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I Wanted to Say This

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"Could you quit being such a prick for like, five seconds?" That's Barton, scowling at him over the quiver laid out on the counter. He's counting his arrows or something, who the hell cares.

"You stop being a prick," Tony wants to say, but that's childish and would only prove Barton's point. Instead he shrugs and says, "Baby, I was born this way," and judging by the way Barton's face is purpling that was the exact wrong thing to counter with.

"Do you have to be so insensitive?" Romanov hisses at him from her place next to Barton, and Tony wants to bang his head on the table. He didn't mean to make a crack at Barton's sexuality, honest -- Tony himself is bi and could care less. But the man's lashing out at everyone and the arguing is giving him a headache.

"I just don't understand why you'd date a man," Rogers says, and he's trying hard to be casual and modern about things, but years of homophobia is ingrained in his system. He honestly doesn't understand and it's taking a toll. "Isn't it still frowned upon in society?"

"Are you 'frowning upon' me?" Barton spits, jamming the arrowhead in his hands straight into Tony's counter.

"Oi!" Tony says, alarmed. "Be nice to my stuff, okay?"

He's collectively ignored. "I'm not frowning upon you," Rogers says, but he's totally frowning, "I just don't think your downtime practices need to interfere with the job --"

"Downtime practices?" Barton repeats. "Interfering with the job? I'm sorry, but when Thor got dumped he was allowed to mope for a week. I'm not allowed to be upset that my boyfriend broke up with me?"

"Do not bring my emotional distress into this debate," Thor says hotly, clutching his hammer. He looks ready to throw it and that makes Tony very nervous. "It is not my fault nor Jane's if you want to demean yourself in this way."

Tony sucks in a breath. He's had that discussion with Thor already, with Jarvis playing translator as the god threw words around that didn't fit in the English language. The AI made certain especially rude words and phrases translate-able by offering his own, politer versions. Thor never uses them often, so Tony knows this is serious for him. By the look of it, Barton's gotten it, too, and so has Romanov. "Wow, Thor," he tries, "don't gotta be so harsh."

"I will speak as I please when my honor is scorned so," Thor says angrily, glaring daggers at the archer.

"Your honor means jack shit to me right now," says Barton, dismissive.

"Uh," Tony tries again, "let's not piss off the god of thunder, okay?"

"I agree with Tony," Bruce puts in from Tony's right, setting down his cup of tea. "I'd rather not risk a rampage. The stress might make my control slip."

"Please don't," Tony squeaks.

"Why is it always about the Hulk with you?" Barton demands. "Is that all you care about?"

"I don't much like killing people and leveling cities," Bruce says evenly. "That's what happens with the Hulk. If we could just diffuse the situation, I'd appreciate it, my blood pressure is skyrocketing and I just --"

"You should be proud of your beast," Thor rumbles, successfully distracted (for now). "He is a worty warrior, unlike yourself."

"I'm fine this way, thank you," Bruce replies mildly.

"At least the Hulk is a worthy team mate," Thor grumbles. "You all are so small and childish. I will not stand for it." He lifts Mjolnir, and Tony flinches as his window gets smashed.

"Hey," he calls, but Thor jumps out the window and flies away. Tony only hopes he won't leave the city.

"What a dick," Barton mutters. They all turn to look at him. "What?" he says defensively. "He was being an ass."

"He's a prince," Bruce says. "Try not to let it bother you."

"Bother me!" The archer glares. "How should I not let it bother me?"

"Your sexuality bothers him," Rogers points out, immediately looking like he wishes he hadn't when Barton turns the look on him.

"You still got a problem with me?"

"It just -- the idea makes me uncomfortable --"

"Then take your discomfort to a different floor!"

Tony leans forward. "Guys, let's just take a minute and --"

"Shut up, Stark." Rogers just shakes his head and storms away, snatching up his comm off the table by the elevator. The doors slide open and close silently behind him.

Tony breaks the silence with, "Did you really have to put a hole in my counter? Yes, you have nice arms, we all know and appreciate this, but next time please take your frustrations and your muscles somewhere that doesn't feature my furniture. Okay?"

Barton looks thoroughly sickened. "You're disgusting," he growls. "What part of 'just broke up with boyfriend' did you miss? And you're pulling that shit?" He scoffs. "I wouldn't go for you if you were the last guy on earth."

That actually stings a little. "Well, you don't have to be rude about it," he mutters, crossing his arms. Bruce pats his shoulder consolingly.

Barton wrenches the arrowhead out of his counter. "You're all jackasses. I need a minute or twenty."

He gets up, snatching his quiver and bow off the damaged counter, and leaves.

Finally Romanov stands. "Really, Stark?" she asks despairingly. "Do you not realize that flirting is the worst possible thing to do at this moment?"

"Sorry," he says immediately, reflexively. "For the record, I don't think I deserved any of the nasty comments directed at me."

She shakes her head. "Think before you speak and it won't be such a problem."

"I do think," he protests. "I just have less time to think when everyone's gearing up to bite each other's heads off."

"Think faster, then," she says shortly. "Do us a favor and don't try to play camp counselor, okay? You're making it worse."

The elevator doors open for her. "Stay put," Romanov says, and she steps into the lift. The doors close.

Tony groans. "Why me?"

