Chapter 1: Surprise
It was the middle of the night and Bucky was sitting in the living room with Steve, staring at the little boy in his arms, still reeling with the knowledge that he was a father.
The entire ordeal wasn’t strictly legal and had happened in the span of four days. They had run into a scared looking woman at a bakery who had pulled them into an alley and showed them her young son who was hiding behind a trash bin, and begged them to take him. She begged perfect strangers to please take her boy and never contact her, never look for her.
Steve and Bucky learned that the boy was the younger brother in a family. His older brother was in the hospital because he had been caught trying to kill his younger brother. For years their parents had been scared of their oldest and now they feared for their youngest’s life. So in a desperate move, the woman and her husband had each taken the train and a bus in different directions, to towns they had never heard of, in an attempt to find someone to take their boy and give him a safe life.
“But why us?” asked Steve, there in that alley where the young boy – five years old according to the woman – was holding on to his mother’s leg, one thumb in his mouth.
“I saw you two together,” said the woman. “You seem like decent humans. You’re gay, so the odds of you having smaller children are slim so there’s less of a chance of the boy having the same dangers. And I’m so sorry, but you just look strong, so if Obi does every find him, you’ll be able to protect him. Please.”
“We can’t just take a nameless child,” protested Bucky.
“Name him anything you like, I can’t tell you his name in case Obi finds out,” said the woman with tears in her eyes. “I have this document, we’ve signed it and explained everything. I know it’s not legal but I will never come back, never bring this up again. But I have every document drawn up by a good friend who is an amazing forger, all you have to do is sign and write a name. Please. If I take the boy back, he will be killed and I won’t be able to help.”
Looking in her desperate eyes, Steve and Bucky knew she was telling the truth, which was how they found themselves sitting with the little boy who had rung their doorbell just two hours ago, all alone with nothing. The woman had been adamant about not being seen anywhere near them or their home, and had sent the child to them, they found out, on a bus. In the middle of the night.
“What are we doing?” whispered Bucky, looking at his husband, completely lost and utterly in love.
“Something crazy,” replied Steve just as softly.
They both looked down at the boy who had attached himself to Bucky. When they had opened the door to see the boy standing on their doorstep, Bucky had been the first to react. He knelt down and smiled at him, introducing himself again and before he knew it the kid was lifting his arms in the universal signal to be picked up and Bucky didn’t even hesitate.
“What would you like to be called?” asked Steve kindly as the little boy gazed at him with large brown eyes.
“M’not ‘posed to say cuz Obi will find me,” whispered the boy, eyes darting around fearfully
“Is there any name you don’t like?” offered Bucky.
“Howard,” said the boy, wrinkling his nose.
“So not Howard,” said Steve with a soft smile.
“I had an uncle named Anthony who I adored,” said Bucky. “No one would question him being ours if he has a family name.”
“But everyone will know he’s adopted, so he doesn’t have to have a family name.”
“I just want people to accept him as ours. And I want you to feel welcome, kiddo, because you are so welcome here.”
“Anthony is a bit formal for a kid, don’t you think?”
“Tony for short.”
“What do you say, kiddo? Can you live with the name Anthony? Tony for short.”
“I like it,” smiled the boy.
“Tony it is,” said Steve brightly. “Now Tony, how about we get you all ready for bed? It’s very late and you must be exhausted.”
“Okay,” sighed Tony, though he just leaned further against Bucky.
“I’ll get you settled, Stevie, why don’t you lock up?”
Steve nodded and watched as Bucky brought the boy to the bedroom. It was a single bedroom apartment and they had traded out their bed for bunk beds with a twin mattress on top and queen under. It wasn’t perfect but it would work until their lease was up and they could find a bigger place.
Tony was asleep minutes after his head hit the pillow. Bucky made certain that the safety rail was up and the night light they had bought that afternoon on before meeting Steve back in the living room.
“Are we completely crazy?” said Bucky, falling onto the couch with a huff, throwing his legs on Steve’s lap. “We have essentially kidnapped a kid.”
