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Fostering Hope

Chapter Text

Tony shifted in his seat, looking out the window as houses flew by. This was hardly the first time he'd been moved to a new home, but he still had the same feeling of nervousness. He wondered what these people would be like. They took in all of the at-risk kids, so they must be real hard asses, he guessed. Tony wasn't really sure what tagged him with that name, but it was in big red letters right next to his name on his file.

And, though he might not be a very strong reader, he understood enough to know that that wasn't normal. He’d seen other kid’s files, and none of them looked like his.

Still, it'd be nice to get away from the group home they'd locked him in the past month while "transitioning." Adults had all kinds of code names for things--most of which Tony understood through context. That one, however, was on the short list of words he had yet to crack.

"We're here." The woman driving said, pulling up on the curb and pushing the gear stick into park. She looked around, dark face lined with disappointment before she opened her door.

Tony had been expecting a, "best behavior”, or some other reprimand. Instead, his social worker seemed to understand it wasn't needed. Or more, it wouldn't be adhered to.

Tony tried. He really did try to sit still and listen and not act out. But his body didn't always listen to him. And when it did, sometimes his head still wouldn't. Tony hated the looks he always got when his desk was eventually moved to the side of the room to face a wall, always within the first week of starting a school.

"He's a disruption to the class," the teachers would say. Tony's head would be hung low, the same words repeated over and over again at every location.

This time, he was determined to make it different. He'd be so good he'd wipe everyone off their feet! He set his face with a strict look and opened tge car door.

The social worker didn't offer her hand as they walked up to the door or the decent sized house, and Tony was glad. He wasn’t some little kid that needed to be escorted everywhere. And people he didn’t know were not allowed to touch him.

Well, he did know the social worker. Her name was on the top of every file about him ever. She'd been there from day one, taking Tony from home to home and all of his school meetings when he'd get in trouble and the foster parents didn’t want to deal with it. But he didn't like her. She was always cross with a stern look across her face, never tempted to change when Tony tried to smile at her.

The woman wasn’t the embodiment of kindness, either. Her face held a permanent frown, wrinkles showing she had no intention of smiling any time soon. She wore old clothes, too. They almost looked worse than what Tony wore, and had their own shade of tattered and gross.

Tony never really talked to the woman, and she rarelt adrrsses him. Instead, they had settled on an agreement of silence to not bother each other.
The door swung open to a well built man with blond hair and an all-American smile dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with a three letter word Tony couldn’t read. Tony thoughr he kind of looked like a cartoon character with the way he stood, one hand on his hip with his legs spread just far enough apart to mark a classic Superman stance. All he was missing was the cape.

"Hey guys," he smiled cheerily.

The social worker nodded a hello and pushed Tony through the door with a hand on his back, sending a fresh spike of pain through his abdomen. Tony knew better than to push the hand away,but he hated the way he was always being shoved around. No one seemed to notice he had two legs and could walk just fine.

The blond man closed the door and smiled as another built man with long black hair tied back in a ponytail. He was wearing nurse scrubs, the light blue kind, and they had no flattering qualities to the man’s skin tone. Tony held back a laugh as he thought the man looked like he’d been shoved into girl’s clothes.

"Buck, you want to gather the kids?" The blond asked.

The dark haired man--"Buck"--took a look at Tony, then nodded and walked up the stairs.

The blond man led them into what looked like a living room and asked for Tony to take a seat.

The room itself looked straight out of a “Better Homes and Gardens,” decorated and honey in a way Tony didn’t think a real house could be. The gray couch looked soft and plush, and off in the corner, Tony could almost spot what looked like a toy bin.

Tony hesitated, unsure if this was a test or not. He'd been in homes where he wasn't allowed to touch furniture half as nice as this. Plus, his clothes weren't exactly clean, and neither was he. The group home didn't have many rules about hygiene, not that the staff would have cared enough to abide by them. But the showers were always cold and he had to pay the older kids to gain access to them.

But, when the man took a seat on the other couch, Tony took a chance and followed. It was a few moments of silence and Tony trying not to jump out of his seat that brought four more people into the room.

“Buck,” stepped off of the stairs and into the living room, followed by three kids, none of them older than twelve. The first was a boy with short black hair and a chiseled face. It was kind of weird to see on someone so young, but he was tiny, like a walking twig dressed in a purple shirt and jeans. He was picking at his ears, too, seeming to nervously rub them.

The other one was a girl with long red hair and a sharp face. She glared at Tony, making him shift in his seat. She wore a shirt with flowers on the front, but Tony wouldn't let that fool him into thinking she was dainty.

The last one was another boy, younger than Tony. He hand longer, curly hair that fell into his soft face. Only once did Tony catch the boy's amber eyes before the fell right back to the floor.

"Okay, now that we have the whole crew here, I believe it's time for introductions." The blond man smiled, letting everyone take a seat. "First off, I'm Steve and this is James. Bucky, if you'd like."

Steve pointed to each person in turn, naming the older boy as Clint, the girl Natasha, and the youngest as Bruce. Tony bit on his lip, trying not to comment as he wanted to.

"Everyone, this is Tony, the boy we've been telling you about." Steve seemed much more pleased about Tony's presence than the rest of the family.

It was awkward to sit there in silence. But, Tony wasn't really ever happy to just sit. And silence made his “wiggling” worse. Finally, Steve seemed to have picked up on that and let everyone go back to what they were doing. Natasha took Bruce's hand and Clint followed them up the stairs.

"Do you have a bag with you?" Steve asked.
Tony shook his head no.

Steve seemed to dislike that answer, but simply took a breath and held a hand out for Tony.

“Thank you for dropping him off; I think we have it from here.” Steve said to the social worker.

She simply nodded, sending Tony a look he couldn’t quite decipher before grabbing her bag and walking towards the door.

“Let me show you your room,” Steve said, hand still out-reached.

After a moment and some wiggling fingers, Tony reluctantly took the hand and followed the blond man up the stairs.

Tony took note of the layout, finding the four-bedroom house oddly shaped. Natasha's room was right by the stairs, what was clearly Clint's room sharing a bathroom. On the other side was a large, open room with a massive bed in the middle. Next door was the room that Steve led Tony into.

It wasn't small by any means, but it definitely wasn't huge, either. In both corners sat a twin size bed, the one on the right sporting a green cover with a picture of some weird cartoon character permanently smiling. On the left side was a small night stand with a few children’s books stacked on the bottom, and a simple tinted shade lamp on top.

The other side had nothing more that a blue bed spread over light gray sheets, neatly made with military precision, and a dark wood night stand with nothing on it.

Between the two beds, in the middle of the room, sat a large carpet designed to look like a city. The roads winded through small paths between buildings, even going so far as giving parking spots to each building.

"This will be your bed." Steve smiled, walking in and straightening out imaginary creases on the far bed. Tony followed, not sure what to do with himself.

"I'm sorry you have to share with Bruce, but he isn't loud and I'm sure he won't bother you."
Tony nodded, just appreciating the fact that he didn't have to share a bed. And the fact that he had a bed.

Steve stood around for a second more before smiling and walking towards the door.

"I'll let you settle in, then." He smiled over his shoulder. With a nod of his head, he was out of the room.

Tony let out a breath of air, flopping down on what was now his bed and staring at the ceiling. This house was about as weird as the people living in it. And why did two men just decided to tag-team raising a bunch of foster kids? None of it made sense.

"So what's your deal?" A slurred voice asked, breaking his train of thought.

Not that Tony really had a train. One of iis teachers had called it a hummingbird. “Constantly going and never staying in one place for long.”

Tony sat up, looking toward the door where the other three kids stood defensively. Man, he headed initiation games more than switching homes. He really wasn't in the mood to play alpha-dog. And fighting on the first day didn't seem like a great way to start his “best behavior” thing.

"I'll only be here for a few months, tops. There's no need for you guys to do this." Tony said, standing up. He was an uncomfortable head shorter than the older, but taller than the younger one by quite a bit.

He knew from past experience he was worth nothing but shit in a fight, but that wouldn’t stop him. When he moved to take stance, though, he was reminded of the sharp pain in his chest.

"We don't care about that." Clint said, making himself at home as he leaned against the door-jam, still holding the younger boy’s hand. "Why don't you have any clothes with you? And how'd you end up with the red word? You can't be any more than a three, tops."

Tony rolled his eyes. The numbering system for at-risk kids was the stupidest thing on earth.
"Four." Tony said, eyeing the older boy. "But not for anything like you think."

Natasha gave him a once over, then seemed to be disinterested in the whole thing and left for her room.

"What about your clothes?" Clint pushed on.
Tony looked down at the only t-shirt and pants he now owned, snarling. "They were burned a week ago by the kids at the group home. They didn't like me much either. So, if you want to take something of mine or break it, you’re fresh-out of luck"

Clint's expression softened, and his eyes turned down. "Everyone in this house has been there," he said, looking back up.

After a moment, he took Bruce's hand and walked away from the room.

Tony wasn't sure what just happened, but when he turned to take a seat back on his bed, there was another knock on the door. Clint stood once more, watching as Bruce walked toward Tony with outstretched arms.

"Take them. He won't leave until you do." Clint said.

Tony looked back down at the young boy, catching a small glimpse of his dark brown eyes before the shot away. Tony took the folded shirt and shorts, nodding a thanks as the boy retreated to Clint.

"Take a shower and clean up. You'll feel better," Clint advised, walking back away from the room.
A glint of light flashes off the older boy's ears, making Tony look a little closer for a second. And then he realized what it was: hearing aides. Clint was deaf, or at least hard-of-hearing.

Tony had only met one other kid with hearing aides, and he hadn’t made it very long in the group home. Ont of the older kids had yanked her implant of of her ear and smashed it under his foot. He didn’t come back, either.

Suddenly, Clint’s sympathy touched Tony a lot more. He wasn't just offering Tony a shirt and pants, but a small glimpse of friendship too. He knew where Tony was coming from, and was offering help.

Tony smiled softly. Maybe there was a small possibility that it wouldn't be so bad here.

Chapter Text

Tony made his shower quick as possible, scrubbing off the crusted on dirt but taking care around the bruises on his chest. He realized he'd forgotten a towel when he stepped out, but decided to just shake his head and air dry for a second before redressing in the barrowed clothes. They were many times too big for him, but he just held up the shorts and made due.

When he stepped out of the bathroom, Tony almost regretted it immediately. A loud scream was coming from Clint's room, followed by Natasha running out of her room and to what must have been the master. Just as he was about to retreat back into the bathroom, Clint came running out of his room with a large smile across his face, Steve trailing.

Bruce poked his head out of Clint's room with a soft smile as Clint ran to Natasha's room, screaming, "I GOT IT, I GOT IT!"

Steve fell down in defeat, breathing heavily. "Another game to the short ones." He sighed with a playful smile.

Bruce giggled, hiding his face behind a tattered blue blanket that had most defiantly seen better days.

When Steve stood up, he took notice of Tony for the first time, smiling as he waved. "Just a game of toy tag."

Just as Tony was about to ask what that was, Clint ran towards Steve, tackling him back to the floor. Steve released a counter attack of tickles, making Clint wiggle and laugh as he rolled around on the floor.

Steve stood back up, lifting Clint back to his feet.

"Are those Clint's clothes?" Steve asked after staring at Tony for a moment.

Tony's grip tightened on the pants as he looked down. Maybe the didn't like that Clint was lending him clothes. He should have just put on his old ones.

"Yeah, I figured he had to wear something to school tomorrow." Clint said, still slightly out of breath.

Steve smiled, rustling the older boy's hair. "That was nice of you." He looked at Tony once more. "We should get you some of your own clothes, though. Clint seems to be a bit bigger than you."

Tony nodded. After a moment, someone yelled that dinner was ready, and everyone filed down the stairs. Tony followed, hopeing that food would be on the end of his trip.

The dinning table was set with plates and cups, each person taking a seat without another thought. Tony waited until the rest of the seats were full before taking the chair next to Bruce. The younger boy still had his blanket, now in his lap as he reached for a plastic cup of water.

Bucky sat a few pots on the table, featuring potatoes and corn and some white poofy thing that looked like bleached broccoli. In a glass tray sat a large hunk of meat loaf cut into slices. The adults helped where was needed, but the kids mostly served themselves.

Tony wasn't really sure what to do when Steve grabbed his plate and spooned on one of everything. He sat the plate back down in front of Tony with an encouraging smile, then went to help Bruce.

All of it felt like a post card form some small town. Tony must be dreaming. Foster parents that played with kids and made large meals? There was just no way it was real. There had to be something up with this family.

Tony looked around the table, but didn't find any answers. The kids seemed normal enough. The dark haired dude seemed a little weird and the blond was a little too chipper. But nothing that set off alarms. So why did Tony have this sinking feeling in his stomach, like the second boot was going to drop at any moment.

Finally, he couldn't take the silence anymore.

"This doesn't make sense. None of it does. You all look like some all-America family! There must have been some mix up, right?" Tony asked, looking frantically from one person to another.

"Tony, no. You're supposed to be here." Steve said, seemingly taken aback by the sudden outburst.

"But you're too normal! This isn't the kind of place a kid goes to from a group home! This looks like a level one house!" Tony looked towards Clint, who just shook his head and stared at his food.

"Bud, look. We try really hard to make this something more than another foster house. It's home. You get a room. You have rules to follow." Steve calmly explained. "This is a place we want you to feel safe. You're not a bad kid, you just need a little help."

"Then why am I here?" Tony could feel tears burning the back of his eyes. "If you say I'm not a bad kid, why am I here?"

"Sometimes the state takes on too much," Bucky said--the first words Tony heard form the man all day. "They put labels that don't belong where is easiest because of the amount of kids. We're here to help rectify some of the labels that may have been attached without a second examination."

Tony started at Bucky, unsure of what to say. He looked around the table, where Clint had one hand over his ear and the other holding a fork. Natasha seemed to just pick at her food, green eyes glancing around the table quickly before returning to her plate.

"So what's wrong with them?" Tony asked, then immediately regretting it as Natasha shot daggers with her eyes.

"Nothing is wrong with them. They needed a little extra help, just like you." Steve said.

"If you really want to know, I'm half deaf, Natasha is a selective mute, and Brucie doesn't deal well with people." Clint said, happily ignoring the looks from both Steve and Bucky. "But, I've got hearing aides now and I'm learning sign, Natasha is able to communicate her needs, and Brucie can function enough to go to school three days a week. And it because of them."

Steve looked like he wanted to say something, but Tony didn't give him the chance. "And who are they to you?"

Clint looked at both men, then proudly said, "he's pops, and he's dad."

Now Tony understood. Steve and Bucky must be married. And Clint had been adopted. He wondered if the other two had as well.

Tony let the rest of dinner pass without a word, then ran up to his room and happily buried himself under his covers. The bed was soft and the sheets must have just been washed, fresh with the sent of detergent. He swore to himself to stay quiet and out of the way of these new people. Maybe they'd just forget he was here and they'd let him stay a little bit. They seemed nice.

He fell asleep with dreams of a new life, away from this insufferable system.

Chapter Text

Tony woke up to a hand shaking his shoulder.

"Come on, time to get ready for school." Steve smiled, waiting until Tony sat up to start on Bruce.

Tony didn't really remember falling asleep, but he must have since it was morning now.

"I got you a few shirts and a pair of pants from the attic. They might be a little worn, but they'll die until we can go shopping." Steve said, setting a stack on the end on Tony's bed. "Go ahead and get dressed, then head down stairs. We have a lot to talk about this morning."

Tony groaned. The "new school" walk was such a pain in the neck. But, determined to not get kicked out of another home, he pulled his butt off the bed and got dressed. The clothes actually fit pretty well, which surprised Tony. The only other boys in the house were much older or much younger than him, so why did they have clothes on his size?

He put the question in the back of his head and walked down stairs, passing Bucky as he got Bruce ready in the hallway.

Steve stood at the stove with a pan in his hand, rattling off questions to which Clint threw back answers.

"Backpack?"

"Yeah."

"Lunch box?"

"Yup."

"Homework?"

"Duh."

"In a folder?"

Clint hunched his shoulders, reaching into his black bag to pull out several loose pieces of paper. "It will be."

"Thank you." Steve said, turning the stove off with a loud click and turning to plate the eggs.

He looked over at Natasha who sat at the table, asking, "Do you have everything?"

Natasha nodded, holding up her lavender book bag with initials monogrammed on the front.

"Thank you," Steve said, starting to bring plates to the table. "Breakfast is ready!"

Clint came back into the room, holding a green folder with a few papers sticking out, then put it all into his bag. He dragged it with him to the table, lettingit slump against his seat before he dug into his eggs.

"Where's Tony?" He asked as Bucky stepped into the room, holding the hand of Bruce.

Bucky pointed to Tony, causing Steve to turn around and laugh.

"You were here the whole time?" He asked.

Tony nodded, swallowing any words he may have really wanted to say. If he stayed quiet, he wouldn't say anything that's get him in trouble.

"Well, go grab a seat and we'll run you trough your new school schedule." Steve said, patting Tony's back to get him going.

Tony listened, taking his seat next to Bruce again. He almost couldn't believe there was a hot breakfast sitting in front of him, but, nothing about this house really seemed real anymore.

"Okay, you're seven, which will put you in second grade. Are you comfortable with that?" Steve had his seat at head of the table, right next to Tony, reading off a few papers.

Tony's eyebrows furrows in confusion. Was he just asked if he wanted to go to school?

"You're scores in math and science are high, but you're behind in reading and writing, so the school has recommended keeping you with your age group. I just wanted to make sure that's what you want." Steve continued.

Tony nodded. It didn't matter, honestly. In three months, he'd probably be in a whole different county.

"Okay, then, you're teacher is going to be Mr. Wilson. She had Clint a few years back and is a very nice lady." Steve flipped the papers. "We can grab any supplied form the office before we go. She asked that you bring something from home to tell the class about yourself, but you don't have to."

Tony was a little overwhelmed with the information, but tried to follow along. This was a lot more in-depth then the usual "don't act up," talk he got.

"Clint and Natasha are both in the middle school across the yard. If you need anything, they have been told to help you. I know they seem big and scary because they're twelve, but they'll look out for you, right?" Steve looked up at the end of his sentence.

"Right!" Clint yelled, causing Bruce to cover his ears and Bucky to send him a "settle down" look.

Natasha just nodded curtly.

"And Bruce will be down the hall in Miss Macimoff’s room Monday's, Wednesday's, and Friday's." Steve went on.

Tony nodded again, let all the information process for a second.

When they finished eating, Steve led him down a hall and into a small office. He was told that he could use any thing in the room so long as it was not already being used, and that the "kid's computer" was in the corner for schoolwork only.

Steve then went to the closet and pulled out two notebooks, a folder, a pack of pencils, a pencil bag, and a large pink eraser. Just when Tony thought that it wouldn't get any weirder, he was handed a red backpack.

"I hope the color's okay." Steve said, having Tony hold it open as he put all of the supplies in. "It was all the had last minute."

No way was Tony getting new school supplies and a backpack. It was just... impossible. That was something good kids got, not him. He hasn't done anything! And if he had, if most defiantly would not earn him this!

Just as he was about to shake his head and hand it all back, Bruce walked into the room holding his hand out.

Steve smiled, pulling a pencil out of a cup on his desk and letting Bruce have it. The boy smiled happily, then ran back out of the room.

"It's an exercise, sorry." Steve smiled, hand on Tony's back once more as they walked out of the room. "The more Brucie interacts with people, they more comfortable he gets. Normally he'd have to say please and thank you, but I let it slide today."

"But why does he need a pencil?" Tony questioned as they started walking out the door and to the large SUV.

"Because he needs one for school." Steve explained, letting the subject drop.

Tony gave up. This family was just too weird.

Chapter Text

Tony next to Bruce's booster seat in the back of the SUV, pleasantly surprised by the amount of room in the third row of seats. Natasha and Clint claimed the middle seats as the oldest and Steve had said it was safer for Bruce to sit in the back.

The school wasn't small, but it wasn't huge, either. Steve parked the car out front and everyone filed out. Clint and Natasha took off for the middle school, Bucky yelling after them to slow down before they tripped. The warning was ignored.

Steve placed a hand on Tony's shoulder when the got into the building, leading the boy through the halls and towards what must have been the office. Bucky Followed behind carrying Bruce who happily chewed on a few fingers in his mouth.

"Mr. Rogers," a woman with fat lips greeted. She wore large earnings that hung low and a necklace to match, all gold plated. The blouse she wore matched her lipstick, but did nothing for her complexion. She was not an ugly woman, but she clearly had no sense of what did and did not look good on her. "Good to see you again."

Steve reached out his hand and shook the woman's, a large smile on his face. "Good to see you too, Tracy. Is Fury in?"

The woman--Tracy--nodded. "Just go on back, I'm sure you know where his office is."

Steve nodded an affirmation and walked back, pushing Tony once more. Tony was going to reach back and bite him if he started pushing too hard.

Steve mocked on the door even though it was open to show a very neat office with a large man sitting at a desk. The man looked up, showing the black patch that covered his left eye.

"Principle Fury," Steve nodded as he walked in, Tony and Bucky following.

"Rogers, good to have you in." Fury said, festering for them to take a seat. "How's Bruce doing?"

"Better. He's looking forward to school a lot more and I think we're almost ready to go to four days a week, but not yet." Steve said as he sat down, letting Bucky take the seat closer to the door.

"That's good." Fury smile, an odd look for a mean that seemed to be able to crush people with a single glare. Tony shivered at the thought of being on his bad side, but knew he wouldn't be able to stop the inevitable.

"What can I do for you today?"

"We just wanted Tony to meet you before classes start." Steve said, looking over to Tony with an encouraging smile.

"Ah, yes, you're new ward." Fury nodded, setting aside his pen as he looked Tony up and down.

"We just wanted to make sure he knew who you were and were to come if anything here gets to be too much." Steve smiled.

Tony had to hold back a burst of laughter. No way in hell was he going to run to this guy if he got in trouble. He'd rather not die, thank you.

After Steve had extanged a few more words with Fury, Steve led them out of the office and down more halls where Students were starting to gather.

"This is your room, okay?" Steve said, pointing to the number on a blue plate stuck to the wall. "110, and Mr. Wilson will be your teacher."

Tony nodded, looking at the kids in line. Most of them were dressed in tshirts and jeans or sweat pants--most of which didn't match--but one kid stood out. He wore a Polo shirt with the guy on horseback playing away on the logo sewn to the front under his collar bone, slacks that had clearly been ironed hanging from his hips with a real-leather belt holding them up. Tony wouldn't have paid him any mind if it hadn't been for the kid's pleased smirk.

"If want to see Bruce, he'll be in room 102, okay?" Steve went on, clearly trying to jam the last few tid-bits of information into Tony before he had to go. "Bucky, is there anything we're missing?"

Bucky shook his head after thinking for a second, seeming to calm Steve a bit.

"Okay, were going to drop Bruce off now. I'll be back to pick you up when school lets out. Stay in the room, I'll come to you. Any questions?"

Tony shook his head, already blown away that any foster parent was this doting on a kid they didn't know. It was like every first day of school event Tony's ever seen on TV. He had to glancing around just to make sure he wasn't dreaming.

"Okay, we'll see you soon! Have fun!" Steve said, rustling Tony's hair before heading down the hall.

Tony shook his head, coming through it with his fingers as he started at the men walking away. Something about them was just off.

"Hey," someone said, pulling Tony's attention away from the two men. "Hey, kid."

Tony turned around to see that Polo-shirt himself was talking.

"What's your name?"

Tony eyed the boy for a second before deciding he might as well tell him.

"Tony."

"Cool. I'm Justin." The boy held his hand out.

Tony eyed the hand. "What are you, an old man?" He asked, ignoring it.

"No, I'm a gentleman. Something someone like you clearly knows nothing about." Justin said, taking back his hand with a snarl.

Tiny rolled his eyes, ignoring the kid as he fell into line. Justin tried to get his attention a few more times before a large man in a tie showed up and opened the door, learning them inside the class room.

"Alright, class, please take your seats." He instructed, flicking on the lights and making way to his desk.

Tony sighed, hating this part almost as much as everything else about school. The teacher asked him to take a seat, he didn't have a seat, he'd get to stand up and introduce himself and say two things he liked, and then he'd be assumed. Two days later, he'd be facing a wall.

He waited to the side as kids filled their seats, seeming to take forever until the teacher looked up as saw that To y had not yet found a place to sit.

"You must be Anthony Stark." The teacher smiled warmly. "Welcome to my second grade class."

Tony nodded, adjusting the back pack he had slung over one shoulder.

"You can take cubby twenty-two and any empty seat you see." He said, looking back down at his roster to start what Tony thought was attendance.

Tony walked along the rows of cubbies to the third-to-last one, finding the number twenty-two above it in black writing. He shoved his back pack in, grabbing a note book and a pencil before turning around to look for empty seats.

There were only two, one by the Polo-shirt kid, and another by a dark skinned boy. Tony rolled his eyes, guessing it didn't matter anyway, and took a seat by the dark skinned boy.

Tony put his notebook and pencil into the desk, then started to pull it away from small pod it formed with three other students. Mr. Wilson looked up at the sound of a moving desk, walking over to Tony as the other students started to talk.

"Anthony, what are you doing?" He asked, placing a hand on the top of the desk.

"Moving my desk." Tony answered easily. "It'll be easier if I just do it now than if you have to wait a few days to tell me to."

Mr. Wilson looked concerned at that answer, but seemed to focus on something else. "Well, how about we see how you do here for now, hum? I'm sure James, Virginia, and Harold would like to get to know you first."

Tony eyed the other three kids. The dark skinned one had short black hair, but a kind face that smiled when Tony looked at him. His desk's name tag named him James Rhodes. Tony laughed at the fact that the kid and his foster dad shared a name. Virginia Potts, the red haired girl, looked kind enough. But she didn't seem like the kind of kid Tony would want to cross any time soon. Harold Hogan had a thicker face with a frown, clearly a little over weight and not happy about it.

Yeah, he guessed he could at least give them a shot. Soon enough he'd be in the corner, but he could try for friends.

Tony let Mr. Wilson glide the desk and chair back into place, then took a seat. He could see Justin sending him glares, but didn't care enough to acknowledge them.

Today was going to be a long day.

Chapter Text

Tony's whole body felt like it was vibrating as Mr. Wilson started spelling the words of the week. He had to keep focusing his eyes back on the board as his teacher wrote out each word, sounded them out, spelled it a few times, then moved on to the next. It wasn't hard to follow along to, but Tony's attention was always pulled away by one thing or another.

Tony was happy Mr. Wilson hadn't made him introduce himself, so he was trying to stay in the man's good graces, but it didn't seem to be working. He started tapping the desk with his eraser, taking deep breaths as he looked at the next word.

"Entire," Mr. Wilson said as he wrote the word out in neat handwriting. "Does anyone know what that means?"

A few hands went up, but Tony noticed that no one at his table volunteered, despite the fact that the red head was writing down the definition.

A student answered and Mr. Wilson went on.

"Hey, how come you didn't answer?" Tony asked, voice low so as not to be heard by anyone not on his table.

The red head looked up with a glare, shaking her head. Tony understood now wasn't the time to talk, but he wanted an answer.

"But why?"

This time, Tony got glares from the whole table. He decided that maybe he'd just wait a bit, just until they switched subjects or something, then he'd ask again. Better than having all of these people hate him on his first day.

Mr. Wilson wrote out four more words, which made a total of ten. He then gave them all instructions to start writing sentences using each word. They could work with teams, but they had to stay on a level two or they'd lose talking privileges.

Tony took his chance and turned to The red head, but she spoke before he could ask.

"I don't like to answer questions in class." She answered coldly, eyes not leaving her paper as she started writing her sentances.

Tony sighed, turning to the James kid. "What's her deal?"

"Come on, that's just rude." James said, shaking his head. "She's just a serious person."

Tony squinted at the kid as if he'd lost his mind. "This table's lame." He decided. "What about happy over here, why the long face?"

The chubby face kid scowled again. "What's wrong with you?"

Tony's eyes narrowed, but his anger was short lived. "Happy" was right. There was something wrong with him. There were a lot of things wrong with him. That's why no one kept him around or wanted to be his friend. It's why he had just wanted to move his desk to the corner first thing, that way no one would give him that look and make him.

"Hey, hey," the chubby kid said, scowl falling into a look of concern. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that."

Tony was about to ask why the kid was apologizing when he reached up to feel his face, realizing he was crying.

He wiped at his eyes and nose, then turned away. " 'M fine."

He waited for the three kids to settle back into their work before he grabbed his pencil. It was dull, and he didn't like writing with dull pencils. He scanned the room for a sharpener, finding a hand-cranked one by the door.

He stood up, making his way towards it. The hand cranked kind were always a little tricky. You had to let the pencil turn a bit as you cracked it, that way it wouldn't just grind away at one side of the pencil, without really giving you the ability to write with it. That was a lot more annoying than a dull pencil.

The old machine screamed out as Tony turned the handle. It needed some serious care, but it'd still work. He put the pencil in, letting it turn every few seconds and pulled it out after a bit. The old machine worked better than it let on, producing a perfectly sharp pencil.

"Anthony" a man's deep voice spoke out, causing Tony to jump before turning around. "You need to raise your hand and ask permission to leave your seat."

Mr. Wilson stood with one eyebrow raised and a serious look on his face. He didn't look like he was trying to come of as a threat, but to Tony it still felt that way. The man looked scary.

"Do so again and we will be moving your color."

This was when Tony really wished he was an adult so he could say some bad words. Every school seemed to have this behavioral chart which revolved around colors. Depending on where he was, the first color was green or blue, and the amount of colors varied. Mostly, they worked like stop lights: green, yellow, red. Sometimes it was green, blue, yellow, red, and sometimes you even had black and brown. But it didn't matter how many steps there were or how many warnings he got, Tony was almost always on the last color by the end of the day.

Tony made quick work of walking back to his desk and sitting down, mad at himself for not having thought of that first. Most teachers liked you to ask first. Stupid, idiot brain for not thinking of that.

"Where are your vocabulary words?" Mr. Wilson asked when he followed Tony back to his desk.

Looking down at his paper, Tony realised that he had only written down one single word. Only one word, he hadn't even gotten to writing his name.

Honestly, Tony didn't even really know why he didn't write them all down. It's not like he had been doing anything else. But he only had the first word written down in his sloppy handwriting. Even for a second grader, he knew it was atrocious. Maybe he could practice that instead and not have to worry about the spelling words. It's not like he was going to get any of them right anyway. Mr. Wilson could just give him a zero and move on.

Tony turned around to speak to his teacher, only to find that the man was rummaging through his desk. Tony watched for a moment as he pulled a paper out of a folder and walked back towards Tony.

"For today only, I will let you use this print out. From now on, I would like you to write the vocabulary words down, understood?" Mr. Wilson asked, holding the paper out with every word printed out from a computer.

"No thank you, Mr. Wilson." Tony said, looking down at his paper. "I'm just going to work on something else."

"Anthony, as much as I love having feedback from my students as what they'd like to do, it is English time, and we must work on our spelling words on Monday's."

Tony could see the looks a few of his classmates sent him. They were annoyed that he was already being loud and in the way. Whatever, he didn't want to make friends anyway. Tony took the paper and sat at his desk with no further comment.

"What're we supposed to be doing?" He asked his group. All three of them sent him a stink eye and didn't respond.

Yeah, whatever. He could figure this out. What was with all these kids? They seemed so... robotic.

Actually, scratch that. Tony had met robots that had more personality. Maybe he could make one like that some day. It wasn't impossible, he'd just need the parts. He'd start with the easy stuff, and he could add more programs later.

Yeah, he could learn how to fetch like a dog and play pretend and Tony would always have someone to talk to, so he'd have to give the robot some kind of ability to talk back. Not with words, because Tony didn't think he could do that yet. But there were other ways to communicate.

Maybe Clint could teach him some signs in that hand-motion language he used sometimes. And the robot would need a camera to see everything, and Tony could program it to recognize people and toys and everything!

"What's that?" James asked, peering over at Tony's note book.

Tony was pulled out of his thoughts, looking up at his group mate. "None of your business."

James's eyebrows pulled together, eyes narrowing. "Fine then. I was just going to say it looks cool." And, with that, he turned his shoulder.

Tony looked down at his drawing, labels on every part and accessory, with a list of things he'd have to figure out how to program written down the right side. He'd spent a good chunk of time on it, so it did look okay.

"Alright everyone, it's time to turn in your work, please." Mr. Wilson said, standing up to hold out a tray. "Group one."

A couple of kids stood up from across the room and walked over, followed by each group after the pervious sat down.

Tony panicked, realizing he'd been drawing and not working. He flipped to the page before and wrote down his name as quick as he could until group four was called and his table stood up. Tony followed, turning his paper in upside down after James and before the happy kid. Mr. Wilson called the next table as they sat down.

He was going to get in a lot of trouble when Mr. Wilson looked at those papers, but he didn't seem to be doing so now. Now he was setting up for math.

The rest of the day passed in relative peace. Tony flipped his card twice, finding it was the simple four color system. He had been able to stay on Green longer than normal, but that may have been because of new-kid syndrome. They laid off him a little bit, but, eventually, it'd wear off. Blue had been after two warnings to not get out of his seat. Yellow came because he had been running in the hall after recess, even after Mr. Wilson said not to.

In Tony's defense, he was being trailed by that weird Justin kid. The dude wouldn't leave him alone, constantly trailing in his leather boat shoes and Polo shirt.

The end of the day was the best part, though, because they were allowed some learning free time in class, which meant they could play some educational games or work on homework or pretty much anything as long as it was for school.

"Mr. Wilson!" Tony asked, a little louder than he should have.

"Yes, Anthony." He asked over his glasses with a smile.

That was something Tony liked about this guy that made him different than other teachers--he didn't blame Tony. Sure, he corrected, punished and scolded, but he didn't seem to be the blaming kind of teacher--the kid that yelled and said Tony was just a bad student.

Or maybe Mr. Wilson just understood that Tony knew that he was a bad student, and didn't feel the need to tell him.

"May I play with the computers, please?" Tony asked, making sure to use all of the manors he could muster.

Mr. Wilson looked a tad bit perplexed. "I don't think any of those desktops work, buddy. I've been trying to get Mr. Stane to come in and fix them, but he hasn't found the time."

"I know, that's why I want to play with them, please?" Tony held his hands together like he was praying, doing his best impression of puppy dog eyes.

Mr. Wilson's face twisted in thought. "I suppose there's no harm in letting you poke around."

Tony smiled. "Thank you Mr. Wilson!"

He ran over to a desk pushed into the area between the cubbies and the windows, pulling out the two chairs and crawling under the desk. The old HPs had long passed their prime, but they didn't look too bad.

Tony pulled the power supply, monitor, keyboard, and mouse wires out, leaving just the CPU. He ran his hand along the top, removing dust and looking for screws. It looked like this was a snap-on model, meaning Tony would just have to find the anchors and then he could pull the components free of their casing.

A few minutes later Tony was sitting at the desk, having hauled the CPU onto the surface to get a better view. He was going to need a screw driver to do anything more, but, for now at least he could try to figure out if the problem had to do with hardwear. Other than a thick layer of dust, Tony didn't see anything wrong. Maybe if he plugged it back into the power supply, he could let it run for a second and see if everything is working properly.

After he had plugged the CPU back in and did a thorough check, he was tapped on the shoulder. Tony looked up to see Steve standing behind him with that all-American grin of his.

"Hey, bud." He smiled. "What'cha working on?"

And for once, Tony found himself actually smiling back. "Mr. Wilson said the computers aren't working so I pulled it apart to figure out what's wrong. This one doesn't seem to have any hardware problems, but I haven't checked the other one."

Steve's eyebrows came together in the middle, one slightly higher than the other. "That's awesome. I didn't know you were so good with computers."

Well duh, he'd only been with them for a little over a day. But, still it gave Tony a funny feeling in his stomach to hear that Steve was impressed.

"Come on bud, it's time to grab Bruce and head home." Steve said, reaching out a hand.

What was with this guy and hand holding? Tony wasn't sure, but he still took the blonds hand and walked the ten feet to his cubby, grabbing his back pack and slinging it over his shoulders.

He waved good-bye to Mr. Wilson, then he and Steve made their way down the hall to Bruce's classroom. Tony wasn't sure if he could walk into the classroom or not, but Steve was tugging him in, so he just followed along.

This classroom almost seemed more colorful than Tony's, stocked with all kinds of toys and play-things. Tony wondered if it was school or play-land.

"Hey Brucie!" Steve smiled big and open, arms out wide as the small boy walked to him. Steve crouched down and pulled Bruce into a hug. "Did you have fun today?"

Bruce nodded, wiping at his nose as his big brown eyes fell on Tony. Bruce pointed with a questioning look.

"He's here to pick you up, too! Steve smiled. "Isn't that cool!"

Bruce took a second, then nodded very lightly.

"Alright! What'd'ya' say to getting home?" Steve asked, already moving to pick him up.

Bruce nodded again, resting his head on Steve's shoulder.

They met up with Clint and Natasha in the car, who were both blabbering on about some homework assignment they'd been given and didn't want to do. Steve jumped into the drivers seat after having strapped Bruce in, and they headed home.

Chapter Text

A dinner of Mac and cheese, a shower, and then bed. Only to wake up and do it again the next day. Tony didn't understand this school thing at all. This time though, Bruce stayed home and Bucky took them to school.

Natasha and Clint took off for the middle school, Bucky didn't even bother to tell them to slow down as he took Tony into the building and dropped him off at class.

The day was totally average. Tony drew all through English, designing another robot and turning in another blank sheet but Mr. Wilson didn't seem to notice. Math was easy as always, and Tony finished the independent work in ten minutes, then went back to his robots.

James was talking to him, which was nice. It was kind of like having a friend, but not really. He was still a lot closer with the other two. James did warn Tony about Justin, though.

"That kid gets everything he wants, and he's not nice." James said at lunch. "I'd stay real clear of him."

Tony didn't need to be told that. He hadn't like the kid's slimy nature since day one.

By the time Friday rolled around, Tony was finally settled into his new school and foster family. Or, as settled as he could be.

Steve had gotten him a few pairs of pants and shirts, a pair of tennis shoes, and a whole ton of underwear and socks. Mixed with the hand-me-downs that Tony still didn't know who had previously owned, it was a pretty decent wardrobe. Better than he'd had in a long time. He even had pajamas. Like, actual, not-just-a-shirt, pajamas. With matching pants.

They were a little childish, but Tony didn't really mind. They were much softer to sleep in than his other clothes.

He was finding out more and more about his foster family, too. Bucky worked at a veterans hospital, teaching people how to work and live now that they were back on home soil. Apparently, him losing an arm in the service made him a real hit with the guys. Clint and Natasha said they went once with school and helped the men and women hang Christmas decorations and they'd had a blast. Clint said he really liked some of the war stories.

Steve was a book editor for some arctic-animal company. They both used to be in the Army, which is how they met. Now Steve works from home because all he does is read over things and send them back to the company. That's why he can stay home with Bruce every other day.

Tony thought they were a really odd couple at first. The stoic-faced solider meets the all-American daisy that's always ready for a smile. But they worked with flawless efficiency. It was something Tony hadn't really ever seen before. Like a long-lasting friendship that started with no end in sight. He gaged with Clint when the two kissed, but he liked that the couple never really argued. Over little things, sure, but not big blow-outs like some homes.

Bruce had also taken a bit of a liking to Tony, which even Steve was surprised by. He'd sit with Tony when the older boy was working on a CPU, helping take stuff out and sort it. After Steve and Bucky had found out Tony had a nack for computers, they let him take the old one from the office that hadn't been in use for a while. And Bucky had found two more at the hospital that had been out of commission for a long time and were landfill-bound.

Bruce didn't talk, but he seemed to be okay with Tony going on for hours, nodding his understanding when Tony asked questions. They sorted out all three computers's parts, taking care with the mother boards, and put them in bags. Tony was sure he could build his robot with the help of an old TV or two, and a soldering gun.

Tony woke up on Saturday on his own, surprised to see that Steve hadn't gotten him up. The clock on Bruce's bedside table read only a few minutes shy of ten o'clock. Tony smiled, throwing the covers to the side and jumping out of bed.

Tony dressed quickly, running down the stairs full-tilt and jumping the last step.

"Woah, what's the rush, bud." Steve smiled.

Tony shrugged. It just felt like one of those good days that he had to run. Saturday's normally did that to him.

"Well, as happy as I am for your good mood, please walk in the house, okay?"

Tony nodded, taking large steps down the hall and towards the kitchen. Clint was already at the table, bowl of cereal in front of him with a magazine next to it. He looked up and smiled as Tony walked by, pointing to the open cabinet.

"There's cereal in there if you want some." He said.

"I didn't think Steve was the type to approve of this stuff as breakfast." Tony laughed, pulling out a box of Apple Jacks.

"He doesn't. Pops does." Clint smiled. Something about that told Tony that the twelve-year-old had somehow convinced Bucky to buy it.

Tony grabbed a bowl and the jug of milk, having a little difficulty pouring it as it was still mostly-full, and sat down at the table with Clint.

Natasha showed up a few minutes later, sleep-mused hair standing up as she went for the cereal.

"Hey, Tasha! What'd'ya say to taking Tony down the street with us today. Ty has a brother his age, right?" Clint asked, squinting at Tony for a second to size him up.

Natasha squinted as if analyzing the situation, then nodded.

"Cool!" Clint smiled. "Tony, want to come with us? They've got a pool and everything."

Tony nodded, a pool sounded like a blast.

"I'll ask dad when he gets back down here." Clint nodded, going back to his magazine.

Tony could see Clint's hearing aides from here, purple and only slightly hidden under his hair. He had them on both sides, but Tony could only see the left one right now. There was some kind of beauty in it that made Tony stare. He knew Clint didn't like to talk about them after having asked a few days ago, but he still liked them.

Natasha took a seat across from Tony, seeming half-asleep as she put the spoon in her mouth full of milk-soaked Cheerios.

Steve came into the room a minute later, Bruce braced on his hip as he hung up back-packs on hooks. Tony didn't think anything of it until a piece of paper slipped out of his red bag and onto the floor. Steve reached to pick it up, and Tony's heart sank as the man looked it over.

It was yesterday's spelling test. The one he had failed beyond belief, and jammed into his bag to be thrown away the second he got home. Mr. Wilson said he wanted to talk to Tony during their free-learning hour, but Tony had easily avoided him by hiding under the computer table as he fixed the last few components on the units. The teacher hadn't gone looking for him, and Tony was relived when he hadn't said anything to Steve that day.

"Tony," Steve said, head up as he glanced around the room, eyes landing on a panicking Tony. "In the office, please. Clint, will you get Bruce some cereal?"

Clint looked to Tony with a sorry-for-your-luck look, and went to take Bruce's hand as he was lowered to the floor.

Tony stood up from the table, heart beating in his chest and stomach regretting having eaten as he followed Steve down the hall and into the office.

Steve closed the door behind Tony, making the boy's heart race even more. He didn't know what he would say, but something had to be better than nothing, right?

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Tony began, eyes already burning from the threat of tears. "I promise I didn't mean to and I didn't mean to soil your name. I'm so sorry, please, please don't."

Tony backed against the wall, sure that this was his last straw. Steve had been understanding of Tony's yellow days and outbursts in the middle of dinner and supportive of his hobbies. But there was only so much people could take from a kid. That's why he kept getting sent away, home after home. He thought he'd been doing okay here, but maybe he hadn't. Maybe he'd fallen into a false sense of security, and that was why he was going to be punished. He'd over stepped his bounds and Steve didn't like it, so he was going to--

"Tony, Tony, Tony, what is all of this?" Steve asked, his voice still that soft lull that Tony was starting to like. Not many foster parents had that tone with him. "I'm not mad, and there's nothing to be sorry about, okay. I just had a few questions for you."

Tony sniffled, wiping at his nose. "You're not gonna send me 'way?"

Steve's face twisted in concern. "Send you away? Tony, we would never." Steve reached out to take Tony's hands. "Is that why you're crying?"

Tony was not crying! He shook his head no, wiping at his eyes.

Steve gave a knowing smile. "That's right, you're a big boy, right?" Tony nodded. "Do big boys cry?"

Tony shook his head no. Steve tapped his nose.

"Big boys cry lots." Steve smiled. "Even boys like Clint cry. It's okay to, and there's no one here to judge you. But, even if they did, I'd make sure to give them a good-long talking to."

Tony smiled, imagining Steve chewing out a kid for making fun of him.

"But, Tony, you're not going to get sent away because of a bad grade. To be honest, you'd be hard to get sent away from this home."

"How come?" Tony asked, wiping at his nose. He liked Steve, but everyone had their limit, right?

Steve's face went back to confusion, as if trying to figure out a puzzle. "Tony, did your social worker not tell you?"

Tony suddenly felt afraid. "Tell me what?"

"You know that Clint, Natasha and Bruce, they're not foster kids, right?" Steve asked.

Tony nodded. Well, he knew Clint wasn't. Natasha never talked and neither did Bruce, really. Tony forgot what Steve said Bruce had, but it was a weird word.

"They're ours now. They're not going anywhere. It's been a long road, but I love each one of them dearly." Steve said, a soft smile falling across his face. "You're here because we want you to be part of it, too."

"What?" Tony asked, taken back.

"Nothing is finalized, and we're still in the 'testing' period because of the state, but we don't want you to go anywhere else. Bucky and I both believe that you belong here, with us. Bruce responds so well to you and Clint and Natasha love having a younger brother they can play with."

Tony didn't know why all of the sounds from the house suddenly stopped at that moment, or why his ears were ringing so loudly in his ears, but he could see the smile on Steve's face. The man's sparkling blue eyes that transmitted an emotion Tony was not used to.

He'd seen that look on other people. He'd seen how parents act with their kids at the park, where Tony would run to after a fall out with one of his foster-parents. It was pure and sweet and it brought tears to Tony's eyes, burning as his mouth moved and no sound came out.

"You... want to... adopt me?" Tony asked, words so quiet he wasn't even sure he'd said them.

"Well, were not going to let anyone else have you." Steve smiled, his eyes suddenly wet as well. "I'm so sorry, I thought you knew."

Tony shook his head as a strange need came over him, and he leaned forward. Steve's arms wrapped around him tightly, squeezing him with a hug.

They sat like that for a long time, Tony taking in every second he could before the tears were gone and the bliss set in.

"I hate to ruin the moment," Steve said, letting Tony pull back so he could wipe his eyes. "But we do need to talk about this test."

Tony nodded, having totally forgotten the whole reason he was in the room.

"Do you want to tell me how this happened?" Steve asked, holding up the paper that had been left on the floor during their cry-fest.

Honestly, no. Tony did not. Because he didn't even remember the words that had been asked or how a word would ever have six e's. It's not like he'd done any of the work for English that was supposed to help him, anyway. But he was sure Steve wouldn't like that answer.

"Cause I'm stupid." He said, looking over the paper with very large red marks all across it, marking things out and taking off points.

Steve's face twisted in a confusing emotion that Tony couldn't read before he took a breath and said, "Tony, you are not stupid. You just need a little extra time with some things. So why don't you tell me what really happened?"

Tony found a sudden interest in the floor, putting his left foot over the right and back again several times before he decided he either needed to answer, or he would stay here until he did.

"I didn't do any of the work an' didn't know any of the words." Tony finally mumbled, looking away from Steve.

Steve sighed, setting the paper aside. "I know school can be hard and that it makes you do things you don't want to do, but you need to focus on all of your work. You can't just play with the computers all day."

Tony nodded. He'd been told this before, but never with the same words. And never without someone yelling.

"I know it's hard for you to sit still and focus on your work like the other kids, but it's really important that you do. Can't have your dream job without school, right?"

Again, Tony nodded. "Astronots have to know how to read the computers."

"Yeah, they do." Steve smiled. "So, today, were going to work on these. I'm sorry, but you won't be allowed to go with Clint and Natasha today."

Tony nodded, understanding his punishment.

"However, if you can master these words by the end of today, maybe we can all go to the park tomorrow?"

Tony thought about that. He could earn a reward? For everyone? And all he had to do were some stupid words? He could so do that!

He nodded his head yes, bright with new energy.

"Okay, do you have your word list?" Steve asked.

Tony thought, then remembered Mr. Wilson had given him a print out and it was still in his folder. He nodded yes.

"Okay, go ahead and get that. We can work on them while doing some chores." Steve said, rustling Tony's hair before he took of for the kitchen where his back pack hung.

Chapter Text

Tony was kind of bumbed that he wasn't going to get to play with Clint and Natasha at their friend's house. But it was overshadowed by the sudden news settling in his mind. He didn't have much time to mull it over, though, as Steve took the word list to look it over, and was making that face where he was trying to figure stuff out.

"Okay, we'll start at the top. I find that's the best way," Steve said, winking at him.

Tony gave the man a weird, amused look, but nodded in agreement.

"We can do them and get some chores done, too. How's that sound?" Steve folded the paper and tucked it into his back pocket.

Tony nodded again, following Steve to the laundry room, between the downstairs hallway and the garage. Steve pulled out a basket of clothes and walked back through the hallway and towards the living room where he did the folding.

"You're going to be in sock matching." Steve smiled, flinging a smaller towel toward him gently. "And help with dish towels."

Tony caught the towel, giving a slight chuckle. This was a whole lot different than how he was normally made to do chores. Actually, Steve and Bucky had this whole system that was a lot different than most of his homes.

For some reason, a lot of people saw Tony and the other kids as free labor, working each one with chores around the house. Tony could clean just about anything, and he knew three different ways to fold towels. People were very picky about things being done their way. But in all that time, never once did the foster parent actually help him. They'd show him what he needed to do and how, and then yell at him if he messed up, sure. But that was nothing like this.

Steve did a lot of the simple stuff like laundry, and Bucky took care of picking up after Bruce, but the kids did not have a chore list a mile long like he was used to. They were expected to help clean up, Yeah, but it wasn't like all those other times. It was... so much better.

"The first word is hue." Steve said as he grabbed one of Natasha's shirts and set it into then laundry. "Do you know the definition?"

Tony shook his head, but kept his eyes on his work.

"Well, hue is just a sort of fancy word for color. 'In a flower, there are many hues.' Okay?"

"Can you have a favorite hue?" Tony asked.

"Well, yeah. You can have a favorite anything. What would be your favorite hue?"

Tony giggled. It was kind of fun using the word. "I think my favorite hue would be red."

Steve smiled over at him, and it gave Tony that warm-bubbly feeling in his stomach--the one he wasn't very used to and was unsure if he liked--so he looked down and grabbed a few socks from the pile.

"So, if you're favorite hue is red, that's how you'll remember it. Now, we spell it H-U-E. okay?"

Tony nodded.

"Repeat it back, please."

"H-U-E." Tony echoed.

"Alright, and what's it mean?"

Tony smiled. "Fancy word for color."

"Maybe leave of the 'fancy word for,' but correct!" Steve smiled and grabbed another shirt. "Spell it, please."

"H-U-E."

"Good job! Okay, next word: entire. This one's a little tricky. Do you know what it means?"

Tony thought for a second. "A lot?"

"Close, but not quiet there. Good try, though! Entire basically means the whole thing. Like how you can eat an entire plate of fries or an entire pie."

Tony nodded. "Clint can eat a whole box of macaroni on his own!"

Steve laughed. "Yeah, but it would be, 'Clint can eat an entire box of Mac on his own.' You see?"

Tony nodded and grabbed for a few more socks. "And an entire stack of pancakes!"

"Clint just eats a lot, doesn't he?" Steve teased. "Okay, we spell entire E-N-T-I-R-E."

"E-N-T-I-R-E. Entire."

"Yeah, there you go. It's very important to remember that E at the beginning, okay. It's a little tricky, but, once you have that, you're all set!" Steve ruffled Tony's hair, then went back to the basket. "Again, please."

"E-N," Tony had to stop for a second, sounding it out in his head. "T-I-R... E?"

"There you go! Good job. Now, do hue again."

"H-U-E."

"Good! And entire?"

"E-N-T-I-R-E."

"Alright! Two words down! Good job, Tones!"

Tony looked up at the weird nick-name, but decided to just roll with it. They did two more words before they were out of laundry and moved on to the kitchen to wash dishes. Each time, Steve would look at the list in his back pocket, say the new word, give Tony a definition and a sentence, then have him spell it two or three times out loud. After that, they'd go through the whole list, starting at hue and stopping at the latest word.

Not once did Tony feel ostracized, either. Steve was just helping him, not making fun of him, and Tony liked that. Really, he was hard-put to find something he didn't like about the man. Steve made this stuff kind of fun, too, so that helped.

Bucky came into the kitchen around word five, kissing the back of Steve's neck and whispering in his ear.

"I know," Steve said. "I heard the machine. I sent him an e-mail and said that we'd have it taken care of today."

Bucky looked at Tony and gave a soft smile as he responded. "Good."

Tony watched him go, slightly bewildered. Bucky was not a cold person by any means, but he wasn't very openly affectionate, which Tony understood. But, for some reason, the man had taken a liking to Tony this past week and he was slowly opening up. Tony didn't really understand it, but this family was weird and he like it.

"Dad!" Tony heard Clint yell from the other room. "We're going to go to Ty's!"

"Okay, please bring Bruce in here!" Steve said back.

Clint walked into the room holding Bruce's hand--a very common occurrence. Bruce liked holding onto people, which Steve had once said was very uncommon for that weird-word thing he had, but his first family must have done something real bad once. Clint had even said that, before Tony came along, Bruce didn't even sleep alone.

Bruce waved his other hand in the air, waiting for Steve to dry his hands and grab a hold of him before letting Clint go. Steve thanked the boy for watching him for so long, and told him to be home by six. Clint waved and was out the door, letting Tony know that he could come next weekend, maybe.

It was a little harder for Steve to continue his cleaning while holding Bruce, but he managed. And Tony was having fun lightly flicking water at Bruce to make him smile when Steve wasn't looking. By word seven--which Tony was truly not enjoying--Steve decided it was time for a break.

Tony had been expecting a little time to use the bathroom and sit down for a second, but Steve had decided that baking cookies would be the best way to take a rest. And, honestly, Tony had no complaints as he risked sticking two fingers in the batter, licking off of one finger and scraping the other off, rolling it into a small ball, and giving it to Bruce when Steve wasn't paying attention.

And then, slowly, Steve was working his way through the rest of the list. It was nearly four o'clock by the time they were done, but Tony had actually had a really good day. Even with the frequent potty brakes Bruce needed and that seventh word. It all came to a head when Steve sat him down with a piece of paper at the table.

Tony had never felt more prepared for anything in his life. He knew the words and the definitions and the spelling. He could do this. Steve had taken so much time and walked him through everything. He could do this. He could do this.

Steve worked right down the list, just like they had done all day. Tony actually smiled when he got to the seventh word, writing as proudly as possible P-I-E-C-E. it looked weird on paper, but he knew it was right.

"Pie-C-E, okay. Piece of pie, pie-C-E." Steve kept saying when Tony tried to sound it out. It didn't click at all until Tony realized he'd been spelling "pie" wrong.

Now, he was sure he'd gotten it.

Steve had Bruce in his lap as he was going over the words, though Tony couldn't see what was going on. Steve had put the paper on a clipboard and had it tilted up to grade. Bruce was showing Tony what he'd been working on the whole time, having been given some crayons to play with while Tony was taking his test.

"Okay, before I give you your test, can you do something for me?" Steve asked, finally looking up.

Tony nodded apprehensively.

Steve handed him another paper from the small stack on the table Bruce had been using and handed it to Tony. "Can you do a few new words for me? You don't have to do them correctly, I just want to see something, okay?"

Tony picked up his pencil and nodded.

"Okay, let's start easy. Banana?"

Tony nodded and wrote the word.

Steve slowly listed other words. "Apple, tie, second, minute, and drawer."

Tony handed over the paper when he was done, and all of his confidence suddenly shattered. He saw Steve write on the second paper, then flip it over and set it to the side before looking at Tony with a smile.

"You ready?"

Tony's heart quickened a bit as he nodded his head. As Steve went to pull the paper out of the clipboard, Tony squeezed his eyes shut until he heard the paper being placed in front of him.

Slowly, he opened one eye, scared of what the number at the top would be. At first, he couldn't find one, so he opened both eyes to look around, finding something he never thought he'd see.

"I GOT A ONE HUNDRED!?!"

Steve laughed as Tony jumped out of his chair.

