"What? I'm going to assume I heard you incorrectly, because otherwise you've clearly lost your fucking mind!"
Without moving his head, Nick Fury rolled his eye towards Tony Stark, who was visibly agitated, to the point where Cap had a hand on the billionaire's arm and Pepper held his shoulders, keeping him planted in his chair.
Still, Stark looked about two seconds away from thrashing to dislodge them.
"Look Stark, like it or not, this incident is gonna paint a major bull's-eye on all your backs. An even bigger bull's-eye than usual. You know super villains gossip more than teenage girls. Once word gets out…."
"They're always gunning for us," Clint grumbled, crossing his arms and sulking back into his chair.
"I do not like the idea of hiding from our foes," Thor practically growled, though it did seem far less ominous than usual.
"Don't think of it is hiding," Phil Coulson offered diplomatically. "Think of it as a vacation."
The Avengers (plus Darcy and Jane) turned as one to favor him with clear looks of disbelief.
Not that Nick actually blamed them. The situation was…disconcerting, to say the least.
Hell, he was confused and he hadn't even been hit with whatever the fuck had turned his first string superhero team into teenagers.
Somewhere out there, a super villain was laughing his or her ass off and sitting on a weapon that rich folk would literally pay millions for the use of.
The only consolation was that whomever had made the… de-aging bomb had also made a small miscalculation. If Cap had actually reverted to what he'd looked like as a teen, he would've been a tiny, frail, sickly thing, not the strapping 16-year-old sitting at the conference table and Stark certainly hadn't had an arc reactor in planted in his chest at that age. Bruce was gawky, all knees, elbows and hair, while Natasha looked like herself, a bit smaller, younger and less…sharp edged. Thor had yet to develop his impressive bulk of muscle to go with his height and Clint….
Well, Clint had clearly been something of a late bloomer. He was short and wiry, built more like a gymnast than the all-around athlete he would become. The archer was not pleased to find both Bruce and Tony were taller than him.
Jane and Darcy didn't look all that different. Both were a bit shorter and Jane looked even more pixie like, but their features hadn't changed.
While younger, they all retained their memories and skills, though some of them lacked the proper muscle memory to pull off maneuvers with the usual panache and Fury could only imagine the PR nightmare that would result from sending what appeared to be teenagers off to do battle with the likes of Dr. Doom or Giant Rabid Ferrets from Space.
That shit could totally happen and, knowing their luck, would.
So the only logical choice was to get the fuck out of Dodge before everyone found out that the World's Mightiest Heroes were now too young to vote, at least physically.
Plus, since they'd woken up this morning as teenagers, they'd been an even bigger headache than usual. Nick didn't want to be around when the hormones and moodiness of teenager-dom set in.
The bright side was that Bruce hadn't actually Hulked out since reverting. A few times, he'd started trembling and his veins had bulged slightly, but nothing actually came of it other than a thoroughly exhausted Bruce.
"This is not up for debate people. You are going to ground. You are going to blend into whatever small-town we drop you in and you are not going to complain!"
He was met by an array of disbelieving and mutinous stares. "Easier said than done, sir," Coulson murmured.
"I know," Nick agreed, turning to fix his eye on his agent. "That's why you're going too."
Unlike the majority of her colleagues, Darcy had not a) gone to a private school for geniuses b) gone to school forever ago c) gone wherever the hell made Clints and Natashas or d) whatever pasted for school in Asgard. This left her in the unique position to have some idea of what to expect from a small town, middle American, public high school.
Fury, in all his wisdom, had decided that a group of teenagers would stand out if they weren't attending school. All protests about homeschooling were ignored and Coulson, looking even more beleaguered than usual, informed them of their cover story.
If asked, they were students participating in a privately funded educational experiment, seeing how an odd group of young people function while cohabitating, but otherwise living normal teenage lives. Sort of a precollege experience to reduce the shock of sudden dorm freedom. Coulson was supposed to be their supervising adult.
In order to explain Thor's…Thor-ness, S.H.I.E.L.D. had given him a Swedish passport (he was their foreign exchange member) and they were going to say that Steve had been homeschooled by reclusive, isolationist parents until recently.
Hopefully, no one would ask.
The day before, Coulson had successfully registered them with the Lima, Ohio school department, which was how Darcy found herself standing outside McKinley high school at 7 AM.
