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Old Ones 60: Visiting Old Ones.

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Visiting Old Ones.








Xander appeared in front of Dawn at her apartment. Not their Xander. He had long hair that was pulled back into a fancy braid that had twinkly things in it. He was a young Xander. He was also wearing leather pants that had subtle markings to Ares and Cupid that were tight enough that they should be praying to Strife. She smiled at him. "Hi, Xander."

"Dawn." He hugged her. "Horatio said I had to have a yard sale, so I did, but there's not much that went there."

"Present warehouse?"

"That too." He flopped down by her feet. "Did you quit working?"

"Concussion. I'm still dizzy. I start back in a few days but my spouses are off shopping." She smiled. "JARVIS, please tell Tony that GHS Xander is here."

"I can do so, Dawn," the AI said. "Mr. Stark said he wanted to see if they could figure out if there were GHS here."

"I can donate blood. Being immie I heal really fast," he said with a grin.

"I'll tell him that, Xander."

A few minutes later Tony was there at a jog. He came up to draw blood. Dawn groaned as she sat up to help. "I can do it, Dawn."

"I'm mostly okay, boss. I was kinda hoping this dizziness was going to go away faster."

"Us too. Linda's *nice* but she's so behind by your usual level."

Dawn smiled. "I've done some of it to send to Pepper." Clint and Natasha came off the elevator with the kids and groceries. "You guys remember Miami GHS Xander, right?"

Clint nodded with a grin. "Another amusement park trip? We can go even though Dawn can't."

"No, Horatio said I had to yard sale and most of the stuff I have wasn't taken there." He shrugged a bit. Tony finished drawing some blood samples and Xander grinned. "Thanks. To us you're a comic but really smart."

Tony smirked. "I am really smart and so are the kids." He tucked those samples into the case and looked at him. "Yard selling what?"

"Jewelry, clothes." He sighed. "A goat. My goats from off-world had a baby goat and it's adorable but kinda deadly. It's already tried to eat the mommy goat."

Dawn snickered. "I heard about those." She smiled at her boss. "They eat *anything*. Human, not human, anything."

Tony looked at her oddly then at Xander. "Why?"

"They use them as a food source, and they do taste really good, but also some places as a test of manhood. You go in with a knife and come out alive, you're a man."

Tony nodded slowly. "I'd like to study that."

"They're huge goats," Dawn said with a smile. "Six foot at the shoulder."

"Their people usually eat them rare with bread to pick them up, sometimes with sauces. Kinda middle easterny in flavor and style but not exactly the same."

Tony nodded. "I'd love to look at the goat. Totally respectfully of course."

"Sure. That's just one huge problem that I don't have to handle." He grinned and got into the bag he had brought with him, pulling out the baby goat. "It's sedated." Tony looked in the bag then at him. Xander grinned. "I found them off-realm. If it fits through the opening it fits inside. There's a stasis field in there so nothing ages or goes bad. But if it gets a hole everything disappears."

"Dawn, study those," Tony ordered, taking the goat. "How long before it wears off?"

"Probably about three hours based on the adults when we have to pump their stomachs because they ate someone. Give it a hershey bar and they go into humming happy times." He grinned and petted it. "It's a good goat. It's very cuddly, but then it'll nibble whoever is cuddling it."

"I'll keep that in mind." He stood up. "Let me get these back to the lab and I'll let Dawn and Pepper help you set up stuff."

Their Xander appeared, staring at his counterpart. "Want to hang out at the temple? That way there's guards and no one who means harm can get in?"

Xander grinned. "I'll be there later."

"Sure." He hugged him and looked at the goat. "I still like the guys who think they should be sent to Afghanistan with a bunch of New York sewer rats to clear out the caves." He disappeared to tell Phil his other part was there. "Phil, Miami GHS Xander is in to yard sale stuff and just gave Stark a baby goat." Phil shivered. That was probably a bad sign.

Tony shook his head. "No one should attack you here. They're all scared of Dawn." He winked and left, taking the goat back to the tower. Once he walked in, he called his biologists to meet him. "Guys, another Alexander in another realm got sent a breeding set of goats from his off-world area." They stared at him. He grinned. "Supposedly they eat anything. Including people. I'm told chocolate sends them into happy times according to that Xander. Bruce!" he called, spotting him. "Two things. Off-world goat from another Xander's realm." Bruce looked at it. "Grows to be about six foot at the shoulder. Apparently is omnivorous and eats people too. Someone wanted to send it to Afghanistan to clean out the caves with some local sewer rats. Also." He handed over the blood. "High hormone and pheremone problem that leads to that Xander being wanted more than Godiva chocolates on Valentine's day by Pepper. See if you can find it and why?"

"I can try." He petted the goat. "It's adorable." He smiled as the goat blinked at the petting people. It made a kind of bleating/mooing noise then bit someone, humming as it chewed on her finger. He and Tony pried the finger out while the other biologists sent the wounded, crying biologist to the infirmary. "Okay, it eats people."

"That Xander said they go into a pen with one and a knife as a test of manhood and if you come out alive you're a man."

Their Xander appeared with a grin, smirking at the goat. It tried to bite him. "Try it again." It did and bit some power instead. It bleated/mooed again and wiggled. He created a stick with leaves for it. It was just as happy with that as it had been with the finger. "They will eat *anything* except maybe wasabi peas. That Xander said one of his goats threw some up when one of the farm hands tried to feed him some." They nodded at that. "They taste really good. They're really tender goats. They're also very disease resistant, bred that way, and adapt beautifully to almost any environment. No one's tried to raise them underwater yet."

He grinned. "They come out nursing and the mother kicks them off the tit when they try to eat her instead of the milk. Usually literally." The scientists nodded, staring at him. "GHS is an uncontrollable surge of pheromones. They go up, you get pounced. You get stolen. You get kept as a human kitty cat until they tire of you. There's over two thousand in his US. They have a support group, conventions, all that."

"I can look," Bruce promised. "Is there any way to keep it from eating people?"

"Nope. They have electrified muzzles and it still doesn't always work. They're sneaky little shits too." He disappeared because the baby goat was trying to bite him.

"Okay, let's set up a lab so we can watch his behavior and response to various foods," Tony decided. Bruce nodded. "We can let the biologists help after they're done helping that one." They got a spare room set up to keep the goat safe and secure, mining it with cameras, sensors, and adapted a Roomba to go in to pick up after it so they could test the poop and pee. Tony even got it hay to pad the floor for it. It liked that. They put some into a bucket. The goat ate the bucket first then the extra hay. By then most of the biologists were back up there and watching it. They came up with all sorts of things to expose it to as a food source so they could test it.

***

Callia rolled up to the viewing window, hitting a button. Chris had put a seat lift kit on her chair for her. She adored her baby brother sometimes. She stared at the goat. "Wow. It's adorable."

"It's deadly," one of the biologists said. Her whole arm was bandaged. "I reached in to give it some corn."

Callia looked at her then at the goat. "Okay, so it's a cannibal goat." The others all nodded. She stared. "What are we going to do with it when we've figured it out?"

"Someone mentioned sending it to Afghanistan to clear out the cave district," the bandaged one quipped. "We know it's bulletproof and eats them too. One of the guards tried to shoot it to get it off me."

"Huh. We need to know how. Is it their fur?"

"No, it's their musculature," Tony said as he walked behind her. "Not sure yet if we'll keep it as a Stark pet or not." They all nodded and someone opened the feeding door and shoved in a hershey bar then watched the goat eat it and start to hum and sway. They ran in to sedate it and took it down for CT scans. By the time it was waking up it was back in there with a totally cleaned up room and some new food stuffs to try. They had to do it that way since it had eaten the little Roomba that was to clean up after it.

Callia put her seat back down and rolled after her father. "What did their original people do with it?"

"Ate it."

"Oh, okay." She followed him into his lab to do something. She was bored. Her PT had called her off today and she was tired anyway, bordering on cranky. Her father stared at her. "It's too windy and cold to swim and I've already done my stretches and stuff."

"Good." He settled down to go over her latest design. He had some questions and she was having bad idea syndrome again since it was to make people have sudden spinal pain to stop muggers. He had to make sure this didn't turn her bitter and slightly closer to evil.

***

Dawn smiled at the two people there to meet with her. "Xander's coming back in a minute."

"Alexander?"

"Another him from another realm." Both Xander's showed up and they stared. She smiled. "Xander has a hormone condition that makes him the specially wanted kitty cat in his realm. He's not the only one but his is never-ending some days." They nodded, shaking his hand and talking to him about his goals and needs in this case. She looked at the other Xander. "Any hope of a healing spell?" she asked quietly.

He kissed her on the head. "'Sclep said it's been too long." She pouted. "I know but it's getting better."

"The longer it goes on, the less likely I won't have residual problems," she said quietly.

