Hey guys! Okay, so this is one of the few kind of AU stories I've ever written so please don't take it to heart. I just remember watching Captain America for the first time and thinking, "there is no way he's over 20; he looks like he's 16!" and that's kind of where this story came from lol. I really don't know if I plan on doing anything else with this idea right now so its staying as a one-shot for the time being. Hope you all like it though!
Disclaimer: I own nothing =/
Tony coughs and nearly chokes on his coffee. "You've got to be shitting me!"
"Keep your voice down, Mr. Stark," Fury grumbles, narrowing his eye at the man across from him. "This information is highly classified and of an extremely delicate nature; the last thing I need is for you to announce it to everyone in the Tower."
"I feel like I'm on Punk'd…is Ashton Kutcher about to burst into this room with that ridiculous trucker's hat because if he does I really might throw him out the window. I can't be held responsible for my actions if this happens, Nick. I will insist it was for a good cause."
"This is serious Stark," Fury snaps, effectively cutting off whatever else Tony was going to say. "I'm bringing this information to your attention because it's important for you and your team. Based on what I've just told you, you can understand why we're so concerned with keeping everything quiet. If word of this got out to the public-"
"No, no, I understand the whole security situation and keeping everything under wraps but what I'm telling you is that there is no way this," Tony reaches across the table and picks up the folder Fury had set down in front of him about an inch off the tabletop before dropping it again like it was covered in some kind of vile substance he didn't want on his hands. "Can be right. There has to be some mistake. I refuse to believe it without at least two other people here to confirm it."
"Well, you don't have two other people here, Stark, you have me, and my word is just as good as anyone else." Fury crosses his arms and leans back in the chair, glaring at the still bewildered billionaire across from him. "Trust me, we have combed through these records and the archives for months now and everything we've come up with has led us to the same conclusion."
He nods in the direction of the folder with a slight shrug. "I have some of the best resources on the planet, people who have been trained to hunt down the smallest, most insignificant piece of information imaginable and catalog it neat little files that are held in vaults that make Fort Knox look like a gym locker. Believe me when I say that every single resource I have at my disposal went into the information in that file and confirmed it to be 100% accurate. And for God's sake, its not about to leap off the table and attack you, Stark."
Tony sits back in his chair, retracting the pen he'd been using to cautiously scoot the folder across the table like it would suddenly grow legs and teeth if he wasn't paying attention to it. He stares at the inconspicuous Manila folder silently, chewing his bottom lip thoughtfully the way he always does when he's trying to piece together a set of variables that just don't make sense. "How…?" He starts but stops himself before the rest can come out because he's just really not sure where he wants to go with this conversation. "I mean wouldn't someone have figured it out sooner? Why didn't he say something-?"
"Those are all questions you need to ask him yourself, Stark. They're some of the few answers we don't have." Fury stands slowly, straightening his jacket on the way up. "I realize this must be a bit of a shock to you but it was something that needed to be brought to your attention. If you're all going to work together, if this Avenger's Initiative is going to work at all, secrets like this can't be kept from each other. One secret becomes one hundred and eventually there's no trust among anyone. Keep it quiet and keep it to yourselves; no one else needs to know about this."
Fury steps away from the table, walking toward the door and leaving Tony still sitting and very cautiously going through the contents of the folder like he was still waiting for it to explode at any minute. The billionaire's eyes are dark with the endless procession of thoughts and questions circling around through his mind and he's frowning deeply, chewing on the edge of the pen he'd been holding absently.
"And Tony?" Fury pauses just by the door, speaking loud enough to catch the other man's attention. Tony blinks and looks back at him, the folder still spread out before him. "The others are going to have the same kind of reaction you did; they're going to be confused and it's going to be hard for them to believe you. Information like this can be a little hard to comprehend at first so try to be tactful when you're explaining it to the others, alright? No need to make it more shocking that it already is."
"Steve is jailbait," Tony announces as he walks into Bruce's lab and drops the file Fury had given him on the table in front of the scientist.
Bruce blinks and pulls away from the microscope he'd been leaning over. "Come again?"