No one in their right mind wanted to go through that hell again, but here they were, about to venture forth and attempt to blend in.
Yeah, that was going to end well.
The morning had already begun with the struggle. First, Jane had been forced to break out the big doe eyes to convince Thor to leave Mjolnir at the house. He claimed that, having watched a few movies that depicted modern American schools, he thought he would need it, but his resolve melted under Jane's continued stare.
Then Darcy had nipped another problem in the bud by removing Bruce's pocket protector before anyone else saw it.
It'd taken the combined persuasive powers of Darcy, Jane, Tony, Clint and Natasha to separate Steve from his neatly pressed khakis, Oxford shirt and tie. Sure, he was gorgeous, but he looked like one of those weird Mormon missionary kids in that getup. A compromise of jeans and a blue plaid shirt (untucked) had been reached when they reminded him of the mission objective to blend in with the locals. That had been the only reasoning that made him leave his shield in his room.
Before they were allowed out of the house, Coulson patted them down and ran a metal detector over them and their bags. Darcy scowled when he confiscated her tazer, then gaped as he removed enough weaponry to take over a small Eastern European nation from Clint and Natasha. Several handguns, a plethora of knives, throwing stars, brass knuckles, a collapsible mini crossbow, Widow's Bite stunners, retractable batons, two grenades, a block of C-4 and some strange metal thing that Coulson peered at in distaste and asked, "Really? It's a school!"
"What is it?" Darcy asked, trying to decide if it was an explosive or blunt weapon.
"A pear of anguish," Tony said, pulling his designer shades down low on his nose. "Nasty."
If he was saying that, Darcy really didn't want to know.
As he finished placing everything in a box, Coulson gave them a look Darcy would almost call pleading. Poor guy was still in shock over the fact that he couldn't wear his usual black suit. "Do not draw undue attention to yourselves," he said, though it was clear he knew he was asking the impossible. "No fights. Respect the faculty. Do not sleep with under age students. No mentioning Asgard or the glory of past battles. Stark… Just behave, please. Bruce, keep the Xanax handy. Thor, remember, you're Swedish. Steve, you're 16, not born a century ago. Natasha, no death toll. Clint, same goes for you. Darcy, do not cause chaos for your own amusement. Jane… Keep an eye on them."
With that he practically booted them out the door, barely allowing them to snatch up their bags and car keys. Darcy suspected he was planning a day of heavy brooding over the entire situation mixed with the occasional Supernanny rerun thrown in to liven things up.
Honestly, Darcy was waiting for the day he snapped and ordered Tony to go sit on the naughty step.
It was something she would pay to see.
Since Natasha and Tony had been the ones to snag the keys to the SUVs, the ride to school was basically a drag race. Compared to Thor's prowess behind the wheel, it was positively restful, even with Bruce nervously tapping at his cell phone beside her. At the wheel, Natasha was cool as a cucumber and Clint seemed oblivious to the breakneck speeds.
They were bit early, so the parking lot was mostly empty, which was okay.
Soon enough, they'd have to face the social minefield that was high school.
Even without the pocket protector, Bruce had that quiet, intellectual air Darcy remembered most of the guys on the AV squad having. He'd be sniffed out as a science geek in moments and, though geek chic was totally a thing, she was pretty sure it didn't fly as well with teenagers. Also, purple corduroy pants on a man would never be considered any kind of chic.
Not ever… Even if he was kinda cute.
"Does anyone else think this will end badly?" Tony said with a sigh, regarding the building unhappily. "I can already feel this place sucking out my soul."
As a fortyish guy, Tony was sexy, but Darcy had been surprised to discover he'd been a pretty teenager. His eyes were big and dark, surrounded by thick black lashes and he really pulled off that bored teen look well. Though his jeans and T-shirt were not generally strange attire for high school, his particular selections had probably cost more than most people's cars.
"Think of it as some kind of training exercise," Steve said, trying to make the best of a bad situation. In the outfit they chosen for him, Cap looked like the all-American kind of guy who'd be captain of any number of varsity teams and possibly student body president.
"As always, we shall overcome!" Thor declared, his zeal made only a little less impressive by a slightly higher pitched voice. Long limbed and tall, Darcy was willing to bet it would only be a matter of time before the basketball team tried to recruit him. She shuddered to think about the damage he could probably do with a basketball. He was still convinced that Midgardian sports would be much improved if they were played to the death.
