necessity of understanding completely the danger she was in, and curious to know who made the cut for the ‘team’, she needed to know.

Still moving closer, Clint informed her just who and what she was up against. “The Avengers, X-Men, and of course, S.H.I.E.L.D. You and your people made a lot of people upset.” He had slowly made his way to right in front of her. Looking down at her, he locked eyes. His mind without his consent started to play every moment of the last ten years of when they had held each other’s gaze. Mission aside, he needed closure on the decade of lies, “Why did you do it? Was it all a mission?”

Laura knew how to play on Clint’s emotions, she had been doing it long enough.  She also knew how to get him to take the bait, “No, it wasn’t all a mission. I could have ended the mission years ago, but I didn’t.”

“What are you talking about? Ended the mission, how?” Clint demanded.

Giving Clint the needed information about choices that were made for him and his children without his input, Laura filled him in, “After the Battle of New York. I was told the mission was over. After what happened with Loki, you would never be the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was needed elsewhere.”

Clint hated the he was unable to keep the hurt out of his voice, “Then why didn’t you go then?”

Laura had always gotten what she wanted and was sure this time was not going to be any different. She had him curious, now she needed him wanting, “Because I didn’t want to. I convinced them to keep me in play. I sold them on me remaining undercover to get information on both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers.” Standing up she was almost right up against Clint, “It started as a mission, then became something…more.” Laura casted her eyes downward and then brought them back up to meet Clint’s, “Can’t you forgive me and let us move on with our family?”

Looking away briefly, Clint looked down at his son then returned to his mother’s stare. “I could forgive the mother of my children. I could do that for my children, because they need me to. However, the HYDRA agent who masqueraded as my wife for ten years, the person who fed me stories of how we met, how we fell in love? The person who betrayed me with secrets I told her in bed, and reported back every time I invited someone over for dinner, that person? I could never forgive her.”

Laura attempted to sound logical, but it only came out as a plead when she spoke, “They are the same person Clint. You can’t forgive one and not the other.”

Clint embraced the feeling that filled him, it was what he needed, closure. With a calm clarity that surprised him, he explained, “Not to me. They can’t be. Not in order for me to keep going.”

“So, the past ten years, you are just going to walk away from that, from us?” Laura asked, shocked by the dismissal effort by her husband.

Whatever calming method he had been using seconds ago was gone with Laura’s try at a guilt trip against him, “There is no ‘us’! That was a lie you told to maintain a cover, just like our son,” Clint pointed to the still sleeping Nate, “was a cover after you tried to get Nick killed.”

“Don’t you dare speak like that about my son. He was more, so much more, than a cover deepening device. He was the product of us Clint.” Laura challenged, matching Clint’s heighten volume which caused them both to freeze when Nate started to stir but never fully woke up. 

Confident that the toddler wasn’t going to wake up, probably due to jet lag, Clint discounted Laura’s last remark, “I get biology Laura, thanks. However, I’m done buying your stories. You were never out for our family, you proved that the night you killed my security detail and poisoned the children. Then when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worst then that, you again poisoned the kids with knock out gas and took two of them!”

Accepting that Clint had a few sound points regarding their conflicts, she acknowledged, “We have issues to work through, I’m not denying that. But its ten years we are talking about here Clint, ten years, and you want to walk away from that.”

Bringing his hand to his face, Clint placed his forefinger on one side of the top of his nose, and his thumb on the other, massaging it. “It’s not just ten years Laura, you gave me an alternate reality that had nothing real in it. A world you fabricated on the orders of a terrorist organization to damage the first line of defense for the world’s safety and security. You did it to take down S.H.I.E.L.D. from the inside.”

“It was all real Clint.” Self-correcting, she added, “Maybe not in the beginning, but it became our reality. You, me, Cooper, Lila, and Nate. We are real.” She reached out and took his hand and held it. “We can still be real.”

Dislodging his hand out of Laura’s grasp, he took a moment then called her out on their ‘family’, “You stole a child from another woman, two if you count whoever is really Lila’s mother.”

“I am Lila’s real mother.” She defended, “She may not be ours biologically, but I am the only mother she has ever known. Her and Cooper both.”

“If you have such motherly love for Cooper, why didn’t you take him when you attacked the Avenger’s compound and grabbed Nate and Lila? Why was he left behind?” Clint knew the answer, but wanted to hear her say it, wanted to hear her acknowledge that she made more than one deal with the devil.

Shaking her head at her maternal failure, one of many in the past week she disclosed, “It killed me Clint, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t just me invested in the kids. It was only going to be for a little bit, then I would have him back.”

“Derek Bishop.” Clint stated in a cold voice as all the pieces of the puzzle came together. “You knew he was sending Ross to kill Kate and me. You knew the children would be at the compound with minimum security. A dual strike that would get him custody of Cooper. Derek had no intention of actually taking in Cooper, did he? Once he had conservatorship of the trust funds, he would give him over to you to take care of.”

