I know I should be working on my in progress stuff, but this story has consumed my life. It's going to be a long haul, so hopefully people are interested, because I'm having a blast writing it.
This is going to be an Avenger's high school AU (I couldn't resist), and it will be told from six different points of view. Hopefully, everyone will get equal screen time, thought the plot (yes, there is a plot!) is Bruce-centric.
OVERALL WARNINGS: language, slash, homophobia, sexual harassment, rape (non-explicit), violence, child abuse, and angst.
I will do individual chapter warnings.
Pairings: basically is a huge friendship fic, but some more specific pairings are Clint& Natasha, Clint/Natasha, Bruce&Tony (they are total bros), Bruce&Steve (and a little Bruce/Steve, later, maybe)
Alright, sorry for the long author's note!
I hope you like it:)
"You don't remember?"
Coulson watched carefully as Bruce Banner shifted uncomfortably in the chair across from his desk, ducking his head so his thick, dark curls fell into his bright eyes. Banner gripped the edges of the wooden chair so hard his knuckles turned white and his nails dug into the underside of the seat. He was of a slight build, probably due to his father's obvious neglect, and the still fading bruises stood out vibrantly against the pale skin of his face and wrists. He tugged absentmindedly at the sleeves of the thick sweater he wore; it was two sizes too big for him, and it hung off his lithe frame. His gaze flickered up to meet Coulson's for a split second before he turned his attention to examining the rest of the room. Coulson watched him take in the wall of framed diplomas, the bookshelves, and the overly comfortable couch and chair in the center of the room. Bruce's hands moved to clench together in his lap, tangling his fingers together tightly; Coulson heard his knuckles crack.
When he replied, his voice was low and hoarse.
"No. I don't remember anything."
Bruce shut the cover of his Physics book, sticking his freshly graded worksheet between the pages to hide the red "79" from Tony before his friend could see it and start in on him. Tony, thankfully, was preoccupied with ranting to Thor about Star Trek, which Thor had apparently never seen. It wasn't that much of a shock; Thor had only been in America for two years now. That didn't stop Tony from taking every opportunity to antagonize him incredulously about his lack of knowledge surrounding pop culture.
"—can't possibly never have seen the reruns, I mean, really, they're on all the time, you practically live under a rock if you've never even—," Tony was cut off by the bell signaling the end of the period. He stopped in the middle of his sentence to whip around in his seat and face Bruce, saying solemnly, an amused light flashing through his dark eyes, "Bruce, we obviously need to invite Thor to our next Star Trek marathon. It's an injustice to have him spend four years in America without experiencing—"
"Mr. Banner, may I have a word?" Mr. Summers's voice interrupted Tony's thought, and he rolled his eyes slightly before standing up and shouldering his backpack. Mr. Summers stood next to his desk at the front of the classroom, staring at Bruce expectantly and holding his maroon grade book in one hand.
Tony quirked the corner of his lips upwards and cocked an eyebrow at Bruce suggestively. "Good luck, big guy."
Bruce glared at him, not appreciating the worn out nickname or the innuendo. Tony pretended not to notice, instead electing to follow Thor out of the classroom, asking loudly, "So, have you ever seen Star Wars, because those are classics—"
The door closed behind the last student, leaving Bruce standing across the classroom from Mr. Summers, his thick textbook clutched to his chest and his gaze darting around the room nervously. He rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, his tongue suddenly feeling too big for his mouth, the same way it did whenever he was alone with his father.
Mr. Summers eventually took pity on Bruce and cleared his throat before speaking, "Bruce, I'm just a little…concerned with your grades this semester."
"They…I've maintained a steady C average in science since freshman year," Bruce replied, the muscles in his back tensing as he answered. He had noticed Summers eyeing the mediocre work he handed it suspiciously; he should have seen this coming.
