It's not the explosion that wakes Tony up. He's not sure why, but his eyes snap open and he remembers that he's on the couch in the lab, having fallen asleep there for the second night in a row. His first thought is that Steve's going to be pissed at him because he promised to sleep on an actual bed tonight. His second thought was that something wasn't right.
His confirmation to that was a loud explosion in the corner, and automatically Tony drops down to the floor and covers his head. It's not the first time there's been a boom in the lab. It comes with the territory. But Tony hadn't been working with anything explosive (that he recalled) and certainly not something that involved green smoke.
"What the fuck?" he said aloud to no one. Slowly, he carefully creeps forward. Dummy chirps alarmingly, his one clawed arm already ready with (dammit) a fire extinguisher. Before Tony can protest, he sprays it around the smoke and that's when Tony notices there's no fire. Not even a spark. Just a very darkened floor sprinkled with green (dust?). As the contents of the extinguisher, there's a sound of a cough. He whips around.
"Tony! Oh my God, are you all right?" He can hear Steve from the other side of the glass and waves him over. The access panel beeps and Steve runs in, shield at the ready, taking Tony's face in his hands. "Are you okay? What the hell happened?"
"I honestly have no idea." He frowns. "I was sleeping, I woke up, and this happened. So unless I've gotten the ability to make colorful explosions, I can safely say this wasn't my fault."
"Well, then what caused it?" Steve demanded, but more to himself than anything. He already had his comm unit in his ear. "Natasha, send Bruce down here. Tony's fine, but maybe he can help us figure out what caused this explosion. Any sign of a threat?"
"Nada," Clint answered. "Jarvis says it's all clear, too."
"Sir! I picked up an unknown life form, about 4 meters to your right." Jarvis announced. Both Steve and Tony looked around wildly, searching for an intruder.
It's not what they're expecting. A young boy, pale and sporting a pair of cotton pajama pants and a green sweater, stumbled out from behind a cart. He was holding his head tenderly. "Mom?" he blinked, and then his eyes bulged. "Who are you?"
"Better question is, who are you?" Tony asked suspiciously. "How'd you get here, kid?"
"I woke up there!" the boy pointed to the cart again. "I don't even know where here is. Did you guys kidnap me?"
"No, we didn't kidnap you." Steve said kindly, just as Bruce ran down.
"What's going on here?" he asked carefully.
"You kidnapped me. Or I'd still be home." His brows furrowed. "My dad said I might be kidnapped if I'm not careful."
"We didn't kidnap you." Tony said, exasperated. "What's your name? We can get you home in a few hours."
The child regarded them with reproach. "My name is Anthony Stark." And then he passed out.
The next four hours were a blur. When things go wrong within the Avengers, Coulson is called first. Once he’s called, Fury is notified. Tony is pretty sure Fury is extra furious that he’s been awoken from his bed of the blood of people who made fun of his eye (this is not far off from the truth, mind you). So, SHIELD was contacted about the explosion and that there was a boy claiming to be Tony in the Tower. In a flurry of activity and yelling, the team and a still unconscious little boy make their way to a secure SHIELD base in North Dakota. Tony left in his suit, cursing. The rest boarded a quinjet.
Even though Tony could have gotten there a good half hour before the rest, he took his time and by the time he did arrive, Bruce was just finishing up checking a now awake "Anthony Stark" in the medical facility.
He waved pointedly at the scientist and Bruce said something to the boy and quietly left the room.
"Well? Who is it?" Tony demanded.
"Oh no you don't. Don't even go there. He can't…You can't honestly believe that's…me." He protested, glaring.
"Tony, I looked at the DNA results just a bit ago. He's answered every single question correctly. It's you. That is Anthony Stark, prodigy son of Howard Stark, age six."
At first, it's such a shock to Tony he just stares at Bruce, unbelieving. It's not possible. There is no way that this little boy is Tony Stark from when he was six years old.
"He says to call him Anthony since he doesn't know us. I guess he, uh, you only liked to be called Tony by people you know."
And then, it clicks. Because he can recognize himself as a little kid from photos, from newspaper clippings, from everywhere Stark is mentioned in the past. His mouth opens, and then closes. He can't find words.
"Well, this should be a thrill." He finally managed, looking through the one way glass of the SHIELD medical room. Tiny Tony, or Anthony, was huddled in the thin blanket they'd given him, and while the position was very similar to that of a terrified child, his face was set into a thin line, looking suspiciously around the room. Tony doesn't try to remember his childhood, but he recalls being that age. He remembers being shone into the spotlight, introduced to the public as a child genius. That's when he became the sure legacy of Howard Stark. Or maybe that's when he was four. He's not really sure.
Bruce's hand on his shoulder tightened, and his friend sighed heavily. "Thor says this is time travel work of Loki. See that mark on his wrist?" Tony looked, and found an ink-like marking that was no mistakenly a Jotunheim symbol.
"Magic," Tony said bitterly. "I hate magic."
"Me too." Bruce agreed. "I asked Coulson to arrange for us to bring him back to the Tower."
"Is that a good idea?" he asked, brows furrowing.
"Would you want to stay here?" Bruce snorted, knowing how Tony felt about hospitals.
"No." Tony shook his head, shoulders slumping. "You can deal with that, can't you? I need to…I have to think, you know?"
Bruce merely gave a smile of sympathy and waved him on. Tony left SHIELD medical, assembled his suit, and took off to the skies. The place he could be the freest.
Bruce didn't know to act with kids. He knew how to be a doctor around them, but not…he wasn't babysitter material. He called Steve to the room, but first he entered himself.
Tony's (Anthony's, he remembered) head snapped to him, eyes narrowing. "Mister Bruce?" he said it timidly, testing to see if it was right.
Bruce nodded for him to continue.
"I want to go home. Can you get me home? You said you're my friend, so you can get me home, right?" Anthony went from a nervous and untrusting child to a wide-eyed, hopeful child looking for comfort in home.
"Yes, Anthony, we'll be heading out soon. But there's something you need to know." Bruce said softly, sitting down on the bed by Anthony's legs. Anthony curled his knees up to his chest, looking expectantly. "There was an accident. What's the last thing you remember seeing before you woke up?"
