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Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Chapter Text

Wanted

Someone to date my dad.

It doesn't matter if it's a lady or a man, they just have to not mind that my dad likes pans. I don't know why, but I heard him and my Aunt Pep talking about it and I guess it's important. It'd be cool if it was someone who liked sports and stuff, 'cause my dad is kind of a total geek? I love it and him, but sometimes I'd just sort of like to go to the park and throw a football around without it turning into a big thing. Fair warning - most stuff in my house turns into a BIG THING. My dad is kinda dramatic sometimes. Like when he's breathing. So I guess maybe he needs somebody who can handle that, or maybe even stop it from happening sometimes. Whoever dates him HAS to have a sense of humor, or things are just not gonna go well. I have a little sister too - my dad isn't really our dad, but she really is my sister. He took us in a couple years ago, and he's been super great. So don't be worried that he won't accept any new kids, or treat them any different than us - he says it's love that important, and all the other stuff is just dumb.

Obviously kids are okay because look where I'm posting this. I'd like a brother, but another sister'd work too. If you decide to answer this, please like science and learning new things, or at least be willing to try. In this house science is kinda king - which is why I really'd like someone to play football with sometimes - so if you hate it, you should probably just go look somewhere else. My dad is like, super good at science. Like, I mean, I can't tell you who he is, but he's really, REALLY good at it. Science and robotics. If you or another member of your family is into that, we might have a match made in heaven.

He doesn't say it ever, but I know he's lonely. Uncle Rhodey is married and Aunt Pep is 'seriously dating', whatever that means, and I see how he looks sometimes. My dad is awesome, and he deserves to come home to someone more'n me and my sis. So I'm hoping to find somebody that'll love him for who he is and all that adult junk.

My dad is 'old', which I think means 35 maybe? Maybe closer to 40? He's really good at hiding stuff like that from me, but he's in good shape and doesn't have a lot of gray hair or anything. He likes science, fast cars, coffee, and making jokes he thinks are really funny but are kind of a little bit rude.

I'm a 13 year old boy, and I like robots, building things, football, being outside, and video games.

My sister is 9, and she's still mostly into dress-up and Dora the Explorer. I'm trying to get her away from that last thing, but it's not really working. She might need a year or two yet. She is starting to get into art - Aunt Pep and her do some pretty cool craft stuff, so I guess that's nice.

Again - someone who wouldn't mind tossing a football with me once in a while would be great. Even if it's you or a sibling and not whatever parent you're trying to find a date for. It might be kind of cool if someone in your family liked art too, for my sister. I don't know what it'll take to make my dad go gaga, but whoever I throw at him has to be interesting, or he'll get bored and walk away.

Please do not respond through private messaging. Post a reply here detailing your family and why you think it'd work well with mine. I'll contact you if I think you're right.

Thanks!

ir0n_kid

~.~.~

Hey ir0n_kid!

I can see that you've got a lot of responses to wade through, so I'll try to keep this short.

My dad's... kind of lame, but in a really good way. A great way, actually! I know that doesn't make sense, but trust me, if you meet him you'll get it. He has a sense of humor, like you said a potential partner should have, but it's kinda... dry? Like, think of the Sahara. I mean, he delivers some serious burns, but he does it by scraping sand over your skin instead of dunking you in lava.

That doesn't make sense, but I'm leaving it anyway because I like the image. lol

He's a super art geek, so that might be cool for your sis. I always wanted a little sister! Or a little brother, but I'm not turning 13 for another couple months, so I guess I'd get a big bro instead. That's cool too! Robots are pretty neat, and I like science a lot, so that part fits too. My dad would definitely throw a football around with the both of us, but if we wanted to have a lot more fun, I could drag my Uncle Bucky and my Aunt Tasha along. They're kinda intense when it comes to sports lolololol. But it'd be fun, honest.

My dad's not my 'real' dad either. My mom was a really good friend of his from the military, and when she and my 'real' dad died, he took guardianship of me. It was really awesome of him, and I like that you and your sis know what that feels like. He's really great, really in shape, and he's almost 30, so I think it might work?

If you think so, just message me! Thanks for reading. ;)

spidey_senses_you

~.~.~

TO: spidey_senses_you

FROM: ir0n_kid

Subject: Hey

You're right, I did have a lot of stuff to get through, but a lot of it was crap. I liked a lot of what you said though! It'd be so cool to have a little brother, even if it's only by a little bit. When my sister is ready to start dating, we can menace her potential dates together.

It's great that your dad took you in like he did - you're right, me and my sis do know what that's like. We'd be lost without my dad. He didn't have to take us, but he did... and he could totally bond with your dad over that. Does your dad get offended easily? Because my dad is a bit MUCH sometimes. I mean, most of the time. Especially if he's trying to impress someone. He never really got over being an awkward geek, but he has to pretend he did and I don't think he does it very well. He tries, but he resorts to like, tugging people's pigtails and calling them names to get their attention at first. Do you think your dad could get over that?

~.~.~

TO: ir0n_kid

FROM: spidey_senses_you

RE: Hey

ir0n_kid!!

OMG!!! You wrote me!!! I was sure you wouldn't, cuz you had sooo many replies, and none of the other posts from in our area really grabbed me, and I was worried I'd have to write one, and OMG.

I'm a little bit of a spazz?

I would love to menace your little sis' dates with you!! ;) lol

My dad would probably be able to get over it? I mean... look, he's a bit uptight sometimes, and he doesn't like bullies. To the point where sometimes he just assumes someone is a bully even when they aren't? And he's kind of always ready to fight, which can be exhausting. Sometimes I'm just like 'chill, dad, that pigeon does not need you to defend it from the guy not tearing the bread into small enough chunks'. I mean, it's nice that he wants to protect everyone, but it'd be just as nice to go out for a chimichanga without him getting into a huff over something. So if he decides your dad is a bully, not an awkward guy trying his best, he probably would try to fight your dad instead of asking him out.

Can you get your sis to be all cute and distressed in public so your dad could fuss over her? That'd make my dad melt like warm butter. I think he'd really like a little girl, to be honest, so I really feel like it'd be the way to go.

If not, we should just become really good friends and just hang out until they finally realize they belong together. lololololol

Dude. Your new icon pic is AWESOME. Did you and your dad make that?!?! Jealous. My dad tries, but science and tech aren't really his thing. We should be science bros if our dads don't hit it off, because I need one. Bad.

I still can't believe you messaged me!

Spidey

~.~.~

TO: spidey_senses_you

FROM: ir0n_kid

RE: Hey

Spidey -

You do seem like kind of a spazz, but that's okay. My dad is too - he'd probably appreciate the company. He says I've got my feet planted too solidly on the ground, which really means I sometimes use common sense and ruin his fun. We can definitely be science bros if nothing else - I can show you how me and dad made the robot in the pic you like so much. My sister doesn't seem to be too interested in following us into the ways of science, so he'd love someone else to teach, even if you weren't his kid.

Does your dad really protect pigeons? Because my dad would make fun of him for that. A lot. But deep inside he'd be kind of touched, and he might even do something crazy to try and protect pigeons all across the city. He gets like that. My dad can sometimes come off like a bully, but he's real sensitive deep down. I can definitely get my sister to do something that'll showcase that. I'd do it myself, but we more do the banter thing. We're totally connected at the spiritual level, but he wouldn't get all gooey over me in public like he will her.

Your dad sounds interesting and you seem really cool, so I think we should try it. We go to Riverside Park in Manhattan a lot - is that somewhere you think you could get your dad to go? A vendor nearby has the best chimichangas in the whole city, if that helps. My sister and some of her friends really like the playground closest to the basketball court, and I could wear a specific shirt or something? My dad'll have on a pair of sunglasses in some dumb color and a baseball cap, but that probably won't help much. I've got a couple geeky science shirts that I love, if that would help. I figure we can make first contact, and then I can signal my sister. If you came over as a concerned citizen, your 'fight me' dad would come check it out too, right? Then he could see my dad in action.

Let me know, alright?

~.~.~

TO: ir0n_kid

FROM: spidey_senses_you

Subject: HELP!!!!! :o

OMG OMG OMG OMG

We usually stick pretty close to Brooklyn, but I could definitely get him to Manhattan. I'll tell him it's for school or something. He's a sucker for school stuff. ALSO CHIMICHANGAS, yesssssss.

Look, there's this woman who lives in our apartment building who's always giving him looks and trying to get him to come over and stuff, and I don't really like her - she doesn't much like me either. She's been coming around more and more, so could we do this soon??? There's something weird about her, and I feel like my dad might be getting lonely enough to say yes.

Save us, ir0n_kid!

Like, I could get him there in a day or two. Please.

If you wear a science shirt, so will I!! I have this one that I really like that I just got for Pi Day, but I'll totally spoil it for this. It's black and it says 'Come to the Dork Side, We Have Pi'.

Let's do this thing!!

Spidey

~.~.~

TO: spidey_senses_you

FROM: ir0n_kid

RE: HELP!!!!! :o

Ugh, I hate when someone tries to move in who couldn't care less about me and my sister. I usually resort to pranks to scare 'em away. I hear your plea, Spidey, and we can get this done tomorrow if you can get your dad there. Your shirt sounds great - I'll be wearing a blue one that says 'I Tell Bad Chemistry Jokes Because All The Good Ones Argon' (with the element square for Argon instead of the word), so we should be able to find each other pretty easy. We usually go in the afternoon, but I'll keep an eye on my inbox and get my dad and sister to leave when you and your dad do.

Let me know!

~.~.~

TO: ir0n_kid

FROM: spidey_senses_you

RE: HELP!!!!! :o

THANK YOU. YOU ARE MY SAVIOR. OMG. OMG.

Will send another message once we head out.

~.~.~

TO: ir0n_kid

FROM: spidey_senses_you

Subject: Operation is a GO!!!

We're leaving now! Look forward to meeting you soon. :D I hope this works, and that your dad doesn't scare mine off and that my dad doesn't get all Captain Righteous about anything.

See ya soon, ir0n_kid!!!

Spidey

Chapter Text

"Dad. You're wearing that?" Peter couldn't help the judgement in his voice any more than he could keep himself from wrinkling his nose in distaste. It wasn't that his dad looked bad, exactly, he just looked... so normal. So average. So boring. Khakis weren't fashionable by any means, and something about the white button-up his dad was wearing just screamed for the addition of either a sweater vest or a pair of suspenders. Peter didn't have a whole lot of experience or anything, but he was pretty sure that was not how you got a date. And yeah, he'd already done most of the hard work, him and ir0n_kid, but his dad still needed to put in a little effort.

Thankfully his dad didn't seem like, offended or anything by the way Peter had pointed out his super-lame outfit. He just arched a brow and crossed his arms over his chest (how he managed to do that with all the muscles in the way was a question he and Ned were both trying to solve with complicated mathematical formulas). "What's wrong with what I'm wearing, Pete?"

"You look like an old man!" His voice broke halfway through his accusation and he felt himself flush beet red but refused to give up ground. Stupid puberty was not going to win this round!

"I am an old man."

"You're not thirty-five yet, dad."

"So is that the cutoff point now? Thirty-five? Must have missed the memo."

"Daaaaaaaad. OMG. Why must you be like this?"

"We're just going to the park, bud. I'm not aiming to impress here, I just want to be comfortable." Steve Rogers was always pretty immovable, but Peter tried to console himself with the knowledge that his dad didn't know this was a date. He wasn't being stupid stubborn on purpose this time, it was just his natural state of being. He could work with that, and even if he was probably kind of maybe going to hurt his dad's feelings a tiny bit, it was for a reason - a higher purpose. A 'get Steve Rogers a date' purpose. A 'save everyone from the harpy down the hall purpose'. A 'get Peter a science bro' purpose.

"Dad, you can't go like that - you'll embarrass me." As he'd feared, a hint of genuine hurt flashed on his dad's face, and Peter had to bite his tongue to keep from taking it back. Because his dad could be embarrassing, but most of the time he didn't mention it when it happened, so this was like... him cashing in those karma chips. Or something.

"We're at that age already, huh?" His dad sounded more wistful than anything, which eased his conscience a little. "Alright. I get it. What can I wear that won't embarrass you?"

"A pair of jeans and a t-shirt? Or that blue button-up if you gotta, but roll the sleeves up, okay?" Peter thought he'd done a pretty good job of suggesting an acceptable wardrobe without tipping his hand. He hadn't said 'that t-shirt from work that's waaaaay too tight' or 'those jeans where everyone looks at your butt' or anything, mostly because just thinking about any of that was enough to make him heave. Peter just wanted his dad to look nice for ir0n_kid's dad, that was all. His dad would be soooo embarrassed if he had to tell the story of meeting his future husband and remember that he'd been dressed like this. Just about to give himself a pat on the back for being both subtle and saving the heck out of the day, Peter almost swore when he saw his dad's eyebrows narrow in just a little bit. He was suspicious. Curses.

"O...kay. I can do that." His dad paused and uncrossed his arms, running one hand through his blond hair (the hair that Peter was definitely not jealous of just because his own was boring and refused to do anything he told it to). "We are just going to the park, right kiddo?"

"Of course!" There went his dumb vocal cords again, but at least the sharp break would probably hide any hint of a lie his dad would otherwise spot. "I just..." Thinking fast, Peter used the way his face was red again to his advantage, shuffling his feet. "Some of the girls from school might be there too, and-"

"And that means I am automatically the most embarrassing human being on the planet," his dad finished, looking amused. "And apparently this outfit only makes that worse. Alright, alright. We'll leave in five minutes, okay?" As his dad walked by he ruffled Peter's hair, which meant it fell out of the style he'd cobbled together with hair putty and hope. He glared at his dad's retreating back, trying to fix it and knowing he'd need a mirror, another half an hour and better genes to do so.

So he gave up on his hair and grabbed his phone, tongue sticking out of the left corner of his mouth as he logged into the website his dad would yell at him for being a member of. He fired off a quick message to let ir0n_kid know their operation was a 'go', and hoped his dad wouldn't blow all their hard work.

~.~.~

"Dad. You're not wearing that." Harley told the man in front of him flatly, crossing his arms over his chest. He wasn't at all surprised when Tony immediately drew in a loud and dramatic breath, an exaggerated look of hurt on his face.

"Excuse you? I am a guru of style, the epitome of cool, a paragon of fashion. You are a thirteen year old boy who still thinks sunglasses should only have black shades. Of the two of us, who should be in charge of my wardrobe?"

"Me."

"Why do you hurt me?"

"Dad. You're wearing pants that have aluminum cans printed on them and a Dora the Explorer shirt."

"Laney likes my shirt," his dad informed him, carelessly tossing a few blueberries into his mouth to eat before continuing. "That's why she's my favorite and will inherit my fortune. You will get nothing but these pants." Harley rolled his eyes before leveling Tony with an unimpressed look - his dad wasn't even a little bit fazed. "Which are fabulous, by the way. Besides, Judgey McJudgerson, you're wearing a geek shirt, so you don't get to tell me what to wear. Eat something before we leave, by the way, because you look like a starving child from one of those third world places." To placate him, Harley took a handful of blueberries but didn't start eating them right away - he had to fix this disaster first.

"My geek shirt is funny," he pointed out with a shrug. "Dora the Explorer is lame-"

"To you. Laney likes it. Shirt stays. May be willing to negotiate on the pants." That was the best he was going to get, he knew - he wanted to be irritated, but all he really felt was love for the man who hadn't needed to be a father. Harley knew Tony didn't like Dora any more than he did - he'd heard him badmouthing the show to Aunt Pep, Uncle Rhodey, and even a few interns. But Laney loved it, hadn't been able to let go of the show after their mother had died. So Tony very patiently watched it with her, bought and even wore the merchandise, got them all tickets to see 'Dora on Ice' and other lame crap like that... because he wanted to make Laney happy. So yeah. The shirt could stay, he guessed. But only because it was a sign of how much Tony cared about them, even if he didn't always sound like it.

"Just... just put on some plain ones. Please. The shirt's gonna get all kinds of attention anyhow, so just put on a pair of jeans or something, I'm begging you." This wasn't just about Spidey's dad either - if someone figured out that Tony Stark was wandering around looking like a fashion disaster, it'd be in all the magazines and all over the web. His dad never seemed to mind much, but it always made Harley see red when people picked the man apart over anything. He would protect his dad from that if he could. "And maybe you could put away those obnoxious shoes while you're at it?"

"And what exactly is wrong with my shoes?"

"Besides the fact that I'm pretty sure they'd glow in the dark?"

"How do you live with me and have no fashion sense whatsoever?"

"How are you so old with no idea how to pick out normal clothes? We're going to the park, dad. Everything you're wearing doesn't have to be a fashion moment."

"Ugh. Are you sure you're only thirteen? Because I'm pretty sure most people are at least in their twenties before they get so jaded."

"Dad."

"Harley." Their battle of wills was interrupted by Laney, who ran into the room with the same wild energy she did almost everything.

"DADDY!" Knowing what was coming, Harley stepped out of the way. Sure enough, when she was close enough she launched herself at their dad, who dropped his bag of blueberries without a thought so he could catch hold of her securely. She wrapped her arms and legs around him when he lifted her up, giggling happily. "You look so handsome!" Tony shot Harley a look that said 'told you so' while Harley only snorted in disbelief. Laney was nine and also wearing a violently pink tutu over acid purple leggings, so she was not someone he would consult for fashion advice. He also needed to nip that handsome talk in the bud, because Laney was going to spill the beans if she kept going. "Can we go to the park now? It's gonna be soooo fun!" She turned to look at Harley and winked, something that took every muscle in her face to pull off and was pretty much the opposite of subtle.

Their dad was occasionally oblivious, but he wasn't stupid.

"Why is it gonna be sooooo fun, Laney-bug?"

