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The (Fire)fly Effect

Chapter Text

  Serenity Barton knew very few things about her life before she came to live in New Haven Home for Girls. She knew her mother had given her up the day she was born. She knew the only thing in the world she had from her biological family was a stuffed hawk, but she wasn’t sure who gave it to her. She knew she carried Birdie with her everywhere. She knew she turned six years old two months ago. She knew that her birthday was November 10, and that this past year she’d received a copy of the book The Giving Tree from one of the caretakers, and she knew that the book was meant for kids her age but she could already read better than any of the others her age and even better than some of the bigger kids. She knew almost all the words to most of the songs in the Disney movie collection in the TV room. She could count all the way to a hundred and fifty-two before she got bored and wanted to do something else. Mrs. Kingsleigh said she was very smart for her age. She just thought the other kids her age were silly.

  Serenity knew she had been through three different foster homes, but she could only remember the most recent one. The Whitleys had kept her for six months before Mrs. Whitley got in trouble with the police for something, and Mr. Gamble had come to get her. He was someone Mrs. Kingsleigh called a caseworker.

  Mr. Gamble called her into Mrs. Kingsleigh’s office, where a lot of times kids would meet with foster parents. There was a stranger in there she’d never met before, a grown-up with blond hair and a band-aid on his forehead. He had on a t-shirt with a dancing pizza on it.

  “Serenity, this is Clint Barton. He’s your uncle,” Mr. Gamble explained. Serenity could see Mrs. Kingsleigh didn’t much like Mr. Barton; he was what she called scruffy. It was why she opened a girl’s home, not a boy’s home. She thought boys were messy and scruffy. Sometimes Serenity thought she was scruffy since Mrs. Kingsleigh would always click her tongue like she didn’t like something when Serenity came back from preschool with skinned knees and elbows or dirt on her shorts and sneakers.

  “Hi, I’m Serena. I’m six. This is Birdie,” She introduced, holding up her hawk for the man to meet as well. His eyes got a little shiny, like when one of the big girls was trying not to cry. He bent down and shook Birdie’s wing.

  “I remember. I gave Birdie to you to keep you safe. I see he’s done a pretty good job.” His smile was a little crooked off to one side, and now that he was closer, she could smell coffee on him.

  “What happened to your head?” Serena asked. Her uncle chuckled.

  “Sometimes I get hurt at work. How about we sit down, and I can tell you about it.” He picked her up around the waist and sat her down next to him on the little couch.

  “Well, in my job I follow important people around and I keep them safe. So sometimes when they get in trouble, I have to fight bad guys to keep my person from getting hurt. Kind of like a police officer, but I have to protect just one person rather than everyone. Does that make sense? Sometimes I’m not good at explaining things.” He shook his head and Serena giggled.

  “Where do you live?” she asked.

  “Well, I’ve got this big old house on a farm. There’s a bunch of room to run around and play outside. I’ve got a dog; his name is Lucky. There’s a couple of cats who hang around the barn, one of them isn’t too nice but the other is friendly if you give her some chicken.”

  “Are you gonna get horses? I wanna learn to ride!” Serenity blurted excitedly, practically vibrating in her seat. She loved most all animals and had always wanted to learn how to ride a horse. Her uncle laughed.

  “That may have to wait until you’re a bit bigger but sure.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and tugged her into his side. “At the very least we can get you some lessons. How does that sound?” he asked.

  “So that means I’m gonna come live with you?” she asked.

  “Yep. I’ve got a few more things I need to settle, but I’ll be back in a few days to pick you up.” He replied. She hesitated, grabbing his hand to keep him from getting up.

  “You promise?” He held out his pinky to her, and she looped hers through his. His hands practically dwarfed hers, so her little finger barely wrapped all the way around even his smallest one.

  “I pinky promise. And you know you can never, ever break a pinky promise. They even hold up in court. So, I basically have to come get you now.” He replied. She grinned and lurched forward, wrapping her arms around his neck. Strong arms wrapped around her, and all she could smell was coffee.

  “I’ll be back in a few days, don’t you worry,” He mumbled into her ear.

  True to his word, three days later Mrs. Kingsleigh came in to help Serenity pack up her belongings. When her uncle arrived, he picked her up and balanced her on one hip while carrying the bag of her clothes and few toys in his other hand and when she hugged him, she smelled coffee.

  “Ready to go home?” he asked after helping her buckle into her booster seat. She nodded and he grinned, turning on the radio. Serenity let out a happy shriek when the first few notes of Strangers Like Me floated through the speakers. He smiled and shook his head, turning his eyes on the road.

  “Me too, Rina.”

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  “Aunt May! Is Dad home?” Serenity scrambled down the stairs and into the living room when she heard the crunch of tires on a gravel driveway. Her dad had been away on a mission in Chicago for a month, the longest he’d ever been away from home. Serena had learned not long after moving in that her new dad wasn’t quite what he said, but that his real job as an Agent of SHIELD had to stay secret. Melinda May chuckled at her seven-year-old goddaughter’s excitement, picking her up with a grunt. Lucky looked up and thumped his tail on the ground. The one-eyed lab was sweet and very protective over Serenity. Like canine, like owner.

  “Tomorrow, Serenity. You’re almost too big for me to hold, bǎobèi.” She shifted Serenity onto one hip and the girl giggled.

  “It’s just me, right now. Your dad is almost done with his mission, kiddo.” The man in the doorway was taking off his suit jacket as he entered, able to drop the forever professional demeanor he carried once inside the farmhouse.

  “Uncle Phil!” Serena was no less excited to see another member of her family squirmed out of May’s arms to tackle him into a hug before he even pulled both arms out of his jacket sleeves.

  Almost two years had passed since her new dad adopted Serenity, and although he still often had to leave to go save the world, she had only stayed with a nanny once or twice in that time. Clint Barton had no blood family left, but his SHIELD family never hesitated to volunteer to watch his daughter when he was away. With new Aunts and Uncles and even Grandpa Fury, she was never short of babysitters. Aunt May was by far her favorite. Sometimes she’d let Serenity stay up late or have an extra cookie after dinner if she’d done well learning Chinese. May had been teaching her ever since she asked what bǎobèi meant and learned it was a word in another language. Her godfather and Uncle Phil would play games with her and always enjoyed watching the Captain America cartoons with her. Later on, they’d play Captain America, with him as the Captain with her plastic shield and her with a toy gun as his best friend, Bucky Barnes. He often offered to let her play Captain America, but Captain America was his favorite and Bucky Barnes was hers, so it worked out. Aunt Maria was a bit stricter and more no-nonsense, but she was still fun to hang out with. Aunt Maria was one of the few who had never doubted Serena’s reading skills and bought her higher-level books than even her dad thought she could read. Sometimes she didn’t know all the words or understand the stories, but she definitely had fun and enjoyed the challenge so long as it wasn’t too difficult. Grandpa Fury didn’t often get to babysit, as he had a whole agency to run, but whenever they needed him and could spare the time, he was a surprising amount of fun to be around. Sometimes he even brought his cat, Goose, to come play. Goose and Lucky didn’t seem to mind each other; they had more of a you-ignore-me-and-I’ll-ignore-you relationship. During the past four weeks, they’d all come and gone, but at least one was always with her while her dad was away.

  “Everything all right, Phil?” May asked, a small frown gracing her features. He shrugged.

  “He’s running a few hours ahead of schedule, so he’ll be back in time for dinner and to put her to bed,” Phil Coulson had to hide a smile at Serenity’s gasp.

  “How about we turn on some TV, yeah? What movie do you want to watch?”

  As said, it took her dad until near suppertime to walk through the door. When Serenity saw him come through the door she launched from her seat.

  “Dad!” She flung her arms around his neck and when he picked her up off the ground, she wrapped her legs around him to cling on like a monkey, so she could bury her face in his neck. The smell of coffee and antiseptic reached her nose and she burrowed closer. “I missed you.”

  “Hi, sweetheart, I missed you too. Did you behave for your Aunt?” he asked, carefully dropping his duffle.

  “She was perfectly behaved as always.” May walked over as she spoke. She didn’t do lots of hugs unless it was Serenity, and even then, she rarely initiated them, but Serena knew her Aunt May cared, she just didn’t like to touch so much.

  “Hey Serena, can I ask you a question?” he sat her down on the couch and she nodded.

  “Well, there’s this really sweet lady I met while I was at work in Chicago, and I was wondering if you’d want to go meet her.” He explained.

  “Like a girlfriend?” Serena’s eyes went huge at the idea of her dad having a girlfriend. He’d dated once or twice, one of them being an agent named Bobbi. Serena had liked her, but it hadn’t worked out between them. Occasionally Bobbi still dropped by to say hi, since she and Clint had stayed friends even after the breakup. In a pinch, Bobbi even came as an emergency babysitter once or twice. Her dad laughed, pulling her into his side for a hug.

  “Yeah, maybe like a girlfriend someday. We’re just talking right now but she wants to meet you. What do you think?” he asked.

  “Do you like her? Do you think she’ll like me?” Serena asked.

  “Yeah, I like her a good bit. And I’m sure she’ll love you, sweetheart.” He assured, pressing a kiss to the crown of her forehead. Serena bit her lip but grinned and nodded.

  “Okay, let’s go. What’s her name?” she asked.


  Meeting Laura Clarke had been one of the most nerve-wracking moments of Serena Barton’s young life. From what her dad had told her, they’d met online a few months before and had finally met in person while Clint was working in Chicago. She was a nurse at a local hospital, working in the emergency room. He seemed to really like her, getting this goofy look on his face when he talked about her. She would later learn that her feelings were completely unneeded and that Laura was a sweet woman who Serenity latched onto quickly.

  Video calls became a near-nightly occurrence, as did weekend trips to Chicago to visit. Laura took them sightseeing in varying places throughout the city. Navy Pier, the Children’s Museum, and the Willis Tower were all places Serenity had now seen.

  Serenity and her dad had by this point also met Laura’s family, which consisted of her parents and older siblings: two sisters and a brother. Helene and Brandon Clarke were from a long line of white-collar workers. Mrs. Clarke was a high-ranking nurse at a prestigious hospital and her husband a lawyer, and neither of them seemed to like Clint Barton or his daughter very much. They looked down their nose at Serena’s skinned elbows and knees and her dad’s Band-Aids and split knuckles from getting into fights at work. She reminded Serenity of Mrs. Kingsleigh, who had pointed her nose up at both of them for being scruffy. Laura didn’t seem to mind, though, and ignored the barbed comments from her parents and siblings about her new boyfriend and his child.

  Laura relocated to the farm two months before Serenity’s eighth birthday and took up a position in the emergency room at the local general hospital. While not quite as busy as Chicago, she said she enjoyed it. The family dynamic only changed in that when Clint was on missions, whichever babysitter that had volunteered to watch Serena came and went following Laura’s work schedule. Lucky also seemed to adore her, which simply cemented her place in the family that much quicker.

  That following spring was the first time Serenity slipped and called Laura ‘Mom’. After falling out of the tree she was climbing, her dad had rushed her to the emergency room with a gash on her head from hitting a branch on the way down and a broken wrist. Laura came in to help keep the girl calm while another nurse stitched up her head.

  “Mom, it hurts.” Serenity didn’t really remember saying that through the haze of her concussion, but after Laura confirmed she was all right with it, from that day on Serenity referred to Laura as her mom.

  That summer was the wedding between her parents, and Serena couldn’t have been happier if she’d tried. It was hot outside, being the middle of June, but Serena didn’t even care. She hovered in the room with Laura, handing Louise, one of Laura’s older sisters, whichever makeup brushes or products she asked for. As far as Serenity was concerned, no amount of makeup could have made Laura any prettier; she was far too happy to be anything but pretty. Serena stood in the bridal party with the rest of the family, next to her Uncle Phil, the best man. She had the rings in a little pocket in her dress and had perked up at how important the role was. Laura and Clint both had said they wanted her to have a part in the wedding.

  At the reception, Serena giggled when Laura smushed a bite of cake into Clint’s face and he did the same to her, and in retaliation he grabbed her and lifted her up so they could each press a kiss to one of her cheeks, smearing icing across her face. Her indignant squeak echoed around the hall and earned quite a few laughs. Serenity wouldn’t notice the wedding photographer had captured that moment until the picture of it appeared on the mantle.

  For a few days, there was a beach trip that all three new family members participated in, but after that Serenity stayed home with her Grandpa Nick during the rest of the honeymoon. He even brought Goose along this time and snapped a picture of when she fell asleep on the couch with the feline curled up purring on her stomach and Lucky lying on the floor parallel with her body. Her Aunt May, with a conspiratorial whisper, told her that he’d saved that picture onto his phone and sometimes he’d look at it when he thought no one was looking. That knowledge sent Serenity into a fit of giggles, that her tough and stern Grandpa Fury liked to look at her and his cat when at work, but she still gave him an extra-long hug the next time she saw him. He pretended not to care, but she knew he loved her and her parents and her uncle and aunts. Her dad had once told her sometimes the best families were the ones you had chosen, not the ones you’d been born with.

  She quite agreed with that statement.

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  The happiness broke during The Thanksgiving Disaster after Serenity’s ninth birthday, where Serenity and Clint found they fell far below Laura’s family’s expectations. Louise, Diane, and Michael were Laura’s older siblings, and all were already married. Louise and her husband Dan had two young boys named Byron and Benjamin, who were eight and ten respectively. Diane and her husband Arthur had apparently had trouble having children, but now had twins on the way. Michael and his wife Marianne had two daughters, six-year-old Katherine and eight-year-old Charlotte. Serenity didn't feel like playing with the girls; they were playing some sort of dramatic version of House with the numerous Barbie dolls they'd brought along in a little pink suitcase. Serenity enjoyed playing with dolls sometimes, sure, but right now the weather was sunny even if a bit crisp outside, and Michael had helped his father rake all the leaves from under the big oak tree outside into a pile. Rather than join the girls, she followed Benjamin and Byron outside to join them roughhousing in the leaves.

  Benjamin gasped in shock when she scaled onto a low branch of the oak tree and jumped off, landing in the pile below.

  "You can climb trees?" Byron asked excitedly. Serenity nodded with a grin.

  "Yeah! There's all sorts of trees on the farm that I climb. Sometimes I can even get apples down."