“But you didn’t die Clint.” Laura tried to reassure him by stating the obvious. “I made mistakes, but I did it for our family. My cover was blown, I had to get out of there. I knew you would take care of the kids and bring them to New York, I just needed to lay low for a few days and come up with the best plan for us all to be together again. A plan for us to start a new life. I hated what I had to do at home that night to the children, but it was only a little something to get them to sleep so you would be distracted while I got away.”

“You almost killed Lila!” Clint said in a hushed yell with rage filling his eyes.

Any color in Laura’s complexion drained with that revelation, “What?”

Checking himself that he was in control of his emotions before he started yelling, he explained what happened, “You gave her too much of the medication Laura. She was in the hospital while the doctors checked her for organ damage.”

With scared eyes she accused, “No, you’re lying.”

In a condescending manner he reminded her, “I’m not the liar in this ‘marriage’. And you know me, you pride yourself on that, you know I would never lie about something like this.”

“Where is she now?” The tone Laura was using alerted Clint that they were approaching a dangerous area.

“Far away from you. And it will remain that way.” Clint told her bluntly, there was no point anymore in dancing around the topic of Laura’s future in the children’s lives.

“Clint don’t do this.” Laura begged, “I am their mother. I am your wife. We can get past this. I knew you were going to come here. I didn’t even unpack.” She pointed towards the hallway that led to the living room where the luggage was. “We just needed to meet up and regroup. We will find somewhere to go, somewhere we can lay down a foundation and start anew. We can make a home together again.”

 “If the foundation is damaged, the house is condemned.” He said looking to Nate once again, not able to look her in the eyes and tell her that any hopes she had of walking away from this with any resemblances to what they had were impossible.

“Ten years Clint.” She repeated acting as if this time he would give in, “That is what you are ending. For what? To go back to a woman, you were with for what, four years before the wipe separated you two?” Laura had read both Clint and Kate’s personnel S.H.I.E.L.D. files prior to the wipe that eliminated Kate’s and altered Clint’s. She needed to know every letter typed in those files to pull off the mission that she did. Now those little details were coming back to aide her.

“Closer to five.” Clint corrected without thought.

Taken aback by the correction, Laura thought about what he said and voiced her conclusion. “So, he did it. Tony found a way to reverse the wipe?”

Putting his hands on his hips, Clint found a spot on the drapes covering the far window and spoke to it. “Yes, he did.”

“So, what happens now? You and Kate go off into the sunset with my children and play happy family?” She asked derisively.

“You did it to her first Laura, don’t act like the victim.” Clint knew it was a low blow. There were no winners in this mess. He lost when his wife and child along with any memories associated with them were seized. Kate lost when she walked into the Sandbox thinking she was just going to hack a system and get out, starting her maternity leave after the debriefing. Laura lost when she took an assignment and became emotionally attached to the mission. He couldn’t help but feel like the bad guy. Here he was ripping children away from their mother, the very reason this all started. He didn’t want to feel sorry for Laura but wasn’t able to push away the feeling. She was right, they had ten years together. Ten years that even though the truth has come out, was still his life.

She saw it. There was a brief look in Clint’s eyes that told Laura from years of experience she had broken through to him. He was having second thoughts about what his objectives were in this room. There was still a way out of this, and a way to get what she wanted, “Is she here?”

“Who?” Clint didn’t know if she was speaking about Kate or Lila.

Picking up Nate, Laura rested him against her chest and walked to the corner by the nightstand. “Kate, who else? Did she come with you?”

Watching Laura move with Nate caused Clint to tense up, but upon a quick inspection he saw there was nowhere for her to go. He was blocking any way to the door, and the only other option was the window. Not seeing a reason to lie, he told her where Kate was, “She is in the living room.” Laura bent down, “What are you doing.”

“Calm down, just getting the diaper bag.” She commented with a flash of a smile. Seeing Nate lift his head, the movement waking him, Laura told her son, “Nate, see who’s here? It’s daddy.”

Still waking up, Clint could see that Nate was confused by the new environment but relaxed when he saw his father. With excitement of his discovery, he held out his arms, “Daddy, want up.”

Clint moved closer, “Hey buddy. You want daddy? Come on, I’ll pick you up.”

Laura’s hold on the child tightened, “No Nate, you’re not going to daddy right now. You need to be changed,” She said as a deception to keep a hold of the boy. Over Nate’s loud protests, Laura demanded, “Bring her in here.”

“Not going to happen.” Clint said as he saw the wheels in Laura’s head turn. Whatever she was planning as a way to get out with his son wasn’t going to work, it was time to end it. “Laura, it’s over. We’ve got you. Just hand me Nate now and let S.H.I.E.L.D. take you in.”

