Tony gave up pretending to update his charts – he hadn’t gotten anything done in the last half hour anyway. He was too excited to concentrate; for the first time in three years, all the kids were going to be home at the same time, for the whole holiday weekend.
Well. All of them that he could expect, anyway. He glanced at the photo on the wall, nearly ten years old, now, and the last one he had of the entire family. Tony let himself sigh, and gave in to the impulse to examine the tightness around the 16-year-old Barney’s eyes and mouth, and imagine that if he’d just tried a little harder…
The door to the study opened, and Tony jerked his eyes from the picture almost guiltily. He was supposed to be focusing on his happiness that the rest of their little brood was coming home for Thanksgiving. He was happy that the rest of them were coming home. He would just be happier if it could really be all of them.
“It’s okay if you still miss him,” Natalia said from the doorway, her eyes wiser than her nineteen years should have allowed.
“Good, because I always will,” Tony said. “I know to you, he was just a rude boy who pulled at your pigtails, but–”
“He was my brother,” she said simply. She held out a hand, and Tony let her pull him from his chair. “Yasha called from the airport. He’s got Steve, and they’re on their way home now.”
“And Bruce said he’d leave directly after his last class of the day,” Tony mused, “so he should be here within the hour.” Clint had arrived the previous night and blushingly introduced the family to his boyfriend, Pietro, who would be staying with them for the weekend. It had been fun to tease Clint by pretending they were expected to sleep in separate rooms. Tony smirked at the memory, and tugged Natalia into a one-armed hug. “We’ll all be together again soon.”
Natalia allowed the hug, then pulled away, eyes twinkling with mischief. “Just in time for dinner!”
“Oh, god, I’m going to have to feed all of you again,” Tony groaned in mock-distress. “What was I thinking?”
“Jesus,” Tony breathed, staring up – up! – at Steve. He poked Steve’s chest experimentally; it seemed to be all muscle. “What the hell are they feeding you over there, kiddo? Did you sign up for some kind of super-secret mad science experiment or something?”
“I said the same thing,” Bucky put in, dragging Steve’s duffel through the door. “I was afraid I’d picked the wrong guy up at the airport.”
Steve laughed and pulled Tony into a warm hug. “Missed you, too,” he teased. “The Army’s been good to me.”
“I can see that,” Tony said. “Christ. I could see on Skype that you were putting on muscle, but I apparently missed a memo about the height.”
Steve shrugged, even as he was reaching to hug Natalia. “Had a late growth spurt about three months into the tour. Drove my QM a little crazy, I think.”
Bucky gave up trying to heft the duffel and left it to lean against the wall. He dropped his arm around Tony’s shoulders instead. “We’re gonna have to buy a second turkey to feed all these people,” he said.
Tony snorted. “Too late to get another turkey now,” he said. “We might have to settle for a ham.”
“I like ham,” Bucky said agreeably. “Or maybe just lots of potatoes.” He kissed the side of Tony’s head and pulled Tony into his side as Clint came pounding down the stairs like he was ten again, Pietro following in his wake. They watched the greetings and exclamations and introductions for a moment. “Carol said she’d take my on-call tomorrow,” Bucky said, “if I’d take hers for Friday.”
Tony snorted. “I can’t believe she still does the whole Black Friday shopping thing,” he said. “That’s what the internet is for!”
“I’m not complaining if it means I’m guaranteed Thanksgiving dinner with my family,” Bucky said with a chuckle.
“You have a point,” Tony said. “Remind me to make her some cookies or something.”
“You think if you make cookies with these people here, there will be any left the next day to take to Carol?”
Clint looked around sharply. “We’re making cookies?” he said eagerly. “I call gingersnaps!”
“Thumbprints for me!” Natalia put in, at the same time Steve sing-songed, “Kitchen sink cookies!”
Tony laughed and fished in Bucky’s pocket for the keys. “Guess I’m going to the store.”
Bucky batted Tony’s hand away. “Might as well wait and find out what Bruce wants. And get Pietro’s order.”
Pietro’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, I’m– I’ll just share with–”
“Nope, my cookies are mine,” Clint said gleefully, wrapping his arms around Pietro’s waist and winking at Tony over Pietro’s shoulder. “Get your own.”
“I don’t know,” Pietro confessed, and Steve and Natalia began cheerfully suggesting different types of cookies. It immediately turned into a contest of some sort, though Tony wasn’t sure of the rules – who could keep going the longest, or who could suggest the most outlandish variety, or… It didn’t really matter. It was like coming home to see that light of challenge in Natalia’s eyes and the smug smirk curving Steve’s lips.
Tony caught Pietro’s eye before the poor man could get entirely overwhelmed. “Chocolate chip?” he suggested, and Pietro nodded gratefully.
