It starts out as a joke.
Rhodey – fresh from some super-secret military mission of some super-secret description and in need of a few Tony-specific repairs to
War Machine Iron Patriot – takes one look at Tony and Harley tinkering with and squabbling over a piece of tech and demands, only half-jokingly, "Since when do you have a kid?"
Harley glances up at Rhodey and then back down to the miniature robot he’s working on and says casually, without missing a beat, "He impregnated my mom ten years ago and then left her to raise me alone. He's a horrible person. I had to track him down and everything before he’d see me."
And Tony – Tony has to reign in his amused snicker, because he and the kid are totally on the same wavelength here, and this is going to be fun.
"Excuse you, ungrateful spawn –” he says to Harley in a tone of Great Offence “– who, exactly, is currently standing in Tony Stark's workshop as part of an all-expenses-paid trip to New York?"
“This is a guilt-holiday,” Harley says, playing it up as he pulls a wire out of the way so he can ease a screwdriver underneath it and start twisting. “I’m only here because you feel guilty about neglecting me my entire childhood.”
“Entire childhood,” Tony scoffs, and hands the kid the tiny screw he needs to complete this next section. “You’re like, seven. You’ve got years of childhood still ahead of you.”
“Ten,” Harley corrects, and pokes his tongue between his teeth as he focuses on the wiring. “And recent American studies have proven that kids these days are growing up way faster than old people had to, so, you know. I don’t actually have that many years left before I’m – you know. Old.”
“You make it sound like you’re dying, sheesh, being an adult’s not that bad, calm down. You get to do shit like drive cars and drink alcohol and go places without a constant parental accompaniment.”
“Yeah, but I’m also gonna be expected to wash and iron my own clothes when I’m an adult. Have you ever ironed anything? I bet you haven’t. You probably wouldn’t even recognise a clothes iron if you saw one. Well my mom’s made me iron before, and it’s torture. I think I might prefer death to having to iron my own washing, actually. Can you see the flathead screwdriver anywhere?”
“It’s behind your ear, and wow, you are so dramatic. Has anyone ever told you how dramatic you are? Because you are exceedingly dramatic.”
“Because you’re, you know, not dramatic at all,” Harley returns, trading out the tiny screwdriver in his hand for the one that had indeed been perched behind his ear.
“In actual fact, I am a paragon of – hey, Rhodes, what the hell’d you do to my suit?”
Rhodey is still standing just inside the entrance to the workshop, his eyes wide and jaw slack as he stares at Tony and Harley with something akin to horror. Is that horror? Yeah, Tony’s pretty sure that’s horror. Rhodey’s staring at the two of them with a face of appalled horror, and Tony has to bite his cheek to keep from laughing.
“You – ” Rhodey starts, and then stalls, and Tony leaves Harley at the bench (nothing in the vicinity can explode; he’ll be fine unsupervised for a few minutes, and look at Tony being all responsible, wow, he’s --- kind of weirded out by that, actually) and propels his wheelie-chair over to
War Machine Iron Patriot to poke the suit in the leg.
“Jeez, Rhodes, this isn’t a dodgem car, seriously – what did you do to it?”
Rhodey’s still staring at Harley with a slack jaw, Tony can see out the corner of his eye, and it’s a real effort to school his expression back into “emotionally-attached-to-his-work scientist whose tech has been damaged” before the Colonel looks back down at him with huge eyes, but he manages it.
“Ten?” Rhodey asks, sounding – strangled? Yeah, strangled. Hee. This is great. Tony’s enjoying this too much, possibly.
“Yeah, ten,” he says casually. “And a hell of an attitude for a pint-sized kid from Backwater, Tennessee, I tell you what.”
The indignant “Hey!” from Harley is entirely expected and entirely ignored, and Tony snaps his fingers in front of Rhodey’s eyes.
“My suit, Rhodey, focus. What did you do to my suit.”
It takes a second for the words to register (because Rhodey’s stopped staring at Tony and is back to staring at Harley instead) but Tony sees the moment the words penetrate.
“What did I – ” Rhodes says, blinking and looking back down at Tony. “You know I can’t tell you that, man. It got dinged up, it needs fixing, you’re the only man for the job – come on, you know this drill by now.”
While he’s speaking he reaches down and grips Tony by the arm (with his still-suited hand, mind, which – ow) and starts dragging him over to the set of benches where suit repairs or alterations usually take place.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he demands in a hiss as he tugs-slash-drags Tony along with him.
“Tell you when, exactly – you’ve been off missioning for months, and I only found out about him like a month ago,” Tony replies, casual, and reaches out to flick a switch. “J, you know this dance. Off with his suit.”
At JARVIS’ direction (and with a firm prod from Tony to get Rhodey into the right position), the mechanical arms whir up and start to dismantle
War Machine Iron Patriot while Tony preps his tools, and Rhodey natters on in a hissed undertone.
“You’re a tech genius, Tony, don’t try to tell me you couldn’t manage to get a text through to me,” the Colonel hisses angrily, not impeded at all, apparently, by the whirl of machines working on and around him.
The first of the panels is off, and Tony directs it to his bench while he shoots a wide-eyed and guileless look at Rhodey.
“Hey man,” he says with affected innocence, “you’re the one who’s always yelling at me whenever I contact you while you’re on a mission.”
“Because that’s ever stopped you before,” Rhodey snaps back, and Tony shrugs, hiding his grin by turning to the panel in front of him and getting to work with his screwdriver.
“A man can learn,” he says simply, easing one piece off to get at the wiring underneath it.
Rhodey mutters something, but Tony doesn’t catch it and it’s probably derogatory anyway, so he ignores it in favour of the wiring in front of him, staring at it critically for a moment.
“You,” he says after a beat, pointing over his shoulder at Harley without looking at him. “Midget. Small creature. Come over here and hold this.”
There’s a split second of total silence from the kid, and then Tony can hear how wide the boy’s eyes are when he responds, awestruck.
“You’re gonna let me help fix up Iron Patriot?” Harley asks, and, excuse you, what?
“Ir-“ Tony starts, outraged, and then turns a betrayed stare on the little betrayer who betrays. “No. No, you’re not gonna help fix Iron Patriot. If you’re good, you’re gonna hold this while I fix War Machine. We’ve talked about this, kid, come on, don’t go backwards on me here.”
“I still think Iron Patriot’s cooler,” Harley mutters rebelliously, and Tony pulls the panel he had been offering out of the kid’s reach just as he stretches out a hand to it.
“Yeah, no – you know what, I’ve changed my mind. You can go back over there and keep playing with your ‘bot.”
And, wow. Harley can whine with the best of them, apparently.
“OK, fine, shut up, geez,” Tony says, speaking over the top of the whining, and Harley goes silent, hopeful eyes staring up at Tony from under that ridiculous mop of hair. Tony narrows his gaze at him, and points too, for good measure. “You call my long-lost suit that ridiculous name again, and you’ll be playing with the tech on a coffee machine for the rest of your stay, got it?”
Harley widens his eyes even further (how?) in an attempt to look sincere and trustworthy, and he nods, eager.
“War Machine, got it,” he says earnestly, and Tony narrows his eyes at him suspiciously before slowly passing him the panel.
“Rhodey, this is gonna take a while – you wanna go pester Steve for tips on soldiering while you wait?” he says to Rhodes (who is staring wide-eyed at the two of them) while Harley takes the panel with the same amount of care and awe that women afford to newborn babies.
