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Little Marvel High: The Kids Aren't Alright

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Pepper slumped down in her chair, resting her chin on the black school desk. English class seemed to be lasting absolutely forever today. That was mostly because he was in the class as well. He, being Tony Stark.

Everyone knew that Pepper and Tony would never work out. Tony was a spoiled-rotten, rich-boy genius, while Pepper was an average girl who had to actually work towards her accomplishments. Pepper’s life consisted mostly of after school committees and late nights with her homework. She didn’t sleep. And on Wednesdays, she had to work a three-hour shift at a florist shop to help her parents pay for living expenses. Tony, on the other hand, spent all of his time in his lab, tinkering around with his fancy, expensive science toys. Now sure, he was going to go somewhere with that. He was probably the smartest person in the school (she didn’t know why he wasn’t already in college), but he was also… popular.

Pepper was popular too, she guessed. She had friends, lots of them, and was well liked amongst teachers and students both. The big difference between her and Tony was that he was rich as she, well, wasn’t. Her and Tony had lasted no longer than two weeks before they started fighting, and it was only a month before they broke it off. Their fights mostly consisted of Tony getting upset over the fact that Pepper had a life outside of him. The boy was a lot of work she sometimes felt like more of a babysitter than a girlfriend. Tony was still a good friend though, he always had been. Even after all of this, she knew that she could still count on him (mostly). But at the moment, Pepper really wasn’t in the mood for dealing with his dark eyes boring into the back of her skull.

She was trying to focus on the lesson when she felt something small and round hit the back of her head. The strawberry blonde twisted around in her seat and glared at the brunette billionaire. Tony shot her a playful smirk and tossed another paper ball right at her face. She scrunched up her nose against the hit and took a deep breath before turning back around. Pepper honestly just wished that Tony would stop being such an annoying twat.

“Psst, Pep!” Tony whispered from a row behind her.

Pepper grumbled to herself and purposefully ignored him. He continued to throw papers at her head for the majority of the class, which only fueled her current annoyance towards the boy. She did manage to catch a poorly-made paper airplane in her hands and crush it, mercilessly, for Tony to see. That elicited a shocked gasp from him, but she only smiled at his horror.

It wasn’t long before the bell rang and Pepper quickly stood from her seat, adjusting her dusty pink blouse and throwing her small, blue and white striped backpack over her shoulders. Just as she turned around to leave, she was met with Tony’s smug face protruding all too close to her own.

“What do you want, Tony?” she sighed, giving him the deadest of looks she could manage at the time.

“You didn’t respond to my notes,” he shrugged, trying to act cool by leaning against a desk.

“Well, after you threw them at my face, I really wasn’t feeling up to it,” she huffed and pushed past him, “excuse me.”

She quickly -- but confidently -- strode off through the doorway, only to hear Tony scrambling after her. His red sneakers squeaked against the tile and he trotted up next to her. Pepper let out a soft grunt of protest.

“Tony, where’s Rhodey? Go pester him, please.”

Tony shrugged, “Haven’t seen him around today, I think he’s sick.”

Pepper took a sharp turn and reached for her gray, metal locker, putting in the combination as quickly as possible. She dumped her english textbook in there and promptly closed the door.

“Liar, I saw him during econ this morning,” Pepper turned to face Tony, keeping her expression totally lifeless, “Now, what is this actually about? I was under the impression that we were taking some space for a while.”

Tony sighed and leaned against the lockers, sighing dramatically, “Okay, so I’m hosting a party tonight, and I was wondering if maybe you wanted to--”

“No.”

It was a simple answer, an easy answer. Pepper was used to using that word with Tony. He never particularly liked being opposed, no one did, but it was the only way to shut him up sometimes. Tony looked a little butthurt at her harshness, but Pepper could honestly care less. She had two tests to study for, but besides that, she had better uses of her time in general. Tony Stark’s house parties usually consisted of underage drinking, loud music, idiotic jerks who took advantage of his money, and lots of unprotected, and frankly disgusting, sex.

“But Pep, everyone is coming!” Tony whined.

“No. I’m busy. Besides, it wouldn’t exactly be classy to have your ex of only three days show up to your big house party,” Pepper turned to walk away, because by now, nearly half the students had already left the building, but Tony put a hand on her shoulder to stop her.

She tensed up and pulled away a little, but he spoke anyways, “Honestly, no one will care. The last thing these kids care about is class.”

“Yeah, see, that’s precisely why I chose not to come.”

Tony let out a small tsk , “You need to loosen up, girl.”

Pepper shot him an icy glare, but before she could respond, she noticed that someone else had approached them. He was a skinny boy in a baggy purple t-shirt and faded blue jeans, with a mop of messy brown curls and round glasses. He tapped Tony on the shoulder and pointed at the locker he was leaning against.

“Excuse me, could I just squeeze in here for a moment?” his voice was soft and shaky, as if he was nervous to speak to Tony.

“Yeah, sorry man,” Tony stepped aside, and after a few seconds of silence between him and Pepper, he clasped the boy’s shoulder roughly -- much like he had done to Pepper’s -- and grinned, “Listen Pepper, even Bryce here is coming tonight!”

The boy jumped a little at the sudden contact and dropped his book on the floor. He shuffled away from Tony’s grasp and bent down to pick up his book, adjusting his glasses a little as he put the book in his locker. Pepper looked at Tony, horrified by his actions, and shook her head. She noted that Tony, in all of rich glory, sporting a ruby red button-up, a nice yellow-and-black leather and fleece jacket, dark blue jeans, and his high quality red Nike’s, looked like a gold bar next to the boy, who reminded her of an unpolished penny. Pepper could tell that the guy had been through some tough times, and he really didn’t deserve to be pestered by Tony, who probably didn’t deserve his time in general.

He swallowed hard and chanced a glance at Tony, “Actually, um, my name is Bruce.”

“Right, right, that’s what I meant. You are coming though, right?” Tony brushed off his mistake with a wave of his hand.

Bruce shook his head, slipping his bag over his shoulders -- which Pepper noticed had a significant number of holes -- and looked down at the floor, “Coming where?”

“To the party! Tonight, at my place.”

“No, um, I wasn’t invited,” Bruce mumbled.

Tony squinted in confusion, “Huh, well, you are now! I’ll see you there!” he spun around on his heels and walked off, “Just think about it, will ya Pep?”

She rolled her blue eyes and called back, “You won’t see me there!”

There was no response from Tony, but Bruce managed a small, “You and me both.”

Pepper giggled a little and smiled at him, a smile that he returned only for a moment. For some reason, she felt as if she’d just witnessed a rarity, like maybe Bruce didn’t get to smile often.

“His parties really aren’t worth it anyways,” she tried to assure Bruce that it was okay not to show up.

“Really?” Bruce zipped up a black, battered hoodie, “I’ve heard that they are the place to be on a friday night.”

“I’m sure his neighbors don’t agree.”

Bruce let out a soft laugh, “Yeah,” and started to inch away a little, as if he wanted to be getting home, but didn’t want to be rude about it.

“Alright, well I’ll see you around?” Pepper honestly did hope she’d see more of Bruce. He’d been in a few of her classes before, and he was always very quiet, but she just never got the chance to get to know him. From what she’d heard, he was pretty smart as well.

“Oh, okay, see you,” and there it was again, that innocent smile.

As Bruce slowly padded away in his flattened sneakers, Pepper couldn’t help but smile as well. She was a critical thinker, and interactions like these always made her contemplate how a person’s upbringing and appearance affects who they are. While Tony was outgoing, wealthy, vibrant, and popular, she happened to find his words less meaningful, less endearing, than Bruce’s, no matter how little he had or how softly he spoke.

Pepper swore that someday, all of this analyzing would pay off somehow.

 

The walk home wasn’t too terribly long. It usually took her between ten and fifteen minutes, depending on how urgently she wanted to get home. Today was a rather brisk day, the wind buffeting her hair in different directions. She didn’t mind, she didn’t have anyone in particular to impress. Just as she was crossing the street, her phone buzzed in her pocket. As she reached the other side, Pepper pulled it out and checked her caller ID. It was one of her close friends, Sam. She answered the phone and continued walking along the sidewalk.

“Hey Sam, what’s up? Don’t you have bird watching club with Clint today?” she had to hold back a small giggle at the idea of Sam and the school’s finest archer watching blue jays and chickadees together.

“We had to cancel. Something about Clint needing to take his dog to vet… again .”

“Hm, weird.”

Clint had a dog who was constantly getting himself “hurt”. No one actually knew what Clint was up to when he was “taking his dog to the vet”, but whatever, that’s Clint for ya. He was a weird kid in general. Not that that was a bad thing, because he was a valuable friend to have. Mostly because, since he could literally kick everyone’s asses, people stopped messing with him and his friends.

“So, you know that test we have in math tomorrow? Do you wanna study for it together? I’m having trouble with the quadratics stuff,” Sam sounded genuinely in need of her help.

“I thought you’d be hanging out over at Stark’s place tonight with the rest of the school.”

She could almost imagine Sam shake his head, “Nah, I gotta get a good grade on this test, or else my parents will kill me.”

“Yeah, alright,” Pepper came up to the front door of her house, pulling her house key from her pocket, “Time and place?”

“Seven o’clock at Baskin Robbins?”

“Baskin Robbins?” Pepper furrowed her brow as she wiped her shoes on the floor mat, “Why there?”

“So we can eat ice cream! Duh! It’s on me anyways,” Sam laughed at her, as if his reasoning should have been obvious.

“Okay, I’ll be there! Maybe tonight we will actually be productive for once.”

“Hah, fat chance. But, we can try.”

And with that, Pepper hung up the phone and opened the door, sliding off her white-laced flats in the entryway. Maybe today was going to turn out better than she’d originally thought.

Chapter Text

Sam stepped out of his car and hurriedly walked up to the Baskin Robbins that he and Pepper were meeting at. She was leaning against the wall, just outside the door to the little ice cream parlor. Her hands were cupping her arms, rubbing them over her skin in an attempt to warm herself up in this mid-march breeze.

“You look cold, did you walk here?” Sam asked as he met her with a smile, opening the door for her.

A little bell rung as they stepped inside. Pepper nodded and shot him a grateful look at his kind gesture, “Yeah, my parents wouldn’t let me take the car, as usual.”

“Yo, you should’a called me. I would have picked you up!” Sam threw his arm around her shoulder and brought her into a quick hug as they walked over to an empty table, depositing their textbooks and journals.

“Well, you can make it up to me by taking me home,” she smiled at him as they paced up to the glass windows, where they began to inspect the ice cream flavors.

“It would be my pleasure, Ms. Potts,” Sam sent a flirty wink in her direction, and she laughed out loud and punched him in the shoulder.

He rubbed his arm a little. To be honest, Pepper was stronger than she looked. Sam and her had been friends since freshman year when they both got stuck in the same cooking class on accident. Turns out, they were the only two capable people in the entire class, despite the fact that Sam burned every single baked good they attempted to make. During Pepper’s recent breakup with Tony, Sam had been the person she turned to for moral support. He liked to act all chill, but Sam was really just big softy. But to be honest, Sam was glad that Pepper broke it off with Tony. He wasn’t good for her, well, he wasn’t good enough for her. At least not by Sam’s standards.

They came up to the counter and Sam pulled his wallet out from his pocket. “I’ll have two scoops of chocolate fudge in a waffle cone. With chocolate syrup, oh yeah, put some of that on their, will ya?” he was too busy looking down, shuffling through his dollars bills, to look up at the cashier.

Instead of ordering, Pepper suddenly was grinning ear-to-ear, “Scott!” she exclaimed.

Sam glanced up at the cashier, who he vaguely recognized from school. Pepper leaned over the counter to embrace him in a tight hug. He was a shorter guy, with brown hair and light green eyes. He had a sort of scruffy appearance, and looked a little ridiculous in his pink Baskin Robbins apron.

Scott adjusted his mandatory attire and smiled back at her, “Hey Pepper! The usual?” Pepper nodded enthusiastically as Scott scooped up one blob of birthday cake ice cream, another of cookie dough, and topped off the waffle cone bowl with rainbow sprinkles. “Anything for my favorite red-head!”

Pepper rolled her eyes and teased, “It’s strawberry blonde, you blind bat!”

“Pep, aren’t you allergic to strawberries?” Sam asked, folding his arms over his chest.

Her expression fell suddenly, “Yeah…” and her eyes wandered over to the tub of strawberry ice cream, “it’s really quite unfortunate.”

Scott laughed from the other end of the counter, starting to scoop Sam’s ice cream, “So, do I get a formal introduction?” leaning down to reach into to ice cream tub, he looked up at Sam from under his dark lashes and gave him a boyish grin. Sam couldn’t help but shiver a little at the sight of those minty green eyes, quickly looking away from Scott.

“Oh! Of course!” Pepper laid a hand on his arm, “Sam, this is Scott. He’s a friend of mine. We have chemistry class together,” she introduced them.

Sam gave Scott a small smile, “Nice to meet you.”

“Oh, I was kidding, I know who you are,” Scott still had that stupid grin on his face, stopping what he was doing to shake his head a little, “Wait no, no that sounded creepy. I um, I’ve seen you around. Around school. In the halls. We have history together.”

Sam raised a dark eyebrow at him and said, smugly, “Do we?” (Which earned a well-deserved elbowing in the ribcage from Pepper.)

The guy seemed a bit flustered, “I um, I meant history class .”

“Oh, right right, I remember now. You sit a few rows behind me.”

Scott nodded and reached over the counter to hand Sam his ice cream. Their fingers touched for only a fraction of a second, but they still happened to make awkward eye contact. A small smile tugged at the side of Sam’s mouth, but he forced it away. Pepper was squinting at Sam with something that looked like suspicion.

They  both got their ice cream and sat down at the table, leaving Scott to tend to other customers for the moment.

“What was that all about?” Pepper asked.

“Huh? What do you mean?” Sam opened up his textbook and grabbed a pencil from his jacket.

“You were totally just flirting with him.” Pepper pointed discreetly over at Scott, who was currently fumbling with some customer’s money.

Sam laughed out loud, “Wow Pep, you’re funny!”

“No wait, I’m serious! You totally had him blushing!”

“Pepper, I said like two words to him. That was nothing. Let’s just try and study, okay?”

Pepper huffed and gave him an upset glare, which he mockingly mirrored back to her.

 

Him and Pepper studied for no more than ten minutes before their conversations degraded into gossip again. Sam wasn’t surprised, the two of them weren’t ever actually going to get anything done anyways. They always tried to have these study dates, but they never worked. Someday, he’d actually get the help he intended to get. Today was not that day.

“So, did Tony actually ask you to come to his party tonight?” Sam leaned back in his chair and took a long lick of his ice cream cone.

“Yeah, and on top of that, he embarrassed that poor little Bruce kid,” she sighed in response.

“Bruce? Bruce Banner?”

“Yeah, I think so. He scared him half to death.”

Sam was surprised that someone like Tony would even speak to Bruce. Bruce was a good guy. He was really smart and was super nice, but he wasn’t exactly the wealthiest of lads. Sam had been acquaintances with Bruce since they were little. He was pretty anti-social, but was cool once you got to know him. Years ago, he had some intense anger issues, but he seemed to have them under control now.

“You mean... Tony spoke to him?”

“Yeah, and he touched his shoulder rather aggressively too.”

Sam rolled his chocolate eyes, “Stupid Stark, he doesn’t know when he’s gone too far.”

It was true, Stark was constantly pushing people’s limits. Sometimes, Sam couldn’t tell whether or not he did it on purpose, just to be rude and embarrass people, or if he genuinely couldn’t tell that people were uncomfortable with him. It wasn’t like he was appalling, oh no, he was a rather attractive guy, but he just wasn’t as tolerable as he liked to believe. Although, there was also a very large population of the school who would give up a kidney for a single night with Tony Stark. Sam had come to the conclusion that there were three types of people in Tony’s life -- everyone either wanted to kill him, befriend him for his money, or fuck him. No one really seemed to pay attention to Tony’s brilliant brain. Because, while he did have cash and a fancy car and a big house, he hadn’t yet found anyone who could share his genius. Maybe that was why Tony never really settled down with anyone.

Pepper and Sam had both drifted into deep thought, but he was ripped from his mind when he felt a sudden weight on the back of his chair. He whipped around to see Scott, hands on his chair, leaning into their conversation, causing him to jump a little out of pure shock.

“Jesus, dude, don’t sneak up on me like that!” Sam rubbed his forehead and leaned away from Scott.

“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean too -- I mean, ahh I’m sorry,” he pulled up his own seat, preparing to sit down next to Sam, “I heard something about Tony Stark?”

Scott sat down. Well, he tried to sit down. Instead, he missed the seat and nearly fell over, catching himself on the table and pulling himself back up into the seat. Pepper smiled at him like nothing happened, but Sam raised his eyebrows in disbelief. This kid was… different. Not that that was bad, but he was certainly a peculiar character. Scott obviously tried to play it cool, but his cheeks were flushed pink and he swallowed hard in embarrassment.

“You okay, man?” Sam asked, looking the shorter man up and down, instinctively -- but unnoticeably -- checking him for injuries. Sure he’d only slipped, but anything could happen to someone who’s that clumsy.

“Fine, I’m uh, I’m fine,” he waved off the question as quickly as possible, “I just thought maybe I’d join you.”

“Right…” Sam gave him a skeptical look.

Getting a read on Scott was easy, especially for someone as observant as Sam. He was a bit awkward around the edges, but seemed like a nice guy in general. Pepper obviously liked him, but that rarely dictated his opinions anyways. Pepper could find the good in anyone -- even Tony Stark. But Scott was no Tony, this was a completely different breed of personality. He struck Sam as the creative type. Someone intelligent enough to carry both a sense of humor and a sense of modesty. The only problem with that was that Scott appeared to be a little out of touch with his stamina. He tumbled over not only his feet, but also his words.

He didn’t know if he found Scott’s awkward enthusiasm slightly annoying, or utterly charming. Although, by the end of the night, he was leaning towards the latter of the two. The three of them sat there, talking amongst themselves about everything from school to Scott’s odd preference of ants over crickets. Seriously, who prefers invasive ants over chirpy little crickets? Weird. Every so often, Sam would catch him glancing his way, and Scott would quickly look away and act like nothing happened. By the time it was time to close the store, Sam had an uneasy feeling growing in his stomach. Well, he wasn’t exactly sure if uneasy was the right word, but it was something along those lines. Sam also couldn’t seem to pinpoint what was so intriguing about this boy. He’d always seen Scott around, but he never thought anything of him. He was just another kid in the halls, until tonight. It was something in those eyes that made Sam just… wonder.

On their way out, Pepper made sure to wave goodbye to Scott, “See you tomorrow!”

Scott looked up from the cash register and grinned at them, “You too! Bye Pepper!” he turned his gaze to Sam and made a snappy little hand-gun gesture towards him, “See ya in history class, Sam!”

Sam waved his hand goodbye, being as polite as possible when he found the boy so odd, and closed to door behind Pepper. It was still cold outside, and Sam was suddenly very thankful that he’d brought his heavier jacket. They were walking back to his car when Sam decided to chance a discussion about Scott.

“Soo… Scott is… nice,” he tried to sound positive.

Pepper smirked a little, “You think so?”

Sam nodded, “Yeah, yeah, a little clumsy maybe -- in more ways than one -- but uh, nice.”

“He’s a great guy, although I do admit, I’ve never seen him this flustered before,” she sat down in the passenger seat as Sam was putting the keys in the ignition.

“Yeah, that’s what I meant by clumsy, Pep.”

“You guys seemed to hit it off pretty well,” she winked at him.

Sam shrugged,, “I wouldn’t go that far. But, uh, I don’t know. Maybe we can be friends. He seems interesting.”

“Is that why you wouldn’t stop staring? Because you think he’s interesting?” She raised her eyebrow at him as she buckled her seatbelt.

He did the same, “I wasn’t staring, Pep.”

Pepper was silent for a minute, as if she was contemplating whether or not she should continue the conversation. They were just beginning to back out of the parking spot when she piped in, “I think he likes you.”

Sam’s foot slammed on the breaks and he nearly choked on his own saliva. Pepper squeaked and grasped the sides of the car.

“Sam!” her voice hitched, “Be careful!”

“Sorry, sorry!”

Chapter Text

Pepper groaned at the high-pitched squealing of the school bell. She slid into the uncomfortable, black plastic chair that she’d be inevitably stuck in for the next hour and a half of her life. She firmly believed that the classes lasted all too long, partially due to the rotating day-by-day schedule of her school. And alas, this was the long awaited math class. Sam walked up and sat down in his seat just a minute or so after she arrived. She could almost feel him shaking in the chair in front of her. Something about this test really had him shaken up. Sam -- being the laid back, “chill” guy he was -- was never big on tests anyways, but this was weird.

“Sam?” she leaned forward and tapped his shoulder.

Sam turned his head to look over his shoulder at her, “Yeah?”

“I can feel your anxiety from back here,” she had a playful twist in her voice, trying to make him smile.

He did (of course he did), but he still looked scared to death, “Sorry, I just… I really have to pass this test.”

Pepper squinted at him and furrowed her brow, “What’s so different about this one? I’ve never seen you so shaken up before.”

Sam swallowed hard, “I’ll tell you later, okay? It’s um, it’s personal.”

Pepper nodded and sat back in her seat, instantly understanding. Sam didn’t actually have it that rough time at home, per say. His parents were nice and he had a good home, but the one thing they always pushed for him to think about was going to college. It was always “college this”, “college that”, and “someday, when you go to college” with his parents. They meant well, and Sam was always respectful. Always. He never spoke a word in opposition of them. But Pepper could see the reluctance in his eyes whenever his family talked about school, and big, fancy futures. She knew that that wasn’t what Sam yearned for, but he’d also never really told her what he truthfully wanted to do with his life. Maybe this would be her chance to find out.

Pepper must have been really focused on all the thoughts bustling around in her head, because she barely noticed the entrance of two new students. She’d never seen these kids before; they were probably transfer students. The shorter of the two was a small girl with porcelain skin, big, grass-green eyes and long, silky brown hair. Her hair was sitting over her shoulder in a loose braid that she reached up to and began to play with, black-nailed fingers twirling the little hairs. She was wearing a red hoodie with a black skirt that hit right at her knees, along with black and white striped thigh-high socks and red converse. The boy, on the other hand, was like her polar opposite. He was tall, muscular, and although he looked like a cracked icicle next to a glass doll, he did have the same fair skin as the girl. His hair was long enough to hang over his forehead and it curled significantly around the backs of his ears. It was a weird color; dark brown around the back of his head and on the shorter parts, and a striking white-blonde along the top and the longer parts. It made Pepper wonder whether or not he dyed it himself. He had a subtle aftershave shadow over his chin and jawline, icy-blue eyes grazing over the crowd of students. He wore a tight blue t-shirt, gray and green sneakers, slightly baggy, black joggers, and a black track jacket with white arrows cascading down the sleeves. The only vibe Pepper was getting from this boy was troublemaker.

Both of the new kids stood close together, giving her the assumption that they could be related. Mr. Coulson walked up to them, speaking with them at a low enough volume that Pepper couldn’t hear him. After a few minutes of just talking with them, he finally led them up to the front of the classroom, sighing and slapping a stack of awaiting tests on his desk that he’d had in his hand. He was a short man with a long forehead and soft, balding wisps of light brown hair. Coulson was the school’s head football coach, he just happened to get stuck with a boring math class in between. He was a nice guy, a little odd at times, but a good teacher.

“Good morning class,” his voice was kind and non-threatening, despite the abundance of threats that came out of his mouth each day.

He was greeted with various grumbles and groans -- the sound of tired teenagers in the morning. He sported a quick frown and then gestured to the two new students.

“Everyone listen up, you’ve got some new classmates. This here is Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, foreign exchange students from… where was it again?” Phil looked up at the boy -- Pietro -- for an answer.

Pietro shifted his weight to his other hip, “Sokovia.”

Everyone just stared at them, blinking in confusion.

He sighed and rolled his eyes, “Eastern Europe.”

There was a wave of “oh’s” and “ah’s” from the crowd. Pepper was frankly too intrigued by his accent to respond. She couldn’t help but wonder if delicate little Wanda had the same thick, almost Russian roll in her voice.

“Alright, well now that we’re all introduced, take a seat and we’ll get on with the test,” Mr. Coulson gestured at the room, “Sit wherever you’d like.”

Pietro confidently strode to the back of the room and plopped into the chair next to Clint, swinging his feet up onto the desk. Mr. Coulson glared at him, but he didn’t make any effort to move. Pepper noticed that Wanda was nervously scanning the room for an empty seat, so she smiled at the new girl and patted the seat next to her. Wanda chanced a small smile back as well. The small girl slowly made her way over and slid into the free chair.

Pepper held out her hand to Wanda, “Hi, my name’s Virginia Potts, but please, call me Pepper!”

Wanda looked surprised at her efforts to greet her. She cautiously placed her hand in Pepper’s and shook it a little. Oh, and by God, were her hands soft . Like velvet against Pepper’s.

“Hello, Pepper. I’m Wanda,” her voice was almost just as thick in accent as her brother’s,

The ginger girl smiled at Wanda with genuine pleasure. It would be nice to finally have another girl to sit next to. Besides, Pepper loved making new friends. She understood first-hand what it was like to be the shy, new kid, so she was determined to give Wanda a safe place right off the bat. Pietro, for the most part, appeared as if he could handle himself. She looked over her shoulder at the boy, but he wasn’t actually what caught her attention. It was Clint, sitting next to him. Red, scrunched face, arms folded over his chest, and a pencil snapped between his fist. Pietro was looking down at the shredded remains of what Pepper assumed used to be his pencil, utterly offended. He must have done something really stupid to have ticked off (a usually quite composed) Clint so rapidly.

Pepper stifled a small giggle at the sight of the two. However, she was put to silence right when the white test paper appeared on her desk before her. Wanda was lucky; she didn’t have to take the test. Pepper could see Sam’s finger shaking as he picked up his pencil. The boy was an absolute wreck. Hopefully he’d do just fine… hopefully.

 

The test had been easy enough, which was good for Pepper. One less grade to worry about. Turns out, Wanda and her both had the same first and second periods, so she invited the new girl to sit with her and her friends at lunch. Pepper usually was accompanied by Maria, Jane, Darcy, Peggy, Thor, and Steve during lunch. They were a sweet group of people, which is why Pepper continued to stay with them. She’d moved lunch tables many times over the years, but she’d never found a bunch of people this nice and accepting. That’s why she was absolutely confident that Wanda would be welcomed as well.

But Tony’s table was different. He sat with Clint, Rhodey, Peter, T’Challa, and Natasha. These people weren’t bad by any means, they were just… loud. And slightly obnoxious. Pepper made a mental note about how Tony’s face was paler than usual. He’d probably gotten drunk last night and had been puking all morning. She wouldn’t be surprised if every person sitting with him had gone to the party as well. This was the table of kids who threw carrots at other people’s heads just for fun. They laughed about stupid jokes, and often mocked Pepper’s table from a few spots down. It was mostly Tony, Rhodey, and T’Challa. Peter was an awkward kid, but he’d taken a liking to Tony as of late, and Clint was, well, Clint. And then there was Natasha.

Pepper had… feelings… about Natasha. Dark red curls bubbling about her shoulders, icy, teal green eyes void of emotions, pink, slightly puckered lips, rosy skin, a gaze as cold as the arctic, fingers delicate enough to weave webs, and a bite that was just as bad as her bite. Natasha and Pepper didn’t get along. Nope. Not one bit. In fact, Pepper was sure that she hated Natasha. A month ago, she may have despised her for getting unneeded attention from Tony, today though, Natasha just irked her. Maybe it was her perfect curves or her harsh attitude, she didn’t really know, she just didn’t like her. She made Pepper uneasy.

Aside from that, there was also a table in between the two. There, sat Thor’s adopted brother, Loki, a true deceiver. No one talked to Loki, which was probably for the better. He wasn’t exactly the sweetest berry on the bush. The table also sat Justin Hammer (Tony’s least favorite person on the planet), Bucky (who was only there to watch over his best friend, Steve), and Johann (the guy who Bucky was protecting Steve from). It was usually a dull table. They never spoke, they just sulked. A lot.

Pepper and Wanda entered the cafeteria, lunch boxes in hand, and sat down at the large round table. No one really bat an eye at Wanda’s arrival. Pepper had already introduced her to Jane, Darcy, and Thor, who had all been in their last class as well.

Steve swallowed a bit of his hot dog, “Hey, who’s the new girl?” he smiled politely.

“Steve, this is Wanda. Wanda, this is Steve Rogers, lead pitcher on the baseball team and the quarterback of the football team,” Pepper introduced him.

Her and Steve were decent friends. They never really hung out outside of lunch and PE class, but he was good company, and an even better person. He was the nicest football player she’d ever met.

Steve shook Wanda’s hand just as Pepper had done earlier. Eventually, everyone settled down and ate their food. No one really had much to say today, except small talk about their classes and all. Maria asked Pepper how the math test had went, and she responded as honestly as she could. After about ten minutes of comfortable eating, she felt Wanda tug on her shirt a little.

Pepper glanced at her, worriedly, “What’s wrong?”

Wanda turned her head towards Tony’s table, where a her brother now sat as well, “Should I be worried?” she asked with innocence enough.

Pepper sighed, “Well, probably, but don’t think too much into it. They’re all idiots. If he’s got any sense at all, he’ll leave eventually.”

Wanda gave the table one last, weary glance before turning back to her food. Pepper, on the other hand, noticed something peculiar. Pietro had sat down next to Clint, who was looking rather uncomfortable. He wasn’t talking -- not even to Natasha, who was staring at her stupid, red-painted fingernails. The boy was leaning on his elbows, laughing with Tony from across the table. Pepper could tell that Tony liked Pietro, and to her own dismay, the new student didn’t seem to mind him either. She just hoped that he didn’t get too caught up in all of their gossip. Wanda was a sweet girl, but Pepper could sense that she was protective over her brother for a good reason, and while that reason was unknown to her, it didn’t really make a difference in the end.

Just as Pepper decided that nothing interesting was going to happen over there, she heard someone stand up. Hoping that it was Pietro, she turned again, only to find out that it was Clint. She vaguely noted that Wanda had peered back at the table as well. He grabbed his tray of food and began to walk away.

Pepper was surprised that Clint had become so uncomfortable that he’d decided to leave . That’s one thing she knew for sure about Clint, he was a stubborn ass. He didn’t move for anyone, he didn’t take anyone’s shit, he frankly just didn’t care. He had no reason to. Clint was gruff and sarcastic and a bit lazy, actually, but he was a force not to be reckoned with; for he was fiercely loyal to his friends. Pepper wouldn’t be surprised if he’d lay his life down for any one of them, especially Natasha. They’d been best friends since forever. There were a lot of stories about how those two met. Pepper had heard that he’d helped her off of the streets, that he’d met her in Russia, and even that she’d killed a man for making fun of Clint. Obviously none of those were true, but it was fun to speculate.

Clint was only about a foot away from the table when, fast as lighting, Pietro brought a death wish upon himself. He stuck his foot out in front of Clint and tripped him. The kid actually tripped him. Clint stumbled to the ground with a “thud” and dropped his food tray. Luckily, he’d eaten everything except for his chocolate milk, which spilled violently all over the white cafeteria-floor. Pepper instantly gasped and stood up, rushing over to aide Clint. He pushed himself up from the ground and sat back on his knees, rubbing the side of his head, which had hit Loki’s table on the way down. Pietro was laughing, up until the point when Clint whipped his head around and glared at him with a look that even Pepper hadn’t seen in the archer’s eyes before. It was a mixture of absolute hatred and something else, something that took her a minute to pinpoint. She was about to kneel down next to him to help clean up, but then she realized what it was. Fear . It was fear.

Pietro furrowed his brow, and for a second, Pepper saw guilt in his expression. It didn’t last long though, “Sorry man, it was a joke. I mean to make you fall.”

Clint just stared at him, eyes wide and hands fumbling about for something. A napkin, maybe?

Pietro looked confused now, “Are you okay?”

And Clint just stared.

Pepper walked over and offered Clint her napkin, only shooting him a sympathetic smile, which he returned with a barely visible nod. She was content with doing her part, and sat back down next to Wanda. And oh, did Wanda look ashamed.

“Wanda…” Pepper put a hand on her shoulder while everyone else at both tables just gawked at the scene in front of them.

“It’s our first day and he’s already made enemies,” she was whispering to try and avoid grabbing her brother’s attention.

“His actions don’t reflect on you, Wanda,” Pepper tried to reassure her that this was all due to Pietro’s own stupidity.

“He only does this because of our life back in our home country. We fought to survive in Sokovia, you know? It was eat or be eaten at our old school,” the fact that Wanda was opening up to Pepper made her smile a little, “He’s not really a bad guy, I promise.”

Pepper nodded, “It’s okay, I believe you.”

Wanda lifted her eyes and gave her a grateful smile, but the moment was interrupted by Pietro’s voice floating into earshot.

“Why won’t you respond to me!?” the white-haired boy was standing now, fists balled up and anger flaring in his eyes, but Clint was focused on cleaning up his spilled milk.

“Shut the hell up, jackass,” Natasha basically spat at Pietro, her lifeless words making an unpleasant feeling rumble in Pepper’s chest.

Natasha was still barely phased, feet thrown up onto the table, eating some goldfish crackers one by one, but she was still intimidating enough for her words to convince Pietro slowly sit back down. Clint piled the wet napkins on his tray, standing up and brushing himself off, and then nervously glanced back and forth around the floor. He still seemed to be looking for something. Pepper strained her neck to see if anything stood out against the tile, but she couldn’t spot his missing object. And with that, Clint sighed and walked off, not returning for the rest of lunch.

The bell rang only a few minutes after he’d left. Pepper, Wanda, and the rest of her table stood up to go to their third class of the day. As she was clearing the garbage off of the table, she happened to notice Pietro stop only a few feet from where Clint had fallen earlier. He tilted his head, blue eyes locking onto something. He squinted and bent over, picking up something small and purple. Pepper couldn’t tell what it was from where she stood, but she assumed that it was Clint’s missing object. Pietro pocketed the item in his track jacket and then continued to walk out of the cafeteria, a serious look on his face, as if he was contemplating something important.

Well, this was certainly going to be an entertaining situation.

Chapter Text

Scott walked into his third period class. While half of the school was busy eating lunch, he had to push through one more period before diving into the salami sandwich he’d packed. He had US history, which was one of his favorite classes. Well, it wasn’t really the curriculum that made the class his favorite, it was the other people in it with him. Certain, specific people. People named Sam. Who sat two desks in front of him.

Scott liked Sam. He totally liked him. Not just friend-like, but like… like like . He’d been super nervous the night before when him and Pepper had stopped by his work. Scott didn’t know what to do, he was clumsy and obvious, and couldn’t even look at Sam for more than two seconds without going red in the face. Oh what Scott would give to hand him more ice cream cones, just to touch his fingers again. Scott’s pulse was increasing at the thought of those dark brown eyes locking onto his.

As he was walking up to his desk, he glanced up at the board and noticed something different, something -- oh God . Oh Lordy Jesus . Nope. Nooooope. He didn’t want this. Well he did, but he couldn’t . He wouldn’t be able to focus. He’d make a fool of himself! Because up on the screen, Scott saw a new seating chart. A new seating chart that coincidentally placed him and Sam freaking Wilson right next to each other. In the back row .

Scott gulped a bit and took a deep breath. He could do this. This was going to be okay. Except that his legs were shaking now, which meant that he was going to eventually trip over something. But, fortunately, one thing Scott was pretty good at was hiding how nervous he was. He couldn’t do anything about his giveaway giggles and red cheeks, but he was certain that no one could tell that he was scared.

He spun around on his heels and looked over at the desk that he was now supposed to be occupying. Sam was already there, grabbing his journal out of his black backpack. Scott sighed and then puffed out his chest. He slid in next to Sam and threw an arm around his shoulder. Sam jumped a little and quickly snapped his head around to look at Scott.

“Hey buddy! I guess we’re forced to get to know each other now!” Scott realized that he sounded like a freak, but the words were already out.

Sam sighed and shrugged Scott’s arm off, “Yeah, yeah, hey Scott.”

A shiver ran down his spine at the mention of his name. He liked the way it rolled of of Sam’s tongue. Gosh was this boy beautiful, all decked out in his tight gray t-shirt, blue jeans, and black sneakers. Scott could look at him for ages. Until, of course, he realized that he was looking at him for ages, in which prompted him to quick turn his head away.

“I’m super glad that we got sat together. If it was someone I didn’t know at all, this would be really awkward,” Scott smiled at Sam, leaning in towards him a little.

Sam raised an eyebrow at the smaller boy, giving an incredulous huff, “Right, really awkward.”

