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the family you choose

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They arrive at the Rogers’ apartment just before the sun starts to go down, the smell of dinner hitting them on the last flight of stairs, and sure enough, Sarah is doling out servings of Shepard’s Pie when they walk in.

She looks up from where she’s scraping a dessert spoon around the tray. “Hello, boys.”

Steve says, “Hey, mom,” and Tony says, “Hey, Ms. R,” in practiced unison, and both of them take an appreciative whiff.

“Smells good,” Steve says, kissing his mother on the cheek as he picks the plate up, accepting the knife and fork that are pushed into his hands. “Thank you.”

“Delectable as always,” Tony says around a mouthful of mashed potato, and ducks out of the way when she bats her hand at his shoulder for talking with his mouth full.

“Thanks,” she says, folding a tea-towel in her hands. “How was school?”

“Good,” they chorus.

She hums. “And how was detention?”

Steve talks over Tony before he can make it worse than it already is. He blurts, “Good, thank you again for dinner, it was real nice of you to wait up for us, we’ll eat it in my room so we can study for our Biology final, love you,” and darts in to press another kiss to her cheek before making a run for it, Tony on his heels.

Tony could swear they would’ve made it if Steve had ran a little faster, because when he’s a second away from going out of sight up the stairs, he hears Sarah say his name. He stops out of default, eyes on Steve’s retreating back as it vanishes into his room. He wonders briefly if he could fake a seizure to get out of it. Probably not, given her status as a nurse, and Tony’s of Knowing Fuck-All About Seizures.

“Yeah,” he answers finally, turning back. She beckons at him to come down the stairs, and, reluctantly, he does, considering a fake trip-and-fall as he goes.

Sarah crosses her arms, her smile not completely gone yet, but in that terrible way that means it’s still faintly there, just more menacing than usual. “Would you by any chance happen to know how my purse somehow accumulated an extra five hundred dollars than my usual paycheck?”

Shit. No, fuck, all is not lost. Just- nonchalance. Act cool.

Tony shrugs, hopefully radiating casual. Calm. Total innocence. “You probably got paid more at work and didn’t realize it at the time. You’re an awesome nurse,” he says, and shrugs again for good measure. Can never have enough shrugs. Shrugs are nonchalant. Which is what Tony is aiming for. Because he is totally innocent.

Yes.

And Sarah is still smiling vaguely. Oh, god. “Thank you, Tony,” she says coolly, in that tone that he’s come to recognize as ‘I can see right through you, you pathetic worm, don’t even try.’ “Now try that again, without the crap.”

This time, Tony’s shrug is out of self-defence more than anything. “It was put there by elves?”

“Again.”

“Your wallet is magic?”

“Uh-uh.”

“…it fell out of my pocket and into your purse,” Tony tries. Pathetically. Because he is a pathetic worm who has successfully kept his calm while fourteen and naked in front of four police officers, and somehow can’t manage to get anything past Ms. Goddamn Rogers.

Ms. Goddamn Rogers, who is sighing and giving him a look. “I don’t want it, Tony.”

Tony groans. “Oh my god, seriously, just take it-”

“I appreciate it, I do, but I don’t want to be-”

“It’s not charity!”

“Then what is it?”

“Um,” Tony says after a few seconds pass and he hasn’t come up with anything.

Her arms re-adjust and then cross again. “I’m waiting.”

“Rent,” Tony decides.

“Rent?”

“Rent,” he repeats. “I practically live here, and I thought I might as well start paying my dues.”

The Smile of Doom flickers. “Sure you did. And it had nothing to do with the washing machine failing on us last week.”

Shrugging is good. Shrugging will help Tony. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says. Lies. Badly.

“Tony-”

“For the love of God, I don’t need it and you do,” Tony bites. “Just- buy a stupid washing machine and lets never talk about it again.”

Sarah’s lips thin, and oh, god, now her face is all disappointed. He’s gone and done it. This is what happens right before people finally give up on him, when Tony’s shit turns from ‘antics’ into ‘the deranged acts of an annoying bastard who doesn’t know how to effectively communicate with people he cares about.’

“This isn’t a one time thing, Tony,” she says, and her face is all disappointment and something else way too close to pity. “You do it all the time.”

Tony scoffs. Scoffs a bit more. Shrugs a little. Continues to dig the hole deeper. “What,” he says, his voice weirdly shrill. “No, I don’t!”

God, he sucks. He’s ashamed of himself at how hard it is to lie to this woman.

She makes him meet her eyes by sheer force of will. Jesus Christ, this woman could inspire armies and storm beaches. “The suspicious twenties I keep finding around the house?”

“What twenties?”

