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Name: Anthony Edward Stark
Partner: Virginia Potts
Children: Morgan and Nathan Stark (blood), Peter Parker (adopted)
Alias: John Ford

Downstairs, Em was already sitting with Taffy. One hand was typing on her laptop while the other was spooning oatmeal into her mouth.

“What’re you doing, Muffin?”

“Homework,” she said, taking a sip of orange juice.

“Half an hour before the Peter comes?”

“Yep.”

“You really are my daughter.”

She glanced at me and went back to whatever she was doing. “Where’s Nate?”

“Upstairs practicing. Where’s Mom?”

“Messing about with her hair.”

“You’ll never catch me doing that stuff.” She took another sip of juice.

“Not interested?”

“Not a chance.”

Nate’s head poked over the railing. “What’re you doing, Em?"

“Homework, little brother.”

“I’m only a year younger than you!”

“Still little.”

He scowled and thumped down the stairs. “I’ve got practice tonight, Pop.”

“Yeah, I’m aware.”

“So, you taking me? Or are you going to dump me on Cara or Jackie or Ness again?”

“Ness’s mom volunteered to take you, Nipper.”

“Great.”

He went over to the cupboard and started rooting around for something. I could hear him reciting his Phantom of the Opera lines under his breath.

“By the way, Nate, I heard that Rory was coming to see your performance.” That made him drop the (thankfully unopened) box of cereal on the floor.

“That’s mean, Pop,” said Em, giving me a frown.

“That’s what Stephen told me.”

My son was now red as a cherry cough drop.

“What’s going on?” Pepper came downstairs.

“Pop’s teasing Nate,” Em said.

“Tony?”

“He said that Rory was coming to Nate’s performance,” Em reported.

“Really, Tony?” Pepper crossed her arms and gave me the Disappointed Look.

“That’s what Stephen told me.”

“Uh-huh. Are you Stephen’s parrot?”

“No.”

“Then stop repeating shit he says.”

“Get roasted, Pop!”

“Eat your oatmeal, Morgan Trinity.”

Nate stormed past me upstairs and his bedroom door slammed.

“Dammit, Tony,” said Pepper. “Go apologize right now.”

I did.

“Thank you.”

My daughter always wore something related to the ocean. Even though it was October, and nearing Halloween, it was warm enough for shorts. So, she was wearing a dark blue sweatshirt with an ocean design on it and jean shorts that hit her knees. Her hair had been pulled back into a ponytail.

Nate always wore a shirt related to the musical that he was doing at the Playhouse. His closet and dresser were stuffed with Billy Elliot, Hamilton, Wicked, Chicago, Les Misérables, Grease, and Cats shirts, to name just a few. Now, he was getting Phantom of the Opera shirts, so that’s what he was wearing today, along with his favorite pair of jeans that had several patches over the ripped areas.

They put on their discs and their shoes, then grabbed their bags and went out to the corner, where Peter was supposed to pick them up.

I had to hustle to work after that, me and Pep.

My job is a pain in the ass. I work for tech support. Yes, I'm serious. Pepper’s their PR person, mainly because she could control her wackass boyfriend after he announced himself Iron Man. I don’t think that was on her resume, but I like to think so.

I had a headache by the time my lunch break rolled around. Actually, it was more like my fingers and my head hurt collectively.

Pepper had a PR thing, so I walked from my building to Drake to shake Vision from his stupor so that he could go to lunch with me.

He looked in charge and relaxed, reclined in his chair in his own office instead of the cubicle I had.

“Can I help you, John?”

“Yeah, I’m here to drag your ass out for lunch and a couple rounds.”

“Sounds good.”

We went to the Drake Diner, because it was nearby, and had a few beers before sitting at a booth.

“It’s a little weird,” I said. “We live, like, really close together and yet we don’t really hang out. How’s life going?”

“Good. Ryan’s got a dance coming up and he’s really looking forwards to this one. Rose’s lessons with Abbey are paying off. She punched one of those standing punching bags so hard that it flew across the room and fell over.”

“Remind me not to mess with her.”

“If you had messed with my ten-year-old, her entire family would have kicked your ass into the atmosphere.”

“But first, she’d kick a hole through me.”

“Just like her mother would.” Vision pointed his fork at me.

“She got that from her momma, because you wouldn’t punch a hole through me.”

“True.”

Lunch with my friend seemed to go by too fast, and soon I was stuck back in my cubicle, telling people to turn their things on and off.

There was a picture sitting on my desk. In it was Pepper, Em, Nate, Taffy, and Julia, Nate’s cat. They were standing out on a terrace in Wakanda.

Pepper was wearing an olive-colored dress that hugged her figure, dusty orange colored heels, dangly earrings with gems that matched her dress and heels, and glittery green nail polish.

Trinity was wearing a light blue top with crisscrossing straps over her collarbone and shoulders, a long skirt with a pattern of blue and white triangles, heels the same shade of her top, and sparkly blue stone earrings.

Nate was wearing a dark grey shirt, black skinny jeans with a black belt with a shiny silver buckle, and dusty black shoes. His summer musical had been Grease, so he was dressed like Danny. Yes, he had the hair in the picture, too.

Taffy was sitting next to Em, with her fancy blue collar on, while Julie was being held by Nate.

They were all smiling up at the camera. This had been for spring break, because this was the only place we could go for breaks.

Anyway, whenever I felt discouraged, I looked at that picture for a bit and felt better, seeing them smiling at me.

The day finally ended and I came home to a dog who was extremely eager to get outside. I let her out and sat down on the couch with a sigh. My calf muscles were aching like nothing else, like they did half the time these days. Julie was sleeping on her chair. Somedays I envied her. It seemed so easy to be a cat. All you had to do was sleep and eat and have someone to love you and that was about it. Pepper had a PR thing that was going on till about dinnertime, so I was alone until the kids came home in fifteen minutes. I could tell when that happened when there were muffled footsteps outside, the noise of a key turning in the lock, and the door swinging open.

“Pop?”

“In here, Muffin.”

She looked into the living room. “You look like crap.”

“That’s essentially how I feel.”

“Does Mom have a thing?”

“Yeah, till dinner. I’ll be going for a run at four, so please don’t destroy the entire house while I’m gone.”

“I’ll do my best. Ness’s mom should be here at four-ten to pick Nate up.”

“Okay.” She called for Taffy and went upstairs.

I found that running around the lake reduces my stress and aches when my daughter was born, so I’ve been doing it ever since.

I put in my earbuds and turned on a music playlist at four, then started my jog towards the lake. It felt nice to stretch my legs and follow my familiar path towards the water.

I jogged past the cul-de-sac where more of us lived. Sam was sitting on his front porch, drinking something, and waved an arm in greeting as I went past. I waved back and kept going. I knew some of the people that went around the lake, because the thirteen kids that lived around here had various friends. Meg and Prue didn’t count, because they had each other and lived mainly in Louisiana. I jogged three laps around the lake and then turned on the trail to head back home, taking the longer way now, which led past the hill that was the Palmer-Strange backyard, the giant hill that fused the Lang and Banner backyards, and behind Thor and Mikey’s house, Clint’s house, and Nick’s house, then went around to my front door. Pepper wasn’t back yet, but she would be in about fifteen minutes. Em always walked Taffy right before I got back, so I wasn’t surprised to be alone again. Nate was at the Playhouse, of course.

“Hey, Dad.”

I almost jumped out of my skin, then realized that it was just Peter, who was sitting at the couch, on his phone.

“You about overstrained my poor heart, Peter!”

“Sorry. You weren’t home, so I let myself in.”

“You just here to hang?”

“Yeah. Saw you running by the circle.”

I nodded and sat down. My legs were feeling better now, since I had stretched them out.

“Are you okay?”

I rubbed my face. “Just tired. That’s all.”

“I feel you,” he said. “Thank God I’m out of college.”

“You were out of college when Meg and Prue were toddlers.”

“That’s true. Can May and I stay for dinner?”

“Wait, what?”

There were footsteps on the stairs and May came downstairs. “I had to use the bathroom. Hi, Tony.”

“Now that you two are both here, yeah, I guess.”

“Thanks.” May sat next to her nephew and kissed his cheek. “Still talking with your friends?”

“I miss them like crazy,” he said forlornly.

“I could still pay them to fly down—”

“No, Dad, they’re coming next weekend.”

The garage door opened. “Tony?”

“Hey, Pepper. We’ve got guests for dinner.”

She peered around the corner. “Oh, hi, guys.”

“What’s for dinner?” Peter asked.

“I was thinking just some tomato soup and grilled cheese, because I need to force Tony’s ass to make something that he won’t set on fire.”

“That was once!”

“Thrice,” Peter corrected.

“Fine, thrice. Whatever.”

Pepper shook her head. “Em’s out walking Taffy?”

“Yep.”

“Nate was taken to practice?”

“As far as I can tell.”

“Very perceptive,” Peter said.

Em and Peter hung out and played on the Play Station before Nate came home, running his fingers through his gelled-up hair and red as the sunset outside.

“Why do you look like Bob the tomato from VeggieTales?” Em asked, glancing at her brother before returning her attention to the TV.

“Shut up, Morgan.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Was a certain Miss Palmer-Strange outside?”

“Maybe,” he mumbled, a new flush creeping up his neck and circling his ears.

“It’s okay, bro,” Peter said with a grin. “I know exactly how you feel, and Dad does too.”

I nodded. Julie ran down the steps and circled around his ankles. He reached down and picked her up before heading upstairs.

“Did I say something wrong?” asked Peter.

“No, he’s just sensitive about Rory,” Em said. “Like, seriously. All you got to do is say her name and he’s a mess.”

“Oh, if that wasn’t me and Ned with Liz.” Peter scratched his head.

“How is Ned?” I asked.

“He’s great. I’m going up to visit him and MJ next weekend.”

“Tony, can you get off your ass and make dinner?”

“Yes, honey.”

If Pepper wants me to do something, I don’t say no.

During dinner, Peter asked Nate about his practice.

“Ness is there,” he said. “She’s Carlotta. Jackie, Cara, and me all tease her about it, and she takes it in stride. Anyway—” he smoothed back his hair, “—being Phantom is amazing. Ness and I practice the little toad scene during recess, and everyone thinks it’s funny.”

His sister shook her head and took a bite of her sandwich. “You’re so weird, Nate.”

“Yeah, I know, but also, my entire life is weird.” He took a sip of milk. “I’m the second child of Iron Man. Our neighbors are Captain America and Black Widow. Everyone thinks that they’re dead. And several of the people are supposed to be dead.”

“Touché.”

“How’s swim practice going, Em?” May asked.

Em shrugged. “Abi and I are doing well.”

“I used to want to do football,” said Peter. “But I didn’t.”

“Why?” asked Nate.

“Because if I didn’t before the spider bite, then I shouldn’t after.”

Em said, “That’s a dumb reason, Peter. No offense.”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t clue anyone in.” He shrugged. “I had always been a nerdy outsider.”

“I’m a nerd,” said Nate.

“Yeah, but you’re popular. I wasn’t at all.”

“But weren’t you, like, really hot when you were in high school?” Trinity raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t know. Was I?”

May set down her spoon. “Apparently Liz thought so.”

Dinner passed too quickly and suddenly Peter and May were walking out the door, after many hugs from us and a container of soup pressed into their hands.

I arched my back and groaned. “God, I’m getting old.”

“What else is new?” Nate asked.

“Nipper the sass master.”

“He’s your child, Tony,” said Pepper.

“Good point.”

Em was already upstairs and on her laptop when I opened the door and looked inside. I could hear “Dance, Dance, Dance” leaking out of her headphones as she stared at the screen.

She jumped when I opened the door and shifted one of her headphones so that it was sitting behind her ear. “Good God, Pop.”

“Goodnight, Muffin.”

“Night.”

I walked up to her bed and kissed the top of her head. “I love you so much.”

“Love you too, Pop.” She put her headphone back and resumed looking at her screen.

Nate was flipping through his lines and mumbling when I opened his door.

“Goodnight, Nipper.”

“Night, Pop.”

“I love you so much.”

“Love you too.”

When I turned off the lamp on my bedside table and laid down, I thought about what I always did before I fell asleep: how fortunate I was. After years of having really bad luck with everything, I finally had a wonderful, fantastic, awesome wife, two kids that were pretty enthusiastic about taking up my mantle, a job that got us money, and friends everywhere I looked.

Thank God for finally letting me rest.

 

Clint was sitting at the head of the table when I came in. Everyone else was all sitting at the table with him.

“I think I’ve found something for us.” Clint pulled up a 3D map of a small cul-de-sac, with houses lining it and several behind it.

“What is it?” asked Scott.

“A place to live.”

“What’s wrong with here?” asked Hope.

“Too open,” Stephen said. “We need to go into hiding.”

“Why?” asked Rocket.

“If Prue can really bring Vision, Loki, Heimdall, and Gamora back, then everyone will want to mob her. I don’t want her to be a celebrity at five years old.”

“Maybe it’s time that we retreated anyway,” said Nat. “The Avengers having kids is insane.”

“I agree with Stephen,” said Steve.

Everyone else murmured agreement as well.

“Well, I’ve found a great place,” said Clint, spinning the hologram around.

“What is it?”

“Prairie Rose, Iowa. A small suburb outside Des Moines. Perfect for laying low. I used some of our savings to purchase all of them, and so now we just need to move in.”

“So, that’s it?” Scott asked. “No more Avenging?”

“Unless the world really needs us,” Bruce concluded.

“What about Aunt May, Tony?” Son Peter asked.

“She can move there too.” Clint moved his hand and another cul-de-sac popped up. “I bought these too. You won’t believe how cheap it is there.”

“How will we disguise ourselves?” Thor asked. “We’re a bit conspicuous.”

“Some sort of device,” I muttered. “That you could put on your body and it could change your appearance.”

“Are we going to move out before the Udaku baby is born?” asked The Other Peter.

“If we get our stuff, the devices are made, and aliases are created in time,” Steve said.

“How long should that take?” asked Hope.

“Probably a month at most,” Bruce said.

“So, it’s determined?” asked Wanda.

“Yes ma’am,” said Clint, rolling his shoulders and sighing.

“Tony, Bruce, and Nat, you guys should work on designing our new identities,” said Steve. “I think you three would be the best.”

“Good idea, Rogers. Let’s get to work, boys.” Nat held up her hand, which Steve grabbed, and she used it to pull herself up.

This should get interesting.

Chapter Text

Name: Morgan Trinity Stark

Parents: Pepper and Tony Stark

Siblings: Nate Stark (blood) and Peter Parker (adopted)

Alias: Niki Ford

 

Pop did do the best he could, I knew that. He was almost constantly overwhelmed by work, which sucked but it was also kind of stupid that he couldn’t even come to his own son’s performances or his daughter’s swim meets. Hi, yeah, that’s me.

Taffy followed me downstairs, like she always did. Julie was sitting next to the staircase, watching as I walked to the table. Mom came downstairs with her face full of makeup already, even though it was seven in the morning. I was never going to get a job that involved that sort of thing. Too much work.

“Morning, Em.”

I tried to say it back, but my mouth was full of cereal. Nate was the next one downstairs. He scooped up Julie and carried her over to the table.

“Hey, dingus,” I said, taking a sip of orange juice.

He scowled at me and set his cat down. Pop came downstairs in one of his Fancy Suits, which meant that he’d be appearing on Mom’s arm today.

“Morning, you two.” Nate nodded and kept rummaging through the cabinets for cereal. I avoided eye contact. Pop tried to make up not being around very often by trying to talk a lot when he was. Nate speculated it was a defense mechanism.

A big red Volvo SUV pulled up at the curb and rolled down its window while Nate and I waited on the corner.

“Hop in, you two!” Peter chirped.

“Hey, Stan.” We climbed in.

“Niki!” Abi waved her hand at me from across the courtyard. “Over here!”

I sat next to her. “What’s up, girl?”

We talked a bit before she nudged me and nodded towards Josh. “How’s he doing?”

“Oh, you know Jack,” I said. “Resilient as ever.”

“You still like him, Niki.”

I shook my head.

“Honey, you can’t hide secrets from me.”

“Bisexuality isn’t real.”

I turned around to see one of the jocks, Randy James, talking to his friends.

“They’re just afraid of committing to one gender and want to keep their options open.”

I turned on my heel and stormed up to him. He was easily a head and a half taller than I was, but I didn’t care.

“You’re wrong, you know.”

“What are you talking about?” he scoffed.

“My little brother is bi. So are at least seven other people I know. You’re completely wrong. Bisexuals can very much be committed in a relationship for a long time. My pop is bisexual and he’s been married to my mom for God knows how long.” I followed this up with Pop calls my ‘Muffin Laser Look’.

“It was just a joke,” he mumbled.

“Not a very good one,” Abi snapped behind me. “Come on, Niki.”

We walked away. “Is John really bisexual?” she asked.

“That’s what Henry and I think. We’re not completely sure, but we speculate.”

“You’re amazing.” She smiled at me. “I’m glad he didn’t say that pan and bi are the same thing.”

“I know that pisses you off.” Abi was pan.

Everything was the same throughout the day until my final period, science. I had Abi and Josh in this class, plus my other friend, Jesse. They were pretending to twirl their pencil like a baton when I walked in. They were a baton twirler and really good at it.

“Niki, check this out.” They tossed their pencil and caught it.

“Cool, Jesse.” I sat down.

“Hey, Abi told me about you shutting down Randy earlier.” They leaned forwards. “That’s super cool, sis.”

“When they’re talking trash about what your little brother is, you can’t sit back, you know?”

“Oh yeah. West used to beat the crap out of people who called me ‘she’ or ‘he’ on purpose.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t poke their eyes out with your baton or something,” I laughed.

“I should consider that.” They stroked their chin, like in deep thought. “Good idea, Niki.”

“I didn’t tell you,” I said in a loud whisper and we both giggled.

When I was pulling my backpack out of my locker, Josh came up to me. It was band day, so he needed help moving his trombone, because his usual ‘home’ one was getting a cleaning. Abi came with us as I grabbed Josh’s trombone. The four of us (Shield counted) walked out to the bus. I helped load the case into the back and got off, looking around for Peter’s car. I could see Thor’s. It passed by and I saw Mikey, Pete, Ollie, and Rika inside, laughing at something.

Nate was already in the car when I found it.

“Sorry, I had to help Jack with his trombone.”

“No problem, Niki,” Peter said.

Every other day, I was dropped off at the Parker house while Peter went to drop Nate off at home and then come back to teach me about being Spider-Man.

May was chilling on the couch when I dropped my bag by the door.

“Hey, May.”

“Hey, Em. There’s some Goldfish in the pantry and lemonade in the fridge.”

Peter got back as I was finishing my snack. “Come on, Em. Playtime.”

It felt great to hold my suit again. Pop made me two suits: a training one and a combat one. My training one was gold and ruby, kind of like the Iron Man suit but prettier.

Peter tossed my web shooters at me and I caught them without looking. “Good job.”

There’s three sections to our training. The first one was sense practice, the second was web shooting, and the third was swinging.

I stood with my back to Peter, knowing what was about to happen. Then, the back of my neck started tingling and I reached out to grab the stuffed animal. I caught it by the arm. “One.” Another was thrown at me. “Two.” Another. “Three.” The fourth one I was too slow on and hit my arm. The fifth one I caught. “One.” We always go up to ten, no matter how long it takes.

“Aim.” Peter was standing behind me, holding out my arm.

“Fire, Em.” I tapped the shooter and a line of web shot out and hit the target. Not a bull’s-eye, but close. “Good job, Em.”

I pulled on my mask.

Afternoon, Em.

“Hey, Trinity.”

How was school today?

“Same old, same old.” I cracked my neck. “I’m so glad these practices shake things up.”

Me, too. I like talking to you.

“Same here, girl.”

We stood in the massive unfinished part of Peter’s basement that he had converted into an obstacle course. “Swing it, Em.” I thwipped onto the ceiling, then swung around the ceiling for a bit before stopping in front of the course. “Try it.” I started through it, Trinity helping me when I needed it. I hit a couple things along the way, but it was mostly smooth. “Good job!”

I always walked home after these workouts. It seemed fitting.

Pop was lying on the couch when I walked in. “Hey, Em. I walked Taffy for you.”

“Thanks, Pop. How was your day?”

“Boring. Yours?”

“Same old thing.”

“How was practice, Muffin?”

“Good. It’s always the best part of my day.”

“Not surprising.”

“Did you ever train Peter like he does me?”

“Nah, he trained himself.”

“Really? That’s impressive.”

“Yeah, right? He’s a special kid.”

Dinner was leftover taco pizza from a couple days ago. Nate was eating so fast that he couldn’t talk. “Chill out, Nate,” said Mom, just as he choked. I reached over and whacked him on the back, making him cough up a Dorito onto his plate.

“Oh my God.” Pop rolled his eyes.

“Tony, you’re not allowed to judge,” Mom said.

“Okay, that’s true.”

It’s kind of ironic, to be honest. The daughter of Iron Man has a boring life. But I’m not allowed to say that I’m the daughter of Iron Man, for a lot of reasons, the main one being that Mom and Pop want all of us kids to have lives that are as normal as possible. It’s especially difficult when it comes to people with natural powers, like Mikey, Prue, TK and TJ, Rory, Pete, and Izzy. You haven’t met them yet, but you will. I promise.

 

I rubbed my eyes and sat up. It was ten o’clock. Pop was having people over and I was supposed to be asleep, but I was thirsty.

I had a cup of water from the bathroom and was heading back to my room when I heard Pop saying loudly, “I know, Steve!” As quietly as I could, I tiptoed to the edge of the stairs and sat down.

“Tony, calm down,” came Mom’s voice. “You’ll wake Em and Nate.”

“I’m sorry, Pepper. It’s—Steve, I can’t tell them. They’re only ten and nine!”

“We told Meg when she was ten.”

“Meg’s different than they are. They haven’t been trained since they were five years old.”

“It was just a suggestion.”

I crept back to my room before I could get caught. Tell me and Nate what? I knew about Pop’s Avengers work, obviously, but there was something else going on.

Chapter Text

Name: Natasha Alianovna Romanoff

Platonic Partner: Steven Rogers

Children: Margaret, Joshua, and Amelia Romanoff-Rogers

Alias: Ingrid Sloan

 

Mia was still asleep when I cracked open her door and walked across the soft carpet.

She rolled over when I gently shook her. “Wake up, detka. It’s time for school.”

“No, Mommy.” She pulled her blankets over her head. “Don’t want to get up.”

I picked her up and Mia made herself limp. “Put me back.”

“We’re going downstairs to breakfast. Daddy’s making waffles.”

My daughter’s head shot up. “Waffles?”

“Yep.”

She wiggled to get down and ran out the door, then scooted down the stairs.

Josh was slipping his arms through his walking sticks as I looked in, his helping dog Shield lying next to him.

“You okay, milaya? Need any help?”

“I’m fine, Mom.” He stood up and yawned. “Just need help getting downstairs.”

I picked him up and carried him downstairs to the table, where he sat down next to his younger sister, who was clapping her hands in anticipation for the waffles. Shield followed him.

The basement door opened softly and Meg stood in the doorway. Josh grinned at her. “Meg, we’re having waffles!”

“We are?” She smiled and sat down.

“I made special ones for you, Meg,” Steve said from the kitchen. He was wearing one of those ridiculous chef hats because it made Mia laugh. “It is keto week, right?”

“Yeah.” Meg does keto every other week.

The steaming plate of waffles was set on the table. Josh reached for them and piled a few on his plate.

“Not too many, Joshy Boy,” Meg said gently.

“I know, Meg.” He straightened up a little, even though he leaned because of his scoliosis.

Steve put a plate of bacon underneath Josh’s chair. “Here you go, boy.” Shield started devouring it.

Mia was trying to pour syrup on her waffles. Before she spilled it, Meg reached over and poured it for her. “There you go. Better?”

“Yep.”

Josh finished his waffles and carefully stood up. Shield stood up at the same time and started wagging his tail as Steve got up and walked over to where his work vest was hanging. “We’re leaving soon, Josh. Do you have everything from upstairs?”

“My science book and my pencil case are in my room.”

“Can I get them?” Mia asked.

“Go ahead, baby,” Steve said, and she climbed down from her chair and ran over to the staircase.

“They’re on my desk,” Josh called.

Mia came back down holding her older brother’s book and case. “I got them!”

“Put them in my bag, will you?”

