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There's A History Between Us (and people think it's mine)

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It's a typical Thursday, which means, typically, they'd all be on Tony's ridiculously comfortable wrap-around sofa, watching something that adds to the pop-culture education of one or more of them, since there are a lot of gaps in their collective experiences.

Movie night means popcorn in half a dozen different flavours and tubs of artisan ice cream. Movie night means openly snuggling, especially the kind of snuggling that leads to Tony getting to smoosh his cheek into Steve's firm pects and curl a protective hand over his abs, while Steve pets Tony's back, right between his shoulder blades, with one huge, warm hand.

Movie night should not come with monsters hijacking the subway, unless, of course, it's the plot in the latest B-movie to hit cult status on cable.

“This sucks,” Tony moans, sure he can smell over a hundred years of subway filth even though his filtration system is state of the art.

The monsters aren't even satisfying monsters, the kind Tony gets to dispatch with a repulsor to the face. They're something like hard-light holograms, projected by some little shit with an amulet who looks like he should be at home back-talking his parents rather than terrorising commuters.

After a protracted, pointless battle where they all get their fair share of unpleasant bumps and bruises, Hawkeye eventually knocks the amulet out of the kid's grasp with a sneaky trickshot. Without it, he's less master of magical might and more teenage angst and poor hygiene.

“You haven't seen the last of me!” he shrieks while two very tired looking police officers escort him away.

“Whatever,” Tony says. “Let's get out of here. I have a tub of butter pecan with my name on it. Literally.”

“Sir,” JARVIS interrupts with a hint of apology in his voice. “I regret to inform you that Stark Tower is currently being evacuated due to a suspicious parcel left outside the Avengers private entrance.”

“Son of a bitch,” Tony growls.

*

Back at the Tower, there are cordons of police cars and a handful of officers trying to convince the evacuees and nosy passers-by to move back another fifty feet or so. A group of reporters, complete with camera crew, are the most resistant to being moved along.

“You can't come any further,” one officer insists as Tony steps up to the barrier.

“It's my building,” Tony protests. “It literally has my name on it.”

“Waiting on the bomb squad. Until they clear the scene, nobody passes this tape.”

“Who needs the bomb squad?” Tony asks. “I have the suit.”

“Tony,” Steve says warningly. “They've got a job to do. It's their area.”

“Until a few years ago, I made bombs for a living. I was the bomb guy to rival all other bomb guys. I have literally disposed of a nuclear warhead with my suit and you want me to wait for the guys from The Hurt Locker to come and blow it up?”

“Yes,” Steve says.

“Uh, no,” Tony replies.

With a short burst of repulsors, Tony neatly jumps the cordon and lands about a car-length away from the package. There's a bunch of shouts and scrambling behind him, but he ignores it.

“Let's see what we've got here,” Tony says.

The box is the kind of thing you'd move house with - cardboard, a bit crumpled, the four flaps on top loosely folded shut.

“What are we looking at, J? C4? Pipe bomb?”

“No explosive devices or chemicals detected,” JARVIS says after a pause.

“So it's empty,” Tony says.

“Heat signature and one life sign detected,” JARVIS adds.

“Hostile?” Tony asks.

“I do not believe so,” JARVIS says.

Tony takes a few steps closer and reaches for the box.

“Tony, no!” Steve shouts.

That's when the siren begins, a steady, escalating wail that raises the hair on the back of Tony's neck and makes him flinch. He doesn't back away, though, because after that first terrifying second, he recognises it.

A moment is all it takes to open up the box and confirm his suspicion.

“I think you're right, Cap,” Tony says. “This isn't my area.”

In the bottom of the box, on a folded blanket lies a baby.

To the baby's onesie is pinned a card, on which is written a single word in thick, black, accusatory letters.

YOURS.

*

A few quiet words to the officer in change and it's agreed to move things off the street. Tony picks up the box as-is and pushes through the door, the rest of the team and two of New York's finest on his heels. It's a snug fit in the elevator, but they manage it.

