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Shrapnel To The Heart, Scalpel To The Brain

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

The emergency alarm blared through the tower, ripping Steve from a fitful sleep as he sat up in bed. His muscles were tense as he looked around the bedroom wide-eyed, breathing heavily as his heart thudded in his chest.

 

“W-wha-“ he slurred, blinking away the deep from his eyes as the emergency alarm continued to blare around him.

 

Even after a month of living there again, the place still somehow felt foreign. His bedroom was set up the same way it always had been; tan-colored walls, a large window with a thick curtain keeping the New York City lights out, his drafting desk in the corner, covered in paintbrushes and charcoal, folders of finished drawing and stacks of unused paper. 

 

It was undeniably his, but…

 

The tower hadn’t been the same since he and the others got back.

 

Steve and the ‘Rogues’ as the media had called them had received pardons when they came back to the States, so long as they agreed to abide by the amended Sokovia Accords. As much as Steve had hated it, had wanted to fan the flames of another upheaval at the mere thought of the government putting a stop to him trying to protect people, there wasn’t much he could do.

 

T’Challa had a kingdom to run, he’d said so himself- he couldn’t babysit the rogues and perform his duties as king at the same time. The man had even signed the accords himself, urging the super soldier to take the deal while it was still on the table.

 

So he had. He may have been bitter about it, but it was better to be bitter and not a fugitive than the alternative. 

 

The only saving grace he had bee table to count on was the fact that Bucky had also been pardoned, both from the things he’d been accused of at the UN meeting and of the charges brought up against the Winter Soldier….provide he goes to therapy and stays off the active roster until his therapist cleared him.

 

Steve wasn’t sure who had managed to strike up that deal, but he still needed to thank them- that, or he had some kind of a guardian angel looking over him, who had also somehow managed to convince Ton- Stark to allow them back into Avenger’s tower. 

 

Sure, they all- they being himself, Clint, Sam, Bucky, Wanda, and Natasha- lived on one floor now, a level beneath the penthouse where the billionaire himself lived, but it wasn’t like the place didn’t have all the necessities. It was Avengers Tower, after all. 

 

Still, Stark has avoided them like the plague. They weren’t allowed up in the penthouse, and he never joined them for team-building exercises or workouts. They only ever saw him during missions, and even then he was distant. 

 

A part of Steve wanted to tell the man that he was being ridiculous, ignoring them all like that- that he was acting like a child and he should just grow up already- but another part of him just want everything to go back to the way it used to be before any of this ever happened. 

 

When they still considered one another family. 

 

“Jarvis-“ he paused, shaking his head. No- no, Jarvis was gone, right… Stark had a new AI running the tower, Friday, he was pretty sure her name was. “Uh- F-Friday, what’s goin’ on?” He asked, glancing up at the ceiling out of habit. When the AI gave no response, Steve found himself clambering out of bed and pulling on some sweatpants. 

 

He left his room and ran down the hall, only to come face to face with Clint, Wanda, and Natasha. 

 

“What’s going on?” Clint asked, glancing between the two. 

 

“No idea- did Stark blow up his lab or something?” Steve asked, only for Bruce and Thor to make it to the living room with bleary eyes and tangled hair, stepping out of the private elevator that led to the penthouse. 

 

Right…the two still lived in the penthouse. 

 

“What’s happening?” Bruce asked as he fixed his glasses. “Friday won’t respond to me, ” the scientist said anxiously.

 

“Last to the party it looks like- anyone figure out what the alarm’s for?” Sam asked as he and Bucky came from around the corner, suited up and ready for action. 

 

“No clu-“ 

 

Steve was cut off by the flatscreen in the living room turning on, sparking to life and illuminating the somewhat dark room. The Avengers shared a look before heading towards it cautiously. Things didn’t really tend to work out for them when the technology they surrounded themselves with started doing things on its own.

 

The screen filled with static before clearing up to reveal a dark room with a solitary chair in the center. In that chair, bound in thick corded cables, was Tony. The Avengers tensed, hands curling into fists at the sight. “What is this-“ Natasha started to say, only for the camera to pan to the right and reveal another figure.

 

Avengers…” the nasally voice said, the sound reverberating through the room and causing the heroes to groan inwardly.

 

“MODOK…” Sam muttered with a roll of the eyes as the telepath grinned wider. 

 

“How pleasant it is to have such a captive audience! You all know our star,” the man (if he could even be called that anymore) cackled, gesturing with a misshapen arm to the unconscious form of their resident billionaire genius. “I’d say you’re rather familiar with him, in fact,” he said with a wicked grin.

 

The Avengers furrowed their collective brow in confusion, causing the telepath to cackle with mad glee.

 

“We all have our masks, Avengers- the face we put on to hide part of ourselves from the world. Some of us…” he said pointedly, glancing towards Tony. “…have more than others.” 

 

Great, now we gotta save Stark,” Clint growled, eyes narrowed at the man on the screen. 

 

“This doesn’t seem like your M.O….kidnapping people like a common criminal, now?” Natasha asked with a smirk. The telepath was easy to upset- and despite his great intelligence, he tended to give up details when he started ranting.

 

“I am no common criminal, Black Widow!” Modok shrieked, his eyes wide and angry as he stared at the redhead. “Red Skull has personally requested my help with this…endeavor of his. The chance to torture Tony Stark and tear the Avengers apart from the inside out once more? How is that something I could refuse?” He asked with a maniacal grin.

 

Tony shifted in his sleep, wincing before stilling once more.

 

“What mockery is this? He thinks we can be so easily swayed to turn against one another?” Thor asked, brow furrowed in a mixture of confusion and insult. “Your capture of my shield brother shall only strengthen our bond, Modok,” the Asgardian continued, thrusting a hand out to summon his hammer.

 

Right, Thor and Bruce had been off-world when the whole ‘Civil War’ fiasco had happened. Steve wondered just how much Tony had told them about the event….he wondered how much he left out.

 

The rogues couldn’t help but glance towards Thor as he stood defiantly against Modok’s words, Bruce staring up at him determinedly beside the god. 

 

Maybe they didn’t know as much as he thought.

 

“He’s working with Red Skull,” Bucky muttered, Natasha catching his eye and steeling her gaze. “They have something up their sleeve, I can feel it,” he breathed, staring the woman in the eyes. 

 

Modok cackled again, weird shrunken legs kicking in glee before his expression darkened. “As I said before, we all have our masks. The weak cling to the strong- it is in their nature. But what good is a hero that is so very fragile?” He asked, eyes wide as he stared at them through the screen. 

 

No one answered- no one dared to even move. 

 

“Secrets…they can cause so much pain, can’t they, Captain?” Modok asked in a sing-song voice, grin on his face as Steve’s hand curled into a fist. “Ooh, the tension is palpable with you all! You’re already on the verge of fracturing again- this is going to be easy!” 

 

Bruce furrowed his brow, glancing towards the Captain in confusion. He opened his mouth to speak, only to collapse to the ground as his eyes rolled back into his head. Thor was quick to follow, then Natasha, Wanda, Sam, Clint- Steve glanced towards Bucky, watching the man collapse to his knees before blacking out on the floor.

 

“Nighty night, Avengers~,” Modok said with a grin as Steve blacked out himself.

 

- - -

 

When he awoke, it was to the sound of groans. Steve blinked open his eyes, squinting at the vast expanse of endless white in his field of view. He winced, sitting up slowly, and glanced around as the Avengers slowly came to and did the same.

 

"Where the hell are we...?" Sam asked, brow furrowed in confusion as he glanced around. 

 

"A void of some kind by the looks of it," Bruce replied, clambering up off the floor and picking his glasses up in the process, dusting his hands off on his pants and putting his glasses back on. 

 

"And...how did we end up in a void...?" Clint asked with a raised eyebrow. 

 

"Modok's a telepath, remember? We're probably unconscious right now," Natasha said, eyes scanning the area around them. "Unless Tony decided to install some reflecting room in the tower in the dead of night without anyone's knowledge," she continued, crossing her arms over her chest. 

 

"Nay- Mjolnir's voice is distant...as if she were in another realm. We must be unconscious- though to share dreams with your kinfolk is worthy of praise; it is symbolic of strong ties," Thor said with a grin, glancing around the group. He paused when the others avoided his eyes, glancing back at Bruce in confusion.

 

"What's-" 

 

The god was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a screen in the void, floating in the air and glowing a soft blue color. The group went on the defensive, narrowed eyes staring up at the image with mistrust. It flickered to life, warping and stretching before the image of what looked like a nursery appeared before them.

 

"What...the...?" Steve breathed, brow furrowed in confusion.

 

The room was pentagonal in shape, with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf lining the largest wall and a tall lamp standing guard at the doorway. The desk pushed up against another wall was covered in papers and maps, numbers and messy notes scrawled onto their surfaces as red ink hashed large X's all over the map.

 

Across the room sat a crib, beside the radiator under the window, just out of reach from the desk against the wall. It was filled with dark red fabric, the silk cloth bathing the wooden crib in velvet hues as something squirmed inside it.

 

Smoke wafted through the air, trailing from a cigar held between the fingers of a man in suspenders and a pencil mustache. He paced back and forth through the room, a rotary phone held in the hand with the cigar as the man held the body of the phone with his free hand. 

 

"Howard..." Steve breathed, eyes wide as he stared up at a man whose face he hadn't seen in ages. 

 

"Yes, no I understand, Peg," Howard said, continuing to pace through the room and waving distractedly at the smoke floating in the air around him as he spoke. "It couldn't be helped- Maria was giving birth and insisted I be there. Thankfully the baby was a boy," he said, glancing towards the crib in the corner.

 

"He's a week old, why?"

 

The man pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment, wincing in pain before putting it back.

 

"Yeah, yeah, you can see him eventually- but first we focus on Cap. The data from those new airplanes has got to yield something, I'm sure of it," Howard said, brow furrowed in thought as he stomped his way over towards the desk covered in clutter, setting the body off the phone down and rifling through the papers. 

 

"No- she's fine, just tired," he paused, standing up straight and glancing at the crib one more time before shaking his head and continuing to sort through the paperwork with his free hand. "His name's Anthony. Anthony Edward Stark- no, Edward is Maria's father's name. Anthony's my middle name," he said, furrowing his brow and letting out a huff.

 

He rolled his eyes and shifted the phone to his other hand, setting the cigar down in a tray and using his now free hand to search another stack of papers. "Yes, yes, he's healthy- you can meet him later, Peggy, Hell, Cap can meet him later if this pans out for us. Can we focus now?" he asked with a twinge of annoyance in his voice. 

 

The baby, Anthony, shifted in the crib, a soft whine escaping him and causing Howard to glance towards the infant. The baby started whining louder, causing Howard to huff and turn his attention back towards his desk with a shake of his head. 

 

"Found it!" the man said triumphantly, holding a piece of paper aloft with a grin on his face. "Don't go anywhere, peg, I'm bringing the raw data to you right now," he said before hanging up the phone and grabbing his discarded cigar. 

 

The baby in the crib moved on from whining and started crying, his toothless mouth open as wails erupted from his mouth. Howard groaned, looking annoyed by the sound before ringing a bell that was attached to the wall by a long cable that disappeared into the ceiling.

 

A few moments later a chestnut-haired man appeared in the doorway, dressed in a suit and poking his head into the office. "You rang for me, sir?" he asked, his voice warm as he spoke.

 

"Take care of Anthony- I have to get these papers to Agent Carter," Howard said as he tugged on the jacket that had been discarded over the back of the office chair. "Make him stop doing-" he gestured vaguely towards the crib, in which the baby was still crying. "-that."

 

"Y-yes sir," the man replied, his expression slightly confused as he glanced between the crib and the millionaire. Howard took off, leaving the British man to turn his attention fully towards the baby. He scooped the child up and help him close, bouncing as he hushed the boy. 

 

"Shh, it's alright, Anthony, it's alright. Let's get you some milk, hm? You're probably famished..." the man said as he left the office, turning off the light and closing the door behind him.

 

The void was silent for a moment before Clint cleared his throat obnoxiously. "So what the fuck was that?" he asked, glancing around the group for some kind of explanation.

 

Steve shook his head, still too shocked to say anything. That had been Howard- and judging by the salt and pepper hairs invading his temples, he was in his 30's or 40's. It warmed his heart to think that the man had spent so much time looking for him, even if it had been a lost cause at the time.

 

"That was Howard Stark," Bucky said, his voice soft and distant. "So that baby was probably... Tony Stark..." he muttered. 

 

The group turned their attention towards the former assassin before glancing back up towards the screen. "So, what, that was like, one of Stark's memories or something?" Clint asked, crossing his arms over his chest. "Great- just great! Somehow, this entire situation becomes about him, again," he said bitterly.

 

"Are you really surprised?" Wanda asked with an unimpressed raise of the eyebrow. 

 

Bruce and Thor furrowed their brows in confusion, glancing towards one another before looking back towards the others.

 

Just what were they missing?

 

- - -

 

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

Just what were they missing?

 

- - -

 

"So if that was one of Stark's memories, would that mean we're in his...head...?" Sam asked, his voice a mixture of concern and confusion as he glanced around the group. 

 

"Modok is a powerful telepath- he could have somehow plopped us down inside of Tony's subconscious or something," Bruce said, eyes lingering on the screen that floated in the air above them. "It doesn't ake the most amount of sense, but we've all seen weirder," he said, finally glancing back down at the group.

 

They looked tense- the air surrounding them was palpable with it. This caused the brunet to furrow his brow in thought, wondering just what was going on with everyone. He and Thor hadn't been gone for more than 6 months, and when they returned, they found Tony living alone in the penthouse while the rest of the team (plus a few new faces that hadn't lived there when he'd left) lived one floor below. 