“The only person I will hand my son over to is her. Like you said, ‘I did it to her first’.” Slinging the diaper bag over her shoulder, she called out, “Kate, come in here please.”

“Don’t do it.” Clint ordered into the device located in his ear.

“What are the chances of her actually handing him over to me?” Kate questioned.

“A snowball’s chance in hell.” Clint answered watching Laura’s every move.

Steve piped in next, everyone had heard the conversation between Clint and Laura, but stayed silent to let the man work through it without a hundred different voices in his ear telling him what to do. Steve and Natasha had yet to reach Logan and Scott, so if it was needed, they could still make it back to the north side to offer aide.  “Is she armed?”

Not caring that Laura was listening to every word he said he continued with the electronic conversation, “I can’t confirm either way, but it’s highly likely.”

“Kate, come on. This whole hiding in the other room thing isn’t really S.H.I.E.L.D. caliber stuff.” Laura shouted past Clint.

The words that Clint had been dreading to hear from his wife since he entered the bedroom were finally heard, “Going in.”

Clint felt Kate’s presence before he heard her. She reached up and tapped his shoulder, a common technique used by agents to inform another that they had a ‘friendly’ coming from behind them. Shifting himself so that he and Kate were shoulder to shoulder, enlarging the barrier between Laura and the door, and at the same time creating the appearance of a united front against her. Kate had her bow in her right hand and an arrow in the left, looking to be ready to nock up at a moment’s notice.

Laura exuded a warm and familiar vibe, as if she was welcoming an old friend into her kitchen back at the farm. “Kate, it’s a pleasure to finally meet the second Mrs. Barton after all these years. Heard a lot about you, not from Clint of course, but your father always spoke of you.”

There were many nasty and sarcastic comments running through Kate’s mind to come back at that remark with, but she settled on one that would get to the heart of the matter. Matching Laura’s warm intonation, Kate pleasantly mocked, “Oh honey, I’m not the second Mrs. Barton.” Then swiftly changed into an icy tone as she moved closer to the pretender, “Bitch, I’m the original.”

“That’s my girl! Kick her ass!” Tony proudly proclaimed.

Seeing Clint’s youngest child for the first time, Kate asked Laura, “What is he, around three years old? It’s sad when a group of people decide that a three-year-old boy must be torn away from his mother and placed elsewhere.”

With a quick glance to her son, Laura shot back, dropping the mid-western farm wife persona, “That, and I don’t like people taking my stuff.”

“That we can agree on.” Kate remarked knowing that Laura understood her meaning. “So, here is what is going to happen, you are going to hand the child over to his father, and then we can get on with this.”

Laura reached into the diaper bag without looking and produced a gun. Neither Clint or Kate were surprised by its appearance, just waiting for it to happen. Clint refused to draw any of the numerous weapons that were on his body in front of Nate. Kate didn’t have such restraint and grabbed an arrow and aimed her bow back at Laura just in time for Laura to say, “You can have my son over my cold dead body.”

Realizing that a fight was going to happen and in the presence of Nathanial, who was already fussing from being forbade from going to his dad, Clint laid out the truth of the situation, “Laura don’t be stupid. There is no way in hell that I or anyone else is just going to walk away from here without Nate.”

Both trained agents saw it about to happen and were able to move out of the way by the time Laura pull the trigger. The bullet hit the wall a few inches away from Kate’s chest. If she hadn’t moved, it would have been a ‘kill shot’.  Even given what had just happened, Clint still refused to pull out any weapon against Laura in Nate’s company.

“Damn it Clinton!” Kate shouted while glaring down Laura, challenging her to try it again, “Ever since I started to let you hang around me again, people are shooting at me!”

“Barton, who’s shooting?” Tony rushed and concerned voice interrupted.

“Just Laura. She is in the bedroom in the fifth room on the left in the residential hallway if you are coming from the north. Second on the right if you’re coming from the south. She has Nathanial and is not afraid to shoot around him.” Kate reported in while Clint and Laura were having their standoff. Neither one had moved or had spoken a word since the gunshot. Just watching each other, daring their opponent to make the next move. It was doubtful that Laura heard Kate’s reporting over the loud screams of the child in her arms. Clint was so focused on Laura and Nate, Kate wondered if he even heard her.

Tony was still tracking the escapees from the command room, following corridor after corridor trying to find where they retreated to. “Sam, Vision, or Wanda can anyone get to them to help?” 

“On my way.” Wanda answered, and Kate breathed a sigh of relief. Help being on the way, she was able to give her full attention back to the life and death situation that she and Clint were currently in.

“Laura, the gunshot hurt his ears, let’s get him out of here before it goes off again.” Clint beseeched trying to appeal to Laura’s maternal side, the side he had previously disregarded.