“All the outrageous bets you make with Steve that you purposely lose so you have an excuse to give him cash?”

“Coincidence.”

“So it’s also a coincidence that you do the same thing with Clint, who comes to school with shoes he grew out of two years ago because he can’t get enough money to replace them?”

“I’ve never even noticed his shoes.”

He’s finding it hard to say all of this while looking her in the eyes, so instead he trains his gaze on a freckle next to her left eyebrow. There. Safer territory. Now he feels less like dirt as he blatantly lies to her face.

“Tony-”

“Don’t say you don’t need it,” Tony talks over her. “You do, okay, I’m sorry, but you do. I don’t need it, I have more money than I know what the hell to do with, and here you are struggling to pay the lighting bill, and you work harder than anyone I know. And if you keep trying to give it back, I’ll- I’ll blow it all on strippers.” He snaps his fingers. “Hookers! And I’ll drag Steve along! We’ll try cocaine, it’ll be a blast-”

“I’m not-”

“Please,” Tony says, letting god knows what seep through into his tone, and she keeps looking at him. With her eyes. Her stupid, Steve-ish eyes that Tony can never hide from, no matter which face they’re set into.

“I’ll pay you back,” Sarah says finally.

“Oh my god, you’re just like your freaking son,” Tony sighs. “I don’t want it back. It’s a gift for putting up with my shit since I was twelve, okay? Think of it as a blanket apology for all the shit you’ll put up with in the future.”

“I will pay you back,” Sarah says, because she’s a Rogers, and if there's one thing Tony's learned about the Rogers family, it's that they’re stubborn as fuck.

Tony says, “You live to make my life a misery,” trying to come across as world-weary and suffering, but it probably comes out as fond. Damnit.

She grins. “And you know it.” She catches his chin between her hands, squeezing once. “Don’t give me any more mysterious money you ‘found’ under the couch, okay, kid? It’s pathetic, watching you feebly bullshit your way around it.”

“No promises,” Tony says honestly.

“Fine. But if you drag me to another motherlode you discovered in with the dust bunnies, I’m going to be forced to buy you a bed.”

Tony blinks. “What?”

“You’re paying rent, after all.” Her hand squeezes again, reassuring, before letting go. It’s soft, like her smile is now. “And you sleep on that damn roll-out couch at least four nights a week. If you’re going to be annoying me until you graduate, I might as well make you comfortable.”

Tony- doesn’t quite know how to respond to that, and after a moment of hopeless floundering, he manages, “You’re pretty awesome, Ms. R, anyone ever tell you that?”

She huffs a breath through her teeth. “Not nearly often enough,” she says. “What happened to your lip?”

It takes a second for Tony to remember what she’s talking about, and then he flashes a grin, which, of course, she probably sees right through with her bullshit-x-ray-vision. “Bullfighting,” he says, the throb of his split lip more prominent now than ever, now that it’s under Sarah’s observant gaze.

She smirks. “Go catch up to Steve,” she tells him, and turns to finish scraping out the Shepherd’s Pie into a bowl. She’ll ease glad-wrap over it, Tony knows. Then they’ll end up eating the same meal tomorrow night, unlike some people, unlike the Starks, who could eat a different dinner every night for a couple thousand years and have enough money left over to splurge on several mansions.

He flips her a salute. “Yes, ma’am,” he says, and goes.

 

 

 

His lip is healing. It’s healing, it wasn’t even that bad in the first place, and Tony has to assure Steve of this six times before he agrees to slip into the Janitor’s closet for five minutes before class starts.

Or, well. It was supposed to be five minutes. But Steve is all groany and Tony still can’t fully believe this is happening, and at one point Steve moans Tony’s name under his breath as Tony sucks another bruise onto his neck and Tony is legitimately convinced that any second now, he’s going to wake up humping the roll-out couch in the Rogers’ apartment.

Which he doesn’t. What does happen instead is that five minutes turns into twenty, and then thirty, and then some more minutes blur past and seriously, seriously, all they’re doing is making out, which is a travesty, but also a really, really great thing which Tony is going to remember for the rest of his life and look back on as the makeout session which ruined him for all other makeout sessions.

They haven’t even taken off their fucking jackets.

For over forty minutes.

And then, because the universe exists to fuck with Tony’s life, there’s a knock on the door. Tony and Steve stiffen- ha, ha- and stare at each other, frozen. Tony can see Steve’s academic career flash before his eyes.

“Come on,” a muffled voice says from the other side of the door, “It’s your own faults for picking the room next to my office,” and Tony thinks, fuck.

“You should take your shirt off,” Tony says.

Steve looks more or less like he’d prefer to be getting strips of his skin slowly peeled off than be where he is now. “What.”

