Clint tossed and turned into the night unable to stop thinking about what was ahead. His mind ran a million miles a minute hitting on anything and everything. One thought led to another which had him following it wildly around. Frustrated, Clint got out of bed careful not to wake Phil.
He rubbed his eyes as he went to the kitchen and poured a glass of milk. When Clint turned, it was Aaron sitting on the sectional.
“Aaron, couldn’t sleep?”
“Sorry, I didn’t realize I woke anyone.”
“You didn’t.” Clint crossed the room and sat across from him. He took a drink. “It’s a lot to think about,” he admitted. “I’m running down one path and then something yanks me onto another. My brain just won’t stop thinking long enough for me to sleep.”
“Marta complains of the same thing,” Aaron said. “She does this whole yoga routine and swears by it.”
“I don’t see you doing any of that,” Clint joked. He grew more serious. “It’s usually nightmares that makes me pace back and forth. When I figured out they weren’t going away anytime soon I started talking about it.”
“Got better, I suppose.”
“Sometimes, still helped.”
“These aren’t nightmares, Clint.” Aaron’s eyes locked with Clint’s. “I thought so in the beginning, but they aren’t.”
“You know what they are.”
“Memories, old ones.” Aaron shook his head. “No way should this be possible, but it is.”
“I don’t get it.”
“It’s the eidetic memory that’s out of fucking control. It yanks shit out of my brain like a goddamn video. Some of it I can make out the when and where. It’s clear as day, but a few others are bright, hard and out of focus. And it fucking hurts.”
“How far back, Aaron.”
Wiping his eyes, Aaron mumbles. “The day we were born. It’s that day, I’m sure of it.”
“Fuck.” Clint slumped back.
“I haven’t told anyone because no one would believe me.”
“Welcome to the world of the weird,” Clint said. “It’s one of the first things I was told when I got to SHIELD. I learned to never take anything for granted.”
“You believe me?”
“No reason not to.” Clint leaned forward in hope that Aaron trusted him. “Tell me what you remember.”
Aaron sighed and looked straight ahead as if trying to see it again.
“Whites, greys and blacks. Blurred figures, misshapen looking down at me. I just remember being cold and the world felt hard, bright. It was like being cut out of a puzzle that I didn’t want to leave. I felt like it was all taken away. The pain is the worst of it.”
“Can I ask a favor?”
“Sure, I owe you anyway.”
Clint wasn’t going to argue with him it’s what brothers are for. Instead, he said, “I want you to meet Bruce Banner aka Hulk. He’s got some experience with memories coming at him from when he’s the Other Guy. I think he can help you with this.”
“To make it stop?”
“No, maybe to make sense of it or to be able to live with it.”
“I’ll do that.”
Clint got to his feet, started to leave and then stopped.
“Jarvis has got some great relaxation programs, ocean waves, rain, music and shit for relaxation.”
Clint went to the bedroom and as he closed the door he caught sight of Aaron headed to bed.
Clint, Phil, William, Ethan, Benji and Natasha all met in one of Tony’s labs to go over the first stage of the plan. On the screen was an overhead shot of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Clint looked over Phil’s shoulder at the tablet in his hands.
“Where’s everyone else?” William asked.
“They don’t need to be here for this,” Clint answered without looking up. He pointed to the tablet. “That one.”
“We shouldn’t start without Aaron,” William offered.
“I’ll catch him up later.”
William wasn’t satisfied. “No one’s got as big of stake in this than he does. We should wait.”
“Phil, throw that shot on the screen,” Clint said.
Before he could, William stepped forward. “Where is Aaron?”
“Busy. We’ve got some ground to cover, Will.”
“Does your superspy husband know?” William challenged. “If we’ve all got a say, we should all know what’s going on.”
“You can ask Aaron when you see him,” Clint said keeping his voice level. William’s eyes rested on Clint unmoving. “You got something to say?”
“I don’t like being kept in the dark, bro.”
The tone of the word “bro” wasn’t an affectionate one and Clint knew he had to get this handled now despite it being done in front of everyone.
“It’s personal, Will, and I don’t have the right or the permission to talk about it.”
“Superspy husband knows, I bet.” Will took a few steps closer to Clint. “You tell him but keep the rest of us guessing?”
“That’s between me and him,” Clint said unperturbed by the intimidation. “No more than I’ve got a right to know about your secrets between you and your superspy boyfriend. Right?”
William said nothing.