Kate had enough. Clint wasn’t going to do anything, he was compromised. He was still of the belief that he would be able to talk Laura down and save Nate.  He clearly wasn’t able to understand that Laura was too far gone for anyone to reason with.  It was one thing for a person to be holding a child hostage, it was another thing entirely to be shooting around said child. The potential risk to the toddler were too high to allow him to remain with his mother. Kate was unsure what Laura would do once reality hit her, and she accepted that she wasn’t leaving this room of her own free will and with her children. She was trying to catch Clint’s eye to signal that she was going for the shot, but he refused to break off eye contact with the HYDRA agent. Laura also seemed to be in her own little world. Feeling the tension of the bow draw Kate inhaled and aimed. Neither Clint nor Laura looked in her direction as she homed in on the target. She sent off a silent prayer with the arrow, that Clint would forgive her for what was about to happen.

The entire thing happened in slow motion. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the wire on Kate’s bow tense, her back muscles tighten and lock. Then she slowed her breathing down and exhaled.  By the time his thought process caught up enough to let him know what was going down, it was too late. She relaxed her hand and Clint watched the arrow fly true to Laura’s chest. He jumped up and over the bed that was the shortest distance between him and his endangered son just in time to see the bedroom window shatter and a red light of energy engulf the room.

Wanda had appeared just in time, using her abilities to place a time suspension orb around Laura and Nathanial. She grabbed Nate from Laura’s clutches and hurried towards Clint. He waved her off and screamed, “Get him out of here now!” Wanda kept moving with the child past the two archers who had moved away from the doorway to allow her passage through. Once Wanda was out of the room, the orb fell, as did Laura’s body.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Martyr for the Cause

Nathanial’s terrified cries echoed through the apartment. Clint seemed to not have heard the wanting sounds projecting from his youngest child. He kneeled at Laura’s body and reached down to feel for any sign of life. Finding none, he pulled the arrow out of her chest, and threw it to the side. Clint let his head drop and shoulders slumped but refused to allow any tears to fall for the woman who was his wife for ten years and mother to his children. “I know that this was the only way, the only way Lila or Nate would ever be safe, the only way any of us would ever be safe again.” He looked up and over to Kate, “You tried to prepare me for this, I just didn’t listen.”

“You need to go out there and comfort your son.” Kate demanded harshly, to pull Clint out of whatever personal hell he was stuck in. “If the gunshot and broken window didn’t alert every HYDRA agent of our location, his screaming will.” She was trying to make him become Agent Barton, the agent and Avenger, not Clint, the husband and father, if only long enough for them to get the job done. Then once the mission was completed, she would help him get past this as well.

Clint looked towards the doorway where the pleading sounds for him from his son were coming from, finally having the sound register in his mind. This exact scenario was everything he had been trying to avoid since that night at the farm, and he failed. He had failed his family yet again, “I know. I just need a min...,”

Kate cut him off, not wanting to hear whatever his excuse was going to be for remaining by Laura’s body and not going to the child who had just lost his mother. She knew what the real problem was, Clint couldn’t go to Nathanial after what had just happened. He blamed himself for robbing a child of his mother. There was no need for him to carry this burden, and perhaps relieving him of it would expedite them leaving, “When he is old enough to ask, and he will ask Clint. You tell Nathaniel that I did it. Laura’s blood isn’t on your hands. It was me. I made the call.” Clint was motionless, so Kate appealed to the S.H.I.E.L.D. training and commands engraved into Clint’s head. “Come on Hawkeye, mission isn’t done yet.” Not being able to emotionally handle her husband’s response or watch him grieving over the body of his dead HYDRA wife, she left the room.

Entering the living area of the quarters that Laura had been using, Kate saw Wanda sitting on the sofa with a red-faced Nate against her chest. Wanda was whispering comforting coos into his ear and rocking him back and forth as the clearly very strong toddler tried to push himself away from her. Seeing Kate, Wanda got up, “I think it would be better if you took him, he’s scared. The Professor doesn’t want me to do any mind altering here, so I don’t know what to do to comfort him.” It was the first time Kate had gotten a good up-close look at the child. There was a striking resemblance between the boy and his father. The feature that stood out to Kate were the child’s deep brown eyes that were Laura’s. Would she ever be able to look into Nate’s eyes and not see his mother? Kate assessed that Wanda appeared more frighten to be holding the child then the child was. She pushed away all the negative thoughts out of her mind and held out her arms to take him from the Scarlett Witch. Once Wanda had successfully passed off Nate to his step-mother, “I need to get back to Sam and Vision. The team is pushing HYDRA out of the compound and we have to be ready to capture them.”

With a half smirk at the young lady, Kate said, “Well, you go and have fun with that. Thanks for the backup.”