“Your shirt,” Tony repeats. “We could dazzle him with your abs and then make a break for it. Move to Mexico. Start up a boat shop. I’ll change both our names to Hermano.”

Steve opens his mouth, probably to say something typical, like, that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard, which Tony would agree with, but then there’s more knocking and they both look to the door.

“I think we missed Chem,” Steve says like he actually regrets it.

Tony opens his mouth. Closes it. Spares one last glance at Steve’s magnificent bipeds, his glorious kiss-bitten mouth, his flushed skin. Sorely regrets his entire life. “So, your shirt’s staying on?”

“Yes, Tony, my shirt is staying on,” Steve says, suddenly able to deadpan in the middle of a crisis.

Tragic. “Tragic,” Tony says out loud, doesn’t bother tucking his shirt back in, and opens the door.

Coulson, the dick, looks at the both of them, unimpressed. “Stark,” he says, and Tony forces a smile as he continues, “I can't tell you how often I've hoped it was the last time I had to escort you to Fury while enduring the sight of your… enthusiastic love bites on another students’ neck.”

He turns his eyes to Steve’s ‘enthusiastic’ love bites, and his eyebrows raise, which might be the most emotion Tony’s ever seen from the guy in all his three years of high school. “Rogers.”

“Vice Principal Coulson,” Steve says, polite as ever and making good eye contact. Tony can tell just how hard he’s restraining himself from adding ‘sir.’

Coulson looks him up and down. “I would have thought you’d have higher standards.”

Almost instantly, Steve replies, “If you’re suggesting what I think you are, I’m not sure I agree with you. Sir,” he adds, giving in.

Tony can’t be sure, but he thinks he catches Coulson’s mouth flicker into a smirk before schooling itself back into its usual expression. “Fair enough,” he says, and Tony is rapidly losing track of what the fuck is going on. Thankfully, Coulson gets him back on track by saying, “You know the upcoming events by heart, I take it? Your parents being contacted and then the discussion of your punishment with Principal Fury?”

“Yes, sir,” they answer in unison.

Coulson’s mouth does that weird ticking thing again.

 

 

 

 

After years of beating the crap out of anyone who badmouthed their group, and in turn getting the living shit kicked out of them- they hadn’t been the biggest freshmen on campus- Steve and Tony have consequently landed themselves in the seats lining the hallway outside the Principal’s office enough times that they’ve both memorized the patterns in the wallpaper well enough that they can trace it with their eyes closed.

They sit there, in verging-on-uncomfortable silence, until the bell rings and everyone starts to fill out into the hall.

Pepper’s the first one to sit down in one of the plastic seats next to Tony, her eyes travelling over him with a combination of exasperation and worry that Tony likes to call, ‘what the shit did you do this time, you stupid bastard.’ “You look like you got hit by a truck.”

Tony beams angelically at Steve, who flushes a delicious red, before turning to Pep, who asks, “Fighting those guys again?”

“Yeah, but we resolved it.” Tony lets his voice drop to a near-purr. “Enthusiastically.”

Next to him, he can feel Steve shifting in his seat. He’s considering this to be one of the crowning moments in his life.

“Right,” Pepper says, and she frowns. “Hey, what happened to your lip? That looks old.”

“Pushed a baby stroller out of the way of a truck.”

Pepper turns to Steve. “What happened to his lip,” she asks, now completely ignoring Tony.

Steve shoots a glance over at Tony, who is trying to make stupid, desperate ‘oh my god please lie’ motions. With his eyes. Which wouldn’t work if it was anyone else but Steve, but since it is, Steve looks back at Pepper and says, “He fell,” with all the conviction of a court judge. Maybe even his mother.

“…Right,” Pepper says again, quieter this time. She pulls the straps of her bag up higher on her shoulders, and her fake smile could rival Tony’s. “Sure. Well, I gotta get to Social Studies, but text me what happens with Fury, okay?”

“Yep.”

“See you. He fell,” she tells Clint and Natasha as they pass. “And then they got into a fight. With some people. See you in last period.”

Clint and Natasha had already been making their way over to the seats, and they both sit down in the ones next to Steve. For a few months in sophomore year, there hadn’t been a week that went by without a variation of them- Bruce included, though he didn’t get involved much- sitting in these chairs, waiting for Fury to call them inside and discuss how much detention they were going to get. Thinking back on it, it was mostly the half-hour waiting periods where they all bonded the most. Which is… worrying.

“Who’d you fight,” Clint asks instantly.

“Who won,” Natasha follows up.

Their group might have a slight problem with finishing each other’s sentences. It stopped being cute after the first year. Now it’s just creepy, and occasionally reassuring, if Tony’s feeling particularly shitty.