 

The billionaire had given them the choice of joining the others downstairs or keeping their old living spaces when they'd come back, and of course, they'd stayed where they were. They weren't going to leave the man to live alone at the top of the world.

 

Neither was sure what had happened between the billionaire and those that resided a floor below them now, but Tony had been so tight-lipped about everything, including preventing Friday from explaining anything to them, that they'd been left in the dark for nearly a month at this point. 

 

Bruce could see the divide in the team- on one side stood Steve, Clint, Wanda, and Sam, while Natasha and the scraggly guy- Bucky, right, that was his name- fell somewhere in the middle. Neither one took jabs at Tony like he'd seen Clint and Wanda do, and they weren't as cold to the man out in the field as Sam or Steve...not that Bucky went out into the field, that is.

 

Whatever it was that had come between them was something big- Bruce just wished he knew what it was. 

 

"Look," Thor said, pointing to the screen as it lit up again.

 

The group glanced up, pausing in their musings as another image appeared on the screen.

 

The image of a 3-month-old baby splayed out on a blanket that had been laid on the floor appeared on the screen, giving the group an actual look at the child. He had warm olive skin, chubby cheeks, and curly black hair that topped his head as he laid at the ground, looking curiously up at the ceiling- and coincidentally the non-existent camera. 

 

The boy gurgled happily, bright blue eyes full of joy as he shook a rattle vigorously back and forth. He kicked his legs in quick succession, continuing to shake the rattle as the image shifted to show where the baby was. 

 

He lay on the ground in a living room, a pair of reading chairs on either side of a grand fireplace a few feet away. Baby Anthony lit up when someone came into the room, a woman, by the look of her heels, his eyes following her movements as his mouth spread into a toothless smile.

 

"Hello dearest," the woman said with a smile as she reached down and picked the boy up before swaddling him in her arms. "My little Antonio- what have you been up to?" she asked, her warm blue eyes staring into the child's. The baby gurgled in response, one hand still clutching the rattle as the other moved to grab the woman's outstretched pinkie.

 

"Really? Sounds just like your father's work," the woman replied with a bigger smile, bouncing the boy as she spoke. 

 

"Maria? Maria where are you?" 

 

The woman glanced up from the face of her child to look towards the doorway that led to another room, her shoulders falling slightly. "Let's go see what daddy wants, hm?" she asked the boy before walking through the doorway and down the hall. 

 

She turned a corner and knocked on the door to Howard's office, pushing open the slightly ajar door and peeking inside. "You called for me, dear?" she said, looking around the room for the man. Maria paused at the sight of papers scattered across the floor, swallowing thickly as she glanced towards the desk, only to find an empty bottle of scotch sitting on its surface.

 

"Howard...?" she questioned, opening the door fully and glancing around the room for the man. 

 

"There you are- Christ, woman, what took you so long?" Howard asked, dancing up from the box he had been rifling through for only a moment before looking back down and rummaging some more. 

 

"Sorry dear- did you need something?" 

 

"What? Oh- yes," Howard replied, running a hand through his hair in an attempt to smooth it back, though he only ended up mussing it up further. "I have a meeting with the Strategic Homeland Enforcement Intervention and Logistics Division," he said, growling softly to himself before overturning the box of papers onto the floor. "And Agent Carter won't stop nagging me about the boy," he continued, staring angrily at the mess surrounding his knees. 

 

"So if you could accompany me tomorrow and bring him so that she can meet him and finally get back to work, that would be fantastic," he said, picking up another piece of paper and scanning it with his eyes. "For Christ's sake," he grumbled, throwing the paper down angrily.

 

"What are you looking for?" Maria asked, shifting Anthony against her shoulder and bouncing him gently. 

 

"I thought I had back-ups of Steve's old military files... they could give some kind of insight as to just where that damn plane was heading before the bastard took it down," he said, pulling another box out of the closet and tossing the lid aside. 

 

"I see- maybe you should call it day? I'm nearly finished with supper and Antonio here could use-"

 

"It's Anthony, Maria. He's an American citizen with an American name. He doesn't need to be looked down on because he's half Italian," Howard said off-handedly, unaware of the hurt blooming in Maria's eyes. 

 

"O-of course. And supper?" she said, glancing back towards the door before looking back down at her husband. 

 

"Does it look like I've got time to eat right now, Maria? I'm in the middle of something. Get Edwin to watch the boy if you're incapable of multi-tasking," Howard said, flipping through more papers. Maria nodded once in reply, turning on her heel to leave the room quietly.

 

"Oh and shut the door while you there, dear," Howard called out, the chestnut-haired woman doing just that. She let out a shaky breath before steeling her features and walking down the hall with Anthony still held against her.

 

"Don't worry, Antonio- Papa loves you, the doctor said it's likely just that he's nervous for your well-being... he doesn't want to mess anything up, so he's keeping his distance. He- he'll come around eventually," she said, her voice cracking as she made her way back towards the kitchen.

 

Was she trying to assure the 3-month-old or herself?

 

Bruce knew the truth. Tony had never been very open about his past with any of them- but every once in a while, back when they shared a lab, back when the team was new, Tony would talk to him about certain things. Sure, it wasn't until the man had practically finished off a bottle of scotch that his lips got loose, but the fact that he saw Bruce as someone he could confide in made his heartache.

 

Howard had never been close to Tony. He'd always been cold and distant from what Tony had said, always a drink in one hand and a blowtorch in the other. He wasn't sure about the man's relationship with his mother. Tony never spoke about her...but from what he'd just seen, she couldn't have been a better one, especially given the cards she'd been dealt.

 

"I always wondered who Howard would settle down with," Steve commented, glancing towards Bucky. 

 

"I never thought he would," replied the man, eyes still glued to the now blank screen. Bruce could see the guilt in his eyes- it was a look he was familiar with. It was eating the former assassin from the inside out...though why it was there, Bruce didn't know. Had...had he wanted to marry the man himself? 

 

He wasn't sure- and he had a feeling no one was going to enlighten him either.

 

"I'll give him this- Stark was a cute kid," Sam said after a moment, shifting his weight as he tore his eyes away from the screen to look around the group. He got a couple of raised eyebrows in response, but he shrugged them away. "Listen, I'm not the one that has beef with the guy," he defended himself, crossing his arms over his chest. 

 

Oh, how Bruce wished they would stop playing this stupid game. 

 

"Oh joy, another one..." Wanda said with a roll of her eyes. "I cannot be the only one who would rather do anything else than bear witness to Tony Stark's privileged childhood..." he muttered bitterly, crossing her arms over her chest as another 'memory' as Bruce supposed they could be assumed to be, played. 

 

The scene opened on the mansion again, though this time the room was what looked like a study of some kind. Anthony, who had to be about 8 months old by this point, crawled along the floor in a Captain America-themed onesie. He seemed to have his sights set on a discarded plush bunny sitting on the floor as he crawled closer to it. 

 

He gurgled as he moved, finally reaching the toy and plopping himself down on his butt before grabbing the toy and shaking it. 

 

"You're getting much too fast for your own good, little one," a woman's voice, one that was very familiar, said, following the boy and pausing just behind him. 

 

Steve's eyes widened at the sight of the woman as she grinned and shook her head at the toddler.

 

"Peggy..." he and Bucky breathed in unison.

 

"If your father could pull his arse out of his head for more than a few moments, he would have noticed you wander off," she said, crouching down and picking the curly-haired boy up off the floor. "Let's go, little one," she said, holding him over her shoulder and leaving the study. 

 

The scene shifted to an image of Howard lounging in one of the reading chairs in the living room, cigar in his mouth as he looked over the newspaper in his hands. "Maria, the stock for SI went up two whole points- haha! take that, you bastards," he said with a grin, smirking down at the page as Peggy came into the room with Anthony in tow.

 

He glanced up momentarily to her, pausing at the sight of the toddler and folding his newspaper forward to glanced down at the empty blanket laying on the floor. "Huh. Must've wandered off," he said before looking back up towards Peggy. "Well, good work, Carter. What are you doing here anyway?" he asked, taking a puff of his cigar as he glanced back down at his paper.

 

Peggy rolled her eyes and set the toddler back down on the blanket, watching him happily shake his toy with a soft smile of her own. "Can't I drop by to say hello to an old friend?" she asked, raising a brow towards the man and getting a shake of the head in response. 

 

"And the real reason?"

 

"I'm taking a leave of absence," Peggy replied, glancing towards the kitchen to find Maria poke her head through the doorway. "Maria, darling, how have you been?" she asked, walking towards the woman and embracing her.

 

"A leave of absence? Peg, you realize we still have an entire government organization to run, right?" Howard said, folding his newspaper and tossing it onto the fire burning in the fireplace. "Not to mention our little side project..." 

 

Peggy pulled back from Maria to give the man an unimpressed look. "I understand that Howard, but this is important," she said, lifting a hand to show off a ring wrapped around her finger with a grin. 

 

Maria's eyes widened, a smile appearing on her face as she gestured for Peggy to bring the item closer. "Who's the lucky man?" she asked, taking hold of the agent's hand and looking into her eyes. 

 

"His name's Daniel Sousa," she said, fidgeting with the ring as she smiled at the thought of the man. She bit her lip, shaking her head before speaking again. "He's a soldier I met," she continued, getting an unimpressed look from Howard.

 

"So you're just giving up on Steve that easily, huh?" he asked, shoving his hands into his pants pockets. "I'm surprised at you, Carter."

 

Peggy sighed, giving the man a look as if she'd been expecting this reaction. "Howard, it's been nearly 25 years. Eventually, you have to move on- I can't waste my life waiting on a man that's probably dead..." she trailed off, hands curling into fists before she unclenched them.

 

"Daniel makes me happy- and he's a man that I think Steve would approve of," she said, reaching out to set a hand on the millionaire's arm. "Can't you just be happy for me? It's not everyday a woman in her 40's gets another chance at love," she said.

 

Howard sighed, his resolve cracking. "Fine...but this Sousa guy better treat you right, Peg. If he doesn't, I won't hesitate to bust down the door, and start swinging," he said, crossing his arms over his chest.

 

"So now I can't handle myself?" Peggy asked with a smirk, quirking her eyebrow and causing the millionaire to stammer. 

 

"What? N-no I- I just meant-" 

 

Howard paused when he felt a tugging on his pant leg, glancing down to find Anthony hoisting himself up by latching his tiny hands onto the fabric and heaving himself up onto his feet. "Anthony- I'm busy," Howard replied with an unimpressed look, jostling his leg and shaking it free of the child. 

 

The toddler wobbled for a moment before plopping back down onto his butt, blinking up at the man before reaching for his pant leg once more. 

 

"Ah- ah- no more of that," Howard said, taking a wide step away from the boy, just in time for Maria to scoop him up off the floor. 

 

"Howard, that was the first time the bambino stood up all on his own," Maria said, cooing at the baby before glancing towards her husband. At his lack of a response, she turned her attention towards Peggy. "When's the wedding?" 

 

"Two weeks," Peggy replied with a warm smile. 

 

"Well, we'll be sure to be there," Maria continued, glancing down at the son in her arms before picking up his tiny arm and making him wave at the agent. "I'm sure Antonio will look dashing in a suit," she said, getting a look from Howard.

 

"Anthony," he said pointedly. 

 

"Well I'll see you both then, in that case," Peggy replied, ignoring Howard's comment and placing a kiss on little Anthony's forehead. She waved goodbye to the trio and left the room, the sound of the front door closing following not too long after. 

 

Doesn't she have grandkids...?" Natasha asked aloud, her question aimed towards no one in particular- though there was a bit of an edge to her voice. "Or a niece, at least?" 

 

Bruce wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean, but the sight of Steve wilting ever so slightly only made him even more confused. Disregarding that, he wasn't entirely sure just what Modok's plan here was- this, so far, felt like the superhero version of going through someone's old baby album.

 

How that was supposed to divide the Avengers (well, more so than they already seemed to be) was beyond him.

 

"Do we have any kind of plan for getting out of here?" He asked, glancing around the group and finding blank stares looking back at him- which meant no one had even thought of that. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose before fixing his glasses. "That answers that."

 

"Bruce, it's Modok- what the hell are we supposed to do? If Sam's right, to make matters worse, we're inside Stark's head," Clint said, glancing around the place with an unimpressed look. "I say we wait it out and see what else this guy wants to dig up about Stark. I bet he was the brattiest kid around," he said with more aggression than the scientist had been expecting.

 

Bruce sighed again, wishing he and Thor would have just stayed in space. 

 

- - -

 

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

Bruce sighed again, wishing he and Thor would have just stayed in space. 

 

- - -

 

The room was dark and eerily silent, save for the rhythmic, distant dripping of water. It was cold, wind nipping at his skin and jostling him abruptly into wakefulness. 

 

He blinked slowly, his chest aching as he stared down at what looked like his shoes. He needed to take his pain medication- something he was needing more and more as each day passed and the Arc Reactor took a toll on his aging body. 

 

But back to his shoes- he furrowed his brow at the sight of them, leaning back and finding himself surrounded in darkness. There was single, solitary light hanging from a string above him, but when he tried to move to get a better look around, thick metal cables kept him in place. They pinched at his skin when he tried to move, his head swimming if he maneuvered around too much.

 

"Where the hell am I...?" he questioned, his voice raspy from disuse. How long had he been out? Obviously, he'd been kidnapped, but the question was by who- not everyone could sneak into the tower and snatch him just like that.

 

Unless he hadn't passed out in the tower and had ended up drunkenly stumbling through the streets of New York at 4 o' clock in the morning again- the only problem with that theory was that he'd been sober for nearly a year now.

 

Focus, Tony- you need to escape!