“When you were at work I managed to talk with Tony’s mom,” said Steve. “She found me at the park. She told me what he’s been through, what they all have been through. I truly believe that this is their last ditch effort to save him. They can’t abandon their older son because they are afraid of what he will do without help and supervision, but abandoning Tony is the only thing keeping them sane. They are never going to see him again and they want to know he’s safe. It’s what’s keeping them going.”
“I know we wanted children but, this isn’t exactly the traditional way of having them.”
“Bucky, we’re gay, how exactly were you expecting to have kids traditionally?” said Steve blandly.
“Shut up, punk.”
“We’re in this together,” said Steve softly, rubbing Bucky’s calves. “It’s our secret. We’ll figure out what to tell our friends, but we’ll do that together too.”
“Til the end of the line,” whispered Bucky.
“Til the end of the line.”
They needed to figure out a cover story. They had a tight-knit group of friends who would definitely notice if they had a child all of a sudden.
“I think they need to know the truth in case something happens,” said Bucky. “We should show them a picture of the older kid so they know who to look out for, just in case.”
“Bucky, how we got Tony is entirely not legal and I don’t want to bring our friends into this when they could get arrested for it. Besides, the more people who know, the more dangerous it could be for Tony. His mom and dad went to such lengths to keep everything untraceable, I don’t want that ruined by someone getting a little loose with their lips.”
Bucky rolled his eyes but nodded.
“Then we have to be very convincing with our story. And Tony has to be convincing. That’s a lot to ask of a kid.”
“I’m good at pretend,” said Tony, entering the room, still in the clothes he had arrived in, his curly brown hair a mess. “Momma and Dad always had me play pretend with everyone.”
“That’s great honey, but we can’t have anyone find out how you really got here or else your brother may find you,” said Steve with a strained smile while Bucky got out a bowl for cereal for the kid.
“I don’t want Obi to know,” whispered Tony, eyes going wide with fear. “You can’t let him know!”
“We won’t, we won’t,” assured Bucky, picking Tony back up and hugging him. “That’s why we are trying to come up with a story to tell our friends. We want to keep you safe. You’re ours now and we will never let anything happen to you.”
“I’m adopted,” said Tony with a watery smile. “That’s what we tell your friends.”
“Adoption normally takes longer than a couple of days,” explained Steve as Bucky set the boy down on a couple of books so he could reach the table easily. Both men made a mental note to get a booster seat later.
“We could say that we hadn’t said anything in case it didn’t work out,” suggested Bucky. “I mean, I honestly wouldn’t want to talk to them about it if we were going through the adoption process. I wouldn’t want to deal with their questions if it didn’t go through.”
“We don’t have to give them any real backstory for Tony. Just vague details.”
“It might be easier to say he is our foster kid that we are adopting,” said Bucky. “Most kids get adopted that way if they aren’t babies.”
“What’s foster?” asked Tony, swinging his legs as he munched on his breakfast.
“It’s when a kid goes to live with people who aren’t their parents for different reasons. Sometimes their parents can’t take care of them, sometimes it’s not safe with their parents anymore. The kid gets to live with other people for a while and sometimes they can get adopted by those people.”
“Like how I can’t live at home because of Obi,” said Tony, nodding. “So am I a foster kid?”
“Yes,” said Steve firmly. “And we’re going to adopt you.”
“Okay,” said Tony with a nod. “Um, I’m all done eating.”
Bucky looked at the bowl to find it was still mostly full.
“Are you feeling okay? You didn’t eat much honey. Do you not like cereal?”
“Um, no, it’s nice,” said Tony, squirming uncomfortably on the books. “I’m um, I’m just all done.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure.”
Tony slid off the books and started to wander around the room. Bucky noticed how undersized he was for a five year old. He was painfully skinny and anxious looking, but Bucky thought maybe he would be anxious too if he’s had a brother actively trying to kill him his entire life.
“Why don’t we go get some clothes and toys for you?” suggested Steve brightly.
Tony’s face lit up and he nodded enthusiastically.