Scott just grinned foolishly up at him, resting his cheek in his hand. He could feel the chair slowly slipping out from under him again, but he wasn’t focused enough to think about stopping it. His elbow lost its traction on the table, the chair hitched, and Scott was on the floor… again. His tailbone hit the tile floor with a “thud” and he squeaked in pain, flailing a little and then he sat up, turning red in the face.

Scott could see everyone’s eyes. They were all looking at him, even Sam. Some were laughing, others looked concerned, but Scott didn’t really care. He hunched over and put his hands on the floor between his legs. This was it. An opportunity had arisen. He was going to hit Sam with the “cute-but-helpless” look. Scott stared at the floor for a second, and then slowly turned his head up slightly, and peered at Sam through his thick lashes. For the final touch, he squirmed every so slightly and then puffed out his lower lip when he looked away.

And Scott could hear Sam gulp . He could physically hear Sam swallow every word he was about to say. He smiled to himself and then scrambled up from the floor, brushing away the dust from his clothes. Scott sat back down again and ran a hand through his messy brown hair.

“Yikes, I should really stop doing that,” he laughed.

Sam half-smiled, “You’re gonna hurt yourself next time.”

Scott scratched the back of his head, “Yeah, well, maybe you’ll be there to catch me.”

Scott didn’t realize what he’d said until Sam snorted and leaned back in his seat. He opened his mouth and blubbered out, “I mean, uh, I mean not like... not like that or anything, I just --”

“You make it sound like I’m some kind of knight in shining armor, ready to sweep in any moment,” Sam waved his hand in the air in some sort of sword-like motion and tested a glance in Scott’s direction.

“Actually…” Scott took a deep breath and swallowed hard, rubbing his neck, “I prefer birds over knights. I’d much rather be saved by a feathery bird than some hard, knight.”

Sam stopped breathing for a few seconds and locked eyes with Scott. There was something there, something different, something he hadn’t seen in his eyes yet. It was familiar, but so uncharted.

“I… I love birds.”

Scott felt blush spread over his cheeks and he smiled, breaking eye contact. He tried to stand up out of his seat, mumbling something about having to use the bathroom before class started. His heart was racing, blood pulsing through his body. Scott wasn’t sure what he’d said, but it struck something in Sam’s mind. He was vulnerable, for a few seconds, Sam had been vulnerable enough to tell Scott something that seemed, oddly, much more personal than it should have. Scott had to take a breather outside if he was going to be able to focus in class, but he bumped into another student as he was backing out his desk space, whipped around, tripped on the leg of the table, and nearly fell again. “Nearly” being the key word.

His hands were warm, like fire on the skin of Scott’s arms. He could feel Sam’s heartbeat pounding against his back. His eyes were wide and he held his breath, hoping that Sam couldn’t see his teeth digging into his bottom lip.

Sam chuckled a little and helped Scott stand up, “Careful there, man.”

Scott’s mouth fell open and he hung his head a little, “Th-thanks, I guess you were there to catch me this time.”

Sam smiled and looked down at the ground, “Guess I was, huh?”

Sam’s eyes were slowly fading back to their usual, cool exterior, and Scott mustered up a small, fake smile to please him. He had been there, he’d been there to catch him, but Sam still didn’t know. He didn’t realize what he could do to Scott. He could feel the skin on his arms still crawling, aching for the return of Sam’s touch. It wouldn’t come, because Scott could see that Sam just didn’t know.

And it broke Scott’s heart.

 

~~~

 

Bruce heard a chair crash to the ground in the back of the classroom. He jumped a little and turned his head to see Scott on the ground, looking flustered as ever. He shook his head and turned back to his notebook, writing down the day’s objective. Bruce had been lost in the clouds of his thoughts for nearly two day straight. He’d never been this disoriented before. And all over stupid Tony Stark!

Bruce recalled earlier this morning, drifting off into his thoughts again.

 

Bruce was grabbing his book from his locker when he heard someone approaching. He looked over his shoulder to see Tony smiling down at him. He took in a quick breath and stared at him with wide eyes.

“Well hey there, Brucie. Didn’t see you at my party last night. How come?” Tony tilted his head the side a little.

“I, uh, I was busy,” he managed to muster out a few words.

“Aw, too bad, I was looking forward to seeing you,” Tony fake-pouted, folding his arms over his chest.

Bruce shrunk down against his locker, “Oh, really?”

Tony snorted, “Eh, I actually didn’t notice until this morning, but whatever.”

“Oh, well that makes more sense,” Bruce muttered, turning his head away from Tony’s protruding, chocolate eyes.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tony scrunched his brow at Bruce’s comment.

Bruce gulped, “Well it's just that no one ever really notices me anyways.”

“That’s not true, ya know?”

“Yesterday you didn’t know my name.”

“Names aren’t important when dealing with matters of genius.”

Bruce had to think that over for a minute. Did Tony just tell him that he was smart? Was he getting complimented by the most popular kid in school? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t know what that felt like.

“Thank you,” he decided to pretend it was a compliment.

Tony smirked and stepped back, looking Bruce up and down. The shorter boy suddenly felt very exposed, causing him to hunch his shoulders a little a shove his hands into the pockets of his beaten hoodie. Tony scratched his chin.

“Please stop,” Bruce whispered, his brown curls falling over his eyes.

“Oh! Sorry, you probably think I’m some sort of creep. When was the last time you got a haircut?” he reached forward and twirled one of Bruce’s curls around his finger. Bruce flinched away.

“Couple months maybe, why?” Bruce was reluctant to look up at Tony.

“Months? Jesus, kid, we gotta get you fixed up.”

“No, no, it’s fine, really,” he protested, taking a step away from Tony.

“Wait no, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it badly.”

Bruce gave him a cautious glare, squinting ever so slightly, “What do you want, Tony? You’ve never spoken to me before, and suddenly you care about the length of my hair?”

Tony shrugged, “People think I don’t notice them when I really do.”

Bruce sighed, “I don’t have enough money for a haircut, anyways.”

“But I do.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“I’ve done some bad things, Bruce.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Please just let me do something good for once.”

Bruce was about to respond, but he closed his mouth and thought for a minute. He really did need a haircut, and tony seemed genuine enough. He’d never heard Tony speak like that before. He was always just goofing off, but this was different. Bruce still didn’t trust the guy, but what harm could he do? His life was already messed up -- he could handle this, right?

And then Tony lifted his gaze a little and actually smiled at Bruce, a real smile, “I’ll show you my lab, if you’d like.”

Bruce blinked in surprise, “Really?”

“Yeah, don’t think I haven’t noticed that you are three months ahead of the curriculum in chem.”

“Actually, i’m almost three years ahead.”

“Same difference,” Tony shrugged and shuffled his feet, “So?”

Bruce nodded, “Yeah, alright. Sounds fun.”

 

And that, of course, was how he was stuck in this terrible situation, in which he was going over to Tony’s house after school for a haircut and to look at his expensive science toys. As the bell rang for class to begin, Bruce let his head fall into his hands, wincing as his glasses pushed up against his face. This was going to be an absolute disaster.

Chapter Text

This had been the longest day of Pepper’s entire life. So much was happening around her all at once, she couldn’t take it. With the new students, Sam’s anxiety, Tony’s ridiculous party, and Clint acting all weird, she didn’t have any room in her brain for any more ridiculous drama. Her last class of the day was English with Mr. Odin, Thor’s father (well, he was Loki’s too, but Loki kinda disowned him. Weird kid.) Mr. Odin was a large man with a long beard and only one eye. Kids would have fights over who was more intimidating, him or the principal, Mr. Fury. He was also a very strict man, with little wiggle room in his ways. Pepper was a well-liked student among all of her teachers, no exception for Mr. Odin, but she could never convince him to bend the rules for her. He also always assumed that she would be capable of handling being partners with students who didn’t try as hard as her. He wanted to push the slackers, but she would always end up doing everything for them.

Right now, they had just finished reading The Great Gatsby, which Pepper enjoyed for the most part. Ah, the American dream, a concept that she’d always hoped to achieve. Recognition and a comfy life, gained through hard work and dedication. She saw that Mr. Odin had written on the board “American Dream Project”, which made her both excited and weary at the same time. She was worried about her partner, of course, but was also excited to be able to discuss this topic with her class.

Mr. Odin walked up to the front of the room, leaning against his cane, “Hello class, today we will be starting a project on the American dream.”

Most of the class groaned, but Pepper smiled at him and even leaned forward a little, “Are we making a poster? A speech? Socratic seminar?”

Mr. Odin chuckled, “Calm down, Ms. Potts, I’m getting to it,” he passed some handouts down the aisles and continued, “We will we working in groups of two, chosen randomly. You and your partner will create a unique visual representation of what you believe the American dream looks like today. This can be in the form of a skit, song, art, a poster, anything. Just answer the prompt and hit all of the points that I have specified for you on the handout.”

Students began to murmur to each other and he slowly made his way back to his desk. Pepper was slightly relieved that he was using a randomizer, because it meant that she had a better chance of actually being partnered with a capable human being. Not that she wouldn’t end up doing the whole project anyways, but at least the person would be more bearable.

That turned out to be a hugely misguided hope, because when Mr. Odin posted up the random, electronic list of partners on the overhead, her jaw dropped. There was her name, next to her name. Pepper’s hands began to shake and her stomach curled violently. She took a shaky breath and slowly turned her head to peer at her from across the room. The darkly-dressed, red-headed, devil of a girl, Natasha Romanov. She caught her eye, feeling her blood boil in her veins. Natasha was chewing gum, with her feet up on the table, as usual, and one arm on Clint’s shoulder. She smirked at Pepper and squinted a little, purposefully mocking her for being so openly upset. Pepper’s fists were balled up against the black desk, her teeth now clenched together. This was not good. Nope. This was the worst day of her life. She could NOT work with Natasha. She absolutely despised her. She was just too cold and calculated and emotionless and pretty and vicious and snake-like. No, no not snake-like. Snakes had cute little puppy-shaped mouths. Natasha was a spider, a deadly black widow that spun careful webs around innocent people and then snapped their necks if they made a wrong move, and Pepper really wanted to keep her neck in tact.

“Alright everyone, pair up and get started,” Mr. Odin waved them off and sat down at his desk.

Pepper slowly got up from her seat and held her binder close to her chest. She took in a deep breath and made her way over to Natasha’s desk. The pale girl stared up at her and Clint stood up to go find his partner. Pepper noticed that Natasha and CLint were exchanging hand signals as he left. She knew that they had both taken ASL as their required second language class (Pepper took Spanish for the increase in job opportunities), but this seemed rather fluent. She was sure that they were talking about her right in front of her face. She growled a little and set her binder down in the seat next to Natasha.

“If you are going to talk about me, you may as well just do it out loud.”

Clint’s eyes fell to the floor and Nat’s head whipped back towards Pepper, eyes raking over her, “We aren’t talking about you.”

Pepper blinked in confusion, “Oh?”

Clint sighed and turned to leave. That was when Pepper noticed the bruises on his elbows from when he’d fallen earlier that day. Her heart sank. She wasn’t sure why he still hadn’t talked all day, but she felt bad for snapping so easily.

“I’m sorry,” she shook her head, “That was a little rude.”

Natasha huffed once Clint seemed to be out of earshot, “Cut the good-girl act, Potts, we all know that this isn’t going to work.”

Pepper’s chest tightened at the sound of her low, unimpressed voice, “We just have to get along long enough to finish this project.”

“I have a better solution,” she stared down at her nails, “I’ll do the project myself, and I’ll let you put your name on it.”

“No way, I’ve been looking forward to this project for a whole quarter, I’m not letting you ruin the fun,” she grabbed out a pencil from her pencil box and wrote both of their names down on the handout.Natasha was silent, just glaring at Pepper.

“I don’t like you, Pepper.”

Pepper clenched the pencil in her hand tighter and refused to look into her frosty-green eyes, “I’m aware of this.”

“But I’m not an unreasonable one.”

“I’m not sure that you understand how much I don’t care right now,” Pepper continued to jot down some ideas about the American dream.

She saw Natasha give a small half-smile out of the corner of her eye, “I know why I don’t like you, but why don’t you like me?”

Pepper stopped writing and set her pencil down. Counting on her fingers, she began to list off the reasons she hated Natasha, not even scared of the other girl’s reaction, “You are cold and antisocial, you threaten people, you have little respect for regulations, you judge people constantly, you don’t have a single drop of emotion in your entire body, and, even after all that, everyone still likes you.”

And then she laughed, shaking her head ever so slightly. Pepper furrowed her brow and gave her a slightly disgusted look. “You are the biggest pent-up, goody-two-shoes, I have ever met. You poke into everyone’s business and you think you can fix the world, but you can’t. You think everyone should be happy and busy and good. And I’m here to tell you that that just isn’t how things work anymore.”

Pepper felt a knot forming in her throat. Those were some harsh words, but she was strong and could push it aside. “Well good, now that we’ve gotten all of the out in the open, let’s just focus on the project.”

Natasha shrugged, “Sure, if that’s what’s going to help you avoid the subject.”

“I hate you.”

The other girl raised an eyebrow at her and swung her legs down from the table. She reached over and snatched Pepper’s pencil, scribbling down her phone number on the paper. Pepper glared at her in confusion, but she just grabbed her bag to leave.

“You are a terrible liar, Pepper. Text me when you are ready to move past petty grudges,” and with that, Natasha walked right out of the classroom.

What the hell just happened? Pepper stared blankly at the classroom door that Natasha just walked out of. Mr. Odin didn’t even bat an eye. It’s not like this was the first time she’d walked out -- somehow still managing to keep an A in the class. But Pepper was speechless. She let her eyes flutter down to the scrawly, handwritten phone number scratched onto her paper and she couldn’t speak. She was baffled. Pepper had absolutely no idea what just happened. Did Natasha accuse her of… lying? Why? Pepper hadn’t told her a single lie.

She reached up and rubbed her temples with her fingers. What was she going to do? Now she had to text her? Natasha was the hardest person she’d ever had to work with. With the cold glares and the take-no-shit body language and her dry sarcasm. It was like talking to a stone cold wall. Pepper really did hate her, she really did.

Right?

She sighed and pulled out her phone, instinctively checking her messages. She had 4 unread texts from Tony.

>PEPPER

>I invited Bruce over tonight.

>I think I just offered to bet his hair cut for him?

>Pepper what have I done?!

Pepper’s eyes widened and she groaned internally. It never stopped! All of this craziness was driving her mad. She quickly replied to his messages.

>Tony, you idiot! Why would you do that?! You can’t just invite him to a drunken teenage party, scare him half to death, and then offer to buy him a haircut.

He was so, so stupid. She couldn’t believe that she was even paying any attention to Tony’s problems while she had her own to figure out. Maybe it was just another excuse to ignore her issues with Natasha for a little while longer.

>I don’t fucking know, Pep. It was all done out of impulse.

Pepper rolled her eyes.

>If you hurt that precious little sock monkey of a boy, I will actually shove your fancy red sneakers down your throat.

>Alright, that was a little harsh.

>I’m serious, you know.

>Yeah… I’ll be careful.

>You better. Make good choices.

And on that note, she stopped texting him. She couldn’t do this. This was ridiculous. Absolutely insane. Poor little Bruce was going to get hurt if he got caught up in Tony’s mess of a life. Pepper didn’t want to get involved with this any more than she already was, but then she remembered what Natasha said. You think you can fix the world, but you can’t. Her heart sank again. Maybe Natasha was right. Maybe she did think she could help everyone. Pepper walked around the halls like she was leading a perfect life. Good grades, good home, good friends, good job. She was prompt and sweet and studious, but she was missing something. She gave everything to her friend, but what did she get in return? She wasn’t sure. Maybe it was about time that she just left it for once.

And yet, she picked up the phone again and proceeded to text Sam.

>Hey falcon, wanna talk it out after class?

 

Pepper and Sam were walking home together. She had invited him over for dinner tonight. He had his hands shoved in his red and white hoodie and she had one arm linked with his. His sneakers scuffed the ground while her flats gliding gracefully over the sidewalk. His eyes fell and hers stayed high. Pepper knew that something was wrong with her friend, so she decided to be his strong rock for the moment.

“Sam, what’s wrong?”

Sam sighed and shrugged, “I don’t feel good about that math test.”

“Why? It wasn’t too hard.”

He nodded, “Oh I know, I just have to get a B or higher, or else my parents will throw a fit.”

Pepper make a small grunt of understanding and stayed silent for a moment, contemplating whether or not this was the right time to bring up the question that she’d had for months now.

“I know that your parents want you to go to college, but what do you want to do?”

Sam didn’t respond for a minute, staring at the ground as they walked. It looked like he was contemplating the color of the cracked stone.

“I want to fly, Pepper.”

She tilted her head a little in curiosity, “Fly? Like an airplane?”

He managed a small snort and a laugh, “Yeah, something like that.”

A blue bird fluttered from one tree to the next, chirping out a sweet song for the midday sunlight. It caught Sam’s eye and he locked his eyes on the baby blue feathers. Pepper pointed at the bird in the tree.

“Like a bird?”

Sam smiled more genuinely this time, “I want to go into the military, Pep. They have some study programs, I guess.”

“But it’s not about the studying, is it?” She asked, absolutely not surprised by his answer. The military was something that she could see Sam going into. He had the determination for it, he had the work ethic for it. It was completely and utterly him.

“No, I want to pitch them an idea that I’ve had. I don’t know any of the science behind it, but I know what I want it to do.”

Pepper’s eyes lit up, “An invention? What is it?”

Sam grinned down at her and pointed back at the bird, “It flies.”

Chapter Text

Bruce shuffled his feet a little, the bright sun beating down on his pale skin. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jackets as he waited outside of the school for Tony to pick him up. Why was he doing this? He didn’t know. He didn’t want to go to Tony’s house, he didn’t trust Tony, he didn’t even know him that well. They were barely acquaintances, for God’s sake! But what made it even more suspicious, was that Tony had asked him . Of all people, he “wanted” to spend time with Bruce . The nerdy, scrappy, poor kid who he’d never talked to before yesterday when he’d declined his offer to go to his party.

Kids continued to get on buses and leave Bruce behind. But Tony wouldn’t forget about him, right? No. No, that’s something that Tony would definitely do. He gave it another five minutes of nervously peering out over the emptying parking lot before he sighed and turned around to leave. Just as he pushed off against the wall, a sleek, red car (Bruce wouldn’t be able to name the model) revved up to the curb with its top down. Bruce blinked in awe at the beautiful, glistening cherry red paint. Tony was wearing sunglasses. He looked up over the black rim of his shades and raised his eyebrows.

“Hey Brucie, you coming or not?” he called out to Bruce.

He glanced around nervously and walked up to the car, instinctively reaching for the door handle, but his finger stopped just short of the handle.

“I’m gonna break it,” was all he could manage to say.

Tony barked out a loud laugh, “Nah, she may look delicate, but she’s tough. Get in.”

Bruce shook his head, “I don’t think I should be allowed into this car.”

Tony rolled his eyes and jumped out of the car. Bruce started to walk backwards, away from the car, but Tony ran up behind him and shuffled him in.

“Come on, come on. Don’t be so anxious,” he sighed, probably due to Bruce’s pathetic nature.

Bruce felt like he was contaminating the gorgeous white seats, but gosh they were comfy . He’d never sat in something so comfortable. Tony got back in the driver’s side and threw Bruce a pleased side-glance.

“You like?” He asked.

Bruce nodded, “This is nice.”

Tony huffed a little and pulled out of the school. They sat in silence for a while as Bruce just looked out the window, his long curls blowing everywhere. He leaned his elbow against the side of the car and rested his cheek in his hand. He’d never experienced such luxuries before. Tony, being Tony, couldn’t stay silent forever though.

“So, you still want that haircut?”

“Please don’t spend money on me…” Bruce spoke quietly, almost in a whisper.

“No, no, it’s my pleasure,” Tony turned down a side road that led to the nearest barber shop.

“But why? Why are you doing this?” he tipped his head to the side slightly and pulled his knees a little closer to his body.

“Because I’m a good person,” Tony stated firmly.

“No offense, but that’s not exactly a believable answer.”

Tony laughed. He laughed. Bruce wasn’t sure why, because he’d basically just insulted the dark-haired genius, but whatever. If he thought that was funny then so be it, “None taken, my friend. I’m trying to, uh, reform myself.”

“Since when? Just yesterday you threw a party and probably got drunk off your ass.”

Tony shrugged a little and pulled into the lot, “Listen, Bruce, you are a smart guy. Really, you’re a genius. I’ve read your papers on biochemical engineering. It’s brilliant. I’m sure you can figure out why I want to be a better person.”

“What, so you can make up past mistakes?” Bruce looked at him with confusion, a light blush dusting his cheeks at the compliments.

“Great minds think alike.”

Bruce blushed again. Tony Stark, the most popular kid in school, had read his papers on a topic that seemed to be out of Tony’s field of work in general. Now, it’s not like Bruce hadn’t read Tony’s papers on nuclear physics, but this was different. Everyone wanted to read something written by the great, rich, Tony Stark. But Bruce Banner? No, most people didn’t even know he existed.

Bruce shook his head, “Alright, so this is just us, the most popular kid in school and the least popular kid in school, hanging out?”

Tony nodded, “Precisely. I want to get to know someone who appreciates what I do.”

“You didn’t care about my existence until yesterday.”

“Hey, don’t pull that one on me again! A lot has happened since yesterday! Pepper has been harping on me to become a better person. Something about being too selfish…? I don’t know.”

Ahh, and that was it. Tony was trying to prove Pepper wrong. And Pepper was never wrong, as far as Bruce could tell. He wanted to become “selfless” by buying Bruce a haircut and showing him his fancy toys. Toys that Bruce could never afford. The truth was, Bruce probably wasn’t going to college. Even if he got scholarships, who would actually take someone like him? He was a mess. His parents fought constantly. His dad was an abusive drug addict and his mom was probably better off dead than married to him. Tony’s dad gave him money and cars and science equipment. Tony lived a life that Bruce envied on the most innocent level possible. He didn’t really want to be popular, he just didn’t want to have to worry about  not having food on the table each night.

“Yeah, but you could have offered a haircut to anyone,” they parked and began to shuffle out of his car.

Tony locked the car and they met on the sidewalk, “You aren’t anyone, Bruce. You’re real. You’re nice. You aren’t like them.”

“You want to be friends because I like science?” Tony held the door for Bruce as he walked inside the cramped little haircut place.

“What can I say?” Tony shrugged with such exaggeration that he tilted over a little, “Science is my sexuality.”

And Bruce couldn’t help but laugh.

 

The haircut hadn’t turned out as awful as Bruce had expected it to. Besides the awkward comments that his hairstylist had made, it was rather enjoyable, actually. She had insisted that Tony was Bruce’s boyfriend -- which was most definitely NOT the case. Bruce had tried to lie and say that he was his brother, but, well, they looked so different and they had such different “fashion choices” that the lady had seen right through him. That, or he was just a really bad liar. Tony didn’t take any notice of their conversation due to the fact that he had been in the waiting room, out of earshot, the whole time. Bruce was silently thankful for that.

He cautiously reached up and flipped down the mirror. His curls were cut shorter, not falling over his face anymore. They were still long enough that he looked like himself, but he was most definitely cleaned  up. He ran his fingers through his slightly damp hair and smiled at himself in the mirror. Tony must have taken notice from where he sat in the driver’s seat because he smiled too.

“It looks great, Bruce,” he commented, leaning across the car and ruffling Bruce’s chocolate curls.

“Hey!” Bruce squeaked as they swerved a little on the road, and Tony just laughed. A real, joyful laugh. Bruce giggled a little too. God, he was pathetic. He couldn’t think of any guy who still giggled in high school.

Tony grinned at him, “What? You don’t like my driving?”

Bruce shook his head, “Too risky for my taste.”

And then Tony shot Bruce a sly grin, and, in one swift motion, removed both his hands from the steering wheel. Bruce’s eyes went wide and he scrambled over the chair median, grabbing at the wheel to try and keep it straight. His heart rate sped up instantly and he could feel his body beginning to panic as he struggled to keep the car in the lane. Tony just laughed and put his hands behind his head.

“Tony, you idiot! Get your hands on the wheel!” Bruce yelled, his fingers beginning to shake.

“Alright, alright, calm down! I know what I’m doing,” Tony reached forward towards the wheel again.

“I highly doubt that!” Bruce’s voice cracked in worried and Tony snorted at that.

He was about to move away, when Tony weaved his hand between Bruce’s arms and grabbed the wheel. Bruce froze as Tony’s arm brushed against his chest. Aside from being in a very awkward position, he began to feel his cheeks reddening. His stomach twisted and Tony looked at him from over his shades again, raising an eyebrow and smirking. Bruce’s breath hitched in his throat, realizing that him and the billionaire boy were basically breathing the same air.

“Bruce, I’ve got it. You can let go now,” Tony’s voice was filled with amusement.

“Oh gosh, right, I’m sorry,” he quickly shuffled over to the other side of the car, squeezing himself as close to the door as he could.

Why did he do that? He just froze in place, staring up into Tony’s sunglasses, probably with the stupidest face he could manage. There was something wrong with him. He hated this. He should have never come. He could have saved up for a haircut by mowing his neighbor’s grass or maybe even walking Clint’s dog for a week. He didn’t need to rely on Tony’s money like that. It was ridiculous. Even if Tony was just trying to re-write the wrongs he’s done, it wasn’t worth it. Bruce wasn’t even sure what “wrongs” Tony was trying to make up? Like sure, he was a jerk who’d made fun of people and gotten people drunk off their asses and probably sold drugs one too many times and had broken too many hearts to count, but what else? He wasn’t the only idiot to do those things. What else was it? Bruce wasn’t sure.

And, well, let’s be honest. Clint wouldn’t let him walk his dog anyways…

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have, uh, I shouldn’t have touched you like that. I’m sorry,” Tony awkwardly scratched the back of his head, and Bruce couldn’t help but notice the way his dark hair reacted to his fingers.

Bruce blinked in surprise, “No, no, don’t be sorry.”

“It’s just that, well, last time I kinda scared you into not coming to my party,” they turned a corner into a neighborhood full of really big houses.

“Oh… that’s not why I didn’t come.”

“Why didn’t you then?”

“Honestly? I had homework. I was busy, like I said earlier, but I was also just a little scared. I don’t really have any friends, Tony. What am I supposed to do at a party without friends to go with?” Bruce’s voice was soft, ashamed of his own, pathetic nature.

“Pepper is your friend.”

“She’s not really a “friend” per say. More like an acquaintance. Besides, she wasn’t going either.”

They pulled up into Tony’s driveway. The house was ginormous. Absolutely stunning. With towering white walls, black trimming, at least three stories and a huge plot of land. The back yard must have stretched out forever. Just the driveway was beautiful, all sorts of plants. Bruce couldn’t even recognize some of them. A water fountain sat in the middle of the yard with a bench and stone walkway. The garage probably had a second, underground level from what Bruce could tell. It was beautiful. He just sat there and stared up at the mansion in front of his eyes. But it wasn’t after a few minutes of just gawking at the place, did he realize that Tony was just staring down at his sunglasses (which he must have taken off while Bruce wasn’t looking).

Bruce looked at him, worried, “...Tony?”

The boy looked up at him, innocence in his eyes, and said, in a voice that Bruce hadn’t heard before, “I’m your friend.”

Bruce didn’t know what to say. He just looked at Tony like he was some sort of alien. Bruce couldn’t recall the last time that someone had said that to him with such raw truth in their voice. Maybe Betty, but that was a long time ago. And that didn’t turn out so well for either of them. Tony seemed to be searching Bruce’s expression for some sort of returned emotion.

“Well,” Bruce mumbled, “You did buy me a haircut.”

Tony smiled a little, but it was a different smile. A sad one? No, no it was something else. They got out of the car and walked up the long path to the double front doors. Tony reached in his pocket to grab out his keys, wiping his shoes on the mat. Bruce stood behind him, looking at the back of his head with worry. Just before Tony opened the door, Bruce made a split decision. He reached forward and lightly grasped Tony’s wrist. Tony paused in place and looked over his shoulder at Bruce, who gave him a small smile.

“Thank you, Tony.”

The contact, even on a scale this small, was making Bruce’s fingers tingle. He could feel Tony’s blood pulsing through his wrist. He could see the rise and fall of his chest. And suddenly, Tony was just a person. A living, breathing person. Not some hot-headed jerk with no real depth. Tony’s eyes glazed over and widened, looking right into Bruce’s. He began to feel his body start to shake again.

And then Tony turned around and wrapped up Bruce in a hug. Bruce forze. He didn’t know what to do. He started to freak out. No one had hugged him in years. He didn’t know where to put his hands or his head and so he just stood still, hands expanded with his elbows bent. Tony’s cheek was pressed against his neck and he could feel the warmth of his face against his untouched skin.

“That’s the best thing I’ve heard all week, Bruce.”

Bruce gulped, “It… it is?”

Tony nodded into his neck and then slowly pulled away, but Bruce remained frozen in place, “Yeah, nobody thanks me for anything anymore.”

Bruce mustered up a small smile, “I um, I’m glad I could help.”

Tony laughed a little and motioned for Bruce to follow him inside the house. He nervously shuffled inside, still flushed red from the immense amount of physical contact. Bruce looked up from the cherry wood floor and scanned the room. The walls were stark white (no pun intended) and the furniture was all either black leather or some sort of cherry plush fabric. There was a glass coffee table in what looked like the living room. Bruce took notice of the L-shaped couches and the loveseat and the giant television set, hung up on the wall. He could see a glass sliding door that led into a huge backyard from all the way across the grand house. There was a long red rug, spanning from where he stood, all the way up to the foot of an elegant, black, spiral staircase.

“Wow…” Bruce breathed, walking up to the staircase and running his hands over the railing.

“My room is up there. Along with my theater room, the bar, and the library.”

Bruce grinned, “You have a private library?”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll show it to you after we go down to the shop. It’s under the garage. I want you to see what I’ve been working on,” Tony grabbed Bruce’s wrist, mimicking what Bruce had done earlier, and led him to a hallway that passed under the staircase and around a corner. Bruce spotted some family photos on the wall, but it was mostly lined with certificates awarded to a man by the name of “Howard Stark”, who he presumed was Tony’s father. Tony swung open a heavier door that led into the garage. There were three more fancy cars parked inside. A blue one, a white one, and one that was black with a white stripe down the side.

“That’s a lot of cars,” Bruce commented.

“Yeah, they are all my dad’s. Except the white one, he lets mom use that one,” Tony was still dragging him through the large room as they came to another staircase that led straight down to the shop.

“I don’t have a car. Neither do my parents,” Bruce didn’t really mean to make Tony frown, but it happened anyways.

Tony was reluctant, but answered anyways, “I’ll get you one, someday.”

Bruce laughed out loud, “Don’t you dare!” And they laughed together as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

Bruce’s jaw fell open almost instantly. This was a full-fledged laboratory. It was a little unorganized -- referring to the blueprints strewn all over the floor and the old water cups and the piles of random metal pieces and wires -- but overall, it was gorgeous. He had an entire wall of beakers, burners, goggles, and every chemistry tool he could name. Then he had shelves filled with tools and a single, towering bookcase filled with science textbooks and stuff written by the earliest scientists. The ones that they earned about in school. He had a U-shaped, silver metal work table, and another two straight ones on the other end of the room. There were sinks and cupboards and welding machines and drawers filled with various chemicals and metals and Bruce’s knees were shaking at the sight of it all.

“Is this heaven?” he sighed, absentmindedly pacing up to the silver table, running his hands over the premium metals.

“You like?” Tony leaned against the table, folding his arms over his chest.

“I think I might cry,” Bruce shook his head and breathed a sigh of astonishment.

“Just wait till you see what I’ve built.”

Bruce grinned up at Tony, “Can I?”

Tony nodded like a small child and walked over to a table on the other side of the room. Bruce glanced at one of his open computer screens and noticed some interesting plans for some sort of program.

“What’s J.A.R.V.I.S?” Bruce called out to Tony.

“It’s an A.I. I’ve been working on since our old butler died. Mr. Jarvis was my best friend and primary caretaker. I figured it’d be fitting to name for my first and more complex invention,” Tony explained as he dug through the things on the table.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be, he lived a good life with us.”

Bruce couldn’t help but smile at that. Tony ran up to him with an armful of blueprints and then shoved them all into Bruce’s hands. Bruce scrambled to hold them all, setting them down next to him to look at. He squinted at the drawings and calculations while Tony ran up to a podium-like thing in the middle of the room. He pressed a few buttons and a large, circular pad on the floor opened up and unearthed a silver contraption from the ground, raising it up to meet Tony’s excited and impatient hands.

“This looks like a fire-repulsor,” Bruce pointed out.

He heard the clicking of gears and looked over just in time to see Tony slipping his hand in his glove-like invention. Bruce was baffled by the science behind this. Tony walked up to him and held out his metal-covered hand for Bruce to see. Bruce took his fingers in his hand, feeling the metal and examining the joints, tracing the circular light in the middle of him palm. Tony flexed his fingers a few times.

“It’s still just a prototype, but I plan to eventually have two of them, along with boots as well.”

“It’s amazing, Tony. I’ve never seen anything like this before. What does it do?”

“It’s going to be a flight stabilizer, doubled as a fire-repulsor, like you said.”

“You are going to fly?” Bruce tilted his head and circled his fingers over the tips of Tony’s, examining the minute details of the piece of visual art in front of him.

“Something like that, I haven’t worked out the kinks yet.”

“It could use some color,” Bruce teased, voice softening.

Tony laughed, “I was thinking hot-rod red and maybe green? I like green.”

Bruce shrugged, “I prefer yellow.”

Tony smiled softly down at him, “Yellow it is.”

They stood in silence for a moment as Bruce admired Tony’s device, but Bruce could feel that Tony’s eyes were somewhere else. Primarily on him. Bruce tried to stop himself from blushing like he had before. There was something different about Tony in this setting. Just him and Bruce and pure science. No teachers or arrogant students or giant egos to flaunt around. Maybe this was why Tony wanted to be friends with Bruce. Not only to try and reach out to those he’d wronged, but also to be able to be himself. Bruce wondered if anyone at school really cared how smart Tony was. Or was it just his money? He wasn’t sure, but he guessed that it was the latter of the two.

“Do you want to try it on?” Tony asked.

Bruce was about to reply with a hasty confirmation, but he stopped himself from speaking when they heard loud footsteps pounding down the stairs. Bruce glanced at Tony in confusion, but the scientist only looked horrified.

“Oh no. No no no no no nooooo,” Tony shook his head furiously and ran over to return the glove to its original stand, which quickly pulled it back underground, “No no no, gosh I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry. Get behind me!”

Bruce didn’t know what to do, so he just instinctively stepped behind Tony. The lab door flung open and there stood a man, only a few inches taller than Tony, with a dark mustache and dark eyes. He snarled at Tony and pointed a long finger at him.

“Tony! What the hell did I tell you about leaving the car out in the driveway? The paint is going to peel!” the man was basically shouting at Tony.

Tony rolled his eyes, “Sorry, I’ll put it away in a minute, I just wanted to show my new friend some of my work.”

The man -- probably Tony’s father -- glared at his son, “What? That pathetic glove? Tony, it doesn’t even work. This id doesn’t want to see it. Now go move the car.”

Tony puffed his chest and protectively stepped in front of Bruce, “As a matter of fact, Bruce was rather impressed. And you would be too, if you would actually take the time to read my blueprints!”

Bruce nodded in agreement and whispered, “It was a good prototype,” watching as the man grew even more intimidating by the minute.

His father grasped an empty beaker that was sitting on the shelf next to the door and gritted his teeth. Bruce could see his body tensing with rage, “Tony… do you remember what I told you about bringing home boys like this?”

Tony was shouting now, “Shut the hell up, dad!”

The man whirled his arm forward and threw the beaker right at Tony, who shoved the both of them aside, just in time to hear the glass shatter against the table. Bruce grabbed at the back of Tony’s t-shirt, eyes wide and body quickly slipping into a panic attack.

“LEAVE!” his father literally screamed at them, storming back up the stairs and slamming the door behind him.

Tony stared at the broken glass on the floor. His eyes were dark, his face red and his breathing heavy. His lips were slightly parted and he sniffled a little and lifted his previously-covered hand to his face, wiping at  his eyes. Tony wasn’t crying, no, he was just worked up and watery-eyed. Bruce couldn’t speak. He had no idea what he’d just witnessed.

“I think… it would be best if I drove you home now, Bruce,” he words were quiet and cautious, as if he was trying to tiptoe his way around what happened. He was reluctant, he could tell that his didn’t want Bruce to go, “I’m so sorry…” I barely even whispered.

Bruce nodded, realizing that he just saw some things, and heard some things, that he probably wasn’t supposed to, “If that’s what you want.”

And Tony quickly turned his head towards Bruce, a pained guilt in his eyes, “This was never what I wanted.”

Chapter Text

Clint leaned back against the bleachers, gazing past the track and out into the forest beyond school boundaries. He took a deep breath and drank in the thick scent of hot rubber and pine needles. There were a few students running on the track. There was no doubt that they were practicing for the upcoming track and field tryouts. Clint walked up onto the bleachers, his binoculars in one hand, a water bottle in the other. He sat in the very top row, hoping to get the best view he could of the birds. Sam had some sort of assignment to make up after school, so he was going to be a few minutes late. Every tuesday and thursday, Clint and Sam got together and watched the birds that made their homes in the forest just beyond the track. They originally wanted a group of kids to sign up that was big enough to go out to wildlife parks with, but apparently no one else in the school cared about birds like they did.

Birds were special to Clint. As a kid, when he was moving from terrible foster home to terrible foster home, he liked to listen to the birds sing. It would calm him. He could block out all the yelling and the glass bottles smashing against the walls. He’d watch the bluebirds play and the chickadees bounce on the branches. The colors captivated him; he saw birds as a form of peace. Sam, on the other hand, saw birds as an outlet for freedom. Either way, they both really enjoyed this club.

Clint went deaf when he was just seven. He’d been at another abusive foster home, at another shitty school, with more shitty bullies. One day, some kid decided that it would be a great idea to bring a gun to school. He fired it right up against Clint’s ear. Too many people died that day. He and his brother ran off together and literally joined a circus. Literally. That’s where he learned archery. On one of their eastern european tours, he met Natasha -- who was just recently adopted into a family after spending her whole life in a “Russian dance facility” (to this day, she wouldn’t tell anyone what it actually was). She and her family helped him escape and they moved to the United States, where they now lived and went to school together.

Yeah, a lot could happen in seventeen years.

But Clint was over it, his past was his past. His brother was still with the circus for all he knew, Natasha’s parents weren’t really around much, and he was still deaf as a dog. He could care less. He did manage to get a hearing aide, though. After saving up for months, Clint gathered up enough money to get Tony to design something for him (since normal hearing aides never worked).

And that led him to the events that unfolded earlier that week. He hated him. He hated that white-haired, eastern european bastard. Where was he from? Sokovia? Right. Well that sounded fake. The idiot tripped him on purpose and he lost his hearing aide. It’d take him a year to get Tony to make him another one. The kid had only been at the school for a few days, and he’d already made a terrible reputation for himself. And it wasn’t just Clint, either. Apparently he’d superglued Mr. Odin to his chair and spilled coffee on Scott Lang’s math notes. Either way, he was a mess.

Clint just really wanted to squeeze the life out of him. His sister was a dear, but he was the bane of Clint’s entire existence.

Just as Clint began to feel his rage bubbling up, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He jumped a little and turned to see Sam peering down at him. Words were coming out of Sam’s mouth, but Clint couldn’t hear a single one of them. He quickly shook his head and waved his hand for Sam to stop speaking. He signed “I can’t hear” and grabbed his phone out of his pocket to start texting Sam. Sam gave him an understanding look and patted his back, sitting down next to him. He didn’t know sign language, but Clint had helped him learn a few things just in case stuff like this happened. He received a text from Sam almost instantly.

 

>What happened to your hearing aide?

 

>The new kid tripped me and I lost it.

 

>Who? Wanda?

 

>No, no, her brother.

 

>Hmm. Haven’t met him.

 

>Probably better that way.

 

Sam gave him a confused look and then shrugged. Clint was content with the silence between them. Well, he had no choice, but he liked that they didn’t have to speak the whole time. Clint picked up his binoculars and peered out into the trees, scanning for birds. He zeroed in on some of the thick, green leaves and smiled, loving the way the plants wrapped around each other in such a tight-knit fashion. He yearned to be able to sit up in those branches, to feel the wind in his hair, the bark under his feet.

He was pulled out of his trance by a blur of blue blocking his view. He scrunched up his nose and brought his binoculars to his lap, snapping his head up to see his least favorite person on Earth. He groaned and rolled his eyes with such exaggeration that he nearly fell backwards.

Pietro. Fucking. Maximoff.

The arrogant twat was standing there, in blue track shorts and a tight gray and white t-shirt. He had his hands on his tapered hips with his weight slightly shifted to one side. Clint stared at him with little interest. Sam was looking between them with disbelief. Clint couldn’t hear a single word that Pietro was saying, which made staring at him with no emotion much easier. Pietro locked eyes with him, sneering and waving his hands in the air. He bent down a little and snapped his fingers right in front of Clint’s face. The archer growled and whipped his hand forward in an attempt to grab Pietro’s fingers and snap them like a twigs, but Pietro pulled his hand back with lightning-quick reflexes.

Clint stopped. He blinked in confusion as his hand grasped the air for a moment. No one had better reflexes than him, except MAYBE Natasha. Pietro looked like he was surprised that he’d gotten any reaction out of Clint at all. He held his hand out of reach, but neither of them spoke. Clint just looked at Pietro, shocked.

And then the idiot smirked at him. His eyes squinted, brows lowered, and his pink lips curved up into a sly smile. Clint could feel the blood rushing to his ears, heart pounding so loud that he could hear it. He didn’t know what to do. He was stuck. He was about to stop breathing when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He quickly grabbed his phone and looked at the text, as if it was some sort of lifeline out of this situation. It was from Sam. He saw Pietro start again with the yelling and excessive arm movement.

 

>Dude. This is the kid who tripped you?

 

Clint looked at Sam and nodded quickly. Returning to the phone to type out a reply.

 

>Unfortunately, yes. What’s he saying?

 

>He wants you to talk to him. He thinks you are ignoring him.

 

>HAHA I am.

 

>You want me to tell him?

 

>LOL no, this is fun.

 

>You are a terrible person, Clint.

 

>Thanks, I try.

 

Clint smiled at Sam and turned back to Pietro, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head. He watched as the kid huffed and puffed about how angry he was at Clint for something that was entirely his fault in the first place. Clint just smiled up at him and let it all pass by. It all was going to stop eventually.

Pietro let his hands fall to his sides. He shook his head in disbelief. “Nothing,” Pietro mouthed -- one word that Clint could catch onto. He made some gesture towards Sam and began to walk away. Clint won. Oh yes, he won! Well he thought he did, but Pietro stopped and reached into his pocket. His fingers shuffled around for something. Clint tilted his head in confusion. Pietro made a “got it” face and held out a small purple object to Clint.

His jaw dropped.

He stood up, putting his binoculars on the bleacher seats and grabbed his hearing aide from Pietro. How? What? How did the kid get this? How did he find it? Also, how did he not make the connection between the hearing aide and Clint being deaf? Stupid, arrogant, twat. Pietro was saying something again, so Clint quickly reached up to his ear and put the aide back in, adjusting it accordingly and wrapping it around the back of his ear. He shook his head a few times as it squealed and sound began to filter in.

“-- and I know that it was a dick move, but I don’t deserve to be ignored by the likes of you!” Of course Pietro’s voice was the first thing he had to hear.

Clint waved his hand up for Pietro to be quiet, “Yeah, yeah, shut up.”

Pietro stepped back and then smiled a little, “Did you just? Hey -- wait, is that a hearing aide?”

Clint took a jagged breath and clenched his teeth, “Yeah, it is.”

“Wait, so you actually couldn’t hear me?” Pietro scratched his head.

He nodded, “I’m deaf, stupid.”

“I thought you just hated me.”

“You aren’t wrong.”

Pietro furrowed his brow, “Well fine! Then I was nice for nothing.”

“Returning this wasn’t “nice”, Pietro, it was common courtesy. Something that I thought you lacked, but you proved me wrong, so I’ll give you that one,” Clint sat back down.

Pietro folded his arms over his chest, “Alright, well that’s a start.”

“Do us a favor and leave? Please?” Clint nearly spat at him, “We’re trying to run a club, here.”

“A club?”

“Bird watching club,” Sam tapped his binoculars.

Pietro stifled a laugh, “Ha, well, if you insist! I’ll just go finish my practice run for track tryo--”

“I don’t care what you are doing, just leave,” Clint groaned. He picked up his water bottle to take a sip, but just as he unscrewed the top, Pietro snatched it right out of his hands and trotted off down the bleachers.

“Whatever you say, old man!” His feet hit the track and he grinned back up at Clint and Sam, biting his tongue a little.

Clint’s hand was still in mid-air. Sam looked at him with concern.

“Either you are losing your edge, or he is really fast.”

Clint could feel his muscles shaking under his skin, fire blazing in his eyes, “I. Hate. Him.”

“I can tell,” Sam snorted, raising his expression.

Clint glared at him, “That wasn't convincing.”

Sam’s face broke into a wide grin, “He’s hot,” he motioned towards Pietro with his eyes and brow.

Clint felt his face start to burn up and he huffed, “Not my type,” he turned away from Sam.

Sam laughed out loud, “Oh, you liar ! You literally just let him take your favorite water bottle. I’m not stupid, Clint!” Now Sam was making wild arm gestures towards the track.

It was Clint’s turn to snort in amusement, “Right, says the guy who can’t tell when someone likes him.”

Sam leaned in a little and stopped moving, “What? Someone likes me?”

“Oh no, no its nothing, nevermind,” Clint shrugged and smiled at his friend innocently.

Sam leaned back against the row behind them, grunting a little, “Hmph. Alright. You are a terrible friend.”

Clint laughed, “Oh, I know.”

And sure, Clint played it off like Sam was being ridiculous, but he was right. While Pietro was terribly annoying, he also wasn’t not attractive. Right? If tight muscles and bad hair dye was your kinda thing. He felt his chest tug a little and he frowned. He stole a quick glance down at Pietro and let his shoulder fall a bit. Pietro was fast. Really fast. There was no doubt that he’d make it onto the track team.

And it wasn’t Clint’s fault, it really wasn’t. He couldn’t help it. But suddenly, he was wondering what else Pietro was fast at.

Chapter Text

Pepper sat at home on her couch. She pulled her legs up onto the cushions, sitting criss-cross. She stared down at the project sheet, Natasha’s phone number scrawled lazily over the paper. She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, her leg shaking with anxiety. The project was due next week, and she still hadn’t managed to call up Natasha. She was too scared, and she could admit that, too. Not to anyone else, but to herself was enough. Pepper pulled out her phone and stared at it for a few minutes.

“Suck it up, Potts. It’s not like she can kill you through the phone… right?” She was talking to herself again.

She took a deep breath and dialed Natasha’s number, shakily bringing the phone up to her ear. With every long ring, she felt her heartbeat quickening. This was crazy. Why did this happen? She never asked to be partners with her. Pepper couldn’t handle this. She could handle a lot of things, but being project partners with Natasha was not one of them. She was too cold, to snippy, to dark-eyed and mysterious.

But she wasn’t dark-eyed. No, Natasha had minty green eyes. They were bright and cold and looked like little spring icicles. They were just always so sharp, so much that Pepper wondered if the woman felt anything anymore.

Pepper was snapped out of her thoughts by the crackling sound of someone answering on the other line, “Hello?” A gruff, male voice answered.

She looked at her phone for a second, confused, and then hesitantly answered, “Hi, this is Pepper. Is Natasha home? I need to speak to her.”

“Oh! Pepper! This is Clint!” She suddenly recognized the sparkle of humor in his voice.

She smiled, “Clint! Oh boy, well isn’t this a treat?” Pepper giggled and plopped backwards so she was now laying on the couch, long hair fanned out behind her head.

Clint chuckled, “You wanna talk to Nat? She’s right here.”

“Want to and need to and two very different things, dear.”

She could almost hear him smile as he sarcastically quipped, “Well she looks positively thrilled as well.”

Pepper honestly loved Clint. He was cold and calculating and didn’t care much about anything, but he had this dry humor that always made her smile. He was also significantly more comfortable at his home than at school. The guy played everything off like he was completely mature and shouldn’t have to deal with anyone’s arrogance, but he was secretly pretty arrogant and playful himself. He was snappy at times, but he always ended everything off with a sly comment or a dashing wink. Plus, he had a really cute dog.

“Alright, well let’s get this over with,” Pepper sighed.

She heard shuffling from the other line, and a few groans as well. She could have sworn that she heard Natasha yell something about hating her life, but that sounded pretty normal on her part. Well, at least hate was some form of emotion.

“Hello.”

Anger boiled up inside Pepper when she heard Natasha’s voice. She took in a staggered breath and mustered out a steady, “Hi, this is Pepper.”

“Yeah I know,” her voice was sharp. She sounded like pins and needles against Pepper’s ears.

Except, Pepper couldn’t help but pick out a few small wavers in her tone. A small part of her hoped that Natasha was actually human. She wondered what her laugh sounded like. Not her cynical, pessimistic laugh, but her real, genuine laugh. Pepper shook the thoughts away.

“Alright… well I was wondering if you wanted to get together tonight to finish that project?”

Natasha groaned a little, “Want to and need to are two different things.”

Pepper blinked in surprise. Wait, but -- no. No, she hadn’t been on speaker phone, she would have been able to tell. Did Natasha just? Was that? What? How?

Her face was burning up from the sudden shock, “Um, well, I mean, it’s kind of required ya know…”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to do it. I’ll just hate every second of it.”

Pepper’s chest tightened in anger, “Okay, I get it. You don’t like me, I don’t like you. Let’s just try and work together, yeah?”

“Yeah whatever.”

Pepper stared at the ceiling with annoyance in her blue eyes. This was ridiculous. So she sat there, silence ringing through the dead space between them.

“Clint and Sam are already getting together at Baskin Robbins tonight to finish theirs. Let’s just go too,” Natasha finally broke the silence.

“Okay, what time?”

“6:30.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“You’re really not welcome,” and with that last little jab at Pepper’s patience, Natasha hung up the phone.

Pepper let the disconnected line blare at her for a minute, before she hung up as well. Well this was going to be a “fun” night. She really had no idea how to handle this situation. But, on the bright side, Sam and Clint would be there too. Hopefully they’d act as moderators between the two aggravated girls. God, Pepper really, really hated her.

 

Pepper walked into Baskin Robbins, listening as the little bell on the door jingled. A familiar figure, hunched over the counter, flipping through the book of cake ideas, turned his head to look at her. His tousled brown hair and bright eyes were unmistakable.

“Pepper! You’re back!” Scott ran up to her and hugged her, “I just got here for my shift.”

Pepper smiled sweetly at the grinning boy, “Yeah, I’m supposed to meet Natasha here to work on our project for english class.”

Scott rolled his eyes and looked around the store hesitantly, then quickly jumped up onto  the counter and swung his legs over to the other side, hopping down with surprising agility -- for Scott at least. He scrunched up his nose and gave her an exaggerated look of pity, “Oh gosh, I’m sorry.”

“She is the worst person to work with. Ever. I hate it,” Pepper leaned against the cool glass of the ice cream freezers.

Scott rolled his eyes and poured himself a glass of water from the sink, “Tell me about it, girl.”

Pepper snorted out a laugh and smiled down at her shoes as he took a sip from his glass, “Well, at least Clint and Sam will be here too. Hopefully they’ll be of use.”

Scott physically choked on his water. Pepper shot upwards quickly and turned to his aide. He was coughing and bent over, hands on his knees, eyes wide as he sputtered a little and gulped in thick flows of air.

“Scott! Are you okay?” Pepper reached over the counter to the best of her ability and patted his back.

He nodded and waved his hand in the air, “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Totally fine.”

“Why’d you do that!? You nearly died!” Pepper raised her voice a little.

Scott’s cheeks flushed red, “It wasn’t my fault!”

“You can’t just nearly die every time I mention you-know-who!”

Scott shot her an embarrassed glare, “Shut up! We don’t speak a word of this!” he poked Pepper in the shoulder and she giggled.

“Whatever you say!” Pepper’s sing-song tone made Scott giggle too.

He was about to respond when the door swung open and Natasha strutted in in her usual outfit, red scoop-neck t-shirt, black leather jacket, black short-shorts with red leggings, and silver knee-high combat boots. She flung her bag onto a chair and let her gaze rake over the room, freezing eyes landing right on Pepper. Pepper felt a nervous shiver run down her spine, muscles tensing a little. Clint and Sam followed her in. Clint had on a really low-cut purple tank top and gray joggers, whereas Sam had on blue cargo shorts and a tight gray t-shirt. And Scott whimpered quietly from behind the counter.

All three of them walked up to her. Sam gave Pepper a quick hug and Clint nodded in her direction from behind his dark sunglasses. Natasha just sighed.

“Alright, let’s get this over with,” she half-growled.

“Heeeeeey guys!” Scott awkwardly leaned over the counter and put his chin in his hands, trying to squeeze himself into the already painful conversation.

Pepper saw that Scott’s gaze was focused on Sam, who smiled at him, “Hey, what’s up tic tac?”

Clint had to hold back a smirk and Pepper raised her eyebrows at Scott, who was blushing madly. Tic tac? When had that come about?

Scott scratched his head, “H-hey Sam…”

Natasha groaned, “Ugh, get a room. Pick me out something good, Clint,” she ordered as she spun around and headed back to the table. Scott coughed a little and quickly looked away from Sam, who just furrowed his brow in confusion.

“Wait, why?” was his only response, and Pepper mentally face-palmed.

Stupid idiot.

Clint ordered for him and Nat and Pepper got the usual. Scott took Sam’s order into his own hands, of course, giving him extra chocolate syrup -- even adding sprinkles “on the house”. Sam had been thankful, as usual, but he still wasn’t getting the hints. Pepper honestly felt terrible for sweet little Scott.

She sat down next to Natasha and took out her notebook, “Okay, so, what do you think the American Dream represents?”

Natasha slowly leaned back in her chair and didn’t look at Pepper. Instead, she just gazed out that glass window, “The American Dream is a false cause. It’s not real. It’s just a bunch of average people falling short of their unrealistic dreams and diving straight into the corrupt poverty of the invisible American caste system.”

Pepper’s mouth gaped open and closed a few times, trying to wrap her head around what the other girl had just said. She couldn’t respond with much more than a timid, “Um, alright … well that’s a… a start .”

Natasha turned her gaze to Pepper, “What about you? What do you think?”

She was suddenly very scared to share her opinion with Natasha, “Well, um, I don’t exactly think that’s true.”

She leaned away fro Pepper and little and tilted her head, “Yeah? How so?”

Pepper gulped, “I think that the American Dream helps people. I think it keeps people shooting for the stars, even during the hardest of times. And although it may not always be achievable, it’s the reason that we had advanced so much as a nation. This country was founded on the principle that anyone could be anything.”

Natasha didn’t say much of anything for a minute or so, and Pepper began to tap her pencil against her paper nervously. What was she thinking? Probably about how stupid Pepper was. She wasn’t sure, but it was horrifying.

And then Natasha did something weird and a little wonderful. Her shoulders relaxed a little and her face twisted into some sort of smile (kind of). Pepper had no clue what to say.

“I used to think like that. When I was a kid, back in Russia. I thought that America was going to save me,” she sighed and frowned again, “It didn’t.”

Pepper looked at her with timid concern, “Why not?”

Natasha shook her head, red locks swaying against her shoulders, “It’s not important. I just see people like you -- people that try so hard. People that are going somewhere. And I realize that the American Dream is no longer accepting of everyone, but only those who were born into it.”

Pepper thought about that for a moment. Natasha had a point, but she didn’t quite understand it. She had no idea what it was like in Russia, but it seemed like Natasha had some sort of fair reasoning behind her opinion.

“What was your dream?” Pepper asked quietly.

She lifted her gaze back towards the window and softly whispered, “I was going to be a dancer.”

Pepper’s heart twisted in her chest. She felt as though Natasha had just spoken sacred words. Natasha didn’t trust Pepper, and Pepper didn’t trust her either, but right there, in that moment, she saw something in Natasha that she’d never seen before. Loss. Pure loss, lack of confidence, disappearing hope and flourish anguish. Just for a split second, Natasha had become a person in Pepper’s eyes.

“A dancer?”

Natasha closed up again and shook her head, “No, whatever, forget about it,” she grabbed her pencil and began filling out some of the questions on the project paper. Pepper made a mental note that the answers that she wrote did not correlate with her opinion, but rather with Pepper’s.

Pepper wasn’t going to push any farther than that, for obvious reasons, and instead pulled out some markers and a large, folded sheet of paper, “Okay, how should we make this poster?”

Natasha shrugged just as there was a small crash from the table next to them. Sam had dropped his waffle cone on the ground and ice cream was spilling everywhere. He grumbled a few slurs and Clint began to cackle at his friend’s own demise. Scott quickly rushed over with a towel and slid to the ground on his knees, beginning to clean up the spill before Sam could even bend down.

“Oh gosh, thanks Scott…” Sam looked a little embarrassed, “I guess I’m the one who’s being a little clumsy now, huh?”

Scott laughed, “It happens to the best of us. I’ll get you another one.”

“What? No, no, it’s fine.”

“No really, I’ve got a couple extra dollars,” Scott stood up and balled up the ice cream-soaked towel in his hands.

“Scott, man, it’s fine. I was almost done, anyways.”

The shorter boy looked a little hurt, but shrugged and began to walk away, “Oh, okay, whatever you say.”

Clint kicked Sam in the ankle and he turned around and slapped him away. Pepper frowned. She was going to have a long talk with Sam after this. The boy was literally the most oblivious person she’d ever met. Ever.

 

The rest of the night went surprisingly smoothly. Pepper and Natasha hadn’t fought as much as she’d expected them too. In fact, Clint and Sam had become rather useless. They finished their poster, which they had decided to call “The Controversy of The American Dream” (Pepper’d come up with that one), and wrote down some vague ideas for the speech portion of the project.

As the night grew on, Pepper’s thoughts became thicker. She couldn’t stop wondering about Natasha’s past, her dreams, who she was. She wanted to know more; her mind thirsted for the missing puzzle pieces. Over the span of only three hours, she’d found her opinion of Natasha slowly developing into something new. “Hate” no longer expressed how she felt towards the other girl, and yet, she couldn’t put her finger on a word to replace it. “Intrigued”, maybe? She wasn’t sure.

Natasha seemed to be slowly loosening up as well. It had been at least an hour since she’d glared at Pepper, which, for all she knew, was a record. The girl didn’t seem to tire like the others, but instead maintained an aura of mystery. It sounded cheesy, she knew that, but there was no other way that Pepper could explain it. Every move Natasha made was suddenly that of a broken dancer’s in her eyes. Her slender fingers turned notebook pages like a butterfly’s wingbeats, her eyes flicked around the room like a darting dragonfly, her expressions varied like the colors of a creeping chameleon. Pepper hoped that Natasha couldn’t tell how her interest had been peaked.

Now, that’s not to say that she still didn’t manage to frustrate Pepper. She couldn’t forget all of the nasty comments and terrible moments before this ever so slightly tolerable one. All the dagger-sharp words and threatening looks. No, Pepper couldn’t let those things go. But would it be possible for her to see past them?

Scott had been just as intent on impressing Sam as he’d been earlier. Nothing was working. The poor guy was now sulking behind the counter, making no effort to move until his shift was over. It was too late for more customers to come, anyways. He just sat there and stared at the ticking clock on the wall, a broken look in his usually bright eyes. Clint was asleep in his chair and Sam was playing some cat game on his phone.

Pepper stretched her arms up and yawned, standing abruptly. She began to pack up her things, followed silently by Natasha and Sam, who shook Clint awake. He woke with a grunt and and a yawn.

“Well, that was actually pretty productive,” Pepper pointed out as she slung her bag over her shoulder.

The boys nodded and stood up, too tired to really respond. Natasha shrugged, “Yeah, not bad.”

They walked towards the door and Pepper looked over her shoulder and called out to Scott, “Hey, see ya tomorrow, Scott!”

He slowly turned his eyes to Pepper and answered with a fake smile and a small wave. And it broke her heart. God damnit, Sam. He didn’t even see. He was far more blind than Clint was deaf at this point.

As the cold outside air hit her skin, she shivered, walking in silence with the rest of the overly-tired group. Just before she left to walk home, she stopped next to Natasha.

“Hey, um, when should we meet up to finish the speech?” she asked, rubbing her eyes a little.

Natasha thought for a moment, “Whenever works for you.”

Pepper was almost taken aback. That was probably the kindest thing Natasha had ever said to her. She just blankly blinked at the other girl, “Right… um…”

Natasha frowned, “I still dislike you. Just in case you think that’s changed.”

Pepper actually laughed at that, “Trust me, I didn’t come here tonight expecting any sort of change between us.”

But there had been a change, at least of Pepper’s end. She felt some sort of weird sympathy for Natasha. Not that it mattered. Except, of course, that it did matter. To her, at least.

“Well good. Let’s just talk about it in class tomorrow then.”

“Yeah, fine.”

“Fine,” Natasha huffed and looked away from Pepper. She jerked her body around and began to walk away, pausing only a few steps later, “Oh and, what I said tonight, about… everything,” she sighed and shook her head, “forget I ever said it.”

She walked back to the car where Sam and Clint were waiting for her, leaving Pepper on the sidewalk, dazed. Pepper’s heart was beating loudly. She let her shoulders fall slightly and looked at the ground. So Natasha had told her something important. Something that she didn’t want others knowing. Pepper was surprised that she’d been able to evoke any emotions from her at all, let alone find out any sensitive information.

A dancer. Natasha was going to be a dancer.

Pepper smiled at the gray sidewalk under her feet; she couldn’t get the image of Natasha in a dusty pink leotard out of her head.

 