The kitchen was a disaster. A fine dust of flour coated every single surface from where someone had turned the mixer on high too early. Walnut pieces, chocolate chips, and coconut flakes crunched underfoot by the counter where Steve had gotten over-enthusiastic stirring his batter. Bruce and Natalia had gotten into some sort of wrestling match in the middle of making her thumbprint cookies and were now liberally smeared with jam. Clint had butter in his hair and melted chocolate on his ear. Bucky had wandered casually through the room so many times to check “quality control” that he’d had to go lie down for a while with a hot water bottle for his stomach ache. And Tony was fairly certain that the kids were about to start a food fight with the remaining batter the instant he turned his back for more than a minute.
He hadn’t been so happy and content in years.
He had a stupid grin on his face as he peeled the potatoes for dinner, and he knew it, and he didn’t care. Bucky came in and leaned down to kiss Tony before retrieving the turkey from the refrigerator and setting it on the roasting rack to dress it. It would need to go into the oven soon.
“Normal people eat dinner at like noon and then laze around watching football all afternoon,” Clint was telling Pietro, “but, y'know, football isn’t high on the priorities with two gay dads–”
“Bisexual,” Tony and Bucky both corrected automatically, then grinned at each other.
“Clint always says that on purpose just to make them do that,” Steve explained, rolling his eyes.
“Anyway, could you possiby buy into a few more stereotypes?” Natalia groused, smacking Clint on the arm.
“Ow! I’m just kidding, jeez. I am actually gay, you know, I’m allowed!”
“We have Thanksgiving dinner at seven-thirty,” Bucky said calmly, tying the turkey’s legs together, “because your dad used to have to work Thanksgiving every year, and he didn’t get home until seven.”
“Didn’t have to, I volunteered,” Tony put in, carving a bad spot out of one potato before moving on to the next. “Starting back before I even met Bucky. And then when it finally occurred to me that I had a family and should stick some other poor schlub with the holiday shift, it was nice to keep the later dinnertime so we could do things together beforehand.” He leveled the vegetable peeler at Clint. “Like make cookies.”
“I’m not complaining,” Clint protested. “Tried to make my own cookies once, at the academy, but they tasted weird.”
“Probably forgot the salt,” Bruce said.
“Really? Because I was thinking it was that I’d finally been able to make them without Nat stealing half the candied ginger along the way.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Natalia said primly.
Even Pietro snorted in disbelief at that.
Tony checked the clock. “Bruce, your batch is probably going to have to wait until after dinner, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Bruce said. “They’ll wait until tomorrow. None of us are going to want to move after dinner.”
“What kind did you pick?” Steve asked.
“I, uh.” Bruce glanced at Clint and then looked very studiously at the spoon in his hand. “Rum raisin.”
Clint stilled, and then looked up at Tony with an expression of disbelief. “You let him–”
“He thought it would be nice,” Tony said. His heart was hammering, but he forced his voice to be calm. “I agreed. If you’re going to be angry, be mad at me, not Bruce.”
“I’m not mad,” Clint said. “I’m just…”
“I don’t understand,” Pietro said. He took Clint’s hand, lacing their fingers together tightly. “What’s wrong, baby?” he asked, so softly Tony almost missed it.
“Those’re Barney’s cookies,” Clint mumbled. “That’s what he always wanted.” He twisted, tucking his face into the curve of Pietro’s neck.
Pietro was still looking baffled, even as he stroked the hair at the back of Clint’s neck and whispered soothingly.
“Barney was Clint’s brother,” Bucky said into the heavy silence. Pietro looked up at him. “And our foster son, for almost five years.”
Tony didn’t miss the way Pietro’s long fingers tightened on Clint’s neck. “He ran away when he was seventeen,” Tony said, picking up the thread. “It was…” He looked over at Bucky ruefully. “It was a rough time for us all.”
“Mostly for Clint,” Steve put in. “He was only fourteen.”
“Almost fifteen,” Clint protested, kicking ineffectually at Steve under the table. “And you’re the same age as me, so don’t even.”
Steve shrugged. “He’d only been my brother for three years, though. You had him your whole life.”
Clint shrugged and pushed upright again, running his sleeve across his face. “They’re not telling you the worst of it,” he said, not looking at Pietro.
Pietro’s eyebrows pulled together. “You don’t have to tell me,” he said.
“You should know,” Clint said, still not looking up. “When he left, he went and shacked up with some old cronies of our dad’s. Our birth dad’s, I mean. May he rot in hell. And they–”
“Clint,” Natalia said, warning. She leaned against Clint’s arm.
Clint put a hand over hers. “They told him that he owed them for taking him in. So they planned this robbery, a B&E.” He swallowed, and looked up at Bucky, and then Tony, his face miserable. “One of Tony’s doctor friends. They picked the place because we’d been to their house and Barney knew the layout.”
“What happened?” Pietro asked, carefully neutral.
Clint shrugged. “Got caught. Red-handed, even, before they’d even cleared the premises. Doctor Blake’s a pretty tough guy. All of ‘em went to prison.” He fell silent.
“We tried to visit,” Natalia said. “Me and Tony and Yasha and Clint. He… said he didn’t want to see us again.”
