Chapter 1: Pardon Me, Sir
Steve Rogers liked his routine very much, thank you. He woke up at six, every morning, rain or shine, weekend or week day, and headed to the gym four blocks from his warehouse apartment. He worked out an hour, keeping up the figure he'd gotten from intense training when he was still a military tool, not a civilian, then returned home to shower, eat breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee while browsing the newspaper. So Steve was a bit old fashioned, but technology didn't really like him, and besides he liked the smell of coffee mixing with the newspaper.
Then at nine or so, he'd gather up his bag - an old green canvas backpack that read Captain S. Rogers in fading black paint - and unlock his motorcycle from the cage he kept it in at night. There was a certain thrill he got, zipping in between New York rush hour traffic, on his old bike, a remnant of his younger years. From then on his morning was simple. At ten thirty he'd be in his small class room, setting up easels for his first class. At eleven his first class of the day would file in, some bleary eyed and wearing pajamas, other's bright eyed and greeting him with smiles, "Morning, Professor"; no one called him Mr. Rogers - it reminded Steve of children's television show he had watched once years and years ago. No one seemed to realise that the reason the old man wore sweaters all the time was because of his tattoos, mementos of his military career. Some of the cheekier 'young adults' called Steve Cap, or Captain, and if he didn't correct them... well, no one as at fault.
His lunch break was always taken at half past one, in the teacher lounge across campus. There he ate with another art teacher, Logan Hewitt, who too had once been in the military, Specials Ops and so refused to talk about it (though rumor had it, that when he disappeared for a couple of weeks, it was because he was still an operating agent); then there was Jane Foster, an astrophysicist, who is nice enough, even if she gets a little heated about her subject, completely baffling Steve with her theories, and her TA Darcy Lewis, who is studying political science but somehow ended up Jane's assistant; occasionally Scott Summers and Jean Gray would eat with them (Scott was some science teacher, physics or something, and Jean one of the premed professors) which would always cause an uproar in the lounge - Logan and Scott would fight, and Jean would try to calm them down, which only ended up making the situation worse because the two men would fight about her (Steve usually left around this point, their arguments bring up too many painful memories for him). Despite his lunch break never being quiet, he still enjoyed it and the company. Of course there were other professors employed at the university, and some Steve was friends with (Bruce Banner for one, but the man had a strange anger problem, and so he tended to stay shut up in his lab), but Logan, Jane, Darcy, Jean and Scott were some of his closest friends (though sometimes he questioned why).
In the afternoon he'd finish up his classes, always feeling a headache form by the end of his last class, for it was an absolute nightmare, full of giggling women and men who had yet to learn how to use their heads, rather then their... other parts. It was of course, his only nude figure drawing class, so it was expected that no one could take it seriously. By six, when he'd wrapped up for the day, finished grading the artwork, and packing away the student sketch books into his backpack to take home, he was usually tired. On Tuesdays he'd meet Bruce at a small restaurant not far from the university and have a quiet meal. Wednesday, he had dinner at Jane's house, always arriving to the sound of the smoke alarm going off because her husband, Thor, would have attempted to help cook. Thursday he was on his own, just like Monday, unless there was a staff meeting and then the Dean, Charles Xavier would supply them food. Friday, he found himself at a bar with Logan, and would regret it each time the next morning when he woke up feeling sore and as if he'd eaten sawdust. He and Logan (for the Canadian would always crash on his couch) would nurse their hangovers with water, coffee (despite the urban myth, coffee did nothing for hangovers), and football, which Logan and Steve heartily disagreed on. Saturday and Sunday depended - sometimes he had it all to himself, which he'd use the spare time to work on his own artwork, thus leaving grading for Sunday evening, other days he had an art show on Saturday evening, and he'd have to dig out his tuxedo, always feeling suffocated in it, and yet some days Steve found his flat hosting everyone, and while it all made his head spin, the smile just wouldn't leave his face because he loved being with his friends.
It was all very nice. Steve loved his routine.
Wednesday was not starting off the way it was suppose to. For some, unexplainable reason, Steve's alarm had refused to go off. He had a late night with Bruce - the usually quiet scientist had found out that Steve had never, ever, ever, watched Back to the Future and so Steve had found himself sinking in Bruce's old fuchsia colored couch ("Its Clint's. He refuses to part with it." Which was enough of an explanation for Steve, because Bruce's boyfriend was odd, but in a good way.) working his way through all of the movies. Clint had arrived some time through the second movie, had groaned when he had seen on the screen and promptly left saying he was spending the night at Natasha's and he wasn't coming home until Bruce stopped quoting horrible Back to the Future themed pick up lines.
So Steve had to skip his morning exercise, skip his wonderful coffee and news, wolf down a bagel as he ran toward his motorcycle, only to run back inside because he'd forgot his keys. And then he had to make the trip again because he had left his backpack inside too. He arrived at the university with five minutes to spare and couldn't remember his lesson plans at all. He didn't have time to calm his brain though, because the bell was ringing, and his student's were filing in.
Steve managed, because he had been an Eagle Scout and a Captain, and by the time the class ended, he was feeling less frazzled. One of his students had even offered to get him coffee, and while it wasn't as good as his French pressed coffee, it was better than nothing. He was ready to face the day.
Steve pushed open the lounge door, dragging a hand over his face. Logan, smoking a cigar (Steve was pretty sure that it was illegal, but whatever) raised an eyebrow as Steve dropped into a chair across the table.
"What the fuck happened to you?" he growled, flicking ash into the already full ash tray in front of him.
Steve gave him a rather tired glare, but didn't try to correct the man's language. "Woke up late."
"Holy shit, is that even possible?" Scott dropped into the chair next to Steve, his plastic tray full of cafeteria food slapping onto the table. "I mean, can you even sleep in? I thought you were programmed to wake up at the crack-of-fucking-dawn."
Steve gave another tired glare at Scott, snatching an apple from said man's tray. Scott tried to protest, but then stopped, shrugging because he knew he wasn't going to eat it anyways.
"My alarm's broke, I guess." Steve bit into the apple, wincing at the tartness. He wasn't a fan of green apples for a reason.
"Huh," Logan grunted, taking a deep drag of his cigar. Scott scowled at the man, but before he could say anything Jane breezed in, flicking Scott on the end of his nose before he could start.
She caught sight of Steve and stopped dead. "What happened to you?" Her question caused Logan and Scott to laugh and Steve to scowl. In between laughing, Scott told Jane, who tried to hide her amused look.
"Thor has those mornings too. But then again, he's broken so many of the alarm clocks we no longer use them." Everyone blanched, not wanting to think of how Jane wakes up her husband.
With ten minutes left of their break, the door opens and the Dean comes in, his electric wheel chair humming slightly. Logan shoves his cigar into his front shirt pocket, then yanks it out a second later, hissing as it burns him. Scott jumps to his feet, and almost, almost, throws a salute. Jane and Steve just smile.
"Logan, you know what I've said about smoking," the man says, his British accent clipping his words to be all posh sounding, though his eyes are twinkling with laughter. The art professor grins sheepishly and snuffs out his cigar properly. "Anyways, Steve, could I borrow you for a bit?"
Steve blinks, but stands and follows Charles Xavier out of the lounge. He flicks a quick look back at his friends, Scott mouths "We'll give you a nice burial", which does not make Steve feel any better. Its not like he's terrified of Charles - as employers go, Charles is ranking at the top of Best Ever. He's kind, really cares about everyone, students and professors alike, and is always there ready to listen. But Steve has also seen what happens when some gets on his bad side. It was like... it was like Charles was Satan, and Steve never wanted to see that again.
"There is someone who needs to talk to you." Charles says, as he leads the way out of the building into the courtyard.
"See me...?" Steve is very confused.
Charles gives him a small smile. He stops next to a man dressed in a nondescript black suit, who is smiling in this tiny weird way, and for some reason he just screams GOVERMENT. "I will leave you too to discuss business then. Mr. Coulson, should you need me I will be in my office. Good day, gentlemen."
Steve feels a bit like a child as he watches Charles wheel away. He's left standing in the courtyard with the smaller man who is looking at Steve expectantly.
"May we go somewhere else to talk? Private?" the man asks, his eyes flicking to the students who are milling around.
"Um... my office is... uh..."
"That will do." Steve nodds, swallows, and then leads the way back to the art building, up two floors, past his classroom and to his office. He holds the door open for the man who nods his thanks.
"You might want to sit down," he says, once Steve closes the door after them. Steve frowns; after the army he found he just didn't like being ordered around. But he sits anyways and stares at the man.
"Captain Steve Rogers," the man starts, sitting down across from Steve. "My name is Phil Coulson. I work for the Child Protection Services."
Steve can feel his face shutting down, feel himself drawing inside, into that dark well - "Is this about..." he tries again, swallowing around the lump in his throat. "If Peggy is... if she had a child... I'll pay whatever, just..." he closes his eyes, breathing hard, calm, calm, calm.
"No this isn't about Miss Carter. I'm here to talk about Howard and Maria Stark."
Steve's eyes snap open. "Howard?" He hadn't seen the Stark's in years - not since Maria funded a charity that featured his work. It had been just after the army, and his pieces weren't much, just sketches he'd done during his tour and then decided to transfer onto canvas. But Maria had though they were something, and obviously so did others, because all of his pieces sold for much more then Steve could have dreamed of and suddenly he had a name.
He had met Howard Stark when he was still a kid, running wild in Bronx. Despite the age difference of a couple years, they became friends. He remembered when Howard met Maria, remembered when sixteen year old Howard, came seeking out eleven year old Steve, wild eyed, and informed him that Maria was pregnant. They decided to keep the kid, even got married (kid Steve was the best man) and went against all the rules in order to make Steve the godfather. Hell they were all kids, they didn't know what they were doing.
Somehow Howard and Maria managed to stay together, probably because of Anthony. But then Steve decided to join the army and Howard decided to turn his considerable talents over to the government and make weapons and technology in order to keep the boys over seas safe. Steve remembered the fight, he was barely eighteen and he could hear their yelling coming from the garage. Anthony, their son, was only seven and he didn't understand, so Steve covered the younger boy's ears and told him outrageous stories so that he couldn't hear what his parents were yelling.
Steve wasn't sure why Maria let him crash at the Stark place during his breaks. But she did, probably because Anthony's face would light up and demand to be swung around, and Howard would come home and kiss Maria, making both Steve and Anthony make gagging sounds. During those days, everything seemed to be alright - Steve could forget about the sound of gunfire, could forget that hours ago, he'd held a dying man's hand and promised to tell his mama that he loved her.
Steve snapped to the present, turning his head to hide the fact that there were tears in his eyes. "Steve is fine."
"I prefer formality," the man in the suit replied. There was a hesitant pause. "I'm very sorry, but this can't wait."
Steve nodded. "Right, sorry. Just... caught up thinking. Um... so Child Protection Services? If this isn't about Peggy..." and suddenly things were making sense. Steve felt the colour drain from his face. "Oh god... They...?"
Phil Coulson's smile suddenly grew very tired, and the man looked like he had seen things Steve had seen. "I hate to be the one to tell you this... but Howard and Maria Stark passed away on Monday morning. As you were listed as Anthony Stark's godfather, you are his only relative..."
Chapter 2: Chin Up, Soldier
Steve flies out to California and attends a funeral. Also...Tony Stark.
Steve had no idea how he managed through the rest of the week.
When the CPS agent left, Steve stared numbly down at his desk where a stack of papers sat, legal jargon jumbling together. The man had explained it all, but Steve honestly couldn't remember a word, the words they are dead, Anthony's alone, you're his only living relation, kept ringing in his head.
As it was, he forgot about his afternoon class. Logan came bursting into his office, yelling that one of Steve's students had come to get him when Steve hadn't arrived - but he'd stopped when he caught Steve's face. Until then Steve felt like he'd been holding together alright, but at the sight of the Canadian, he felt it all shatter, and he started crying. He heard Logan swear, and tell him to stay there, he was going to cover for Steve, just stay there... and shit, he was going to get Jane, or Jean or someone, fuck...
In the end, Logan found Charles. Steve couldn't stop crying, his two best friends, they really were, they were dead, and Steve didn't know what to do. Charles just held Steve against his chest, the position rather uncomfortable because Steve was huge, and Charles was in a wheelchair. But it worked, and Charles held Steve, stroking his hair, and murmuring that it was ok, and that Steve was to take all the time he wanted off to take care of things.
Jane came to take Steve home. She didn't say anything, just taking Steve's hand and threading her fingers through his, her face full of concern. They were silent throughout the drive. When Steve opened the sliding doors to his flat, Bruce took hold of Steve gently and brought him to the couch. With Bruce making tea, some weird herbal thing he'd discovered when he'd been a hermit doctor in India and Jane curled up against his side, Steve felt slightly better.
He knew that everyone was traveling on eggshells around him. Charles had filled them in, a substitute teacher had been found to cover Steve's classes. Jane and Jean took turns staying with Steve at his place during the day, leaving him to Bruce at night. It seemed that they feared leaving him alone.
It wasn't till Friday that he even looked at the papers Phil Coulson had left him. Bruce helped him with them, and by midnight the papers were all signed, ready to be sent off. Everything seemed to be happening so fast - Anthony would come to live with Steve in New York, which was alright because during the school year the Starks' had lived in New York, returning to their Malibu home during the summer. But they wouldn't be living in Steve's apartment - CPS thought it was best if Anthony was somewhere familiar, so it was agreed, no asking Steve, that they would live in the New York residence. There would be monthly check-ins by CPS agents, to make sure Steve was a responsible parent. Then after a trial period, Anthony would be official put in Steve's custody. That is until he turned 18. Two years.
