Every time Steve thought the world couldn’t surprise him any more, it managed to pull a hat trick anyway. He thought, now that life had calmed down after Hydra and Ultron, now that Bucky was safe, now that the Avengers were back together, surely nothing could go so massively wrong that he couldn’t handle it. And then Nick Fury appeared at the compound’s front door with an angry teenager in a box and managed to ruin whatever illusions he had left.
He didn’t ask what Nick had been doing these last few years. He didn’t ask how he found the compound in the first place. He didn’t ask why he was here. A few years ago he might have asked those questions, but now none of the answers seemed important.
“Who is she?” He asked instead, nodding his head towards the girl sulking in their detention cell.
He wasn’t sure of her age, but she seemed small for it. Short and thin and wiry, she reminded him of a dancer, of Natasha. She looked delicate, but if she was anything at all like Natasha, nothing could be further from the truth. The Black Widow herself stood nearby, staring through the one-way mirror at the girl on the other side as if the weight of her gaze alone could break it.
“A rogue Hydra asset who could use some guidance,” Fury sighed, rubbing at the scars around his bad eye. It seemed to be bothering him more than it should. “Her story bears an uncanny resemblance to the three of you.”
Bucky stood up, frowning from the far wall. “The three of us. What does that mean?”
Fury grimaced. “She’s another attempted super soldier, except Hydra nearly succeeded this time ‘round. No brainwashing, no radiation, raised from birth in a lab for one singular purpose. And that’s without considering her genetics.”
The hairs on Steve’s neck stood up. Dread crept through his stomach. Please no more aliens.
“Congratulations, Rogers, Romanov. It’s a girl,” Fury said without an ounce of humor as he threw a file open onto the table in front of them.
Natasha caught Steve’s eye just before she began to read. “‘By taking advantage of Hydra’s extensive genetic databases and building on the advancements made by Operation Rebirth, the Black Widow and Winter Soldier programs, the subject represents a new age in the science of super soldiers.’” Natasha quickly stood up and frowned, looking up at the girl. “Is that possible?”
“A hell of a lot more than possible,” Nick grunted. “Just look at her.”
The girl had his hair, blonde and tightly braided, Natasha’s green eyes, and the Winter Soldier’s restless anger. Her face reminded Steve of his mother, all planes and angles and sharp lines. She paced and occasionally glared through the mirror as if she could see them. Her clothes were probably what teenagers would wear—Steve didn’t know—jeans, jacket, sweater, running shoes. Hydra had made her a weapon, the kind that blended in. He could walk past her at Peter Parker’s school and never notice her.
“What are we supposed to do with her?” Bucky asked. “It’s not programing we can just knock out of her.”
“She’ll adjust,” Natasha said, never taking her eyes off… her daughter. His daughter.
Bucky shook his head, smiling bitterly. “You know, I always figured it’d be Stark who ended up stuck with some kid.”
No one laughed, but Bucky didn’t really expect them to.
Steve knew he should feel surprised, but he only found guilt and anger, weighing down on him like heavy rain. His daughter hadn’t been allowed to grow up. She never had friends or birthdays, no family dinners or trips to the movies. Nothing but violence and terror.
“I’ll go talk to her,” Natasha said, moving towards the door.
“Nat, are you—”
“Yes,” she cut Steve off. “She deserves to know what’s going on.”
Bucky shook his head again as Natasha disappeared, grumbling, “I don’t even know what’s going on.”
Fun Fact: Nick Fury has two granddaughters and seriously considered adopting a third after discovering this particular asset.
When Natasha shut the door, her hands did not shake, but her heart did. The girl stopped pacing when she came in. She froze and stared back, not tense, not yet, but relieved that the silence had broken.
Natasha could relate and it hurt to see her own carefully constructed facade reflected back at her. None of this should have happened, nothing like the Red Room was supposed to happen to anyone ever again, much less her own daughter.
Daughter. She didn’t even know how to begin thinking about that.
“I’m Natasha.” She stayed close to the door, to give the girl space… and to block the exit. “What’s your name?”
She tilted her head and frowned. “Are you my new handler?”
Natasha’s stomach sank, then she glanced at the mirror, certain that James’s stomach had just done the same. “Something like that.”
“Then you know what I am. S-04, Project Pandora.”
What. Not who. Natasha shuddered. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Her daughter—she smiled despite herself at the idea that word represented—she deserved better. What kind of people allowed a girl to grow up with S-04 as her only name?
“You’re not Hydra.” It wasn’t a question.
“No. I’m an Avenger.”
Natasha didn’t sense any fear from her, although she didn’t seem relieved either. She nodded, indifferent, but apparently satisfied with knowing whose detention cell she had been thrown in.
“What do the Avengers want with me?” Her face lit up with the thrill of a mission, even a potential one. She didn’t seem to care who it came from.
If it had been her, and the girl reminded her so much of herself, she would want the truth.
“I’m your mother. Your father’s on the other side of the glass.”
She threw her head back and laughed. “Is this a test?” she asked. “I was designed, grown in a lab. I don’t have parents anymore than a gun does.”
The door creaked open again, revealing Steve with Nick’s file in his hands. Natasha remembered how he looked at Bucky when he’d first gotten him back. He had the same mix of desperation and guilt and relief in his eyes now. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror and saw only shock.
“You should read this,” Steve said, handing the file over.
The girl’s eyes flickered between them and the file, before opening it gingerly. The few minutes it takes her to read it all—and she remembers how insulting it feels to look at your life compressed into a keyhole—these are the most tense minutes of her life. No mission, no matter how sideways it had gone, had ever felt as bad as this. Those were life or death scenarios, but nothing more. Either life or death, the outcome was always one or the another. The outcome of this, whatever happened after the girl looked back at them, she could not prepare for. Not this time.
She snapped the file shut, eyes lost and distant. “So… you really are…” She stared at the life spelled out in her hands, the tendons of her knuckles pale and taut.
“You’re safe here,” Steve was quick to say. “You can have a life here, friends and a family. There are good people here.”
The girl shook her head slowly, finally looking up. “I’m not safe.”
Steve took a step towards her. “We’ll make su—”
Natasha moved to stop him.
“No, you don’t understand.” They both froze as she tossed the file at their feet, scattering beige-white paper over the grey tiles. “I’m not safe. I’m dangerous.”
Natasha wondered, in that moment, if this had been her world—box rooms, drained colors, terse words—a one-way mirror world. She smiled.
“Sweetheart,” she said it with all the softness she’d never been given, “we’re all dangerous here.”
Fun Fact: The first time Natasha called him "James," Bucky couldn't speak any language but Russian for a whole week.
“She needs a name,” Steve was saying, staring down the assembled Avengers like he stood in a war room, not a living room. Nick had gone, promising to check in, and he had just explained the new arrival over take-out. Most looked sympathetic, but not all.
“I vote Rosie. The Riveter.” Tony smirked from where he lounged on the couch, hands dancing across his tablet, feet in Bruce’s lap.
Eyes rolled. Bruce threw his chopsticks at him.
“What? I was serious,” then he smiled crookedly to indicate otherwise.
“Read the room, Tinman,” Clint said, pausing as he braided Natasha’s hair, tapping his lips with two fingers then pointing down.
Next to him, Natasha frowned, but she couldn’t turn to glare at Tony because Clint had her hair in his hands.
Tony sat up and gestured with his tablet, nearly cracking it against Bruce’s head, missing by mere inches. “What do you expect, Cap? You’ll go to daddy-daughter dances and bake pancakes together? They made her out of scraps from three different super soldier programs. She’s a weapon, not a baby.”
“She’s just a kid,” Bucky muttered from behind Steve, leaning against the wall like a shadow. “It’s not her fault.”
“Of course you’d say that, Garden State,” Tony snapped. “You think we’re gonna stick her in the fridge and she’ll come out all happy and well-adjusted? She’s a threat.”
“We all are.” Natasha growled. “She’ll learn.”
“And if she can’t? We don’t need any more bad press. We—”
“It’s not your decision, Tony.” Steve never really raised his voice, but his words had a pressure and force about them that knocked everything else out of the way. People tended to listen to him.
Tony sat back, incredulous, probably insulted, but never quite speechless. “And how do you figure that one, Rogers?”
“We’re her parents. She’s our responsibility,” he insisted, crossing his arms.
Tony scowled and went back to his tablet, muttering to himself. He hadn’t touched the box of fried rice Bruce set in front of him over an hour ago and he hadn't slept, so he didn't have the energy to argue. Not today.