“We're gonna need the box for the trace analysis. And the note,” one of the officers says.

“Sure. I've seen CSI,” Tony says, for no other reason than to make them wince.

The elevator doors slide open. For want of a better place to put it, Tony shoves the box-with-baby onto the breakfast bar. A few seconds later, he's stepped out of the suit and onto the smooth tile floor. After the evening he's had, he could really use a drink.

“Someone from CPS will be here within the next two hours. If you volunteer a DNA sample now, things'll go a lot faster,” the officer labelled Wares says.

“What things?”

“Establishing parentage,” she says, a little slowly.

“Wait. No,” Tony says.

Tony looks from one police officer to the other, to the baby that's somehow ended up going from in the box into Clint's arms when he wasn't looking.

“I do not have a random box baby. I have not had sex with anyone capable of giving me a random box baby in over a year,” Tony says.

“Kid's maybe a year old, sir,” Officer Liu points out. “A year, plus nine months...”

“It's impossible,” Tony insists.

“We should all get tested,” Bruce says into the awkward silence. “The note didn't give any names. We all use that door. Just because it's Stark Tower doesn't mean the message was meant for Tony.”

“Thank you,” Tony says. “At least someone's talking sense.”

He'd feel a lot better if the sea of faces around him weren't all showing a heavy degree of doubt.

*

They've all been swabbed and talked to by CPS and the police. Tony's repeated his statement of denial and been taken about as seriously as the last four times he said it.

The box baby has grizzled a bit and laughed and whined and made a truly appalling smell that only dissipated when Clint carried it off to the bathroom with a disposable diaper and a box of wipes that the CPS lady produced from her voluminous bag.

“You're creeping me out with the daddy skills,” Tony says when Clint returns. “Are you sure it's not yours?”

“Used to mind the acrobats' babies when they were rehearsing,” Clint says, jiggling the baby again to make it giggle. “Pretty sure not, since I always wear a raincoat.”

“So do I, and yet everyone in this room is still judging me.”

“And baby's a he, for the record,” Clint says.

“I made it this far without a legitimate paternity suit filed against me, you'd think that would count for something,” Tony grouches.

“It only takes one fuck-up and one little swimmer going the distance,” Clint points out. “Can any of us really say we've never had one night we weren't as cautious as we should have been?”

“The zen is also freaking me out,” Tony says.

“Well, he doesn't have the unfortunate Barton nose, so I'm feeling pretty confident, here,” Clint says with a smile.

Tony assumed that CPS would whisk the kid off and they'd hear back in a few days what the lab tests yielded. He was wrong. Apparently, they were chronically short on foster homes even before the Battle killed a bunch of people and forced a whole lot more to relocate to other towns and cities, ones without giant alien corpses in the rubble of their apartments.

“We know you've all got clearance to be around kids, since you would have to be vetted to visit schools, hospitals and shelters,” the CPS lady says and Tony nods, because he supposes Pepper must have smoothed things over with the judicial application of forms in triplicate at some stage. “And at least one of you has obviously cared for an infant before,” she says, gesturing at Clint, who's doing this little funny shuffle that's almost a potty-dance while the baby drools all over his tac suit. “Since we're expecting a DNA match, it's probably least disruptive if he stays here for the time being. At least until we know one way or the other, or a good local placement opens up. Shouldn't be more than a day.”

“I looked into fostering about ten years ago,” Bruce says quietly. “It was in a different state, and I imagine it's all expired by now, but they should still have my paperwork on file somewhere.”

The CPS lady's face lights up. “I'll look into that, if you'd be willing to sign a release.”

“Absolutely.” Bruce looks around the room at the curious gazes of his team mates. “I had a low sperm count. Doctors didn't think we'd be able to conceive without a donor. But then while we were partway through the process to become foster parents, our research got funded, and I thought maybe it'd hold the answer. That maybe we'd get a baby of our own.” He shrugs. “It was a nice dream.”

