Good morning, sirs. It is 5:45 a.m.
Bruce groaned a little and burrowed deeper into the bed. This was one of those rare mornings he wasn't likely to be up and in the shower within a matter of a few minutes. Granted he hadn't had many mornings where that was truly a necessity since coming to live there, there was a little more leeway in time, but routine was still routine and he tried to keep with it. Also, more bathrooms and other luxuries only barely outweighed the sheer amount of extra children to get fed and out the door or the long drive into the city where the school and Stark Tower was. Little emergencies could still throw the entire morning schedule off track.
"Don’t want to get up," he mumbled, knowing he was being more juvenile than he was inclined.
As he lay there stubbornly, he felt Tony shift beside him until the other man's naked chest was pressed nicely against his naked back. Tony nuzzled against his hair and one of his hands wrapped around to his chest to splay there. Bruce was immediately reminded of some of the reason he was a little more tired than usual.
"Let's call in sick." Tony's voice was gravelly from sleep and so very tempting. "Hell, let's just retire," he said with a sigh as he seemed to be settling in to sleep again in their new position.
Bruce chortled lazily in response. "I at least want to finish my dream," he said in non-answer to either of Tony's exaggerated solutions.
"Was it about me?" Tony asked. His voice now sounded like it was drifting in and out of consciousness.
Bruce smiled thinly, feeling impish and maybe sleep drunk in his lazy state. "I was kissing Valentino by a crystal blue Italian stream," he replied with a deliberate sigh.
Tony made a hmph noise, air blowing against his nape. "Well, I guess I can't begrudge you that," he said. "As long as it stops at kissing," he added in a slow, teasing tone.
"Aren't we being a little possessive this morning," Bruce bantered back, enjoying this gradual waking up to the usual quick rise and shine.
"With a stud muffin like you in my arms?" Suddenly Tony's lips were very awake and assaulting the bits of Bruce's skin he could get to, currently the column of his neck. "Damn right, I'm being possessive," he murmured.
Bruce couldn’t fight the way his face split into a wide grin, a laugh bubbling in the back of his throat. He was one part genuinely flattered by the compliment – with butterflies and curled toes and all the other things that he was beginning to think somebody somewhere had lied about them being something you outgrew – and one part cringing in mortified embarrassment. Then there was of course the part of him responding in a very different way to the latter part of that statement and the lips accentuating it.
"You must be half asleep and dreaming about somebody else being in your arms," he countered, head twisting a little and one hand moving to brace the back of Tony's head.
For a moment Tony's only response was a long mmmm against the skin just beneath his jaw followed by a nimble readjustment of his position to plant his lips more skillfully along Bruce's body, each kiss given in a way as if savoring him. "Agree to disagree," he then breathed out warmly against a particularly sensitive spot, intentionally of course since Tony was more than aware of all of his sensitive spots by now, before hovering over him. Bruce's head was twisted on the pillow so he could look up at him. "You are the most perfect man in existence," he said in exultation as his eyes scanned over him and then returned to stare lovingly into his own.
Bruce ducked his head just a little and turned to rest fully on his back. "Well," he said, running his hands up and over Tony's smooth chest and perching them on his shoulders, "agree to disagree. I'd say that distinction belongs to you."
Tony's face lit up in a way that rivaled the sun, not to mention waking up to Tony's bright smile was much more pleasant. "How about we call it a draw?" He leaned in until their lips were separated by a teasing distance, close and not close enough.
"Truce," Bruce agreed with a thin smile and that was all it took to bridge the gap.
Bruce felt his breath swallowed up by Tony as his mouth crashed hungrily, perhaps a little clumsily in their still waking state, against his own. He pushed back just as forcefully, desperate to swallow some of Tony's breath to compensate for the loss. It didn't matter as after a moment they both broke apart for what could have only been a fraction of a second to inhale sharply before their lips slid together again. Bruce used the advantage of his free hands to grope at and explore the skin and muscles and knicks and scars and everything he would never be able to have enough of. Tony responded by nipping at his upper lip and smoothing over it with his tongue before plunging it back into his mouth deeper than before.
Bruce moaned and pulled back in need of air again. Tony didn't allow the break of the kiss to keep him from busying his lips in other ways.
"We need to get up," Bruce said in an attempt to be responsible, reasonable. He knew it would probably be more effective if he didn't have to pant out the words in a way that more likely sounded wanton.
"Oh, I already am," Tony spoke huskily against his ear. Bruce shivered and felt his own reaction to everything quite clearly. Tony chuckled, the glorious bastard, and reached down to stroke him. "And would you look at that," he said with a playful grin, indeed tilting his head downward as he did, "so are you."
Bruce groaned and he wasn't quite sure if it was because of Tony's ridiculous verbal assault or the assault of his hand. "You know what I mean. Work," he grunted out, and that was most definitely because of Tony.
"I'm trying," Tony said, the leer audible in his voice. Bruce closed his eyes, momentarily giving up. When he was like this, Bruce had learned, Tony could use that genius mind of his to turn anything and everything into an innuendo or flirtation or dirty talk. "Let's take a sick day," Tony said after a moment, taking the conversation seriously again.