Steve says, “None of your business,” and Clint laughs, loud.

“Yeahhhh, like that’s not going to make us want to know to the point where we shove bamboo shoots under your fing- is that a hickey?”

Steve’s hand slaps over his neck, covering the space that Clint is gawking at. “It’s- a bruise,” he says hurriedly. “From the fight.”

“The fight,” Natasha repeats slowly. “The fight that involved you falling, neck first, onto someone’s mouth?”

Tony makes a noise that he thinks could pass for a laugh. A laugh, or maybe a frog choking. He can’t be sure, he’s not paying much attention. “He said it’s none of your business, you guys have gym, you should-”

“Holy shit, you guys were the couple making out in the Janitor's closet during Chem,' Clint blurts, and both Steve and Tony hiss, “SHHHH,” at him, loud enough to attract a couple of confused stares from anyone who wasn't already staring.

Tony’s open palm catches him on the shoulder.

Clint recoils, like he hasn’t giggled manically through mouthfuls of blood while getting repeatedly kicked in the stomach by some guy who called Tony a fag. “Ow!”

“Thank you, Clint, for announcing that into the void,” Tony says, his voice tight. “I’m sure the entire student population will know by the next warning bell.”

Sure enough, cellphones have already begun to break out from the pocket of anyone who was in a five-meter radius when Clint had said it.

“Sorry,” Clint says, sounding about as sorry as he ever does. Which is fuck all. He gestures between Steve and Tony with his index finger. “So, you two are-”

“We’re not anything, Barton,” Tony snaps at him. “We’re close friends who suck each other’s necks occasionally. Try to wrap your head around that and not have it implode inwards over all the empty space inside your brain.”

Steve and Natasha look at him, giving him the ever-famous, Tony, stop being a dick to the people you care about, reproachful glare.

Tony expects him to be offended. God knows Clint has sucker-punched more people for less. Instead, because apparently everyone’s Tony-Bullshit-Meter is hyperactive lately, Clint just snorts. “Whatever, Stark. Have fun riding the river of Denial. You, too, Steve, I heard it’s great this time of year.”

Steve grunts in his general direction, and Clint turns back to Tony. “Hey, is that split lip a sex injury?”

“It’s- he didn’t- I FELL,” Tony hisses. “And shut the fuck-”

He falls silent as he catches sight of Sarah Rogers, still in her nurse scrubs, storming the hall like a soldier into battle. She comes to a stop in front of them, the bags under her eyes more pronounced than ever, but not giving an inch for it.

At this point, Tony has lost count how many times they’ve made Steve’s mom come down here because her son got into a fight, but he knows that a good third of it was his fault. The rest of it was a combination of Bruce and Steve’s anger issues; Steve, Clint and Tony’s habit of never standing down when they know they should, and all their tendencies to take it personally if their friends are insulted.

“Clint,” Sarah greets. “Natasha.”

“Ms. Rogers,” they chorus.

“Shouldn’t you both be in gym,” Sarah asks, like she isn’t going to eviscerate her son and his friend sometime in the next thirty seconds. “Classes have started.” She nods at Natasha. “I’ll see you next weekend, Tash?”

Oh, god, Tony thinks. They’re grouping to take us down.

Natasha doesn’t give her the smile she gives most adults; instead it’s warmer and a hundred times more terrifying. “Of course. She’s teaching me how to knit,” she says to the three blank looks she’s receiving.

Knowing them, she’s probably also teaching her which angle is best to impale someone in the jugular with a crochet needle.

 

 

 

Fury, the bastard, lets them stew for a good thirty seconds as he stares silently, chin on his folded hands. Steve meets his gaze. Tony all but glares.

“Before Ms. Rogers gets back from the bathroom,” Fury says finally, his fingers unlocking from the default position he always has them in when he drags any of their group into his office, “I’ve got to say, I didn't expect Steve to be so aggressive.”

"I. FELL," Tony grits. "It's not even that bad, it's healing, you've seen me with way worse, remember that one time I knocked out Justin Hammer and the blood from my nose was literally pooling on your floor, you should remember because you bitched about it weeks after you made me clean it up-"

His jaw clicks shut as the door opens and Ms. Rogers enters the room again, her smile amicable and not at all giving away how many times she’s been put in this situation. “Nick.”

“Sarah,” Fury responds. “Please, sit.”

Tony gets up from his chair and tries to communicate ‘dear god please don’t hate me when you find out I tempted your son into accidentally ditching first period via groping him in the Janitor’s closet for forty minutes’ at Sarah before he goes to sit outside.