"There was a blue light, and a man in green and black clothing and this helmet that had really, really long horns on the top of it. He said I was going to see the future to see what I become. It was a really weird dream, isn't it?"
It wasn't. But Bruce wasn't exactly sure he could tell the kid he'd actually walked over 30 years into the future by a demigod.
"What kind of axident was it?" Anthony asked, and Bruce could see as clear as day the same curiosity on the adult Tony as he saw now on the young Tony.
"Someone made a mistake, and you were stuck with the consequences." he said slowly, carefully.
At this, Anthony's eyes widened and he let out a cry. He started scrambling off the bed, but Bruce caught his arm. Whatever held Anthony grounded since he woke snapped and he tried to kick away from Bruce, twisting and trying to escape from his grip. Bruce certainly didn't want to end up breaking the kid's arm, so he let go grudgingly, and Anthony ran forward, only to run smack into Steve. Anthony raised his head to the man's face, and he could hear the relieved whisper of, "Captain America," and he threw his skinny arms around Steve's waist.
Steve's gaze went from Anthony to Bruce, confused. "What happened?" he mouthed, and Bruce shrugged one shoulder.
"Please don't blame my daddy. He didn't mean to, I swear! He-he just drinks a lot and he says that it's good for thinking and sometimes he drinks too much and my mom says that's bad and-" Anthony's voice cut off into a choked sob. "Don't make him angry. Just say it was a…a misunderstanding, Captain America, please!"
"He gets mad at me if I'm not careful. I wasn't careful enough. It's my fault, not his. Tell him that, and he won't get angry at me!" Anthony pleaded, clinging tightly to Steve. Bruce was at a loss. Tony hadn't told him much about Howard, or his childhood. All he knew that Howard wasn't a top model father and they didn't have much of a relationship up to the day he died. But this was a different reaction entirely. A kid wouldn't act so desperately defensive of his father unless he was protecting himself from something. It didn't take a genius to know what. Anger shot through him, and the Hulk stirred, growling and furious, but he took a breath and slipped past Steve and Anthony to calm down.
The only interaction Steve had with children was when he had been the dancing monkey in WWII, and kids would come up and ask questions and for autographs. But he didn't exactly know how to comfort one. So, he tried to remember what his mother did when he was upset as a child. A bit awkwardly, he rubbed circles on Anthony's back, holding him close. "It's okay. You're all right, Anthony. I promise your dad won't be mad, okay? Besides, this has nothing to do with him. You're not in trouble, he's not in trouble."
Anthony's quiet and poorly hidden sniffles halted and he looked up at Steve, eyes red rimmed but now he was determined to keep his cool. "How can you promise that? That he won't be mad?"
"I'm Captain America, aren't I?" he smiled. "And I am your dad's friend." Was. He felt boiling anger toward Howard. He guessed why Anthony was reacting this way and why Bruce had retreated with an angry green glow in his eyes.
Slowly, Anthony nodded and pulled back from Steve. And then like all energy had been drained from him, he crawled back into bed, pulled the covers to his chin, and closed his eyes without another word. Steve sighed heavily and sat in the chair Bruce had left.
He didn't know how long he'd been sitting there, but Coulson arrived with a neatly folded pile of clothes, sporting a red shirt and jeans and black sneakers. "We can go now, Rogers, if you want to wake him up."
Nodding, he took the pile of clothes and laid them down on the bed, and gently touched Anthony's shoulder. "Anthony? Anthony, it's time to go home."
Anthony flinched slightly, face crunching into a grimace, but he opened one eye. "Are my mommy and dad home, too?"
"No." Thank God. "So I'm going to stay with you. And a few friends of mine are staying too, like Bruce."
The child frowned, not completely believing. Steve wasn't sure how long they could nudge Anthony with the lie that he was still in his own time and his parents weren't dead when really they weren't sure how to get him back to his own time, or if he'd want to. If it was Steve's choice, he'd tell the kid the truth. He wanted Anthony to know he'd become Tony Stark, and he'd be a hero just like Captain America. Steve wouldn't say anything until he talked to Tony, because he hadn't spoken to his boyfriend since they'd brought Anthony to the SHIELD base in North Dakota. "Okay," Anthony finally agreed, and sat up, his hair a mess of unruly dark locks. He yawned widely and rubbed his eyes. "Why'm I so tired?"
"The doctors here gave you some painkillers for your head. They're probably making you feel a little drowsy. It'll wear off in a few hours." He told him reassuringly. Anthony grunted, and glanced at the clothes. "Those are for you. I'll let you change and I'll back in a few minutes, okay?"
Anthony nodded and started to strip off his scrubs pants, and Steve closed the door behind him. Bruce was waiting, looking grim. "Hey."
"Hey. Is he getting ready?"
Steve gave a short, jerky nod, then looked down to his shoes. "Tony never…he didn't tell me anything about…"
"He didn't say anything to me, either." Bruce admitted. "I just knew that he and his father didn't get along."
"He should have told me." Steve said sadly, but with a hint of bitterness. Tony had told Steve he trusted him completely and there were close to no secrets between them. Steve really shouldn't have taken Tony's word that he knew everything he needed to know.
"Things like that…" Bruce struggled for words, "people dig it down deep in themselves. Eventually, they can almost forget it completely until someone brings it up. That's probably Tony's case, because he's never reacted much to Howard's name. My father was a bit like Tony's, but…" Bruce shrugged. "I got justice. Tony just…lost him."
"Where is Tony now?"
"He took off. He'll meet us back at the Tower." The scientist explained, and placed a hand on Steve's shoulder. "Hey, take it easy on him."
"I'm not really mad at him," Steve muttered. "I'm mad at myself."
Tony had sent one of his jets to the base, and that's about as fancy and comfortable as you can get. Anthony had perked up dramatically, holding Steve's hand tightly and nearly bouncing up and down, eyes bugging out when he saw the jet. "Whoa. This has to be one of Dad's new planes!"
"Pretty neat, huh?" Bruce said to Anthony.
"Very cool," Anthony agreed, greedily taking in the whole thing as they entered the plane. Anthony's hand dropped from Steve's and he ran to the middle of the plane, grinning widely. "This is like a tiny house. Is there food on here too, now? I hope there is. I'm hungry."