"Steve Rogers is a minor. A kid, an adolescent, a juvenile. He's a fucking teenager for Christ's sake!" Tony nearly shouts because he's been keeping this to himself for as long as he possibly could which was all of about five minutes after Fury left.
Bruce frowns and shakes his head. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the fact that Captain America isn't even old enough to vote, let alone drink. Jesus man, I don't even think he can buy porn or cigarettes legally right now!" Tony picks up the folder and shoves it into Bruce's empty hands.
The scientist glances between him and the folder with a mixture of confusion and puzzlement written across his face. He slips on his glasses and flips open the folder, walking over to the nearest chair and sitting down to read. Tony is pacing across the lab in front of him, back and forth like he can't decide whether he wants to be one side or the other. He's a bundle of nervous, frantic energy right now and it looks like his skin is the only thing keeping him from literally bouncing off the walls in all directions.
Bruce is silent for a long time, reading and then re-reading the documents tucked together in the folder. He pauses a few times to do a mental math check before continuing on to the next paragraph. Just when Tony feels like he can't stand it a second longer, Bruce speaks. "How is this even-?"
"Possible? Comprehensible? Understandable? Logical?" Tony rambles off, stopping his frantic pacing just long enough to run a hand through his hair in a frenzied gesture that leaves it mussed and unkempt. "Dude, I don't even know. Fury showed up about twenty minutes ago and gave me this little Easter egg of information and then just left like it was no big deal! Like we didn't just find out that Steve hasn't even hit his 20s yet!"
"Insane? Unbelievable? Mind-boggling? Something that would show up on Jerry Springer?"
"Incredible," Bruce says simply, flipping through the folder for a third time and making a few notes in the margins of the pages.
Tony stops pacing all together then and just stares at him from across the room. "Incredible?" He asks incredulously, looking at Bruce like he's suddenly lost his mind. "You and I have very different interpretations of the word 'incredible'. I'm thinking more along the lines of "holy shitballs Batman, we just found out Steve's a teenager, there is no way I have not fallen down the rabbit hole by now" and you're saying "incredible" like he's some rare butterfly that just suddenly popped up in your garden one spring morning. This is serious, Bruce!" Tony exclaims, gesturing wildly with his arms. "What the hell are we going to do?"
"Well yeah, I mean it is serious," Bruce allows, closing the folder with one hand and taking off his glasses with the other. "But I don't see how this is going to change anything."
"Not going to change anything?!" Tony cries, his arms just on the verge of flailing. "Steve went from a seventy year old twenty-four year old to a seventy year old teenager in the span of five minutes! How does this not change anything?!"
"Well, think about it," Bruce says calmly, pragmatically, like he's approaching a problem that went from sane and logical to batshit crazy in the space of seconds. "Age has never been a determining factor of skill or command as far as Steve is concerned; we pretty much tossed all conceptions of age out the window when he was revived after being frozen in a chunk of ice for seventy years. So now we're finding out that Steve isn't twenty-four like he claims to be but he's actually younger," Bruce frowns just a bit and it's the first negative emotion Tony has seen on his face since he came bursting into the lab. "A lot younger than we thought he was. But it doesn't really change anything in the long run. He's still Steve Rogers, he's still Captain America, and he's still our teammate."
"Yes, but Bruce, I think you're missing the point here," Tony insists, pulling up a nearby chair and falling into it in front of the other man. "Steve is still a minor and technically in need of a legal guardian. That's one of the main reasons Fury came to me; things have changed since the forties and there are certain things Steve wouldn't be allowed to do if anyone found out he was below legal age. Like being Captain America for one."
"He told me S.H.I.E.L.D was willing to take responsibility if anything ever happened and the public got wind of it but they would have to turn around an assume authority over Steve. This would make Steve property of S.H.I.E.L.D; he'd become an agent or a liaison or a figurehead or something like that. He wouldn't be an Avenger anymore. He wouldn't be here."
"So we take him," Bruce answers simply like it's the most logical argument in the world.
