Part 1 of "Page Six" series of Hulkeye stories
Children, a party in Stark Tower, and a Halloween Ghost. It is, it is a glorious thing to be a Pirate King. Just for fun, I added links to all the costumes mentioned in the story. Thanks to Katya for her help and research. And, for the record, I'm in complete agreement with Thor ... and if JFR ever wants to play pirate, I'm available. :)
"Trick or Treat!"
An Iron Man, a princess, a pirate, a fairy, and two Hulks filled the hallway of Stark Tower. Pumpkin buckets bulged, full of candy, and the older kids who shepherded the motley crew carried bags overflowing with all kinds of sugary treats. Offices were decorated with flashing lights, cackling witches, and lots of fake webs, each group vying for the prize of Best Section. The lawyers had nixed the appearance of the real Iron Man and Hulk for 'safety reasons,' afraid that the Hulk would hurt a child or Tony's weapons might go off (no one really believed the Big Guy would hurt any munchkins), but the lawyers had spoken, so Tony formed a new plan. Childhood fantasies, he called it; what did you want to be when you grew up? Of course, no rules had been issued for the adult after party, so Clint was sure Tony had different ideas for that.
"Argh, mateys!" Clint called to the group. "There are punch and pumpkin cookies just down the hall. Plundering is thirsty work!"
"What are you supposed to be?" The ginger hair, older boy was probably 14-years-old, and he slouched against the wall in his jeans and hoodie, distain written on his face. Clint remembered that age well, when it wasn't cool to like Halloween any more.
"I," he said, swishing his fake saber, "am the Pirate King." The little kids giggled and he winked at them. With his purple silk shirt, black leather pants, red silk sash, and leather sword belt, Clint looked more like the Kevin Kline version than a real pirate. The hardest part had been finding the boots, but he was sure it would be worth it later when Bruce got a good look at them.
"Right. Like there are pirates today." Bad attitude oozed from the boy's whole body and posture. Clint ignored the jab and smiled at the others.
"We better hurry. I hear there's a cookie thief in the building, so if he gets there first …" The squeals were followed by a stampede of little feet; sulky teen followed more slowly, and Clint noticed he paused to peer into a lab. "Cute lab tech?" Clint asked.
"Yeah, that's it." The boy huffed and turned to follow the others into the room ahead.
"Ah, you're a science type then," Clint nodded sagely. "Want a tour?"
"Look, dude. For all I know, you could be a perv, right? I'm not going in there alone with you."
"Good boy." Clint pressed his thumb onto the security pad and the outer door slid open. "There are plenty of people working in here. Safety in numbers." He paused and waited. "You want to see?"
The boy shrugged but entered the room, eyeing the equipment curiously, moving through the tables. A female lab worker, dressed as Abby Sciuto from NCIS, came through with a tray of test tubes.
"So you wanted to be a lab tech when you grew up, Carol?" Clint asked her. The dark haired woman smiled in return. "Hey, this is … What's your name, kid?"
"Kevin." Gone was the cocky attitude, replaced by the awkwardness of a teenage boy around a pretty woman.
"Kevin's interested in science and would like a lab tour, right, Kev?" The boy managed a nod.
"Of course!" Carol answered. "Did you know that we're collaborating with someone who just won a Nobel Prize? He's working on neurotransmitters and brain chemistry." Kevin walked off with her, his eyes wide and excited.
"Carol," Clint called before they left the room, "bring him back in one piece by seven okay?"
The party was in full swing, kids mingling with both Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. employees, everyone in costumes. One of Tony's robots was serving punch, much to the delight of the children. Steve was surrounded; As Flash Gordon, his red shirt boasted a yellow lightning bolt, and he was passing out vintage candy. Tony had introduced him to Dylan's Candy Bar after he'd discovered Steve's sweet tooth, and now there were bowls of the stuff all over the common areas. Hair slicked back and fake laser pistol on his hip, or maybe not fake if Clint knew Tony's sense of humor, Steve was clearly enjoying himself as he asked the kids all sorts of questions about their costumes.
Pepper was in a colonial dress, hair neatly tucked into a bonnet, handing out Avenger themed school supplies; as Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, she was, as she had laughingly said, the power behind the throne. A number of other female employees were dressed as other women from history – Queen Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, and even a short-haired Joan of Arc – and they were all laughing and helping replenish the seemingly endless supply of cookies.
The biggest draw in the room was centered on Thor, Jane, and Darcy. Thor had worried about his costume, having wanted only to be a great warrior and king his whole life, but then he'd said that Jane had taken care of it. And she certainly had. Jane was a pink Power Ranger, complete with mask and big plastic gun. Thor was - well, damn, Clint thought, the Asgardian even made the spandex outfit of a red Power Ranger look good. But Darcy was over the top; dressed in a cosplay Nadira costume, she pouted and waved and gave shopping tips to all, handing out little boxes that looked suspiciously like ipods to every kid. Clint shook his head at the excess, but knew that Thor had recently discovered the exchange rate for gold and platinum and that being frugal just wasn't the God of Thunder's style.
"I have to give you credit," Natasha said. "You had a good idea." She paused to look at him. "The Pirate King, right? Or did you just want to drive Bruce crazy?"
"Hey, two birds, one stone. Nadezhda Durova?" Clint guessed. Nat beamed at him.
