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The Silences Between

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“Hey, can I borrow you for a second?”

Tony dodged an oncoming woman, offspring in tow, and ended up flattened against the puke-green wall of Peter’s middle school hallway. “Oh, god, please don’t ask me to join the PTA.” Tony had managed to dodge that particular bullet for most of the year.

The man laughed, and it was such a bright, good humored sound that Tony actually looked at him.

He was, in a word, stunning. From the waves of rich brown hair to the storm-cloud eyes, chiseled cheekbones, and a mouth made for sin. He was also missing an arm.

Well, technically, not missing it, since he was holding up his prosthetic with the other hand. It wasn’t one of those mannequin-looking things, either, made for filling a sleeve and keeping people from noticing him. No, this prosthetic was made from high-carbon polymer, probably printed out on a 3D printer. It was almost the same grey as his eyes, except for the red star on the shoulder. Instead of a hand, there was a set of grippers.

Tony resisted the urge to put his hands on it, the thing was gorgeously done, and Tony recognized it. Stark Industries had made the code for dozens of different functional prosthetics and then made them available for free to anyone who had a printer.

And if someone didn’t have access to a printer, SI had a whole library of them where people could print whatever they wanted for the price of the ink.

“What happened?” Tony wondered if the man knew who he was. They’d managed to keep his adoption of Peter on the downlow, and he kept his original surname, so no one expected Tony Stark to be the father of Peter Parker.

“Just had a bump,” the man said. “The velcro came undone and I cain’t reach back there. Usually my care-- er, my assistant helps me with that sort of thing, but he had another commitment.”

“Oh, sure,” Tony said. The man was wearing a sleeveless shirt and the harness straps were easily visible. “Here, hold it in place.” He knew what to do, he’d designed the damn thing, and had the locking straps tugged into place and tightened in only a few minutes. “You need a snugger fit then that? You’ve got some good muscle tone here.” Tony ran a hand over the man’s shoulder. “Trapezoids are good, deltoids are good. Could use a little work here -- the dorsii? Try some twists, with the prosthetic elevated, like this?”

Tony started to demonstrate and discovered the man was staring at him. “Wow, what are you, a doctor?”

“Technically, I have three doctorates,” Tony said, “but none of them are in the medical field. I’m an engineer. Tony’s my name.” He offered the man his hand. The guy shifted and Tony could see the muscle in his jaw working as he operated the prosthetic. He only had about an inch or two past the armpit, so he was obviously using the muscles in his neck for the gross motor control.

“Bucky Barnes,” he said, clasping Tony’s hand in his right. The fingers were rough, almost as calloused as Tony’s.

“Dad! Dad-- oh, there you are!” Peter skidded up to him, throwing his backpack at Tony. “Hold my stuff, wouldja? I gotta get ready. Hi, Mr. Barnes. Bye, Mr. Barnes.”

“Parker, no running in the--” Peter was already around the corner.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Tony said.

“Good kid,” Mr. Barnes said. He’d introduced himself with a first name, but he was obviously one of Peter’s teachers, and Tony had a hard time thinking about teachers -- even completely hot ones -- by their first names.

“He’s getting by,” Tony said. Which was true. For as young as the kid was, Peter’d been through hell. First he’d lost his parents when he was a toddler, then his uncle when he was eight, and his aunt May three years ago.

“Anyway, thanks for the help,” Mr. Barnes said. “I need to--”

“Nice to meet you,” Tony said. “I’ve gotta--”

They managed to both talk at the same time, and then Barnes cracked a huge, glorious smile. “I’ll see you soon,” he said, clapped Tony on the shoulder, and walked off.

Tony shifted Peter’s stuff around and headed to the auditorium. He found a seat -- they were tiny, uncomfortable seats that squeaked like someone farting when he sat down -- and waited for the orchestra to come in. Peter was finishing his second year on the cello, and this was the school’s spring concert.

It was, in fact, soon, when Tony saw Mr. Barnes again. Barnes was the conductor.

He walked up onto a box in the center of the pit -- and really, was a teacher allowed to wear such tight pants that hugged every curve of his ass and thighs like a lover -- bowed to the audience, and then presented that glorious backside for Tony’s minute study.

For almost half an hour.

Toward the end of the show, one of the students brought out a case to Mr. Barnes. “And for our last number-- some of you may have noticed that I’m missing an arm. This kinda made it a little difficult for me to pursue my chosen profession as a concert violinist. And well, what they say is, those who can’t do… teach.”

Mr. Barnes waited for a laugh from the audience. Behind him, the kids were scrambling to pull out glowsticks? And attaching them to their bows?

“But this year, from some advanced technology given out for free by Stark Industries, I just wanted to add my instrument to the students’ orchestra. So, with my first chair violinist, Mary Jane Watson guest conducting… I give you, Star Wars.”

Mr. Barnes had his violin reversed, bow in his prosthetic hand, flowing a pretty red color, hand curled on the fingerboard. The lights dimmed and each kid had a glowing “lightsaber” for a bow.

And they began to play.

And it was beautiful.

When the music came to its final notes, Tony was not the only parent leaping to his feet to applaud. Mr. Barnes was quite talented, and he’d taught a whole group of eleven year olds to sound like they were born on Tatooine.

When Tony finally found Peter in the crowded hallway in the front of the building-- “That was so good, kid,” he told Peter. “You all sounded fantastic!”

“Thanks,” Peter said. “It’s my favorite song.”

“Mine, too.” And Tony found himself looking at Mr. Barnes. “I… I wanted to thank you,” Mr. Barnes continued.

“For the help? No problem.”

“No, I meant--” Mr. Barnes wiggled his arm around, displaying the gripper and how it rotated. “I… might have recognized you. You’ve got… no idea what you’ve done for me.”

“Mr. Barnes is going back to the orchestra next year,” Peter told Tony. “Not all the time, he’s still going to teach, but--”

“I can play, again,” Mr. Barnes said. “You’ve got no idea what that means. I’d… I’d like to buy you dinner, if you… if that’d be okay?”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Dinner as thank you, or--”

Mr. Barnes shrugged one shoulder, an endearing, lopsided gesture. “Or a date. But--”

“Yes, I’d love to.”

Just out of the corner of his eye, Tony saw Peter giving Mr. Barnes the double thumbs up. Or, Bucky, as the case may be. Tony might have had trouble calling teachers by their first names, but he was pretty good at being informal with his dates.