School Trips for Future Old Ones.
Dawn leaned down to kiss Clint. "Where do you want him to go to school?"
"Which one of us is quitting their jobs?" she asked with a smile.
"Somewhere good but not snooty? I like Callia's present school."
Dawn nodded. "Okay but it's going to cause some press attention on you." He quirked an eyebrow up. She smiled at him. "It will."
"That's fine if you must."
"Yeah, I think I must." She called someone. "Janice, Dawn Summers. You forgot someone on the list you're putting out. Look in your mail, dear." She did find an envelope from her and opened it. Then gasped. "I may hide it pretty well, but ..." She laughed. "Because I'm where I want to be, Janice. Where else would I want to be? My niece is there, and the other kids. I adore the Stark kids as much as my own. Pepper's like a sister and sometimes a motherly figure to me. No, I'd still be hiding it if it wasn't for us dealing with putting Philip in school. Frankly, we'd all love to have him home schooled but we don't want to hire someone to do so.
"I'd never use business contacts for a school admission. Who knows what they'd say beyond I'm perky and good at what I do? None of them would mention I speak six languages fluently, another eight good enough to sound like a long time resident, and four more enough to sound like a tourist, and read another three demon ones. None of them would say I'm ABD in a dual degree and have two masters." She checked her nails. "Exactly. Which is why I sent you that."
She smiled. "Because I got a bit pissed that they assumed I was just a humble assistant trying to move my child up the ladder of success. Thank you, Janice. No, just the one is great, dear. Thank you. Yes, I am being Stark subtle. Because that's the only thing they'd notice. Oh, that ranch you guys were dissing? I know it needs paint but we're more interested in the bloodlines than the paint at the moment. We're working on greatness. Painting comes later. Always apply the finishing touches later." She laughed. "Thanks for this favor, dear." She hung up and looked at Clint. "Which means I have to go to tea probably next week."
"With Pepper or without?"
"With. Just in case someone misunderstands." She grinned.
"Does that mean you're admitting to your alternate identity?" She handed over a news paper article in French. "I don't read that." He scanned it and found both her names. "Aww, they put it out there?"
"Yup, fuckers." She went into the kitchen to work on dinner. "Barley risotto?"
"Add veggies. They're growing again."
"Of course." She did that and he smiled at her deviousness.
"Does that mean that I'm going to have to answer questions about my son?"
"Maybe. I wasn't going to push that in anyone's face. Which one?"
"The really expensive one that he wanted to hug?"
"Okay. I liked that one and his education trust will more than pay for it for the next thirty years." She smiled at him and went back to cooking. Natasha came in looking pale. "Problems?"
"How did they get hold of your tax forms? Someone outside asked me."
"That was fast," Clint said.
Dawn smiled. "Janice is with Town and Country. Her sister is with Vogue." Clint moaned. "And her cousin is a gossip columnist." She kissed Natasha with a smile. "School stuff. They thought I was a humble assistant. Go pick out my outfit for tomorrow?"
"Gladly." She went to do that. Dawn was playing the wrong sort of game with this but she'd help so their son had a good education.
"There's been stories about *fundraising*?" Clint asked.
"Most schools would, yes." She smiled at him. "It's okay."
"We can do that."
"And it's expected to be what?"
"Ten percent unless they're hunting for huge things."
"Of your income?"
"Of the tuition."
"Huh. That one was how much?"
"You had a headache during that part," she reminded him.
"I seem to feel it now." He got up to kiss her and cuddle her, watching her cook. This stuff was going to drive him nuts.
Dawn came out the next morning, smiling at the reporters. "You're messing up my prettiness."
"Dawn, when did you get that settlement from SHIELD?" one of them asked with a smile.
"I haven't gotten hardly any of it. I have been investing since about my second paycheck. My first one had to go to my work wardrobe and stuff I needed. I had a brilliant financial strategist who helped me invest and made me a great budget, which I still live by outside of the girls' expenses. They have their own budget with Philip." She smiled. "You guys didn't see it in Esquire, in Money? In the Times?" She smiled. "You guys thought I was a humble little assistant too, huh?" They all nodded. She shook her head with a smile. "I'm a smart one. That's how I paid for my own college." They groaned. She got into the cab. "We're going to Stark Tower please." He nodded, driving her off. Clint had the kids today since he wasn't on call. She paid and got out, heading inside.
"Smooth," Tony said from the head desk. "Like using last year's returns so they have to not consider the payout from SHIELD."
"They thought I was a nice, simple little secretary trying to jump Philip up the chain of success, Tony." He cackled, shaking his head. "Exactly." She sat down, smiling at the flowers. "Aww, the uppity mother fuckers who sneered because I'm with Clint and Natasha said I'm still an assistant and not worthy of them. I think that's the other way around. Especially since Philip's already multilingual." She tossed them out. Tony came out to get them and take them to one of the botanists. She loved flowers, even other people's. Dawn smiled. "Thanks, boss." She got to work, answering a few emails from contacts and one on her livejournal. They had no idea about anything. It proved she was subtle.
Pepper came down with her first cup of tea. "Nice."
"Thank you. Tea next week?"
"Hmm. Wearing the red?"
"The green or the blue, the one that's the color of Clint's eyes." Pepper smiled at that, going to check her desk. "Tony was just in there."
"I can tell. He sorted on me." She smiled at Dawn's back. She was very subtle usually. Clearly they had underestimated Dawn a lot.
Dawn smiled at the headmistress who had sent her flowers during the tea. "Headmistress." She shook her hand. "How is your school doing?"
"Are you still trying to find Philip a seat?"
"We still consider home schooling the best option but none of us have the time for that at the moment. If one of us would retire I'm sure we'd do that instead. It did do Callia so much good." She smiled. "Plus Philip adores his lessons with us. He's already very fluent in three languages thanks to us."
The headmistress stared at her. "There's no way you can play in our leagues, dear."
Dawn laughed. "Headmistress, I can buy and sell your school."
"Money isn't everything."
"True, but neither is breeding with all the tails that seem to appear every moon dark." The headmistress reared back and sneered. Dawn smiled sweetly. "Present company not included of course." She sipped her tea. "There you are, Pepper. Excuse me, Headmistress. Pepper, I've already fended off the advance of Mr. Willhelm who wanted me to be his new CFO."
"You'd do good in it," Pepper said, sitting down in her chair. "Callia fell at PT."
"Is she all right?" Dawn asked.
"She's fine. Tony was with her. Her back gave out and she's frustrated but not hurt. She'll cuddle when we get back there."
"We can head back," Dawn offered. "Or I can."
"We're almost out of time here." She smiled at the headmistress. "I thought about your school for Liz but we decided to home school all the children since Callia's turned out so well. It seems to work wonders for their attention spans."
Dawn nodded. "If one of us was home all the time we could do the same with Philip and the girls. Though Philip really did want a school where he could pet the horses until he was old enough to ride. He does so miss his pony in New Zealand." The headmistress huffed off. Dawn looked at Pepper, who smiled. Dawn grinned back. "You sure she's okay?"
"She's fine, Dawn. Frustrated. Had a fit at herself and her back," Pepper said quietly.
"I've had a few of those at my inner ear and dizziness problems." She finished her tea and looked at her email for a second then put it back into her bag. "Tony's having to leave early."
"No. Not this time. Demons." She sighed. "I should help."
"You are in no shape to help," Pepper said, patting her on the hand. "You can help when you're not dizzy."
"And if that never happens?"
"Then you'll work on it." Dawn nodded, pouring Pepper some more tea and fixing it for her. "Thank you."
"Welcome." She stood up and curtseyed the woman coming to them. "Duchess."
"Miss Summers. Do you go by your maiden name?"
"For business things. Or Romanoff-Barton." She smiled. "Either works for me. I'm easy that way." The Duchess laughed and smiled at her. She pulled out a chair. "Sit with us?"
"Of course. That's why I came over." Dawn sat down after her. "How is your daughter doing, Pepper?"
"She just had a slight accident in PT and is swearing at her weakness today but last week one of her legs moved without her moving it."
"That's wonderful news. Progress is going even if it's slow."
"In things like this, you often have a few setbacks," Dawn said. "The same as in any training."
"That's true." She smiled at Dawn. "Those people are still insistent that you have the right to a title."
"Which I do not want."
"I can agree with that. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have married my husband in the least." She stared at her. "School?" Dawn nodded, glancing over then back at her. "It's a hard thing. Have you thought about a private tutor?"
"Often." The duchess smiled. "Very often. If I wasn't working or one of the others wasn't working I'd gladly let them do it. As is, as soon as one of them gets injured in a long term way he'll be home schooled. Clint said so."
She smiled. "That's a wise thing. How old is he?"
"He's four in another week. He'll be starting next year."
"If you lived further out."
"I know but we need to be closer due to their jobs."
"Good point." She patted her on the hand. "Good luck."
"I tried to talk to Natasha about schooling two years ago. She didn't want to. Clint didn't want to."
"Hmm, now they know why. What of the girls?"
"Probably wherever their brother is if I like it."
"That's a good thing." She patted her again. "Good luck."
"Thank you, and I hope your daughter has a wonderful semester at college."
She smiled. "I hope she studies instead of parties." Dawn giggled and nodded that was true. "PhD?"