 

 

 

It’s Monday now, and Tony’s split lip had happened last Friday night. It had been one of those rare nights when Tony was going to spend the night at his own house instead of Steve’s or Bruce’s, and to cope with that he had brought Steve along.

To say Steve wasn’t comfortable at the Stark house would be a massive understatement. He spent his time there looking bewilderedly at items that cost more than his tuition is going to, fiddling with the hem of his shirt and making sure he didn’t break anything by accident.

But hey, at least there were always enough spare rooms.

For the first two hours, things had been fine. They played Halo on the TV screen that was bigger than Steve’s kitchen wall, got into a popcorn fight which the maid offered to clean up (Steve refused awkwardly and made Tony scrape kernels out of the couch) and were about to put in a movie when Howard got home.

Tony didn’t actually know how many months out of twelve his father spent at his house rather than hotels, but he didn’t think it was a good ratio. He looked up from where he had been slotting the DVD into place, took in the ragged suit and the tilt of his stagger, concluded ‘the unpleasant stage of drunk,’ and said, Uh. Hey, Howa- dad.

Steve said, Hello, Mr. Stark, in that weird, clipped voice he used to talk to teachers he didn’t particularly respect, but Tony tried not to notice that. Mrs. Stark, he said then, and Tony watched his mother, her lips tight, walking past her husband and into the hall.

Howard took a few seconds to notice them, and another prompting from Tony, a louder, Dad, called from the lounge, before he had turned around. His shoes scuffed the polished floors, loud enough to make both Steve and Tony wince.

For a moment, Howard struggled with words, eyes blinking like it took a considerable amount of effort. Then he said- slurred- you, I need to talk t’ you, ignoring Steve completely, and Tony bit the side of his cheek and forced his eyeroll away.

Yeah, dad, what?

Not- here, Howard said, one hand going through his hair, pushing it back. Business. It’s important.

Tony grumbled, yeah, I bet, hoping his dad didn’t hear it, and then, sure, whatever, and followed him out of the lounge and into the kitchen.

He didn’t get the full extent of the conversation, exactly. Mostly because his dad was seriously drunk, slurring and messing up words, and Tony had to get him to repeat half of it before Howard’s voice had risen to a yell, and then he started yelling about the company, about how Tony wasn’t picking up the responsibilities, how he could have graduated college last year at the age of fifteen if he wasn’t staying behind in high school to- to-

Well, Tony didn’t really want to remember the rest of it in the first place. Anyway, at one point Howard had went forward to grab Tony’s wrists in a motion that Tony always wished he wasn’t familiar with, and Howard had been gripping Tony’s wrists tight enough that Tony had been holding back whimpers, and yelling in Tony’s face to make sure he understood, that he got how important this was.

Tony had tried to get a few words in, despite his best judgement, and Howard was still yelling and shit, Steve could probably hear it from the lounge, and Tony had tried to squirm away but Howard wasn’t having any of it; just held his wrists tighter, and Tony had started yelling over him.

When Howard’s hand raised back to slap him, it was clumsy and sloppy and Tony could have stopped it if he tried, but he was too surprised. So he let it come, and his dad slapped him hard enough his head snapped sideways and the force of it made him take a step back.

Blood burst in his mouth like so much blood had burst in his mouth over years of scuffling in the cafeteria, in the halls, in the field after school, and Tony took a second to be surprised, to fully absorb Howard hit me, and then, I got hit.

And there was only one way Tony ever responded to being hit.

He stayed shock-still for a second, absorbing, and then calculating, and then he shoved Howard into the wall and punched him in the face. It wasn’t his best punch, not his hardest punch, and it hurt like hell, and Howard was still struggling, fighting back drunkenly. Tony raised his fist, hesitated, tried not to think about how different this was to any other fight he’d been in, and that was what he was thinking when Howard shoved him back by his shoulders, his hands slipping, and-

Steve barrelled into Howard hard enough to knock the air out of him when he hit the ground, back-first, and then Steve started whaling on him. Punch after punch, each one harder than the next, one after the other in a furious frenzy.

Again, Tony went shock-still, his mind reeling over the same clicking pieces, Steve hit hurt blood Dad Howard hitting hitting hitting- before jerking into action, locking his arms around Steve’s neck and yanking.

Tony said things, he doesn’t remember them now- words like don’t and Steve and fuck, just, and Steve had been shaking, trembling under his hands as Tony pulled him through the doorway where Maria was frozen in place, staring in a way that only made him pause for a moment. He watched her eyes flicker over her husband, over her son, over Steve, all of whom were bloody, and kept pulling Steve until they were in the hall, then into Tony’s room.

As soon as the door was shut behind them, Tony spun. What the fuck are you doing, he had said, and his voice was shaking just as hard as Steve’s frame was.

