The thing was, there were so much better choices Billy could have made when it came to asking for advice.
Of course, not all the people around him were quite so excellent in this regard. Now, he might have had a good relationship with his parents, but there were some things you just didn't discuss with your mom, certainly not his mom. He could just imagine her reaction if he asked her how he could get the attention of a cute guy. He loved his mother, really he did, but he was also very aware that she was not the most, well, conventional person when it came to certain things, such as relationships. And as for his father, cybernetic constructs might have made excellent husbands and supportive fathers, but he was still sometimes quite puzzled when it came to the finer details of human interactions. Billy was fairly sure teenage dating fell outside his area of expertise.
He wasn't going to even think about asking his brother. Tommy seemed to sometimes still be under the delusion that pulling at the proverbial pigtails was a legitimate way of getting a girl to notice him.
Even so, there were better options to be sure. Perhaps not Uncle Pietro, who would have no doubt teased him for months, or Bucky who would not have been much better. There was Pepper, though, who no doubt had fielded much stranger inquiries during all the time she had known Tony, or Rhodey or Sam who were both unlikely to tease him too much and understanding of his attraction to the more masculine section of the species. Scott wouldn't have been too bad either, he'd certainly handled enough of Cassie's dating woes, and Steve would have maybe teased him but Billy knew he wouldn't have told anyone, and —
Well. The point was, there were other people he could have gone to. And yet here he was, standing in the middle of Tony Stark's workshop, waiting for him to put down whatever his current project was.
"Right, now where was I?" Tony set down his tools, running a hand through his mussed-up hair. It was in the usual messy state that suggested Tony had spent quite a while in his workshop already, occasional touches having long since ruined what styling there might have been at some point. It kind of made Billy feel better about his own unruly mop of hair, or at least hopeful it might one day turn into something presentable. "You wanted to say something?"
"Ah, yeah." Billy leaned against a nearby worktable, feeling a bit self-conscious as he had to raise his voice to be heard over the background music. "Actually, I was hoping to talk about something… personal."
"Personal? And you're coming to me of all people?" Tony blinked, then narrowed his eyes. "If you've been drinking, I'm going to tell your mother. She'd turn me into a very unattractive smear on the wall otherwise."
"What? No!" Billy blurted. "It's just —" He sighed. Better get it out of the way. "It's just… there is this boy."
"Boy?" Tony's eyebrows rose, now, and he smirked a bit. "Would it be bad form to say I called it? Because I totally called it."
"Okay, first, that's not the point, and second, there had better not be a betting pool on my sexuality." Billy sighed again. "But, yeah. There's this guy at my school, and he probably doesn't even know that I exist, and I'm not even sure if he's into guys at all but he's pretty much the hottest thing ever and I'm basically pining."
"And you decided to come to me with your woes why, exactly? I mean, not that I'm not flattered, but you should know by now that I'm not exactly a good role model when it comes to dating."
"Oh, I don't know, you and Steve seem to have done pretty well for fifteen years or so." Billy paused. "And the reason I came to you is because I know you're the least likely to give me shit about it."
"Really? Have you actually met me, kid? I mean, not that I go out of my way to torment my darling grandsons, but I'm pretty much the king of giving people shit." Tony walked past another work table to a small fridge, opening it and taking out two cans of coke.
"Because he's tall and muscular and has blond hair and the bluest eyes ever and the most amazing smile I've ever seen in my life."
"I think you're exaggerating the resemblance." Tony tossed one of the cans at him. "I require proof before I can judge whether this is an issue worthy of teasing."
Billy narrowed his eyes as he popped the can open, focusing on the image that plagued his mind pretty much constantly. The illusion he summoned wasn't quite perfect, it wavered and was somewhat see-through, but he hoped it would illustrate his point. Even imperfect as the image was, this was Teddy Altman, standing in the middle of the workshop as tall and amazing and beautiful as always, eyes twinkling as he laughed at something.
Tony paused, looking at the image. "So you're saying this is him. And not just how you think of him, or whatever?"
"You think I'd need to try to improve the picture when he looks like this?"
"I guess you wouldn't. And he's actually this big? You sure he's your age and hasn't just been held back like five times?"
"Yeah, this is life size. He's on the basketball team, he more or less shot up a foot and a half last summer. And far as I know, he's never had as much as a detention. Some of his teammates are kind of jerks," bullies was more like it, really, "but he's called them out before and they don't really tease anyone when he's around."
"Well, I'll be damned. You actually went and found yourself a teenage Captain America." Tony shook his head. "And, uh. What do you want me to do about it?"
"Nothing, really. Mostly I just want to whine about how I have absolutely no chance whatsoever of ever getting him to even learn my name."
