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Old Ones 57: To Dream A Mighty Dream.

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To Dream A Mighty Dream.

Dawn walked down the hallway to her first class. She was in high school, the nice preppy high school Howard had enrolled her in. She smiled when she met up with Pepper, who was her best friend. Their lockers were near each other so they could hit there before home room. They saw a few of Pepper's jock friends, who Dawn mostly tolerated but a few were okay, harassing someone and Dawn grabbed the girl to put behind her. "Neanderthal, go back to your time period. You definitely don't belong in this one if you think that's the proper way to talk to girls." She walked off with the quiet, kinda shy girl Natasha. She had just transferred in and tended to watch everyone instead of interacting. "Hey, I'm Dawn, this is Pepper."

"Natasha. Thank you. I could have handled them but it might've gotten messy when I broke their noses."

Dawn smile. "They need to learn manners anyway. They're so beneath real, live girls. I'm guessing their blow up dolls and dildos at home must hate that they cheat on them." Natasha giggled. Pepper laughed and swatted her. "They must!"

"They probably do." They got to their lockers, with Natasha's up the hall. "Eat lunch with us, Natasha?"

"I can do so." She smiled and went to her home room.

Dawn put up her homework from last night and pulled out her morning books, looking at Pepper. Who shrugged and they went to home room. Pepper sat down next to Steve, who was a jock but a really nice guy. "Dawn had to save that new girl Natasha from a few of your football team."

"I'll talk with them later." He looked over as Tony, who was Pepper and Dawn's boss's son, wandered in reading a thick engineering textbook. "Tony, class," he said quietly. This teacher tended to sneer at Tony. Pepper took the direct route, she took the book, shut it, and handed it back to him with a pointed look. Tony looked a bit sloppy. His tie was undone, his shirt was untucked and the top two buttons were undone. He looked like he had rolled out of bed and pulled on whatever he grabbed first. They had seen that Tony could and did dress very nicely when he wanted to or was interested, but school wasn't interesting him and he resented having to waste time by coming here.

Dawn looked over. "Your dad's back tonight," she said quietly. Tony blinked at her. "Yes, yours."


"The trip got cut short by them getting food poisoning. Apparently Howard laughed a lot since he wouldn't eat the haggis with them."

"I don't blame Dad. I don't like eating organs either." He grimaced. "Eww." Dawn smiled. "Thanks for the warning, Dawn."

"Welcome and get a haircut on the way home?"

He ran a hand through it. "You're right, he'll nag if I don't." The rest of the room trooped in, a few smiling at Pepper and Steve. The girls tried hard to flirt with Steve but he never seemed to realize it. A few tried to flirt with Tony and he flirted back but he'd never touch them because he knew they were only after his wallet. His father would kill him if he brought home a girl he had knocked up and make the kid his heir instead. Not that Tony cared, he was just as good as his father, but still not something he wanted to deal with.

The last guy in the home room walked in looking a bit messy. Clint was new to the school this year. He was a joker but he tended to be a bit more respectful than most of them were. He never did more than nod at Dawn and Pepper. Though Dawn had gotten one of the whore patrol off him once by pointing out he wasn't her gardener and she should slum to a lesser version instead of this one's finer qualities. Clint had grinned at her for that but she had just smiled and said she'd hate to see him infected with whatever she had that week and went to class. Homeroom only lasted a few minutes, then they were off again. First was gym. Which she and Pepper hated. Today it looked like they were on the bleachers for some reason. They sat with Natasha, who was behind them, then Tony, Pepper, Dawn, and Clint a big space down from Dawn.

The instructor looked at them. "All right, we have to talk about adult things today. Don't know why *I* have to talk to you about them, and in a mixed group, because it wasn't like that in my day, but we do."

"Maybe so guys understand what a period really is," Dawn quipped. "That way they don't think we're bleeding some sort of anime monster." She looked at a few.

"No, you just turn into one," one of them quipped back. Dawn threw her shoe at him. "Ow!" He threw it back. "Meany."

Dawn smiled. "Me? Mean."

"Summers, sit down," the coach ordered. "We're not going over that part. We figure by now most of you have that information. We're going over safe sex."

"Safer sex," Pepper corrected. "There's still a small chance and herpies can be carried on more than the penis or vaginal area. The only really safe sex is your hand."

"Or your sock puppet," Dawn quipped. "As long as you don't share them." The coach was giving them a dirty look. "Some guys are like that." Tony was laughing against Pepper's arm. "I had one in the club the other night offer to share his roommate's blow up doll since I refused to give him a blow job."

"Some of you are downright nasty," the coach said with a glare.

"I haven't even seen a cock in person yet," she said dryly. "When do you think I have time to fulfill all those nasty rumors about me? Between here, work, and helping my mother, I have *no* time for dating or anything even close to it. When I'm out of here, I'll have a whole summer to go explore the dicks of the world and see if I want to deal with any of their owners. Until then, it's great art but doesn't do it for me," she finished blandly.

"We're still trying to figure out what sort of magical device you use to fit all that into one day," Tony told her with a grin. "How is your mom?"

"She's....they just changed her treatment again. They're not sure." He reached over to squeeze her wrist. "Thanks, Tony."

"Your mom's in the hospital?" Clint asked.

Dawn nodded, looking at him. "Brain tumor. That's why Howard took me in as his perky assistant sort." She smiled slightly. "I'm learning a lot. I just never have free time."

Clint patted her on the arm. "She'll get better."

"I hope so. I can't stand to lose mom yet." She patted his hand. He gave her shoulder a squeeze and let go.

The coach stared at her. "You work?"

"Yeah. I make a pretty good salary, pay my own tuition, pay for my own uniforms, shopping, all that, put away for my college, pay very minimal rent to Howard for my apartment, and buy my own groceries. And I still manage to buy designer clothes. I'm set up to at least get three years out of the way without help. Which is about all I should need to finish if I'm doing it the right way." The coach stared at her, mouth slightly open. She smiled. "I'm fantastic. What else is new?" He huffed but went over safer sex, which most of the students tuned out anyway. They all knew about condoms. Most of them had used them.

Pepper raised a hand. "We all remember that there's a morning after pill in case something tragic happens, like the condom breaks, right?" They mostly nodded. "Health department, personal doc, whoever. Get the prescription." A few took down that note. The bell rang so they got to flee. Clint walked with their group. Pepper grinned at him. "We're going to business math."

"I've got shop, which is on the other side of you guys." He looked at Natasha and Steve. "Where are you two heading?"

"Literature," Natasha said.

"Art." He grinned at her. "I wanted in literature but I couldn't read the foreign ones."

"I have most of them in both English and Russian. I'll lend you a copy."

"Thanks." He grinned and jogged off. Art was halfway back to reality and he never made it on time if he didn't run. The girls peeled off, Natasha and Clint having the longest together as shop was right behind the english classrooms.

Dawn sat down, putting her books under her desk and pulling out a pencil. They had a test. Pepper grimaced when she got handed it but they both knew everything on it. They used it most days. Dawn stared at hers. She raised a hand. "Number 12, which rate are we using?"

"I thought I told you that the other day, Summers."

"If you're talking 7.6, it's not the state rate currently. The book says 4.3."

She looked at the book. "It does. Use 7.6. It's went up?" Dawn got into her purse and found her check stub to show her. "Oh, that has." She handed it back. "Payday?"

"That's a direct deposit slip. I haven't emptied my purse in a few days."

"You make a nice salary." Dawn grinned at her, tucking her purse back under her seat. "Get to it. You only have an hour." Dawn was three questions from the end when the door opened and the principal leaned in. The teacher came over. "Dawn, the hospital called."

"Give me five to finish this," she said quietly. The teacher told the principal, who grimaced but nodded. It was quickly done and checked then Dawn walked out. "I wouldn't have time to make that up." She stared at the principal. "That bad?"

"Your mother's taken a turn for the worse and they want you there. You were going to make her wait?"

"My mother would skin me alive for flunking a test to rush to her side. She made that very clear." The principal just gave her a dirty look. "Let me talk to my science teacher. I have a test there later, and then I'll go." She walked off, tapping quietly on his classroom window. He came out. "The hospital called. Can you fax it to my desk?" she asked quietly.

"I can. I hope it's nothing, Dawn."

"Me too." She left, stuffing everything but her purse into her locker. She walked out, calling a cab. The security guards gave her a pointed look. "Hospital called for me."

"Sure, Summers. The principal told us. Good luck."

"Thanks." The cab got there and she got in. "UCLA's medical center, oncology building please," she said quietly.

The cabby looked at her. "You sure? That's awfully far."

Dawn handed him a fifty from her wallet. "I shouldn't drive and I didn't this morning." He nodded, driving her off. She relaxed and watched the city roll past. This was going to be bad. Mom had a few bad spells before but only one had called her out of classes and that one had nearly killed her. She got out and walked inside, going up to the right floor.

One of the nurses stopped her when she found her mom's room empty. "We moved her because the exhaust fan quit working. She's across the hall, Dawn." She pointed.

Dawn smiled and patted her on the arm, going in there. Her mother looked very pale, and very fragile. The weight loss from the ongoing cancer treatments made her look almost skeletal. Dawn sat down to hold her mother's hand. She looked over as the doctor came in. "When's her next scan?"

"We're doing one in a few hours." Dawn nodded. "We don't know what she caught beyond an infection."

Dawn looked at her mother then at him. "Like MRSA?"

"No, nothing that huge. We think it might be the flu." Dawn nodded. "But you can see she's gotten pretty weak."

"I know how badly off she is." She pushed her hair back then pulled out a band to pull it back. "We'll handle it." The doctor nodded and let Dawn have some time with her mother. She tapped out a text to Howard's phone about not making it to work until later tonight. Howard showed up a few hours later. "They said she caught the flu or something."

"I hear that happens in hospitals. She's a strong woman, Dawn."

Dawn looked at him. "She is, usually." She sighed, getting him out of the way of the orderlies. "MRI or CT today, guys?"

"CT. It's faster." The nurse came in to help them move her IV and other tubes. "We'll be back in a half-hour."

"Okay." Dawn looked at Howard. "I'll do that test that got faxed when I get in tonight."

"You could wait."

"I need something to take my mind off this."

He nodded. "I get that." He patted her awkwardly on the arm. "You'll handle it, Dawn."

She nodded. "I'll try a whole lot." He snorted. "Tony's probably going to be late. Pepper told him he needed a haircut."

"That's fine. At least someone gets through to that boy."

Dawn stared at him. "All it takes is talking to him for us."

"That's because you're a girl and I'm not."

"Or it could be that he's still highly pissed that you missed an important birthday," Dawn said.

Howard frowned. "No I didn't."

"His sixteenth was last month, Howard."

"It was?" She nodded. "Damn. No wonder he's been pouty."

