- Alternate Universe
This is a sequel to Families.
Peter was on his way to school when he heard it. He had stuck to the promise he had made, Mr. Nelsen, DareDevil’s friend, and Mr Stark and had stopped actively patrolling, at least on his own. They had agreed (together with Aunt May who had figured it out somehow) that he could and should train with other heroes and that he was allowed to accompany them sometimes on patrol when it wasn’t a school night but he wasn’t supposed to go look for crimes being committed on his own. He did always carry with him the suit Mr Stark had made him, since they had agreed that he was allowed to step in if he accidentally came across a crime being committed and didn’t put himself into unnecessary danger. He’d been a bit put out that Mr Nelson and Aunt May had been the ones to define ‘unnecessary danger’, something about them not trust some of the heroes’ judgment on that matter.
He quickly tucked into an alley to put on the suit, then followed the sound to a shop where an armed robbery was taking place. Three armed, masked men had cornered the staff and customers and were demanding money and any other valuables. Peter was able to get close without being noticed by sticking to the ceiling. Then, when he figured his chances were good, he used his web to pull two of the guns away.
The other of the men however turned quickly enough to see what had happened that that he could not get it as well. He was considering how to defend himself from the gun when that man caught sight of him, then dropped his gun and raised his hands in surrender. “We give up.” The other two also surrendered at once.
Peter stared at them, taken aback by the reaction. “What the…? Why?”
“You were seen patrolling with DareDevil,” one of the robbers said.
“And you worked closely with Iron Man,” another added.
“And you were seen with Magneto.” The third man’s voice shook at the last word. “We’re not gonna risk it.”
Peter pressed his lips tightly together. Great.
T’Challa and Stephen did their best to ignore one another when they ended up going down for breakfast at the same time. Yesterday they had both failed at getting to spend time alone with Tony, to get him to see that they were interested, but that didn’t mean anything. Today was a new day, full of new opportunities.
Tony was already sitting at the table though he did not look awake. His eyes were half closed and he was resting his head on one hand. Wearing an oversized sweater, he looked so deliciously rumbled it made them both want to tug him away somewhere safe. Preferably their room.
Before they could greet him, Rhodes stepped up behind Tony and placed a cup of coffee in front of him. “Here you go, Tones.”
Tony smiled at him over his shoulder, not even bothering to really open his eyes. “Thanks, Platypus.”
Rhodes shook his head. “Go on and drink. You want to be awake for your lesson later.” He looked at the sweater he was wearing. “I see you found my old MIT sweater.”
Tony just hummed, not replying otherwise. Instead he pulled the cup closer, enjoying the smell of fresh coffee, then took a deep gulp.
T’Challa and Stephen had to bite their lips not to say something. From the way the sweater smelled, it really was Rhodes’. Perhaps they could spill something on it to make him take it off?
They all jumped when Tony’s phone rang suddenly. Tony quickly pulled it out and, after a glance at who was calling, put the call on speaker. “Peter, is everything-“
“This is so unfair. You planned it, didn’t you?” Peter demanded.
“What do you mean, Peter?” Tony asked, surprised by his tone.
“I stopped some robbers today and they just gave up because they’re scared of you and DareDevil and Magneto and everyone.”
Charles just looked at his husband. He was certain that that had been exactly Erik’s intention when he had visited Peter. “Erik…”
Erik didn’t even both pretending not to know what he meant. In fact, he looked rather self-satisfied. Tony’s thankful smile was not helping.
“How am I supposed to work as Spiderman if criminals are too scared of you all to engage me?” Peter asked.
“We agreed with your aunt May that you can train and prepare already as long as you should stay as safe as possible,” Tony pointed out. “And shouldn’t you be at school?”
“Dad!” Peter exclaimed, embarrassed to be called out like that in front of what sounded like a number of X-Men. Then what he had said struck him. “M… Mr Stark, I mean. I… I’ve gotta go.” He hung up.
Tony was still staring at his phone, certain he must have misheard.
Alex snorted suddenly. “Another reason. Hey Hank, Jean, what are the chances of Wendy really having wished for a younger sibling from Erik and Charles. I mean, he’s even adopting teens right and left like them now.”
“She can do a lot but I don’t think her powers can do that,” Jean said.
Turning back time doesn’t work, no matter how much one might want it to. Clint was finding that this was true once again. His time at SHIELD, just SHIELD, before the Avengers, had been one of the best in his life. He had felt like he belonged, like he was making a difference. Laura, the farm and their family had been another source of comfort, another home he had beside the one at SHIELD. That’s why he had accepted the offer to go back to working for SHIELD. If he was truthful to himself, he had been wishing to go back to that easier point in time.
But it didn’t work like that. He’d seen how Rogers had failed when he’d tried, so he really should have known better.
Things were different now at SHIELD. Not just because they were only just rebuilding after the revelation that some they had considered friends and colleagues had been HYDRA and they were still working to regain the public’s and government’s trust. He noticed the looks he was getting from the other agents. Some were similar to the ones after the fight against Loki, the ones saying that those agents didn’t want the guy who had killed their colleagues around, no matter that he had not attacked them of his own free will. Now there were are some blaming him for bringing in Natasha. She had also shown up for the last alien invasion (and what kind of universe were they living in that there were multiple alien invasions?) but had not returned to SHIELD or the Avengers. Well, the Avengers didn’t exist anymore, not with only Rogers and Maximoff on the team and no one else eager to join them. SHIELD had not even offered to let Natasha return. Some of the agents had been very blunt in their threats of putting a bullet in her head if she dared to show up, not after getting all those innocents killed by leaking all SHIELD files, not just the ones having to do with HYDRA moles.
Which led him to the next reason why the other agents were far from friendly. From what he understood, Tony had been the one to go and get as many of them and their families to safety as he could. He was certain that a number of them were more loyal to him now than to SHIELD, so they had not taken his betrayal of Tony lightly. As far as they were concerned, he had a lot of making up to do still, no matter that Tony had forgiven him.
Then again, Tony had forgiven them a lot that, looking back with a clear mind, he shouldn’t have, so perhaps that was not a proper criterion.
Of course his feelings about SHIELD were more ambiguous now as well, especially about its director. Director Phillip J. Coulson. His previous handler. One of his closest friends. The man all the Avengers had thought to have died back in 2012.
Hill and Fury had been the ones to approach him with the offer to return to SHIELD. It was only when he had accepted that they had taken him to meet the new director. For the longest time, he’d just stared at Coulson, certain that he must be hallucinating. He’d been under the influence of the sceptre for 6 years without anyone noticing. Hallucinations didn’t seem that unlikely.
Coulson had frowned worriedly at the lack of reaction. “Clint…”
He hadn’t been interested in explanations. He’d simply turned around without a word and left.
Of course Coulson had found him soon. “I’m truly sorry, Clint,” he’d said. He come closer and, when he still hadn’t replied, sat down beside him. “If it helps, I wasn’t aware I was keeping my survival a secret.”
Clint had looked at him from the corner of his eye, though he’d still refused to face him.
“I did die, that wasn’t a lie. The procedure Fury used to bring me back to life was…” He’d shaken his head. “Experimental. It should have been scrapped long ago. There were side effects that ultimately required the patients to have their memories wiped in a horrifically painful procedure. The other patients had all memories of SHIELD wiped, my case was the only one where they tried to remove only some memories. They didn’t notice it at the time but something went wrong. From what we’ve been able to reconstruct, I locked away private memories in reaction to the pain of the procedure to change my memories. I only recently regained all my memories. I was finally around Nick long enough for him to figure out that something was wrong with my memories, that I was not just colder to him because I had never wanted that project used on anyone again, never mind myself. He finally had to contact my father. He’s part of another agency and they have experience changing memories. They were able to fix my memories.” He’d laughed. “Dad was furious with Nick.”
“When did they fix your memories?”
“When you were in Wakanda. Then Strange brought you back but you were still recovering from him freeing you from the influence of the sceptre and reconnecting with your family. I didn’t want to get in the way.”
Clint was still hurt but he got it. It actually made him understand Laura’s and the other SHIELD agents’ reaction better. Understanding that the betrayal hadn’t been intentional didn’t just undo the hurt and restore the broken trust. The past couldn’t be undone.
He was about to face another part of the past he wished could be undone. Loki had asked to see him. Clint didn’t particularly want to see him but, after having been on both side of the situation, he was willing to listen.
They’d finally agreed to meet at the Sanctum. Clint hadn’t wanted to meet him in public, too worried about it devolving into a fight or civilians getting involved. Meeting at SHIELD was definitely out, at least if he wanted to avoid setting off a number of agents. Somehow they’d managed to convince Wong to be allowed at the Sanctum.
Clint was early. He’d been unable to settle down, so he’d just made his way to the meeting. He hadn’t been there long when Loki arrived, stopping some way away. Clint wondered in he’d been also nervous. “What do you want?” he asked, wanting to get this over with.
“I realized I have yet to apologize to you for what I did to you,” Loki said.
“From what I was told, it wasn’t like you were in much more control than I was,” Clint replied.
Loki inclined his head. “Perhaps but I still caused you harm. Worse, I didn’t make sure you were properly freed from the effects of the sceptre, even with I was free and posing as Odin. I want to offer you a weregild as reparation.” He placed a bow, quiver and amulet on the table.
The bow was exquisitely crafted and, when Clint carefully touched it, turned out to be made of wood.
“It’s from Alfheim, the realm of the Light Elves,” Loki explained. “It’s made from a wood native to their realm. It’s hard as what you call steel and yet flexible like regular wood. Some of the arrow tips are made of Uru, the same metal Mjölnir was made off. They will penetrate all other metals and, like Mjölnir, will return to you when you call them. But the most important part, I believe, is the amulet.” Loki nudged it a bit closer to him. “I found one for myself after we defeated Malekith. It protects the wearer from having their mind messed with.” Loki looked up at him. “You are of course free to have Thor or the sorcerers here verify my words and to check these.” He paused. “Do you accept the weregild?”
Clint considered it, then said: “If they are what you say, I accept.”
“Very well.” Loki stood and gave a slight bow. “Then I will take my leave.”
Tony entered the kitchen with Rhodey, getting his afternoon coffee before his next lesson with Charles and Blair. He nodded to Wendy and Kurt who were also there preparing snacks.
“Hey. I thought you might be away when you were not at breakfast this morning,” he said.
“I was feeling so well when I woke up and I’m much better now,” Wendy replied. She held up one of the apples she was cutting up. “Want one?”
Rhodey laughed when Tony’s phone rang. “Don’t tell me your boy is calling about another instance of your protectiveness.”
Tony considered it. “I don’t know what that would be.” He stared in shock at the phone when he saw who was calling. “It’s Daniel.”
That sobered Rhodey up quickly. Daniel Sousa, Peggy’s husband, had been an important figure in Tony’s life, just like Peggy. He had also founded SHIELD with her, so it was likely that he had also been aware of what had really happened to Howard and Maria Stark.
Tony swallowed heavily, then accepted the call. “Hey Daniel.”
Rhodey, Kurt and Wendy watched worriedly.
“He wants to see me,” Tony mouthed after listening for a moment.
“Tell him to come here,” Wendy said.
Tony nodded. “Can you come to the Xavier Institute or should I come to you?” He relaxed when Daniel agreed to come in a few days, then hung up.
“I’ll be there, Tones,” Rhodey promised, “in the meeting with him, if you want, or afterwards.”
“How did it go?” Vili asked when Loki returned.
Loki shrugged. “As good as could be expected, I guess. I should have apologized sooner.”
“Perhaps. But it’s important that you’ve done so now,” Vili offered.
“If you say so. Have you decided which realm we will visit next?”
“I was thinking of going to Nidavellir. Asgard has had a good relationship with the dwarfs, mostly because their skills in the forge were too important to risk angering them by trying to subjugate them,” Vili said. “It will probably still be more tricky than Alfheim. We do not have any of Asgard’s previous wealth or much of anything else to offer.”
Loki cocked him head. “I might have an idea of how to make them a bit more receptive.”
Coulson was waiting for Clint when he returned to SHIELD. “Are you okay?”
Clint considered the question. No matter what had happened between them, Coulson was still too important to him to just throw him off with a lie. Wong and some of the other sorcerers had confirmed that the bow, arrows and amulet were what Loki had claimed. Clint didn’t like to admit it but Loki was right, the amulet was the most important gift. After having been more or less strongly controlled by others for most of the past six years, Clint was relieved to have something to prevent it from happening again. He left him more relaxed than he’d been in a long time. “Yes, I’m okay.”
They were quiet as they walked inside. Clint allowed Coulson to lead the way, not surprised when they went Coulson’s office.
“You aren’t happy here,” Coulson said when the door had closed behind them.
“Things have changed. At SHIELD. Between me and Laura.” A pause. “Between us.” Clint sighed. “Perhaps coming back was a mistake.”
“If you want, I can talk to my father. We could arrange for you to be seconded to his agency for a while. At least if you don’t mind working with aliens? More alien than Thor.”
“I don’t mind, no.”