"Can't," Bruce said with a well timed sigh. "We—We have that meeting," he reminded him. It was a meeting for the Board of Research and Development Directors and couldn't be missed. Well, perhaps Tony could miss it and get away with it. But Bruce was lead on a project and all leads had to be there.
"Hmm," Tony hummed against the juncture of his thigh, driving him wild. "It's not until nine. We can go in a little late," Tony offered.
Bruce's eyes dilated. "The kids—"
"Are responsible enough to do without us for one morning, Bruce," Tony said, stilling his hand and looking down at him with an incredulous expression. "J, tell Steve and Thor they're in charge this morning."
Yes, sir, I would, but I was just about to alert you to—
They both startled and looked toward the door.
"I thought these rooms were mostly soundproof," Bruce said, concern growing for a few different reasons.
"They are," Tony said, looking back down at him. "Well, within so many decibels." He then furrowed his brow before looking back toward the door. "Just how many of the kids are yelling for us?"
As if in answer, there was another chorus of, "Dad! Dad!" It was followed by a pounding on the door.
"I think I heard at least six or seven," Bruce said and pushed up in the bed, Tony moving quickly to sit beside him and pull up the duvet so they were covered from the waist down again. "JARVIS, let them know they can come in."
Within seconds the door flew open and sure enough six kids – Peter, Harley, Darcy, Pietro, Natasha and Skye – all but toppled into the room. Loki joined a moment later with Jemma in his arms. She was sniveling and that almost made Bruce forget his state of undress and jump out of bed in alarm.
"What's going on?" Tony asked and knowingly placed a steady hand on his arm that Bruce appreciated.
"Steve's hurt," Jemma said and buried her head in Loki's shoulder.
Tony sat up straighter now too. "Hurt how?" Bruce was glad Tony had asked because his mind was too busy in panic mode to ask particulars.
"He sent an emergency group text to us and JARVIS," Skye answered. "He tripped halfway through his run. He's not sure if he broke something or just sprained it really bad, but he can't walk."
"Oh god," Bruce finally responded.
"Thor and Clint went to get him in one of the cars," Natasha supplied next.
"At least it's not something worse," Tony reasoned and although he was still worried about his son Bruce realized he was right.
He nodded. "Right. Right, he'll be fine. It's horrible, but he'll be fine. We… We need to get him to a doctor though."
"Your meeting," Tony reminded him and Bruce winced. "I mean it's not as important and I can—"
"Maybe he'll be in and out before nine if we go now."
"That's not likely at all," Tony said with a grimace. "Okay, how's this? We'll both take him to the hospital and then you can go on to work while I stay with him."
Bruce sighed and looked at the kids who were all watching on in obvious curiosity as to how the situation would be handled, their Monday morning off to quite the exciting start to say the least. "Okay. I'll forego my shower," he said as he moved to the edge of the bed, pulling the cover with him just enough. This was why he kept to a strict schedule, so he wouldn't have to forego showering on days when he was expected to represent his team and impress a Board of Directors.
"Oh GOD!" Harley exclaimed and Bruce looked over at him in fresh alarm to see his wide eyes. "They're naked!"
Bruce looked down and then over at Tony. Neither was uncovered, but it must have been a fairly easily drawn conclusion when he didn't just get out of bed without trying to be discreet.
"Yes, thank you, Harley," Tony said in an exasperated tone. "Your dads who love each other and occasionally express that love physically are indeed very, very naked so you have about thirty seconds to leave before at least one of those dads is getting up and going to the bathroom."
"Ew!" Darcy cried. She had her eyes suddenly covered by her hands as did Peter, both turning and running into each other in their efforts to hurry out of the room. Pietro pushed past both of them as fast as his feet could carry him and Harley just pushed the two out of the room as he went.
"Classy, dad," Skye said with a snort.
"Got the job done."
Natasha leaned over and mumbled loud enough for everyone to hear, "It's worse when you consider the fact that my dad is usually showered and getting ready to make breakfast by now."
Skye's eyes widened and she choked on a laugh. "Okay, I'm outie," she said, still snickering.
If his paternal instincts weren't still telling him he needed to go see for himself if Steve was okay, he'd almost wish the bed would swallow him up. "Out. Just, everybody out," he said to his remaining three children.
That's when he realized Jemma was staring at them with something between shock and honest scientific-like inquisitiveness and Bruce realized with sudden dread that a more thorough, not just scientifically based, 'Talk' was probably now a looming necessity. Kissing as an expression of affection was one thing, the basics of sex and the purpose was one thing, but the nuances and purposes of it beyond that were still just a vague concept maybe picked up instinctively or from her peers or media and she was fairly naïve so he couldn't imagine it was anything she was too curious about. She'd only once asked where babies had come from when it had occurred to her five year old brain that she didn't have a mother and dad went out on dates with men even though she'd been told only mommies could have babies. And that, frankly, had been more an age-appropriate discussion about adoption and surrogacy that only touched on the bare bones mechanics of reproduction.
