Note: Second death of a major BTVS character.

Making Old Ones Angry.

Clint walked into the shared apartment Tuesday after work.  "I smell the horrible chemical mix that reminds me of a few birthdays," he quipped.

"I can't wax," Dawn said, coming out of the bathroom walking very carefully.  "Whatever that thing that tried to grope me yesterday was left some sort of fungus.  Dr. Pigalli said that it's not harmful but no oral sex for a few days.  She cleaned it off and gave me something to put on top but she wants to make sure it's not coming back."

"Sure," he agreed.  That wasn't the weirdest thing ever.  "Just don't grow a tentacle."

"Not happening."  She walked back that way.  "I have to pick up the dress tomorrow.  It's being steamed into not being wrinkly."

"That's fine."  He followed.  "Natasha is running late with the trainee group."  She grinned.  He took a kiss.  "What's this one look like?"

"Cream and gold."

"Huh."  He looked around.  "Let me take a shower."

"Okay.  I'll be over here hissing at the chemical burns."  She winced and tested.  Still not eating the hair.  If this didn't work she'd have to move to wax and she hated waxing.

He smiled, going into the shower.  She came in when he was halfway through to rinse off all the white chemical goop.  He looked back.  "Don't get any on me."

"I like your level of hairiness."  He grinned.  She sighed.  "Damn it, I've gotta wax."

"You and she can do that."

"She's had a recent one."  She got out and patted herself dry then got the hot wax machine out to plug in.  It meant she had to sit on the countertop in there and put on, then cover, then rip off.  He watched, wincing some.  "And you guys like us so hairless," she quipped.

"I do but that's bad.  I've had professionals do that to me."

She looked at him.  "Jonathan said that guys are mansculpting by waxing, including their balls."

"That has to be gay guys.  I don't care if you ladies play with my balls and you don't care if they're hairy."  She smirked and shook her head.  "Seriously?"

"Yup.  It was in one of those trendy guy fashion mags."

He shuddered.  "No one is putting hot wax on my balls, thank you."

"There are cold wax strips.  You stick them on, pat them down, then rip."

"No thanks.  Or anywhere else down there."  She pulled up a picture she had found mocked up and showed him.  He stared.  "Is that real?"

"They said it's the outline and painting before the tattoo.  Go down and it's the after."

He did and shuddered, handing back the tablet.  "Nor am I tattooing my dick."

"Thank you.  We might not like kissing a dragon like that."

He nodded.  "Me either.  They'd have to strap me down."  He walked off shaking his head.  Natasha trudged in.  "She's waxing and found a picture of a dick tattoo."

She looked at him.  "Dawn, do you need painkillers?"

"No, I'm saving them for tomorrow."

She walked in there to get kissed and stare at the pictures.  "Is that the whole thing?"

Dawn looked.  "Before.  After the tattoo is lower."

She scrolled down and flinched.  "That is evil."

"Jonathan's men's mag that you suggested said that guys are waxing their balls."

She looked at her lover.  "You need painkillers."

"The nair didn't work."  She ripped out some more hair.  "And that gropy thing had a fungus.  I have to put on cream after Doc scraped it."

"Ow."  She took another kiss, moving to shower off the day.  She also nicely rinsed out the tub so Dawn could soak later, or she could.  She heard the subtle yelp and winced.  "Why are you doing your panty line?"

"Needs to be done anyway.  It's easier to put on the cream."

"Just trim, Dawn."

"Too late."

Natasha leaned out and over.  "That's a big area to do at once."

"Better to rip it all at once then in three steps."  That got a nod.  Dawn sniffed.  "Strawberries?"


"Strawberries.  I smell strawberries."

Natasha sniffed.  "New soap."

"Oh, okay then."  She relaxed and finished up her other leg.  She had to go back to clean up a few hairs but that was usual when you were doing your own.  She trudged out after lotioning down.  Clint was making dinner, which they appreciated.  She leaned against his back.

He smiled.  "You done and the machine of evil torture is up?"

"It is."

Natasha came out.  "You missed a whole strip of hair."  Dawn groaned.  Natasha got what she needed and fixed it.  "There."  Dawn kissed her.  "Go rest, goofy."  Dawn collapsed in a chair.  "Why there?"

"I don't know.  She's been avoiding the couch," Clint said quietly.  He sniffed her.  "Strawberries?"

"New soap."

"It was pomegranate."

They shared a look and went to settle that.  It was pomegranate.  They searched the bathroom, finding a small vial and a few needles.  Clint held it up.  Natasha took it to look at.  "I'll have it run," she said. "You reopen the link and see what's been done this time."  He nodded, letting her run up the street to have that run at the labs.

"Hey, Dawn?" he asked, making her hum and blink at him.  "Why are you avoiding the couch?"

"I'm getting a glare and a hum for some reason."

"Huh.  Sonic ones.  That's bad."  He checked, opening the link they had mostly closed off.  She winced and he nodded, pointing it out to her.  She groaned and curled up.  "We'll see who's doing it."  She nodded.  He helped her cut it off and end the program.  He saw the vision with it and frowned.  "When was that?"

"I don't know."

"That gives me a few ideas though," Clint said, texting that to Natasha.  She sent back what it was.  "Huh.  Fertility drug."

Dawn sat up, looking at him.  "With them having me panicking and breaking us up by attacking you two...."

"Someone wants a baby Widow."  He kissed her and closed off the link after ending that problem.  They put up foil on that window.  It caused glare on the tv anyway.

Natasha came back.  "Dawn, let me see what they sent."

"Okay," she agreed quietly.  "I'm sorry, they shouldn't be able to...."

"It's nothing you can stop.  It's on sound waves.  Like subliminals."  She concentrated on their link, looking at what Dawn had been sent and coerced into doing.  She sighed.  "That is him."  She kissed her.  "That one knows more about mind control than we have forgotten," she said quietly.  "He's the one that started my training."  She got hugged.  She hugged Dawn back.

"Are they working with the UK?" Clint asked.

"No, the UK wanted their own team and Iron Man," Natasha said.  "She did a fine job convincing that last one that they did not want her."  She kissed Dawn.  "It is not a problem and we can counter it.  I need new shampoo."

"Did I dose mine?"

"I'm not sure."  She considered it.  "We'll test it tomorrow."  Dawn nodded.  "Your dress?"

"Picking it up tomorrow during lunch.  It's being cleaned.  It was wrinkled."  That got a smile and a nod.  "I do look smokin' hot in it."

"I look forward to seeing it then."  She winked.  "Are you dressing there?"

"Yup.  I won't need stockings and I can pack my makeup bag and shoes.  I need to do my nails tonight."  She smiled and they settled in to go over what Dawn was going to do with her hair tomorrow.  It was meaningless chatter that calmed them all down. It also let Clint scan them both for more aberrant behavior.  He poked something in Natasha's mind.  She had dosed Dawn's shampoo.  They'd have to deal with it.  They made shots to make sure it didn't work.


Phil looked up as the director walked into his office.  "Yes, sir?"

"You're to attend tonight."  He tossed over the invitation.  "They wanted to meet you."


"I have no idea."

"I am really not comfortable at those sort of events."

"You can guard Dawn."  He smirked.  "Or bring a date."  He walked off.

He considered it then asked if Xander had gotten one.  Xander's 'yup and I hate dressing up, I look like a dork' got a smile.  So it was a plot to force them together again.  He offered Xander a suggestion on how to properly have a tux fitted.  Xander snorted back because he hated suits.  "No, leather is not appropriate," Phil muttered.  "Or else Dawn would probably wear the new blue dress instead."  He rubbed his forehead and asked Tara to please hang his tux out to be steamed later.  She said she would and told him to take something for his migraine.  He smiled and hung up, doing just that.


Dawn looked at Xander the next afternoon.  "There's tailoring fairies," she noted.  She looked around then summoned them.  They flew over to Xander and fixed it for him.  "Don't touch the wings, they're sticky."

"How did we find them?" Xander asked, watching them work.

"Buffy found them.  She was complaining her new pants got ripped and one flew out to fix it for her.  She helped it get home."

"Buffy did magic?" Xander asked.

"I don't know," she admitted.  "I'm afraid to ask."

Xander nodded.  "I'll check on that later."

Phil appeared, shaking his head.  "Don't.  I did."

"Is she back?" Dawn asked.

Phil Coulson, God Protectorate of Heros, nodded.  "Willow Rosenburg got sent back by order of the Elders Council of Gods."

Xander looked at him.  "Why?"

"Hecate asked."

"Just shoot me now," Xander complained.

"What are those?" Tony asked as he walked into his office.  "Are we having a meeting?"

"Xander needed help with his tux and Buffy found tailoring fairies," Dawn quipped.  "I was about to use your office bathroom to change and put on makeup."

"I figured you were.  We have an hour."

"I have to do my hair, boss."

"Leave it down."  She gave him a look.  "Leave it down."

"I look a lot younger with it down."

"So?  You can talk about it with Pepper later."  He left them alone.  "Coulson, I heard you're coming."

"I got nagged to.  It's part of the plan to shove Xander and I together so we give in faster."

Stark laughed.  "Sorry, still can't see it."

"Thank you for having sense," Xander said.  He looked at Phil.  "I like having friends."

"Friends are nice," he agreed.  He looked at Dawn.  "Go change."

She nodded, taking her dress bag into the bathroom.  "I'm going to need a bit of help."

"That's fine," Xander sighed.  "I've done it before for your sister I'm sure."  The fairies finished and he smiled.  "Very nice job, thank you."  He bowed.  They smiled and disappeared.  One was hanging around his shoulder so he looked at her.  "Problems I can help with?"

"Do you need one of us?"

"Bia would probably adore having some help."  He put up a picture of the temple.  "I live there."  She squealed.  Xander turned it into a portal and sent Bia a message then let her through.

Bia looked at her.  "You're tiny so you can do really delicate work I'd expect.  Great."  She smiled and showed her the closet.  "I have some dropped hems and John has to get pretty.  His mother really wants him to date."

"I can do that."

"Don't touch the wings," Xander called.

"I can remember that."  She hung up the portal.

Xander looked at himself then at Phil, who was dressed.  "I still look like I'm playing dress up.  This is not my usual clothes."

"Mine either."

"At least you wear suits."

"I do."  He smiled.  "You look nice.  You need to get one that fits your shape better though."  Dawn came out holding up her dress.  They zipped it and he watched as Xander tightened the corset.  "How are you doing that with bruised ribs?" he asked.

"Painkiller thanks to Dr. Pigalli."

"That's good," he agreed.  She winced.  Xander started to tie it off but she took over to do it herself.

He huffed.  "Do you want me to make you look hot or do it formally correct?" he asked.

"Make me look hot?  They need to stare at me instead of Pepper.  She's having a bad hair day."

"They will," Xander said.  The dress was cream silk with gold and red embroidery.  The red was heavier at the bottom and slowly merged and faded into the gold taking over.  It looked like she was being corrupted from the ground up.  By the time Xander got the corset done properly, Dawn was moaning a bit but they both stared at her shape. 

Dawn went back to make sure it was decorous and she wasn't going to pop out of the top.  Then she put on her makeup and brushed her hair.  She put on the locket and a set of filagree silver drop earrings.  She brushed her teeth and did her lipstick.  She stepped back and nodded, stepping into her shoes.  She walked out and they stared.  "Hair up, right?"

"Really, you look like an ancient screen goddess," Phil admitted.  "And I'm yet again having inappropriate thoughts about you, Dawn."  She grinned.  They walked out, heading to the penthouse.

Tony dropped his drink he had just poured.  "Hello there."

Pepper looked.  "I know I was having a bad hair day but how are you doing that with bruised ribs?"

"Painkiller.  I saved one for tonight with Doc's permission.  I didn't have time to shop for a new one."  She turned so they could see.  "Hair up or down?"

"Down," she said, coming over to make sure.  "Down."  She got the brush from Dawn's kit and worked on it so it looked a bit more wavy and laid better.  She smiled.  "I've got to find some mythical deaging water."  She went to change and came out looking very stunning.

Tony stared between them.  "Is this torment a Stark night?  Because if it is, it's really unfair that no one told me so I could be prepared."

"No, I think it's torture Xander and Phil night since they're making us attend so we spend time together," Xander said dryly.

Tony smirked at him.  "Still can't see it."


Tony looked at them.  "I need to change.  I do not look near good enough in this suit."  He took his drink to change.  "Are you two riding with us?"

"Probably," Phil said.  "We can't just appear.  Well, I can't just appear."

Xander shrugged.  "I have no idea how you do those things.  The only formal events I attend are the mandatory all pantheon banquets that drive me fucking nuts."

Phil smiled.  "It's rare I have to attend one."  He looked at the ladies.  "Are your two coming, Dawn?"

"No one's making them so not sure.  We didn't get a chance to see before they got called out earlier."

"I heard.  They should be back soon."  He took pictures of them and sent them to Joyce and Natasha.  He got back a 'hey, where's mine' so sent it to Barton too.  He got one from Natasha asking if he had mace and extra weapons.  He assured her he did and Xander was going to be there too.  Dawn took off her brace and they all winced.  "Wear it."   She put it back on but changed the color so it matched.

"You know, this is the second formal event I've shown up at with bruises," she said dryly.  "Someone's going to ask if I need help getting out of my 'ship."

"We had a reporter in yesterday," Pepper reminded her.  "I waxed lovingly about how last week was horrible and I'm glad she didn't come during it since you got attacked a few times, including by some evil filing cabinets that had bruised your ribs."  Dawn grinned.  "She asked what had happened so I told them about the industrial espionage attempt that got us attacked and the robodog.  She said she hopes your wrist heals quickly."

"Me too.  I can't do many things one-handed."

Xander looked over.  "Don't you have a lover or two for that?"

"Not my hair."

"Not what I thought you were talking about."

She smirked evilly.  "No, I'm a rightie there too, Xander."  He laughed.  Pepper was blushing.  "You so need to get out of evil Xander mode."

He shrugged.  "Had to talk to Spike earlier too.  He requested I help him get away from Cleveland."

"Don't blame him any," Dawn admitted.  "Did Hylal like Willow?"

"No.  He requested I sink her into the hellmouth.  Buffy and he had their first fight but he eventually agreed that she could use a magic user helping her since he couldn't but she was not staying with them and he was not allowing her near any of the children, including Callia."

"What?" Pepper asked.  Tony came out doing up his tie.  "Is Rosenburg back?"

"The Elders Council of Gods sent her back," Phil said.  Tony paused to stare at him.  "At half the power she was when she died."

"Is she our next battle?" Tony asked.

"No.  Hecate asked," Xander sighed.  "If she starts to fuck up I'm ending her myself this time.  Buffy crying or not."  He adjusted the eyepatch he wore.  Dawn got up and hugged him.  "Thanks, Dawn."  She grinned and kissed him on the cheek.  They walked out together.

Phil looked at him.  "We would," he said quietly.

"My duty," Xander said just as quietly.

"I'm dating two assassins, people.  One who likes arrows," Dawn noted.  She sent a text to them to warn them Willow was back.

Tony looked at them.  "I can build a bomb and shut down all of Cleveland in under thirty seconds, never to let it be reopened.  Someone will get her."  He walked off first.  "Happy, I'm not sure if we'll all fit."

"I can pop around," Xander said, pointing.  Dawn walked him out to the car.  "Okay.  Been a while since I was in one."  He slid in and made himself compact against a wall.  Dawn and Pepper got in then Tony and Phil.  "You really do look hot, Dawnie."

"Thanks, Xander."

"I sent a picture to your mother but I think she's having dinner," Phil said with a smile.

She grinned.  "She helped me pick it out."

"That's nearly as evil as that pink dress," Tony said.

"I think I still fit in that but I need new stockings," Dawn quipped.

Pepper looked at her.  "Please don't."  She grinned back.  The gala was downtown so it wasn't a terribly long drive, they waited longer in the security line waiting to get out.  The ladies checked their hair and makeup.  Tony made sure his lighter tinted sunglasses were on.  They finally got out, him first.  The doorman helped out Dawn and Pepper, who took Phil's arm, earning her a smirk from Tony.  "Phil, dance with me?"

"I'd be delighted, Pepper."  They walked on after Xander was out of the car.

The reporter stared at them.  "Mr. Stark.  Quite the entourage."

He smirked.  "You know I hardly go anywhere without Pepper or Pepper's assistant Dawn.  Xander got invited later and Phil is actually our SHIELD liaison."

"How charming."  She smiled at Xander.  "Are you a scientist?"

"No, I'm Alexander."  She moaned, squeezing her knees shut.  He smiled.  "Someone insisted I come tonight even though I've never been to one of these before."

"Thor inhaled a buffet, you can't do much worse," Tony assured him, clapping him on the back.  They walked inside and split up.  Dawn went to get her usual sparkling water.  Tony got his own drink and headed for people he hated to pick on them.  Xander was hanging on the edges.  Pepper and Phil were chatting to various people.

Steve walked up behind Dawn and cleared his throat.  "Fancy meeting you here?"

She smiled.  "It's a nice surprise."  She wiped off some lipstick on his cheek.  He grinned at her.  "Why are you here?"

"Director Fury said so."

"He made Phil come too.  Someone made Xander come."

"Then I have someone I can hide with."  He grinned.  "The music's playing.  I need to get away from someone," he muttered.

"Of course I'd love to dance with you.  Maria and I have helped you do it very nicely, Steve."  She walked him out to the floor, dancing with him.  He was very good and he made her giggle a few times.  She made sure they ended up near where Xander was hiding so he could go hide with him.

Tony smirked as she walked past them.  "Is that the true level of evil you're turning into?" he teased.

She smirked back.  "Wait until you see your desk and calendar tomorrow, Mr. Stark."  He cackled and she walked off.  She ran into one of the reporters, like usual.  They considered her sweet and chatty, which she was, but she never gave them anything good.  "Good evening."

"I adore that dress."

Dawn smiled.  "My mother helped me pick it out."  She sipped her sparkling water.

"The cast?  I don't want to pry, but is someone maybe...mean to you?"

Dawn laughed.  "No, if someone was abusing me I'd kick them around.  My mother taught me that if someone raises a hand to me I'd better raise it back and defend myself.  And any other woman or man that needs help out of a situation like that."


"Yes, there are abused men.  Both homosexual and straight relationships can be abusive on each side.  Women can easily beat men, they just make jokes about them going after them with cast iron frying pans."

"I hadn't thought of that."