"I GOT A ONE HUNDRED!" Tony screamed again, jumping around the room, hugging the paper to his chest. "I DID IT!"

Tony wasn't watching where he was going as he slammed into a solid form, nearly falling flat on his butt before a large hand caught him.

"What's all this?" Bucky asked, sending a look to Steve.

"He just passed his spelling test." Steve said proudly.

Bucky looked down at Tony, and, for a second, his heart almost sank. Bucky wasn't going to like that he'd wasted Steve's whole day on this, or that Tony hadn't been able to pass on his own.

But, instead, Bucky grabbed under Tony's arms and lifted him up, giving the first toothy-grin Tony had seen on the man.

"Congratulations, bud!" Bucky exclaimed, twirling Tony around once before wrapping him in a big bear hug.

Tony ate it up, laughing as Bruce giggled when Steve lifted him off his lap, placed him on his hip, and came over to where Bucky was. Tony looked over at Steve, knowing he had a grin ear-to-ear and not caring enough to stop.

The front door could be heard opening and closing before Natasha and Clint walked into the dinning room with questioning looks and wet hair. The line on Natasha's wet top showed her bathing suit had soaked through her shirt, as had Clint's trunks on the bottom of his trousers.

Tony wiggles to be put down, running up to Clint and Natasha with the paper.

"I GOT A HUNDRED!" He smiled triumphantly.

Clint broke out in a wide grin, rustling Tony's hair. "Hey! Good job!"

Tony shook his head, playing like he hadn't liked it even though it had almost meant more than Steve's congratulations.

"You did well." Natasha said, which pulled all attention to the twelve-year-old.

Natasha could talk, Tony knew. Clint had told him that she just didn't like to sometimes. Tony didn't really care, because Clint was teaching him that hand-talk stuff and Natasha would say simple things in that to him. But her voice was so soft and sweet that Tony was kind of blown away. It just seemed so... soft for a girl like Tasha. Tony decided right then-and-there that the girl was going to be his sister. He liked her way too much to let her go.

Tony smiled proudly and wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. When he let go, he touched his fingertips to his chin with a flat palm, then made the gesture for thank-you.

Natasha gave a soft smile and nodded. That was her own way of saying, "anytime."

 

Tony woke up late that night, throat dry and needing to pee. He made his way quietly out of his room, making sure to not wake Bruce, and towards the bathroom.

A few gulps of water from the sink and a trip to the toilet took care of everything and he was ready to head back to bed, right up until he heard his name being said very lightly from the master bedroom.

Tony crept across the hall, keeping his footsteps light as he leaned his head against the crack in the door that spilled light out into the hall.

"I'm thinking that's what it has to be. He's a smart kid, and you saw what a little bit of extra help can do." It was Steve's voice, sounding a bit frustrated and desperate for reasons unknown.

"It doesn't change anything, hon. We get him tested and then what? He has to live with that on his record, too? The kid doesn't need another thing attached to his name." That one was Bucky, sounding a little winded from his nightly run.

Were they talking about him, Tony wondered.

"But there may be things which could help. He'd only get them with a diagnosis."

"Sweetheart," the sound of the man sitting down on their bed squeaked its way into the hallway. "All he really needs is someone to take two seconds with him like you did today. I bet you in all his life, that's been the one thing he's never gotten. Did you see the look on his face? He doesn't need a dyslexia diagnosis. He needs support from us."

Steve sighed.

"Wilson was the only one who volunteered to take him because of his ADHD, none of the other teachers wanted to deal with his recorded behavior. And even he has said that Tony exhibits next to none of those behaviors in his class. I refuse to let this kid be held down by something like this."

"Maybe you're right." Steve sighed again.

Tony's brows furrowed. When he could hear paper unfolding, he took a chance to peek into the room. Bucky was in PJs, sitting on the side of the bed next to a fully-dressed Steve as he held out a paper.

Bucky smiled for some reason before saying, "One out of five on an unprepared seven-year-old."

Steve rolled his eyes and socked his husband in the arm, making Bucky laugh more. "It looks like it's all vowels for him. Not uncommon for his age group, but he's sounding it all out in his head and mixing up where things go. It might be why he didn't do any of his English work this week. It takes him longer than other kids and he doesn't want to be the odd one out."

"Yeah, how'd you know about that before I did?" Bucky asked. "Wilson just called this morning."

"He left a message last night saying he had some concerns, and I emailed him saying we'd take care of it." Steve said, balling up the paper and basketball-throwing it towards the trash can.

"Missed by a mile." Bucky laughed.

Steve rolled his eyes again and fell back in bed. "At least I found a way to keep him focused for more than three minutes."

"I must say, the chore thing was kind of ingenuous." Bucky said, falling back as well. "Keep his hands busy while you work his mind. Plus, now we have cookies!"

Steve laughed, cuddling into his husband. "Little guy must be exhausted after all that."

Tony could feel the blush at the endearing term, and decided it was time to go back to bed. Because, yeah, Steve was right. Tony was near dead on his feet.

He was just about to go to his room when he saw that Natasha was looking at him. It almost gave him a heart attack to see the girl standing in her door way. There was a question on her face as she looked him over. She opened her mouth as if to say something before closing it and holding up a finger, telling him to wait.

Tony did as he was told, watching Natasha disappear into her room before she came back out and placed a hand on his shoulder. She pushed gently, letting Tony know that she wanted him to go back to his room. Tony had no complaints, and happily did as he was asked.

Natasha pulled back the blankets, some how making sure they made no noise as Tony crawled in. Just as he was about to grab the covers to burrito himself, he was handed something soft and fluffy. He couldn't really see it, and he didn't really care. He liked the feel of it, and he was tired.

He let Natasha pull the covers over him and tuck him in, wanting to wish the girl good night but too tired to do so as his eyes fell closed

Chapter Text

Sunday passed with PJ's ,cartoons, and Clint laughing along right next to him. Tony liked it. It was like he was a real brother, and the good kind that looked out for you. Natasha was on the other side of the couch, giving Tony soft smiles every now-and-then.

Tony was still a bit confused as to why that was the case, but he liked it. And when he'd woken that morning with a stuffed bear in his arms, he quickly tried to give it back. Natasha, however, seemed to have different plans as Tony woke with the bear again on Monday morning before school.

Never before had Tony been happy to be up a little early, just so he could run it back to Natasha's room before anyone saw him.

Tuesday had occurred the same way, only--this time--the bear had been back on his bed after his shower, happily smiling back with his light-brown and fuzzy face. Tony had sighed, taking the bear's arm and walking it over to Natasha's room.

"Why does this thing keep coming into my room?" He finally asked, letting the bear fall to the girl's bed.

Natasha picked the bear up, dusting off its head before holding it out to Tony.

Tony eyed the bear, making no move to take it.

The two stood like this for a while, surrounded by posters and kick-knacks coving the pastel-pink walls. The kind of room a person growing out of girl-hood would have, where most of the childish things were tucked away or covered up. But not quite that of an adult, as the childish things were still there. Just hidden by a person who was growing up.

Finally, Natasha took a step forward, pushing the bear closer to Tony.

Tony was about to say something when he saw Natasha's lips pursed, and then try to form a word.

"Friend."

Tony's brows furrowed, too shocked to notice as he took a hold of the bear and Natasha let go with a triumphant grin.

"Its my friend?" Tony asked.

Natasha nodded, smiling.

"I have friends, I don't need a bear." Tony said, trying to place the stuffed animal down on the bed again. Natasha blocked him, holding out her hand and gently pushing the bear to Tony's chest.

Tony sighed, deciding it was too late and he was too tired to fight about some stupid bear. He walked out without another word, and back to his own room.

Steve was tucking Bruce in, singing a song about sunshine as Tony passed with the bear behind his back. Before anyone could notice, he tucked the bear under the bed and jumped under the covers.

Steve came over, placing a soft kiss on to Tony's head before flipping off the light switch and walking out with a, "Good night, boys. Sleep tight."

The next morning, Tony sat in class as still as he could during English. Steve had said that if Tony did all of his work in class and got at least eight of the words right on the test, they could go for ice cream again like they had last Sunday. Tony liked the idea of actually getting a Sunday on a Sunday.

James was starting to talk to him a little more, and was even joining him during their free time. Happy and Virginia had started tagging along just for something to do, but Tony felt like he could--maybe?--call them friends. They helped him during English and he'd repay them during Maths. It's was a really great system because Mr. Wilson had even noticed all of their grades going up bit-by-bit and congratulated them all.

That day on the playground had been a first, as he'd actually been asked to play a game of tag. Tony had jumped at the chance, even offering to be "it" first. They were just about set with eight kids before Justin came over, collared pastel shirt and leather boat shoes shinning in the sun.

"I don't see why you want to play with them, Anthony." He smirked, looking at the other kids like they were no more than gum on the bottom of his Oxfords.

Tony narrowed his eyes and balled his hands. This kid was really starting to get on his nerves. "What do you want, Justin?"

"I'm just saying that you're welcome to come play with me and the other smart kids if you'd like. A bunch of misfits like that will get you nowhere." Justin said, way too cocky for a seven-going-on-eight-year-old.

"Maybe I want to play with them because they're not big jerks like you!" Tony nearly yelled, checking over his shoulder to see if any of the teachers had heard. They all sat in the shade, too concerned with watching the play equipment for injuries to notice the kids on the open field.

"Just leave us alone, Hammer." James snarled, taking a few steps forward to stand next to Tony.

Justin's eyes narrowed. "What do you want, Rhodes? No one asked for your opinion."

"No one asked for yours, either, yet here you are." Virginia bit back.

Tony's head shot towards the red headed girl. She'd never been that loud in class and her voice held this demand for respect that Tony loved.

Justin huffed. "Whatever, you're probably a freak just like the rest of them. Can't expect a kid raised by parents like yours to be normal."

Tony could feel his heart rate pick up as he glared daggers into Justin Hammer's head. "What did you say about my parents."

Justin smirked, taking several steps towards Tony to get in the other boy's face as he said, "You were thrown away like the trash you are and a family of nothing but garbage picked you up. I know you were in the foster system, Stark. You were on the death-row equivalent before Rogers and Barnes picked you up. No one wanted you, and they just picked you because they needed someone to play with that retard son of theirs."

All of Tony's self control went out the window as he saw red. He raised his fist as Justin opened his mouth for more, only to be stopped short when Tony's right hook cracked his jaw. They were on the grass in milliseconds, people yelling as Tony raised fist after fist, connecting with air more often than not. He could feel hands all over him, feet kicking his chest and pulling at his hair. The world went black for a moment before coming back into focus as someone lifted him off the floor.

 

The wait outside of Mr. Fury's office across from Justin was the most infuriating thing Tony had to do in his whole life. No one was letting him have a word in--just like always. They believed the other kid without asking him a damn thing--just like always. And he was the one that was going to get kicked out and sent off to another family--just like always.

As Steve ran up the hall with Bruce on his hip and Bucky trailing behind, Tony couldn't help the tears that came to his face. He didn't want to cry in front of Justin, but it didn't matter. Even if the two men had wanted him before, this would most-certainly be the straw that broke the camel's back.

"Tony! Oh my gosh, what happened?" Steve said, handing Bruce over to Bucky as he kneeled down, taking Tony's face in his hands and turning it every way to get a better look at the cuts and the bruises that were still forming.

"That's what I'd like to know." A man with a large and deep voice said as he came up behind Steve and Bucky.

Mr. Fury took that moment to come out of his office and gave them all a look to follow him down the hall and towards a conference room.

Tony saw Mr. Wilson already sitting at the table as everyone took a seat, Mr. Fury taking the head of the table.

"Parents will remain silent during the discussion or they will be removed." Mr. Fury said, looking all three adult men in the eyes before looking towards Mr. Wilson. "What happened."

"From what I gathered from the children, Anthony was asked to join a game of tag with some of his classmates when Justin came up and started antagonizing the boy. I'm not exactly sure what had been said, but I gather it had to do with Anthony's living arrangements with Mr and Mr Barnes-Rogers. One student even said that Justin had insulted their youngest member with some rather vulgar slurs, which caused Anthony to lash out."

Tony looked up as the story was told, looking wide-eyed at the teacher who had managed to put most of the story together. The real story, too.

Mr. Fury nodded. "Mr. Hammer, what do you have to say?" He asked, looking at Justin.

"May I?" Justin's father asked Fury, gaining a nod before he turned the boy's chair to face him. "Is anything that had been stated here false?"

Justin seemed to be taking great interest in his hands, not responding.

"Justin Hammer, you will answer my question now." His father spoke, voice booming around the room and even scaring Tony.

"No, sir." Justin finally said.

"Mr. Stark, do you agree to what has been said?" Mr. Fury asked.

Tony nodded his head before remembering Justin's father's insistence on a verbal answer. "Yes, sir."

"Then it's settled," the man said, slapping the case file closed that Tony hadn't noticed had been pulled out. "Justin Hammer has three days of in-school suspension due to bullying a fellow student. Tony Stark has one day of after-school detention and will be helping Mr. Stane tomorrow due to fighting.

"Please gather their things and take your children home, and let's insure this doesn't happen again." With that, Mr. Fury stood up and walked towards the door.

Steve and Bucky stood, the dark-haired man adjusting his grip so that Bruce was resting on his real arm.

"I apologize for my son's behaviour, sirs. I assure you that this will not be a recurring event." Mr. Hammer said before they were out the door.

"The same to you, Mr. Hammer. I hope your wife will be doing well soon, as well." Steve said with a polite tone.

Mr. Hammer nodded in thanks and watched as the group exited.

Tony was shocked into silence as they made way to the SUV out front. Was he in trouble? He couldn't tell. Steve and Bucky didn't seem mad, but they may just be barely-dormant volcanos right now, waiting for any little thing to set them off.

The car ride back was silent, even with Bruce doing his hand-shaking thing beside Tony in his car seat. Usually he hummed while he did it, but he seemed to not need the noise in the silent car. Tony never thought he'd miss the sound.

They pulled into the driveway, shaking side to side as they went over the curb. Tony looked over as he noticed Bruce was starting to rock back and forth as best as he could in the restrictive seat.

Steve looked back at Bruce, sighing as he looked over to Bucky. "Code yellow."

Bucky nodded, opening the driver's door as he said, "Come on, Tony."

Tony followed Bucky towards the house, glancing over his shoulder as Steve opened the car door to try and get Bruce out. The boy didn't seem to be having it, starting to make a noise that sounded like a dying animal as he kicked around in Steve's grasp.

"Hey!" Tony yelled, running back to take Bruce's arm and pull him away from Steve as the older man seemed to be dragging the boy out of the car. Bruce screamed out at the top of his lungs, eyes squeezed shut.

"Tony, it's okay," Steve said, letting go of Bruce's arm as to not hurt him. "Bruce is overwhelmed and we need to get him inside."

Tony wasn't having it. Steve and Bucky seemed like great guys, sure, but now, they just seemed like every other foster parent Tony's ever met. Dragging around a child because they didn't understand. He wrapped his arms around Bruce, pulling the smaller boy away from the couple.

"Tony, this is just one of those things we have to ride through. Remember, we told you that he's on the autistic spectrum?" Steve said, trying his best to speak over Bruce's now howling cries without making the situation worse. "He's had a bad day, that's why we were at your school so fast."

Tony shook his head, tightening his grip on Bruce. "But you were being mean!"

"No, not at all. I promise, I would never hurt Bruce, nor any of my kids. We need to get him inside and calmed down." Steve looked around, making sure that the neighbors weren't going to call the cops for this scene. "Would you like to help us?"

Tony let their words sink in. Bucky went inside the house and came back out as the boy thought. The men didn't seem like bad people that would do that kind of thing, but Tony had made bad assumptions before. However, Bruce's screams we're starting to hurt Tony's ears.

"Come on, buddy." Bucky said, crouching down and holding out his hand. "I know you love Bruce, right? Being out here and arguing it's not going to make anything better. Bruce needs to be someplace safe to him, around things he likes to take his mind off all of the things bouncing around in his mind."

Tony nodded slowly, taking Bucky's hand but refusing to let go of Bruce as he was led inside. They took about two steps before Tony realized Bruce was not going to be walking anywhere. Apparently, both men had noticed as well because Tony was being lifted by Bucky and Steve lifted Bruce, keeping the boy's close enough to still hold on to each other.

"You get the iPod, I'll set them up in the living room." Bucky said.

Steve nodded, placing Bruce on the ground the same time Tony was, then he walked up the stairs.

"Okay, the biggest thing is to calm him down first," Bucky said, grabbing one of the many blankets on the back of the couch. "You have to listen to what he's telling you."

"But he's not saying anything." Tony said, watching as Bucky wrapped Bruce up baby-style. The tight swaddle was something he'd never seen on anyone over the age of one.

"Ah, but isn't he?," Bucky gave a soft smile. "Words aren't just spoken with what we say."

Tony's eyes narrowed in confusion. "You mean like what Natasha and Clint do?"

"Well, kind of. Sign Language is another form of communication, but so is the way you say your words, or hold your body." Bucky sat down, pulling Bruce into his lap and wrapping his arms tightly around the smaller boy. "Like how you cross your arms when you're grumpy or raise your arms above your head when you win a race."

"Or scrunch your nose when something smalls bad? Tony asked.

"Yeah, exactly like that." Bucky started rocking back and forth, but never stopped talking. "Because Bruce can't always tell us what's wrong, we have to look for things like that to know whats going on in his head."

"Do we have to do that to Natasha, too?" Bruce's cries we're starting to die down and Tony didn't have to listen so hard to what was being said.

"Sometimes, yeah. But for Bruce, because of what affects him, things become too much very easily. Like, crowded places or when something's too quiet. His mind processes things in a different way and his way to counter act that is do to this kind of thing.

"If something is too loud or quiet, he'll hum or scream. Or, if too many people touch him when he doesn't want it, he may scream and shake or rock." Bucky took a second that seemed to be him catching his breath. "So we have to get him somewhere that stops that and remove what know as the stimuli, or the thing that may be causing his reaction."

"Is that why we had to bring him home?" Tony asked.

"Yeah, buddy." Bucky smiled. "And once he's calmed down, he's gonna need something to take his mind off of everything. Do you think you could help with that?"

Tony nodded--he could so do that! His teachers were always calling him a distraction in class! Maybe he could put that to use here!

Steve came back down the stairs with a small device that had music playing from it. The blond sat on the couch behind Bucky and Bruce, running his hand through the little boy's hair. They sat in silence for a while as Bruce calmed down, his screams and cries finally tapering off into the quiet, sweet kid that he normal was.

"What's a retard?" Tony asked quietly. He'd been bothered by the word simply with the way Justin had said it, but he truly had no idea what it meant.

Bucky's lips thinned into a line as he took in a breath through his nose.

"Is that what Mr. Wilson meant by vulgar names?" Steve asked, seeming to aim the question more towards Bucky, but Tony still answered with a nod.

"It used to be a scientific term for people who don't act like everyone else. It was a very broad word, meaning it covered a lot of things. Even people that weren't all that different but just had difficulties like Clint or Natasha." Bucky said. "But now its a really mean word used to bully people and not a nice thing to call people."

"So Justin did deserve to get punched." Tony said, less afraid of punishment now that he knew his actions had been justified.

"No, sweet boy. Even people who are wrong don't deserve to be hurt." Steve said, lowering himself to the floor and pulling Tony into his lap. "It's better to help them see the error in their thoughts and try to lead them towards the right choices."

Tony nodded, only really understanding half of what Steve had said. Bruce was starting to look around the room, face still sweaty and eyes slightly wild, but it was more Bruce than before.

"Hi, Brucie!" Tony smiled, waving his hand.

Bruce looked at him, his still-baby-round face in a neutral expression.

"Can we play with the computers?" Tony asked, craning his neck over his shoulder to look up at Steve.

"Yeah, sweetheart, go ahead. Just give Brucie a little bit longer to find himself and I'm sure he'll be right over, okay?"

Tony nodded, wiggling out of Steve's grip and crawling across the floor to where all of their parts had been stored in tubs in the play room.

As he was pulling everything out, Tony saw Bruce plop down beside him, leaning against the older boy. Tony smiled, rustling Bruce's hair the way Clint always did with him and handing over the plastic bag filled with half-inch screws.

Bruce took the bag, looking it over before putting it in it's designated spot. Tony liked the way Bruce organized stuff, keeping things simple and easy to understand.

"Good job, Brucie!" Tony smiled, handing over another bag. But not without missing the soft smile that graced the younger boy's face for a fraction of a second.

Tony may not really understand all of his new siblings, but he really was starting to like them more and more.

Chapter Text

Clint was this big question to Tony. For the past few weeks, he'd been the greatest thing to touch Tony's life. He was the one that taught Tony how to play all sorts of games on their Wii, and would sit to do homework with him. Clint was the big brother Tony didn't think he'd ever have.

But he was also the one who hadn't said anything about how he landed a bed at casa-Steve-Barnes. He'd only talk about stuff that happened after he arrived, and never showed any interest on going into detail.

Whenever Tony would try to ask, or throw out a question, Clint would change the topic to something else. Tony fell for it every time, too, never noticing in the moment what was happening. After a while, Tony decided it wasn’t all that important.

After school one day, Clint had been the one to pick him up. Tony had been worried at first, thinking that something must have happened to Steve who normally came to the door. But Clint had quickly informed him that Steve had just asked the older boy to pick him up while he carried a sleeping Bruce to the car. Tony could understand that.

Apparently, Bruce didn’t sleep very much. This was something Tony was realizing more and more, such as when he is woken up to Steve’s quiet shushing sounds early in the morning. Bruce really only slept a few hours a day. But, if he did happen to accidentally fall asleep in the car or at home, the whole house would dance around his sleeping form or drive for a while longer, just until he woke up.

It was no surprise to Tony that they’d want to keep Bruce sleeping if he did somehow fall asleep during school. So he happily took Clint’s hand, smirking a little when he saw the look of amazement on Justin’s face. He must have looked like the coolest kid ever with a middle schooler picking him up.

But he didn’t expect it to become a regular thing. Steve hardly ever picked him up from class anymore. It was always Clint, smiling with his arms held out so Tony could tackle him in a hug. Clint would wrap his arms around Tony and squeeze as hard as he could, making Tony giggle. And then they’d walk, hand-in-hand, all the way back to the van, where Steve would wait with a smile.

The only day this didn’t happen was when Tony had to stay after for his punishment after his fight with Justin. It took a few weeks to find a date that Steve could pick him up late and still get everything done. But Bucky had a long weekend due to “not taking enough time off” and had said he’d pick up Tony.

To be honest, Tony was dreading the whole thing. He’d heard some stories about this Stane guy, only ever having seen him once during school. He was the teacher for the fourth through sixth graders, walking across the lawn that separated the middle and elementary schools twice a day to teach. Sometimes Tony would see his bald head shinning in the sunlight as he walked back at the end of his lunch hour. He always wore a scowl that sent shivers down Tony’s spine.

He tried to hide behind Mr. Wilson as much as he could as they walked down the hall after school, but it seemed the tall man knew his game. He put a hand on Tony’s shoulder, gently guiding him down the hall and to a wide open door. Tony thought it was weird that Mr. Wilson still knocked, but he was happy for any delay to his time with the bald guy.

“Mr. Stane,” Mr. Wilson called out.

Tony looked around the room, eyes landing on a man as he pulled a box of paper out of a closet.

“Sam. Good to see you.” Mr. Stane smiled, setting the box down on his desk. Something about the look of him, be it that fake smile or the suit too nice for a public-school teacher, or maybe it was just the way he held himself the same way Justin did—like he was too good for all of this.

“This is Tony, your helper for today.” Mr Wilson said, pushing Tony towards the other teacher a bit.

Tony forced a smile and a tiny wave.

“Good to meet you, Tony. Mr. Wilson has told me all about how you fixed the computers in your classroom. I am looking forward to today.”

Tony gave a minute nod, begging with all he had for Mr. Wilson to not leave him alone with this man without actually saying the words.

“I’ll leave you two to it, then.” Mr. Wilson said, giving Tony’s shoulder a pat, and then making his exit.

“Come, my boy. I want to see what you can do with this software.” Mr. Stane said, hand reached out.

Tony knew he was expected to obey, but he really didn’t want to. Something just seemed off about this guy. Still, the large hand on his back guided him to a computer at the front of the class room.

“I want to see what you can do with this.” Stane said, grabbing the mouse and clicking on a program. “It’s supposed to be an early-learning system for programming.”

“What would you like me to do, sir?” Tony asked, looking around the screen at the brightly colored words and shapes.

“I want you to try and get as far into the game as you can.” Stane said, straightening his back.

Tony eyed the bald man, wondering if he was hearing the instructions correctly. “You just want me to sit here and play a game?”

“And see how far you get, yes.” Stane grabbed the box of paper once more, and walked out of the room.

In a way, Tony really didn’t like being left alone. On the other hand, if his only option for company was Stane, he’d rather be alone.
Tony let out a puff of air, looking back at the screen. The software seemed pretty rudimentary, just trying to move a small robot by telling it what to do with simple bits of code. It didn’t take long for Tony to beat the game, which taught him enough to know what to look for on Google for to improve the game.

He wasn’t really sure how long Stane had been standing there, but by the time he looked up, the grin spread across his face put Tony on edge.

“How’s the game?” Stane asked.

“Boring,” Tony said, almost immediately regretting it. This guy may not be okay with Tony saying such a thing.

Stane’s smile turned into an amused smirk. “Decide to add your own flair?”

Tony nodded. “I added a few new elements to the game. There’s a few more levels that go beyond the little robot. It doesn’t look really nice, but it does play.”

“That’s amazing, my boy! Truly talented!” Mr. Stane said, giving the first grin that didn’t really scare Tony.

It made Tony a little warm inside at the praise—something he was getting a little more used to each day.

There was a knock on the door that had both Tony and Stane’s eyes drained toward the door frame.

“Hey, bud. Ready to go home?” Bucky asked. He stood in jeans and a T-shirt, but the look on his face was all military.

Tony wasn’t sure how he felt about that look, somewhat worried to follow his caregiver until he noticed the glare was not directed at him. Tony glanced over his shoulder, then back at Bucky who now had his hand held out.

Willing to do pretty much anything to get away from the bald guy, Tony jumped up from his seat and ran for Bucky. He grinned as the man wrapped his good arm around him and squeezed lightly.

“Let’s go home, hum?” Bucky said, already shifting his arm to under Tony’s but and lifting him off the floor.

Tony grabbed onto the man’s shirt with all the strength he could muster from his fingers and tried not to make a noise. Sure, he’d seen Steve and Bucky do this to Bruce loads of times, but it didn’t mean they’d ever done it to him.

Bucky was out of the building so fast, Tony had almost accused him of being a hero in disguise or something.

The drive home had been silent, and riding in the back of Bucky’s four-door had been a whole new experience. It sat lower to the ground, and Tony’s legs were actually able to reach the floor. He had started kicking his feet and tapping them on the floor boards, getting into a nice beat, before they pulled into the driveway. The car rocked side-to-side as they rolled over the gutter, and pulled in next to the SUV.

Tony pushed open the door and ran into the house, not expecting to hear screaming as he sat his bag down in the kitchen. It was Bruce, for sure. But not his melt-down screams. These were a whole different monster that Tony wasn’t sure of. But, he was a big brother now. That meant he was supposed to be taking care of Bruce like Clint took care of him. Tony puffed up his chest, taking in a deep breath, then walked towards the living room.

Steve sat on the floor, Natasha across from him and Bruce right in the middle with parts of their project strung out all over the place. Bruce looked frustrated as he tried to move stuff around, seeming to not know exactly how to fix it, just knowing it was off.

“Tony!” Steve smiled, standing up and setting a few bags of what looked like screws down. “I promise we haven’t broken anything. Bruce is just so used to coming home and playing computers with you that he was pitching a fit, so Natasha and I pulled some of the bags out but it didn’t really go over well.”

Tony gave a small smile as Bruce looked up and locked eyes with him. Tony could have died right then and there, and he would have been totally okay because that look was pure admiration and love swimming in wet tears down the small boy’s face. He looked to Steve, flustered and happy. Then to Natasha, who could have fooled anyone else with that look of indifference, so long as they didn’t live in this house.

“We have a system. You gotta lay out the bags in order.” Tony said, walking over to the pile and starting to lay them out the right way. Now that he thought of it, he should explain to Bruce how they’re placed.

Bucky came in, setting his keys on a hook next to the door before pulling Steve aside to talk in hushed whispers. Tony ignored them, more interested in his project than them. Natasha watched quietly, reaching out to lift one of the bags after Tony had put it in it’s spot.

“What’s it all going to be.” She asked, her voice low.

Tony looked up, surprised by her voice. “I’m not sure. Hopefully something cool. I was thinking of making it a robot.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know. Cleaning up stuff, I guess. But I don’t have enough parts yet.” Tony looked over his pile of stuff.
“Another CPU, and a few other parts and we should be good. The only problem would be getting Steve and Bucky to approve of me using of a torch”.

Natasha laughed, shaking her head as she sat the bag back into it’s spot. “I don’t think either of them will let that happen.”

Tony sighed, knowing she was right. He laid out the last few bags as Bruce calmed down and started pulling some of the bags open to sort a new unit they’d gotten from one of Bucky’s friends. Tony looked over to Natasha, her long red hair billowing down her shoulders as she looked a few of the bags over.

“I like your voice.” Tony said, handing her a bag and a part so she could help the process go a bit faster.

Natasha looked up, a deep red blush across her face.

“You don’t have to talk, but I like when you do. Your voice is really pretty.” Tony smiled.

Natasha smiled back before dipping her head and hiding her eyes behind her hair.

Tony went back to the task, starting to take the cases and tape them together with as much duct tape as he could find. He had to get some way to make a base. He was sure that if he went out back he’d be able to find a few good sticks for the arm, but that was a way off.

“So how was your hour in exile?” Clint asked as he flopped down on the couch.

“Exile?” Tony asked, sitting up to look at the older boy.

“Yeah, your detention with Stane?” Clint asked. “That guy’s a creep.”

“I don’t think you can say that about a teacher.” Tony said, a little worried that Steve or Bucky would hear.

Clint shrugged. “Pop and dad both agree. Everyone does. But I hear he’s like fleas—the school can’t get rid of him.”

“How come no one likes him?” Tony asked. Bruce whined and pulled on a bag Tony had his hand on. Tony moved and let Bruce have the bag.

“He’s just weird. Gives off a weird vibe.” Clint wiggled his fingers in exaggeration.

Tony rolled his eyes. “He wasn’t mean or anything to me.”

Clint shrugged. “Maybe he just doesn’t want to scare you.”

“Dinner!” Steve called, cutting off Tony’s next question.

Clint took Bruce’s hand to lead him to the table, so Tony only had Natasha to race.

Later that night, as Tony was crawling into bed, he noticed the distinct absence of his stuffed bear. Tony hated to admit it, but he was attached to the thing. He had hoped no one would learn about it, but maybe someone had? Tony’s lived in homes that wouldn’t let you have stuffed animals before, maybe Steve and Bucky were the same way? Or maybe Natasha took it back?

Well, that was fine with Tony. She could have the stupid bear back. It’s not like it meant anything. Just a bear. Just a reminder of his new home. Just something that made him feel safe when his dreams were scary or the night a little too dark. He didn’t need it to help him sleep or to talk to when he’d had a long day. Just a bear.

“Tony? What’s wrong, bud?” Steve asked.

Tony looked up, not having realized that he was staring at the empty bed with tears running down his face. He tried to suck it up, but the pain of losing his new bear was just too much.

It wasn’t just a bear—it was Tony’s best friend.

“G-g-gone!” Tony cried, letting Steve’s wrap him in a hug.

“Gone? What’s gone, bud?” Steve asked, standing with Tony on his hip and rocking back and forth.

Tony had been carried more in this single day than he had in his whole life before living here. He would have pushed away from the man if he wasn’t so worried about what had happened to his bear.

“B-beeeeear,” Tony cried, trying to stop but unable to do so.

“Bear?” Steve asked, walking towards Tony’s bed and throwing the covers back to look around. “He was on your bed, wasn’t he?”

Tony nodded his head, still trying to grasp his breath, but unable to.

“Hey, look, look,” Steve said, bouncing Tony a bit to get his attention.

When Tony looked up, Steve had the bear in his hand. Tony reached out and grasped it tightly, holding it close to his chest as he tucked his face into Steve’s shoulder.

“What’s up?” Bucky asked.

Tony could hear him step into the room, and felt as his left hand ran through Tony’s hair. It felt really nice.

“Just a bit worried because he lost his bear. But we found it and we’re all good now.” Steve said, not letting the conversation stop his gentle bounce-rock thing. Tony liked it.

“Isn’t that the bear we gave Tasha when she first came to live with us?” Bucky asked, rubbing right behind Tony’s ears with one hand as the other looked at the foot of the bear. “Yeah, see. Still has the name printed on the foot.”

“Barely.” Steve laughed as he strained to see it. “It’s just the first letter, now.”

“Well, that was the foot she always held it by.” Bucky chuckled. He kisses the top of Tony’s head, asking, “did she share her bear?”

Tony nodded.

“Didn’t Clint get one, too?” Steve asked. “That was nearly six years ago, though. He may not still have it.”

Six years? Tony almost asked, but the chance was gone before he could take it. Bruce walked in the room, humming the tune to a show loudly.

“Better get him ready for bed.” Steve said.

“Here, give me him and you can take smalls.” Bucky said.

Tony could feel Steve move him around, then pass him over. Tony hid his face behind the bear as he settled down with Bucky on the edge of his bed.

“What’s your bear’s name?” Bucky asked.

Tony looked down at the bear. He hadn’t really named it at all. It was just his bear. So he shrugged.

“Oh, well, everything loved has to have a name! Let’s see...” Bucky turned the bear a bit to look at his face, but without taking it out of Tony’s hands.

“How about George?”

Tony giggled. His bear was not a George. He shook his head.

Bucky hummed in thought, turning the bear side to side, even checking in his ears, before saying, “I give up! What would you name him?”

Tony thought for a second, then caught a glimpse of his bear’s foot, where the letter B was stitched on with gold thread.

“Bucky!” Tony said happily.

“Bucky?” The man asked, looking like a deer in headlights.

“Uh huh! My Bucky-bear!” Tony giggled, hugging Bucky for a second.

Bucky chuckled, lifting Tony out of his lap and laying him into the bed. “Bucky-bear it is, then. But now is time for little boy’s and Bucky-Bears to get some sleep, okay?”

Tony nodded, rolling over and cuddling into his bear. His face was still damp with tears, but the reason why was gone. He was home and with people that loved him—that’s all that mattered. (And he had his Bucky-bear.)

Chapter Text

“What do you mean you don’t know how to make snowflakes!” Clint asked, much more loud than necessary.

They were sitting at the table, talking over bowls of Fruit Loops before the last day of school for the winter term. Well, more like spewing cereal across the table. Clint really needed to learn how to eat with his mouth closed, Tony thought.

Tony shrugged. “Never done ‘em before.”

“How have you never made paper snowflakes!” Clint asked again. “You can’t have Christmas without paper snowflakes!”

“My other schools just didn’t do that kind of stuff, I guess.” Tony hunched over his bowl, suddenly feeling a bit vulnerable.

The past week had been nothing but learning about different winter holidays across the world at school. They’d started with Hanukkah, then went to Christmas, then Kwanza, and then New Year’s, both eastern and western. Tony had to admit, it was kinda cool to learn how everyone celebrated differently. Thing was, Tony hadn’t participated in any winter holiday since he was little, and every foster family since said he hadn’t been good enough for Santa to bring him anything. And the one Jewish family he’d stayed with said only Jewish children receive Gelt. Which left Tony in a bit of a bind, because he wasn’t really expecting anything to come this year and was now very behind.

And, for some reason, Clint was determined to make sure Tony got every holiday experience, shouting out all the things he’d done before through the week and increasing Tony’s disease on the subject. To be honest, Tony wouldn’t mind if they just skipped the whole thing. Especially his holiday party at school today.

Mr Wilson had asked each student to pull a name from his bucket. They weren’t to tell anyone who’s name they got, but they had to get that person a small gift. “Secret Santa” Mr Wilson had called it. Whatever it was, Tony knew just how it was going to end. The last time he’d been included in something like this, he ended up not being able to get a gift. And, because he didn’t have anything to give, his teacher informed him he wasn’t aloud to take one. His gift had been handed to the student he’d been assigned, and Tony went home empty-handed.

“How about I teach you tonight, when we get back from school?” Clint offered. “And maybe we can talk pop into making cookie dough for us!”

Tony sighed, standing up from the table with his bowl. “I just don’t care enough, Clint. I’d rather work on my robot.”

“But...” Clint started, voice almost breaking. “It’s tradition.”

Tony placed his bowl in the sink, letting the water run for a second so the milk wouldn’t stick, and then placing it in the dishwasher. “Well, then you can do it with Tasha and Bruce just like before I got here. That’ll make it even more like tradition.”

“Boys, grab your bags, please! We gotta go!” Steve called from upstairs.

Tony had seen him trying to get Bruce ready for school, and was not surprised Steve was still up there. Getting him ready was difficult on a normal day. On a day where he hadn’t slept well? Near impossible.

Tony grabbed his hoodie—another one of those mysterious hand-me-downs that Steve had found—and threw his backpack over one shoulder. Clint dropped off his dishes and did the same. And, if Tony noticed Clint acting a but sour as he yanked his coat off the hanger and nearly broke the brass hook as he did the same with his book bag, he wasn’t about to say anything.

At school, Tony sat with his table mates, coloring pictures of people standing around singing. James had taken to making them look like members of his church choir, saying him mom would love it. Virginia, in true “Potts” fashion, didn’t have a single color out of place, even in the smaller places that were hard to reach with the dull crayons. Happy, however, said the people looked like his family, and was coloring them in accordingly. Tony had no care for the page, happy to just not be doing school work.

He was quickly bored with the assigned page and move on to notebook paper where he stole Happy’s idea and started drawing his “family.” Bucky’s hair was long, and his metal arm stood out in dark gray. Tony always liked when the man walked around in a shirt or something that shower his arm. He looked like some kind of super hero. And then, just for fun, Tony drew on a cape and an S in red crayon. Then, realizing he was more like Batman, quickly scribbled it over with black and gave his hair small spikes for the bat ears. Steve was then turned into Superman, but with blond hair. Which, really, Tony liked better. Soon enough, his whole family were members of the Justice League. Clint was Green Arrow, Natasha became Black Canary, and Bruce was the Flash—his favorite.

“I didn’t know you had a family of super heroes!” James smiled.

Tony nodded. “Yup. We’re cool like that.”

James laughed, and went back to his picture. Tony followed suit.

The last hour of school, Tony was more antsy than ever. The whole room was abuzz with cookies and singing and laughing, and it was feeding Tony’s legs. He was out of his seat, trying to talk with other kids in his class. Most of them shoved him aside, but Tony’s body kept pushing him forward. Even when Mr Wilson had called for everyone to take their seats. Tony was rocking side to side right up until his teacher brought up the gift exchange.

Suddenly, Tony didn’t feel so energetic. He kept his eyes on the stack of coloring sheets on his desk, making sure not to look up as his classmates were given instructions on what to do. They were told to take the gift they brought and leave it on the desk of their classmate, and then return to their seat. They’d open them all together when everyone was seated.

Tony laid his head down as Happy, James, and Virginia got up with their neatly wrapped gifts. Tony felt the worst for Virginia, who had him as her Secret Santa. Tony had really wanted to get her a necklace he’d seen on his last trip to the store with Steve. She had this secret interest in bunnies, something Tony had come to pick up only after sitting with her for so long. A sticker here, a mention there, and the way she signed her name with bunny ears for the last two I’s.

Instead, Tony thought, she was going to get stuck with whatever prank gift someone had gotten for him. He sighed, turning his head toward the cubbies and away from the classroom. He was determined to stay there until he felt a tap on his arm.

Tony looked up, all plans of telling his gift-giver to place the box on Virginia’s desk gone as he looked into the eyes of Mr Wilson.

“Steve dropped this off with me when he took Bruce to class. Said you forgot it.” Mr Wilson said as he handed over a long box, wrapped neatly with a bow on top.

Tony couldn’t help as his brow furrowed, staring at the gift. “But, Mr Wilson, I didn’t...”

Mr Wilson smiled, cutting Tony off as he said, “Sometimes, it’s best not to question magic.”

Tony took the gift slowly, reading the tag to see that it was from him and to Virginia. And, with a small smile, he slid the gift across his grouping of desks, placing the box on hers. A small fuzzy feeling of excitement settled over him. He was finally getting to participate in his school holiday party!

He was so joyful over giving, he’d forgotten that he was getting a gift, too. So, as Happy tapped his arm and handed him a decent sized box, Tony was at a loss of words.

“I told my mom you really like to draw, and we thought this would be a good gift. I hope you like it!” Happy gave one of his rare smiles, then walked back to his desk.

Tony ripped open his gift to find a shoe box stuffed with pencils, graph paper, colored pencils, markers, a large sketch book, and a huge box of crayons in every color you could think of. Just as he was putting everything back in the box, Tony heard a small gasp. He looked up to find Virginia had opened her gift, and was now flipping it around to wear it. Tony smiled. His first time choosing a gift hadn’t been too bad. He still wondered how Steve had gotten that without him noticing. It was the exact necklace he’d been looking at, too. A tiny rabbit sat alert on the pendant, tail fluffy behind it as he seemed to sniff the air. The chain met the bunny at it’s head with a loop between the raised ears. Virginia smiled over at him, the first one Tony had seen from the girl that was this bright. He liked that smile. He liked that he’d been the one to put it there even more.

Tony shrugged, deciding to follow Mr Wilson’s advice and just let the magic be. He’d thank Steve later.

Clint was still in a sour mood when they all got home that afternoon, and Tony was starting to feel like it may be his fault. Clint seemed to be a little more short tempered with him especially. It took Tony the next two days to figure out that it tied back to Clint’s tradition. And it was Monday by the time Tony thought if a way to fix it.

He loved Clint, and really didn’t like the older boy’s attitude. Neither did Steve or Bucky, who had sent him to his room on several different occasions. Tony looked up videos on YouTube of paper snowflakes, but they didn’t help much. He’d fold the paper the way they showed him, and try to snip in all the right spots, but he’d just end up with a tattered piece of paper in the end. After his fifth try, Tony took his paper upstairs to Clint’s room and knocked on the door.

“What?” Clint asked as he swung open the door.

Tony opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t with the way Clint was glaring at him. Was the older boy really that mad? Maybe Clint didn’t like him anymore? Maybe he was trying to get Steve and Bucky to send him back and try with a new brother? Clint’s been so angry and it was all Tony’s fault, he deserved to be sent back.

Tony dropped the scissors and paper, running to his shared room and slamming the door closed. He ran to his bed, pulling back the covers and hiding underneath them, Bucky-bear tucked close. He wondered for a moment if he’d be able to keep his bear when they got someone new, but soon realized he wouldn’t. Natasha would want it back. And that tought hurt more than anything. All he could do was cry and wail and try not to be too loud and make more people mad.

“Tony! Tony!” Clint said as he barged onto the room.

“Go away!” Tony screamed, the tears and pain giving him a louder voice than he was expecting.

“Tony, I’m sorry!” Clint cried, taking a step closer. “I’m sorry.”

Tony sat up, bear still in his grasp because he didn’t care what Clint thought anymore. “Sorry for what!”

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk!” Clint said, a tear falling down his face. And, had it not been for that, Tony would have told him to get out.

Clint never cried. He was big and strong, and told all of the bullies off.

“I really am.”

Tony eyed the older boy for a second more, wiping at his running nose as he looked down. “I know you’re a jerk. You don’t have to tell me.”

“I know,” Clint gave a wet laugh, “but I shouldn’t be one to you.”

Tony looked up as Clint walked closer, settling himself on the edge of the bed.

“Before I came to live with dad and pop, I used to live in a billions different foster homes. I had an older brother who looked out for me. We never got to really celebrate Christmas. But we’d make snowflakes and hang them where ever we could. Walls, ceilings, everywhere.” Clint said, twisting his hands around each other. “We didn’t have much, but we had that. And, when I came here with Natasha, we taught dad and pop how to do them, and it carried through.”

They sat in silence for a while before Tony asked, “What happened to your brother?”

Clint shrugged. “One day, he was taken away and just never came back. I was taken away from a family and thrown in a group home until Steve and Bucky found me.”

The room went quiet again for a few moments before Clint stood up with a clap of his hands. “Come on.”

Tony eyed the older boy. Tony was still red faced and unsure if he felt like leaving his bear just yet. He hated that he’d grown so attached, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to wean himself off it.

“I saw that you were trying to make them yourself. You were really close, just missing one step!” Clint waved his hand, and, when Tony didn’t immediately hop up, he said, “You can bring your bear.”

Tony frowned, acting as if he was offended by the very idea. It didn’t stop him from tossing the blankets aside and following his brother with his bear in hand, though.

Tony let his head fall to the table with a thunk when he realized he’d just been folding the paper the wrong way. He was trying to do squares, not triangles. But, once Clint had showed him, Tony was cranking out snowflakes. With Steve’s help and Natasha’s sharp eye, they were strung all across the house. They dangled just enough to keep it looking nice, but not so much to where Bucky or Steve would hit their head on them. And they stayed on the upper side of the walls so Bruce wouldn’t be tempted to pull the all off. They’d learned that one that hard way, Tony realized as they taped a few more on the walls.

Bruce only managed two after his afternoon nap, done with the project and ready to move on to cookies after only a few minutes. Still, Natasha hung one on the door and one on the book shelf, smiling proudly as she took a few steps back.

The finished the day off with sugar cookies and decorating, ending up with most of it in their mouth or on the floor. Steve and Bucky didn’t seem to mind, though, laughing right along as Bruce smeared icing across the table and Clint dumped half the container of sprinkles all over the floor. And they didn’t once tell Tony he was too loud, or needed to calm down. Though, he was warned to watch where his hands were flying when he almost hit Natasha whilst telling a story.

The next two days flew by, and Steve and Bucky never seemed to be home at the same time. The day before Christmas, it had even snowed. Clint had layered on extra jackets on Tony before they ran outside, claiming he didn’t want his little brother to freeze on Christmas Eve. They didn’t have real sleds, but Tony found out that garbage can lids and dog food bags from a neighbor work just as well—if not better. It seemed like every kid in the neighborhood was out sledding the giant hill by their house. Every single one of them had lined up at one point, holding each other’s hands as they pushed off and fell in one long line. Tony had never had so much fun.

But, soon enough, the snow had seeped into his clothes and he was soaked to the bone. His gloves cracked when he moved them and didn’t think he’d be able to make it up the hill after going down again. Just as Tony was about to speak up, he heard Steve calling them in for dinner. Clint raced to the door, Natasha hot on his tail with a green dog food bag flailing in the wind behind her. Tony decided to walk, too tired for much else.

Never in his life had Tony been so grateful for chicken noodle soup. After they had dropped all of their soaking clothes off in the mud room, Clint, Natasha, Tony, and Bruce sat at the table slurping at bowls of broth, warming themselves from the inside out. Bucky had playfully pulled Tony from his seat after dinner, lifting him up and down as Steve attacked his stomach with tickles. Tony didn’t think he’d ever laughed that much in his life.

“You three go and get a shower. When you’re finished, we can start our movie.” Bucky said, rustling Tony’s hair.

Tony swatted at the hand, but did as he was asked, taking the hall bathroom and Natasha and Clint raced to their shared one. In no time at all, Tony was dried off and dressed in fuzzy sleep pants and a matching shirt. It wasn’t until he was down stairs that he realized all of his siblings had a matching pair. He wasn’t sure if he should act annoyed or not, but it was really hard to when he was so excited about matching Clint and Bruce. He liked feeling like part of a unit.

Steve and Bucky asked for everyone to be in the couch, so Clint and Natasha took Bruce’s hand, and Tony followed as they settled down on the edge of their seats. Bruce sat in Clint’s lap, holding Tony and Natasha’s hands as they leaned in. After the men had gotten their pictures, they sat down in either side of the couch and started some kind of Christmas movie that Tony felt like he’d seen before. Bucky got back up to fetch some hot coco, handing each kid a plastic mug save for Bruce, who was still on sippy-cups when not in the kitchen. Tony watched out if the corner of his eye as his little brother latched onto his blanket Bucky handed him, not paying attention as he was tapped in the back of his head with something. When he turned around, he was face to face with Bucky-bear’s soft, brown fur. Tony gently took hold of the bear, checking to see if his older brother or sister notice and relieved to see they were tuned in to the movie.

It hit Tony as his eyes were growing heavy that Santa Clause was supposed to come tonight, and wouldn’t be bringing him any gifts. And, for the first time, Tony couldn’t really bring himself to care. He had everything he wanted right there on that couch. So what if he didn’t get toys or clothes? He had brothers and a sister, and parents that seemed to actually care. He had all the computer parts he could ever want. All the help he’s ever need with Bruce.

It was funny how Tony had never put the thing he wanted most on his Christmas list. Seemed to him Santa didn’t really need one when it was something you truly wanted. And this could never be put under a tree.

Chapter Text

Tony, can you pass me the black crayon, please?” James asked, holding his hand out.

Tony looked down at his large collection of colors pulled from the classroom bin. He had them all strewn about, not really paying attention as he was throwing them around. He pulled out the black and held it out for James, letting the other boy take it before he went back to his page.

Mr Wilson had decided that they were going to do a project for their families this week instead of a spelling test for English. Tony was more than thrilled, the aspect of not having to study words and getting more time to work on his robot exciting him into finishing the assignment early.

It was a simple assignment, where everyone had to write down all of the people living in their house along with three words that best describe them. The only catch was that it had to all be spelt correctly, in full sentences that were grammatically correct. Tony decided not to focus on that too much, knowing Steve would help him if Tony asked.

Tony looked up as he realized that may not be the best idea. He wanted to surprise Steve and Bucky and everyone with his work. If Steve had to write down the words, he’d know what Tony was up to. Tony looked at his paper with a pretty good drawing of Clint, arm stretched out wide in preparation for a hug. Off the top of his head we’re a few streaks of crayon made to look like his constant bed-head. Maybe he could just try his best and no one would know any better? Better than letting his family see their surprise early.

He wrote across the bottom as slowly as he could, giving himself time to think about how everything looked before he moved on.

“Brother has an O and E, not two U’s.” James said when he glanced over.

Tony put his arms over his paper, scowling at James. “What do you care.”

James shrugged. “Mr. Wilson said he was checking for spelling. Just thought you’d like to know.”

Tony narrowed his eyes at his table mate, glancing over to Happy’s page with detailed people and Virginia’s with perfect handwriting. James’s page was a mess of color and writing, but it looked fun.

“Who’s that?” Tony asked, pointing to a curly-haired woman.

“That’s my mom.” James said, reaching for a pink crayon and finishing the dress she was wearing. “Pink is her favorite color.”

Tony looked down at the space he had saved for each member of his family. He knew Clint liked purple, Natasha liked blue, and Bruce preferred green. But he hadn’t thought about Bucky or Steve’s favorite colors. Maybe he should ask them tonight.

“How Big is all of your families?” Tony asked all of his table mates.

Happy pointed to the number at the side of his paper. “Just me, my mom, my dad, and my sister.”

“I have a sister, too!” Said Tony. “She doesn’t talk a lot, but she’s the best!”

“So is mine! She’s only a baby, but she runs to me when I get off the bus!” Happy replied, a real grin on his face. “She gives me a big hug and then we walk back to my mom together!”

“Bruce does that to me!” Tony laughed. “When he doesn’t come to school, he waits for me by the door! And then we go and build stuff together!”

“Man, I wish I had a little brother.” James sighed. “Maybe I can ask my mom.”

Tony nodded. “Not all little brothers are like Bruce, though. I’ve been in lots of homes where they were really mean. The younger kids would steal my toys and then cry every time I asked for them back. Or scream, saying I’d hit them.”

There was a moment of silence as Tony stared down at the table. After a second, he looked back up at Virginia who still hadn’t said a word.

“Who are you doing?”

Virginia shrugged, going back to her work.

Unfazed, Tony asked, “Who’s in your family?”

For a few seconds, Tony didn’t think he was going to get an answer. And then, finally, she said, “It’s just me and my sister.”

It was almost inaudible over the sound of the classroom chatter and movement, but Tony could pick up on something odd in the way she’d said it—almost like it was a secret. Tony wan’t exactly know for being sensitive, but something about the situation told him to just leave the girl be for now. He could ask questions later.

Class carried on normally after English was over, and Tony had forgotten all about Virginia and her sister. At the end of the day, as Steve showed up with Bruce on his hip, Mr Wilson handed over a piece of paper to him.

“Last weeks report. Sorry I’d forgotten to stick it in his folder.” The teacher said.

Tony looked onward, confused for a moment before he remembered the stupid planner he’d been assigned. Just another way for the school to tell him he was stupid, really. They kept track of everything he did wrong in class and gave him a one-through-ten based on behavior each day. If he got a 45 or above for the whole week three times in a row, he wouldn’t have to do them anymore.

Tony rarely scored above a ten for the whole week, and had given up hope on ever getting rid of the stupid sheet.

“Thank you, Mr Willson.” Steve said, somehow folding the paper with one hand and placing it in his back pocket.

The drive home was nothing significant, and Tony had almost fallen asleep. Bruce was humming most of the way, which Tony was growing to enjoy everyday.

Everyone said Bruce never spoke, but Tony didn’t really agree. He just had his own language. A grunt and a finger point got Tony’s attention that he needed a specific piece. When he got lost or had a block, he’d groan and fall backwards. Tony would leave him be for a minute, and then go over to help.

And then there were the soft hums. Bruce had hard hums, too, when he was getting overwhelmed and Steve needed to help. But his soft hums just meant he was content, and Tony liked them. He knew he wasn’t alone when he heard them as he fell asleep, or in the car, or when they were building. Tony understood wholeheartedly why Bruce liked humming—it was comforting.

It was this sound that had him almost asleep when they reached the house, only waking as the SUV shook side to side when they drove up the curb to the drive way.

Tony rubbed his eyes as he unbuckled his seatbelt and grabbed his backpack.

“You okay there, bud?” Steve asked, eyes scanning him over in the rearview mirror.

Tony nodded his head, opening the door and jumping out of the car. He was okay. Just really tired. Maybe he could go get some sleep before dinner? But then Bruce would be upset they didn’t work on their robot. And Steve would be upset if he did anything before doing homework.

Deciding to just tough it out, Tony walked to the front door and went inside, Natasha and Clint following closely. They all went straight to the table, pulling out their homework for the night. Steve always had them doing homework right after they got home. Clint and Natasha had large textbooks they had to do questions from every night. Tony had a packet with five different work sheets all stapled together. He had to do one paper every night, and then they did the last one in class on Friday.

He’d already blazed through math and science last night, finishing both worksheets within an hour. (He knew how to tell time on a clock with hands and all the parts of his body, thank you very much!) They were going to do the music sheet in class, which only left English and history—both of the things Tony didn’t like. They required too much reading and Tony wasn’t really feeling it right now.

But, as much as he hated reading, he hated people being mad at him more. Steve wouldn’t be very happy if he’d left the table without doing something school-wise. That’s when he remembered his question from earlier that day.

“Hey Clint, what’s Steve and Bucky’s favorite colors?”

Clint looked up from his work in thought. “Dad like’s blue, I’m pretty sure. And pops loves purple”.

Tony narrowed his eyes. “Purple is a girl’s color.” Bucky didn’t seem like the type to like girl colors

“No it’s not!” Clint said defensively.

“Yes it is!” Tony said back. “Only girls can like pink and purple.”

“That’s not true ‘cause I like pink and purple! You’re being stupid!” Clint yelled across the table.

“I am not! You are!” Tony yelled back, jumping up from his chair.

“Stop it now.” Steve said, somehow appearing out of nowhere. “Clint, finish your work. Tony, to your room.”

“But I didn’t do anything!” Tony fought.

“No, sir.” Steve said sternly.

Everyone was just being mean and he didn’t want to be around them anyway. He ran up to his room, making sure to stomp on every step and slam his door closed. Tony didn’t care if he got in trouble, either. It was worth it.

He plopped down on his bed, trying his hardest not to let any tears fall. Honestly, he wasn’t sure why he was mad and upset. He just knew he was. And he was going to blame Clint ‘til his last breath.

He sat alone for several minuets until Steve came in, only two knocks to announce his presence before the door swung open and he stepped in.