"I'm meeting up with someone," Harley answered bluntly before his little sister could ruin everything. He shouldn't have told her The Plan, or at least not all of it... but she'd needed a bit of background before she would agree to cause a scene. Once he'd finally been irritated enough with her pestering to give in and tell her the whole story, she had done a dance and sung about having 'another daddy' for like, half an hour. Secrets were not really her strength, and she was so excited about this one. "She found out about it because she's a nosy brat," Laney only giggled and stuck her tongue out at him before setting her head on Tony's shoulder. "And if we don't get out of here soon, we're gonna be late."

Spidey had messaged him a couple minutes ago, but he and his dad were apparently coming from Brooklyn, so they still had some time. But he wanted to be in place and settled before Spidey and his dad got there. Laney needed time to get some of the crazy energy out so she could be believable, so she'd need to run around and play a bit, and their dad always took about fifteen minutes to relax into not being a complete jerk out of instinct. So Harley wanted them to leave five minutes ago, but he refused to let their dad leave in that awful outfit.

"Ohohoho!" Harley repressed a sigh at his dad's obnoxiously fake laughter. "Does our little Harley have... a date?" Laney began to giggle helplessly, and he only hoped their dad thought she was laughing at Harley's situation. "Is that why you're so upset by my outfit? Come on... be honest. Are you afraid your date will judge you based on me?"

"Yes."

"Wow. Okay, I asked for honesty, but wow. Do you see how mean your brother is to me, Laney-bug? It's so hurtful."

"Poor daddy. I still think you look very handsome!" Tony grinned, then dropped a kiss to her forehead before he set her down.

"That's why you're my favorite. Extra dessert for you tonight! Now. I'm going to go change into some jeans so your brother's date doesn't run in the other direction. Also, are we meeting a boy or a girl? Doesn't matter, I'm just curious."

"It's a boy!" Laney exclaimed, jumping up and doing a little spin in the air before she ran to Harley, throwing herself at him now that their dad was no longer an option. He evaded her the first time, but then felt her jump up on his back. The only reason he hooked his arms under her legs was so she didn't choke him falling off - or at least, that was the story he'd tell to anyone who asked. "Daddy, hurry."

"I'm going, I'm going. Both of you eat something before I get back, please." Their dad was, for some reason, always convinced they were starving and was always trying to share food with them or otherwise get them to eat. "Don't need either of you fainting on such a big day." Another round of giggles from Laney, but their cover story meant that their dad didn't find it suspicious, He just shot both of them a grin before sauntering (there was no other word for how Tony walked, and it was so irritating) away.

Once he was out of earshot, Harley got Laney to stand back on her own two feet and turned to face her, hands on her shoulders. "You did good, munchkin," he told her, impressed that she hadn't spilled the beans despite himself. "Just keep your lips zipped for a little while longer, okay?"

"Yes yes!" she agreed with a salute, then mimed zipping her lips for good measure.

"Great. Okay. You remember what you have to do?" Her only answer was an excited 'mmm!', because she still had zipped lips; the wash of affection he felt for her was a little uncool, but that was alright. "And you remember the signal?" Another 'mmm' and a few excited hops, which meant that she had this. Okay. Laney was on-board and remembered her part, Spidey and his dad were on their way, hid dad was changing out of those awful pants, and Harley had on the right shirt. This was all going according to plan.

Though he was going to have to make sure Tony knew Peter wasn't his 'date', because his dad would never ask his date's dad out. No, he'd have to play heartbroken because his date hadn't shown up, and Peter was just a nice guy who'd said hi.

Or something.

Alright, this could turn out to be more complicated than he'd bargained for.

~.~.~

"I don't see any of your classmates here, Pete. Guess I didn't need to change after all."

"Yeah, well, we do have all summer to do the assignment," Peter answered vaguely, craning his neck as he tried to find the t-shirt he was looking for. "We got an email to remind us the other day, so I figured a lot of us would... but that's okay! I'm gonna start, you know, gathering my, uh. You know. Thoughts. Why don't you go sit down?" There was a group of probably parents sitting near the playground, but Peter sorta hoped his dad would avoid sitting there too - if ir0n_kid's dad did the thing ir0n_kid said he might, where he was awkward and a little rude, his dad wouldn't like that. He really didn't want this to go bad before they'd even really started. "You brought your sketchbook, right? So you won't get bored?" The smile his dad gave him was soft and indulgent, like he could maybe see how nervous Peter was. "Okay. So I'll come get you when everything's ready. I mean done! Okay! Bye dad!"

Peter ran off before he could do anymore damage, ducking behind a tree to catch his breath. Okay. Okay. That had been just a little bit spazzy, but he hadn't been too different than usual. Maybe. Probably? Oh God. He'd ruined it. He'd ruined it and now his dad would be suspicious and not at all in a dating kind of mood, and ir0n_kid was going to be so disappointed in him and he'd seemed so cool and now he wouldn't let Peter even be his science bro, and-

"I like your shirt." When the unexpected voice interrupted his spiraling thoughts, Peter flailed hard enough that he fell to the ground. Once there, he looked up at the interloper, knowing his eyes were huge in his face and his hair looked awful, and if this was a bully who didn't really mean those nice words, things could get really bad, and-

"That's the element square for Argon!" As soon as he'd blurted the words out, Peter clapped a hand over his mouth, more embarrassed than he could say. First he'd freaked out and fallen over, and now he was announcing the obvious, and God, he was so uncool. No wonder Flash picked on him all the time. There was no way ir0n_kid would want to go through with this now that he'd seen Peter acting like his usual, spazzy self. Why couldn't he have played it cool just this once?!

But when he looked up again, the guy who was almost certainly ir0n_kid didn't look disappointed or upset or put off in the slightest. He was even smiling a little, which was... that had to be a good sign, right? His shirt was pretty funny, and he had cool hair that Peter was immediately jealous of, and his shoes were the really expensive kind, like what Flash wore, and wow. He was so out of his league. Oh God - had he set up his dad with someone who was way out of his league too? Were they both out of their league?

"Hey, Spidey, breathe." That was... that was a really good suggestion, and he was going to get right on that. Except that when he did, the air went down the wrong way and he choked a little bit. God, he was never gonna get his date a date like this! That desperate thought was still echoing in his head when a hand started to pound lightly on his back, which was - did that ever actually help? But at least ir0n_kid was trying, and now they were both on the ground so he didn't feel quite so stupid. After a couple more seconds he got himself under control and he could breathe again, thank goodness. Ir0n_kid sprawled next to him, staring at him in a sort of intense way that made him want to blush. "You really are a spazz, aren't you?"

"Guilty," Peter agreed, trying to fight back that blush and failing miserably. "Sorry. That was so uncool."

"Nah. You know what was uncool? The pants my old man tried to leave the house in."

"Oh my God! Your dad too? I was sooooo embarrassed for him. He had on khakis. I don't know if you can get a date in khakis."

"Depends, I think. My dad's pants had aluminum cans on 'em. Like, for soda. His shirt is still a Dora the Explorer shirt." Ir0n_kid sighed and tipped his head back, like staring into the sun was the only way to end the nightmare. "He's so lame. Honestly, I don't know if your dad will even be interested. I'm Harley, by the way. Harley Keener." The other boy looked at him again as he stuck his hand out, and Peter grabbed hold of it eagerly and gave it a few quick pumps.

"I"m Peter Parker!" His voice, of course, cracked, leaving him wishing the earth would just do him a solid and swallow him already... but ir0... Harley didn't even bat an eye. He didn't shoot Peter a knowing, understanding look like his dad and Uncle Bucky did, and didn't assure him it was fine like his Aunt Tasha had tried a couple times. Harley just carried on, and Peter was immeasurably thankful for that.

"Great! Okay. So. My dad thinks I'm here to meet a date, so if he mentions that ever, just... yeah. That's what I was doing. He - my imaginary date - stood me up, so I've been wandering around looking sad. You noticed and said hi to try and cheer me up. Got it?"

"Yeah! That's not too hard to remember. He was cool though? With you meeting a guy for a date?" Because Peter sort of dreaded finding out that maybe Harley's dad didn't actually want to date other guys. He knew his dad liked both, but Harley had only mentioned pans, which was weird but fine, and he just didn't want his dad to get hurt was all.

"Why wouldn't he be? Look, he pretty much says that if you like someone you like them, and it shouldn't matter what gender they are. Like, he gets it that gender matters to some people - like Uncle Rhodey would never have dated another guy even before he was married - but to him it's like... it just doesn't matter. So he was way cool with it. He's probably going to try and figure out who 'stood me up' so he can destroy him though. You got any enemies? Since we might end up brothers, we can point my dad in their direction. That way I don't have to fight 'em myself." For just a second, Peter thought that he would like to sic Harley's dad on Flash... but no, that would be wrong. He reigned in the impulse and sighed, trying not to look too disappointed by his moral failings. It was sorta nice to think that Harley might be willing to beat Flash up though - despite the science shirt, Harley looked like maybe he could take him.

"No. It's fine. Just maybe tell your dad it doesn't matter or something. Where is your dad?"

"Over by the playground. He's in that dumb Dora shirt and the blue ball cap." Peter leaned over Harley to follow the direction he was pointing in, and picked the guy out almost immediately. He was on a bench, talking to a group of women (probably nannies) and smiling widely. He looked like an okay-enough guy, and he hoped his dad would be impressed. "Where's yours?"

"Sketching somewhere," Peter answered absently, still taking in Harley's dad. He did have a nice smile, and it was sweet of him to wear a Dora shirt for his daughter, so points for that. He looked vaguely familiar though... a gentle elbow in the ribs distracted him, bringing his attention back to Harley. "What? Oh! I think he's..." Peter pulled away from his fellow conspirator and leaned around the tree, hoping to spot his dad quickly. It took a minute though, which had him a little worried - maybe he'd caught sight of something he wanted to draw and had wandered off, and this plan wouldn't work if he'd wandered off, and - but then he spotted him. "Oh! There! In the blue button-up - I had to tell him to roll up the sleeves - and jeans, the one drawing." Now it was Harley's turn to lean and judge, and he found himself anxiously awaiting the verdict.

"Wow. Your dad has like... all the muscles."

"Yup!" Peter agreed, as proud as if he had them himself. "Ned and I are trying to come up with the mathematical reason he can still cross his arms over his chest with them in the way."

"Huh. Cool. Alright, I approve - your dad looks good, and I think my dad'd at least be a little interested. Does my dad pass muster?"

"What? Huh? Yeah! Sorry. Sorry." His voice cracked like, three times over the course of five words, and he just wanted to die... but again, Harley hardly seemed to notice. Peter's maybe-future brother was like, the best. "So we're a go?"

"Give it a couple more minutes. My dad takes a while to chill out. He's used to always having to be on the defensive, and we've only been here for a little while. He'll be nicer if he's relaxed."

"And my dad'll be less standoffish if he gets to finish his sketch," Peter realized aloud, then made a face. "Well this sucks. I want it to happen now... but you're right, we should wait. So. Uh. Your dad owns pants with cans on them?" Harley rolled his eyes, then groaned and flopped back onto the grass.

"Yes. He can't just wear normal clothes, you know? It all has to be 'fashion'. I didn't even know 'fashion' was different from 'clothes' until I came to live with him. They should be the same thing."

"They aren't?"

"Nope. And my dad likes fashion, 'cause he says it's more interesting. I think he just likes it when people are paying attention to him."

"I'd sure pay attention to a guy wearing soda cans on his pants."

"Everyone would. It's so lame."

"My dad dresses like a grandpa sometimes," he confided, trying to make Harley feel a little better. "I think it's like, the job of a dad to be kind of embarrassing when it comes to clothes."

"Maybe. I'd rather have a khaki dad than a fashion dad."

"Well if this works-"

"STOP IT!" The shout was close by, which was the only reason they heard it so clearly above the did, and it had Peter sitting at attention; Harley did more than that, jumping right to his feet with a hard look on his face.

"Hey, what's-"

"That was my sister." Harley told him shortly, hands clenching into fists. He was looking around, trying to locate the source of the sound. It was enough to make Peter get to his feet as well, a little more unsure but ready to spring to the defense of his maybe-future little sister.

"You didn't give the signal yet, so-" Peter didn't even get the chance to finish his sentence. Harley had caught sight of something, it seemed, because suddenly he had taken off running. He was headed toward the waterfront, where a small group of boys was standing, and before them was a single, defiant little girl who was at least half a foot shorter than every one of them. Peter took it all in and gulped, because he didn't think he and Harley could take on all those boys and win... but one of them had just shoved his maybe-future little sister, and that was definitely not gonna fly. Maybe he should get his dad, or run and get her and Harley's dad, but... but that was his maybe sister, and she'd started pounding her little fists on the back of one of those older, bigger boys, and he was sure from experience they'd start doing more than shoving back pretty quick, and he couldn't let her and his maybe-future brother take on that crowd alone.

Peter Parker had never been in a physical fight and come out the winner, but as he started to run after Harley he hoped like heck that there really was a first time for everything.

This was probably gonna hurt.

Chapter Text

Harley was going to kill them.

Maybe not all of them, but he was absolutely gonna kill the one that had shoved Laney, the one whose back she was pounding on, the one she was shouting at, clearly furious. Harley didn't know what they'd done or what had started the fight, but he was damn well gonna end it. Just before he got there, a few brief moments before he could protect her, one of the boys lashed out, punching her right in the gut. She went down hard, and Harley let out a bellow of rage. He wasn't the only one either - he could hear Peter right behind him, closer than he would have thought. And then... then Peter was in front of him, leaping onto the boy that had just hit his sister.

Peter was a couple inches shorter than the kid and not built even half as solid, but he was still charging in. Harley had definitely picked a good younger brother. Despite how small Peter was, the other guy fell beneath his weight, and then Harley was there. Peter was busy punching his new first choice of target, so he went ahead and socked the guy that had shoved Laney in the jaw, using the technique Happy'd taught him. It wasn't that Harley liked to fight, exactly, and he definitely didn't go looking for them, but his dad had tried to make sure he knew how to defend himself and his sister. Harley was looking forward to putting all that training into practice.

He got in another punch and a knee to the groin before one of the guy's buddies pulled him off; Harley half-turned and aimed a wild-swing his way instead. After that, things turned into a chaotic mess. He had a vague impression of Peter getting hit pretty hard a few times to the left of him, but Harley couldn't manage to get over that way to offer any aid. He was too busy fending off the three boys who were trying to beat the crap out of him. That meant there were two going after Peter, which was better odds on paper, but the smaller, slightly younger boy didn't know how to fight at all, from what he could see. Laney had vanished - she'd been in the thick of things only for a few seconds, delivering a few vicious kicks and bites before swooping something up and taking off. She'd be bringing help, and anyway there were tons of adults in the area, so someone would stop the fight soon, he was sure.

Just not quite soon enough to save the nose of one of his opponents. Harley wasn't too broken up about it.

He'd just taken a wrong step and earned an arm wrapped around his throat for his trouble when someone finally intervened. "What the hell is going on here?" It was a man, Harley could tell that much, one with a deep voice who sounded mightily pissed off. The arm around him loosened and he went to his knees, gasping for air and fighting the urge to get one last sucker punch in.

"They started it!" The chorus was ragged and rough and absolute bullcrap, but Harley couldn't suck in enough air to tell whoever the man was the truth. "We were minding our own business when these two-"

"You were going to beat up a little girl!" Peter interrupted, sounding just as peeved as the grownup - they even had the same note of righteousness in their voices. When Harley looked over, he couldn't help but wince - Peter looked awful. Bloody nose and probably two black eyes and a cut on his cheek... his future brother needed to learn how to fight pronto. "Dunno why they were doing it, dad, but they shoved her to the ground and then that one punched her-" Dad! Harley's head whipped around, and sure enough it was the guy that Peter had pointed out a few minutes ago. It was totally Peter's dad, and Harley fought back a groan. This was such a bad first impression, and maybe Peter's dad wouldn't want him hanging around a hooligan like Harley. Crap. Why had Laney even been over here?

"She came after us too!"

"And why was that, Laney-bug?" All the nervousness and tension drained from Harley when he heard his dad speaking from behind him. He would fix it - he was already speaking in that too-smooth voice that meant someone was in deep, deep trouble.

"They were hurting a kitty!" His sister sounded deeply offended, and he didn't blame her - if he'd known he would've gotten that last punch in. Peter's dad looked absolutely furious, and when he stepped closer he was sure all the other guys had taken a few steps back. "They were hurting her and she was crying and they wouldn't stop! I told 'em daddy, I did - I said how it was wrong and she couldn't fight back, and there was blood and they wouldn't stop! So I started yellin', just like you said I should, and then they shoved me, but it was fine because it distracted them from the kitty, only she was too hurt to run away and they shouldn't have touched me, because like you said you shouldn't ever touch people without their permission, but they did, and so I started hitting the one in the back which was wrong, but he was gonna kick the kitty, daddy, so I'm sorry but I'm not really that sorry, and- and-" His sister broke off, and when Harley turned to look over his shoulder at her, she was gulping for air, a ball of fluff cuddled against her chest and trembling.

"Easy, Laney-bug," their dad murmured, running a hand over her back. "You don't have the lungs to babble like me yet. Breathe and then keep going. Hey!" The sudden sharpness of his voice had Harley looking over at the assholes who'd tortured a cat and hit his sister - one of them had been trying to sneak off, it looked like. "You stay right where you are. Some of New York's finest are on their way to have a little chat with you, and I don't want them bitching at me 'cause they have to chase you."

"That's a quarter word, daddy."