  This had all nearly given Helene a heart attack, when she walked outside to see Serenity and her grandsons up in the oak tree, the boys working up the courage to jump off the lowest branches into the leaf pile. Laura only laughed when she saw it and called her daughter down from the tree.
“You can show up the boys later, Rina, it’s time to eat!” she shouted across the yard. Benjamin jumped down with a whoop of laughter that had Helene turning grey, but Byron hesitated, and Serenity wound up helping him climb back down the slow way.

  Dinner was an awkwardly formal affair, where after Grace everyone passed the dishes around the large table one at a time and served themselves. Serena quickly realized she was the only child who was serving herself, the others’ parents dishing out their portions for them; even Benjamin, who was older than her! So long as Clint or Laura held the bowl, they allowed Serenity to dish out her own mashed potatoes and mac-and-cheese, and Clint cut her slices of turkey until she was satisfied with what was on her plate.

 Dinner was where the Disaster occurred.

  “So, Clint, you mentioned you work in private security? Is that dangerous? Are you away from home often?” Diane asked. He shrugged.

 “Sometimes. My supervisor generally puts me on lower risk assignments, since I have Serena to look out for. Usually they don’t last longer than a week.” He explained. Serenity bit into her turkey, watching the conversation as if it was a ping pong match.

  “Who watches Serenity then? I couldn’t leave the boys home alone for that long.” Louise chimed in. Serena wrinkled her nose a little. Sure, it sucked when her dad was away, but she could take care of herself mostly and she enjoyed the quality time she got to spend with her mom and extended family during those times her dad was gone. She missed him when she was gone but she knew he was off doing important things and keeping people safe, and that he'd always come home. He gave her a pinky promise before every mission, that he'd return.

  “Her godparents and some other extended family take turns watching her. Some of the arguments over who gets to babysit can be pretty funny.” The joke had Serenity giggling. Her dad once showed her a video of Uncle Phil and Aunt May sparring to see who would get to come babysit one time. She'd giggled herself silly over Aunt May beating Uncle Phil into the mat for the honor of babysitting a then-eight-year-old-girl.

  “I thought you said you didn’t have any more family.” Helene chimed in. Clint shook his head.

  “Not biological, no. I haven’t heard from my brother since before Serena was born and our parents died when I was a kid.” He shifted a bit uncomfortably in his chair. “But family isn’t always blood, and Serena has plenty of aunts and uncles who have no problem looking out for her if I’m at work.”

  “So how old were you when Serena was born?” Michael was the one to ask the question and Clint glanced at the ceiling with an expression that she often saw her Grandpa Fury wearing when he was ‘dealing with idiots’ and Serena took up before he could.

  “Dad was seventeen. He couldn’t adopt me until later though.” She replied. Helene choked a little on her food, her husband patting her back.

  “Biologically, Serenity is my niece. Her biological father is my brother. He terminated his parental rights, so I took her in.” Clint explained.
Had that been all that happened, things might not have been so bad. But then Byron wanted Serenity to teach him how to climb trees like she did and try again jumping into the leaf pile.

  The eight-year-old finally worked up the courage to jump off the lower branches and then decided to try going higher.

  "You can't jump from that high, you'll get hurt! Come back lower!" Serenity called up the tree from her place on a lower branch. A heartbeat later a heavy weight crashed into her, sending her sprawling to the leaf-covered ground below. A snap reached her ears as well as Byron's cry of pain, and she grimaced as she lay there for a minute tangled up with the other boy.

  "Serenity! What happened? Are you hurt?" Her father demanded, rushing over.

  "Byron fell," she sat up slowly, like her godmother taught to do after a hard fall, holding her wrist carefully. She could wiggle her fingers, but it definitely hurt.

  A short trip to the ER later, the doctors diagnosed Serenity with a sprained wrist and Byron with a broken ankle and a mild concussion from hitting a branch on the way down. Helene screamed and shrieked about how Serenity was a bad influence on her grandsons until security finally asked her to quiet down or leave because she was upsetting other patients.

  “We’re not going back next Thanksgiving, are we Dad?” Serena asked. Clint chuckled and shook his head, pressing a kiss to her temple.

  “Nah, probably not. It’s okay, though. We’ve still got our family Thanksgiving with Fury and the others.” That brought a smile to her face.
Christmas morning that year brought another surprise for the little family. Laura had insisted on videotaping Serenity and Clint opening their presents from her. Clint went first at Laura’s insistence, and when he opened his gift there was a small brown bear with a pacifier tied to its paw with a ribbon, and a note. When Clint read it aloud tears filled his eyes. Serenity leaned over and covered her mouth when she read the note.

Hold on to this for me, Daddy! I’ll see you in nine months!

  “Really!?” her dad managed to choke out, looking up at Laura. He stood up and kissed her when she nodded.

  “Okay, Serena’s turn.” Laura calmed down the fussing, insisting on Serenity opening her gift. Serena looked down; it was not much bigger than one of the folders she used at school, and it was hard. Maybe a picture frame. When Serena peeled away the wrapping, she saw a picture of the three of them, the only semi-official family portrait they had, from Laura’s first Christmas at the Barton household. Serenity started reading the letter out loud at Laura’s prompting.

  “Last Christmas you brought me into your family and began to call me Mom. I love you like the daughter I haven’t had the chance to have and even with the new baby, you’ll always be my first kid. I want to make it official.” Serena’s voice choked at the last second, tears blurring the last sentence of the letter.

Serenity Barton, I want to adopt you.

  “You mean it?” she looked up at Laura, who was also in tears.

  “I do, Rina. I want to be your mom officially.” Serenity climbed up into her lap like she was still small and clung to her neck, sobbing into her shoulder. Strong arms and the smell of coffee surrounded them both.

  “I love you, Mom and Dad.”

Chapter Text

  Laura’s pregnancy went as smoothly as it possibly could up until the very end.

  She had morning sickness and cravings and mood swings, and sometimes Clint found her crying at dog food commercials at three in the morning when she woke up to pee, but Serenity’s new little brother was being too active for her to fall back asleep. Clint would sit and sing lullabies to Laura’s growing stomach and Serenity enjoyed sitting curled up against her mom’s side, feeling her little brother kick on occasion. She at one point began what she declared to be a poke war between the unborn child and herself, poking Laura’s belly and laughing when she felt a kick in response. She was ecstatic to have a little brother rather than a sister; she rarely thought about her time in foster care, but she remembered at the girl’s home the girls always being so fussy. She helped her parents paint the nursery a light shade of blue-gray and laughed as Clint struggled to assemble the baby furniture.

  Serenity got to decorate the letters spelling out her little brother’s name on the wall all by herself. Given free reign with shades of blue and gray and white, she decorated each letter with some sort of pattern or design, such as stripes and polka dots and zig-zag patterns. Some of the lines were kind of messy and a few of the polka dots looked more like the amoebas from her science class than polka dots, but she was proud of her hard work and practically beamed when the wooden shapes were arranged above the crib, spelling out COOPER.

  In March, the little family made a day trip to Des Moines and drove two and a half hours to a Build A Bear Workshop. Serenity had never been and was ecstatic to not only make herself a bear but to help make one for her little brother. She chose a black cat with orange eyes for herself, naming the stuffed feline Luna, and picked out a little chocolate puppy for her brother whenever he arrived. They didn’t name the second stuffed animal, deciding that Cooper should be able to pick out a name for his own toy whenever he was old enough to do so.

  Laura’s family showed up to the baby shower uninvited, and Laura didn’t have the heart to cause a scene by ordering them to leave. Helene shot Serenity snide looks and often sent barbed comments towards Clint. Byron did apologize for his grandmother being so mean that previous Thanksgiving.

  “I hope we can still be friends? Since we’re cousins and all.” he asked softly. Serenity grinned.

  “You bet.” She agreed. Despite her amicable relationship with Byron and Benjamin, Serenity kept her distance from most of Laura’s relatives, preferring to sit at Laura’s feet and write down who got her what gift as she and Clint opened the many presents brought for them.

  “I’m glad Laura is finally giving us a grandchild.” She heard Laura’s mother whisper. Serena felt her stomach sink like a stone and turned her eyes to the notebook, carefully writing down how Louise had given her sister a little set of plastic trucks in bright colors.

  “I already did.” Laura growled under her breath, apparently having heard the comment. Clint just squeezed his wife’s hand and Serenity leaned against her legs. Laura smoothed a hand over the girl’s hair and smiled. Serenity felt the knot in her chest loosen. She was Laura’s daughter, regardless of the new baby.

  “Okay, my present next!” Diane called.

  The next day Serenity was oddly quiet, avoiding looking at Laura’s stomach until finally, her parents sat her down to ask her what was wrong.

  “You’re still going to want me when the new baby is born, right?” she asked quietly. The fear had been niggling at her, shoved far away and out of mind, but Laura’s parents had only brought them to the surface. As much as they loved her, Serenity was insecure in her place in the family with the addition of what Helene considered their real kid.

  “Oh, sweetie, is this about what Mom said?” Laura dragged Serenity into a tight hug.

  “Of course we’ll still want you, Rina. No matter what anyone else says you’re our kid. Our first kid. Just because we’re having another doesn’t mean there will be any less room for you.” Clint looked devastated at the idea that his daughter would even for a heartbeat believe that he wouldn’t want her anymore.

  “I just… I know so many kids who were sent back after their foster parents had kids of their own.” She admitted.

  “Serenity look at me. I swore the day you were born I was going to do everything I can to keep you from living the kind of life I did. You’re my daughter and I love you more than anything. Laura’s your mom. Yes, things are changing. Big time. A new baby is gonna be a big deal. But I promise, we aren’t going anywhere,” he squeezed her hands as he spoke, rough and calloused palms engulfing her smaller hands. Serenity’s vision blurred and she quickly wiped her nose on her sleeve.

  “Pinky promise?” her voice came out almost as a half sob, of relief and happiness and a million other emotions she couldn’t name.

  “I pinky promise.” Her dad looped his little finger through one of hers, and Laura did the same to her other hand.

  “I pinky promise too. And you can never, ever break a pinky promise.” She whispered.

  So things were perfectly normal. Laura and Cooper were both healthy and the doctor was sure things would be going according to plan.

  The little family should have known things were never simple when the Bartons were involved.

  On June 6th Serenity woke up in the early hours of the morning to Clint calling for her from down the hall.

  “Dad? What’s going on?” she poked her head out the room to find her father white-faced and Laura rolling her eyes.

  “I’m in labor, your father is panicking. Calm down, Clint, Cooper won’t be here for a few hours yet, my water only just broke. We have time to get to the hospital.” She assured. Serenity quickly dressed and started stuffing a couple of books and toys into a bag to stake with her. Clint was rushing to pack up a bag as well, obviously a bit sleep deprived and frazzled.

  “He wasn’t supposed to be due for another four weeks!”

  “Sometimes babies come early, he’ll be fine.” Laura assured.

  An hour later they were stuck on the interstate at a standstill. Laura occasionally groaned in pain, leaning her head back against the headrest.

  “There’s a wreck up ahead, and we’re in front of the only exit for another seven miles.” He growled, knuckles white on the steering wheel. Serenity bounced her leg nervously.

  “Surely it’ll clear up soon!” she insisted. Two ambulances drove by on the shoulder followed by a police car as if to mock her for the idea. It must have been a really bad wreck for the entire half of the interstate to shut down. Clint turned the wheel, flipping on the emergency flashers and driving down the shoulder. They made it another half a mile or so before a truck pulled out in front of them and blocked their path. Clint blew the horn and they simply flipped him the bird.

  “Stay here.” He stood, getting out of the truck and walking up to the driver of the other car, pounding a fist against the glass.

  “My wife is in labor and we don’t have time to be stuck in traffic!” she heard him shout through the glass of the windshield. Laura grit her teeth and Serenity checked the time on the clock.

  “Six minutes.” Laura had told Serenity to start counting the minutes between the contractions. The girl was grateful; it gave her something to focus on, a way she could help.

  “Good girl.” Laura praised, taking a deep breath. Her husband climbed back into the car as the truck blocking them signaled to get back onto the interstate. It was still another twenty minutes before the driver Clint had yelled at could move back onto the interstate and the group could continue on.

  “Hang on, Laura, we’re almost there.” Clint assured. Clint swore fluently as blue lights from an approaching police officer forced him to stop.

  “The Hell are you doing on the shoulder?” the cop demanded when he came to the window.

  “I’m sorry, but my wife is in labor.” Clint insisted. Laura groaned again, her hand wrapped around the handle above the door with a grip so tight her knuckles turned white and Serena was sure the handle would break off at any moment. When Laura released the handle a whole thirty-seven seconds later Serenity spoke.

  “Five minutes.” Her voice was softer, worried.

  “He’s in a hurry, Clint.” Laura’s voice was high with pain.

  “There’re paramedics up ahead if you don’t think you can make it to the hospital.” The cop offered.

  “Laura? It’s up to you honey.” Clint squeezed his wife’s hand.

  “We can get to the hospital if you can get us past the traffic.” Laura replied. Serenity leaned forward, squeezing her mom’s wrist.

  “Let me get around in front, then we’ll go.” The cop rushed back to his car, holding his radio up to his mouth. He maneuvered around the stopped vehicle and turned on the sirens. Serenity flinched at the whine of the sirens but leaned back in her seat.

  “Four minutes.” She whispered.

  “Clint stop the car at the paramedics. I lied; we aren’t going to make it to the hospital.” Laura ordered as they passed.

  The paramedics moved Laura from the vehicle to the back of the ambulance, but Laura insisted they remain there rather than her give birth going down the interstate. Serenity remained in the truck, book in her hands but making no attempt to try to read it.

  “Hey, kiddo. I guess you’re worried, huh. What’s your favorite movie?” the police officer climbed into the car with her.


  The police officer sat and talked with her for the remainder of the time it took Cooper Francis Barton to come kicking and screaming into the world. Another ambulance arrived shortly after to drive Laura and the newborn to the hospital while Clint and Serenity followed. Upon arrival, Serenity rushed over to the little hospital cot containing her new baby brother, a small gasp escaping her.

  “Hey, Cooper.” She whispered, eyes wide and completely enraptured by the baby. She reached down to touch the blanket swaddling the sleeping newborn, feeling him shift under her fingers.

  “Come sit with me, Serena, and you can hold him.” Laura patted the bed next to her, and Serenity climbed up to sit next to her mom. Clint placed the little bundle into her arms, and she smiled softly, pressing a quick kiss to the cap on the baby’s head. She was vaguely aware of Clint snapping a picture of the siblings. She was sure she'd find it on the mantle in a few days along with the other family photos they'd accumulated over the years.