"You said S.H.I.E.L.D would assume authority over Steve if he didn't have a legal guardian; well, last I checked, we're all of age to be considered legal guardians. We'd keep an eye on him, keep him safe, make sure he doesn't shoplift and deface public property, you know, all the things parents usually do with their kids. But I mean, come on, this is Steve we're talking about here; I don't really see him running out and spray painting obscenities on the walls of the city."
"Yeah but…" Tony stops because Bruce's argument makes a weird kind of sense now that it's out in the open. No one else knew that Steve had lied about his age, it was information that Fury had entrusted to him and the Avengers and no one else. They'd all go on about their merry little way until Steve was legally considered an adult and everything would continue on exactly like it had before they'd gotten the folder. Everything would be fine, right? "But…Jesus, I'm old enough to be his father…" he finishes lamely because that's really the only thing he can think to say at this moment.
Bruce chuckles and opens the folder again, scanning the contents one more time. "Yeah, well so am I technically. Clint too probably; even Natasha could probably claim parentage if she wanted to. Hell, I think Thor is old enough to be Steve's quintuple-great grandfather."
"This is weird," Tony grumbles for lack of anything else to say, reaching over and snatching the folder out of Bruce's hands. He flips it open and scans through the pages again like he hadn't already poured over every single sentence multiple times. "So Captain Righteous not only lied about his age but also his last name, his address, his medical records, his…height? Seriously? Steve tried to lie about his height? Like it wouldn't be immediately apparent that he wasn't 5'11 when they pulled him in for a physical?"
Bruce smirks and shakes his head. "Kid was nothing if not persistent," he says and then frowns because he just consciously called Steve 'kid' out loud.
"You're telling me," Tony mumbles as he counts the fifth rejection slip from the army. "Most people would give up after their first rejection; shit, I know some people who give up even before that." He continues flipping through the file, eyes landing on the various medical problems Steve had before the serum. "Jeez, he really wanted to be in the army."
Bruce just shrugs casually. "He wanted to make a difference. A lot of people did back then. It's not too different from what we're doing now."
"Yeah, but I mean this is a little bit obsessive even by my standards." He finally comes across the faded document allowing Steve to participate in the Super Soldier program. The document is official and there's a list of names along the bottom of the page indicating that everyone had been made aware of the risks and the dangers involved in the procedure. Interestingly, Steve's name is on the bottom of the page as well but it's obvious it's not his handwriting. Steve had been made aware of what he was getting himself into but he hadn't been allowed to sign the paper because he technically shouldn't have even been in the army in the first place. A lot of risks had been taken getting Steve not only into the army but also into the Super Soldier program, a lot of jobs and credibility had been put on the line for one scrawny kid from Brooklyn who could just as easily die during the procedure as he could out on the battlefield. Amazingly, it had worked and Steve had been the one and only success in the whole program. Back during WWII he'd become Captain America and now here he was, seventy years later and living in a tower full of super heroes. It was like the success story of the century.
"So when are you going to tell the others?" Bruce asks, pulling Tony out of his reverie and back to the present.
"This afternoon probably, when everyone is back at the Tower. We'll have a family meeting and discuss the issues of Steve Rogers' dubious age."
Bruce nods at the decision and glances back at the folder. "Bring it up carefully, okay? We don't want him to think we're angry about it. Nothing has changed, remember?"
"Please, I'm the master of discretion," Tony answers flippantly, gathering the folder under one arm and walking toward the door.
"You literally just burst in here a few minutes ago and announced that Steve was jailbait with no preamble."
"I learn from my mistakes."
Steve walks into the main living room of the Tower shortly after 6:30, the doors swishing open softly to invite him home. He'd spent the better part of the afternoon with Coulson going over new concept designs for his suit. Apparently some of the scientists at S.H.I.E.L.D had developed a new kind of fabric that was very similar to Kevlar but lighter than a cotton t-shirt. The plan was to eventually replace all the old uniforms and clothing accessories with the new material so that the Avengers would be better protected on the battlefield. Coulson had told Steve about the new material but he also wanted his input on some of the new designs he'd come up with for the Captain America suit in general. All-in-all they had looked pretty good, more reminiscent of the suit he'd had back in war than the one he had now.
