The noise sounded great to Clint’s ears. Most of his brothers had made it to the table for breakfast and listening to them exchange information, joke and tease felt good. He’d gotten up early and figured pancakes was the quickest to make for a large group.
Clint glanced over to see Aaron make his way over to him.
“Hey, sleep okay?” Clint asked.
“Sure.” Aaron hesitated. He still wasn’t sure if he’d be welcome after the events of last night. “Since being out in public isn’t an option, is there some place where I can get a workout?”
“There’s a gym on the floor below this one. It’s got a fucking awesome obstacle course. Jarvis can make it as challenging as you want.”
“Listen, why don’t you get some pancakes and work it off afterwards?”
Aaron took a quick look at the group. One of them, Cory or Will was watching him. He didn’t know them well enough to see the differences.
Clint held out a large platter of pancakes. “This is the last batch. Go ahead. It’ll be fine.”
With a nod, Aaron took the platter and headed to the table. After Clint washed his hands he followed and took a spot between Ethan and James. By the time Aaron sat, Marta was sliding into the empty one next to it.
“Hey, Clint,” Cory said. “Where’s Phil?”
“Conference call with Hunley and Fury,” Ethan answered.
“The entirety of the world’s secrets rests with those three,” Will commented. He poured himself some coffee.
“All of our brains put together could never hold everything they know,” Clint added. He was pleased to see Marta and Aaron talking between themselves. Their fingers just touching to show the affection between them.”
“Oh. My. God.”
The group silenced and looked to see Tony Stark standing not far.
“Stark,” Clint ground out. “You weren’t due back until tomorrow.”
“I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. Jarvis?”
“Just wait, I’ll get this,” Tony said.
“Stark, we’re eating breakfast,” Clint said exasperated. “Go bug Phil.”
“Not even Jarvis wouldn’t let me in on that bitch ‘n stitch.” Tony walked around the table and began pointing. “You’re Lambert, there’s Gamble, Cross and then James, oh and Brandt.”
They grinned at one another.
“Sorry, partner,” Cory said. “The only one you got right is Clint and you already knew which one he was.”
“Which one of you weirdos broke into my home, then?”
All eyes went to Aaron who shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry.”
He went back to eating and Tony smiled. He went over and squeezed a chair in to sit next to him.
“You want a job? I ask because anyone who can beat Jarvis deserves to get paid a shit-ton so I can make sure they won’t do it again.”
“Um…no.” Aaron wasn’t sure if he even liked Stark to begin with.
“Good on you, Aaron,” James said. “He’s the man. His tax breaks have tax breaks.”
“Corporate asshole that I am,” Tony said with a nod, “the fact of the matter is Aaron Cross would work on the Avengers side of things.” He turned back to Aaron. “I’ve got to ask, where in the hell did you get those glasses your girl was wearing? Detailed zoom, infrared capabilities, and nicely fashioned.”
“I made them.”
“You made them?” Tony wasn’t sure if he could believe it. He glanced over at Clint who only shrugged his shoulders. “Is this what the CIA trains their operatives to do nowadays?”
“YouTube,” Marta answered. “Aaron watches YouTube incessantly. Drives me insane, but still quite useful.”
“Let me get this straight,” Tony said. “Hacking into Jarvis, building superspy glasses, nearly destroying a server with Ft. Knox security and hijacking motorcycles all from YouTube?”
“Stealing the motorcycle was easy,” Aaron said.
“I don’t understand,” Tony said. “How many times did you watch them?”
“Once.” Aaron finished off his pancake and got another.
“Mr. Stark,” Marta began.
“Tony, please, since I want to hire your man.”
“Tony, Aaron has a progressive eidetic memory.”
“Wait, I thought that he…”
“Tony,” Clint said. No way would he let Tony get into Aaron’s history right now. “That’s enough. Aaron said no.”
“Sure. I know when to leave well enough alone.” Tony got up from the table and tapped Aaron on the shoulder. Mouthing “call me”, Tony made the motion of a phone at his ear before leaving.
Brian had his arms folded as he watched Tony taking the elevator. “I say we kill him, put the body in the trunk of his limo, bury him under Trump Tower. Who’s with me?”
Five hands rose.
Ethan was on the bed watching TV when William emerged from the shower. Using the remote he turned it off.
“Coulson wants a meeting in the conference room in half an hour,” Ethan explained.
“As busy as he’s been on the other end of this thing, I’m not surprised.” William tossed the towel aside and went to the dresser. He fished out a pair of underwear. “Any ideas?”
“Byer’s movements for the last six months are virtually nonexistent. My guess is Coulson might have something on Candent Group.”
“We should fly back this afternoon,” Will said.
“Cory, James and Brian made plans for one of the big museums and Central Park. We should go.”
“I’m not in the mood for sight-seeing, Ethan. Besides, we did what we came here to do.”
Ethan swung his feet around and stood. “I thought we came here to help your brothers.”
