“How long has Howard been dead?” asked Steve, pacing the ruined debriefing room, kicking splintered wood and bit of chair fluff out of his way instead of avoiding it.
He had just been unfrozen after years of residing in the crash site of his final act of World War II. He was shocked – everyone he knew had families with grown children or were dead.
“One year,” said Phil Coulson, the intern who was the only one brave enough – or star struck enough – to handle Captain America in a state.
“I guess it’s safe to assume that I missed the funeral,” said Steve, more to himself than the intern.
“He has a son.”
Every one of his friends who had children also had grandchildren by this point. He doubted he would have much in common with any child who grew up with Howard in a world Steve had missed out on.
“A year old,” said Phil Coulson.
“No, I meant how old is Howard’s son?” clarified Steve.
“Howard’s son, Anthony, is a year old,” repeated Phil. “Howard married Maria but they had no children. Howard ended up having an affair and a son came from that, not that it is common knowledge. Most of the world just believes Anthony is a very late in life gift from Maria.”
“If it’s not common knowledge then why are you telling me?”
Steve was far too tired and overwhelmed to deal with secrets.
“Because Anthony’s biological mother wanted nothing to do with him and Howard named you as the legal guardian, should you ever be found alive.”
Steve froze. That made no sense. While Howard was a good man and friend to Steve during the war, the two barely knew each other. There was no way that Howard would name him guardian of a child. Steve knew nothing about children. He couldn’t raise one.
“Where is Anthony?” Steve heard himself asking.
“He is currently in the care of Obadiah Stane, though we would like him removed from his care as quickly as possible,” said Coulson.
“We have suspected that Stane is not treating Anthony properly for some time but have nothing concrete to use to have the child removed.”
“You know an awful lot for an intern,” said Steve suspiciously.
“I’m very good at paperwork,” said Coulson blandly. “You’d be surprised how many agents dump confidential paperwork on my desk when they get behind and don’t want Fury to find out.”
“And does Fury know?”
“Yes. That’s why I’m here instead of someone with official higher ranking.”
“I can’t raise a kid,” said Steve.
“I’m going to take you to Stane’s office so you can meet Anthony,” said Coulson calmly. “No one is going to force you to take custody of the child. In fact, Stane will probably pay you a hefty sum of money to get you to sign over custody to him. If that is something you are interested in, no one will stop you. All we want is for you to meet Anthony and Obadiah Stane first so you will know who you are giving up and who you are putting in charge of Howard’s son.”
Steve knew that SHIELD thought they had formed some sort of trap for him, that they thought he would meet this Anthony and want to keep him or see that the kid was being horribly mistreated and would want to whisk him away but neither would happen. Steve had already lost too much, he knew nothing about this new time, he was barely keeping his own head above water, how on earth would he also raise a child? No, any kid would be far better off without him.
- Needed –
When they arrived, Stane was alone in his massive office. Obadiah Stane was the type of person who just looked like a stalker, with a full mustache and no other hair on his head, thick fingers that drummed restlessly on the oak desk, and eyes that looked smaller than they were. His smile was just a shade shy of evil, or maybe Steve was reading too much into it.
“Hello,” said Phil Coulson calmly. “We’re here to collect Anthony Stark.”
“Anthony is with his nanny,” said Stane. “And I’m sorry, but without an appointment you can’t see him. He is my charge.”
“Actually, this is Steve Rogers,” said Phil Coulson.
Stane’s face drained of color but Steve wasn’t paying attention to that, his enhanced hearing having caught a near silent whimper from what sounded like the filing cabinet. Steve approached the grey metal cabinet, ignoring the cries from Stane to stop, that he wasn’t allowed, that those files were locked and confidential. The lock on the bottom most drawer stood no chance against Steve’s super serum strength. The bit of iron that acted as a barrier gave way as Steve wrenched the drawer open. The soldier wasn’t sure what he expected to find inside that drawer – files perhaps, or maybe a broken tape recorder like Coulson had in the debriefing room – but what he saw made his blood reach absolute zero before boiling.
Inside the metal drawer, naked except for a clearly overflowing diaper, was a baby. Steve could only assume it was Anthony.
“Obadiah Stane, you are being taken into SHIELD custody for the endangerment and abuse of the minor Anthony Edward Stark,” said Phil Coulson, for the first time his composure slipping slightly in the form of anger seeping at the edges of his words. Phil wasn’t even sure he was allowed to take Stane into SHIELD, still technically being an intern, but he was not going to risk letting someone who put a baby in a drawer roam free if he could help it.
Stane tried to yell and intimidate the two younger men but Coulson wasn’t easily swayed and Steve was too preoccupied with not killing the man for hurting a child to listen. When the intimidation failed, Stane made a run for it, though that found him quickly writhing on the ground with electric shocks coursing through his body, courtesy of Coulson. By that point, a few more agents had arrived and Coulson handed Stane off to them, turning his attention back to Steve.
“Pick up the baby,” said Coulson quietly when he saw that Steve was still just staring at the poor child. “He’s got to be freezing. We’re going to take him to the apartment Fury has set up for you.”
“I’m not taking custody of him,” said Steve automatically, though he did gently lift the tiny child from the drawer, tucking him into his jacket when he found that Anthony was, indeed, freezing.
“You’re apartment is closer than headquarters,” replied Phil Coulson. “And taking that kid into headquarters would be far too overwhelming for him. I’m sure Fury will send someone by tonight or tomorrow to care for the child.”
Phil Coulson knew that would not be the case. Nick Fury had already explained that it was his job to make sure that Anthony Stark was out of Obadiah Stane’s care and with Steve Rogers. Coulson wasn’t positive what the end game was there but he would follow his orders.
When they arrived at the apartment, Coulson was only mildly surprised to see that the basics for child care were already waiting. Steve didn’t say anything to the intern, merely picked up the baby shampoo and started running water in the kitchen sink.
“Alright kid, let’s get you cleaned up so that when you’re new family comes to get you they don’t think you smell,” said Steve.
The soiled diaper went into the trash, the kid he set in the sink, his own large hands holding the kid up. Anthony whimpered when the warm water touched him but made no other noises, as if he were trained like an animal to stay silent. Steve tried not to think too much into it as he washed the frail, underfed body. Anthony was too small for a one year old, he seemed to lack the usual moderate limb control and curiosity other children his age had developed.
When the kid was clean, diapered, and dressed, Steve went to set him down in what he assumed was a playpen. That was when Anthony started screaming.
“Oh come on, Anthony,” sighed Steve, pulling the child back into his arms and bouncing him gently as he swayed around the room. “Anthony. Tony. Please stop. Here, I won’t set you down if you promise to stop screaming. Please. It’s been a really long day, I’m tired, I’m sure you’re tired, so please just stop.”
Three hours later, Nick Fury arrived to find his favorite intern Phil Coulson monitoring a sleeping Captain America and equally sleeping Anthony Stark. The super soldier was sprawled across the couch, snoring lightly, while Anthony was curled up on his chest, sucking on Steve’s shirt collar.
“Is there a reason you’re insisting that Rogers take Anthony when the man is still adamant about not raising a kid?” asked Coulson softly, so as not to wake the subject of their conversation.
“They need each other,” replied Fury just as quietly.
And seeing the two cuddled up on the couch, it was difficult to dispute.