"It's for the best," Bruce says consolingly. "You don't have the greatest brain-to-mouth filter, after all."

"Yeah." Tony sighs. "But this isn't entirely on me. Right?"

"Right," confirms Bruce. "Now, I'm going to go find Thor and drag him off to Canada or something, where we won't level cities. And um, maybe consider following Agent Romanov's advice, alright?"

"What, stay put?"

"That." One more shoulder pat. "Be good," Bruce teases, and then he leaves, too. Tony just sits there for a good fifteen more minutes, finishing Bruce's tea because why the hell not.

"Jarvis," he says at last, "activate the trackers. If I'm not allowed to go chasing after them, I at least have the right to know where they are."

"If you say so, sir," is his AI's answer. Of course, this is when the intruder alarms go off.

Of course.

Chapter Text

"Clint! Clint, wait."

Barton pauses, feeling five kinds of unfriendly, and turns around to see Natasha jogging up to him. 

"Hey," she says when she catches up. He just grunts and goes back to stomping up the street. This time, she keeps pace with him. "You know they don't mean it."

"Bullshit," he snaps. He thinks of Stark's eyes and Banner's downturned mouth and Thor's grip on Mjolnir and Rogers's fidgeting and Natasha's silence. It cut deep. 

"Okay, they meant it," she relents, "but not the way you think."

Right," he snorts. To use an example, "Because Thor never takes his own manhood and honor seriously." 

"Thor's from a different planet, Clint --"

"Rogers isn't," and he knows he's starting to get petty but he was hurt and they were jerks and so he feels he has the right. 

"Rogers is from a different time. You can't hold it against him. He's still trying to wrap his head around digital clocks, no matter how well he hides it. You know him -- he's got to completelt understand how it works, not just the fact that it does work. He doesn't get what changed in people yet, is all." 

She's silent for a few minutes after her speech, letting it sink in. And it does. Clint can feel his angry defensiveness fading the longer he thinks about it. It doesn't solve the problem, but the whole situation this morning seems a little less harsh.

"Clint," she tries again. 

"I know," he says gruffly. "It's just -- hard. Stark didn't help."

"Please," she scoffs, smirking, "that was him trying and you know it."

"Pretty pathetic."

"I know." 

She digs into her pockets and pulls out his wallet, tossing it to him. He catches it and wonders how he left it behind. 

She smirks; maybe he didn't leave it, after all. "Bob's Burgers, on you?" 

He rolls his eyes but can't help the smile. "Fine. But no bitching about my extra large chocolate malt." 

**8**

"Doctor Banner, are you well?" 

"Oh, sure," Bruce puffs, flat on his back on half-frozen earth without a shirt or shoes. Or underwear, for that matter. Tony should really work on making stretchy briefs to go with the stretchy pants. "I'm wonderful. Did you have to dump Hulk in the lake? I think I'm going hypothermic." 

Thor grins. "Do not worry," he says, "the flight back to New York will dry you off."

"And turn me into an icicle, and you know it," Bruce returns, making a face. He swears he can feel his back hair clinging to the icy ground as he sits up. 

"A hulksicle?" Thor teases. "Stark will enjoy that name thoroughly."

Bruce groans. "Please don't." 

His grin widens. "We shall see." He offers a hand, which Bruce takes, and helps the smaller man to his feet. "How shall we get home, then?"

Bruce looks around the devastated lakeside clearing, at the shattered ice, the splintered trees, the gaping craters in the cracked ground. It's all a little blurry, which is easily remedied by his.... by his broken glasses at Thor's feet. He shrugs. "We're a good twenty miles away from any sort of civilization," he says. "Do you have your phone?"

"No," answers Thor, "but I have my comm. "Does this help?"

Bruce makes a face. "Not really."  A cold wind blows through the clearing, from the mountains, and he shudders. 

Thor notices. "Are you alright?"

"Cold," Bruce replies, "and half-naked." 

"Ah." Thor nods his understanding. He shivers again, and this time it doesn't stop until there's a heavy cloth draped over his shoulders.

"Thanks," Bruce says, startled. The cape is still warm. Thor smiles. 

"I certainly don't need it," he aays. "Altough I'd like it back sometime."

"I'll have it dry-cleaned," Bruce deadpans, but he really does appreciate it. A thought strikes him. "Hey, Thor?"

"Hm?" 

"Your cape," he says, wondering how to word this, "it's a... sign of adulthood. Right?"

"Indeed," Thor confirms with pride. "It shows all that I have become a man." 

That's what Bruce thought. "And you just let me borrow it." 

"I did."

"Does that... diminish your manhood in any way?"

Thor looks affronted. "Of course not." 

Now to really test the waters. "You're still a warrior and all."

"I am." 

"So.... Steve doesn't have a cape."

"No...?"

"So is he lesser?"

"No." And now he's starting to look suspicious. "Why?"

Bruce wonders if this is really a good idea. Sexuality can't really be compared to a cape, anyway. "Clint doesn't have a cape, either."

Thor stiffens. "I do not wish to talk about this."

"But Thor," he presses, "Clint works with us, too, as an Avenger."

"It is different."

"It really isn't."

Thor huffs. "If I swear to think on this, may we end the conversation?"

Bruce considers this. "Fine."

"Thank you." And he really does look relieved. "Let us attempt to contact the others."