“What was that all about, hum?” He asked, pulling over a chair from the table Bucky had set up for their robots.

Tony shrugged, purposely keeping his eyes on the floor and away from Steve.

“Sounded pretty heated.”

Tony shrugged again.

“You know, brothers fight. It’s just what they do. Sisters, too. And, really, just people in general. But it’s important to discuss our differences and not yell”.

“Clint started it!” Tony said defensively.

Steve put up his hand. “It doesn’t matter who starts it. It matters how you walk away from it. How do you think you’ve made Clint feel with your words?”

Tony hand’t really thought about it. He’d been too upset. But now, he was starting to see what Steve meant.

“Bad.”

“And why do you think that?” Steve asked.

Tony shrugged, but Steve didn’t say anything. The silence was pushing him to say something, so he finally did. “‘Said purple was a girl color.”

“Yeah. Why do you think that might make him feel bad?”

And then it clicked.

Clint’s favorite color was purple.

Tony let his head fall onto the pillows of his bed. “I messed up.”

Steve placed a hand on Tony’s back, rubbing softly. “It’s okay to mess up, but it’s not okay to say mean things carelessly. What do you think we should do from here?”

Tony closed his eyes, wrapping his arms around his chest, crying. “I’m sorry.”

Tony felt hands on his sides as he was lifted up and placed in Steve’s lap. Large arms wrapped around him, squeezing for a moment before saying, “I forgive you. But there’s someone else who needs to hear this too.”

Tony nodded, but made no move to get off Steve’s lap. He’d never really done this before, and he kind of like it. Steve was warm and he smelled nice—like fresh laundry and some kind of after-shave.

After a few moments, Tony finally realized he was sitting there too long and would need to get up and apologize to Clint.

A few minutes later found him outside of Clint’s door, Steve watching from across the hall as he knocked on the door lightly. He could hear Clint’s muffled voice saying he could come in.

Tony opened the door, finding Clint on his bed reading some book. He’d been obsessing over the series for weeks now and Tony had heard about it non-stop, but still couldn’t remember the name.

“Hey,” Clint said, setting the book down and shifting so his feet were hanging over the side of the mattress.

“Clint, I’m sorry!” Tony said, not even trying to beat around the bush. His tears were back full-force, cutting his breath into short gasps as he cried.

“Tony,” Clint said, walking over to hug his brother.

Tony was getting hugged a lot today. But he was crying a lot, too. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but he was appreciative of it nonetheless.

“Hey, look,” Clint said, pushing Tony back and looking him in the eyes. “It did hurt my feeling a bit, but I’m also sorry. I’m sorry I yelled at you instead of just explaining, and I’m sorry I got you in trouble.”

Tony nodded, saying, “Purple isn’t a girl color.”

Clint laughed, wiping at his eye. Tony thought it might have been a tear, but he wasn’t sure. “It kind of is, but it’s okay to like things that are considered that way. There’s nothing wrong with liking any color, right?”

Tony nodded. “I like red.”

Clint laughed, rustling Tony’s hair. “I know. All is forgiven, okay?”

“Okay,” Tony agreed, leaning in for one last hug. Clint happily agreed, lifting Tony up just a bit until the boy was laughing.

When dinner was ready, Tony was officially out of energy. He didn’t have much to start with, but crying had taken pretty much everything left. Even a plate of chicken and rice didn’t look very appetizing, despite being one of his favorite foods. He just pushed it around his plate, ignoring the conversation until they were dismissed.

Tony went right up to his room, not even bothering with pajamas as he fell on his bed and almost instantly fell asleep.

Waking with a start, Tony looked around the room. Steve was waking Bruce and seemed surprised Tony had woken on his own. Tony still felt groggy and slow, but now his stomach was starting to twist.

He didn’t say anything to Steve or Bucky as he got ready, though the men kept shooting side glances his way.

He really couldn’t throw himself into his project like he had the day before, preferring to just let his head rest on his desk. James and Happy had tried bringing him into their conversation, but Tony really didn’t feel well. His head was starting to pound and his stomach just felt worse by the minute.

At recess, Tony opted to join Virginia by a large tree away from the equipment he was normally all over. Virginia had brought a note book with her and was drawing some weird picture.

“Is it a bird?” Tony asked, turning his head to get a better view, but regretting it as the pain was worsened.

Virginia snapped the book closed to her chest and looked up, as if she was shocked Tony was there. “No, it’s a game.”

“What kind of game?”

“One I saw my sister playing with Mr Zola.”

“Oh. Was she having fun?” Tony asked.

Virginia shook her head. “I don’t think so. When I asked, she said that I shouldn’t tell anyone.”

“Then why would she play it?”

“I think Mr Zola makes her.” Virginia answered, pulling her book away from her chest to show Tony.

It looked like two people laying on each other to him, neither of the figures smiling. Something about it gave Tony a weird feeling in his gut that had nothing to do with what was making him so tired.

“Who’s Mr Zola?” Tony asked, looking back up.

“My foster dad. He’s watching my sister and I until my mom can take us back.”

“He doesn’t sound very nice.”

“He yells a lot.” Virginia admitted. “Some times he hits us.”

“Have you told anyone?”

Virginia shook her head. “My sisters says we shouldn’t—that no one would believe us. And then we’d be moved to a different home.”

Tony sat in silence for a moment. He remembered other kids saying they’d been separated because of stuff like that. Still, Tony felt like this was something he needed to tell someone.

“Virginia, can I see you please?” Mr Willson called across the playground.

Virginia sighed. “I’ll be right back.” She sat her notebook down, and set off to find their teacher.

Tony took his chance and grabbed the note book, ripping out the picture and stuffing it in his pocket. He quickly closed the book and stood, following after Virginia at a much slower pace.

An hour later, they were back in the class room and Tony felt worse than ever. His stomach hurt so much that he had his arms wrapped around and squeezing his lower abdomen tightly. His head had taken permanent residence on his desk top.

Just as Tony was starting to drift, he felt a familiar hand on his back. His eyes opened just enough to see blond hair and very blue eyes.

“Steve?” He managed to get out, voice sounding raspy and far away.

“It’s okay, bud. I’ve got you. Just a bit of a stomach bug. You’ll be okay.” Steve whispered, picking Tony up the same way he’s seen the man pick up Bruce—under the armpits and right to his chest. Tony wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck, letting his head rest on the man’s shoulder.

“Don’t feel good.”

“I know, baby. It’s okay. Just try to get some sleep.”

Tony nodded. Sleep sounded really good. Really, really good. He let his eyes drift closed and fell back into peaceful bliss.

—-

Steve really wasn’t sure what he expected when he got a call from the school saying Tony had a fever, but this wasn’t it. Tony was limp and warm, sweating and shivering at the same time.

He knew he shouldn’t have let him come to school today. Tony’d been showing signs since yesterday, but hadn’t said a single word.

It did explain the fight, though. Over-tired kids would start a fight with anyone about anything.

Apparently, one of Tony’s classmates had gone to Mr Willson to tell him the student was asleep. When the teacher went over to wake him, he instantly knew something was askew. A quick forehead test and Sam was calling in a nurse to carry him to the office and then Steve to come pick him up.

When he’d finally gotten home, he pulled Tony out of the car—still slightly put-off by how little he weighed—and straight to Tony’s bed.

Steve pulled off Tony’s shoes and clothes, getting a pair of pajamas on him before placing him under the covers, all without waking him.

Before Steve even had a chance to place his hand on Tony’s forehead, a gentle knock came on the door. Steve turned around to find Bucky leaning against the door jam, still in his work clothes.

“You didn’t have to come home.” Steve said, hiding how relieved he was to have his husband there.

“I know.” Bucky said, pulling over the other chair and sitting next to Steve. “Get anything in him yet?”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to wake him enough.” Steve sighed, leaning his head on his husband’s shoulder.

“Can’t hurt to try.”

Bucky stood, placing a kiss on Steve’s forehead before walking off. A minute later, he was back in the room with a bottle of fever reducer and a spoon. “Think you can get him to sit up?”

Steve nodded, shifting around in Tony’s bed so the boy was still comfortable whilst leaning against Steve’s chest.

“Hey, Tony-boy,” Bucky whispered, rubbing his hand through the boy’s hair. “I need you to wake up for a second, please.”

This earned them both a protesting groan as Tony tried to wiggle away for the hand waking him.

“I know, bud, but you need to take some medicine, okay?”

Tony shook his head no, which made Steve smile as Bucky whispered, “Defiant little sucker, even when he’s sick.” They both knew Bucky was only joking.

“Tony, I just need you to—“

And then Steve could feel as Tony leaned forward and puked, body convulsing a few times through jagged and stressed breaths. It was gross, and it stunk, but it wasn’t the worst the men had dealt with.

“It’s all over his bed set.” Bucky said, reaching for the boy once it looked like he was done.

“Go lay him in our bed and try to get some of that medicine in him. I’ll get this cleaned up.”

“Oh, sure, give yourself the easy job.” Bucky laughed, carefully walking with Tony out of the room.

Steve quickly pulled the covers off Tony’s bed, happy he had thought to tuck Tony in. He only had to clean the blankets, and not the boy. He threw them into the washer, setting it on heavy-duty before walking into his room.

“Medicine has been taken.” Bucky said, almost as if it was a report. He was still stuck in his military ways.

“Good. Now to just hope he can keep it down.” Steve said as he crawled into bed next to them. “I’ll pick up the kids if you want to stay with him?”

“Sounds like a plan.” Bucky said, leaning over to kiss Steve gently. “You okay?”

Steve sighed. “Yeah, I just knew I shouldn’t have let him go to school.”

“Don’t beat yourself up up over this, okay?” Bucky said, his dark eyes locking onto Steve’s. “Kids get sick. We should know.”

Steve sighed, looking Tony over. He looked a little better since he puked, which was kind of funny to think about.

“I’m going to get the kids.” Steve said, getting up.

“Be safe, love you.”

“Love you.”

—-

Tony finally woke up late that night, groggy and tired. He was still slow moving and his limbs were heavy, but he felt better than he had all day.

“Hey bud,” Bucky smiled down, running a hand through his hair.

Tony enjoyed the moment before wondering what all had happened.

“How’re you feeling?”

“Better,” Tony said, voice raspy. “Where are we?”

“You’re in our bed. Bit of an up-chuck earlier in your own.”

Tony felt his face twist in disgust.

“Don’t worry, Steve already washed your sheets.” Bucky chuckled.

“Did he wash my pants?” Tony asked, suddenly remembering the drawling he’d stuffed in his pocket.

“I don’t think so,” Bucky said, cut off from saying anything more as Tony jumped out of bed.

He ignored the head rush as he ran to his room, rooting around to find where his jeans had gone. Of course Steve had actually put them in the laundry hamper like some kind of heathen. Tony pulled them out and went through the pockets, ignoring Bucky as he walked in.

“Bud, we should get back in bed.” Bucky said gently.

Tony’s hand brushed the crumpled paper and pulled at it. It was a little weathered, but Tony didn’t care as he handed it to Bucky.

“What’s this?” Bucky asked, gently unfolding the paper.

“A drawing. Virginia was coloring on the playground.”

“Did you take someone’s things?” Buck asked, a sternness in his voice that Tony didn’t like.

“Yes, but I had to. I’m sorry I broke the rules.” Tony didn’t really care about getting in trouble at the moment. He still didn’t feel well and it had affected his dreams, making them scary and dark. Suffice to say, Tony was surprised he’d remembered the drawing at all.

Bucky’s face fell into a solum look as his eyes fell on the picture. “Stay here, okay? I’m going to get Steve.”

Tony nodded, deciding to just sit on the floor and wait as Bucky stepped out. He walked back in a few minutes later with Steve in tow, both men looking serious.

They took seats on the floor with Tony, taking deep breaths.

“Tony, I know you don’t feel well, but can you tell us who you got this drawing from?”

Tony nodded his head. “Virginia.”

“Is she a girl from your class.” Steve asked.

Tony nodded again.

“Did she say anything about the drawing?” Bucky asked.

Another nod.

“What’d she say?”

“That her sister and foster dad play a game that’s not fun and she told Virginia not to tell anyone cause she and her sister wouldn’t get to stay together.” Tony said. “I’m sorry I took the drawing, I know it wasn’t right.”

“No, Tony,” Steve shifted closer, taking Tony’s hands. “In this case, it’s a good thing you took the picture and showed us.”

“Do you know who the man is? Did she say?” Bucky asked.

“A man named Mr Zola. She said he yells a lot and hits sometimes.” Tony twisted his hands around each other. “Virginia said she and her sister might not stay together anymore. I don’t want my friend to get hurt.”

Bucky took a deep breath. “We want you to know you’re not in trouble, okay? We’re going to make sure that Virginia and her sister don’t have to be with that man any more.”

“Promise?” Tony asked, feeling tears again.

“With all my heart.” Bucky forced a smile, but still pulled Tony close. “Let’s get you back to bed, okay? I think it’s time for a bit more medicine.”

Tony nodded his head, pleased with the idea of more sleep as Bucky lifted him off the floor. He was handed something fuzzy, which he only realized was his Bucky-bear when he opened his eyes, and taken back to Steve and Bucky’s room.

“I have a bed.” Tony said as he was laid back down in the middle of the huge one in their room. To Tony, it went on for miles.

“We know, sweetheart. But your bed doesn’t have sheets yet.” Bucky said as he pulled the covers over Tony.

Already half asleep, Tony gave up the fight after a spoonful of bubblegum goo and settled in for the night

Chapter Text

Anthony, I need you in your seat please.” Mr Wilson said, sending Tony a stern look across the class room.

Tony nodded, quickly walking back to his seat, broken pencil still in hand. He really hadn’t meant to break it, but he saw the opportunity to stand and move and happily took it under the guise of walking to the sharpener.

Tony took his seat, laying his head on his arms as he glared at Mr Wilson. But, the empty desk was still visible out of the corner of his eye, filling his stomach with unease. Virginia hadn’t been back to school for nearly a week, and Tony was beyond worried.

He’d been out of school for a day after being sick, and she was gone on Friday when he got back. Monday had passed without the red head in her assigned seat, and Tony didn’t think much of it. But now it was Tuesday, and Tony was starting to worry.

Maybe Tony should check his cubby? She may have left him a note that he hadn’t seen when putting away his jacket.

“Anthony, seat please.” Mr Wilson called again.

Tony sighed, going back to his seat for the twenty-thousandth time. He was tired of sitting and listening. Mr Wilson never said anything fun, and Happy and James weren’t talking to him. Goody-two-shoes didn’t want to talk in class.

By the time lunch hit, Tony was already on yellow and one more reprimand away from losing recess. He knew he was being annoying and disruptive, he knew he should stay in his seat and listen, but he just couldn’t. His legs and body didn’t care about hitting red and losing time on the playground. Not to mention it didn’t look like James or Happy wanted anything to do with him, which meant he’d spend the time alone no matter what.

As Tony sat, eating his lunch alone and in silence, he realized that maybe Virginia was out because of him. Maybe her foster dad found out that Tony took that picture and showed Steve and Bucky and he’d gotten mad and made sure she couldn’t come to school.

Tony had foster parents that would do that before. They’d hit him when he was bad and then tell him he couldn’t go to school for two or three days until the visible bruises started to fade.

Or maybe her sister ran away and Virginia went looking for her? Tony had done that one too, when an older kid he’d been homed with ran off. His name was Barney, but he said he had to go find his brother and then never came back. Tony had looked all over the neighborhood and made sure he left the window unlocked for him to climb back in if he ever did come back. He was moved to a new home a week after the teen had disappeared.

What if Virginia just ran away? Tony had thought about doing that a lot. He was never able to, though. Too scared his foster parents would beat him harder if he was found and dragged back like the other kids. But, if she did run away, what would happen if she was caught? Would she be beaten harder? What about her sister?

“Hey, Anthony,” Mr Wilson said when they got back to the classroom after lunch to put away lunch boxes before recess. “I have a big favor to ask of you.”

Tony could feel his face scrunch in confusion, waiting for the teacher to go on.

“Do you think you could be a helper for one of the kindergarten teachers for the rest of today?”

Tony turned his head. “Why?”

“Well, Miss Maximoff asked me to send someone to help out with their craft time. She needed someone creative and with lots of energy to keep all of the kids on task.” Mr Wilson explained. “Do you think you could do that?”

Tony nodded enthusiastically. That was Bruce’s classroom. He’d get to spend time with Bruce in school! Awesome!

Mr Wilson smiled. “I’ll walk you down there in a minute, okay?”

“I know the way, Mr Wilson.” Tony said, shoving his lunch box into his cubby.

“I know, but I want to make sure Miss Maximoff knows who you are.”

Tony nodded his head, slightly subdued, but without losing his excitement.

True to his word, Mr Wilson led Tony to Bruce’s class room. Tony had never really been down this part of the school. Steve always picked Bruce up first, and they walked to the car right after.

Mr Wilson knocked on the door before opening it to reveal a large class room with small chairs and tables close to the ground. He could see all of the younger kids working on a coloring page where the alphabet had been made into some kind of cartoon train.

A tall woman with dark hair dressed in a red skirt and black blouse moved toward them with a smile and wave. “Hey guys!”

Tony gave a soft wave back, taking note of the slight accent in the woman’s voice. He kind of liked it.

“Miss Maximoff, this is Anthony.” Mr Wilson said, resting a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “He’s here to help you with your craft project today.”

“That’s great! Welcome, Anthony!” Miss Maximoff smiled. “And thank you so much for volunteering your recess! I promise we’ll have fun!”

Tony nodded his head, watching as Mr Wilson walked back into the hallway with the rest of the class.

Miss Maximoff held out her hand, which Tony started at for a second before deciding to grab it. She led him to a wall of art supplies, all organized in little bins that were labeled with white plastic.

“Can you grab for me the bin labeled glue sticks?” She asked, pulling a different bin from one of the higher shelfs.

Tony nodded, checking all of the labels before pulling out one with a blue lid and following the teacher to her desk.

“Can you please give one to each student, and then hand out these sheets?” She patted a stack of papers, and Tony nodded his head again.

He walked around to each table, giving each kid a glue stick by gently placing it in front of them on the desk and making sure it wasn’t covering their art project.

Tony hated when people passed things out and covered what he was working on.

When he was finished, he placed the nearly-empty bin on the desk and picked up the papers. Miss Maximoff had announced that she was picking up their coloring sheets, so Tony didn’t have to worry about covering their work this time.

The second time around, though, Tony realized Bruce wasn’t there. And then he remembered that it was Tuesday, and Bruce doesn’t go to school on Tuesday and Thursdays.

That was okay, though. Tony was still getting to help out and Miss Maximoff didn’t get on him once about walking around the class room because he was helping her out!

It turned out that the little kids were decorating their number of the week—twenty-three—with colorful paper and old newspapers. Tony bounced around from table to table to talk to the younger children, taking a liking to one named Scott, who had peppered his number with cut outs of computer parts and drew lines that made it look like a robot.

A dark haired kid sitting at one of the other tables kept being told not to take all the glue sticks but his classmates, and Miss Maximoff had to put him in time out. He had a sour look across his face when he was finally allowed back, but he didn’t bother anyone else.

All-in-all, Tony had a lot of fun. When clean up was finished, Miss Maximoff told Told that he could go on back to class, giving him a “Good work!” sticker before thanking him and walking with him to the door.

Tony didn’t care if he wasn’t supposed to, he ran all the way back to his classroom, panting as he pulled open the door and stepped inside. He walked back to his seat as the class put away their jackets and did the same.

“Guess what I got to do!” Tony smiled towards James.

James kept his head down, ignoring Tony.

But, Tony was used to getting people’s attention, and started poking the boy, saying, “James, James, James, James, guess what. James. Ja—“

“What!” He finally barked.

Tony sat back in his seat, looking James over. “Why are you being so mean to me!”

“Because you’re mean!” James shot back. “You stole Virginia’s picture and now she can’t come back!”

Tony felt his heart jump, eyes suddenly hot. “What do you mean she’s not coming back?”

“She was pulled out early on Thursday when you weren’t here.” Happy said, fingers twisting around his pencil. “She said she wouldn’t be coming back.”

“B-but... She has to.” Tony looked between his table mates.

“She would if you hadn’t taken that picture!” James spat.

“But I had to! Her sister was being hurt!” Tony defended himself. “She was being hurt and her foster dad is mean!”

“That’s not what she said.” Happy huffed.

Tony was about to ask what she had said when Mr Wilson asked for silence and set into their math lesson.

The two boys left the second the last bell rang, and Tony was left with unanswered questions.

“Hey, bud!” Steve greeted him. “I heard you had a fun day.”

Tony nodded, slipping his arm into the coat Steve held out.

“What to talk about it?” Steve probed.

Tony shook his head no, shrugging on the rest of his jacket before swinging on his back pack and walking toward the door.

He didn’t talk on the way home, and he didn’t talk to Bruce as they sorted pieces of their robot after his homework was finished, and he didn’t have anything to say at dinner. The whole time, he couldn’t help but notice Natasha’s eyes on him the whole time, evaluating his every move.

Later that night, as Bucky was helping put Bruce in his PJ’s, Tony sat on the edge of his bed with the same question wrapped around his head.

“What was that?” Bucky asked.

Tony looked up, realizing he must have said something out loud. “What?”

“You asked something about Virginia.” Bucky said, pulling the shirt over Bruce’s head and then smiling all dramatically at him, earning a giggle from the small boy.

“Oh...” Maybe Tony could just ask. Bucky must know everything that happens, right? He’s an adult and adults know lots of stuff.

“What’s going to happen to Virginia and her sister?”

Bucky’s face fell into a sullen look. He lifted Bruce up and placed him in bed, pulling up the covers and planting a kiss on his forehead before walking over to Tony, then siting on the side of his bed.

“What do you mean?”

“Is she going to leave school forever?” Tony asked. “James and Happy said she’s never coming back. Did Mr Zola hurt her again?”

Suddenly, there was an arm around Tony’s shoulders and he was being pulled in for a hug. “No, buddy. Nothing like that. We don’t know what’s going on, but know she’s safe, okay?”

Tony just nodded his head. He didn’t believe any of it, as much as he wanted to. Good stuff like that just didn’t happen to foster kids.

Bucky kissed the top of Tony’s head, then stood up. “Get some sleep, okay?”

Tony slumped back in bed, pulling the covers over his shoulders as he rolled over to face the wall.

“Good night, boy. Sleep tight.”

With a flick of the lights and a squeak of a door, Bucky was gone.

Tony closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

Several hours later, he woke with a start, gasping for air and feeling like he couldn’t breath. He shifted around, trying to sit up but unable to. He kicked and punched, finally coming free of the tangle of blankets. He snatched Bucky-bear from his sheets and stood several feet back, holding the stuffed animal to his chest.

When he finally caught his breath, he looked behind him to see if he’d woken Bruce. The boy slept soundly, one hand over his head and the other wrapped firmly around a blanket, which Tony had learned to never remove from his bed, after having tried to make a fort with it a while back. Clint had told him to put it back right away, and Natasha had distracted Bruce enough for Tony to do so.

Tony shook his head, deciding he needed water to help his dry mouth. He fumbled down the stairs in the dark, making sure to hit all fourteen—and, yes, he did count, because of situations like this—and turning the corner to walk down the hall.

He grabbed a plastic cup from the cabinet and filled it with water. When he tilted it back, he almost choked as someone said, “Tony?”

Tony sat his cup down, head wipping around to see Natasha’s face outlined by the walking lights Bucky and Steve had through the house.

“Tasha?” Tony asked, trying to calm his beating heart.

The figure nodded, then stayed still for a moment before saying, “Come with me.”

“Please don’t tell Steve and Bucky. Please.” Tony begged. He didn’t want to be in even more trouble just because he was out of bed.

“Not going to tell.” Natasha said. “Come. Please.”

Tony, slightly relieved, sat his cup on the counter and followed Natasha as she walked back up the stairs and towards her room. Tony hesitated at the entrance, but had no choice when Natasha pulled on his hand and brought him in.

“Tasha, what—“

Tony didn’t get a chance to finish as he was pulled under her covers, the girl getting in on the other side.

Natasha had a bigger bed than Tony, so there was plenty of room between them as they laid down.

“Sleep, I’ll watch.”

Tony turned his head to look at her. “What?”

“I’ll make sure nothing hurts you. I’ll watch. You can sleep without nightmares.”

Tony could feel his face flush, and pulled the blanket up to hide it. The girl had seen right through him. But how?

“Sometimes bears aren’t enough.” Natasha went on. “You can come in here, if you want. I don’t mind.”

This was Natasha trying to be nice to him, Tony realized. Not that she wasn’t nice before. But she was quiet and reserved, and had this straight way of thinking that made things a little rough. But Tony had loved her. Now he realized that it was just her way of showing she loved him right back.

Tony smiled, holding the bear close and snuggling in for sleep. Just as he was about to drift off, a question popped in his head.

“Tasha, do you get nightmares, too?”

There was a moment of silence where Tony had almost assumed he gone to sleep before she said, “Every night.”

Tony didn’t know how to respond, and decided that maybe she didn’t want him to. Maybe she just wanted someone, too.

“I’ll keep you safe, too, then.” Tony said.

He rolled over and grabbed the girl’s hand, pulling toward him so that their clasped hands sat in the middle of the bed.

And it was like this that Steve found them the next morning, snuggled into each other as they slept soundly.

Chapter Text

The next day was long, running on a lack of sleep gave him a disinterest in everything going on around the classroom. Tony didn’t get told to go back to his seat once, though he had gotten his notebook taken away.

 

“Anthony, we need to be doing math work now.” Mr Wilson said. “Do you not feel well?”

 

Tony shook his head, not looking at the teacher. “M’fine.”

 

Mr Wilson took in a breath, and let it out slowly. After a few more seconds, he was gone to scorn Justin for hoarding pencils again.

 

Tony laid his head on his paper, fiddling with his pencil. When something jabbed him in the shoulder, he shot up and glared at James.

 

His table mates still hadn’t spoken a word to him, and Tony was mad at them.

 

However, James slid his work sheet towards Tony, a sorrowful look on his face. Their eyes only met for a moment, and then James was nose-deep into the next set of problems on another paper.

 

Tony thought that James may have written wrong answers for Tony to copy and get wrong, but he didn’t care at this point. He was going to end up on red by the time lunch hit if Mr Wilson didn’t see he was making some kind of progress on his work.

 

He quickly copied the work, filling in the shapes and colors and calling it done after ten minutes. James pushed him the second sheet, and Tony copied that one, too. Mr Wilson stopped by twice, but seemed to have not noticed the placement of papers around the group of desks.

 

For recess, Tony sat off to the side against the same tree Virginia and he had shared last week. He wished he had just taken the paper and buried it. At least then he’d still have his friends. He could see James and Happy running with a few of the other kids from their class. It looked like tag, but Tony really wasn’t sure.

 

“What are you doing over here?” Mr Wilson asked.

 

Tony looked up at the man, his face a milky chocolate in the sunshine, but with a sorrowful look.

 

“Why don’t you go join James and Harold?”

 

Tony shook his head. “They don’t want to play with me. They hate me.”

 

Mr Wilson tugged at his slacks and crouched down, not completely face to face with Tony, but close.

 

“Why do you think that?”

 

“They told me yesterday. They don’t want to be my friend because I took something from Virginia and now she’s not coming back.”

 

Mr Wilson nodded, lips pursed in thought. He gave up on crouching and decided to risk the dirt on his slacks. “Anthony, can you think of a time when it would be better to lie than to not?”

 

Tony looked to Mr Wilson with a confused look. “Lying is bad.”

 

“For the most part, yes.” Mr Wilson agreed. “But, sometimes we have to tell lies. When we want to spare someone’s feelings, for instance. If one of your friends enjoyed something that you didn’t much like, but you wanted them to be happy, you might say you enjoy that thing too.”

 

Tony nodded. “Like when I say I don’t mind playing basketball with Clint, but I want to play baseball?”

 

“Yeah, just like that. You’re being a good friend, and that makes those kind of lies okay.” Mr Wilson explained. “You didn’t mean to be mean and you didn’t do it to hurt anyone, right?”

 

“I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

 

“Of course not.” The teacher gave his student a soft smile. “That’s kind of what happened here. You were looking out for Virginia, not trying to hurt anyone.”

 

“But I didn’t hurt anyone.” Tony said, his eyes suddenly hot again.

 

“No, no. James and Harold are a little sour now, but I’m sure when Virginia comes back, they’ll see that what you did was the right thing.”

 

“Virginia’s not coming back.” Tony said, matter-of-factly.

 

“Who told you that, hum?”

 

“James said Virginia said so before she left.”

 

“Virginia isn’t leaving. She’s moved to another foster home, and they’ve decided to keep her here.” Mr Wilson said. “She’s just been settling in, so she hasn’t been back yet.”

 

“She’s coming back?” Tony asked, a small sliver of hope in his voice.

 

“As far as I know, she never left.”

 

Tony jumped up, full of energy and excitement.

 

Mr Wilson smiled, standing up. “Go burn some energy, okay?”

 

Tony nodded his head, running for the play ground.

 

“James! James!” Tony called out, chasing the boy.

 

James stopped in his tracks, looking over his shoulder. “Tony?”

 

“James! Virginia’s coming back!” Tony ran up to meet him. “She didn’t leave. She’s coming back!”

 

“What? When?” James asked, grabbing the attention of Happy.

 

“I don’t know, but Mr Wilson just said she’s coming back!”

 

Happy ran over, joining the pair officially. “She’s not moving?”

 

Tony shook his head. “We can go back to being friends now!”

 

James smiled. “Yeah!”

 

Tony fist pumped the air a few times.

 

“Come play tag with us.” Happy said, then jabbed at his shoulder. “You’re it!”

 

They dissolved into giggles, chasing each other around the play ground for the rest of recess.

 

That night, after his shower, Tony grabbed his Bucky-bear and walked to Natasha’s door. She’d been held-up in there since they got back from school, only coming down for dinner.

 

He knocked twice, holding his ear to the door and listening for an answer. He heard faint sniffling, and tried the door nob. Ever-so-slowly, he cracked the door open, and peered in.

 

Natasha laid in bed, back to the door and covered in blankets.

 

“Tasha?” Tony whispered.

 

The girl’s head popped up and glared at the door. For a second, Tony thought it best to just close the door and leave her be, but then her face softened, and she scooted over, patting the bed beside her.

 

This time, Tony got the chance to crawl into her bed and lay with her voluntarily.

 

He liked the smell of Natasha’s room. It was soft and warm and just homey.

 

“Why’re you crying?” Tony asked, turning his head to look at his sister.

 

She just shook her head, grabbing Tony’s hand and squeezing lightly.

 

“Was it because of me?”

 

Natasha smiled wetly, but shook her head no.

 

“Okay, good.” Tony looked back up at the ceiling. “I like your room. It’d be cooler with more robots, though.”

 

This earned him a laugh, so Tony went on.

 

“Maybe a whole space station. Pink rocket ships and all. They’d match your blanket. And then Bucky-bear could be the pilot, and he’d fly us everywhere. Maybe there’s a planet made completely of cotton candy.”

 

“Chocolate.” Natasha chimed in.

 

“Yeah! Chocolate would be fun too!” Tony waved his hands in the air. “And then we could build a whole space station out of chocolate! And Bruce would be there too, because they’d have those little candies he likes! He could be ground control!”

 

Natasha laughed again, a little louder this time.

 

“And you and I, we could be the space warriors! We could have our own spaceship and save the universe!”

 

A small squeeze of Tony’s hand made the boy turn to look back at his sister. She had tears falling down her face, leaving wet trails.

 

“‘Tasha?”

 

“Maria told me what happened.” She whispered.

 

Tony matched Natasha’s volume. “Who’s Maria?”

 

Natasha rubbed at her nose, then said, “She’s Virginia’s sister—the girl in your class.”

 

“Oh,” Tony hadn’t realized Virginia’s sister was in a class with Natasha.

 

“She said she couldn’t tell me before because she might get in trouble.”

 

“I used to get in lots of trouble when I told people my old foster mom and dad were being mean to me.” Tony shivered at the memory of the bruises that would follow. The scares that still ran up his arms from their nails cutting into the flesh when they held him down.

 

“She said that you were the one who told Dad and Pop.” Natasha looked Tony in the eyes for the first time that night.

 

Tony ducked his head into his shoulders. “Did she get in trouble because of me?”

 

Natasha shook her head, wrapping her arms around Tony. “No, she said that you saved her and her sister. You told someone who could take them somewhere else.”

 

Tony leaned into the embrace, pressing his head against Natasha’s. They sat like that for a long time, and Tony enjoyed every second.

 

“How come you don’t talk in front of other people?”

 

Natasha shrugged. “Just don’t feel safe when I do.”

 

“But you talk in front of me?”

 

A small smiled touched her lips as she said, “You’re my little brother. That makes you safe.”

 

Tony grinned. “I think you’re the best and bravest big sister ever.”

 

Natasha squeezed him again as he giggled.

 

“Are Steve and Bucky not safe?” Tony asked after a second.

 

“They’re getting better.”

 

“I think they’re safe. They’re the best parents I’ve ever had.” Tony pulled back to look at Natasha’s face. “They don’t hurt me when I get weird and can’t stop moving, and they help me with homework, and they read to Bruce and me at night, and they let me take a shower every night if I want, and I always get breakfast and lunch and dinner and maybe even desert, and we get to do robots!”

 

“I get my own room, and I can decorate it any way I want.” Natasha chimed in. “They never force me to talk, and learned sign language so I could say stuff that way.”

 

Tony smiled toward his sister. “Yeah!”

 

“Maybe I could start talking more.”

 

Tony nodded his head. “But only if you want to. Maybe you, and Bruce could learn to talk together?”

 

Natasha gave a sad smile.

 

They sat in bed for a while longer before Natasha said, “It’s almost bedtime.”

 

The thought of sleeping alone after last night sent ripping fear through him.

 

Natasha must have noticed, because she quickly said, “You can sleep here again, if you want.”

 

Tony nodded his head, holding Bucky-bear a little tighter to his chest. Natasha threw the blankets over them both, kissing the top of Tony’s head before settling down herself.

 

-.-.-.-

 

Tony couldn’t help the overwhelming relief he felt as he ran up to Virginia in their class room, wrapping his arms around her tightly as he yelled, “You’re back!”

 

The red head turned around as he let go, a stern look on her face. “You stole my picture and I told you not to tell anyone and you did!” She said.

 

All of his joy dropped to the floor as heat built up in the back of his eyes. She was mad at him.

 

No, she was more than mad.

 

She was furious.

 

And it was Tony’s own fault.

 

“Virginia, I’m—“

 

And then her arms were wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him closer.

 

“Thank you.” She whispered.

 

It was two minutes into school and Tony was already sick of the emotional rollercoaster. “What?”

 

Virginia pulled away, a smile on her face. “My sister and I were pulled from our old foster home the day you were sick. My sister couldn’t stop crying when we got to walk away. Your dads made sure that we got a good home this time. They said he used to foster a lot, but he hadn’t done it in a long time.”

 

“My dads?” Tony asked, that being the only information he could focus on at the moment.

 

“Steve and Bucky! They got Maria and I placed with Mr Coulson, and he’s really nice. He looks really mean, but Maria and I have our own rooms! I got a whole bookshelf of books!” Virginia went on.

 

“Virginia!” James smiled, running over to tackled the girl with a smile. “I thought you were gone for good!”

 

Virginia accepted the hug gleefully, then pulled back. “Mr Coulson said that he wants to keep Maria and I here, that way we can adjust easier.”

 

“So you’re not leaving?” Happy asked, the only one to walk towards the group and not immediately hug the redhead.

 

“Nope!” Virginia said, shaking her head to reinforce her statement. “And it’s all because of Tony!”

 

Tony suddenly felt like a fish in a bowl, all eyes on him. “So, you’re not mad at me and hate me?” He asked, trying to keep his eyes on the girl.

 

Virginia shook her head. “I’m sorry I said mean things about you. I was being a big poopy-head and I shouldn’t have been.”

 

Tony smiled. “So we’re still friends?”

 

A nod from Virginia filled his heart with glee once more.

 

“Tony, come get your school bag.” Steve called across the class room. Tony looked back to see the blond holding a red back pack, and ran to grab it from him.

 

“Be good today, okay.”

 

Tony nodded, taking the bag and smiling up at Steve before running back to his table.

 

Class was pretty still, and Tony had to keep checking to make sure Virginia was in her seat every dew minutes. If she noticed him staring, she hadn’t said anything. It was nice to have her back.

 

“You’ve been having a good day, Tony.” Mr Wilson smiled at him at lunch.

 

“Huh?” Tony asked, looking up from his food.

 

“I’ve just noticed you’ve been on green all day. Keep up the hard work.” Mr Wilson winked at him, then walked down the isles between tables.

 

Was Tony really in green? He’d never been on green at lunch before. Would he really be able to go home with a smily stamp today? The simple thought filled him with pride.

 

“Did Tony’s dads really do all that?” James’s voice broke through his thoughts.

 

“Yeah!” Virginia smiled.

 

“How come you keep calling Steve and Bucky my dads?” Tony asked through a mouthful of peanut-butter and jelly.

 

“Clint told Maria that they were adopting you.” Virginia said matter-of-factly. “That makes them your dads.”

 

“Maria?” Happy asked.

 

“My sister. She shares a class with Tony’s brother and sister. She’s always talking about you guys.” She directed the last sentence at Tony.

 

“Oh.” Happy went back to his lunch.

 

“What’s Mr Coulson like?” James asked, changing the subject.

 

“He’s really nice. He seems pretty strict, but he let Maria and I pick out some clothes that he had stashed away.” Virginia said.

 

Tony thought for a moment about how that had been the case for him. Steve just kept finding clothes, and Tony quickly had a whole wardrobe. Before he could say anything, though, Virginia went on.

 

“He’s got this huge back yard with a swing set, too! He said I could have friends over if I wanted.”

 

“That’s so cool!” Happy smiled.

 

The table fell into a soft silence, everyone finally taking in their lunch.

 

“What’s going to happen to your old foster dad?” Tony blurted out without warning.

 

Virginia looked up as if she hadn’t really thought about that. “I’m not sure. But my sister said he was going to a place where even robbers and bad guys will look down at him.”

 

“Wow, that’s bad.” Happy whispered loudly.

 

Tony nodded in agreement. But he was, in a weird way, happy that the man would go to this place. Tony never got any justice when people were mean to him. It was good to see that wasn’t the case for other people.

 

Tony went back to his lunch, enjoy the company of his friends once more.

Chapter Text

“Steve, Steve! Look!” Tony yelled as he ran across the room to the blond, holding up his behavior sheet. “Look!”

Steve chuckled, grabbing the paper and glancing it over. “Very good,” he said, reaching to help Tony with his jacket. He couldn’t see much of the paper as it was waved in his face.

“Steve! I got green! I got green!” Tony cheered as Steve zipped up his jacket.

The words were lost on the blond until he finally focused in on the paper in Tony’s marker stained hands. Right in the middle of the week, following a yellow and a blue dot, sat a green, smiling face.

“Is this true?” Steve asked, gently taking the paper and looking up at Tony’s teacher.

The man nodded, a proud smirk on his face. “Anthony has done wonderfully today.”

Steve was awe-struck and stood shocked for a moment until he lifted Tony up by the armpits, laughing, “Look at you! I’m so proud of you!”

Tony leaned into the hug, wrapping his arms around Steve’s neck as the man proceeded to squeeze him. “You worked so hard! Good job!”

Tony giggled, leaning against Steve casually as he smiled proudly.

He was so different than the kid Steve had been called about almost four or five months ago. That kid had been quiet and reserved, but a trouble maker by trade. He’d been afraid to reach out for physical affection, observing and calculating every movement.

But this kid, this version of Tony, was almost everything a little kid should be. He was hyper and talkative, always asking questions and looking for answers. The best part was how much he sought Steve and Bucky out lately.

That night was movie night, a time when everyone cleared their schedule to sit on the couch and watch cartoons whilst eating junk food that would never have count as a meal any other time. Tony sat on Steve’s lap the whole time, happily slumped against the man’s chest with his “Bucky-bear” held close.

Steve still couldn’t hear the name without laughing. He just thought it was the most adorable thing ever. His bear, his protected and precious comfort item, was named after someone he saw as safe and secure. If nothing else, it showed good progress. Tony was settling in, and that was good enough for Steve and Bucky.

Of course, the peace had lasted too long.

Steve woke up that night to a crash of thunder followed by a high pitched scream bouncing off the walls and around his head. The blond tore out of bed and down the hall, busting through the door to the boys’s room.

At first, Steve thought it had been a simple nightmare from one of the boys, but another, higher pitched scream drew his eyes to Bruce’s bed.

The boy was balled into the corner, his face thrown into light as another flash of light came through the window. His blankets kicked half off his bed and the top sheet twisted around his foot. His mouth was wide open but his eyes were closed tightly, causing wrinkles in the boy’s face.

Tears from the other side of the room pulled Steve’s attention away from the younger boy. Tony sat up in bed, a terrified look on his face and bear clutched tightly in his arms. He flinched violently as the roar of thunder shook the window panes.

Steve almost screamed himself when a hand landed on his shoulder, giving him whiplash as he swung around.

“You get Bruce, I’ve got Tony.” Bucky said in his sleep-deepened voice.

Steve nodded his head, carefully approaching Bruce as Bucky made way to the other side of the room. Bruce had night terrors for a long time when he’d first come to live with them. It wasn’t something they could really stop, but it was something they could help him through.

Steve gently lifted Bruce off the bed, wincing as he let out another loud, piercing scream. It took a bit of effort, but he was able to almost swaddle the boy’s arms to his chest so he couldn’t lash out and hurt himself or Steve. He rocked the boy slowly and gently back and forth, whispering that he was here and nothing was wrong and he was safe, the heavy rain setting a beat against the window.

He could see the movement as Bucky walked out of the room, a terrified Tony looking over his shoulder.

They were in for a long night.

-.-.-

Bucky tried his best to have the boy sit on his flesh arm, not wanting his prosthetic to hurt the boy in some way, but it was proving difficult as Tony was wiggling around so much to try and look over his shoulder.

“Brucie is going to be okay, bud.”

Tony didn’t say anything, instead wiggling his legs back and forth to be out down.

Bucky did as he was asked, blocking the way back to the boy’s room, relieved when he saw Tony had no interest in going back in. He ran to Natasha’s door, not bothering to knock as he opened the door.

Bucky was about to reprimand him about respecting others privacy when he saw Tony wasn’t the only one opening the door.

They nearly clonked heads, had it not been for the fact that Tony was a good seven inches shorter. Natasha instantly wrapped her arms around the boy.

“Are you okay?” Bucky asked the girl.

Natasha nodded, but her face screamed her fears as another crash sounded from outside.

It always seemed like she was trying to hide emotions, but Bucky’s years of experience with marines and hard-heads had taught him to read to subtle hints of pain and fear people would never admit to.

“Let’s go in your room,” Bucky said, waving his hand a bit for Natasha and Tony to back into the room. It wasn’t two seconds after Bucky had closed the door that Clint came in through the Jack-and-Jill bathroom.

Bucky waved him onto the bed, taking Natasha’s desk chair and pulling out his phone. He found some soft music on YouTube and let it play to drown out the screaming and rain for a bit.

“Is Bruce going to be okay?” Clint asked, his words slurred, as if they couldn’t leave the back of his throat.

Bucky switched to sign language, asking, “Where’s your hearing aide?”

“Too loud.” Was all he got back.

Bucky couldn’t blame the kid. He wouldn’t mind not being able to hear all of this either.

“Is it Bruce again?” Natasha signed.

Bucky’s lips went thin as he nodded his head.

“Hey, what’re you all talking about?” Tony asked aloud.

That almost made Bucky smile.

“I asked Clint where his hearing aides where and he said it was too loud.” Bucky answered aloud, signing as he spoke for Clint. “And then Natasha asked if it was Bruce screaming again.”

“Why is he screaming?” Tony asked.

“Bruce has night terror sometimes,” Natasha answered.

Bucky took a small note of the girl not even hesitating when speaking to Tony, but said nothing about it.

“What are night terrors?” Tony’s eyes were wide with fear, his checks still wet from tears.

“It’s when people scream really loud, even when there’s nothing around to scare them.” Natasha answered. “But only when they’re asleep.”

“Why?” Tony asked.

Bucky took over for Natasha. “Sometimes they just happen for no real reason. But other times, they come from bad dreams.”

“What of?”

Bucky tried to keep down a small chuckle. Of all their kids, Tony was the one to ask questions until there was no information left to give. He’s be a good businessman one day.

“Bruce went through a lot of bad stuff before he came here, sweetheart.” Bucky said, rtying not to let on too much of what the boy had faced.

In five years, that boy had seen more than any adult. Abuse from his mother’s boyfriend left the boy hospitalized a year ago. Steve and Bucky happened to be there with Clint after he’d fallen off his bike and broke his arm. They knew the social worker and stopped to say hello.

The second they met Bruce, they knew he was going to be part of their family. Even with a split in his lip and right eye swollen shut. He was theirs.

“Same stuff that gives us nightmares.” Natasha whispered, staring at the covers in her bed.

Buck could feel his eyes narrow in question. They had nightmares?

“Like the bad people?” Tony aimed his question at Natasha. When the girl nodded, he gave out a simple, “Oh.”

They sat in silence for a bit, the screaming and thunder having died off at some point and leaving them to a pregnant pause.

“How do you know Mr Coulson?” Natasha asked.

Again, Bucky had to keep the surprise off his face when Natasha spoke without being asked a question. He and Steve were going to have to talk about this development.

“What do you mean?”

“Maria said that you and dad had her and her sister placed with Mr Coulson, even though he said he retired from fostering.”

Bucky laughed. “Mr Coulson was my foster dad.”

“No way!” All three kids said at once, making Bucky chuckle.

He signed as he spoke. “Way. Mr Coulson found me on the street a long time ago—not much older than Natasha and Clint.”

“How?” Clint asked.

“I had run away from another bad placement and decided I didn’t want to rely on anyone anymore. Mr Coulson saw what was a hard-headed kid and gave me everything I never knew I wanted.”

“Like wha’?” Clint asked.

“A family. Stability. A future. He was the reason I joined the army in the first place.” Bucky could feel the cocky grin on his face, but didn’t care enough to wipe it away.

“Is that how you lost your arm?” Tony asked.

Natasha gently slapped him with the back of her hand, staring at him as she shook her head.

“No, it’s okay, Tash. Yes, that’s how I lost my arm.” Bucky took a deep breath, calming his heart. “We were backed into a corner with the bad guys really close. We had to run through the bad guy’s bullets, and one hit my arm. A bunch of bad germs got in and turned my arm green!”

Bucky wiggled his fingers, with what he knew was a funny-looking eye twitch on his face. “So the doctors had to get the bad stuff away before it got to the rest of me.”

And then, because these were his kids and he’s always liked the idea of being a hero, he added on, “And then a doctor came in a decided that I was fit to be a super soldier! He gave me a metal arm that can lift freight trains and busses, and punch all of those bad guys in the butt!”

Tony busted into laughter, Natasha smiling amusedly as she signed for Clint, who was shaking his head and chuckling.

“I heard something about being a super soldier.” Steve said from the other side of the door.

Bucky hadn’t noticed him knock, but the blond was already walking across the room with Bruce on his hip.

“Hey, babe. How’re we doing?” Bucky asked, reaching a hand out to brush through Bruce’s sweat-matted hair.

“Better. I think it was just a nightmare. Hopefully an isolated incident.”

“What’s an i-icilated incident?” Tony asked as he tripped over the words.

“An isolated incident is something that only happens one time.” Bucky chuckled.

“Oh. Then I hope so, too.” Tony nodded his head, agreeing with himself. “I had a foster brother who used to have them a lot. His name was Barney. He was nice. He screamed really loud. He ran away. And then I was taken to a new home and never got to see him again.”

Clint’s hand shot out towards Natasha, grabbing her shoulder. Bucky watched as he asked her to sign what Tony had said again.

“Barney?” He asked softly.

Bucky's brows furrowed as he asked, “Do you know him?”

Clint nodded his head, giving one single movement.

Brother.

Chapter Text

“Hey, heads up!”

Barney swung his head around just in time to see a red and white beach ball coming at his head. He closed his eyes and ducked, covering his head with his arms.

“T’Challa!” He yelled out as he straightened out, shaking his head.

“Sorry, man!” He laughed, running towards his friend. “But you should have been paying better attention!”

“You could just not be an ass.” Barney snapped back, slouching in his plastic beach chair to stare out at the wide expanse of ocean.

“We only get three days of leave. No way am I waisting that on being careful.” T’Challa laughed, plopping down in the chair next to his friend.

T’Challa let out a breath of air, saying, “Ah, isn’t that beautiful!”

“Best thing I’ve seen in six months.” Barney sighed, letting his eyes close as he took in a deep breath.

“At your age, you should be in college, not out here.” T’Challa said for the thousandth time since they became bunk mates.

“Dude, we’ve talked about this. School ain’t the place for me.” Batney crossed his legs and leaned back, tipping his hat to get the sun out if his eyes. “The army is the only place that would take me.”

“But you gotta have family, right?” He asked.

Barney opened his eyes, the sun hurting but not deterring him. “I don’t have anyone waiting for me, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“What’re you going to do when we get off over the summer before we leave?” T’Challa asked.

Barney paused for a second before he spoke. He never thought he’d ever be this open about his life to anyone. Then again, no one really cared enough to ask.

“I’ll find some place.”

Barney looked over as his knee was smacked.

“If you need a place, my mom and sister would be happy to have another man-slave around the house.”

Barney smiled. “Thanks, man.”

T’Challa smiled sincerely, which twisted into an evil grin before he ducked and pulled away.

Barney turned around just in time for water to be dumped on his head. He jumped up, swinging around at the laughing group of petty officers behind him. He wiped the water from his eyes, running after them as they darted down the beach.

“Get’em Barton!”

“I’m going to kick their asses!” Barney yelled behind him.

Later that night, his squad sat around a large TV at one of the bars along the stretch of beach. There wasn’t anything of interest on, and Barney was half way to sleep when someone yelled out his name.

He looked up and around, his name being called a second time and pulling his line of sight towards the burly bar keep. He held up a phone, and Barney scrambled out of his seat.

He grabbed the phone with a sigh, holding it to his ear.

“This is Barton.”

“Barney Barton?” A voice asked on the other side.

“This is he. May I ask who’s calling?” Barton stared at the wall, projecting his confusion at the old beer signs and neon lights.

“My name is Steve Rogers. I’m sorry to call so late, but I have something you need to know.”

Barney was even more confused now, and he stayed silent to give the other end time to go on.

“Six years ago, you and your brother were separated. I know that you’ve done everything in your power to try and find him.”

Barney couldn’t help the breath he suck in, both hands holding onto the receiver.

“Had I known when I took Clint in, I never would have allowed you two to be separated. But I’m trying to make up for that.” The man let out a breath. “My husband and I adopted Clint years ago. We didn’t even know he had a brother. Bucky—my husband—and I have spent the past month trying to find you. Clint doesn’t know. It took us so long, and it was a ton of paperwork, but—I’m sorry, I’m rambling.

“I would like—and Clint would—if you could come by sometime and see him. Meet us. And you could stay if you would like. For dinner or the night.”

Barney didn’t realize he had tears streaming down his face until they were soaking the neck of his shirt.

“Clint’s... Clint’s okay?” He gasped.

“He’s great. He’s been here since you all were separated.” The man—Steve said.

“When can I come?” Barney was feeling all of his pockets, hoping he had his phone to take notes in. It didn’t have service, but he could still hook it up to wifi when he had the chance.

“Any time. Here, let me give you our number and address and you can just come by any time you would like.”

“Today.” Barney gasped, then remember his manners. “Please. Today.”

“Okay. Okay. We can do that.”

Barney typed quickly as he received the address and number and saved it into his phone, thanking Steve as many times as possible before he hung up to search for the address. Their house was only a few hours away. If he drove fast—

Shit.

He didn’t have a car.

He had sold it before signing up.

Double shit.

“What’re you doing up so early?” A familiar voice asked behind him.

“T’Challa!” Barney’s heart filled with a bit more hope as he sung around. “I need to barrow your car!”

“Not an ice cube’s chance in hell.”

Barney could feel his face fall, all of his hope fall into the seventh layer of hell.

“I will drive you, however.”

Barney could have kissed his bunk mate.

“Depending on where you’re going.”

“Will you stop that! I can only take so much heart break in one day!” Barney said, shoving the man playfully when he realized the cadet was only fucking with him.

T’Challa laughed, wrapping an arm around his bunkmate. “So, where are we going?”

“Just a few hours north. Please.”

“What’s got you darting away so quickly?” T’Challa asked, a look of concern on his face.

“I’ll only explain if you promise to say yes.”

Barney watched as the man raised and eyebrow, and was about ready to resend his offer when T’Challa said, “Deal.”

Barney sighed in relief. “Come on, we should leave now.”

“Barton, it’s two in the morning. Where ever we’re going, I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate us showing in at the butt-crack of dawn.”

Shit. T’Challa was right. Not that he’d ever say that aloud.

“We’ll leave at six. Get some sleep. You can tell me the story on the way.”

Barney knew he wouldn’t be getting any sleep, but still nodded his head. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you and all that. He could at least sit down and think about what he was going to say.

God... would Clint even forgive him? He’d done so many thing wrong throughout his life. He’d fucked so many things up. The whole reason they’d been split was because he’d gone awol. He should have never gone after that stupid son of a bitch.

Clint’s wails still echoed through his head at night. If Barney had just kept ahold of his temper, they never would have been split.

But... Clint also wouldn’t have found this family. The kind that looked around for a month trying to find a guy they didn’t know because they thought that’s what he wanted. Clint had found a full-fledge family.

Barney couldn’t help the small smile of relief that came with that knowledge. All of these years of worry thrown to the side with that simple fact.

Next this Barney knew, a large hand was on his shoulder. He shot up, ready for another prank from the other cadets. Instead, he was face-to-face with T’Challa’s dark skin and warm smile.

“Come on, let’s hit the road.”

Barney jumped off the couch, yanking on his boots and tightening his belt. He threw on a plaid button up and was ready to trail behind T’Challa to his car.

The 1998 dodge Dakota stood in the beach parking lot, It was a beat up, rusty, hunk of junk, but it ran and didn’t burn through gas too quickly.

Barney pulled the door closed, making sure to hold the handle up and out the way T’Challa had told him to. The when he heard a thunk, he let the handle lose and listened for a lighter sound as the door was secured into place.

“Let’s get on the road.” T’Challa cheered, throwing the car into drive and pulling onto the main road.

With the radio on, the drive wasn’t too boring. They had the windows cracked for the breeze, and tried to not let the morning sun blind them.

Just as Barney reached for the radio to change stations from a commercial, T’Challa let out a, “So...”

Barney waited for a second, but when T’Challa didn’t go on, he asked, “‘So’ what?”

“I was promised a back story in exchange for a ride.”

Barney let out a sigh. He was hoping T’Challa had forgotten about that. “What do you want to know?”

“How about we start with who we’re driving three hours out of our way to see?” T’Challa glanced over at him, just for a second, with a smirk.

“My brother,” Barney answered through a huff.

“I thought you said you didn’t have family?”

“No, I said I don’t have anyone waiting for me to get back.” Barney clarified. “My brother and I were separated six years ago. I’ve been trying to find him ever since.”

“And now you have?”

“Kinda, yeah.” Barney tried to hide the smile on his face as he thought about seeing Clint, but he knew he wasn’t successful.

“Well, really, his foster family found me.”

“You were a foster kid?” T’Challa asked.

Barney schooled his emotions and kept his eyes forward and on the road, as if he was the one driving. “Yeah.”

“I presume this was not a happy time?”

“No, it wasn’t.”

Barney knew T’Challa wanted more, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready for that. He couldn’t be more grateful that T’Challa let the questions be.

Two hours into the trip, they pulled over for gas and water, and were back on their way.

It was a calm Sunday morning, without many people on the road. Barney knew T’Challa had been speeding the whole way, but couldn’t really find it in himself to care. The sooner they got there, the sooner he would get to see Clint.

The neighborhood was the worst part of the whole trip. It winded and twisted and didn’t make any sense. It seemed like the longest part of the trip, really. Barney couldn’t help the feeling in his stomach, almost making him sick as T’Challa threw the pickup into park.

T’Challa turned of his phone right before the navigation could go off that they were at the destination, and unbuckled his seatbelt.