Tony gave a sage nod. "And I'm your choice of an understanding ear because I understand the appeal of big, beefy blondes with a heart of gold. This adonis of yours have a name?"
"Ah. His name is Teddy." As Tony smirked, Billy felt his cheeks heating. "That's his name! Theodore Altman. I'm not quite far enough gone to start giving him cutesy nicknames of my own."
"Good, because that would be a boring one. I'd expect at least a squeezebear out of you, my young padawan." Tony glanced toward the half-finished project on his worktable, then shrugged. "You know what, I'll have to wait out the production for a spare part anyway. How about we sit down somewhere and you can tell me a bit more about this absolutely adorable young man of yours?"
"You wouldn't mind?" Not that he expected Tony would make such offers unless he was actually willing to follow through, but Billy had to admit he was somewhat surprised. Tony wasn't quite as averse to emotions and such things as Tommy claimed to be, but he did tend to roll his eyes at the more touchy-feely stuff.
"Eh. Don't start reciting poetry about his shiny blue eyes, and I think I can stomach it. I'll take my payment in the form of gloating about my superior knowledge when everyone else finds out about your new boyfriend."
"He's hardly going to be my boyfriend," Billy muttered. "It's not like he has any reason to be interested in me."
"Excuse me? You're cute, witty, have an awesome family, and you know Tony Stark. What's there not to like?"
"Yeah, because I'd really like to date a guy who'd only be interested because of who my parents are." They were more or less anonymous at school, and he liked it that way for now, for all that Tommy sometimes grumbled. Their parents had gone to great lengths to keep them out of the public eye, and for all that Billy sometimes thought it might have been nice to have people know who he was, he was aware that being able to go to a regular school and out at town without a fear of kidnapping or angry villains kind of outweighed the downsides of mostly getting ignored by everyone.
Well, ignored and teased, and sometimes shoved around when Tommy wasn't there to glower. But he wasn't exactly about to mention that to anyone.
"Of course not. I'm just saying you've got plenty of good qualities. Trust me, I should know, I was an absolutely hopeless case when I was your age." Tony grinned. "And perhaps after you've told me all about you know this guy of yours, we can try to think up a strategy for how you can win him over."
"This is going to turn out to be some sort of a mad scheme, isn't it." And yet, Billy couldn't help but feel a bit warm inside.
"Now, hush and let your Grandpa Tony handle things."
"That's kind of what I'm afraid of."
"You look awfully chipper."
"Hm?" Tony looked up from where he was preparing a sandwich, grinning as he saw Steve standing at the kitchen door with raised eyebrows. "What, I'm not allowed to be happy, now?"
"Let's just say I've learned to find it suspicious when you are." Steve was grinning, though, so clearly he wasn't as suspicious as he claimed to be. "What are you scheming, now?"
"Why, Steve, I'm absolutely appalled that you would suggest such a thing! I'm not scheming anything. Nor am I plotting, planning, thinking up, or otherwise addressing any matters of mischief." He set down the top slice of bread with a flourish, then took a knife to cut the sandwich in half. "I think you're just trying to make me feel vaguely guilty so I'll make you a sandwich, too."
"I can actually feed myself, you know." Steve chuckled, stepping closer. "Seriously, though, it's rare to see you this cheerful unless something has happened."
"And if I told you it's a secret?" See? He wasn't entirely untrustworthy. Billy probably didn't want Steve to know about his own big blond crush just yet, so Tony would stay quiet.
"I would very much wonder about that, considering that most of the time you can't wait to share your secrets with me." Steve set his hands on Tony's hips, looking down at him. "Is something going to blow up? I'm pretty sure I'm required to know if that happens."
"If something does, then things have gone very far off course." After all, his final advice to Billy had mostly consisted of 'go up to him and say hi', which also comprised more or less all of his knowledge of teenage dating. When he'd been Billy's age he'd had very little time for affection towards anything that wasn't made of circuit boards and metal.
"So something is going on, then." Ah, his ever sharp captain demonstrating his observational skills.
"I promise you it's nothing major." Tony leaned in to press a little kiss to the side of Steve's jaw, then drew back again so he could actually start eating his sandwich. Sure, Steve was kind of awesome and all, but he was hungry and despite the popular opinion considered himself quite capable of taking care of himself, thank you very much. "If everything goes well, you'll hear about it soon enough. And if not, well, I rather suspect the resulting carnage will be mostly limited to ice cream."
"Don't tell me there's relationship drama in the team." Steve groaned. "I knew having everyone move to the Tower again would be bad."