"I'm good for it." Harley couldn't help but snort at that before he crawled over to Peter and flopped on the ground next to him. After a second of fishing in his pocket, he pulled out a packet of tissues and passed them over so the poor kid could try to stem the tide of blood slowly dripping from him nose. Almost immediately after, the huge wall of muscle that was Peter's dad was there trying to help - he was moving in that tense, jerking way that his own dad did sometimes, when he was pissed but not at them so he was trying to stay calm. The glower on his face was kinda scary, but Peter... Peter was staring at his dad, with that gobsmacked, fanboy look that some people got, and shit. He'd sort of hoped maybe they wouldn't recognize his dad right away.

"Still. You shouldn't say it because I'm a little pitcher with big ears, so I'm telling Auntie Pep, and she's gonna be mad." Laney told him primly before continuing on with her story. "So after I tried to distract the one boy from kicking the kitty, I heard Harley and I knew it was gonna be okay, but then one of them punched me in my stomach really hard. I thought I was gonna throw up, daddy, but I didn't. And then that boy," she continued as Harley worked hard to fight down his rage. "The one with the dorky shirt like Harley's came and knocked the one who hit me down. He did a good job, and I'm s-sorry that he got hurt 'cause of me." He could hear her sniffling, and he really, really wanted to hit the jerks a bit more.

Harley even moved to do just that, but a big calloused hand fell heavy on his shoulder, keeping him in place. "They're not worth it son," Peter's dad told him softly, though he wasn't looking at Harley. He wasn't even looking at Peter, though his other hand was helping the kid hold a tissue to his nose and keeping his head tipped back. The blond bruiser was looking up at his dad and his sister, expression doing that gooey thing that adults tended to do when Laney was crying - Harley hoped some of it was also for the way their dad was carefully wiping away her tears after telling her it wasn't her fault.

"You okay, pi boy?" His dad was going to ruin everything, he was sure of it. Sighing and only just managing to refrain from saying a 'quarter word' of his own - one that he was not good for after blowing his allowance - he looked to Peter. The poor kid looked awestruck and wasn't even helping hold the tissue to his nose.

Damn. He totally knew that Harley's dad was Tony Stark. Not only that, but he seemed to be a fan, which was just... just shit luck, really. When Peter didn't answer and in fact didn't even seem to be really breathing, Harley couldn't help but give another exasperated sigh before poking the spazz in the ribs. It earned him a disapproving squeeze to his shoulder, but it seemed to jump-start Peter, so he'd live with the blonde's disappointment.

"You... you're... oh my God. Oh my God. This is... holy smokes. I never thought I'd get to - you did the - and you, you designed the... you built the... I think I might be dead, or maybe I got hit really hard in the... I heard there's gonna be a big expansion of medical tech, and I just.. gosh, I've been hoping to intern with... for years, you know? Like, every decision I make at school is to try and get... I mean your work is... dude!" Suddenly he whirled to face Harley, shaking off his concerned looking father to grab hold of Harley's shoulders, eyes wide, face pale, and nose still bleeding. "Harley. Harley. Do you... do you know who your dad is?"

"I've got a pretty good idea, yeah." Peter didn't seem to appreciate his flippant tone, because he immediately began shaking him. Hard.

"Tony Stark, Harley. Your dad is Tony Stark, and I can't even - you gotta warn a guy before you introduce him to his hero, okay? You just... you just gotta. It's a rule, okay? From here on... I mean, he's pretty much, you know, it in the hero depar- do you know Bruce Banner?" Correctly interpreting the expression on Harley's face, Peter practically crowed in delight. "You do! Oh my God. Your dad is Tony Stark, and you know Dr. Banner, and I just... this is like... it's Christmas. It's a summer-time Christmas miracle." Wow. His younger-brother-to-be (possibly, maybe, hopefully) was just a little bit embarrassing, but also super endearing - he was like a mini Tony Stark, without the awful fashion choices.

Reaching up, he mirrored Pete's posture, his own hands on the guy's shoulders as he met his eyes. "Hey. Breathe, okay? He puts his pants on one leg at a time. Mostly," he amended, a few unforgettable instances coming to mind. "Unless he's going on zero sleep and too much coffee and he gets one of his dumb ideas."

"Hey, my ideas are always-"

"Your ideas are the bestest, daddy," Laney cooed - little manipulator was playing sweet, probably so she'd get to keep the kitten.

"Thanks princess. But Harley's right, pi-boy, I'm just a person, one who's pretty worried about you and all that blood still coming out of your nose, and - if another one of you tries to leave, I will rain hell-fire down upon all of you." Tony's voice had gone hard again, and Harley sort of hoped at least one of the idiots would try to run. Except maybe Peter's dad wouldn't be super impressed by his dad threatening a bunch of teenage boys, and that'd sort of ruin everything.

Hoping that wasn't the case, Harley snagged the tissues out of Peter's hand and took another one out before forcing the idiot to tip his head back. "You need to learn how to throw a punch," he muttered as he did his best to staunch the flow, dabbing at the blood for a second and pinching his nostrils together.

"I've tried teaching him," Peter's dad told him - when Harley looked over, he was wearing a lopsided smile. "He's just not a fighter. You have this under control?" The guy gestured toward his kid, so he nodded and turned his attention back to Peter. "Alright. And you're not hurt?" Harley knew he'd have some bruises, and his throat was still kinda sore, but it wasn't anything big.

"Nope. I'm fine. And I've had lots of nosebleeds - I can take care of Peter, honest."

"Thanks. I think your dad could use some help keeping those-" he checked himself, swallowing whatever he wanted to say - Harley'd bet it was at least a quarter word. "Those ruffians in line until the police arrive." Ruffians? Ruffians? He shot a glance to Peter, who only shrugged like it was a perfectly normal thing to say. He remembered that Peter had said his dad was kinda lame... "If it hasn't stopped by the time we get here, we're probably going to have to go to the hospital."

"Daaaad, I'm fine. It's a nosebleed. You know what we should be talking about?" Harley could only sigh, though he was heartened by the way Peter's dad just smiled and ruffled his hair. He didn't seem too impressed by the name 'Tony Stark', even though he had to know who Harley's dad was and how rich he was. Maybe this would be okay, he thought as he watched the man stride away to stand closer to the animal-abusing sister-punching assholes. Even from behind him, Harley could see the way his biceps bulged a little when he crossed his arms over his chest - suddenly Peter and his friend Ned's mathematical equations didn't seem so silly. "Hello? Earth to Harley. We should be talking about-"

"About how you shouldn't have gone charging in like that?" he demanded, turning back to Peter to check on his nose. "You're clearly not a fighter, just like your dad said. You should have gone to get your dad or something. I could have handled them by myself until then." Peter's eyes narrowed and he looked just a little bit angry. Hopefully that'd keep him too distracted to harp on about Harley's dad anymore.

"That's bull... crap. There were five of them, and you would have gotten pounded before my dad could have gotten there. Maybe I'm not good at throwing punches, but I kept two of them off of you and gave Laney enough breathing room to get away, didn't I?" Harley was used to the warm floods of affection for Laney that washed over him when she was being especially great. To feel something similar for Peter was unexpected, but it was a good sign that they'd work out pretty well as brothers.

"Yeah yeah. Thanks for that. Really. But I don't need you to use yourself as a meat shield every time I get in a fight. I can take a few punches, you know. Better at giving them than you too. So don't be butting in to my battles, Spidey."

"Then what good's being brothers?" Peter asked, his voice sinking to an outraged whisper. "We're supposed to butt in!" Harley had to acknowledge that other boy had a point. He knew that if he saw Peter being bullied or hit or anything he'd definitely butt right in.

"Okay, fine. Still. If you're gonna do that then we need to teach you how to fight. Got it squirt?"

"You're like two inches taller!" Harley grinned and was glad when he saw Peter grin right back.

"Still taller. Do you like shrimp better?"

"No! Stop being mean to me - I'm bleeding here!"

"Not hardly anymore. Its' a little trickle."

"It's still blood!" Peter shouted, arms and legs flailing a little from the force of his emotions. "It's still blood and your dad's still Tony Stark and this is the weirdest day of my whole life!" With an amount of drama that would have made Harley's dad green with envy, Peter flopped back into the grass and threw one arm over his eyes. "I embarrassed myself in front of Tony Stark. God. Just let me bleed out. It's all over for me, Harley. Take care of my dad for me, and Laney and the kitten too, and make sure your dad knows how hard I would have worked for him if I hadn't been forced to die of mortification."

"Jesus fuck."

"HARLEY KEENER!" At the reprimand in his dad's voice, Harley was tempted to throw himself to the ground just like Peter had, but it wouldn't help.

"You say it all the time!"

"I am an adult!"

"Plus he can afford the twenty dollars it costs to say it!" Laney piped in, and this was just... ugh. This was not going as planned, and Peter's dad was not going to be impressed at all. Because sure, his dad was having a few really shining moments, but he was also sort of coming off like a foul mouthed rich guy who promoted pay-to-play transactions.

"Now, Laney-bug, that's not exactly how it's supposed to work."

"Yuh-huh! You say the quarter words all the time 'cause you can afford it, you said so, and Harley always says all kinds of bad words when he has money to put in the jar, and I don't get enough allowance to put any money in, but once I do I'm gonna say... prolly not anything more bad than the quarter words anyway, because I would rather buy toys for my new kitty, who is named Wigglebutt."

"Wigglebutt, Laney? Really?"

"Yup! Wigglebutt. You don't like it Harley?"

"It's a stupid name."

"Don't never speak to me or my kitty baby ever again!"

"That's not even how that goes."

"I think Wigglebutt is a fine name," Peter's dad broke in, looking over his shoulder to send a smile Laney's way. It stopped the sibling spat before it could begin in earnest, which was probably for the best. As a bonus, Harley's dad had that dumbstruck expression on that he got when he liked what he was looking at. It didn't last long, but then he whipped off his glasses and tried to run his hand through his hair; having forgotten his hat was in the way, he only succeeded in sending it tumbling to the ground.

"Wigglebutt, yeah. Absolutely. Speaking of names - do you have one, or should I just call you Captain Muscles?" Harley couldn't suppress a pained groan, and when he looked at Peter the poor kid looked torn. It couldn't be easy to find out that your hero was kind of a loser with zero game to speak of.

Peter's dad though, thank God, didn't seem deterred by Tony's current lack of suave. He grinned and - Harley was pretty sure anyway - flexed a little. "I'd rather skip the nickname. I'm not some muscle head."

"Yeah, sure, no. Definitely not. So..."

"Steve Rogers."

"Great! That is an A-plus name you've got there. Mine is-"

"I know who you are. My kid's got posters and pictures of you up in his room that just about cover all the walls."

"I do not!" Peter interrupted, sounding horrified. When Harley looked over, he saw that the other boy had gone pale and looked frantic and he had to work to suppress a grin of his own. "I don't, Mr. Stark, I swear. I mean, I have some of the promotional posters from... but you know, you were there when they, you know, took pictures of you for them, and it's not because you're on them! It's because of... of... of science!" Peter finally declared after spluttering for a little while.

"Dude, you gotta breathe," he advised, rolling his eyes. "So what if you pro'lly have a shrine to my dad-"

"I don't have a shrine!" Peter's voice had taken on the shrill whistle of a boiling teakettle, and wow was that gonna be fun.

"Harley, stop teasing your new friend. Kids today, am I right Steve? Rogers? Steve or Rogers?"

"Steve's just fine." The muscular blond sounded incredibly amused, which Harley decided was a real good sign. "Are me and my kid allowed to call you Tony, or should we stick with his choice of Mr. Stark?"

"Mr. Stark was my father. Tony works. Hear that, pi-boy? No more 'Mr. Stark'ing me. It gives me the heebie jeebies. Also, you are the first person I've ever heard besides me and Bruce who has used 'for science' as a reason for doing something. Harley, I hereby disown you so I may adopt this new boy. Steve, I'm stealing your son, but you can have Harley as compensation. Maybe come up with a better way to discourage his bad language than a swear jar because it is clearly not working. Pi-boy, what is your actual name?"

"Um... I... I know this, honest," he stammered, and Harley couldn't help but start to laugh. "No, really! I have a name and it's a good one, but I don't think my dad would let you steal me - he doesn't like stealing. You could maybe borrow me though, once I rem- uh. Once I tell you what my name is. The one I definitely have. You know, usually when I babble like this something comes to me, but this is not-" Harley couldn't bear it a second longer, not when the poor kid was looking to him for help, expression still full of mortification.

"It's Peter, dad. Peter Parker."

"Right!! That's it. That is definitely it. Dad, I can tell you're laughing, and I find that really hurtful." When Harley looked over, the blond's shoulders were shaking a little, even if he was now looking at the small band of... ruffians. "My name's Peter, Mr... uh. Tony. Mr. Tony. Peter. That's me. Say, you think if I asked nice one of those mean kids would like, hit me hard enough that I'd forget how much of a spazz I'm being?"

"Doubt anybody could hit you that hard."

"Harley," Peter whined, lazily kicking out with one foot and hitting Harley's shin. "Be nice to me. I cheered you up when your date didn't show." Riiiight... his date. Good on Peter for laying the groundwork for the cover story Harley had totally not forgotten about.

"Your date didn't show?" Harley suppressed a sigh at the fierce look on his dad's face. Tony 'fucking' Stark was going to try and track the poor nonexistent guy down in order to ruin his life. He definitely needed to get the name of one of Peter's bullies, 'cause the guy definitely had at least one.

"It's fine, dad."

"It is not."

"Oh my God."

"The police are here!" Laney interrupted, bouncing in their dad's arms. "I see 'em, I see 'em! You are all in sooooo much trouble," she lectured the boys who'd been hurting the kitting, turning to glare at them over Tony's shoulder. "My daddy is gonna make sure you never see the light of day again!"

"Laney," Tony replied, sounding nervous and darting a few looks at Steve... whose shoulders were shaking again. "I would never... I mean, they're only... kids? Locking them up forever would be wrong. I guess. Ruining credit scores is one thing, jail time is... I mean. Not that I plan to ruin their scores, because they aren't old enough to have any. Probably. I'm terrible at guessing ages. They might find getting into college a little hard, but that's... uh. I'm not terrible, I promise," he told Steve, and Harley grinned before sending Peter a covert thumbs-up.

"You know, only person I ever heard ramble so much before is Peter. It's probably better if you don't steal him - the two-a you would be babbling over each other until one of you died of starvation."

"That is so-"

"I resent that, Steve, I really-"

They were really only proving Steve's point as they both ranted at him with a lot of fumbling for words and backtracking and tangents. Harley could see the police approaching, just like Laney had said. That was one part awesome, one part sucky - he didn't know if they'd be able to find another excuse for their dads to see each other for a while. Harley knew his dad was at least sort of interested, because he only lost his smooth when making a good impression mattered. So this had probably gone well, and he kind of didn't want it to be over yet.

Thank God Laney was there to save the day.

"Wigglebutt has something to say!" she announced dramatically before leaning down and pretending to listen to the kitten with her 'this is a very serious matter' expression on. That had stopped both Peter and Tony cold, and now Steve was looking over at them again too. "Uh huh. I see. Yes. I agree. Wigglebutt has decreed that we have to go for ice cream once we talk to the police! And Peter and Steve have to come too, or Wigglebutt will be very sad, and since she's hurt you shouldn't make her sad, okay?"

Both Peter and his dad seemed totally charmed, and Harley knew that an ice cream date was definitely in their future. In another discreet move, he offered Peter his hand for a really low, really quiet version of a high five.

Operation 'No More Lonely Dads' was back on the right track.

Chapter Text

Things moved fast when Tony Stark was involved. Peter probably should have expected that, but he hadn't and the past half an hour had been like being caught in a tornado or something. Well, maybe not a tornado because there weren't any blown down houses or cows flying through the air, but that wasn't really the point. The point was that Mr. Stark - who he was supposed to call Tony and what even was his life - was like a force of nature. A really fast one.

The police usually took a lot longer to respond, after all, and he was pretty sure that if Tony hadn't been there to urge things along they'd have all had to go to the station to give their statements. Instead one officer just pulled them aside (with their dads present because of being minors and all) to speak them individually and get their version of what had happened. In the middle of all that, a pretty woman who had introduced herself as Dr. Daniels arrived on the scene to take a look at Wigglebutt.

Peter didn't even know when Tony could have called her, and he didn't want to know what it had probably cost him to get her to come to the park. She talked soothingly to Laney while she examined the cat and shot appraising looks at Tony when she thought nobody was looking. Harley noticed though, and he made a face at Peter before rolling his eyes. Despite the lack of real concern on the part of his maybe-brother, Peter started to worry a little. She was pretty, and Laney seemed to like her and she was good with cats and probably other animals - who didn't like someone who was good with animals and kids? This was not going to end the way he'd wanted it to and if he and Harley stayed science bros he'd have to see her every time he went over and think about how that should have been his dad--

"Breathe, would ya?" Harley's voice was pretty close to his ear when he whispered, and a second later he dropped a hand onto Peter's shoulder. "People are always looking at him like that. It's a thing. Don't focus on that - look where he's looking before you go into complete spazz-mode."

"I don't have a spazz-mode," Peter complained. He still followed Harley's direction though, because he probably knew what he was talking about. "I just sometimes get a little... oh. Okay. That's... yeah. You're right. Spazz-mode disengaged." Tony was splitting his attention between Laney and Peter's dad; he wasn't looking at the pretty veterinarian at all. Every time Tony looked at Steve he flashed a bright smile and he didn't really think his dad's lame jokes warranted laughing as much as Tony was doing. Even better was the fact that his dad was focused almost entirely on Tony, though he spared a few glances at Laney, Harley and Peter from time to time.

Perfect.