 

The billionaire shook the wandering thoughts from his head, glancing down at the cables currently strapping him to the (very uncomfortable) chair. Stainless steel, by the looks of it, probably 1/4th of an inch thick, wrapped around him...8, no, 9 times. He strained his neck in an attempt to see just what was keeping the cables in place, ignoring the pounding in his head as he did.

 

Looked like a simple clamp- easily broken off by a pair of bolt cutters (or a repulsor blast) but not very easily busted through with brute strength alone- unless you were a super-soldier or something. 

 

The question of just who had the balls to kidnap him still lingered in the back of his mind, but he shoved the thought to the side in favor of focusing on his escape. Without knowing where he was, there was no way to call a suit to him- he wasn't like Thor, he couldn't call the armor from anywhere he wanted, there was a distance limit believe it or not.

 

So that ruled out that option- maybe he could just bide his time and wait for the others to get here? Sure, he had no idea how long he was knocked out or how long he'd been missing from the Tower, but once Bruce or Thor or hell, maybe even Natashalie realized he wasn't there they'd send out a search party of some kind. 

 

Unless-

 

"No- no. Don't even go down that road, you'll just end up spiraling," the billionaire muttered to himself, shaking the dark thoughts from his mind. 

 

But what if this wasn't a random kidnapping? 

 

"No- stop it, brain, for fuck's sake," Tony growled, shaking his head and trying to think of something- anything else. 

 

What if...what if his group was behind this? They could persuade Bruce, his precious science bro, that everything was fine- Thor won't go against him if he tells him his shield brother is just fine... and Natasha? She betrayed you once already, what's a little more red in her ledger for old time's sake?

 

"You sound so paranoid," Tony muttered in angry annoyance, setting his jaw as he shifted against the cables. He hated that his voice quivered ever so slightly. 

 

The Rogues were antagonistic toward him, yes, but for the most part, they kept to themselves. They never bothered him in the penthouse, and hardly ever said a word unrelated to the mission at hand while in the field. 

 

The group was happy just to pretend he didn't exist-- while living in his tower, of course. 

 

He'd be lying to himself if that didn't hurt more than any stinging words they might throw his way.

 

The man sighed, shoulders slumping before shaking the thoughts from his head once more. "That's fine- I'm Tony Fucking Stark, I can get myself out of a simple kidnapping," he said to himself, steeling his gaze.

 

"Been doing it all my life."

 

- - -

 

The mystical memory screen was giving the group no time to rest as it launched into another dream, causing the heroes to stare up at it.

 

The image opened on what looked like the backyard of Stark Mansion, lush green grass covering the ground until it met the bed of colorful flowers that surrounded the large house. Maria sat in a lawn chair, a lemonade in her hand and shades over her eyes as she watched her one-year-old son waddle through the grass, butler following dutifully behind the boy. 

 

"That's it, there you go," the silver-haired man said encouragingly, grinning down at the toddler as he wobbled on his feet. "Back to mama now, let's go, Anthony," he said, corralling the boy in the other direction and towards the patio. 

 

"Mama!" the toddler said happily before crashing into her legs and putting his weight against them. Maria grinned and set her drink down on the small glass table beside her before picking the boy up and setting him in her lap.

 

"That's right- and who's that?" she asked, pointing a finger towards the butler. Baby Tony giggled and bounced on his mother's leg, hands curling and curling reflexively.

 

"Jahvi!" the curly-haired toddler said happily, causing the woman to coo at him. 

 

"That's right! That's Jarvis!" she said with a laugh, taking the one-year-old's tinny hands in her own. "Antonio, do you know who papa is?" she asked, pale blue eyes reflecting off her son's. 

 

The boy's smile faded, replaced with a look one might give if they were in trouble. "Papa... papa scah-ey," he replied, sticking his bottom lip out as he looked up at her. 

 

"Oh no no no, bambino, don't make that face- Papa loves you, you know that- Papa loves you just as much as Mama and Jarvis do," she said, running a gentle hand over the child's curly locks. "He's not scary- he's just..." she glanced up towards the silver-haired man for some kind of assistance. "Loud." 

 

Baby Tony immediately brought his hands up to cover his ears, a pitiful look still on his face. Maria couldn't help but chuckle, shaking her head at the boy and taking his hands in hers once more. "Bambino..." she said slowly, biting down on her bottom lip before shaking her head. 

 

"N-nevermind. Why don't you go play with Jarvis some more? I'll have Ana fix us some lunch," she said, caressing the small boy's head once more before setting him back down on the ground and standing up herself. 

 

Anthony watched her leave, confusion etched into his chubby little face before Jarvis crouched down to be at eye level with him. "Come, Anthony, why don't we go look at the birds?" he asked, holding out a hand for the boy to grab. His gaze lingered on the glass door his mother had walked through before he turned towards Jarvis with a grin. 

 

"Okie!"

 

The image shifted, colors swirling and shifting around the screen before they coalesced once more and showed what had to be Howard's lab. The man himself was sitting hunched over at a work table, sparks flying from the soldering torch in his hand and hitting the welding mask he had on over his face. 

 

The sparks stopped after a moment, allowing the millionaire to lean back and lift his mask up. He tilted his head at what looked like an engine built for a scooter in front of him, eyes calculating as he narrowed them in thought. He turned towards a notepad he had sitting beside his project, picking up a pen and jotting something down before glancing back at the miniature engine.

 

There was a sudden crash, causing the man to flinch and whip his head back to look for the source of the sound. 

 

He found Tony standing beside an overturned toolbox, eyes wide and hands over his ears as he stared at the mess he'd just made. He glanced up at his father as Howard stood, dropping his hands in favor of pointing a finger at the mess. "Loud," he said, blinking up at the millionaire.

 

"What have I told you about messing around with the things in my lab, Anthony?" Howard asked, his voice cold and stern as he glared down at the one-year-old. When the boy didn't answer, instead choosing to look between the tools scattered across the ground and his father, Howard's eyes narrowed.

 

"I asked you a question, Anthony."

 

The toddler blinked, his face beginning to scrunch up as his bottom lip wobbled. Howard let out an exasperated and angry puff of air through his nose, pinching the bridge of his nose before pointing at the mess and snapping. "Clean it up. Now." 

 

Anthony glanced down at the mess before looking back up at the man, lip still wobbling as he crouched down and picked up a wrench before offering it to the man. 

 

"No, did I say hand it to me? Turn the toolbox over and pick everything up- it's not that hard, boy!" Howard snapped, causing the toddler to drop the wrench out of fear and right on top of his foot. Anthony yelped, tears springing to his eyes as he fell over onto his butt and started to wail. 

 

"For Christ's sake- stop that, Anthony," Howard said with a roll of his eyes, not swayed by the toddler's cries. "Quit your crying and finish the job you started- you're not going to be some lay-about who doesn't work for anything in his life," he growled, eyes narrowing on the child that was still crying. 

 

"Will you stop that crying? Look at me-" he crouched down, grabbing one of the boy's hands that he'd previously been using to hide his crying eyes and wrapping his much larger hand around the child's wrist.

 

"Look at me. We are Starks, you hear me?" he asked as the boy looked at him with tear-filled eyes, snot and salty tear tracks trailing down his face as he continued to sniffle and hiccup. 

 

"Starks are made of Iron- that means we do not show weakness, you got that? If you show the world weakness it will eat you alive." Howard warned, trying (and failing) to get the toddler to pay attention to him rather than scrubbing his still crying eyes.

 

"For the love of- Jarvis!" the man yelled, standing up as he called for the butler. 

 

The man was there moments later, the door to the lab swinging open and revealing the familiar silver-haired man. "Yes, s- Anthony, what's wrong? Has something happened, sir?" he asked, concern lacing his voice as his gaze flicked from the curly-haired one-year-old to his father.

 

"He's fine- dropped a wrench on his own foot after he knocked over all my damn tools," Howard said, shaking his head at the boy. "Take him to his room or something. I'm sick of the crying," he said as he rubbed circles in his temple. 

 

The butler swallowed thickly and nodded, picking Anthony up and holding him against his chest before leaving the room. The toddler clung to him like a lifeline, hiccups erupting out of him as he tried to bury his face into Jarvis's shoulder. 

 

"Ssh, Anthony, it's alright. Everything's going to be alright," he said softly as he brought the boy as far away from the lab as he could. 

 

The image faded, leaving a quiet group to sit and stare at the blank screen. Natasha was the first to recover, her hands curling into fists. "Bastard..." she said with narrowed eyes, staring at the spot on the screen where Howard had been standing. 

 

"I had no idea he'd change so much..." Barnes muttered, shaking his head brought running his flesh hand through his hair. "Christ, who yells at a one-year-old like that?" he asked, glancing around the room. The rest of the group was quiet, and Bucky let out a huff of air. Could they really not separate their distaste for Stark from the images they'd just seen on the screen?

 

The former assassin glanced towards Clint- the man's expression was carefully neutral, which didn't bode well for the archer in Bucky's book. Wanda was busy looking at her nails, and while sure, Sam looked mildly uncomfortable with what he just saw, Steve seemed to be more in shock than anything else. 

 

The brunet couldn't help but shift his gaze towards Bruce and Thor, wondering what they thought about all of this. No one knew just how much Stark had told the pair about what had happened between all of them, but considering they chose to stay on the floor above, most of the group assumed they had chosen their side after hearing the billionaire's explanation. 

 

Bruce was staring up at the screen with guilt on his face, his hand clutching his own throat as the god beside him kept his hand place firmly on his shoulder. Bucky wanted to send Sam his way- he was trained in that sort of thing after all- but the tension between the divided members of the group made him unsure of who stood where. 

 

The revelation that Stark had named his former AI (the one Steve had told him the man had made while still in college) after the family butler was something he filed for later- he'd have to look into the man the billionaire saw as important enough to essentially reincarnate as a robot. 

 

For now, though, Bucky simply turned his gaze upward as another image appeared on the screen.

 

He waited for the image to change to that of a kitchen or a library but furrowed his brow when the image warped and twisted on the screen. "Uhh... Modok havin' technical difficulties now?" he asked aloud, narrowing his eyes at the screen in thought.

 

The image shifted again, warping before showing an image that was drastically different from anything they'd seen previously. For one, it looked like a POV shot- like they were looking through the eyes of someone.

 

For two, the room around them was dark...and water was dripping rhythmically in the background. 

 

- - -

 

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

For two, the room around them was dark...and water was dripping rhythmically in the background. 

 

- - -

 

Barnes went on the defensive at the sight- he knew the scene of a kidnapping when he saw one. Had Stark really been kidnapped at the ripe old age of one? A shudder went down his spine at the thought. Poor kid.

 

"Hnngh..."  he heard a groan, one that sounded very familiar, and narrowed his eyes further at the screen. He was tense as a wire as the person, who could only be Tony, blinked a couple of times and lifted his head from his shoes to glance around the dark room. "Where...the hell am I...?" he asked aloud, in a very adult and very raspy voice, causing every eye in the room to widen at the sound. 

 

"What the fuck-" Sam said, staring at the image on the screen in shock as the man shook his head, likely to clear it of any dizzying thoughts he had- Bucky had seen the man's ticks before, he could recognize them. 

 

"Focus, Tony- you need to escape!"

 

Stark's voice echoed throughout the space, surrounding the group and causing them to glance in all manner of directions for the source. Well, that was a point toward Sam's 'trapped inside Stark's mind' theory. That had to have been some kind of thought, right?

 

The billionaire glanced down at the cables that trapped him in the uncomfortable-looking chair he sat in, his eyes narrowing in thought as the Avengers watched in silence. 

 

"They'll send a search party- just don't panic."

 

Stark's voice- or rather his thought- echoed through the space again. Was he thinking about them? 

 

"Unless..."

 

Another voice- this one sounding eerily similar- if not exactly like Howard's- whispered, sending chills down the former assassin's spine. The man's voice dripped with mistrust and ill intent, causing the brunet to glance around instinctively. 

 

"No- no. Don't even go down that road, you'll just end up spiraling," Stark muttered aloud, his voice echoing in the empty room even though it was soft. The man shook his head again, likely in an attempt to get rid of the imposter Howard, only for Bucky to feel the essence of a sneer in the back of his mind. 

 

"But what if this wasn't a random kidnapping?" Howard's voice asked slowly, and Bucky could almost visualize the man stalking circles around the billionaire with narrowed eyes.

 

"No- stop it, brain, for fuck's sake," Tony growled back, straining against the cables that bound him. Bucky could tell by his voice that his panic was slowly rising, the man's heartbeat thudding in his chest. 

 

"What if...what if his group was behind this? They could persuade Bruce, your precious science bro, that everything was fine- Thor won't go against him if he tells him his shield brother is just fine...and Natasha? Come on, she betrayed you once already, what's a little more red in her ledger for old time's sake?" Howard replied, venom soaking his voice as his malicious whispers filled the air. 

 

"You sound so paranoid," Stark replied, the annoyance in his tone evident- although the fear that was there- the fear that made his voice tremble- was just as clear. The billionaire swallowed thickly, dropping his gaze to his shoes as he let out a shaky breath.

 

Bucky watched the man blink, taking in a steadying breath as he looked around the room again before glancing back at the lock wrapped around the cables. "That's fine," Stark breathed, eyes narrowing at the cables as he shifted his shoulders. "I'm Tony Fucking Stark, I can get myself out of a simple kidnapping."

 

Then, as his fingers flexed and hand rache towards his messy and torn suit pant leg, he spoke again. 

 

"Been doing it all my life."

 

- - -

 

The image warped again before going blank and leaving the group once again to stare.

 

"What the hell..." Steve breathed, eyes wide as he stared up at the screen.

 

"That- that wasn't- that couldn't have been-" Sam stammered.

 

"It matched the room that Modok threw Tony into," Natasha replied, her gaze dark as she hugged herself gently. "...he must have woken up."