Saturday morning, Steve received a phone call from a Stark Industries secretary, informing him that a ticket had been booked for him, and that the funeral was to be on Monday. Steve went into a flurry, packing essentials quickly, taking a break only to go get a suit that would be acceptable at a funeral. Then Sunday morning, Scott and Jean took him to the airport.
Jean hugged him, surprising Steve, for the red-head wasn't one to show emotion or affection. "We'll start packing for you ok." She kissed him on the cheek, fully stupefying him. Scott clapped him on the shoulder and they watched Steve make his way through security before leaving.
Stark Industries had booked him into business class. The last time Steve had been on a plane had been coming back from overseas, and that had been on a military plane. It had been a barely padded seat, with a harness and no in flight meal, let alone sparkly champagne served in plastic glasses.
He felt high strung by the time the plane landed in California. He felt like he had the first time he'd been shipped out, except this time there was no war. When he got his luggage and made his way out, he was greeted by a sea of people waiting for loved ones, chauffeurs double checking name cards and taxi drivers hoping for a fare.
Steve felt stumped, suddenly realising he had no idea what to do next. The secretary hadn't told him anything else, and he'd been so numb that he hadn't thought-
A man in a somber black suit was holding a placard with "S. Rogers" printed in green marker. Steve blinked and gathering himself, made his way over.
"Uh... I'm Steve Rogers?" Steve inwardly winced as it came out like a question. He had been a captain once! The man smiled, holding out a hand. Steve blinked and took hold of it, causing the man to laugh.
"Your luggage sir."
"Oh." Steve blushed, handing over his bag.
"I'm Happy. I am- was, uh.. I was Mr. Stark's personal driver." The man sobered up, and Steve realised that the man's face was haggard and his eyes were slightly bloodshot. Everyone has been effected.
Happy led the way to sleek black car, a Rolls Royce, that has Steve feeling uncomfortable. Happy pulls out into traffic effortlessly.
"I'll be taking you to your hotel, sir, unless there is anywhere you'd like to go...?"
"That's fine." Steve sits stiffly in the leather seats. The whole car smells new.
"Mr. Stark spoke a lot about you, sir." Happy glanced into the mirror, a bittersweet expression on his face.
"I'm sure it was all exaggerated lies." Steve feels an odd weight settle in his stomach. It feels weird to be speaking about Howard in past tense.
"I doubt it sir."
"How long where you Howard's driver?"
"Five years and seven months to the day, sir."
"Steve is fine." Happy only smiles.
At the hotel, Happy hops out and opens the door before Steve, or the door man can. "I'll pick you up around ten?" he says as Steve gets out, staring up at all the gold that decorates the entrance of the hotel. "Here's my card incase anything comes up."
He fumbles at the card Happy hands him, still feeling out of his league as the porter takes his luggage and follows Steve inside.
Minutes later, he's going up in a glass elevator, feeling queasy as the lobby grows smaller the higher he gets. By the time he unlocks his door to the suite, oh lord, this place is bigger than his flat! the porter had deposited his suitcase at the end of a massive bed and disappeared.
Later that night, after Steve called New York and assured Bruce and Jane that he was fine, he falls into the soft bed and doesn't sleep until the wee hours of the morning.
He still can't believe any of this is real.
Steve feels sick. His feet and hands feel too big, and the collar of his shirt is choking him. The church walls seem to be pressing in on him and there are so many people, all looking sad, saying how unfair it is, that they were so young, how horrible they had to die that way, in a car crash caused by a drunk driver of all things.
The funeral starts and people go up to say what they think are kind, memorable things about the Starks. Steve hadn't thought about an eulogy until he was on the plane - its hasty and the wording is all wrong.
It is also the first time Steve has seen Anthony since he came home for the last time.
Anthony has grown taller, looks like a miniature Howard now. From what Steve can tell, Anthony is actually slightly taller than his deceased father, but he has the same hair, the same eyes, though here and there Steve sees little hints of Maria in Anthony's face. When Anthony stands up and walks to the podium, there is a feint swagger that Steve remembers from Howard. When he faces the crowd of people, a titter spreads in a ripple, because of course Anthony is wearing purple tinted sunglasses. It makes Steve feel the same anger the people around him is feeling - but as he watches Anthony he gets it.
Up there is a kid who has just lost his parents, is to inherit a company he probably didn't expect to get until he was at least thirty-five, and is to move in with someone who is pretty much a stranger now. Up at the podium is a kid trying to be strong for hundreds of people.
"Well, hi. So a lot of you came up here to talk about how great my dad was, and how beautiful and amazing my mom was, and how they will be missed. That's all nice and all, but it is all a lot of bullshit. As Holden Caulfield would have said, you are all a bunch of phonies."
Steve stares up at the kid, mouth open in shock. As he listens, he wonders, where did the kid who used to want to get thrown up in the air go?
"You know what? This is stupid." Anthony pushed himself from the podium and walked down, falling into a pew right in front of the two coffins.
Steve realises when people start turning to look at him that he's been called up. He squares his shoulders, suddenly wishing he wore his uniform. It always gave him strength before.
Up at the podium the faces swim together, except for one. Anthony is sitting rigid backed, staring straight at Steve with a shrewd expression. The red headed girl sitting next to him has her arm around him, and is crying quietly. As he stares at Anthony, he realises the kid is right - they are all phonies.
He blinks, swallowing down the lump in his throat and reads his speech, not looking up once because he can feel Anthony's gaze and it is burning into Steve. He feels sick.
Steve wished it had rained.
The sun makes his black suit unbearable but he doesn't risk tugging at the neck. Anthony hasn't said anything since his speech, not even to the girl who hasn't left his side. Steve wonders if she is his girlfriend.
He watches as they lower Howard and Maria down, feeling his stomach sink with the coffins.
Then everything seems to pick up speed - blur of faces, people saying more things, then people saying they are sorry to him, and why are they apologizing? and to him of all people?, and he can still feel Anthony's gaze-
"Captain Rogers?" Steve feels time screech to a halt. Phil Coulson stands in front of him, looking perfectly fine his black suit despite the heat.
"Yes? Sorry, what?" Steve's brain feels like it is frying in his brain.
"I was hoping that we could have a meeting tomorrow afternoon to discuss Anthony's future. I trust you brought the paperwork?"
"Yes, I brought it. It is back at the hotel."
"Perfect. Let's say one o'clock at the restaurant in the hotel you are staying at?"
Steve nods, and the man smiles. Before Steve can tell the man which hotel he is staying at, the CPS agent disappears into the mess of black suits and black dresses. Somehow, Steve knows that the man already knows where Steve is residing.
He's the first to arrive at the restaurant. He's not surprised, Steve had punctual beaten into him at the army. Instead he gets a table, staring, without seeing, down at the menu. Coulson arrives five minutes to one and the two of them make small talk. Anthony arrives thirty minutes late.
"Mr. Stark," Coulson says, that strange smile tightening slightly as the teen throws himself into the seat.
"Well now that we are all here, I suppose we can begin."
Anthony scoffs. "Yeah, whatever." He turns his head toward Steve, eyes hidden by the same sunglasses as yesterday. "So, you're Steve Rogers."
"And you are Anthony Stark." He raises his eyebrow slightly, because, really, two can play the game.
"Dad used to talk a lot about you." Steve pretends he doesn't notice the tightness around Anthony's mouth when he speaks.
"You don't remember me do you?"
"No. Not really. I just heard from Dad that you used to babysit me."
"I'm sorry, but we really do have matters to discuss." Coulson cuts in before Steve can respond.
"Yeah, yeah, ok." Anthony leans back in the chair, looking thoroughly bored, even though this is his future they are talking about.
"It has been agreed that Mr. Stark will be staying with Captain Rogers at the Stark residence in New York, as Mr. Stark attends school in-"
"No." Steve and Coulson stare at Anthony who is glaring between them. "I won't."
"Mr. Stark, you are attending school in New York, I do not think it is wise for you to stay here-"
"Will you listen to me?" Anthony snaps at Coulson, sliding his glasses down his nose to fully glare at the CPS agent. Steve blinks, staring suddenly at a miniature Maria. "I didn't say I wouldn't go back to New York. I'll go, I'm just not going back to that house in New York. I'll stay with him," Anthony jerked a thumb at Steve, "in his place."
Coulson blinks slowly, and then nods his head. "Fine, Mr. Stark. Captain Rogers, is that alright with you?"
Two sets of eyes turn to stare at Steve. "I...uh..." he swallows. "If you believe it is alright, then yes. I'd prefer to stay in my own place anyways."
With that settled they move on to talk about other things - the matter of Anthony's inheritance, the company, when will the CPS agent visit, etc;.
When they finally end, Steve feels hollowed out and his voice is rather raspy. Coulson bids them farewell and that he'll see them in a month once they've settled down. Anthony gets up to follow.
"Well..." he hesitates. "See ya soon, Cap." Then Anthony walks away, talking into his cell phone to someone named "Pepper".
Steve's left alone at the table feeling his world turning upside down.
"That's good isn't it?" Jane's voice sound distant in the phone, one reason Steve doesn't like cell phones. Honestly he prefers to talk face to face, but right now he needs to talk to someone.
"I guess... I just... Jane, I have no idea what I am to do." Steve stares at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. It is Wednesday evening, so he knows it is even later in New York, but Jane doesn't seem to mind. He'd called to tell her there was no need to pack any of his stuff because Anthony would be coming to live with him instead and he was sorry if he had inconvenienced them. Jane had laughed and said it was no worry, and that it was better this way because Logan and Scott had a bet going on on where Steve hid his porn ("You don't actually have porn hidden somewhere here do you? Because I bet fifty dollars that you don't."), which had caused Steve to flush horribly and stammer, that no he didn't have any porn, and oh god, this was ridiculously embarrassing.
"Its ok. We will be here to help you. Well... I will. And Jane and Bruce. I'm not sure how much help everyone else will be. Maybe Natasha, but I don't think she really likes kids."
That gets a weak laugh from Steve - Natasha is a great woman, she teaches martial arts classes at the gym Steve works out at, even managed to Steve on his back the one time he decided to go up against her. But her with children...? Then again, she is Clint's step-sister and Clint can sometimes be a kid, so maybe...
"How is he?" Jane asks, her voice suddenly subdued.
"I...I don't know. We only talked yesterday, but... well he seems to be holding up. I don't really know what's going through that kid's head." Steve runs a hand across his face, feeling stubble along his jaw. "He's a lot like Howard."
"But he isn't Howard."
Steve closes his eyes tightly. "I know, Jane, I know."
Do you? echoes in his head. He hadn't seen Howard in years, so maybe some of his guilt is transferring onto Anthony.
"When do you come back?"
"Friday, I think?" Steve leaves the bathroom as he talks, feeling slightly ridiculous at hiding out in there.
"Well, we'll see you when you get back ok. Take care."
Steve has no idea where Anthony has gone. Happy had picked him up from his hotel, Anthony sitting in the backseat already. They didn't talk, or really Anthony didn't talk, even when Steve said good morning.
Happy took them to a private airfield, where a jet was waiting for them, gleaming white and proclaiming Stark Industries along the side. Steve had stared in shock as Happy took his and Anthony's luggage into the plane, and had missed the long look Anthony gave him.
- He knew he was sort of acting like a kid as he stared around in wonder, nearly gasping out loud when the plane took off without a hitch. He could barely hear the engine sounds.
But that had been nearly an hour ago. Anthony had disappeared soon after takeoff; Steve had figured it was best to let the kid be on his own. However, the urge to explore soon over took him, so he left the unbelievable soft leather seats (and he had thought business class was comfortable!).
In the back of the plane he found Anthony. The teen was staring down at a strange green, yellow black mass on a plate with the saddest expression Steve had ever seen. He hadn't seem to notice Steve, just continued to stare miserably down at the plate.
The teen jumped, whipping around. He hastily rubbed tears from his eyes. "What?"
"I...what is that?" Ok, so maybe it wasn't the right question to ask, but Steve really couldn't keep his eyes off the weird thing on the plate. Anthony muttered something. "What?"
"An omelet." Steve can't help but laugh, both at the sad attempt at an omelet and at Anthony's mulish expression.
"Go sit down."
Anthony opens his mouth, then sighs. Steve watches him curl up on the couch (a jet with a couch!) picking up a bluish square glass that suddenly has pictures and graphs and Steve has to look away because really, technology baffles him.
He sets down the omelets on the table in front of the couch, along with the orange juice, bowl of fruit he had found in the refrigerator. "I wasn't sure if you drink coffee..." Steve holds the mug awkwardly and is rewarded by Anthony's face splitting into a wide grin.
"I live on coffee."
Steve frowns and the words slip out of his mouth before he can even think about it. "Coffee stunts your growth."
Anthony shrugs and takes a sip of the coffee. "Mmm..."
Steve can't help but be amused as he digs into his omelet. Despite the breakfast earlier, he is still hungry. Anthony stares down at the omelet for a moment, then cuts a small piece.
Steve pauses. "What?"
"Nothing... its... it's just it is really good." Anthony pulls the plate into his lap and starts eating earnestly.