After a beat of uneasy silence, Wanda turned to look at Steve from her perch on the coffee table. “Will you let her choose her name?” she asked. Pietro, sitting next to her on the ground, paused his video game and followed his sister’s gaze.
Steve glanced at Natasha, who shrugged and said, “We’re still working on getting her to believe she deserves a name. We should give her some options.”
“How about Liberty?” Pietro suggested.
“As in… Statue of?” Wanda shot him a look. “That’s terrible. You’re terrible.”
“What? How do normal people name their kids?”
Natasha sat up and turned to Steve as Clint finished braiding. “Wasn’t your mom’s name Sarah?”
“Sure.” Steve nodded vaguely. “But she’s not just my kid, Nat.”
“Well, I don’t have any names for her except my own. James?”
Bucky shook his head. “Trust me,” he said, digging through his noodles, “she’s not gonna pick Winifred.”
“What about Rebecca? Your sister?”
He shrugged. “Fine. But she’ll have to live with being called Rebecca Romanova-Rogers.”
The room collectively cringed—even Tony.
“What about Margaret?” Sam said, speaking around the dumpling in his mouth.
“As in, Margaret ‘Peggy’ Carter, founder of SHIELD, Margaret?” Natasha asked, a whisper of a smile on her face.
Tony dropped his tablet loudly enough to make Bruce flinch. “You’re gonna name her after my godmother?”
“If she wants to be,” Steve said, letting himself share Natasha’s smile.
“I like it,” Natasha said. “We could call her 'Kit'.”
“How do you get 'Kit' from Margaret?” Bucky frowned.
“How do you get 'Bucky' from Buchanan?”
He rolled his eyes, but he still smiled. Margaret Romanova-Rogers. It sounded perfect to him. “I think she’ll like it,” he said.
Fun Fact: Maria Stark asked Peggy Carter to become her son's godmother after Howard accidentally almost blew up the family house and Peggy disarmed the explosive device he'd left in the garage.
She didn’t know which new acquisition was stranger to her, the name or the room. On one hand, she’d gone from hardly a name at all—according to her new handlers—to “Margaret Philippa Romanova-Rogers,” which seemed like far too many names for anyone. On the other, her room had far too many things in it: one overly fluffy bed the size of a small car, one flimsy metallic table, three lamps, a full-length mirror, and a television bolted to the wall.
Oh. Not to mention the windows. Three giant windows, each three feet tall at least. Whoever had designed this room didn’t have containment in mind. Perhaps they didn’t want her that badly after all.
“Bucky and I are two doors down from you,” the blond one was saying. Steve, he said she should call him. Captain America, her previous handlers had called him. Her father, biologically, according to her file. So many names. “Natasha and Clint are across the hall. Kitchen and bathroom are all the way down and to the right.”
He smiled at her. He kept doing that.
She looked around the room again. “What happens if I escape here?” she asked.
His smile faltered. “Escape?”
“This won’t contain me. And you want me here, don’t you?” She said flatly, uninterested in the answer.
“Of course we want you here,” he said, reaching out like he might touch her shoulder, then stopping himself. “But it’s not supposed to contain you. This is your space. The idea is that you want to be here.”
She hummed and crossed her arms. “But I’m supposed to stay here. In the compound. I can’t leave.”
He shook his head. “That wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“Because you’ll stop me.”
“Because someone will put you back where Nick found you.”
She frowned. “In Singapore?”
“In a lab and a shock collar,” he said, bluntly.
“Oh.” Her voice shrank. That hadn’t been pleasant. The ex-Hydra scientists had been waiting for an offer on her and the boredom nearly drove her mad. “I see.”
“You’ll be okay here. I promise.” He walked back through the door. “Dinner’s at six.” Then he left and she was alone in a room she didn’t know what to do with.
She sat on the bed. It was far too soft, maybe they’d let her sleep on the floor. They weren’t the worst handlers she’d ever had. She still had no idea what they wanted her to do here, but they hadn’t hurt her, so she must not have done anything wrong yet. It didn’t worry her. Everyone had rules; she would know them all soon.
Natasha, at least, had been clear about her rules from the beginning. She couldn’t meet everyone in the compound yet, she had to go through some training first, but she would eventually. There were only a few rooms in the compound that she could go into and she couldn’t walk around without supervision yet. Natasha understood she was dangerous, even if no one else did. She liked her the best so far.
Bucky had explained the importance of names to her and she got the sense they mattered here, so she should make an effort to get used to the idea. He’d been called James, Barnes, and Buck since then, but he told her to call him Bucky. Nicknames could be just as important as proper names, he said. Natasha had already started calling her Kit. She didn’t mind, it was just a lot to keep track of. Being S-04 had been far simpler.
She didn’t know Steve’s rules yet, except for not leaving the compound. If he was smart, he would say them now so she wouldn’t mess up later. It saved everyone time.
Just as she started to wonder how she might draw Steve’s rules out, a soft voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Oh. Hello. You must be our new resident. Margaret, isn’t it?”
She turned to see a man standing near the far wall, as far as he could get from the door. At least, he looked mostly like a man—except for the yellow jewel sticking out of his forehead like a badly placed third eye.
“How did you…” She stared at him, trying to piece together who he was supposed to be. “Did they put a false wall there?”
“No. Sorry,” the man shook his head and fidgeted. “I should have knocked before phasing in.”
“Phasing in? You walked through the wall?”
He began to gesture stiffly between himself and the wall behind him. “My body is composed of synthetic vibranium—”
“You’re Vision, then? The android? The one that killed Ultron?”
He stopped and tilted his head at her. “I… yes.”
“You were made in a lab, like me?”
“Not like anyone, but a lab, yes.”
“And they like you? I mean, they’ve kept you here, so they must like you.”
“I believe they do,” he said, nodding thoughtfully, “for the most part. Perhaps not Pietro, but he can hardly—”
“And you like it here?”
He froze and blinked, stunned for a moment. “Yes,” he said, seemingly surprised that she would think otherwise. “Very much. Are you worried that you won’t?”
She saw no reason to lie. The android would probably know it and report it. “I don’t know what they want me to do. They haven’t used me at all since I arrived. They’re never going to keep me if they won’t use me.”
Vision frowned. “I don’t see how they could… ‘use’ you, even if they wanted to. All bio-feedback suggests you are human. You are not a tool or a sword.”
“That’s exactly what I am.”
He suddenly smiled, surprisingly genuine considering what he was. “I understand,” he said, touching the stone in his forehead. “But, you know, the reasons you were made and the reasons you live do not have to be the same thing.”
“Is that true?”
“I am a living example, I think.”
Fun Fact: Vision accidentally phased through Pietro once, while he was running, and the two have not been on speaking terms since then.
“Hit me, Kit.”
“Just for the record, again, this is a bad idea.”
“Come on. Your best shot. Right here.” Natasha pointed vaguely at her shoulder.
She’d been trying to get the girl to spar with her for half an hour and, although her form was impeccable, Kit only did enough to block her attacks. A bleeding punching bag in the corner showed what she could actually do. Plus, she hadn’t broken a sweat yet.
“Right. And then you have a shattered collarbone and I get in trouble.” Kit crossed her arms, stubborn as her father and half his size. Natasha wondered if this is what Steve had been like before the serum. She’d ask Bucky later.
Kit was done, Natasha could see it in her face, tired of performing an act that no longer interested her. Over the past week, Kit had learned that she didn’t want to be a weapon after all and Natasha was proud of her for it—although, she still wished she would spar with her.
“Nat?” Bruce stuck his head into the training room, rimless glasses slipping down his nose. He carried his tablet in one hand and a thermos of tea in the other. “Can I talk to you?”
“Sure, Bruce. Come in.” Natasha stepped out of the boxing ring. Kit didn’t follow her, but leaned against one of the corner posts and waited.
“You sure?” he asked, glancing between Kit and Natasha.
Officially, Kit hadn’t been vetted to meet anyone new, although Vision had promptly broken that rule, but Natasha thought Bruce would be okay.
Most everyone in the compound liked Bruce or, failing that, they respected him. He kept to himself mostly, but he also made a habit of checking up on everyone that needed it. He left food in Tony’s lab, water bottles in the training rooms, pillows and blankets in the living room, and ambient music on in the kitchen. He cared about people. He was always a doctor first.
Plus, it took a lot to rattle him, despite what certain government officials thought, not that Kit had proven herself unnecessarily aggressive. Hydra trained her to follow orders; she almost never displayed her skills on her own.