It’s a clear “Please go away and entertain yourself elsewhere while I work,” and Rhodey knows (after years of trial and error) that after a comment like that he’s going to get no further with Tony until he’s done working.
“You and I are gonna have a talk about this,” he hisses, jabbing Tony in the shoulder for emphasis, because he’s not going to just let Tony get away with just not mentioning something of this magnitude.
“Uh huh, sure honey,” Tony mutters distractedly, ignoring him already whilst Harley leans in from the side, holding the piece of the suit in both hands as he watches Tony’s hands raptly, and Rhodey sighs, and leaves.
The doors swoosh closed behind him, and Tony waits the three and a half seconds it takes to get up the stairs and out of sight of the workshop.
Then he and Harley trade a glance and erupt into snickers.
Later that day, the suit’s fixed and Tony’s managed to avoid a lecture from Rhodey by using the simple-yet-effective tactic of avoiding Rhodey, and he and Harley are both in the kitchen doing science (read: making PB&J sandwiches, and analysing the difference in taste and texture depending on the individual quantities of each ingredient used) when Cap comes wandering in, trailed by both Sam and Bucky, and the three of them stop short at the sight of Harley, Tony, and the jelly-strewn counter-top.
“Oh my – is that Captain America?” Harley asks into the silence, awestruck, even though he knows full well that it is.
“Uh,” says Steve, who obviously doesn’t read his emails, sheesh, why does Tony bother sending them at all if Cap’s just gonna get all surprised about Harley’s presence in their kitchen. And, ok, fine, so it wasn’t Tony personally who sent the email (that’s exactly what Tony built JARVIS for; so he wouldn’t have to waste time on crap like emails), but still; the point stands.
Tony waves a vague hand in introduction and says around a mouthful of jelly-heavy experiment, “Cap, Cap’s ducklings; Harley. Harley; Cap, Cap’s ducklings.”
“Did you just call me a duckling?” Sam asks, looking like he can’t decide whether to be offended or confused, but Harley’s already halfway around the counter and his words mostly drown Wilson out.
“And you’re Bucky Barnes, wow,” the kid says, scrambling right up to the Winter Soldier and lifting up his arm to inspect it, good Lord, Tony’s gonna have a heart attack because of this kid – that, or he’s gonna end up having to explain to Harley’s mom the whys and hows of how Harley ended up strewn in pieces all over the Avengers’ kitchen, and if they all live through this then he and Harley are going to be having a very serious conversation about why you don’t just waltz up to ex-assassins with probable PTSD and identity issues and start grabbing their arms, sheesh.
Tony’s pretty sure that the expressions of alarmed panic currently adorning Steve and Sam’s faces match what’s on his own down to the last muscle, and the three of them are tense, poised, ready to intervene – but Bucky, for his part, just looks… bemused.
The Winter Soldier – deadliest assassin in known history, only-recently-freed ex-mind-slave to HYDRA – is standing in the Avengers kitchen with his mechanical arm in the grip of a ten-year-old who’s poking and prodding at it with no apparent sense of impending doom, and he’s staring down at said ten year old with a bemused expression.
“…like the same stuff your suit’s made out of,” Harley says with a questioning glance over his shoulder, and apparently he’s been talking this whole time?
“Uh, yeah – uh,” Tony says, sending stand down messages to the adrenaline flooding his system and taking a stab in the dark as to what the kid’s asking about. “Yeah, uh – his old one was, uh. Pretty impressive considering who made it, but. Well. I could do better. So I did.”
“It’s really cool,” Harley says, apparently entirely missing the way Tony’s response was slightly less smooth than usual, and hefting Bucky’s arm higher to get a better look at it, mother of –
“O-kay,” Tony says, and he’s not sure how he got over the other side of the counter so fast but he’s there, gently easing Harley’s hands off Bucky’s arm. “How ‘bout we remember that there’s a person attached to the other end of this arm before you twist it all the way off his shoulder, yeah?”
“Oh,” Harley says, blinking up at Bucky like he’s only just realised that Barnes is there too – as opposed to, say, just Barnes’ arm. “Sorry.”
That last is said sheepishly, and he does that thing that he tried on Tony all the way back in Tennessee – the thing where he looks up through his fringe and blinks his stupidly huge eyes – and Bucky tilts his head at him, looking… more bemused.
Harley’s expression appears to work on Bucky in a way that Tony pretends it doesn’t work on him, and the ex-assassin twitches his head in a silent acceptance of the apology.
“So how does it work?” Harley asks, reaching out again, does the boy have no sense of self preservation, and he makes a wordless noise of protest when Tony intercepts his reaching hand by the sleeve with a hiss.
“I’ll be gentle,” the kid protests, like that’s the problem here, and Tony would protest further and tell Harley exactly why it’s a Bad Idea (capitalisation necessary) to go grabbing traumatised assassins by the arm without warning, but Bucky speaks up quietly.
“It’s alright,” he says, just like that, in a voice that’s somehow muted yet firm, and Harley throws a look over his shoulder at Tony that is so smug Tony can feel it, and it’s natural and instinctive to stick his tongue out at the little shit in response.
Harley blatantly ignores him (rude) and reaches out a third time to grip Bucky’s arm by the wrist and – mindful, this time, of the shoulder said arm is attached to – starts inspecting it again, poking gently at the overlapping sections of the wrist.
“So how does it work?” he asks Tony again, getting impatient now, and Tony heaves a long-suffering sigh and bends down to the kid’s level, and starts explaining about neuro-technology and hydraulics and sense receptors and pressure plates and –
“You can feel this?” Harley asks Bucky, awestruck by what he’s being told, and Bucky – who’s still staring down at the kid with an expression that’s just as bemused now as it was when this whole interaction began – nods silently.
“That is so cool,” Harley exclaims, and Tony scoffs.
“That’s nothing,” he says, and starts explaining about weight-bearing capacity and inbuilt sensors and segment filters and inbuilt missiles and dexterity alterations and protective casing and –
It goes on for a while, and the whole time Harley listens with rapturous attention and wide eyes, and Bucky stands there with his bemused expression and allows his arm to be poked by a ten-year-old, occasionally and obligingly twisting the limb around to assist Tony’s explanation and Harley’s curiosity, and it’s only when Tony wraps up his brief description of how the arm works that he realises that Cap and Sam are still in the kitchen, watching the proceedings with eyebrows raised at varying heights.
“Stark?” Steve says, making use of the first break in the conversation for a while, and sending a Pointed Look in Harley’s direction. “Anything you’d like to share?”
Well, if the guy had read his emails…
Then again, it serves him right for the explanation he’s about to get, Tony decides.
“Hm?” he asks, feigning ignorance for a moment, and then glances at Harley with sudden comprehension. “Oh. Him. Yeah. Bit of an embarrassing story, actually.”
“I’m all ears,” Steve says, and he sounds a little bit foreboding, ooh. What fun.
“I got drunk a few years back and mid-bender decided I needed to pass my genius onto the next generation,” Tony says casually, and reaches back to the counter for the PB&J sandwich he’d abandoned earlier in his rush to prevent the potential maiming of a minor. “Word of advice, kids – don’t fill out sperm donation forms when you’re drunk off your face. You’ll forget to tick the little ‘I wish to remain anonymous’ box and it’ll come back to bite you in the ass in the form of a little kid too damn curious to leave well enough alone.”
