Don's not one to follow his intuition all the time, but he's also not one to ignore the billion signs screaming at him that something's up with Douglas. He likes hard facts, scientific evidence, undeniable proof.
So he goes looking for it.
While he knows his brother is away dealing with some business in Hawaii, he sneaks into Douglas' personal lab.
It's weird being there when Douglas isn't, seeing this strange slice of his private life that he refuses to share. Donald's expecting to find odd collectibles, stacks of vinyl records, maybe the occasional dirty magazine.
He's not expecting this.
Subject A. Auction-ready in approx. 8 years.
Top bidders: White Corp., Creed International, Franz Sylvester
Donald tears his eyes away from the sheet of paper in his hand to the others scattered across Douglas' desk. There are more auction info sheets, as well as pages of schematics, brief tutorials describing Subjects A, B and C.
"What the hell are you doing, Douglas?" he mumbles to himself as he pages through the sheets. First of all, why would Douglas build androids without consulting with him? And secondly, why auction them off to people and groups that are shady at best and known terrorists at worst?
"Why are you here?"
The child's voice startles Don and he drops the papers, spins around to see a small boy staring up at him with big, bright eyes. "I… um…" He's too surprised to even think of a response.
"I heard you come in," the boy says. "I can hear everything. I have enhanced audio-visual proficiencies."
"Oh," Donald says, realizing. "Well then. Hey there, Robo Kid. I thought you'd be bigger." He leans down for a closer look at Douglas' secret android. "How did he make you so lifelike?" He's reaching up to touch the kid's hair when the kid slaps his hand away and backs up.
"Don't compromise my mechanics."
"Okay, okay," Donald says, holding his hands up. He's watching the android, trying to make sense of it all. Did Douglas think that making a robot look like a child would make them better for covert ops? More undetectable?
And as he stares, as he tries to figure it out, he sees the shallow little breaths going in and out of the kid in front of him. Sees his chest rise, and the panicked little movements of his pupils. "Oh my God."
"You need to get out."
"So do you," Donald says, feeling air whoosh in and out of his chest. "Oh my God, oh my God. Which one are you?"
The boy squares his shoulders. "My designation is Subject C."
"Okay," Donald says. "Okay." Later, he won't remember even making the decision. There's hardly a process, a scientific method to determine what he should do. It just happens. "Come on, kiddo." He scoops the boy up with one arm, tucks him into his side and turns to the door.
He's not letting Douglas turn some innocent child into a weapon, a piece of machinery to be sold off and controlled. He doesn't have any plan beyond Get this kid out of here.
Then Subject C starts kicking him and beating him with his tiny fists. "No no no," he pleads, talking too fast. "You can't take me away from them. No!"
"It's gonna be okay," Donald promises, though there's no way he can know that. "Douglas won't be able to hurt you anymore. You're gonna be okay."
"A!" he shrieks, wriggling in Donald's arms. "A! Bee-bee!"
It clicks for him then. Subjects A and B. Maybe they'll be older, stronger, too far gone. Maybe they'll be loyal to Douglas. Maybe he's already molded them into little bionic monsters.
It doesn't matter. He has to.
"It's okay," he says again to Subject C, "it's okay. We'll all go." He carries the boy into the other portion of Douglas' lab to find three capsules, two of them occupied by sleeping children, a boy and a girl. Jesus. "I'm getting you all out of here," he promises Subject C, and he yanks open the right capsule's door.
The boy inside blinks blearily awake, looking up at him. "Dad?"
"No," Donald says, a pang hitting his heart as he realizes who Douglas is to these kids. He's raising them, letting them call him "Dad," all to eventually sell them on the black market. He and his brother have had disagreements, but he feels like a complete stranger right now. "No, I'm… I'm Mr. Davenport. I'm taking you all somewhere safe, okay?"
He doesn't even know where that is. Douglas is the one with the private lab; Donald just has an art vault.
Subject A nods and steps out of his capsule, and Donald turns to open the girl's capsule before he realizes Subject C's already shaking her awake.
"Come on, Bee-bee," he whispers to her, eyes darting toward Donald. "We have to go. We have to go now."
As soon as she's awake her eyes fly open and she blurs forward, sprinting for the door. But the little one grabs her hand and jerks her back. "No," he insists, pointing toward Donald. "With him. We're leaving with him."
Subject B looks from Donald to her little brother and back. "Why?"