"I think this only has snacks. I'll get you something small and then we can have a real meal at the mansion. Deal?"
"Deal." Anthony nodded, and plopped down onto the couch, face lighting up when Steve sat next to him. "Hey, Cap- can I call you Captain?"
"Sure," Steve smiled.
"What aren't you guys telling me?" he asked, face turning dead serious. "Everything's high tech. Nothing I've ever seen my own dad make. And then I wake up in a lab and you guys grab me and fly me to…this place. My mom was home before, and now she's not? I don't get it."
Well. Tony had been born a genius, so Steve wasn't surprised that Anthony was suspicious. "Uh…" he glanced between Anthony to Bruce, who was standing at the doorway where the snacks were and was watching them, obviously not having an answer whether to explain to Anthony that his dream had been real and he was now in the future. "You know that dream you had, Anthony?" Bruce asked quietly.
Something clicked, Steve didn't know what, but Anthony cocked his head and asked, "Am I in the future?"
So much for talking to Tony first. "Yeah, bud, you are."
Anthony's brows furrowed. "Okay. What now? If it's the future, who am I?"
"You should ask him yourself when we get back." Steve said softly, and placed a hand on Anthony's head, gently ruffling the dark hair. "Just know that you're safe, okay? I'll explain everything to you later."
Anthony wasn't convinced with this answer, but he leaned his head against Steve's shoulder, huddling closer to him. "I kind of like the future better so far. It's cool."
Steve thought it was funny Anthony was six years old and he reacted better than he did waking up in the future.
After Anthony's snack, he fell asleep again. Steve couldn't understand how a kid can so quickly alternate between hyper and completely crashed within every 5 minutes, but Bruce said it was normal, especially since Anthony was still on painkillers and his body was adjusting to the lack of dosage. His small head was now on Steve's lap; his body laid out on the couch with his mouth opens slightly, breathing softly. It was eerie how he could seem so much like Tony.
"Do you think that bringing him to New York is a good idea? There's a lot of press already digging in to the explosion. What if someone pieces together that he looks a lot like Tony? They'd guess it was his son or something."
Bruce shook his head. "We're only staying at the Tower for a few days. And then we're going to Malibu. Anthony just needs a minute to adjust, and then we're going to keep him out of the public eye."
"Is…everyone going to Malibu?" Steve winced, thinking of him and Tony's usual quiet beach home being bombarded with the rest of the Avengers.
"For a short time." Bruce grinned. "Besides, Tony's got a better lab there so we can figure out how to get Anthony back without having to deal with Loki."
Steve thought this was the best idea as any. It was clear to him now that there was no choice but to explain everything to Anthony. He'd much rather have Anthony find out from them rather than having to snoop around and figure out on his own. Bruce glanced at his watch.
"We'll be landing in 30 minutes."
When it came around the time to land, Steve shifted on the couch and gently tapped Anthony's cheek to wake him.
"Five minutes, Mom…" he grumbled, sitting up slightly before burying his head into Steve's shoulder. Steve chuckled slightly and instead hoisted the child in his arms and let him sleep more. It wasn't so long before the plane's wheels reached the ground and it slid to a stop. Steve stood, Anthony's head lolling on Steve's shoulder, arms wrapped around his neck. When Anthony was asleep and Steve was holding him, he looked younger than when he was awake and talking.
They climbed down the stairs of the plane where Happy with a Phantom car was waiting for them. Happy smirked at the small boy in Steve's arms. "Now, this is something I never thought I'd see."
Steve grinned and slipped into the car. Anthony stirred, eyes half opening blearily, but he made no attempt to move or let them know he was awake. Steve played oblivious. He scooted a little closer to the window, and Anthony adjusted his head subtly so he could have a clear view of the scenery of the window and still keep his head rest on Steve's shoulder. It was silent except for the radio playing classic music the whole ride to the Tower.
By the time they were at the Tower, however, Anthony grew excited again. "I can see it from here! It's huge now. Did I make that building? I'd make something like that. Does the future have holograms? Are there robots? I've always wanted to make a robot. Did I make a robot?"
"You did create a few robots throughout the years, Anthony." Bruce told him. "Most of them are in your Malibu home, which is where you'll be going in a few days. You can meet them then."
"Why are we leaving?" Anthony frowned.
"Too much people here," Steve said. "It's a nice place, though. Probably more high tech than this mansion. You did build it, after all."
This was all Anthony needed to hear to let the subject dropped, lips spread into a small smile. He practically leaped out of the car when it slowed to a stop at the entrance and he waited on his toes for Bruce and Steve to get their things out of the trunk. "C'mon, c'mon! How do I get in?"
"Jarvis? It's Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner." Steve pressed a button on the intercom.
"What's Jarvis doing here? Isn't he…really old?" Of course Anthony thought "Jarvis" was actually his old (human) butler.
"Please scan your hands on the panel, Captain Rogers and Mr. Banner." The British voice replied. "We have a visitor today, I see."
"It's actually Tony from the past."
There was a long pause. "I'm afraid I don't understand, Captain Rogers."
"Someone brought Tony from when he was a kid into this time."
"I see. Welcome, Young Master Tony." Jarvis greeted.
Anthony grinned, eyes shining as they entered the lobby. "That's a computer, isn't it?"
"One that you made," Bruce nodded. "You based it off your old butler."
"I," Anthony took a deep breath, "am awesome!"
Bruce and Steve just shared a knowing look. Tony's humble arrogance started at an early age after all.
Steve played supervisor for the next few hours as he showed Anthony his room that he'd be staying in (on Steve and Tony's floor, because Steve didn't want Anthony out of his sight) and he introduced them to Clint, Natasha, and Thor.
He was then replaced by Clint as he showed Anthony the arrows future Tony had built for the archer. The boy was timid around Natasha, but when the usually impassive woman gave him a warm, comforting look and held out her hand, introduced herself, he immediately accepted her and shook her hand happily. He walked in between them all through the tour until dinner.
Steve noticed there was still no sign of Tony, but then again they hadn't gone to the lab. When Bruce settled them with a meal of lasagna and everyone was otherwise occupied, he excused himself from the table in the main kitchen and quietly slipped out of the room.