**8**

Steve parks after a few hours to take a breather, to feel something other than frustration and cold wind knifing through his clothes. He's on the outskirts of the city by now, having been driving his bike for the last hour. 

He doesn't really want to think about what happened at the Tower, but he knows he upset Clint. It's just, it's hard to separate his time from now. His morals and laws versus today's morals and laws. 

He does know he upset Clint, though. And he should apologize. He just needs time to figure out how to mean it the way the agent would want it to. And if that means taking time away to come to terms with reality, then fine. The last thing he wants is to mess up with his team mates again. 

He can do this, he thinks. He can be open-minded and not judgemental and work with his team and --

His comm, hooked up in his ear, squeals to life. 

"Avengers," Fury snaps over the line, "call in. Where the hell are you?"

"This is Hawkeye and Widow," Barton's voice comes in, Natasha's voice echoing in the background. 

"Banner and I are still in Canada," Thor announces over the comm, and then, "Doctor Banner! The comm has activated!"

Quieter, "That's great, Thor. Ask them for a ride."

Steve clears his throat. "This is Rogers." 

There's a moment's pause while they all wait for Stark. 

"Anybody seen Stark?" he asks. 

"Stark's unavailable at the moment," Fury says. 

"Sir?" Barton asks. "What happened?" 

"Avengers Tower was attacked," Fury says grimly. "Stark was caught in the crossfire. Get your asses to HQ." 

The line clicks off to a chorus of protests and requests for information. 

Chapter Text

They unwittingly meet up on the common floor of the Tower, weaponry in hand. Natasha looks up from where she's digging a pistol out from between the couch cushions to see Steve marching out of the elevator, shield on his arm. Clint pops out of his room with his quiver slung over his shoulder and freezes when he catches sight of the Captain.

He and Steve eye each other for a moment, eventually nodding in a silent agreement to solve their problems later. 

"Ready to go?" Rogers asks, and Barton gestures with his bow in one hand. 

"Bruce and Thor are already up top with transport," he answers. Natasha says nothing, pocketing her fourth gun and snapping her Bites onto her wrists. "Let's go."

"The elevator won't go past this floor," Steve says, brows furrowed. "Something about damage to the floor above us." 

Clint frowns. "We'll take the stairs, then. Might give us an idea of what to  prepare for if we get a look at the damage." 

"Good idea," Steve compliments, casting the elevator a grim look. 

Clint nods, slightly mollified. "Lead the way, Cap." 

**8**

Steve freezes in the doorway that opens up to the penthouse floor. Clint, only half paying attention, is saved from colliding with kevlar and muscle by Natasha's slim hand grabbing his shoulder and yanking him back into full awareness. He pushes on Rogers's back.

"Cap?" he says when Steve doesn't budge. 

"It's a mess," Steve says, in a worryingly distant voice. He finally steps forward, allowing the two agents to pass. 

What they see shocks them. 

The cliche phrase "it looks like a tornado hit" comes to mind. It's often used in terms of a messy room or a stack of papers hitting the floor. But the penthouse looks like an actual natural disaster occurred within its walls. 

Burn marks and deep gouges scar the walls and ceiling. The hardwood floor is stained, sooty, and splintered in places. Tony's bar is a shambles, glass everywhere and the acrid stench of various alcohols tainting the air. The marble counter is cracked in half. Chairs have been tossed about haphazardly, the sofa's in cottony pieces, the television is sticking out of the wall. Dust and plaster are everywhere. The windows have been completely destroyed. Someone tore off the refrigerator door and pitched it across the room. An Iron Man suit lies in jagged pieces on the carpet. Several rusty puddles of blood of varying sizes soak into the fibers not five feet away from the armor.They all know whose it is.

"Christ," Clint says faintly. He clears his throat when his voice cracks, and tries again. "Shit." 

"Well," Natasha says slowly from Steve's left, "now we have a better idea of what to expect at HQ."

"We should have our own parking spit outside Medical," Rogers agrees. He reaches towards a damaged vase on its cracked pedestal, his hand pausing at the last second before withdrawing. It falls limply by his side. 

"Thor and Bruce are waiting for us on the top floor," Natasha reminds them all. "If they haven't seen it yet, tell them what we've found. We can discuss this situation together." 

**8**

As it turns out, both Bruce and Thor have already seen the disaster that is currently the penthouse. When informed of this, Clint and Steve just sort of nod and go quiet. They seat themselves across from each other in the quinjet -- recently upgraded by Tony -- and fidget in silence while the SHIELD-sanctioned pilot takes off with Natasha in the co-pilot seat. 

Eventually, Thor speaks. "I am sorry, friend Barton."

"'S great," Clint mutters. "I don't really wanna --"

"I'm sorry, too," Steve cuts in. "I've had time to think about it --"

"It's fine," snaps Clint. Just when he's been able to push aside his misery, now he has the breakup to think on along with worry for Tony. Who he might've been an ass to. "Let's just -- who attacked the Tower, and what were they there for?"

"Judging by the damage to the walls," Natasha puts in over the comm, "some offshoot of AIM or similar." 

Steve rubs his hand over his face. "Great," he jokes half-heartedly, "more evil technology I won't understand."