"That's my concern," Mr. Summers crossed the front of the room and perched on the last desk in the second row so he was marginally closer to Bruce. He flipped open his grade book and pulled out a single sheet of paper from the center pages. Bruce recognized the columns and words printed on it as his transcript, and winced inwardly. "I couldn't help but notice that you maintain a steady C average in all of your classes."
Bruce shrugged awkwardly, forcing a small smile. "I guess I'm just average, then."
Mr. Summers bit his lower lip and placed his transcript on the desk next to him. "I don't believe that. I don't think you do, either."
Bruce tightened his jaw, pressing his lips into a thin line. He wasn't sure how to respond, so he chose not to, ducking his head to hide his face instead.
He heard Mr. Summers sigh softly. The desk creaked when he stood up again; he didn't try to move any closer to Bruce. "Your IQ is well above average, according to the test your class took on your first day of freshman year." He paused for a moment before asking softly, "Do you remember what it was?"
Bruce took a step back, running into another desk and sending it scraping back a few inches across the tile. He sidestepped it and tried to make for the door as discreetly as possible, desperately wanting to get out of there. "I…I should go, I'm late for History."
He darted out the door before Mr. Summers could call out to stop him. He wrapped his arms tightly around his book and forced himself to take deep breaths; he could feel the scars in the crude shape of the number 182 burning with sharp pain where they had been carefully carved just above his hipbone three years ago.
"I understand that you and Bruce are friends?"
Thor considered Coulson's question for a moment, a thin line appearing between his fair eyebrows. Thor was drastically different from Bruce, and Coulson almost had a hard time believing they were friends. Whereas Bruce was hunched and full of restless energy, Thor sat completely still, his hands folded in his lap and his back straight. His file had said that he was the heir to the throne in Norway, and that his family had come over to America two years ago due to "extenuating, hostile circumstances" in their homeland. Thor reached up to push back a lock of wavy blonde hair and lifted his solemn gaze to meet Coulson's.
"Yes. He has always been kind to me."
"Are other people not kind to you?" Coulson asked, leaning forwards, his pen poised over his yellow legal pad. "Have you had a hard time making friends here?"
Thor swallowed hard, casting his gaze to the floor for a moment. "I…I have friends. I have good friends, who I would do anything for, but they all don't…" Thor trailed off and pursed his lips, searching for the words to explain it. "I meant nothing by that, save the fact that Bruce is my friend."
Coulson watched Thor expectantly, waiting for more of an explanation. When Thor didn't continue, Coulson asked, hoping he wasn't pushing Thor too far, "And you were there that night?"
Thor let out a long, deep breath and bowed his head.
Thor twisted the combination lock on his locker, praying silently that he would hear the telltale metallic click of the lock opening. He focused intently on the small white numbers, trying to line them up with the arrow painted on the lock.
"Still having trouble with that lock, Thor?"
Thor's heart jumped to his throat and his stomach dropped at the sound of his brother's voice behind him. He sucked in a sharp breath and turned to meet his brother's cold, mocking gaze. "I am fine, thank you."
Loki cocked an eyebrow and turned to direct his next statement at the small group of people behind him. Thor recognized them as Loki's "friends", but only knew one of their names. Eric Selvig stood towards the back of the group, shifting his weight uncomfortably as he watched the scene unfold before him. Loki mocked coolly, his lips curling into a cruel smile, "It only took you two years to figure it out. Maybe if you spent your time with more intelligent company you wouldn't be quite so thick."
Thor gritted his teeth and turned his back on Loki, returning his attention to his locker. He turned the dial completely around twice so he could start over.
He felt Loki's hand on his back and braced himself for the impact against the metal lockers, expecting Loki to shove him into them. Instead, Loki simply patted his back between his shoulder blades and chuckled softly, his low laugh dripping with disappointment. "It seems Endrik really did manage to tame you."
Loki's friends jumped away when Thor's fist slammed against the lockers so hard the doors rattled down the entire wall. Thor could feel the latent anger rising at the mention of that name, the boiling rage that simmered just below the surface of his laid-back, well-adjusted façade about to boil over. He clenched his fist tightly, until his fingernails dug into his palms and drew blood. He forced himself to take a few long, deep breaths, equally infuriated and grounded by his brother's slim palm resting lightly on his back.
