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Signs of Life

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It started three months after his son was born.

Tony had been terrified of being a father, at first. It had been a one- night stand with a drunken blonde woman whose name he could barely remember, and she had turned around and used the condom to impregnate herself (which, eww) to try and get money from Tony. The case had fallen through, especially when she was arrested for illegal drug use and driving under the influence. She’d had the baby, and now she was serving five years in prison.

Tony had shown up at the hospital after the kid was born to sign the birth certificate and talk to the girl’s lawyer about giving the baby up for adoption. The doctor had asked at one point if he wanted to see the baby, and Tony had hesitantly agreed.

The boy was… perfect. He already had a mess of thick, curling hair on his head, and he was small and wrinkled and pink and so perfect.

“I want one,” he murmured when Pepper stepped around him to peer into the crib.

Pepper smiled. “You’ve got one. Tell the lawyer to kindly piss off and take your son home.”

So he did.

The baby laughed up at him the whole ride home. Tony wiggled a finger in front of his face and smiled when the baby reached up and batted at his hand.

“Have you thought of a name yet, sir?” Happy asked.

Tony shrugged. “I’ve always liked the name Peter.”

At first, Peter was perfectly healthy. He laughed, he cried, he slept in ridiculous quantities and ate anything he could get his hands on. Tony found it odd sometimes that he wouldn’t react if someone dropped something nearby or made a loud, sudden noise, but the doctors told him it was possible he was just a very calm baby.

However, by the time he was three months old he wasn’t making the noises he was supposed to. Tony had read every parental book known to mankind, every book on child development and stages of speech and learning. He decided that if he was going to do this, he was going to go all in. But Peter wasn’t doing what he was supposed to, wasn’t making the sounds he was supposed to make.

Tony took him to a doctor and waited while they performed test after test, for three hours straight. Peter never fussed, except for when they had to take him away from Tony every so often. When he was with Tony, he just played with a little toy bear Tony had gotten him, giggling loudly.

The doctor had come in, taken off his glasses, and smiled in Peter’s direction while he gave Tony the news.

“We think Peter has a hearing impairment.”

It was impossible to know so soon how bad it was, but the doctors guessed that at least 70% of his hearing was gone, and that he had been born that way. One doctor said it was because his mother had been taking drugs while she was still pregnant. Another suggested that she might have a family history of deafness. No one really knew for sure what had caused it, but the fact remained that Peter was almost totally deaf.

It changed everything for Tony. He locked himself away in the workshop for three days, asking Pepper to watch Peter while he worked. When he emerged, he’d invented a program that JARVIS could run that would teach him sign language, and developed a prototype hearing aid to magnify any sounds Peter couldn’t hear. Tony learned sign language within a week and started teaching Peter immediately, using it whenever he could. Peter watched with fascination, apparently delighted that his father was waving his hands so much more than before.

Tony was afraid it wasn’t working, was afraid that Peter wasn’t getting it, until Peter was four and a half months old. He was sitting up by then, so Tony put him on the rug and knelt until Peter could see his hands.

“Hungry?” he asked, making the sign along with it. Peter stared up at him, and Tony tried again.

Peter giggled and made the sign back to Tony, then put his fingers together in front of his mouth. The sign for ‘eat’. Tony considered it his first words.

After that, Peter caught on to sign language almost immediately. He learned ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and ‘food’ and ‘hello’. He would point to objects in the room and wait until Tony signed them, then would imitate the sign with clumsy fingers.

Once he opened his palm and tapped his thumb to his forehead, making a clumsy ‘daddy’, and Tony almost cried.

Peter was deaf, but he was also incredibly smart. He picked up the signs almost immediately, and learned how to react to sounds even if he couldn’t hear them. When Tony dropped a cup in his line of vision, Peter would step back and giggle once it clattered to the floor. He would stare at the TV, even if he had no idea what was going on, and would laugh or cry based on what show Tony put on. Tony started putting on subtitles, and by the time Peter was 18 months old he could already read at a pre- k level. He would mouth along with the words on the screen, acting out for himself what was happening.

For a while, Peter wore his hearing aids without complaint. Tony made dozens of new models, determined to create the perfect hearing aid for his son. Peter’s favorite color was red, so Tony tried to stay within that color scheme.