So they put on their shoes and left the apartment building. They took the subway to one of the stores Steve had researched over the last few days. Tony held Bucky’s hand very firmly as they walked, eyes darting around desperately as though afraid of everything around them, or as if something was about to jump out at them.
The shop wasn’t terribly busy, which was good. Steve got a cart and they walked around, browsing. Tony didn’t point at anything, didn’t beg for anything like they heard other children doing. Tony took everything in, but said nothing.
“What about this truck?” asked Steve, picking up a plastic fire truck with working lights.
“Hard toys are bad,” mumbled Tony, shying away from it physically and closer to Bucky, who simply picked him up.
“They’re bad?” said Steve slowly, confused. “Can you tell me why hard toys are bad?”
“They hurt when they hit you,” said Tony.
Bucky hugged the little boy close.
“Okay, so we’ll stay away from those right now,” said Steve, putting the truck back. “I saw some stuffed animals a few rows over. Why don’t we go look at those?”
Tony nodded and snuggled closer to Bucky. He was loving the freely given affection and the large brunet made him feel safe. Steve still made him a little nervous but not nearly as nervous as Obi made him. Tony knew he didn’t have a choice, he knew that this was his new family, but he still missed his mom and dad something awful. He didn’t miss Obi, he didn’t miss getting toys thrown at him or being chased around with scissors, but he missed home and he was scared that Obi would still find him.
“Let’s pick out a few of these friends,” said Bucky softly. “I know I always feel better when I have some friends to snuggle with and keep me safe.”
Tony nodded, eyeing the soft animals from the safety of Bucky’s arms. There were animals of all sorts, made from different materials. Bucky slowly lifted each one and offered it to Tony. Steve watched the boy’s face and if Tony gave that small, happy grin, Steve would add the toy to the cart. The last one that Bucky handed to Tony, a white and grey wolf. That one Tony hugged to his little chest and didn’t hand it back to Bucky like he had every other toy. Bucky didn’t push the issue and simply moved on, stopping in the coloring section and loading up on art supplies that Steve insisted they needed.
After toys they went to the clothes section. Here, Steve simply held up shirts and pants to estimate the size since Tony was even more reluctant to leave Bucky’s arms. The boy had no opinion on the clothes, so Steve bought all the basics in every color and a few patterns, hoping that when Tony relaxed into their home more he would start picking what he liked and they would then go back and get more of those things.
By the time they reached bedding, Tony was asleep, head buried in Bucky’s neck, drooling slightly. The men bought a few soft blankets and fluffy pillows and called it a day. They had been planning to have lunch out but instead headed home with their purchases. By the time they arrived back in their apartment, Tony was stirring to his grumbling stomach.
“I’m making grilled cheese, buddy,” said Bucky, setting Tony down on the soft armchair that he had turned to face the kitchen so Tony could wake up slowly but still see him. “I’m going to be right there, so let me know if you need me. Stevie is in the bedroom putting your things away.”
Tony nodded, sucking his thumb and cuddling his wolf while he sleepily watched Bucky move to make lunch. Bucky glance back frequently to make sure that Tony was still there and wondered if that was what being a parent felt like, always looking around for a tiny human who was depending on you.
So this is sort of the calm before the storm. Tony is still a bit shocked by the entire thing, but once he settles in we'll get to see more of his personality and the results of living with his brother.
Three thousand miles away in Malibu, Maria Stark sat next to her husband at the kitchen table. Their home was modest and silent. The silence contrasted what it had been for years – since Obi was born and then even more ramped up when their second son was born.
Obadiah had always been an odd child, but he was their first and they loved him dearly. When Maria had found out she was pregnant she had been thrilled. Howard was a doting husband throughout the pregnancy, at every doctors appointment, making late night runs for cravings, and there in the delivery room, holding his son first chance he got, tears flowing freely down his cheeks. Those first few months were a dream. A sleep deprived, exhausting, first time parent dream.
Obadiah was difficult when he got to the year mark. He was experimenting like all babies do, learning motor skills and balance. While he sometimes hit, when Maria would redirect that behavior, Obi seemed not to notice. She could tell him twelve times not to hit and he would hit again right after. Still, they were certain that their son was just going through a difficult stage.