Loki removed his hand, watching as Thor struggled to regain his composure with his head bowed and his hair falling in front of his face in a thick curtain of gold. His agony clearly showed in the lines of distress around his mouth and on his forehead, and Loki smirked disapprovingly. He stepped back from his older brother and said lightly, "It's not small wonder Father thinks you unfit to rule."
He turned on his heel and strode away without another word. Thor heard his group of brainwashed followers scamper to follow after him, not wanting to be left behind with Loki's unbalanced, infuriated older brother.
A muscle in Thor's jaw twitched as he hunched his shoulder and struggled to keep his breath from catching in his throat. The corners of his eyes burned and he dug his fingernails against the metal locker door until they cracked under the pressure. He could feel himself losing control, and he hated himself for it, which did nothing to lessen the pressure behind his eyes.
"Here," Thor started when Bruce's voice interrupted his thoughts. He blushed when he realized his eyes were wet and wiped at his eyes hastily. Bruce reached out past him and turned the lock until he could lift the latch and open the locker. Thor pushed himself up so he wasn't leaning against the wall of lockers and drew in a deep breath through his nose; Bruce politely pretended not to notice his tears.
Bruce pulled Thor's math textbook out of his locker and pressed it into his hands. Thor took the book gratefully and cleared his throat. "Thank you. I…I still find it difficult, occasionally, to get it open."
"It takes practice," Bruce replied mildly, carefully closing Thor's locker for him. "We had them in middle school, but I didn't really learn until eighth grade."
Thor smiled at Bruce, the tight feeling in his chest still there, but slowly ebbing. Bruce grinned weakly back at him, the smile not quite reaching his eyes. He took a few steps back and motioned towards the end of the hall. "Want to head to Calculus?"
"I do not wish to, particularly," Thor grunted good-naturedly, but fell fell into step next to Bruce nonetheless. "I have not been faring well in that class since October."
Bruce smiled and laughed shortly, something warm flickering through his dark eyes. Thor felt a small smile tug at the corner of his lips. Bruce shrugged and offered hesitantly, "If you need some help…I mean, I can go over some of the stuff with you after school every once in a while if you want."
Thor beamed at Bruce, his smile bright and wide, the traces of tears in his eyes already dry. "I would appreciate that very much, if you have the time."
"It's no problem," Bruce assured him, rubbing the back of his neck.
Thor pulled open the door to the math room and held it for Bruce, allowing the shorter man to duck under his arm into the classroom. He happened to glance up and catch a glimpse of Loki at the end of the hall, surrounded by his friends and laughing about something undoubtedly mean spirited. He tore his gaze away and stepped into the classroom after Bruce, unable to completely shake the painful, cold vice grip around his heart.
"I understand you and Bruce are close," Coulson flipped through Roger's file where it was open on his desk in front of him. Roger's watched him warily, uninterested in the papers spread out on the desk between them. He nodded shortly and replied dutifully, "Yes, sir."
"How close, exactly?" Coulson asked, leaning back in his chair and trying to look casual and inviting. When he'd spoken to the teachers, a couple of them had mentioned they suspected Rogers felt something towards Banner that ran a little deeper than friendship, but Rogers's parents had been shocked (and even a little offended) at the suggestion. He doubted Rogers would admit any feelings he had for the Banner kid if he felt like Coulson would react the way his parents would.
Steve wet his bottom lip, weighing the responses in his mind. Coulson glanced down at the sheet of paper with Roger's psych evaluation; his parents had apparently had one done about a month ago. Steve raked a hand through his dark blonde hair, pushing the stray locks off his forehead.
Coulson prompted him further. "Friends?"
Steve nodded hesitantly.
Coulson let the silence stretch for a few moments before he asked, "Maybe more?"