He looked at Loki almost beseeching him to answer any questions that were sure to follow once they'd gone, not that he was sure that was very responsible of him. His son understood and shook his head. "Not a chance," he said and turned to leave with Natasha and Jemma in tow.
Bruce gave Tony a sharp sort of look before shaking his head and quickly getting up to get ready.
"Sorry," Tony apologized as he followed him into the bathroom and then past him to turn on the shower. "Come on, babe," he hen said.
Bruce looked at him in confusion. "Steve—"
"Is 17 and capable of waiting five more minutes for you to take a very quick shower," Tony finished his statement. "I know you. You'll be off your game all morning if you don't get in your shower. Especially if you have that meeting," he added.
Bruce frowned. No, he didn't want to go in without a shower, but right now there just wasn't time. "I'll be fine," he insisted.
"Okay," Tony relented and turned off the shower. They both dressed and body-sprayed instead and made their way to the front of the house.
All of the kids were crowded around the assembly couch where Steve was stretched out. He had an ice pack on his ankle and Bruce was glad somebody had had the knowledge to get it for him. Peter and Harley were standing directly over him with their X-Ray contraption when Bruce pushed through the gathering to get to his oldest son, Tony right behind him.
"I think it's broken," Peter said, scrunching his nose and looking at the device in Harley's hand.
"What do you think, dad?" Harley asked and pushed the thing into Tony's hand to inspect. Tony took it and looked down at it, sparing a quick glance at Bruce.
Bruce got down onto his knees beside the couch in order to inspect the injury himself. Steve's right foot and ankle was swollen and a little discolored. He sucked in a little breath at the sight of it. "I'm going to try and move it," he warned Steve and reached for his hand. He'd had enough experience volunteering to know how to make a pre-diagnosis.
"Do you have to?" Steve protested as he gripped his hand.
"Sorry, Steve," he apologized and looked at him, waiting for consent. When Steve nodded, he carefully tried to check the injury while Steve squeezed his hand and let out a harsh noise through gritted teeth.
"Huh," Tony said, standing a few feet behind him since he'd moved the kids back to give Bruce some space. "Well, if this thing is right, it may be a minor fracture."
"If that thing is right, we should get them a patent and then make it affordable for doctors that make house calls in third world countries," Bruce replied to that instinctively as he gently set Steve's foot back down.
"Is this an inappropriate time to say how much I adore the way you think?" Tony asked as Bruce stood back up.
"Just a little bit," Steve answered gruffly instead and glared at him; Bruce choked back a laugh. Steve then let out a shaky breath. "So?"
"Incidentally, I think the machine is right." Bruce glanced at the machine out of curiosity. "We'll need to take you to the doctor to get it taken care of," he then told his son.
"Do we all get to go?" Pietro asked hopefully.
"What do you think?" Wanda asked him skeptically.
"We should be there for moral support," Pietro tried.
Tony sighed. "You're still going to school. So I suggest you all start getting ready now. Your dads have this covered."
"Who's going to make breakfast?" Jemma asked.
"We can just eat cereal," Jane reasoned.
Bruce sighed this time and looked between Steve, Tony and the other kids. "Everybody go get ready and I'll have breakfast for you by time you're done." He looked at his watch. "Chop, chop." They all scattered and he looked at Tony again with a shrug.
"Okay, you're going to have to fill me in," Tony said, studying him curiously.
Bruce nodded and looked at Steve. "It's entirely your choice, Steve. If you want me to go with you I will. Or you can go with Tony while I make sure everyone else gets to school without a hitch. I also have a meeting at nine so I'll have to leave regardless, but if you want me there then I'm sure Thor can handle things here. I'll just get breakfast started while he dresses. No more than ten minutes, promise."
Steve looked between them for a moment in contemplation. He pursed his lips, then let out another harsh breath. "Well, sure I… I'd like to have my dad there. But…" He looked back and forth between them again and then ducked his head. "I'm almost an adult," he pointed out. "And Tony's kind of like," he shrugged, still not looking at them, "well, like my stepdad now so…"
Bruce's eyes widened and he looked at Tony who had the same gobsmacked expression on his face. Their hands laced as if on their own accord. Bruce already knew his kids approved of Tony and Jane had been the first to speak her approval of it ever becoming official and of course the lines between blended and natural seemed to be blurring a little more every day.
"Please don't make this weird," Steve gave a small plea, bringing their attention back to him. He was looking at them again with his baby blue eyes furrowed and imploring.
"Sorry," Bruce said and squeezed Tony's hand before letting go. "It was just a little bit of a shock."
"A very pleasant shock," Tony added. "It means a lot to me to hear you say that, Steve. It really does. Thank you. Now let's get you to the doctor. JARVIS, is a car ready?"
Yes, sir. I took the liberty of having one of the drivers notified. Also may I suggest the crutches in storage from when Pietro broke his leg?
Tony snapped his fingers. "Yes! Forgot all about them."
"You forgot Pietro broke his leg?" Bruce looked at him dubiously.
"Yeah, we've all sort of tried to forget that dark time," Tony said very seriously and Steve laughed before hissing in pain amidst a few more chuckles.
Bruce chuckled as well, trying to imagine the energetic boy laid up with that kind of injury. "I bet," he said with a nod.