He went down to Tony's lab, and found him scurrying around, picking up pieces of metal here and there and he could see Tony's lips moving, murmuring to himself. He punched in his code and let himself in. "Hey, Tony, we're having dinner."
Tony turned around to face him, lips pressed into a thin line. "I can't see him."
"He knows he's in the future," Steve said softly. "And he wants to see you."
"Of course he does," Tony said, snapped, "he wants to see how awesome he turned out. Also, why the fuck did you tell him?"
"He was going to figure it out eventually, Tony. You're a genius. Always have been." Tony was still glaring at him, well, not really at him. Just glaring. To change the subject, he walked up to Tony and took his hands in his. "You and I are going to have a serious talk later, so prepare yourself."
"Something tells me that's not the sexy kind of serious talk." Tony frowned. "What did I do?"
"Nothing. You didn't do anything." Steve said quickly, squeezing Tony's hands tightly. "It's just…something Anthony said earlier. Something that kind of shook me and Bruce up."
Tony's brow quirked, confused. "What did tiny me say?"
"Don't worry about it now, all right? We'll talk later." Steve assured him, and pecked him on the cheek. "Now, c'mon. I can hear your stomach growling."
"Liar," Tony grumbled but gradually followed Steve up to the kitchen.
When the two arrived back at the kitchen, the table was empty and Bruce was doing the dishes.
"Seems we're late to the party," Tony remarked, going over to the cabinet to get a plate and then taking a large scoops of lasagna. "Where's the kid?"
"Clint said they were going to find a movie to watch. I swear, he can act as young as Anthony." Bruce said fondly, tossing Steve a dishtowel. "Help a guy out?"
Steve kindly obliged and started drying the washed plated and silverware. "There's a dishwasher in here, you know," Tony said with a full mouth.
"I've always washed dishes by hand. I'm not going to stop now," Bruce said, and whatever reply Tony was going to make was cut off by Clint running into the kitchen.
"Anyone seen a miniature Tony around here?" he demanded. Before anyone could react, there was the sound of a giggle and Anthony scrambled in, trying to go around Clint, but Clint caught him by the sides and lifted him up. For a second, the grin on Anthony's face faltered into a wince, and Steve frowned, but a split second later it was gone and the grin was back. He twisted in Clint's hold, but he was laughing loudly. "Never mind, I found him."
Steve smiled and shook his head, and then glanced at his watch. "Anthony, we should get you ready for bed soon."
Clint scowled. "Party pooper, Cap. We're going to pick out a movie to watch."
"You've had a long day, bud." Steve said to the child, and when his mouth opened in protest, he continued, "No arguments, all right? You have an hour."
"Your head won't like you if you don't get enough rest the next few days," Bruce added, and Tony kept quiet, but Steve saw him mutter under his breath, "This is too weird."
Anthony heaved a sigh and relaxed against Clint. "Mr. Clint, can we play…um, what did you call it? Mario Kart? I want to drive!"
"Excellent choice of gaming, my young Padawan. But I must warn you that you'll never beat me. I am the master." Clint said dramatically. Anthony looked to Steve suspiciously for confirmation.
"It's true." Steve admitted.
"I bet I can beat you! To the game room!" Anthony called, raising a fist, and the two sprinted from the room again.
"Remind me to never let Clint babysit." Tony snorted, and silently Steve agreed.
As it turned out, Anthony had only played a few rounds of Mario Kart before he instead settled on watching Natasha and Clint play while sitting in Thor's lap as they ate popcorn. Surprisingly enough, Anthony took hold of Steve's hand let him lead to his bedroom without a fuss. The distracted Avengers all said their goodnights without one snide remark from Clint.
As Anthony sat on the bed, Steve went through the dresser and saw that already a few outfits of clothing had been neatly folded and arranged. Coulson, probably. Of course it was Coulson. He laughed quietly to himself when he saw that there was Iron Man themed pajama pants, and he so wanted to show Tony tomorrow. He handed those and a loose fitting black t-shirt to the boy, and turned around to close the drawer.
When he turned around again, Anthony was attempting to throw off his t-shirt and Steve took a step forward to help him, but then he stopped dead in his tracks.
A large, purplish black bruise decorated Anthony's rib cage. It was a few days old, judging from the creeping yellowish tone. Steve knew he shouldn't assume that it was…Howard, but…
He got his answer when Anthony yanked his red shirt back down again, holding his hands to the bruise. He looked angry. "What?"
"I'm sorry, bud. I just saw that bruise, and…your father…did-"
"He had a good reason," Anthony snapped, whirling around, then softer, "I broke one of his machines."
"That does not give him a good enough reason to do that. What's that from? A punch?"
Anthony trembled. "Kick."
"Father's aren't supposed to kick their sons, Anthony." Steve said firmly. "Do you hear me? You never have and never will deserve that."
The boy just shrugged, but Steve could tell that from the way his shoulders moved he was trying very hard not to cry. Instinctively, he reached out and pulled Anthony to him. The boy stiffened for a second, then sunk.
"Sometimes I think I deserve it. I'm a freak." He whispered. "He said I don't do anything right. He's right. I can't make a robot. I can't finish anything he asks me to fix, because sometimes it's just too hard."
"And that's normal." Steve told him, holding him tighter. "You don't have to fix everything."
"Cap," Anthony said quietly, blinking at him through reddened eyes, "are my parents dead? In…in this…time?"
"People age and die, Anthony." Steve said (lied), not really wanting to tell the kid he'd be an orphan at the age of raw age of 17.
There was a silence that seemed to last an eternity. Then Anthony broke, sobbing into Steve's chest and tightly clung to him for God knows how long.
Once Anthony had calmed down enough and had dressed into the pajamas, Steve had Jarvis put on some music and when he left, Anthony's eyes were closed lightly and his breathing was started to even out. Steve then made his way to he and Tony's bedroom that they shared, and saw that, miraculously because Tony usually went to bed nowhere earlier than midnight, he was already in bed playing with a tablet. Steve collapsed onto the bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to sort out his emotions. He couldn't understand why Howard would do that to his son. He'd been a nice man. A bit arrogant and self-absorbed, but a well-intentioned man none the less.