He's referencing the last time they fought an AIM wannabe, wherein Steve misunderstood the green blinking light on one of their weapons as meaning okay to pick up, and accidentally blasted his shield with a blue laser. The laser had ricocheted and hit Natasha in the ass; her uniform turned into pink cotton. 

Clint cracks a small smile at the memory. 

"Yeah," Bruce says flatly, "except how they stole a repulsor straight off Tony's suit." 

A horrified silence falls at the thought. 

Clint breaks it with, "But they would've had to shut down the suit."

"And pry Stark away from it," Steve adds, frowning. 

"But then Jarvis could've --" Natasha breaks off, considering. "Did anybody check on Jarvis?"

A moment of pause, then a chorus of "shiiiiit" and "no" in answer. 

"Well," she says exasperatedly, "he could've answered our questions, don't you think?"

"Either Jarvis or Tony must've had at least some control over the armor," Bruce reasons. "The suit's arc reactor was hidden in the fridge, and the other three repulsor ports were smashed to pieces." 

"That... doesn't make it any better," says Natasha. 

"Jarvis hears our conversations, does he not?" Thor offers. "Can we not call him now?"

Bruce shakes his head. "Tony told me once that Jarvis can only break into the system through his commlink."

"I see," says Thor, visibly disappointed. 

"How bad d'you think it's gonna be?" Steve asks in hushed tones. He's not talking about Jarvis. 

Clint shakes his head.  "We'll find out when we get there." 

**8**

The helicarrier is almost too busy to land on, as per usual. Agents scatter and the deck clears slowly, leaving just enough room for Natasha and the pilot to land safely. Once the engines are switched off, everyone goes back to their business. They all make a point to avoid eye contact with the Avengers as they march to the medical wing. 

Natasha notices. "What's going on?" she wonders in an undertone. 

Clint rolls his shoulders into a shrug as a response. 

The med doors open for them smoothly, doctors and agents ducking past them. The Avengers, even down one team mate, are intimidating as hell. More so, perhaps, when they're here for a missing member. 

Yet, for some reason, the secretary at the front desk looks nothing short of confused to see them. 

"Is there something I can do for you?" he asks, polite to a fault. The Avengers all look at each other. 

"We're here for Tony Stark," Bruce says eventually, a strange look on his face, because who else would they be here for? 

"Oh!" the young man exclaims, understanding. "He's not here. Director Fury asked you to meet him in the cockpit, though."

They all look at each other again. 

"Thank you," Steve says, and they turn around to leave. 

"You're... welcome," the secretary says to their backs. 

**8**

The "cockpit", as it's called, is actually where the team first met. Rows of consoles and monitors attended by agents take up the front half of the room, facing a wall of windows. There's a short set of stairs, and then the controls for the helicarrier, where Fury tends to stand. Behind that is a massive holo-interface table for meetings and declassified debriefings. Doors into labs and meeting rooms line the back wall. 

The team enters cautiously, unsure as to why they're here. Fury has taken a seat at the table, a silent signal to the agents around them that a meeting is in session. Nobody will come near unless there's a life or death situation Fury needs to know about.  

"Take a seat," he says when they come near. They obey silently. "Now," he continues, leaning forward in his seat, "you wanna tell me why you weren't around when Stark needed you to be?"

Clint winces inwardly. "I started an argument," he volunteers. "We all split up to cool off." 

"Is this about your ex-boyfriend?" Fury asks seriously.

Clint just nods, surprised. Fury's gaze sweeps over the rest of the team. 

"And you all had a problem with this?" he says neutrally. 

"Not anymore," Steve promises, then, "well. I'll do my best to make it that way." 

"I as well," Thor says somberly. "I have come to understand that though friend Barton lacks his metaphorical cape, he is no less of a warrior."

To his right, Bruce facepalms. Thor pats his back. "Doctor Banner shall continue to explain it to me in ways I am comfortable to understand," he adds. 

"Sure," Bruce says, voice muffled by his hands. 

Fury sits back. "Is that all?" he demands. "That's it? Your team mate's sexuality?"

They nod. 

He sighs, aggravated. "This absolutely cannot happen again. Your petty argument over nothing -- because Barton's preferences are so far from important enough to split the team, I can't even tell you -- has cost you an Avenger." He reaches into his trench coat and tosses a plastic bag onto the table. 

"What--?" But then Clint gets a good look at its contents. Bruce gasps. 

It's the arc reactor, glowing bright blue like it does when it's under Tony's shirt. There's what Bruce recognizes as the base plate in the bag as well, along with dozens of bolts, wires, and several round metal caps. The metal pipe that houses the reactor is also in there, silicon pieces spilling out of it. A dozen sharp shards of metal threaten to tear the bag open.

Steve pales. "Then he's --?"

"If SHIELD hadn't arrived when they did," the Director says, "Stark would've died. As it is, he's of no use to the team."

"Is he well?" Thor inquires, staring down at the bag of shrapnel and reactor parts. 

"Can we see him?" Natasha questions, resolutely looking everywhere but at the bag. 

"Oh, sure," says the director. He checks his watch. "Right on time, too."

Behind them, a door slides open and closes. The Avengers sit around the table, watching warily as he sits in silence. Then, he jerks to the side with an "oof!" 

"Furry!" a small child's voice says.  A small hand to match the voice tugs on his trench coat. "Furry, you said!"