“I’m sure,” Natasha said, waving for Kit to come out of the ring. She slipped between the ropes and landed next to Natasha as Bruce left the doorway.
“You’re Bruce Banner,” Kit said, grinning widely.
Bruce raised an eyebrow, but managed a small, confused smile. “And you’re Kit Rogers.”
“Sorry.” Kit shook the grin off her face. “It’s just… they talked about you a lot, the scientists who made me.”
“Oh, man.” Bruce set his tea on a stack of folded up floor mats and turned to Natasha, guilt and worry mixing in his face. “That’s why I came in here. I was going through her files and I found this.” Bruce handed his tablet over.
“What is it?” Kit asked, lazily stretching one of her shoulders.
Bruce pursed his lips and fiddled with his glasses. “They didn’t just talk about me, Kit. Somehow, they got a hold of my research… my blood. Apparently, they reverse engineered one of my samples, tampered with it, and injected it into you when you were two months old.”
“That’s all?” Kit huffed and strolled away towards the line of punching bags. Natasha watched her go, noting the bored, empty look on her face.
“What does this mean for her?” Natasha asked, handing Bruce’s tablet back to him.
He shook his head. “I-I don’t know. They didn’t seem to know exactly what it would do to her. It’s almost as if they were ordered to slam every scrap of super soldier research into one project, one person.”
“They probably were,” Natasha huffed, watching Kit go through the motions of various fighting styles, like bizarre fast moving tai chi.
“No. Natasha, listen,” Bruce insisted, picking up his thermos, twisting the lid. “We thought Strucker was bad, these people… I’m not sure how many subjects they had, but she’s the only survivor.”
“I know,” muttered Natasha, full of sorrow and sarcasm, eyes fixed on her daughter, “she’s just like her mom, isn’t she?”
Fun Fact: Bruce also leaves care-packages in the rooms of Avengers returning from missions that include, but are not limited to, cookies, stuffed animals, jars of peanut butter, CDs, knitted hats, and polaroid pictures.
Wanda found herself wanting the newest resident of the compound to like her. The idea of having a younger sister sounded nice. Steve had asked Wanda to talk with Kit over dinner that night and she’d been excited about finally meeting her, until he explained why.
“I need you to read her,” Steve said, knocking a baseball she threw at him clear onto the roof.
Few in the compound would willingly step into Steve’s firing range, but she didn’t mind. Her enhancements made her an excellent pitcher for super soldiers and she rarely got the chance to use her powers for fun. But when he said that, her next pitch embedded itself several feet into the ground.
“What for?” she demanded.
Steve lowered his bat, frowning, but not at her. “Bruce found something in her files. They injected her with a tampered sample of his blood and the last person who had something like that in his system destroyed a big chunk of Harlem.” He paused, tapping his bat against the ground. “I don’t want that for her.”
Worry and fear vibrated off of him, like badly tuned violin strings. He carried around much more fear, much more of any given emotion, than most people realized. Still, he had never worn his fear so openly before; she barely had to read him at all to see it. No one could blame him for worrying about his daughter, maybe he finally didn’t need to hide it.
“You want me to find out if she has a hulk in her.”
“Yeah. It’s not what I was hoping for your first meeting, but—”
“I don’t mind.” Wanda smiled. “She deserves to be safe.”
Steve smiled back, then he laughed when she plucked the baseball out of the ground and sent it flying towards him.
Pietro didn’t care what the new girl thought of him because he already had a sister. He loved her, but one was enough. It was only for his sister’s sake that he considered agreeing to meet with Kit at all and, even then, Clint had a hard time convincing him.
“Come on, you owe me one,” Clint was saying while tracking Pietro’s movements.
He’d been trying to hit him all morning and had so far only managed to lodge arrows into the compound’s lawn and bushes. Tony would gripe later and tell him they had a perfectly serviceable firing range inside the compound. Wanda would be exasperated, chastising both Clint for shooting sharpened arrows at her brother and her brother for agreeing to let him do it.
Clint grinned as another arrow missed its mark. He wondered sometimes how many people around here actually understood what a challenge meant.
“I owe you nothing,” Pietro protested, his voice filling Clint’s earpiece with static as he blurred around the yard.
“Fine. Try this. You have a lot in common.”
“That’s why Wanda is talking with her.”
“Yeah, and maybe Wanda wants you there.”
“Did she say that?”
“No.” Clint shot an arrow and the wind created from Pietro’s displacement sent it straight into the Avenger’s logo on the side of the building. He smiled again. “But there’ll be pizza and Steve’s paying.”
Pietro grumbled for a moment on the other side of the comm. “Fine,” he said, “but I want all the toppings this time.”
Clint snorted, half way to a laugh already. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Fun Fact: Both Steve and Bucky have a baseball bat in their room signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers--those still living. The bat Steve's using here was signed by the L.A. Dodgers.
Steve and Bruce brought Kit into the kitchen, sat her down on one of the bar stools, and showed her how to order a pizza. Bucky and Natasha had left the country for a mission, which bothered her because she couldn’t go with them, but Natasha had promised her more training in exchange for staying put. Although, she didn’t see what pizza had to do with it.
“What’ll it be, Kit?” Bruce asked, peering at the take-out menu through his glasses. “Any toppings you want.”
Kit shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never had it.”
Bruce’s smile surprised her. “Well, then, we should start you on plain cheese pizza and you can try the others if you want. We always order a lot.” He winked, including her in a joke she didn’t quite understand yet.
She liked Bruce. He made her tea, introduced her to different music, and had started teaching her first aid—a deliberate exclusion from her education that she now felt bitter about. If he had been in charge of Project Pandora, the others surely would have made it through training too. Not that she would tell him that. He said that doctors and scientists really weren’t supposed to do the kinds of things they had done to her. She didn’t want him to think that she couldn’t tell the difference.
Steve and Bruce were debating the toppings for the other pizzas when two new people walked into the kitchen. Kit didn’t know them and didn’t know if she was supposed to yet. Many more people lived in the compound than she’d been allowed to meet.
“Wanda, Pietro, meet Kit,” Steve said, waving them forward.
“Oh, Vision mentioned you.”
Wanda smiled and stared at her with dark eyes, tinged an unnatural red. Pietro did neither, instead shifting the attention of his dark eyes, tinged an ordinary blue, towards the take-out menu.
“What do you want?” he asked, without looking up. One second Bruce had the menu and the next Pietro did. Kit watched wisps of blue smoke rise off his shoulders. Steve had said he was fast.
“Anything with meat,” Wanda said, still staring at Kit, “but if you order pineapple this time, I’m disowning you.”
Pietro stuck his tongue out at her and followed Bruce into the other room to help make the order. Wanda slipped onto the stool across from Kit.
“You’re staring,” Kit informed her.
“Am I?” Wanda blinked. “I don’t mean to.”
“You and him—Pietro—you’re like me, aren’t you?”
She twisted the rings on her fingers, more rings than fingers. “Something like that. We were… altered, like you.”
“He’s fast and you are…”
“Weird,” Wanda said, smirking at Steve, sharing some secret.
“Wanda and Pietro are twins,” Steve explained, leaning back against the counter, “They got their powers a few years ago.”
“Alright.” Kit didn’t know what his point was supposed to be. She wished Bucky and Natasha were here. She hoped they could eat soon instead of talk.
“Do you ever feel like you can’t control yourself, Kit?” Wanda asked suddenly.
Kit leaned away from her, hands pressed hard against the cold granite, unsettled and unsure what answer she expected. She managed to say, “They trained me not to,” although she didn’t think that was quite right.
“Why do you think they taught you to control yourself?” Wanda kept staring and it was starting to seriously bother her.
“Does that really matter?” She watched Steve cross his arms, ridges appearing in his forehead. She wished he would tell her what he was watching for. “They taught me a lot of things.”
“But they taught you those things for a reason, didn’t they?”
“Sure. Guns have safeties for a reason. Is this a test or something?”
Wanda paused and her eyes flicked away. “I don’t feel anything,” she said.
“What does that mean?”
Steve stood up. His full height towered over her and Wanda. He made the kitchen small. “I asked her to read you, to see if Bruce’s blood had done anything to you.”
“You mean, you had her read my mind to see if I have a hulk in my head,” Kit corrected. “You understand how that sounds, right?”
Wanda shrugged. “It’s not outside the realm of possibility.”