In the driveway sat an SUV and a Dodge Charger. Clint could appreciate that. The house it’s self was larger than any foster home Barney had ever seen. Somehow, that took a load off his chest.

These weren’t the type of people who fostered for the money. They did it for all the right reasons.

“Go knock on the door before someone thinks we’re gonna rob the place.” T’Challa laughed.

Barney nodded, stepping out of the pickup and walking towards the front door. Taking in a breath, he reached for the doorbell.

Chapter Text

Barney could hear his heart beat in his ears, ticking away every second he faced the closed door. It seemed to take a decade before the sound of a door unlocking and clicking in place came through the hard wood door.

A tall man with blond hair opened the door, the sun hitting his white shirt with “#1 dad” in large blue letters across his chest and blinding Barney somewhat. The guy must have been well over six feet, towering over Barney by a good few inches. His blue eyes squinted a bit as a smile broke out on his face.

“Barney?” He asked.

It took a second for the words to hit his ears, but Barney nodded.

“Yes, sir. Barney Barton.” He glanced over his right shoulder, suddenly remembering the other person on the porch. “And this is T’Challa.”

“Steve,” the man said, sticking his hand out to T’Challa. He didn’t even hesitate as he wrapped his arms around Barney in a tight hung. It was warm and welcoming, and Barney couldn’t help leaning into it just a bit.

“Please, come in.” Steve stepped out of the way, seemingly unable to wipe the smile off his face.

Barney was the first one in, taken back at home homey the whole place felt. Off to his left was a living room with a light tan couch and matching loveseat taking up the middle of the room. Off in the right corner sat a children’s card table covered in computer parts and cases with two chairs pushed haphazardly under the table. As they walked through the hallway, Barney spotted a book shelf under the front window filled with toys and movies, and even a few spare throw blankets off to the left corner.

They stepped into what must have been a dinning room, Steve walking off towards a kitchen. In the middle of the room was a long, light, wood table with a few chairs on the side facing an island of the kitchen and a bench on the other side. Strapped into a booster seat at the far end of the table and eating what must have been fruit was a small boy with shaggy hair and dark brown eyes that seemed to glisten in the sun light coming through the side window.

“Are you hungry?” Steve asked from the kitchen.

Barney looked over to see the man pull a few cups out of a cabinet.

“Yes.” T’Challa answered before Barney got the chance.

Steve laughed. “Army food losing it’s palatability already?”

“Can’t lose what it never had.” T’Challa chuckled.

Steve threw a soft smile their way. “Never heard a truer statement.”

“Sounds like words of personal experience.” T’Challa commented, accepting a glass of water.

Barney reached out as he was offered a glass as well, but held it with both hands, worried he was going to drop it with how much his hands were shaking.

“Ten years worth, yes.”

“You were in the army?” Barney finally managed to join in the conversation.

“Yeah, it’s where my husband and I met.” Steve walked over to the fridge, pulling something out and letting centrifugal force take care of closing the door with a little help from a hip bump.

“Bucky, right?” Barney asked, remembering the name from the phone call yesterday.

“Yeah. Well, his real name is James, but we went to a bar somewhere in Tennessee on leave about a year into our enlistment. Bucky hops onto this mechanical bull four or five drinks in. Two seconds later, he’s on his butt and our whole squad is laughing their faces off. We started calling him Bucky as a joke and then it just kind of stuck.” Steve shrugged playfully as he grabbed two plates from another cabinet.

T’Challa and Barney both gave a chuckle at that one.

“What about you two? How long have you been part of the Army?”

“This is my second year, sir. Barnes just hit the six month mark.” T’Challa answered.

“Any tours yet?”

“No, sir.” T’Challa chuckled. “Hard for the linguist to really be placed on the front line.”

“Ah, I see.” Steve was leaning over the counter and messing with something Barney couldn’t see. “What languages?”

“Arabic, mostly. Lavantime and Mesopotamian. I’m working on Kurdish now.”

“Impressive.” Steve smiled over his shoulder. “What about you, Barney?”

“Oh, uh, I’m still in training. I already have Spanish an French from when I was younger, but they want me on Arabic and Persian.” Barney took a sip of his water, happy for the distraction.

“Trilingual and seventeen. Impressive.” Steve held out two plates with sandwiches on them, and held his hand out to the table. “Here, sit down. Don’t mind Bruce too much. He’s usually in his own little world when he’s eating.”

Barney’s eyes were drawn back to the small child at the end of the table. He waved minutely, and wasn’t surprised when the kid didn’t wave back. He seemed like the shy type that would hide behind his parent’s leg if given the chance.

They all sat on the near side of the table, Barney all but inhaling the sandwich. It was the best thing he’d eaten in months.

He listened a bit as T’Challa and Steve broke into an easy conversation, but was still drawn to the kid at the end of the table. He was so quiet, different from how he remembered all of the kids he grew up with. They screamed and yelled and kicked and cried every time they were placed at a table. Bruce didn’t seem bothered by it at all, swinging his hands side to side between bites and staring at the far wall, but, otherwise, seemed rather content.

“He’s our youngest.” Steve said, breaking through Barney’s thoughts.

“Huh?”

“Bruce. He’s our youngest.” Steve smiled. “He has autism, so he may seem a little different, but he’s a great kid and does really well in school now.”

Barney was somehow taken back by the way Steve had almost proudly mentioned the subject. Kids with disabilities of any kind were almost seen as a bigger burden than they were worth. They were hard to place, and had little chance of finding a home. At least, that’s how it had been with Clint. They ended up in a group home more than once because no one wanted to take in a deaf child.

“What about Clint?” Barney asked, unable to pull his eyes away from Bruce and look Steve in the eye. “How’s he been doing in school?”

Barney had tried so hard to work with Clint on school. He wanted his little brother to get an education more than anything. He wanted to see Clint grow and prosper and make something of himself. That was the whole reason Barney still knew sign, even to this day. He would explain every math problem and every book word for word to help him keep up. Clint hated all of the time it took, and had never really seemed to take a liking to school, but he still did it for Barney.

But how was he doing now that Barney wasn’t around? Did he quit like he wanted? Did he fall behind? What if he—

“Clint has always pushed himself in school. Straight As in every class since he got his implant. We got tutors for him in fifth grade, but he’s doing really well now.”

Barney took in a gasping breath he handn’t realized he was holding.

Steve placed a hand on top of Barney’s, a gently smile on his face. “Clint doesn’t know you’re here yet. Bucky already left to pick everyone up from school. But ever since he mentioned you, he hasn’t stopped talking about how amazing you are and how much he missed you.”

Barney could feel tears pooling in his eyes, the stinging forcing his to use his other had to wipe at his face.

Clint was okay.

Clint is okay.

Oh my god, Clint is okay!

Just as he was about to nod, the front door swung open and several pairs of feet pounded on the floor, echoing around the hall with laughter.

Barney stood up, chair screeching on the floor as his heart almost stopping in his chest as a boy came into the kitchen. His wavy hair hung in his face, even as he playfully pushed at an older girl. He looked up with honey brown eyes, glancing at Barney with a look of familiarity.

It took a moment for Barney to realize the boy was too young to be Clint, and looked nothing like him. His heart almost sank to the floor.

Steve has messed up.

He had messed up.

Clint wasn’t here. He was still lost.

Barney was a fool to get his hopes up.

“Hey, pop said you had a surprise for us.” A voice said, a body following with a purple backpack swung over one shoulder. His hair was mused in a way so familiar, it almost hurt to think about. He’d grown so much, yet he still looked exactly the same.

He traced the boy’s movements as he walked towards a white alcove and hung his backpack, the implant shining purple in the sunlight above his right ear.

Barney remembered looking up implants when he was in middle school, using a library computer to find as much information as possible. But it was too expensive for Barney to consider it a viable option.

All thoughts vanished from Barney’s thoughts as Clint finally turned around after the younger boy tapped his shoulder and pointed. Barney could see the gears working in his brother’s head for the fraction of a second.

“Barney?” He asked, barely above a whisper.

Barney nodded, his eyes filling with tears once more.

Clint was across the room like a bolt of lightning, tackling Barney in a hug so tight it almost hurt.

Barney didn’t hesitate to squeeze right back. He could hear Clint wailing into his shirt, but wasn’t sure if the sound was also coming from him.

“How come they’re crying?” The younger boy asked. “Steve, how come they’re crying?”

Steve stood up, picking the younger boy up and placing him on his hip. “They’re just happy, buddy.”

Barney laughed, pulling his head up to look at the pair, almost missing the other large form standing off to the side with a soft smile on his face. His dark hair was pulled back in a pony tail, arms crossed and t-shirt exposing the prosthetic underneath.

“You must be Bucky?” Barney asked, voice broken by tears.

Bucky nodded, holding out his hands. “And you must be Barney.”

Barney chuckled taking the offered hand. “Yes, sir.”

Clint pulled away for a moment, looking around the room. “How’d you find him?”

“Through a bit of perseverance and some old connections in the army.” Bucky smiled.

“You’re in the army?” Clint asked, turning to his brother.

Barney nodded. “I told you I could make it.”

Clint laughed, leaning forward and wrapping Barney in another hug.

Barney almost forgot how emotional Clint could be sometimes. How sensitive his little brother was when he didn’t feel like he needed his “tough guy” mask. He never thought he’d miss Clint’s tears so much.

“Clint, why don’t you take Barney up to see your room?” Steve suggested.

When Barney looked at the man inquisitively, he received a knowing look. He wanted them to have time alone, and Barney couldn’t be more grateful.

“We’ll call you down for an early dinner in a bit, okay?”

Clint nodded, looking up at Barney before dragging him down the hallway and up a flight of stairs.

Clint’s room was huge, to say the least. He had a full size bed in the corner of the room, sheets and blankets thrown in every direction. Barney chuckled to himself as he thought about how much of a Clint thing that was to do.

The walls were covered in band posters and pictures, and on the near wall was a corner desk that had a book-self that took up a good portion of the wall. His floor was a mess of Nerf guns, toy cars, and Legos on a blue carpet. A closet door sat half open on the far side of the room, across from his bed, exposing hanging clothes and a mess of shoes.

“Nice room.” Barney joked, plopping down on the corner of Clint’s bed.

“Yeah, dad and pop had this all decorated when I got here. They let me redecorate however I like, too.” Clint beamed.

“Dad and pop?” Barney asked, slightly taken aback by the terms.

Clint nodded, grabbing the chair from his desk and slumping down. “Yeah... they-they adopted me. About four years ago...”

Barney smiled, grabbing one of Clint’s hands so he would stop picking at his nails. “That’s awesome.”

Clint nodded, happier this time. “Yeah. And I have a sister and two little brothers!”

“No way! You don’t know anything about how to be a big brother!” Barney dramatically laid a hand across his forehead and Clint laughed.

“I know everything because I had the best one ever.” Clint smiled proudly, and Barney had to hold back the rush of tears that threatened to spill over.

“A good big brother wouldn’t have let his anger get the better of him knowing what could happen if he did.” Barney took his hand back, unable to look Clint in the eye.

“No, a good big brother would keep people from hurting their little brother, even if it meant bad things could happen to him.” Clint stood up and plopped down next to his brother on the bed. “Who knows what could have happened if you hadn’t gone after that guy.”

“You’re so much more mature.” Barney laughed wetly, wrapping his arm around Clint’s shoulder. “I should have called the cops. I should have been there.”

“Should have’s aren’t worth anything, Bar. It doesn’t matter what happened. You’re here now, right?” Clint gave a thin lipped smile, eyes large as they looked up at Barney.

“I searched for you. I ran away from so many homes. No one would tell me where you were. Clint, I am so sorry. I’m sorry I never found you.”

Clint leaned forward, wrapping his arms around Barney and wailed.

Barney couldn’t stop his own tears if he had wanted to. Six years of worry and stress and tears all came to the surface when he realized he had his brother in his arms. His baby brother was safe and happy and part of a family.

He couldn’t help the small pang of jealousy that floated right up with the rest of his emotions. He had longed for everything that Clint had for years. But, at the same time, if only one of them had been allowed a family, Barney was more than happy to give up his chance. Clint was the only thing that had kept him going some days. Everything else hadn’t mattered when it was all gone in a moments notice over and over again. Clint was the only thing he always had.

Until Barney had fucked it up.

But, now, he had him back. He had Clint back and he wasn’t going to let anything change that.

The whole time Barney had been looking, he was determined to find his brother and steal him away, take him someplace safe where it was just them. But he didn’t need to do that here. Clint would be safe when Barney did get his first tour, and for many years thereafter.

Suddenly, Clint stood up, pulling open drawers on his night stand. Barney watched as he shuffled through them all, only stopping when he seemed to have found what he was looking for. Clint sat back on the bed, holding what looked to be a picture out to his brother.

Barney took it, confusion fading away as his eyes landed on a picture of a three-year-old Clint being cradled by an eight year old version of himself. Barney remembered this photo, taken right after his failed attempt at a birthday party for Clint. He somehow scrounged together money to buy a small cake for Clint, and was walking back to their trailer house with it held firmly in two hands.

He walked up the steps to the door, stopping dead when he heard the yelling and screaming. His mother and father were at it again. Barney let out a curse, turning tail and running towards the window to the room that he and Clint shared.

He knocked three times, not surprised to see Clint’s head pop up with a smile. He reached for the latch, just barely able to grab it and slide it out of place. Barney set the cake down, placing both of his hands flat on the glass pane and pushing up with all of his strength. When he had opened it several inches, he pushed his fingers under the panel and lifted the window just enough for him to crawl inside.

Clint smiled, arms reaching up for a hug as Barney came in.

Barney welcomed the touch, whispering, “Happy birthday.”

Clint used his hands to say “mommy,” “daddy,” and “mean.”

Barney nodded his head, but pointed to the window. Clint knew that meant they were going to sneak out.

Clint nodded his head enthusiastically.

They had ended up on a porch of a neighbor, sharing their cake with an elderly couple that seemed to take a liking to them. Barney had forgotten how they got there, but the woman had insisted on taking a picture to remember the moment.

A few days later, he found an envelope with the developed photo in the mailbox with the words, “Clint (3) and Barney (8)” written on the back. It was almost the only photo of their childhood before they were put in the system.

Barney flipped the photo over, surprised to find the woman’s writing still vivid and clear.

“How do you still have this?”

“You gave that to me when I was six. You said to keep it safe.” Clint shrugged. “I just kept hiding it.”

Barney smiled, handing the photos back. “I wished you a happy birthday every year, you know. Even when I couldn’t see you.”

“Birthdays are stupid.”

Barney laughed. “You’re stupid.”

“No, you’re stupid!” Clint shot back, screaming as Barney attacked his sides with wiggling fingers.

Barney stopped when Clint needed to catch his breath, smiling triumphantly.

“Okay, so who are your siblings?” Barney asked, suddenly very interested to find out all about his brother’s family.

“I have a sister, Natasha, and she’s twelve. She doen’t talk around most adults. And then I have two little brothers, Tony and Bruce! Tony is seven and pop says he’s a bottle of energy that has too much sugar. Bruce is five, and he’s really smart. Him and Tony are always making really cool tech stuff!”

Barney listened as Clint told him about everyone and what they all did and bout school and his friends. It was amazing to see Clint so alive and himself. He was so quiet and reserved when he was younger. Six years can really change a person, though.

By the time Clint seemed to be winding down, a small knock came on the door, followed by the younger boy from earlier—Tony—coming into the room.

“Steve says it’s dinner time!”

“Okay.” Clint sat down the Lego set he’s been showing Barney, darting after Tony. Barney followed, closing Clint’s door on his way.

“Take a seat wherever,” Bucky said as he sat the table.

Barney nodded, deciding to sit next to T’Challa and across from Clint. Tony was clearing away what looked like a CD player that had been turned inside-out.

“Alright, butts ins seats, please!” Steve announced as he started bringing in plates.

The three children did as they were told, sitting down, but not stopping their conversation as they were each given a portion of what looked like shepherd’s pie.

“This looks amazing!” T’Challa commented, elbowing Barney.

Barney took the hint, saying, “Yeah, smells great.”

Steve smiled, taking his seat after everyone had their food. Bucky sat at the other end, what could have been a smile playing at his lips.

Barney was almost taken in by how surreal the whole situation felt. Just yesterday, he had said he had no one waiting up for him. Now he had this whole family.

“Barney, are you planning on staying?” Steve asked. “We can set up the couch for you and T’Challa if you would like.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t. We have to get back to base tomorrow morning.” Barney looked over to Clint to see how he took the news. He didn’t seem swayed.

“When’s your next leave?” Bucky asked from his left.

“We’ll be back in three months.” T’Challa answered for him. “It’ll only be a weekend, though.”

“Well, that’s great. We’ll have to set something up for you to stay with us, then. If you would like, I mean.” Steve offered.

Barney nodded his head. “That would be amazing.”

Amazing didn’t even scratch the surface of how appreciative Barney was of the offer.

“Then it’s a plan. T’Challa, you’re welcome any time as well.”

“I appreciate that, Mr Rogers, but I already have a mom and sister looking forward to making a long list of things for me to do around the house.”

The adults broke out into a laugh, and Barney couldn’t help stealing a glance at Clint. They boy was talking to Tony, a smile on his face as he explained something about school.

Before they left that night, Barney asked for a picture of everyone together. T’Challa had gotten Steve’s phone and snapped several photos, sending them to Barney before giving it back.

Barney sat in the passenger seat that night, unable to look away from his new background.

Chapter Text

“What are you doing?” Clint asked.

Tony’s head whipped towards the older boy’s bedroom door, heart picking up its rate instantly. It was hard to see in the barely-lit hallway, the only light coming from a small night light Steve had plugged in near the stairs.

“Nothing.”

“Bull crap.”

The shadow shifted, coming closer.

“I hear you sneaking out of your room almost every night. Where do you go?” Clint was closer now, and it didn’t help the speed of Tony’s heart.

“I just wanted some water.” Tony lied. He knew Clint would know he was, too.

Clint shifted again, and Tony flinched as his brother reached out his hand. “I promise I’m not going to hurt you.”

Tony stared at the shadow of Clint’s hand for several seconds before tentatively reaching out his own. Clint grasped his hand firmly but gently, tugging him towards Bucky and Steve’s door.

“No, Clint, Please, I promise I wasn’t doing anything bad. Please don’t. Please!” Tony cried, pulling at his hand. Clint didn’t seem to be letting go, but he did stop.

Tony looked wildly between the door and Clint, trying to keep his breathing quiet so he wouldn’t accidentally wake anyone up.

“It’s okay, I promise.” Clint said as he turned around.

“Please, please don’t tell on me,” Tony cried.

Clint sighed. “I’m not telling on you. But you should tell dad and pop you’re having nightmares. They could help.”

Tony was already shaking his head half-way through Clint’s sentence. “Nononono, they can’t know. Please.”

Pursing his lips, Clint let out a long sigh. Tony waited for what felt like forever before Clint released his grip on the younger boy’s hand.

“Tony, I know you don’t want to, and I won’t make you, but you should tell them.” Clint said, looking at Tony with concern in his green eyes. “They won’t go away on their own.”

Tony nodded, knowing for sure that he was never going to tell Steve or Bucky about his dreams. “Thank you.”

“They may let you sleep with them sometimes if you do. They have a really soft bed.” Clint gave a forced smile to his brother before turning around and walking to his own room.

Tony gave one last sniffle, trying to clear all evidence of his tears before reaching Natasha’s door. He stopped himself before he turned the knob, looking back towards the master bedroom door. It was always slightly cracked, a beam of light running across the floor and hitting a wall covered in family photos.

Tony had never really been in the room besides that time he was sick. Their bed really was soft and warm, and he had really liked it. But he wasn’t sure how they would react to a kid just randomly crawling into their bed.

He shook the thought from his head, turning the knob and walking into Natasha’s room.

The next morning, Tony woke to a knock on Natasha's door. He cracked open his eyes, watching as Steve poked his head in.

“It's time to get up, guys. Come on.” Steve knocked on the door a few more times until Natasha sat up and rubbed at her eyes.

“Breakfast will be ready in a bit.”

With that, Steve closed the door and was gone as soon as he’d come.

“Morning,” Natasha said, looking over at Tony.

The boy let out a whine, not wanting to get up. He really hadn’t slept well last night. Still, he rolled himself out of bed, and back to his room. Throwing on his jeans and a shirt, he declared himself ready for the day.

School dragged on forever, and Tony wasn’t even able to focus in math and science, which were his favorite subjects. He was already on yellow by lunch, which made his mood go from bad to worse.

So, when Justin strutted up to him during recess with that oily smirk across his face, it didn’t take much than more of his snide comment about “pudgy Hogan” to send Tony lunging after his face.

“Stop it!” Mr Wilson yelled, grabbing at Justin as one of the third grade teachers pulled at Tony. “Justin, let him go!”

Tony wasn’t in the mood to comply, holding onto Justin’s perfectly ironed polo shirt as he pounded on his head as hard as he could. He didn’t feel the blows as Justin did the same, white-fisting Tony’s shirt and almost pulling it over his head as he kicked Tony in the stomach.

It took one of the fifth-grade teachers running over and pulling at their hands to get them away from each other. Tony kicked and screamed, tears rolling down his face as he was pulled away from the playground and towards the main school building.

Tony wasn’t even paying attention as he was placed into a chair in the office across from Justin with Mr Wilson standing between them. The teacher that had dragged Tony in was watching both classes until Mr Wilson was finished in the office.

Tony looked up when he saw Mr Hammer walk in, dressed in a long trench coat with a serious look plastered to his face. Tony couldn’t help the shiver the man sent down his spine.

“Again?” The man asked, looking at Justin with disgust.

Justin sniffled, running a hand under his nose and refusing to look his father in the eyes.

“Principle Fury will be with us as soon as Anthony’s fathers get here.” Mr Wilson said.

Tony felt a small twist in his gut. Steve and Bucky were going to be so mad at him, they’d never want to see him again. He was going to be sent away again. Steve had said they wanted to keep him, but that didn’t mean they actually would. Nothing was signed; nothing was official. Tony was still a ward of the state.

Tony looked up as the door opened again, Bucky stepping through quietly. He was dressed in a sweatshirt and cargo pants with his hair pulled into a loose bun. A typical look that meant he wasn’t working today. Tony must have missed that at breakfast.

“Mr Wilson,” he greeted with a head nod. Bucky looked over at Mr Hammer, but didn’t address him.

Something told Tony that Bucky and Mr Hammer didn’t get along very well. Without Steve there like last time, it was blatantly obvious.

“Mr Wilson, please bring them in,” a voice called from down the hall.

Tony’s head snapped up, all the blood draining from his face. Mr Fury did not seem pleased.

This time, Tony and Justin were told to sit at the desk, across from Mr Fury, while Mr Wilson, Mr Hammer, and Bucky were against the wall behind them.

“I am going to ask the children a few questions. I would like for only the children to answer.” Mr Fury’s eyes landed on Tony, immediately making the boy look away. “One at a time, only. Understood?”

Tony shook his head, seeing Justin do the same out of the corner of his eye.

“Anthony, what do you believe started this fight?”

Tony shrugged, picking at the seam on his shirt. He really had nothing to say.

“Verble answers, please. And look at me when I’m speaking to you.”

Gulping, Tony looked up. “I’m not sure, sir.”

Fury raised an eyebrow, but seemed to take the answer and moved on to Justin. He asked the same question.

“Tony attacked me, sir.”

“Why would he do that?” Fury asked.

“Because he’s crazy, sir. He has no self control. Even Mr Wilson has to constantly correct his behavior.” Justin turned in his seat, looking at the teacher. “Right?”

“Face forward, Mr Hammer.” Fury reprimanded. “These are large accusations you are making.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re not true, sir.” Justin spat, looking at Tony with disgust.

“He was calling people names!” Tony said, all of his shyness gone. “He’s always picking on people! He’s just a big bully who has no friends because he’s mean!”

“Both of you will calm down,” Mr Fury said before Justin got his chance at a rebuttal. “Did you hit him because he was calling people names?”

Tony nodded his head, the fire out if him as quickly as it had come. “Yes, sir.”

“Hitting, in any situation, is not allowed. Just as name calling, in any situation, is not allowed. This is your second warning, boys. If I see you in my office again, you will lose more than recess for three days.”

“Three days!” Justin yelled.

“Three days, and if you keep talking like that, it will be four.” Mr Fury said, glaring at the boy. “Mr Stane needs help moving the older computers. You will both be assisting him.”

Tony slumped in his seat. He really didn’t want to work with Justin, and he really, really didn’t want to work with Mr Stane.

“Since today is Friday, I advice you take your children home,” Mr Fury said, standing up, “And take the weekend to teach your children the proper way to behave when provoked.”

Fury left the office with a snap of his folder, footsteps following him down the hallway.

“He is not in a good mood today,” Mr Wilson sighed.

“Justin, we are leaving.” Mr Hammer said, nearly yanking Tony’s classmate out of his chair and dragging him out of the toom.

“What’s got their panties all in a twist?” Bucky asked, reaching his hand out for Tony to take.

“Fury is dealing with an apparent lawsuit from a parent. It’s a big case of he-said-she-said.” Mr Wilson shook his head. “Go ahead and get Anthony home. He’s been having a bad day, and I’m sure Justin’s comment was just the straw that broke the camel's back.”

Mr Wilson was right, Tony was having a bad day. He’d been yelled at, scorned, made fun of, beat up, and now his stomach really hurt. All he wanted to do was cry.

“Thank you, Mr Wilson.” Bucky said, seeming to give up on Tony reaching for his hand and, instead, just grabbing the boy’s.

“Get some rest, okay?” Mr Wilson smiled at Tony.

Nodding, Tony followed Bucky out into the main office. The man signed him out, and then they were on their way to the car.

A steady stream of tears fell down Tony’s face as he looked out of the window of the Dodge Charger, thinking about how well the rainy day matched his mood.

Bucky pulled the car into the driveway, letting the gentle rocking stop before pulling forward and parking. He hadn’t said a word the whole trip, but Tony wasn’t really in a talking mood, either.

They sat in the car in silence for a second before Bucky turned around, right arm wrapping around the passenger seat to hold him im place as he said, “I’m not mad, okay.”

Tony sniffled, still looking out the window.

“We’re going to take some breaths, and then we’re going to go inside. Let’s walk in with a good attitude so we can all sit down and talk, okay?”

Tears were falling harder down Tony’s face, and he was losing his composure. He was so tired, he wanted the dreams to stop, he wanted everyone to stop being so mean!

Tony could hear a door open, but it wasn’t until his swung open as well that ne noticed Bucky had gotten out of the car. The man pushed the button to release the seat belt and pulled Tony into his arms.

With a soft thud, his door was closed and Tony was being carried into the house.

“Hey you,” Steve greeted them as they walked in the door. He was coming down the stairs with a load of laundry sitting on his hip. “How’d it go?”

“He go into another fight with the Hammer kid,” Bucky said, trying to peel off his jacket.

Tony didn’t care what the man did so long as he wasn’t put down. Bucky was warm and safe and Tony really wanted that.

“Sam said he’s just had a really bad day and something the kid said must have set him off.” Bucky explained.

“Is he sick?” Steve asked, reaching the bottom of the steps and setting down the basket to reach a hand to Tony’s forehead.

“I don’t think so.” Bucky had an odd tone in his voice that Tony could pick up only because his head was against the man’s chest. It was like he was saying something and sharing a message with Steve at the same time.

Tony felt a hand go through his hair and he could feel himself melting into the touch. He’d never wanted to be so close to any adult as he did with Bucky and Steve. They were always ready with hugs, and Tony was pretty sure they were the only adult ever to be like that.

“He looks exhausted.” Steve said, pulling away his hand.

Tony almost whined, but stopped as they maneuvered him to get his jacket off. Tony wasn’t much help at all, but they didn’t seem to care.

“We should get him into bed. I don‘t think we’ll have much more than a cranky kid on our hands if we don’t let him get some sleep.” Steve said.

No no no no no, he didn’t want to be left alone again. He didn’t want to dream like that again. And Natasha wasn’t here, so he couldn't even crawl into bed with her! No way was he going to sleep on his own.

“Let’s just grab his bear and a blanket and I’ll sit on the couch with him?” Bucky said. Tony could almost feel Bucky’s mouth still moving, but nothing was coming out, so he must have been wrong.

Tony held tight to the back of Bucky’s shirt as he walked into the living room, adjusting Tony so they could sit down.

Bucky placed a kiss on his temple, saying, “Do you want to pick out a movie?”

Tony shook his head no, pushing harder into Bucky’s chest. He knew better than to get attached, he knew better than to act like such a little child, but he couldn't stop himself. He had learned to not be needy and clingy and yet here he was, doing just that. He wanted Bucky and a hug and just to lay here for a while. With pops.

Tony didn’t even have time to think about what he’s just said in his head as his Bucky-bear was placed next to his face and a blanket was draped over him. Tony wrapped an arm around the bear and snuggled him close, letting his eyes flutter shut as the warmth settled in.

He woke slowly, still warm and groggy from his not-nap. Tony wasn’t a baby, and he didn’t take naps. He could hear the TV on in the background, recognizing the music from Mary Poppins instantly. Steve really liked old musicals, and Tony had to say that he really didn’t mind.

Cracking his eyes open, he could see into the kitchen, Steve’s figure shifting around as something good wafted through the air. Tony let his eyes close, too tired to get up just yet.

He didn’t have one dream about his old foster homes. Nothing about the scars down his arms or the dots and lines that littered the bottom of his feet. Steve and Bucky hadn’t left him, and Natasha didn’t yell that she didn’t love him anymore. It was just sleep.

Tony laid in his lazy state for a while before finally gathering enough energy to keep his eyes open. He sat up, a sudden and harsh pain coming to his chest. Tony couldn’t help the tears that came to his eyes or the cry he let out.

“Hey, it’s okay, buddy.” Bucky said. “You can lay back down if you want.”

Tony shook his head, Bucky-bear pressed tightly between his squeezing arms and chest. He had forgotten he was in Bucky’s lap.

“What’s wrong?” Bucky’s voice had gone from light and comforting to concerned in a matter of seconds.

Tony tried to take in a breath of air, but even that hurt. Fat tears were rolling down his face and Tony didn’t have the strength to stop them. It hurt more than anything had ever hurt before, sending pain radiating out from the front of his chest and down his legs.

“Huuuuurts!”

“Steve,” Bucky called, shifting himself so he was sitting up and Tony’s back was pressed against his chest. “Steve, I think you’re needed.”

Tony didn’t see Steve walk over, but, suddenly, he was there with a hand on Tony’s knee.

“Hey baby, can you tell me what hurts?” Steve asked.

Tony tried to look up, but he couldn’t see much more than a kaleidoscope through his tears. Every intake of breath made everything hurt more.

“Ch-ch-chest.”

Steve nodded, a forced, but reassuring, smile coming to his lips as he said, “Okay, good boy. Will you let me see?”

Tony nodded--he’d do anything to make this pain go away.

“Is it okay if I borrow Bucky-bear for a bit?” Steve asked.

Okay, anything but that. Tony shook his head no. Bucky-bear stayed with him. He was safe so long as his bear was with him.

Steve’s lips pursed before he said, “That’s okay. You can keep him. But can you lift him over your head for me? Just so I can look at your chest?”

Tony thought he could do that, and nodded his head. With shallow breaths, Tony was able to lift his arms to his eye level, pressing Bucky-bear into his face. He smelled so nice, just like Natasha.

“Good job, buddy.”

Tony could feel as Steve’s finger gently grabbed the hem of his shirt, gently lifting it up as if helping the boy take the shirt off. A peek from behind Bucky-bear showed Steve with a very concerned look on his face.

Steve let the shirt fall back into place, and Tony happily let his arms follow, burying his face back into the fur of his bear.

“I’m going to call Phil and see if he can pick up the kids.”

Tony could feel the lift in Bukcy’s chest as he sighed. “Bruce is not going to like this.”

“Clint and Tash will know what to do once he gets home. So long as they keep him distracted, he’ll be okay until bedtime.” Steve’s voice said, farther away than before.

“I’m going to stand up, okay, Tones? I promise not to put you down.” Bucky said.

Tony nodded, and braced himself for Bucky to stand up. Two large hands grasped softly under his arms, and lifted him up slowly. It hurt a bit, but not near as much as his chest. A quick turn and Tony was chest-to-chest with Bucky once more. Tony laid his head on the man’s shoulder, turning his face into Bucky-bear’s head.

Bucky bobbed just a bit as he walked towards the kitchen.

“I know this is sudden, but I really appreciate it. Make sure to give them the phrase, ‘I’ll love you forever,’ or they won’t come with you. Bruce won’t be in a good mood until you get him home. Just tell Clint to pull out the computer parts and sit with him on the floor. We shouldn’t be gone for more than a few hours, but if we’re not back by dinner, just go ahead and order pizza. Half sausage and half cheese, and then whatever Maria and Pepper want. We’ll make sure to leave some cash.”

“Steve, if we don’t leave soon, the Immediate Care will be closed.”Bucky said.

“You’re right, you’re right.” Steve turned back to the phone. “We’ll send you updates. Thank you so much. Okay. Bye.”

“Ready?” Bucky asked.

“Let me grab his coat and we can head out.” Steve put his phone back into his pocket and walked to the coat rack where everyone hung their backpacks. Tony’s red one stood out against the hoodies and scarves.

“Just grab a blanket. He’s not going to want to fiddle with a jacket.” Bucky said.

Tony was glad for that. He really didn’t feel up to moving his arms a whole bunch and putting on a jacket would do just that.

“Okay, okay. Let’s go.”

A blanket was thrown over Tony’s shoulders as they walked through the living room, and then they were out the front door.

Chapter Text

Clint looked across the field for Mr Phil’s pale blue Chrysler Minivan. Maria said he was picking everyone up today. When Clint had asked why, Maria had just shrugged.

“I got a text from Phil and that’s what it said.”

Clint sighed, reaching out for Natasha’s hand. He could see her standing rod straight, not moving a muscle, the way she did when she was over stressed. Natasha stared at her hand as Clint grasped it, looking away as if she hadn’t noticed. Her hands were cold as they squeezed his.

“There it is,” Maria said, pointing.

Clint looked up, watching as the minivan pulled around the school and into the drop-off lane. Soon enough, the van was in front of them and Maria reached to yank the door open.

“Hey kids,” Mr Phil greeted.

Clint stared at the van, taking in a breath before looking at Mr Phil. “What’s the safe phrase.”

“Safe phrase?” Maria’s little sister asked from the back seat.

Bruce looked scared, large eyes wet with tears that had yet to fall as he shoved his fingers in his mouth. Clint thought about how he could possibly get Bruce out of the car if it turned out this wasn’t the right guy.

“I love you forever.”

Clint let out a breath of relief. He looked back to check on Natasha before ducking his head and climbing into the van. Natasha claimed the other seat in the middle row, and yanked the door closed.

“Why did dad not pick us up?” Clint asked as the car rolled out of the line of cars waiting and towards the exit of the school parking lot.

“Steve said that Tony was in a bit of pain and he wanted to make sure your brother was alright.” Mr Phil said from the front seat, eyes looking up at the rear-view mirror to make eye contact with Clint. “It’ll only be for a few hours.”

Something about that just didn't sit right with Clint. Why would Tony need to go somewhere if he was in pain? Why was he in pain? Dad and Pops wouldn’t do all this for something they thought was nothing.

Well, now that he thought about it, there was that time Clint had fallen off a swing and hit his head on the pole. Dad had freaked, demanding they go to the hospital. It was nothing more than just a bump, but Pop drove to the hospital all the same.

Maybe Tony had fallen at the playground? He wasn’t the most careful kid. Or maybe he’s tripped in the hall? He was always tripping over his own two feet, as if they were moving faster than he was ready for.

“Tony got in a fight with Justin,” Maria’s younger sister said.

Clint tuned into the conversation, having been oblivious to it when he was lost in his own head.

“That doesn’t make sense. Mr Fury would have sent him to the nurse, right?” Maria said.

Her sister shrugged. “Justin’s really mean. Him and Tony got into a fight before. Justin wasn't allowed to come back to school for a while.”

Maria shook her head, looking back towards the front of the Van.

“Phil, how long will we be at Clint and Tasha’s?”

“I’m not sure. We have to wait on a call from Steve and Bucky.”

Clint settled back into his seat, tuning out the world once again. He was too worried about one little brother to focus on the other in the back seat. He didn’t even notice the humming until Maria shook his shoulder.

“Clint, what’s he doing?”

Clint turned around in his seat, seat belt cutting at his neck as he craned to see Bruce wildly waving his hands and shaking his head side to side. He was just about to ask how long it was going to take to get home when Phil pulled the van into the driveway.

“Tasha, code yellow.” Clint said, yanking the door open as soon as the van stopped and jumping out. “Maria, you and your sister are going to need to get out for a second.”

Clint knew he sounded rude and Bucky would have his hide for it later, but right now, everyone needed to give Bruce space.

“Mr Phil, we need to get Bruce inside.” Clint said as Natasha unbuckled the boy. Maria and her sister were standing on the lawn, at a loss of what to do.

Natasha looked worriedly between Clint and Mr Phil, seeming to take a large breath of air before saying, “He needs his head phones. They’re on his night stand. And his blanket. The blue one on his bed.”

Clint looked at his sister with pure shock plastered across his face. Natasha just spoke, in front of an adult, and one she didn’t know all that well? Since when did she do that?

“Clint, you have to carry him in.” Natasha struggled to pull the boy out of the car, and Clint ran to take his weight.

He was wiggling, clawing as Clint’s back. But Clint had seen Steve and Bucky do this a thousand times, he knew what to do. He wrapped his left arm around the boy’s upper chest, threading the right one through his legs. He grabbed his left forearm with his right hand and squeezed the boy to his chest just enough to keep him stable, but not enough to hurt him.

Dad called this the car seat hold, naming it after the buckling system due to the similarities. The whole idea was to stabilize him so he wouldn’t fall from thrashing around when someone tried to move him.

Clint made his way towards the front door, Natasha already out with her key to open it. As soon as they were in the house, Bruce started screaming, fat tears rolling down his face.

“Which one is his room?” Phil asked, having to almost yell to be heard over the screaming.

“Follow,” Natasha said, taking the stairs two at a time.

Phil and Maria’s sister followed, leaving Clint and Maria to settle Bruce somewhere.

The couch, Clint thought. Pops always did it on the couch.

Bruce trashed around harder, his screams so high pitched that it physically hurt Clint’s ears. Bruce was the only one who could make a sound like that.

“What should we do?” Maria asked, looking around frantically as Clint plopped down on the couch ungracefully.

Clint was using all of his strength to hold Bruce close, each second making it harder and harder.

Finally, salvation came. Natasha rushed into the room with Bruce’s blanket, laying it on the floor. Clint knew they had to wrap Bruce up, but he couldn’t remember how with screams rattling through his brain.

Giving up on trying to remember, Clint decided to wing it. He got off the couch and placed Bruce on the blanket, one hand on his chest the way pops always did. As he reached for the corner of the blanket, he felt something hit him on the face.

For a moment, he was still, the shock keeping the pain away but also making him unable to move. And then the pain came, roaring harder than Bruce’s screams. His face broke into firey pain that sent tingles down his spine as tears came to his eyes instantly. He couldn’t help the scream of pain, or the words that followed.

“Clint!” Natasha pulled him away from the blanket, leaving Bruce alone as he flailed on the floor.

“Let me take care of this. You were trying to swaddle him, right?” Mr Phil asked, kneeling on the floor and setting the headphones to the side.

That was the word Clint was looking for!

He nodded his head yes, stopping after a single movement made his head spin. He reached a hand up to his nose, which almost sent tears to his eyes, as he pulled it away covered in blood.

Mr Phil grasped Bruce’s arms gently, laying them across his chest and holding them there with one hand as he reached for the left corner of the blanket. He pulled it tightly over Bruce’s chest, only moving his hand for the second it took to place the blanket and placing it right back on his chest. He did the same thing to the other side, this time removing his hand completely.

“What’s next?” Phil asked, looking towards Clint and Natasha.

“He-he-headp-phones.” Clint cried, pointing to the iPod that Phil had brought down with one hand as the other kept a tight hold on his nose.

Mr Phil nodded, grabbing the device and placing the headphones over Bruce’s thrashing head. He was trying to scratch out of the blanket, but he couldn't.

“Augh,” Phil let out as he tried to find the right buttons to get it on. Maria’s sister held out her hand, and Phil passed the device over.

Clint knew the exact moment the music was on, because that was the same moment that Bruce’s screams were cut in half. He knew they weren’t done yet, though.

He held his sleeve to his nose, grateful that his Dad had made him wear a hoodie today, and shooted across the floor. He got behind Bruce, and pulled the boy into his lap as best he could with one hand. He placed his left hand on Bruce’s shoulder, keeping his face buried in the sleeve as his right arm reached across Bruce’s torso and held him tightly.

Dad liked to rock side to side, and Pop liked back and forth. But it was easier for Clint to follow in his Dad’s footsteps and slowly move left to right without moving his arm or his face. An arm was placed across his shoulders, but Clint didn’t have to look up to know who it was.

Natasha laid her head on his right shoulder, moving with Clint in his slow rocking.

It seemed to take forever, but Bruce was finally down to just sniffles. Clint let out a breath of air slowly, closing his eyes. He was afraid that, if he moved, he was going to set Bruce off again.

“I’m going to lay out the computer stuff. Maybe Virginia and him could play and keep him distracted?” Natasha said, standing up.

So that was Maria’s sister’s name. Duh.

“Yeah. Can you get him some water, too. I’m sure the screaming hurt his throat.”

Clint couldn’t see it, but he assumed his sister had nodded. He opened his eyes and looked up a small amount, just enough to see Mr Phil on the floor in front of them with Virginia and Maria on either side.

“Is there anything we can do?” Mr Phil asked.

Clint shrugged, sighing. He just wanted Dad and Pop to come home soon.

“You know, that was amazing.” Mr Phil smiled when Clint looked up. “You and Natasha looking after him. You did a great job.”

Clint had to conceal the smile. Maybe that did make him feel a little better, but no one had to know. Recognition was always nice.

“When Natasha gets back, let’s go ahead and have a look at your nose, hum?”

Clint sighed, smile gone, but nodded his head. A flash of pain was sent across his face and he winced. That was really going to hurt in the morning.

-.-.-

Steve couldn’t help the nervous shake to his leg. Something was wrong with one of his kids and he didn’t know why and all he could really do is worry. Tony hadn’t stopped crying since they got in, but his tears were starting to die off into quiet sobs as he fell into a fitful sleep.

He’d screamed bloody murder when he had to let go of Bucky and his stuffed bear for the x-rays, and the technicians were worried they may have to sedate him to get a clear shot. Steve would rather not have a kid pumped with sedatives, and compromised that Tony could have his bear if he stayed still, and that he’d go right back to Bucky when they were done.

Normally, something like that would not have worked on him. He was a smart kid, and knew how to barter better than anyone. But right now, he wasn’t Tony-the-kid-with-severe-ADHD-and-a-distrust-for-adults-and-a-smart-mouth. He was Tony-the-seven-year-old-who-just-wanted-comfort like every other kid would want in this situation.

If it had been under any other circumstances, Steve would have thought it was the cutest thing in the world to have Tony clinging to Bucky and a stuffed animal.

What he hadn’t expected was for Tony’s thumb to slip into his mouth, something he had never seen the boy do before in the past several months of him living there.

Now they were playing Steve’s least favorite game: wait and see. They had to look over the xrays and blood work and everything to find the true cause of Tony’s chest pain.

Steve thought it was blatantly obvious as the doctors just had to pulled up his shirt. The dark bruising across his chest even made Bucky flinch, and the man didn’t even cry when his arm was shot through and through.

Tony was pressed against Bucky’s chest, one arm wrapped around his bear as the other clung to Bucky’s shirt with his fingers, and his thumb firmly in his mouth. Steve would have to worry about a possible habit later. For now, Tony could use all the comfort available to him.

The doors whooshing open pulled Steve out of his thoughts and up to the entering doctor. She gave a gentle smile, weaved in concern.

“You must be Mr and Mr Rogers-Barnes?” She asked, keeping her voice low.

Steve stood, reaching out a hand to match hers. “Steve, and this is my husband James.”

“I’m Jane Foster,” she said, waving at Bucky so he wouldn’t have to move. “I’m a pediatrician here.”

Steve sat back down as Dr Foster leaned against the counter in their room.

“So, we have good news and bad news.” She sighed.

Steve’s heart dropped, his hands feeling clammy.

“The good news is that there is nothing broken or busted or any of those other things. A lot of bruising, and he will be sore, but he’ll be okay physically.”

Steve didn’t miss the way the last word was said.

“Physically?” Bucky asked.

Dr Foster took in a breath. “I have a speculation that what was reported—the intense chest pain—had nothing to do with the fight that he was involved in at school.” She paused, as if trying to gather the words to go on. “I think it’s best if I show you.”

Steve could feel his eyebrows twist in concern, but he got up all the same. He sent a look to Bucky, a silent prayer somehow mixed in with every other emotion imaginable. He followed Dr Foster into the hall, where she stood in front of a light box that held up printed X-rays.

“You said Tony was in foster care, correct?” Dr Foster asked quietly, glancing around as a nurse walked by.

Steve nodded.

Dr Foster nodded her head with a sullen look. She pointed towards the chest xray hanging up. “This is Anthony’s chest. Nothing is currently wounded, but these,” she pointed to small abnormalities across the boys chest, “these were. The oldest one must have been healed for about two years, but this one,” she pointed to a small dot on his third rib down on his left side, “that looked like it happened five or six months ago.”

Steve felt a tightening in his chest as he looked at the spot. “That was right about when he came to us.”

Dr Foster gave him a look he couldn’t quite decipher, and that worried him.

“If you’re thinking we—“

Dr Foster waved her hands between them. “No, no, no, that’s not at all what I’m thinking. I have read your file and his. And I can read a situation more than most people give me credit for. No one who would do this kind of thing would hold him the whole time he was here.

“No, what I’m saying is he had a panic attack. I’m not a psychologist, but my sister is. She would say that a kid that’s been through this could easily be set off by a fight at school.”

“He’s seven years old, I didn’t even think kids could have panic attacks.” Steve said. Somehow, it made sense. All of it made sense.

“Age is a number, but experience is a scar.”

Steve sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. How could he not have known. All of the signs were there. The way he’d slouch if anyone got too loud, or the way he’d avoid someone who may be upset with him. Steve was an idiot.

“I’m going to give you my sister’s number. Her name is Darcy.” Dr Foster pulled out a pen and used a scratch piece of paper from the desk behind her. “She’s amazing with kids. And she’ll be able to help more than this place will. Until then, I recommend crushing an advil and mixing it in with some juice to help the pain.”

Steve nodded, taking the paper. “Thank you.”

Dr Foster gave a sad smile. “Anytime. Let me go grab the discharge papers and we can get you all home.”

Steve nodded, watching as the doctor walked off before going back into Tony’s room.

“We better call her tomorrow,” Bucky said with a sigh.

Steve gave a strained laugh. Bucky and his “super soldier” hearing.

“I guess so, yeah.” Steve slumped back down into his chair, facing Bucky and Tony.

They sat in silence, staring at nothing.

“Explains why he was always going into Natasha’s room.” Buck sighed.

“But why didn't he come to us?” Steve couldn’t help the pure hurt his voice let off. “Why didn’t he tell us?”

Bucky pursed his lips for a moment before saying, “Nightmares are a hell of a thing.”

“Language,” Steve scorned, happy to have something else to focus on.

Bucky smiled, but let it slide. “It just means that we have to show him we’re worth trusting. That we’re not gonna leave or hurt him.”

Steve nodded. Bucky was right. Tony had never had a stable home. The few months he’s been with them were coming up on being the longest he’s ever stayed in one place. They still had a few months before they could make everything official because of the state’s six-month waiting period, but they had to convince Tony that he had a home.

Steve’s head hurt too much to think of a way to do that at the moment, so he filed it away for later.

“Let’s just get home and hope that the house hasn’t burnt down.” Steve said, standing up.

Bucky stared wide-eyed. “Oh lord, don’t put that thought in my head.”

Chapter Text

“Here are the discharge papers,” Doctor Foster said as she slid the door open.

Steve smiled up at her, reaching out his hand. “Thanks, but don’t the nurses normally take care of this sort of thing?”

Dr Foster smiled. “Yeah, normally. I just wanted to meet Anthony.”

Steve watched the woman’s eyes land on the small boy, asleep on Bucky’s chest.

“Poor guy must be tuckered out after all of that.”

Steve nodded, glancing over the paperwork. “Yeah, he’s never been this clingy before. When he first came to us, you’d have thought we took in another teenager. It’s probably just been an emotionally tolling day.”

“Not to mention painful.” Bucky said flatly.

Steve glanced up at Bucky with an odd look.

“Bruises don’t fade overnight,” Bucky defended.

Steve pursed his lips, taking in a breath of air. He wasn’t wrong, but that look screamed Bucky wanted blood. Really, Steve couldn’t find it in himself to care if his husband did go after a few people.

It was going to be a long weekend.

Just as Steve was about to turn the page, a single sentence caught his attention.

“Does Tony have a heart murmur?” He asked, looking up a Dr Foster.

“That’s what his medical records said.” Dr Foster looked between Steve and Bucky. “Was it wrong? I pulled it right from his medical file.”

“No, no, I’m sure it’s true. It’s just…” Steve looked at Bucky, pulling on his husband’s level-headedness. “No one told us.”

“Were you not given his medical history when his social worker dropped him off?” Dr Foster asked.

Steve shook his head. Now that he thought about it, the boy’s social worker hadn’t left them with any information on Tony.

“School records, foster history, background, anything?” She asked.

Steve’s gut fell to the floor. Tony had been with them for nearly five months and they had no idea how he’d ended up in foster care. They didn’t know how he did at his old schools, just that he wasn’t very excelled in reading. And they hadn’t even thought to ask.

The last time they had needed all of those records was when they took in Natasha four years ago. Bruce only had his medical and foster history because he wasn’t old enough for school yet. They hadn’t even thought to ask for the files. And the social worker had left without telling them anything.

And she hadn’t been around since.

Had Tony really been seen as that much of a lost cause?

Steve looked again at the little boy clinging tightly to Bucky’s shirt. He was energetic, and smart, and kind, and he just loved everyone. Steve couldn’t imagine how people could just give up on a kid like that. Everyone had their bad days, but that was no right to write them off and just stick them wherever without a possibility of proper care.

Looking back through Tony’s medical history list, he saw that the boy had once been hospitalized after a car accident. A small concussion and whiplash. A few other minor injuries that had been reported by schools, but nothing else. A line under that said he had been removed from a family after neglect of safety when one of the kids ran off and wasn’t found.

Not a single word had been uttered from the boy about any of the incidents.

Maybe they should be asking more questions.

“You all should get him home and get some rest.” Dr Foster said when Steve handed over the signed forms. “I’ll be back in a second to let you know you’re good to go.”

Steve nodded his thanks, taking his seat once more.

“What now,” Bucky asked, hand rubbing up and down Tony’s back.

Steve sighed, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”

When Dr Foster came back in, she handed Steve a file and let them know they were set to head home. It was interesting to watch the doctor remove sensors they’d placed on Tony’s chest without moving the boy too much. Luckily enough, Tony seemed to be dead asleep, and they hadn’t woken him.

Steve knew it wasn’t the safest thing to do, but he needed to just hold Tony. To know he was alright and breathing and alive and that nothing bad was going to happen to him. Steve held him the whole way home, vetoing a seatbelt so that it wouldn’t dig into Tony’s neck.

As they pulled up to the house, Steve didn’t miss the blue minivan parked behind the SUV, and had to stifle a laugh.

Bucky turned off the engine and let out a breath of air. “I don’t see any fire trucks, so I think we’re okay.”

Steve chuckled. “On the outside of the house, at least.”

Bucky gave him a fair point look, and swung his door open to step out.

Steve took in a breath of air, cradling Tony’s head to his chest just in case it was loud, and let Bucky open the door. Stepping inside, he was greeted with laughter from the living room to his left, and Clint rushing down the stairs with a grin across his face.

It wasn’t until the boy almost ran into Bucky that he realized the men were home.

“Dad! Pops! You’re back!” Clint wrapped his arms around Bucky's chest, earning a grin from the man as he returned the hug as best he could at the odd angle.

As soon as the boy had grabbed on, he’d let go and ran for the kitchen. “Sorry, middle of a game!”

“Don’t run in the house!” Steve called after him, feeling whole for the first time that day. Back home with his family where he belonged.

“Go ahead and take Tony upstairs. I’ll find Phil.” Bucky said, placing a kiss on Steve’s temple before walking off towards the kitchen.

Steve walked up the stairs slowly and gently, taking care not to jostle too much. He turned into the first room on the left and flipped on the switch. The room was it’s usual mess, Bruce’s toys splayed out on the Hot Wheels carpet he was obsessed with. Steve tried his best to avoid the cars, but normally ended up stepping on one if not more.

Luckily, today was granted to him without his normal luck, and he made it to Tony’s bed without smashing any of the vehicles.

Steve pulled Tony away from his chest slowly to place him onto the bed. He wanted to get Tony into some PJ’s, but he really wasn’t sure if he was ready for the sight he knew he would find under the boy’s shirt.

Still, Steve took in a large breath and gently pulled up on Tony’s shirt.

It looked like a painter’s pallet, smeared colors of orange and purple across his chest. Steve had to slowly let out a breath, trying to keep thoughts away of how many times Tony had been through something like this on his own.

God, he was seven! No adult would be able to deal with this kind of pain, and here Tony was, sleeping it off like it was nothing.

Steve wanted to puke.

Instead, he swallowed hard and pushed the shirt over Tony’s head, having to remove the boy’s thumb from his mouth and bear from his arms as Steve pulled his arms out. The pants were easier, only taking a bit of shifting before they were off fully.

Steve turned around to grab a pair of PJ’s from Tony’s dresser. He tried to find the lightest pair he could, having to dig for a second before pulling them out. Steve was about to close the drawer when he saw a familiar shirt stashed under all of the other clothes.

Steve pulled it out, letting it unfold as he looked at it curiously. It was Bucky's “Go Army” shirt. The man had a million of them from working at the VA Hospital, but how had Tony ended up with one?

Deciding to leave the question for another day, he placed it back in the drawer and closed it. He walked back to the bed, stretching out the neck of the night shirt

Tony looked so small and pale as he slept on, seemingly unaware of the world around him. It wasn’t until Steve was pulling the night shirt over Tony’s head that he noticed a faint scar on Tony’s right arm. The waning-moon shape was just barely noticeable, with others just like it going up and down his arm.

They almost looked exactly like the cuts Bruce would get if he pinched his arm too hard on accident. Steve wondered for a moment if Tony had the same bad habit, but something about them seemed off. They were too far up his arm, and the wrong angle to be self-inflicted.

The thought that crashed into his brain nearly brought up everything Steve had eaten that day. He held a hand to his mouth, taking slow breaths.

They would be calling Dr Foster’s sister first thing tomorrow.

Until then, Steve managed to redress Tony and get him under his blankets.

A knock on the door had Steve turning around to find a shy-looking group of girls standing in the doorway.

“Hey,” Steve said, forcing a smile onto his face. Natasha and her friends didn’t need to know Steve’s worries.

“Is Tony gonna be okay?” The younger girl, a redhead with pale skin and dressed in a blue collared shirt and a jean skirt asked.

“Pep, whisper. He’s asleep.” The older girl said, lightly tapping her sister’s shoulder as a physical reminder.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, looking towards the carpet.

“No, it’s okay. He’s pretty much dead to the world.” Steve let out a soft chuckle as he stood. He was getting too old to just go crouching on floors without a second thought.

“He’ll be okay. We were just worried after we brought him home so we took him to the doctor.”

“Okay,” the younger girl nodded her head. “I’m gonna go play with Bruce.”

“Yeah, go ‘head.” The older girl looked towards Steve as her sister walked off. A moment of silence passed before she spoke, her mouth seeming to complicate the words she wanted to get out.

“I just… I wanna say thank you. For helping us out.” She bit her lip, eyes back on the floor. “You didn’t have to do that.”

Steve smiled. “You must be Maria.”

The girl nodded her head. “Natasha said her family was awesome. But I think she was wrong.”

“Why’s that.” Steve moved to flip off the lights, grateful that Maria and Natasha stepped out from the doorway, picking up the hint.