"I give every year to a shelter that takes in fathers who are escaping that with their children.  They're horribly underfunded because everyone thinks it's a joke or that they should be stronger.  Those of us who are stronger have the responsibility to help them."

"That's wonderful."  She smiled.  "So what happened?"

"We have a scientist working on a robotic sentry dog."  The reporter smiled.  "Looks like a silver german sheppard.  I had to go into his lab to pick up progress reports.  He left the stupid thing on and in full Cujo mode.  I ended up breaking it to get my wrist free.  Broke two bones.  There's a mass of bruises underneath the brace."

"I can see hints of a bruise on your side?"

Dawn winced.  "Last week was one of *those* weeks.  I had filing cabinets falling on me Monday.  Wednesday we had an energy experiment go horribly wrong and zap me so I had to be rezapped to get a normal heart rhythm.  Then there was a small espionage incident later on Friday after I got gnawed on."  She finished her water.  She smiled at a waiter walking past them.  "Sparkling water?"  She exchanged the glass for a full one.   "Thank you."  She smiled.

"Not champagne?"

"No, I don't tend to drink.  Mostly because I'm only twenty."

"Oh!"  She blinked.  "I didn't realize."

Dawn grinned.  "Thankfully I look older so I can go to dance clubs sometimes."

"They serve alcohol at those."

"The ones I like also serve great fizzy frozen virgin drinks that're just what you need when you're in that pleasurably sated and tired mood from dancing for a few hours.  I also make sure the places I go have at least one NYPD second-job person on staff.  I find them safer and if there's a problem they can handle it faster.  I've only had one problem and it was from a tabloid idiot."  She took a sip.  She looked.  "Limes."  She took another sip and smiled.  "I have two I favor for the safety features and the great dance floors."

"That's wonderful.  I saw a picture of you where someone was trying to grope."

"That hand belonged to the papparazzi that were taking the pictures.  The NYPD members at that club arrested them and I started to sue until they retracted it and apologized.  My mother wanted me to keep suing them."  She smiled.  "Thankfully some of you are so much better and out for real news."

The reporter laughed.  "Many more of us."

"I think they're like ants, they're everywhere," Dawn said, pouring her water into a plant, which made someone yelp.  "You get that on me and I'm going to kill you," she warned him.  He ran off.  "Like him."

She smiled.  "Thank you.  I know you graduated recently.  Are you planning on going on?"

"I'm thinking about a language degree," she admitted.  "While I was...absent I took a lot of classes online from a university in Rio that had a fantastic language program.  As well as my ones up here by distance learning.  I was thinking about finishing my one down there, though I'm not sure in which one.  I took to the intermediate level of a few of them."

"Then why business?"

"I find accounting to be calming actually."  She grinned.  "It's like good meditation for me.  Everything balances, it's all in harmony, everything has a place to be shown off.  Finance itself is a bit beyond that and can sometimes drive me nuts but the other business stuff I learned in a more practical manner and I do like it.  I seem to *get* languages easier than most things so I thought I'd take advantage of it.  Never hurts in a negotiation to speak the native language."

She smiled.  "I'd say it wouldn't."  She shifted.  "So, I've heard dating rumors?"

"I am, yes, but I'm not sure what their feelings on outing it are at the moment.  They're not hiding me but they're concerned that it could look strange."

"That's reasonable I suppose with the sort you work with."  She looked over at Tony, who was being the life of the party.  "He's very far gone tonight."

Dawn smiled.  "I don't think so.  I think he's just being amused."

"He usually has a drink on the way over."

"Not tonight.  We were talking in the car and it's not that far from Stark Towers.  It actually took longer to get out of the car once we were in line."

She smiled.  "There was a line of limos, yes."  She patted her on the arm.  "You do look fantastic."

Dawn grinned.  "Thank you."  She strolled off, going to find some more water, the room was very hot and humid tonight, and then find something to do that was more interesting.  She found Pepper and Phil.  "Harpers sent someone," she said in greeting.

"Pepper smiled.  "I saw her.  Mr. Phillips, this is my assistant, Dawn Summers."

"Charmed," she said with a smile.

"You bring your assistant?"

Dawn smiled.  "I'm also known as Callia Stark's aunt," she said quietly.  He gasped and backed up.  She smiled.  "Mostly I'm here to make sure that anyone who sets up a meeting with her gets noted on the official schedule so she doesn't have to keep track.  Also to make sure nothing happens."  She smiled at the man walking up to them.  "Mr. Armson."

"Miss Summers.  Would you dance with me?"

"I'd be delighted."  She took his hand and put down her glass of water.  He smiled.  "Needed a meeting?" she quipped.

"That and I wanted to dance with the hottest woman in this room."

Dawn grinned, blushing some.  "Thank you.  My mom and I went on our first shopping trip together to get this one."

"I heard she was sick."

"She made it through a second round of cancer treatments for a brain tumor."  He gaped.  She nodded.  "I'm very happy she could go on it again.  She's out and getting stronger and healthier."

"That's wonderful news.  Do you think you can slip me onto Stark's calendar?"

"For him or Pepper?"

"Him.  I have an engineering problem on my newest jet."

"I can do that.  If I remember he has almost nothing on Thursday but it'd have to be early because he was going to sneak Callia out to do something."

"That'd be fine.  Thank you."  She smiled and nodded.  Once the dance was done, Dawn subtly made that appointment and put in a reason then put up her phone.  She spotted someone walking in and smiled.  "Director," she said as she walked past him.  "Agent Hill."

"Dawn, you look stunning," she said.

"You didn't do bad yourself," she said with a teasing grin, getting a laugh back because she was wearing a gown that reminded everyone of her uniform.  "Six reporters, two legit, Phil is with Pepper, Stark's trying not to be bored, and Xander's on the wall with Steve," she said in her ear, getting a nod.  She walked off.  Someone else wanted a dance so she accepted and they asked her about if she was still satisfied as their assistant, if not he needed a good one.  She smiled and turned him down gently.  He sighed but said he'd wait if she wanted.  She laughed and pinched his cheek, making him smile.  She walked off to go stop someone having a fight. 

She walked the waiter out back and gave him a nudge.  "I don't care.  The bodyguards are all armed and Fury's are all SHIELD agents," she warned.  He nodded and scurried off.  The woman glared.  She stared at her.  "There's ten agents in this room," she said quietly.  "Do you really want to make them shoot you for starting a brawl?  There's six SHIELD agents."  She shuddered and stopped.  Dawn walked off, smiling at a few fellow assistants in the room.  She walked up to one and adjusted his collar.  "There, better."

"Thank you, Dawn.  How's Stark?"

"Stark International is never boring."  She held up a cast.  "Robotic sentry dog."  They laughed.  "How is your nice, safe insurance company?"

"It's good.  Very peaceful and quiet.  We only get hate mail."

The other one smiled.  "I wish we could say the same.  We've got a budget hearing soon on our mother's milk from Congress for defense testing.  We're in a DARPA contract."  He grimaced.  "We're all spit polishing everything for inspections coming up."

Dawn patted him on the arm, seeing the wince.  "You okay?"

"It's been a long week."

"Tell me about it.  We had someone break in to try to steal the Iron Man plans, right where I was."  He shuddered.  She looked at him then moved closer.  "Do you need help?"  He shrugged slightly.  She wrote down a name and number.  "I find them a most wonderful charity."

He looked and nodded.  "Will they?"

"That's all they do."  He smiled.  "If he's here, you point him out."

"No, I'd never bring him here.  It'd be a huge stain on my career."

Dawn smiled.  "We are allowed personal lives.  Really."  He nodded.  She stared at him.  "Call me if you need to."

"I will."  He smiled.  "Your boss has lost interest."

"He'll find it soon.  Captain Rogers is in here hiding."  They laughed.  She smiled.  "There's always something they can find to talk about.  He's a very nice guy."  She sipped her newest water.  "Could this room be more humid?"

They smiled.  "If you sweat, that dress won't fall off," the one that needed help escaping his boyfriend said.

"Mom found it."

They smiled.  "Your mom has *great* taste," the other one said.

Dawn smiled.  "She's where I get it from.  I don't know how it skipped my sister but Mom ran an art gallery before she got sick."  They smiled and broke up to make the rounds again.  Dawn got stopped by someone else that wanted a few minutes of Pepper's time so she made that note for him.  He smiled and let her go.  She smiled back.  She was making her way over to Steve to tell him to go distract Tony when Clint walked in.  She smiled at him.  "You look fine tonight."

"If I had known you were wearing that I wouldn't have let you out of the apartment," he said in her ear.  She laughed.  "Dance?"

"I'd love to."  She took him out and it was smooth.  They had a few times when that was the distraction needed for Natasha to do something.  She heard a few moans of pleasure and winked at him.  "I think they're saying we look hot."

"We are."  He dipped her then pulled her back up.  "That's even hotter than the sari you had to wear."

She blushed.  "Thank you, kind one."  The dance ended and they parted.  She saw Natasha and smiled at her.  "I think the prettier one has appeared."

"She is gorgeous in that dress."  They both smiled at her.

She walked over.  "Dawn, Clint.  May I?" she asked Clint.

"Of course." 

Dawn got out of the way with a smile.  She found Steve and suggested he go hide with Tony for a bit.  He was surrounded by leeches and could use a lifeline.  Xander took her out on the floor and it was nice.  He did okay.  Didn't step on her at least.  She expected that of him.  He smirked at her and she winked back.  He laughed and let her go to Phil, who was looking a bit tired.  "Fake it," she said in his ear.

"I'm already there, and missing bedtime," he said quietly, earning a smile.  "How are you holding up?"

"I'm fine.  It's only a few more hours even if I wasn't."  He nodded and smiled at Agent Hill when she cut in for the next dance.  "With me or him?" Dawn teased.

"Him.  My mother would never forgive me if I dated a girl that couldn't give her grandchildren because she adores stories about the twins drooling on me."

Phil smiled.  "You are their favorite toy outside Callia and Dawn."  Dawn walked off giggling.  "Melissa's nearly talking."

"Is she going to babble?"

"I hope not.  I know she will but I'm out of practice from Dawn's babbling when she was younger."

Maria Hill smiled.  "You'll learn.  Most parents do."

Phil turned them around and told them the story of Dawn turning Colonel Rhodes into a mouse and Callia's response, getting a laugh from her.

Natasha got free of Tony and walked over to Dawn.  "May I?"

Dawn nodded after staring at her.  "I'd be delighted," she said, taking her hand and pulling her closer.  "You sure?"

"Are you?"

Dawn smiled.  "I'm only hiding because you like it."  They danced off.  A few people gaped.  She smiled.  "We are the hottest thing in here."

"Yes, we are."  She smirked.  "I only worry because others may try something."

"I know.  I understand and I accept that as part of both of your pasts.  I don't ask if you don't want me to.  I get all that."

"Then we will relax some."

Dawn winked.  "Kinda hard to hide it now."

"True."  She smiled and Dawn dipped her, making her laugh.  "You did take those lessons very well."

"I did."  At the end of the dance she kissed her hand and smiled.  "Thank you."

"No, thank you."  She winked and walked off.  She saw the speculative look.  "All the others of us have danced with her."

Tony smiled.  "About time," he said quietly as she walked past him.  She shot him a look.

Steve walked out.  "Dawn?"  She smiled at him and danced with him.  "Are you two serious?"  She looked at him.  "I know."

"I know you do.  Not like we're really discreet at home," she said quietly.  "I think we are.  They have worries."

"That's reasonable."  He kissed her on the cheek.  "You're still a favorite little sister."  She walked off smiling.  He went back to Tony and Xander, who had been pulled out by a reporter.  "We need to have a pool party, Tony."

"I have a pool," he agreed.

"With limits on the bathing suits," Phil teased.

"That as well," he agreed.

"You guys know you can use my pond," Xander quipped.  "Just like before."

"You have a pond?" the reporter asked.

"At the training camp I run."  He smiled.

"Interesting.  For what sort?  Like for agents?"

"I have had many agents and some military people in.  Right now I have military people in for General O'Neill."

"So you run a training company?"  He let out a bit of aura and she gasped.  "You're..."  She looked around for Thor.

"He's my uncle."  Xander grinned.  "I'm over protecting you all."

"Oh, wow."  She smiled.  "So, single, married?"

"I had a consort but our relationship ran out, it had a time limit built in.  I have one that my mother would love for me to take in but I don't really want to get with her idea at the moment."

"So you're single?"

He smiled.  "I am."

Tony looked over.  "He's got a lot of stamina.  Just a warning."

"Did you two sleep together?" she asked with a perky smile.

"No, but I've talked to his former girlfriend, who still misses her eight orgasms a night."  She moaned.  He smiled at Xander.  Who winked and walked her off to talk to her about her wants and desires.  He smiled at Phil. 

Who smirked back.  "Thank you."  He looked around.  "Who is that at the doorway?"

"No clue," Tony admitted, taking a picture to do a web search.

"Rabbi Johnson," Dawn said, shaking his hand with a smile.  "I didn't know you'd be attending tonight or I'd have made sure to bring a shawl."

He smiled.  "A woman can be less modest at these sort of events, Miss Summers."  He walked over to Tony with her.  "Mr. Stark, your assistant is ever charming."

"She is, yes.  I'm afraid I don't know you."

"Mr. Stark, this is Rabbi Wilhelm Johnson," she introduced.  "Doctorate in theology and Literature.  You've donated to his shelter program for Jewish youths in the city."

"Oh, right.  I didn't see a picture of you, Rabbi."  He shook his hand.  Dawn faded off to talk to someone else who needed an appointment.  "How is the shelter going?"

"It's going very well.  We're at full capacity and beyond most of the time."

"There's ever a need," Steve said quietly.

"Yes, there is."  He smiled and shook his hand.  "Thank you.  You were there when my mother was freed."

Steve nodded.  "I wished I could've helped more."

"You, like all men, do what you could.  We're all bound somehow by our limitations, even when we can expand them in emergencies."  He smiled and patted him on the cheek.  "The children would like to ask you to come talk to them about what the war was really like.  There's many parents who can't talk of it, it hurts them too much."

"I'd be happy to but I don't feel right about going into some details.  There's some that still give me nightmares."

"That makes you a good man with a good soul," the Rabbi said with a smile.  "We have a remembrance next week.  We would be honored if you would come and do it then?"

"I think I'm open."

Dawn pulled out her phone and got into another screen.  "The remembrance is on Saturday, Steve."

"Then I can definitely go as long as there's no battles."

He smiled.  "We would forgive that."  He smiled at Dawn.  "You are attending?"

"I am.  I think it's important we never forget any atrocity so it can't be repeated."

He smiled.  "A wise woman as well as pretty."

"I like being brainy," she quipped.  "The pretty gets me underestimated."  He laughed and nodded.  She walked off.

"I didn't know she did.  I know she worked with the history project, doing some of the research," Tony said.  "Huh."  He smiled.  "I've found a few new records from my father's personal journal.  I've sent them over to the history project."

"Thank you, Mr. Stark."  He shook his hand and went to talk to others.

Steve looked at him.  "I didn't know that there were remembrances."

"Every year, a few different ones," Tony said quietly.  "Depending on where the majority of the Jewish families in the area come from."  Steve nodded.  "I know Fury's turned down an offer for you to go to Israel."

"I might want to go," he admitted.  "I have to think on that.  I think...."

"You have the same memories to go through," Tony said bluntly.  "When you're ready it'll still probably be there."  Steve relaxed and nodded.  "Go get Dawn and dance with her again?"

"If I do, someone's going to say something," he said quietly.

"Not you."  He looked at Clint.  "It looks wrong if I dance with Pepper's assistant."

"After that one."  He smiled.  Dawn was teasing the police commissioner.  Then he started to relieve her from politician germs.  Natasha beat him to it.  "After her, you're mine," he said.

Dawn smiled.  "I can see that."  He laughed and got something to drink, being captured by Agent Hill.  "He's so bored," she said quietly.

"We all are," Natasha agreed.  "We're not used to this life."

"I had to be taught.  This isn't how I grew up either.  Buffy wouldn't even let me go on group dates."  Natasha laughed.  "Photog, left shoulder," she said quietly.  Natasha nodded, moving them slightly out of good picture position.  This time she dipped Dawn, making her giggle.  The dance ended and she smiled.  "Thank you, Natasha."

"You're most welcome.  We're escaping in a few minutes."

"I have to stay to help Pepper and Tony."


Clint came over to steal Dawn.  "How soon can you escape?"

"Probably not until the official end.  I might turn into a pumpkin."

"I doubt that would go with the dress of evil."  She winked and he laughed, spinning her around.  She held her head and he laughed.  "Good."

"You're enough to give a girl a hangover without alcohol," she teased.  He moaned.  She got free when the dance ended.  "If you escape, go out the back.  The alley's never covered in more than service trucks," she said quietly.

"I can do that."  He danced with Natasha, making her smile.  That was good advice and they could sneak away in a bit.

Tony walked over to look at her.  "That's a very bold statement."

Dawn grinned at him.  "What is?"


She shrugged.  "I'm not one to hide my emotions most of the time," she said quietly.

"It's going to get talk started."

"Is that a problem for the company?"

"No, or us."  He smiled.  "There's been plenty of rumors about me."  He rolled his eyes.  "Just, if they start sending hate mail or anything, let us handle it?"

"Definitely.  I'd only beat bigots to death."

He nodded.  "That's not real subtle though."

"As I pointed out earlier, I'm only twenty.  Subtlety is a lesson learned after a lifetime of being loud as I heard it put."

"It is," he agreed, smirking at her.  "Took me nearly thirty years."

"Together we'll make sure Callia gets it by her late twenties."  He laughed and nodded, leaving her alone.  She smiled at her fellow assistants when she walked past them, heading to a bench seat to get some air.  This room was still hot and humid.  She was sweating under the dress of doom.  Her feet were starting to hurt too.  She looked down, not swollen.  New shoe syndrome, it had to be.

Pepper strolled by.  "You three looked great together."  She winked.  "The reporter I was with asked.  I told her to ask you."

"I'm not sure.  Earlier I answered that whoever I was with wasn't totally sure they wanted it in the light as it were."

"Good answer.  Keeps everyone safe."  She grinned.  "Sweating a lot."

"I am.  It's roasting in here."

"It's really not."  She checked.  "The painkillers can cause a slight fever."

"I forgot.  I spent all Sunday in front of the A/C."  She got a napkin from a waiter and blotted her forehead.  She sat down beside Pepper again.  "It's going well."

"It is."  She smiled at Tony.  "He's so bored."