Steve had spat, he was hurting you-

I was handling it-

He HIT you, Steve snarled, and his fists balled like they were up for another round.

You shouldn’t have gotten involved.

Shouldn’t have gotten-? What was I supposed to do, wait for you to finish decking it out with your FATHER?

Tony threw his hands up. He was drunk and pissed off, I know exactly how to handle him when he’s like this, trust me.

He’s done this before, Steve said, and he was shaking, he was shaking so badly Tony was surprised his teeth weren’t chattering; his voice trembling with outrage.

What, Tony barked. No! He just- grabs my wrists too hard sometimes, it’s not a big deal.

If he’s hurting you, then it is. He’s your dad, Tony, he’s not supposed to hurt you, and Tony wanted to laugh, wanted to punch Howard some more, maybe even punch Steve a little, because if anyone knew about abusive dickhead fathers, it would be Steve, and they both knew it.

We’re the Starks, okay, not the Brady’s, Tony had spat, so what if we’re a little dysfunctional-

A LITTLE dysfunctional? You can’t-

You shouldn’t have gotten involved, Tony had said, yelling again. He could sue you! You’re barely coping as it is, you guys wouldn’t be able to come out the other side of that.

I wasn’t about to stand aside and let him hurt you, Steve said, all but baring his teeth, his jaw locked, his eyes bright, every single inch of him radiating anger. I’d rather be sued a million times over than let someone beat on my friends, especially if it’s their parents, and especially if it’s you. I will always, always protect you, no matter who I have to go up against, and don’t you dare think I’d do anything but.

They both fell silent at that, Steve still shaking with it, their eyes wide, and Tony couldn’t-

He didn’t-

He was still reeling, still calculating, still lost in a mess of firing nerve endings that didn’t make sense to him, going haywire and spitting out random pieces of information, like the bit of hair that went into Steve’s eyes like it always did when he sweated, and the rise and fall of their chests in tandem, because they were always moving at the same speed, catching up and slowing down and hauling each other along to suit.

Tony has to wet his lips. His mouth is dry, despite the blood he’s swallowed. Why especially if it’s me?

Steve had a dry mouth, too, it seemed. He swallowed, his throat clicking. What?

You said me, especially me, Tony said, and they were getting closer, though Tony didn’t know how. Why, he said, why’d you-

He trailed off, watching Steve’s eyes and mouth move, his body waver; making tiny little dips closer to Tony and then looking surprised at it, like he didn’t do it on purpose. Their mouths angled so they’d be kissing if they just inched forwards, and this time when Tony got closer, Steve pulled back minutely.

I, your lip-

Tony ignored him, bunching his hands in the front of Steve’s shirt and pulling him in so their mouths press together. It was stupid, and Tony hissed in pain and drew back almost immediately, and Steve had started to apologize but Tony had cut him off with another kiss, biting back the pain, because god, so worth it.

They kissed, they kissed until their hands were pushing through each other’s hair, and Tony knew distantly that there has got to be blood everywhere, but still didn’t stop until a particularly intense flare of pain made him swear in a bad way, and Steve had pulled back for real.

We should, Steve said, and had to stop and then continue, flushing at the state of Tony. We, we should put antiseptic on it.

Yeah, Tony said. And your fists.

They went to the bathroom that connects into Tony’s bedroom, digging out the First Aid kit from underneath the sink, and propped it up on the lip of the bath to shuffle through it. They wiped Steve’s hands off, and Steve said, you have blood all over your mouth and your chin, and Tony had grinned- which hurt- and said, look who’s talking.

Steve had raised a hand to his own chin, and looked surprised when it came away with blood on it. Oh.

Tony laughed at his face, and started wiping the blood off with a towel. Steve stayed quiet, pliant the whole time he did this, watching Tony with an undecipherable expression.

When Tony went to pull his hand away, Steve stopped him with a gentle hand on his wrist and laced their fingers together, halfway between both of their bodies. He squeezed.

The bathroom door opened. They both startled, but relaxed incrementally when they saw Maria walk in. They dropped their hands, but only after Tony squeezed back.

I, I wanted to check if you were okay, Maria said, her brow furrowed, like she didn’t quite know what was coming out of her mouth.

Steve said, We’re fine, ma’m. We take good care of each other, and then his shoulder hunch slightly, like it came out wrong.

Yes, Maria said, I noticed, and she was smiling the most genuine smile Tony had seen on her in a long time.

 

 

 

Sarah asks Nick if his day has been pleasant. She asks him how his wife is doing. She asks him how his new car has been running.

She asks him who her son got beat up by this time, and this question is the only one where she isn’t expecting the answer.

