Hey! So, this has been a long while, huh? Life has caught up with me, it seems. Worry not, dear readers (if you're still with me!) I haven't abandoned everything. I've just had a bunch of new responsibilities and stuff piled on, along with visa stuff etc. So I've been slowly typing out bits and pieces of all my fics, but this is the first one to get a solid amount of length. FLUFF WARNING. No significant plot development, just Tony and Al bonding. I tried not to make it too meticulous (I hate it when someone goes shopping and they detail every single piece of clothing, from colour to design to friggen thread count). That being said, Al is too cute, so lots of cute details are there. I do not apologize for the cute. Unless someone spontaneously combusted into rainbows or something. My bad.
Disclaimers for all! Take all of the disclaimers!
Warnings: Some nightmare flashback stuff. Meh.
Thank You: To everyone who kept reading and reviewing and not giving up on me updating! Your pleads were heard, and every review I got guilted me into writing another paragraph or so when I had the time. Sorry if the writing is a bit disjointed, I tried to string it all together neatly, but it was difficult to get enough time for a long typing session.
Thanks for being patient, please enjoy :)
Pain. Pain. Pain.
It was all Al could feel, and he writhed in it, the ghost of red agony searing through his limbs. He saw his older brother's face, usually so cocky and taunting, twisted in fear, and his little sister with tears running down her cheeks. He saw his mummy laid out, still, on a bed, and a man with a darkly twisting sneer gazing at him, looking down his wand at him...
"AAAAHHHHH! NOOOOO! DADDY! DADDY!"
Tony jerked out of bed as the shrill scream filled the room. He had wanted to put Al up in a guest room (God knew he had enough of them) but Al got more clingy as he grew more tired. In the end, Tony had set the little boy up in his bed. It was a rather large bed, and the sheets were clean, so he didn't feel particularly guilty or anything. And the kid was like a little teddy bear, so it was totally cute and he had not snapped a few photos with his phone. Because that would be corny, and Tony was anything but corny.
He had instructed Jarvis to wake him if Al woke up, but it seemed as if that particular directive was unnecessary. The little boy was thrashing and screaming on the bed, and as Tony rolled over, suddenly alert, a little foot (the one not twisted in the sheets) came out of nowhere and got him right in the gut. Ouch.
Quite at a loss, and slightly panicking, he reached out tentatively to shake the little boy awake.
"Al? Hey, Chipmunk, wake up," he murmured. Al let out a high keening noise, and shied away from his touch. Tears leaked out from under his dark lashes, and Tony's heart just about broke.
"Daddy," the little boy whimpered, curling in on himself, hugging himself in an attempt at comfort.
Tony wasn't sure what made him do it, but then, he wasn't sure about a lot of his actions recently. He had spent the night watching a Dreamworks movie and eating pizza, and he had worn sweatpants and a t-shirt to bed, which he hadn't done in...ever. But this little boy was so scared that it felt completely natural to scoop him up and cuddle him to his chest, sitting against the headboard.
"Shh, Chipmunk, calm down," he soothed. "You're alright, it's Tony. We'll find your daddy, just wake up, alright?"
Slowly, the little boy's quivering stopped, and he drew in a few shaky breaths. His green eyes, red and gummed together with tears, blinked blearily up at Tony. He sniffed a few times and clutched at Tony's t-shirt.
"Bad dreams, Chipmunk?" Tony asked, wondering what on earth had happened to the sweet little boy. Green eyes swimming with tears gazed up at him, and Al nodded shyly.
"What were they about?" Tony gently inquired.
Al's breath hitched before he started speaking.
"He – the bad man – he was hurting me," Al said, lips quivering. "Jamie and Lily were there, and they looks really scared, and the man was mean, and daddy -" here Al's voice broke a bit, "daddy couldn't find us!" He started crying softly, and Tony hugged him tighter. He supposed he should find out how Al had been hurt, but the little boy honestly didn't look up for it, and Tony didn't feel equipped to deal with it, so he figured distraction would be the best way to go.
"Well, Chipmunk, what do you say to some breakfast, then we can find daddy. It'll be a big surprise!" Tony said, grinning at the kid. Al smiled back, tear tracks drying on his cheeks.
"Sir," Jarvis' disembodied voice interrupted, "if you are planning to have a meal, it is incumbent upon me to tell you that there is no food in the house."