He smiled. "We'll handle it if you do." She nodded then held her head. He worked on the tense neck muscles, making her more dizzy but she at least wasn't having muscle cramps.

That other Xander looked over. "What happened?"

"Concussion is making me eternally dizzy," she said.

"Poor Dawn." He hugged her. "I'll see if potions making Xander has a clue how to help." She grinned. He went back to showing them the inventory.

"Philip, come help Mommy sort stuff," she called. He came out of his room rubbing his eyes. "I'm sorry, were you napping?" she asked with a grin and a cuddle for him. He nodded. They got into Xander's bag of holding and pulled out the jewels to look through. He helped her sort them by color and then by size. He was really good at that. The good sized footlocker was followed by a large lock box. The two women from the auction houses moaned.

"Think how I feel. They're given to me by people who want to own me like I'm their toy and won't take them back when I say no," that Xander complained. "I leave them in a warehouse and don't touch them until they take them back or my financial guy says I have to do a tax audit then I sell them. Though I get over half of them back and the
auction houses around me are getting tired of GHS members at times. We talked with a few notable houses and they all got pissed off that so many stones were coming onto the market. We pointed out they didn't have to and we went to jewelry stores first. They could hold them forever for all we cared."

"How many are from your earth?"

Xander shrugged. "At least twenty percent. There's a few demon realms that mine, and two that have dragons that drop stones. They're usually very shiny ones. They kinda lay them like eggs." They nodded at that. "One type of them poop the stones and those I don't usually like. They tend to be softer and need a treatment to get harder. They all check out as real stones, chemically and not, no matter where they're from. There's a few I get from an off-world source and they've got a difference. They have a version of a diamond that's really super shiny and hard. It's called an eternity stone. I have no idea how they break them because they can't really be cut like diamonds can. They won't cut themselves."

Dawn found one and held it up. Xander took it to look at and nodded. "Xander, this blue kinda sapphire looking one?"

He looked. "That's another off-world one. So's the green and red." She handed over those samples. "These are the off-world ones."

They looked at them. "Miss Summers, can we get your boss to run an analysis of these to test against our local composition?"

"Sure. JARVIS, can you ask Tony that?"

"I have and he said he's fascinated and wondering if those eternity stones can be used in laser applications."

"Can't be polished that I know of," Xander said. "So not real sure." They went back to looking at them while Dawn and Philip sorted. Tony showed up a few minutes later to look them over. "Somewhere in there I have the stuff the genius guy on Atlantis found when I showed them to him." Dawn found it in the bag and handed it over. They pulled out the rest of the clothes.

Tony looked over. "No wonder you can't just donate those. They won't take leather."

"No they won't. Or the dress pants. Actually a few of the donation places in Miami refuse to take them from me because I'm gay. One church because they heard I get weapons off the underground to keep them safely out of people's hands. They consider me evil."

Tony shook his head. "I won't comment on some people who feel self-important that way. Will we, Dawn?"

"I swore a lot about some of those sort," she quipped. "One of them tried to block me from donating to Dress For Success because I was me."

Their Xander shook his head. "Those sort annoy me to no end. One was trying to picket the temple. I sent the soldiers down to nag her about her delusions." He settled in to look over the bag. The rest of everything got pulled out because he found a spot that was starting to fray. Xander helped. They all moaned.

"Oh, Tony, prototype someone gave me that I have no idea what it does. I had someone send it to me." He handed it over with a grin. "All I know is that they *really* wanted it out of bad hands and our McKay is somewhere I can't give it to him, which is what I do with prototypes that might be dangerous. That's what I did with our various sonic nuclear bombs when I was taking them out of the bad hands."

He looked it over, nodding. "I can figure out what this does," he promised with a grin. "And it will be safe in my hands." He took all the samples with him to test in the lab and to go over that pretty launching weapon. It had a few missiles so he tested one on the usual Stark testing range in New Jersey. It turned out to launch and then shoot lasers from the little spikes it shot out. Tony's mouth hung open and he stared. "I need to improve that." He gathered them and took them home to look at how they did what they did. They could still discharge lightly, barely at taser strength, but the single beams before had destroyed buildings. He so needed something like this when he was younger. He needed to see if the people who made it there were designing weapons here to make sure they were with someone good.

Dawn smiled at Tony's text message of awe. "He said it's really hot and he wants to know who made it."

"I don't know. I've been asking." She nodded, texting that back to him. She showed him the testing video. "Wow. I need to find out a whole lot." He shook himself and got back to working on the dealing that he needed to do. Dawn could help him a lot and if they couldn't take them all, he'd go talk to book nerd, curse breaking Xander. He had to have good ties with Gringotts and could maybe help him too. That Xander might even have ideas of someone who could keep up with him too. Because he desperately needed a boyfriend with stamina. Though, he did keep himself from drooling all over Dawn's husband. He was absolutely adorable!

***

Dawn smiled as she sat down behind her desk for the first day back at work. Beya was back from vacation and had the girls since they had teething fevers. Philip was in daycare playing with Chris. She had a few things they had to make plans for. Natasha was ignoring all her suggestions that they talk about school. Clint wasn't sure how one picked a school beyond signing their kid up for the public schools. Which Dawn was not tolerating. Maybe if they were in North Dakota, somewhere kids in kindergarten didn't feel the need to be armed.... But not in New York City. Or LA. She grinned as one of her contacts came off the elevator. "Got the final paperwork for Xander?"

"I do. Our head board wasn't sure if we should but I explained why and they said it was uncommon but hopefully wouldn't become an issue?"

"I think whatever doesn't come out here is going to another Xander that's a curse breaker and he can use his contacts on some."

"That'll probably help." She handed over the folder. Dawn looked them over and got Xander up from looking over the baby goat.

"They've been feeding it way too much. She's getting fat," Xander said as he joined them with a grin.

"They might try to breed her with a human standard goat," Dawn said.

"I'm not sure if you can or not." He shook his head quickly. "Human parent's smaller size, Mommy's mouth and teeth?"

"Maybe," Dawn agreed. She let him have the forms after looking them over. She pointed at one clause for him. "That one's a bit odd."

Xander looked at her. "Twenty percent?"

"We might negotiate down."

Xander shrugged and signed it, handing it back. "I won over sixty mil at poker last year."

"Please don't teach Dawn that habit," Pepper called from her desk.

Dawn grinned at her then at Xander. "I only play kitten poker but I'm pretty darn good at it."

He hugged her. "I can teach you." He shook the other lady's hand and they went to arrange things. "What about the clothes?"

"Well, I've got them at the dry cleaner, as you know. I told them you had a hormone problem and were donating them so they had to make sure they were clean of all sweaty stuff." He smiled at her for that. "The leather stuff.... there's a few places in LA. Connor's talking to them for me with Faith."

"I like Faith."

"We like Faith too." Xander grinned at her. "The rest, I can get with our Salvation Army contacts and Dress For Success the suitier things." He nodded. "So we'll figure it out."

"That's great, Dawn. Thank you!" He hugged her. "No little guys?"

"Beya's got the girls because they have teething fevers. Philip's down in daycare with Tony's son."

"Cool. Think he'd mind?"

"No, go read to the guys." He grinned and went to do that. She sent a text message to Tony saying she had given Xander permission to go read to the boys. And that the goat was getting fat but he wasn't sure about crossbreeding. He sent back a 'fine, and we can test that'. Dawn smiled at the researcher progress report on the goat that got delivered to her by Linda, who was doing her lab rounds today. "Thanks, Linda."

"Welcome, Dawn."

Dawn read over it, copying it for Xander. He'd get a kick out of that. She sent a note to them that she had given Xander a copy of the preliminary report in case they had more baby goats come into being. They said that was fine if Stark didn't mind. He said he didn't so that was even better. Dawn sent them in to Pepper on a summoned Roomba and it was good.

Pepper burst out laughing, coming out. "They named the baby goat after Natasha?"

"Yup." They shared a grin. "She probably would kill whoever was trying to mate with her like a black widow spider."

"Awww." Pepper went to tell Tony that. He got a kick out of it too. Natasha would probably pout but that was okay.

***

Dawn limped in that night and laid down with a sigh. "I forgot how hard I worked even when I didn't move from my desk."

Clint handed Philip a bottle of water and pointed. He carried it over. "Here, Mommy."

"Thanks, Philip. Did you guys have fun playing with Xander?"

Philip gave her an evil smirk. "Whole lots. He even told us how he made his hairpins." He beamed and hugged her. "You rest. We make dinner."

"Okay. Thank you and Daddy." She smiled at Clint, who grinned back. "Where do you want to go to school?"

"With Chris?"