Tony suppressed a grunt; Barney had not been that polite about it. Tony had still written, once a month, for more than a year after that, but after a while, his letters had started coming back unopened. The worst fight he’d ever had with Bucky had been when Bucky had made him promise to respect Barney’s wishes and stop trying to reach out.
“So that’s it,” Clint said to the table. He made a face. “I wasn’t planning to tell you about it like this. Or, y'know, in front of my whole family. Sorry. Um. If you’re going to dump me, please do it fast.”
Pietro pulled Clint into a hug. “Idiot. I’m not going to dump you because someone you’re related to is problematic. That’s not your fault. And people can change. I’ll tell you about my dad, sometime.” He kissed the top of Clint’s head. “Though I suppose I might dump you for thinking I would dump you for that.”
Clint hiccuped out a small laugh and clung more tightly. Tony blinked back tears.
Bruce slumped in his seat with a gusty sigh. “Sorry I dragged the mood down,” he muttered. “I’ll pick something else.”
“No,” Clint said, watery and muffled from the shoulder of Pietro’s shirt. “No, it’s perfect. He should be here, even if it’s just, you know. Symbolically.”
By seven-thirty, when they all sat down for dinner, everyone had regained their equilibrium. Bruce and Natalia had showered and changed into clothes that weren’t smeared with jam, Steve had helped Bucky clean up the worst of the cookie mess, and Clint and Pietro had spent a couple of hours locked in Clint’s old room.
Tony sat at his end of the table and watched his family. It was a little awe-inspiring in ways he hadn’t really thought about while they were all still living at home. When every day was a rush of homework and activities and negotiating arguments and struggling for an appropriate balance of love and discipline, of responsibility and freedom, it had never occurred to Tony to marvel at the way Clint waved his hands excitedly as he told an anecdote from his academy training classes; or Natalia’s small, private smile as she teased Bruce about his latest crush; or the way Steve laughed as he listened to Pietro explaining how he and Clint had gotten together.
Or the way Bucky’s eyes shone at the opposite end of the table as he, too, watched their family, together again.
Bucky caught him watching, and Tony blew a kiss down the table. Bucky, he thought, was the very best thing that had ever happened to him.
Bucky stood and lifted his glass. “To family,” he said into the expectant hush. “To those gone, and fondly remembered.” He nodded to Steve, who pressed his lips together, but nodded. “To those yet to come, and happily anticipated.” He winked at Tony. Tony winked back, suppressing a smirk at the way Clint’s ears were reddening. (And Bruce’s neck, too – the new crush must be more serious than Tony had realized.) “And to each of you here with us tonight,” Bucky concluded, looking at each of their children in turn. “Tony and I – we’re so very, very proud to call you our own. You’re the best family we could ever have chosen.”
“Hear, hear,” Tony said, and lifted his own glass.
Before anyone else could speak up, someone knocked on the door.
Bucky set his glass down. “On Thanksgiving?”
“I’ll get it,” Tony said, pushing his chair back. “Jim said he was going to drop by, but I thought he meant later this weekend.”
He opened the door, and nearly stumbled backwards, clutching at the door frame for support as the blood drained from his face.
Barney grimaced and hitched up the pack on his shoulder. “I, uh. I was just. Passing through. And I thought I’d say hi to Clint.” The forced-casual tone stabbed straight into Tony’s heart.
Barney looked lean, thinner than Tony had ever seen him before, and utterly exhausted. He barely met Tony’s eyes, gaze darting nervously all around, picking out the little details that had changed in the last eight years, and then staring past Tony’s shoulder into the warm light of the house with desperate hunger.
“We’re just sitting down to dinner,” Tony said carefully, like he was approaching a skittish animal. “You could join us.”
“What? I–” Another long look past Tony’s shoulder, and then he shook his head. “Bad idea, you don’t– I’ll just–”
“Everyone’s here,” Tony said, “and we’ve missed you.”
Barney huffed at that, disbelief condensed into pale fog in the cold evening air. “Clint, maybe.”
“All of us do,” Tony said firmly. “You’re welcome here. You’re wanted. Every letter I wrote, I told you that we hoped you’d come home, after.”
“I know,” Barney whispered, barely audible, eyes dropping. “That’s why I– But it’s not…”
Tony almost reached out. Instead, he coaxed, “We’re going to make rum raisin cookies later.”
Barney looked up at that, finally meeting Tony’s eyes.
Behind him, Tony heard, “Tony? What’s the– oh my god.” Barney’s eyes flicked away again, past Tony, to lock on Bucky, probably. Further into the house, a chorus of what?s and Dad?s and scraping chairs and footsteps.
“Barney?” Clint’s voice was jagged and sharp.
Tony couldn’t move, but Barney’s gaze slide to the side, just a bit, to look at Clint. Barney swallowed hard, and took a deep breath.
“Hey, stupidhead. Uh, and the rest of you guys. Um. Happy Thanksgiving.”
Tony gave into the impulse to reach out. He caught Barney’s arm and tugged gently until slow but unresisting feet carried Barney through the doorway. “It is now,” Tony said.