I’m your big sister and I’m gonna look after you forever. I pinky promise.

Chapter Text

  The hospital released Laura and Cooper the next day, after everyone was sure that nothing had gone wrong due to their adventure on the interstate. Clint swore up and down that if they ever had another one, he’d be packing the emergency bags two months early and they’d take a Quinjet to a SHIELD hospital before he went through something like that again. Laura just laughed him off.

  “Plenty of people give birth outside of the hospital, Clint. Where do you think babies were born before hospitals? Besides, I thought you wanted me and Cooper to stay a secret.” she asked. That was one thing Clint had been determined of when joining SHIELD, that his niece would be safe once he adopted her. The protections Fury helped him set up now extended to Laura and Cooper.
For the Fourth of July they invited the whole family to a big cookout and let off sparklers and poppers; Laura had insisted on nothing too loud that might scare the baby. Serena had spent the afternoon running around with her Uncle Phil, him holding a plastic shield and her with a toy rifle as they played an elaborate game of Capture the Flag against her Aunt May and Aunt Maria. The two women were pretending to be HYDRA agents and the flag was a small black box that supposedly contained a weapon of mass destruction. When Serenity had almost insisted that she was too old for such games, and upon seeing Phil’s crestfallen look Clint had explained that they also made good training exercises for skills she’d need as an agent.

 A mere day before Cooper turned three months old, and a couple of weeks before the end of Clint’s official extended leave from missions, he called his wife and daughter into the living room with a grim expression on his face.

 “My leave’s ending early. Fury needs me to come in, there’s a mission he doesn’t trust to anyone else.” He explained. Serenity’s stomach dropped like a stone; those sorts of missions were never good.

 “It’s dangerous, isn’t it?” Laura reached over and squeezed her husband’s hand. Serena followed her lead and snuggled into his side. “I can tell by your face.”

 “Yeah, this one’s not an easy one. I can’t tell you too many details, but I have to track a target in Budapest. It shouldn’t take more than a week, and I’ll be home.” He pressed a kiss to his wife’s lips and his daughter’s forehead.

 “Promise?” Serenity held out her pinky, in a ritual that they’d done since he began missions with her home. So long as her dad pinky promised to do so, he had to come home. While she knew even a pinky promise couldn’t guarantee something wouldn’t go wrong, the superstition remained even at the age of nine years old.

 After a week, Laura and Serena received a call that the mission hadn’t gone as planned and it would take a while for him to come home but he was back stateside, and he was safe. Laura assured Serenity that likely there had been a change of plans or it had taken longer than they expected, and that if he said he was fine he was. This pacified Serenity for the first week, but after that she grew more and more anxious, unable to concentrate in school.

 “Mom, it’s been nearly three weeks! Aren’t you worried?” Serenity was pacing the living room, unable to settle down for even her favorite movies. Being a Friday, Laura had allowed her to play hooky and stay home from school to hopefully let the anxious child relax. Lucky whined and pawed at her leg when she passed him, and she paused only to pat the top of his head.

 “Of course I’m worried, Rina.” Laura sighed, pausing with her hands still in the sink where she'd been washing dishes. Cooper was down for a nap upstairs and she was trying to get a few chores in, between her newborn son and worried daughter. “But pacing and fussing won’t bring him back any sooner.”
That seemed to cue the crunch of gravel on the driveway, and Serenity near bolted to the front window, looking outside and searching for the familiar blue-gray pickup truck that belonged to her dad.

 “He’s home! Mom, Dad’s home!” she flung the front door open, the screen door slamming against the wall as she practically flew down the stairs to tackle her father. There was an eerily graceful redheaded lady getting out of the passenger seat, one who flinched when Serenity tackled Clint and nearly knocked them both to the ground in the process, burying her face in his chest and clinging as tight as she could.

 “Whoa, take it easy!” he laughed, hugging Serenity tight against him. “You’re gonna knock us both over, sweetheart.” Serenity pulled back, frowning at her dad.

 “You said a week.” She accused. He sighed, running his fingers through his hair and making the spikey strands even messier.

 “I know, sweetheart. I’ll explain later, but go get your mom so I can tell her too, okay?” Serenity nodded and raced off into the house. She found her mom in the kitchen, washing the dishes from breakfast that morning.

 “Dad’s back and wants to talk to you, and he brought someone with him.” She reported to her mom. Laura nodded and wiped her hands on a dishtowel.

 “All right. Let’s hear what he has to say.”

 Natasha Romanoff was apparently his target who wanted a second chance and dealing with the backlash of bringing her into SHIELD had been why it took so long for him to be able to come home. Natasha would be staying at the farm for the rest of Clint’s leave, which SHIELD passed off as a paid suspension, while the rest of everything blew over and Natasha went through the steps to officially join the agency.

 “Serena, how about you show Natasha the guest room.” Laura looked a bit uncomfortable like she had more questions she wasn’t willing to ask in front of their guest, so Serena nodded and grabbed Natasha by the hand. The woman tensed and Serena let go, the pair staring each other down for a heartbeat. Natasha seemed maybe a little wary, but she also seemed a lot like her Aunt May in that it wasn’t easy to tell what she was thinking or feeling if she didn’t want you do. Serena began walking towards the stairs, letting the stranger follow her.

 “This is the guest room, so I guess you’ll be here for a while. The bathroom is across the hall.” Serenity pointed out the two doors. It was obvious which room was hers and Coopers, a sign on each door bearing their names.

 “Thank you.” Natasha was very quiet, Serena decided. Maybe she was shy; sometimes Serenity could be shy when she was in a situation she wasn’t comfortable in. Maybe Natasha was uncomfortable and was shy because of it. Serena poked her head into the nursery to make sure Cooper was still asleep, before heading back downstairs. She paused at the top of the steps when she heard her parents talking. Aunt May had always told her she could learn more from listening than from asking a million and one questions, so listen she did.

 “Are you sure she’s not dangerous?” her mom sounded worried.

 “Laura you know I wouldn’t have brought her here if I thought even for a second she’d hurt any of you. She’s spent her whole life with other people pulling the strings, no one cared about her. They just wanted her as a weapon. She needs a safe place to figure out who she is, without SHIELD influencing her.” Her dad insisted. Serenity felt a pang of sadness at the thought. Had no one loved their new houseguest? Serena heard the faintest noise; a heartbroken-type sound had escaped her mom.

 “She needs a place to learn to make her own decisions, to learn to be herself. To figure out who that is… All right, if you’re sure… She can stay. I’ll start dinner, she looks too skinny.” Laura acquiesced to her husband’s point. Serena crept further down the stairs, realizing their houseguest was also eavesdropping from further down the stairs. She kept her footsteps soft like Aunt Maria had taught her to do when she was trying to sneak around the house. They made it into a game to see who could sneak up on her dad the most.

 “Are you a secret agent like Dad?” Serena asked. Natasha twitched but otherwise didn’t show that she was surprised at the sudden presence of the nine-year-old.

 “Yes, in a way,” she began, only continuing when Serenity looked at her with an expression asking her to elaborate. The woman paused as if deciding what she wanted to say instead “I’m better than he is.” Serena grinned.

 “I want to be like you and Dad one day! Could you teach me?” she asked. A shadow flickered across the woman’s face, like the one she saw on Clint whenever someone mentioned his parents or brother or when missions were hard and her family spend days quieter than usual, staring into nothing.

 “Perhaps when you’re a bit older. But I could start by teaching you Russian. A spy needs to know all sorts of languages.” Natasha replied carefully. Serenity broke out into a grin.

 “Please, please, please! Aunt May’s been teaching me Mandarin since I was six and Uncle Phil started teaching me Spanish and Italian last year and I know ASL cause of Dad.” Serenity bounced a bit on her toes in excitement, and the tiniest smile turned the corners of Natasha’s mouth. Serenity thought she was even prettier when she smiled and decided then to work to make her smile more whenever she could. If no one had cared about this stranger for her whole life, Serenity would just have to be the first. Or maybe the second, considering her dad wouldn’t have brought her here if he didn’t care.

 “All right, Malyshka. Perhaps you could teach me Sign Language as well.” Natasha extended a hand and Serenity took it, gently tugging the woman down the stairs.

 “What does Malyshka mean?”

Chapter Text

  Life with Natasha at the farm eventually settled down. Over the next few weeks, the woman became more and more relaxed. She’d begun to teach Serenity the basics of Russian, which the child was enthusiastic to learn. In return, Serena began to teach Natasha American Sign Language so she could communicate with Clint during the rare times he didn’t have his hearing aids in. She’d caught Natasha ballet dancing on the porch in the early, frosty hours of the morning. After watching for a few minutes with mesmerized awe, Serenity asked the woman to teach her. Natasha only shook her head in response, a sad, faraway look in her eyes.

 “You need a proper teacher, Malyshka. One who won’t take away your love for what you’re learning.”

 As Natasha relaxed, more of her personality shone through. She roughhoused with Lucky and had a tendency to sneak him bits of human food under the table at dinner; the one-eyed lab adored the redhead. The few times Goose was over with her, the cat would wind around her legs and purr. Even the barn cat who never let anyone touch her would allow Natasha close enough to run her fingertips along the feline’s spine. She loved to hold or cuddle with Cooper, even when the baby tugged on her hair or drooled or spit up on her clothes. She made all sorts of funny jokes and movie references and whenever she read a story to Serenity (one of the nine-year-old’s guilty pleasures that she rarely asked for anymore) she used all sorts of funny voices and accents. She didn’t much like a lot of cartoons like Snow White, but Serenity didn’t mind. She liked the newer Disney movies anyways; Snow White’s voice was super annoying, and the new ones all seemed much more interesting anyway. Except for The Lion King, it would always be one of her favorites.

 The first time Natasha quoted The Princess Bride- which Laura had dubbed the Barton Family Movie after insisting they all watch it- everyone had laughed themselves silly.

 “You’re officially one of the family, Nat.” her dad had chuckled through tears of laughter, giving her a swift side hug as he passed to put the popcorn bowl in the sink. Serenity found Natasha still on the couch fifteen minutes later, a strange look on her face.

 “You okay, Nat?” she asked, sitting next to the newest permanent resident of the farm.

 “I… I never had a family.” She admitted. Serena sat down next to her and curled into her side, resting her head on the spy’s shoulder.

 “Me neither. I lived at an orphanage before Dad took me in when I was five. Biologically, he’s my uncle. It’s one of the reasons Laura’s family doesn’t like me and Dad much. Her sisters and brother are okay, and the boys are cool, but her mom is a bitch.” She explained. Natasha popped her gently on the arm.

 “Watch your language or your mother will think Clint taught you and kill him.” She scolded teasingly.

 “But he did.” Serena snarked back with a grin. Nevertheless, she grabbed Natasha’s hand and squeezed it, lacing her fingers through the woman’s and holding on tight, trying to convince her through contact and words what she was saying.

 “Family isn’t always who you’re born with, it’s who you choose. Mom chose me and I chose her. So did Aunt Maria, and Aunt May, and Uncle Phil, and Grandpa Fury. We didn’t have family or much of one at least. So, we made one.” She explained. Natasha pressed a kiss to the top of her head.
“Thank you, Malyshka.” She whispered.

 “No problem. Come play?” she asked hopefully. Natasha smiled.

 “As you wish.”

 A week later Serenity, in the middle of the night that night, heard a small sound from Natasha’s room and went to investigate. She found the redhead still asleep, face scrunched up and a few tears on her cheeks. Clint had warned Serenity not to wake her him when he had nightmares, or to startle her aunts and uncles out of sleep because sometimes they would lash out. She assumed the same for Natasha. She turned on the bedroom light.

 “Natasha. Nat, wake up.” She approached cautiously, staying near the foot of the bed. Serena grabbed her foot and the woman jolted awake with a gasp. Serena also inhaled sharply. Natasha had handcuffed herself to the bed by one wrist.

 “Serenity? What are you doing in here?” Natasha reached for a key on her bedside, but the child had already reached it and was scrambling to unlock the cuffs.

 “Why are you cuffed to the bed? Your wrist is hurt!” Serenity knew her voice was rising with distress, a lump in her throat constricting her vocal cords. All she could see were the bloody scratches and banding scars around Natasha’s left wrist.

 “Malyshka calm down. I’m fine… It’s an old habit.” The woman explained. Serenity felt hands on her arms and the Russian woman pulled her close, hugging her tightly. Serenity clung to her for a minute until she pulled away.

 “I’ll be right back, hold on.” She scrambled off the bed and ran down the hall, rushing down the stairs and pulling out the first aid kit and two mugs. She heard a soft squeak from the fourth step from the bottom; Natasha must have wanted to make sure Serenity was aware she’d followed. Serenity waited for the spy to speak as she set the two mugs full of water in the microwave and turned it on.

 “What are you doing?” Natasha asked.

 “Hot chocolate is always good for bad dreams, that’s what Mom says.” She explained as she waited for the water to boil. Natasha sat down at the table, joined by the child as soon as the packets of powder had dissolved into the water.

 “Thank you.” Natasha whispered.

 “Why?” she finally asked the question that was jumping around on the tip of her tongue.

 “Has Clint told you at all how I was raised, Malyshka?” Serenity shook her head, holding her hot chocolate in both hands even though she wasn’t cold.

 “I was raised in a place called the Red Room. It was… It was not a good place, Serenity. We were raised to fight, to spy… To kill. But every night they cuffed us to our beds. I can’t sleep without it.” Natasha explained. Serenity felt a lump form in her throat, before she lurched forward and flung herself into the woman’s lap, arms around her neck and face buried against her shoulder. They clung to each other for what could have been minutes or hours, Serenity weeping for the pain Natasha had endured during her childhood and Natasha with tears in her eyes at feeling so, so loved by this child who had accepted her without question. Serenity finally pulled away and stubbornly helped Natasha bandage her wrist despite a stuffy nose and blurry vision.

 The next morning, when Clint went to wake his daughter, he found her bed empty. After a quick search of the house, he found her asleep curled against the Black Widow, the assassin curled around the child protectively and Serenity’s hand wrapped firmly around the assassin’s bandaged left wrist.

 The world kept turning and life continued. Serenity’s tenth birthday passed with no crazy or wild events. For her birthday, Natasha presented Serenity a pair of ballet shoes in her size and a promise to begin teaching her, if she thought she would enjoy it. Serenity heard Clint ask Natasha about it later when they thought she was in the kitchen with her mom.

 “Laura convinced me to make some new memories to drown out the old ones, to help me love it again. I can’t think of any better memories to make than teaching Serenity. She’s something special, Clint.”