“Yeah, we did.” Will opened the closet and searched for a pair of slacks and a shirt. “It’s done.”
“Will, don’t you want to spend time with them, get to know them?”
William turned around after sliding on the pants and grabbed the shirt from the bed. “I read their backgrounds when Coulson dropped in on us.”
“What’s wrong with you? I’ve never seen you like this?” Ethan moved closer to William and took the tie from his hands. “Talk to me.”
“Jesus, Ethan, you don’t see it?”
“No. What is it?”
“I don’t have anything in common with them. All of them have the shittiest childhoods…”
“No, not Cory,” William repeated. “He was the only white kid at his school.”
“I’m not getting what you’re telling me here, Will.”
“Gamble had an aunt he hated raising him, James’ only real parent was his father, Clint’s entire childhood is a goddamn Lifetime movie and Cross was never wanted to begin with by anyone.”
“And they’re all great men despite all that.”
“Exactly.” Will lowered his eyes. “I got a fucking BMW for my 16th birthday.”
“Are you telling me that because you had a perfect white-picket fence home on the fancy side of town that you’re less than them?”
“I got it all handed to me, Ethan. Never had to fight for a damn thing, not like they did.”
“God, I love you,” Ethan grinned. He pulled William into his arms. “For all you knew I was a traitor and you stood by me. You walked away when you thought I was wrong, but in the end you knew what had to be done. You trusted me, Will. You’ve been willing to go against the world for me and you’ve been the voice in my ear. You’re the bravest man I know.”
Ethan stepped back. “Your parents would love them.”
William laughed a little. “Dad and James would share bomb diffusing techniques.”
“You mother would severely question Cory for his hunting practices until she was satisfied, the animal lover that she is.”
“Okay, enough, double oh seven,” Will chuckled. He leaned in close to Ethan. “Thirty minutes, right?”
“You just got out of the shower,” Ethan reminded him.
William lifted his eyebrows. “You missed the last one.”
Ethan was still laughing when William silenced him with a kiss.
Clint tapped his fingers on the table. He wished for his bow. Sitting had never settled well with him. They were slowly gathering in the conference room for the news Phil had for them. Aaron and Marta were across from him talking and smiling back and forth. Cory was toying with a huge fucking knife that looked like it could skin an elephant. Brian and Jim were snickering and poking each other at the far end of the table. They were never shy about PDA or how they seemed physically connected with one another in every way. William and Ethan finally arrived. Clint noted both of them had wet hair including the exchanged grins.
It was another minute before James ambled into the room with Sam close behind. James wore one of Sam’s old shirts and the collar hung open exposing a hickey on the side of his neck. The room exploded in applause at the sight. James did a mock bow before Sam pulled him into the chair.
Clint leaned over. “Now I know why you two were late. He’s married, you know.”
“Divorce papers are getting filed in a few days. He told me the night you left for LA,” Sam replied in low voice. “Plus he talked to her yesterday. Seems that we’re both headed for his kid’s birthday party in a few months.”
“Interesting,” Clint observed. “You okay with meeting the ex?”
“Fuck me,” Sam breathed. “Her I don’t have a problem with. It’s the kid. Maybe she’ll fucking hate me.”
“A charmer like you?” Clint asked with a wink. He held up his fist. “Congrats on the new romance.”
Sam flicked his eyes down at Clint’s fist. “You’re serious with that. Do I look like your damned bro?”
“Seeing as I’m the reason for the new man in your life,” Clint grinned.
“Asshole.” Sam returned the fist bump.
“Gentlemen and lady.” Phil entered the room with Skye close behind. “We’ve got some ground to cover and what we have might interest you. What you choose to do with this information will be up to you.”
Phil nodded at Skye who was already at her laptop and the photo of an older man was displayed.
“This is Terrence Ward,” Phil began. “He’s an executive with Sterisyn-Morlanta, a subsidiary of Candent Group.”
“I met him once,” Marta volunteered. “It was a company function.”
“What happened?” Aaron asked.
“Not much. He had little use for scientists and no practical knowledge of what we were doing. Administration was his department.”
“What is this company, Phil?” Cory asked.
“It manufactured the medication for Outcome agents. It was contracted by the US Government for research. As far as we can tell, the extent went beyond the government’s knowledge.”
“You gave Aaron drugs?” James asked. “So, he could do your dirty work?”
“That’s enough, James,” Aaron said. “She only did the science part of it. The rest of it she didn’t know anything about.”
“They say jump and you do,” Brian accused.
“No, that’s not it,” Marta insisted. “I was serving my country. The science was what I knew how to do.”
“None of you’ve got any right to judge her,” Aaron told the room.
“He’s right,” Clint intervened. “The time for recriminations is over. Let’s move on. Phil?”
No one said a word and Phil continued.
“Skye did a basic search through Candent’s servers and he’d given an interview for in-house promotional purposes. Jarvis, play.”