“Because I think you all are amazing.”

Steve smiled. “I think you all are pretty amazing yourselves.”

“Me and Pep?” Maria laughed. “Nah, we just get by.”

“I think you’re cool.” Natasha intervened. “And so does Clint.”

Steve could see Maria was getting uncomfortable with the conversation, and decided a detour was the best way to handle it. “Well, amazing and cool people, what do you say we head downstairs and order some pizza?”

Natasha’s eyes lit up. “Yes!”

She pulled Maria back down the stairs, Steve following closely as they ran into the kitchen.

“We’re getting pizza!” Natasha said a little louder than needed.

“Please keep a indoor voice, Tasha.” Steve said as he rounded the corner for the stairs and headed towards the kitchen.

Steve almost stopped dead in his tracks as Natasha let out a half-hearted sorry from the dining room, continuing to giggle with Maria.

Since when did Natasha scream anything?

Since when did Natasha feel comfortable enough to scream anything and not fear consequences that Steve and Bucky had never once enforced.

Suddenly, his eyes locked with Bucky’s, who stood in the kitchen with the same dumbfounded look on his face.

So many years together gave them a third language that existed only in passing glances and eyebrows.

Did she just?

Don’t bring it up, or she’ll get self conscious.

Steve nodded, beginning his walk into the kitchen once more.

“How’d this happen?” Bucky asked Clint as he sat him on the counter, his face angled upward as Bucky looked something over.

“He was helping with—what did you call it?” Phil answered from the end of the dining room table.

“Bruce had a code yellow.” Clint said, wincing as Bucky poked on his face.

“As Clint was swaddling him, Bruce wiggled an arm free and got a good swing at his face,” Phil said. “I don’t think anything is broken, but he’ll have a good war story.”

“You all took care of a code yellow?” Bucky asked.

It’s not that the older two had ever been incapable, but they had never had to get through one on their own. Bruce was rarely away from Steve or Bucky.

Clint nodded, a prideful smile on his face. “Yeah, Tasha and I had most of it, and Mr Phil swaddled him, and Maria and Virginia grabbed all of his stuff like his head phones!”

Steve had a small bit of pride well up in him. “Good job, guys.”

The kids had a collective grin that took Steve’s mind off the day—even if only for a moment.

Clint hopped off the counter when Bucky gave him the all clear, joining the girls at the table. They had pulled out a board game, and were currently setting into a steady rhythm.

Steve rummaged through the kitchen for something to drink. After checking the date on Bruce’s juice, Steve opted for coffee for everyone.

“Why do you all call my sister Virginia?” Maria asked as she hit the bubble in the middle of the board.

“Isn’t that her name?” Clint asked.

“Well, yeah, but she hates it.” Maria jumped her piece a few times.

Natasha reach for the bubble and pushed it as she asked, “Why?”

“Not sure. She hasn’t ever told me.” Steve watched as the girl zoned in on the living room. “Her middle name’s Pepper, though. She doesn’t seem to mind that.”

“We can start calling her that, then.” Clint said.

Steve almost could have laughed at his kids. There wasn’t a more accepting group on earth. A small part of him was proud of that, wondering how much of that was Steve and Bucky, and how much of it just came naturally.

Chapter Text

Tony wasn’t sure what was going on, he just knew he hurt. A lot.

Tony was very used to things hurting before, but after living with Steve and Bucky for what seemed like forever, his tolerance had dropped. He didn’t have to cry quietly in the corner, and he didn’t think he ever wanted to go back.

So when his chest exploded in pain as if a three-tonne boulder had been placed on top of him, he cried. Tony used to hate crying, but it was getting harder not to cry when Steve and Bucky were always saying it was okay—that emotions have to be let out. Even the bad ones.

And then Tony did something he’d never really done before. He grasped tightly to Bucky's shirt and refused to let go. He couldn’t explain why, and he didn’t care. He just knew that being put down would be even worse than his pain.

Being left alone would hurt more than the burning in his chest.

And Bucky… He let Tony. He didn’t push him away and he didn't get mad at him. In fact, Bucky had held him closer and tighter, and seemed just as adamant about not letting go.

But now he was alone as his eyes fluttered open to a dark room. The open door let in a dim light from the hall that Bucky always left on. Tony hadn't even really thought about it, but, tonight, he was grateful for it. The light banished shadows to the corners of the room, and lit up Bruce’s sleeping face.

Tony smiled at his little brother. Bruce was always really cute when he slept, his face squashed against the pillow with his left arm wrapped tightly around that old blue blanket he always slept with. He was such a little kid, and never seemed to sleep without it, although Steve and Bucky refused to let him take it to school.

Tony let out a small breath, testing his chest. It didn’t hurt much, and breathing was a lot easier than it had been last night. As he went to sit up, his hand brushed the soft fur of his Bucky-bear.

Tony smiled, snatching the bear up and hugging it tightly to his chest. He took in the bear’s scent, something so familiar it calmed whatever stress had been building in his chest again.

Guess he couldn’t really pick on Bruce for his blanket when Tony was in the same place with his bear.

The sound of people talking softly downstairs pulled Tony out of his bear and back towards the open door. He pulled back the covers, grunting at the pain in his stomach as he sat up to throw his feet over the side.

He crept towards the door, opening it just a tad bit more so he could slip out without the hall light shining into Bruce’s eyes. With one arm wrapped tightly around the neck of his bear—because it was always better to travel in pairs at night, duh—he tiptoed down the stairs.

The voices were still hushed, but Tony could make out a bit of what they were saying.

“...how could she do that?” An unfamiliar voice asked.

“We’ll call tomorrow…”

That was Steve, but he was getting quieter and Tony couldn’t hear it as he hit the last step and turned the corner towards the kitchen.

“...just fucks over any kid who comes in with an issue or two.”

Tony followed the hallway and towards the only well-lit room on the ground floor. The living room and play area only had the floor lights on so you could see where you were walking.

Just as Tony laid eyes on the back of Bucky’s head with his hair pulled into a messy bun, Steve tapped the table twice.

Bucky turned around, smiling as his eyes landed on Tony.

“Hey, buddy,” Bucky said as he pushed back his chair and stood, walking towards him. “What’re you doing up?”

Tony shrugged, the motion sending little pricks of pain across his chest. Not enough to say anything about, but enough for Bucky to notice, apparently.

“Chest still hurt?” He asked, crouching down. He placed his right hand on Tony’s shoulder gently, his prosthetic sitting limply on his knees.

Tony wrapped his arms around his bear, holding it tighter to his chest as he nodded. But his eyes never left Bucky’s arm.

Bucky didn’t wear many short-sleeve shirts, and you could rarely see more than the hand most days. But right now, he was wearing a tank top that showed the whole arm with its plastic casing and intricate wires. Tony wasn’t sure how much of his arm Bucky had left, but it must not have been much with the way it was strapped across his chest and right shoulder, the two bands somehow working to keep it all together and attached to his body.

“I think we have something we can use to help with the pain.” Bucky gave a soft smile.

Tony nodded, his right hand reaching out to touch Bucky’s left arm, just above the joint for his elbow. It was warmer than Tony was expecting from metal and plastic, and that was somehow comforting to Tony. As if it was just another part of Bucky. The man was always warm, and Tony loved it.

Bucky stood, taking a moment before he lifted Tony from under his arms and placed him on the counter.

If he was being honest, Tony liked the view from the counter. He was closer to Bucky’s eye level this way, and he didn’t just have to stand around and wait. But that didn’t mean his eyes didn’t wander.

“Who’s that?” Tony asked Steve, the boy’s eyes landing on the older man sitting at their table.

Steve smiled, glancing over at the man. “This is Mr Phil. He’s the person who took in your friend Virginia and her sister.”

“Oh,” Tony said. He turned back around, watching as Bucky poured some milk into a plastic cup. “Bucky, if Mr Phil raised you, does that make him your dad?”

Bucky seemed to stop for a moment, starting right back up before anyone could really notice.

“I suppose it does, in a way.” Bucky turned around and held the cup out for Tony to take. “Drink all of that, okay?”

Tony nodded, placing Bucky-bear under his left arm and grabbing the cup. He took a sip, then asked, “Does that make him Clint,Tasha and Bruce’s grandpa?”

The room lifted into laughter from the three men as Tony looked around, confused. What was so funny about that?

“I don’t know, what do you think, Phil?” Bucky asked, throwing the question back at the older man.

“Well,” Mr Phil left out an amused huff, “I think that makes me more of an uncle than anything. Not old enough to be an grandpa.”

“Okay.”

Tony went back to his cup of milk, ignoring as the men chuckled around him.

Adults are weird.

The milk tasted a little weird, but Tony didn’t really mind. It was only a bit chalky, and he liked milk. It only occurred to him afterwards that Bucky must have mixed something in to help his chest. Oh well, better than that nasty “grape” tasting stuff. That was gross.

When he finished the last of his milk, he set the cup down next his hip in the counter. Bucky lifted him off the counter, but didn’t place him back on the floor as Tony has expected. Instead, he was braced on Bucky’s hip until the man sat down at the table, where his legs were swung around until he was chest to chest with Bucky.

Normally, Tony would never have let this happen. He was a big kid and was perfectly fine with his own chair, thank you. But, he was also tired. And Bucky was warm and he smelled nice when Tony laid his head onto the man’s shoulder. So, just for today, he’d allow it.

“You tired, bud?” Bucky asked, his voice vibrating in his chest. It sounded kind of funny to Tony.

Still, Tony shook his head no, pushing his nose into Bucky’s shirt.

Tony could hear Bucky chuckle through his chest, one of the man’s arms reaching up to rub circles on his back. Tony liked when he did that.

“You want to just keep him here?” A soft voice asked.

“Yeah, there’s no reason to put him in bed just yet.” Bucky responded, placing a gentle kiss to Tony’s hair.

Tony didn’t bother to say that he could hear them because he was too wrapped up in his bear and Bucky to care about them talking. He liked being held.

He could hear the three men talking, but he was tired and adults talked about boring things. He could always talk about fun things, but he didn’t really feel like talking.

If he were being honest, Tony really wasn’t sure why he had a sudden need for his hand to be in his mouth. He knew that Bruce would suck on his fingers sometimes, but no one else did. That was a baby thing to do. Tony didn’t suck his thumb.

But, maybe if he just put his hand by his mouth, that would be enough? Yeah, and he wouldn’t be sucking his thumb like a dumb baby.

But, Bruce wasn’t a dumb baby, though. He was Tony’s little brother, and that made him a smart baby. But, Tony couldn’t say everyone who sucked on their hands was a dumb baby, because Bruce might think he’s talking about him. Tony didn’t want Bruce to cry.

Maybe if Tony did suck his thumb, he wouldn’t be a dumb baby either? Tony used to do it a lot, but everyone was really mean to him about it. Steve and Bucky weren’t mean, though. Maybe they wouldn’t mind?

“We should ask Darcy about that,” Steve said very lightly.

Tony wasn’t sure what the adults were talking about, happily sucking his thumb as he leaned against Bucky’s chest.

-.-.-

The loud thumping from several feet bouncing down the stairs woke Tony abruptly. His head shot up as he groaned in protest of being woken up.

“Walk in the house, please.” Bucky’s voice said just over his head.

A giggled, “Sorry,” came from Tony’s right, followed by slower, but just as loud, thumping for two more steps before pattering towards the kitchen.

Tony cracked open his eyes, sitting up to look around. He was in the living room, the early sun shining through the thin curtains and lighting the room. Tony watched the dust partials float in the rays for a moment before turning to look towards the kitchen, having to sit up a bit more.

“You awake?” Bucky asked softly.

Tony’s head snapped up to find Bucky leaning over the back of the couch.

Tony rolled over onto his back as he stretched, rubbing at his eyes and nodding his head.

“How’re you feeling?” He asked, running a hand through Tony’s hair.

Tony closed his eyes at the feeling before shrugging. He didn’t feel near as bad as he had last night.

“Not in any pain?”

Tony shrugged again.

Bucky chuckled. “It’s about time for some more medicine. Think you can sit up for me?”

With a nod, Tony sat up on the couch, almost sinking between the two cushions as he scooted closer to the arm to lean against it.

Bucky was back after only a second, a small plastic cup in-hand. “Think you can drink this?”

Tony nodded, taking the cup and tipping it back. He made sure not to spill any on Bucky-bear before handing the cup back over.

“Tony!” Virginia’s small form came running in from the dining room, tackling him in a hug.

Tony knew he was wide-eyed with confusion as he looked towards Bucky who was chuckling.

“Be gentle, Pepper,” Bucky said as he walked back to the kitchen.

Virginia instantly pulled away with an apology. “Are you okay?”

Tony nodded. “Why’re you here?”

“Phil brought everyone home yesterday, and then Steve and Bucky got back really late with you, so Natasha asked if we could all just have a big sleepover!”

There was more in that single sentence, than Tony had heard the girl speak in a week. She was totally different from the small and reserved girl Tony meet at the beginning of the year.

Tony liked the new her.

“So we all had a sleepover?” Tony asked. “Even me?”

“Yeah!” Virginia’s eyes were wide with a smile. “Maria and I had never had one before, but Natasha was really fun! Everyone says she scary, but I don’t think that’s true anymore! She’s awesome!

Tony nodded, laughing. “Uh huh.”

“Breakfast is ready,” Natasha called from the arch between the dining room and living room, leaning on the white molding with a smile.

“Tasha!” Tony smiled, jumping off the couch and tackling her in a hug.

Natasha happily took it, wrapping her arms around her younger brother. “Feeling okay?”

“Better, now,” Tony said as he smiled up at his sister.

Natasha reached up and pinched his cheeks gently until Tony was giggling as she said, “Dad’s making pancakes if you’re hungry.”

Tony waved her hands away with a smile. “Pancakes are the best.”

Virginia trailed behind Tony and Tasha as everyone tried to squeeze in at the table. Somehow, they all fit at the table that now seemed kind of small with nine people sitting at it.

Breakfast went rather smoothly, even if it was a bit loud. Tony loved having everyone there, and he was happy to laugh right along with everyone else. It wasn’t until Steve stood up after his phone started ringing that Tony grew slightly concerned.

The phone call took forever, and Phil and Bucky had already cleaned up everything from breakfast by the time Steve returned with a slightly-solum look on his face. He leaned down to whisper something to Bucky, but it was too quiet to hear.

Bucky nodded, eyes darting to Tony for a split second before looking towards Steve. He said something, Steve nodded and stood straight once more, and the interaction was over as quickly as it started.

Tony felt a sinking feeling in his gut, the kind that rolled around like a bowling ball, lurching back and forth and sitting heavily in his stomach.

“Tony, are you okay?” Natasha whispered next to him.

Tony pulled his attention back to his siblings and friends, nodding his head. “I think I just ate too much.”

Natasha nodded. “Okay. Just tell Dad or Pop if something hurts, okay?”

Tony nodded his head, letting his gaze fall into his fiddling hands.

“What do you kids say to a bit of summer fun? Go to the park and ride our bikes and have a picnic?” Steve asked, one hand on Bucky’s shoulder.

Tony perked up at that as everyone cheered. The park sounded fun. Although he’d never ridden a bike before…

“I don’t think the pools are open yet, but I do know the sprinklers will be on with it being so warm, so go and get some old clothes on and we’ll start heading out, okay?”

Clint and Natasha jumped up from the table, the latter pulling along Maria as they ran down the hall.

“I don’t have any other clothes,” Virginia said, looking down and pulling at her shirt.

“You can borrow some of Tony’s, if that’s okay with him?” Bucky said, looking over to the boy.

It took Tony a moment to realize they were asking him a question and not just telling him what to do. Nobody had ever asked if was okay to share his stuff before; normally they just made him share.

“Yeah, that’s okay,” Tony nodded.

“Go on and get ready, okay?” Bucky said softly, smiling as he stood up.

Tony smiled back, hopping off the bench and running around the table, through the hall, and up to his room with Virginia hot on his heels. He pulled out one of his less favored shirts and handed it over to his friend.

“Is this okay?” He asked as he pulled out a shirt for himself.

“Yeah, I love this show!” Virginia smiled, holding up the shirt with a smile.

Tony opened a lower drawer, pulling out the soft and flowy athletic shorts he only had a few pairs of. He handed one over to Virginia, keeping the other as he closed the drawer.

Tony changed in the closet, giggling as Virginia tapped on the door. When he was out of his clothes, he stepped out of the closet and tried to shoo away Virginia’s hand as she tried to continue tapping on his head. He pushed her towards the closet, telling her to change so they could leave and have fun at the park.

Soon enough, everyone was down stairs, dressed in old clothes and looking like a real rag-tagged bunch, but Tony didn’t mind it one bit. He liked having all of the people around and everyone laughing.

They loaded into the SUV and Phil’s minivan with three duffle bags, a soccer ball, a stack of blankets, and three bikes tied to the back. It didn’t take very long to get to the park, and it wasn’t overly busy, either. It had the perfect amount of people to make it feel like they weren’t alone, but not so many as they wouldn’t be able to play freely.

Tony darted for the play set as soon as the SUV doors opened, eyes set on the monkey bars were next to one of the slides.

“Tones, take it easy, okay?” Bucky called after him.

Tony let out a huff, but shouted, “I will,” as he jumped to reach the bars.

“How come you never play on the monkey bars at school?” Virginia asked from behind Tony, making him fall from the sudden and unexpected company.

Tony huffed, reaching for the bars again, this time using one of the other bars for support. “Justin and his goons are always all over them.”

Virginia took the answer, deciding to follow Tony as he swung his weight back and then up, managing to lock one leg around the high bar and laughing as he held the bar to wrap his other leg so he was almost hanging upside down. With a breath, he gripped the bar where it met with one of the plastic canopies and finally sat up on the high bar.

“I like the view from up here.” Virginia smiled.

Tony nodded, taking a moment to take in the world around them. Steve, Bucky, and Phil had grabbed a table off in the shade to their right, laying out a blanket and toys for Bruce.

After a moment, he turned to his friend. “How come you don’t talk this much at school?”

Virginia looked down as she kicked her feet. “No one ever wants to talk to me.”

“James and Happy and I do?”

“Yeah,” she kicked her feet hearder. “But no one else does.”

“Pepper, Tony, come play in the sprinkler with us!” Maria yelled from the other side of the park.

Tony turned around to see the older three standing by a large concrete pillar with water spraying out over their heads. He turned back to Virginia.

“Wanna go?”

Virginia nodded, swinging her legs forwards and back to drop off the pole and into the mulch below. Tony followed, landing ungracefully on his rear-end. Tony rubbed at his butt as they walked towards the pillar of water, trying not to complain too much about the pain.

“Who’s Pepper?” He asked along the way.

“I am. It’s my middle name.” Virginia stepped on the plastic barrier that kept the mulch mostly next to the play equipment. “I don’t like my first name.”

“Why not?” Tony asked, swinging his foot to kick a bit of the mulch out of the way as he jumped back onto the grass.

“Cause it sounds stupid. My mom named me after my grandma, and it was her middle name. They’re both dead. It’s bad luck.”

“Oh,” Tony walked in silence for a few steps, then said, “I like Pepper. It suits you.”

Pepper looked up with a smile. “Really?”

Tony nodded. “Yeah, it’s really you.”

With another smile, Pepper took his hand and ran towards the sprinkler, running directly under the spray of cold water and letting out a delighted scream.

Chapter Text

The last thing Steve wanted to do after yesterday’s fun is to waste Sunday tracking down Tony’s social worker. Phil still had a few friends in the system, but even his contacts weren’t sure where the woman had come from or how to find her.

Steve ran his hand through his hair, looking back at the computer screen. He glanced around the page once more, mentally checking off every office he had called so far. Not a single person in the state seemed to know where Tony was from or who the woman was that dropped him off.

Even Tony said he didn’t know her name when they’d asked last night. And Steve—though not for lack of trying—honestly couldn’t remember if she had introduced herself.

With a sigh, Steve pushed his chair away from the computer and stood up to pace the room. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong here—something was going on that Steve needed to know.

A knock on the door pulled Steve out of his head.

“Any luck?” Bucky asked, stepping into the room and closing the door gently behind him.

Steve shook his head, his right hand running through his hair again and settling his hand on his neck.

“Nothing.”

Bucky let out a sigh, crossing his arms and leaning against the door.

“I thought the internet was supposed to supply all the information in the world.” Steve huffed, sitting back down on the plush black chair.

“I think that applies more to cat videos and those stupid little funny pictures with words on them.” Bucky chuckled.

“Like the ones on Facebook?”

“Yeah, with those little glow-stick things from that Universal movie.” Bucky put his right hand up to his face, cupping around his eyes. “Ba-na-na!”

Steve chuckled, shaking his head as he sat forward in the chair, elbows on his knees.

“I’m just not sure what we should do, Buck. I feel like there’s something more going on here, but I just don’t know what.”

Bucky walked across the floor and towards Steve as he said, “Well doll, if I know anything about that gut of yours, I’d say listen to it. Hasn’t lead us wrong before.” Bucky kneeled down in front of Steve, his hand on his husband’s.

Steve leaned in, stealing a kiss before saying, “I guess you’re right.”

Bucky smiled, that one that Steve fell for the day he saw it, with his teeth showing and pulled a bit more to the left for that true cockiness he always held. Steve loved that smile.

“If nothing else, we could just Google Tony.” Bucky chuckled.

Steve was hit with the idea like a brick to the face. He hadn’t even thought of that! He held Bucky’s face with both hands, planting a hard kiss on his lips. “I could marry you.”

Bucky, though confused, moved out of the way as Steve swung the chair around to face the desk once more.

“Sorry, I’m already taken.” He said, standing up to look over Steve’s shoulder.

Steve looked over his shoulder, playfully sizing Bucky up. With a tisk, he said, “What a shame.”

Bucky smiled as Steve turned back to the computer, his fingers flying over the keyboard.

“Nothing,” he sighed, looking over the results of “Tony Stark” that mostly consisted of Facebook pages.

“Try Anthony.” Bucky advised, now standing over Steve’s right shoulder.

Steve nodded, typing in Tony’s full name. Again, only Facebook pages showed up as results.

“Add in where he was born?”

Nodding, Steve typed in the new information. The top result was a birth announcement from a newspaper Steve had never heard of.

He clicked on it, waiting with baited breath for the few seconds it took to open the page. And then, he was met with Tony’s smiling face, only a much younger form. He looked exactly the same, hair unruly and brown eyes filled with joy.

“‘Anthony Edward Stark, son of Maria and Howard Stark, born at six pounds and three ounces.’” Bucky read off. “So he's always been small.”

Steve laughed, looking over his shoulder. “Maybe, but he may be taller than you one day.”

Bucky shook his head, eyes going back to the screen. “It doesn’t have a date, does it?”

Steve looked back at the page, scrolling to the top. “No, why?”

“We don’t know his birthday,” Bucky said.

If that didn’t put a brick in Steve’s gut, he wasn’t sure what would. “How did we miss that?”

Bucky shrugged. “It just hit me too.”

“What if we missed it? What if he thinks we don’t care? What if—“

“What if he doesn’t even know when it is,” Bucky cut Steve off.

The men shared a look of putrid horror before going back to the screen. They desperately read through the small bit of information, Bucky slamming his finger on the screen.

“May 29th.” Bucky said.

Steve confirmed, with a look at the line. “Well, if nothing else, at least we learned that.”

“That’s in two weeks.” Bucky said.

Steve’s head fell into his hands. “We’re terrible parents.”

“We have four kids. We’ve been so focused on getting everyone settled, we haven’t exactly had time to sit down and really think all of this through.”

Steve nodded, still in the thought that it didn’t matter how much was going on—they should have caught this.

“Look,” Bucky said, turning Steve’s face towards him with a gentle finger on his chin, “The real reason we don’t have this is because we weren’t given the information. Find the social worker, or at least someone who has a file and knows what’s going on.”

Steve nodded, going back to his computer. “I’ll keep looking. You have the kids?”

Bucky nodded, placing one last soft kiss on Steve’s lips. “We can do this.”

“We can do this.” Steve echoed, watching Bucky smile before he stood up and walked out, closing the door gently.

Steve turned back to the computer, deciding to look up Tony’s birth parents. If nothing else, he may be able to find a small bit of information on where Tony had come from.

Not ten minutes later, he deeply regretted his decision.

Hundreds of articles popped up as results for Howard and Maria. Charity events lined with photos, different headlines for each one. They had started some kind of charity that helped bring tech to schools that would otherwise not have the ability to have such things. The biggest part was that Howard would fix most of the units himself, using crowdfunding to buy new parts where his scrap yard fell short.

Steve stopped reading after the fifth article about their project and how much it had helped a school in Queens raise their testing scores. Every featured photo showed what looked to be an older version of Tony if he had straight hair and dark eyes. Instead, the boy had his mother’s curls and amber orbs staring happily. He looked so much like them both.

And then he had clicked on the fifth link, not having read it before it loaded, and grimacing as the picture popped up, the headline reading “Howard and Maria Stark dead after car crash.”

The front end of the car was wrapped around a tree, the hood sticking straight up as the engine blew smoke. The front doors had been ripped open by what looked like the jaws-of-life, and the back window had been smashed. Police and firefighters were standing around with caution tape bending from the wind.

Steve read through the page, trying to find any information he hadn’t already picked up. His stomach dropped as a paragraph started, “Their son, two-year-old Anthony Stark, was in the car at the time of the crash, and was trapped with his parents for three hours until authorities were alerted to the crash. His injuries are unknown at present.”

Steve pushed away from the desk, standing up to pace before he puked. A hand to his lip was all he could do as he tried to swallow the gaging. God, did the boy even know what happened, Steve questioned. He was rather young, he may not have even realized why his parents weren’t there anymore.

A glance over at the desk showed him a card taped to the top of Bucky’s screen. Steve snatched it off, pulling his phone out of his pocket. It didn’t even occur to him that it was a Sunday and the office may not even be open until the third ring. Just as he was about to hand up, a voice came through.

“Hello, this is Darcy Lewis.”

“Hi, my name is Steve Rogers. Your sister, Dr Foster, gave me this number on Friday.” Steve knew his nervousness was echoing through the phone, but he didn’t know what else to do.

“Oh, hey! Jane told me to expect a call from you guys!” The woman laughed through the phone. “I was wondering why an unknown number was coming through my cell! How can I help you guys?”

Steve let out a soft laugh. The woman seemed laid back and easy to talk to. Tony would like that. “I was wondering if we could schedule an appointment sometime soon.”

“Oh, of course! What day works best for you all?” Shuffling came through the line, and Steve figured the woman had pulled out some paper.

Steve went over their schedule in his head quickly. Clint had his archery banquet on Thursday, and Natasha had asked to take dance classes over the summer and they had to go check out a place on Wednesday. That left Monday and Tuesday, but tomorrow seemed too early. He wanted to give Tony a bit of a warning and make sure he knew everything that was going to happen.

“How’s Tuesday?” Steve asked, taking a glance over at the calendar in the office one last time to make sure the day was free.

“Would four work for you?” Darcy asked.

“Yeah, sounds great.” Steve let out a sigh.

“Okay, you might want to show up a bit early so we can fill out paperwork and such to get that out of the way. May I ask for the child’s name?”

“Oh, of course. His name is Anthony, but he goes by Tony.” Steve said, a little shocked he hadn’t mentioned that earlier.

“And the parent or guardian's name?”

“Steve and James Rogers-Barnes.”

“Okie-dokie. You all are all set up. The first meeting should only be about an hour, and he’s welcome to have anyone he would like with him, or no one at all. It’s whatever he’d like.”

“Thank you.” Steve left out a relieved sigh.

“See you all then!”

“Yeah, see you.” Steve pulled the phone away from his ear as she said goodbye and let the call end.

Now all he had to do was explain to a seven-year-old what would be happening in two days. Steve let out a sigh. This was going to be an interesting experience.

Chapter Text

Tony couldn’t help his legs bouncing up and down as quickly as they were, the sound of his heels hitting to wood floors echoing around the mostly empty waiting room. He was grateful that Bucky hadn’t pointed it out or asked him to stop despite it being obnoxious. He wasn’t really sure if he’d even be able to.

Bucky and Steve had sat him down in the living room while Natasha and Clint got Bruce ready for a bath upstairs. They told him he was going to see a woman named Darcy in a few days just to talk. Tony wasn’t really sure he liked how that sounded. He’d gone to “talk” to people before, and they were always mean. His foster parents would sit there and accuse him of things and the people he was supposed to talk to always ended in a conversation with just his foster parent.

He once was even given medicine they had to go pick up, but he refused to take it. A foster brother he had once said that he had been drugged by a family before, and he didn’t figure it out until he saw them crushing pink pills and putting it over his food. He had said it was to calm him down because the family thought he was too hyper. Tony would pretend, though. He would take the pill in his hand, play as though he’d put it in his mouth, and when he took a swig of water, he’d quickly switch the pill into his other hand and slip it into his pocket to throw away later.

But now he worried that Steve and Bucky may try to make him take something. They were always really nice and hardly ever yelled or even got mad, but maybe they thought Tony was too hyper, too.

He’d asked Natasha about that yesterday when he ran to her room after another nightmare. She’d said that Steve and Bucky didn’t like putting any of them on medicines.

“They like doing other stuff, first. Tea and meditation and stuff like that.” Natasha had said, pulling her fuzzy purple blanket over their shoulders. It was Tony’s new favorite.

He let the words try to settle him now, but it wasn’t working too well. He took a deep breath in and looked over at Bucky. The man caught his eye and gave him a soft, reassuring smile.

The door swung open and colorful woman with a cheery smile called out to the waiting room. “Tony?”

Bucky stood up, offering his right had for Tony to take.

Tony gently placed his hand in Bucky’s, having to jump off the chair to stand up. He followed Bucky closely, as the woman led them through what looked like a small maze of hallways and corridors.

“This is my office right here!” The woman said as she gestured to an open door. She invited Bucky and Tony to walk in first, which just felt very wrong to him. It was her space, so she should be the first one in. Right?

All thoughts of awkwardness vanished as he looked around the room with two bookcases of carefully organized toys off to the left, with two more of nothing but children’s books forming this play corner, that had a puzzle-piece carpet under a colorful table with two children’s chairs. Off in the far corner was a desk with organized papers in stacks and a filing cabinets covered in colorful pictures. The windows had flowers swarmed by butterflies and bees. A pair of chairs against the far wall and a couch off to the side were the only signs that it was an office and not just a preschool.

“You can sit anywhere you like,” The woman smiled.

Tony was really tempted to go over to one of the bookshelves and grab what looked to be a box of Legos on one of the middle shelves, but decided following Bucky was the best plan. Besides, he wasn’t sure if he was ready to let go of the man’s hand yet.

“So, I supposed your dad’s have told you about what’s going to happen here?” The woman asked.

Tony nodded, trying his best to look her in the eyes but unable to do so, instead following the grain of the floor.

“Awesome! Well, I am Darcy, and my favorite games are Uno and tag!”

Tony giggled and looked up, scanning over the woman. That was a weird way for an adult to introduce themselves. But, he supposed it matched her rather sunny disposition.

She gestured to Bucky, showing him it was his turn.

“Oh, uh,” Bucky thought for a moment. “My name is James, but my friends call me Bucky, and my favorite games are toy tag and Mariokart.”

Tony smiled at that. Bucky almost always lost when they played Mariokart, but he would play every time Clint asked. Tony loved that just as much as robots with Bruce.

“What about you?” Darcy asked, looking at him with a soft smile.

Tony thought for a moment before saying, “I’m Tony, and I like Mariokart with Clint and Bucky, and building robots with Bruce!”

Darcy gave a stronger smile. “Well, that does sound like a lot of fun! Who’s Bruce?”

“He’s my little brother!” Tony said proudly. “He’s got autism, but that’s okay because Bucky and Steve say the only thing different about him and me is how we pro-process the world!”

Bucky smiled at him when Tony looked up to make sure he was right.

“Yeah?” She asked.

Tony hummed an affirmation. “I’m not sure what it means, but I know it’s what makes him cry sometimes. So we play music for him and Steve hugs him real tight and wraps him in his blankie, and then he’s okay! And then we build robots!”

“No way! That’s so cool!” Darcy exclaimed.

“Yeah, Bruce organizes all the pieces and I draw up what I want and then we put it all together. I don’t know enough about coding to program it yet, but we’re almost done with our first one!”

Darcy’s eyes went big for a moment which made Tony laugh. “That’s super awesome! Do you play with Bruce a lot?”

“Uh huh.”

“What about your other siblings?”

“Tasha And Clint? They’re awesome, too. Clint picks me up from class now, which makes Justin really jealous. And Tasha lets me sleep with her whenever I want to.”

“Well, they all seem very nice.” Darcy grinned.

“Sometimes they’re not because I annoy them or say something mean, though.” Tony’s eyes fell to the floor. “I don’t always mean to, but it still happens.”

“How’s that make you feel?” Darcy asked.

Tony shrugged. “Bad. I don’t want to hurt them.”

“Do you apologize?”

Tony nodded. “Uh huh. But it doesn’t always make it better and sometimes they’ll still be mad.”

“But it does get better, yes?”

“Yeah! Steve said they just need to cool down and that I should wait for them to come to me. That sometimes it may take the rest of the day. And they always love me, but they’re just upset for now.”

“That sounds like a good motto.” Darcy smiled. “Do you ever get mad at them?”

Tony had to think for a moment about that. “Sometimes. Like when Clint ran through my Lego castle and broke it.”

“What’d you do when Clint did that?”

“I got mad and yelled at him.” So, maybe he wasn’t too proud of his actions, but he’d really felt Clint deserved it.

“If you said anything, what kind of things did you say?”

“I said he was mean and stupid, and that he shouldn’t be breaking rules.” Tony eyes fell onto the play corner for a moment before slipping back to the floor, now grateful that he hadn’t gone over there. He didn’t deserve to play with the toys.

“How do you think that made him feel?”

“Mad.”

“Why mad?”

“Because I yelled at him and he yelled back.”

Darcy nodded, shifting in her seat. “How did you all stop being mad at each other?”

“Steve told us to go into the office and told us we need to respect each other and not yell when we get mad.”

“Did he give you another way to solve issues?” Darcy asked.

“Yeah. He said we could talk calmly about how we feel when people do mean stuff. And that we can go to him when it happens so he can talk to everyone.”

“What do you think of those solutions?”

Tony shrugged, picking at the seam in his jeans. “I don’t know. Seems kinda stupid.”

“Why do you feel that?”

“Cause I can do it myself. And tattling is stupid and gets me in trouble, too.”

“Why do you feel tattling is stupid?”

“Cause I would get in trouble, too, for trying to get someone else in trouble.”

“Ah, so you feel as though you will be punished just as much as the person being mean to you?”

Tony nodded.

“Why do you feel that?”

“I always got in trouble for it before.”

“Have Steve or Bucky done that?”

Tony thought for a moment, thinking back the whole time since he’d been there. When his mind came up empty, he shook his head.

“Then maybe it would be best to try, yeah?”

Tony nodded, thinking that her reasoning was sound.

“Do you know the definition of a tattle?” Bucky asked.

Tony looked up to his left, almost having forgotten Bucky was there. He shook his head no.

“A tattle is when you tell on someone for small things just to get them in trouble. Like when kids in your class will tell on others just so they go down a color or loose recess time.” Bucky said. “But, telling an adult about an issue so that it stops is not tattling. It’s one thing to say someone broke your crayons, and another to say ‘please tell them to stop breaking my crayons.’ Do you kind of see what I’m saying?”

Tony shook his head slowly, not really understanding at all.

“I think what your dad is trying to say,” Darcy started, “is that running to an adult about something just so the other person gets in trouble is tattling. Maybe you’ve seen someone do this when they go to a teacher as say that a classmate is taking crayons from the middle of the table that are for the whole group?”

“Like when Justin gets mad that all the swings are taken?” Tony asked.

“Yes, exactly. No one took those swings from him or pushed him out to grab it, did they?” When Tony shook his head, Darcy went on. “That’s just him trying to get other kids in trouble for something that’s really not their fault.”

“Now, if your classmate had been pushed out of the swing by another person, and told your teacher about it, it wouldn’t be tattling. That would be him expressing that he was hurt and wants it to stop.”

That kind of made sense to Tony.

“Do you think you could give me an example of a tattle?” Darcy asked.

Tony nodded, thinking for a moment before saying, “Bruce took all of the blocks to build his tower.”

“Yeah, that’s a great one! Now, how could you make it not a tattle?”

Tony looked over at the play corner, looking the toys over for inspiration. A sudden memory came to mind, making him blurt out, “Mrs Jenkins hit me when I was playing house with Molly, and pulled me out of her room by my arm and locked me in a closet all night.”

The room went quiet for a moment, and Tony was worried he had gotten the difference in tattling wrong.

“Yeah, that’s a good thing to tell people.” Darcy said.

Tony was relieved. So he was right! Cool! He totally had this down!

Another look at the toy corner made him yearn to play even more, but he still didn’t ask. He wasn’t sure if he was even allowed to ask. Instead, he just kicked his feet and kept his eyes on the floor.

“Tony, do you have a lot of memories like that one?” Darcy asked.

“Not really,” Tony answered. “Just some when I think real hard. And sometimes stuff happens that brings back bad stuff.”

“What kind of things?”

“Bad things. Like when Pepper had that picture. Or when Justin hit me really hard.”

“Do you remember things for what feels like no reason? Things that make you scared?”

Tony nodded. “A lot.”

“Can you tell me what kind of things happen that makes you feel that way?”

“Coming here. Got a bad memory going another place to talk and having to take medicine. But I never took it.”

“Why didn’t you take it?” Darcy shifted forward in her seat a bit more, leaning a bit forward.

“Cause someone told me it was bad.”

“That’s a good reason.” Darcy nodded. “But you still came?”

“Yeah, cause Steve said I could bring anyone with me!”

“So you brought Bucky?”

Tony nodded, looking up at him. “Yeah, Bucky said he didn’t mind at all! I wanted Steve to come, too, but he said Bruce was having a bad day and he really wanted to be here but had to make sure Bruce was okay.”

“Do Bucky and Steve make things not so scary?”

“Most of the time, yeah.”

“Does anyone help when they can’t?”

“Uh huh,” Tony said, going back to picking at his jeans. “Tasha let’s me sleep with her when I have bad dreams and doesn’t tell Steve or Bucky cause I asked her not to. And Bucky-bear has good hugs when Steve and Bucky aren’t there.”

“Who’s Bucky-bear?” Darcy asked with a smile.

“He’s my bear! Tasha gave him to me to be my best friend!”

“Well, Tasha seems like an amazing sister.”

“Uh huh!”

“Does she help when things bring up bad memories?”

“Yeah, she tells me stories. And sometimes she sings! And sometimes she’ll read her big books to me!”

Darcy smiled. “Hey, Tony, do you think you can play for a minute so I can talk to Bucky?”

Tony pointed to the corner, making sure that’s where she meant.

“Yeah, over there. You can play with anything up to the fourth shelf, okay?”

Tony nodded happily, jumping off the couch to run over to the corner. Luckily for him, the box of Legos sat on the fourth shelf. He had to stand on his tippy-toes to grab them, but he pulled the box free off the shelf and sat down at the table to see what parts he had to work with.

-.-.-

Darcy turned to Bucky as Tony settled into his building, running right for the Legos like Bucky knew he would. Boy was a mechanic right to his bones.

Now that Bucky thought about it, however, it may have been hereditary. His biological father was a mechanic, after all.

“So,” Darcy took a deep breath, looking over a small notepad Bucky hadn’t noticed the woman had until now, “with just this meeting and what I’m seeing, I believe Tony may have an anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Pairing this with what my sister told me, I’m almost sure of it.”

Bucky held his breath, waiting for the woman to go on.

“The bad memories seem to be triggered by certain events, which is why I suspect PTSD, and paired with the nightmares makes me almost sure. The anxiety may stem from that, or it may be a whole different issue. It’s best that we not put him on any medication for his ADHD, which is what you said you wanted anyway. Stimulants and anxiety do not mix well. I would even suspect that some of his ADHD symptoms come from anxiety”.

“To be honest, after his story, it’s best not to put him on anything, and see if we can find other ways to help him calm down. Things like lavender oil and breathing exercises may help with minor events like another meeting here or when he wakes up after bad dreams. As for panic attacks, we’re going to have to learn how to spot them before they become full attacks. With his heart murmur, it’s best if it doesn’t get that bad”.

“Learn triggers, and how to spot when he is getting to that point, and be able to pull him out of situations that do become triggers. If you can note what kinds of things send him into a panicked state, we may be able to do some behavioral therapy to work through them”.

“Other than that, I just recommended you keep doing whatever you’ve been doing. Tony feels safe with you and Steve, and he seems very connected to the whole family. Maybe feed him some of those good memories if he seems to be having a hard time. If you can shift his focus, you may be able to pull him back from a potential attack.”

Bucky nodded, taking a mental note of everything she said. He’d need to make sure Steve had all of the information, too.

“Any questions?” Darcy asked.

Bucky shook his head. He wasn’t even really sure he had everything she had said, much less what questions to ask about it. This is why Steve should have come. That man was so much better at keeping track of everything.

“Alright. I guess we’re all done for today, then.” She closed her notebook, setting it on the side table. “I’d like to see Tony again next week, if possible. If you have any questions or concerns before then, don’t be afraid to call.”

Bucky nodded, standing with the woman and shaking her hand. “Thank you.”

Darcy smiled. “Anytime. I’m just really happy that Jane was there that night. I worry what would have happened if someone else had just told Tony there was nothing wrong and sent him home.”

Bucky hadn’t even thought about that. What if Jane had not pointed out a panic attack. Would he and Steve had figured it out?

Bucky took a breath, realizing he didn’t really need to worry about it. It hadn’t happened, and they were here now.

Tony looked up as Bucky asked him to clean up his toys and put them back so they could head home and start dinner. Bucky was a bit relived Tony had just nodded with a smile and quickly smashed his creation into the bucket and put it back.

On their way out to the Charger, Tony was swinging their arms back in forth as he asked, “Can we come back? I like Darcy. She’s fun.”

Bucky smiled, opening the driver’s door and pulling the seat forward so Tony could jump into the back. “I suppose we can make that work.”

Tony cheered, pulling the seat belt over his shoulder and snapping it into place.

Well, at least he had a good time, if nothing else, Bucky thought to himself as he put the seat back into place and started the engine.

Chapter Text

Tony did not want to be here. He would rather be forced into an English classroom for the rest of his life than be here. He’d rather be locked in a closet and never see the light of day again than be here.

And, yet, here he was.

Justin and Mr Stane seemed to hit it off right away on Monday, and that hadn’t changed by Wednesday. They were both laughing and joking as Tony sat at the front computer, scanning through files for the game he’d been coding for Mr Stane. Justin had done nothing but kiss Mr Stane’s butt and sometimes lift a CPU or monitor. Tony looked up with a glare as his name was called.

“Did you find that file yet?” Mr Stane asked.

“Yes, sir.” Tony lied, glancing back at the computer in hopes of finding it right that second. If Mr Stane found out he was lying, there wouldn’t be anything good to come from it. But, if he said he hadn’t, then Mr Stane would have walked over to him and leaned in real close, breathing over his shoulder as he scanned the screen.

“That’s my boy. Justin, why don’t you go over there and help him out with some of the smaller details? I’ve got to take the rest of these to the dumpster.”

Tony couldn’t help the small amount of anger building in him as he looked at the old CPU units stacked into a wheelbarrow. There was almost nothing wrong with them besides being old. Still, Mr Stane wanted them gone and they meant they went.

“Sure thing, Mr Stane.” Justin smiled as he happily skipped across the room.

Mr Stane followed with the wheelbarrow, pushing it towards the door as he said, “You two behave, now. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Tony nodded, trying his best to keep the “disrespectful” glare off his face. He’d already gotten in trouble for it once, and the last thing he wanted was another day next to the man.

“So, what’re you doing?” Justin asked as he stared at the screen.

“Programming for Mr Stane. He wanted help with a game he’s making.” Tony deadpanned, hoping Justin would take the hint and leave him alone.

Clearly, his wish went unanswered. “What kind of game?”

Tony shrugged, leaning in closer to the monitor. “Just a game. That’s what Mr Stane said.”

Justin sat down in the black office chair Tony refused to sit in, putting one foot on the front desk to push off and spin the chair.

“Mr Stane is cool.” Justin said as he kicked off again, shaking the desk.

“He’s a creep,” Tony said, repeating words from Clint.

“You’re only saying that because he doesn’t like you as much as he likes me.”

Tony sighed, shaking his head. He was grateful Mr Stane liked Justin beter. Kept him away from Tony.

He tried to let Natasha advice from this morning wash over his feelings of unease, but it wasn’t working too well. “Just get through it one day at a time,” she had said. Tony wasn’t sure he’d be able to do this for another day. He wasn’t even sure he’d be able to get through the last ten minutes of today with Justin kicking the desk and making everything rattle as he spun in circles.

All he wanted to do was get back to class. If he could just make it through the last bit of recess, he’d be allowed to walk back to his classroom as quickly as possible. (No running, because that wasn’t aloud. As much as he wanted to.)

“Justin, could you stop. Please?” Tony asked, having to twist and look over his shoulder.

Justin stopped with his left foot on the desk, looking Tony right in the eyes and he pushed off once more.

Tony groaned, throwing his hands into the air and pushing his chair back. He stood up and walked into the supply closet where Mr Stane had asked they store the neatly wrapped wires in their correct bins. He decided the long Ethernet cable would be the best thing to do, knowing it was long enough to stretch across the room and, therefore, long enough to waste time until Mr Stane got back.

As soon as the bell rang, Tony was out of his seat and out the door, speed-walking through the hallway and to his classroom. He waited outside the locked door for Mr Wilson, looking up and down the hall for the tall man’s familiar face.

When a familiar blonde came through the hallway instead, Tony took a moment to try and place her.

“Miss Darcy?” Tony asked, stepping farther into the middle of the hallway so the woman would notice him.

“Tony?” Darcy asked, a confused smile on her face.

Tony gave the woman a bright smile. He really liked Darcy because she seemed to bring a special kind of warmth anywhere she was.

“What’re you doing out here in the hallway?” Darcy asked, stopping to talk to him for a moment.

“Waiting for Mr Wilson. I lost my recess because I got in a fight and have to help Mr Stane.” Tony looked down at his shoes.

“Ah, I see. Well, do you want to show me to room 102? I’m sure you know this school a lot better than me, huh?”

Tony giggled, the thought of being better than an adult at something amusing to him. “Yeah, I’ve been there before! Miss Maximoff is super nice!”

“So I’ve heard!” Darcy laughed. “Lead the way, oh master guide!” She held out her arm to let him go first, and Tony couldn’t help the fit of laughter he was in as he walked down the hallway.

Stopping in front of the familiar door with “welcome” written down the side of the in different colors, Tony knocked a few times. The younger kids went to recess twice a day, before and after lunch, so they should still be in the classroom.

He was relieved to see Miss Maximoff’s familiar auburn hair and soft face.

“Miss Maximoff, this is Darcy!” Tony introduced them.

“Loki’s mom, right?” She asked, opening her door to let the two in.

Darcy nodded as she shuffled into the room. “Yes. How’s he doing?”

“Better. Doesn’t seem too bad, but he was saying his stomach hurt and I don’t think he’s feeling well.” Miss Maximoff pointed over to the small boy in the corner, rubbing his sweatshirt sleeve under his nose to wipe away snot.

Tony recognized him as the loud kid who took all of the crayons and never shared a glue stick during craft time. It was hard to believe Darcy was his mom when she was so cheery and he… wasn’t. Tony didn’t think he was a bad kid, though Loki was sometimes mean for seemingly no reason. But Steve and Bucky said that everyone has a reason and it’s our goal as humans to see if we can help. Tony liked helping.

“Oh, poor boy.” Darcy said as she walked toward the corner and held out her arms for the boy.

As soon as Loki noticed the woman, he had darted right into her arms, clasping his hands around her neck in a hug. Tony was surprised if nothing else. Loki almost never liked when people got too close to him.

A body darting to his side brought Tony out of his thoughts as he looked down at a familiar clingy body.

“Hey, Peter!” Tony smiled, wrapping arms around his friend. Peter was quiet and shy, but he’d taken to Tony really quickly. It was almost like having another little brother.

Which reminded him… Tony scanned the tops of heads for the familiar black curls of Bruce at a table with a drawing pad and stack of markers.

When Peter had learned Bruce was Tony’s brother, the two younger boys had become quick friends. Bruce liked the company Peter offered, neither of them loud or hyper like some of the other kids. They were content to sit across from each other and draw all day.

Tony thought it was the best thing in the world because he loved both of them a lot.

“I’m sure he’ll feel better by tomorrow. Might just be a touch of hay fever.” Darcy said, pushing Loki back so she could look at his face. She gave a soft smile as she whispered, “You’ve been so good, haven’t you? Letting Miss Maximoff know you weren’t feeling well.”

Tony was a surprised to see the boy smiling ever-so-slightly. Loki hardly ever smiled.

“You just let him come back when he’s ready. We’ll be here waiting!” Miss Maximoff smiled as Darcy picked up Loki and sat him on her hip. “See you later!”

Loki gave a small wave with a few of his fingers as his head rested on Darcy’s shoulders.

Tony called out a goodbye, turning back to Peter and Bruce.

“What’re you all doing?”

“Drawin’.” Peter mumbled as he pulled Tony by the hand over to his table. “Dinosaar.”

Tony looked at the paper with a smile as he took in the large brown blob with a big head and tiny arms. It didn’t really look like a Dinosaur, but Peter didn’t need to know that.

“That’s so cool!”

“Tony, as much as we all love having you here, I believe it’s time for you to get back to class.” Miss Maximoff called out in a cheery voice.

“Okay!” Tony called back, turing to Peter for one last hug, and walking around the table to offer one to Bruce as well.

Sometime Bruce loved hugs, and sometimes he didn’t want to be touched. Bucky had said to watch and see how Bruce was feeling that day, but Tony could always offer.

Today must have been a good day, because Bruce smiled happily and leaned against Tony.

Tony squeezed him gently before letting go. He smiled down at his little brother, rubbing his hand over the top of the boy’s head and ruffling his hair.

“See you at home!” Tony turned to Peter. “See you later!”

Peter wound up his wrist to knuckle bump Tony’s fisted hand, which seemed to be Peter’s way to say, “See you, too.”

Tony waved goodbye to Miss Maximoff as he walked out of the brightly colored classroom and through the halls to get to his own.

Mr Wilson had the door opened as the kids from his class walked through one at a time.

“Ah, there you are,” Mr Wilson smiled. “Mr Stane said you had already left.”

“Uh huh. I met Darcy in the hall and she needed help getting to room 102!” Tony said proudly as he followed the “caboose” into the classroom. This week it was James, who took every job given to him very seriously.

“Well, that’s nice of you.” Mr Wilson closed the door behind him as everyone took their seat and made his way towards the whiteboard to start their science lesson for today.

James leaned over when Mr Wilson wasn’t looking and asked, “Today’s your last day with Mr Stane, right?”

“No,” Tony sighed, laying his chin on his crossed arms so that he was still facing the board. “Tomorrow is.”

“What do you all do, anyway,” Happy asked. He didn’t like science, and was always ignoring instructions. It was okay, though. Tony led his group in all of their work for the subject.

“Nothing. Mr Stane just wants me to create code for a game.” Tony kept his eyes on Mr Wilson, trying his best to watch his tone so they didn’t get caught.

James’s face twisted in confusion. “A game?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t make any sense. I’ve never seen this kind of code for a game.” Mr Wilson goes quiet, and Tony waits for him to pick back up before saying, “He just tells me what he wants and I do the code.”

“There are different types of code?” James asked.

Tony shrugged. “Yeah, just like everything else. If you want something to go left, it’s gonna be a different command that telling them to go right.”

“That makes sense.” Happy whispered, pulling a notebook out of his desk and pulling a pencil out of the cup in the middle. “I wish you didn’t have to spend recess with him.”

“Me too,” Tony pouted.

“You only have one more day,” Pepper said as she rolled her eyes. “It’s not like anything’s gonna happen.”

“Something might happen if Justin stop rubbing his nose over Mr Stane’s butt.” Tony growled, glaring in Justin’s direction.

Happy and James broke into a fit of laughter, rubbing their hands over their noses and making fart sounds. Tony joined in, causing Mr Wilson to give them a warning for a color change.

The group remained quiet for the rest of the instructions, though not paying attention to them.

When the lesson was finally over, Tony remembered something in his bag. He even raised his hand to ask to get up, which seemed to make Mr Wilson very happy. When he was given permission, Tony quickly walked to his cubby and reached into his backpack.

Steve had given Tony a bunch of letter-looking things, and told him to give each of his friends one. The only catch was that Tony had to tell them to wait and open them at home. Tony didn’t really understand why, but shrugged his shoulders and put the envelopes in his bag. They seemed really important, so Tony took extra care to put them in a different pocket from his folders.

As he walked back to his seat, Tony smiled and handed an envelope to his group.

“Steve said these are for you all, and that you can only open them when you get home.” Tony said seriously.

Pepper looked at the letter skeptically. “Why?”

Tony shrugged. “That’s just what Steve said.”

“Okay.” Pepper said, drawing out the word as she sat the letter in her desk.

Tony was hit with the reminder that he wanted to give one to Peter, too, but had no idea how he would be able to. Well, Tony thought, Steve said I can always ask.

Hand waving in the air to grab Mr Wilson’s attention, Tony asked if he could walk down to room 102 again just for a moment.

“Not right now, but when we have study hour, I’ll give you the pass, okay?” Mr Wilson bargained.

Tony nodded. He wanted to do it right now, but knew that wouldn’t go over well. Plus, he was still getting what he wanted. All he had to do was wait the thirty minutes until Social Studies was over.

At home later that day, Tony ran after Clint in the backyard, jumping over a stack of mulch that hadn’t yet been added to the garden. Tied around his neck was an old towel that Steve said he was free to use as a superhero cape.

“You’re not gonna catch me!” Clint called, dodging the low branch of a Japanese maple tree and using the trunk as cover for the darts Tony was happily firing.

“Tasha! I need help!” Clint called out. “He’s got me surrounded!”

From nowhere, Tasha came jumping out of an oak tree to Tony’s left. She let out a dart from her hot-pink Nerf gun she’d painted herself. On both sides was a black skull and crossbones that winked. The whole thing screamed Natasha.

Deadly and cute.

Man, Tony loved his sister.

Well, most of the time.

As she shot him twice in the chest and ran off, he wasn’t thinking about love so much as revenge.
Tony darted after her, losing track of her as she ducked into the bushes against the back fence.

Tony let out a puff of air as he watched Clint run away from the maple tree and toward Bucky as he leaned over the garden to spread mulch. Clint knew Tony wasn’t aloud to aim a dart at him because Bucky had said he didn’t want to be hit with one, which mean no shooting near him.

What a dirty trick.

Tony thought for a moment, realizing there was a loophole. Bucky said no darts near him. He said nothing about tackling. Tony smirked as he took a few steps back and sat down his Nerd blaster. Leaning forward, he took off towards his brother.

Clint, who only looked smug for a second after, realized what Tony was doing and darted towards safety behind a small play-place that had been set up for Bruce to play on.

Tony followed, careful not to hit the plastic play equipment on his way around it so as not to jar Bruce from his play, curving around the side and after Clint across the yard.

When he was close, Tony saw Natasha poke her head out of the bushes, an evil grin across her face with one finger over her lips. Tony slowed down to look at her, sceptical for a moment before she pointed over to the rope swing hanging off the oak tree.

Tony grinned, realizing she had taken his side. He raced back across the yard, hoping to steer Clint into their trap.

Luckily, Clint has run right for the tree and was using the trunk for cover. The sound of a dart being fired sent a smile across Tony’s face.

“Got you!” He cheered, running around the tree to see Clint dramatically hold his chest.

“You… You…” Clint looked at him with agony. “My own family!”

Clint let out a shout of pain, falling onto his back and sticking his tongue out of his open mouth.

Tony was bursting in laughter at his brother’s theatric death as Natasha came out of the bushes, blowing pretend smoak off the barrel.

“One less criminal for the world.” She laughed.

“Hey! I was a good criminal!” Clint said as he sat up. “Robin Hood is amazing!”

“Yeah, to everyone except king George!” Natasha pointed out, letting herself fall to the ground with a puff of air.

Tony followed, laying on his back to stare up at the sun shining through the leaves. “Robin Hood is cool.”

