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The Privilege of a Lifetime

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May 2031 – Stark/Avengers Tower NYC

 

 

James Clinton Stark – Jimmy to friends and family – fifteen years old and only months away from the freedom of a drivers license, bounced on his toes while waiting impatiently for the elevator to stop at the top floor. “Come on, come on, come on! Jarvis, help me out? Please?”

“Sorry, Master James, I promised your mother that I wouldn’t speed up the elevators after the Chinese food delivery incident.”

“That guy had no sense of humor.” Jimmy scoffed. “And he’s the one who got sweet and sour all over the floor. Totally not my fault!”

“While I do commiserate with you, sir, I’m afraid I cannot increase the speed.”

“Dad could. You could ask him for me, right?” He wheedled. “I’ve got something cool to tell him and mom and he’d want to hear it as soon as he could.”

“Overriding your Mother’s commands by asking your Father is against my protocols.” Jarvis reminded him. “As you are well aware.”

“I know, I know.”He sighed dramatically and slumped back against the wall.

When the elevator stopped at the penthouse floor, Jimmy squeezed between the doors while they were still opening. “Dad! Hey, Dad!” Dropping his bag on the couch in the living room, he looked around the empty room. Normally, his father was parked on the couch playing a video game or watching television when Jimmy and his sisters and brother came home from school. The only thing that might keep him from what he considered his “fatherly duties” would be if he were working on something that couldn’t be paused. “Dad? Hey, Jarvis, where’s Dad?”

“Mr. Stark is in his workshop. He said he’d like for you to join him there.”

“Tell him I’m on my way, ‘kay?” Jimmy swung by the kitchen to grab a soda on his way down to the workshop. At this time of the afternoon, his mom would still be working, so he could sneak in some extra caffeine before she came upstairs.

He was tipping the can up for a deep drink as he entered his father’s workshop. Spottin his mom sitting on the battered leather sofa at one side of the room, he nearly choked. “M – mom – what – “ He coughed. “You’re home early, that’s great!”

“As in, you thought I was safely downstairs and you could drink one of your Dad’s Red Bulls.” Pepper arched an eyebrow and smiled her “later you will be in trouble” smile.

“No, uh… no.” Jimmy looked to his father for help, but he was wiping grease from his hands with a shop rag with more intensity than usual. Clearly he was on his own. “Hey, I’ve got something to tell you guys. Great news!”

“Oh, yeah?” Tossing the rag aside, Tony sat next to Pepper on the sofa.”We’ve got something to tell you, too.”

“Yeah?” Jimmy chugged the rest of the Red Bull before tossing the can to DUM-E. The ‘bot caught it and  chirped cheerfully before speeding off for the recycling bin. “What’s up?”

Pepper started to say something but Tony shook his head and interrupted her. “You first.”.

“Sure.” They seemed on edge and Jimmy did a quick mental review to see if he’d done anything that would get him grounded or on dish duty. Nothing came to mind. Except the stolen Red Bull, which hopefully his news would cancel out. “Sure.”

He took a seat on the coffee table facing them. “The drama department finally posted the cast list, and guess who’s got the part of Seymour in the spring production of Little Shop of Horrors?” He grinned and raised his hands, waggling his fingers at himself. “Guess! Come on, guess!”

“You got the part? Oh, baby, that’s great!” Pepper leaned forward to hug him and Tony reached out to give him a high five. “Congratulations! And don’t let your father help make the plant.”

“I heard that.” Tony winked at his son. “Ignore her.”

“So, now what’s up?” If he was in trouble, it was best to get it over with quickly.

“Um… okay, we – “ Tony turned to look at Pepper. “Maybe we should wait? We should wait.”

“No.” She told him firmly.

“Let’s go celebrate. Jimmy, go see if your sisters and brother are home yet. We’ll go grab some dinner.” Tony started to get to his feet. Pepper pulled him back down.

“Is something wrong?” A prickle of apprehension ran down Jimmy’s spine. “Everybody’s okay, right?” Only the original Avengers still lived in the tower with them, but he was friends with many of the newer members. “Did somebody get hurt?”

“No, no, nothing like that.” His mother assured him.

“Jimmy, you know we adopted you – we’ve always been upfront with that.” Tony reached blindly for Pepper’s hand, wrapping his fingers around hers, and drawing strength from her warmth. “We love you – you’re our son – ours. Just as much as your sisters and your brother are.”