The boys who'd been trying to hurt the kitty were taken away and a few minutes later Wigglebutt was proclaimed to be mostly alright. 'She' - Peter was pretty sure the emphasis she put on the name meant the kitten was not actually a girl - was dazed and had a few small cuts, but Laney had interfered before the boys could do anything too terrible. Most of the blood she'd seen had been from scratches the fierce little thing had given the assholes to defend herself. Dr. Daniels would like Tony to bring her in the next day during regular business hours just to be sure, but she was definitely not in any immediate danger. It was easier, he decided, to just think of Wigglebutt as a girl so he didn't say otherwise and upset Laney.

While the vet walked Tony and Harley through how to take care of those few scrapes, Laney left them to it and wandered over to Peter and his dad. Before he knew what was happening, the little girl was wrapped around him, squeezing him in a tight hug. "You're my hero!" she announced, tipping her head back to smile up at him. She'd learned that bright, beaming expression from Tony, he was sure.

He was also sure that his dad had let out a soft gasp and was now taking pictures of them on his phone, It was just... just so typical of Steve Rogers, really. They were probably reference images in case he decided to draw the scene later.

"Uh... I was just trying to help?" he tried, only to have her giggle and shake her head.

"Nope! You were so brave 'cause they were a lot bigger than you and there were so many! You came to protect me anyway, and you got the one who punched me too. You were even there before Harley! So you're my hero. Thank you Peter." Laney leaned up and laid a loud, smacking kiss to his cheek, and Peter was honestly flabbergasted. How did Harley function with this little ball of adorable being so cute all the time?

She moved almost as fast as her dad; before Peter had recovered, she had let him go and was bouncing her way over to his dad. Lips pursing in an exaggerated fashion, she propped her little fists on her hips and stared. Peter realized that she was giving his dad the once-over, evaluating the man they were trying to set up with her dad. His dad blinked at her a few times (probably wondering what was going on, because he had to know something was going on) then gave her a wide, warm smile. He crouched down until they were at eye-level with each other and it was Peter's turn to fumble quickly for his phone to snap a few pictures.

"You were pretty brave yourself, Laney. It must have been scary standing up to all those boys to help Wigglebutt, huh?" Laney's lower lip visibly trembled, and Peter just died. She was too cute, and he was dead.

"Yeah," she agreed quietly, stance softening as she stared at his dad. "And they were... they were really mean. But. But the kitty needed help and she's even littler'n me. But it was scary." Laney sniffled and wiped the back of her fist over her eyes. Peter wanted to hug her and build her a pillow fort where she could hide with Wigglebutt where they could be safe and happy forever, and where his dad could bring her hot chocolate and she could cuddle with her dad and he and Harley could visit sometimes to keep her company. The biggest pillow fort ever. Peter thought he and Harley could build a really nice, structurally sound one.

His dad probably wasn't thinking exactly the same thing, but he was still visibly melting under the force of Laney's adorableness. "I bet it was. You still did it though, which makes you just as brave as Peter and your brother. But you know what? You're still a little too young to be a hero - I'd hate to see you get really hurt while you're being so brave. So if something like this ever happens again, do you think you could do something for me?"

"Maybe," she hedged, sniffling a few more times under his dad's watchful gaze. Harley and Tony were watching too, Peter realized - he could hear them whispering about it and saw a few flashes out of the corner of his eyes while they took pictures. "Long as you don't want me to run away I probly could."

"Have you ever heard of retreating?"

"Mm. Sometimes when Uncle Rhodey and Aunt Carol come over we play capture the flag. You can play too next time, if you wanna. I bet they'd both like to have you on their team 'cause you look strong and stuff. They talk 'bout retreating. It's not really running away."

"Exactly. If something like this happens, I'd like it if you would retreat - you won't be running away. You'll just be going to get some reinforcements. Uh. Help. Do you think you could do that? Retreat instead of fighting? I bet your dad and your brother will always be happy to help you so that you don't get hurt."

Peter heard a soft 'holy shit' behind him, but he couldn't tell who had said it. When he turned to look, even the pretty vet lady was watching - now she was giving Peter's dad the same look she'd been giving Tony. He resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her and turned his attention back to Laney just in time to watch her scuff the toe of one shoe over the ground.

"Would you come and help me, Mr. Steve?" Peter wanted to swoon at the overdose of sweetness; he couldn't imagine what Tony might be feeling. "If I retreated and you were there to go get would you come help me save another kitty or a puppy or a bird or a squirrel or a baby?"

Peter watched his dad's expression go soft and gooey, and he was pretty sure they'd all have cavities when this was all over. "Yeah, Laney. If I'm around you need to retreat then you just come get me. I'll do whatever I can to help you, even if you aren't saving another kitty or anything else." Laney let out a noise that was half sob and half happy shout, then flung herself at Peter's dad. He (of course) caught her easily and pulled her in for a hug - he looked huge next to her, and it was just the most heartwarming thing ever. While he snapped another picture, he wondered again how Tony and Harley functioned with her as a permanent part of their lives.

From his vantage point, Peter was the only one who could see Laney's face when she turned a little. He got to watch as her whole face scrunched up and one eye closed - it was the most exaggerated wink he'd ever seen, and that was just... it was another 'woooow' moment. Laney was good - really good. She had them all eating out of the palm of her hand, and he was impressed.

He was also a little scared, because even if he knew she was exaggerating a little he still thought she was the cutest thing that had ever existed.

~.~.~

Rules were apparently something that happened to people who weren't Tony Stark, because after the man had a quick word with the manager of the ice cream shop nobody said anything about the kitten Laney was carefully carrying in her arms. They acted like the potential health hazard didn't exist and were so polite and accommodating that he found it a little creepy. Nobody else seemed to feel that way, so he shrugged and wrote it off while he ordered his triple chocolate fudge sundae (no cherry, extra rainbow sprinkles) that Tony then paid for. He paid for Peter's dad too, and his dad didn't even fight him all that hard about it. That was a great sign, and he gave Harley a thumbs up when the adults turned their backs. Harley grinned back at him while ushering Laney towards one of the tables to sit.

He carried Harley's ice cream along with his own while Tony had his cone and Laney's dish of ice cream. Peter had to watch his dad pull out a chair for Tony with a smile that was almost shy, and then was forced to see his hero sort of blush and stammer a thank you. That was stuff he could never unsee, and as much as he wanted their dads to fall in love he didn't want to have to watch while it happened. Ew.

To try and avoid that as much as possible, he dropped into the seat across from Harley and handed over the other boy's ice cream. Tony and his dad seemed to have a natural chemistry, so their best bet at this stage was probably to but out and just let it happen. If that meant he had talk to Harley instead of watching the adults flirt, that was a sacrifice he was eager to make.

"So where'd you learn how to fight like that, huh? My dad and Aunt Tasha have tried to show me, but I guess I'm just really not good at any of it. Uncle Bucky just kind of snorted and said I should find a bodyguard because I'm not a fighter. It was a little hurtful, but he also showed me how to shoot a BB gun and that was pretty cool. Oh! He goes running with me too and says that I'm already pretty fast, so I should focus on that instead of the punching parts. I like when Aunt Tasha's friend Clint comes over - he's teaching me how to use a bow and arrow and that's even cooler than guns. Maybe not as applicable to real life, but way cooler. ... I was asking you a question, wasn't I?"

Even Ned got a little tired of the way he babbled sometimes when he was nervous or excited. Well, for him it was more the tangents that distracted Peter that were the problem. Everyone else would interrupt or scowl at him; Flash would say something hurtful that had most of the other kids laughing at him. Harley was just watching him with an amused smile, using the time Peter spent talking to eat his ice cream.

"Yeah. I figured I'd just answer it once you were done. Dad's driver - we call him Happy - used to be a really good boxer. He shows me some stuff, and when he saw that I liked it he found a few other people to teach me. It's good exercise, and I was... mad. I was mad a lot after my mom died and it helped." Harley gave an uncomfortable shrug and Peter was right there with him - he didn't really like to talk about his mom and dad either. "So. BB guns and a bow and arrow, huh? You'll have to come by the tower sometime and we can blow things up. Safely - my dad has a ton of safety rules. It's still fun to watch stuff go 'boom'."

"Oh my God. Really? We could really... I mean, I'm more interested in biology and mixing it with robotics, but blowing things up sounds fun too. Not for like, a job, but just for something to do." Peter stopped for a second and bit his lower lip, manners warring with a lifetime of worshiping Tony Stark. "Do you think... look, I'd sign a thing that said I promised not to talk about it and I wouldn't get in the way, I promise and I probably shouldn't even ask but... do you think your dad would, you know. Maybeletmeseehisworkshop?"

"You are such a nerd," Harley told him. The usually hurtful words were said so fondly that Peter didn't mind them at all. It probably helped that Harley was kind of a nerd too, and his dad was like, the king of nerds - he probably didn't see it as a bad thing. "Even I don't go down to the inner sanctum too often - it's too dangerous for kids, according to him. But we have one where we do stuff together and you can definitely see that one. He'd probably take us through one of the R&D levels if I asked - that's always fun and it's different every time. Hey, maybe you could come this weekend! I mean, we couldn't go to R&D, but I have video games and stuff, and my dad'd probably be able to put some cool experiment or robotics thing that we could do. And we have this amazing home theater, and--"

Peter blinked when Harley suddenly cut himself off and looked down at his ice cream with a frown. "Uhm. Do you... not want me to come after all? Because all of that sounds pretty cool and I do want to get to know you. But if you'd rather, you could definitely come to my house. Well, if our dads say it's okay. We could hang out and play video games and there's this place that delivers nearby that has the best pizza. I could show you some of the stuff me and Ned have built. Do you like Legos?"

Another member of the Stark clan had a devastating smile at his disposal, and Peter decided that if their dads hit it off he would have to have Tony teach him the trick. "Yeah? I could come over to your house? Most of my friends have always, you know, wanted to come to the tower. I don't get many invitations back." That was enough to make him scowl, and if he wasn't so bad at fighting he'd go take a swing at all Harley's 'friends'. They were probably just using him for his stuff, and that was way uncool. Harley seemed to take it wrong though - his smile faltered then dropped completely, and then he shrugged his shoulders just to prove how much he didn't care. "But we can hang out at the tower if you--"

"Hey dad?" Four sets of eyes turned his way, and it was hard not to flinch under the attention. He felt kind of bad for interrupting his dad and Tony while they bonded, but this was just as important. "Can Harley come over this weekend? Do you think you'd want to spend the night?" he asked Harley before his dad could answer. "Or just hang out for a couple hours? Either would be totally cool with me. Saturday night is game night with Uncle Bucky and Aunt Tasha," which was lame but also fun so he'd never complain about it. "And I bet we'd be an awesome team so you should come then instead of Friday. But if you don't wanna stay the night that's fine too. Right dad?"

"As long as it's alright with Tony."

Huh. Usually an overnight guest (especially on a Saturday instead of Friday) took a little more wheedling. Peter was a bit mystified until he realized that Tony would probably come to drop Harley off and they could do their gross adult flirting again. Interesting. He wondered how far that would go...

When he looked to Tony, his hero was smiling at him like he was the best thing since Christmas and Peter could die happy now. "Of course it's okay with me!" he all but shouted, making Laney shush him with a glare while she stroked Wigglebutt's head. Harley had slid down his seat with his shoulders hunched, but Peter thought he was smiling just a little too. "And if he wants to spend the night he has my full blessing. Do you want me to bring anything when I drop him off?" he asked Peter's dad, bouncing in his seat like an excited puppy. "Like, snacks or anything?"

"How come Harley gets to go and sleepover?" Laney demanded in a whine, pouting mightily. "I wanna see Mr. Steve and Peter again too! And so does Wigglebutt! It's not fair."

"Easy princess," Tony said, dropping one hand to the top of Laney's head. "You can come along when I drop him off and say hi, alright? And we'll have our own special night. I bet if we asked Aunt Pep she'd come over and hang with us."

"I wanna sleep over at Peter's!" Cute, sweet, adorable Laney had left the building, and now she was angrily pouting at her dad. Peter had a feeling that if she didn't get her way she'd start screaming and shouting. Having a little sister wasn't all good, apparently.

"Laney." Tony's voice was firmer than it usually was when he spoke to her. Peter was kind of impressed that he hadn't just caved; from the look on his dad's face, so was he. "We've talked about this - you can't always do everything Harley gets to. I know you don't like it and that you don't think it's fair, but you get to do things Harley doesn't, remember? I understand if you're still angry, and we can talk about it more when we get home if you want, but I need you to remember your manners while we're here. Let's make good choices, Laney-bug. I don't want to go home before we finish our ice cream, but we will if we have to."

There was a tense moment of silence where Laney glared and Tony met her glare calmly - Peter wanted to break and say that hey, she could stay too, it wasn't a problem, but it wasn't his business, not really - and then Laney subsided. She gave a huff of irritation, then hid her face in Wigglebutt's fur. He heard a few unhappy mumbles from her, but otherwise the potential temper-tantrum had been nipped in the bud.

"Thank you for listening, Laney," Tony said quietly, leaning over to give the top of her head a quick kiss. She shied away from him but let Harley sling an arm over her shoulder and pull her in for side-hug. "Okay. So. Sleepover. Did you need me to bring anything but Harley and a visiting Laney-bug when I drop him off?"

"No," his dad answered, watching Tony with the kind of intensity he usually saved for his favorite paintings in a museum. "We'll manage just fine. Unless you have some interesting board games that we could try. I'm getting sorta tired of this one and Bucky kicking my butt in Settlers of Catan, and Tasha usually wins everything else." Tony laughed at that, and the lingering bit of awkwardness dissipated. "And maybe when you come pick Harley up on Sunday we could plan something for next week for all of us to do." Laney perked a little and looked at his dad from behind a curtain of her hair and Wigglebutt's fur. "As long as all of you have been behaving, anyway."

"That's a great idea!" Peter hoped that if he ever had a crush on someone he wasn't as obvious as their dads were. They were still staring at each other and he thought maybe they were both kind of blushing, and it was just gross. He'd have to make sure his dad knew that Peter was totally fine if he wanted to ask Tony out on a date that he didn't have to watch. "There's a lot of great things going on this summer, and it'd be nice to have another adult around for some of it. I mean, I could ask Pep or Rhodey I guess, but I'd rather ask you. Since you have Peter!" Wow, Peter kind of hoped he didn't look like that when he briefly lost control of his limbs, because it was ridiculous. He had to start trying to control that. "Because you have Peter and I have Harley and Laney, so everyone'd have someone to talk to and I could maybe invite one of Laney's friends if she starts to feel lonely or anything. I don't know your work schedule, but I'm sure we could work it out. The family outings, I mean. The ones where your family and my family attend together, not... you know, one family because we only just met. So yeah, we should make a plan on Sunday."

"Dad. You gotta remember to breathe. If you pass out in front of me and Laney we'll be traumatized for life."

"Everyone's a critic."

Peter's dad was used to the way Peter talked, so he was pretty unfazed by Tony's impromptu speech. It was like Peter had been practice for him and Tony had been practice for Harley; he kind of liked that thought. He didn't seem irritated or confused or anything - he was looking at Tony in a way that made Peter want to mime gagging. Harley and Laney looked like they felt the same - dates for dads only definitely needed to be a thing that happened soon. "Family outings sound real nice, Tony. If you, Harley and Laney figure out some stuff you wanna do, me'n Pete will do the same. We can compare notes on Sunday. Maybe... you could even stay for dinner?"

Tony agreed immediately and Peter couldn't help but feel a little smug. Their plan was going off without a hitch, and he was pretty sure he didn't have to worry about the harpy lady who lived a few doors down. Not with his dad looking at Tony the way he was and not with Tony looking right back the same way.

This love stuff wasn't so hard, he thought as he traded a sneaky three-way high-five under the table with Harley and Laney. He didn't know why adults always had so much trouble with it. His dad and Tony were just lucky they had kids looking out for them, or they'd be lonely, sad and pathetic forever. It was tough when you had to do everything yourself, but at least now he had Harley and Laney to help out. Peter was pretty sure that their dad's would be married in probably a year - maybe less - just so long as he and his future siblings made sure they didn't mess it all up.

Chapter Text

"Dad, Steve told you not to bring anything."

"No, he said I didn't have to bring anything. I chose to anyway."

"And of all the things you could have brought, you chose those. Why are you like this?"

"Why are you so mean to me, your father, who loves you so?"

As Harley was about to answer, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to look... just in time to see his sister start to disappear behind the closing doors of the elevator. "Laney!" he shouted before running in that direction. He knew he was too late, but he just couldn't help himself, not when worry was spiking. That was his little sister, all alone and vulnerable in a strange place. "Floor six!" he shouted just before the doors shut completely, hoping the girl had pressed the right button. "Go to floor si-oomph!" Harley's words cut off with a groan of pain as he slammed into the elevator with his left shoulder, something his body instantly started to complain about. "Oh my God. Dad. Dad. She's gone. We gotta--"

"Easy, tater tot," his dad told him, sounding only vaguely concerned. When Harley turned to look at him, not quite able to believe that blase tone of voice, he saw that his dad was already texting. The bouquet of flowers he'd decided to bring were tucked under one arm getting squished - Harley was viciously pleased by that. "Laney knows the floor - she's a smart cookie, that's where she'll go. Even if she doesn't remember the apartment number, Steve'll get her."

"You... have Steve's phone number?" he asked, happy about that before the current catastrophe returned to his immediate attention. "Dad! What if she didn't go to floor six? What if she went to... to... I don't know. Oh my God. What if someone gets on the elevator with her? Dad--"

"Hey, kiddo? I'm hanging on by like, a thread here, okay?" Harley blinked, then looked a little closer at his dad. Sure enough there was a tightness around his mouth and lines of worry on his forehead and around his eyes. He was fidgeting and tapping at his phone way harder than he needed to, and yeah, he seemed pretty damn anxious - probably only keeping it together so Harley could have his panicky moment. He was the parent and he knew that he had to keep his shit together; no matter what horrible accusations anyone lobbed at him, Tony Stark was a good dad. "Let's maybe not feed either of our imaginations right now. We'll do the thing where we pretend to be optimistic people."