“Right, Will?” Clint repeated with a harder tone.
For a moment, Clint thought William was going to push the issue. Instead, he turned on his heel and went to stand next to Ethan. Relieved, Clint nodded at Phil and posted the main entrance into the building.
“As you all know we can’t just walk in the fucking front door,” Clint started. “Ethan and his crew has experience breaking into CIA Headquarters.”
“Ancient history,” Ethan said. He glanced at William who appeared to take interest. The man could still hide his deepest emotions from him at times. “It’s a new ballgame. Compact disks are the vinyl records of their day.”
“Do you like vinyl records, Mr. Hunt?” Phil asked.
“Me, too. Superior sound from a bygone era,” Phil said.
“None of us can go in,” William told the room. “Ethan would be spotted…”
“Unless he wears a mask,” Benji said.
“Clint, me or the rest of us…no way. They’re likely to have detailed files on most of us anyway,” William added.
“Again…masks,” Benji supplied.
“I’ve already got plans for you,” Clint told him with a tight smile. “Plus, Ethan, Natasha and Benji are tackling Sterisyn-Morlanta.”
Benji gazed at Natasha adoringly. “You won’t need a mask.”
“You make it a date night and you’ll be snoring falsetto,” Natasha warned with a pleasant smile.
Clint nodded when Benji shot him a questioning look. “Trust me. She’s not kidding.”
“So who goes?” Ethan asked.
“Phil,” Clint answered. “Right?”
“I suppose so,” Phil sighed. Inwardly, he was pumping his fist.
“Mask it is, then,” Benji said brightly.
“I don’t believe it’ll be necessary,” Phil replied. “My security credentials are still current.”
“With the CIA?” Benji asked.
“Of course. It’s a necessity in my line of work…previous line of work,” Phil corrected. “I retained them in should they become useful again.”
“Them?” Benji was fascinated.
“CIA, NSA, FBI, MI6…”
“Wait, you have clearances with them all?” Ethan asked.
“IMF?” Benji asked.
Phil snorted and shook his head. He picked up several folders off the table.
William grinned. “Ethan, Phil thinks he’s too good for the IMF.”
“That’s not it,” Phil replied. He finished gathering the folders. “The IMF works without a structured organization and agents fly by the seat of their pants usually resulting in the kind of chaos difficult to clean up and hide from the public in general. I prefer the classic cover story and blending in our operations with normal everyday life. Stay in the background, as it were.”
“See?” William grinned at Ethan.
“I do,” Ethan said with new respect towards Phil. “The unsung hero is always a classic.”
Phil gave him a nod.
“You’ve got a plan already, I take it,” Clint said to his husband.
“I need a camera inside a comic book.”
Cory surveyed the large dining table where they’d been partaking their meals. James, Brian, Aaron and Marta watched him unsure of what he was doing.
“Yeah, this is perfect.”
Bruce hurried over to the group. “I thought we were doing this in my lab.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Aaron said. “I can’t be hypnotized.”
“Everyone who says that doesn’t understand it,” Cory told him. He looked over at the large windows that allowed so much light inside. “Jarvis, can you lower the temperature in this place to an early Wyoming morning, about five before dawn cracks, middle of spring?”
“Yes, Mr. Lambert. Incremental temperature drops will take approximately twenty-five minutes.”
“You all might want some jackets,” Cory told them. He pointed at Aaron. “Not you.”
James left the room and Marta walked over to Cory. “What are you doing?”
“He’s recreating the environment,” Bruce answered. “Right?”
“Well, it makes sense?” Cory asked. He went to Aaron. “Hypnotism isn’t blanking your mind and giving you orders. It’s opening your mind.” Seeing that Aaron wasn’t buying it, Cory tried another approach. “You’ve heard of sweat lodges, right? People will have visions in them, but it only happens when a person is willing to accept what they see, learn from it. But you’ve got to let it happen. When you sleep, it’s just you and your mind, nothing else. That’s what we’re going to do here.”
“No sleeping, though,” Aaron sighed. He looked over at Marta.
James came back with jackets and handed them off to each person except for Aaron. He went last to Brian.
“We’re about fucking useless,” Brian grumbled. “Everyone’s got jobs but you and me.”
“Our time’s coming,” James said. He slipped on the windbreaker. “It’s not over by a long shot. These jokers aren’t going to have all the fun.”
“Lay on the table, Aaron,” Cory ordered. He didn’t need a jacket. The cold was his friend.
