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Passing Grade

Chapter Text

Tony Stark thought that high school was really, really boring. He dragged his feet through four periods of fuck all each an every day, then went home to be ignored. Rinse and repeat.

Each day he got on the bus (because kids with average intellect aren't allowed to waste the family driver's time), and sat in the very back. Ear buds in, he watched the city flash by, a blur of colors and faces and buildings that served as a boring backdrop to a boring commute.

The other kids knew not to fuck with him; just because he was stupid, didn't mean that he couldn't beat the shit out of somebody.

The bus ride didn't take long. Half an hour, from where the Stark Mansion was to the upscale high school that Howard had picked out.

"Just because you're stupid doesn't mean you have to go and learn to be a thug at the closest city school."

Thanks, Dad.

When the bus pulled up to the sidewalk, Tony waited until everyone was off the bus, before slinging his backpack over his shoulder and trudging up the aisle. The bus driver, a lady named Sarah Rogers, was one of Tony's favorite people in the world. She was a part time bus driver and a nurse the rest of the time, and her son Steve was in a lot of Tony's classes, though he didn't really know Tony existed.

Tony stopped next to her, smiling brightly.

"G'morning, Ms. Rogers."

"Good morning, Tony," Sarah said in reply, smiling genially. She passed him a sandwich and an apple, and Tony blushed, like he always did.

Howard wouldn't allow the chefs to cook Tony anything, and he didn't keep the kitchen stocked either. He had a credit card that always held a small balance, but it was hard riding his bike to buy groceries over half an hour away. Somewhere along the way, Sarah had noticed. While it was difficult to accept her charity, her smiles made up for it, and Tony didn't starve.

"Go and be the best you can be," she said, a touch of seriousness in her tone before she shooed him off the bus.

Tucking his lunch into his backpack, Tony stared up at the school, feeling a twinge of guilt. Sarah always told him to be the best he could be, but this...this was not it.

Chapter Text

Mornings at SHIELD High School were very routine. Students flooded the cafeteria, either for breakfast or to wait until the first warning bell sounded at eight o'clock. It was loud, obnoxious, and gave Tony a headache. So he kept his earbuds in and skated around the administrators, until he could slip into a side hallway and head towards the shop classrooms.

Ho Yinsen was the only teacher who didn't give Tony looks of disappointment whenever he walked into a room. They had an understanding: Tony didn't ruin any equipment and be a loud mouthed punk, and Mr. Yinsen didn't tell anybody that Tony was good with his hands.

The back workshop, where Yinsen's office and personal workbench was hidden, was riddled with Tony's creations. He liked building and coding robots, as evidenced by 'Dummy', a repurposed Roomba with a claw that was oddly affectionate. For a robot.

Tony didn't like people to know that he could build things. He didn't like people to know that he wasn't some stupid failure, Howard Stark's genetic travesty.

The truth of it was, Tony was really, really fucking smart.


 

Tony emerged from his engineering fugue when the end of first period bell rang. He'd skipped out on gym again (because who needs Steve Fucking Rogers and his perfect body and great mom? Not Tony) and had holed up in the shop.

Yinsen turned a blind eye, and ignored the occasional yelps from a soldering iron while he worked through his free period.

"You'll be late for chemistry if you don't get moving," Yinsen warned, adjusting his glasses while waiting for Tony to 'surface for air'.

Tony's head shot up at that, and he hurriedly crammed all of his circuit boards and tools into a plastic container, stuffing it in a cabinet. He gathered his bookbag and skidded out into the classroom, where some of Yinsen's students were already gathering for their class.

"Hey, Stark! You playing janitor again?" Called Justin Hammer, and Tony itched to go and knock the asshole out. His eye twitched, and he clenched his fists, but he managed to stay his temper. Yinsen gave him an approving nod as he walked by, patting his shoulder before turning to teach the class.

Tony heard Yinsen ordering Justin Hammer to start reciting from the textbook, and he snickered, before jogging down the hallway. Stopping at his locker, he exchanged his bookbag full of odds and ends (gears, relay switches, a PB&J sandwich and an apple) for his chemistry notebook, textbook, his idea binder, and a couple of pens before slamming the door shut and taking off.

Hustling down the nearest set of stairs, Tony swung wide around a corner, not bothering to apologize to Principal Fury for nearly bowling him over.

He dimly registered a, "Slow your punk ass down!" but didn't pay too much attention.

With the door in sight, Tony muttered the end of his mental countdown, "Three, two, one..." and managed to slide into the classroom just as the bell rang.

Dr. Banner looked up from the board, looking as weary and careworn as ever. His brow furrowed when he recognized Tony, and the entire class looked as though they were on the verge of killing him. Very slowly. With dry erase markers.

"Mornin', Dr. B.," Tony said cheerfully, skirting the edge of the room to head towards his seat in the back. He caught the eye of one Virginia 'Pepper' Potts, who shook her head ruefully, but Tony could see the hint of a smile.

Dr. Banner had his 'disappointed scientist' look on again, and Tony felt his teacher's gaze tracking him across the room. It was no secret that Dr. Banner had expected Tony to magically attain genius level intellect upon crossing the threshold of his classroom. He'd kept up hope for two weeks (a record!) and then decided to look at Tony as if he were a specimen that hadn't achieved the desired results.

"Have a seat, Anthony," was the terse reply.

Dr. Banner was already turning back to the board, leaving Tony to drop into his seat at the back. No one really wanted to sit with the stupid kid, so Tony had an entire table to himself. Spreading out his notebooks, Tony opened the black one first (spiral, college ruled) and set to copying the notes Dr. Banner already had written on the board.

Once he was caught up, he opened his idea binder, that was held together with red and gold duck tape. He let Dr. Banner's lecture flow into the box at the back of his mind labeled 'Dr. B's Awesome Lectures', and turned his attention to his personal 'log book'.

Thin tracing paper was nestled into a pocket on the left, with notebook paper locked into the three rings in the middle. On the right was tracing paper he'd finished with, riddled with different portions of designs. His dad had seen it once, and had asked if Tony was considering a career in art. If so, he'd be as shitty at that as he was everything else.

Tony had shrugged off the comment, because he knew that if the paper was stacked just right, the design would become apparent. So, promising himself he'd come back to Dr. Banner's lecture later, Tony immersed himself in his binder, writing out equations and codes . He gradually moved closer and closer to the paper, tongue sticking out between his lips as he concentrated.

A textbook slammed down right next to Tony's ear after some time, causing him to jerk back from his notes and look around at the empty classroom.

"What's happening? Did something blow up? Did I do it?" He queried, surreptitiously shutting his binder and pulling it close.

Dr. Banner shuffled into Tony's field of vision, all Disappointed Scientist with a pinch of What The Fuck.

"Were you even paying attention, Anthony?" He asked, crossing his arms. He looked mad, and it made Tony uneasy. Dr. Banner was his favorite teacher, save for Yinsen, and it was already bad enough that Tony was an epic fail academically.

"I...yes?" Tony offered, smiling nervously.

"Then tell me, what were we discussing in class?"

Tony knew. He really did. In his mind box, Dr. Banner's Awesome Lecture told him that they had been discussing the periodic table, and Tony could list them all off the top of his head, but all he could say was, "Um...Bunsen burner protocols?"

Dr. Banner seemed to have developed a tic in his right eye, and his sigh made Tony feel like a dick.

"You ignored the in-class quiz, which was covered in the lecture material. The best I can give you is partial credit, if you drop by after school and read the chapter, then take a quiz based on that material. Can you do that, or do you have somewhere more important to be?"

His teacher's tone was accusatory, and Tony was painfully reminded that he had a reputation for philandering and throwing his money around on top of being horrifically stupid. Whether or not the rumors were true was one thing, but Dr. Banner seemed pretty sure that Tony was a slut and had other plans for the evening.

In reality, Tony would be going to an empty house, with no food, and a new balance on his credit card for the week.

"No sir. I'll be here after school," Tony promised, pulling his best contrite expression.

Dr. Banner pinched the bridge of his nose, took another deep breath, and then waved Tony on.

"You can leave now, Anthony. Hurry so you're not late to your next period."

Tony nodded, gathering his notebook and binder before shoving away from his table.

"Thanks, Dr. B. I'll be there. Promise," he said with a grin before hurrying out of the classroom.

Chapter Text

Tony's third period was the one he hated the most. It was all the 'honors' kids clustered into one room, with a disturbing concentration of assholes. US Government shouldn't have been home to some of the worst moments in Tony's life, but it was.

He wondered what the fuck his old teachers were thinking when they dropped him in all honors classes. He scraped by with B's, usually C's, though it was easy to 'study extra hard' and pull up his grades when he needed to.

Mostly, his presence pissed off the teachers who were there for the kids that 'really wanted to learn'. Tony was only a disruption before class and at the end of class, and kept to himself. He figured that the 'Disappointed Teacher' look had a patent pending, because they were all pros at whipping it out when Tony least expected it.

It kept him awake at night, unable to sleep for the images of sand, sun, and blood and the disappointment of everyone he'd ever met weighing on his shoulders.

His only saving grace was that both Pepper and Rhodey were in class with him. Sometimes, they weren't enough to keep Hammer and his cronies from harassing him, but it went a long way.

Even though he'd stayed a little late in chemistry, Tony still had enough time to go and switch out his chemistry stuff for his government textbook, notebook, and issue of Newsweek that Ms. Hill passed out every Friday to be reviewed through the next week.

Government was on the same floor as his locker, so it was only a short walk before he entered the classroom.

Ms. Hill's desk was in the far corner, and from the door, Tony could see that everyone had split into their cliques. Hammer and his cronies (Ty Stone, Amora Eckerson, Victor Doomsbury) sat in the middle of the room, making it difficult for anyone to escape their attentions. Up front sat Peter Parker and Harry Osborn, Hank McCoy two seats down and looking mildly bored (politics wasn't his thing, apparently.) On the far wall by the window was the 'Blond Trio', consisting of Steve Rogers, Thor Odinson, and Clint Barton, who was currently aiming a rubber band driven paper football at Tony's head.

Tony scowled, but kept his temper as Clint's football smacked him right on the nose. He caught it and stuffed it in his pocket, making his way towards the opposite corner. Clint whined, but Tony couldn't make out what he said as he walked to the back of the classroom. The seat in the back of any room was usually considered Tony's, and in most classes the seats around him would be empty.

Instead of sitting by himself, Tony was flanked by Pepper Potts in front and James 'Rhodey' Rhodes to the right, Tony's best (and sometimes only) friends. Pepper turned around in her seat once Tony sat down, her lips pursed and her brow furrowed.

"You really shouldn't be late to Dr. Banner's class, Tony. You know how he gets."

"Like 'SCIENTIST SMASH!'? When he goes berserk and clears an entire lab?"

"Exactly like that. And then you couldn't even pay attention!"

Tony blushed a bit at that. He hadn't meant to zone out. But he was so close to a breakthrough with his coding, and Dummy the Roomba was only the beginning. Shaking off his excitement for his project, Tony shot for sheepish and knew he'd pulled it off when Pepper's expression softened.

"I'm sorry, Pep. Sometimes it just goes right over my head and I just start to designing birdhouses and shit for shop class," he said with a helpless shrug.

Rhodey looked over, an eyebrow raised.

"'Birdhouses', Tones? Really? I've seen some of the stuff that Mr. Yinsen displays. It is 100% legit, and I know that Hammer isn't responsible. No one spends as much time as you do in there."

Tony shrugged again, feeling a small burst of pride. The stuff Yinsen displayed was just stuff he fiddled with while working through a problem in his head. But his friend's praise meant more than Rhodey could know, so Tony grinned at him.

"I can neither confirm nor deny," he said with a wink.

Rhodey huffed out a laugh, and was about to respond when the bell rang. As one, the entire class shuffled and turned forward, except Tony, who was fiddling with his bookbag. Ms. Hill was a taskmaster, and really fucking scary when she wanted to be, so no one dared to cross her path. Except Tony.

She hated Tony.

So when she barked, "Stark! Front and center!", Tony wasn't really all that surprised.

Tony trudged to the front of the room, shoulders slumped and head bowed. This was the start of Hill's tri-weekly Stark Shaming, and it did not bode well for Tony.

"Stark, why don't you write the three branches of government up on the board?" She said, her voice saccharine sweet and her eyes cold as she handed him a dry erase marker.

Tony wanted to list every US Senator and their pet dog's names up on the board (because that was something he happened to know), but instead he scribbled EXECUTIVE, JUDICIAL, and LEGISLATIVE up on the board. He decided to forgo misspelling, because Hill would eat him alive and make him stand there all class trying to find his error while she went on teaching.

Hill raised an eyebrow when Tony turned to face her, glaring in challenge. She smirked, the expression fleeting before she spoke again.

"How many US Senators are there, Stark? Quickly now," the harpy said, tapping her wristwatch.

Tony groaned internally, because he was really tired of these stupid fucking games. But he had to make a show of an attempt at mental math, before writing a shaky 98 up on the board.

A few snickers rose up behind him, and Tony knew it was mostly Hammer & Co., but there were others. He glanced back at Rhodey and Pepper, who looked ready to come up and defend him. Rhodey had a hand on Pepper's arm, and Tony was pretty sure she was ready to go to Fury and demand that Ms. Hill stop playing favorites.

"Wrong, Stark," Hill said, her voice filled with glee. "How many representatives are there, not including Senators?"

Hatred fill Tony's chest, because this woman was cruel. She was cruel and vindictive, and Tony despised playing this role. But when he allowed visions of the dead and dying to overcome him, he was reminded why he was doing this.

He considered being spiteful, but decided to err on the side of caution, with a hint of mischief thrown in. He raised his marker and scribbled 535, which was most definitely wrong, but caused Ms. Hill to peer at him in suspicion.

"Also wrong, Stark. Have a seat."

Tony shuffled back to his desk, ignoring the jeers and calls for Tony to join his 'Special Ed' friends. Pepper touched his hand as he walked by, and Rhodey clapped him on the shoulder before they turned to their notebooks. Tony dragged his out and pretended to write, but instead drew a vaguely demonic looking cat and scribbled GATO! underneath.

Settling in his seat, Tony hated the fact that theirs was the last lunch shift. They endured an entire hour and a half of Ms. Hill's lecturing before they all rushed out the door as the lunch bell rang. Tony both loved and hated lunch, as it was always a free for all.

Chapter Text

After the lunch bell rang, Tony hung back with Rhodey and Pepper, slinging his bookbag over his shoulder while waiting for his friends to finish gathering their things.

Ms. Hill was watching them from her corner, perched on the edge of her desk. She smiled at Pepper and Rhodey as they walked out the door, then scowled as soon as their backs were turned. The look she gave Tony was one of pure loathing, and Tony knew it would be within his best interests to get going before he was dragged across Fury's welcome mat for the fifth time that month .

He hoped that they'd given Hammer & Co. enough time to chase down lunch, and was right when he stepped out into a mostly empty hallway, save for Pepper and Rhodey.

"Man, Hill's got it out for you," Rhodey stated once they were out of earshot of the classroom.

"It's not fair, Tony. Why don't you report her to Fury? She's never humiliated anyone else like that," Pepper protested, bumping shoulders with Tony.

Tony shrugged, taking care as they came to a stairwell.

"She's not the first, and she won't be the last. I'm just that kind of guy," Tony replied, his words full of false bravado.

Rhodey said nothing, waiting until they were at the bottom of the stairs to ruffle his hair.

"Whoa, not the 'do, Platypus. Anything but that," Tony complained, batting Rhodey's hands away.

The cafeteria was abuzz with the last round of students for the day. They were all clamoring to get a spot in line, and there was plenty of shoving and attempts to cut. Tony didn't actually have any money to eat with (credit cards weren't accepted in high school cafeterias), so he followed Pepper to their usual table. Pepper packed lunch everyday, and saved her lunch money to use on things like shoes and shit. Tony would never understand, but he didn't begrudge her preferences.

Occasionally, Darcy Lewis would crash at their table while her best friend Jane Foster was sucking face with Thor. Tony really liked Darcy, because she was a smartass and could snark with the best of them. Darcy was already sitting at their table, looking disgusted with life as she stabbed her plastic fork into a tray of spaghetti with a vengeance.

"Is Jane off with Thor again?" Pepper asked, sitting down across from Darcy. She pulled out her lunchbox (pink) and began pulling out a carton of yogurt, a bag of carrots, peppers, and celery, and then a sandwich which Tony knew to be chicken salad, because Mondays were always chicken salad.

Darcy grumbled something unintelligible, taking a vicious bite of her spaghetti before answering. She wiped at her face with napkin, adjusting her glasses with a scowl.

"Yes. Damned traitor. She and the other dopes are all eating in the senior lounge."

"But they're not seniors!" Pepper protested while carefully peeling off the top of her yogurt carton. She pulled out a spoon and mixed it, then took a bite while waiting for Darcy to work herself into a tirade.

"They've got 'connections'," Darcy growled in a wheedling tone, making air quotations.

"Namely one Loki Odinson," Tony offered as he dropped down next to Darcy. "That little shit knows how to get into every nook and cranny in this school."

"Little fucker," was all Tony heard in between bites of garlic bread.

Tony pulled out his own sandwich and apple, silently thanking Sarah Rogers for her sainthood. Somehow, she managed to make peanut butter and jelly taste like heaven, and the apples she bought were always delicious. Rhodey popped up at Tony's elbow, dropping an extra carton of chocolate milk on the table before sitting next to Pepper.

Rhodey and Pepper shared a brief kiss, ignoring Darcy and Tony's gagging noises, before they both turned back to their lunches. Rhodey had opted for a ham and cheese sub (on extra healthy wheat bread, because the Jr. ROTC and various team sports had standards), and a fruit cup. Rhodey was always chill enough to get Tony a carton of chocolate milk, and seemed to know that being a 'rich kid' wasn't actually working out for Tony.

"You guysh are disgushstin'," Tony said around a mouthful of PB&J. Darcy punched him in the arm, brandishing her fork at him.

"Don't talk with your mouthful, Anthony. Didn't your mother ever teach you manners?"

Tony swallowed his bite and took a drink of chocolate milk, then leveled Darcy with a serious stare.

"No."

Darcy opened her mouth to retort, then faltered. The table suffered an awkward silence, before Tony took another swig of chocolate milk.

"I won't be waiting with you guys for the bus today. I gotta stay late with Dr. B."

Pepper rolled her eyes, leaning against Rhodey while picking through her bag of veggies. Rhodey huffed out a breath in amusement, before taking a bite of his sub.

"How in the hell did you score afterschool with Banner?" Darcy asked, eyeing Tony over the rims of her glasses. She'd finished off her spaghetti and was working on her pudding cup, offering a bite to Tony before he replied. Tony wrapped his lips around the spoon, relishing the sweet taste for a moment before he licked off the remaining bit. Darcy finished the rest on her own, unconcerned about the sharing, then shot Tony a look that said, 'I'm waiting'.

Tony shrugged, covering a yawn with a hand.

"I came to class right at the bell. Called him 'Dr. B', because I know how much he secretly likes it. I didn't take notes. I zoned out during an in-class quiz. Shall I go on?" Tony snarked, balling up the baggie his sandwich came in and lobbing it to the nearest trash can, making a fwish noise when it went in.

He turned back to the table, starting when he realized they were all staring at him. Pepper had her 'Mildly Exasperated With Tony's Existence' face on, Rhodey sporting 'Amused Incredulity/Tony You Jackass' and Darcy was all out leering, leaving Tony to wonder if he'd be dragged out of his shop class for a little bit of fun behind the bleachers.

"Man, no wonder you've got to stay late. Good luck with that," Rhodey offered, starting on his fruit cup.

Tony feigned nonchalance as he bit into his apple, humming appreciatively. In reality, staying after school meant that Tony would miss his bus. The driver wasn't allowed to come get him, so Tony would be stuck walking. It meant he'd be getting home after dark, with no time to do homework or work on his project. He kept his grimace of displeasure to himself, and instead finished his apple and then his chocolate milk.

"No big, Sour Patch. Dr. B is totally chill, when he's not smashing up the lab and freshmen. I'll make up the work and head on home. Life will go on."

Darcy snickered, tossing her empty pudding cup onto her foam tray, picking up Tony's apple core and dropping it on top.

"Throw away my trash, slave," she said archly, shoving the tray towards Tony. He wrinkled his nose, but swung his legs off the bench anyways. Darcy was one girl he took care not to piss off. The rumors about the taser she carried in her purse were definitely based on fact.

Dropping the tray in the trash, Tony was completely unprepared for the crack against the side of his skull that sent him staggering to the right. He pressed his palm against his left temple, vision swimming as he applied pressure. He could feel blood trickling down the side of his face, and when he looked down he saw a dirty napkin and a piece of asphalt from the school parking lot.

The entire cafeteria had fallen silent, but Tony knew where to look. Hammer & Co. were sitting in the middle of the cafeteria, all looking far too innocent. Hammer appeared shocked, but his mouth was fighting a smirk. Amora was hiding her smile behind a hand, and the glint in Ty Stone's eyes told Tony all he needed to know.

The Blond Trio looked mildly disturbed on their side of the room, and Tony hoped they felt fucking guilty. They were just as bad as the others sometimes, and he prayed his blood made them feel queasy. He swung back around to face his friends, lightheaded and his steps unsure. Rhodey was at his elbow, pressing a napkin to Tony's head, his voice slightly panicked.

"Tones? You okay, man?"

"Mmm...yeah. Totes okay," Tony slurred. His head was pounding, and he couldn't really see straight. If he knew anything, he knew that he wouldn't be making out with Darcy Lewis during fourth period. Guys with head wounds weren't cool.

"Alright," Pepper declared. "We're going to the nurse's office. Jim, can you go and speak with an administrator? Darcy, grab Tony's backpack."

Tony knew it was serious if Darcy went without complaining. Rhodey passed him off to Pepper, then jogged off to deliver some justice. There were plenty of witnesses, and the cafeteria had cameras. Even if they weren't punished severely, Tony took some measure of comfort from knowing they'd get in trouble.

Groaning, Tony allowed Pepper to lead him, disturbed when he had to swap out his blood soaked napkin with a fresh one.

"Whoa, Stark. That's gross," Darcy snarked. "That's like, a biohazard. Keep that shit to yourself."

"Shut your trap, Lewis," Tony muttered. "I am injured."

"No excuse to be a slob," she replied archly.

Tony's reply was cut off when they arrived outside of the nurse's office, and he was pushed into a chair. Pepper and Darcy shuffled off to the side, leaving Mrs. Carter, the school nurse, to fret over Tony. He ended up in the nurse's office more often than most, and he liked to think they had a good rapport going.

"Goodness, Tony! What have you been up to? I hope this wasn't from gym again!"

"Nah, Mrs. C. I think it was a rock. Somehow my head found it and they became friends," Tony murmured, his smile goofy and his gaze far off.

"Always getting into something," Mrs. Carter clucked, pulling the napkin away from the cut. She tossed it in a biohazard bin (Darcy's 'Told you so!' was a little on the loud side.)

"Mmm. I just like your company, Mrs. C."

Mrs. Carter smiled fondly, patting Tony's unbloodied cheek a few times before turning away to gather gauze and peroxide. She cleaned out the cut with peroxide, dabbing at it with gauze while it foamed. She cleaned the blood off the side of his face, and inspected the cut while it bled sluggishly.

Tsk'ing, she bustled back to the cabinet and found a box of butterfly bandages, then set about closing the wound a bit. Tony hissed a few times, grumbling and growling. Darcy's hand on his shoulder and Pepper's on his knee kept him grounded, and reminded him not to start cussing Mrs. Carter.

"It's a nasty cut, and your face will probably be fifty shades of purple, yellow, and green," she said with a chuckle, as if her joke was funny. "But it won't need stitches. Would you like some ibuprofen for the pain?"

Tony hummed in thought, weighing his options. Chances were, he'd make it to his bus well enough, and could stumble back to the mansion with little incident. He'd just need to dodge Banner. If the ibuprofen could take the edge off, why not?

"Yes please, Mrs. C," Tony replied, snickering at the pitiful excuse for a rhyme. The nurse's smile was still fond (Tony could totally tell) as she got the pill bottle out of a cabinet, and shook two pills into her palm, offering them to him with a cup of water that Darcy had so helpfully filled up. Making a show of sniffing it to upset his friend, Tony gave up joking and tossed the two pills back, whining when it made his head spin.

"I'm not letting you out of here until your dizziness has abated, Tony," Mrs. Carter said in her sternest tone. She secretly loved him, of that he was sure, so he knew he could wheedle his way out at some point. But still, the better part of valor and whatever had him nodding slowly.

"Yes ma'am."

Mrs. Carter looked surprised at his quick agreement, but she didn't comment, instead turning to Pepper and Darcy. "You two girls need to go on to class. Tony will be fine with me."

Pepper and Darcy shared a look, and Tony would have given anything to know how the female mind worked, but he didn't get any insight when they came to a silent agreement.

"Alright, Mrs. Carter," Pepper said, her voice full of that ginger charm that world on practically everyone. "Thank you very much for patching him up. We know he's a handful."

"Nonsense," Mrs. Carter tittered, waving them off. "Now get. You still have time to go get your things before the bell."

Darcy moved in front of him, pressing a kiss to an unbandaged portion of his forehead. "See ya later, Bleachers. Your time will come soon enough."

"Aw, man," Tony grumbled, quieting when Pepper's hand cupped the uninjured side of his face. Her hand was cool, and he had never loved her more (in a totally platonic way).

"Be good, Tony. Listen to Mrs.Carter, and please be careful."

Tony didn't nod again, because it would make him dizzy. So he settled on raising an eyebrow and smirking. "Me? Not careful? I think you're mistaking me with some other kid."

Seeing her frown, Tony covered her hand with his, smiling in earnest. "I'll be careful, Pep. Promise."

Pepper nodded, then ushered Darcy out of the room, stopping her from stealing Mrs. Carter's stash of lollipops. Mrs. Carter checked on his bandage one more time before moving into her office, leaving Tony to sit on the cot and lean against the wall behind him, trying to regain his equilibrium before the fourth period bell rang.

Chapter Text

Tony strolled into Dr. Banner's classroom after he left the nurse's office. Mrs. Carter had wanted to keep him until school ended, but Tony knew Dr. Banner's fourth period was free, and he would miss his bus if he wasn't careful (and walking home really fucking sucked, let alone with a head injury).

He was only a little woozy as he knocked on the door, sighing in relief when Dr. Banner's voice called out, "Come in!"

The chemistry teacher looked up as he walked in, eyes widening in alarm at the ridiculous amount of bandages wrapped around Tony's head. He moved to stand up, but Tony waved him off.

Tony grinned, but didn't meet his teacher's eyes.

"Smacked my head on some pavement. No stitches though. Sorry, it won't be enough to keep me from bothering you next class," he said with a shrug, feeling a pang of hurt in his chest at the idea of Dr. Banner being grateful of Tony's absence.

Something flickered in Dr. Banner's expression, almost like a twitch, but the older man just shook his head ruefully.

"Of course I want you in class, Anthony. I just wish you'd pay better attention."

Tony shrugged his shoulders, his head pounding around the dose of ibuprofen he'd choked down in Mrs. Carter's office.

"Sorry, Dr. B," he muttered, studying the tile under his sneakers.

He glanced up to watch Dr. Banner shake his head, then rifle through his drawers until he found the makeup quiz. Dr. Banner was wearing his Disappointed Scientist face as he handed the quiz over.

"Please do your best and read the chapter carefully. Your grade can't take too many more hits like these, and I can only accommodate you so much."

Lifting one shoulder in reply, Tony shuffled a slow retreat to his desk. He had forgotten his book in his rush to not bleed to death from his head wound, and there weren't any extras stuffed in shelves or abandoned on the workstation in the back. Fiddling with the paper for a moment, Tony glanced over to make sure Dr. Banner was preoccupied. Once he was satisfied that his teacher's attention was elsewhere, Tony quickly filled out the quiz. It was easy, and he caught Dr. Banner's sneaky atomic number question at the end, smirking as he circled the last multiple choice answer.

It was kind of satisfying, answering all the questions correctly.

His head was still pounding, so he didn't want to linger for much longer in the classroom. Getting up and shouldering his bookbag, Tony walked his quiz over to Dr. Banner.

"Anything else, Dr. B?"

The chemistry teacher looked at the quiz on his desk, shifting his glasses higher on his nose with a small frown.

"No. Just try to pay more attention next time. I'd rather not have to move you out of my class," he warned, hazel eyes reflecting the no-nonsense tone he'd adopted.

Tony nodded, instantly regretting it as the pounding increased in tempo. Gritting his teeth, he flashed a strained smile.

(Stark men are made of iron.)

"Thanks, Dr. B. I'll see you next class."

Upon leaving the classroom, Tony took a moment to breathe. He was tired, and he ached everywhere, and he wanted to go moment was ruined when something heavy slammed into him from behind, and he went crashing to the floor.

He hit the tile hard, groaning as his head ached and a searing pain lanced down his spine.

"What the fuck?!" He growled, tilting his head back to see Justin Fucking Hammer sneering down at him. Hammer very rarely bullied alone, so it stood to reason that his cronies had gotten stuck in ISS for the asphalt incident.

"I don't know why you keep coming back, Stark. We're just going to keep up this little game, and you're always gonna lose. Do us all a favor and stay home."

Hammer hauled Tony up by his arm (who would have thought the fucker would have the strength?) and dragged him to the nearest set of lockers, slamming him up against them. Tony would have protested the padlock digging into his kidneys, but Hammer chose that moment to disregard Tony's personal space bubble.

"I know you make pretty birdhouses in woodshop, Tony," Hammer said, his tone conversational. "But that's just about all you're good for. I'm getting tired of you hanging around, skating on your daddy's money and acting like you're better than us," he declared, patting Tony's cut temple harder than necessary while wearing a cheery smile.

Tony couldn't help but whine in pain, jerking his head away.

"What the fuck, Hammer. Don't fucking touch me," Tony snarled.

"Word on the street is that you've slept with half the school," Hammer mused. He was still very much creeping in on Tony's space, and it was uncomfortable, to say the least.

"And your mom," Tony spat.

Hammer's body jerked a bit, but he continued on with his act, ignoring Tony's outburst.

"I happen to know that's an exaggeration, and where your preferences lean," he murmured, insinuating a knee between Tony's legs.

Hammer pressed up against him in all the wrong ways, and Tony's mind stuttered and froze. His breathing became labored as anxiety set in, and he began to struggle in earnest.

"GET THE FUCK OFF ME, HAMMER!" Tony snarled, grunting when Hammer pressed closer still.

The contact was unwanted, and it felt like Hammer's hands were all over him, until they weren't. That's when Tony saw Dr. Banner bodily hauling Hammer down the hallway. His knuckles were white where they were fisted in Hammer's shirt, and there was something dangerous about him as he dragged Hammer into Principal Fury's office.

Scientist Smash indeed.

Snapping out of his stupor, Tony dropped to his knees, trying to pick up the mess that was his spilled bookbag. His hands shook as he grabbed notebooks, making it nearly impossible to work the zipper. The tremors pissed him off, so he started a low chant of "Stark men are made of iron" to bolster his confidence, but in reality he just felt like shit.

A pair of hands with a darker complexion appeared in Tony's peripheral vision, landing on a notebook near his right knee. Tony jerked away, reeling backwards until he was pressed up against the lockers again.

Dr. Banner moved to crouch in front of him, expression concerned as he carefully kept his hands to himself, and visible.

"What was that you were saying?" He asked, his voice low and reassuring, leaving Tony grateful he wasn't asking about the most obvious fucking thing he could have.

"What? Oh...uh...'Stark men are made of iron', " he recited sheepishly.

"Company motto?"

"Family motto. My father...Starks are supposed to be made of tougher stuff."

"Strength isn't always measured by what you're made of," Dr. Banner murmured, his expression sickeningly understanding when Tony looked up at him.

"Desirability is measured in quantifiability," Tony snapped, struggling to his feet. He had to blink back tears when his head started aching again. He'd almost forgotten about the injury in lieu of getting molested by an asshole.

Dr. Banner's expression switched to Confused Scientist, probably because his boring, unwanted specimen was acting outside of normal parameters. Tony couldn't give a fuck, though. He'd probably slipped up more than he could afford to, but all he wanted to do was go home.

"Are you alright, Anthony?" He asked, peering closely as if he were looking for something specific.

Not up to falling under Dr. Banner's microscope, Tony grabbed his bookbag (thoughtfully repacked by his chemistry teacher) and got to his feet. He swayed a little bit from a tidal wave of dizziness, but managed to stay standing.

"Fine. Never better. Thanks for...that thing you did," Tony quipped, making vague gestures with one hand. "I gotta go, though. Can't miss my bus or I'd be screwed. See you next class, Dr. B."

Turning, Tony didn't wait for a reply before striding down the hallway more confidently than he felt. His chest was tight, and he wished that his parents were home, if only so that Jarvis could sneak him cookies. His mom would steal away from her sitting room and stroke his hair, and things would be okay for awhile.

The final bell ringing shattered Tony's daydream, and he could only trudge to the bus loading zone and pray that the driver was running on time.

Chapter Text

After the 'Chunk of Asphalt Meet Tony's Head' incident, Tony skipped school on Tuesday. His pride had taken a hit, and he figured he could take a day to lick his wounds and sift through his makeup work later. He'd been ignoring Pepper and Rhodey's texts, but he'd fielded a call from Darcy to reassure that he wasn't dead in his 'manse of opulence'.

He was well into sleeping the day away when he felt the rumble of the automatic garage door shaking the entire east wing. His father did a lot of his work in the garage/lab, so their garage was monstrous, and made a lot of racket no matter where you were in the house, but especially the east wing where Tony slept.

"Oh shit," Tony groaned into his pillow, clenching his sheets tightly while he mentally prepared himself for the onslaught of his father.

He had stayed in bed for the most part, changing his bandages per Mrs. Carter's instructions, and was generally trying to behave. The house was immaculate, because he only spent time in his room and the less used workshop in the maintenance shop out back. He'd already cleared his projects from the maintenance shop, and it wasn't his job to dust, so he knew that there wouldn't be any flak for that.

That didn't mean he was prepared for the heavy pounding on his door, and his father's yell reverberating through the wood.

"Anthony! Get your ass out here and explain the phone call I got from that school I spend good money on!"

Fuck.

Rolling out of bed, Tony changed his shirt and straightened his hair as best he could around the bandages. Finding a pair of passable jeans, he skipped shoes entirely and took a deep breath. He was so screwed. So fucking screwed. Taking a brief moment to consider texting Pepper or Darcy his will, Tony nixed the idea and stepped out of his room.

Already knowing where to go, Tony let his feet carry him down the hall and a back set of stairs to the ground floor, where his father's study was tucked between the library and the entrance to the garage. His father was seated in his leather high back, sorting through a large stack of mail with one hand, nursing a tumbler of scotch in the other. None of these bode well for Tony.

Howard Stark had a routine for when he returned from his travels. First, he would drive home in one of his cars (a horribly expensive, beautiful piece of machinery that was a strict no touchy-touchy in Tony's case), and leave his luggage with Jarvis and Maria, if they were with him.

He'd pick up his mail at the guard house, and head to the mansion. Upon parking his car, he'd make sure that Tony hadn't meddled in his lab, and would then go into his study and settle in with an old label and his old war photo albums.

More often than not, Tony was called in for god knows what (he'd breathed too loudly once), and was left standing facing the corner. It was the same introduction to his punishment that he'd been receiving since he was four years old and being punished for sneaking into the lab.

It could be hours before Howard felt the need to acknowledge his son, and he would go on about business as if Tony weren't even there. Sometimes, he'd even have business associates meet him in the office, and they'd talk and chat as if Tony wasn't standing in the corner, harboring an intense urge to pick up a desk lamp and start swinging.

The record for the corner was five hours, but Tony figured it wouldn't take more than an hour before Howard broke and decided to ream him out for all of his character flaws and then some.

Tony walked over the threshold, moving to the corner and standing, falling into parade rest. His six years at a military academy (during the scandal of his non-existent intellect) had left him with a habit of standing at attention. It was unfortunate that Howard derived a perverse pleasure at seeing Tony retain a sense of discipline for more than five minutes at a time, and would throw something if Tony slouched.

Howard only spent another forty five minutes perusing his mail, and was distressingly less sober than Tony would have hoped. Tony stared at the wainscoting on the wall, tracing lines and charting the angles, trying not to jump when his father broke the silence.

"What, exactly, is wrapped around your head?"

"Bandages, sir."

"Why?"

"I cut my temple, sir. Asphalt."

"How?"

"I tripped, sir."

His father fell silent, and out of the corner of his eye, Tony could see him tracing a finger around the rim of his glass before taking a hearty swig.

"Front and center, Anthony."

Tony was quick to obey, standing in front of his father's desk with a niggling feeling of trepidation settling in his stomach. This wasn't going to end well.

"Don't lie to me, Anthony," his father murmured, voice deceptively level.

"I didn't…"

"Your school called my cell phone, Anthony. I dislike being interrupted while I'm on business."

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know they had a reason to call," Tony reasoned. Why the fuck would they call in the first place?

"Do you recall how I treat liars under this roof?"

Tony flinched back, not liking where this was going. The last time Howard accused him of lying, Tony went to the hospital with a broken arm from 'falling down the stairs'.

"Yes, sir."

"Your school called first to inform me you had been injured by a chunk of asphalt thrown across your cafeteria. Were you aware of this?"

"…Yes, sir," Tony ground out.

"I don't appreciate being lied to, Anthony," his father said, and Tony could see the shift. There was something else, he just didn't know what.

"I apologize, sir. I didn't think it was worth bothering you with."

"It matters a great deal, Anthony. I got a second call. Saying some kid groped you in the hallway and you might be 'emotionally compromised'," Howard spat, a bit of spittle falling on his blotter.

Tony paled then swallowed hard. He hadn't anticipated the school calling about that shit. Why couldn't they just leave well enough alone?!

"Did you like that queer feeling you up, Anthony? Did you like it when he pressed you up against the lockers, hands all over you, ready to put the Stark name to shame?" He asked, brown eyes glinting dangerously in the low lamplight.

Tony figured this would be a horrible time to say, Dad, I think I'm bisexual. Just thought you should know.

"No, sir."

"Do you know what you are, Anthony?"

Sighing internally, Tony straightened a bit, shoulders back. Time for The Faults.

"Stupid. Useless. A disappointment," Tony recited dutifully, the words the same as they had always been. At least he didn't take them too personally anymore.

"We'll add embarrassment to that list. You are truly an embarrassment to this family," Howard snapped.

He gave Tony an expectant look, and Tony had to count to five so that he wouldn't try and strangle his old man.

"I am stupid. I am useless. I am a disappointment. I am an embarrassment," Tony repeated, his eyes burning with tears that would never fall, and his jaw aching from how hard he was clenching his teeth.

Howard hummed, downing the rest of his scotch and pouring another from the decanter. Tony could tell his father was looking to get wasted. He knew he'd be involved when Howard stood up and walked around his desk.

With a twisted sense of gentleness, Howard unwrapped the bandages from Tony's head, peering under the patch of gauze over the wound itself. Making a small, noncommittal noise, Howard peeled the gauze pad away and tossed it, with the bandages, into his trash can.

Tony was very careful not to move or make any sound, concentrating on the bookshelf behind his father's desk to keep his focus.

That focus was exactly why Tony was unaware of his father's backhand flying at his face. He felt the familiar splitting of skin from his father's MIT ring, and managed to catch himself on the far corner of the desk before he smashed his face into it.

Tony knew there was a reason he hated being on the small side as his father hauled him around, landing a vicious jab to the right side of his face 'for good measure'.

Black eye? Check.

Blood? Check.

Patricide plans? In Progress.

"You are still a Stark, no matter how useless you may be," Howard spat. "But I pay good money to keep you out of the papers, so you damn well better keep your fucking nose clean when I'm not around. Do you understand me?"

Tony nodded, biting his lip to keep from spitting blood at his father.

"Yes, sir," he ground out eventually, hands clenched at his sides.

Howard returned to his chair and his scotch, an unspoken cue for Tony's dismissal. With that Tony left his father's study, seething and in pain and lifting silent prayers to a god he didn't believe in to make the next two years pass quickly.

Chapter Text

Tony went to school the next day via taxi cab. He was lucky they took his card number over the phone (though he'd be watching his account to see if they overcharged him.) He couldn't bear to see Ms. Rogers' face when he showed his black and blue mug on the bus, so he was going to prolong it for as long as possible.

The cabbie gave a low whistle when Tony crawled into the backseat after his bookbag, but didn't remark any further on his split lip, black eye, and cut cheek (Tony had vowed to get that fucking MIT ring melted down and sold).

He got to school on time, and for once didn't go to Mr. Yinsen's classroom before first period. His father had warned him that if there were any more phone calls, the result would not be pleasant. Tony had the feeling that it would be within his best interest to behave and not call attention to himself.

When the bell rang, Tony actually went to gym, which he shared with the Blond Trio and a few other people who didn't tend to make his life hell. His clothes were in his locker, as clean as the day he'd bought them because he never bothered to dress out. Tossing his slip ons into his locker, Tony pulled out a pair of bright red and gold basketball shoes (Howard couldn't say a damned thing about shoes he would never see) and set them aside.

He felt like an emo kid, dressed in Shield High's all black uniform, only broken by silver stripes down the sides of the shirt and shorts, and the eagle rampant emblem on the left breast.

Tony really hated gym. It wasn't that Tony was completely inept or unfit. He had excellent hand eye coordination and worked out at home. Engineers did some heavy lifting, and it paid to be fit. He analysed sports with the same efficiency that he took to his coding, and it paid off whenever he hit the betting pools behind the bleachers at games.

Gym was horrible for one main reason: it made Tony feel exposed. Forced to hide in a mindless herd of black-clad sheep with no form of cover. And he had to run. That was bullshit. Running should have been reserved for when his dad was chasing him with a wrench, not for the sadistic pleasure of a gym teacher.