"I did," he says placidly. "You're right on time. Good job." He reaches down and hauls a toddler on to his lap. The child squeals with delight, arms flailing, until he notices the team. 

"Furry," the toddler says, one hand creeping towards his mouth. His brown eyes are wide and a little fearful. "Who they?"

"They're the Avengers," Fury says calmly. He ruffles the boy's dark hair. "Say hello." 

"Hello," the kid says obediently. "My name is Antony --"

"Anthony," Fury corrects, with a surprising amount of gentleness. 

"-- Anthony," the boy continues without missing a beat, "but Furry says Tony sometimes. So I'm Tony, too." 

Steve makes a choking sound. 

"Congratulations," Fury says dryly. "It's a boy." 

Chapter Text

"Oh my god," Clint says blankly. Tony blinks up at him with wide, innocent eyes.

"Miss Mommy says you're not asposed to say that," the boy says solemnly.

Miss Mommy?

"Tony's right, Agent Barton," Fury agrees, frown firmly in place, but there's something in his voice he's never heard before; he's humoring the kid, Clint realizes, and isn't that something he'd never expected to see -- Fury humoring Tony Stark?

It's surreal.

"Sorry, sir," he apologizes, eyebrows raised. "Sorry, Tony." He has no idea what's going on.

"It's okay," Tony says gravely. "Butcha better watch out. Miss Mommy said she's got ears all over the place."

"I'll remember that," he promises with a helpless glance towards the team.

"You're so cute," Steve finally speaks up, visibly as bewildered as he sounds. "And polite."

"Thank you," Tony says primly before even turning his head all the way. When he finally faces the man, however, his eyes go round. "Are you Cap 'Merica?" he demands, leaning forward in Fury's lap.

"I am," Steve replies uncertainly. Tony's eyes, impossibly, go wider. He swings his head back around to stare at Clint.

"And you're a sikrit agent!" he accuses. Then he whirls back to gape at the rest of the team. "Furry!" he demands, "I want down!"

"Sure, Tony," Fury says amiably, lifting the boy of his lap and placing him on his feet. He immediately darts around the table to gawk at Natasha.

"Lady!" he announces, poinging. She smirks.

"Secret agent," she corrects him, and he grins.

"Agent lady," he amends, and moves on to Bruce.

"Monster," Bruce supplies, nervously removing his glasses and cleaning the lenses. Tony scowls and jabs a finger at him.

"Man 'o science!" he declares. "You got the look," he adds when Bruce's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. "Can tell cuz dad." With a firm nod, he turns to gawp at Thor. Which is perfectly understandable, Clint decides, because it's Thor. Thor is someone to gawp at.

"I am a warrior," the god volunteers, indicating his hammer. Tony's hand lurches up to touch it. "Be careful," Thor cautions, carefully snatching the boy's hand out of the air before it can it can make contact with the hammer's surface. "Mjolnir doesn't take kindly to strangers."

"What's it do?" asks Tony, wiggling his captured hand experimentally.

Thor smiles. "This." He presses the tip of his finger to Mjolnir's surface and draws it away, pulling along a small arc of blue electricity that links his finger to the metal.

Tony shrieks. "Magic!" he exclaims, wresting his hand from the god's gentle grip to point wildly. "Furry! Magic!"

"Magic," Fury says indugently. "That's right, Tony."

Thor chuckles. "If only the Man of Iron were always so easily entertained."

Clint can't help a snort of amusement at the thought. Even Steve cracks a smile at the thought.

"Whatsa a mana iron?" young Tony inquires, eyes bright with curiosity. He tries to slip a hand towards Mjolnir yet again, pouting when Thor prods it away with a finger.

"Nothing to worry about," answers Fury, leaning back in his seat. "Why don't you go find Miss Mommy while the Avengers and I have an important conversation?"

"Conv-?"

"We have to talk about a few things," Fury amends, "not for a little boy's ears."

They're all expecting Tony to get annoyed and argue, but instead he deflates, looking thoroughly put out.

"Okay," he says dejectedly. "Bye, Furry."

"Goodbye," the director replies, watching carefully as Tony toddles to the door, dragging his little feet dramatically. The door slides open before he can get there, though, revealing a severe-looking woman in a blue catsuit with dark hair pulled into a neat bun. Agent Maria Hill marches into the cockpit with a serious expression and an armload of paper. Surprisingly, Tony perks up at the sight of her.

"Miss Mommy!" he squeals, tackling her knees with a hug. She takes a bracing step backwards, grimacing. "Oh," she says, reaching down to gingerly pat him on the back. "Hello.... Tony."

There are so many questions Clint wants to ask. So very many questions.

"Agent Hill," Fury greets her, earning her attention. "Is there something I need to know about?"

She nods crisply, the picture of professionalism despite the small child clinging to her legs. "I do, sir. Stark's results from Medical are in." She indicates the papers she's carrying.

"Excellent," Fury says with some satisfaction. He waves a hand at the table. "Leave em here. You're on babysitting duty."

Indignation blooms. "Excuse me?" she sputters. "I am an agent of SHIELD --"

"And your director is ordering you to keep an eye on an asset," Fury interrupts smoothly. "Look at how cute he is. You don't feel your maternal instincts rekindling?"

"No," she answers shortly. Tony tugs on her thigh.

"Miss Mommy," he squeaks, "you said you'd show me where you work!"