 “She really is, Nat. She loves you.”

 “I know. It’s terrifying.” Natasha admitted softly.

 “But there’s nothing more rewarding, Nat. And I know you love her too. I know they taught you that attachments were weaknesses but… I fight ten times harder at the end of the day because I have something worth fighting for, worth coming home to… You have that too, now. Remember that.”

 They surprised Natasha by holding a small celebration for her birthday before the family Thanksgiving arrived. Since she was already a member of the family, Natasha’s presents included a house key so she could use it to come and go as she pleased should she be alone on missions. Serena gave her a framed photo for her room, one of the whole family included her the night they watched The Princess Bride. Phil had dropped by to talk to the two Agents about an upcoming mission and snapped the photo on his way out. In the photo, Cooper was asleep on Laura’s chest, Clint with his arm around his wife and Serenity on his other side. Though usually, she’d have curled into her father, in this photo Serenity had curled away from him, tucked into Natasha’s side and watching the movie. Rather than watch Westley and Buttercup kiss before the sunset, Natasha was looking down at the child with an expression of awe, as if amazed this child trusted her enough to be so defenseless in her presence. Laura had been the one to help Serenity have it printed and framed for Natasha; something to always remind her she had a family now.

 Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas went just as well. Laura’s mother begged her to bring Cooper to an event, but Laura refused so long as she treated Clint and Serenity the way she did. Bobbi showed up for Thanksgiving and brought along a bottle of sparkling grape juice for Serena so she could feel included when the adults drank the champagne she also provided. Serenity spent most of the day climbing trees or running around with Lucky. Christmas went just as well, with snow on the ground and a borderline epic free-for-all snowball fight between Clint, Natasha, and Serenity.

 Things had been great for months, which no one realized meant the peace was sure to break soon.

 In January, just after school started back, Serenity was on the bus coming home when she noticed a car following the bus. She simply shrugged it off and went back to her book. The car looked new, unlike any that she usually saw in Waverly. It was probably following the bus back to the main roads; it was easy to get lost. The county roads that they traveled to take the farm kids home could certainly be confusing with the way they twisted and turned.

 Serenity grinned when she glanced up and saw the farmhouse approaching in the distance, Lucky sitting at the end of the driveway next to the mailbox, tail wagging like he always did. She shoved her book back into her backpack and tugged it on, hurrying down the aisle as soon as the bus stopped.

 “See you tomorrow, Mrs. Laughlin.” She told the bus driver as she passed. The woman was super sweet, the kind who knew every kid’s name and sent home baggies of candy or cookies on holidays or a homemade casserole if someone’s family fell on hard times.

 “I’ll see you tomorrow. Have a good afternoon!” Serenity bent down to pet Lucky when he growled and barked. The next thing Serenity recognized were arms wrapped around her waist and lifting her off the ground. She froze in panic for a split second before her family’s teachings kicked in and she screamed at the top of her lungs, thrashing as hard as she could. She reached up to go for the eyes like Aunt May had taught her, and could feel heat, a bright flash of light timing exactly with the stranger shouting in pain and dropping her. When she dropped to her hands and knees she cried out, arms buckling to take the weight off her hands. She crawled away from the stranger, seeing dark burn marks on his face- marks the same size and shape as her hands, which were dark and blistered now. Arms wrapped around her again and she nearly panicked, but the smell of coffee and the warm rumble of her dad’s voice calmed her.

 “My hands, Dad my hands hurt.” She whimpered.

 “Shh, it’s all right baby girl. It’s okay. Laura, call 911. Get the police and an ambulance here. Nat, make sure that fucker doesn’t go anywhere.” His voice was calm and level and Serenity curled into his shoulder, her whole body shaking.

 The EMTs and the police arrived within twenty minutes, one ambulance taking away the burned stranger and another few paramedics inspecting Serenity’s hands. She sat in Natasha’s lap now, her dad handling the police report with the help of the bus driver and Laura, who had Cooper on one hip.

 “We’ll take her to the hospital once the police get their statements. The burns aren’t too serious, but I do think she needs some proper burn care. Possibly something to help the shock.” The paramedic explained. The woman had kept her voice soft and gentle the whole time, never protesting to Serenity remaining glued to one of her family members.

 “That girl is a freak and could have killed that man!” Serenity flinched when she heard one of the policemen start shouting, and Natasha cradled her head to her shoulder.

 “Shh, don’t listen to him Malyshka. We won’t let anyone hurt you.” Natasha whispered.

 “My daughter is not a freak and I dare you to say that one more time! That asshole tried to kidnap her; she was scared! That’s self-defense!” Clint shouted back. Clint rarely shouted; Serenity couldn’t remember a time he’d ever raised his voice in anger. Her heart rate skipped and her hands felt sweaty and clammy. Natasha squeezed her tighter, humming softly; Serenity could feel the vibrations in the woman’s throat more than she could hear the lullaby, but it was soothing all the same.

 “Everyone calm down. No one is insinuating we arrest your daughter.” Serenity peeked up to see the sheriff standing between a younger police officer and her dad. The younger officer was facing her, hand twitching for his pistol, and her dad had planted himself between them.

 “He seems as likely to shoot her as arrest her!” Clint snarled.

 “Dad… What’s going on?” Serena spoke up. Her voice came out incredibly small.

 “Oh, sweetheart.” He walked over and picked her up. Natasha, in one smooth motion, stood and took up the position of guard.

 “Serenity, you’re X-Gene. Remember learning about mutants in school? It’s okay, you’re still you and we still love you. You’re just special, is all. There’s nothing wrong with you.” He whispered, tucked a stray lock of her hair back behind her ear.

 Clint rode in the ambulance with Serenity to the emergency room, Natasha and Laura following behind with Cooper. Fury and Coulson arrived mere hours later.

 “If we put her on the Index now, we can restrict the file to only the inner circle. She’ll be safe.” Fury whispered to her dad. Natasha was hugging Serenity tight to her side while the doctor inspected her hands.

 “She’s just a kid.” she could hear her dad reply, and she curled closer into Natasha. The redhead tightened her grip on Serenity, murmuring something into her hair to soothe her.

 “We’ll keep her safe, Clint. We promise.” Phil assured her dad.

 “Pinky promise?” she asked. They all turned to look at her, but Natasha simply squeezed her tighter.

 “We all pinky promise.” Her father assured. They all nodded in agreement, even Fury.

 As frightened as she was, as scary as the whole ordeal had been, Serenity knew as surely as the sky was blue and the grass was green that her family would never allow anything bad to happen to her.

Chapter Text

  While the family dynamic remained largely the same despite Serenity’s newfound powers, outside of the farmhouse things had changed whether Serena liked it or not.

 After nearly a week out of school to adjust to her newfound powers and let her burns heal some so she could hold a pencil, she came back to whispers and stares wherever she went. The fifth-grader even saw a few parents in the principal’s office as she passed, demanding her removal from the school, that she was dangerous.

 The family of the man she’d burned was also attempting to press charges against her, despite the fact that he was facing the longest available prison sentence for attempted kidnapping. Serena had the feeling that even if he wasn’t in prison for long, he’d never be truly safe from the wrath of her family. She knew that at the very least her Aunt Maria had shown up and given the man a stern talking to about the fact that the child he’d attempted to kidnap was related to multiple people who could make him disappear without a trace.

 Many of her friends also wanted nothing to do with her now, leaving her sitting generally alone in class or at lunch. Students moved seats rather than sit next to her. A few even called her a freak, told her she wasn't wanted here anymore.

 Serenity became more and more withdrawn, coming home either completely silent or in tears most afternoons. Her family was growing more and more concerned she knew, but no one seemed to have any idea what to do.

 Two weeks after she returned to school, towards the end of January, the family was watching TV when a knock on the door startled them all. Serena saw the adults exchange glances and Natasha moved slowly to the mantle, where they kept a pistol out of reach of the kids. Serenity tensed, light flickering in her palms. Laura squeezed her arm, using her thumb to rub circles against the child's wrist to reassure her.

 “Can I help you?” Clint was tense as he answered the door, only opening it as far as the chain lock would allow.

 “Yes, Mr. Barton. My name is Charles Xavier, this is my colleague Jean Grey. We’ve come to speak to your daughter about a possible placement at my school.” He explained. The man must have said something that Serena couldn’t hear, because a moment later her dad signaled Natasha to stand down, opened the door, and welcomed the two strangers into the house. Natasha stowed the gun in her waistband and gave them both an appraising stare. The man was completely bald and used a wheelchair, which puzzled Serena as there was no ramp to get onto the front porch and to the door. The lady he was with was quite pretty, with long red hair in a darker, almost duller shade than Natasha’s fiery color.

 “What do you mean, placement at your school?” Laura asked.

 “I run a school specifically for people like your daughter: mutants. Jean is one of the teachers, and I am the headmaster of the school. We offer young mutants a chance to earn their education in a safe and welcoming environment and also offer special classes to help them learn to control their abilities and use them to defend themselves if necessary.” He explained.

 “You can help me control the lights?” Serenity asked. A bit of experimentation when her hands healed had led her to realize what had happened that day; when the stranger grabbed her, she’d produced a bright, hot light out of both hands. Usually, it was hard to summon the lights now; they were generally fairly dim, and none had any heat to them now.

 “Yes. You have what we call photokinesis, the ability to control light. I myself am telepathic. Jean has limited telepathy and her powers focus on telekinesis.” The professor explained.

 “Cool.” She breathed.

 “We would also like to test and see if you’re a carrier, Mr. Barton.” Ms. Grey spoke up, and at Clint’s puzzled look she continued. “Even if inactive, the X-Gene runs in families. If your brother was a carrier, there’s a chance you could be as well. If you are, there’s a chance your other children will also be mutants.”

 “I don’t think that’s necessary. Is it, Mrs. Barton?” Mr. Xavier turned a knowing gaze to Laura, who shifted uncomfortably.

 “I don’t understand.”

 “Particularly those with powers of the mind, I can often tell the difference between the minds of mutants and humans. The brains of those with abilities have to compensate to be able to control said abilities, after all. The mind reflects that. You show the markers of being a mutant, Mrs. Barton, but perhaps your powers are more on a subconscious level.” Mr. Xavier smiled softly as Laura processed this information.

 “You mean… The intuition at work? Knowing when someone is about to code? That’s a mutation?” she asked. The man’s smile answered enough.

 “So, Cooper could quite possibly be a mutant, as could any other kids Laura and I have?” Clint asked worriedly.

 “Yes. But mutations rarely develop before puberty, unless an extreme emotional trigger causes them to develop early. Even that isn’t always the case. Regardless, if Cooper or any future children are mutants they would be welcome at the school.” Jean soothed his worried.

 “Well, would you like to go? You’d be staying there and only coming home for the holidays, like a boarding school.” Clint explained. Serena bit her lip.

 “I… The kids at school here don’t like me anymore. Neither do their parents. And I want to learn to control the lights. I’ll go to school at Xavier’s.”

 The longest part of the transfer was waiting for Natasha and Fury to use their terrifying spy skills to thoroughly vet the school and ensure it was safe. After that, her dad flew with her to New York to drop her off at the airport with one of the Professors.

 “Logan, nice to meet ya. I guess this is the half-pint?” the man seemed super gruff. Serenity rarely thought of the orphanage anymore, but she couldn’t help but think that Mrs. Kingsleigh would absolutely hate Logan. He was as scruffy as it was possible to be, with big sideburns and messy clothes.

 Once at the school, Logan passed Serena off to a beautiful dark-skinned lady with pure white hair called Ororo Munroe, who gave her a tour of the school as well as a class schedule.

 “This will be your room. There are three other girls, but I've got the feeling you’ll get along with them well.” Ms. Monroe left then, leaving Serena with her suitcase and a stomach full of nerves to stare at the door. It opened before she could even knock, a young Asian girl who looked about twelve in a yellow coat grinning.

 “You gonna stand there all day or will you introduce yourself to us?” she quipped. Serena gave a small smile. The two other girls in the room consisted of an undersized brunette girl who might have been older than her sitting on one of the beds, and another with a head of wild orange hair and covered in freckles who looked to be Serenity’s age.

 “I’m Serenity Barton.” She replied.

 “I’m Jubilee. That’s Kitty.” The girl in the yellow coat gestured to the brunette first, who waved. “And that’s Crimson. She’s pretty new too, has only been here a month or so.” The redhead gave an awkward little shrug. Serenity threw her suitcase down onto the only bed that didn’t look occupied in the large room.

 “You wanna play Uno?” Kitty held up the deck of cards she was holding for them to see, and Serena grinned.

 “Sure, but I’ll beat you.” She warned. Crimson groaned.

 “You had to say it. Kitty is super competitive.” The redhead sighed. Jubilee dragged Serena over to Kitty’s bed as Crimson walked a bit more calmly to join them. Kitty dealt the cards and the game commenced.

 Serenity would later learn that Kitty was thirteen, could walk through walls, and was an even bigger dork than Natasha. That Jubilee’s full name was Jubilation Lee, she was an only child who still wrote letters to her parents every other week, and that her powers were the closest to Serena’s; she was able to make pyrokinetic bursts akin to fireworks. That Crimson was only two months older than her and sometimes got weird migraines that gave her visions of the future, and that the two got along like a house on fire and soon the whole school knew that where one was, the other was soon to follow.

 Serenity didn’t know then, but these three girls would someday be her best friends.




 “There’s no way you didn’t cheat!”

 “I told you I’d win!”

 Well, maybe be she had an idea.

Chapter Text

  The next few months were full of new kids and classes and learning her way around the massive mansion that made up the school. With the help of Jubilee and one or two of the professors, Serenity learned to not just summon the lights in her hands but create orbs of different temperatures that she could throw. The lights no longer burned her even if she held one hot enough to burn someone else.

  “It seems like when your mutation manifested as suddenly as it did, your body didn’t have time to adapt to your abilities before you were forced to use them.” Professor Grey explained when she questioned it.

  “I used to get really bad migraines all the time, then one day they went away, and I could make sparks with my hands.” Jubilee chimed in.

  When the spring semester of classes ended, Serenity gave all her friends hugs and the phone number for the Barton house, the three girls staying behind promising to keep in touch while their fourth member was gone for the summer.

emsp; Welcome Home!

  The banner strung across the front porch and the balloons tied to the mailbox made Serena’s eyes water a bit. Her dad led her inside the house for her to see what looked like the entire family. In less than an hour, though, her godmother had vanished from the festivities.