It was working fine, until Peter was almost two and the media caught on to Peter’s disability.

“In other news, StarkIndustries heir Peter Stark was seen wearing hearing aids today, leaving some critics with the question: will he be able to lead the company if he is severely handicapped?”

“Tony Stark’s son, Peter, was photographed last week with hearing aids in. Now, I'm not saying that he won’t be a competent leader, but is he really what the company needs…”

BREAKING NEWS: STARKINDUSTRIES HEIR DISABLED, INVESTORS WORRY ABOUT FUTURE OF COMPANY

Tony tried to keep Peter away from the chaos, but somewhere along the way the boy must have seen a news report or magazine, and though he wasn’t old enough to understand the entire gist of what was happening, he knew that people were talking about his hearing aids and drawing attention to them. After that, he refused to wear them. Ever.

'Come on, baby, just for a few hours,' Tony coaxed one day. He was signing, now, since Peter was refusing the aids. Peter was sitting in bed, arms crossed over his chest—his version of the ‘silent treatment’. 'No one will see them but me, I promise.'

Peter shook his head vehemently. With one hand, he pushed the hearing aids away. The other remained tucked firmly under his arm.

'Please, Peter, for me. You can do it. Just for a little while.'

Peter shook his head again and buried himself in his covers, eliminating his line of sight and effectively ending the conversation. Tony sighed and stood up. He’d try again another day.

Another day turned into another week, then a month, and then it had been six months and Peter still hadn’t put them in. Tony tried almost every day. He used every method he could think of—bribery, threatening, pleading, bribery again—but Peter was adamant against ever wearing them again.

So Tony resumed teaching him sign language, until he had it almost perfect. He taught Peter how to read lips, as well, so he could know what other people were saying without signing it for him constantly. Together, they developed a way so Tony could get Peter's attention to sign to him. Tony would tap the back of Peter's head twice, and Peter would know Tony wanted to talk to him. They developed other gestures like that as a code of their own— tapping the knee meant Peter needed to speak up, tapping the arm meant he needed to speak softer, and so on. He kept the subtitles on so Peter could continue learning to read, and kept trying every day for the hearing aids.

Tony took them to New York when Peter was two years and three months old, intending to build a Tower as the new headquarters for StarkIndustries. He figured it would give Peter a change of scenery, somewhere else to go besides just staying in California for the rest of his life. Besides, the company was growing, and Tony's side business as Iron Man was better then ever, and everyone knew that the real action was on the East Coast anyways. Plus, Hammer wasn't in New York, and that made Tony feel a hundred times safer.

When Fury called him in during Manhattan, Tony was forced to leave Peter with an old friend in New York until he could come back. Ben Parker used to work for Tony’s father, a long time ago, and he and his wife May had stayed in touch even after Howard died. They knew basic sign language, and agreed to take care of Peter while Tony was off fighting Loki.

'You’ll be good for May and Ben, right baby?' Tony signed. 'Use your words when you can, and don't make trouble. I'll be back as soon as I can.' Peter nodded and opened his arms so Tony could pick him up and kiss his cheek repeatedly. With his index, pinky, and thumb raised up, the boy pressed the sign for ‘I love you’ against Tony’s arc reactor—something he did out of habit whenever he was nervous or had to calm down. Tony found it almost as relaxing as Peter did.

And then Tony was off, onto the Helicarrier—and they fished Captain America out of the ice, who knew?—and into the world of magic and realms and assholes with glowing sticks. Fury kept bringing up his superhero boy band idea, the ‘Avengers’ or some bullshit name like that, but Tony had been rejected from the Initiative for his ‘narcissism’ and ‘self- destructive tendencies’.

In all honesty, he hadn’t had tendencies like that since Peter was born, but SHIELD didn’t know that his son still lived with him so he let it slide. Besides, he didn’t get along with anyone from the team well enough to even consider joining. Except for Bruce, of course, but science bonded them and it was a weak bond at best.

Until Coulson was dead and suddenly they had something to avenge, and then it was on. The group flowed together, blended well, and became a team, and that was good enough for Tony.