Fury raises a pointed eyebrow; she glowers at him.

"Fine," she sighs, dropping the papers on the desk and taking a delighted Tony's hand. "I'll show you around, again."

He grins as she leads him away. "Thank you, Miss Mommy!"

"My name is Maria," is the last thing they hear her say as the door closes behind them both.

The director heaves a sigh. "So," he asks, "what do you think?"

"I think," Natasha says slowly, "that we've got a problem."

Bruce nods. "How long is this going to last?"

"The Stark-being-a-kid thing?" Fury checks, and at their nods continues. "So far it's looking pretty permanent." The man leans forward and gathers up the papers Hill left. "Follow me. The information printed here is eyes-only and we only have one room without cameras."

Chapter Text

They've been silently sitting in the meeting room for several minutes before someone speaks.

"How permanent is 'pretty permanent'?"

It's Bruce, glasses reflecting fluorescent lights as he stares at the papers in Fury's hands. His own hands are twisted in his lap, fingers twitching as though he wants to get ahold of that file. Or, Clint considers darkly, maybe he's straining for control over the Hulk. Maybe his temper has frayed in the time between talking to Thor and seating himself in Tony's chair.

"We're not sure," answers Director Fury. His face has creased in the minutes after young Tony's departure, wrinkles re-forming as he sheds his calm exterior for something darker and more weary. "It could be a long-term thing, could be reversed in a day. Could be forever."

"How do you mean?"

"I mean he may not change back to an adult," Fury says heavily, "and he'll have to be raised like any other child. We don't have time to hope otherwise."

Silence resumes as that sinks in.

"Physically, he looks fine," the Director continues, glancing down and shuffling the papers. He peers at the top page, squinting slightly. "I swear to all that is good and right in this world, if Medical doesn't change their fucking typing font for these reports I will personally go down and teach them how to realy rip somebody a new asshole."

"Stark did something to their computers," says Clint, expression pinched.

"Oh. Well, fuck," the other man sighs. "Moving on. Like I said there's no physical damage. Actually, he seems to have respect ground into his pores, which I can attest to. Before he recognized me he was all fake smiles and polite bowing. It was goddamn unnerving."

Natasha looks troubled. "He acted nothing like that when he met us."

"Because he had a familiar face in the crowd," Fury says. "It was much different in medical."

"You were around in Stark's childhood?" Clint inquires.

A sharp nod. "I was. His father was an inattentive bastard but he was good at his job. I visited often to discuss Director Carter's way of running things."

Natasha and Clint make little sounds of understanding, while the other three look confused.

"Director Carter?" Bruce repeats.

"Margaret Carter, fondly known as Peggy Carter, was a director of SHIELD," explains Fury. "Howard Stark ran communications and Research and Development. We had to collaborate when I stepped up to the plate."

"Peggy was an agent of SHIELD?" asks Steve, visibly shocked. Fury just nods.

"And a damn good one, too," he replies. "But that's not why we're here.

"Medical has outlined a list of potential problems for us to discuss. Firstly, starting the boy with some education. He can't be home-schooled here, and he can't go without schooling --"

"He's a toddler," Bruce protests, brows furrowed. "And a small one at that. Most children don't go to school until the age of four."

"What you don't understand, making that statement, is that he could be four. Physically, he's pretty small for a kid. Always was. But he doesn't have the proportions of a child just out of infanthood.

"He could, in fact, be as young as three or maybe even late in his twos, you are correct. But he could be older as well. And you need to consider his brain. The kid doesn't need time to learn his ABCs or his 123s. He knows it already. He can describe an object by touch, count to a thousand, and correctly identify individuals by their faces alone. This qualifies him for schooling."

"That's pretty advanced for such a small child," Natasha comments. "What can't he do?"

Fury levels a serious look her way. "He's not fully potty-trained."

Her lips purse. "And that's why you're still considering him to be age three or younger."

"Exactly," the Director confirms. "There is no way his mother would coddle him enough to allow diapers for more than three years -- not with the obvious training in manners he's had at her hand. Maria Stark was a stickler for polite children."

Natasha nods. Beside her, Steve is grinding his teeth, clearly thinking hard about the whole thing. Fury takes the opportunity to continue.

"So education is a must. Secondly, Pepper Potts, CEO of Stark Industries, has been informed that Stark is in deep with SHIELD and will be for several months. She'll cover for us for that long, but you'll have to be prepared to be approached and questioned by her. Don't say a word about the boy.

"Third, the possession of the arc reactor, shrapnel, circuitry, baseplate, and wiring pulled from Stark's chest. For now, it's been locked up in his armory with the spare suit. If he ages normally, he won't have to worry about it. If he returns to his state of being at a rapid pace, it will have to be reinstalled as he ages, in similar conditions to the first time. Medical is currently discussing whether or not they have to include the shrapnel during that operation."

He glances up from the papers to five pale, shocked faces. Since they started, Thor hasn't said a word, and right now he looks nothing short of horrified. There's clearly something on his mind and Fury wants to know what it is. Patience is a virtue, he reminds himself.

"Why does it have to go back?" Steve demands. "Why put him through that again?"

"The wound would open up all on its own," says Fury, gaze returning to the too-small lettering. "Even if we left it to scar over, he would be returning to his previous state of being. He wouldn't have the bone or steady heartbeat the arc reactor stands in for."