"Chris is being home schooled and we don't have the time to do that with you, kiddo. If I could I would." She sipped her water. "Get Mommy the big yellow book." She pointed. "Not the phone book, the other one." He brought it over. She turned to the page of schools that listed kindergartens. "This is all the schools we have to pick from. Most of them you're within limits since your birthday's after the cutoff date. We have three months to pick and do applications."

Philip took that to his father to show him. "Whole lots, Daddy."

He looked. "There are a lot. Waiting lists?"

"Already crossed out." She sipped more of her water. Natasha came off the elevator pouting. "What happened? Did you miss a target?"

"They named that goat after me."

"Natasha, the thing's cutely deadly," Dawn quipped with a smile. "It was being adored and bit a finger off. They gave it a good name."

"I'm not cute."

"No, you're adorable because you're an adult," she said with a smile. "Feel honored. You were the most deadly thing they could name it after."

She shivered and kissed Dawn. "Nauseous again?"

"Elevators again." She finished her water. "Help Clint pick schools to visit." Natasha grimaced. "We have three months. If he's not in a decent one, he can't get into a decent middle school or high school." Clint winced. "He's got a school fund."

"Good!" Clint agreed. "One's twenty-five thousand a semester! It's not marked off."

"They have a very short waiting list and it's a decent school academically. A lot of kids go there for the name recognition. It's not on my preferred list. Siton is." He looked at that one then at her. "Good school, has distance learning if we're on the other coast. It's three blocks from SHIELD so you can bring him in the morning and we can figure out picking him up. Chris, if he's going to a normal school, would probably like that one."

"Want to go with Chris," Philip whined.

Dawn stared at him. "I don't have the time off to teach you like Uncle Tony did with Callia and Liz, Philip. If I did I would. You'd have already been taking classes." Philip pouted at his favorite mommy, who hugged him.

"Are there any cheap, good schools?" Clint asked.

"Two catholic ones," she said dryly. "They're both ten a year." Clint shuddered. "The cheapest of the cheap, the ones above city public future prison centers, don't get you into better middle or high schools unless you pass a huge test and then that's at the genius level."

Clint grimaced. "Can we home school?"

"Sure, if one of you quit," Dawn quipped with a smile.

"Can't," he muttered. "Which ones do SHIELD kids go to?"

"None of those. Most of them are home schooled."

"Fuck," he mouthed. He looked them over again. "Why Siton?"

"They have a good general education. They're a bit pushy but not too pushy. They accept kids who are multi-lingual and offer language courses in second grade if you want them. They still have recess. They have on-site security teams, real ones not rent a cop ones. They're close to your work. Our daycare can pick them up after school."

Clint flipped back to their page and went back to stirring the pasta he was working on. "They've got pretty decent B level ratings."

"The A level are the hugely expensive," Dawn reminded him. "Half of those are on name recognition, not on test scores."

He looked at that category. "Still B range but higher B range." He flipped back to look at the A level range schools. They were all a lot more expensive, usually farther away, and the kids in their pictures were clearly on drugs. They looked maniacally happy in the wrong way. "What's this note you wrote in?"

Dawn looked at it when Natasha handed it over. "Oh, they often send to a high school that has an evil genius track." She handed it back. Both spies stared at her. "Seriously. Of the 'so you want to take over a corporation and then the world' sort. They're good. Jamira, the new hostile takeover CEO at the tech company in the Hamptons? She went there. Her senior project was to take over that company in the hostile manner. I heard she got a B because she had problems with it and they tried to fight her."

Clint's mouth opened. He finally texted Maria Hill to see if she knew about that. She laughed until she looked it up then thanked him for giving them a new list to start. Dawn smirked at him. "You know that assistant Doom has, the one that's been with him for ten years and he never even tries to kill? She went there. Her senior project was to try to overthrow him from what I heard. He was amused and took her in when she nearly managed it." Clint typed that at Hill. She looked it up and ramped up their threat profile. Dawn smiled. "So we don't want him to go there."

"No, we don't," Clint agreed, hugging his son. "You're normally evil, not evil that way." His son beamed.

"I should see if any of them want to become agents," Natasha said. "We could channel that into undercover operatives." She texted that to Maria, who said that was mean but a socially acceptable use for their skills. "What about where Callia's going?" Natasha asked.

"Long Island," Dawn countered. Natasha grimaced. "Yeah! Someone's going to end up commuting."

"Damn," Clint muttered. "Stark needs to start a school." He sent that at him. Stark sent back that they had a little over a year before he started. He let Dawn answer that since he had no idea about birthday cutoffs and the like. He looked at the list. "Let's interview anyone B and up?"

"That's sixty-two schools," Natasha noted. "Do we have time for that? Even within a few week timeline?"

"No," he admitted. He looked and ranked them, crossing some out. He left Dawn's even though it fell outside of his limits. "Is he on any lists?"

"Yes. He's on two lists," Dawn said, getting up slowly and carefully to come point them out. "He has not a hope in hell of passing on either since I've just learned that their new headmasters hate kids who are multi-lingual even if the parents are for work purposes."

"Hmm." Clint crossed them out. Dawn uncrossed one and crossed out one of his choices. "Why?"

"Upper crust Klan breeding ground. Every now and then you see the blonde twins on tv that are going off about immigrants doing good in the real world of business? They go there."

He nodded, doubly crossing them out. "Okay. The one where the kids went to daycare? It's creepy but Tara seemed to like it." Dawn pointed. "Tara's choice?"

"No openings in his year. They cut down admissions and quit taking applications last year." She crossed out a few more. "Those don't either. Not even a waiting list. We're at least a year too late on them." That narrowed it down to twelve.

"We can visit all twelve," he decided. "And move backwards if we have to while adding to his fund." Dawn nodded, tasting the pasta and draining it. He took over, kissing her. "Go sit down." She smiled and did that. She had tried to set the table last night and nearly broken all the glasses when she had a dizzy fit.

"We are not on call this week," Natasha said.

"You're welcome," Dawn quipped. "They all have nighttime tours."

Clint nodded. "Any that'll hate us for our job or yours?"

"One still on the list. Unfortunately the one I like." They nodded and got down to finishing dinner. Philip was hungry, he was sucking on Natasha's wrist while he watched his father make the sauce.

***

Tony looked over at Dawn the next morning. She was wearing something wild. "Did you go on safari?" he demanded, staring at her.

She looked at herself then at him. "Mini witch on the street who laughed hard and had her mother paddle her." She went to the bathroom and came out in her normal clothes. "I needed a mirror to make sure I got all of it." She settled into her seat. "We're interviewing schools this week."

"I remember the 'you should start a school' complaint."

"We have twelve on the list to look at and we'll move backward if we have to."

Tony grimaced. "Why?"

"Closed lists in some cases. If I was willing to pay fifteen grand a semester I have an automatic in with one school. Steph, remember her?" He nodded. "Her daughter goes there and she said she'd write Philip a recommendation."

He blinked. "Wow."

"Yeah."

"I'm glad hers is reasonable." He walked off shaking his head. Maybe he should start a home school program for the kids. "Hey, Dawn, don't you need projects for your PhD?"

"I've already got the diss done and I'm having it formally proofread by someone."

"Really?" he asked. "I could."

"You're busy. You have that expo in ten months, boss."

He huffed but went to look over those things. He could get a copy of her dissertation to look over. Someone in his people was proofreading it for her so that was nice. He read it over, making his own notes. Dawn really needed to create an educational model for them. He went to talk to her about it. She had no idea how she'd do that. He talked her into giving him a list of ideas and books. That she might be able to do.

***

Xander showed up in the middle of Dawn being in a battle. He frowned and called artillery, using it against the giant robotic pandas. "Did they watch the wrong movie?" he asked her.

She nodded. "Apparently." She was holding her head. "I'm going to puke soon. Can you cover for me?" He nodded and threw a pretty spell that made all the pandas burn. She puked and he helped clean things up. Stark flew up and landed. "I'm okay," she said, flapping a hand.

"As shown by the contents of lunch coming up," he shot back. "Hey, Xander."

"Hi, Mr. Stark."

"Tony, Xander." Xander grinned at him. He looked around. "Barton's at the other site. There he is. Cross, get her back to her desk please." He nodded, coming up to get her with Xander. He flew back down to Cap's side. "Dawn's going back to her desk."

"That's fine. Who was that?"

"Another Xander from another realm." He sounded smug. "He had to get some Dawn help." Tony flew off to check on the other battle with the giant robotic pandas that liked to step on people.

Cap looked around. "Let me hit the other site." The SHIELD agents helping them nodded so he went that way.

***

Dawn flopped down. "Thanks, guys. Aaron, this is not our Xander but a Xander."

"Hi." He smiled and shook his hand. "You look like Clint, family?"

"Kinda." He smiled. "You're not godly, right? He's a bit...bouncy."

"He is," Xander agreed with a grin. "So am I."