  “Where did Aunt May go?” she asked. Phil and her father both grimaced, and Bobbi’s mouth drew into a tight line.

  “She went home, Solnyshko. Something happened at work and May is… She’ll be all right. We just have to give her time.” Natasha explained.

  It seemed it didn’t matter how much time she gave her godmother; May wanted nothing to do with her. Summer wore on into autumn with no contact from the woman, no matter how many times Serena called, all she heard was the answering machine.

  “It’s my powers, isn’t it? She never acted like this before I mutated.” Serenity asked Phil after another failed phone call. He was babysitting her and Cooper while her parents went on a date and Natasha was on an assignment.

  “No, no Serenity don’t ever think that. What makes you say that?” he asked.

  “I heard Grandpa Fury saying she’d had a run-in with someone with powers. You didn’t see her face when she saw me at the party,” Serenity’s eyes began to water, her voice breaking. “She looked at me like I would hurt her.” Her uncle pulled her into a tight hug.

  “I miss her. I want my Aunt May back.” She whispered.

  School started back in the fall, and Serenity celebrated her eleventh birthday away from home but still surrounded by friends. The professors always had cake after dinner when a student had their birthday, and Serenity received gifts from not just her family but her new friends. Her face fell with disappointment when there was no gift with the familiar writing of her Aunt May.

  “What’s wrong? It’s your birthday, you should be excited!” Kitty exclaimed.

  “Aunt May hasn’t talked to me since after I manifested… We were always so close, I thought that of all people she wouldn’t care… But she does and it hurts.” Tears welled up in her eyes, and before she could blink, she had her three friends squeezing the life out of her.

  “You’ve got us now. And maybe she’ll come around.” Jubilee soothed optimistically.

  “It’s been nearly a year.” Serenity deadpanned.

  “It took my mom two years to really understand and accept what was happening to me.” Crimson added.

  “Okay. I won’t give up on her just yet.” Serenity sighed.

  The next year saw no change in Melinda May’s behavior, but it did see changes in other aspects of Serena’s life. In early March, Crimson woke up with a migraine to tell Serenity that Natasha was in trouble. Serenity immediately called her grandfather, who sent a rescue team to find Natasha with a bullet hole through her side, the engineer she was escorting dead. Serenity spent the next twenty-four hours pacing with her cell phone in her pocket, light occasionally leaking from her clenched fists.

  “Come on, pup. You need to let out some of that energy.” Logan dragged her to the Danger Room and ran training simulations with her until her phone finally rang.

  “How is she?” she immediately demanded.

  “Nice to talk to you too, Rina. Natasha’s fine, she woke up from surgery a few hours ago. Thank that friend of yours, she saved her life.” Serenity’s whole body seemed to melt with relief at her dad’s words.

  “When can I see her?” she asked.

  “School is out in six weeks. If we can’t arrange a visit beforehand, I’ll send her to come pick you up.” He promised.

  “Okay. Tell everyone I love them.” She whispered.

  “I will. Love you too.” Serenity didn’t lower the phone until after he’d hung up, sliding to sit on the ground and cry.

  “She’s okay, she made it.” The words felt sweeter than anything she’d ever said in her life. When she saw Crimson in the hallway a few hours later, she pulled her best friend into a bone-crushing hug.

  “You saved her, thank you.” She whispered.

  In July, the adults in the family sat Serenity down to talk to her. Cooper, the rambunctious two-year-old he was, was currently playing with some blocks to keep him occupied while the older members of the family talked.

  “So, Serenity, you know how Mom and I love each other and got married because of it? Well, it’s possible to sometimes love two people that way-” Her dad seemed super awkward, so she decided to put him out of his misery.

  “You mean you all quit making heart eyes at each other and decided to make out already?” she asked. Laura burst out laughing at her daughter’s words while Clint blushed.

  “Well, essentially yes. Nearly losing Nat made us all realize what we wanted and that we shouldn’t wait to get it. How did you figure it out?” he asked.

  “Dad, you are far from subtle.” She teased in reply. This had Natasha laughing.

  “I taught you well, Solnyshko.” Serenity grinned widely at the praise before a questioning look crossed her face.

  “Does this mean I can call you Mama?” she asked. Natasha’s breath caught before she grabbed the girl and pulled her into a tight hug. Serenity knew it was to try to hide the tears welling in her eyes, but she could still feel a droplet or two touch her shoulder.

  “I would love that, Solnyshko. I would love to be your Mama.” She whispered.

  “You already were, I just figured we could make it official since you three were now official.” Serenity replied. Clint shook his head, ruffling his daughter’s hair.

  “You’re certainly something else, kid.” He chuckled. Serenity blushed.

  “It’s not that big a deal. If you’re happy, I’m happy.” She replied.

  “Not many would be so accepting, Serenity. That’s why we’re keeping it private, at least for now.” Laura explained. Serenity nodded in acceptance.

  In late November, two weeks after her twelfth birthday, Kitty came running into their room where Crimson was helping Serenity pack. The recent explosion at Stark Industries was the talk of the school.

  “Guys, hurry! Tony Stark is on the news about the recent explosion!” she called, grabbing the two younger girls by the wrists and taking off at a run, through walls and furniture and people alike, until they reached the TV room where everyone was crowded around the fireplace and the TV above it.

  “And now Mr. Stark has prepared a statement. He will not be taking any questions.” Colonel Rhodes stepped down from the podium and Tony Stark swaggered up.

  “It’s been a while since I was in front of you, I figure I’ll stick to the cards this time.” He quipped before continuing. “There’s been speculation that I was involved in the events that occurred on the freeway and the rooftop of the-” one of the reporters interrupted him at that point.

  “I’m sorry, Mr. Stark, but do you honestly expect us to believe that was a bodyguard in a suit that conveniently appeared despite the fact that you-” Tony interrupted her this time, cutting her off mid-question.

  “I know that it’s confusing. It is one thing to question the official story and another thing entirely to make wild accusations or insinuate that I’m a superhero.”

  “I wasn’t insinuating you were a superhero.” The reporter demurred. Serenity glanced over at Crimson with a raised eyebrow, and the girl just smiled.

  “Just watch.”

  “You saw something, didn’t you?” Serena accused softly.

  “I don’t want to spoil it. Just watch.” Crimson whispered. Colonel Rhodes leaned over and whispered something to Tony Stark, and he raised the cards to read off of before putting them down.

  “The truth is… I am Iron Man.”

Chapter Text

  “Hello?” Serenity answered the phone in the kitchen, downstairs making a cup of hot chocolate to go with a midnight snack. The mansion was chilly, early-December snow dusting the ground outside and frosting the windowpanes. She’d be going home for Christmas soon. The past two years had passed in a haze of school and summers at home, as well as the birth a year ago of little Lila Katherine Barton. The school was mostly empty except for the students, the X-Men and even Professor X off on an extremely important mission. They’d all seemed worried when they left, but they offered the children no explanation. Serenity assumed they were out looking for Jean again. She’d been missing for weeks, after an ambush on her and Scott. She’d given him and the prospective students they were recruiting time to escape at the price of her own capture. They'd been looking tirelessly for her ever since.

  “Hello, I’m looking for a Mr. Charles Xavier. I was told I could find him at the end of this number.” The stranger sounded smug, his tone raising the hair at the back of Serenity’s neck.

  “I’m afraid there isn’t a Charles Xavier here. You must have a wrong number.” She replied.

  “Well, that’s a shame. I happen to have a friend of his who may want to speak to him. We’ll be willing to make a trade. Him, for Ms. Jean Grey.” Serenity froze.

  “All right. I’ll... I’ll pass on the message if I see him.” She hated how her voice shook a bit.

  “Good girl. I’ll give you an address to tell him. Tomorrow at seven PM sharp. Tell him to come alone. So long as he cooperates, she won’t be harmed.” Serenity scribbled down the address he rattled off, and then the line went dead.

  She clutched the paper in her hand and bolted to her room, waking her roommates as the door slammed open.

  “What’s going on?” Kitty asked, sitting bolt upright.

  “We have an emergency!” Serenity squeaked.

  “What’s going on?” Crimson repeated Kitty's question.

  “Someone just called. A ransom for Professor Grey. They want Professor X to exchange himself for her. If he doesn’t meet them alone tomorrow, they’ll kill her or worse.” Serenity paced the length of the room, running her fingers through her hair in a habit she'd picked up from her father.

  “But they won’t be back by then!” Jubilee gasped, sitting up in bed.

  “I know.” Serenity’s mind was whirring. There was no way to get in touch with the X-Men. It was a severe enough emergency that the whole team had left for the next three days. Classes had been canceled and the younger students were left in the care of the eldest.

  “We can’t just sit here and do nothing!” Kitty exclaimed.

  “Let me think.” Serenity continued to pace. After a few moments of tense silence, she stopped. The others wouldn’t be back in time. Her parents were off on a mission for the next few days, Uncle Phil busy working back end for her them. There wasn’t enough time to get SHIELD involved.

  “We have to go ourselves.” She spoke aloud, more as a realization herself.

  “What? You’re joking, right? There’s no way!” Crimson exclaimed.

  “We have to! They’ll kill her if we don’t. There’s no time to get anyone else. We have to do this ourselves.” She insisted.

  “And how are a bunch of teenagers supposed to manage this?” Crimson asked.

  “We’ll need an extra set of hands or two, but we have to leave enough people here to protect the other students.” Serenity replied.

  “Bobby will probably be able to help, he's been in fights before.” Kitty spoke up.

  “Okay. Kitty, you go get him. Jubes, get a car ready. Crim, gather up Rogue and a couple of the older teens, tell them what’s going on and that we need them here to cover for us.” She rattled off orders. Kitty slipped off through the wall.

  “And you?” Jubilee asked.

  “Medical supplies. We don’t know if she’s hurt.” Serenity explained. She raced off to the medical ward of the underground area of the school and grabbed a bag, shoving any first aid supplies she could think of inside. She was suddenly grateful that the professors made every student go through a CPR and first aid certification course when they turned fourteen. The course was still fresh in her mind; she’d only taken it last month. Serenity raced back up the stairs and to the training room, donning some of the armor they wore during Danger Room simulations.

  “Good idea.” Kitty agreed, dropping down through the ceiling with Bobby, holding his hand to allow him to phase with her.

  “This is gonna be really dangerous.” He warned.

  “We owe it to Professor Grey to help her.” She insisted. He nodded grimly. Jubilee and Crimson joined them at that point, grabbing their own sets of armor.

  “Rogue knows what’s up, she agreed to stay and keep an eye on things.” Crimson reported.

  “There’s a car out front for us. I grabbed one with plenty of room.” Jubilee added.

  “Good. Let’s go then. Change and meet out front. We don’t have much time left.”

  The group was tense and silent for the drive to the meeting area. They parked about a mile out from the meeting site, agreeing to walk the remainder of the way to set up an ambush against whoever was holding Jean Grey prisoner.

  “So how are we going to manage this?” Kitty asked.

  “They’ll have prepared to deal with Professor X’s powers, probably the other X-Men too. They won’t be expecting us. We’ll use the element of surprise to take them down as quickly as we can.” Serenity replied.

  “We’re doomed.” Crimson sighed.

  “Have a little faith, Crim. We’ve got this.” Kitty replied.

  They crept up on the meeting area, out in a forest. A good spot, Serena reasoned. No one around to hear if a fight breaks out. Kitty slipped ahead to use her small size to her advantage and scout around.

  “They’ve all got helmets. You were right, they’re expecting Professor X. Jean’s unconscious but alive.” She whispered.

  “Okay. Fan out and take up positions. When you see fireflies, that’s the signal to attack.” Serenity whispered back. They all fanned out and moved as close as they could without anyone seeing them. Serenity’s heart was pounding in her ears. She scanned the clearing. A dozen guards, most with guns. Jean Grey unconscious, a blinking collar around her neck, covered in bruises. Three guards surrounding her. She eased the bag with the first aid supplies off her shoulder next to the trees.

  “The old man will be here any minute. Keep your guard up.” One of the guards ordered the others. Serenity let four tiny, blinking lights float from her fingertips. The men barely noticed what appeared to be a few lightning bugs floating around the edge of the clearing. A split second later she saw movement where Kitty was running headlong, ice in the corner of her vision. She launched herself out of her hiding place.

  “Ambush!” she felt the movement of a bullet whizzing past her and shoved a glowing hand in the face of the nearest guard. A shout of pain, a dropped gun. One down. She picked it up and fired twice, shooting one of the other guards. Two down. Crimson had one of the guards in a chokehold. He hit the ground and didn’t get back up. Three. Kitty was slamming one into a tree, using his own momentum against him. He slumped against the bark with a bloody lump on his head. Four. Bobby had frozen four of them to the ground, frozen their guns as well. Eight. Serenity felt arms wrap around her from behind, twisted to slam her elbow into the guard’s side. She again flashed her hands as bright as she could and sent her elbow into his temple when he let go. Nine. Another guard was attacking Crimson, she needed help. Serenity threw a ball of light at the man; it burst against his forehead; It knocked him backward and he didn’t get back up. Ten. Jubilee and Kitty had one down. Bobby knocked the final guard down, and they all stood panting. The whole battle took no longer than a minute.

  “Is anyone hurt?” Serena breathed.

  “I’m good.” Kitty panted.

  “Just some bruises.” Crimson winced; her cheekbone was bright red and was likely to bruise later on.

  “Let’s go before reinforcements get here.” Bobby said.

  “Professor Grey?” Jubilee gently shook the woman’s shoulder.

  “I think she’s been drugged. We’ll have to carry her.” Crimson sighed.

  “I’ll go get the car.” Jubilee took off at a jog towards the car, Crimson following to ensure the girl wasn’t alone. Bobby and Kitty worked to find the key to the control collar on the teacher’s neck while they secured the guards. Serenity jogged to her previous hiding place to retrieve the bag.

  Once she had a better look at the teacher, Serenity breathed a sigh of relief. While not in the best of shape, she could be much worse. She pulled a hair tie off her wrist and tied the woman’s hair back away from her face. She splinted what appeared to be a sprained or broken wrist and began working on bandaging the worst of the cuts and burns. Most looked superficial, though there was one on her arm that was probably going to need stitches once they got back. When headlights glared through the trees everyone tensed until they realized which car it was.

  “Okay. We work together, team lift. Kitty, get her feet. Serenity, help me with her head. Jubes, Crimson, get her hips. One… Two… Three… Lift.” Bobby directed to pick up the unconscious woman. The group carefully picked up the professor and maneuvered her into the backseat.