"Thanks. Your mother taught me had to make them." He feels it is the wrong thing to say a second later. Anthony's face darkens and he stills, fork halfway to his mouth. "I...I'm sorry, forget it-"
"She used to make me one whenever we flew. The smell always made dad sick." Anthony's voice is small, distant, and Steve knows they are both thinking of the past, both wishing that the Starks were with them.
"Yeah, it did didn't it?" Steve says, equally softly. Just maybe they will be ok.
If Steve was nervous before, it is nothing to how he feels when they land Newark International Airport. The jet touches down without a hitch and Anthony is staring at Steve with an expectant expression his face. This is it, Steve says to himself as the door opens.
Lucky for him, his friends are amazing. His phone beeps as they walk down the ramp, to where a shuttle is waiting. Left Bruce's car at Newark (they said you were landing there). Level 2, B23. The text is from Jean, who Steve might just kiss now. Actually no, because Jean is kind of Logan's, kind of Scott's he thinks and Steve just doesn't date anymore.
Anthony doesn't say anything when they reach Bruce's black Volvo that is years old. The teen really hasn't said anything since they ate their omelets. He helps Steve load his two suitcases into the back though (Steve hasn't asked where the rest of his luggage is and Anthony hasn't said), and then they are on their way.
Steve still feels nervous though when they reach his warehouse apartment. He knows Anthony is judging it, silently, and suddenly Steve feels very self-conscious. It isn't much, but it is home.
He says that.
Anthony looks at him, sans sunglasses. Then he smiles, a thousand watt smile. "No, it's great."
A little ball in Steve's chest loosens and he smiles back, helping Anthony with his luggage.
The ball tightens when they walk into the flat though.
Steve wants to crawl into a hole and just not come out for seventy years at least. The place is decorated - not in the usual way. A large banner hangs across one wall, the bright red letters reading "WELCOME HOME, ANTHONY". There are red, white, blue and gold balloons everywhere and streamers hanging everywhere.
"I can't believe them," Steve growls, taking a deep breath to calm himself. Then several more. "I'm really sorry about this. My friends... well, they were my friends, they can be a little eccentric at times, so yeah. Sorry. Um. I'll uh... show you where you can sleep and then I'll just clean all this up, yeah."
"It is ok." Anthony is staring at the banner, and he has a tiny smile on his face. His lips form the word home and Steve feels his heart break just a little.
Chapter 3: The name's Potts, Pepper Potts
Steve and Tony start to settle into their new life. Steve thinks everything is ok... that is until he gets a phone call in the middle of the night. Also, Pepper Potts.
Life kind of becomes normal, as normal it is going to get within two weeks of arriving back in New York. Anthony sleeps late, and Steve thinks about waking him up every day because the teen's wasting of a perfectly good day offends him. But as he hesitates in front of the white door, he decides against it. Anthony deserves his space and Steve likes his mornings to himself anyways.
Steve hasn't really talked to his friends much. Jane called and so did Bruce, but they were short calls because Anthony had always walked into the main room (kitchen, dinning room and living room all spread out in the same floor space), looking bleary eyed and Steve made excuses and hung up. Hopefully they all understood that Steve and Anthony needed to settle in first, especially after Steve's greeting. He'd torn down all the decorations, and stuffed them into the recycle. When he went to take it out, Steve found that the "WELCOME HOME, ANTHONY" banner had disappeared.
Friday found them sitting at the kitchen island, two box of pizza from Lombardi's between them. Anthony had mentioned the other night that he liked pizza, and Steve being a pizza kind of guy had ordered them some. He wasn't sure what Anthony would like, but he hazarded a guess - Maria liked hers with practically everything on it, while Howard had always liked it plain. He decided to order Anthony a veggie pizza, because even if Anthony didn't like it, he could eat it and Anthony could have his. He founded that Anthony liked veggie but he preferred white pizza (apparently it was made with no sauce and had basil, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic and basil on it).
"What do you do?" Anthony asked, finishing off the second to last slice of his pizza. Steve had no idea how the kid had managed it, he'd eaten half his and felt full (but then again he had had a salad before...).
Anthony smirked, clearly amused by Steve's word choice. "What do you do, as in work? Obviously you aren't in the military any more."
"Oh. That." Steve sleaned back in his chair, really a glamorized bar stool with a back. "I'm a teacher."
"What! Really?" Anthony paused, halfway through his last slice. "I would never have guessed that you were a teacher. What do you teach?"
Steve felt himself flushing for no apparent reason. A strange feeling rose in his chest - he shoved it away before it could fully manifest. "I'm an art teacher at a university here."
"Huh." With that Anthony finished his last slice. "Are you any good?" Steve raised an eyebrow, waiting. "I mean, art wise. Are you any good?"
Steve started to say that Maria had sponsored him, but looking at Anthony he stopped. Howard and Maria were a painful, avoided subject with Anthony. "Would you like to see?"
"Can I?" For a moment Steve was faced with the kid he remembered all those years ago - grinning brightly up at him and demanding that Steve carry him.
"Sure, help me clean up first." Anthony made a face but grabbed his empty box and plate.
As Anthony put the plates in the dishwasher, Steve went to his room, finding his portfolio. He paused for a moment, tracing the leather, a present from Maria. "Think of it as insurance that you will become really famous one day and I get say I'm the one who found you."
Steve doesn't like looking at people looking at his art. As Anthony takes the portfolio, Steve walked to the window, staring out at the glittering lights of New York. He's learned that people like to think they know his art, so they put their emotions out on their face as they look. But they don't get every brush stroke or every smudge he makes. They think they get why he draws.
"Is this..." He turns and finds Anthony staring down at a drawing Steve had forgotten he'd ever done. It's of Howard, Maria and Anthony, Howard is sitting on a hospital bed, his arm around Maria and Maria is holding a tiny bundle.
"That's when you were born. I found a picture in your parent's first place. Sketched that from it." He watches Anthony, watches as several hundred emotions seem to pass over the teen's face.
"Thanks." Anthony leaves the portfolio on the couch and disappears into his bedroom.
Steve should have realised that the past two weeks had been going to well. He's considered bringing up the topic of school with Anthony, knowing the kid has missed too much to be good now. And even though Charles said to take as long as he needs, Steve feels the itch to be back out in the world, to teach, to not be tied down to his house.
As it is, he decides to take up working out in the morning. When he comes out of the locker rooms, changed into his shorts and tank-top he likes to work out in, Natasha is waiting, yoga pants and tank-top on.
"Come on, Cap, let's see how far you've let yourself go," she says, leading the way to a mat in the middle of the gym floor. He sighs, wanting to protest, but there are some people watching, and he knows Natasha will tell Clint who will tell Scott who will tell Logan, and then they will all make fun of him.
Sparring with Natasha is actually nice. He knows she is going easy on him because if she hadn't he'd be on his back within seconds. Still he does end up pinned a few times, though he manages to throw her off because, he's twice her size, and Natasha really isn't trying. After an hour, he manages to hold her briefly and then he's on his back again, wondering how he ended up there.
"Not bad, Cap. Still a little slow though." She grins, and lets him up. "And that, lady and gents, is how you fight."
Steve rolls his eyes, waving at Natasha because he gets she was just using him as a demonstration, but doesn't really mind anyways.
When he gets home, he finds Anthony is gone and there is a note on the kitchen island.
Gone out. Be back tonight, so don't worry about me. Call
Pepper Happy if you need to.
Steve frowns down at the paper, angry at Anthony. Then slowly he relaxes. Wasn't he complaining to himself about being cooped out? The kid deserves to get out, instead of being cooped up with Steve all 24-7. Besides, Anthony grew up in New York, at least part time, so he's sure Anthony will be fine. Steve was a lot younger when he was turned out onto the streets to play, and back then Bronx wasn't what it was today.
Still, he can't shake the feeling that there is a storm coming.
Anthony doesn't come home by nine. Steve has debated about calling Happy since around five, but he keeps convincing himself to give Anthony one more hour, one more hour. Still by nine, Steve really starts to worry. He'll wait until ten, and then he really will call.
He doesn't realise he's fallen alseep until his phone rings. He sits up groggily, neck sore from its awkward position against the arm rest. He digs out his phone, flipping it open without checking the caller-ID.
"Uh...Steve?" Steve feels himself snap awake. It's Anthony's voice, sounding tired, a little scared and slightly slurred. "Could you uh... come get me?"
"What, where are you? Anthony what's going on?" He is on his feet, glancing at the microwave clock- two in the morning!
"Uh, my times up... but they'll explain." The phone clicks and Steve's franticly searching for his wallet.
"Mr. Rogers?" Another voice comes on and Steve freezes in his search.
"Yes, who is this?"
A long sigh. "I'm Officer Moira MacTaggert, I'm with the NYPD. Mr. Stark is being held down at the main station, and you are listed as his guardian."
Oh. Shit. "What did he do?" Steve's racing heart has calmed down and now he just feels pissed off.
"He's drunk, sir. We found him at a party. Look if you can just come get him?"
Steve finds himself assuring the officer that he will. When he hangs up, he thinks about just leaving Anthony to rot in the cell for a bit longer. Instead, he feels his conscious pull at him.
Bruce picks up after four rings; Steve's suddenly extremely glad at Bruce's odd hours. "Hello Bruce, sorry if I woke you."
"Steve. No worries, I was in the lab. I'm assuming this isn't a social call, though."
"No." Steve sighs, finally finding his wallet. "Can I borrow your car?"
"My car?" Bruce sounds confused, and Steve can just imagine the little wrinkle in the middle of Bruce's brow. "Is Anthony alright?"
"He's... well no, when I get my hands on him he's dead."
Bruce is silent for a moment. "What happened?"
"I just got a lovely wakeup call from the New York Police telling me that Anthony has been arrested! For being drunk!"
"You can borrow the car. Do you want me to bring it over?" Steve is very glad Bruce doesn't ask any more questions.
"No, I'll come over. Do you think Clint can bring my motorcycle over later and pick up your car?"
Bruce met him in the parking garage. "You want me to come with you?"
Steve grimaces. "No, I think I can handle him on my own. Just...If I feel the urge to kill him I'll run, alright?" He tries to smile and Bruce looks amused but hands him the keys anyways.
"Call me if you need anything else. I'll be awake."
Steve nearly turns around twice on his way to the station. He's furious, right fully so, but each time he thinks about leaving Anthony in the holding cell, he feels slightly guilty. He's sure Maria wouldn't want her only son stuck in a cell.
At the sation a pretty brown haired woman meets him. "Officer MacTaggert."
"Steve Rogers." As they walk through the station, Steve can feel her looking him over. Probably wondering what kind horrible guardian I am.
"I just need you to fill these papers out, then he's free to go." Steve glances down at the paper and begins filling things out, finishing with a flourish.
"You know, he was doing really good." The officer said, nodding at another officer to go get Anthony. "We haven't seen Stark in here for ages."
"What?" Steve stares in shock at the woman. "He's... done...?"
She stares at him for a bit. "I assumed you knew. I mean you are his guardian now that... well it was in the paper." She trails off looking uncomfortable. "His father never came and got him. Always sent some guy by the name of Happy to come get him."
"Howard... Howard never told me." And I guess it is too late to ask now. Lucky for him, Anthony is being led by the officer. When they reach them, the officer removes Anthony's handcuffs and gives the teen a little shove toward Steve.
"Go on now." Steve nods, claming his hand down on Anthony's shoulder, squeezing maybe a little to tight. "And Tony? I don't want to see your face in here unless it is on a newspaper for making some new prototype, you hear?"
"Just fine, Officer." Anthony gives an odd little salute, grins and then stumbles right into Steve. Steve can smell the alcohol on Anthony and feels angry all over again. Angry... and disappointed.
He isn't sure who he is disappointed in though.
Anthony disappears into the bathroom the moment they get back. Steve can hear the sounds of vomit, then dry heaving. He sighs, getting a towel and a glass of water then pushes the door open with his foot. Anthony is hunched over the toilet bowl looking miserable. He barely raises his head when Steve walks in, stepping over him to sit on the edge of the bathtub.
They don't say anything, Steve just helping Anthony wipe sick from his face, then holding his head as he drinks the water. Anthony manages to keep the water down, though he still looks green.
"They never looked that happy. At least, they stopped looking happy." Anthony mumbles into the wet towel Steve had given him.
Steve stays silent, waiting for Anthony to speak. He suddenly remembers fuzzily one evening back when he was eleven. He had sat on the bathtub and rubbed Howard's back as the older boy had thrown up over and over again. Then when he had finished he'd quietly told Steve that Maria was pregnant and he didn't know what to do.
"Dad was always at work or in his office. Mom liked parties so the house was always full. I was suppose to just sit quietly and speak only when spoken too. I used to try - I did everything, got perfect grades, even started to make things. I made my first robot when I was six, did you know that?"
Steve did. He remembered it really well. Anthony had run up to him the moment he'd crossed the threshold, his face a little round ball of joy. Steve had barely managed to put his army supplied bag down before Anthony was jumping at him, grabbing his hand. 'Come on! Come see what I made!' It wasn't spectacular as robots went, but this was a six year old kid. Anthony was in the papers the next week.
"But I guess I just couldn't do anything right. I don't think my dad even remembered half the time that I existed. And my mum never once touched me when we were in public."
The kid's face twisted and he threw up again. Steve rubbed a circle in Athony's back, helping him through it.