Still, he grudgingly trudged to the open gym area, where most of his classmates were already talking and milling about. It was fortunate that only one of Hammer's cronies shared Tony's gym period, and Doom wasn't too bad on his own. He only got Crazy Eyes when hanging out with Hammer, and tended to leave Tony alone.

When Romanov blew the whistle, the entire class fell into line almost instantly. (She was scary as fuck.) They began their warm up jog around the gym, five laps of drudgery that put Tony in a bad mood. Thor, being the ridiculous giant that he was, cheerfully loped ahead of everybody else, his bulk masking a long stride that ate up the gym floor. Steve and Clint made a game of racing. Once or twice, Tony felt someone shove him out of the way as Steve and Clint passed by, but Tony refrained from tripping the fuckers. Sainthood was yet within his grasp.

After the warm ups, Romanov gleefully announced they would be playing dodgeball, or something like it. Romanov's weird ass version had goalies and it didn't really make sense to call it dodgeball at that point. Once the teams were divided, Thor and Clint were sent to one side of the gym, while Steve and Tony went to the other. Tony was unanimously voted for goalie, because their team didn't really care about winning; seeing Tony's impending abject humiliation would be victory enough.

Gritting his teeth as he shuffled behind the three point line and into the key (the goal was a set of black mats mounted on the wall behind the basketball hoop), Tony made the decision to not suck. Normally he played 'clumsy failure' and was relegated to the sidelines, but he was fed up. They wanted to try and humiliate him? Fine. He'd shove that dodgeball so far up their asses they'd be tasting rubber for weeks.

Steve was shooting him concerned puppy dog looks from his position in defense, acting as if he were actually concerned. It pissed Tony off, because while Rogers had never actively participated in Tony's bullying, he'd never really stopped it either. Thank you, Mister Class President.

Romanov blew her whistle, looking positively gleeful. Tony theorized that she got off on her students' pain, and thoroughly enjoyed their fruitless contests for supremacy.

"Alright! First team to twenty points wins. No headshots, body checking, full body tackles, or conscious physical violence! If I see it, you're out for the game, and you get a 'F' for the day. Good luck and don't suffer too much!"

Tony stared at her, mouth agape as she brought the dodgeball to center court. What in the ever loving fuck. Thor and this guy named Hank Pym (Tony could never really peg his height. Sometimes he swore the guy wore platform shoes) faced each other, ready for Romanov's tip off. Thor, by virtue of solid European breeding and his own freakish genetics, got the ball and passed it to Clint, who was already halfway down the court. The guy zipped in and out of sight, finally reappearing to catch the ball straight out of fucking midair. Taking his maximum of three steps, Clint passed to Doom.Tony pivoted in front of the goal just in time to see Doom's expression before he got a face full of dodgeball. Ah. There were the Crazy Eyes.

Agony washed over him, white exploding in his vision as he staggered backward into the mats, holding his face and taking gasping breaths.

For the fucking love of---

Romanov blew her whistle and sentenced Doom to a period on the bleachers. He didn't look too repentant, sneering at Romanov's back as she walked over and pried Tony's hands away from his face. He wanted to bristle at the pity in her gaze, but he let it go and let his shoulders slump at the white and black dots receded from his vision.

"Will you make it?" She asked, not unkindly.

"Yeah. Though the next person to fuck with me is gonna get it," Tony quipped, completely serious.

"Good to hear."

She patted him on the shoulder, then whistled for the game to resume. Tony picked up the ball, eyeing his options. There was a clear line to Steve, Pym, and then Janet van Dyne, Pym's girlfriend. Lobbing the ball, Tony felt a swell of satisfaction as Steve caught it, and then acted as if he'd read Tony's mind. The ball was passed down the line and made its way to Jan's capable hands. She was scary quick and accurate, and had the goal before anyone knew what had happened.

Thor bellowed out that he accepted the challenge, and retrieved the ball from his goalie and sent it flying. Tony tracked the game as it made it back to his goal. Steve tried his best to defend, but Clint was quick, and was back at the three point line with a shit eating grin.

"Can you even catch, Stark?"

Tony didn't reply, already calculating angles, trajectory, and probabilities. Percentages filled his mind and he started planning for any number of scenarios. When Clint drew back and threw the ball (it looked like a solid baseball pitch), Tony slapped it down without a second thought, looking up at Clint with a self-satisfied smirk.

The blond's flabbergasted expression was enough to make the move worth it. Crouching down, Tony picked up the ball and tossed it to Steve, who was looking rather unsettled. Tony gave him a sloppy salute (because he and Rhodey were in Junior ROTC together and Tony liked being an asshole), and returned to his goal box.

Clint jogged away, still looking baffled and confused. The rest of the game passed much the same way. Tony gave a few points, because humans were far more unpredictable than code, but it didn't matter in the long run. Between Pym, Jan, Steve, and some impressive acrobatics from Peter Parker (who always showed up late with weird ass excuses), twenty points came and went. Romanov was enjoying herself, not calling mercy till the score was 25-7 (sadist sadist sadist).

Tony wasn't sure how to respond to the pats on the back, or high fives he got from his team. Thor came to join Steve (who had settled on Confused Puppy, eerily similar to Confused Scientist, but with blue eyes), and congratulate Tony.

"Friend Stark! I was unaware you were so skilled in defense! I would have you as a football goalkeeper anyday!"

It took a moment for Tony to translate European Transfer Jargon, and he eventually replied with a small shrug.

"Eh…not too big on team sports, Point Break. But thanks, I guess."

Steve shifted from Confused Puppy to Judgmental Class President in record time, rounding on Tony.

"Have you always been able to do that?" He asked, waving at the goal box.

"Uh…I guess,"Tony shrugged, not meeting his gaze.

"So you mean you've been fucking with us all along, right?" Clint interjected as he jogged back from chatting up Romanov.

"I think it isn't any of your fucking business Barton," Tony snapped.

"I'm curious, Stark. Does that shiner make you feel like a man? Did'ya get in a fight? Did it make you feel macho?" He mocked, reaching out to shove Tony's shoulder.

Tony stumbled back, keenly aware of the roaring in his ears and the feelings of helplessness washing over him. Regaining his footing, Tony straightened his spine, gritting his teeth.

"Don't fucking touch me, Barton," Tony growled.

"What're you gonna do? Beat me up? Doesn't look like you're too good at beating others up."

"Clint," warned Steve, his voice unsure.

"No, Steve. Stark's obviously been fucking with us. If he can play sports, what else can he do? Besides play punching bag, of course."

Clint shoved him again, and something snapped. Whatever was tethering Tony to his self control disappeared, and then he was all over Clint, snarling and punching without clear thought. They hit the gym floor and Tony's knees cracked painfully against the laminate, but all that mattered was wiping that smug fucking expression from Clint's face.

There might have been blood, maybe tears. Tony's voice was hoarse with yelling and his hands were aching and then he was hauled off. He kicked and thrashed in his captor's hold, panicking as sand sun blood explosions filled his mind's eye, and he was trapped in a chair, why couldn't he move, oh God oh God.

The sensation of ice cold water being splashed in his face snapped him back to reality, leaving him gasping for air. He looked around wildly, heart pounding a mile a minute until he caught sight of Mr. Yinsen. Everything hit him at once; wave after wave of pain that left him dizzy and disoriented. His knees ached, his face ached, fresh scratches on his arms and neck burned. He panicked as he registered a pronounced throb in his hands, looking down to find his knuckles bloody and already bruising.

"Anthony. Look at me."

Tony struggled to bring his gaze up, finding Mr. Yinsen's concerned expression looming in front of him.

"S'Barton okay?" Tony slurred, his tongue thick and his mind sluggish.

"He will be fine. A bloody nose and a bruised ego. The gym floor, on the other hand, might never be the same."

Tony nodded slowly, slumping against the mat where someone had propped him.

"Why did you attack Mr. Barton, Anthony?" Mr. Yinsen asked, his words clear and slow for Tony's benefit.

"I don't…Don't…" Tony struggled, scrunching up his nose as he tried to form the words. "No one else can hit me," he said finally. That sort of made sense.

"Anthony, who else hits you?" Yinsen's voice was calming, and it almost lulled him into a confession. Almost. Until his mental klaxons started wailing. Snapping into alertness, Tony straightened a bit, taking a deep breath to steel himself.

"Just Hammer. But Stark men are made of iron."

Mr. Yinsen sighed, looking older than ever as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

"How did you get the wounds on your face?"

"I fell. I'm pretty clumsy."

"Does falling include the imprint of a ring cut into your face?"

Tony's breath hitched, but he couldn't bear for Yinsen to know his dirty little secret. What happened between the Starks stayed between the Starks.

"It was a very specific fall."

Mr. Yinsen nodded, as if sensing that's all he'd get from Tony.

"Why don't you go get dressed. I'll wait for you, and then we'll go to my office. You can take your lunch there then go to Dr. Banner's classroom for tutoring during fourth period."

Tony nodded, then scrambled to his feet. The gym was empty, and even Romanov had cleared out to give them privacy. He saw a flash of blond hair at the entrance to the hallway, but couldn't really give a damn.

The locker room was just as empty when he went inside, and he wasted no time in changing into his t-shirt and jeans, then washing off the blood from his knuckles and scratches. He switched out his shoes, having no desire to go home and get slapped around for liking red.

The sounds of his classmates yelling over a pickup game of basketball filtered down the hallway leading to the locker rooms, but Tony was comforted in that they were on the other side of the gymnasium partition.

Tony slung his backpack over his shoulder with a grunt, deciding he would avoid packing textbooks for the rest of the year and save his back the trouble. Mr. Yinsen was waiting for him in the hallway, and he guided him past the auxiliary gym, not allowing Tony to flick off the assholes who had their faces pressed to the door, staring at Tony as if he were a freak show.

He still flipped the bird over his shoulder, shuffling after Mr. Yinsen with a low growl. His teacher glanced back at him with an eyebrow raised, which effectively wiped the scowl off of Tony's face. Mr. Yinsen was a badass, and he didn't take any shit, especially Tony's. He constantly challenged Tony to be better, and his efforts weren't wasted. Despite his respect for Mr. Yinsen, Tony was grateful when they reached his classroom and he could dart to his teacher's office while Mr. Yinsen relieved the administrator who'd taken over.

Tony dropped his backpack and retreated to the corner of the room that was hidden from the doorway by several large shelves and a massive drill press. A veritable safe haven, the corner was where Tony let himself create and destroy, building anything he wanted without fear of repercussions from his father, from his teachers, from the world. Mr. Yinsen allowed Tony to be, and it was the greatest thing he'd ever experienced.

Sliding down the wall into his little 'nest', Tony looked at the odds and ends strewn about his workspace. He often sat at the counter and soldered or worked on intricate circuitry, and left his coding and brainstorming to a ratty bit of rug that he'd snagged from maintenance. Dummy (the repurposed Roomba) was still docked in his charging station, but was quick to issue a series of clicks and chirps and a jaunty little wave of his arm.

Tony scooted closer, petting Dummy absently while pulling out a tablet from under one of the shelves. He dabbled in lots of tech, especially since he would never touch a weapons spec again, and his tablet was one of his favorites. The bot nudged him, claw flexing curiously as Tony booted up the tablet and started coding. Dummy chirped a few more times and settled his arm on Tony's shoulder, plucking at his hair every so often.

Smiling slightly (Dummy always made Tony smile, somehow), Tony leaned against the wall and lost himself in his programming, eager to make it to his next benchmark. He wasn't entirely sure how much time had passed until someone waved a lunch tray under his nose. Tony would never admit to drooling, but his mouth definitely watered and he didn't even complain about the interruption.

"On your feet, Anthony. I took the liberty of fetching your lunch and informing your friends of your whereabouts. We will eat, chat for a bit, then you'll spend your fourth period with Dr. Banner," Mr. Yinsen explained, not giving Tony a chance to argue.

Scrambling to his feet, Tony blushed when his stomach made itself known, a loud roar in comparison to the hush of Mr. Yinsen's office. Mr. Yinsen was eating pita bread and what Tony guessed was hummus, and a side of baby carrots and other green things Tony would rather avoid. He had a container of Greek yogurt and a water, and Tony had to restrain himself from making a quip about John Stamos.

The lunch tray that he'd brought Tony featured a cheeseburger and french fries, a fruit cup, and a chocolate milk. He didn't want to cry. He wouldn't cry. So what if this was the first real lunch he'd had in months? So what if he depended on Ms. Rogers' charity? So fucking what if Mr. Yinsen was a damned saint disguised as a high school shop teacher.

"Are you going to stare at it, or eat it?"

Tony looked up at Mr. Yinsen, biting his lip and wrestling with what to say.

"It's mine, right? Like, this isn't a joke or anything?"

Mr. Yinsen placed the bit of pita bread he'd been dipping with back in its container, his gaze sharp behind his glasses. His teacher bracketed his arms around his lunch, clasping his hands in front of him and leaning forward slightly, just enough to betray how interested he was in Tony's question.

"Yes, Anthony. That is your lunch. I bought it for you. What was the last thing you had from the cafeteria?"

"Chocolate milk. And pudding," Tony answered quickly, and honestly. He really hoped Mr. Yinsen would drop the subject. Prayed, even. Squirming in his seat, Tony distracted himself by snatching a fry and popping it in his mouth, barely holding back a moan. Why couldn't he eat that everyday?

"I'd like to talk to you when we don't have as many time constraints, Anthony. As it is, you'll need to eat your lunch quickly, and then I'll walk you to Dr. Banner's classroom."

Tony nodded, not needing to be told twice that he was welcome to eat the food in front of him. He cleared the plate in what felt like record time, full and sated by the time he was finished. Ms. Rogers' sandwiches were good, but it was awesome to eat hot food for once.

He was still slurping his milk when the bell rang, heeding Mr. Yinsen's non-verbal shooing motion to get his stuff and follow. Petting Dummy one last time and shutting down his tablet, Tony grabbed his bookbag and then snatched up his half-empty milk carton on his way out the door.

Whispers and exaggerated hand gestures followed him down the hallway, causing the hair on the back of his neck and arms to stand on end. Shuddering, Tony stuck closer to Mr. Yinsen, breathing a sigh of relief when Dr. Banner's classroom came into view. Mr. Coulson, a guidance counselor with wit as dry as the Sahara and a pain in Tony's ass, walked out of the room just as they arrived, giving them a formal nod before striding away.

Immediately suspicious, Tony slowed his pace, looking around for an escape route.

Then Mr. Yinsen's hand clamped around Tony's arm like a vice, just short of bruising, and Tony was hauled into Dr. Banner's classroom. Huffing out a breath, Tony rubbed his arm for show and turned to face Dr. Banner. Hazel eyes reflected tumult and confusion, and Tony couldn't bear to hold his gaze for very long.

"Anthony, Dr. Banner will see you to your bus this afternoon. Tomorrow, I would like you to come to my office before first period, and we will discuss things from there."

Mr. Yinsen turned to Dr. Banner, smiling.

"Thank you for looking after him, Dr. Banner. Have a good afternoon."

"Same to you, Ho," Dr. Banner called behind him, and Tony had the good sense not to snicker.

Dr. Banner made sure the door was shut, then rounded on him, eyes wild and his mouth set in a grim line.

"Uh…good afternoon, Dr. B?" Tony tried, wincing when a muscle twitched in his teacher's jaw. Tony saw a seat at the front of the classroom that already had a chemistry book open and waiting, assuming (correctly) that Dr. Banner had a plan in mind for his tutoring session.

"Take a seat, Anthony," Dr. Banner murmured, clasping his hands behind his back as he watched Tony go and sit down before following him to the front of the room. The difference in Dr. Banner was almost palpable. A subtle shift had occurred, and Tony was in awe. Where his teacher once slumped and wrung his hands, another man had taken his place.

Standing straight gave Dr. Banner another inch or two, and it filled out his frame. Tony realized that Dr. Banner was pissed, and was instantly on alert, ready to bolt if necessary. He didn't know where that latent rage was going to be directed, and he didn't care to be there if it happened.

"Anthony, why did you miss my class today?"

"I was in gym class, sir….or, I was. I got held over."

Dr. Banner looked him over, lingering on his face, seemingly absorbing every cut and bruise he had. Tony shrank into his seat, feeling as exposed as he did in gym class, not wanting his teacher to criticize him for his appearance or call him out on fights he didn't start.

"Did you receive those injuries in gym class?"

Tony figured he couldn't lie on that one; Dr. Banner had a weird knowledge of bruises and healing times on minor wounds.

"No, sir."

Another twitch in Dr. Banner's jaw.

"Is it your intention to be disrespectful, Anthony? If so, we can go straight to Principal Fury's office and settle this."

Tony flinched back hard enough to send his chair back an inch, panic searing through his nerve endings. His heart skipped a beat as his mind scrambled to parse Dr. Banner's statement. Disrespect? Where the fuck did that come from?! Did he really think Tony was disrespecting him?

Disrespect means punishment. Stark men are made of iron.

"No, sir. I don't mean to be disrespectful," Tony said quickly, dropping his head and keeping his forearm up in a halfhearted shield over his abdomen.

"Oh god," Dr. Banner whispered, barely loud enough for Tony to hear, though he could tell his teacher was wrecked.

Tony peeked from under his eyelashes, startling at the visage of Dr. Banner holding himself up by the whiteboard, his shoulders silently shaking. Tony scooted back to the table, a hot flush of shame creeping up his neck at his reaction. Dr. Banner wasn't going to hurt him. If anything, he always saved Tony, even if he didn't know it.

"Anthony," Dr. Banner called, his voice hoarse. "Who hit you?"

"I fell, sir," Tony recited, even as his insides went cold. He wanted to tell everyone how much of a dick his father was, how Tony was always alone, how his father belittled and demeaned him because Tony was 'normal'.

"I see. Why did you get into a fight in gym class?"

"Barton was being an ass," Tony griped, fiddling with the pages of the textbook, not wanting to relive Clint's taunts.

"Have you been purposely getting lower grades than you deserve?"

"Yes," Tony answered absently, still plucking at the pages, closing the front cover to get a look at the publisher, and making a note to correct them about page 343. In the thirty seconds that it took Tony's brain to register his slip up, Dr. Banner had slammed his hands on the desk and was leaning well into Tony's personal space.

"Anthony. Why have you been holding back in my class?"

"Reasons," Tony muttered, looking away. He tried to fidget with the book more, but his teacher took it and slammed it shut, forcing Tony to meet his gaze. It seemed as if betrayal and worry were warring for supremacy in those hazel depths, and Tony had to look away first.

"Today's class was straight from the textbook. Read chapter ten, if you need to," Dr. Banner quipped, his voice flat as he retreated to his desk. Tony glanced over his shoulder, despair settling somewhere between his shoulders and his sternum. It lodged itself there, causing him to bite back a gasp as it took his breath away. He'd gone and disappointed one of the few people that mattered to him.

Good things couldn't last forever, right?

Stark men were made of iron.

Chapter Text

Loki Odinson liked to collect broken things. He liked bringing them close, examining them, and keeping them for himself. He would analyse, and ponder, and then do whatever it took to fix his broken thing, which had done this several times throughout his sentence at SHIELD High School.

One of his first projects was Darcy Lewis. Loki and Thor had just transferred in as a sophomore and freshman respectively, and Thor had attached himself to Jane Foster's hip.

Darcy had been timid and shy, Jane's tag-a-long and nowhere near the spitfire she was in her sophomore year. Loki had found her one day, sullen and hurt that Jane had once again abandoned her for the 'buff European guy'. Loki had befriended her, shown her a hidden well of confidence, and given her a taser for Christmas.

Time well spent.

He had also had a hand in Clint Barton's ascension from bottom feeder to the top of the social hierarchy. Loki had recognized the hunted look in Barton's eyes, and felt a kinship with the younger teen. Upon further research, Loki found that Barton had a wretched home life, and no outlet for his rage. He was often in ISS with Loki, all snarls and sharp edges. He cut himself as often as he cut others, his words razor edged and self-deprecating.

So Loki pulled Barton into his orbit. Suggested archery as a way to cope with feelings of helplessness (Barton's aim with rubber bands was impeccable and downright frightening), and he thrived. The sport brought Barton out of his shell, and pushed him under the radar of Ms. Romanov, the star of every boy at SHIELD High School's wet dreams. Romanov took Barton straight from archery to gymnastics and parkour, and the rest was history.

Loki was often accused of brainwashing Clint. He 'forced' Clint into a friendship with him, broke his mind and will, pushed him to become something he wasn't. Loki thought they could speculate all they liked, but only he and Clint would know the full story.

In the end, Clint broke free. He shrugged himself out from under Loki's wing in a show of independence, and took up with Loki's brother and his merry band of misfits in a show of blatant defiance. Loki couldn't really be arsed either way, but he knew that Thor, dear bumbling Thor, would make sure that Clint remained pieced together.

Loki's chicks ended up full of sass and attitude, and he was immensely proud. Even if they'd fully deny ever hiding under his wing, Loki knew the truth.

So when Anthony 'Tony' Stark started sharing ISS with Loki, his radar was once again flaring to life with interest in another broken chick.

While only a year younger, Stark often gave Loki the impression of having an 'old soul'. Loki often found the sophomore staring off into the distance, his brow furrowed. If left long enough, Stark would adopt an expression of anguish, and it would be obvious that he was no longer rooted in the present. It screamed of PTSD and flashbacks and other psychological trauma that high schoolers normally didn't encounter.

Unfortunately, Stark refused any form of help and hid under a mask of stupidity. Stark was supposedly an idiot. It was a well-known fact that Stark was the embarrassment of Stark Industries, a failed heir of the great Howard Stark. He hadn't inherited his father's genius, and was considered incredibly average, occasionally dipping below the line into mediocrity.

And he was rather dim. Loki found it frustrating when Stark didn't comprehend his meaning, or repeatedly asked how a word was spelled. The other teen was crass and rude, but was surprisingly clever when it came to pranks. Stark struggled with bullying and hazing, and got into fist fights every other day. He wore sarcasm as if it were a shield, and sneered at any attempts of a further connection.

In some aspects, Tony Stark was very stupid. But Loki liked to think he saw a glint of intelligence behind troubled brown eyes. That somewhere hiding beneath his fool demeanor was a very clever creature biding its time.

The next time Stark landed himself in ISS, Loki decided to clear the air on a few subjects he'd been curious about, and wanted to make Stark squirm as an added bonus. At this point, Loki just hung out in the room to avoid dealing with his fool brother and his fellow juniors, who were vapid mouth breathers of the highest caliber. He should have already graduated, but since he was stuck in school for another nine months, he figured he shouldn't have to do more work than absolutely necessary.

"Have you slept with Darcy Lewis?"

Stark jerked to alertness, squinting at Loki through yet another black eye.

"The fuck? What does it matter if I did?" Stark challenged.

"It matters a lot. Darcy is worth ten of you, and I'll not have you sullying her honor and good name," Loki quipped, watching closely for Stark's reaction.

It was interesting to watch as Stark's expression shuttered and he closed himself off, bristling with negative energy and hostility. Baring his teeth, Stark nearly snarled, gripping the edges of the desk with rough, scarred hands.

"I know. I know," Stark repeated, taking deep breaths. "But Darcy does what she wants, and I'm not going to stop her. I haven't slept with her, no. But we make out when she's mad at your brother, and we talk, and then make out some more. I'm like the pool boy that she can mess around with, but then she goes back to her weird marriage thing with Jane and Thor."

Loki snickered, and noted that Stark's shoulders lowered and his proverbial hackles settled. It was curious, how Stark's ego shuddered under the weight of Loki's accusations. He hadn't fought, and had acknowledged his lack of worth. Loki felt as if he were on the verge of something mind blowing. More importantly, he knew that Stark was broken, and needed mending.

Reaching across the aisle, Loki placed a hand on Stark's shoulder, unsurprised when he jerked away and nearly fell out of his seat. Scooting his desk a few inches away, Stark regained his balance and slid back into his seat, eying Loki warily. He shrugged his shoulders and coughed, as if that could mask his reaction.

"What does it matter to you?" Stark asked with a scowl.

"Darcy is one of mine."

"Uh..."

"She runs in Thor's circle," Loki clarified, though it was only a half-truth. "I have a vested interest in her happiness, and I'd hate to string you up by your pants atop the flagpole."

"And by pants you mean underwear, right?" Stark asked, one eyebrow raised.

"Most certainly," Loki agreed, not bothering to question where Stark had learned the difference between British and American colloquialisms.

"Sounds rough," Stark grunted, crossing his arms.

"Undoubtedly."

Loki was well aware that Darcy and Stark's tryst was nothing more than a way to pass time. He also knew that Stark held no qualms over gender, and was an equal opportunity philanderer. He flirted often, slept around every once and awhile, and never committed. If the rumor mills were to be believed, that is.

Making sure that Mr. Bates, the unfortunate ISS overseer was still occupied with his newspaper, Loki reached across the aisle once more, taking care to go slowly in case his skittish sophomore shied away once more. Stark's shoulders tensed, but he didn't jerk away as Loki cupped the back of his neck, rubbing slow circles with his thumb as he shifted in his seat to face the other teen's desk.

"What the fuck, Odinson?" Stark growled, though the reprimand lacked heat. Stark's voice had gone thready and hushed, and Loki could feel the blush creeping up his neck and spreading to his cheeks.

"We could," Loki offered, grinning broadly. "Come into the city with me tomorrow after school. No strings. No pressure."

"Oh, I bet there's pressure somewhere," Stark mumbled, and Loki caught the subtle tilt in the other teen's head as he pressed against Loki's hand.

Obliging him, Loki threaded his fingers through the soft hairs at Stark's nape, smirking when he mewled and closed his eyes. It was rather adorable, Loki thought. Stark was like a cat that craved attention but would sink its spiteful claws into you on a moment's notice.

Looking up from under his long lashes, brown eyes caught his, reflecting want and turmoil. Loki was grateful that they were alone, and that Mr. Bates did not give a damn as long as they were quiet. Letting his fingers card through Stark's hair, Loki quickly revised his Friday afternoon. He had originally intended to sabotage his brother's soccer practice, but Stark's company sounded more appealing.

Perhaps coffee and a matinee showing at the local theater. Those would create opportunities for intimate conversation and touches masked by the darkness of the auditorium. Stark had been ogling him for a good while, and Loki would easily admit to being intrigued ever since Stark was first dragged to ISS by Mrs. Hill.

"I need a yes or a no, Stark," Loki murmured, massaging the younger teen's scalp with his fingertips, smirking at the way his shoulders slumped.

"Mm…yeah. I can go. I'd like to go."

"Will you need permission to stay out late?"

Stark jerked a little, jarring himself away from Loki's touch, curling up on himself and staring resolutely down at the top of the desk.

"Won't matter if I'm home late or not," Stark muttered, his body tensing and his stare settling into more of a glare. If looks could kill, Loki would be diving for cover.

"I will make sure you get home before it gets too terribly late. Thor tends to start worrying and calling me every five minutes to ensure my safe arrival," Loki grumbled, flicking his hair over his shoulder in a calculated bid to get Stark's attention.

Sure enough, a hint of a smirk appeared as Stark watched him out of the corner of his eye. Shaking off the tension, Stark bounded back to his fool self in record time, grinning broadly as he considered the possibilities.

"So, you're gonna show me the town, huh? What will this poor waif do while being dragged about by Loki Odinson himself?"

Choosing not to answer, Loki crossed his arms and ankles, settling in his seat to wait and see if Stark worked out his slip. Waif indeed. Loki wasn't entirely sure that he had ever used that word in front of Stark, or when the word would have made its way into the younger teen's vocabulary. It was archaic and had been used correctly, and left Loki suspicious of Stark's intent.

Stark turned his head, peering at Loki as if he'd grown another head. Apparently he hadn't noticed his slip up, or did not plan on bringing attention to it.

"Hey, Reindeer Games. Are we still on or did I piss you off?" Stark demanded, but the insecurity in his voice was hard to miss.

"Yes. I will meet you in the student lot after fourth period ends. Please try to stay out of trouble until then. I do not wish to fetch you from Fury's office again."

Stark's smirk matched Loki's as he nodded.

"Yeah, yeah. Do I get a ride home out of this?" He asked, and Loki spotted a wary vulnerability slipping out between the chinks in Stark's armor. Loki wanted to crack Stark's armor wide open and peer inside, inspect the inner workings of his mind. Loki wanted to see his truth, and what he was keeping from the world locked tight in a suit of proverbial armor.

"Of course. I will make sure you get home by curfew, whatever it may be," Loki reassured.

Stark shrugged, his gaze sliding away from Loki's to the wall.

"Doesn't matter. S'long as I'm back at the house before morning, the gate guard won't say anything."

The bell rang as Loki opened his mouth, and he stifled a sound of irritation. He wished to continue peeling away Stark's layers, but was always interrupted by something or another.

"Do try not to upset Dr. Banner. The gossip in the hallways is that you've angered him, and he's been more tetchy than usual."

Stark shrugged as he slid out of his desk, retrieving his bookbag. He wouldn't meet Loki's eyes, and all traces of happiness had been wiped from his features.

"Yeah. I think I failed too many quizzes," Stark muttered, eyes on the floor as he shuffled away from Loki and out the door, as if he were a man condemned to an hour and a half of torture instead of remedial chemistry.

Loki grudgingly got out of his seat after Mr. Bates grumbled behind his newspaper, collecting his messenger bag and following Stark out the door. The brunette had managed to disappear, leaving Loki to make the journey to the cafeteria by himself.

 

Chapter Text

Tony trudged to the cafeteria, his mind completely blown from his interaction with Loki Odinson in ISS.

They'd shared countless afternoons in that stupid room, comparing notes and discussing just how much of a bitch Ms. Hill actually was. It helped that she hated Loki just as much as she hated Tony.

Up until that point, Tony had figured Loki thought of him as something to be scraped off his shoe. Then he went and stuck his hand in Tony's hair and it wrecked him. Loki's hand was warm and his fingers were practically magic. Tony's face burned with the recollection, and he knew he was still blushing when he got to his regular lunch table.

He'd beaten the others, so the only thing he could do was sit and wait. Having not ridden the bus for the second day in a row (Howard actually let the driver take him to school), Tony didn't have an actual lunch to speak of, or any way to pay for it.

Groaning, he gingerly let his forehead bump against the table, the bruising on his face twinging in response. He heard the others before they reached the table, gasping collectively when Tony turned his head to stare balefully from the tabletop.

He hadn't seen any of them since Tuesday, asMr. Yinsen had spirited him away from gym on Wednesday and kept him through Ms. Hill's class. He imagined it was never fun to see your friend beat up, and he hated putting them through this. His lies weren't meant to hurt the people he cared about.

Rhodey was the first to speak. "Jesus, Tony!"

Darcy was next. "Oh my god what did you do to your face?"

"I thought I'd try out a new look," Tony snarked.

"Oh, Tony," Pepper murmured, rushing forward to examine Tony's face. Her hands were soft and rather cool, which felt pretty awesome against his bruising.

"Oh, Pepper," Tony parroted. "Rhodey's gonna get jealous of your hands all over another guy's face."

"Shut it, Stark," Pepper growled. "He did this, didn't he?"

Tony looked away, scooting down the bench. "I fell."

"You fall an awful lot, man," was Rhodey's quiet response.

They weren't stupid. They knew that he went home fine and came back the next morning beat up and broken. It had happened too often to be coincidence.

"I'm clumsy like that," Tony muttered, glaring at the table. He didn't move when Darcy slid onto the bench next to him, pressed up against his side. He appreciated the contact, and let himself lean against her with a sigh.

"No lunch today?" Darcy asked while picking up her chicken patty from the tray Tony had neglected to notice.

"Nah. Watching my figure."

"You're a beautiful princess, Tony," Rhodey said as he set his tray down, "but even Miss Congeniality ate."

"Oh my god, Sour Patch. You did watch that movie," Tony crowed, completely avoiding the inquiry.

"I am quite secure in my sexuality, unlike some people," Rhodey replied archly before turning away to disappear in the throng of students.

Tony raised an eyebrow at Pepper, who had settled in her seat and was methodically unpacking her lunch box. "You made him watch it, didn't you?"

"Yup."

"So, what'd you do with Loki in ISS today?" Darcy asked around a mouthful of patty.

"First off, ew," Tony griped. "Second, we colored in dinosaurs in our coloring books, made stick men out of popsicle sticks, then had story time with Mr. Bates."

"I would have stuck Loki as more of a horse guy myself," Darcy replied once she'd swallowed. "But that's just me."

"Tony, do you think you could stay out off  ISS for once?" Pepper asked, stirring her yogurt with a spoon.

"Nah. It's like my calling. I live for Mr. Bates' glares and Loki's company. Also," Tony paused, taking a moment to dig an elbow into Darcy's ribs, relishing her squawk. "He asked me if I was sleeping with you. I told him your honor was intact, but what the hell?!"

Darcy had the decency to blush, setting her chicken patty down so she could adjust her glasses.

"Hey, don't pin that on me, man. He helped me out when I was a freshman, and I travel in his little brother's pack. I'm one of his little chickadees."

"Chickadees?" Tony asked, tilting his head.

Darcy didn't have time to reply, because Rhodey reappeared toting another lunch tray. He dropped it in front of Tony, complete with a carton of chocolate milk. Staring at the chicken patty and fries, Tony told himself he wouldn't cry. If his eyes were wet, he would swear up and down that he was about to sneeze.

"Platypus, this is...shit, man," Tony mumbled, ducking his head.

"I'm not gonna watch you starve. You're too damned skinny as it is," Rhodey explained, circling the table to sit down next to Pepper, who pulled him into a kiss that had Darcy gagging.

Taking a deep breath, Tony nodded, swallowing down his tears so he could man up and eat his food without crying all over it.

Plucking up a french fry, Tony waved it at Darcy to resume their conversation.

"If I go to the movies with Loki tomorrow, will you look for my body?"

Darcy's eyes widened behind her glasses, her mouth morphing from an "O" of shock to a lecherous grin in an instant.

"You're going to the movies? Is this a date? Fucking yeah, you're going on a date with LokI!"

"Quiet down, Lewis!" Tony hissed, clapping a hand over her mouth. "We're going to the movies and the mall or some shit. It's not a marriage proposal."

"You do realize Loki doesn't do anything like that, right? He hangs out with Thor and himself, and doesn't really want to interact with the other pissants in this school."

"I'm a special snowflake," Tony argued.

"Yeah, you are," Rhodey interjected between bites of his sub.

"Damn straight," Tony agreed, then turned to actually eat his food before the bell rang. For a chicken patty, it was pretty fucking delicious, and Tony was just finishing at the bell rang.

The food in his stomach turned leaden at the thought of facing Dr. Banner again. Nothing good was going to come out of it. While replaying the moment with Loki over and over in the back of his mind, Tony endured his friends' collective worried mothering while they threw away their trash and gathered up their backpacks. Pepper made him promise to call if he need anything, Rhodey subtly threatened to break Howard's face, and Darcy left an open invite for cuddling whenever. As they all went to their separate classrooms, Tony shouldered his bookbag with a sigh and shuffled to Dr. Banner's classroom. As he went inside, he decided that worrying about Loki's...petting him or whatever could wait until later.

Chapter Text

Remedial chemistry was easily the most torturous experience of Tony’s life, including six years of military academy. Dr. Banner was cold and occasionally crude, never going so far as to be cruel, though Tony wondered if perhaps the teacher had a voodoo doll of him in a desk drawer.

He had been given countless booklets of busywork starting from the first chapter, and Dr. Banner held firm to his promise that Tony couldn’t leave until every single page was finished and correct. Apparently, the formerly quiet and kind chemistry professor had a sadistic streak, and would check each and every answer.

It was an exercise of torture, and Tony loathed every moment of it. He was well aware that Dr. Banner was trying to see how far his knowledge extended, and that pretending he didn’t know anything wasn’t going to work this time. The one time he did try to feign ignorance, Dr. Banner made him read the textbook out loud and answer the worksheets as he went. The humiliation at his role model’s hands wasn’t worth upholding his promise.

“Mr. Stark, less daydreaming and more working, please,” Dr. Banner called from his desk.

“Yes sir,” Tony replied, picking up the pencil that he’d dropped while slipping into dark musings. Sometimes, he wondered if it was really worth it; whether it was worth living a farce of a life and not living up to his potential.

Blood. Sand. Explosions. Screams of the dying. Amputees. Rows upon rows of the dead.

Tony felt his breathing hitch, and could pinpoint the exact moment when he had dropped down into memory.

He was bound to an old dentist’s chair, a strap of leather looped and tightened around his small forehead to the backrest, another across his chin to hold his head in place so that he couldn’t turn away from the projector screen in front of him. They had threatened to hurt him and tape his eyelids up if he didn’t watch, but it didn’t keep him from crying. 

“It’ll never be alright, Tony,” said Vanko, the leader of the group. “You come from a family of murderers, and you already have blood on your hands.”

Tony glanced at his hands, half expecting them to be covered in blood, his own blood, but they were just dirty and grubby from his ‘room’.

“You have to watch, Tony. You have to watch so that you can atone for your fore fathers’ sins. Be a good boy, Tony. Watch this for me,” Vanko murmured, ruffling Tony’s hair.

The hand was warm and Tony tried to bump his head against it, encourage Vanko to keep his hand there so he wouldn’t be so alone. The moment lasted a little longer, and then Vanko left him with a final pat.

“Be good, Tony.”

There was a roaring in his ears as he came barreling back to the present. The hard tile underneath him indicated he’d fallen from his chair. Dr. Banner’s worried expression loomed above him, and Tony batted away the man’s attempts to check his pulse.

His teacher was talking, but Tony was beyond understanding. He felt sick and wanted to go home and curl up under a blanket and hide from the world.

A sharp smack to his cheek brought him gasping to the surface, his hearing returning and his vision sharpening as Dr. Banner came into clear focus.

“Anthony, can you hear me? Anthony!”

Tony blinked a few times, making an abortive gesture with his hand, which suddenly felt like lead.

“Mmm,” he hummed, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath like Jarvis had always told him to. Because that would lead him down another dark road, Tony opened his eyes again and smiled weakly at Dr. Banner.

“M’good, Dr. B. Just gimme a few.”

“Anthony, do you need to go see the nurse?”

“Nuh,” Tony grumbled, digging the heels of his hands against his eyes, trying to dispel the sense of vertigo and terror still lingering from his flashback.

“Can you at least get back into your chair?”

The struggle to get off the floor was humiliating, and Dr. Banner was stronger than he looked, easily plucking him up and depositing him in his seat as if he were as light as a feather. Propping his hip on the table, Dr. Banner crossed his arms cleared his throat.

Tony looked up, frowning as he considered what to say. His flashbacks had gotten better in recent years, but sometimes they took him by surprise, and had been cropping up more frequently. He always attempted to stymie their influence and keep them locked tight under the floorboards of his mind, but they tended to slip out.

“Care to tell me what that was all about?” Dr. Banner asked, his tone brooking no argument.

“Fainting spell?”

“Try again.”

“Case of the vapors?”

“One last try before I call home.”

That got Tony’s attention.

“Panic attack.”

“That much was obvious,” Dr. Banner quipped, obviously searching for more.

“A really bad panic attack?”

Dr. Banner harrumphed, pinching the bridge of his nose and scowling. He shifted against the table then leaned back on his hands, his expression no-nonsense and severe.

“I think you owe me the truth, Anthony. I’ve made plenty of allowances, especially in light of your deception.”

Tony huffed out a breath, leaning back in his chair while puzzling over his dilemma. It occurred to him that he could tell the truth, and that Dr. Banner would find it within himself to support Tony. Or, Dr. Banner would be really pissed when he realized Tony’s lies went much deeper than feigning no aptitude for high school chemistry.

"I...uh, well I got kidnapped as a kid. Kind of expected as the son of a multi-millionaire weapons designer," Tony muttered, shrugging.

Dr. Banner made a noise of distress, but Tony decided to continue on regardless.

"I was seven, maybe eight... They couldn't find me at first, so I was there for awhile. It still kind of bothers me."

Tony shuddered slightly, sand licking at the edge of thought. He gripped the table to keep himself grounded, focusing on breathing and remaining in the present. A warm hand on his shoulder had him jerking back, hissing unintelligible snarls. Tony squirmed away, gasping loudly as Dr. Banner took a careful step back.

"Anthony, have you talked to anyone about this?" Dr. Banner asked, his brow furrowed.

"No, no. It's cool, Dr. B. These normally don't happen."

"It seems they've been happening more often than you realize," Dr. Banner offered, crossing his arms. 

Tony grimaced. It was true, no matter how much he wanted to deny it. His nightmares were returning in vivid detail, smashing out of the mental floorboards he'd meticulously built since he was nine years old and shipped cross country to military academy. The flashbacks had crept into his waking moments, triggered more easily than ever before. The Room remained with him during his waking hours, and haunted his sleep. That still didn't mean he had to admit to such weakness. 

Stark men are made of iron.

"I want you to see Mr. Coulson, Anthony," Dr. Banner stated, his tone firm.

"No. Mr. Coulson hates me."

"He doesn't hate you."

"Does so," Tony whined.

"Give me a legitimate reason as to why he would hate you."

"I call him 'Agent'. I pester him. I create a lot of extra work for him and annoy the hell out of him. He doesn't like me because I'm obviously destined for McDonald's and am not actively contributing to his salary," Tony rambled.

"You don't have to work at McDonald's, Anthony. You're obviously not as bad in chemistry as you would have led me to believe. You could apply yourself to other things, and give yourself a chance at a future."

Tony looked away guiltily, feeling a little sick. He was wasting everyone's time. His father's money. Dr. Banner's worry over him. Stupid fucking Tony, upholding the promise of his eight year old self. Clinging to outdated notions of nobility and the need to protect everyone from his bloodied hands.

He came from a family of murderers. There will always be blood on his hands.