Steve pauses for a second when he comes to the realization that he's not alone and it appears he's the last one to arrive at a party he didn't know about. All of his other teammates are sitting in the living room, apparently waiting for him to get home. They're all facing him from their places on the various couches and recliners spread all over the room and Steve suddenly feels like he's being put up for display under a microscope.
"Hey," he says cautiously, catching first Bruce's, then Tony's eye as he comes into the room. "Something wrong? What's up with the sudden group meeting in the living room?"
Bruce gives him warm smile and gestures toward the empty space on the nearest couch next to Thor. "Nothing's wrong," he assures him but there's something in the way that everyone in the room is staring at him that makes Steve uncomfortable. "Come sit down with us."
"Uh…I think I'd rather stand, thanks," Steve says, frowning as the scrutiny in the room doesn't seem to dissipate in the least.
"Steve, everything's okay," Natasha says though her expression makes it clear that everything is not okay and that something is bothering her. "We just want to talk to you about something."
"Talk about what?"
"Steve, how old were you when you went into the ice?" Tony asks suddenly and the glare Bruce gives him from across the room would be enough to make any other man shrink away. Tony is undeterred.
Steve frowns and shakes his head a bit. "Uh, 24. Why?"
"Because I think you're adding a couple years to that equation."
"Tony…" Bruce hisses but no one else seems to be making a move to stop the questions.
"What do you mean?" Steve asks, his expression taking on a mixture of confusion and puzzlement.
"I mean there's something wrong with your timeline," Tony says, pulling the folder out from its place on the couch next to him and flipping it open. He selects one page from several and lays it down on the table in front of them.
Steve frowns again and glances in confusion around the room at his fellow teammates. No one offers an explanation, no one moves, they're all just sitting there watching him with unreadable expressions. Slowly he steps forward, picking up the piece of paper and reading it carefully. It's a birth certificate, old and faded, and it has his father's signature on it. Almost instantly he freezes, his eyes widening and the blood draining from his face. He looks up from the paper quickly, wide, frightened eyes meeting Tony's. "Where did you get this?" He asks, his voice coming out as little more than a croak.
"Fury gave it to me earlier today," Tony answers easily with a small shrug. "He said it was important, something we needed to be made aware of. So I'll ask you again, how old were you when you went into the ice?"
Steve is standing rigidly in the doorway, eyes still wide and fingers gripping the paper before him tightly like a drowning man clutching a rope. His heart thunders against his ribs, breath coming shallow and quick, and he feels like the room is getting smaller by the second.
"Easy Steve," Bruce says softly, noticing the increasing pallor of the younger man's skin and his quickening breaths. "We're not mad, we just want to talk."
"Fury wanted us to talk to you first and get all the facts," Clint says from his place next to Natasha. "We're just trying to get everything straightened out."
"Once we get everything settled we can figure out where to go from there," Natasha adds, her voice uncharacteristically gentle as she speaks.
"Your wellbeing is our primary concern, Captain," Thor chimes in helpfully, his blue eyes stormy with some kind of indecipherable emotion. It looks an awful lot like concern from where Steve is standing but he's just a bit too far away to be certain. "It always has been."
Steve stands motionless, breathing too quick and face too hot. They know, they know, they know…It was all there in black and white; careful, cursive, curly-cue words that spell out his lie and the false assertions he represented. They know…
"Steve, just talk to us, alright?" Tony says, pushing the rest of the folder onto the table and standing slowly. "Tell us the truth. Tell us what's really going on, what happened when you joined the army. We'll get all of this straightened out, we just need all the facts first." Tony spreads his hands in a peaceful, placating gesture. "Just talk to us."
Steve can't move, he can't speak, all he can do is grip the birth certificate in his hands and try not to pass out. He sees them all looking at him, watching him, waiting for an answer and he doesn't have to voice to speak. These are his teammates, his friends, his family in this new life and he can't tell them anything. He's in too deep, has been for far too long, and now they know and everything is going to change. He'll lose them, he'll lose everything all over again, and for a moment he can't breathe.
"Steve, please. Just tell us the truth."