Sure, there was that little mishap with the nuclear bomb, and Tony entering the portal and Captain America telling him it was a goddamned “one- way trip”. That last part stung a bit, thinking that he might never see Peter again and he’d grow up thinking Tony had abandoned him, but JARVIS pulled up a picture of him and Peter just before he closed his eyes and that made almost dying worthwhile.

He didn’t mention Peter to the team while they ate afterwards. He figured, with him being in the news so much, they’d all have picked up on it by now, and he didn't see Peter being deaf as something he had to explain to them. It was just what he was, and that was it in Tony's mind.

“So, it’s great that we’ve had our fun little bonding session, but I've gotta pop over to Queens for a sec,” Tony said as they left the shawarma joint. “Anyone wanna cover for me with Fury?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Clint asked. “If you’re getting out of debriefing, I'm out of debriefing. I don’t care if you’re going to get a hooker in Queens, I'm coming with.” Tony was pretty sure Clint was avoiding the certain punishment waiting for him back at SHIELD— even though it wasn't his fault he was brainwashed, SHIELD was sure as hell going to make him feel like it was. He didn't blame Barton for wanting to stay away.

“Definitely not getting a hooker with you, Barton, but you can tag along.” Tony turned to the rest of the group—team, sorry, rest of the team—and opened his arms invitingly. “Anyone else want to take a field trip?”

“I’m not in the mood to listen to Fury,” Bruce said. “I say we drop off Thor and Loki and avoid SHIELD for as long as physically possible.”

Natasha shrugged. “As long as I don’t have to drive.”

Tony glanced at Steve next, wincing in preparation for the ‘we have to follow the rules’ speech that was sure to come. Steve just grinned. “I’m all for skipping meetings,” he replied.

Huh. Captain America was a rebel. Who knew.

--------------------

Steve came out of the ice and they immediately threw him into another team and another life or death situation. Only this time, the team wasn’t a team, it was a ragtag group of individual heroes who ‘worked alone’ and didn’t want to relinquish control in their own different way. It made leading them near impossible, but in the end they listened to orders and took care of their own, so Steve figured it was worth a shot.

Part of him wanted to head out, see the world after 70 years for the first time, but Tony had invited them to something in Queens and Steve had no desire to sit in a stuffy room with Fury listening to how it ‘wasn’t his call’ and he needed to learn to obey orders. He’d heard that speech enough times during the war. It never changed anything.

“So where are we going exactly?” Clint asked once Thor and Loki had taken off. Thor had promised he would return some day, to continue working with the team and to see someone he called his “beloved Jane”.

“I told you, Queens. Bruce is with me. You guys can follow.” Tony hopped into his car and waited while Bruce did the same, and then they were off. Steve chose to follow on his bike. He needed the fresh air right now after that battle.

They parked in front of an older house in Forest Hills. Tony walked through the door like he owned the place (which, now that Steve thought about it, he might have). “May? Ben?” he called. An older woman appeared in the kitchen doorway, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Tony! I didn’t know you’d be coming back so soon,” she said. Tony shrugged and grinned.

“I was in the neighborhood. Literally. Did you not notice the giant green alien lizards running down the street?” Tony kissed the woman on the cheek and pulled her gently towards the foyer.

“Must have slipped right by me. Lucky for us we’ve got all these new robust superheroes in the city,” the woman replied, poking Tony’s arm. “Who are your friends?”

“Meet the Avengers.” Tony gestured and the woman nodded graciously. “Guys, this is May Parker. Her husband’s an old friend.”

“I’ll tell them you’re here. Peter will be so excited to see you.” The woman—May—turned towards the stairs and called up, “Ben! Get Peter and bring him down. Tony’s here with his team, apparently something about lizards in the neighborhood.”

A white haired man emerged at the top of the stairs. “What about lizards?” he grumbled. “It’s always something with this city. The new mayor, the trash buildup, those incidents with that group of four superheroes—”

“Oh, Ben, you sound like an old timer,” May chided. “Bring Peter to the stairs, tell him there’s a surprise for him.”

Ben nodded and disappeared again. May turned to the team and clasped her hands. “I do want to thank you for all you’ve done for this city today, it’s just wonderful.”

Steve smiled. “Thank you, ma’am, we really—”

He was interrupted by a loud scream. They turned back to the sound just in time for a small blur to rush down the stairs and tackle Tony’s legs. It took Steve a second to process that it was a child now clinging to Tony like a koala and jumping up and down.