 

"So those were what, his thoughts? We're privy to his inner monologue now?" Wanda asked with an unimpressed quirk of the eyebrow.

 

"That...that sounded like Howard," Steve voiced, glancing towards Bucky with a rattled look in his eyes. 

 

"Yeah, and it just goes to show you that Stark has it out for us- I mean come on, he seriously thinks we kidnapped his ass? As if- he's not worth the energy," Clint said with a roll of his eyes, though Barnes could see the spark of hurt in them as he glanced away from the group and crossed his arms over his chest. 

 

"That-" Sam shook his head. "I don't think he does," he said, looking around. The man wet his lips when all eyes fell upon him- he had no reason to defend the billionaire, so what was he getting at? 

 

"What do you mean, Samuel?" Thor asked, brow furrowed in confusion.

 

"Heh- not my name, big guy...but, uh...I- I don't think that was really Tony's thoughts there," he said, glancing towards Bucky. "That didn't sound like him, it sounded like his dad, I'm sure we all noticed that. It-" he sighed, scratching at the back of his neck.

 

"It feels like those are, well, intrusive thoughts more than anything else." 

 

"Intrusive thoughts- what, like when you get the idea to swerve into oncoming traffic at random?" Clint asked with a raised eyebrow, only to get a confused and slightly horrified look from Wanda. "What? We've all thought about it- no one's gonna act on it."

 

"Exactly like that, Clint- intrusive thoughts are often paranoid, delusional, or even harmful thoughts that come to mind at random," Sam explained, getting a slow nod from both Bucky and Natasha. "No one has control over what comes to their mind, especially not intrusive thoughts like that," he continued. "Stark even argued with them, aloud, I might add."

 

"Intrusive thoughts are often born from trauma or guilt," Natasha added, her gaze still dark a she looked at her shoes. "They only become a problem once you stop arguing with them. Once those thoughts or assumptions, however delusional or ridiculous they may seem at the time, are proven true."

 

Bucky had a feeling she was speaking from experience.

 

"But- but why would To- why would Stark's intrusive thoughts take the form of his own father? Sure, Howard was, I guess, a little neglectful when he was a baby but Maria even said he would come around," Steve replied, brow furrowed as a mixture of confusion, hurt, and anger swirled in his baby blue eyes. 

 

Natasha shook her head, Banner mimicking her movements. 'We don't get to choose our tormentors, Steve." 

 

Steve gave her a look before averting his eyes. Bucky knew that look- the man wanted to argue, to push the question and find some kind of answer that would satisfy whatever he had in his mind- but he stayed quiet.

 

Probably for the best.

 

The screen above them flickered again, warping before showing another image- this time, thankfully (or unfortunately, depending on who in the group you asked) the scene was no longer set in the darkened warehouse where Tony was trapped.

 

A part of Bucky hoped the billionaire would be okay. Another part of him knew he didn't deserve the luxury of even hoping that for the man. 

 

- - -

 

This time, the image that appeared was of a slightly older Tony Stark, likely two years old now, scribbling happily on some paper as he laid down on the floor. Scattered around him were different blocks, wooden pull toys, and plushies.

 

Tony hummed to himself, tossing away his blue crayon in favor of a red one. His tongue poked out of his mouth ever so slightly as he focused on what could only be assumed to be a drawing before he turned to glance up at the sound of floorboards creaking behind him. 

 

He blinked at the sight of Peggy standing in the doorway, a man with a crutch wrapped around his arm standing beside her. Tony brightened at the sight of them, smiling up at them as he clambered clumsily up from the floor. "An' Peggy! Unca' Danny!" he squealed, paper in hand as he ran to greet the pair. 

 

The boy ended up running into Peggy's legs, squeezing her tight before moving to hug the man's legs. He chuckled, ruffling the two-year-old's hair. "How ya doin', sport?" he asked, leaning on his crutch and tilting his head to look at Anthony's face. 

 

"Drew a picture!" the toddler replied, showing off his messy handiwork. The brunet accepted the paper and raised his eyebrows at it, tilting it towards Peggy and getting the same reaction.

 

"What is it, 'Tonio?" Peggy asked, squatting down with the page in hand. 

 

"Issa- issa-" the boy furrowed his brow in thought, pursing his lips as he struggled to come up with the word. He settled on making a noise, one that sounded like a mixture of television static and a car backfiring. "Papa makes it!" he said, taking his drawing back and looking down at the scribbled image. 

 

Peggy glanced towards her partner before looking back down at the boy. "A missile, 'Tonio?" she asked warily, to which the 2-year-old nodded feverously. "I see," she replied, glancing up and towards the kitchen in thought. "Where's your mama? Or papa for that matter?" she asked, tilting her head back down towards the curly-haired child.

 

"Mama seeping- ssshhhh," Anthony replied, holding a couple of fingers up to his mouth as he shushed the pair. "Papa working," he said before rubbing a spot on his chest, just below his collarbone.

 

The man furrowed his brow, glancing towards Peggy before squatting down slightly. "Tones, is it alright if I look at your shoulder there?" he asked, his voice calm and gentle as Tonny rubbed the spot. The boy blinked at him before pulling his shirt collar down and revealing a dark purple bruise. 

 

The pair's eyes widened at the sight, hock and fear parking in their eyes. "Daniel-" Peggy started to say, only to be interrupted by the presence of another person. 

 

"Lunch is ready mater An-" Edwin Jarvis paused in the doorway, blinking at the pair standing in the middle of the room with the two-year-old. "Agent Carter, Mr. Sousa, welcome. My apologies for not greeting you at the door, I've been busy making lunch for Anthony here," the man said, setting down a silver platter with sandwiches and applesauce on it.

 

"Is something wrong?" he asked after a moment, raising a brow when neither adult moved. Anthony, on the other hand, was happy to make his way over to the food and grab one of the sandwiches off the platter. 

 

The boy ended up knocking over the small bowl of applesauce in the process, causing his eyes to widen as it splattered all over the floor. "Uh oh..." he said, glancing back towards Jarvis with a guilty look. "Messy, messy," he said, his voice that of a child parroting something he'd likely been told before as he pointed at the mess with wide eyes.

 

The butler sighed, his eyes warm as he looked down at the boy. "It's alright, Anthony. No harm done- would you like to help me clean it up?" he asked, to which the 2-year-old nodded excitedly and set his peanut butter sandwich down on the seat of one of the reading chairs. Jarvis vanished for a few moments, coming back with a pair of damp towels in his hands. 

 

He kneeled down on the floor, handing one of the towels to the toddler before beginning to wipe up the mess.

 

"Jarvis, where's Maria?" Peggy asked, worry in her eyes as the man continued to clean. "Have you- have you seen Tonio's shoulder?"

 

The butler glanced up, a grimace on his face before he glanced back down at the floor and wiped up the last bit of the mess. "Mrs. Stark is...she's resting," he said, his gaze flicking towards the very eager 2-year-old currently handing him his towel back. "There was a skirmish."

 

"Seeping!" Tony said happily, grabbing his sandwich again and looking between Agent Carter and her husband and Jarvis. He waddled over to Daniel, reaching up with his food in hand. "Up, unca' Danny!" he said, the man grinning and indulging the boy by swooping him up with one arm.

 

"As for Anthony here," Jarvis swallowed thickly, wringing the towel in his hands. "Believe me, I've done my best to look over his injuries, Agent Carter." The woman glanced towards the boy before looking back at Jarvis.

 

"I don't doubt for a moment that you have, Jarvis- but I do have to worry at the sight," she replied.

 

"Why don't we take this discussion outside? You wanna play Cap and Commandos again, Sport?" Daniel asked, his focus shifting from the adults in the room to the boy against his hip. The other two nodded as Anthony's eyes got wide and he nodded enthusiastically.

 

"I be Cap'n!" he shrieked excitedly, bouncing in Daniel's arm as the group went outside. 

 

"Of course, Squirt- you be Cap, and I'll be your Bucky Barnes. Sound good?" he asked, setting the boy down on the grass with a grin. The toddler nodded, smile wide on his face as he ran off to grab a discarded circular object laying in the yard. The boy picked it up, revealing the object to be a miniature, wooden version of Steve's iconic shield. 

 

"C'mon Bucky! Getta bad guys!" Anthony squealed as he took off across the yard, Daniel in tow.

 

The room was quiet as the image faded, and Bruce couldn't help but glance Steve's way on instinct, watching as the man out of time tried to process all of the information he'd been given. Bruce wasn't sure if he could.

 

It was a well-known fact that Howard Stark had been one of the last people to give up looking for Steve while he was still on ice, and even then Tony had told him about the protocols in place that were meant to keep looking for the man even if Howard died before the super soldier was found.

 

It made sense that Tony, as a child, would be surrounded by those that were close to Steve during his life as well as the stories about the man and his crew. The blonde in question seemed to be realizing this as well if this expression on his face was anything to go by. 

 

"Stark sure was a fanboy," Clint said, breaking the tense silence of the room with a grin. Bruce wasn't sure if there was malice behind those teeth, but his eyes were warm enough, at least. "I mean first the onesie and now he's pretending to be you? Wonder how much of that hero-worship turned into lashing out because he couldn't measure up," the archer continued, causing Bruce to narrow his eyes at the man.

 

"Tony grew up completely immersed in Captain America memorabilia, friends, and a dad that refused to stop looking for a presumed-dead man even after 25 years," Bruce replied, crossing his arms over his chest. "You tell me, Clint if you were surrounded by memories of a man whom everyone around you only praised, wouldn't you begin to buy into it too?" 

 

The archer blinked at him, glancing up towards the blank screen before meeting the scientist's eyes once more. "I- that's-" he paused, his voice hollow, before clearing his throat and looking away.

 

Well, at least it shut him up.

 

- - -

 

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

Well, at least it shut him up.

 

- - -

 

The screen (and my extension Modok) was giving them no time to gain their bearings, choosing instead to steamroll through the awkward silence that perforated the room and choked out any words that might be said. Light flared from the screen as the display kicked up, giving them another memory to see. 

 

This kind of thing was tame compared to what she'd been through in the past, but Natasha couldn't help the overwhelming sense of wrong that invaded her core every time she became privy to another piece of Tony's past. The spy in her wanted to file the information away to be used at a later date, but the part of her that was still racked with guilt over the whole 'civil war' incident had her thinking of Tony first.

 

Especially considering the fact that they were now privy to his current thoughts as well.

 

Natasha would be lying to herself if she said that the things Tony thought- or, rather, the thoughts that had erupted from the PTSD the man suffered from- hadn't hurt. She'd tried so hard to clear her ledger, tried for so long to escape something that was entwined with her very being- and Stark knew that.

 

They'd spent countless drunken nights in the past- nights long before the idiotic 'civil war', long before the accords, long before the rift between them all grew to be so wide- sitting at the bar in the penthouse, talking about everything and nothing. They'd talked about their pasts, about how they were broken, about how the little china doll and the gilded little soldier had failed at the things they'd been built to do.

 

Tony understood. Likely in a way that no one else could. 

 

She missed him- missed what they used to have. She'd been unsure about her place in his world since returning to the tower, thinking it better to avoid him and let the man come to her, but Natasha was beginning to believe that maybe it was time to stop pussy-footing around the billionaire.

 

She was a big girl, she could handle the consequences of whatever came from their talk- and she would respect Tony's decision if he wanted nothing to do with her.

 

Natasha just hoped it wouldn't come to that. 

 

She glanced up half-heartedly at the memory on the screen, unaware of Bruce's eyes on her.

 

The image on the screen warped into that of Howard's workshop, complete with the man himself standing over some blueprints at a table. He picked up a glass and took a swig of the amber liquid inside, eyes narrowed and glassy as he chewed on his cheek.

 

The man swayed on his feet, glancing towards a now 3-year-old Tony, who was happily screwing random screws into a piece of scrap metal with pre-drilled holes. The toddler was talking to himself, or rather, to the teddy bear beside him, a smile on his face as he fumbled with the manual screwdriver that was much too big for his little hands. 

 

"Who're you talkin' to, boy?" Howard asked, his words slurred as he narrowed his eyes at the little brunet. 

 

The boy looked up and blinked at the man, tilting his head in confusion before lighting up. "Bucky bear," Anthony replied, pointing at the plush resting against the toolbox, getting a sneer from Howard and a roll of the eyes.

 

The light colored toy bear had a pale blue suit for a body, with bright red buttons, gloves, and nose accompanying it. A domino mask was sewn onto the face, with bright white dots for the eyes. 

 

Bucky remembered that uniform vividly and grimaced. 

 

"And that th-thing you're fucking with?" he asked before taking another swig of his drink. 

 

"Issa- I'm helping!" the boy smiled. 

 

"Yeah? and what use does this have besides taking up my time and energy tearing it apart? You're- you're wasting screws, Anthony, not to mention you could be- be- be-" the man shifted gears.

 

"Come over here, you- you're gonna help me with this," Howard slurred before knocking the back of his drink ad setting it on the work table.

 

The 3-year-old blinked and clambered up, grabbing the teddy bear in the process and hugging it to his chest. "Can Bucky bear help too?" he asked, coming closer to his father. Howard glanced down at the bear before snatching it from the boy's arms and tossing it across the room.

 

"What are you, three? And still playing with toys? Grow- grow up," Howard slurred before sitting down on a stool in front of a different work table. Anthony was busy looking at the discarded bear across the room, the 3-year-old's bottom lip trembling as he watched the bear slump over on the cold concrete floor.

 

"Bucky bear..." he whimpered, his pointer finger going to his mouth as he stared at the plush. 

 

"You're going to hand me th-things from that toolbox and hold- hold this soldering torch so it doesn't burn any more holes in my desk," Howard continued, his attention focused on the circuit board in front of him and the scattered materials and wires covering the table. 