Steve swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing noticeably.
"I…I care about him."
Steve lifted his gaze and met Coulson's eyes without flinching, his bright blue eyes solemn and sincere.
"A hell of a lot, sir."
Steve dragged his pencil across the open page of his sketchbook, biting hard on his bottom lip as he darkened the line of Bucky's woolen jacket. He tapped his pencil against the corner of the page, gazing at the picture blankly for a few moments. His free hand unconsciously moved towards his pocket for his phone, but he stopped himself before he could pull it out. It wasn't Friday; Bucky didn't get to use the phone until Tuesday.
He forced himself to turn the page. Looking at pictures of Bucky only left him with a hurting stomach and a tight feeling in his throat. The next sketch was one that made him feel a little bit better. He'd been working on it since he'd gone out the previous weekend with Tony, Bruce, Clint, Natasha, and Thor. They hadn't been able to all be together for a few weeks with Thor's football practices, Bruce's erratic yet strict curfew, and Natasha's ballet rehearsals eating up most of their nights. Clint had managed to convince everyone to carve in some time to meet at the flashy 60's diner downtown that was decorated in all red and white with chrome accents. They had all crammed themselves into the corner booth and ordered dinneer; Tony ordered Bruce's as usual over the other man's protests, and the new waitress had gaped in awe at Thor when he rattled off his usual order, which consisted of enough food to feed the whole table.
Steve smiled softly and ran his fingers over the picture, recalling how happy he'd felt that night, how connected he'd felt. Tony was situated in the center of the booth as usual, frozen in the lines of the pencil as he gestured and ranted about something. Thor was on his right, watching him with a small, slightly confused smile on his face, his arms resting on the table in front of him. Clint was on Tony's left, leaning forward so he could talk to Natasha from across the table, smiling in that honest, goofy way he reserved for Natasha, whether he realized it or not. Natasha was in the middle of rolling her eyes; if Steve hadn't seen the faint blush on her neck, he would have never believed she was interested in Clint from the way she treated him more like a sibling. Her short curls were pulled back in their usual stiffly pinned up bun. Bruce was next to Thor, his gaze focused on Tony as his best friend spoke. Steve had worked to capture the mixture of exasperation and fondness that mingled in Bruce's expression when he looked at Tony, but he wasn't sure he'd gotten it quite right yet. Bruce had been more relaxed than Steve remembered seeing him in a long time, smiling and joking, and leaning into Steve's arm more heavily as it grew further into the evening. Steve recalled the feeling of Bruce's soft curls brushing the underside of his jaw and a feeling of warmth spread through his chest.
"School's been out for thirty minutes, Mr. Rogers," Steve started slightly when Mr. Erskine's voice came from over his shoulder.
He glanced up at the clock and blinked when he realized that Erskine was right. He hadn't noticed that he'd been there for so long. He'd just meant to stay in the art studio and extra five minutes to put a few finishing touches on his latest drawing. "Oh, wow, I didn't realize…I was just finishing. Sorry to keep you waiting."
"It's not a problem," Erskine assured him, dropping into the chair next to him and tugging Steve's sketchbook over to look at the page it was opened to. "Do you mind?"
"Uh, no," Steve shook his head and pushed the sketchbook over to him. "It…I mean, it's not finished. I just started it the other day…"
Erskine examined the drawing for a few long moments, peering through his glasses where they were perched on the end of his nose. Steve tapped his foot nervously, uncertain about what Erskine thought of it. He didn't usually like to show his unfinished work to other people; he felt like it showed a part of him that was weak and raw and horribly vulnerable, but this was his art teacher. He had to turn in something for a grade.
Erskine broke out into a small smile, running his fingers over the page. "It looks like you spent a significant amount of time on Mr. Banner's hair."