Tony's eyes widened. "What about all that pizza?" he asked incrdulously, "and all that fruit you ordered?" Surely it wasn't all gone. There had been a ton of it last night!
Jarvis didn't answer right away, but when he did, he groaned, and hated himself for making such an independent AI.
"Sir, I took the liberty of researching balanced meals for children, and while fruit is recommended, pizza is not," the crisp British voice somehow managed to get a tone of rebuke into it. Tony was positive he hadn't programmed that capability in. Stupid AI systems.
Tony looked at the little boy, still in the oversized shirt from last night. He looked like a mess – his hair was all over the place, still stiff from the salt water the night were also salty tracks down his face, and the cut on his forehead wasn't bleeding, but it was still livid in the morning light. Tony supposed he might as well give the kid a bath, and then take him out for shopping and breakfast. As cute as the oversized shirt thing was, people would talk if they saw him with a kid dressed like that. Actually, people would talk if they saw him with a kid at all, so he would just have to be sneaky.
Grinning, he turned to Al.
"Well, Chipmunk, how about we get you a bath, then we'll go out for breakfast," he said enthusiastically. "We'll also get you some clothes!" he was starting to get into this. He loved shopping, and now he had an excuse to buy toys and stuff. If some of the mechanical toys ended up in his workshop... he could always say he was making stuff for the kid.
Wait. Back up. This was starting to feel like long-term planning, Tony thought, and the first priority should be to find Al's dad. But... Jarvis could handle any search that Tony could think of. That he was having trouble meant that there was something going on there, so the kid would probably be with Tony for a while. Clothes and toys were definitely needed – he didn't have any kid-friendly stuff in the tower.
Feeling resolved, he ushered Al into a very luxurious bathroom. He wasn't sure if kids were showering at that age, but he was a bit hesitant to place him in the large bathtub. He thought about it, then decided that whatever he had gotten up to (cough) in that tub was nullified by the highly qualified cleaning system he had set up. Well, that Pepper had made him set up. So it was Ok for a child to take a bubble bath or something.
Pressing some buttons on a control panel (why use spigots and stuff when you can just program it?), Tony started the bath. He turned to look at Al, who had followed him inside and was gazing at the sleek surfaces in wonder.
"Mr. Tony," he said, "everything's so shiny!" He sounded extremely puzzled at the decor, and Tony wondered what the hell kind of place he lived in, not to recognize the most modern of styles. He groaned inwardly. Al wasn't raised by those old-fashioned, snotty types, was he? If that was the case, he would have to make sure the boy developed some taste before he went back.
The bath had filled up by this time, and there were bubbles almost thick enough to walk on. Tony went over to Al, and said,
"Arm up, Chipmunk!"
Al giggled and raised his arms, which allowed Tony to tug off the AC/DC shirt.
"Alright, now into the tub," Tony said, gesturing. Al made his way to the large bathtub (it was more of a jaccuzi) and there was a hilarious moment when he couldn't quite get in. Tony was about to help him, but he didn't want to make the boy uncomfortable. He remembered some of his nannies that had been way too up close and personal for his independent mind, so he wanted to let Al have his space.
Al finally managed to get into the tub with a badly suppressed squeal, and Tony grinned. He couldn't really blame the kid – baths were awesome. Pepper always said something about sitting in your own filth, but even she was known to indulge in a bubble bath every now and then. Tony crouched down by the edge, and asked,
"Can you wash by yourself, or do you need help?"
Al flushed a splotchy red, and spluttered, "Mr. Tony! I'm six! I can take a bath all by myself!" As if to prove it, he screwed up his eyes and dunked his head under the water. He came back up with his hair dripping into his eyes, and his nose dribbling. Tony fought hard not to laugh.
"Sure thing, Chipmunk," he said in a tone he hoped didn't come off as condescending. He had hated it when his nannies used that tone with him as a child. He silently provided a bottle of bodywash and shampoo, then hovered awkwardly by the sink as Al sniffed at the different gels. He kind of wanted to take a shower, but he wasn't sure if it would be alright to leave a child unattended in a bath – he thought he might have heard something like that where it ended with the kid drowning. He had already saved Al from drowning once, so he sure as Hell didn't want the effort to go to waste.