 

Anthony was still looking back at Bucky bear with worry in his eyes though, standing at his father's side and barely listening.

 

"Anthony, pay attention- if you're going to run Stark Industries one day you- you had better start early. You need to know how..." Howard swallowed, eyes narrowing at his circuit board. "...how to grab life by the balls- no one's- no one's gonna do it for you," he said, setting a pair of wire cutters in the 3-year-old's hands. 

 

The boy glanced down at the tool before looking back at his bear longingly. "Bucky bear can help-" he started to say, only for the wire cutters in his hands to be taken and replaced with a miniature wrench. 

 

"That one's too big, grab a smaller one," Howard replied, pointing towards the toolbox at the end of the desk. Anthony did as he was told, setting the small tool inside and digging around before pulling out a slightly smaller one and handing it to his father.

 

"Goo- Good," Howard said, adjusting the lamp that currently shined on the circuit board he was working on. 

 

The toddler glanced back towards the abandoned toy again as Howard handed something else to him. "Hold this," he said, holding the soldering iron out for the boy. Anthony grabbed it blindly, his small hands wrapping around the hot metal before dropping it with a pained shriek. 

 

This caused Howard to jump, his circuit board sparking as the soldering iron clattered against the ground and Anthony clutched his hands close to his chest. He was crying, his face crumpled in pain as he crouched down on the floor.

 

"What the hell, Anthony!? Look what you did! Now I ha-have to start over!" the man yelled, his eyes drunken and angry as he looked down at the boy. "And you dropped the- the soldering iron? Can't you do something as simple as hold things?!" he asked, his tone loud and filled with rage as he stood quickly, causing his chair to topple over with a crash.

 

The little boy was still crying, fat tears rolling down his cheeks as pain coursed through his palms. Howard rolled his eyes at the boy as he swayed on his feet.

 

"All this crying- what did I tell- tell you about that? Starks is- we're made of iron, kid! And- and- and that means no crying-" he glared at the boy as he continued to sob and picked up the soldering iron before hoisting the boy up by his wrist. 

 

Little Tony cried out in pain, hiccuping and wailing as the angry man pressed the hot metal into the boy's palm. "This is the resu- the result of your careless actions, Anthony-" the man yelled over the boy's screams of pain and ignoring his desperate clawing at his hand.

 

"This is what- what happens when you- when you- you-" he set his jaw at the child's crying, dropping Anthony and leaving him to sob on the floor, clutching his hands even closer to his chest as he curled into a ball. "For fucksssssake-" Howard slurred, dropping the tool and trudging towards the workshop door. 

 

The millionaire opened it to call for his butler, only to find the man already standing there, panic and worry in his eyes. Howard narrowed his eyes at the man before moving to let him inside. "Get him out of here...can't even hold a- a damn tool right..." he muttered, leaning against one of his workshop tables as Jarvis hurried over to the boy and gathered him up into his arms.

 

The 3-year-old continued to cry against the butler's chest as he hurried out of the room, his body trembling as he carried the boy as far away from the workshop and his father as he could. 

 

He brought the boy into a bathroom, turning on the sink and pushing his hands under the cool running water. Anthony was still crying, hiccups making his frame jolt as salty tracks covered his face and snot dribbled from his nose. 

 

"It's alright, it's going to be okay Anthony-" Jarvis tried to soothe the boy, running a gentle hand over his head as his cries slowly began to die down. "I'm so sorry, my boy- I promise, it's going to be alright now- I'm going to make this better," the aging butler continued to coo, bringing himself closer to the boy in an attempt to block anything that might get to him. 

 

The toddler was still blubbering, but he pulled his hands from the cool water in order to wrap his arms around Jarvis's neck and bury his face in the man's chest. He rested his chin against the boy's head, embracing the poor child as he slowly sunk to the floor, back against the tub as his heart pounded away in his chest.

 

"It's okay... it's okay..." he breathed, eyes wide with fear and horror as he glanced towards the rotary phone hanging from the wall. "We're going to call Aunt Margarete and have her come see you, doesn't;t that sound nice?" he asked, glancing down at the boy and speaking to him in a shaky voice. 

 

He shifted, clambering up from the floor with the toddler still in his arms and moving to the phone. He dialed the woman's number, eyes full of anxiety as the line rang. Anthony shifted against him, his whimpers picking back up as fresh tears sprang to his eyes.

 

"Let's keep those hands under the water," Jarvis said, moving back towards the sink and stretching out the curly plastic cord that attached the phone to the wall. The boy reluctantly pulled away from the butler and put his blistered, reddened palms back under the running water of the sink. "Just like that- good job, Anthony-"

 

He paused when the line picked up.

 

"This is the Carter-Sousa residence, Daniel speaking," a warm voice answered, and Jarvis let out a shaky breath. 

 

"Daniel? This is Edwin- I need to speak to Agent Carter." 

 

"She's in the bath right now- is everything okay, Jarvis? You sound shaken up."

 

"Anthony's injured, I think he may have second-degree burns on his palms and I know that Miss Carter has medical experience-"

 

"Say no more, we'll be on our way over as soon as possible," Daniel replied before hanging up. Jarvis swallowed thickly and placed the phone back on the wall, glancing towards the bathroom door before looking back down at the no-longer crying 3-year-old he was still holding. 

 

The boy's eyes were still red and sniffled still caused his breath to hitch, but he was no longer crying- instead, he had a sad, guilty look in his eyes. He hated to leave the boy alone but Jarv is really needed to grab his mother- she could reassure the boy better than he could.

 

"Anthony? You stay here and keep your hands under the sink, alright? I'm going to grab your mother- Aunt Margarete and Uncle Daniel are on their way as well, alright? I'll be right back, don't worry," he said, placing the toddler on the stool in front of the sink before taking off out of the bathroom and towards the library where he knew Maria was.

 

The image faded, leaving a room of horrified adults in its wake. 

 

Bruce looked green, his eyes an emerald shade as he audibly attempted to calm his breathing. Thor had his hand on the scientist's back, rubbing small circles in it and muttering words to him. Natasha was already moving closer to the man, worry in her eyes as she approached him. 

 

Clint's bottom lip was bleeding, as he'd bitten down too hard while watching and was now attempting to wipe the blood away with his sleeve. 

 

Steve glanced towards Wanda and Sam, finding the former hugging herself tightly with wide eyes staring down at the floor as the latter watched her, his tense body itching to console the woman. 

 

Bucky was staring blankly at the screen, his chest barely moving as the blonde could only imagine what thoughts rolled around in his head.

 

As for Steve- he felt sick to his stomach. He felt like his world had been turned on its axis- like someone had decided to tilt everything to the left 10 degrees without telling him. His mind was spinning- he'd never seen that kind of look on Howard's face. 

 

It was one of drunken rage and frustration- there was no telling just how much the man had drunk, but he knew it had to be a lot- he'd seen how well the millionaire could hold his alcohol. 

 

And Tony. God, Tony

 

It felt like ages by this point, but Steve couldn't help but think of one of the man's quirks- something that he'd so long ago written off as an eccentricity, as just something else that made the man so out of touch with the real world.

 

"I, uh, I don't like to be handed things. Bit of a peeve of mine."

 

A peeve.

 

Steve glanced back up towards the screen in slight horror, biting down on his own lip to keep himself from moving. That- that was more than a peeve. The blonde couldn't stop the guilt that invaded his mind as the image of a 3-year-old boy's burning, reddened palms replayed in his mind. 

 

Just what else about Tony had he written off as an eccentricity? How much about this man, a man who he'd worked and lived with for years now- did he still not know?

 

How many of his assumptions had been wrong?

 

- - -

 

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

How many of his assumptions had been wrong?

 

- - -

 

"Christ, we gotta find a way out of here..." Bruce breathed, sitting on the ground (or whatever served as a ground here) with a hand against his head. Thor and Natasha flanked his sides as he attempted to continue controlling his breathing. 

 

They still had no idea where they were, and if they actually were in Tony's subconscious, there was no telling what hulking out would do to the man. 

 

"No arguments here," Natasha muttered, sitting beside him, close enough to touch, but keeping her hands placed firmly in her lap. 

 

"Thor, you don't think the Bifrost could, I don't know, reach us here or something?" he asked, glancing up at the God. "I know Asgard's still re-building but maybe-"

 

"The Bifrost connects the realms, but I don't believe its possible to open a passage in this plane," Thor replied before finally taking a seat on the ground beside the other two with a flourish of his cape and a sigh. "I had no idea Anthony had experienced such atrocities," he said after a moment, causing both Bruce and Natasha to look at him. 

 

"My father was not the greatest in terms of endearment, but even Loki can say that his childhood was filled with merriment."

 

"I know where he's coming from..." Bruce replied, though he refused to explain further. Howard was too similar to his own father, Tony's experiences thus far hitting too close to home- maybe it was just a genius thing to end up as a terrible father. 

 

Somehow, though, Tony seemed to be getting the hang of it, at least with Spider-Man. Sure, he wasn't actually the hero's dad, and Bruce was pretty sure Peter was either 16 or 17, so technically not really a little kid, but the point still stood.

 

Tony acted like a mentor toward him, and Peter looked at the billionaire like he'd hung the moon in return.

 

"I hope he's okay," Bruce said, hugging his knees as he thought about the genius. "I mean, I knew he had PSTD but..." he shook his head. "There's no telling just how much trauma he actually has."

 

"Our shield brother is strong, Bruce- Anthony has his share of scars, yes, but his heart beats on- and scars are a symbol of perseverance. I have no doubt that he can handle what ever challenge he may come to face," the god replied, setting his hand on Bruce's shoulder once more.

 

"I hope you're right."

 

- - -

 

Tony shifted his arm, moving his shoulder down in order to maneuver his arm up and bring his forearms out from under the cables. It took a bit of shifting and some pain from the metal pinching him, but eventually, the billionaire managed to get his bound hands out from under the cables. 

 

Whoever had kidnapped him had decided that while not good enough for his body, rope was perfectly acceptable to bound his hands with. Tony twisted his wrists in an attempt to loosen it, shifting in the chair and grunting until he finally managed to loosen the rope enough to get his fingers to the knot. 

 

The genius rolled his eyes at the sad sight of it, untying it easily before taking in a deep breath for what he had to do next. The cables trapping him to the chair were wrapped through the bars of the chair, meaning he'd either have to A, break the chair to get out, or B, knock it over and shimmy his way out. 

 

He opted for option B, leaning his head forward before pushing back with his legs and sending the chair careening backward and onto the floor with a crash. He worked quickly, despite the soreness in his back- there was no telling if that sound alerted anyone or how long it would take for someone to arrive. The brunet shimmied out of the cables and stood up, dusting off his hands and giving the chair a dirty look.

 

Tony rolled his shoulder, his muscles aching as he looked around the room. He kicked a foot up, pressing a small button on the heel of his shoe before dropping it and surveying the area some more. Hopefully, the alert he'd just sent out would reach someone- for now, he would have to focus on finding a way out of here on his own. 

 

If his head could stop pounding, it would be a lot easier.

 

- - -

 

The next scene that appeared on the screen showed 3-year-old Tony watching Peggy and Jarvis spar from his spot on the floor, head tilted as he hugged Bucky bear close to his chest. 

 

The boy had stars in his eyes as the pair moved swiftly around the gym, Carter ducking under one of the butler's swings before maneuvering around a grapple. Daniel grinned beside him on the floor, leaning back on his arms as he watched his wife sweep the older man's legs out from under him, knocking him on his ass.

 

He was left breathing heavily on the floor, a grin on his face as Peggy smoothed out her dress pants. She held a hand out to him and he accepted it, allowing her to help him to his feet as Daniel clapped- Anthony very quickly moving to follow the man's lead with his own tiny hands. 

 

"Yay! Aunt Peggy wins!" the toddler cheered, pausing in his clapping in order to make the bear in his lap clap instead. Jarvis chuckled, unrolling his sleeves and buttoning the cuffs around his wrists as he looked at the boy. 

 

"Why don't we teach you some moves, 'Tonio?" Peggy asked, sliding a loose strand of hair behind her ear as she crouched down in front of the boy. "That way, if anyone ever tries to pick on you, you can defend yourself just like me," she said, causing the boy to brighten and excitedly nod his head in response. 

 

"Watch Bucky bear Uncle Danny!" the boy said, clambering up and placing the toy gingerly in the man's lap as Jarvis took a seat beside him. He then followed Peggy towards the middle of the room where she and Jarvis had previously been sparring, bouncing on his feet in excitement.

 

"Now, spread your feet, dear, you don't want to topple over with a gust of wind," Peggy said with a gentle smile as the toddler did as he was told. "Good- now you always want to guard your face when you're in a fight. If your opponent can get to your face, then it's over for you..."

 

The woman's voice faded as the image shifted, changing from the group in the gym to a 3-year-old Tony clambering up onto the piano bench in order to sit beside his mother as she played. 

 

Maria grinned at the sight of the boy, scooting over to give him room as her fingers danced over the keys. He watched her with an enraptured gaze, hugging Bucky bear tightly as a grin spread slowly across his face. The woman continued to play, her eyes moving to look down at the keys as she played. 

 

Tony watched her, bringing a hand up to rub at his nose before his own gaze moved to the black and white keys. He blinked at them before setting his plush toy down on the bench beside him.

 

His mother continued to play, though her gaze flicked between her own hands and her sons. 

 

The 3-year-old reached a hand out before drawing it back quickly, glancing at his mother's hand as they moved expertly over the ivories before reaching for the keys with both hands this time. 

 

He pressed a key, eyebrows raising when it made a sound. He smiled wider, glancing up at his mother as her hands paused and she looked at him. "Do you want me to show you how to do it, Antonio?" she asked gently, her pale blue eye warm as she looked at the boy.