"Hush, it's not that serious. And I really don't see how it's that different from having most of the team living in the headquarters, except now it's easier to sneak the kids off to school without it being painfully obvious." And really, Stark Tower should not have been an inconspicuous place to raise children, but then he'd been very devious indeed and actually renovated a few floors into very high-rent apartments. Not that there were many families with children making any use of such prime Manhattan real estate, but there were a few, and as long as the kids made no public appearances related to the team there was no reason for anyone to think that some of the teenagers leaving the Tower every day actually lived in the floors dedicated to the team.
"You mean you started to miss all the noise and wanted everyone back."
"I mean that I wanted you here and you felt guilty about being apart from the team even though the quinjet makes your commute a pretty trivial matter." Tony flashed Steve a grin. "It's nothing serious, I promise."
"I suppose I'll have no choice but to wait and see, hmm?"
"Indeed." Tony grinned and took a big bite of his sandwich. Steve's response was to huff and press a kiss to his noise, obviously enjoying the indignant noise Tony made around the food in his mouth.
God, they'd been together for far too long.
"Sir?" Jarvis' voice spoke up just as Tony was swallowing his bite, ready to tell Steve just what he thought of such unfair tactics. "There is a call from Midtown High School. Apparently they tried to call Wanda and Vision, but as they are on a mission, they couldn't be reached. Your number is the next on the list."
Tony frowned. Jarvis sounded almost nervous, as much as it was possible for him to sound like anything, and that was not a good sign. When he'd first restored his beloved AI from the most recent offline back-ups he'd had at hand, Jarvis hadn't been quite certain how to view the matter of Vision. However, at some point he'd apparently come to view Vision as something of a younger brother, a sort of more reasonable version of Tony's bots. Which had been kind of adorable, until Tony had realized this extended to Jarvis taking a very uncle-like attitude towards Wanda's twins.
Of course, this logic also meant that Tony himself was a grandfather, which was both bizarre and kind of exciting at the same time.
"What's wrong, JARVIS? Has something happened?" Steve was trying to stay calm, Tony could tell, but he could also hear the edge of tension underneath. Tony felt the same thing, imagined himself as a loaded spring, ready to explode into action any moment.
"I don't know, Sir. Shall I let the call through?"
"Yes, please." Tony glanced at Steve. Neither of them moved until Jarvis' voice was replaced by an official-sounding female voice.
"Hello? Would this be the… Rogers residence?" The woman sounded wary, not that Tony could blame her. Though Jarvis sounded normal enough, and was under strict orders not to introduce himself or the Tower if contacted from non-trusted numbers, whatever conversation she'd had with him before the redirection was probably not exactly what one might call normal.
"That's right." Steve's hand found Tony's and squeezed just a bit. "Is something the matter?"
"Right. This is Principal Lee from Midtown High School. I was trying to reach Thomas and William's parents, but they don't appear to be available."
"Right. They are out of town at the moment; the children are staying with us. I'm their grandfather." Well, it was true enough. Not that Tony had any compunctions about lying to preserve a little secrecy. "Has something happened?"
"I would say so." The principal sighed, and oh, that was not a good sign. "Look, there has been an… incident, and I'm afraid one of the boys was involved. Could I ask you to come here as soon as possible?"
"What kind of an incident?" That didn't sound good at all, certainly not when coupled with her reluctance to go into the details. "Are the boys in trouble?"
"There has been a fight." A fight. On the day Tony had encouraged Billy to approach his big, strong crush with unpleasant friends. "Look, I really don't wish to discuss the details on the phone, and we do need you to come to the school. William is waiting."
Steve's eyes widened in surprise; usually it was Tommy who got into trouble. Tony, though, just felt suddenly very cold. "Right. We'll come as soon as possible." They'd never before been to the school, either of them. Wanda handled most of such things, and they had other members of the team listed as valid contacts for when she wasn't available. Tony and Steve were too recognizable to be walking around regular high schools without attracting attention, while Scott or Sam for example could easily handle such matters, particularly since they'd already been familiar with the school from Cassie's time there. However, given that none but Tony and Steve were supposed to be home right now, unless they could get one of others to show up right away, Tony was damn well going to go there in person.
The principal started to say something, but she was interrupted by a sound Tony would have recognized anywhere. There was no mistaking it, not even through the phone line.
He'd heard far too many explosions in his life not to recognize one when he heard it.
Billy was, quite frankly, terrified.
He wasn't even sure what exactly he was scared of, or who he was scared for. All he knew was that a deep, bone-chilling sensation of fear had enveloped him and wouldn't leave him be no matter how much he tried to calm down.
Well. He supposed it was better than throwing up, which was the feeling he'd had earlier.
