If the universe had any mercy, Aldrich Killian would’ve incinerated himself on a slow weekend. A single spare molecule of mercy would’ve had him exploding himself while alone in his basement, or in a suitably reinforced laboratory. What happens instead is Aldrich Killian fucks around playing God on an inexplicable Monday morning and instantly cremates himself and forty-seven other people.
One of those people is Maya Hansen, a botanist Tony met once at a New Year’s Eve party. A New Year’s Eve party that took place two and a half months before the incident in Afghanistan.
He doesn’t remember much about her. She’d been sweet, he thinks. Crooked smile, brilliant mind. Her eyes were green, he thinks. Or brown. Hazel? He can’t remember. It makes him feel like an asshole, but he can’t remember.
“Are we gonna talk about this?” Barton asks, on the flight back from dealing with yet another nightmare in Sokovia.
They’d rushed things, he thinks. There at the end. Cut a few corners that Steve would normally be hounding them about, except he’s been wide-eyed and quiet since Fury patched in to deliver the news.
“No, Barton,” Tony says. “We’re not going to talk about this. What’s there to talk about?”
“I mean,” Barton says, slow and measured, feeling his way forward. There’s a strange note to his voice. It’s pinging around in Tony’s brain, raising alarms. “Kinda sounds like there’s a whole secret kid to talk about, Stark.”
“Clint,” Steve says, sharp. “It’s none of our business.”
“It,” Clint repeats. And the note in his voice resolves, finds a match in Tony’s memory. That’s anger. Clint Barton is pissed. “It’s not an ‘it,’ Cap. She’s a fucking kid we didn’t know about.”
Steve runs a hand down his face. There’s dirt smeared along the blade of his jaw. His eyes settle briefly on Tony and then dart away again. “Family business, Clint,” he repeats, stubbornly. “And none of ours.”
There’s silence for a few seconds. Up riding copilot, Natasha leans over to murmur something soft in Barton’s ear. She’s talking him down, Tony thinks. She doesn’t need to do that often. Not during missions. Barton’s steady in the field and a damn disaster everywhere else. If he has a trademark other than his aim, that’s it. And they aren’t technically out of the field until the quinjet touches down back home.
“I just wanna know,” Clint says, breaking the silence, leaning away from Natasha, “if there are any others. That’s all I wanna know. Because there was nothing about this girl in the SHIELD files. There was nothing about this girl anywhere. And if we aren’t checking up on her, and Stark’s not checking up on her, then she could’ve been black-bagged and hauled off to some bullshit bunker at any point to be used as leverage.”
Tony swallows. He looks down at his hands. They shake for a second and then go still.
Black-bagged and hauled off, he thinks. Used as leverage.
“So I want to know,” Clint continues. “If there are others. And I want to know why the hell we didn’t know about her. Fuck’s sake, Stark, you didn’t even bring her around for Christmas.”
Tony’s face drops into his hands. He rubs at his eyes, feels the sharp ache of the cut on his forehead reopening all over again. Here he is, fresh from battle, bruised up and bloodied. Heading back to New York to reclaim his kid from Fury’s dubiously competent custody.
By the time he gets there, she’s going to be fully indoctrinated. She’s going to have a SHIELD nametag and subdermal tracker.
By the time he gets there, Fury will have spent more time with this kid than Tony has in her entire life. She’ll know Fury better than she knows her own father.
“Fuck you, Barton,” he says, because he feels like he’d normally be deeply offended by the insinuations Barton’s throwing around like confetti. If his head and heart weren’t fully of buzzing static, maybe he’d have room left to be angry. “You didn’t know because I didn’t know. Maya never told me.”
“Oh.” Barton’s silent for a second. When he looks back over his shoulder, his face is unreadable. Beside him, Natasha, apparently feeling merciful, has carefully arranged her features into an expression of gentle concern.
“Shit, Tony,” Clint says. “Sorry.”
And then the whole plane goes quiet, everyone finding their own particular patch of gray metal to stare at, until the quinjet touches down and they all disembark together.
Tony usually ditches SHIELD HQ as quickly as possible, doesn’t bother with their shitty locker room showers when he can be back at his own private bathroom in ten minutes. But he stays this time, rinses off, gets the blood and plaster and dirt off his skin and out of his hair.