 

The toddler nodded, allowing his mother to spread his finger and place two each on the keys. "Move them like this," she said, demonstrating with her own hands as she pressed down on the keys before lifting her index fingers and pressing down with her pinkies and middle fingers. 

 

The boy nodded again, looking back towards his own hands and mimicking the movements. He lit up when the sound that came out was the same (albeit lower in tone), kicking his legs back and forth. "I did it!" he said, looking up at his mother before repeating the action. He moved a hand up, this time repeating the action but with his index and ring fingers on different keys. 

 

He lit up at the different sound, moving to try another combination. Maria watched him, surprise and pride shining in her eyes as he son continued to play. "I'll have to teach you a song, bambino," she said, placing a kiss on his head as he continued to play with the keys. 

 

"Really?!" the boy glanced up at her excitedly, causing her to laugh.

 

"Of course- music gives us freedom from the sorrows of the world," Maria replied, her eyes turning sad before letting her fingers dance across the keys once more. 

 

"Come, let's go find some sheet music and I'll show you how to read it."

 

The image shifted again, swirling from the pair at the piano to an image of a 4-year-old Anthony sitting on the floor of what could only be his bedroom, judging by the scattered toys and soft blue walls, as he plucked and replaced different pieces from a circuit board. 

 

The boy's brow was furrowed in concentration as he worked, tilting his head in confusion before glancing towards the various spare electrical pieces, scraps of metal, and wires he had surrounding him on the floor. 

 

"What do I- oh, I get it," the boy said, reaching for a small screwdriver and bringing it to one part of the board. He unscrewed something and replaced it with another piece, narrowing his eyes in thought before replacing it again. "I need somethin' to connect 'em," he muttered, glancing towards the plush bear resting against the leg of his bed.

 

"What do you think Bucky Bear?" he asked, blinking at the to and waiting for a genuine response. His shoulders slumped as he glanced back towards the dismantled circuit board. "I know... but I get scared and shaky looking at it," he said, glancing towards a discarded soldering iron laying on the floor.

 

The boy let out a shaky breath, glancing down at the marred, pink flesh covering his palms. He flexed his hands and looked back at his teddy bear, picking the toy up and hugging it close to his chest tightly. "You won't let it burn me?" he asked the toy, his eyes back on the tool. 

 

Anthony nodded slowly, letting out another shaky breath. "Okay...okay I gotta," he said, setting the bear down in his lap and reaching out to grab the tool. He hesitated for a moment before shutting his eyes tightly and grabbing the handle. 

 

He sat like that for a moment, his heart pounding in his ears before he pulled back, bringing the soldering iron with him and opening his eye to look back down at his project. "O-okay," he mumbled, chewing on his bottom lip before setting to work once more. 

 

"Thanks, Bucky bear..." he said, the fear in his eyes beginning to vanish as he soldered the parts he needed to. "I can't wait to show papa."

 

The image faded, leaving Bucky to stare at the plush bear in the boy's lap in silence. He swallowed thickly, dropping his gaze to look down at his own hands. It was weird, seeing a plush toy made in his own image- he wondered where it came from. 

 

Maybe Stark's mother made it for him? The toy did look handmade. 

 

He wondered if there was Captain America one. 

 

"I always wondered why there was a piano in the penthouse- especially since none of us play," Bruce said aloud. "Guess it's was Tony's mother's." 

 

"I saw him play it once..." Clint said, surprising the group as he heaved a sigh and took a seat on the ground. "Had a glass on the edge of the piano and the lights turned down low," he continued, leaning back on his arms as he stared at his shoes. 

 

The archer let out a chuckle, shaking his head at his own thoughts. "Bastard was playing Piano Man of all things," he said with a soft, reminiscent grin. The smile faded after a moment, his eyes still glued to his shoes. "Shooed me off when he realized I was there...but I get the feeling he knew I was there the whole time."

 

Bucky watched him for a moment, studying his features and watching as a mixture of guilt and anger swirled in the archer's eyes.

 

- - -

 

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

Bucky watched him for a moment, studying his features and watching as a mixture of guilt and anger swirled in the archer's eyes.

 

- - -

 

Clint pulled his knees closer to his body in order to pillow his arms on them, resting his chin against his bicep as he stared up at the blank screen. He was unable to stop himself from thinking about Stark- which, could you blame him, considering the circumstances the group found themselves in?

 

He sighed, shutting his eyes and resting his forehead against his arm. He'd let his anger guide him for so long, let his temper boil over at the mere mention of the billionaire. Stark had locked them up and even stopped by the raft to rub it in their faces after the fact. 

 

The archer had been so worried about his boy, his precious pizza dog while locked up in there- and Stark hadn't cared. (Not that he knew about the dog, but still.)

 

The man had targeted Wanda and she hadn't even done anything to him- he'd locked her up in Avengers Tower like some criminal of war! Clint had seen what they did to her in the raft- that collar they put around her neck to suppress her magic. 

 

And all because they didn't wanna sign some stupid accords? 

 

The archer huffed, shutting his eyes tightly and setting his jaw. Stark had fucked up royally and split the team in the process- but there was a part of him that missed the billionaire, that longed to go back to the old days when they were still buddies.

 

He hated himself for that. He should loathe Stark with every fiber of his being for the things he'd done to them- he'd become some kind of lapdog to Ross and betrayed them.

 

So why couldn't he stop himself from thinking about the things they'd done together?

 

They'd spent many a night down in Tony's workshop, working on weapons and detailing plans to pranks and ways to screw with Thor. They'd shared drinks and laughs, made fun of stupid movies together, and sent more junk mail to the Baxter tower than he could count. 

 

Shame it all went to waste over some stupid documents.

 

Call him stubborn, but a rough childhood didn't make up for the things Stark had done to them. Yeah, it sucked, and Clint didn't think the guy deserved it, but...

 

...the wounds were still fresh.

 

He glanced up when the screen flickered again, the image of a garden catching his eyes.

 

- - -

 

The sky was bright and blue as the sun shone brightly on the backyard, showing a 7-year-old Anthony scribbling quietly in a notebook as he lounged on a blanket in the grass. His mother sat beside him with a large sunhat resting on her soft chestnut blonde curls as she sipped her drink. 

 

"What are you working on, bambino?" she asked, tilting her head in an attempt to get a look at the boy's work.

 

"Papa gets angry when you call me that, mama," the boy replied, continuing to scribble but shifting so that he was closer to the woman and allowed her to see. "Why is he always so angry?" 

 

Maria blinked, gulping before lifting her iced tea to her lips. Anthony glanced up at her when she didn't reply, looking away from a page of notes and simple schematics. She reached a hand out a caressed his face, running her fingers through his curly hair with a sad smile. The chill tilted his head, brow furrowing in confusion.

 

"Mama, what's wrong?" 

 

"Nothing, bambino," she replied, setting her tea down in the grass and shifting on the blanket, pulling the boy into her lap and holding him close. "Do you see that bird up there, Antonio?" she asked, pointing at a blue jay standing on the edge of the fence. 

 

At his nod, she smiled. "The blue jay is a colorful and intelligent bird. They stand out for their ferocity and wit, but that beautiful blue color that makes them so unique and beautiful makes them an easy target for hawks," she explained, glancing upward towards the sky above. 

 

Anthony glanced up at her, his eyes trying to work through her words.

 

"Do you know what these birds do when they need to avoid a hawk?" she asked, causing the 7-year-old to shake his head. She glanced back towards the blue jay resting on the fence as it fluffed itself up before taking flight. 

 

"They use their intelligence to their advantage. They can mimic the sound hawks make, and can tweet so loud it sounds like an alarm- in the ensuing panic they can get away to live another day," she said, resting her chin against her son's head.

 

"Bambino, your papa..." she trailed off, biting down on her bottom lip in thought before letting out a sigh. "He's scared of what he doesn't understand. His pride is his greatest vice-"

 

"Jarvis taught me about those! Vices and Virtues!" Anthony said happily, pulling away from his mother to look up at her excitedly. She nodded in response, a warm smile on her face as the boy turned back around and settled back into her arms.

 

"Papa's pride..." she dropped her gaze, searching for the right words. "Sometimes, it gets in the way of what he really wants to say. You know he loves you, don't you bambino?" she asked slowly, causing the boy to glance up at her. 

 

"He never says it..." Anthony replied, dropping his gaze as he threaded his fingers between his mother's larger hand. "But- but sometimes he tells me I did a good job on a project," he said, rubbing his thumb over her bright red fingernail. "And when he does, my chest gets all tingly, like its full of fireflies."

 

Maria was quiet as she held her son closer. 

 

"His smiles when we talk to the newspaper people are always fake... and he grabs my shoulder too tight when we take pictures together or when I get awards."

 

Tony picked up his notebook, looking over the simple math and crude schematic drawings that covered the page. "His eyes are always sad, though. Especially when he drinks his brown drinks..." he dropped the book, shifting in his mother's lap and curling up against her. 

 

"I saw him crying once...in the workshop. He was talking about Cap..." he glanced up, meeting his mother's gaze. "...and about how he'd give anything to bring him back."

 

The implication was left hanging in the air, causing Maria's body to tense as she hugged her son with closed eyes. 

 

She leaned back, laying down on the blanket and looking up at the clouds above as her son laid against her chest.

 

"I love you, Bambino."

 

"I love you too, mama."

 

- - -

 

It had taken some time to find in the darkness, but eventually, the billionaire had found a door.

 

It was locked, unfortunately, (eventually, he was gonna be kidnapped by some truly incompetent people and he wouldn't have to waste so much energy on escaping, just you wait) but the sound of a distant explosion followed by screaming had him backing away from the door anyways.

 

He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do in response to the explosions slowly getting louder, so he picked up the chair to wield as some kind of makeshift weapon. The cables dangled from the back bars loosely as Tony lifted the object a little higher in response to something shifting behind the door.

 

The brunet tensed as the door creaked open, readying his chair (and his dying thoughts) for the attackers- 

 

-only to be suddenly and roughly hoisted up into a tight hug. 

 

Tony blinked, dropping the chair in confusion and glancing down, eyes widening a the sight of a familiar red and blue web-covered suit. "P- Spidey? What're you doing here?" he asked, raising a brow at the teenager as he was set back down on the ground. 

 

"We got your distress call and thought we'd come help," another voice said, causing the billionaire to glance back towards the door. He couldn't help the smile that came to his face at the sight of a red-suited blonde and yellow-suited brunet coming into the room. 

 

"Hank- Janet- Christ, how long has it been?" he asked, grinning as he pulled the man into a tight embrace. 

 

"Too long, old man," Hank replied with a grin, pulling back and looking him up and down. "You look like shit," he said with a chuckle, only to get a punch to the arm from his wife.

 

"Ass," Janet said, rolling her eyes before crashing into Tony, her arms wrapped around his neck in a tight hug. "It's so good to see you again Tony- sorry we couldn't help out with that whole 'civil war' thing," she said, pulling back and cupping the man's face with a tilt of the head. 

 

A pang rang through in his heart at the thought. That had never been their fight, he could never ask them to pick up their lives and come fight some battle they had no stakes in. No- they'd been off seeking adventure through science, not out trying to be superheroes. 

 

"You look exhausted." 

 

"I am," Tony replied, resting his hand overtop of hers before pulling it away gently. "But I can sleep later- this is a rescue mission, right? Let's get out of here," he said, gesturing toward the door before throwing an arm over Spider-Man's shoulder. 

 

"We have to hurry- there's been no sign of Modok, but it's a hundred percent his crew working here, so there's no telling how quickly their re-enforcements might get to us," Janet said before taking the lead.

 

Tony couldn't help the relief that flooded his eyes at the mention of someone other than the Avengers being behind this whole thing- but Peter looked at him with a mixture of confusion and worry on his face. (Not that you could see it behind the mask.)

 

"You got a whole bug crew here, kid," The billionaire said as they left the cold and empty room, his voice having a slight tremble that only Peter seemed to pick up on and causing Hank to glance back with an unimpressed look as they walked. Tony held up a hand, shaking his head at the scientist.

 

"Don't even, Pym- I am not having this argument with you again. I don't care if spiders are bugs or not."

 

The blonde rolled his eyes with a grin and kept walking, shaking his head at the billionaire. "I thought the rest of the Avengers would have got you out by now- Thor and Bruce were back on Earth, I thought," Hank said as they turned a corner, the trio following Janet as she led them down the destroyed halls of whatever dingey place AIM had chosen to trap Tony in.

 

The genius rolled a shoulder, pulling his arm from around the teenager. "They are- I'm sure they're just back at the tower or something. They probably don't even realize I'm gone-" he said, getting an unimpressed look from Hank in return.

 

"And that accounts for their lack of response to your distress signal how, exactly?"

 

Tony grinned. "I missed you, you know that smartass?"

 

"Yeah yeah, let's just get you back home. Who knows, maybe we'll even stick around a while," the blonde said as his helmet materialized around his head.

 

Janet pulled her goggles over her eyes and glanced towards the billionaire. "We're looking for a place in New York anyways, so if you'd let us bunk with you guys for old time's sake it'd be-"

 

Tony cut the woman off with a wave of his hand. "You don't even need to ask, Jan, of course, you guys are welcome at the tower. You're- I think the term is 'OG's.' That right Pete?" he asked with a shit-eating grin, glancing towards the horrified teenager walking beside him as they left the warehouse (because of course, it was a warehouse...why was it never anything more basic than a fucking warehouse?).

 

"Please, for the love of all that is good, never say that again, Mr. Stark." 

 

Tonny just laughed, ignoring the pounding headache that still buzzed in his skull as Hank brought his fingers to his lips and whistled. "Hope you don't have Myrmecophobia, kid," he said with a grin towards Peter as a swarm of ants flew towards them.

 

"Oh, joy- ant riding. Haven't done that in a while," Tony muttered.