Jane patted his arm. "It's not a battle. Just a school full of young people who haven't yet learned the value of discretion and compromise," she said, knowing exactly what buttons to push to have Thor take it back a notch. Always petite, Jane wasn't any shorter, but she was even slimmer and more pixie like. Seriously, if she weighed 90 pounds soaking wet, Darcy would've been shocked.
Not much taller than Jane (and not at all pleased by that fact), was Clint. The sniper had been a bit sullen since the change, an attitude she would've said was reflected by his black on black wardrobe, but didn't because he'd always favored that color. Last night though, he'd shown some signs of life, taking advantage of his small frame and scaring the hell out of Tony by hiding in a kitchen cabinet and leaping out at the billionaire.
If Natasha had ever gone through awkward phase, it hadn't been that 16. Nearly her full height, with her deadly curves had not yet filled out completely and her facial features softer, she was pretty much the physical manifestation of the term jailbait. Darcy was looking forward to seeing her deal with mean girls, who would take one look at her and feel rightfully threatened.
Priding herself on having the most up-to-date experience with teenager-dom, Darcy felt the pressure to steer them in the right direction socio/culturally. Physically, she found 16 much easier this time around, as she was used to her hips and breasts, which had been new and foreign before. "Okay, we should go in and deal with the guidance counselor before the crowds show up," she directed, looking down at the paper Coulson had been given upon registering them. "Ms. Pillsbury."
As always, entering a foreign place with the Avengers, was an experience. Steve, Clint and Natasha all scanned the area for threats, spreading out slightly in a cover pattern. A few harried teachers gave them the stink eye before brushing past and ducking off into side rooms.
The guidance counselor's office was a small, glass walled room. The counselor herself was a petite redhead with big Bambi eyes an air of nervousness about her. When she saw them approaching in a group, she was visibly startled and threw glance at the two chairs across from her desk.
As Darcy caught a glimpse of some of the woman's informational pamphlets (What's that smell? Body odor, the not so secret menace and Help! How do I tell my parents I want to go to a liberal arts college? jumped out at her), the counselor ducked out to meet them, smiling. She held a stack of thin files and chirped, "Hello! You all must be the group from the Experimental Educational Cooperative."
That was their cover.
"Yes, ma'am," Steve said politely, offering his hand out of habit. "Steve Erskine."
Everyone knew why he picked Erskine when they'd all chosen different last names… Well, some of them had. A few of them had to pretend to be siblings and had gotten stuck with whatever their faux brother or sister had selected.
"I'm Ms. Pillsbury," the woman said, pulling a paper from a folder. "Nice to meet you, Steve. Here's your schedule and list of extracurricular activities. You'll need to choose at least one from the list."
As the woman looked at each of them, they gave their cover identities and accepted their schedules.
Coulson figured, with their dark hair, eyes and similar builds, they'd make passable brothers. Bruce had been the one to choose the name McCoy and, even though he hadn't Hulked out yet, no one wanted to push him on it. Everyone had been shocked that Tony hadn't put up a fuss, but Darcy was willing to bet he was just biding his time.
"I am named Thomas Selvig, but you may call me Thor!"
Erik had been flattered when Thor asked if he could use his name.
When Clint had originally wanted to use McClane, Coulson had sighed and offered Willis as a compromise. Though they really didn't look much alike, Clint and Jane were tiny with light brown hair, which, for their purposes, was enough.
Yeah, Natasha had picked the Russian last name. Coulson had been far too diplomatic (and scared of Natasha) to say why he'd pinned them as sisters, but Darcy was pretty sure it had something to do with lips and boobs.
After finding their lockers and consulting their schedules to assure themselves that at least one of them was in every class with Thor and Steve (just in case), they split into two groups. Steve, Tony, Clint and Darcy headed for history, will Natasha, Bruce, Jane and Thor had English.
At lunch, they would meet and compare stories.
As the first actual teenagers and to the school, Darcy took a breath.
Shit just got real.
"Well, hello, new babe. Why don't you come sit with us?"
Pursing her lips, Natasha rolled her eyes to aim a baleful gaze at the boy who'd spoken. The moron, who clearly lacked any survival instinct, was leering at her. He was large, wearing a letterman's jacket and clearly had a vastly overinflated opinion of his own appeal.