~~~ PLAYLIST SONG DESCRIPTIONS~~~

The Kids Aren't Alright by Fall Out Boy
This is the song that the story was named after, purely based on the idea that every character has problems that they have to deal with and overcome.

Make A Circuit With Me by The Polecats
Bruce/Tony - Well, they both love science! <3

All These Things That I've Done by The Killers
Bruce/Tony - This song reminds me of Tony calling out for Bruce's help. He wants Bruce to see that he's not perfect and that he can't handle the weight on his shoulders

Ships In The Night by Mat Kearney
Bruce/Tony - This song represents both of their struggles with their parents and how they end up bonding over it as they try and find their way through love.

True Love by P!nk
Pepper/Nat - I feel like this accurately represents how these two girls feel about each other. Just in general.

Hardest Of Hearts by Florence And The Machine
Pepper/Nat - This song was picked because it makes me think of how Pepper begins to view Nat. She can see that Nat has feelings, and wants to reach out to her.

Love Drunk by Little Mix
Pepper/Nat - This one is from Pepper's POV. It's about how she starts to slip up and can't stop thinking about Nat, who may or may not be good for her.

Bullseye by Aly And Aj
Clint/Pietro - This song is totally something that Clint would listen to when he's thinking of Pietro.

Crystals by Of Monsters And Men
Clint/Pietro - I like the idea of Clint and Pietro sort of growing together, learning how to shine. They each become a safe person to talk to for one another.

Bulletproof Heart (Gravity) by My Chemical Romance
Clint/Pietro - I see this song representing how they both are trying to escape their pasts and even their own minds, and how they eventually find asylum within each other.

The Way To Wonder by Kyle Andrews
Scott/Sam - This song is just really cute and I feel like this is what Scott wants to do with Sam. Just lay around and enjoy life.

Youth by Troye Sivan
Scott/Sam - I can see Scott singing this song with the intentions of giving his youth to Sam. He wants to stay young and spend his days with Sam.

Something I Need by OneRepublic
Scott/Sam - I chose this song because I believe that these two both need each other a lot. And Scott is definitely someone that could bring Sam real joy in life.

We Are The Kids by Walk The Moon
This is another group song. It talks of the strength that our characters have together.

Superheroes by The Script
Another group song, chosen because each of these characters are going through hard times, but they must realize that by overcoming these obstacles, they succeed.

Victorious by Panic! At The Disco
Tony - Well, Tony likes to forget about life by just losing himself to partying.

I'll Be Good by Jaymes Young
Tony - This song is Tony's redemption song. It's him, saying that he doesn't want to continue like this, he doesn't want to hurt people and he doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps.

First by Cold War Kids
Bruce - I think that this song is the embodiment of all of Bruce's fears. He believes that he doesn't deserve to have a good life because of everything that has happened to him. He has anxiety and is constantly putting himself down.

Migraine by Twenty One Pilots
Bruce - Bruce is always fighting himself in his head, wishing that he could escape all of the negative thoughts that overrun his mind. He had depression and is having trouble dealing with it.

Spread Your Wings by Queen
Sam - This song was actually brought to my attention by a lovely fan of this fic, and I'm so thankful for that, because every word fits 'lil Sammy so well. He wants to fly and be bird and be his own person.

Luck by American Authors
Sam - Some birds aren't meant to be caged <3

Invisible by Hunter Hayes
Scott - Poor little baby Scott feels so invisible to everyone. Not just Sam, but also his old friends. And with the help of his new group, he's going to eventually realize that he is so much more. I imagine Pepper telling him these things.

Believer by American Authors
Scott - This song is about how he just wants to believe that his life is going to keep getting better. Despite his flaws, he's going to go places and just be happy.

Miss Jackson by Panic! At The Disco
Natasha - I like to think that this song fits perfectly with how everyone views Nat. She puts up this cold-hearted,devilish facade that really isn't her true self.

Human by Daughter
Natasha - Underneath the rock solid walls that she keeps up around her, Natasha is a real person. She has emotions and feelings ad just needs someone to help her come out of her shell.

Fire N Gold by Bea Miller
Pepper - Pepper is strong and has her eyes set on her future. He has passion for what she does and protects her friends with everything she has.

Wings by Little Mix
Pepper - Pepper doesn't waste no time. She doesn't let anyone bring her down and works hard for her success.

Don't Stop Me Now by Queen
Pietro - Well, he's fast, he's on a roll, and he can't be stopped. Sometimes he doesn't know when he's gone too far, but he's really just trying to move as fast as he can. He can't sit still, he's a little firecracker.

One Foot by Fun.
Pietro - This song reminds me of how Pietro kind of just has to keep pushing through life. His days in Sokovia were hard, but he's realizing that America isn't so easy either, and that he just has to keep marching on to stay on top.

Ride by Twenty One Pilots
Clint - Clint is laid back little birdie who just wants to ride the waves of life. And even though it can get rough, he's determined to enjoy his life. When he gets caught up in drama, he just lets it happen and doesn't take anything seriously.

I'm So Sorry by Imagine Dragons
Clint - This song is about Clint's sketchy parentage and how he went through hell as a child. He's done some messed up stuff that has led to his depression. He regrets every mistake he's made, and is trying to make them up through protecting his friends.

I'm Good by The Mowgli's (Band Together)
Another group song. I can just picture everyone singing this song together once they've all overcome their problems. I love the thought of my babies embracing who they are and just being happy!

Be Okay by Oh Honey
And for out final track, another happy group tune! These little heroes are gonna turn out just fine <3

 

Chapter Text

The weekend had been a long one so far, and Scott was only half-way through it. He’d worked all day saturday and was up ‘till at least 2 a.m. doing… homework. Yep. It was homework. He was most definitely not reading “reader x your crush” fanfictions on the web. Definitely not. He wasn’t THAT in love with Sam.

Aw hell, who was he trying to convince?

He loved Sam. He loved him so much and it killed him. He was suffocating in his own self doubt and his growing lack of confidence was pulling him down even farther as of late. Scott had always suffered from depression, but this was insane. Sam was amazing and beautiful and he wanted him so, so bad. But Sam, for some dumb reason, was completely oblivious to all of Scott’s pitiful advances.

So there he laid, curled up under his bed sheets, face squished against his pillow and knees brought up to his chest, groaning about his life on a perfectly good sunday morning. He was supposed to meet his friends --Luis, Kurt, and Dave -- for a day of video games, but he didn’t feel up to it anymore. He just felt empty inside. Sure, he’d liked Sam basically all year, but it hadn’t hit him this hard until he actually started talking to him (thanks, Pepper). He didn’t know what else he could do.

He heard his phone buzz from the side table next to his bed. Scott lazily poked his arm out of the covers and grabbed his phone. The text was from Tony. Him and the billionaire boy had been sort-of-friends for a few years now. Sometimes Tony would invite him to hang out and catch up with him. Actually, Scott used to do a lot of under-the-table information smuggling for him. Freshman year had been rough. Tony had got into some trouble with Justin Hammer (trouble that was never really solved) and had recruited Scott to help him destroy Hammer’s reputation. Scott -- being the “rebellious” high school kid he was -- took the bait. He was still a little smug about the whole thing, especially considering Tony got caught and he didn’t. Turns out that despite the fact that Scott could barely walk straight, he could use all that awkward momentum to be a great criminal (if that’s what you’d want to classify stealing private report cards as). And Tony still paid up too. Scott got his fancy piece of Stark phone tech. Wifi was no longer a problem for him. He’d just been too guilty afterwards to doing anything like that ever again.

Scott opened the text from Tony.

>Hey, what’s up?

>Sulking.

>Oh yeah, Pepper told me about friday night. Dude, you just gotta tell him.

>Of course she did. It’s not that simple.

>Isn’t it, though?

>Tony, he completely looks past me. He can’t get a clue.

>Aww man, I’m sorry. Ya know, Clint told me that Sam thinks that new European boy, Pietro, is hot.

Scott’s breath hitched in his lungs and his thumbs froze over the warm screen of his phone. He felt his whole stomach lurch and his eyes began to water. He swallowed hard and struggled to reply.

>Wait… what?

>Yeah, I guess he disturbed him and Clint during bird watching club and Sam made some comment about it.

>Oh.

>Don’t take it too seriously though, it probably meant nothing.

>Yeah, right…

Scott suddenly felt very sick. He no longer wanted to get out of bed at all. So Sam had eyes for fast, broad-shouldered blond guys, huh? Well I guess that settled it then. Scott was everything that Sam didn’t want in a boyfriend. He was the opposite of attractive. He was useless and pathetic.

>You wanna hang out today? Bruce and I are going out to the lake, if you wanna come.

>No, you enjoy your date. I’m good here.

>It’s not a date, Scott.

>Alright, whatever you say, Stark.

He set his phone aside and slowly sat up in his bed, sheets still draping over his shoulders. Scott peered into the mirror on the other side of the room, analyzing the way his dark hair stuck up in awkward directions. He sighed and poked at his flat stomach and thin arms. He traced the curve of his nose with his fingers and the tears began to well up in his eyes again. He sniffled and wiped at his cheeks, trying to swallow back his emotions. Pietro probably never cried over his looks. Pietro was gorgeous. He didn’t have to worry about this shit. But Scott was small and scrawny and unattractive in comparison to the towering bulk of a boy.

Scott stared at himself and burst into tears. He’d tried to stop them, he really had, but he was helpless. He felt his eyes begin to go red as the salty droplets rolled down his stubble-coated cheeks. He shook his head and buried his face in his covers so he didn’t have to look at himself any more. Scott felt disgusting. He felt absolutely useless and unworthy.

So Scott did what any emotionally distraught guy would do -- he called Pepper. He grabbed his phone and dialed her number with shaky fingers. She picked up the phone after precisely two rings.

“Hello, this is Pepper!” her voice was chipper, but it still didn’t manage to make him smile.

“Pepper, it’s Scott,” his voice cracked into the phone.

“Scott? Scott what’s wrong? Are you crying? What happened?” the ginger girl sounded thoroughly distressed.

“I can’t do this, Pepper, I’m stupid, I’m ugly, I can’t get anything right. Sam doesn’t want me, no one wants me,” Scott choked out the words, trying to keep his voice steady enough to be understandable.

“What?! Scott, where is this coming from? You aren’t ugly!” he could almost imagine her shaking her head with wide blue eyes.

“I’m not good enough.”

“Shut the hell up! You are amazing and adorable and you deserve the best of the best! You are by no means unwanted or ugly. And why would you even think that Sam doesn’t like you?” Pepper rarely ever swore, so Scott could tell that she was concerned for him.

“Tony says that he likes Pietro. And if I can’t have Sam, then I don’t deserve anyone. I don’t want anyone.”

“He doesn’t like Pietro, Scott. He likes you!” She sounded almost desperate to lift his spirits.

“No he doesn’t, don’t lie to me,” Scott sniffled helplessly.

Pepper sighed on the other end of the line, “Please just talk to him. He’s never gonna get it unless you tell him.”

“I don’t know how…”

“Just be yourself. Promise me that you won’t go dye your hair blonde or do anything stupid, okay? Just be the Scott that we all know and love and everything will be okay.”

Scott wiped his eyes again, “I don’t think Sam wants me.”

“Sam has a lot going on right now, he doesn’t know what he wants. His head is up in the clouds. Bring him back down to Earth for a bit and he’ll see.”

“You think so?”

“I know so,” Scott could hear the smile in Pepper’s voice. She always knew exactly what to say in these tough situations. He thanked his lucky stars for Pepper every single day.

“Thanks, Pep.”

“No problem babe. Now go take a long bath and watch one of those weird ant documentaries that you like so much.”

Scott laughed in between sniffs, “Heh, okay, I will.”

“Don’t forget to use the volcano bath bomb that I gave you for your birthday last month. And the sea salt scrub.”

Scott blushed, “Yeah, yeah, you don’t have to tell me twice.”