“See, even Tony says so!” Clint said defiantly. “That’s a two-to-one vote.”

Natasha rolled her eyes, letting out a huff of air in hopes of catching her breath.

“You kids wanna come help me unload the rest of the mulch for the front yard?” Bucky called over.

“Yeah! Just a sec!” Clint called out, giving himself one more moment to catch his breath before leaning forward and placing one hand on the ground to help him stand.

“Okay. Tony, can you watch Bruce, please?”

Tony looked over at Bruce as he climbed the steps to his slide for what must have been the quadrillionth time. All he really had to do was shout if Bruce fell or something. Not hard at all.

“Yeah!” He called out, following as Natasha stood up and walked over to the back door.

Bucky was really strong, even when he was only using his right arm. He could lift just about anything. But when he’d brought Natasha back from her dance orientation, he had said that his left shoulder hurt really bad. Steve had looked really concerned, and offered him a little orange bottle with a white sticker wrapped around it and blue lid on the top.

After Bucky had half a glass of water, Steve had recommended he take off the prosthetic to see if that would help. Bucky sighed, looking down at his metal hand.

“I won’t be able to do the yard work today, then.” He sighed.

Steve had placed a hand on Bucky’s cheek, leaning in close and brushing their lips together. Tony giggled, swinging his legs back and forth on the counter where Steve had placed him to work on his spelling words.

Steve looked over with a smile. “I’m sure Tony would love to help, right!”

Tony nodded his head happily.

“Most of his spelling words this week are actually summer things,” Steve said, holding up the list. “You can have Natasha and Clint help, and knock out two birds with one stone.”

Bucky smiled, taking the list and looking the words over. “How far are you, bud?”

“Grass! G-R-A-S-S!” Tony smiled.

Bucky chuckled. “Good job.”

After that, Steve helped Bucky unhook the two straps that kept the metal arm on his shoulder. They started with the one across his chest and under his right arm, and followed with the one that went over Bucky’s shoulder. A strap in between and Bucky was free of the metal arm. It was interesting for Tony to watch because he had never really seen Bucky without his arm on. Clint said he doesn’t often take it off unless he’s taking a shower or going to bed. He puts it on first thing in the morning, too.

“That’ll feel a bit better in the heat, too.” Steve said as he pulled off what looked like rubber skin from the stump coming out of Bucky’s shoulder.

“Yeah, it will.” Bucky rubbed at his shoulder with his right hand.

After Steve had called Natasha and Clint down, the two had helped Bucky unload bags of mulch into the back yard. Tony had tried to help, but the bags were really heavy and Bucky had said he didn’t have to.

The three had gotten side tracked with their game as Bucky spread the bags through the back garden when he didn’t need much help. But when Bucky had asked for a hand with the other bags, they were still happy to help.

Tony watched Bruce climb the ladder again, this time stopping to look up. He looked curious, his deep eyes filled with something Tony wasn’t sure he’d seen before. Not even in all the time working on their robot.

Bruce held out his hands, showing Tony he wanted the older boy close. Tony smiled, fluent is Bruce-ese and happy to do as the boy asked. Tony stood at the base of the play-place, looking up at Bruce who was only a few inches above him.

For a moment, Tony figured Bruce had changed his mind as he often did when acknowledging other people. Steve said that it was really cool that Tony and Bruce played together so much because Bruce didn’t often reach out for other people’s interest in his toys. But then, Bruce pointed at the end of the bigger slide. He’d never seen Bruce go down that one before—he seemed quite happy with the red slide right in front of the ladder that was smaller. But now, Bruce looked determined, and Tony was happy to encourage.

“Go ahead, Brucie! You can do it!” Tony smiled, walking over to the end of the yellow slide. “Come on!”

Bruce smiled, doing a jumping-walk Tony had seen him do a few times before when he was really excited as he walked towards the yellow slide. Bruce sat down with all the grace of a five-year-old, holding on to the side as he scooted his butt closer to the edge. He looked up for a moment, as if to check that Tony was still there, then smiled as he pushed off.

Tony watched as Bruce came down, giggling the whole way. When his feet hit the ground, Tony reached out a hand to help the boy up. Bruce happily took it, holding on as Tony walked him over to the ladder again.

When Bruce didn’t let go right away, Tony watched him sceptically. The younger boy looked at the slide, then back up at Tony as if deciding on something. It wasn’t until Steve had slid the back door open that Bruce looked somewhere other than Tony and the slide.

“Hey, bubba. Having fun?” Steve asked as he threw a kitchen towel over his shoulder.

Bruce nodded, pointing at the slide.

Steve smiled. “Have fun on the slide?”

Bruce nodded again.

“Has Tony been playing with you, too? How cool!”

“Tony!” Bruce echoed.

If Tony was being honest, he would have kneeled over laughing at the look on Steve’s face had it not been that he probably had the same look. Steve’s eyes were blown wide open, and he recoiled so hard he almost knocked himself onto the ground.

Tony had been told a while back that Bruce didn’t talk. This was after Tony had gotten frustrated that Bruce wouldn’t say what he wanted, instead having a meltdown on the floor because Tony didn’t understand. Bucky said Bruce just hadn’t learned his words yet, but he was trying really hard and going to some kind of therapy with a word Tony couldn’t pronounce.

The sound that had come out had hardly been Tony’s name, sounding more like “toe-knee” with the sounds a little to back in his throat.

Steve looked at Tony, as if to see if the boy had heard it too. Tony nodded, pointing to himself with a silent question of, “Did he just say my name?”

Steve took a large breath, putting a smile back on his face, but that inquisitive look still deep on his face.

“Is that your big brother?” Steve asked.

Bruce nodded.

“What’s his name?”

“Tony!” Bruce repeated.

Steve smiled, the same one he had when Tony had gotten his first one hundred on a spelling test. Pull of pride and happiness and amazement, his blue eyes brighter than stars on a dark, cloudless night.

“Hey, Tony, can you walk around front with Bruce, please?” Steve asked, finally standing from his crotch. “I’ll be there in just a minute.”

Tony nodded, wanting to ask questions, but getting the feeling that now wasn’t the time. Instead, he led Bruce to the front yard where Clint had just pulled the last bag of mulch from the SUV and threw it onto a pile with the other bags.

Bucky was holding a small rake-looking thing under his right arm and throwing it into the air to slam down and break open the bag by the office window when Steve came out.

“Hey, Buck. Can you come here for a sec.” Steve asked.”

Bucky looked up, confused, but walked over just the same.

“Tony,” Steve said, waving his hand to fester for Tony to do the same.

Tony held on to Bruce’s hand a little tighter as he led his brother to the front steps.

“Hey, Brucie-bear. Who’s that holding your hand?” Steve asked.

Bruce looked to his hand, then up at Tony before saying, “Tony.”

Bucky has the same look Steve did on the back porch, as if he’s been sound around ten times and left to find his way.

Tony looked for Clint and Natasha, who seemed to have stopped dead in their tracks.

“How come you’re all acting like that?” Tony asked, feeling a bit anxious with everyone’s eyes on him.

Bucky let out a wet laugh, as if he was crying and trying to hide it. “We’re just proud, is all.”

“Of what?” Tony looked back at Clint and Natasha who seemed to find his reaction amusing, both holding small smiles on their face.

“Of all four of you.” Steve filled in, holding out his arms for a hug.

Tony may have been confused and lost, but he wasn’t about to turn down any offered hugs. He walked the few steps and leaned in to Steve, trying his best to wrap his arms around the man’s chest, but unable to do so. Instead, he pulled his arms to his chest, and let Steve squeeze him.

When Steve stood up, arms still tightly around Tony, he started spinning in circles until Tony was left as a fit of giggles when placed back down.

Tony tried to take a step, but found the world shifting too much to keep his balance.

This was really fun, he decided.

-.-.-.-

Steve pulled his shirt over his head and threw it into the dirty laundry basket, slightly proud when he made the goal.

“What are you, twelve?” Bucky chuckled as he slid off his socks and tried his best to keep the dirt off the carpet. Mulch always seemed to get in the weirdest places.

“Hey,” Steve scorned, snagging the towel he had draped over the end of the bed.

“Sorry,” Bucky laughed, dodging as Steve snapped the towel at him. “You’re right. That’s an insult to twelve-year-olds!”

“You little—“ Steve stopped dead. Towel at the ready to launch another attack before he saw their door swing open a bit. Steve stole a questioning glance at Bucky, but when his husband shook his head, Steve walked over to the door slowly.

The door swung open and Natasha stood in the doorway, Tony hiding just behind her.

Steve let out a relieved sigh, letting the towel fall over his shoulder. “Hey guys.”

“Tony wants to know where babies come from.” Natasha said as she walked into the room, plopping down on the end of the king-sized bed.

Steve almost felt his stomach drop to his feet, and tried to swallow the imaginary tennis ball that had been shoved down his throat. Sure, they had “the talk” with Natasha and Clint a while back, but that was after careful planning and research and diagrams. They had been (mostly) ready to answer any question the older two could ask.

Steve looked over at Bucky, who had apparently been taking a swig from his water bottle at the time as was now trying to hide his choked coughs. Great, Steve thought, neither of them had the answer to this one.

How did kids always know all the wrong times to ask questions like this!?!

“Do not!” Tony almost yelled, somehow keeping just under the level Steve would have scorned him for. “I want to know where Bruce came from!”

Tony followed Natasha into the room, choosing to stand with his stuffed bear held tightly to his chest.

“How do you mean, sweetheart?” Steve asked, relived beyond words to find out he wouldn’t have to impromptu “the talk.” He slid the door half closed and walk over to the bed, sitting on the side with his arms open to invite Tony in.

Tony walked over to Steve, and the man pulled him off his feet and onto the bed. He let Tony decided whether to continue to sit in his lap or choose a new spot by keeping his arms lose, but the boy didn’t seem to mind the contact at all.

A bewildered look from Bucky showed Steve he wasn’t the only one to notice the stark difference with the boy lately. Steve hadn’t really meant to offer a hug earlier, but it had just felt right. And he couldn’t help the overwhelming sense of joy from the fact that Tony had run to him. Had that happen a month ago, Tony would have lent into the hug only because Steve had asked.

“You all said Brucie was different. And if he is, then he’s got to come from someplace different.” Tony rationalized.

Now Steve got it, that ah-ha moment almost making him laugh. Kids had the craziest ideas sometimes. At least they never let you get bored.

“Well, he is in his own way. But he’s still from the same place all of us are from.” Bucky said.

“But different people come from different places. Like how some people are from other countries.” Tony said. “He could be from Brazil. Oh! Or the Canada!”

Steve chuckled as Natasha said, “It’s just Canada. No ‘the.’”

“No, Bruce is from the US just like you.” Steve said, shifting his weight so Tony’s butt wouldn’t dig into his thighs as much. “And everyone from every country is from the same place, really.”

Tony turned his head up to look at Steve as he asked, “But people look different. And they don’t act the same. So that means they’re from different places.”

“Well, yes, some people do look different and act different from you or the people you know, but that doesn’t mean the are different.” Bucky explain. When he was met with Tony’s confused face, he cleared his throat and went on. “How about we think of it like computer code, okay?

“See, computer code does all sorts of cool stuff and every line can make something a little bit different, yeah?” Tony nodded his head. “Okay, well, just because the code makes different things happen doesn’t mean it’s still not code. Because something has to make it work.”

“Mr Stane is having me work on code during recess!” Tony filled in.

“Okay, well, then you should know a lot about it!” Tony nodded his head, and Bucky smiled. “When you look at a website, there are so many cool games and colors and words and everything and it looks different for every site.”

“Uh huh,” Tony said.

“Well, how are all of those things put on there?” Bucky asked.

“With code.”

“Right! Well, people are kind of like computer code. We can have different kinds of skin or hair or eyes. Some people are boys and some people are girls, and some people sit right in between. Some people like pink, and some like purple. There are a lot of different things that can vary.” Bucky shifted on the side of the bed, leaning up against the headboard as he gave Natasha a smile. “But, on the inside, we’re all just the same thing.”

Tony seemed to think about it for a moment, giving Steve a chance to push away all thoughts on the Matrix with a silent swear to never let Tony watch it.

“So Brucie has a different code?” Tony finally asked.

“Yeah. Just like you and Tasha and Clint.” Steve said.

“But that means someone has to write all of the codes, right?” Tony asked, looking up at Steve and then back at Bucky as he threaded his bear’s ear between his fingers. “Code doesn’t write itself.”

“Well,” Steve sighed, “that’s another thing that can make people different. Some people believe there is one god. Some people believe there are lots of gods. And some people don’t believe in any god at all.”

“But that’s okay.” Bucky picked up, “Because it doesn’t matter who you believe writes the code. It only matters that you know we’re all made of the same stuff, and, when you start to look close, we’re really not all that different.”

“Oh.” Tony said. He looked at Natasha for a moment with his thinking face, the one he had when working on his robot or homework with his lips pursed in one corner of his mouth and eyebrows knitted together.

“Does that mean someone forgot the code for Clint’s ears?”

Steve couldn’t help the bout of laughter that escaped his lips. He tried to reign himself back in as he chuckled out, “Yeah, something like that.”

Tony looked around confused, and Steve had to refrain from letting himself laugh a little longer.

“Does that answer your question?” Steve asked after clearing his throat.

Tony nodded. “I think so, yeah.” He wiggle a bit to get out of Steve’s lap and stuck his feet out as he crawled off the bed.

Natasha followed, hand out for Tony to take hold of.

“You know,” Bucky called out lightly. “Our door is always open if you ever wanted to talk again. Or just wanted a hug.”

Steve was slightly bewildered that he hadn’t thought of that, but happy because Bucky had.

Tony nodded his head, tucking his face behind his bear’s head. He stopped for a moment, as if to think, then let go of Natasha’s hand and ran over to Bucky.

Bucky braced for impact against the headboard, still down one arm. But he reached around Tony all the same, kissing the top of his head.

“G’night,” Tony whispered into his shoulder, just loud enough for Steve to hear.

“Good night, baby boy,” Bucky whispered back, squeezing just a little tighter before Tony let go.

Tony grabbed hold of Natasha’s hand and scurried out of the room, leaving his older sister to close the door.’

“Never a dull moment,” Bucky said, shaking his head as he sat back up to undress the rest of the way.

Steve stood up, chuckling as he replied, “Nope.”

With a stretch, Steve took the towel of his shoulder and said, “I call shower first!”

“Oh, you little—“

Steve didn’t hear the rest of the words as he ducked into the bathroom and closed the door, ignoring the sound of a sandal bouncing against the wood and falling onto the carpet as he laughed.

Chapter Text

The sound of an opening door was all the only thing to pull Edwin away from his computer screen all day.

“Have you been like this since I left?” Ana asked, sighing as she walked to her husband.

Edwin looked down for a moment, stealing one last glance at his computer screen before turning is chair and giving his wife his full attention.

“How was the gala?” He asked, trying to change the subject away from his internet scowering.

“It went just as well as we had hopped. I would even say better. We were able to raise just under fifty thousand.” Ana replied, taking a seat across from her husband.

Edwin was fully aware of the shocked look on his face that sent his wife into a fit of giggles.

“That way beyond our goal!” He laughed, standing up to pull Ana to her feet and holding her close.

Ana waved her hand in the air as she playfully pushed Edwin away, trying to compose herself before looking back up. “We’ll be able to help a lot of children with this money.”

Edwin nodded, a proud smile across his face as he took his seat once more, sitting on the edge at he leaned into the conversation.

“How did you manage that!”

Ana laughed. “We had a few of the older contributors there, all of which were happy to see the project starting again. There was even a student that had done rather well for himself, and swore it was all because of the computer training he received.”

For a moment, they sat in comfortable silence, each of them taking in the sense of joy the other let off. Edwin had this feeling of amazed wonder settling in around him, a gutter of hope finally shining through a very dull year.

“Dear,” Ana started, keeping her voice calm and collected,” I know why you want to start this back up, but I just wonder if it really will be possible without Maria or Howard.”

Edwin purses his lips, eyes looking down at his aged hands as they twisted around one another.

“They were the face of all of this. The leaders for a new future.”

With a sigh, Edwin looked back up. “I believe we can do it.”

Ana smiled sadly. “I know you miss them—“

“More than anything, Ana.” Edwin cut her short, standing to walk around his desk. “Those two had such pure hearts and all they wanted to do was help the world. Even if they have moved on, it is only right to honor them by starting the mission back up!”

“Edwin,” Ana gave a small sigh. “We both know this is about more than honoring Maria and Howard.”

Edwin nodded, setting down the glass paperweight he had lifted off a stack of papers to sort through them. He was never able to pull one over on his wife. “Maybe it is about more. But is that so wrong?”

Ana smiled, letting her left hand hold Edwin’s face softly. “It’s never wrong to find a missing child.”

“He’s out there, Ana. I know he is.”

“Howard was so proud of him.” Ana smiled. “He was so smart and worked so hard.”

“After he was hospitalized, a social worker took him. We were never given the chance to gain guardianship.” Edwin let a single tear fall from his face as he walked back to his seat and hunched into it. “They won’t tell us where he is. They won’t give us the name of the social worker. Nothing. Ana, he could be anywhere!”

“Anywhere could mean someplace warm. A place with a big yard for his energetic little feet. Somewhere that lets him tinker just as much as he used to with Howard. He could have a home that loves him, where he is safe.” Ana responded.

Edwin sighed, looking up and over his shoulder at the portrait of his best friends and their son. “Hadn't really thought of it that way.”

“Have you found a PI willing to take the case, yet?” Ana asked.

Edwin knew she was trying to change the subject slightly so he wouldn’t be wrapped up in his own head. He looked over at the stack of Manila folders on his desk.

“One that seems particularly skillful.” Edwin reached over to pull the folder second from the top. “Ex army, several high-profile cases. I have yet to speak with him, but I think he may be what we need. Unexpected, unusual, but dedicated. He swears he can find anything and anyone.”

“What’s the catch,” Ana asked, ever the observist.

“His only rule is that, if he picks up a case, he won’t stop looking. No matter what facts come to the forefront.” Edwin opened the file and handed it to his wife.

Ana pushed the papers under a lamp on the desk and sat her reading glasses on her nose. “Well, I’d rather have all of the information than none.”

Edwin smiled. “I knew you were going to say that.”

“So, how do we reach him?” Ana asked as she folded the papers back into place and took off her glasses.

“We email this address—“ Edwin pointed to the sharpie lettering on the face of the file. “—tell him what we want. If he’s interested, he’ll email us exactly a week later with a price.

“If we agree, we send all of the information we have, along with any pictures. He’ll give us an account number and transfer half of that amount before, and the rest when he solves it.”

Ana nodded, hand folded in her lap. “Will we deny any prices?”

Edwin looked around at his large office, hands in the air as he said, “Ana, my love, we have money. It will do us no good when we go six feet under. What will matter is finding Tony. And if this man wants everything and the kitchen sink, I say give it to him.”

Ana smiled, leaning over to kiss her husband. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

Edwin kissed her back, unable to help the stupid grin on his face.

“We better send that email off, then.” Ana laughed as she pulled away.

Edwin turned his chair, grabbing onto his desk to pull himself over and face his computer screen. Opening his email, he starting a new message.

Edwin could see his wife turn toward the callender by the door, nodding to herself. “It’s only March first, now. Which means we should know by the eighth?”

Edwin nodded, clicking send on his email. “One week.”

“One week.” Ana repeated, hope threaded in every word.

-.-.-.-

“Boss!” Weasel yelled over the loud and blaring music as a ping came through the laptop braced against the wall by the bar. “Wade!”

Wade looked up with a scowl as Weasel waved him over. “Sorry, ladies. Work calls.”

The two women sighed sadly, but pulled away from his chest all the same.

Wade stalked over to the bar, leaning in close to Weasel’s face as he said, “I was about to get twins. TWINS! So you better have some really important news!”

“Uh,” Weasel said, pushing up his glasses with his right hand. “T-t-the computer dinged.”

Wade whipped his head around, looking at the screen. “What the hell is this?” He asked, yanking the computer away from the wall and ignoring the crunching sound from the charger being yanked from its port.

“A lost kid?” He asked himself, scrolling through the information. “Do these people know who I am?”

“They may not,” Weasel said as he leaned his head over the bar to look at the screen. “Or they do. Look at that name.”

Wade pushed Weasel away, his hand over the other man’s face to push him back. “What did we talk about with personal space.” Wade reprimanded, one finger in the air as he scolded the bartender.

“Whatever,” he huffed, going back to polishing the shot glasses at the end of the bar.

Wade looked down at the screen, reading what had been provided. “Kid’s been missing for almost five and a half years. Why are they just looking now?”

“It’s possible the kid’s not really missing.” Weasel proposed.

“He was two when he was taken by some—“ Wade looked at the screen. “—social worker and these people were never told where he was going. It says they just want to know where he is.”

Weasel pushed his glasses up his nose as he walked back over. “Why would the Jarvis family even care?”

Wade’s eyebrows met in the middle with confusion. “Jarvis?”

“Yeah, that’s what it’s signed.” Weasel tried to point at the screen, his hand being slapped away every time her tried. Finally, he gave up, and just said, “They’re a huge family. Well, not physically. But monetarily. They’ve been dark for a couple years now, though. Right after the dude’s best friend kicked the bucket in a car crash. It was all over the news.”

“I haven’t heard anything about this.” Wade said defensively.

“Well, probably because there isn’t news between Vanessa’s legs.” Weasel threw out. He sat down the newly-polished shot glass and threw the towel over his shoulder.

Wade scowled at his friend, half-tempted to punch him in the face, and half-tempted to applaud his beautiful roast. He choose the former.

“Ow!” Weasel squealed, rubbing his forearm. “Rude.”

Wade made no effort to hide his smile as he went back to the screen. “Risk analysis?”

Weasel shrugged. “It’s fifty-fifty. Good chunk of change if you can do it. But what are the chances of finding a kid that’s been missing for over five years.”

“I’ll take it.” Wade said, leaning over the bar to snag a home-bure before going back to his couch.

“Wade, this may be the one you never come back from!” Weasel called after him.

“It’s a lost kid.” Wade flopped down onto the couch. “I may have a special place in hell zoned out for whenever I die because I am a whole piece of work, but it won’t be over a little kid. Email them our discount price, I’ll start tomorrow.”

Wade ignored as Weasel caused him out, chugging a bottle of beer and shooting it across the room. He just barely made it into the trash can, but Wade still whooped with pride.

-.-.-.-

Okay, so, maybe Wade should have listened to Weasel on this one particular subject.

There was no sign of the kid. No school records, no hospital records, no visuals with facial recognition, nothing. Whoever took this kid out of the hospital knew how to cover their tracks. Which was all Wade needed to know that he was not going to stop looking for this kid until he found him.

“He’d be—what—seven, eight, now?” Vanessa asked as she came up behind him and passed a coffee mug over his shoulder.

Wade nodded, taking a sip of the hazelnut coffee.

“He’s got to have some kid of record of him, then. Boys that age don’t go around without making some kind of noise.” Vanessa sat her chin on Wade’s shoulder, looking at his laptop screen.

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean!” Wade asked, turning around to face his wife eye-to-eye.

Vanessa gave him her best shit-eating grin before lifting her head so she could hop over the couch and sit next to him.

“Focus!” She said, poking the screen a few times.

“Nes, it’s Friday night!” Wade said, letting his head fall back and arms go limp. “Nothing’s gonna show up at eleven o’clock on a Friday night after a month of looking just because we—“

A sudden pinging sound erupted from the computer, stopping Wade dead in the middle of his sentence.

“Looks like a hospital in New York found your kid for you.” Vanessa smirked.

Wade mocked her by repeating the sentence with a high pitched voice, careful to give a good raspberry at the end as he pulled the laptop closer and looked at the notification.

“They found a lot more than that.” Wade said, opening a search engine to type in a name.

-.-.-.-

The last thing Edwin had been expecting at two o’clock in the morning was for his doorbell to be mistreated to the point where it only had the chance to release one note.

He hurried down the stairs, turning on the foyer lights before tieing his robe once more and unlocking the door.

Nope. Edwin was wrong.

The REAL last thing Edwin hadn’t expected at two o’clock in the morning was a man and woman standing on his porch, dressed in all black, and holding a thick manila envelope.

“We need to speak to Edwin and Ana Jarvis, please.” The man said.

Blunt and to the point. Edwin liked that. After so many years working with businessmen and women, it was nice to find that people could still be forthcoming with information and wishes.

“I am Edwin Jarvis,” he said. “And Ana is asleep. May I ask what this is about?”

The man stepped closer, pushing Edwin out of the way as he walked into the house. “Good. Be a dear and fetch her. We have much to discus.”

Edwin did not have the words to express how shocked he was. Still, he walked up the stairs as briskly as his old legs would take him to get Ana.

When they were both down stairs, Edwin did his best to steer their guests into the office, closing the door behind them so the house workers would not hear their conversation.

“You must be Mr Wilson,” Edwin asked as he took a seat by the unlit fireplace.

“Yes’sir!” The man laughed, plopping down on a lavender-print sofa directly across. “And this is my wife, Vanessa.”

Edwin nodded in her direction politely, rewarded with a soft smile.

“So, I some interesting information, but—“

“You found Tony?” Ana asked, one hand held close to her chest as the other covered her surprised face.

Iif you would let me—“

“Oh my lord, Ed, they found Tony!” Ana smiled his way.

“Look, lady, I understand you’re happy, but you need to listen. Cause I haven’t found the kid, but I have found some other shit that you might wanna know.”

“Ana, darling. Let’s listen for just a moment.” Edwin asked, one hand on his wife’s knee.

Mr Wilson took his chance and laid the thick file open on the coffee table, flipping through a few pages before he seemed to have found what he was looking for.

“So, little Tony lived with his parents for two years. Boom. On the night of the car crash, he was trapped for three hours. Boom.” Each boom was punctuated with a finger poking at another paper with a lot of force. “He was in the hospital for a day, and then was taken by social services.”

“We already know this.” Ana said.

Mr Wilson looked up, staring at his wife with a fiery glare. “Did I say ‘boom?’ Cause I don’t think I did. And if I haven’t said boom, then you don’t have all the information from that paper.”

“We understand. Please go on,” Edwin asked, trying his best to not piss off the only man who may have the information they need.

“Only thing is, it wasn’t Social Services that took the kid. I looked up the ID the imposter showed the on-call nurse, and it’s fake. Boom.

“Now, this is where stuff starts to get fuzzy.” Mr Wilson says as he switched pages and starts again.

“The kid was placed in a home in upstate, first. Then he moves around, moves around, moves around. Never staying one place for more than a few months. A couple of families throw up interest in adopting him, but then the offer is rescinded and kid’s sent on to a new place. When he turns four, he starts going into some bad homes. Places that fostering companies wouldn’t touch because they had been written up so many times. Still, the kid gets placed there. Boom.”

“But who would—“

“Eh eh eh. I’m not finished.” Wade cut him off, throwing his foot up on the table as he leans back. “I checked around. All of the homes said the kid was dropped off by a woman, and picked back up a few months later. They would get money, and were told to keep their mouths shut. Luckily, people who do this for money will often talk about those things for more money. Pathetic.”

Mr Wilson tisked, looking at the papers as he sat back up. “They said that a lady had dropped him off, but never stayed long, and would only come back to pick the kid up. Never said her name. They got checks in the mail with no return address. Boom.”

Edwin was lost for a moment, trying to let the words register. After the information had settled, he felt almost more confused. “But why would all of this matter? Do you know where Tony is?”

“The kid is at the end of all of this,” Mr Wilson moved his arms frantically above the papers, grabbing some up to lay across the table. “Home after home after home after home. Someone didn’t want this kid to get comfortable. Always moving after four months. No one would ask questions because he was a foster kid—” The man made air quotes. “—and that’s just what happens sometimes.”

“What are you saying, Mr Wilson?” Ana asked, hand squeezing Edwin’s tightly.

“I’m saying that whoever took this kid from the hospital does not want him found.” Mr Wilson said, his face suddenly very serious. Edwin almost hoped he would go back to the crazy-floppy PI they had met at the door.

“But you said you—“

The woman spoke for the first time, leaning forward on the couch as she placed a hand on Mr Wilson’s thigh. “We will find him. This is your half-way report. I told Wade that you may want to get a small update.”

Ana nodded, letting out a frustrated breath. Edwin could understand why. Somebody was hiding Tony. But why?

“We’ll be back with more information later.” Mr Wilson said, standing up. The woman followed as he walked towards the door. “Read the file.”

Edwin nodded, his hand braced on the door as he watched Mr Wilson walk out.

“Oh, and mister Jarvis,” Mr Wilson said, Turning back around for a moment to face him. “My word is a promise. I will find this boy. Even if it kiss me.”

Edwin was left in a socked awe as he stood by the open door in nothing but his pajamas, more questions rolling through his head.

-.-.-.-

“Why didn’t you tell them we found him?” Vanessa asked as she plopped down into the driver’s seat.

“There’s something going on here, Nes. I don’t want them to go and get this kid before I know they’re not the reason he’s in this situation in the first place.” Wade pulled the seatbelt over his shoulder, snapping it into place.

“You think he’s still in danger.” Vanessa didn’t phrase it as a question, and Wade knew she wasn’t asking one. They’d been together too long for her to not know exactly what he’s doing.

“No,” Wade sighed as she started up the car. “I know it.”

Chapter Text

FH25

Clint tapped his pencil on the desk in a quick pattern, trying his best to listen in on what was being said by his science teacher. To be honest, Clint hated science. Even Barney hadn’t bothered with teaching it to him.

Clint absently thought about where his brother might be. He hadn’t seen a letter from him in a while, and they hadn’t had the chance to FaceTime since the beginning of May. Even if Barney wasn’t really there, it was nice to think that he was. Having his brother back in his life was also a major plus.

His last email said that he was supposed to be getting some leave this summer, and that he’d come by then. But it’d been radio silence since. Clint held on to the hope that “no news is good news” when it came to his brother.

“Hey, Clint,” A light-haired boy from the row in front of him flapped some papers around in his face.

Clint sighed, taking the papers, grabbing one for himself, and then passing it back. Looking down, Clint let out a sigh and let his head rest on his hands.

Just great. A worksheet that had to do with the lesson that Clint hadn’t been listening to because science sucks.

Clint looked up and around for a moment before he realized that he and Natasha didn’t share this class. She had opted to take an art class instead, and now Clint was alone in the most miserable subject on earth. Maybe if he took it home he could ask Tony to help him? As much as it pained him to ask his little brother for help, the sucker was smart when it came to stuff like this. And lord knows he wasn’t about to ask Dad or Pop. Those two had a hard enough time with Tony’s homework. No way they’d be able to help with Clint’s.

At the very least, he could just ask to barrow someone else’s with the promise of a Coke or something. Middle schoolers would do just about anything for soda.

“Dude,” the light-haired kid in front of him waved his hand in front of Clint’s face. “Do you know any of this?”

Clint looked up, shaking his head no. The teacher didn’t seem like she would care if they worked in groups based off the rest of the class chattering quietly, but Clint didn’t want to team up with anyone he knew he was going to just weigh down.

“Oh well,” The kid said, turning his chair around all the same and placing his paper down beside Clint’s. “You do archery, right?”

Clint nodded his head.

“I thought so. Your sister and I have fifth period together! She drew a sketch of you and your bow!” The kid smiled, flipping his paper over and doing a quick sketch of what he meant. “You looked so cool!”

Clint was honestly impressed that Natasha had even shown what she drew to someone who wasn’t Maria. Besides Clint, she seemed to be the only one Natasha would talk to at school. Which may have made it sound the wrong way than Clint meant it. He was proud of Natasha for the simple fact that she was talking. He didn’t care who it was to or anything. It was amazing to see that she had someone at school besides him that she could tell a joke to, or talk about homework with.

The only down side was, now that Natasha had Maria, Clint really didn’t have anyone. The two boys he hung out with at the beginning of the school year turned into butt-wipes half way through winter break. They threw around a few terms about Dad and Pop that Clint was not happy about. He’d stopped talking to them afterwards. Now he sat alone in a class he hated with no one to rant to about it.

“Do you think we could ask someone else?” The light-haired kid pressed on. “Maybe they’d help us out?”

Clint shrugged, finally looking the kid in the eye and shocked to see bright blue orbs starring back at him. It wasn’t the same blue of Steve’s eyes, the kind that matched the softness of the sky. No, these eyes lit like a transformer after it had been blown, sending sparks in every direction.

“I don’t think you should be seen around me,” Clint said, pealing his eyes away from his classmate and looking in either direction to see if anyone was looking. “You’ll never have friends if you do.”

“I don’t have any friends, anyway.” The boy smiled, sticking his hand out. “I’m Arthur, but everyone just called me Thor.”

Clint laughed, holding out his hand as well. “That’s a cool nickname.”

Thor smiled proudly. “What’s your name?”

“Clinton, but I just go by Clint. Not as cool as Thor.”

Thor laughed, taking back his hand to hold onto a pencil again and at least look like they’re doing work.

“Hey, you’re that kid that Coach is trying to get on the football team, right?” Clint asked, a vague memory of gym class a while back coming to mind. The kid had thrown a ball forty yards!

Thor nodded, a bit of his smile fading. “Yeah. I can’t join, though.”

“Why not?” Clint asked, writing his name at the top of the paper so he could at least claim his poor work.

“My aunt said that she’d rather we wait a bit before starting sports. She wants us to find friends other ways first, or something like that.” Thor flailed his hand in the air without regard.

“That’s lame,” Clint commented.

“It’s okay. I don’t really want to be on the football team, anyway.” Thor shrugged.

They sat in silence for a bit more, both staring blankly at the page.

“Did she say we had to finish it today?” Clint moaned, laying his head down on the desk with a solid thunk.

“So long as it’s done tomorrow before class, is what she said.” Thor filled in, learning back to slouch in his seat. “At least we get to go home after this.”

“Yeah,” Clit moaned. He let his head fall to the side to look down the table, catching a small glance at the clock. Half an hour before the bell.

“Do you play any video games?” Thor asked, seeming to decide to shove the work into his backpack.

Clint sat up. “Now you’re talking my language! What’ve you got!”

“Ever heard of Fortnight?” Thor asked.

“Do I live under a rock!” Clint laughed. “I don’t have it myself, but I watch play-throughs all the time!”

“So do I!” Thor laughed. “My aunt said I may be able to get the game for my birthday, since we have a PS4 from one of our other cousins.”

“That’s so cool!” Clint said, amazed.

“You can come over, if you want. I don’t have Fortnight yet, but I have some of the Lego games we can play together?”

“I guess there aren’t many local multiplayer games for the four, huh?” Clint sighed. “You could come over to my house? We have a Wii and a ton of games we can play together!”

“I’ve always wanted to play on a Wii!” Thor smiled. “I’ll ask my aunt!”

“Okay, cool!”

With a quick text to Steve in the bathroom—the only place Clint knew he could get away with texting in school—Clint was granted permission to bring a friend home, so long as he still got his homework done.

Clint returned to class, happy to tell Thor the good news when an outstretched foot caught his shoe and sent him face-first to the floor. Clint whipped his head around with a scowl as a group of boys laughed down at him.

“Hey, have a nice trip?” One of the boys called out, the boy bursting out into harder laughter.

“Guess we’ll see you next fall!” Another boy shouted, sending a new wave of menacing laughter Clint’s way.

Clint grunted as he pushed himself up, using one hand to steady himself as he straightened his back and stood. “How original. The 70’s called, they want their insults back.”

Buck Chisholm glared at Clint, eyes seeming even darker than usual with the way his eye brows furrowed in anger. “Oh look, boys. Little deaf boy does know how to talk.”

Clint felt hatred boil in his veins. It hadn’t been too long ago that Clint would have called Buck his best friend. Now his true colors showed, and Clint wanted nothing to do with him.

“Back off before I call a VP,” Clint spat through gritted teeth, hands fisting at his sides.

“Wow, so the rumors were right,” Buck said with mock amazement in his voice. “Retards really don’t know how to do anything. Can’t even fight their own battles.”

“This isn’t a battle, and you’re hardly worth my time!” Clint yelled, ready to lift a first and launch it right at Buck’s stained rat teeth.

What he hadn’t been expecting was for Buck to smile as if he was pleased. Clint didn’t even have the time to wonder why as a hand snatched at Clint’s ears, yanking at the devices in both of his ears simultaneously. Clint could feel the familiar release of the magnetic coil from the back of his head, the sudden force of hot red pain forcing an inaudible scream out of his mouth. Clint wasn’t sure what hurt more, his hair being yanked from his scalp or the kid’s nails tearing across his ears.

were made to come off easily for Clint to take showers and go to bed without the device digging into his skull or losing them in the sheets. He’d place them on his desk at night, remembering to turn the possessor back on. To be honest, the things were sensitive as hell, and would fall out at the tip of a hat with the slightest movement. Even with the extended hoops around his ears.

Following the pain was Clint’s ever present fear, the world dulling nothingness around him. He couldn’t even hear his own scream as he spun around, trying to grasp as the kid’s blue shirt. He was a second too slow, and the kid pulled away with a proud smile. Clint leaned forward, ready to pounce on the kid and pummel him with everything he had before a familiar blond head came from behind, grabbing the devices from the kid’s hands as he held them up high and away from Clint.

Thor snatched the devices as if the kid’s hands were made of soft clay, shoving the kid back harshly. Thor’s mouth was moving, but nothing reached Clint’s ears as his eyes flew around the hallway, back and forth from Buck to Thor, and then to the approaching AP with her thin lips and pencil skirt. Peggy was an amazing Vice Principle, and an even better aunt, but Clint wasn’t processing any of that right then. She said something, but all Clint cared about was where his implants were.

Steve and Bucky had asked Clint about the procedure when he was seven. They said is was well tested, and that the implants may make his hearing even clearer than it already was. But, they had also told him it was all his choice. Clint was still testy about the whole “adoption” thing, but the fact that they left the choice to him went a long way towards Clint trusting them.

Clint could hear well enough with his aides, but it was hard to understand the sounds that were coming at him. A mouth would move, sounds would reach his ears, but his brain hardly understood any of them. This was starting to get hard with school. Steve had even asked if Clint would rather go to a school for people like him, “a school for the deaf,” but Clint refused. Natasha had just gotten there, and she was his first real friend.

Now that he was older, Clint found the whole thing hilarious. The deaf and the mute. How were they able to be friends when they couldn’t understand each other? Well, that was because Bucky started teaching them both sign-language. Not the they really had to talk to know what the other was saying.

Clint refused to leave Natasha, and the implants were the only way he’d be able to stay. So he agreed to the surgery, leaving school early in May, and taking the summer to heal and work with the implants. It was a lot of work and therapy, and Clint still had to go in every now-and-then to make sure everything still worked, but they were what kept him with Natasha. And when Bruce came, Steve and Bucky had one more kid that wouldn’t talk.

Thinking on it for just a second, Tony really was a bit of an oddball for their family. Instead of the silence that had normally filled the house, Tony refused to shut up. He filled everything with noise and jokes. Clint wasn’t sure how, but he knew Tony had to do with Natasha talking in front of adults, too. Not to mention Bruce from the other day.

Tony brought noise the house had desperately needed.

But, in this hall way, Clint was scrambling around, grasping for his cochlear. The deep fear of never hearing Natasha laugh, or Tony’s tangent about robots, or Bruce’s meltdowns, or his favorite song feeding his need to find the device all the more. Every fear was made alive as he felt himself screaming, but couldn’t hear it.

A hand grasped his shoulder, sending Clint spinning as he grabbed the hand and threw it away. He turned around, running full sprint towards Thor before being stopped again, two large hands holding him back. Clint spun again, going to kick at the person before a softer hand grabbed his shoulder. Clint’s foot was already in the air, and the hand threw him off balance. He landed onto his side, a sharp burst of pain starting at his hip and running all the way down his leg. Clint tried to keep his eyes open as he kicked and tossed, but his eyes shut out of instinct and sent him into a world of cold fear.

Clint took in small breaths through gritted teeth, able to feel his nostrils flair, but not hear the sound they made as he pushed onto his stomach and jumped to his feet. His eyes snapped open to the VP’s arms out as the security guard tried to get to Clint. Almost everything seemed to be going in slow motion as Buck and his friends were pushed down the hall and into a classroom that wasn’t currently in use. The VP pointed, mouth moving as she spoke to the guard. The guard walked after the boys, following them into the room and closing the door.

Now it was just the VP and Thor in front of him as Clint backed against the wall, not wanting any more surprise people. Peggy said something to Thor that made him nod, his blue eyes wide as he held out Clint’s cochlear.

Clint looked at the hand tentatively for a fraction of a second before stepping forward and snatching them out of Thor’s hand. Clint eyed both people as he took a step back, hooking the right processor over his ear, grasping the magnetic coil and letting it snap into place. He wanted a moment for his breathing to slow before reaching a hand up to adjust the hook around his ear. He was suddenly hit with the sudden sound of screaming that made him wince and push against the wall. The screaming instantly stopped.

“Clint, are you okay?” Peggy asked, her slight Manhattan accent coming through.

Clint took a deep breath nodding his head as he fiddled to get the other one working.

“Miss, I swear he didn’t do anything. Buck tripped him for no reason and William snatched his hearing aides.” Thor seemed to shiver a bit at that end part.

“Thank you, Mr Oddinson.” The PA sighed.

“Peggy,” Clint said, the shock of the whole event finally dulling away.

Peggy gave Clint a soft smile, the kind Steve gave when he was worried. “Are you two okay?”

Clint nodded, still gasping large breaths as Thor said, “Yeah, of course.”

“I’m going to call your dad, okay?” Peggy asked, holding out a hand to pull Clint in.

Normally, Clint would have allowed it, but right now he didn’t want to be touched. Not after all of the hands on him. Holding, pushing, pulling. Yanking.

Clint shook, closing his eyes and taking in a breath like Bucky had shown him.

Peggy’s hand fell, the worried look on her face growing. “Can you follow me to my office, please?”

Clint nodded, right hand over his sore ear while his left arm wrapped around his body tightly. Thor followed behind as Clint walked the familiar path towards Peggy’s office. Thor closed the door gently as Clint took a seat on one of the arm chairs. For a moment, his only thought was whether or not Thor would still be able to come over.

The Wii had been a special gift a year ago for Christmas. Bucky and Steve weren’t poor, but they didn’t have several hundred dollars to spare on buying a brand-new gaming system. Plus, neither of them saw much value is buying a three-hundred-dollar system that would then need sixty-dollar games and any other things that may come up. The compromise had been a used Wii Bucky had gotten from his therapy facility when they decided it was to old to really be of any use.

Bucky had asked if he could have it for his kids, and the VA hospital had signed off on it. The controllers were broken and it didn’t have any games, but Bucky said he had found everything on eBay for a good price. Now they had loads of games and four controllers and even a GameCube controller for Tony who didn’t quite have the dexterity for the WiiMotes when playing MarioKart. Clint had made the suggestion the third time Tony had stormed off, mad about losing.

Clint knew all of Natasha’s little tricks, and Tony was starting to get too good. They were boring to play against. Thor would have been a whole new can of worms.

Steve had seemed worried when he came by Peggy’s office, but he seemed to calm down as they were walking outside. Clint was told he wouldn’t be in any trouble since William and Buck had been the ones to start the fight, and that Clint hadn’t done anything to retaliate. Steve checked Clint over a hundred times before nodding his approval—satisfied that Clint was not, in fact, dead.

His ears were a little tender from where William had scratched him and tugged at his hair, but nothing else really hurt. His side didn’t even feel all that bad from his fall unless he poked it.

Clint tried to let the event slip his mind, forget about Buck and William and all of their stupid faces. He tried to forget that silent world around him, the mouths that made no sounds and screams that didn’t perice his ear. But, laying in bed that night after dinner—Thor has been asked to come over tomorrow instead—Clint felt the same fear every time he closed his eyes.

Wishing the feeling would go away, Clint turned over to his other side and faced the window, still littered with paper snowflakes from winter break. Clint smiled at the memory of Tony’s amazed face when he saw what all of his small cuts on the paper had done. The way everyone had joined in decorating, even tiny Bruce, and made the house a real winter wonderland.

Clint sat up with a sigh, giving up on sleep as he pushed away the covers and stood up from his bed. For a moment, his eyes caught a shelf of trophies over his desk, the small pang of pride making him smile as he walked to his desk and flipped on a lamp. He looked at his phone, charging soundlessly on his desk for a moment, and wondered how Barney was. Half-way across the world, doing all sorts of cool things, it all sounded like so much fun. Much more than middle school and punks like Buck.

The tiny flip-phone vibrated and flashed a bright light suddenly, sending out a notification across the room that Clint was so familiar with. Clint wasn’t really sure what he should do with himself. He could put his cochlear back on if the person was calling, but he didn’t feel like playing the “What gets caught in what” game between his hair, his ear, and a small bandaid that covered one of the deeper cuts from Will’s nails. Another vibration brought him back to the phone, so he reached for it and flicked it open.

A small number one encircled in red stood over the mail icon on his phone. Clint pushed the d-pad until it landed on the icon, then pushed the “OK” button in the middle. An email from Barney popped up, starting with an apology for taking so long to get back.

Clint laughed as he read over the part where Barney had eaten curry and, “white people should not eat food from non-white places because HOLY SH*T dude that crap was SPICY.” Clint liked when Bucky made curry, but maybe Pops had toned it down for everyone and it wasn’t the same.

At the end was a date and time where he’d be at a computer that could handle FaceTime with an expression to call if Clint could, and a picture of Barney in his uniform with a smile across his face, his friend T’Challa over his shoulder. Clint laughed; Nobody had to ask him twice to talk to his brother.

The small distraction had been enough to put a smile on Clint’s face, which told him he wasn’t a total lost cause for the night. Maybe he’d be able to sleep after all.

Just as the thought to see if Natasha was up crossed his mind, he saw a stream of light come trough his bathroom door. Clint snatched his CIs from his desk and hooked them around his ear. Standing from his desk chair, he walkedslowly over to his bathroom door. A light was streaming through from the other side faintly, and soft voices came through. More shuffling, and Clint had a sudden urge to check on his sister.

He opened the door slowly, taking soft steps over the linoleum floor until he reached Natasha’s door, and shoved it opened.

Two shocked faces looked up at him, and suddenly Clint felt like a real butt. His face dropped, and just before he could say anything, Natasha said, “You too, huh.”

Clint looked at her questioningly.

“Couldn’t sleep,” she clarified.

“Oh,” Clint said, taking a few steps forward and plopping down on the floor. “No.”

“Do you come in here when you have bad dreams, too?” Tony asked.

Clint looked up, taking in his smaller brother dressed in an oversized tshirt with a stuffed bear in his lap. His thumb was stuck in his mouth, slurring his words as he spoke. Clint hated when Tony would talk with his thumb in his mouth, but Dad and Pops had said to leave him alone about it. Something about coping, thy has said..

“Something like that,” he sighed, reaching up to fiddle with his left sound processor. He couldn’t tell if he thought they weren’t fitting right or if they really weren’t with the bandaid.

“You wanna come up here and sleep with us?” Natasha offered.

Clint looked up, not sure how to answer. On one hand, he could say he wasn’t a baby and didn’t need to sleep with someone just because of some stupid dreams. On the other, sleeping alone sounded like a terrible way to end his day after everything that had happened.

“Just this once,” Clint said, standing up and taking the other side of Tony. “Just so I know Tony’s okay.”

Natasha smiled as she laid down. “Right. For Tony.”

Clint glared at her playfully, but stopped when and arm wrapped around his torso tightly and a head pushed into his chest.

“Thank you,” Tony’s muffled voice said.

Clint smiled, letting a hand run through Tony’s curly hair. “Anytime.”

Chapter Text

FH 26

“How have you been?”

Bucky looks up with a hum, asking the psychiatrist to repeat her question.

“How have you been?” She repeats with a soft smile.

“Oh, uh,” Bucky thinks for a moment. “Good. Great, really.”

“Great?” Susan asked, amused. “That’s a new response.”

Bucky chuckled. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

“How have things been great?” She shuffles a bit in her chair, crossing her right leg over her left.

“Well, I’m not sure, really. Lots of little things, I guess.” Bucky looks down as his right hand as his thumb rubbed circles over the wrist joint on his left arm.

“How do you mean?”

Bucky sat up a bit, feeling a small smile reach across his face. “Well, for one thing, Bruce has shown us he can talk. Our second oldest boy, Tony, was with him in the back yard and Bruce had shouted his name. Steve was there and brought him to the front yard. It was amazing.”

Susan nodded, a soft smile on her face telling Bucky she was happy too. “Is there anything else?”

“Oh yeah, the kids all have testing coming up soon, that end-of-the-year stuff, and they all feel like they’re going to do really well. We’re excited to see how the my end up this year.”

“It sounds like a lot of great things have been going on,” Susan smiled.

“Yeah, we have.”

There was a quiet moment as Bucky pulled his hands apart and took in a deep breath, easing his head so his eyes would meet the psychiatrist.

“Have have you been doing out side of that?” She asked.

Bucky sighed, eyes falling back to the floor, but his smile remaining. “Not too bad, actually.”

“Any recent nightmares?”

Bucky shook his head no, honestly having a hard time remembering any of his dreams the past few weeks. Besides for a weird one about becoming an ice dancing ballerina after Natasha’s second dance practice, nothing came to mind.

Of course, that may be from Steve’s need to spring clean keeping them busy and moving until they’re all dead on their feet. Steve wanted them to have a good start this summer, and that started with cleaning out old clothes, toys, junk, trash and anything else they hadn’t used in too long. It was nice when everything was finished, but exhausting right up to then. Still, the dead sleep was nice.

“How do you feel about that?”

“Relieved.” The answer took no time to come up automatically. Had he thought about it, he might have something different. But, then again, the idea was for him to say the first thing on his mind. Bucky hated thinking about this stuff too much. He’d start second guessing all of his answers faster than a bullet.

Susan smiled, pen swinging up and down slowly as it normally did when she was pleased and not writing anything down. Bucky briefly wondered if the woman was even aware she did it.

“Is there anything you feel that may have helped so much?”

“If I had to say something, or point it out, I’d have to say Tony.” Bucky looked towards the woman’s desk, decorated with a few picture of her and her brother, her husband, and one of her old college friends. As long as Bucky had been coming here, he’d learned just as much about Susan Storm as she had about him.

“Why do you say that?”

“Well,” Bucky thought for a moment. Trying to sum up any of his kids was a difficult task. They all had such big personalities, there was no way to describe them fully in just a few words. Still, Bucky tried. “I guess I’d have to say he’s loud. In a good way.

“Our house used to be so quiet, you know. Natasha wouldn’t really talk to us, and Clint was still working on pronunciation and refused to talk around people until he could speak without any kind of slur or stutter. And then Bruce. But Tony, he’s not like that.

“When he first got here, he was such a quiet little thing. He wouldn’t speak to anyone or play with anything. It was almost like being given a robot. Now he’s louder than life and always has something to say. He has just blossomed. Everyone truly has.

“Steve and I thought we were a perfect family when we adopted Bruce, but now we know are. It’s been a lot of good times for all of us.”

When she realized Bucky was finished explaining everything, Susan shifted forward in her chair, legs uncrossing as she settled her clipboard on her lap. “Seems like a lot of great news.”

Bucky chuckled as he nodded, eyes landing on Susan’s face for a moment. He wasn’t sure why, but looking at people when he was talking about his life was difficult. Even with Steve. Eye contact was difficult.

“Do you feel as if all of your symptoms are handled well?” She asked.

Bucky nodded, giving a small hum.

“Any difficulties with your medication?”

“No,” Bucky said.

These were the same questions she had every month. Still, he appreciated that Susan asked. He would never have said anything unless she asked about it.

“Any panic attacks, extreme anxiety, anything?”

“No,” Bucky said again, almost surprised by the answer. Though they didn’t happen, his panic attacks did occur on terrible days. One every two months or so, depending on the situation. That number was miles away from a few years ago when they happened up to four times a week. But the most recent answer made those days seem lightyears away.

Susan looked up for a moment as if shocked, but quickly hid it. “Anything else you want to talk about?”

“No, I think that’s about it.” Again, another first. Bucky was starting to see an annoying pattern today. He always had something else he wanted to say, but never did. Today, he really had talked about everything.

“Okay then. I’ll send a prescription out for the same dose of everything to your pharmacy, if that’s okay?” When Bucky nodded, Susan wrote something down on her clipboard. “I think that’s it for today, then.”

Bucky stood with Susan after the physiatrist set the clipboard facedown on her desk to the left.

She walked with him to the front desk as she always did, waving him good-bye as he walked out of the office and into the summer heat.

By the time Bucky was in the car, he could already feel beads of sweat building up on his forehead. He pulled the seatbelt over his shoulder and suck the keys into the ignition, listening as the engine turned over and roared to life. For a moment, he sat waiting as the AC kicked on, only blowing hot air as the unit started working. He felt a familiar, yet unfamiliar twist in his gut.

Bucky pulled his phone from his pocket, ignoring the notification from his car about pairing with it. No texts or calls, as he was expecting. He locked the phone and stuck it into the middle council. A small part of him wanted to call Steve, just to make sure the man was okay. But that just seemed stupid. Then again, Steve was always on his case to act in his feelings.

Bucky sighed and grabbed for his phone, asking the weird AI thing that he could never really figure out to call Steve. A dile tone echoed through the car’s speakers before Steve’s voice came through.

“Hey, hon.”

“Hey,” Bucky smiled. “How’re you doing?”

“Oh, you know, the usual. Bruce is working on colors with a game his occupational therapist gave us.”

“The one with the dancing crayons?”

“The very one,” Steve chuckled. “It seems to be working, though, so I’ll try not to make too much fun of it.”

Bucky let out a quiet laugh, the kind that was more air and less sound. “Everything else okay?”

“Yeah, of course.” The sound of the phone shuffling around told Bucky that Steve had switched ears. “Everything okay with you?”

“Yeah, yeah. Just got out of my appointment.”

“Everything go okay?”

“Yeah. Same dose for everything.”

“That’s good. Did you tell her about the other day?”

Bucky laughed hard and loud. “How could I not!”

Steve laughed on the other end of the line. “Sounds good.”

They sat for a bit in realitive silence, the soft sounds of Bruce’s game somehow making it through the phone.

“Oh, hey, don’t forget to take the kids to their hair appointments today.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Bucky rolled his eyes. “I’m surprised Clint hasn’t gotten after us as much with how long his hair has gotten.”

“No joke,” Steve chuckled.

Clint hated his hair being too long. Something about it interfering with his CIs. Bucky didn’t really understand it, but it was a small thing to make him comfortable.

“All right, I guess I better get over to the school.” Bucky sighed.

“Yeah. Talk to you later.”

“Love you.”

“Love you.”

Bucky smiled, letting the call end before he locked his phone and stuck it in a cup holder.

Neither Natasha or Clint were legally allowed in the front seat, but Bucky would rather have one of them upfront than all three kids in the back. Having been a sibling himself, Bucky knew all the pains of riding hump. Even if he was the oldest, his mom would force him to take the middle seat to keep his sisters apart.

Of course, it wasn’t the best solution. Clint and Natasha would inevitably argue over shotgun, but Bucky had found a solution to that as well. Natasha would get the front seat there, and Clint would get it the way home.

For a small, guilty moment, Bucky had missed the days of silence when both kids would only argue through glares and huffing.

Still, they made it to the barber’s all the same. A woman smiled at them as they walked in, asking if they were walk ins or appointments. Bucky said they had check in online, and pointed towards a small corner for the kids to go to.

Clint already knew what he wanted, “Eight on top and five on the sides,” and Natasha just wanted an even trim for her dance classes, so all Bucky had to do was make sure Tony wasn’t too wiggly during his cut.

He kept and eye on Clint and Tasha, but stood by Tony as a man approached with a large smile.

“Can I get a mohawk?” Tony asked.

Bucky shook his head with a chuckle. “Maybe when you’re older.”

Tony fakes sadness, Bucky knowing this only because Tony had hated the idea of hisself sticking out like a sore thumb.

“A Mohawk would be pretty cool,” The man smiled. “But I think your dad has something else in mind.”

Bucky nodded, “Can we do a four on the sides and six on top. Give him that hipster-kinda look so we can slick his hair back in that style?”

“That’d be no problem!” The man threw out the robe to cover Tony’s clothes form his soon-to-be-cut hair. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Tony! I’m seven!” Tony said, leaning his head back to look at the man as he pulled both hands out from under the robe to show seven fingers sticking up.