Tony snapped back to himself when the door to the classroom snapped back in its frame as it shut behind Mr. Coulson. Dr. Banner was standing behind his desk and next to his phone, looking completely unapologetic for calling Tony's guidance counselor.

Mr. Coulson approached Tony with his usual placid expression, not looking particularly concerned that he'd been called away from Principal Fury's side to take care of Tony's angst.

"Tony. Grab your things, it's time to go and talk for a bit."

Tony shot Dr. Banner a glare, baring his teeth as he shoved his books into his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. Dr. Banner shrugged, crossing his arms as he waited for Tony to bring his worksheets to his desk.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Anthony," Dr. Banner murmured pleasantly as Tony trailed after Coulson.

Grumbling under his breath, Tony made the trek to the Main Office praying that his father hadn't been called. He had just gone into the city for a short trip, and it would be really fucking awful if Tony's peace and quiet (see: agonizing silence and loneliness) was interrupted.

The hall was empty, as class was still in session for the students who weren't being dragged to the counselor's office for an interrogation at placid smile-point. The secretary was absent from her post of guarding Principal Fury, who was in his office with his combat boots propped up on his ebony desk.

Mr. Coulson nodded in deference as they passed by, obviously sensing the exact moment that Tony stuck his tongue out at Fury, because he grabbed Tony's sleeve and dragged him into his office without ceremony.

The chair in front of the counselor's desk was slightly more comfortable than the classroom chairs, but Tony's ass would still be numb if he let Coulson keep him for more than fifteen minutes. Dropping into it with a growl, Tony slung his backpack against Coulson's desk with more force than necessary. The bastard didn't even react, settling down into his chair and shuffling his paperwork as if Tony wasn't there at all.

"Alright, Tony. Let's talk," Mr. Coulson said eventually, having let Tony stew during the duration of checking his email and signing off on transcripts.

"I dunno what you mean," Tony muttered, glaring at the wall behind Mr. Coulson's shoulder. The office was a very uninspired drab grey, with no windows to break up the monotony. All in all, it was as depressing as it ever was whenever Tony landed himself in front of Coulson's desk.

"We can do this one of two ways, Tony," Mr. Coulson began, leaning forward and clasping his hands on top of his desk calendar. "You can tell me why two of the most unshakeable men in this school have both called me personally in regards to your mental health, or you could tell me why phone calls home end up with you in slings and stitches."

Tony could practically feel the tension in the room, his spine stiffening at Mr. Coulson's implications. Damned if he did, damned if he didn't. Dr. Banner was already onto him, even if he only thought it was in chemistry. It was ironic that he'd considered giving up his charade because he was so tired, and everyone suddenly became suspicious.

He only had two years left. Two more years of playing stupid, two more years of abuse and pain and memories that he wanted to escape. Would telling the truth change that? Or would everyone hate him for lying? Would it even matter, since they already hated him anyways?

Mr. Coulson cleared his throat, tearing Tony from his maudlin musings. He was supposed to answer in some way or another, so he opted to go the tried and true route of his kidnapping.

“I was kidnapped as a kid. Son of Howard Stark, gotta be good for something, right? Money, weapons, tickets out of the country,” Tony began, plucking at the hem of his t-shirt. Everyone knew that Tony had been kidnapped, which was the easy part. For how long was knowledge that very few possessed.  "That's the part that everyone knows."

Mr. Coulson raised an eyebrow, nodding.  "That was definitely in your file, and is considered common knowledge."

Tony's shoulder twitched, but he kept himself from snapping by tracing his fingers over the fabric of his shirt and trying to remember which one he had put on without looking down to check.

"I was seven. Just a little kid. I had been homeschooled, which was cool, I guess. Tutors and stuff, nannies in the background. My parents were always gone. So, you know, I was out of the mansion for whatever reason, and I got snatched by some goons. They weren't very nice, all things considered."

The guidance counselor sat back in his chair, crossing his legs before clasping his hands on his chest.

"Stop stalling, Tony."

Jerk.

"Fine, fine. Christ. Do you know how long I was kept by the Whiplashes?"

"Our records indicated two weeks," Mr. Coulson replied, his tone hesitant. Something wasn't right in Agent Land, and Tony could pinpoint the exact moment when his counselor realized he wouldn't like what he was going to hear.

"I was there for three months. I still have flashbacks, and it's really hard to deal with sometimes. It's just been worse than normal."

Coulson's mouth thinned to a narrow band of displeasure that made hi face seem very severe. It was pretty fucking important that Tony sell this properly; he wasn't lying, but he didn't need Coulson running to Howard and telling him that Tony was a special snowflake who needed extra attention for his fucked up brain.

"I see a therapist-" lie "-but sometimes it's just too much, y'know? The other kids are assholes, so it doesn't make it any easier to deal with."

"That still doesn't explain why you leave school in good shape, and then return black and blue."

"Rich kids are assholes too. Look at Hammer. Sometimes they catch me out walking, and they kick my ass because I exist. It happens. Between that and my stupid brain, I don't get much down time to get everything straightened out."

Coulson's BS-O-Meter was running full throttle, and Tony felt as if he were an ant under a magnifying glass, waiting for the moment when his counselor's magnified focus zeroed in on him and fried him to a crisp. After nearly two minutes of uncomfortable staring, Coulson finally looked away, brows furrowed as he glanced at his computer screen.

"I want to see you twice a week, before school begins. We're going to work on the bullying problem, and we'll see what we can work out with your teachers."

"Can I get out of Hill's class?" Tony pleaded, scooting to the edge of his seat.

"Any particular reason?"

"She hates me."

"Not good enough."

"Damn."

"Language. Alright. It's just about time for the bell to ring. Catch your bus, and come to my office as soon as you get off the bus tomorrow."

Huffing out an exaggerated sigh, Tony nodded as he stood and slung his backpack over his shoulder.

"Yeah, yeah. I'll show up, salute Principal Fury like a good boy, and sit and wait for my marching orders."

"Exactly. Now get out of here. There will be violence if you somehow end up in my office again today."

Saluting him, Tony sauntered out of the office, paying a quick trip to his locker before he headed to the loading zone.

 

Chapter Text

When the bus dropped him off at the end of the long driveway that led up to the Stark mansion, Tony spotted his father’s car and immediately dreaded going inside. He dragged his feet the entire way, waving half-heartedly at the gate guard as he neared the mansion.

His father was obviously back early from his business trip in the city, and would be staying for a few weeks until he was called away again on business, which meant that Tony’s life would be hell the entire time. He’d have to pay attention in class, and his grades would have to bump up a bit so he could avoid faceplanting pieces of furniture when his father got pissed off. The worst part was, his father didn’t even have to be mad at Tony; he just beat his son when the mood struck.

A very shiny, very classic Bentley caught Tony’s eye as he came upon the mansion. He catalogued it as Uncle Obie’s, which meant that the older man would be with his father in his study. Uncle Obie hadn’t ever really stopped his father from being an asshole to him, but he always seemed to be sympathetic.

Slipping through a side entrance, Tony crept through the house, fingers crossed that he might avoid discovery. The quickest way to the back stairs that led to his room was right past his father’s study; the carpeting was thick, and he’d been able to sneak by in the past.

His luck didn’t hold, and his brain screamed fuck fuck fuck when the door swung open, revealing Uncle Obie and his father, who was sitting behind his desk, a glass of some kind of alcohol already in hand despite the fact that it was only 4:30 in the afternoon.

“Tony! M’boy!” Uncle Obie boomed, gathering Tony into a bear hug. He always smelled like expensive cologne and cigars, and Tony was attention starved enough to accept the hug with good grace. “You’ve grown!”

“Yes sir,” Tony replied dutifully, careful of how he responded in front of his father.

“Your dad was just telling me you’ve got an aptitude for chemistry!”

“Ah,” Tony said, nearly choking on the sound. Dr. Banner was a snitch.

“Your teacher took the time to email me,” his father elaborated, leaning back in his chair. Tony could see the slight tic in his father’s cheek that meant he was not at all pleased by the news. “He said that you have had a startling change of pace in your schooling. It’s almost as if over night you went from failing his class to demonstrating a proficiency.”

Fear raced through Tony’s veins, and he felt cold all over. In one week, his secret had practically been hung out to dry. His father was on to him, and it was only a matter of time before he knew the full extent of Tony’s intellect.

Out of the corner of his eye, Tony saw Uncle Obie settle down in a chair across from Howard’s desk, smiling despite the threat of violence that hung heavy in the air. Tony knew that this could go very, very badly for him if he didn’t play his cards right.

“Yes sir,” Tony said, nodding to his father. He carefully dropped his backpack at his feet and slipped into parade rest. “I realized that I haven’t been doing my best, and that I have to work harder. I found out I’m better at chemistry than my other subjects,” Tony hedged.

Howard made a noise in the back of his throat, taking a moment to parse the information before pointing to the corner.

“We’ve already discussed how I feel about liars, Anthony. Take up your position and consider the ramifications of your actions.”

“Yes Sir,” Tony said with a quick nod, gathering up his backpack. He took up his position in the corner, dropping his backpack and sliding into parade rest once more. His father and Obie began talking business as if Tony wasn’t even there, and they were well into an hour of discussion when Tony’s shoulders started to hurt. The rest of him ached sympathetically, and by the second hour Tony was finding it hard to stand still.

Eventually Obie left, saying goodbye to Tony even though he knew damned well that he couldn’t reply. His legs were trembling around 7:30, and he was seriously considering the risk of locking his knees so he could pass out. Howard had already left for dinner when his stomach started growling; he was so fucking hungry. Mr. Yinsen had spoiled him with a hot lunch, and his stomach was demanding more.

With his father home, he could cajole the chefs into cooking for him if he could leave his father’s study, which didn’t seem likely. If his father had left the mansion, Tony might have made a break for it and scrambled to the kitchen. Since that wasn’t the case, Tony operated under the unspoken promise of broken bones, which kept him from moving a muscle.

Somewhere around nine o’clock, if Tony’s internal clock was to be believed (since wainscoting lacked time telling functionality) Howard came back into the study and sat down to work again. Tony’s everything ached, and he sent up a silent prayer to Whoever that his father would just let him go.

Of course, his luck fucking sucked, so he wasn’t very surprised when he heard the clink of a decanter against a glass, indicating the night was far from over.

“I don’t appreciate others telling me about my son. I don’t appreciate you garnering the attention of teachers, when you aren’t worth a damn minute of their time.”

Tony sucked in a breath; that hurt, even if he knew it wasn’t true. He still struggled with believing that Mr. Yinsen cared, or that Mrs. Carter actually gave a damn about him. His father spewed lies, but damn if they weren’t believable.

Lost in thought, Tony was completely thrown when he was pulled away from the corner, one arm wrenched up between his shoulder blades. He cried out, whining when his arm was shoved up further. He could feel his muscles and bones being pressed beyond their limits, and suddenly the pain lessened when his father let him go.

Knowing full well that it wasn’t over, Tony was semi-prepared for the hand that clamped on his wrist, bones grinding together under his father’s grip. He was spun around, and he felt something give in the familiar way of a broken bone. Tony was so focused on cradling his wrist that he didn’t catch the movement of his father’s hand, which buried itself in his hair and yanked him to the ground.

“You are a stupid, useless, pathetic disappointment of a son,” Howard snarled as he aimed a kick at Tony’s ribs.

Tony tried to curl into a ball, terrified of getting his ribs broken again (the last time wasn’t fun). His father was drunk and pissed off, and for the first time in a long time, Tony was truly afraid of the man.

“Those teachers might think the sun rises and sets with your “improvements”, but I know better. I know that you’re nothing more than a failure.”

“STOP!” Tony screamed, coughing when Howard kicked him again.

“Why do you think your mother isn’t here?!” Howard yelled. “Why do you think she wants nothing to do with you?! Maybe I should have just left you with those terrorists!”

Tony covered his head with his arms, whimpering. His father was a dick, who lied and beat his son. Nothing that came out of his mouth could be believed. Nothing.

“Go to your room,” Howard spat, moving around his desk to sit once more.

Struggling to stand, Tony cradled his wrist against his middle. One or two ribs might have been broken, though it didn’t keep him from pushing through the pain to fetch his backpack. He dragged it along behind him as he headed towards the door.

“You fell down the stairs again. You’re a clumsy boy,” Howard stated, not bothering to look up from his paperwork.

Translation: When you go to the hospital, tell them The Usual.

“Yes Sir,” Tony choked out before shuffling out the door. He cringed all the way up the stairs, and he was ashamed of the tears running down his cheeks. Stark men are made of iron

He curled up on his bed, mindful of his throbbing wrist and ribs. With his good hand, he slid his phone out of his pocket and thumbed a text to Loki. He was the only person Tony trusted to not ask too many questions.

[Need a ride. -TS]

Tony let his head fall back on his pillow while he waited for a reply,  his head growing muzzy from the pain and the exhaustion of standing in place for over three hours.

[It is 10 o’clock in the evening, Stark. What could you possibly need a ride for? - LO]

[Hospital. -TS]

[I will be there posthaste. -LO]

The knowledge that Loki would only take twenty minutes allowed Tony to close his eyes and ride the waves of pain. It wasn’t really the worst beating he’d taken, but he was hungry and tired, and in no shape to protect himself from his asshole father, and Howard had known it.


 

Tony dozed until his phone went off; Loki was in the drive and waiting for Tony to hobble out. 

[In a min -TS]

[By all means, meander at your leisure. -LO]

Tony smirked at his phone screen, shaking his head at Loki’s text. “Smarmy bastard.”

Rummaging around in his night stand, Tony retrieved his wallet, which had his ID and Howard’s I’ll Pay For You To Shut Up card. At least Howard had never withheld medical attention. He just broke the bones and left Tony to clean up his messes, even if he was the mess.

Tony avoided the back set of stairs, and instead went down the set of stairs that opened into the expansive foyer at the front of the mansion. Careful not to jostle his torso or his wrist, Tony carefully made his way out the front door and out onto the front steps. Loki was waiting in his Prius (a rich kid privilege that Tony would never get), his car idling silently. It was a struggle to get into the car and shut the door with one arm, and his cheeks burned with embarrassment when he couldn’t buckle himself in.

“A little help?” He muttered, not wanting to look at Loki’s expression.

The older teen said nothing as he deftly buckled Tony in, turning to face the windshield in silence.

“Sorry to text you this late,” Tony said lamely, staring out the passenger side window. Loki drove well over the speed limit on a good day, so they were within the town limits before he spoke.

“Yes, well. I can only listen to Thor regale of his touchdowns and home runs so many times before his voice becomes a wordless drone in the back of my head.”

“It’s not football season,” Tony remarked, watching the lit up gas station storefronts pass by.

“What season is it, then?”

“Baseball or soccer. Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Soccer and baseball in the spring.”

“That is a remarkable observation, Stark. Do tell, what stake do you have in high school sports?”

“Rhodey. You probably won’t know him, because he’s not a fellow miscreant,” Tony mumbled, his head swimming 

“Mm. Did you fall down the stairs again?” Loki asked, which was Loki-speak for Did your father beat you senseless again?

“Yeah. I’m clumsy like that,” Tony muttered. Yup

They pulled up in front of the ER, which was really like a second home to Tony at that point. He knew he would be coming in on Ms. Rogers’ shift, which meant that not too many people would know that Howard Stark’s son had “fallen down the stairs” for the third time in less than two months.

“Here is good,” Tony said unnecessarily, feeling the need to fill the silence.

“I will be in the waiting room.”

Tony turned to look at him, wincing when he jostled his ribs.

“You don’t have to. I’ll be fine on my own.” See: If he waited long enough, Sarah would take him home at the end of her shift.

“No. I don’t want the aftermath of your clumsiness on my conscience.” I will wait to make sure you’re safe.

Warmth pooled in Tony’s belly. Whether it was from his possibly broken ribs or affection for Loki, he’d never admit to either. Either way , Loki had already seen him at his worst, and Tony gained nothing from being stubborn. Hopefully it wouldn’t negatively impact their not-date the next day.

“Your loss,” Tony quipped, but without attitude. He was too tired to be an ass.

Loki let him out at the sliding doors, which slid open with a hiss as Tony approached. The older teen went to park his car while Tony checked in. The late night receptionist, a woman named Lisa, gave him a sad smile when he walked up to the counter.

He knew that he was still black and blue from the last fight with his father, and most likely she saw exhaustion leaking through his half hearted grin.

“Good evening, Ms. Lisa. You’re looking lovely for such a late hour.”

“Hush, Mr. Charmer. I’ll submit your paperwork and have Sarah come get you when they’re ready.”

It was absolutely pathetic, Tony thought as he sat down, that the ER staff actually had all of his information on file, and that they knew to call Sarah when he came in. Money greased the wheels of progress, so it would stand to reason that Howard Stark’s fortune could buy expedited service.

Loki came in and sat next to him, his leg brushing against Tony’s as he settled onto the stained vinyl. He sniffed the air and made  noise of displeasure, but didn’t move his leg. Tony’s face heated, and he prayed that Loki couldn’t see his blush under the bruising. It figured that the guy he was crushing on would see him at his lowest, and then sit way too close for Tony’s personal comfort.

Even if he hadn’t been so banged up, Tony wouldn’t have acted on Loki’s maybe-on-accident advances. He didn’t need to add queer to his list of Faults. (But damn he wanted to climb Loki like a tree most days.)

A voice interrupted his musings, calling out from the triage room, “Tony. You can come on back now.”

A whimper escaped as he got to his feet, batting away Loki’s attempts to help with his good hand. Everything hurt and ached, and he just wanted to sleep. But he needed his wrist set and his ribs checked so they wouldn’t heal incorrectly. That would have been a bitch.

“See you in a bit,” Tony said through gritted teeth, hobbling his way to the door where Sarah Rogers stood, a sad smile on her face.

She catalogued his bruises, and he had forgotten that he’d skipped his morning bus ride with her. Since she didn’t drive in the afternoons, she wouldn’t have seen Howard’s handiwork. He felt bad for the “surprise”, but she didn’t comment as she led the way through the hallways of the ER.

She set him up in a room on a low examination cot, then grabbed a clip board and sat down on the wheeley-stool to start ticking off symptoms. Tony knew he was halfway gone when he called it a “wheeley-stool”, so he did his best to answer her questions.

“What hurts?”

“My wrist. I think it’s broken. Feels broken. And my ribs, which might be cracked.”

Sarah tsked under her breath, but didn’t say anything outright, instead asking, “What about your face?”

“Fell into the door knob. Silly me.”

She hummed her displeasure with his answer, then made a noise of surprise when she saw the healing cut on Tony’s temple. She turned on the chair to rummage through cabinets until she came up with a bottle of alcohol and cotton balls. The sound of gloves snapping dragged Tony out of his stupor, and he hissed when an alcohol soaked cotton ball was swiped over the cut.

Sarah was quick and efficient, and had applied a fresh bandage before Tony could start bitching about the pain. She knew him so well.

“I’m going to check this out,” she said, pointing to his wrist. “It might hurt.”

Tony nodded, shrugging slightly. “I figured.”

She was gentle when she poked and prodded his wrist, feeling for the break. Tony whined, the pain radiating up his arm and to his aching ribs. He wanted to yank his wrist away but knew better.

“Definitely broken,” she sighed. “We’ll get x-rays to see how bad of a break it is, and then we’ll get you some painkillers then set your wrist and put in a cast. Same for your ribs.”

Tony nodded in tacit agreement; he was no stranger to casts, and he wasn’t one of those dumbasses who sawed them off at home the next day.

“Dr. Reed will be in shortly, but we both know she’ll say the same thing,” Sarah explained.

Tony nodded, thankful that it was Dr. Susan Reed on duty and not Dr. Richard Reed on duty. He really couldn’t stand that asshole.

Sarah moved slowly enough that Tony knew that she would cup his face with her hands, which were surprisingly smooth and warm despite her profession(s). “Tony,” she murmured, “let us help you. Let me help you. You don’t deserve to suffer.”

How wrong she was.

Tony could practically feel the blood of innocents under his nails. Sarah didn’t know what Tony knew. She didn’t know he was a murderer just by being a Stark. She didn’t know he was a ticking time bomb, just waiting to be exploited by the highest bidder. He couldn’t allow her to find out.

Still...He loved Sarah in the way he loved his mother, when she was home. Sarah made him feel as if he mattered, and was always so fucking gentle in ways that Howard would never be.

Taking a deep breath, Tony made himself meet her gaze.

“He said I should have been left with those terrorists,” Tony whispered, his voice sounding wrecked even to his own ears. “He said I’m the reason my mother is never home. 

“Oh sweetheart,” Sarah murmured.

Tony didn’t know he was crying until she wiped his tears away with her thumbs, careful of the bruising that covered his face. He just didn’t understand why his father hated him so much for being “normal”. He didn’t understand why he was beaten for existing. He didn’t understand why his mother was never home, or why teenagers were as cruel as the terrorists who had captured him. He didn’t understand any of it, yet he knew he had to deal with it.

There is blood on your hands, Tony.

Sobbing caused his ribs to hurt, so he did his damnedest to stop crying before he even started. Sarah scooted forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, practically forcing him to cry on her patriotic scrubs.

Tony wished he could tell her the truth. He wished he could tell everyone that he wasn’t stupid. Knowing that wasn’t an option, Tony settled on crying on Steve Rogers’ mom’s shoulder, breathing in the scent of her floral shampoo and the vanilla perfume he’d come to recognize. She smelled like cookies, and what Tony imagined a real home would smell like.

“Why don’t you talk to someone?” Sarah soothed, running a hand through Tony’s hair.

“Stark men are made of iron,” Tony said, as if it explained everything. It kind of did.

“Even iron can break, Tony. You don’t deserve to live like this. You deserve to live a happy and safe life.”

Tony shook his head, pulling back. “No." 

“What do you mean, Tony?” Sarah asked, her blue eyes full of worry and compassion that he didn’t deserve.

“I’m not a good person, Ms. Rogers. I’m just...useless. I’m a disappointment. No one wants a Stark cast off,” Tony explained hoarsely.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Tony,” Sarah murmured. “I’m not sitting in front of a Stark cast off. I’m sitting in front of Tony, who is a good boy just trying to make his way through life.”

Be good, Tony.

For once, Vanko’s whispered voice in the back of his mind didn’t send him hurtling into flashbacks. If anything, Sarah saying he was good warmed everything inside of him, and he was desperate to hold onto the feeling.  

“I’ll be here when you want my help, Tony. You have my number, and you can talk to Steve at school. You’re not alone.”

Glancing up at her from underneath his eyelashes, Tony could only think of how wrong she was, though he didn’t say it out loud.

“Do you want your friend to come back here and sit with you?” Sarah asked, and Tony could hear underlying exasperation in her voice.

“Not really.”

“Tough stuff, since I won’t take no for an answer. I’ll send him back.”

Sarah stood up, and he couldn’t help but tug her back to hug her, his cheek pressed against her middle. She carded her fingers through his hair, humming softly while Tony tried to pull himself together. Finally, the position became unbearable because of his ribs, so he whispered, “I ‘unno where I’d be without you,” against her scrubs.

He knew she heard, though she didn’t say anything.

“Let’s get you laying down properly, and I’ll send Loki in just a few minutes.”

Nodding wordlessly, Tony let her help him onto his back on the cot, enduring her mothering as she fluffed his crappy pillow and made sure he was comfortable before walking out of the room. Without her serving as a distraction, his aches came back full force. Everything fucking hurt, and he had Howard Fucking Stark to blame.

He was working his way up to a mental rant when Loki entered the room, sniffing disdainfully at the generic seashell print on one wall and the poster advocating proper handwashing on the other. Despite the late hour, Loki looked incredibly well put together, rocking a pair of skinny jeans and a leather jacket like he was born to wear them. It seemed to Tony that Loki could look hot no matter what time of day, and he giggled a bit giddily at the prospect of Loki staying by his side in the hospital.

“Have they given you any medication to ease the pain?” Loki asked, an eyebrow raised.

That was more than enough to make Tony sober up.

“No. Dr. Reed is gonna get x-rays and shit, then when they set my wrist, I’ll get some painkillers.”

“You sound as if you’ve experienced this before,” Loki stated, his tone neutral.

“Enough times,” Tony replied, plucking at the same shirt he’d been wearing that day at school. He didn’t want to meet Loki’s gaze, because the asshole had a way of seeing right through lies.

Heaving an over dramatic sigh, Loki sat down on the wheeley-stool and rolled over to Tony, picking up his uninjured hand to lace their fingers together. Tony’s heartbeat kicked up to an almost uncomfortable level while his mind raced. Holy shit. Loki was holding his hand.

“I’m not prone to such unprecedented displays of affection,” Loki began, examining their joined hands. “I believe there is more to you than the others at our school realize. You intrigue me, and I do love puzzles,” he drawled, and Tony itched to either smack him or kiss him.

“Uh, yeah. ‘Kay,” Tony said, still stuck on the fact that Loki was holding his hand. “Does this mean I can use you as my meatshield? I think Hammer would think twice about trying to beat you up. You’d put snakes in his bed or some shit.”

“If you could keep your mouth shut, you might stand a better chance against Justin Hammer,” Loki pointed out. Tony couldn’t argue his logic.

“Are you asking me to be your boyfriend, or is this some sick and twisted game from your sick and twisted mind?”

“Such flattery, Stark. My nefarious plots aside, I would enjoy the opportunity to date you. I was going to ask you tomorrow evening, but it seems as if my plans were accelerated.”

Tony stared at him, wondering if pity had prompted Loki to ask him out, or even on the date for the next evening. Then he wondered if it was such a bad thing.

“This isn’t because you feel sorry for me, is it?” Tony asked, knowing he sounded overly suspicious.

“Of course it is. I don’t want to see you in the hospital, bruised and bloodied because of your boor of a father. I had been intending to ask eventually, but you looked so melancholy that I decided to take action.”

“And by action, you meant date me. You know that you’re probably the second smartest person in school, right?”

“Second?” Loki asked, obviously affronted with second place.

“Dr. Banner, duh. Why would you want to date me?”

Loki sat back on the wheeley-stool, their hands still clasped on the cot.

"You intrigue me. You are the brunt of most jokes at SHIELD, yet you bear it willingly. You are fiercely loyal to those you call your own, and have inspired similar loyalty in them. I believe there is more to you than what you let on, and I want to get to know the real Tony Stark." ” Loki explained, his voice and argument very compelling to Tony’s pain addled brain. He was a little alarmed at the "real Tony Stark" bit, but he was intrigued. 

“So, you just wanna know what makes me tick?”

“To put it simply, yes.”

Tony mulled over the proposal. It was weird to find someone who wanted Stupid Tony. Dating Loki would be perpetuating the mountain of lies that Tony had created, but damn if Loki’s ass didn’t look good in those skinny jeans.

“I still want those movies tomorrow night.”

“That’s a concession I will graciously allow.”

“Don’t be a dick about it.”

“Mm,” Loki hummed, rolling forward again to lean in and press a kiss to Tony’s lips. It was chaste and over far too soon, leaving Tony’s heart racing. Despite the pain and flurry of emotions in a short period of time, Tony managed a genuine smile when Loki pulled back.

A sudden knock on the doorframe had Tony jumping in surprise, then groaning as his ribs protested. Dr. Reed (the one he actually liked) was standing in the doorway, an amused smile on her face.

“Good evening, Tony. I didn’t think I’d see you back here so soon.” Again?

Tony ducked his head, grimacing. “Me either.” He won’t stop.

“Who is this?” She asked as she gathered up his chart from the door, flipping through it. Tony had the fleeting thought of replacing their charts with tablets of his own design, which would integrate his own programs with their systems and make things ten times faster. Two more years.

“He’s my Lokiboyfriend,” Tony proclaimed, relishing Loki’s wince at the nickname.

“It’s nice to meet you, Loki,” Dr. Reed said with a smile. “Thank you for bringing Tony in. His falls can be a little nasty, and it’s nice to see him with someone other than a cab driver.”

Tony’s eye twitched, and he shrank under the combination of bewilderment from Loki and disappointment from Dr. Reed. Tony knew that she wasn’t disappointed in him, but it still felt that way every time he refused to turn his father in for child abuse. Loki seemed to be mulling over the cab driver bit, though he chose to remain silent, merely squeezing Tony’s hand in silent support.

“Same to you, Dr. Reed. I couldn't fathom leaving him by himself,” Loki replied, suave and smooth as ever. Fucker.

“Tony, let’s get a look at  your ribs and wrist, before you get x-rayed. After that, we can get you out of here as soon as possible.”

Tony hated the part where he actually had to show the doctor his bruising. Loki let his hand go long enough for Tony to struggle out of his shirt with a hiss of pain, then took it again while Dr. Reed examined his torso. The imprint of Howard’s Italian shoes was already forming, surrounded by mottled purples and blues that covered his chest and sides. Loki squeezed his hand tightly, his mouth a thin line of displeasure.

Once Dr. Reed was finished, having hmmed and hummed, she indicated that Tony should follow her for his x-rays. With a nod, Tony squeezed Loki’s hand one more time before struggling off the cot, shuffling after Dr. Reed through the hospital. The x-rays didn’t take long, confirming that his wrist had a clean break, and that his ribs weren’t cracked, but definitely bruised. Before he knew it, Tony was shuffling back to his room, and it was nearing midnight.

To his surprise, Loki was still there, flipping through an issue of Time magazine with an expression of mild interest. It was the same look he got when Loki pointed out a different way to pull off a prank, or when Tony sounded less stupid than normal.

“I’m surprised you’re still here,” Tony blurted out, settling onto the cot with a groan.

“I’m not going to up and leave you,” Loki stated matter-of-factly.

“Cool.”

Ms. Rogers took that moment to come in toting the kit to wrap his wrist. She knew him well enough that he’d want his cast in hot rod red. They’d come to an understanding long before that Tony wouldn’t have anyone to help him with his cast, so she always used a cast liner under the fiberglass wrap that was water friendly.

Loki, having relinquished the wheeley-stool to Sarah, stood and watched with undisguised curiosity as Tony’s wrist was set and wrapped. Once the deed was done, Sarah ruffled Tony’s hair and went to fetch some painkillers and Dr. Reed.

“How many bones have you broken?” Loki queried, sitting on the wheeley-stool once more, perched like royalty upon a mobile throne.

“Too many,” Tony murmured. Exhaustion was starting to drag at the edges of his mind, and he wanted nothing more than to take his painkillers and sleep.

“I don’t want to take you home,” Loki confessed, green eyes sharp and reflecting something Tony couldn’t name.

“I have to go home eventually,” Tony pointed out. He didn’t want to go home either.

“Stay the night at my house, at least. My father is away and my mother would enjoy fretting over you. Just for tonight.”

Tony mulled the proposition over. “Only if I can crash in your room.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Loki practically leered.

Tony let out a strangled laugh, knowing there wouldn’t be any groping for a couple of weeks. He could, however, share a bed with a warm body. Maybe they’d cuddle. Tony decided he could use a good cuddle.

“Deal. Howard won’t be looking out for me any time soon. Can we swing by the house tomorrow so I can grab some clothes? My hips aren’t narrow enough for your skinny ass jeans,” Tony remarked.

Loki huffed out a laugh, nodding. “Very well. How much longer until they set you free?”

“Just gotta sign some papers, get a ‘script and get outta Ms. Rogers’ hair,” Tony explained.

“Ms. Rogers...as in Steve Rogers mother?”

“The very same. She loves me,” Tony said with a firm nod. “Don’t let her tell you any different.”

It seemed strange to talk about Sarah with Loki, almost as if he were divulging a secret to the uninitiated. Either way, Loki would find out eventually, if he decided he wanted to stick around as Tony’s boyfriend. Tony wouldn’t really blame him if he bailed, though; he’d jump ship on himself too.

Sarah walked into the door at the tail end of Tony’s comment, smiling brightly while offering him a tiny cup with pills lining the bottom and a somewhat larger cup of water. Tony gave her a pointed look and waved his cast.

“That’s very rude to offer a guy with a bum wrist two cups at once.”

“You’ll get over it,” she said, letting him take the cup with the pills then exchanging it with the water once he’d tossed them back.

He swallowed the pills, making a face at the slight aftertaste after they went down. He used the remaining swig of water to wash his mouth out before handing the cup back.

“Dr. Reed is going to come in and give you The Talk, and then you can go home, or possibly somewhere else,” she said, the hint painfully obvious. Don’t go back to that man.

“Loki’s gonna let me crash at his house,” Tony said quickly, not wanting to upset her any further; he knew that she worried about him.

“Good,” she said, ruffling his hair again. She let her hand linger, and Tony couldn’t resist leaning against her palm, relishing in the contact. The moment was over too soon, and Tony couldn’t help the soft whine that came out of his throat when her hand left his head.

When she finally stepped away, Loki moved closer, replacing her hand in his hair. He stroked soothing circles into his scalp, and Tony practically melted against his newly minted boyfriend. The meds kicked in soon enough, but Tony didn’t see any need to move away from the warm body he was pressed up against.

The silence was broken by Dr. Reed, who stepped inside with a clipboard and a smile. Tony supposed that she wasn’t used to seeing him relaxed.

“I’ve got a prescription here for some codeine. I want you to take it as needed, you know the drill.”

Tony nodded along, his cheek brushing against the fabric of Loki’s shirt. When had he taken the leather jacket off?

“Here’s a doctor’s note, since I don’t want you stressing the bruising on your ribs for at least two weeks. If they still hurt, don’t push yourself. Call in and I’ll fax another to Mrs. Carter.”

Dr. Reed’s expression shuttered after a moment, and her stare shifted to laser like focus. “I want you to tell me the truth, Tony. Did you fall down the stairs?”

Tony tensed up, and Loki’s hand stilled in his hair. What was he supposed to say?

“I can’t talk about it,” he ground out. He couldn’t. He really couldn’t.

“I don’t want to call the police, Tony. But your file is getting bigger and bigger, and there aren’t any explanations that make sense.”

“It won’t matter,” Tony muttered. It wouldn’t. The last time a doctor had threatened to call the police, Howard had paid enough hush money in donations to the hospital that it was never mentioned again.

“It does matter, Tony,” Dr. Reed said, her voice closer than before. “You matter. You don’t deserve this. Sarah and I are on your team here, Tony. Loki is too,” she asked, pausing to get an affirmative nod from Loki.

“I fell down the stairs.”

Dr. Reed stared at him, her lips pursed as if she wanted to say something further. Reaching inside her white coat, she extracted a small card. “This is my colleague Ben’s number. He works with the DSS. If you need anything at all, call him. Can you promise me that?”

Taking the card, Tony looked read the fine print then nodded, knowing that he’d never call Ben Grimm if he could help it. “Yeah.”

“Loki, I trust you to get him somewhere he can rest. No recreational activities until the bruising is healed up,” she warned, pointing her finger first at Loki then Tony.

Tony blushed, feeling the tips of his ears heat. He hadn’t even begun to imagine what kind of “recreational activities” he could have with his boyfriend.

“Of course not, Dr. Reed,” Loki replied. “Bedrest, a good breakfast, and an order to behave himself, correct?”

Smooth fucker.

“Correct. Tony, please don’t come back here if you can help it. If you need anything at all, call Ben, or Ms. Rogers. Hell, even call into the hospital to see if I’m on my shift. People want to help you, Tony. Let them.”

People wouldn’t want to help him if they knew he was practically a murderer.

“Yes ma’am,” Tony said, dropping his chin to his chest. He was so damned tired.

“Sign your forms then you’re free to leave,” Dr. Reed said, handing the clipboard to Loki.

Loki pulled the prescription and doctor’s note off, handing the clipboard and a pen to Tony. Flipping through the paperwork, Tony signed on the appropriate lines with an ease borne of too many hospital visits. When it was all over and done with, Dr. Reed excused herself and Sarah took her place.

“I’m not going to say anything you haven’t already heard,” Sarah began. “I’m just here to process your outpatient paperwork.”

She double checked Tony’s signatures, then gestured for Loki to help Tony up and follow her out of the ER. Once they were back in the waiting room, Sarah left Tony with a kiss to his forehead, and told Loki to “take good care of him”.

Loki led Tony out to his Prius, which was parked relatively close to the ER entrance. The pain had dulled to the point where he could get into the car without any trouble, but was hindered by the cast on his left wrist with his seatbelt. Loki wordlessly buckled him in, then buckled himself in before pulling out of the parking lot.

“Your mom know I’m comin’?” Tony mumbled, letting his head loll against the headrest.

“Yes. I texted her while you were getting your x-rays,” Loki replied, never taking his eyes off the road.

“Wait...you hadn’t even asked yet. How could you know?”

“I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, Tony.”

Humming, Tony let it drop. Loki was going to grow up to be a criminal mastermind or criminally insane; the jury was still out.

The ride from the hospital to the Odinson house was short, and they didn’t fill the silence with chatter. Tony was too exhausted, and Loki wasn’t being an ass, which Tony appreciated. When the pulled up to the curb, soft white lights strategically placed in the front gardens lit up the house, which was pretty fucking big, considering that they weren’t oil magnates or war profiteers.

It wasn’t anywhere near the size of the Stark mansion, but was definitely big enough to boast about. Tony could imagine Loki wandering around the house by himself, seeking out window seats to read in or finding ways to prank Thor and disappear down one hallway or another as if he were never there.

Tony’s musings were interrupted when he realized the Prius had stopped and Loki was opening the door for him. Loki leaned inside and unbuckled Tony’s seatbelt, his long black hair tickling his nose. Barely containing the urge to sneeze, Tony’s eyes watered as Loki carefully helped him out of the car.

The trip up the sidewalk was uneventful, though what was surprising was Mrs. Odinson standing in an open doorway, an expression of worry on her face. Tony didn’t really want to add yet another person to the list of people that fretted over him, but he didn’t have much of a choice as Loki looped an arm around his waist and ushered him over the threshold.

“Mother, we’re going upstairs,” Loki interjected before Mrs. Odinson could get a word in.

“Very well, Loki,” Mrs. Odinson replied tersely, and Tony could tell she didn’t put up with her sons’ shit. Her voice was warm when she turned to Tony.  “Tony, do stay as long as you like. My husband’s away, and with Thor always at practice it gets far too quiet.”

Tony blinked, glancing up at Loki before nodding at the Odinson matriarch.  “Thank you, Mrs. Odinson.”

“Frigga, dear. My name is Frigga. Loki, what are you doing standing there? Get the poor thing to bed.”

Tony could practically hear Loki’s eye roll, but the junior remained suspiciously snark-free when he replied, “Yes, Mother.”

“Good evening, boys. Sleep tight,” she said after a staring match with her son.

“Goodnight,” Tony mumbled, leaning heavily against Loki. He was getting sleepy, and he couldn’t be held accountable for curling up in the Odinson foyer to sleep if Loki didn’t find him a bed.

The trip to Loki’s bedroom took them up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway, to the last door on the left. Once the light was on, Loki was disturbingly gentle as he stripped Tony’s clothes off of him and tugged on a clean shirt (that didn’t smell like hospital) and a pair of sleep pants that were probably Thor’s at one time, since they probably would have been too big to fit Loki. Tony kept waiting for someone to jump out and yell, “JUST KIDDING!” , but it never came.

It seemed as if he blinked, then suddenly they were in Loki’s bed, Tony’s back to the wall. Loki took up most of the bed because he was so damned tall, but Tony didn’t give a damn. Once they were both under the covers, Loki reached back and turned his lamp off.

“Does this mean we can cuddle?” Tony murmured, half afraid of Loki’s answer. He was already in the guy’s bed; cuddles should have been a 100% thing.

“Does this mean you’re back to asking stupid questions?” Loki retorted.

Tony could feel him scooting down the bed before a leg insinuated itself between Tony’s. Tony took the hint and curled up against Loki’s chest, one arm slung around his boyfriend’s (boyfriend!) middle. Loki curled his arms around Tony’s shoulders, one hand slipping into his hair.

“Sleep,” Loki commanded, fingers sifting through Tony’s hair.

“Yessir,” Tony rumbled against Loki’s chest.

“Goodnight, Tony."

“G’night Lokiboyfriend.”

Chapter Text

Tony very, very rarely woke up to another person. Despite his reputation, Tony had not,  in fact, slept with most of the  junior/senior class. He’d spent the night at Darcy’s once, and another night at Rhodey’s when he was too afraid to go back home.

When he realized that he was curled up in Loki’s arms, he wondered if he’d finally died and gone to heaven. Everything smelled like Loki, and he felt safe snuggling up against his...boyfriend. That had happened, right?

The dull thumping of his wrist let him know that yes, last night had happened, and that he was due for some painkillers ASAP. 

“You’re thinking too loudly,” Loki grumbled, his breath warm on Tony’s ear. It tickled, which caused him to squirm as the sensation skated down his spine. 

Once he was done squirming, Tony hummed a reply, snuggling up against the older teen with a happy sigh. Sure, his wrist and ribs hurt like a bitch, but he was content to let the dream go on a little longer. If it was a dream, that is.

"Do you need to take your medications?" Loki asked, referencing the painkillers that Dr. Reed had prescribed.  

Tony shrugged, burying his face into Loki's pillow to breathe in the scent of him.

"I've got no way to get them filled before school. I'll have to wait till later and bum a ride off of someone."  

Loki pulled him away from the pillow, giving him a very pointed, very grumpy glare.  

"I can get your prescriptions filled, Tony. I didn't sit in that ER last night just so you could suffer today."  

Tony rolled his eyes.  

"Thank you, Prince Charming. I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you."  

"That's not what I meant."  

"I know. I'm just kind of an asshole. A sarcastic, dashing asshole."  

"Yes, well," Loki harrumphed.

"I can't be late for classes, though. If the school calls my father again, I'm dead meat. It won't be just my wrist that's broken."  

"Then we'll have to do our best to avoid that," Loki drawled.  

Tony shoved him, because no one liked a smarmy asshole. Except Tony. He liked his smarmy asshole.  

"I've gotta go to all my classes, be a good stupid kid, make all the right noises and do the right things. It's not like I've got an inheritance on the line, but Howard will kill me one of these days if I keep fucking up.”