"You need new boyfriend," Dawn said in Latin, staring at him. He nodded that was true. "Aaron, do you know anyone who might like to have dinner with Xander? He needs a new boyfriend."

"Not right off the top of my head but I'll see. I don't know too many people." Xander was blushing. He grinned. "Let's go look at your baby goat? I heard things about it."

"Sure." He walked him down there, talking about his pets.

Dawn took some nausea medicine and relaxed. That helped and she could take off her shoes. Her shoes made her really dizzy. When Benji showed up to scowl at her she hugged him and introduced him to Xander too. Xander grinned and shook his hand, charming him. They talked about his animals and Aaron fussed over Dawn until Clint got there. She always fussed over any injury he had so he could quietly hover and make sure she had some nicely cold water and what she needed so she quit throwing up. He smiled when Benji and Xander went out to dinner. He and Dawn shared a smile and she got back to work while he watched over her.

Clint came off the elevator, kissing Dawn on the head. "Benji and Xander are having a good laugh together."

"They're cute."

Clint grinned. "Good. Benji could use some happies and so could that Xander. I would've shot his boyfriends for treating him that way." He kissed her for real. "Stomach?" She nodded. "That figures." He let her relax and get back to work, walking Aaron off to talk to him about how that battle had went. Ethan stomped up to them a few hours later while they were nibbling through dinner since Dawn was working late to go over a needed agreement that Linda hadn't gotten to that had to be done by the next day. "What's up, Ethan?"

"There's been three different arms dealers that have come up to Benji and that Xander," he complained. "Xander looked at them and said he was having dinner with someone so two of them said they'd see him tomorrow. The other tried to keep flirting so Xander said that he might have grown up lower class but he appreciated good manners. That one huffed off and might come back to kidnap him."

"Xander dates like Dawn used to. You remember the briefing I gave you on Dawn's dating problems?" Ethan growled but nodded. "That Xander has the same sort of problem only people kidnap him to try to own him due to his hormones."

"Does Dawn have that condition?"

"We've tested on their kits and no," Clint said dryly, eating a fry. "They just draw the same sort of guys. Are he and Benji having a good dinner?"

"If he dates like that....."

"No, that's the guys that like Xander. Xander likes them sweeter, more spoiling, and accepting spoiling. People who want to be there for him and with him, not just for his ass, money, or weapons." Ethan huffed but sat down. "He needs a guy like Benji all the time. One who wants to talk to him, to show him things, to be shown things, to do things. To play with him sometimes and to help him protect himself from the Xander butt wanting committee they have there. If there's a Benji in his realm I hope he goes to see if he's the same sort of nice."

Ethan frowned. "It's weird. Is our Xander like that?"

"You know he dated a thousand-year-old former vengeance demon, right?" Aaron quipped.

"Ours isn't as drawing of those sort but yeah. He's got a bit. That's why Dawn was so happy he found a mate in Phil, who was just as dangerous when he wants to be," Clint agreed. "We need to make sure that Xander isn't taken like he is at home. He's ruined a few realms that he's been taken to. And a few middle eastern palaces," Clint said. He considered it. "We really do have to step up security around him." His phone beeped. "Speaking of, there's Natasha." He read the email. "Aww, she picked up the kids for us." He went back to his dinner.

"You guys are insane," Aaron said.

"Nat needs some quiet time. Mira likes to hear her read." He grinned. "Dawn's doing a lot even though she can't really walk in shoes due to the dizziness."

"They make lower heeled shoes," Ethan complained.

"Not in Dawn's size," Clint said dryly. "We cannot find a single pair beyond the ones that fall apart while she's wearing them in Singapore or the stripper shoe company here."

"There's people that custom make shoes to fit your feet," Aaron said.

"For about nine hundred bucks a pair," Clint said. "Which Dawn says she is not paying."

"Dawn has buggering money to spare," Benji said as he and Xander walked up to their tables. Xander was smiling. He looked at Ethan. "Find a couch if me dating is going to upset you that way."

"Only the guys who came up to try to get you out of the picture," he said. "I'm happy if you're happy. But the only one who gets you shot is me."

"I'm not poaching, right?" Xander asked, looking at Benji.

"No, he's a bit possessive of his teammates. There's plenty that were wondering if he had taken up with a not-Barton too."

"Not me," Aaron said with a grin.

Xander smiled at him. "That's okay. I'm used to people doing screwy things. You haven't lived until you've been taken by a general to make you into his perfect little soldier that was also making zombies."

Clint looked at him. "I can't even imagine."

"He was special projects and working with some spooks I knew in Miami." He shrugged. "Can I move here?"

"Sure," Clint agreed with a grin. "As long as you're responsible and you make Dawn go shopping with you instead of me. I like shopping with her but I get frustrated too easily."

"I can do that. I need a new shopping buddy. Sam and Dean hate to go with me. Wade avoids it a lot." He looked at Benji. "I could bring the horses and the dogs and the Winchesters and maybe Clay's team because I'd miss Jensen and Cougar?"

"We have them here," Aaron said. "Xander had me break some of the trainees a few classes ago."

Xander beamed at him. "Really?" He looked at Benji. "I can find a way to displace the whole house for a few hours so I can move the bed."

Benji hugged him. "Let's figure out if you have more than another good friend." Xander pouted but nodded. Benji grinned. "You never know, I might go back with you for a good vacation. Could use one." He nudged Xander, who smiled and nodded, taking him to do something fun.

"That reminds me, I have to ask Dawn what she did with that money from the lawsuit," Clint said, eating another fry. His phone beeped with a text message so he looked at it. "No, Natasha, he's not a diva. He's your son," he said, calling her instead of texting back. "What happened?" He listened. "No, he's allowed to do that, Nat. Put him on. What did you want to do?" He listened. "Yes you can. Mommy and I applaud you doing that. Sure, you can have a girl bath for a while. Let her bathe the girls first and put them down. Then you can read in the tub like she does. You can't bring in her e-reader but you can bring in a kid book, Philip, or a few magazines."

He grinned. "Yes, you can have bubbles. Sure, hand the phone back. Love you too and I'll be home in about an hour, once I get your Mom from work. No, Linda, her new assistant, didn't get something done so she's got to do it tonight. She'll be done soon." He nibbled while Philip handed the phone back. "You taught him to like girl baths, Nat." Aaron was trying not to laugh. Clint smiled at him and Ethan. "He can bring in a few of the non-heirloom quality books or a few magazines and have bubbles, just like his favorite mommy does. And the other mommy too for that matter."

He listened. "He can use ours. I told him you had to get the girls down first. Sure, we should be there by the time you get them down for the next few hours." He hung up, tucking his phone back into his pocket and sending a thought at Dawn. Who yelled at Natasha for trying to make their son hate baths. He calmed them both down and repeated that his son was allowed to have a bubble bath, all kids had bubble baths sometimes. Then he let them go and told Dawn to tell him when she was done. He shook his head. "My son wanted a girl bath to read in and have bubbles."

"All kids like bubbles," Aaron said with a shrug.

Ethan nodded. "I remember having a few way back when."

Clint smirked. "No comment." He finished his dinner. They paid and went to pick up Dawn since she had to be nearly done. She had a few pages left to type but Clint waited by checking on the goat. And then having to go find the goat that had eaten through the food chute and gotten free.

Dawn tapped her phone's button to get the intercom. "People, the baby goat is free," she announced. "If you spot it, call security or Clint please. Before it eats someone." She hung up and got back to work. She winced when she heard Callia shriek. "Oh, not her pets," she muttered.

Clint came back with the Tony cat, who was purring while being petted. "The thing likes the cats. She was giving all five of the cats a ride and growling at Xander puppy. Who was barking at her." He handed him to Callia, who was following them.

"Thank you for saving them from the nibbing goat, Uncle Clint. I'd have to find out how they tasted if she had hurt my furry family." She rolled off with the cats. The dog was following her. She came off the elevator in the penthouse. "Daddy, you need to secure your goat better," she complained. "And I need a lab sooner so the cats don't go wandering around the general lab floor again. The goat liked to let them ride her," she said at Pepper's worried look. "It was going to eat my dog though."

"I'll make note of that," Tony said. "It might like MB's evil yellow puffball." He helped her calm down her pets with Chris and Liz.

Dawn smiled at Clint and finished her work in a few minutes. "I'll need to proofread it tomorrow." She locked her system after doing a backup and sticking that into her desk safe. She got helped up from her chair and leaned on Clint's arm, grinning at him. "Ethan, coming home with us? Aaron?"

"Sure," Aaron said. "Has to be better than cable tv." Dawn smiled. "Still dizzy?" She nodded. "Hopefully it'll be soon."