“That doesn’t make it true.” Kit stared her down, making Wanda flinch. “I survived the training because I had control. Don’t you get it? The others tore themselves apart.”
Steve’s expression cleared. “Oh,” he breathed, running a hand over his face.
“What is it?” Wanda asked, turning towards him.
Kit couldn't quite place the look dawning on Steve’s face—not quite fear. Shell-shocked maybe. She didn’t understand why. Surely he knew that there was never just one subject for these kinds of things.
“What do you think happens when an already enhanced human turns into a hulk?”
Wanda’s strange eyes widened, horror sliding across her face, then her gaze snapped to Kit. “Why didn’t you?”
She didn’t know, but Steve had an answer anyway. “Bruce said they made their own serum out of his blood,” he said, expression distant and hollow. “What if they made something that dampened emotions instead?”
Wanda nodded and whispered hoarsely, “The cure for poison comes from the venom.”
Kit didn’t like this test. She didn’t know what it was supposed to prove. “Call me when the food’s here,” she told them and went back to her room, holding herself tightly. Maybe Vision had been right, but that didn’t change how useless she felt.
Fun Fact: Between all the hyper-active metabolisms in the compound and Clint Barton's sheer force of will, on any given night, the Avengers can collectively put away anywhere from 75 to 100 pizzas.
Steve was out of his depth. Kit refused to leave her room ever since the incident with Wanda. She had tampered with the lock system, overriding Friday’s programming, effectively ensuring that no one could get to her. And to make matters worse, news about Bruce’s discovery had reached the rest of the compound.
“I’m sorry. Run that by me again. Million Dollar Baby could go Code Green any second and you’re just letting her sulk in her room? She has to be—”
“Contained? Right. Because that always ends well with me.”
“Hey. You asked for Veronica. You said we should prepare for every eventuality.”
“And I’m saying that she’s not like me.”
“But she could be.”
“You don’t know that. I don’t know that. I’d have to do a full work-up and, right now, she’s managed to lock you out of your own system. Shouldn’t we be worried about that?”
Tony and Bruce rarely argued. The last time, a psychotic, genocidal robot had nearly dropped a city out of the sky. Steve felt he had a right to be a little concerned.
“I agree with Bruce,” Steve said, regretting the words the second they left him.
“Of course you do.” Tony turned on him, caustic and biting. “You agree with Bruce. Isn’t this your fault for trying to mind scan her? I thought we agreed. No more Escape to Witch Mountain.”
“I was trying to protect her.”
Tony scoffed, hand flickering over his tablet. “You always are, aren’t you?”
“You’re talking about me again.” A quiet voice floated in from the lab door.
They looked up to see Kit, barefoot, in Nat’s old flannel pjs and a “Good Morning, I See the Assassins Have Failed” t-shirt Bucky had bought her while on assignment. Even Tony had the decency to look uncomfortable.
“Don’t you think you should tell me before you do any blood analysis?” she said, crossing her arms and frowning. Tony shivered with how much her posture resembled her father.
“We still don’t fully understand what they did to you,” Bruce said, crossing the room to meet her in the doorframe—she wasn’t allowed inside this particular room, but the door always seemed to be open. “We just want you to be safe.”
“If I could turn into a hulk, I would have been sold a long time ago.” She sounded vaguely annoyed, but Bruce couldn’t specifically pinpoint why.
“Sold?” Tony echoed, putting down his tablet and frowning. “To who?”
She turned and regarded Tony with blank green eyes. “You’re Tony Stark. You tell me,” she said, shrugging. “You trade in weapons, don’t you?”
“Used to.” Steve watched Tony fidget, cradling his right hand.
“You made your money making things like me. You know the people who made me, tried to sell me, and almost bought me.”
“I didn’t deal in human beings.”
“Neither did they. We’re just weapons with human faces.”
“That was Hydra,” Tony insisted, tension boiling off his shoulders.
Kit leveled him with her gaze. “And what exactly was your father doing when he made Steve?”
“No. You want me to act like a human being? Try treating me like one.”
Fun Fact: Bucky always buys souvenirs while on assignment. Snow globes for Wanda, sweaters for Steve, hats for Sam, and cheap jewelry for Natasha. She, on the other hand, always gets him magnets.
Natasha liked to think she had a simple philosophy when it came to most problems—problems specifically concerning the team, anyway. There wasn’t any problem too big that couldn’t be solved with a movie night. So when she and Bucky came back from assignment to find Kit barricaded in her room, Steve sadness-exercising so much he’d worn a path in the lawn, and Tony refusing to speak to Bruce, she decided an intervention was in order.
She called every on-site Avenger and told them to gather in the main living room. Kit hadn’t been cleared to meet most of them, but considering the circumstances, Natasha didn’t care. The team knew the drill with these things anyway. Shut up, sit down, stop fighting, or Nat will make you watch all three Godfathers until your eyes bleed.
“Romanov, you can’t be serious,” Tony whined, slumping into a recliner towards the back of the room.
“Believe it, Stark.” She deftly dropped a bowl of popcorn on his lap, while dodging a grinning Clint Barton weighed down with more bottles of soda and beer than anyone had a right to carry.
“You’re partly responsible anyway.”
“And how’s that?” he mumbled, petulantly tossing popcorn into his mouth.
“You convinced my daughter that she deserves to be locked up like a warhead in a missile silo.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Tony, you don’t get to decide how other people take your words.”
“It didn’t matter what I said, your kid wouldn’t hear it.”
Natasha laughed, turning heads in the room at the sharp sound. “She’s a teenager. And very different from your well-adjusted intern.” She pointed at the kid sitting across the room.
Peter Parker was currently wedged between Sam and Rhodey, asking them rapid-fire questions about their suits. Rhodey sent Tony a series of meaningful help me looks, to which Tony just shrugged. Sam, to his credit, answered his questions dryly, maintaining a bemused sort of expression on his face. Natasha thought she remembered him saying he had nieces and nephews.
She walked over to Kit, who only showed up because Bucky had bribed her with target practice and hamburgers. “I’m happy you’re here,” she said, sitting next to her on the ottoman she perched on. Not the most comfortable of places, but they could work on that later.
Kit nodded and pulled her knees tighter to her chest. “Did Steve tell you what happened?”
“Are you mad?”
Natasha smiled, wanting to reach out to her daughter, but not knowing how—or if she would let her. “Not at you.”
“A little at Steve. He really is trying to look out for you, but you’re right. He should have talked to you first.”
The idea of a smile slid onto her face. Her grip on her knees loosened a fraction. “I wish I knew what he was thinking,” she said.
Natasha wanted to laugh again. “Honestly, me too, baby girl. Come on.” She dared putting a hand on her shoulder. Kit turned to look at her with those big green eyes, but hadn’t flinched or pulled back. “There’s some people I think you should meet.”
Kit groaned, burying her head in her arms. “No more names, Nat.”
“You’ll like these names I promise.”
Natasha deposited her daughter next to Peter and Sam. Rhodey had managed to extricate himself gracefully by offering to help Bucky with the food, although Peter had yet to run out of steam.
“Sam, Peter, this is Kit. Be nice, she’s new,” Natasha said, leveling Sam with her gaze before she left.
He nodded, knowing what she meant. Natasha needed someone to keep an eye on them. Peter was more kid than Avenger and Kit was more soldier than kid. They could accidentally hurt each other if left unsupervised.
“Oh, cool! Hey, me too!” Peter started up again, luckily turning towards Kit and not bearing witness to Sam’s spectacular eye roll. “I’m new, I mean. What do you do?”
Kit frowned. She didn’t do much of anything, that was part of the problem. “I train with Natasha and Bucky. And Steve sometimes,” she managed, tucking her feet underneath her. If this was another test, she would walk right out—even hamburgers weren’t worth it.
“He means, what’s your power?” Sam clarified. “I’ve got the wings. He’s got the spider stuff.”
“Spider stuff?” Kit echoed.
Peter wrinkled his nose and shot Sam a look, who only smiled. “I stick to stuff,” he said, “and, I guess, my senses are really heightened. Mr. Stark is still helping me figure out what happened exactly.”
Kit pursed her lips and tried not to look over at Tony, who she knew was quietly debating something with Rhodey somewhere behind her. “They’re trying to do that to me too.”
Peter blinked, unnerved by the way she’d phrased it. “Trying to—”
“What’ve you got, then, Kit Kat?” Sam said.