Loki stared at him with what appeared to be Bewildered Pity. Tony knew it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows in the Odinson household, but the Stark household was a pretty awful place to be, not that anyone gave a damn about Tony's home life. 

Well. Yinsen did, and so did Mr. Coulson, apparently. Loki too.

"We won't give him any occasion to punish you," Loki said, his voice soft. He was looking less like a smarmy git and more like a besotted boyfriend, and Tony was caught entirely unawares when Loki pressed his mouth to his. Ignoring the ever present factor of morning breath, Tony made a noise of surprise; it wasn't like people were lining up to kiss him.  

Loki's mouth moved over his, teasing him, and Tony managed to get over his surprise enough to return the kiss, though he wasn't really feeling up to a Frenching at ass o'clock in the morning.  

Tony turned on his side to face Loki, their mouths never separating while they scooted closer. Tony had fantasized about making out with Loki enough that it had probably bordered upon unhealthy, but the real thing blew his imaginings out of the water and into the next state. Loki hummed against his mouth, burying his hands in Tony's hair and threading the strands through his fingers. Tony whimpered, unashamed of the noise. Loki knew what the hair thing did to him, the bastard.  

After several more minutes of making out, Tony was hard , and he could feel the jut of Loki's cock against his hip. Tony smiled uncertainly up at Loki, knowing his expression was more of a grimace than anything else. Smirking, Loki got off of the bed, leaving Tony to groan and roll over into the warm space he left, trying not to grind against the mattress while Loki went and relieved himself in the adjoining bathroom.  

Turning over, Tony hissed at the pain in his ribs,somehow managing to make it to his back without too much agony. Blinking away the last remnants of sleep, Tony looked around Loki's bedroom, not surprised by what he saw.

Loki's living space was as studious as he was in real life. Two large, full bookshelves adorned one wall, framing  a desk that featured a no-nonsense printer, a Mac computer (of course) and the Composition Book of Dastardly deeds sitting open on the desk. The whole room was decorated in shades of green, with silver accents here and there to break up the sense of hanging out in a forest. Loki’s comforter was a dark, forest green while his sheets were a silvery grey, made out of material that Tony could never dream of owning if Howard had a say in it. The pillows were soft and fluffy, and Tony took another moment to turn his head and breathe in the smell of Loki. Woodsy, with a sharp hint of....lemon? Tony wasn't really fussed about his boyfriend smelling like Pine Sol. It was a good smell. 

There was very little by way of decorations around the room, which Tony couldn't blame  him for. A giant window took up the wall that faced the backyard, though Tony couldn't exactly see from the bed. The window had a seat at the bottom, low to the floor. Tony could imagine Loki sitting there on both warm and cold nights, curled up on the seat with a book in hand, plotting the doom of his fellow classmates. Because that was a Loki thing to do.  

His hard on had subsided by the time Loki made his way out of the bathroom, so Tony worked his way into a sitting position so that he could get up and take the piss he hadn't known he needed until just then.  

Groaning, Tony found it hard to motivate himself into the sitting position, let alone heaving himself off the bed to do something as unholy as walking.  

Loki huffed out a breath, then came to his aid after watching like an intrigued spectator.

"Sorry to inconvenience you,” Tony sniped. He took a deep breath, wincing at the twinge in his side, then let Loki maneuver him to his feet.  

Smacking away Loki's hands, Tony shuffled to the bathroom and relieved himself, washing his hand (and fingers in his cast) when he was finished. He looked down at the cabinet, and saw that Loki had left him a spare toothbrush next to the tube of toothpaste. Tony rolled his eyes, grumbling at the guy's thoughtfulness (which was completely unprecedented, because really, Loki leaving out a tube of toothpaste and not making him hunt for it?) Scrubbing his teeth with his non-dominant hand (though he was luckily ambidextrous) Tony suffered through the slight awkwardness long enough to make sure his teeth were clean and his breath would no longer count as a deadly weapon.

Leaving the toothbrush and toothpaste on the sink, Tony shuffled back into Loki’s bedroom to find the older teen’s closet open, featuring a veritable sea of black and green clothing. It didn’t really surprise Tony that his boyfriend (!) didn’t own anything that wasn’t black and green, though he was relieved to spot some silver here and there.

“You gonna shower?” Tony asked, carefully maneuvering himself into a sitting position on the edge of the bed.

“Would you like to join me?” Loki leered, and Tony gave him points on the early morning blatant sexual advance.

“I wouldn’t be much fun.” 

“Ah, another time, then.”

Loki’s smile screamed Cheshire, and Tony had the sinking feeling that he’d signed up for something beyond his scope of expertise. It was kind of exciting.

“What time is it?” Tony asked, glancing around for any kind of alarm clock Loki might have laying around. Seeing none, he looked back at the older teen, an eyebrow raised.

“Six o’clock. Mother is most likely already awake, and will fix a breakfast fit for a warrior so that you may leave here well fed and nearly bursting.”

Tony had to mull that one over. He was lucky if he had Pop Tarts lying around, let alone someone to cook for him. Since his father was home, he’d have a better chance at decent breakfasts. The notion that someone was cooking him breakfast out of kindness was novel. 

Loki’s knuckles rapping against his forehead drew him out of his internal breakfast angst, and Tony scowled up at him, swiping at the offending hand with his good one.  

“Hey, no touchy.”

“You were lost in thought, and time is of the essence if we’re to eat and get you clean clothes before school starts.”

“Cool, I guess,” Tony replied, allowing Loki to help him to his feet again with a sigh. 

Fucking ribs. Fucking Howard. He wanted to kick something, but was afraid of looking like an idiot in front of Loki; moreso than usual, at least. 

The trip downstairs and to the Odinson’s expansive kitchen was fraught with pain and muttered curses, though Loki was quick to shush him when Frigga came into view. Tony had a feeling that Loki might have been a momma’s boy if his mother’s smile was any indication. Loki’s own smile in return was a dead give away.

“Loki! I thought you would never come down. Help Tony into a seat.”

“Yes, Mother.”

Loki rolled his eyes, but Tony could tell his exasperation was all for show. Once Tony was sitting down, Frigga and Loki worked in tandem to place plates of hot food on the table. Tony was baffled. Frigga would have been up early, and would have needed to know they were up to get all the food ready in time. It didn’t make sense. Tony placed his bets on magic.

Once everyone was settled, Tony watched as Loki and Frigga passed plates back and forth, not waiting for any input from their house guest before dropping a plate heaped with bacon, eggs, and toast in front of him. Loki thunked a glass of orange juice next to his plate with a smirk, before moving onto his own meal of pancakes, sausage, and eggs.

Bewildered, Tony looked up to find Frigga spearing a slice of apple with her fork, chewing delicately. When she noticed Tony’s staring, she finished chewing and swallowed, dabbing at her mouth with a napkin.

“What’s wrong, Tony?”

“N-nothing, ma’am,” Tony stammered. How was he supposed to tell her that he’d never had breakfast with his family? That he wasn’t even used to eating breakfast very often? 

“You’d best eat quickly,” Loki warned, “Thor will be up soon.”

With the threat of Thor’s massive appetite (it was legendary), Tony picked up his fork and began to eat. The food was absolutely delicious, and he couldn’t hold back the tiny sound of pleasure when he bit into the first piece of bacon.

He tried his best to eat politely, but it was so damned good that he couldn’t help practically shoving it all in his mouth as fast as he could.

When he finally downed his last bite with a gulp of orange juice, Tony looked up to find both Frigga and Loki staring at him as if he’d grown another head. Sitting back in his chair with a wince, Tony decided to play the waiting game to see who spoke first. 

“There’s more food if you like, Tony,” Frigga said kindly. “Don’t hesitate to eat your fill.”

Loki’s expression had shifted from Bewildered Boyfriend to Suspicious in record time, though he said nothing as he daintily sliced his pancake into precise squares.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Tony murmured.

Spearing two pancakes from a plate in the middle of the table, Tony dropped them onto his plate and grabbed the syrup from its spot next to Loki’s plate. Once his pancakes had been adequately drenched, he cut them into sloppy squares with the side of his fork and didn’t hesitate to begin eating. 

He’d often dreamed of having breakfast with his family, and while that probably would never happen, Tony decided that he could enjoy his time with the Odinsons. Besides, watching Loki eat was half the fun. His boyfriend was systematic while eating, everything cut into perfect portions. It spoke volumes about Loki’s exacting personality, but it wasn’t a bad thing. If anything, it was kind of hot, as far as breakfast went.

The sound of Thor barreling down the stairs drew Tony out of his staring; the big blond burst into the kitchen with a booming, “Good morning, family!”

He drew up short when he spotted Tony, who probably looked like a mess with all the bruising, bed head, and a bum wrist in a bright ass cast. Tony looked away, fiddling with his fork and the last few bites of pancake on his plate.

“Friend Stark! Why are you in my house?” Thor asked blatantly, though Tony could tell there wasn’t any accusation in the other teen’s tone.

“I thought I’d stop by, see what kind of wallpaper you had,” Tony riposted, smirking when he heard Loki’s snicker.

“Tony had an emergency last night, Thor,” Frigga said, and Tony would bet a good amount of money that she was no stranger to sarcasm if Loki was one of her offspring.

“You are wearing my old pajamas,” Thor stated.

“It seems that’s the case,” Tony agreed.

Thor stood in the middle of the kitchen, processing the information while eyeing Tony the entire time. Finally, the big guy nodded and smiled at Tony then took a seat at the table, where he proceeded to grab a plate and pile it high with pretty much everything the table had to offer.

Glancing at Loki out of the corner of his eye, Tony snickered at the look of horror on his face. The perfectionist in Loki had to be screaming in agony, and Tony found it hilariously funny.

Once Tony finished, he set his fork on his plate and then drank the rest of his orange juice. He was surprised to find that he was actually full for once, and with the realization came a burning hatred for his father, which sent him spiraling into the No Man’s Land of his brain.

He was so wrapped up in his musings that he nearly fell out of his chair when Loki poked him in the arm. Groaning from the pain of being jostled, Tony glared up at his boyfriend, baring his teeth.

“That was no bueno.”

“You were lost in thought again. The eggs were trembling in fear of your glare.”

“Huh.”

“If you’re finished, we need to leave so we can get your clothes.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Tony agreed, pointedly ignoring Frigga and Thor’s stares as he allowed Loki to haul him up out of his chair. The junior was deceptively strong, and even as his ribs twinged, Tony found his brain declaring Loki hot once again. First breakfast, then manhandling? Hot.

Frigga tutted that they could leave their plates at the table, and they walked away to Thor’s complaints when Frigga suggested he put their plates in the sink.

The climb back up the stairs was possibly worse than the one going down, though Tony was able to bite back most of his groans as Loki led the way to his bedroom.

Loki stepped into the bathroom with his own clothes to shower and get dressed, leaving Tony to sit on the bed with his dirty clothes. They smelled like antiseptic and hospital, and he loathed putting them back on.

Less than fifteen minutes later, Loki emerged wearing a green and grey henley and black skinny jeans that made Tony’s mouth water. Loki walked past him to his closet, where he pulled on a pair of black ankle socks and a pair of black slip ons to complete the outfit.

Licking his lips, Tony was open about his appreciation of Loki’s wardrobe. Loki looked a little too smug as he sauntered over.

“Like what you see, Stark?”

“Oh yes. Even better now that I have bragging rights,” Tony said with a grin.

“Mm,” Loki hummed as he moved to stand between Tony’s legs, fingers threading through his hair. “It’s time for you to get dressed.”

“You play dirty,” Tony protested, relishing the feel of Loki’s hands in his hair.

“I play to win,” Loki corrected.

Rolling his eyes, Tony grabbed the hem of the borrowed shirt, hissing as he pulled it up and over his head. He heard Loki’s quick intake of breath, but he didn’t want to look at the mess of black and blue that covered his chest. He’d seen it too many times to be shocked. Instead, he channeled that energy into hating his father even more than he thought possible.

He dragged on his dirty shirt to cut Loki’s peepshow short, but he managed to wriggle out of the sleep pants at a slower pace, unashamed of Loki seeing him in his boxers before working his way into his jeans.

“Hey, Green Eyes. Care to help me with my shoes?”

Loki raised an eyebrow, as if to say, “That is what you want help with?” but didn’t argue as he fetched Tony’s sneakers from the closet. He was ruthlessly efficient in unballing Tony’s socks and slipping them on his feet before shoving his shoes on after, tying the laces with a tangible air of finality that left Tony in a daze.

He didn’t have any kind of kinks that went with dressing people (at least, none that he’d cared to look at), but it seemed like whatever Loki did, it was going to be hot. Even if it was tying his shoes because he couldn’t bend over to do it himself.

As Loki straightened, he pressed a kiss to Tony’s forehead that left him blushing, for whatever reason.

“Come. We still have enough time for you to get a shower and possibly pick up your medications.”

Tony allowed Loki to pull him to his feet, groaning at a twinge in his side.

“And even if there isn’t time, I will find a way to get them to you,” Loki continued, as if sensing the argument Tony was about to make.

Tackling the stairs for a third time didn’t make it any better than the first two times, but he kept his griping to a minimum. Thor and Frigga had cleared the table, and were engaged in a quiet conversation over coffee. They both looked up when Loki and Tony appeared, and Frigga was quick to get up from the table and walk over. Her hands were soft when she cupped Tony’s cheeks, and her expression was sincere. “If you need anything, anything at all, you can call me or the boys. We will do our best to help you.”

Tony took a deep breath, willing his tears away. His eyes watered, but he managed not to cry when he nodded.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Frigga’s expression didn’t change; if anything, it looked like she pitied him more than before. She pressed a kiss to his forehead (was that where Loki got it?) and dropped her hands, stepping back as Loki went to open the front door.

“Take care of him,” she said in parting.

Tony gave her a lame little wave, purposely ignoring Thor before he followed Loki outside. He couldn’t exactly remember walking to the house the night before, though the he imagined that he would have thought the house was huge and screamed “money”, the immaculate front yard further testament.

The drive through the city and to Stark Mansion was spent in comfortable silence. Tony stared out the window the entire time, his good hand tapping a steady tempo on his knee. Loki’s tendency to speed meant they were pulling up to the gate in record time.

The gate guard let them in at Tony’s wave, which begged the question of how Loki got in the night before.

“How much did you bribe the guard last night?” Tony wondered aloud. He wasn’t sure who was on duty. It might have been Maurice (Tony’s favorite), but Howard switched up the schedule sometimes without informing anyone else.

“I didn’t. I said that I was here to take you to the hospital, and he nodded and opened the gate. An older fellow. He actually winked at me as I drove by.”

“Yeah, that’s Maurice. He knows this song and dance. Good guy, though.”

Loki hummed noncommittally as he pulled up to the paved circle that led to the front door. Tony couldn’t see any of his father’s cars out front, so it was safe to assume he’d already left for the office. Hopefully.

Cutting the engine, Loki came around to haul Tony out of the Prius. While he didn’t mind Loki’s hands on him, Tony did mind needing assistance. He wasn’t accustomed to anyone helping him out; it was really fucking weird. 

Hobbling his way to the front door, Tony keyed in his passcode to the number pad next to the door. It was a long ass number, and Tony suspected that Howard had issued it to him in hopes that he’d never remember it. Fuck you too, Dad.

The pad beeped and Tony could hear the locks disengage. Knowing that it would only last a few seconds, Tony opened the door and grabbed Loki with his good hand.

Loki let out a low whistle when he stepped into the foyer. The first noticeable thing about the house was the dual staircase that curved down from the second floor. The foyer was massive and high ceilinged, with several doors lining the staircase and the back wall to lead further into the mansion.

“Manse of opulence indeed,” Loki murmured, parroting Darcy’s nickname for the mansion. She’d only seen the inside of it once, but it apparently had scarred her.

“Stop talking to Darcy about my house. It’s weird,” Tony whined.

“Stop dithering so we can actually get your medication,” Loki snapped, though there wasn’t any heat in the words.

Huffing out a breath, Tony nodded and proceeded to climb the right hand staircase that led to the east wing. Everything hurt, and he was acutely aware of every twinge and throb of his ribs and wrist as he worked his way to the top. Loki trailed behind him, and their footfalls were silence as they walked to Tony’s room.

Opening the door, Tony did a quick check to make sure that his father hadn’t come up and trashed the place (which he had done in the past). Thankfully it was just as clean and as bland as it normally was.

“I would have expected...more,” Loki murmured as he followed Tony inside, looking up at the empty walls.

“Idiots don’t deserve nice things,” Tony quoted, rifling through his drawers for boxers, socks, and a clean t-shirt.

“Was that a quote?” Loki asked, his voice neutral.

“Sure was,” Tony confirmed, moving on to another drawer for clean jeans. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Tony quickly shucked his shirt, wriggling out of his jeans once he’d toed off his shoes.

“If I’m not out in ten minutes, call the Mounties.”

“They’re Canadian.”

“Hm. Well, as long as you don’t call my father, we’ll be A-ok.”

The adjoining bathroom was spartan, the only concessions to Tony’s needs being a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of body wash that Darcy had claimed was “dashing and debonair” scented.

It wasn’t his first time showering with a broken wrist, so he knew the drill. He managed to get his hair washed and all the important stuff scrubbed under water that was nearly scalding; he never felt clean after a hospital visit.

Toweling off, Tony sighed. He was already exhausted, and he hadn’t even gone to school yet.

“I Googled the number for the Mounties,” Loki called through the door, snapping him out of his reverie.

“I’m comin’,” Tony growled back. He hadn’t taken his clothes with him into the bathroom, so he had to rely on Loki’s nonexistent honor to not take a look at his junk.

“If only,” Loki replied. Tony found him sitting on the bed, engrossed with his phone.

“Shut your eyes if you don’t want to get flashed,” Tony warned as he shuffled to his bed. Loki had thoughtfully folded everything up into a neat pile, with his boxers on top.

“Maybe I’d enjoy it,” was his boyfriend’s reply, though he didn’t look up from his phone.

Circling the bed, Tony gingerly sat down on the edge with a slight groan, then grabbed his boxers and awkwardly wriggled into them after discarding his towel. He breathed a little easier knowing that he wasn’t naked in the same room with Loki Odinson, and his jeans followed with little fanfare. His t-shirt was the same shade as his cast, which made gave him a deep sense of satisfaction that could probably be picked apart by Mr. Coulson or anyone looking for a glimpse into his psyche.

Then Loki was kneeling in front of him again, green eyes glinting as he put Tony’s socks on, fingers lingering at Tony’s ankles before brushing further up his pants leg. Shivering, Tony kept his mouth shut, too afraid to ruin the moment by saying something stupid. Eventually, Loki broke his own spell by grabbing Tony’s shoes and putting them on, deftly tying the laces.

“We even have enough time to visit the pharmacist,” Loki said sweetly, pecking Tony on the lips before standing up.

“Lead on,” Tony said faintly, taking Loki’s proffered hand up.


 

Loki was some kind of magician, because never in Tony’s life had a prescription been filled so quickly (or so early). He was able to take his pain pills with a Coke from McDonald’s, and they were already working by the time they pulled into the school parking lot.

Leaning back in his seat, Tony took a deep breath before looking at Loki.

“Are we...are we official official? Or do you want to keep this from the school? I mean, I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to, but I’d like to say that the Loki Odinson is my boyfriend, and --”

He was cut off by Loki’s mouth pressed to his, teasing him into reciprocating. They made out for a solid minute before Loki pulled away, a Cheshire grin spread across his features.

“I want the world to know that you are mine,” Loki murmured, sending chills down Tony’s spine. Possessive streak? Also hot.

“Yours,” Tony said faintly. “Yeah, that’s cool too. Totally down with that.”

Not much else was said between them as they got out of the car. Loki had timed it perfectly, so they were going straight to their first period when they walked in the front door. Tony double checked his doctor’s note at Loki’s insistence, and Loki promised he would stop by during lunch to check in. They parted with another kiss that warmed Tony all over, and then Tony was on his way to gym.

His doctor’s note would hold him over until the cast was off, which was pretty fucking great. It meant that he wouldn’t be building anything in Mr. Yinsen’s workshop for awhile, but it would give him ample time to code for his big project, which he’d fallen behind on with all the beatings and bullshit with his father.

Bypassing the locker room entirely, Tony shuffled past the echoing sound of his classmates chatter then pushed into the gym where Romanov reigned. Everyone was still getting dressed, so Tony had free reign to make his way over to Romanov, who was perusing her roster with feigned interest. He knew she’d spotted him as soon as he’d hobbled through the doors. Sharky shark shark Tony thought absently as he fished out his doctor’s note.

“It figures I get one good day of gym out of you and then you show up with a bum wrist,” she remarked as she took the note, unfolding it to confirm that Tony wasn’t making it up.

“Ribs too?”

“I’m super clumsy like that.”

“Mm,” she hummed, not saying anything else. Tony liked that about Romanov, and had always appreciated her 100% no bullshit policy.

Soon after the rest of the class started filtering in. While Tony was pretty pissed about his broken bones and shit, nothing beat watching his fellow classmates toil under Romanov’s reign.

The Blond Trio kept to themselves, taking one look at Tony before deciding not to fuck with him. Barton had a healing cut on the bridge of his nose, and Tony took a dark satisfaction knowing he had put it there, even more so because Barton had deserved what he got.

Steve had some kind of Confused Puppy thing going on, but Tony couldn’t care less. He wasn’t sure why Ms. Rogers would think that he’d go to Steve for anything, since the guy was a walking hypocrite and the poster boy for dereliction of class president duty. Tony had nothing to say to him.

Thor looked like he wanted to say something, but he kept his mouth shut, most likely because Frigga had told him to keep to himself about Tony’s sleepover at the Odinson’s.

Class started and passed with no issues. Doom kept to himself, the Blond Trio gave him curious glances over the course of the 90 minutes, but Tony was able to leave at the bell and avoid all the issues that came with changing in the locker room.

As he walked down the hallways, he considered how Dr. Banner would react to his cast. The guy was sending some serious mixed messages, and Tony really didn’t want to upset one of the few teachers he looked up to (again). The biggest issue would be switching to his other hand to write, and acting like he gave a damn about chemistry; he’d be covering it during remedial anyways, so he wasn’t sure if it actually mattered or not.

He was actually on time to class for once, and Pepper’s eyebrows nearly met her hairline when she spotted him in the doorway. Her expression was  pretty hilarious, and he grinned at her as he stepped inside. Dr. Banner was nowhere to be seen, so he deemed it safe to stop by Pepper’s table. He could feel the weight of her gaze as she looked at the bruising that still covered half of his face, to the bright ass cast on his wrist.

“I fell,” he rushed to explain, though she already knew the truth just by looking at him.

“I’m sorry,” she replied, her voice soft. Then there were tears in her eyes, and Tony’s mind screamed no no no because this was Pepper and Pepper didn’t cry; she was too damned fierce.

“It’s okay,” he soothed. He reached out with his good hand and brushed away the tear that rolled down her cheek. She covered his hand with hers, turning his palm up and pressing her cheek against it.

“It’s not, Tony. It’s really not.”

Someone coughed behind them, and Tony carefully disengaged his hand from Pepper’s, turning to find Dr. Banner, sporting Confused Scientist. He caught sight of Tony’s cast, and his expression darkened, as if Tony had just gone and set his chemistry book on fire and danced on the ashes.

“What happened to your wrist, Anthony?” Dr. Banner asked, his voice deceptively light in comparison to his expression.

“I fell,” Tony replied, the lie coming easily.

Dr. Banner’s brow furrowed.

“You fall quite often,” his teacher observed, peering closely at Tony over the top of his glasses.

“I’m just clumsy like that,” Tony said, parroting his words from the ER. Lies, lies, lies.

“Well, be careful around the equipment. I wouldn’t want you falling into that too,” Dr. Banner quipped, but for once he didn’t sound pissed off with Tony, just resigned.

“Yessir.”

Class passed in much the same way as gym did; Tony sat and listened, didn’t participate, and didn’t even pretend to write down his notes. His handwriting was too crooked, and he didn’t have his project binder or chemistry textbook with him, so he had nothing to do but stare out the window the entire class.

He tuned back in just as Dr. Banner was finishing up, and he was almost out the door with Pepper when Dr. Banner called out, “Anthony, stay back for a moment.” Pepper shot him a look of pity then left with the other students.

Gritting his teeth, Tony shuffled backwards, regretting the movement when his ribs twinged. He knew he couldn’t take another painkiller until at least lunchtime, so he just had to deal with the discomfort until then.

“Yeah, Dr. B?” Tony asked, keeping his voice light.

“I want you to answer me honestly,” shit “did you actually fall? I notice you’re favoring your ribs.”

“Yeah. I fell down the stairs at the house. You know, big mansion, lots of stairs. It was a pretty rough fall, but I’m doing okay,” Tony replied with a bright smile, which kind of hurt his face.

Everything fucking hurt.

“Alright. If you’re sure,” Dr. Banner murmured, his Confused Scientist expression back on his face.

“Positive,” Tony said, including a thumbs up for good measure. “See you fourth period? I can’t be late for Mrs. Hill’s class,” he said by way of explanation, even as he backed out of the room.

“Go,” Dr. Banner replied, waving a hand and suddenly looking ten years older.

Nodding, Tony left the classroom and calculated that he’d have just enough time to get to his locker and deal with Hill. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too awful.


Hill had been an absolute bitch, Tony reflected as he trailed after Pepper and Rhodey to lunch. She had picked on Tony, made him write on the board, and had absolutely no pity for the stupid kid who had taken a “roll down the stairs” and come out sporting a cast and a doctor’s note.

Pepper and Rhodey had looked pretty pissed off by the end of it, and he tuned into their rant as they went downstairs, adjusting to Tony’s hobbling pace. 

“I just don’t understand why she’s such a bitch,” Pepper seethed.

Tony and Rhodey whistled in unison; Pepper never cussed, especially not about teachers. 

“She’s had it out for him from day one,” Rhodey said. “There’s no reason to think she’d change this late in the game.”

Pepper growled, and Tony could only offer lame reassurances.

“It’s okay, guys. I can take it. I’m made of tougher stuff.”

“Yeah, so tough you broke your wrist and bruised your ribs,” Pepper spat.

Tony bit his lip, spending the rest of the walk to the cafeteria in silence.

When they got to their usual table, Darcy was already there, chatting up Loki, who was standing there looking relatively bored. He perked up as Tony reached the table, stepping around Darcy, who complained rather loudly, to come toe to toe with Tony.

“How are you feeling?” Loki asked, ignoring Pepper’s mutterings of outrage.

Cool hands gently cupped his cheeks, soothing the bruising. Sighing, Tony tilted his head and let it rest against Loki’s hand, not caring what the others thought. He wanted this, and he was damned well going to have it.

“Tired. Sore.”

“I imagine so. What do you want to eat?”

Tony pulled away, scowling.

“I’m not your charity case,” he growled. He didn’t need Loki to take care of him. Just because they were dating didn’t mean he deserved Loki’s attentions. Or the food that came with them. He realized he might be acting a little crazy, but whatever.

“No, you’re my boyfriend, and it’s my prerogative to make sure you’re healthy and happy,” Loki snapped, turning on his heel to go stand in line.

Darcy whistled, sitting back down in her seat.

“Damn, boy. You sure do pick ‘em.”

Tony scowled, sitting down next to Darcy with a growl. There was enough room for Loki if he bothered coming back, but Tony didn’t count on it. Their morning had been amazing, but good things didn’t last. At least not for him.

Pepper sat down across from them, her brow furrowed as she pulled out her lunchbox. She looked like she might find the answers to the universe in her yogurt, and it was another long moment before she spoke.

“When did you and Loki become boyfriends?” She asked, waggling her spoon in Tony’s direction.

“Last night,” Tony replied, scratching his nose. “He took me to the hospital and it just….happened.”

“Way to go, T-Man,” Darcy said, putting her hand up for a high five. Tony returned it stiffly, wincing a bit when he raised his arm up.

“Whoa. You okay there?” Darcy asked, pushing her glasses up her nose.

“Nah. Fell down the stairs. Bum wrist, bruised ribs. Clumsy.”

Darcy’s gaze narrowed, but she was cut off by Rhodey’s arrival at the table, shortly followed by Loki, who was toting two lunch trays.

“No food, no medicine,” he said before Tony could open his mouth. He was surprised that he'd even come back, let alone remembered his medicine.

“That’s fucked up,” Tony muttered, but accepted the tray with a hot dog and fries with a huff.

“When needs must,” Loki agreed, sitting down next to him. He’d gotten himself a salad, and he had a carton of chocolate milk for Tony, and a carton of 1% milk for himself. Reaching into Tony’s backpack, he produced Tony’s painkillers and tapped two onto his palm then passed them to Tony, who took them gratefully with a swig of chocolate milk.

When he turned back to his lunch, he found the others staring at them, even as Loki proceeded to pour ranch over his salad.

“What?”

“You’re like...domestic,” Rhodey replied. “It’s...really strange.”

“Shut it, Sour Patch. I’ve seen you with Potts. We’ve got nothing on your happy little romance,” Tony riposted, popping a fry into his mouth. He stilled when he felt Loki’s leg press against his under the table, then relaxed and let himself lean against him. It felt good to let Loki take his weight, and he managed to eat his lunch using one hand with little trouble.

His friends chatted, accepting Loki easily enough (especially Darcy, since they were already friends), and the end of the lunch period arrived with Tony full and relatively happy.

“See you guys on Monday!” He called over his shoulder as he and Loki walked in the direction of Dr. Banner’s classroom. Tony had no idea what Loki’s schedule looked like, but he was insistent that Tony not skip out on remedial chemistry for their date.

“We don’t want you in any more trouble,” he murmured, his body shielding Tony’s from where they were pressed against the wall between lockers. His hands, cool as ever, cupped Tony’s cheeks. He thought he could love this asshole, but knew that it wasn’t an option. He was a walking lie. Didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the ride, though.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“I’ll pick you up from class, then we’ll go to the movies, dinner...a proper date,” he said with a smirk.

Tony wanted to kiss the smirk off his face, but he was interrupted by Dr. Banner’s voice.

“Anthony?”

“Yeah, Dr. B.?” Tony said, peeking out from behind Loki’s shoulders.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah. I’m good.”

Loki moved away, eyeing Dr. Banner warily as he settled at Tony’s side. Tony hadn’t told him about Hammer groping him, and that Dr. Banner was probably making sure he wasn’t getting jumped again.

“It’s just about time for class,” he stated, obviously eager to get Tony away from the upperclassman.

“I’ll see you later,” Loki said, his voice soft. He dropped his head and gave Tony a quick kiss on the forehead before walking off in a blaze of skinny jean'ed glory.

“Let’s go, Anthony,” Dr. Banner said (ordered), obviously disapproving of Tony’s life choices. He hadn’t pegged Dr. B for a homophobe, but there was always a chance he’d misjudged.

Once in the classroom, Dr. Banner directed Tony to a table, then propped his hips against table next to it.

“I want the truth, Anthony,” Dr. Banner said without preamble.

Oh wow, the “truth” twice today, Tony thought sourly, wishing that Dr. Banner would just mind his own business.

“Yeah?” Tony was beyond being polite.

Pressing on as if Tony hadn’t been rude, Dr. Banner continued. “Was Loki Odinson harassing you?”

Not entirely shocked, Tony shook his head. “No, sir. Loki’s my...uh…” He blushed, scratching his nose. He still couldn’t believe it. “He’s my boyfriend.”

“Your boyfriend.”

“Yes, sir. Completely legit.”

“He hasn’t forced himself on you?” Dr. Banner asked, leaning forward, his voice intense.

“No,” Tony replied firmly. “He isn’t like Hammer.”

Dr. Banner digested Tony’s response, then nodded. “Alright.”

“Dr. Banner?” Tony called out as his teacher moved to go back to his desk.

“Yes, Anthony?”

“Don’t...please don’t tell my father.”

“Why not?” Dr. Banner turned back to face him, his gaze piercing.

Shifting uncomfortably, Tony glanced out the window before looking back at his teacher. How was he supposed to tell him that Howard would kill him if he found out he was bisexual and dating a guy?

“He’s not very...open minded. So please don’t tell him,” Tony begged, hating the way his voice broke.

Dr. Banner stared at him for a long moment, then nodded almost imperceptibly.

“You have my word that I won’t tell your father. That’s your decision.”

“Thanks, Dr. B,” Tony said with a sigh of relief. That said, Dr. Banner went back to his desk, and Tony started on his makeup work. The spent an hour and a half in comfortable silence until the bell rang, and then Tony was shuffling to the door as fast as he could; he had a date. 

“Have a good weekend, Dr. B!” He shouted on his way out the door.

He stepped into Loki’s waiting arms, and thought that maybe, just maybe, he could be happy.  

Chapter Text

They took him. Ben Grimm, the social worker Dr. Reed had recommended, came to Tony’s house and took him away. He hadn’t even fought, though he kind of wished he had in retrospect. His father had been at work, where he was most Saturdays, and apparently the state didn’t need his permission to kidnap his son from the mansion and whisk him off to a foster home.

He’d been dragged back to the hospital. They’d taken pictures. He’d fought them on that one, hissing and spitting like a wildcat. They said they had papers. They said they had the right to see the abuse, and that they just wanted to help him. It had taken an emergency visit from Sarah Rogers to convince him to give in, and by that point, he was exhausted from yelling and struggling, in too much pain to fight anymore. It had been humiliating, and he had hated every minute of it.

Mr. Grimm hadn’t been present for most of it, as he was filling out paperwork and getting things set up at the foster home. When he came back and found out what Tony had been through, he was gruff and downright rude to the hospital staff (Sarah excluded) and  hadn't hesitated in helping Tony get dressed and then taking him out of the hospital.

Tony had almost cried when Mr. Grimm ("Call me Ben") took him to a Burger King. He'd sniffled a bit while cramming fries in his mouth, and he figured he had the right to be a little weak. Stark men may have been made of iron, but Tony felt pretty fucked up.

Ben had gone on to explain that Tony 's father had been served with papers, and that within 48 hours a petition would be filed to  set up a court date to discuss Tony's situation. Howard would be investigated, the evidence from the hospitals would be examined (what hadn't been bought off, at any rate) and Tony would be placed in foster care until they decided what to do with him.  

Tony figured there were worse things than foster care, but he wanted his bed. He wanted the tablet he'd hidden under the floorboards. He wanted to sit around and pine for his mother and Jarvis (sort of) and he wanted to be safe.

His father would be on the war path, because he was fiercely attached to what he considered his, even if it was Tony. Tony already knew there'd be an army of well appointed, expensive lawyers kept on the Stark retainer that would fall upon DSS and CPS and make their lives a living hell. They'd come up with an elaborate story of how clumsy Tony was, fabricate witness testimony, coerce his teachers to testify that he was lying. 

It had all happened before after a painful return to military school, and Tony didn't have much faith that it would work this time around. He didn't think that Dr. Reed and Sarah would be easily swayed with money, bribery, and threats, but other doctors had fallen prey to Howard's method of buying silence. Intimidation and ‘X’ amount of zeroes were usually good enough to sway even the best of intentions. 


 

Tony was taken to the Whippoorwill Home for Boys, and he had to wonder why the place was named after a bird. Was there some kind of correlation? Wasn't there some kind of a country song about birds? Maybe?

The caretaker wasn't flummoxed when he showed up late on Saturday evening, and Tony had the fleeting thought that Ben had wasted his entire Saturday, but not much could be done about it.   

The caretaker was a short woman with grey hair and rimless glasses, who was very brusque but still managed to give off kind vibes. She ushered him in the door, signing paperwork from Ben before waving him away. Ben called a farewell and that he would be back on Sunday, then Tony was left with Mrs. Arbogast, who was quick to give him a hug. He imagined that not all troubled boys would welcome the hug, but Tony couldn't stop himself from returning it.  

He wanted to cry.

"Let's get you settled," she announced, stepping away from him. "There aren't many boys here right now, surprisingly. Normally we're full to the brim, but you'll actually get a room to yourself, at least for awhile. That may change."   

"So...what kind of troubled miscreants darken your doorstep?" Tony asked as he trailed after her.

"Boys that come from all kinds of homes. Some boys have parents with drug problems. Alcohol. Abuse. Homelessness. I've seen it all, dear. You can't throw anything at me that I haven't seen before," she said, and Tony guessed she meant for it to be reassuring.  

I bet I could throw you for a loop, Tony thought uncharitably.  

"Here we are," she announced when they reached the end of the hallway. Tony hadn't been paying much attention to the house, only interested in putting one foot in front of the other and finally reaching the bed he'd been promised that morning when he'd been whisked away from the mansion.

"You'll get a pass for the first few days, but I run a very orderly house. I expect your bed to be made daily, for you to eat three square meals in the kitchen with everyone else, and to do any chores assigned to you. All the chores are divvied up equally, so you won't be shouldering any responsibility all by yourself. Does that sound fair?"  

"Yes ma'am," Tony murmured, letting his head drop. He was tired, and he didn't want to be there. He just wanted to go home, as awful as it may have been.  

"Chin up, dear. You'll make it through this. "  

"Thanks, Mrs. Arbogast," Tony muttered, stepping into the room once she'd unlocked it.  

"There are no locks on the inside of the doors, I'm afraid. I'll respect your privacy, but there are lots of reasons as to why we can't look at that just yet. If you stay here long enough, we'll see about getting you some more privileges. For everything else, we'll talk in the morning. Breakfast is at 9 o'clock on weekends, and 7 o'clock during the week.”

"Yes ma'am," Tony repeated, zeroing in on the bed. Mrs. Arbogast shut the door behind him, and he shuffled forward, toeing off his shoes as he went. He dropped his backpack and duffel bag on the floor, not even bothering to undress as he collapsed on the bed (though he was careful about his ribs.)

He hadn't texted Loki the entire day, and while he'd received some worried texts from the junior, though it seemed as if Loki figured that Tony was prone to ignoring his phone. While that was something he could normally be accused of, Tony just hadn't wanted to reply. He didn't know how to say, "They took me" without causing Loki to drive across the city to kidnap him from his foster home. He resolved to text his boyfriend in the morning, when things didn't seem so...bleak.  

With a sigh, he scooted forward and burying his face in the pillow, breathing in the scent of whatever detergent Mrs. Arbogast used. Sleep claimed him swiftly, and he didn't dream.  


 The next morning, Tony's internal clock woke him promptly at 7 o'clock. He was sore and stiff from sleeping on his stomach, and he was keen to take the pills that were in his backpack. His mouth tasted like something had crawled in it and died, so his first mission was to scope out the bathroom and scrub his teeth until his gums bled.  

Thankfully, he didn't meet anyone during his explorations, and he was able to wash his face, brush his teeth, and run wet fingers through his bed head. He wasn't sure if there was some kind of shower schedule he was supposed to adhere to. Mrs. Arbogast clearly had a schedule for her boys, and Tony didn't want to infringe upon that, even if she had given him a free pass for the first couple of days.  

He did manage to change his clothes, which were rumpled and still smelled like the antiseptic of the hospital and the weird pine tree air freshener in Ben's car.

He dry swallowed two of his pills, and crept out of his room to go and find the kitchen. Breakfast wasn't for another hour and a half, but Tony wanted to get the lay of the land. There were several shut doors in the hallway, one of them labeled "Sam and Bucky's Room", and another that said "LOGAN'S ROOM - STAY OUT!!" in a messy scrawl. Tony assumed that there were more rooms in the house, but those were the only two near Tony's room. 

Coming out of the hallway, he immediately spotted a living room with a beat up sofa and an ancient tube TV, a[pile of beat up board games, and what looked to be an SNES hooked up to the AV output. There was a VCR (really?)/DVD combo player on top of the TV, and a small stand next to the TV was packed with DVDs and VHS tapes.

Tony wasn't accustomed to a TV (since he mostly watched YouTube videos and Netflix), so it would all be a pretty novel experience for him, if he stayed long enough to take in the scenery.  There was a set of stairs leading to another portion of the house that Tony didn't dare explore. He assumed that Mrs. Arbogast stayed upstairs, and that she had an office and who knows what else up there to keep her occupied when she wasn't running a house for wayward children.  

He followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen, which was across the hall from the living room. Creeping inside, Tony found Mrs. Arbogast kneading something, possibly bread. Tony had watched Jarvis make bread whenever he was at the mansion, which gave him a sharp pang of homesickness that made him want to throw up.  

There was a full pot of coffee already made, and there were the ingredients set out for pancakes, eggs, and toast. His mouth watered; Burger King had been great, but not filling. Coupled with the fact that he hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch the day before, Tony was starving and incredibly eager to eat real food.  

"Are you just going to stand there?" Mrs. Arbogast asked, not looking up from her task.  

Tony jerked backwards, hissing when his ribs pulled. He hadn't known her hearing was that good.  

"N-no, ma'am," he stammered, taking a step inside the kitchen.  

"Do you know how to make bread?" She asked, and Tony couldn't say he did.  

"I know the science," he offered helpfully, but he knew that wasn't what she wanted to hear. He was as useless as he always was.

"Come here, then," she instructed, stepping aside. "Wash your hands," she tutted when he took another step forward, nodding when he'd scrubbed his hands to her satisfaction at the kitchen sink.  

"I just mixed the ingredients together," she explained. "I'll have you knead that until the consistency changes to something smoother, understand? It should only take a few minutes.”

Tony nodded, feeling a little lost as he began to knead the bread. Who would have thought that he would be kneading bread at 7:30 in the morning in a foster home? He sure as hell hadn't.  

Tony could tell when the consistency changed, and he took a step back to look for Mrs. Arbogast, who had taken up whisking eggs . He secretly hoped they'd be having scrambled eggs, and that she had some ketchup to drown them in. "Uh...Mrs. Arbogast, I think it's ready."  

"Good, good," she tittered, walking over to check on it. She did something that looked complicated, and then she put it into a bowl and covered it with a towel. Tony didn't know what to say to that, so instead he asked the very important question, "May I have coffee?"  