He takes a bite of his sandwich, and then grimaces down at it in disgust. Yeah, nope, didn’t grab the right one. Way to much PB, not nearly enough J. He tosses it carelessly back onto the countertop to join the other failed experiments there and reaches for the correct one.
“Don’t worry,” Harley says soothingly, and Tony looks up from his perfectly balanced sandwich to see Sam and Steve’s expressions, and then he has to bite his cheek to keep from snickering.
Harley goes on, soothing tone in full play as he looks up at Steve and Sam, eyes leaving Bucky’s arm for the first time since he got his mitts on it in order to soothe the two horrified superheroes. “We’re pretty sure I’m the only spawn that came from the whole thing. Which is good. He couldn’t handle two of me.”
Tony pales slightly and pulls a face.
“Yikes,” he says. “Yeah, no. That would be terrible.”
“Horrible,” Harley agrees.
“I’d have to share my toys.”
“Perish the thought.”
Steve’s staring between the two of them with wide eyes.
“And you didn’t think to, I don’t know – mention this?” he demands, and Tony points an accusing finger at him.
“Excuse you, just because you don’t ever check your emails doesn’t mean you can accuse other people of not telling you things,” he says, and ok, it’s not like the email said anything about Harley being Tony’s kid – of course it didn’t, what with there being no actual relation between them, and all – and maybe all it said was that someone would be coming to spend a couple weeks with Tony at the Tower and that that someone happened to only be ten years old so please don’t leave any guns, knives, or explosives lying around on the coffee tables, but whatever. Steve hasn’t read the email, Bucky doesn’t have an email, and Sam doesn’t live in the Tower so he didn’t get an email, so Tony can get away with this.
Steve looks vaguely chastised about the email thing, but also stubborn, like he’s going to argue that something like that shouldn’t be sent out via email anyway, when Harley – bless his little soul – pipes up with, “The calibration should be complete by now – can we go back to my robot?”
“Sure,” Tony says, and he’s gonna say, “Finish your sandwich first though,” because if the kid doesn’t then he’s just gonna be moaning about his empty stomach again in like half an hour, and Tony hates leaving the workshop when there is still science to be done for something as mundane as food, but Harley grins in excitement and dashes out of the kitchen before Tony can even get a syllable out, leaving Tony alone with Cap and the Ducklings and a mess of a kitchen bench, which, yeah, no, Tony’s taking back the ‘bless his soul’ comment. No one who abandons his co-conspirator to a room full of
teammates with questions wolves deserves a blessed soul.
“I like him,” Bucky says simply, in that usual reserved, quiet tone of his, and Tony turns to stares at him.
“Having small children fearlessly run at you and start poking you in the name of science is a thing you appreciate?” he says, no small amount of surprise evident in his tone.
A very small muscle at the corner of Bucky’s lips twitches, and for him, that classifies as a full-blown smile.
“Mm,” is all he says, and Tony doesn’t know if it was the small child bit or the fearless bit or the for science bit (it almost definitely wasn’t the ‘for science’ bit; Tony doesn’t imagine Barnes is overly fond of ‘for science’ as an excuse, given his experiences) that makes the ex-assassin ok with the situation, but ok. Whatever. No one got mauled in the kitchen, that’s all Tony cares about.
“Riiiight,” he says, and dusts his hands free of sandwich crumbs. “Well. Unsupervised minor wreaking havoc in my workshop, so…”
He leaves the sentence hanging, and darts out of the kitchen after Harley before Cap can catch him and tell him off properly.
Tony’s not surprised when Clint and Nat drop by the workshop a while later to pick up Clint’s new sample arrowheads with a view to testing them out on the purpose built, explosive-resistant archery range. They say that’s all they came for, but Tony suspects they heard about Harley being in the building and came out of sheer nosy curiosity.
Which is fine – Harley’s a curiosity; it can’t be denied – except Nat takes all the fun out of the whole situation when she utterly fails to believe their tale (Tony was strongarmed into attending an MIT presentation evening by Pepper, and he slept with one of the
legal, don’t freak out, Clint students as payback).
“Cute,” she says once they’re done. “You fool everyone with that tale?”
“Tale, what – ” Tony says, affecting insult. “With that tale, she says, like I’m making this up off the top of my head, what – ”
“You’re not related,” she says flatly, and Clint looks from her to Tony and Harley and back again, like he’s looking for what she can see that he can’t.
Harley quirks his head curiously.
“How can you tell?” he asks, and ugh, just – just give up at the first sign of resistance why doesn’t he. Honestly.
“Your pinnas don’t match,” she says simply, like that’s supposed to mean anything to anyone, and she collects up the last of Clint’s samples and turns to make her way out of the workshop, and Clint looks back with a shrug and a grin.
“Nice try,” he says smugly, like he wouldn’t have fallen for it even if Nat hadn’t been there, which, lie, and he spins on one heel to swagger out after Natasha.
“You can’t tell whether people are related based whether or not their pinnas match!” Tony yells after them as Natasha saunters out of the room with a smug, sure strut, and Clint twists his head around to stick his tongue out at them, like the mature adult he clearly isn’t.
The door closes quietly behind them, and there’s a moment of silence.
And then: “What’s a pinna?” Harley asks.
“No idea,” Tony replies. “J?”
“The pinna is the largely cartilaginous projecting portion of the external ear,” JARVIS answers smoothly, and Tony raises one hand to run his fingers along his outer ear curiously, and then he scoffs.
“Yeah, she totally made that up. You can’t tell relations based on the shape of someone’s ear.”
“…Maybe we should Google,” Harley suggests. “Just in case.”
Tony, Harley and JARVIS (because of course JARVIS helps) spend the next hour searching the internet for any suggestion that one can, in fact, determine a person’s heritage based on the shape of their outer ear.
All they find are a lot of Sherlock Holmes references* and random scientific articles that actually have little-to-no relevance to their query, and they come away from the whole thing feeling dissatisfied and still with no idea as to whether Nat actually knew what she was talking about, or if she just reads a lot of eighteen-hundreds crime-solving novels and was just screwing with them.
(Tony’s money is on the latter. Harley, however, can’t imagine the Black Widow doing something as ordinary as curling up to read a book, which, fair, because Tony can’t imagine that either, to be honest.)
They don’t see anyone for a while after that, and their sharp back-and-forth banter/arguments eventually leads to a mention of Bruce.
“You mean he’s here?” Harley shrieks, and, wow, calm down, who’s your favourite here anyway, geez.
“I did tell you this,” Tony says, rubbing his ear petulantly in the hopes of soothing his abused eardrum. “I told you he had a lab here.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t say he’d be in it. You didn’t say he’d be here!”
“He lives here. What other lab would he be in?”
“Well can I meet him?” Harley demands, and he’s already on his way to the doors, what, slow down, rude.
“You can’t just barge in, it’s his personal workshop, would you like it if someone just busted into your workshop without permission?”
Harley blinks at Tony.
“Remind me how we met?” the little shit asks cheerfully, pinnacle of innocence, and ok, that, that is a fair point, Tony set himself up perfectly for that one.
“Well, yeah, but there’s a reason that zero out of ten people would recommend me as a role model,” Tony says. “J?” he asks, because they’re not gonna get any more work done until Bruce has been met, he can tell. “Big Green up for an invasion?”