"I wanted to get it right," Steve agreed, scooting his chair closer to get a better look at the picture. "See, Natasha has curls, too, but hers are more rounded and defined when she leaves them down. Bruce's are more wild, more untamed, a lot thicker…" he trailed off, reaching to tug at his upper lip self-consciously, cutting himself off before he started waxing poetic about Bruce's hair any more than he already had. "I just wanted to get it right."
"Thor's expression is spot on," Erskine smiled, amused. "He looked exactly like that when I referenced the Kardashians in class the other day."
"The what?" Steve asked, frowning slightly.
Erskine scrutinized him for a moment, and gave a bark of laughter when he realized Steve wasn't joking. "Never mind." He turned his attention back to the sketch and pursed his lips. "This is really very good, Rogers. You're talented."
Steve shrugged modestly, brushing off the compliment with a grin. "Thanks."
Erskine was silent for a few more moments as he flipped through some of the older sketches in the book: Bucky asleep on the living room couch, drooling all over the cushions with a thin blanket draped over him; Tony working on one of his robotic arms, his face and hands streaked with oil; Thor on the football field after he'd scored, smiling and proud despite the blood running down his chin from a busted nose; Natasha in her leotard for ballet and a heavy winter coat two sizes too big, standing outside and waiting for her parents to pick her up for rehearsal; Clint leaning back in a chair so only its two back legs touched the floor, smiling lazily at someone off the page; Bruce raking a hand through his hair to push his thick curls out of his eyes as he bent over his Physics book, looking incredibly bored and completely exhausted.
Steve was pulled out of his reminiscing by Erskine's voice saying quietly, "You care for your friends very much."
"They're my friends," Steve said simply. "Of course I do."
Erskine nodded in agreement, smiling slightly. "Have you considered continuing your education in art?"
Steve blinked at stared at Erskine, his blue eyes wide. "Art school, you mean? I…I mean, I've thought about it, but I couldn't ever…it wouldn't…"
"Don't," Erskine held up a hand and shushed Steve before he could complete his thought. "Don't discredit yourself. You have a lot of natural talent here, Rogers. You must know that. I look at these pictures of kids I've only seen once or twice in the hallway since they've been here and I feel something for them." He paused, waiting for a reaction. When he got none, he elaborated, exasperated, "That means it's good. Art that makes you feel something…that's what art is for."
Steve bit the inside of his cheek and dropped his gaze to the table. He picked at a spot of dried yellow paint and shrugged. "I would…if I could do anything, I would love to study art."
"You're seventeen years old," Erskine said. "You're young and full of life and determined enough to make something of yourself. You can do anything."
Steve snorted softly and raised an eyebrow. "Not to be disrespectful, sir, but I don't think it's quite that easy."
"Of course it's not," Erskine agreed, grunting discontentedly and rising from the chair. "Not if you continue to have that attitude."
He crossed the room to his desk and shuffled through the stacks of papers and books on the surface until he found what he was looking for. He returned to Steve's side with two thin books and a couple pamphlets. He offered them to Steve, who took them and flipped one of the books open curiously.
"Bring them home, look them over, talk to your parents," Erskine said. He picked up Steve's sketchbook and added it to the stack of papers in Steve's arms. "At least think about it."
Steve stared at the books for a few moments, lost in thought. He couldn't say he'd never considered a career in art. He knew it wasn't practical. There was no guarantee it would pan out, and he could waste a lot of money on classes for nothing. On the other hand, it was tempting to think he could do what he loved as a career, that he could be a professional artist someday. It was a wish he'd never spoken aloud to anyone but Bucky.
He nodded shortly and looked up at Erskine to smile gratefully at him. "Maybe I will. Thank you."
"I understand Bruce stayed with you for a short time," Coulson began, looking up from Natasha's file to meet her unwavering gaze. Her fiery red hair was pulled back in a tight bun, hairsparyed to her skull and pinned up until not a strand was out of place. She sat with her arms crossed, leaning back in the chair and regarding Coulson coolly, evaluatingly.
She shrugged and nodded. "He was with us for about two weeks."
"And you were friends before then?" Coulson asked mildly.