"I think not," she replied, putting ice in her tone before turning back to Bruce. They'd claimed one of the two person, lab style desks, as had Jane and Thor, and were discussing the class reading list. Little Women and The Red Pony (among others) seemed a bit simplistic for high school juniors.
"Hey!" Again, the boy interrupted. "You're new, so you don't know how things work around here. I am on the football team. You want me to like you."
Clearly he was trying to save face in front of his knuckle dragging friends. They were under orders to make nice with the locals, but no one had said which locals and she knew prolonged exposure to big and dumb over there would only result in blood, so she used her discretion.
"We'll have to disagree on that," she said, then stiffened when a hand landed on her shoulder. Flinging the hand away, she rose, feeling Bruce do the same beside her. "Don't touch me."
The football player smirked. "Or what? Your geeky little buddy gonna defend your honor?"
"I can defend myself actually," Natasha replied as the moron and his cronies laughed.
Where the hell was the teacher and why would the other students acting like this was not happening?
"We have your back, my friend," Thor rumbled in a fair approximation of his normal voice. She sensed him and Jane moving up beside Bruce.
Thor's size and her confidence finally seem to make an impression and the moron sneered at her. "Your loss."
She sincerely doubted that.
Any further interaction was cut short as a small, oddly spherical man entered the room and barked, "Sit down, you wood- headed Jabberwockys. Open up… Oh, more of you. Perfect."
Well, if this was any indication of what the teachers at the school were like, Natasha was going to have words with whomever had opted to send them to McKinley high. It was unlikely the destination had been selected at random… No, actually a random selection probably had occurred. The more random, the less likely that their enemies would be able to locate them.
The teacher was glaring at his class list and muttering, "Did they bother to update this? No, of course not. That would be helpful. Introduce yourselves."
Out of the four of them, Jane was the first to speak, smiling diplomatically. "Hello, I'm Jane Willis and this is Tom Selvig…."
"I am called Thor!" The Asgardian said with a broad grin, offering the room a wave (though the football idiot received a glare). A few of the girls gave him appraising looks, but he seemed oblivious.
Next in line, Bruce gave a small nod. "Bruce McCoy."
For a moment, Natasha was afraid the man was going to continue questioning them, but instead he grumbled, "All right, get out your copies of Of Mice and Men."
Half of the class looked at him blankly and Natasha shook her head. There had to be a lot of disappointed parents in this town.
"Hey, um, Natasha."
Heaving a sigh, she turned to face the boy behind her. He was yet another large football player, but his face was set in a blandly inoffensive expression. "What?" she hissed, wondering how long it would take these idiots to realize they'd be wise to leave her alone.
He flinched, looking hurt and muttered, "I just wanted to say we're not all bad."
Natasha reminded herself that he was just a kid and gave him a nod. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Turn around, missy!"
She hoped the teacher didn't think shouting was actually going to intimidate her. Turning to face the man, she gazed at him, refusing to blink until he turned away and began droning on about rabbits.
It was good to know she hadn't lost her ability to terrify others into submission with just a look.
"Read chapter 3 and don't cause any trouble!"
With that oh so helpful decree, Mrs. Hagberg turned on her heel and trundled out of the room like a woman on a mission.
Looking around, Tony saw that none of the actual student seemed surprised by this development. Around the room, conversations were breaking out, people were texting and one girl had begun painting her nails.
"So, I'm assuming Mrs. Hagberg is everyone's favorite teacher?" Tony quipped, leaning back in his chair and casting a glance at Steve.
"On the days when she remembers the Nazis lost World War II, yeah," the boy in the row behind them replied, nudging the girl beside him. "Kinda sucks on the other days though."
The girl scrunched up her nose and added, "That is an understatement, Noah. One of these days, someone is going to report her for verbal abuse."
"I hope not," he replied. "They might replace her with someone who actually tries to teach us."
Tony could tell that Steve was barely holding back the displeasure he felt over this revelation. Proof of the fact that America's education system was clearly broken was not something Captain America liked having shoved in his face.
Trying to distract him, Tony brandished the sheet of paper listing the school's extracurricular activities. It was already battered and crumpled and reminded Tony of why he had gone paperless years ago. "What are you going to sign up for?"