"Dead center!" Her hair was slicked back into a short male style, and she'd somehow minimized both her chest and hips, looking for the world like a young man in an 18th century cavalry uniform. "Oh, fair warning. Don't ask Thor about the Power Rangers. He's watched nine seasons so far and can argue the merits of Zeo versus Turbo. He spent 45 minutes this afternoon explaining why Time Force is his favorite."
Tony picked that moment to make his entrance; deerstalker hat, pipe in one hand, long black coat over an impeccable Edwardian suit, he shouted, "Watson! The game is afoot!" Leave it to Tony to pick an eccentric genius almost sociopathic detective as his hero.
As Clint watched the commotion, a figure caught his eye; the costume seemed familiar, and it took him a few moments to place it. The father's ghost from Hamlet. And not just any version of the ghost, but specifically Brannagh's production. Focusing, Clint let all the other sounds fade; he had blue eyes, was the right height, and, although he was too slim, the costume itself that told Clint all he needed to know.
"Clint?" Natasha asked. "What is it?"
"Do you remember London? 2008?" Nat's head turned to stare at him, and he nodded in the direction of the ghost, catching her eyes.
"Where?" She asked, and by the time Clint turned back, the figure was gone.
"Cover for me." With all of the distractions, slipping away to follow a ghost was easy, especially when Clint had a good idea where he was going. The evening was blustery and cool, and the balcony was splattered with rain drops, wind whipping around the glass barriers. He was waiting, elbows leaning on the railing.
"I swear that's the exact costume." Clint stopped a few feet away. "Or are you really a ghost sent to haunt us all?"
"Online auction to raise money for a charity." He offered Clint a wan smile. "I hear you've broken a few more rules, but that's not news."
"Same old, same old. Secrets upon secrets." Resting on his arms, Clint joined him, looking out over the city.
"How was Singapore?"
Clint laughed. "Still know everything before it even happens, eh?" They stood in silence together for a few minutes. "I suppose this is on a need-to-know basis." A look was all Clint needed. "Or you'll have to kill me. I know the drill, but Nat's probably already figured it out." No response but a quirk of his lips. Clint knew not to rush him; waiting was the only option.
"I haven't seen any post-psych eval reports in a while. You're behind on your schedule," he said calmly. Clint simply stared. "Paperwork is important."
"I'm not crazy. At least not any more than usual."
"Can you tell a hawk from a handsaw when the wind is southerly?" He pushed away from the railing and Clint noted how carefully he moved. "Finish those evals, agent. That's an order." He turned and went back inside; Clint stood for a long time, staring into the night.
"I don't know who's having more fun, the children or Tony." Bruce joined him and leaned back onto his elbows. "He's got PSPs for all of them when they leave. He's such a big kid."
Clint looked him up and down, and a grin split his face. "Damn. Cowboys are hot." Bruce was wearing all black with a low slung gun belt and matching cowboy hat, trimmed in silver. "Paladin, right?Have Gun, Will Travel?"
"Reruns on weekdays at 4 pm, just after I got home from school. I loved that time, before dad came home, just me and mom. She'd make me a peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich with a glass of milk."
"Strawberry Jam?" Clint pushed up and stepped in front of Bruce. "That's weird. Everyone knows you use grape jelly." He leaned in, propped on his hands, stopping just short of bodies touching. "Good thing I like weird." He kissed Bruce softly. "I could kidnap you and we could get to the plundering sooner."
"And miss the kids leaving and whatever debauchery Tony has planned for afterwards?" Bruce raised an eyebrow. "I'm looking forward to a semi-drunk pirate and that red sash."
"Okay, okay." Clint stepped back and they started in together. "You familiar with Hamlet?" At Bruce's look, Clint knew that was a dumb question. "Southerly wind. Know a hawk from a hand saw?"
"Ah, that's where Hamlet is talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and they're no longer sure if he is insane or just pretending to be insane. Unfortunately, whether he is mentally unbalanced or crazy like a fox, the bodies pile up. Wherever the wind blows him, that's what he's saying." Bruce held the door open and the warmth of the room hit them both, reminding them how cold it had grown outside.
"Like Bohemian Rhapsody. Anyway the wind blows," Clint said. "What? Queen rocks, doc." Bruce stopped and waited until Clint turned to look at him, the question unspoken. "First we find some rum, watch the Tony and Steve show for a bit, then the looting and pillaging." Clint headed into the noise of kids bundling up for the bus ride back to the home. "I'll tell you when I can, okay?"
"Um, hey, I just wanted to say thanks, for the lab thing, right?" Kevin detoured from the group as the two men approached. "It was really cool."
"Kevin, this is Dr. Banner. Bruce, Kevin." Clint took care of the introductions.
"Dr. Bruce Banner?" Kevin stared. "Um, I read about your work and did a science project on it last year. It was, um, awesome." He was as tongue-tied meeting Bruce as he had been around Carol.
"Really? I'd love to hear about it sometime. Maybe you can come back and tell me the details …" Bruce walked Kevin down the hallway and the two lapsed into science talk, Bruce's head bent down to hear Kevin's words. As they moved away, Clint turned back into the party, where Tony had already spiked the punch and opened the bar. Later, he thought. It always came down to later. Except for that damn paperwork. He just might have to move later up to sooner for both ghosts and cowboys.