"When I first woke up I couldn't even blink," she said. "Now I can almost walk but don't stand in front of me in the elevator please." They wisely stood behind her. They were halfway to the garage when her phone beeped a warning. She sighed and hit the button to go back up. She came off and took her husband's gun - Natasha wasn't letting her carry one until she wasn't dizzy - and pointed it at the person in her desk. "Really?" He froze, blinking at her. She smiled. "Hi."

"Who're you?"

"You're in my desk and you don't know who I am?" she quipped with a smile. "Security to my desk before I make the maintenance guys repaint my walls please." They ran off the next elevator less than a minute later. "He asked me who I was and yet he's in my desk safe, guys." They nodded, taking him off. Dawn handed back the gun after clicking on the safety. She smiled and waved. "Don't worry, I have a frustrated wife who would probably *love* coming to see who you really are." He struggled but they carried him off. They went back down and Nat met them at the doorway. "The girls down?" she asked, taking a kiss.

"Yes. Coulson is there for ten minutes." Dawn nodded, letting Clint drive them home. Natasha went up to security to see that person. She stared at him. "I'm surprised Clint didn't remember you," she said. "Richard."

"Natasha," he said with a slight nod. "What are you doing here? I didn't know you worked for Stark. I thought you went corporate at SHIELD, not here."

"You just pissed off my wife and husband." The guy blinked. She smirked. "And I am with SHIELD. She's with Stark." He groaned. "Why were you getting into her desk safe?"

"She has information on a few people I need to know about." She stared at him, lounging in the doorway. "Truth!" he protested, holding up his hands.

Gamble leaned over Natasha's shoulder. "Where's my half-brother?"

"The house, Gamble." She called and Gamble's phone beeped with a text message. "She did a Fidelus with Xander."

Gamble blinked. "I thought the house was there. Thanks. Need help?"

Natasha stared at him. "Did you just ask me that?" He grinned. "Dawn's probably eating dinner while our son decides if he's going to read for a long time tonight in his bubble bath that his father is allowing him to have."

"Great." He went that way. The guy in the security cell/closet was laughing until he choked. She must've hit him. He ran into Barnes and nodded. "She's up talking to a spy sort in a closet."

"Aren't you wanted by the LAPD?" Bucky demanded.

Brian Gamble smiled at him. "So? I need my half-brother. I ran into one of his former posse." He jogged off. He saw a few photographers. "Not Clint, bitches. Stop it." They pouted and one huffed.

Barnes went up to Security, shaking his head. "Natasha?" She quit kissing him. "Dawn's going to make me watch her kill you."

"He started it." Her phone beeped with the message of 'he's a dead man' but it was from Clint's phone. She told him who it was. Clint reminded her he still owed him a bullet to the balls. She said he could come back and do that. Suddenly a magical bullet appeared and hit the guy in the balls. "Or you could have Dawn do it for you," she muttered. She shook her head, putting her phone back into her pocket. "He wanted information Dawn had on someone."

"She's probably got files on a few people he might want," Barnes said dryly. "I know I found one recently when she handed it to me." He stared at the writhing man. "Who did you want intel on?"

"That other Xander," he moaned. "Make it stop!"

"You're lucky she didn't use the digging bullet someone came up with. It slowly drills its way up to your heart," Natasha said with a smile. "She's got good aim for being constantly nauseous." The medical team showed up. "Clint said he owed him a bullet to the balls for a past grievance. One appeared."

"I love Dawn giving us work," Dr. Pigalli quipped with a grimace. "Nicely clean shot. You still have one ball, sir." They hauled him down to the infirmary. "Quit whining before I feed you to the goat."

Barnes looked at Natasha. "Other Xander?"

"One from another realm. Apparently his hormone condition makes people want to own him as a favored concubine."

"Oh." He nodded once. "Damn glad I don't have that."

"I still wonder if perhaps we missed a lighter version of that condition on Dawn and the children." She sighed and walked off, going to talk to her son about his love of bubble baths. "Any idea how to get my son out of his bubbles?"

"He got it from you," Bucky complained. He went to his apartment to bury his head under his pillow and not come out until New York had sense and Dawn wasn't dizzy. He could put up with her insanity but since she was sick it had spread to Natasha and Clint. Usually they were more resistant.

***

Benji walked up to Dawn's desk the next afternoon, smiling. "Did you not just receive a crap-sucking level of money?"

"A what?" Pepper called. She came to the doorway. "How are you feeling, Benji?"

"I'm mostly good. Still a few headaches now and then, Pepper," he said with a smile. "Xander, that one, and I worked out a scale of wealth last night. She's more than rich enough to pay someone to suck the crap from her butthole if she wanted to." Pepper burst out laughing. He looked at Dawn.

"I may or may not be, but some's went into things like the retirement account and investments. I just expanded the farms in Belgium and France. Plus given Craig a bit to play with."

"Uh-huh. Why do you stress over getting custom shoes made then?"

"Because I'm too practical to pay that much for shoes."

"Did I not get you the slippers when you were pregnant that helped tons?"

She held up a foot. "They still are. Thank you." She smiled.

"Hurry up. Pepper, can she have a lunch now?"

"She had a lunch but she's only on part time for the next few weeks due to her own head." She took Dawn's laptop to look at. "Why are you doing that? It's already done."

"It was done. I can't find it," Dawn said. "Or the one behind it."

She looked. "Both of those are on my desk, Dawn. I printed them out this morning on you." She went to make sure, letting her see them.

Dawn frowned. "I had hellish typos."

"I think Linda had typos. I'll correct it."

"They're nearly done. Benji, can you wait for twenty to chew on me for being practical?"

"Fine." He sat down with one of her fashion magazines. "What're you wearing to the gala?"

"Blue fire." He looked at her. She smiled. "I am."

"You'll spend tons on the dress and not the shoes?"

"Most of those custom made shoes look like grandma shoes."

"Not all. And don't argue or I'm kidnaping you to London to get some made." He stared at her. She blushed and ducked her head but got back to work. "Thank you." He looked at her. "You need to wear that one you wore to that dance right after the first battle here in New York. The one that they quipped about the evil coming up you."

"You can't rewear things as a woman. It's still in my closet but I don't fit it as well."

"Bullshit," he said.

She looked at him. "Did the surgery do that to you?"

"No, Ethan snoring does. Thankfully that Xander's snoring is cuter." He smiled. She grinned back and got back to work. She finished up and proofread it quickly, letting Pepper have her laptop. "Backup?"

"When I get back."

"I'll do it," Pepper promised. "Still in your desk safe?" Dawn smiled and nodded. "Okay. Go. Get her things she can wear, Benji." He nodded, walking Dawn out. "And take a driver, even if it is Happy."

"Yes, ma'am," Benji quipped. "Always ready to be spoiled some on someone else's dime."

Dawn leaned on him in the elevator, closing her eyes. "I want this part of the nausea to stop sooner than the rest."

"We all hope that. You look bad in that shade of green." She patted her hand as they came out of the elevator. "Deep breath. Air outside stinks like farts again today thanks to New Jersey."

The security team on the front door made them pause. "Miss Summers, Mr. Stark just called looking for you."

She smiled. "Thanks." She called. "Tony? Benji's making me shop. Did you need something?"

"Shop for what?" he complained.

"Shoes," Benji said.

"I didn't know you were that sort of guy, Benji."

"I'm making her buy special shoes, with lower heels that're made to fit her feet," he quipped back with an evil smirk at the phone.

"Great. We'd like her to have some businessy looking flats and very low heels so she didn't trip like a bimbo."

"Hey," she complained. "I tripped over a Roomba. The security guys on the door said you wanted a call, boss?"

"Yeah, two things. NYPD wants us to stay away from the picketing they're doing downtown."

"Why would I be involved unless it's about me or the kids?"

"It's 'kick all the Avengers back to the west coast'," Tony complained. "Second thing, where is my idea notebook? I can't find a thing."

"Liz was coloring in it the last I knew."

"LIZ!" he shouted. Dawn winced and hung up on him.

Benji grimaced. "We can go 'round 'em." He got her into the car he had waiting and to the shops he had picked out. "We're going to look at a few. You can get some from each or not." Dawn nodded, pulling up information and transferring it into her main shopping account. "Blue fire?"

"Yup." She smiled. "I'll look great."

"You usually look good, except in that nauseous shade of green." She poked him on the arm. He smirked at her. "You do."

"So I take it the date was good?"

"It was real good." He smiled. "That other Xander's a really nice guy. Needs someone who wants to be a real boyfriend. He was even thinking about moving here for a bit."

"That means I'd have a shopping buddy beyond Pepper and the girls."

"Probably so." They were stopped and forced to go around a police barricade. "I didn't think they were this far out."

"They're probably driving them away from City Hall," Dawn sighed, slumping down some. "Those same people will scream about us not saving them if something happens. One of the bigger pains in the butt about these demonstrations is one who tried to sue us for her not taking cover. She wasn't injured, just scared. A few tried to sue because they were injured and a few because they had someone die, but she sued because she stood there on the street and watched."