Al hummed a strange tune as he busied himself in the bath. He was a bit shy because Tony was watching, but he seemed determined to finish the bath by himself. He dumbed a large dollop of the body wash onto his head and scrubbed it in, shutting his eyes tightly. Then he reached blindly for the shampoo bottle (knocking over the body wash in the process) and squirted some into his hand. He quickly scrubbed his body, then threw himself backwards in the large tub, flailing about underwater. Tony was almost concerned, but decided not to act unless Al didn't resurface. He was too busy trying not to laugh. Thanking his exceptional genius for having surveillance even in the bathroom (this footage was priceless!), Tony smirked as Al's head popped out of the frothy water. His eyes were still tightly shut, and his small hands rubbed hair and water away from his face. As he tentatively opened his eyes, Tony grinned at him, and the little boy grinned toothily back.
"I'm done!" he chirped, and Tony widened his eyes exaggeratedly.
"Really?" he asked, "that was fast! Let's take a look." He grabbed a fluffy towel from a cleverly hidden cupboard and approached the tub. He inspected the boy's hair, and saw, to his amusement, the unmistakable shimmer of soap. He chuckled, and looked for something to help rinse it out.
"Just a sec, buddy," he said, making his way over to a certain side-table. "We've got to get that last bit of soap out, alright?" he asked the child. Al pouted a bit, but nodded.
"Don't get soap in my eyes," he commanded sternly. It was absolutely adorable, Tony gushed inwardly.
He grabbed an item from the table and went back to the tub. Dipping into the water, he got Al to lean his head back and poured a crystal tumbler-full of water onto his head. Yeah... Tony couldn't really help it that he didn't have that many vessels in his bathroom. He just hoped the glass wouldn't break.
Al scrunched up his eyes again, and Tony used one hand to keep the water from running into his face. This was pretty easy, he thought. He wondered what the big deal was with parenting skills if this was all it took.
Eventually, Tony decided that Al was as clean as a six-year-old was going to get, so he pulled him out of the tub and wrapped him in a fluffy towel that completely enveloped the boy. Tony had to admit, he loved his towels. Pepper had tried to sneak smaller, thinner ones in with the rest of his purchases before he caught it. She claimed that they were more suited to the style of his rooms, and consistent with the pristine bathroom. But Tony liked huge, fluffy towels that could double as blankets or ridiculous dresses (not that he had ever had towel fashion shows in front of the bathroom mirror. Ever.), so that was what Tony got. One of the towel monsters was currently devouring Al, and he seemed to love them as much as Tony did.
Tony asked Jarvis to start playing a children's program on his bedroom screen, and turned to the little boy.
"I'm going to take a quick shower, then we'll go get breakfast, alright, Chipmunk?" he asked.
Al scrunched up his nose and tentatively rubbed his belly, but nodded, eyes flicking towards the now colourful holographic screen displaying some cruel interpretation of animals dressed in clothing. Tony escaped before he could accidentally comprehend what the show was about – children's day time television terrified him.
Tony had one of the quickest, most efficient showers in his personal shower history, and was out and getting the two of them changed in no time. He knew that Al had to be starving by now, and he didn't want a grumpy displaced British child on his hands.
He dressed them similarly to yesterday, in band T-shirts. His shirt was a classic Kiss, and he had put Al into a rare Pink Floyd ensemble. The shirt actually fit Al a bit better today – Tony had wanted to give the shirt to Pepper, but she had refused to wear it because it was insultingly tight or something. Al also got a pair of shorts that were heavily belted, and appeared to be full-length pants on his little legs. Tony was distinctly reminded of Calvin from that comic strip he had read when he was a child (and now owned the complete three-volume box set of). He paled and hoped that Al wouldn't turn out like that other six-year-old...
Tony himself donned a dark pair of jeans, slipped on some casual shoes, and picked Al up. Al had come without shoes, which was something that they'd have to remedy as soon as possible. Well, as soon as they had eaten something.
Sneaking out of the new Stark Tower was surprisingly easy. For whatever reason, there wasn't a pack of reporters staking out the place, and he Jarvis didn't detect any more subtle hidden cameras. It seemed as though Pepper had really taken care of the press, this time. For now.
He didn't care though; as long as he could get out and about with a small child in tow without the entire country knowing, he was happy. Tony actually felt pretty sneaky as he donned some sunglasses, styled his hair differently, and dug out a hat from who the hell knew where. Tony didn't do hats, so he wasn't sure why one was even in the tower. He could understand if there were one or two in his Miami home, but the tower was new, so there should be no reason...