"My dissertation is on helping children learn to be multilingual in a society that doesn't appreciate it and the benefits of it."
"Like the children in Europe get?"
"Yes. We're very far behind their educational standards in a lot of ways. If children in Belgium can speak four languages naturally, why can't American children? It would help them no matter what they're doing. Even if it's construction it means they can get to know their coworkers better."
"That's a good point." She patted her on the hand and walked off to talk to others.
"When do you present?"
"Six weeks," Dawn said. "And I'm deathly afraid since the head of my board's wife is one of the sneering ones," she said quietly. "Rodney and Tony took my proofread copy to go over it. Rodney called it too soft of a soft science but he supposed education was a worthwhile topic for it. Tony agreed and fixed the few typos I had left. Rodney turned into a grammar mistress."
Pepper smiled. "It'll go okay. They have to decide on the merits of your work." Dawn gave her a look. "Okay, for the most part."
"I'm not sure if I want to ask for an unbiased panel due to me talking to his wife a few times about my son's schooling. That way it keeps any hint of impropriety."
"I'm sure he's run into that before."
Dawn nodded. "I've scheduled a talk with him about that. I'm not sure what he wants." She poured herself more tea and sipped it.
"That's really for businesswomen," one of the women in there sneered.
"That's great since I have over seventeen million in investments, mostly in medical technology and adaptive technology companies," Dawn said with a smile for her. The woman reached over to swat the cup from her. "Touch me. Watch me throw you across this room," she said quietly. "No one likes a bully, dear. Even I know that." She huffed off to complain.
Another one laughed. "I'm sure she wouldn't use that *magic* on you."
Dawn looked over. "She does know seven martial arts and she also has *excellent* hearing, madam." She stared at her. "If it upsets you that much, perhaps you should leave since you don't participate in business matters at all. Do you?" She finished her tea. The woman was gasping. "I did think this was for women in business. Which I do run. By the way, *dear*," she said, staring at the snotty one. "I also run sixteen farms. From the wine you were *gushing* about the other day to the cheese. You were at my partially owned restaurant's tasting party." She smiled. "Let's go, Pepper. The rarified air in here is a bit...stale."
"It is and we do have a company to run," Pepper agreed with a smile for her. "Sixteen? I thought there were twelve."
"I bought two recently. Both are produce and meat farms. The steaks that we brought over were from some. We were quality checking before we bought them. The others were the horse and sheep farms."
"They were really good steaks. Wagyu." Dawn smiled and nodded. "Good choices. I liked the white wine a lot with them. I'd usually have said the red but it was a bit robust for that delicate meat and the sauce with it went well with the white." They walked out and got into the limo, letting Happy drive them home. She looked at her. "They're so snotty. Why did we go to that?"
"You said so?" Dawn guessed.
"Good point. I clearly made a mistake." Dawn grinned. "Think they'll look down on you for that?"
"Nope. And if so, I'll work from home and teach him my own damn self." Pepper laughed.
Dawn looked at one of her dissertation board members. "Sir, do you have a moment?"
"I do, Miss Summers. Come in." She came in and shut the door and sat down, which he scowled at her for.
"Sir, I'm still dizzy from the concussion. I didn't think you wanted me to throw up on your desk."
"No I did not so I'll forgive you sitting down." He stared at her. "What is that important?"
"Your wife's job."
"Not this again," he sighed. "Did she turn your son down?"
"Before even meeting him but that's not what I'm here about. I'm worried her prejudice against me because oh my god I worked for my money and that's not *her* sort of people at *her* school will interfere with my defense."
He blinked at her. "That's ballsy."
"No, it's reality. Considering she sent a few people to sneer at me the other day at a business tea I have to consider that she would try to convince the people on my board. Why she was there I have no idea but she was and she was most rude. I don't want you to have a hint of impropriety that could get you looked at wrongly by the higher ups at the college."
He burst out laughing. "You have balls, Summers."
"I've been accused of that before. Unfortunately a spouse can bias a defense. As it has gotten two other members of my board in the past." He quit laughing and stared at her. "Which does worry me a bit. All I want is a fair shot at what I've earned. Without bias or snotty bitches telling people that I'm 'wrong' because I earned my money. Which, by the way, her grammar? You should've proofread her letter to the editor today." She handed it over.
He read it over. "She didn't mention you by name."
"No, she didn't." She smiled. "Because I would've sued her. Not like I don't run businesses as well as be the perky super assistant sort." He gaped. "I wisely invested in some food and production farms with my past earnings. They're doing fairly well. Apparently me earning my money is wrong to her. And I don't want that to hinder my board. I'm not asking you to recuse yourself, I'm asking if you think there is a problem."
"Probably not," he said firmly, staring at her. "You really do have nerve."
"Sometimes." She stared back. "I'm not doing this to alienate you, sir. I just want a fair shot and I'm not sure if you and the other two in the same situation are going to give it to me. I can fight uneven odds but I'm also aware that I can have it taped and I will be requesting it."
"You think it's necessary?"
She pulled out her tablet, flipping open a tab once it was back on. She held it up. "Look like some familiar names? They printed them in the Times last week." He took it to look at, growling some. "Which is a problem I don't really want to deal with. At least I have some expectation that you're nominally unbiased thanks to your wife. What about them?"
"I'd say we would give you a fair shot, Summers." He looked at her. "We can change your board. That means you get Dr. Crumshires."
"That's fine. I took him for three classes, Professor." She stood up, forcing down the nausea. "When should I hand them copies of my dissertation?"
"Is it done?"
"I'm doing a final proofread this week. I've had a few others look it over for grammar and missed links."
"You type that fast?"
"I had a few free weeks in there while trying to heal from the concussion," she said dryly. "Not much else to do when moving makes you dizzy. For a few days moving my fingers was the only thing that didn't make me dizzy."
"I've seen concussions before."
"I'm glad I didn't get the double vision," she admitted. "No matter how worried the neurologist was about that."
"If you have it done, we can move you up. That would mean we'd have to get someone from another language."
"That's fine. I speak a number of them." He shook his head, calling over there. She held up a USB key. "Want it in digital format or should I drop it off tomorrow? I'm having the paper copies bound today."
"Wire binding, as protocol demands. The one at the office is broken so I had to go to a print shop. I'm picking it up on the way home."
"Make sure you have ten copies." She nodded. "Hand them in tomorrow."
"Yes, sir. Thank you for being so understanding, Professor." She left, going to pick them up and take them home.
The professor called his wife. "Why did you piss off one of my doctoral candidates?" He listened. "Yes, that one. Yes, she does. Melon, she didn't get the settlement until this last tax time. That's before that settlement. I've seen her finance paperwork. No, I'm not going to and she was wise to ask me to remove myself. Usually my students ask me to talk to you to get their kids into the school. Now I can see why she didn't want him there." He hung up and called the new board together. "We have to change a board."
Crumshires smirked. "Summers." A few glared at him for mentioning her name.
"Yes. Because my wife is a total bitch about her son trying to attend her school. Three of them were part of a noted protest at her workplace and against her relationship." He stared at them. "Quit disgracing the department." They huffed off. "Crumshires, pick someone from languages. Hers is a dual. She'll drop off copies tomorrow."
"She said she typed it up while she had a concussion."
"I heard about that." He went to pick a friend over there. He'd let her impress him. She had good grades and her past papers had practical points. It was definitely real world instead of fantasy education worlds. Which he liked.
Dawn walked the box off the elevator and to the workspace Clint had, kissing him before putting it into his explosives safe. It was empty and cleaned up so no residue was there. She locked it in and smiled at him. "Dissertation."
"Can I read it?"
"Later. I need ten clean copies for them and there's only twelve."
He kissed her with a grin. "I can wait." She grinned and went to change. He got back to fixing a few new arrowheads. "Can we attend the defense?"
"Fine. Is Stark going?"
"Only if he wants to be paddled."
"Okay." He smiled, texting that to Bruce. He said he'd help her prepare.
Dawn faced her board a short week later. "Thank you for agreeing to the changes."
"Don't you worry," one of them said with a heavy drawl.
"Professor Crumshires, I've had you for three classes. The last I knew you were British," she said bluntly.
He laughed. "In person?"
"Yes, they were." He smirked at her. She smiled back, looking harmless. "I mostly enjoyed it until you messed up the translation on the demon language."
"Ah, that was you." She nodded. "How well do you know that one?"
"Well enough to converse with people in it. I do so a lot. Including once during a business meeting when I had to translate because one of the lawyers for the other side spoke it and he was misunderstanding English or any other language we used."
"Good." He stared at her. "So, impress us, Summers."
"Is that your name?" one asked.
"I have all my records under Summers-Romanoff-Barton, which is officially my name. For business matters, I tend to go by Summers."
"Huh." He made note of that. "I wondered about that on your forms. That's not legal, correct?"
"It is. We had it changed."
"Oh." He made note of that as well. She smiled. "You were late?"
"My heel fell off. The new shoes I had made are not the quality I expected for the price I paid for them."
"Are you a bimbo?" Crumshires asked.
"Only to some stupid people. Even geniuses can turn their ankle and have their shoes fall apart, sir. For that matter, I was here, just up the hall icing my ankle in a place that no one was going to look up my skirt."
He nodded. "You're not scared."