 

"Don't act like you don't love it."

 

"I don't, Pym. I really don't."

 

- - -

 

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

"I don't, Pym. I really don't."

 

- - -

 

The next memory to appear was one that showed a now 9-year-old Tony, following dutifully behind his father as the man walked down the hall of an office building. The boy had a large stack of papers in his arms that he, frankly, struggled to hold, but he kept pace with his father as the man led him around the corner.

 

"Keep up," Howard said, his voice cold as he quickened his pace and opened a door, leaving his son to scurry along behind him through the door before it could shut in his face. 

 

The pair came to a large, circular room with a familiar eagle painted on the back wall and a semi-circular table in the middle of the room. Peggy was sitting in one of the chairs, along with Daniel, talking to a man in a suit and pointing something out on some paperwork that was scattered across part of the table. 

 

The latter glanced up when Howard strode into the room, his gaze drifting towards the boy with a smile. "Hey there, Stark boys," Daniel said with a grin, getting a toothy smile from Tony in response. 

 

"Daniel- how have you been?" Howard asked, pointing towards a spot at the table as Tony move towards it and set the papers down. "Peg's busy, I see," he said, glancing towards the woman as she continued to talk to the agent. 

 

"I'm fine- how are you, kiddo?" he asked, turning his attention towards the 9-year-old. "Come gimme a hug and tell me what you've been workin' on," the former soldier continued, opening his arms as the boy ran towards him and hugged him tightly. 

 

"No time for that- Anthony, go make coffee for the room. This meeting's gonna be a long one," Howard said, rubbing his temple in annoyance as the brunet pulled back and glanced up at his father. 

 

"Y-yes sir," Tony replied, hurrying out of the room and down the hall. He left the adults alone and walked down the hall towards the break room, eyes downcast as he walked. 

 

He ended up running into someone on the way, causing the boy to stumble backward and land on his rear. Tony shook his head, blinking up at an unfamiliar face (for him at least.) The man, who couldn't have been older than 20, blinked down at him before giving the 8-year-old a quirk of a grin and a raise of the eyebrow.

 

"Sorry about that, kid," the man said, offering a hand to Tony. He looked at it warily before picking himself up off the ground and dusting himself off. 

 

"It's okay, I shoulda been watching where I was going..." he replied, turning his eyes down once more. 

 

The man furrowed his brow before glancing back towards where the boy had come from. "You're that Stark kid, aren't you?" he asked, causing Tony to look up at him. He nodded slowly, and the man smiled at him. "Well, It's nice to meet you, Tony."

 

"Is that...?"

 

"If I wasn't seeing it with my own eyes, I'd say no."

 

"It's Anthony," Tony replied, face scrunching slightly at the nickname. "Papa says nicknames are childish," he continued, only to have fear flash across his face as he realized he just talked back to an adult. "I- I'm s-sorry-" he said shakily, taking a nervous step back and glancing at the man's badge. "Mr. Fury-" 

 

The man put his hands up, tilting his head at the 9-year-old with a confused look. "Whoa, whoa there- easy. I'm not gonna bite your head off, Stark, it's alright," he said before kneeling down in front of the boy. "As for nicknames- My full name's Nicholas, But most people just call me Nick or Fury. Nicknames aren't just for kids, you know." 

 

The brunet in question dropped his eyes again.

 

"You were heading towards the break room, right? Why don't you keep going before your dad starts wondering where you are?" the agent said before glancing over his shoulder and towards the room in question. Tony nodded quickly and took off as Fury stood back up and straightened his suit with a sigh.

 

He huffed an affectionate laugh at the sight of the boy scrambling for mugs, shaking his head before heading in the direction Tony had come from.

 

The image changed, warping from what could only be one of SHIELD's old offices to a workshop. Unlike Howard's normal one, however, this one was filled with vials of liquid and various tattered fabrics and materials scattered across tables and other surfaces. 

 

A greying Howard was busy rubbing his eyes with his hand, annoyance evident in his posture as he dropped his hand. "So you can't recreate it then? You're sure?" he asked, crossing his arms over his head as he came closer to another man, this one in a lab coat, and put a hand on his shoulder to force him to face the millionaire. 

 

Bruce's eyes widened at the sight of a pale man with chestnut hair and a bushy mustache scowling at Howard Stark. His heart pounded in his chest as fear began to climb up his spine at the sight of the man. 

 

Natasha glanced his way, gripping his shoulder with a furrowed brow, looking between the scientist beside her and the one on screen. 

 

Bruce was frozen with fear, staring into the cold, hazel eyes of his own father as the man sneered at Howard.

 

"I already told you, Stark, I'm not a fucking chemist. I work in nuclear power," the man said with a roll of his eyes before glancing back towards the table full of paperwork. "Besides, if you wanted me to recreate this damn thing I'd need a biosample. Some blood or a hair- if I don't have that, you don't have your fucking serum," Brian Banner snapped.

 

"If you wanna be paid, you'll figure out a way to be both," Howard replied in a cold tone, his eyes narrowed at the slightly shorter man.

 

The aging millionaire pulled back and Brian averted his gaze with a grumble. "Let's say I figure this shit out. What then? You about to start investing in lab rats? Gonna start up a mutant petting zoo or something?"

 

Howard's back straightened as he looked down at the man. "Let me worry about that. I have a test subject in mind we can use," he said before turning on his heel and heading for the door.

 

"Just figure out that serum."

 

The image faded, leaving Bruce with a queasy feeling in his core that told him he knew exactly who that test subject was going to end up being. He couldn't help but stare at the spot his father, the man who had tormented him for years, the man who had driven his mother to take her own life, was working with Howard Stark. 

 

He wondered if the old notes still stashed away in the long-dead man's old house had anything that talked about this project. 

 

Natasha's grip on his shoulder brought him out of his thoughts, her own worried gaze moving from the screen to meet his eyes. "You don't think...?" she breathed, just barely loud enough for him to hear. 

 

He swallowed and nodded slowly. 

 

"He-" Bruce, Thor, and Natasha glanced towards Bucky, who was staring up at the screen in horror as he spoke. "H-Howard was-" he ran his hands through his hair. "That bastard as trying to recreate the super-soldier serum. He tested it on a human subject-" 

 

"We don't know that for sure, Buck-" Steve said, reaching a hand out towards the man in an attempt at comfort, only for the former sergeant to bat it away and take a few shaky steps back. 

 

"Don't- don't pull that oblivious, optimistic shit, Steve- I know you can see as plain as day that Howard became obsessed with you after you went to the ice. Maybe it wasn't for the reasons we all thought they were."

 

"That doesn't mean he was-"

 

"What other serum could they be talking about, Steve?" Sam asked, moving to place himself ever so slightly between the pair. "I mean- that was pretty damning evidence."

 

"So Stark's father was corrupt- what a shocker," Wanda blurted out with a roll of her eyes, only to get a furrowed brow from the super-solder. "Like father like son."

 

"I don't think that's fair-" Bruce started to say, only for Thor to stand and walk towards the others. 

 

"Let us table this discussion for later- perhaps when we aren't at risk of harming our shield brother should our words lead to blows," he said, glancing around with his hands out. "The actions of Anthony's father do not speak for his own," he said, glancing towards Wanda with a slightly narrowed look. 

 

A beat of tense silence passed before anyone spoke again.

 

"I wonder if Stark ever continued that work..." Clint said aloud, still hugging his legs as he stared tiredly at the floor. 

 

Bruce wanted to punch a wall. How could you be so dense? It didn't take a genius to see what was really happening here. He opened his mouth to say something, only for the screen to flicker and warp in the way it had when the group had first seen Tony's current point of view.

 

The scientist looked at the screen in the hopes that his science bro was alright. 

 

The image flickered until it showed what had to be Tony's view once more, as the man was looking over a large metal door in silence.

 

What was with these static-filled images when they switched to Tony's current view of things? It was almost like someone was hijacking a signal and shoving this into their faces instead of the memories that MODOK had been showing them.

 

For that matter, how did showing Tony as a kid, showing him with these pleasant memories work in tearing them apart? The traumatic ones, the ones that confirmed the biases that the others had come to think of Tony, Bruce could understand from MODOK's point of view, but...

 

Tony and his mother sitting in the garden together? Showing them the reason Tony still, to this day, doesn't like to be handed things? To Bruce, that would bring sympathy to the forefront of the mind, not any kind of animosity.

 

What exactly was going on here?

 

Bruce shook the thoughts from his mind and turned his attention fully to the screen. He couldn't help but smile at the man's gaze narrowing on the door- something Tony did when he was deep in thought.

 

"Eventually, I'm gonna be kidnapped by some truly incompetent people and I won't have to waste so much energy on escaping, just you wait-" Tony's voice rang through the room, the sound echoing around them.

 

The thought was suddenly cut off by the distant sound of an explosion, causing the genius to tense and back away quickly from the door. The scientist watched at Tony looked around the barren room for some kind of weapon, and couldn't help the worried smile that came to his face upon watching the billionaire pick up the chair he'd been previously strapped to. 

 

He glanced towards the door before looking towards his weapon, only to be suddenly hoisted into the air with a grunt. The chair was dropped and Tony winced. 

 

"Welp, that's it- I'm dead- this is some murderous hugging machine and I'm gonna be squished. I'm gonna be- wait, I know that costume-" Tony's thought echoed through the room once more as the billionaire glanced down to find Spier-Man holding him aloft, the eyes of his costumes wide as he hugged the older man.

 

"Pe- Spidey? What're you doing here?" he asked as the teenager set him back down on the ground. The teenager looked like he was about to speak, only to be interrupted by a distant voice that caused Bruce to pause with wide eyes.

 

"We got your distress call and thought we'd come help," Hank Pym of all people said as he came into the dim light, a grin on his face as Janet followed him into the room. 

 

Bruce could almost see Tony smiling- his voice was warm, taking on a fond tone Bruce hadn't heard in years. "Hank- Janet- Christ, how long has it been?" the man asked as he pulled Hank into a hug. 

 

"Too long, old man," Hank replied with a grin as he pulled back, and by God had Bruce missed that man. It had been so long since the three of them (with Janet accompanying them every once in a while) had spent time down in a workshop or lab, throwing ideas around and helping one another with whatever project was on the docket for the day. 

 

Back when the Avengers were a brand new concept, a virgining team with no idea what they were doing. Back when it was just him, Tony, Hank, Janet and Thor. They'd been so close... but then Hank and Janet had left New York in an attempt to find some new scientific adventure. Hank had always insisted he was never a hero, despite what the rest of them told him. 

 

Bruce felt his heart clench at the sight of the man. 

 

"Professor!" Thor belted happily, his eyes lighting up at the sight of the man as he hefted a laugh. "By the Norns, when was the last time we saw him and the lovely Janet?" he asked, glancing towards Bruce in question and ignoring the rest of the people in the room.

 

"You look like shit," Hank continued, only to get a punch in the arm from Janet before she hugged Tony tight as well. 

 

"It's so good to see you again Tony- sorry we couldn't help out with that whole 'civil war' thing," she said as she pulled back- her eyes were sad as she looked up at him. 

 

"That was never your fight, Jan...I could never drag you guys into this superhero bullshit...but I missed you two so much more than I realised," another thought echoed around them, causing Bruce to drop his gaze out of guilt. He hadn't been there for the 'civil war' thing either, and even if he wasn't entirely sure what it was, he could tell it took a toll on Tony.

 

A big one. 

 

"You look tired," Jan continued, cupping his face gently and getting a huff of a laugh from the billionaire.

 

"I am," he said, his voice heavy and full of exhaustion. He quickly pushed it away, though, as he continued to speak. "But I can sleep later- this is a rescue mission, right? Let's get out of here," he said before throwing an arm around Spider-Man.

 

"Hopefully."

 

Jan took the lead as Tony walked alongside Peter, following Hank down a dark, dank set of hallways as Janet told the man who was behind his kidnapping. "Well at least it wasn't them..." a whisper of a thought swirled through the room, shaky and cold and causing Bruce's heart to ache for the man.

 

"You got a whole bug crew here, kid," Tony said, an uneasy shake in his voice that had Hank glancing back towards him as they walked. The man held up a hand in response, shaking his head. "Don't even, Pym- I am not having this argument with you again. I don't care if spiders are bugs or not."

 

This pulled a grin and a roll of the eyes from the scientist as he turned forward again. "I assumed the rest of the Avengers would have got you out by now- Thor and Bruce were back on Earth, I thought," he said pointedly, his voice taking on an edge that Bruce (and he was sure both Tony and Thor) recognized.

 

That was his 'I know exactly what I want to hear and if I don't hear it from your mouth I'm going to be upset' voice. 

 

"They are- I'm sure they're just back at the tower or something. The group probably doesn't even realize I'm gone," Tony replied, getting an unimpressed look from the scientist in return. That had not been what he'd been wanting to hear. 

 

"And that accounts for their lack of response to your distress signal how, exactly?"

 

Bruce could almost see the wry grin in Tony's voice again. "I missed you, you know that smartass?"

 

Hank grinned back. "Yeah yeah, let's just get you back home. Who knows, maybe we'll even stick around a while," he said, to which Bruce and Thor shared an excited look. The whole crew, back under one roof? That would be amazing- and maybe he'd be able to get Hank to explain things to him.

 

Janet pulled her goggles down as the group finally made it out of the bunker, Tony wincing at the bright light. "We're looking for a place in New York anyways, so if you'd let us bunk with you guys for old time's sake it'd be-"

 

Tony waved her off. "You don't even need to ask, Jan, of course, you guys are welcome at the tower. You're- I think the term is 'OG's.' That right Pete?" he asked, getting a groan from the teenager beside him as they came to a stop in the field outside of the old warehouse. Spider-Man begged the billionaire not to ever use that term again and Tony laughed- 

 

The sound was warm...and genuine. It'd been a while since Bruce had heard it.