"Be right back," Tony said then and left.
Bruce watched him go with a smile before turning his attention on Steve. "I know you're in pain and probably don't care right now, but I'm going to run and get you one of your protein bars and a water before I start breakfast for the others. Injury or no, you still ran a little bit."
Steve nodded. "Thanks, dad. And—" Bruce waited for him to decide whether or not he wanted to finish. "Uh, good luck with your meeting," he said and Bruce got the impression that isn't what he meant to say, but he took it graciously as if it were.
"Thanks, Steve. I'll have my phone on me so if you need me at any time, don't hesitate," he told him and then left for the kitchen. Unsurprisingly Thor was already there, but what was a little surprising was he was attempting to make oatmeal, if his reading the instructions was any indication. "Hey, Thor," Bruce greeted his son in a curious tone as he joined him.
"I thought I should try and step up without being told to," he explained before setting down the oatmeal container and giving him a strong side hug. Bruce returned it easily.
"Thank you, Thor," he said. His son's maturity and empathy had been blossoming over the past six months and Bruce couldn't help but encourage it. "Actually, could you take Steve a protein bar and water?"
Thor nodded and left to do so. Bruce quickly began preparing the large batch of oatmeal that was required to feed their small army and the dozen and the dozen and a half eggs it took as well – actually, it took closer to two dozen, but with Tony and Steve leaving he decided to scale it back by six lest Thor take it on himself to eat those additional six eggs all on his own. He was whisking said eggs, by hand rather than messing with the automatic one right now, when Tony came into the kitchen.
"Hey, just wanted to say don't sweat the meeting," Tony said, striding up to him. He leaned across the big bowl of eggs and kissed him, Bruce meeting it eagerly. "It's not as if you have job security to worry about," he teased as he pulled away. Bruce rolled his eyes. "Okay. Kind of stepdad is going to take Steve now," he said with a grin that Bruce matched.
"Okay, kind of stepdad. Keep dad informed," he instructed and Tony nodded before heading out.
As he was leaving Harley rushed past him before sliding to a stop, worry in his eyes. He looked at his dad. "Iron Lad is missing!" He cried and then looked at Bruce too. Iron Lad was the name of his pet rat.
Bruce looked at Tony over Harley's head and saw his conflicted expression. "Go on," he said with a small nod of his head. "I'll help him."
"Don’t worry, Harley," Tony took a moment to say. "He'll turn up. I'm sure he's just fine."
Harley looked very much like he was trying not to be a 'baby' and cry about it as he nodded his head and Tony left. "You're dad's right," Bruce said as he set down the bowl of eggs and took the finished oatmeal off the cook top. He looked at the clock and tried not to sigh at the time. "Where did you last have him? Was he in his cage?"
He prepared the large skillet with cooking spray and poured half of the bowl of eggs into it while he waited for Harley to explain. However, as he reached for the salt and pepper he noticed from the corner of his eye that Harley looked guilty.
"I, uh," he finally started, "I may have left him in his ball."
Bruce's eyebrows rose as he scrambled the eggs, turning ninety degrees to look at the boy. "You left him in his ball over night?"
Harley bit his lip and nodded. "Pete and I were trying to beat a level before bed and I forgot I hadn't put him back yet. I didn't think about it until just now when I was getting ready and he wasn't in his cage," he explained.
Bruce let out the sigh he had been holding as he contemplated what to do. He heard most of the kids already joining the dining area. "Clint," he called and waited for his response. It didn't come. He furrowed his brow and looked at Harley. He handed him the spatula. "Think you can manage?"
"Sure," Harley said with a shrug.
Bruce left him to finish scrambling the eggs and set them onto a large serving dish and made his way to the dining area. Clint was sat at the end of the table closest to the kitchen and seemed to be engrossed in something he was reading on his Starkpad as he petted Lucky, who sat with his head perched on Clint's lap. That reminded him he needed to make sure someone had thought to feed and water the menagerie.
"Clint," Bruce said again and still the boy didn't react beyond a small furrow of his brow, like he'd only thought he heard someone call his name.
"Clint," Skye, sat to his right, said and he immediately responded.
"What?" She pointed and he turned to look at Bruce.
"Everything okay?" Bruce asked him in concern.
Clint's eyes widened and he covered his left ear and then his right. "Shit," he muttered. "It was fine when I woke up," he said. "Battery must have died."
Bruce gave a small, "Oh." He then looked at the others. "Oatmeal is done. And I need someone to scramble the rest of the eggs while I help Harley. We're running a little behind schedule so let's try to pick up the pace," he suggested as gently as possible and then called for Harley to come and look for Iron Lad. The boy ran past him and Peter started to follow. "No, Peter. Stay and eat breakfast," he told his youngest son before following after Harley.
"He's not in our room," Harley said.
"Alright," Bruce said. "You look in your brothers' rooms and I'll look in your sisters'," he instructed as he started with Natasha's room. It was kept pristine and it didn't take long to realize the rat wasn't hiding in there.