Taking him to day care had brought new issues to light. Obi would hit the other kids. He would push them down and laugh. The teachers tried to be kind about it, they had meetings, tried behavior charts, anything, but nothing worked. When Obi slammed a little girl’s arm in the door, breaking it, and simply stood there after laughing, the organization firmly asked them not to return.
When Obi was seven and had been kicked out of five different schools, Maria found out she was pregnant. This time she cried for fear of her unborn child. She was scared of her son and scared for the being growing inside her. She was scared of what Obi would do and she was terrified that the new child would be like the first.
She didn’t tell Howard right away as she tried to decide what to do. Eventually, her desire for a happy family won out over her fear. Howard was equally nervous about another child but was still thrilled when their younger son was born. They named him Howard and called him Howie. Maria and Howard were in love, Obadiah was not.
A week after bringing Howie home, Obi pushed the bassinet over. Luckily, Maria was nearby and heard the crash. She got to the room and found Howie safely on his cushion, Obi kicking the basket to turn it over on the infant.
After that, Maria worked extra hard to make sure that Obi was never left alone with Howie. However, as both boys grew, Obadiah’s behavior became increasingly dangerous towards Howie. He pushed Howie down stairs, threw things at him, even tried to set him on fire. That last time was the reason Maria and Howard finally got Obadiah admitted to the hospital for observation. They dropped him off and quickly jumped on the first train out of there, separating and traveling for a week each until Maria arrived in New York, dropped Howie off, and left.
When the couple met back at home, they found they had nothing to say to each other.
What could you say when one child was in the hospital and one was abandoned somewhere they would never see him again?
They didn’t even know their youngest child’s name.
- Surprise Adoption –
“No! Stop!” screamed Tony, thrashing in bed, nearly throwing himself out of it even with the safety rails in place. “Help!”
“Honey, you’re okay, you’re okay,” said Bucky, standing up on the lower bunk to scoop Tony off his mattress. He nearly got hit in the eye for his trouble but that didn’t even cause him to pause.
The boy came awake with a shriek. Tony blinked and threw himself against Bucky’s chest, sobbing heartbreaking tears into the worn shirt.
“I have you, you’re safe,” cooed Bucky, stepping off his mattress and rocking Tony gently. “You’re safe. You’re at home with Steve and me, you’re safe. Stevie, can you run a bath please?”
“Sure thing,” said Steve, moving from where he had been checking the apartment for any threats to fill the bathtub.
“No bath,” whimpered Tony, clutching at Bucky’s loose sleep shirt.
“You had an accident, sweetheart, so you need a bath,” said Bucky softly, still swaying in the semidarkness of the bedroom, not at all worried about the wetness he could feel soaking through his shirt. “I’ll help you while Stevie changes the sheets but we need to get you clean, otherwise you might get a rash and that’s no fun at all.”
“No bath, please,” begged Tony, still mostly panicked from the dream. “I’ll be good, I’ll be so good. No bath!”
“Okay, okay,” said Bucky, walking his way over to the bathroom where Steve was getting the water warm. “Will a shower work? Would you take a shower for me sweetheart?”
“No bath?” sniffed Tony, rubbing a small fist under his eyes, trying to clear them of the tears still streaming down his cheeks.
“If you take a shower, then no bath,” confirmed Bucky, loudly enough for Steve to hear.
Tony nodded and let Bucky set him down and help him strip off his wet pajamas.
“Steve, would you mind changing the sheets on the bed?” said Bucky.
“No problem,” said Steve.
Bucky worked efficiently and soon had Tony all clean and dry, bundled into fresh pajamas and himself into a clean sleep shirt. He carried the sleepy boy back out to the bedroom. Steve had the bed stripped and mattress scrubbed clean.
“It’s still wet, so why don’t you sleep with us tonight?” said Steve with a sad smile.
“Sounds good to me,” said Bucky. “What about you, Tony?”