She did. “Good job, Mia,” said Meg, pulling her up into her lap and kissing the top of her head. Mia beamed.

I stood up, holding my plate. Josh held his out for me.

Mia was bundled up in her coat. Her long blonde hair was spilling out over the edges. It’s funny: Meg looks exactly like me, Josh looks exactly like Steve, and Mia is a combination of us both. That’s to be expected, of course, but they were also made in a…different way. I’ll explain that later.

I pressed her disc onto her back, hidden under her shirt. “Ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Now, wait a minute, little miss.” Steve knelt down. “Where’s my hug?”

She ran over and hugged him.

“Have a good day at school, okay?”

“Love you, Daddy!” Mia waved at him and walked out the garage door to my car.

“Love you too, princess,” he said, watching her walk out.

“Bye, Steve.” I smiled at him from the door to the garage.

“I’ll see you later, Nat.”

Mia spotted her friends the moment that I stopped the car. “Bye, Mommy.”

“Love you, Marie. Have a good day!”

“Love you too,” she mumbled, climbing out of the car and running over to her friends.

Work is pretty good. Better than poor Tony’s job, anyway. I’m at the top of my hierarchy in a successful child welfare company. We help children all over the world with abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Every time I sit down at my desk, I feel like, in some way, I’m helping the little girls I had known in the Red Room. Some kids are like Josh, with health problems that are being ignored. And some kids are young as Mia or Josh.

The phone on my desk started ringing.

“Ingrid Sloan, how can I help you?”

“Ms. Sloan, this is Councilman Munter.”

“Hello, Mr. Munter.”

“We have a new budget for you, Ms. Sloan.”

I sat up straighter. “You do?”

“Yes, we decided to cut it by ten thousand dollars because we needed the money for a new restaurant.”

I put my hand over my eyes. “Sir, you realize that we have many, many restaurants here in Des Moines, right?”

“Yes, but this one’s—”

“I don’t really care. You realize that you’re taking money away from children, right? That’s not very professional, if I may, sir.” I kept my tone mild.

“Ingrid—”

“Ms. Sloan, sir.”

“Fine. Ms. Sloan, you had a lot of money to begin with. Ten thousand dollars isn’t much.”

“Sir, it really is. You don’t understand.” I shook my head and rolled my eyes. “We weren’t working on a huge budget in the first place. Cutting ten thousand dollars is stretching it big time.”

“Maybe we could discuss this over lunch at Spaghetti Works, Ingrid.”

“Again, it’s Ms. Sloan. And, as I have told you, I have a boyfriend and three children. I am not going to have lunch with you.”

He hung up on me. I put my phone back and hit my desk so hard that the picture of Clint and his family (disguised, of course) fell over. I put it back up and was relieved to see it wasn’t broken. It was just such a pain that those stupid men who had never experienced those sort of things would cut a budget for something that was trying to help children to build a new restaurant.

Somedays I hated humanity.

Mia had to be picked up at three-forty-five from school. I could see her with her friends as the crowd of kids spilled out of the front doors. She ran over to the car and climbed in.

“How was school, sweetie?”

“Fine. We learned addition today.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I have a homework sheet of it. I need help on it, because it’s hard for me.”

“Daddy or I can help you with it at some point.”

Mia begged to go over to Clint’s house, so I walked her over there. Apparently, Rory and Yon were there as well, for some reason, so she ran over to play with them.

“You’re not looking too good,” I remarked to my old friend.

“Yeah, well, when you’re the go-to babysitter for an entire cul-de-sac of kids, it’s kind of hard.” He rubbed his face. “Thank God Natty takes over a lot of it now.”

“If she’s not back by dinnertime, I’ll come and get her.”

“You got it.”

Laura looked around the corner. “Oh, there you are.”

“Hi, Laura. I’m just here to drop Mia off.”

“Yeah, I saw her.”

Josh was playing video games in the living room with Sam, with Shield lying next to him.

“Hi, Mom,” he said without looking over from the TV.

“Hey, Josh.”

“Meg’s in the basement with Barnes,” Sam said.

“Nice to see you too, Sam,” I said with a sigh.

“Steve’s at the store getting dinner stuff.”

“All right.”

I crept down the stairs to watch my daughter practice.

She was sparring with Bucky. No gear or anything, just full-on contact.

Bucky threw a hard punch at her jaw, but she grabbed his arm and used it to push herself up and over him, bringing him down with her. When he was down, she turned him over and held his arm behind him, crouching on his back. Bucky reached up and tapped her wrist, and she climbed off.

“Good job, l’venok. Remember to watch where you land.”

She nodded and shifted back into a fighting stance. “Do you want to go another round?”

He shook his head. “I’m done for today, Meg. I’m an old man.”

She smiled. “You don’t act like it, Uncle Bucky.”

Bucky glanced up at the stairs. “Hey, Nat. How much did you see?”

“Just the end tackle. Excellent job, Meg.”

“Thank you, Mama.”

Josh managed to convince Bucky and Sam to stay for dinner, so they were hanging around in the living room when Steve walked in the front door with four grocery bags.

He walked in on quite a scene. Bucky and Sam were holding Nerf guns and screaming at each other while Meg sat next to Josh, who was laughing so hard that I was concerned that he would have an asthma attack.

“What the hell is happening?”

Josh took a few hits on his inhaler. “Dad, what isn’t happening!”

Steve looked at me and I rolled my eyes.

“Ow!” Sam screeched as Bucky shot at him. “You bastard!”

Soon the air was filled with Nerf bullets. Meg was curled in a way that still allowed Josh to see, but mostly covered him with her body.

Steve stood there looking resigned as his two best friends shot each other with his six-year-old’s guns. It was so funny that I started snickering.

“If anyone cares,” he said loudly. “I got dinner.”

Sam threw open the sliding door and ran outside, Bucky right on his heels. Meg scooped Josh up into her arms and followed them, Shield behind her. The two men started fighting, but in a catfight style, which made Josh laugh even harder. He took more shots on his inhaler.

Steve sighed and moved to the kitchen. “I’m so tired, Nat.”

“Yeah? Why’s that?” I leaned against the counter.

“I have constant anxiety because of Josh, it’s too quiet around here without the kids, it’s hard taking care of a kid with a lot of health problems, and I’ve been sleeping badly.”

“You think you’re the only one with those problems, Rogers?”

“I know I’m not.”

I sighed and rubbed my eyes.

“What’s wrong, Nat?”

“You’re just like Wanda, you know? Reading emotions like that.”

“Is something up with Mia at school? Did T’Challa send you something about Josh’s health?”

“Councilman Munter is cutting our budget by ten thousand dollars so that he can build a new restaurant.”

Steve sucked in a breath. “Good Lord.”

“It’s so unfair.”

“I’m sorry, Nat. Maybe you could talk to Tony—”

“He’s not Tony Stark anymore, Steve,” I reminded him. “He’s John Ford, an employee of an engineering company. John Ford can’t do much.”

“Good point.”

“Munter also asked me to lunch. Again. I hate having to keep telling him that I have three kids and am living with my friend, who is their father.”

“Nat, if anyone can handle him, it’s you.”

“Yeah, I know. What’d you get for dinner?”

“Um, alfredo sauce, linguini, chicken pieces, and salad.”

“Did you get some different stuff for Meg?”

“Yep.”

It didn’t take long for Steve to make dinner and I went to get everyone from outside.

Sam and Bucky came in glaring at each other and covered in small welts from the Nerf guns.

“That was fun!” Josh chirped, now walking around again.

“Maybe to watch,” Sam grumbled.

“Cheer up, dude.” Steve slid a plate of chicken alfredo in front of him. “Meg, yours is coming.”

Bucky’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Now we’re talking.”

The doorbell rang and Meg went to get it. She came back with Mia.

“Dinner?” the latter asked.

“Yep,” said Bucky.

“Why’re you and Uncle Sam so dirty?”

“They had a huge Nerf war!” Josh waved his hands around, since he couldn’t move his arms without waving his sticks and breaking things.

Dinner was silent because everyone was eating so fast.

“God, that was good.” Sam finally pushed his plate away and belched. “Where’d you learn to cook like that?”

“When you’re stuck in hiding for a while, you learn new talents.”

Mia was asleep by eight-thirty. Her brother followed an hour and a half later, after multiple good-byes to Bucky, Sam, and Meg, since she couldn’t stay in the house anymore after Mia took her room.

I was drying my hair when there was a knock on the bathroom door. “Yeah?”

Steve looked in. “You okay?”

I nodded. “Just tired.”

“Same.”

“Oh, yes, it must be very difficult being a stay-at-home dad.”

“Wow, okay.”

“I was being sarcastic, Steve. I fully understand you being tired.”

Lying in bed, I curled up and thought about how much my life had changed since we moved here. I had been Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. I had been feared and respected. Now I was Ingrid Sloan, mother of three and helper of kids. I wasn’t sure if it was an upgrade or a downgrade.

 

“Why’d you ask us in here, T’Challa?” Steve asked, folding his arms.

“I remember Miss Romanoff—”
“Nat, please,” I said.

“Nat saying that she had been sterilized at a young age, correct?”

I nodded.

“Shuri wishes to experiment on you, essentially. Because of you being sterilized.”

“What does she want to do?” I asked.

“To see if it’s possible for you to have children.”

“You can do that?”

“It’s more likely Shuri can do it.”

“How?” Steve asked.

The doors slid open. “It’s simple, actually,” Shuri said. “All you have do is take an egg and a sperm, put them together so they conceive, then grow a baby in a tank or inside of the female subject. See? Simple.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why do you want to do this?”

“If we do this, it might help with illnesses that occur during pregnancy, or maybe even eliminate the threat of dying in childbirth.”

“And you want me to be the guinea pig for that?”

“Yep,” Shuri said.

“Is that why Steve’s here as well?”

“Uh-huh.”

I glanced at my friend, who was looking mildly apprehensive.

“It won’t be that hard, Nat.” Shuri put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s all right if you don’t want to do it.”

“I’ll do it.”

Shuri looked at Steve, who sighed. “I’ll do it too.”

“Yes!” She pumped her fist. “First step in the right direction.”

Chapter Text

Name: Margaret Sarah Romanoff-Rogers

Parents: Nat Romanoff and Steve Rogers

Siblings: Josh and Mia Romanoff-Rogers

Alias: Abbey Sloan-Evans

 

Rain, beating against my bedroom window, woke me up. I slid out of bed and parted the curtains. It was raining pretty hard outside.

Downstairs, Prue was eating breakfast. “Morning, Meg.”

“Morning.” I went into the pantry.

Bucky came downstairs. “Man, it is pouring out there.”

“Um, yeah.”

“What’s on the agenda today?”

“Not much..” I shrugged.

“We could just hang out with our families,” Prue said. “And we could have dinner together tonight, maybe.”

“Good idea. I’ll ask Mama and Papa about it.”

Because it wasn’t that far, we took umbrellas and walked back to our houses. The wind made my jacket flap up and I shivered as I got splashed with droplets.

I shut the front door behind me and hung the umbrella up. As I slipped out of my wet shoes, Mia came running down the hallway

“Meg!”

“Hello, Mia.” I picked her up and spun her around.

“It sure is rainy today.”

I nodded and she ran back to the kitchen.

“Did you walk here, Meg?” Papa asked as I entered.

“Yeah.”

“You’ll catch cold if you keep doing that.”

“You’re so old-fashioned, Steve,” Mama scolded, playfully dishcloth-whipping him as she passed by. “Good morning, Meg.”

“Good morning, Mama.” I squeezed past Papa, who was rubbing his side from Mama’s attack, and looked around in the fridge. I settled on bacon and eggs, with some dried tomatoes on the side.

“Is there any tea or coffee or—”

“Bulletproof coffee in the maker.” Papa pointed at the coffeemaker.

Shield’s tail started wagging when he smelled me making my breakfast. Josh was watching me as he slowly ate his cereal.

I sat down with my plate and coffee and started eating with the rest of my family. Mia was eating yesterday’s waffles and was smearing syrup all over her napkin as she wiped her hands.

“Meg?”

“Yes, Josh?”

“Can Shield have a small piece of bacon?”

I broke one in half and handed it to him. It was gone in a flash.

Papa and Mama took Josh and Mia and went their separate ways. I sat alone at the table and finished my breakfast. I wasn’t used to eating by myself or being alone in general. My family was almost always there. Even in Louisiana, I had Prue living with me.

Papa came back while I was mulling over my cup of coffee. “You okay, Meglet?”

I glanced up. “Yes, Papa.”

He sat next to me. “I don’t suppose you’ll ever call me Dad, huh?”

“I was raised Mama’s way.”

“Yeah, I remember. Russian was your first language, because that’s all she would talk to you in. I had to teach you English so that everyone else could understand you.”

I had heard this story a million times. I still nodded.

“God, I remember how excited you were when Nat started teaching you. You were absolutely thrilled to be learning from her, even though you were only five.”

“How many punching bags had I gone through when I was six?”

“Probably nine or ten. Like I said, you were enthusiastic. Sam had to teach you how to calm down.”

“Do you need any help with anything today, Papa?”

“I could use help with cleaning the fancy room today, as well as making dinner.”

“I can do that.”

“Thanks. I need to set up Josh’s next appointment with T’Challa, so it’s important that I’m not disturbed unless it’s very important, okay?”

I nodded and stood up to take my plate out.

I was cleaning the carpet in the fancy room when I heard Papa talking upstairs. I set down the cleaner and crept up the stairs, just like Mama had taught me to.

“…school,” I heard him say. “He’s got a big test soon, so we can’t come out then.” Pause. “It depends what Ingrid thinks and how busy she is, because she’ll want to be there.” Pause. “Uh, next weekend, I think? But Abbey’s leaving then as well, so it’ll have to be that Saturday. Is that okay?” Pause. “All right, fantastic. Thanks, Aaron.”

I quietly moved over to the edge of the staircase and jumped, landing with barely a creak, and picked the cleaner up again.

Rain beat against the windows all day long. I could still hear it when I was in the kitchen, helping Papa.

“I have to pick Josh up soon.” His phone vibrated and he checked it. “Hey, Stephen wants to know if they can come over for dinner.”

“I think that’s a great idea.” We had a couple more Cornish game hens sitting in the freezer. “How many more hens do we need?”

“Uh, one for two people, and there’s going to be us five, plus the six of them…we’ll need five in total.”

Two more hens went into the pan with the spices.

“What’s that smell?” Josh asked when Papa helped him through the door. Shield lifted his head and whined.

“Dinner.”

“It smells amazing.” His messy blond head poked around the corner. “Why’re there so many chickens in the pan, Meg?”

“The Palmer-Stranges are coming over for dinner,” I told him.

“Cool, cool.”

Mia wanted to see the ‘baby chickens’, so I lifted her up so she could see them.

“Why’re they so tiny?”

“Because that’s how they are, Mia.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Just like how you’re tiny, but you’ll grow.”

“The chickens are dead, so they can’t grow?
“Yep,” Mama said matter-of-factly.

Mia nodded gravely and walked away to the living room.

Five hens were covered in spices and sauces and sitting in the middle of the table, as well as a giant salad holder. It smelled and looked amazing.

“Nat, help me with the other chairs, will you?” Papa and Mama went downstairs to get six more chairs. They fit pretty well around our table.

The rain had let up briefly, so they weren’t wet when they walked through the door.

Rory lifted her head. “That smells amazing.”
“Thanks for having us,” Christine said.

“It’s no problem,” Mama said with a smile.

“Where’s Josh?” TJ asked. My younger brother came around the corner.

“Right here!”

“Hey, buddy.” TK shot him finger guns. “I was told that you’ve got a cool new game. Can we see?”

“Totally!” He led them back to the living room.

Prue shed her jacket and tied it around her waist. “It’s chilly outside, but Torma decided not to wear a jacket. He was complaining the way over about the chill but shut up when Toby mentally gave him a small shutdown.”

“Torma Kasa, I’m going to kill you!” I heard TJ screech from the next room.

Rory shook her head. “They’ve gotten to both names. Boy, they’re going at it.”

Torma Kasa is a bit of a weird name, yes, but it was agreed that Stephen could choose the second name. Well, the second baby turned out to be numbers two and three, so he only named the first twin. TK’s names are from Tibet, since that’s where Kamar-Taj is. Poor TJ got stuck with the name Toby Jackson, which sounds like a nerdy rockstar.

“Who made these?” TK asked through a mouthful of hen.

“I did,” I said.

“You’re going to choke, TK,” Stephen said. “Slow down.”

Rory laughed and small bits of salad leaves flew out of her mouth.

“Gross, Rory,” TJ said.

Josh was sneaking pieces to Shield.

Prue rolled her eyes at me from across the table and I snickered.

Josh and Mia got sent to bed at nine, while the Palmer-Strange twins were instructed to go home with their younger sister and to not burn the house down.

Mama, Papa, Stephen, Christine, Prue, and I all stayed in the living room with glasses of wine to discuss Avenger-related things.

“I miss being able to dress up and fight crime,” Papa said forlornly, swirling his glass around. “T’Challa said that he’s stopped at least three major crimes this month.”

“Any plots that threaten the Earth or beyond?” Mama asked Stephen.

“Not that I can see so far.” He touched his chest, where the Time Stone was, in the guise of the Eye of Agamotto. “If I’m not accurate about it, then no one is.”

“No one’s discovered us?” Christine asked.

“No,” Prue said. “At least, not for Meg and me in Boulanger.”

“I haven’t seen anyone staring at us funny,” Steve said. “Or our kids.”

At ten, Prue and I walked back to Bucky’s. He was sitting at the table, asleep, with a cup of cocoa next to him.

I walked over and gently shook him. “Uncle Bucky, wake up.”

His eyes opened and looked at me. “Meg? I was waiting up for you and Prue.”

“We’re back now,” Prue said, peering around me.

“What time is it?” He rubbed his face.

“Ten.”

“God, I came down here at, like, nine.”

“You can go to your room now. We’re back safe.”

The rain had started up again. I drifted off to the sound of it beating on the roof.

A few hours later, I woke up, staring at the shadow-covered ceiling. Quickly and quietly, I got out of bed and looked out the window. The storm had slowed to a drizzle, so I opened the window and looked out. I didn’t see anything except for houses and yards. I knew I hadn’t imagined anything, because I had been trained too well for that.

I looked out across the yard. I still didn’t see anything or anyone.


“Meg,” I murmured. “You’re going crazy. Mama’s made you paranoid.” I shut the window and locked it for good measure, then drew the curtains and went back to bed.

 

My eyes were getting heavy and I rested my head against the back of my seat. It had been a long day.

“Abbey?”

“Yes, Mama?”

“Do you want B-Bops for dinner?”

“Sure.” I yawned and rubbed my eyes.

“What do you want?”

“Burger,” I said sleepily, then yawned again. It was warm in the car.

“With what?”

“Ketchup, lettuce, cheese, and tomato.”

“Fries?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Shake?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“All right.”

I drifted into a half-nap. My memory started getting fuzzy. Papa ordering food through the window. The smell of grease in the car. A red convertible screeching down the street. The coolness of the garage.

“Meglet, wake up.” I felt someone shake me.

“I’m awake, Papa,” I mumbled.

“Get up.”

I lifted my head and rubbed my eyes.

“Today was a long day, huh?” Mama asked as I alternated between eating my food and rubbing my eyes.

“Yeah. It was fun, but it was long.”

After I finished my dinner, my memory became fuzzy again. Slumping over on the couch while Mama, Papa, and I watched a movie. Being carried upstairs by Papa. Getting tucked in and hearing snippets outside my room.

“Was this too much for her today?”

“Steve, you’re a worrywart.”

“She’s only eight, Nat.”

“Yes, but she’s resilient.”

After that, it was only dreams.  But they were horrible dreams. Dreams of death, of the twisted bodies of people I didn’t know, spread out across a lobby of an unfamiliar hotel or apartment building. Blood was everywhere.

I woke up screaming, with my parents by my side.

“What’s wrong, Meg?” Mama asked.

In between sobs, I told them about my nightmare.

“It was just a dream, Meg,” Papa soothed. “It’s all right.”

But it wasn’t all right. I could feel something stirring inside my chest that wasn’t there before.

Chapter Text

Name: Scott Edward Lang

Partner: Hope van Dyne

Children: Harriet and Samuel Lang

Alias: Stephen Rudd

 

Muffled sounds came from Harry’s room.

I very quietly opened his door and saw her sitting, with her back to me, on her bed, tapping the headboard with her sticks to music on her headphones. I could hear the School of Rock's "Stick It To The Man". I shut the door and looked into Sam’s room. He was doing the same, but on his little guitar.

“Are they playing?” Hope asked when I went into the kitchen.

“Yep.”

“Sometimes, I regret letting Mom and Dad pay for their first lessons.” She took a sip of coffee.

“Yeah, well, they could be into…uh…drugs or alcohol,” I offered lamely.

She raised her eyebrows at me. “Really, Scott?”

I shrugged. “They could be!”

Someone’s door slammed and I heard fluffy socks sliding down the hallway. Sam slid into the room, crashed into the table, and fell on his butt.

“Oh my God.” I looked down at him. “Are you okay, dude?”

He jumped back up. “Yeah, yeah, always.” He grinned and rubbed his hands together as he walked over to the pantry. Half of him was looking through there when Harry walked in, whistling the tune that she had been ‘playing’ to.

“Morning, Harry,” Hope said, watching our daughter stretch her arms up to the ceiling.

“Hey, Mom and Dad.” She leaned back to see past me. “And Sam,” she said to her brother’s backside.

“Hey, Harry.” Sam’s dark bedhead looked out of the pantry. “What’re you feeling today?”

“Frosted wheats.”

“Comin’ atcha.” He grabbed the box, walked over to the counter, and started making two bowls.

Harry shook her head. “How the flipping heck are you so—so—”

“Chipper?” Hope suggested.

“Chipper in the morning,” Harry finished.

Sam bounced his shoulders up and down. “Oh, I don’t know.”

“He’s got Scott’s genes, that’s why,” Hope muttered.

“I am not a bouncing ball of energy in the morning!”

Harry raised her eyebrows at me.

“Okay, okay, maybe,” I admitted.

Sam carried the bowls out to the table and set them in their spots. “Here you go!”

“Thanks, Sam.”

“There’s some for you guys in there, too.”

“Aw, thank you.” Hope smiled at Sam, that amazing radiant smile that always made me stumble when she turned it towards me.

“I’ll get them,” I offered.

The twins scarfed down their cereal and ran back to their rooms to get dressed and do their hair and makeup and grab their bags and cases.

Luckily, I’m able to actually use my electrical engineering degree and work as an electrical engineer. Amazing, right? No more Baskin-Robbins because Stephen Rudd doesn’t have a record! Even better, it’s a company started by Hank, which means that I get to see him and Janet a lot.

In fact, he was chatting with one of my co-workers when I came into the office.

“Kirk, hey!” I waved at him.

“Hey, Stephen.” He walked across the office to shake my hand. “How’re Rem and Dal?”

“Remington is as bouncy as ever. Dallas doesn’t really agree with him on mornings.”

“Rem sure won’t need to drink coffee. He’s already caffeinated on his own pep.” Hank shook his head.

“If Dal drank some, she would shoot straight through the roof without breaking her poker face.”

Hank snorted. “I can see that.”

“McKenzie—you remember McKenzie?”

“McKenzie Crosby? He’s the male singer for their band, right?”

“Yuh-huh—”

“Him and Angel Garcia, right?”

“Wow, after six years, you’re starting to remember.”

“Don’t be a smartass, Stephen.”

“Well, McKenzie recently told the rest of the band that the date of the Battle of the Bands is pushed back a week already, but that they’re still going to keep pushing it.”

“Shouldn’t that be Zion’s job? She’s the manager, right?”


I nodded patiently. “Yes, but McKenzie beat her to the punch, according to Rem. I raised a gossip-hungry boy. He said that afterwards, she was threatening to tell their mom about how he snuck up to take Asa out on a date.”

“I remember Dal talking about Marley and Harley. I love their names.”

“Marley and Harley Patel. Their parents were just being mean when they named them, in my humble opinion.”

Sasha, the co-worker he had been talking to, called, “Stephen, c’mon. We don’t have all day.”


“Oh, yeah. Better get to work.”

Yes, Harry and Sam are in a band full of sixteen-year-old bisexual twins with gender neutral names. They absolutely adore it and their band is really good, especially if Shasta’s in town. Sam will work their asses to the curb in preparation so that she’ll be impressed.