"Right. Right. She's on her way up to Steve's floor and she's fine. Should we take the stairs?"

"I'm not getting up there faster than the elevator, kiddo," his dad pointed out almost wistfully, knocking one fist against his heart. "'S better if I stay down here and take the elevator up, that way I have the energy and breath to flip the fuck out if she doesn't show up on the sixth floor." He looked down at his cell (which had just dinged) and let out a satisfied sound. "Steve's by the elevator bank waiting, and Peter is ready and waiting to start searching the building. So stay here with me, kay, and if she's not on it when she stops at Steve's floor we'll... we'll deal with it then. Just stay with me for now."

"Yeah. Yeah, okay dad," Harley murmured, shoulders slumping and worry still making itself known. But they were pretending to be optimistic, so he had to think happy thoughts. Ones that'd make him fly if Peter Pan was real and not a borderline horror story. Laney was fine and she'd probably just wanted to steal some time alone with Steve and Peter - she was still pretty bummed about not being allowed to sleep over. "... I know Aunt Pep thinks she's too young, but I vote we get Laney a cell phone. You can do all that parental lock shit to your heart's content," he added, knowing they were currently forgiving each other their swear jar words alongside pretending to be optimistic. "But she needs one."

"Already ordered. And I know we were gonna hang out for a bit, but I hope you aren't so nervous that needs to happen. I am not rewarding her with Steve and Peter time, not after this," he muttered, maybe talking to himself more than Harley.

"It's a sleepover, not a drug deal. I'm not nervous at all and you don't have to stay."

"Don't talk like you know anything about drug deals, Harley Keener, or I'll pull your ass outside right along with Laney's." His cell chimed again, and as soon as he'd looked his dad let out a sigh of relief. "Steve has her, says she looks pleased with herself. I feel like there is many a lecture in her future." Fuck, she was okay. Harley slumped in relief, then felt his worry start to turn to anger. Laney could have been hurt or abducted or worse, and he could not believe she'd just taken off like that in a completely new place when she hadn't asked permission. She knew how to use elevators too, even without JARVIS running them - she'd have known she could press the 'hold door' button to let them catch up and she'd chosen not to. He wasn't even her dad and he kind of wanted to strangle her for being so reckless and making him worry.

"Soooo many lectures," he agreed, starting to plan one he could give the next day after getting home. Steve was probably already delivering one, she'd definitely get one from their dad and Aunt Pepper - Uncle Rhodey might even give her a stern talking to. So yeah, she was gong to be getting several ear-fulls after that little stunt.

As he and his dad stepped on the elevator to head up themselves, however, Harley realized that this had also sort of been a huge step for her. For a long, long time after their mom died, Laney had been afraid to leave their dad's side at all. She'd been attached to him like a limpet - if he wasn't available, she would cling to Harley. Even when that had faded, she still tended to toe the line when it came to the rules (completely unlike Harley himself) like she was afraid their dad would send her away if she didn't act as perfectly as she possibly could. Temper tantrums or any kind of real defiance was still pretty rare - in some ways, this was sort of... good. It meant that at least she knew Tony wasn't going to love her any less or kick her out just because she'd been bad.

On the other hand, Harley had sort of felt like he might have a heart attack and he couldn't imagine their dad had felt any better.

When the elevator dinged to let them know they'd reached the sixth floor, Harley blew out with the force of a hurricane, pretty much running toward Peter's apartment. Tony was following behind at a more sedate place - probably thinking about how exactly he wanted to handle this. Harley had barely knocked on the door before it was opened; behind it was Peter, wide-eyed and wild-haired, a pair of black-framed glasses sliding down his nose. "She's here!" he announced in what was pretty much a shout. "She's here, she's fine, dad's with her in the living room and can I take your backpack and coat because that's the hospitable thing except you're probably really worried--"

Harley loved his maybe-future brother, he did, but he needed to see Laney. He just barely managed a terse nod before he came inside and headed toward where Peter had pointed. Vaguely he noted the location of the kitchen and what was probably the bathroom, but his attention was on the sound of Steve's quiet murmuring and his sister's sniffling. Honing in on the sound, he found the living room quickly. On reaching it he saw Steve and Laney on the couch, the girl curled up in Steve's lap with tears starting to roll down her cheeks as her shoulders shook. "Laney!" he shouted, gratified when his sister shot up like a lightning bolt and ran to him as fast as he ran to her. They met in the middle in a fierce hug, and Harley finally felt like he could really breathe. "Jesus. Don't do that to me," he whispered into her hair.

"S-sorry Harley," she sniffled, subdued and clearly unhappy. "I d-didn't... I shou... 'm sorry." Harley shushed her and held her a little tighter, figuring he could be the supportive big brother just then. Steve had apparently told her why this had been a bad idea and his dad was definitely not going to be a happy camper. Harley could be the 'nice guy' until she'd had a chance to recover from that.

"Mr. St-- Tony!" he heard Peter shout, poor kid's voice cracking in the middle of his dad's name. "You're here! ... and you... brought flowers." Peter sounded as bewildered about that as Harley felt, so at least they were on the same page. "Um. Okay. Uh. Living room is this way."

As the door closed, Steve eased himself up onto his feet - which were bare, and Harley thought it was a little weird to go barefoot when you had people coming over, but whatever - and headed their way. He rested one hand on Harley's shoulder in what was probably a greeting, squeezing lightly before dropping it to Laney's head. "Remember what we talked about, sweetheart," he murmured, shooting her an encouraging smile when she tipped her head back to look at him. She nodded then started to shift her weight from foot to foot; knowing what that meant, Harley let her go.

He knew when Tony had come up behind them when Laney stiffened, then started to walk around him like a girl headed towards her doom. Harley turned to follow her, a grin twitching on his lips when he saw Peter holding that ridiculously big bouquet. He was looking at it like it was a bomb and Harley didn't blame him one bit. His dad dropped to his knees when Laney got close enough and wrapped her in a long, tight hug with her head tucked under his shoulder. While his dad didn't cry Harley thought he might have gotten close. He was definitely shaking, and he and Laney were whispering quietly to each other. Harley wasn't quite close enough to catch what was said, but he guessed he didn't need to. That was between the two of them.

Steve settled a hand on his shoulder again, and when Harley looked up it was to find that the man was standing at his side. He gave Harley a small smile, looking kind of worried. Steve searched his eyes and seemed pleased by whatever he found - he clapped Harley lightly on the back then continued on towards his dad and Laney. "Do you want a bit of privacy, Tony?" he asked, sticking his hands in his back pockets, a move that had him and Peter snorting almost in tandem. "I can send the boys to Peter's room and I could take care of those, uh. Flowers. That you brought. For me?"

Harley watched his dad whisper one more thing to his sister; she shook her head and they parted. She stuck close though, leaning against his side with his arm draped over her shoulder. "Hey Steve - thanks for taking our Laney-bug in before disaster struck. We're gonna talk about it when we get home," he added, nodding firmly. "So privacy isn't necessary. And yes! Flowers for you!" His dad's face brightened immediately, and he grabbed the bouquet away from a still-baffled looking Peter. "See? No roses and lots of daffodils," he reported with pride.

Harley could only groan, slapping one hand over his face. His dad was so lame that it was physically painful. When he dared take a peek at the other side of the room, Peter looked just as pained, Laney was smiling, and Steve... well he couldn't see Steve's face as Tony handed off the weird gift, but at least the guy accepted it.

"You're ridiculous," he said, but it was the same way Aunt Pep and Uncle Rhodey would have. "But thanks. I think I have a vase I can dig up to put them in."

"Hope the daffodils work as a reference," his dad chirped while rocking back and forth on his feet, nervous in a different way than he'd been for Laney. "I was gonna do just those ones, but the florist got all snippy with me when I suggested it, started bitc... uh, complaining about balance and shi... stuff. Stuff, not, uh... anyway. He said I had to add some of those small posies, and then he mentioned that there were more colors of daffodils than just yellow, which I didn't know was a thing, but flowers aren't exactly, you know. My thing. So he pulled the yellow ones and used the white ones with yellow innards - centers? I like innards - and then added snow... something. Snow something. But I took pictures of the other colored daffodils just in case, because you didn't mention colors when you said you were doing that piece, and you're all staring at me so I think that maybe this was too much. Should I have brought soda? Pep said I should bring soda, but I--"

"Hey," Steve interrupted, laying a hand on his dad's forearm - it took everything Harley had not to pump his fist in the air with a shout of victory. "I like the flowers. They'll help my sketch, you were right about that, and they smell nice too. So no, you shouldn't have brought soda."

Harley's dad was looking up at Steve with that 'holy shit are you even real' expression again, and it was sort of disgusting. Then the two men stepped into a hug which was even grosser; luckily they were too busy to notice the way all the kids were wrinkling their noses at the display. It lasted for what seemed like forever, until Harley kinda just wanted to start chanting 'kiss, kiss, kiss' just to make it stop. They were still touching when they finally pulled away from each other, and the chances of Peter becoming his brother were looking better and better.

"Do you want to sit down? I could get you and Laney something to drink, or...?"

"Nah, we're gonna head out. You guys have a game night to prepare for and me and Laney-bug need to have a pretty serious talk," Harley felt a little bit bad about the way his sister whimpered and hid her face in their dad's side again. "Thanks again for looking out for her and for taking her brother off my hands for the night. Call me if you need anything, okay?"

For a second Harley wasn't sure if his dad was talking to him or to Steve. When they finally locked eyes, he realized it was the former. "Yeah yeah. I'm not a baby dad. Get outta here, will ya?"

"Gone," his dad answered with a grin, holding up one hand. "And you can call me too, Steve. If you want - I mean if you need something. Anything even, and I'm just gonna go before I dig myself in any deeper. Harley, try not to be too much of a pain. Peter, it was good to sort of see you even if you were looking at my gift weird - you're coming over to our place next time and we'll hang, promise. And Steve - nice to see you. You have nice toes, I don't know if anyone's ever... I'm leaving now. Bye!" His dad beat a hasty retreat with Laney, not even really letting anyone else say goodbye before he was out the door with it shut behind him.

There was a long, looong moment of silence, and then all three of them started to laugh at almost the same time. It was... it was kind of really nice. It was nice to feel like they weren't laughing to make fun of 'Tony Stark' like so many people did, but out of affection and fondness. His dad was a ball of ridiculous and awesome, and it was nice to feel like other people might appreciate that as much as he did.

They were all still laughing when Peter grabbed his arm and practically dragged him off to his room, already babbling about how much fun they were going to have when 'Uncle Bucky' and 'Aunt Tasha' showed up. Steve headed toward the kitchen and the next time he saw those stupid flowers they were in a beautiful vase, sitting out in a place of pride where anyone and everyone could see them.

~.~.~

Bucky Barnes was amazing and if he wasn't Harley's uncle by the end of the year he was going to be incredibly disappointed. Natasha - Nat, because she was too scary to call Tasha in his opinion - was pretty cool too. Not as cool as Bucky or his Aunt Pepper, but still a pretty solid level of greatness that was about on par with his Uncle Rhodey. His favorite thing about Bucky - besides the shit he'd given Steve for the flowers, because the jokes had been fantastic and not at his dad's expense - was the way he was teaching Harley how to cheat at cards.

"Ah ah ah - your movements need to be smoother," he scolded, iron-blue eyes fixed on Harley's hands. He was kind of intense, but Harley sort of liked it because Bucky was awesome. "Practice at home or carry a deck with ya to play with when ya gotta couple minutes here and there. If your movement is all jerky and stilted people are gonna look. Ya gotta have smooth hands and a smoother mouth to get this sorta shit right."

Bucky swore profusely - 'they've heard worse at school, Stevie, gimme a break' - and had snorted with laughter when Harley had explained the swear jar his family used. Harley thought he'd like to be Bucky when he grew up.

"Hey, could you maybe not try'n corrupt the kid while I'm distracted?" Steve complained, eyes still on the Monopoly board. Not regular Monopoly either - it was Lord of the Rings Monopoly which was even cooler. Usually Harley was pretty stinking good at it, but Nat had made him go bankrupt with ease and a too-sweet smile. His only consolation was that Peter had nudged Bucky out even quicker. So while Peter, Steve and Nat fought for paper money dominance, he and Bucky had found amusement in a deck of cards.

"Not corruptin' him," Bucky returned with an eye roll, repositioning Harley's hands as he did. "I'm teachin' him. Big difference. If your boyfriend gets his panties inna bunch over it, send him to me."

"Not my boyfriend, Buck," he protested; when Harley looked over he had his eyes fixed on the board and he was blushing bright red. "Just a friend."

"A friend you wanna kiss."

"Hey - not in front of Peter and Harley, okay? Gimme a break here."

Harley thought about announcing that he'd be pretty cool with Steve and his dad kissing as long as they did it somewhere else, but in the end he held his tongue. He did exchange a glance with Peter though, one that had a grin tugging up one corner of his mouth. When he looked back to Bucky, he found himself staring into his knowing, too-shrewd eyes. A blush crawled up the back of his neck and he quickly shifted his attention to the cards in his hand, trying not to fidget. "Uh. So. How do I--"

"You're up to somethin', and you're in league with my nephew to boot," he said, voice pitched low so only Harley could hear. "Whatcha up to, Harley?"

"Nothing?"

"Yeah, we gotta work on your mouth. Never gonna be able to cheat anybody if we don't. Ya tryin' to get Stevie together with your old man?"

"Don't know what you're talking about," he tried again, keeping his eyes locked on Bucky's as he angled for the ace he'd hidden up his sleeve earlier. Bucky saw through him almost immediately and gently grabbed his wrist, shaking his head. "Come on! Most people wouldn't have even noticed that!"

"Most blind people, maybe. I'm tellin' ya, go smoother and slower, try to wait until the attention isn't on ya at all before ya make a move. And good luck with settin' up Stevie and... Tony, right? Tony Stark? Stevie's a stubborn son-of-a-bitch, so yeah. Good luck."

"I can't make them like each other," Harley pointed out, swallowing hard and hoping that Steve couldn't hear them. "Maybe me and Peter helped them, you know, get started, but I didn't make them swap numbers. Didn't make my dad bring those stupid flowers either, and Peter didn't make his dad put them out. Whatever they're doing, it's all them. Doesn't have anything to do with me or Peter, so..."

"Uh-huh. Right. Work on your believeability, short-stuff," Harley gave a 'hey' of protest, feeling kind of offended - Peter was the short one, after all. Bucky responded by smiling and ruffling his hair, then stood with a groan. "I need a cigarette. Be back inna couple minutes," he called to everyone as he went for the door. It was pretty cool of him to go outside to smoke instead of just lighting up in Steve and Peter's apartment. Harley didn't think he'd smoke when he was older, but if he ever did he would totally do the same thing.

Harley fiddled with the cards for a little bit on his own, then gave up and knee-walked back to the Monopoly game that was getting kind of heated. He thought about helping Peter out - his bro was in a tight spot - but ended up plopping down next to Steve instead. Working together - 'that's cheating!' Peter had accused while flailing so hard his glasses fell off completely - they got Peter out of the game pretty quickly. Instead of going to hang out with his uncle, Peter joined forces with Natasha while Bucky heckled all of them. The battle turned fierce and bitter, which was how it was supposed to be. If a game of Monopoly (any version) didn't end in yelling and blood feuds then what was even the point?

It didn't end until an hour and a half later when Bucky finally had enough. Without a word of warning but staring Natasha defiantly in the eye the whole time, he wiped one arm over the board, dislodging every single stronghold and fortress and knocking their character pieces over. While a horrified silence that could be cut with a knife fell over the room, Bucky then went for the money, tipping over the bank and mixing up Steve and Nat's money until there was no way to fix things.

Steve let out a high-pitched sound that probably summoned dogs from all around the neighborhood, and Harley cracked. He'd been out of the game, after all, so he didn't really care who won. He hadn't been that invested. Steve's betrayed look only made him laugh harder, which was when Peter joined in. Nat, who'd looked ready to pounce on her husband, directed her attention to the laughing teen at her side, and Harley fell over, practically howling. It was too bad, really - if he'd been little more in control of himself, he might have sensed the shift in mood.

Instead it took him by complete surprise when Steve 'tackled' him. The sound he let out was embarrassing, and then they were play wrestling while Steve called him out on his betrayal. From the desperate nature of Peter's laugh, Nat was trying to tickle Peter into submission and it seemed to be working out for her.

"I trusted you!" Steve declared as Harley tried to twist out of his reach, cheeks aching from the force of his smile. "You were supposed to be on my team, Harley. I'd promised you riches an--"

Bucky looked calm despite the fact that he'd just interrupted his 'best friend' by smacking him in the face with a throw pillow. "Oops," he said mildly before winking at Harley and dropping the pillow into his waiting hands. Then he went to rescue his nephew, choosing to do so by wrapping his arms around his wife's waist and hauling her up into the air. Harley wished him luck and would say lovely things at his funeral.

Never one to waste an opportunity, Harley took to using his new weapon in earnest, though Steve pretty quickly evened the odds by grabbing a pillow of his own. It was fun, as much fun as he'd ever had with his dad, sister and their aunt and uncle. His mom had been wonderful and he loved her, but she'd always been so tired - they hadn't done things like this often. Harley hadn't really thought that any other family might either. But yeah, what he and Laney had with Tony was special but it wasn't singular - Peter's family would fit perfectly with the brand of madness in Harley's family. He thought they all might compliment each other perfectly.