"I've faced down rebel groups that wanted to kill me. You're not quite that bad." She smiled. "And given demonstrations to foreign presidents."
"Good point. Get on with it." She went into her defense speech. She had slides that were working well. Including one that was colored on. She flipped past with a head shake and went on with her presentation.
Crumshires looked at her. "You've used this on your son?"
"That as well. His mother speaks Russian. I speak it as well. His father speaks some. We exposed him to all of them but focused on certain ones that are more prevalent in our lives. I did test these methods on him and the local daycare. My niece had to take a language class and is taking Greek. For her needed community service hours she's teaching it to the children in the daycare at work. She and I went over this method versus how she's presently learning it." She switched to that slide. "We used a basic level flashcard test since half the children in there are too young to read. It covered all but the last two lesson's material. That way we could weed out a recent memory bias to the results. They were given by another scientist so it wasn't one of us and them being cute with us." She smiled. "That one was another of the parents but she was not taking the lessons with the children and we taped it to make sure she didn't bias them by prompting answers."
The committee nodded when she played the video for them. "That's not a bad method for children. What other methods have you tried with your own children?"
"My son's almost four. So far it's been the basics through workbooks, usually ones that use association methods. He responds well to them. We taught him colors by the laundry method. We taught him to sort by practical methods. So far his language education has been a smattering of us using it around him and him picking it up, Dora and similar programs, and me sitting down to work with him." She switched to that lesson video. Philip was happily chirping things back at her as she associated them for him. She turned it off and smiled. "He's now partially multilingual, in line with his age group and a bit beyond. We've been working on more complex food, movement, and activity words." She showed them that video.
Crumshires nodded. "That's a neat trick. He remembers them?" She put up a different video, which was dated two days ago. He was reciting what the words she asked about were while his father stared at him oddly in the background. He smirked at her. "Impressive."
"Thank you, Dr. Crumshires."
"Why did you have your board changed?" one asked.
"Because my advisor's wife has started on a smear campaign to make sure my son doesn't go to a good school because I'm not *her* sort," she said dryly. "I made the point that I didn't want bias. Just to have a fair shot. Between that and three of them having been noted at protests that were very anti-my husband and wife's job, I didn't think I'd get it. As is I had to take one of them to the Dean once because he misgraded my test on purpose." Crumshires winced at that reminder. He had been dragged into it to regrade it. "As he saw."
"He did. He admitted he did it on purpose and I'm not sure how he has tenure." He looked at her. "That took balls."
"I've heard that recently but sometimes you have to be a bit pushy to get a fair shot. I frankly wouldn't have cared who did my board as long as they were giving me a fair shot. Even though I know you hate me because I corrected your pronunciation twice in the same class." He smirked and nodded. "You did get it wrong."
"You proved that point, Summers."
"I don't speak up unless I have a point I can prove, Dr. Crumshires. I'm not some reactionary little bimbette. I earned my degrees. I'm hoping I earn this one."
"It's impressive work," he said. "But most of us hate you."
She smiled. "Failing me for that reason just keeps me around and makes me more stubborn," she said. "Then I'll get to try again and again and again until I finally make it. All the while being in the department taking more classes."
"We can ban you," he offered.
She shrugged. "Then I'll go to Finance. Not like I don't have a good working knowledge of that field. That's possibly my next one if I don't take some medic classes just in case they're necessary."
He blinked at her. "You really do have balls."
"Sometimes I wonder but I've never put on the illusion choker that could change my form and shape to give me real ones. I only guard it and sometimes use it to confuse my husband so he gets a naughty thrill."
His mouth flopped open and then he burst out laughing. "That's good to know. How strong is it?"
"One in another realm belongs to a Xander. He's not godly like ours but he's a world class thief and gunman. Due to that choker and a fertility spell by Janus, he had two sets of twins and a single." He groaned. She smiled. "I'm guarding it."
She smiled. "In his life it's really handy."
"I'm sure it is." He stared at her. "We have to decide."
"I await your decision, professors." She nodded and gathered her laptop to go wait in the hallway. Usually you heard within a few hours. She relaxed and texted Pepper that she was waiting to hear. Pepper sent her an SOS so she worked on that acquisition contract while she waited. She looked over as the door opened, saving her work and shutting her computer to walk in.
"Summers, we found your work impressive," one of the other professors said. She nodded. "Though we're debating if you're ready."
"Ready for what, Professor Rothschild."
"I have no interest in teaching beyond my children and Mr. Stark's children. Or any children that we may take in. My focus has always been languages. I was talked into taking the teaching of languages by the late Professor Morton."
"That makes sense." She looked at the others. "You demonstrated a good feel for both fields. Very field work and practical oriented." She nodded. "We feel that you have not totally proved your point however."
"Where did you think I failed so I can look into that matter?" She clamped down on Clint's swearing in the back of her head.
"Actually, a few of us think you should have stuck with business."
Dawn shrugged. "I'm sorry they feel that way. I like languages. It's my area of genius. I'm just really good at business things."
"I can see that point." She stared at her. "We feel you have proved a few things. Including that you are quite stubborn." She nodded. "We also think that you're doing work that is not suitable to this institution."
"My dissertation was that bad?" she asked.
"They hate your spouses," Crumshires said bluntly.
Dawn nodded. "I didn't know that an education depended on who you married and loved. I'm sorry they feel that way. I don't think it's going to change anything in my life however." She looked at that professor.
"They won't give you a PhD here ever, Dawn."
"According to who, ma'am? The same professor that his wife was trying to impact?" She got sneered at. She stared back. "I'm aware that people don't like me personally for having gifts I use when I feel they're necessary to use. For multiple reasons. I'm aware of the people who hate my spouses for who they are and what they do. I personally do not care about anyone's bias until and unless it impacts my life."
"There's no tape," she said smugly.
Dawn pointed at the one behind her. "That camera?" She looked and blanched. "They started that second camera immediately because there was an allegation by another student, who has a parent within SHIELD and one in the FBI that they were not given fair hearings. They send that information out in a memo to all PhD candidates so we're aware of our rights to have things taped."
"I doubt that one has one."
"That one's a digital camera, ma'am. It tapes off-site." The woman went pale. She looked at Crumshires. "Is that the feeling of the whole board?"
"No, it's not. She and two others are highly against you ever getting any education ever again."
"I've never known anyone who could stop me from reading a book. So I guess they've failed."
He smirked at her. "However." He glared at them. They shrank down. "The review panel is still meeting." Dawn tipped her head at that. "Are you all right?"
"The anti-nausea medicine is starting to wear out." She shrugged. "It happens to me now and then." She calmed herself and looked at him. "When should I hear?"
"Within twenty minutes."
The Dean of the graduate college came out. "No, we're done. Dawn, we accepted it." She smiled at him. "You were right to push for a fair hearing and you got one."
"Thank you, sir."
"Are you walking?"
"Yes. I haven't really gotten to walk any of mine due to other things going on. I think it's time I walked a college degree."
He smiled. "Are you going for a higher business degree?"
"I don't know. The doctors in our infirmary wanted Clint, Natasha, and I to take medic classes in case it became necessary. I might do that next."
He nodded, shaking her hand. "Congratulations."
"Thank you, sir." She smiled and hugged her laptop. "Dr. Crumshires, I look forward to having you hood me? Or whatever we do as PhD's?"
"I accept." She smiled and left. He looked at the members of his board. "That's why I asked for the dual hearing." Those ones got up to stomp off. "Thank you."
"She earned it. Or else I wouldn't have. You know I have no patience for whiners and she wasn't. She proved her point and her case." He walked off. Hopefully Dawn would go to a different school for any future degrees.
Dawn walked in and found Pepper pulling out her hair. "I'm almost done."
"I needed it thirty minutes ago."
"I got interrupted by biased people and then the actual panel had to rule." Pepper stared, mouth open. "They accepted it," she said. Pepper squealed and hugged her. Dawn hugged back. "Let me finish this." She settled on the couch in there to finish typing it up. It let her put her feet up since one was swelling after her turned ankle. Pepper noticed. "Heel broke."
"That person needs to pay you back for all those."
"They're good beyond that and I'm having all the others tested, Pepper." She nodded. "Most of the other ones made grandma looking shoes." She got back to work, finding that she had been mistyping for half a page. She went back to redo it. She let Pepper proofread it and nodded, sending it over within the deadline. "Linda?"
"Has no idea," Pepper sighed. "I asked and she said she had no idea how to format those."
Dawn nodded. "I can show her." Pepper smiled. "Clint owes me dinner." She thought at him and calmed him down, showing him what had happened after she had shut them out. That calmed Natasha down as well. Neither one was in the mood to go beat someone to death. Then Dawn told them they needed a dinner out. Natasha said Joyce was busy. So was Bruce. He was having an angry day. Dawn got up and went to find him, walking into his lab. "What went wrong?"
He flinched and stared at her. "I'm not good company, Dawn."
She stared at him. "That's why I asked." He blinked at her. "What went wrong?"
"I... It's like a pile of things that just suddenly got uncovered in the back of my mind."