"He is.  That's why I had Cap distract him."

"That's usually a good thing.  What did the Rabbi want?"

"Him to speak to some of the kids at the Remembrance."

"That's good.  There's too many atrocities to forget any of them."

"There are."  She smiled at the woman coming toward them.  It was the reporter from earlier.  "Hi again."

"Are you all right?"

She waved her cast.  "Meds to help me with the two broken bones are making me a bit warm."

"We noticed you having to drink a lot."

"Painkillers for it," Pepper said.  "She's off them this week."

Dawn nodded.  "Dr. Pigalli is a wonderful woman and she knew I'd need it for a few days.  I'm actually out after tonight."

She smiled.  "I hope it heals faster."

"Me too."  The reporter laughed.  "I can sense it."

"You're dating an Avenger?"

"To some I'm like their assistant as well and to a few I'm like their little sister.  Though, yes I am dating someone inside SHIELD."

"Hmm.  The nice young man that came in with Pepper?"

Dawn giggled.  "Agent Coulson's like my big brother.  He nagged me so much on my vacation in Miami about my bikinis."  The reporter smiled.  "He's a great guy.  Has twins with a friend of mine who really wanted kids."

"That's charming.  Does he help?"

"He said earlier he hated having to miss bedtime stories."  The reporter beamed at her.  "Until they say that they're ready for me to talk about it, I really can't.  Most agents are a bit touchy about their past histories."

"I can understand why.  Are they good to you?"

"They're so great.  After the filing cabinets fell on me last Monday I got so spoiled.  I got bruise creamed and backrubbed and then cuddled greatly.  They made dinner."  The reporter smiled softly.  "They're very good to me.  They nagged so much when the week was a week of hellish stupidity."

"That's wonderful, dear.  I hope some day you have a great family."

"Not sure if we want one or not but I hope we're good for a long time."

"I'm sure you will be."  She left them to report on that story.  She couldn't definitively say if Dawn was gay or not, there was no indication, but she was probably at least very open minded.

Dawn looked at the man stomping over to them, a member of the board of directors.  "Pepper," she said quietly.

"Mr. Masters.  Is there a problem?  We're resting our tired feet."

"You're gay?" he asked Dawn.

"Bisexual I would say but I'm very picky.  I only go by personality.  It's why I was a virgin until eighteen."  He gaped.  She smiled.  "I made sure it was more than something fast and cheap, unlike so many other young women.  Why does it matter?"

"I don't think this company...."

"I think my boyfriend back at MIT might pout about that," Tony said from behind him.  "Dawn's in a very good, very tight relationship.  Be they male or female, as long as they're good for her, we're all happy for her.  As for the board of directors, there's nothing you can say about her either."

"Is she really fit to raise your daughter when you die?" he sneered.

Dawn smirked meanly.  "Yes, I am.  She's a charming, intelligent young woman partially because I've helped Mr. Stark and Pepper raise her."  He backed off.  "If that was a threat I do have to point out that there's presently six SHIELD agents in here."  He shuddered and stomped off.  "You have a charming night, Mr. Masters," she called after him, wiggling her fingers with a smile.  "Raping your pet hamsters," she said more quietly.  Pepper and Tony cracked up.  "He has to.  I know his wife lives in another state."

"She does," Tony agreed.  "I thought maybe mice instead.  He's not built well enough for hamsters."

Dawn swatted him.  "That's totally evil, Tony."

"Yes it was."  He smirked.  He looked over.  "John Sheppard got pulled in."  He walked over to talk to him.  "Colonel."

"Mr. Stark."  He shook his hand with a smirk.  "Why did I get summoned?"

"We have no idea.  So did your half-brother and Phil."

"Was our mother involved?"

"No clue yet."  He walked him off to talk to him about the idea for super-fast engines on commuter jets.  It wasn't fair to the normal airlines but people would probably love to be crammed onto shorter flights.  When Rodney got there, Dawn went to gather him to distract him from grumping about things.  He and Pepper were talking about things while Dawn went to make another set of rounds for them.  She did dance with Phil since he looked so lost.  He went to talk to Rodney as well.

Stark looked over.  "No recruiting him.  I get first dibs on all the real geniuses in this world."

Phil smiled.  "If he likes SHIELD more, then who can say that's a bad choice, Stark?"

Tony smirked at him.  "He already likes my lab."

"We'll see.  We are building a new lab in a few years.  Who knows what our R&D labs will look like."

"It's not like I'm some bride in a womanless town to fight over," Rodney quipped from his seat.  "I do have extravagant demands because I'm worth it."

"Yes you are," Dawn quipped, cracking John up.  "Because you earn enough from your genius moments to pay for your own coffee."  John and Tony cracked and giggled.  John swatted her.  He spotted her dress and his mouth opened.  She looked down then at him.  "What?" she asked with a smirk.

"You look like a goddess," John said.

Dawn grinned.  "Thank you but I haven't ascended yet.  No one's put up a temple for me.  Just an altar now and then."  He laughed and hugged her, letting her go back to her search for new ideas.  That got some more gossip.

The other reporter gently grabbed her arm.  "Miss Summers, what happened to your wrist?"

She looked then at her.  "One of the scientists is working on a robotic sentry dog.  It bit me and broke two bones when I went in to get reports.  Mr. Stark even forgave me for breaking it really hard."


"Yeah.  Last week was so bad.  Filing cabinets, an electrical problem from two improperly stored non-working things, a moment of espionage.  The dog was the most funny that week."

"You poor thing.  And yet you made yourself squeeze into that dress?"

"It's a corset.  It was tightened on me."  She smiled.  "A lot."  The reporter snorted.  "I do have a good body but I wanted look good enough for people to ignore that I have a back zit."

The reporter shook her head.  "You do look nice."

"Thank you.  My mother and I had our first mother-daughter shopping trip since she left the hospital to pick it out."  She smiled and walked off.

The reporter went to talk to the other one.  "Her mother is out of the hospital?"

"She is and she's working for Director Fury to make sure nothing like what happened before happens again according to one of the agents."

"Interesting.  She looks like she's going to pass out though."

"They gave her a few days of something for the broken bones.  It's her last night on them."

"Ah, no wonder she could wear that dress without wincing."

"I never could at her age."  They smiled. Dawn said something to Pepper, who smiled and let her go.  "Poor thing."  The other reporter nodded.  "By the way, she said she's not outing her relationship because they're an agent and she's not sure if they're willing to put themselves into this sort of spotlight."

"I'd say she outed herself nicely."

"She said bisexual but very picky and it's all personality when the Stark International board member threw his mini fit."

"Huh.  There's not many of them at her level."

"Probably more than we know," she admitted.  She smiled.  "Dawn is the nicest young woman.  Her mother really did a great job with her."

"She did.  Pepper finished her nicely."  They went to get more stories.


Dawn walked off the elevator and saw the note.  She went up to Clint's apartment, without changing as requested.  She walked off and picked the door open, kicking it shut and locking it.  She saw the tiny bit of light in the bedroom and walked that way.  The lights were in the bathroom.  He had a jacuzzi in his, which he had put in, and they were in it.  "Hmm, bubbles nice."  They smiled and Clint got out to help her undress.  Slowly undoing the corset so her ribs didn't uncompress all at once, which she appreciated.  Then slowly peeling it off her.  She took a kiss and let him finish undoing her.  She took off her own jewelry and put it on the counter.  Then she slid in with them.  "This is a great reward."

Natasha kissed her, pulling her closer.  "Who said what?"

"One of the board members got told I was bisexual and it was all about the personality, that's why I wasn't an easy slut.  The reporter got reminded I said that I wasn't outing it due to my wonderful relationship's past that they didn't want spilled."  She took another kiss then shifted to sit on her lap.  It gave her ample fondling time.  The brace got tossed over toward the sink too.  That gave her two free hands to tease and stroke with. "I kept it at the level of mysterious."

"I am not ashamed."

"I know.  Neither am I.  I don't want to make you worry about anyone coming back."

"It may be who was trying the subliminal stuff," Clint admitted.  He kissed her neck.  "Can I have some of that?"

She smirked evilly.  "Getting in the middle?  Sure."  He moaned.  She got off Natasha and let him have her lap to kiss and fondle her while she teased him.  He nearly yelped when she stroked up his cock.  Then he hissed.  "Natasha, I think we need to knock him down and ride him hard," she said.

"I agree," she said smugly.  "Do you want the strap on or should I?"

"I adore you in it," Dawn admitted.  "You have great skills."  Natasha laughed and kissed them both.  She got oil and what they'd need, bringing it over.  Clint was totally relaxed and working Natasha into a state where she'd be exhausted sooner. Dawn enjoyed the strap on more than he did.  Though when it slid up him, he wasn't that unfond of it.  Natasha was nearly chanting in Russian again.  Dawn was moaning in his ear, and it was all good.


Dawn walked in the next day to a few odd looks.  "What?" she asked the guard that got in her way.

"We thought you and Agent Coulson," he said quietly.  "After he got shot and you got taken?  Or in Miami?"

"Phil's like my big brother.  He gives great hugs but that'd be really weird since he used to babysit me."

"Oh, I didn't think about that."

She smiled.  "I love Phil like a brother and probably always will."

"That's good.  The mail room was alerted that you might start getting hate mail."

She sighed.  "I hope not but there's some stupid, petty people out there."

He smiled.  "At least the ones that wanted you conscripted won't now."

She laughed.  "That may be, yeah.  Though I did get a charming offer from someone who wanted to breed to me as he put it."  He shuddered.  "Oh, yes."  She walked off.  "Thank you for asking instead of assuming."

"Not a problem," he agreed.  He went to stop some of the gossip.  Coulson did nag like a brother instead of a boyfriend.


Fury looked at the agents gathered for the morning trainers meeting.  "Did you have to do that?" he asked Natasha.

"Yes."  She smiled.  "The rest were."

"People are going to say things."

She shrugged.  "Why would I care?"

"They're going to tell me that you should be off the team," he said.

"Then I would suggest they find a good replacement, which there isn't."

"True.  Is she all right with that?"

"Yes, quite.  She's never hidden anything.  It's us who hide things."

"I don't really care if you do or not," Fury admitted.  "Though there's no conjugal visits in this building or on the hell carrier."  She quirked an eyebrow up and slightly smirked, just a hint of one.  "For anyone."  The other agents huffed.   "Just know that people are going to complain."

"We do have a gay president," Clint pointed out.

"Yes and his consort is cackling from what I got told earlier," Fury quipped.  "Up to you two and do the damn paperwork, people."

"We have," Natasha admitted.  "When she had to redo hers for Stark."

He smiled.  "Good!"

"It got pointed out to us that we couldn't be with her if she was that injured if it wasn't filed," Clint said.

Joyce looked over.  "I'd never keep you away."

"It may not always be you, but your other daughter."

"Buffy...  Sometimes she does turn judgmental."

Phil walked up to the table.  "Sorry I'm late.  I had to verify some facts."  He sat down and slid down a report.

Fury looked at it and then at him.  "You're sure?"

"Saw her myself and that's what I was verifying, if they sent her back with conditions or obligations.  I had to tell Tara, who is still probably crying."  Joyce sent her a text message.  "Joyce, the Elders Council pulled back Willow."

Joyce stared at him.  "I take it that's why my elder daughter was evasive when we talked last night?"  He nodded.  She slumped.  "Is Hylal throwing a fit?  He hates magic."

"They worked it out as she's not coming into the house, near any of the children, including Callia, and he would take her out the first time she caused Buffy any problems."

"Good!  I love that boy like a good son."  She put her phone up.  That explained why Tara was crying.

Fury looked at her then at his agent.  "Shouldn't she be in custody?"

"There's no current charges.  Her death sentence was carried out when she fell during the battle, sir."

"What about permanent detention laws?"

"We don't have any unless we can prove she did it as an act of terrorism instead of a moment of addiction."

"Which is what it was," Fury said, leaning back.  "I want her under watch."

"We have three agents in Cleveland and the ones that were turned.  They all know to watch her," Phil said.  "As a side note, Spike has moved back to LA."

"That's fine," he agreed.  "I doubt he wants to deal with it and I'd like his ex to stay further away from DC."  Joyce cackled.  "You met her?"

"Not in person but heard.  I let Spike talk to me about her.  He took care of her for over a century of being slightly off.  She still calls Xander her dark kitten too."

Fury shook his head. "You guys were all messed up."  He looked at Coulson.  "Daily updates."

"They are.  Directly to myself or Agent Hill, sir."

"Good."  He put it into his pile.  "Any other cheery news we need to go over?"

"Agent Hill raised her hand.  "Another agent, who I will not name, has asked about our domestic partnership rules, sir.  We don't have any as I found out."

"I don't rightly care who fucks who as long as they're happy about it," he said bluntly.  "If they're married or in some sort of union, then that's up to their decisions.  We don't report anyone's marriage status because then I'd have to remove the agents who are married to each other to different areas."

"Health insurance does cover it," Phil said.  "I asked in case Tara found someone nice again.  I'm not sure about the life insurance."

"I'll tell them that."  She smiled.  "Birds?" she asked with a point at his tie.

He looked and brushed at it.  "Jonathan.  He has an ear thing."  She giggled.  "Tara yelled because I turned him into the sink in time.  Or so I thought."  He checked his pants and shoes, nothing on them.

Fury shook his head.  "Your twins are evil."

Phil smiled.  "Yes, they are.  They'll probably make excellent agents because of it, sir."

"I'm sure they will."  He got up.  "Go away."  He went back to his office, taking the folder Joyce held up.  "Just to sign?"

"Yes.  I laid your messages out earlier."

"I saw.  Thank you."  He went in there to deal with those.  Joyce was a better assistant for him.  She was calm and didn't wear clothes that made agents start to hide in the bathroom.  Dawn made better coffee though.


A guard walked into Pepper's office after knocking.  "Miss Potts?"

"What's wrong?  A threat?"

"Or six."  He handed them over.  "Came in the mail.  The nasty group of heathens who hate her for being skilled hate her more now.  There's also an online video you should see.  I sent you the link via email, ma'am."

She got into that, wincing at the preacher who said he wanted her to be fixed, or bred to, so that her gifts didn't go to waste.  "Oh, dear."

Dawn leaned in.  "If that's the idiot minister, I wrote back a nice response on my livejournal saying that he wouldn't get his wish and if he wanted me to be that way, he could save his own self.  Then I pointed out threatening to have me raped was a threat and I was going to turn it over to the FBI since it was across state lines.  I have also started a lawsuit through a private attorney over his hateful bitchiness.  Is there more?" she asked the guard with a smile.

"More like the ones who wanted you conscripted."

Dawn got her own file to compare.  "Why didn't we see these?" Pepper asked.

"Nothing legally we could do so I've been keeping track."  She pointed.  "That's been a frequent commentor."

Tony strolled in with Callia.  "Did you see the news?  Someone's asking if we really want gay superheros to protect us."

"And yet, my great-great aunt was," Dawn said dryly.  She called her mom.  "Mom, you might want to talk to someone about your aunt.  Yeah, that stuff.  Thanks, Mom.  No, I'm good.  Some evil shits with hate mail that I'm suing.  Thanks."  She hung up.  "She reminded me to eat too."  She smiled at Callia.  Then she got up and went to the site that was showing the most hateful things, putting up a comment about a few others that were.  Someone there demanded she cite her sources.  So she did.  They started to shout so she smirked evilly and posted the link on her livejournal.

Tony laughed.  "That's so evil."

"Yes I am."  She smiled.  "Especially since one of them is a former member of his church, helped build it."  She smirked.  The feed from her livejournal was picked up by the gay military vets group.  She smiled at Pepper.  "I'm still suing him."

"I would too.  Though I'm not sure if you have much to stand on."  Dawn got into another sermon, which made Pepper shudder and turn off after a few minutes.  "That's definitely a threat.  Did you turn that in?"

"Yes.  The FBI said I had to sue him since it wasn't more than the rantings of an idiot."

"No, that's beyond that," Stark said, starting a background check on them.  "I'll be damned.  He's got a brother in HYDRA."

Dawn went back farther and pointed.  "And an uncle from Cap's unit."

"He was fighting his own family."  He went to talk to him about that.

"We've had two requests to talk to you," Pepper told her.

She shrugged.  "I'm still not outing the relationship beyond what I have but sure."  She smiled.  "Maybe I'll be inspiring."

"You definitely are," the guard said, smiling at her.   He patted her and left it with them.

Dawn smiled at Callia.  "Want to go check on Andrew and Jonathan?"

"Sure."  She took her hand and walked out.  "Why are people yelling?"

"Because some people can't see that the world isn't always what they think it is."  Callia looked confused so she grinned. "Some people believe they live in Candy Land, like the game, but they don't and when you tell them that or show them that, they get mad."


"Because humans like things to be the way they want them to be. Like how you get pouty if you don't have tomatoes?  They get pouty if what they want to happen doesn't."

"Am I that way?"

"No.  We won't let you turn into them.  You know you live here, not in Candy Land."

"I don't get that much candy.  Chutes and Ladders looks like more fun to live in anyway."

Dawn grinned.  "It definitely does."  They walked into the lab.  "Hey, guys."

"Hi," they said, smiling at them.

Jonathan hugged her.  "Congrats on the coming out."

She winked.  "I only half came out."  He laughed and hugged her then the baby.  Andrew did too.  "How are we doing today, guys?"

"About the same.  We have a line of code that does not work," Andrew said.

Callia looked at him.  "Is that like counting?"

"Something like that only in another language."

"That's one I don't know," Dawn said when Callia looked at her.  "Your daddy does but he hasn't had to program without JARVIS for a while."

"JARVIS?" Callia called.

"Yes, Callia."

"Where is their counting problem?"

"There's three different code parse errors in lines 51, 1158, and 885597."

"Thank you, you saved us," Jonathan said.  "If we could, we'd buy you a candybar, JARVIS."

"I unfortunately cannot eat them.  They do seem to be enjoyable with the way people like them."  Dawn smiled up at the sensor.  "Though, could you two manage to clean out your storage closet this week?  There's a scheduled electrical update in the next lab and they might need in there."

"Of course we can," Andrew promised.  "We can do that later."

"You need to not sleep in the lab," Dawn said firmly.

"We're not.  We're sharing a suite now and playing video games," Jonathan said with a grin.  "We reconnected with our geek friends."

"Good."  She hugged them both then took Callia.  "C'mon, potty time."  She pouted.  "Yes, now."  She winked and walked her out, taking her in there.  She ran in to use it.  "You only have to remind us."