He was young, maybe two or so years old, and he looked remarkably like Tony. Dark brown, wavy hair, large brown eyes. The child had a hint of freckles across his nose, but other than that he could have been Tony’s duplicate.

Tony’s personality immediately changed when he saw the boy. He leaned down and scooped the child up, swinging him into his arms with a grin. “Hey, baby boy,” he chuckled. The boy laughed and clapped his hands, and Tony nestled him onto his hip. “Were you good for Aunt May and Uncle Ben while I was gone?” He nodded and Tony smiled and kissed his forehead. “Good. Have you been practicing speaking? You’ve been using words, right?” The boy nodded again and turned to point at the group.

“Friends?” he whispered. His speech sounded a little slurred, but Steve assumed that was due to his young age.

Steve noticed that Tony tapped the back of the boy’s head twice. The boy turned and looked up at Tony’s face, and Tony angled down so he could look in the child’s eyes. “This is my team, the Avengers,” he said, slowly and evenly. Steve frowned in confusion. From what he’d seen Tony would talk faster than anyone could keep up with, jabbering away until someone begged him to slow down. “This is Steve,” Tony continued, “and Clint, and Natasha, and Bruce.” As he said each name, he pointed to the person and waited while the boy looked at them before returning his gaze to Tony.

Tony glanced up to them. “Guys, this is Peter,” he said, just as slowly. “My son.”

Wait. What?

Steve glanced around, praying he wasn’t the only one who didn’t know that Tony apparently had a secret son. It looked like he was alone, though, as everyone else simply nodded and accepted it. Natasha was the first to react, carefully wiping her face until only a pleasant smile was left. She stepped forward, extending her hand. “Very nice to meet you,” she told Peter. Peter blushed and buried his head in Tony’s shoulder until Tony tapped his head twice again.

“Use your words,” he said quietly when Peter looked up at him. Peter nodded, chewing on his fingers in thought. He turned back to Natasha and carefully removed his fingers from his mouth.

“Hi,” he said, almost too quietly for them to hear. Tony tapped Peter’s knee once and Peter straightened up. “Hi,” he said again, a little louder this time.

Natasha arched a brow, eyed Peter over quickly, and nodded to Tony. Apparently she had figured something out, something important. Steve was still stuck on the whole ‘Tony Stark, self proclaimed genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist, has a toddler son’ bit.

Tony tapped the back of Peter’s head twice. Peter turned and Tony pointed to Clint. “Show him your secret language,” he said. “He’ll know it, I bet.” Peter nodded and wiggled until Tony let him down, then toddled over until he was in front of Clint. He tugged on Clint’s pants until the archer knelt down to his level.

Peter turned back to Tony, who nodded encouragingly. Peter nodded back, turned back to Clint, and made a series of clumsy gestures with his hands.

Clint’s eyes widened dramatically and he grinned. “No way,” he muttered. Peter nodded vigorously and made a few more of the movements. Clint returned them with a few of his own, and soon their hands were blurring from the speed that they were signaling each other.

“Is that… is that sign language?” Bruce asked. Tony nodded and shrugged.

“He’s almost completely deaf,” he explained. “Been that way since he was born. He has hearing aid, but he doesn’t like using them ‘cause they hurt his ears, plus there was that whole incident with them being on the news and everyone talking about them, so he signs and reads lips, mostly. Just make sure he’s looking at you and speak slowly and he’ll catch on what you’re saying.”

Steve blinked and turned to look at Peter again, who was giggling at something Clint had signed. “Stark, your kid’s awesome,” Clint said without taking his eyes off the boy.

Peter turned to Tony, who knelt so Peter could see his lips. “You wanna go get some ice cream, kiddo?” Tony made a few signs along with the words, careful to keep his hands where Peter could see them.

Peter squealed and clapped his hands. He made a few signs and nodded, so Steve took it as a yes. Peter turned back to Clint and tugged on his hand, urging him towards the door.

“Wait, are we invited to get ice cream?” Clint asked. Tony shrugged.

“My kid seems to like you, god knows why, so sure.”

And just like that, the Avengers became a part of Peter’s life.