Natasha nodded silently.
"While he was staying with you…did you notice anything about Bruce that was…different?" Coulson asked carefully, trying to pick the right words to make his point without setting her off.
"Different?" Natasha cocked an eyebrow curiously.
Coulson shrugged and elaborated, "I mean, anything…anything like…aggression, unprovoked violence, unwarranted anger...?"
Natasha smiled bitterly at Coulson and answered honestly, "I think Bruce has plenty to be angry about."
Natasha padded down the deserted hallway of the high school, clutching the strap of her sports bag in one hand and checking the time on her phone with the other. She sighed when the screen lit up to show the numbers 4:13 glowing white against her dark wallpaper. She had two minutes to get outside and meet her father out front.
She picked up her pace, tucking her phone back into the pocket of her heavy winter jacket.
Natasha paused when she heard Clint call her name and turned around to see him running after her from the opposite end of the hall. When he caught up with her, she began walking again, allowing him to fall into step beside her. "Hey."
"You're heading out already?" Clint asked, glancing at the leotard and sweatpants she was wearing under her coat. "I thought you didn't have rehearsal until six."
"My parents thought it would be a good idea to extend them," Natasha replied, trying to keep the bitterness and resentment from coloring her tone. "I have to be there at five now."
"That sucks," Clint said softly, pursing his lips sympathetically. He studied her for a few moments before breaking out into a smile. "You know, you could sneak out the back door and come with me instead. Barney's going out with his friends tonight, so I officially have free reign over the TV."
Natasha couldn't help the small, wistful smile that tugged at her lips, but she forced herself to stop imagining that prospect before she could get attached to it. She shook her head and said, "I can't. They pay for these lessons, it wouldn't be fair."
"Someday you'll say yes when I offer you a way out of them," Clint warned her jokingly, bumping her shoulder with his own.
"I look forward to it," Natasha replied, rolling her eyes and holding the door for Clint so he could step out onto the front staircase of the school. She stepped out after him, tugging her coat around her more tightly against the biting air.
Her adoptive father's forest green Subaru was parked in the drop off lane, and she could see him tapping his fingers impatiently against the steering wheel as he waited for her. She sucked in a deep breath, feeling the cold air seep into her lungs and leave a dull, frozen ache. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Have fun, Nat," Clint joked, twitching his eyebrows apologetically.
Natasha shrugged and turned her back on Clint to descend the stairs. When she made it to the bottom and glanced back over her shoulder, Clint had already disappeared inside.
She ignored the distinct feeling of disappointment she felt when she didn't see him there, filing it away to deal with some other time.
She pulled open the passenger's door of the car and tossed her bag over the center console into the backseat. "Hey."
"How was your day?" Dmitri asked, waiting for her to pull the door shut before he put the car in drive and pulled away from the curb.
"Fine," she replied, gazing out the window at the freshly fallen snow on the front lawn of the school, swallowing hard to try to make the tight ball of dread in her stomach unwind.
"I brought you some carrots," Dmitri offered. "They're in the cup holder if you want them." When she made no move to grab them, he added, "You should probably have something to eat. You don't want to get lightheaded and fall and hurt yourself. The last thing you need is an injury in the middle of the season."
"Hmmm," Natasha hummed softly, relenting. She picked up the plastic baggie of carrots and reluctantly peeled it open. "I guess not."
"Will you please put that down?" Coulson tried not to get irritated as Stark turned the school counselor's lava lamp upside down to examine the bottom panel. The last thing he needed was to break something in here; the police department was just borrowing the office temporarily, and Coulson figured Fury wouldn't be happy paying for damages.
Stark looked up at Coulson and placed the lamp back on the desk. "Sure. I just never really got the appeal of lava lamps, honestly. It just seems like they—"
"I didn't ask you to come here to talk about lava lamps," Coulson cut him off sharply.
"Oh, right," Stark turned the chair around so the back faced Coulson and straddled it. "You called me in here to try to get me to tell you something incriminating about Bruce. Well, good luck with that, because he didn't do anything wrong."