  “Back to the school, Bobby, as quickly as you can without getting pulled over.” Jubilee ordered the eldest of the group. He nodded, pulling away from the carnage and soldiers they’d left behind. Serenity pulled out the phone she kept for emergencies, one that no one could track. It was supposed to be for calling her family when they were at work, but this time she dialed 911.

  “911, what’s your emergency?” the operator asked.

  “There’s an anti-mutant group who kidnapped one of my friends.” Serenity said.

  “Where is she?”

  “We got her back, and are taking her to get medical attention. I just need you to send some officers to take care of the bastards who hurt her. A fight broke out so they may need some medical attention. They seem stable though.” Serenity rattled off the location.

  “Officers are on their way, wait there for them.” The woman ordered.

  “Sorry, Ma’am, but we need to keep our anonymity. The world is too dangerous for anyone to know who we are. Thanks for the help, though.” Serenity hung the phone up. Hopefully, the guards would face justice once the officers took them into custody, but she couldn’t be sure. At the very least, they wouldn’t die of exposure.

  Hours later, the group sat in the medical room where they’d carried the teacher and laid her on a gurney. No one seemed to want to leave, not even to change out of their armor.

  “When do you think she’ll wake up?” Crimson asked.

  “Soon, she has to.” Kitty insisted.

  “I’m awake.” The soft voice of their teacher sent every kid jumping, Serenity hurrying to help her sit up.

  “Easy, you took a beating. We haven’t been able to get in touch with anyone else.” Serenity admitted.

  “You five rescued me all on your own? That was dangerous!” she exclaimed.

  “We couldn’t just let you die. And it worked out, no one was hurt beyond a few scrapes and bruises from getting knocked around. The worst injury was from Crimson tripping in the woods.” Kitty replied. The redhead blushed in response.

  “Well… Thank you. That was risky but thank you. I’ll call Charles, let them know I’m back and they can return. Those men sent them on a wild goose chase to try to lure the team away from the Professor.” She explained.

  “I kinda guessed that once we got the call. We couldn’t figure out how to call them and tell them, and there wasn’t enough time to get help. We really did try to figure out a way to get adults involved. It was my idea, don’t get mad at them.” Serenity tried to take the blame.

  “We agreed. We’re all responsible.” Bobby insisted.

  Facing Professor X after their escapade was nerve-wracking, but rather than the scolding the five expected they were surprised with praise.

  “When you’re older, if you would like, I think we could find a place for you among the X-Men.” He replied.

  “Really?” Kitty asked.

  “The roster has changed over the years. We’ve lost some members, gained new ones. Someday you may be the core team of the next generation. For now, you will have to finish school first.” He chuckled.

  Serenity wandered outside to the marble slab out in the middle of the garden. She remembered years ago, on her tour of the school, being told of the X-Men and how this was a memorial to fallen members. It was hard to wrap her brain around the fact that she and her friends just kept Jean Grey’s name from joining the others on the slab of cold rock.

Armando Munoz- Darwin

Sean Cassidy- Banshee

Alex Summers- Havoc

Peter Maximoff- Quicksilver

  She trailed her fingers over the names and the inscription above them.

Once an X-Man, Always an X-Man.

Chapter Text

  Serenity woke up on May 2nd, 2012 to the bars of a remix of The Catalyst filtering through the speakers of her phone. She fumbled for her phone, remembering that was the ringtone she’d assigned to her Grandpa Fury recently.

  “Hello?” she heard muffled noises that sounded like shouting in the distance.

  “Serenity? Listen to me. Something’s happened here. Natasha is being pulled off assignment, I’m sure she’ll call shortly. Your father’s been compromised.” The words sent Serenity’s blood running cold.

  “What do you mean?” she asked.

  “An alien came through a wormhole and used a magic scepter to control his mind. I’m putting a team together to handle it. We’re working on getting him back. If he contacts you do not answer and do not listen to anything he says. Understand?” his voice was grave, more serious than she’d ever heard him in her life. This wasn’t her grandpa who baby talked Goose when he thought no one was listening or who tucked her in at night when she was little. This was the Director of SHIELD, someone who inspired awe and fear in many.

  “Okay, I understand. What about Mom, and Lila and Cooper?” she asked.

  “Maria is calling them and Agent Morse is being sent to keep an eye on things.” He assured. Serenity nodded despite him not being able to see.

  “Keep in touch, please. And be careful, all of you.” She whispered.

  “We’ll get him back, Serenity, I promise.”

  “I know.” She heard the phone beep as the call ended and took a deep breath, her hands shaking and vision blurring with tears.

  “Rina? What’s wrong?” Crimson asked.

  “Dad’s been captured. They’re mind controlling him. They pulled Mama off the mission. Bobbi’s being sent to the farm.” She whispered. Kitty immediately launched herself at the younger girl, hugging her tightly.

  “It’s going to be okay. Your dad is tough, he’ll be fine.” She assured.

  Serenity spent the next day in a haze, her phone on vibrate and constantly in her pocket. She was fidgety and distracted in her classes, unable to keep still.

  “Serenity, would you tell me what’s wrong?” Miss Moonstar asked after the girl was so distracted in History she could barely even answer a simple question.

  “My dad is in trouble… Another family member called me earlier. They’re trying to save him but they can’t find him and I’m worried.” She admitted. The Native American woman drew the student into a hug.

  “I’m sure all will be fine. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off of classes? I’ll talk to your other teachers.” She assured. Serenity nodded.

  She took to wandering the halls pacing, constantly checking her phone for a call or text message from anyone. She didn’t even bother walking to the lunch hall to eat; her stomach was rolling with worry, and she felt she would throw up if she ate anything.

  “You’re gonna wear a hole in the floor, kid.” She twitched at Logan’s voice.

  “Fight me.” She groused, glancing down at the screen of her phone for what felt like the millionth time.

  “Come on. Eat the sandwich, then we’re gonna burn some of that energy out of you.” He held out a plate, and she realized that resting on it was a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and a small pile of pretzel sticks. Both foods known to be her favorites, especially in times of stress, and both things that weren’t on the menu for today. Someone must have made them specifically for her.

  “Shadowcat said you were more likely to eat this.” He explained her unanswered question.

  “I’m not hungry.”

  “I wasn’t asking. Eat the damn food, kid.” He set the plate down on the coffee table and Serenity hesitated a moment before sitting on the couch and picking up the sandwich. She could barely taste it; her whole mouth was dry and even the freshly sliced tomato seemed bland.

  “Come on, kid.” Logan made her leave the plate and dragged her off to the training room.

  “Not danger room sims.” She groaned.

  “No. Spar with me, kid. No holding back.” He growled, spitting out the remains of his cigar.

  “I’m not gonna hurt you, Professor. I’m pissed but not at you.” She moved into a fighting stance, sliding one leg out behind her and angling her foot slightly. Wolverine moved faster than she could blink, and only instinct allowed her to dodge.

  Sweaty and panting, Serenity returned to her room hours later with a number of bruises and a few new moves under her belt.

  “Professor Logan beat the worry out of you?” Jubilee asked.

  “No, but I’m tired now.” She mumbled.

  Serenity was too sore to really spar the next day, so spent it scouring the news for any sign of SHIELD’s activities. The only relevant thing she could find thus far was the activation of Tony Stark’s new tower the day before.

  “Hey, did you hear about some sort of attack in Germany? Some guy claiming to be a god, Iron Man and a guy dressed like Captain America arrested him.” She called across the room to Bobby. He walked over, reading over her shoulder as a video played.

  “Do you think that has something to do with the stuff involving your dad?” he asked.

  “Grandpa Fury mentioned putting a team together to handle the issue.” She replied. Her phone ringing startled her, the notes of Everybody Talks making her jump, nearly dropping the device in her haste to answer.

  “Mama?” she asked.

  “We have him back, Solnyshko. He’s going to be okay, don’t worry.” Natasha sounded strained and tired, but Serenity beamed with relief.

  “Thank goodness. The person who did this… SHIELD is gonna get him right?” Serenity asked.

  “Of course. Don’t worry, Clint and I will be home shortly and you’re nearly done with the year. Soon we’ll all be home safe and sound.” She assured.

  “Okay. Tell Dad I love him.” She whispered.

  “I will. Rest, Solnyshko, you sound tired and I imagine you’ve been worried. I’ll call you soon.”

  “Okay. Love you. Be safe.”

  “Always.” Natasha hung up the phone and Serenity lowered hers, a smile on her face.

  “He’s okay, Dad’s okay.” She whispered, tears in her eyes. Bobby put a hand on her shoulder while she wept with relief.

  That night she slept like a baby and the next day she returned to classes as normal, relying on the other students to catch her up.

  She was in a class with Jubilee as her student mentor working on her powers when Crimson slammed the door open, face even paler than usual.

  “Crim, what’s wrong?” Jubilee asked.

  “Rina we have to get to Manhattan now. Your parents are there and something big is about to happen.” She ordered.

  “How will we get there?” Serena asked. Neither she nor her best friend even had their permits yet.

  “I can drive.” Jubilee volunteered.

  “You aren’t going anywhere without a teacher. Come on. Jubilee stay behind and tell Chuck where we’ve gone.” Logan ordered from the doorway.

  "You'll take us?" Crimson asked.

  "You'll find a way to go regardless. Come on." he started walking towards the garage. Serenity took off without another word, grabbing Crimson by the hand.

  Despite living in Upstate New York off and on for the past four years, Serenity had never been to the Big Apple. She never expected her first visit to be after an alien attack.

  An hour into the impromptu six-hour road trip, Crimson told Serena to flip on the news station. They spent the rest of the trip in tense silence, listening about how there were aliens raining down death and destruction via a wormhole above the new Stark Tower.

  “Reports are that a number of enhanced individuals are on the scene including Iron Man. Emergency crews and the military are working to contain the invasion.” The reporter’s voice filtered through the speakers of the car. Serenity was white-faced. Her parents were in that, she knew. Crimson had seen them. She thought of her father with his bow and her mother’s shock of red hair surrounded by aliens, all deadly and dangerous and nothing like some of the silly cartoons she watched as a kid.

  Her stomach rolled.

Invasion was the word they’d used. It seemed so surreal. Alien invasions were things that only happened in movies and comic books, not in real life. Not a mere six hours from where she slept. Not so close that it directly affected her family.

  The battle itself lasted no more than an hour. They continued to listen to any news they could as word of volunteers searching for survivors and estimated death tolls filtered past their ears. Serenity chewed her fingernails down until the quick bled on her left hand. What if her parents were two of the mentioned dead? She wasn’t sure she could handle losing either Clint or Natasha; her family was her whole world.

  Cleanup efforts were well underway by the time Logan crossed the bridge onto the island. They drove as close as they could and walked the rest of the way, Serenity clutching her best friend’s hand in a death grip.

  As the trio approached the police tape Serenity saw a familiar head of red hair and broke away, ducking under the yellow tape.

  “Hey, kid!” a policeman tried to grab her but she dodged, slipping over rubble in order to grab the redhead she’d seen and the blond man next to him.

  “Dad, Mama!” she cried, flinging an arm around each of them. They smelled like dust and blood and rubble. Natasha had a freshly bandaged gash on her head and cuts littered Clint’s skin.

  “Rina? What are you doing here?” Clint asked, but wound his arms around his daughter all the same. She buried her face in his chest, inhaling deeply as a knot deep inside her relaxed. She knew the smell of coffee was gone from the battle and days prior, but she still imagined she could smell it. She didn’t reply, just clung to him as tight as she could.

  “I had a vision. Not soon enough to stop anything, but enough to know I needed to bring Serena here. She doesn’t know, though. About him.” Crimson’s voice was heavy with sadness and regret and Serenity pulled away from her father.

  “About who?” she asked. Her parents glanced at each other, then at the reporters milling around, a few snapping pictures.

  “Let’s go inside first.” Natasha insisted. There was a small group of people milling about in the lobby. A large blonde man with long hair and a greasy-looking guy in a muzzle and handcuffs. Another blond with short hair and a Captain America suit to rival some of the better movies Serenity had seen, and a shield too. A man with fluffy brown hair and glasses who looked exhausted and frankly uncomfortable. The only one of the four she recognized was Tony Stark.

  “I thought we said civilians were to be sent with emergency crews. I’m not running a daycare.” He quipped.

  “Oh, so he’s an asshole in real life too, not just on TV.” Serenity felt her brain to mouth filter fail as Crimson snorted next to her. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud but riding high on relief that her parents were safe was enough to make her speak without thinking. Natasha smiled softly, kissing her on the side of the head in praise at the snarky comment while her dad chuckled.

  “This is our daughter, Stark, along with her best friend and one of her teachers.” Natasha replied.

  “So, what did you need to tell me?” Serenity asked. Natasha guided her to sit down in one of the chairs in the lobby. Her father settled into the one next to her, and Natasha kneeled in front of her, holding her hands.

  “Serenity… It’s about Phil.” She began.

  “What happened? Is he okay?” she asked, nearly standing up from her seat. Her father’s arm around her shoulders forced her to remain as Natasha shook her head, taking the girl’s hands in her own.

  “He was stabbed trying to stop Loki from escaping. He didn’t make it.” Serenity’s world tilted sideways.

  “No, no you’re lying.” She shook her head. Clint just hugged her tight to his side.

  “He’s not dead! You’re lying!” she shouted, yanking away from their hold, standing up. She looked at Crimson, who had that sad, knowing look, and simply shook her head. The floor seemed to move upwards very fast.

  Serenity laid eyes on Loki and her whole world turned red.

He was stabbed trying to stop Loki.

  Serenity formed the hottest ball of light she could manage and chucked it at Loki’s head. Her father’s arms stopped her from throwing another as the black-haired man across the lobby ducked. The ball hit the wall and set the sheetrock on fire. Serenity knew she was screaming, unintelligible sounds that erupted from deep in her gut. After a few minutes of struggle, the fight left her and she felt her knees go weak, sobbing into her father’s chest.

Uncle Phil is dead.

Chapter Text

  Serenity had always thought it was stupid when it rained at funerals on TV or in movies. It was strangely fitting, somehow, that the sky was overcast and it was drizzling on the day they buried her godfather. She was wearing a black dress from the short period of time that Xavier’s School had a choir before the teacher had left to raise his family in a place that didn’t get blown up every few years. She held her favorite umbrella, one printed in the shape of Captain America’s shield. A gift from the man they were burying.