Her lips twitched into a confused smile. Another nickname, but somehow it didn’t sound so bad when he said it. He wanted to be kind, to include her. Is that what nicknames were supposed to be?
“I… I’m strong and I’m fast,” she decided, nodding a little to herself. “And I can fight.”
Kit watched the gears turn in Peter’s head, easily pinpointing the moment a conclusion came to him. His eyes lit up and he grinned at her. “You’re a supersoldier, like Captain Rogers?”
She almost responded, yes, exactly like that, but Natasha called the movie night to order.
“Tonight’s film,” she announced, with a wave of the tv remote, “is Lilo and Stitch.”
The wave of groans from the back corner were drowned out by Peter’s empathic shouting. Kit figured if he liked it, then it couldn’t be all that bad. Natasha had been right, she did like these names, so maybe she would stay.
Fun Fact: Natasha organized a mandatory marathon of Harry Potter after the events of Civil War.
Sam Wilson made sense to Kit. He had a steadiness that she envied, but she understood why he had it. He didn’t worry about figuring people out like she did. People couldn’t change what they were, so he only cared about the things they’d done.
Tony Stark, for example, had locked him and a bunch of his friends up in an underwater prison without due process. He told her how many laws that broke and explained how wrong it was. They weren’t exactly on good terms as a result. No one except Sam had bothered to explain anything to her so far and she wasn’t exactly on good terms with Tony either. It made sense.
“You know Steve really well, don’t you?” she asked him.
Sam paused, the piping tip hovering over the cupcakes he was icing. He thought for a second, then put it down and turned to look at Kit. “Sure. Why do you ask?”
She shrugged, closely inspecting the ball of cookie dough in her hands. “I don’t know what he wants from me.”
He smiled at her, fond and exasperated at the same time. “He wants to be your dad.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Neither does he,” he said, shaking his head and going back to his cupcakes. “You gotta figure it out together.”
She tossed the dough back onto the pan and leaned hard into the counter, staring intently at Sam. “How?” she demanded. “I want him to like me. How do I do that?”
Sam laughed. “He already likes you, Kit Kat. He just wants you to like him.”
She scrunched her face up, not exactly scowling, more like she’d caught the smell of fish among the butter and sugar in the kitchen. “I don’t like him,” she said. “But only because he doesn’t talk to me.”
“Maybe you should tell him that.”
“Do you think he’d talk to me then?”
“Absolutely he would.”
Kit smiled, but it faded as a thought occurred to her. “Sam?”
He hummed, nodding his head for her, but focused on finishing his baking.
“Is there something wrong with me?”
Sam squeezed too hard and blue icing shot all over the baking pan. He sighed and set the icing down, realizing it wasn’t going to be finished any time soon. “First off. Do you mean ‘am I sick’ or ‘am I a bad person?’”
She stared at the counter, thinking for a second. “Both,” she decided.
“Well, you’re not sick. You can give Steve a run for his money in the ring.”
Kit rolled her eyes. Nat and Bucky could do that. It didn’t prove anything.
“Besides,” he added, taking a spoon, scooping up some of the wayward icing, and offering it to her. “We’d know if anything had gone wrong by now. You’re doing good, so I hear.”
She twitched her shoulders, aiming for a shrug and missing, but she took the spoon and popped it in her mouth. Sugar took some getting used to, but she’d manage. If nothing else, food had quickly become the best part of not being S-04 anymore.
“And as for being a good person,” Sam said, “you’ve got Steve and Nat’s genes in you. You’re bound to turn out alright.”
“Do you mean that?” She looked up, her sharp lines softened by hope, suddenly much younger than Sam knew her to be. It broke his heart a little. No one deserved what she’d gone through. And yet, she sat across from him, born a weapon, tongue stained blue and asking him if she was good enough. She had a chance now to be more than they’d made her.
“I wouldn’t lie.” Not to her, not ever, he decided.
“And you like me?”
“I don’t give icing to just anybody.”
It took a moment, but her eyes widened. Color bloomed across her cheeks and she laughed. He doubted that she’d ever been allowed, that she’d ever had a reason to laugh like that before. He would talk to Steve, knock some sense into his thick skull.
“Where’d you learn to make cookies, Sam?”
“My mom taught me.”
“Could you teach me?”
“I’ll take you to meet her and we’ll both teach you.”
She laughed again. “I’d like that.”
Fun Fact: Sam stress bakes. Post-mission, the kitchen starts to look like the Great British Baking Show. Luckily, there's always more than enough people in the compound to eat it all.
Chapter 11: Just a Kid
AU where Hela comes to Earth instead. Don't ask me how that works, it's not important.
Something had gone wrong. Kit could figure out that much. She just couldn’t get anyone to stand still long enough to tell her what exactly had happened and why everyone was packing to go. The compound stood in shambles. She hadn’t seen one particular person in the chaos though, who realistically should be at the center. Maybe he would tell her. Maybe. It was a long shot.
She found Steve in his room, which worried her enough on its own. He usually only slept in there. The door hung open, so she knocked on the frame. It took a couple seconds for him to look up at her and, when he did, she didn’t like the resignation she saw there. She wondered if he’d slept at all.
“Hello, Kit. Did you need something?” he asked, putting down his tablet and trying for something upbeat. It didn’t work.
“What’s going on?” She hovered in the doorway, certain this wouldn’t go well.
He sighed, a half-formed facade melting off his face. “We have a mission.”
The words came to her, suddenly, rushing in all at once until she nearly tripped over them. “If you’re not going to explain, then at least tell me why you won’t.”
“I understand a lot more than you think I do.”
“I know you do—”
“I’m not asking to go with you, just tell me what you’re walking into. Just talk to me. Please.” The tears surprised her. She couldn’t control them. They slid down her face in rivulets, her eyes stinging and her throat closing up until she couldn’t speak.
Steve stood up and wrapped her in his arms, hugging her softly. She grabbed fistfuls of his shirt, determined to hang on. She didn’t know she needed it until she had it. The weight lifted off her chest finally gave her room to breathe.
“You know Thor?” he asked.
“Of course I know Thor.” She wanted to laugh, but it came out strangled.
“Well, his sister came to earth and we have to stop her.”
Kit pulled back, brushing quickly at the tears stained against her face. Steve let her go, but they were both smiling—that in between place where sadness and happiness don’t look different anymore. She thought they’d figured something out. He didn’t have rules like everyone else, so she didn’t have to be afraid of breaking them.
When her voice came back to her, she said, “I’ll stay here and you’ll tell me how everything goes when you get back.”
He nodded. “I’ll do that. And don’t worry, Peter and Rhodey are staying too. You won’t be alone.”
“Cap! Come on, let’s go!” Someone shouted from the hallway. Steve stood up straight, fear and exhaustion fading from view.
“Want to see us off?” He smiled like a photograph, flash and sudden stillness.
That’s how she found herself on the roof, waving to Nat and Bucky and everyone else piling into the Quinjet. If she had known how to pray, she would have done it then. They needed to come back. All of them. The thought hammered over and over again inside her, in time with her pulse.
“You sure you don’t want me to come?” Peter had suited up, even though they’d been told explicitly to stay put. “I could help. I could—”
Tony’s helmet had already shut, but she could feel him scowling at Peter. “Not happening. You’re aunt nearly court marshaled me last time. And this isn’t a parking lot fight, kid. Hela will do a lot more than knock you around. Stay here. Hold down the fort.”
Tony flew off, leaving a white trail behind the vanishing Quinjet. Peter pulled off his mask and scowled after him.
“Come on, kid,” Rhodey said, ruffling his hair. Peter grumbled. “I’ve got something you can help me with. Much more fun than battling a death goddess.”
“Right.” Peter didn’t look convinced.
“That’s fine. Stay out here and pout.” Rhodey walked back into the compound, limping and muscling through the awkward gait that came with the new leg braces. “Coming, Kit?” he called over his shoulder.
Peter cursed under his breath. “Five bucks he’s gonna trick us into doing chores or something.” He didn’t look particularly heroic just then.
Kit cocked her head, watching him for a second to see if he meant it. “If he wanted us to do chores, he would say so,” she said.
She shrugged, following Rhodey back inside. “He usually says what he means.”
Peter jogged after her. “Hey. So, are you really Captain Rogers’ daughter? And Ms. Romanov?”
Kit stopped. Nat had briefed her on this a few months ago. She didn’t have to lie inside the compound. Although, she sort of wanted to anyway.
“Yes.” She kept walking so she wouldn’t have to look at the reaction on his face.