Pepper giggled, “Good, go have fun, Scott. You’re gorgeous, don’t forget it.”

He smiled against the phone and muttered a small goodbye before she hung up the phone. He timidly stood up from his bed; sunlight filtered in through the window and glowed against the pale skin of his bare chest. He looked himself up and down. He really wasn’t THAT skinny… right? He spotted a small bulge up muscle in his bicep. Maybe that was enough? His Snoopy boxers sat low on his hips, prompting to poke at his stomach. He had abs, right? They weren’t visible, but they were there. Scott forced himself to smile and padded off to the bathroom, barefoot and shivering from the cool air of his apartment.

When he got to the bathroom, he turned on the water and knelt down to grab the bath bomb and the scrub from the cupboard. He placed the bath bomb in the water and it instantly started turning everything bright red and swirled orange, small flecks of black sparkles spread across the steamy water. He got rid of his boxers and took a timid step in, slowly slinking down into the heat of the water, drinking in the smells of the bath bomb.

Oh yes, Pepper was a goddess.

After this, he was going to wrap himself up in favorite red bathrobe and lay on the couch and watch discovery channel. Yeah, hopefully the ant program would be on today. Gosh did he love ants.

The warmth relaxed his tense nerves and made him leaning his head back against the walls of the bathtub. And his mind wandered. It wandered so far. It was all about Sam, of course, but he was feeling a little better about himself after that talk with Pepper. And this bath was pretty great too.

The only thing that would make it better would be if Sam was there with him.