"They give too good of cuddles to give up for potty breaks," she called from the stall.

"They do give nice hugs."  She looked up.  "JARVIS, can they have the roomba?"

"I think that would tickle them greatly."  He found it in storage and sent it to them.  They had it barking like it was a dog and playing fetch within hours.


Two days later, Pepper spotted the roomba running around the admin area.  "What are you doing?" she asked it.  It barked and extended it's cleaning tube/tentacle.  "Why do you have a tentacle?"  Clearly she needed more coffee or a nap, because this was mentally warping and it was too early for that problem.  It sucked up something behind Dawn's desk and barked then ran it off.  "Um, that's a bomb.  That goes to security," she called after it.  It barked twice and headed that way.  "Thank you!"  She went in to call Tony.  "Why do we have a bomb sniffing, barking, tentacle using roomba?" she asked.

"We have a what?  My roomba?"

"Maybe.  It just found a tiny explosive behind Dawn's desk with its tentacle then barked at me."

"Not my doing," he admitted.  "I'm not that weird this week."  He hung up and went to check on that.  Dawn wasn't in yet.  With a hunch, he stopped into the tinkering lab.  Banner and McKay were in there arguing.  "Did you guys touch my roomba?"

"Beyond the fact that that is a filthy accusation," McKay quipped. 

Banner pulled up the story for him and looked at Tony.  "Jonathan's been playing fetch with it.  Why?"

"It has a bomb sniffing tentacle and barked at Pepper."

"The tentacle is probably Andrew's doing.  He does like anime."

"So do I," Tony admitted.  He went to check on the bomb.  He'd look at his poor roomba later.  They were very fun geeks to have around and made life very interesting.  They were trying to get the IED from the roomba.  "Drop it," he ordered.  It did and barked, wiggling its backside back and forth.  "Good roomba."  He petted it.  The roomba barked again and ran circles around Jonathan.  "It used to pick up pacifiers."

"Was it yours?" Andrew asked cautiously.

"I had it in storage.  You did a good job but that tentacle could look a bit more sea creature instead of hentai."  He looked at Andrew, who blushed and nodded he'd fix it.  "Thanks."  He smiled at Jonathan.  "Nice coding too."  He beamed.  "Who put the IED on Dawn's desk?"

"Running footage back now, sir," the head of security said.  He paused it and let him see it.  "I don't know him."

"That's... is that a SHIELD agent?" Tony asked.

"Yes, he's been hanging around here," Jonathan said.  "We tied him up and put the Control Circlet on him to see who he was."

Tony stared at him.  "I don't have a single report on that."

"We made it back in high school and Warren used it to find out what girls were really thinking," Andrew said sheepishly.

"I'd like to see those as well," Tony said.  They preened.  "You guys made some really incredible stuff in your garages."  They bounced and ran off to get their files.  "I could've used something like that when Pepper was being obtuse," he said at the guard's look.  "Print that for me."  He did.  He walked off.  "Coulson," he called in the elevator.  He appeared with his coffee cup in hand.  He handed the picture over.  "IED behind Dawn's desk."

"Charming.  Thank you."  He disappeared to look up that agent.  Fortunately he had disabled all the cameras in his office, including his webcam.  He found who they were and went to talk to Agent Hill.  He was on her staff.  He held up the picture of him planting the device.


"Her desk."

"Kill him for me?"

"Do you want a bit?"

"No.  I won't stop and save you any."

He smiled.  "Thank you."  He walked off.  "Agent Styers."  His head popped up.  So did Fury's.  "Let's go spar, shall we?"

"I'd rather not, Agent Coulson."

"Your only choice is if you go to prison before you spar with me or after.  Which would get you solitary for a while instead of general population."  The agent was pale.  He smirked just a tiny bit.  "I'm giving you a chance to explain your problems before they come out at trial.  Which would you prefer?"


"Go ahead, we'll be amused," he promised, taking the bullets from his gun with his powers before he could pull it.  They landed behind Maria, who he knew was hiding his new skills for him.  She had faced him down about teleporting Joyce to safety during the invasion.  "We're waiting."  He pulled it and tried to kill himself.  The gun clicked.  "Good.  You're ineffectual in many methods.  That would've only led to you being a vegetable for however long we would keep feeding you, which means you'd die of starvation in something between two weeks and a year.  The gun goes in your mouth if you're killing yourself.  Now, sparring?"  The agent looked around.  No one was going to help him, not even Tara, who was shaking her head with a sigh.

"What did he do?" Fury asked.  Phil held up the picture.  "Is that an IED?"

"Yes, sir."  He stared at him.  "At Stark Towers."

"I believe he will spar," Fury said.  "That way the people in gen pop are expecting him for a good, long time."

"My pleasure, sir."  He hauled the agent off to deal with him.  He did need some sparring time and this one would be a good warm up to a real match.  Not like he was going to be a challenge, even without the new powers.

Fury looked around.  "If there's more of those, I'd be more effective when you shoot yourselves."  All the agents nodded and looked away.  "Good.  I don't care who sticks what where as long as it's fun for them.  Am I clear?"  They nodded.  "Good!  Now can we get back to saving the damn world instead of being perverts who need to watch it to get hard?"  They ducked down and got back to work.  He looked at Agent Hill.  "Any others you know about?"

"Not at the moment, sir."

"Tell me if you do.  Are those bullets?"


"Good.  Use them if you need to."  He went back to his office.

Agent Hill walked over.  "Tara, are you all right?"

She smiled.  "I'm okay.  I would've beaten him with a shoe."

"I'd offer you mine," she said.  "They have harder soles."

Tara giggled and patted her on the arm.  "You do wear scary boots but they look good on you."  She smiled.  "Is Dawn all right?"

"I haven't heard differently."

"Good."  She smiled at Natasha as she walked into the office.  Then stomped out looking pissed off.  "I don't think Phil is going to have too long with him."

"The agent had failed his physical for the last three attempts.  He was about to go on administrative leave for it next week when he failed his last allowed attempt for six months."

Tara smiled and pulled a bag out of her pocket.  "Walnut and butterscotch?"

She took one and nibbled.  "Those are excellent.  I make terrible cookies, burn them and everything, but you're great at it."  She smiled.  "I'll have to watch how many I can steal a day."

Tara blushed.  "I like baking, especially when I'm thinking."

Agent Hill smiled.  "My mother taught me to make bread those days."  She finished her cookie and walked off.  "There's that new movie out tonight on pay-per-view."

Tara smiled.  "I'd love to.  I was going to watch it with the kids."

"You can bring them."

"You can come over if you want.  Phil said he was going to retreat to his room so he didn't have to see another corset coming off."

Maria smiled.  "I could like that."  That had answered a few questions about her and Coulson's relationship.  "Seven?"

"There's really no set time so whenever you get free, and I'll make spaghetti?"

"Sure.  I'll bring some garlic bread.  Do you drink wine?"  Tara shook her head.  "Then I'll bring some tea."

"I'd love that."  They shared a smile and got back to work.  Tara did give her the bag of cookies.  "Phil said I'm making him fat."

She laughed.  "He spars too much for that."  Tara grinned and went back to helping Joyce and then the science teams.  She ate another one, glancing at Joyce, who looked happy whenever she caught her eye.  She had gotten approval of the group's mother, that was a good thing. 

In the elevator on her way to lunch, Phil popped in.  "Just make her happy.  She deserves to be happy."

"I will.  There's cameras."

"I disabled all the ones in here last night and again this morning when I came in.  They still haven't turned them on.  The only one that might work is the button camera and it's pointed at your chest."

She looked and took it off to smash under her boot.  "Thank you."

"Welcome.  I've always admired you, Maria."  He smiled.  "You might get the shovel talk from Dawn."

"I know Dawn can beat me to death with a shovel from halfway across the US."  She smiled and got off.  He rode back up to his office level.  She had great permission now.  That was a good sign.  As long as Tara could stand her workaholic habits.


Dawn came in from the business meeting she had went to for Pepper and found Tony waiting on her.  "Am I being too much trouble?" she asked.

"Are you still worried about that?"

"Yeah.  Some girls worry about their weight, some of us worry about our jobs and supporting ourselves."  She shrugged.  "Why?"

"An agent put an IED behind your chair and you didn't notice for a day."

"I felt something that I blocked but then I got caught up in the problem in lab 2 and lab 32."  He winced.  "And then I went home to go 'ow' for a few hours and make dinner.  I haven't been in the building today.  It was an IED instead of a listening device?"

"There was?" he demanded.

"Yeah, top drawer and the old one I've kept disabled was in the bottom, left hand side, under the spare ammo."

"I need to see that," he said.  "Come on."  She ran her pass and followed.  He got handed the one from the top drawer.  He opened the bottom one.  "You do have spare ammo."

"Of course I do.  I might need it."  He looked at her.  "They're a bit loud," she said quietly.  "I've been meaning to spar but hey, injured."

"Do it later against Cap."

"He won't.  You know he won't."


"Cried when I knocked him down but I think he was pleased at how good I did."

"We'll spar later."

She looked at him, shaking her head.  "I'm not breaking you.  Pepper would kill me.  We can spar later tonight, once we're all calm."

"Okay."  He looked at the bug he found.  "It may have been this you were blocking yesterday."  He showed her the picture.

"That doesn't really have an electronic buzz until the remote is used."

"I know," he said.  "How do you know?"

"I got bored and went over Xander's bomb manual collection while we were waiting to come back.  I got through three or four before Roque spotted me reading one and lost his mind."  She smiled.  "I thought his brain was going to start to smoke he was so pissed off.  He told me I was too nice for that."

"I think those people who think I should marry your young ass may have a point," Tony said, staring at her.

She smiled.  "Sorry, boss, can't.  That'd be harassment and the only one you're allowed to harass around here is Pepper.  It's in her contract."

"Did she find that clause?" he asked.

She smiled and nodded.  "Gave it a fond smile."

"That's Pepper for ya."  He looked at her.  "Some day you'll turn into a scary geek."

"I'm not that sort of geek.  Sorry."  She grinned.  "But I promise if I have kids some decade in the future that I'll teach them what I know."

"Do that so one of them can help Callia."  He walked off with the bugs, shaking his head.  Once he was locked in his lab he shivered.  If he could breed her to Pepper and get Pepper's nature and Dawn's skill inside her, then he'd be a happy genius.  But he wasn't going to make himself a girlfriend in any meaning of the word.  He wasn't that sort of genius.  And really, Pepper would beat him to death if he tried.


Dawn walked in that night and smiled at Clint, kissing him.  "Sparring time?" she offered.

"Your wrist...."

"I'll keep on the brace."

"We can wait."

She stared at him.  "Only if you want to me to start thinking seriously about how to go take down three ministers and a senator that're causing me hell," she said quietly.

"Sure, sparring," he agreed, taking another kiss.  "After dinner."

"I love that you cook."

"It's better than cleaning."

"It is."  She went to change, finding Natasha in the bathroom.  "Need a book?" she quipped.

"No, not this time.  I'm soaking."

"Okay."  She changed.  "Let us know if you want help."

"I will."



"Sparring later," Dawn noted.  She heard the water move.  "You can stay in and we'll bring you dinner."

"I'll consider it.  You two spar."

"Okay."  She went back out there, adjusting the spandex bike shorts length unitard.  He stared at her.  "By the way, that minister in North Carolina and the one in Georgia both offered to find me a real man to breed me to so that my future spawn could do what I was too scared to do."

"I saw those."

"I so nearly went down there.  I'm suing instead."

He kissed her.  "We'll spar."

"She said she's soaking."

"Okay.  Dinner?"

"She said she'd get it later."

"Okay."  They ate and he stretched then they went down to spar in the room they had set up for that.  Steve was in there boxing.  "Bare-handed," he warned her.  She nodded, dropping her weapons off to the side.

Steve watched her.  "You carry hidden weapons?"

"Wouldn't you?" she quipped.  "Especially with as many jackasses who wanted me hard enough to try to take me?"  He glared at her. "You find a better word for the Russian mafia."

"I can't," he admitted, going back to boxing.

Dawn stepped onto the matts, smiling at her boyfriend.  "You're awfully far away for sparring and you said no weapons."

He smirked back.  "Let me finish stretching and I'll kick you around for a while."  She snorted.  He stepped on and focused on her.  He could see the urges in her eyes, feel it across the bond.  "You waited way too long."  She waved her hand.  "No excuse."

"You said so."

"I didn't realize," he said quietly.  He lunged to start it off.  She defended pretty well.  Her ribs were mostly healed and he kept telling himself not to take advantage of it.

She looked at him.  "I can handle it," she reminded him, kicking him on his sore knee.  He had twisted it jogging the other day.  She let herself drop into them. 

He let himself drift into the old skills and it was seriously a hard spar.  She'd definitely be bruised.  He'd be bruised and limping.  She was merciless on his knee.  He did get her once on the ribs, making her hiss but she only shifted her weight to limit his access.  He did make her yelp with a kick to the butt but she flipped over and got him from behind, making him groan as she got his kidney.  He finally did win because she was tired and falling out of shape.  They needed to make her practice more often.  He pinned her down, panting and sweating down onto her sweaty face.


She groaned.  "Not at the moment."

He nodded, feeling along their link.  He could still feel them.  "Up."  He pulled back, taking a towel from Steve to wipe his face off.  She did the same and her upper chest.  "You calmer?"


He sighed.  "See if she's out of the tub?"

"Natasha's still in the tub," Steve said.  "I called."  They nodded.  "Is this still a necessary thing?"  Dawn nodded, swallowing to catch her breath.  "Dawn, your ribs?"

"I'm fine, Steve."  She straightened up and stretched a bit.  "I'll be fine."

"Tomorrow night.  You've fallen out of routine," Clint reminded her.

"I know.  I'll run tomorrow."  He smiled.  "It only makes me hotter so you drool."

"Sometimes."  He walked her off.  "C'mon, I'll make the ice packs."

"I could like a few.  Did you have to give me a wedgie by kicking me on the butt?"

"Yup, sure did.  Got you off my knee."

She smiled.  "I'll work on it later."

"Thank you."  They went upstairs.  Phil walked in after them.  "That's really creepy."

"Yay," Coulson said, staring at Dawn.  He put his hands on her temple.  "I only learned how to do this earlier," he said quietly.  "The mental exercises you use to keep the bond closed are loosening the restraints," he told her.  "I felt a flash earlier?"

"No, you felt me react to a sudden bright light Stark flashed at me."

"Good."  He hugged her.  "We'll spar tomorrow after we run."  She nodded.  "For now, no going after the idiots.  We're handling it."

She nodded.  "I'm trying."

"Good."  She relaxed.  He healed both of them.  "Go spar the other way so I don't get hit with it?"  He went back upstairs.

Clint flexed his knee.  She stretched and nodded.  It was a good idea to distract her.  They walked into the bedroom.  "'Tasha, you going to stay in there all night?" she called.

Natasha looked at the door from the tub.  "Probably."  She took a pill and sipped some water to wash it down.  Her exam today had not been a good one.  She shifted in the tub, feeling the medicine start to work as her stomach cramped.


Dawn walked in the next morning looking perky and slightly warmer than usual.  The guards blinked.  "What?  Not like I have today off."  She ran her pass.  It didn't work.  "Okay."

"Security lockdown," one said.  "You didn't hear?"

"No.  How long?"

"Few hours probably.  Someone didn't close their chemical mixing very well when it shook.  Spewed all over the lab," the head guard said.

"Okay, I'll have my tablet at home.  Let me know when I can come back."  They nodded.  She went back home to put her feet up and use her tablet to send a message to Pepper and one to Stark that she was on if they needed her.  She got one back from Pepper wondering where she was.  She sent one.  No answer and she had asked a question about the lockdown.  She tried to call.  Diverted to JARVIS. 

"Cute," she said, using Natasha's tablet to do that.  Still diverted.  She smirked evilly and typed in a program on Natasha's.  She could hack and had been teaching Dawn some.  She found Pepper's email and the diversion.  She got around it and sent her an IM.  Pepper sent back a complaint.  Dawn told her what had been said and about her emails.  Pepper promised to handle it and gave her today off, to go sunbathe on the roof.

"I can do that," Dawn quipped.  She could even set up the cameras so they all diverted up there.


JARVIS huffed.  "Sir, we have a slight hacking problem," he said.

Tony looked up from fiddling with something.  "By which group?"


"Why is Dawn hacking and where is she?  No one's come to nag me yet."

JARVIS went quiet.  "It seems that there's been a diversion put in place to keep her out of contact today."

"Why?  Is there a plot to take her?" Tony asked.  "Or are they tired of supposedly protecting her?"

"I'm not certain but it starts in that one security officer's computer that you had to complain to about his Dawn stalking habits."

"Interesting."  He moved to his computer.  "Pull that up for me."  The AI did and he stared.  "That's not a good thing but he thinks it'll protect her.  Why does she need protected from us?"  He went further.  "That's not our fault!  Half of that was her sister's!"

"Love is not a reasonable thing," JARVIS said blandly.  "Or else you wouldn't have done a few of your stunts over the years."

"Didn't I say to forget those and to quit picking on me?" Tony asked, typing something into the system.  It exposed all his plots, and his shrine to Dawn.  He growled.  "No, not good or right or allowed."  He shut down his system and locked it under his administrative privilege.  "Where is she today?"

"I do believe that the link that diverted Pepper's emails and yours is now diverted to watching her sunbathe."  He flashed that link.

Tony stared.  "I hate bikinis sometimes."  He sighed.  "She's getting skinny again too."  He turned it off.

"It was reported that she was sparring last night."

"She probably needed it."  He went to talk to Pepper, who was the CEO so she could fire people for him.  He pulled up all the captured material.

"That's not good."  She looked at him.  "She hacked in to talk to me."

"JARVIS caught her.  I've got to teach her that."  She smiled.  "I should teach you that too probably.  What are we doing beyond firing him?  Because I'm about to call Barton and let him come defend her honor."

"That might not be a good thing.  They're probably going to be sparring again tonight."

"She needs it?"

"She was muttering about taking a fast business trip down south yesterday."

"Then she probably does need it.  No Natasha?"

"Haven't seen her and I think Dawn said she's at SHIELD."

"Hmm.  Can we let Dawn beat him?"

"She's so much better than he is."

"Which would break his crush with Her Flirtiness.  Speaking of, she hadn't dick teased recently."

"She's in a relationship."

"She still dick teased."

"They weren't as tight then."

"That doesn't change anything."