He still wasn't even entirely sure of what had happened. He'd started the school day normally enough, if one didn't count the determination he'd nursed after Tony's little pep talk. Sure, he'd try to get close to Teddy and introduce himself, no biggie, it wasn't like Teddy was one of the big basketball stars and Billy was the weird geeky outcast nobody really liked. He'd get right on that.
Except then he'd seen one of the school bullies, Kessler, intimidating another student. And because apparently stupid heroics ran in his blood, Billy had gotten between them.
What exactly had happened next, he didn't know. He remembered that Kessler had been about to hit him, remembered the other students gathering to watch. After that he only recalled a flash of blue light and a crackling sound, and then there had been shouting and screaming and people running everywhere. Next thing Billy really understood was that he was sitting outside the principal's office and feeling nauseous and terrified.
He was fairly sure he was in trouble, though what he'd done, he wasn't entirely sure. He could recall Kessler screaming, though, so clearly he had done something, whatever it had been.
He'd heard an ambulance outside earlier.
There was some sort of a commotion in the corridor outside, with voices steadily rising in volume. One of them was familiar, and he realized with a startle it was Tommy, Tommy was shouting at someone. Billy could barely make out some of the words, something about a brother and getting in, and oh, he didn't want his brother to get in trouble as well. Tommy was in trouble often enough by himself.
For a second, the voices were lowered again, followed by a moment of silence. Then, just as Billy was starting to wonder whether Tommy might have actually given up so easily, the wall next to the door to the corridor exploded in a shower of debris and smoke.
Billy had no time to react, no time to step aside or seek cover, not that he had much hope of finding such in the small, mostly empty room. However, it appeared he didn't need to. Before any of the flying debris could hit him, a crackling blue shield had formed around him, more or less vaporizing everything that came in contact with it. He was left unharmed but frozen in his seat, staring at the wall that was not there anymore.
Tommy stood in the middle of a cloud of settling dust, looking more furious than Billy had ever seen him. He crossed the room to Billy's side faster than he should have been able to by any right, reaching his hand forward. Billy cried out in protest, but Tommy's hand passed the shield without any apparent difficulty, grasping his arm.
"Come on, Billy," he said, his grip firm but not too much so. "We're going home."
"We can't," gasped Billy, still not sure what was going on but certain of that much at least. "Tommy, we can't! Do you know how much trouble I'll be in if —"
"You're already in trouble," Tommy said, not caring about either the shouting from the next room or the sounds Billy could now hear from the principal's office. "I heard people saying you tried to kill Kessler, which is obviously ridiculous, and besides even if you had he'd have had it coming. And don't even try to protest, you're not as good at hiding bruises as you apparently think you are."
"Tommy," he said, but couldn't think of any further argument. All he could do was grab his bag and stare as Tommy walked up to the outer wall with a thoroughly depressing view of the school yard.
He wasn't sure what he expected, a punch perhaps, for all that it would have been utterly ridiculous. Instead, Tommy seemed to just slap the wall, his hand moving faster than Billy had ever seen him do in their unofficial sparring matches with various Avengers, and this wall, too, shattered outward as though he'd just broken its basic structure. And this was a bad idea, everything about this was a bad idea, yet Billy found himself getting up to his feet and walking to his brother even as he could now hear screams and warnings all around the school.
Tommy didn't seem to pay any mind to the commotion, to the screaming students pouring out or any of the rest of it. He simply walked across the school yard like it had offended him just by existing, holding onto Billy's arm as though afraid he'd disappear if Tommy let him out of his sight. He was a frightening sight, with a mad gleam in his eyes and plaster dust in his already white hair, but somehow he seemed like the only secure thing Billy knew in this entire mess.
"We're not coming back here," Tommy hissed, his voice barely audible over the noise around them. Some people were screaming and pointing, Billy realized, looking at the two of them with the same kind of terror in their eyes that Billy had felt earlier. "I don't care what they say, we're not coming back."
"Tommy, where are we going?" he hissed. "We can't just run away or something!"
"Oh, we're not running away." Tommy gave him a manic grin. "I mean, clearly we're a threat so it's better for all if we go somewhere else, right? So, we're going for ice cream. And before you protest, I texted Uncle Pietro and he says he'll come pick us up when things are over and done with, so it's not like we're just disappearing."
Billy still wasn't sure about this, still didn't think it was a good idea, but being with Tommy made the terror inside him ease a little bit. "Fine," he sighed. "But stop rushing ahead, I'm not running just because you're impatient." Though somehow, he got the feeling there was more to Tommy's nervous fast pace than just that.
It would be fine, though. He had to keep telling himself it would somehow be fine.
He just had to stop feeling so damn terrified.