“I know that.” He’d known he was adopted for as long as he could remember. Being adopted by Tony and Pepper Stark wasn’t something that could be hidden from the press, his parents had made sure he’d known he’d been adopted as a newborn. “I love you, I love both of you.” He felt a sudden stab of fear. “Is somebody trying to take me away or something?”

“No, baby, that’s not – Tony you’re not doing this very well.” Pepper sighed.

“I’m trying, gimme a break.”

“Dad – ” His eyes darted from one to the other, looking for reassurance.

“We haven’t been completely truthful with you. About how we adopted you.” At the confused look in his son’s eyes, Tony took a deep breath, squeezed Pepper’s hand harder, and plowed ahead. “You know about Hawkeye – Clint Barton. You know what happened to him, right?”

“Yeah, he was one of the original Avengers. He was Uncle Phil’s husband.” He’d grown up hearing stories about his Uncle Clint, who he’d never had a chance to meet. “He was killed right before I was born – and before you and Mom adopted me.”

The story was part of Avengers lore. A madman had developed a disintegration beam and equipped his minions with it. His bid for power had been short lived, he’d quickly been captured. The battle had been quick, but Hawkeye had been killed by a blast from one of the guns, completely disintegrated.

“Well, that’s… not quite what happened. Not quite… uh… true.” Tony grimaced. “He was ah… de-aged.”

“What? He was what?” Crazy things tended to happen to the Avengers and Jimmy had heard stories about de-aging, being turned into animals, gender changes – the joke was that if an animal wandered up and was friendly to be sure and ask it if it was an Avenger or SHIELD agent. “Like when Dr. Pym was ten for like a week?”

“Like that only… only more. Clint was de-aged to an infant. A newborn. And we couldn’t change him back.”

“You couldn’t reverse it?” Jimmy found that hard to believe. His dad could pretty much do anything, especially if he teamed up with Uncle Bruce. The two of them had reverse engineered all kinds of crazy things. Sometime it was the only way to turn cats back into people or ten year old boys back into grown men.

“We tried, but the results were – not good.” The test animals had all died horrific deaths. “We had to give up.”

“So he was a baby?” There was a gravestone in the small graveyard on their Long Island property with Clint’s name on it. “Then he died? Did it make him sick?”

“He didn’t die, Jimmy.” Pepper pulled her hand from Tony’s death grip and reached out to pat her son’s arm. “Clint was a very healthy newborn baby. And he was stuck that way. So we – your Dad and I – we adopted him. Adopted you.”

“I don’t get it. I don’t understand.” He looked from one to the other. “You adopted both of us? But… I don’t get it. Where is he? So, he died later? What are you saying?”

“Baby, you are him.” Pepper moved to sit beside her son, putting her arms around his shoulders. “You are Clint Barton.”

“We didn’t know what else to do.” Tony’s heart twisted at the confusion in Jimmy’s eyes. “Clint was my friend – our friend – and there was no way to reverse what was done to him. What else could we do?”

“I don’t – I don’t understand.” Jimmy turned to look at his mother. “You’re saying I’m Uncle Clint – Hawkeye? I’m him? He was turned into a baby and you just – you just kept him – you kept him?

“We loved him, baby. He was part of our family. I don’t know what else we could have done.” She raised a hand to his face, cupping it gently and rubbing her thumb along his cheek. “We couldn’t send him to foster care or let someone else adopt him – that would have been – wrong.”

“He was married to Uncle Phil – Uncle Phil – why didn’t he – “ Jimmy shook his head. His brains felt jumbled up like he’d been spun in circles and turned loose. He couldn’t seem to get his bearings.

“Coulson was – “ Tony gestured helplessly. “He was – there was no way he could have taken care of a baby, especially this baby.”

“It devastated him, sweetheart. Phil was broken hearted.” Pepper blinked back tears at the memory. “On the one hand, Clint wasn’t dead but on the other, he was gone. Phil had still lost his husband. It was – it was better this way.”

“Is that why he didn’t live here with us?” Uncle Phil had always been there for birthdays and school events, and visited often, but he’d moved out of the Tower way back before Jimmy even remembered.

“It was too hard on him. It got easier for him over time, he said that watching you grow was like if he and Clint had had a child of their own in a way.” She brushed his hair back, combing her fingers through the dark blond strands. “But it was still a reminder of what – who – he’d lost.”

“So my biological parents, they didn’t die in a car wreck? You made them up? You made it all up?” Jimmy wasn’t angry at his parents, he loved them, and he knew they loved him. But they’d lied to him. They’d never lied to him. Ever.

