The Littlest Avenger

Chapter Three

The room where she and Baba Bruce were shown to was like nothing Shanta had ever seen before.

"We're gonna live here?" She gasped, spinning around the foyer. The floor under her sandals was wood, but it gleamed like the white floors outside, and the walls were the whitest white she had ever seen. Out of the corner of her eye, Shanta spotted more furniture that she had no names for- not that the names mattered, because there was one thing Shanta knew for sure; That this was more than her uncle had ever had in his house, and more things than Shanta had ever seen in one room in her whole life. Ever.

It was a palace.

"Well, yeah," Mr. Stark said, sliding past Shanta, "But let me show you the bedrooms."

It was a palace. Shanta send a quick and grateful prayer for whatever good karma she had gathered in the previous life, before she launched herself at her new Baba.

"Bruce Baba! There's more! There's more!" She giggled, tugging at his hand and spinning herself in his grip.

"Someone's happy." Mr. Stark chuckled, grabbing hold of Shanta's other hand, "Comm'n, kid, I'll show you your room."

Shanta dug her heels into the floor, and stared up with wide eyes, "I get my own room?"

Bruce left Shanta with Dora the Explorer for company as Tony and the rest of the Avengers pulled him out of his new apartment. Heaving a great sigh, Bruce steeled himself. He had seen this coming.

"So, Bruce, what's with the kid?" Tony didn't mince words as he slipped one arm over the doctor's shoulders.

"It's a long story." He tried to shrug Tony's arm off, but he held on.

"We've got time." Tony lead them towards his own suit in Stark Tower.

"I thought Pepper said there was a board meeting." Bruce briefly contemplated whether the threat of the Other Guy could get him out of it. Knowing Tony Stark, probably not.

"Board meeting can't start without me." Tony lead the way to his bar, pouring himself and Bruce a whiskey shot, "So, tell me, what's the story with the kid? A one-night stand that got out of hand? Did the mother just leave her on your doorstep? Did the locals sacrifice her to the 'green demon'? What?"

"It's nothing like that."

"I think the big question from Tony is; is she yours?" Clint broke in, pouring himself and Natasha vodka shots. Steve and Thor stood on the other side, watchful.

"Biologically, no." Bruce replied, downing his shot.

"So, the mother left her?"

"This isn't Three Men and a Baby, Tony."

"No, you're right, it's not- it's Six Avengers and a Kid."

Bruce focused on the empty glass, trying to find what he wanted to say in the leftover foam.

"I met her before. Before the Avengers Initiative," Bruce ran one hand though his hair, facing the others, "Do you remember her, Natasha? She was the little girl you paid to lead me to you." There was no anger in his voice, the others noted, "I always wondered where she had run off to after that. Where'd she go? What did she need with the money? What did she do with it? Was she alright? So I went back to look for her.

It's probably stupid, but I was really grateful to her. Since…the accident, I felt like I was always alone. A…freak," He glanced up, taking in each of the Avengers individually, "And that little girl lead me to people who started to make me think otherwise. And I really wanted to help the kid."

"And?" Tony prompted, leaning against the bar.

"It took some time, but I found her. She's an orphan, her only family her uncle and his eight kids, all treated better than Shanta. She slept on the streets, while her cousins all had at least a bed." Bruce didn't notice how his fists clenched, but Natasha was the first to catch it.

"You adopted her?" The Black Widow asked, refilling his shot glass.

"Yeah. You should've seen her when I found her. She…didn't look so good." Bruce knocked back the shot, and Natasha filled it again.

"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm late, and I've got to talk to Pepper." Tony announced, lightly slapping Bruce across the shoulders.

"About what?" Steve asked, reaching across the bar and replacing all the bottles.

"Well, someone needs to take Banner shopping, and I'm pretty sure our new friend could do with some new clothes, and I need to get JARVIS to start doing research on schools."

"Schools?" Bruce's lost look could have rivaled an abandoned puppy.

"Yes, schools," Exasperated, Tony walked toward the door, rolling his eyes, "Our newest member still needs the best possible education."

If there was one thing Shanta was very good at, it was exploring and sneaking about. At her uncle's house, she knew all of the little corners and hidden places where she could hold herself away in, and wait until her uncle's anger had past. She knew all the corners of the city, where it was safe for little girls to wander, and where she could wait until the police pasted.

In this palace, this Tower, Shanta didn't know any of the corners, any of the hidden places. This needed to be fixed, as so as she watched Bruce and the strange men and the Woman leave, she decided to explore. Maybe she could find that Carla woman again.

A/N: Thank you guys for all the reviews and such so far- I'm sorry this took a while to get out to you, but this past summer wasn't the best in the world for me. I had a very major family emergency going on, and then, well, I didn't have much motivation to work on this- and it was hard to, because the main theme here is family and I wasn't all that happy with my own.

But hopefully the next chapter won't take as long, but I'm afraid I can't make any promises. Still, thank you guys for being patient with me. 3