Speaking of Shasta, I got a call in the middle of work from T’Challa.

“Hey, Aaron.”

“Good afternoon, Stephen.” In the background I could hear Shasta’s voice. I couldn’t hear what she was saying. “Thera has been begging me all day to ask you this.”

“Lay it on me, man.”

“She wants to know if she can come to Prairie Rose for Halloween to visit Rem. AJ won't be coming."

I hesitated. “Uh—”

“Yes or no, Stephen.”

“Well, she can’t stay in our house.”

“Well, obviously.”


“It’s not that I don’t trust them, but they’re also sixteen and their hormones are higher than college students. She could stay with Abbey and Lib at Tian’s house.”

“Okay.”

“Do you mind if I call Nicole first?”

“Go ahead.”

I hung up and called Hope.

“Is the office on fire, Stephen?”

“No, Aaron wants to know if Thera can come to Prairie Rose to visit Rem.”

Silence.

“Nicole? You there?”

“Would she be staying in our house?”

“I suggested that she would stay at Tian’s house, with Abbey and Lib.”

"Would AJ be coming?"

"No."

“That’s fine with me, then.”

I called T’Challa again. “She says it’s fine. It’s a yes.”

“Thank you, Stephen.” He covered the mouthpiece, but I could still hear him say, “Thera, you can go,” and Shasta’s screech of excitement.

“Mr. Stephen, keep it a secret from Rem!”

“All right, sure.” I hung up and returned to work. I got off at exactly the same time as the twins—three-ten—but they wouldn’t be home. Right after school, they went over to McKenzie and Zion’s house for practice, because they have the biggest basement. They wouldn’t be home until six-thirty.

Hope was sitting outside on the deck when I got home.

“What’s up?” I asked, sitting next to her.

“Long day at work.”

“Same here. Also, we’re not allowed to tell Sam about Shasta.”

“All right.” She brushed her hair off her shoulders so that it cascaded down her back. My eyes followed the path. “You all right, tough guy?”

I nodded, then scooted over and pressed against her. We leaned against each other before I said, “I love you.”

“Aww, I love you too.”

Through their fence, I watched Pete demonstrate a backflip to Mikey, who was calling him a showoff, but smiling anyway. Izzy was kicking at a loose board, which was turning to dust under her assault. Sometimes, I was sort of jealous of them. They had been born with their powers, and mine had been a complete accident.

Harry and Sam walked through the door right when I was putting dinner on the table. Harry was slamming the air with her drumsticks while Sam slid into the kitchen on his knees, pretending to play a guitar, his eyes squeezed shut and his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

“I’m guessing practice went well?”

Sam opened his eyes. “Yeah, it was pretty great.”

Harry twirled her drumsticks in her fingers. “True that, brother. What’s for dinner, Dad? I’m hungry.”

“Mac and cheese with salad because I was too lazy to make anything else tonight.”

“Woo-hoo!” Sam punched the air. “Mac and cheese!”

Hope says the reason he’s so peppy is because he has an extremely healthy helping of my genes. Me times a hundred.

Harry twirled the drum charm on her choker at dinner. Sam was scarfing it down as fast as he could, probably so he could go Facetime Shasta.

“Samuel Henry, slow down,” Hope said.

“Don’t call me that.”

“Then stop shoving food into your face like you haven’t eaten in a week.”

Sam shook his head but slowed down anyway.

Hank and Janet dropped by an hour after dinner.

I pounded on Sam’s door. “Sam, Grandma and Grandpa are here. Get out of your room.”

Hope was already dragging Harry away from her room.

“Dad, I’m talking with Shasta.”

I sighed. Sam didn’t get to see Shasta all that often, but they talked every day after dinner, even though it was three in the morning Wakanda time. Shasta was a night owl.

“Finish your conversation so that you can come out here and say hey. They brought dessert.”

“Oh, sweet!”

Harry was silently eating a piece of pie while she listened to the van Dynes talk.

“Sam’s coming.” I sat down next to Hope.

We talked for a while, while Sam came out, while Harry showered, and while the lights came on outside.

“Let’s go,” Janet finally said to Hank. “It’s almost nine.”

 

“Scott.” Tony poked his head around the corner. “Family’s at the door. We leave in five.”

Maggie and Jim were at the front door, with Cassie standing between them.

“We came to say goodbye,” Maggie said, brushing tears away from her eyes.

I nodded and hugged her. “Thank you for being such a good mom to Cassie all these years, Maggie.”

“You were a great dad, Scott.”

Jim squeezed me so tight I could barely choke out, “Thanks, Paxton.”

“It was my pleasure. We’ll look after her.”

There was suddenly a loud and ridiculous HONK from across the driveway. My van pulled up into the driveway and Luis, Kurt, and Dave got out.

“Scotty, are we too late?” Luis panted after they ran up.

“No.” I hugged him. “Thanks, man. I owe you a lot.”

“We’ll keep the business running, man.”

I shook hands with Kurt and Dave. “Thanks for being my partners, guys.”

“It was no problem,” Kurt said.

“Who knew you’d turn out like this?” Dave said.

I shrugged. “Goodbye, guys. I’ll text you my address when I get there. Come and visit sometime.”

They nodded and I waved as they pulled away.

“Lang, hurry up!” Rhodes yelled.

I knelt down and gave Cassie a hug. “I love you, peanut.”

“Love you too, Daddy. Can we come visit you?”

“Of course.” I kissed her on the forehead and headed for the jet, waving as I walked.

They kept waving back, even after the jet had taken off.

Chapter Text

Name: Harriet Janet Lang

Parents: Hope van Dyne and Scott Lang
Sibling: Samuel Lang

Alias: Dallas Rudd

 

Sometimes, after concerts, people ask when I started playing the drums. Honestly? As long as I can remember. Not always on a set, either. Maybe on a tree or on the ground or the house with some sticks or hitting Sam’s miniature baseball bats on the floor. 

There’s fourteen people in our band: drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, two male singers, two female singers, visionary, lights, sound, manager, driver, and speaker. We’ve all been friends since, like, sixth grade.

Today, Sam, the bassist, our lights and sound people, and I were getting picked up by our driver and bassist. The others were getting picked up by the visionary and keyboardist, excluding one of the male singers and our manager, since we were going to their house.

I threw my bag on and ran out to the corner, Sam behind me.

Dakota Thao is our driver. His twin brother, Kendall, is our bassist.

“Get in, losers, we’re going to play music,” Kendall hollered out the window as Pitbull blasted from the speakers.


“Real original, Kendall,” Sam said as we climbed in.

“Oh, shut up, Rem.”

Marley and Harley Patel are our lights and sound people. Our tech-heads, if you will.

“What’s shakin’, bacon?” Sam asked as they climbed in.

“Our power went out last night,” Harley griped, shaking her head.

“We nearly lost months’ worth of work,” her sister said.

“Oof,” Kendall said.

“Kendall Thao, this is more than a mere ‘oof’,” Marley said.

They argued all the way to the Crosby house until Dakota yelled at them to shut up or he’d drop them on the side of the road.

Jana, McKenzie and Zion’s mom, opened the door for us. “Ah, welcome, you guys!”

The rest of us were already waiting in the basement.

“About time,” Elliot Garcia, one of our female singers, said from the couch. Her brother, Angel, our other male singer, nodded in agreement.

“The idiots behind us wouldn’t shut up,” Harley said, shaking her head.

“I heard that!” her twin yelled.

“Hopeless,” she sighed.

Phoenix and Haven Okeke, our other female singer and speaker, laughed.

The Okeke twins and the Crosby twins looked similar, except that McKenzie and Zion had lighter brown skin and didn’t have an accent. His accent was one of the things that made Haven so appealing as a speaker. Plus, he was extremely good-looking. Even back in elementary school, he could charm all the girls senseless.

“They also called our predicament night a mere ‘oof’,” Harley said, folding her arms.

Our keyboardist, Tatum Takahashi, gasped in mock panic. “Oh my God, honey, they did not!”

“Oh, stop teasing them, Tay,” said his sister Karter, our visionary.

“Hey, you guys know what our mom made last night?” Kendall asked, taking his bass off his shoulder and heading over to his amp.

“What?” Tay asked.

“Her ninh.”

“Oh my God, that stuff is God’s work,” Haven said reverently.

“Lucky!” Sam complained. “My dad made mac and cheese and salad.”

“You weren’t complaining when you were scarfing it down,” I said.

“I was trying to get to my phone to Facetime Dalia, Dal!”

Tay made kissy noises, which made Sam’s cheeks turn fire red. He turned around and shoved him, causing Tay to stumble back into Dakota.

“Okay, okay, you morons,” Zion said loudly. “Can we get to playing?”

Sam started adjusting his amp for his guitar and I headed over to the drum set in the corner, taking out my sticks and playing out a basic rhythm for a moment.

“Christ!” Angel said, putting a hand over his heart. “You scared me, Dal!”

“Sorry.”

Tay was standing by his keyboard and was playing up and down the scales. Zion was adjusting where McKenzie, Angel, Elliot, and Phoenix were standing.

“No,” she was saying. “McKenzie has to be front and center. Elliot, you go here, next to him. Angel, stand on her other side. Phoenix, go next to McKenzie. There we go. Perfect.”

The deal is, we’re doing the School of Rock’s “Stick it to the Man”, but McKenzie and Elliot are doing a duet, essentially. And, instead of just Angel and Nix doing the backgrounds, we all get to do a little singing. It’s a cool piece, with not half-bad drum moments.

We practiced for two hours until lunch.

Marley and Harley’s butter chicken smelled so good that I could see half the table trying not to drool. That included me. I love Indian food, especially naan bread, which they also had.

I looked down at the sad, sad sandwich on my plate and sighed. Haven was practically stretching across the table so he could stare at the Patel twins’ lunches.

They were oblivious to our staring and ate their lunches like half of us weren’t struggling not to jump across the table to snatch it away.

Sometimes, Sam and I get made fun of by other people for being the only white people in our group of friends. All I can say is: what the hell’s the big deal? We’ve all been friends for years and years and it’s never, ever been an issue. It’s amazing being friends with such a diverse group of people. Refreshing, too.

“One, two, one two three four—” I clicked my sticks and launched into the rhythm. Naturally, halfway through the song, McKenzie forgot the words and started mumbling through the melody, making Kendall laugh so hard that he dropped out.

“Bro, you need the sheet with your part?” Zion asked from across the room.

“No,” he said, but everyone was already bent over laughing. To make it better, I played the ba-dum-tss effect, which made everyone wheeze.

“Okay, okay, you weirdos,” Karter said from where she was curled in the corner. “Chill out.”

Practice ended a couple hours later and we were taken home.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drop you in your driveway?” Dakota asked.

“Yes,” Sam replied as he slung his guitar over his shoulder.

We’re not allowed to let anyone into the cul-de-sac because someone could come out of their house and they could see them and then everything would go down the drain. Even people we’ve known for years, or people we’re dating. That’s why we’re encouraged to pair up with people inside the cul-de-sac, or kids with other Avenger parents, like Sam and Shasta. Or Em and Josh, even though they won't admit it.

“Hello,” Dad called from the living room when we walked in the door. “Guess who finally came back inside?”

Our Maine coon, Marshmallow, was curled up under the coffee table, eyeing us with suspicion. He’d never liked of either me or my twin.

“Well, Mr. Marshmallow must have spent all night underneath the Maximoff deck to avoid the rain,” Sam said cheerfully, plopping down on the leather chair covered in scratches.

“Mom went out to get B-Bops for dinner. ’S that all right, guys?”

“Yeah. You okay, Dad?” I asked.

“I have this headache.” He got up and walked down the hall. I heard his door shut.

“Hmm. Maybe it’s a stress headache,” Sam suggested.

“My God,” I said. “He’s turning into Tony.”

This made Sam laugh so loud that Marshmallow flinched and looked around.

Dad still didn’t come out when Mom got home with the food. He didn’t come out when Sam disappeared into his room to talk to his girlfriend. He didn’t come out for the rest of the night. Mom went in to talk to him and I didn’t see her for the rest of the night either. I shut myself in my room and stared up at the dark ceiling until my eyelids got heavy.

 

Sam grinned at me from across the car, his face painted the colors of the bisexual flag. Wherever I looked, I saw those colors.

“What’re we going to do?” Zion said loudly.

“Kick ass!”

“I can’t hear you!”

“KICK ASS!”

“That’s more like it!”

We climbed out of the car. I couldn’t wipe my face because of the paint. Everyone’s faces were painted.

People from home were there, too: Nate, Prue, Pete, and Shasta’s faces were painted with the bi flag as well; Rory and Izzy’s faces were painted with the pan flag. Well, Rory’s was half pan, half trans. And Meg’s face was painted with the aro colors.

Sam, Dakota, Kendall, McKenzie, Zion, Harley, Marley, Tay, Karter, Elliot, Angel, Haven, and Phoenix’s faces were painted the bi flag, too.

Rory was sitting on Prue’s shoulders, holding her fist high in the air. “Let’s go!”

Shasta, Sam, and I walked together. There were hundreds of other people, all wearing LGBTQA+ shirts or colors.

“This is amazing.” Shasta gazed around.

“Yeah, right?”

We walked with the crowd and got compliments on how great our makeup was. I was sweating, so I was pretty sure that a lot of it was melting off, but I didn’t care. It felt good. I was happy.

Meg was walking with a man who was wearing an aro shirt. They were talking. Rory was waving at everyone as they passed by and they were waving back.

There was a woman on a podium that people were crowding around. Our group went over to hear what she had to say.

She noticed us and stopped talking for a moment. “Look at this colorful group of guys and girls! Welcome, everybody!”

Rory waved at her enthusiastically.

“Hi, sweetheart. Want to come up here?”

Rory looked down at Prue. “Take me up there.”

Prue obliged.

“What’s your name?” The woman held the mic up to Rory’s mouth.

“Borealis.”

“That’s a very pretty name. How old are you, Borealis?”

“Nine. I switched from Jason last year.”

“It takes real courage to do that, Borealis.”

Rory bobbed her head and grinned.

“Are you her sister?” The lady held out the mic to Prue.

“Yep.”

“What’s your name?”

“Libby.”

“You being her haul-horse for the day?”

“Pretty much.” This got a laugh from the crowd.

“Great job, Borealis!” Meg said when the Palmer-Strange sisters got off the podium.

“Thanks!” She was grinning so big that I thought her smile would fall off her face.

“I see a lot of bi face paint out there,” the lady called. “From that—that group down there.”

“We’re the bisexual band,” Kendall, ever the joker, yelled.

“You’re a whole band?”

“Yeah,” Zion called.

“What do you play?”

“I’m their manager. To make sure that they don’t, like, waste too much time.”

The crowd laughed.

“I’m the bassist,” Kendall called.

“Keyboardist,” Tay said.

“Guitarist!” Sam sang.

“We’re the singers,” McKenzie said, gesturing to Elliot, Angel, Phoenix, and himself.

“I’m the drummer,” I called.

“Visionary,” Karter said.

“Tech!” Marley and Harley said together.

“Driver,” Dakota said with a half-smile.

“I’m their speaker!” Haven yelled, which made everyone laugh again.

“What’s your band called?”

“OTB,” Zion said. “It stands for One True Beat.”

“When’s your next concert?”

“Java Joe’s, Des Moines, next Saturday!” Haven yelled. “I expect to see all of you there!”

Chapter Text

Name: Robert Bruce Banner

Partner: None

Child: Niko Brunnhilde Banner

Alias: Alan Hebert

 

I opened my eyes and saw the same ceiling, with the same bumps that it always had. Caramel was sleeping at the end of my bed, like she always did.

Everything had always been the same. Nothing had changed. I was stuck in a loop.

I shuffled out to the kitchen to check the pantry. I needed to go shopping. Maybe tomorrow. I remembered thinking that yesterday. I could walk to the store. Nat would come with me, like she always did.

Everything in the house reminded me of her. The counter where she would sit while we made cookies, the glass door that looked out on the deck where we would sometimes eat dinner, the backyard where she would play with her friends, the table where she spilled her cup of milk, her chair where she would sit to watch TV or read. And, of course, her door down the hall. I never went in there. It hurt too much.

I sat down at my spot with a bowl of cereal and slowly ate it, trying not to look at her spot. Caramel had come out of my room and had laid down next to my feet.

The hours passed, slowly, as I sat in my chair and read, book after book. At noon, I had a salad while Caramel chewed on some bacon bits.

The doorbell rang as I was starting the dishwasher.

Nat was standing there, her long hair tied back in a bun. “Hey, Bruce.”

“Hey, Nat.”

“May I come in?”

I nodded and she walked in past me, to go sit on the couch.

“How’re you feeling?”

“I haven’t even brushed my teeth, Nat.”

“You were planning on that today?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Everything is so—so looped. Ever since—” My throat closed up.

“Niko got taken,” Nat finished.

“Don’t say that,” I whispered.

“Bruce, it’s been almost six years. She would be, what, fourteen now?”

“I—yeah. Yeah, she would be.”

“It still hurts.” It wasn’t a question.

“It hurts every single day. It haunts me every single day. It’s all my fault, Nat—”

“Don’t start with this again, Bruce—”

“If I had taken her with me instead of leaving her home alone—”

“Bruce Banner, listen to me!”

I fell silent.

“It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”

“Then whose fault was it? Niko’s?”

“No. It was the person who took her. It’s their fault.”

“You guys haven’t even come close to finding her!”

“We’ve been trying, Bruce,” she said evenly. “Tony has, I have, Bucky has, Sam has, and Stephen has. Okay?”

I wiped my eyes. “I just want her back home, Nat.”

“I bet Pete does, too,” she said with a half-smile.

This made me smile a little. It had been a huge joke in our neighborhood that Pete Maximoff had had a huge, obvious crush on Niko. His eyes would almost fall out of his head when she walked by. It was very funny to watch.

“Nat, the other night, I was outside getting Caramel in and I looked over at the Maximoff house. I could see Pete at the window. He was holding something and was crying.”

“It might have been Niko’s picture. He misses her. Mikey, too. They were good friends.”

I nodded, looking down at my lap.

“Steve and I are taking Josh and Mia to the park today. You should come with us.”

I shrugged. “I don’t want to leave the house.”

“Sweet Jesus Christ, you’re turning into Pete.”

“What?”

“I’ve babysat him enough times to know what I’m talking about, Bruce.”

“You haven’t babysat him for at least three years.”

“Oh, but I have the funniest stories about babysitting him.” She grinned. “He always refused to get away from whichever TV he was watching, because he just wanted to watch Star Wars the entire time. Eventually, I had to unplug the TV. He would throw a huge temper tantrum and would either wear himself out or give up when he saw that I wasn’t giving in and walk upstairs sulking. His parents thought it was hilarious and he hated it.”

“How old was he?”

“Oh, this was up till he was ten. He’s such a drama queen, though, that I wouldn’t put it past him to do it now. He takes up after his uncle.” She leaned forwards and looked at me. “Bruce, come to the park with us. Please?”

“I have to go grocery shopping.”

“Well, then, let’s go to the park and then we can walk to the store after that. Okay?” She wasn’t going to back down.

I sighed. “Fine.”

Josh was being carried downstairs by Meg when we walked through the door.

“Hi, Bruce!” Josh waved at me. Meg inclined her head at me. Mia ran up to me, in a blue tutu, and hugged my leg.

For October, it wasn’t too bad. The grass and sidewalks were still damp from the rain we had gotten, but it was only chilly enough so that we had to wear one jacket. Mia still had her tutu on.

Meg was going to the mall with Prue, so she wasn’t coming.

The park was small. There was one playset, with monkey bars and a slide, and a structure that had a tire swing hanging from it.

Mia rustled over to the swing. “Jack, come on with me!”

Josh carefully made his way over to his sister and sat down on the swing next to me, placing his crutches next to one of the legs of the structure. “Dad, push us!”

Nat sat down on one of the steps of the playset. “Come here, Alan.”

I sat next to her.

“It’s nice out, right?”

I nodded.

“Can you look at me for a sec?”

I did.

“We’ll find her. I promise. Okay?”

“Can—can we not talk about her?” What had happened still hurt.

She nodded and looked away, towards the corner. A smile spread across her face. “Look who’s coming.”

Wanda, Vision, Pete, Izzy, and Pietro were coming down the sidewalk.

Nat got up and walked over to Wanda and started a conversation. Pete glanced at me and gave me a small smile, nodding at me. He had recently gotten a haircut, one of those side-shave ones. His parents weren’t too happy about it, but he loved it.

“Hey!” Steve called, giving the swing a push.

Pietro waved at him.

Vision walked over and sat next to me. “Hey, Alan.”

“Hey, Liam.”

“Did Ingrid make you come with them?”

“We’re going for groceries after this.”

Izzy came walking over to us. She had on a soft pink sweater against the chill, with a matching hair bow.

“Dad, my legs are cold.” She rubbed her bare shins, which weren’t covered by her skirt.

“Rosie, that’s not my fault.”

“Yeah, but I can complain about it.” She stared at him, her chin jutting in the air.

“Next time, wear leggings.” He gave her a slight smile.

I would have given anything to be in his position, with a daughter that was still around.

She climbed up the stairs and flung herself down the slide. Pete was leaning against the tire swing structure, talking with Josh as he swung back and forth. Nat and Wanda were standing in the grass, still talking, while Pietro and Steve talked as Steve pushed the swing.

“Liam,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“You picked a good one.” I watched Wanda laugh.

“Hah! I didn’t pick her, Alan. It just happened.”

“What’s it like, being in love? It’s been so long for me.”

“It’s…” He exhaled and ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s like—you know when you’re been working on something for years and years? Working hard, night and day. And then you finally—finally­—make the discovery, and you get this amazing high, like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this! It’s done!’ or something like that.”

“Yes, I know about that.”

“It’s that. It hits you this quick.” Vision tapped the stair we were sitting on. “And it completely takes you in. I’m very, very lucky to be with Chase. Who’d have thought, huh?”

“It’s crazy,” I agreed, though not with much feeling.

“Will!” Wanda called.

“Yes?”

“Come here!”

He got up and walked over to the two women.

I had kind of been lying. I still knew what it was like to be in love. How could you forget? I had loved Nat, but we had drifted apart. And then Steve became the father of her kids, and any hopes were dashed. But then I discovered how to craft a human being, and I had no longer been lonely. Or so I thought.

Yes, I said craft. I don’t like that, actually. Niko wasn’t just an art project that took a couple days to make. It took almost two years to put her together.

Something swung, in a blur, over my head and landed next to me. Pete, descending from the monkey bars. I flinched.

“I know what you were thinking about.”

“Surprise me,” I mumbled.

“You always get this look in your eyes when you think about her. Plus, you know, I have…advantages.”

He meant his powers.

“Ryan, look, I don’t want to talk about her. I’ve talked about her enough today.”

“Okay. I understand.” He stood up and walked back to the monkey bars.

Eventually, the Maximoffs moved on. Nat and I parted from Steve, Josh, and Mia to go to the store.

“Remember your meal plan for this week, Alan?” she asked me.

I nodded.

“All right. Then help me.”

I bought some pasta, vegetables, fruit, bread, milk, juice, meat, cheese. Nat wouldn’t let me have any alcohol.

I didn’t blame men for glancing at her. Her hair, fading from red to blonde, fell down her back in a wave. Her cheekbones could cut diamond. Her eyes were twin sets of emeralds.

Back home, I fed Caramel. She was very happy to see me. Caramel was a Scottish fold, very easy to take care of. She was a Christmas present from Tony, who thought I needed to take care of something. She was very sweet and cuddly, which was what I needed most times.

I made myself a small bowl of pasta and sat down to dinner. I thought about what I had seen two nights ago. It had been ten at night, and I was outside to get Caramel in. I had looked up at the Maximoff house, and he was crying. I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was. If Vision could cry, then his half-android son should be able to as well.

It was dark outside when I set my bowl in the dishwasher. It was seven o’clock. Wind was battering my windows, my sliding glass doors. Caramel was sleeping on the blanket in the corner.

If Niko was here, the Niko I remembered, she would climb into my lap and curl up. “Sing me the lullaby, Daddy,” she would say, and I would sing her the lullaby my mother would sing to me when I was little. “Sail Away”.

I could still remember some of it.

Hush little baby, don’t you cry. Sail away, ladies, sail away. You’ll be an angel by and by. Sail away, ladies, sail away. Don’t you rock ’em di-de-o, don’t you rock ’em di-de-o, don’t you rock ’em di-de-o, don’t you rock ’em di-de-o.