Donald crouches down so he can look her in the eye. She's maybe six, with mousy brown hair that's dirty and unkempt. "Your dad isn't taking care of you," he tells her, trying to be calm and quiet and approachable. Truth be told, he doesn't know anything about taking care of kids. But he knows that kids are kids, not weapons, and that seems to elude his brother. "I'm gonna take you somewhere safe, and A and C are gonna be okay, too. Alright?"
He holds out his hand for a handshake and "Bee-bee" gives him a low five. Close enough. Donald scoops up Subject C once again. He takes B's hand and she holds hands with her big brother, and the four of them wander out of Douglas' lab into the daylight.
The lab doesn't take him too long to build; he's got the resources, he's got the skills, and after booting Douglas from Davenport Industries, all the shareholders are with him.
The capsules Douglas had for the kids aren't difficult to replicate, and Donald outfits them to handle clothing, bathing and feeding. The three of them, A, B and C— they're all bionic. Strong, fast and smart. Douglas was building super-soldiers, and he knew what he was doing.
But Donald knows what he's doing, too. He sets up some rudimentary training equipment and starts teaching them how to use their bionics.
All the technical stuff is easy.
Parenting is harder.
"Bee-bee, get down here," he says to the girl. (His niece? His daughter? He doesn't even know.) "It's bedtime."
"Nonono," she says, all in a rush from her crouch on the ceiling. When she gets nervous, her words all run together. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry Mr. Davenport, I'll be better, I'll be faster, I promise."
"I'm not mad at you," he says, but she looks at him like she doesn't believe him. If he ever sees Douglas again… "I'm not going to hurt you," he says, hands up. Her expression changes at that. "Did… did your dad used to hurt you?"
She doesn't say anything, but Subject C pipes up from the tablet he's playing with. "Operant conditioning," he supplies. "Repeated punishment results in preferred behavior."
Donald flinches; he can't help it. His own brother's a stranger to him.
"Okay," he says, running a hand through his hair and trying to think. "Okay. Bee-bee, you can stay up there if you want. We're gonna sit down and talk, and if you want to sit with us that's okay, and if you want to stay up there that's okay. No punishment. You're not in trouble."
She stays silent, watching from her perch. "C'mon, Atom Bomb," Donald says, scooping up Subject A and setting the kid on his knee. He gave them all nicknames— speedy Bee-bee is "Electron Girl" and the little one he's taken to calling "Quark."
"Quark" plops down on the floor in front of Donald, enraptured and ready for whatever he's about to say.
"Your dad put bionics in you so he could turn you into weapons," he says, holding Subject A close to his chest. "He wanted you to be bad guys."
"Like the Joker?" says A.
"Like Ursula the sea witch?" says B.
"Like Stalin?" says C.
"Uh, yeah," he says, "sure. But the thing is, I got you out of there so you don't have to be bad guys. You can be Batman, and the Little Mermaid, and… FDR, I guess." They all nod, even Bee-bee on the ceiling. "I'm going to take care of you. I promise. And I'm not going to treat you like your dad did, and I'm not going to hurt you or try to make you all… Stalin. Do you understand?"
"I understand," says Bee-bee suddenly from behind him, and he jumps about a foot in the air. It's gonna take a while to get used to that super speed.
The kids all giggle, and for once they sound like kids. And for once, maybe everything is going to be okay.
Douglas finds him in Greenland while he's moving some of the old junk from the basement into one of his warehouses. One minute Donald's sliding some boxes into place, the next, he turns around and sees his brother standing there. "Donnie."
Donald jumps but he tries not to show how startled he is. Mentally, he's mapping out the warehouse in his head if he needs to escape, cataloguing everything near him he might be able to use as a weapon.
It's bizarre. That's his brother. They shared a bunk bed. They used to help each other make little inventions in their garage out of twine and cardboard boxes and crap they found outside. Last year, they regularly hit up karaoke bars together. They were a team.
"What are you doing here, Douglas?"
Douglas looks like he hasn't slept well in weeks. "You abducted my kids, Donnie. I'm not letting you get away with that."
Donald holds his shoulders back, head high. He carefully constructed a lie in case this day ever came. "You mean your creepy little bionic experiments? I destroyed them. They were too dangerous to exist, Dougie, you knew that!"
Douglas stiffens and his nostrils flare with anger. "You… y-you… those were my kids. My kids."
"You were going to auction them off to terrorists."