"Since when have we had telepaths on this realm?" He stared at her. She nodded. "Sounds like it." She wove a protection around him and he growled. She looked at him. "Don't." He flinched back. "Okay, Stepdad." He shook his head and walked off. "Hell, if I get another concussion maybe it'll fix the dizziness I still have." She watched him pace. She checked, the spell was in place. On a hunch she typed into his computer at JARVIS. Who sent back a positive. "Huh. Someone's testing pheromones." He paused to stare at her. She showed him. "I'd suggest calming down before you see Mom," she said quietly. "I'm not sure if Mom can handle that."
"I'd never, Dawn."
"I know." She grinned. "That's the great thing about you. Even though you have great rage monster problems, you've never once let them hurt the family." She patted him on the arm and that's when the Hulk came up. She blinked at him. "Hi, Stepdad." She waved. He growled. She stared at him. "Calm down. Please?" He growled and balled up a fist. "You hit me and I'm going to send you to Saturn." He lunged and she moved. She concentrated. "JARVIS, I need a containment shield down here please," she said quietly and calmly. "Whatever bullshit they were feeding him has gone a bit too far."
"Pretty girl," Hulk sneered. "Get smashed."
"No, I'm not." He lunged and she teleported, holding her head. "Okay," she said, blocking his path. He threw the chair. It was backing her into a corner. She saw Tony in the doorway and teleported. That let Tony put up the containment shield. She sighed, leaning on the wall. "I touched his arm."
"It has to be whatever whoever was pumping in."
"Can we find them and beat them?"
"Yup. I'm going to. Then make sure he doesn't blame himself."
Dawn looked in there. "He's going to get free."
"The sedative's not going to work with him hyped that way."
"Blow up doll?"
Tony gave her an odd look. "Why?"
"Have you ever seen the Hulk get hard?" she pointed out with a point at him. Tony looked and shook his head. "JARVIS, send Stepdad to the clearest gym and clear it."
"Callia's in the yoga room alone. It will take a minute to get her moving."
Tony hurried off to get his daughter out of harm's way. Dawn stayed there to make him focus on her instead of getting free. It was scary but she could handle Bruce and get away from the Hulk if she had to. Which she would have to because he broke a wall. He was beamed and Dawn put up more shields around his work area then headed down there. Tony hadn't gotten there in time. Callia was scared and sniffly. The Hulk was fighting with himself. Dawn got between them so Tony could move her. Hulk roared and rushed her. She teleported off. She held her head. "I don't think the celebration dinner's going to be tonight." She sent that at them before going to get sick. Tony had it, he could handle it. He could beat whoever started that.
Callia finally let all the anger out. "WHO IN THE FUCKING HELL DOSED MY GOD DAMN GRANDFATHER WITH SOMETHING!" she shouted. It nicely carried over the intercom. "BECAUSE I WANT TO TALK TO YOU, BITCH!" Then suddenly she and her wheelchair weren't there.
"I sometimes forget my daughter has magic," Tony said. He looked up. "JARVIS, where is she?"
"She is presently pummeling the person who is most likely responsible. With your son, sir."
He looked at the Hulk. Then around that gym. "You know what, take Dawn's cure. Jonathan's giving up his kevlar impregnated sex doll." The AI just sent it in there. The Hulk roared and tried to rip it up. "Make one with life sounds? Put Joyce's biorhythms into it. Send it in once it's done." He stopped Joyce and Steve as they came off the elevator. "No. Someone filled his lab with aggressive in heat sort of pheromones." He saw the flash and the Hulk let out a pleased yell. "We gave him a sex toy, Joyce. Give him time to be embarrassed and calm down." He walked off. "Let me go stop my daughter from ripping up a biochemist with bad ideas to teach her little brother how to punch. Dawn's vomiting again." He went up to lab six.
One of the other scientists was nibbling on some microwave popcorn. "For being in a chair, she has a great swing, Stark."
Tony watched and nodded. "We did a great job teaching her and clearly she's been teaching her baby brother." He walked in there to haul Chris off. "Out in the hallway."
"Hell no," Callia snarled. "My grandfather is not a damn science experiment!"
"He'd agree with me doing it!" the researcher shouted. She was crying through all the snot and blood.
"I doubt he would've agreed to participate since it nearly made him rape my aunt and me. Thankfully I'm still small enough that he hesitated." She hit her again then moved back. "Get out of my company."
Tony pointed. "We're going to be talking first but I think it might be a really good idea." He hauled her up and down to the infirmary to treat her. He'd talk to his daughter later, make sure she was okay. Natasha walked in looking nicely dressed. "She did tell you that you didn't have a sitter, right?"
"She did. I'm on my way to meet an old friend at the bar to get some information. We were going to do her celebration dinner tomorrow night." She found Dawn, helping her up. "Are you all right?"
"I know Bruce isn't like that and I'm pretty sure he's going to be horrified afterward." She hugged her. "Have fun with Brenda."
"I shall." She tipped her chin up. "We are very proud but your children are pouty."
"Is Mira pouty too?"
"She is very much your daughter most of the time. She's been complaining at me all day long." Dawn smiled and kissed her on the cheek then went to see what had happened so she could go home. Pepper was worried and a bit pouty since they hadn't won the bidding. "Sorry."
"No, it's okay. These things happen." She smiled. "Are you better?"
"Slightly. Stepdad's still in a hormone induced rage thanks to whoever."
"Callia beat her with Chris." She pointed at the kid in the corner. "I'm waiting to see what happened."
"I'm wondering what happened too," Dawn said. She looked at Chris. "Got an explanation?"
"She fumed him on purpose because he's not normal and she thinks he wouldn't mind."
"I think he'll Hulk up again to beat her ass himself," Dawn said dryly. "If Mom leaves her living."
Chris looked at her. "Grandma?"
Dawn smiled and nodded. "Where do you think I get it from?"
"Wow. I didn't know that about Grandma." Pepper pointed so he turned back around with a sigh. "Callia not in corner."
"She will be when I find her ass," Pepper assured him. Tony walked in with a police officer. "Is she charging Callia?"
"Nope. The officer is here to take Miss Bad Science away." He put down the forms. "Need your signature relieving her of her grant as well." She looked at it and signed it. "Thanks." He handed it to the officer with a grin.
"Is the Hulk contained?" the officer asked. "Or should we try to evacuate the other tower?"
"They fumed him with sex hormones," Dawn said quietly. "He's locked in an area with a surrogate that sounds like Mom." The officer shuddered. "Then we'll calm him down afterward."
"I'd be upset too." He went to finish the arrest once the infirmary had her stitched up. Callia had been a mean little girl.
Joyce Summers walked into the infirmary. "I want her charged with trying to make my husband rape Dawn and Callia, because he was very close to it and both girls managed to get out of harm's way, and the rest of the people in this building. Because he has no control at the moment."
The officer nodded, adding that to the sheet. "I'll talk to the DA personally, Mrs. Banner."
"Thank you." She glared at the woman, who shrank away from her. "I'd think you should probably beg. Callia's not the one to worry about here." She walked off.
"You probably like it like that anyway," she sneered.
Joyce paused to stare at her. "No. He gives great cuddles in Hulk form but I'm not like you. I'm not that deviant." The woman flinched. Joyce walked off. Bruce was starting to calm down but Steve wouldn't let her in there. Not until he was mostly changed back. She walked in and he flinched, backing away from her. "Shh. The bitch who did it is going to jail."
"Don't come near me yet, Joyce. I'm... I'm not calm."
"I know." She sat across from him. "She dosed you on purpose because she decided you were a great experiment." He growled. "She just slung at me that I probably liked it like that anyway." That got a deeper growl. "Everyone's okay. You didn't hurt anyone but I had them add the charge of attempting to make you rape every single person in this tower."
"I saw Callia," he said, swallowing hard. He got up to be sick in the corner. He waved her off. "No!"
"Bruce, you didn't really think about her. You saw how tiny she was, how helpless, and you stopped yourself from even trying. No matter how much your primitive brain might've yelled, you stopped yourself and Dawn led you away from her before your primitive side could overrule you." He stared at her. "Really."
He sat down against that wall. "I knew I was a monster."
"You are not. Most men would've reacted. You just had a stronger one thanks to him." He snorted, banging his head against the wall. He looked around and spotted the doll, shaking his head. "Tony's idea."
"It was a good one. It probably saved a whole bunch of people." She started to move. "Please don't."
She got up and came over, sitting in front of him. "It was not your fault."
"I've never lost control like that."
"Well, now you know how college kids feel when they wake up somewhere they didn't expect to be." He glared. She smiled. "You did."
"It was not your fault."
"I should have better control."
"How? Even Natasha would've reacted to that. Or Steve." Steve nodded from the doorway. "She pumped it into your lab on purpose. To see what you would do. She's a science bimbo."
"She is." He rubbed his hands over his face. "I need better control."
"Then let me find Oz and see if the werewolf transformation meditations will help." He stared at her. "There's a temple in Tibet that teaches werewolves how to transform at will instead of at the mercy of the moon. They don't have to transform at all."
"I... I might like that."
"I'll see if I can get hold of Oz tonight." She reached over but he shook his head. "Bruce, you didn't do anything."
"Tell that to the doll."
"Bruce, think for a second," Steve said quietly. "If you were fully out of control, without any higher brain functions, do you think that doll would be in that good of shape? Even if you didn't have conscious control you still stopped yourself. You stopped yourself from hurting Callia. You hesitated long enough that Dawn was able to appear and distract you." Bruce stared at him. "Even if it was just the skin of your toenails you had enough to keep yourself from breaking out of here to cause real harm." Bruce shuddered but nodded. "I'll call around, see if we can find Oz."