“I will check with him, Sir,” Jarvis replies, and in the ensuing silence Harley bounces excitedly in place with a ridiculously hopeful puppy-like expression, like he’s expecting Bruce to ask to see the video feeds so that Harley can use The Face to sway his decision.
“Mr Banner is currently accepting visitors,” J says after a few moments, and Harley whoops and runs towards the lab doors again.
“Do you even know where you’re going?” Tony demands, ambling along after the kid at a normal pace. “You won’t find your way to his lab without me, there is literally no point in rushing off like that.”
That does absolutely nothing to stop Harley’s excited rushing, and the kid runs back and forth between Tony and the far end of the hall four times before he realises that Tony’s walking with deliberate slowness. The kid makes a noise of pure frustration and runs back to Tony again, darts behind him, and starts pushing him along down the corridor.
This continues all the way into Bruce’s lab; Harley’s still got his head down as he pushes Tony along with all his might (Tony directs where they’re going by announcing “left,” and “right,” as necessary, then leaving it up to Harley to steer them both), and the kid doesn’t even realise they’ve entered the lab until Bruce says, eyebrow raised high and voice dry with humour, “Uh, hi.”
“Well fancy meeting you here, oh favourite science buddy,” Tony says, as Harley gasps and stops pushing Tony so suddenly that they both nearly fall over.
“You’re the Hulk?” Harley asks, because he’s polite like that, just launching in without even so much as a hello, and it’s the same tone of voice he once afforded Tony – the one that’s filled with awe and respect. Tony remembers those days of awe and respect. He remembers that those days of awe and respect lasted a grand total of… three minutes. Possibly less.
Ahh, Tony misses those days.
“You must be Harley,” Bruce answers, smiling.
“Well I’m glad someone in this tower reads his emails,” Tony says, hitching himself up to sit on a nearby bench while Harley zooms over to Bruce’s side, yammering excitedly the whole way.
Harley adores Bruce.
Tony is not jealous.
No, really, he’s not. He’s glad of the break, honestly. He’s been dealing with Harley for almost an entire day straight, and the kid is exhausting; Tony’s totally content to relax a little and poke nosily through Bruce’s experiments while Harley does his level best to idolise the guy to death.
Harley wants to know everything – everything about the Hulk and Gamma Radiation and gene make up and the Hulk and the experiments Bruce is working on at the moment and the Hulk – and initially Bruce tries to dumb it all down a little – tone his language down to the level that a regular kid would understand – but Harley and Tony don’t get on as well as they do because Harley’s got a regular kid’s brain, and it’s not long before Harley’s asked enough intelligent questions and demonstrated enough smarts that Bruce is looking over his head at Tony with raised eyebrows and an impressed expression, and he stops trying to kidify his language.
“So tell me about yourself Harley,” Bruce says eventually, because Harley’s just asked again – third time in eleven minutes – if he can meet the Hulk (“Because you’re super cool, Doctor Banner, but so’s the Hulk, and I’d really like to meet him), and Bruce is trying to distract him from that line of thought.
Harley shrugs, poking intently at some kind of bright purple powder (totally harmless, unless mixed with acetone and orange juice, Bruce assures Tony).
“Not much to tell,” Harley says, measuring a careful amount of the purple powder into a test tube. “I have a mom and a little sister and I really like science and we’re not allowed to get a dog because mom’s allergic and I’ve got really good aim with a potato gun and everything in my life was super super boring until Tony gave me a whole garage upgrade, and now I have a better potato gun and I can experiment a lot.”
“Doesn’t count as an experiment unless you write it down…” Tony says pointedly, eyebrows raised as he trails off expectantly.
Harley rolls his eyes as he starts raiding the cupboard for something.
“I’m writing everything down in the journal you gave me,” he says in the long-suffering tone of pre-teens everywhere.
“Good boy,” Tony says with a grin, and Harley’s exasperated expression is replaced by a return grin.
“Tony gave you a new… garage upgrade?” Bruce asks, a little baffled and obviously fishing for information.
“Lab upgrade,” Tony corrects. “Part-garage, mostly-lab, and while admittedly impressive considering that he set it all up himself, it was woefully under-standard. So I fixed it.”
Bruce raises his eyebrows.
“You set up a lab in your garage?” he asks, slightly surprised, because it must have been a pretty damn good set up for Tony to concede that it was “admittedly impressive.”
Harley finds whatever it was he was looking for in the cupboard and pulls out a glass beaker full of unidentified liquid.
“I told you I like science,” he says with a shrug, and pours the liquid into the test tube of purple powder. Tony gives Bruce an alarmed look and the other man waves dismissively, and oh yeah – the powder is only dangerous when combined with acetone and orange juice, Tony recalls. He’s not sure what Harley just poured in there, but it was only one ingredient, so they’re all safe. Probably.
Bruce is still fishing for information.
“So you two met… when, exactly?”
Ooh, game time, Tony thinks, and sees the same thought flit across Harley’s face.
“About a year ago,” the kid says, hunting in other cupboards now. The purple powder is now a purple sludge in the bottom of the test tube. “He figured he’d better come and collect me.”
Bruce turns to Tony, eyebrows raised and the pointed question on his face clear.
“I grew him in a test tube,” Tony says, because it’s one he hasn’t used before and he is literally surrounded by test tubes right now, and inspiration comes from the weirdest places sometimes. “He was an experiment. I didn’t expect him to work, to be honest – though I still think he might have come out with a few quirks after all.”
“Hey,” Harley protests, glaring sideways at Tony, who ignores him easily.
“Anyway – obviously I wasn’t going to raise him from squalling child with apoca-nappies – ”
“– so I paid a nice lady to raise him til he got to an age when he could make himself useful as my go-fer.”
“What?” Tony asks, looking innocently at Harley. “Do you not fetch things for me? I say go get and you go and you get – this is an established state of affairs, and by virtue of precedence, that makes you my go-fer.”
“Yeah well, you see if I go get anything for you ever again,” the kid mutters rebelliously, his head in the fridge now, why, why is he raiding the fridge, he cannot possibly be hungry, Tony fed him like…four whole hours ago, do all children need such frequent feeding?
Bruce is giving them this disappointed look, like he can’t even believe they tried this bullshit with him and expected him to believe it.
“Do you not have any food in here?” Harley demands suddenly, waving a hand at the lab in general and shoving the fridge door closed with an impressive amount of petulantism.
“Uh, no, I don’t,” Bruce says, apparently surprised out of his Judgement (capitalisation necessary) of Tony by Harley’s suddenly irritated tone. “It’s easier to not. I could ruin whole experiments if there were any cross-contamination, and if any of the substances in here got on food I would emphatically not recommend it for human consumption.”
Harley heaves a huge sigh.
“But I need orange juice,” he grumbles, and that’s when Tony realises that the unidentified liquid the kid poured from the beaker earlier was in fact acetone – siphoned from it’s bottle into the glass container whilst Harley was rummaging around in the cupboards, apparently – and that the purple sludge in the test tube is now bubbling and hissing quietly as it waits for the last ingredient it needs to turn it into an – extremely explosive! – explosive.
Tony hustles the kid out of there after that, and leaves Bruce to deal with the half-made bomb on his workbench.