"Dad used to talk about you..." Anthony whispered. "All the time. But then he stopped that, and then he stopped talking to me. So I thought if I was more like you... But I couldn't be like you. I was just a disappointment." Anthony's voice trailed off and Steve realised he had fallen asleep against the toilet bowl. He cleaned up, then carefully carried Anthony to his bed. He removed the kids shoes, tucking him under the sheets.
At the doorway he paused, looking back. "Goodnight Anthony."
Steve pulled open the door, frowning. The buzzer had been blaring incessantly, whoever was at his door was persistent. He had not expected a teenage girl to be standing in front of the door, looking pissed.
"Tony Stark, I swear-" she froze, her mouth making a comical O as she stared up at Steve. "Uh...Mr. Rogers?"
"Steve," he corrected. The girl flushed.
"Right sorry. Um... I'm Potts Virginia. I mean Virginia Pepper. No, sorry I'm Virginia Potts, though my friends call me Pepper."
Ah... the mysterious Pepper at last. Steve raised an eyebrow at the girl, feeling some memory ping at him. It was the girl from the funeral, the one who had sat with Tony. But what was she doing in New York...?
"Well Miss Potts, would you like to come in?" she flushed again but nodded, darting past Steve with an embarrassed smile. "So what does Anthony owe such an early visit for?"
She, if possible, turned even brighter red. "I'm so sorry, I was just really angry when I found out, I've been running press damage since three in the morning. Usually Happy or Tony give me more warning."
"Press damage?" Steve stared at the babbling girl, completely confused.
"Oh. Oh!" She bit her lip, staring up at Steve with impossible wide blue eyes. "I uh... I'm kind of Tony's secretary. I'm his best friend, and so yeah. When he does something stupid, like last night, I swear I'm going to kill him-" she paused, taking a deep breath. "Anyways when he does something stupid, I manage to cover it up. Usually. Usually, I get a little bit of warning!"
Steve stared at the girl, his eyebrows raised. He wasn't really sure what to say. "Um... Anthony is sleeping right now. Would you like something to drink?"
Pepper Potts blushed again and nodded. "Tea, if you have it."
There is some still left over from all the times Natasha and Bruce were over. He takes a tea bag, placing it on a mug then finds the kettle and fills it.
They sit in awkward silence, Steve leaning against the refrigerator, and Pepper nursing her tea. Her eyes flickered around the apartment, settling on Steve a few times before darting away, the red rising in her cheeks each time.
"How long have you known Anthony?" he finally asks, breaking the strained silence between him and the teen.
"Oh forever! Well not really... Third grade I think?" she wrinkles her nose, thinking. "Yeah third grade. I stopped a girl from picking on him." Steve stared at her, raising his eyebrows again. She grinned, a glint in her eye. Steve found suddenly he would not like to be on her bad side. "Even back then he was a girl magnet, except you know, kids don't do feelings. Its cooties and that kind of thing. Pulling hair, stealing toys."
Steve snorts into his coffee, imagining a tiny Pepper and a tiny Anthony.
"You are not telling the story of how we met." Steve turns, watching Anthony walk slowly into the room. he has a blanket wrapped around him and is squinting, rubbing at his head as he does so. "Pepper."
"Tony." Her expression is cold, and again Steve makes a mental note not to be on her badside. But then the expression cracks and she just looks so sad. "Tony..."
Anthony shakes his head, his dark hair tangled and flopping into his eyes. "Please, don't."
She opens her mouth to argue, then closes it. "Ok, ok, Tony." She gets up, slipping her purse onto her shoulder. "Steve, it was very nice to meet you."
"It was very nice to finally meet you too, Miss Potts." Pepper giggles and then she waves, kissing Anthony on the cheek as she leaves.
"You've done it now," Anthony mutters, the end of the blanket trailing after him.
"Done what?" He watches Anthony fill a glass of water and gulp it down.
"She's going to be absolutely smitten with you now. Miss Potts," Anthony shakes his head and fills the glass again, this time finding the headache pills Steve keeps in the kitchen to take with the water.
When he's done, he turns to look at Steve, mirroring his position by leaning against the counter. Steve stares at him, and Anthony looks at the floor.
"Won't happen again." Anthony interrupts, his face carefully blank of emotion.
"It has happened before, Anthony." Steve keeps his voice low, steady as he says it. Logan calls it his interrogation voice; Scott calls it his teacher voice and Thor calls it his Captain voice.
When Anthony looks up, Steve feels something inside him break. The kid looks tired, and his eyes look old.
"We are going to have to set some rules after all," he says, keeping his voice the same. "I tried to give you freedom, Anthony, and look where that got you."
The kid snaps. "My names Tony, and you aren't my dad, so stop acting like it!" He tries to leave the kitchen but Steve stops him, holding an arm out. Anthony glares at it, then at Steve. "Let me go."
Anthony snarls and tries to push past. "Fuck you."
Steve stiffens and the next moment, he's moving, grabbing Anthony and pressing him against the refrigerator. "You are going to listen to what I have to say, understood?"
Anthony struggles, glaring fiercely at Steve. "Why the fuck should I listen to anything you have to say?!"
"Because I'm your guardian, and if you don't they are going to take you away!"
Steve hasn't even thought of that until he said it. Anthony goes limp in his grasp, his brown eyes, so like Howard's glistening. Steve is breathing hard and there is a sharp pain against his heart.
"Anthony-" Anthony grimaces. "Tony, you need to work with me here." Slowly the kid nods. Steve feels the pain lessen slightly. "I'm not your dad, and I'm trying not to be. The Howard I knew obviously isn't the Howard you knew." You aren't even the same kid I knew once. "But I'm your guardian and that makes me responsible for you, ok? I'm not trying to be a parent, I didn't want to be a parent, not yet anyways. But I'd like to be at least your friend, and I want you to be able to trust me. I need to be able to trust you, A- Tony." Steve takes a steading breath, releasing his tight grip on Tony. "So until then, there are going to be some rules. You don't go anywhere without telling me first, and if you change where you are going, I want to know. You are to be back here by eight each night. No parties, no drinking, and if you did drugs, no drugs. Also," another breath, "also, it is time you go back to school."
Tony doesn't protest. "I think that's a good idea."
So their life isn't perfect, but it is a start.
Chapter 4: Welcome to the Jungle
Steve gets scared by Jarvis and Tony makes friends.
Steve Rogers liked his routine very much, thank you. He woke up at six, every morning, rain or shine, weekend or week day, and headed to the gym four blocks from his warehouse apartment. He worked out an hour, keeping up the figure he'd gotten from intense training when he was still a military tool, not a civilian, then returned home to shower, eat breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee while arguing with Tony about news in print form rather than news in electronic form.
Then at nine, Tony would leave, Happy taking him and Pepper to school. Steve would gather up his bag and unlock his motorcycle from the cage he kept it in at night. At eleven his first class would file in, and the day would be off without a hitch. HIs lunch break was as usual its normal loud self - Scott and Logan arguing as usual, Jane trying to explain her science to Steve and Darcy announcing randomly that "This is so going on Facebook!"
In the afternoon he'd finish up his classes, feeling a headache form by end of his last class. By four he was out the door, and weaving through traffic that seemed a permanent fixture in New York. Sometimes he stopped for groceries, packing them away in his motorcycle's saddlebags as best he could without smooshing them too badly. He was looking for a car, nothing fancy or too pricey, but trustworthy. He had a kid after all. By the time he reached his apartment, Tony would be home from school, usually accompanied by Pepper Potts. Steve had learned that Pepper was actually just a really good friend, and that there was nothing between Tony and her (it had been an embarrassing situation for both Tony and him, but hey he had to play Responsible Adult!).
On Tuesday's he still met Bruce at the small restaurant not far from the university, but he always kept one eye on his phone. He know had Pepper and Happy's numbers programmed into the cell, along with Tony's. Wednesday, Jane would drop by with some meal, sometimes with Thor, sometimes without. Once she'd brought Thor's estranged brother Loki. The interaction between Tony and Loki had been interesting - despite being half Loki's age, there was some kind of mutual hate-respect thing between them and soon they were talking about the benefits of nanosomethingoranother. Thursday, he sat tense through staff meetings, and Charles would through him knowing looks. Friday, well... Friday was still Logan's day, though Steve got considerably less drunk now that Tony was around- all part of the Responsible Adult thing. Saturday and Sunday, Steve had originally thought would be "Help Tony With Homework Days" but he quickly found that Tony didn't need any help. In fact, Steve was the one who needed help apparently. And every second Monday of the month, Phil Coulson of Child Protective Services would stop by.
Steve could still remember the first meeting. Somehow the agent had learned of Tony's drunken escaped and had a serious talk with Steve. It had slightly terrified Steve, because the man had confirmed Steve's fear - they would take Tony away if they deemed Steve wasn't a good guardian. He doubted Maria and Howard would ever forgive him if Tony ended up in a foster home.
His routine was very different now, but Steve loved it.
Steve freezes the moment he walks into his apartment. One wall has been completely torn apart, the wires beneath the plaster and what not exposed. He stares, and stares, and stares, trying to get his mind back on track. The only explanation is...
Currently asleep on the couch, hair covered in a thin coating of plaster.
"Hello, sir. Mr. Stark is currently asleep, as you may have noticed." Steve jumps at the slightly British voice, and swears loudly.
"Wow, I didn't even know you knew swear words." Tony sits up slowly, rubbing his palm against an eye. "Sorry about that, I'll clean it up later."
"What. Was. That." Steve's heart is hammering a mile a minute. There is a whole in his wall, and a voice that isn't attached to a body-
"What? The hole? I needed to make some repairs." Tony sits up, poking at his glass thing. Tablet, Tony had called it. Apparently he made it himself, but there are still too many errors in it that he hasn't released a prototype to Stark Industries yet.
"Repairs." Steve repeats blankly, feeling his backpack slide down his shoulder. He catches it before it can hit the floor, damaging the student pieces he has in it.
"Yup. Upgrades too. Was hard, the wiring in here is old as hell."
"Language," Steve says, automatically, still standing due to shock.
"Sir, diagnostics are complete. I am completely uploaded, though I am only running at 78 percent."
Steve jumps again and swears. The teen laughs, long and full bellied. "Your face," he manages to get out between laughs, "was hilarious."
"What. Was. That." Steve feels ridiculous, crouching in the middle of his apartment, looking for the source of the voice.
Tony grins, getting up from the couch. "He's an AI. Artificial Intelligence, you know."
No Steve doesn't know, but he isn't going to let Tony know that. Responsible Adult and all.
"I had some down time and decided to upload him here too. He runs in all of our old houses, so I figured why not. I still have some work to do, you know. Old wiring. Jarvis can't run completely until I fix up a motherboard, maybe change some wires." He walks over to a window and taps it. "Replace some things..."
"You do realise," Steve says slowly, teacher voice, captain voice, whatever it is, he's using it, "You do realise I don't actually own this apartment. I am going to have to pay for that." He gestures at the hole in the wall.
"You don't?" Tony actually looks startled. Sometimes, Steve forgets that Tony's just a teenager. "Well, don't worry. I'll fix it."
But then he says silly things that are so kid like and Steve remembers playing with Tony when Tony was a toddler. He rubs his head, torn between getting angry and... well it is kind of adorable. Steve thinks back to a long time ago, when he was still in training and Maria wasn't quite so angry with Howard for taking off and leaving her alone with a kid. He remembers standing in the entrance, Maria's face closed off and little lines drawn from the corner of her red mouth as she hugs him and whispers in his ear "Be careful. Come back safely and bring that idiot with you." And then Steve remembers walking down the drive, glancing back when he hears his name being shouted, but he doesn't stop because the taxi driver has honked twice. He looks back - white picket fence, perfect emerald green lawn and the little blue house, Maria watching as Anthony, he can't be more eight, is racing after Steve, holding a badly wrapped package, still in his pajamas and nose red because he has a cold.
"You can't go yet!" Anthony says, his lip quivering as he looks up from where he's clinging to Steve's knees.
"Sorry kid, but I gotta go. Duty calls." He lifts Anthony up, ignoring the sound of the horn.
Anthony's eyes are full of tears but he holds them back as he throws his arms around Steve's neck, the wrapped thing hitting the back of Steve's head rather painfully and Steve knows that Anthony is getting snot on his uniform but he can't bring himself to care. "But... but..." When Steve pulls back to see Anthony, the little boy bits his lip and nods. Steve sets him down and Anthony stands straight, face still sad, nose running harder than ever. "Ok. Ok, well, if you can't stay here where I can keep you safe..." he shoves the package into Steve's hands then leans forward.
Steve blinks as he watches Anthony run away, tears finally falling down his face. He by passes Maria and disappears into the house. Steve stands up and Maria gives him a tired smile before following Anthony into the house. He lifts a hand slowly to his lips, touching the corner of his mouth where Anthony's dry lips had pressed against his for the briefest of moments.
The blare of the car horn startles him.
"Hey Steve are you ok? You are turning a little red." Steve blinks and realises that he is standing in his living room, there is a giant hole in his wall and a very grown up Tony is standing in front of him looking confused.
"I'm fine." He brushes past Tony, a little rude yes, but he can't look at Tony just right now, not until he calms down and shoves the memories back into a box that they are suppose to be locked in...
He disappears to his room, missing the look Tony gives his retreating back.
Steve thinks that he can't really handle too many surprises this week. But apparently the world is all about making Steve dance like a circus monkey on a tightrope.