"With this in mind," Clint speaks up again, staring at the table, "is it better to just hope he ages normally?"

The director leans back in his chair. "That depends on your line of thinking," he says thoughtfully. "Without Stark, SI's rapid development will eventually catch up to itself and collapse, causing a drop in the economy so large it'll be a blow to the whole country -- the world, all things considered. If Stark returns, SI will stabilize at the price of more trauma than the man might be able to handle." He sets the papers down. "It's a lose-lose situation."

"One man or the whole country," Natasha mutters, visibly displeased. Clint scowls.

"Finally, guardianship. Four agents have been assigned to Stark's care and keeping. You can meet them on the way out."

"No."

Fury looks up again, eyebrow raised. "Pardon?"

Bruce fidgets in his seat, deeply conflicted. "No," he repeats, firmer this time. "We can't just leave him to SHIELD. He's our team mate."

"He doesn't know you," Fury points out. He's sort of surprised, you can see it on his face. He'd figured if anyone would protest it would be Rogers, but the Captain remains mum on the subject.

"He would do it for us."

"That's true," Natasha murmurs, face twisting. "He wouldn't let us out of his sight."

Clint shrugs. "You're right. He wouldn't. I've got some experience with kids. I'm sure a little genius like baby Stark isn't that much different."

Still, Rogers hesitates. "We're far from prepared to raise a child," he argues. "Not to mention, the Tower is a highly targeted place. There's still damage on Stark's floor, even. And aside from Clint, I doubt any of us are equipped to handle a kid."

"You're Captain America," Clint protests. "You're as kid friendly as it gets."

"Kissing babies and being in comic books hasn't taught me how to manage a child," Steve says flatly. "I'm not comfortable with this."

"Rogers has some good points," Fury says neutrally. "Are you sure you can handle this? Barton can't do all the work."

"I believe..." Thor finally open his mouth, eyes shadowed. "I believe our team would be successful in this endeavor."

Clint's hand slaps onto the table. "Thor spoke in our favor," he announces, "we win."

"It's not that simple," Fury starts to say, but his phone rings. With a sigh, he takes it out and checks the screen.

There's a video of a walking mound of leather with brown hair, an eyepatch slung around a pale neck. Tony is so small the leather coat drags across ths ground as he hops between the two control screens in the cockpit. Fury watches, alarmed, and barks, "Brace yourselves!" right as a small hand meets the left screen.

The Helicarrier tips.

Papers go flying as the room tilts wildly. The only things stable are the table, chairs, and Thor's hammer, bolted down or magnetized to the floor.

"Hill," he snaps into his phone, video still playing, "fix this right now!"

"He's having fun," she replies instantly, laughing.

"You --" Cutting himself off, Fury finds his sea legs and marches out the door and down the corridor, a trail of tripping Avengers like baby ducks behind him.

Agents scatter as he stalks his way into the cockpit, straight towards the giggling leather coat. He stops right behind the controls, arms crossed.

"Anthony Edward Stark," he starts, and the coat shrieks, tiny hands flailing.

"Look, look!" The top of the coat slides down some, revealing a hopeful face. "Miss Mommy helped me be a pirit captain too! I gotta eye patch!" He lifts the one around his neck. Both the coat and the eyepatch clearly belong to Fury. His withering glare snaps to Hill, standing a few feet away with her hand over her mouth while she laughs helplessly.

"Babysitting done right," she chokes out. He remains unimpressed.

"So you're a pirate captain," the director sighs, turning back to the other giggling mess. "Budge over."

The giggling slows and Tony edges sideways, giving the man room to slip closer. The Avengers stare as he hefts the boy up to his hip and presses a button with one hand. Slowly, the Helicarrier stabilizes.

"Now," says Fury, "you can be a pirate captain all day, but nobody's gonna listen to you unless you steer your ship right. Got it?"

"Goddit," the boy says solemnly. "Show me how?"

"Sure." His eye snaps to the gawking Avengers. "You have four days to baby-proof the Tower. You will submit to regular checkins by SHIELD. You will research dietary habits for small children. You will not argue over your fitness to care for children or anyone's personal life. As of four days from now, you won't have a personal life to worry about. I expect to see a learning curriculum, doesn't have to be perfect, by Saturday. Agents will drop by with additional details. If you --" he eyes the smiling child, "if you mess up once, he's back with SHIELD and you don't get a second chance. Do you understand?"

He gets a chorus of "yes sir"s and similar in response.

"Good," he says with an air of finality. "Now get off my ship."

Chapter Text

The flight back to the Tower is quiet. Clint watches the world go by out the windshield, contemplating their situation. He shares the occasional conversational glance with Natasha, who’s thinking just as hard behind a neutral mask.

 

There’s a lot to think about regarding the snap decision the Avengers have made. On paper it seems like the right thing to do; in practice, Rogers had a point back there. None of them are equipped to handle a child. There’s a huge mess to clean up, a penthouse to childproof… not to mention consuming every bit of knowledge about child development and psychology they can get their hands on in such a short amount of time. Beyond that, Tony’s progress is clearly abnormal in several ways. Just don’t ask Clint to name any of them, because he knows exactly fuck all about any of this.