Xander appeared, staring at Bruce. "Oz is coming this way. I already talked to him." Bruce nodded, looking down. Xander tipped his face up. "I have seen warriors lost in the middle of the battle, reacting to the battle heat. The most gentle men ever but the fire in their blood won and they did horrible things. They went looking for ways to feed that fire they were under the spell of. You did not." Bruce shuddered but nodded. "For that matter, you weren't trying real hard. Dawn only teleported away from you and you've caught her before when she did that."
"That's good." He looked at him. "I need to meditate."
"Of course you do," Joyce said. He avoided her touching him and she understood why. "Bruce, you're no more of a monster than you were yesterday, which is not at all."
"I can't feel that way, Joyce."
She smiled. "Then it's good that I have enough faith for both of us." He nodded. "C'mon. We can let you hide in your basement at home."
Tony leaned in. "Joyce, we need to put a monitor on him to make sure it's all out of his system." She glared. "Looking at her notes it was an extended release version." Bruce groaned. "Bruce, she pumped so much in it was bad. It spread it was so bad. The boys both pounced their wives in front of the kids. Thankfully Caro got them moved. Ten percent of the air in your lab was contaminated by her chemical mixture."
"Ten percent?" Steve demanded. "Shouldn't that have killed him?"
"If it wasn't for the Hulk, yes," Tony said bluntly. "She had also fiddled with the nitrogen ratio on the filters." Bruce stared at him. "She did it on purpose and swore up and down she'd prove you were a scientific nightmare brought to life. Even that asshole DA is agreeing to charge her heavily. Including the attempted raping and killing of every single man, woman, and child in this building." Bruce exhaled. "So we need to get you to a better room to meditate in. One where you've got proper air. Unfiltered air. Somewhere quiet you can calm down and check yourself over." Bruce nodded. Tony came in to help him up then Joyce up. "Joyce, do you want to sit vigil in the room where we'd usually stay to monitor him?"
"Please. I know it wasn't him, Tony."
He grinned. "We know too. Bruce is a great guy or else I wouldn't let him near the kids." He walked him down there to the observation chamber. He flipped off the switches on the wall. "Okay, you're not on an alarm. You're not on filtered or enhanced air." He looked at him. "Heart pads?" Bruce stuck some on and the EEG pads too. "Okay." Tony put it on the wireless setting for him so he could pace or sit in the corner. "The only alarm that should go off is 'we're being attacked by morons' or your heartbeat is so far out of whack. I'm putting it on the silence setting." He did that and looked at Bruce. "Want dinner? A drink?"
"I could use some water."
"Okay." He pointed. "Urinal but it'll have to do, buddy." Bruce nodded. "I won't ask for samples. I've got plenty of hers to go over." He patted him on the arm without hesitation. Bruce stared at him. "Chris got exposed and he got hard too," he said quietly. "He's nowhere physically capable of that."
"I.... I'm going to work on my anger at her."
"Good. You should be mad at her and not yourself. If you had went full on primitive Hulk, Dawn would've been a painful greasy spot and so would Callia because we moved you before she could have gotten out of there. You stopped yourself. We're all really thankful that you stopped yourself."
"It helps. Not a lot but it helps."
Tony nodded. "Someone fed me acid and I realized I was collecting knives before I started to come down. A few minutes later and the whole party I was at would've been a bloodbath," he said very quietly. "Not quite the same but yeah, I get the point."
"Can you tell her...."
"No. I can't tell Joyce she can't touch you to comfort you. It'd be futile and I'd look horrible with the black eye. I hid from Pepper for three days because she kept asking what had happened and trying to touch me. She finally gassed me and tied me to the bed so I would talk to her. She thought I was mad at her for something and she cried a bit but then she calmed me down, helped me ground myself again. Remember, every good meditation has a focus and a grounding point. That's why I made the doll sound like her."
"It helped," he said quietly.
"Good. Let me send in something to drink and some soup." He called that in and the nurse brought it in. "Let Bruce meditate. If the short redheaded guy shows up, he's allowed in but no one else. Even Callia or Chris."
She nodded. "Okay." They closed the door but didn't lock him in there. Bruce locked it instead. She got Joyce a more comfortable chair and dinner. She'd be there for a while helping him. She'd wonder but she had heard them talking in the infirmary over that nasty little woman who had gotten beaten by Callia.
Dawn showed up the next day after the meeting with the headmistress of last resort. She wasn't going to deal with it. She'd put Philip with a personal tutor first. It had went well. She hoped he would get in. The woman had noted that she knew she was the last resort and why. Dawn had corrected her assumptions too, making her look horrified. Dawn had been brutally honest that she didn't really prefer their school because Philip was already doing some of the second grade work. They had gotten him in to test him and he was above average for their grade levels. It was expensive but a necessary evil. Really she'd be paying about that much for a tutor per year. She ran into Clint. "How's Stepdad?"
"Still keeping calm. Oz showed up right before breakfast so he's leading him through them. Hulk likes Oz's wolf." He looked at her. "Did you insult her?"
"No, we were honest with each other. Including me correcting her assumptions that Philip had an educational trust from Stark. They did ask for tax returns so I handed the last five years over. She was amused that no one knew. Then she asked about the settlement. I pointed out I had only gotten the first payment recently. She was horrified but they're considering. If not, I'm hiring a tutor. It'd be the same cost. He's doing second grade work for most everything but geography. It's not worth the stress to keep this going."
"Sure." He hugged her. "Calm down." She sniffled but did calm down.
Pepper came up the hallway. "Dawn...." She paused. "Go that badly?"
"This is the last one or I'm hiring someone," she said, looking at Pepper. "Did I do what?"
"The Henderson file."
"What Henderson file?"
"I told you about it yesterday."
Dawn shook her head slowly. "No. I was gone most of yesterday, Pepper." Pepper stared, blinking hard. "One of us clearly has short term memory loss. I'm hoping it's me. Yesterday was my defense, right?" Pepper gave her a dirty look. "With the concussion it's not unheard of."
"Yes, yesterday was your defense. I told you about it while you were working on that one acquisition form."
Dawn shook her head. "No, you were proofreading something." She called up footage to show her.
"Okay, so I have short term memory issues." She rubbed her forehead. "We need it in an hour. It's the parts contract."
"I might have that done." She got into her desk computer, staring at it. "Okay, or maybe someone wiped it on me." She got into her data backup. "I've been doing one."
Pepper looked and moaned. It was empty. "JARVIS?"
"Someone last night somehow let loose an EMP. I sent an email."
"Which I never got," Dawn said. "Not that there was much I could do about it." She looked in her laptop and tablet. "Okay, is this it?" Pepper shook her head. "Is it like that?" Pepper nodded. "Let me do that. Clint, can you go get me a coffee please?"
"Sure, Dawn." He went across the street to get her a good one and came back to find Pepper and Linda talking in the office. He handed Dawn her coffee. Linda was sniffling. "JARVIS, who did the EMP?"
"One of the cleaners." He put up that picture. "I do not know who he is."
"That's my ex-husband," Linda said quietly. Pepper moaned and thumped her head on the desk. "I'm sorry, Pepper. I had no idea! He's got a restraining order...."
Dawn held up a hand. "Linda, we all have ex's like that. I ran into an almost ex because he was trying to kill Steve while we were on vacation," she said as she typed. "Pepper, I need particulars." She handed over the file. Dawn warped an older document to reflect those changes. She let Pepper and Linda proofread it and sipped her coffee. She looked at Clint. "Can you please find my USB?" Linda handed it over. "The other one. That's my diss."
She found it and Dawn ran it, finding the things they'd need later this week. "Thankfully I work ahead. Linda, take this and proof it. We need it tomorrow at 9am." She printed it and handed it over. She handed Pepper three more things she printed and Clint one. "For Tony please?" She smiled. "You make a great assistant." He smiled but went to do that for her. Dawn reloaded everyone's calendar and looked over what they still needed. Only one was critical for that day. That got done first. Pepper hugged her then Linda before going to work on some things of her own that needed to be recreated.
"When problems hit Stark, they do it all at once," Linda said quietly.
Dawn nodded. "Definitely and usually at obscene levels of stupid to quote Rodney." She got back to work after draining her coffee. She answered the phone one-handed. "Thank you for calling Stark International, how may I direct your call?" She smiled. "Yes, headmistress, this is her. No, I'm in the middle of recreating something that the computer ate. I can take two though." She saved and leaned back to listen to her. "That was my ideal solution but then that headmistress decided I was being uppity.
"His learning is why I did not consider you originally," she agreed. "Because I want my son to move forward without having to be skipped. He's too young for that. No, I think by next fall he's going to be even further ahead. The schools I wanted him in were either closed or were snotty to me because I choose to work." She listened, pointing at the phone when Pepper looked at her, getting a nod. She listened. "That's where I really wanted him. Clint said he didn't care as long as it was good and not full of snobs. Natasha was all for him going to East Lake."
She heard the delicate shudder. "He liked the building. Clint wouldn't have minded and we would've enhanced what they were teaching him at home." She listened to her suggestion. "I'd love to but she was snotty to me at a business tea. She had people come harass me. Yeah, that was her thing. I had to ask her husband to remove himself from my dissertation board. It did not please anyone. I had to make sure I got a fair hearing though." She crossed her legs.