 

~~~

 

Bruce stood with Tony on the dock, looking out of the massive expanse of the lake they’d drove for two hours to go see. The blue water glittered in the sunlight. Silver fish bobbed their heads up at the top, scales shimmering. Bruce’s heart thumped rapidly as his gaze shifted to the boy standing next to him. Tony was wearing a white tank top and had his favorite pair of sunglasses on, as well as a pair of dark blue shorts and black sneakers. Bruce had on a button up yellow shirt and some khaki shorts -- the nicest clothes he owned.

But this wasn’t a date. Nope. It wasn’t.

Tony had just invited him to come see the lake with him. They were really here for Bruce’s new biology project. Something about water samples and fish population and pollution, Bruce really wasn’t sure at the moment. He couldn’t think straight. By God, he’d never felt this disoriented in the presence of anyone ever before. But Tony was so stunning. Dark hair pushed back and hands on his hips, bare arms sitting all too close to Bruce’s.

Tony glanced over at him from behind his shades, “Beautiful, ain’t it?”

Bruce nodded, not sure if he was answering for the lake, or for something else. He was confused. He was dazed. He didn’t know what to think.

“I used to go fishing here as a kid. Just me and Rhodey. Two young boys with bright futures,” Tony frowned a little, “Heh… look at us now.”

Bruce gave him a slightly concern look and nudged his arm a little, “Hey, you guys are doing pretty good on the “bright future” spectrum.”

Tony tipped his head down a little and smiled. Bruce couldn’t help but realize that he’d never actually initiated physical contact between him and Tony before that moment. Of course, Tony had to take it farther and throw his arm around Bruce’s shoulder. He tensed up and instinctively shot his hand up to throw Tony’s arm off, but he stopped as his fingers touched Tony’s. The other boy seemed to notice Bruce’s uncomfort, but he just tilted his head with a questioning look on what Bruce could see of his face. He shyly looked away from Tony, but made no effort to move his arm again, he only took Tony’s index finger in his and slowly took in the feeling of his warm skin.

He saw Tony smile out of the corner of his eye, “Bruce?” he raised an eyebrow at the shorter boy.

Bruce blushed a little and stopped holding his finger, “Sorry I… I don’t know what I was doing. Sorry.”

Tony’s smile turned into an outright grin, “I don’t think we came here for that kind of experiment.”

Bruce’s cheeks flushed cherry red and he folded in on himself a little, “Sorry.”

Tony chuckled and shook his head, “No, no, don’t apologize. Now come on, let’s get those water samples collected.”

Bruce gulped and nodded, “Right. Water samples.”

Chapter Text

Ever since bird watching club last week, Clint’s life had been absolute hell. He didn’t ask for this. He never did. But there he was, sitting in English class, with Pietro next to him. His feet were propped up on the desk -- as usual -- and his arms were behind his head. The boy took up most of the space, being the giant powerhouse he was, and left Clint with little room to maneuver. Now, Clint’s wasn’t small. Nope, not at all. He wasn’t super tall, but he definitely wasn’t short. He was muscular, but not bulging. He liked to think of himself as only slightly above average. This caused problems while he was trying to work, because Pietro had purposefully sprawled himself out to the point where Clint only had a sliver of tablespace left.

Clint groaned as he shoved Pietro’s protruding foot over for the fourth time today, trying to make space for his notebook, “Could you please stay on your side of the table?” he growled through gritted teeth.

Pietro pouted a little and cast him a sideways glance, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was just getting comfortable.”

Clint groaned, “We are in school; being comfortable isn’t exactly a priority.”

“Fine, fine,” Pietro swung his feet down from the table and shoved them under the desk.

Clint was almost able to breath a sigh of relief -- almost. He suddenly felt Pietro’s knee press up against his leg. His breath hitched in his throat and his legs tensed up. He slowly turned his head towards Pietro, where he saw a look of no shame on the kid’s face. No shame at all.

“Pietro.”

“Yes, Clint?” he raised a thick eyebrow and leaned back in his chair again.

“Could you please keep your legs to yourself?” Clint’s voice was cautious, trying to tiptoe around the anger flaring in his chest.

Pietro tilted his head, thinking for a minute. He twisted his face a little and then proceeded to shake his head, “No.”

Clint frowned, “Move your leg before I move it for you.”

Pietro blinked at him, a blank expression matching Clint’s gruff, angry one. And then his lips twisted into the same sly smirk that had probably gotten them into this situation.

And Pietro did move his leg, oh yes, he did. Just not in the direction that Clint was hoping. The archer felt a rush of heat surge through his nerves. He gulped as quietly as he could and tensed up even more. The teacher was talking, but he couldn’t seem to focus on anything but Pietro -- rubbing his leg up against Clint’s.

He took a ragged breath, “That’s… that’s not what I meant.”

Pietro let out a low laugh and even went far enough as to curl his foot around Clint’s calf, “What? You didn’t see that coming?”

“I…” Clint trailed off and forced himself to stare directly at the chair in front of him, “I didn’t, no.”

He internally kicked himself for not being more careful with his words, especially around this arrogant boy. Why him? Why did Pietro decide that Clint was going to be the object of his terrorizing? He didn’t know, and probably never would, but it didn’t stop him from wondering.

Now they’d been sitting like that for too many minutes for Clint to keep track of. He was trying to keep his breath even and his mind off the unwanted warmth pooling at the pit of his stomach. This wasn’t his fault -- right? It was Pietro. Pietro started this so he could embarrass Clint on a whole new level. The kid was an ass.

Oh God, wrong choice of words.

Clint shook his head, trying to stop the thoughts, but he was far too late. Because Pietro not only was an ass, but he also had a nice ass. He felt his cheeks going red, which made him sick to his stomach. He was Clint Barton, and Clint Barton didn’t blush. Not for anyone. He hated feeling this uncontrollably vulnerable. His feeling were subject to all of Pietro’s actions in that single moment. It was weird and disgusting and foreign.

Pietro must have noticed the distress in Clint’s eyes, because he smiled innocently at him, “Something wrong?”

Clint didn’t respond, but managed a small head shake. Nope, nothing was wrong. Nothing at all. He was fine.

Pietro exaggerated a sigh and started fanning his face with his hand, “Gosh, is it hot in here?” Clint felt his stomach twist as Pietro’s other hand slowly crept onto Clint’s thigh. Then the white-haired boy’s voice dropped low, “Or is it just me?”

He said nothing, he just kept his eyes locked straight ahead of him. But he was losing it, he was beginning to break. His jeans were tightening ever so slightly -- and he’d kick himself later for choosing to wear them today, of all days -- and Pietro’s fingers felt like fire against him.

Clint took in a sharp breath and shot up from his seat. He stood as quickly as humanly possible and stumbled out from between the desk and his chair. He caught Pietro’s eye for a split second, and oh, was he pleased. Pietro was grinning, ear-to-ear, like he’d just won the jackpot. Clint tried to look as composed as possible as he hastily walked out of the classroom. Natasha raised her eyebrow at him on the way out -- he just sneered at her. Of course she knew what was happening, her senses were always on high alert. She could probably smell him from the other side of the room.

He grabbed the hall pass and shuffled out of the door, only to lean against the wall. He stared at the row of lockers on the opposite end of the hallway, letting out the breath he’d been holding in the whole time. He reached up and ran his fingers through his hair. Clint felt like the world was pushing on him from all sides. Shame, guilt, disgust, it all boiled up inside of him. He should have been strong, should have resisted. That’s what he was taught as a kid, just to tough it out.

But this was so different. This attention from Pietro was like a drug. He hated it, he knew that it was messing with his head, he knew that Pietro wasn’t doing it for any good reason. And yet… he was the one with tight jeans. Clint didn’t know why Pietro refused to leave him alone. What were his motives? Why did he insist on being such a douchebag? Pietro could have been a perfectly good person, but no, he willingly chose to screw with Clint. It wasn’t bullying -- no. Clint Barton didn’t get “bullied”. He could handle this perfectly fine. He didn’t feel attacked or insecure by the speedster’s actions, he was just confused.

It was almost as if Pietro was just seeking attention. He’d only just moved here a little over a week ago. No friends, no family except his sister, no idea what America would be like. Did he think that he needed to act this way to fit in in America? Was that it? Probably not. All Clint knew was that on top of whatever was going on in Pietro’s head, his mind was tossing and turning as well. Now, mind you, Clint had had many girlfriends in the past. In fact, he’d probably left a wake of hurt, angry girls behind him while he was in the circus. But he’d never felt… well, he’d never felt that. He felt angry. He felt torn. He felt like a kitten who’d had its catnip stolen after one sniff. Pietro was intoxicating him. But he didn’t like him like that, right? Pietro was arrogant and stupid and liked to push Clint around for little to no reason, as far as he could tell. Clint had no feelings besides burning anger and annoyance towards him.

Except, here he was with -- you guessed it -- tight jeans.

What was wrong with him? He couldn’t even remember how any of this started. Half of his mind was telling him that Pietro was literally just doing this for attention and to piss him off, but the other half told him that maybe it was more? Maybe this all hadn’t happened for no reason.

His throat began to tighten, but before he could bring himself to tears, the classroom door creaked open slowly. Clint jumped a little and turned away, head only tilted enough to see who it was. He half-hoped that it would be Pietro, coming to apologize. It wasn’t. That was a stupid hope anyways. But Natasha was basically just as good, right? She quietly closed the door behind her and stood in front of Clint, knees slightly bent and slouching against the wall.

Nat looked at him with stale eyes, calculating a response to the furled mess of a boy in front of her. And then her shoulder lowered a bit and her eyes softened, lips curving up into a sad smile.

“Clint…” she spoke in a soft whisper.

He sighed and pushed himself off the wall, standing a little straighter, “It’s okay, I’m fine,” he said while adjusting his baggy purple shirt.

Natasha shook her head and leaned forward, wrapping her arms tightly around Clint’s neck and pulling him in for a hug. And that’s when he collapsed. He sunk into her arms and buried his face into the familiar warmth of her neck. His back arched a little and his fingers grasped thick fistfuls of her t-shirt.

Natasha began to stroke his tousled waves of honey brown hair, “Don’t let him get to you, Clint.”

He shut his eyes tightly and leaned into her touch, “I feel like there is something wrong with me. I don’t know what I did to deserve this. I don’t know why it ended like this. My head hates him so much, but the rest of me obviously feels otherwise.”

“Clint,” Natasha pulled his face up to hers so he could look at her, see the honesty in her green eyes, “Listen to me. I don’t know why he’s doing this, but I’m sure he has a reason. As for how you feel, it’s a flaw in the human code. We don’t always want what is best for ourselves. We can think all we want, but when it comes to matters of the heart, our minds are helpless. You are strong, Clint. I know that you can work through whatever he throws at you.”

“What if I don’t make the smart decision,” he searched her face for any sort of answer.

“The smart decision isn’t always the one that will make you happy.”

He smiled softly and looked down at the floor between them, “I don’t hate him… do I?”

Natasha seemed to clam up a little bit. She shuffled her feet and sighed, “Hate is… hard. Sometimes people use the word hate to cover up other emotions that they don’t want to accept. Maybe you don’t hate Pietro, but you just hate the idea of not hating him. Trust me, I uh, I know first-hand.”

Clint laughed a little and stood up taller, “Yeah, you do.”

She rolled her eyes and made a disgusted face, “Shut the hell up, Barton. This is about you, not me.”

He just grinned down at her and pulled out his best “let’s-mock-Natasha” voice. He stepped back slightly and put his hands on his hips, trying to perfect her usual stance, “Oh, look at me, I’m Natasha and I’m a Russian martial artist with no real emotions and oh boy , do I have a hopeless crush on the cute little ginger girl in the front row!”

Natasha huffed, frowning her best “I’m-mad-at-you-but-not-actually” frown and punched Clint in the chest, “I do not!”

He reached up and rubbed where she’d hit him, “Ouch, that hurts!” he purposefully let his voice crack as he pouted.

“Serves you right,” she folded her arms over her chest.

“You should take your own advice,” Clint teased as Natasha forced back a smile.

“One more word and I’ll tell Pietro that you use sparkly purple shower gel and sleep with a stuffed bird.”

“Hey! Pepper got those for me! There’s no shame in purple sparkles,” Clint pretended to be offended, but he couldn’t help the grin on his face. Then he leaned towards her a bit, “I bet Pepper never bought you any sparkly shower gel.”

Natasha growled and shoved Clint’s face away, thoroughly embarrassed, but Clint could tell that she was secretly happy that he was feeling a bit better. They were about to walk back into class when she said, “I hate you.”

Clint chuckled and kissed her on the cheek as he opened the door for her, “No you don’t.”

Chapter Text

Bruce could feel his heart pounding nervously in his chest. He raked his fingers through his hair, tugging at the ends of his curls. He stopped in the middle of his bedroom and groaned loudly through gritted teeth. His room was a disaster -- not exactly in the best condition for company. Let alone Tony Stark. He frantically shoved some of his clothes into his hamper and closed his closet door. Then he threw himself across his bed and struggled to fix the sheets so they looked presentable.

Tony and Bruce had planned to hang out that night and work on their science projects, but Tony’s father was having a “business party” at his place, so the only option was for Tony to come over to Bruce’s rickety little house on the poor side of town. Bruce had no microscopes, no lab tables, nothing. He barely even had a pencil to spare. So really, he wasn’t sure how they’d be able to get any work done at all.

Not to mention that Bruce had made another poor decision on top of that one. He invited Tony over for dinner. For dinner . With his family. Big mistake. Bruce’s family hadn’t had dinner together in at least six years. In fact, the only time Bruce ever went downstairs was to pass from his room to the front door, or vice versa. He hated his house, he hated his drunken father, he hated the thought of Tony seeing any of this. Especially considering that Tony came from a very rich family.

Ever since he and the billionaire had started hanging out, Tony hadn’t let Bruce go a day without knowing that he was brilliant. Tony often told him that the only person in the entire school who could rival his genius was Bruce (which did wonders for his confidence). But it wasn’t just that. Tony was… well he was quite something. Dark hair and chocolate eyes and that winning smile -- Bruce was starting to think that he was falling for him. Which was a problem. A huge problem. Because Tony liked girls . Bruce had never seen Tony with a guy before, and he’d been known as the womanizer of the school for years now. On top of that, Bruce really didn’t want to possible ruin the only friendship he’s had in ages. Tony seemed to enjoy Bruce for his mind, and not his materials, which made him feel a little less weary of his current social status.

But tonight was going to be a disaster. Bruce had thrown on some jeans and a lavender t-shirt which he was half-convinced actually belonged to his mother. Nevertheless, he looked past that and fumbled to clean his room just enough that it wasn’t spotless, but was clean enough to sit on the floor or the bed. He grabbed his wallet out from his backpack and shuffled through it, hoping to whatever deity was out there that he had enough money to order pizza. Of course he didn’t; he had one measly dollar. He sighed at the green paper and shoved it in his pocket.

He walked out of his room and padded down the wooden stairs, barefoot and a little cold. He peered around the corner to see his dad -- a tall, heavy man with a beer in his hand -- entranced in the TV as usual. Bruce shuddered at the sight of him.

“Bruce? Is that you? C’mere boy, get me another drink,” his father barked from the living room.

Bruce gulped, “Okay, I’ll be right there.”

He quickly ran into the kitchen and grabbed another beer from the fridge, then delivered it to the dimly-lit living room. His father snatched it from him and shoved his sticky empty bottle into Bruce’s basically freshly-washed hands.

“Get out,” he snapped and Bruce jumped back a little at the swing of the man’s hand.

“Yes sir,” he mumbled, but stopped just short of the kitchen and called back, “I have a friend coming over tonight, can we order pizza?”

And the man laughed loudly, “A friend? Since when?”

“I um, I met him like two weeks ago maybe.”

His father groaned, “Yeah well, buy your own pizza.”

Bruce’s shoulders slumped. He was doomed. This was already a disaster. Just as he deposited the empty bottle into the recycling bin, the doorbell rang. He heard his father grumble something from the other room, but ignored it. He ran to the door and opened it. Tony already looked terribly out of place. The boy didn’t seem uncomfortable, he just looked like a shiny gold coin in the middle of a pile of used water bottle caps. He had his signature shades on, as usual, and wore baggy gray sweatpants and a Black Sabbath t-shirt.

Bruce smiled at him, “Hey, come in. I, uh, I’m sorry about…” he waved his hand around, “everything.”

Tony looked around the house, “Nah, buddy, this is great! Cozy, even.”

Bruce cringed. “Cozy” was the last word he’d use to describe his rat-trap of a house. Tony was obviously just being nice. He also happened to notice Tony’s lack of backpack.

“Where’s your things?” he asked.

Tony shrugged, “I decided that we could do other stuff tonight. Ya know, video games, movies, whatever you want.”

Bruce bit his lip and looked at the “white” floor, “Actually, I don’t own any of those. And we only have one TV. And its occupied.”

Tony frowned a little, “Oh, well, no worries. We’ll figure it out. Hey, you wanna show me your pad?”

Bruce felt the nerves lurch in his stomach, “Yeah, yeah, sure. This way.”

He led Tony up his creaky staircase and opened the old door to his bedroom for him. Tony stepped inside and examined the area. He even smiled. Bruce watched as he lightly danced his fingers over his bed covers and kicked off his shoes. He let his toes sink into Bruce’s carpet, then leaned over to check the contents of Bruce’s bookshelf, which consisted mostly of science fiction novels and textbooks.

“Wow, this is nice! I like it,” Tony pulled out one of Bruce’s desk drawers and flipped through some papers.

“Nice? Tony, I think you are exaggerating,” Bruce laughed nervously and shut the door behind him.

Tony’s head tilted to look at him, brows raised, “No, no, really, it’s perfect.”

Bruce still wasn’t convinced, but he figured that he should break the other news to Tony now, “Well, uh, about dinner tonight. Ya see, I didn’t know that my dad wouldn’t pay for pi--”

“It’s on me,” Tony interrupted him and set Bruce’s papers down.

“No, Tony, that’s not fair. You don’t have to.”

The slightly taller boy stepped towards Bruce and put a hand on his shoulder, “Hey, it’s my pleasure. It’s not like I don’t have enough to spare.”

Tony’s hand was like a warm sun ray against Bruce and he instinctively smiled at the ground and muttered a small, “Okay.”

He slowly let his arm fall away from Bruce, then he pounced onto his bed and rolled over onto his back. Bruce stood in the middle of the floor, staring at Tony. He didn’t know what to do with himself in his own home, and yet, Tony was already sprawled out over Bruce’s bed. As if he was completely comfortable.

“Alright, so tell me, how did that bio project go?” Tony asked, scooting over to make enough room for Bruce.

But Bruce just stood their and rubbed his arm with his opposite hand, “Good, it went good. The results came out exactly as I’d expected.”

Tony patted the area on the bed next to him and replied, “Oh good, I knew that little road trip would pay off. Now come on, why ya just standing there?”

Bruce gulped and shuffled his feet, “I um, I didn’t know if you were okay with, um--”

“Brucie, please,” Tony waved his hand in the air in dismissal, “we’re bros. We can sit on the same bed.”

He took a shaky breath and slowly lowered himself onto the bed, still looking rigid and awkward in comparison to Tony’s relaxed form. Bruce knew that Tony meant well, but this was honestly the most anxious he’d been since Tony had asked him to his party a few weeks ago. They had formed some sort of weird friendship between then and now. Bruce didn’t really understand it. They smiled at each other in the halls and Tony drove him home pretty often now, and sometimes they would do science together, but it felt like a secret. It was as if Tony had two lives -- one at school and one with Bruce. Possibly even a third, if you wanted to count Tony’s home life as “living”. Bruce wasn’t sure how Tony felt about this whole situation, but Bruce felt out of place. He still wasn’t past the fact that Tony Stark was willingly hanging out with him. He understood his whole new “do good to receive good” concept, but Tony had done enough good for Bruce as of late.

This was more. This was… friendship?

Was it?

He didn’t know.

“Hey Bruce,” Tony was staring at the ceiling, “Do you think I could stay the night”

Bruce blinked in utter confusion, “Wh-what? Stay the night?”

“Yeah, um, I don’t wanna go back to my place. My dad’s business parties never end well,” Tony appeared to be a little embarrassed, even a little nervous.

“Sure, sure thing. I just don’t have any nice clothes. And your school stuff isn’t here,” he pointed out, partially trying to convince him that this wasn’t as spectacular of an idea as the genius might have thought.

Tony shook his head, “We can pick those things up in the morning.”

“I don’t have any food for breakfast.”

“You don’t eat?”

“I can’t afford to, Tony.”

“Well then we’ll go out.”

“We’ll be late to school.”

“I own a fast car.”

“So do police officers.”

“Bruce, please just shut up and lay with me.”

He was about to shoot out another negative reply, but stopped short when Tony’s words sank in. Bruce’s cheeks were getting warm, red tints creeping up his neck, nerves on end. He cautiously leaned down so his head rested against his pillow, eyes locked on the ceiling above his head. He refused to look at Tony when they were this close, although he did note that Tony’s eyes were most definitely on him. The warmth of his body next to Bruce’s was so foreign. He’d never laid like this with someone -- never. Not by choice, but by circumstances. And it wasn’t like he was totally pressed up next to Tony either. The bed wasn’t large by any means (Bruce’s family couldn’t get him anything more than a twin), but Tony somehow managed to keep the physical contact to a minimum. Bruce appreciated that. He knew that Tony was doing it for him. Tony had become hyper-aware of Bruce’s anxious tendencies. So aware, that he tended not to initiate any sort of touch if Bruce hadn’t done so first. That, or he took special precautions before doing so.

No one had ever cared about Bruce enough to do anything like that before.

Tony smiled at Bruce, “See? Not so bad.”

Bruce let out a shallow breath and nodded slightly, “Yeah, this is okay.”

He heard Tony laugh a little and then propped himself up on his elbow, gazing down at Bruce. The smaller boy blushed and avoided his dark eyes again. Tony just grinned.

“You’ve never been this close to someone, have you?” Now Tony was just purposefully pressing him for more info.

Bruce swallowed hard, “No, not really.”

“Hmm, that’s too bad,” he frowned and reached up to twirl one of Bruce’s curls around his finger.

Bruce followed his hand with his eyes, straining to see Tony’s calloused fingers in his hair. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of the boy next to him, but he fought back the thoughts. He couldn’t lose Tony.

“Why?” he asked softly.

Tony furrowed his brow, “Why? Because being like this -- cuddling, hugging -- it’s the best medicine. That’s what my mom always said. I used to run into her room as a kid and curl up next to her whenever Dad was angry at me. She’d sing me songs in Spanish and run her soft hands over my head. It was the best feeling in the world. Just to be close to her. Close to someone who actually loved me,” his eyes fell and his shoulders sank, “She doesn’t do that anymore. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I was in her room.”

Bruce’s heart twisted at the thought of Tony being so alone at home. Sure, he was usually pretty lonely as well, but he was cooped up in such a small house that it didn’t matter much. Tony, on the other hand, must feel so singular in that giant mansion of his. The quiet must ring out for ages.

“Gosh, I’m sorry, Tony,” he glanced at Tony with pure sympathy in his eyes

Tony shook his head and moved his fingers to another batch of curls, “Don’t apologize. Actually, I’m glad that I have you.”

“You are?” he was genuinely curious. What did Bruce give Tony besides a science partner? Not much. He wasn’t good with advice, or going out and having fun, or basically anything. So why did Tony think so highly of him?

“Yeah, of course! You’re like… like a solid rock in my life full of swirling oceans.”

Bruce couldn’t help but look away, an embarrassed smile on his face, “Tony that’s really sweet, but I’m not exactly as stable as you might think.”

Tony shrugged, lips lowering into a small frown, “Just like I’m not as ignorant as you might think.”

“I never thought of you as ignorant.”

“And I’ve never thought of you as unstable.”

And they laid there and looked at each other. Bruce searched Tony’s eyes for something. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he wanted to find it. After half a minute or so, Bruce finally spoke, barely audible, “Tony, why are you here?”

“I thought we went over this the other day?”

He shook his head and reached up to grab Tony’s wrist, slowly bringing his fingers down from his hair. Bruce turned Tony’s hand so his palm was up, and began to trace the lines in his skin, “No, I mean… here. Like this. You told me that you wanted to re-write your wrongs, and I believe you. But you’ve done enough for me, so why haven’t you left? Don’t say that you admire my mind or that you enjoy my accountability. Why are you here , in my bed, with me?”

Tony opened his mouth to speak, but then nothing came out. He stared down at their hands and gaped for words. Bruce waited for Tony’s answer, but it never came.

“I don’t, um, I don’t know,” that tone was different. It was uncertain, lacking Tony’s usual confidence. He sounded like he wanted to say something, but he couldn’t find the words. It was obvious that nothing was coming to his mind. Tony sighed and sat up on the bed, leaving Bruce’s side cold, “Do you want me to leave?”

He sat up as well and shook his head, “No, not at all. I like it when you are here.”

“I like it when you’re here too, Brucie,” Tony’s smile was fake, but Bruce knew that he meant what he said.

“But, you have so many other friends. Why do you actually need me?”

Tony kept his eyes locked on his lap, “Who? Pepper? Rhodey? T’Challa? None of them really know me. Well, maybe Rhodey, but he’s so busy now that I barely see him. And I always feel like he’s just trying to stop me from doing whatever it is I usually do. Maybe that’s a good thing, I dunno. All of my so-called “friends” either like me for my money, or only tolerate me at school. Sure, I’m confident and charismatic. I throw some great parties. But does any of that really matter? No one cares enough to look harder. They all think that my life is great. Fast cars, fast money, fast girls. What could go wrong?”

Bruce felt his chest fall at the mention of girls. He took a small chance and mumbled, “G-girls?”

Tony scoffed and shook his head, “I don’t have to tell you that I’ve had many girlfriends -- everyone already knows. It’s like that’s my reputation or something. They chase me and I flirt with them and we hook up for a night and they leave in tears the next morning. And sometimes -- on a rare occasion -- I’ll try to stay in it for the long run, and then I almost lose good friends. I nearly lost Pepper. It’s a good thing that she’s thick-skinned, because I’ve leaned on her a lot lately.”

“And what? You don’t like hooking up like that?” Bruce tilted his head.

“No, Bruce, um,” he saw a rosy dust rise up on Tony’s cheeks, “Bruce I’m, uh, well… I’ve come to realize that girls aren’t really, I mean I don’t… well, girls don’t make me happy.”

He shrugged, “Well, relationships can only do so much for a person anyways. Not that I would know, I’m not exactly a womanizer myself,” he tried to provoke a smile from the other boy, but Tony just gazed down at his hands.

He let out a long breath and tried to speak again, but clammed up, then pulled his eyes from his lap to meet Bruce’s gaze, peering up at him through his dark lashes, “Bruce, I’m gay.”

Bruce froze. Emotions rushed through him. He felt relief and also sympathy and confusion and he was overwhelmed. He must have looked like a scared puppy to Tony, though, because the other boy bolted up from the bed and began to pace around the room. He tugged on his hair and groaned loudly.

“Tony, wait, I--”

“No, no, I’m sorry. God, I shouldn’t have said anything. I knew this would happen. I should just leave, I’m sorry,” Bruce could hear Tony’s throat closing up as his eyes began to glisten over.

He shook his head and frantically stood up as well, trying to stop him before he left, “No, please, Tony, I’m not upset, I--”

“You’re just uncomfortable, I get it. The last person I told felt the same way, it’s not weird. Don’t worry about it, I’m just… I’m just gonna go. I’m sorry,” Tony wiped some tears from his eyes and reached for the door handle.

Bruce’s heart was thumping wildly in his chest. He couldn’t formulate any thoughts. Tony wasn’t listening, he couldn’t stop him. So he said the only thing that the could think of at the moment, “I am too!” The words came out as some sort of helpless shout.

Tony’s fingers stopped just short of the silver knob and he slowly looked over his shoulder at Bruce, “What?” he sniffled.

“I’m gay too. Its why I was bullied at my old school. It’s why I had anger issues. It’s why my parents hate me. It’s why I’m quiet and closed off and scared of being myself,” now Bruce was starting to choke up, taking in sharp breaths as he finished speaking. He felt his eyes glisten as he watched for any sort of change in Tony’s gaze, “Please don’t go,” he pleaded, shoulders slouching in defeat.

And in one swift movement, Tony whirled towards Bruce and placed one hand on his face, one hand on his arm, and pressed his lips to his. He was caught off guard, eyes wide and arms frozen in place, but eventually, he came to realize just what was going on. Tony was kissing him. Tony fucking Stark was kissing him . Suddenly, it was like warmth exploded in Bruce’s chest, and he began to shake under Tony’s grasp. His eyes fluttered shut as he willingly gave into Tony’s desperate kiss. At first, he wasn’t sure what to do, he’d never been kissed before. Soon, he started to move his mouth shyly against the taller boy’s, eventually getting the hang of it. He tilted his head a little to deepen the kiss and reached his hands forward to grab the shirt around Tony’s sides. He tasted like spiked ginger tea and peaches and Bruce loved it. So, as far as first kisses went, he wasn’t sure that anything could top this.

Tony eventually pulled back for air. He pressed his forehead to Bruce’s and gazed down at the small space between them, panting ever so slightly. Bruce was still shaking, adrenaline pumping through his veins like it never had before. He could barely comprehend what was happening.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you--” Tony began to speak, but he cut him off.

“Please shut up,” Bruce laughed a little, “Don’t apologize.”

Bruce pulled him in for another kiss. This one was more confident than the last, and Bruce’s grip on Tony’s sides tightened. He felt Tony grin against his mouth as he chanced a small nibble at Tony’s lower lip. The other boy made a small noise and Bruce imitated it. He was a stranger to such affection, especially from someone as dashing as Tony. He couldn’t believe what was happening. He felt happy. Happy and giddy and perfect and so in love . Tony must have felt it too, because he ran his hand from Bruce’s arm to his chest, letting it rest just over his heart. Bruce felt his cheeks go cherry red and bit his own lip a little. Tony’s body slowly pressed closer to Bruce’s, the warmth between them escalating quickly.  It wasn’t long before Tony softly nudged Bruce in the direction of his bed, and oh, Bruce didn’t hesitate to comply.

Suddenly, Bruce didn’t really care about being late to school.

Chapter Text

Scott adjusted the straps of his backpack as he walked down the school hallway. People rushed around him, trying to get to their next class, but he kept his pace steady. Someone’s shoulder knocked into him once, but it didn’t phase him. This was normal. He was on his way to PE, which was his least favorite class of the day. He liked to take things a little slower on the way there just to lessen the time he’d have to spend in that dreadful gym.

PE was hell in high school. You either were tall and buff and were good at everything, or you were, well, anything beside that. Scott always left with skinned knees and bruised shoulders. Sometimes he wished that he could shrink down and be invisible to the rest of the students. He didn’t want to be seen. Not that he couldn’t hold his own, he just couldn’t do the things they expected of him all the time. Scott was good at flexibility and balance and other, more interpretive, exercises.

He turned into the PE hall, and quickly shuffled himself into the boy’s locker room. It always smelled like wet dog in there, except when some stupid person would decide to drench themselves in cheap Axe cologne. That was like breathing in mouthfuls of peroxide. Besides, Scott was more of an Old Spice kind of guy.

His locker was in the very back corner of the room, as secluded as possible. He threw his bag on the bench and unlocked the metal door, letting it swing open to reveal his crumpled gym clothes. Scott sighed and grabbed out the black shorts and baggy gray t-shirt that he’d spent far too much time in already. The other boys were already undressing and changing into the clothes, but Scott just stood there and nervously glanced around. He saw Steve pulling his shirt over his large shoulder and Scott’s stomach started to knot. Steve was a really nice guy, but he was a giant. One time during freshman year, the guy had undergone a HUGE growth spurt, and Scott had maybe accidentally felt his pecs out of pure shock. Steve used to be smaller than him. He’d probably forgotten about the incident by now, but it would be engraved in Scott’s memory forever.

Next to Steve was his best friend, Bucky (who was nearly as large as he was), Thor (who looked like he’d been sent from heaven or something to grace the Earth with his biceps), and T’Challa (who was intimidating enough with his shirt on). Scott turned his gaze back to the clothes in his hands and let out a shaky breath. He took off his shirt as quickly as possible, tossing it into his locker, and then bent down to undo his jeans. The blue denim was down to his feet and he was struggling to pull his left foot out of the hole when he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“Hey Scott, mind if we share lockers today?”

Scott twirled around on one foot, still bent over and tangling with his jeans. He was face-to-abdominal area with the last person that he wanted to see him like this. Scott’s eyes flicked upward to see Sam’s smiling face looking down at him.

“Sam! Ahh, what are you doing here? You don’t have this class,” he gave him a sheepish smile and took a cautious hop backwards, only to trip over his own pants and tumble to the concrete floor.

He landed with a small “oomf” and grabbed at the gray bench next to him. Sam threw his bag next to Scott’s and quickly knelt down next to him.

“Hey, hey are you okay?” Sam looked over Scott’s body, which made his skin crawl more and more with every passing second.

His face, ears, and neck were all on fire. He could feel some of the other boys looking at him and could hear Hammer and Darren snickering in the background, “Oh gosh, um, I’m fine.”

Sam offered him his hand and Scott carefully took it as the other boy helped him back up, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Scott shook his head and held his arms in front of his body to try and shield himself from the prying eyes of his classmates, “No, it’s not your fault. Heh, I promise that I’m not usually this clumsy.”

Sam raised an eyebrow and smirked at him, “Really? Because I’m pretty sure you fall over something every time I see you.”

Scott’s skin started to burn, “Yeah…” he scratched the back of his head, “Coincidence, maybe?”

Sam laughed and nodded, “Yeah, maybe.”

Scott just stood there for a second and looked at him, probably smiling like a freak, only to realize that he was standing there in his underwear. He shook his head and let out a small squeak, quickly grabbing his gym shorts off the bench and slipping them on. Sam gave him an amused smile.

“Oh right, um yeah, you can use my locker. Sorry, I uh, I spaced out a little bit there,” Scott tried to play it off like nothing had happened -- as per usual.

“Thanks man! I have a free period now and Pepper said I should come hang out with you guys,” Sam unzipped his backpack and grabbed out a dark blue “U.S. Air Force” t-shirt.

Scott pulled his shirt over his head, “She said that, huh?”

“Yeah, something about shielding her from volleyballs or something. Ya know, typical Pepper,” Sam waved his hand a little and then reached behind his head, grabbing the back of his shirt and slowly dragging it off of his body.

Scott’s mouth slowly fell open. He was probably drooling like dog, eyes tracing each curve of Sam’s back. The artificial light of the locker room glistened against his skin and made Scott weak in the knees. His whole body felt like putty, aching to molded by Sam’s large hands -- currently placing his old shirt in Scott’s locker.

“Um, Scott?”

He had to hold himself back from reaching out to touch that perfectly sculpted body in front of him. Scott licked his lips and oh, he could imagine what Sam tasted like. Probably like s’mores and summer raspberry jam.

“Scott?”

The muscles in his arms and shoulder rippled with every small movement. Scott wished he could grab at his waist and sink his teeth right into his--

“Scott!”

He snapped out of his trance with a small jump, Sam’s hand shaking his shoulder a little, “Huh? What?”

Sam laughed out loud, “You look like you’ve never seen a shirtless guy before.”

Scott’s whole body started to shake, embarrassment washing over his already-red face. He rubbed the back of his neck and turned away from Sam, slipping his sneakers on without untying them before hand.

“No, I just, um, I’ve never seen a shirtless guy like you before,” he half-hoped that Sam would recognize the meaning behind the compliment, but he knew better by now. Sam would brush it off as “he’s just being nice” and would walk off like it never really happened.

Scott chanced a glance up at Sam, only to see his lips curve into a small smirk and his eyes darken. He quickly looked away and shoved his bag into the locker, trying to ignore how fucking hot Sam was for the ninety-thousandth time in the past two minutes. Sam started to walk away, but before he was out of Scott’s space, he passed behind him and placed a hand softly against the place between the small of Scott’s back and his side. Scott shuddered at the sudden touch and suddenly wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself.

Sam leaned in so Scott could feel his breath, hot against his ear, “You’re not so bad yourself, tic tac,” he whispered.

Scott literally bit his tongue and forced back the long squeal that was formulating in his throat. Sam pulled away all too soon and spun around on his heels, leaving the locker room. He slowly looked around and noticed that everyone else had gone. Scott was alone. He could still feel the ghost of Sam’s breath on his neck and ear.

He let out a heavy breath of disbelief and spoke out to no one but himself, “What the hell just happened?” His lips tweaked up into a shocked half-grin, causing him to just stand there and stare at the solid gray walls. Scott bit his lip and fist pumped the air. Fuck yeah, Lang! You got this! And he exited the locker room with a little more pep in his step than he had entered it with.

Pepper met him in the hall with a suspicious look in her eyes, “What happened in there? I just saw Sam prance by -- looking positively over-confident with himself.”

Scott shrugged, a stupid grin plastered on his face, “I have no clue, but I liked it!”

 

Most of the beginning of class consisted of tedious amounts of running and an all-too-short stretching session. Sam went back to acting exactly how he’d been acting before the “incident” in the locker room, which left Scott even more confused and dazed. Coach Ross announced that they would be staying inside today to play volleyball -- just as Pepper had guessed earlier. Scott cringed at the thought of volleyball. It just wasn’t his sport. At all. He was so bad at it.

They all broke off into teams of three, which was convenient, considering Sam had decided to join him and Pepper for the day. Scott stood close to Pepper as they all trudged over to their side of the net. Pepper looked at him in confusion.

“Scott, I’m literally just as bad at this as you, stop using me as a shelter! I didn’t invite that walking mountain for nothing!” she gestured towards Sam, who just snorted out a loud laugh.

Scott turned his face down shyly, “Sorry, force of habit,” and he peered up at Sam with his best set of doe-eyes.

Of course, Sam didn’t seem to notice at all. He just smiled and clasped Scott’s shoulder confidently, “Don’t worry, buddy, I won’t let you get knocked over again.”

His gaze flickered from Sam’s hand to his face and back again, not able to speak. What even? What was this?? Had Sam forgotten about what just happened? Scott sure hadn’t. He probably wouldn’t for the rest of the week! And yet, Sam just smiled his friendly smile and went on with his oblivious little life. They played a few games -- well, to be more specific, they lost a few games -- and nothing changed. Sam had positively forgotten. That, or he was choosing to ignore it. Maybe, from his point of view, it was just a nice compliment? No, it couldn’t have been. Not with that look in his eyes.

Just as they were moving on to the next opposing team, the gym door swung open and a familiar figure rushed in, looking only slightly ruffled and caught off-guard. Scott watched Tony with nothing but confused curiosity. Was Tony wearing… purple? A solid purple t-shirt? Well that was different. And Tony was always late, but never THIS late. He watched as he talked with the coach, but he couldn’t make out anything of what he was saying over the noise of the gym. Scott would just text him later and ask what was up.

He then felt a cold arm brush his, “Ahh, there he goes. Tony Stark, always getting away with the impossibly stupid.”

Scott stepped away from Justin Hammer and closer to Sam and Pepper, “I’m sure he has a perfectly good reason, Hammer.

The boy chuckled and shook his head, light hair slicked back and glasses glinting from the odd angle that he hung his head, “Really? Which girl do you think he was fucking this time, hmm?”

Scott frowned, disgusted at Hammer’s comment. He looked over his shoulder at Sam, who was glaring at another boy -- Darren Cross -- who was making his way towards Hammer, and at Pepper, who was avoiding eye contact with Scott. She looked like she knew something but didn’t want to say it. He made a mental note to ask her about it later.

“That’s probably not what happened, Hammer,” Scott rolled his eyes at him.

Hammer snorted, “Hah, right, right,” he waved his hand around in the air, “Sorry, I forgot that I was talking to one of his little friends.”

Scott glared at him and furrowed his brow, “Okay, could you just shut up now, maybe?”

Hammer just smiled as Darren, a taller boy boy with a very short buzz cut and pointed features, joined them with the remark, “Hey, don’t get snappy, Lang.”

Just Scott ever mention Darren? Probably not. Well, Scott hated him with a burning passion. Like he really hated him. There were a lot of people to hate in this school -- Hammer, Johann, Obadiah, Thor’s weird brother -- but Darren? Ohhh he was the scummiest of them all in Scott’s opinion. He was psychotic where Hammer was sarcastic, he was physically abusive where Hammer was mentally abusive, and when Hammer decided to blackmail anyone, he was the guy to actually post the pics or tell the rumors. Scum of the Earth, Darren was. And, on top of that, he’d bullied Scott for as long as he could remember. Everyone was bullied in some way, shape, or form (this was high school), but this was kinda serious. He’d gone home crying too many times over this jerk.

Scott bit his tongue and subtly shrank away from Darren, mumbling quietly, “I wasn’t talking to you.”

Darren moved up next to Scott and tilted his chin up to make himself look much more tall compared to Scott than he actually was, “Ya know, Scott, it’s not nice to talk back to your peers like that.”

“I don’t have to be nice to you,” his voice was small and shaky now. Pepper had shrunk back as well, which Scott understood. They’d all had their fair-share of run-ins with Darren, and he couldn’t blame her for staying out of this one. Sam, on the other hand, was absolutely boiling where he stood.

“You idiot, are you trying to pick a fight? Huh?” Darren spat, baring his teeth ever so slightly.

Scott shook his head and took a timid step back, “No! You guys came over here! It wasn’t me!”

“Heh, I saw you in the locker rooms today. When was the last time you could lift anything heavier than that backpack?” Darren laughed at him.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Scott folded his arms over his chest, only to have Darren poke him hard just below his throat.

“You’re scrawny, kid. Go eat a steak or something! Geez, when are you ever gonna learn? You can’t play with the big boys if you can’t keep up,” Darren bent over and spoke to him in an almost child-like tone. That last comment was a direct jab at his days working on the shiftier end of the school, back when he associated himself with guys like Tony, Bucky, and this one really mouthy kid named Wade.

Scott gazed down at the floor and muttered, “Please just go away.”

Darren glared down at him and Hammer laughed in the background, “You can’t tell me what to do, Scott, ” Darren growled at him, fists bunching up and chest expanding in anger.

Scott was about to apologize and go hide in the hallway when Sam stepped between him and Darren, “Hey, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”

Darren’s eyes went wide in shock; Sam’s were like daggers. Sam looked like a lion guarding his territory from the wild, rabid hyena. Scott couldn’t help but notice the exchange of looks between them. Darren grinned at Sam like he’d found new blood to prey on, and Sam puffed out a breath of pure anger.

“Oh, what’s this? Has little Lang gotten himself a bodyguard or something? That’s smart, really, but ineffective,” he sneered up at Sam.

Scott instinctively moved behind Sam and avoided eye contact with Darren, “He’s just a friend…”

“Quiet, pip-squeak,” Darren spat, making Scott wince a little.

Sam threw his arm forward and grabbed Darren by the shirt like a falcon would sink its talons into its prey, looking him directly in the eyes, “If you ever lay another finger on Scott, if you ever so much as step foot near him, if you ever speak to him ever again, I will personally shove your foot so far up your ass that you’ll be choking on your own toenails,” Sam growled through gritted teeth. Hammer started to slowly walk away and Darren looked positively frightened, which was a new look for him. Scott had never seen him appear so weak so suddenly, “Are we clear?”

Darren nodded and Sam let go of his shirt. The two idiots quickly scurried off, looking over their shoulders ever so often to check as see if Sam was following. Scott was staring at Sam like he had just accomplished the impossible. Sam straightened his shirt and stretched his arms out, then turned back to Scott with another friendly smile.

“There. All gone,” Sam brushed his hands together a few times, still smiling.

Scott shrugged in defeat and shook his head, “How? How did you even? What?”

Sam just laughed and threw his arm over Scott’s shoulder, leading him back over to where Pepper was having a quiet conversation with Tony, “It takes practice, my friend. But you’ll get it soon enough.”

Scott laughed a little, “Are you sure I can’t just keep you around as my bodyguard?”

Sam shrugged and nodded, “If you want.”

He blinked in surprise, “Wait, really?”

Sam let his gaze flicker and his eyes locked with Scott’s, “I’d be one lucky bodyguard,” and he left Scott there with another wink and an innocent smile.

Chapter Text

Pepper hastily spritzed some perfume at the air in front of her. She stepped forward and twirled around in the ginger-coconut scent, promptly adjusting her hair afterwards. Hey, there was no shame in smelling good after a long day of PE. Geez, that class had been terrifying -- and she wasn’t talking about the volleyball part. She felt so bad for Scott out there with Darren and Hammer. She also felt bad that she didn’t say anything and stand up against them, but Sam was there, and he was far more intimidating than her in those types of situations. Also, after Tony showed up, she knew something was wrong. Pepper hadn’t seen him that flustered in ages.

 

Tony shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket as he walked up to Pepper. She tilted her head at the sight of him. He wasn’t usually so weary looking. Also, it was fourth period. Why was he so freaking late?

As he reached her, she put her hands on her hips, “Hey Tony, what’s wrong?”

Tony laughed a little and shuffled his feet, “Wrong? Oh, nothing’s wrong, Pep.”

Suspicion washed over her face, “Oh really? Then why do you look so… so flustered?”

“Well, I am four and a half periods late to school,” he shrugged.

“Yeah, and why’s that?”

He thought for a moment. Was that blush on his cheeks? Oh God, she hoped Hammer hadn’t actually been correct. Tony smiled to himself, “I woke up late.”

Pepper burst out into laughter. She shook her head and put a hand on his shoulder, “Woke up late? Tony, that’s the stupidest excuse I’ve ever heard.”

Tony puffed up his chest a little, “Hey -- I’m not the only person with this problem today. Bruce was late too.”

Pepper’s laughter died down and she furrowed her brow, “Bruce? Why was he late?”

That all-too-familiar smug smile returned to Tony’s face, “I slept over at his place last night. We stayed up a bit too late, uh… experimenting.”

She gave him a solid “are you serious?” look and rolled her eyes, “Please tell me you didn’t screw him over, Tony, you know he can’t get in trouble.”

He shook his head, “No, no, he’s not in trouble. I didn’t screw him over. Although, we did come rather close.”

Pepper felt all of her blood rush to her feet, planted in place on the gym floor. Her mouth went dry. Did he…? No. No, he couldn’t have. Bruce wouldn’t -- well, would he? No, Bruce was too anxious for that.

“Tony did you… I mean, did you --”

“If you’re gonna ask if we did naughty things, that would be a solid “yes”. Did I fuck him? Ahh, no. No I didn’t. I’m more classy than that, Pepper,” Tony explained with an accomplished smirk on his face, but genuine honesty in his dark eyes.

She snorted, “Oh yeah? Since when?”

“Since last week, when I fell for the guy.”

She rubbed her temples and sighed, “Don’t mess this one up, Stark.”

She felt her hand on her shoulder and looked up to see a real, honest smile on his face, “Pep, I promise that I won’t hurt him. I promise.”

“You promise a lot of things,” she stepped back a little, remembering some of the things he’d said while they had been together.

He shook his head, “No. Not this time. This time it’s real.”

Pepper studied him for a moment and then slowly nodded, accepting that he was telling the truth. He really cared about Bruce. She wasn’t sure how it’d all played out between them, but she was guessing that Bruce really liked him too.

“Alright, just talk to me before you do anything stupid.”

 

She picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. The girl’s locker room had emptied ages ago, but she was supposed to meet Natasha here to talk about their project. Pepper was dreading it. They had talked during class the other day for a little(if you count glaring and two-word answers as talking), but Natasha got up and left to go find Clint after a while of waiting around for him. Pepper wasn’t sure what had happened, but Clint seemed like he was really upset when he walked out.

Anyways, Natasha had mentioned that she’d be free after her “routine” today, and that Pepper should wait for her in the locker rooms. She still hadn’t shown up, and school was out half an hour ago. Maybe she’d forgotten about Pepper? Or ditched her? She wouldn’t out that past Natasha.

Except that she would.

Pepper had spent the past few days trying to convince herself that Natasha was a terrible person. But she just couldn’t. Pepper used to believe her own accusations, but after their last study time together, she doubted her thoughts. Sure, Natasha was cold and angry and closed off. She still treated Pepper like shit in class. She still talked to her with little to no respect at all. But something had changed in Pepper’s mind. Ever since she had opened up a little about wanting to be a dancer, Pepper couldn’t help but look at her as an actual person. I was killing her.

Why? Well, that was simple. Robot Natasha was ice-cold and had hard muscles and long, sharp nails. She wore black all the time and scared people and frowned a lot. She spoke words like a snake and spat poison from her mouth. Mean. Hard as a rock. Not to be tested.

But human Natasha was different. She was hardened over years and years of turmoil, turmoil that Pepper could see, but knew nothing of. She wore black because she liked it and maybe had just forgotten how to smile. She wasn’t rigid and cold, she was soft -- but strong. Like a dancer. Misunderstood. Brilliant. And so thick with personality, chained back behind her gray walls of stone. And her hands suddenly looked like they could weave webs, her nails like little glittery red dots. Pepper thought that maybe if Natasha snapped three times, she’d return home. And her body became a perfectly crafted, gorgeous piece of porcelain flesh and rounded hips and long, deadly legs and oh, Pepper could just melt against those thick red waves of hair --

Wait… what?

What was she thinking?

Pepper shook her head and pinched her arm a little, squeaking at the sharp jolt of pain. That was stupid. That came out of nowhere. She rubbed her eyes a few times, confused, but not in the mood to figure out her feelings. She walked out of the locker rooms and decided to check the upper gym, just in case Natasha had just forgotten to come down. The stairs were a pain to march up, as usual, but Pepper made it with a small breath of relief. She could hear music coming from behind the doors of the upper gym. It wasn’t anything from this century, that’s for sure. Was that a piano? Or a violin? Pepper carefully walked forward and pressed her ear to the cold metal door. She shivered at the temperature change, but could hear the echoing of the classical music almost perfectly. She pondered what to do next for a minute or two, but then finally decided to carefully crack the door open, just enough to peer inside and see what was happening. What she saw next made her gasp and hold her breath.

It was Natasha (of course it was). But not just Natasha, no, this was human Natasha. She was wearing a pair of absolutely ragged old ballet slippers and a faded, dusty pink leotard, red curls tied back in a tight bun. The music was impossibly more beautiful from inside the gym. Something Russian, maybe? Pepper wasn’t sure; she was no music expert. Natasha was practicing some really difficult-looking balancing things. She was up on her tiptoes and then had her arms outstretched like a bird, and then her spine was curved in unimaginable angles. Pepper’s mouth gaped open slightly as she watched through the small crack. Every move she made was like a swan on the water, like a slow breeze, hitting each cloud on the head to the subtle beats of the music, like snow falling gracefully on the flickering whiskers of a newborn ginger kitten. It was beautiful. And for a moment, Pepper wondered why Natasha ever gave up dancing.

Maybe she sighed too loud, maybe she accidently creaked the door, she didn’t know, but Natasha suddenly whipped around and locked eyes with Pepper. She squeaked and covered her mouth as Natasha transformed from that graceful swan to a crouching tigress. He was squatting low, heels together to support her weight, one hand on the blue floor mat and the other in a rigid curve next to her. She looked like she was about to attack something (that something being Pepper).

“Oh my God I’m so sorry please don’t kill me I didn’t mean to snoop!” Pepper shrank back behind the door, words tumbling out of her mouth uncontrollably.

Natasha stood up with a quiet grumble and brushed off her hands, “No, it’s fine. Don’t hide out there, Potts, it’s pathetic.”

Pepper sighed in relief and stepped inside the gym, shutting the door behind her. Natasha kicked off her ballet shoes and bent down to grab them by the straps, then she walked over to her mini speaker to turn off the music. Pepper was horrified with herself when she realized that she’d been staring at the other girl’s ass for the past minute now and looked away with a sharp snap of her head. Jesus, what is wrong with me?

Natasha stood up and wrapped the cord around her speaker, “Sorry, I lost track of time. What were we meeting for again?”

Pepper shuffled her feet and shrugged, looking at the floor, “Well, I just wanted to ask you when you are available to work on the project?”

Natasha narrowed her eyes at Pepper,, “You know you could have just texted me, right?”

Pepper felt her face heating up. Shit. She was right. Why was Pepper here?

“Oh, um, yeah, I just thought that maybe it’d be more official in person,” that was a terrible excuse. Tony was rubbing off on her.

Natasha raised a single, slim eyebrow, “Really?”

“Yep.” Wow, smooth, Pep.

“Well, we probably have enough time left in class to finish anyways. We’ll be fine,” Natasha frowned and slipped on her black hoodie.

“Yeah. We’ll be fine,” Pepper held her breath and avoided Natasha’s eyes.

“Okay.”

“Just fine.”

“It won’t take that long.”

“M’kay.”

“Please leave now.”

“Oh! Sorry, yeah, okay, I’m leaving. I’m leaving,” Pepper spun around and fast-walked out of that gym as quickly as she could. Oh, that was painfully awkward.

Just as Pepper’s fingers were sliding off the door handle, she heard Natasha call out one last time, “Hey, Pepper, wait.”

She stopped and smiled a little. That was the first time Natasha had ever used her first name in general conversation. Pepper leaned back into the gym, “Yeah?”

Natasha was shoving her shoes into her gym bag, “But I guess, if you want…” she sighed and pulled out her bun, red hair bouncing around her shoulders as she ran her fingers over them, “I am free this weekend.”

Pepper didn’t know what to say, so she just blinked at her with a blank face.

“Only if you want,” Natasha chanced a glance at Pepper, and then looked away quickly, “Nevermind. You don’t want to. What am I saying? I don’t want to. I hate you.”

Pepper felt a small smile tugging at her lips, but she forced it back as she watched Natasha purposefully face away from her, “I’m free.”

The other girl looked a little surprised and slowly turned back towards her, arms folded over her chest, “Yeah?”

Pepper nodded and bit her lip, “And after we study, I’ve got at least two tubs of chocolate ice cream left over from my breakup with Tony. Turns out, I wasn’t really that sad about it in the end.”

Natasha snorted and rolled her eyes, locking her eyes on the ceiling. Pepper could tell that she was trying to look tough, but the small smile on her rose-red lips gave it away, “Well that sounds not terrible.”

Pepper shifted her weight onto one leg, “Yeah, not terrible. So… what? My place? Saturday?”

“Yeah whatever. Sure, I guess. I can drive myself. Just text me your address,” she huffed.

“Sure.”

“Okay, goodbye.”

Pepper smiled down at the floor, “Yeah, bye Natasha,” and slipped out of the gym.

She hurried back down the stairs, grinning to herself the whole way down. She was almost certain that she’d just written herself a death sentence. A whole weekend with Natasha? What was she thinking?! Pepper was convinced that she’d been struck with stupidity in that moment.

Except… she was still smiling.

Chapter Text

Clint leaned back in the bright green grass of his backyard. He yawned and reached up to put on his sunglasses. Sighing, he let his barefeet sink into the soft blades of grass and put his hands behind his head. This was his favorite time of year -- not too hot, not too cold, perfect temperature for just lying around in the spring sun. Nothing could beat this, this was his paradise. He could hear the birds chirping in the trees, slow breeze ruffling their leaves. He could smell the blooming flowers and the deliciously potent scent of the water flowing from the fountain on the back porch. Water was always better in the spring. He could feel the crisp grass and the soft soil and oh, it was just beautiful. Clint was sure that he’d never break from his trance.

Thud.

He scrunched up his nose and peeled open one eye, glancing at the ground beside him. He saw a single gray and green sneaker. He shrugged, figuring that it was just some careless kid’s. Then another thumped down below his feet. Clint sat up and ran his fingers through his hair. The objects had come from the other side of the fence. It was then that he felt something significantly harder than a sneaker hit him in the side of the head. He yelped and shot his hand up to rub his head. The culprit of his new bruise was none other than his water bottle. What the hell? Clint groaned and picked up the half-empty purple bottle, examining it. He hadn’t seen this since… oh no. No, no, nooooo. This was not happening.

He heard wood creaking and muffled grunts and mumbling coming from the fence. Clint sighed in defeat and rubbed his eyes. He forced himself to turn his gaze towards the fence, where he spotted Pietro sitting , legs swinging back and forth, hands gripping the wood to keep himself steady.

“Hey there, tweety bird. Pleased to see me?” the white-haired boy cocked an eyebrow and smired down at him.

“Not even the slightest,” Clint was defeated. He didn’t know what to do. Pietro now knew where he lived. He had no clue how, but he felt utterly helpless.

“Ah, you kid,” Pietro said as he lept down from the fence.

“No, I really don’t,” Clint rolled his eyes and fell back against the grass with a groan, arms spread out as he tried to ignore Pietro, “How’d you find my house?”

“I have my ways,” Pietro shrugged and Clint looked at him suspiciously, “Okay, so I might have looked you up.”

“You found my address online?”

He walked up to Clint so that he was looming over him. Clint noticed that he was only wearing a pair of white socks on his feet -- meaning that the sneakers were his as well, “Yes, I didn’t know that you gave archery lessons.”

Clint shrugged, “Yeah, how do you think I afforded this water bottle that you put a huge dent in, huh?”

Pietro frowned, “It was your skull, not mine.”

Clint snorted out a small laugh, “Sorry excuse, man. Get out of my yard.”

“No thanks,” he folded his arms over his chest and blew a strand of hair out of his eyes, “I came here for a reason, not just to annoy you.”

“Oh yeah?” Clint tilted his head down a peered up at Pietro from over the top of his shades, “And what’s that?”

“Well, two things actually,” he held up one fingers and shifted his weight, “One, will you give me a lesson?”

Clint choked on his breath a little and then burst out laughing. He sat up, propped up by his hands and laughed for at least 30 seconds straight, “Ha! An archery lesson? You? After all the shit you’ve pulled? Fat chance, kid,” he shook his head and continued to giggle a little.

Pietro frowned down at him and let his arms fall to his sides, “Well fine, I shouldn’t have even asked.”

“No, you shouldn’t have! Now get out of my yard!”

“No, there’s one more thing,” Pietro stepped over Clint with one foot so that both of his feet were on either side of Clint’s legs. He blinked in surprise and looked up at Pietro, a little bewildered.

“Pietro, what are you --”

“We didn’t exactly leave off on a great note, did we?” Pietro silenced him as he squatted down, Clint’s legs still between his feet.

He gulped, “What?” By now, Clint was seriously considering kneeing him in the balls (he was literally in the prime position to do so), but waited about two seconds too long to decided.

“I mean…” Pietro slowly slid down onto his knees so that he was straddling Clint’s hips, “We didn’t get to finish what we started.”

Clint’s eyes went wide at the feeling of Pietro’s weight on his body. Their faces were only a few feet apart. Pietro’s icy blue eyes got darker and his smirk turned devilish. Clint could feel his arms beginning to shake behind him. What the hell was happening? What was Pietro doing ?

It took all of his courage to mutter a small, “Get off me, please.”

Pietro chuckled and dipped his head down so Clint could feel his breath on his neck, “No.”

He scrunched up his brow and frowned, “You can’t tell me “no”. Get off. Now.”

Pietro shook his head and wrapped one arm around Clint, playing with the back of his shirt. He was trying so hard not to let this happen again. He couldn’t. Even after everything that Nat said, this was too much. He hadn’t had time to think over his feelings yet. But Pietro smelled like peppermint gum and cheap Axe and Clint actually liked it. He really liked it.

“You really don’t want to piss me off, Maximoff. If I were you, I would lea-- oh… oh ,” Clint had almost composed himself enough to push the kid off of him when he felt Pietro’s warm mouth on his neck.

A shudder ran through his whole body. He felt Pietro smile against his skin and pepper kisses right down to his collarbone, nipping at the sensitive flesh. Clint gulped, causing Pietro to take notice of his exposed throat. The speedster let out a small growl and moved his head to lick at Clint’s adam’s apple. Clint let his head fall back and dragged his hand up to Pietro’s waist, which elicited a press of his hips and a soft moan.

“Holy shit kid…” Clint’s whole body was shaking in response to every touch, every contact between them.

“Do you still want me to leave?” Pietro mumbled against his jawline.

“N-no,” he whispered and pushed back against Pietro’s hips in response.

He grinned again and reached up, removing Clint’s sunglasses. Pietro could see Clint’s red-flushed cheeks and dark, pupil-blown eyes examining every curve of his body. Clint was almost embarrassed, but he was starting to lose his sense of control again.

“Are you doing this to me for a reason?” Clint mumbled as he slid his hand down to hungrily grab at Pietro’s ass, “Or are you just another horny teenager?”

Pietro bit his lip, “Both.”

Clint smiled up at the other boy and strained his neck to plant a small kiss on his temple, “Oh, even better.”

Pietro let out a small giggle, something that Clint hadn’t heard from him yet. He’d heard the loud laugh and the sly laugh and the dark laugh, but this one was light and happy. It was real.

“We could go find somewhere more secluded?” Pietro peeked up at Clint with a devious spark in his eyes.

“Nah, the only other person home is Nat. You could be screaming bloody murder and she’d just put on her headphones and tune you out,” Clint sat up a little more and reached down between them with his free hand to untie the strings of Pietro’s gym shorts.

“Mmm, good,” Pietro nodded and placed his hand over Clint’s as he leaned forward and caught the archer’s lips in his.

Clint moaned and let his mind slip. He was gone -- all conscious thought was lost. He gave up on trying to be responsible. Pietro had an intoxicating grip on Clint’s heart. He was so bad for him, but he could care less. He didn’t care if Nat saw or if the neighbors complained or even if the whole school found out. All he could think about was how Pietro was sucking his lower lip and grinding their hips. Pure bliss, nothing else. Pietro’s hand gripped Clint’s harder as he coaxed him to slide his fingers under the fabric of his shorts.

Clint had never been so pleased with himself when he made Pietro squeal like that .

 

Dazed and foggy, Clint slowly regained consciousness. He blinked open his eyes and stared up at the dim blue sky above him. It took him a moment to register where we was and what was happening. A yawn escaped his mouth and he stretched his arms, arching his back. His hands fell onto Pietro’s bare waist; Clint smiled. He let out a relaxed sigh and rubbed his thumbs into the pale skin of the boy on top of him. Pietro let out a muffled whine and tried to bury his face into Clint’s bare chest. The memories came flooding back in waves. The torn up grass and scattered clothes made it all the more real. They must have fallen asleep for a few hours, judging by the slowly darkening sky.

Clint reached up and ran his fingers through Pietro’s bleached white hair, “Hey, kid, wake up.”

Pietro groaned again and shook his head, “No…”

“Babe, it’s getting dark.”

Pietro grunted and slowly dragged himself up, sitting on Clint’s thighs. He stretched and fixed his hair so that it wasn’t falling in front of his face. Clint’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of him. Bare skin, sleepy eyes, messy hair -- it was like a dream.

“Good lord my ass hurts,” he complained with a huff.

“You’re welcome,” Clint winked up at him and put his hands behind his head.

Pietro sneered at him and stood up. He searched the ground until he found his shorts. Clint sat up and reached down to his feet and pulled up the sweatpants that had barely made it past his knees before they’d been forgotten. His eyes traced the curves of Pietro’s back as he pulled up his own shorts and tied them back around his waist.

“What time is it? Wanda and I are going over to Pepper’s house for dinner,” Pietro snatched his t-shirt from the ground as well.

Clint reached into his deep pocket and pulled out his phone, “6:30.”

“Shit, I was supposed to be there at 6.”

Clint smirked, “Should have watched the clock.”

“Damn you, Clint Barton. Pepper and Wanda are both gonna slay me,” he looked down at the archer from over his shoulder. Clint laughed a little and scooted closer to Pietro’s leg. He turned towards him, dirty shirt balled up in his hands, “And my shirt really needs washed.”

“Eh, don’t worry. You can use one of mine,” he leaned forwards and nuzzled his head against Pietro’s thigh. Pietro genuinely smiled down at him and reached down to run his fingers through Clint’s honey brown hair. Clint purred happily.

“I’m tempted to not let you leave.”

“Really now? Just a few hours ago, you were ordering me out of your yard.”

Clint shrugged, “I don’t like to dwell on the past,” he kissed Pietro’s leg and then hauled himself to his feet, “C’mon hot shot, I’ll grab you something to wear. I can drive you over to Pepper’s house too, if you want.”

“Only if you promise to stay,” he kissed Clint’s neck and he nodded in response.

They padded up the concrete steps to the sliding back door. Clint opened it for Pietro and the boy stepped into the two-story house. It was an average house. Nothing that special, really. White walls, wooden furniture, very Russian-esq, if that made any sense. Presentable. Clean.

Except Clint’s room.

Clint’s room looked like it had been hit by a hurricane of t-shirts, loose papers, and at least ten issues of Bird Watcher’s Digest. Pietro laughed at the mess, but Clint just grumbled about never having time to clean it. He’s just too busy. With bird watching club, archery lessons, school, and his daily nap in the sun, there was no time. I mean, he COULD have skipped the nap today… but let’s be honest, if he had to give up having a clean room in order to make time for fucking Pietro for a couple hours, well, that’s just how things were gonna be. Clint was a simple man, of sorts.

Clint ended up lending Pietro a black t-shirt that had a little yellow canary on it. The bird had an angry look in it’s eyes, along with a speech bubble that read “I do what I want, finches!”. The shirt was just slightly too tight on him, but Clint wasn’t complaining.

“This is the stupidest shirt I have ever seen,” Pietro looked at himself through the mirror.

“What?! Nah, man, it’s classic,” Clint put his hands on his hips and looked Pietro up and down.

“I hate you,” he growled.

Clint smirked, “I believe you.”

He led Pietro back out of the house and into his beat up, eggplant-purple car. Clint hoped that Pepper wouldn’t mind if he showed up with Pietro. No one would suspect them, right? It’s not like Wanda would remember what shirt Pietro left to house in, right? And Clint could just say that he was driving by when he saw Pietro rushing somewhere, and then offered him a ride. Because Clint was generous like that.

Yeah, this would be fine. Everything was going to be fine.

Chapter Text

They arrived at Pepper’s house within ten minutes of leaving. Pietro stumbled out of the car and walked up to the front door. He moved with caution -- which was new. Clint followed him up the steps and promptly knocked on the door before Pietro could. The boy pulled his (well, Clint’s) shirt down a little and took a deep breath.

“They won’t be able to tell, right?” this was the most shaken that Clint had ever seen him.

“We’ll be fine, just act normal,” Clint shrugged and patted him on the back.

They could hear Pepper’s footsteps nearing the door. Pietro smirked, “Alright, if you say so.”

Clint furrowed his brow. Aw, futz… Wrong choice of words.

The door swung open and they were met with Pepper’s smiling, freckled face. She had her ginger hair pulled up in a messy bun and a baggy t-shirt on.

“Pietro! You made it! I’m sorry that I’m such a mess, I’ve been cooking,” her eyes flickered towards Clint, “Hey! I didn’t expect you here.”

He rubbed the back of his neck, “Yeah sorry, I saw Pietro rushing over and offered him a ride. If you don’t want me to stay, I’ll just head back home.”

Pepper looked almost offended at his comment, “What? No! Clint you are always welcome to join us!”

He sighed in relief and nodded his thanks, stepping inside after Pietro. The house was like a two-story doll house. The place was immaculately clean and everything was beautifully decorated. It made his house look like a grass hut.

“Wow, nice place, Pep,” he gazed around as he slipped off his shoes.

She let out a breathy laugh, “Well, I’m glad you like it. I spent all weekend cleaning it.”

They walked out towards the dining room, only to find Wanda sitting at the table, nursing a glass of pink lemonade. She had a black hoodie on and her red knee-high converse, along with a pair of jean shorts. Clint hadn’t ever held a full-length conversation with her, but she always seemed very sweet. She turned her head towards them and her eyes widened. Pietro walked up to her and hugged his sister, but there was something weird about how she was looking at him.

“Wanda, I am so sorry that I am late. I fell asleep,” Pietro wasn’t lying, no, just twisting the truth.

Wanda raised an eyebrow, “You never take naps,” her gaze shifted to Clint, “Did you invite him?”

Pietro screwed up his nose, “No, he saw me rushing over and gave me a ride. Pepper was the one who let him in.”

Pepper snorted from the kitchen, “If you didn’t want more company, you should have left him in the car. I don’t turn down guests.”

“He refused to leave me!” Pietro gestured wildly at Clint, who slowly slid down into the seat across from Wanda at the table.

Clint glared at Pietro and folded his arms over his chest, “That’s a terrible over-exaggeration, kid.”

Pietro plopped into the chair next to Wanda and frowned at him, “It’s not.”

Clint just looked at him for a minute, analyzing the arrogant look on his smug face. He couldn’t believe this guy. He hated him. Yep. Pure hate.

“Are any of you allergic to something?” Pepper called from around the corner.

Pietro answered with a quick, “I can’t eat raspberries.”

Pepper gasped and ran around the corner, a bowl of lettuce in her hands, “Really?! I can’t eat strawberries!” she gave him a high-five and shuffled back into the kitchen.

Clint snorted, “I really hope she laces your salad with raspberry juice.”

Pietro’s eyes narrowed and he frowned even more. Wanda must have picked up on the tension by now, because she was rubbing her brother’s arm. She was subtly examining Clint’s appearance, trying to read his emotions. Unfortunately for her, Clint was good at covering up what he was thinking. His sketchy childhood had welded him into a well-oiled liar and gave him a rock-hard shell to hide behind. Clint just shot Pietro a fake smile and continued to try to ignore him. He was starting to feel the impulsive tug in his gut again. He didn’t want Pietro to be acting this way, but then again, he was also fueling the fire himself. It was awkward, looking at Pietro like this. As far as everyone else knew, they hated each other. They certainly hadn’t had rather impulsive sex in his backyard only a few hours earlier, that’s for sure.

Except they did, and no matter how good either of them were at hiding it, one of these women would find out eventually.

Pepper brought out the salad, “Do you boys want anything to drink?”

Clint rubbed his stomach and shifted in his seat, “That lemonade does look rather appetizing.”
“Water, please,” Pietro asked and she nodded happily.

“Alright, I’ll get those for you.”

“Thanks, Pep,” maybe Clint wasn’t the fanciest of guys, but he knew how to be polite.

“Yeah no problem,” she set down the salad, “Is, uh, is Natasha coming?”

Clint tilted his head to the side, “No, just me… why?”

She swallowed hard and looked down at the floor, “I just thought that maybe Pietro invited her too. I don’t know. Ignore me.”

The archer couldn’t help but grin at that. Oh, Natasha isn’t the only one with a crush now, is she? He knew that Pepper and Nat were a little edgy around each other, but this was gold. This was so perfect. He was going to get a kick out of watching this go down.

“Oh it’s fine. I’m sure if she’d known about it, she’d have come,” he smirked a little and watched as Pepper’s dotted cheeks flushed strawberry-red.

“Right, yeah, nevermind me,” she turned around quickly and walked away, “She hates me anyways.”

Pietro shifted his gaze back to Clint, “I have no idea what just happened.”

“It’s okay, you’re brain wouldn’t be able to comprehend the situation anyways,” Clint snarked back at him.

Wanda held back a small giggle and Pietro huffed with anger. Well, tonight was off to a good start.

 

~~

 

Tony threw his backpack into the trunk of his sports car, shifting it to the side to make room for Bruce’s as well. They were going back to his place to work on Tony’s projects that he’d shown Bruce. The two of them had just returned from the hardware store, where he’d purchased some paint canisters and some new screws. He also bought Bruce a potted plant.

Bruce had objected, obviously. A potted plant? Why? Bruce had no use for that. The only reason that Tony had bought the small cactus for him was so he could see his adorable as fuck boyfriend holding a small, delicate plant. It was worth it, so worth it. They climbed into the front seat of the car and Tony could help but smile at the sight of Bruce, sitting in the passenger seat, a small clay pot in his lap, cautiously stroking the spikes of the baby cactus.

He caught Bruce’s eye, who nervously smiled back down at his plant, “What?” the scrappy boy was blushing now.

Tony shrugged, “Nothing, I’m just pretty sure this is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Shut up, Stark,” Bruce turned his knees away from Tony.

“What’s its name, hmm? I think you should call it ‘Tony Jr.’” Tony smirked and shoved his keys in the ignition.

Bruce laughed, “I think I’m going to call him Vision.”

“Vision?” Tony cocked and eyebrow and then shrugged, proceeding to back out of his parking spot, “Alright, well, that’s not as good as Tony Jr., but whatever floats your goat, I guess.”

Bruce smiled softly back at Tony, “Thanks. I really didn’t need a plant, but I do now, and I guess that’s kinda sweet.”

“Just something for you to care for, babe. I couldn’t buy you a kitten, so I settled for a plant.”

“I thought that’s why I have you?” he ran his fingers through his brown curls, making Tony’s heart flip, “Someone to care for.”

He leaned over and kissed Bruce’s cheek as they left the lot, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. The plant can be our son.”

Bruce started laughing loudly, “Vision the Cactus, son of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Our greatest creation yet!”

Tony shook his head, grinning widely. How the fuck did he ever get so lucky?

 