"A man is dead," Coulson pointed out harshly. "A man is dead, and you're telling me he did nothing wrong?"
"Sometimes things aren't as cut and dried as you'd like them to be, Detective," Stark said coolly, leveling him with a sharp glare from over the back of the chair.
Tony bounded down the hallway towards the parking lot, his keys jingling between his fingers. He pushed the doors open and stepped outside, barely feeling the cold air hitting his skin. He caught sight of a familiar huddled form perched on the end of one of the benches down by the drop off lane and smiled widely, taking off in that direction.
"Bruce," he called, waving when Bruce started and turned to look at him. "Hey, man, what are you doing out here? It's freezing."
Bruce gestured to his thin, battered jacket that was practically held together with four pieces of thread and strategically placed safety pins. Tony made a mental note to leave one of his jackets in Bruce's locker 'by mistake'. "I'm fine. My dad's picking me up. He wanted me to wait outside after school."
"You've been out here since after school?" Tony asked incredulously, pushing up his sleeve to look at his watch. 4:00. "For God's sake, Bruce, that sucks. I can bring you home. You know I can bring you home, why would you wait out here instead?"
Bruce shrugged self-consciously, running a hand through his ridiculous curls. "I just…he wants to pick me up today. I don't know."
"Call him and tell him you're staying at my place for the night," Tony offered, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He didn't like the look in Bruce's eyes; it was too close to fear for him to brush off. "Let's go. Right now."
"You know I can't," Bruce said, shooting Tony an irritated glare.
Tony groaned and flopped down on the bench next to him. "You can, you just choose not to."
Bruce didn't argue. He glanced at Tony and his expression softened a little bit. "I want to. I just can't. My…my mom…" Bruce trailed off and let out a deep breath before continuing. "I just don't want to make him mad."
Tony was going to say something about how Bruce could be the picture perfect son and his father would still find a reason to be mad, but was distracted by Brian Banner's pick up pulling up to the curb in front of them.
The passenger's window rolled down and Bruce sprang to his feet, hiking his heavy backpack up on his shoulders.
"Sorry to break up the gossip session, ladies," Brian called from the driver's seat, his dark eyes flickering over his son and Tony impassively. Tony had always been struck by how goddamn similar Bruce's eyes were to his father's when they were such drastically different people. "But Robert needs to get home."
Bruce determinedly didn't look back at Tony as he hauled himself up into the cab of the truck. He slammed the door shut behind him. Brian waved at Tony and added, "Tell your dad I said hi, by the way. I haven't seen him around the lab much lately."
The passenger's window rolled up before Tony could get out a snarky response, and Banner tore away from the curb, his expression darkening as he said something to Bruce.
Tony stood there for a few moments, watching the taillights disappear around the corner and wishing he hadn't taken no for an answer and that he's just taken Bruce and dragged him to his car and forced him to come home with him so they could work on their latest project and Bruce could cook him some real food and Tony could be a hundred percent sure that Bruce wasn't lying on a floor and bleeding out somewhere.
Tony sighed irritably and stormed towards where his car was parked in the side lot, colorfully cursing out Brian Banner under his breath.
Tony's eyebrows drew together in confusion when he pulled into his driveway and two other cars were already parked outside. He didn't bother pulling into the garage, instead leaving his car parked next to the ones in the driveway and closing the gate at the end of the drive behind him.
He climbed the steps to the house, trying to recall if he'd invited anyone over, but nothing came to mind.
Jarvis was waiting in the front hall, pretending to dust one of the marble statues by the bottom of the staircase. Tony's stomach dropped; Jarvis intercepting him at the front door never meant good news. He dropped his bag onto the floor next to the door and approached the older man, demanding, "Who else is here? There are cars parked outside that I've never seen before and—"
"Your parents are home," Jarvis replied, dropping the pretense of dusting and lowering his voice to a whisper.