"There may have been other reasons," she admitted.  "But Dawn did not say anything."  He nodded at that.  "We need to see if he's working with others."

"I'm pretty sure he's glued to the security feed that his diversion is now on."  He let her see it.

She smiled.  "I like her in that one."

"I don't need to know," he said, turning it off.  She laughed.  He glared.  She laughed harder.  "Enough," he said.

"If it was anyone but her."

"I know.  She's going scary.  She was reading bomb manuals at the temple until Roque stopped her."

"She has here too."  They went to find that guard and talk to him about his alternate career options.  He complained and said it wasn't against the law to protect someone.  Tony laid out exactly how many stalking laws he's broken over her.  Including selling a few photos of her to the press when his check was a bit short.  He stomped off and vowed that she'd be protected.  He walked out and into a fist.

Steve looked at him.  "Young women like Dawn don't appreciate being stalked," he said, staring down at him.  "Those of us who like her will have to protest like the big brothers she calls us."  He got up and fled.  "You have a better life."  Tony was staring at him.  "What?"

"Big brother duties?"

"Yup.  Can we talk?"

"Definitely."  He walked him up to the office.  Pepper was talking to their IT department to see who else had picture files of Dawn on their systems.  "What's wrong?"

"They were seriously sparring last night."

"They probably needed to."

"Natasha's been quiet."

"I'm not sure why but I think it's a personal issue.  I'm not digging into her past."

"Okay."  He stared at him.  "Is Dawn still... infected isn't the right word."

Tony got him some water.  "Things like programming might never go away, even if you break it they can pop up.  It's why Dawn basically switched and goes ninja on people who attack her."  He drank some of his water.  "I'm fairly certain that she's sparring to control the urges.  They told you that."

"I thought that might end after she was better.  I've seen stuff on cult members and they get cured."

"They often find another version to follow," Tony said.  He sat down.  "I don't think if it hasn't totally broken yet it can't be.  I have a feeling that something else went on, something experimental, and we might never break it.  Dawn?" he called.

She appeared, pulling on a robe.  "Does this mean I can come back to work since whoever took my ID out of the system again?"

"I'll have Pepper reauthorize it.  Steve's worried about your sparring."  She shut the door with a look and sat down with a sigh.  "How loud are they, kid?"

"Not very.  They both think that there's always going to be some.  A lot of them are started if I haven't been keeping up with something to get aggression out.  Getting mad makes them come faster, or frustration."

"So you got frustrated, haven't sparred, and it got bad because of those idiot ministers," Tony said.

"And the few senators that agreed."

"They're going to be voted out," Steve said.

She smiled.  "One's been a senator for over twenty years."

"We're running an ad about 'what if this was your daughter'," he said.  "Though, those earlier heros, one is still alive and growled that you used him that way.  Then someone pointed out who you actually were and who you're related to.  He thinks your sister should give up and get a real uniform too."

She smiled.  "She'd look bad in spandex.  Buffy tends to run on the thin side."

"So are you," Steve said.

"Mine's been pain.  My wrist was killing me or I would've let it out sooner."  She looked at Tony.  "I'm in full control."

"I know you are.  We would've cleaned up more of a mess when that agent tried for you on Friday."  She smiled.  "Still, a bit much."

"If I could've sparred I would've," she assured him.  "I needed to."

He nodded.  "You have my permission to beat up on me or Happy."

She shook her head.  "I can't do that."

"You can."

"I can't.  Ask Cap."

Steve shook his head.  "She can't, Tony.  She'd probably injure you.  Clint limped out even after Phil fixed his knee she nearly took off."  Dawn nodded.  "How much of that was the training?"

"I've been taking self defense lessons for years," she said.  "Everyone seems to want me in that bad way in case you forgot."

"Oh, I remember a few of them."  She smirked at him.  "So that refined it?"

"No, they didn't get around to much physical manipulation.  They tried some muscle creating ones but I remember laughing because they were trying to get me to scale walls."  Tony snickered, shaking his head.  "I think I distracted myself by asking Clint to turn on some music."

"Huh?" Steve asked.

She glanced at the door then at him.  "Remember when I had that migraine and my jaw was stuck shut because I had clenched it so hard?"

"I heard about it."

She smiled.  "What did I do?"

"You.. Oh!  Was that you at the USO event?"  She smiled and nodded.  "Thank you."

"Welcome.  Just hit you with an idea."  She looked at Tony.

"I've noticed," he assured her.  "And that one's better or stronger."

"She got different training."

"Obviously."  He considered it.  "So now what, kid?"

"Now, I could really use another spar and it's not a good day for it.  Coulson had Clint taking down rookie agents all day.  He's exhausted.  Just don't fire me unless they catch me, okay?"

"You go I'm paddling you," Tony assured her.  He looked around his desk, finding something and tossing it at her.  She caught it and looked at him.  "If it's that bad, take one.  Nap."

She shook her head.  "Didn't help last time.  I sleep teleported."  She tossed it back.

He winced.  "That's bad."  She nodded.  "Anything tether-like?"  She shook her head.  "Anything other than sparring that wears it out?"  She shook her head.  "Go to Xander's temple and beat up on the soldiers?"

She considered that.  "I haven't sparred against Teyla in a while."

Tony smiled.  "Go change out of that thing that's giving too many people indecent ideas."  He stared at her.  "Why no teasing?"

"Haven't really been in the mood," she admitted, patting her wrist.

He stared at her.  He could read Dawn pretty well.  That wasn't what was worrying her.    "What's her issue?"

She shrugged.  "She won't tell me.  I know it's something in her past.  I know that someone trying subliminal things recently started it off.  Maybe this is her version of PTSD?"

"Could be," he admitted.  "Go change?"

She smirked.  "And yet you just wondered why I wasn't dick teasing, Stark."

"That's more than that."

She rolled her eyes.  "Fine, whatever."  She went home to change into something she could spar in.  Xander's temple was cooler because it was on a mountain.  So definitely leggings and a t-shirt.  She flashed there and looked at the people in the ring.  "I need some," she said.

Xander looked at her.  "You're better than most of them."

She nodded.  "I know and that's sad in many strange ways."  John laughed.  "John, spar with me?"

"I'd hurt you, Dawn."

"I doubt it muchly."  She looked at him.  "It's a need right now."

He stared at her.  "Damn it," he muttered.  She shrugged.  "Yeah, we can do that.  How tired are you?"

"None.  I had an unintentional day off when a security guard decided it would protect me.  So I was sunbathing."  She pulled back her hair.  "Boys, move."  She walked into the ring.  The one in there took a swing at her.  She knocked him down and walked over him.  "Thank you."

"You sure you want that t-shirt?" John asked.  "It's going to tangle you."

"If I need to I can take it off later.  I have a sports bra on and I'm sure you've seen tits."

"I have, many times.  Including yours in a bikini thanks to a tabloid."  She smirked.  He attacked and she fought back.  She wasn't bad.  The training showed on her.  He was still stronger and faster due to the iratus incident.  She was losing ground fairly quickly but she took off the t-shirt and let herself fall faster.  That was a bad sign in his book but he knew why.  Xander had told him.  He was going full tilt with her and it was probably a thing of beauty.  He split her lip and she licked it then bounced off his chest, kicking him in the process of the flip.  He got back up and came again.  She met him and it was still pretty good but she was clearly getting tired.  "You need worn out this much?" he asked.

She nodded.  "Yup.  Or else I'm going to be mean."

"Okay."  He took a harder swing that she ducked and then came up with one of her girlfriend's moves.  Which made him groan and lay there coughing.  "Ow."

"Sorry, learned it off 'Tasha."

"I remember seeing her do it," he said, getting up slowly.  She helped and he pulled her down.  "You lost your focus," he said.  She flashed out and kicked him on the shoulder.  "No powers here."

"I'm not godly.  That's about my whole bag of tricks."

"Shields?" he suggested.  "Wind spells?"

"No, if I'm fully down, it doesn't get that polite."

He nodded.  "That's a good thing."  He shook out his arms.  "Come on."  She attacked and Xander tossed down staffs.  That would help spare him some bruises and she wasn't bad.  He was going to wear her out.  If he couldn't, Ronon was around watching.  He finally wore them both out and panted, looking at her.  "You're one tough kid."

She smiled.  "I am."   She made herself straighten up.  "Thanks."

"Welcome but next time, go sooner," he said quietly.

"Bruised ribs and a broken wrist," she said bluntly.  He winced.  "Yeah."  She gave him a hug.  "Thank you."

"Welcome, Dawn."  He pointed.  "Go present yourself to Xander."

She walked up there, taking her t-shirt back from Ronon.  "Hey, big guy.  I'd hug but I'm sweaty."

"You are.  When..."

"Long story," she said quietly.  "But why that disappearing thing happened."  He just nodded.  She looked at Xander.

"Definitely better than you were two years ago," he said, staring at her.  "Really good job, still favoring your right side."  She nodded.  "You good?"

"Healing.  Spells."

He laughed and healed her.  Including her ribs and wrist.  "Been there, done that, many times."  She hugged him.  He gave her a squeeze.  "Go shower, sweaty, and then go back to the rooftop bikini time.  If you feel it that badly, come back."

She nodded.  "I can."  She disappeared.

Xander looked at John.  "That's why I was worried, yeah."

"She's got skills but still some weaknesses."  He walked up the small incline.  "She's still too wild."

"She's twenty, think back," Xander said dryly.

"I don't like to remember."  He looked over at Phil, who was watching them.  "I did my best."

"She's needed it for weeks.  Thank you.  Xander, can we talk to Natasha?  She won't talk to me."

"Sure."  He smiled.  "I can do that."  He nodded and left.  He looked at John.

"Or I can," he agreed, heading to shower and send himself to grab her.  He appeared behind her in the gym, smiling at her.  "Hi."

"John," she said quietly.

"Need to talk to you about something girlish Rodney's doing."  She snorted.  "He is.  He's being a total girl this week and Dawn couldn't help me."  He took her off.  Clint had given him a dirty look but yay.  They landed on top of a deserted building in Harlem.  He touched her head, making her flinch.  "Let me shut that down for a few."  He shut down both links then looked at her.  "You're worrying people," he said in Russian.  "I've known you for a hell of a long time, Natasha.  What the hell is going on?"

"You have known me for a very long time."

"I have.  Then again, I learned about Dawn in school."

"It's not the same."

"No, but the only one who'd understand what such a long life is like is someone who's been there."  He stared at her.  "She'll understand."

"She won't."

He stared at her.  "That's not all this is."

"They decided it was my turn to make sure that I paid them back," she said in Russian.

He nodded.  "I can go kill them really hard if you want.  I offered before."

"I believed back then."

He nodded.  "We all did when we were younger."  He leaned on the edge of the roofline.  "So what are you going to do?  If you push it back down it'll come back sometime and she'll be upset for you.  He probably already knows some?"  She nodded.  "Enough?"

"No."  She looked out over the city then back at him.  "It's a burden."

"Life's a burden."

"I could be...."

He shook his head.  "You're not."  She slumped.  "We would've realized that back then."  He grinned.  "Beyond that, still not."  He stared at her stomach then at her.

"Subliminal programming got both of us to dose the other."

"That sucks," he said.

"It's not time."

"It's never a good time.  Especially in our businesses."

"When I'm older, retired."

"They'd agree to that."

She nodded.  "It's still a burden.  She's young, innocent."

"Bullshit.  I just spent two hours wearing her out."  She winced.  "She was sparring last night too."

"We've forgotten the routine."

"She got really mad."

"I didn't think it was that bad to do."

John pulled out his phone and accessed the web, getting into a video to show her.

She watched it and growled.  "I can take care of that."

"She was going to."  He stared at her.  "She'd do anything for you," he said quietly in English.  "It's never been a burden to her."

"She's still young and idealistic."

John shrugged.  "Compared to some of us, so are you."

She swallowed and nodded.  "But not as young as they are."

"So you give up on a lot for a tiny bit of pain?"  He stared at her.  "You were trained to deal with pain, both as a dancer and not."

"I was."  She smiled slightly.  "Pain is something you move through.  I hated teaching her that."

"Not like she didn't know pain.  Watching your loved ones fight for their lives and waste away while still winning is still pain.  Not the same pain," he said when she looked at him.  "But still pain."

"She's happy."

"Good!  We'd all kick your ass if she wasn't happy."

"Not that way."

He stared at her.  "Are you actually jealous?"  She shook her head.  "You are."

"I am not."

"You are."

"I'm not.  She keeps trying to put herself second."

"And the only cure to that is to put yourself in more firmly so you're both taking care of her, the same way she takes care of both of you.  It's a stress that a lot of trios can't handle.  You're still wiser and stronger than that."  She snorted.  "And better than that.  Do you think anyone else could've gotten her through the last few years?  She's looked at you even above Pepper at times.  Pepper couldn't teach her how to handle being kidnaped.  Coulson wasn't sure how."  She nodded, turning back around.  "What do you want out of this?"

"I want...  Maybe I want things to be normal."

"You can't get much more normal than being in goofy headed love."

She turned to look at him again.  "Alexander's cousins are due to pick me up."

John shrugged.  "They're going to take Rodney too.  Ronon and Teyla if they're down here.  I'd consider that an honor."

"Dawn's going to ascend."

"Which means if she really wanted to she could hang around the hall with you."

"He will too.  He'll never sit there."

"No one says you have to sit there.  Or that you have to be picked up.  There is a path to ascension."

She nodded.  "I've seen.  It looks odd."

"It's mostly meditation and getting yourself ready to leave your body.  If you can travel out of it then you've mostly got it made and just have to let the body die off."

"I'd rather not."

"She'd be disappointed if you went first."

Natasha looked at her.  "I'm not the most vulnerable, she is."

"You go into huge battles against things that take higher weapons with handguns," he said bluntly.  "You're turning into me and Xander."  She let out a snort but smiled.  "Seriously.  Some day soon you're going to be using his axe."

"I like his axe.  It's well balanced and beautifully made."  She smiled slightly.  "I do what I can and must."

"She moved to do what she can in a way that's more protected.  Outside of this last week.  She's more likely to die in a fire.  Which, by the way, I saw her flash to."  Natasha grimaced but nodded.  "Whatever exercises you've been doing to keep the link mostly closed?  It's reawakening or she's gotten hit again."

"The subliminal wouldn't."

"Maybe, with your old bosses who knows."

"They seem to appreciate her."

"Everyone appreciates Dawn until they piss her off."  He grinned.  "Even you."

"I do," she agreed.

"Do you want to lose that because you can't speak?"

"No," she said.

"Then this fear can be conquered, and really, she might know.  She did have to take a few history classes and since she can speak Russian she might've chosen yours."  She frowned and shook her head.  "Yeah, the textbook's on her shelf.  It's horribly thick and looked really dry and boring."

"Oh, dear."

"Dawn's probably told you it's up to you to tell her what you can and want her to know about your past.  She did with Ronon when he was having a run of nightmares and asked if he wanted to talk.  He told her she wouldn't understand.  She told him why she did and how bad it got.  He got sick hearing about some of her sister's things.  But he did talk to her.  Dawn's empathy is a great gift."

"It is.  What about...."

"You've already made that decision once," he said.  "I think Dawn's putting off thinking about it because she's not sure it'll work even with the structures in place.  That plus helping raise her niece, she's got enough on the kid front, especially sitting for Tara sometimes."

"The twins are evil," she agreed, grimacing.  "I didn't think about that."

He smiled.  "She won't talk about it.  She'll hear everyone's problems and not tell anyone she needs something.  She gets it from Joyce."

"We've noticed.  We broke her of that habit."

"You had time to break it then.  Do you now have time to rebreak it?  When you're not together all the time?"

"She hasn't...  She asked for attention when she was injured."

"Good!  Of course, it took bruised ribs."  She grimaced and nodded.  "She appreciates each of you in your own way.  For your own selves and for reasons only she can find.  The same as you don't see him the same way she does."

"I've known him longer."

"Which is why she kept trying to get you two together again," he said dryly.  "We noticed and took bets about if she'd manage it."

"We had to prove to her that she had a place."

"Does she still in your heart?"  Natasha nodded.  "Then that's your answer.  Talk to her.  So far she's understood all your reasons for hiding it.  She complained a bit to Xander that she had to hide it when she wanted to be happy and giddy in public and can't because she can't risk you two."

Natasha grimaced.  "We're more worried about them coming for her."

"That's not her worry.  She knows someone will come some day.  They always seem to come some day, and she'll beat them back or not.  And if not, she'll get rescued or she'll make sure no one can use her powers."  Natasha stiffened.  "You've seen it before when someone was going to take it and use it for harm."

"Is that built in with the key?"

"No.  That's just Dawn.  I think she learned it from Xander.  Buffy has a bit about dying during an apocalypse if she must.  Then again, she has died."

Natasha swallowed.  She was starting to feel sick.  "She would give up?"

"If the choice was letting the key out or doing it?  Yes.  She'd protect everyone with it."

She nodded.  "We made sure she knew we could help her the last time," she said quietly.

"Yes, but that's not the only threat to her.  Are you strong enough to handle those with her?"

"I am.  I hope."

"Then she'll trust you to help her.  Even if she doesn't ask."

She sighed.  "She does.  Trust is hard-won in our lives."

"And yet, you trust her enough to sleep next to her," he said.  "To not turn your back to hers so you're guarding one direction and her the other."  She looked at him.  "She's not a battlefield companion for you."

"She's not.  I haven't slept like that in years."

"How did you sleep last night?"

"In the tub handling the stomach cramps."  She grimaced.  "The night before I slept between them."

"They knew you needed it."  He pulled her closer.  "It's your decision but if you hurt her, do it cleanly and clearly, and tell her why.  If not, she might waste.  She will mope, she will get depressed and I'm not sure he's enough to hold her."

"He is."

"You keep throwing him at people," he pointed out.  "You did in the past."

"Are you reading my mind?"

"I was handling a lot of things in Europe back then," he said dryly.

"I didn't sense you."

He grinned.  "You wouldn't have.  I made sure no one did."  He stared at her.  "What do you want to do?"

"I want to get drunk."

He laughed.  "That doesn't usually work to solve anything."

"We could talk then."

"I doubt it.  She'd put you to bed, make sure you had water and aspirin, and then go read."

"We could both get drunk."

"She'd only do it if there was a reason."

"I know."  She slumped.  "This isn't fair."

"Since when has life been fair?" he countered.  "It finally gives you good things and you're sulking."

She glared.  "I am not."