Benji shook his head. "People like that get what they deserve then. Them bothering you about it is stupid."

"Yup." They paused at one of the shoemakers and they went inside. Dawn smiled. "My friend is talking me into custom made shoes."

"Orthotic problem, ma'am?" she asked with a smile.

"Really narrow feet. I have toothpicks instead of feet."

The saleslady smiled. "We usually do the orthotics."

"Do you think one would help me fit into a regular size shoe?"

"Probably not very well," she said, going to get the shoemaker. She knew that he wouldn't want to, he hated the Avengers being in New York. They had damaged the shop during the first battle.

He smiled at Dawn. "Orthotics question?"

Dawn took off her shoe and he winced. "Really narrow, can't find a thing. Plus really dizzy right now due to a concussion. Could an orthotic help me fit into a regular size since you guys don't custom make shoes?"

"Increasing the width would probably throw your balance and weight off," he admitted. "Usually they're used to correct weight distribution and limping problems."

"Okay. Thank you for your time." She smiled and shook their hands before going back to the car.

Benji shrugged. "They said they custom made them." Dawn smiled at him. The next one did do regular custom making work. Dawn looked at the styles they had on show. Nothing that was fancy but nice enough. He nudged Dawn.

Dawn smiled. "I have tiny feet."

"That happens to the best of us," the salesman said with a smile. "Short or narrow?"

"Narrow." She sat down and took off one of the ballet slippers. "I've found some in Singapore but they fell apart as I wore them. Or I have one company that makes stripper shoes. With my recent concussion I'm really dizzy. I need flats. Or really low heels. Dressy and businessy but I have two formal events coming up."

"Okay," he said, getting what he needed to measure her foot. "That is really narrow." He smiled and got a few styles to show her. "They're fairly subtle."

Dawn pointed. "I have a pair like that but they're six inch heels. I can't wear them when I'm dizzy."

He nodded. "I'm not sure how you wear them most of the time." She smiled. He put it next to her foot. "It's fairly subtle and a bit dressy. We can make them in a variety of colors. We also have more strappy ones." He showed her those. "The others are a bit more...matron than your age." Dawn smiled at him for that, looking at the strappy ones. "We also have a line of flats and a line of low heel loafer styles." He let her see those. "We make all leather shoes." She nodded. "Hand make."

"I figured they were going to be expensive. How long would it take? Say a daily pair and one for the dressier event in a month?"

"That might be pushing it. We can make you two pairs within a month but if it needs to be too dressy it'll take extra time."

"My dress is blue. Blue fire as the designer described it."

He smiled. "Sounds pretty." He wrote down a name. "They do custom fancy wedding and dressy shoes for those sort of times." She smiled and handed that to Benji so he could plan that. "Her spouse?" he asked.

"Sensible friend. I'm the one who got her the ballet slippers when she was preggers the first time."

"That's not a bad idea. Probably very comfortable."

"And made for toothpick feet," Dawn agreed. He smiled. She picked out a few styles and the colors. They could get her a few each month for the next few. She only winced a bit at the cost but they were very good. They took the impression of her foot, then a casting of it. The head shoemaker came out of the back to make sure they got it exactly right. With that big of an order they needed to get it perfect. They promised to get her some within three weeks and she smiled and shook hands, letting Benji take her back to the car once she had on the ballet slippers. They went to the next store. Dawn smiled at them as they walked in. "I need heels for a gala."

"Okay," the saleswoman said with a smile. "Though I'd have to warn you that my boss isn't really happy with yours. One of those alien things broke his car."

"Shoot," Dawn said. "And I was going to spend large today. Anyone else who can custom make dressy shoes?"

"We can. Let me talk to him." She went into the back. "The perky brunette wife of that archer and the assassin Avenger is here." He winced. "Going to spend large on dressier shoes."

"Is it an orthotic or prescription?"

"No. Not from what she's said. I warned her you weren't happy about her boss."

"At least the insurance paid." He came out. "What sort of problem are you having?"

"Right now I'm having dizziness from a concussion and I have hugely narrow feet." She stuck one out. "I have a gala in a month so I'd need heels I won't fall off of. So far that's meant a stripper shoe company. Usually four to six inch stilettoes."

He blinked. "How do you walk in those?"

"I had to learn. I can't find sneakers that fit, much less nicer dress shoes."

"Sure, we can do that. I'm not as mad that the aliens broke my car."

Dawn smiled. "Mine too." He smiled. "We tried."

"I know." He sat her down to measure her feet. "I see some ink."

"I was at the one about six blocks over and he suggested you for the dress shoes."

"I can easily do them. What sort of heels do you like?"

"I'd like some of the thicker, not the chunky but the french heels I think they were called. With the kinda curved inside?"

"Those are called french heels," he agreed. "They can be done very prettily."

She smiled. "I have a gala in a month for them honoring Callia. I'm wearing a blue dress. He called it blue fire." She showed him a picture of it in her phone.

"Hmm. Want a darker blue or a black?"

"I was going to wear either navy or silver, I hadn't decided yet."

"Navy," Benji said. He looked at the dress. "Silver might go." He blinked. "It needs fitted."

"The tailor has it. All my clothes have to be tailored, Benji. If they fit my shoulders or my chest it doesn't fit anything else." She looked at the shoemaker. "I'm just funny all over." He smiled. "Medium blue?"

He got his sample book. "I can dye them any of these."

She tapped a blue. "That one?"

"That might look good. How many were you going to be ordering?"

"At least seven pairs total. My next one is about a month after that, where Pepper's being honored, and I'm wearing black and green." He nodded. "I need black but with the way that dress is I'd overpower the green and look chunky so I'd have to get green or a nude with that one. I'm figuring the standard colors for my usual wardrobe."

"That's not a bad plan." He took her measurement and they went over heel height and width. Dawn had a bit of trouble with the chunkier heels. She wobbled and it made her look like she had on stripper shoes. So the thinner but still substantial french heels and all around three inches, plus inserts to help ease the foot pain she'd have adjusting to the lower height. He also talked her into some nice flats that were different than the more loafer looking ones the other store had. She ended up buying fifteen pairs of shoes. They talked about when she needed them and he agreed that would be easy enough to get the first few to her by that gala. She smiled and shook his hand once they had paid and they went to see the tailor. Benji demanded. He looked at his salesgirl. "She's actually very nice."

"She is," she agreed with a smile. "And fashionable."

"Very. But wants comfort so she's practical."

"She's said before she didn't want to spend a ton on shoes."

"That figures. Most people don't, but it makes them feel a lot better when they do." He went back to get started. Girls like Dawn could also be free advertising when they asked what she was wearing. So that was good for his business. He could mourn his car some other time.

***

Benji walked Dawn into their apartment, her carrying a dress bag. "I made her get custom shoes." Natasha kissed him on the cheek as she walked past him. He grinned at her. "Thank you."

"No, thank you. Does that mean we can put the other ones in the clubbing closet?" Clint asked.

"For now," Dawn said. "Not for good, dear."

"Fine." He smiled. "What's that?"

"Scientific gala and Pepper's award dinner." She put them up and closed the closet door, coming back out to kiss Clint. He moaned and grabbed her hips. She heard the giggle and smiled at Philip and Chris. "Hi, boys."

"Hi, Mommy."

"Hi, Auntie." Chris looked at her. "Are you going to be more pretty than Callia at the gala?"

"Nope. I'll look spectacular behind her and she can use me to shield herself when she feels tired." He grinned and they went back to their books.

"Is this like the evil dress?" Clint asked.

"Less evil than that dress." She smiled. "If I had a way I'd rewear that."

He shivered. "Your body's changed some. You'd look even more sexy in it."

"Or I'd fall out of it."

"Could be," he teased, taking another kiss. "How high are these?"

"Some flats and three inches."

"Wow. Low for you," he said, getting a smile and a swat. He smiled. "Am I making dinner?"

"I can if you want."

"No, I'll make dinner." He winked. "Go sit down and go over clothes with your son?"

"Sure. C'mon, son." He and Chris came over to go over clothes. Dawn had to clean out her closets then they had to plan some shopping trips.

Benji looked at him. "Another anti-Avenger protest today," he said quietly. "Two of the shoe shops didn't want to work with her because of it. One gave in because she bought fifteen pairs of shoes." Clint winced. "She needed 'em."

"Yeah, she does." He leaned on the counter. "I don't know, Benji. Those sort piss us the fuck off most of the time," he said quietly, glancing at the bedroom then at him again. "They yell and scream about us being there to save them but the first time something happens they're the first to hide behind us and demand we save 'em."

"I know." He came over to the kitchen bar to sit down. "So what'll you do?"

"I don't know. If this keeps up I'd almost like to go back to LA to work. Let the new team we're forming hit here. LA's safer, even if there is a push to get the bad guys to quit attacking the cities."