That was so long ago. Wherever she was, I wondered if she was remembering it, too.

Sail away, ladies, sail away.

 

 

Niko ran, barefoot, across the backyard. The boys were right behind her. “You won’t get me!” she called, giggling.

“Wanna bet?” Mikey called back, and threw himself at her, knocking her to the ground. She squealed.

“Get off me, you heathen!”

Mikey stood up and held out a hand. The scars around her wrists, fingers, and elbows were faint, but you could see them. T’Challa was working on something to make them fade completely.

She grinned, showing off one missing tooth. “Pete, we’re coming to get you!”

He took off down the hill. Niko and Mikey ran after him, almost tumbling.

“Ah, childhood.” Thor took a swig of beer. “I remember playing with my brother like that.”

“Where is Loki?” Wanda asked.

“Oh, probably late, like always,” I said. As I said that, a small girl with shiny black hair came running around the corner, yelling, “Mikey! Mikey!”

Mikey looked up and smiled, then called, “Down here, Linnea!”

She stopped at the top of the hill, got down on her knees, gave herself a push, and started rolling down the hill, her laughter carrying up onto the deck.

“Absolutely precious,” Thor said fondly, watching his niece stand up and run over to her cousin.

“Glad you agree.” The four of us on the deck turned around to see Loki standing behind us, leaning against the house.

“Come sit down,” I said, gesturing to the empty seat. “Do you want a drink?”

“That would be nice.”

“They’re in the cooler there,” Vision said, pointing.

Loki reached over and opened the can.

“Glad you could make it, brother,” Thor said, nodding and smiling.

We all talked for a long time, as the sun set and darkness came in, as we ate the ribs that I had grilled and the kids ran around down the hill, tackling each other and laughing.

Eventually, everyone took their kids and left.

I went to look for Niko. She was sitting by the tree at the bottom of the hill, looking up at the sky.

“Daddy, I don’t want to go in,” she whispered. “Look how beautiful it is.” She pointed up. Clouds were scudding against the sky, and a few stars were visible.

I sat next to her and put my arm around her. She snuggled up close to me. We sat there, watching the sky as the fireflies came out.

Chapter Text

Name: Thor Odinson

Partner: None

Child: Micheal Thorson

Alias: Topher Halleraker

 

At the table, I saw a book standing in Mikey’s place. A fringe of blond hair was peeking over the top of it.

“Good morning, Mikey.”

The book moved aside and Mikey looked over at me. “Good morning, Father.”

“Are you going to the skate park after school?”

“Yes. Is that all right?”

I nodded and sat down.

Anise looked up from under Mikey’s seat and thumped her tail as I sat down. Mikey reached down and scratched behind her ears. “Who’s a sweetheart?” he cooed. “Who’s a good girl?” She smiled at him and her tongue lolled out of her mouth.

It can be surprising to see a five-eight, well-built football player coming towards you down the path with a sable standard poodle on a leash (especially if his equally tall and well-built father is with him), but that’s the least of Mikey’s surprises.

“Hey.” I sat down across from him. “I have a funny story to tell you.”

“All right.”

“So, a thing popped up online because today, thirteen years ago, Wanda told us she was expecting Pete, yeah? Well, that got me thinking, and it reminded me of when Tony first came to the hospital—”

“Just a moment, Father.” Mikey reached over and picked up Jarnbjorn, admiring the handle the gleaming axe head. “Continue. I’m just…looking at it.”

“I was in the room with Wanda and Vision, as I had just seen Pete.”

“Was he cuter then me?” he asked, running his fingers up and down the wood.

“No, son. But don’t tell Wanda I said that, or she’ll kill me. Anyway, Tony comes into the room with Pepper behind him, and he sees Wanda holding Pete, and the funniest thing happens.”

“What happened, Father?” Mikey squeezed the handle.

“Wanda gave Tony Pete to hold, and Tony looks at him, then Vision, and then starts crying.”


Mikey snorted. 

“My hand to Odin. He starts crying and says, ‘How are you a father already? You’re too young! It seems like yesterday that you were jumping out of the cradle. God, is he my grandson?’ And Wanda starts looking at him like he’s lost his mind. But wait, it gets better.”

“How?” Mikey chuckled.

“Pepper is behind him, and she takes the baby and hands him to Vision, then says, ‘He hasn’t slept in three days. Congratulations, you two’, and steers Tony out of the room.”

“I wonder what would happen if I asked Tony about that.”

“He’d deny it.”

“Probably.”

“So, he was high off of no sleep and probably some beer?”

“Yep.”

He frowned. “That’s new. I thought he hadn’t gotten drunk since Em was born.”

I shrugged. “I don’t think he was drunk, just buzzed.”

“Mm.” Mikey set down his axe and finished his cereal. “My bari’s at school, by the way.”

I nodded as he reached down to scratch Anise’s ears again.

I take Mikey to school, along with his best friend Pete, who I have already talked about. I also take their other two friends, Ollie Archibeque and Rika Vieth-Yassin.

There was a knock on our door when Mikey was putting his bag on. Anise started barking and ran over to the door, looking through the window.

Pete was staring through the window, making his eyes even more huge and ridiculous behind his round glasses.

“You’re such a goof, dude.” Mikey opened the door with a smile.

“Thanks.” Pete scratched Anise’s head.

“Good morning, Pete,” I said, putting my shoes on.

“Morning, Thor.” He smiled at me. He looked just like his mom when he smiled. “Let’s head out, yeah?”

“Excellent idea,” I said.

Ollie was sitting on his porch when we drove up. He was asleep, his head lolling back in the chair, like he always was. I could never tell if he was pretending.

Mikey got out of the car and walked up to the chair, then gently rocked it back and forth. Ollie opened his eyes and grinned up at Mikey, holding up a hand for help up.

“Hey, Ryan and Topher,” Ollie said in greeting.

“Hey, Ollie.”

Rika was down the block and was right outside her door, getting smothered by Maya.

“Ma, I’m thirteen!” she was protesting as we pulled up.

“Hush, Rika!” She planted a kiss on her head.

Rika sprinted for the car and practically sailed in. “Oh boy, I thought I’d never get away. Hi, guys.”

“Hey, Rika,” the boys chorused.

“I see you did your hair differently, Ryan.”

“You like?” Pete preened.

“It’s nice.”

They chattered all the way up to PRMS, where I parked and they all walked up to the school, in a huddle.

I love Mikey more than anything else in the nine realms. I raised him according to Asgard’s ways, not really Earth ways. Sure, he knows the proper etiquette and everything, but he leans more towards Asgardian ways. Like how Meg’s first language is Russian, but she speaks English almost all the time.

He seems perfect: tall, muscular, blond, good baritone saxophone player, show choir, jazz band, straight As, football player. Everyone likes him, and he likes everyone. A lot of the girls have crushes on him, according to things I’ve picked up from his conversations with his friends and also the way girls act around him. I am the principal of his school, after all.

Mikey has a big secret, though. Not many people know it. The people that I know that know it are Pete, Rika, Ollie, Wanda and Vision, Maya and Fynn (Rika’s parents), Harlow and Santos (Ollie’s parents), Loki, Linnea, and myself.

The secret: he’s gay. It’s not a big deal. I don’t mind, and neither do any of his friends. Actually, he has a crush on Ollie, according to Pete. But he’s afraid that people won’t like him if he comes out to everyone at school. I understand that, and I’m careful not to mention it to anyone else.

I sat in my office, eating my lunch. I had already had a short board meeting and had another planned this afternoon.

My phone vibrated and I answered.

“Topher Halleraker.”

“Yes, hello, this is William Heraldseid.”

“Oh, hello, brother.”

“I would like to know if it’s all right with you if Alex and I come over for dinner tonight? I don’t want to cook.”

“Sure, sure.”

“What’re you or Doug making?”

“Chicken parmesan stuffed peppers.”

“Ooh, I haven’t had those in forever. We’ll be over at seven.”

“Sounds like a plan. See you then, little brother.”

“Goodbye, Topher.”

I called Father’s phone after my brother hung up.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Father. William and Alex are coming over for dinner, so I thought that I would invite you and Mother, too.”

I heard someone else come into the room. “Philip, who are you talking to?”

“It’s only Christopher, Marie.” Then: “When is it?”

“Seven. We’re having chicken parmesan stuffed peppers.”

“That sounds delightful.” I heard him cover the phone. “Christopher invited us over for dinner tonight at seven.”

“We’ll be there, dear,” I heard Mother say.

Mikey, Pete, Ollie, and Rika were all in good moods when I picked them up.

“Doug, Uncle William, Cousin Alex, Grandfather, and Grandmother are coming for dinner.”

“Cool, all right.”

Mikey was only home briefly, to grab his skateboard and say goodbye, then leave for the skate park, which wasn’t too far.

I made dinner while he was gone. Peppers fresh from the garden and chicken and cheese I had gotten yesterday.


Sometimes, I wish for a girlfriend or a wife or someone like that, but that’s not possible anymore. If you didn’t have a partner before we went into hiding, you’re out of luck. I especially wished for someone like that when Mikey was a baby, but he’s not now. I’ve gotten all the help I could ask for from Wanda and Vision, who would often watch their kids and Mikey while I had to work. Or Loki, who would watch him with Linnea. Or my parents. 

Now, I hear you asking, But Thor, how was Mikey born? If there’s not a mother on the scene? Well, he was a gift from Valhalla. I asked for a son from Valhalla and he appeared at my feet. That’s the short version.

Mikey came back at six-thirty, covered in sweat and holding his board.

“Did you have fun, son?”

“Yes.” He set his board down. “It smells really good in here.”

“Glad you think so, because you really don’t.” I pretended to fan my nose. “Whew.”

“Very funny, Father.”

“Go take a shower or at least put on some more deodorant and a new shirt. Please, I don’t want my parents and brother dying from the fumes.”

“By the Nine Realms, Father.” That’s oh my God, Dad to you Midgardians. He went up to his room anyway.

The doorbell rang at seven and Anise went nuts again, then quieted down when I opened the door.

“Hello, brother,” Loki said, looking behind me. “Where’s my nephew?"

“Chill out, Loki. Come inside first. Where’s my niece?”

Linnea came skipping inside, shedding her fluffy jacket. “Hi, Uncle Thor!”

“Hello, Linnea.” I knelt down to give her a hug.

“Where’s Cousin Mikey?” she asked excitedly.

“My goodness, everyone’s eager to see my son today.”

Mikey poked his head out from the kitchen. “Father, dinner’s on the plates.”

Linnea broke away from me and ran over to Mikey, hugging him around the waist.

“Hey, Linnea!” He bent down to hug her back.

“Good to see you, brother.” Loki and I hugged.

“Mother and Father are coming, too.” I had just said it when the doorbell rang again and Anise raced up to the door.

Mother and Father were standing outside, smiling.

“Good evening,” I said. “Come on inside, dinner’s ready.”

“This is really good,” Linnea said with her mouth full.

“Thank you,” I said with a smile.

Mikey was on his third pepper. “Save some for the rest of us, nephew,” Loki said.

“Sorry. I’m really hungry from skating for a while.”

“You’re going to choke,” Mother said. “Slow down, Mikey.”

“All right, all right.”

I can’t describe the feeling I got, sitting at a table with my family while the sun set and the kitchen was slowly flooded with artificial lights, replacing the sunlight. It was…comforting, to say the least.

Mikey went upstairs to shower after dinner. Mother, Father, Loki, Linnea, and I sat down in the living room and talked for a while longer. The grownups had glasses of wine. Linnea had settled for some grape juice, poured into a champagne flute. I had set out another one for Mikey.

They left at nine, because Linnea had already fallen asleep and Loki had to carry her out to the car. Besides, it was a school night.

“I enjoyed that, Father.” Mikey was sitting in his chair, sipping the last of his third flute of juice. “I’m so going to wake up in the middle of the night needing to pee.”

I nodded. “You’ve had a lot of grape juice.”

He finished off his flute. “I’m going to bed.” He stood up and walked over to me. “Love you, Father.”

I hugged him. “Love you too, Mikey.”

 

It was dark outside the window, except for the white of snow drifting from the sky. It was cold and quiet outside, but inside, the fire was crackling. Lights and decorations were hung everywhere.

Mikey and Pete were playing on the living room carpet, with their toy cars.

“Look at them,” Vision said fondly.

“This is exactly what Loki and I looked like when we were small,” I said.

“Pietro and I, too,” Wanda added. “We used to wear matching everything, until we were about eight.”

“Should we just dress them up identical?” I joked.

“That would be adorable,” Vision said.

“Fah!” Mikey said, tugging on my pant leg.

“Yes, Mikey?”

“Hot cocoa!”

“You guys want some?” I asked, and the Maximoffs agreed. Pete nodded so hard that his head his chest.

I got up and walked to the kitchen, Mikey in my arms. The snow was piling up on the deck and yard. In the distance, I saw car headlights and more decorations.

Mikey was wearing a blue fleece footie. He was so small that he fit perfectly in my arms, but he was only two. Pete was already his best friend.

I made cocoa with one hand, holding Mikey with the other. He shifted around with a sigh.

In the warm kitchen, with my son in my arms, my friends in the living room, and Christmas on the way, I felt more secure then I had in a long time.

My life, in that moment, was perfect.

Chapter Text

Name: Micheal Asgard Thorson

Parent: Thor Odinson

Siblings: None

Alias: Douglas Halleraker

 

Today, for me at least, was what Pete referred to as Skip-School-Day. Every month, Father, Uncle Loki, Linnea, and myself go to check on the colony on the Norwegian island.

Anise was still sleeping in the corner when I sat up. It was kind of cloudy today, otherwise I would have been hit in the face with a spear of sunlight.

I ran my fingers through my choices, trying to decide. The seamstresses of Asgard had made me a lot of Asgardian clothing, for every season and weather condition.

Today, it was supposed to be chilly. Because of this, I chose a simple, long-sleeved, white shirt that clung to my body and had bands of gold around the wrists, collar, and waist. My pants were designed like sweatpants, baggy, but made of a finer material. I pulled out a light blue cape and fastened the clasp around my collarbone.

“You look fine, son,” Father said at breakfast. He was wearing his formal outfit, which was even finer than mine. A black shirt with buttons was hugging his torso, while a pair of skinny black pants, much like leggings, ran down to his polished black shoes. A red cape was attached to the shirt, falling halfway down his calves.

“Thank you, Father. You too.”

He picked up Stormbreaker and slung it over his back, then motioned for me to do the same with Jarnbjorn. Uncle Loki and Linnea would meet us there.

In our backyard, Father put an arm around my shoulders and held me close to him, so that I wouldn’t fall out of the portal. He took Stormbreaker out and held it up to the sky. A rainbow beam shot down and we were lifted off the ground.

When we next touched down, probably about thirty seconds later, we were in a totally different area. The area was rocky and surrounded by the ocean, waves spraying up over the rocks. The breeze smelled of salt, and by the feel of it, it was about forty degrees. I was glad I had worn my cloak and warm boots.

We were looking down from the highest hill on the island. Down the island, a small village was sitting, the houses made of stone and wood. Some of the chimnies had smoke coming out of them.

A big smile broke out on my face, and I started running down the hill, my feet going faster and faster and my cloak flying out behind me.

As I was running towards the village, Sigfrid came out of her door, with Marte and Hakon behind her.

Marte was the one to spot me. She pointed up at me practically falling down the hill and started waving her arms at me. Sigfrid looked where she was pointing and her mouth dropped open.

I brought myself right to a halt before her, panting. I must have looked silly. My cheeks were flushed, my hair was a complete mess, and my cloak was tangled around my body.

“Hello, Sigfrid, ma’am,” I panted, inclining my head.

“Hello, Mikey,” she said. “This is unexpected.”

“It is.” Father walked up next to me, looking much better than I was. His short hair was a bit ruffled by the wind, but it looked much better on him than me.

“Hello, Thor.” Sigfrid dropped to one knee, and her children did the same.

“Thank you, Sigfrid.”

We walked down the dirt path, past the small stone and wooden cabins. Various faces, all of whom I knew, stepped out of their house to wave and call greetings. I greeted them all by name.

There were two houses by the edge of the ocean, on a gently sloping hill. They were the two biggest houses on our small island of Asgard. They were also ours and Uncle Loki and Linnea’s houses.

As we approached, I could see a tall, skinny figure with black hair sitting out on the porch, looking out on the ocean. The Laufeysons had gotten here before us.

Uncle Loki looked up when he heard us coming. “We beat you this time.”

“This time, Loki.” But Father was smiling.

Their door slammed and my cousin stepped out onto the porch. “Hi!”

“Good morning, Linnea.”

We talked for a while, till Father and I went into our house. It was a very nice one. Our people had been very, very generous.

“I wish Anise could have come with us,” I said. “She’d love it here.”

“I’m sorry, Mikey. But she wouldn’t be very good travelling. You have Jarnbjorn?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go say hello to our people, son.”

We walked outside, where many people had gathered in the main square. Like I said before, we know everyone by name, so we could say hello to everyone personally, ask them how the market was going, how their children were, and things like that.

Then, we went back home, because that’s where Brunnie, Korg, Meek, and Heimdall were meeting us.

They were waiting inside, in the living room.

“Thor, Mikey, come here.” Brunnie held out her arms and stood up. I walked over and hugged her. “How are you, babe?”

“I’m fine, Brunnie.”

“Hey, man.” Korg waved at me. I gave him a fist-bump and smiled at Meek, who raised a knife at me.

“Hello, Mikey.” Heimdall slowly stood up and clapped a hand on my shoulder. I inclined my head to him. “Hello, Heimdall.”

“Is it nice being back in Asgard?” Brunnie asked as Father’s old friend sat back down.

“Of course. It always is.”

Our door opened and Linnea came running in. “Brunnie! Korg! Meek! Heimdall!”

“Hey, princess!” Brunnie picked her up and spun her around.

“Hi, Linnea!” Korg waved at her and Meek clicked at her. Heimdall smiled, the lines around his eyes crinkling.

“I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

Uncle Loki strolled through the door as Linnea was being set down. “Hello, my friends.”

“Hey, man.”

“Father, I missed them so much!”

“I know, sweetheart.” He sat next to me and put an arm around me. “Hello, Mikey.”

“It’s very good to see you, Uncle Loki.”

“Even though you just saw me yesterday,” he chuckled.

I nodded.

“Would anyone like something to drink?” Father offered.

“That would be nice,” Heimdall said.

“Something warm, Father?” I asked.

“Like what, son?”

“Apple cider.”

“That sounds great.”

Soon, we were all sipping on cups of hot apple cider and talking. Linnea’s cheeks were rosy against her normally pale face. Brunnie was laughing so hard that she was almost dropping her cup.

It was nice to be back.

Lunch was breaded fish burgers, as well as homemade fries. Father made me come to the kitchen with him, to slice up the potatoes and dip them in the oil while he made the breading and coated the fish in it, while the buns were toasting on the oven.

“This is great!” Linnea was dumping a lot of sauce on hers. Uncle Loki had to take it away from her, and she pouted.

Brunnie was shoving a lot of fries into her mouth at one time.

“Please slow down,” I said. “You’ll choke.”

“Sorry, Your Royal Highness.”

I frowned at her. “Brunnie.”

She smiled apologetically. “I like teasing you, babe. I’m sorry.”

Lunch was soon done, and we all went outside to sit on the deck, overlooking the ocean.

“Man,” Korg said. “I never thought I would get off of Sakaar, but now I’m in a place more beautiful then I ever thought possible.”

“I never thought I would get off the booze, and yet here we are. Me without getting drunk for fourteen years. It’s incredible, no?” Brunnie grinned out at the horizon.

“That it is,” Uncle Loki said softly, putting an arm around Linnea.

Father smiled at me. “It is, brother.”

We sat in silence for probably thirty seconds before my phone started going off, very loudly. Everyone turned to look at me as I pulled it out. Pete, pulling a stupid face, was looking up at me from my screen.

“Sorry, it’s Pete.” I answered it and went inside. “Hello?”


“You’re missing out, Doug!” My best friend’s voice was hyped. I guessed that he was on an adrenalin rush. 

“On what?”

“We’re at Rika’s house, playing Monopoly!”

“Sorry, but you know Father won’t let me go when I’m here.”

“That sucks. Topher can be so overprotective sometimes!”

“Ryan, you need to go calm down.”

“I’m very hyped up on human drugs.”

I shook my head. “Ryan, please go watch fish swim to calm yourself down.”

“I’m having too much fun, Doug!” Then he hung up.

You’d think, him being the son of an android, he wouldn’t be so excitable, but he can get incredibly high sometimes. You should see him when he eats a bunch of candy at a football game.

“What did Pete want?” Father asked.

“He was excitable because him and the others were playing Monopoly.”

“That boy,” Heimdall said, shaking her head. “He’s something else.”

“Yeah, well, he’s Pete, son of Vision and Wanda,” Linnea said dramatically, throwing her arms in the air. “Ooh!”

The sun slowly set outside when we went inside, sinking beneath the horizon, painting the sky a million different colors.

It wasn’t till Father checked his watch till he whistled. “Son, we should be getting back.”

Meek chittered in protest.

“Us too.” Uncle Loki stood up.

“It was nice seeing you, babe.” Brunnie gave me a hug. “See you next month.”

“See you next month.” I gave Korg a fist-bump and saluted to Meek.

Heimdall shook my hand. “Goodbye, Prince.”

“Goodbye, Heimdall.”

I walked outside with Father.

The villagers waved goodbye to us from their windows as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. I was shivering by the time we got back to the top of the hill.

We were sucked back into the sky, and it was just Father and I outside our home when we landed. It felt so warm outside after the cold Norwegian winds.

Someone came sprinting over and stopped in front of me. “Hey, dude!”

“Hey, Pete.” I unsheathed Jarnbjorn.

“How’s Asgard, guys?”

“Couldn’t be better,” Father said.

Pete couldn’t really flush, because of his skin, but it was obvious he was winded, if slightly. “I ran all the way from Ollie and Rika’s,” was his explanation.

“Mm.” I ran a hand through my hair.

“Oh, yeah, I came over to ask if you wanted to come have dinner with us? Momma made goulash.” He wiggled his eyebrows, because he knows that Father is an absolute sucker for Wanda’s goulash.

“Yep, yep, yep, let’s go,” Father said, starting to walk quickly towards the Maximoff house.

Something zoomed by me when I walked into the living room. I heard a girl’s laughter as Pietro stopped running. I saw Izzy clinging to his back, giggling.

“Hey, guys,” Pietro said, out of breath.

“Hey,” I said.


Vision poked his head out from the dining room. He was constantly in his human form now. I don’t know if Pete and Izzy even know if his original form exists, but they must have their suspicions. Regular kids don’t have crimson skin and robot-like, turquoise eyes, after all.

“Momma!” Pete yelled.

“What?” came the distant reply.

“I told Thor that you were making your goulash and he bolted over here.”

I heard her laugh.

“I don’t blame him,” Vision called from the other room.

During dinner, Father was eating so fast that he had gone through three bowls before I was even done with my first.

“You’re acting like the fish burgers didn’t happen,” I said. “By the Nine Realms, Father.”

“This is so good,” he mumbled, swallowing another mouthful.

“Leave some for us,” Vision said gently.

“I’m sorry. It’s been a while since lunch.”

“Father—”

Izzy snorted. “You’re acting like lunch didn’t happen, Thor!”

We went back home after a couple cookies. I showered, said goodnight, and collapsed in bed, Anise in the corner again, fast asleep.

 

I came down the stairs. “Yes, Father?”

I was surprised to see a lot of people sitting in the living room. Tony, Nat, Steve, Meg, Scott, Hope, Bruce, Clint, Stephen, Prue, Wanda, and Vision. “What’s going on? Am I in trouble?”


“No, Mikey.” Meg motioned for me to come to her. I sat between her and Father.
 

“Son, you’ve proved yourself to be very, very trustworthy.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“Because we know we can trust you, we’re going to tell you secrets that the other kids don’t know,” Nat said.

“Why?”

“Because you’re trustworthy, like I said, but also because you, Micheal Thorson, are the future king of Asgard.” Father put a hand on my shoulder. “We’re telling you this now.”


“But—I’m only thirteen.”

“Yes, we know,” Meg said. “Now, listen. Ask questions if you want.”