The feeling lasted through the ending of the battle (someone had pounded on the walls and shouted for them to stop) and the movie they watched after cleaning up. Watching Bucky kiss Nat wasn't quite as gross as thinking about Steve kissing his dad, but it was close. He and Peter threw popcorn at them whenever they thought the couple was more interested in kissing each other than the plot of the movie. Bucky had given him a tight hug goodbye and ruffled his hair again, promising that if he kept practicing he'd learn to cheat with the best of them. Nat had just giving him a small smile, but from her that felt as good as a hug.

It was almost one in the morning when he finally stumbled after Peter to get ready for bed. They lazily elbowed each other in a fight for the sink, neither of them wanting to wait to brush their teeth, and then Harley gave Peter a piggy-back ride back to his bedroom.

"You can totally have the bed, since you're my guest and everything," Peter said into his ear. "I have this sleeping bag that Aunt Tasha brought me and it's honestly almost as comfortable because it's like, even better than military grade, you know? So it's not only really warm but also super comfy and it's really not a problem at all. ... if you wanted to sleep in it since I'm talking it up then I guess I'd have to let you since you're the guest," Peter amended, sounding a little confused and uncomfortable. "But I'd be really worried that maybe you were only trying to make me feel better about taking the bed so I'd really rather you be the one in the bed, so you'll take the bed, right?"

Harley couldn't help but roll his eyes as he dumped Peter onto his bed. "What side do you usually sleep on?"

"... what?"

"The bed is big enough for both of us, you doofus. Now get on whatever side you want or I'm taking my usual side even if it's yours." Peter gaped at him for a second, then grinned and flopped onto the left side. Harley nodded in approval and crawled under the covers beside him, yawning as he went. "Try not to drool on me and we're good."

"I don't drool," Peter mumbled, sounding a little offended. "... kinda snore though."

"Laney sounds like a herd of wild chainsaws frolicking through a forest of metal trees," he answered as he held back another yawn. "You snoring is not gonna be a problem."

"Oh. Okay. Night Harley."

"Night Peter. Sorry if.... if I kick you," he muttered, losing the fight with another yawn. "Do that sometimes. My dad brought your dad flowers." At that they both started to giggle - and they were tired and sleepy enough that it was giggling - then started a shoving match while they 'shhh'd each other. That was how Harley fell asleep, happy and tired and thankful that he'd found such an awesome brother for himself and Laney.

He wasn't even mad when he cracked one eye open in the morning to find Steve snapping pictures of them as they cuddled. They were fucking cute, he'd bet money on it, so his future-dad could load up his phone with all the pictures he wanted. Might help him get to the kissing Harley's dad parts faster.

Even if he wasn't angry though, he still flipped Steve off for a few of them - it was the principle of the thing.

Chapter Text

Peter was a late sleeper - a really late sleeper. Harley had managed to fall back asleep after Steve had taken his pictures and left, but only for an hour or so. A guy couldn't lay around all day, especially not when nature was calling loud and clear. He could have gone back to Peter's bedroom after he was done in the bathroom but now he was awake. Lounging around while Peter slept just wasn't what he wanted to be doing. So he made his way out to the kitchen where he could hear Steve moving around instead, yawning and rubbing at his eyes a little.

"Morning Harley," Steve said on seeing him. He was doing the dishes from dinner last night and there were quite a few of them. Sighing softly at his own good nature, Harley headed that way and gave Steve a nudge with his elbow.

"Morning. Lemme finish."

"You don't have to do that," Steve told him, nudging him back. Harley liked to think that the smile on Steve's lips was fond - if Steve liked him, that got him one step closer to dating Harley's dad. "You're a guest, remember?"

"I'm a guest who wants breakfast," he said with a grin. "If I'm doing the dishes then you can start cooking." To his relief, Steve laughed at the order, then ruffled his hair. "Do you guys actually do Sunday breakfasts or anything? Peter looks like he could sleep for hours yet, so I'm guessing the answer is no."

"Sometimes we do a big brunch, but that's usually only for special occasions. I'm an early riser, but I'm the only one in the family. Peter will sleep past noon if nobody wakes him up. I don't mind making something today though. Do you want an omelette or pancakes?"

"Whatever's easier. I can just have cereal or toast or something too. Doesn't matter to me."

"Do you usually have big breakfasts on Sundays?"

"Yeah. It's the one meal at my house where you can mostly count on everyone being there. Sometimes when Laney or I stay over somewhere we aren't around obviously, and sometimes Aunt Pep is out of the country but otherwise everyone shows up. Dad likes to feed people," he said, making a face. "He seems to think Laney and me are starving all the time. It's kinda weird. He's the one who cooks on Sundays. Eggs usually - I don't really know why, but it's an inside joke with him and Aunt Pep."

Steve had a weird but soft look on his face, like maybe he wished he were in the tower to have eggs with the Starks and Pepper Potts. Harley would definitely be cool with that, and he would even take on the role of dragging Peter out of bed to join them all. First things first though - he needed to get Steve to ask his dad on a date. A date-date, with no kids involved. "That sounds real nice. I can't imagine us managing an early Sunday meal, with Saturday game nights and all."

"We could - you! You could. Uh. Brunches are nice, right? If breakfast-breakfast is too early? Brunch could be a thing instead. Or maybe even lunch. Just my dad would still cook eggs for it." Harley didn't realize his error until he saw Steve's lips quirk up into a grin, and he felt his face heat up in response. "Not that, you know. Our Sunday breakfast schedule has anything to do with your family's game night thing. Nope. Not at all. So ignore all that maybe."

"Since your dad does eggs, how about I do pancakes instead?" Steve asked, kindly following Harley's request. Ugh, Steve probably thought he was such an idiot. That or maybe he was on to the Plan, and that'd suck. A lot.

He would worry about that after breakfast. A guy couldn't think on an empty stomach.

"Awesome. Can you do fun shapes?"

"I can sure try."

It was kind of nice, the way they both went quiet after that. Sure he whistled a couple times and Steve started humming once, but they didn't need to be talking. They were just in the same space, going about their business. In the tower someone was always, always talking. Harley loved his dad and sister like crazy, and he accepted that they were both babblers by nature. Some days he even liked it, the way they both just said everything that crossed their mind as it happened - usually that meant they were happy. It was just... it was just really nice to have someone else around who could be happy quietly.

From the way Steve kept looking over at him and smiling, Harley thought Steve might feel the same.

By the time the dishes were done, Steve had the batter ready and was eyeing the pan on the stove with a critical eye. "You don't have to do shapes," Harley said before hopping up onto the counter to watch. "You don't have those bottle things I see in the videos on the internet."

"The 'bottle things'," Steve answered dryly, shooting Harley an amused look. "Are pretty important for fancy shapes, I'll give you that much. But I could probably do Mickey Mouse pancakes without 'em, or I could just make a bunch of different sized circles and we could build stuff out of 'em. Could use fruit too, if you wanna slice some up."

Harley thought about it for a minute, then nodded. "Yeah, okay. I wanna make something fun for Peter, since he'll probably be grumpy when I wake him up. So you do the circles and I'll get the fruit. If I brought some of the bottle things next time--"

"I'll make you some pancake art to eat," Steve said before Harley could finish, giving him a warm smile. "There's strawberries, kiwis and bananas for you to chop up. You sure you're good to do that?"

"Yup," Harley said while hopping back down to the floor. "I'm pretty good with that kind of stuff. Knives and delicate work and all, I mean. A lot of the science and tech stuff I do with dad carries over."

"Alright. Just be careful and let me know if you do cut yourself so I can take care of it. Knives are in the drawer to the left of the sink; the one with the green handle is the best."

And yeah, Harley could feel Steve watching him the whole time he was cutting the fruit... but that was fine. Steve still let him do it because he had said he could. It was nice to have another adult who would supervise him without hovering - a lot of them seemed to really confuse the two things. Not Tony though, because his dad was awesome, and it looked like Steve fell into that same camp.

They were all perfect for each other. He just needed to make Steve and his dad see that.

~.~.~

Harley was probably one of the coolest people that Peter had ever met. Cool-cool, anyway, not 'cool because I like you' the way Ned was. Harley Keener was objectively cool, even if he was a bit of a science nerd at the same time. Peter was pretty sure that if Harley ever showed up at his school even Flash would be falling over himself to make friends with him.So to have Harley seem perfectly happy sitting around doing nothing at his house was kind of blowing his mind just a little bit.

Ugh, he was such a geek. He would do anything to get Harley - cool, foul-mouthed, ready-to-fight Harley - as his brother. He had such a bro-crush on the guy.

"So your dad is for sure coming to dinner tonight? And bringing Laney? I felt really bad for her yesterday," Peter said with a sigh. Oh, he had been kind of really terrified when he found out that she had run ahead of Harley and Tony (Tony STARK!!), but then when she was in his apartment and safe that had faded pretty quick. His dad had done that whole 'I'm disappointed in you' thing that was just the worst, and Laney had looked ready to cry. And he knew that she was probably going to be in trouble with Tony too, which probably meant another round of parental disappointment and then he couldn't imagine Harley not having anything to say... so yeah. He felt bad for her. A lot. "I kinda wanted to give her a hug, but your dad didn't look like he would be super happy with me if I asked and she was all teary anyway, and maybe a hug from me would have just set her off because I know sometimes I don't cry until somebody like, hugs me or something. She could bring Wigglebutt with her too, if she wanted. Our apartment isn't cat proof, but my dad would still be totally cool with it. ... I'm used to people interrupting more."

Harley didn't even really look over - he just shifted his eyes away from the comic book he was reading, a smile tugging at his lips. Gah, he was just so cool, just like Tony Stark. He couldn't believe they weren't really related. "My dad talks more, faster and louder," Harley said easily. "You babble away, Spidey. Doesn't bother me. But if you want answers... yeah, my dad is for sure coming. Of course he'll bring Laney, since it's Sunday. Weekends are sitter-free days whenever he can manage it." Harley stopped and, for the first time, seemed to falter. "You really think your dad wouldn't mind if Wigglebutt tagged along?"

"Dude. My dad loves Laney. He is totally wrapped around her little finger and they've met twice. She could bring a whole zoo with her and my dad would probably just smile and coo at her for being so good with animals. If you're really that worried, you could ask him, I guess. But I'm telling you, he won't mind. Like, at all."

"Okay. Then I'll text my dad. He'll probably be relieved - Laney kind of throws a fit whenever she has to leave the tower without her cat. It's gonna suck when school starts up."

Peter winced at the thought, because the picture wasn't a pretty one. Laney would probably cry and scream and carry on, and it would probably make mornings miserable for a while. He knew that he would cave and either let her stay home or take the cat with her. He hoped the Stark men were made of sterner stuff. "Where do you guys go to school?"

"Horace Mann," Harley said before making a face. "It's okay, I guess. Most of them have known each other since they were in the nursery program together, so it was kind of hard to make friends."

"I bet. When I got into Midtown it was the same and I probably started earlier than you. My parents and my Aunt May were still alive - I used to stay with Aunt May a lot when my mom and dad were doing stuff for work. She was the one who pushed to get me out of public school and into somewhere where I could reach my full potential, whatever that means. She found Midtown and helped my dad - uh, my other dad - figure out scholarships and the application and stuff." Thinking about that, about the family that he had lost and how much they had loved him when they were around, hurt. It always hurt and got him sort of choked up, and even there with Harley watching him, safe and warm and happy, Peter found himself fighting back tears. He cleared his throat, then tried to sound normal as he got back to the original point. "Anyway, Ned's kind of the only real friend I have. He was sort of of the odd man out even though he's really great, so we clicked pretty quick. Everyone else already had all their friends, you know? So they didn't want much to do with me. Still don't, but me and Ned do fine. Well, there's this weird girl called MJ that I think might want to be friends with us too, but she mostly stands around and says weird stuff. She's smart, but she's just so weird."

"Maybe you should try talking to her more? Weird people are always the best. My dad is pretty much the weirdest person on the planet, and he's still awesome." Harley hadn't said anything about his dead parents or his dead aunt, hadn't asked any questions... and Peter kind of loved him for it. Usually people poked and prodded, like Peter owed them the story. Not Harley - not the guy was going to be his brother even if he had to drag both his dad and Tony kicking and screaming to the altar himself.

"Yeah, I guess I could do that. Maybe. It's just that she's so--"

"Weird," Harley chorused with him, a grin on his lips. "You said."

Peter snorted, then grabbed a pillow and chucked it at the other boy. "Shut up." Harley had managed to dodge the projectile; Peter took the pillow Harley threw back at him right in the face. As he batted it away, spluttering and whining, Harley started to laugh. In the Rogers-Parker household, in that kind of situation, laughter was as good as a declaration of war. Harley had to learn that sometime, so Peter gave no warning, just jumped on the other boy.

He was pretty sure Harley was letting him win the wrestling match that inspired, and he should probably be more upset by that. Instead it left him feeling kind of warm and happy - as happy as he could be with someone's elbow jammed into his stomach, anyway. Peter almost had Harley pinned when there was a knock at the door, and he knew he sounded winded when he answered. "Come in!"

Both his dad's eyebrows were raised when he peeked in, but when he saw what they were doing that expression shifted to a smile. Peter was distracted enough by his arrival that Harley managed to squirm away, and they both flopped onto the floor in their respective positions, breathing hard. "You boys okay?"

"Yup," they said together, though Peter kicked out at Harley's ankle and got one last shove against his side in retaliation. "Harley was being mean, but I showed him. What's up dad?"

Peter could see his dad was fighting not to laugh, but he was too tired to start another war so he ignored it. "Two things. Dinner's only a couple hours away, so the two-a you might want to get showered and outta your pjs soon. Unless you want Tony Stark to see you in all your Star Wars glory," his dad teased. Peter felt himself pale at the idea, but Harley only snorted.

"Are you kidding? My dad'd love them. It'd start a whole conversation." That... that was almost worth being horribly embarrassed. He would love to talk Star Wars with Tony Stark, but surely there had to be a better way to get there...

"That may be so, but consider this the official warning that dinner tonight requires real clothes that have been put on after a shower."

Harley gave a weary salute, voice as dry as Peter's dad's when he answered. "Duly noted."

"Also, Harley, I'm part of a summer baseball league and we've got a game next Wednesday." Peter groaned, banging his head against the floor a couple times. He had almost forgotten about the game - the game that was against his dad's team's arch rivals. His dad would spend the next few days getting amped up, and would be weirdly aggressive and intense about all of it. He might even make Peter paint his face again, or make a huge, vaguely insulting sign that he would have to carry around. Shoot. "Your dad is coming and he's bringing Laney along with him."

That was... that was something. The way his dad's face looked just a little pink was something too, and Peter even thought it might be something good. His dad loved baseball, but usually only Peter, Uncle Bucky and Aunt Tasha were invited along. His dad got kind of embarrassed about his competitive streak, but he had already invited Tony and was letting Laney come along too, which just had to be a good sign. Had to be. Maybe the only one he would have to actually drag to the altar was Tony.

"Should I get you a ticket too, or do you think you'd rather hang out at home?" Peter was sure he wasn't imagining how hopeful his dad seemed. His dad really, really wanted the whole Stark-Keener household to be there. "I know Peter loves being at home by himself, but I'd sure like it if you came with them. Should be a good game."

"It's going to be a mess," Peter said while rolling his eyes. He would not let Harley come under false pretenses. "My dad's team - The Shields - haaaates this other team - The Hydras. They all get crazy, they all try to cheat, and there's usually at least one fist fight. It'll be fun, but it won't be a 'good game'."

Harley's reply was immediate and gleeful. "I'm in. What position do you play Steve?

"Shortstop."

Harley whistled, sounding impressed, and Peter resigned himself to having another baseball nut in the family. Uncle Bucky was the same, but maybe Laney or even Tony would join him and Aunt Tasha in teasing his dad, Uncle Bucky and Harley about it. That'd be fun, and he'd actually give a lot to see both his dad and Uncle Bucky melting because of Laney's adorableness while she poked fun at them. He was going to have to fill her in on all the inside jokes, and he would be willing to bet that she would accept a bribe to use them.

"I'm going to go take a shower," he said to... well, no one really, because Harley was busy grilling his dad about his stats and his team while his dad looked more and more delighted. "Dad. Dad! No demonstrating any of your moves in the house," he lectured while climbing to his feet. "You've already broken two lamps this season. Harley, don't you go throwing any baseballs either - don't know your skills, not willing to risk it. Go down to the alley if you wanna practice.

Now they were both wearing matching expressions, and Peter couldn't help but laugh. They looked indignant, outraged by the suggestion that either of them would play ball in the house. Peter totally expected to get out of the shower to find both of them in baseball gloves and playing catch in the hallway.

Harley was definitely, objectively cool... but it was nice to see that he was also just as lame as Peter's dad was.

~.~.~

"You are the cutest thing I've ever seen," was the first thing Peter said to Laney when he saw her on Wednesday afternoon. She grinned at him from where she was half-hiding behind Tony's legs, then ran around him and jumped at him in a hug.

"Hi Peter!" she hollered in his ear when he caught her. "I'm so excited for the game! Are you excited? Steve's gonna do so good, huh Peter? We're gonna kick their Hydra butts! Take me out to the ball game!" Laney sang too loud and out of key, but Peter couldn't bring himself to put her down. not when her arms were still around his neck and her legs locked around his waist.

Laney had come to the game with her face painted - a white star was right above her nose, sitting in a blue circle with half-rings of red and white above that. Over her eyebrows were a set of stylized wings that were a perfect match for the ones on either side of The Shields baseball caps. All the lines were clear and only a little wobbly, and he had a feeling that she had done it herself. Her hair was in pigtails, with what looked like red, white and blue tinsel falling from the elastic to mingle with the strands. She had painted the team's logo on the tops of her white shoes, her jeans were ripped at the knee with that same logo painted in peeling paint on her right thigh, and she was wearing a small replica of the jerseys The Shields wore to boot. When Peter managed to peer around her hair to get a look at the back, he saw his dad's number on it, with 'Rogers' boldly written above.