Thor is the last one in their strange little family to meet Harley, and they don’t even get the chance to try and tell him some kind of tall tale.
“It is Tony’s youngling!” he cries in delight when they happens upon him in the gym (Harley’s ‘bot was syncing another batch of code and was going to be ten or so minutes, so Harley had demanded to see the Avengers training area, and no amount of telling him “It’s just a gym, Harley, and Cap makes me spend enough time there already” was enough to curb the kid’s enthusiasm).
“Harley, this is –”
“Thor, wow!” Harley interrupts, and actually bounces on his feet in excitement.
Thor grins at being recognised so enthusiastically.
“I have heard much of you, Harley Tony’s-son,” he greets, and holds his hand out for Harley to shake whilst smoothly sinking down onto one knee, to better be at Harley’s level. Even with Thor kneeling, Harley still has to look up to make eye-contact.
“You are a very fortunate indeed, young one, to have someone of such greatness and renown as your father,” he continues, gesturing to Tony. “I am sure you will endeavour to do him proud, and I look forward to witnessing your efforts to do so.”
Harley looks at Tony, mouth slightly agape, but that doesn’t help much because Tony has no more an idea what to do with this situation than Harley does.
“But it is a shame you came so late, my friend!” Thor continues, looking up at Tony now. “I should like to spend many hours getting to know your child, but it will have to wait – Jane is expecting my arrival shortly, and it is a fair distance to her residence.”
He places his huge hands on Harley’s (suddenly very small-looking) shoulders and assures him, “But we shall make time to acquaint ourselves on another occasion – I look forward to hearing of any exploits you have undertaken in your young life. But for now, farewell!”
And then he’s up and out the doors, leaving Tony and Harley blinking after him in slight shock.
“He’s like a hurricane,” Harley says eventually, and Tony drops a hand onto his shoulder to steer him in the direction of the gym equipment so they can complete the tour.
“Thunderstorm, Harley, he’s like a thunderstorm,” he corrects, and then launches into a speedy description of all the equipment in the gym in the hopes of getting through it – and, thus, getting back to his lab – faster.
It’s a Thursday, when it all comes out, and Harley has been at Avengers Tower for a day and a half.
(And nothing has yet blown up, which probably shouldn’t count as a brownie point in the responsibility column, except that Tony’s decided it totally does and therefore he’s allowed to feel proud of his obviously stellar child-care abilities.)
Tony doesn’t hear the conversation that kickstarts it (Jane is here today, and he gets to chew her ear about science, this is great, he loves it when Jane visits, and he’s paying exactly no attention to anyone else at the table), but it starts with Bucky.
The Avengers dining table is quite packed on this particular evening, because somewhere along the way Thor learnt how to make amazing spicy meatball spaghetti (don’t ask Tony, he’s got no idea where the guy picked it up – certainly not from Jane, who might be a Science Queen, but who eats burnt toast, what, why, Tony doesn’t understand why anyone would do that), and everyone learnt early on to make sure they’re present at dinner whenever Thor’s making it, because there will absolutely not be leftovers.
So Tony’s sitting on one side of Harley, and Bucky’s on the other (because the once-Winter-Soldier has taken a significant shine to the boy, and – Tony’s still kind of baffled by that, to be honest, but whatever), and Bucky quietly asks Harley whether the robot he was working on turned out ok.
So of course, Harley launches into a detailed description of how, yes, his robot did work, and this is what it can do – and Tony’s sitting on Harley’s other side yapping about science at Jane, and they’re both way too focussed on their own conversations to hear anything that’s going on anywhere else on the table.
Which means they both miss it when Rhodey (visiting for the second evening in a row, partly because he hasn’t gotten his suit back yet, but mostly because of the aforementioned meatball spaghetti) leans over to Pepper and, watching Tony and Harley on the other side of the table, says, “I still can’t believe Tony didn’t even know about Harley for so long. I mean, didn’t his mom even try to get in contact?”
Pepper glances at Rhodey, confusion etched on her face.
“Why would she have?” she asks, baffled.
“Well I mean, the child support alone,” he says, glancing down at his plate as he tries to catch a particularly slippery meatball on the end of his fork – which means he misses Pepper’s surprised expression entirely. “It’s gotta be rough, financially, bringing up a kid alone, so if you know who the father is, why not get him to pitch in?”
Now – Pepper snorts very rarely. She is not a snort-y kind of person; she’s much to refined and classy for that kind of behaviour.
Which is why when she snorts explosively and starts laughing, it’s unusual enough that almost everyone’s attention is drawn to her, which means almost everyone clearly hears her announce, bell-voice ringing with unbridled amusement, “Tony isn’t Harley’s father!”
There’s silence at the table, and then Clint slowly turns to smirk at Tony, who blinks and looks up at the sudden silence.
And then at least three different people exclaim, “What!?” and everyone turns to stare at Tony with varying levels of accusation written on their faces (except Clint, who was already staring, and who is still smirking like he’s about to watch Regina George get hit by a bus, which… yeah, great, Clint, that’s… totally not worrying at all).
“What?” Tony replies, glaring belligerently back at everyone, because he hasn’t got any idea what’s going on. The worst glare-offenders are Steve and Rhodey, now that he’s looking. And Clint’s not the only one not glaring at him actually – Natasha is smirking into her wine glass and Pepper’s still giggling into her napkin, and Tony’s really starting to wonder what he’s missed here.
“What do you mean, what, did you not hear Pepper?” Rhodey says, gesturing angrily to the woman in question. “Pepper who says you’re not Harley’s dad? Care to explain that one Tones?”
“Wha – of course he’s not my kid,” Tony says, because, well, he isn’t.
“What!?” three voices yell again, and this time Tony’s able to pick out who the yelling folk are, and they’re Rhodey, Steve, and Sam. Unsurprising, really.
“Uh… yeah? What, don’t tell me you all bought the bullshit origin-stories we fed you,” Tony says with a laugh, and there’s a…. rather loud silence.
“Seriously?” Tony asks, staring at them all in turn. “You actually thought he was mine? You know we were just messing with you, right? That’s – wow. There’s a Michael Jackson song about this, you know – goes something along the lines of, the kid is not my son.”
“You told me you had no idea you’d got his mom pregnant, until he tracked you down and told you,” Rhodey says. “How was I supposed to interpret that as anything other than you got a chick pregnant and then she had your kid?”
“He told us he donated sperm!” Steve says indignantly, and it’s not clear whether he’s indignant about the fact that the whole thing was a lie, whether he got a different lie than Rhodey, or the completely hypothetical concept of Tony impregnating a woman and having no idea about it.
Harley’s cackling. Which, Tony sort of wants to cackle too, you know – after he’s done staring in slack jawed astonishment at the superheroes he’d thought had at least a modicum of intelligence.
“Nat and Clint knew,” he says helplessly. “I told them that I’d slept with a college student, which was why the whole thing had been kept on the DL for so many years, and Nat scoffed at us said something about the fact that our pinnas didn’t match, which –” and he points a suspicious finger at Nat “– I’m still not sold on the fact that you actually had any idea what you were going on about. You’re a closet Sherlock Holmes fan, aren’t you? You were just screwing with us, weren’t you?”
“Can you tell whether two people are related based on their pinnas?” Harley asks her, curious suspicion overtaking his unbridled amusement at the whole situation for a moment, and Nat smiles serenely at him.