The things I heard that night were absolutely insane. It explained a lot of the whispering between the grownups and answered a lot of questions I had had before.

We sat there for probably two hours as I listened to them talk. Tony, Nat, Father, Steve, the Avengers, Wanda, Pietro, Vision, Sam, Bucky, Scott, Hope, fighting each other, Thanos…

Afterwards, my cheeks were streaked with tears.

“Mikey?” Father asked.

I got up, walked over to Vision, and hugged him.

“If Pete and Izzy ever found out,” he said in my ear. “They would be traumatized. We’re trying to keep them safe, Mikey. I know he’s your best friend, but you absolutely cannot tell him.”

I nodded and pulled away. “Uncle Loki—”

“Linnea can’t know. It would tear her apart.”

“I see why.”

“It’s a lot to handle,” Prue said. “Especially since you’re so young.”

“Yeah, I know. But I’ve already got a kingdom resting on my shoulders. Or, almost, anyway. I’m used to handling things.”

“Thank you, Mikey.”

Chapter Text

Name: Stephen Vincent Palmer-Strange

Partner: Christine Palmer-Strange

Children: Prudence, Torma Kasa, Toby Jackson, and Aurora Palmer-Strange

Alias: Timothy Carlton Ventham

 

Christine was tied up against a boulder, straining to break free. A gag was stuffed in her mouth, but her eyes were glistening with tears as she looked at me.

TK was in a cage, a cage built of a strange glowing material. Every time he tried to shapeshift, he got burnt. A bear, a lion, a gorilla—didn’t matter. He was stuck in TK form.

TJ was flashing back and forth from light to solid, like a flashlight. His arms and legs were bound behind him, and he was bound to the ground. He couldn’t move, and even turning to light couldn’t help him. He was right next to his twin’s cage.

And poor little Rory was tied up, like her mother, but completely bound, except for her eyes, which were closed. She was unconscious.

I, like my wife, older twin son, and daughter, was tied up as well. My arms were stretched behind me. I couldn’t move them without pain. Same with my legs.

A figure emerged from the dust: Thanos, as menacing as ever. He had something draped over his shoulder. At first, it looked like a large piece of fabric, but it wasn’t. It was Prue.

I let out a gasp and tugged at the bonds. “Prue?”

Christine let out a moan of anguish as tears slid down her cheeks.

My oldest daughter was dumped at my feet. She was completely white and her eyes were half-open. She was dead.

“You monster!” I screamed at Thanos. “How could you?”

“Very easily.” He raised the gauntlet and pointed it in the direction of my family.

I jolted awake, sitting up with a loud huff. I was sweating like I had just run a marathon. It was hard to breathe.

Something stirred next to me. “Stephen?” Christine asked, still half-asleep. “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t breathe,” I panted. “Christine, I can’t—I—”

She sat up. “Stephen, can you look at me?”

I did.

“Breathe with me. In, out. In, out. Yes, like that.”

Eventually, my heart rate slowed and I could breathe again. “Thank you.”

“What was your dream about?”

“Thanos. Again.”

“Were we there again?”

“Yes. Prue was dead.”

“Well, she’s not in real life. You said goodnight to her last night. She’s at Bucky’s, with Meg.”

“TK and TJ—”

“They’re going to wake up in three hours.” She knew that I wasn’t going to wait.

I got out of bed and walked down the hallway, then opened the twins’ door. There they were, in their beds, on their sides of the room. TJ’s arm was hanging off his bed and his face was mashed into the pillow, while TK was squeezing his stuffed otter (which was named Ben, by the way) and snoring.

I tiptoed over to TK, who was closer to the door, and shook him gently. He stopped snoring and opened one of his eyes, then shut it again and stretched. “Did you have a nightmare, Dad?"

I nodded, then leaned down and hugged him and Ben. “I’m so glad you’re all right.”

“I’m fine,” he mumbled, his head falling on my shoulder. “How much longer do we have till we have to wake up?”

“Three hours.”

He sighed and lay back down, curling up, still clutching Ben.

TJ was slightly more alert when I woke him up. TK was already snoring again. “What happened, Dad? Is everyone okay?”

“Yeah. I just…”

“Nightmare?”

“Yeah.” I hugged him. “Thank God it’s just dreams.”

“Uh-huh.” He leaned to the floor and grabbed his stuffed hedgehog, Martin.

“Did he fall out of bed during the night?”

“I guess so.” TJ lay back down, this time with Martin.

I ran into Rory when I was heading to her room.

“Why’re you up?” she asked, rubbing one of her eyes.

I leaned down and hugged her.

“Oh.” She hugged me back. “Did you already see the twins?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m going back to sleep.” She walked back into her room.

“Better?” Christine asked me.

“Definitely.” I ran my fingers through my hair.

Three hours later, I was downstairs. The twins were eating breakfast at the table. Prue was supposed to be over soon.

TK and TJ kept glancing at each other and grinning. They were in each other’s heads again.

“What’s so funny?” I asked

“Nothing,” they said in unison. God, it was creepy how much they sounded alike.

They had marching band, so they had to leave pretty early. Of course, tonight they had Intensity, too.

“Hey, you know what Encore’s theme is this year, Dad?” TJ asked, sawing at his waffles.

“What is it, son?”

“Friendship. They’re doing songs like ‘A Friend Like Me’, or ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’.”

“That’s understandable.”

“Insanity is much cooler, though,” TK cut in.

“True. ‘Sweet but Psycho’ is fun,” his brother agreed.

“Lies. ‘Mad Hatter’ is the best.”

They locked eyes and I watched them argue telepathically for about thirty seconds before cutting in with, “Boys, you’re going to be late if you don’t finish your breakfasts.”

Their concentration broke and they started eating again, occasionally shooting glares at each other. It wouldn’t last long.

“All right,” I said. “TK, try it.”

Breakfast was done, and I was working with him on shifting.

“Okay. Hold on.” He stared at a spot on the wall hard. His hair slowly started getting longer and darker, his nose got longer, a few freckles popped onto his face, his fingers grew longer, and his feet grew a tiny bit bigger.

Finally, he turned to me, Vance Ventham now. “How’d I do?”

“Better.” I handed him his disc. “Still gotta put this on, though. We can’t have your disguise slip in public.”

His face fell into a scowl as he stuck it on his back.

A stream of light came floating down the stairs. Halfway down, they materialized into TJ and he fell on his back. Luckily, he didn’t fall the rest of the way down the stairs.

TK went over to him and knelt down. I didn’t hear anything, but they were talking.

Rory came out of her room half an hour after the boys left. Her mother came down with her.

“Hi, Dad. Did you sleep better?”

“I did, thank you for asking.”

“Are the boys already at Intensity practice?”

“Yep.”

“They really love it, huh? Maybe I’ll try out for Presence this year.”

“They’d love it if you did.”

She shrugged. “Yeah. Plus, the dresses are always nice.”

“You know what Presence’s theme this year is, Rory?” Christine asked, pouring herself a glass of iced tea.

“Royalty. They’re actually doing a song called ‘Royalty’, too.”

“Very original,” Prue said from the doorframe.

Rory ran over to her and hugged her. “Morning, Prue.”

“I overslept. Sorry I missed Torma and Toby.”

“It’s all right, Prue. Have some breakfast,” Christine said, sipping her tea.

Christine and I had to get to work, so Prue had to take her mother’s car to drop her sister off.

Because we know what we’re doing, we work at the hospital near downtown. I work in the surgical ICU and she works in cardiac care. For the most part, our hours are all right, but we sometimes have to leave the twins and Rory home with the Starks for a day or two. It’s not super common, but it happens occasionally.

Like always, work was hectic. Today was particularly busy, for whatever reason, so it was a relief when my shift ended and I was replaced by the next person.

I was washing my hands when Christine walked up next to me and started washing her hands next to me.

“How was work?” I asked.

“Long. I want to go home and see the kids.”


“That sounds like a great idea. Bonus, Vance will be toned down because Vic’s around.” 

“Thank God.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “If Vance were to pull a prank today, I’d launch his ass into orbit. Seriously. I’m done putting up with shit today.”

“You’re really right, babe.”

We got home to find two chill twins on the couch, doing homework. I imagined that TJ made TK do it, because TJ could make TK do almost anything.

“Hi,” TJ said, without looking up.

“Hi, boys. How was your day?”

“Good,” TK said. “Long, but good.”

“He fell asleep in Language Arts,” TJ said.

“I was tired from band and Dad woke me up at three in the morning,” his brother defended. “Give me some slack.”

“You fall asleep during Language Arts all the time,” TJ calmly pointed out.


TK sighed, and then fell silent. They were talking again. 

I patiently waited until they looked away from each other. “TK, you can’t keep falling asleep in class. You’re not going to pass.”

“I don’t care.”

“Torma,” came Prue’s voice from the other room. “Why are you so tired? You must be tired, if you keep falling asleep in first period.”

“Because I have band practice that I have to wake up early for, plus Dad wakes me up every other night.”

“Maybe you should go to bed earlier,” Prue said gently. “When are you going to bed?”

“Eleven-ish.”

“Is he telling the truth, Toby?” she asked.

“Eleven-thirty.”

“We learned that teens are programmed to go to sleep at eleven and wake up at eight last year!” TK protested. “It’s not my fault!”

“Torma, try to relax more before bed. Don’t go on your phone or anything. I should know.”

“Okay,” he muttered. “I’ll try.”

Prue sat down next to him, brushing her waist-length hair out of the way and over her shoulder.

Rory was brought home about twenty minutes later. She sat at the table, doing her homework, her legs dangling from the chair.

It was quiet and peaceful, which was nice, as I was getting a headache. I went to lay down until dinner, since it was Christine’s turn to make dinner.

The sun set outside as I lay there, just trying to relax between small sips of water. Eventually, when the streetlights turned on, it receded. I sat up and rubbed my eyes, exhaling through my nose.

Dinner was filled with quiet conversation. We were mostly eating, talking between bites.

Rory was the first finished, and she went into the living room to get her phone.

“Collins gave her presentation today,” TJ said, his eyes softening. He had a crush on his female friend.

“What did she choose to do?” Christine asked.

“The history of women’s roller derby.”

“Hey, that’s pretty neat,” Prue said.

The twins, Christine, and I were talking about signing up for the Rose Rink’s summer derby program again when Rory said from the other room, “Dad?”

“Yes, princess?”

“Can you come here?”

I got up and walked into the living room. She was on her knees, on the couch, looking through the window.

“What’s wrong?"

She pointed through the window. “I thought I saw someone outside. They were looking at me.”

I shut the curtains and made sure that the door was locked. “Is that better?”

“Yes. Thanks.”

The twins went to Intensity/jazz band practice right after dinner.

Prue went back to Bucky’s at eight. The boys went to bed at nine-thirty. Rory went into her room after showering.

It took me a while to fall asleep. I was afraid of having a nightmare again. I reassured myself that my sons were asleep in the room over, my youngest daughter was probably reading, and my oldest daughter was safe with her best friend.

 

“Let’s go,” Macrae whined. “I want to go.”

“Chill out, Macrae.” Christine handed him a water bottle to strap around his body. “We’re going.”


We got out of the car. TJ had a handle on TK at the moment. Prue had her hair tied into a ponytail.

“Thanks for driving, Prue,” Christine said.

“It’s no trouble.”

“I’m glad that hanging out with your parents at nineteen isn’t uncool,” I said.

Prue shook her head.

We were visiting the Farmer’s Market. It was the first day, so there were a lot of people there.

“Vance and Vic, come here a sec.” I pulled them over to me. “Stay with us, okay? If you get lost, then go to the pastry stand and we’ll meet you there. Okay?”

They nodded.

“Good. Let’s go.”

We got our pastries, then started walking down the street. There were so many people that Macrae was clutching my hand, which almost never happened.

“I want cheese,” TK said. “Dad, can we get cheese?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.” We also got tomatoes, popcorn, bread, and peppers.

Macrae begged to go on the train when we got near it. Christine and I were sipping iced coffee, while the kids had honey lemonade.

“Give me your lemonade and you can go, okay?” Christine took his drink and paid the money for the ride. I took pictures.

“I always liked these.” Prue ran her finger along one of the metal statues. “There’s a store in Boulanger with things like this. I got one for the house.”

“You’ll have to send me a picture, Eli.”

TK and TJ were poking the peacock and laughing when it rocked back and forth. Ten-year-olds are easy to entertain.

Macrae insisted on wearing Christine’s sunglasses, so he was wearing these huge glasses on his little face. It was pretty funny and got us more than one glance.

The twins were very riled up when we got back to the car. Well, TK was. TJ was trying his hardest to rein him back. In the end, Prue had to cast a spell to make him fall asleep so that he’d chill out.

Macrae was still wearing his mother’s sunglasses.

Chapter Text

Name: Prudence Jennifer Palmer-Strange

Parents: Stephen and Christine Palmer-Strange

Siblings: Toby Jackson, Torma Kasa, and Aurora Palmer-Strange

Alias: Elizabeth Ventham

 

Today, Meg and I were going back to Louisiana. The next time we’d see our families and friends would be in Wakanda, for Thanksgiving break.

Our flight left at nine, so I had to say goodbye early.

Torma and Toby were already up when I came inside. Meg was parked right outside, with our bags in the trunk. We had already said goodbye to her family.

“You’re leaving?” Torma asked.

“Yep.”

They got up and walked over to me, both hugging me at the same time. I hugged them back. “See you in Wakanda.”


“Bye, Prue,” they said at the same time, then looked at each other and laughed, Toby’s glasses slipping down his face.

Mom and Dad came downstairs, already dressed. The twins were still in their pajamas.

“You’re leaving?” Mom asked, echoing Torma.

“Yes.” I let go of my brothers and went to hug my parents. “I’ll call when I get there.”

“Okay.” Dad hugged me, then checked his watch. “Christine, we’re going to be late. TK and TJ, Harry will be picking you guys and Rory up, she’ll drop Rory off, you go to PRHS. Yes?”

“Got it, Dad.”

“Good. Prue, I love you, have a safe trip.” Then, him and Mom went out the door to the car.

I went up to Rory’s room and found her asleep. I shook her awake.

“Prue?”

“I’m leaving.”

“Oh. Already?”

“Yes.”

She sat up and hugged me. “Have a safe trip.”


“Bye." 

The flight from Des Moines to the airport into Hivers is roughly two and a half hours. I fell asleep to the checkerboard of the Midwest and woke up to the buildings of Hivers.

I grabbed my backpack and headed out with Meg. While we were waiting for our bags, Meg said, “You want lunch when we get home?”

I nodded, then said, “You can have something here, if you want.”

I have sucrose intolerance. The simple way of explaining that is my body can’t process sugar well, so I get sick if I eat too much of it. Apparently, Mom’s mom had it, so lo and behold, I got stuck with it. I can’t have more than 25 grams of sugar a day, so I can’t go out to eat or, really, eat anything that’s not made by anyone at home. When we’re in Wakanda, they prepare me a feast that’s all my own. It’s amazing.

“I’m all right,” Meg said.

It takes two hours to drive down to the rural town of Boulanger from the suburb of Hivers. It’s a beautiful drive. Giant trees line the road, grass stretches in all direction, the sun beats down, it’s warm.

Eventually, we got to the outskirts. Small houses lined the street, with kids playing in the yards and parents sitting on the porch. They looked up as we drove by and waved. Everyone had gotten familiar with the sight of Meg’s giant black pickup. Some of the kids got up and ran after us, waving their arms wildly and calling our aliases. “Abbey! Libby!"

I stuck my arm out the window and waved to them. They laughed and hooted.

We pulled up to the gate of our house. It’s large, with several stories, balconies, a large back and front yard, has a stunning view of the bayou, a dock in the backyard, and a forest that hides the entrance to the T.R.U.S.T. facility (T.R.U.S.T. stands for Team Response Unit that Stops Threats).

Meg held out her bracelet to the small box by the lock. There was a quiet beep and the gate unlocked, letting us in.

The lock on the door could not be picked. You had to have a key to open it.

“Give me a boost.” Meg walked over to the door. I grabbed her foot and helped her up onto the roof. She climbed along the tiles until she found the right one, then lifted it up. Shining in the sun, hiding there, was the key. She grabbed it and held it up. “Ready?”

I nodded. Meg dropped the key and I caught it, then opened the door as she jumped back onto the porch.

The kitchen was large and clean. The entire house had Wakandan tech in it: ovens, microwaves, fridges, freezers, lamps, heating and cooling systems—you name the electronic, we had it Wakandan-style.

“Peggy, we’re home,” Meg called.

The lights turned on. Welcome home, girls. According to Steve, our AI sounded almost exactly like his old girlfriend.

There’s a door in the living room. It’s made of vibranium, with ten different locks that, like the front door, can’t be picked or tampered with.

I took out the key and unlocked five of them, then used my fingers, eyes, face, voice, and full body scan to unlock the rest. The door clicked open and I went in, Meg following me.

You have to go down beneath the house, like several stories down. Then, you get to another door. It’s the same as the other door, but in a different order. Beyond this door, there’s a large room that has other doors leading off in different directions. There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a weapons room, a room filled with food and water, or whatever else you’d need to survive an apocalypse.

A woman appeared as Meg walked past me into the weapons room. Curly brown hair, smart army uniform with a jacket, skirt, and tie, perfectly done red nails and lips.

“Hey, Peggy,” I said.

“Hello, Prue. How was your flight?”


“All right.”

“You had a good visit with your family?”

“Yes.”

We hung around there for a while. Meg was testing all the weapons, I checked on all the rooms. I’m not a huge fan of guns, so Meg told me to go upstairs before she tested them to make sure they were working.

In the main house, I went upstairs to my room. It was small, with a window that overlooked the backyard.

My phone dinged.

Hey Libby u and Abbey wanna come for dinner?

It was our friend Lav.

Sure, at your place?

Yep, c u at 6:45?

Yes

I screenshotted the conversation and sent it to Meg, who replied with a thumbs-up emoji.

Lav lived in the main part of Boulanger, in a large house. It took us fifteen minutes by car. Or, in some cases, motorbike. Mine was in the garage, a purple-and-black one.

Meg came upstairs five minutes later.

“Are the weapons all working?”

“Yes. We better get ready for Lav’s dinner thing. You know how he is with outfits.”

Lav is a total fashionista. He and Erik, Shasta’s brother (I know she’s been mentioned because Sam never shuts up about her), would get along very well if they ever met. He insists that we dress up for events like this. He always sees this as a very formal event, since we come and go a lot.

Meg chose a simple navy dress that fell to her feet, with a slit where her leg would show, and two straps, one around her shoulders and one on them. I was wearing a strapless purple dress that was a little big (it used to be Mom’s) and kept it slipping down my chest.

In the garage, I mounted my bike and revved it up. Meg was behind me, in her truck. With a slight screech of rubber, I sped off, through the gate and down the road.

Riding through the woods, along the dirt path I knew well, felt great. My hair was whipping out behind me. It was too much of a hassle to leave loose (because of how long it was), so I had braided it.

Lav’s house came up quickly, and I pulled into the driveway, coming to a stop. I took off my helmet and put it on one of the handlebars.

Lav’s sister, Azealia, answered the door. “Hey.”

“Hey, girl.” Meg smiled at her.

“Lav’s in the dining room.”

Our friend was wearing a suit that would have been better for prom.

“Abbey! Libby!” He grinned at us.

“Hey, Lav.”

“Come here, I need to critique you.”

Every single time. It was what he did while dinner finished cooking. It was a little awkward, but you couldn’t do anything about it.

Eventually, we were allowed to sit down. According to Lav, my dress was too big but had a nice skirt, and I should wear different shoes with it. He can be kind of intimidating during these things, since he’s five ten, which is nearly as tall as Meg, and towers over you when he’s checking out your outfit.

“Your flight was okay?” Lav asked at dinner, which was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

I nodded, taking a sip of milk. I didn’t have potatoes, but a small roasted eggplant. My chicken was also not breaded, but instead fried in butter, salt, and pepper. “This is really good, Lav."


“Thank you, Libby.” He beamed. “There’s more for you, if you want. Is it nice being back in town?" 

“Always is,” Meg replied.

“Oh yes, how’s Jack?”

“Positive. Not much healthier, but there’s not much we can do about that.” Until he was older, anyway.


I blinked, and suddenly, the house was only wreckage. Flames were everywhere, smoke was filling the air, blocking out the sun. I was kneeling in the middle of it all, laughing. It wasn’t me. That’s not me. Who is that?

“Libby?” I snapped out of it and returned to reality. “Are you all right?”

“Headache,” I mumbled. “I—”

“Do you need to go get a drink?” Meg said.

I got up and went into the kitchen, where I took out my phone and hit one of the numbers on speed dial.

“Leroy Richardson.” I slumped against the wall in relief at hearing Nick’s voice.

“Hey, Leroy. It’s me.”

“Libby?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I had another one of those illusions.”

“What was it about?”

I told him.

“Come to the facility. I want to have a look at you.”

Tears were pooling in my eyes. “Okay. I’ll make an excuse.”

“See you in a few minutes.”

I walked out of the kitchen. “I have to go. I’m sorry. My head—”

“It’s okay,” Lav said, but I could see that he was disappointed. “Go home.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Meg asked.

“No. I’m fine. I’ll probably make some tea downstairs.” Code that I was going to the facility.

“Okay.” She nodded.

I rode my bike in the opposite direction of our house. I was heading for Nick’s place.

He answered the door when I knocked. “Hey, Libby. Come in.”

In the guest room, there was a small dresser. Pull on one of the light strings, and you were transported to the facility.

There were at least three hundred trainees here. They were all eating dinner at the moment, so we went through the colorful halls alone. There were little kids here, like Mia’s age. They were children of fallen agents, so T.R.U.S.T. had at least tried to brighten the halls with pinks and yellows and blues. It was sad, because many of them don’t remember their parent or parents. Some had just been left here, because their other parent couldn’t cope with their partner’s death.

We entered the room that the trainees called the Crazy Room, which really helped me feel good about these visits.

It was a room that looked however you wanted it to. Imagine a room, or a place, and that’s how it looked. For me, it morphed into my old bedroom, which was now Rory’s. When she was old enough to get her own room, I was fifteen. I moved into the basement. Mom and Dad turned it into a storage room when I moved out.

The walls were amethyst, the floor had a fluffy heather carpet, there were shelves with small trinkets on them, a closet in the corner, a desk in the other, and a bed with multiple purple blankets covering it. A basket was against the wall, filled with stuffed animals. I had no idea what it actually looked likes, only Nick knows that.

I lay down on the bed and shut my eyes. It smelled like lavender.

“Can you hear me, Prue?”

“Yes.” I was vaguely aware of something hard around the back of my skull.


“Think about what you saw. Can you do that?”

I didn’t want to, but I let the image back into my head.

“Good job. Keep it there. I need to look at it.”

To compare it to something, it’s like when you’re at the dentist, with your mouth open, while the dentist is getting something. I had to keep the image in my mind while Nick analyzed my mind.

“Anything?” I asked.

"Spikes in brain wave activity. Did something trigger you? Someone said something, something happened?”

“No. We were just talking, I blinked, and then that happened.”

“Okay.”

“Nick? What’s wrong with me?”

He sighed. “I don’t know. It might be a side effect of your powers.”

Of course. My powers.

“God, I feel like that’s all anyone cares about, about me. My damn powers.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“But it sure feels like that. That’s why I was born, that’s my purpose.” It was the truth. I’d known it since I brought back Heimdall, Loki, Vision, and Gamora. Since before that, actually. Nick couldn’t argue with me.

“You’re more than your powers.”

I gritted my teeth. I suddenly felt trapped and like someone had dropped something heavy on my chest. My breathing sped up and my heart was pounding in my ears. Something was clawing at my mind.

“Nick, get me out of here!” I’m pretty sure I screamed it.

The smell vanished and I felt someone pull me up from the bed. “Prue?”

“I want to go home. Let me go home. I can’t be here anymore.” I looked down at my hand and saw I was shaking. Something had happened.

“All right. Come in tomorrow, and you can finish up, okay?”

I nodded.

When I stumbled into the living room and collapsed, Meg came downstairs.

“You’re pale. What happened?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. All of a sudden, something tried to get into my head.”

“Anxiety does that to you.”

“How would you know?” That was mean.

“Because I’ve been your best friend for twenty-three years, and I know you as well as I know myself. Come on. You need to go to sleep.”

 

Dad was holding my hand. It was cold out.

“Prue, you need to bring someone back again.”