"No, he's been downright angry. He's been forging something by hand again." Howard muttered something and shook his head. "Just a gentle nudge."

"I'll talk to him. Think he wants a car?"

"I think he got a car. His mom took him to get a car."

"That's good of her." He frowned when the doctor came back. "Is it that bad?"

"Howard." He shook his hand. He put a scan up on the lightboard in there. "It looks like it's filling with fluid," he told Dawn.

"It looks like it's pulling away from the brain," she said, looking at it. She pointed. "Here, that's not connected."

He stared then got her old ones to look at. "You're right, they are." He looked at her. "It's a huge risk."

"I keep having nightmares about having to run in and yell that her heart monitor just came unplugged, she didn't die," she told him, taking the paperwork to sign for the surgery.

"I can make sure," he promised, smiling at her. "Come to surgical waiting?"

"Sure." She walked Howard that way. "I need some strength," she said when Howard looked down at her.

"I can do that. Keeps me from hearing the wife nag."

Dawn paused. "Doc?" He came back. "That's Xander, he's a friend of the family." She looked at him.

"We wondered why he had the same sort of tumor since your mom is not like any we've seen in the last fifty years." He went to check his records. He called that doctor to talk to him. "Dawn, we'll talk about that later." She nodded, taking Howard down to surgical waiting. Xander went into the CT and his was pulling away too so they could get him into surgery too. His doc was a good one.

Dawn made one more pause when they ran into a doctor. "Doctor Ranjipur?" He smiled at her. "I'm Dawn Summers, Joyce Summer's daughter, and I wanted to ask a huge favor and have you look at Mom's treatment schedule to see if your new set of treatment mixes could help her. She's under Doctor Alliven."

"I've seen your mother's chart in department meetings but never took a good look at it. How did you know about that?"

She smiled. "I take all the oncology journals in case I spot something that could help her."

"That's a good daughter. I'll talk to him tonight."

"Thanks. They're going to be removing part of it today I think."

"I wish her well, Dawn." She smiled and walked off with Howard. He was impressed, it wasn't many young women who took an oncology journal, even with a parent on the ward. Or who could understand it. He went up there. "I just ran into Dawn Summers."

The nurse smiled. "She's a wonderful daughter. She's in each day after dinner to help care for her mother. Even if Joyce fusses she should be dating or doing homework, Dawn helps her with her daily bathing and all that. She's taken a lot of stress off us."

"That's wonderful." He took her chart to look over. "I've never seen one of those."

"Neither has Doctor Alliven," the nurse said quietly. "We have two now. Dawn identified the other as a friend of the family."

"Environmentally caused?" The nurses shook their heads, showing him the latest scans they had. "That's... what is that?"

"We're not sure and neither are they."

"I'll go down to help with the surgery," he decided. His coworker wouldn't mind. He'd probably welcome the trained hands. He leaned in. "Want me to help? I ran into her daughter in the hallway and looked when she asked nicely."

"Help with the other one. He's having it removed and he's got Offis doing his."

"I can do so." He went to that surgical theater and scrubbed in, getting a smile from that doctor. "I talked with Alliven's patient's daughter."

"I heard they're the same. I'm stumped."

"I've never seen one in that shape before."

"Her daughter's nice. I've ran into her before."

"This one's family since he looks like a teen?"

"Walked away after they transferred him and gave him to the state."

"I hate parents sometimes." They finished their prep and went in to look at what was going on. Dr. Ranjipur looked at all the cords, as his usual habit went. "Secure this heart monitor extension cord out of the way." The nurses did that. "Thank you. Don't need to trip with my fingers in a brain."

"They need to finish redoing the updates in here," the other doctor complained. "The other one's worse. It keeps blowing the breaker."


Dawn was nearly snoozing when she heard someone coming up the hallway. They had light steps but they were noticeable. She stared at the guys in dark suits. "Get away from my mother's surgical suite please."


Dawn stood up and walked over, pushing one against the wall. "I'm real damn sure I realize why you're here. Get. Away. From. My. Mother." She took his ID case to look at, then sneered at him. "Now, Agent Sellers, if that is your right name." She pickpocketed the other two and stared at them.

"This is national security business," Agent Sellers sneered.

"If my mother's brain tumor is a national security issue, then you've clearly done something wrong. But don't worry, I've already told people about it." She smiled. "Including some reporters." They backed off. "Go. Away. Before I kill you. I'd hate to make the nurses more work."

Howard came up the hall with a cup of coffee and Pepper behind him. "Dawn, problems?"

"These nice agents just said my mother's brain tumor was a national security issue."

"Really?" Howard asked. "I'm Howard Stark." They fled. "Good!" He tapped and got a nurse out. "When they remove the tumor, we'll be taking it for exam at Stark Enterprises." His and Dawn's conspiracy theory was apparently right. That sucked since he had so many friends in the intelligence community.

"Yes, sir. Both of them?"

"Xander's in surgery and he has one just like Mom," Dawn told him.

"I've heard you talk about Xander. He's one of your sister's friends," Pepper said. Dawn nodded.

"Both," Howard said. The nurse nodded and passed that on. He winced when he heard the heart monitor start to go off but Pepper caught Dawn before she ran over him to rush in there.

"Just the breaker blowing," the doctor yelled. "She's fine, Dawn." Dawn calmed down, taking deep breaths. Pepper walked her off to the bathroom.

Howard sat down, making out a grant to the hospital to fix that shit before some other daughter got the wrong news. If it was his family, he would've killed the doctor and that was a waste of a good one that might save someone else some day. Dawn came back looking composed. "Who were they?"

"Agent Sellers, if that was his right name. NSA."

"Damn," Howard muttered.

"Yup." Dawn calmed herself down. The nurse came out with a glass jar that held a slowly melting bag. "Why is the tumor melting the plastic?"

"We're not sure, Dawn, and don't you worry. There's a blood vessel that was hard to cut and he's called for a vascular surgeon to make sure it's shut." Dawn nodded. "Mr. Stark, the other one's up the hall in suite 4." He went up to get it, staring at the tumor. "Just stay calm, Dawn. We've removed almost everything. He said he left a bit where they touched, mostly like a lesion. She'll be better when she gets out." Dawn nodded. "Go home, get dinner...." Dawn snorted and shook her head, taking Howard's forgotten coffee to drink. "Well, then get dinner in the caf. She'll be in recovery for a bit as you know." She went back in there.


Dawn came in later that night. "Mom's woken up, doesn't seem to have taken any harm," she said from the doorway of Howard's lab. "The agents never showed back up. Xander's doing good. His wasn't as large or as swollen." He waved her in. She walked over. "Anything I should worry about?"

"The tumor was filled with chemicals that weren't from her chemotherapy."

Dawn nodded. "Well, we had a hunch that it was started off on purpose. Though I'm not sure why," she said quietly.

He looked at her. "How did you know his name?"

"I lifted his ID." She put the photocopies on the table. "I dropped them in the mailbox after I photocopied everything in them. That way they can't accuse me of having things I shouldn't and I wiped down my fingerprints as well."

"Nice thinking." He looked at them. "That's NSA work." He grimaced. "I've got to tell someone." Dawn put down a list. "Who's this?"

"The ones I mailed packets of information to. So someone would look into it. I added a second one with their information and I was going to sneak and steal the reports to put in them."

Howard handed them to her. "Did you send it to anyone in Congress?"

"Three people. Two on the Intelligence committee and one that's a doctor." She ran copies and put them into the packets in her bookbag. She handed Howard one with a smile. "The original's in your office safe."

"Thanks, Dawn. I don't know what the hell they think they're doing."

"I don't know either but I was talking with Pepper and I think she talked to Tony."

"I do not want my son messed up in this," he said firmly.

"I didn't ask Tony." She called him. "What's up?" She listened. "Yeah, about that. Really. Huh. How would my mother have .... Great. Thanks, Tony." She hung up. "He farmed it out to one of the computer geeks he knows online. They have a base there."

"Base? The NSA has a *base*?" he demanded. He walked off, going to Tony's lab. His son had taken one over a few years back and had crammed it full of his little robotic projects. "Since when does the NSA need a base?" he demanded.

Tony spun on his stool to look at him. "Since they're torturing people and people-like-creatures." He showed him the pictures they had. Dawn copied them and put them into the envelopes then rehitched them. "Figures."

"Oh hell yes I'm telling people. If they caused that tumor in my mom and Xander, they're going to pay even if I have to find each and every single one the day after I quit here."

Howard smirked at her. "Not necessary, Dawn. He took the originals. "I have a meeting in three days." Dawn grinned back and walked off to send those packages priority mail. They'd get there in two.

Tony looked at his father. "Don't let them kill you for it, Dad."

"I'm not. Still sucks. The tumors were eating the bags."

"What was in them?" Howard got the reports. Tony looked. "That's a fertility med that's sometimes used in breast cancer treatments. That's ... That's Dad, that's part of the formula." He looked and Tony drew it out in chemical notation. Howard was an engineer, not a chemist. His old partner had been the chemist. Tony was taking chemistry this semester though.

"That is. That's just wrong." He took it and the paper Tony had used. "Don't let anyone, not even Dawn, know. That'll get them all hunted," he said quietly as he walked off.

"Sure," Tony agreed. "We can protect Dawn." He went to find Pepper and tell her. She had a room here at the compound and so did Dawn. Dawn was doing her science test at her desk. Tony looked over her shoulder. "Want help?"

"Nope. I can pass it without cheating." She smiled. "Thanks though."

"Welcome." He walked off to find Pepper. She could keep secrets and would be there for Dawn. She opened her door wearing pink fluffy pajamas that had pompom balls on the ties. He grinned. "Got ten?"

"I shouldn't let you in. Last time someone suggested I was sleeping with you." She let him in anyway. "What's up?"

"The tumor was caused," he said quietly. "She knows, but not some of it and we're keeping some of it from her because it'll mean more than the NSA shows up for her mom."

"Oh, no."

"Oh, yes. Dad's in a snit."

"Thanks for the warning."

He grinned. "You'd be the one she's cry on." She nodded, letting Dawn in when she knocked. "Telling her what we know so far." Dawn hugged him then Pepper then went to her own room. "I'm not staying, Dawn. You can have Pepper to movie night binge or whatever girls do when they need comfort." He got pinched by Pepper, but shrugged. "I don't understand what girls need."

She smiled. "Ice cream at the moment." He smiled and left. She took the ice cream over to Dawn's apartment, settling in with her on the couch to watch sad movies. It'd help.


Dawn got out of the limo the next morning with Pepper. They walked in together.

One of the jocks sneered. "Your mommy pass over?" he sneered.

Dawn punched him, knocking him into a wall. "No, they removed the tumor. Thanks for asking though." She stared at him. "Want me to make a joke about your stepmother dying?" He shook his head. "Then think before you speak, jackass." She walked off with Pepper. "Steve, I broke your kicker's nose for asking if my mother had died in a cutesy baby voice," she called across the lawn to where he was hanging out with Clint and Natasha. "Pity if you need him for a day."