“I always slept with momma and dad,” said Tony with a nod. “If I didn’t Obi did things at night.”
“It’s a really good thing he can’t find you here, then,” said Steve as they settled down in bed, Tony firmly between them. “All snuggled up between us, no one can get you. You’re safe.”
“Safe,” whispered Tony.
I think I'm enjoying this story so far.
Chapter 4: School Anxiety
By the end of the first week, Steve and Bucky had invested in nighttime pull-ups for Tony. During the day the boy was fine but at night he had accidents, mainly from night terrors but also on the one night he didn’t wake screaming from a nightmare. He would probably grow out of it, but Steve and Bucky thought it might be caused from his time with his brother.
“So should you be in school?” asked Steve on Saturday morning over cartoons and breakfast on the couch.
“Um, it’s a Saturday,” said Tony with a blink.
“Yeah, no, I meant like, are you in kindergarten?”
“No, I’m in first grade! But I’m little.”
“Aren’t five year olds normally in kindergarten?” said Steve, more to himself than Tony. Bucky was at work picking up some extra hours since he hadn’t gone to work when Tony arrived.
“Yeah but Dad wanted me to be at the same school as Obi because he didn’t want to drive across town to get me,” said Tony with a shrug. “It’s not hard. I can read and write and stuff.”
“We need to get you enrolled in school,” said Steve.
He spent the rest of his morning on his laptop, researching and emailing to find a school in his area. At first he wanted to send Tony to the local public school but then he found a small private school. It had great reviews and good scores, smaller class sizes, and was farther from their apartment but had plenty of housing options nearby. It also had more privacy, so Tony would be harder to find in case his brother ever tried.
Steve wasn’t even sure how old Tony’s brother was. Would he be able to find Tony if he tried?
When Bucky arrived home, Tony lit up and ran up to him. Bucky picked him up easily, smiling and greeting him though he was a bit worried about the displays of separation anxiety that Tony had been showing.
“I missed you,” said Tony softly, snuggling into Bucky’s chest.
“I missed you too,” said Bucky. “Did you have fun with Stevie?”
“Yes, he found a school to tour,” said Tony quietly.
“That will be fun, don’t you think? Then you can make some friends and have people your own age to play with.”
“People my age are boring,” pouted Tony. “Steve says I need to be in kindergarten but my old teacher used to say I was too smart to be in first grade.”
“Well, I’m sure we can sort it out with the school and if we can’t, then we’ll just go to a different school. No worries.”
Tony shrugged and rested his head against Bucky’s shoulder.
“Can I ask you why school makes you nervous?” asked Bucky, sitting down on the couch while Steve went to the kitchen to get dinner started.
“There’s lots of mean people there,” whispered Tony. “And school was supposed to be where Obi wasn’t but then he was and I just don’t like it.”
“That’s hard,” said Bucky, just as softly. “I can’t promise that you won’t find people at your new school won’t be mean but I think you will find some that are nice too. And your brother isn’t here and we’re doing everything we can think of to make sure he never finds you. Is there anything you can think of that would make you feel better?”
Tony thought about it for a few minutes, one small hand playing absently with Bucky’s fingers.
“What if you went with me to school?” asked Tony tentatively, as though afraid of being rejected for such a simple request. It broke Bucky's heart, because he had been thinking that it was just the brother who had hurt Tony but maybe the parents - in doing the best they could - had also neglected what Tony needed.
Bucky blinked, because it honestly hadn't occurred to him that Tony had probably been neglected, but if that family had a child who was as terrifying as Obi, who needed as much attention and supervision, then yes, Tony had probably been neglected simple things, such as having his parents go with him to tour a school. That was probably another reason why his mom decided to give him up.
“I will be there for the tour,” assured Bucky. “And I can drop you off every morning and Stevie can pick you up so you never have to ride the bus.”
“I guess that will work.”
Bucky laughed as he tickled Tony’s sides, causing the little boy to giggle too. It was a magical sound that made both Steve and Bucky pause and just listen. That giggle made it seem like maybe they weren’t crazy for adopting a kid on the run.