He keeps thinking about Maya. The quick flash of her smile, the cadence of her laugh, the way she leaned forward when he spoke like she was drawing wisdom right out of him.
He remembers not being able to look away from her eyes. They’d been lively, and clever. They’d laughed from clear across the room, made him feel like he was being let in on the best joke of the night.
But he still can’t remember what color they’d been. Not for the life of him. Dark, he’s sure. Not blue. Golden brown? Dark green?
When he steps out of the shower, he finds a clean set of clothes lying neatly folded on a bench nearby. He pulls on the white t-shirt and gray sweats, but he opts not to subject himself to the purple hoodie.
The shirt fits, but he has to roll the sweats up three times to avoid stepping on the heels. Everything’s worn thin and smells of too many washes with cheap detergent. He needs to buy Barton better clothes.
“Do you want us to go with you?” Steve asks, when Tony emerges from the locker room to find all of them slouched against the opposite wall.
They corralled Bruce from somewhere, and he’s standing there with his hands in his pockets, looking earnest and uncomfortable.
“I absolutely do not want that,” Tony says, tossing the hoodie to Barton. “You’ll scare the kid.”
Clint looks pained, but he keeps his mouth shut, probably because he’s still feeling bad about what he said earlier. Bruce gives Tony one of his grimacing smiles, the sad ones he saves for failed experiments or bad days. Natasha just nods, efficient and controlled, and herds Barton and Banner down the hallway.
“Are you sure?” Steve asks. “I could call Miss Potts for you. Or Happy. You don’t have to--”
“She’s a six-year-old girl, Rogers,” Tony snaps. “I think I can handle it on my own.”
She’s a six-year-old girl he’s never met. And Tony hasn’t been around a six-year-old since he was one.
“Alright,” Steve says, with a slow nod. He looks the way he always does when he thinks one of his people is making a stupid, self-sacrificing decision. All grim approval and slight discomfort, like he’s a little annoyed that someone managed to beat him to throwing themselves on a live grenade. “Well,” he says. “See you around, Stark. Let me know if you need anything.”
“Sure,” Tony says. Although he can’t for the life of him imagine what he’s supposed to need from Steve or why he’s suddenly interested in offering.
Steve nods, claps him on the shoulder, and heads up the hallway.
Tony tugs at Barton’s worn, ill-fitting clothes and then forces himself to start walking.
It’s just a kid, he thinks. Just a six-year-old girl he’s never met who lost her mother this morning because no one ever taught Aldrich Killian about appropriate laboratory safety measures. Just some kid who’s been functionally orphaned, and Tony knows how to play nice with orphans.
Hell, his whole damn team is orphans. He’s an orphan.
He knocks on Fury’s door and then pushes it open without waiting for an invitation. Fury’s seated at his desk, blue crayon in hand, carefully shading in something on a piece of paper in front of him. There’s a girl sitting across the desk from him, legs drawn up into the chair. She has a mess of dark brown hair curling down her back, and she’s wearing a yellow shirt and dark shorts and tiny Iron Man light-up sneakers.
After a moment, she twists to look at him.
He can see parts of himself in her face. The geometry of her cheekbones, the stubborn jut of her chin. And that’s how genetics work, so he doesn’t know why it hits him like an uppercut from the Hulk.
He takes a breath, and then another. His hand tightens on the door.
He’s being weird. He should stop that.
“Oh,” she says. Her expression is serious. Troubled, but not frightened. Like he’s an unexpected but not unwelcome guest. “You’re my dad.”
Tony blinks and blinks again.
She slides down out of her chair, and her Iron Man light-up sneakers don’t light up as she makes her way across the room. She stops in front of him and then holds her hand out, very politely. “Hi,” she says. “I’m Mia.”
Tony finds himself – ludicrously, unbelievably – shaking hands with his own six-year-old daughter.
And then, suddenly, he remembers. He remembers the exact shade of Maya’s eyes. They’d been a dark honeyed brown. Bright and beautiful and intelligent.
They are, he realizes, the exact same shade as Mia’s.