  There had been hundreds of people at the funeral service offering condolences to her family. The rest of the Avengers were there too, to offer their sympathies. Tony Stark had apparently even paid for the whole affair as Phil had no living blood relatives. Even Pepper Potts, apparently a close friend of Phil’s, had been there. She'd looked so put together even if she'd been crying. Laura, Lila, and Cooper were keeping their distance during that part; Laura’s status as Clint’s wife was the best-kept secret their family had. It was in public record that Clint Barton had adopted his niece, and her highly classified status on the Index kept most files with her name strictly redacted to only those with the highest clearance levels. She wasn’t worried about people knowing she was the child of two of the best agents SHIELD had ever produced. They could protect her, and she could protect herself.

  The burial itself was a much smaller affair. Only the inner circle, their family and a few close friends who knew all their secrets, were there.

  The only stranger at the burial was Audrey Nathan, Phil’s girlfriend. She was pretty, with long light brown hair even if she’d cried all her makeup off. Serenity walked over and squeezed her hand.

  “You must be Serena. Phil talked about you often.” She whispered, squeezing the teen's hand in response.

  “He talked about you too… I didn’t want to meet you like this.” She replied, just as soft. Her voice was hoarse from the screaming she’d done when her parents told her of the news of her godfather’s death. They watched with solemn eyes as the funeral director lowered the polished casket into the ground. Serenity sniffed, and Audrey wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

  They all milled about for a few minutes after the burial ended. Serenity could see Laura, Cooper on her hip, talking softly to Audrey.

  “If you need anything, just call us all right? Phil loved you, Audrey, that makes you family. Anytime, for anything, we’re just a phone call away.” Laura whispered to the distraught woman.

  Serenity looked around, finding her godmother off to the side. May’s expression was stoic, but then again Serenity hadn’t seen her as anything but stoic and stone-faced for the past four years.

  “Aunt May?” she walked over to her godmother, who was still standing next to the grave. May didn’t indicate she noticed the girl next to her, Serenity shifting so her umbrella covered the older woman.

  “Aunt May, please… Just talk to me. I know you’re upset but so are the rest of us. Whatever I did wrong please just tell me.” She pleaded softly. May only looked at her, expression just as unreadable as before, before turning on her heel and walking away, back through the sprinkling of rain and wet grass up to the parking lot of the graveyard.

  The final spark of hope in Serenity’s chest shattered and crumbled into ash as fresh tears rolled down her face.

  “You okay, Rockstar?” Bobbi asked, squeezing her shoulder. Serenity shook her head.

  “I just lost both of my godparents.” She whispered. Bobbi gripped her shoulders and pulled her into a tight hug, squeezing the sobbing girl to her chest and whispering softly that things would be okay.

  The Barton household spent the next few months shrouded in grief. Clint struggled with guilt over what he perceived as his role in Phil Coulson’s death. The nightmares were so bad recently he’d taken to sleeping in the guest room so Laura and Natasha could sleep peacefully.

  Serenity woke up to Cooper shaking her shoulder and yawned.

  “What’s wrong, kiddo?” she asked softly.

  “Daddy was shouting. Mama told me to go back to bed, but I can’t sleep.” He whispered.

  “Come here then.” She tugged her four-year-old little brother into bed with her, tucked the covers around him. He snuggled up against her chest.

  “I miss Uncle Phil.” He mumbled, his thumb making his way into his mouth. He rarely sucked on it anymore unless he was extremely upset. She squeezed him tighter; tonight she didn't have the heart to tell him to stop when it brought any measure of comfort.

  “I do too, buddy.” She assured softly. She reached up and plucked Birdie off the shelf above her nightstand, tucking it between herself and her baby brother.

  “Here, why don’t you hold Birdie? He’ll protect you from everything bad, just like he did me.” She whispered, carding her fingers through her little brother's spikey short hair.

  “Did he really?” he asked, taking the worn-out soft toy in little hands and squeezing it close.

  “Yeah, Birdie really did. Dad gave him to me when I was itty bitty, and Birdie took care of me before Dad adopted me.” She whispered.

  “Daddy’s gonna be okay right?”

  “Of course, Dad’s gonna be okay. He's the strongest person I know. We’re all gonna be okay. I pinky promise. And you know you can never, ever break a pinky promise. That even holds up in court.”

Chapter Text

  “No. Absolutely not. You are not going to do this.”

  Serenity Barton was standing at one end of the kitchen, her father at the other, both with arms crossed and glares on their faces. Serenity set her jaw.

  “I’ll be fifteen in six months. They won’t even let me run official missions outside an emergency until I’m sixteen, I’ll just be training.” She insisted.

  “No, you are not joining the X-Men as a teenager.” Her father insisted.

  “I’ve already run missions, Dad! Or did you forget that we saved Professor Grey?” she demanded. He ran his fingers through his hair.

  “I’m proud of you for that but that’s the exact reason I’m saying no! It’s too dangerous! You or one of your friends could have died!”

  “We didn’t though. I want to help! You were doing shit like that and worse at fifteen and sixteen! I’m at least going to have backup!” Serenity slammed her hand against the counter, trying to release some of her frustration.

  “So I know better than anyone exactly why you’re not going to do this! You’re a teenager, not an adult. That’s the final word, Serenity. I’m not changing my mind. It’s too risky.” He was trying to end the conversation, Serenity knew, but her chest tightened. Tears of frustration blurred her vision.

  Serenity felt like she had been training for this her whole life; from the time she was five years old she’d wanted to be just like her father, be a hero. Beginning with self-defense lessons and continuing with ballet with Natasha, training at the school, target practice with her dad as he taught her to use his favored weapon, she’d learned every skill anyone and their brother could teach her. Natasha had even, as a fourteenth birthday present, taught the teenager her favorite move. If she could just get him to understand. In the wake of her godfather’s death, she was desperate to do something, to do anything.

  “I’m not a little kid anymore! I have these powers; I should use them to help people!” she shouted.

  “You have your whole life to be a hero when you’re eighteen and I can’t stop you. You’re fourteen, Serenity, you’re still a minor. My answer is no and if I find out you’re going behind my back I can and will pull you out of Xavier’s.” He threatened. Serenity froze.

  “You wouldn’t.”

  “I would. Don’t force my hand, Rina. I’m trying to do what’s best for you.” He insisted.

  “And this is what’s best for me? Pulling me out of school and away from my friends to do what, lock me up on the farm? Prevent me from ever making a difference?” she demanded.

  “I’m not saying you’ll never be able to make a difference. I’m sure as soon as you graduate you’ll enroll in the SHIELD Academy. But for right now you need to be a kid.” He pinched the bridge of his nose.

  “I just want to be like you! I want to help! Why don’t you get it?” she shouted. She turned on her heel and stormed out the back door, slamming the door loud enough to rattle the frame. She stalked across the yard to the tree that held Cooper’s tire swing. She wedged her foot into one of the lower branches, hoisting herself up onto the thick branch that held the swing. She’d been climbing this tree since she was a young girl and had never fallen, had often scaled its branches to think or sulk or hide.

  “You know he means well, Solnyshko.” She heard Natasha at the base of the tree and sniffed, wiping away frustrated tears.

  “Come to tell me I’m some stupid kid too?” she groused. Her Mama gave a heavy sigh and climbed up to sit next to her eldest daughter.

  “You aren’t stupid, Serenity.” She insisted.

  “Why won’t he listen?” Serenity looked at the redhead as if she held all the answers. Natasha sighed heavily.

  “He wants to protect you, Rina. We all do. Clint and I, we had our childhoods stolen from us. We don’t want that for you.” The spy explained.

  “But this is my choice, Mama. I want to help. Like you and Dad… Like Uncle Phil did. I can’t just sit around and do nothing anymore. Uncle Phil died… I keep thinking that maybe I could have helped.” She admitted. Natasha pulled her into a tight hug, resting her chin on top of the teenager’s head.

  “Serenity there’s nothing anyone could have done. Phil made his choice; he knew the risks of his job. He died a hero. But unnecessarily putting yourself at risk won’t bring him back. He wouldn’t want that for you.” Serenity could feel her Mama’s vocal cords vibrating in her throat as much as she could hear the words, snuggled closer with tears in her eyes.

  “I wouldn’t even join… I’d just be training.” She mumbled. Natasha sighed.

  “I’ve known from the day we met that someday you’d want to get out there in the field. If you’d let me I’d wrap you up in bubble wrap and hide you away here forever.” She whispered.

  “I’m not Rapunzel.” Serenity groused. Natasha chuckled.

  “I know. You’re growing up. We just worry about you, Solnyshko. You’re our little girl. I’ll talk to Clint,” When Serenity jerked up, Natasha continued sternly “I’m not making any promises. But I’ll bring Laura in and see if we can come up with a compromise.” She ruffled the teen’s hair.

  “Hey, Mama? I have another question.” Serenity hesitated, but Natasha didn’t speak. Sometimes it took a moment for Serenity to find the right words, to order her thoughts into a coherent sentence. Natasha never pushed her to speak before she was ready.

  “I… I was taking a World Religions class last year. With the whole New York thing and Uncle Phil, I never got the chance to ask but… Dad is Agnostic, and Mom is Christian. What are you?” Serenity asked. Natasha smiled gently.

  “I’m still figuring that out myself, sweetheart. Up until I was shot, I was an atheist. Religion wasn’t exactly encouraged growing up. Why do you ask?” Natasha asked.

  “I… I dunno. Just wondering.” Serenity shrugged.

  “You know, I’ve been looking a lot into Old World religions. Paganism, Wicca, that sort of thing. If you want to do some research with me, you’re welcome to.” Natasha smiled, and Serenity grinned.

  “I’d like that.”

  Later that afternoon, Laura picked up Serenity and took her out into the town to get their nails done and eat dinner together. Serenity’s parents all tried to spend one-on-one time with each of their kids, and often these sorts of girls’ night out were the only time Serenity ever got to spend alone with her mom.

  “Natasha mentioned talking to your dad about these plans to join the X-men.” Laura mentioned at dinner. They were at their favorite little Italian café, full of greasy homemade garlic bread and sauce made from fresh tomatoes.

  “Yeah. You don’t want me to, do you?” Serena asked.

  “No, I don’t. But you’re fourteen, you’re growing up. I wouldn’t want you out in the field until you were at least sixteen, preferably eighteen, but I wouldn’t be opposed to you having some extra training.” Laura twirled some pasta around her fork, sighing.

  “At the earliest, I wouldn’t be going out until I was sixteen. I… I think I can wait to run missions outside of emergencies until I turn eighteen. But if there’s an emergency I want to help.” She insisted. Laura smiled, but there was a sadness to it.

  “I’d expect nothing less, sweetheart.” She said softly.

  “Mom, you know I’ll be careful, right? I’d never go in alone and I’d always come home safe. Like Dad used to tell Mama, he fights harder cause he has something to come home to.” Serenity stood and moved around the table to hug her mother.

  “I know. I just worry. I’ll worry about you the same way I worry about Clint and Nat. I love you, sweetheart. You’re my baby, and you’re growing up.” Laura squeezed her as if she’d vanish.

  “I know. If I join, I won’t run missions unless it’s an emergency and I’ll always be careful. I pinky promise.”

  The next morning over breakfast, she made that same promise to her dad.

  “Okay. Once you’re fifteen you can start to train. But not even emergencies until you’re sixteen, and you don’t join the roster until you’re a legal adult. Fair?” he asked. Serenity grinned, sitting half in his lap as she hugged him.

  “Fair. I’m sorry I shouted.” She apologized.

  “It’s okay, Serenity. You were upset, I was upset, it happens. We worked through it.” He assured.

  “I do want us all to go to therapy for the next few months… I think we all need a little bit of help dealing with losing Phil.” Laura insisted.

  “I can agree with that.” Natasha sighed.

  “Ew, feelings.” Clint wrinkled his nose, laughing when Serenity lightly hit him on the back of the head.

  “Okay, okay. I love you, kid. I’m proud of you.”

  “I love you too, Dad.”

Chapter Text

  “Again, again!” Cooper bounced on his toes, clapping his hands together in excitement. Serena laughed, continuing to bounce the knee ten-month-old Lila was sitting on, her left hand wrapped around her little sister’s tummy to keep her from falling. She was using her free hand to make tiny fairy lights for her five-year-old brother to catch and her little sister to wave chubby little fists at. The trio of kids were in the living room of the Barton farmhouse. An aging Lucky took up most of the recliner, head resting on his paws and watching the kids with his good eye. The golden mutt was starting to get gray fur around his muzzle. Serenity volunteered to stay home and watch after her little siblings so her parents could go on a date night; they so rarely had the opportunity to all go out together, and she was old enough to keep an eye on Lila and Cooper for a few hours.

  “Bah!” Lila squealed, grabbing one of the lights in her hand. Serenity made the lights wink out and vanish when the baby tried to shove the light into her mouth. Cooper let out a whine of protest that his new playthings disappeared.

  “We can’t eat lights, silly goose.” She playfully scolded her sister, who continued to babble at her. Lila squirmed for her sister to put her down, and the baby pulled herself to her feet, holding onto the coffee table to do so.

  “Good job, Lila!” Serena praised her.

  “Sissy again!” Cooper insisted, stamping one foot on the floor. His sneaker lit up with bright blinking red and blue lights.

  “Ask nicely,” Serenity gently scolded. He plastered an innocent, pleading puppy dog look onto his face.

  “Pwease?” he asked. He hadn’t quite yet grown into correctly pronouncing ‘l’s and ‘r’s. Serenity couldn’t help but smile at how cute he was and obliged with more tiny, firefly-like lights to wink and float around him. Serenity heard a thud and a wail; Lila had lost her balance and knocked her chin against the coffee table on her way down. Lucky stood and leaped from the chair he was in, slipping and falling with a yelp on the hardwood.

  “Oh!” she scooped up her little sister, cradling her close. Lila settled down after a couple of minutes while Cooper fussed over Lucky.

  “Is he hurt?” Cooper asked.

  “I dunno, bud. Sit down, I need you to hold Lila for just a minute while I check on him.” Once Cooper sat on the floor Serenity settled the baby into her brother’s lap, and he snuggled her close.

  “You okay, Lucky? Easy, boy.” The dog was visibly confused and whimpered when Serenity pet his head. She checked him over, scratching behind his ears and stroking his head to soothe him. He limped a little when he stood, and Serenity helped hoist him back into the recliner so he could settle back down. She turned back to her younger siblings.