 

"Oh, joy- ant riding. Haven't done that in a while," Tony muttered, causing Bruce to snort. He hated having to ride Hank's ants- he complained about them being too hairy and having a weird smell, to which Hank would always give him an offended look. 

 

"Don't act like you don't love it."

 

"I don't, Pym. I really don't."

 

The image warped again before flickering out, leaving the scientist with a tight, warm feeling in his chest. They needed to get out of here, he- (well, both he and Thor) had friends to see and a genius to check up on.

 

"Am I the only one who's really confused?" Sam asked, glancing around before the group's eyes turned towards Bruce and Thor. The men shared a sad smile before Thor took a seat beside the brunet once more.

 

"Don't worry about it," Bruce replied, ignoring the others' eyes. It was a line both he and the God of Thunder had been fed every time they asked what had happened to the group to cause the divide between them.

 

It felt good to throw it back in their faces.

 

- - -

 

Chapter Text

 

- - -

 

It felt good to throw it back in their faces.

 

- - -

 

The next memory opened on yet another new place, the room very clearly attempting (and failing) to look like a hospital room. The walls were a cold grey and the shelves and counters scattered around the room were full of vials and containers with herbs inside. 

 

The smell of antiseptic wafted through the air as the light hanging above a hospital bed buzzed lowly. There were what looked like leather straps attached to the bed, and the sheets were rumpled as the light flickered above.

 

The metal door to the room swung open, nearly slamming against the wall as Howard dragged a now 10-year-old Tony into the room by his arm. The boy was shaking, his eyes red and full of tears as the man trudged toward the bed and snapped at the boy before pointing at it. 

 

"Up. Now," he said, causing the boy to gulp and clamber up onto the medical bed with a fearful look. The millionaire rolled up the boy's sleeve, causing him to flinch and revealing a number of potholes, discolored needle scars. 

 

The 10-year-old was very evidently trying to keep his cool as the man moved away from the bed and towards some of the vials waiting on the counter. "We have a new batch we're trying this week. The sooner this project gets done the faster I can get back to my own projects and get SHIELD out of our hair," Howard muttered, running a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair before reaching for a vial of bright blue liquid. 

 

Tony whimpered, clamping a hand over his mouth as he stared at the man in fear.

 

Howard turned back to him with a syringe full of the liquid, causing the boy's face to crumple slightly as more tears sprang to his eyes. Howard's gaze hardened at the sight as he came closer.

 

"What have I told you about crying, Anthony?" he asked, grabbing onto the boy's thin arm and turning it over so he had access to the crook of his elbow. 

 

"St-St-" Tony winced as Howards injected the liquid into his arm. "St-Starks are made of iron, we don't- we don't cry," he stammered with a wince as his father pulled the needle from his arm.

 

"At least something gets through that head of yours," Howard muttered in reply as he pulled away and tossed the needle onto the counter. He grabbed a clipboard as Tony started shaking more, wincing in pain before gripping his head with a whimper.

 

"Quit that whining, it's just a needle," he said, gaze not leaving the clipboard in his hand as Tony shut his eyes tightly. "You should be used to the burning after seven trials, Anthony, honestly."

 

The man shook his head and thumped the pen against his clipboard before glancing towards the glass bottle full of whiskey sitting on the counter. "Here," he said, grabbing the bottle and shoving it into his son's hands. "That'll take the edge off and put some hair on your chest," he said, eyes going back to his clipboard after a moment.

 

"B-but-"

 

"No buts. Drink up."

 

The child's grip tightened on the bottle ever so slightly.

 

The image shifted to one of Tony in his room, sitting at a desk with his head pillowed in his arms. His blue eyes were dull as he stared dejectedly at the small bird-shaped machine in front of him. "I don't know what I did wrong...you should be moving and flapping your wings," he said to the little machine before sitting up slowly and picking up the object. 

 

The 11-year-old turned it over in his hands, making a face at it before letting out a sigh. "For me? Please?" he asked, only for the machine to suddenly begin flapping its small wings and opening and closing the metallic beak. Tony's eyes widened at the sight, mouth dropping open as he watched his invention move. 

 

"It works- you work!" he said with a wide grin, looking down at the mechanical bird in his hands like it was the answer to life's greatest mysteries. "I can't believe this- I have to show you to mama!" he said, standing up quickly and rushing out of his room with the little robot in his hands. 

 

The image shifted again, to an 12-year-old Tony humming to himself as he looked over the papers in his hands. He was walking down the hall and turned a corner before opening the door and walking into his father's workshop.

 

He set the papers on a random workshop table and grabbed a broom, beginning to sweep the concrete floor and continuing to hum to himself as he worked. The boy started sweeping up some loose bolts before bumping into an engine his father had suspended off the ground by chains. 

 

Tony glanced back with a startled look when the engine roared to life for a moment, causing him to yelp and drop his broom in surprise. The boy was left shaking and staring wide-eyed at the engine, that wasn't attached to a fuel line or anything that could be used to power it, as his heart hammered against his ribcage. 

 

The future-billionaire pulled his hand away from where he was clutching at his shirt, reaching a tentative hand towards the engine once more. Curiosity bloomed through the fear in his bright blue eyes, the cogs in his mind working as his fingers brushed against the metal.

 

The engine started up again, purring as it sat suspended in the air. Tony yanked his hand back once more, only for the engine to die as soon as his contact was gone. The boy bent over to look under the object, searching for some kind of power source or button that could start the engine like that, but he found none. 

 

He swallowed thickly, glancing towards the door to the workshop before shakily picking up the broom and continuing his sweeping. Every time his gaze caught sight of the engine, though, there was intrigue there. 

 

The image shifted again, this time to a 13-year-old Tony, laying on the floor of his bedroom and twisting a wrench around a bolt. He was laying against the dark carpet beside a large metal base with a tall rod sticking out of it. An arm with a rubber claw was attached to the bar, the tip resting against the ground as Tony connected a pair of wires before closing the panel he'd been working on and latching it shut. 

 

"Okay, helper-bot, do your thing," Tony said, sitting up and narrowing his eyes on the bot as he reached out and touched the tall bar with the arm attached. The bot sparked to life, arm lifting up and swiveling before reaching out and grabbing onto the edge of Tony's hoodie.

 

"That's...not what you're supposed to do," he said, keeping one hand wrapped around the body and batting away the claw from his hoodie with the other. "You're supposed to grab the tools, not me, silly."

 

"You're a bit of a of dummy, aren't you?" he asked, tilting his head in question and snorting when the claw mirrored his action, twisting and opening in response. 

 

Bruce knew a prototype when he saw one. 

 

"Well, back to the drawing board," the 13-year-old said, pulling his hand away as the bot powered down before turning to grab a spiral notebook off the floor. He laid back down on the carpet and grabbed a pen, jotting some stuff down before turning the page and pillowing his cheek on his free hand.

 

"Maybe we should make you into some kind of lab assistant," he said offhandedly, glancing towards the bot before looking back down towards the page and writing "DUM-E" at the very top with a small grin.

 

Tony paused to scratch at the slowly healing scars in the crook of his elbow before continuing his doodles.

 

The image changed abruptly, this time showing a 14-year-old Tony strutting through the front door of the mansion with a wide smile on his face and graduation robes swamping his small form. Jarvis held the door open for the group that came into the house, Tony leading with Maria, Peggy, Daniel, Ana and his father's business partner Obediah Stane following behind.

 

"I'll get those photos developed post-haste, Mrs. Stark," Jarvis said as she handed him the bulky camera in her hand with a nod. 

 

"What do you all say to a celebratory drink? Let's break out the good stuff in honor of Tony's graduation!" Obediah said with a grin, setting a hand on Tony's shoulder and shaking him gently. "Soon enough he'll be up there with his old man and me, learning how to run the family business," he continued.

 

Tony rubbed his shoulder once Obediah let him go, a grin on his face as he shook his head at the man. "I'd rather just work in R&D- that's way more fun," he said, getting a tut from the older man.

 

"Life's not all fun and games, Tony, sooner or later you gotta face the facts and do what's best for the company," Obediah replied before moving towards the bar. "Now- drinks!" he said, setting out glasses on the bar.

 

"None for me, Obediah- don't wanna risk it," Peggy replied with a wave of her hand before cradling the bump on her stomach. Tony brightened, coming closer to the woman as Daniel wrapped his arms around her from behind. 

 

The teenager crouched down and put his ear up against the woman's belly, causing Peggy to laugh at his actions. "Can you hear a heartbeat?" she asked, her tone gentle and warm. 

 

Tony shook his head, glancing back up at her. "Do you know if it's a boy or a girl yet? I hope it's a boy- then he and I can talk about cars and Captain America and stuff," he said as he stood back up. "It'd be nice to have someone to make stuff for too. I could make him toys." 

 

"You sound like your father, Tony," Obediah said with a grin as he poured himself a drink. "Going on and on about mechanics and Captain America. Like father like son, am I right?" he said with a chuckle, causing the 14-year-old to glance away.

 

"We don't know what it is yet- we're gonna let it be a surprise," Peggy said before pecking Daniel on the cheek. "Would you like to know the names we have in mind, though?" she asked, getting an excited nod from the brunet in reply.

 

"I have to say I'm curious as well," Maria said as she took a seat with her scotch in hand. 

 

"Well, if it's a girl, Daniel is insistent on her name being Elizabeth, but I prefer Wendy. And if it's a boy," her gaze flicked mischievously towards the 14-year-old. "Well, we were thinking either Grant or Edward," she said, causing Tony to light up.

 

"You wanna name your baby after me!?" he asked, eyes wide as he smiled up at the pair.

 

"Or Captain America," Obediah blurted out before taking a sip of his drink. Peggy gave the man an unimpressed look before turning her eyes back on Tony. 

 

"Of course, 'Tonio. You're just as much a part of my family as Daniel or your mother is," Peggy said as she took his hand in hers. "What kind of godmother would I be if I didn't think of my favorite boy when trying to find the perfect name for my son?" 

 

Tony smiled toothily, squeezing her hand tightly as he beamed.

 

- - -

 

Steve was left staring at the screen, specifically Peggy's stomach, with wide eyes as the image faded. He'd known that she'd settled down- Daniel had apparently died a number of years before Peggy did, but...

 

He had no idea they had children together. 

 

And Tony- he had this uneasy feeling rolling around in his got that there was something he was missing. Those memories had been short, but they'd all focused around the billionaire and his machines. 

 

Steve pushed the bitter voice in the back of his mind that said of course his projects always worked, even when he hadn't expected them to, this was Ultron all over again- away, shaking his head and focusing on what he'd just seen.

 

That engine...Tony had looked surprised, almost...scared... to see it working when he touched it. Maybe it started with contact? It was from the future after all...or, well, no it wasn't. The memory had to be from the 1980s, and Steve had seen plenty of things from the 1980s. None of it was the kind of touch-screen and holo-projected stuff that littered the tower now. 

 

He furrowed his brow in thought, glancing back up towards the screen where Tony had simply touched the metal of the 'lab assistant' robot he'd been making. How had he done that? there was no way technology was advanced enough for something like that back then. 

 

The uneasy feeling in his gut grew.

 

"Is he-" Wanda spoke up, her own brow furrowed in thought as she searched for something within the blank screen. "He was experimented on," she breathed, eyes narrowing in thought. 

 

"Bastard," Steve hear Bucky growl, glancing towards the man to find him standing tensely in the middle of the room, his fists clenched as he sneered up at the screen. "That bastard experimented on his own god damn kid- used him as a human fucking subject trying to recreate the serum," he said, bringing his flesh hand to his head to card his fingers through his hair. 

 

"By the looks of it, it didn't have the intended effects on Tony... but it did do something to him," Natasha said from her spot on the floor beside Bruce. 

 

"Greeeeaaaaat, more of Stark's patented secrets..." Clint said, his face hidden by his arms as he sat on the floor with his legs pulled close to his chest. "Always with the secrets, never wants to tell us anything," he muttered, causing a stab of guilt to pang in Steve's chest.

 

"Doesn't that sound familiar," Natasha replied, giving him a pointed look.

 

The soldier dropped his eyes, mulling over the revelation that whatever Howard had injected Tony with did something to him- and that that something probably had to do with machines. How many of his machines worked off his own merit, rather than this- this weird power, if you could even call it that?

 

One conversation in particular suddenly stood out in his mind.

 

"The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You're not the guy to make the sacrifice play."

 

"You're a laboratory experiment, Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle."

 

Steve swallowed thickly, his heart hammering against his chest as a realization came to mind.

 

Had Tony been talking (at least partially) about himself that entire time? Was that what he thought? Maybe- maybe he had had the same thought as Steve. Maybe he had wondered just how many of his inventions were from his own genius rather than whatever had been in that bottle.

 

How much of that argument, of every argument they had- been born of this resentment Tony held towards him because the serum he'd been injected with didn't work right? How much anger did Tony really hold towards him because of Howard's actions? 

 

He couldn't deny the man wasn't what he remembered now, but...maybe- maybe Clint had been right. How much of Tony's hero-worship from when he was little had become resentment because he couldn't measure up to Steve? 

 

And Steve knew how bad that sounded- but it was obvious that Howard was trying to compare the two already, and Tony had mentioned plenty of times in the past that his father had always tried to get him to be like Steve growing up. Was this serum just another attempt by the millionaire to get Tony to be more like him?

 

A part of him wanted to make a comment on it, to say that a team without trust was just a group of people, that Tony should have told them about this a long time ago- but he wasn't as oblivious as Bucky liked to say he was.

 

He knew those thoughts were hypocritical.

 

Though that begged the question...

 

Just how long had Tony been keeping this a secret?

 

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