"Bullshit.  Or else I wouldn't have had to wear her out for two hours."

"That minister needs to go."

"There's a few with similar things, and a few senators who agree."  He stared at her.  "This is enough to make her run again."

She considered it then nodded. "It is.  There's too much attention."

"There's no spell that makes the world forget you're there."

"No, I know that."  She rubbed her forehead.  "It was easier before."

"That's nice but I'm guessing you ignored it to focus on the easy.  The complicated is always there underneath the surface with roots to pull you down."

"Love is a swamp that sucks down the children that believe in it," she agreed.  "I don't know."

"The only real answer is to talk to her."

"I will later."

"She's at home."  She looked at him.  "Something about a security guard locking her out for her own safety?"

She rolled her eyes.  "I have tried to break that crush."

"One last thought," he said.  "If it was anyone else, even him, would you have danced that dance?"

She shook her head.  "I wouldn't have."

"Yet you did, with both of them."

"We were too familiar."

"Now you have new sandpaper to smooth different edges and create new grain patterns."

"We do."  She nodded.  "Thank you."


"Who told you to come talk to me?"

"Phil.  He said you wouldn't talk to him and asked Xander."

"They are going to end up together."

He smiled.  "Yeah, probably.  Especially with so many pushy people.  Including Fury, he's the one that got us all to the ball."  She shuddered.  "Let's get you back."  He took her back to the gym and let her go.  "If you need us, you yell."

"I will."  He grinned and left.  She turned and found the gym empty.  She looked at her watch then up at the cleared throat.  "They're done?"

"I let them go find ice packs."  Clint stared down at her.  "Want to tell us why we can't feel you suddenly?"

"He locked them off for a bit."

"Okay.  Why?"

"So we could talk."

"I didn't figure you were screwing him.  Sheppard's not your style and he has nothing that's part of an operation."  He leaned his chin on his clasped hands on the hand rail of the raised jogging path.  "So what was it?"

"Would you come down here?"

"No.  I'm more comfortable up here and this is looking like something I'd want to be comfortable for."

She huffed but climbed up there.  She settled beside him.  "She doesn't know."

"About what?"


"You never told her and I wasn't going to tell anyone else's secrets.  I've got some of my own."

"She doesn't ask."

"She said she wouldn't.  She knows that privacy is important and that she'd never get everything."  She looked at him.  "What did they want?  Because even I can count."

"To pay them back."

"Is that why she's having a new set of flashes?"

"John mentioned something about fire."

"Hmm.  I haven't looked.  I've been letting her handle it and letting her come to us."

"She doesn't," she said quietly.

"She does.  She's subtle about it but she does.  She's never going to be the 'can I have a hug' person unless it's really bad.  It's a level, like it is with you."

"I need to let her know and she's not going to be happy."

He snorted.  "Dawn?  Really?"  She looked at him.  "Is this the same one that you were giving dirty looks to when she was nagging some skinhead in a stupid t-shirt that Stalin wasn't a great leader and wasn't a skinhead?"

"She was right."

"Hmm."  He stared at her.  "Why were you frowning at her?"

"She was loud."

"She's twenty.  We were loud at twenty."

"No I wasn't."

"Okay, I was."

"I remember."  She looked at him.  "Will she understand?"

"Has there been anything that she hasn't?"

"No."  She leaned on the railing.  "I don't want to upset her.  She'll want to go hurt someone."

"I'd say she'd do that anyway with the mess you left this morning."  She winced.  "Subliminal?"  She nodded.  "That was almost Freudian of you."

"Perhaps.  She's not keeping track."

"No, it's guys that keep track," he assured her.  She swatted him.  "So go home and talk to her.  I can tell you that her history book from class has a great picture on page 187.  There's a great mini essay that's only half right and calls you a myth."

"I haven't even seen the book."

"She put it sideways in the study on the shelf next to the desk."  He leaned closer.  "She's thinking about taking more language classes."

"I like that she's fluent."

"So do I.  Saves a lot of hand signals."  Natasha nodded.  "Are you over being a girl?"

"I should beat you for that."

He grinned.  "I'm sure you can with how sore I am even after Phil healed me."  She looked at him.  "She waited much too long."

"We had the routine down, we need to go back to it."

"We do.  I've needed it, you've needed it.  Stark was about to drug her earlier if it'd help until we could wear it out.  She admitted it didn't work and she sleep teleported.  He asked me about that."

"I remember waking up wondering where she was and then hearing she had to fight her way out of somewhere."

He nodded.  "That's when I figured it was too."  He looked over at the subtle vibration of footsteps.  "That's still creepy."

"Could be worse.  I accidentally sent myself back to my shower this morning," he said quietly.  He sat down on Natasha's other side.  "I erased your exam yesterday."  She nodded her thanks.  "Joyce didn't find out."

"Thank you."

"Are you going to tell her?  If not, you might want to explain why your former in-law was inviting her to dinner."  She looked at him.  He nodded.  "She called to see who he was."

"No, that will not happen."  She got up.  "Let me go talk to her."

"Want me to veg at my place?" Clint offered.

"No.  You can be there."  She walked off.  "Don't sic John on me again, Coulson."

"Next time I'll push harder and I asked Xander."  She shot him a look.  He looked at Clint.  "She's still leaving it up to you."

"How is she?"

"She's got the twins at the moment.  I keep seeing fire and I don't think it's a vision.  I can't get in there to find out."

"I'll find out tonight."

"You know, we can change it so you both ascend with her."

"I don't know that she'd want that, or that I could handle it.  Sounds boring."  He stood up.  "Death comes when it does, it shouldn't take preparation unless you're really sick."  He walked off.

Phil smiled.  "There's ways around that."  He'd have to learn them.  He got up and went home for the day.  He smiled at his kids.  Tara was on her date so they were with him.  "Let me, Dawn."

She smiled.  "The penthouse is still open."

"I know."  He took them up there, settling in to read to them.  Dawn was good making sure they were happy and smart kids.  He'd have some things to consider as they got older.

Dawn looked up from her tidying up the kid mess when the door opened.  "Hey.  Are you okay?  I felt the bond shut off right after seeing John."

"He closed it for a bit."  She moved in front of her.  "We must talk."  Dawn flinched.  "Not for that reason."  She rubbed a hand up her arms.  "Show me this history book of yours?"

"That picture really did not do you justice," she said.  "The henna it looked like you used was a really bad color."

"It was a root dye.  I used to dye it black."

Dawn touched one of her springy curls.  "I like it like this."  Natasha stared at her.  She smiled.  "Am I not a research person?"

"You know?"

"Some.  Not a lot."  She moved closer.  "It's not my job to know those things.  Your past is your past and unless you want to share it, all I need to know is that this is better than the bad parts you had."

"It's a lot better."  She settled on the couch with Dawn, going over a few things.  "When did it have me listed as being born?"

"Mid twenties."

"Late twenties."

She looked at her.  "So you're Cap's age?"  She nodded.  "Are you not aging because of something they did or am I doing something?"

"I don't think you're doing more than slightly slowing it.  They did it and it slowed because of that."

Dawn nodded, linking their fingers to play with them.  "I don't mean to tamper that way."

"Neither of us mind, Dawn."  Dawn looked at her.  "I don't and I'm sure he won't mind not feeling old for a while longer."  She gave the fingers holding hers a squeeze.  "There is much that's not pretty."

"With your job I'm pretty sure most of it isn't pretty."

"It's not.  It's a very long story."

"Mine's longer but boring because mostly I sat there and glowed."

Natasha smiled.  "I had more life than that."  Dawn nodded, looking at their fingers.  She made her look up.  "I was worried that they would come."

"And yet they did come."

"Which has not made me pleased."  She stared at her.  "That one who called?  He was my former in-law."

"Wow.  So you were married?"  She nodded.  "Okay.  Kids?"


She leaned on her shoulder.  "Whenever you want I'll be the best lamaze coach and helper I can be."

"I know you will."  She made her sit up.  "Being cuddly won't help."  Dawn got up and grabbed a bottle, coming back with it.  "That may help.  I didn't think you'd want to drink."

"I don't but you need one so we can."  She poured out two shot glasses.  "To Vasilley Vachet and may he rest in hell."  She gulped hers.

Natasha drank her shot of vodka.  That was a name she didn't want to her Dawn say casually.  "How did you meet him?"

"He tried to steal someone that Tony had scouted.  I did a background check from the roof.  He sent someone over to make me stop and I kind of dropped an electric cable onto the chopper's blades."  Natasha winced.  "It suspended but he fell out, with his gun, and hit the pavement.  Totally not sorry since he was shooting at me."

"Did we get officers here or agents?"


"Who cleaned up the mess?"

"I have no idea who they were but I did not see or hear a single thing from them."

"Interesting."  She poured another one and drank hers.  Dawn gulped hers.  "You need to do that more smoothly."

"Then I should've bought the expensive stuff."

"Probably."  She leaned back and pulled Dawn against her to gloss over some of her past.  She wasn't going to go into high details but enough that Dawn knew.  That she could try to understand.  Dawn hugged her and it was nice.  Comforting.  Relaxing.  She looked down at her.  "You should be horrified," she said quietly.

"Why?"  She shrugged.  "We only do what we can do and live with the choices we made."  She stared at her.  "I've made some choices that made things more difficult."

"Not in the same way."

Dawn looked at her.  "You can't tell me things wouldn't have been easier."

"It wouldn't have."


"Dawn," she ordered.  "It's not and if you say that again I'm sending you to therapy."

"I talked to the one Warren went to for a few minutes.  She thought I was fairly bad."

"She's wrong."  She pulled her closer.  "Why did you talk to her?"

"Someone made me."


"Someone who decided I had to have a mental eval.  Which I probably flunked."

She looked at her.  "When was this?"

"Last week."

"I'll look."

"It wasn't SHIELD.  It's the people above them."

"They do pick people based on profile.  You're still not an agent."  Dawn gave her a squeeze.  "I'll make that known."

"You can't fight all my battles," she said quietly.

"I can't," she said with a smile.  "But I can back you up."  She saw the flash and looked at her.  "What was that?"

"I don't know.  I think that's an older nightmare that's been pulled forward somehow.  Just updated."

Natasha shook her head.  "What was it?"

"I used to be really scared of fire.  Being burned alive."

"Which is normal.  Fire is to be feared and respected."

"The updated version we were playing and you guys had to rush off.  Somehow I couldn't get free of the straps," she said quietly.  "Whatever you're fighting hit the building and there I was, trapped."  She got squeezed.  "I keep waking up as the fire crawls up the bed frame."

"It will not happen.  You can move out of it."

"There's reasons I can't.  In a few I'm not awake enough to realize it until it's too late.  Something, maybe smoke inhalation, knocks me out."  Natasha shuddered and held her.  "I admit I have fucked up things, I did before.  Now they're more graphic.  Which is probably why I flunked that psych profile."

"I doubt you did."  She stroked over her hair, frowning at the few strands that broke. "That's not right."

"No, that's a reaction to the stuff that they used to strip my hair of all the drugs in it.  Dr. Pigalli was livid when Tony had her do a hair strand test.  I had some of those spores living in it, I had residue from the smoke that energy metal gave off."

"You've washed it multiple times since then."

"It was still there.  They had to strip it fully and then redo the hair test, which did come up with the same stuff I dosed your shampoo with."

"I got the same thing you did."

"I know."  She snuggled in, head on her shoulder.  "Now what?" she asked quietly.

"I think Clint was making popcorn."

She smiled.  "I could like that for dinner."  She looked up.  "We can make him watch movies."

"We could."  She felt around.  He was upstairs.  They changed into lounging outfits and went up to pounce him.

He grinned.  "Hey, girls."  Dawn pounced him, making him grunt.  "What did I do to deserve that?"

"You didn't mention the chopper they had to clean up."

"What chopper?"  She told him.  He looked at Natasha, who shrugged.  "We didn't hear  a thing about it.  Did Stark?"  She shrugged and snuggled in, pulling Natasha over so she could lay across their laps.  He looked at her then at Natasha.  "I think she's comfy."

"She does seem like it.  John said she lasted two hours."

He nodded.  "That's not bad."  He tickled Dawn, making her flinch and get away.  He smiled.  "I'm not a pillow."

"You make an excellent one."  She took a kiss and then from Natasha, getting up to pick a movie.  "Eighties or goofy?"

"Goofy," they said.  She put on one and settled in on Natasha's other side.

Clint looked at her that at Natasha.  "Isn't her spot in the middle?"

"Sometimes being in the middle is nice," she said.

He grinned.  "It is," he agreed.  "Next it's my turn."

"It's always your turn to be pounced by us," Dawn quipped.  "I got Callia into Bollywood."

"It's active, has dance numbers, brightly colored, sounds like PBS with adults to me," Clint quipped.  Dawn stole some popcorn and he let Natasha hold the bowl since she was in the middle.  That helped and they relaxed.  He looked over when he felt Dawn have another flash.  "We need to change the meditation for your shieldings."

She nodded.  "If I had a way I'd do that."

"What are you seeing now?" Natasha asked, pausing the movie.

"No damn clue."

"Okay, so we either do this the flinch way or we do it the nudging way," Clint said, nudging her mind.  It showed up and he stopped it for her.  She went limp.  "You good?"  She nodded.  He released his hold on the link, feeling Natasha do the same.  They saw where the screwed up implanted memories were and hit it to destroy more of them.  They found the root cause of the infection and stared at it.  Clint nudged it and what boiled up was disgusting. 

Dawn was clutching herself so she didn't move.  They knocked her out, which was probably a mercy.  Then they fixed the rest of those.  They had been looking over mental magic and it had some neat things about manifesting weapons and the like.  Since Dawn had magic and they were in her head, they could do that.  Even if a few of them did look a bit odd.  Why did she have Cupid's crossbow instead of a normal one?

When they were done they helped tie off the links again and settled in to watch the movie.  Dawn would wake up soon.  Or they'd snuggle later on in bed.  It was comfortable.


Phil looked up as Xander appeared, looking like he got thrown.  "What happened?"

"My damn sister."

He smiled.  "Siblings can be troublesome.  I didn't think she had powers."

"No, Alana.  She's like my sister and it's better if she's not Thor's sister."  He flopped down, staring at the kids.  "They scare me."

"They do me too.  My daughter kept trying to get the shiny gun earlier."  Xander laughed.  "My son just cooed at her to cheer her on."  He looked at him.  "Why did you get thrown this way?"

"Apparently I'm ignoring my duty to Asgard by being pouty."

"I didn't find you all that pouty."

"Me either but she's being a girl in a girl mood."  He frowned, looking around.  "What is that noise?"  He got up and went to check, finding it in a building across the street.  He read their intention and popped over to beat the shit out of them.  They quit trying to use long-distance subliminal mind control on Dawn.  They'd never do it again.  He flashed back and cleaned himself up before sitting down again.  "There, no more problems."

"We need to know what they were sending."  Xander handed over the tape he had found in the machine.  "Thanks."  He put it on the table and watched the kids sleep.  "I wasn't sure I could handle them."

"You're lucky Tara hasn't stolen them all the time."

"I won't let her."

"That's a good father thing to do though."

"It is."  He smiled and relaxed.  They were snoring, they weren't going to wake up, even if they were moved.  He heard giggling and looked toward the door.  Tara and Maria Hill walked in.  They took the babies with them.  "They're snoring."

"Did my sister nag you too?" Xander asked Tara, who smiled and nodded.  "I'm going to have Thor's goats eat her."

"No you won't.  It'll mean a lot more work and you'd have to recreate her.  I doubt Odin would like that," Tara said with a grin.  "Night."  She and Maria went back down to watch another movie.

"There's a love god plotting convention somewhere," Xander said dryly.

"Do you think they do pedicures and face masks while talking about their newest hot couples?" Phil asked.

"Yes, they do, and it's disturbing because Cupid joins in.  He does do a really great face mask that will suck the pores clean in minutes.  I had him do a few on my back when I got some boils.  Shit worked in hours."

"Quit swearing before you infect the kids."

Xander looked at him.  "I don't usually do it in front of the underage and impressionable crowd."

"Callia came out with a swear in Russian the other day.  Stark glared at Dawn, who defended it wasn't her."  Phil shifted to drink some of his coffee then got comfortable again.




"Dawn was letting out some the other day when her ribs were hurting and he laughed.  Corrected a few words so she shot back at him, making him blush and walk off cackling.  Someone at the lab he was working in up there was a gutter rat."

"Swears are universally understood.  The same as in the old days, when you wanted to know what a language was, you looked at their porn.  Because some ideas are universal and math wasn't nearly anyone's strong suit."

Phil looked at him.  "Porn was the universal language?"

"Yeah.  Each time we'd meet a new pantheon that we couldn't understand, we looked at that.  It gave us societal clues, language clues so we could decipher things, how they viewed females and males, and a few times animals in some of the African ones because spirit guide possession and sex was a lot of some of theirs.  Roque actually apologized for a new pantheon's familiarity with spirit guide sex."  Phil shuddered.  "There's only so many ways to use sword metaphors and making someone scream."

"I guess.  I never even considered that.  If I had I might've thought maybe medical."

"No, especially not with some of the brainy smurf pantheons."  Phil laughed at that description.  "The Chinese, so much brainy smurf.  Using huge words for simple things.  That change with intent, person speaking it, to who they're speaking, and I think a few changed with the time of day."  Phil laughed harder.  "Those of us that were more action oriented looked at them like 'why did your people make you'.  Because we're pretty sure the people made them instead of the other way around."

Phil shook his head.  "That's so bad."

"But true unfortunately."

"Are they still around?"

"Locked in their temples for safety reasons."

"Is that demigod you told me about in one?"

"Probably pacing and wearing holes in the floor.  He never could stay still.  If he was gardening he could concentrate but otherwise he paced when he read, he ate, he fought.  The guy would've paced while riding his horse if he could have.  That and he was a drama queen.  I've seen drag queens who were quieter drama queens."

Phil laughed.  "We have a few agents like that.  Fury moved them to Europe."

"Figures.  I doubt he could put up with drama he didn't cause."

"He doesn't."

"Bullshit."  He leaned back and put his feet up.  "Who was this supposed to go to?"

"Doctor Banner."

"Ah.  Nice and roomy so he could roam.  Joyce would probably love the view."

"She wants to stay on ground level or nearly there."

"I can understand that.  LA is earthquake central some years."  He looked at Phil.  "There's bets you know."

"I figured there were."  He smirked.  "Which way is it leaning?"