Jane and Darcy's room was another story. Darcy's side of the room looked like her closet had exploded and Jane's was littered with magazines and books of an eclectic blend of topics ranging from astronomy to… Oh god. Why He Won't French Kiss You was the title of the main cover article of one of her teen magazines.
He counted to five and shook his head. "This is normal," he told himself as calmly as possible. "These are normal interests and there's no reason to act like a… well, a dad. You were curious about kissing at that age too," he continued to reason aloud. He glanced back at the magazine and remembered his repressed youth, the forbidden ache of wondering what it would be like to lock lips with a boy instead of a girl. "Okay, focus, Bruce," he reminded himself and came back to the moment. He didn't have time to angst about his childhood when he was presently a father searching for a pet rat and trying to get a dozen kids to school on time – kids he shared with a man he locked lips with regularly, he mused further in order to really trample the urge to walk down memory lane.
Sir, I have located Harley's pet rat.
Bruce straightened from where he'd been looking in a space between a bed and dresser covered by clothes. "Yeah?"
Yes, sir. He has a microchip in his small collar that I have tracked. He is in your master closet.
Bruce's eyes widened. JARVIS seemed to be more on top of things than he was this morning and it was a little concerning. "Thanks, JARVIS," he said genuinely nonetheless. "Let Harley know please so he can get him. And tell him to put him in the cage, please."
Yes, Dr. Banner. Also, I would suggest a hasty return to the others.
Bruce furrowed his brow at that and checked his watch as he headed back to the dining area. He was met by an absolute unruly sight. Clearly chaos bred chaos.
Darcy was throwing a hysterical fit and Bruce immediately realized she had orange juice spilled all over the front of her shirt. Jane was trying to calm her down and suggest the other outfit she'd had on – which explained the mess of clothes in their room.
Thor and Loki were arguing about something that it took Bruce a moment to understand.
"It's my shirt," Loki was practically snarling.
"Then it shouldn't be in my closet."
"You should know better than just throwing it on thinking it's yours when it clearly is not!"
Meanwhile Clint was muttering and mumbling a string of profanities as he ate. Wanda signed at him literally to chill out, only for him to say, "I'm not fucking deaf, Wanda. You don't have to sign at me."
"With all this noise I wasn't sure you'd hear me, you jerk," she retorted sharply and gave him a slightly terrifying dagger glare.
Jemma was sniveling into her oatmeal. Peter and Pietro were in disgruntled agreement that they shouldn't have to go to school if Steve didn't and that at this rate they'd be late anyhow – which made Jemma choke out a louder sob. Natasha was muttering in Russian; her biological father had been a Russian ex-pat who'd taught her enough and every now and then she would fall back on the language when she was good and annoyed. All the while Skye was trying her best to play mediator and diffuse the mess.
Bruce closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "That's enough," he said loudly enough for them to hear him. When he opened his eyes again, they were all looking at him in various states of distress or guilt. "First thing. Darcy, go change, sweetheart," he said in soft contrast to his previous tone. "You don't want it the shirt to stain so I need to get it in the wash. Sorry it happened, but I promise I'll have it clean so you can wear that outfit tomorrow, okay?" She nodded and left the room. "Second thing," Bruce changed his tone again to a sterner, but slightly dubious one, "Thor that is your brother's shirt. I don't know how it got in your closet, but please just go change into another one." Win some, lose some when it came to his maturity and empathy apparently he mused.
"What if he stretched it beyond repair?" Loki asked impatiently after Thor had gone.
Bruce sighed. "Then we'll get you a new one. We'll, I don't know, Google that specific shirt or find you one just like it," he promised with an exaggerated shrug before narrowing his eyes on Clint. "Clint, what's going on?" He asked the question at a reasonable volume and clearly.
"I'm out of batteries," Clint answered in a grumbling tone. "Going to have to put up with this all damn day."
They seemed to have an unending supply of all kinds of batteries in the house for the tech and engineering projects that they had, but of course the one kind of battery Clint specifically needed had run out before he could think to have more bought on the one day things seemed determined to go wrong.
"JARVIS," Bruce intervened with a plan. "Please order some hearing aid batteries for Clint and have them delivered to Stark Tower." He looked at Clint. "You'll come with me, we'll pick them up and then the car can take you on to school. I'll give the office a call and let them know why you'll be a little late."
Clint gaped at him, eyes wide and eyebrows raised and mouth slightly ajar before he closed it. "Thanks, Doc." Bruce nodded and then looked at Wanda, hoping he would get the point. He did. "Sorry for being hostile, Wanda."
"Sorry for being patronizing," she apologized in turn and Bruce wasn't sure if it was amusing or if he was on the verge of snapping.
"Jemma, why were you crying?" He asked his youngest next.
She sniveled and shrugged. "Everybody was fighting and Steve is hurt and we're going to be late and—and I have another loose tooth." She showed her teeth and wiggled one of the bottom ones next to an already mostly empty spot before frowning.
Bruce didn't have an easy answer for her so he just walked over to her and smoothed her hair before bending down to give her a soothing kiss on her head. "I don't like that you're losing your baby teeth either," he said. "Because it means my little molecule is growing up too fast."
She looked up at him with a small pout and said, "Sorry."