“Whoa! That’s so cool. How does that work? I mean, wouldn’t you turn out like he was before the serum? Unless it actually changed the structure of his—”
“It’s not like that.”
“They made me this way.”
“Made you… you mean like Hydra? Like Sergeant Barnes?”
“Like Bucky, yeah. Bruce, Nat, Steve—all of it.” She rolled her eyes and walked faster, hoping Rhodey would give her something to do that didn’t involve talking. “Didn’t anyone brief you on me?”
She didn’t see the wounded look on Peter’s face. “Oh. Well, Mr. Stark doesn’t tell me anything and everyone else… They don’t say it, but I know they don’t want me here.”
Kit turned and he jumped. She recognized the oversensitive reflexes. What made him useful in a fight, also made him constantly anxious in everything else. “Of course they don’t,” she said flatly. “You’re a kid. Neither of us should have to be here.”
“You’re here, aren’t you,” he said, still with a little whine in his voice.
She shook her head. “If I step outside this compound, if people knew about me, they wouldn’t see a kid, just a glorified bioweapon. I’m only here because Steve and Natasha want me here.”
Peter seemed to shrink, shaking his head at himself and muttering. “I’m sorry, Kit,” he said quickly, looking at her with unvarnished panic. “I shouldn’t have…”
“It’s not your fault.” She sighed roughly, all flared nostrils and frustration. “I just meant, they’re trying to protect us.”
His head bobbed, little anxious nods one after another. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.”
She pursed her lips as they went to find Rhodey. Bucky and Sam had told her about the so called parking lot fight. Tony brought Peter—a self-taught kid against fully fledged adults. Superpowers or not, he had no place in that fight.
Steve and Natasha wanted to protect her, she knew because they kept her out of danger and in the training ring. She’d learned to accept that. Peter went out every day, learning on the job, and it almost killed him. Who protected him?
Fun Fact: May Parker sent dozens of glitter bombs to Stark tower and the Avengers compound when she found out about Berlin.
“What part of ‘supersoldier’ makes you think I know anything about planes?” Kit grumbled while she sat underneath one of the two fighter jets, replacing bolts in the wings.
Rhodey had them on loan from the Air Force and, evidently, they required more maintenance than he could keep up with. He sat in the cockpit, running equipment checks.
“I would do it myself, but—”
“Yeah, I know, I know,” Kit said, screwing in a bolt tighter than necessary. “Vision shot you out of the sky and now your legs don’t work. I get it. Just let me complain.”
“Kit!” Peter protested, his voice echoing back at him from inside the rear engines, but Rhodey laughed.
“Ease up, kid. She’s right… she knows nothing about planes.”
Kit reached up and tilted the plane, which made Rhodey laugh again while Peter held on for dear life.
“Hey, careful with that,” Rhodey said. “It’s a rental.”
Kit set the plane back down and went back to her work, quietly this time.
Peter didn’t know what to think of her. She always looked like she’d rather be anywhere else. She spoke every word like someone wrote it for her. In all the months she’d lived in the compound, he almost never saw her and, when he did, it was only glimpses in the training room. Tony had said she was unstable, but he’d said that about almost everyone at one point or another, including himself.
“I’m out of bolts, Rhodey,” Kit announced. “Am I done?”
“Go help Peter with the engine.”
Right. The jet engine Peter was supposed to be tuning. The jet engine he knew next to nothing about. The extremely expensive military jet engine he was afraid of breaking.
Kit appeared at the back of the plane, pausing to squint at him. “Doesn’t the blood rush to your head?”
“Your brain can hemorrhage if you stay upside down for too long.”
“Oh. Right.” He’d stuck to the top of the cylindrical engine so he could get a better view and then forgot about it. He kept doing that.
“That doesn’t happen to you though, does it?” she added, pulling herself up into engine.
“I guess not. I don’t feel like I’m upside down.”
She nodded, curling her legs underneath herself and staring at up him like he was the engine that needed tuning. “Who gave you your powers?”
“Oh, uh… no one, no one gave them to me. I got them by accident.”
Kit blinked and tilted her head. She looked like Bucky when she did that, confused, but never surprised. “How do you get powers by accident?”
“You sure you weren’t experimented on?”
“No, no, no. A spider bit me.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “A spider bite changed your genetic makeup enough for you to stick to walls?”
“Yeah, I mean, no. It was radioactive or genetically altered or… or something.” Every once in a while, like now, he remembered how much he didn’t know, how little anyone understood about what happened. It made his stomach sick and his spine shiver thinking about it.
“Hm. Or something,” Kit said, nodding. “Me too. I might as well have been an accident.”
“You mean, you don’t know how…”
“Not exactly. Nat spoke to old contacts, hoping to find the Hydra scientists responsible, and Steve’s trying to get old SSR files out of Tony. Bruce analyzed my blood and probably has my file memorized by now. Every time he finds out something new, he has this look like he’s surprised I’m still breathing.”
“I… I’m sorry.”
“What for?” She tilted her head at him again, eyebrows bunched together, like worrying when you don’t know what to worry about.
He shook his head. “I don’t know. That’s what people say.”
“Well, I guess… when bad stuff happens to someone and no one can’t fix it, people want to help, but they just don’t know what to say.”
“People wanted to help you… and that’s what they did instead?” She didn’t say it to accuse. He could hear how badly she wanted to understand. What was it like not having memories of sunlight or the sky? Did it hurt to see the horizon when she’d only known walls and windows?
“I lost my parents… then my uncle. You can’t fix that.”
“Oh.” Her face cleared back to neutral, like someone pressed a reset button. “I understand… I think.”
“Yeah. You know, I didn’t have a name at all until Steve and Nat gave me one. S-04. That’s what they called me. Subject number four. Eight subjects total, my siblings, I guess. I lost them too.” Her voice wavered, just slightly, someone else might not have heard it at all.
Peter lowered himself down to sit next to Kit, although she wouldn’t meet his eyes. She looked terribly young just then, like a layer of skin had been scrubbed off, leaving her red and raw. He guessed he probably looked like that too.
“We’ve still got people, though,” he told her, trying for a smile. “I’ve got my Aunt May. You’ve got Captain Rogers—”
“You can call him Steve,” she said, matching his smile hesitantly, letting it warm up her face.
“But it’s Captain America!” he protested. “You can’t just—it’s like calling your teacher by their first name, it’s weird.”
She laughed, the bright sound tumbling out like hiccups, a kid’s laugh—unapologetic, uncontrollable, and completely contagious. Even when they eventually went to work on the engine, part of him thought about how different she looked when she laughed—suddenly she lived instead of just existing. Maybe he could help her fix this one thing.
Fun Fact: Rhodey's planes are rarely flown. Instead he tinkers on them endlessly. He finds it relaxing. Sometimes he lets Tony help.
Teaching a bird to fly a plane, that’s what it’s like explaining Halloween to a super spy, Tony decided. Not only impossible to do, but ultimately pointless. Peter should be commended for trying, but he shouldn’t try to do it in Tony’s lab when he should be doing homework instead.
“But you already have a costume,” Kit was saying. “Why do you need another one?”
Peter scrunched up his face at her. “That-that’s not a costume. It’s a suit.”
“What’s the difference?”
“You finish that chemistry yet, Pete?” Tony called, not quite looking up from the holographic simulation running in front of him.
Peter jumped in his seat. “N-no. Not yet, Mr. Stark.”
“You need any help, you let me know.”
“Okay. Thanks, Mr. Stark.” Peter buried his face back in his chemistry textbook.
Kit cocked her head and leaned forward to read over his shoulder. “I can’t imagine trying to learn it this way. Don’t you do anything hands-on?”
Peter turned to look at her, amused. “Hands-on?”
“Yeah. Explosives and poisons take practice. You can’t just read about them.”
“I think our teachers have different lesson plans,” he said before turning back to his work.
She shrugged and slipped off her stool, making her way over to Tony.
It’s not that Tony disliked the kid necessarily, she just made him nervous. She stared at him with eyes that cut and held herself like a soldier. She kept quiet and calm, rarely expressing much emotion and never acting on it. He didn’t understand her and that was hardly a good sign. Not understanding meant he made mistakes.
Kit leaned against the other side of Tony’s workstation and watched his simulation—nanobots spinning and reshaping like a swarm of migrating birds. Murmuration, that’s what they called it, a natural algorithm.
“You need something, Maggie?” Tony grumbled, sliding part of a schematic away.