Tony's leaning against the kitchen counter, tossing an apple from handle to hand as he talks to Bruce Banner. Usually Bruce avoids contact with people - he has his select students, and he can handle the wait staff at the restaurant they frequent on Tuesdays - but to actually, willing, talk to pure strangers, well that's something new (that's why Steve wonders how Bruce and Clint ever even got together, but that really isn't his business).
But their they are, Bruce is relaxed, he's got a little smile on his face that Steve has only seen when he is talking science, and Tony is waving his hands around and looking excited about whatever they are talking about.
"Steve!" Tony grins and waves when he sees Steve hesitant in his own home. "Bruce was just telling me about the work he's been doing! Did you know that I've read about Bruce's work in Science Weekly?"
"Um...no?" Steve sets down the groceries on the counter, standing awkwardly in his kitchen as he watches them interact. When neither seemed to pay any attention to him, he turned to the groceries, shoving them into the fridge and cupboards without really paying attention because his attention was more on the conversation between Tony and Bruce, which went completely over his head.
By the time he'd finished putting away groceries (after he had realised he had put the butter in the cupboard and the milk in the dishwasher) and was dithering on what he was suppose to do next, Bruce got to his feet, shrugging his jacket on.
"Sorry, I have to go. Jane wants my help on something. It was nice talking to you, Tony. We'll have to do this again." He smiles and leaves Steve with a Tony who won't quite about how brilliant Bruce is. Something deep in Steve's stomach twists at the dreamy smile Tony is giving the door that Bruce left through.
"Your friends are really great," Tony says with a sigh.
Steve doesn't know if should be jealous or not that Tony is getting along better with Steve's friend then he is getting along with Steve.
Chapter 5: Interlude: In Which Bruce Banner Meets Clint Barton and Falls In Love
Bruce met Clint in college. It certainly wasn't perfect, but they made it last.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"Uh... Well this doesn't look like the gym." Bruce blinks, frowning as a voice breaks his concentration. He looks up, passed the phials of various chemicals, the carefully constructed network of tubes and burners and test tubes, and the stacks of books he was suppose to return to the library months ago but they haven't come looking for them so he feels that he doesn't need to return them.
A man in jeans is staring around at the chaotic order that makes up the lab. Bruce stares at him, then looks around the room looking for backup from one of the other students who use the lab, only Bruce finds that Hank and Jane have long since left, their experiments packed away. When Bruce looks back at the man, he's staring straight at Bruce; Bruce gets the strangest feeling that those blue eyes can see right through him.
"Hi." The man walks closer, edging around counters that are overflowing. He pauses next to a McDonalds bag, peering into it. He backs away hastily. "I think that needs to be thrown out. Unless," he looks at Bruce, a cocky grin on his face. "Unless that's one of your experiments?"
Bruce shakes his head, feeling his face heat up. He looks at the man closer - he's wearing a leather vest over a tight purple t-shirt which is half tucked into to a studded belt which in turn is holding up a pair of worn black jeans. He doesn't look like a science major.
"I'm not," the man gives Bruce a curious look. For a moment Bruce is confused and then mortified -- he spoke out loud!
Bruce struggles with the awkward silence, wanting to say something, but feeling uncomfortable to do so. He's so used to his own kind, other students who's minds are always full of balanced chemical equations or the latest article in Angewandte Chemie*, that interaction with someone who isn't a scientist is awkward and painful at best. Which is probably why he and Betty never made it far.
"You said this isn't the gym," he manages to get out. The guy looks up from where he had been studying Bruce's notes upside down.
"What?" the man gives Bruce an owlish blink.
"You, uh... when you came in? You said this wasn't the gym?" Under the table Bruce twists the hem of his shirt, feeling rising panic in his chest.
"Oh, yeah, I did didn't I?" the man gives him a sheepish grin and rubs the back of his head. "I gotta little lost. You wouldn't happen to know where the gym is, would you?"
As a matter of fact, Bruce does. He goes occasionally, usually when Professor Xavier comes down to the lab and tells them to all get out because they've been holing up for far too long. Secretly Bruce thinks the Professor kicks them out so he has free reign to do his own experiments. So yeah, he uses the gym occasionally, in the middle of the night or in the early morning because for some strange reason the gym is always open.
"Its by the physics building, in between it and the art gallery."
"Riight," the man says slowly, giving Bruce another one of those "I am so reading your soul right now" looks. Bruce shift nervously in his seat, wishing the man would just leave so he could get back to work. "Um... I kind of just transferred here and don't know where that is."
They stare at each other and then Bruce sighs. "Ok, sure. " He gets up, shrugging off his lab coat. If he's honest with himself, which he usually isn't, he has hit a dead end and can't do any more work now. Perhaps it would be good to take a break and eat, for his stomach is suddenly demanding food. He wonders briefly when was the last time he ate... "I'll take you."
"You sure? Because uh... I could wander some more... Probably find it," the man starts to mutter, scuffing his black boats against the white laminated floor. "Eventually..."
Bruce's laugh surprises himself. "I bet you'd end up in psychology wing. They'd use you as some kind of experiment."
The man looks a bit horrified at the idea. He does, however, help Bruce turn off his burners and close off his phials.
"What?" the guy looks at him, confused, as they make their way out of the lab.
"My name. It is Bruce." Bruce had to admit that he found it a bit silly to be calling the man "the man" in his head.
"Oh. I'm Clint." And Clint gives Bruce the brightest smile he's ever seen. Bruce nearly stops walking, hit by the sudden memories of another brightly smiling person.
"Clint..." Bruce gives a timid smile in return.
Clint talks quite a bit as they walk. He tells Bruce that he is a transfer student from New Mexico, but assures Bruce that he isn't actually from Mexico, "I always get these asshats who ask me if I'm from Mexico." "You must not have met many educated people." "You know, Bruce, I think I like you." And Bruce's heart gives a funny little lurch. "You're a pretty funny guy."
He tells Bruce that he's planning on majoring in physical education ("I like kids. Totally not in a weird way though! I mean, I like kids, as in I'd like to work with them. Like be a teacher. Teach gym. I dunno though." ) and that he and "Nat" are thinking of opening a gym once they scrap some money together and get a degree between them.
And Bruce finds himself talking back in return. He tells Clint that he's already earned a doctorate in physics and that he's working on his second in chemistry ("Holy shit, you're, like, really smart!"), which is something he doesn't talk about much because he doesn't like admitting it ("I'm noting compared to Hank, though." "Hank?" "Uh yeah... Hank McCoy. He's one of my lap partners. He's got two doctorates I think." "Ah, another nerd. Dude relax, that's a compliment!") but something about Clint makes him want to tell him things. He hasn't felt this way since... well since Betty.
They reach the gym and Clint grins when he sees a curvy red headed woman waiting at the doors. "Hey Nat!" he grins and waves at the scowling woman. Bruce feels something in his chest tighten and twist viciously. He shoves it away viciously as he watches. Clint turns to Bruce, a blinding smile on his face - it is a little cheesy, but so honest Bruce can't help give a slow smile in return. "I'll see you around Bruce!" And then the man does something Bruce never would have expected in a million years - he hugs Bruce.
Before Bruce can do anything, before his mind has even caught up with "holy shit, human contact, abort abort abort!" Clint is bounding away, grabbing the red-headed woman in a tight embrace before (dragging) escorting her inside to the gym.
Bruce's heart feels funny.
Clint was serious when he said he'd see Bruce around again.
Bruce had found a quiet corner in one of the lesser popular on-campus cafes, his laptop in front of him, the screensaver had long gone on for Bruce was absorbed in his notes. He isn't aware that Clint is there until the man sits down across Bruce with a long sigh.
Bruce looks up, frowning, ready to tell whoever had taken his table, that he was here first and if they would be so kind as to find another table so he can study, when he realises it is Clint sitting in front of him, looking adorably sleep rumpled. He's wearing a shirt with a grinning man decked out in red-white-and-blue holding a round shield with the same colour scheme. Bruce recognizes it as a comic character from his childhood (Commander America? No... Captain America!).
Clint rubs his face, then runs his fingers through his short hair, making the already messy bird's nest stand up even more.
"Uh..." Bruce is completely at loss on what to say. Usually Jane would save him in this situation - but there is no Jane, she's busy, and Hank was visiting his parents for the weekend. "What...sucks?"
"Everything." Clint pouts, and grabs Bruce's coffee. He peers into it and snorts in disgust. "It's cold." Again Bruce is taken by storm by the man sitting opposite him - Clint picks up his own coffee, handing it over to Bruce and then chugging what had been Bruce's coffee. He grimaces and then gets up. "Drink that, I'll be right back."
Bruce watches opened mouthed as Clint does a beeline zombie walk to the counter and orders another coffee. He comes back a few minutes later, a steaming paper cup of coffee cupped in his hands. "Drink." And so they do - Bruce is surprised that the coffee is how he likes it, black with just a hint of sugar and cinnamon mixed in. He wants to ask Clint about it, but the other man was making moaning sounds as he drank his coffee. "Oh god, caffeine what would I do without you?"
Bruce can't help but laugh. He tries to hide it behind his hand, but Clint's sharp blue eyes had snapped to him at the first chortle. "Holy shit." They stare at each other, Bruce feeling like he has screwed something up. "You... you have really cute laugh."
And then Clint's laughing as Bruce turns bright red, fumbling with the lid of his coffee as he tries to hide his blush. But Clint's laugh is infectious and soon both men are laughing.
"Oh jeeze... I'm too tired for this." Clint leans forward on his arms, effectively sprawling out over all of Bruce's notes.
"More like long week," Clint groans, going cross-eyed to see the notes in front of his face. His mouth moves, sounding out the upside-down words. Bruce busy himself with his coffee so he doesn't watch that red mouth.
In the past week since he had met Bruce, Bruce had almost managed to shove any memory of Clint away. It had been hard - on more than one occasion he'd woken in the middle of the night, red with embarrassment and a mess to clean up that could only be explained by the sharp blue eyes haunting his mind. And now with Clint inches away from him...
- "Nat kept me up late two days in a row, and then I had a stupid professor assign a paper for the next day. Who the hell assigns assignments that are due the next day? What do they think we are, high schoolers?" Bruce smiles softly at the cross expression on Clint's face. "And I couldn't find you."
"What?!" Bruce nearly spits out his coffee onto Clint. "Sorry!"
"Nah, its fine." Clint rubs his hand over his face. "See? Clean."
"Yeah, um.. sorry." He doesn't look at Clint because he can feel the sharp gaze on him.
"You weren't in the lab. I actually managed to find it!" Bruce sneaks a glance at Clint - he's sitting up again, resting his chin on a propped up hand and looking positively smug. "It was all dark and then a skinny guy with glasses told me you weren't going to be in the lab all week."
"You... you were looking for me?" Bruce can't keep the disbelief out of his voice. No one ever looks for him unless it is a professor or someone needing to borrow his notes.
"Yeah! I told you I'd see you around! I forgot to give you my number so I had to find you the hard way." Clint's smug expression is still there, though he looks a little nervous. "Uh... sorry that sound probably really stalkerish. I'm not a stalker. Not really, I mean I was looking for you, but not stalking you or anything!"
And for some reason, Bruce finds it endearing. "No.. its.. I... its fine." Clint's expression freezes for a moment and then he beams.
"Ah... so can I have your number?"
Dude, where are you?
Bruce blinks at his phone. It had just buzzed, lighting up and then a little icon popped up "1 New Message from xxx-xxx-xxx". He picks up his phone, still confused and then slides it open. "Read? YES NO".
Dude, where are you?
Bruce feels confused some more. He barely ever gets calls, let alone texts (he thinks the only time he's ever gotten a text was from his provider or Hank when Hank had that horrible cold and couldn't talk), but here-
"1 New Message from xxx-xxx-xxx"
Uh... its Clint.
Oh. Well that makes sense. Bruce hesitates for a moment and then types out a reply, his fingers awkward on the keypad.
At my room.
Barely a minute after he hits send, he gets a reply.
Oh. I'm bored.
Bruce can't help the smile that spreads across his face. He bits his lip and then types again, erasing it twice because it feels weird, but maybe...
Want to come over? I have some pizza left over from last night (Hank ordered too much, Jane didn't show at the lab).
I'll be right over.
Bruce sets his phone down, pushing his glasses up his nose. Then a few seconds later his phone buzzes again.
Um... where do you live?
Bruce can't help but laugh.
Twenty minutes later there is a knock at his door. He pauses in his frantic cleaning, casting a look around his room. It isn't too bad, not the precise order Hank's room is or the chaotic disorder that makes up Charles's office, but just a tad on the messy side.
Clint holds up a plastic bag as soon as Bruce opens the door. "I brought dessert. I wasn't sure what you liked so I pretty much got one of every single ice cream bar and popsicle the Mart had," he says in way of greeting.
"Oh... uh.. great. Come on in." Clint bounces in, rocking up onto his toes and then his heels as he stands in the middle of the room looking around. "Sorry about the mess..."
"Mess? Dude, you should see my place. This place is like... I dunno the poster room for neat rooms compared to mine! Nat hates it, says I am going to trip one night in the middle of the night and break my neck. She doesn't believe me when I say that I have a path through it all. And besides if anyone dares break in, they'll trip over everything and I'll hear them." He grins over his shoulder at Bruce then holds up the bag. "Where should I put these?"