“Would Holmes lie about something like that?” she asks, which… totally does not answer the question.
Harley narrows his eyes at her, but before the interrogation can begin in earnest, Steve demands, “Bruce? Did you know about this?”
“Tony tried to convince me that he grew Harley in a test tube as an experiment and paid someone to raise him ‘til now,” Bruce says with a shrug. “Obviously that wasn’t true, but I did assume…”
Tony gapes at him.
“Not you too!” he almost wails. “You were supposed to be one of the intelligent ones!”
“We accidentally pranked the Avengers,” Harley cackles, gone with hysterics again and practically blind with glee. “This is the best day ever.”
Sam sends a flat look at Tony.
“And you wonder why none of us doubted,” he says, deadpan.
“Tony,” Steve says, and he sounds disappointed and angry all at the same time. “Why would you tell us all he’s your son if he’s not?”
“Look,” Tony says, feeling like this whole thing is getting blown slightly out of proportion. “I don’t know why you’re so worked up over this. You were cool with him when you thought he was mine – so what if he’s not? What does it change?”
“We’re not worked up over the fact that he’s suddenly not your son – we’re worked up over the fact that you lied to us about it,” Steve says, which, over-exaggeration much?
“Ok – lied is a strong word, here. It was hardly an intentional thing. We were screwing with you. It was a joke. A prank. Like that time you cooked dinner, Steve – a totally harmless, if somewhat… in hindsight, poorly-thought-out joke.”
“I tried to tell you he couldn’t cook for shit,” Bucky pipes up, in that quiet, reserved voice of his, but Tony’s pretty sure he can hear amusement in there.
“Ok, look – real story time,” Tony says, before this whole thing degenerates further. “This is genuinely the truth this time, alright, so listen up. I crashed the suit near his place in the middle of the whole Mandarin debacle – you know, when everyone thought I was dead? That time none of you lot were around to lend a hand of assist? Yeah, that time. Anyway. I broke into his garage to use his tools, he threatened me with a potato gun, helped me get the suit back to partially functional, we got attacked by some Extremis-junkies, there was a fight, some of the firework-freaks died, I didn’t, Harley didn’t, and then I blew on outta town to go hunt down a terrorist cell. I gave his garage an update as a thank you after the whole thing was done and apparently that wasn’t enough, because the little twerp called and asked if he could visit, and here we are.”
“Liar,” Harley says immediately. “You heard my mom was going to Kansas for some great-great-aunt’s funeral and you called her and said I could stay here if I didn’t want to go. Which I didn’t. Kansas, blegh.”
“Tattletale,” Tony snipes, and Harley beams beafatically.
“He helped you fix the suit up?” Rhodey asks, looking at the kid in question with a surprised and vaguely impressed expression.
“Yeah – well, kinda. He, you know, broke a digit or two while he was at it.”
“I said I was sorry!”
“It was already busted to high hell, did you seriously need to go snapping fingers into pieces?”
“It just fell apart in my hand! If you’d built it better it wouldn’t have snapped.”
“If I’d built it better – ?”
“Boys,” Pepper says, firmly, and they send silent glares at each other but then look up at her. “I think we’re getting away from the story, don’t you?”
“You were involved with one of the fights with Extremis?” Steve asks Harley, expression concerned.
Harley brightens immediately.
“Yeah, it was so cool – I got one of them in the face with – ”
“Look, the point is –” Tony interrupts, because yeah, it might have turned out well? But giving tech to a ten year old kid that Tony refused to give to the United States Government probably won’t go over too well with, like, the whole table. “– that the good guys all survived, the bad guys didn’t, and I got a small minion who’ll come and visit every now and then.”
Steve looks unconvinced.
“And your family is ok with you – with you not going to a family funeral, with you going to some… some random rich man’s house instead?” he asks. “What does your dad think of all this?”
“You make it sound so weird, ‘random rich man’s house,’” Harley says, scrunching his nose. “My mom knows Tony, they’ve talked. How do you think he got access to my garage to give me the upgrade? My mom let him in there after he explained everything to her. And I don’t know what my dad thinks of it all, considering that he’s not around an’ all.”
“Oh,” says Steve, not quite sure what to do with that information. Tony can see that the man doesn’t know if Harley means “Dad’s not around because he’s dead,” or “Dad’s not around because he left,” and Tony can see that Steve doesn’t know what to say to either of those scenarios.
“Well I for one think it is a grand and noble thing that you have taken on this child as your own,” Thor says, drawing the attention of everyone in the room, and, ahh…
“Ahh… nope,” Tony says, a little wide-eyed. “No – that’s not, that’s not what’s happened here. This is not an adoption situation. The kid is still not my son. Harley has a mom, he has a sister, he is not in need of ‘being taken on as a child of my own,’ this – ”
“He’s more like an eccentric uncle with a lot of money and crazy ideas than he is a father,” Harley pipes up.
“Yes, exactly, thank you, let’s roll with that,” Tony says, relieved.
And there’s more talk after that – more details of the story are hashed out, Rhodey and Steve are particularly insistent, questions are asked and answered and then more questions are asked, and eventually Tony has to pull the “I have PTSD because I flew a nuke through a wormhole in space and I have it mostly under control but it still flares up every now and then and that was a very difficult time for me so we have to stop talking about this right now kay thanks” card, which finally gets everyone to leave off, and Tony is able to finish his meatballs and scientifically chew Jane’s ear in peace.
Harley was always going to be staying at the Tower for two weeks, and Tony had been vaguely worried about keeping a small human safe and, you know, undamaged for that extent of time? But hey, apparently he underestimated himself, because there's only a couple of days left of the kid's stay and nothing has blown up and no one has died (woo, go team!), and Harley is still as cheerful and bouncy and unendingly energetic as he was when he arrived, and now he even has a very small, very dedicated robot following him all about the lab whenever he's down there (which is almost all the time) so, yeah. Go Tony, nice job. Successfully not neglecting minors to death or injury, he can now add that to his resume.
So that's when, of course --- because the universe would like to remind Tony not to count his chickens before they hatch, thank you very much --- some asshole kidnaps Harley.
Because despite all efforts to keep it on the DL, someone’s worked out that Harley Keener is important to Tony Stark, because villains are notoriously cluey about pesky little things like weak spots, the bastards.
There’s a certain sense of déjà vu once they track the guy down, what with the way he’s holding a squirming Harley off the ground with a weapon to his throat, and Tony almost feels like he’s back in Tennessee in the snow, half-stuck under a collapsed water tank.
Except that this time he has the suit.
And, you know.
This time, the bad guy’s holding Harley off the edge of an eighty storey building.
“Let him go,” Tony growls, the anger in his voice plus the slight metallic note that comes from speaking through the suit making his voice sound satisfactorily dangerous.
Thor and Falcon are the only ones up here with him, them being the only others in the gang possessed of flight capabilities, and none of the three of them had hung around long enough to give any of their teammates a lift. Cap and Widow are making their way up the inside of the building, according to what Tony distantly hears over the comms; Hawkeye and Barnes are likewise taking the stairs in two separate buildings to a pair of sniper-appropriate locations, and the Hulk is lurking around at ground level as the backup rescue trampoline that they hopefully don’t need, and Tony doesn’t care about any of that right now because there is a villain dangling Harley off the edge of a building and he’s laughing about it.