"I figured I might as well be a good boyfriend and get a regular eight hours of sleep so you have one less reason to scold me." Tony said, sounding concerned. He poked Steve's cheek affectionately. "Hey. What's wrong? You haven't praised me."
"It's nothing," Steve replied, and cleared his throat at the slight hoarseness. "Just…you. Anthony."
"You mentioned something about…er, me earlier. Do I get the serious talk now?"
Steve shook his head and shifted closer to Tony, wrapping his strong arms around him. "No. Just…stay with me?"
"Sure," Tony said with no hesitation. He put the tablet on a bedside tablet and snuggled closer to Steve so he was resting his head on Steve's chest. "Jarvis, lights off."
The lights slowly dimmed, and for a couple of minutes they just lay there on the bed, Steve stroking Tony's hair and Tony humming "Smoke on the Water"; a song that Steve had become attached to when Tony had introduced him into that music era.
"When are you going to tell me what's bothering you so much?" Tony asked. "It's driving me crazy. Especially since it involves tiny me."
"Tomorrow," Steve breathed. Tony let it go.
Except that it kept him awake throughout the night. He didn't dare move, comfortable and not really wanting to move from where he was, but his head was starting to swim with possibilities that Steve found out about his god awful childhood and the schematics on an upgrade on the armor, and there was a six year old version of him down the hall, what the hell? By the time dawn started to creep around, he uncurled himself from Steve, who was still fast asleep. He frowned at the absence of Tony, but then rolled over, sighed heavily, and was quiet again. Tony slipped on a pair of sweat pants over his boxers and a fresh t-shirt and went to his study to pick up the notes he'd left there yesterday (or was it the day before?).
He sat down in his swivel chair and had Jarvis start to pull up his holograms accordingly.
He'd just let himself be sucked into the creations of his mind when there was a shuffling at the door. Tony turned in his chair and saw Anthony in (Jesus Christ, were those Iron Man pajama pants?) his sleepwear. From the way his hair was more tousled than usual and his eyes were bleary, he'd just woken up.
Anthony yawned and muttered a hello.
"Did you, uh, sleep okay?" Tony asked awkwardly.
"Yeah. Who are you?"
"I'm a friend, don't worry."
"I know." Anthony's nose turned up, like he was offended that Tony didn't think he could figure that out on his own. "But I haven't seen you much since I got here. I don't even know your name."
Tony sighed. Well, he did know that he was in the future, what harm could come from that he was him? A lot, maybe, if he really thought about it.
"You're me, aren't you? Like adult me." Anthony said suddenly.
"I have a beard."
"What? Well, yeah. It's a cool goatee, though. We've been rocking it since we were twenty three."
"Would you be mad if I said its weird looking?"
"Says the boy who will grow it." Tony's eyes narrowed.
"Are we the boss of Stark Industries now?"
"Yep. But Pepper, we meet her way back, runs it. We just own it, help run it, the easy stuff. We have a much cooler job now."
"Oh." Anthony looked confused. Of course he did. He'd been told from day one he was going to run Stark Industries and that was that.
"No, really, it's awesome. Not good pay, but I work with the people you've met, like Clint and Steve and Natasha-"
"How come you have that on your chest?" Anthony asked, looking pointedly at Tony's arc reactor. Unconsciously, Tony's hand drifted to it and his fingers tapped it lightly through his tank top.
"I made some mistakes, and we got hurt by some bad people because of it." Tony told him, and a part of him wanted to go up to himself and shake his shoulders. He wanted to say, Listen to me closely, and don't do what I did. You can change it! You can stop people from dying because of us!
Then again, that would be putting death on a six year olds shoulder, even if it was Tony Stark. "My heart was damaged, so I made this so that it keeps working properly."
Anthony's hand reached out and Tony hesitantly lowered his height so that the boy could touch the arc reactor. The small fingers barely brushed against it and then traced the outline, fascinated and frankly Tony could recognize the signs of him being just a little bit terrified.
"It's okay, mini me. It doesn't really hurt anymore." Tony tried for casual, and Anthony swallowed and nodded, looking down at his bare feet.
"Am I cyborg?" Anthony queried, and Tony almost couldn't hear him.
Tony snorted, grinning if not a bit weakly. "Nah. We have an extra accessory, that's all. Everybody's jealous of us because I have it and no one else does."
Anthony frowned. "Dad says that our creations are supposed to be shared to keep Stark Industries running good."
Something, an untouched territory, inside Tony stirred. "Dad didn't get watch the people we're trying to protect get killed from the weapons we made, and he didn't watch his business partner and close family friend betray you. Dad is an asshole, kid, and he was wrong." His voice was harsh and cold and Tony regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. For fuck's sake, that was all Tony had to hold onto being a kid. Impressing his father; rising up to his father's level and more. Destroying an image that had been sealed into Tony's brain, that Howard wasn't always there for him but he was there for everyone else and he did good, even if he never saw it ("Look at the newsreels, boy! Look at the praise!" Obadiah had said to him) would not go well for a young Tony Stark. Not when he didn't know there were other options.
Anthony froze, eyes wide and Tony saw (oh god, when was the last time he had even cried?) moisture glistening at the corners in the dim light. Tony let out a breath and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry."
When he opened his eyes again, Anthony was gone.
Tony picked up a pencil bin and threw into the wall with a quiet feral cry, eyes stinging with his own phantom tears that he'd trained himself not to let out. Sometimes, Tony estimated that he wasn't capable of crying anymore.
Six year old Tony doesn't really know where he should run. He doesn't really know where anything is, so he goes into the elevator, closes his eyes, and presses a button. He opens his eyes. Floor 118.
He waits until the elevator stops and when the doors open, he sees that it's kind of a lounge room. There's a mini kitchen in the corner, appliances sleeker and new, and a large television on the wall with a long, rounding couch. There's a bean bag, too. On the other side of the floor, there's a big table that has a bunch of art stuff with paper. He disregards them; he's not much of an artist. Instead, he plops into the bean bag and tries not to think about what big Tony said.
Especially since it kind of sounds true.