"That I treat you like a damsel I'm having to screw to save and throw you over something while mounting you was how the sheet read."  Phil shook his head.  Xander manifested it.  "Stole it from Jensen.  Hermes gave him a copy."

He read the bets and laughed.  "I don't think so."  A few were making him blush.  "I don't pass out unless I've been shot."

"Me either," Xander admitted.  "Or I just wore my powers out."  Phil nudged him.  Xander smirked back.  He pointed at one popular bet.  "They're really picky."

"I'm not sure if I could bottom or not."

"It's been ages, outside that one post-battle stress relief that Roque butted into and I was too tired to end up on top."

Phil looked at him.  "You two did?"

"Yeah.  We've never been hot for each other but if the time was necessary, we were there for each other.  That night, there had been a battle on Asgard I was involved in.  I came home in a battle tense mood.  Walked through Sunnydale and every single being in my path fled.  Including Spike and Anya.  Anya said I'd sprain her."  Phil rolled his eyes.  "Then I got called to help yours, and came home even more battle tense."

"I noticed you were a bit tired."

"I was strung out.  There had been attacks on a few villages and we lost nearly all of one outside of the kids I managed to get out of the way and took to Valhalla to get some new weapons.  It had been two weeks of battles up there.  When I got back from yours I was trying to cure myself and Roque popped in.  We sparred a bit, he managed to win, and I got thoroughly plowed.  He made a bad joke and I pulled a weapon to stab him for it if he tried."  Phil patted him on the wrist.  "It was mostly like that between us.  Once I walked away from that alignment marriage we did learn to appreciate the strengths the other had.  Took us a decade and another inter-pantheon squabble over nothing but we did learn."

"It's good you could come out friends."

"It was, yeah.  My life would be poorer without hearing Clay complain he was too sore and offering Roque a blow up doll or a hooker.  Which woke me at three this damn morning offering to pick him up one from Singapore or Okinawa.  At which time, Bia beat him and said she hadn't seen any there when she had went.  So he switched to one from Columbia."

"The temple is never boring."

"No, it's not," Xander agreed.  "The soldiers were all really upset that a young girl was doing things that they couldn't.  We had to point out repeatedly that it took experience and she had been training for a few years.  Most of them are still pouty but a few asked John how to learn to fight that way.  He started those ones on new forms of martial arts."

"That's going to be good for them.  Still O'Neill's people?"  Xander nodded.  "Then that'll help."

"O'Neill said he was not allowed to open the stargate again until Congress had went over the program to see what else they were going to be starting.  He pointed out he had teams out right now on trade missions and things.  They allowed him to bring them back and they could get approval for trade missions.  He told them that'd take forever and leave everyone unprotected.  They snorted until one happy little Atlantis shuttle landed in DC."

"I heard the panic.  Major Lorne did a very neat landing job."

"He did.  All the science geeks are wetting themselves over it."

"Stark has plans of creating a commercial quinjet engine."

"That'd help but we still need to dump the TSA."

"We should, yes.  They're not very efficient."

"They grope kids, Phil."

"I know.  And I'd probably shoot one that touched mine."  Xander smirked.  "No one ever said I wasn't overprotective."

"Yes you are and the kids are great because of it.  So is Dawn.  You did a lot of the job I was doing for her."

"She's a great girl, even if she does give me images I don't need to see."  He rubbed his forehead.  Xander helped him close down that line.  He slumped.  "They found more."

"I'm pretty sure Hera said that there were depths they couldn't find hidden in the bruise all that power going out caused."

Phil looked at him.  "There is?"  Xander nodded.  "We can't heal it?"

"No.  Hera and her goddess of memories looked."


"Yeah.  It's not impairing anything but it's where they're sticking as Hera put it."

"I know your father used lethe water."

"I heard and I thanked him for it too."  He shifted and grimaced.  "Even if he erased everything they'd still probably be there."

"That does suck."  Phil touched his hand and sent over a picture of something.  "Did you hear about that thing?"

"I did and I was going to kick someone over having that.  There's no way Romania should have something from Wolfram and Hart.  They don't even have a satellite office there or anyone listed as licensed by their government."  Phil stared at him.  Xander smiled.  "That did bother me."  He shifted again.  "I need to finish figuring that out."

"You should," he agreed.  "If you're tired go rest."

"I can't.  Bia's throwing a girl party.  I'm having her own temple built."

"Don't forget a tub like Dawn's and a closet like hers."

"Most women would appreciate getting a huge closet.  Does she?  No!  She complains that I made it too big.  Most women would've added more to it, but she hasn't, she just complains it's too big.  But if I had made it smaller, she'd probably say it was tiny.  It's a woman thing."

"Maybe you're tired of women after all," Phil quipped.

Xander looked at him, shrugging.  "We were taught to play with the other guys our age.  It meant no sword-point or crossbow-point weddings.  That would've gotten me killed by someone."

"My parents would've done the same," he agreed.  "That's pretty universal."

"Outside most of the African tribes, then it would've been considered a blessing on the marriage."

"I can see that.  Like handfasting."  Xander nodded.  "Were you two?"

"Handfasted.  I walked away long before the wedding was due to take place.  They captured me and sent me back and we had another fight so I walked away again."  He shifted his back.


"Slipped on some of the rocks earlier trying to get one of Thor's goats down."

Phil smiled.  "He told Callia all about them."

"There's days I like his goats more than most of the family, including him.  They still bite though."

"Most goats would.  Would they be considered war goats?"  Xander looked at him.  "Like warsteeds?"

"You know, I don't know.  I'll have to ask that question.  I know my puppy of war is getting really huge.  He nearly kicked me out of bed when I laid down last night."

"Hellion is the sweetest wardog ever," Phil said with a smile.  "Dawn was teasing him like he was a lap dog."

"He is a lap dog."

Phil laughed.  "I've heard great danes can do that too but not mastiffs."

"I have no idea what his other half is but it's still a huge, farting sucker.  Every time he curls up with Bia he drives her out of her room with the farting.  I have to keep telling her not to feed him bacon before bed."


"Dog's a pig hound.  Anything pork and he's there, staring at you intently like you're next if you don't give him a piece right then.  Ares couldn't break the begging habit.  I can't break it.  Dawn usually has to shove him off her lap.  Bia gets attacked by slobber."  He smiled.  "I love my puppy of war.  He's really my first pet."

Phil smiled.  "He's a good pet to have.  Very loyal."

"Yeah, someone suggested I rename him after me.  I kindly kicked Buffy's behind toward Hylal and told him she had funny mental issues.  He said it was where she was chilled from not wearing clothes on patrol."  Phil burst out snickering.  "I'm starting to wonder if I should tell Buffy that they're technically married by Asgardian standards."  That got an end to the laughing.  He smirked.  "Her mother approved.  His mother approved.  His children approved.  He claimed her in front of others as his.  They had a feast, which he helped hunt for.  They've consummated it."

"No vows or ceremony?"

"All he needed to do was to say 'she's mine and I will fight you if you try to take her'.  Which he did to his sons and others in his battle unit."

"So...  We should probably change her status paperwork."

"She'd try to kick his butt and hurt his feelings."  He grinned.  "I'll offer wedding presents."  He smirked evilly.  "He can't use condoms.  And won't use condoms."  Phil gave him an odd look.  "Not exactly standard warrior gear, Phil.  Unless they've been down here, there's nothing like that up there."

"I thought there were sheep intestinal ones."

"Later tech than most of Asgard.  There's an herb tea she can take."  That got a nod.  "Maybe a cookbook set.  She really can't cook."

"That would be handy."

"She'll see it as me picking on her."  He sent out a text message to a few others so they could arrange it.  It would keep Buffy occupied so she couldn't kill her new husband.

"I'll change the paperwork for her," Phil said, making his own notes.  "Any idea when it was?"

"The feast, which is usually the last step, was in May.  The last of the 'she's mine' statements and Joyce agreeing were in June."

"I remember when she did."  He made those notes and put his phone up.  "Are you all right?"

"Feeling a lot betrayed," he admitted.  "By just about every asshole I know who has an immortal bloodline."

"Not everyone got together."

Xander looked at him and nodded.  "Every single pantheon was involved or else one of them would have spoken up when we protested.  Since they didn't, that makes them accomplices after the fact."

"But not before."

"No, that was apparently Aphrodite, and Cupid, who I used to be friends with, and my natal families, who will have no help from me no matter what they're facing for the next little while."  He sighed.  "Then she nags about damn grandkids," he complained more quietly.

Phil nudged him.  "All parents nag about grandchildren."

"Yeah, but I'm not going to be pregnant.  I got enough from talking to Lavelle that I know I do not want to do that."

"Why is Lavelle so different?"  Xander sighed and told him about Lavelle, about the torture and the being taken in by thieves, and his kids.  Phil looked at him.  "It sounds like he's made the best of it."

"He has.  He's mostly happy.  His boyfriends I'd love to smack around."  Phil smiled and nodded.  "But otherwise he's mostly happy."

"Did someone think you would go that way?"

"A lot of the natal family on both sides was sure I was going to start toward evil by the time I hit my majority.  When the cup that spits out our duties lit up with me being a guardian Odin nearly passed out.  He was already casting the curse to send me away.  It nearly fried his hair when he had to drop it and it backlashed against him.  I stood there, looked at him, and told him I'd always be a better man than he thought since he thought me an animal half the time.  Then I gathered weapons and walked off.  He tried to forbid me my manhood hunt but Baldr pointed at the head I had brought in. 

"Odin swallowed and complained some more."  He smirked.  "I kindly reminded him that I would have to do my duty as a son of chaos, as he commanded we all do, and I hoped he was happy with it.  I didn't even know I could focus it that way but he went around for six years singing happy songs, wearing flower crowns, wearing a white cape that flowed prettily behind him like a train.  Sometimes he'd wear a veil with his flowers."  His smirk got more evil.  "He declared we would have a truce before the next one."

"It sounds like you've made the most of it too."

"I have.  I've done a lot of things that weren't really necessary but they were needed.  They never get that."

"Sometimes, when you have gifts, you can look at people like they're bugs," Phil said.  "Anyone with power can do that."

Xander nodded.  "I've seen it before.  And please don't ask about Rome?"

"I won't."  Xander smiled.  They looked up at the complaining noises.  "They wanted you to tell me?"

"It's fairly embarrassing, though not my fault since my father gave me to them."  The grumbling stopped.  "Strife helped me out of it and I still probably owe him a debt."  He shifted.  "I want the wings back," he said.

"They looked soft and fluffy."

"They were and Hellion loved to bark at them.  I'll have to redo that spell tonight."

"I never really considered wings or flying.  I've flown before in a lot of vehicles but I never even really dreamed of flying."

"Some people want the sky, some want the water, and some want the land," Xander said.  "I'm usually a land sort but the wings are comforting in a lot of ways."

Phil nodded.  "I'm usually a land sort but I do enjoy water."

"I do enjoy water," Xander agreed.  "Even before the mermaid taint."  He stood up.  "Come use the pond sometime if you want.  Let me go beat people."  He disappeared.  As soon as he appeared in his temple, everyone fled.  Of course, he had appeared with his battle axe.  He stared at his former consort, who was shaking her head.  "I'd stop them," he warned.

"You two could be good."

He stared at her.  "So?"

"Point.  You won't do it if you're forced."

"I won't do it at all.  I'm not one of my uncles to force myself on serving wenches.  Nor am I my father, to mind fuck them."

"They don't want you to," she said.

"Then they wouldn't have mandated it and it would've been allowed to grow naturally.  Instead you've confused the new guy so much that he thinks he might like me."

"You two are friends," she offered.

He stared at her.  "So are we, Bia.  Has it made a difference?"

"No," she said.  "Damn it."

"Yeah, you all screwed up.  If it had been done naturally I wouldn't have minded.  I'm not going to take advantage of someone screwing him up.  So take whatever you did earlier off him."

"We didn't."

"Bullshit."  He walked off.   "Even he could feel the love gods spying."

"They weren't."

"Don't even try."

"They weren't that I know of," she called after him.  He waved the single-finger salute back at her.  She huffed.  This was not good.  The dog went running after his human so she was really abandoned tonight.  She went to talk to Cupid, who Xander was probably not talking to either if he had felt something.  "He thinks you guys were tampering."

"I think a few were spying," he said from his spot lounging with his head in Strife's lap.  "I don't know of anyone that was tampering."

"He's insisting that at least one of you were and that since you were, he's now really against all of you."  Cupid winced and tried to get up.

"Let me," Strife said quietly.  He flashed down to where Xander was.  "Cupe didn't tamper."  Xander gave him a pointed look.  "He didn't even spy."

"I felt him more than once, Strife."  He showed him the night's events.

Strife sighed.  "Looks good."

"Looks forced," Xander countered.  "Which I will not put up with."

"They're gonna nag."

"They're going to ruin anything that might've naturally grown," he countered.  Strife nodded he understood that.  "I'm not a toy.  I haven't been a toy, I'm not trying to play like a toy, and I'll be damned if love gods want to think I'm the hot new toy.  Especially with the giggling."  He stared at him.  "They forced their hands a bit too much.  I'm not the sort to go after someone just because they're there.  Did they get me confused with Ares?"

"Maybe," he admitted.  "They want you to be happy."

"Then they would've let it happen naturally.  Because anything coerced, at all, even the tiniest bit, and I'm not there for that."

"I don't think they did.  You two were friends."

Xander snorted.  "Yeah, we were tolerable acquaintances.  Even when he was at the temple before, we didn't hang out.  We barely spoke."  Spike looked back and winced.  "Whatever they did, take it off him," he said calmly.  "And they had better never darken my doorstep."

"I'll tell Cupe."  He disappeared, finding a fuming mate.  "He's right."  He showed him the before and after.

"That could be the powers."

Strife looked at him.  "You couldn't even talk Xander into hitting on bar maids when you suggested it more'n once.  What makes you think pushin' now is the answer?"

"Mom said it was fated."

"Your ma's already screwed herself."  Strife stared at him.  "We could have protested and said that they needed time."

"But...."  Strife pointed at the before.  Cupid ran back to all the other times then sat down, brooding.  "We're back into his stubborn times."

"No, he's being honorable," Athena said as she appeared.  "Which I find odd with the way he gets mentoring from Ares."

"Yeah and yet he's the same one that even saved your ass, nearly at the cost of his," Strife said.  "He's the same one that took on that damn dragon for you."  She flinched.  "You didn't even look, just gifted him then.  Until he handed it back and you realized he was a demigod."  He looked at Cupid again.  "I don't know who cursed Xander to not be seen right, but damn!"

Cupid looked at him.  "He's seriously pissed?"

"He's at the I will curse them stage.  You're all fucked when it comes to his help."  He walked off.  "I'm going to bed.  Come in when you're normal."

He sighed and watched.  He had known Xander for ages.  He knew how stubborn Xander could be.  Mountains were easier moved by hand.  That's why Odin got no respect from Xander, because he had started it.  He looked at Athena.  "You could've said they needed time."

She sneered.  "I don't care about the status of anyone's relationship."

"If they do it to you, he might have protested."

"That means he's softer than I am."  She disappeared.

"Or less of a bitch," he decided.  He took the portals to Hera.  "We're screwed."

"That is not what I want to hear," she said.  He showed her the evening's talking.  She smiled.  He turned it to later when Xander got home and it fell.  He showed her the before images.  "They don't really spend that much time together.  They could have something growing."

"Yes, but as you heard, we're all screwed because he'll think we encouraged it."

She slumped back in her seat, considering it.  "You could...."  He replayed that part and she winced.  "You two have always gotten along."

"Apparently that's gone now."  He sat down.  "Mom seriously jumped the rope this time."

"It would have happened most likely."

"And you heard him say he would've accepted that and liked it.  Everyone keeps treating him like Pops, that if he finds a barmaid that says no, he'll try to get his way into it anyway.  We barely got Xander to hit on barmaids."

She sighed.  "I'll talk to him."  She looked toward his temple.  The shield was up.  "Tomorrow."

"I think that's permanent," Cupid said, pointing.  "It's tied to his anchor stone."

"Perhaps I'll talk to the other one."

"I'm pretty sure he'll be socially polite," Cupid said, pulling up his history on another mirror.  "No one protested," he said quietly.

"No, they thought it might make him happier."

"We'd better hope there's no other godly battles.  We aren't humanity and he doesn't have to protect us."  She looked startled.  "John has to protect us.  Not Xander."

"Oh, dear.  That is within his rights."  He nodded.  She watched the past history of their newest god.  "It wasn't even us," she complained.  "The Elders did it, thinking he would be more stable, more settled."

"When isn't he settled?"

"He's been wandering."

"Yeah, putting out problems for humanity.  That's his job, not just the huge battles."  He showed her.  She winced, taking that to Zeus.

Zeus looked at her.  "He still must marry."  She showed him the talk she and Cupid had just had.  He looked it over, looking disturbed.  "He can not go against our will."

"He can.  He's not one of us.  He has no natal pantheon if he denies their influence."

He winced.  "He has duties."

"He has Alana to give them to."

Zeus considered it.  "He will come around."

"Since when have you seen that boy come around about anything?" she asked.  "Or don't you remember him taking down that dragon single-handedly?"  He shuddered.  "Your son couldn't.  My son couldn't.  And yet one very stubborn demigod decided the dragon was a public hazard and took it down for us."

He considered it.  "Odin wanted him happier."

She snorted.  "Odin has never wanted that boy's happiness.  Nor any of his family.  That's why we almost adopted him."

"True.  The others thought it might help him calm down after coming back."

"It's not like he's out being wild.  Saving humanity isn't just the battles," she reminded him.

"No, it's not.  That's why we gave him the help."

"Which is very nice and he does a wonderful job from what I've seen.  Whatever curse this is put upon him, stop it."

"I did not do it, woman."

"If there's another godly battle, he doesn't have to step in."  Zeus sat up and stared at her.  "We're not part of humanity as Cupid pointed out.  He doesn't have to save us and with the way Ares is displeased he'll only do his duty as well."

Zeus considered it.  "That would be a breach of treaties."

"Which you never started with him," she said.  "The Council of Elders ignored it totally after making him his own little niche, which he more than deserved and he does a very good job.  They never observed any of the formalities.  They assumed that we'd keep the same level with them."

"We have with other ones."

"They were much less stubborn and much more needing of friendly contact than Xander is."

Zeus slumped, grimacing.  "They'll want a progress report on how it's going."

"It won't.  Ever.  We could formally bind them with stand-ins and it would only make it worse.  As of right now, there's nothing anyone can do to make them think that it'd be a good idea."