"Look at the manners on you!" She exclaimed, ruffling his hair. Tony was surprised at the action, but felt oddly pleased. The manners had been beaten into him, by both his father and his drill sergeants, but it was still gratifying when people noticed. Just because he was an asshole at school didn't mean that he was always a punk. Just sometimes.  

"Thank you, ma'am," he said, blushing.  

"Coffee cups are in the cabinet next to the fridge, dear. The rule is one cup on school days, two cups on weekends. Sugar is in the canister next to the coffee pot, and creamer is in the refrigerator."  

Following her instructions, Tony had a cup of coffee that was as black as his soul, though he had dumped a ridiculous amount of sugar into it. He would let everyone think he was drinking straight motor oil, none the wiser to his secret sugar addiction.

“Are you always up this early on weekends?" She asked, taking a cup of what looked to be tea and sitting down at the kitchen table, which was currently set for six. She gestured for him to sit, so he did.

"Uh, sometimes? Depends on if my father is home...usually I'm up by nine," he explained. If his father caught him sleeping in, there was usually hell to pay. Even if Tony could do nothing but mope around the house with nothing to do, his father refused to let him sleep in. Something about work ethic and how Starks were up with the sun and never rested.  

"Well, I'm certainly glad I have company this morning," she said with a smile that warmed Tony's insides. He supposed it could be worse; he could be trapped in one of the stereotypical foster homes where all the kids were evil and the caretaker was horrible and cruel. Mrs. Arbogast seemed nice; she even gave him coffee.  

"How many other boys are here?" Tony asked after taking a sip of coffee.  

"Well, I have room enough for ten total. Five rooms, with two boys each. You'll meet the other boys later, but they're from ages nine to eighteen. Currently there are only four boys staying here. If we have room, I'll let the eighteen year olds stay until they're on their feet. I hate to kick anyone out," she explained.  

Tony wondered if he'd be stuck there until he was eighteen. He had no doubt that Howard's lawyers would win eventually, but he didn't know how long that would take. Would he be an adult by the time he left Whippoorwill?

"Is this your house?" Tony queried, looking around the kitchen. It was light and airy, painted in creams in yellows and brightly decorated.

"Yes. My husband and I built it when we got married. Thought we would fill it with children," she said wistfully. Tony thought better than to comment on it, so he took to staring at his coffee mug.  

"How are you feeling?"  

Tony hadn't expected the question, so he didn't know how to answer it.  

"I'm...okay," he murmured. "It happened so fast."  

"I want you to know that you're safe here, Tony," Mrs. Arbogast stated, reaching across the table to pat his hand.  

Tony shook his head, a parody of a smile tugging the corner of his mouth up.  

"No, ma'am. My dad is Howard Stark. I'll never be safe."  

The expression on her face could only be described as heartbroken, and Tony hated that he put it there. He didn't even know this woman, but she didn't deserve to be worried for Tony's sake. He wasn't worth it.  

Liars weren't worth anything.  

"We'll do our best to prove you wrong, Tony."  

Humming his reply, Tony took a sip of coffee. The clock on the stove read 8:30, and he wasn't sure where time had gone. He heard the chatter of young voices coming from the hallway, and suddenly two boys appeared, one with sleep tousled hair and the other a bright grin that Mrs. Arbogast was apparently expecting.   

The boy with the smile was missing a front tooth and he looked a little goofy. His hair was cropped short, and he was wearing a shirt with birds on it and a pair of pajama bottoms that had American flags. He was the first to chirp, "Good morning, Mrs. Arbogast!" while the other growled sleepily and allowed himself to be steered toward the table.

The sleepy boy had long, tangled brown hair and a scowl that was directed at the table. Tony's eye was drawn to the prosthetic that served as he left arm; he wondered about it, but his curiosity instead branched away from pity and towards making cybernetic limbs and prosthetics to revolutionize the industry.

"Who's this?" The gap toothed boy asked, sitting on his knees on his chair to peer at Tony. Tony gauged him to be in elementary school, maybe middle school. He reminded him of the young boys who came to military school, bright eyed and happy. That always changed relatively quickly.  

"This is Tony," Mrs. Arbogast said, relieving Tony of the burden of introducing himself.  

"Cool! Hi, Tony! I'm Sam. I like falcons."  

"Uh...hi, Sam," Tony muttered, glancing at the other boy, who looked a little wild.  

"James?" Mrs. Arbogast prompted, and Tony assumed that was the boy's name.  

"My name's Bucky," the boy growled, crossing his arms.  

"Hi...Bucky?" Tony replied, ending it on a question. He obviously wasn't happy to be awake, let alone being introduced to another kid in the house.

"How old are you?" Sam asked, bouncing in his seat.  

"I'm sixteen."  

"Whoa! That's cool. Like, Logan is eighteen, and Brock is seventeen, and you're sixteen! It's like, in order!"  

Tony stared at the boy, wondering if the kid had already guzzled a couple cups of coffee already.  

"Yeah, I guess," Tony replied.  

Mrs. Arbogast got up, smiling as she went about fixing breakfast.

"James, come here and help me with the toast," she said, making it sound more like a request than an order.

Bucky grumbled, but got to his feet. He didn't seem to let the prosthetic get in his way, and Tony noted all the power to him while considering upgrades.  

"Your hand is in a cast," Sam stated, and Tony realized the kid was staring at him. "And your face is kinda black and blue."  

"I can make yours match," Tony offered.

"Nope. No fighting," Sam said smugly.  

"Who's talking about fighting?" Asked a gruff voice from the kitchen doorway.  

Tony looked over to see a teenager with dark hair and some wicked sideburns in a tank top and jeans standing in the doorway.

"Tony! I don't think he's good at fighting," Sam confessed in a mock whisper.  

"Leave the new kid alone, Sam," the new guy ordered, and surprisingly the boy settled in his seat with a poorly concealed grin.  

"I'm Logan," the older teen said as he stepped into the kitchen, holding his hand out.  

Tony shook it, nodding numbly. The guy looked like he worked out and could bench press Tony with one hand.  

"Tony."  

"How long is your sentence?" Logan asked, warranting a harrumph from Mrs. Arbogast, who was making pancakes.  

"Dunno," Tony muttered, swirling the last of his coffee in the bottom of his cup.  

"You're in good hands," Logan said, knowing that Mrs. Arbogast could hear. "Best house I've been in so far."  

Tony restrained the urge to ask just how many houses Logan had been in, and instead looked up with yet another boy walked in. He looked...mean, for lack of a better word. He put Tony on edge, and he was grateful when Logan sat next to him, leaving the last open seat next to Mrs. Arbogast.  

"Fresh meat?" The new guy said with a nasty grin.  

"Knock it off, Rumlow," Logan growled.  

"Hey. I'm allowed to have a little fun," the guy replied. "I'm Brock, by the way. And you are...other than black and blue and a little pathetic…?"  

"Tony," Tony gritted out, wanting to punch the guy. If he weren't taller and considerably fitter than Tony, he might have done it.

"What're you in here for?" Brock asked lowering his voice. "Did you get smacked around too much? Daddy didn't like your face?"  

Tony tensed in his chair, baring his teeth.  

"Were you dropped on your head as a child? On purpose?" Tony hissed back,.  

"Hey," Logan rumbled, placing a hand on Rumlow’s chest and another Tony's arm, intimidating even though he was sitting .

"Knock it off. Mrs. A doesn't deserve this. Especially not from you, Rumlow. Sit down and shut up."  

Tony figured that Logan commanded the respect in the house, since Rumlow sat down with a scowl.  

Bucky chose that moment to bring a plate of toast over, complete with butter and a knife to spread it with.  

"Toast’s up," he muttered, and Tony waited for the other boys to fall upon it before getting his own. Apparently there were no prayers or special rituals that went on before meals, so he could happily set upon his toast and eat it without fear of retribution.  

"You look like you've been starved," Logan commented.

Wasn't that the truth?

“You are kinda skinny," Sam offered, grinning around a piece of toast.  

"Boys, no invasive questions, " Mrs. Arbogast chided . "Tony will stay as long as he needs, and that's that. You know the rules."  

The boys each dropped their heads, as if they'd been caught with their hands in the cookie jars, even Rumlow.  

Then Mrs. Arbogast brought a bowl full of scrambled eggs and a plate stacked high with pancakes and set them down in the center of the table.  

"One pancake each and then seconds if you want them. I expect clean plates," she reminded them. She fetched her own breakfast of two grapefruit halves and sat down at the head of the table, keeping a keen eye out for any more trouble.

Tony felt self conscious about asking for ketchup, so he set about fixing himself breakfast without worrying about it. There was a brief scuffle over use of the spoon for the eggs with Rumlow, but the older boy subsided with a sharp look from Mrs. Arbogast.  

Breakfast passed quickly, with Bucky and Sam chatting about school the next day, while Logan and Rumlow pointedly ignored each other. Tony eventually gleaned that he didn't go to the same high school as Logan and Rumlow, and Mrs. Arbogast assured him that they wouldn't transfer him so late in the year.  

If his father didn't have custody of him, how was he supposed to pay for school? Would they let him stay the rest of the year anyways? Would they even want him? He was the stupidest kid there, and there was no reason for them to stick up for him.  

Lost in his musings, he was surprised to look up and find that the table was nearly empty, with only Bucky left picking halfheartedly at his food.

Tony had eaten his way through seconds, and got up to fix his second cup of coffee before sitting back down. At some point Rumlow or Logan must have gotten coffee, since he was pouring out the rest of the pot into his cup.

Cutting the pot off, Tony fell into a normal pattern and took the pot to the sink. Finding the sponge and the dish soap, he cleaned it out and the replaced it in the coffee maker, pulling the filter so he could toss it in the trashcan. It was all autopilot, and he nearly dropped his mug when Mrs. Arbogast spoke.

"Thank you, dear. That was very considerate of you."  

Tony looked at her, mouth agape.  

In all reality, he was hiding the evidence. There was always coffee at the mansion, even if there wasn't food. His father would have taken it away if he'd known that Tony was using it as liquid sustenance, so he'd gotten into the habit of hiding the fact that he'd used the coffee pot in the first place.  

"Uh...sorry?"  

"Don't apologize," Mrs. Arbogast chided.  

"I...it's just habit," he explained lamely.

"Well, no matter what the reason, I appreciate it."  

"Uh...who helps with dishes?" He asked, noting when Bucky finished his meal, pushed away from the table and walked out of the kitchen.  

"It's a group affair. They're all shook up about you being here, otherwise they would have helped clear the table," she said, huffing out a breath. She had a look of long suffering patience that he recognized from both Dr. Banner and Mr. Coulson's expressions when dealing with Tony, and he suddenly wanted to do his best to help her out. She was putting him up (though no doubt getting money from the state to do it), and she didn't have to be nice to him, even though she was.  

"Can I help?" He asked,. He didn't have anything better to do, and he didn't want to to think about texting Loki quite yet.  

"That would be lovely," she responded with a smile.   


Once the dishes were finished and put away, Mrs. Arbogast shooed him from the kitchen and directed him to the living room.  

Sam and Bucky were on the couch, pressed together at one end. Cartoons flickered across the screen, and Tony was drawn to them with a morbid curiosity reserved for those that hadn't watched many cartoons during their lifetime.  

"Stop standing there like a stalker and sit down," Bucky spat, not taking his eyes off the screen. Ninja child, Tony thought a little hysterically.

"You can sit with us," Sam said, as if there was anywhere else to sit. "We're watching Pokémon! Logan says the first season is the best, and he got us the VHS tapes from the flea market!"  

"Shut UP, Sam!" Bucky hissed, elbowing the boy.  

Sam grinned anyways, patting the cushion next to him.  

Tony sat down, making sure to keep some distance between himself and the younger boy. He was just so...outgoing, and Tony couldn't help but wonder why he was here.

It was easy to let himself be lulled by the cartoon and finally get some context to what Pikachu actually did in the show. Tony let himself veg out and watch a few episodes of Pokémon, to which he realized he hadn't missed out on when growing up.  

"Ash is pretty stupid," he commented as an episode ended.  

Glancing over at the boys, he found both Bucky and Sam giving him glares. He realized he'd stepped on a landmine, and was proven right when they both rocked onto their knees to start flailing at him. Bucky, who was slightly taller than Sam, waved both arms angrily at him while baring his teeth in a great piranha impression.  

"Shut your mouth!" He screeched.  

"Yeah!" Sam parroted. He tried to do the piranha thing, but it just looked silly with his missing tooth. Tony snickered, but tried to hide it behind a hand.  

"What?" Tony spat, turning to face them with care of his ribs. "The kid is stupid! I mean, he's cool and all that, and apparently he gets good Pokemon or whatever, but he's not all that smart!"

"He's smarter than you!"" Bucky spat.  

Tony had to bite his tongue to keep from correcting the little brat.  

"Maybe so, but that's not really the point," Tony argued. How was it his life that he was arguing with a ten year old?

"Your mom's not really the point," Bucky growled.  

Tony deflated then, sinking back against the couch. His mom was across the Atlantic somewhere, ignoring his existence in favor of her charity of the week. He normally didn't hold it against her, but he couldn't help but wonder why she'd never saved him from Howard's torment.

"Bucky!" Snapped Logan from the doorway. "You know better than to pull the parent card."  

"Yeah!" Sam chimed in. Tony could tell that he was attached to Bucky's hip, but was young enough that his opinion swayed with every change in the wind. Bucky dropped against the couch cushions with a huff, crossing his arms again. "Sorry," he muttered, and Tony figured that was all he'd get out of the sulky kid.  

"You like books?" Logan asked Tony, and Tony was more than happy to find an excuse to leave the couch.  

"Yeah," he said, getting up with a groan and following Logan to the staircase.  

"There's two empty bedrooms up here, Mrs. A's office, and the library. There's a lot of classics from Mr. Arbogast," Logan explained as they climbed the stairs. "Her room is connected to her office, so there's only one door for the whole suite. If you ever need anything, she'll always answer. She's good like that."  

"Have there been people who weren't available?" Tony asked, genuinely curious. He supposed that there were foster homes that made up horror stories, but he hadn't considered what all went into creating the stories.  

"Not here, but in other places," Logan replied, not elaborating further.  

He led Tony to the first door at the top of the stairs to the right, which opened up to a fairly extensive library. Bigger than Tony would have expected, at any rate. The mansion's library was vast and was big just because Howard had thrown enough money at it to make it so. His mother was fond of books, and could often be found there when she was home.

Tony spotted a shelf full of Dickens, another full of Vonnegut. Books on poetry, Frank Herbert's Dune series, all of the Harry Potter books, and then some books on a lower shelf that was clearly meant for kids. There was a writing desk in the corner, and a small couch and two cushy chairs situated in the middle of the room.

There was a distinctly "cozy" vibe, and Tony could see himself spending hours in the room. He only hoped that the boys stayed downstairs glued to old episodes of Pokémon and didn't come up to disturb the peace. He also hoped that if Rumlow came upstairs, he’d trip up and knock himself out.

"It stays pretty quiet up here," Logan said, interrupting Tony's thoughts.  

"Sam 'n Buck play outside or in the living room most of the time. They have their own toys in their room, and Rumlow's got a laptop, so he's too busy jacking off to bother coming up here. I stay up here, so as long as you're quiet, I won't mind having 'ya."  

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Tony could only nod.  

"Thanks. I appreciate it," he said honestly.  

Logan nodded curtly, then picked up a book that had been abandoned on the coffee table that rested between the couch and chairs, dropping onto the sofa and picking up where he left off.

Tony ghosted along the walls, looking at various titles without actually seeing them. Picking one at random, he settled into the chair at the desk, opening to the first page without really looking at the title. His mind drifted to Loki, and then his father, and finally to school.

What was he supposed to tell his boyfriend? His friends? Loki might get the truth. Pepper and the others would get a watered down version that would garner the least amount of sympathy. Thankfully none of the other kids in the house went to his school, so he wouldn't have to worry about saving face with them. He had yet another secret to keep , and he hated it.  

When thinking of the devil, he shall text, thought Tony as his phone buzzed, the screen flashing Loki's name.  

[Answer my texts, fool. -LO]

[Fuck you :) - TS] Tony replied, hoping that he could be deterred with humor.  

[How are your ribs and wrist? -LO]  No such luck.

[Stop mothering me from afar. -TS]

[Stop resisting. Let me attempt to smother you with my concern. It is my imperative. -LO]

[Creeper. They hurt. The end.-TS]

[Would you like to come over for dinner? My mother is asking after you, and I dare not tell her no. -LO]

[You'll have to tell her no. Can't. -TS]

[That's unfortunate. Another time, then. What are you doing in your manse of opulence? -LO ]  

[Homework -TS] Tony lied, biting his lip after he sent the text.

[You finished all of your homework on Friday -LO]

[I found out I had more -TS]

[I see. -LO]

[Get off my case. -TS]

[I wasn't on "your case", dearest. (A little defensive, are we?) -LO]

[I'm just tired. Date was great, but it's been a long weekend. -TS] Deflection : 200%

[Mmm. Try not to land yourself in ISS this week. I promised mother I would behave, so you wouldn't have company. I will have lunch with you, however. -LO]

[You know you want to sneak me into the senior lounge -TS]

[Never. We'd go somewhere I could have my way with you. -LO]

[Kinky -TS]

[Indeed. I'll leave you to your "homework". -LO ]

[Go brush your hair or something. -TS]

[I shall. -LO]

Pocketing his phone, Tony realized he had a dopey smile on his face, and that Logan was staring at him from the couch; the look was neutral, and didn't betray his thoughts. Finally the older teen returned his attention to his book, and Tony was left to look at the book he'd picked out and figure out what he was reading.  

It was a book called "Civil War", and God knew what it was actually about. Most likely the American Civil War, but one could never be sure. He got lost in reading, and before he knew it it was lunch time. Grilled cheese had never tasted so good.

This time, Mrs. Arbogast made Sam and Bucky clean up, with the hanging promise that the teens would be responsible for dinner. She made a point to say that Tony had helped with breakfast, which had Tony ducking his head to avoid the glares from the other boys. Logan, at least, just seemed disgruntled in general, and not actually mad at Tony.  

He retreated to the library again, staying there until he was called down for called down by Mrs. Arbogast to the kitchen. Ben was sharing a was holding a cup of coffee, chatting quietly with Mrs. Arbogast until Tony stepped into the kitchen. He was silent on sock feet, but Mrs. Arbogast's ninja skills were sharp and she looked up first. Tony wondered how many of Ben's cases had ended up at Whippoorwill, but his musings were cut short by Mrs. Arbogast's serious expression.  

"We've got a serious question to ask you, Tony. Normally, in the event of a foster care situation, we would want to establish contact between the child and parent via phone," Ben began.  

Tony stiffened, not liking where this was going.  

"Are you going to make me talk to him?" Tony ground out, clenching his good fist at his side.  

"That's your call, Tony. In your situation, you weren't removed under the best circumstances. Howard Mr. Stark wasn't exactly thrilled when he was served the papers, so we have no way of knowing how he'll react to a phone call."  

"I don't want to call him." Tony said, his voice firm.  

"Are you sure? " Asked Mrs. Arbogast. He didn't think she was trying to pressure him; more like make absolutely certain that was what he wanted.

"Absolutely. I don't want to talk to that man."  

He knew he'd be in trouble for it, when he was dragged out of foster care and back to the mansion. He'd pay for it in blood, sweat, and tears. He'd pay for it in broken bones and vicious verbal retribution.  

"What about your mother?" Ben asked. "We have her contact information on file, but Mr. Stark didn't act like he would be calling her.”

"She's overseas," Tony said, lifting one shoulder half heartedly. She might answer if he called. Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn't. Tony had never been given Jarvis' number, or else he would have spent all his time on the phone with the butler, pestering him about nothing and everything, just to hear his voice.  

"Would you be willing to give her a call?" Mrs. Arbogast asked.

"I guess," Tony murmured. He really didn't want to call her. Hopefully she wouldn't answer. Usually she didn't. He always put it up to time zone changes, but he knew that she just didn't want to answer. He'd gone to great lengths as a kid to stay up late enough to make a call that wasn't too early or too late in Europe. He'd snuck out of his room at military school, prowled the halls and wired the phone so he could make the calls unmonitored. She either ignored his calls, or spoke with him long enough to say she was busy.  

Why would this be any different?  

He took the phone that Ben handed him. He idly considered the upgrades that could be applied to it, but didn't hesitate in dialing the number he'd memorized when he was three. She hadn't changed it in all those years, which was a testament to the Stark name or some shit. When the operator asked about international charges, Tony keyed in his account and waited for the ring,. He recalled that his mother had been touring Europe, so hopefully she'd be traipsing around the UK and getting ready for bed.

"Anthony?"  

Tony was speechless. How was it that his mother finally answered when he least wanted to speak with her?  

"M-mama," Tony stuttered. "Ciao."  

"Ciao, dear," she replied, and he could almost pretend that she sounded worried.

"U-uh....someone needs to talk to you," he blurted out, then shoved the phone at Ben.  

Ben gave him a look that showed how unimpressed he actually was with Tony's cowardice, but took it anyways.  He stepped away to the other side of the kitchen, lowering his voice. Tony caught snippets of "removed from the home" and "abusive situation" Tony wished that they could have kept on pretending that everything was fine.

His mother wouldn’t have to hear that her husband beat the shit out of her son, Tony could pretend that she stayed away because she was busy, and not that she hated him so much that she wanted nothing to do with him. Before he knew it, Ben was thrusting the phone back at him  

"Here," he grunted. "Talk to your mother. Let her know you're okay."  

Taking the phone, Tony suppressed a sigh. He wasn't good at emotions.  

"Hi, Mama," he murmured.  

"Tony. Baby. Is what that man said true? Has your father been hurting you?" She demanded, and Tony felt like there was some kind of cosmic joke being played on him  

"Yes, Mama. It's...not usually this bad," he said lamely.  

"Not...what do you mean?"  

"It's...just. Some doctors were worried, and it would've been okay, but they blew the whistle."  

She was silent for a moment. "Has this happened more than once?"  

"Ah...Mama, don't..."

"Anthony. "  

"Why does it matter now?" Tony asked, suddenly angry. "You've been home when he's done it. You believed him when he said that I fell down the stairs. You didn't question my casts, or my bruises. You're never around to tell anyways, so what does it matter if this is the first or last time?!"  

"Tony-"  

"NO! YOU LEFT ME WITH HIM!" He said, realizing that he’d started yelling. He couldn't keep it in, as much as he'd like to.  

"You left me with him, you left me in military school. You let him hurt me," he seethed, gripping the phone tight.  

"Tony, I didn't know-"

"Bullshit. Bullshit," he repeated. "You just wanted to pretend it never happened. You wanted to run away, and you took Jarvis to do it. You left me alone in that house and you let him hurt me. I know I'm stupid, but even I'm smart enough to know that I don't deserve this!"  

She went silent, and Tony felt a deep seated hatred for his mother. Usually he liked to pretend that she was just busy being a selfless philanthropist, but he couldn't pretend anymore. She knew. He'd seen it in her strained smiles. She could deny it all she liked, but she'd done nothing but run from the Stark family problems all Tony's life.  

"Don't bother with me, mother. I'm not worth it anyways," he growled into the phone before swiping to end the call.  

He handed the phone to Ben, who looked as grim as his name. Mrs. Arbogast wordlessly pulled him into a hug, and Tony went willingly into it. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't. But damn if he didn't want to curl up into a ball and never wake up again.  

"I'll see you tomorrow," Ben murmured. "I'll be picking up picking you up and taking you to school until we can get you on the shuttle schedule."  

"Kay," Tony muttered against the starched fabric of Mrs. Arbogast's dress. And that was that.


Mrs. Arbogast had given Tony an alarm clock to use before he went to bed, so he was up bright and early. He lost a fight with a sleepy, snarling Logan, so he had to wait to get his shower. Thankfully Logan was quick, and Tony was just as efficient. He almost felt bad about using Mrs. Arbogast's hot water, so he kept it military short. He was medicated, dressed, and ready for Ben to pick him up by the time he shuffled into the kitchen. 

The boys didn't have school until later, so they got to sleep a little longer, apparently. Rumlow and Logan were both sitting at the table, glaring at each other while eating leftover pancakes and hard boiled eggs. Mrs. Arbogast was nowhere to be seen, so Tony went about making himself a plate and hesitantly sitting next to Logan. The guy didn't punch him, so he figured he was relatively safe.  

They all ate in relative silence, though Tony knew Rumlow was itching to start a fight. Mrs. Arbogast eventually made an appearance, tittering when she took in the various states of their breakfast plates. Logan was a slow, contemplative eater while Rumlow was easily distracted by his own machinations. See: Tony baiting via ugly sneering.

"Good morning, dears," Mrs. Arbogast greeted finally, stopping behind Tony's chair and resting her hand on his shoulder.  

"Mr Grimm is here for you, Tony. Are you ready to go?"  

"Yes, ma'am," Tony said with a nod.  

Rumlow covered his hand with his mouth and coughed something that sounded suspiciously like "suck up" but Tony ignored it.  

"Brock," Mrs. Arbogast warned. Apparently she was used to his bad attitude.  

"Yeah, Brock," Logan sneered, taking a drink of his orange juice.  

Tony snickered, then followed Mrs. Arbogast out of the kitchen after putting his plate in the sink. He felt spoiled, getting fed regular meals. It was a surreal experience, and he privately hoped that he'd get to repeat it more often.  

He grunted when he swung his backpack onto his shoulders, taking care with his cast and his ribs. The meds were only just starting to kick in, and he almost punched Rumlow in the face when grunted mockingly behind his back.

He would probably trip the fucker down the stairs before all was said and done.  

Ben was waiting in the living room, as stoic as he'd been when he picked Tony up . He was a pretty chill, albeit gruff guy. Tony liked him, despite the circumstances. He'd like him more if his world wasn't crashing down around his ears. Again. At least he hadn't been kidnapped this time.  

"We've got a meeting with your counselors before school starts," Ben explained, fingering his keys.  

"With Mr. Coulson?” Tony asked, tilting his head.  

"Right in one. He's agreed to apprise your teachers of your situation, and you'll be continuing your weekly meetings with him."  

Tony could feel the color drain from his face.  

"The o-others?" He stuttered. His other teachers were going to know about his home situation? They were going to know he was his dad's punching bag?  

"Why would he tell them? Why would they need to know?" Tony asked, knowing that his voice was thready with panic.  

"It's a treatment plan, Tony. We all just want to make sure you're getting the help you need."  

"No, "Tony whined, shaking his head. "No. They shouldn't know."  

"Why not?" Mrs. Arbogast asked, her voice gentle.  

"They're...they don't deserve to have to worry about me. I'm not worth it. They shouldn't worry," he stammered.  

"You're worth it," Ben replied, his voice firm. "I'm not on board with talk like that. After school, I'm going to take you to your therapist appointment. Then I'll bring you back here." 

"So I'm crazy now too?!"  

"No, Tony. Treatment plan, remember? This is all standard procedure."  

"You guys work pretty quickly," Tony remarked bitterly.  

"Sometimes the cards just fall like this. Sometimes I don't get kids in therapy for weeks. This is a good thing, Tony. But the longer we put off leaving, the worse off you'll be. Let's go."  

"Fine," Tony spat, trudging after Ben. He gave Mrs. Arbogast a quick smile over his shoulder, which she returned, before he went through the front door and out to Bens' car.

Fuck everything, he mentally groused as they drove off.

Chapter Text

Friday

There was no way that Tony Stark wasn’t being abused by his father, Phil Coulson mused, nursing a cup of coffee while looking over the teenager’s file and disciplinary records.

The kid had shown up on Friday with a broken wrist while favoring his ribs, rounding off a week of panic attacks and black eyes. Coulson had decided then and there to open up professional inquiry. He knew it had gone on longer than he should have, but Tony was a good liar when he put forth the effort. Discounting the teenager’s stories, evidence heavily suggested that Tony was being abused at home.

Closing the file with a sigh, Coulson decided to refresh his coffee before making the necessary phone calls. The faculty lounge was down the hallway, and as Coulson walked he breathed in the scent of fresh brewed coffee (the good stuff, since Nick refused to buy “cheap ass coffee”).

He found Dr. Banner staring at the coffee maker as if it held the answer to all of life’s problems.

“You won’t find 42 anywhere on that machine,” Phil offered as he stepped up to the counter.

“Hm,” Banner hummed noncommittally.

“You’ve already had your second period class, haven’t you?” Phil asked as the realization gradually dawned that Banner had seen Tony’s injuries.

“Yeah...how did you know?” Banner replied, his smile self-deprecating. Phil could see the pain in that smile, and he knew that this issue would strike close to Banner’s own past.

“I saw him too,” Phil offered. “He was in the parking lot with Loki Odinson and came in right before the bell, and I heard about his doctor’s note from Romanov.”

“Odinson? Really?” Banner asked, his tone disbelieving.

“One and the same,” Phil confirmed. “It also figures Tony would pick a cast in the brightest red they had.”

“It’s not just bullying, is it?” Banner queried, his voice going soft.

“I don’t think so,” Phil replied. “But it’s going to change.”

 


 

“So,” Phil began, taking his seat at the head of the table. It was Monday morning, and most of the students hadn’t arrived yet, let alone the faculty. Phil had called in favors and promised coffee to those he had gathered for the meeting.

Ho Yinsen sat serenely on Phil’s right, hands clasped around his coffee as he waited for the meeting to begin. Dr. Banner was on his left, and seated next to him was Coach Romanov. On Yinsen’s right sat Maria Hill, who looked miffed that she had been included.

“I got a call over the weekend from CPS.”

That got their attention, and each of the teachers straightened in their chairs. Yinsen took a contemplative sip of coffee, and Phil would bet good money that the man knew why they were gathered. Dr. Banner looked hunted, and Phil knew that this wasn’t going to be easy for him to hear; it was no secret that he had been removed from his household as a boy because of domestic abuse.

“Stark,” said Romanov, never one to beat around the bush.

Hill jerked a little, her head whipping around so fast it was a wonder she didn’t get whiplash when she stared at Romanov. “Stark? What kind of abuse do they think is going on? He just gets bullied for being a punk.”

Just gets bullied, Maria?” Yinsen’s quiet reprimand had the history teacher sitting back in her seat, her jaw clenched. “Bullying isn’t something we should allow to happen in this school. In or out of the classroom,” he continued, leveling a glare at Hill. It was well known that she hated Tony Stark and that Tony hated her.

“A complaint has been filed against Howard Stark for child abuse. Tony was in the ER on Thursday night sporting a broken wrist and bruised ribs, on top of the healing bruises, cuts, and a shallow gash on his temple that was confirmed to have happened here.”

Phil took a sip of coffee, letting the scalding burn ground him. “Friday afternoon I had resolved to report Howard Stark to the SCR, but apparently someone has beaten me to it.”

From the others’ expressions, he knew none of them had blown the whistle. He suspected that Sarah Rogers had something to do with it, but he wouldn’t bring that up.

“Has this been going on all along?” Dr. Banner asked, his voice low and hoarse.

“Tony is a good liar,” Phil stated. “He’s been playing the bullied angle since the beginning. I had my suspicions, but just this past week he looks like someone took him out back and thrashed him. Bruising, cuts, panic attacks, broken bones. He can’t talk his way out of this anymore.”

“What’s the next step?” Romanov asked, and Phil was grateful that she was willing to take part in helping Tony.

“He’s been removed from his home and was placed in foster care on Saturday evening. Within 60 days CPS will come to a decision whether the report was unfounded or not. During that time they’ll be asking for records, and I’m sure they’ll be asking questions.”

“I don’t know if sending Anthony off with strangers is a good idea,” Dr. Banner murmured.

“We don’t have any say in the matter,” Phil replied.

“If I may, Phil.”

Phil looked over at Yinsen, who had leaned forward and bracketed his coffee cup with his arms, the picture of seriousness. “Yes?”

“I would be willing to foster Tony,” he explained, reminding Phil that this wasn’t the first time Yinsen had stepped up for a student.

“Isn’t that a conflict of interest?” Hill challenged, obviously still miffed about the earlier reprimand.

“I’m not his teacher,” Yinsen replied with a shrug.

“What about all that shop work he does?”

“Idle hands make the devil’s work, Maria. If I didn’t keep him occupied, he’d be caught rewiring the PA system to play AC/DC. I don’t mind, as he’s actually quite good with his hands.”

“I think there’s more to Stark than what’s on the surface,” Romanov offered. “I’m positive he plays stupid in gym on purpose. The other day, he completely wiped the floor with the entire class. He’s never bothered to participate before, so why now?”

“He’s smart,” Banner chimed in, his tone contemplative. “He’s been lying in my class as well. The question is, why is he lying to us?”

“I think you just have two isolated incidents. Stark is nothing but an absolute failure when it comes to government and politics.” Hill stated, crossing her arms over her chest. Phil took a deep breath, preparing his rebuff when Yinsen spoke.

“How could you tell when you’re too busy shaming him in front of his classmates, Maria?”

Phil liked Hill, he really did, but that didn’t change the fact that he had received multiple complaints from students that she had been terrorizing Tony any chance she got.

Huffing out a breath, Hill didn’t say anything; everyone knew it was true.

“I’ll give you the number to his case worker, Ho,” Phil said. He couldn’t think of anyone else better suited for Tony’s care. If Yinsen could get Tony and keep him safe from his father, they could keep the teenager out of harm’s way, possibly even from himself and the secrets he was harboring.

“I’m licensed, so it shouldn’t be a problem,” Yinsen replied, leaning back in his chair.

“Good. In regards to school, I want you all to keep an eye out for bullying, in and out of the classrooms. Who knows how many cases like Tony’s there are in this school, but for now we’re going to focus on what we can do, such as making sure that Tony knows there are resources available to him.”

“He’s going to be wild,” Yinsen stated. “He’s going to lie and deny that he was ever abused, as he hates seeming weak. It’s not a trait that is highly valued in the Stark household.”

“Stark men are made of iron, right?” Banner asked, tilting his head.

“Indeed,” Yinsen replied. The two men nodded each other, and Phil realized that it must have been a mantra that Tony had repeated in front of his teachers. It sounded like something Howard Stark might have drilled into the teenager to keep his head up and to ignore pain.

“He will lash out,” Yinsen continued, “he’ll be hurting, in shock, and won’t police his sarcasm or mind his manners. We can’t hold that against him.”

“He’ll be benched in my class, so I can keep him out of the locker rooms and away from the rest of his classmates. They might yell at each other, but I think they’ve got sense enough to leave him alone, especially with the cast. Rogers should know better, but you never know,” Romanov explained.

“Rogers? Really?” Phil asked, surprised to find out that someone like Steve Rogers had ever gotten on badly with another student.

“He’s not a good poster boy for intervention, Coulson. Rogers is pretty culpable in Stark’s bullying, even though he doesn’t actively do it himself. He said he was against in in his campaigning, though when he sees it he doesn’t stop it.”

Phil hummed, tapping his fingers on the table. He might have to have a talk with Steve. He’d expected better of him.

“What do you expect me to do?” Hill asked suddenly, crossing her arms.

“Don’t pick on him, for one,” Yinsen replied, leveling the younger woman with a stern glare. “If he volunteers, then let him. But don’t go out of your way to test him for a knowledge you already know he doesn’t possess.”

Hill’s nose wrinkled, but after a moment of thought she nodded.

“Fine. I suppose it doesn’t have to be my imperative to grill him, even if he is my worst student.”

“Shouldn’t your imperative to help him, not shame him?” Banner asked, his brow furrowed. “He’s behind in chemistry, but that doesn’t mean I terrorize him, especially not in front of his classmates,” he continued.

It appeared that even Banner had heard the rumors of Hill’s grudge against Tony.

“It’s different for you,” Hill replied, leaning forward. “Stark is lying about being good in chemistry, and it’s great that he can throw a few balls around.” She paused, and Romanov made a noise of affront. “But the kid is honestly crap at government. He doesn’t even try. Day in and day out, he comes to class and writes in that duct taped binder of his, doesn’t pay attention, and then gets upset when I call him out on it.”

Looking around the table, Phil noted Banner’s pensive expression.

“Not that different. He does the same exact thing in my class. Like I said, I don’t point it out to his classmates. There’s no use in shaming him for his lack of knowledge. We’re here to nurture and teach, even if our students are as difficult as Anthony.”

Maria sat back in her chair, obviously ruminating on Banner’s words. She finally nodded her defeat, sighing heavily.

“Fine. I’ll keep an eye on him. Happy?” She asked, looking pointedly at Phil.

“Thrilled,” Phil deadpanned. If even Maria was on board, maybe Tony had a chance after all.

“Please keep us apprised on the updates to the case, and what we can do for Tony,” Yinsen requested. The others nodded, and Phil had the strange urge to shout, “BREAK!” to end their pseudo huddle. But they were all adults, and that’s not what adults did.

“His caseworker will be bringing him to school today to meet with me before class. I’ll email you all with any relevant information. Thank you all for coming in so early, and I appreciate your willingness to help Tony.”

“No one deserves to be treated like that,” Banner remarked, his eyes on the table. “We’ll do what we can.”

The other faculty members made noises of assent, and the group as a whole got to their feet, those with coffee pausing to take a sip from their mugs. They all filed out of the conference room, each saying a short greeting to Principal Fury as they walked by his office. Phil watched them all exit the main office from where he’d stopped in front of Fury’s door, taking another sip of his now lukewarm coffee.

“You’ll get that boy straightened out, Phil,” Fury called from behind his desk.

“I’m not sure it’s Tony who needs to be fixed,” Phil replied, then sighed and turned to go to his own office to wait for Tony and his social worker.





 

Chapter Text

Mr. Coulson was 100% no nonsense when Tony finally sat down in his office. Ben had already given him the low down, and Tony figured he wouldn't be lying his way out of anything for awhile. He was comforted by the thought of not having to lie, but he still hated that Coulson knew in the first place.

"Listen...." Tony began, but Mr. Coulson was quick to shake his head.

"I'm not going to chastise you for lying, Tony. I'm not going to accuse you of anything. I'm just going to ask for your honesty from here on out, because my job is to make sure that you're safe, inside and outside of school."

Tony ducked his head, taking a long breath in through his nose. "Yeah...okay."

"So, that being said," Mr. Coulson murmured, leaning forward, his arms bracketing his blotter. "How are you?"

"Honestly?" Tony muttered, tilting his head. "I've been a helluva lot better."

"That's to be expected," Mr. Coulson replied. Was that a pained smile on his counselor's face? He had other facial expressions besides disdain for Tony's antics?

"How was your foster home?" Coulson asked, cutting straight to the chase.

Tony ran his hand through his hair, letting his gaze slide to the framed diploma on the wall. Coulson had a master's degree, which was pretty impressive; it would have been weird thinking of him as "Dr. Coulson".

"It was okay," Tony hedged. It hadn't been bad at all, except for the inconvenience of being removed from his home in the first place.

"Are there any other boys there?"

Tony wondered why he was bothering with the questions. It's not like Tony's happiness kept him from doing his job.

"Uh...they’re nice, I guess. None of them go here. One of them is kind of a dick," he said with a growl, crossing his arms over his chest. There was a slight tug, but the painkillers had done their job and the ache was almost unnoticeable.

"Language," Mr. Coulson chided, raising an eyebrow.

"You've heard way worse come out of my mouth, Coulson," Tony pointed out.

"True, but I don't need Principal Fury walking by and hearing you say those kinds of things."

"Fury can suck it," Tony grumped.

"Do you think you'll be able to concentrate on your homework at the house you've been placed in?"

Tony thought about it. He hadn't necessarily considered things like homework. It wasn't like homework really posed any kind of challenge, but it would be inconvenient. Somehow, he didn't think that Mrs. Arbogast had any compunctions about making her boys do their homework.

"I don't think that will be a problem. Mrs. A is pretty intense."

"How intense?" Coulson asked, leaning back his chair and clasping his hands in front of him on his desk calendar.

"Uh...not like, mean intense. She just runs a tight ship. I could see why she would have to, considering how much of a dick one of the teenagers is. And there are some kids, like, not little but they're small enough that they make me nervous. Don't kids need structure or something?"

Tony knew that his childhood had been fucking full to the brim of structure, but how other kids functioned outside of military school, he didn't know.

"Children need structure in their lives to help them feel safe ," Coulson stated matter of factly.

"Isn't that nice?" Tony snarked, not in the mood to be charitable. He had every intention of going to Yinsen's classroom after he left Coulson's office, and he just wanted the counselor to leave him to his miserable existence.

"We're not here to fight, Tony," Coulson murmured, and was that an actual frown on his face?

"What are we here to do, then?" Tony challenged. He was starting to get pissed off, even if Mr. Coulson hadn't actually done anything to him.

"I spoke with Mr. Grimm, and he wants us to continue to meet twice a week. I want you to come to me if you have any kind of issues at all. Bullying, if you're upset about home, anything. Okay?"

Tony already knew that he wouldn't come to Mr. Coulson unless things were dire. Except for the bullying. Hammer could go fuck himself as far as Tony was concerned, and if Mr. Coulson could help in that endeavor, all the power to him.

"Yeah, yeah."

"Tony. We need to be serious about this" Mr. Coulson stressed, his gaze imploring.

Tony shifted uncomfortably in his already uncomfortable chair, no sure if he really wanted to be serious about anything. That would make it too real.

"Okay, okay," he relented. "I’ll come crying to you if I fall down on the playground," Tony snarked.

Mr. Coulson sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between his index finger and his thumb.

"I want to help you, Tony. Why won't you let me?"

"Maybe I don't need help," Tony snapped. "I was doing perfectly fine until someone blew the fucking whistle," he hissed. And that was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? Someone else blew the whistle. Someone else took that choice away from him. He probably would have continued suffering in silence, but he wanted it to be his choice.

"To be perfectly honest, I'm surprised no one has reported this before now," Mr. Coulson stated. "I was prepared to, when I got a report of what had happened over the weekend. 