“No, it went back farther than that. Technically, you can look to Captain America for nearly the perfect soldier. Expert in warfare with survivability that went off the charts. He was the ideal to strive for. The real work began much later, but even then it was still archaic in it’s infancy. There are miles differences between Doghouse and Treadstone.”
The video froze on Terrence Ward’s face.
“Another super soldier program,” Clint said. “Nothing new there.”
“Doghouse was the first it seems,” Phil informed him. “Before Treadstone.”
“The first,” Will repeated.
“What?” Ethan asked.
William straightened and leaned forward. “Well, starting in the fifties, the CIA ran Project MK-Ultra. The fear was their own operatives being brainwashed. In defense, they began testing LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs on unsuspecting Americans in hopes of doing the same to Soviet bloc spies. The whole thing blew up in their faces in ’75 when it went public.”
“They never give up the science,” Clint said with a look at Phil. He looked to the group. “Doghouse could’ve started right after that.”
“Their results could be warehoused anywhere in a controlled environment because of how old it is,” Ethan said.
“Just hold on a sec.” Cory said. “What does this have to do with the donor? You think those samples are still at that crazy lab?” Cory looked to Marta. “Pardon me.”
“It’s okay,” Marta said. “We had nothing like that. The only sampling we had were the agents in Outcome, both prior and after implementation. We ran comparisons all across the board.”
“Go ahead, Marta,” Aaron said. “Tell them.”
She took a nervous look around the room. “Once Outcome agents were selected we seeded two specific chromosomes. One, physical attributes. Speed, healing, eyesight, and so on. The mitochondrial DNA was accentuated by 1.5% which compared to anyone else is…”
“Bionic man levels,” Brian guessed.
Marta nodded. “Intelligence was seeded similarly. Neural regeneration, sensory function, pain reception were all improved upon by leaps and bounds. Aaron took medication until he was viraled out and the enhancements locked in.” She took another unsure look. “Only, it’s had another effect no one counted on and I suspect when he was viraled off the blues, it set off a neural reaction in the brain. Normal neural receptors can travel 390 feet per second and it happens by the thousands, millions even. In Aaron’s case, it’s likely doubled. It’s why he possesses an eidetic memory and can put together complicated machinery by watching a handful of YouTube videos.”
“Is it going to hurt him?” James asked.
“If it was, it would’ve happened long ago after I viraled him off the medication.”
“You think Doghouse is connected to Outcome?” Jim Street asked Phil.
“Only as far as progressing from one to the next, but it’s possible whomever was a part of Doghouse may be your donor, The Survivor, as he’s called,” Phil explained.
“That can’t be right,” Aaron told him. “Dan Hillcott was the one who did the viral-receptor mapping back in the late 80’s. That’s what got the ball rolling on Outcome.”
“But whose DNA did they use?” Phil asked.
“That’s why we need to break into Sterisyn-Morlanta,” Ethan stated. “We get Aaron’s original DNA and we might find where it started.”
“It’s not going to be there,” Marta insisted. “They would never leave that kind of source material around after all these years. Our department was the only one with access to the samples and all the research. It’s why we all had top level security clearance. No other part of the facility had the level of security we did.”
Clint stood. “We’ve got to hit this from two fronts. Getting inside of Sterisyn-Morlanta for Aaron’s original DNA.”
“And find Doghouse, wherever the hell it’s stored at,” Cory added.
Phil nodded. “It’s a huge risk that may not pay off. Whether you think is worth it, it’s up to all of you.”
They watched as Phil left the room with Skye. Ethan, Street, Marta and Sam followed suit leaving the brothers sitting around the table.
Clint scooted forward and rested his elbows on the table.
“I started this thinking it was just for our genes, but I wanted to find you for my Uncle Carmine, Momma and myself. None of this was ever meant to be anything more than that. You are free to go home without feeling like you owe anyone anything.”
“You don’t want our help?” William asked.
“I’m just saying it’s a hell of a lot to ask of anybody, brothers or not.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Aaron announced. “I’d like to see where it ends.”
“My hat goes where I go,” Cory flatly stated. Everyone just stared at him. “For shit’s sake, I’m staying.”
“Oh,” Brian said. “That doesn’t make any sense at all. Yeah, me too. I’m in.”
“Man, I know you jerks want to find this donor, but I could care less.” James reached for a cigarette only to remember he didn’t have them. “We do this, I only want one fucking thing out of it.”
“What’s that, James?” Clint asked.
“We burn the fuck out of the bastards,” James ground out. “Make sure they can’t do this shit to anyone ever again.”
“That’s as good a reason to go all in,” William agreed.
Clint got to his feet. “Okay, assemble and shit.”
“That’s terrible,” Aaron said with a small grin.
“Damn right.” Cory stood. “We’re varsity. They’re the B team.”
“Just don’t say it too loudly,” Clint replied. “I still have to live here.”
The brothers started to leave the room and James was the last to follow.
“Which one of you assholes stole my smokes!”