Kate watched as Wanda left. It would have been much easier for her to take the window again, but she was trying to give Clint some privacy. Nathanial had started to calm down a bit, not so much from Kate’s comforting him, but from exhaustion of the events and being passed off to so many people. She heard a deep yawn and felt the weight of a tiny head being placed against her shoulder. It was a feeling that she remembered well from her own two, and briefly smiled at the memories it brought back. Instantly, all of Kate’s maternal instincts took over and the child’s wellbeing was at the forefront of her mind. She started to sway right to left slowly to get the child to relax or even better, sleep.

A few moments later she felt a soft touch on her other shoulder and turned to see Clint standing there. He pressed a kiss into her temple and gently took Nate from her. “Thank you.” He said to her as he examined his son for any injury. Neither one of them was sure what exactly he was thanking her for, being the one to kill Laura or taking care of Nate. He then reached up to his ear to switch off the comm unit and gestured for Kate to do the same. When he saw her turn off her unit, he confessed what he could only at best call ‘bad taste’ to say with his son right there and Laura’s body a room away, “This is probably not the best time to talk about this, but I need to know what happens next, where to go from here. I have been living minute to minute it seems for the past week, just taking it as it came, and I can’t do it anymore. I want to make this work Katie-Kate, I really do. I have to know what you are thinking.”

This really wasn’t the best time or place to be having this discussion, Clint was absolutely correct about that. Anyone could walk in at any moment and fire upon them, but Clint needed to have it now it seemed. Kate understood that in a strange way, before all of his family was reunited on the jet, he needed to know what would become of that family. The children would have questions as soon as Clint boarded that jet, and he needed to be able to answer them. Kate got the whole ‘minute-to-minute’ feeling Clint was referring to. She had been doing the same thing, waking up from being shot, running to the courthouse, strategizing, having it out with Tony, now the mission.  Everything was coming at them too fast to even think about what would happen once the world slowed down. If and when this mission was a success, it would be happening very soon. Again, timing wasn’t great, but they needed a plan before four sets of eyes were upon them looking for direction and stability after all that had transpired. Just like in the courtroom, when pressed into a corner, Kate went with the truth, “We’re different people then we were ten years ago Clint.” Kate explained but expanded when she saw the hurt in his eyes, “I’m not saying ‘no’ to us, I’m saying ‘no’ to the us that we were ten years ago. I don’t want to go back to S.H.I.E.L.D.”

The hurt was still there, and appeared in his voice, “You want to stay with the X-Men, remain at the school.”

“I want to stay teaching at the school, I love my job. Four kids Clint, four kids.” Emphasizing the number the second time she said it. “Both of us can’t be in this game with four kids at home. At least at the Xavier School, I’m still fighting the good fight. I’m assisting in supporting and molding children like Charlie and Wanda who have the potential to either harm or help the world due to their abilities, into good people.”

“I believe I made a similar argument ten years ago when it was just one kid and another on the way.” Clint pointed out. “Not about teaching mutants of course, but the idea of one of us stepping down at S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Letting a laugh escape her mouth, Kate sounded offended, “Oh my God. Are you using this conversation to say, ‘I told you so’? Is that really the last thing you want to say to me before HYDRA agents come in here, because that is what is going to happen if we stay here any longer.”

“I know. I just need to get my head together before we finish this mission, and I would never say that to you.” Clint paused, then added because it was doubtful he would ever get another opportunity like this, “I would however say that one of us said that the Sandbox mission would only end in disaster and the other said that they could handle it. That’s all.”

 “I think I handled it just fine. Charlie and I are alright, and we have our memories back.”

With wide eyes at the madness of his wife’s argument Clint lengthened on her point, “Yeah, just fine if you call ‘fine’ one of you having gamma radiation poisoning and requiring medical intervention to remain alive. And the other having the ability to destroy the world if she wanted to.”

 “When you put it like that, there may have been something to your prediction back then.” Kate confessed.

Raising an eyebrow and producing a cocky smile Clint asked, “Are you saying I was right?”

“I physically cannot form those words when they are directed at you, so I would highly suggest you take it as it is. So, because we were out of time an hour ago, I will just make you a deal. We all get out of this alive and the threat against Charlie and the school is taken care of,” taking a deep breath Kate gave Clint the reason he needed to keep fighting, as if the four children’s safety wasn’t enough, “Then you can go ahead and buy that five-bedroom house you want.”

A wide smile spread on Clint’s face and he leaned forward to kiss Kate, this time on the lips, “Deal, let’s get out of here.”