And just like that, it's like a gun going off in the back of Steve's mind. He drops the paper, takes two steps backwards, and bolts through the open door.
It takes close to an hour before Tony finally manages to locate Steve. The younger man is sitting on a bench near the edge of Central Park, silent and statue-still like a he's been carved out of marble. He only glances up when Tony comes to sit down next to him but he doesn't meet his eyes. His head hangs limply and he looks every bit like a cowed dog.
"Man, you are really hard to locate when you don't want to be found," Tony mumbles as he slumps onto the bench next to Steve, leaning back against the cool metal and stretching one arm out across the back of the bench. "Nice hide out though; good view of the city, nice bench, little chance of being hassled by a homeless man or someone cracked out on meth."
"What are you doing here, Tony?" Steve asks, his voice soft and a little hesitant as he speaks.
Tony frowns, figuring its time to cut directly to the chase instead of beating around the bush. "I came to find you. We all did, actually; the Avengers are currently unassembled and spread out all over the city looking for our wayward Captain. It was just the luck of the draw that I happened to find you first. Did I ever tell you that I was a master at hide and seek?"
Steve shakes his head slowly, a miserably look on his face. "Look, I get what you're trying to do…I get that you're all trying to help but…" He stops and looks out across the expanse of the city in front of them. His eyes come to rest on the Tower off in the distance and he sighs heavily. "I'll come by the Tower tomorrow and get my stuff. It won't take long, I'll be out of there by the end of the day."
Tony's frown deepens and he turns to face Steve fully. "Dude, what the hell are you talking about? Who said anything about you moving out?"
"Tony, you know as well as I do that I can't stay there anymore," Steve says, still refusing to meet the other man's eye. "Look, I brought this on myself, there's no one else to blame in this situation but me, and its time I deal with the consequences. It's just how things work."
"Uh yeah, but I'm still not sure how that translates into you moving out of the Tower. I think I'm missing a piece of the puzzle here."
"Tony, please, don't patronize me, okay?" Steve begs, finally making the effort to meet the older man's eyes. He looks upset and desperate, like the words coming out are causing him physical pain. "You know why I can't go back. I falsified my medical records, I lied about my age, everything about me is a lie! Fury isn't going to let me stay in the Tower and he's certainly not going to let me continue being Captain America. I'm not an Avenger anymore and I can't stay in the Tower without making things worse. I just want to get in and out of this situation without causing more trouble than necessary."
Tony sighs and shakes his head. "Okay, first of all, Fury doesn't get to decide who's an Avenger and who gets to stay in the Tower, that's for me and JARVIS and sometimes Pepper to decide. And since I haven't made the call on cutting you from the team or kicking you out of the Tower, I think you're safe on that front. And second, not everything about you is a lie; just a few things. So you lied about your age, big deal. People lie about that all the time. Pepper has been 31 for the past five years and I know better than to call a lie and question a woman about her age." Steve almost smiles at this but its fleeting and faint like a reflection in a rain puddle. Encouraged, Tony continues one.
"Trust me, a few white lies is not the end of the world. And its certainly not grounds for eviction. I can think of much worse things to come to light that would get you kicked out of the Tower. Steve, I swear to God, if you look me in the eye right now and tell me you like corduroy I will personally help you pack your bags."
"Tony, you don't understand," Steve mumbles, shaking his head slowly "I lied on legal, federal documents. Several times…plural, more than once."
"Well, I hate to break it to you, Pinocchio, but you weren't the only one doing the lying back then. There are lists of people who took up the lie with you."
Steve shakes his head. "It doesn't matter. That's perjury; its not just grounds for eviction from the Tower, it could lead to prison. I could be court marshaled for lying to the U.S military. If anyone else found out about this, I'd be arrested."
"Then we'll just have to make sure no one else finds out, won't we?"
"Tony, that's not-"
"No, Steve, listen to me, alright?" Tony ducks his head just a bit to meet Steve's eyes, forcing him to look at him. "Fury didn't come to me to kick you off the team or kick you out of the Tower or have you arrested or anything like that. He came to me to make sure none of the above happened. Yeah, the guy has questionable morals even on the best of days but he does have your best interest at heart in this."