“They did, that’s true.” Tony moved to the edge of his seat so he could touch his son, patted his knee and squeezed gently. “Clint’s parents were alcoholics, his father was pretty abusive. He didn’t talk about it very much. Then they died in a car wreck, Clint and his brother were sent to an orphanage, and then ended up running away and joining the circus.”

“After his brother died, Clint didn’t have a family. Except Phil.” She brushed his hair back out of his eyes. “Except us. We had to take care of him, Jimmy.”

 “So, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to be Hawkeye now?” The only time he’d handled a bow had been at summer camp when he was little, it was fun but it wasn’t his thing.

“No. Nobody expects that.” Pepper’s insides started to shake. The one thing she’d always dreaded was one of her children following in their father’s footsteps and becoming an Avenger. “You don’t have to be him. We want you to do whatever you want to do.”

“How do I know what that is? Am I supposed to go learn to be an archer and be an Avenger? I don’t even have a license yet.” His voice cracked and he dropped his head to scrub at his eyes.

“What you’re supposed to do is be yourself.” Tony took Jimmy’s face in both hands and made his son look up to meet his gaze. It hurt to see the fear and confusion in the beautiful eyes.“The one thing that your mother and I agreed on – that all of us agreed on – was that you have the chances Clint didn’t have. To grow up with parents who love you, and have a chance to go to school, and be whatever you want to be. Without being hungry and beaten and – “ He bit his lip as he felt tears clog his throat.

Clint had been Tony’s friend, a good friend, and he’d been privileged to hear things that Clint needed to talk about sometimes. Things that no one else knew about, maybe even his own husband. How he sometimes felt less important than the others because of his lack of education, how he wished he’d stayed at the orphanage and gone to school and the prom and done all those things normal kids do.

“Everybody agreed that it was a second chance for Clint – for you, Jimmy.” Pepper echoed. “All we want is for you to be happy. Right now that’s being the lead in the school play, and being a normal teenage boy. I think that would’ve made Clint really happy.”

“Who’s everybody? Who else knows who – who I really am?” Jimmy asked.

“Your Aunt Natasha, Bruce, Thor and Jane, Darcy, Happy, Rhodey, Steve – “ Tony looked to Pepper. “I think – just Fury?”

“Maria did – but she’s gone now and I know she didn’t tell anyone.” Pepper ran her fingers through Jimmy’s hair again. “And Phil, of course. He’s gone now, too.”

“What about the other Avengers?”

“There weren’t any other Avengers then.” The group hadn’t started officially expanding until after Clint’s death and the new members weren’t told that Clint Barton hadn’t died but instead had been de-aged and growing up as Jimmy Stark. “There wasn’t any reason for the new members to know.”

"Why?" He shook his head, still reeling. "Why tell me? Why not just keep it a secret?"

"Because secrets always come out." She told him.

Tony nodded. "We didn't want you to find out and then hate us for not telling you."

"I wouldn't hate you. I might be mad, but I wouldn't hate you. I love you, you're my parents. No matter how I got here, you're my mom and dad." He reached out, and they wrapped their arms around him, pulling him close.

They hugged him hard, almost painfully, but it felt good.  Breathing in the unique mixture of  the metallic oils on his dad and his mom's perfume, Jimmy relaxed, allowing himself to feel comforted and safe, like when he was little and had a bad dream.

DUM-E rolled up and offered a box of tissues with a questioning warble. Pepper took a handful and wiped at her eyes.

"Potts, you look like a raccoon." Tony took them from her and wiped at the dark smear of make up under one eye. "Am I right, son? She looks like that raccoon in that movie."

"You're so rude." She sniffled. "You're setting a horrible example."

"Me?" Tony looked offended. "I'm a shining example of fatherhood! You, on the other hand -- "

“Me? Who leaves those over caffeinated energy drinks where the kids can get them?”

Jimmy laughed softly and hugged them again. "You're both great! I wouldn't trade either of you!"

“You know, I kinda know what I want to do. I mean, sorta." He leaned back and waited until he had their full attention. "I've really loved being in the choir and the show choir the last couple of years,  but when I joined the drama club this year, it was just so much more fun. Getting onstage feels great -- really, really great. I really like it, I think, maybe…. that’s what I want to do."

"You want to be an actor?" Pepper tried not to sound disappointed, not after telling him to be anything he wanted to be. But… an actor?

"I don't know, maybe.” He grinned at them. “I used to want to be an astronaut, I could still change my mind.”

“You were ten when you wanted to be an astronaut.” She reminded him.