The bastard’s laughing. Here’s a guy who’s managed to soundly piss off every single one of the Avengers by kidnapping and threatening a kid that they’ve all become rather attached to, and he’s laughing. Not a whole lot of brainpower there, Tony thinks.
“Let him go?” the douche-canoe echoes, and he flexes his hold on Harley just enough that the kid jerks sickeningly over the void. Tony has a wild flashback to Pirates of the Caribbean and Elizabeth fake-dropping the medallion over the ship’s edge. He, Falcon and Thor react in much the same manner as Barbossa and his crew had in the movie; with sharp, panicked lurches forward that completely betray their level of concern.
“Not the best choice of words, I don’t think,” the bad guy continues, smirking.
“Alright, let me rephrase then,” Tony says, taking a half-step back and lifting his faceplate to better deliver his threat. “Put the kid safely down on solid ground, and maybe I’ll let Cap convince me to just lock your sorry ass up in a SHEILD cell for the rest of your miserable life. Or, you know. Don’t, and I’ll blow you into so many pieces your mother won’t have anything to bury.”
And the asshole is still smirking, why, does he think that there’s some version of this where he comes out alive and/or free? Because there’s not.
“Stirring speech, Stark,” the guy says. “Here’s my counter. Give me the Winter Soldier, and I’ll give you your boy. Deal?”
And that’s what this is about? HYDRA’s little free-range Pinocchio?
Tony’s… annoyed. Yes. Annoyed.
Annoyed and fucking pissed off.
Seriously. Seriously pissed off, because damn these dickheads are annoying.
“Team, after this is done, we’re holding a talent show and adopting a new Avenger,” Tony announces – to the team, to the bad guy, to Harley, to the whole damn country. “He or she will be called Exterminator. Special talents will include the indiscriminate and effective slaughter and eradication of HYDRA employees, because I am fed up with these assholes coming back like cockroaches after a nuclear strike, and clearly we need to enlist a specialist.”
The HYDRA dude seems amused.
“The boy for the Soldier,” he says, holding the still-struggling Harley just a little further over the edge for emphasis. “A fairly simple decision, I would have thought. Your move, Stark.”
Tony heaves a sigh.
“Yeah, ok, fine,” he says on an exhale, then adds flippantly, “hey, do you want me to throw in a couple of Jericho’s too? They’d be about as, you know, totally harmless in your hands as the Winter Soldier would be. How ‘bout a nuclear bomb, tossed in on the side for free, or what about the schematics to the Suit, no of course you don’t have a deal you damn maniac. He’s a person, not a wind-up toy, and you can’t have him. Besides, what do you think this is, a handmade market? We’re not going to barter out a deal, you’ve got two options – give me my kid, and maybe live to see the end of the day, or I’ll take him, and you’ll be reduced to a bloodied collection of atoms. Your move.”
The villain, unsurprisingly, opts for the second option.
Stupid, stupid villain.
It all ends, sure enough, with the bad guy a bloodied smear on the roof (thank you combined efforts of the Winter Soldier and Thor, who apparently are both super fond of Harley, because it’s been a while since Tony’s seen anyone smeared like that, and his only regret is that he wasn’t able to do the smearing himself), and with Harley, Iron Man and Gravity in a headlong race with the pavement as the finish line.
Because the douche-canoe drops Harley, of course, and Tony throws himself over the side of the building to try to catch him, of course --- and he does, of course, because he’s Iron Man, and gravity is a thing that Iron Man has defeated on more than one occasion, and when there were less important things than Harley at stake --- and then the two of them are standing on a semi-crowded sidewalk and Tony is patting Harley down in a panic as he tries to work out if the kid is ok, and Harley is ---
Harley is laughing in delight.
Of course he is.
“This is what you guys do all the time?” Harley asks, catching his breath and managing to reign in his laughter as Tony stops frantically pawing at him and starts staring instead. “That was SO COOL. Can we do it again? Can we do it off a bigger building?”
The child is a lunatic.
And Tony’s going to tell him that – he is, but then a huge shadow falls over them both and Harley (still babbling excitedly) and Tony look up.
“Hulk!” Harley cries in surprised delight, and squirms out of Tony’s hold. “OH my – are you – I can’t believe I’m – I can’t believe I’m actually meeting you!”
Because getting dropped off a building isn’t the Event of the Day, obviously; finally meeting the Hulk is. Good to know the kid’s priorities are in order. Tony makes a mental note to tell Bruce this later; guy ought to get a kick out of his alter-ego’s introduction trumping being kidnapped by a Hydra bad guy.
Harley squirms free from Tony and bounces on over to Hulk like the guy’s not known for flying into rages that cause more property damage than Godzilla on a rampage, and Tony would fret, but he a: not only trusts Hulk but is damned good at reading body language, and Hulk’s body language is anything but threatening right now; and b: doesn’t have time to fret even if he’d wanted to, because Harley bounces over to Hulk like a puppy on speed and Hulk wraps both hands around the kid’s chest and plucks him up off the sidewalk like – well, like Harley’s an errant puppy who’s about to tumble off a step, actually. The puppy analogies just keep getting more and more accurate.
Several someones gasp in horror when Hulk picks Harley up, and that’s when Tony remembers that, oh yeah, the sidewalk was kind of crowded when they landed, and it’s unlikely that the crowd has shrunk in the wake of a panicked Iron Man landing in their midst with a child who was laughing like a maniac, and Tony can completely understand, given Hulk’s reputation, why the gathered onlookers are gasping, but it turns out that no one has anything to worry about.
Because Harley’s babbling excitedly at the Hulk even as Big Green lifts him up, and the kid’s yammering doesn’t let up for a second while Hulk raises him to eye-level –
(“Did you see, did you see? The Hydra guy dropped me, and then Tony caught me, and then we landed and Tony had a full on freak out, but before that we flew a bit, and it was so much fun –”)
– and Hulk waits until Harley takes a breath before he says, voice deep and loud and rumbling, “No buildings.”
And that derails Harley’s stream of chatter temporarily.
“Huh?” the kid asks, and Hulk snorts impatiently through his nose.
“No again,” he says, glaring at Harley, because he heard Harley just moments ago, apparently, when the kid was asking Tony if they could fall almost to their deaths from a greater height. “No buildings.”
“Ohhh,” Harley says, comprehending all of a sudden, and then his shoulders slump and he whines a little (because he is actually a puppy, apparently). “Not – not even a little building?”
And oh – hey! Tony’s totally just found someone who The Face doesn’t work on. Go Hulk, what composure. Tony’s impressed.
Because Hulk shakes Harley once (gently – Hulk shakes him gently, but even then it’s enough that Harley grabs onto Hulk’s arm to steady himself) and says firmly, “No again.”
Harley sighs an epic sigh.
“Ok fine,” he says, patting Hulk’s arm comfortingly. “For now, at least. I think Tony needs a lie-down anyway; his heart probably can’t handle this kind of stress, you know.”
“This kind of stress, he says, like I don’t superhero every day,” Tony grumbles, faking a casual dismissiveness which is somewhat belied by his next sentence. “And I don’t need a lie-down – I need a drink. And anyway – how, exactly, are you not freaking out right now?”
Harley scoffs from his perch in Hulk’s hands. “Please. I was never in any danger.”