“Wow! You’re so big!” Tony chuckled. “My name is Wade.”

“Hi, Wade!” Tony greeted.

“Where do you go to school?” Wade asked, reaching towards the counter for the clippers.

Tony named his school, proclaiming his grade as well.

“That’s awesome! I had a brother that went there when we were younger.” Wade unwound the cord and plunged the clippers into the wall. “What’s your favorite subject?”

“Science!” Tony yelled a bit louder than nessisary. Bucky motioned for him to quiet down in the mirror.

Wade moved over, flipping the wire around a few times before turning on the buzzers. “What have you all been doing in science?”

“Not really anything. We grew some grass last week, but James planted his upside down so it grew through the bottom of the straw instead of the top!” Tony laughed, fidgeting with the seam of the robe.

“Ohh, that’s hilarious!”

Bucky watched as Wade secured a guard on the buzzers and flicked the switch on.

“My favorite subject was always computers.”

“I like that, too!” Tony cheered.

Once again, Bucky made a Hester with his hands to let Tony know he was being a bit loud.

Quietly this time, Tony said, “But Mr Stane isn’t much fun. Every class he calls me to his computer. He wants me to help write code for a game he’s been making.”

“Oh, what kind of game?”

Bucky thought it was a bit odd that the hairdresser asked so many questions, but that’s mostly just how they are. At the very least, it kept Tony entertained.

“He said it was kinda like a mystery game where you put away bad guys.” Tony shrugged. “It looks really boring.”

Wade lagged as he switched out guards to start on Tony’s sides. Bucky started tuning out the conversation when he started losing track of what the two were talking about. Seemed like the hairdresser had an affinity for computers as well, and Tony was always happy to talk with like-minded people.

Bucky glanced over at Clint just as the boy was getting his robe off. He high-fives the lady who had cut his hair and walked over to Bucky with a smile.

“You like?” He asked with a proud grin. His CIs were still in his pocket, so he had signed his question.

With a smile, Bucky nodded yes. “Looks good.”

Clint’s smile grew before he walked off to bother Natasha.

“All right, your all done, bud!” Wade said as he dusted around Tony’s neck. He unsnapped the robe and pulled it off, then reached a hand out for Tony.

“Good job, little dude!”

Tony snaked the hand with his own, a loud giggle bursting from him as Wade shook his hand and held his wrist with a fake look of agony painted on his face.

“So strong!”

Bucky rolled his eyes, amused. He held out his right hand for Tony to take, then walked to the front counter to pay for lol three cuts. Natasha skipped towards them with small curls in her slightly shorter hair.

“You look great!” Bucky said, holding out his arms.

Natasha rushed toward him with a smile, happily accepting the hug.

Bucky was a bit surprised as Natasha kissed his cheek and pushed away to stand with Clint. Since when did she show such affection outside the house?

Instead of questioning it, Bucky happily took to moment and stored it away to share with Steve later. After paying the bill and adding a generous tip for all three hairdressers, Bucky girded the kids back to the car.

Just as he was helping Tony snap into his booster seat—something neither Bucky or Steve were aware he needed until Phil had brought it up a few days ago—a few raindrops hit against the windshield. Bucky snapped the seatbelt into place before pulling his torso out of the car to look up at the sky.

Shades of dark gray lined the sky, sending the world into a dull hue. Bucky sighed as he let his seat snap back into place and climbed in. Looked like rain was on its way.

Bucky plopped down onto the driver’s seat, earning a few giggles from the older two, before slamming his door shit and turning the car on.

Bucky let his phone get passed around the car for everyone to choose a song on the way home. It was Tony’s turn with the first crack of thunder blasted through the sky.

Tony screamed, phone flying and hitting the ceiling before landing on the floor with a muffled thud. Bucky had to keep from whipping his head back to check on the boy. They were going too fast in the rain for him to take his eyes off the road with all of the idiots speeding past him.

“Tony, you okay, bud?” Bucky checked his rear-view mirror, finding a prettified boy starting out the window.

Bucky took a deep breath, letting it out slowly before glancing back up.

Tony sat motionless, pale face contrasting from his dark eyes that stared out the window.

Bucky wracked his brain, trying to find nothing that may explain the boy’s behavior. And then he remembered the picture of a car, front end around a tree.

Shit.

Bucky decided that speeding want an option in this weather, but he wasn’t sure what else to do. Could they pull over until the storms pass? No, there was no telling when that would be.

Maybe he could take the more direct route and get off the interstate? No, the lights would draw out the ride more that the interstate.

Another flash followed by a roar of thunder had Tony screaming at the top of his lungs. Bucky was about to lose all of his resolve about speeding in the rain when he heard the familiar sound of a seat belt being released.

Bucky looked up, terrified at the possibility of Tony out of his chair. Instead, Natasha has moved to the middle seat, quickly snapping a seatbelt into place as she grabbed Tony’s hand.

Tony’s shrieks we’re starting to echo around Bucky’s head, controlling the rate of his heart.

Bucky glanced back at the mirror, Clint turned around completely so his head stuck out between the two sets. Natasha had balled Tony’s hand, and put it close to his face. A few seconds later, the screaming has lessened to sobs.

Natasha said something that Bucky couldn’t hear, but Clint obviously has as he bent over the center council more until he snatched the phone from the floor. He set about looking for something, and Bucky was about to ask what until the familiar sound of Bruce’s playlist blasted through the car.

Bucky flinched, moving to turn it down but met only but Clint’s hand covering the dile.

“Pop, trust us, okay?” Clint asked.

With what he knew was a worried look, Bucky nodded, and put both hands back on the wheel.

-.-.-.-

Clint turned back around in his seat, watching as Natasha tried her best to calm their little brother.

“I don’t think this is working,” Natasha said, worried eyes looking towards Clint.

Clint nodded. “Maybe he’d like some other music?”

Natasha shrugged.

A worried knot settled into Clint’s gut, giving him the need to do something. Tony was almost back up to screaming, despite his thumb in his mouth.

Clint had never heard Tony scream like this before. It wasn’t the same kid of scream that Bruce had when he was overwhelmed and didn’t know what else to do. Tony sounded terrified, like a jump scare from a horror movie had taken all of his happiness and threw it out the window.

“Maybe, maybe he’d like rock or something?” Clint suggested out of desperation.

Natasha shook her head. “That won’t help him calm down.”

Clint groaned. They knew everything for Bruce, how could they not for Tony!

Natasha sat for a moment, her face determined as she tried to think of something. And then, with her face softening, she held out her hand.

Clint happily handed over Bucky’s phone, watching as she somehow typed with only her right hand, the other running up and down Tony’s back.

The music stopped, Tony’s wails the only sound until soft music came though. A gentle voice introduced the Magic Tree House. Clint recognized the book as one he used to have in his room, a thin chapter book series for beginners about a brother and sister that went on magical adventures in a tree house.

A few minutes into the book, Tony still had tears running down his face, but he seemed too engrossed into the story to listen to the storm raging outside the car.

Clint smiled as Tony looked towards him, thumb still firmly in his mouth. He looked toward Natasha as she held out the phone, watching the video as pictures came and went.

They had just finished chapter three as Bucky pulled into the drive way.

Clint hopped out of the car, ignoring the rain as Natasha unsnapped Tony and held his hand to pull him out through the passenger door.

As soon as they were out of the car, Bucky scooped Tony up and ran into the house. Clint followed, Natasha’s hand in his.

Clint shook the droplets of rain out of his freshly-cut hair and looked up as Steve walked into the entry way.

“Where’s your pop?” He asked.

Natasha shrugged.

“Tony had a freak out in the car. Pop is probably trying to calm him down.” Clint said, waving at Bruce in the living room.

“What happened?” Steve asked, his smile falling to concern.

This time, Clint and Natasha both shrugged.

“He just started screaming in the car. Clint and I put on a story and he started to calm down.”

Steve’s lips pursed in worry. “Can you two watch Bruce? I’m going to see how Tony is doing.”

Clint nodded, already walking over to his younger brother. He was slightly surprised to hear Natasha ask if she could come, too.

“Yeah, sweetheart.” Steve smiled.

Clint listened as they both walked upstairs, suddenly feeling left out.

“Guess it’s just you and me, huh, Bruce.” Clint held up a stuffed god thy had a bell in its stomach that would ring if you shook it.

Bruce reached for the dog, stuffing one of its legs into his mouth.

-.-.-.-

Bucky heard as Steve walked up the stairs, the man pushing the door open gently. Steve wore that forced smile he always had when something went wrong with the kids and he wanted to try and keep thing cheery.

Natasha followed him through the door, standing back a bit to not be in the way, but close enough to help if needed.

“Did you give him the oil?” Steve asked, sitting on the floor.

Tony was sitting on the edge of his bed with a zoned out look plastered to his face. He was still shaking, even with Bucky-bear clutched tightly to his chest. The top of his head was damp and weighed down, defeating the purpose of having it gelled when at the barbers.

Bucky held out the small bottle decorated with a koi fish. “Figured it wouldn’t do any harm.”

“Did it help?” Steve asked as he shoved the bottle into his pocket.

“Enough to get him to stop wailing, but...” Buck gestured to the shaking, unresponsive boy.

“Rub his back,” Natasha whispered.

Buck had to keep himself from jumping into the air, having almost forgotten she was their.

“What was that?” Steve asked.

Natasha walked around the men, jumping onto the bed t the foot and crawling across until she sat beside Tony.

“You gotta start low, cause he doesn’t like his neck being touched. If you start too high, it scares him.”

Bucky watched as Natasha ran her left hand up and down on Tony’s back in small circles.

“Sometimes he likes to hear a story.” She pointed over to the bookshelf set about three feet up on the middle wall.

Bucky, though a bit lost with the situation, stood and walked to the shelf. He plucked out the first one he saw, and walked back to the small gathering by Tony’s bed.

With a nod from Natasha when he sat back down, Bucky started reading the story about a bear in overalls getting lost in a store. Just as Bucky was about to call the whole thing off, he saw Tony lean ever-so-slightly forward as if to look at the pictures.

Bucky adjusted his position slowly, not wanting to startle the boy. From this position, Tony and Natasha could see the pictures with Bucky still being able to read it.

When Bucky finishes the book, Natasha signed for him to start it again. Trusting her, Bucky flipped the book over and went through it two more times.

On the third run through, Tony seemed to be almost completely back. The boy slid off the bed, pushing up Bucky’s metal arm. Bucky obliged, lifting his arm.

And then Tony just... crawled into his lap. Settled between Bucky’s crossed legs. His thumb firmly in his mouth and bear heals tightly to his chest, he flipped the book back to the front. Bucky kept his hands lose as Tony opened the front cover, skipped the title page and acknowledgments, and then tapped on the first page.

Bucky shared a look with Steve, and then glared when Steve smiled and slowly pulled out his phone.

As Bucky started through the story for the he-stopped-counting-after-four-th time, Natasha slid off the bed, settling on Bucky left side and resting her head on his artificial shoulder.

Bucky took his time going through the story this time, observing the words instead of just reading them. Something about this seemed surreal, as if nothing could possibly ruin the moment of make it better.

Only, it did get better. Clint knocked quietly on the door, Bruce’s hand in his.

“Bruce wanted Steve,” Clint said bashfully, letting go of the smaller boy’s hand so her could run to Steve.

Steve settled Bruce into his lap, then looked up at Clint with a smile. “How about you grab a book and come sit with us.”

Clint grabbed a look of insult as he said, “I don’t need someone to read to me.”

“Shut up and come sit with us,” Natasha said.

Clint huffed, walking to the shelf and pulling out a bright yellow book. He sat down between Natasha and Steve, placing the book on the floor as he settled in.

Bucky smiled, having to shift Tony’s sleepy form in his lap. He then held out his hand for the new book, Clint picking it off the floor and placing it in his hand.

This new story was about some monkey traveling to New York and finding himself in all sorts of trouble.

At the middle point of the story, Bucky could feel Tony’s body go completely lax, Bucky’s chest and arms the only thing keeping the boy upright.

Bucky looked toward Steve to ask him what he would like to do when he saw the man snapping photos with his phone with a shit-eating grin. Bucky rolled his eyes, going back to the story.

By the end of the story, both Tony and Bruce were out like a dead lightbulb. Natasha was half-way there, Clint not much further behind. The thing was, the thought of leaving any of them alone tonight was not something he wanted to come to fruition.

Instead, with a nod from Steve, Bucky stood up slowly, keeping Tony pressed against his chest. With some form of magic, he was able to turn the boy so they were chest-to-chest. He kept Tony’s head on his shoulder, using his right arm as support under the boy’s butt.

When he seemed it good enough, he held his left hand out to Natasha. She took it, using it to help he stand. Bucky wrapped the mechanical fingers around her hand gently before walking out of the room and down the hall to his room. Steve followed behind with Bruce and Clint in tow.

Somehow, all four kids and two adults fit into the bed, although it was mostly because the younger two where on top of Steve and Bucky.

Bucky quickly released the straps that kept his arm on, Tony still on his chest. Steve helped with his free arm, the other holding Bruce. Somehow, they managed to get the prosthetic off without too much hassle.

When they were all settled in bed, still in their day clothes but not caring, Bucky took in a deep breath. He could hear the familiar click of Clint’s CIs being placed on the night stand. Steady breathing. The light patting of rain on the window. The shuffling of sheets as Steve settled in.

Yeah, this was it. This was home. The one he never thought he’d truly have after his arm had been ripped off. For the first time in his life, Bucky knew he would go through that pain a million times so long as this is what happened at the end of it.

Chapter Text

FH27

“Alright, so, what now?” Weasel asked as he looked over the board witch scattered pictures, sticky notes, strings, and printed newspaper articles. It looked like something out of a serial killer movie.

Wade watched as the man tried to take everything in, frustrated at the fact neither of them had found out where all of this came from. It had to start somewhere. The only question was, where?

“There’s nothing on that board you two have stared at for two weeks that you don’t already know by heart.” Vanessa came up behind Wade, placing a hand on the man’s shoulders.

Wade turned around, accepting and offered kiss. When he pulled away, he asked, “What do you think we should do, then?”

Vanessa smiled, taking a sip from a glass in her hand before setting it down and pulling a white card from her back pocket.

Wade graves for it, only to have her pull it back with a shit-eating grin. “Tell me how much you love me.”

“I will tell you that any time you want,” Wade laughed. “I love you more than I love musicals and unicorns.”

Vanessa took in air through her teeth, and off sounds that meant she was thinking about it.

“Alright, I think that’s worthy.” She held out the letter, this time allowing Wade to take it.

“A party invite?” Wade asked, looking the card over. It was decorated with balloons and confetti, announcing that they were invited.

“Turns out, Peter and Tony go to the same school. I only thought about it when you mentioned the name.” Vanessa picked her glass back up, and took another swig. “They’re apparently pretty good friends. Tony’s little brother and Peter are in the same class.”

“What does that have to do with a party invite?” Weasel asked as he reached for the letter.

Wade pulled it away from the many’s gross hands, shooting him a stern look.

“Tony’s birthday party is Saturday. And Peter was invited.” Vanessa smirked. “May asked us to take him.”

Wade jumped up from his seat, placing both hands on Vanessa’s face and kissing her deeply. “You are a genius.”

“I know.” Vanessa smiled, leaning in for another kiss.

“Something about this is fate, V.” Wade shook the letter in his hand. “The universe wants us to help this kid.”

“Well, first things first, the kid needs a birthday gift.” Vanessa said as she plucked the card out of Wade’s hand. “Invite says he likes computers, Legos, superheros, and robots.”

“RC car?” Wade proposed.

Vanessa nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

Wade smacked his hands together. “All right!”

“I liked RC cars as a kid. I had one that was—“

“Shut up, Weasel.” Wade and Vanessa said at the same time.

-.-.-.-

Vanessa pushed the doorbell, shuffling Peter’s small form in her arms. Wade had a backback slung over his shoulders of everything that May said he may need, including Peter’s stuffed giraffe that he refused to sleep without.

“Just in case he gets fussy,” she had said.

The door swung open, the real face of Steve Rogers-Barns smiling at them. Vanessa recognized him from the thousands of photos Wade had taken over the past two months.

“Hey!”

“Hello!” Wade extended his hand. “I’m Wade, and this is my wife, Vanessa, and my god-son, Peter.”

Steve shook Wade’s hand, giving a small wave to Peter. “Welcome welcome! Please, come on in!”

Steve opened the door more, welcoming the trio into the house.

When Wade and Vanessa were inside, he closed the front door gently. “Tony isn’t here just yet, my husband and oldest son are keeping him distracted for a bit longer.”

Wade laughed. “May had told me it was a surprise party! I’ve always wanted to do one of these!”

Steve waved his hand in amusement. “We just wanted to make this super special for Tony, you know. A day he’ll never forget!”

Vanessa and Wade smiled at that.

“Well, Peter, it’s good to see you again.” Steve said directly to the boy.

Peter hurried his face in Vanessa’s shoulder.

“Tony said he was a bit shy.” Steve chuckled. “Bruce is upstairs in his room at the moment. If he wants to play, he’s welcome to go on up there at any time.”

“Thank you,” Wade smiled.

It looked like Steve was going to reply, but the door bell ringing stopped him.

“I’ll be right back. Snack are in the kitchen if anyone’s hungry!”

And then he was off to answer the front door.

“Can you be on Peter duty?” Wade asked.

Vanessa sighed dramatically. “Oh no, spending time with Peter and eating cake and having fun? I’m just not sure I could handle that alone.” Vanessa grabbed one of Peter’s hands lightly. “Think you could help me?”

Peter giggled and nodded his head.

“Awesome. Imma go check out the house really quick, and then I’ll meet up with you in a bit?”

“Sounds good.” Vanessa pecked Wade on the cheek before he walked off.

He followed the hallway towards the kitchen. A few kids ran out the door and towards what looked like a giant inflatable water slide. He hummed to himself, thanking May for having packed Peter a swim suit, and then made a sharp right down a hallway. Three doors met him, one open slightly with a sign that read “little superhero’s room,” and the other two closed. Wade chuckled at the bathroom and went for the door directly in front of him.

The smell of summer heat and saw dust whipped at him as he looked into a garage. He thought about looking around it, but the concentrated summer heat would have him running for the water slide faster than the kids. Instead, he backed out and closed the door.

With a look over his shoulder, Wade made sure no one was watching him as he ducked into the room on his right. The room had a dull light to it, the curtains pulled to fight against the sunlight. Wade didn’t want to risk the overheads, and settled on just letting his eyes adjust.

He shuffled through a bookshelf, the tops of the two desks pushed towards each other, the filing carbonates with colored pages taped to the front, and even on a children’s card table set up with it’s on CPU and monitor.

With a sigh, Wade sat back on his knees, looking around the room for anything else on the family. When he spotted the monitor on the desk, he figured he might as well give the computer a chance.

It took two tries to guess Steve’s password—come on, the kid’s names in order of age? How original—and he was in. He clicked on the browser, finding the internet history as good a place as any. Luckily, Steve wasn’t the type of guy to delete his history, or simply didn’t know how, and Wade was able to find every Google search the man had made for two months.

Beside a few how-to’s and a search on kid’s electronics, all Steve seemed to look up was information on Tony. Dozens of arrivals filled the history box from Just this week. But why were they looking into Tony?

Wade closed down the tab and exited out of the browser, almost missing the digital sticky note on the home screen. In the annoying black Comic Sans font Wade hated most—yeah, he may be some kind of vigilante PI, but he had standards—was a note to call CPS.

Wade stared at it for several seconds, suddenly having more questions than answers.

Where these men throwing Tony a huge party just to throw him out? Was this some kind of apology?

Wade felt something drop in his stomach.

Here he’d been, trusting these men to watch Tony and protect him, and they were just going to ship him off. Call CPS and have them pick him up and forget all about it.

Maybe Wade could snag the kid before they did? After the party, then. And Tony would be safe until Wade figured out what the hell was going on around here.

As Wade stood up, he realized that kidnapping was not something he could actually do. Ripping a kid away from what he loved would kill Wade faster than any bullet. And there was that whole fact that it was super illegal, but that’s all secondary.

Maybe he’d just wait it out? Ask Steve and James what their plans are? Vanessa would agree with that plan a lot faster.

Wade crept his way out of the office and back towards the living room just in time to see as everyone was hiding behind chairs and couches. The whole house was dead silent.

The front door squeezed open, a young boy that Wade instantly recognized as Tony coming in as he talked about Elon Musk. Wade had a small question over how a seven-going-on-eight-year-old could even know that name, but shoved it to the side.

The whole room stood up and shouted, “Surprise!”

Tony dropped what looked like an astronaut action figure as he looked toward the laughing group in shock.

An older boy smiled as he put his hand on Tony’s shoulder, and whispered something in his ear.

Tony looked towards the boy, aw-struck as he asked, “for me?”

The older boy smiled and nodded. “Happy birthday.”

Tony looked back toward the room full of people, his eyes starting to become wet and red.

The group gave out a collective awe as another man—Wade recognized him as James from recon photos—picked Tony up and braced the boy against his chest.

James whispered into Tony’s ear, and earned a nodding head in response.

“It’s okay, guys. He’s just a bit overjoyed.” James said with a laugh, bouncing the boy a bit.

The group chuckled, but went about whatever they had been doing before the party started.

Wade spotted Vanessa on the couch, coaxing Peter to go say hi to his friend. He snakes through the crowd of people, snagging a seat next to Vanessa.

“These guys have something planned,” Wade whispered, waving at Peter.

“It is a birthday party, Wade.” Vanessa chuckled as she threw a stream of black hair over her shoulder.

Wade glared at her, knowing full-and-well she knew what he was saying and was just being an ass. “Steve had a note to call CPS on his computer. I think they’re about to move him again. Soon.”

Vanessa looked towards him with heavy skepticism. “Wade, look around. No one does this for someone they don’t want around.”

“But, what about the note!” Wade defended. He knew what he saw.

“There’s more than one reason to call CPS, sweetheart.” Vanessa said with a small smile. She looked down just as Peter started pulling away with a groan.

Seemingly surprised, she let go and the pair watched as Peter ran right for Tony, wrapping the older boy in the biggest hug he could muster. Tony smiled, his eyes still wet, but smiling happily as he hugged Peter right back.

Wade looked back at his wife, confused for a moment. “What do you—“

Vanessa lifted her chin, pointing behind Wade. “That think on the mantel? That’s the only present sitting alone. The others are all in the kitchen. The shape? Ten-by-thirteen-by-two. You know what else is ten-by-thirteen-by-two?” Vanessa leaned her head back, pointing to the stairs. “When I took Peter upstairs, he had a frame hanging above his bed. Ten-by-thirteen-by-two. In it? His adoption certificate.”

Wade could feel his eyes opening more and more until the very last sentence. “You mean to say...”

Vanessa laughed, nodding her head. “It’s elementary, my dear Wilson.”

“Oh, babe,” Wade smiled. “You are truly amazing.”

Vanessa shrugged with a smug look. “Hey, you don’t become a PI if you don’t have any skills.”

-.-.-.-

If he were being honest, Bucky was nervous as shit. All of these people in his house was giving him claustrophobia, and the outside wasn’t much better with all of the kids running around screaming.

Okay, okay. Fine. It had nothing to do with people or kids.

No, all of his worries sat on the mantel above the fireplace, wrapped up in paper they had gotten just for this. None of the other gifts looked like it, because none of the gifts had anything close to it.

Bucky Wilkes time to move faster so they could all just get it over with, but watching the kids run around made his heart too happy to call it to an end.

Natasha, running up the side of the slide to get to the top, was yelling at Maria to trap Clint on the slide. A year ago, Natasha wouldn’t have even touched the slide.

Clint had taken his CI’s off so as to not get them wet, as was running around the yard laughing his butt off as Natasha, Maria, and now Tony and his friends, chased him around with water guns in hand.

Natasha had pulled all of the kids together after everyone had arrived, the numerous kids in varying degrees of dressed and drenched, and told them all that Clint couldn’t hear without what she had called “Bat-aides.” A play on the old Batman comics Clint enjoyed so much, Bucky has assumed. And then they worked on teaching everyone small signs.

“Thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “run,” and “hide,” were among the first few. Natasha would take time before each new game to show everyone anything new they would need, and then the kids would run around the yard like mad men.

Steve, wanting to keep the younger kids from getting mulled over, had set a hose up on Bruce’s plastic play-place. It wasn’t the best, being a make-shift water slide, but it kept the three younger boys entertained and happy.

Bucky sat down on the picnic table, looking towards Tony as he jumped and landed, bouncing one of his friends into the air. They both giggled, getting up to do it again.

“Tony is a great boy,” Jane said with a smile.

Bucky chuckled. “We like to think so.”

They sat and watched the kids a bit more before Bucky turned to the doctor.

“How’s your sister?”

“Oh, doing better. She’s just happy I had the day off. The boys don’t get invited to parties much, and she’d’ve hated it if they couldn’t come.” Jane smiled.

“That’s good.” Bucky looked over his shoulder. “Loki and Thor are her’s, right?”

Jane nodded as she laughed. “Legally, yes. Biologically, they are her nephews.”

“Oh,” Bucky said, not sure what else to.

“Yeah. Well, really, they’re kind of distant cousins. It’s very complicated. But their mother and father were very close with Darcy. When they passed, she just knew she had to take them in.”

“That’s amazing of her.”

Jane nodded. “Loki and Thor were in really bad shape when they came to her. It turns out their father was not as kind of a man as Darcy had been told by their mother.” Jane looked down at her hands, then back towards the three younger boys. “Loki refuses to talk, or express anything other than anger. And Thor was just so... He had hidden in himself, like a turtle.”

Bucky nodded. He knew how she felt first-hand.

“Darcy has really brought them a long way. I heard Loki even told his teacher he wasn’t feeling well last week.” Jane smiled proudly.

“That’s great!” Bucky chuckled. “Any step forward, no matter how far, is still a step in the right direction.”

Jane nodded as she laughed, seeming a little less jittery than when she’d first arrived.

“I’m so sorry for over sharing. I have a big mouth.”

Bucky held up his hands, shaking his head. “No, no, no, it’s okay. I’m happy to hear they’re doing better.”

Darcy looked towards where Loki was running up the steps to go down the slide, waiting for Peter to finish his turn. “Me too.”

They tag-teamed watching the kids for another ten minutes before Steve blew on a noise maker and called the kids in. Bucky stood up, watching as Clint dragged Tony inside.

The kids were all soaking, but enjoyed their dinner of pizza and juice boxes. Steve left the back door open in hopes of not letting the kids freeze because of the AC on their wet skin.

Numerous fart jokes were passed around the table, and everyone just let it play out. As inappropriate as it was, a large part of making this night successfully relied on the adults choosing their battles carefully.

And then, after cake that had passed without a single slice making air time, plates were cleared for presents to be opened without being covered in pizza grease.

Bucky almost regretted asking people to not bring gifts just because of the sheer amount of toys. He was realized to find that most of them were partnered with at least one other toy. A nerf gun from James, and a bunch of darts from Pepper. Lego sets, clothes, a few gift cards, and an RC car later and Steve was finally able to hand Tony their first gift.

Tony’s elves grew the second he saw his own set of Husky screwdrivers and socket wrenches, and he almost cried when he saw the soldering gun he’d been asking about getting for months. Around the same time when it had been purchased.

Bucky shared a look with Steve. They had debated over when to show Tony his last gift, going back and forth between when people where there and after. In the end, they decided to just play it by ear. So, when Steve raised his brows in question, Bucky have a silent nod of consent.

Better to just rip it off and let all of the anxiety building in Bucky’s stomach finally dissipate. This was their first time filing the paperwork without officially asking the child involved, but Steve was certain that a question like that would not end well.

“What if he thinks his answer may change the way we look at him, or his living situation? I don’t want him to worry about that kind of thing.” Steve had said.

Bucky had worried about the other side—making this kid of decision that would affect Tony’s life forever—without involving him. But, with every hug and bedtime story, Bucky was starting to see Steve’s point.

Bucky loves bedtime more than anytime, now. Tony would pick a book and sit in Bucky’s lap, Bruce wrapped snuggly in Steve’s with the older two on either side of him as he read about anything and everything. Natasha had even told them the other day that it had been three days since Tony had gone to her room. A record, she had said.

Bucky held onto those thoughts tightly as Steve handed the last gift over. It was plain brown shipping paper, nothing fancy about it. Clint held Steve’s phone steadily as he took video of Tony turning the gift around in his hands.

Natasha mouthed for him to open it, scooting closer with a proud smile on her face.

The whole room was silent as Tony pulled back the paper and flipped the frame over to see the front.

“What’s it say?” Tony asked, looking toward Clint.

Clint passed Steve’s phone to Thor, standing to walk to Tony. He leaned over his brother’s shoulder and said, “Sound it out.”

“S-s-sir tih-fih-cate,” Tony said, following Clint’s finger.

“Certificate,” Clint nodded, pushing Tony on.

“Of... Ahhh do-ahdo-p... ahdoptian,” Tony looked up at Clint.

“Say it all together.” Clint’s smile was infectious, masking all of Bucky’s worry fade away as Tony mumbled the words over and over again. Sometimes it took him awhile to make sense of words, but give him long enough, and—

“Certificate of adoption?” Tony asked.

Clint nodded excitedly. “Look here. Who’s names are those.”

“That’s mine,” Tony said, pointing to the biggest one. “And that’s Steve. And that’s Bucky.”

“What do you think that means?” Clint asked.

Tony looked confused for a moment, then two, and then—

“YOU WANT TO ADOPT ME?!?” Tony yelled, standing up from his seat with the frame grasped tightly in his hand.

“We already have, buddy.” Steve said gently.

Tony looked back at the document as tears filled his eyes. “You all are gonna be my daddies?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, trying to hide the few tears as the slid down his face.

“Forever?” Tony’s voice broke as he asked, followed by a steady river of tears.

“Forever.” Bucky and Steve both said at the same time.

It was in that moment Bucky was glad he and Steve were sitting on the same side of the table, Tony rushing towards them with open arms.

Bucky leaned in as Tony wrapped one arm around his neck and the other around Steve, sobbing between their shoulders.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Steve chuckled, his own voice wet and gravely.

Bucky laughed, holding Tony a bit closer.

A moment later, Bucky felt another pair of arms join their group, and then another, more towards Steve’s side. And, last but not least, a last pair of arms attached themselves around his hips.

Bucky chuckled as he looked down at his family, the rest of the party goers clapping and whooping and herring around them.

-.-.-.-

Wade leaned over to pick up a juice box that had somehow ended up in the living room before looking towards Vanessa.

“He is out for the count,” she laughed, holding a dead-sleeping Peter in her arms. His face was pressed against Vanessa’s chest, most of it hidden by his stuffed giraffe.

Wade chuckled, running a hand up and boy his god-son’s back. “At least he’ll sleep well tonight.”

Vanessa rolled her eyes as she rocked back and forth unconsciously. “So, what now.”

Wade sighed, letting his hand drop from Peter’s back to run it through his mused hair. I think we let them know. As his official guardians, they are the ones most in danger if something is coming for Tony.”

Vanessa nodded, looking around. “It looks like the kids are all out for the night. When do you want to ask them?”

Wade looked over the couch and towards Steve as he stood in the kitchen cleaning up. “The longer we wait, the more they are left unprepared.”

Vanessa sighed, but nodded. She leaned over and sat Peter on the couch, pulling half of a blanket over him and leaving the other half to Loki.

“Steve, hey, do you know where Bucky is?” Wade asked as he walked into the kitchen and took a seat at the bar.

Steve threw a dish towel over his shoulder and dusted his hands together. “Outside, I think. What’s up?”

“Can you call him in? We have many things to discuss.”

Chapter Text

FH28

Tony couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he looked up at the frame hanging just over his bed. He kicked his feet a bit, wiggling around in bed with excitement. Tony would never, ever forget this day for as long as he lived.

At first, Tony refused to let go of the framed certificate. It was his whole life in a ten-by-thirteen frame—everything that mattered was boxed up in this thing that fit perfectly between his arms so he could squeeze it to his chest. But, Steve had said it would be better for Tony to hang it so he could look at it everyday before he went to sleep. Nodding in agreement, Tony had handed it over and helped Bucky find a good spot on his wall.

Steve and Bucky didn’t really understand why Tony had wanted it between his nightstand and bed instead of directly over his bed, but Tony was happy he’d made the decision. With the hall light on and the door half-open, the certificate was lit up with steams of light no matter what time of day. Tony was glad he’d guessed so accurately. Any more to the left or right and it wouldn’t have worked.

Tony sat up and looked down at his floor where James was sleeping on an inflatable mattress. He was the only one who could stay the night, but Tony was kinda glad. He didn’t think they had enough inflatable beds for all of his friends and he wouldn’t have liked for them to fight over it.

Just as Tony was snuggling back into bead, Bucky-bear in hand, he heard shuffling downstairs. Dad and Pop always made weird noises down stairs from closing cabinets and opening doors and lots of other weird stuff, but this was different. Chairs being pulled out, he decided. But why?

Tony kicked his blankets back, tip-towing carefully around James’s inflatable mattress, and making his way towards the hallway. With his head sticking out of the doorway, Tony could hear hushed whispered. The serious kind that didn’t tell fun jokes like he and his friends did when they whispered.

Scared but determined, Tony walked out of his room and, as lightly as he could, towards the stairs, taking extra care to avoid the squeaky points he would normally be all over to make funny noises.

The kitchen light was on, giving the hallway an eerie glow as Tony walked farther.

“Who did you say hired you?” Bucky asked, his voice deep and confused.

Tony stopped in his tracks, leaning his head in a bit as his back pressed against the wall and away from the light.

“The Jarvis family,” another voice responded. Tony vaguely recognized it, but he couldn’t place a face.

The name he has said, however, “Jarvis,” Tony did recognize. The sides of every computer Mr Stane had been throwing away had the name written across the CPU in indented metal.

“I don’t get it,” Steve sighed. “Why would they wait five years before looking.”

“They didn’t.” The voice replied, the sound of shuffling papers following. “They’ve been looking since the day he went missing. The court and social services stonewalled them. They tried injunctions and appeals for years, trying to gain any information. Every time, they were denied because the Starks hadn’t left anything saying the Jarvises had any legal right towards the boy.”

The voice sighed, and Tony could almost hear the way Bucky brushed his hands through his long hair the way he always did when he was stressed.

“So what now?” Steve asked.

“Now, I need any information you all have.” The voice replied. “Anything odd going on, anyone taking a particular interest in him. Anyone that quickly befriended him or is constantly around him?”

Bucky sighed, and Tony could hear as he sat his hands on the table palm down the way he always did when thinking really hard. He usually took the stance when Tony asked for help with his school work. Ultimately, Bucky would send Tony to Steve.

“Not that I can really think of.”

“What about that Hammer kid? Tony and him haven’t really been getting along.” Steve suggested.

Even just hearing his name made Tony want to gag.

“I’ve looked into the Hammers. They are in a different kind of electronics than the Starks were interested in. They want to start some private space company.” The voice said.

The room fell to silence and Tony was suddenly worried the men had heard him.

“Hey, what about that lawsuit the school is facing?” Steve asked.

“Lawsuit?” Bucky seemed shocked by the news.

“Yeah, a few weeks ago. Fury mentioned something about the school being in the middle of a lawsuit. He didn’t really give me any information about it, though.”

“How would a lawsuit towards the school have anything to do with this?” Bucky asked.

“He asked for anything that was out of place. Fury seemed really off-kilter about the whole ordeal.”

Shuffling passers echoed down the hall as the voice said, “I remember something about that. Something about the tech teacher throwing out perfectly good computers.”

“Why would someone sue over that?” Bucky asked.

A chair squared as if someone was leaning over the table.

“If they thought the school was needlessly wasting money, they might have grounds.” Steve replied.

“Ah, there it is,” The voice said. “A parent found old CPUs and monitors in the dumpster and somehow found out they were still working. They wanted to know why the school was getting rid of them.”

Hey! Tony knew the answer to that! He turned the corner as he said, “Mr Stane said they were bad computers.”

All three men startled, staring at Tony in a moment of shock. Steve was the first to recover.

“Tony, what’re you doing up?”

“Mr Stane said they had bad files that didn’t work.” Tony replied, ignoring Steve’s questions.

The voice was actually just Mr Wade, Peter’s god. Or god-something. It was a weird word; Tony didn’t really understand it.

“How do you mean, bud?” Mr Wade asked.

Tony walked over to the table, looking at the papers for a moment before sliding behind Steve’s chair and toward Bucky. “Mr Stane said they were bad files because they didn’t have the stuff he needed them to. He had me working on a game to help them, but he said that none of them liked it.”

Mr Wade looked even more confused. “Tony, I’m not sure we follow.”

Tony nodded. Some times adults were too hard-headed to get stuff Tony was saying. He didn’t mind teaching, tough. He stuck his left thumb in his mouth as he reached out with his right towards Mr Wane’s hand that held a pencil.

Mr Wane handed it over, and Tony grabbed a paper and flipped it over to a blank page. There, Tony drew two boxes at the top and bottom in the middle of the page with sad faces in them. On the right side, in the middle of a paper, he put another box with a happy face. And then, on the left, he put a last box with a sad face.

“Mi’ter ‘tane ‘aid the c’puters mithing latht peice.” Tony explained, looking up at the adults.

“Talk with your thumb out of your mouth, please.” Steve said, tapping lightly on his hand.

Tony pulled his hand away and repeated, “Mr Stane said the computers are missing the last piece. That’s why he asked me to help make the game.”

“And that’s what these sad boxes are?” Mr Wane asked, pointed to the picture.

“Yeah, these two are what he said are already on the computers, and this is the one I made. When they’re all together, they are all happy!” Tony ended with putting his finger on the smiling box.

Mr Wade looked up at Steve. “The Starks his information on one of these computers. That’s why he’s been doing this.”

Mr Wade pushed his chair away from the table and stood up, hands in his hair.

“I cannot believe I missed this!”

“What? What’s going on?” Steve asked, standing as well.

“I told you all, their program was a non-profit, but they were also government-grant funded! Why would the government grant money to some small start-up in New York?” Mr Wade opened the file on the table, flipping through the pages again. “Yes, the Jarvis family funded most of their projects with the school, but Howard was more than a simple repair man. He used that as a cover while he was helping the government!”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Everything I found just said the Starks were simple people donating their time to help kids learn.” Steve said.

Tony watched in awe as Mr Wade stood back up with an, “ah-ha!”

“Look, Howard Stark. Graduated from Harvard, wife, kid on the way—he had everything going for him. Why would a man with the possibility to start a business larger than the Jarvises need to go into charity work?” Mr Wade asked. “Because he wasn’t just doing charity work. Going into every school in New York would have given him the ability to hide terabytes of information for anyone, and the government must have seen a possibility.”

“This still doesn’t make any sense; why would Howard even care to get involved with all this MI-6 crap.” Bucky asked.

Mr Wade stopped his spinning, looking towards Tony. “He wanted a better place for his son. A place where a son would not lose a father because information was put in the wrong hands.”

“Where did that come from!” Steve asked.

“Howard Stark lost his father when he was ten. The man was an ex-CIA agent. He was given a complete identity with only two people knowing who he really was—his wife and his handler. The paper information was kept at a secret base based in the Florida Keys that was found because the handler turned and told the Russians where it was.”

“How on earth did this become a James Bond movie?” Steve asked, throwing his hands in the air.

“James Bond is a spy!” Tony supplied, rather helpfully in his own opinion.

“Yes, but Howard was not. He was a man who saw an opening to help millions of families.” Wade sat back down, gathering his papers. “And he paid for that with his life.”

Suddenly, Tony didn’t like where this conversation was going. He’d had enough of people leaving for one lifetime.

“How is Tony involved in all of this, then.” Steve asked.

“A lose end,” Wade sighed. “My guess is someone was just waiting for him the Stark family to be old news before doing anything.

“The social worker—“

“A ruse. She had been paid well to keep him in terrible homes. Break his spirits. My guess is, when the checks stopped coming in, she finally saw what she had done and placed him with you two.” Wade sighed. “Her employer probably found out, and made her pay, too.”

“This is insane.” Bucky huffed.

Tony scooted closer to Bucky’s chest, happy that his Papa had squeezed him lightly in a hug.

“This is the real world. Nothing has just one cause. One thread may be pulled, yes, but it’s not because of that one thread that the whole blanket falls apart. Many threads are pulled, snipped, and yanked from the fabric and then it falls apart.” Mr Wade held up a picture, his eyes staying on it for a while before he placed it on the top as well. “All of this because a man wanted to protect his family.”

There was a long silence, Tony tucked in close to Bucky as he tried to ignore the tension through the air.

“Stane is trying to find this information, then?” Bucky asked. “That’s why he had Tony doing all of that ‘game’ stuff?”

“I bet it was more because of coincidence. Stane saw an opportunity to exploit the kid of the man who originally created the file safe. He made Tony create a key, it sounds like.”

“Should I not of helped?” Tony asked, fear running through him as he thought he may have done something wrong. He looked up at Bucky, relaxing a bit as the man ran his right hand through Tony’s hair.

“No, buddy. You didn’t do anything.”

“He shouldn’t be down here for this,” Steve said.

“No, I wanna stay! I wanna help!” Tony said, wiggling around about to sit up. He had to hold on to Bucky’s left arm to keep his position.

“Tony, this isn’t really something you should worry about.” Steve sighed. “You should be in your room with James and Bruce.”

“But—“

Tony was cut off as the doorbell went off, startling everyone in the room.

Bucky and Steve shared a look, and suddenly Bucky was standing up and Passing Tony to Steve as he walked towards the door. Mr Wad followed, and Tony was really happy Bucky didn’t just set him down. He curled into Steve’s chest, closing his eyes tightly.

Steve sushed Tony as he stood up and walked toward the hallway. Tony knew they were in the office because he could hear the familiar wurrr of the computers.

Tony could almost hear the front door opening as Steve tucked him closer.

“Oh, hello there!” A feminine voice said happily. “I’m Sarah and this is Joe!”

Steve huffed our a laugh, standing with Tony in his arms as he walked back into the hallway and toward the front door.

“Ma, dad, what’re you all doing here!” Steve laughed.

Tony looked up to see Mr Wade standing at the door and tucking something under his shirt. Next to him were two older people, both with graying hair and hunched statures. The woman was slightly shorter and thinner, dressed in a blue floral shirt and plain blue pants. The man had on a polo shirt that was tucked into jeans high on his waist.

“Well, we were invited to someone’s birthday party!” The woman said as she stepped inside, pulling a suitcase behind her. “We were on a trip to the Bahamas and drove right over here when we got off our flight!”

The man followed her and Mr Wade closed the door just as Bucky made his way down the stairs.

“We wanted to meet our newest grandchild!” The woman smiled as she looked towards Tony. “You are just a cutie!”

Steve chuckled. “Yeah, we like to think so, but it’s time for this monster to get to bed.”

“Oh, of course!” The woman said, her hands clasped together in front of her face. “I can’t wait to see all of the kids! It’s been ages!”

“How about Bucky sets up the office for you guys while I put him to bed, and then you can see all of them at breakfast?” Steve phrased it like a question, but Tony knew better than to think it really was one.

“Yes yes, go on, papa-bear.” The woman laughed before turning to Tony and, with a wave, said, “I’ll see you in the morning!”

“Papa’s papa-bear.” Tony corrected. “Daddy’s daddy-bear.”

Adults were so weird. Clearly Daddy was not Papa.

“Ah, I see. My mistake.” The woman said.

Tony nodded his approval, letting Steve carry him up the stairs and to his room.

It took Steve a moment to navigate the air mattress and numerous toys, but eventually the pair made it to Tony’s bed.

Tony let Steve pull the blankets up, laying back to watch the man sit on the edge of his bed.

“Daddy, is somebody gonna hurt us cause of the key thing Mr Wane was talking about?”

Steve seemed to think for a moment as he reached for one of Tony’s books. “No, Tony. No one is ever going to hurt any of us. Your Papa and I will never let that happen.”

Tony was pretty sure he never would have believed that if it came from anyone other than Steve of Bucky. But, hearing it from Steve, somehow made Tony confidante it was true.

“You’re super soldiers.”

Steve chuckled. “Yeah, buddy. And we’ll protect all of you.”

“Okay.”

It was all Tony could say. He was tired, and today had been really long. Even the excitement of new people hadn’t given him any kid of energy. If anything, it just made him more tired. No second-wind for him, as Bucky would say. Half-way through the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Tony was lost into the land of dreams.

Chapter Text

FH Steve and Bucky

“He’s looking at you again.” Peggy smiled, setting her tray down and nodding her head to point her chin behind Steve.

Steve shook his head, slumping over his food a bit more. “Peggy, stop. There’s no way he’s into me, okay.”

Peggy raised her eyebrows in question. “How do you suppose that?”

Steve sighed and let his fork drop into his tray. The gray mess food looked even worse that normal, which was saying something for the gray, tasteless slop.

“He’s not gay, okay. Last I heard he was dating that girl from the second squad.”

Peggy shrugged her shoulders, bring her fork up to take a bite. The second she closed her mouth, her face twisted in disgust. She placed the fork back down and pushed her tray away.

“But you fancy him.”

Steve shrugged. “So what? I’ve ‘fancied’ a lot of guys. I’ll get over it.” He looked back down at his tray, not wanting to meet Peggy’s eyes.

“This isn’t like those. You really like him, Steve, I can tell.” Peggy’s voice was more general than usual, soothing instead of barking like she normally had to be to get the attention of sexiest Army men.

Turning around just the tiniest bit, Steve stole a glance as the Sargent behind him. The man was tall, hair dark and cut military short. His smile as one of his friends slapped his shoulder jokingly had Steve smiling like a school girl. As he turned back, he wasn’t able to lose the man’s image from his mind.

“We only talked once.” Steve said, standing to drop his food in the trash and return his tray.

“Love at first sight!” Peggy gushed.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Come on, we have work to do.”

-.-.-.-

“So, drinking alone?”

Steve snapped around, head so focused on the bottom of his scotch glass that he hadn’t even noticed the approaching man.

“Uh,” Steve stammered, “Yeah, I-I guess. My squad called it quits a while ago.”

Steve tried to not look into the man’s beautiful gray eyes for too long, knowing his face was already red and hoping he could pass it off with the alcohol.

“Mind if I sit?” He asked, pointing with his glass towards the stool next to Steve.

Steve shock his head. “Not at all.”

The man smiled, taking the seat and leaning on the bar with one arm while the other held his glass.

Steve could almost hear his heart beat in his head, pushing away the blaring music and conversations.

Peggy was right. He was head-over-heals for a this man. Steve didn’t even know his name!

“I’m Barnes, by the way,” the man said, sticking his hand out.

Steve had a thought that the man might have been able to read minds before he realized that was just how most conversations started.

Reaching to shake his hand, Steve said, “Rogers.”

Barnes smiled, taking a sip of his drink. “Can I get a refill for you?”

Steve looked down at his mostly-empty glass. “Oh, uh, yeah. Sure.”

Barnes took his glass, holding it right at his eye level to grab the bar-tender’s attention.

“Another of whatever this gentleman was having?”

The bartender nodded, taking the glass.

“So, where are you from?” Barnes asked, seeming to settle into his spot.

Steve smiled at the question. He wasn’t sure why, but something about it just seemed quaint. A feature that was often beat out of men before they even thought about joining.

“Brooklyn, New York. You?”

“Hey! So am I!” Barnes smiled, and it sent a flutter through Steve. “You know that amazing pizza place? Oh, what’s it called...”

“Midtown Pizza, right off from that work!” Steve was surprised the man even knew the restaurant. It was easily one of his favorites.

“Yeah! Oh, man, I’d kill for a pie from that place!” Barnes shook his head happily before taking a small sip.

The bartender sat a glass in front of Steve, who nodded with a thanks.

“Man, who’da thunk we’d end up here tonight, huh?” Barnes raised his glass. “To new friends.”

Steve raised his as well, smirking for a moment at the man’s words before saying, “To new friends.”

-.-.-.-

“Steve, Steve,” Peggy came crashing into the room, face red and hair in a mess.

Steve was more floored by her rugged apreance and her wild look than anything she had to say. Since when did Peggy Carter look like a mess?

“Steve, you need to come with me.”

Steve dropped his pen onto the file, turning his full attention towards his friend. “What’s going on? What happened?”

Peggy’s face fell, her breath held in her throat. Steve could see the pain in her eyes and it only quickened his heartbeat as his panic rose.

“Peggy,”

“It’s Barnes.” She finally said with a hitch in her throat. “Steve, he’s...”

-.-.-.-

“Leave you alone for three days and you come back missing a limb.” Steve smiled, holding up the flowers. Marigolds where his favorite.

Barnes gave a half-hearted laugh. “Better than not at all.”

Steve’s lip quirked in amusement. “Touché.”

Steve sat the flowers on the pale countertop, taking in the man on the bed. If it wasn’t for the obvious bulge missing from his left side, it almost poked like he was just in for a concussion. Wrapped in wires and bandages, he looked like a different man.

When their eyes met, Barnes’s didn’t light up like the had before. They were dull—almost lifeless. Barnes was still there, but there was obviously something missing. And Steve wasn’t talking about the arm.

Pulling a rolling chair form the other side of the room, Steve sat down and gave Barnes a forced smile.

“How’re you holding up?” Steve asked gently, taking hold of one of Barnes’s hands. Normally, he never would have show such outward affection, but Steve needed to feel that his friend was alright—needed to feel that his hands were still warm and strong.

Barnes sighed, shaking his head back and forth. “I’m just really glad pain meds exist.”

Steve forced a smile, eyes landing briefly on the bandaged shoulder before Steve adverted his gaze and went back to Barnes.

Steve opened his mouth to reassure his friend, but was interrupted by the sound of a falling dinner tray. The noise made no difference to Steve, but Barnes had ripped away his hand as he jumped.

With and quick gasp, Steve’s eyes went to check Barnes over and make sure he was okay. Instead, he was greeted with the eyes of a wild man. Someone so lost in their own head, nothing would ever be able to pull them out.

Steve could feel the backs of his eyes burning and pooling, a few drops falling down his face. His best friend was hurt—more than just his arm. Would Steve ever find the real Barnes again? Would he ever be able to express how he really felt? Did it even matter, anymore? Barnes had been through so much already.

Steve set his jaw, wiping as his tears. Barnes needed someone to count on, and that’s exactly what Steve was going to do. He could be gay some other day. Right now, he had to focus on his friend.

-.-.-.-

“You know you don’t have to come every day, right?” Barnes asked as Steve sat down at the table with a bag of fast food.

“Well, yeah, but then who would you talk to.”

Steve looked over and could see the small smiled playing on Barnes’s lips, happy that his friend seemed to be having a good day.

Pulling out two burgers and fries, Steve asked, “How was therapy today?”

Barnes shrugged, reaching for the food. “Same as before.”

Steve hated that tone, the one that made it seem as if he had lost everything and had nothing left to work for. A small idea planted itself into his head, and Steve smiled.

“Hey, I have a proposal.”

Barnes looked up, swallowing his bit of food.

“If you do well on your therapy next week, how about we go out on Friday?” Steve asked.

“I can’t leave, yet.” Barnes replied in monotone.

Steve shrugged with a smile. “I’ll bust you out. As much as I love our—“ Steve gestured to the table, not really knowing how to discribe whatever they did almost every afternoon. “—I think it’s time we sat down and ate some real food or had some fun. What’d’ya say?”

Barnes looked down at his food in though, fiddling with a few fries. When he looked back up, he said, “Fine, but under one condition.”

Steve raised an eyebrow.

“You stop calling me Barnes.”

Steve forced a small laugh. “What else am I supposed to call you?”

“Literally anything else.” Barnes laughed. “I’m not in the Army anymore. No reason to act like I am.”

“You don’t exactly look like a ‘James,’ either.” Steve threw in.

Barnes laughed, shaking his head.

“What’s your middle name?” Steve asked.

“Oh no. We are not going there.”

“Come on, it can’t be that bad!”

Barnes looked at him with a serious face. “It is much, much worse.”

Steve laughed. “Come on, spill.”

Barnes shook his head and muttered under his breath.

“What?”

“Buchanan,” Barnes looked Steve dead in the eyes. “Share that with anyone and I will kill you.”

Steve burst with laughter, slapping the table a few times. “You were right, you were right!”

Barnes rolled his eyes. “You can stop, now.”

Steve let out a few more chuckles before running a finger across his eye playfully, as if he was wiping away a tear.

They sat in comfortable silence for a moment, both trying to eat before the food became cold and gross.

“How about ‘Bucky?’” Steve asked, looking up from his food.

Barnes narrowed his eyes. “Where the hell’d you pull that from?”

“Your middle name.” Steve said. “Kinda works.”

“Good to know I look like a horse to you.” Barnes laughed.

Steve grinned. “So, what do you said, ‘Bucky?’ Dinner.”

Barnes thought for a moment. “Deal. But I’m paying.”

“That’s hardly a reward!” Steve fought.

“You’ve bought lunch every day for almost two weeks. Let me get you back!”

Steve sighed in resignation. “Fine.”

Barnes smiled proudly, shoving a few more fries into his mouth. Steve rolled his eyes, pelting the man’s face with a fry.

-.-.-.-

“No way in hell am I letting you beat me at Ski ball!” Bucky laughed, holding the ball above Steve’s Head.

“Hey, don’t be a sore loser!” Steve laughed, reaching for the ball.

Bucky scoffed. “I would never! I’m just saying you don’t get the last ball because I want to win.”

Steve laughed, reaching for the ball once more before Bucky yanked it away. “I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of a sore loser.”

Bucky pauses in thought, bobbing his head back in forth with pursed lips. “Okay, maybe. But you’re still not getting this ball.”

Steve just chuckled, giving up on the ball. “Doesn’t change the fact that I won.”

Bucky frowned, turning and underhanding the ball towards the goal. When it his the smallest spot, marked will 1,000 in gold lettering, Bucky let out a frustrated groan.

“Are you kidding me! I couldn’t even do that on my own game!”

Steve would have responded if he wasn’t to busy laughing his ass off.

“That’s what you get for trying to sabotage my game!” He finally squeaked out.

Bucky rolled his eyes, ripping off the tickets as they came out.

“Hey, I think we have enough for something at the prize counter.” Steve pointed out, showing his own stack of tickets and then pointing to Bucky’s.

“What do you think we should get?” Bucky asked, pulling the tickets out of his pocket and passing it over to Steve.

Steve grabbed them and stacked them with his own. “Who knows. Wanna go see what they have?”

They ended up getting both the stuffed bears that were stacked on top of each other lazily. Brown and soft, Steve decided they’d be the best item out of the gody colors and shapes of the rest of the items.

“What’s that Weiten on the foot?” Bucky asked, taking one and turning it over to see the gold lettering on the bottom of the bear.

Steve looked at his own bear’s foot to read. “Bears and Animals,” he read.

“Must just be the brand,” Bucky shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess.”

Dropping Bucky off at the hospital was one of the hardest things Steve had ever done. Not because it was a hospital, and not because he knew what was waiting for them once they got back. No, it was because this perfect night had to end. Because Steve didn’t know how Bucky felt about their adventure.

A small park of hope had lit up at the prospect of Bucky feeling the same was Steve did, but it was quickly shattered when Bucky gawked at a waiter as she walked by.

Bucky wasn’t into Steve. It was just a friendship. And it would never be anything more.

“Hey, what’s with that face?” Bucky’s voice broke through Steve’s thoughts.

“Oh, uh,” Steve stammered, trying to think of something. “I was just thinking how mad the staff is going to be when they find out we ditched.”

Bucky smiled, shrugging his shoulders. “I think it’s worth it.”

Steve smiled, happy that the darkness of the car would hire his blush.

“May I kiss you.”

Steve could feel his face pale, eyes wide as he stared a Bucky’s face for a second. And then two.

“I-I’m sorry. I..” Bucky unbuckled his seatbelt. “I must have read this all wrong, I am so sorry.”

Before Steve could think about his actions, he was leaning over the center council and pressing his lips against Bucky’s. It was soft, and then a bit more forced.

Steve loved every second.

-.-.-.-

“How was it?” Peggy asked, handing Steve a coffee mug as she sat down at the table with her own.

Steve laughed, taking a sip. “It was amazing, Peggy. Just... amazing.”

Peggy squealed. “You two are so cute.”

“Are you seriously squealing right now?” Steve asked. “Like a school girl?”