Yeah, Laney was adorable alright, and that jersey made him feel things. Family things. Like she was already his sister and if anyone ever messed with her then he would be happy to beat them into a pulp. Well, he would try his best anyway.

"Princess, you're going to make Peter's ears bleed," Tony said, sounding pretty damn cheerful. Peter looked over and discovered that Tony was wearing a Shields ball cap, with the logo painted carefully on his left cheek. "Why don't you save the singing and come meet Steve's friends?"

"No! I'm staying with Peter," she said in a firm voice. The way she tucked her face against his neck sort of undermined that though, and Peter was left with the sense that Laney was actually pretty shy.

He couldn't help but smile, feeling all warm and gooey again. He felt pretty darn lucky that she had taken a liking to him so quickly, and he almost stuck his tongue out at Uncle Bucky and Aunt Tasha in a 'haha, you can't have her' gesture. Peter managed to stop himself at the last second, turning his attention back to Laney. "Nice to see you again too, squirt," he teased gently. "Even if you don't wanna meet my uncle and aunt, do you wanna give my dad a hug before he goes off to play? Bet he could use some good luck."

Except that when he looked back at his dad, his dad seemed totally focused on Tony. There was a weird look on his face, one that Peter didn't quite get. Apparently Tony did though, because he was blushing a little when Peter glanced his way. "Hey Steve. Thanks for inviting us," he said as he headed over to Peter's dad. "We appreciate it."

"Yeah, sure. Not a problem. I'm real glad you guys could make it. It's gonna be--"

"It ain't gonna be a good game, Stevie," Uncle Bucky interrupted with a roll of his eyes. "It'll be entertaining as all hell, but it won't be good. I'm Bucky, by the way, and this is my wife Natasha. Nice to meet ya."

"Nice to meet you too," Tony said without looking away from his dad. "Both of you. Wow. You know Steve, I never really appreciated baseball uniforms before now. You make them look good."

Ewwww. Good for their plan, but ew.

Laney gagged against his neck and when he looked to Harley his brother to be looked disgusted but pleased too. It was nice that they were all in agreement. He liked that they were all there, liked that Harley matched Tony with his hat and logo, liked that they all looked like they might be a family. Or at least like they could become a family. He hoped that once they were in the stands anyone who didn't know them would think they were just that. He wanted everyone to think that Tony was his pops, and Harley and Laney were really his siblings, and they were all there to support their dad.

He wanted that reality so much that for one bright second it was a little hard to breathe.

"You three might not even need a plan," Uncle Bucky said suddenly, sounding closer than he had been before. Peter blinked and looked up at him, seeing a grin tug at his lips. When Peter followed his gaze, he saw that his dad and Tony were standing awful close together, and his dad kept kind of swaying forward like he wanted to do something but kept stopping himself. "Big idiot, just kiss 'im already," he added in a mutter.

"They just met!" Peter protested in a whisper-scream, feeling himself start to blush. Laney, meanwhile, finally picked up her head to look at Uncle Bucky.

"I like you," she decided, and Peter got to watch as Uncle Bucky's face went all melty. Laney was going to rule the world someday, and he could already see by the amusement on Aunt Tasha's face that she approved. "My name's Laney and I'm almost ten and I'm gonna have a birthday party soon. You can come if you want, but you have to bring a present for Wigglebutt too. She's my cat and she's the prettiest cat ever so she deserves lots of presents. Peter helped me save her and that's how we met. What kinda name is Bucky?"

"The kind picked out when I was six," Uncle Bucky said with a smile. "Nice to meet you, and thanks for the invite. Can I bring Tasha with me?"

"She has to bring her own presents for me and Wigglebutt," Laney answered with heavy authority.

"I can do that, kotyonok," Aunt Tasha said quietly, sounding amused and fond. Peter could feel Laney wiggling, probably bursting to demand to know what that funny sounding word meant.

Before she could though, his dad tore himself away from Tony and came over. He playfully shoved Uncle Bucky out of the way - he only rolled his eyes and went to Harley instead while Aunt Tasha went to give Tony a proper hello. "Stop hogging Laney, son," he said while crouching down. "I know you're shy, Laney-bug, but am I not gonna get a hello?"

Laney had let go of Peter immediately, so he let her drop carefully down to the ground. She turned and flung herself at his dad instead; he laughed and stood, making her squeal with joy. "Steve! I missed you! It's been forever," she said with all the certainty of a little kid. It had only been two days... but Peter guessed it had felt a little bit like forever now that he thought about it. "You're gonna kick Hydra butt today, right? Right? You gotta win! Did you see the jersey daddy got for me? He had it made special like how he ordered hats for him and Harley, only I'm not s'posed to say 'cause he thinks it's embarrassing. Are you gonna win?"

"Heck yes we're gonna win," his dad said with a big, bright grin. "I'm not gonna let my cheering section down, especially not since it's your first game. You gonna cheer for me?"

"Go Steve!" Laney hollered, lifting her little fists into the air. "Run fast! Catch the ball! Hit home runs!" His dad started laughing and hoisted her onto his shoulders instead of telling her to stop. As she kept cheering for the game that hadn't even started yet, his dad jogged away toward the concession stand. Peter would bet his favorite comics that his dad was going to buy her all kinds of treats as a reward for her enthusiasm.

It was only a little sad that she liked baseball as much as Harley did. She wouldn't be teasing his dad or Uncle Bucky... but he thought Tony might be more willing to join his and Aunt Tasha's side of things. They still came to the games, still cheered his dad on, but they were a lot less intense about everything. Heck, his dad and Uncle Bucky were still sore about the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, and they hadn't even been alive when it happened!

Harley came up and slung an arm over his shoulders in lieu of actually saying hi, and they leaned hard against each other to see who would fall first. "Do you really think there'll be a fistfight like you said?"

"Guarantee it. The Hydras play dirty, and even The Shields sorta cheat when they play 'em. But my dad and a couple other players get all riled up by it, and someone always ends up throwing a punch. The league tried to ban the two teams from playing each other, but there was a whole protest and stuff. People love watching them play together, and nobody ever gets really hurt, so they gave in."

"Cool."

It was definitely the opposite of cool, but Peter put up with it because he loved his dad; Aunt Tasha put up with it because she loved her husband. At least Uncle Bucky, Harley and Laney were absolutely invested in the outcome of this game. Peter had a feeling they were going to become fixtures every Shields game from then on if his dad had anything to say about it. The company would be nice, if nothing else. He still didn't really know if Tony liked baseball or even knew the rules or anything... but he could see the way Tony was still staring after his dad and Laney. The look on his face was, again, a little hard for Peter to figure out, but he knew that he liked it.

He was pretty sure that even if Tony hated baseball, Tony would be at all the games too. Maybe, like Peter and Aunt Tasha, he would do it because he loved one of the players.

Chapter Text

"Oh, come on! That was right over the plate! Ball my as... uh. Astrolabe."

"Daddy, Harley meant a--"

"I got that, Laney-bug, so you don't need to say it either. And he stopped himself so he doesn't need to pay up."

"He's also right, and the umpire is fuckin' blind if he don't see that."

"Miss Natasha, Bucky owes me five dollars a-'cause my virgin ears are burning from his bad mouth."

"Jesus Christ, that was a strike too! Where the hell they'd find this guy? Has he ever seen a baseball game before? Does he even know the rules?"

"'M thinkin' he's a plant. Fuckin' Hydra goons're always-- ow! What the hell, Tasha?"

"You owe Laney ten dollars now. I would pay her unless you want me to really hurt you."

"Dad, would you get off your phone?! Steve's team is down by two and the umpire is obviously crap or on Hydra's payroll. This is a very tense moment, so pay attention!"

"Bucky, you gave me twenty dollars by mistake."

"Payin' for future transgress-- oh come on! There's no way that guy touched the base b'fore Dugan caught it!"

"Right?!! This is such bullshit."

"Does Harley owe you money now, kotyonok?"

"Nuh-uh, he gots to put it in the-- oh! Oh! Oh! Steve caught the ball. GO STEVE! TAG HIM OUT! THROW THE BALL! RUN FAST!"

Four innings in, their little section of the bleachers was absolute chaos, and Peter had never had so much fun at a baseball game. Harley and Uncle Bucky had been angry for the last two innings, and Peter thought that pretty soon they might start shouting actual insults at the umpire and the refs. Tony usually only looked at the field when he thought Peter's dad was doing something, which was also when he started cheering. He was as loud and vague as Laney, which told Peter that Tony probably didn't really have any idea what was going on down on the field.

Which was probably good, come to think of it. Peter got the feeling that Tony could be pretty protective of people he cared about. If he understood all the ways the Hydras were subtly cheating, he would probably go charging onto the field and demand justice. The idea of it was enough to make him laugh a little; Aunt Tasha shot him a small, amused smile.

Sometimes Peter was half convinced she could actually read thoughts.

"Ouch. That didn't look legal. Was that legal?" Tony sounded confused, and Peter couldn't correct him. He'd missed what was going on, too busy thinking about the relationship that was (hopefully) blossoming between his dad and Tony. "That can't have felt good, the guy with the mask is probably bleeding and he'll definitely be bruised. Why does he have that big mask over his face anyway? Doesn't protect him from incoming enemy players and it can't be easy to see the ball coming--"

"Keeps 'em from nailing him in the face though," Uncle Bucky answered, voice tight. He and Harley were practically vibrating with anger, Laney looked concerned, and even Aunt Tasha was watching the field like a hawk. Peter looked down at the field instead of monitoring the reactions of the people around him and couldn't help but wince when he took it in. The Hydra player who'd made a break for home had clearly slid right into the catcher for the Shields. From the way they were in each other's faces, it had probably hurt more than usual and Gabe thought it had been intentional. Every other player on the field had honed in on the brewing confrontation, and Peter was pretty sure this was the beginning of the end of the game.

When the Shields faced the Hydras, they never made it through to the ninth inning. The longest a game had gone, at least since his dad had joined the team, was seven innings. The worst and bloodiest game, the one that had prompted the attempted ban on their face-offs, hadn't even lasted for one. Four or five was the average, and Peter had grown to recognize the signs of impending disaster.

The Hydra player - Peter thought the number belonged to Rumlow, the guy his dad fumed about more often than not - shoved Gabe hard. Peter winced again while Uncle Bucky and Harley surged forward, yelling their protests right along with most of the spectators. Laney had clearly sensed the tension, because she shifted to tuck herself between himself and Aunt Tasha. He slung his arm over her shoulders and gave her a reassuring squeeze... just in time for Gabe to tear off his catcher's mask and shove Rumlow in return. Mitts were hitting the ground all over the field, and Peter couldn't help but groan and cover his face with his free hand.

"Here we go," he muttered. Harley and Uncle Bucky were still shouting, both of them gesturing wildly. When he looked over at Tony, the man's lips were set in a thin, tight line and eyebrows were drawn together in concern.

"It could still turn around," Aunt Tasha said as she settled a hand on Laney's head. "Nobody else is running toward... well. Never mind."

The Hydras had broken rank first; they usually did. His dad was one of the first Shield players to do the same, because there was no way in hell he'd leave a teammate to face a mob of the enemy alone. None of that was new, all part of a dance Peter had seen several times now. In a deviation from the norm, however, it had been Gabe who threw the first punch. The guy was usually pretty cheerful and easygoing, so Rumlow had to have said something terrible to provoke him. Uncle Bucky was already headed down to the field, ready to wade in if he had to despite not even being on the team. To his surprise, Tony didn't hesitate at all before following behind him, and Peter had to grab hold of Harley's arm to keep him from doing the same.

Thankfully most of the spectators had enough sense to stay put, content to shout out encouragement or protests depending on their natures. Laney gave a quiet whimper when Rumlow hit back just before the two were swarmed by Hydra players. Peter wasn't too worried, knowing the refs would stop things if it looked too bad, but he let Laney snuggle into his side and hide her face. Poor girl probably hadn't known what she was signing up for. When his dad reached the fray, he immediately began pulling people out of it, tossing them to the ground if they didn't get out of the way fast enough. Peter winced when one Hydra player popped him one right in the jaw for his trouble. That was probably going to bruise and his dad was going to whine about it for days.

He sort of lost track of everything after that, because the rest of the Shields and Hydras had arrived on the scene. Uncle Bucky and Tony got there around the same time, and he couldn't help but hear Harley's sharp intake of breath. Peter draped his other arm around his shoulders, pretty sure it would keep him from darting off and maybe make him feel a little better at the same time.

"The refs'll step in soon," he said to both Keeners, confident in that fact. "They never let things get too out of control, not for a couple years now. Worst that happens these days is some black eyes and hurt pride. It's why they only play each other once a summer, and there's usually a couple cops around just in case. So your dad and my dad'll be fine, and anyway Aunt Tasha'll kill anybody who gets more than a hit or two on either them or Uncle Bucky, so don't worry. Look - the refs are wading in now."

As quickly as it started, the fight was over. The teams retired to their respective dugouts and the people in the stands were starting to get their things together so they could head out. Tony had been hauled to the Shield's dugout by his dad, Uncle Bucky stalking after them with murderous intent in his stride. It couldn't mean anything good, and he started to chew on his lower lip as he prayed everything was okay. Most of his dad's games were fun and fight-free - he sort of hated that this was Laney's introduction to it all. She might end up scarred for life, and then she'd never come to another game looking like the cutest thing that had ever existed.

"Why don't you three head down to the field?" Aunt Tasha said, sounding more gentle than she usually did. "I'm sure your dads would prefer being able to see you. I'll be along with our things in a minute."

Peter nodded at her, looking as grateful as he could manage. Laney stayed tucked against him for the whole walk, but Harley had pulled away pretty quickly, a stubborn jut to his jaw. He was walking faster than them too, but Peter didn't try to slow him down. Didn't speed up either, because he had a feeling Harley was going to start yelling at Tony and Laney was upset enough already. From what he could see through the chain link fence in front of the dugout, his dad was already yelling at Tony. It looked like he had forced Tony to sit down, and he was kneeling in front of Tony with one hand cradling his jaw. It was kind of a weird pose when paired with the furious look on his face, the harsh motions of his free hand, and the way he was clearly shouting.

Shoot, Tony had probably gotten hit. That would explain the way his dad looked torn between being pissed and being concerned and it might even explain why his Uncle Bucky still looked so tense. His dad was a freaking bear when it came to other people being hurt, and when he was that mad for a good reason Uncle Bucky was never far behind. Tony looked defiant, though his expression shifted to sheepish when he looked up and saw Harley barreling towards him.

"Hey," Peter said, coming to a stop and bringing Laney with him. "You mind making a quick stop on the way to our dads?"

"Where to?" Laney sounded as petulant as Tony had looked, and Peter wanted to keep her away from the yelling being done at her dad if he could.

"I know I need chocolate after seeing all that," he didn't imagine the way Laney perked a little at that, and he bit back a smile. "And you definitely deserve some too. They don't really deserve it but I bet they'd like some snacks all the same. And I think your dad is in a little bit of trouble, so he's definitely gonna need something to make him feel better, right? Snacks are the best way to do that, so we should go get some. Not for the whole team though," he added while he steered her towards the concession stand line. With his free hand he grabbed his phone and shot a quick text to Harley so nobody would worry. "That's too many snacks for us to carry. What do you think you'll want, Laney-bug?"

He didn't know if it was the nickname, the prospect of something yummy or his chatter, but Laney was relaxing against him. By the time they got in line, she was even smiling up at him and giggling at his jokes. It probably helped that everyone around them was cheerful - none of the earlier tension and hostility remained. People came to this game knowing what to expect, and they'd gotten just that. The teams wouldn't be shaking each other's hands, and they would be nursing some sore feelings for a while, but even they wouldn't still be angry-angry. This was all a dumb game that never even landed anyone in jail or the hospital anymore, so Peter never did much more than roll his eyes at how stupid it all was.

Stuff like this was why he didn't sport.

Peter knew he'd bought Laney way too many sweets, but when she had pouted up at him he just couldn't deny her anything. They were both loaded down when they finally made their way to the Shields' dugout, and Peter felt himself give a sigh of relief when he saw what was going on in it. Uncle Bucky and Aunt Tasha were standing to one side, talking quietly and shooting regular looks in the direction of the concession stand. The first time Peter caught their eyes, he grinned. It was nice to know he and Laney had people looking after them. Harley was standing even further away, scowling down at the ground and scuffing the toe of one shoe against the ground. Every once in a while though, he darted a quick look up at their dads.

When he did the same, Peter wanted to shout and pump his fist in the air. The game might have been a disaster, but it was also a clear victory when it came to their covert operation. His dad was still crouched in front of Tony, and now he was holding an ice pack against the side of Tony's face. His other hand was still cupping Tony's jaw, and it looked as tender and gross as that sort of stuff looked on TV and in the movies. For his part, Tony had one hand resting on his dad's shoulder and Peter could see that he was clutching his dad's jersey hard enough to make the fabric wrinkle. Neither of them was talking, but there was serious eye-contact going on. Like, the kind of eye-contact that usually led up to kissing on the big screen.

Laney was wriggling happily beside him, so she was probably just as happy with the picture as he was. They exchanged a look, then wordlessly changed course to go to Uncle Bucky and Aunt Tasha. Staying as quiet as they could, they handed over some of their haul - even Harley joined them to get his hot dog and candy bar. Their dads had to know that they were all staring at them, didn't they? How could they just stay like that, staring at each other without hardly even blinking? It was kind of weird and embarrassing in a way Peter didn't totally get, leaving him blushing and squirming. Harley was doing the same, while Laney looked like Christmas had come early.