Tony bared his teeth, not willing to accept that this was going to happen no matter what he had said.

"Can I go to class now?"

"I want you to go to all of your classes," Mr. Coulson reminded him as he got to his feet.

"Yeah, no. I've got no incentive to stay out of trouble," Tony replied, glaring at his counselor.

"Tony-"

"No. If you need me first period, I'll be in Mr. Yinsen's. I am not going anywhere near gym."

Mr. Coulson sighed, and Tony could see the exact moment he caved.

"Just for today," he agreed, penning something on his notepad. "But I expect perfect attendance after that."

"Hah," Tony barked, but gave Coulson a nod. He didn't have to be a complete dick, after all. "We'll see.”

"Behave, Tony!" Mr. Coulson called out in parting, and Tony didn't look back. He walked through the office, contemplating flipping Fury the bird as he passed the office. Decision made, Fury's angry sputtering was music to his ears as she shuffled out of the main office.

It was still early enough that the buses were still arriving, and he would be able to spend a good chunk of flex period in Mr. Yinsen's office. He was careful to bypass the cafeteria entirely, and managed to avoid the other administrators entirely on his journey to Mr. Yinsen’s classroom.

There was no one there, and Tony ventured further to the doorway of Mr. Yinsen's office, knocking on the open door with a trace of hesitance. Mr. Yinsen probably knew about him being in foster care. He would know that Tony had been lying to him all year. Hopefully he wouldn't hold it against him. Hopefully.

"Come in," Mr. Yinsen said from his desk, where he was drinking a cup of what Tony guessed to be coffee, a bagel half eaten on a small plate next to his hand.

"Anthony," he murmured when he looked up, a slow smile spreading across his face. Tony could feel the tears gathering in his eyes, and it was all he could do not to run over and hug the man.

"Hi, Mr. Yinsen," Tony murmured, ducking his head.

Mr. Yinsen pushed away from his desk, brushing the crumbs from his shirt before walking around it to stand in front of Tony.

"I'm happy to see you ," the man stated before he pulled Tony into a hug.

Tony stood stock still in shock, before his brain clicked online and he was hugging him back. Mr. Yinsen had always represented safety, and Tony didn't want to be anywhere else. Mr. Yinsen knew who Tony was. He knew everything, and that's all that mattered.

"We'll weather this storm together, Anthony," Mr. Yinsen soothed, rubbing Tony's back.

"Y-yeah," Tony muttered against Mr. Yinsen's shirt, inhaling sharply through his nose.

It took everything he had to pull away and not start sobbing.

"I'm...I'm sorry for lying," Tony said, dropping his gaze to stare at his shoes, which had become 100% more interesting.

"I don't want you apologizing for anything," Mr. Yinsen said, his voice firm. He lifted Tony's chin with his index finger, forcing Tony to meet his gaze.

"You have nothing to be ashamed of. I will never hold this against you, understand? I only want you happy and healthy, Anthony. Never doubt that."

Tony rubbed the back of his neck, letting out a shaky breath.

"Y-yeah. Okay..."

"Good," Mr. Yinsen replied with a smile. "Now, I believe you have some neglected projects to attend to. Dummy has been distressed in your absence."

Tony lit up at that; Dummy was a rudimentary learning AI in the body of a Roomba, and to hear that he'd been acting outside of parameters was thrilling. It only boded well for his future projects.

"Yeah? Awesome," he said with a grin . "Mr. Coulson said I can stay during first period, if that's alright with you."

"I have no qualms with your presence. As long as you are excused, I have no reason to send you off to gym," he said with a wink. With that, Mr. Yinsen went back to his desk, where he resumed marking papers with a red pen and contemplatively chewing on his bagel.

Tony retreated to his corner, and sure enough Dummy rolled off his charging station and came to greet him, his arm bobbing up and down while his servos whirred, a jaunty "beep!" issuing from the basic speakers Tony had installed.

Grinning, Tony petted Dummy's claw, then found his tablet from the cabinet and got to work. This was what he was good at, Tony reflected as he lost himself in code. He was good at inventing, . The act of creation was his salvation, or some shit. He was more than a weapons designer's son. Once he was old enough, he was going to change the world.

 


 

The bell for flex time rang, and Tony heard the chatter of Mr. Yinsen’s' first period class in the background. Paying them no mind, he settled in his corner and let his fingers fly over the tablet interface, code streaming from his fingertips as fast as the tablet could process it (and as fast as he could go with one good hand.)

Strings of code flowed across the screen, and Tony didn't emerge from his fugue until he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was a supreme act of control not to jerk away; it was only by virtue of being in Mr. Yinsen's office that Tony didn't start biting and kicking. Mr. Yinsen gave him one of his soft smiles, and Tony 's insides settled into something resembling calm.

"It's time for second period, Anthony. I wouldn't want to deprive Dr. Banner of your bright presence," his teacher said with a wry smile.

Tony grinned at that, then powered off his tablet and tucked it away in a nearby cabinet. Mr. Yinsen offered him a hand up, and Tony set aside his pride long enough to let the man haul him to his feet, his deceptive strength hidden by an otherwise wiry frame.

"Christ," Tony muttered, rubbing his chest. The bruises were still an ugly purple, and he dreaded looking in the mirror again that night before bed. Howard's footprints were still imprinted on his chest and ribs, and it left a sour taste in his mouth every time his ribs tugged. He could only look forward to his dose of painkillers at lunch time.

"Are you alright?" Mr. Yinsen. asked, which was kind of a stupid question, but Tony didn't hold it against him.

"Yeah, yeah. I'll be fine. Stark men are made of iron and all that," Tony muttered offhandedly, catching Mr. Yinsens's expression of distaste out of the corner of his eye. It wasn't often that Mr. Yinsen showed any emotions other than his usual, affable self, so seeing it was a little jarring.

"Off you get," Mr. Yinsen said after a moment, visibly collecting himself.

Tony chalked it up to a stressful morning, especially if Mr. Yinsen knew what was actually going on with him. He allowed the teacher to usher him out of his office, completely ignoring Hammer and his entourage of idiots. Shuffling off at a good pace, Tony couldn't be bothered to rush on Dr. Banner's behalf. He'd already disappointed the man enough; rushing around and hurting himself to make it on time was just stupid.

Detouring at his locker, Tony absentmindedly tucked his chemistry textbook notebook into his bookbag, taking his time in navigating the stairs after he slammed his locker. The bell hadn't rung by the time Tony made his way into Dr. Banner's classroom. Most of the class was there, and Dr. Banner looked up from writing on the board when Tony walked in. He could tell that Dr. Banner just fucking knew by the expression on his face. Like someone had either kicked a puppy or dissed the Periodic Table. It was Disappointed Scientist, but for once he wasn't disappointed in Tony. Or maybe he was. Who the fuck knew.

Tony stopped at Pepper's table, giving her his best "I'm fine" grin. Shaking her head, Pepper got to her feet and wrapped him in a careful hug. While Dr. Banner would normally start bitching about PDA, he obviously felt sorry enough for Tony to hug Pepper and breathe in the scent of her strawberry shampoo (which was ironic for some reason) in relative peace.

"How are you?" She asked when she finally stepped away.

"I'm perfectly peachy," Tony replied.

"BS," Pepper retorted, crossing her arms.

Tony's reply was cut off by the bell ringing, and he gave her a "what can you do?" shrug before walking over to his empty table. He wished that Dr. Banner wasn't so strict on seating; he was positive that Pepper would have sat with him to take him out of his misery. It had just worked out that Tony was the odd man out in the class, and had been relegated to his corner, which was unofficially his in any classroom anyways. Dr. Banner started class, and it was something on the Periodic Table or quarks or whatever. Tony would be covering it in remedial, and he couldn't bring himself to care. Maybe Dr. Banner's misguided pity would get him off the hook for not "giving it his all".

He did take a few notes, mostly in the form of what he needed to research when it came to Dr. Banner's work . The man was a fucking nuclear physicist cum chemistry / physics teacher. He had some amazing papers on electron collisions, and Tony would undoubtedly need some reading material to whittle away his days at Whippoorwill.

Tony was wondering if he could find Dr. Banner's thesis online when he realized that the bell had rung, and that the rest of the class was in the process of leaving the room.

"Anthony, a word?" Dr. Banner called out, which was so fucking predictable. He was like a Boy Scout. With rage issues.

Sighing, Tony gathered his bookbag and stuffed his crap inside before going to stand at attention in front of Dr. Banner's desk. He itched to slip into parade rest, but a part of his mind started screaming at the thought, and it made unease unfurl low in his stomach. Dr. Banner wasn't Howard. Their disappointment had the same flavor sometimes, but Dr. Banner wouldn't hurt him. He wouldn't.

"Anthony?" Dr. Banner's voice broke through his panic, and he shook his head to bring himself back to the present.

"Uh...yeah? Sorry, Dr. B."

"Are you alright? You're white as a sheet," Dr. Banner said, moving from behind his desk to stand in front of Tony.

"What? No, I'm fine. I guess. Good as can be," he said with a half hearted shrug.

Dr. Banner took a deep breath, choosing that moment to take off his glasses and clean them on his suit jacket. With his glasses back on, the look he pinned Tony with reminded him of the laser focus that Mr. Coulson used.

"If you need anything, anything at all, I want you to know you can come talk to me. We spend a lot of time together as is, and I want you to feel safe when you're with me."

"Yeah. Okay."

"Anthony...I know this is a trying time for you....but your teachers are here for you."

"Yeah, sure," Tony muttered, looking away. He didn't want to hear it. His teachers weren't supposed to know in the first place. It was his burden. Not theirs.

Dr. Banner's nwxt sigh was an exasperated one, and Tony figured he'd burned that bridge. At least he'd have the man's thesis to comfort him. He'd probably never measure up to Dr. Banner’s standards anyways, even if he did know the truth.

"Thanks, Dr. B," Tony offered, shrugging again. "But I've gotta go, or else Ms. Hill will have a coronary."

"Ah. Yes, go on. If she gives you any trouble, tell her to give me a call."

Raising an eyebrow, Tony nodded slowly, then backed out of the classroom. "Suuuure. Thanks again. See you fourth period."


Third period had been an exercise in absolute fucking weird Twilight Zone shit. While Ms. Hill had grilled him for being late, she'd actually left him alone during the entire class. Tony had to wonder if she knew about him as well, but he decided to try and forget about it. Pepper and Rhodey sent him looks of flabbergasted shock during the entire class, and Tony could only offer a shrug. He did, however, turn in the homework that Ms. Hill assigned, and the look she'd given him was kind of interesting. Like she'd swallowed a lemon but was still kind of concerned about something. It was really fucking weird.

"So, how was your guys' weekend?" Tony asked once they were free of Hill's clutches.

Rhodey and Pepper burst into excited chatter, and Tony found it kind of disgusting the way they finished each other's sentences and glowed with some kind of couples' aura. He was happy for his friends, even when they made him want to gag.

"I got season ten of SVU on DVD," Rhodey said as they stepped off the stairs, shooting Tony a grin over his shoulder.

"Sweet," Tony replied, absently wondering if Mrs. Arbogast would let him go over to Rhodey's, or if Rhodey would be able to come over to Whippoorwill.

The very idea of wrestling Bucky and Sam over the DVD player was depressing, and it served to remind Tony of how shitty everything would be when he left school that afternoon. Mrs. Arbogast was nice, but he would have preferred to be at his house, living in denial. Darcy was already waiting at their table, and she took one look at Tony before getting up and dragging him out of the cafeteria and to their favorite spot underneath a staircase just down the hall. It was a blind spot that almost everyone knew about, but no one used.

"Spill," she ordered once they were there, and Tony shook his head.

"There's nothing to say."

"Oh yes there is. Something happened, and I want to know what. Besides the obvious," she growled, waving a hand at him.

"You just gestured to all of me," he griped.

"Damn right I did."

"I don't wanna talk about it," Tony mumbled, dropping his gaze to the floor.

"Wanna hug it out?" Darcy offered, and Tony knew it was his best chance to keep her nose out of his business.

She pulled him into a tight hug, which was uncomfortable for many reasons, mostly because of his ribs; he would suffer his face squashed into her boobs and take it like a martyr. Darcy's hugs were some of the best, because she was warm and squishy in all the right ways, and she didn't hesitate to rub his back or ruffle his hair and tell him that she loved him and that they were bros. She never promised it would be alright, and that's why he loved her.

As he settled into her arms, it was like a dam broke, and suddenly he was sobbing, ugly hiccuping sobs that wracked his body and made his ribs ache and he couldn't fucking stop. He was scared and he felt alone, despite the fact that he had great friends. He had to go back to Whippoorwill, he had to live with the fact that he'd been abused. He had to continue lying to everyone he cared about, because he wasn't yet safe from Howard. Darcy murmured something in his ear, and he felt comforted by it even if he didn't understand. He practically shook apart in her arms, and she held him and let him cry himself out on her shoulder. Her t-shirt was wet with his tears, but she just grinned at him when he finally pulled away, sniffling like an idiot.

"Feel better?"

"Kinda," he admitted, shrugging half heartedly. He did feel better.

"You tell me who's bothering you and I'll fuck em up for you," she insisted, making a show of flexing her arms.

"In that case, fuck Hammer up for me, will you?"

"Uh...pick someone with less money," she said, her grin apologetic.

Rolling his eyes, Tony linked his arm with hers and dragged her back out into the hallway and to the cafeteria. He hoped that his eyes weren't all red and puffy, but he'd be damned if he let Darcy anywhere near his face with makeup. Hopefully the bruising would help a bit.

When they got back to the others, Rhodey and Pepper were cozied up on one side of the table, pressed into each other and sharing carrots from Pepper's lunchbox. Tony honestly couldn't tell where one ended and the other began, besides the obvious differences, and it did something weird to his heart when he considered how happy his friends were.

Loki was sitting across from them, two lunch trays already situated at the table. Tony had totally forgotten to ask Mrs. Arbogast about lunch, and he was insanely grateful his boyfriend had a mothering streak. Sliding onto the bench, Tony allowed himself to be shoved up against Loki and sandwiched by Darcy, who had left her plate behind to comfort Tony in his angst. Loki raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything as he started on his salad.

Tony saw that he'd been blessed with a chicken patty and a fruit cup, with chocolate milk. All things that he could eat with one hand, and for that he was grateful. He pressed his knee against Loki's, and was relieved when his boyfriend replied with equal pressure.

"You didn't respond to most of my texts," Loki murmured, his voice pitched low so the others couldn't hear him.

"I...was kinda busy, I guess," Tony muttered, eyes sliding away from Loki's to examine his chicken patty.

"Not that I want to sound clingy...but secrets this early on aren't healthy ," Loki pointed out, and Tony knew he was right.

"Just...not here? I'll tell you after school, I promise. Or you can walk me to chem and I'll tell you then. Just...not in front of the others."

Loki stared at him, his expression inscrutable and his green eyes reflecting the fluorescent lighting of the cafeteria. Tony thought that Loki was unfairly hot, and he really hoped that Mrs. Arbogast would let him come over. He needed to be with Loki. It was his biological imperative as a horny teenager. Even if they weren't going to fool around, Tony wasn't going to squander opportunities to hang out with his actual boyfriend.

"Fair enough," Loki conceded after another drawn out moment of silence.

Tony kind of wanted to talk about Bucky and Sam, and how much of a dick Rumlow was. He wanted to talk about the quiet hours he'd spent with Logan in the library, and how he kind of liked the guy. He wanted to talk about Pokémon, and how stupid it was. He wanted to bitch about how he discovered it too late in life, and that he'd have to code a decent emulator to catch up on all the games. But he couldn't, because he was obsessed with keeping secrets and not appearing weak in front of his friends.

So fucking stupid Tony mentally chastised, hating himself. Useless. He was a disappointment. His friends were probably embarrassed by him, too.

"Anthony. Tony," Tony heard, and he was drawn out of his stupor by the firm squeeze of a hand on his shoulder. He checked back in to find Loki staring at him, his gazen intent.

"Are you well?"

"Y-yeah," Tony stuttered, raking a hand through his hair. He didn't usually drop that quickly, and he was more shaken than he'd ever admit out loud.

"You back with us?" Darcy asked, leaning against his shoulder. Tony felt boxed in by his friends, but not in a bad way. Their warmth against him was comforting, and he was happy they were willing to be there for him, despite his obvious shortcomings.

Rhodey and Pepper were shooting him disgustingly understanding looks, and it made him want to squirm. Loki nudged his tray towards him, an eyebrow raised that practically shamed him into picking up his chicken patty and taking a bite out of it. The rest of lunch passed quickly, with Tony sandwiched between his favorite people. The five of them spoke quietly, and Tony was grateful that he didn't get smacked upside the head with asphalt or trash talked by Hammer and his cronies.

When the bell rang, they all got up and tossed their trays (except Pepper), then grouped together off to the side as the other students streamed out of the cafeteria.

"Wanna come over and watch SVU later, Tones?" Rhodey asked, slipping an arm around Pepper's waist.

Tony made face, then shook his head.

"Nah. Sorry, Sour Patch. Don't think I'll be out of the house for a bit."

Rhodey's expression was a pained sort of resignation, and Tony wished he didn't have to lie.

"Soon, though," Tony promised, and he would make sure to ask Mrs. Arbogast about his rights or visiting privileges or whatever.

Darcy pulled him into a tight hug, and he dropped his head onto her shoulder for a moment, breathing in deeply. She rubbed his back, and he breathed in the scent of her floral perfume before pulling away.

"Text me if you need anything, okay? I'll bust you out if you need me too," She said, and Tony knew it was more of a threat than an offhand comment.

"Duly noted," Tony said with a grin, then stepped away and into Loki's embrace.

 

He blushed when Loki pulled him into a hug from behind, pressing a kiss to a spot behind Tony's ear that he hadn't known was a hot spot for him. He shivered, and the others gave him knowing looks as they walked to their classes.

"I would rather not let you go to chemistry," Loki murmured into his ear, .

"I'd rather not go," Tony admitted, letting his hand slip into Loki's as they began to walk.

"Are you going to tell me what's troubling you?" Loki asked as they stopped a little ways down from Dr. Banner's classroom. The hallway was deserted, and it was a comfort as Tony decided how to tell his boyfriend that he'd been put into foster care.

"On...on Saturday, a social worker came to my house while Howard was at the company." Tony picked a line of stitching on Loki's grey v-neck to focus on, not able to meet his boyfriend's eyes. "They're investigating him for child abuse. Someone at the hospital reported it, and they put me in a foster home."

He fell silent , taking deep breaths. Panic licked at the edges of his mind, because he still hadn't entirely grasped the situation. Memories filled his mind, completely unbidden. Be good, Vanko's voice echoed. How could he be good? How was he supposed to do that?

Loki's cool hands cupped his cheeks, slowly drawing Tony out of his mindscape.

"Anthony," Loki murmured, pressing a kiss to Tony's forehead.

Fuck. Why couldn't he keep it together? He was practically handing reasons to break up on a silver platter.

"Are they treating you well?" Loki murmured, tilting his head.

"Y-yeah. The caretaker is really nice...gives me hugs. Not used to that," he said, making an abortive attempt at his usual cocky grin.

Loki's expression flitted between amusement and pain, and Tony could do nothing to get the expression off his face.

 

"There's...a 60 day investigation period. I'll be at the foster home until they come to a decision, and even then I might stay if they find Howard at fault. Which he is," Tony said, forcing himself to believe it. Howard had done horrible things to him.

"You didn't do anything wrong," Loki said, his voice firm.

How did he know?

"His lawyers are going to get me back, Loki," Tony whispered, his heart pounding in his chest. Nothing stopped Howard stark from getting what he wanted.

"They will not. I will do anything in my power to keep you from him," Loki promised, and there was a fervor in his voice that Tony hadn't heard before.

"You can't...Loki, there's nothing you can do."

"My father is a judge," Loki said, his voice confident. "I will bring it up with him."

"Loki...you don't..."

"No. That man cannot be allowed to have custody of a child that he abuses. I won't allow it."

Tony huffed out a laugh. Leave it to Loki to believe that he could change Tony's lot in life just by saying so. Smug fucker.

"Yeah, well. I can only hope that it doesn't happen. I..." He glanced at his shoes, then back up at Loki. "I wouldn't mind staying there, I don't think...one of the guys is a dick, but the others are nice," Tony murmured, feeling his cheeks heat. The blush crept down his neck and to the tips of his ears, and then Loki was making a wrecked sound and dragging him into a tight hug.

"I would know all of you, Tony Stark," Loki whispered into his ear.

"This is just a phase for you, Loki," Tony insisted.

Loki pulled away, green eyes glinting dangerously. Tony swallowed hard, afraid for a lot of reasons.

"Don't presume to know my mind. I didn't ask you out on a lark. I asked you out because I have spent months intrigued by you, and I want to know every facet of your being."

 

Something in Tony's chest went cold at Loki's words, while somewhere in his stomach warmth was uncurling . Loki couldn’t know about Tony, not in the ways he wanted to. It was almost unfortunate that Dr. Banner coughed behind Loki, his gaze reproving when Tony caught his eye.

"PDA is technically not allowed in the hallways, Mr. Odinson," Dr. Banner said with more than a hint of reprimand in his voice.

Loki made a face, sighing softly before leveling Tony with a look that meant their conversation wasn't over.

"Text me back at least, alright?" Loki asked, leaning forward to press a kiss to Tony's forehead.

Blushing again, Tony ducked his head, nodding.

"Yeah, I will. Promise. I'll even take pictures? They have a VHS player," Tony said in a mock whip whisper, and Dr. Banner's confused Scientist expression was a pretty good reward for keeping him waiting.

"Bye, Loki," Tony said, slipping out from behind his boyfriend to tail after Dr. Banner. Loki's expression was contemplative when Tony looked back, but he couldn't devote too much time or thought to it. They could talk later.

The snap of Dr. Banner's door into its frame jolted Tony out of his thoughts, and he automatically went to go to his corner when Dr. Banner called him back.

"Anthony, why don't you sit near my desk?" He suggested, and Tony knew it was most definitely an order.

Huffing out a breath, Tony sat down , pulling out his notebook and a pencil, along with his chemistry book.

"I'm not fragile, Dr. Banner. I know you're just looking out for me, but I'll be okay," Tony said frankly, relishing the look of surprise on Dr. Banner's features.

“I know that, Anthony. I probably know that better than anyone, save for Mr. Yinsen."

Tony shifted in his seat, uncomfortable at the mention of his teachers talking about him behind his back, even more so than they already were.

 

"All of your teachers are behind you, Tony. All of us want to see you happy and healthy, and we'll do whatever we need to in order to make sure that happens. "

"Maybe there's nothing you could do to keep me ‘happy and healthy’," Tony spat, utilizing air quotes with a sneer.

Dr. Banner only smiled sadly, tapping a pen on the surface of his desk.

"I understand where you're coming from, Anthony. Believe me."

"How could you understand?" Tony growled, turning in his chair to face his teacher. There was a chance that Dr. B actually knew what it was like to have a shit parent, but he had no fucking clue what Tony had been through. What he had to do every day to keep his secret, to keep people safe. Dr. Banner took an inordinate amount of time to take his glasses off and clean them, and Tony could see a tic in his jaw. It figured that he was always good for pissing Dr. B off, no matter what he said.

"When I was a boy, my father and mother fought constantly. He abused my mother and he abused me. I know what' it's like to have a parent who doesn't care about your welfare, Anthony. I know what it's like to carry your bruises in silence, and to lie about how you got them. I know what it's like to be forced to leave your home, which is terrifying no matter how much danger you might have been in there. My mother didn't make it out of our house alive, and I didn't make it out without my fair share of scars. I understand, Anthony, and I am here if you need me."

Tony sat in shocked silence. He'd known there was some kind of source to Dr. B's rage, but he would have never guessed... Shaking himself, Tony tried to brush the comment off, but he couldn't. He'd been attached to Dr. B because of his crazy brain, and the pipe dream that someday he could prove how smart he was. He’d had no idea that they were so alike, and that Dr. B actually had an idea of what Tony was going through. Taking a deep breath, Tony forced himself to move past the mental roadblocks Dr. B’s confession brought about, then turned in his chair to face the front of the room once more.

“I’m sorry that happened,” Tony murmured, not able to bring himself to look at his teacher. “But your dad isn't Howard Stark," Tony began, staring at the white board. "I tried getting help when I was a kid. I tried telling the people in charge. He just paid off the hospital and the school and kept hurting me."

His voice cracked, and Tony was humiliated. How many times was Dr. Banner going to see him at his lowest?

"You don't say no to Howard Stark," Tony spat. "You may understand abuse, but you don't understand him. He's going to get me back, and he's going to kill me," he ended on a harsh whisper, turning his head to glare at the older man.

Dr. B was leaning across his desk, obviously having strained to hear Tony's last words. If the look on his face was any indication, he had.

"I will not let him hurt you," Dr. Banner hissed, his knuckles white where he was clenching the sides of his desk. Tony shifted uncomfortably, not sure if he wanted all of his teacher's attention on him. "You are safe, Anthony. You're going to be safe," he said, and Tony almost believed him.

 

Chapter Text

 

Tony sat across from Doctor Leonard Samson, the psychologist who had been assigned to him by Social Services. He had black hair, a kind smile, and an awkward sweatervest and button up combo that did nothing to dispel Tony's anxiety . It looked like it would be entirely too easy to trust this man, and Tony had secrets that he couldn't trust with anyone.

"So," Doctor Samson began, shifting in his seat and crossing his ankle over his knee before leaning back in a relaxed posture. Tony knew that it was meant to be non threatening, and he appreciated it despite the fact that nothing would put him at ease. He'd been taken from his home, poked and prodded, forced to strip for pictures, and then shoved into a foster home while they decided if they could arrest the Howard Stark or not. Truth be told, Tony just wanted his mother at the house (even if he wanted nothing to do with her as a person.) At least Howard didn't rough him up when his mother was home.

"Would you like me to call you Anthony or Tony?" Doctor Samson asked,

"Tony," he replied. "My dad calls me Anthony," he confessed.

“Does anyone else call you Anthony?" the psychologist asked, his expression just amiable enough to make Tony want to answer him.

"Dr. Banner. He's my chemistry teacher.”

"Do you like Dr. Banner?"

"Yeah, I guess. Well, I mean, he's my second favorite teacher," Tony replied, not sure why talking to Doctor Sampson made him feel like confessing everything. It was weird and kind of violating.

"Why do you allow him to call you Anthony? It's been awhile since I was in school, but I seem to recall that you can be asked to be referred to by your nickname or preferred name," the doctor offered, and it made absolute sense.

To be honest, Tony wasn't sure why he had continued to let Dr. Banner call him Anthony. He hated the name, hated what it meant and stood for. Hated how much pain came with it. Maybe...maybe it was because Dr. Banner pressed him to be better.

"Is there anyone else?"

"Yeah...Mr. Yinsen. The shop teacher."

"Are you in shop class?"

"No. But he lets me work in his office sometimes. I'm not really good at school, but but I'm really good with my hands.”

"Why would you say you're not good at school?" Doctor Samson inquired, which was a logical enough question. How was Tony supposed to answer that?

"I'm kind of stupid, in case you didn't get the memo. "

"No one said that. As far as I'm concerned, you're just an average teenage boy who has had an unfortunate set of circumstances thrust upon him. There's no judgement from me."

His placid smile could rival Mr. Coulson's.

"I'm kind of good at chemistry. I guess. And I’m good at woodshop. But I'm pretty awful at everything else. A tragedy, really, to be the stupid son of Howard Stark," Tony grit out, clenching his teeth.

It was his lie. He should have owned it. He shouldn't get angry or disappointed that his father didn't love him because he wasn't the genius he was supposed to be. It wasn't something he should bitch about, because it was his lie and he needed to own it.

"Does that bother you?"

"What?" Tony looked up, having gotten lost in his own internal angst.

"That you're not what your father expected?"

"No," Tony stoutly denied, not up to giving the man the time of day. He didn't want to talk about his father. He didn't want to talk about the beatings, or school, or how many toes he had (ten. The answer was ten). He just wanted to go back home, as awful as it was. He wanted to go on a date with Loki, and hang out with Darcy and Pepper and Rhodey. He wanted to work on Dummy and he wanted to code his project. He wanted to hide and never come out.

"You obviously know why you're here," Doctor Samson said after a moment of silence. "There has been a case brought up against your father for child abuse."

"I fell," Tony muttered.

"Tony, I'm not your enemy," Doctor Samson entreated. "Im just here to help. I've found that talking about it can do a great deal to alleviate any hurt you might be experiencing from your father's abuse."

"I wasn't abused. I fell," Tony growled, crossing his arms over his chest. He winced, as his ribs pulled uncomfortably, and he hated himself for the tell.

"There are photos of foot shaped bruises on your ribs, Tony. I'm not usually one for pushing a subject, but you can't honestly expect anyone to believe that you fell . It's okay to talk about it," the psychologist offered.

Looking away, Tony stared stonily at the decorations in the office. There were the usual suspects; psychology textbooks, a copy of the latest DSM manual. He'd seen it all in the offices his father had taken him to before he'd been sent to military school. Even at military school, the counselors' offices all looked the same.

There was a wooden statue of a strange little bird at the top of a bookcase, and there were books ranging from childhood to old age, which suggested that Doctor Samson saw a variety of ages in his work. It wasn't comforting, and eventually he was forced to drag his gaze back to the psychologist, who looked as if he could spend all day while Tony brooded.

Tony noted, not for the first time, that Doctor Samson had a small notepad perched on one knee, though he hadn't written anything in it. Tony found himself rather paranoid as to what the psychologist would write down. He'd watched enough Law and Order SVU at Rhodey’s to know that the psychologist had some kind of sway, and that his opinion mattered.

“How long has the abuse been going on?" Doctor Samson asked, leaning forward slightly to indicate his interest in Tony's answer.

Tony debated with himself. If he told everyone about Howard's sordid past, there was a possibility that Howard would be arrested, or that Tony would be taken away from him. He had a few projects going on at the mansion, but as long as he had a tablet, he could code his main project anywhere. What would it be like, living with someone who didn't hate him? Someone who didn't beat him and loathe him and want him to cease existing? Mrs. Arbogast did have wifi...

It was almost too good to be true, and Tony found himself wary of the possibility that he could be happy. Living away from his father would be amazing. He would miss Jarvis, who baked the best cookies. It wasn't like he was home very often anymore anyways, but it just gave him another reason to feel conflicted.

"Tony?"

"Huh?"

"When did the abuse start?"

"Oh...uh...My father's always been a drunk," Tony confessed. "He has always kind of...slapped me around, I guess. But it didn't really get...bad until after I came back from being kidnapped."

"What age were you kidnapped?" Doctor Samson asked, finally scribbling in his little notebook.

"I was seven. I...I was there for three months."

"Did your kidnappers abuse you, Tony?"

Tony tugged at his shirt collar, squirming uncomfortably in the chair that he'd chosen to sit in. It was plush and comfortable, but Tony didn't want to be in it all of a sudden. "N-no. I mean, yes..but not...nothing bad. They didn't break any bones or anything. They just slapped me around a bit when I cried, and dragged me kicking and screaming when I didn't cooperate. Nothing too horrible."

"Tony, that situation in and of itself was horrible. Minimizing it won't get you any where."

"I'll do whatever I want," Tony growled. "It happened years ago. It's history."

"Your were a little boy," Doctor Samson reasoned, and wasn't that the truth.

"Howard got violent after that. He tried finding tutors, convinced that I was supposed to be smart, y'know? Hired the best, and he was disappointed . Really disappointed. "

"What happened then?"

"It started out as slaps. A knock on the head. Then he started grabbing me, throwing me around. I broke my leg when he threw me down the stairs. He broke my arm. My collar bone."

"Where was your mother?"

"Mother travels," Tony replied, his tone bitter.

"Did you ever tell her?”

"Howard would have killed me if I did," Tony stated. It was the truth.

"What happened after that?"

"He sent me away to military school."

"How long?"

"Six years."

"That's a long time," Doctor Samson murmured, making another note on his notepad.

Tony's paranoia crept in, and he couldn't help but wonder what the psychologist was writing about him.

"It sucked. Shitty haircuts, rules, PT. Order. "

"Do those kinds of things irritate you?"

Tony nodded, raking his good hand through his hair.

"Yeah. Like...my brain doesn't work that way. I'm not neat and orderly. It rubs me the wrong way."

"Did you get in a lot of trouble?"

"At first," Tony admitted. "But when I'd come home on break, Howard would beat the crap out of me and call me an embarrassment."

"What did that feel like?"

"....Shitty, "Tony murmured, looking at the floor. These were things he wasn't supposed to be confessing. He wasn't supposed to be talking about his feelings, or what it meant when his father flat out told him he was a useless piece of shit who shouldn't be breathing everyone else's air.

"How does your mind work?"

Tony looked up at the doctor, biting his lip. Did he dare describe his mind? Truthfully?

Probably not safe, but there was nothing to be done for it.

"It's like....this storm. It's always swirling, always putting out ideas. I can't turn it off. I get jittery and all I wanna do is go and make something in woodshop. Rhodey, my best friend, says they're better than birdhouses, which I guess is true. It's like I vibrate until I do something with my hands," he explained, speaking quickly.

Doctor Samson's expression was placid and, though Tony could see the slight lift of an eyebrow.

"Do you have trouble paying attention?"

"Sometimes," Tony admitted.. If it wasn't something he was interested in (like US government. Especially US government) he had the hardest time paying attention to it at all.

"Have you ever been on any medications?" Doctor Samson asked, and if that wasn't a sour note, Tony didn't know what was.

"Yeah."

"What kinds?"

"ADHD meds in military school. Tranquilizers right after the kidnapping. And whatever they drugged me with when I was kidnapped," Tony snapped bitterly. He'd never be on meds again if he could help it.

"So, when you came back from military school... Or, perhaps, why did you come back from military school?"

"Howard didn't want to pay for it any more. And the media started asking why I wasn't in New York anymore."

"Why would it matter to the media?"

"They felt sorry for me or something around the anniversary of my kidnapping. I dunno. The Board of Directors at Stark Industries wanted to see if I was going to pass muster for succession? Basically he brought me home to send me to a charter high school to keep me out of the press."

"When did the abuse start up again?"

Tony leaned back against his chair, feeling as if he’d been run over by something big. Doctor Samson certainly didn't pull his punches whatsoever.

"Almost immediately."

Which was true. Howard hadn't wasted any time in roughing him up. He'd spent nearly six months at the mansion, breaking bones and getting tossed around like a rag doll. That was when The Faults were established. That's when Tony learned that his existence meant nothing, and that he would have been better off in military school. At least there he'd gained some freedom with his seniority. He'd hated it for sure, but there was something comforting about only seeing Howard over the holidays if he was home, and over the summers when he wasn’t at their vacation home.

"What kinds of things did he do?" Doctor Samson asked, his voice gentle.

It soothed Tony, and while he hated talking about it at all, at least he'd seemingly won the lottery with a decent psychologist.

"The same stuff. Got drunk, beat the shit out of me. Pushed me down the stairs again, since that's something he likes doing. He...he makes me stand in a corner, in parade rest," Tony blurted out, not sure where the confession was coming from. "I have to stand there..."

"How long?" The question was neutral, which helped Tony push forward.

"For as long as it takes him to humiliate me," Tony whispered, glaring at this hands. "He sometimes does business, or makes phone calls. Once, he had a meeting with investors while I stood there. It took hours. If I so much as move, he takes it out in blood. Says I'm an embarrassment," Tony seethed.

"What else does he say?"

"He...he makes me recite the Faults," Tony muttered, not looking at the psychologist. He didn't need to see his pity, or his understanding. He didn't want it. He didn't want to be talking about these things, but it was as if a well had opened up inside of him and he could do nothing but give voice to the hurt that had been welling inside of him for years.

"What are the faults, Tony?"

"I'm stupid. Usless. A disappointment. An embarrassment. I am a detriment to the Stark name."

"Those are some pretty heavy words," Doctor Samson remarked.

"They’re just words," Tony gritted out. He was lying. It was what he was good at, after all.

As had been happening more and more often, Tony was suddenly struck with the urge to confess to Doctor Samson that he wasn't stupid at all. He wanted to tell him that he was a genius, and that he'd hidden it from his father so he wouldn't be forced to make weapons. That he still had the blueprints that Uncle Obie gave him seared into his mind, corrected by six year old hands and the blood of the victims indelibly seared against the backs of Tony's eyelids.

But he couldn't. Not yet.

"They're not very kind words. Do you believe them?"

"No," Tony replied immediately. More lies.

"What would you say you would feel if you did believe them?" Doctor Samson replied, tilting his head. Tony knew what he was doing, but it didn't keep him from answering.

"They don't meaning anything," Tony insisted.

"But what if they did? Humor me," the man said with a smile.

Fuck.

"Just like the words imply. They'd make me feel worthless, I guess. LIke I was just a waste of space."

Tony let his gaze slide away fromt he psychologist and back to the bookshelf.

"Let's talk about what happens next," Doctor Samson ventured.

"I go back to the foster home, and then I go to school. Rinse and repeat," Tony replied dully. Mrs. Arbogast’s wasn’t bad, but he still didn’t look forward to it.

"Perhaps," Doctor Samson agreed. Tony looked back at him, frowning.

"Perhaps what?"

"I've spoken with Mr. Grimm," Doctor Samson said. "And it seems as if there's an opportunity for you to stay with another foster family."

"What? Really?" Tony asked, flabbergasted. Who would want him?

"Part of my job today is to gauge how receptive you would be to the foster parent. They've already been evaluated, and now the placement depends on your input."

"Why are you asking me? Why not just make the decision for me?"

"Because we believe that your input matters, Tony. You've been through enough. We don't want to make this process any worse for you."

"Ooookay," Tony replied, raising an eyebrow. "So, who is it?"

"I believe you've already mentioned him. Ho Yinsen has put in application to foster you while the decision is made about your father. You'll stay with him for the duration of the sixty day investigation period, and after that we’ll reassess.”

"REALLY?!" Tony blurted, embarrassed at how his voice cracked. "I-I mean...you'd really I could...Yinsen actually likes me," Tony stammered, going boneless in his chair, despite the pain. He nearly clunked himself in the forehead with his cast when he went to run both hands through his hair, avoiding it just in time when he expelled a breath.

"Oh my god," He murmured, and he could tell that Doctor Samson was pleased by the reaction.

"The goal is to have a session once a week for the next two months. We're going to work together on your needs. These sessions are all about you, Tony."

"That's...weird," Tony said eventually, tapping his fingers (the ones not in a cast) on his knee.

"Does that make you nervous?"

"A bit. Not used to anything being about me."

"Well, these sessions are 100% about you. It's my job to check in on how you're doing, and help you navigate the maze of emotions that you're no doubt feeling. I'll be making sure you're settling in with Mr. Yinsen, and that your schooling is going well. We're going to be partners in this. "

"I can do that." It seemed simple enough. Give the man enough information to see to his emotional health, but not enough to find him out. Simple enough. Doctor Samson got to his feet, and waited until Tony followed suit before holding his hand.

"It was a pleasure speaking with you today, Tony."

Tony shook his hand, nodding slightly.

"Same, I guess. You were far less awful than I'd imagined."

Doctor Samson huffed a laugh, but he didn't seem to be offended.

Leaning away, he stretched an arm over his desk and took out a card from the placeholder next to his name plate. He handed it to Tony, with a smile.

"Here's my business card. My cell phone is on there, so if you need anything, anything at all, please don't hesitate to call me, or Mr. Grimm. We're here to help you, Tony. If there's ever an emergency, we want to be here for you."

Nodding, Tony wordlessly pulled out his wallet and tucked the business card inside. Who put their cell phone number on a business card?

Whatever. He had no plans on calling the psychologist, but it was kind of nice to have a failsafe. Or whatever.

He was almost positive that Loki would mock him for needing to see a psychologist (or maybe not) but it hadn't actually been all that bad. Except for the whole, "Pour your soul out" bit. When he tuned back in, Doctor Samson was standing by his door and smiling, as if he had nothing better than to do than to wait for Tony to get his head out of the clouds.

"See you next week, Tony."

Tony nodded again, then walked out into the waiting room, where Ben was waiting for him.

As big as ever, Ben gave him a gruff smile, which was oddly comforting. Tony liked him, for all that he was like a big lump of grumpy rock most of the time.

"Is what he said true?" Tony asked after they made an appointment with the secretary.

"You'll have to be more specific than that, kid," Ben grumbled. He led the way to his car, which was parked out front. Tony slid into the passenger seat, buckling himself in while waiting for Ben to wedge himself in. Why he didn't have a bigger car was beyond Tony. Maybe it was something about a social worker's budget.

"That I can live with Mr. Yinsen?" Tony asked, hoping he didn't sound too desperate. Even though he was 100% really fucking desperate to live with the only person that gave a damn about him. (Well, one of the few people).

"The paperwork is just waiting on signatures and then it will be processed. Give it another week or two, and you'll be moved. I take it you’re happy about that?"

Tony nodded eagerly, grinning despite himself. "Hell yeah. Mr. Yinsen is amazing."

Ben gave him a contemplative look, and Tony was suddenly afraid he'd said something wrong.

"What's wrong? Did I say something weird?" Tony asked, taking a deep breath to avoid the sense of panic that was welling up in his chest.

"Nah," Ben replied. "It's just the first time I've seen you smile throughout this whole thing is all. I'm glad this teacher of yours makes you happy."

"Oh. Well, yeah. Mr. Yinsen lets me do shop work, and he never calls me stupid or treats me any differently than his other students. Well, sort of. "

"You're not stupid," Ben growled. It had already become an argument between them, and it had only been a day.

"Am too," Tony argued.

"Just because you're not necessarily book smart doesn't mean that you're stupid, kid."

"It does as far as I'm concerned. And Howard."

That shut Ben up. At least for a moment.