Bruce shakes off the feeling he gets every time he hears Clint mention Natasha or "Nat" as he calls her. It is ridiculous., whatever the feeling is, and he wishes it would just stop. It makes his head spin and his heart ache and he feels vaguely sick in his stomach.
"Here, I'll put them in the freezer. Um.. you can see if anything is on TV." Clint drops down onto Bruce's shabby couch - the floral print a remnant of his parents hippy days. His small apartment style dorm room is crammed with stuff his parents had decided he needed. He'd never thought about how hideous the couch was until Clint sprawls on it, purple shirt clashing horribly with the orange of the couch.
As Clint flips through the channels, Bruce grabs the left over pizza, some plates and napkins. Jane had tutted when she had seen that he ate off of paper plates and had bought him a non-descript plastic camping set of plates. From the kitchen he hears the line-
"'Last night, Darth Vader came down from Planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn't take Lorraine out, that he'd melt my brain*'." the words are out of his mouth and he flushes when he realises.
"Back to the Future?" Clint calls from the couch, looking amused when Bruce comes out baring pizza.
"Uh...yeah." the blush makes his face feel very hot.
"Well then."He drops the remote onto the trunk Bruce uses as a coffee table and then makes what could only be described as "grabby hands" at Bruce. "Piiiizzzaaa!"
Because Bruce's couch is old and it sags in the middle, Bruce finds that slowly they gravitate toward each other. When his thigh brushes against Clint's extremely, nice, well muscled leg he stills, his breath catching. Tiny electric sparks seem to fly up from where denim touches denim. When Clint doesn't pull away, he lets out a soft breath and relaxes, enjoying the McFly's create chaos.
When Clint leaves somewhere around midnight, Bruce leans his head against the door he had just closed after Clint. His heart was thudding and yeah, he didn't have to be a genius to figure it out.
Surprisingly Clint just keeps showing up. Bruce would find himself in the library and Clint would suddenly be there, grabbing the book Bruce needed and giving Bruce a teasing smile as he winks and saunters off with the book, causing Bruce to follow until he finds Clint nestled in a secluded corner that has Bruce thinking that they are teenagers stealing a kiss in library-
Or he'd come down to the lab and find Clint and Hank arguing over physics because when it comes to physics, Clint is actually really brilliant. And he would stand in the doorway to the lab and just watch as Clint's hands made complicated gestures in the air -
Or Clint would bang on his door, a bag of ice cream (he'd narrowed down Bruce's favorites after the first time) and they'd watch crappy sci-fi movies, quoting along to Star Trek and the original Star Wars, because damn it they were much better -
Or they'd work out in the gym. These were the moments Bruce tried to avoid the most because a lean muscled Clint working out next to him, sometimes bare-chested, would leave Bruce feeling flustered so he'd run away before Clint could undress and get in the shower, saying he'd take one at home, only to realise once he got back to his place that his shower was broken.
And then there were the little texts - just one line messages from Clint randomly throughout the day. He always managed to time the corny jokes (that made Bruce laugh anyways) right when it was the most inappropriate time to laugh, causing Bruce to get dirty glares from his peers.
They'd meet up for coffee, exactly the same way they had the first time - Clint would drop down next to Bruce swapping their coffees around and then laying himself over Bruce's notes so he would be forced to pay attention to Clint. At those times he imagined Clint as a cat, or a dog, but then Clint would turn those piercing blue eyes toward Bruce and nope, Clint was a bird of prey.
So their little routine continued.
Bruce met Thor through Jane. He came down to his lab station, early in the morning to check up on an experiment to find a note from Jane stuck to his computer.
Party at my place. Tonight, 6 pm. You better be there.
He felt awkward. The music was loud and people were dancing and the lights were slightly hurting his eyes, bouncing weirdly off his glasses making it difficult to see. He had to take them off and fold them carefully into his pocket where he hoped they wouldn't break. Jane saw him enter and waved him over, nearly spilling whatever she was holding in her cup.
"Bruce!" the huge blonde man next to her turned when he realised Jane no longer had her attention focused on him. He frowned, his face like a thunderstorm, then clearing up into a brilliant smile like the first break of sun through the dark clouds.
He made his way over, avoiding the people as best he could. As soon as he was close enough Jane pressed a cup into his hand. "Don't worry, it's just coke and rum!" He stared at her skeptically, then at the cup. Don't worry... yeah right. "Bruce, I'd like you to meet Thor! Thor, Bruce! He's my boyfriend," she added to Bruce.
Bruce found his free hand crushed in a painful grip. "It is good to meet you, Bruce! I have heard many a great story from the Lady Jane about you and your knowledge in science!" Bruce felt himself gape at the man- he spoke odd, like he'd sprung straight from a Shakespeare story, or some myth. He certainly had the looks- the whole blond Adonis thing... Jane giggled and went on tip-toe to kiss Thor's cheek.
"I think I saw Clint earlier. He was with Natasha." Jane says, grabbing Thor's hand and tugging him away. "And if you see Hank tell him to get the stick out of his ass!" she laughed again and then the two disappeared (well Thor did as well as a 6 foot something mass of muscle can).
Clint. With Natasha. Of course. Bruce suddenly found that yeah, coke and rum were excellent.
Clint finds him later. Bruce has no idea how many red cups he's gone through, but he's started to eye the game of beer pong that has been set up by the pool with morbid curiosity. He can still think the logic of the game through, how the ball's trajectory needs to be calculated in order to - when Clint latches onto his arm.
"Bruuceee, where have you beeen?"Bruce stiffens as hot breath brushes the sensitive shell of his ear. A shiver runs down his spine.
"Uh..." his mind short-circuits when Clint presses a very warm, very wet kiss to his neck. He stand still for a moment and then twists away, face beat red and heart pounding. "The hell?"
Clint is watching him with a goofy grin on his face. "You taste exactly as I imagined."
And boy does that do wonders for little Bruce.
He manages to stumble away before Clint can say anything else and Bruce's alcohol impaired mind does something stupid. He gets to the table full of bowls of punch and cans of beer. He grabs one at random, anything that would take the edge off what he was feeling right then.
"Easy there," a large hand clamps down on Bruce's shoulder as he chugs down the second beer in the last few minutes. "Trust me, you will want to remember this."
Bruce looks up - another ridiculously tall, well built blond. What was it with Jane and blonds?
"Uh..." Bruce winces realising that, yeah, alcohol does render his brain-to-mouth filter useless. The blond is staring at him with a very confused expression (he realises that it is the same look he has around Clint half the time). "I'm Thor's friend?"
And that explains a lot.
"Anyways, so I don't know why you are drinking, but you kind of look like you are going down the wrong path," the second blond god of the night said.
"Um, ok. Thanks?" Bruce handed his beer over and escaped. If he remembered correctly, Jane had said she was ok with Bruce escaping to use one of her rooms for a breather, though she had also said don't hide out there all night or otherwise Jane would personally destroy all of Bruce's experiments.
He walked down the hall, closet, bathroom, ah bedroom - only, well it seemed the bedroom was taken.
Seriously Bruce was going to have a talk with Jane and her blond guy fetish.
"Go the fuck away," the blond guy said, flipping a finger toward Bruce.
"Alex!" the guy - oh it was a guy - sounded scandalized. "Just ask them to find another -"
"Hank?" Bruce stared opened mouth as a rather flushed Hank appeared under the blond guy's arm.
"Wait, what? You know him?" the blond guy leaned up on his elbows, glaring at Bruce.
"Uh... yeah. He's my lab partner."
Bruce shook his head. "I am not drunk enough for this." Hank gave him an apologetic smile as Bruce backed out, closing the door.
Jane could break his projects. Bruce needed to get away from Clint, from Hank getting more sex then he was at the moment, and yeah. He needed to get away.
Two weeks and Bruce felt like the world's biggest asshole. He'd completely shut himself off from the world - barely leaving the lab and when he did to lock himself in his room. Hank had tried to talk to him about the incident at the party but Bruce had waved him off, telling him that it was no problem, that he was glad for Hank (if a little jealous) and that the guy better be good (Hank had flushed and muttered about douches and caring idiots) for Hank. So far Bruce had managed to avoid Jane, not wanting to deal with her countless questions as to why Bruce had left the party early. Because talking to her would eventually lead to Clint, and that was something Bruce did not want to talk about.
For two weeks Bruce had avidly avoided Clint - his texts, his calls, even had Hank cover for Bruce when Clint came looking for him. The longer Bruce avoided Clint the more Bruce was able to convince himself that it was for the best - No one will ever care for you like you care for them, he doesn't feel the same, he'll probably be disgusted by you, he didn't mean anything by it.
On Friday Bruce really should have realised his luck would be out. As he opened the door to his dorm he instantly felt the wrongness. Opening it fully he found that it had been cleaned up, no clothes laying about or long empty pizza boxes littering his trunk-table. Instead he found Jane sitting on his couch, a pile of her notes in front of her. She looked up when Bruce entered, her expression swiftly changing from concentration to irritation.
"Bruce Banner, you son-of-a-bitch," she said, eyes flashing as she stood. "Why the hell have you been avoiding me?"
Ah...so it began.
Bruce shrugged one shoulder, hoping his silence would speak for him and that she'd leave him be. Instead she grew angrier and forced him to sit down on his own couch.
"Oh no you are not going to do that to me now mister! I have had to deal with your moodiness long enough. Its bad enough when it is just you but this time I had Clint moping around my place!"
Bruce's head jerked up, his eyes widening behind his glasses. Clint? Moping? Around Jane's place? But Jane missed his look and continued to rant. "You only think about yourself - what about the rest of us? Clint's worried sick he's done something to make you hate him, Hank is worried that you are going to off yourself, and I'm going nuts trying to make sure Clint won't do something stupid and trying to get you to talk!"
She finished with a deep breath, her shoulders slumping. "Why can't you see that we are all here for you?" she asked quietly.
Bruce tried to swallow against the lump in his throat. Dropping his head, he rubbed at his itchy eyes, forcing the tears that wanted to spill away. He felt the couch dip as Jane sat next to him, laying her head on his shoulder and wrapping her arm around him. They sat in silence for a long time, till Bruce had control of himself again.
"You done being stupid?" she asked, handing him his glasses from wear he'd dropped them with numb fingers to the floor.
"I...I think so."
"Good." she gathered up her notes and headed for the door. "Call Clint ok? If you don't, I'm going to have to come back and have Thor kick your ass."
"I thought you usually do the ass kicking?" Bruce said with a warped smile.
"I usually do, but I'd rather not get all messy kicking your ass." she smirked and vanished from the room with a parting "Call Barton or I will for you!"
It took Bruce another week to work up the courage to call Clint. It was a rerun of Back to the Future that finally prompted Bruce into action. As it was, it took him three tries before he could complete the call.
"Hi, this is Clint Barton-"
Bruce let out a soft sigh. "Uh.. Hi, Clint. Uh.. It's-"
"and I can't come to the phone right now. Leave a message and I'll sure as hell get back to you as soon as I finish kicking someone's ass. Peace."
Bruce's shoulders slumped as he heard the smooth female voice take over, telling him what options he had. When the beep came and Bruce gathered himself. "Uh... Clint, it's Bruce. Um... can you. I mean. Call me. If you want."
He hung up, hitting his head with the fist holding his phone. He'd meant to say he was sorry, but then it sounded trite, and the words kept getting stuck in his throat -
His phone began to blare out a heavy rock song*. Bruce nearly dropped his phone in surprise, fingers fumbling over the controls.
Bruce closed his eyes in relief. Clint had called him back. "Hi."
"Hi." There was static silence for a moment. "Um...you called?"
Bruce opened his mouth, the words 'I'm sorry' on the verge of spilling out. He closed his eyes. "Can we talk? I mean, can we meet somewhere and talk?"
More static silence. Bruce kept his eyes closed, counting slowly in his mind.
"Sure. I'm at the library right now."
"I'll come there. Um... see you soon?"
Ok. Ok, that was it. Bruce grabbed his keys, shoving them haphazardly into his pocket before racing out of the door.
He slowed his pace when he saw the library, trying to slow his heartbeat and make it look like he had not just run across campus to talk to the man he had severely screwed things up with and who he may have a serious crush on. Inside he saw Hank sitting with the blonde from that night (what was his name again? Alex?). Hank looked surprised to see Bruce and gave him a hesitant smile which Bruce returned. He didn't go over to talk- not now, not before he'd fixed things.
He had a notion where Clint would be, and sure enough when he headed to the secluded corner he found Clint. He wasn't alone however; Natasha was sitting with him, her feet propped up on his seat, as his feet were propped up on her seat. They both looked up when Bruce came around the bookshelf.
For a moment they all stared at each other and then Natasha got up with a sigh, grabbing the book she'd been ignoring off the table. She leaned over, kissed Clint on the cheek (Bruce had to look away, his stomach tightening and heart throbbing at the sight) and then walked toward Bruce. As she passed she gave Bruce a long, hard, searching glance that showed nothing as to what she was thinking.
Then she was gone, and Bruce and Clint were left alone. Clint kept his feet up on the chair, his gaze focused just left of Bruce, a closed off expression on his face. Well, shit, way to go Bruce.
Bruce took a slow steadying breath and smoothed his hands along his pants. "I...I just wanted to say I was sorry."
Clint's blue eyes snapped to him, shock clearly written in them. "What?!"