The CPS lady (who is apparently called Diane) leaves them with a packet of diapers, a tin of formula, some bottles, a folding... cage... thing that apparently doubles as a bed, and, of course, the baby himself.

Great.

*

He's so turned upside down by the whole crazy mess of random box baby and awkward revelations hour that he doesn't realise just how angry Steve is until he's trailed after him to their suite to strip out of their combat gear.

Tony's seen Steve angry before, of course. He's seen him fuming and furious, spoiling for a fight and burning with righteous indignation. He's seen him worn down by the wheels of bureaucracy, offended by injustices and disgusted with himself for weakness or failure.

Tony's never seen Steve so mad that he's utterly blanked him. It's as if Tony isn't even in the room.

“Are we going to talk about this or just skip straight to the make-up sex?” Tony ventures.

Steve stills for a pregnant moment, then continues stripping down until he's left in his underwear.

“Not that I'm generally a fan of deep and meaningful conversations, they tend to lead to awkwardness and crying, and I'd rather... avoid that if...”

Steve leaves the room. He just up and leaves. The bathroom door closes and a moment later the shower turns on.

Tony walks over and carefully tests the knob. The lack of play tells him immediately that it's locked.

With JARVIS, Tony can open any door he likes in the Tower. Not that it's a privilege he abuses often, or... at all, really, but for a moment, the temptation is overwhelming. He wants to just push in there, shout it out and then... bam. The air would be clear and there'd be nothing to do but make up.

But on the other hand, Tony's very aware of the significance of that closed door and knows that forcing entry where he is very obviously not wanted may be the final straw.

Guessing he's not going to be welcome if he sticks around, Tony slips on a clean pair of jeans and one of his most comfortable tees and rides the elevator down to the workshop, his bare toes curling, bare and tacky, against the metal floor.

*

He'd travelled upstairs for his favourite blend of coffee to power on through after a night with no sleep, and he'd stumbled into an impromptu team breakfast.

The baby is on Bruce's lap, feeding himself chunks of banana that Natasha is tearing off and handing him. Whenever what's in his hands is eaten or smeared on something, he lets out an ear-splitting non-word for another.

Clint has his phone out and is either taking video or a million pictures, and Steve...

Steve is smiling. A shy little smile, kind of happy in a way that floors Tony.

Dictator baby yells again and Tony's head throbs.

“Oh, God, make it stop,” Tony groans.

They turn to look at him together, as though they hadn't noticed his arrival.

Steve's little smile vanishes and he stares down into his plate.

“Better get used to it, Stark,” Natasha says with a crooked grin.

“I won't have to get used to it,” Tony says, shuffling to the coffee machine. “Because it's not gonna be mine.”

“And if it is?”

Steve's voice is so quiet Tony barely hears him across the kitchen.

Tony hears the chuckle that bursts out of himself and marvels at how sad and bitter it sounds.

“Forget me, what about you? Lonely man out of time finds one night of happiness with a girl and makes sure he's gone by morning...”

“That's ridiculous,” Steve says.

“That's biology. Tell me one reason your super-sperm couldn't've made you a daddy,” Tony goads.

“Because I wouldn't do that,” Steve protests.

“Jumped into bed with me pretty quick for a first timer,” Tony says, the smile on his face sharp and horrible. “Was it because you'd heard I was easy or because you were desperate? Just so I know what to tell the ghost writer of my memoirs.”

Steve's face flushes and he's opening his mouth when Natasha's fist hits the tabletop with a crash.

“Walk away. Now,” Natasha says and Tony just breathes for a moment in the pindrop silence. Even the baby's startled into staring rather than vocalising.

“Fine, whatever,” Tony says.