"No, I don't," he said, glaring at the guy. He slunk off. Steve jogged over, walking the girls over to their group. "What happened?"

Dawn put her books down and sat on the table with her feet on the bench. "Mom's tumor filled with fluid. They removed it yesterday and agents showed up. So it might be a bit dangerous to know me for a while."

Clint looked at her knuckles. "You need to hit better. You used the wrong part of your fist." She smiled at him but took her hand back. "I can show you."

She grinned. "I'm in self defense lessons. Right after I went into protective custody with Howard, someone tried to kidnap me."

Pepper nodded and huffed. "Twice now."

Dawn snorted. "You're *way* behind the count, Pepper." Pepper glared at her. "I quit stressing about it. Howard threw a fit at me about it and I pointed out it was not my fault. I was wearing my school uniform in the mall and nearly got taken by some guys who were trying to rob the jewelry store."

"That's when he put her in self defense and nearly made me go too," Tony said as he walked over. "You finally reminded Dad of my birthday?"

"He said you were pouty again and I told him you were pissed off. And why." She smiled. "Did he apologize?"

"No, but he told me I could get whatever modifications I wanted for the car. I showed him the car I've already modified and he pouted. So we'll see." He hopped up on the other side of the table. "Gotta be a balance," he quipped. "Before it tipped over. Natasha's too light to hold it down." He looked at Clint then at Pepper. "Prom?"

She looked at her calendar and so did Dawn. "Business awards," Pepper said. "So two hours of boring in a fancy dress and then we'll be released to go to the club." She looked at Dawn.

"Sounds better than the prom," she agreed. "Not that I've been asked. Apparently me being an ice princess means they're not interested anyway, even if I had time to date."

"Sluts do have more fun," Tony said, getting hit on the arm by Pepper. "I know you're not! You work just as hard as Dawn does!"

"Not always. I take summer vacations." Dawn waved a hand. "I know, you'll get one later on."

"Yup. Though, Howard is vowing to get out of the office this summer so we might be in New York instead."

"No thanks," Tony quipped. "I hate the house in New York."

"You have a house in New York too?" Clint asked.

"No, we have a mansion in New York. It takes up most of a block," Tony complained. "It's cold, sterile, has no life, no germs, no dirt, no nothing. It feels like a tomb, especially after they fight about something in it. When it's mine, I'm selling that monstrosity."

Pepper rubbed him on the arm. "Maybe your mom will stay so she doesn't have to yell at your dad."

"Maybe. I'm still going to the beach."

Dawn looked at him. "Aren't you going to MIT this summer?"

"Oh, yeah." He grinned. "I am, aren't I." He smiled. "Next year I'm a college boy, Pepper."

"I'll see if we can find you someone up there to remind you about homework," she quipped with a perky smile. "So you don't have to become a flunked out college student who serves fries and burgers."

"Might help, yeah," he agreed, grinning back.

The bell rang for them to get to class so they walked in together. "Pepper, long or short for the business dinner thing?"

She considered it. "I don't know. We'll call Helena up the road and ask her. She'd know. She's been to tons of them."

"Cool. Let me know so I can have something altered."

"Altered?" Tony asked.

"Yeah! Anything I wear is always tailored. It either fits my chest or my shoulders, but never both, and if it fits my waist it's too long because they expect me to be a bean pole but I'm not. Plus *shoes*."

"I've heard you going off on having narrow feet when the gym teacher complained about your sneakers," Steve said, shaking his head quickly.

Dawn nodded. "I can't find anything but heels," she sighed. She got into her locker. The rest just went to home room. The principal was lurking up the hall so she looked at her. "We were outside the gate when I broke his nose for being a jackass."

"I saw. It's the only thing saving you from a day's in-school suspension."

"You mean I could sleep for a whole day? Damn, can I?" Dawn asked with a happy grin. "Please?" The principal huffed off. Dawn walked into home room. "The principal just threatened me with a day's in-school but I got happy I could sleep all day."

Pepper laughed. "You could use a nap."

"Mom told me not to come in tonight, no matter what. Even if she was about to....to die, I wasn't to show up tonight. I was to rest and hide from everyone."

Tony looked over. "Want one of my robots to guard you since they're going the security system upgrade tonight so it'll be blinking on and off?" Dawn stared at him. "It will be."

"I'll camp on Pepper's couch so they can't find me."

"Okay. I'll send one to guard you there." He turned back around. Clint was shooting him odd looks. "We've had people sneak in to get a Dawn of their own a few times. It's a long running joke that's not one. Mom had her at the mall, helping Mom get something for a business dinner, and Mom literally turned around from looking in a mirror to find someone dragging Dawn off after having knocked her out with some chloroform." Dawn sighed but nodded. "Mom was *not* amused and my mom can scream like a horror movie queen. Still took the LAPD an hour to find Dawn."

"They only looked in my phone, which has no numbers in it," Dawn quipped, flicking a hand in the air. "Not like I had Howard's phone." Tony snickered. "Or his."

"Mine won't let you into the contacts without a passcode," Tony said.

"So that's what happened to mine," Dawn and Pepper said, looking at their phones. Tony grinned. "Thanks, Tony."

"Can't help but protect my future super perky assistants," he quipped back.

Clint shook his head. Those three were strange together. Dawn did get in-school suspension so she went to nap all day. They let her out for lunch since she had to buy it. She had sleep messed up hair and looked exhausted. Clint stared at her. "You need to finish your nap."

"I have another three hours of napping." She pushed back her hair and braided it without a comb or mirror. "That helps." She dug in and then trudged back there to curl up in her warm spot under the window in the sun on top of the desks.

Pepper sighed. "Dawn pushes herself way too hard. She's Howard's assistant for most everything. He lets me do the things like the budget with her but I don't do half as much work as Dawn does."

"Are you in protective custody too?" Clint asked.

She smiled and blushed a bit. "I wanted to go into business stuff after college and my parents met Howard at something. They asked him how to help me get there and he offered me a paid internship because his last assistant had just run off to have a kid according to him. Promised I'd get into a good school to get to college from, all that. Dawn's in protective custody because agents had to rescue her and then they found out her mom was sick. One knew Howard and asked him to watch over Dawn. Who grew on Howard since she fussed over things while she was worried."

"Dawn never is without something to do. She really needs someone to take her focus off things," Tony said, giving Clint a pointed look. "Even Dad thinks she needs to date. Then he hates to give her time off."

Pepper nodded. "She's going to Singapore with him next month. I'm not. Which is good since we have finals then."

"It's Christmas. Dawn needs to be with her mom," Tony said bluntly. "I'll talk with Mom."

"Thanks, Tony. Though, Dawn'll probably sleep through it."

"Probably. She did last year. Mom checked on her way down and yelled at Dad about overworking her again."

Pepper smiled. "I heard." Steve shook his head but stuffed his mouth. Clint and Natasha ate, filing that away. "We need to go roller skating."

"I can roller skate," Tony quipped.

"I know, I taught you when you needed a day out of the lab," Pepper reminded him. She looked at Steve. Who shook his head, he didn't have skates. "Tony has extra. Dawn has a pair she hasn't used since the first weekend she bought them."

"Sorry, don't have any," Clint said.

"I do but I don't use them often; I'm not sure if they still fit," Natasha said quietly.

Pepper huffed. "That's her 'I'll fix that' huff," Tony joked with a grin for them. "When, Pepper?"


"Meeting," he reminded her. "Even Mom reminded me of this one."

"Howard's still going to be in DC then," she said smugly. She found her phone to call him. "Are you going to be back in time for that meeting on Saturday? If not, we were going to go skating with our friends, Howard." She listened. "Yes, that one. I haven't seen the updated schedule. I'll get it from Dawn. Not sure if she did or not. She's in suspension because one of the jocks baby talked to her about her mom dying. So she broke his nose." She smiled at Tony. "No, she's sleeping. She slept all morning. Thanks, Howard." She hung up. "It got rescheduled. We have no meetings all next week because he's expecting to be in DC."

Tony grinned. "Movies?"

"Movies," she agreed, smiling at the others.

"Curfew," Steve complained. "Bucky's mom is kinda tough on that."

She flapped a hand. "At my apartment in the compound. I can make sure you get home at a decent hour or sleep over on Tony's couch. Clint, Natasha?" They nodded they'd go for that.

"Can I bring something?" Natasha asked.

Pepper smiled. "We have an amazing cafeteria in the building and they keep trying to feed Dawn up because she's too skinny." They smiled at her for that. So did Tony. They went to their next class. Pepper smiled at the science teacher. "Dawn faxed her test back. She's napping in suspension."

"I heard, and got it." He handed her Dawn's folded over. Pepper handed him the original from her bag. He looked and nodded. "It came through pretty well, even done in pencil." He handed it back. The rest got their tests back. "For the most part, I expected better of you." He looked around most of the group. "It's nice that we had three A's, and one B." They groaned. "You can do better and this is on the final, people." He got to the next lesson. Pepper took good notes for her and Dawn. Dawn had gotten the B and she had gotten an A, but they had two future biologists in the class so they were probably the other A's. The rest of the kids were kinda going to be trophy spouses or use car salesmen by what Pepper thought of them. Maybe a few insurance sellers. And a few strippers, because they were already doing the job.


Dawn took the test to look at. "Better than I thought." She grinned. "Thanks, Pep."

"Welcome, Dawn." She walked out to the limo with her. "Dawn, not ours." She paused her.

Tony walked past her. "I've got room for one and a half people."

"I can hide in the back seat," Dawn decided. "That way you can shift and grope Pepper's leg." Tony glared at her but grinned slightly. Pepper swatted her. Their driver got out of the limo. "When did we switch license plates?" she called, stopping Pepper.

"Earlier when the new ones came in."

Tony looked then at him. "That's not a legal one."

"Mr. Stark," he started.

"I'm getting them home by showing off my new car." The driver huffed but got in to follow them. Howard wouldn't have known anything about such a change. Dawn might've if she wasn't so tired. Pepper wouldn't have seen the new paperwork to have it filed, that went to Dawn. He let Dawn into the minuscule back seat. Tony put down the top and pulled out.

"I need my own car," Dawn decided.

Tony glanced back at her. "Fat chance Dad'll let you get one, Dawn. He'll think someone will kidnap you from it. Otherwise he'd have a normal car take you and Pepper to school."

"He doesn't complain when I take a cab in."

"He probably doesn't know. If he did, he'd complain." Tony grinned at her and backed out. He saw Steve waiting on the city bus with Clint and Natasha and sighed. "Dawn, pull the lever." She did and squeaked as the back seat slid backwards. The back half was expanding back. Tony grinned. "It helps." He drove up to the bus stop. "Get in!" he called. They hopped over. Steve hesitated but Tony stared at him. "Now, Rogers." He got into the back. Dawn wiggled closer to Natasha to give him room. Clint and Steve had the outer sides since they were bigger. Tony drove off. "Where to, gang?"