‘There’s something else I wanted to tell you. I want to join a theater group. The one that's putting on plays this summer -- they’re right there in Long Island, so I'll still be home for the summer."

Tony gestured and brought up info on the community theater in the small town in Long Island where they spent most of their summers. Pepper rested against him, looking over the information. "We saw Cheaper By the Dozen there last year, didn't we?"

"And I've been helping with moving props and all kinds of stuff the last two summers, so they know me. They’re needed some new cast members. Only..." Jimmy bit his lip. "Auditions are in mid May, before school gets out."

"I'm sure we can figure something out." Pepper assured him. We can always go check the pantry at the house to see what we need, maybe take some things with us so it's not so crazy at the last minute."

Tony nudged Pepper. "My son, the actor. You can bet my old man is spinning in his grave." At Jimmy's wide eyed look, he reached out and ruffled his hair. "That’s a good thing. "

Behind them, DUM-E warbled happily.

 

 

 

"I've got something for you."

Jimmy looked up from the tablet he'd been staring at. He'd tried to read about Uncle Clint, but all he could do was stare at the picture on the bio, trying to see himself in the expressionless face. Natasha was leaning against the door frame, a faint smile ghosting her lips. "Hey, Aunt 'Tasha." He patted the bed next to him in invitation.

"That's not his best look."

“Kinda looks like a mug shot.”

“That was his resting face, as he called it.” She said as she settled next to him. Flicking her fingertips across the screen, Natasha brought up pictures of Clint smiling and laughing. "He was gorgeous when he smiled."

"Is that eyeliner?" Jimmy enlarged one of the pictures.

"He used it to play up his eyes sometimes. Like they really needed it. He did grow up in a circus, remember? You should see the pictures of him in his sparkly purple leotards." Smiling, Natasha handed him an envelope. "If there's anything you want to know about Clint, you can always ask me."

He took the envelope, turning it over and over in his hands. "You say ‘him’ and ‘you’, like we’re two different people. How can you separate me from him? How did anybody?"

"Clint was a grown man and you were a baby. And he was gone. There wasn’t any way to bring him back." She shrugged. "What else could we do?"

"Yeah, sure. I guess that makes sense." It didn’t, really.

"Clint was a good friend. I missed him." Natasha raised her eyes to where Clint's bow quiver hung on the wall. "Miss him still sometimes."

Following her gaze, Jimmy realized that he couldn't remember a time where they hadn't been in his room. He'd kept other Avengers items in his room from time to time, but the bow and quiver never left. They felt... like they belonged. "Did you want him back? When -- if there'd been a way?"

"No."

He gave her a familiar sideways look that made her smile and ruffle his hair affectionately. "By the time there was a real possibility of undoing what had been done, Phil was dead. I can't imagine that Clint would have been happy to be back only to find himself a widower. And we would have lost you, a child we'd all grown to love so much."

"So you're stuck with me?" He kidded.

"Looks that way." She slid her arm around his shoulders and hugged him.

Getting up, Natasha tapped the envelope. "He loved you."

Jimmy had already recognized Uncle Phil's handwriting on the envelope. "And Clint -- I mean me -- loved him, too?"

"Very much."

"So... am I gay? Or, bi maybe?" He frowned thoughtfully. "I have a girlfriend and I haven't looked at any guys. Am I supposed to? What am I supposed to do now?"

She couldn't help laughing. "You just found out you were once a grown man and this is what you're worried about?"

“Seriously, though. Am I supposed to look at guys, too?”

This was one of the times she missed Clint. It would be a few more years before Jimmy’s scrunched up thoughtful face looked like the one she remembered, but it was there. “You’re just supposed to be you. Look at whoever you want. Guys, girls, whoever. Maybe you just haven’t seen a guy worth looking at yet.” She shrugged again. “Don’t worry so much about it.”

"Okay, but... hey!" He grinned, his eyes lighting up. "I'm not a virgin! Awesome!"

Natasha shook her head. "Typical."

 

 

 

After Natasha left, Jimmy stared at the envelope for a long time before finally working up the nerve to open it. Gently, he slid a finger under the flap, breaking the seal until he could see the folded page inside.

 

Jimmy,

I hope you won't think I'm a coward or hate me for giving you to Pepper and Tony to raise. It's not that I don't love you, far from it, I love you so much that I still miss you everyday and I still find myself expecting you to come home every night. And that's why I knew I shouldn't try to raise you. Because I saw you as Clint, and I still do.

I tried, but I could never separate Jimmy from Clint. I could never shake my sadness. And you deserved a better father.