But Daddy wasn't a bad person. Tony just wasn't doing well enough for him, he didn't learn fast enough, didn't pay attention enough, didn't…Fathers aren't supposed to act like that, Anthony.Steve told him. He knew that, he'd watched movies and heard stories of how fathers were "supposed" to be like. He just wasn't as lucky.
I made some mistakes, and we got hurt because of it. Tony shuddered. What had he done? What was he going to do? He didn't want to face that. He wanted to be the best, but he didn't want to be bad.
"JARVIS?" he asked hesitantly, eyes flickering up to the ceiling.
"Yes, Young Master Tony?" the voice asked, and Tony's heart clenched at the way it sounded so much like Jarvis back home.
"What did I do?"
"What did I do?!" Tony's raised voice choked at the end. "The thing in my chest. How did I get hurt? What happened to me?"
"The arc reactor was installed during your time captive in the Middle East, sir. Estimation of seven pieces of shrapnel from a Stark Industries bomb was threatening your heart, and you constructed the device at a-"
Tony didn't understand. That wasn't helping. What did getting hurt have to do with a mistake from him? He wouldn't feel guilty or sad if he got hurt and then made his own solution. Tony would be proud of himself, and he'd show the arc reactor to his father and tell him how he made it and-
"What happened when I was kidnapped?" Tony asked then. There was a long silence. "Jarvis?"
"During the quest for your kidnapping, five soldiers were pronounced dead at the scene. You, or Sir, as often felt responsible for this."
Soldiers. Dead. Stark Industries bomb. Kidnapping.
"Someone stole my stuff, and they used to kill those people." Tony whispered, and everything came together. "I couldn't stop them."
"Around that time, Young Master Tony, you became Iron Man." Jarvis's robotic voice had a hint of gentleness that Tony wasn't sure he was imagining or not.
"What?" he asked, and the windows of the room turned to transparent videos of a red and gold human-like robot.
Clint always wakes up early, but no one suspects it. Initially, he doesn't show himself until 11 AM at least, but he's awake by the asscrack of dawn. The only people awake at the same time as him is Tony when he goes to bed early or doesn't at all. He lurks in the vents for a while until breakfast is made, sometimes just sitting there playing Angry Birds on his Stark Phone or fiddling with his bow. Or he goes on the roof. Today it was too cold to go on the roof and he had beaten all levels of Angry Birds. He was bored. Until the vents vibrated in a commotion.
He heard the voices, knew them as Tony and the now familiar child-voice of Anthony (or baby Tony). He couldn't really hear the words exchanged, but as he peeked through the grate he saw Anthony run out of the room and Tony slump in defeat. Tony threw something at the wall, and Clint knew that whatever he and the younger version of himself had talked about, it hadn't ended well.
He waited for a bit, and when Tony made no move to go after Anthony, Clint crawled out of hearing distance. "JARVIS, where's mini Tony?"
"Young Anthony is in the lounge room, Mr. Barton." The computerized voice informed him. "He's quite upset."
"What'd Tony say to him?"
"Anthony inquired about the arc reactor, Mr. Barton. Sir did not take his questions well about that and Howard Stark."
Oh. Well, that explained things.
"Mr. Barton, I'm afraid I might have acted a bit…rashly. I hoped informing Anthony about his "mistakes" and then showing him how Iron Man came to be would soothe his insecurities of not living up to Howard Stark." If it were possible, Clint would have thought he detected guilt in the AI.
"And…that didn't help?" he asked.
"Hardly. Similar to Sir, he's dwelling more on the bad rather than the good he's made."
"Typical." Clint snorted. "I suppose I have to go talk to him."
"I feel that would be best."
Clint opened the ventilation door in the big bathroom on Steve and Tony's floor and jumped down, landing easily on his feet. He tiptoed out the bathroom and to the elevator and went down to the lounge floor. When the elevator stopped and the doors slid open, he saw Anthony slouched in a (uh, his, thank you very much he picked it out himself) beanbag chair.
"Hey, little buddy." He called out, and Anthony turned his head toward him.
"Hi," and turned his head away again.
"JARVIS told me what happened."
"You realize that all that shit, I mean, uh, crap, turned you into the man you are today. And let me tell you, that's okay. You're rich, you're-"
"I'm rich now." Anthony interrupted.
"Am I finished? No. Anyway, you're freaking Iron Man. Don't play oblivious with me, I know JARVIS told you about it. You're a superhero now, Anthony." Clint told him. "Just like any little boy would want."
"I don't deserve to be a hero if I killed people." Anthony muttered.
"Kid, do you really think that every superhero doesn't have a little dark in their path on the way to becoming a hero?" Clint asked.
"Captain America didn't."
"But he lost people close to him because he couldn't save them. And you didn't ever pull a trigger."
"That just got in the wrong hands. Listen, the important thing is, you've made up for it. And you continue to." Clint said, walking up to him and sitting to the couch adjacent to Anthony. "Okay?"
"Okay." Anthony said quietly, looking up at Clint. "Thanks, Mr. Clint."
"Call me Clint. What else is on your mind?" Anthony said nothing. "I know that look. Something else is bugging you."
"I miss home." Anthony said casually, or attempting to sound so.
Clint knew how that felt. Even if his home life hadn't been all that comforting, the familiar presence of home would be enough to soothe a mind. Then he got an idea. "Wait here, kid."
Steve woke not feeling Tony beside him. He groaned slightly and cracked open an eye. Wait, what time was it? He shot up. "JARVIS?"
"Good morning, Captain Rogers. The time is 9 AM. The weather is-"
"Where's Tony?" he cut in, rubbing his hand over his face.
"In the shower." JARVIS reported. "Mr. Barton is with Anthony in the lounge room, and-"
Yesterday's events came flooding back. He jerked fully awake and took a quick shower, threw on jeans and a sweatshirt and started toward the elevator.
"Captain Rogers, I'm afraid Young Master Tony has had a lot of information told to him. He hasn't dealt with it…very well."
That's the last thing we need, Steve thought. "What do you mean?"
"Young Anthony inquired about Sir's arc reactor," (oh god, Steve thought to himself) "and I made a…poor decision on my part of trying to explain his reasons for becoming Iron Man."