"I'm going to the library to study until Bucky's mom comes home," Steve said.

"I'm going home," Clint said.

"Me as well." Natasha looked at him. "You can walk from mine since it's only a block."

Pepper looked back. "We know, guys. Really. As soon as any new kids walks in the office secretary starts up gossip on who they are so no one breaks into her records again. That's why so many kids gave Dawn shit until she slugged one with a book. Which Howard yelled at her for but she pointed out she wasn't taking shit from a trained chimp of a human." Steve laughed, he knew him. "Yeah, she's the reason he's got that bump on his nose." She turned back around. "Just enjoy the ride." They relaxed and Tony dropped them off when Pepper told him where. Clint's foster home siblings all looked jealous. Natasha's people all gave them dirty looks. Pepper smiled. "We go to school with her and it's too pretty of a day to ride the bus." They drove off. Steve got dropped off at home since Tony took the long way and it was nearly dinner. Then they went back to the compound. Howard was waiting when they got back. "We dropped off our friends, Howard."

He shrugged. "Good. It's nice my son has human friends instead of robotic friends." Tony glared and shrank the car back down. "What the hell, son?"

Tony gave him a smug look. "It's very economical and great on gas mileage." He held the door for Pepper and Dawn. "Go eat, ladies. I'll drop stuff and join you in the caf."

"Your mother's cooking, son."

"She's off at the spa. Saw the limo there," Tony quipped. He walked in to drop his stuff, no mother, no dinner, so he went to the caf. No Dawn. "She asleep?"

"Yup." He got his dinner and sat down with Pepper to eat and go over the homework for english. He had no idea about it. She did, thankfully. Otherwise they'd have to ask Natasha.

Howard walked in and looked at Pepper. "The limo driver said you avoided him," he said quietly, staring at her.

"That's not our limo, Howard. It's got the wrong plates and the wrong back end." He blinked, going to look. It turned out the driver was missing. After dinner, they went to study in their own rooms. They weren't a couple, no matter how many times Tony flirted and Dawn nudged. Though, Pepper did look outside when she heard Howard complaining loudly - Howard said he didn't rant, he complained manfully at the top of his lungs. She opened her window, a luxury she had that Dawn didn't, and leaned out. "Howard, is there a problem?"

"Yes! There was sleeping gas in the car and a few other neat things."

"So it was someone who wanted me and Dawn, or just her?"

He looked at her. "Pepper, you're a nice girl, but date Tony, okay?" He walked off to have a scotch and complain at his lab's walls.

She rolled her eyes. "Not you too." She closed her windows and locked them, just in case. Sometimes it was like a fairytale that people wanted Dawn. And then she remembered the last time they had rescued her and Dawn had nightmares for two days that woke up half their wing and had sixty-one stitches on her sides. Plus a broken finger from beating someone to get free. Not so much of a fairytale.


Dawn walked into school late the next morning looking a bit upset. The principal stared at her. "Howard was late bringing me." She handed over her excuse from him. "Something company related." She went to her class, second period, and sat down. The business math teacher looked at her. "Howard needed something done very fast," she said quietly.

"Sometimes work interferes with other life necessities." She gave her the worksheet and Dawn pulled out her homework, handing it over. It had the same one. "You're the second one that remembered you had that. Though, you also got number 4 wrong."

"State employee tax rate just went up," Dawn said. She pulled out something to figure it up for her. "See?"

She looked and groaned. "I do. That would make that the right rate then," she complained, fixing Pepper's.

"I wrote the state tax people to get you the new business hand out," Dawn said, pulling them out of her purse. "They were in the mail last night. Which is when I found out Howard was paying New York taxes," she muttered but handed them over. Pepper heard her and looked over, wincing. She nodded. "Not huge but tiny change."

The teacher looked them over. "They couldn't have made that more complicated," she complained but put them up. "These are the official California forms." She went over how to follow them. She almost got lost but corrected herself.

Dawn held up a hand. "What is the purpose of the 'plus' column?"

"To make sure you get a refund," Pepper quipped, making the teacher smile.

"So they make sure you get enough taken out, Dawn," the teacher said. "Thank you," she said as the bell rang. Dawn nodded and they left to go to their next class. She shared those with the other business teachers. They had to teach the kids how to read the state forms.


Dawn came in that night, smiling at Howard's wife, Maria. "Hi."

"Dawn." She smiled at her. "I was looking for you and Pepper. The prom is coming."

"The business awards dinner is that night so we'll have two hours in fabulous dresses and then the club," Pepper said with a smile. "So much nicer than the students we like to ignore most of the time."

Howard's wife laughed. "I'd say so. If you want to do that instead, that's fine. Prom is one of those special occasions for young women."

Dawn grinned. "I'm not looking forward to any society events or a huge wedding so it's good for me to skip having to be ignored by everyone anyway."

"Hmm. No one's asked?" Both girls shook their heads. "That's stupid."

Pepper smiled. "Strong women have to put up with confused men all the time," she reminded her.

"Yes we do. Some day that won't be true." She patted them both on the cheek. "Is the dinner long or short?"

"We're not sure. Helena's out on leave," Pepper complained. "I'd ask Staci but she'd tell us wrong to embarrass us."

"So would Jocelyn," Dawn agreed.

"Dawn?" Howard called.

"Minute, Howard." She looked at her. "If you find out, let us know? I might wear that cream and purple dress, I'm not sure."

"You do look spectacular in it," she assured her, heading in there with Dawn. "We were talking about that business dinner that's conflicting with their proms."

"Nonsense. They can go to the prom," Howard told Dawn.

"I haven't been asked; no one's looking like they're going to ask me. I'd end up standing against the wall being bored, Howard."

"Fine, if you're sure."

"Pep and I are both pretty sure."

"She can take Tony."

Dawn stared at him. "Tony may flirt a lot but Pepper's not into players usually. Beyond that, pushing it means that your son will quit flirting with Pepper for good."

"Good point. We're going to the house in the Bahamas this summer."

"No we're not," his wife said.

"I said we are," he complained.

"Tony's going to college this summer, Howard."

"No he's not! He's not ready yet!"

Tony leaned in. "If you had been there, I graduated last year and only had to take a few extra credit hours," he said sarcastically. "Then again, you're never there for things so why would you know that."

"Do you want to not got college?" Howard complained.

"Trust fund."

"I can make it disappear, son. I am in control."

"I've had control since I graduated, Dad, and sure, you tell Grandmother Stark that you don't want me to go to college. I'm sure she'd *adore* that." Howard shuddered slightly. "Dawn, can I get you out of the crossfire?"

"Sure." She smiled. "I'll update my passport but with those agents....are we thinking they might try to interfere?"

"Yup. You want to stay here?"

"I can. Not like I'll be doing anything but the standard paperwork." She shrugged and walked off.

"Dawn," Howard's wife said. "You are not a slave. You have days off and I fully expect you to use them even if my husband does not. Therefore, you will use them today."

"I have to hit the hospital tonight. Mom's just had radiation this afternoon."

"That's fine. Tomorrow you have the day off."

Dawn grinned. "We were going rollerblading with the group."

"Good!" She smiled. "You need some sun. You're paler than my son. Son, go get some sun."

"Can't, Mom. The last time we got some tanning time in, someone snatched Dawn again." Dawn hit him on the arm. "Ow! Mean wench."

"Better a wench than some of the sluts we go to school with," she shot back.

"No, you'll never make the stripper core that we have."

"You know, they're offering pole dancing for PE next year," Dawn said with a grin. "It looks a lot more interesting than spinning or track and field." Pepper nodded that was true. Howard was choking. "It is the PE, Howard. I have to take one."

"Hell no!" he shouted. "How dare they train you girls in how to be strippers!"

"There's all sorts of classes in it," Pepper said. "It's the hot new workout with belly dancing."

"Hell no!" Howard complained. "No, fuck no!" Tony flinched at that. "I'll straighten that shit out!" He stomped off to yell at the principal.

"Hey, maybe a study hall next year," Dawn quipped.

"Maybe," Pepper agreed. "You can use it to sleep."

"Sleep is nice but I have to file and then go see Mom." She got to work on what she had. "Pepper, go nudge accounting about that tax thing?"

"Yup." She went down there while Tony went to his lab. She smiled as she walked in. "Guys, Dawn noticed something. Why are we charging New York tax rates on California employees?" They stared at her. "She looked because the business math teacher keeps forgetting what the state tax rate is. She ordered the forms but handed them to the teacher."

The head of accounting came out. "We're officially incorporated in New York, Pepper."

"Would that matter? The business teacher didn't think so."

"I can check. Thank Dawn for finding that for us." Pepper smiled and nodded, going back upstairs. She went to her desk to call them. A few minutes later, a memo came out to get sent around. Dawn and Pepper came to get them to hand out.

Dawn smiled at them. "I was worried but it's only usually a few extra dollars a month." They took them to the caf, starting with them. Half of everyone was in there. Dawn cleared her throat. "People, memo from Accounting. They've just realized they've been using the New York tax rate instead of the California rate for state employment taxes." She handed out her stack while Pepper did hers.

"That means basically a few bucks to most everyone," Pepper said. "Sorry, but they'll audit us and you know we'll never get anything done while they do one." They all moaned. It had the tax rate website on there, and most of their geeks knew how to use the internet. "We'll get the ones still in their labs and offices." They walked off to get the others. She and Dawn could remember who everyone was for a few hours.

"I already got a memo," one complained to Pepper.

She smiled. "On the tax snafu?"

"Tax snafu?" She handed it back with a smile. He read and groaned. "How much difference?"

"Few bucks we think."

"Great. This'll screw my budget up." She patted him on the arm and got the others. Those who were too engrossed to look up got it put into their labcoat pockets for later.

Dawn smiled as she handed them to the guards on the gateway. "Guys, tax snafu."

"Great," they complained. A dark sedan pulled up.

One walked out. "Dawn, he wants you anyway."

"I kinda felt I should be out here." She walked over. "Yes?"

"Miss Summers, it was said you had illegal custody of an agent's ID case."

"No, I did take one to see the name of the agent that was trying to kill my mother by interrupting her surgery to remove her brain tumor. Especially since he claimed my mother's brain tumor was a national security matter." She stared at him. "The last time I knew, my mother wasn't an agent or a threat to the government. So I wanted to know who I was talking to since he didn't introduce himself. If there were such things floating around I'm pretty sure someone would drop them in the mailbox, which the US Postal Service would hand to the FBI to hand back. That's their protocol as I found out because one trying to break in here dropped his when he was arrested. Our mail carrier guy told me."