"The young always disrespect the finer traditions," he sneered.  "We were arranged."

"If there had been more choices, I would have walked off like he did from his arranged one."  Zeus glared at her.  "It was wrong, the match was poor, we all knew that."

"We did," he agreed.  "Still, it can be done now."

"We're not his relations to set one up on him.  For that matter, tradition has never let a senior god be roped into something like this."

"He's not."

"He heads his House, that makes him one," she shot back.

He grimaced again.  "Not the same level."

"No, he's stronger.  He's shown it before against Odin.  He's shown it before against Krishna.  He's even out-stubborned you a few times.  Remember that test with all the demigods?"  Zeus nodded.  "It was my son that they competed against and mostly lost.  Your son lost.  Jonathan lost.  Xander lost and we found out he was a berserker in the right circumstances since their contest got invaded.  It was them that led the battle to save that orphanage full of demigods and their offspring, that we didn't even know was happening.  While injured."  Zeus nodded he remembered.  "He has the noble qualities you beat out of my son."

"He will have to give in sometime or they can punish him."

"With what?" she asked.  "We have no hold on him."

"We can reduce his power."

"You can't.  His is a direct line.  It's like stopping war, you can't stop all of them."

"He has been meddling in other areas."

"That humanity could be killed by."  He groaned.  "His job isn't the battles, that's only part of it."

"I will bring this to them."

"You had best, there's been talk of another inter-pantheon war."

"I've heard."  He waved a hand.  "Leave it with me."  She left him alone.  He gathered up all the portals and went to see what those who had dealt with Xander could do.  Krishna agreed with Hera, Xander was doing an excellent job and you could never force him to do anything.  They had put up with the matchmaking because they thought the boy would see it was a good idea.  They had went too far.  They were all going to pay for it.  He even called in his war gods to make sure they knew they'd have to cover for Xander in future battles.  Krishna warned him that Odin would not listen.  He could try to get some of his kin on board with backing off but Odin would not.


Odin appeared a few days later, looking at his grandson.  "We have tellings of an attack coming."

Xander looked at him.  "I believe Alana can do that."  Odin gaped in horror at him.  "I have one of my own I need to stop this week.  There's a few wars that are destroying whole swaths of people that the humans are too weak to fight against."  He went back to sharpening his axe.  "Beyond that, they won't attack the villages where I guard.  They'll attack the main hall, which you have told me repeatedly is not my job to guard.  Nor is that Alana's job to guard.  I will make sure my uncle can get up there for it.  Roque, Odin believes they'll be attacked next week."

"I'll make sure Thor gets up there," he agreed.  He looked at Odin, who was glaring.  "Did you expect him to jump up and cheer?" he asked quietly.

"How goes the search for your true mate, Grandfather?" Xander quipped.  Odin growled and disappeared.

"You still have his line mated to that goat?"


Roque smirked.  "Nice.  Which one are you meddling in now?"  He pointed.  "You've gotta stop that shit."

"They are part of humanity, it is my duty."

"Sometimes humanity has to help itself or it can't grow."

"It can't grow when it's taking out thousands of people a year."

Roque took the axe.  "Leave that one be.  My mother's people are watching it, Xander."

"Yeah, they have been, for ten years."  He took his axe back.  "Someone needs to ease it."

"I'll talk to our war gods."

"Sure.  If not, I'll be here with the other billions of problems."

"Not all your job," he reminded him.  He went to talk to his mother's people.  "Xander's concerned that the wars you've been watching are getting out of hand," he told the head wife of the pantheon.

"They are but we cannot stop them.  That is humanity's job as they started it."

"He believes it's his job."

"It can be if he makes it his.  It falls underneath his area."

"Do you know how many of them there are?" he asked.  "I spent the last fifteen mortal years fighting these things and they never end."

"Then it's up to his emerging good sense to pick and choose which is more important."

"To the whole, ours are puny and our people are being decimated."  She winced.  "All the places that have the most population growth, their wars would be ignored and their populations decimated."

"I had not thought on that."

"He said he'd let us handle it if we would."

"Many don't believe in us."

"When has that stopped anyone?" Roque asked.  "No one believes in me and I still do more than my fair share."

She nodded.  "We have appreciated that you have."  She looked at her husband, who shrugged.  "I will talk to our war gods about them.  Would you like to stop your mother from crying?"

"No.  I'm not getting between her and Xander.  I'm already trapped in that fucking hellhole she caused.  If it had been one of us who had caused that much of a problem before that important of a battle, we'd be banished."

The head of the pantheon nodded.  "That was considered.  Has Xander mellowed against her?"

"No.  And right now he's damned all love gods as well for that stupid pushing they're doing."  He winced.  "We should have stood up against it."

"It is their business, not ours."

"And now he's said any godly battle is only our business."  His king stared at him coolly.  "If it doesn't impact humanity, he's not helping a single one of them.  Because we don't respect him enough."

"I see."  He considered it.  "Xander was always a willful child."

"He's not a child."

"No, he's not.  Nor are you," he chided.

Roque snorted.  "I've done more for this pantheon's health than most of you."  The king stared at him.  "I'm the one that takes out the dangers to us.  I'm the one you send to talk to other pantheons.  I'm the one that gets used for damn treaties being started.  Thankfully I'm mated and out of all that now, and it's Xander who made sure I was safe."

The queen nodded.  "You have done more than most would have expected upon your birth and announcement as a warrior, Roque."  She smiled at him.  "I have always been proud of you."  He nodded.  "As has your mother."

"I love my mother but this shit stinks and I'm tired of living next to a pig's pen."  The king looked at him.  "It seems like it to many."

"We have treaties, he cannot avoid the battles," the king said.

Roque laughed.  "When did you do that?"  He stared.  "There's no treaties.  We looked.  Everyone assumed."

"We thought that the ones with his natal families would hold."

"No, they won't.  Xander's withdrawn from both of his natal families.  Would you want to keep Odin if you could dump him?"

"No," he admitted.  "Odin pouts about things.  Much like his sons."  He looked at his wife.  "We should start a treaty."

"I doubt he would take it if he's that upset."  She looked at him.  "Why is he that upset?"  He showed her.  She groaned.  "He accepted it with you."

"No he didn't.  He nearly killed me a few times for even being there.  He was in a great rage over that.  Odin had him drugged and thrown into the house then put a shield over it to keep us there for a while."

"I remember him saying he was doing it to give you two privacy to get to know each other."

"By then I knew it was a bad idea.  I think most of my fighting against him was to get him to break it so I didn't have to listen to the complaints forever."  She laughed.  "He has."

"I know he has."

"If there was a shield, how did he get out?" the king asked.

"Boy broke it.  He cut his hand and broke it with his blood."  That got another wince.  "Yeah, sick as hell when it was done and still disappeared.  Then had to do it a second time when everyone had him dragged back.  Even I was protesting and none of you listened."

"He would have been a credit to our pantheon."

"Then who would've done his duty?  That's the major thing we fought over.  I knew you wouldn't let him do it and they needed protected."

He considered it.  "No, he wouldn't have."  He created a 'what if' mirror to see what might have happened.  "We lost something.  We're not around."

Roque looked.  "Look before that battle, Uncle."  He ran it back.  No, they still weren't there.  They found the battle that made the difference and Roque nodded.  "We had no idea that was that important."  He looked at them.  "And it was Xander that stumbled into it and gets nagged about going to piss in an alley  behind a bar and finding an invasion.  Fortunately a few of us were inside the bar and I could get Jonathan."

He canceled that mirror out with a sigh.  "We will put up a formal protest about the shoving going on, nephew."

"He'd thank you for that."

"We'll also handle a few of those wars ourselves so he can concern himself with the new godly one that may cause humanity problems."

"I have the feeling if there is, he's going to take out the problems."  His uncle nodded once.  "He said if it had been natural instead of encouraged he would've been happy."

"I understand why.  Not everyone can find themselves settling into something that is arranged for them.  Especially when the ones arranging it do not have their best interests at heart."  He looked at his nephew.  "Go relax.  Tell him of that."  Roque nodded, heading there.  "The next banquet is to hammer out the treaties before they can start that war," he said quietly.  "He would do good and we can make our own then."

"He probably will not come.  Even though it is a great insult."

"Probably.  What of his adopted daughter?  They were forcing her and Jonathan, though the one they wanted to mate him to seems even more stubborn than Xander."   They looked at Dawn and smiled.  "She has her own affairs well in hand."  The canceled it and went to talk to their war gods, who were growing fat and lazy recently.  "We have wars on our doorsteps that have been left much too long."  They stared at him.  "We cannot afford all our people lost."

"That's Roque's job," one said.

"No, that's your job," the queen said.  "You're a war god.  He's simply very good at it."  He looked shamed.  "Do so before Alexander has to come to our aid.  The shame would be great on your families."  She walked off.  Roque's mother's garden was overgrown thanks to her crying.  Which they were all ignoring.  Maybe it was time to call her spouse back from exile.  He would not like what they had made her do for treaties but he would not harm her for it.  He could calm her down.

Roque appeared, staring at her.  "If you call my father back, he dies.  I will make sure of it as soon as he steps foot in this Hall."

She smiled.  "He could help her calm down."

"He'll try to hit her and he'll die."

"I'll not consider it and offer that she go talk to him."

"He'll still die," he assured her.  "He's nearly there anyway."  He disappeared.

"Then we'll have to see."

Her husband smiled at her.  "He will kill him.  He nearly killed him when we banished him.  We could use our healing god but Roque will turn him into a cannibal's feast."

"He would," she agreed.  She sighed and looked at the overgrown garden.

"She is in punishment," he reminded her.

"Her flowers overtake everything."

"Then she should have made a wiser decision."  He walked off.  "She stays in seclusion."

"Yes, husband."  She went to her own garden to do some work on a project she'd been fiddling with for generations.  They might make a good birthday gift for Roque if she ever got them done.


Xander looked up as Tyr appeared.  "You needed...."

"We have a battle coming up."

"That will hit the halls, not the villages, and that's not my job," he said bluntly.  He pulled up multiple mirrors of Odin nagging him that it wasn't his job.  "See?"  He stared at him.

"It was not our doing," he said.

"You sure as fuck stood up for him."

"It might do your temper good."

Xander looked at him.  "So would killing my grandfather.  I think it's the better cure."  Tyr backed off.  "If you hadn't meddled it might have happened.  As you did meddle, and did poke and force and shove things, and then didn't point out that we're adults who can handle our own affairs ourselves without all the shoving, then it won't happen unless he truly finds out that he is my mate."  He banished the mirrors.  He hated hearing Odin nag.

"You are stubborn."

"Really?" Xander asked dryly.  "You'd think you would have realized this when I was ten and conveniently got left at a battle site by myself without much of anything.  When you finally showed up a month later, you found me surviving and thriving.  Did you not think I was stubborn then?"

Tyr shuddered.  "That was not my doing."

"No, I know who did it.  He can die too."

"Many might like to see that."

Xander looked at him.  "If I kill my paternal lineage, it'll be because I want to, not because you want me to."

"But...."  Xander stared at him.  "You wouldn't."

"I would.  I definitely would.  I might spare my uncle as he's found purpose and happiness but I would."

"I see."  He stared at him.  "Then the prophecy is damned."

"I warp prophecies every day simply by still being here.  Then again, Roque's uncle looked at a what if about our attempted marriage.  He found you all died."  He smirked.  "Back when I found that invasion starting because I peed on their ship by accident."

Tyr shuddered.  He had heard about that afterward.  "Odin doesn't believe that was important."

"Then maybe he should look."  He went back to looking over his battle plans for the next week.  "Anything else, Tyr?"

"Will you come for that battle?"  Xander recreated one of those mirrors and handed it to him then banished him back home.  He sighed, looking at Odin.

"What is that?"

"His response to notifying him of the battle that will hit here."   He let them see Odin nagging Xander that it wasn't his job, even though he had just saved them all a lot of work by defeating the enemy farther out at a pass.

Odin sneered.  "That is false."

"No, I was there," Freya said.  "You did that many times, Odin.  Is he more calm about his marriage?"

"He said it will not happen because it does not naturally occur."  She gasped.  "And that since you've ruined the new one, he'll have to help him where he can but he is not his mate unless he find out himself that they're mated."

"We can make him see it," Freya said.  "Without coercion."

"No you cannot.  He's just as stubborn as Xander is."

"He's but a whelp," Odin sneered.

"He reminded me of the time we left him at that battle site and found him doing more than surviving when we got back.  Including having a pack of elk around him that protected him."  Odin's glare got worse.  "He is ever and will always be able to do without us because we taught him thus.  Especially his paternal lineage, because when I brought up his father, he noted the lineage, not just his paternal donor."

"He cannot," Odin said.

"He can so and nearly has," Frigg said.  "Would he spare Thor?"

"He said that he has found purpose and happiness so he might."

"That's good.  Then we can pass on knowing that it's in good hands."

"Thor would not come back when I asked," Tyr told her.  "They have another upcoming battle that he has vowed to fight in as he has put his protection on Midgard."

She slumped.  "Why?"

"The woman he likes, who will not allow herself to be made immortal, is there.  They protected him, they helped him.  He has friends there."

She nodded.  "Then we'll have to rely on our warriors."

Alana stepped out of the shadows.  "Are we talking of the fire giants?"

"There is no need for you to worry about that," Odin chided.

"I am over female warriors, Father."  He flinched.  "And they are already gone."  She threw down a helmet from the Queen.  "She said it is good that some of us are as strong as our nephew."  She walked off.  "Don't worry your tangled, mangy head about it, Tyr; it is handled by beauty and brains."

He looked at the helmet, the crown still attached to it.  He kicked it and the skull fell out.  "I'd say she did."  Odin was horrified.  "Females can be warriors or else most of our women would not ride winged horses."  He looked at Frigg.  "Roque made a point that I overheard when checking on Xander.  There are no treaties with him."

"With Roque?  Has he been appointed?" she asked.

"With Xander."

"He is our family," she said.

"Are you so sure of that?" he countered.  "He doesn't seem to think so."  She gasped and looked.  Then slumped.  "Which means your dictates hold no weight beyond measuring his rage."  He walked off.  "I will defend us against him if I must.  Though I will not like it."  He went to talk to Thor, who might be able to calm the boy down.  "Brother."

"Tyr, what news is there of home?" he asked, putting down the weight set he was working with.

"Much.  Including that your nephew may spare you when he takes out his paternal lineage."

"It's nice of him to think of me."

"That doesn't surprise you?"

"No.  Some of us knew that would happen when he was a lad.  I've mostly been smart enough to stay out of that battle whenever possible.  Thankfully."

"What if there's another godly battle?  Rumors state there are some."

"If it impacts humanity he'll step in and end the problems, then let them get back to it.  I asked and that's what he said."

"He is still upset."

"Aye, you would be too."

"I would be," he agreed.  "We have no treaties with his house."

"I have no quarrels with his house and need no treaties.  Unless I ascend my father's throne, I will have very little to quarrel with him about.  I see now what he learned many years ago when he left Asgard in disgust to get away from all that."

Tyr nodded.  "That is good."  He clapped him on the arm.  "There are those moving to protest on his behalf."

"Would it do good?" he asked.  "The damage has been done and not even my goats are as stubborn as my nephew is.  Or as stubborn as the one they want to marry him off to."  He nodded at him.

"Xander's still in a snit," Phil agreed.  "He went on a ranting fit at John a few minutes ago."

"Xander in a mood is loud," Thor agreed.  "Xander going past loud to quiet means all should probably run.  The last time I saw that, we had to rebuild part of Valhalla.  He brought it down upon my father's head.  Buried him for nearly two years."  Tyr grimaced but nodded.  "Perhaps he was damaged during it because my father used to have some sense."

"It's possible," Tyr agreed.  "He wouldn't have pushed before then as hard.  He knew that Xander had a finite limit and would then hold him there by sheer force of will."

"Which is why all Valhalla fell on his head," Thor agreed.  "I'm still not sure why they fought over a dragon that was penned up."

"He was one of the ones that penned it, and Odin declared that to be a hilarious story," Tyr said.

Thor looked at him.  "He was?"

"He was.  He, a few of the warriors."

"Was there not a price on his head based on that?"

"There was, why?"

"He could claim it."

"That would upset things."

"Probably," he agreed.  "And wake the dragon."

"Alana and her warriors would probably handle it for him.  She did the upcoming battle against us.  Presented us with the crown and the head of the queen Fire Giant."

Thor blinked.  "She is good.  I could not get that close."

"She is.  The girls are very strong and Odin still sees it not."

Phil smiled.  "A lot of people underestimate women but they are some of the strongest."

"Aye, because men bearing babies would mean we all died out," Thor said.  "Especially if I had to."

Tyr patted him on the back.  "Most of them would not allow you to."

"I know.  It's very nice they consider me a silly boy most of the time, even if I am a great warrior."

"Most elders think of the younger generations as silly children because they don't have the same experience level," Phil said.  "Mine did."

Thor smiled.  "Some of them, it is good to be thought of as a silly child.  It keeps you out of their grips and plans and gets you baked goods."

"My grandmother baked but she kept giving me bran muffins.  Didn't want me to get fat."  Thor laughed and batted him on the arm.  "Is there a problem, Tyr?"

"No.  Just sharing news of the stubborn goat of a nephew."

Thor looked at him.  "You crossed his line and I've been hearing that he has announced that only one way it will happen.  If this one finds that they are truly mated of his own free will."

"As is reasonable," Phil agreed.  "We're moving into friendship right now.  I've barely spent any time with him."

Tyr nodded.  "That's a good thing to do.  Odin thinks he'll give in."

"Odin may have the hall fall on his head again first," Thor said.

"He may," he agreed.

"If he releases any dragons he had penned up, I'll ask Stark to see what they have to kill it.  There was a world where dragons were introduced by spellwork."  Tyr shuddered.  "There they built weapons to kill them and Dawn gave Stark plans."

"Thank thee."  He disappeared.

Thor shuddered.  "The dragons coming back would be bad."

"He'd have to defend his villages," Phil said quietly.

"Knowing my nephew, he could talk them into leaving them mostly alone."  He shifted to tell him about that battle when they were ten.  Phil got pissed off about it but he saw that Xander, by the end, was resourceful and cunning and quite mean when necessary.  That he made odd, reliable friends that would help him defend himself.  Phil knew it was a good thing to hear and know, and it gave him more to think about with the forced bonding they were trying to push.


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