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wonder is the beginning

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The knocking wakes him.

Phil is rarely still asleep at--he checks the clock on his nightstand--0803, but he’s still recovering from four broken ribs he got when their car was T-boned just outside of Thane, India. It wasn’t even an attack, just the product of shitty roads and careless drivers.

There’s another knock, and he pulls his gun out from under his pillow and heads towards the door. Clint is standing just inside it, gun in one hand. He wouldn’t open the door here, and it’s only partly for security reasons. He doesn’t think of it as his house, for him to be allowed to open the door.

Phil is working on it.

“It’s a kid,” Clint says, quietly. He moves so he has a clear shot of the front step without being visible. “Teenager, really. Fifteen, maybe, female, white. She doesn’t look armed, but I can’t confirm from here.”

A guest of one of the neighbors, most likely, or someone trying to get him to sign something. It’s the wrong season for political door knocking, and Clint would have said if she was wearing visible political or religious paraphernalia. 

Another knock.

Phil opens the door, just enough that Clint has a shot without making Phil too much of a target. He doesn’t like opening the door without body armor on, but it would be a little conspicuous over his t-shirt and sweats.

“Good morning,” he says pleasantly. No use in scaring this civilian, who is likely wary of speaking to an adult man alone. “How can I help you?”

Phil agrees with Clint’s initial identification, though Phil can’t confirm she isn’t armed, either. Her coat is bulky, over what looks like at least a couple layers. It’s not that cold out, but she’s also carrying a backpack that looks overstuffed. Runaway , his brain says, but newly so. Clean, healthy, well-nourished. 

She blinks at him, then glances over at where Clint is standing. Clint shifts so he’s less visible. “Hi,” she says. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Phil thumbs off the safety on his gun, and next to him Clint breathes, “Coulson.”

“Why are you here?” Phil asks, because he’s not keen on shooting her if she isn’t actually a threat and is instead just a particularly uncanny teenager.

The corner of her mouth quirks up into what’s almost a smile, and it’s familiar, somewhere in the back of his mind, but he doesn’t know why. He wants to ask Clint. Clint has better visual pattern recognition than anyone else Phil has ever met. “Well,” she says, “when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse and aren’t quite careful enough, sixteen years later I show up on your doorstep.”

“Why are you--” here , Phil starts to ask, and then her implication processes, and he stops. Jesus Christ. “I think you have the wrong person.”

“Mr. Coulson, I can promise you that I don’t.” She glances over at Clint again, then says, “It’s certainly not him.”

It registers to him that that’s an odd thing for her to say, but only in the part of his brain that isn’t realizing that someone found him at his home when they were looking for him, when only seven people know that he lives in this address, and it’s associated with his real name on a single piece of paper in Fury’s office. 

“Clint,” he says, “call Jason. Find out if they’ve had any unexpected guests.”

“I’m not leaving you here,” Clint saw, low and angry in the way he always gets when he’s ordered to put someone else at risk. Phil doesn’t want to look away from the girl to see his face, but he’s used to reading Clint from his voice. There are times that that’s the only way they communicate for days on end.

So he makes his voice dryly unconcerned when he says, “Clint.”

Clint goes.

“So,” the girl says brightly, once Clint is gone. “What is he? Half brother? Nephew? The pool boy?”

“Who’s your mother?” Phil asks.

The girl rolls her eyes and shoves her hands in her pockets. It’s a sullen look, and young, the youngest she’s looked since he opened the door. “Alys Morgan. She picked you up in a bar in Lansing.”

He did go home with a woman in a bar in Lansing approximately sixteen years ago, when he was there on a recruitment trip. Back before his scars got to the point where being naked in front of strangers was more trouble than it was worth. He can get himself off just fine without it being a security risk.

There’s no way that woman should have known his name, much less be able to tell her daughter where to find Phil sixteen years later.

The girl huffs out a breath, short and impatient. “Look, staying with her is not an option anymore, and I didn’t have a support structure, so I’m here. Hoping you’ll let me crash in your house for the next few years.” She makes a face. “Which sounds a bit ridiculous now that I say it, but, you know.”

Phil does not, in fact, know, and he is entirely unsuited to take in a teenager who isn’t an assassin. Which isn’t even relevant, because there’s no way this person is his daughter, because there’s no way someone who is his daughter would be able to find him.

Phil feels, for once, like he has no fucking clue what to do.

Clint steps up behind him, touching a hand to the small of his back, and says, “Jason and Buck are on their way. Jay figured if someone is coming, it’s better to face it together.”

More likely, Jason doesn’t like the idea of Phil facing someone alone, because he sees Phil as one of his people, and he’s possessive of his people.

The girl rolls her eyes. “Nobody else is coming. This isn’t some--I’m not--” She scrubs a hand against her face, then shoves her hands in her pockets. She sags. “Look, I literally don’t have anywhere else to go. This was a last-ditch effort, and I get that you don’t know me, and I get that you don’t want another kid, but I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to do, and I guess I’m banking on the kindness of strangers right now. So. Let me in or tell me to fuck off.”

“Are you armed?” Phil asks.

“I have a Swiss army knife in my pocket.”