The agent blinked at her. "You're a smart ass."

"Yes, but only when I need to be. Trying to kill my mother does tend to put me in a *great* and *wondrous* mood."

"I'm sure...."

Dawn held up a hand. "Yes, they were. She was in surgery when they showed up to interrupt it to demand the doctor hand over the tumor they were removing. And by the way, I've told *plenty* of people about how suspicious the tumor was. And about the agents that showed up."

"No one would believe a teenage girl," he sneered.

"You mean beyond the reporter that got killed looking into it? Which meant someone else is looking into why she died? I told her editor why she was killed. And a few others. Because I'm pretty sure that the 'rock fall'," she said, doing finger quotes, "wasn't one since there were no rocks in that area to fall. She was in the desert and somehow a landslide happened when there wasn't even a pebble near her."

"I'm sure people like that were scared off," the agent said firmly.

"Good, then maybe the senators I contacted and the governors of multiple states won't be." She smiled. "You have a great day."

"I can arrest you. I don't need a reason."

"Well, you kinda do. Even the NSA needs a warrant, jackass. That is the law. And if you illegally arrested me, that would mean I'd have the chance to fight back. I may not be great but I'm damn determined and very stubborn." She walked off. "Have a great day, Agent whateveryou'repretendingyournameistoday."

He got out and stood up. "I can still arrest you and should."

Dawn looked at her. "And then even more information automatically goes out to higher level reporters. Because I'm pretty sure that I still have people who would wonder. Including some of my coworkers who might starve if I don't remind them to eat." She smiled coldly. "I'm not an isolated person. Even if I don't count on anyone here, there's others who would know. A lot of others. Including the files I have with a lawyer." He pulled them out to put on the top of the car. "There's six more than that." He gaped. "I'm not stupid and if you killed that lawyer like you did the agents and that reporter, you really are dumb. Each one like that raises questions. Especially since one of them was *very* high profile." She grinned. "Anything else?"

"He's not dead."

She laughed. "Then you've made a hell of a mistake." He blanched and got into the car. Dawn gathered the files to see which one it was, calling him on the way inside. He was okay and making statements to the FBI. She had the files couriered over so he could hand over one of them. He sent the rest out that night.

Howard met her at the door. "That was bravely stupid."

"He thought I'd cry and beg," she said, staring at him. "I haven't begged in my life. And I only cry about my mother and dog movies. They didn't even kill the lawyer that was holding more packets to be sent to more reporters."

"That was dumb of them."

"He's talking to the FBI." She smiled. Howard shuddered. "Oh, yes." She walked around him. "I delivered out here, boss."

"Good." He followed her back to the office area. "I talked to a few people in DC. They're wondering why you contacted them."

"They're on the Intelligence committee. It's their idiots fucking up." She shrugged. "They can handle their own idiots before I have to defend myself some dark night."

He patted her on the back. "We'll figure it out. Be less open."

She smiled. "I haven't been open yet, Howard. Though people are wondering things like how a reporter died in the middle of the desert of a rockfall that didn't and couldn't happen."

"Her editor got told if he tried to find out the same thing would happen to him."

"And who did he tell that to?"

"A bunch of his reporters," he admitted. He blinked. "That's almost evil, Summers."

She smiled. "I hate that she died because I asked her to investigate but I can't let this go. What if they do it to someone else's family, or their kids?"

"Good point." He went back to his desk. She went to hers to get to work. "You have the afternoon off, Summers."

"No I don't or I have to work Sunday because your schedule is a wreck again."

"Do it and go see your mother."

"Yes, sir." She leaned in. "Can I get a car?"

"It's not safe."

"Neither are cabs or the limo apparently."

He stared at her. "We'll talk about it Monday." She smiled. "Tony or I would help you pick it out so it's not for sex or anything else."

"Howard, I haven't even seen a dick up close and personal yet. Please! Some of us haven't even been kissed! I'm not going to use my car for sex." She got back to work, bringing in his amended schedule. "How's that look? It moves Mr. Hammer Senior back a week, which will make him mad but DC is probably more important?"

"He can meet me in DC."

"He's in Geneva."

"Great. He can annoy them." He looked it over and tapped one. "Not that one." She changed it for the other one and he grimaced. "Why?"

"Don't know. You penciled them both in." She moved that other one to another open spot, getting a nod but another grimace. "Okay, let me call to make changes." She went to do that. Mr. Hammer Senior was a jackhole and a douchebag, and his son was about the same. He tried to flirt with Dawn but yay. She finally got the father and he agreed he could push that back since he didn't want to meet him in DC instead. Then he tried to brag about his son.

"No, Mr. Hammer, I'm not dating anyone but I'm also not interested in dating anyone until I'm in college. I have other commitments right now, including a mother that's on an oncology ward. I'm not going to have the time or energy to date anyone until she's out of there. Of course I'll meet your son that year. Actually, I've met him a few times at a few business meetings. No, the redhead is Miss Potts, I'm the brunette perky assistant Howard has." She rolled her eyes when Howard came out to grin at her.

"Yes, that one. No, I really cannot. Because my mother's cancer comes before anything like a dating life, Mr. Hammer. My mother is very important to me and anyone who cannot understand that would not be suitable for me to date. Some of us are *traditional* women, our families come first. No, I don't plan on having children actually. So, I'm really not suitable as he'd probably have to have an heir to carry on the business. You have a great day, sir, Mr. Stark just spilled his coffee on his schedule." She hung up. She made sure by picking it back up then hung up again. "What a fucking moron!" she said loudly. "And eww! His son isn't fit to screw gerbils!"

Howard walked off laughing. "I love it when you're plucky, Dawn. Reminds me of a few female soldiers I knew in the war."

"I was looking through my mom's stored photos and you knew my aunt, Howard." He turned to stare at her. She smiled. "Reina Booth? She was my great-aunt."

"Raven?" he demanded. Dawn smiled and nodded. "Then you definitely get your stubbornness and backbone from them, Dawn. I should've realized that." He smiled and walked off. He ran into his wife. "Dawn's related to the Raven line."

"Really?" She smiled. "I remember meeting the last one. She and Joyce clearly got the family tenacity." She went to hug Dawn and saw her calming down her temper. "Who was it?"

"Mr. Hammer Senior. Wants me to date his scummy son who isn't fit for gerbils."

She laughed and nodded. "Yes, that he is." She hugged her and patted her on the back then walked off to tell Pepper that news. Pepper came to hug Dawn in sympathy for that attempted set up. She knew how it was. They tried to do it to her all the time.


Tony looked at his father that night. He was drunkenly designing. "You might ask Dawn before you design her a costume, Dad," he said quietly. "Dawn only fights when she has to protect herself."

Howard looked at him. "She'll probably want it some day. Girls like her won't be assistants forever."

"She probably will be. Dawn doesn't like to fight unless she had to." He called Dawn to come up to the lab.

She walked in wearing bunny slippers, silk pajama shorts, and a guy's tank top with her hair back in a ponytailed braid. Neither Stark would do more than glance a lot at the cutesy, slightly revealing outfit. "What's up?" Tony pointed at the drawing. She looked then hugged Howard around the neck. "I adore the idea but if I have to put on a suit and go out to beat bad guys, I'll kill everyone." He laughed and patted her on the back. "When I have kids you can tell them about my great-aunt and the others," she said, staring at him. "One of them will need a suit. For now, make me something to keep the kidnaping Dawn wanters off me?"

Howard smirked. "I'm hiring you a bodyguard."

"Okay, make him real tolerant and have insomnia so he doesn't miss out on too much sleep." She smiled. "Thanks for thinking about it, Howard, but can you see *me* in the military?"

He burst out laughing, shaking his head. "No, it might start to run without problems." She smiled at that complement and walked off. He looked at his son. "Fine, you were right."

"Of course I am. Want me to be right about you should be on the plane in an hour to hit DC tomorrow as well?" Howard huffed but left. "Thankfully Pepper texted me," he said, looking at the suit design. "Simple and boring," he said, redesigning it. "Maybe special forces battle suits." He worked on some other ideas. That could help them.


Howard looked at a few former war buddies' sons. "How many of you have heard from my assistant?"

"We were wondering why," one said. "And why you asked for a meeting, Howard."

"Because all that, it's true." He got another senator in there. "I heard she wrote you. She said a doctor and you're the only one I know around here."

"Dawn Summers?"

"She's my assistant."

"I thought I remembered her from last time. I asked an oncologist friend I have and then had to have my guards kill the guys trying to take him out."

Howard put down reports. "That's what was in the tumors that the NSA wanted to confiscate when they were removed. They've been threatening Dawn but her public response is to laugh and tell even more people so it can't be covered up. And now there's two. The other is a family friend."

He looked those over. "That's not anything near chemotherapy, and my friend offered that doctor suggestions on a treatment section. He said it grew back?"

"I haven't talked to Dawn. She spends part of each night with her mom. Makes me proud but also worries me to no end. Girl never gives herself a break. She got in-school suspended one day and used it to nap. Came out looking even more tired."

The other senators looked over the information. "What are these pictures from?" he asked about Howard's packet.

"My son knows a few hackers."

"Your son's a blight," one said. "He is a hacker and he's brilliant. I'm told he opened a porn network's servers and exposed all the underaged girls to the FBI."

"Good!" He cleared his throat. "He said one of his friends hacked the NSA *base* under Dawn's old town."

"Why do they have a base?" one of the Intelligence committee asked. "They have offices."

"They have a base there with the NID," Howard said, showing him.

They all stared at those pictures. "That's not human," one said. They went on. There were a few humans. "Is that inserting or taking out?"

The senator who was a doctor looked. "Inserting. That's no part of a human body I've ever seen." He looked at them then at Howard. "What are they doing?"

"There's a few programs on each side of the last great war that were questionable and I worked to have ours shut down repeatedly when one kept coming up. That's where the NID came from originally. Nazis had a few and Japan had a better one that was less torture and more using them." He put down a file. "This apparently relates to that. And a group back in England that we only found out about during the war when their girl showed up to beat everyone while taking out the bad things they were experimenting on."

They looked that over. "I've heard a tiny bit about that group. There was a girl kidnaped from a group home," one of the committee senators said quietly, staring at Howard. "When I checked on why this suddenly quit being pushed around, thinking it was because the girl was a foster kid, I got told to drop it because a Council had come for one of their own."

"Them," Howard agreed, shifting to cross his feet. "They do a lot of that. Great thing though? Buffy has the mark and never got found. Dawn's older sister." They all groaned. "I think that's incidental unless they find out. For right now, it looks like their old town has a whole experimental base down under their college and somehow Joyce and a young man that's Buffy's friend found out or saw something. They overreacted. Which pissed Dawn off. Oh, Joyce's mother's maiden name was Booth."

One of the senators stiffened. "Related to Reina?"