Some of the unhappy cast fled from Steve's face and he gave the sheet a look. "There is an art club," he said after a moment, tapping a line of text. "I'd like that."
That wasn't an altogether unexpected response. Another option made Tony smirk. "Hey Clint, falconry. You could make some feathered friends."
The sniper rolled his eyes. "Archery, Bee-yotch."
He was mentally acclimating to being a teenager far too quickly.
"It would be easier to pick if there was a listing for something designed for oddball social misfits," Darcy quipped. "Someplace my sarcasm and generally awesome attitude would be appreciated and cultivated."
"That would be the glee club."
As a group, Tony, Steve, Darcy and Clint turned toward whomever had spoken. At a nearby table, a boy in a wheelchair offered them a short wave and continued, "We take all kinds."
Two stunning girls in cheerleader outfits nodded while a pretty goth girl offered a smile. At the table behind Tony and Steve, the big Mohawked boy gave his shrugging assent and the tiny girl beside him grinned. "Can you sing or dance? If so, glee would be a good fit for you! We have a meeting this afternoon. I'm Rachel Berry, captain and star of the club."
She had a very forceful personality and the sort of intensity that reminded Tony of some of the more persistent stalkers he'd dealt with in the past. Not the scary ones who actually attempted to break into his house or run him down with their cars, but the fervent young women who followed him around the city with cameras and squealed gleefully when he took pictures with them.
There was even one girl who showed up with muffins about once a month. The lab confirmed they were harmless and they were delicious. Tony made sure to thank her personally and had Pepper send her Christmas and birthday cards.
He'd become quite adept at identifying harmless crazy versus bunny-boiling-totally-psycho crazy and the tiny brunette wasn't giving off the latter vibe.
"Dial it back, Judy Garland," the Latina cheerleader quipped, casting a speculative eye over Tony and his friends. "Maybe they don't want to sign up for Slushee facials."
"There's actually been a lot less of that this year," the girl retorted somewhat ineffectually. "Don't bring them up."
"I think you should join the Cheerios," the blonde cheerleader piped up suddenly, eyes on Steve. "You look like you could throw me really high in the air."
Steve didn't seem to know what to make of that, especially when the Latina narrowed her eyes, jumped up from her chair and actually squeezed Steve's arm. "Oh, yeah, you'd be good on the squad. How do you feel about being verbally abused by slightly insane, drill sergeant of a woman?"
In an attempt to derail that line of thought, Tony quipped, "I'd think Clint'd be a better fit for cheerleading, what with the crazy acrobatics and such…OW!" A sharp pain in his neck made Tony touch the area and, to his shock, pull away holding a push pin. Whirling around, he glared at Clint and barked, "A thumb tack! You fucker!"
Smirking, Clint twirled a rubber band around his finger, having fashioned a weapon out of it after Coulson's thorough disarming this morning.
Tossing a glare at the archer, Tony pulled out his phone and tapped a series of commands. At the house, Dummy received a message and whirred to life, trundling out of the room Steve and Tony were sharing, on a mission to douse Clint's bed with as much fire retardant foam as an extinguisher could hold.
Tony had known he'd be glad he fought to bring the loyal little AI robot along. Coulson refused to let him wire the house to accommodate JARVIS, so having him around was a comfort of home. Tony was even considering building the feisty little guy a new brother or sister.
"I'm not sure cheerleading is for me," Steve was saying, which made Tony bite his lip. Only Thor could match Steve's ability to be upbeat and optimistic and Tony had never met anyone with Cap's earnest ability to rally his troops.
He'd probably be an amazing cheerleader.
The Latina raised a brow at Steve. "Then avoid Coach Sylvester. She's been looking to add some testosterone to the squad and she hates being told no."
"She'll stalk your ass and wear you down," Mohawk said with a nod.
Clearly, this Sylvester person was someone they'd have to keep an eye on.
After all the worry over how they'd fit in to a modern high school, Jane thought things were going fairly well. Everyone had met up at lunch, compared war stories and, aside from some run-ins with asinine teenage boys, no one had any major incidents.
Unfortunately, that changed as she, Tony and Bruce were exiting physics class. They were engrossed in bemoaning the fact that the teacher had no business teaching that subject and didn't notice a large boy bearing down on them until Bruce was choking on a mouthful of icy corn syrup.