"Could help," he agreed.

"I'm all for it. If the bad guys would quit attacking the city we'd all like it. None of us like civilians getting nearby." He walked over to close the curtains. Which made Mira mad. She huffed at him. "Dear, there's a reporter across the street with a camera," he said. He went back to the kitchen. "I don't know," he admitted. "Joyce and Cap are a lot more subtle and polite to those sort than Fury was. Fury would've told them to suck it up and move."

"I can imagine that, yeah." He looked at him. "Then what?"

"We have the great house in LA. We have the great house in North Dakota. Dawn has her alternate identity for safety reasons and the farms there." Benji smiled and nodded. "I don't know. It's not my job to solve it so all I can do is watch and bitch."

Dawn came out to kiss him. "The reporter over there can almost read lips. He's already saying you told the city to suck it up."

He shook his head. "I said Fury would've said that."

Dawn wrote down what she had heard and he added a few points. Dawn faxed it to someone and went back to her closet and the boys admiring her suits. She smiled because Chris was trying on one of her dresses and doing a pretty good job of tucking it around himself to make it fit. She took a picture and called Clint, who came in to hug him and praise his good fitting job. He smiled and finished. Dawn took two pictures this time, one for Tony. Clint went back to talking to Benji.

***

Tony looked at his phone. He and Pepper were going over the latest protest march going on. He laughed. "Our son is flirty." He showed her.

She smiled. He did a great job tucking it around himself to make it hang right." She grinned at Tony. "You're flirty too."

"He is getting it naturally, yes." He sent a message then looked at her. "What're we going to do, Pepper?"

"We're going to keep going. Something bad is going to happen because of this but it's nothing we can stop or help happening."

He nodded. "I know. I hate it but it's the law of karma."

"Then they shouldn't be the people that run behind you at the drop of trouble."

He nodded. "They shouldn't." He sighed and relaxed. "Why is Chris over there?"

"He went to play with Philip since he was home today."

"I had Dawn come up with a curriculum for us."

"She's good at coming up with educational ideas. How is Philip's school hunt going?"

"Not good. Clint complained that one thought Dawn was snooping in their educational methods. She pointed out Philip had already went through two of those books and she was checking to see where they were headed after that. The teacher got huffy. That was even Dawn's choice." Pepper winced. "They think they have two they're applying to and another four to visit."

"That's a good average. They waited way too long."

"If Callia's school had a distance learning kindergarten," he offered.

"I know." Her desk phone rang. "Virginia Potts," she answered. She listened and winced. "Have NYPD remove them. Thank you." She hung up to call Dawn. "What did Clint say?" Her fax went off. She looked at it. "No, that's not why they're protesting. No, you stay there and keep Chris." She hung up and handed it to Tony. "Someone misread his lips."

"Great." He read it. "Fury would've yes." He sent that to Steve with a comment about the argument outside. He went down there. He found a few reporters and kicked one on the ass. "Didn't I kick you off Stark property for life last year?" He ran. He pointed at one of them, who glared at him. "The reporter who sent that misread his lips." He held it up. "Transcript?" She snatched it to read and huffed.

"You guys should be really damn grateful that we didn't let Fury handle it since the people above him wanted to nuke Manhattan." She stared, mouth open in shock. "We handled it against orders. Fury was trying to buy us time but one still launched. I should know, I carried it up through their nifty little portal." He stared down at her. "You're not going to solve anything by this. We're here to protect you even if you don't like it. They don't attack New York because we're here. We're here because they attack New York."

"You could draw them away."

"Not really. They attack New York. How do you want us to draw off those giant robots that've been the last few attacks? They shipped them here because if they can take over New York, it's a pretty good sign they can take over the rest of the US. Same as the Trade Towers. We're a city that doesn't cow and doesn't bend easily." She huffed at him. "We'd all adore it if they would attack somewhere else. Hell, if someone would take over some little poor country somewhere in Africa or Central America and make it purely a war zone we'd all enjoy that.

"They could have moderators, get a tourism industry, hell, build training and housing barracks they charge various warring parties to use. It could kick start someone's economy down there. Or one of the tiny provinces in Asia could. Maybe one of the smaller islands in Malaysia. They have a ton of them that barely have any people. But the bad guys aren't going to do that. We all, every single Avenger and adjunct member, agreed that if they would take the battles elsewhere we'd all love it and go fight there. Go picket them to make them attack other places."

"But..." she said.

"No, no buts. This isn't our doing. We react when things happen. We also all think it's pretty damn shitty that you guys protest us protecting you yet you run behind us at the first spot of trouble and then complain because we didn't protect you enough. We can't do both. We're heros, not Gumby. We're not that flexible." He stared at her. "A few of us have even started to wonder why in the hell we protect people at all because of people who do this shit to us. Now, get off Stark property please. I've got a headache. My daughter is having flashbacks. I do not need this and she really doesn't." They started to disperse. He turned and spotted Callia. "You, inside."

"I just wanted some air. I didn't realize they were doing this. Is this why Liz is having the meltdown?"

"Yeah." He patted her on the head. "It is." She nodded, going to help her sister.

"Not that one?" one of the reporters asked.

Tony looked at her. "What?"

"She's not the one having flashbacks?"

"No, Liz is. Which is extremely shitty for a five-year-old to go through." She nodded, walking off. Tony looked at the guards, who nodded they'd help. They called more to help them disperse calmly and quietly. He went up to calm down Liz. She was in a corner crying. He tapped her on the knee since they were drawn up for her to cry into. "Hey." She blinked at him. "C'mere." He pulled her closer. "People like that are stupid. It's not their fault they're dumb, they're being led. They're like sheep behind someone who has ideas. The one with ideas is a bad guy but the normal people aren't."

"The ones who got aunty?" she asked quietly, staring at him.

"No, those ones weren't sheep following a bad guy. They were bad guys following a bigger bad guy. It's unfortunate but sometimes people suck, Liz. I wish it wasn't so. I really wish you had never learned that lesson. No kid, of any age, should have to know that." He cuddled her. "I will not let them get you. If I have to, you can go back to LA. They're nicer out there."

"And have beach."

"And we have the beach," he agreed, smiling into her neck. "They're mostly gone."

Callia came off the elevator with a stuffed friend. "Here, took me a few minutes but you left him in Daddy's lab." Liz smiled and hugged her stuffed friend. "They're all gone, Liz. They'd never hurt you like they did Auntie Dawn. Ever. Because Daddy and I would destroy them and Grandma would back us up. Grandpa would get to complain a lot that she didn't leave the Hulk any." Liz smiled and hugged her too. "It's not good to worry. It gives you wrinkles. So quit stressing and talk to us about that." She nodded and hugged them both then went to find her mommy. She was on the phone so Liz went to look outside the front doors. Callia looked at her father. "That's what I thought too," she said quietly. "When I came off the elevator and saw them."

"I'd never let them get you either, Callia." He hugged her.

"I know, Dad. I also already knew that humanity sucked ass half the time. The epidemic of stupid needs to end." She rolled off to post something on her new livejournal. Her aunt was right, it was helping her to vent now and then. Especially about her lack of faith in humanity. "Dad! Someone's reporting they're talking to Liz." He hurried down to help her. She sighed and added that on top of her rant. This was really unfair to them. LA wouldn't be much better though. There were these sort out there too. She heard jet boots and looked. "Hi, Uncle Rhodey. Dad's out front with Liz," she called over the intercom. He nodded and landed out there.

***

Tony stomped outside, picking up Liz. "Weren't you going to stay inside?"

"She asked me why it looked like I had been crying," she said quietly. "She talks to Mommy. Is she a bad guy?"

"No, she's a reporter." Tony glared at her. "Who is an adult and knows not to talk to kids without their parents. Especially paranoid ones who have had their kids hurt." Rhodey landed. "Hey."

"I just heard about Cal. She good?"

"Trying to be." He shifted Liz. "Want to hug Uncle Rhodey?"

"Yes, but armor doesn't give good hugs so I'll wait," Liz said, staring at him. He smiled. "Why didn't you know?"

"I was on assignment in the middle of nowhere without news feeds." He took her to hold. "You okay? Why were you crying?"

"There were huge people here like who hurt Auntie Dawn," she said quietly. "They scared me. They were going to hurt Daddy and then us."

Tony had to swallow at that. "I'd never let them hurt you, Liz. If I had to kill every single person there to make sure they didn't hurt you, they'd be dead." She stared at him. He stared back. "That's what Daddies do. We protect our kids."

"Then you'd leave us and who would make us great Starks?"

"Did you listen to your sister when that was her argument about freezing me?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Great minds think alike?"