He's halfway back to the elevator when he pivots and calls over his shoulder, “Just for the record, when you're having your girl talk in about thirty seconds and telling him what a mean slut I am, remember that I'm the one who didn't want to let this shit fester last night and he's the one who shut me down without letting me say a damn thing.”

*

Tony does angry science for about an hour and then switches to angry car maintenance when JARVIS shuts off his access to the fabricator. Apparently, making highly unstable systems just to see what happens is against some pesky protocol Tony programmed into him when he wasn't thinking about how much he needed Mythbusters-style explosions to fulfil him as a human being.

He's wrestling with a bolt when his music drops down below 'baby screaming for food' level to something very boring and almost inaudible.

“I never said you were a slut,” Steve says from where he's hovering in the doorway.

“No, you stuck with 'strongly implying it' like a champ, though,” Tony says.

“I don't think it,” Steve insists.

“You'd have to be immune to modern media to not see it, though. Everyone says it. I bet ninety percent of my SHIELD file's like my little black book without the fun,” Tony says, giving up on the bolt and wiping off his hands on a rag.

“You're reckless,” Steve says.

“You think I'd knock some girl up just because I'm too arrogant to think it'll happen?” Tony demands.

“No, but you could have blown yourself up because you couldn't be bothered to wait!” Steve snaps, his voice echoing off the walls.

“Oh,” Tony says. “Oh. The bomb. We're fighting about the bomb.”

“You're damn right we're fighting about the bomb,” Steve snarls.

“Oh, thank God,” Tony says and crosses the space to seize Steve in a hug.

Steve huffs, once, twice, then curls his arms around Tony's back and squeezes him tight.

“You're reckless and you never follow orders and you just flew in there, when there could have been anything in that box, could have been anyone watching with a trigger, just waiting...”

“I know,” Tony says. “I know.”

“You act like you're invincible and disposable all at once and one day, you're gonna fly right in while I'm screaming at you to get back and it won't be a baby, it'll be the thing that kills you. And when it does, it's gonna break something inside me, something that I've had to fix too many times already.”

Tony pats Steve's back, between Steve's shoulders, the way Steve does to him when they're cuddled up close. Steve's not crying but he's shaking, just a fine tremor under his skin that Tony tries to soothe with touch and gentle, wordless murmurs.

“When I got outta the shower and saw you were gone, I punched a hole in the bedroom wall,” Steve confesses.

“It's just drywall,” Tony assures him. “It'll mend.”

*

“Oh, good, you're not dead,” Natasha drawls.

“Damn, no bruising,” Clint grumbles.

“That you can see,” Tony says and wiggles his eyebrows.

“I was sure you guys were gonna swing at least one punch,” Clint says. Clint's laying on his back on the rug with the baby's torso balanced on his feet so it looks like he's flying.

“No fighting, but we did wrestle for a while,” Tony smirks. “That kid is going to throw up in your face and I am gonna laugh my ass off when he does.”

“Oh, baby, don't do that,” Clint says, mugging sadness. “I don't wanna have to clean puke outta my ears.”

“So, are you good?” Bruce says.

“We're fine,” Tony answers.

“Even with the kid?” Bruce asks.

“Even if the kid was mine, which he isn't, we'd be fine,” Tony says.

“I'm considering a demerit system for running towards explosions, though,” Steve says.

Natasha coughs something that sounds a lot like 'hypocrite' and Clint laughs so hard he nearly drops the baby. Steve's quick hands swoop in and grab him before placing him down gently on the rug. He starts aggressively crawling away, a goal obviously set in his tiny mind.

“So, the kid,” Bruce says slowly. “Even if I had been... with anyone, it'd be unlikely to be mine,” he says.

“Two years ago I was shadowing Stark,” Natasha adds. “I had a cover to maintain, so I didn't sleep with anyone. And that wardrobe was not designed with hiding baby bumps in mind.”