 

It’s the same for Natasha. Her shrug tells him that she’s retained only the most basic of knowledge, and likely only in how to talk to children to get them to do her bidding or get them out of the way.

 

Steve is clearly uncomfortable with handling children. Not just from his words back in the cockpit, but also in how he’s seated now. When Clint glances behind him from the copilot’s chair, he’s sitting ramrod straight with a faraway look in his eyes. He’s also frowning slightly neither he nor Thor really ever got the poker face down. His mouth isn’t actually downturned, which  at least means he’s trying, but there’s tension around his eyes and a line between his brows that’s very telling. After the incredibly awkward fiasco from earlier today, he probably doesn’t want to start shit by saying something confrontational.

 

It’ll come out eventually, though. Captain America always speaks his mind.

 

As for Bruce and Thor, well….. He’s not really sure where Thor stands in regards to all this. His vocal support doesn’t mean much in this case. They’ve got no idea how Thor is with children and no opportunities to witness Asgard’s child-rearing as a whole. Greeting kids on the street is one thing. Having a crying toddler in your ear at three in the morning is a whole nother thing. And in terms of Bruce’s ever-tenuous control of the Hulk, things might not go well. SHIELD can never decide whether Banner is enough of a threat to lock away or enough of an asset to allow him to run around under simple observation instead. Clint himself isn’t sure, either. The doctor is a nice enough guy, really. The Hulk? Not so much. Too smash-happy.

 

Damn. The more he thinks about it, the more he wonders what the hell Fury was thinking when he agreed to let them take the kid in.

 

They touch down on the landing pad and file out of the jet in silence. The broken glass has been swept up by the dozen SHIELD agents currently crawling around the penthouse, carefully and deliberately staying only to the public areas of the penthouse common area. They had to have gotten Potts’ permission to come up here, god knows what they had to say to get in. She’s aware that Tony would never normally go for it. The man, surprisingly, does his own cleaning. Natasha says that it’s because he doesn’t trust anyone from the outside to do it, and Clint kinda gets that. Especially with the whole “don’t hand me anything” tic the man’s got. That’s a little out of bounds even for normal genius billionaire eccentricities.

 

The silence is only broken when Bruce opens his mouth. “Jarvis--” he calls absentmindedly, then visibly double-takes when the AI doesn’t respond.

 

“That answers that question,” Clint can’t help but comment, disappointed. It makes sense, though. From what he knows (and SHIELD doesn’t), Jarvis would never sit quietly by while Tony or the team struggled. Still, a shadow passes over the doctor’s face.

 

“I’m gonna go check out his mainframe,” he says in a low voice. The team collectively nods and Bruce breaks away from them, stepping carefully around the dark stains on the floor on his way to the elevator. It does an eye scan before allowing him in, and he glances back at the marks on the floor before disappearing behind the doors.

 

SHIELD cleanup does topical damage first, deep cleaning last. Those stains won’t go away for hours.


Rogers casts a troubled look around the open space. Aside from the cleanup crew, the area is now basically empty. The broken furniture and decor has been cleared away, including the cracked vase Tony never let anyone touch.

 

“They’ll be gone in a couple of hours,” Natasha offers, gesturing to the crew with a tilt of her head. “We can wash up and meet when they’re done here?”

 

“Good idea,” Rogers compliments her. He looks overwhelmed; just as Clint is starting to realize the enormity of their decision to parent a genius toddler, Steve has had this on his mind since he first laid eyes on tiny Tony. “Are we agreed, then?”

 

“Sure,” he agrees, as does Natasha. Thor strides off toward the elevator with a contemplative expression. After a pause, the rest of them follow.

 

Three hours and fourteen minutes later, he, Natasha, Steve, and Thor meet back up in the penthouse living area. The couch was torn to shreds, so there’s a cheap but visually similar version out while the proper replacement is presumably on order. The four of them sit, waiting on Bruce, who they texted with a request to come up as soon as he finishes assessing the potential damage. Normally, at this time of day, they would all be settling in for dinner. It’s supposed to be Tony’s night to decide, and he usually chooses takeout of some sort since his only other option is cooking aggressively healthy food. With lentils . Natasha hates lentils. Stark didn’t even know what boxed mac n cheese was until (surprisingly) Bruce’s first night on cooking duty.

 

But Tony’s not here right now.

 

The elevator chimes softly, the doors sliding open to reveal a tired, rumpled Banner. He’s mid-yawn when he steps into the room, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

 

“I tried,” is what he says when he catches them all watching. “There wasn’t any actual physical damage. Tony set up a bunch of manual quick fixes. The part that wasn’t quick was figuring out how to get to them,” he added with a wry smile. “Hopefully I did it right, or we’ll only ever hear Jarvis again if we stop by the Malibu house.”

 

Seemingly on cue, a muted hum kicks up around the room. It’s the not-noise of electricity, the kind you don’t notice until it’s gone. Or unless you’re Natasha, who perked up a split second before it started. Thor smiles, slow and wide.

 

“Jarvis, my friend!” he calls, jumping to his feet. Rather than immediately respond, there’s a series of quiet beeps.

 

Bruce’s half-smile fades. “Maybe I didn’t….” he trails off. Thor wilts.

 

Steve stands up, prepared to put some hands on shoulders or something equally supportive-Captain-like when Jarvis finally speaks.

 

“He’s gone, isn’t he?”