"That man doesn't know what he's missing," was the firm reply. "He doesn't know that he’s got a good kid, and he doesn't want to own that fact."

"M'not a good kid," Tony muttered sullenly. He wasn't. He was useless. An embarrassment. A disappointment.

"Get that look off your face," Ben snapped. Tony glanced at him, gaze narrowed.

"What's it to you?" He asked.

"You're my case, kid. It's my job to make sure that you're happy and healthy."

"I'd be healthier with a cheeseburger," Tony offered.

"Hah. You're lucky I like you, or your little games wouldn't work nearly as well," Ben said with a low growl.

"You love me," Tony crowed, chuckling. He felt....better. Not great, but things felt like they might just be okay. Maybe.

 


 

 

Doc Samson xD (Phil Dunphy from Modern Family. But if you Google Ty Burrell as Doc Samson from the Hulk, you can see him there too.)

 

Chapter Text

Going back to Whippoorwill after school on Monday was a mixed blessing. On one hand, he didn't have to go home to Howard, where the threat of bodily harm constantly loomed.

Conversely, he was in foster care, thrust upon a gaggle of strange boys and a doting foster mother, and he had no idea what to expect next.

Which included watching Sam and Bucky wrestle all over the living room, tossing each other off the couch and onto a mess of pillows they’d heaped onto the floor. They were giggling and laughing in a way that Tony hadn’t really experienced before; he didn’t have any friends in military school, and he hadn’t exactly had a cheerful childhood.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there watching the kids, but he was rudely interrupted by Rumlow plowing into his shoulder and sending him reeling into the nearest wall.

“What the hell!” Tony shouted, scrambling to get his bearings. He was no stranger to bullies, and Rumlow had already proven himself one.

“ ‘What the hell!’ “ Rumlow repeated in a reedy voice, supposedly mimicking Tony. “You were standing in the way like a retard.”

“BROCK!” Mrs. A screeched, appearing from the kitchen like an avenging, elderly grandmother/angel.

Rumlow visibly cringed, obviously knowing that he was in for it. Bucky and Sam popped over the back of the couch, eyes wide while listening to Mrs. Arbogast ream Rumlow out for both his language and his treatment of Tony.

“He’s family, Brock,” Mrs. Arbogast finished, crossing her arms. Tony was positive he could hear her foot tapping, but he was too enraptured by the scene to check. “You need to treat him with respect, and he’ll do the same to you.”

“But-”

“No buts, Brock. You know how I feel about them.”

Rumlow scowled before his gaze zeroed in on Tony.

“Sorry.”

“Uh,” Tony managed, but Rumlow was already disappearing with his backpack into another part of the house.

“Are you alright?” Mrs. A asked, pushing Tony’s hair away from his forehead to see if he was bleeding, or god knows what. Tony had no experience with people who cared.

“Yeah, m’fine. Just tired.”

“I’m sure,” Mrs. A said with a decisive nod, turning on her heel. “You’ve got free time until dinner. You’re on the chore schedule to clear the table. It’s on the fridge, in case you missed it. I’ll be keeping you out of water until you get that cast off, then we’ll think about what else you can do.”

Tony’s mind screeched to a halt, not sure if he’d heard her right.

“M-Mrs. A?” He stammered, taking an abortive step forward. “Do you...do…”

“What is it, dear?”

“Will I be here long enough to get my cast off?” He asked, his voice breaking. He could make it. He’d survived this long. But Doc Samson had said he could go with Yinsen, and his cast would be on for weeks.

Mrs. A was a smart lady, and she knew what Tony was afraid of.

“No, Tony. I think you’ll be out of here within a week or two. That was just a slip. I’m sorry.”

Nodding, Tony realized he had been holding his breath, and it was making his ribs ache. Letting the air out in a whoosh, Tony moved into the living room to greet Bucky and Sam, who were both sporting looks of surprise.

They watched Tony as he shuffled into the living room, peering over their mountain of pillows as if he were some kind of spectacle.

“What’re you lookin’ at?” Tony grunted after he collapsed onto the couch with a groan.

“Brock really doesn’t like you,” Sam stated, crawling over the pillows to situate himself next to Tony.

He was unnervingly close, and Tony could smell the outdoors on him, with something sickly sweet he’d always associated with kids. It was cloying and irritating all at once.

“Can I help you?”

“Yup. The VCR is broken and we’re bored. You should play without,” Sam suggested, his wide grin gap toothed.

Bucky’s scowl from the other end of the couch suggested he didn’t feel the same way.

“What happened to the VCR?” Tony asked, hoping to offset Sam’s eagerness to play tiddlywinks, or whatever it was normal kids did.

“Rumlow stuck a video tape covered in peanut butter and jelly inside,” Bucky explained, crossing his arms. Obviously his disddain for Rumlow outweighed his distrust for Tony.

“The hell did he do that for?!” Tony exclaimed, his voice instantly muffled by Bucky’s hand clapping over his mouth.

“Shhh!” Sam hissed. “Do you want Mrs. A to hear?!”

Shoving Bucky’s much unwanted hand away, Tony shook his head. He didn’t particularly want her ire turned on him after she had reamed out Rumlow.

Tony had a decision to make. He could suffer the attention of the little cretins, or he could fix the VCR. Not knowing where Rumlow was in the house, Tony didn’t want to risk getting cornered by the asshole without Logan or Mrs. A nearby.

PB&J VCR it was.

“One of you grab the VCR,” Tony ordered, tugging his backpack onto his lap. Rifling through it, he found the basic toolkit he’d stashed there at the beginning of the year. There would always be something that a screwdriver could fix.

“What’re you gonna do?” Sam asked, scooting closer.

“Personal space, kid,” Tony snapped, leaning away.

Sam looked sheepish, and was quick to scuttle back to his original spot on the couch.

“M’sorry. You gonna fix it?” He asked, eyes shining as Bucky came back toting the VCR that had fallen victim to a heinous crime.

“What an ass,” Tony muttered, not caring if the boys heard. Spotting a card table in the corner, Tony heaved himself off the couch and took the poor VCR with him.

“Sam, gimme some paper towels. Wet and dry.”

“What am I doing?” Bucky asked, his tone more than a bit belligerent while Sam scampered off.

“You’re my lookout,” Tony replied without looking away from the first screw of many. He felt a thrill of something as he turned the screwdriver and the first screw popped out.

“Really?” Bucky asked, and tony could hear the oh so familiar undercurrent of hope.

“Yeah, man. You can be my bouncer. Go crazy monkey on Rumlow.”

Glancing at the boy, Tony was gratified to see a feral smile on his face. He almost wanted Rumlow to bug them. Almost.

Sam returned just as Tony was prying the casing apart, and he ignored the boys’ chatter while he inspected the poor VCR. Not only was it a dinosaur, but it was cached with peanut butter, grape jelly, and what appeared to be a piece of bread stuffed inside the tape slot.

“Sam, you’re on supply duty. Help Bucky when you’re not busy.”

“Aye aye,” the kid chirped, watching Tony avidly while Bucky took up a spot between the table and the couch, trying to look menacing despite the fact that he was a scrawny thing with scraggly hair and a hilarious scowl. Tony felt for the kid. He really did.

Tony could almost pinpoint the moment that he dropped into his engineering fugue. It came so easily, and he accepted it with open arms while he pulled the VCR apart to remove the bread and the gunk. He was methodical about cleaning each and every piece, Sam dutifully replacing the paper towels as needed.

He heard Rumlow and Logan muttering from somewhere, but Bucky was quick enough to tell them to back off, and Tony had a moment of pride for him, which felt weird. It didn’t take very long for Tony to have all the components clean, and by the time he pieced everything together and emerged from his concentration, he realized he had an audience.

His ribs ached from hunching over the table, and his wrist was thumping since he had missed his evening dose of painkillers. Logan was sprawled out on the couch, reading a book while Sam and Bucky were still watching him with rapt attention. It smelled suspiciously of hero worship, and Tony was no one’s hero. Failures couldn’t be heroes. Embarrassments couldn’t be heroes. Liars couldn’t be heroes, no matter what Harry Potter books might suggest.

Rumlow was nowhere to be found, though Mrs. Arbogast was sitting on the arm of the couch opposite from Logan, smiling.

“Tony, you didn’t need to do that,” she chided, getting up to come and examine the VCR.

“Well, it needed fixing,” Tony muttered, dropping his head. He didn’t deserve her smiles, even if he had just cleaned peanut butter and jelly out of her VCR.

He nearly jumped when he felt her hand in his hair, ruffling the cowlicks at the crown of his head. If he were a cat, he probably would have purred. As it was, he just shrugged out from Mrs. A’s touch and made a point of staring at the wall until one of the boys couldn’t sit still any longer.

Namely Sam, who seemed to be vibrating with energy as he danced around Tony, eyes bright and his grin wide.

“That was so cool! Where’d you learn to do that? Can you teach me?”

“Leave ‘im alone, Sam,” Bucky grumbled, catching Sam by the collar of his t-shirt with his right hand. “He just did us a favor. Let’s go wash up.”

Sam allowed himself to be dragged down the hallway to the bathroom, and Tony could hear the fading chatter that left the living room quiet, but not in an awkward way. Mrs. A was still smiling at him, like he’d done something praiseworthy, and Logan was still engrossed in his book.

It felt oddly domestic, and Tony wondered if this was what a family was supposed to feel like.

“Well,” Mrs. A said finally, breaking the comfortable silence. “Let’s see about dinner.”

~

A week passed by without incident. The longer Tony stayed at Whippoorwill, the more he realized how messed up his life truly was. He knew he’d been fucked up early on, but even as dysfunctional as the Whippoorwill kids were, they still acted like a family. Tony had never had a family, and he probably never would.

Still, things could have been worse. He and Loki were practically glued to each other at school, much to his friends’ disgust. Darcy made gagging noises at lunch, Pepper gave him a knowing look that made his skin itch, and Rhodey ragged on him about being a lovestruck puppy.

Something niggled at the back of his mind every day in school and at Whippoorwill, but he couldn’t really place his finger on it. Attempting to forget about it, Tony threw himself into chores and behaving for Mrs. A, because she really deserved the best.

She reminded him of Jarvis in her own way, stern but willing to sneak him cookies when he looked like a kicked puppy more than usual. She didn’t have a British accent, but her hugs were frequent and Tony had a sneaking suspicion she was hand taming him with physical contact, which was something she had in common with Loki.

One week bled into two, and the inevitable confrontation with Rumlow came when Tony caught the bastard rummaging through Tony’s room. Mrs. A was chatting outside with a neighbor, and Tony had come down from the library to grab his tablet to draft something.

Upon entering his room, he found Rumlow tossing everything out of his backpack, a look of malicious glee spread across his face as Tony’s tablet fell out and became a victim of Rumlow’s boot heel.

“What the fuck are you doing?!” Tony yelled, not caring if anyone heard. No one touched Tony’s tech, and he would wring the bastard’s neck for touching his shit.

Rumlow rounded on him, and Tony was suddenly very, very aware of how short he was in comparison.

“ ‘What the fuck are you doing?’” He repeated in that reedy imitation of Tony’s voice, making a point of dumping the rest of Tony’s notebooks onto the floor. “I’m putting you in your place, you little shit.”

Taking a step into the room, Tony tried his best to stand up straight, ignoring the ache in his ribs. He was no match for Rumlow, for sure.

“Do you even lift, bro?” Tony asked, knowing he was going to get a beating for running his mouth.

Sure enough, Rumlow took two steps forward and slammed Tony so hard into the wall the breath was knocked out of him. He gasped, not having any air to scream as pain flared to life in his chest and abdomen.

“I know who you are, Stark. I also know you’re a fucking liar.”

Tony nearly blacked out for a moment, but whether it was from lack of air or shock that Rumlow somehow knew, he couldn’t tell.

Not waiting for a response from Tony, Rumlow continued, “Poor little rich boy. Daddy beats you up and they take you away. At least you had a home,” Rumlow hissed. He slammed Tony against the wall again, and Tony knew he’d have more bruises to add to his collection.

“RUMLOW!” Barked a gruff voice from the doorway.

Rumlow immediately took a step back, and Tony looked over to see Logan crossing into his room, Sam and Bucky trailing behind, both sporting looks of determination, fists balled at their sides. Logan immediately loomed over Rumlow, even though he was a few inches shorter.

Logan was just flat out intimidating when he wanted to be, and even Rumlow wasn’t immune to it.

“Stay out of it, Logan,” Rumlow spat, staring the older teen down.

“No can do. You’re barking up the wrong tree, bub. I don’t tolerate that shit under Mrs. A’s roof, so you’d better cut it out.”

“Or what?” Rumlow challenged, his expression shifting to an ugly sneer.

“Or I’ll get your ass thrown out of here so fast, you won’t have time to pack your bags.”

The threat had its intended effect, if Rumlow’s frustrated growl was any indication. He shoved past Logan, pushing Sam over as he left Tony’s room. Tony looked just in time to see Bucky stick a foot out and send Rumlow crashing to the floor. He couldn’t help but laugh, though it came out as more of a wheeze.

Logan plucked Sam up as if he weighed nothing, causing the kid to giggle despite the fact that he’d been shoved over. Bucky glared at Rumlow’s retreating form, and Tony was on the verge of hysterical laughter. No one had stood up for him so quickly before. It had taken weeks for Rhodey, Pepper, and Darcy, but Logan and the kids did it right off the bat.

“Why’d you help me?” Tony blurted, unable to stop himself. He had to know.

“You’re one of us!” Sam chirped, gluing himself to Logan’s side.

“I’m not-” Tony began, but he caught the subtle shake of Logan’s head.

They were all there for a reason. They didn’t have anywhere else to go, and Mrs. A was providing homes that they obviously didn’t have. Tony didn’t know their situations, but he knew that they were willing to stick up for him, and that was enough.

Changing subjects, Tony looked down to find his tablet, the screen shattered with cracks spidering across the spots that Rumlow hadn’t stomped on. He had another tablet at the mansion, but there was no way he was going back there.

“That asshole didn’t have to fuck up my tablet,” Tony growled, crouching down to pick up the tablet, hissing when a piece of glass sliced his finger open.

“Language!” Sam crowed, and it reminded Tony of Rogers with his smug superiority and his war on profanity and bullying.

It sparked Tony’s temper, but he could tell by the expression on Logan’s face that it wasn’t the time to argue. The Whippoorwill boys had done Tony a serious solid, and he’d do his best to pay that back during the time he was there.

“Yeah, yeah,” Tony grumbled, straightening with the crushed tablet cradled carefully in his hands. Dumping it on the bed, he shook his hands to get rid of any glass, then looked to Logan and the boys.

“Got anything else I can fix?” He asked, knowing his smile looked more like a smirk.

The boys beamed, and Logan shook his head.

“Big mistake, bub.”

“Why?” Tony asked, suspicious of the grins that Bucky and Sam were sporting.

“There are toy boxes with your name on them,” the older teen said by means of an explanation, clapping Tony on the shoulder before leaving the bedroom with a gruff laugh.

Well damn.

 

Chapter Text

In total, Tony spent three weeks at Whippoorwill. Three weeks bonding with Logan, playing with the boys, and ignoring Rumlow. It had become obvious that the jackass hadn't meant tony's REAL secret, only that he knew he was Tony Stark, disgrace to the Stark name. Which was true on all accounts, so Tony's paranoia settled not too long after their scuffle.

Then it was Saturday, and Tony had packed his backpack and duffle , everything that mattered already tucked inside. He'd gotten Loki to buy him a replacement screen for his tablet with full intentions of paying him back, so it was working better than ever. He'd fixed as many of the boys' toys as he could, and had even gone on to fix Mrs. A's refrigerator, toaster, and microwave oven. They boys lavished him with praise, remarking on how smart he was, and how good he was with his hands. Tony denied the first, but couldn't really deny the second. Maybe they'd just assume he was a stupid idiot whose only redeeming quality was the fact that he could fix appliances.

The less they knew the better.

On that particularly Saturday, the paperwork had finally gone through, and Tony was officially cleared to leave Whippoorwill and transfer to Yinsen custody. He would go to the same school, continue seeing Doc Samson and Mr. Coulson, and best of all, Tony was away from his father, and with the first adult who actually gave a damn about him.


 

All nerves, Tony sat in Ben's car, fiddling with the hem of his hoodie. It was early, and still a little chilly. Ben had pulled up in front of a house that was a bit off the beaten path, nestled in a glen about a mile from any main roads. It was two stories, and it looked...homey. If that was the right word. A large oak tree stood behind the house, and off to the right, a battered old tire swing was suspended from one of its thicker branches. There were signs that Mr. Yinsen had fostered children before, and it put Tony's mind at ease. This wasn't his teacher's first rodeo, though Tony doubted he'd ever had to foster a kid who had as big of a secret as he did. Or a father as rich as Howard Stark.

"What's up , kid?" Ben asked, startling Tony out of his thoughts.

"Just..nervous , I guess?"

"What do you have to be nervous about?" Ben asked, his expression incredulous.

"It's just...Mr. Yinsen actually likes me. Maybe he won't after living with me and taking care of me. Maybe he'll realize I'm not worth it," Tony explained. It was true, though. He wasn't worth it. He really wasn't.

"Hey. This man went to bat for you, because he thinks you're worth something. Not just anyone would to do that. I've talked with him, Tony. He wants you in his life and in his house. I can guarantee that. "

 

Nodding, Tony took a deep breath then got out of the car, opening the rear passenger side door to retrieve his backpack and duffle bag. His ribs were still a little sore, but were nowhere near as agonizing as they had been in the early days. His wrist was still in a cast, making everything a pain in the ass, but three more weeks and he'd be free of the stupid fucking thing.

He was sure he made an interesting picture as he trudged up the gravel path to Yinsen’s front door, clothed in Logan's old castoffs and too-long scraggly hair, since Mrs. A didn't trust herself to cut hair anymore. Having not been able to go back to the mansion, Tony hadn't had any more clothes, and normally his father would throw a twenty at him and tell him to get a haircut, not bothering to provide Tony with a way to actually get to a barber.

The front door opened to reveal his teacher, who was clothed what looked like a comfy cream colored sweater and his usual style of pants, his smile warm.

"Welcome home, Tony."

Tony's pride didn't take too much of a hit when tears filled his eyes, and he allowed Mr. Yinsen to draw him into a tight embrace. He smelled of patchouli and strong coffee, and thanks to Mrs. A's efforts (and some of Loki's tutelage) Tony knew to wrap his arms around his teacher and return the hug.

When they broke apart, Mr. Yinsen's smile was broad, his expression bright in a way Tony hadn't seen him before. Ben looked a little choked up, his voice gruffer than normal when he handed Mr. Yinsen Tony's case file.

"Here you go, Ho. Everything's in there, and you're set. There will be an account set up for a clothing allowance whenever you guys get settled. He's still too skinny to fit the clothes Logan gave him."

"Thank you, Ben. I appreciate everything you've done," Mr. Yinsen said, then shot Tony an expectant look, which was when Tony realized he was supposed to say something too.

"Thanks, Ben," Tony muttered, staring at his shoes. How was he supposed to thank the man that was truly invested in his welfare, and had saved him from his father?

"You're not getting rid of me that easily, kid," Ben rumbled, ruffling Tony's hair. Tony chuckled shoving his hand away. "I'll be checking in on you. Things might get harder in the future, but we've got your back. Now, it's time for me to leave and clean all those Burger King wrappers out of my car," the man said, his expression stern, though it was broken by a wink.

Chuckling, Tony nodded , waving goodbye to his social worker over his shoulder while following Yinsen inside.

The house seemed too big for one man, but it was still tastefully decorated, painted in warm tones of beige and dark red. Pictures of a woman and several children adorned the walls, and Tony could only assume that they were Yinsens's family, though he had never mentioned them.

"I know these past few weeks have been difficult for you, Tony," Yinsen said , moving through the house. Following, Tony noted a study, a bathroom, a well apportioned kitchen, a living room, and then a set of stairs at the back of the house.

"All of the bedrooms are upstairs. You have full access to everything, including the garage," Yinsen explained, the corner of his mouth ticking upwards when Tony perked up at "garage".

“The library has several books on engineering, circuitry, and whatever might strike your fancy. "

"I thought you were a woodshop teacher," Tony said, peering at the man.

"I am many things. I am a doctor and I am a teacher. I'm as you said, ‘good with my hands’."

Tony took that to mean that there was much more to Yinsen than met the eye and chose not to comment further.

"Come. Let's get you settled, then we'll discuss what happens next."

Yinsen led the way up a set of stairs that creaked, something Tony would never have experienced at the mansion. They were carpeted, and Tony imagined that a fall down those stairs would hurt far less than plain wooden ones.

He was drawn out of his morbid musings when they reached the top, and the house opened up. The area right above the stairs was a loft, with a desk and a desktop computer , including a drafting table that was set under a high window, afternoon light filtering in from above.

Tony's whole body jerked instinctively towards the both the table and the computer, every fibre of him screaming to take it apart and make see what made it tick. He wanted to sketch out blueprints, using exact lines and measurements that soothed his mind and soul when he was upset.

"You can use those later," Yinsen murmured, setting a hand on Tony's shoulder.

Before Whippoorwill, before Loki, Tony would have jerked away, convinced that someone was going to beat the shit out of him at the touch. Instead, he nodded and smiled sheepishly.

"Sorry. I got a little caught up."

"I noticed," Yinsen replied, his smile wry. "Come. I'll show you to your room."

Tony trailed after him, eyeing the photographs of the woman and children on the walls, which were supplemented by degrees from various universities. Yinsen was a doctor, it turned out, but he was also a scientist, and had experience with engineering. Tony tucked away the question of why Yinsen was teaching at a prep school, when he could be doing so much more. Not unlike Tony.

They drew upon a room with a dark red door, the a name placard that simply read "Tony" hanging in the middle. Tony stared, not sure how to react. His throat was thick, and he didn't think he could speak even if he had been able .

"When did you..." He finally managed, reaching out to run a finger over the placard, which had been painted gold with red lettering; his favorite colors, for sure.

"When I volunteered to bring you into my home some weeks ago.”

Tony couldn't help it. While he'd been starved for attention his entire life, and he was emotionally constipated as all get out, Yinsen got him, had faith in him, and was really the only one who truly understood who Tony was, underneath all the snark and the front he put.

Dropping his duffel, Tony turned into a hug that Yinsen was already prepared to give, the man's arms wide and welcoming. He might have cried. He might had buried his face against Yinsen's shoulder, and cried for all that could have been in his life. He cried because he was a failure, but Yinsen chose to take him in anyways.

Once he could pull away without looking like a complete idiot, Tony sniffed, hoping that his eyes weren't red. He hated crying, but for whatever reason, he didn't feel particularly embarrassed about doing it in front of Yinsen.

"Come. Let's get you situated, then we'll head downstairs and discuss matters."

His teacher opened the door, allowing Tony to shuffle inside, where he promptly stopped on the threshold, eyes wide as he took everything in.

Against the wall underneath the window was another drafting table, already lined with paper, pencils, rulers, and a lamp. On the other side of the window was a desk, complete with an ancient desktop computer, and Tony's mind raced with all of the possibilities he could think of. Next to the desk was a bookcase, filled with books about engineering, mechanics, technology, circuitry, and whatever else Tony might have interest in. It was nearly a carbon copy of the materials promise in the library, but they were supposed to be his.

His breathing shallow, Tony took in the bed, which had a red comforter, and pillowcases that were a muted gold, not unlike his name placard.

His gaze finally stopped in front of the closet, where his basketball shoes from his gym locker were arranged neatly on the floor

 

"I know those are your favorite," Yinsen remarked, placing a hand on Tony's shoulder. "In this house, you are whoever you want to be. "

Wiping at his eyes, Tony sniffed again, refusing to cry. Yinsen had given him the room he would have had if Howard weren't such a tyrant. If Tony had followed his biological imperative. If Tony had chosen not to lie, and embraced his intellect. But down that road was a dangerous conclusion, that led to death and destruction.

Yinsen dropped Tony's duffle on the bed, then gently steered Tony out of his room.

"There will be time for you to admire the room later. For now, we have some things to talk about."

Once they were downstairs again, Tony let Yinsen lead him to the kitchen, where he was presented a small bowl of hummus and an assorted mix of carrots, pita bread, and pretzels.

"Sit. You look half starved," Yinsen remarked, though Tony knew he'd put on some weight at Whippoorwill. It was strange, not feeling the carved, hollowed sensation of hunger. He’d let Mrs. Rogers know that he didn't need sandwiches anymore and her smile had been almost too painful for Tony to look at for very long.

"I'm not that skinny," Tony protested, but he sat down anyways, grabbing a carrot and taking a bite out of it, relishing the crunch.

"Very true," Yinsen agreed. "It appears that Bambi has kept out well fed, which I highly appreciate."

"Yes," Tony said slowly, peering at Yinsen over the bowl of hummus that separated them. His teacher looked...happy, but that didn't mean Tony was going to like the talk that would soon follow. Talks were never fun.

"It's time to discuss your future, and what we plan to do from here on out. "

That sounded too foreboding in Tony's mind, so he set the rest of the carrot down in favor of squaring Yinsen with as firm a look as he could muster.

"If you don't want me, I understand. Just...tell me now, okay?"

Yinsen blinked, his eyebrows raised far above the rim of his glasses in surprise.

"Who said anything about me not wanting you here?" Yinsen asked.

"I dunno...talks aren't ever good," Tony explained, rolling the carrot across the table with a finger so that he wouldn't have to meet Yinsen's gaze.

"I'm not sending you away, Anthony. You have a home here as long as you wish to stay. But there are some things we need to talk about, primarily what you plan to do about your studies."

"What about my studies?" Tony asked warily, not liking the direction of their conversation.

"We both know that you are far more than what's on the surface, Anthony. I have kept my silence out of respect of your wishes. I do not know your reasons, but I want to know if your truth is ever a possibility."

Tony was grateful that "his truth'" wasn't said aloud. Yinsen was the only person that Tony figured had any inkling of his intellect.

“No,” Tony replied, his voice flat. He would never willingly reveal his secret. Yinsen might have had good intentions, but he didn’t have the weight on his shoulders of the deaths of millions. Just by virtue of being a Stark, Tony had a hand in a legacy of mass murder.

Yinsen nodded, his understanding sitting low and heavy in Tony’s stomach. His teacher was disappointed, but Tony knew he wouldn’t press the issue.

“Very well. In the event that you want to talk, know that I will always be here for you.”

Deciding that replying would only end in blubbering and tears, Tony occupied himself with dipping a pretzel in hummus, nibbling on it contemplatively while waiting for Yinsen to continue making him feel guilty.

“Now. Let’s lay down some foundations for rules,” Yinsen began, causing Tony to tense. “No, I am not a tyrant, Anthony. I can see the look in your eyes. I will never force you to do something you do not want to, but I do expect a respect for my rules and this house.”

“What kind of rules?” Tony asked, not meeting Yinsen’s gaze.

“Curfew is at 10 o’clock each evening. I realize that you have friends, and I encourage you spending time with them. Mr. Odinson is allowed to spend time here, and as long as you inform me beforehand, you are allowed to go to his house.”

Leaning back in his chair, Tony was positive that his eyebrows were close to meeting his hairline.

“You...really?” He squeaked, hating how high his voice went.

“Really,” Yinsen replied with a smile. “You will have a chore list while here, but I won’t expect you to do it all by yourself. We are in this together, and ours will be a relationship of respect. I will take you to school each day, and you will either ride home with me, or your friends can bring you home.”

Home.

Floored, Tony took deep breaths to stave off the panic/excitement. Yinsen said “home”. Which meant permanence. Safety.

He had a home.

 

Chapter Text

Morning's were Tony's favorites ; his mother didn't have any obligations (usually), his father left early for the office, and Jarvis made the best chocolate chip pancakes.

 

"Morning, dear," his mother called out when he came into the dining room, smiling at him. "How did you sleep?"

 

"Ok," Tony hedged, fiddling with the silverware that had already been laid out.

 

In all truth, he'd stayed up all night pouring over the blueprints that Uncle Obie had given him. He'd said to keep it a secret from his dad, which Tony was more than happy to do. He'd been thinking of improvements, but he didn't have anything for Obie, despite staying up all night even when he was supposed to be getting a good night's sleep.

 

"Mmhm," his mother hummed, and Tony knew he'd been caught out.

 

Thankfully, Jarvis saved him by placing french toast on his plate, complete with syrup and powdered sugar, just the way that Tony liked them.

"You spoil him, Jarvis," Maria said, though she was smiling.

 

"Nuh uh. I’m just his favorite," Tony chirped, slicing his french toast into neat squares. His mother was presented with an omelet with all kinds of weird stuff that Tony couldn't name, with some toast and orange slices.

 

"Ick, fruit," Tony grumbled, making a face at his mother before he shoved a bite of french toast in his mouth.

 

"'Ick fruit' keeps you help healthy, baby. "

 

"Yeah ok," Tony said, rolling his eyes.

 

"Jarvis will be taking you out to get your hair trimmed, and to pick up your suit from the tailors," Maria said conversationally, cutting her omelet with the side of her fork.

 

"Ugh. Why do I have to wear a suit again?" He hated suits. Loathed them.

 

"Because you're a Stark, and you're expected to represent this family accordingly," came another voice from the doorway, where his father was standing, tie loose and sleeves rolled up. He must not have left the house afterall.

 

"G-good morning dad," Tony stammered, dropping his eyes to his plate.

 

His father didn't reply, instead choosing to share a brief kiss with his wife before accepting the cup of coffee Jarvis presented him.

 

"Give Anthony a cup as well, Jarvis. Black, no cream or sugar."

 

Tony's head snapped up; his dad never told Jarvis to give him coffee. Ever.

"Right away, sir," Jarvis replied, setting a red mug full of black coffee in front of Tony a moment later.

 

"Drink up, Anthony. Short of liquor, this is a man's drink. Only pansies put sugar or cream in their coffee. "

 

Nodding, Tony obediently took a sip, his nose scrunching up at the taste.

 

"That's ...really bitter," Tony managed, wishing he water to wash it down with.

 

"It tastes fine. You'll be finishing that entire mug before you leave this table."

 

Tony glanced at his mother, who had turned back to her paper and was seemingly oblivious to everything, before looking back at his father.

 

"Yes, sir."

 


 

 Visiting the barber had been difficult, because sitting still didn't come easily for Tony. Standing still for the measurements for his suit was downright torture. He'd already been measured, but the Stark tailor wanted to keep up to date measurements for Tony's upcoming growth spurts (if he grew at all). The suit did fit perfectly, though, and Jarvis told him he looked very handsome, which made him blush.

 

With his hair trimmed and the suit in a bag, Jarvis took Tony out to lunch at a bistro, where Tony was able to eat a grilled cheese and get a sugary coffee drink without his father knowing.

 

"Just between the two of us, Sir," Jarvis said with a wink, then tucked into the soup he'd ordered.

 

Grinning, Tony was reminded why Jarvis was his favorite, before he took a sip of the frappuccino thing , deciding that it was his favorite drink in the world .

 

From there, Jarvis took Tony directly to the ballroom where the charity gala was being held. His mother had gone shortly after breakfast, and his father had officially gone into the office, so Tony was left to his own devices while his mother took care of the arrangements for her guests. Sometimes Tony would see a kid named Tiberius Stone at the events , but he never seemed to want to play with Tony, so he had nothing to do except smile when his mother wanted him to. And for pictures, of course.

 

Instead of sitting bored in the corner of the ballroom, Tony decided to make his way to the maintenance room, imagining all of the machines he'd find hiding behind the locked door. He had a lock picking kit that he'd made, and getting inside of things was usually easy. He always made a point to check out the mechanical rooms of all the ballrooms they went to, because there was always something new to learn.

 

With the door unlocked, Tony propped it open with a bucket, his mind set on the HVAC system in the back of the room. It was undoubtedly one of many, and Tony had to find another bucket to use as a stepstool to gain access to the control panel.

 

His father never let him near the stuff in his workshop, so Tony had to take what he could get. He lost himself in exploring, not knowing how long he was there until a hand on his shoulder jolted him out of his thoughts.

 

"You're not supposed to be back here," said a man in coveralls, . Hi s tone was stern, but there was a smile on his face, which put Tony at ease.

 

"Oh. Sorry, I got lost," Tony said, the lie slipping out easily.

 

"No, I don't think you did get lost. But that's fine," the man said, and Tony could detect an accent.

 

"So...you gonna kick me out?"

 

"I'm afraid so. But perhaps we could detour to the second maintenance room, where there's an even larger system for you to ogle. "

 

Nodding quickly, Tony jumped off the bucket, trailing after the man, whose name tag just said Ivan from when Tony could see it.

 

"So, Ivan. What do you do here?" Tony asked conversationally, trotting to keep up with the man's much longer strides.

 

"Oh, you know. Maintenance, upkeep. Education."

 

"Education?" Tony repeated, tilting his head.

 

"Yes. I like to educate people on the evils of this world. I thought you might enjoy a lesson," Ivan said conversationally, stopping at a door.

 

Tony stook a step back, suddenly unsure if following Ivan had been such a good idea.

 

"Oh no, Tony. You don't get to leave so easily."

 

Tony's eyes widened, and he tried to take another step back, but Ivan grabbed his arm. "How do you know my name? Lemme' go!" He protested, beating at the man's fist to no avail.

 

"My apologies, Tony, but you are the beginning of my legacy. You must learn that actions have consequences, even if they are not your own. You have blood on your hands, boy. I am here to help you see the error of your ways."

 

Tony kept struggling, but he couldn't do anything when a rag was pressed to his face, and unconsciousness took hold.

 


 

When Tony woke up, he was cold. He could smell dirt and mold, like in the maintenance shed in the back yard, and he was face first in a pile of it.

 

He could tell that his hands were tied behind his back; his shoulders were aching from it. When he tried to move his feet, he realized that they were tied as well, and he wasn't flexible enough to untie his ankles with his arms hands behind his back.

 

He wasn't sure how long he'd been laying there, tossed into a dusty closet like a sack of potatoes, but he was grateful when a door creaked open, and light flooded into the space.

 

Eyes watering, Tony couldn’t tell who was in the doorway before he was dragged out. t. He wasn't allowed to walk, so his heels dragged on concrete as he was pulled along a dim hallway that looked like the lower levels of an army base his father had taken him to. They stopped in an all white room, where a chair stood in the middle, the black paint broken by rust .

 

"Time to clean you up, little man," the man said with a smile that looked genuine, even as he cut the ropes binding Tony's wrists and ankles.

 

“Don't move, Tony. We don't want you hurting yourself," the man said conversationally, Tony whimpered, not entirely sure what to do. The man had a knife, which Jarvis never let him get near, let alone use. Was he gonna try and take it from the man and stab him with it? Definitely not.

 

The knife cut straight through the jacket Tony's suit, and the man yanked it off before slicing through his red tie, and then the white shirt he was wearing. It too was tossed to the side, and Tony was left in only a t-shirt. His trousers followed, and he was shaking by the time the man stripped him of his shoes and socks. He was left in his boxer shorts and his shirt, shivering in the cold air while the man picked up his clothes and tossed them to someone who was waiting outside the door.

 

"Sit," the man ordered, and Tony was quick to scramble into the chair. He gripped the edges of the seat tight, wincing when jagged bits dug into his fingers.

 

"You're Tony Stark," the main said, ruffling Tony's hair from behind. A buzzing noise clicked on, and Tony froze when the familiar sound of a razor buzzed next to his ear.

 

"Keep still," the main murmured, then proceeded to buzz Tony's hair down, as short as the kids had it at the military academy his dad threatened to send him to.

 

"I just got that cut," Tony protested weakly, reaching up to rub the fuzz of his hair.

 

"I know. But we all need new beginnings, don't we?"

 

"I don't k like this beginning," Tony said ,turning to stare at the man.

 

"You haven't fought, which is in your best interest. It might do to keep your mouth shut as well," the man suggested. “Now. You’ve been brought here to be re-educated. Will you work with us, Tony? Will you renounce your father’s vision? There’s blood on your hands, Tony. You have to rectify this.

Lip trembling, Tony nodded. What else could he say?


Tony woke up to cold water being splashed in his face. After the man had shaved his hair, he had been put back into his “room" and left in the dark. Tony hadn't been tied up that time, and he didn't know how long they made him stay in the dark, but he didn't like it. He'd started crying, then got made at himself, because “Stark Men are Made of Iron”, or so his dad said, be but he was scared and he didn't like the dark and they still hadn't let him out.

When they woke him up again, someone reached in and grabbed Tony by the shirt, dragging him out into the hallway. The lights were too bright, and they hurt Tony's eyes . His stomach grumbled, but he didn't dare ask for food, because they might put him back in his room, or something worse.

The man who grabbed him was tall and had big muscles, like his dad's bodyguards. The man didn't say anything, and looked like he'd swallowed a lemon.

 

"G-good morning?" Tony ventured, and it earned him a rough shake from where the man's fist was gripping his shirt.

 

"You will speak when spoken to," the man growled, and Tony shut up.

 

He followed the man down a couple of long hallways, and he wished that they’d let him keep his socks. His feet were cold against the concrete, and he would have given a lot for a blanket.

 

The man, who Tony wished he had a name for, shoved him inside of a room , which had a chair like his dentist had, and a big projector screen on one wall. Ivan was already there, and when he saw Tony, he smiled. Tony smiled back, but just a little, and he flinched when Ivan stepped up to him and pressed a hand to his head. Ivan's skin was warm, and Tony wanted to curl up near him, but didn't think it would be allowed.

 

"Good morning, Anthony," Ivan murmured. He knelt down to Tony's level, and Tony thought the bright lights made him look like a skeleton. It was creepy, but he thought it was would make the man mad itf he said as much.

 

"Today your education truly begins," Ivan said. "Do you know what your father does for a living, Tony?"

 

Tony know the answer to that one. His father was a hero, and he said the words that his dad's press lady had made him repeat over and over.

 

"My dad is a hero. He makes weapons that protect our Armed Service members, as well as defensive gear and tactical equipment," Tony recited. He believed it, because he'd seen the cool things his dad made when he visited Stark Industries with Uncle Obie.

 

"Ah, they have already poisoned your mind," Ivan said, and he sounded sad.

 

"W-what?" Tony stammered, then cried out when Ivan smacked him hard on the cheek. He covered the spot with his hands, trying not to cry.

 

"You may only speak when I ask you a question, Tony. If you talk out of turn, you will be punished accordingly. Do you understand?"

 

Tony nodded, hiccupping back a sob. He didn't want Ivan to hit him again, but he wasn't sure what all would make him mad.

 

"If you make it through your lessons without getting in trouble, you will earn bread and water," Ivan explained, then picked Tony up as if he was light as a feather. Ivan dropped him into the chair, and then Lemon Man came back in from somewhere, and helped Ivan start strapping Tony's arms and legs down. Tony squirmed, and then opened his mouth before he remembered not to speak.

 

"Why are you tying me down?" He asked, then yelped when Lemon Man hit up him upside the head. His ears were ringing, and it took him a few seconds to see straight again.

 

"This is to ensure your compliance, Tony. Re-education is not an easy thing, especially not for a boy your age. All you must do is watch a movie for now. Then you will get something to eat and drink,” Ivan explained when Lemon Man didn’t say anything.

Tony had been to the movies before with Jarvis. And once with his mom. He liked the movies, but he didn't think Ivan would give him any popcorn. Not wanting to get hit again, he let Ivan and Lemon Man strap him down, though he squirmed when they pushed his head back and strapped his head down too.

 

"They made a movie about real events," Ivan stated. "It is called Charlie Wilson's War, and your father was responsible for the weapons production. It is romanticized that your father aided in the end of the Cold War, and but it is a lie. No one accounts for the lives lost because of your father’s barbarism. You will be his penance, Tony. "

 

Ivan stroked one finger down Tony's cheek, smiling in a way that made Tony feel dirty and sick inside.

 

"You are the future, and I will rip it from your father as he took my father from me. You carry the sins of the Starks, and you will bear this cross for the rest of your life."

 

Ivan and Lemon Man left and Tony a stared at the blank screen until a projector flickered to life. There were speakers everywhere, reminding Tony of his father's surround sound system, but what came on screen wasn't like any more movie Tony had seen before. He started trying to get away only a few minutes in, not wanting to watch anymore.

 

"No no no," Tony begged, tears streaming down his face after only a few minutes. He didn't want to see it. He didn't want to be his father's penance. He just wanted to be Tony.

 

"Please make it stop!" Tony screamed, but no one came.

 


 

When he'd tried to close his eyes, Ivan and Lemon Man returned, and they used tape to pull Tony's eyelids up. They made him watch, and his eyes burned and he ran out of tears and his voice went away.

It could have been hours, Tony wasn't sure, but the movie finally ended, and Ivan returned, carrying a tray of bread and water. The bread was hard, but he dipped it in the water for him after he had a hard time chewing it.

His stomach cramped, like it did when he got too upset because his dad wouldn't listen to him, but he didn't want Ivan to take the bread away. He was still strapped to the chair, but Ivan fed him, giving him little sips of water between bites.

Tony hated him, wanted to say all the bad words Jarvis had forbidden him from saying, but then he was nice. He'd rub Tony's head, curl his hand around his neck like Uncle Obie did when his dad was being mean. He told Tony he was good, and doing a good job. Tony wanted to do a good job. Tony wanted to be good for Ivan, so maybe he wouldn't strap him to the chair again.


 

Every day was almost the same. Tony watched movies, which weren't pretend like James Bond or Mission Impossible. They were real, and people died and screamed and little kids like Tony lost their parents, or got shot by soldiers with weapons that had STARK printed on the side. Ivan made him watch the Jericho footage, and Tony remembered looking at those schematics for Uncle Obie, marking things that looked strange and wouldn't work. He threw up when the camera had focused on the village, blood everywhere, kids crying, people missing pieces . Ivan had gotten mad at him, and made him sit in his sick the entire day before Lemon Man came and hosed him down. They put him back in his dark room wet and without food, and he got sick, but they didn't care when he said so. They just hit him.