Peggy shrugged. “Gotta do something or else I’m gonna die of boredom.”

Steve rolled his eyes.

-.-.-.-

“Looks like you’re getting the hang of that,” Steve said, pointing towards Bucky’s new prosthetic.

Bucky smiled, opening the hand and closing it. “Yeah, not too bad, if I do say so myself.”

Steve sat down on the hospital bed with an empty duffle bag, taking a look around the room. Stale and dull, as always.

“I am so ready to get out of here!” Bucky sighed as he sat down on the bed next to Steve.

Steve looked his boyfriend over with a smile. Bucky had been letting his hair grow out and it was just long enough to be in his eyes, now. The dark emo-look was completely throw to the side by the huge smiled loving the entirety of his face. Bucky looked beautiful.

“Come on, pack your crap up and let’s get out of here.” Steve laughed, tossing the duffle towards Bucky.

Bucky caught it with his right arm, raising his left in victory.

Steve shook his head, standing up to help pull clothes out of the closet and shove them into the bag. He smiled when his eyes caught the brown bear from months ago, placed carefully on a shelf in the closet on its own. Bucky was too proud to leave it out, but sat safely right where he would see it every day. Steve grabbed the bear by its stomach and laid it gently on the top of the bag before sipping it closed.

-.-.-.-

“I get to be best man, right?” Peggy asked, flipping through pages of a wedding magazine on the table.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Peggy, were not doing anything that formal.”

“Come on, Stevie. You know she’s not going to let it be.” Bucky said, reaching for a mug form the cabinet.

Steve was starting to feel like the two-bedroom apartment was closing in on him every time he was in the same room with anyone else.

“We just got engaged last night! Why are you so set on planning everything right now?” Steve retorted.

“Because my best friend is getting married and I have nothin else to do.” Peggy said with a smirk. “Look, you try to deal with middle schooler drama all day and see how your brain faires.”

“Why did you take that job, anyway?” Bucky asked, sitting down with his now-full mug of coffee.

Peggy shrugged. “I thought it would be something challenging. From army to vice principle!”

Steve rolled his eyes, taking a seat at the table as well.

“So, best man?”

“Fine!” Steve gave in. “You can be the best man!”

Peggy pounded the air with her fist.

“You’re turning into a middle schooler.” Steve said under his breath.

-.-.-.-

“So, what now?” Steve asked, looking into Bucky’s gray eyes.

Bucky shrugged, a small smile playing at his lips. “Kids?”

Steve laughed, shaking his head. “Married for all of four hours and that’s what you say?”

Bucky pulled back a bit, looking at the small crowds of people on the dance floor.
“I think it’d be another chapter in our life.”

“Hardy-har. You keep making these book jokes and I will slap you.” Steve rolled his eyes.

“Oh, come on, what’s the point in you getting a job as an editor if I did get to amuse myself with jokes!” Bucky laughed.

“Now I see why you want kids—you just want someone to laugh at your dad-jokes!”

“Bingo, Stevie-boy.” Bucky placed a kiss on Steve’s forehead. “There’s gotta be some kid out there who just needs a little extra help.”

“How about we get through one major life decision at a time,” Steve smiled. “I have other thoughts for tonight besides kids.”

“Oh, is that so?” Bucky smiled.

“Alright, best man’s turn!” Peggy said, reaching her hand in between the dancing couple.

Bucky stepped back, letting Peggy wrap her arms around him and take lead as they danced.

“Don’t let Steve trick you. He wants a bunch if little rugrats himself.”

Bucky looked up with a shit-eating grin, and Steve let his face fall into his hand.

“Who let Peggy have alcohol!”

-.-.-.-

Steve rubbed flat hands across his shirt, and then through his hair.

“Would you stop doing that,” Bucky chuckled, grabbing both of Steve’s hands and looking in his eyes. “You look great.”

“I just want to make sure we make a good first impression.” Steve sighed, leaning in to Bucky for a hug. “It’s taken us a year and a half to get here. I don’t want anything to go wrong.”

Bucky pulled back to look into Steve’s eyes again. “We’ve got this. Take a breath. Training, experience, everything. We’ve got this.”

Steve took in a breath, nothing his head.

“You’re right. We’ve got this.”

The door bell ringing had both men looking at each other before they walked down the stairs. Steve reached for Bucky’s right hand, squeezing lightly before twisting the door knob and opening the door.

A tall woman smiled at them, a boy standing in front of her and seemingly only there because of the hands on either shoulder.

“Hello hello,” She greeted. “This is Clint.”

Steve smiled down at the six year old, waving a small bit.

“Please, come in.”

Chapter Text

Natasha woke slowly, the sun streaming through her pale pink and white polka-dot curtains and warming her bed just enough to be cozy. She took in a long breath, stretch her back and arms before pulling the comforter back over her shoulders and shoving her face into her pillow.

If it hadn’t been for the little wiggle of someone behind her, she may have fallen back asleep.

A small finger poked her shoulder, a feeling she realized was the reason she was awake.

“Tasha.” Tony whispered, poking her shoulder a third time.

“Tony?” Natasha rolled over in bed to face her younger brother. “You okay?”

Tony nodded with a smile, sitting on his knees and towering over Tasha as much as his small frame would allow as he said, “there are people downstairs.”

Natasha’s heart quickened as she jumped out of bed, reaching for a baseball bat she used when playing with Maria and Clint. She approached the door and leaned in to press her ear to the wood.

“Do Dad and Pop know?” She whispered.

“Daddy said it was his mommy and daddy.” Tony was back on his butt, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Natasha laughed as she lowered the bat. “Tony, that’s just Grandma and Grandpa.”

Natasha walked back over to the bathroom door and propped the bat against the wall.

“They smell weird.”

“That’s how all old people smell.” Natasha smiled as she reached a hand out to Tony. “Come on, let’s get breakfast.”

Tony hopped off the bed and took Natasha’s hand. “Daddy and Papa don’t smell like that.”

“That’s because they’re not grandpas yet.” Natasha explained. She opened her door and walked towards the stairs.

“Oh.” Tony stopped for a moment and turned towards his door. “Gonna wake up James.”

Natasha nodded, waiting at the top of the stairs for Tony and James to emerge. When they finally did, they walked downstairs together.

Natasha couldn’t help the smile as she heard the familiar popping of bacon and Steve’s voice.

As the turned to corner and entered the kitchen, Sarah was standing at the stove, Steve brewing coffee in the corner.

“Ma, I could have made breakfast,” Steve sighed.

“None of that. You were up late with my grandchildren. Now go sit down and give me the kitchen.” Sarah poked at a cast-iron skillet with a metal spatula with one hand and shoed Steve with the other.

Steve rolled his eyes, a gesture Natasha recognized simply by the way the man’s head rolled. He spotted Natasha as he turned around and smiled.

“Morning,” He smiled.

Natasha nodded in greeting as Tony gave a smily “morning” back.

“You kids take a seat at the table with your grandpa. Breakfast will be up in just a sec,” Sarah said.

Natasha smiled, leading Tony and James over to the table. All three took a seat on the bench against the far wall, watching as Steve took a seat at the end of the table.

“Steven,” the older man at the end of the table said as he folded his newspaper and sat it down. “Your mother and I were thinking of something to do with the grandkids today.”

Tony’s head popped up, looking towards Joe with hopeful eyes.

“What kind of thing?” Steve asked hesitantly.

A clatter from the kitchen brought everyone’s eyes to Sarah as she said, “what about that water park? The one we took Natasha and Clint to a few years ago?”

Now Natasha felt a a spike of hope as she looked towards Steve, eyes pleading for him to say yes.

“I don’t know, ma...” Steve ran a hand over the back of his neck.

“Please please please please please PLEASE can we go?” Tony asked, voice pleading.

Steve sighed, looking at Tony with pursed lips.

Natasha looked over to her grandparents, taking in Sarah’s small smile, as if she was hiding s secret, then Joe with his crystal blue eyes slightly buried under gray eyebrows. With a hesitant look, Natasha turned toward Steve.

“Please, Dad.”

Natasha’s eyes automatically shifted back to her grandparents. She knew she was looking for some sort of reaction unconsciously—Anything that would tell her she needed to go back to silence. But, save for a momentary pause from Sarah in the kitchen, nothing happened.

Steve sighed, sitting back in his seat. “Let me check with your Pop. I don’t think Bruce is ready for something so busy right now, though.”

“Can Pepper and James come?” Tony asked, looking between his friend and Steve.

“And Maria!” Natasha stuck on. “And Phil could watch Bruce while we’re gone!”

“Y’all are cornering me here.” Steve laughed, sitting back up. “I’ll talk to Bucky, but no promises.”

Tony slapped his hands against the table in excitement.

“Well, go on, then. I’ve got hungry kids to feed!” Sarah said, waving for him to get out.

Steve stood, dodging a playful swing from a dish towel as he walked back into the hallway.

Natasha smiled as she saw Sarah throw the towel over her shoulder the same way Steve always did.

Tony settled into some conversation with his friend after he ran into the living room to grab some figure Natasha vaguely recognized from a cartoon.

“How’s school been for you, mouse.” Joe asked after taking a sip of his coffee.

Natasha’s lip quirked at the nickname. She had been dubbed “Mouse” after they had first come to meet her and Clint. Natasha had thought it was to be cruel at first, mocking her silence, but it turned out to be from the fact that Natasha had been wearing a pink polka-dot dress, just like Mini Mouse.

Natasha shrugged. “Okay.”

“I’ve heard it’s been better than okay,” Sarah chuckled from the kitchen. “Steve said something about you making honor-roll!”

Natasha nodded. “Yeah, Maria has been helping me with history.”

“We’re proud of you all the same.” Joe winked. “Which is why it’s all that more important that we get everyone to do something fun today!”

“Dad didn’t seem all that thrilled.” Natasha laughed.

Joe’s lips went down with an oh-well look. “Guess we’ll just have to get you into the car before he notices.”

Natasha giggled, shaking her head. She liked Joe, even when she didn’t talk. He was soft and kind with a look that just screamed openness. He was just like Steve. Or Steve was just like him. Either way, Natasha liked him.

Sarah started pulling plates out of the cabinet as she called for Natasha to help set the table.

When they all sat down to eat, Natasha could see the pained faces of Steve and Bucky as they looked toward each other—as if sharing a conversation in nothing but glances. Natasha was too busy trying to watch it out of the side of her eyes to really pay attention to Tony, James, and Clint who were all raging about a video game they found.

Steve poked his fork trough his pancakes and took a bite as he shook his head. Natasha knew that to be the defeated look he got every time he an Bucky got into a tiff about something.

“Alright, guys,” Bucky smiled, wiping his hands on a napkin before setting his elbows on the table and crossing his arms. “Here’s what’s gonna happen today. Grandma, grandpops and I are going to take you three, James, Pepper, and Maria to the water park today.”

Everyone cheered in unison, reaching across the table for fist bumps.

“Eh, eh, there is a catch.” Bucky said, holding his finger up. “To go, your rooms need to be picked up. I want toys and books put back in their place, and everything organized.”

Bucky glanced around the table, meeting everyone’s eyes with one eyebrow above the other. “Deal?”

“Deal!” They said in unison.

Natasha stifled laughter at her brothers as they threw their hands in the air.

“All right. Help gramma clean up and then get to cleaning, okay?” Steve said as he stood up with his plate.

Natasha had never seen Clint and Tony jump up so quickly, leaving behind a confused James.

Bucky asked James to help Sarah in the kitchen before starting up the stairs. Natasha followed, surprised to see Tony in Clint’s room, tossing things across the room for Clint to put away.

“What’s all this?” Natasha asked, leaning against the door jam.

“Clint said—“ a huff as Tony lifted a text book and handed to Clint, “—if we help clean each other’s rooms—“ dropping to his knees, Tony started to gather loose LEGO Bricks that were scattered across the floor, “—we’d get to the water park sooner.”

Natasha nodded her head with purses lips, thinking. “That’s a good idea, actually.”

“I know, right!” Clint smiled. He staked a few more books back onto the shelves above his desk, narrowly missing his alarm clock with his elbow. “I do have this sometime.”

Natasha laughed, pushing off the wall and walking towards a pile of clothes that were stacked outside the closet.

It really did work. Everything was put away and clean enough to pass Steve’s inspection within and hour.

Natasha went to knock on Steve and Bucky’s door to tell them everything was ready when she heard bused whispers. She lowered her hand, and pressed an ear to the door lightly, so as not to open it.

“Are you sure this is the best idea?” Bucky asked.

Natasha heard Steve sigh along with the flop of fabric on the floor. “This will be the best way. Wilson and I will grab some of the hard evidence against Stane like we talked about, and you can make sure the kids stay out of the way.”

“That’s a harsh way to put it.” Bucky scorned.

“You know how I meant it. I don’t want anyone to get caught up in this, especially not the kids. In the off chance Stane is looking for vengeance of some sort, it’s best to keep Tony away from any place Stane would think he’d be.”

Bucky let out a long sigh. “Alright. Be safe.”

Two click came from the room, and then a third. Natasha wasn’t sure what from, but something about it made her worry.

Who would be after Tony? And what did this have to do with his teacher?

She didn’t get the chance to think it through as Bucky pulled open the door.

Natasha stood up, trying to keep the word off her face.

“Hey, what’s up.”

“Our rooms are done.” Natasha said as calmly as she could.

“Thanks for letting me know. I’ll get you dad to look through them in a sec, okay? Make sure everything’s put away.”

Natasha nodded, running back into Clint’s room. She wanted to spill and tell them everything she’d heard, but looking at her brothers as they fought dinosaurs made her not want to spoil the moment. News like that... it might ruin the whole day.

Tony and Clint had already had a hard year. They deserved a day of fun. So Natasha steeled herself, and smile as she told them to double check their rooms.

Chapter Text

“Steve, son, I’ve got it. This isn’t the first time I’ve watched Bruce.” Phil said, a hand on both shoulders. “You’ve got to meet up with Willson. The longer you’re here, the more time Stane has to hide evidence.”

Steve sighed, looking into Phil’s almost gray eyes. He was worried, and he was stalling.

Stealing a glance back toward the living room where Bruce currently sat with a new tablet, Steve took in a large breath. “You’re right.”

“Go and find what you need to put this dirtbag where he belongs.” Phil pushes Steve towards the door.

Steve gave a forced smile, and walked out to his Dodge.

-.-.-.-

“Everyone needs to pick a buddy, okay?” Bucky said as he adjusted the heavy bag on his shoulder. “You stay with them for the rest of the day.”

Bucky dropped the three overloaded beech bags on the ground, flinching slightly at the sound they made.

“We’re going to stay in the main pool area for a bit and then we’ll walk to some of the rides together, okay?” Bucky looked over his shoulder to watch the kids nod, too busy digging through their bags for goggles and dive sticks to really hear what anyone was saying.

Bucky rolled his eyes and flopped down on the lounge chair, watching as Joe sat in the one on his left.

“You seem a little stressed,” Joe chuckled, sliding his sandals off.

“It’s just the first time we’ve brought the kids here in awhile.” Bucky shrugged. He had been counting heads ever since they’d all gotten in the van.

Three of his own kids seemed like enough, but with James, Pepper and Maria, and then the last minute addition of Thor because Loki wasn’t feeling well and Darcy did want them to both get sick, meant he was watching seven kids. As if a pool wasn’t dangerous enough.

“It’ll be great. The kids will have loads of fun, and be all worn out tonight. Memorial Day is tomorrow, too. This is just what the doctor ordered for some summer-time fun!”

Bucky rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help the smile that was stretching across his face. It had been a long time since he’d been out with the kids just to have some fun. Maybe today was good for all of them.

Watching Tony put his goggles backwards told Bucky to still keep an eye out.

-.-.-.-

Edwin felt his wife squeeze his hand as they both took in a large breath of air. Wilson had told them that there was a new lead, and he had to meet with them immediately. Edwin had dropped everything and rushed home.

Ana jumped next to him as the doorbell went off, and Edwin rushed towards the door. With a twist and a yank, five people suddenly stood in their entryway.

“Good ol’ Ed.” Wilson smile, lading a hand on Edwin’s shoulder. “How’s it hanging?”

“Wade, now is not the time for you to be a snark.” The woman from before said with a sigh.

Wade rolled his eyes, pushing past Edwin and toward the living room.

“It’s good to see you again, Mr Jarvis. Mrs Jarvis.” The woman smiled, holding out a hand to each one in turn.

“This is Sam Wilson—no relation—Steve Rogers, and Peggy Carter. They’re here to explain everything and the plan.”

“The plan?” Edwin asked, holding out and arm to in a welcoming gesture towards the living room.

“We have much to discuss.” The woman said, her face flat and almost sorrowful.

Edwin could feel that it was going to be a very long day indeed.

-.-.-.-

Clint laughed, pushing Tony and Natasha’s hands away as they reached towards him with their metal spoons from the food court.

They had realized, after a paperclip for god-knows-where had gotten stuck to the side of his head, that the Implants worked with magnets, which meant most metal things would stick to them. Including metal spoons.

Clint finally gave up, letting his brother and sister stick one spoon on either side of his head. Though he couldn’t hear it without his CIs in, he could feel the laughter of his group of friends.

“You look like a backwards seal.” Natasha signed, her face still red with laughter.

Clint stuck out his tongue as he flicked his hands around. “You look like the butt of a seal.”

Now Clint could feel as Maria and Natasha hit the tables with their hands, laughing their butts off.

“We should go show papa!” Tony signed, looking at Clint excitedly.

To be honest, Clint was amazed at how well Tony had picked up on sign. They had been teaching him for a while, but these past two days he had become immensely better. Even Pepper, Maria, and James had picked up on it. Thor knew most of it because of his little brother. Said it was easier for Loki to talk with his hands.

For once, Clint didn’t have to feel shy about saying something. He was laughing in a group of friends, following the conversation, and didn’t looks like a crazy person waving his hands. Although, the spoons on the side of his head probably negated the last one.

With the way everyone was laughing, how could Clint say no?

They all walked over to their group of chairs where grandma, grandpa, and Bucky all sat. He could tell the others were trying to stifle their laughter as Clint walked up to Bucky, tapped his shoulder, and asked for the time.

Bucky looked at his watch quickly, looking back up to sign before stopping dead.

“What’s on your head?” Bucky asked, then reached up to tilt Clint’s head to the side and get a better view.

Someone must have said something because Bucky’s face twisted into an amused question of “really?”

Clint looked over his shoulder to find everyone kneeling over and laughing their butts off again. The spoons were kind of starting to hurt, but everyone was having too much fun for him to care.

-.-.-.-

“What do you mean you adopted Anthony?” Ana asked, almost screeching. “You have no legal right!”

Steve let out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. Wade hadn’t told him anything about this.

“This isn’t what’s important right now!” Wade yelled over the escalating commotion. “There is a little boy in danger. We need to keep him safe, and the only way to do that is by working together.”

The room quieted, something Steve was thankful for. They had been here for an hour trying to gather every face and piece of the story. Wade hadn’t been lying when he said a tapestry isn’t made with a single rope.

The more Steve found out about the circumstances around the Stark’s death, the more his stomach churned and mouth filled with an unwelcome taste.

“What’s the plan, then.” Sam asked.

Steve wasn’t really sure how Sam had gotten roped into this whole plan. Wade had insisted he be a part, but never why.

“First, find out where he lives.” Wade smacked a sheet of paper on the table. “Boom! Then, find out where he works!” Another sheet of paper. “Boom!”

“Then, find out what he wants!” A third piece of paper, this time a copy of the drawing Tony had done the other night. “Boom! And then, finally, why?”

This time the room was filled with silence as a blank paper with “why?” written out in sharpie was placed down. It sat on top of the other papers, along with the files they had all gathered.

“Didn’t we already know why?” Sam asked. “Stane wanted the information. That’s why he was doing all of this.”

“No, there’s something bigger here. Stane is a pawn, just like that social worker.” Wade dug through a file, looking for something.

“I see what you were saying about MI-6.” Peggy huffed, shifting her weight to her left.

“What else could possibly be going on here?” Steve asked.

Wade huffed, pausing his shuffling to look at Steve as he held up a hand and said, “Look. I know this sounds like some crazy consericy. Call the Youtubers, Illuminati confirmed. But this is what I do. Everything is caused by something else. Someone has Stane under their thumb. The same person that pushed the Stark off the road, the same person that pulled Tony from the hospital, and the same person who played social worker.

“There is someone working to get what they want, and they’ve been trying for years.”

“What about the Hammers?” Edwin supplied. “That company has been trying to take of Jarvis Industries since we started.”

“The Hammers?” Steve asked. “As in Justin Hammer?”

“Yes. He’s a despicable man, always out to steal ideas. Even from his own people.” Edwin scoffed. “He makes every researcher sign a contract that says they own nothing they create in the lab.”

“Man? He’s eight?” Steve could feel his face furrow with confusion.

“Justin Hammer Jr may be eight, but his father is not.” Edwin clarified. “How do you know him?”

“Tony’s in the same class.” Steve felt a rock settle in his gut. “Justin must have told his dad about Tony when he first got to class.”

“That’s how he found out about Tony being placed in a good home. Hammer wasn’t tracking him, but suddenly he was in the same class as his son.” Wade’s eyes went wide. “What if Senior told Junior to start that fight with Tony the first time? So he’d have a reason to come down to the school and see for himself.”

“That man has a lot of power. It wouldn’t be anything for him to get that lawsuit to go away.” Peggy filled in.

“He’s also under investigation after some of his weapons were discovered starched an a cave is Afghanistan.” Edwin said as he turned around, looking for something. He snatched up an old paper, holding it out to the group as he found the page. “The FBI and CIA are getting along well enough to share information, so you know there’s something there.”

The group spent a moment to take in the headline and picture.

“So now we know why.” Wade said quietly. “There are a lot of people that would pay good money for information on spies.”

“And a lot of good lives at risk if we don’t stop him.” Peggy said, tone steady and firm, just like she had been back in the day.

“Now,” Wade said, flopping down on the couch and leaning back with his fingers knitted together. “It’s time for a plan.”

-.-.-.-

Bucky took a breath in, trying to relax as he watched Clint jump into the water. It may have been slightly over protective, but Bucky made sure to watch him like a hawk anytime they went somewhere with a large group of people. Bucky was terrified of the thought of Clint getting lost and having no way to communicate that he was.

He knew it stemmed from before Clint had implants where he could barely understand what was being said to him in total silence, much less with screaming kids in the background.

Still, old habits die hard.

“They are all just having a hoot and a half!” Sarah said beside him.

Bucky smiled, nodding his head. “Yeah, this was a good idea.”

Sarah smiled, slapping his knee a few times gently. “We old folk do have those sometimes.”

Bucky smirked, shaking his head back and forth.

He looked back over just in time to see Natasha’s stunning spin into the water. Graceful as ever. A few of the kids at the park were starting to join in on the fun, as well, and it seemed like they were rating each other’s jumps. Each kid would jump, and pop right back up with an expectorant smile to see how the kid before ranked them.

It was entertaining to watch, if nothing else.

“We never did get the chance to ask you how work’s been going,” Joe said, lowering his sunglasses.

“Oh, it’s been pretty good. One of the men I’ve been working with is about as head strong as they come. He’s determined to use his new prosthetic by the end of the month.”

“Sounds like an old chip of the block.” Sarah chuckled.

Bucky playfully scowled. “I have no idea what you’re referring to.”

“Uh huh,” Joe huffed as he stood up from his seat, “that thing on your shoulders got nothing to do with that hard-ass attitude.”

Bucky chuckled as Sarah smacked Joe with the back of her hand, scolding him for his language.

“Seriously, son. I don’t know how you’re not overheating in that sweater.” Joe shook his head as he walked towards the waiting pool.

Bucky looked down at his shirt with a frown. It was actually a sun-shirt, which kept his shoulder safe from sunburns and his body cool with the thin and well vented fabric. The straps that kept his arm on, however, those were starting to get annoying.

A quick glance around the deck made Bucky force himself through it. Better a little uncomfortable because of the straps than a lot uncomfortable with the stares. Bucky was not a very shy man, but he just never could get comfortable with the idea of kids pointing and asking questions. Even Tony’s questions sometimes got a bit too much.

Bucky reached his right hand up to rub at his left shoulder, taking a deep breath in as he rolled it around to try and remove some of the stiffness. He rolled it one last time, then let it fall with a sigh.

He looked up as he heard James say something about the water being too deep. Bucky watched closely as Clint and Natasha stood in line. Both were strong swimmers, so Bucky wasn’t too concerned about the water depth.

As Clint front flipped into the water, Bucky huffed a small laugh. He was too much like his dad—reckless for the sake of name saving. But, that also came with Steve’s unfaltering loyalty. Clint stood by his friends for life.

He popped back up, swimming to the side and throwing his right elbow in the gutter so he didn’t have to tread water as Natasha took her place.

She took in a breath, closing her eyes as she raised her arms. Bucky knew what she was doing the second her knees bent. She was in the air, reaching her arms out to meet her feet. Bucky still didn’t know what to call it, but it must have been done perfectly. At least by Bucky’s very much not-at-all-biased opinion.

Bucky almost clapped along with the kids, but stopped dead as he watched a familiar red and gold suit that Tony begged them to get with the matching long-sleeve sun-shirt that he wanted to match his papa, run across the deck and jump with all of of his force right into the deepest part of the pool outside of the diving-board area.

Unlike Clint and Natasha and all of the kids had been in the shallow end, Tony didn’t pop up.

Chapter Text

Fh32

Phil looked over the schedule Steve had left on the counter, then glanced up at the clock on the stove. Bruce was about due for talking time, which Steve had explained on the sheet.

“Sit him down with some of Tony’s action figures from the top of the fridge. Bruce knows them all by name, but get him to describe something about them. ‘They’re blue,’ or ‘they’re tall.’ Then give him the toy, and an M&M.”

Phil let out a puff of air. This was for Bruce to use his words more, but the whole things seemed kind of weird. Toys and M&Ms? Still he grabbed the figures from the top of the fridge and the bag of candy from the top shelf in the cup cabinet.

“Hey, Brucie, it’s time for a game.” Phil smiled as he sat down on the floor, laying the toys to one side and leaving the candy in his hands. “Do you remember how to play?”

Bruce instantly reached for the candy, but was thwarted when Phil grabbed his hand gently to stop it.

“You have to earn them, right.” Phil put the candy behind his back, and let go of Bruce’s hand.

Bruce’s brow furrowed in anger, but softened as Phil held up one of the figures.

“Who’s this?”

Bruce rolled his head, shaking his hands. Phil couldn’t help the connection his brain made between the action and a scene for The Ring.

“Su-pa-mann,” Bruce said, reaching for the figure.

Phil nodded, letting Bruce have the figure.

“Tony.” Bruce said, holding the figure back out.

“Tony’s not here.” Phil forced a smile. “Just you and me.”

“Tony.” Bruce repeated, standing this time and walking towards the stairs.

Phil’s eyebrows knitted together as he pushed himself back up, bones cracking in protest.

He was getting too old to be sitting on the floor.

With a distant reminder from Steve, Phil followed Bruce. Something about asking either-or questions? Steve had said Bruce was getting enough to be able to do small bits like that.

“Are you looking for Tony or something else?” Phil asked, plugging in questions with Steve’s format.

“Else.” Bruce grabbed on to the railing and pulled himself up the first couple of stairs.

Phil followed. “Are you wanting to grab some of Tony’s toys or something else?”

“Else,” Bruce repeated, finally at the top of the stairs. He straightened and walked towards his room.

It wasn’t time for a nap, and Phil wasn’t even sure Steve was still doing that with Bruce. Still, he stood in the door way and watched as Bruce went into his room and flopped down on his stomach next to Tony’s bed.

Phil watched as Bruce reached an arm under his bead and pulled a box back out. Bruce sat up, pulling open the tabs and reaching in to pull out a thin book.

“Tony.” Bruce repeated, placing it on the floor.

Phil walked into the room, crouching down to look at the early math books with Tony’s name written across the top. Only, someone had crossed out Tony’s name and the book now had “BrUcE” written in large purple letters across the top.

“Did Tony give these to you or someone else?” Phil asked, setting the book down as Bruce grabbed a few more.

“Tony.”

Bruce looked up for a fraction of a second, just long enough for Phil to see... something. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something there.

When Bruce looked back into his box to pull more things out, it hit Phil. That was a small sliver of Bruce’s smile.

Was Bruce... being a smart ass?

“Of course Tony gave them to me, who else did you think would?”

Phil huffed in amusement, pure wonder plastered on his face. That’s exactly what Bruce was doing. The same snarky attitude Maria was starting to get as she grew into her early teens.

For the most part, Bruce was pretty easy that afternoon. A bit of time on his workbooks, a snack after lunch, and Bruce was happy to set about organizing computer parts with his free hour. Phil found a certain kind of fascination in watch the way Bruce’s mind worked as he hummed an unknown tune to himself and laid out bags.

Bruce didn’t often invite others to play with him, but he never seemed to mind if someone came in to help. Phil had seen what happens when someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing tries to help, however, and decided to let Bruce go in on his own.

After hearing about everything Bruce had been through, it was amazing to see him happy and content. His father had been abusive, physically going after his mother. The news said that she snapped one day, and the courts treated it as such. But Bucky had told Phil that the action was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. She had planned every step, even seeing to Bruce so that he wasn’t in the house.

With a sigh, Phil tired to push the memory back down. The important thing was that Bruce wasn’t there. He was only three at the time. He spent a year in the system before Bucky and Steve took him in. It only took two months for them to make up their minds to sign the forms that made it official.

Bruce’s mother has signed away her rights simi-reluctantly. But when Bucky and Steve explained that they still wanted Bruce to have a relationship with her, she seemed a lot more willing. It’s still another five years before she can appeal for parole, and another four before she gets out if he’s denied. But Steve and Bucky send pictures when they can.

Steve believed that everyone deserves a second chance.

The sound of falling metal pulled Phil out of his thoughts and back towards Bruce.

The boy stood in the middle of a pile of baggies, holding up what looked to be an old toy dog as he reached down to move the basket that had been holding all of it. Phil chuckled, watching as Bruce sat down on the floor and reached for a screw driver.

After living with two girls, the quietness of Bruce was a bit unsettling. But, if he listened real close, he could hear Bruce humming to himself. Phil smiled.

Today was turning out to be a really good day.

Chapter Text

Steve took a deep breath in and released it slowly. The car was filled with silence, the only sound coming from the tires on the road. He was happy he wasn’t driving, if only for the fact that his hands were cold.

Everything had lead up to this, months of research into Tony’s past, years of him suffering, the weeks of planning. All of it put Steve in this exact moment.

Peggy had used her connections to the police force to insure that Steve, Wade, and Vanessa were not treated as suspects. As soon as the cops came in, the entire place would erupt into pandemonium.

Wade has tracked Stane down to a warehouse by the docks. The plan was simple—find Stane, get evidence, and leave.

“No one stays longer than they have to, and no one sticks around if things get dicy. No man left behind.”

There was a small part of Steve that sympathize with Wade’s demands. The same part that understood a fellow vet. The other part, however, was mad that he’s been throw in as look out. Tony was his son, and no one wanted to catch these fuckers more than him.

Still, as the car pulled to the side a hundred yards from the wearhouse, Steve nodded when Wade looked over his shoulders to silently confirm that everyone knew their place. They were all here for Tony, and Steve needed to keep that in mind.

Sam threw open the passenger side door, jumping out and running towards a stack of pallets closer to the building. Peggy followed, her familiar crouch finding its way across the open area.

Wade drove the car up and past the wearhouse to the dock side. He looked back at Steve, raising a single brow. With Steve’s nod, he was out the driver’s door with Vanessa hot on his heels.

Steve jumped out of the back and into the driver’s seat, letting the door close as he drive closer to the docks and swung the car around.

All he could do now is wait.

-.-.-.-

Tony felt his head go underwater, the world plunging into silence. For a brief moment, he wondered if this was how Clint felt when he didn’t have his CIs on. It almost would have been pleasantly sober had his lungs not started to beg for air.

All he could do was hold his breath and keep his eyes closed tight. His chest hurt. It felt like he had been under for hours. All of the kicking and pulling he had done with Clint washed away as his brain went into overdrive. Trashing didn’t help at all.

When he felt the solid block of concert under his feet and a small memory form years ago came forth. He was small, younger than Bruce, and sitting on the side of a pool. A woman stood in front of him, hands held out as she smiled. Tony had grabbed the hands, and the woman lowered him into the water.

“Remember to push off like a frog!” She said, then let Tony sink under the water.

Fear faded away as Tony used the last of his breath to push off from the bottom, the water resistance pushing against his body, but not enough to slow him down before he broke the surface.

Just as he managed to take a breath, a large arm wrapped tightly around him. Tony coughed a few times, taking in large breaths and clinging tightly to the arm.

A loud whistle sounded, and Tony could hear the splashes die down around him. It was only when he cracked his eyes open that he noticed people were getting out. He wondered why for a moment as he looked down at the arm, recognizing Bucky’s metal prosthetic where the long-sleeved shirt has ridden up.

“Is he okay?” A voice asked.

“Can you pull him out, please.” Bucky asked. He sounded winded.

Before Tony could do anything about it, two hands had him under the armpits and he was being pulled out of the water and laid down on the ground. Tony blinked a few times to see the familiar red of a lifeguard suit as the man wearing it crouched down and placed two fingers on his neck.

Tony recoiled, slapping at the hand as he pushed himself away.

“Tony, it’s okay, it’s okay. He’s just doing his job.” Bucky said.

A moment later, Bucky was above him, his hair falling lose from a bun and dripping down. He placed a hand on Tony’s stomach, rubbing his hand back and forth.

“Pop, pop, is he okay?” Clint’s voice was slurred, but still coherent.

Tony said would have said he was okay, but words won’t come as he shook violently and tried to push himself up. A hand went on his back to brace as he sat up.

“Did you breath in any water or did you hold your bubble?” The lifeguard asked.

Tony shook his head no, looking at the empty pool

Bucky moved his head to block Tony’s view, asking, “did you hit anything?”

Tony shook his head, eyes falling to his hands as they shook.

“We’ll have to fill out a form for legal purposes,” the guard said with a relived sigh, “but he looks okay to me.”

Bucky nodded, then looked back at Tony. “Let’s all go sit with Grandma and Grandpa for a bit, okay.”

Tony hadn’t noticed Natasha and Clint standing so close, or their group of friends circling around. He almost wished they weren’t there. Their eyes were making him nervous.

Bucky stood up, then hefted Tony up with his right arm treaded through Tony’s armpits, bracing him on a hip.

Tony leaned his head against Bucky’s shoulder and tired to breath. He would never want his face in water again.

Bucky sat down on his longe chair in the shade, and Tony felt a towel drape over his shoulders. He quickly grabbed the sides and wrapped himself up in hopes of blocking off the cold.

“Oh, dear. Is he okay?” Sarah asked.

A soft hand started rubbing at Tony’s back, something Tony might have clinched away from had it not felt so nice.

“I think he’s just a bit shaken up.” Bucky said.

Tony didn’t really agree. He was a lot shaken up.

“Should we start packing up?” Joe asked.

Tony could feel as Bucky sighed. He knew Bucky would most likely say yes, for Tony’s sake. But Tony didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to be the reason everyone went home. So he took matters into his own hands.

“No.”

Bucky seemed slightly surprised as he asked, “Tony, are you sure? You don’t have to stay. You and me or Grandma or Grandpa could go back home and wait for everyone else.”

As nice as that sounded, Tony didn’t want to go home. He wanted to stay and have fun with everyone. He wasn’t some scared little baby.

“Okay, but if you want to go home, you just tell me.” Bucky ran a hand how Tony’s back, the touch just a bit past gentle. That felt nice, too.

Tony nodded, leading his face back in to Bucky’s chest. He was going to wait a while before getting back in.

A loud whistle blew again, and To y could hear splashes as people jumped back in.

“You all go on and play. I’m sure Tony will be along soon.” Joe said with a smile.

“We’ll be by the slides, okay?” Natasha asked.

Tony peaked his eyes open to find his sister right next to Bucky. Her green eyes were sharp as ever, but filled with the kind of worry only an older sibling could have.

He nodded his head.

Natasha gave a soft and reassuring smile, then leafy with the others.

Tony only watched long enough to see the group walk over to the slides before he let his eyes close. He really wished he had brought Bucky-bear.

Then again, he had the real thing. Bucky was soft and firm. Tony could make due with being snuggled on him. Just for a minute, though. Until he was ready to play.

-.-.-.-

Buck squeezed Tony tighter to his chest as the lifeguard cane over to collect information. It was just a formality, but the idea of Tony actually drowning frightened him more than he was willing to admit. Even as he was talking to the guard, he didn’t take his eyes off his kids for a single second.

“You did everything right.” The guard said.

Bucky looked at him for a moment with a questioning look.

The guard shrugged as he clipped the pen back to his board. “Working this job as long as I have, I’ve seen a lot of parents that could have saved their kids had they been paying attention. None of the kids were hurt, but the parents weren’t able to help because they weren’t watching.”

Bucky’s eyes furrowed. “People actually do that.”

The guard nodded with a huff. “I’ve seen parents of five year olds fall asleep and let their kids run amuck. It’s scary, but that doesn’t stop it from happening.”

Bucky sat on that for a moment as he watched Natasha jump into the pool, followed by Maria’s spinning cannonball.

He watched diligently, but let his mind drift for a moment. Steve still hadn’t texted or called, which meant that everything was still going down. All Bucky could hope for was that everyone came back okay.

-.-.-.-

“Get down!” Sam’s voice echoed across the wearhouse, followed by the ping of bullets hitting steel.

“How many are there?” Wade asked, looking from around a wooden crate.

“At least three.” Peggy replied. “Maybe four.”

“We need to get out of here.” Vanessa said, gun held low with her finger just off the trigger.

Wade shook his head. “No, not when we’re so close. There’s more on the line that is here.”

“We don’t have time for you to play hero!” Vanessa almost yelled. Three more shots rang out, sounding louder than anything could possibly be in the metal walls.

“He’s right,” San cut in. “We can’t just stop here.”

Vanessa let out a groan and threw her head back. “Then how do you suppose we get through a pack of AK’s?”

Wade thought for a moment, listening as more shot fired. One of the bullets tore the side of the wood crate. He needed to think fast.

“Stop your fire!” A voice yelled. The shots stopped, draping the wearhouse into an uncomfortable silence. “Why don’t you just come out so we can handle this as civilized people.”

“Call Steve.” Wade whispered. “Tell him to ram through the north side, second door. I’ve got a plan. But wait for my signal.”

With that, Wade jumped up and let his position be known.

Four guns trailed on him the instant they heard movement, and Wade’s mind ran through training types until he found the one that matched. Russians, it was. Always with their damn feet.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen.” Wade gave them a grin. “Fine afternoon for a shoot out, don’t you think?”

Stands fat face twisted into a sneer. “I’d rather it not come to that, if I’m being honest.”

“I believe we agree on something, then.” Wade stepped forward, narrowly avoiding Peggy’s legs. Wade kept his eyes on Stane, avoiding the possibility that the men would notice a brief look down and start firing.

“And how did you find your way here, praytell.”

“Little birdy told me I’d find you here. Was wondering if you wanted to save fifteen percent of more on car insurance.” Wade took several steps forward, now standing barely ten feet away from the closest gunman.

Stane’s eyes narrowed. “Who sent you?”

Wade smirked, and deepen his voice as he said, “What if I told you that no one sent me?”

All four guns raised as Wade tried to gain more ground, stopping him cold in his tracks. Wade raised his hands. “Down, boy. I’m not going to hurt your owner.”

The gun mane repositioned his rifle, face stern. Good, Wade was getting them angry. Angers people make mistakes.

It looked as if Stane was going to respond when the sound of a car rolling through the open door to his left echoed through the warehouse. Two of the gunmen aimed towards the upcoming car, the other two keeping the muzzle pointed in Wade’s direction.

The black GMC Yukon rolled in with an aura of evil. The feeling caused shivers to run down Wade’s back as he saw the door open. Out stepped three more gunmen, these one’s wearing sunglasses to cover their eyes and gloves to hide their hands. There was hardly a single identifying mark beside their hair color. Even with that, Wade wasn’t able to tell if it was lighting or an actual difference.

Finally, a large man dressed in a tan trench coat stepped out of the back. Hammer took off gloves as he stood, snapping then into his hand with a loud sound that could only be true leather. He stuffed them into his pocket before looking up. He took several steps forward, eyes narrowing at the sight of Wade.

“I said no visitors.” Hammer growled.

“He’ll be dead soon enough, don’t you worry about that.” Stane looked over to the gunman closest to Wade.

The familiar chill of a barrel placed on his scalp only made Wade all the more certain he would be able to grab traction on this situation very soon.

“Do you have it?” Hammer asked, turning back to Stane.

Stane nodded. “It took a lot of time, but our efforts have finally paid off.” Stane held out his hand and the gunman on his right placed a hard drive into his hand. “Stark’s son turned out to be of great help.”

Hammer’s eyes narrowed, hands firm on his side. He had no plans to be handed the hard drive. “Stark’s son?”

“He’s a little genius, that one. Must be the blood line.” Stane smeared, and Wade’s stomach churned.

Hesitantly, Hammer reaches out his hand. Stane held the device out, and tried not to react as Hammer snatched it out of his hand. Hammer twisted it around in his hand, then held it out to his left. The gunman closest snatched it up and tucked it into his a front pocket on his bullet prof vest.

“The child is no longer of use to us. See to it that none of what he has been doing gets out.” Hammer turned back towards the car and his three gunmen raised their rifles.

“How do you mean that?” Stane asked.

So the man did have a small heart. Killing parents and women was nothing, but a child seemed too much.

Hammer turned his head with a stone cold disposition. “I mean kill him.”

“He’s a child!” Stane yelled.

“He’s a lose end.” Hammer replied

Wade had to think fast, make sure he said something Peggy would understand as a signal. A story that Steve had told them earlier that day popped into his head, and he decided it was his best shot.

“You and your super-solders aren’t getting anywhere near the kid.”

Hammer turned towards Wade, as if just realizing he was still there. “And who do you think is going to stop me?”

Wade smile as he heard tires screech outside, then replied, “His dad.”

Wade threw himself to the floor as a the steal walks caved in and tore apart at the bolts. The car rammed into the side of Stane’s SUV, pushing it several yards back before the momentum was lost. Bullets ran out through the warehouse, pinging off walls and cars. Wade kept his head down as he reached for the gun he had tucked into the hem of his pants.

The man that had been holding an AK to Wade’s head was now face down on the cement floor holding his shortly. Wade took his chance and stood up, aiming the 9-millimeter for one of Hammer’s men who had a rifle at Vanessa. The woman stood her ground, and took the backup to nab another gunman in the chest.

Just as he turned back to see where Hammer was, Wade felt the blood drain from his face as the back car door opened and the small form of a child ran out.

“Cease fire!” Wade yelled, running towards the kid. “Stop!”

But Wade was too slow, and a bullet was shot, hitting the car and ricocheting towards Justin. Time slowed as he saw the tiny form crumple onto the floor. Wade ran, sliding onto the floor and pulling the child with him to cover.

A quick glance told him there were more gunmen that had been hiding. There must have been fifteen different ones, shooting at anything that moved. Wade pulled Justin is close.

“Justin, hey, Justin, I need to to stay up.”

The boy let out a groan, eyes blinking open. He reached a hand up to his shoulder, then stared as it came away covered in the crimson only blood had.

“Hey, you’re okay. You’re okay. My name’s Wade. We’re going to keep you safe.” Wade shook the boy as his eyes fluttered shut. “I need you to stay awake.”

“M—my dad,” Justin muttered, eyes trying to look past Wade and the open car door he was using as cover.

“He’s gonna be okay, and so are you.” Wade hoped to everything above that what he was saying was true.

Sirens erupted into the space, the familiar sound of police-issued boots storming out of cars. The shots died down, yelling voices overtaking the empty space.

Steve ran around the front of the car, his eyes almost looking as if they’d fall into tears at the child resting in Wade’s arms.

“Take him and get him to a hospital.” Wade said, handing over the unsettlingly still child.

Steve nodded without question, throwing Wade his silver Glock before standing and running towards the car.

Wade stood up, his entire body numb.

“Let him go, He’s with me.” Same yelled. Wade looked over to see officers holding off Steve drop their arms. Steve dashed toward the car, leaving Justin in his lap as he jumped into the drivers seat and started the car. A second later, he was gone with a police escort.

“Wade,” Vanessa’s arms wrapped tightly around him.

Wade could hardly feel it, too busy focusing on the distraction in the room. FBI agents were pulling the gunmen up by their bullet prof vests and handcuffing them. Two of them had Stane by the armpit as they dragged him towards a car.

Finally, Wade’s eyes landed on Hammer. The man responsible for all of this. All of this destruction and loss. His selfishness had cost Tony his parents, the Jarvises their friends, a family their daughter, countless others, and even his own son.

“Was it worth it!” Wade found himself yelling as he closed the space between himself and Hammer. “WAS IT WORTH IT.!”

Hammer looked up, apathy covering his face. “I never wanted a son.”

Wade pulled a hand and punched Hammer as hard as he could in the face. It wasn’t enough, but it was something.

“Wade, stop it.” Peggy yelled. “Unless you want to get arrested too.”

The agent holding Hammer looked towards Wade, then at Peggy as he said, “He sustained these injuries durning the shoot out, ma’am.”

Wad looked at the man, a silent thank you held in his eyes.

The agent nodded, and pulled Hammer away.

“Come on,” Vanessa said. “We have some good news to spread.”

Wade nodded, taking his wife’s hand and kissing it softly.

Chapter Text

Fh34

“Don’t freak out, but I’m at the hospital.”

“What?” Bucky almost yelled through the phone. “Are you okay? Is everyone else? Don’t tell me not to freak out and then follow it with that!”

Steve forced a laugh through the phone. “Bucky, I’m okay. Everyone’s okay. We caught Hammer and Stane, and the FBI is working on everything.”

Bucky let out a relived sigh. “Well, that’s good. But why are you at the hospital?”

There was a pause, the kind Bucky recognized from when Steve didn’t want to say what he was about to. Something churned in Bucky’s gut.

“Do you remember the kid that Tony kept getting into fights with?”

Bucky could feel is eyes narrow as he stared at the picnic table. Sarah and Joe were watching the kids as they ran around the splash pad.

“Yeah, why?”

Steve let out a huff. “Hammer brought his son to the meet. Bullets were already flying and Wade tried to get to him, but he was too late.”

Bucky held his breath, unable to help the sick feeling settling in his stomach.

“He’s okay, physically. The bullet bounced off the car before it hit him. Put a nice gash into his shoulder.” Steve paused, and Bucky could hear him talking to someone before he came back on the line. “I’m going to stay with him until a family member can pick him up, but he’ll be okay.”

Bucky let out a sigh of relief. “At least there’s that.”

“How’s everything going there?” Steve asked.

“Okay,” Bucky said, then sighed as he realized that was only mostly true. “Tony got into some deep water, but he’s okay.”

“What?” Steve asked. “What happened?”

Bucky explained how Tony had gotten a bit over his head—literally—but made sure to mention several times that Tony was okay, as were the rest of the kids.

“You jumped in with your arm on?” Steve asked after Bucky has reassured him.

Bucky cringed. Of course Steve wouldn’t miss that part.

“It’s not like I had time to pull it off. I’ll take it and get it looked at later.”

“Buck, that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean that you’re lucky you didn’t sink, too.”

Okay, so, maybe Bucky hadn’t thought that far ahead. In his defense, he wasn’t really worried about himself in that moment.

Steve sighed. “I’ve gotta go. You should take it off, though. I’m sure the straps are going to irritate your skin.”

“Okay,” Bucky tapped his finger on the table. “I love you.”

“Love you too.”

When Steve hung up, Bucky stood from the table and made his way towards the bathroom. As much as he hated to admit it, Steve was right. A quick look in the mirror when he took off his wet shirt revealed irritate skin glowing red.

Bucky rolled his eyes as he sighed, pulling on the straps to get them undone. The one under his arm was a little tricky, but he managed to pull it off. He sat it on the table with a thunk and rubbed at his stump. It didn’t really hurt, but it was nice to run a hard over it anyway.

He threw his shirt back on and grabbed his still-dripping prosthetic.

-.-.-.-

Tony was tired. His head lulled against the window as Grandpa Joe drove the SUV toward home. Today had been a lot of fun. This whole weekend had been a lot of fun. It felt so long, and yet, so short.

James had been picked up by his mom at the park, Grandma Sarah had the girls loaded into her Mazda 6 Coupe, and Tony, Thor, and Clit took the SUV with Grandpa Joe and Bucky. Joe tried to have Sarah take the SUV because there were more girls, but Sarah refused. Something about the car being too big. Tony didn’t understand it.

Tony hadn’t realized his eyes were closed until he felt the car shake back and forth as they pulled into the driveway. He pulled off his seatbelt and followed Clint and Thor inside.

“Hey guys,” Steve smiled, “Have fun?”

Tony nodded as he rubbed his eyes, walking toward Steve with his arms out stretched. Steve grabbed at his armpits and lifted him up.

“Must have been a long day.” Steve chuckled.

Tony let his head flop against Steve’s shoulder, placing his thumb firmly in his mouth.

“They really wore themselves out.” Joe said as he came in, dropping beach bags off to the side in the entry way. “Just played and played and played.”

Steve chuckled. “Looks like it.”

To be honest, Tony didn’t really care about what was going on around him anymore. He was too tired. So he heard some more talking, and then felt Steve walk up the stairs. Tony only opened his eyes for a moment as Steve sat him down, but when Bucky-bear was in his arms, they closed once again.

He wondered, briefly, if Natasha would miss him tonight. He hadn’t been going into her room as much lately, be he still liked to play with her. But he figured she’d be okay. Maybe Clint would stay with her if she needed someone.

-.-.-.-

“So, what now?” Joe asked later that night as they all sat around the table sipping at fresh coffee.

Steve and Bucky didn’t want to tell them what happened, but figured they deserved to know. After all, the grandparents were the ones guarding the children from everything that happened today. It had taken a while for Steve’s parents to gain the color back in their faces.

Joe was, by no means, a stoic man. But he was composed, the same way Steve was. He would wait until everything was on the table to form his feelings on the issue.

“I was wondering the same thing,” Phil said from the end of the table, grunting as he sat up to place his elbows on the surface and leaned forward. “Sorry, Bruce kept me busy today.”

“I’m not sure.” Bucky sighed, rubbing at his arm stump. The water had done something to his prosthetic, and Steve had insisted he just take it off. “We offered to take in Justin until his family could be notified, but I don’t think he’ll be out of the hospital for a while.”

“What about Tony?” Edwin asked from the end of the table.

“What do you mean?” Steve asked.

“I believe Anna and I should be involved in his life. He’s been missing for five years and we haven’t even seen him yet.”

Bucky nodded. “We want you involved as well, but we need to talk to his therapist to see what’s the best course of action in this situation. The last thing we want to do is cause more problems.”

“This doesn’t change that he is the sole heir to Jarvis Industries.” Edwin said. “He will need private lessons and—“

“Woah, woah, woah, woah.” Steve said, holding up his hands. “Tony isn’t going anywhere. He’s at a great school already.”

“He will need to learn how to run a company.” Edwin replied.

“What he needs is to learn how to be a kid, first.” Bucky said. “He doesn’t deserve to be throw in to a life where he doesn’t get a choice. That’s not what we teach our kids.”

Edwin looked as if he was goin to respond, but Anna’s hand on top of his seemed to cute him off.

“What do you suppose we do?” Anna asked.

Steve and Bucky shared a look. Steve sighed, looking at the table in thought and then back up. “Love him. Support him. Show him you care.”

“That’s all any of us can do.” Bucky filled in. “For all of them.”

A silence of solidarity filled the room.

“Don’t tell Tony about the company.” Anna said quietly. “You are right—he needs to be a child first. And, when the time comes, we will tell him.”

“There’s going to be a lot of questions.” Bucky sighed. “And tonight won’t be the end of it. There will be trials and hearings and appeals—“

“We’re pretty good at answering questions.” Edwin smiled, cutting Steve off. “And we will provide any legal services you all may require. Hammer will not get out of everything he has done.”

“We all better get some sleep. I’m sure we’ll have some very hyper kids on our hands tomorrow.” Sarah smiled, pushing her chair out as she stood up.

The table nodded, following her.

Chapter Text

Tony grabbed his backpack and swung it over his shoulder as he stepped out of the car. The campus was massive, way bigger than Tony had made it out to be. Even the tour hadn’t prepared him for this.

 

“Tony! Come on, grab your stuff. We don’t have long to unload.” Steve said as he pulled a suitcase out of the trunk.

 

Tony jogged over, taking the case from Steve with a trouble-causing grin and standing back.

 

Steve glared at him playfully, going back to pull out a storage bin. “Steal the easy part why don’t you.”

 

“I have heart problems, remember.” Tony replied.

 

“There’s only so many years you can use that, you know.” Buck chuckled as he came around and headed towards the front door, Steve and Tony following.

 

“Yeah, but I haven’t reached that cusp yet.” Tony shot back, walking up to a table with a sign that read “sign in” in big red letters.

 

He got his key and walked to the elevator.

 

“Room 404?” Steve asked, looking back at Bucky. “Sounds like it’s gonna give you a lot of trouble. Nothing’s going to work.”

 

“Har har har.” Tony mocked, rolling his eyes as he stuck the key into the lock and turned. The room was, by not definition, big. Two beds on wood frames sat in the middle of the room, stripped bare.

 

“Ooh, homey.” Bucky joked, pushing his way into the room and dropping the bin on the bed.

 

Tony shrugged. “It’s not like I’ll ever be here, anyway.”

 

Steve rolled his eyes as he walked back to the door. “Then why are we paying for you to have a dorm room?”

 

“Gotta have parties somewhere.” Tony said, a little disappointed when he only got a glare from Bucky and nothing else.

 

Unloading the car didn’t take long and when they were finished, Steve went to move the car as Tony and Bucky started unpacking. Posters were hung on the wall, the bed dressed in new bedding, clothes put into drawers, books unloaded onto the desk, and lights hung around Tony’s side of the room. Tony had argued against the fairy lights at first, but Steve knew that Tony was secretly in love with them.

 

The fact that Natasha hung lights in her room had nothing to do with his opinion on them.

 

A knock on the door brought attention to a kid at the door. He was alone, standing with a box in his arms and a slightly-nervous look.

 

“Hey! You must be Stephan.” Tony greeted. “I’m Tony.”

 

Stephan gave a small wave. “Yeah, it’s nice to finally meet you.”

 

The room fell into a simi-awkward silence until Steve clapped his hands lightly.

 

“I believe it is time for us to leave and let you get to studying.” Steve said, waving at Stephan before they walked out of the room.

 

Tony chased after them, tackling them both in a hug.

 

Bucky let out a groan of pain, saying. “You’re getting too big or that.”

 

“Ah, you’d miss it.” Tony laughed, letting them go.

 

Steve smiled and nodded. “We will.”

 

“Tell Brucie I’ll be home soon, okay. And Natasha and Clint to stop being buttheads.” Tony said. He was trying his best to not let the heat he felt behind his eyes turn into tears.

 

“We will.” Bucky smiled, ruffling Tony’s hair. “Try to behave. We’ll only bail you out once.”

 

Tony smiled, sniffling as he said, “No promises.”

 

Tony watched them walk to towards the parking lot, still not breaking contact several minutes after they had dissapeared.

 

“You close to your parents?” Stephan asked as he pulled things out of boxes and put them away.

 

“Yeah, we are.” Tony said as he smiled back.

 

Stephan looked like he was about to say something until his door slammed open and a man stood in the doorway. His blond hair, something he clearly took time to style, was sticking up and his face was beat red as if he’d been running for hours. A feeling of familiarity came across Tony, but he couldn’t place who it was.

 

“I knew you’d be here.” The man said, eyes like ice that shot straight to Tony’s core.

 

Then, just as quick as he’d been there, he was gone.

 

Tony looked over to Stephan, silently asking if he saw that too.

 

“Who was that?” He asked.

 

Tony school his head. “I have no idea.”

 

Stephan looked back at the door once more, shrugging as he placed on last thing on his desk and said, “Freshman events are about to start. We should get going.”

 

Tony nodded, the cold feeling in his gut sticking with him as he jumped off the window seal and followed after Stephan.

 

Steve was right. College was going to be full of new things.