He chuckled softly at that. "I know. But I forgive you," he teased. He then looked at Peter and Pietro. "Look, you're going to school. I know it stinks, but that's life," he said and a few of the kids snorted at his bluntness. "If it's any consolation I don't want to have to go to work either, but on the bright side," he glanced at his watch, "nobody but Clint should be late if we hustle and there are no more emergencies." He looked at their plates. He then winced. "Please tell me you guys saved some for Harley," he said even as the boy came bounding back into the room.
"There's oatmeal left," Peter said with a slow shrug.
"Aww man. Not cool, guys," Harley complained.
Bruce pulled his bottom lip into his mouth with his teeth and counted slowly to five in his head. "Harley, get started on some oatmeal. I think there's just enough time left to make you some eggs."
He shook his head and went into the kitchen to do so, promising to himself to make two dozen eggs by default from here on out no matter if it was way too many. He thanked heaven that there were more pots and pans than should be reasonable even for a large family and quickly pulled out a single serving skillet to make Harley's eggs. Within five minutes, Harley had a plateful and orange juice and what was left of his oatmeal in front of him.
Bruce considered the morning at least salvaged when all of the kids sans Clint were out the door only ten minutes later than usual; with any luck traffic wouldn't be too bad. As he went back to the washing machine, where he'd left Darcy's outfit to soak for a little bit, he exhaled deeply. He pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to Tony.
Bruce 7:02 a.m.
What were we thinking having this many kids?
Tony 7:03 a.m.
Bruce 7:05 a.m.
Mornings like this are much easier with a co-parent.
Tony 7:07 a.m.
Yeah, Skye texted me about the three ring circus. Are you okay?
Bruce 7:08 a.m.
Well I survived anyways lol. Just about to head out with Clint. I'm sure after the last hour it can only go up from here.
Statistically speaking things probably should have gone up from there. Instead Bruce found himself fidgeting in his seat at the meeting trying to figure out how best to explain that the project he'd been lead on for the last six weeks would have to either be scrapped or restarted since there had been a detrimental error on Friday that nobody had caught until that morning. He'd come in to find his team in meltdown mode because of the compromised data. And if that wasn’t enough, the Directors were already grumbling at Pepper over the fact that Tony wasn't there.
"These things happen," Pepper continued to try and placate them. "He had a family emergency."
The Directors were all looking at him now. Sharply. Expecting answers. He felt like a deer in headlights.
"Dr. Banner is not required to answer for Mr. Stark," Pepper started to come to his rescue.
"Isn't he?" one challenged. "He's in a public relationship with Mr. Stark and a great deal of emphasis has been placed on their blended family. A family emergency for one means it should be the case for both of them. And yet Dr. Banner is here."
"Well, I—" Bruce started hesitantly, but didn't get further.
"Also, it is our understanding that in the past Dr. Hansen was entitled, expected even, to speak about situations such as these due to the nature of her relationship with Mr. Stark," another one of the directors stated with narrowed eyes.
Pepper straightened her back. "Dr. Hansen was Mr. Stark's wife and by default his joint partner and owner in all entities. That entitled her to speak on behalf of her husband when necessity called for it at her own discretion. Until such a time he and Mr. Stark are married we are not here to discuss the role of Dr. Banner in this company beyond a lead for the current project in his group."
The room grew so silent that Bruce was fairly certain they could all hear his pounding heart. Pepper's words rang in his ears. He remembered her comment a few weeks before regarding the idea of his becoming a co-executive figure. Was she trying to prepare him? Warn him? Was this something that would ultimately be expected of him should he continue a long term relationship with Tony? And the very idea that if they were to get married that Tony would want him to be joint partner and co-owner in all entities…
He was already living with, already experiencing the privilege of living with, one of the richest men on the planet and for some reason it suddenly settled in deeper than before what that really could entail beyond the media exposure and rich lifestyle. Or maybe it was the shock on top of the stress of his morning. Or the text he'd just gotten that said…
His eyes widened. The text said Steve hadn't just tripped. He'd admitted to the doctor that he'd blacked out momentarily in his run and it had caused him to trip badly. He was fine and the doctor didn't think there was cause for alarm, very likely he hadn't been at peak performance and had pushed himself too hard, but they would run some tests before discharging him in an hour with a cast and set of crutches better suited to his body. In spite of the doctor's words, Bruce could tell by the tone of the texts that Tony was nearly as worried about Steve's health as he was. Because Tony loved his kids. Tony hadn't been exaggerating when he said it meant a lot to be considered a stepdad at least to one of them, perhaps more so because Steve had so many reservations at the start.
He realized they were all looking at him again, including Pepper who had a concerned expression on her face.