~~~

 

Pepper’s cooking was amazing. Clint was pretty sure that his tastebuds had just been coated in heaven’s finest pork chops and salad. The twins were also overly-excited about Pepper’s amazing ability to make people melt into a puddle of homemade italian salad dressing.

“Pepper, you are amazing,” Clint complemented her again, one cheek stuffed full of tender meat.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, you heathen!” Pepper hit him in the should and he promptly swallowed his food.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was too busy complimenting you,” he snickered back at her. Pietro kicked him from under the table. He let out a small grunt and snapped his head towards the white-haired boy, “Hey! What was that for?”

“Wanda told me too,” his sister looked up at him, horrified by the false accusation, “She says you are being rude.”

Clint glared at him, “Just because I grew up as a carney, doesn’t mean I don’t know how to treat a host.”

Pepper shook her head, “He’s fine, Pietro, we’re just messing around.”

“He has bad taste in jokes,” Pietro spat back, eyes locked on Clint’s.

“Oh yeah? You have bad taste in hairstyles.”

“You have bad taste in sports.”

“Says the guy who runs around a track in circles for hours. That must be really hard.”

Pietro was fuming now, “Your clothes suck.”

“Ha! Again, says the guy who’s wearing my shirt!”

Wanda looked surprised, “You’re wearing his shirt?”

“What? No!” Pietro protested, looking down at the tight black shirt with the little yellow bird on it that he was wearing, “This is my shirt!”

“I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen Clint wear that shirt,” Pepper pointed out with an amused look on her face. She was obviously enjoying this.

“Yeah, I’ve never seen that shirt on you, brother,” Wanda backed up Pepper, smiling at him mischievously.

“This is my shirt!” Pietro raised his voice and it cracked a little.

Clint boomed out a loud laugh, “Listen to you! Little fetus Pietro still has a cracky voice!” The girls couldn’t help but laugh along at that comment. Pietro threw a dinner roll at Clint’s face, and the archer caught it between his teeth with expert technique. He grinned around the bread and watched as Pietro’s eyes grew wide and his bottom lip quivered, “Nice try, hot shot.”

“B-but…” Pietro was still shocked by Clint’s expert catch.

“What?” Clint bit off a piece of bread and swallowed it, “You didn’t see that coming?”

Pietro was fuming, face red and fists balled up, “I hate you,” he growled through gritted teeth.

“How much you wanna bet that Pietro still sleeps in onesie?” Clint asked.

Pepper and Wanda were almost in tears from laughter at this point. Wanda muster out a few strings of broken words, “Actually, he, uh --” she laughed some more and then caught her breath, “he has a blue one with rabbit ears and slippers. He wears it on the first day of spring every year.”

Pietro scrambled over Wanda and placed a hand over her mouth, “No! No I don’t!”

Clint was hooting in amusement now, “Oh, that’s golden ! Little baby bunny, Pietro.”

The angry and embarrassed boy stood from his seat with a dark, threatening look in his eyes, “Call me that again and I’ll shove an arrow up your ass.”

Clint stood with equal determination and faced him, a sly smirk on his face, “Oh, you’d enjoy that, wouldn’t you?”

He didn’t think it was possible for Pietro to get redder than he already was, but he did. The kid didn’t know what to say. He just stood there and stared at Clint with his ice-blue daggers. Pepper and Wanda watched them, expecting something big to happen. Clint searched Pietro’s eyes for any trace of lust, and he was surprisingly pleased with his findings. Pietro’s pupils were blown, but his body was rigid and he was terribly embarrassed. Clint knew that he’d won this round -- which was good, for a change -- but he wasn’t the kind of guy who’d sit down first after a match like that.

Pietro turned away from the table, “I’m going to use the bathroom.”

“Down the hall, first door to your left,” Pepper called after him and he nodded his thanks, disappearing down the hall.

Wanda’s eyes traveled up to Clint’s. He placed his hands on the table, “Too much?”

She gave him an uncertain look, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen him do that before. You really pushed his buttons.”

Clint smiled to himself. Pietro deserved that, right? After all, he was just trying to ruffle his feathers a bit. Clint had been picked on enough that it was time for him to push back a little. That’s not bad, right?

Then again, Clint wasn’t known for making the best decisions…

 

~~~

 

Tony’s hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as he drove down the busy after-work roads. Bruce was leaning his head against the window, staring out at the people on the sidewalks. He came to a stop at a red light and tapped his fingers against the leather of the wheel. Tony took the opportunity to glance over at Bruce again. He felt his chest tighten at the sight of him -- Tony’s Black Sabbath shirt on, dusty old jeans, thin glasses and messy curls. By God, he was beautiful. He just wished that Bruce could see that. The light turned green and he slowly pushed on the gas pedal.

It took him a second to register what was happening. He was in the correct lane, he wasn’t speeding, he was surrounded by many other cars. And yet, he was the one who was suddenly put in grave danger. A large pick-up truck was hurtling towards him, driving down the wrong side of the street. Bruce looked up just in time to see Tony throw his arm in front of him.

“Get down!” he yelled, panicked, as he yanked the steering wheel in a sharp circle so that his car was sideways on the road.

Bruce clutched his plant, “Tony, no!”

Crash.

 

~~~

 

Clint watched as Pietro shuffled back out into the dining room. Pepper was cleaning up everyone’s dishes. Clint had offered to help, but she insisted that she could handle it. Wanda, on the other hand, didn’t take no for an answer. Clint sipped his lemonade. He was about to make another smug comment to aggravate the boy again, but the sound of shattering dishes instantly drew his attention. Pietro and Clint looked at each other, worry washing over their faces. They got up and ran into the kitchen, only to see broken pieces of plate all around Pepper’s feet, Wanda hurrying to clean up what she could. Pepper was staring down at her phone, horrified, her hand covering her mouth. Clint could see the tears welling up in her eyes.

“Pepper? Are you okay?” Clint rushed to her side, avoiding as much of the glass as he could.

She didn’t speak, just stared down at her phone. Pietro began to help his sister with the broken plate.

“What’s wrong?” he leaned over so he could see what Pepper was looking at.

There he saw that she had received a text from Bruce.

 

>Pepper, we just got hit by a car. Tony is out, but I think he’s alive. There’s blood everywhere. I’m calling 911. Come quick, I think I broke something.

 

Shock pulsed through Clint’s whole body and his hands began to shake. Pepper started to cry. He tugged on his hair and stared down at the text, “I’ll go start the car. Get your shoes on.”

Pietro and Wanda looked up at them with concern. Pietro stood slowly, a pile of glass in his hands, “What’s wrong.”

“Tony and Bruce are hurt.”

Chapter Text

Sam’s heart thumped in his chest so hard that he could hear it pounding in his ears. He was rushing down the bright white hallway of the hospital. Rhodey and T’Challa were following him as well. When they reached room 84, Sam pulled open the door. Inside, he saw nurses working frantically around Tony’s bloody and beaten body. The heartbeat monitor was beeping with promise, but Tony really looked like crap. Pepper and Bruce were standing next to his bed. Her eyes were watery and red and Bruce had a somber look on his face. He was also clutching a potted plant with one arm, his other wrapped up in a sling. Sam would ask about the plant later.

Pepper pulled her eyes from Tony and spotted Sam. She rushed forward and threw her arms around him. He held her tightly, “Hey, hey, it’s okay. He’s gonna be okay.”

Pepper sniffled into his shirt, “I hope so.”

Sam continued to rub her back and looked up at Bruce, “What happened?”

Bruce sighed, “Hit and run. The car was driving down the wrong side of the street. Tony saved my life.”

“Let’s just hope that the doctors can save his,” Rhodey walked up to Tony’s bedside and laid the back of his hand on Tony’s forehead, only to have it swatted away by a nurse.

“Have faith, my friend. I am certain that he will be just fine,” T’Challa placed a hand on Rhodey’s shoulder, smiling sincerely.

Sam laughed and started to take out Pepper’s bun for her (tight hair gives you headaches, okay? He was sparing her), “Good Lord, T’Challa, how are you so composed at a time like this?”

The boy let out a calm breath and pulled his shoulders up a bit, “Keeping a level-head takes great practice and great patience -- something that many of you lack,” Sam was a little offended at first, but the teasing look in T’Challa’s eyes changed his mind. He laughed and gestured a hand towards Sam, “I kid, I kid.”

Sam just chuckled and took a moment to look down at Pepper. She had her cheek pressed to his red shirt, eyes still locked on Tony’s unconscious figure. He was hooked up to an IV and the nurses and doctors were quietly wrapping him in multiple bandages.

“Has he been in for x-rays?” Sam asked a nurse who passed him.

She nodded, “Yes, he has three broken ribs, a fractured arm, and a dislocated shoulder. He’s lucky, really. It looks worse than it is. His parents are on their way.”

Sam felt Pepper shudder against him. He knew that Tony didn’t have a very good relationship with his folks, but to be honest, who did these days? No one. He felt bad, seeing Tony like this. He probably wouldn’t have found out if Pepper hadn’t texted him about it. And seeing that Rhodey and T’Challa got the message too, it was likely that she just called every person she could think of.

Speaking of which, the door creaked open again and Clint slipped into the room, trying to be as silent as possible. Pietro then barreled in after him, followed by his sniffling sister, Wanda. Clint glared at Pietro, but he just ignored the archer. Sam smirked -- those two were walking disasters.

Clint stepped up next to Sam and patted Pepper’s back, “Any progress?”

Pepper shook her head, “I don’t know, he’s just… he’s broken every where.”

Sam smiled down at her, “Pep, they said he’s going to be fine.”

She stepped back and made a wild, sorrow-driven gesture at Tony, “Look at him! He doesn’t look okay to me!”

“The scrapes and scratches make it look worse, Pep. He’ll heal up fine. Once he wakes up, that is,” Sam rubbed her upper arms.

She sighed and nodded her head, reaching her fingers forward. She caught a hold of Clint’s index finger and wrapped her hand around it, holding it for reassurance. Clint took no notice of it, but Pietro certain did. Sam could hear him breathing heavily from the other side of the room.

“Is anyone else coming?” Rhodey lifted his gaze from Tony and turned it to Pepper.

She nodded, “Yeah, I texted Steve, Scott, Thor, and Natasha as well. I’m not sure who’s coming and who isn’t, though.”

Sam’s chest tightened. Scott? She had to tell Scott. Sam had been so confused lately, he wasn’t sure if now was a great time to see the clumsy kid. He’d probably knock over something important. Sam liked him, sure, but Scott had been acting really weird lately. At first, Sam thought that maybe he was just being nice, but now he had other ideas. The other day, he’d tried to flirt with the guy a bit, but he just got flustered and uncomfortable responses. At least, that’s what he felt like. Scott just clammed up and couldn’t ever really form a response. Sam had assumed that that was some sort of “this is too weird” cue. Then he got all fiery and protective and everything seemed to be back to normal. Well, he hoped it was.

And right on cue, Scott entered the room with a giant brown teddy bear in his arms and a bouquet of pink roses loosely clutched between his fingers. He was looking a bit overwhelmed, “Hey guys, a little help!”

Sam instinctively rushed to his side and grabbed the bear from him, setting it down next to Tony’s bed. Scott looked immensely relieved and adjusted one of the flowers in the bouquet.

“A bear, huh?” Sam raised an eyebrow and gave him a sideways glance.

Scott grinned sheepishly, “That’s what you do for people who are in the hospital, right? You get them stuffed bears.”

“And apparently pink flowers, too,” Sam poked the plastic cover of the bouquet.

Scott’s cheeks turned just as pink as the roses he was holding, “Oh, um, actually, these aren’t for Tony.”

Sam tilted his head, “Who are they for then?”

The room turned dead silent except for the shuffling of the nurses and the beeping monitor. Scott was holding his breath and staring at Sam with unblinking green eyes. They stayed like that for almost a minute before Clint leaned over and whispered, “This is the part where you say something,” into Scott’s ear.

Scott jumped a little and pushed Clint’s face away by his cheek. The archer grumbled and stepped back, rubbing his jawline. Scott laughed nervously and spun around a few times, “Uhhhhh they are foooor… ummmmm,” his eyes landed on Bruce, “Bruce! They are for Bruce. Yep. Because he’s hurt too.”

Sam saw Pepper face-palm out of the corner of his eyes, but he ignored it for the most part. Bruce took the flowers that Scott had offered him and smiled down at the fragrant petals.

“Heh, thanks Scott. I like the uh, the color,” Bruce’s lips quivered slightly as he tried to sound grateful for the weird gift.

Scott just rubbed the back of his neck, “Yeah, sorry, they were out of red… I mean purple. Um. Blue. Green? They were out of everything except pink.”

He laughed, “It’s okay, really. Thank you. Now Vision has some friends,” Bruce gazed fondly down at his potted cactus. Everyone stared at him  in confusion. He gulped and turned his eyes to the floor nervously, “What? It’s a good name…”

“I still think ‘Tony Jr.’ is better,” a hoarse voice spoke from the hospital bed.

Everyone turned to see Tony grinning at the ceiling. He sighed and tried to move his arm, but was promptly stopped by a nurse. His dark eyes flickered towards the group of worried friends gathered around him.

“Tony!” Pepper ran forward and nearly launched herself onto him, but T’Challa grabbed her arm.

“Please, Ms. Pepper, he’s hurt,” the tall boy spoke softly to her.

Pepper blushed in embarrassment and Tony laughed (well, he kinda just wheezed; laughing had to be hard with three broken ribs), “Nah, I’m fine. Once these lovely nurses patch me up, I’ll bounce back quickly,” his eyes landed on Bruce, still holding Vision the Potted Cactus and the rose bouquet. His smile became softer, “Hey Brucie, you okay?”

Bruce nodded, “Yeah, don’t worry about me.”

Tony frowned, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get us --”

“Tony, please. It wasn’t you’re fault,” Bruce took a timid step closer to the bed.

Sam squinted his eyes and looked between the two a few times. He saw the look in Tony’s eyes as he talked with Bruce. Their voices changed. Tony was more concerned for Bruce than he was for himself -- which was very unlike the Tony Stark that Sam knew. And then it hit him.

Tony loved Bruce. They… they loved each other.

He wasn’t sure if anyone else had noticed. Most of the others were either asking the nurses questions or keeping out of the way. But Sam had seen that look before. The same look that graced Tony’s eyes was familiar to him somehow. Where, though? It was on the tip of his tongue. He’d seen it so many times. But he was sure that no one loved him at the moment -- at least not like Tony obviously loved Bruce.

Sam was snapped out of his thoughts when Steve and Thor entered the room as well. He was pretty good friends with Steve, but he didn’t know Thor very well. The two mountain-boys leaned quietly against the wall. They didn’t want to fuss over Tony when he’d just woken up. Steve was holding a card in his hand addressed to Tony, but he’d probably just leave it with Tony when he decided he’d spent enough time here. Pepper shuffled over to the two boys and Sam vaguely heard her ask them if they’d seen Natasha at all. They both answered with a shake of their heads. Pepper looked… disappointed.

Tony groaned from his bed, “Hey, can one of you guys go buy me a bottle of water? I’ll pay you back double.”

Bruce instantly started to leave, but Sam stopped him by cautiously placing a hand on his shoulder. Bruce stiffened slightly, but didn’t pull away, “I got this one, bud. You stay here with Tony.”

Bruce nodded and Sam walked out of the room. As he let go of the door, he heard a muffled “ oof ” and a small grunt. He stopped and looked over his shoulder to see Scott slip out behind him, rubbing his forehead. Sam smiled as he jogged up next to Sam.

“Hey Tic-Tac, what’s up?” Sam asked.

Scott shrugged and shoved his hand in his pocket, feeling around for something, “Ahh, I figured I’d come along and keep you company. Also, I really want a chocolate milk.”

Sam felt his mouth water, “Oh, that’s a good idea!”

“Is it?” Scott was flicking his eyes from Sam to the floor in front of him, “I mean, of course it is. Chocolate milk is the best! It’s a great idea!” They came up to the vending machine and Sam inserted enough money for Tony’s water and for two chocolate milks. He could see Scott’s eyes go wide, “Hey! Wait, what are you doing?”

“Buying drinks, why?” Sam smiled slyly.

“Well, you are getting two chocolate milks,” Scott pointed as the plastic bottles fell to the bottom of the vending machine.

“Yeah,” Sam reached down and grabbed them out. He took one milk for himself and handed the other to Scott, “One for me, one for you.”

Scott blushed, a grateful look on his face, “Sam, you didn’t have too… I have my own money.”

“Nah, it’s no problem,” Sam waved it off.

Scott shook his head and began to walk back to the room with Sam, “No, but, I can pay you ba --”

“Scott,” Sam swerved his path a little and nudged Scott’s shoulder with his upper arm, making the smaller boy stumble to the side a little, “Just shut up and let me buy you the drink.”

Scott’s mouth opened a little, like he was going to speak, eyes trained on Sam’s face. He caught his eyes for a second and smiled up at the taller boy. Scott looked genuinely touched, but he quickly averted his eyes again. But there was something else there, something that Sam recognized. He could have sworn that he’d seen that look before…

Oh.

Chapter Text

Bruce slumped down in the chair next to Tony’s hospital bed. He focused his eyes on Tony’s pained face, staring up at the ceiling to avoid disclosing how he felt to the others in the room. Sam and Scott had just come back with his water, but Tony was having trouble drinking it. Everytime he tipped the plastic bottle to hips lips, he’d cough on the water and it would run down his cheeks. The boy had developed clenched fists and had bandages littered all over his body. He looked beaten and sad, despite the fact that when he spoke, he forced himself to stay light and snarky.

“Tony, I can go grab the nurses again if you want more pain meds…” Bruce mumbled, reaching his arm up over the bars on the bed so he could run his fingers through those black waves of perfectly conditioned hair.

He shook his head, “No, I’m fine.”

His gaze softened as Pepper slowly walked back up to the bedside as well. She stared down at him with worried eyes, “Stop that, Tony. You aren’t fine.”

Tony avoided her eyes and looked up at the clock. He sighed and adjusted himself a bit, grimacing at the pain, “What time are they coming?”

“Who?” Bruce asked, but he already knew. He could feel the tension rising in the thick air; thick, and all too quiet for Bruce’s taste. Silence gave him anxiety, but that was the least of his worries, really.

Tony’s gaze became pointed and he frowned, “You know who. My parents.”

Bruce rubbed his jaw and shrugged, “Last I heard, they were on their way.”

Bruce saw Pepper begin to rub her arms with her hands, trying to chase away the chilly atmosphere of the room, “What are you going to tell them?”

Tony shook his head, “The truth? I don’t know. I haven’t really thought that one through.”

Bruce frowned at him and rested his chin against the bar, watching the way Tony’s eyes flicked around the room nervously. He knew that inside, Tony was dreading the moment that his parents walked through that door. His mother would cry and he father would grumble and tell him to walk it off, because that’s what a “Stark man” did. A Stark man gets back up when he gets knocked down. That was an understatement really, because no one really understood the extent of that phrase. Sure, it made sense as a family motto, until one is forced to take it literally. Tony was broken and hurting and his father would no doubt throw him from the bed and tell him to walk it off. Bruce wasn’t having any of that tonight.

“Can I have some more water?” Tony half-whispered and Bruce nodded, moving the water bottle from the side table to his hands. He used his free arm to force himself to drink a few gulps, “Thanks,” he coughed again, but managed to stop himself from choking.

Bruce just smiled at him and then scanned the small, cramped hospital room. Rhodey and T’Challa were fast asleep at the end of his bed, Sam was leaning against the far wall next to Steve, Clint, and Thor, Scott was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, tracing circles on the hard tile, Wanda was currently tending to Bruce’s potted cactus, Vision, and Pietro was leaning against the opposite wall from Clint. He caught Sam’s eye for a second, which made his muscles clench up. Sam sent him a small head nod and promptly shifted his gaze to Scott’s back, and then to the door. Bruce tilted his head at that, but he brushed it away. Weird.

As the clock ticked on late into the night, Bruce could tell that his friends were all getting restless. They all still had school in the morning and weren’t really obligated to stay this long anyways. Not that Bruce minded, he was sure that Tony was enjoying the support. Tony was often the brunt of everyone’s harsh gossip these days, but in all honesty, no matter how many stupid things he did, everyone still cared for him. He was like this weird glue that united all of them. He’d known Rhodey and T’Challa forever, he was good friends with Steve most of time, which pulled in Thor and Sam, Pepper was like his over-protective step-sister, he used to hang around with Scott a lot (Bruce wasn’t sure what the reasoning behind that was, but he wasn’t sure that he wanted too), Clint and Natasha enjoyed his company, and now he had Bruce. They were all affected by Tony in some way, shape, or form, which caused this sort of team-effort to spring forth. Tony was hurt and they were all there for him. Bruce never wanted that to change.

Steve and Thor were the first to move after about half an hour of silence. Steve came up next to the bed and gave Tony a pat on his good shoulder, “Hey, Thor and I are gonna head home now. I hope you get better soon. If you need anything, just call, okay?”

Tony smiled, “Sure thing, Cap. Get some rest.”

Steve laid his card down on Tony’s bedside table, “You need it more than I do. Take care of yourself, Stark.”

Bruce watched as they quietly exited the room as politely as they could manage. To be fair, it was going on midnight, and none of their parents were going to excuse them from school tomorrow. Not even Bruce -- especially not Bruce. His parents were going to freak when he came home at two in the morning with a sling and a bruised face. He was looking forward to that just about as much as Tony was looking forward to the arrival of his own parents.

The twins left only a few minutes after Steve and thor did, along with Clint, who offered to drive them home. Pietro had given Tony a respectful nod (ah, respect; a new concept for him) and Wanda walked up to him and kissed his forehead. Bruce watched as Tony blushed at the touch of her lips to his forehead. He closed his eyes out of fondness for the girl.

“Pietro and I will visit again tomorrow,” she stood up straight and smiled down at Tony, “No matter how much he protests.”

Pietro huffed from the doorway and Tony laughed a little, “Yeah, alright, I’ll see you then.”

Clint sent a small salute Tony’s way as he ushered the twins out the door, “Take care man, I’ll be over again soon.”

“Thanks, Barton. Tell Nat that I missed her tonight!”

He laughed and shook his head, leaving the room with a grin on his face. Pepper’s expression seemed to fall at the mention of Natasha, but Bruce didn’t take much note of it. She yawned and seemed to be considering leaving as well.

“Pepper, I’ll be fine. You can go home now,” Tony turned his head the best he could and smiled softly up at her.

She sighed and ran her fingers through her long, strawberry-blonde locks, “Are you sure? I really want to stay…”

Tony nodded, “Everything's okay. I’ve got Bruce here, and Rhodey and T’Challa aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.”

“But what if something bad happens?” she shifted her weight and averted her eyes from Tony’s.

“I can hold my own, Pep. You of all people should know that.”

She slowly raised an eyebrow and looked at him as if he was stupid, “Okay, but you are actually a broken mess, so no, you can’t hold your own.”

Bruce stood and laid a hand on her shoulder. She blinked in surprise and angled her body towards him, “I can take care of him, Pepper.”

She was silent for a minute, just calculating a response. Bruce was getting increasingly nervous and let his hand slide off of her shoulder. The slightly taller girl eventually leaned forward and hugged Bruce and lightly as she could manage. It took him a second to register the physical contact as comforting and not threatening, and he timidly placed a hand on her back.

“Are you sure, Bruce?” she muttered over his shoulder.

He nodded and patted her back, which made her giggle a little. By God, he was awkward. No wonder he’d previously had no friends. Thanks to these two though, that had changed within a matter of weeks.

“Alright,” she bent over and grabbed her bag up from the ground, “I guess I’ll be headed home. See you boys tomorrow,” Pepper waved at the few people left in the room as she exited.

Sam and Scott were both being uncharacteristically quiet. Bruce wasn’t really complaining about it, but he had a feeling that something was wrong. Sam must have noticed that Bruce was watching him, because he caught his eye and pushed himself off the wall. He approached Bruce with his hands in his pockets, eyes fluttering around the room. Scott watched him as he passed by, but shrugged and went back to playing some weird cat game on his phone.

Once Sam was next to Bruce, he cleared his throat and spoke quietly, “Hey, is there any way I can talk to you? Alone. For just a minute…”

Bruce felt his stomach churn. He hated talking in private with people that he didn’t know very well, but Sam seemed nice enough and he was acting as if he had a genuine concern. Bruce nodded and began to walk out of the room with Sam. He smiled back at Tony, who just observed them as they left, content with whatever was happening. When the two boys were alone, Sam was beginning to look increasingly more and more nervous.

“What, um, what’s wrong?” Bruce asked, avoiding Sam’s eyes.

He was quiet for a second, and then blurted out, “Are you and Tony together?”

Bruce’s breath hitched in his throat “I um… uh --”

“Oh God, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you nervous,” he ran his hands over his face and rubbed his temples, “I just, well, I noticed how you look at him and I thought that maybe --”

“Yes, we are together,” Bruce mumbled, staring at the white floor, “But we’d like to keep it rather private for the time being, if that’s at all possible.”

Sam nodded and breathed a sigh of relief, “Oh don’t worry, I won’t say anything. I also was wondering, well...” his cheeks turned an intensely different shade of red, “When Scott looks at me, what do you see?”

Bruce creased his brow for a moment trying to formulate a reason for the question and a suitable answer, “I’m not sure what you mean?”

Sam drew circles on the floor with his shoe, folding his arms over his chest, “I mean, does he look at me like you look at Tony?”

“Are you asking me if he loves you?” Bruce tilted his head slightly.

Sam shyly nodded, cheeks burning. Bruce wasn’t quite sure how to respond. He knew that something was there between them, but he’d been too focused on Tony as of late and never really took full notice of it. But, judging on the fact that Sam was here, asking him of all people for advice, he assumed that the situation was more than it seemed.

“Well, to be honest, I’m not really in a position to evaluate the whole scenario, but I can tell you that he enjoys spending time with you. I can see it. He scrambles after you like a lost puppy and always looks sad when you leave the room,” Bruce remembered the flowers that Scott had brought him earlier and sighed, “You know, I don’t think that those roses were really meant for me.”

Sam nodded and let his shoulders slump a little, “All this time, I’ve been terribly oblivious. I told myself that he was just being nice, that all the compliments were just made out of kindness. I think I’m mistaken.”

Bruce was about to respond when he saw two familiar figures rushing down towards the room. Tony’s parents had two very different expressions on their faces. His father was fuming and his mother was in tears, as predicted. Bruce’s eyes went wide and he pushed Sam towards the door.

“You and Scott should get out of here, things are about to get rather shaky,” he opened the door to the room and watched as Sam hurried over to Scott, offering the boy his hand.

“Where are we going?” Scott asked as he brushed off his jeans.

“Home, the Stark’s are here, we don’t need to get in the way,” Sam explained, ushering Scott out the door.

Bruce didn’t have time to say his goodbyes to them; he just hoped that what he said had helped Sam make his decision. Tony was looking terrible restless with the knowledge that his parents were seconds away from bursting through the door. Bruce nudged Rhodey and T’Challa awake and stood defensively next to Tony’s bed.

“I’m so sorry, Bruce,” Tony sounded choked up, like he was going to cry.

“Don’t be,” Bruce leaned over and kissed his cheek, “We’ll handle this.”

Tony’s eyes were filled with terror and anxiety as the door violently swung open. Howard marched forward and raised his arm to slap Tony across the face. Tony flinched, waiting for the impact, but was saved by Rhodey, who stepped between him and his father.

“Mr. Stark, with all do respect, this was not Tony’s fault,” Rhodey’s voice was calm and collected. It was hard to believe that he was just napping on the floor. T’Challa was standing next to his mother, Maria, who was too shocked at Tony’s condition to manage anything but tears.

Howard glared at Rhodey and then sighed, “You’re right, it’s not Tony’s fault at all,” his eyes raked up and bore holes into Bruce’s head. The older man lifted a shaky finger and pointed straight of Bruce, “It’s his.”