Deciding to leave his hat ponderings for Jarvis to look into when he was bored, Tony managed to find a quiet little place that served hot drinks and breakfast food. It wasn't quite a diner, and it wasn't quite a cafe – blending the two in a way that ended up looking effortless and charming. Al certainly liked it; they managed to snag the empty couch in front of a bookshelf, and the kid carefully sipped his large hot chocolate, delighted that he was 'breaking the rules' by sitting away from the table. This he confided to Tony in a whisper, ignorant of the healthy dollop of whipped cream that had ended up on his nose.
Tony was amazed at how much he liked being around the kid. Usually he hated kids. Even when he himself had been one, and had been forced to socialize because of business meetings and dinners, they had been annoying. Whiney and screechy and messy. He hated being introduced to business associates' families, and only stayed the minimum amount of time at any given 'family' function so as to ensure that Pepper didn't murder him with her glare. All events hosted by Stark Industries (except for pertinent charities) were child-free zones. It was an unofficial company policy.
But Al was adorable, and quirky and lovable. He had obviously been hurt, but he bounced back and was so cheerful that Tony felt a need to help him personally, instead of letting him get lost in whatever government system. He reasoned that he would probably do a better, more efficient job than anything the United States' Child Services could do.
He was also amused at how out of touch the little chipmunk was. Al was genuinely astounded by many things he had seen so far in New York, and many things that Tony took for granted seemed genuinely new to him. Tony supposed that his family must be very old-fashioned and very British. I mean, the kid thought it was a treat to eat pastries on a couch, for crying out loud! Tony only ate at dinner tables in restaurants and at formal banquets. He couldn't remember ever using his dining table ... for it's intended purpose. Mostly, he would scarf down a pizza in his workshop or indulge in take-out either at his bar or in front of his (extremely large, amazingly awesome) television. Or get a burger and eat it in his car. Conventional meals weren't really his thing.
So it was that he introduced Al to the delights of hot chocolate and pastries for breakfast. Al seemed to be enjoying himself, although the pastries weren't as good as his grandmum's. The woman had to be pretty amazing, because Tony was definitely coming back here. The pastries were to die for. But once he found Al's family, he might ask the grandmother to make him something. Just to check.
He grinned at the boy, who was carefully picking over his and Tony's plates for crumbs. The hot chocolate had disappeared completely, leaving dark brown goop at the bottom of the otherwise flawless white mug.
"Ready to go, Chipmunk?" Tony asked brightly. He grabbed a paper napkin and smushed it against Al's face, getting most of the whipped cream off.
Al wrinkled his nose, but nodded eagerly.
"Yeah!" he cheered, and hopped off the couch. He started making his way to the door, before pausing and looking back at Tony with his green eyes widened alarmingly. Tony thought that something had gone horribly wrong, until Al spoke again.
"Sorry," he said in a hushed voice, "I forgot..."
Tony was utterly confused.
"You forgot what?" he asked, trying to convey equal amounts of patience, reassurance, and bewilderment in his voice. If bewilderment won out significantly over the other two, nobody really had to know.
Al bit his lip, before smiling and lunging at Tony. Tony almost jumped back, but the kid was too quick. Before he could say anything, little arms had clamped around his waist and a small face was pressed into his stomach. Utterly shocked, Tony let his hand come up to pat the black disaster the little boy called hair. Al's face suddenly snapped back, and Tony saw the green eyes once more. The little boy smiled cheerfully, and sang out,
"Thank you for breakfast, Mr. Tony!"
Tony grinned. That's what all the fuss was about? Forgetting to say thank you? Dear God this kid's parents were something else. Tony couldn't really remember the last time he had said thank you, sincerely or otherwise.
"No problem, chipmunk," he said, grabbing a small hand. "Now how about we go get you some clothes? Your size, this time, alright?"
"Kay!" Al chirped. He was seriously the easiest kid ever. Where was all the screaming, crying temper tantrums? Well, the screaming and crying Tony had seen... but that was trauma or something, right? Not a temper tantrum. Did kids need to go to doctors for trauma? He figured he'd let the Potters deal with that. Once he found them, that is...