“Very true,” Tony says and gets lost for half a moment before Steve elbows him in the ribs. “Oh, right, we're sharing. Two years ago I was dying so I wasn't nailing anyone, just drinking chlorophyll watered with my own tears.”

“Not just chlorophyll,” Natasha corrects him.

“Still not nailing anyone,” Tony says. “It would have been hard trying to explain the disaster area that was my body right then without scaring people away. Heavy metal poisoning? Not sexy.”

“I don't think it's me,” Steve says tentatively. “I mean, there was a girl, once, not long after I woke up. But I don't think the timing's right, and I used a condom.”

“Did you bring the condom?” Tony asks.

“No, she had it in her purse,” Steve says. “Is that important?”

“Some people stick pins through them,” Tony says.

“Why?”

“To get pregnant on purpose and trap someone into a relationship, or into paying money,” Tony says. “It's spiteful but people do it, especially if the mark is rich or famous.”

“Then why keep the kid so long? Why not come forward when she knows she's knocked up?” Clint asks.

“Point,” Tony says and there's a pause.

“My turn, huh?” Clint says. “Couple of years back, I had a kinda steady thing with a guy,” he admits. “If this kid's the age we think, then I'm out of the running. Plus, the nose. His nose is too pretty to be a Barton's.”

“You were faithful?” Natasha asks, nudging him with her toe.

“I was, yeah,” Clint says.

“So we've got a kid who was dumped on our doorstep with the word 'yours' pinned on him and no idea why,” Steve summarises.

Bruce sits up a little straighter, suddenly. “He's a mutant.”

“What?” Clint asks.

“If he is, it'll show up on the test,” Tony says.

“Don't need to see it,” Bruce says. “Take a look.”

They all swivel to look, just in time to see the baby climb high enough up the wall to pat at the ceiling.

“Oh,” says Steve faintly.

“Awesome,” says Clint with far too much glee.

“I'll get the suit,” Tony says and does just that.

*

The kid, whom Clint has dubbed 'Spiderbaby', is very unhappy with the rudimentary tether system they've developed to keep him at ground level and grizzles irritably to let them know this.

“Yeah, baby, I know, grown-ups suck,” Clint says.

Somehow, they've all ended up on the mat with the kid and he's crawling from one to the other of them, trying out his best sad face in hopes of gaining freedom. He doesn't find anyone willing but he does discover that Steve is happy to give out consolatory cuddles. That's why Tony's currently sharing Steve's chest with a toddler who's chewing on a couple of Steve's lovely fingers with his tiny baby teeth.

It's revolting, in a somehow completely captivating way.

“Think he might be getting another tooth,” Steve hums. “I can feel this hard line under the skin, like it's just below the surface.”

“So what happens to him?” Clint asks. “'Yours'. Could mean, 'You're all freaks, so here, have this freak kid. He's one of you.' What if the tests come back and it's just some random mutant kid with a mutantphobe mom who didn't want him?”

“I don't think Xavier's takes kids this young,” Bruce muses. “Most kids don't present with mutations until they're close to puberty. I doubt there are many foster parents qualified to deal with a wall-crawling one-year-old in the US, let alone in New York State.”

“Foster care is bullshit, anyhow,” Clint says, picking at a fraying thread on the hem of his t-shirt. Natasha threads her fingers through his hair and scratches gently at his scalp with her nails.

“It can be,” Bruce says, nodding. “Doesn't mean there isn't a need for it or that it can't be done right.”

“You're thinking very loudly,” Tony says. “I can hear the cogs grinding from here. You want to keep him, don't you?”

“What?” Bruce says, startled. “No. Well, of course, but no. I'm too dangerous. We're all too dangerous. There just has to be a better solution than throwing him into the system and hoping for the best.”

Natasha looks thoughtful. “I have an idea.”

*

Nick Fury is quietly furious even when faced with a cooing baby via Skype. Tony is impressed and reassured that some things remain a constant.