Relieved that they would finally be leaving and getting Nate out of the HYDRA base, Kate led the way to the entrance to back into the hallway.  She got in front of Clint, so she could shield him while they got Nate back to the jet. Pulling an arrow out, Kate hit her comm unit back online, “Sending Clint and Nate to the jet now. The threat against Lila and Nate has been neutralized. I will provide escort.” She knew her meaning would be understood without plainly stating it. Checking the hallway to make sure that it was still empty, Kate gestured to Clint to start moving. She caught herself staring a moment too long at the back of Nate’s head.  Kate would spend the rest of her life lying to herself that she killed Laura in order to protect Nate, and not out of hatred and thirst for revenge against the woman who had taken so much from them.

~~~

“About damn time you decided to rejoin the conversation.” Tony responded upon hearing his daughter finally reporting in.  “I swear Katherine Antonia Stark; don’t you ever switch off your comms again during a mission.”

After a pause Kate came back, “That’s not my name.”

“That’s what happens when you go off comms. I don’t make threats, I said if you didn’t come back on by the time I counted to five I would have FRIDAY legally change your name. Bright side, you came back on before I counted again and changed Barton’s.” Tony and Rhodes were closing in on the hot cell of HYDRA higher ups. The heat signature suggested that they were about to encounter a group of agents.  It was a tossup if the cluster was active agents, looking to kill them on sight, or the leaders and top-level operators of the organization. If it wasn’t the ringleader, then the agents would be covering the backs of the personnel who needed protection against anyone who may be coming up from behind, exactly what Tony was doing.   Either way they were closing in on the endgame

Then the tone of Tony’s voice changed as did his focus, wanting to give Kate one last set of instructions before engaging in the coming fight. “Get to the jet and then help the team outside. I think we have everyone here, but just in case help the team get anyone trying to escape.”

Surprisingly, Tony and Rhodes were late to the fight.  Logan and Scott had made first contact with Natasha and Steve trailing closely behind. The only barrier that separated the iron clad Avengers from the battle was one open doorway. Tony could look right through it to see that the two X-Men, Natasha and Steve were already engaged by the team that was trying to get the HYDRA bosses out safely. Tony allowed a brief second to bask in the glow of how well it had all worked out. The plan had gone perfectly, HYDRA walked right into their trap. There was a group on one side and Tony and Rhodes coming from the other. There would be nowhere for the enemy to run once they were boxed in. On each side of the doorway, hiding from the fight’s participants were a few gentlemen cowering. Biding their time, waiting for the HYDRA agents to clear a pathway to freedom. Judging by the fear on their faces, it was evident that the hidden men were taken by surprise by Rhodes and Tony’s arrival.

Tony immediately recognized two of them, “Look who’s here!” Tony announced happily when he saw none other than former Secretary Ross and Derek Bishop among the men waiting to see if the agents would be able to overcome the team mixed of X-Men and Avengers. “Spoiler alert, you lose.” He said as he and Rhodey both faced their hand repulsers towards the men to clarify the message, ‘don’t move, it’s over’.

“How are you doing Cap?” Rhodey asked watching behind him and Tony in case they missed someone.

Throwing his shield against a helmet of one of the HYDRA attackers, the impact was enough to push the man into two other agents. All three fell onto the floor and much to the relief of the first Avenger, stayed down. Steve replied, “Just dandy. Who did you guys find over there?”

Tony answered Steve’s question by calling up to Director Fury. “Nick can we get some of your people in here to take our friends into custody? You probably have files on all of them but the only two I recognize are Ross and Bishop.”

Natasha had one agent on the ground in a hold, pressing a widow bite to his neck, “I’ll go lead them in.” Throwing the motionless HYDRA thug to the side. She got up and ran back the way she and Steve had come in.

“You got the Secretary?” Logan growled as he slashed away the last of the engaged HYDRA agents, clearing the room for S.H.I.E.L.D. to come in. “He’s mine.”

Scott got a hold on Logan, grabbing him by the forearm and pulling him to be face-to-face. “Calm down, we all want a piece of him after what he did at the school, but this isn’t the way.”

“Like hell it isn’t.” Logan yelled into Scott’s face, “He shot Kate and is trying to coax the government to force us into the Accords!” Logan contradicted as he sought to pull his arm away.

Scott refused to allow Logan out of the grip he had on him, knowing that he would only be able to keep it for a moment longer, if he was lucky. Deciding to use his time wisely, he pointed out, “And if he is killed by a mutant or an Avenger, he becomes a martyr for the Accords. Someone else will take up the cause.” Concluding, he released the arm of the Wolverine.

Logan wasn’t listening, just trying to make his way to the doorway that Tony was standing in. He had been keeping watch of the soon to be arrested HYDRA command team with Rhodes on the other side and wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to do when Logan demanded entrance. Luckily, he didn’t have to find out, Steve put himself between Tony and Logan, “Scott is right, Secretary Ross needs to answer for the things he did, to people more powerful than us. The world needs to see the evidence and form their own opinions on the Accords and the people behind it.”

“Could we throw the Wolverine a bone, maybe let him kill Derek? No one knows he was involved but us.” Tony said as the face shield to the suit opened and he pointed to the man huddled in the corner. At the suggestion of his demise at the hand of the Wolverine, Bishop seemed to become even more frightened, if that was possible, with eyes so wide that Tony was certain his eyeballs would roll out.  “And he did order at least two hits on Kate. I’ve missed a few of her birthdays and Christmases… like all of them, so this would be a great present to make up for it.”

Logan didn’t have a problem with the suggestion and started to approached Steve with the body language that screamed ‘move or I’ll move you’. Steve put both hands on Logan’s chest to halt him and called over his shoulder. “Tony why would you even start?”

“Because that’s what Starks do Captain Rogers.” Bishop commented finding strength in what could be his final moments on earth. “They start, but never finish.”

“Go to hell Derek.” Tony yelled back. The comment shouldn’t have affected him like it did, but there was truth to Bishop’s words. “You have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Don’t I? Who are you trying to fool Tony? Tell me, where were you when Kate was born? Her first words or steps? When she lost her mother and needed comforting?”

“Tony don’t participate in this. He is trying to get a rise out of you.” Natasha said returning to the room with S.H.I.E.L.D agents, having heard the start of the budding argument over the comm link.

Acting as if he didn’t hear her, and maybe he didn’t, Tony took the offered bait, “I am willing to bet a lot of money that you weren’t there either for any of those milestones. And as far as comforting her after Elly died, Kate told me you ignored her and set her off to a boarding school in Europe.”

Bishop dismissed the accusation, “She was ten, and under a lot of stress, poor girl doesn’t remember the events correctly.”

“Doesn’t remember you and your other daughter bragging that she was going away? Doesn’t remember being left alone in a big empty house after her mother died with only the household staff as company. Doesn’t remember my father promising…”

“Promising to take her away from me?” A smile appeared on Derek’s face. “You think that Howard never spoke to me about it before he discussed such a serious matter with a child? Do you honestly believe that your father never tried to pursue custody in a legal way in the States before my wife’s body was even cold? Attempted to bribe me with promises that I knew he had no intention of keeping? That his first move was to go to the Bahamas and get some thug criminals that were on his payroll to take Kate away in the dead of night?” Derek started to laugh at the fantasy world Tony had been living in, “Couldn’t have that, now could we?”