When Tony managed to get Al back to the tower, he was absolutely exhausted. Shopping for children was such hard work! In the first place, he hadn't even known where to find clothing for mini-humans, and Jarvis finally supplied him with the locations of a few stored in the area, he had been overwhelmed. The colours, the sizes ... the parents and children ... they were all loud and varied.
So he had to clarify something for future reference. He loved shopping for himself. And he would love shopping for Al as well... just perhaps sans Al, next time. The kid was still adorable, but the pastry and hot chocolate had worked like crack cocaine in the small body, and it was all Tony could do not to lose the kid in the busy store. They had torn through the clothing section, both baffled by the different sizes and ultimately relying on a sales associate to determine what Al's size was. Then they had gone all out, buying pants and t-shirts, both themed and plain, for the kid. Tony also realized that the kid might not want to go commando all the time, and they had picked out some underwear with cartoons and lots of bright colours. And lots of socks. Al seemed to have a thing for weird socks.
Shoes were something else Tony had no clue how to get, but soon enough they had selected a few pairs. That done, they made their way to the toy section.
It was difficult to say who was more excited, Tony or Al, because while one was actually a child, the other had never really grown up.
They were there for a long time.
The shopping excursion had ended with both boys very hungry, and Tony carrying the majority of the bags. And there were a lot of bags. Al was carrying a few toys, and was wearing a new outfit (jeans and a red and yellow shirt – so what if Tony thought it was cute). He also seemed enthralled with his new 'flashing' running shoes, and Tony had been concerned that he would trip over his own feet he was staring at them so much.
They grabbed lunch at a fast-food joint when Tony had asked Al if he wanted a burger and Al had looked back in blank incomprehension. Horrified, Tony hastened to rectify this lapse in Al's upbringing. Those British parents, honestly...
Looking between the full and suddenly sleepy-looking child, and the monstrous amount of bags they had, Tony caved and called Happy. He had wanted to keep the kid a secret for a while, but he didn't think Happy would tattle to Pepper. Indeed, he just raised an eyebrow at the kid before piling everything into the car.
When they got back, Tony dumped the half-awake Al onto the couch for a nap, and asked Jarvis to order in some food for the next few days. Jarvis had started playing another animated movie for Al without Tony's input (he really was scarily smart) and Al was watching contentedly, cuddling with the stuffed lion he had insisted on carrying with him since he had found it in the store. Tony had also bought him a chipmunk-looking thing, and was hoping to wean him onto it. Because of cute.
Sighing, Tony dropped onto the couch beside Al. He knew that there was a bunch of things he should be doing; he still had to get the tower running on arc-reactor energy, not to mention looking for Al's family. But Jarvis was still running the search, and would notify him if anything came up, and he could do the manual stuff for the tower this evening...
Tony sunk into a doze as a robot shoved garbage across the screen. Al was already done – his face was smushed against a pillow, and Tony giggled to himself. He didn't even notice when he dropped off, though Jarvis took care to dim the lights and lower the volume. Sir and young sir could rest for a while before anything needed to happen. Jarvis wasn't precognitive, but the next few days would undoubtedly be very busy. Jarvis usually kept an 'eye' on world happenings, but there were some things he missed.
So it wasn't entirely his fault that he was unaware that, while Tony was dragging Al around, there was an incident out in the deserts of America. A portal opened, and a god came through, and lives, souls, and technology were stolen. Jarvis had no visuals on the devastation that occurred when a top secret facility crumbled like a broken anthill.
Jarvis was, however, diligently recording Sir as he cuddled a chipmunk plushie, curled up on the couch with Al, like two somnolent cats. The footage was saved into his private server, and would be very difficult for Sir to decrypt and erase.
AN: So... how is that for a comeback? Corrections and suggestions are welcome, we'll be getting into more plot stuff in the next while. I won't give away how I'll tie it all together, but the next part will probably be Tony and Al again. I won't be doing much, if any, Loki POV. You've all seen the movie (HAVEN'T YOU?!) so it won't be a transcript of that. Skimming will be employed heavily.
I think Pepper will make an appearance, as will Coulson. Maybe. Harry will be back eventually, so no worries there.
Thanks again for waiting! If you have any suggestions for this or my other fics, I kind of need the kick in the pants to get back to those. Work is hectic, but cool. I have a break coming up and will be escaping to Chiang Mai. Watch out :D
Reviews are loved, and as mentioned, get me to write more often than not.
Thanks for reading!