“I’ll get a pillow for his head,” Marta offered.
“Didn’t have one,” Aaron told her as he did as he was told. “It has to be as close as we can get to it.”
When Aaron was on the table, he laid back and tried to relax. It was useless.
“Just close your eyes.” Cory looked up at the light. “Jarvis, raise the light level.”
The coolness was seeping into the room.
“I want you to breath in and out, slow,” Cory told him. “Clint was telling me that Marta does yoga.”
Aaron chuckled, his eyes still closed. “Yeah, it’s sexy.”
“Think about how she breathes when she does it, then you do it.” Cory saw his breath on the air. It was getting close.
It took ten minutes for Aaron to get relaxed enough. The coldness began bleeding into him, then he heard the first baby’s cry.
Aaron jerked his eyes open and threw himself off the table. “Fuck!”
Marta and Cory were close by.
“It’s over, Aaron,” Marta comforted. “It’s over.”
“What?” He’d just closed his eyes. “What happened?”
“You did it,” Cory said with a hint of a smile.
“I don’t remember.”
“Jarvis recorded everything for you to watch later,” Bruce said from the other side of the table as Marta put a jacket around his arms to warm him up.
“You described a face and Jarvis was able to get some of it,” Cory told him. “Want to take a look?”
“Sure.” Aaron didn’t want to, but it was important. He was guided to the screen and the outline of a face appeared. A hint of eyes, mouth and nose was there. One of the eyebrows was a little higher than the other.
“Anyone you recognize?” Bruce asked.
“No, maybe…I’m not sure.” He looked at Marta. “I did that?”
“Sure did, brother,” James said moving closer. “You said he looked us all over.”
“Helluva memory you got there,” Brian agreed. “Remind me to never play cards with you.”
“He’s getting some rest,” Marta told the group. She gave Cory a fond look. “Thank you.”
After she left them, Cory, James and Brian stared at the sketch. Bruce watched from a distance.
“I will attempt facial recognition,” Jarvis said, “but the likelihood of finding a match is negligible without more specific information.”
“It needs to be aged,” Brian suggested.
“That fucking eyebrow,” James said. He leaned in closer. “Old scar?”
“There are any number of conditions to cause one being higher than the other,” Bruce offered. “Bells Palsy comes to mind.”
“There had to have been a hell of a lot of people there,” Cory mused. “We were looked over by all of them at least once.” He pointed at the sketch. “But this one…this one was different and Aaron knew it.”
“Albert Hirsch, Terrence Ward and Dan Hillcott knew these programs up and down,” Bruce said. “They’re all old enough to have been there when you all were born.”
“Hirsch is dead,” James replied.
“Terrence Ward still runs Sterisyn-Morlanta,” Brian added.
“Dr. Dan Hillcott,” Cory announced. “Where the hell is he?” He looked at them. “Anyone know?”
“Jarvis?” Bruce asked.
“Dr. Dan Hillcott’s last known location was Stanford University as a researcher in viral genetics,” Jarvis stated. “Dr. Shearing’s information regarding Dr. Hillcott at Ft. Dettrick has no corroborating evidence to date. Dr. Hillcott’s whereabouts appear to have been erased.”
“The bastard knows everything,” Brian grumbled. “He could be dead like Hirsch.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” Bruce told them. “Hillcott was considered ahead of his time while at Stanford. If he was killed like Hirsh, appeared to be a heart attack, it would’ve made news, at least in our circles. Dr. Shearing would probably agree if you ask her.”
“If he’s as smart as you say he is, then they’d want to keep him breathing,” James said. “If a guy could make me a few billion bucks in government funding I sure as hell wouldn’t let him get dead.”
“And we’re back to Terrence Ward,” Cory said.
“I would bet my new motorcycle that this Hillcott knows every fucking secret from Doghouse to Outcome,” Brian swore. “He knows who the fucking donor is. You can guarantee it.”
“Jarvis,” Bruce said moving closer to the screen. “Can you access Stanford University’s staff directory from the mid 80’s and find Hillcott’s photo?”
Seeing both the picture and the sketch displayed side by side, the men leaned forward.
“Opaque the sketch and lay it over the photo,” Bruce told the AI.
The sketch slid over the picture and the men straightened.
“Fuck me,” James said.
“You can say that again,” Cory added.
“Fuck me, too,” Brian repeated.
The sketch and the picture lined up perfectly.