 

~~~

 

Sam felt hot under his warm wooly jacket, but not because it was too hot out. In fact, the air was rather brisk tonight, he was just terribly nervous about this new information. Scott was walking next to him, eyes trained on the ground in front of him. His hands began to shake. He never really noticed. Why hadn’t he noticed? What was clogging his mind so much that he almost missed what could possibly be the greatest thing that ever happened to him? Looking at Scott now, he could see everything. Every shiny strand of wavy brown hair, the bright, mint green of his big, beautiful eyes. He could hear his own heart thumping in his ears. How had he missed this ?

Scott must have noticed Sam looking because he timidly glanced up at him, “What?” he smiled shyly.

Did this kid even see how gorgeous he was? He seemed so self conscious in that moment, arms wrapped around himself and footsteps timid. Sam couldn’t help but just smile down at him and shake his head, “Nothing, I just…” he noticed that Scott wasn’t wearing a jacket, shivering against the cold night air, “You’re cold,” he frowned and quickly removed his jacket and hung it over the smaller boy’s shoulders.

Scott’s cheeks turned beat red and he looked away from Sam, trying to hide his bashfulness, “I was fine, really.”

“You were shivering.”

He shrugged, “Yeah, but now you’ll be cold.”

Despite Scott’s protests, Sam spotted his fingers snaking up to the sides of the jacket, pulling it up over his shoulders a little more as he snuggled into it. Sam shook his head, “Nah, I’m perfect fine. I was hot anyways.”

Scott gave him somewhat of an agreeable expression, “I could tell.”

Sam did the gentlemanly thing and walked Scott to his car before returning to his own. The night sky brought out the dark shadows of his face and the streetlamps highlighted his eyes and cheekbones. He tried to give Sam back his jacket, but he stopped him and insisted that he kept it overnight.

“Sam, really, you don’t have too…”

He shook his head and reached forward to zip up the jacket for Scott, “I don’t want you to be cold.”

And there is was again, that same look that Scott had given him by the vending machine. His eyes sparkled with emotions and his whole body involuntarily leaned towards Sam’s ever so slightly. This was it, he had to say something now. He had too. He couldn’t bare the thought of leaving Scott like this, alone in his car and with no knowledge of just how amazing he was.

Before Scott could turn around to open his car door, Sam shot his hand forward and grabbed his wrist. He stopped and looked at Sam with something along the lines of shock in his eyes. Sam swallowed heavily and shifted his weight.

“Scott, I, um, can I talk to you for a minute?”

The shorter boy was looking nervous now, but he nodded, “Yeah, yeah I mean sure. Why not?”

Sam smiled at his fake enthusiasm. It made sense now, all those weird things that Scott had said. He relaxed his arm and let his fingers rub his palms, “Scott, is there, um, is there anything you need to tell me? No, I mean, there’s something I have to tell you. I’m just not sure how.”

Scott frowned, “Oh… I think I understand.”

He gave him a questionable look, “What?”

Scott sighed, “Look, I’m sorry, I never meant to be weird about anything, I just really really like you and you never noticed and even though Pepper said that you liked me too, you never showed it -- except for that one time in the locker room and I thought that maybe we had a thing but I was kinda wrong -- and I’m sorry if that made you uncomfortable, I just think you are really great and if you don’t like me back, that’s fine, I just don’t want to lose your friendship because you mean the world to me and you say the cutest things and I actually think I might love you and --” He shook his head rapidly and waved his hand for Scott to stop rambling, “Oh? Oh God, I’m sorry, that was a lot…” Sam laughed and took a step forward, sliding his hands up Scott’s arms and resting them on his waist. He felt his heart jump a little. Bold move, Wilson. Scott’s eyes got wide and his mouth gaped open slightly. Oh what he would give to kiss those pink lips.

“No, no, please, don’t apologize,” he squeezed Scott’s hips and bit his lip, praying silently that he wouldn’t pull away.

“Sam, what are you --”

“Has anyone ever told you that you are really fucking cute?” Sam spoke with an exasperated sigh. He could almost hear the grin in his own words.

Scott blushed madly and shook his head, “No, not really.”

“Well, I suppose that I’m glad to be the first, then.”

Scott looked away from him with all of his visible might, “Are you calling me cute?”

“Ah, correction -- really fucking cute .”

Scott bit his lip and leaned in towards Sam’s chest a little more, “Well, thanks, I guess.”

He lifted one hand and ran his fingers across Scott’s jawline, tilting his chin up so he could look at him, “All those things you said, they were sweet and all, but you forgot one important detail.”

Scott leaned into Sam’s touch and encouraged him to pull him in closer, “I did?”

“Yeah, you forgot the part where I love you back.”

Scott shuddered and grinned against Sam’s hand, “No, you’re kidding, right?”

He chuckled and pressed his forehead to Scott’s, “Nope, not kidding.”

It took him a moment to process what was happening, but he could suddenly feel him shaking terribly against him, and he felt a tear drip down Scott’s cheek. He lifted his head to see his crush pushing back tears, looking positively more flattered than he ever had before.

“Hey, don’t cry,” Sam wiped away a tear with his thumb.

“No one has ever told me that they love me before…” he sniffled.

Sam felt his heart twist in his chest, “I don’t know what kind of shit you have been through, Scott, but I can tell you right now that that’s going to change,” he turned his head and planted a small kiss on Scott’s warm cheek, “I’ll tell you every day if it makes you happy. I just wanna see you happy.”

Scott gripped the fabric around Sam’s chest and nodded, “I’d like that.”

They both laughed out of pure joy for a moment. Sam wrapped his arms around Scott and held the smaller boy against his chest. It was perfect. He felt Scott melt into his grasp and smiled against his neck. He was going to treat this boy like the beautiful person he was. He was going to spoil him rotten and make him his king. He was going to wake up next to this boy someday and kiss him from head to toe and drench him in compliments and make him want to stay with Sam forever.

“I love you, Tic-Tac.”

Scott pushed his head into Sam’s chest even more, “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for that.”

Chapter Text

Pietro slung his backpack over his shoulder and closed his locker door. He felt Wanda’s eyes boring into his back, causing him to straighten up and look over his shoulder at her. She had her hair done up in a nice bun today, but something told him that it wasn’t her who had done it.

“Your hair looks nice,” he pointed out and she smiled in thanks.

“Yes, Pepper did it this morning before the bell rang.”

Pietro nodded slightly and fully faced his sister, “It suits you.”

Her smile faltered and she stepped closer to him, face falling into a more serious expression. Oh, Pietro hated that look. It was a look of “I know you don’t want to talk about this, but we have to”. He groaned as she approached.

“Pietro, you need to tell him.”

He gazed down into his sister’s eyes, anger burning in his chest, “I don’t have to tell anyone anything, Wanda. I can survive another day without him knowing.”

She sighed and placed a hand on his arm, “Brother, I love you, and I promise that I say this for the very reason,” Wanda’s eyes narrowed and her voice became sharp, “You are an idiot .”

He blinked in shock and growled under his breath, pulling his arm away from her hand, “I am no idiot.”

Pietro began to walk down the hallway to his next class, Wanda still trailing behind him with determination. He kept his gaze trained on the path ahead of him. He didn’t have to tell Clint anything. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered. It’s not like whatever he said would affect Clint’s already askew opinion of him and his morals.

“Yes you are!” she forcefully grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop, “Pietro, this is Clint we are talking about. He’s going to figure it out eventually, it would be better if you just told him straight up. He is already wondering why you have gravitated towards him like this.”

“He doesn’t need to know! My relationship with Clint is perfect fine,” he huffed and tried to break her grasp, but her black-painted nails dug into the sleeve of his track jacket.

“Ha!” she laughed in disbelief, “Perfectly fine, huh? No, it’s not. I saw you two at dinner, it was a disaster. You two are off an on. You are either at each other’s throats like wolves or rutting up against the wall like bunnies. I swear, brother, you need to set things straight. If you don’t, you will lose him,” Wanda’s voice was sharp, like tacs, and it stung without mercy.

Pietro grumbled and ran his fingers through his wavy hair, “God, Wanda, do you have to be on my back like this?”

“I’m trying to help you avoid losing the best thing that have ever happened to you,” she let go of his arm and slapped it lightly.

He winced and rubbed where she had hit him, casting his eyes down at the floor, “Alright, but say that I tell him. What difference would it make? He will still hate me.”

“You are being foolish. It will help him understand, Pietro. It will help him get over the fights and the name-calling and the constant -- oh, what is it? Sexual frustration? Yes, that,” Wanda was ranting now, passion burning in her eyes and cheeks flushed with concern for her brother’s heart.

Pietro sighed and hung his head, “You found out.”

“You showed up to Pepper’s house in his shirt, so yes, I found out.”

Pietro swallowed hard and shook his head in defeat, “Fine, I will talk to him, but don’t expect anything good to come from it.”

Wanda’s sharp gaze softened and she leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss her brother’s forehead, “I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t get all sappy on me.”

“Just looking out for you, brother,” she spoke with a sympathetic smile, and turned back towards the direction of her classroom, “I’ll see you at lunch!”

As she hurried off, Pietro shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket and called after her, “You know, I’m twelve minutes older than you!”

Wanda giggled as she walked away and responded over her shoulder, “Go to class!”

Pietro smirked and continued on to his next class. Wanda meant well, of course she did, but this was too much. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to tell any of this to Clint. He’d planned on moving on with his life from this point on, but no -- she wanted him to bring up the past once more. He loved Wanda to death, he’d die for his sister in a heartbeat, but she didn’t always understand his actions towards Clint.

Unless, maybe, he was the one who didn’t understand.

Pietro was an ass to Clint, yeah, a total ass. He wasn’t without reason, though. His animosity towards the archer was as fake as fake could get -- a cover up, a pitiful excuse to avoid his real feelings. He didn’t hate Clint, in fact, he felt the opposite. Pietro liked Clint. Like… a lot. He always had. Maybe Clint knew that now, maybe he didn’t. Surely, the archer had caught onto the attraction between them by now (for obvious reasons…), but did he know the rest of it? No, most definitely not. And now his sister wanted him to spill it all to the boy who he’d tortured for weeks now, only seeking the reactions that he was familiar with. He didn’t know how to handle himself around someone like Clint, he just knew that he wanted the boy’s attention.

He wasn’t selfish, was he?

No, he was perfectly justified. Or at least he would be, once he built up the nerve to tell Clint about it…

Speak of the devil, as he reached his first period class, he spotted Clint just rolling into campus, dark purple shades covering his eyes, backpack loosely draped over one shoulder. Pietro felt his knees shake, because hot damn . His fingers shook against the door handle. Clint’s purple converse scuffed against the waxy white floor. He pulled one of his earbuds out and checked his phone for the time. The bell rang and Pietro noticed Clint screw up his nose in disgust.

It was like he was weirdly both attached and detached from Clint. His body remembered the feeling of Clint’s tanned skin, hot against his own, the grass tickling his arms, knees dug into the ground. He felt his mouth watering at the sight before him. It should be illegal for Clint to wear that low of a tank top. But his mind was somewhere else. His mind was nervous and shaky and it was the only thing keeping him from advancing on Clint right then and there. His mind saw the slight bags under his eyes from staying up too late at the hospital the night before. He noticed the more human aspects of the archer.

Wanda was right, Pietro needed to clear things up with Clint so he could kiss him senseless.

Pietro groaned and slammed his forehead against the wooden door of his classroom. He whimpered at the pain that shot through his skull. The students inside definitely heard that one. Well, he was already late, what difference would ten more minutes make? He spun back around and rubbed his head, only to see Clint looking at him from across the hall, eyes peeking out over the rim of his shades, one thick eyebrow cocked, sinfully-toned arms folded over his chest.

“Hey Snow White, what’s wrong? Ya keep hitting yourself in the head like that and you’ll drop a few IQ points -- not that you have many to lose,” Clint teased, putting on his best mock-pout.

Pietro sneered back at him, “I’m not in the mood for this game, Barton.”

“You aren’t?” Clint looked genuinely surprised, “Well, that’s a first.”

“You seem disappointed,” Pietro took a step towards Clint, lowering his head slightly and glaring at the devilishly handsome boy in front of him, “That’s a first.”

A half-smile tugged at the side of Clint’s mouth and he sauntered up to Pietro, arms still folded, face only inches away from his now. His gaze seemed to be daring Pietro to make a move, electric fire blazing behind those gray-blue pearls he had for eyes. He gulped and tried not to break eye contact with the slightly shorter boy.

Clint’s grin widened, “Maybe I was looking forward to a little mischief this morning,” Pietro forced down a wave of heat that was attempting to creep up his neck and onto his cheeks, “but you seem a little more shaken that usual.”

“We need to talk,” the words stumbled out of Pietro’s mouth, lip quivering.

Clint creased his brow and took a step back, “Do we?”

“There is something that I haven’t told you. Something important,” Pietro was being as brave as he could in the moment, fists balled up and eyes fixed on Clint.

The other boy shifted his weight onto his opposite hip, “Yeah? I’m listening.”

Pietro took a deep breath, “Well, I haven’t exactly been the easiest person to deal with, but I also haven’t really had a solid reason to act this way, and --”

“Alright, we both understand that part. It’s on my mind constantly. Let’s get to the part where you explain why all you ever do is either bust up my hearing aides or fuck me senseless in my backyard. I’d like that explanation,” Clint was almost growling in annoyance at this point.

Pietro looked away from Clint; it was too hard to see him so upset. He ran his fingers through his hair and nodded, accepting that this was it -- this was where he spilled his heart out, “Well, it started when we were ten years old. Our parents were killed during a terrorist attack on our poor nation, Sokovia. I took Wanda and we ran. We ran as far away as possible. I can’t even remember how many nights we spent cold, out on the streets, starving and orphaned. It had to have been weeks. The two of us searched and searched for anyone who would help us, but everyone just turned their heads. Two orphans on the streets of a country thrown into poverty like Sokovia? We were as good as dead. No one had enough money to take on two more children, let alone feed themselves. It wasn’t long before we learned that to get what we wanted, we had to fight for it,” Pietro smiled at the floor as he remembered the memories vividly, “I used to steal mediocre fruits from the street vendors. I wasn’t the only one, but I was young and small. And fast. I could run, and so I was never caught. Wanda and I lived in an alleyway behind the church. She used to tell me that it was bad karma to steal food so close to God’s place,” Pietro looked up at Clint with truth bubbling in his eyes, “She was the reason that I kept going. I did it all for her.”

Clint stayed silent. He blinked, trying to take in every word that Pietro spoke.

“And then, one day, as we were walking through the streets, begging for small silver coins and food scraps, Wanda spotted a colorful poster on the bulletin board next to the courthouse. We stood there for at least an hour and just stared at it. It had big red letters -- “THE CIRCUS: COMING TO SOKOVIA” -- and yellow and white stripes, and a picture of a man in purple balancing on a tightrope. A circus had never come to Sokovia before… Oh, Wanda was so excited,” Pietro laughed a little, “She wanted to see the tigers jump through the fiery hoops. I remember, she twirled around and held her arms out as far as she could, and she said that she hoped that was how big the elephants would be. She wanted to see them balance on the rainbow-colored balls. I didn’t want to let her down, I was her brother, I had to see her happy. I’d never seen her smile so wide when I read her that poster. They were going to have free cotton candy there. Free! We hadn’t heard that word in months. But I knew that I no matter how free the candy was, we would never be able to scrape up enough money to get in, anyways. So I did what any brother in my situation would do for his sister -- I tried to sneak us in.”

At this point, Clint had an intrigued expression on his face, eyes narrowed on Pietro. He knew that he had his full attention. “So, what?” Clint tilted his head, “You snuck in? Just like that?”

“Not exactly,” Pietro rubbed the back of his neck, “We had hidden ourselves in the crowd as much as possible. Unfortunately, little ten-year-old me didn’t realize how heavily guarded this circus would be. We were almost in, I swear, we were. But this boy, not much older than either of us -- a few years maybe -- spotted us and started yelling and pointing. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, I didn’t speak English at the time. In fact, I still can’t tell you what it was. But I knew his intentions, and I will never forget his face. It was tanned and freckled, and he had scrappy, russet-brown hair. And black boots. He came after us, so I grabbed Wanda’s hand and starting running against the crowd. The two of us just ran and ran, swerving through all the legs of the adults. And right as we broke through the crowd, the boy had somehow found a way to beat us there. He reared upon us with an outstretched, open hand, and went straight for Wanda. I threw her aside and he slapped me right across the face,” Pietro reached up and rubbed his cheek, remembering the sting of the boy’s hand, “I don’t know who he was. A roadie, maybe, but he nearly dislocated my jaw. Then he grabbed my shoulders and kicked me to the ground. I didn’t know what to do -- I’d never actually fought anyone like that before. Wanda was wailing in the background. He kicked my stomach and tried to bend my wrist back so it’d break. His face was red with anger and he was still yelling. I was crying because I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted to make Wanda happy. I just wanted her to see the elephants. And I still think that the boy would have killed me if it wasn’t for the other one.”

“The other one?” Clint asked, standing up a little straighter as he removed his shades and hooked them onto the front of his shirt.

Pietro nodded, “Yeah, he had lifted his foot up high above my head. He was going to stomp my face in until it broke, I think. But he didn’t get the chance to, because someone threw a stone at his head and he stumbled backwards long enough that I was able to stand back up. I thought it was Wanda, at first, but it wasn’t. It was… another boy. He was our age, probably. He had lighter hair and these big, blue eyes. His features resembled that of the older boy’s but he wasn’t as gruff. He didn’t have freckles, but he had dimples. He yelled something at our attacker as he kneeled next to my sister, hand on her back. I ran up to her and the boy stood and marched straight up to the other boy and punched him square in the jaw. They yelled at each other and pointed at us multiple times. He shoved the taller boy backwards a few times, too. Eventually the russet-haired one spat in the boy’s face and left, kicking up dust with his boots. And I pulled Wanda to her feet, trying to leave as quickly as I could. I didn’t want her to get hurt by anyone else. But the boy called out to us and I stopped -- I hesitated, but I stopped. He motioned for us to stay put, so we did. Then he ran off, and came back with two ice cream cones -- one vanilla, and one chocolate,” Pietro felt a lump growing in his throat, tears threatening to roll down his cheeks, “And Wanda started to cry. She hadn’t seen ice cream in years. I gave her the chocolate one because I knew that she used to love the chocolate-covered nuts that we used to get for Hanukkah. The boy just smiled at us and said something, I don’t know what. And he handed me a couple coins and pointed towards the market. I just watched him with big eyes. For all I knew, he saved our lives, and more importantly, he fed my sister,” Pietro locked his eyes on the floor, hanging his head a little, “I owe that boy everything.”

Clint took a small step forward and placed his hand on Pietro’s shoulder. He lifted his head just enough so that he could look at Clint through his eyelashes. He didn’t say anything, he just looked down at Pietro with a slightly shocked expression on his face.

“Of course,” Pietro continued, “We made it out of Sokovia. Some people found us and rehabilitated us, then sent us off to a foster home here in the U.S. as transfer students. I mean, that was after years . Seven years to be exact. That’s why I’m here, I worked my ass off until I got us on a plane to the land of the free. You should have seen to look on Wanda’s face, it reminded me of when she’d first seen that poster for the circus so many years ago.”

Clint sighed a little and watched him with soft eyes. Pietro probably looked like a mess. He was on the verge of tears, head hung, shoulders drooping, eyes riddled with uncensored emotion. But Clint hadn’t left, which was good, right?

“Which brings me to why I act this way towards you, Clint. I’ve been fighting all my life to stay on top, but I’ve never actually been there. I thought that maybe this school would be my chance to make a new reputation for myself and for Wanda. What I didn’t realize was that American society is very different than the society that I grew up in. You don’t always have to kick people down to make your way to the top here. I didn’t know that when I first tripped you in the cafeteria. By the time I returned your hearing aide, I knew that I’d done something wrong,, but there was one other thing that I didn’t count on.”

“What’s that?” Clint tilted his head a little.

Pietro smiled somberly, “I didn’t count on falling for you. I didn’t know what to do -- so I played it off like I was a jerk. Stupid mistake, I know, but what else was I supposed to do? I’d never felt these things for anyone else before. I didn’t have time to like someone like I like you. I had to take care of Wanda, she was my first priority. I mean, I’d flirted before, maybe gone on a few dates when I was much younger, but I was a child then. So I reverted back to the only thing I knew how to do. I fought for your attention, even if the attention wasn’t very enjoyable.”

“Pietro, you showed up in my backyard and f--”

“I know what I did, Clint. I’m a teenage boy, please, forgive my sexually frustrated tendencies. That’s not the point of what I’m telling you.”

Clint breath out a small laugh and nodded, smiling, “Okay, you’re forgiven.”

Pietro thought for a moment and then continued, “Do you have a sister? Did your parents ever tell her that the boys at school only pulled her hair because they liked her? It’s a terrible comparison, really. I always thought that that was the stupidest thing that my mother had ever told Wanda. Unfortunately, it’s the comparison that I can make. I pick on you because I like you, Clint, and because I don’t know how to deal with these feelings. I don’t know what to do. All I know how to do is fight. Please...” Pietro reached out a shaky hand and timidly wrapped his fingers around Clint’s index finger, looking straight into his eyes, hoping with everything he had that Clint understood, “Please understand. Please like me back. Not for sex or for pity or to escape my insults. No, I just want you to like me. I don’t want to fight you anymore.”

Clint glanced down at their hands and maneuvered his hand so he could lace his fingers with Pietro’s. Blush rose up on the white-haired boy’s cheeks and Clint genuinely smiled at him. Pietro had never seen a smile that could melt his heart so quickly, “Pietro, I… I didn’t know that you went through those things. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I was scared,” Pietro admitted, “I didn’t want you to be upset.”

Clint laughed a little and squeezed his hand, “You thought I would leave?” Pietro shrugged shyly, “I’d never just leave. I don’t ever leave people behind unless they deserve it. I don’t like to see people suffer.”

“So… does that mean that you do like me?” a hopeful spark lit behind his eyes.

Clint’s smile turned into a grin and he nodded, “Yeah, I like you too, hot-shot.”

He couldn’t help but grin back at Clint, eyes shimmering with tears. His heart was beating a mile a minute, knees weak at the sight of Clint -- sexual wants forgotten, animosity left far behind. Pietro couldn’t remember the last time he felt this happy because of someone else. Clint must have realized just how relieved Pietro was, because he leaned forward and pressed his head in the crook of his neck. He instantly melted into the affection. He’d been without physical contact for so long, all he had was Wanda, but she was his sister. Pietro had never felt anything as powerful as this before. He turned his head and nuzzled his face into Clint’s soft honey-brown hair, drinking in the scent of the archer.

“Do you mean it, though?” Pietro mumbled into his hair quietly.

And before he knew it, Clint had brought a hand up to Pietro’s cheek and pulled him down into a kiss. He’d kissed Clint before -- in the backyard -- but it wasn’t like this. That was rough and needy, this was something else. His lips were warm and tasted sweeter than before and they moved with something stronger than physical want. Was that… love? Pietro wasn’t sure, but it didn’t take him long to turn to putty in Clint’s hands. He kissed him back with equal emotion, relishing every second he had with this beautiful boy. They were so close and it was driving his senses insane. Eventually Clint broke away from the kiss, panting for air.

He rubbed his thumb over Pietro’s cheekbone, “How’s that for your proof?”

Pietro bit his lip and gave him a small nod, “Yeah, that was perfect.”

Clint dragged himself away from Pietro and patted his chest, “You should get back to class now, kid.”

His eyes went wide, “Oh shit! Class!” he whirred around, fingers tugging on his own hair, “Ugh, the teacher is gonna kill me!”

Clint snorted, “Well go on, then, I’ll see you later, don’t worry.”

“Yeah, yeah I’ll see you,” Pietro waved his hand back at Clint a little, rushing towards his classroom door.

There were a few moments of silence, but just as Pietro’s hand reached the door handle, Clint called back at him, “Hey… Piet…”

He stopped and looked over his shoulder at Clint, who had his back slumped a little, hands shoved in the pockets of his dark blue jeans, “Yeah?” he asked.

Clint stared at the ground with a half-smile on his face, “That day… at the circus. Those two ice cream cones were the last ones we had. I spent the rest of the week cleaning the animal pens to pay for ‘em.”

A small grin tugged at the side of Pietro’s mouth, “Well, if it makes any difference, it was the best ice cream I’d ever tasted.”

Chapter Text

Pepper opened up the dishwasher and flipped on the water fossett. She was rushing to get the piles of dirty dishes in the sink clean before Natasha came over for the weekend. She didn’t want her house to be messy when she arrived, mostly because she had a reputation to hold up. Looking good for Natasha was absolutely the most important thing at the moment. They had been fighting for years now, and she was really hoping that they could end the feud tonight. That is, if Natasha showed up at all. Pepper had texted her multiple times when Tony and Bruce got hurt, but she never decided to come see him. Guess that showed how much she actually cared about her friends, right?

She’d checked up on Tony only a few hours earlier. He seemed to be healing up well, just as spunky as ever. Bruce and him seemed to be getting on very well as of late. Pepper was happy for them, they both deserved a win. She wasn’t one to blab about their relationship to everyone though, because she knew what could happen if certain people found out.

Speaking of certain people, Tony told her that he got in a huge fight with his father that night. Something about being irresponsible and arrogant and not caring enough about his possessions… She couldn’t remember exactly. It was Bruce’s story about his father that stuck with her. Apparently T’Challa took Bruce home that night and had to come back and pick him up again not but half an hour later. His father tried to rip the sling off his arm and had given him a black eye somewhere along the way. Pepper had also noticed a crack in his glasses when she’d seen him earlier. The poor kid was never gonna get a break. She sighed, remembering the scared look on Bruce’s face. T’Challa had also mentioned that he’d gone mute for a good three hours afterwards.

Pepper slid the last plate into the dishwasher and closed the lid, turning it on as her mother walked into the room.

“Hey sweetie, what’s got you cleaning so frantically today?” she asked, sitting down at the table with a cup of coffee.

“Oh, um, Natasha is coming over for the weekend and I just want things to look nice and all…” Pepper turned her face away from her mom, trying to avoid eye contact.

“Wait, Natasha? Like the same Natasha who you have hated since forever?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

She nodded and swallowed hard, “Yeah, we have an assignment to work on. We’ll stay out of your hair, I promise.”

“Oh, I have no doubt, I trust you. I’m just wondering why one assignment is going to take a whole weekend?”

“We’re… bonding?” Pepper tried to find a word that fit their situation without explicitly telling her mom that they were kind of forcing themselves to get along for the greater good of everyone.

“Bonding?” her mother smiled into her coffee cup and took a small sip of the rich liquid, “What does “bonding” mean in seventeen-year-old, honor roll, bisexual, easily-attached, overly-sensitive teenager language?”

“Hey!” Pepper pouted, drying off her hands before placing them on her hips, “I’m not overly-sensitive!”

Her mom laughed lightly and shrugged, “You aren’t helping your case, dear.”

Pepper huffed and crossed her arms over her chest, “It means that I’m trying to make friends with her while I still can. She’s friends with most of my friends, and I don’t want to hate her anymore.”

“Why did you hate her in the first place?”

“Because she’s cold and Russian and really pretty, why else?” she spoke as if the answer should have been obvious enough already.

Her mother nodded a little and stood up again, “Alright, well, I’ll leave you to think about what you just told me and stay out of your way. Your father and I are going out tonight, you girls can have the living room if you’d like. Just don’t be super loud, m’kay?”

She blushed and the realization of what she’d just said. Great, I’m busted. Stupid move, Potts. Pepper blinked away the thoughts and smiled at her mother as she exited the room, “Yeah whatever, thanks mum!”

She watched as her mother left the room and then sighed, turning back to the now empty sink. Why was she doing this? It was stupid of her to think that she was going to get along with Natasha of all people for a whole weekend (well, it was only one night, but it felt like it was going to take forever). The only reason she was doing this was so she good get a good grade on this assignment, which was due on monday.

Yep. That was the reason. The only reason.

It’s not like Natasha was unnaturally beautiful or anything.

Nope.

Oh forget it, Pepper liked her. She was embarrassed to admit it to herself, but she did. It would pass, right? Just one of those weird “I hate you so much that I actually kinda like you” flings, right? It would never work out.

Unless it would…

No. It wouldn’t. Natasha hated her. She was only going to tolerate her for a night so Pepper would stop pestering her about this project that she obviously didn’t care about. Besides, Natasha totally didn’t like girls. Pepper had struggled with her identity for a long time, in fact, she’d only told her mom, Sam, and Scott about it. As far as she cared, no one else was worthy enough to know, nor did they need to know. But this? If this got out, it would cripple her social status. Not that that was more important than her weird, unexplainable feelings for Natasha, but she really would rather not get pushed around for being a minority. She had enough on her plate already.

It wasn’t long before she realized that she’d been standing there, staring at the sink for two minutes straight. She shook her head and blinked a few times to try and chase away her thoughts. Her mind always took over like that -- made her lose track of what she was trying to accomplish. It was a fault in her code, she was sure of it. Her head was always so filled with things, so many things. So many responsibilities, so many thoughts to think about.

A loud knock on the door rang through  the house.

Shit. Okay. I got this.

“Coming!” she called out in a sing-song voice, shuffling her way over to the front door.

Pepper took a deep breath and opened the door, eyes landing on a very different-looking Natasha. She was going to greet the girl, but her breath was caught in her throat. Natasha was standing there, hip jutting out and arms wrapped around a white pillow with pink lace around the edges. She was wearing black cat slippers, light gray sweatpants, and a baggy yellow shirt that definitely belonged to Clint (judging by the picture of a small black bird saying “drop it like its squawk”). Her face wasn’t drowned in porcelain concealer or eyeliner, but she still looked as delicate as ever, red curls falling around her shoulders. She popped her gum once and smiled at Pepper with what seemed like genuine interest.

“Hey, can I come in?”

Pepper must have looked terribly stupid just standing there, “Oh! Yes, of course, I’m sorry! Please, come in, make yourself at home.”

Natasha grunted softly and stepped inside, taking in the house before her. The walls were a light blue, with white couches and tall ceilings -- your typical, average income household. Nothing spectacular, but definitely not dumpy.

“Where should I put my things?” Natasha asked, voice considerably quieter than usual.

“Here, come with me. We’ll put it in my room,” she motioned for her to follow her down the short hallway to her room.

Pepper’s bedroom was spotless (for the most part). Purple and white bed sheets, a small wooden desk, three bookshelves filled with every novel or book series one could name, tall, blue lamps with bowl lights, a full-body mirror, and a fantastic view out into the backyard. Natasha seemed a little overwhelmed at the sight of such a spotless room. Then again, she lived with Clint .

“Wow, so this explains why we never got along,” Natasha was joking, Pepper could tell, but it still felt like a little pin-prick to her heart. They couldn’t be that different, could they?

“Yeah, well, I do what I can to stay organized these days.”

“I can tell,” the other girl dropped her stuff near the doorway and ran her fingers along Pepper’s bedsheets, “It’s impressive, I admit.”

“Was that a compliment?” Pepper smiled, tilting her head innocently.

Natasha frowned and shot her a hard glare. This glare didn’t give Pepper any chills though, especially because she could tell that it was forced. It was more like an “I-don’t-want-to-admit-that-you-are-right” glare.

“Maybe,” Natasha huffed and turned her gaze away from Pepper, who took a tentative step closer to her.

“You know who you remind me of?” she asked, hoping to God that Natasha would loosen up enough to kid around a bit.

“Who?” she looked at her with curiosity, but she still seemed rigid and cautious.

Pepper grinned, already laughing internally at her own observations, “Grumpy cat.”

Natasha’s face fell and she looked at her with that infamous dead stare of hers, “Are you serious?”

She shifted her weight and held back a bout of giggles, just smiling it satisfaction, “Yes, you totally do! You’ve got the frown down and everything!” Pepper waved her hand in front of Natasha’s face, motioning towards her mouth.

The other girl just looked at her with disgust for a moment, but Pepper noticed the side of her mouth quivering. She eventually broke and smirked a little, “I actually hate you, Pepper.”

She watched Natasha for a minute and analyzed her reaction. No one was on the floor crying yet, so that was a plus. In fact, Pepper was considering this night to be a win so far. It wasn’t nearly as awkward as she had expected it to be, but then again, the other girl had only just arrived. There were hours left for mistakes to be made. Hours . Pepper knew that she’d asked Natasha to come over to work of their project, but what damage could a little down time do?

“Yeah, I hate you too. Although, I hope you don’t hate cooking shows, because I’ve got thirteen episodes of Cupcake Wars recorded and was totally hoping that you’d be into that sort of thing.”

Natasha seemed to contemplate the offer and eventually shrugged, “Yeah, I mean, that sounds cool. I just hope that you don’t throw things at the TV like Clint does when he watches it.”

“Clint throws things? That’s hilarious!” Pepper giggled, eyes going wide. She wasn’t surprised that Clint watched Cupcake Wars. Not one bit.

Natasha smiled at the floor, arms falling to her sides from where they were once crossed tightly over her chest, “Yeah,” she laughed a little, “He hates it when he loses.”

Pepper nodded with full understanding. That was the worst part about those shows -- there is always one person who you really like that gets voted off instantly. As she led Natasha out of her room and back into the living space, she grabbed her phone out of her pocket and pulled up the phone number of the nearest pizza place.

“Cheese? Hawaiian? Veggie? What kind of pizza do you like?” she said as she dialed the number.

Natasha nonchalantly sat down on the loveseat with her feet up on the cushions and slightly tucked under her, “Pepper.”

She blinked in confusion, “What?”

There was a long pause of utter silence before Natasha’s face turned flaming red. She bit her lip and shut her eyes tight, shaking her head in what looked like some form of embarrassment, “I meant pepperoni. I like… pepperoni.”

Pepper couldn’t help but mutter out a small “okay” and turn away, a pink dust threatening to creep up onto her cheeks. Well that was way cuter than it had to be.

 

The night was running rather smoothly for the most part. Pizza had arrived within the hour and the two girls had devoured it faster than even Clint could have. Natasha seemed to be content watching Cupcake Wars. She wasn’t very talkative, but she didn’t seem to be as on edge as she usually was. Pepper was sitting in the chair on the opposite side of the room, eyes flickering over to Natasha every minute or so, just to check that she was still okay.

Natasha seemed to be pondering something, intently watching her own hands rather than the television. She wasn’t sure if she should ask her what was wrong, for fear of pushing the girl further away. Eventually though, the quiet atmosphere started to make Pepper more anxious than necessary.

“Hey, Natasha, are you alright?” she hesitantly brought the girl’s attention to her.

Natasha blinked and snapped her head up, looking straight at Pepper, “Me? Yes, I’m fine. Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay, you just look uncomfortable,” Pepper smiled sheepishly.

She frowned, “Well, I am.”

Her spirits fell, facial expression imitating the drop in her stomach, “Oh…”

“Don’t take it personally, Potts, we’ve just never communicated this much before. Ever.”

“And here I was, thinking that it was the lack of communication that was the problem,” Pepper twisted in her seat and eyed Natasha nervously.

The other girl sighed a little and slowly turned her body towards Pepper, almost as if she was forcing herself to interact with her, “Maybe you’re right. Listen, I barely know you, but you aren’t really that bad of a person, so I wouldn’t mind making an effort to speak to you.”

Pepper gave her a slightly confused but pleased look, “Okay, well, I didn’t hear the words “I hate you” or “don’t speak to me”, so that’s progress.”

“I’m tempted to take it back.”

“Wait, no!” Pepper shook her head rapidly, “No, no, I want to get to know you too.”

Natasha narrowed her eyes at her and frowned a little. Pepper felt a shiver run down her spine. She was perched so perfectly on the loveseat, shamelessly analyzing Pepper’s features. It made her nervous, not knowing what Natasha was going to do next or what she was thinking. The girl was like a firecracker -- pretty and intriguing, until you got too close. At least, that’s how she’d always viewed Natasha, even though she wasn’t sure if she was right anymore.

“What’s your favorite color?” Natasha asked, head slightly tipped to the side.

Pepper swallowed hard, caught of guard by the seemingly simple question, “Um, I don’t know… purple? Maybe blue. Those two are always a safe bet with me,” she smiled a little, “How about you?”

“Red,” Natasha’s answer was firm, “But sometimes pink.”

Pepper was surprisingly happy with her answer, “I always thought you liked black.”

“Black isn’t a color, it’s the absence of color. Learn your color theory, Potts,” Natasha jabbed at her, a teasing glint in her squinted eyes.

Pepper laughed and looked down at her feet, “Alright, alright, I’m sorry. My turn -- what’s your favorite animal?”

“Spiders.”

“Spiders?”

“Yep.”

“Well that’s… interesting.”

“I’m kidding, I like cats.”

Pepper lifted her head and little and straightened her spine, “Are you attempting to amuse me?”

“No,” Natasha averted her eyes, denying her efforts to make Pepper laugh, “Do you like cats too?”

She nodded, “Yeah, especially tabbies.”

“I…” Natasha let out a small, breathy laugh of disbelief, “I love tabbies.”

When she said that, Pepper slowly stood from her seat and pulled out her phone. She walked up to the loveseat and eyed the empty space next to Natasha, who had tensed up a bit, “I um, I have a really cute picture of a tabby in sweater… if you want to see it?”

Natasha didn’t respond for a few seconds, but then nodded and curled into herself more, attempting to make room for Pepper to sit next to her. She sat down and pulled up the picture of the cat, holding it out to Natasha. She hoped that the closed-off girl would gladly take her phone. It was like a peace offering in Pepper’s mind -- cat pictures could cure anything, even a broken relationship like theirs. She smiled at her encouragingly, causing Natasha to cautiously reach up and take the phone from her hands. Their fingers touched for not but a second, sending a shockwave through Pepper’s arm. She felt her chest begin to heat up at the contact. Her fingers were as soft as silk, she could hardly believe that the girl before her was real. Natasha glanced down at the picture of the tabby in the sweater and her eyes went wide. Pepper watched as she visibly softened, eyes glowing, body relaxing, joyous smile spreading across her face. She was almost certain that no one had ever seen her smile like that before. It was a real smile, a grin of pure happiness that looked foreign to her face. It was some sort of treasure, Pepper would swear by it.

“It’s… it’s so… it’s so cute!” the pitch of her voice rose as she leaned closer to the phone.

“Right?!” Pepper grinned back, “It’s literally the cutest cat I have ever seen!”

“Do you, um,” Natasha’s cheeks were slowly turning a fair shade of rosy pink, “Do you have any more?”

Pepper nodded with enthusiasm, reaching across into Natasha’s space in order to press a button on her phone that took them to a whole folder of cute cat pictures, “I’ve got a bunch!”

She noticed that the girl didn’t flinch at their closeness. In fact, she realized that Natasha had turned closer to Pepper. Her thigh was brushing Pepper’s knee, hands keeping a firm grip on the phone as she worked on the touch screen. She chanced a quick glance at her face, hoping to see an expression of comfort to match her body language. Natasha’s smile was infectious, because once again, Pepper’s lips were forcing themselves into a stupid grin. She was beautiful, probably hand-sculpted by Aphrodite herself. Her finger faltered over the warm phone screen and Natasha blinked in confusion, turning her gaze to Pepper’s. Their faces were only a foot or so apart, close enough to see every emotion in each other’s eyes. Pepper clammed up and bit her lip, caught off guard by their closeness. Natasha searched her eyes for something, although Pepper wasn’t sure what she was looking for.

“Tasha…” Pepper whispered, hand completely frozen above her phone.

The other girl suddenly became very shy, turning her head away from Pepper. Unfortunately for her, Natasha’s beauty only became more apparent. The angle of her cheekbones and the gorgeous view of her neck was sending Pepper’s heart racing.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

Pepper gulped and hung her head slightly, “No, it’s okay, I didn’t mean to--”

“No one but Clint has called me that in years.”

“I didn’t know that, I’m sorry, I--”

“Shut up, Pepper, I’m not complaining.”

They locked eyes for a few more seconds and Pepper swallowed hard, “You aren’t? But you usually do.”

Natasha smiled softly, “Don’t worry about it, we’re good.”

“Good?”

She handed Pepper back her phone, this time letting her fingers linger against her skin, “Yeah. We’re good.”

Pepper was really having a hard time wrapping her head around the idea of her and Natasha being “good”. Honestly, she still wasn’t sure that she trusted her. They had been fighting for years, she didn’t see how Natasha could let that go so easily. So, Pepper being the kind of person she was, decided that it was time to bring it up.

“But are we?” Pepper asked, nerves clutching her stomach tightly, “I was sure that we were going to want to kill each other by now.”

Natasha’s confidence faltered and she frowned, “I never wanted to kill you, I just hated you.”

“Hated as in… what? Used to hate?” a small bout of hope sparked in Pepper’s tone,

“I mean, I guess.”

“So you don’t hate me anymore?”

“Pepper, for the love of God, just stop, okay?” Natasha let out an exasperated sigh and rubbed her eyes with her fingers, “It’s really not that complicated.”

“But it feels complicated.”

“It’s not, it’s simple even. We didn’t like each other because we have two very different outlooks on life, we always have. We never really had a solid reason because we didn’t need one.”

Pepper tentatively reached her hand forward and rubbed her thumb over Natasha’s, “We’ve changed, Natasha. I don’t hate you anymore either.”

She regained eye contact with her and wrapped her fingers around a few of Pepper’s fingers, “Well, like I said, we never had a reason in the first place, so why keep useless grudges?”

“Right, we could just start over.”

“Right.”

“Because, well…” Pepper bit her lip harder this time and looked up at Natasha from under her lashes, “I think I actually kind of like you.”

Natasha’s sweet smile curved up into a sly smirk, “Oh, do you now?”

Pepper gulped, realizing that she probably shouldn’t have said that. She’d just ignited something in Natasha that she wasn’t sure she wanted to see, “No, um, I didn’t mean it like tha--”

“Sure you didn’t, Potts,” she fully grabbed Pepper’s hand and dragged her up off the loveseat, “C’mon, let’s go do something.”

“Do something? Like what? It’s getting late, ya know…” Pepper felt her knees begin to shake as Natasha’s fingers slipped between her own.

“Listen up,” she led her to the doorway and messily measured her foot against a pair of Pepper’s converse, “If there is one thing I’ve noticed about you, it’s that you are a shy button when it comes to being straightforward, and I’m also pretty sure that you’ve never done anything daring in your life.”

“That’s not true!” Pepper protested as Natasha sloppily threw on Pepper’s converse, “I once went down the slide head-first in kindergarten. I also rode a mattress down the staircase when I was twelve.”

Natasha snorted, “Yeah, we’re going out tonight. That’s pathetic, even for you.”

Pepper shoved her feet into a pair of old blue sneakers, “Shut up!” she examined her shirt, “We aren't even dressed for this, Tasha.”

She pulled her out the front door, “That’s the least of our worries!”

Pepper whined nervously at the dark sky and the glittering stars, “Why are we doing this?! I really don’t wanna get in trouble…”

Natasha shut the door behind them and took a step towards Pepper, forcing her back against the door, “Oh, Pepper… Sweet, innocent, gorgeous Pepper,” she shot her another devilish grin and ran her hand through a strand of her strawberry-blonde hair, twirling the end around her fingers, “You were the one who wanted to spend time with me, and, well,” she leaned forward and whispered in her ear, “I am trouble.”

Chapter Text

Pepper slumped down into the passenger seat of her car, “I still don’t understand why you have to drive my car.”

“Because you’d turn the car around and go back home once you found out what we’re doing,” Natasha’s smile made Pepper’s heart flutter, despite the gut-wrenching nerves she was experiencing at the thought of doing something reckless.

“What are we doing, anyways?” she asked, leaning her head against the car window.

“We’re going to the mall,” she shrugged, turning a corner sharply.

“What?!” Pepper’s voice hitched, “You’re kidding, right? The mall closes in like an hour! What are we going to do there?”

Natasha held back a muffled laugh, “Raid the dressing rooms, duh? It’s the only reason to go to the mall!”

Pepper’s chest dropped, “What is this, some sort of large-scale game of dress up?”

“Well, when you put it THAT way…” Natasha trailed off, still snickering at how uncomfortable Pepper was.

“I actually hate you,” she whined against the glass window.

Natasha glanced at her with a determined glint in her eyes, “Nah, you’re gonna have fun.”

“I didn’t know you were capable of having fun,” she teased back, crossing her legs and puffing out her lower lip.

Natasha leaned over and shoved Pepper’s shoulder playfully with her hand. Pepper refused to respond with anything other than a dissatisfied grunt. She was convinced that she was making a point. Maybe, just maybe, she could guilt-trip Natasha into going back home. Those hopes were terribly far-flung, though, considering that this was Nat she was trying to go up against.

They reached the mall in record time. Maybe it was the lack of traffic, maybe it was because Natasha was a gas pedal junkie, she wasn’t sure. It took five minutes for her to drag Pepper out of the car.

She shut the car door and quickly as she could and locked the door, “Okay, you’re out, now come on! Before they close.”

Pepper lunged her hand forward to try and swipe the keys from her, but Natasha’s reflexes were too honed in and she avoided the sneak attack, “Ah-ah, these are mine for the night,” she grinned, sauntering backwards toward the entrance.

“Give me the keys, Nat!” Pepper ordered, a pathetic whine dripping from her voice.

“You want ‘em?” the other girl’s eyebrow peaked and she dangled the keys in the air, “Come and get ‘em,” she winked and dropped the keys in mid air, snatching them between her dangerously white teeth.

Pepper felt her whole body shudder as a wave of heat raced through her veins. Holy shit, what was she getting herself into with this girl? She powered on after Natasha, walking with a purpose as she led them into the mall. As for the keys, Pepper wasn’t exactly willing to take that many risks in one night. No matter how much she’d like to snatch that black key out from between her shiny red lips, she was a composed and strong women who could control her urges.

Sort of.

Most of the time.

Well… not really.

But that was beside the point, right? Wait.. what was she trying to prove again? Oh right, that it was NOT a good idea to take her keys back. Nope. Terrible idea. She’d get… bitten. Which was bad, she didn’t need any bite marks on her because she’d have to explain them to her mother later and she was not looking forward to that.

Except… getting bitten by Natasha actually sounded kinda ho- shut up Pepper! Clean thoughts, clean thoughts.

By the time Pepper had snapped out of her own thoughts, Natasha was shoving her towards the escalator inside of JCPenney’s.

“Why are we going upstairs? There’s nothing good up there!” Pepper asked as she shuffled onto the step of the escalator, gripping the sides as it took them up.

“That’s the point, genius,” Natasha stumbled a little behind her and caught herself on Pepper’s back.

She grunted at the suddenly weight of Natasha leaning against her, fingers slowly trailing down the curve of Pepper’s hips. She took a deep breath and laughed, “You just want to see me in old lady clothes.”

“Well, you aren’t wrong.”

They reached the top and Natasha shoved her towards the old people section. Well, it wasn’t really the old people section, it was just very stereotypical clothing choices of their valued senior citizens, that’s all. Pepper giggled as she grabbed a periwinkle blue cardigan off of the shelf. It has tiny pink roses all over it and white lace around the edges.

“My grandmother would love this,” she looked over her shoulder at Natasha, who was still hovering close to her back, with a slight bounce in her voice.

“See that hat over there?” she pointed to a cream-colored, woven hat with a long purple feather on the top, “Get that, and those terrible khaki pants over there, and it’ll be perfect.”

Pepper giggled, “What about a shirt? This is just a cardigan.”

Natasha’s hands found their way back onto Pepper’s waist, “I don’t think you need one…”

Pepper’s cheeks flamed bright red and she nodded, rushing off to go retrieve the other clothing items. She could hear Natasha laughing in the background. “I’ll go try these on!” she openly was avoiding the girl’s eyes, for fear that she would see blown pupils and dark intentions.

“Yeah, you go do that, I’ll go find something equally as terrible.”

She walked into the dressing room and locked the door to her chosen stall. It didn’t take her long to put on the terrible clothing -- although, she decided to pay extra attention to the cardigan, making sure that it was buttoned all the way up. Natasha’s suggestion wasn’t THAT undesirable, but she was trying to keep her cool in this situation. Pepper was happy that the girl was opening up around her, but she was a little concerned about what kind of trouble Natasha was planning on getting her into. Trying on terrible clothes was one thing, but what was on the flip side of the coin?

In the meantime, while she was trying to figure out Natasha’s intentions, she took a moment to look at herself in the mirror. She looked like an administrator for a girl scout event. Yikes.

“Well, you look absolutely terrible.”

Pepper let out a high-pitched squeak and slammed her back against the wall, eyes darting up to the top of the dressing room door. Natasha was nonchalantly perched on the thin wall separating the stalls. Her chest was heaving, eyes wide with fright, “Oh my God, Natasha! What the hell!? Get down from there!”

She snickered and jumped down into Pepper’s stall, wearing a ridiculous pair of purple and yellow striped maternity pants and a pink feather boa, “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”

Pepper was still panting from the shock, “How did you even-- I mean, just, what?”

“I’m a trained gymnast and martial artist. I can get up on top of a door,” she shrugged, brushing her hands together before flipping the boa over her shoulder, “What do you think?”

She let out a breathy laugh and nodded, “It’s terrible.”

“You’re right, I should take it off, shouldn’t I?” she stuck the tip of her tongue out between her teeth, stupid grin plastered on her face as she played with the hem of the pants.

Pepper folded her arms over her chest and teased, “Ms. Romanoff, what has gotten into you tonight?”

Natasha giggled and pulled out the puppy-dog eyes, “I dunno, I think I’m a little feverish. I must have caught something.”

“Aww, poor baby,” Pepper mocked her pout, “Is there anything I can do?” she leaned forward and rubbed her arm with fake sympathy.

Natasha bit her lip and stepped closer to Pepper, hands curling around the collar of her cardigan, “Can you kiss it and make it better?” Her eyes fluttered from under her long lashes, causing Pepper’s heart to skip a beat.

She smiled down at Natasha, a plethora of emotions swelling in her chest. The words started stumbling out of her mouth, “Maybe I will, I don’t know, do you want me to? I mean, I’m not opposed to the idea, I just want to make sure that you--”

“Shut the hell up and kiss me, Pepper,” Natasha pulled on the cardigan, yanking Pepper down to kiss her--

Knock knock.

They stopped, lips only millimeters away from each other. Pepper’s eyes slowly opened as she felt Natasha’s hot breath on her cheek, just before the girl turned her head away to answer the interrupter.

“Yes?” she sounded aggravated and unimpressed.

“Sorry, Miss, we are closing up now. Please gather your things and come back another day,” said a woman’s voice from the other side of the door.

Natasha sighed and nodded, “Alright, thank you. I’ll be out in a minute.”

The woman’s footsteps retreated out of the dressing room. Pepper sighed and turned back towards her clothes, balled up on the chair next to the mirror. She started to unbutton the cardigan, “Well, guess we better get on to our next stop, then?”

“I thought you wanted to go home?”

Pepper smiled down at the floor, “No, not anymore.”

“Good because… I don’t want to go home either,” Pepper could almost hear the softness, the truth, in her response.

She let the cardigan slip off of her shoulders and on to the floor as she reached for her t-shirt, “I know,” she mumbled gently as she felt Natasha’s eyes trace the curves of her  mostly bare back.

 

They had gotten back in the car, giggling like, well, school girls. Natasha was starting to take them back towards the neighborhoods. The clock said that it was well past 11:30, evoking a yawn from Pepper.

“So, what’s next?” she stretched her arms up over her head (well, as much as she could in the car).

“I brought a little something with me that I’ve been saving for a while,” natasha turned down a street that looked vaguely familiar.

“Yeah? What is it?”

“A glitter bomb.”

Pepper raised an eyebrow at that, “A… glitter bomb?”

“Ohhh yes.”

“What are we going to do with it?”

Natasha bit back a bout of laughter, “We’re gonna prank Clint.”

Pepper covered her mouth with her hand and giggled into it, “What, really?”

“Just wait, it’ll be great,” she pulled the car up next to the curb, “Clint and I live just around the corner. We’ll place the bomb, then run across the street into T’Challa’s yard and watch from behind the fence.”

“What!? I’m not running into T’Challa’s yard! He could like… I don’t know, sentence us to some African prison, right?”

Natasha burst out laughing, “No, stupid! He’s our friend! He might be royalty, but he can’t just throw us in prison.”

“No but he totally could!”

She shook her head, “Get out of the car, Pepper,” she smirked and slipped out of the driver’s seat, running around to the trunk of the ca and grabbing out a bag that she’d thrown in there before they left.

“Fine, but if we get banned from Wakanda, it’s on you.”

“Yeah, yeah, if you insist,” she fished around in the bag and pulled out a small purple box with pink ribbon wrapped around it.

“Where did you even get that?” Pepper asked as she shut the car door.

“I may have pulled a few strings with Stark,” she shrugged and slammed the trunk shut.

“Good Lord, now I’m fearing for Clint’s life.”

“Oh, he’ll be fine!”

They began to walk down the sidewalk and turned the corner. Pepper could now recognize exactly where they were, although, it was much spookier in the dark. Natasha and Clint didn’t live in a terrible part of town, but it wasn’t great either. T’Challa’s house was the nicest one on the block. God, Pepper was going to regret this.

It didn’t take them long to reach their house. Natasha shoved the box in Pepper’s hands and pushed her towards the entryway. She shook her head in protest, but nat just rolled her eyes and shoved her forward. Pepper felt her stomach twist and swallowed hard, hoping that no one would spot her. She ran up to the front door, placed the box on the entry mat, and then banged her fist on the door. Natasha ran up next to her and rang the doorbell a few times. She grabbed Pepper’s hand and they bolted down the driveway, across the street, and into T’Challa’s front yard. She quietly climbed the fence that led into his backyard, hopped down to the other side, and unlocked it, letting Pepper slip behind it just as Clint opened the door on the other side of the street. They settled in next to each other, peering through the cracks between the dark wooden planks.

Clint looked around, a confused expression on his tired face. He was wearing tweety bird boxers and basically nothing else. He rubbed his arms at the frigid night air, about to step back inside when he spotted the box. Clint bent down and grabbed it, holding it up to examine it. His face scrunched up as he tipped it over and looked at the bottom and the sides, then it relaxed into one of curiosity. He shrugged and tugged on one end of the bow that was tied at the top of the box, letting the ribbon fall to onto the doormat. He carefully took the top off of the box, and that’s when it literally blew up in his face.

The boy leaped backwards at the loud “pop” that the box yelled out at him. Glitter flew up into the air and showered the whole doorway. Pepper and natasha couldn’t help but burst out into laughter, only to remember where they were, muffling their giggles with their hands. Clint stared down at all the glitter in disgust as it settled to the ground. He had sparkles covering his whole body, in fact, his hair looked like it had been dyed purple.

He was tired and upset, one fist balled up in anger, the other rubbing his eyes in defeat. Clint rubbed his hand over his face and let it fall to his side. He looked around one more time before and shook his head and yelled, “Fuck you, Maximoff! Fuck you!” and turned around, stumbling back inside the house.

Natasha sat back on the concrete and let out small fits of giggles, “Oh my God!” she clutched her stomach, “He thought it was Pietro!”

Pepper laughed too, standing up with shaky knees and shortened breaths, “That was the best thing I’ve ever seen!”

Natasha dragged herself up onto her feet, “See? Totally worth it!” her eyes flickered to a metal ladder attached to the wall of the house, “Hey…”

Pepper glanced at the ladder and followed it with her eyes, stomach dropping with every step. She suddenly knew exactly what Natasha was thinking. She shook her head rapidly, “No. No no no no no no we are not going up there!”

Natasha’s expression of joy morphed into one of mischief, “Oh yes we are!”

“We can’t just sneak up onto his roof! They’ll catch us!” Pepper protested, stomping her foot a little to emphasize her point.

She snorted and started pulling Pepper towards the ladder, “Oh come on, they are asleep! It’ll be fine!”

Pepper made a whining noise in her throat as Natasha started to urge her up the ladder. She was hesitant, but eventually got tired of the other girl nudging her forward. She gave in and started climbing. Adrenaline was pumping through her veins, causing her hands to shake nervously. What was she doing? This was so out of character for her. Whether or not that was good, she’d never know. Natasha was forcing her out of her comfort zone, which was definitely not how she thought this night was going to go. She was convinced that she’d be the one coaxing Nat out of her shell, but nope, she was terribly wrong.

They reached the roof in a matter of minutes. Pepper scrambled against the hard black panels, trying to get herself into a position where she wouldn’t accidentally slip down the rooftop. She sat up and pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs to buffet herself against the slow breeze. Natasha sat next to her, one leg bent up and the other laid out straight. She seemed much more relaxed up here than Pepper was -- and she noticed too.

Natasha frowned with concern when she saw the fear in Pepper’s eyes, “Hey…” she spoke softly and pressed her arm against her’s, “I didn’t mean to freak you out, we can get down if you want.”

Pepper shook her head in protest. She was determined to go through with this, “No, it’s fine, I’ll get used to it.”

The stars glittered in the pitch-black night sky (although the glitter covering Clint’s doorway was almost as bright), moon drenching them in a cool-blue light. Once Pepper’s nerves began to settle, she realized just how beautiful it wa from up there, houses spread out for miles, trees peeking over fences and the skyline almost dippin in the distance.

“Wow… it’s beautiful up here,” she smiled up at the sky, “Now I understand why Clint likes high places.”

Natasha sighed contently next to her, “Yeah, we both do. We used to sit up in the trees together back in Russia, before we came here. He showed me how to climb them the first day we met.”

Pepper blinked, surprised that Natasha was talking about her past. She turned her gaze to her and hesitantly asked, “Why, um, why did you guys come here? To America, I mean.”

“Well, Clint was apart of a rather abusive circus and they were visiting my hometown -- well, the town where I stayed, it wasn’t really my hometown. And I was enrolled in this… school… sort of, and they took us to the circus with the full intentions to let the performers… meet… us,” her voice volume dropped, and there was a shake in her lips.

“They wanted you to meet the performers?” Pepper tilted her head innocently.

Natasha swallowed hard and gazed out at the rows of houses, “They were going to sell us to them for the night.”

A small gasp escaped Pepper’s lips, but she quickly bit her lip. A knot formed in her throat. She suddenly understood a lot more about Natasha than she ever thought was possible. She felt terrible for ever thinking that the other girl had been closed off and cold for no good reason. “I…” Pepper mumbled, “I didn’t know.”

She shrugged and continued, “It’s okay, I made it out. Some guy bought me and threw me in a room with Clint for the night. He told Clint that I was his reward or some shit. I thank my lucky stars every night that it was Clint and not his asshole brother, Barney. He just gave me a blanket and sat with me against the wall -- told me that he was gonna save us both. That we were gonna get out of there the next morning. And he kept his promise. We snuck out at dawn, hopped on the train, and rode all the way to Moscow, where we got picked up by my Aunt. She bought us plane tickets to the U.S. and now we’re here. Been living in this house with a couple of my extended cousins for years now.”

Pepper’s eyes grew watery as she took in the sight before her. Natasha, this girl sitting right next to her, had been through more shit in her life than Pepper would have ever thought possible. And she was only seventeen. She leaned towards her and nudged her forehead against the side of Natasha’s head. The other girl smiled and let her head rest against Pepper’s.

“I’m sorry for everything I ever said to you,” Pepper was fighting to keep her voice from cracking, “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Natasha muttered, reaching up with one hand to play with the ends of Pepper’s hair, “You didn’t know. Besides, I said some stupid stuff too,” she sighed, “I’m sorry too.”

She blushed a little and scooted closer to Natasha, “You are by far the strongest person I know. I don’t think I could have made it out of a situation like that.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, you are incredibly strong, Pepper. Just because you didn’t go through what I went through, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t overcome obstacles yourself.”

She smiled, heart pounding in her chest and she turned her lips to Natasha’s neck, “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she placed a small kiss against her warm skin.

She physically felt Natasha shiver next to her. Pepper was confused for a moment, not understanding how she could evoke such emotion from this girl who had already been through so much. Natasha had every right to be mean to her, she had every right to be snappy and hard and glare at her with icy eyes -- but she didn’t. She hadn’t really done any of that at all during the night. Pepper didn’t know what had swayed her mind, but she was thankful that she was fortunate enough to see this Natasha. This beautiful, raw, emotional, real Natasha.

“Pepper…” she mumbled, eyes flickering to the roof panels below them.

“Hmm?”

“Remember earlier tonight? When you said that you kinda liked me?”

“Yeah?”

“I kinda like you too.”

Pepper smiled, “I lied, Tasha.”

The girl next to her stiffened up and blinked down at her, “What do you mean?”

“Well, um,” she bit her lip and cast her eyes up towards the sky again, “I actually kinda love you, I think.”

She could she Natasha’s frown pull up into a grin out of the corner of her eye, “Yeah?”

Pepper nodded bashfully, only to feel Natasha’s hand run from the ends of her hair to her jaw line. She turned towards her and tilted her chin up, gently leaning down to press her red lips against Pepper’s. It was like an electric shock blazed through her whole body, eyes fluttering shut as she let go of everything, melting into Natasha’s warm grasp. Pepper kissed her back with pure need -- she hadn’t realized just how long she’d been holding her feelings back until now. She felt like her body had just sprouted wings that were beating against her back happily and lifting her mind off the ground and up into the clouds.

Natasha pulled away slowly, only to trail kisses down her neck and bury her face against her collarbone. Pepper nuzzled into her hair, red curls softer than silk. She smelled like warm apple-cinnamon cider and fresh pine needles. Pepper slid her fingers between Natasha’s and held her hand, heart beating a mile a minute.

She smiled against her skin, “I love you too, Pep.”

Chapter Text

Sam sunk into his couch and let out a long sigh as he brought his phone to his ear. Scott settled in next to him, swinging his legs over his lap. The smaller boy shot him a small smile, obviously checking to make sure that Sam was alright with his position. He just smirked against his phone as it ran in his ear and laid his arm around Scott’s shoulders, leaning in to kiss his temple.

He loved this fucking kid.

Someone finally picked up his call from the other line. Bruce’s calm voice spoke into his ear, “Hello?”

“Hey Bruce, it’s Sam.”

“Oh, hey Sam. Did you need something?”

Sam couldn’t help but smile about how awkward Bruce was, “I was just calling to check up on Tony. How’s he doing?” There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line, causing his stomach to instantly drop. “Bruce?”

“He’s, uh, he’s fine right now, it’s just… the doctors found something that’s not exactly playing in our favor.”

“What is it?” he asked, running his fingers under the collar of Scott’s shirt to tickle his neck. The boy squirmed and giggled against his touch.

“While they were pulling the car door fragments out of him, they found a piece that had buried itself pretty far into his chest. They didn’t tell us until this morning because they needed to wait for Tony’s mother to come by.”

Scott must have been eavesdropping, because Sam heard him let out a small gasp next to him. Sam gulped, “Shit, can they fix it?”

“I… I don’t know. They said something about it being really close to his heart, and that the surgery would be a risky one. Tony brushed the news off, but I can tell that he’s secretly pretty shaken up.”

Sam leaned his head down against Scott’s, “Jesus… have you told Pep?”

Bruce snorted, “No! She’d freak out. She doesn’t need that.”

“If they don’t do the surgery, what happens?”

“Tony dies,” Bruce’s voice got shaky on that last word. He was trying to be strong, Sam could tell, but he was probably a bumbling bean of anxiety on the inside. After all, he did love Stark. Tony had done so much for him -- Sam was convinced that Bruce wouldn’t be able to handle a death like that.

“Well, they better do that surgery then.”

“His parents have to authorize it, Sam. Maria seems on board but… Howard has only showed up twice so far. Once, so he could punch me in the jaw, and a second time to drag Maria back home. He doesn’t seem to care much about his son’s well-being at the time,” Bruce explained, voice cringing at the sound of Tony’s father’s name.

“Is there anything that I can do to help? Scott and I are literally doing nothing today, we can come by if you want,” Sam wanted to at least offer to help. He didn’t know Tony all that well, but a tragedy like that would shake even his emotional state.

“No, stay home, please. Tony loves the visitors, but until we know what’s going on, he can’t be worrying about stuff like that. I’ll call you if anything comes up.”

Sam nodded, “Yeah, alright. Keep me in the loop. Thanks, Bruce. Tell Tony that we’re thinking about him.”

“Will do,” and with that, Bruce hung up the phone.

Sam lowered his cell from his ear and turned off the screen, setting it on the table next to the couch. Scott had his eyes downcast towards the floor, analyzing the red rug with all of his concentration.

“Scott…” Sam sighed, rubbing the skin of his shoulder soothingly, “I bet he’ll be fine. Tony’s a tough guy. He’ll find a way around this.”

The boy next to him swallowed hard, “I hope you’re right.”

Sam wrapped his other arm around Scott’s waist and buried his face into his neck, “It’s gonna be okay, Tic Tac.”

Scott smiled and rubbed his cheek against Sam’s hair in response. Just as Sam was about to let his fingers creep under the hem of Scott’s shirt, he heard keys clattering against the front door. He snapped his head up and breath out a small “aw, shit” before the door swung open slowly and his mother entered the house, hands full of grocery bags. He eyes went wide at the sight of her son on the couch with a boy, arms wrapped protectively around his waist. She calmly set the bags down on the floor and closed the door.

“Sam,” her voice was laced with shock, but shook slightly as she tried to control her emotions, “Who, um, who’s this?”

He felt his hands begin to shake with nervousness. Scott had turned ghost white and was frozen in Sam’s grasp. He took a slow breath and looked down at the floor, “Mom, this is Scott. He’s my… um, he’s my boyfriend.”

She pressed her lips together firmly, in some sort of over-controlled straight face, “Right, hello Scott,” her eyes flickered over to Sam’s, “Sam, can I talk with you in the kitchen for a minute?”

He shook his head, “No, I’m not leaving Scott. We can talk here.”

She looked a little taken aback for a minute, but seemed to loosen up as she thought for a minute, “When did this happen?”

“The night of the car accident.”

“No, I meant since when were you gay ?” a pang of anger flared in his chest, but he pushed it away. He knew that his mother meant well. She wanted to accept him, he just hadn’t ever really talked about his sexuality with his parents before. She didn’t mean to be offensive or anything.

“I’m not gay, mom, I’m bisexual. It’s a little different. And it’s not new, I’ve always been bi, I just never told you because I had no reason to,” he shifted his gaze onto Scott and smiled down at him (even if his boyfriend looked like he was about to bolt out the door out of pure fright), “But I guess I have a pretty good reason now.”

His mother sighed and brushed her hands on her blouse, “Well, thanks for telling me, I guess. Just, um, be prepared to talk more when your father gets home.”

Sam nodded, “Yeah, okay, sorry mom.”

“No! No, don’t apologize. You can’t help this,” she picked her bags back up, “Have fun, boys. Just don’t get into any trouble.”

“We won’t!”

“Thanks, Mrs. Wilson!” Scott called back at her, still shivering against Sam’s chest.

His mother was about to disappear into the kitchen when she stopped in the entryway and looked back at Sam as if she’d had some amazing revelation. “Sam, honey!” she grinned, “You should apply for some minority scholarships! We might be able to benefit from this coming out now.”

Sam felt his heart sink, but he faked a smile anyways, nodding again, “Yeah, I will mom, thanks.” She left after that, but he was certain that that moment would be engrained in his memory forever.

He felt Scott lace his fingers with Sam’s, trying to combat the tears threatening to spill from his eyes. Sam sniffed and shook his head violently to try and rid himself of his hurt feelings. College. Scholarships. Careers. That’s all his parents cared about. They could care less about the giant personal leap that Sam had just made. As long as there was a scholarship for it -- it was cool with them.

“Hey… Scottie?” Sam mumbled into his shirt as he pressed his forehead to the space between his shoulder blades.

“Mm?”

“What did your parents do when you came out to them?”

Scott laughed a little, body jarring gently against Sam, “I have two moms, Sam. They threw me a party and bought me a rainbow cake that said “Congrats, you’re gay!”. It was great,” he was grinning down at their hands, but then let his mouth curved down into a frown, “I’m sorry that this happened the way it did. I didn’t mean too--”

“Nah, babe, don’t worry about it. They’ll get over it,” Sam kissed the back of his neck, “At least I hope they will.”

His gut wrenched, because not only was he gonna talk to his parents about being bi tonight, but he had to get the other thing out of the way too. But what the hell, may as well kill two birds with one stone… right?

 