"That was Dawn's great-aunt." He grinned. "I just found out yesterday. Dawn saw a few pictures of us."

"Small world."

"Very. I nearly made her a suit but she said to save it for her kids."

That senator smiled. "She was plucky like her great-aunt."

"Mouthy like her too. She complained that Hammer tried to get her to date his son, called his son not fit for gerbils because apparently he couldn't understand that her mom's cancer had to come first."

They all smiled. Dawn had been very polite when they had been out for a grant meeting. Pepper too.

The Intelligence committee members called someone over to make a report to them. The rest were out of view but could hear it. The head of the committee looked at the director that came in. "I've been hearing rumors recently."

"From?" he asked with a smile. "We're within usual budget guidelines." He saw the packets. "What are those?"

"Those are from a young woman who found out you have a base."

"What?" He laughed. "She must be mistaken. I'm sure she's just making up stories."

"Really?" They laid out the pictures. "Including getting a hacker into your internal camera feed?" The director looked and shrugged, not looking concerned. "They're not mocked up. We asked someone. Too much coincidence."

"I'm sure we're not but I'll gladly look into it."

"No, I think someone else is going to look into it," another member said. "You're getting audited."

"No one can audit our work! We're the NSA! We do things other agencies can't!"

"There's a few covert ones who can," the head of the committee assured him. "Expect them to show up tonight. Probably before you get back there." He stared at him. "If this is true, I wouldn't expect the budget to be your worry as you'll be in jail." The director stomped off.

Howard came out. "Already called Nick. Knew I was imposing but I figured you'd want him anyway."

"I did." Someone else walked in. A tall, bald, black man in a leather trenchcoat wearing an eyepatch. "Director Fury. We have problems."

"Then that's my job. Howard said you needed our special skills." Howard handed him the files from the hackers and the one he had brought in. "Them again." He looked at him. "Still?"

"Even worse. I'm pretty sure if Dawn had known who you were she would've sent you intel too, Nick."

"She did." He smirked. "She's a plucky little hell cat."

"And then some." He stared at him, handing him the rest of the information. "They got warned someone was coming."

"We've had someone there for the last six months."

"This base?" the head of the committee asked.

"They clearly picked the nicest pictures they could. I've seen some that made me puke and with all I've seen that says a lot." He walked out. "Let me finish handling this tonight."

"Make sure we still have an NSA standing at the end," one of them ordered. "We don't care about the NID or the others, but at least leave us with a shadow of an agency to rebuild."

Nick smirked. "No promises. This rot is deep over there." He walked out, talking to his second-in-command. She sent an order to the covert agents to shut it down.

Howard smirked. "I like his style of handling things. Dawn needs a guy like him if she ever gets around to dating." He walked off. "Let me know if you need my special help."

"Sure," they agreed, going over the reports. This was not good.


Dawn got picked up by Howard the next day at school. "Mom?" she asked.

"No. She's good. She and that kid both got moved to a quieter center that just focuses on cancer treatments." Dawn sighed in relief. "You can go see her there tomorrow. They're settling her in tonight and doing blood work stuff, plus have her in quarantine."

"That's normal," she agreed. "Do we have her number yet?"

"I've got it right here," he said, handing it over. She called her mom, walking a few feet away to check on her and talk to the nurses. Howard had to smile. The girl fussed too much. Pepper, Tony, and their group came out. "Pepper, I'm taking her somewhere Saturday, so you guys'll be on your own," he called.

"That's fine, Howard. We can go to the movies." She smiled. "Your mom?" she asked, seeing the look on Dawn's face as she hung up.

"The nurse just told me I shouldn't visit more than once a week. I'm about to prove to them what real family does with my foot up her butt." Howard snickered, shaking his head. "Seriously!"

"Some places do limit visiting," he said.

"Yay! This is my mother and I'm going to be there! Some uppity bitch isn't going to stop me." She kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for having them moved, Howard."

"Welcome, Dawn. Pepper, get Tony back to the compound somehow. Even if you do have to drag him." He drove off with Dawn, talking to her about what had happened on the committee and where they were going Saturday. She nodded, relaxing about it. They could handle that. He dropped her at the cancer center and drove off. Dawn could find her way back.

Dawn smiled, getting her mom's room number and heading up. She stared at the nurses near her mother, smiling. "Hi, I'm Dawn. Joyce is my mother. I am here almost *every* night so you guys don't have to worry about helping her shower and things. I also read to her, help some other patients that need to cry on someone who understands, and Xander's a family friend." She went in to kiss Xander on the head, getting grumbled at. She grinned. "Just think, you're in LA. No more parents," she said quietly.

"Yeah, that's the really great part." He smiled. "I've already heard Joyce fussing."

"I get it from her." She gave his hand a squeeze and wrote down her number. "My cell. Call me if you need stuff, even mundane stuff like candy and shampoo." She handed over her leftover brownie from lunch. She had to skip lunch due to a detention. He grinned and unwrapped it to eat.

"He's not supposed to have that," the nurse complained.

"I've never known life to be so fucking miserable that you couldn't have a treat now and then," Dawn told her. "If it's going to brighten up his day, then I'm going to give him and my mother a treat." She stared at her. "They could use the cheer." She patted Xander on the wrist. "Don't bounce?"

He grinned. "I haven't bounced in years, no matter what your sister thinks." She winked and walked over, sighing and rearranging her mother's room for her.

"Thank you," Joyce said. Her daughter hugged her. "You didn't have to come tonight."

Dawn looked at her. "Really?"

"You could be out doing young woman things."

"It's this or homework, Mom. That's the only young woman things I get up to. I'll have plenty of time to date in college or once you're out of here." She settled in to share what had happened over the last week. Including the committee stuff once they made sure no one was listening. Though she did go give Xander back his brownie. "Everyone needs a treat now and then. It's not going to kill him to have a brownie is it?"

"No," the head nurse said.

"Then a treat might make him feel happier, which is always good for their recovery, correct?"

"That's also true, but he's on diet restrictions."

"Why? He and my mother are both underweight. They both need feeding up. I'll be bringing my mother some soup in a few days when I have home ec again." The nurse smirked at her. Dawn stared back. "I will kill *everyone* over my mother and Xander," she assured her with a smile. "Including the people that came up to try to confiscate the tumor they removed. I am *that* sort of daughter to put it in the words of a Nazi-like bitch at the last cancer center. She thought they had to have strictly regimented sleep cycles and tried to sedate my mother against orders. She was sadly mistaken when I had her arrested and then disowned by the nurses board."

"I got that note," the head nurse agreed. "They're about to have a mid afternoon early dinner so they can have a late dinner later."

"Is a brownie going to matter?"

"We're checking their calorie input."

"It's a Hostess brownie. Has a wrapper?" The nurse smiled and nodded. "Cool. I'm usually up after normal supper to help Mom shower and things. When is good for you between six and ten?"

"Six is good. Late dinner is at eight."

"Okay, I can do that." She went back to her mother's side to talk with her.

The head nurse looked at her underlings, this shift had almost no long time nurses on it. "Family like that means you usually pull through. Let her fuss, ladies." They sighed but nodded. She went to get the wrapper, taking note of the fat, sugar, calories, and lack of vitamins. She stared at him. "Don't gorge on it. Don't bounce about too much. You'll shift your IV." He grimaced but nodded. "She can fuss if she wants but we have to keep track of that stuff to make you gain all that weight back."

Xander grinned. "I'd like that weight back. I look like a nerd."

"You do, kiddo." She patted him on the foot. "Be a good boy and I won't send Nurse Cindy in to do your shower."

"I have been bathing myself since I was two and a half. I don't need help, thanks. Unless I'm not going to realize it."

She smiled. "IV lines."

He shrugged. "I manage it most of the time and I'm only on an IV after treatments. For that matter, the brownie helps with the nausea."

"It does. We have ones here that are better for you."

"Healthy chocolate?" he asked, grimacing. "Eww."

"It tastes better than you think. You'll get one at dinner." She left him to figure out their tv system. She walked back in. "School work?"

"GED," he said quickly. "I hate classes."

"Okay. We'll find things for you to do. We also do have therapy in case you want to talk, group and individual. We have ministers on hand....." Xander shook his head quickly. She checked his chart. "Star Trek?"

"It's the only religion I obey and it's Star Wars," he said patiently.

"That makes more sense, though I have seen some guys that apparently want to be Captain Kirk." She looked over the rest. "They screwed up a lot of things. No family, dear?"

"They heard 'sick' and dumped me," he said bluntly.

"Oh, that sort." She smiled. "I've kicked a few like that off my floor."

"Dawn's loud but she's a fussy sort," he said quietly.

"Fussing means you make it off my floor." He smiled. "And yeah, the nurses are a bit uptight sometimes." She came in to go over his paperwork with him. That way the correct things were down there. Dawn came over to hand over her business card as well. "Your office phone?" she asked, looking at it. Then at the young woman.

"I'm a perky super assistant sort." She smiled. "On the back is the school's number and my cellphone." The nurse nodded, making note of that. "We're adopting Xander, Mom said so."

"If you're not real family...."

"No, you can tell them," Xander said. "If something happens I trust Dawn's family to make my decisions for me." The nurse nodded, writing that down. "Joyce is like the mom I never had anyway," he said honestly. "I'm Dawn's sister's friend."

"Ah." She smiled at him. "We'll work it out." Dawn gave him a hug then left. They had heard Joyce nagging her to go get some sun so maybe the girl would listen. She got finished and went to Joyce's room to go over her paperwork with her. Xander's wishes on power of attorney were formalized when the next head nurse came up. She was a notary. Joyce's wishes were formalized then too. They could handle this and Joyce was in pretty good shape. Dawn did a great job helping her and they found out later that night that Joyce was the mothering sort so other people who needed to cry on someone found her too.


Dawn was sniffling when she got back. She ran into Pepper. "Where's Howard?"

"Office, where is he usually? Is she not okay?" She hugged Dawn, walking them into the file room to give her some privacy. One of the other office's assistants came in then backed out when she saw Dawn crying and Pepper waved her off. Howard's wife came in a few minutes later to hug Dawn and walk her off to talk to her about what had happened. Pepper went to find Howard. "She's not on the Hospice ward, right?"

"No! Neither one is. They're both looking okay." He looked up. "She's crying?"

"The new doctor came up and told her the tumor was regrowing rapidly. Not Xander's but Joyce's. She and Joyce are now the power of attorney for Xander."

"Crap. Why would it regrow?"

"She's not sure. She gave them copies of the reports from the first tumor. They're running some toxicology bloodwork on Joyce."

Howard called the hospital. "It's Howard Stark, is the head nurse there please?" He was Joyce's power of attorney with Dawn, because she was a minor. They all knew that. It was on the paperwork. "What's happened?" He listened. "That's ... they dosed her again," he realized. "Thank you." He hung up and looked at Pepper.