Damn it. "Is he okay?"
"For the time being, yes."
Wanting to see with his own eyes before anything else, he went to the lounge room and peeked in. Anthony and Clint were seated at the large table with art supplies that Natasha had prepared the day before in case Anthony was ever in the mood to feel artistic since Tony didn't let Anthony in his lab (yet). Clint was chattering loudly about something about arrows and fiddling with something. As he walked closer, he saw that Anthony was making something similar to a nest, consisting of twigs, glue, and green fabric and scrunched up paper, and his face was contorted into an intense look of concentration.
"There, see? Now you have a little piece of home with you." Clint is saying.
Steve saw a now slightly shredded green sweatshirt on the table, too. He then realized that he just witnessed Clint making an actual nest and not a metamorphic one. Oh, Tony was going to get a kick out of this.
Especially when he mentioned that Anthony made one too.
"Good morning," he put on a smile.
Anthony turned around in his seat and Steve thought of the crying little boy the night before, scared and maybe a little bit broken. But he was grinning now, bright and cheery. "Hi, Captain! Clint helped me make a nest with my sweatshirt so I won't miss home!"
"That was a good idea," Steve said, eyes sliding to Clint, who smirked cheekily and went back to his own nest. "I bet Bruce is awake now. Want to go see what he's going to make for breakfast?"
"Sure." Anthony hopped out of his seat. "Are you coming, Uncle Clint?"
"I'll be there in a bit, little buddy. I've got stuff to do." Clint said, waving them off. "Save some bacon for me."
"Okay. I'll eat it all." Anthony said slyly, and Steve noticed the way he'd eased in so quickly to his snark.
As Anthony followed Steve out of the room and back into the elevator, Steve asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?" Anthony blinked up at him, too innocently. So he was better, but not 100%. It was a start, at least. Anthony being confronted about his abuse and being told about what would happen to him in the future could have gone much, much worse.
"Hey, Bruce. What are you cooking?" Steve asked the scientist as they walked into the kitchen. Anthony darted over to the stove where he stood and went on his tiptoes.
"Pancakes!" Anthony cheered. "I never get pancakes."
"Wait till you taste Bruce's blueberry pancakes." Steve said, sitting down at the table with Anthony. "They're magic."
Anthony made a face. "I hate magic. Too complicated."
"And that won't change." Bruce called out. Anthony huffs and crosses his arms, pleased.
Later that day, Tony is sitting in his swivel chair in his workshop, spinning slowly. He's furious with himself, because what he said to Anthony…they were the words he'd beaten himself down with since Afghanistan, or earlier than that in different contexts. And he put them into the sensitive and genius mind of Anthony Stark at age six.
In so many ways, if Anthony took what he said to heart, things when he returned to the past could go very, very wrong.
He skipped lunch, instead downing coffee and staying in his chair. He's actually inhabited the swivel chair all day, rolling to where he wants to go. His brain has decided that instead of filling his brain with new ideas for technology, it's straying to the fuzzy memories of his childhood. That is not a place to go.
He finds he has to work hard for the first time in a long time to not remember. He's always had a good memory; he could recall anything, anytime. But as a teenager, shortly after his parent's deaths, he'd purposefully buried his childhood along with them. It was easy. He didn't want to dwell on those memories, so he disposed of them. Temporarily, apparently.
Sometime between lunch and evening, Steve comes down. Tony thinks it can't be a good sight; his hair is probably a mess, he's still wearing sweat pants and a t-shirt, and he's sitting on a rolling chair not working on anything. He hasn't found the concentration to work on anything today. JARVIS talks to him, clearly picking up that Tony is struggling with something, and it's enough to keep Tony out.
Tony blinks, and his eyes feel heavy. "Hmm?"
He could practically sense Steve going into worry-mode. "Are you all right?"
He doesn't he hadn't turned to look at Steve, or moved at all, until Steve was in his line of direction, gripping his shoulders. "That's what you wanted to talk about, probably. It's to be expected. I think I was trying to make it stop around that age, to ask dear old Dad if doing that, saying this, was okay. He said yes, of course-"
"What are you talking about, Tony?" Steve asked, ever so gentle, as if walking on cracking ice. Tony knew that he knew exactly what he meant.
He rolled his head, tired of it being still. "My shitty childhood, Steve. Was I right? You wanted to talk about that?"
Steve's lips pursed. "You haven't been drinking, have you?"
"JARVIS?" Tony asks instead.
"Sir has not consumed any alcohol today."
"Then we can talk." Steve tugged on Tony's arm and reluctantly Tony stood up and let Steve lead him to the couch. He plopped down and Steve did the same. He waited until Steve spoke, seeing that the other man seemed to be sorting out some thoughts. "Back at the SHIELD base, Bruce was talking to Anthony. And when I walked in, he hugged me and begged me to tell Howard it wasn't his fault."
Tony flinched, grimacing. "Hmm. Sounds about right."
"Tony, look at me."
Tony did, if barely so. "What do you want me to say, Steve? Yes, my dad was an asshole. Yes, he abused me like the drunk asshole he was. But he's dead, I'm not, and I'm…" he struggled for the right words. "fine."
"I'm just going to go ahead and assume you've never talked about this to anyone before." Steve said softly, rubbing Tony's back. It was a nice feeling. Steve was a nice feeling, actually.
"Nope, and I don't want to. Okay?"
"We don't have to poke at old wounds, but if you're ever…having unpleasant memories, please tell me. Deal?" Steve asked.
Fair enough. "Deal. How's the kid after my little outburst?"
"He's…God, Tony, he's a mini you. How would I know how he's truly holding up?" Steve raised an eyebrow.
"Ah, well, there's that." Tony agreed. "I should, uh, apologize. Or whatever. I didn't want to spill it on him."
"Clint has been strangely helpful with him today, so he's probably with him right about now."
"I don't trust that." Tony chuckled, stretching his arms. "Where are they now?"
"Clint is showing off his gaming skills again, and Anthony is probably in the middle of making his own game system."
"I would do that." Tony hummed. "Just to piss off Clint."
"He's Uncle Clint now." Steve grinned.