  “Let me see your chin, baby.” Serena crooned to her little sister.

  “It’s not hurt anymore, sissy,” Cooper reported.


  “I kissed it better,” He explained. When Serenity checked the baby’s chin, the red scrape was gone. Her heart skipped a beat.

  “Cooper, did you do this?” Serena asked.

  “Mhmm! I kissed it better!” he declared proudly. Serenity’s breath caught. Surely her little brother hadn’t manifested so early, right? He was only five years old; he was too little to face the sort of trials Serenity had spent the past few years dealing with. And what about Lucky's strange reaction? He'd reacted as soon as Lila hit her chin; could she have had something to do with it?

  “It’s bedtime for the two of you, come on.” She forced her voice to stay steady. As soon as Lila settled down in her crib and she’d tucked Cooper under his covers, Serenity sat on the couch and called her parents.

  “Serenity, what’s wrong?” Her dad asked.

  “Uh… I think Cooper manifested? Maybe Lila too but I’m not sure. She fell and bumped her head and Lucky started acting really weird, and Cooper somehow healed her. I don’t think you need to come home, everything is under control I just…” She trailed off, pulling a shaking breath into lungs that felt like something was wrapped too tight around her chest.

  “Serenity, breathe. It’s okay, we’ll be home soon. We just finished dinner anyways.” He soothed.

  “Okay. I’m sorry.”

  “Don’t apologize, you can’t control everything. We’ll be home soon. How’s Lucky?” Clint asked.

  “Disoriented, I think he hurt his leg jumping the way he did. Or at least his arthritis is acting up.” She reported.

  When her parents walked through the door Laura pulled the eldest Barton child into a tight hug. She rubbed her older daughter’s back soothingly.

  “You did everything okay, sweetheart.” She assured.

  “Tell us what happened.” Her father insisted. Serenity went through the story, from her using her abilities to entertain her siblings to Lucky’s strange behavior to Cooper somehow seemingly healing Lila’s scrape.

  “We’ll call the Professor in the morning, see if he can confirm if their powers manifested. It’s okay, Serenity, don’t stress.”

  The next morning, after confirmation from the Professor using Cerebro that there were indeed two new mutants within the Barton house, her phone rang with a video chat from Crimson, back at the school. She grinned, standing up while she answered.

  “Hey, what’s up?” she greeted her friend. Her smile fell and she froze when she noticed the redhead’s pale expression.

  “Crimson, what’s going on? What happened?” she asked.

  “Have you been watching the news?” the clairvoyant asked. Her voice was shaking. Serenity could faintly hear shouting in the background.

  “No, I haven’t. Why? What happened?” she asked.

  “Trask Industries is restarting the Sentinel program. They’re saying that it’ll only be used in case of threats like the Battle of New York but none of us here really believe that.” Crimson explained. Serenity’s blood ran cold, and she sank back onto her bed, her knees suddenly weak.

  “No. What are we gonna do, Crim? Cooper and Lila just manifested last night. They’re so little, they can’t protect themselves.” She whispered.

  “I don’t know. We’re all scared.” She admitted.

  “I'll-I’ll talk to Grandpa Fury… Maybe there’s something SHIELD can do to help.” Serenity assured.

  “Okay. Just… Be safe, please?” Crimson asked.

  “Always. If anything happens let me know, please. Keep me posted on anything you hear, and I’ll do the same. SHIELD has our backs; you guys know that.” She replied. Crimson nodded.

  “I know. I’ll call you later. Things are a bit of a mess right now.” She admitted.

  “Tell Kitty and Jubes I miss them and it’ll be okay. So long as we all stick together we’ll be okay.” She insisted.

  “I will. Love you, bye.”

  “Love you too, Crim. Call me if you need anything.” Serenity hit the end call button, her best friend’s concerned expression shrinking to reveal the background of her phone. A picture of her with her roommates. She dialed one of her emergency numbers, lifting the phone to her ear.

  “This is Hill.”

  “Hey, Aunt Maria. We have a problem.” There was silence on the other end of the phone, Serenity presumed her aunt was walking to a more secure location for the conversation.

  “You heard about the Sentinels?” her aunt asked, still businesslike as always.

  “Yes. What’s the game plan?”

  “We have a few agents stationed to keep an eye on things. If anything pertaining to the school comes up we’ll be alerting Xavier. I know you, Firefly. Try not to worry so much.” She assured.

  “I just needed to be sure. Thanks, Aunt Maria.” She sighed in relief.

  “You’re welcome. Go have fun, enjoy the rest of your summer. Try not to worry about Trask. We’re going to keep you and your friends safe.”

Chapter Text

  As promised earlier in the summer, Serenity refrained from joining in training with the X-Men until November. Once her birthday rolled around, she threw herself into the Danger Room simulations with the same determination she’d always pulled out when learning.

  “Nice one, Rina!” Kitty called from across the room as Serenity threw a ball of light into the face of one of the simulated enemies. It shattered on impact to let her know she'd used sufficient force to knock an enemy out of the picture.

  “Thanks. Whoa!” she was forced to drop down onto her stomach as a laser flew over her head and hit an enemy just behind her.

  “Focus, Serenity!” Scott scolded, lowering his hand from his visor.

  “Right, right. Sorry.” She scrambled to her feet.

  When the simulation ended, Serenity doubled over to put her hands on her knees. Her chest heaved as she caught her breath, though a grin still split her cheeks.

  “You okay, kid?” Logan asked as he passed her a bottle of water.

  “Yeah, just need to get my stamina up. Damn, that was intense.” She gulped down the water.

  “You get used to it.” He assured. Serenity noticed Crimson off to the side, practicing a few of the moves that other members had taught her with a training knife.

  “Here, hold it like this. It helps.” Serenity walked over and shifted her friend’s grip on the knife.

  “Seriously, you can fight with a knife too?” Crimson teased.

  “I can fight with just about anything. Spies and assassins raised me, remember? I can teach you some of what I know. It’ll help you on missions to know how to fight hand-to-hand since your powers aren’t all that offensive.” Serena offered. Crimson grinned.

  “You’re on.” She challenged.

  By the winter holidays, Crimson’s knife skills had drastically improved, and Kitty and Jubilee had even joined in on the youngest of the quartet’s training. Serenity no longer felt like her legs would turn to jelly after each training session. She noticed herself growing even stronger; her training regime was much more intense than when she was younger, and the changes in her body were showing it. When Laura caught her examining herself in the mirror over break, she asked about it.

  “I look different. Some of my clothes don’t fit right anymore.” Serenity explained. Her pants felt much tighter around her thighs and hips than they did over the summer, and her favorite hoodie had torn in between her shoulder blades the last time she tried to shoot a bow.

  “You’re becoming much stronger, sweetheart. How about we make a girl’s day out of it? Me, you, and Nat going shopping?” she asked. Serenity gave a small smile.

  “I’d like that.”

  Serena spent the days leading up to Christmas watching the news with her worried parents, her Mama trying to track down Tony Stark using every trick at her disposal while the billionaire fought the Mandarin. Clint explained that one of Natasha's missions not long before the Battle of New York was to infiltrate Stark Industries and evaluate him for the Avengers Initiative and that in the process she’d grown a soft spot for the billionaire. When Iron Man returned alive, Serenity watched the tension drain from her Mama’s shoulders and she walked over to give the spy a hug. Serenity caught her Mama making out a Christmas card and sending it off in the mail. A week later they received a reply from Tony, a gaudy Christmas postcard of him decked out in tinsel standing in front of a giant stuffed rabbit and a number of stockings. The postcard made its way to the refrigerator with the rest of the Christmas cards the family received through the holiday season.

  Once she returned to the school, armed with a new wardrobe and an elegant knife along with an ankle holster, training and classes continued. Serenity grinned when she pinned Kurt for the first time during a spar, before squeaking as he teleported, and they fell from the ceiling. He teleported again just before they hit the ground, and Serenity spent the next fifteen minutes chasing the blue German around the Danger Room while the rest of the team laughed.

  “Do you have a code name picked out?” Nightcrawler asked the teen.

  “Firefly.” She grinned.

  “Seriously, you’re using your dad’s nickname for you?” Kitty teased lightly.

  “It fits, doesn’t it?” Serenity shot back.

  “I think it works.” Crimson agreed. They’d decided on Delphia for the Seer’s code name. Using a name that meant ‘she who sees the future’ was almost a little on-the-nose, but Crimson thought it worked well, and it was better than Kitty’s idea of Fortuna.

  “Wake up!” Serenity jolted awake to Crimson shouting as she fell off the bed. Moonlight filtered through the curtains, and Serenity could make out her best friend clutching her head in pain.

  “Crim? Crim, what did you see?” Serena scrambled out from under her blankets, dropping to her knees next to her friend. She kept her voice low, knowing after a vision that the redhead would be sensitive to light and sound for a while.

  “Sentinels. Hostile. They’re coming I don’t know when but they’re coming.” She gasped. Serena rummaged through her friend’s nightstand, finding the bottle of migraine medicine and pressing it into Crimson’s hands before she pulled the curtain aside, looking outside.

  Faintly, in the distance, she saw lights that weren’t normally there.

  “They’re coming now. Jubilee, Kitty, wake up! Sentinel attack!” she felt a small pang of guilt when Crimson flinched at her shout, but now was not the time.

  “Jubes, take Crimson to the Danger Room, grab as many as you can. Kitty, sound the alarm!” Serenity grabbed her knife and strapped it to her ankle and tucked her cell phone into the waistband of her pajamas before running down the hall, pounding on doors as she passed them. The alarm started to blare just a few moments later, Kitty running to one of the teacher’s offices and pushing the alarm.

  “What’s going on?” Rogue asked, opening her door with wide eyes.

  “Sentinels! Get everyone to the Danger Room!” Serenity shouted. The power blinked out and Serenity formed a ball of light in her hand, directing it towards Rogue.

  “Take this. Go.” Rogue gripped the ball of light in her hand and ran.

  Serenity opened the door to one of the rooms that housed a couple of the youngest students, found the two girls huddled in the corner.

  “Samantha? Anna? Come on, we have to go.” She called. The two seven-year-olds slowly moved over to the older student.

  “It’s dark, I’m scared.” Samantha insisted.

  “I know, but we’re going to be okay. We’re gonna go to the Danger Room and we’ll be safe.” She insisted.

  The entirety of the staff and students waited in the Danger Room. A handful of red lights illuminated the walls, and Serenity opened her hands to send a few of her own towards the ceiling to further light the room. Serenity sat in the corner with her arm wrapped around Crimson as her friend held her head in her hands. She swallowed, opening her phone and pulling up the group chat for her family.

School under attack by Sentinels. Hiding in the Danger Room. If things go badly remember I love you.

  She pressed send on the text, watching small dots appear while members of the family were texting back. The only message she received was from Laura’s phone.

We love you, baby. Be safe. Dad is on his way.

  Tears stung her eyes and she inhaled, her breath shaking as she struggled to steel herself. She had to be brave, for her friends and family here at the school. She blinked away the water clouding her vision and locked her phone, pushing it back into her waistband.

  Serenity flinched when she heard some of the slamming of the Sentinels moving around upstairs. It sounded like they were wreaking havoc on the school, throwing things around while searching for the mutants inside. Thuds and crashes and creaking filtered through the walls. Serenity stood up as the sound grew louder and closer, moving with the teachers and a few of the other older students to stand in front of the youngest. Her hands trembled but she kept her shoulders straight and eyes forward, jaw clenched with determination. If they made it through, she would do her best to keep them at bay; like her Uncle Phil, she would go down fighting.

  The Sentinels never made it through the Danger Room entrance, though the pounding and trembling of the door proved that they tried. After a few tense hours, Serenity’s phone began to ring. A few of the student body jumped at the sudden noise.

  “Hi, Dad.” She greeted.

  “The coast is clear, sweetheart. You can all come out now.” He assured. She allowed the tension to finally bleed from her shoulders as she lowered the phone from her ear, calling out to the rest of the people in the room.

  “Coast is clear! SHIELD is outside waiting for us!”

  “Aren’t they dangerous?” one of the smaller students asked. Serenity smiled.

  “Not to us. These agents are my family.” She explained, leading the way from the Danger Room. Her stomach dropped as she realized just how close the situation had been; the Sentinels had trashed the school. Doors lay on the floor in splinters and holes littered the sheetrock. Furniture scattered the rooms and halls in pieces, and every single bedroom had been torn apart.

  “What do we do now?” Serenity sat away from the other students, tucked under her dad’s arm. After so many hours tense and ready for a fight, exhaustion was finally setting in and she'd curled into his side to rest.

  “We’re keeping an eye on things. The Avengers are going to give a statement about the attack on the school. Nothing revealing where it may be but that there was an attack on a sanctuary for mutant children. We have a lot of public sway, showing our support will help. I already cleared it with Charles.” He explained. She nodded.

  The other Avengers were milling around the grounds with the students, providing comfort where they could. Some of the younger kids had latched onto Steve, salvaged crayons and paper on books in all their laps as he drew with them. Bruce was off to the side with a few of the professors including Professor McCoy, discussing something quietly. Thor was off entertaining some of the other students, letting them attempt to lift Mjolnir. Natasha was speaking softly to Serenity’s roommates while Kitty rubbed Crimson’s temples. The presence of their heroes had done wonders to put most of the student body at ease, to take their minds off of ruined walls and machines Hell-bent on killing them. Fury had gone into the ruins of Professor X’s office with the headmaster and Jean, the trio deciding what to do and how to proceed.

  “Pepper wanted me to ask if you’d be willing to give a statement. A video interview, completely untraceable courtesy of yours truly. Hearing a firsthand account could pull some of the more reluctant public in the school’s favor. Of course, you and your dad have to agree.” Tony Stark approached, more subdued than Serenity had ever seen him on TV.

  “I don’t mind. Plenty of people know I exist already, and I know I’m safe here.” She agreed.

  “I’ll have to think about it, but I’m not saying no. I want to talk it over with Nat.” Clint insisted. Serena knew he'd also want to bring Laura and Fury in on the discussion as well.

  “Just keep me posted. You okay, kid?” Tony asked. Serenity shrugged.

  “We’re all alive and no one got hurt, so it could be a lot worse. Stuff can be replaced, people can’t,” she replied. Iron Man reached out and put a hand on the fifteen-year old’s shoulder.

  “You’re a brave kid. You ever need something, give me or Pepper a call.” He handed her a business card. A tiny smile curled her lips while she curled her fingers around the card.

  “Thank you.”