"Dawn, work," Tony complained.
"It's the headmistress of the school, Tony. I've only got one thing to do today and I'm half done. Count it as my lunch?" He grimaced but nodded, going into the office. "Yes, I am. We had a huge computer issue last night. Ate weeks of work. No, I've got some of it backed up in places where it shouldn't have been found." She frowned at her desk safe then in there. She pointed. Tony shrugged, coming out to see why the EMP had worked there. "That's what we wanted but if it's going to cause that much stress on my son I'm about to hire a private tutor. I won't have my son upset by people like that. That's why I let my tax return slip so well. So they'd quit trying to be so snotty. It didn't work."
She smiled. "I had not looked at them. Clint didn't like them to be honest. He thought the main building looked like it was going to fall in." She heard they were building a few new buildings. "I know it's a parent's job to help fundraise," she said. "I had to tell him about that actually." She smiled at Tony. "If he'd interview us, I'd adore that. When is a good time for him?" She pulled up her calendar while the headmistress talked to him. "I have a meeting during that time but I can send the spouses and listen in. Well, yes, but it's proprietary to the Avengers. It would be a huge misuse but I'm pretty sure my boss wouldn't mind."
"Nope," Tony agreed. "You could call off the meeting."
"That's with the FBI. Us making peace with the local office that we had to find out the hard way was full of idiots who didn't want to do their job."
"That one," he snorted. "Great." He looked at Pepper.
"They called it," she said.
"Pity. I'd reschedule."
Dawn hugged him. "Thanks, boss." She sat up again. "That's fine. I can definitely do that. No, this has to do with them ignoring things like biological weapons being sent to us and them not doing anything. They were ordered to make peace and we were all but ordered to play nicely." The headmistress laughed. "I can make that if he'd prefer it. Sure, that's a great time. I can make him put on clothes and all that. Last time I heard, he was wandering around in big boy undies and his father's t-shirt because he had an ear ache." She smiled. "Even better. Thank you, Headmistress. That is very kind of you. It's a great weight off us and a huge favor I owe you."
She smiled. "I can talk to Mr. Stark but the kids are probably going to the one in Long Island where Callia's going. They're doing the same sort of work Callia was. Including Liz. Yes, all that. I can mention it though. Thank you." She put the phone against her shoulder. "They need a roof on the science building." She mouthed, "I can do it" and he nodded. She put it back against her shoulder. "I think I can talk him into contributing at least fifteen thousand for that new roof. All students should have a safe place to experiment and learn to love science."
She smiled. "That's a great thing. Of course. We can send over a cashier's check today. Give me a few hours to go to the bank for him." She grinned at Clint when he came back. "Sure, thank you and him for me please. Have a great day." She hung up. She wrote out the check for Natasha since she came off the elevator. "It's to be in cashier's check form for the school we are not going to. She got us an interview with a good one later tonight."
"Philip feels miserable," Clint said.
"It's then or while we're meeting with the FBI. This was a huge favor she did us."
Natasha nodded. "I will do that. The one with the willows?" Dawn nodded, grinning at her. "The new one?"
"The one Clint thought looked like it was falling down. They're building a few new buildings."
He nodded. "Which they'd like us to contribute to?" he guessed. She nodded. "Are we buying his place, Dawn?"
"No. They have half the city's academic olympic kids in their system." Clint looked impressed at that. "I would've liked him to go there but you hated it."
"That school. Okay. If that works out."
"If not, I'll hire a tutor." He grinned. "And design our own home school curriculum." He walked off laughing. Natasha went to the bank for her. She hugged Tony. "Thank you. My son would be in public school if you didn't pay me outrageously. Now, how did my shielded safe have an EMP?"
"It didn't." He held up a device. "It had a problem."
"It was locked when I left. Or I thought I locked it."
"I can find out." He went to look at the security footage. The guy had picked the locks. That was sweet of him. Stark got Steve to have him scared to death for tampering with them. Plus enforce the restraining order. Steve was more than happy to help. Things were very quiet today.
Bruce looked at the judge. "I wanted to talk to you, Your Honor."
"I know who you are, Mr. Banner."
"Then you know that what she did was very dangerous. She made it so I lost enough control that I nearly attacked my granddaughter, who I adore, and my stepdaughter, who is someone I never even thought about, even when she was in a bikini on the beach," he said quietly. "It's not only humiliating but I nearly broke free of the building." The judge shuddered. "Dawn had to put herself at risk so they could move Callia because she hadn't been able to get out of the way before then." He cleared his throat. "Tony had to send in a surrogate device with Joyce's body rhythms and perfume so I would attack it instead."
He handed over the evidence. "From our internal sensors. She had the air so poisoned it leaked out. The two young engineers in the next lab from hers were caught in it. It was male specific and she cranked it up because I was slightly protected by... by the other guy." He slumped some, putting his hands in his pockets. "I know you have to decide on those other charges. I had no control. Not conscious, not unconscious. I'm told I barely hesitated from nearly hurting my granddaughter in a horrible manner, which is when Dawn stepped in to risk her own life.
"I would have gotten free because as soon as I realized I would've fled. Still hyped or not. I can't guarantee that I wouldn't have hurt whoever I ran into. I know what sort of monster I can be. That's why I've worked so hard to control it. She took that from me. She nearly turned that monster onto the city. I can't say whoever I ran into I wouldn't have worn that out on. So no, it wasn't just the building, it was probably the whole city, Your Honor. No matter how ashamed I am of that fact."
The judge looked at him. "Do you feel like you were raped by her serum?"
"I do. My control was taken from me. It made me attack others in a sexual manner. If she had given a college guy that same serum at a human level, he would've been as much of a victim. I was just a more dangerous one because she decided I was an experiment and a failed one. That I wasn't human any longer."
He nodded. "That was put out by the prosecutor." He stared at him. "Are you getting counseling?"
"I'm working with someone on my control and my wife has been helping me. Joyce is really better than any therapist and I can tell her things I couldn't them."
"Good. You're right. You could have hurt a great many people, Doctor Banner, and I'm glad you didn't."
"Me too. I ...I'm not sure I could stand that. Especially not Callia. I can't even stand to look at her because I get flashes of myself staring at her."
"I'm going to leave those charges in." Bruce nodded, swallowing. "I hope you can find the help you need to see it wasn't your fault."
"Even though I know it, does it really matter?"
"It does. That child would tell you the same thing." Bruce nodded and left. He summoned both sides. He looked at the prosecutor. "I just got handed information from Stark's internal systems." He let him see it. "Did you have that?"
"No, Your Honor. We weren't going to ask Mr. Stark, to keep down the problems."
"Well, you have it now." He let the other one see it. "I just talked to her primary victim. He explained how bad it could have been if he had gotten out of confinement. Including that he nearly raped his grandchild and stepdaughter." The lawyers both shuddered. "That he could have gotten out of that building and the rest of the city would've been screwed too until it was out of his system. The charges are standing. I find a great bit of merit in the jury hearing that it may be relevant."
"Yes, Your Honor," the defense attorney said. He looked at the prosecutor. "Deal?"
"We'll talk about it tomorrow. Let me have this explained to me." He took the papers to have the judge's assistant copy them for them. He went to his favorite ME. "Explain this to me please. This is what the Stark internal sensors found in the air in Dr. Banner's lab."
"Is this about the twit that drugged him?" He nodded. She looked it over. "In a normal human he would've been dead at half this level."
"That's what I thought you'd say. How bad would it have been if the Hulk had gotten out."
"Only he'd know."
"What sort of damage would he do to a human body?"
"Depends on the size of them. A tinier human or a child? They'd be in pieces. An adult too probably because he'd get upset and rip them up in other ways." She handed it back. "Is he okay?"
"No. He's not."
"That makes him a decent human being." He nodded and went to think about the charges he wanted to apply the most. She said a silent prayer for the poor guy and got back to work.
The SHIELD infirmary nurse logged into the patient room. It was in the secure section and you had to have special clearance to visit any of these patients. This one was a quadriplegic thanks to a gunshot high up his back. He was not happy, ever, but she could understand that. She had no idea of his name, if he was a former agent or a prisoner. All he was to her was a patient and a number. "Hello, Patient Number 9." She smiled. "Let's get you through your daily exercises and then cleaned up." He grunted. He didn't have a breathing tube but he never talked to her. Just grunted in displeasure.
She moved each of his joints to make sure he didn't atrophy too much. Then she gave him a bed bath and checked his nutrient drips and bags. She did what she needed to do to take care of him then left. She nodded at the new doctor when she passed by him in the halls. Must be his day to do rounds down here. He was so adorable. Movie star handsome, dark hair, soft pale skin. Liked knives, which was a turn-on for her at least.
The doctor logged in and walked in, closing and locking the door. He stared at him. "What are we going to do about you?" he asked.
Barney Barton turned his head barely to look at him. "Give me mercy?"
"Or give you a new body."
Barney smirked. "Sure, why not try it again. This time I'll be more subtle."