"Dawn's going to kill someone," she said honestly.

"I'm hoping that's why they found two orderlies dead after trying to give them both shots at the old hospital. Apparently some found it's way into Joyce's IV and not Xander's." Pepper shuddered. "Let me call someone, Pepper. Get her calmed down with the night off for both of you. She needs something fun to do. Take my son with you so he's not stuffed in a lab." She nodded, walking off. He called someone. "It's Howard." The phone was handed over. "Someone gave Joyce another shot," he said quietly.

"It's regrowing rapidly according to the doctor. Two dead orderlies who were found with needles in their rooms but apparently some got into hers. Yes, that center. I know you have someone there. That'll work. Let me know. No, Dawn came in and fell down crying on Pepper from what I got told. No, apparently not in his. Thanks," he said then hung up. Nick had people there. Some of his former doctors had moved there. Howard went to look at those results again. One of his chemists got pulled in too. They went pale when they saw it and spluttered they had nothing to do with that shot. So he and Nick got to question someone. Thankfully the kids didn't have to see that. His wife would ignore it. Dawn might cheer him on.


Dawn walked up to the group with Pepper. "Thanks, guys. I need distracted."

Clint pulled her down beside him at the fast food table. "It's what friends do." He shoved over his fries.

"I can." She got up to get hers and Pepper's, handing over her salad and Dawn sat down with her fries and sundae, giving Clint some with a grin. "So I don't gorge and have huge zits tomorrow." He grinned and they ate, talking about which movie to see.

Tony walked over finally, he'd been at the book store, and flopped down. Pepper handed him her extra fries, like Dawn had guessed she would. "We could have a real dinner."

"None of us are dressed for a real dinner, Tony, and we need lighter stuff," Dawn said.
"I really need lighter stuff." He stared at her. "Your dad had Mom and Xander moved because orderlies fell down dead while trying to give them shots of stuff," she mouthed. Tony growled. She nodded. "So, be a rich kid tomorrow. Okay?"

"Gladly. I'll grill a steak when we get home." She smiled and nodded. "Movies?"

Pepper looked at him. "We'd go see the new sci fi one but you'd tell us how improbable things were."

"I won't. You can duct tape me if I do. I bought some more because I'm out and one of my robots needs it so I can solder his arm back in place." He looked around. "Where's the redheaded quiet one?"

"Natasha's at dance class," Steve said.

"Oh, that's neat." He looked at Dawn. She had ice cream in front of her and no real food. "Your mom not okay?"

"Nope." She ate another bite of sundae. "And when I opened my personal mail, your future rival sent me a love letter." Pepper choked. Dawn tossed it at her. "Help me think up something polite yet nasty? Because my first instinct is to start off with 'do you not catch fucking clues' and go on from there. You use words better than I do, Pepper."

"I don't swear as much either," Pepper said with a smile.

"Sometimes it's gotta come out."

Tony nodded. "Like when you've just hammered your thumb again." Dawn nodded. "What were you hammering?"

"Accounting was putting up new pictures and I was doing it for them since they have no sense of proportion or style. They grouped them in one tiny little clump."

He shook his head. "Should've told Mom."

"She was going out so she asked me to."

"I got the ones in the lobby," Pepper said. "They just piled them up there without any sense of 'this doesn't go together' and stuck mirrors ever third row. I took down half of them and made it better."

"It was good," Tony agreed. "I haven't been by there in days but it's nice it's not a solid wall of flowers."

Dawn shook her head. "I don't know who went on the decorating binge but I'm wondering if we were spending excess budget."

"Probably," Pepper sighed. "Speaking of...."

"Please don't remind me. Howard's making sure I can search the house for anything that's not in storage before it sells this weekend. I'm going to be in no shape to have all that done before Monday."

"So you actually work?" Tony joked.

Dawn reached around Steve to swat him. "Yes, I do!"

"Tony, we're still trying to figure out how she manages good grades and working for your dad, on your dad's schedule."

"Wow, I can't even do Dad's schedule some days," Tony said, looking at Dawn. "You need spandex."

She smiled. "I have bike shorts but they make me look flat butted. But thanks." He rolled his eyes.

"They do," Pepper agreed, smiling at her. "We need to get you better ones."

"No time to shop and we still have to find out about that dinner."

"And if we need dates," Pepper complained. "They expected us to have dates last time."

"No, I got asked if I was Howard's mistress." Tony choked and spluttered, shaking his head. "I told the guy that I was an ice princess and Howard wasn't the sort to thaw me, that's why he paid me a lot to do his filing instead." Pepper laughed, leaning over to hug her. "Next time, can you be the head assistant?"

"I can do that," she promised with a grin. "Who was it?"

"You remember that really old guy at the opening? The one who offered me a hundred-fifty thou if I climbed on his lap right then and there in the gallery to let him use his viagra since I was still a virgin?" Pepper nodded. "His son."

"He did what?" Steve hissed, glancing around.

Pepper nodded. "So bad. This old guy, who three weeks later died of a seventeen-year-old prostitute, offered it to her when she said she wasn't looking for a relationship at the moment, she had too many goals. It'd be eighty if she wasn't a virgin. Dawn was very polite and simply told him that she wasn't going to be melted by a fat wallet or gentle manners. That she had a man in mind to cure that for her and he'd never dare to pay her for it. Because she wasn't that sort of assistant. Then she found Tony's mom and stayed with her all night. I finally told her why after we got back and she asked. She wanted to go kill him."

"I figure he got what was coming to him since the pro got him," Dawn said, pushing her hair back. "I have no idea why guys like that want me."

"Me either," Tony quipped. "You're smart and pretty but you're not Marilyn Monroe or anything."

Dawn stuck her tongue out. "I'm still in my last growth spurt, Tony. I may grow into it. I just wish I would grow into normal sized shoes at the same time." She looked at Pepper. "I say we skip and go to the beach tomorrow."

"I say we have a day out of school on Friday legitimately," she shot back with a smile.

"So two days on the beach?" Dawn offered. "We'll get back in time for work?"

"Howard would yell," she said.

Dawn called. "Howard, it's Dawn and Pepper. We have Friday off and we're taking Thursday off school to get some sun since Mom ordered. Yup, that means skipping classes. Cool, thanks." She hung up. "He said as long as we don't have a test, he wouldn't care. And to make Tony do something beyond hang out in his lab. He's worried about robotic girlfriends again."

"I love it when Dad's in the scotch," Tony quipped. "Let's hit the movies." They all cleaned up their messes and went down to buy their tickets and get in. They had a short wait but it was good and they settled in to chat and figure things out. Clint, Dawn, Pepper, Tony, Steve worked and they had a good time at the horror movie. Even if Dawn did have to look away a few times before her stomach rebelled. Clint patted her on the hand, making her grin at him.

Pepper glanced over then nudged Tony getting his popcorn. He looked at her. She tilted her head slightly so he glanced down there. That might be a great thing. Dawn could use someone there to help her unstress.


Clint came back to the foster home that night, stretching up. "Sorry, bus was late," he said when the wife over the kids stopped him in the hallway.

"Who were you with?"

"Some of the kids from school. Dawn, Pepper, Tony, and Steve."

"So two girls, two boys...and you're the spare?"

"We had dinner and went to the movies. I used my allowance from my weekend job."

"So it wasn't a date? Because you know the house rules."

"No. Not a date. Dawn doesn't date, she's too busy with a mom in the hospital. Steve lives with the Barnes a few streets over. Pepper and Tony are best friends because she and Dawn work for his dad."

"She's how old?"

"She's taking senior level classes but I never asked. She's in the same school. Howard Stark has her custody while her mom's got brain cancer."

"That poor girl. She works?"

"She's his assistant."

"I thought she was a redhead."

"That's Pepper."

"Then that must be that slinky brunette." She found a paper and showed him. He pointed at someone. "That's her? She's kinda plain."

"Yeah, that's Dawn."

"But she works?"

"Yeah. She and Pepper were complaining about getting the budget done on time this weekend since Dawn's got to hit her house before they sell it to make sure they got all their stuff out."

"Poor mother." She put the paper aside. "I don't put up with dating from my boarders, Clint."

"She doesn't date. She's got a high B average, she works twice as much as Pepper, and spends time with her mom every night halfway across town. She doesn't have time to date. She quipped she hasn't even seen a naked guy in person yet."

His mother snorted but nodded. "Good. Girls will get you in trouble and you'll waste that education they're giving you."

Clint nodded. "I know. Though, Dawn's not like that. She's not a skanky girl at all. We have a few in school. The girls we have who're already strippers are better than them." He shook his head. "They all leave me alone. I don't have a heritage or a trust fund."

"Good." She stared at him. "Go to bed." He went upstairs. She went to talk to her husband. He had been in the kitchen. They had another of the kids out tonight but she was due in an hour from work. "Sounds like the girl's a bit smart. She's a plain one, not overly pretty."

"That's good. Means she's not the easy sort."

"If she's a senior or a junior and hasn't seen a naked boy yet, she might not be interested in them. Stranger things have happened with pretty girls."

"True," he agreed. He sipped his coffee. Their foster daughter came in sniffling. "Bad day?"

"Yes. I was one tiny minute late back from break because the door was stuck, again, which the health department told them to fix, and I got fired for it. He fired another girl earlier for not dating him."

"Sometimes creeps run that sort of place," the foster father said. "We'll figure it out and you can find a new one."

"I already might have one. I was talking to the girl that gave me a ride. Her brother works at a movie place and they might be hiring."

"That's a decent, steady job," he agreed. She nodded and went up to her room. The parents shared a look. Their foster kids were not coddled by any means. Only Clint didn't have a real job so he could pay rent and that was because he was in that expensive school the state had gotten him into. He had to do good.


Dawn came out of the apartment building the next day in something that was not school clothes. Maria, Tony's mother, gave her a pointed look. "Howard said we could skip for a day on the beach. We'll come back in time for work tonight and tomorrow we have legitimate time off."

"Why don't you two go to Aspen?"

"Because Howard's taking me to the house this weekend to make sure I've got everything out of there."

"Oh, that's right." She patted her on the arm. "You are wearing a bathing suit?" Dawn blushed but nodded, looking around before opening her button-up shirt to show her. "Dawn, that does not fit. You're still growing."

"It'll be okay for now and I'll buy a new one tonight. Pepper and I are meeting everyone there."

Maria looked at her. "The usual place isn't open yet, is it?" she asked with a smile.

"Nope." She buttoned back up her shirt and moved closer again. "Did Pepper tell you Hammer's son sent me a love note?"

"That's rather disturbing."

"Yeah, it is. Including icky sex stuff. She has it to help me formulate an answer."

Maria grimaced. "I'll get it from Pepper. Do you have a bathing suit that fits you better?"

"No, my last bathing suit didn't fit at all, this is Pepper's."