"What the fuck!" Tony exclaimed, indignant on Bruce's behalf as the jocks started laughing.
Bruce gave a huff and gritted his teeth, trembling but not hulking out.
Down the hall, Clint had exited his own class in time to witness the scene. He darted down the corridor, ducking under the arching flow of another iced drink and sliding on one hip to slam a booted foot into the groin of the behemoth who had assaulted Bruce.
All of this happened in under 10 seconds.
As Clint rolled smoothly to his feet and surveyed his work (the jock was lying on the floor, clutching himself), one of the other football players bellowed, "Hey, that's not right!"
Clint gave him a withering glare. "I think it works. He tossed in Icee on my boy Bruce, I kicked in the nards. Yeah, I think that's going to be a new rule."
It took a moment for the assembled group of letterman jackets to work out exactly what was happening, but they got there eventually and didn't like the view. Their spokesman, who had a truly horrible mullet, stalked towards Clint. "You don't get to make the rules, shrimp."
"Shrimp?" Oh, wonderful, Tony was moving into position to flank Clint. Just what the situation needed, more sarcasm. "Really, that's the best insult you could come up with?"
"Shut up!" the jock grunted and Jane sent out a rapid text for backup. "What's to stop me from beating the shit out of you to dwarfs?"
Stepping forward, looking surprisingly intimidating considering the fact that he was on eye level with the football player's chest, Clint bared his teeth. "Bring it, bitch. I've had a bad week and would love to work through my anger issues by feeding you your teeth."
His confidence seemed to give the larger boy pause and Tony filled the silence, saying, "Clint, maybe you're being a little unfair. This young man clearly emerged from the shallow end of the gene pool. You may be overestimating his ability to properly identify the danger you pose to him."
"Hey… What?" Hmmm, so the meathead realized he was being insulted, but didn't truly understand how or why.
The look in Tony's eyes indicated he realized this as well and fully intended to mess with the boy's head. Fortunately for all involved, before he even opened his mouth, Steve, Natasha and Thor came hurrying around the corner, Darcy on their heels. Jane saw Steve's eyes dart from Bruce, who was dripping lurid green Icee onto the linoleum, to Clint and Tony, both ready for a fight, to the jock on the floor and his buddies.
"Break it up!" he barked in his best Cap voice, striding into the center of the scene and hissing, "Stand down!" at Clint and Tony. Stopping before the lead jock, he said, "Pick up your friend and go."
Jane was surprised the boys had the common sense to realize they'd been out alpha maled. They were gone in less than a minute.
"That was epic!"
As one, the group turned to regard the speaker. A nice-looking blonde boy with a wide mouth was standing with a zaftig African-American girl, a porcelain skinned boy in a truly outrageous outfit and another boy wearing a bowtie. Each of them looked impressed and it was the blonde who had spoken, as he continued, "That sliding kick thing looked awesome."
The boy in the outfit was giving Bruce a look. "You need to clean up, or that syrup will stain your skin green. I think your outfit's a loss though."
Bruce looked down at himself, drips of green staining his previously pristine white shirt. "Nothing some bleach won't fix…and the green doesn't really show on my pants…."
"Trust me, burn them," the boy insisted very seriously, causing Jane to bite her lip."
"Be nice," bowtie chided gently. "C'mon, we've gotten Slushee cleanup down to a science. I'm Blaine."
As Bruce allowed the two dark-haired boys to usher him towards the bathroom (Clint following silently, just in case), the girl gave them all a nod. "Well, I guess you could say that the typical McKinley High 'Welcome' from…well, a lot of people hurl Slushees. I'm Mercedes and this is Sam."
Tony raised an eyebrow. "So, assault via iced beverage is a common occurrence?"
"For some of us," Sam said, seeming in good spirits about the whole idea. "Anyone unpopular or in Glee or both is pretty much a walking target."
Jane saw the set of Steve's jaw and knew what he was going to say even before Cap opened his mouth. "Someone mentioned the Glee club earlier. I was thinking of checking out the meeting. Mind if I walk with you?"
Wave a bully in front of Steve and he felt the need to stand up to them. The same could be said for the rest of the team, more or less.
Which was how they all wound up joining the New Directions Glee Club.
Comments, pretty please?