“Let me get this straight,” Fury seethes. “You want me to re-purpose highly specialised technology vital to world security to find your mutant mascot a forever family.”

“We have algorithms that could use his DNA sample to search national databases for a close familial match. Even if he doesn't have any, we might find out his name,” Natasha presses.

“Nice pitch. I'm gonna save you all a lot of time,” Fury says, folding his hands in front of him. “The kid's name is Peter Parker. He's got an aunt and uncle in Queens who are sitting down with CPS right now, jumping through hoops to bring him home.”

There's a collective noise of surprise, save from Natasha, whose eyes narrow. “I don't recognise the name. Ours?” she asks.

Fury shakes his head. “The CIA sent out some feelers to other agencies this morning, including SHIELD. Official story is, two of their agents went dark without warning two days ago. Young couple with a kid. They were more than willing to run a comparison with the swab from your wall-crawling baby. Whatever's going on with the Parkers they're keeping to themselves, but I think they were relieved that their kid is safe and clear of it.”

“I'll bet,” Clint says, his face grim. “Going dark like that, they're either dead or dirty.”

“Or running for their lives,” Steve points out.

Clint shakes his head.

“If they are, it's just a matter of time before they learn that one or both of the first two options are true,” Natasha says.

“CPS should be by the tower soon enough. Until then, don't pick up any more strays. You're a superhero team, not a goddamn creche.” The Skype window goes dark.

“I wonder who left him in the box?” Steve muses. “His parents, or their killers?”

“We'll probably never know,” Natasha says. “The CIA will have taken over the case by now. The box and the note will have gone to them.”

There's a universal collection of sad expressions going on which makes Tony feel itchy under his skin because they should be happy, right? They found the kid's family. It shouldn't be a glass-half-empty moment.

Later on, that's the only reason he can think of why he breaks his self-imposed baby-free-zone and boops the kid on the nose with a fingertip.

“Peter, huh?” Tony says.

The baby chuckles from deep his belly and goes back to gnawing on Steve's fingers.

*

By the time Peter's relations arrive, they've determined that he can also climb furniture and people and can stick like glue if he doesn't want to come down.

Tony's pretty sure that it doesn't make them look like appropriate adults when they walk in and find Peter clinging to Bruce's arm like a limpet, but it does make a great photograph.

“Your baby proofing is going to have to be epic,” Clint says when he sees the expressions on the faces of the Parkers and Diane.

“I can lend you my guys, if you need 'em. I designed the security systems for Stark Tower myself, but I've got a crew that actually installs them for me,” Tony offers.

“Thank you, but I don't think we could afford...” May begins.

“No charge, they're on retainer,” Tony says, flapping his hand. “They do all Stark Industries' factories, offices and warehouses. Baby proofing an apartment against a kid who climbs walls is gonna be the best kind of fun for them. It'll keep them on their toes.”

May and Ben make polite noises for a minute or so more but eventually accept with obvious relief.

“So long as you're sure,” Ben says finally.

“It's no trouble at all,” Tony says. “It's the least I can do.”

Steve slides his hand around Tony's waist to cup his hip in a gentle, approving squeeze.

Once he's had enough of hanging out on Bruce, Baby Peter goes to May without a fuss. He even waves a hand goodbye over her shoulder as they walk into the elevator.

After the doors close, the room seems almost oppressively quiet.

“Movie night?” Tony says, to fill the silence.

“Movie night,” Clint agrees, and bounces off to the kitchen to dig out food.

*

It's a typical Friday night. Maybe not completely typical, but not out of the ordinary, either. They've watched movies on Friday before, when there's been Avengering to be done or when there's not been enough of them around to make it worth it on a Thursday.

It hardly matters what's playing, though, or even if Clint snaked the last of Tony's favourite flavour of popcorn, because Tony's got Steve's chest all to himself again and Steve's baby-chewed fingers are back where they belong, rubbing Tony's back in lazy circles.