She didn’t even react to the nickname. “You built the Hulkbuster armor, right?” she asked, although her tone already knew the answer. “To protect Bruce?”
“And lots of other people, yeah.” He didn’t want to sound annoyed, but it came out anyway.
Kit didn’t seem to notice or she didn’t care. “And you built Peter’s suit to protect him.”
“That’s why you build things, to protect people.”
“You got a point here?”
“Would you build something to protect everyone else from me? If we needed to?”
Tony turned to her, taking another look and trying to figure out what kind of kid would ask something like that. “Sure,” he said slowly, closing down his simulation. “You planning something dangerous I should know about?”
Kit rolled her eyes, something she’d become increasingly skilled at the more time she spent around Sam and Natasha. “Of course not. But…” And then she shrank. Her posture crumbled and she looked less like an engineered supersoldier and more like a scared kid. “Nat and Steve are talking about maybe letting me tag along on missions. They’re trying to get me to stop holding back so much when I fight. But I don’t want to hurt anyone, that’s what they designed me to do.”
Tony thought he understood that part. He’d sort of been designed to make weapons, just like his old man. It took work to change when you’d only been taught to do one thing.
He sighed. “Look, kid. You don’t have a choice in the powers you’re given. All you can do is use them for good as best you can.”
“So you won’t build it?”
“I’ll look into it, but… do you even want to go on missions? You don’t sound super siked.”
She frowned, like that hadn’t occurred to her or maybe because he said siked. “I can’t do anything else.”
“Have you thought about school?”
“Like where Peter goes?”
“But I’m… Would they even let me in?”
“Of course they would. We’ll just say you were homeschooled. It happens all the time.”
“But I don’t exist,” she said flatly. “I have no birth certificate, no social security, no health records. My permanent address is the Avengers compound and my parents were enemies of the state for almost a year. I’d be putting everyone in danger, including myself.”
“The school doesn’t have to know all that. We’d look out for you, just like we look out for Peter.”
“Did you say something, Mr. Stark?” Peter looked up from his homework. Tony’s voice tended to carry.
“What’d you think about Maggie here going to your school?”
Peter practically bounced out of his seat and across the lab. “That would awesome. I mean, it’s high school, so… but you’d get to meet Ned and MJ and there’s this—”
“See?” Tony interrupted him before he pulled something. “Kids your own age, doing normal kid-type stuff. It could be good for you.”
Kit didn’t look sold on the idea. She worried at her knuckles. “I’ll talk to Nat and Steve about it.”
She deserved a shot at having something normal, to figure out what she could do beyond what she’d been told. Oh sure, it could go horribly wrong, but Tony would damn well make sure it didn't. For everyone's sake.
Fun Fact: Peter dressed up as Iron Man for Halloween two years in a row and he's getting scary good at replicating the suits, but this year he lost a bet with Ned and has to go as Captain America. (He’s not too mad about it, though)
Kit stood just outside the gates of the Midtown School of Science and Technology, watching students walk by and feeling sick to her stomach. She didn’t have much experience around people her own age, much less people without powers or horrible traumatic backstories. And yet, she’d been designed to infiltrate a place like this, to blend in with students and teenagers. The Red Room had done something similar, weaponizing women in a time when they wouldn’t be noticed as a threat.
This was a test, even though no one had said so outright. A test to see how much control she actually had in the outside world. Failure meant exposure. They were risking a lot by letting her be here. It’d been a trick to even get her in, but evidently the man in charge was the grandson of an old war buddy of Steve’s and he apparently could be trusted with the truth of her.
“Kit?” Peter called, turning back around when he realized she’d stopped following him. “You okay?” He smiled, encouraging and excited for reasons Kit didn’t understand.
“Yeah. Yeah, let’s get this over with.”
She’d never seen so many people in one place and it gave her a headache trying to stay aware of all of them. They were yelling and jostling into each other, knotted in groups that she and Peter had to weave around. The hallways were so much worse, the sound of the blurring crowd crashing in her ears. She almost ran into Peter when he stopped.
“I gotta get my books from my locker,” he said, “hold on.”
She had to stand close to him to avoid someone knocking into her, but she could barely pay attention to what he was doing as she scanned the crowd, every instinct in her screaming to run. She jumped when someone called out Peter’s name. They both turned and Kit glanced at Peter to see what she was supposed to do.
“Ned! MJ!” Peter smiled at a frowning girl and a boy wearing a Spiderman t-shirt. He smiled and pulled Kit forward. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
He introduced her as Kit Rogers, a friend of his from the Stark Internship who just transferred to Midtown—barely a lie at all really. If you were willing to ignore the supersoldier part. It made Ned gasp, his eyes bulging out of his head.
“Ned!” Peter hissed, clamping a hand on Ned’s arm.
“Rogers? Like Steve Rogers? Captain America? Are you, like, related or something?” He had started bouncing with excitement.
“It’s a common last name, Ned,” Peter said, quickly.
But Nat and Steve had prepared her for this. She laughed and said, “I get that a lot, but sadly no.”
Ned deflated and Peter released him, exhaling sharply.
MJ’s eyes flicked over her, unimpressed. She crossed her arms. “So, the internship’s a real thing?”
“It’s always been a real thing,” Peter sighed. “You know we’re just not allowed to talk about—”
“Right, right.” MJ waved him off. “Super-secret superhero stuff. Probably designing death lasers and nuclear warheads.”
Kit smiled. MJ reminded her of Nat. She relaxed just enough to say, “That’s right. Tiny ones… to fit in Stark’s suits.”
MJ twitched out a smile, or the idea of one.
“Kit!” Peter protested.
A bell rang, cutting off whatever he might have said.
“Come on,” he groaned. “Let’s go.” Their defeated faces weren’t exactly selling her on this whole high school thing.
Turned out though, high school was nothing but rules and she was good at that. She did what the teachers told her to do, following Peter’s example when something confused her and passed virtually unnoticed. She loved how little attention anyone paid her, no one in the whole school so much as glanced at her. As long as she followed along, no one would notice anything strange about her.
She almost survived the whole day unscathed. The four of them were walking out of the building, headed toward the subway stop. Peter had invited them all over to study, saying that his aunt would order take out for them. They’d just passed the school’s main stairs, when a short boy in a sportcoat called out to them.
“Who’s your new friend, Penis Parker?”
Kit froze. “What did you call him?” she growled, rounding on him.
“Kit.” Peter put a hand on her elbow, trying to pull her back. He seemed more resigned than hurt, his face collapsing into exhaustion. “Don’t,” he said, although the tightness in his voice didn’t convince her.
“He can’t even come up with a new insult,” MJ said, voice dripping with venom. “Can’t you at least try to step up your game, Flash?”
He glared at MJ, but stepped closer to Kit, smiling. “You’re new, right? I know making friends is hard at first, but you can do a lot better than this.” He nodded toward Peter.
Following along suddenly didn’t seem like the better option. “Back off,” she snarled.
“Don’t worry, Kitty. I don’t bite.” He moved to put his arm around her.
She hit him right in the nose, just hard enough to make him stumble back away from her. He stared at her, shocked into silence.
Kit bared her teeth. “I do.”
Fun Fact: MJ once threw the Academic Decathlon bell across the room when Flash made an awful comment about Liz. Mr. Harrington made her buy a new one for the team.
Kit could hear arguing in the living room. No yelling yet, but she was sure it would come. She sat with Peter in the kitchen pretending to do homework and waiting for them to call for her. They would come to a decision eventually. She hadn’t even broken the boy’s nose and it barely bled; it could have been much worse. That didn’t count for much. She still lost control. She still failed.
“Thank you, by the way.”
Kit jolted when Peter spoke suddenly, loud and close compared to what she’d been eavesdropping on.
“For standing up to Flash. I mean, yeah, you probably shouldn’t have punched him, but still… thanks.”
“How do you handle that everyday?”
Peter shrugged, bouncing the end of his pencil against the table. “It used to be harder. But ever since becoming Spider-man, I don’t know, I’ve got bigger things to worry about. It’s hard to focus on a guy making fun of you when there are people out there doing real bad stuff. And, you know, he’s really not that creative. He’s been calling me the same stupid name since we were twelve.”
“Still. I’ll punch him again if he says that… or if he tries to touch me.”
Peter smiled “I don’t think he’ll get the chance next time. You scared the shit out of him. And anyway, MJ’ll stop him.”
“Why would she do that?”
“You’re like her new favorite person. She thinks you’re badass.”