She blinks at him for a few seconds, keeping her expression neutral. “I- could you say that again, if you don’t mind, Nick?”

“Your son,” Fury repeats, looking towards a steadily-flushing Steve, “got caught ditching first period Chemistry. He spent the hour getting hot and heavy with another student in the Janitor’s closet. Now, I’m all for letting kids do what they want in their own spare time, but not during class.”

“I would have to agree,” Sarah says. She darts a glance over at Steve, who is avoiding her gaze, and finally notices his neck. “Steven.”

“Mom,” Steve says, determinedly staring ahead at the painting above Fury’s desk.

Sarah doesn’t know whether to ground Steve or congratulate him on the hickeys. She shifts in her seat towards him. “Have you got anything to say for yourself?”

“I lost track of time,” he answers immediately. “I didn’t mean to miss class, I swear, it was an accident.”

“I bet it was.” Sarah can’t stop her mouth from twitching. “Nick?”

“Sarah?”

“Just who exactly was my son making out with in a closet?”

“Tony Stark.”

Huh.

“You might know him,” Fury continues, and Sarah nods, furiously biting at her cheek so she doesn’t do something awful, like giggle.

“I do, yes. Nice kid.”

After a beat, Fury agrees, “Nice kid,” like it pains him, and god, Sarah does not envy the people who have to deal with this kid in this place one little bit.

 

 

 

When Maria Stark turns the corner into Tony’s line of sight, he all but balks. Out of the however many dozen calls to school that his parents have gotten over the years, Tony’s parents have shown up exactly twice, and once was to sign a cheque to pay for the science room he blew up in fifth grade.

She walks down the hall and sits down next to him, her obligatory hangover-sunglasses already in position over her face. “I got a call.”

“Okay?” Tony says, at a loss of anything else to say other than, no shit, you’ve gotten about a hundred since I got enrolled here, why the hell did you come for this one.

Maria looks towards the closed door of Fury’s office. “Does he call us in, or do we knock?”

“…Okay,” Tony says, and then, “Uh, he calls us in.”

Maria nods, turning back. She hasn’t looked at Tony since she sat down. “Is Steve in there?”

“With Ms. Rogers, yeah.”

“Did you two get in another fight with somebody? They weren’t very specific about it on the phone.”

Tony wishes for a nice, dark black hole to open up in the chair he’s sitting in. He settles back in to look at the wallpaper patterns that she’s looking at. “Uh. Not exactly? We sort of, um. I might have convinced him to bunk first period to… make out.”

Silence. Was Tony expecting anything different?

He doesn’t chance a look over to see her face; instead keeping his eyes on the safe, grey patterns that swirl up the wall, pocked by years of mould and bored boys picking at it with their thumbnails while they wait to get sent home for starting a fight in Spanish class.

He’s more than prepared for her to get up and leave, when-

“I know I haven’t been the best mother,” she says in a rush, flooring Tony speechless in ten words or less. He doesn’t respond, and she barely takes a breath before continuing, “I’m glad you have people to take care of you-”

“Mom,” Tony croaks, making it sound like stop and what both at the same time.

She talks over him, her voice fragmenting, “I can’t say this again, Tony, please don’t make me have to.”

Tony keeps quiet, mostly out of shock than anything else, unbelievably uncomfortable and wondering and really fucking worried to boot. But he lets his mother take a slow breath in, and then keep going.

“I- neither of us, Howard or me, have been the best parents. Frankly, we’ve been rather horrible, in my opinion,” she says thinly, and Tony has no idea what the fuck is going on, doesn’t know what to do with his hands, doesn’t know where to look except away.

“You were-” Maria clears her throat, tries again. “You were so young,” she says, and it’s flimsy, it’s shaking. Tony didn’t know she could sound like this. “And so smart. And Howard was busy, and I didn’t know how- and you were so needy, you were a child, of course you were needy; all children need their parents. And I didn’t know how to cope with that, neither of us did.”

Tony sits, his legs deadening from how long he’s been sitting, his hands wedged under his thighs, and thinks that he might feel sick about this later.

Maria, beside him, has her chin raised, her legs crossed and smoothed with pantyhose, and her voice cracking as she speaks quickly. “So I did what I do best, and withdrew from the both of you, and for that I sincerely apologize and hope that one day you can forgive me.”

For a moment this overtakes the urge to shut up and wait for it to be over, and Tony says, “Mom, come on, you don’t have to-”

“Tony, please, let me finish.”

He does.

“I didn’t- we never paid much attention,” Maria admits, and Tony bites back on a bitter, yeah, I know.