I've always given Tony a hard time, said he was a huge pain in the ass, which he is, but he had a pretty lousy childhood and I know he'll do his best to make sure you can't say the same thing. I think he'll make a damn good father. Please don't tell him I said that.

I know that Clint would take this second chance at childhood and run with it. So, please, do that for him. And for me. Take it and run. Grow up happy.

I love you always,

Phil

 

 

"Master, Jimmy, your mother wants to know if you're coming to dinner," Jarvis interrupted Jimmy’s thoughts.

He’d read the letter and then stared at it, remembering how Uncle Phil had always seemed a little sad even on the happiest occasions. "Um, yeah. Tell her I'll be there."

"Are you all right, sir? ”

"I'm... a little weirded out, you know?"

"I can only imagine." Jarvis said gently.

Jimmy studied the bow and quiver once more. The quiver had a long scrape along the back and one side, and the bow had scratch marks on the upper limb. Maybe if he stared at them long enough he'd remember how they got there. He sighed. "Is there anything else, Jarvis? Anymore surprises?"

"I wouldn't categorize them as surprises." Jarvis said. "Agent Barton's assets have been held in trust for you, Agent Coulson's were added according to his will, and the trust will be yours on your twenty first birthday."

Jimmy nodded, Money wasn't that important to him, probably because he'd always had it, but his parents had also taught him that money wasn't as important as family. He smiled slightly. He had a great family.

"There's also Agent Coulson's Captain America collection."

"Holy crap, that's mine? What am I going to do with all of it?" He sat bolt upright on the bed. Uncle Phil's collection was huge.

"The collection has a curator. You do not have to 'do' anything with it." Jarvis told him, a possibly slightly amused tone to his voice. "The majority of the collection is in storage. A portion is on display downstairs, and other pieces are on loan to various museums and galleries."

"Oh, good. Good." He loved looking at the items in Uncle Phil's collection, especially the odd stuff, but it wasn't something he was really into. “You know, I used to like to tag along with him when he went to flea markets and stuff, looking for things for his collection.”

“I recall your going with him on several occasions.” Jarvis agreed.

“We went to this place one time, some big convention thing, and there was a huge room full of all these booths selling just all kinds of things.” He leaned back against the headboard and smiled as he remembered holding Uncle Phil’s hand as they went from table to table.

“He’d tell me to look through the boxes of old cards and stuff for Captain America, and stay right by him while he was looking at other stuff. And when I’d find something, I’d hold it up so he could see it and tell me if he wanted it or not. It was so cool when I’d find something and say he’d been looking for it.”

“As I recall, you found a number of items he had on his list.”

“I did, didn’t I?” Jimmy said proudly. “I could spot ‘em hiding under other stuff. One time, I found this awesome little ration book in a box of papers and junk – I thought he was going to jump up and down, he was so happy.”

“The Captain America ration holder books are very rare, many were recycled during paper drives during the war.” Jarvis scanned through the history of rationing in the United States during World War two, cross referenced with collectible ration books and book holders, and narrowed down to Captain America. “or thrown away after rationing ended.”

“You know… that was kind of fun. I should hit a flea market or something from time to time. Wouldn’t hurt to take Uncle Phil’s list – you got a copy, right, Jarvis?”

“Of course, Master Jimmy.” It was already on its way to Jimmy’s phone and Stark cloud storage.

“You da man, Jarvis.”  Scrambling off his bed, Jimmy put the envelope on his desk before heading out into the hallway.

The first door he came to had a sign on it with hot pink letters “stay out!”. He ignored it, rapping on the door and opening it at the same time.

“Can’t you read?” His sister Jess was lying on her bed and she glared at him over the top of her tablet. “Stay out. That means you.”

“I read it. Ignored it.” Leaning against her desk, Jimmy studied her for a moment. Brown eyes, dark hair, all long legs and awkwardness. She used to follow him around like he was a super star, but lately she acted like he had the plague. “It’s almost dinner time.”

“I know. I have a clock.” She pretended to ignore him.

“It’s your turn to set the table.”

“I have ten minutes.”

“I’ll do it for you.” He offered.

“Why? What’s in it for you?” Jess' eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Nothing. I felt like doing something nice for you is all.”

“Are you sick or something? You’re not dying are you?”

“No!” Jimmy frowned at her. “You don’t sound like you’d be bothered if I was!”

“I’d sing for joy.” She made an exaggerated happy face.

Picking up a stuffed animal from her desk, he tossed it at her, bouncing it off her head.

“Don’t get your boy cooties on my stuff!”