“It’s a good thing,” he said quickly. “It’s like… you’re tough and you don’t let people push you around.”
Kit frowned and grumbled, “I’m supposed to do what I’m told.”
“Yeah, but… I don’t know. Sometimes you gotta do what you think is right instead of what they tell you. I mean, your dad should understand that more than anyone.”
“Kit?” Steve called her from the living room.
She couldn’t tell if he was angry or not from his tone. Dread still crept through her stomach. She got up from the table and glanced at Peter.
He gave her two thumbs up and grinned at her. “Don’t worry. It’ll be okay.”
She doubted that, but she trudged into the living room anyway. Steve and Natasha stood together in front of the windows, facing Bucky on the couch and Tony standing behind him. She really didn’t want to have to stand in between them.
“It’s okay, Kit,” Natasha said, “Come here.”
Kit couldn’t read her face, but she did as she asked. She crossed her arms, hoping it would make her look smaller.
“He deserved what he got and I’m not sorry. He tried to touch me. I’d do it again,” she said quickly, before they could start in on her.
Tony gestured widely with his arms—What did I tell you?
Steve leveled her with his eyes. He was using his disappointed Captain America face; the one he knew worked on anyone who grew up idolizing him. Usually, she thought it was clever. Him trying it on her was irritating. “You shouldn’t have punched that boy,” he said.
“You know he calls Peter names? He makes fun of him. And Peter can’t do anything about it because he has to hide his powers. What would you have done?”
Bucky smiled. Him and Steve carried a silent conversation for a moment, then Bucky’s smile widened. Steve sighed.
“She’s got you pinned, Rogers,” Tony said, smirking. “She’s too much like you for her own good.”
“I’m sorry,” Natasha snarled. “Wasn’t this your idea?”
“Yeah. And didn’t all of you agree to this?”
“We thought it’d be good for her.”
“So did I. Until she lost all that control she claims she has.”
“That has nothing to do with this!”
“It has everything to do with it!”
“Stop it!” Kit shouted. The windows shook. They all turned to look at her. “I get it. I messed up. So don’t send me back. I won’t argue. And instead… you’ll let me patrol with Peter.”
Tony scowled. “Absolutely not.”
“Why? You thought about bringing me on missions.” She gestured at Steve and Natasha. “This would be a step below that, but it’d be good practice. Isn’t that what you’re doing with Peter?”
“You’re not dropping out of school,” Bucky said.
“You’re kidding me,” Tony scoffed.
“No, Stark, I’m not.” Bucky didn’t bother to look at him. He met Kit’s eyes instead. “Education is important. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. You think Steve and I didn’t want to go to college? We didn’t have a choice. She does.”
“Seems to me you choose to join up instead,” Tony said, rolling his eyes.
“I joined the army at 24, jackass. Well after that ship sailed. You think two working class kids could afford college in 1935? Then you’re more deluded than I thought.”
Natasha nodded. “He’s right. And I think patrolling with Peter is a great idea.” She shot Kit a small smile.
“And here I was thinking, usually, when kids lash out violently they get punished for it.”
“Peter set Coney Island on fire and you made him a suit,” Natasha pointed out.
“I…” Tony paused, deer in headlights for a moment. He glanced at Steve, who only raised his eyebrows at him. “Fine, whatever,” he decided. “Raise your spawn how you want. See if I care.”
Natasha shook her head at him, then turned to Kit and smiled. “Go on then, kiddo. You’ve got homework.”
Fun Fact: Bucky is actually taking classes at a local college--fighting for access to the G.I. bill was not fun, but totally worth it. He wants to be a history major and maybe teach one day.
Chapter 16: If You're Gonna Shoot Someone, Shoot Me
Heads up: (brief) depiction of a school shooting in this chapter. No gore or anything. (Spoiler Alert!) Our favorite heroes quickly stop it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Alright, here we are.” Peter spread his arms out wide over the rooftop view of Queens. Kit couldn’t read his expression very well through his mask, but she swore he smiled at her. “Welcome to your first day as a Friendly, Neighborhood… What are we calling you?”
She rolled her eyes and sighed, hanging her legs over the side of the roof. “I don’t want another name. Besides, you’re literally the only Avenger with a secret identity.”
This had been discussed extensively, although not necessarily with her present, before Nat and Steve allowed her to go. Keeping her a secret she understood, but she fought them on the suit. She didn’t care if Tony made it. They eventually got her to accept a pair of tactical goggles, one of Bucky’s, resized and upgraded with Tony’s tech. She also wore her hood up and another jacket over that, so she thought her identity would be more than safe.
“Yeah, but… I can’t just call you by your real name.”
Kit smirked. “Is there something wrong with a superhero named Margaret?”
“Admit it.” Peter pointed at her. “Having a superhero name would be fun.”
“If you say so.”
“What about… Miss America?” he said, then quickly recoiled and shook his head. “Wait, ew, no-no-no. MJ would kill me. The Recluse? It’s a spider. Because Black Widow?”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but… I hate spiders.”
“Oh, low blow, Kit,” he said, hand at his chest like he’d been shot. He shook his head. “What about The Sphinx? Get it? ‘Cause kit is a baby cat.”
“Those are hairless.”
“Okay. How about Mau? Or Maine Coon?”
Kit laughed and rolled her eyes. “You’re just listing breeds now.”
He snapped his fingers, making a muffled thump sound with his gloves. “I got it! The Russian Blue.”
She hummed, swinging her legs back and forth, considering. “It’s not the worse thing I’ve ever heard.”
“The Russian Blue.” He dropped his voice an octave and narrowed his eyes. “Can I call you Blue?”
“Is there usually this much talking on patrol?”
He shrugged. “I was always by myself until now.” Then he stood and held his hand out. “You ready?”
She took his hand and he pulled her up, then put his arm around her.
“You afraid of heights?” he asked.
Before she could answer, he thwiped a web out to the next building and pulled. Her stomach dropped as the ground fell away. She held onto Peter tightly and buried her head in his shoulder. With the way he swung between buildings, her vision rolled like a rocking ship and made her sick to her stomach. The air roared in her ears.
He landed on top of an apartment building, but she didn’t move.
“Kit? Are you okay?”
“You, um… you can let go now.”
She looked up and realized she’d wrapped her legs around him too, trying to hold on.
“Sorry,” she said and climbed down.
“No, it’s okay. Don’t—” Peter froze. A second later, someone screamed. “Hold on,” he said, picking her up again. They swung towards the sound.
They landed on the sidewalk in front of a school. People were running, scrambling in a panic, but someone stopped cold when they saw Peter.
“A man… with a gun…” the woman stuttered, the whites of her eyes wide around her irises. She pointed towards the school.
Kit and Peter looked and each other… and then they ran.
The gunshots weren’t hard to follow. They passed people sprinting the other way, shouting and screaming. The sounds blurred in Kit’s ears. They found him in a hallway, opening a classroom door.
Peter shot a web, pulled away the man’s automatic rifle, and webbed it to the ceiling. “Sorry, man,” he said, a growl at the edge of his voice, “That’s cheating.”
Kit punched the man in the jaw, hard, and the crack that followed told her she’d shattered it. His head snapped back and he collapsed. He clearly didn’t know how to actually fight, Kit thought, just a coward behind a gun. Still, he tried to stumble back to his feet. She grabbed him by the shirt and threw him against the wall, putting a dent in the lockers, then she kicked him in the chest for good measure. He didn’t get up again.
Peter ran into the classroom and helped the students through the door and down the hallway. He told them it would be alright, to head for the entrance, that the police would be here soon. Kit stood near the unconscious gunman, just in case, and watched. How did it come so naturally to him? He helped people the way she threw punches—instinctively, effortlessly, and without hesitation.
When the last of the students had gone, he turned to her.
“You okay?” he asked, his voice raw and unsteady. The sound threw her for a second. He’d been so calm a moment before.
He nodded, looking at the man lying at her feet. “Just a little too close to home, you know? This could have been our school.”
Our school, she thought. It could have been Ned and MJ in that classroom. It could have been Peter.
“Let’s go,” he said and held out his hand to her again.
His hand shook. He must have been terrified and she knew she barely understood why. But she could understand that fear didn’t stop him, even though it would probably stop her. She could understand why he wore a mask. Fear is easier to face if no one else sees it.
Fun Fact: Peter always tries to take care of the stray cats and dogs around the city. Aunt May has had to stop him from taking them home... many times. Now, he usually drops them off at shelters.