"They gotta leave the nest sometime!"
"You don't treat children like that," Donald says. "Like… like weapons, okay, it's like I don't even know you anymore."
"You know, I really thought I would be able to work things out with you," Douglas says, and there's that cold anger in his eyes that freaks Donald out, makes him remember that Douglas hasn't really been his brother or his friend in a long time. "You ruined years of my work, and I'm not just gonna let that slide, Donnie."
That's when he holds up the detonator.
A finds him at the cyber desk, trying not to have a breakdown over the relatively simple rewiring he's working on. "Mr. Davenport?" the kid says, tugging on his sleeve. "You're sad."
Well, he's blunt and to-the-point, Donald's gotta give him that. "Yeah, I am," he admits, tousling A's hair. "I lost somebody."
"Oh, I'll help you find them," A says enthusiastically. "I'm good at finding stuff. I found all of Bee-bee's barrettes in the couch."
"That's great, kiddo," Donald says, trying to drag himself out of his depression to figure out how the hell he's supposed to explain death to a bionic eight-year-old. "But see, I lost somebody that won't ever get found again. He's gone forever. He died."
"Oh," A says. "When is he coming back?"
Donald sighs and runs a hand over his face. He needs a manual for this. An owner's guide on how to be a dad. "When people die, they don't ever come back," he says slowly. He puts a hand over the kid's chest. "Their heart stops beating and they can't talk or move around anymore. And they don't come back, and it's sad. That's what happened to my brother."
As complicated as his relationship with Douglas is, watching him go evil was a world away from this. Knowing they'll never bicker again, never call each other on the phone, even to argue. And then he's twisted up with guilt because shouldn't he be happy his evil scientist brother died? Shouldn't he be glad this means the kids are safe?
"Are you gonna die?"
"Someday," Donald says. "A long, long ways away. But yeah, Atom Bomb, everybody dies."
"Everybody?" he gasps. He looks horrified. "Is my brother gonna die?"
"A long time from now, yes," Donald says. "And you, and Bee-bee."
A yelps a little and runs off to the playroom where Quark and Bee-bee are playing. Distantly, Donald can hear him yelling, "Guys, we're all gonna die."
"Yeah," he mumbles, leaning down over his work. "That went well."
Bee-bee comes to him first asking for a "real, grown-up name."
"I don't want to be a letter anymore," she tells him. "Ariel and Belle and Cinderella and Kitty Pryde all have real, grown-up names and that's what I want."
"Oh," Donald says, guessing she's not stoked about "Electron Girl" either. "Why not Bebe?" It's a real name. He's pretty sure. He's glanced at baby names books.
She stamps her little foot. "That's a baby name. I'm a big kid. I need a big kid name."
She says she still wants a name that starts with a B because that's her favorite letter. His first suggestion is Belle, which she turns down because, in her opinion, Beauty should have ditched the Beast and gotten a job at the bookshop. (Whatshername is beginning to be his favorite of the three kids.)
Donald suggests Brenda, Billie, Betty and Beth, and she turns them all down. (Too girly, not girly enough, old-fashioned, and she didn't like the name Beth because it reminded her that Beth died in the book "Little Women.")
She likes the name Buffy until her brothers laugh about it and make it "not cool" anymore. It isn't until after dinner that Donald suggests "Bree."
"It's short, it's unique without being weird, and it even rhymes with B," he points out, feeling like he's trying to make a sale. In truth, he's worried she's going to latch onto something like Bertha or Balthasarette.
"Bree," she repeats. "Bree Bree Bree Bree Bree." She sings it as she sprints in circles around the room. "Yes!"
So she's Bree. He figures he might as well name the other two as well. They're both easier. "Atom Bomb" gets shortened to just "Atom," and then Adam. As for Quark, the kid's happy with that name so it sticks for a little bit.
It's just that Bree loves pestering her little brother, which usually results in running after him at about 300 miles per hour. It becomes second nature for Donald to have to yell, "Bree! Stop chasing your brother!" Every single day. "Bree! Stop chasing him!" "Bree! No more chasing!" "Bree! No chase!" Until it just devolves into him yelling, "Bree! Chase!"
So that's them, then, Adam, Bree and Chase, this weird little family he scraped together out of his brother's mistakes. Chase has nightmares, Bree's stubborn as a mule and Adam's not the best listener, but they're good kids. He knows they are.
He's going to make sure they stay that way.