“Who?” I asked.

Someone walked through the crowd and knelt in front of me.

“My girl,” Peter said.

I sighed. “What’s her name?”

“Gamora.”

“Description.”

“About here on me, with green skin that has silver marking. Long black hair, with pink tips.”

“How did she die?”

“Fall.”

I shut my eyes and moved my hands in front of me. When I opened them again, a portal was in front of me. It seemed to lead into a void.

With no hesitation, I dove in. It felt like diving into the deep end of a pool, but very warm. Uncomfortably warm.

It wasn’t black, like the portal had seemed. Everything was lit up, but with dark undertones. Dark colors.

I swam through the void, looking. Gamora, Gamora, Gamora. I thought out her name. There were hundreds more people, all floating in various positions.

There she was.

She was floating in a position that was off, compared to the others. Her head was twisted on her neck, and her arms were sprawled out.

Peter’s word came back to me. Fall. She had fallen to her death.

I swam over to her and touched her arm. She was asleep. That’s what always happened.

Her eyes were a dark brown. A comfy, safe color.

“Hey,” I said softly. Her head turned to look at me, her hair billowing out as she did so. “Come with me. I’m taking you somewhere safe.”

Like Loki and Heimdall before her, she held my hand and drifted behind me as I pulled her back to the portal.

I stumbled through the opening. She became a lot heavier.

I collapsed against Dad’s legs, suddenly exhausted. He picked me up and held me close to his chest, so that I could watch.

Gamora moved her head, then flexed her fingers.

Peter knelt down next to her, taking her hand. “Gamora? Can you hear me?”

Her eyes opened, the same dark brown as before. “Peter?” She sat up. “I thought—oh my God!” She threw her arms around his neck.

He started crying. “I’m so sorry, Gamora, we never should have gone for the stone, this is my fault—”

“Shh.” She kissed his cheek. “It’s okay.”

“Gamora!” The rest of the Guardians barged through the crowd. Peter and Gamora let go of each other.

Drax, Rocket, Groot, and Mantis tackled her in a giant group hug. All of them were crying.

“You’re alive,” Rocket squeaked.

“I am,” she laughed, tears on her cheeks. “I’m alive.”

Drax said something that no one understood. “What was that?” Peter asked.

“It means, ‘Love trumps death’, in my native tongue.”

“I love you guys,” Gamora said. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Nebula was standing off to the side. Gamora finally broke herself away from everyone else and went over to her sister.

“Nebula, I am so sorry.” They hugged. “I should have never—”

“Don’t blame yourself. Sister. You’re my sister.”

They hugged for a while longer, before Gamora asked, “Who did this?” and broke away.

“Did what?”

“Why am I here?”

Peter pointed at me, back on the ground, leaning on Dad. “She did.”

Gamora walked over to me and knelt. “Thank you. What’s your name?”

“Prue.”

“I owe you big.


“That happens,” I offered with a yawn. “Sorry."
 

“It’s all right.” She looked over her shoulder. “Everything is all right now.”

Chapter Text

Name: Wanda Elizabeth Maximoff

Partner: Vision Maximoff

Children: Pietro and Isabelle Maximoff

Alias: Chase Olsen

 

I came downstairs and Pete was there, eating his cereal and watching something on his phone.

“Phone down.”

He scowled and set his phone down.

Pietro zipped up to me and lifted me off my feet in a hug. “Good morning, little sis.”

“I am not your little sis,” I laughed. “Put me down!”

“I’m older than you are.”

“By twelve stupid minutes!”

“I wonder if Thing One and Thing Two argue about this,” Pete murmured in the background.

Pietro set me down when Vision came downstairs. He was kind of scared of him, even though Pietro had been here for eight years.

“Morning, Pete.” Pete covered his head as his father walked by so that he didn’t get his hair ruffled, because apparently, ‘it makes it harder to do’.

“Morning, Dad.” He peered out from under his arms.

“I’m not going to touch your hair.”

Izzy came downstairs and started rummaging around in the pantry.

“Hi,” her uncle said, looking over at her.

“Hey,” came from the pantry.

“Morning, Izzy.”

“Hi, Dad.”

Pete looked up when a car slammed next door. “They’re going to school.”

They have names, Pete,” Vision said gently.

“Yeah, but they also suck.” Pete stared at him.

“Dad, you’re not going to change his mind,” Izzy said, coming back out from the pantry with an oatmeal packet.

“I wasn’t trying to.”

Pete went back to eating his cereal, keeping one eye on the Palmer-Strange house.

I looked up at the clock. I had to go over to Gamora’s basement in ten minutes.

“Izzy?” Vis asked.

“Yes?”

“Is that my sweater?”

“Yep.” You could easily tell. Vision is several times bigger than Izzy, after all. She had pulled the waist of the sweater back with a hairband and folded the sleeves so they fit her.

“God, all the women in my life steal my clothes,” I heard him whisper while he rubbed his face.

Izzy smiled sweetly. It was creepy how much it looked like her father’s smile.

“Maybe we should just stop buying Izzy clothes,” I teased.

“No!”

“Then stop stealing my sweater, Isabelle.”

Izzy planted her feet and looked defiantly up at Vis, then stuck her tongue out at him and ran down to the basement for Pietro. She didn’t leave for school for a while.

“I mean,” I remarked as she ran away, her heels almost touching the hem of her navy skirt, “it’s a cute sweater. The pink is very calming.”

“Yeah, but it’s mine and she keeps stealing it.”

“Mm-hmm, it’s awful,” I said sarcastically.

“Are you wearing—” The realization hit him. I was wearing one of his button-downs, this one a very nice shade of red.

“You just realized this?” I went over to him and kissed his cheek. “Babe, these are the hazards of sharing a closet.”

He looked down at me and smiled. “I always forget how small you are till you’re right next to me.”

“I am not small, you’re just bigger than me. How dare you.” I was teasing him.

“I’m sorry.” He frowned at me.

“Vis, I’m joking.”

“Oh.”


“Dad, you’ve been together for God knows how long,” Pete said from the stairs. “I thought at this point you’d get her jokes." 

“Yeah, because I have no sense of humor at all.”

Pete looked over the stairwell, and from the angle he was looking at us I could tell that he was trying to hover again. “I’m aware of that.”

Then he promptly fell down onto the stairs with an ‘oof’.

“Are you okay?” Vision called.

“Great,” came the grunt from the stairs. He came out, holding his side with a wince. “Good thing it doesn’t hurt for long.”

I walked over to him and knelt down, then pulled up his shirt. It was difficult to hurt Pete, since his skin was so tough, so there was no wound.

“Where does it hurt?” I asked.

My son reached down and tapped a spot on his ribs. “There.”

I reached out and splayed my fingers across his ribcage. Red seeped into his body and converged on that spot.

Pete let out a sigh. “Thanks, Mom.”

My second job, other than working for Gamora, is being the nurse for all the kids. I can repair cuts and scraped limbs, mend broken bones, and take away pain.

I went over to Gamora’s a couple minutes later. She was downstairs, editing.

“Morning, Wanda.”

“Hi.” I hung my coat on the rack in the corner. “What do you have for me today?”

“Design and finishing the donations.”

I sat at the desktop in the corner and opened the folder we used for clothes design, then clicked over to the website.

Gamora runs a very successful clothing line, as well as being a YouTuber (as her alias). Nat and I help her out. I did most of the design work and set up the website, but Gamora came up with the ideas.

This was my job: sitting in my friend’s basement and fooling around on a computer. What a time to be alive.

At lunchtime, the basement door opened and Peter came downstairs, holding two Chipotle bags in one hand and his camera in the other.

“Here you go, girls.” He wrestled with them until Gamora stood up and took them from him, then walked over and handed me the one with the C written on it.

“Thank you, Peter,” I said before turning back to work.

“My second job is just bringing you girls food.”

“Yep.”

As much as America sucks, it has good food. Before I came here, I had never tasted so many different things. My favorites are Mexican and Japanese, but Sokovian and Hungarian food still holds a special place in my life.

Everyone on the Internet thinks that my job is fun all day, all the time. That’s a lie. I love my job, yes, but it can get very boring, even when my friend is sitting nearby and we talk a lot. It’s not a lot of fun to meticulously craft a model of a piece of clothing. You have to stay very focused, plus your eyes get very tired looking at a screen for the entire workday.

Then again, I’d much prefer to work in my friend’s basement, near my house, and not interact with unfamiliar people. Unlike Vis, I’m not good with random strangers. He has a way of making people trust him, whereas I get very stressed out in those situations. Getting stressed does not do good things to my body, such as making it shoot red magic everywhere.

I was nearly through the designs when my phone started buzzing.

“Chase Olsen.”

“Hey, sunshine, what do you want for dinner?”

“Are you at the store?”

“No, I’m in my office. I just wanted an idea so, when we go to the store later, we know what we’re doing.”

“Have we ever known what we’re doing?”

“That’s true.”

“No, I’m not sure what I want. Do you want anything?”

“I overheard Rose talking about fish last night.”


“Did you hear a specific thing?”

“No, just…” His voice trailed off and I heard him get out of his chair.

I sat up straighter. “Is everything okay, Will?”

“Yes.” His voice was slightly strained, like he was looking up. “At least, I think so.”

My heart started pounding in my ears. “Is someone looking at you? Are they being suspicious?” Thoughts of my children were flashing through my head, of them getting snatched on their way back home and being taken off for experiments.


Gamora was looking at me, fear obvious on her face. Her eyes were huge.

“No, sunshine. It’s all okay. Nothing is wrong.” His voice was soothing, but I could tell that he was a little anxious. He sat back down. “Fish for dinner?”

“Yeah, sure.” My voice was steady, but my hands were shaking. “I’ll see you later, Will. Love you.”

“Love you too, Chase.”

I hung up and collapsed backwards, tears coming to my eyes.

“Hey, is everything okay?” Gamora got up and came over, putting a hand on my shoulder.

My vision turned red and I started crying.

“Wanda, what’s wrong?”

It took a few minutes, but I calmed down and told her what happened.

“I don’t like when that happens because it makes me so scared for Pete and Izzy,” I whispered. “If they find us, they’ll be taken away from us because—”

“Because of who they are,” Gamora finished. “Yon’s the same way. The son of a Zenhoberi and a human.” She was extremely good at handling situations like this. “Wanda, situations like this always happen. They’re not going to find us out. We’ve been hiding for almost fifteen years, and they have yet to find us.”

I raised my head and wiped my face. “They won’t.”

It was a couple more hours before I went home, to sit on the couch and wait for my brother.

He came zipping upstairs. “Hey, Wanda.” Then he noticed my eyes. “What happened? Is everyone okay?”

“Everyone is fine. I just got stressed out.” That was a lie and he knew it, but he didn’t press me and just nodded, then sat next to me and put an arm around me.

We sat there, in silence, until I heard the door slam and Pete came walking in, then did a backflip.

“Pietro Anthony, what did I say about doing gymnastics in the house?” I warned.

“Sorry, Momma.” He landed with a sheepish grin on his face.

“I thought you were threatening me for a sec,” my brother mumbled, his hand on his chest.

“Nope, she reserved that honor for me,” Pietro the Second said.

Izzy came home half an hour later, just to change and grab her gloves and then head right over to the Romanoff-Rogers house. When Meg wasn’t around, she was trained by Nat and/or Bucky.

A lot of afternoons at our house is chaotic, what with Izzy’s martial arts, Pete needing to be dropped off at the opposite end of town, and Vision arriving home narrowly in between these things. And sometimes grocery shopping.

Today, however, was not a dance day for Pete, so he went upstairs to watch Star Wars on his desktop and chat to his friends.

Vis walked in a few minutes later, hanging his coat up on one of the hooks and walked over to the couch.

“Hey, Vision,” Pietro addressed him casually.

“Afternoon, Pietro.” Vision sat on my other side, then tilted his head and looked down at me. “Hi, Wanda.”

“Hey, goof.” I used the couch to get up to his eyelevel and give him a kiss.

Pietro made a noise of disgust. “Why do you have to do that in front of me?”

“You’re acting like we’re stripping down,” I retorted. “God, Pietro, it’s just a kiss.”

Later, Vision and I were at the store, browsing for dinner, which reminded me of earlier.

“Hey, Will?”

“Yes?” He was looking through the freezer aisle.

“What did you see earlier?”

He stood back up and sighed, then turned to face me. “I’m sorry I made you anxious.”

“It’s okay, but what did you see?”

“I got a funny feeling, so I got up and went to look out the window. Nothing was there.”

I nodded, then reached past him and picked up a container. “This should do, yeah?”

Pietro is the best at prying Pete away from his precious computer, so I sent him upstairs when dinner was ready. Izzy had already poked her head out from the basement when the smell of grilled salmon drifted down there.

“Fish?” she asked.

“Fish,” I confirmed.

She grinned and jogged up the rest of the stairs and to her spot.

Pete came downstairs, sniffing the air with squinted eyes. “What the heck is that?”

“Salmon,” I said cheerfully.

His eyes got narrower. “Hmm.”

“Stop humming and get.” His uncle flapped his hands at him. “You’re blocking the stairs.”

Pete was busy gossiping at dinner, mostly about the stuff that the quippy Rika had said to the teachers and other students. She tended to get racial remarks, so she had come up with things to say to them, if the boys weren’t with her. She could hold off an army with her words.

“I am so glad that I’m her friend,” Pete had said once, “or she might have run me over with her quips and retorts." 

“Hey, guys?” Pete said now. “Ollie’s inviting us over to his house tomorrow for a nail art party. Can I go?”

“What time is it?” Vis asked.

“Noon to three.”

“Yep,” I said.

He beamed. “Cool! He got a new color that he said would go well with my eyes.”

“Awesome,” Pietro said. “Go wild, little nephew.”

“We might do our hair, too,” Pete said happily. “And break out the old tutus.”

“Would you still fit in that?” Izzy asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know. Mikey’s gotten so big that I doubt he will.”

There will be no toxic masculinity in this household.

After dinner, Izzy and Pietro went downstairs to play video games, Pete went back upstairs to watch Star Wars for the millionth time, and Vis and I sat on the deck with a bottle of wine.

 

I opened my eyes and sighed. The lower half of my body was in a dull, throbbing pain.

“Vis?” I whispered, sitting up and hissing from the pain.

“Wanda!” He came running in, shutting the door behind him. “Are you okay? You fainted.”

“I’m not feeling great,” I admitted, then looked around. “Where is he, Vis?”

“He’s with Christine. He’s doing fine.”

“How long was I out?”

“A couple minutes. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Making eye contact with him. It’s like a photo in my mind.”

Another door opened and Christine walked out with a small bundle. “He’s doing fine, but it’s the strangest thing…his skin is tougher than I’ve ever seen. And it’s…uh…well, I’ll let you see."  

I held my arms out and she gave him to me.

The first thing I noticed about him was that his skin was a bright reddish color, with strange lines running along the skin I could see, like the ones that ran along Vision’s real body.

“Ah.”

“What? What’s wrong? Is there something wrong with him?” Vision’s face was panicked.

“No, but I think this is your doing, Mr. Maximoff.” I repositioned the bundle so that Vision could see his son’s skin.

“I think it is, too.” He grinned. “Oops.”

I giggled, then looked back down at him. I was so tired, but damn it, he had been worth it. I used my other hand to stroke the top of his head, which was covered by a little hat. He stirred and opened his eyes, which were the same shade of green as mine.

“Oh, look at his eyes,” Vision said in a hushed tone.

“He’s so quiet.”

“Not when he was born. He was screaming his head off.”

I laid my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes, tears slipping down my cheeks. “I’m so tired.”

I felt his hand stroking my hair. “You are the strongest woman I know, Wanda Maximoff. I love you and our son so much. You did it.”

“I did, didn’t I?”

We sat there for a while. I don’t know how long.

Eventually, the door opened and two pairs of footsteps entered. I turned my head and opened my eyes to see that it was Clint and Laura.

Clint gasped. “That’s him?”

“Yeah,” I said. “This is him.”

“What’s his name?” Laura asked. “C’mon, you two, you’ve withheld it long enough!”

“His name is Pietro Anthony Maximoff,” I said. “For my brother and Tony.”

“Why Tony?” Clint asked.

“Because he thinks of me as his son,” Vis said. “And I understand that people often name their children after their relatives.”

“I wasn’t wild about it, but it was agreed that he’d choose the middle name,” I added.

Clint walked over and crouched next to me, then stuck his finger next to my son’s face. “Hello, little Pietro.”

“Pete for short,” I said. “Pietro, as a whole name, isn’t right for him.”

“Hey, Wanda?”

“What?”

“Why is his skin red?”

I hooked a thumb at Pete’s father. “His fault.”


“He’s adorable either way,” Laura said. “He’s a miracle, after all.”

Chapter Text

Name: Pietro Anthony Maximoff

Parents: Wanda and Vision Maximoff

Siblings: Isabelle Maximoff

Alias: Ryan Olsen

 

I don’t do much on weekend mornings. I wake up and sit in my desk chair, wrapped in a fluffy blanket (since I sleep in my underwear and a tank top, because I always overheat during the night) and watch Star Wars on my desktop, or talk to my friends.

My door opened. I paused my movie and put my headphones around my neck.

“Nice bedhead, Pete.” It was my uncle. “I thought you were the one who always covers his head when his dad walks by, so that he doesn’t mess your hair up.”

“Can you give me a pair of socks?”

“Get your own socks. Good morning.”

I grunted and yawned.

“If you need, get breakfast.”

“’M watching something,” I muttered.

“Dude, you watch the same things every day.”

I grunted again.

Two seconds later, I was downstairs and on my butt.

“Hey!” I protested. “What was that for?”

“It’s breakfast time,” Uncle Pietro said matter-of-factly.

I glared up at him.

“What’s happening?” Mom looked around the corner.

“I carried him downstairs and now he’s sulking, but otherwise he won’t eat breakfast.”

I heard footsteps come down the stairs and turned around to see Dad. He was always a lot taller than me, but now it was scary how much he towered over me.

Because I was pissed off at being unplugged from my movies, I willed my density to change until I was too dense to move. Not heavy enough to break the floor, but dense.

“What exactly are you doing?” Dad questioned, kneeling down to my eye level.

I glared up at him in response.

“Pietro brought him downstairs again,” Mom said from the doorway.

“He’s also increased his density,” Dad said, standing back up. “Enough so that he doesn’t have to move.”

“What’s going on?” Izzy looked over the railing as she ran down the stairs.

“Oh, look, Pete’s causing a traffic jam,” Uncle Pietro commented.

Izzy sighed and squeezed past Dad, then crouched beside me and started pushing me out of the way. I lost my balance and tumbled to the ground, skidding a couple extra feet, too.

“That problem’s solved.” Izzy dusted off her hands and walked into the kitchen.

“My dignity,” I whispered.

“Get up, dummy.” My uncle hauled me to my feet. “You got whipped by your sister? Deal with it. How do you think I feel? I dealt with your mom for eighteen years.”

“That’s true,” I mumbled. “But my dignity hurts.”

“Your ego hurts, Pete Number Two. Suck it up.” He smiled and gave my shoulder a little push.

I hid upstairs after breakfast, waiting for Izzy to come back to her room for revenge. Like I said, I can change my density, like Dad. That also means that I can fly, which would come in handy for this occasion.

What I did was hover above her doorframe, a few inches beneath the ceiling, and wait. It took about five minutes before the door creaked open and she stepped in.

I silently descended and landed, right behind her, then grabbed her shoulders and yelled, “Izzy!”

I should have known better. My sister’s been training with Meg, Nat, and Bucky for three years and knows how to defend herself.

A very well-placed hook kick did the trick. I ended up folded in half, holding my crotch. Tears were streaming down my face. Try getting kicked in the crotch with someone who has metal bones.

“Ow,” I squeaked out.

“You moron!” Izzy screamed.

I heard feet stomping upstairs and had time to think, Oh, God, no, why, before my parents and Uncle Pietro burst into the room.

“What’s wrong?” Dad cried. “Are you hurt?”

“The only thing hurt in this room is Pete’s dignity, Dad,” Izzy said calmly.

Dad and Uncle Pietro looked at me, then winced at the same time.

“What did you do?” Mom asked, raising her eyebrows.

“I snuck up on her,” I admitted, an octave above my normal voice.

“It appears you’re paying for that,” Dad remarked.

“I am in pain,” I squeaked back. “Mom, please help me.”

“You’ve got to take your hands off your pants first.”

I did, and she shot a small jet of magic over to me. The pain was gone and I stood straight again.

“Thanks.”

Mom smiled.

Dad stopped me on the way out. “Hey, how and why did you try and sneak up on her?”

“Because she embarrassed me this morning, and I needed to get her back, because that’s how siblings are. And I hovered above her doorframe, then floated down, regained my density, and scared her.”

He grinned and shook his head. “Well, at least you’re gaining more control over your powers.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Everyone says we look alike. I don’t see it. Dad has blond hair and blue eyes, is super pale, and is way taller than I’ll ever be. I have brown hair, green eyes, reddish-pink skin, and I’m kind of short. No, I don’t know why I have strangely colored skin. I’ve always thought that it was just a mutation caused by Dad being an android or something. Same with Izzy’s eyes.

“And you didn’t come crashing down and ruin the ‘surprise’.” Dad made finger quotes around ‘surprise’. “That’s pretty impressive, Pete. I wish I could have seen that.”

“Let me try it again. Maybe it’ll happen!” It had already happened once.

“Go ahead. Maybe it will.” He leaned against the banister.

I willed my density to change, so I could rise up. My heart started pounding in my ears as my body slowly turned transparent, from my toes, to my knees, my hips, my armpits, my wrists, my collarbone, my chin, the crown of my head.

I concentrated and started floating up to the ceiling. A huge grin split my face. “Dad, I’m doing it!”

Dad was smiling up at me. “You’re amazing, Pete! You’re incredible! I love you so much! Try coming over to me, you can do it!”

I slowly started drifting over to him. Halfway there, my body gave up, I solidified, and I crashed to the ground.

I expected a pain in my side, but instead heard something hitting the ground and a whuff of something getting the air knocked out of it.

I opened one of my eyes and looked down at Dad, who was looking back up at me.

“Are you okay, Pete?”

“Yeah, you?”

He nodded. “I’ve taken worse than a hundred-and-fifteen-pound teenager.”

I climbed off his back and leaned against the banister, scowling. “I was so close!”

“You almost did it.” Dad put a hand on my shoulder.

I slid down to the floor. Most of the time, after I do that, I get really tired and my body kind of aches. After all, I am part human. Human insides are not supposed to become transparent or extremely dense. It’s gotten a lot better than when I was five, though.

“You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m just going to go to my room.” My head drooped and snapped back up when my chin touched my chest. My eyes were heavy and my body throbbed.

I entered that area between awake and asleep, which was normal. I felt Dad pick me up and walk into my room, my desk chair and my blanket around me, my headphones over my ears, and the familiar music of The Return of the Jedi.

I sat there, half conscious, for like an hour before I woke fully up to finish the movie and go back downstairs.

“Feeling better?” Mom asked.

“Yeah. I just…came down to tell you that I woke up.”

“You have to leave for Ollie’s in an hour, don’t forget,” Dad called from the other room.

Thor was taking me and Mikey over. He’s very enthusiastic when it comes to telling us that it’s here, so when a car horn blasted from the driveway, I wasn’t surprised.

“Hey, dude.” Mikey grinned at me from the front seat. “You ready?”

“Duh.”

“You look tired,” Thor observed. “Did you sleep okay?”

“Yeah, just did some stuff.”

“Oh.” Mikey nodded, picking up.

Rika was already there when we pulled up. Fynn was walking back to his car.

“Afternoon, Fynn,” Thor said with a nod.

“Hey, Topher, what’s up?” He had a mild German accent.

They got talking while Mikey and I slipped past, into the house.

“Hey, Doug and Ryan.” Harlow, Ollie’s mom, looked out from the living room. I could hear Ollie’s two younger brothers, Harvey and Jayden, rioting. His little sister, Violet, came running up to us and hugged our legs, like Mia does. She’s three years younger than Mia, though.

“Ollie’s room,” she said. “Up there.”

Sure enough, Rika and Ollie were sitting on the floor with lots of bottles of nail polish surrounding them. A roll of paper towels was lying on the floor.

We greeted each other and Mikey and I sat down.

“I’m sorry for the noise, guys,” Ollie said. “My brothers are being psychopaths today.”