"Just don't go after your family. She'll do worse next time. Look how often my original got hit by that dark angel." He put the machine on his head to read the memories. It was strangely like the SGC's version but made for a much different purpose. When it was done downloading all the memories and skills, he killed the patient and left, going to the lab. He had someone who needed a miracle and he was the guy to do it. His original was off playing with the other clone that had been made. Not like he had the skills or memories to use the swords his original did. The science information he had stolen was much cooler anyway. He'd thank the guys that had gotten him free of the tube but they had unfortunately all died. But not before he had found their nifty memory machine. The last one had been very informative.
Clint came in from the interview, loosening his tie, blinking at Dawn. "He didn't believe her and had Philip do the test all over again." Dawn smiled, she had heard that. "And he passed. The headmaster was amused. Especially when Philip asked him why he didn't have a beard and a funny set of clothes."
"He was watching Harry Potter yesterday." She grinned. "So I take it he got in?"
"He did get in. In first grade." She hopped up to kiss him. He cuddled her. "Thank you for turning into the uppity bitch."
She nuzzled his throat. "Anything for my boys." He smirked at her. "Anyway, meeting went poorly."
"Dawn!" Pepper complained.
"Well, yeah." She came to the doorway. "I'm sensing celebration?"
"Philip's going to first grade."
"Aww! That's great!" She hugged him too. Then Dawn. "Now if only Dawn had all the stuff that got eaten done." Dawn pointed at her printer tray. "Oh, please no."
"Only way it can't be erased." She grinned. "Because you called me chunky, Pep." She beamed.
"Bitch," she muttered, taking it to look through. "That's still four short, Dawn."
Linda came in with hers. "I have three of them."
"And I'm proofreading the last one, Pepper."
Linda looked. "Wasn't I supposed to do that one?"
"I don't remember," Dawn said, flipping to the other one. "But sure, I nearly have this one done." She looked at Clint.
"Daycare with Chris, bragging."
"Oh." She finished up and did a spell check, printing it for Pepper with a grin. Pepper looked and held up the duplicates. "Okay, I do have short term memory problems." She frowned. "I printed it while it was incomplete?"
"I believe I found the originals," JARVIS said. "Which means that I'm now printing the one that is missing, Dawn."
Dawn smiled at the ceiling. "I love you, JARVIS. You're a great fussy uncle."
"I do adore looking after you, Dawn, and you do look like you cuddle nicely."
Pepper looked. "Have that one, JARVIS." They went over all them and Dawn found the last one, which was in outline format. She sighed and settled in to do it while Clint lounged by her and watched her type. Pepper went to her office with a sigh. Clint and Dawn were flirting again. It was pitiful but cutesy. Especially with Clint in that suit. Tony didn't look like that in suits. She really had to have Dawn go with him to gay him up again as Dawn called it. Though... Tony came off the elevator taking off his tie. That had to be a suit Liz had picked. That looked good on him. She shut the office door. "I'm busy, Dawn."
Tony smiled. "Busy are we?"
"Yes, she had to print." She took a kiss. "I'll be proofreading all night."
"Then it's a great thing I intend to make you dinner." He pushed her onto the couch and followed to tease his Pepper. His levels of her were low, sucked out by politicians who had not a single idea who they were screwing with. He looked over when something was slid under the door and they heard Dawn and Clint leave. Well, hopefully it'd be good for them too. It certainly was for Tony.
Liz found her grandfather in his lab and sighed, walking in there. He flinched when she climbed up him but she was just as stubborn as her sister so she made it into his lap, standing up to stare at his eyes. "You did not hurt us. Callia got *really* upset because the science bimbo hurt you but she wasn't scared of you. She knew you wouldn't hurt her."
"I'm not so sure I wouldn't."
"We. Are." She smiled. "And since we're girls, we're always right. That's why Chris wants to be one of us."
He hugged her. "Not always, Liz, but close enough." She cuddled him. She wasn't scared of him. Joyce wasn't scared of him. He was scared of him though. "You still shouldn't interrupt me in the lab."
She snorted. "If you were doing work it'd be different. You're not. You're pouty like I am when I run out of gummy bears." She looked at him. "I can get you some so you can share with Grandma."
"I'll pick her up some candy when I go home." He smiled slightly.
She stared at him. "That's tonight, right? Since it's your anniversary?" He winced. "And Grandma's birthday is in *two* days? I can help you shop."
"I'm sure you can. You do a very nice job."
Joyce smiled from the doorway. "He's already got my present, Liz, but thank you. You helped a lot."
"It's not fair he's hiding from me, Grandma. I might have to turn mean and dye his hair or something." She stared at her grandfather. "Really, I might. I might dye it green and purple. Make Uncle Clint wonder if you're flirting with him by wearing both your colors." He gave her a cuddle until she wiggled down. "I'll let Grandma have you so I don't have to be mean. Remember, I learned from Callia and Mommy Pepper."
"You learned a lot from them, sweetheart. Thank you." She grinned and ran off to get a treat for being so good. Even if the security guys did escort her to the pastry shop. He looked at Joyce. "I...."
She kissed him. "You had to figure out that you still had control, Bruce. I understood. I know the hating yourself for being weak, all that. Really, I do understand." He pulled her into his arms and cuddled her. She cuddled back, nibbling on his ear. He pulled back to give her a look. She smiled. "I need dinner."
"Are you turning cannibal?"
She smirked. "I don't know. I've been known to make a nice lunch out of you."
He blushed. "Joyce!" She pounced in a way that would do her daughter proud. They ended up on the floor but the slight banging only made Bruce more tender to the touches she gave him. When he finally came apart in her hands, he cuddled her as hard as he could. She had made him see he wasn't a monster. It had sank in and it was good. He kissed her hair and they laid there, just out of sight of the doorway. Which is why Chris started to walk in then paused and grinned at them before running off.
Joyce looked over then at him. "Chris?" He nodded. "I'm sure by now he's seen his father naked at least once." She kissed him again.
"We have two bedrooms," he reminded her.
"Yes but they're at least thirty minutes away with the way traffic is and I'd hate to traumatize my driver, dear."
"We have guest suites not two floors down." She kitty smirked and hauled him up so he could lead her to one. That was an idea she could get behind. It proved why he was the family genius.
Upstairs, Callia sighed because she was bored. Some day she'd figure out why the silly adults kept hiding and giggling to have sex. Just not this year. Or anytime soon.
Dawn stepped out of the limo, smiling at the driver holding the door for her. "Thank you." She walked forward. They were meeting at the event since everyone was scattered today. It was a charity event in LA for a children's hospital. She smiled at the first reporter, who wasn't a fashion one. "Morning."
"Dawn." He stared. Her dress looked like water was flowing over her skin from the side. It covered one arm, went around her throat, 'drizzling' down her back in a beaded set of lines to the very low, asymmetrical waistline that slightly uncovered one hip. In the front, you could almost see some sideboob and it clung in waves down her side to be joined with the back by a large aquamarine broach at the lower hip. It bared that side's leg up to her thigh and the other side was fully covered but there were little wave-looking things around it. "Is that fitted right?"
She looked. "Nope. Hold on." She attached a few of the waves to their intended spots. "Short or long?"
"Long," he said, staring in awe. "Not that one. Or the one that pulled the waist." She undid those and he stared. That had made it fit so her chest was highlighted now and it had taken up the slack around her waist on the fully covered side. The waves highlighted the patterns woven into the blue fabric, which was probably a very delicate silk. She smiled at him. "Um.... Sorry if I drool."
She laughed. "It's all right. I'm sure others will. This is Mom's first charity event."
"Ah. So you're taking the pressure off your mother."
"I am." She winked at someone that walked behind her. Then got frozen by staring over his shoulder.
"Huge problems?" he asked, looking around.
"Clint's right there," she said with a point. She smiled at him. "He's staring and trapped me."
He looked then at her. "If you were my wife I'd stare too. And then pounce a whole lot."
"That is a great thing about Clint." She winked and checked her hair in the 'wardrobe mistake' tent that they had off to the side. It was pushed off one side and held back by a coral and pearl comb, with the rest in curls. She came out to find her mother coming up. "Mom." She looked good. It was one of Dawn's dresses she hadn't gotten to wear. It was a bit cleavage baring but not too immodest. Her hair, though, had a feathered....hair appliance in it. She looked up.
"My assistant thought it'd go nicely," she said.
"I think it does," she agreed. "It does highlight your hair's color." She smiled and took her arm, blowing a kiss back at Bruce, who was blushing but rubbing the back of his neck while staring at his wife's backside. Joyce was blushing about it. "That dress does do wonders for you, Mom." She smiled as they ran into Clint and Natasha, who had to come from the local SHIELD office. Clint looked nice in his tux. Natasha looked very nice in her subtly sexy formal gown.
Clint looked at his naughty wife then at Natasha. Then back at Dawn. "You're getting it later."
She smirked a tiny bit. "Then it's a good thing we have sitters so I can get loud, huh?" She kissed him, earning a smirk. "C'mon, Mom."
"Sure, dear." She patted Clint on the arm. "You know she does it for that reaction."
"Yes, she does," he agreed. He watched them walk and moaned. "Damn I'm a lucky bastard."
"Yes, we are," Natasha agreed. "I think that would make charming strips of fabric to tie her down with." One of the other people attending choked. She looked at him. "Dawn does deserve such attention at times." They walked on with Bruce. Steve, Pepper, and Tony were in their own group.