Steve opens his mouth to protest but Tony cuts him off, continuing on with the point the was attempting to make. "Listen, your age means nothing to us, alright? I don't know why you lied in the first place but it doesn't change the fact that you're Captain America and you're an Avenger. And trust me when I say that if anyone with a badge shows up and tries to haul you away, they're going to have to go through five pissed off, overly-protective super heroes to get to you."
Steve is silent now, the tips of his ears tinged a very light pink color but whether its from embarrassment or some other emotion, Tony can't tell. His hands are curled into white-knuckle fists in his jeans, his head ducked and shoulders slumped like he's carrying the weight of the world on his back. Its one of the rare days that Steve isn't dressed like he's going to church and he actually looks like a normal New York citizen. He's wearing jeans and a t-shirt, blond hair loose and unkempt, falling across his forehead and obscuring his eyes from view. Dressed down like he is right now, Steve looks like he should be attending a freshman orientation, not saving the city in his spare time.
Tony finds it ironic that he found out about Steve's real age on the one day the kid actually looks like…well, a kid.
"Now the only question that remains is why?" Tony keeps his voice soft and conversational, not accusing or judgmental like Steve expected it to be. "What led you to lie about your age, Steve?"
For a moment, the younger man doesn't speak; he just sits there and breathes and sifts through the memories of his time before the military, before the serum, before everything changed. "I was sick a lot growing up," he starts, tracing the sidewalk below them with his eyes. "I was never very strong and always got picked over when it came to physical appearance. No one ever gave me a second thought, a second glance…I was just this short, scrawny kid who couldn't stay out of fights. And then the war started and they needed every able-bodied man they could get and I was the first in line and they still turned me down. My age was part of it obvious but that wasn't the only thing; they said I was too weak…I couldn't handle it…I'd never make it through boot camp…" Steve shakes his head as if going through the seemingly endless list of reasons he was told he couldn't join the army.
"Do you have any idea how frustrating that was?" He asks, looking at Tony for some kind of agreement. The older man doesn't know what to say so he just stays silent and lets Steve continue. "I wanted to make a difference…I wanted to prove that even the smallest person could change the tide of the war…that everyone had the right to defend their country…to answer the call when needed." Steve shrugs one shoulder and shakes his head. "So I lied. I changed the year on my birth certificate in the hopes that it might give me a better chance. It didn't really help though, my health problems were still staggering even by Depression standards. But I kept trying."
"Yeah, I saw that," Tony says, remembering the stack of denied medical records that had been in Steve's folder. "You're nothing if not persistent."
Steve smiles then, a humorless, watercolor version of his usual smile but a smile nonetheless. "I think the more they turned me down, the more I wanted to get in. Erskine was the only one who ever saw anything in me other than my physical appearance; he was the one who finally convinced them to give me a chance. And it was because of him that I'm here today at all."
"Remind me to send a thank you note," Tony mumbles, still looking Steve up and down like he's trying to figure out what to make of him. There's a question that's been burning in the back of his mind since all of this started, hijacking his thoughts and making it impossible to think of anything else. He stares at Steve like the answer will suddenly materialize on his forehead. The younger man shifts uncomfortably under his scrutiny. "If I ask you something will you give me an honest answer?"
Steve frowns and twists the hem of his shirt. "I don't really think there's much point in keeping anything else to myself right now, do you?"
Tony takes that as a yes and presses on. "How old were you when you joined the army."
Steve hesitates for a second, then two, then five. Its almost to the fifteen second mark before he finally speaks. "I had just turned 16 four months earlier. I don't even think I could drive yet."
Tony nearly chokes for the second time that day because Jesus tap-dancing fucking Christ! 16? Fuck! Steve had joined the military when most kids were getting their driver's licenses! He'd been willing to lay down his life for his country, for everything he believed in, when other kids his age were just beginning to get over the awkward karmic bitch slap that was puberty. Tony had been prepared for pretty much anything until now. Now he just felt like the rug had been jerked out from under his feet.