 

He coughed and sneezed and thought he was gonna die, but they made a doctor come in and give him medicine, and Tony begged the man to take him home, but he didn't care. He left too.

 


 

 

Sometimes, Ivan let Tony sit with him in a different room, one that was warm. He drank something that smelled a lot like his dad's alcohol, and Tony got to drink tea. He gave Tony hugs, and Tony wanted to be good. Ivan said that Tony was a murderer, and Tony knew he was right. He saw so many people die, and it was because of Stark weapons. Tony was a Stark, and his dad wanted him to take over the company. But Tony wouldn't, he wouldn't be a murderer. He couldn't, he couldn't make weapons and kill people. He wanted to be good.

 


 

 

One day he was dragged out of his room, which was weird because Lemon Man had almost become nice since Tony had been there. He even slipped Tony sweets sometimes, but hit Tony for saying thank you. Lemon Man looked worried, and he didn't bother waiting for Tony wto walk behind him. Instead he picked him up and tossed him over his shoulder, like Tony was a sack of potatoes. He knew better than to whine about it, so Tony hung limp until Lemon Man took him to Ivan's study, where he'd only been once before, when the doctor treated him. There were lots of books, and Tony wanted to read them, but he wasn't sure if he remembered how.

 

Ivan was already there and looked worried, like something really bad had happened.

 

"Tony, you have been a good boy," he said once Lemon Man put him down. "You have a chance to make this world a better place, to atone for the sins of your forefathers. You are the future, and though your are tainted, you can do good in this world. "

 

Tony nodded eagerly; he wouldn't make weapons, he'd already promised.

 

"But your father will not listen to reason, Tony," Ivan said, then sighed. "He did not answer our ransom demands, so we continued with the re-education. But now the Marshal's are bearing down upon us, and our time is coming to an end."

 

Tony processed what Ivan had said, not sure where to start. His father hadn't paid a ransom for him? Why not? And what did Ivan mean when things were coming to an end?

 

"They will find you, Tony. They will take you back to your father, and you must not give in. "

 

Tony shook his head, his chest and stomach cramping in the way it used to, Before.

 

"No! I wanna come with you!" Tony shouted, then flinched because he expected a hit that never came.

 

Instead, Ivan gathered him into a hug, rubbing the fuzz that they had kept shaved .

 

"No, Tony. You can't come with me. Your time with us is over, but you must be strong. You must not give in to your father's demands," he murmured, cuddling Tony close.

 

Tony wanted to cry. Ivan wasn't always nice, but Tony wanted to be good. How could he convince his father that he didn't' want to make weapons? He'd never listen.

 

"B-but how?" Tony stammered, looking up at Ivan, who looked more tired than Tony had ever seen him.

 

"You must not let anyone know that you are capable of these things, Tony. No one must now how smart you really are, because they'll take advantage of you. They will make you into a monster, and they will use you to destroy. You don't want to destroy, do you?"

 

Tony thought to the villages and cities that Stark weapons had leveled, and then he shook his head. He didn't want to be a monster. He didn't want to kill anyone. He didn't want to be a Stark.

 

"So what do I do?" Tony whispered, staring at his hands, which were dirty from his room. Sometimes he thought they were covered in blood.

"You must give up being a genius, Tony. You must not l reveal to anyone how intelligent you are. You can atone by becoming regular, by joining those who cannot do harm through their intellect."

 

"You...I'm s'posed to be stupid?" Tony asked, and his heart hurt. Tony was a smart cookie, and his mom liked that about him. So did Jarvis. How was he supposed to be not-smart? How was he supposed to be stupid?

 

"We have talked about lies, Tony. This will be your greatest lie of all. You must become someone else, to protect the world from your legacy."

 

Ivan cuddled him close then, and Tony buried his face against the scratchy fabric of his jumper . Then Ivan was standing up, with Tony in his arms. Tony clung to him, afraid of what would happen next. Lemon Man followed , and they walked the familiar hallways until they arrived in the projector room. Tony started fighting then, and it took both Ivan and Lemon Man to strap Tony into the chair. Tony screamed and tried to break away, but the straps were too tight.

 

"No, Ivan!' Tony yelled. "Please don't leave me!" He begged, choking on a sob. "I wanna go with you! Please take me with you, please!”

 

Ivan shook his head, and he looked so sad. Tony wanted to hug him, wanted to be better. He wanted the Marshals to go away, and to leave them alone so Tony could be good for Ivan.

 

He pressed his hand to Tony's head, which hadn't been strapped down yet. Tony pushed his head against Ivan's palm, trying to keep the contact from hending.

 

Ivan smiled slightly, and then his hand was gone.

 

"Be good, Tony. It is up to you now."

 

And then he was gone. Tony screamed and cried, trying to talk Lemon Man into staying, but he left too. Tony was familiar with the sound of gunshots, so he jerked in surprise in his chair when he heard them ring out down the hallways. There was yelling. More gunshots, more yelling. Then he heard a woman yell, "US MARSHALS, CALL OUT AND KEEP FROM GETTING SHOT!"

 

"Help!" Tony yelled. He didn't think Ivan would be coming back, and he didn't want to die in the chair. Maybe the US Marshals would leave him too; he was a murderer, and he didn't deserve to be saved. But he didn't want to be forgotten. He didn't want to be left all alone anymore.

 

A woman with yellow hair came into the room, her gun pointed at Tony. He squirmed when he realized it was one of his father's designs, and he almost cried when she spotted him.

 

"Holy shit, kid. What's your name?" She asked, even as she moved forward to work on the straps.

 

Tony's mouth felt like someone had stuffed it with cotton, and it was hard for him to talk. Finally he said, "My name is Anthony Stark, and my dad is Howard Stark. I wanna go home," he begged, and the Marshal nodded, making quick work of the chair's straps.

 

"I'm US Marshal Carol Danvers, Tony. I'm here to help you. I'm gonna get you home, okay?'

 

Tony nodded, flinging himself at her once he was free. She smelled like flowers and he started crying when she hugged him back. He wanted Ivan, but he wanted to go home more.

 

"Where's Ivan?" He asked, and Marshal Danvers stumbled from where she was carrying him through the door.

 

"Ivan Vanko? The leader of the Whiplashes?"

 

"He's just Ivan," Tony murmured, hiccupping. "Is he okay?"

 

"I'm sorry, Tony," Marshal Danvers said, not sounding very sorry, "but Ivan Vanko is dead, as are all of his associates. "

 

"Oh," Tony whimpered, then buried his face against Marshal Danvers' shoulder. Ivan was gone. So was Lemon Man. They were dead and Tony was alive and he had to be good.

 

He had to be good.


 

Tony sat up ramrod straight in bed, gasping for air. His chest hurt, like it used to when he was little and having panic attacks, though he hadn’t known what they were then. His time with the terrorists had been full to the brim with panic, and it’d been awhile since he’d felt so helpless.

It was just a dream, he told himself, but it had been real. Real memory, down to the dirt underneath his fingernails the day he’d been rescued. God, he was so fucked up.

At sixteen, he realized that Ivan Vanko was a sick fuck, who kidnapped a child and brainwashed him. But in the same vein, Tony knew that everything Ivan had preached had been true. And he still wanted to be good.

But Tony wanted to be happy, too. Which meant surviving until he was 18 and safe from Howard. He could go off, start another life or something. Invent and make the world better, but not as Tony Stark. As someone else. With Loki, maybe. Hell, he could even write papers with Dr. B.

Running a hand through his hair, Tony scowled at the slimy sweat that had gathered on his forehead. He hated thinking about Ivan, and the only place he was actively caught in memory had been his dreams and the occasional flashback.

He didn’t want to dwell on why his brain had decided to recall that particular time in his life, but it did remind him of his goals. Which sparked a train of thought that led him to wonder where his project binder was.

Turning the lamp on, Tony glanced around his room (his room!), smiling slightly at the reds and golds that Mr. Yinsen had decorated in. The clock said it was half an hour shy of 5 AM, which is when Mr. Yinsen started to stir anyways, so Tony would have been up soon. Though he would have appreciated the extra hour of sleep.

Sliding off the bed, Tony moved to rummage through his backpack, expecting the flash of red and gold duct tape to glint in the lamplight. His chest tightened when he didn’t see it right off, and then he dumped his entire backpack onto the floor.

His homework for Hill was there, as was his chemistry textbook and remedial packet, but no binder.

His mind raced to think if it was in his locker or not, and it had to be, it really fucking had to be. Otherwise Tony was fucked. Maybe it had gotten left in Dr. B’s classroom. Or Loki’s car. He just had to be cool.

It would be alright. Everything would be alright.

Chapter Text

The morning after his nightmare came too quickly, and Tony found himself brooding at the table, weighing his options.

“Are you alright, Anthony?” Yinsen asked, drawing Tony from his stoic inspection of his oatmeal.

Glancing up, Tony managed a sheepish smile, though he felt his chest twinge with the added guilt of lying to Yinsen.

“Yeah...I just had a nightmare last night, and I don’t feel so great today.”

That, at least, was the truth. While he’d been sleeping better since Whippoorwill and during the first few nights under Mr. Yinsen’s roof, the nightmares had still been plaguing him, and on more than one occasion his guardian had offered to let him stay home and avoid the stress of school and living a constant lie.

True to form, Yinsen’s brow creased, and the man took a moment to dab the corner of his mouth with a napkin before speaking.

“Would you like to stay home today? I’m aware that you are caught up in your schoolwork, and missing a day with Dr. Banner won’t set you behind in the least. It’s alright to take a day off once in awhile,” Mr. Yinsen pressed, and Tony felt his shoulders creeping up to his ears in shame.

He hadn’t taken him up on his offer the first few times, because he was a Stark, because he was made of iron, and because he didn’t want Yinsen to think he was weak or stupid because a few nightmares kept him up at night.

But now...his project binder was important, and he already knew that it wasn’t in his locker (thanks to Loki’s excellent ninja skills, having had his boyfriend check earlier that morning). Which meant that it was at the mansion, and that was not okay. In any sense of the word.

Looking up from under the fringe of his bangs, Tony took a deep breath and steeled himself to lie to Yinsen. He probably deserved Howard’s wrath for what he was about to do, but he couldn’t take any chances.

“Could I? I’m just so...tired,” he said on a sigh, pushing his spoon through his oatmeal with a frown.

He felt a hand on his arm, and closed his eyes as Yinsen spoke.

“You can rest, Anthony. You can take time. I won’t find you weak or wanting. I just want you happy and healthy,” Yinsen explained, and Tony hated himself.

“Thanks,” he murmured, opening his eyes while managing to give Yinsen a tight smile.

“You’re welcome,” his guardian replied, and the man took a moment to ruffle Tony’s hair on his way to get another cup of coffee.

Tears stung at the corners of Tony’s eyes, and he was grateful Yinsen’s back was turned. Maybe he deserved to stay with Howard, if this was how he was going to act.

 


 

“Are you entirely positive you want to do this?” Loki asked, for what had to be the tenth time.

(It actually was 10, because Tony had been counting.)

“Yes. I have to do this,” Tony said, tired of the argument they’d been having the entire car ride.

They were over halfway to the mansion, despite Loki’s misgivings and the fact that Tony had been expressly forbidden from going anywhere near the mansion or his father. From multiple sources.

He felt bad for deceiving Yinsen. As in it made him sick to his stomach, and his face burned with shame every time he thought about it. But his project binder was more important than his conscience, or at least he’d been trying to convince himself since he’d woken up from his nightmare the night before. Loki had been unhappy about it, but had agreed to take him to prevent Tony from doing something stupid, like calling a cab or walking.

“Why is this so important? Is it not just a simple three ring binder?” Loki asked, glancing away from the road to lock gazes with Tony.

Tony could see the worry in the crease between his boyfriend's eyebrows, and he wished he could smooth it away. Loki had been awesome, more awesome than Tony could have ever anticipated, and he didn’t deserve Tony’s shit.

“I can’t tell you why,” Tony hedged. “But if my father gets ahold of it, I’m dead.”

Loki hummed, a low and unhappy sound. Tony’s chest tightened, but he knew he had to endure. The binder was all of Tony’s projects, years of ideas and work concealed in a system he’d been perfecting since he was twelve. While it was all in his head, Tony couldn’t let his father see it, see the truth.

As Loki turned onto the winding yellow gravel road that led to the mansion, Tony reassured himself in that he’d called ahead to Maurice, who he was positive wouldn’t rat him out. The old guard had said that Howard was out of town, and wouldn’t be back until the weekend.

“Take this road here,” Tony instructed, and Loki turned onto the maintenance road, where the gravel was larger and had less give. Loki’s Prius bounced the entire way, and Tony’s knee wouldn’t stop twitching from his nerves.

They arrived outside the maintenance entrance, and Tony was quick to unbuckle his seatbelt and slide out of the car.

When he saw Loki motioning to do the same, Tony shook his head sharply.

“No way. I need you idling. I won’t be long, but I need you ready. We can’t both go in,” Tony explained, feeling even more jittery at the idea of Loki being inside. Even if Howard wasn’t there, Tony didn’t want the fucker’s vibes anywhere near Loki.

“I’m not happy about this, Tony,” Loki growled, and he could see the teen’s carefully constructed facade of indifference crumbling around his worry. “Why should I let you do this?”

Tony heaved a deep breath then held it with a wince, not sure what to say. Could he trust Loki? Could he rely on Loki to understand?

“Why should I not tell Yinsen of this folly?” Loki asked, a new edge to his voice. “I hesitate to hurt you to protect you, but you don’t seem to be operating off of very much logic,” he seethed.

Glancing at the mansion, Tony nearly danced in place from anxiety and nervousness, not having anticipated Loki’s reticence. He wasn’t exactly being fair, was he?

Letting his breath out in a nervous whoosh, Tony fidgeted with the door handle for a moment before coming a to a decision.

“I’ll...uh…” Taking another deep breath through a suddenly tight chest, Tony steeled himself. “I-I’ll tell you. Everything.”

The promise came out in a jumble of words, panic lacing his voice and making it crack like he was thirteen again.

“You would tell me this secret, that has you enduring beatings from a monster?” Loki asked, his tone full of disbelief. “You would trust me with your truth?”

Nodding jerkily, Tony edged away from the open door of the Prius.

“Yeah. I will. I just...I gotta go check on this. Trust me a little bit longer,” he pleaded.

Loki’s eyes were as green as ever, and Tony could tell his boyfriend was conflicted.

“Alright. I’ll hold you to it though,” Loki warned. “Now go carry out your mission before we’re discovered.”

“ ‘Kay,” Tony said, then pivoted in the gravel and jogged up to the service entrance that was tucked against the back of the mansion.

Maurice had said that his father was out of town, which meant that no one, not even the maids, would be back until he returned. Howard was a bitter, paranoid man, and unless he or Tony was there, didn’t like to allow people into his home. At least that much worked to Tony’s benefit.

Coming up to the door, Tony pulled out the lock pick he’d fashioned when he was fifteen and needed to get back into the mansion after missing his bus, and Howard had neglected to give him a key.

A few moments and he felt the give in the door handle, and was slipping inside while resolutely not looking back to see if Loki was watching. From there, it was mere moments before he’d stolen into the main part of the mansion, and was taking the stairs as fast as he could with sore ribs and a bum wrist.

His bedroom door was shut, and Tony wasn’t sure what to expect when he opened it. He imagined that Howard would have left everything alone, or had it all carted out. His breath caught in his throat when the open door revealed pure carnage.

The first thing he noticed was the pungent smell of alcohol, which nearly sent him into a panic attack because he thought Howard was somewhere in the room, drunk out of his mind and ready for retribution straight out of Tony’s hide.

Then he noticed how bright it was, because his dark blue curtains had been ripped down, left in a pool of fabric at the bottom of the window. His bed was shredded. His pillows had been ripped apart, and feathers were everywhere.

His bedding was heaped upon the floor, full of holes and he could see the glint of bottles interspersed throughout the destruction.

His nightstand, which only held knicknacks and bits of detritus that came out his pockets, had been upended, the drawers ripped out and broken against a nearby wall. His dresser drawers littered the floor, and Tony’s heart lurched when he realized that none of his school supplies could be seen from the doorway.

Lurching forward, Tony dropped to his hands and knees and frantically dug through the mess, not caring if splinters of glass or wood shredded his good hand or the fingers not covered by the cast.

If his project binder wasn’t in the mess, where was it?

It took him the better part of fifteen minutes to realize that he wouldn’t find the flash of red and gold duck tape in the tattered remains of his pathetic life. He knew it wasn’t at Whippoorwill. He knew it wasn’t at school, or at Yinsen’s house. There was only one place it could be, and that thought filled him with dread more than any beating or verbal flaying he’d ever received.

Getting to his feet, Tony dimly realized that his phone was ringing.

He didn’t recognize the number on the screen, but easily put it down to Yinsen calling to check on him from a school phone. Taking a moment to steady himself, Tony pressed the green answer icon, blinking when blood smeared across his screen.

“Hello?” He answered, glancing around the room absently to think of anywhere else his binder could be.

“Anthony.”

He froze.

“You’re a stupid boy,” Howard’s voice said through the tinny echo of Tony’s cell phone speaker. “Stupid and absolutely worthless, if you thought I wouldn’t know about your little field trip.”

Panic flooded Tony’s senses, and he looked around wildly, trying to discern the glint of a camera, or any indication that Howard was watching him at that very moment.

“Y-you’re not supposed to contact me,” Tony said in a rush.

“You’re not supposed to contact me, sir,” Howard sneered.

“Yes sir,” Tony said immediately, before he could snap his traitorous mouth shut.

“Don’t think this won’t have consequences, Anthony,” his father promised, and Tony could feel phantom blows raining down upon him as surely as he felt the cast wrapped around his wrist.

His brain slowly kicked into gear, synapses firing in rapid succession to bring him crashing back into reality. Smearing more blood on his screen, Tony furiously tapped at his phone to end the call, not even listening as Howard ranted and raved. He heard the beep of the disconnect, and he took a moment to let his chin dip forward to his chest, and for the pain of memory to sink into his bones.

Breath heaving in his chest, Tony headed towards his bedroom door, peering down the hallway before he ventured further. He didn’t think Howard was actually in the mansion, otherwise he would have already tossed Tony out a window or beaten the shit out of him.

It didn’t take him long to make it to the service entrance, and then he was outside, gasping for air as he stumbled to Loki’s Prius.

He distantly heard Loki’s alarmed shout, and watched his boyfriend with a certain detachment, only partially aware that he was being bundled into the car and his hands were being wrapped in something. He wasn’t sure what , though.

Tony didn’t check back in until they pulled up to Yinsen’s house, and he realized that Loki was absolutely seething.

“You had best explain yourself,” Loki gritted out, and Tony noticed that he was paler than usual, his knuckles white where they gripped the steering wheel. He also noticed for the first time that his own hands fucking hurt, which made sense since he’d been digging through broken glass and splintered wood.

But where did he start?

Loki seemed to come to a decision after a moment, because the driver’s side door was slamming, and Tony was being dragged out and manhandled to the front door of the house.

“Unlock the door,” Loki hissed, and Tony was quick to drag his keys out of his pocket and shove his house key into the lock.

Once they were over the threshold, Loki slammed the door and locked it, then held Tony’s good wrist in a vicegrip, dragging him through the house and straight to the kitchen sink, where he proceeded to shove Tony’s hands under cold water.

Loki spun away after that, long fingers dragging through his ink black hair while he muttered in...was that Norse? He was seriously pissed, and Tony didn’t know what to do about it.

“Have you any idea what that was like, Tony?” Loki started. “To wait for you, with no updates, and then you come out bleeding and appearing as though you’ve seen a ghost?!”

With his boyfriend pacing the kitchen floor, Tony could only watch in mute silence as Loki hit his stride.

“And to find you in the midst of a panic attack, clutching your bloodied phone, completely unresponsive? Do you have any inkling of how that felt, Anthony?”

Tony ducked his head, wheezing out shallow breaths as Loki’s words sunk in. He knew he was a handful. He knew he was useless and worthless, and Loki would wise up sooner or later to all of Tony’s faults, would get tired of his stupid anxiety bullshit, and if Loki was giving up on him, then maybe Yinsen would too, and his father would get him back, he would drag him into the mansion and never let him go.

He shuddered as the first hiccup forced its way out of his throat, and tears streaked hot paths down his cheeks as he stared at his hands under the stream of water pouring from the faucet.

“I know,” Tony whispered, swallowing hard.

“What?” Loki grumbled, whipping around to face him.

“I know,” Tony repeated, turning to face Loki, his hands dripping at his sides. “I know. I’m useless and worthless, and an embarrassment,” he recited dully, though the tears seemed to be coming faster.

“I’m not worth the air I breathe. You should just break up with me now, and save yourself the trouble. I can’t piss you off if I’m not in your life.”

Loki stilled, and Tony looked away, unable to see the confirmation he knew he’d see there. That Loki really was done with him, and would leave him because he saw him for what he really was: a burden.

“I don’t want to break up,” Loki spluttered, coming to stand toe to toe with Tony.

A slim finger tilted his chin back, forcing Tony to meet Loki’s gaze. The other looked perplexed, and in place of his earlier frustration was worry.

“Tony...what happened in there?” Loki asked, wiping at Tony’s tears with an absent brush of his thumb.

“He trashed my room,” Tony began, swallowing. “He...It wasn’t there, Loki.”

“You mean your binder, or what have you? Can’t Yinsen buy you another?”

Tony shook his head, but Loki continued cupping his cheek.

“No. It’s...it’s...shit, Loki. He has it. Howard has my binder, and it’s all over. Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve worked to hide for the last seven fucking years is falling apart, and he knows,” Tony rambled.

“What does he know, Tony?” Loki asked, the epitome of patience. Tony loved that about him, and would miss it when he abandoned him.

“He called me. He knew I was at the mansion. Oh god, Loki. I...fuck,” he bit out, closing his eyes to a fresh wave of tears.

“Tony, I don’t understand. I need to you to tell me what’s happening,” Loki murmured, bringing his other hand up to cup Tony’s face.

This is it, Tony thought somewhat hysterically. It all ends here.

“Promise me this doesn’t leave this room,” Tony rasped, licking his lips. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone. Please,” he begged, gripping Loki’s hips without heed to how they were still wet from the faucet.

Loki searched his face, obviously fighting some kind of internal war before nodding once.

“I will keep your confidence, but only on this. If that monster knows that you were at his house, then he will let the others know. I will not let you face recrimination alone for traveling there.”

Wincing, Tony nodded. Even if Loki broke up with him, at least one thing would remain secret.

“Ok, so...you know I was kidnapped as a kid, right?” He began, fisting the fabric of Loki’s t-shirt in his fingers.

“I am aware,” Loki replied.

“Yeah. So. Before then, I uh… I was smart.”

Loki raised an eyebrow, his lips pursing.

“I see?”

Sighing, Tony let his forehead drop to Loki’s shoulder, letting ripples of tension seize his shoulders for a moment. How was he supposed to confess this when he’d spent so long stuffing it down?

“The Whiplashes had a leader named Ivan. He was....they made me watch all these videos of war and bombings and people...people dying. From Stark weaponry.”

Loki’s arms wrapped around him then, holding him tight while he shook with the memory.

“You were only seven,” Loki murmured.

“Yeah. So...Ivan convinced me to protect people. That I was already a murderer, because I was a Stark. That the only way to stop it was to be stupid, and not let anyone know what I could do. Otherwise I was just a murderer, and nothing else.”

Tony squeezed his eyes shut, gripping Loki tighter.

Be good, Anthony.

“I just wanted to be good,” Tony said, his voice hitching on a sob. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to be a murderer. I wanted to be good,” he sobbed, digging his forehead into Loki’s shoulder.

“Tony…”

“So I s-stopped,” Tony hiccupped, unable to stop the flow of words, even if he wanted to. “I stopped being smart. I acted stupid. They said it was shock or maybe I’d gotten a little rattled. They said it would come back, and Howard had me tested. He waited, but when I wasn’t a genius anymore, he hated me. He fucking hated a little kid, because I’d embarrassed him. So he sent me away.”

He felt kisses being pressed into his hair, but couldn’t bring himself to raise his head. He rocked into Loki, biting his lip so he didn’t dissolve into goddamn hysterics. He was better than that. Or maybe he wasn’t. He didn’t fucking know anymore.

“So you’re saying you have been hiding your intellect since you were a child,” Loki summarised, rubbing slow circles into Tony’s back.

“Uh-huh,” Tony mumbled.

“And your binder…?”

“It has all my projects. Green energy, an AI that I’ve been designing since I was nine. All my robot schematics. Everything that proves I’m smart, and if he has it, he’s gonna figure out the code, Loki. He’s gonna know, and he’s going to make me build weaponry. He’s gonna take me away from you and Yinsen and he’ll make me kill people and I can’t, I won’t, I just want to be good - “

Loki silenced him by cupping the back of his head and pressing Tony’s face against his shoulder, effectively stemming the flow of words. Tony shook and shuddered in Loki’s embrace, knowing that he was soaking his boyfriend’s t-shirt with his tears.

“I can’t begin to imagine the burden you’ve carried,” Loki whispered. “But I will not let you face it alone. I won’t break up with you for this, Tony. Sometimes I may get frustrated, but know that it is because I care, and am afraid for you.”

Tony closed his eyes tight, some of the tension in his shoulders seeping away when Loki said he wasn’t going to break up with him. He could understand why Loki was frustrated, and silently vowed that he wouldn’t drag his boyfriend into something like that again if he could help it.

Fingers threaded through his hair, and Loki hummed in thought while massaging Tony’s scalp. On Tony’s part, he went boneless against Loki, who seemed to anticipate it and caught him tight with his free arm. Nuzzling Loki’s tear stained shirt, Tony felt the panic receding to the edge of his mind, no longer keeping him in its vice grip of irrational terror.

“We’ll weather this storm together, Tony,” Loki murmured. “Let us see what tomorrow brings, and then we can formulate a plan of action. For now, I want to be reminded that you are safe, and out of harm’s way.”

Peeling away from Loki with all the clinginess of a leech, Tony wiped his eyes with the back of his good hand, then managed a watery smile.

“Yeah...can...uh…” Tony faltered, glancing around the kitchen. They still had hours until Yinsen would be home, and Tony really didn’t feel up to designing or coding, or reading anything. “Can we just cuddle?” He asked in a small voice, pulling at the hem of his shirt so he’d have something to twist in anxious hands.

Loki’s finger was under his chin again, tipping his head back and Tony found himself fairly eager to meet his gaze. It was just...hard. Asking for what he wanted without feeling weak or stupid about it.

“Yes, Tony. We can cuddle,” he said with a smile and a slight roll of his eyes, and Tony felt something unclench in his chest.

Moments later they were on Tony’s bed, Tony playing little spoon while they watched Netflix on his tablet. With Loki at his back, Tony felt able to put his terror aside, if only for a few hours. Maybe Howard wouldn’t figure out the code. Maybe he didn’t even have the binder and Tony had just overlooked it.

But Tony had learned early on that hope was for those who deserved it, and he didn’t qualify.

 

Chapter Text

He’d found it in a pique of drunken rage, having done his best to destroy Anthony’s room as the boy had destroyed his life and reputation. A glint of red and gold peeking out from under the bed. While he’d been too drunk to appreciate its significance, he’d set it aside before continuing the destruction in Anthony’s room.

Having avoided Maria’s increasingly frantic calls and voicemails, Howard had sobered up and sequestered himself in his study with the binder, wondering why he hadn’t seen it before, and what it could possibly mean to his useless son.

Initially, he’d assumed that the pieces of tracing paper had held nothing of import, and were the scribbles of a bored, unintelligent teenager. But then he realized that there was definitely some form of code, as he recognized some of his own algorithms on several pages, that were modified and used as building blocks for something entirely different. Something...better, though he was loathe to admit it.

After the better part of a week, he had managed to piece together the bigger picture of Anthony’s notes, by stacking the pieces of tracing paper to form a whole image. His first thought was that the boy was stealing from him, perhaps selling off Stark tech formulas and coding to his competition. Then the boy had snuck into the mansion, most likely looking for the very binder in Howard’s possession.

Then it hit him. Anthony wasn’t the stupid little fuck Howard thought him to be. Anthony was a goddamn genius, and had been lying about it for nine years.

Initially he’d warred with amazement and rage. And then rage won out. There was a slight sense of gratification, knowing that his son wasn’t an idiot. But it was drowned out by Howard’s utter fury at having spent a decade under public scrutiny for his failure of a son, enduring embarrassment and pressure from Stark Industries and its Board of Directors.

He was most definitely well into his cups when he realized what he needed to do. First he’d beat sense into the boy, as it seemed that was the only way to get him to listen. Then he’d pull him from school and put him to work, abuse charges be damned. Anthony had nine years of engineering to catch up on, and Howard planned on holding him to it.


 

It was embarrassingly easy to slip into the halls of SHIELD High School. Slightly drunk, no less. He’d perused the layout of the school the night before, and had found a maintenance shop entrance that led him right to the heart of things. From there, it had been a matter of comparing his mental layout with the copy of Anthony’s schedule that Howard had requested from an intern. It was fortunate they were so damned eager to please, otherwise someone might have blown the whistle.

Under one arm he carried the binder, which he planned to use in a variety of ways to drive his point home that Anthony was an idiot. In the inner pocket of his suit jacket, he had Anthony’s schedule, and a flask to top off what had been an astoundingly hellish week.

As he prowled the halls, he realized he may have miscalculated, as there was no guarantee he could catch Anthony out alone.

“Thrice damned boy,” he muttered under his breath, while heading in the direction of the chemistry classroom, where Anthony had remedial chemistry. He’d been in contact with the teacher in the past, and knew that Anthony showed up fairly religiously to the man’s classroom twice a day.

As he was rounding the corner, he heard the click of an opening door, and Anthony’s voice carried down the hallway.

“I’ll be back in a minute, Dr. B. Everyone has to pee sometime, y’know.”

Anthony emerged a moment later, and Howard was grateful his son didn’t look both ways. It gave him ample opportunity to stalk down the hallway and catch up when Anthony froze when Howard called his name.

“That’s no way to address your father,” Howard chided at Anthony’s back, even as he switched his grip on the binder.

As Anthony turned around, expression a rictus of hatred and terror, Howard brought the binder up and cracked it against the side of the boy’s head.

Anthony went down with a cry that only served to fuel the rage that had been building, and it was easy to follow up with a swift kick to ribs that were probably still sore. For good measure, he drew his foot back and kicked him again, gaining a dark satisfaction from his son’s wheezed yelp.

“You thought you could lie to me, boy?” Howard hissed, taking a sharp breath in through his nose. He was furious. And he’d take it out in blood if he had to.

“All these years. All this time. I bet you thought you were clever,” Howard sneered, using the toe of his shoe to prod Anthony out of his fetal position and onto his back. He brought his heel down on Anthony’s forearm, right where the ridiculous bright red cast ended, stomping again until he felt it give while taking a deep seated pleasure in the boy’s pain. Anthony deserved it, for all he’d put Howard through.

“I didn’t lie!” Anthony yelled, looking more pathetic than usual as he tried to scramble backwards, his arm cradled against his ribs.

“Damn if you didn’t,” Howard spat, gesturing with the binder. “I found your binder, Anthony. It took me a few days, but I deciphered your notes. You’ve been lying this entire time, and yet I’m still convinced you’re the failure I’ve believed you to be.”

Anthony paled, and stopped his efforts to escape. Howard took the opportunity to drop the binder and haul his son off the ground, grunting at the extra weight Anthony had put on. Howard’s own eyes stared back at him, brown and rimmed with tears, and it only made him angrier. How dare Anthony hide himself, and practically ruin the Stark name?

The rage fueled a solid punch to Anthony’s jaw, that sent the teenager sprawling back on the floor.

“You are absolutely worthless,” Howard snarled. “You’ve been denying the world your intellect, just because some terrorists messed with your head? That is inexcusable!”

Howard aimed aimed another kick, eliciting a yelp from his useless spawn. Somewhere, behind the red-tinged veil that had blanketed his mind, Howard realized that it was foolish to do all of this within the school. But he didn’t give a damn.

Rolling Anthony onto his back once more, Howard stared down at his boy. The perfect mixture of Howard and Maria with an intellect to match, Anthony could have had anything, become whatever he wanted to be. Yet he chose to live a lie.

Anthony wheezed out around ribs that were probably broken at that point, tears streaking down his cheeks and into his mussed hair.

Please,” he begged.

In lieu of an answer, Howard pressed his foot to the collarbone he knew he’d broken once before. It only took a few moments of concentrated force for the bone to give, and Anthony’s ragged scream was a balm to Howard’s fury.

“You are stupid. You are useless. You are a disappointment. You are an embarrassment,” Howard recited, echoing the same words he’d had his worthless son repeat over the years.

“You’ll be surprised how your life will change, Anthony. Things will never be the same,” he remarked, feeling a curious sense of detachment from it all.

Anthony was shaking his head, his lower lip bleeding from the hold his teeth had to stave off further screams.

“I won’t,” the boy rasped, tears flowing freely. “I’ll never make weapons, and I will drive the Stark name into the ground before I do. Stark men are made of iron,” Anthony growled, “and I won’t yield to you.”

Howard wasn’t able to answer Anthony’s idiotic posturing, as he heard what could have been a roar from somewhere down the hallway, then he was being tackled and sent skidding into the lockers. Someone or something was suddenly raining blows down upon him, and it was all he could do to protect his head from the onslaught.

“HE IS YOUR SON!” He heard through the melee, and the pain was starting to mount. He felt something break, and another blow hit his abdomen before his assailant yelled and the punches disappeared.

Lowering his arms, Howard saw a man with skewed glasses and curly hair fighting the principal, who was manhandling him down the hallway towards the main office. Another man was kneeling over Anthony, speaking in a low voice and stroking his hair. It made Howard irrationally angry, and he realized that the man must be Ho Yinsen, who was fostering his son. Before he could start yelling invectives, another man appeared, dressed in a crisp suit, who affected nonchalance but had an angry slant to his mouth.

“The police have been called, Mr. Stark. There is audio and video evidence of your assault on your son, as well as eyewitness testimony. We will make sure that this is followed up to the full extent of the law. I suggest you stay down, and not say anything until the police arrive.”

Slumping against the nearest locker, Howard took one last look at his son, and the scene that had unfolded as a result of his unchecked rage. Taking his flask out of his pocket, he unscrewed the cap and took a healthy swig. It was safe to say he’d lost this one.

Chapter Text

Dr. Bruce Banner sat in the faculty lounge, nursing bruised knuckles and a bitter rage that howled for release within the confines of his mind. He’d been hauled off Howard Stark by his employer, and Bruce was fairly sure he’d lose his job. Especially since he’d assaulted the Howard Stark.

The whole mess swirled in his mind, and he yearned to deduce how Anthony’s taking a restroom break led to Bruce finding his student on the ground, being beaten very publicly by his extremely well known father.

Bruce hadn’t immediately flown into a rage. A ration part of his mind had him jogging up to separate the two of them, and call for help. If only it had gone so smoothly.

He could pinpoint the moment the monster inside wrested control away from him. It was the stench of stale alcohol, the epithets and snarls of failure, and the tears glittering in Anthony’s eyelashes that set him off.

Bruce heard himself roar, “HE IS YOUR SON!” and the rest was a gap in memory that had the unpleasant flavor of disassociation.

When he came to, Fury had a death grip on his upper arm, and his chest was heaving with the effort to breathe around the dissipating rage. Nurse Carter had arrived shortly after with ice and a motherly pat to his shoulder, and Phil had followed suit, telling him to hold tight for awhile in his infamous (per Anthony) “Agent Voice”.

Phil had dropped Anthony’s gold and red binder on the table, warning Bruce to keep it safe for Anthony until it could be returned. Bruce was knee deep in programming notes on artificial intelligence when he resurfaced, jolted by a warm hand on his shoulder.

When he looked up, he met the perpetually grim countenance of Nick Fury. He felt faint, as though the world was being filtered through a pinpoint hole and sound funneled far away through tinny speakers. Nick shook him, a firm jostling that dragged Bruce out of the dreamlike reverie.

“You here with me, Banner?” Nick asked, and all Bruce could manage was an affirmative jerk of his head.

“Stark, Howard, that is, has been hauled off to a jail cell. I think that’s too good for him, but the justice system will have the last say. As for you…”

Bruce hung his head, waiting for the axe to fall. He’d known his past would eventually catch up to him, but he’d held out hope that maybe he could have stayed at Shield High School longer, without having to pick up his freshly laid roots yet again.

“Calm down, Banner,” Nick rumbled, squeezing Bruce’s shoulder. “I’m not sacking you, especially for something I wish I’d done myself.”

Bruce stilled, not sure if he’d heard correctly. Was it possible that his life wouldn’t be reduced to shambles yet again?

“You’re not getting off scot-free, mind you,” Nick continued. “Your ass is going to anger management, that’s for sure. It’ll be comped, but it’s mandatory.”

He nodded numbly, already missing the contact of another human being as Nick withdrew.

“Done,” he croaked, releasing the vise of his grip that he’d inflicted upon Anthony’s binder.

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow. You’re done for the day. Go home, drink some herbal tea shit, whatever. You’ll have a standing appointment weekly with Phil as soon as it’s set up.”

Nick swept out of the faculty lounge after that, and Bruce had the fleeting impression of invisible coat tails swishing before he was left alone to his thoughts. Glancing down, he realized he held a veritable gold mine of potential, that left him both confused and triumphant in his suspicions about Anthony’s intellect. It went so far beyond an aptitude for chemistry that Bruce wanted to cry and laugh in equal measures. Howard’s spewed vitriol about lies and discovery now made sense with an aching clarity.

Jaw set and shoulders squared, Bruce tucked the binder under his arm, and took the long way back to his classroom, not willing to trust himself to walk by a visual reminder of Anthony’s abuse just yet.

When he opened the door, Bruce was shocked to find Loki Odinson pacing the front of the room, his path erratic and fraught with mumbling and wringing hands. The teen’s head shot up when he heard Bruce, his eyes red rimmed and wild.

“You have to take me to him,” Loki stated, more of an order than a request.

“I can’t do that,” Bruce replied automatically, though he wasn’t entirely positive that he couldn’t.

“You must,” Loki replied, his voice cracking with desperation. He was known for his unflappable, aloof nature, and Bruce wasn’t sure what to make of Loki’s change in demeanor. Anthony seemed to have that effect on people.

“Mr. Odinson, I really can’t,” Bruce began, but was cut off.

“You don’t understand!” Loki snapped, dragging pale hands through his already mussed hair. “He’ll have Yinsen, but I promised I would stay with him! It’s my fault for taking him to that horrid place yesterday, and I can’t leave him!”

Loki froze, realizing that he’d made a grave misstep with his words. Bruce knew it too, and zeroed in on Loki’s statement.

“Where did you take him yesterday, Loki?” Bruce asked, quietly so as to keep Loki off the defensive.

“I…” Loki fidgeted, dragging at the hem of his shirt in a gesture that was reminiscent of Anthony.

“Howard Stark has already taken out his vengeance, Loki. We have to do everything we can to minimize the damage, and that includes having all the information at our disposal,” Bruce pointed out, and he could see Loki’s capitulation in the sudden slump of his shoulders.

“I took him to the mansion yesterday,” Loki confessed miserably, stumbling backwards until long legs hit a table, which he practically collapsed upon. “He would have gone by himself, come hell or high water, and I realized it would be best to take him, despite my misgivings.”

Bruce nodded, silently encouraging Loki to continue.

Sighing, Loki hung his head, seeming to steel himself.

“He was looking for something. I didn’t even know what it was until after...well, Howard wasn’t home, but Tony came back bleeding and practically comatose. I had no idea what had happened, what he’d looked for...when we arrived back at Yinsen’s, he was so...desolate.”

Loki looked up, green eyes reflecting a heartbreak that Bruce’s heart echoed, for all of Tony’s pain and the suffering both boys would go through before they made it to the other side.

“Howard called him, while he was there. He knew that Tony had come in, and Tony was panicked and he...he didn’t find whatever he was looking for. Something that would send Howard into a rage…”

“Something like this?” Bruce asked, taking the binder from under his arm and giving it a little shake. The lights caught on the gold duct tape, a jaunty reminder that its owner had paid in blood for its existence.

Eyes wide, Loki stumbled forward, a hand outstretched.

“Yes...b-but how?” He stammered, a far cry from the smarmy smart aleck Bruce was used to.

“Howard Stark found it, and I assume he read its contents, from the shit he was spewing while he beat Anthony,” Bruce growled, feeling his control slip a hair. “Do you know what’s in this binder?”

Hesitating for a moment, Loki finally nodded.

“I do. Do you?” He challenged.

“Yes,” Bruce sighed, running a hand through curls that needed a trim. “He’s brilliant. Wonderfully brilliant, and he doesn’t deserve the hand he’s been dealt.”

“He couldn’t tell anyone,” Loki said quickly, and Bruce thought it was sweet, how Loki defended Anthony. They were a good couple, and Bruce hoped they could weather the storm.

Glancing at the clock, Bruce bit his lip, then came to a split second decision. He knew Loki had early out, and that he usually spent the time waiting for Tony or in ISS (all the teachers knew this, really), so it wouldn’t be too much of an issue…

“They took my car keys,” Loki growled, breaking through Bruce’s train of thoughts.

“I’m sorry?”

“I was in the senior lounge and Coulson came in and took my car keys, and told me Tony had been hurt. As if I were supposed to just sit there and wait!!”

Bruce didn’t think he could survive Loki crying, or worse, Loki finding a way to Anthony that landed him on a one way street named “Not Quite Legal”.”

Knowing there was nothing for it, Bruce huffed out a breath then reached into his pocket, pulling out his keys to give them a little jingle. Loki caught on immediately, his grin desperate and broken and Bruce found himself matching it.

“Then we’ll take mine.”