Phil holds out his hand. “Give it to me.”

That gets a laugh. “I’m not giving up my only means of defending myself before walking into a house with two strange men. I--please.”

“Why don’t you have anywhere else to go?” Phil asks.

“Jesus Christ,” she says. Her eyes look a little wild now, but there’s nothing in her posture that suggests she’s about to become violent. Interesting, knowing that she has a weapon, that she doesn’t seem to have any inclination to use it. “Does it really fucking matter? I can promise you that a paternity test will prove me right.” She shakes her head. “This was a stupid idea. Sorry. I’ll go figure something out.”

“You should let her in,” Clint says quietly behind him. “I think she’s telling the truth.”

Phil does too, but it doesn’t make any goddamn sense. But he’s seen things that make even less sense, so he says, “Come in. We’ll sort it out inside.”

The look she gives him is pure relief, though her shoulders hunch under the weight of her bag as he steps back to let her in. She follows Clint into the kitchen, though she glances behind her at Phil like she doesn’t want to let him out of her sight. She tenses when he closes the door.

“Want some water?” Clint asks, pulling out a glass from the cupboard. “You can fill it up from the sink yourself if you want, make sure I don’t put anything in it.”

“Thanks,” she says, and takes the glass from him and fills it up from the faucet. There are dishes drying on the counter from where Clint made himself breakfast--toast, Phil thinks, and mostly coffee.

Phil and Clint let her sit first, and then Phil sits across from her at their square table and Clint sits to his right, his bad ear towards Phil. It’s a level of trust Phil will never take for granted.

The girl takes her backpack off but holds it on her lap like she doesn’t want to let go of it. She probably has everything she owns in that bag. The glass goes on the table after she downs half of it, but she keeps one hand around it.

“Why do you think I’m your father?” Phil asks.

“Does it matter?” she asks. “I’m Grace, by the way.” She drinks some more water--half of what’s left. She’s trying to stretch it out, in case she doesn’t get more. He’ll need to train her out of that. Clint can probably help with that.

Except he’s certainly not keeping her, because his life is in no way suitable for caring for a teenager who isn’t already a trained assassin. And he has enough for those already.

“This address isn’t listed anywhere,” Phil says, and he keeps his voice mild, non-accusatory. “And it’s certainly not associated with my name.”

“Must make paying your taxes hard.” She takes another drink of water--half of what’s left, which is not much. Phil gets up and fills another glass of water from the faucet, setting it in front of her. “I can’t--it’s not something I can explain.”

“I’m afraid I need to know.”

“I can’t .” Her voice goes high, and she clutches at her backpack, curling around it. “I’m sorry, I can’t--I promise I didn’t do anything wrong or hurt anyone or tell anyone or whatever you’re afraid of.”

She seems truly afraid of telling him how she found him, which, of all things, is odd. And he does need to know how she found him, because if she could, other people can as well--people who are far more dangerous than a scared teenage girl.

But he doesn’t need to know right now.

So he makes his voice as mild as possible and says, “I think, first, we need to do a paternity test, just to be safe. I work somewhere that does rapid genetic testing, so we can have it done there.” It has the advantage of being true, but even if it didn’t, there’s no way he’s giving his DNA to anyone else. He’s fairly certain Batman has it--he can’t help that, alas--but he can largely trust Batman to be discreet with it. A civilian testing lab, not so much.

“Okay,” she says, with the discomfiting certainty of someone who knows how the results will turn out.

Of all of the things she seems uncertain about, her relation to him isn’t one of them.

The door opens, and Phil calls, “We’re in here,” so Jason and Bucky don’t come in shooting.

Thank god Natasha is off in a mandatory training-with-other-people, or this would already be a bloodbath.

Jason still has a gun out when he walks in, though it’s half behind his back so it’s not immediately evident. The girl goes entirely rigid, clutching onto her backpack.

“Aww, jailbait,” Jason drawls. “Are you having a sleepover and didn’t invite me?”

“I will stab you before I let you rape me,” the girl says flatly, and Jason stops, going very still. Bucky is behind him, looking a little more solid than Phil feels at the moment

“Aww, sweetheart,” Jason says.

Next to Phil, Clint says, “Jesus Christ.”

“Nobody here is going to hurt you,” Phil says, before this can escalate into the girl actually pulling her knife. Jason won’t take kindly to that.

The girl rolls her eyes. “Yeah, I’m sitting in a room with four men, and he’s holding a gun.” She stands, pulling her backpack on and shoving her hands in her pockets. Where the knife is, but she doesn’t look like she’s about to pull it out. “Clearly coming here was a mistake. I’ll figure something out that doesn’t involve being cornered in someone’s house.”

“Jason,” Phil says, because he has to get control of this situation, and because they can’t really risk someone who knows his name and address wandering around out there. “Sit down.”

Jason glances at him, then sits down in the fourth chair, stretching his legs out under the table. They bump against Phil’s.

Bucky leans against the counter to watch them.

“Nobody here is going to hurt you,” Phil repeats. “This is Grace. She thinks I’m her father.”

Jason snorts out a laugh at that, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. “What, from your wild youth?”