"16? Wow…you were ambitious," he manages to cough out and shit, shit, shit! Steve's a Goddamn teenager! All those comments about him being an old man and calling him 'gramps' in passing now meant absolutely nothing. "So that means you went into the ice when you were-"
"17," Steve confirms and gravity suddenly feels both simultaneously crippling and weightless at the same time. Tony wants to laugh and scream at the same time; he wants to throttle Steve for being so incredibly reckless and stupid and then hide him away in the Tower and ground him until he grows some decent facial hair and can be called a man instead of a kid. He vaguely wonders if this is how it feels to have a long-lost child suddenly appear out thin air and have absolutely no idea what to do with them.
"Okay…17...17...I can work with 17," Tony isn't sure if he's trying to convince himself of the lone pigeon that wanders by, pecking at the concrete.
"I'll be 18 in July if that helps," Steve offers and Tony nearly laughs.
"No, its doesn't help," he snaps, a bit more harshly than he meant to because fuck! Captain America is fucking 17 years old! Jesus! Tony forces himself to take a deep breath in an attempt to regain some sense of normalcy in this situation. "Okay, look…no one else can find out about this, got it? This information stays within the confines of the Tower and archives in S.H.I.E.L.D. No one else figures any of this out, understand?"
Steve nods silently and watches Tony with wide eyes and God dammit, he looks like he should be asking a girl to prom, not leading a group of super heroes through the city! Tony shakes his head and has to look away because all of this is making him a bit dizzy. "Second, ground rules. Oh, there are going to be so many ground rules for you."
"Tony, I don't need-"
"Ah, no! No backtalk!" Tony snaps, effectively cutting Steve off from whatever protest he was about to make. "Look, I'm not about to start treating you like a child or anything but we have to handle this delicately at least for next eight months. We can't have people getting hunches or asking questions that we can't give answers to. Fury made it pretty clear that we're acceptable stand-in legal guardians for you but that means we have to approach things a little bit differently now. You can still call the orders and lead the cavalry charge into battle but you listen to me when we're out there, got it? If I say pull out, you pull out; none of that martyrdom, self-sacrificing bullshit you're so fond of."
"Steve, listen," Tony insists, looking the younger man straight in the eye. "We're going to keep doing things the way we've always done: we watch your back, you watch ours. Nothing has changed in the public's eye and we don't want to give them a reason to suspect anything. But in order for this to work, you have to trust us and let us take the lead for a bit, understand? You can be Captain America for the public but you have to let the rest of us handle the things behind the scenes."
Steve nods slowly, seeming to accept the compromise. "I think I can handle that."
"Good," Tony nods as well, looking back toward the Tower. "And just in case you're wondering, you've officially become the team little brother. Prepare to be hovered over mercilessly."
Steve laughs then, a real laugh, and shakes his head. "I don't suppose there's any way you can prevent that from happening?"
"Nope, its out of my hands now," Tony says, holding up both hands as if to prove a point. "Don't tell her I said anything but I think Natasha is actually pretty into the idea of playing big sister to you. And I know Thor has been looking for a surrogate sibling since Loki went off the deep end."
Steve smiles again and some of the tension very slowly begins to leave his face. Maybe they could make this work; he wouldn't have to leave the Tower or the Avengers and just for once everything would turn out ago. Steve was far too jaded to accept that the universe would just roll over and allow them all a happy ending but if it worked for now, that's all he could ask for. "So any other ground rules I need to be made aware of?"
Tony thinks for a second, eying to Tower in the distance silently. "Well, that corduroy rule still stands. Oh, and no dating. You're not allowed to date until you're married."
Steve laughs softly. "Fair enough."
Tony stands slowly, offering Steve his hand and pulling him off the bench with a soft huff. 17 or not, the kid was still built like a brick wall. "Guess we'd better call the others and let them know I found you. They're in the middle of a manhunt right now and it could get bloody before the night is over if we keep them waiting for too long."
"Wouldn't want that."
Tony smiles and claps Steve on the shoulder. "Come on Steve, let's go back home."
Yay! Hope you all liked it! :D