“Boy cooties? On your stuff?You mean like this?” He ran his hand over the desk and everything on it. “And this?”

“Stop it! Mom!” She threw the stuffed animal back, missing by a good margin.

“Missed me!”

“Your mother says to stop teasing your sister.” Jarvis told him.

“I’m done.” He stuck his tongue out at her and turned to leave, rubbing his hand all over her handmade sign. “Boy cooties! Boy cooties!”

“Mom!”

 

 

 

“Do you have to torment your sister?” Pepper asked as Jimmy trotted into the kitchen.

“I don’t have to.” He grinned at his mom as he hopped up to sit on one of the kitchen counters. “Hey, Uncle Bruce.”

Bruce looked up and smiled at him before going back to chopping carrots.

“I knew I should have locked you both in separate cells once you passed the cute stage. With just a little slot to shove food in.” Pepper gave Jimmy’s leg a gentle pinch as she went past. “Try not to torment her while she’s setting the table, or you will end up in a cell.”

“I’ll set the table.” He jumped down.

“Are you sick?” Bruce looked up again.

“No. Why do people keep asking that?”

“I’m a doctor, it’s part of the gig.” He slid the carrots into a big bowl.

His mom had already laid a hand across his forehead. “Mom, I’m fine! Can’t a guy do something nice without everybody thinking something’s wrong with him?”

“Not around here. Not unless you’re Steve.” Pepper gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Mom..." Rolling his eyes, he pulled away. "Can't win for losing around here."

In the dining room, Jimmy eyed the table, wondering if he needed to adjust the table size The table was adjustable, depending on how many people joined them for dinner.

Family dinner was an important event in the Stark household. His parents rarely missed one, if the world wasn't ending or a company ending meeting going on, they were there. Uncle Bruce was with them most nights, collaborative research sometimes keeping him away, Aunt Natasha was there when she was and wasn’t when she wasn't, and Uncle Steve made it whenever he could.

"Jarvis, did Uncle Steve say if he's coming to dinner tonight?"

"He did, Master James. Captain Rogers said he would be here with bells on."

"There's something I'd pay to see." Taking a stack of plates out of the cabinet, Jimmy quickly set them into place on the table. While he was putting out the napkins and silverware, his mom and Uncle Bruce began carrying in food. He took an appreciative sniff of the meatloaf. His favorite!

By the time everything was on the table, his father had come in, drying his hands on a shop towel, and his siblings were trailing in behind Natasha like baby ducklings.

Steve came in just as they were sitting down. "Sorry I'm late, I was talking to this woman who'd been a little girl when she came to America. In a shipping container! Can you imagine? Are we having meatloaf? Is that Pepper's meatloaf?"

"I thought I was the hyper one. " Tony said.

"Yes, it's meatloaf. Here." Pepper slid a platter toward him. "I made enough, so eat up."

"Wait, someone say grace." Steve shook a finger at the four younger Stark's as they chorused 'grace'. "That was cute when you were little, but it's getting old."

"They're obviously scared of you, Spangles."

"How come Jess gets soda? I want soda!"

"Because she won't be up all night, Matthew. Drink your milk."

"Why was the lady in a shipping container?"

"Because she drank soda and kept her Mom up all night."

"Pepper!"

Jimmy elbowed Jess, who'd sat next to him. "Not worried about cooties anymore?"

"Uncle Bruce gave me a cootie shot." She showed him a small red dot on the back of her hand.

"I thought cootie shots were green?"

"Yeah... they don't let me do the green ones anymore." Bruce smiled as he handed a dish to Natasha.

"Mashed potatoes, please!"

"Mom, he's kicking me!"

"Stop kicking your sister or I'll let your dad use you for his next experiment."

"Hey! I haven't blown anything up in, like, days!"

 Jimmy rapped his knuckles on the table for attention.  For a moment there was silence and everyone was focused on him. “I just wanted to say that I love all of you."

"Gross!"

"Are you okay?"

"You're not sick are you?"

"What did you do?"

“He’s not sick.”

"Dad, she stuck her tongue out at me!"

"What are cooties?"

“I have to have forty cupcakes for school tomorrow, Mom.”

“What? Lise, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“Can I please have some soda?”

Jimmy leaned back, taking in his family and the warm and loving chaos surrounding them. He looked along the pictures scattered along the walls, finding his favorite, the one where Uncle Phil had a smile on his face like he’d been caught mid laugh.  Thanks, Uncle Phil. I'll run as hard as I can.

 

This picture was what inspired the evil plot bunny: