DISCLAIMER: I do not own or imply that I have ownership of the characters, locations and other recognizable features within this story. Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon and The Avengers is the property of Marvel. I own nothing except for a warped imagination.
Natasha Romanoff looked up from the newspaper she was reading when Pepper approached her, clasping a cup of coffee in her hands and shifting her feet nervously from side to side.
"Could I talk to you... privately somewhere?" Pepper asked in a quiet voice, glancing over at Steve and Bruce, who were sitting on the couches in the living area that the Avengers all shared. Frowning, Natasha nodded, putting her newspaper aside and heading towards the elevator, followed by Pepper. They headed up to the level that Clint and Natasha shared. Clint was down in the gym and both women knew the archer well enough to know that that he wouldn't surface for another hour or so.
Natasha eyed her friend suspiciously. Although there had been some tension between them early on, ever since Natasha had moved into the Avengers Tower, she and Pepper had been good friends, united by the fact that they were the only women living in a tower with a group of men.
"What is it?" Natasha asked when Pepper didn't start to speak. Pepper looked around, although she knew that they were alone. No one would risk entering Clint and Natasha's domain without the approval of either assassin. Natasha was scary enough on her own... but when you added Clint into the bargain, they became downright terrifying. Pepper was sure there were criminals across the world that had nightmares about the famous Black Widow and Hawkeye.
"I know that SHIELD has a folder on me that you helped build... and that you guys looked into my past and all that entails, especially my past medical records and the like." Natasha nodded, developing a suspicion that she knew what this was about.
"Have you read those files in their entirety, including what happened when I was eighteen?"
Natasha nodded, her suspicions confirmed.
"I know," she elaborated. Pepper nodded, rising to her feet and beginning to pace.
"I was foolish to think that the current... state of affairs would last. I got a phone call from my sister last week. Willow got into a fight and she's been... rebelling a little lately, according to my sister. She thinks Willow needs a change of scenery, a permanent change of scenery."
"Your sister wants your daughter to come and live here... permanently?" Natasha asked. "Has she not realized where you live?"
Pepper shook her head. "No, she knows where I live and who I am involved with but reading between the lines, it's more of a case of my sister thinking that I'm old enough now to look after my own child and now that Willow's not being the perfect child that Sheila always wanted, I can have her back."
Natasha pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Does Tony know about this?" she asked. Pepper nodded, sitting back down.
"Yes, he knows. I told him right after the phone call, right before I called Willow. She knew nothing about Sheila's plan until she happened to overhear her telling me about it on the phone. She was devastated… She's got lots of strong friendships in that town and she's lived there since she was four. It's one thing to come and stay with me every summer, like she has ever since she moved in with Sheila, but permanently..." Pepper broke off. Natasha could see the resentment pouring off Pepper, not directed at Willow but instead at Sheila and the way she handled the discussion.
"Tony and Willow get along well together. She was eight when they first met. He was so gentle with her... he took her under his wing. By the time she was ten, they were working on projects together."
Natasha smiled at the mental image of Tony and a ten-year-old girl working on a project together. She'd seen a photo of Willow in Pepper's classified SHIELD file. It had been taken at one point when Willow was staying with Pepper and Tony after Natasha had first met them. The teenager had been looking at the camera, a shy smile on her face as she leaned casually against a wall.
"I don't see what's worrying you, Pepper. I mean, yes, the circumstances are not the best. It would have been better if you and Willow had been consulted but I'm sure Willow will be happy to come and live with you."
"That's the thing, though... it's not just me. It's Tony and you and Clint and Bruce and Steve and Thor when he's here... and I wouldn't be surprised if Jane moves in with us too. What are they going to say when they find out that my teenage daughter is coming to live with us?"
Natasha paused. "Pepper, I have nothing against children and I know that Clint is good with children. There have been times on missions when we've worked with children and he's been so good with them... Although I hardly believe that Willow could be classed as a child now... how old is she, fifteen?"
Pepper nodded. "She'll turn sixteen over the summer. She's always spent her birthday with me."
"I hardly think that almost sixteen years old could be classed as being a child. I can't imagine Steve or Thor or Bruce having a problem with Willow."
Pepper shook her head, knowing that by the time Natasha was Willow's age she had already killed numerous people. Willow was mature for her age, most of the time more mature than Tony was, but at the same time Pepper still saw her daughter as the little girl that she had sorrowfully let her older sister raise... eleven years ago.
Natasha look at her friend, seeing how much Pepper was worrying about it. She shook her head sympathetically. "Pepper, I think you're over thinking this," she told her friend. "Willow will be fine living at the tower. I mean... yes, it is a little more dangerous than what I imagine a normal life for a teenage girl would be, but think about it. She has six superheroes living with her, one of whom is dating her mother."
Pepper nodded, conceding to herself that Natasha had a good point. It would be unlikely that any of the team would have anything against Willow moving in with them and Pepper had no doubt at all that any of them would do all they could to protect Willow from harm.
"Thank you, Natasha. I... I just needed to talk everything through with someone."
"Don't mention it," Natasha nodded, letting a smile cross her face. "I must admit, I look forward to meeting Willow. I've been curious about her ever since I learned that she existed."
"Well... Willow finishes school in two weeks. You'll get to meet her when she comes here after that."
"When are you going to tell the others?"
"Tonight, I guess... to give them as much time as possible to process the information and get used to the idea."
Natasha nodded, approving of the plan.
"Better get this over and done with then." Pepper shrugged getting to her feet and heading for the elevator. Natasha hesitated for a moment before she followed her friend. She wanted to be there to support Pepper... and to see the look on Steve's face when he found out he would be living with a 21st century teenage girl. The Black Widow actually smirked at the mental picture and contemplated getting a camera but then she figured that Jarvis would have the whole thing on security feed, so there was no point.
The two women rode down the elevator to the common area together. The rest of the residents of the tower had assembled. Clint has resurfaced from the gym and Tony and Thor had returned from wherever they had been when Pepper had first sought out Natasha.
Tony crossed over to them the moment he spotted the two women and Natasha gave Pepper an encouraging smile before she moved away, towards Clint and Steve.
"You okay?" Tony asked, stroking Pepper's cheek softly. Pepper leaned her head into the embrace before nodding.
"Yeah... just let us get this over and done with."
"Okay." Tony nodded before kissing Pepper comfortingly on the mouth. Pepper sighed.
'Thank you," she whispered to him. Tony took Pepper's hand in his own and together they turned to face the rest of the Avengers.
"I... uh... I need to tell you guys something," Pepper announced and the Avengers all looked at her curiously.
"In a couple of weeks, my daughter will be coming to live with us. She spends every summer staying with me... wherever that may be but, er... as of today, it's been decided that it'll become permanent. I was planning on telling you guys about her today anyway but I got a phone call from my sister this morning and I realized how much this could change things."
There were a few moments of silence before one of the Avengers spoke and it was Bruce who broke the silence.
"How old is she?" he asked.
"She's fifteen, almost sixteen. Her name is Willow. She's clever, she loves computers and reading, and she's not very social. She has a couple of friends but not many."
"Does she know about... us?" Steve asked apprehensively.
"I haven't seen her since the New York attack but I've spoken to her on the phone and through emails. She knows all the Avengers are living together at Tony Stark's tower and naturally she know where that is, so yeah... she knows that she's going to be living with the Avengers. I'm not quite sure if she's scared or excited about that, though... I think it's excitement. It was hard to tell on the phone today... she was kind of crying and she talks quickly at the best of times."
"Have you met her before?" The question from Bruce was directed at Tony, who nodded.
"Yeah, she first met me when she was a little kid. I can't believe that she's almost sixteen... She still thought Disney movies where the best thing in the world when we first met. Willow's a good kid, though. She sometimes helps me out in the lab, definitely has a genius-level brain in that head of hers. She doesn't act like a teenager, though. She's actually one of the most mature people I know."
Steve had a curious expression on his face but Pepper could tell that he was too polite to ask the question that was burning in his mind. Smiling reassuringly at Steve, she answered the unasked question.
"I found out I was pregnant just after I turned eighteen, a few days after I graduated high school. I was able to apply to defer going to college until after the baby was born, so I got a job and worked hard right up until a few weeks before my due date, trying to give the baby a good start to life. After Willow was born, I looked after her. My parents were really supportive and they helped me look after her while I was at classes and work. Once I graduated from college, when Willow was almost four, my sister and her husband discovered that they couldn't have children. My parents were getting too old to look after a preschooler by then and I already had a job at Stark Industries, so they offered to take Willow in so that her routine wouldn't be disrupted by my working. I agreed, thinking it was the best thing for her... and it probably was. Willow got enrolled in a good school early and she's grown into a wonderful person. Not a day passes that I'm not proud of her," Pepper told the group.
"That must have been hard," Steve offered.
Pepper nodded. "It was... but Willow was better off. My sister and brother-in-law were able to give Willow the stability she needed when I wasn't able to. I don't appreciate how Sheila, my sister, has treated Willow recently... but I do appreciate how she looked after Willow when she was younger."
"It's not like it would have been hard, though." Tony shrugged. "The kid has never put a toe out of line. She's even more of a goody-two-shoes than Steve."
"Until now, apparently," Pepper sighed. Tony was right, though. The idea of Willow getting into a fight and breaking curfew sounded very out of character for her. Willow respected the law, although Pepper did have a sneaking suspicion that Tony had given Willow a few hints when it came to hacking. She didn't exactly approve of the influence Tony had on Willow but at the same time Pepper was thrilled with how Tony treated Willow. He was so good with her, mentoring her and helping her to extend on her knowledge as much as she could, recognizing her intelligence for what it was. It had made Pepper aware of how good a father Tony might be someday.
Not that she was going to be the one who told him that... not until it was warranted, anyway.