One of the fashion reporters stopped them. "Dawn, wow." She smiled a tiny kitty smirk. "Um.... same guy that did the sheet dress?"
"Yes. You should see the fire one he made for me." That got a moan from Natasha and a head shake from Clint. "I'm sure you've seen my mom before."
"I have. Mrs. Banner." She shook her hand. "That's a great dress."
"Dawn leant it to me. I don't usually have anything this fanciful in my closet." She touched her hairpiece. "My assistant said that fascinators were in."
"They are." She looked and nodded. "That's a pretty one and it does highlight your hair very well." Joyce smiled. "You guys have fun inside."
"This is a charity the whole family supports thanks to what Mom had to go through," Dawn said more quietly. "We do a lot for the cancer charities."
"That's sweet, Dawn, and we know you've helped and mentored at a few cancer centers in both cities." She squeezed her hand. "Go make Clint drool some more."
He wiped his mouth with a grin. "Trapped between these two? Yeah, I drool a lot." She laughed and they walked on.
"Should we switch sides of the carpet?" Joyce asked quietly.
"If they want us, they'll yell for us," Dawn assured her with a grin. "We are not desperate for attention." Her mother smiled and patted her arm that was joined with her own. They got stopped by a few others. Dawn smiled at one, letting her mother have the spotlight.
"Oh, my god, Dawn," Pepper said, staring at her. "You have a picture of you looking like that."
Dawn smirked at her. "That was the dress's inspiration. You should see the fire one."
Pepper moaned, shaking her head. "I'm so glad I'm secure that I can't be twenty-four again." Dawn giggled and hugged her. Tony and Steve were both staring at her. "What?"
"One of the little waves came undone," Bruce said with a point. She looked and hitched it back into place. Tony sighed, looking at Pepper.
"I know she's like our eldest kid at times," Pepper assured him with a grin. "You did teach her how to be flirty, Tony."
"Yes, I did." He looked at Dawn. "Way too damn well." Joyce laughed, swatting him on the arm. "Save me a dance, Joyce. You're hot but Pepper doesn't get jealous of you."
"She has no reason to get jealous of anyone, Tony. Pepper's a stunning woman in looks, skills, and her mind," Joyce told him. Pepper smiled and hugged her. They went inside and it was a lot easier in there. Joyce had gone to a few events in the past. This part was a bit more normal to her. She could almost relax in here and Bruce was a very nice dancer. And if more people watched Dawn dance with Clint and Natasha, that was fine with her too.
Pepper was watching the fashion review show the next day with Liz. "I don't know why they let her do that to others," she said dryly at one scathing comment.
"Okay, it's time for a section of 'what the hell'?" the older woman said. "Because, literally, what the hell were they thinking!" Pictures were flashed of Dawn and Joyce.
"Well," one of them said. "Dawn said a few things that got noticed out front. This was her mother's first event. So she was drawing attention from Joyce."
"That's nearly as bad as that sexy sheet she wore that time," the older woman said.
"But she looks good, even if it's unorthodox," the younger woman complained. "She looked hot. She even froze when her husband caught sight of her and stared." They put her up on the 3-D rotating view. "It fits her well. All those little waves let her adjust her fit as needed or wanted. Even if it does look like she got painted by laying on her side in the tub, it's a great dress."
"It's still.... .that," the older woman said.
"If I had a body like that, I'd have worn it to something bigger," the one said. "And she did draw attention away from her mother all night with it. That let Joyce stay calm and react like a normal person who hadn't done any events in nearly ten years."
"Ten years?" the lone male on the panel asked.
"Her first husband had a bit of status due to his job so they went to minor charity events and the like," the younger one told him. "I looked that up when she was made co-Director of SHIELD with Captain Rogers. Who still hides behind his boyfriend most of the time."
"Some people aren't really comfortable with that sort of attention," she agreed.
"Okay, I can see her doing it for that reason. She's gotten some outrageous dresses in the past to try to draw attention from the others in the group."
"Which is one reason why Stark hired her," the other woman said with a smile. "He's said so a few times. Dawn's part diversion for them."
"Huh. I guess I can accept that, even if it is sexy water. I'm sure her husband had a lot of fun undoing her."
"He was talking to his other wife on the carpet and mentioned cutting it off her to use it to tie her down," the young one said with a smile. "Dawn just shot him a look and blushed."
"She didn't hit many reporters," the male said.
"When they walked off from talking to me, Joyce asked if they should talk to anyone. Dawn said if they wanted to talk to them they'd call out their names. Not that many did." She smiled. "Dawn's pretty savvy. Stark and Potts taught her well how to manage those things for them. I know Joyce said she was borrowing a dress Dawn hadn't gotten to wear." They switched to Joyce's outfit. "It fits her well. It doesn't show that she's still a bit on the thin side and having problems keeping weight on." The others stared at her. "It's been five years I think since she got out of cancer treatment and she's still having some problems keeping weight on. We've noted in the past she's looked a bit thin and tired." They all nodded.
"Okay, what's with the hair?" the older one demanded.
"She said her assistant talked her into it. It's also brilliant that it's covering where her hair's still a bit fragile," the other woman said.
"Hmm. Mum's hair after her breast cancer treatments got a bit more curly when it grew back but it breaks horribly and she had a terrible time getting any length back," the young one agreed.
"Me too. Thankfully I didn't lose that much but Joyce lost most of her hair over the years. She didn't shave it, like a lot do but she was always hiding it with pretty scarves. I think it does well holding her hair into a gentle style that won't break it and it doesn't let you see all the little flyaways where she's probably got breakage and where she's been going gray a lot more since then."
"She could color it."
"No," the other woman said with a head shake. "That'd destroy her hair. Chemotherapy does a lot of bad things to your hair and skin. It did mine."
"It did my mother's," the young one said. "Mum had weeks at the spa trying to undo some of the heavy chemical damage from it."
The other one nodded. "I did too. Joyce got her skin back but her hair is still rebounding. I've seen some that never get back to the point of having thicker hair. You lose a lot of hair and what you have left changes, breaks if you run your fingers through it, or it goes prematurely gray." She looked at the headpiece. "I think it was a bit high. If it had been maybe an inch shorter I would've liked it more. Though it goes well with the outfit."
"It does," the guy agreed. "Her husband clearly likes it with the way he was caught watching her walk more than once that night." He smiled. "Dawn got her booty from her mother."
The young one nodded. "Joyce was seriously hotter in her youth. Before the bad marriage and all that." She put up a picture she had uploaded. "That's her before her wedding." They all smiled at the fashionable, perky young woman. "I can see her wearing some of Dawn's less outrageous outfits."
"Me too," the old woman agreed. "Women had class back then."
"Dawn wasn't uncovered, wasn't showing cleavage. It was tasteful even if it was back bearing and showed the swell of one hip."
"Dawn has the body to pull that off. Pepper would be too skinny," the guy said. "Joyce too." They all nodded they agreed with that. "But Dawn has that body from the kids."
"Clint said he appreciates it almost every single day," the young one said smugly. "I asked during the event. He said that's the greatest gift he's gotten outside the kids. Natasha nicely blushed at that when he praised how great pregnancy had changed their bodies."
"Natasha does look hotter in her battle uniform. She had curves before but the new depth of the curves from the maternity do make her look hotter," the older woman agreed. "I don't like lesbians but I'd tap that." They all smiled. "Okay, onto fashion disasters not named Summers. Or whatever Dawn goes by this week."
"She goes by Summers for business things or Romanoff-Barton in private," the young one said. "I asked."
The old woman shook her head. "Can't she pick?"
"Everyone knows her maiden name from the business stuff. Plenty of women keep their name except for formal naming conventions," the guy said. "She did the same thing but in private and non-business things she's a wife." He shrugged. "But I think it's cute."
"It is," the young one agreed with a grin.
"Dawn's in mushy, gooey love and it's adorable on her," the other woman agreed with a smile. "Though, have you seen that someone was making...toys from the team? I asked Dawn for a comment and she said they got Clint's four inches too short and an inch too narrow." They all gaped. She pulled it up to show them. "I'm not sure what they're basing it on."
"Let's look at Clint's outfit," the guy said, putting him up on the 3-D view. "No, they underestimated."
The older woman stared and nodded she agreed. "Definitely. We've heard Dawn had a few days where she couldn't sit. Now we know why."
"Eww, someone made a Hulk penis?" the young one asked. "It's even green."
The guy looked then shook his head. "Probably *very* underestimated. Though I doubt he's ever let anyone see it." The woman all smirked at him for that. "Some people are size queens," he quipped. They went to commercial on that cheerful note.
Pepper looked at her daughter, shaking her head. "I'm not telling Bruce about that."
"Grandpa already has an action figure," Liz said dryly. "He doesn't need more toys made of him. It makes him all blushy and then he tries to hide from us." She slid off the couch. "I'll go tell him."
"No, don't do that," Pepper said, but it was too late. She groaned and sent a text to Tony's phone to warn him. And one to Clint to warn him too. Clint would not be amused, well maybe at the remarks from Dawn that whoever couldn't visually measure properly but most likely not amused.
A few minutes later, Bruce carried Liz back in, shaking his head with a blush as he walked off. He was going to hide in his closet at home with Joyce for a bit.
Old Ones 61: School Trips for Future Old Ones.