"My…" No, not 'my' he thought. Their kids were the entities that mattered where his and Tony being joint partners was concerned. Anything else could be sorted out at a later time. "Our son," he corrected, "fractured his ankle this morning and since it was decided I needed to be here for my team he took him to the hospital. And I assure you I would much rather be there with them both than here, with all due respect." He stood to his feet and moved toward the project notes, his team joining him. "But Mr. Stark is very capable of handling the situation while I bear the burden of informing you our project has experienced an irreparable compromise of data." He paused and waited for that bit of information to shift their attention away from his personal life to the matter of science. He adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. "I'm afraid instead of discussing where the project is at this current date and plans for moving the project forward, we need to discuss the ramifications of the data corruption. I would assume we either have two choices. We can start back at the beginning or we can shelve the project at this time and focus our attentions elsewhere. It's entirely up to the discretion of the Board, but I'm prepared to discuss the pros and cons of either option."
"And Mr. Stark," Pepper chimed in, "will be informed of the situation, all of the details, and the Board's vote before making the decision."
"And how do we know Mr. Stark won't vote for it to be restarted regardless of our vote because Dr. Banner is the lead?" One of the directors asked calmly.
Bruce felt himself freeze up and bristle all at once, a small bit of flight or fight response pumping through his veins. This was precisely the kind of thing he'd been afraid of from the start, the sort of thing Tony did his damnedest to protect him from. So of course with the kind of day he was having he was suddenly forced to face the skeptics he'd always known would exist. He wondered briefly how Maya had handled it.
Fight won out as he narrowed his eyes and said coolly, "Because Tony knows how I feel about my job and the importance of what we do. He knows if he was to act sentimentally rather than analytically for the good of this company, my team, and ultimately the people our projects are meant to serve, then I would not be very happy with him. If you still doubt me, please by all means vote that I be removed as lead from the project if you feel you must."
"Well," Pepper spoke up again, "I think that settles that, ladies and gentlemen. Dr. Banner, please proceed with your discussion."
Bruce did as instructed and forty minutes later, following the discussion of the other groups' projects, he found himself standing outside of the conference room trying to compose his nerves while the Directors deliberated. His team had thanked him for sticking up for the project and insisted they would petition if he wasn't kept as lead if the project continued which was at least a nice sentiment in the face of not being taken as anything more than a scientist owing his position to who he was fucking.
In spite of how he'd managed to rally in the meeting, his stress levels were through the roof and his mind kept wandering back to Steve and his knee-jerk fears that his health might suddenly regress again. And he really hated his job at the moment if it meant sucking up and proving himself when his son might need him. Even though Steve and Tony both had sent him plenty of texts that it would be okay. Well, that and one very random text from Steve that said - "Don't worry, dad, he'll come around. You're too good to let get away." He'd asked what he was talking about, but hadn't gotten a response yet.
"I'm not sure you brought them all around," Pepper said to him, interrupting his thoughts. He blinked to see her frowning gently. "But you've got at least some of them thinking with their heads and not their baseless prejudices."
Bruce snorted a little pathetically. "Well, after the day me and mine have had, I'll consider that a very major victory."
Her face softened into concern. "How's Steve?"
Bruce glanced back down at his phone. "They just discharged him. Usual six to eight weeks healing time. He's upset since he'll miss a good chunk of track season at the very least. He was really looking forward to it." Pepper nodded in understanding. "They ran some tests on him," he said in a quieter voice. "I... I guess he blacked out while running. We're scheduled to take him back later this evening to get the results. I'm… I'm a little worried."
"Because of his past health issues?" she asked, keeping her voice lowered as well. He nodded. "I’m sure it's nothing," she tried to reassure him. "Steve's a strong kid. And he'll be running again in no time."
"I'm going to believe you," he said firmly. "I have to." She nodded again in understanding.
Suddenly the weight of the day came crashing down on him. He wanted nothing more than to be at home. He hung his head and closed his eyes.
"Bruce," she said gently, "I think after the meeting, you should call it a day. I'll have Happy send for one of the drivers—"
"That's not necessary," Bruce interrupted politely as he opened his eyes again, "but thank you. Tony's going to drop Steve off at the house and then come in briefly. I'll just go hang out in the penthouse so I can drive back home with him."
"He means to chew out his R&D Directors no doubt," Pepper said in a knowing tone.
Bruce winced. The thought had crossed his mind since he'd vented about it in a text to Tony. "I hope not."
"Tony has a strong protector instinct."
"Don't worry," she said with a chuckle. "I'll make sure he's tactful. But I don't think I can stop him if he truly feels they were out of line, which they were mind you, because you're important enough to him to fight for."
Bruce smiled in spite of himself. It was good to know even when his serenity was hanging by a thread, he still could.
Bruce didn't realize he was even on the verge of falling asleep until he awoke with his cheek pressed against a familiar chest, inhaled an even more familiar scent, and registered the feeling of Tony's arms wrapped around him. He blinked his eyes to rid them of the bleariness and then looked up to see Tony smiling at him. The engineer released him so he could stretch.
"How long have I been asleep?" He looked around and remembered he was in the penthouse at Stark Tower. The morning's events came back to him quickly after. He looked at his watch. It was 12:30.
"Well, I've been here ten minutes so that long at least," Tony answered and played with a piece of hair that had curled over his ear.
"How's Steve?" Bruce asked instinctively.
"Probably passed out again," Tony replied with a laugh and let his hand fall. "They gave him some narcotic painkillers to take for the next couple of days as needed."