“Whatever,” I said. “Time for nails!”

The color that Ollie had picked for me was a nice lavender. “This is great,” I said, shaking the bottle.

“Mm-hmm.” Mikey was shaking his color, which was a peach.

Rika admired the sparkly gold bottle. Ollie’s nails were already painted red.

“Who wants to go first?” he asked.

Ollie’s hands are very soft on the top, but rougher on his palms and the pads of his fingers. He always held your palm while he painted your nails.

We gossiped while we did this. Hey, there’s some juicy stuff that goes on at school. Plus, since Thor is the principal, he tells Mikey stuff that goes on that no one else knows about.

There’s this crazy girl named Liz at school who has a giant, creepy crush on Mikey, Ollie, and me. She’s one of those generic white girls you see on Instagram. You know the type: comes into school with a ridiculous Starbucks order, wears leggings or yoga pants even when it’s ten degrees out, has a stupid fake tan, wears Uggs all the time, listens to Drake and Katy Perry, and always has her phone everywhere. Everywhere. She flips her blonde extensions over her shoulder all the time and wears a ridiculous amount of makeup. When she grows up, I guarantee that she’ll be one of those entitled moms with the “I want to speak with the manager” haircuts.

It’s really creepy when she comes up to me, when I’m by myself, and tries chatting me up. She’s taller than I am—I’m only five foot four and she’s like five foot five or five six—and it scares me. Damn, I can’t imagine being a girl and dealing with that sort of stuff all the time. But anyway, I’m very socially awkward around people I’m uncomfortable with, which includes Liz Torrington.

Ollie finished with me and moved on to Mikey.

I flapped my hands to dry my nails as Rika turned on the pop radio on her phone. We all started loudly singing along, laughing at ourselves. I got up and started dancing and was joined everyone else. We jumped up and down and waved our arms, having a good time until Santos came upstairs to tell us to knock it off.

“Why do you never sweat?” Rika asked me. “It’s weird.”

“You robot,” Ollie teased, and I faked a laugh when it actually kind of hurt. After all, that was partly true. I’d never heard Dad referred to as a robot, only a human, but it didn’t hide the truth.

After a plate of pizza rolls, Ollie started on Rika’s nails.

We stayed there for a while longer, before Dad came to pick us up.

I promptly went right back on my computer and played Minecraft with them until Uncle Pietro came to get me for dinner.

After dinner, we went to Clint and Laura’s house.

Natty was downstairs, on the couch. He glanced up when I came into the basement. “Oh, hey, Pete. What’s good?”

I sat next to him. “I got my nails done today.”

“By Ollie?”

“Yep.” I showed him.

“Pretty cool.”

“You want to play Lego Star Wars?”

“Yeah!”

Natty’s my older brother figure. He’s the one that introduced me to Star Wars, and to the LGBTQ+ community. He’s really cool and we’re fairly close. He treats me like a little brother.

We played our game until Laura came to get me.

Later that night, I was lying in bed, clutching my baby blanket, when I heard whimpering coming from my parents’ room.

Getting up, still holding my blanket, I tiptoed out my door and saw Izzy standing there, holding her lion, Ryan.

I quietly opened the door a little farther and saw Mom. She was tossing and turning, making strange sounds.

The dark figure of Dad sat up. “Wanda?” he asked in a hushed voice. “Sunshine?”

Mom started thrashing around and I could hear her sobbing.

“Vis, why’d you make me do that…I love you too much, I can’t lose you…no! No! Get your hands off him!” She was screaming these.

“I’m right here, Wanda,” Dad whispered. “Everything’s okay.” He was gently shaking Mom’s arm.

I heard a small sob next to me and put an arm around Izzy, holding her close to me. She was shaking.

Dad kept repeating that: “It’s okay. Everything’s okay.”

Eventually, Mom woke up, still crying. “Vision, is that you?”

“Yes, sunshine. It’s me.”

I could see her sit up and grab Dad in a hug. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too.”

Izzy ran back to her room with Ryan.

How often does this happen? Pretty frequently, really. Mom has severe PTSD from all she’s been through. It really, really sucks, but I can’t do much about it. When I was little, I would crawl into bed next to her, but now I realized that’s not a good idea.

I went back to my room and sat on my bed, but I didn't tuck myself back in. Instead, seeing Mom like that, I started thinking of Niko. It's been eight years since I've last seen her, but it's insane how much I miss her. She was my friend, and I cared a lot about her. And, yes, maybe I had a tiny crush on her.

Tears pooled in my eyes and silently dripped onto my bedsheets.

 

Everyone except the triplets was there when I came backstage.

“Hey, Ryan!” Scottlyn grinned at me. “We look pretty great, yeah?”

“Can’t argue with that.”

“We’re going to do this properly.” Mel cracked her knuckles and flexed her biceps.

I repeated the list in my head: Toxic, Wings, Monster. I knew what I was doing. Right?

Internally, I was panicking like crazy. What if everyone thought I was horrible? What if my friends laughed at me? What if I was made fun of?

Kev put a hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay, Ryan?”

I nodded, even though I really wasn’t.

“You’re nervous.” She wasn’t asking a question.

I nodded again.

“It’ll all be okay, dude. You’re better than you think.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Lara came up next to Kev. “It is kind of nerve-wracking to perform in front of your entire school, but you’ve done this before. You’ll do it again.”

“Right,” I said bleakly.

The stage door slammed and Jodi, Brooke, and Lydia came hurrying in.

“Hey, what’s up?” Brooke asked.

“Ryan’s nervous,” Lara said.

This prompted a lot of hugs and encouragement until Marissa came to break us all up.

“Okay, ladies and gentleman—” She nodded at me. “It’s time. Ryan, you ready?”

I nodded and tugged at the neck of my black and gold leotard.

We filed out into our positions. The lights were off, so no one could really see me.

My heart was beating out of my chest. The lights snapped on and so did the music. I barely had time to register all the faces staring at me and the surprised gasps and whispers before I started off.

It was a jazz performance; lots of top movement. I’d been doing this for eight years. I know what I’m doing it.

When I started dancing at the front, everyone cheered. I heard Mikey, Rika, and Ollie’s voices rising.

Before I knew it, it was over. Just like that. I was standing at the front of the stage, holding my arms up. The crowd was going crazy.

A huge grin split my face, but I didn’t move until Marissa let us.

Afterwards, Kev grabbed my arm. “Hey, that wasn’t so bad, right?”

“It wasn’t,” I agreed.

Because everyone else was a girl, I headed to the bathroom by myself, with my backpack. I put on my school clothes and put my leotard in my bag, then looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was stiff from the gel, and my makeup was still in place. I decided I would keep it.

When I got back to school, I was mobbed. Kids were yelling my alias, slapping me on the back, and saying how good I was.

A hand grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of the crowd. Mikey hugged me. “You did amazing!”

“You really did,” Rika said, putting an arm around my shoulders.

“I’m so happy we’re friends,” Ollie said. “Like, that was some seriously talented stuff.”

I was feeling better and better. Top that, anxiety.

Chapter Text

Name: Peter Jason Quill

Partner: Gamora Quill

Child: Yondu Quill

Alias: Pacer Nazario

 

When I was little, with the Ravagers, I never slept alone. We slept in bunks, so I was always on the bottom, staring up at the mattress. Yondu always slept on top. He snored too much. 

When we lived on the Milano, I did sleep alone. But it was in a very small room, with not much room to store my personal stuff, much less move around.

Now, I sleep in a much bigger room, with the added perk of Gamora. Waking up next to her was great, and hearing small footsteps walking around downstairs was even better. That meant it wasn’t a dream.

This morning, Yon was already hopping into his shoes when I came downstairs. I had been asleep thirty seconds ago.

“Hi, Dad,” he said, scratching his head while trying to get his second shoe on. “You’re up late.” I could see the bulges on his back, underneath his shirt.

“Yeah, I know.” He was clicking on something while he talked to me.

“What’s that noise, dude?”

Yon pulled out one of his cubes. He loves collecting those fidget cubes. It’s one of the only things he can focus on, getting those little things. “This.”

“You ready for school?”

“Yeah.”

“Where are you going after school?” I raised my eyebrows.

He sighed. “Next door.”

Drax, Mantis, Rocket, and Groot live next door, while Nebula’s space is their basement.

“Do you need me to write it down and stick it to the door?”

“Um…yeah, do it just in case.”

“I’ll do that, Yon. Do you have your disc?”

“Oh, shoot!” He ran upstairs and came back with it in his palm. “I almost forgot!”

“That’s why I asked."

Yon stuck it on his back, turning his skin a lighter version of Gamora’s disguise. The shapes under his shirt disappeared.

“Got everything else?”

“Yeah.” He ran his fingers through his curls.

“Have a good day, buddy. See you after school.”

“Bye, Dad.” He ran out the door, still fidgeting with his little cube.

The back door slammed and Gamora walked in. She always got up before I did, to go see everyone next door.

“Good morning, Peter.”

“Morning, baby. Where’d you get that…what is that?”

She was wearing something that looked like a pair of overalls, but instead of covering her chest, it started at her stomach and hugged her figure. Sort of like a skirt with straps.

“I don’t know, but it’s cute. You like it?"


I nodded. 

“Yon’s gone?”

“Yeah. He almost forgot his disc again, but I am a good father and made sure he took it.”

She walked over to me and pulled me down in a kiss. “Good job.”

A little while later, I heard the key turning in the lock from the other room and the door swing open. I was lying on the couch, with my hat over my eyes, because of a headache. I still had to make a video.

“Morning, Peter.” Even though my eyes were closed, I only knew three people who had that accent. One of them used it for showing off, and the other was a guy, so that left…

“Morning, Wanda.”

I heard the basement door open and her go downstairs, then her and Gamora’s voices.

Eventually, my headache left and I got up. It was nine a.m. and I had to get to work.

My recording room was our guest room. I had soundproofed everything, there was storage for my stuff, and I had a good setup.

Yes, I do YouTube for a living. My name is BlueSuedeBoy, but my fans call me Blue or Pace, because my alias is Pacer. I like it, because it reminds me of Yondu. I play games, vlog, update people on my life, give tours and reviews, do charity streams, collabs with my friends, whatever. I’m pretty successful, too. I’m up with the big leagues.

Today was an update video, because there had been a lot that had happened lately that I wanted to talk about. I switched on my lights and turned on my camera.


“Three, two, one.” I clapped, then grinned at the camera. “Hi there, my intergalactic pals, my name is BlueSuedeBoy! It’s been a while since my last update, so that’s what I’m doing.”

“And, yeah, that’s about everything. It’s time for me to wrap up, so, until next time, fly smooth, my intergalactic pals!” I smiled and waved, then went around to switch off the camera.

I messed up a lot during the recording, but after two hours, I had a solid video that I needed to email to Rocket for editing.

It’s really nice doing this as my job, because not only am I in control of what I do and when I do it, but I’m also able to spread positivity around the world. There’s not enough of it, so I try to make it better. There are people who watch me who are going through tough times, and I try to make their day better.

For lunch, I ordered a pizza and took a few slices before heading downstairs to give some to Gamora and Wanda.

It turned out that they were taking a break and were having a dance party. I don’t know how I didn’t hear the music, but they were going nuts in the basement when I opened the door. They were singing along and dancing and dying laughing.

I crept down the stairs and set the pizza box on the table, then started creeping upstairs.

“Peter?”

“Yeah?” I turned around.

“What’re you doing?” Gamora’s face was flushed (if darker green counts as a flush) and her hair was everywhere.

“Brought you lunch.”

“Oh, thanks.”

A couple hours later, my video was uploaded. Now it was time to answer a lot of emails.

I was still answering emails when I heard the bus pull up, pause, and then rattle away. Yon was going over to next door now. The reason he didn’t come home after school was because we would work till six, and Yon preferred hanging out next door than here. All eight of us always ate dinner together, and Drax, Mantis, and Yon would always make dinner at their house. It was always a surprise, and it helped a lot. Next door always helps us a lot. In return, I pay their bills and everything, since we have more than enough to do so (Gamora’s money always goes to whichever monthly charity). Plus, Yon can go shirtless without anyone caring.

Eventually, I sat back in my chair and rubbed my eyes. It was almost six. Wanda would be going home.

I got up and went downstairs. Gamora was already there, moving chairs to the table.

“Do you need help?” I asked.

“I’ve got it, thanks.” She moved the last chair into place. “You could help by putting the silverware and napkins out.”

“I’ll do that.”

A few minutes later, the door opened and people started coming in. I could smell something delicious.

Nebula was in first, with Yon behind her. She was holding a big glass dish with a foil covering. Drax came in behind them, holding a smaller glass container. I could see a veggie mix from their garden. Groot was carrying another glass container with mashed potatoes. And Rocket was carrying one last container with a sticky toffee pudding. Mantis was carrying the gravy.

“What’s this?” I peeled away the foil from the biggest dish. “Ooh, a casserole.”

“Let’s eat,” Rocket said, hopping up onto his chair. “I’m starved.”

Yon stretched out his wings and flapped them a couple times.

"Hey, hey, watch out!" Gamora held up her hand. "Yon, you know what I've said about doing that in the house."

"Sorry, Mom."

“How was school?” I asked through a mouthful of casserole.

“It was okay.” Yon was jiggling his leg, making his whole chair rattle. “We didn’t really do anything. Nothing really happens, honestly.”

“That is always what you say.” Drax was picking out the carrots from his veggies. “Does nothing happen, ever?”

Yon grunted. “Sometimes we have tests. That’s about it. School sucks.” His wings were folded behind him and he was absently-mindedly stroking the feathers on the end of one of them.

“Earth school, maybe. But mine was not.”

“I didn’t go to school,” Mantis mumbled, pouring gravy over her potatoes.

“Me neither,” Gamora and Nebula said at the same time, then looked at each other and smiled.

We destroyed the main course and the sides, then moved onto the dessert.

“I made this,” Drax said.

“I helped,” Yon said proudly, wiping his face.

“He did indeed."

Everyone was full and sleepy after dinner, so we moved to the living room to have after dinner coffee (or hot chocolate, in Yon’s case) and talk.

Yon’s cube was in one hand, while his mug was in the other. It was a different one this time, not the black one he had had this morning, but a white one with green bits. He eventually fell asleep, wrapped in his own wings.

One of my favorite things is after dinner, when we’re doing this. It feels like the old days, before we came to Iowa. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great here, and this is where Yon was born, but ask anyone and they’ll probably say that they miss when they were younger.

Everything we talked about blurred together. The others went home and I carried my son upstairs and tucked him in.

It always took me forever to fall asleep. I guess it was from when I needed to always be on guard.

“How was work?” I asked, sitting on the bed and looking at her.

“Fine. Everything is fine.” She sighed. “You know, Peter, I love our life here. I love our house, and our jobs, and our family. But…damn it, I miss flying around in the Milano. I miss getting hired and going to fight and hanging out as a family in the ship.”

“I think we all do,” I said. “Those were our glory days, huh?”

“Yeah, they were.” She smiled. “But life goes on. We’re not young forever.”

 

I spread out the blanket and sat down.

“Here, Pace.” Gamora put Yon on my lap and sat down next to me. “You get to hold him.”

“Thank you for this wonderful gift, honey.”

“You guys are weird,” Rocket said from in front of us.

“You hang out with us,” Gamora pointed out.

“Yeah, but seriously.”

“Guys, shut up! The fireworks are starting,” Drax said.

Fourth of July was the wildest holiday ever in our street. There was a big-ass barbeque in either the Stark, Romanoff-Rogers, Lang, or Banner backyard, we all ate too much, watched the parade, and got drunk as hell before going to see the fireworks.

Amazing.

Boy, what some fireworks display they always had. Every color you could think of exploded across the sky. The finale was even greater.

Occasionally, some of our people were so hammered that Vision or Steve had to carry them to their houses, since they couldn’t get drunk. I, however, had refrained from that this evening. Rocket had not, so Vision had to subdue him before carrying him back to his house. Drax took him from there.

I flopped into bed and shut my eyes. It had been a long day full of fun, and I was ready to hit the sack.

Gamora came in after putting Yon to bed.

“Night, baby,” I grunted.

“Night.”

It was quiet for about five minutes. Then the fireworks started again, right across the street.

My eyes popped open. “Are you kidding me?” I grumbled.

Gamora huffed and covered her head with a pillow.

There was a loud pounding on the front door and it just increased my headache.

“Oh my God!” I got up, ran downstairs, and pulled open the front door.

“Quill, can you get rid of this?” Drax snapped.

“It’s not my fault,” I snapped back.

“Well, then help us stop it!” Nebula barked.

“Fine!”

The three of us stormed over to the field. There were four teenagers, lighting up bottle rockets.

One of them lit up and blew up with a thundering sound. “Cool!” one of them yelled, high-fiving the others.

“Hey!” Nebula yelled. The kids turned around. “What the hell are you doing?”

“What are you doing?” one of them yelled back.

“Stop firing off fireworks,” I hollered. “We’re trying to sleep.”

“Whatever.”

Drax marched over to them and grabbed one of their shirt collars. I don’t know what he said to them, but they turned tail and ran.

“What should we do with these?” Drax yelled.

“Um, we need to put them in a bucket overnight, then wrap them in a plastic bag, and finally put it in a garbage bag and get rid of them.”

“Since when do you know about those things?” Nebula asked.

“I’ve had some encounters in my time."

Chapter Text

Name: Yondu Udonta Quill

Parents: Gamora and Peter Quill

Siblings: None

Alias: William Nazario

 

A lot of the time, when I’m bored, I daydream. Daydreaming is nice because you control it. You decide what happens. It’s entertaining.

My daydreams are mostly about flying. I always hear my family talk about their old ship, and how amazing she was, ever since I was little. So, I imagine flying in a ship, or in the Air Force. How cool would that be?

I would love to fly with my wings, but that's a big no-no unless we're in Wakanda. Most of the time, they're melted into my back, just two strange-looking birthmarks on my back. Everyone stares when I change for gym.

“Will.”

I raised my head and looked up at my teacher.

“Yeah?”

“I get that you’re tired—believe me, I am too—but you can’t doze off.”

I nodded. I didn’t even correct her, just stared at the whiteboard and sighed, shifting around.

“Hey, dude, you okay?” asked Ar.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“Daydreaming again?”

I nodded and tried to focus back on what the teacher was saying.

For a sixth grader, I’m pretty small, but I have tall friends. I’m always squished between them when we walk down the hall.

“Will got called out in the middle of class for daydreaming,” Ar told the others.

“What else is new?” Charles asked, putting an arm around me and squeezing, crushing me against him.

“You’re crushing him, dude!” Peace shoved Charles off me.

“Okay, don’t push me!”

I was pretty much adopted into my friend group. My friends are a bunch of gigantic athletes, forever the popular kids. Peace likes to compare me to a puppy among wolves. No one messes with me, otherwise they get the full wrath of Ar, Peace, Tick, and Charles. They like to pick me up and carry me around.

“Hey, I get it,” Peace said. “I zone out all the time at home. It’s what I’ve learned to do.”

“Hey, guys!” Tick came jogging up.

He’s called Tick because he got one of the insects burrowed inside of his arm when he was younger and it lived there for a long time. It eventually died and his mom was able to get it out.

Gym was never my favorite, especially running. Charles, meanwhile, is a track superstar.

“C’mon, Will!” Charles was jogging next to me. “You’re doing pretty good!”

“Don’t humor me. I suck at this, dude.”

“Yeah, I know, but I’m trying to be nice because I’m a good friend.”

Unfortunately, it was weight room day, which meant I struggled while Charles stood over me and had to help me out. It’s humiliating and I hate it.

By the end, I barely had enough energy to go down the stairs and into the changing room.

“At least it’s the end of the day,” Charles said in the hallway as I slogged to my final class.

The hallway was desolate, so it was easy to hear someone sobbing in the bathroom. Charles and I went in. The sounds were coming from the last stall.

Charles knocked on the door. “Are you okay?”

“Go away,” came Peace’s voice. “Please, leave me alone.”

Instead, I dropped to the floor and crawled under the stall door. My friend was sitting on the toilet, her feet off the ground and her arms on her knees. I didn’t know how long she had been in there.

“Are you okay, Peace?”

She shook her head and buried her face in her arms again, her shoulders shaking.

I unlocked the door and Charles rushed over to Peace. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

“I hate myself. I shouldn’t exist.”


“Who told you that? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!”

“My parents,” she said, wiping his eyes. “They’re right.”

“They aren’t,” I insisted. “Peace, they aren’t.”

“But what if they are?” she whispered.

Charles knelt down to look at Peace. “Peace, you’re an amazing, incredible friend. I can’t imagine life without you. Your parents have never been more wrong.”

Peace’s lip quivered. “You think so?”

“I know so.” Charles smiled and reached out to put his hand on top of Peace’s.

“They told me that I should stay a boy. They said that changing every day was against nature.”

“It’s not,” I said. Even while he was sitting on the toilet, Peace was taller than me. “People have been genderfluid for thousands of years, Peace. You’re not the first and you’re not the last. Your parents are ignorant and wrong.”

Peace slowly nodded. “I know.”

“Me, Will, Ar, and Tick all care about you,” Charles said. “Do you want some of us to hang out with you after school?”

Peace nodded again. Charles handed her a wad of toilet paper and she used it to dry her tears.

“Thanks, guys.” She smiled and blew her nose in the wad.

“Do you need a hug?” I asked.

Peace nodded and I put my arms around her. She put hers around me. I felt Charles hug her, too.

I was only five minutes late to my class. Luckily, it was one of the laxer teachers and he didn’t even look up as the door opened and I sat in my seat.

Because it was last period, everyone was talking pretty loudly. I was telling Tick and Ar about Peace.

“Is she okay?” Ar asked.

“I think so. Charles was taking her back to class when I was coming here. She wants us to hang out with her after school.”

“Totally!” Tick said and Ar nodded in agreement.

After the bell rang, we all clustered outside. I was texting Mom and Aunt Neb that I was going to hang out with my friends for a couple hours while my friends decided where we were going.

Eventually, we walked over to a B-Bops and got Peace a chocolate shake. Right across the street was a gas station, so we went over there and hung out in the store for a while, browsing the drinks and snacks.

I walked home with Tick, clutching my chips and chocolate milk. He lived a couple blocks from my houses, so we liked to walk home together.

I knocked on the door of Aunt Neb’s house and Drax opened the door.

“Where were you, Yon?”

“Did Aunt Neb not tell you?”

“No.”

“I was at a gas station. Getting snacks with my friends. We got Peace a shake. She wasn’t feeling great about herself today.”

“Hey, little guy.” Rocket was sitting at the table and raised a hand in greeting. He was locked on a computer, probably editing Dad’s latest video.

“Hi, Rocket.” I hung my bag up and sat down across from him, opening my chips and milk. I waited. He held out his paw and I gave him a couple.

“Thank you.”

I pulled off my shirt and disc. My wings fluttered out and I stretched them and sighed in relief. "Ahh. That's nice."

"Tuck 'em in, little buddy," Rocket instructed. I folded them against my back.

“Hello, Yon.” Mantis poked her head out of the girls’ room. “Do you have homework?”

“No, Mantis.”

Most of the time, Mom and Dad are pretty busy when I get home from school, so I have to come over here. I don’t mind that much. It’s fun to hang out with them. They have great stories, they always make me laugh, and they let me help with everything.

I heard familiar footsteps down the hall and Aunt Neb came into the room.

“Hi, Aunt Neb.”

“Hey, Yon.” She leaned against my chair. “Was school good?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks for telling me about being late.”

I nodded and kept eating my chips.

At around four-thirty, people start making dinner. We alternate between guys and girls, and I help either way. Today it was guys.

“What’s for dinner?” I asked.

“Potato and ham soup, green beans with bacon bits, Red Lobster biscuits, and apple cobbler.”

“What can I help with?”


“You can make the biscuits.” Drax pointed over at the other counter where the ingredients were.

Besides daydreaming, I love to cook, and be in the same room as people who are cooking. When I’m done with my task, I’ll watch everyone else. It’s familiar and comforting.

Aunt Neb and Mantis were in the living room. I could hear the TV and their voices.

It slowly got dark out as we started finishing our food. The soup was in a container and covered, the beans were covered, my biscuits were fogging up their container, and the cobbler was cooling down.

Dad opened the door. “Thanks, guys.” He waited until I had put down my biscuit container and hugged me. “Hi, Yon.”