~~~

Kate, Clint and Nate were almost to the X-Men’s jet, which had turned off the cloaking feature upon notification of their pending arrival, when the confession came over the lines. She was trying her best to stay out of Tony and Derek’s conversation, but each syllable uttered by Derek made it harder. The admission that Derek knew what Howard and Maria Stark were planning stopped Kate in her tracks. Clint of course, also having heard the dialogue halted with her. They were overhearing a conversation that could alter her life even more so then the events of the past week, and Clint had no clue what to say to her. He was about to offer once they put Nate on the plane, they should go join Tony instead of the perimeter watch group, but Nate saw the jet and excitedly exclaimed, “I want big plane”. That was enough to pull both of them out of their own turmoil and continue towards the jet.

~~~

Shaking his head Derek clarified, “Don’t get me wrong, I loved Kate. She was my daughter, my little girl, but she was also my ticket to a higher status and better things in the corporate world. I just lost Eleanor, I couldn’t lose Kate also, and definitely couldn’t let her go to the Starks. I would be a laughing stock.”

“What did you do?!” Tony shouted as he moved towards Derek. Steve forgot all about Logan as he ran to hold back Tony from doing something that he would later regret, at least Steve hoped he would regret it if he killed Bishop. The entire movement between the two men reminded him of when Tony found out that the Winter Soldier had killed his parents.

“I actually didn’t do a lot.” Derek said tilting his head, “You know better than anyone that people talk in our line of work. I heard rumblings that Howard had duplicated his super serum. The guy was going to hand over what he had to the Pentagon, believing that private corporations shouldn’t have it.” Shaking his head at the madness of the notion, Derek stayed on his attack of the memory of Howard Stark, “Seriously what was he thinking? Driving around with that stuff in his trunk on back roads with his wife and without a security escort?”

Trading a calculating look with Tony, Steve resolved, “You killed them.”

Again, shaking his head Bishop informed, “No, I didn’t. Your friend Bucky killed them, let’s be clear on that fact.” Then included a small validation for the Winter Soldier, “But in his defense, he was brainwashed and didn’t know the full mission, only his part in it. I just made sure that the right people had the information.” Leaning back against the wall in reflection, “It worked out great for me, Kate was still mine and I was owed a big favor to be called in later.”

“Son of a bitch!” Tony yelled trying to break Roger’s hold on him, totally now understanding Clint’s actions of yesterday in the courtroom and mentally noting the need to apologize to the archer later.

“Get him out of here!” Steve ordered the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as they pulled Derek roughly off the ground and placed handcuffs on him. The agents, seeing the pissed off Ironman, made haste and left. Once Derek and the others were taken out, Steve felt the release of tension even through the suit and let go of Tony. Stark didn’t say or do anything, didn’t even look back to Steve, just started to make his way through the doorway and looked around. He was silent as he was taking in the sight of the final battle, lost in his own thoughts.

Concerned that Tony was going to do something once they left the terrorist base, Steve requested a perimeter report, “Sam, how do we look outside?”

“S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken everyone we caught into custody, we’re clear out here, ready for your order of egress.” Sam reported.

Nick, satisfied with a job well done informed the group, “We are going to do one more sweep through the compound. Your job is done here, get back on the jet and get the kids home.”

