"If we're really, really quiet, maybe they won't find us," Tad whispers to Shazam. Shazam's tongue lolls out of the side of his mouth and he cocks his head at her. "Shh," Tad insists. She puts a finger to her lips for emphasis.
"Yeah, I don't know that that's ever worked, kid," a voice says from the other side of sofa, and Tad just about jumps out of her skin.
"Uncle Tony!" She scrambles out from between the wall and the back of the couch, and when she pokes her head up over the armrest, her Uncle Tony's sprawled out with a drink in his hand. "I'm hiding," she says, trying to imitate her Aunt Jane's scandalized voice. "You're going to give away my location!"
Shazam barks sharply in agreement, then flops down on his rump and lays his head across Uncle Tony's feet.
Traitor, Tad thinks viciously.
"See, that's the thing about living in a place like this," Uncle Tony says philosophically. "When you have an AI butler who sees everything, it's pretty fucking hard to hide from anyone."
He pats the empty space beside his hip and Tad crawls up next to him. He's a lot better for cuddling than Uncle Steve or Uncle Thor or Uncle Clint, just enough padding to make him comfortable, though still nowhere near as good as her dad. Still, she curls up with her cheek against his chest and lets him pet a hand over her hair like she's a little kid or something instead of seven. That's practically a grown up.
"JARVIS wouldn't narc on me," Tad says. "Right, JARVIS?"
"Of course not, Miss Banner. Your secrets are always safe with me."
"Narc," Uncle Tony snorts into his drink and gives her scalp a happy little scratch. Shazam slinks further up the couch and whines like he's just noticed he's being ignored, and Uncle Tony's hand drops down to pet him instead. Tad smiles, because she has the best dog ever. "You've been spending way too much time around Steve, Tadpole."
"He says the same thing to me about you," Tad points out. She holds her hand out and Shazam gives it a messy lick.
"Tabitha Gamma Banner!" Tad's mom screams, and the two of them nearly fall off the sofa when Shazam yelps and jumps up on top of their legs. There's a brief scuffle as they rearrange and resettle into a position that's almost, but not quite, comfortable for all of them. From the sound of the yell, Tad's mom is at least a floor away, but Tad still shrinks down against Uncle Tony a little more. "Get your butt down here right now!"
"You want to share what you did with the class, Tadpole? I don't think I've heard Darcy hit that register since you used her shoes for target practice."
Tad pouts and pokes at Uncle Tony's arc reactor. "It was only a little fire," she says petulantly.
"Been there," Uncle Tony says with a little toast of his glass, which is why he's her favorite. "What happened?"
She shrugs. There's a loose thread hanging from Uncle Tony's collar and she tugs on it until he swats at her hand. "Uncle Clint helped," she finally offers.
"Did he now?" Uncle Tony's voice is almost blank with just the slightest bit of amusement, which is either a very good or very bad sign.
"He helped with his arrows," she adds, warming to her story.
"Are you sure that's what happened," Uncle Tony asks. "Are you sure you didn't mean to say that you helped yourself to his arrows? And then blew something up with them?"
Tad looks up with the pout that always makes her dad go wide eyed and either cave or yell for her mom to come deal with her.
"Don't even try it, kid," Uncle Tony says. He pokes at her side and she shrieks and tries to squirm away from the tickle. "I've been using that look for decades. I'm a master at that look. The Russian judge gave me a full ten points on that look."
"Uncle Tony," Tad whines.
Uncle Tony just arches an eyebrow at her and says, "You're using my couch as a hiding spot. Entertain me or go meet your fate."
"Anthony Edward Stark!" Uncle Steve yells loudly enough that Tad imagines she can see the light fixture sway a little bit. "Why do you even own a bedazzler and what have you done to my uniform with it!"
Uncle Tony's mouth scrunches to the side. "It's possible I'm going to be sleeping on this couch tonight," he mumbles to himself, then glances down and notices Tad smirking up at him. "This is why you always invest in quality furniture, kiddo."
"Yes, Uncle Tony," she says dutifully.
"I won't narc on you if you won't narc on me," she says and offers Uncle Tony her hand.
He looks at her, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth, then adopts a serious expression, takes her hand in his, and pumps it once. "Deal."
Shazam rolls over onto his back and starts to snore.