She was also the one forced them to break the weird eye-contact though, finally growing impatient and bouncing over to their pair. "Peter and I got stuff to eat!" she chirped, shoving the remaining snacks in their dads faces. Tony blinked, looked down, then started to laugh before snagging the bag of Skittles. He kept laughing even as he winced, which made Peter frown - he was clearly hurting. Peter was kind of surprised his dad and Uncle Bucky weren't in jail for murder. Or maiming, at least. "Daddy? Did you get hurt?"

"It isn't too bad, Laney-bug," Tony said, offering a smile that was part grimace.

"Bad enough," Peter heard his dad mutter rebelliously. "Shouldn't-a been on the field in the first place."

"Steve, grumpy pants, stinky pits. Shut-up."

"Why should I, when you--"

Woah. Peter had never seen his dad go quiet as quick as he did under Tony's glare. Part of the reason might have been the meaningful look he shot at Laney though. He got to watch as his dad visibly swallowed the rest of his indignant rant before he took the last hot dog from Laney. "He's fine, promise," he said, managing a better smile than Tony could though it was still tense. "Just a little bruised."

"So are you," Laney said before carefully pressing her hand against the swelling on his dad's jaw. "Do you need ice instead of snacks?"

"She's givin' me a cavatity, Tasha." For all it was supposed to be a murmured complaint, Peter thought Uncle Bucky sounded more affectionate than anything else.

"I'm fine," his dad told Laney quietly, giving her a smile that wiped some of the strain from his face. "Thanks for asking though, and for the hot dog."

"You're welcome! Thanks for taking care of daddy." Peter just about died when she leaned in and pressed a kiss to his dad's cheek. He was pretty sure he heard Harley, Tony and Uncle Bucky cooing, which was sort of adorable on its own. Laney proceeded to climb up into Tony's lap and settle there while his dad kept that ice pack in place on Tony's cheek.

Every time Tony ate a Skittle, he winced his way through it and Peter's dad scolded him for being so ridiculous. Uncle Bucky and Harley were involved in an enthusiastic-sounding discussion of the game before it had fallen into chaos as they chowed down on their own snacks. More content in the moment than he would have thought he could be, Peter settled next to Aunt Tasha, leaning back against the chain link fence that shielded the dugout.

"You look very pleased with yourself," she murmured after a moment. She looked down at him with a smile and ran her fingers through his hair. If anyone else had done it, he would have scowled at them for ruining the precarious order he had imposed on the unruly strands. Aunt Tasha? She only got a smile as he shifted towards her so he could tilt her head to rest it on her shoulder.

"It's been a good a day."

"Mmm. And I'm sure it has nothing to do with the dopey look on your father's face."

"I dunno what you're talking about, Aunt Tasha."

"You're a terrible liar, zaychik moy."

Peter blushed at the accusation, wishing it weren't such a true one. Aunt Tasha chuckled at his lack of reply, bringing her hand back to his hair again. She gave the best scalp rubs, her long nails running carefully along the sensitive skin. It was a soothing sensation, one that threatened to send him to sleep in combination with the warm sun on his back that was matched by the warm feeling in his heart. It sucked that his dad and Tony had been hurt, and he wished Laney's first baseball game with his family had upset her, but... well. It really had been a good day.

He was pretty sure his dad was one step closer to asking Tony out on a date - a date-date, with no kids to distract them from being all icky and romantic with each other. Probably by the time summer was over they'd be all gross all the time. Maybe they'd even be engaged, which would be... it would just be awesome. The best thing ever. Peter wanted his dad to be happy, and he wanted his dad to be happy with Tony. Things on that front were clearly a success so far. It already sort of felt like Tony, Harley and Laney were family.

Hanging out in the dugout, everyone joking and laughing, felt like the perfect ending to a really good day.

~.~.~

Peter had been raised to be polite, first by his blood family and then by Steve who took manners very seriously most of the time. And really, most of the time he didn't mind being that way at all. He thought of himself as a pretty kind person, and he wasn't very interested in being mean to anyone. Well, maybe Flash but that was more a case of self-defense. The point was that he was a good kid who did his best to mind his P's and Q's.

So the fact that he wanted to slam the door shut on Stacey's face when he opened it to see her there meant something.

"Hi Peter!" Though she sounded happy to see him, the woman was already looking over his head into the apartment. Peter knew she was looking for his dad, and it put a scowl on his face. Sure she was pretty enough and maybe she was even a good person sometimes, but... ugh. The way she looked at his dad gave him the heebie jeebies. It didn't help that she pretty much ignored him even as she worked hard to get his dad to ask her out on a date. "How have you been?"

Her foot was edging its way inside, but Peter didn't open the door any wider. His dad was in the bathroom - maybe he could get rid of her before she caught sight of her quarry. "I'm fine. Busy. You?" Keeping his sentences short and bordering on rude never helped, but he always hoped the next time would be different.

"Just peachy. School's going well then?"

"It's summer."

"Oh, so you aren't in summer school then?" Stacey's voice was sugar-sweet as she delivered the insult, and Peter very nearly growled. If he was just a little braver he really would slam the door on her... but she would definitely tell his dad, and she wasn't worth getting grounded for forever. "Silly me. Hey is your dad around? I've got a pipe that could use a little... elbow grease."

"Want the number for the super?"

Stacey finally looked down at him, eyes narrowed a little bit in thought. Sometimes Peter was sure that she knew he was her sworn enemy. He liked to think that she found maneuvering around him pretty freaking difficult sometimes. One of these days he would put up an obstacle so fierce that she would go away and never come back.

Today was not that day.

"Thanks sweetie, but it's nothing to bother the super over. I just need someone with a bit of muscle is all." Which meant she probably had rigged one of the faucets to spray water, that way she could ogle his dad when the guy was wet. She was the worst. "Do you think you can go get your daddy for me?"

"I'm not five," he muttered, kicking himself after. When he got sulky she won, and it was just... just the worst. "And he's busy."

"Really? What's he doing?"

"I dunno. Busy stuff."

"Could you go check for me?" Stacey was half-in their apartment, and Peter was tempted to stomp on her foot. "I just need his help for a teensy second. I'm sure he won't mind."

Peter hated that she was kind of right. His dad was too nice all the time - too nice to tell Stacey to get bent for sure. His dad was always doing all kinds of things for her when she asked. Peter wasn't even sure if his dad liked her or not... but he never got the look on his face around her that he got around Tony. Peter found that pretty encouraging. He just wished that maybe his and Harley's plan was working just a little bit faster. His dad would never cheat on anyone, so if he was dating Tony then Peter wouldn't have to worry about the harpy down the hall.

"I told you-"

"Uhhh... hey! Hi. I came to see Steve and Peter, didn't know there was a line to get in at the door. I get it - very happening place, the Rogers-Parker household - but can I maybe just scoot around you?" Peter almost collapsed in relief; he was always happy to hear Tony, but he had never been this happy to have the man around before. When Tony peeked over Stacey's head (and Peter almost giggled when he realized Tony would be standing on his toes to do it), his eyes lit up once they landed on Peter. "Hey kiddo! I was in the neighborhood, so I figured I'd stop by. Well, I was close anyway. Manhattan is pretty close - closer than, say, Canada for example, so I think it counts. Pepper would say it doesn't, but she's a big old spoilsport so we don't listen to her. Unless she's enforcing the swear jar rules. Otherwise ignore everything she says when you meet her."

As much as he loved that Tony was taking it for granted that he would meet Pepper, he loved the dumbfounded look on Stacey's dumb face even more. He beamed at Tony in a 'thanks' that the man wouldn't understand. Tony still grinned back though, and it was nice to have someone be so happy to see him.

"Tony! I didn't know you were coming over. Are Harley and Laney with you? What did you bring for food? And I think I agree with Pepper, because Manhattan isn't really in the neighborhood. Well, I mean... it's still New York City so maybe technically you could kind of consider them in the same neighborhood if you really wanted to. Kind of a stretch though. Hey Stacey could you maybe like... back up so I can let Tony in?"

Stacey's expression went sour, and it was another summertime Christmas miracle. Those happened a lot when Tony was around. "I need to talk to your dad, Peter."

"Oh. Right. Hey, you know Tony is an engineer. I bet he could fix that pipe of yours faster than my dad could."

Peter wanted to cheer when Tony's expression went sharp, knowing and predatory. The guy definitely sensed that someone was moving in on his turf. "You know, I bet I could. Why don't you let me hand off the Thai I brought to Peter and then I can come right over... Stacey, was it? Any neighbor of Steve's is a neighbor of mine, after all."

That was code for 'back off, he's mine', Peter was pretty sure of that. Stacey heard it too must be, because her lips pursed and then she finally pushed away from the door frame to leave the apartment. The way she stepped on Tony's foot - hard - and didn't even apologize was another strike against her. She had way more than three at this point, but Peter didn't know how to tell her that she was out. Not in a way his dad would approve of anyway.

"Never mind. I'll call the super," she said as she left, nose in the air. He and Tony both watched her go, and when she disappeared into her apartment Peter couldn't help but give a quiet sigh of relief.

"Do we not like her? I don't think I like her. Also, no Harley or Laney today. Rhodey got into town yesterday and he stole both of my children away from me for some fun uncle time. I figured that maybe I could come hang out with you guys instead of sulking at my desk. Also Pepper kicked me out of the office and told me that if I went down to R&D and distracted them with my moping she would start scheduling talks at business conventions again, which I hate. I don't mind colleges and the like too much, but trying to talk to a bunch of stuffed suits about science is just the worst. I brought Thai - do you like Thai? If not we can call and get something different, but your dad mentioned loving tom yum goong and I, you know, just happened to pass one of my favorite Thai restaurants on my way here--"

"So it was in the neighborhood," Peter interrupted with a grin, urging Tony inside before closing the door.

"Exactly! You are exactly right Peter Piper. It was in the neighborhood, just like I was. So that's why I've come bearing food - we were all in the beautiful neighborhood of New York City. Is your dad even here kiddo?"

Watching Tony try to get his shoes off without dropping the bags of takeout was pretty funny, but Peter still stepped forward and grabbed them. "Yeah, he's here. He's taking a shower," he added, willing to give Tony information he would die before telling to Stacey. "He'll be out in a couple minutes probably. Thai is fine so we don't have to call out for anything special for me. Hey, do you think you would maybe want to give a talk at my school sometime? You'd be way more interesting than some of the guys they pull in. I would kill for either you or Dr. Banner to come and give a lecture. If I could get you I'd be like, a hero, because I know that you would make it way interesting. Sometimes they have experts come in and run seminars, but they're usually kind of boring because the people they bring don't know how to interact with kids, you know? It's all 'don't touch anything' and way too many words - I bet you'd bring something hands on."

Tony had followed him into the kitchen while he babbled, and once Peter had set the takeout down on the table he began to unpack it without comment. Even in his suit (which probably cost more than all of Peter's clothes put together) Tony managed to look at home in their semi-shabby kitchen. Peter thought his mis-matched socks, one of which was fuzzy, really helped. He was quick to help Peter get out the dishes, which meant he remembered where everything was from the one time he had eaten dinner with them. It was enough to give Peter a warm, fuzzy feeling.

"You go to Midtown School of Science and Technology, right? That could be a lot of fun. Tell you what, I'll get in touch with the principal and see if we can't work something out. Brucie doesn't do so well in front of a crowd - he gets all nervous which makes him kind of touchy and he has a bit of a temper even if he'd never hurt a fly - but next time he's in town you'll have to come over and we can do some sweet, sweet science. Brucie doesn't blow things up as often as I do, but he runs some pretty fuc... uh. Cool experiments. Steve didn't set up a swear jar yet, did he? He threatened to the other day and even said he would email Pepper to get her rules which is just... dirty pool is what that would be. Pepper's rules are dumb and if she wasn't so terrifying I would ignore all of them. You're an orange juice guy, right? The apple juice is for your dad who has no taste. I'm stealing some of your orange juice for me, by the way."

Tony remembered that he liked orange juice, and Peter would bet all his favorite comics that Tony would never think he was in summer school either. Stacey could definitely take some lessons from him. "Yup! Thanks for getting that stuff. And no, we don't have a swear jar yet. Probably my dad is working on getting those rules. And, uh... could you really introduce me to Bruce Banner?"

Peter didn't get an answer to that question, because his dad decided to ruin the domestic moment by walking into the kitchen. He walked into the kitchen with nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist and Tony promptly went non-verbal. The poor guy's eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open; for a second Peter was worried he was going to drop the jug of apple juice in his hand.

"Peter, did I hear someone... at..." Trust his dad not to realize they had company. Peter rolled his eyes and let the scene play out, because this was probably a good when it came to the plan. "Tony! I didn't realize... I didn't... did we have, uh, plans?" When Peter glanced at his dad, he couldn't help but snort. His dad was bright red and had his arms crossed over his chest as he started to edge back out of the room.

"No plans," Tony wheezed, still staring. "In the neighborhood." Peter practically heard Tony swallow, and he was pretty sure Tony was drinking in the sight. It was sort of gross to think about, but he knew that his dad was, objectively speaking, hot. Even thinking of it threatened to make him gag, but he held it in so he wouldn't ruin the mood. "I like... uh... you towel. Very nice."

He'd never heard his dad squeak before, but he definitely did just that before saying 'thanks' and fleeing the room. Tony still looked deeply affected, so Peter sighed and finished setting the table all on his own. "Breathe," he advised his (hopefully) dad-to-be. "And be glad you saw that instead of Stacey."

Tony scowled at the very thought, then seemed embarrassed by it. "Uh... that's not... I mean... uh. Peter, your dad and me... we aren't..."

There were a few options open to him, but Peter decided he might as well go with the truth. Part of it anyway. "I wouldn't mind if you were," he said quietly, darting a shy look Tony's way. "I think you could make him happy."

That got a strange reaction out of Tony; he looked sort of touched but also sort of dumbfounded. Eventually he settled for walking over to Peter and ruffling his hair. "You just want me to stick around for my connection to Brucie." It was less of an accusation and more of a fond tease. Peter grinned up at him and shrugged before nudging Tony's side gently with his elbow.

"Doesn't hurt," he acknowledged. "But yeah... this is me giving my blessing. Just in case, you know. You wanted to. With him. Just keep the gross stuff away from me. Prolly away from Harley and Laney too."

"Children have no appreciation for romance. Now let's start eating - your dad'll be out in a couple minutes and there's no use letting the food get cold. And hey, did I see a Wii hanging out in your living room, and do you have Mario Kart? Because I'm thinking after we finish up the eating we could maybe go a few rounds. I have to warn you - I'm good. Really good. I'll probably make you cry with my mad skills."

"... mad... skills?"

"Don't be hating on the fact that I speak your lingo, kid. I'm very hip. ... do kids still say hip?"

"Only when old fogeys like you break one."

"Hey!"

By the time his dad joined them, he and Tony had started and then ended a mini food fight. His dad wasn't too impressed with the noodles that were kind of everywhere, but he didn't scold them about it either. And when Tony started going on about how he was going to kick both their 'astrolabes' at Mario Kart, his dad even chucked one of his precious spicy shrimps at the guy.

His dad loved those shrimp. So that he was willing to waste one while playing around with Tony meant something. Peter couldn't stop grinning after that... and not just because of what it meant for their plan. It wasn't that his dad was never happy, because he was. It was just that he was usually happy and serious when he wasn't around Uncle Bucky and Aunt Tasha. He was so involved in being a good dad that he didn't always make time for fun with other people. To have him looking so relaxed and open and playful with Tony was just... it was perfect.

The way Tony squawked when his dad absolutely destroyed both of them in Mario Kart was fantastic. Peter could have told Tony how good his dad was at the game, but it was way better to let him find out for himself. There was a reason everyone but Aunt Tasha refused to play with him anymore. The accusations of cheating and 'ne'r do well'ing that Tony began to throw around were more funny than hurtful and just made his dad start to laugh.

Peter also got a great picture to send to Harley on his phone, because the teasing set off an impromptu wrestling match. He might as well have not been in the room for it, because both men were pretty much focused exclusively on each other as they rolled around on the floor. They were supposed to be fighting over the pillow Tony had hit his dad with, but Peter was pretty sure they had forgotten about that too. When they finally got tired of the fight, his dad ended up lying on his back with Tony draped on top of him. The image was begging to be immortalized and shared, so Peter was quick to snap a picture. Since neither of them seemed in a hurry to get up, Peter decided that was enough video games and put on a movie instead.

And maybe they didn't lay like that the whole time, but they did both stay on the floor. There was definite cuddling going on, and they were totally having their own quiet conversation that they were whispering into each other's ears. It was pretty freaking great, especially because Tony made a point of talking to Peter too. He didn't feel ignored or completely pushed to the side; he felt included, wanted.

Where Stacey kept striking out, Tony was batting a thousand.

He liked that when Tony was lonely and bored he had come right to them. He liked that it felt like Tony belonged with them, and he liked that even if Harley and Laney weren't there it didn't feel weird that he was. Tony didn't even complain when Peter flopped down on top of his legs, just rearranged a little so they could all be comfortable. It was one of the best days he'd had since the baseball game the week before, and he was pretty sure his dad felt the same.

The best part of the afternoon and evening was the way Tony seemed super reluctant to leave. He gave Peter a hug - a pretty awesome hug, a dad-hug - before giving one to Steve. That hug was decidedly different, and Peter was pretty sure he saw both of them lean in before hurriedly pulling apart. Everyone was definitely on the same page here, and even if his dad and Tony weren't dating... maybe he didn't need to worry about Stacey anyway.