"I'm sorry. I've been a jerk for three weeks now. I acted stupid because I was drunk and then..." he swallowed, refusing to look at Clint. He'd say his piece, then go. Clint would not have to deal with him ever again. "Felt ashamed. So I'm sorry. I'll go now, you probably have better things to do."
He turned to go. "Wait!" There was a clattering then a yelp and then a louder clatter and thump. Bruce turned and found Clint tangled on the floor with the chairs and his bag. "Ow...fuck. That hurt."
"Oh- I- are you ok?" Bruce hurried over, helping Clint untangle himself from the chairs. The moment he was free, Clint grabbed a fistful of Bruce's shirt.
"Don't go." he said fiercely. "'Kay? You aren't allowed to go until I've had my say." Bruce nodded weakly. Their faces were close at this angle, and he had a perfect view of Clint's lips, red just like that night. No- Clint had Natasha. "Here I thought you were mad because of something I had done. Natasha is always telling me that I have a shitty tolerance for alcohol and I guess she's right. So," Clint puffed himself up, looking adorably serious, "I reject your apology and substitute my own."
Bruce stares at Clint's completely serious expression for a moment and then begins to laugh. At first it is just a huff, a little puff of air and as Clint's face continues to be serious he breaks down and just laughs, hard laughs that end up shaking his body. Clint is staring at him with a hurt, confused expression and it just makes it worse.
"I-I'm sorry, its just.." Bruce pants out, "Nerves. And shit. Oh god."
And then they are both laughing, hard and there may be tears in Bruce's eyes when the librarian comes to kick them out. Somehow they manage to make it outside where they collapse in the grass, still just laughing.
"Hey," Clint says when they have calmed down, staring up at the clouds drifting overhead. "I've missed you."
Bruce lets a smile curl his lips. "Yeah...me too."
Everything settled down again in a semi-normal routine. Clint was there again, always, and somehow his hyperactive personality calmed Bruce down. Clint could go on a mile a minute and then he'd just stop, sitting still for hours just watching Bruce work. Bruce had noticed that the man had a strange infinity for heights - the first time Bruce found Clint clinging to the top of a cabinet he had somehow managed to climb, Bruce nearly had a heart-attack. Now hearing Clint's voice from the top of a cabinet or from the air vents (he really didn't want to know how Clint got in there or if he was even allowed) he doesn't even flinch, just tilts his head back to talk in the vague direction he hears Clint's voice coming from.
Of course, Bruce should have seen Natasha would intervene after some time. She'd obviously put up with their friendship long enough, but even girlfriend's want their boyfriends to be exclusively theirs.
So really, Bruce shouldn't feel as surprised as he was when he opened his door after the soft rap to find Natasha standing there, looking fierce wearing a leather jacket and tight black jeans.
She tilted her head back (Bruce may not be the tallest male specimen, but he was still taller than Natasha) and frowned at him.
"Um... can I help you?" Bruce felt nervous - he hadn't really talked to the red head much, a few encounters here and there when he was waiting for Clint, but they had been brief moments with not a lot of talking (Natasha just stared at him and Bruce made fumbling remarks about the weather. Yes, the weather.).
Natasha brushed past him, walking around his trunk-table and pausing at the couch. She stood there arms crossed, waiting for Bruce to follow her. He did so, taking his time closing the door before turning to face Natasha.
"You hurt him, I will kill you." she said abruptly, uncrossing her arms and taking a step forward into Bruce's personal space. "Don't think that I won't. I know a lot of ways to kill someone, most of them I can even make look like an accident." Looking at her, Bruce wanted to believe that it was all a joke, but her eyes were locked on him and he saw something in them that would make a grown man cry. As it was he was frozen in terror.
"I...I wasn't planning on...hurting him?" he winced when it came out hesitant and like a question.
"You pretty much did." she lifted her chin and despite the fact that she was shorter than Bruce, he still felt like she was looking down at him. "Whatever your stupid fight was about, it hurt him. You are lucky he told me not to, otherwise I would have killed you then. As it is, your ass is mine, Bruce Banner. You hurt him again..."
She left her threat hanging and turned to go. Bruce swallowed back his fear and called after her. "Shouldn't you be warning me to stay away from him?"
She paused but didn't look at him. "And why would I do that? Have you done something that would warrant me telling you to stay away?"
"Aren't you his girlfriend?"
At that Natasha turned, one eye brow raised in a high, perfect arch. "And why the fuck would you think that?"
"I...aren't you?" Bruce couldn't help but feel confused.
"No. Clint... Clint is like my brother." Her normally impassive face broke and she held a sneer. "We are siblings. Ok?"
"Ok." Bruce still wasn't quite getting it. If Natasha wasn't Clint's girlfriend...and she was here threatening him on behalf of Clint because they were...siblings? Sort of siblings?
"Good. Now get your head out of your ass, and don't hurt him." And then she left, a flurry of red hair and one last long look.
"Right, Bruce, don't hurt him," he muttered to himself. "And what the hell is that suppose to mean?"
"Hey." Bruce paused, watching the drop of water hang from the end of his syringe. Beyond his focus (he'd taken off his glasses), Clint sat, head on his arms, watching Bruce.
"Hey to you too," Bruce said, delicately adding the solution to his petri dish.
"So..." Clint drew out the o's and no Bruce was not watching the perfect O the red lips made.
"So?" Bruce mimicked Clint, moving the dish under his microscope.
Clint sighed. "Nat told me she went and visited you. I'm really sorry about whatever she said. She can get a little...over protective. She really means well, but she isn't that good at human interaction, no matter what she says." A pause. "Don't tell her I said that!"
"It is ok."
"No it isn't. She needs to keep her nose out of my business sometimes." Bruce lifted his eyes from the scope and looked at Clint. His expression was mulish, just a slight pout on his lips. But otherwise it was completely serious, the normal "I am looking right into your soul" stare.
Bruce grinned and leaned forward, ruffling Clint's hair. "It really is ok. She yelled at me and then told me she wasn't your girlfriend."
"She...what?" Bruce withdrew his hand a little hesitantly. If his fingers accidently trailed across Clint's skin, well then.
"I may have presumed and well-"
"Wait, wait, wait!" Clint sat up, frowning. "You thought Nat and I were dating?"
"Um...yes?" Bruce scratched the back of his head, feeling a little like an idiot (which really didn't happen often when you had an IQ as high as Bruce's). Really it wasn't that big of an assumption, as close as Clint and Natasha were.
Clint burst out laughing. "She's like my sister!"
"That's what she said," Bruce muttered, mixing solutions to cover up his embarrassment.
"Oh god...that's...ugh." Clint tilted off his chair, landing on the floor with a loud thud. Bruce leapt up, racing around the table.
"Clint? Clint are you ok?" Bruce knelt by the motionless Clint, resting his hand on the other man's shoulder and shaking slightly. "Clint? Oh god, Natasha is going to kill me!"
Clint rolled over, his blue eyes twinkling as he showed Bruce that he was quite unhurt and was still laughing at Bruce. Bruce huffed, rocking off his feet and sitting down on the floor, waiting for Clint's hysterics to subside.
"You know..." Clint suddenly sat up, leaning toward Bruce on his elbows. "You really do have a nice smile."
Bruce blinked, Clint's face hovering not far from his. There was something, deep in Clint's eyes, that caught Bruce's breath, stole it straight from his chest and throat - for one wild, heart throbbing moment, Bruce thought Clint was going to kiss him.
Bruce blinked, tilting his head back as Clint scrambled to his feet. "I'll leave you to it then, you are probably really busy, don't want to distract you from saving the world or whatever you are doing. So yeah, see you around."
Only later, when Bruce hit his head on the underside of his desk while he was switching plugs around, that he realised Clint had never cared if he was bothering Bruce or not.
The months drew on, seasons changed and before he knew it Bruce was a week away from the end of school. His mind was a mess - equations, formulas, the prospect of winning the lottery and getting a room next year, Clint's hesitant presence around him - and was making him a nervous wreck. Hank was faring no better, though he had Alex to distract him when he felt like the world was going to swallow him up.
Burce shoved his pen into his bag, not caring if it went into the right pocket or not. His last final was over and now he didn't have to worry about the results for at least another month. Glancing at Professor Xavier who was having a heated conversation with Lensherr (the school's chief security guard), probably more than a month. The man was prone to...distraction.
"Hey there big guy." Clint fell in step with him the moment Bruce exited the classroom. "Bet you aced that one."
Bruce frowned, straightening his glasses. "I'm pretty sure I answered one of the short answer questions wrong, and I know that I missed question 86-" He cut off when he caught sight of the endearing look Clint was giving him. "What?"
"Nothing. Hey, you want to get some pizza and watch a movie or something?" Clint turned, walking backwards in front of Bruce, an easy grin on his face.
"Alright. But this time, I get to pick the toppings."
"What, you didn't like m&m's, marshmallows, pickles and anchovies?"
Clint laughed. "Good, because I had a stomach for a week after that."
The once full case of beer sat discarded on the floor, a few cans loitering near it on their sides. On the TV Pirates of the Caribbean was playing and Clint was standing on top of the trunk-table, a scarf he'd found tucked in the couch tied around his head.
"That's me ship!" He cried and then promptly fell off and onto the couch, where he lay breathless.
"Where ye be taking me ship?" Bruce cried, snagging a can of beer that was threatening to fall out of Clint's lax grip.
Clint raised his empty hand, taking a swig. He paused, staring at it in confusion then exclaimed, "Why is the rum always gone?"
Bruce snorted. Whereas he had not drunk nearly as much as Clint had, he could still feel the alcohol sizzling in his stomach and he felt like everything was going in slow motion. Clint, already practically high off the first pirate movie, was giggling madly (something Bruce knew he'd deny in the morning).
Clint turned his blue eyes on Bruce, catching sight of the beer in Bruce's hand. "Ahaha! Thief! Pirate! Release that!"
Bruce merely raised an eyebrow. "Now I'm the pirate?"
"Yes! Hand over thee beer!" Clint made grabby hands; Bruce moved out of range. For a moment they stared at each other, Clint "not pouting" and Bruce grinning.
Then Clint moved to straddle Bruce. Bruce froze, his jaw clenching as Clint settled his weight onto Bruce's lap. He leaned forward, grabbed the beer and took a swig. "Ha! Dirty pirate, take that!" He started to do a victory dance which Bruce usually would have found hilarious if it weren't for the fact that Clint wasn't dancing in his lip - a very strange, drunken version of a lap dance.
Bruce couldn't help the sound that escaped from his throat as Clint brushed his ass against Bruce's crotch again. He froze, when had his hands gotten to Clint's hips?, his eyes locked on Clint's, who had finally stopped his squirming.
Just as Bruce's frozen brain started to scream (Shit, shit, shit shit shitshitshitshi-) Clint leaned forward and pressed his lips against Bruce's.
After a moment, an hour? a day?, Clint drew back, his eyes wide and a look of complete terror on his face.
"Oh shit, I, didn't- I mean-" he babbled, trying to get up, but Bruce still had his hands on Clint's hips and the contact seemed still the other man.
Slowly Bruce let go with one hand, bringing a trembling hand to his lips, lips that suddenly felt like tiny little bolts of electricity where tearing through them. Clint's eyes tracked the moment (a hawk tracking his prey, his mind giddily supplied), then as Bruce withdrew his hand, licked his lips. The action sent blood straight to Bruce's groin. Surely now Clint could feel-
"Fuck it," Clint hissed and leaned forward again.
This time the kiss wasn't chaste like the first time. Clint attacked - nipping Bruce's bottom lip so that he would open his mouth. Clint's tongue moved in, tracing Bruce's lip (apology), then his teeth, then finding Bruce's tongue and tangling with it. Bruce was aware his hands were on Clint's hips again, the grip probably too tight, but the shorter man didn't seem to care, because his hands were behind Bruce's neck, then on his chest, then his stomach, and shit his hands were cold but felt so good against his heated stomach. Bruce growled, pulling Clint closer by his hips and both men gasped as the motion caused so much friction.
Clint pulled back, his eyes blown, cheeks red and lips slightly swollen- Swollen, because of me, Bruce suddenly though.
"Wanted," the other man said, kissing Bruce lightly, pulling back before it could go any deeper, "You." Another kiss. "So." A kiss on his chin. "Long." His throat.
"What?" Bruce pushed his head into the cushions of the couch so he could see Clint's face. Clint frowned and tried to kiss Bruce again, but Bruce had a hand on Clint's chest, keeping him at bay.
"I've wanted you for a long time?" Clint said, biting his lip in sudden hesitancy.
"Oh god," Bruce breathed. "Me too."
Somehow their shirts were gone, somehow they managed to get to Bruce's bed, somehow their pants ended making them fall together, tangled in a breathless, heated mess-
After, Clint buried his face in his pillow, turning his head to face Bruce so he wouldn't suffocate. "Mmrf." he said, lazily, his eyes half-lidded. Bruce kissed Clint's shoulder and then rolled out of bed, giving Clint a smile when the other man whined. A moment later he scooted back into bed, gently wiping a wet cloth over them both which had Clint shivering and giving little moans.
"I think," Clint said slowly, curling up against Bruce, kissing the hallow at his throat, "Nat was right. We really are the biggest idiots."
Bruce kissed the man in reply, thinking to himself, I really do love you, Clint Barton.
Sure they weren't perfect, sure their quirks clashed on occasion, sure Clint liked New Generation better than the old, and Bruce liked Orlando Bloom more than Johnny Depp (Clint would have to figure out why on his own, Bruce wasn't about to tell him), but they were happy.