Not in any danger, he says. No, sure, not at all. He only just plummeted seventy or so storeys. If not that, what the hell constitutes as danger then, Tony would like to know. Mrs Keener is going to kill Tony. And possibly the Hydra dude all over again. But mostly Tony.
“Well glad to see you’re not traumatised after being dropped off a building,” Tony mutters, while Hulk grunt-snorts in response to Harley’s words.
“Home now,” he says, and lifts Harley higher so he can plonk the kid on his huge green shoulder.
Harley looks stunned for a second, and then he looks like all his Christmases have come at once.
“He doesn’t trust you to not get into trouble between here and the Tower if you try to walk there under your own steam,” Tony says to Harley, starting to follow as Hulk cleaves a path through the slack-jawed onlookers (not hard – all the onlookers are extremely keen to keep a wide berth away from Hulk despite the kid sitting on his shoulder, and they all move swiftly out of the guy’s way as he starts stomping up the street). “Smart guy, Hulk. If we left you to your own devices you’d probably fall down a manhole and get eaten by a sewerage crocodile.”
Harley twists around on Hulk’s shoulder to say something in response to that (Hulk keeps him steady with one huge gentle hand pressing against the kid’s shins), but then Thor and Falcon land in the middle of the road ahead, and everyone else isn’t far behind, from what Tony’s picking up on the comms, and Tony makes a general announcement before everyone arrives and everything devolves into chaos.
(Because it will devolve into chaos, because they’re all going to want to make sure Harley’s alright, and it’s bad enough that Tony had a bit of a freak out on a crowded street and then Hulk did his version of the same without everyone else joining in on the panic-party. The street is still crowded, and there are so many phones out, this is going to be all over the news channels later, damn. So much for keeping Harley a low profile.)
Tony flips his helmet back up so he can speak without all the nosey civilians overhearing.
“Team – it’s been a stressful afternoon,” he says. “I’m calling movie night. Skipping not allowed, this is a post-stress bonding session, we all need to be there. Thor, you’re in charge of provisions. You can all freak out over Harley’s perfectly healthy self once we get back to the tower – I think we’ve made enough of a spectacle of ourselves for one day. Last one home gets to sit on the floor.”
First one home gets the corner spot on the L-couch, but he doesn’t say that, because he wants the corner spot on the L-couch, and – while none of the others could beat him – he can’t be bothered dealing with the competition right now, and he guns the repulsors and takes off in the direction of the Tower.
Bruce winds up sitting on the floor.
Everyone had made their way straight back to the tower at a fairly decent pace, wanting to check on Harley but not wanting to make a big scene of it – and half an hour later Tony is onto his second drink and is sitting pride of place in the corner of the L-couch with Harley flopped haphazardly on the cushions next to him, the rest of the Avengers are scattered about on couches and cushions, Thor has organised enough food to feed an army, and Jarvis has the movie ready to play.
They’re watching Star Wars (Tony’s insistence, because it had come out that morning – before all the shit hit the fan – that Steve, Bucky, Thor and Natasha had never seen Star Wars, which, ok, fine, maybe each of them had pretty legit reasons for that – 70 years on ice, 70 years as a HYDRA slave, lived in another realm, raised by some kind of assassin breeding house – but still, it was a problem that needed fixing, so Tony’s fixing it), and there was some debate as to whether they should start the newbies off with the original three or the prequels, but an agreement was reached in the end, and they’re watching the original.
Opening scene starts to roll, and Harley’s bouncing excitedly because he loves these movies, and all of their weird little misfit family are here snuggled up in armchairs and with blankets and food, and the bad guy is dead and none of them are even injured, and Tony… Tony falls asleep.
Tony falls asleep sometime in the first half hour, but it’s neither his own fault nor the fault of Star Wars. It’s not – really. Tony has a pretty crap sleep schedule on the best of days, but add to that the fact that he didn’t sleep at all during the two days before Harley’s arrival (the curse of being a genius; the ideas strike with absolutely zero regard for regular sleep patterns or busy days, and once inspiration’s hit it will not let up until its been acted on, and if that means that you wind up running on just three hours sleep then so be it) plus a week and a half worth of
looking after caring for guiding a high-energy ten year old with barely any sleep on top of that, and it’s little wonder that Tony’s out within the first 20 minutes.
Whatever. The uncultured-foursome are getting their pop-culture education, and nobody died today, that’s what matters. Tony’s seen this movie so many times he could quote it backwards, he can sleep through it once or twice.
The point is, Tony wakes up sometime towards the end of the movie to the sound of lightsabers locked in battle, and all of a sudden becomes aware of a heavy warmth draped across his lap, and he looks down in confusion to find Harley flopped bonelessly across him, head pillowed on one arm and face turned towards the screen but slack and still in sleep.
Apparently being a ten-year-old
being looked after in the care of under the guidance of Tony Stark is just as tiring as it is the other way around.
Plus, you know. Getting kidnapped by Hydra and dropped off the top of a tall building might have taken its toll after all.
Tony registers the blanket someone’s dropped over the kid, notices with a blink that his own arm is draped over Harley’s shoulders, and – Tony doesn’t know when or how any of this happened.
“And you reckon it was obvious he wasn’t yours?” Bruce asks quietly, scaring the crap out of Tony, holy shit. And that’s when Tony realises that, sure while everyone else is mostly watching the movie, they’re also all sneaking glances at him and Harley.
“Exactly when did this happen?” he asks, because no, seriously, the last thing he remembers is Harley being alert and vertical, and Tony hasn’t quite worked out how they got from there to here; to Harley being asleep and on him.
“You passed out within ten minutes of each other,” Clint offers helpfully. “The blanket was my doing. Nat took pictures.”
Nat waves her phone in the air cheerfully.
Sam’s smirking, Tony can see. He’s looking at the TV, but Tony can see the smirk. Cap’s smirking too, actually, now that Tony’s paying attention.
Bruce is still looking at Tony and Harley with a gentle smile, and he’s gone all soft around the eyes like this is the most adorable thing he’s ever seen, which – ugh.
Thor, at least, is completely enthralled with the battle playing out on screen, which – thank you, Thor, someone’s paying attention to the right thing here at least.
And Bucky is –
“I sent some photos to Pepper for you,” the ex-Winter Soldier says in that damn quiet voice of his, not even bothering to look away from the screen as he says it, and, ohh. Ohh, Tony’s gonna get them all back for this.
“I hate you all,” he says. “And don’t think I won’t be getting revenge on every single one of you.” Because he will. He totally plans on arranging a spectacular revenge on every single one of these so-called friends of his, but for now… well. For now, he’s still tired, and he’s warm, and he doesn’t want to wake Harley up, so.
“Revenge,” Tony says, settling his head back on the back of the couch, eyes slipping easily closed. He’s learnt, over the years, to take the opportunities for sleep when they arise, and napping on his own couch with a kid sleeping on his lap while the rest of the Avengers watch Star Wars around him is hardly the weirdest place he’s napped before, so. Whatever; Tony’s too tired to deal with any of this.
“Sleep with one eye open, all of you,” he warns, snuggling down into the couch to get more comfortable. “You think I’m joking, but I’m not. J, tell em.”
“Sir will be most creative and most spontaneous in his retribution,” JARVIS says dutifully, good boy that he is.
Tony shifts once more, re-positions his arm more securely around Harley, and goes back to sleep.