“He met my mom in a bar,” the girl says. “Not a particularly romantic story, but now there’s me. I’ll do whatever DNA testing you want, but I’m not lying to you.”

“Okay,” Jason says, clapping his hands. “We can do that quick, right?”

He doesn’t offer Stark, who’s in Malibu but could be here within hours. Phil can’t blame him.

--

They go to a SHIELD secondary site, one that looks like an office building and has two floors of SCIFs in the basement. Jason drives one car, Phil the other, and the girl sits in the backseat of Phil’s car clutching what may amount to all of her worldly possessions to her chest.

The agents who are there very deliberately do not look alarmed, but they are trained not to look alarmed, and Phil can see the twitch in the tech’s eye when Phil has him draw blood from both of them and run for familial matches.

The tech needs more training. Phil will see to that.

It takes seven minutes for the machine to spit out results. The tech doesn’t look at them before handing them over, and then he disappears, looking very relieved to do so.

89% probability of a paternal match. Neither have other relatives in SHIELD.

She is his daughter.

He needs her blood run wider, outside of the SHIELD employee database. He needs to know what she is running from.

“Well?” Jason asks, sounding impatient under the feigned boredom.

“Surprise,” Phil says dryly, “it’s a girl.”

Bucky, of all people, laughs.

--

They all go back to Phil’s house, for lack of a better place to go. He doesn’t want to do this at a SHIELD secondary site.

He doesn’t want to do this anywhere.

Jason has told Stark by now, inevitably, which means they don’t have long before he drops in and makes everything messier. Him being in contact with Jason or even Bucky Barnes won’t raise flags with his newly found daughter. Him being in contact with Tony Stark certainly will.

The girl has relaxed a little since the results came back, but she still looks uncomfortably tense, hands shoved in her pockets. She had agreed to leave her knife in the car to go into the SHIELD building, but he’s certain she has it back in there. 

What the fuck is he supposed to do with a random teenage civilian?

“I don’t suppose we can just hire her,” Jason says, in what sounds like almost a joking tone. Phil is, frankly, just glad he didn’t say recruit, which tends to have a slightly more military bent than he really wants to reveal to this girl.

Not that he thinks that Jason is, in fact, joking. He joined Batman as an adolescent, one in an unfortunately long line of adolescents joining Batman. His views on the acceptability of teenagers fighting other people’s wars are skewed, even by Phil’s admittedly uncommon standards.

“I’d rather not work at an office building where everyone carries a gun,” the girl says. Grace says. He really needs to start thinking of her by her name. “I’d take school, if you want me out of the way. Or some textbooks, if you’d rather not go the legal custody route.”

Legal custody. Jesus. Phil needs to get his shit together, but it’s like his brain is skipping beats. He can handle gunfights and paperwork but can’t, apparently, handle his biological daughter showing up.

“Phil’ll take care of you,” Clint says earnestly, with confidence Phil does not feel.

There are so many logistics that need to be handled before Phil can take care of her--legal guardianship, finding the rest of her family, he has no fucking empty bedrooms--that he stands up and starts making food, just to have something to do with his hands. He hasn’t eaten breakfast yet, and likely neither has she, and Clint thinks that the only thing he needs to eat is toast and coffee on days when he doesn’t have missions, and that errs more on the coffee side than the toast side of the equation.

He has eggs in his fridge and half a loaf of sliced bread, and a quick search finds potatoes and onions and peppers as well, which is when his brain registers that he’s not only cooking for people he’s familiar with, and he turns around to ask, “Do you have any food allergies?”

“Do I...what?”

“Do you have any food allergies?”

“Coulson likes to feed people,” Jason says, just on the edge of too snarky. “We keep expecting him to open up a bakery, one of these days.”

“I...no,” Grace says, sounding subdued and confused. Phil is willing to bet the adrenaline is starting to wear off and she’s going to drop soon. Better to get some food in her now, hopefully stave some of that off until they can figure out what they’re going to do with her. “I’m lactose intolerant, but I have pills.”

He’ll make omelets then--no need to include milk the way he would with scrambled eggs. Bucky is starting to look a little antsy--he hasn’t said much since they got back, quiet even for him--so Phil asks, “Bucky, could you peel and chop some potatoes for me? Jason can help if he can manage not to chop off anything important.”

“Fuck you,” Jason says cheerfully, getting to his feet and brushing bodily past Bucky, “I’m fucking fantastic with knives.”

He is, but Phil would rather not draw too much attention to that in front of Grace at the moment. Put her at ease, make her forget just a little that she is in a room with four very dangerous men who are all basically strangers to her. 

“I can help,” Grace offers, though when Phil looks at her, she’s clutching at her backpack like she thinks one of them is going to take it away from her.

He’ll have to watch her for food hoarding.

“No need,” Phil tells her. “We can manage. But thank you.”

She nods jerkily, fingers opening and closing spasmodically around the straps of her backpack. Clint stands up and gets her some more water. 

Next to him, Jason and Bucky are competing to see who can peel potatoes faster. It would look overacted, if Phil didn’t know them, and Grace, at the table, smiles.