That was all that Natasha wanted for them anyways
This is the first of many to come interlude chapters. In these chapters, the relationships of side characters will be explored and put on display.
*Angewandte Chemie is a weekly peer-reviewed scientific journal which covers chemistry. It is produced by the German Chemical Society.
Quoting George McFly from Back to the Future.
The song is Unbroken by The Black Veils (You can listen to it off the Avengers soundtrack.
Ten points to whoever figures out why Bruce likes Orlando Bloom better than Johnny Depp. Think outside of the Pirate movies...
(Also, apologies for making them seem a bit sappy. I always imagined Bruce to be a big softy on the inside...)
Chapter 6: Don't Remind me (Of What We Could Have Been)
Steve gets a surprise visit from someone and Tony has a meltdown.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Steve pushed the glass doors to Natasha and Clint's gym open, glancing up at the gray sky with a frown. The weather report had promised rain, but for three days it had yet to rain. Yet to even drop a raindrop. He shook his head at the predictability of the weathermen, that is...that they are predictably always getting it wrong.
Hunching his shoulders (just because it wasn't raining, didn't mean that it wasn't cold, soon, very soon, the rain would turn to snow), Steve set off down the block, to where he parked his car. Natasha and Clint were fighting with the city to buy the decrepit, chained off parking lot across the street. For some, unexplainable reason, the city just held onto the spot.
"Steve!" Steve paused, turning. Natasha leapt down the steps in front of the gym, her shoulder length red hair bouncing.
"Yeah?" he shoved his hands into his pockets, blinking when his fingers didn't curl on anything.
"You forgot your keys." She lifted a hand, his set of car keys dangling from one finger.
His finger poked through a hole in his leather jacket. "Thanks, Nat."
She smiled, tossing them at him. "Tell Pepper I said hi." He grinned, catching his keys and putting them in the other pocket. A few weeks back, Tony had followed Steve to the gym, curious where Steve went each morning. Pepper had followed Tony, rolling her eyes and sighing the whole way. They had walked in to Steve being pinned down by Natasha, for the fourth time that morning. She was using him as an example for her morning mixed martial arts class.
Steve had seen the instant look of awe that crossed Pepper's face as she watched Natasha swing around Steve like he was a children playground and knew that he was most likely going to deal with another fan of Natasha's. He and Clint had (secretly) fended off enough of them to last a life time. But to his surprise, Natasha had bid her morning class goodbye and then taken Pepper to the mat. She'd taken Pepper through stretches and then a few basic drills. After Happy had come to collect the two teens, he'd stared at Natasha until she raised an eyebrow at Steve.
"Seriously? You hate teaching your classes and then...?" he had waved a hand at where Pepper had just exited.
"She's spunky," And that was that. Steve had been rescued from repeatedly having his face meet the mat because Natasha started giving Pepper, and by way of Pepper, Tony, lessons in the morning.
Spunky, as strange of a word as it was, covered Pepper. Steve liked her, just as he liked Peter Parker, Tony's quiet photographer of a friend. The first time he had met Peter, the scrawny teen had blushed, stammered through an introduction, and had to be rescued by Tony. It was strange, watching Tony sling an arm around Peter's shoulders, dragging the other teen into his chest, that Steve should feel anything. But he did - a bubbling mass of jealousy erupted and made him abruptly sharp with the two of them. He, catching the hurt look Tony cast him, apologized by way of explaining about his rowdy classes.
And then Tony had explained to Steve that Peter was horribly hung up over some girl named Mary Jane and completely oblivious to his best friend's jealousy.
"I mean, you'd think, that all the time he spends with Henry, that he'd realize it, but every time we talk, he always says Henry is his best friend, and I quote - 'No offense, Tony'." And before Steve could retaliate - "Pepper told me, by the way. About Henry. And Mary Jane. And also there is some girl named Gwen?"
It made Steve uncomfortable when he actually did meet Henry Osborn. The dark haired, surly boy, gave him a strange vibe, but as he got to know the boy - cast in his father's shadow, always trying to live up to something he wasn't, couldn't - Steve realized that he and Tony where so alike that he was rather glad the two had found each other. And watching, well when Steve watched, he always felt uncomfortable because he could see the way Henry watched Peter, how he'd smile as Tony and Peter went off about science (even if he was the son the CEO of a science company, Henry had no real interests in it), how he'd look upset whenever Mary Jane was mentioned, or Gwen (no one was explaining who Gwen was to Steve).
They - Pepper, Peter and Henry, along with the still unknown Rhodey - made up Tony's friends, and became an ever present part of Steve's apartment. Not that he minded. He liked the life they brought in with them.
"What did I forget now, Nat-" he said, a wry grin on his face, freezing the moment he turned all the way around
Peggy Carter stood in front of him.
Steve had work in forty minutes. From the cafe he and Peggy were currently sitting in, it would take only ten minutes to drive there. That wasn't the problem. The problem was he had thirty minutes to sit Peggy's company.
"Steve," she said, sighing. He hated the fact that he still thought she was beautiful - nothing would ever change that. Her wavy brown hair curled softly around her face, not a single hair out of place. He'd spent countless hours drawing her hair and her face, over and over, until he'd filled up sketch books- and her red lips were pursed as she looked at him, soft brown eyes concerned. "I realize that we didn't leave off on the best of terms-"
"You mean, I found you cheating?" his voice had more of an acid bite then he realized and he instantly wanted to take the words back when Peggy flinched. But then, slowly, the feeling died away. It was the truth, she had cheated on him, it still hurt. Five years, like that, worth nothing.
"I am so-"
"Don't, Peggy, please don't," he cut her off, burning his tongue on his coffee. The sooner he finished it, the sooner he could leave, and get away from her.
"It is the truth. I never meant to hurt you."
"Well you did." Steve was rather taken back by this new side of him. He'd never snapped at anyone, not even his students. Peggy seemed just as stunned as him because she narrowed her eyes and looked away, visibly composing herself.
"Fine, fine. I get it. I'm a bitch."
Steve slumped as she made to stand. "Peggy...I...sit down. You sought me out didn't you? Wanted to get a cup. So what do you want?" Please let it not be child support.
"I..." she swallowed, took a drink of her tea, and continued. "I wanted to see how you were. I've...been abroad. And I just got back. Last week. Heard the news, about Maria...and Howard." Her voice cracked and she looked down at her cup, shoulders slumping. He'd only seen her like that once - when he had come back in one piece after he had been declared missing, and presumed killed in action.
"I forgot," he whispered. "That Howard was your friend too." Peggy met his eyes - they were glistening with tears.
"We tend to forget, don't we?" she said, just as quiet. "We are good at that."
He shook his head, reaching across the table and touching the back of her hand. Her fingers twitched and then she turned her hand, palm up, gripping his hand. "I haven't forgotten."
"Is it true then? That...that Howard's...?"
"Tony? Yeah, he's living with me." Peggy nodded then shook her head. "How old is he? Fifteen?"
"Sixteen." And he smiled when Peggy looked shocked.
"I feel so old. I remember him as just a toddler. I am pretty sure I changed his diapers at one point." They shared a laugh, neither rushing to finish their drinks.
"Do you...I mean," Peggy flushed, which was odd. In the time Steve had known Peggy, had dated her, had even thought about marriage, Peggy was always the one initiating things. It was probably why they broke up, why Peggy cheated on him. "Do you want to go get drinks? Some night? Doesn't have to be tonight, but, sometime?"
Steve found himself smiling. "Friday?"
Peggy smiled in answer. "Friday."
As they got up to leave, Peggy shrugging on her jacket, she paused, slugging Steve lightly in the arm. "By the way, you still owe me a dance."
"What do you mean you have to cancel tonight?" Logan asked, his cigar wiggling dangerously between his teeth. "Friday is a thing, you don't just cancel Friday."
Steve sighed, trying to wash the charcoal from his hands. "Something...came up."
"If it is Tony, call a babysitter." At Steve's glare, Logan held up a hand. "I'm serious."
"It isn't Tony...I..."
Logan peered at Steve and then abruptly began to cackle. For a moment Steve stared in shock, wondering if Logan had finally lost it and Steve would have to barricade the man inside the staff bathroom for everyone's safety. "You've got a date!"
"What?! No, I-" But Logan continued to laugh and chant "Steve's gotta date!" until Steve was forced to sigh in defeat. "It isn't a date, just... catching up."
"Whatever, Steve. You've gotta date." With a last chuckle, Logan exited the bathroom, only to pop his head in a moment later. "I want details." Leaving Steve gapping after Logan in utter shock.
"Just like high school," Steve muttered, giving up on his hands.
Telling Tony that he, as Logan had put it, had a date, did not go so well. Its Thursday night before he can even think about voicing the words. As it is, he opens his mouth each time to tell Tony he wouldn’t be in on Friday, that he was meeting up with Peggy and –
He wasn’t even sure why it was so difficult to say it. It wasn’t like he didn’t go out every Friday with Logan anyways. But there was something different about going to get drinks with Logan and going to get drinks with Peggy. Logan was a friend, Peggy was… well he wasn’t sure what Peggy was any more. Least of all, Steve could walk away tomorrow night with some form of closure.
“Alright, Cap,” Tony said, leaning forward and snagging a piece of the pie sitting on Steve’s plate, practically untouched. “Spill it.”
“What?” Steve blinked, trying to steal back his bite but too late, Tony wrapped his lips around his fork and winked, swallowing the stolen bite.
“You’ve been bursting to tell me something for days now, so go on, spill.” Suddenly Tony stiffened his eyes going wide. “Shit! Is it about my grades? I swear I’ll get them up, and it was just one quiz anyways, I didn’t know that the stupid teacher would make it count for so much!”
“Tony, calm down this isn’t about your grades.” Steve frowned, “Wait, grades? Tony, what do you mean by grades?”
“Its just a B! In History! No one even cares about History, and I swear I’ll get the grade up to an A-, A by the end of the month. My teacher assigned this stupid quiz and I didn’t think it would be worth much, I’m sorry ok? I’ll do better next time, I promise!” The words tumbled out of Tony’s mouth in a rush, his eyes becoming over bright as he tried to explain.
“Tony,” Steve got out between Tony’s panicked explaining. “You have a B in History?”
“Yes! All my other grades are A’s, and I swear I’ll get my History grade to be a A too!”
Tony was running his hands through his hair, making it stand up on end, looking more fly away then normal. He looked a minute from keeling over – skin pale, eyes shining with what was probably unshed tears.
“Tony, calm down. I don’t get why you are upset. A B is nothing to be upset about, in fact I’m very proud of you for achieving such grades despite… Well I’m proud of you.”
“You…” Tony swallowed, slumping in his seat, “You aren’t angry with me?”
“No, why should I be angry with you? Your grades are amazing!” Steve searched Tony’s face for some sign of what the kid was thinking, but he’d dropped his head, hiding away from Steve. A moment later his shoulders heaved and Steve froze. He shook himself loose of the shock that had gripped him and rounded the table, pulling Tony around in his chair. The kid fought him for a moment before he slumped against Steve, crying harder when he was surrounded in a tight hug.
“D-dad wu…wouldn’t even l-look at my grades if they w-weren’t A’s. And M-mom always…” Tony choked, his chest heaving against Steve’s.
Ice was wrapping around Steve at Tony’s words. They hadn’t talked much about Howard and Maria – other then a few brief memories that didn’t seem to make either of them hurt too much. Steve got the impression just by looking at the kid he was holding, that the last few years since Steve had last seen the Starks that things had changed drastically in the household. He didn’t know what Howard had managed to teach Tony, but being fearful over not getting perfect grades…
“Tony,” Steve stroked down the kid’s back, pulling him tighter. “I don’t care what your grades are as long as they aren’t failing. If you are having a problem in school, you let me know ok? Don’t try to hide anything, not from me. I wasn’t the greatest in school you know.” Tony gave a weak laugh that turned into a strangled sob against Steve’s chest. “It’s true. I was sick all the time so I missed a lot of school, had to try to teach myself most of it. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I’m surprised the whole school didn’t just give up on me and tell my mom that I should stop coming.”
They stayed like that until Tony calmed down enough that Steve could back up, get his hands on Tony’s shoulders and force the kid to look at him. “Just remember, I’m proud of you know matter what. Now are you going to steal the rest of my pie or are we going to just stand here all night?”
Tony smirked, punching Steve in the shoulder before spinning around and snagging Steve’s pie.
It wasn’t until Steve was lying in his bed, listening to the sounds of Tony washing his teeth in the bathroom down the hall, that he realized he’d forgotten to tell him about meeting Peggy tomorrow evening.
Oh. My. Gosh.
It's been forever hasn't it? I'm so terribly sorry that I haven't updated this in ages, but I've been busy with other things (read: life, other fandoms) and I almost considered dropping this completely. But by complete happenstance (read: procrastinating on revisions for finals) I came across some comments from people begging me to continue, and then I read it and decided, "Yeah, you know what? I'm going to keep going."
So Peggy... I genuinely liked Peggy (or should I say I liked her movie adaption, I really don't remember her comic book form much) and so I feel kind of bad throwing her under the bus, but PLOT.
Also I realize this chapter is kind of rushed and probably not the update you were all wishing for, but my brain is so done from revisions that I can't even think on how to make this better. Any mistakes are my own since this is not beta'd.
Next chapter: Steve and Peggy get drinks, while Tony makes a scene.