~~~

 

Bruce hung up the phone and slid it back into his pocket. He sat down in the hospital chair and buried his face in his hands. Shit . This was a mess. He was a mess. His stomach was twisting and turning in curled knots of raw anxiety. Tony was trying to stay positive through this whole thing, but his blatantly-fake cheerful attitude towards all this was only making it worse on Bruce’s end.

He could care less about what happened to him at this point. Hell, he’d even forge Howard’s signature at this point. He’d go to jail for that, but it’d be worth it to see Tony live. Bruce didn’t know how they’d ended up in this situation. Maybe they deserved it, maybe they didn’t. Tony sure didn’t -- not after all he’d done for Bruce, along with the things he was planning to do for his other friends. Tony had such a bright future ahead of him. Big money, fast cars, fancy colleges, and major science degrees that would take him places. Bruce, on the other hand, didn’t have enough money to buy a sandwich at the grocery store for himself. He wasn’t going to college -- he simply couldn’t afford it. Even if he got a full ride scholarship, he didn’t have money to support himself in general, and no one would hire him because he didn’t look the part of a responsible teenager. The more he thought about it, the more he wished that he was the one lying in the hospital bed.

“Bruuuuce! Darling dearest~~!” Tony called out in a sing-song voice.

He sighed and stood from his chest, walking back into his room as calmly as he could manage, “Yes?”

“Vision needs watered. He’s looking a bit droopy,” Tony was reaching out towards the little cactus, stroking its thing needles.

“He’s not the only one,” Bruce pointed out, walking over to the sink to fill up a paper cup of water.

Tony frowned, “Bruce, please, I’m fine.”

He poured the water into Vision’s pot and gave his boyfriend a stern glare, “Stop being like that, Tony. I know you aren’t fine. You’re scared, I’m scared, we’re all scared.”

“Everyone except my dad…” his voice dropped to a whisper as he squirmed in his bed a little, cringing at the sharp pains in his chest and sides.

Bruce settled down on the bed next to him and felt at Tony’s hospital gown, “You can’t help that, Tony.”

“See, the thing is though, I actually have my own ideas about how I can live through this. He just won’t listen to me,” Tony pointed out and then reached for his phone. Bruce slapped his hand away lightly, indicating that he didn’t need to look at anything to understand Tony’s ideas. The other boy scrunched up his face and made a circular motion with his fingers, “I’ve got this invention of mine -- an electromagnet of sorts. It’s clean energy. Powered by palladium reactions. Stick that baby in my chest and that piece of whatever is in me won’t be reaching my heart any time soon.”

Bruce was about to object, but then he thought it over. The science behind this electromagnet thing seemed to check out -- even with only the small explanation he’d received. Not to mention that Tony was a brilliant kid and Bruce absolutely trusted him when it came to science. If Tony thought that his invention would help, then it was worth a shot.

“Have you told the doctor? Your dad?” Bruce asked.

“Yeah, I talked to them both about it last time he barged in like the heathen he is. Dad told me that it was a stupid idea, but the doctor didn’t seem opposed. I just wish I could show my dad the tech, because if he saw it, I can almost guarantee that he’d take a second thought.”

Bruce furrowed his brow and then promptly stood up from the bed, “Right, well, I guess that means I’m off to fetch your electromagnet.”

“What?” Tony propped himself up on his elbows.

“I’ll go get the tech, I’ll show it to your dad, I’ll get him to talk to the doctor again.”

“Bruce, I admire your newfound bravery, I really do, but he’s just gonna sock you in the face again! I can’t let you do that!”

Bruce grabbed Tony’s coat off of the back of his chair and wrapped it around himself, “You can’t stop me, Tony, you know that. What’s it filed under?”

Tony sighed and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger before letting out an exasperated groan, “Arc Reactor. It’s under Arc Reactor.”

“Great, I’ll be back in a few hours.”

He was just about to leave the room when Tony’s voice halted his steps for another minute, “Why are you doing this? My dad is never gonna let you into the lab, and he’s never gonna agree to this.”

Bruce sighed and stared at the floor, his heart pounding. He could hear his own blood pumping through his chest, which made his face twist in guilt. His heart was fine, his arm was healing fine, he was gonna make it. Tony, on the other hand, was on the verge of collapse. Bruce couldn’t help but imagine that little piece of car door, slowly inching it’s way towards Tony’s beautiful, big heart as they spoke.

“I love you, Tony. The least I can do is try and save you -- even if it means that I get pummeled in the process.”

Chapter Text

Pietro felt his calves burning as his feet scuffed the ground and kicked up behind him with ever sprint. His chest was heaving and he cut through the wind, cushioned track underneath his worn-out sneakers. He could almost feel the rubber soles burning against his athletic socks and he skidded to a halt at the finish line. Pietro stumbled forwards a bit and bent over, hands on the his thighs and head hanging, air flowing into his lungs in large gulps.

He swallowed hard and turned his head towards the bleachers, where Clint was perched on the railing, binoculars in one hand and a timer in the other, “How’d I do?”

His boyfriend mumbled something under his breath and looked away from the birds and down at the timer. A pleased look spread over his tanned face, “Two minutes and fourteen seconds. Thats two seconds less than your previous record.”

Pietro growled and kicked at the track, only to wince in pain as his toe protested with a sharp jab of pain, “God damnit!”

Clint blinked in shock as his eyebrows slid up his forehead, “What’s wrong? That’s good, right?”

“It’s not good enough,” he huffed, sitting on the metal stairs, “I was going for two-ten.”

Clint scoffed in disbelief, “Kid, you’re being too hard on yourself. I couldn’t do a lap in under four minutes.”

Pietro took a long swig of his water bottle and brushed off his knees, “Yeah?” he stood and beckoned for Clint to follow him out onto the track, “Race ‘ya.”

This time Clint snorted out an incredulous laugh, “Nice try, speedy, I know how that’ll end.”

Pietro folded his arms over his chest and pouted promptly, “Aww, no, I’ll go easy on you, old man.”

“Piet, I’m only a few months older than you, that doesn’t make me old.”

“Prove it.”

Clint grumbled under his breath and hopped down from the railing, “You know what? Fine. But if you get to show off your talents, I get to go the same,” he bent down and unzipped his archery bag that he carried with him almost everywhere. Sometimes he’d forget his backpack, but never his bag of arrows.

But Pietro was really only focused on the swell of Clint’s ass under those tight jeans.

“You, run, I’ll shoot, whoever gets to that tree over there first,” the archer pointed at a small tree just off the side of the track, “wins.”

“That’s not fair!” Pietro whined, “I can’t beat physics, you idiot!”

Clint smirked, “Aww, don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you.”

Pietro growled and turned to study the tree, trying to judge just how much momentum he’d have to start with to make it there faster than an arrow. He could hear Clint assembling his travel bow and thumbing through his supply of arrows. He walked up to Pietro after selecting two and laid them out, flat in his palm, for the taller boy to examine.

“Two, state-of-the-art, Carbon Tech arrows. Black feathered, light-tipped,” Clint smiled down at his arrows and stroked them slightly, “and ready to kick your ass.”

Pietro screwed up his nose and readied himself on the track. Gosh, Clint really loved arrows. He positioned one foot behind him and clenched his muscles, “Get on with it.”

Clint pulled up his bow and positioned his arrow against the string. His eyes were laser-focused on the target ahead of him, breath barely visible against the misty air.

“On your mark,” Clint mumbled.

“Get set,” Pietro couldn’t help but grin, gaze locked on the bark of the tree.

Clint smirked against his bow, “Fire.”

Pietro shoved his back foot into the ground and bounded forwards, the world around his blurred as he clenched his teeth against his sudden burst of momentum. His fists clenched as he lept over the break between the track and the grass. He heard a soft “zip” next to his ear just before he slid to a halt and placed his palm on the bark of the tree, only to find that the arrow was lodged into into already.

Clint was laughing from behind him, “Nice try, sweetheart, I think we all know who the winner is here,” Pietro turned to look at him with a mixed expression of embarrassment and anger. Clint just shrugged and threw his hands up a little, “Now, c’mon babe, let’s go back to my place and make out on the couch or some shit.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No. I wanna go again. One more try,” Pietro had an idea forming in his head. Could he…? Maybe…?

“Really? Well, alright. Suit yourself,” Clint mumbled, positioning his next arrow as Pietro slowly jogged up next to him. He needed to preserve what little energy he had left for this move. It had to be precisely calculated and executed perfectly to work.

They positioned themselves as they had done before and right when Clint said “fire”, Pietro shot forward. He could tell that his muscles were tiring, but he burned through the pain and quickly leaped forwards a little and extended his arm out into Clint’s firing range. Just has he began to curl his hand inwards, he felt the slick black body of the arrow graze his palm and he quickly closed his hand around it. Pietro stumbled forwards, tripping over his own feet as he came to a hasty, abrupt stop. He blinked down at the arrow in his hand, mouth slightly agape, knees shaking. His skin was completely unscathed, and so was the arrow. He slowly turned his head to see Clint staring at him in utter disbelief.

“What the fuck…” the archer muttered, running both his hands over his hair in awe.

Pietro let a shaky grin come over his lips as he waved the arrow around in the air, “I win.”

Clint laughed and jogged up next to him, looking Pietro up and down with beaming pride, “How did you? I mean? What?!”

Pietro shrugged, “I… I don’t know!”

Clint pulled him down into a gleeful hug and then shot his arm out to grab his arrow from Pietro’s grasp, but the taller boy pulled his arm away before Clint could even touch his precious arrow.

“Ah, ah, it’s not that easy, Clint,” Pietro grinned smugly and walked backwards into the grassy field in the middle of the track.

“Hey! Give that back!” he shouted, stomping after him.

“Come and get it,” Pietro’s words were like poison, as he knew full-well what Clint was gonna do.

The archer was visibly fuming against the mist as he bolted forwards and jumped onto Pietro’s chest. They both fell backwards onto the grass, Clint rolling under Pietro to absorb most of the shock. He landed on Clint with an “oof” and quickly pushed off the archer, but Clint just leaped off the ground and tackled him. Pietro was in the middle of a fit of giggles as Clint pinned him to the soft, muggy soil, grass tickling his cheeks and ears.

The boy on top of him snatched his arrow back and huffed in triumph. Pietro just giggled into Clint’s shirt. The archer rolled onto the grass next to him and craned his neck to kiss Pietro’s temple, “Nice try, hot-shot.”

Pietro smiled happily and the touched and huddled a little closer to Clint’s side, staring up at the dull-blue sky, white clouds swirling through the wind. As he laid there, he thought a little harder about how fast he’d have to be going to catch that arrow. Sure, he didn’t beat the time he wanted, but if he could catch as arrow at that speed, what else could he do?

He sighed as Clint laid an arm around his shoulder, “Hey… do you ever wonder if maybe, well, if maybe kids like us were meant for more than just high school?”

Clint furrowed his brow, “What do you mean?”

Pietro shrugged and looked away, maybe he was wrong. Maybe he was crazy. “I dunno, I just feel like some of us are a little extra-extraordinary. I mean, I just caught your arrow in mid-air. You can shoot like twelve of those in a row without breaking a sweat -- not to mention you have crazy balance and eyesight, and Tony and Bruce are both geniuses. Hell, even Pepper seems a little super in comparison to everyone else.”

“Yeah, I guess we’ve all got our talents. Why?” Clint asked, turning his head to look at Pietro with genuine curiosity.

“I just feel like we were meant for more than McDonald’s drive-thrus and cubicle sweat-shops.”

“Even if we are, it's not like we can do anything about it. These are our lives, Pietro, we didn’t chose them. We are half-way through high school, we’re all gonna go off to college and have jobs and stuff. That’s what we all want, right?”

Pietro stared down at his hands and leaned his head closer to Clint’s, “That’s what they think we all want. But what if… oh just imagine it, Clint,” he gestured to the sky, “Just imagine if we could fly. What could we do with that kind of power? Certainly not just float around. We could swoop down to the rescue. We could help people,” he lowered his hand, “It’s the same principle for these gifts we have now.”

He felt Clint’s loving gaze boring into his skin, “Piet, baby, if I could fly, we’d be long gone by now.”

He chuckled a little and rolled over so he had one arm thrown over Clint’s chest and the other was holding his head up off the ground, “Just think about it, ‘kay? We’re all so good at what we do, it’d be a shame if we missed out on our chance to shine.”

Clint’s eyes glimmered down at Pietro. He leaned forward and captured his lips in a soft, warm kiss filled with understanding and appreciation. He slowly pulled back and twirled one of Pietro’s curls around his finger, “Will do.”

Chapter Text

Hello to anyone who is reading this! It's Cody, and I'm just here to apologize for the lack of posting for what... like almost 2 years? I really loved my idea for this story, and I promise I didn't intentionally abandon it. A lot has happened in my personal life since I stopped posting.

I would like to know if anyone would be interested in a reboot of this story? I could either pick up where I left off, or I could rework it a little and start from the top. My writing has vastly improved since I first started this story, and as I was reading it over again, I realized some storytelling mistakes I made.

The reboot of this story would be very similar, but not quite the same, just to provide some variation for anyone who has already read these posted chapters.

I can't promise that updates would always be frequent (I am a college student, so I'm busy), but I'd love to start anew. Let me know if you are interested. UPDATE: First chapter of the reboot of this story is in production!!

Thanks!