"That figures. You're a bigger bra cup size." Pepper came out. "When and where are you meeting whoever?"

"Only Natasha's going to get to come," she complained. "Clint's too watched, Steve considers skipping school a mortal sin, and Tony's going with us. Howard ordered."

Maria smiled. "That's not a bad idea." She looked at Pepper. "You need to gain some weight, dear. When is she meeting you?"

"Ten. She's got one test she has to take then she's sneaking out." Pepper looked at her watch. It was eight. "We were going to pick out a good spot." Tony slumped as he walked out. "She's not going to stop us."

"Great." He grinned at them. "Me and three girls in bathing suits." Dawn swatted him on the arm. "Hey!"

"I need a new one," Dawn complained.

"There's that lingerie shop that's open all night. They have bathing suits on their website."

Pepper and Dawn shared a look then looked at Maria. "I heartily encourage you both to get ones that fit, girls. Dawn, you might pick up some bras too since you're growing. I noticed things were getting a bit tight."

"I can do that. Thanks, Maria." They ran for Tony's car, because they didn't have one, and headed for that lingerie store. They could make Tony their approval committee. Tony could choke, splutter, blush, and stare but at least they'd know if they looked okay.

And of course one of the guys in there buying for his wife wanted to watch them change. Pepper sneered and he huffed off.


Natasha joined the ladies and spread out her blanket. "Morning."

"Morning," Tony said with a grin. "I'm the luckiest man alive even if all I can do is stare." Pepper swatted him for it, rolling her eyes behind her sunglasses.

Natasha looked at him. "If you tried to do more than look I'd have to break your arm."

"That can be fun," he quipped with an evil grin.

Dawn looked over from sunning on her stomach. "Not really because I'd help."

"I don't want to touch you anyway, Dawn. You're too skinny."

"Pepper's too skinny. I'm still growing. Give it up, Tony."

"Fine." He smiled at her. "They're like nagging sisters."

Natasha nodded. "I can see that." She settled in. "Dawn, you're starting to burn." She sat up and let Pepper get her shoulders for her then moved under the umbrella with Tony. She took the sunscreen bottle and worked some into her skin. "I needed this day off."

"Dance classes are that hard?" Tony asked.

"Yes," Pepper and Natasha said.

Pepper grinned at her look. "I had to quit when I was ten. I broke my ankle and it didn't regain that flexibility."

"I've seen some do that."

"It wasn't my first love anyway. Back then I wanted to be a veterinarian that danced in a local group."

"Then you are much more realistic than a few of my classmates, who believe they will dance with the great companies, even though they dance like they are a moose most of the time." Pepper laughed and swatted at her but helped her get some sunscreen on her back. They laid out until it was nearly lunch. Dawn was back in the sun by then.

A beach officer walked up to them. "Do your parents know you're here?" he asked with a smirk.

"Emancipated," Dawn said, waving a hand without looking up.

"Mine does," Pepper said. "He gave Tony permission too."

Natasha nodded. "Mine have found out by now. They're great spies."

The officer stared at them. "Shouldn't you be in school?"

Dawn looked at them. "They're keeping me from killing someone. Okay?" He walked off shaking his head. "Thanks for worrying though." She waved at his back. She went back to her reading. "Why do we read these girly, mushy books for english?"

"Because the teacher wants us to be girly and mushy," Pepper said. "I can't find another reason."

Tony looked over. "Is that _Pride and Prejudice_? I need to copy off someone's paper. I am *not* reading that. My life's too valuable to waste reading about girls in old dresses not getting any."

"There's a movie," Pepper quipped. "And a BBC series."

"Then maybe I'll skim them." He relaxed again. Natasha looked at him so he grinned. "I needed some extra credit hours but I'm officially doing college work. I only have to pass the class, not do great in it. I got into MIT on my design work." He went back to his enjoyment of the other women on the beach. His stomach rumbled a while later. "It's lunch time."

Dawn looked at him. "I didn't know your stomach had a watch. When did you implant that?"

"Ha ha, Dawn. Boys need more calories every day, especially in their teen years."

"Fine. We can get something." She looked at Natasha. "My treat."

"I can afford lunch," she assured her.

Dawn grinned. "It's payday, Natasha. I have a discretionary splurge budget and I won't get to use it this week." Natasha smirked. "I do."

"She does. She has a financial guy who did a great budget with her and all that." Her phone rang. "Hi, Howard. Just about to go to lunch." Dawn sighed but packed things up. Pepper stopped her. "Really? How bad is it? No, we can do the budget by next week. It's due by Monday but we would adore having a few extra days." She smiled at Dawn. "Oh, you did? And Dawn found a what? Closed project?"

Dawn took the phone from her. "Is that the Incandescent one or the other three? File on my computer, Howard. The password's the same as yours." He got onto her system. "Files, budget, questionable budget, three files." He found them. "Yeah, that one and the others." He read them and growled. "Wow, you sound like one of the guard dogs." He looked at Tony, who shrugged. He'd never heard his dad growl. "So, I found ...oooh, I found theft? Cool! I'm glad I could. Look at the Cassandra project too unless they're making huge purchase orders. I'm about there and was going to put it in that file tonight."

She listened to him looking that up. "Back up one file level, go to the to do folder." He found it and looked it over then started to yell. "I was going to ask later about all those. The rest I haven't gone over their budgets yet. Sure, I can have it done by Wednesday with Pepper. We were worried about getting it done by Monday for the board meeting with me being at home this weekend." She smiled at Pepper. "She found the Incandescent one. She's taking the I-through-K section right now. Same password as yours, yup. We do that on purpose, Howard." She grinned at Pepper. "That's great news. No, we're going to lunch. Tony's stomach rang its alarm. Sure, we can be back for dinner tonight. Thanks for the extra time, Howard." She hung up. "We are not due until five-thirty. We both found theft." Pepper smiled at her.

"Full on embezzlement?" Tony asked.

"No, supply side theft," Pepper said. "Huge budgets with no progress reports, because we have to put those into the budget for the Board meeting."

"Wow," Tony said. "Doesn't dad give you guys a bonus for those?" They smiled and nodded. "So Dawn can get clothes that fit. Great!"

Natasha laughed. "Dawn should quit growing soon."

"I'm in my last one," Dawn agreed with a grin for her. "My last bathing suit was so tight I couldn't even get it up to my shoulders without it going over my breasts. I was borrowing Pepper's but Tony's mom told me to get a new one."

Tony nodded. "I spent an hour in the store with them trying to ignore them putting on bikinis."

Natasha smiled. "That is always a good thing." They packed up and put everything into Tony's trunk, heading to a beach-side café. Dawn did pay for lunch, even if Tony tried to. She swatted him and paid. Tony got a beep from a friend so he went to game with him while the ladies did a bit of window shopping then went back to the beach for the other guys to join them.

Tony came back with Clint and Steve. "One of my friends wondered why I had a trunk full of bras and things," Tony complained. "I had to tell him about perky assistant sorts who shop." The girls pinched him but included the guys into their little spot on the beach. It was nice. The guys got down to pants and no shirts. Steve was shy so he had to be talked out of his tank top undershirt. Clint wasn't but didn't own a pair of swim trunks. Natasha got called off by her parents to go to dance class. They scowled at her but she apologized and said she needed a day off. She had done that test before leaving for the day. They decided it was fine this time as she had done her homework on the beach.

Dawn looked at the guys. "Since there's no school tomorrow, where do we want to meet?"

"Here's nice," Pepper said. "Centrally located."

"There's the nice private beach," Tony said but Dawn shot him a look. "I can pay cover. It's less crowded."

"It's got swimsuit rules," Pepper reminded him. "And reporters. Who will once again ask if I'm dating you, Tony."

"Oh, yeah, them." He shrugged. "They tried to link me to someone last week that they're calling the inflatable bimbo."

Dawn looked over and nodded. "A lot. Even the bad boob job stripper we're in school with isn't that bad." Clint stifled a snicker. "Seriously. Oh, PE was not changed for next year," Dawn told Pepper.

"So it's track and field, spinning, or pole dancing?" Clint and Steve both blushed. "You guys will be graduated and so will I. Dawn's still got two more years there."

"You're a sophomore?" Clint asked her. She smiled and nodded. "You're taking senior classes."

"I do good in them and tested into them. I'll finish the business track and be moved to something else I guess. No clue what's going on yet. No one's telling me anything."

"I'll ask Dad," Tony quipped.

"Howard tried to get pole dancing removed as a PE option and they refused," Pepper said. "Called it immoral and didn't they have enough strippers?"

"Oh, she found out," Dawn said, smiling at her. "She so found out. The principal found out her niece is one of them. She was muttering about making chastity agreements mandatory for us." She smiled and shook her head. "She was not amused on any plane of existence."

"The girls gotta pay for their bills somehow," Clint said.

Dawn nodded. "All women gotta pay their own bills. Some do it on their own, some do it on their backs, some do it on the poles."

Pepper hugged her. "You're cynical."

"I try," she quipped with a grin. The same beach police officer walked past. "We should make out just to see his face." Pepper swatted her but smiled and shook her head.

"Please don't," Steve said with a white hot blush. "I'm not into that, ladies." They smiled and hugged him.

Dawn smiled at them. "We don't have to be at work until five-thirty."

They grinned and went to eat something and take the ladies home. Stark got them back to their places then came back to make Dawn unpack his trunk.

Dawn strolled in. "Howard, we're back," she called into the office. No Howard. She walked down to her apartment to change clothes but ran into him on the way. "We're just now back. Anything you want us to do beyond the budget?"

He stared at her. "You clearly didn't take the time to change."

"I was on my way to and Pepper is right now."

"Good." He stared at her. "You're a really pretty girl, Dawn."

Dawn gave him an odd look. "Don't make me punch you in the nose." He burst out laughing, patting her on the head before walking off. "I'll be right up there."

"Fine." He ran into Pepper. "Dawn has no idea how pretty she is."

"That's part of her charm, Howard." He smiled at her. "Okay, budget."

"Please. I need to see how many other thieves I have." He heard his son pull in and saw Dawn go out to unload his trunk. "He shopped?"

"Dawn's growing."

"Oooohh," he said with a wince and hiss. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yes. My bikini was too tight on her this morning so she had to get a new one before we hit the beach." She smirked. "Tony was our approval committee so we didn't look slutty and Dawn ran off the creepy pervert sort."

"That's nice of her." Dawn came in dressed in dress pants and a button-up shirt that did not fit. He found a safety pin and tossed it at her head.

"It's the loosest, sorry, Howard. I'll get some tomorrow."

"Please do, Dawn. You're a pretty girl and men are weak imbeciles around those. You're like our kryptonite."

She blushed but hitched her top together better in the bathroom then came back to do the budget with Pepper. They found a few more questionable department budgets for him. He got to yell at a few more people while they ate dinner at their desk.

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