"Quite possibly." He took her back. "You never have to worry about someone hurting you if I'm around. Even if they kidnap you, I will be there as soon as possibly can to rescue you, and if I'm injured your aunt and uncles will come instead. Got it?" She nodded, cuddling his shoulder. "Good." He looked at Rhodey. "She's in the penthouse."

"Cool. Want me to bring her inside so you can chat?"

"I have no desire to talk to anyone. Because right now I'm not sure why in the hell I put on the suit in the first place." They walked upstairs. "Huge protest."

"What happened to her aunt?" Rhodey asked.

"You didn't see that? A church that hates Dawn for having magic used very thinly padded stones to give her a very severe concussion. To the point where it's been nearly two months and she's still dizzy." Rhodey stared at him. He nodded. "Today they had a 'Avengers leave the city' protest."

"You put on the suit so your kids wouldn't be hurt by their kind either," Rhodey said bluntly.

Tony nodded. "Maybe." They got off on the penthouse and Rhodey let the system take his suit from him. "Hey, you got a visitor," he said to Callia since she was curled up on the couch staring at the tv. She smiled weakly at him. "What's up? New cramp?" She nodded. "Let's see what I can do."

"Move, Tony. I'm better at these things." Rhodey gently probed her back, finding the cramp and easing it. She winced and teared up. "I know. Give it a few seconds to loosen." It did and she sighed in relief. "How many of those do you have?"

"I was doing my stretches." She pulled Liz down to cuddle her. "I get leg ones more often." She looked at her father. "I think I figured out the general principle of bridging over the damaged parts."

"You, me, Bruce, and Rodney will look it over."

"I have Andrew and Jonathan looking at my math."

"We can include them." She nodded, letting her uncle cuddle her for now. He smelled nice.

"If I had known, I would've been here sooner," Rhodey said. "I was on assignment in the middle of nowhere without news feeds."

She smiled. "It's okay. I'll get better and get out of the chair. Grandfather and Hammer are not right." Tony tipped her face up. "He sent me an email."

"I'm going to kill his ass," Tony said bluntly.

She smirked. "It was the idiot in Norway who sent the first one. He said now I'm ruined because of this. I'm apparently not pretty enough for his pedophile self."

"Fuck him too," Rhodey said, making Liz laugh. "Want me to punch 'em?"

"No. Dad's already hit them a few times where it hurts the most." She snuggled in.

Tony got up to get her tablet to get into the emails. He sent them to Steve and Joyce with a message saying he needed a subtle plan and response.

***

Joyce's email beeped. She was waiting on her testimony in congress. She tapped her fingers on the keypad then showed Steve, who had his own copy. "I get to hit him, right?"

"Go for it. I wouldn't stop."

"I'm not sure I will be." She heard them break up a loud argument and walked in, handing the handler/bailiff person the phone with that email pulled up. She hauled Justin Hammer up and punched him. "For telling my granddaughter she was ruined because her back was hurt by someone else. Being in a chair, even if she never gets out of it, doesn't ruin a person. It only makes them stronger. Especially a Summers woman." She handed the phone to one of the staring congress members. "I'll leave until it's my turn. I had to make myself known."

He handed the phone back. "I wouldn't have stopped. Is the other one that CEO?" She nodded, walking off. The congressman shared that with the others. They had a quiet talk and made a decision unanimously. They all glared at Hammer. "We were doubtful that your recent stint in prison shouldn't count toward your business having to be handed over because we consider you a threat to the US. Apparently we're not alone in that if even children know that." He stared. "Make sure when he leaves he is kept apart from SHIELD's co-heads," he ordered. "We'll be holding a hearing on threats to the US next week. We'll see you then," he said and banged the gavel.

"I have the right to see the evidence against me."

"You can do that next week," the head of the hearing stated. "Dismissed, Mr. Hammer." He huffed off. He heard him say something to Joyce, who clocked him again and knocked him into a wall and down it as he was unconscious. They were let in for their part of the hearing. "Clearly your daughter taught you something."

She smiled. "I dated a few Navy guys before I married the first time. They made sure none of their friends ever though I was weak." She sat down delicately. "I'm sorry for my reaction earlier. I should have waited until he was in the hallway."

"No, we liked it," another of the senators said. "I have a few guard dogs I'd have sicced on him."

Joyce smiled. "The real undoing should always be done by your own hand." He laughed and nodded. "I believe we are here over the budget?"

"We are and two questions have just been sent to me," one of the others said, looking at her. "About your predecessor."

"I was his assistant for a few years but I'm not sure of everything."

"I believe the Captain can answer them. These both come from Manhattan, which is outside my district but close enough this time." She pulled up a news feed on her phone, beaming it to the room's video. It was Tony Stark talking down to someone picketing his tower. She paused it after the announcement of the bomb. "Is that true, Captain?"

"The people who were above him, the World Security Council, did demand that he send in a bomb to stop that," Steve said. "He did try to stop them. He shot one of his own people as they took off in a jet, killing them. The other jet took off and that is what Tony Stark flew into that portal and released."

She stared at him. "So he disobeyed orders and you disobeyed orders...."

"Yes, ma'am. I'm quite proud I disobeyed that one."

"So am I, Captain." She stared at him. "Are they still over SHIELD?"

"No, after the mess with Romania, the agency was removed from under their ungentle fist," Joyce said. "That's when they got moved to their own agency. I was hired a few months after that."

The senator from New York nodded. "Is there such a plan still in place?"

"Not without us having cleared all civilians, ideally and realistically as possible," Steve said. "I'd never allow that unless it was the last ditch, save the universes issue. There have been plans in place for longer than I've been awake in case things went so bad that we had to evacuate humanity or the US. They stared with the SGC and people have added to it from there." The senator smiled. "Including us. We meet yearly now to upgrade those plans. That meeting is in a few weeks. I do not have them with me."

"We'd like to go over that meeting with you," she said.

"I can ask if we can invite a senate representative," Steve said. "It's usually held in the White House, ma'am. The last president insisted we hold it there instead of a restaurant in the midwest that served nice pies."

"Even better. I like that you're not being obtuse and hiding things."

"My job is the safety of the US and humanity, whether I'm at the helm of SHIELD or in my uniform. Acting behind smoke and mirrors the way Director Fury used to doesn't help that any. Though he did butt into the plans the SGC had made earlier."

"Good." She stared at her counterparts. "When is this meeting?"

Joyce pulled up her schedule to look up the date. "We have the eleventh of June." She looked at him then at Steve. "We had to change it back. O'Neill's having that knee surgery and he won't be out of the hospital during that normal time."

"I hadn't remembered that." He smiled at her. "Thanks."

"Welcome." She looked at them. They were penciling it in. "I have no idea how the president would decide who would come."

"We can tell him that," one said. "We have people who should hear on a few committees. They can go as our representative and tell the rest of us." He smiled at her. "So, your budget. This is your first budget defense so we'll be a bit nicer."

Joyce smiled. "That's good. I was hoping I wouldn't have to put out burning coals this year." She handed over their DVD. "This is our budget, actual for last year and projected for this year. I had my daughter hand us the template the IRS wanted them to use during their audits."

They looked it over. It was a good budget. The increase was based on inflation, price of gas, that sort of thing. They went over some of the smaller categories, which Joyce had sub-budgets for. They agreed with how they were running it. It was efficient, there was no paperwork backlog. There were reports ready about anything they wanted to know about, including a few classified things that they got told was classified and could not be shared in an open hearing. They agreed on that and handed back the DVD at the end, thanking them for their time. They left, going back to the office to have a drink and relax. Bruce was already mixing martinis for Joyce and him and a coffee with a pinch of rum for Steve.

There was a bouquet of roses on her desk from Tony and Callia. And one of poppies from Pepper, which delighted Steve.

***

Callia was going to PT the next day when a reporter rushed over. "You run me over and I'm going to beat you to death." The reporter paused, staring at her. "Well? Woke up in a shitty mood due to leg cramps, people, and you staring just makes me nervous and want weapons."

"Did Liz have a panic attack because of what happened to you?"

Callia stared at her for a moment then shook her head. "You either have short term memory loss or you're really near the patient zero level for the epidemic of the stupidity virus we have going around. Was there a crowd when I was shot?" She slowly shook her head. "Then who had the crowd that hurt them?" She got into the car and let Happy load her wheelchair then drive her off. "I swear to the goddess I need to thin that pack."

"Don't make vows like that," he ordered. "It might come true."

Callia snorted. "Is that a bad thing?"

"There's days I don't know," he admitted.

The reporter looked at her cameraman. "She was rude."

He looked at her over the camera. "Do you think maybe she was talking about Dawn's injury?" The reporter blinked and winced with a groan. "Yeah, I think so. Huge mob of idiots. Kind of the same." He walked off to pack it up for the day. He erased that interview after talking to the boss about it. He agreed, she was a carrier of the stupidity virus.

***
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