"What?" Tony yelped. "No, no, no, that can't happen! I can't call him that! Clint will never shut up about it.."
"It's not…now you, Tony. He won't make a big deal about it." Steve rolled his eyes. "Also, you and Clint made nests."
Tony stopped short, spluttering. "What the fuck?"
The whole apology thing, to Tony's relief, wasn't as bad as he first thought. He sat down on the couch in the game room next to Anthony, and Clint was shooed out by Steve. Tony explained the best he could that even after everything that happened, they turn out to be a better person that he ever would be and Tony is happy.
That seemed to help, because Anthony nodded and then hugged Tony quickly, said thank you, and went back to fiddling with the Wii that Tony himself had modified to more, well, Tony-style.
They played Mario-Kart together, and Tony beat both Anthony and Clint. And then he was subjected as a victim to a pillow fight.
"Ow! Hey, you can't-" he put his arms in defense, laughing. "I can't help it that I'm awesome."
"You cheated with your genius ways!" Clint accused, smacking him again with his pillow.
"Yeah!" Anthony grinned.
"You're a genius too, you little sucker." Tony made a face at Anthony, and Anthony made an identical face right back.
"Not like you…yet." He grinned and hit Tony once again in the leg.
As Tony tried to flee, Clint dove and caught his pant leg, causing Tony to stumble and drop to the floor. Tony tried to roll away as they continued to use pillows to get revenge of getting their asses kicked.
"Uh, what's going on here?" a voice asked, and Tony peeked out from below Anthony, who was sprawled on top of him as an advantage to get his face, and saw Steve standing at the door.
Clint scoffed and poked Tony's shoulder. "Rematch. Tomorrow."
"You'll have to see if Tony has that game in Malibu, then. We have to leave tomorrow. Reed Richards is going to meet us there so we can start figuring out how to get Anthony back home."
"Reed?" Tony said, about to protest.
"Tony, be reasonable. You're friends and you know it, even if you insist on debating who's smarter." Steve stared him down in a warning.
"Can't we stay here one more day?" Anthony pleaded hopefully. "I, uh…Tony didn't show me the lab! Please?"
"You still have time today for that. Sorry, bud, but we have to get started." Steve smiled encouragingly. "Besides, Tony has an even bigger lab in Malibu."
Anthony looked to Tony. "Really?"
Tony nodded and grinned. "Much bigger."
"Sweet!" Anthony returned Tony's grin and gripped his wrist. "C'mon, let's go to the lab now. Before Cap says we can't."
Steve cocked his head. "When did I become the bad guy here?"
"You've got the party pooper vibe on you, Steve. It's even more obvious to kids." Clint guffawed and darted toward Tony and Anthony's retreating forms down the hallway.
"That's some prototypes for a new suit model."
"Oh. What's that?"
"A new interface for the SHIELD helicarrier."
"What's a helicarrier?"
Tony facepalmed and sighed. "I forgot that while you're a tiny genius, you're not caught up on the times of 2013."
"And I'm not gonna be able to tell everyone about all of it, am I?" Anthony asked, looking up at Tony, eyes wide and a little sad.
That could be an issue, Tony thinks. Tony would be climbing the walls if he had to keep the entire future a goddamned secret. They'd have to talk about this later for both their sakes.
"Sorry." Tony sighed. "You really can't."
"Hey, hey, sto-" Both Tony's turned to see Dummy tugging on Clint's long sleeve. "Let go, you fucker."
Anthony giggled and Tony put his hands on his hips. "Don't talk to Dummy that way, Hawkass, he'll remove your overly large nose."
Clint put a hand to cover his nose protectively. "What if I say please?"
"His nose is pretty big," Anthony whispered to Tony, grinning.
"Monstrous." Tony agreed.
"Betrayal!" Clint cried, pointing to Anthony. "You've abandoned me."
"I go where I'll win." Anthony shot back.
"You," Clint glared, turning his point to Tony, "were a little shit from the start."
"As I've been told." Tony held out his hand to Anthony and the boy high fived it. "Want to watch me build Clint an explosive arrow?"
"Yeah!" Anthony told him, looking at him like duh.
"J, put on some music for us." Tony turned around picked off a metal exoskeleton of an arrow.
"What about me?" Clint whined, still trying to pry the bot off his arm.
"Dummy, release the bird." And the bot obliged, just as AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" came on.
"I love this song!" Anthony yelled, "Mom never lets me listen to it 'cause it has hell in it!"
"I'm here to tell you that never stops you." Tony said, and snorted in laughter when he saw Clint doing an air guitar.
"What are you doing?" Anthony laughed, but he ran over to Clint and started imitating him.
"You're both ruining my tunes!" Tony teased, and then his foot started tapping.
Steve came down later to find Tony, Clint, and mini Tony dancing and singing to AC/DC's "Back in Black." He blinked. And then he blinked again, and the sight was still there. He shook his head and was about to turn when he almost smack into Thor with Bruce close behind. "Oh. Hey."
"I wish I could join them," the god said a bit longingly. "Unfortunately, I must speak to my brother. I've been informed Loki is still in Asgard, under their will. But tricksters have tricks. I believe he has a grudge against Tony for outsmarting him time and time again."
"Makes sense," Steve mused, and winced at a crash. "Uh, bring souvenirs?"
"I will bring Young Anthony the finest brewery." Thor promised.
"What? You seriously give kids alcohol?"
"As a celebration only!" the god said, raising his hands. "At least, in mine and Loki's case."
Steve shook his head. "Good luck, anyway."
"Don't worry, Captain. I will find a way to make Loki compromise, and the boy will be back in the time he belongs."
"Thanks, Thor." Steve said appreciatively.
Bruce cleared his throat. "Thor, is it possible for Loki to, uh, erase Anthony's memories? Of being here?"
Thor smiled sadly. "I wish I could give you a clear answer."
"But do we have to? Will it change too much to just…let him keep the memories?" Steve asked.
"As much as it would pain me to let young Anthony go back to his time and suffer as he has, I feel it's too risky. I'll inquire Loki about it. Gentlemen," Thor bowed his head and turned back to the elevator.
"How much do you want to bet that both Tony's won't agree?" Bruce sighed.
Steve didn't have answer.