“And you were the one to suffer for it. You became… accustomed, I suppose, to being alone. You grew up on it, and you learned to work with it, because you didn’t- didn’t have anything else,” she says, her words getting faster and faster, obviously wanting to get this over with as much as Tony does. “That was never the life I wished for you, and I can’t say how much joy it brings me to see you with a group of kids who care about you like your friends do. I just wanted you to know what a privilege it is to be your mother, and I am so proud of the person you have become.”

He waits, but apparently she’s finished. “Thanks,” he says finally, and it doesn’t sound like enough.

She sniffs. “You shouldn’t have to be reminded of it,” she says. Then, fast enough Tony nearly misses it, she reaches over and squeezes his hand briefly before letting go.

 

 

 

 

Fury’s door finally, finally opens, and Tony and Steve trade looks of ‘everything is shit, what is going on’ as they pass each other.

“Mrs. Stark,” Fury says. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“Isn’t it just,” Maria says, her smile lipsticked and rehearsed down to the letter.

Steve looks at Tony, who shrugs, mouthing, I don’t even know.

 

 

 

Fury and Maria talk while Tony sits there and is more silent than he has ever been in Fury’s office. Maria laughs at the right times and assures Fury she’ll have a talk to him about it, which Tony doubts, though recent evidence is showing otherwise, and then they’re leaving again.

Sarah and Steve are still in the hall when they walk out, leaning far into the plastic seats that are going to end up being imprinted on Tony’s soul by the time he graduates.

Sarah and Maria smile at each other instantly. “We’ve been meaning to catch up for a while, haven’t we,” Maria says, and Sarah replies, “I have ten minutes now, if you want,” and Maria smiles like a shark and says, “If you’d be so kind.”

Then they tell their sons to stay put for ten minutes until they get back, and Steve and Tony are screaming internally as they walk off.

“Uh,” Steve says, blinking at the alcove where their mothers are conversing pleasantly.

“Yeah,” Tony agrees. “I have- no idea what is going on, what the fuck.”

They watch them for a few minutes, and out of nowhere, Steve says, “I hate these chairs,” mild and reasonable and enough to make Tony burst out laughing.

 

 

 

 

Maria tells them- all of them, when she and Sarah go back over to the chairs- that she’d be more than happy for Tony to officially live part-time at the Roger’s apartment, if he wants to. Since he’s paying rent anyway, which earns him a suspicious look from Steve.

She asks Sarah if she could please borrow her son for a moment, and Sarah assures her that she was planning on having a chat with Tony afterwards in the first place, and Tony and Steve don’t get the chance to trade glances before they’re being guided away.

For a while, Maria is silent, and Steve thinks she’s going to wait for the stress to weigh on him hard enough that he blurts something, but then she’s taking a breath like she’s going to speak. “I haven’t been the most attentive parent,” she starts. “But over the years, I’ve been present enough in his life to walk in on him with an assortment of guests, and most of them in various states of nakedness. Several people have come to me and told me that my son has no shame, and for the most part, I’ve nearly believed them. I’ve walked in on him getting off, and getting off with other people, once I caught him masturbating to old Captain America comics from his father’s collection.”

She pauses when Steve’s cheeks burn against his will. He wonders distantly if that’s why Tony always insisted on calling him ‘Cap’ when he was drunk.

Her eyebrows raise slightly, like she somehow knows, but then she continues. “He was a quiet child, and then a cheeky pre-teen, and now- well, you know how he is as a teenager. And through all of that, the only time I’ve ever seen him blush is when I caught him holding hands with you.” She hesitates. “He trusts you. All of you kids.”

She smiles, and it’s smaller than the ones he saw her toss out to Principal Fury, but he likes these ones better. “By now, you probably know the enormity of that,” she says. “Please take care of him, because god knows his parents won’t.”

 

 

 

 

They let them walk to the Rogers’ apartment, in the end. They want to continue their conversation- whatever it is- in a café that Maria had found down the street a few weeks ago.

Tony and Steve head for the familiar building on the other side of town, letting their hands bump and relishing in being out of school before lunch has even started.

Steve squints at the midday sun. “It still feels like ditching.”

“The school let us out, and you’ve already ditched once today,” Tony points out, to Steve’s glare which has less heat in it than either of them expected.

“And whose fault was that?”

“Technically both.” Tony grins, which sets Steve off. “Hey, uh. What did my mom talk to you about?”

“Mom stuff,” Steve says. “What about mine?”

“Sarah stuff,” Tony nods. “Mostly warning me against getting jizz on the roll-out couch.”

“Sounds like mom.”

“Good ol’ Ms. R,” Tony says, kicking at a pebble on each step.

Their hands continue to bump together as they walk. Neither of them move away to make it stop.