"Oh no," Bruce said with a laugh of his own. "Poor Steve probably doesn't even know what hit him does he?"
Tony continued to chuckle and shook his head in answer. "On the way home he was in and out of consciousness while they were kicking in. Asked me with a straight face when I was going to make an honest man of you."
Bruce's eyes widened and his mouth fell open. "He didn't."
"He did." Tony nodded, grinning wide.
"Well, that explains that bizarre text I got from him." Bruce shook his head. "I wonder who else he might have texted. I'm almost inclined to check his inbox for any damage."
Tony snorted. "And it occurs to me we probably shouldn't leave him unattended too long," he said with a grimace.
"Probably not," Bruce agreed and stretched again. "Did you do what you needed to?" He asked vaguely.
"You mean did I meet with the Directors to take their concerns and vote into consideration?" Bruce looked at him in way that said 'you know what I mean' because he was certain Tony did. "I explained to them that if they have concerns those concerns are to be addressed to myself or Ms. Potts first from here on out unless your role changes." Tony didn't elaborate on that last part and they both knew he didn't need to. "You're an employee here and have the same right to fair treatment. I wouldn't tolerate any of the others being bullied so you're no exception. They had no right to delve into our personal affairs or try to coerce you into making a statement. They certainly had no right to question your integrity."
Bruce simply nodded for a moment. "They voted no and that I should be taken off if you decide otherwise," he said with a sigh then. He told himself not to let it get to him, but it still stung that he hadn't quite proven himself yet to those who had the ability to apply undue pressure.
"And my decision was to start the project over with another group." Bruce started to ask why he would take it away from his group when Tony guessed and raised his hand. "After consulting with your group to ask them if they would prefer to continue that project or be one of the two groups to represent Stark Industries at the tech conference." Bruce's eyes widened. "Honestly, that was always in the cards. There are a few good ideas there worth pulling together. So I sent the project down to one of the lower groups that would benefit from focusing on it. That way your group can focus on the conference." He smiled. "And you can focus on our project."
"Clever," Bruce said with a thin smile. "But if I wasn't working on the project with you?"
"You know as well as I do I put you in that group because I like that group. My putting you there was just another way of my showing my favoritism toward them. I trust them and think they have a lot of untapped potential. They just needed you as a sort of kick start."
"And here I was starting to worry I'd have to prove myself to the Directors," Bruce said with a fond shake of his head.
Tony snorted. "Yeah, horrible idea because I'm going to do whatever the hell I want with this company with or without them. Here's your monthly reminder, Bruce. You don't have to prove anything."
"Thank you," Bruce said genuinely in spite of their casualness. Due to his how deeply his past was ingrained he did still need the reminder from time to time and this had been one of those times. Suddenly his phone rang and their conversation was brought to a halt. "It's Principal Coulson," he said and quickly answered it. "Bruce Banner speaking. Yes. She is? That explains a lot actually. Yeah, she seemed a little high strung this morning. Wanda too? Oh. Alright. We'll be there as soon as we can. Thank you, Principal Coulson."
"I heard Wanda," Tony said immediately. "Who else and what's the damage?"
Bruce sighed and buried his head in his hands. "Jemma has a fever of 101. I should have noticed something was wrong. But she didn't feel warm this morning." He shook his head against his open palms. "And Wanda couldn't keep lunch down. And her temperature is climbing too."
"Hey," Tony said soothingly, "not your fault. It was a pretty crazy morning. And we knew this was a possibility." That was true. Only the week before they had been discussing preventative measures in combating the influenza outbreak and how they might handle it if it struck their massive family. "We'll get through this together."
"You know," Bruce thought he sounded pitiful, "logically I know that. Theoretically I know just because today has been one stressful incident after another it doesn't mean it won't be fine. But…" He sighed. "But right now I'm stressed to the max and I just want to pick up our sick kids and go home and forget today ever happened. Right now I'm not in the state of mind to do anything else. I might cry if somebody spills milk, honestly."
"I have definitely been there," Tony said in a rueful tone and stood to his feet. "So we're going to do just that."
Bruce looked up at him in confusion. "We're going to cry over spilled milk?"
"No, but I wouldn't be against spilling some milk just to get it over with," Tony said jokingly and held out his hand. "We're going to go pick up our sick kids and go home and make sure Steve isn't seeing pink elephants. And you and I are going to tuck our sick kids into bed and then we're going to take a siesta of our own."
"Sounds too good to be true," Bruce said with a pathetic snort and let Tony pull him off the couch.
"Right, but first you're going to take a shower," Tony said and started pulling him toward the master bedroom.
"What?" Bruce's already low-functioning brain sputtered. "A shower?"
"Yes, because I told you that you needed one and maybe I'm wrong and this won't solve anything, but it's worth a shot," he said as he practically dragged him into the en suite and began the task of starting the shower and undressing. "So you, me, shower and if you think the sick kids can wait a few minutes longer in the nurse's office and Steve won't try to operate heavy machinery," he looked at him with a smirk and Bruce gave a soft chortle at Tony's endless amusing antics, "maybe also that blowjob I owe you."
Bruce closed his eyes and sighed. "Eat your heart out, Valentino."