~~~

Clint had just entered the jet and was met by Charlie, Cooper and Lila. Pepper, Professor Xavier and Kate stayed back to allow the family reunion, devoid of interference from outsiders. This moment was for Clint and his children.  Cooper and Lila without hesitation went to see their little brother and hug their father. Charlie kept her distance from the gesture. The Professor and Kate shared a knowing look, Charlie didn’t know where she fit into the equation just yet and was being cautious.

Sensing that there was someone missing, Clint looked up to see Charlie studying him. Untangling the arms that made up the death grip of embraces on him, he went to Charlie. Bending a knee, he was able to look straight into her eyes, “Charlie, it’s over. HYDRA is gone. They won’t hurt you again.” He prayed to anyone who was listening that he was telling the truth.

Looking to her mother she wanted confirmation of her father’s statement, “Really?”

Moving to the family, Kate kneeled next to Clint, and took Charlie’s hands, “Really baby. It’s over. We’re going home now.”

“We’re going home?” Lila asked. “What about mom?”

Handing Nate to Kate, then helping her up, he addressed Lila, “Honey I told you. Your mom did something wrong, and she’s gone.” He couldn’t bring himself yet to tell the girl that her stepmother had killed her mother in a standoff over her little brother. Damn, Clint predicted that this girl was going to be in therapy at least three times a week well into her seventies.

Lila was confused, and with good reason, “Yeah, but then mom came and got us. She took us on vacation.”

Knowing it wasn’t her place, but wanting to help Clint out, Kate plainly stated, “She won’t be coming to get you this time.”

“So where are we going?” Cooper questioned, trying to change the subject and take the focus off Laura. He had a feeling that something bad had happened to the lady he called ‘mom’ up until days ago and didn’t want to upset his sister right now.

The Professor decided to answer the eldest Barton’s question without consulting his parents, “We are going to go back to the school and get Lila, Nate and your mother checked out by Dr. McCoy.”

Clint didn’t even think about Kate’s medical condition throughout the entire mission, focusing on her, he voiced his newest concern, “Kate are you alright?”

Sending both the Professor and her husband a comforting smile she said as she rolled her shoulder, “I’m fine. Sore as hell, but fine.” Clint caught something in her eyes but couldn’t put his finger on it. He was about to follow up and challenge her answer but was distracted when the X-Men boarded.

Storm asked as she walked up onto the jet with Logan and Scott following, “You guys flying back with us?”

Clint wasn’t sure if the Avengers were going back to the school or the compound. He also didn’t want to let any of his family out of sight, and the X-Men’s plane was a lot bigger then the quinjet. That made going back with the X-Men the most logical option, “If you don’t mind.”

“Sure, the more the merrier,” Logan said with a hint of sarcasm that Clint spotted.

~~~

“Clint and Kate are going back to the school with the X-Men.” Sam reported from the pilot seat of the quinjet. “Are we following them or going straight to the compound?”

Steve spoke up for the group, “I don’t see a reason why. S.H.I.E.L.D. has the HYDRA agents. I think it would be best to get to S.H.I.E.L.D. for the interrogations.”

“They will take the prisoners to get checked out by medical first, that’s standard mission protocol. Once they are all cleared for questioning by the medical team, they will sit and sweat in the interrogation room for a long time before Fury even asks them for their name.” Natasha explained. “And the Director still has to contact the Council and U.N. before he even thinks about talking to Ross. I say we go back to the compound, get cleaned up, and wait for news.”

“Tony?” Steve asked. Tony hadn’t said anything since his last remarks to Derek Bishop, and it was slightly concerning to him.

Shaking himself out of whatever frame of mind Derek’s confession put him in Tony decided to break from it, he wouldn’t give Bishop that much power over him or consideration ever again. Upon hearing his name, Tony was able to figure out what he was being asked. He had already planned out what he was going to do after the mission, and enlighten the group of his plans, “Pepper, Clint, Kate and the kids will be at the school. I want to make sure that they are all alright and bring them back to the compound. I already have one car up there, so I will grab a second one at the compound and drive up to the school. Between the two cars, we should be able to get everyone back in one trip.”

Grateful that Tony was talking at last, Steve agreed, “No, you’re right. Let’s go to the school and regroup with everyone. See if Nick reports anything in. Then decide what and if anything, needs to be done.” Facing toward the cockpit, Steve requested, “Sam, please let them know we are following them back to the school.”