“Hey, Dad. Where’s Mom?”

“Downstairs. She’s finishing work. She’ll be up in a minute.”

During dinner, I thought about the incident in the bathroom. Peace’s parents were not great. They seemed great when you met them—they seemed like the perfect parents—but they weren’t, because of what they did to Peace.

I was very lucky. I didn’t just have two loving parents, I had five other family members that loved me as well.

“Are you okay, Yon?” Mantis asked. “You’re really quiet.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking.”

“That happens sometimes,” Dad said.

“I guess I’m kind of tired, too.” I didn’t really want to talk about Peace.

Dad nodded. “We all have those days, buddy.”

I went to bed earlier than I usually did, but all I did was stare at the ceiling. My wings were spread out on my sheets.

I guess you're wondering about them, huh? Really, I don't know that much. From the conversations that my family has that I've overheard, it has something to do with Dad's biology. I know that he's the son of a celestial. I'm not supposed to, but it's not my fault they were talking about it right in the living room! So, I'm guessing it's something to do with that. I like my wings, though. They're metallic gold, with really soft feathers. I'm mastering flying with them over breaks.

Eventually, my eyes got heavy, and I slipped into sleep.

 

Erik sat down at the table with four cups of cookies. “Dalia, Will, Rose.” He handed out the cups. “Here you go.”

The cookies were small, but they were warm and tasty. I was still damp from the Raging River ride. The sun was not going down yet, but it was getting there. It was lighting up Shasta’s face in such a way that I could see why Sam had a crush on her. Izzy’s hair was fluffed out and drying from the water ride.

I kept eating my snack. “Do you ever wonder how they make these so good?”

“Every day, my man.” Erik reached over and ruffled my hair.

Izzy grinned and the sun trailed from Shasta’s face to light up her smile. “Hey, Dalia, AJ?”

“Yeah?”


“Do you know how awesome you guys are and how much we miss you when you’re home?”

Shasta tilted her head. “Aww.”

“By the way, Sam has a massive crush on you,” I said.

“Yes, yes, I know.” She waved her hand. “He’s very cute.”

“Would you ask him out?”


She shrugged. “Maybe.” She popped another cookie into her mouth.

“Oh my God, Dalia!” Erik seemed exasperated. “He’s hot, isn’t he?!”

Shasta sighed. “Good grief, AJ.”

Izzy and I were giggling.

“It’s really been great being back, though.” Shasta flicked her bangs out of her face. “I love it here.”

“Is it better than your home?”

“No, I don’t think it is. But it’s up there.” She nodded and watched the Monster go. “It’s really up there.”

Chapter Text

Name: T’Challa Udaku

Partner: Nakia Udaku

Children: Shasta and Erik Udaku

Alias: Aaron Anyang

 

I’ve always been a morning person. My house was on one of the tallest hills in Wakanda. It was easy to watch the sun rise and set over the city.

I sat on the large back deck, staring out at the horizon. The sun was coming up. Shasta and Erik would be getting up in half an hour for school.

I heard the back door close and tiny creaks as someone made their way across the deck, towards where I was sitting.

“Good morning, T’Challa.” Nakia sat in the chair next to me.

“Good morning, Nakia.” I smiled and reached for her hand.

We sat in silence for a while, watching the sunrise.

 

Eventually, the back door opened. A loud yawn and then: “Guys?”

“Hey?” Nakia turned around. “Good morning, Erik.”

Something was tossed from the kids’ floor and landed near Erik’s feet. We all looked up to see Shasta, in Sam’s t-shirt. A braid snaked over her shoulder.

“Erik, you forgot this!”

“Thanks,” he yelled up. “But could you, like, not throw it? Maybe?”

“Shut up.”

Erik reached down and started putting the binder on. “This one’s my favorite, Shasta! Treat it nice!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Her window shut.

About twenty minutes later, I heard the front gate buzz and Erik almost leaped out the window.

“Son, calm down.”

“Baba—”

“Have a good day at school.” I held out his bag and he grabbed it, then ran down the driveway.

Katlego, Jaheem, and Talib were hanging around. I saw Talib’s face light up when he heard Erik’s footsteps.

I switched on the audio so I could hear as well as see.

“Hi, guys!” Erik said, his hands moving in sign language.

I watched Katlego sign a reply with a grin on their face. The sun glinted off the metallic gold streaks in their hair.

“Hi!” Jaheem said, a little loud.

Talib reached out for Erik’s arm and ran his palm up to my son’s shoulder. It’s how he makes sure you’re there.

“Good to…well…not see you,” he joked.

I chuckled as they walked towards their school, Talib still holding Erik’s hand.

I heard someone running up the stairs and turned to see Shasta running up the stairs pretty fast. I caught a sob as she turned the corner and hurried after her.

She slammed her door as I reached the third floor. I listened outside and heard her crying.

I knocked. “Shasta? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s wrong? I heard you crying.”

Her door opened. She was holding her phone.

“Sam just sent—” She took a shaky breath. “He sent me the sweetest video. I told him that I was having a bad week and…” She tapped a button and a hologram appeared.

It was Sam sitting on his bed. “Hey, Shasta. I don’t know when this will get to you because, you know, time difference, but I hope it’s soon. Remember, just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe and sound.” He sang the last part and then smiled.

I smiled. “That’s adorable.”

“God, I miss him. It was one in the morning, too.”

“At least you’ll see him soon. But right now, it’s time to go to school.”

After dropping Shasta off at school, I went off to visit my sister.

She was downstairs, in her lab, working on something.

“Good morning, brother. What’s happening?” She leaned against her work bench.

“Why do you want to know?”


“Because I want to know about my niece and nephew.”

“They’re fine, Shuri.”

“How much does Shasta miss Sam?”

“Don’t get me started. She can’t wait till she can go.”

“To be young and in love.”

“You still are young, sister.”

“Yes, but they’re sixteen. I am not sixteen. How’s Erik today?”

“He’s good. Shasta threw his binder out of her window.”

She shook her head. “He likes it? It was the one I made for him, right?”

“Yes, he does.”

“Good.”

“Not to be pushy, but are you coming up for something about his friends?”

She sighed. “T’Challa, it can be difficult. It’s hard to give Katlego a voice when he’s not done growing. Giving Jaheem his hearing should be easier, but again, I’ve been busy making more things. And Talib’s eyes…that’s a little easier than a voice, but again, they’re not done growing. They’re children.”

I switched the subject. “Speaking of love, didn’t you go on a date last night? How did it go?”


“Oh yes, that’s right.” She smiled. 

“What was the name?”


“Lotus. She was beautiful and loud.”

“Loud?”

“Her laugh. Her laugh was very loud.” Her eyes gleamed. “It was nice hearing someone laugh like that.”

“It’s nice to see you so happy about someone.”


“We’re going out again this weekend.”

“That’s fantastic, sister.”


“Now get out of my lab, brother.”

“All right.”

Meetings. Meetings all the time. The majority of my time is spent in meetings on deciding what to do. Shasta will have to endure the same thing.

Near when Erik was getting out of school, Nakia and I went for a walk through the market. Shasta and her friends Asha, Zola, Kya, and Lekan will patrol the market after school, buying things and goofing around. Letting loose, I suppose.

We ran into them running down the street, screaming and laughing. Shasta paused to say, “Afternoon!” before sprinting to catch up with her friends.

“Were we ever like that?” I asked Nakia.

“Of course. You were more controlled than Shasta, but yes.”

“You were more like Shasta, if I recall?”

Nakia laughed. “I sure was. My God, what we would get up to—”

“Remember that time that you and Shuri dumped all those spices on that nasty lady’s awning? My goodness, you got in so much trouble.”

“I don’t regret it one bit.” She waved her finger in the air. “Not one bit, I tell you!”

“Yes, I believe you.” I grinned at her.

I could hear “I’m Born to Run” blasting from Erik’s open window. I could hear him singing along breathlessly, which meant he was dancing along to it. I could hear his friends in there, too, along with several other people.

I peeked into his room. Jaheem was watching everyone from the bed, grinning. Katlego was dancing like crazy. Talib was dancing with Jaheem’s (fraternal) twin brother, Desta, one hand on Desta’s hip and one on Desta’s shoulder. There were two other people: Katlego’s (adopted) older brother, Anir, and Talib’s older brother, Wekesa, who were leaning against the wall and making out.

Erik suddenly stopped and stared at me. “Good afternoon, Baba. I—”

Everything came to a crashing halt. Katlego hastily turned off the stereo, Anir and Wekesa separated, Desta stepped away from Talib so that he was only holding his hand. The look Talib had on picked at my heartstrings. He couldn’t see Desta and didn’t know why he had stepped away.

“I heard you when we came home. I was just checking up on you.”

Jaheem turned around and loudly exclaimed, “Hello, Mr. T’Challa sir!”

Desta rolled his eyes and signed at him that he didn’t need to say all that to me.

I quickly stepped out of the room again and shut the door. I didn’t want to ruin their fun.

I could hear Shasta laughing down the hall and went to check on her. Bags from the market were all over her floor and she was sitting on her bed. Sam’s hologram was sitting next to her.

“Hi, Baba.” Shasta glanced at me.

“Hello, Shasta and Sam.”

“Hello, T’Challa.” Sam smiled.

I backed out and went back downstairs.

Tonight was a banquet in the main part of the city, which meant dressing up and dates. Erik was taking Drew, his partner from the other school. Shasta had no date because Sam’s school was currently in session, as it was noon there. The only reason he could see her earlier was because he hid in a classroom. She had refused to take any other boys.

Erik and Drew were laughing themselves silly in their seats. Tears were streaming down Erik’s face as he laughed and Drew’s head was on the table as they howled.

“Shut up, guys!” Shasta hissed. Everyone was watching us.

My son and his partner composed themselves and started eating their food. The banquet was open to everyone, but myself, my family, and my advisors had our own room together.

“Sorry, Baba.” Erik took a deep breath and giggled.

Shuri shook her head with a grin. Her date from last night, Lotus, was sitting next to her. I watched as Shuri leaned over to whisper something in her ear.

We ate dinner and I couldn’t stop looking at Nakia. She was wearing an orange and silver dress with a slit in the side. It pooled around her shoes and shimmered when she moved. She was radiant.

She caught me staring at her. “T’Challa, is something wrong?”

“Nothing.” I quickly looked forwards.

Mama clucked across the table. “My son, there is nothing more obvious when a man is staring at a woman he finds beautiful.”

I felt heat rise to my cheeks as my family laughed.

“Get wrecked, brother!” Shuri screeched in a fit of giggles.

“Oh, don’t make me get started, Shuri,” I said, folding my arms. “I’ve seen you staring at Lotus all night.”

“And why shouldn’t I!” she demanded, then leaned over and kissed her date square on the lips.

The response of, “Eeeew,” came from both Erik and Drew, who shook their heads.

“Erik, you’re really going to have a bad time when Sam comes over next,” Shasta remarked.

Erik groaned. “Oh my God, don’t remind me! I can hear you guys sometimes, and—”

“Shut up!”

“I never knew he was fluent in isiXhosa till I heard him and Shasta making out,” Erik said with a wicked grin.

“I don’t need you telling everyone about that!” Shasta yelled.

“Keep it down,” Nakia warned, but everyone just seemed amused.

“Ah, to be young and in love,” M’Baku said with a sigh. “At least I approve of this boy.”

“Be glad I approve,” Nakia said.

“Mama!” Shasta covered her face.

Drew was snickering.

“What time is it there, anyhow?” Mama asked.

“Twelve thirty,” Shasta said, looking up again. “He’s in class, or he’d be sitting next to me.”

Dinner ended in a blur of drinks, dessert, and laughter. We started walking back up to the house. Drew found their parents and went home after a kiss on the cheek and a hand squeeze. Shasta had Sam’s fluffy fleece zipped up, despite the warmth of the night.

It was late, so Nakia ordered them to bed right when we got home.

When I went to say goodnight, Erik was stripping off his binder and hanging it up. He sighed and rotated his shoulders a couple times before noticing me. “Oh. Goodnight, Baba.” He walked over and hugged me.

“Goodnight, Erik. I love you.”

Shasta already had her blanket pulled up over her, her sleeping mask on, and the lights off when I pushed open the door. Her night-light threw silver and gold light all over the room. The shades were drawn.

“Goodnight, Shasta. I love you.”

“Night, Baba,” she muttered, shifting around.

“How many more days before you go?”

“Enough.” She turned away from me and curled up. “Goodnight, Baba.”

“Love you, Shasta.”

“Goodnight!”

 

“Hey, Baba?”

I looked up from my book. Esosa was standing in front of me, shifting her weight.

“Yes?”

“I need to talk to you and Mama.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Well…no, not exactly. Where’s Mama?”

“Working upstairs.” I pressed one of my beads to call her. “Nakia, Esosa wants to talk to us.”

“Be right down.”

Shasta was already sitting at the kitchen table when I sat there. Nakia came and sat next to me.

“So, what’s wrong, Essie?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Mama.” She rubbed her arm. “I just…I need to tell you something.”

“Then go ahead,” Shasta said, leaning on the table.

“I…um…well, I think that—” She mumbled something so quiet that even I couldn’t hear it.

“What was that?” Nakia asked.

She sucked in a breath, closed her eyes, and blurted, “I think I might be a boy!” Then her shoulders slumped and she exhaled. Her eyes immediately focused on the table.

“You think you’re a boy?” Shasta repeated, leaning back in her chair.

Esosa nodded, still looking at the table.

“Essie,” I said. “Look at me.”

She did.

“That’s okay. That’s absolutely fine.”

“It is?” Her face lit up.

“Of course,” Nakia said, reaching over and taking her head. “You’re still our baby, no matter what.”

“What’re you going to call yourself now?” Shasta asked.

“Yeah, I was thinking about that. I always heard Baba talking about his cousin and how he called himself Erik…I like that name. Erik, I mean.”

“So, you want to be called Erik now?” I asked.

“Yes. And I would like if you could use the pronouns he/him/his, too.”


Nakia nodded.

“Also, is it okay if I get a…a binder?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a thing that looks like a sports bra, except it presses down on my chest so that it becomes flat.”

“I will get Shuri to make you a state-of-the-art binder, Erik.”

He beamed. “Thank you so much.”

Chapter Text

Name: Shasta Ramonda Udaku

Parents: Nakia and T’Challa Udaku

Sibling: Erik Udaku

Alias: Thera Anyang

 

Light flooded into my room as I opened the curtains. I winced. My eyes needed to adjust.

I couldn’t talk to Sam for a while. It was one in the morning in Iowa and he was asleep.

Erik was messing around in the pantry when I went downstairs.

What are you doing?” I demanded.

“Looking.”


“For what?" 

“The right cereal.”

I sighed.

“Hey!”

“I didn’t even say anything!” I snapped.

“Oh my God.” He face-palmed.

“You need Bast,” I muttered.

“Oh, honey, you think I need Bast?” Erik laughed almost maniacally.

“What exactly do you mean by that, brother?”

“Sam and you aren’t exactly squeaky clean yourselves, sister.”

“What are you implying?” I growled.

“You know exactly what I’m implying.” He smirked.

“Erik!” I screeched. “I’m going to kill you!”

He got out of the pantry and laughed while I chased him upstairs screaming at him the entire time.

“Shasta and Erik!” Mama’s voice thundered through the house. “Get down here!”

“Oh Bast,” Erik whimpered. “We’re screwed.”

“We?!” I hissed. “Who started this, Erik Udaku?!”

“Well, it wasn’t me!”

We glared at each other for a moment before going downstairs.

Erik left before I did for school. His school started half an hour earlier than mine.

My friends were waiting for me outside when I did have to leave.

“Hey, girl!” Asha slung an arm around me. “School time, eh?”

“I guess.” I rolled my eyes and grinned.

“Oh, I feel that,” Zola said, brushing her bangs out of her face.

Lekan was still catching his breath when we went back down the hill. “God, Shasta. Why do you have to live so high up?”

“I wasn’t even born when they made the decision, Lekan.”

Kya yawned. “You should put in to your baba that school starts too early.” Even though she had probably woken up only twenty minutes ago, she was easily prettier than all of us. Some kids called her mnyama igolide, or ‘black gold’.

We walked through the market. Lots of people smiled and greeted us, and we smiled and greeted them.

I’ve seen PRHS, in Iowa. It’s pretty big, but our secondary school is bigger. Four floors, as large as several city blocks. Each grade has their own floor, with the gym and cafeteria on the ground floor.

Asha, Zola, Kya, Lekan, and myself all hurried inside so we could make it before the bell rang.

One of our required classes at school is a foreign language. The most popular is English but, seeing as I’ve been speaking that so much that it’s second nature, I’m taking Japanese. Sam’s taking the same thing, so occasionally we text each other to practice. Or speak it to each other and end up in fits of laughter because of how bad we are.

Over lunch, I took my bag to an empty classroom and dialed up Sam. I waited.

The familiar figure of my boyfriend flickered to life.

“Hi, Shassie!” He sounded so happy. “How’s the princess today?”

“Sam, you are too much. Give me more.” I was grinning like an idiot.

He was wearing pajamas. “Did you just wake up?”

He yawned. “Ten minutes ago. How was the banquet last night?”

“Boring. Erik also insinuated that we were having sex.”


Sam winced. “God, I’m glad Harry doesn’t do that." 

“Yeah, but she’s your twin. You know her really well.”

The door opened and one of my peers stepped in. “Oh! Um…sorry, Shasta. I didn’t—”

“It’s okay, Adwin.” I scooted closer to Sam’s hologram. “No problems.”


The boy closed the door and I sighed.

“How’s everything there?”


“Oh.” He scratched his neck. “You know. Nothing’s changed. Everything’s boring.”


We talked for a while longer before I had to go back to class.

“Bye, Shassie.” Sam leaned forward to give me a kiss on the cheek. I didn’t feel anything but grinned with the thought that he’d be able to in a week. “See you soon.”

“Bye, Sam.” I turned off my bead and hurried up to class.

Unlike my brother, I like being the center of attention. I don’t seek it out, but it’s nice having people looking up and smiling or greeting me or patting me on the shoulder when I walk by.

Every day, after school, my friends and I head to the market to wreak havoc. Not too much, but just enough so that it’s satisfying. There are a lot of shitty people at the market, so we like to make them annoyed.

“Ready?” Lekan hissed.

Kya grinned maliciously and shook the cord in her hand. “Yep.”

Zola tied the final knot to the building. “Done here. Ash?”

Asha cracked her knuckles. “Yep.”

We had set up a simple system to teach a merchant a lesson. He had harassed Kya yesterday, saying lewd things to her.

“Men have never had self-control,” I had said. “No offense, Lekan.”

“None taken.” He had given me a faint smile.

“There he is!” Zola hissed now.

“Wait for it,” Asha ordered.

We were all perched on top of a roof, waiting for the merchant to return, crowded together. Lekan was on my right and Zola was on my left. I could smell them, they were so close.

“He’s right underneath it!” Lekan exclaimed.

“Let it go, let it go!” I said.

Kya let the string go, and the bucket dumped over the merchant’s head. He shrieked in surprised, clawing at the sudden darkness.

The five of us burst into laughter. We had filled a bucket with neon pink paint and Zola (the tallest) had suspended the bucket with string above the register. When the end of the string would be let go, the bucket would fall and splatter onto its target.

People stopped and stared as the man lifted the bucket, with a loud squelch, off his head. We were all rolling around at this point. Some of us were crying with laughter.

“Bast,” gasped Asha. “The look on his face!” That sent us into hysterics once more.

Eventually, we climbed off the roof and strolled past the merchant.

“Think before you act next time,” Kya said, and we all laughed as his shoulders slumped.

“Shasta!”

I turned around and there was Aunt Shuri, with her date from last night, Lotus.

“What happened here?” Aunt Shuri gestured at the man with the hand that wasn’t holding Lotus’s.

“We dumped a bucket of paint on the man because he was being a perv,” Lekan said bluntly, examining his nails.

“Ah, right on.” With that, she and Lotus walked towards the spice stand. The merchant stood and gaped before yelling after her, “I will make sure that the king hears about this!”

“Yes, and I will make sure he hears about how you harassed his daughter’s friend, as well as multiple other girls,” I shot back. “You’ll be lucky to even be allowed to enter the market after that. Do it again, and we’ll know. Kapesh?”

He scowled and crossed his arms as we walked away.

“What’s ‘kapesh’ mean?” Asha asked.

“It’s an English expression. It means ‘understand me?’”

“Ah,” Kya said. “Does Sam say it?”


Lekan made kissy sounds and I smacked him.

“Yowch, girl!”

“We’re not ten, Lekan.”

He rubbed his shoulder. “Yeah, but you didn’t need to hit me that hard.”

“Sorry. Sam does use that expression, and so does Harry.”

“Aren’t you flying out next week to see him?”


“Yep.” 

“Does he know?”

“Nope.”


“You have to send pictures of you guys,” Zola said, shaking out her hands.

“I will, don’t worry.”

My bead buzzed and I turned it over.

“Shasta, it’s time for your training.”


“All right, Baba. I’ll be home soon.” I switched off the call. “See you guys later.”

He was waiting for me, in the basement. I had just changed into my workout clothes.

“Ready, Shasta?”


“Yes, Baba.” I got on the mat and started my warm up.

“Keep your hands up!” I received another blow to the cheek but dodged the next punch and hooked my leg under Baba’s, trying to bring him down. It worked. He hit the mat hard and I held him down, my knee at his throat.

“Better.” He tapped my leg and I stood up, my muscles rippling. “One more.”

I was sweating so much that my bangs were sticking to my face. They were so wet it looked I had just taken a shower.

“All right.”

“Remember, if you fight for the crown—”

“Show your opponent no mercy until you trap them,” I finished. “Tell them to yield.”

“Precisely.”

Erik peeked in. “Hey, Shas, can I spar with you for a round?”


“Yeah, sure. Prepare for an ass beating.”


“Yeah, right.” He undid his binder.

I went easy on him. Erik still ended up on his stomach, with my foot planted on his back and his arms held behind him.

“All right, all right, let me up, sis!” he wheezed. I let him go and he lunged at me. I lashed out, my hands encircling his biceps and slamming him to the mat. I straddled him, effectively pinning his legs together.

“Bast above!” He struggled.


“Do you yield, brother?”


“Yes!” He tapped my leg and I climbed off. “Man, you’re a powerhouse.”

I grinned and flexed my arm. “My arms are bigger than Sam’s.”

Erik tried flexing with me. He was still fairly toned, but he frowned. “Hmm. Should I work out more?”


“You know you don’t have to measure up to me, right? I’m the one that’s being pressured to do this.”

“Yeah, as the future Black Panther.” He yawned. “You know, I’m going to make an identity for myself. Not just the brother of queen Shasta.”

“I have no doubt you can and will, Erik Udaku.” I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder.

 

The jet touched down on its pad. I was waiting on the platform, trying to look like a princess instead of an ecstatic teenager. After all, reporters were everywhere, waiting to reveal the “mystery boyfriend of Princess Shasta Udaku”. There were a fair number of civilians, too. Some looked disappointed, some look eager, some looked annoyed. How dare the princess choose him over me?

The door descended and Sam walked down towards me. He was wearing an OTB t-shirt, the neon blue popping in the neutral colors around us. His hair was spilling over his forehead and his smile was filled with braces.

There was a loud buzz as he walked up to me and hugged me. “Hi, Shassie. It’s nice to see you again.”

“Same here.” I pressed a kiss to the side of his head. “Missed you.”

I could hear people yelling racist things already.

“She needs to find herself a black man, not a pasty colonizer!”

“What’s she see in him? He’s a white boy!”

“No king or queen has ever been with a white person before! It’s obscene!”

“Hey!” I yelled at everyone. “What the hell is that about, huh?” I gestured at Sam. “This is my boyfriend. His name is Sam Lang. Yes, he’s white, and I know a lot of people aren’t very familiar with his race. That does not mean that you can insult him! I am Princess Shasta Udaku, and I will not stand for this, understand?”

Everyone muttered and nodded.

“Good.” I drew up to my full height so Sam had to look up a bit to see me (I had two inches on him). “Let’s go back to the house, Sam.”

“That was impressive,” he said as we walked down the path, hand in hand.

“I’m sorry about that."


“It’s okay. I’m not…used to it, though.”


“Yes, it’s usually the opposite in America, isn’t it?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” He sighed and butted his head against my shoulder. “Will they accept me?”


“Given time, I think they will.”