Tony blinked at him blankly for a few moments. "Parents? I didn't think I had those anymore."
"Their trip was cut short because your mother fell ill and wanted to come home and recover," Jarvis explained, glancing furtively at the entrance ways to the main hall. He added hastily, "Just the flu, nothing very serious."
"You're telling me the people who have missed my birthday every year for the past five years came home because of the flu?" Tony snorted, trying to keep his voice from sounding as hysterical as he felt. "Sorry if I find that hard to believe."
Tony and Jarvis both jumped when footsteps approached the hall from the kitchen and Maria Stark stepped into the room, swathed in a thick bathrobe and toting a box of tissues. She was pale except for the flush in her cheek and her eyes were red and watery, but she smiled when she saw her son. "Tony!" she crossed to room quickly and pulled him into a tight embrace. He stiffened uncomfortably and hesitantly patted her back in response, feeling painfully awkward. She let him go and held him out at arm's length to get a better look at him, smiling widely. "We missed you so much. I'm so glad we're home."
"Yeah," Tony said shortly, taking a small step back from his mother. His gaze flickered around the room restlessly. "'We'. I'm sure. Where's Dad?" he asked, noting the frown that crossed his mother's lips at his mocking mention of 'we'.
"He's upstairs," Maria answered, the exuberance fading from her expression. Tony wanted to kick himself; he barely ever saw her that happy, and he hated himself for wiping the joy off her face. "He has some business to finish up, but he'll be down to say hello in a few minutes. I was hoping we could all have dinner together and you could tell us about school, and your friends…"
"Yeah," Tony said softly, nodding sharply and desperately hoping to escape as soon as possible. He was overwhelmed, and he'd only been in the room with his mother for five minutes; the prospect of facing his father made his heart pound wildly in his chest, making it hurt. He wasn't pulling in as much air as he needed to fill his lungs and he swallowed hard, praying he'd left an emergency inhaler in his backpack. "Yeah, okay. I'll be…I'll be right back. I…I've got to check on something upstairs."
He snatched up his bag and took off up the stairs without waiting for a response, struggling to keep his breathing even, and suppressing the painful coughs racking his chest. He distantly heard Jarvis reassuring Maria that Tony was fine, and that nothing was wrong as he turned the corner of the hall and collapsed against the wall, scrambling to dig his inhaler out of the front pocket of his backpack. He struggled to pry off the cap and shook it, his hands shaking so hard he almost couldn't keep a grip on the slick plastic. He forced himself to exhale and shoved the mouthpiece between his lips. He pressed down on the top of the inhaler and sucked in a deep breath, closing his eyes when he felt the droplets of medication coat his throat. He slumped back against the wall, coaching himself to breath in and out for a few minutes before attempting to hold his breath for ten seconds to let the medicine reach his lungs. He repeated the process once more before he could breathe freely again.
He sank the rest of the way down the wall, tilting his head back against the wall and trying to pretend the tears drying on his cheeks were because of the asthma attack.
"You met Bruce in detention?" Coulson scanned Barton's statement and looked up at the kid slouching in the chair across from him.
Barton looked utterly disinterested. He rocked back and forth on the back two legs of the chair and crossed his arms over his chest, his gaze focused somewhere out the window over Coulson's shoulder. He grunted in response, his gaze moving to focus on Coulson's face. "Yeah."
"Why were you there?" Coulson asked.
Barton rolled his eyes and dropped the two front legs back to the floor. "Don't ask me a question you know the answer to." Coulson stared at him politely, keeping his expression blank. Clint sighed and decided to humor him. "I put tacks on my history teacher's chair. It was sixth grade, give me a break."
"Do you remember why Bruce was there?" Coulson asked mildly. He didn't want to indicate to Barton how important his answer was to constructing a profile for Banner.
Barton shrugged and scrunched up his nose, thinking hard for a few moments before replying slowly, "I think he was in trouble for not handing in most of his work all quarter. And everything he did pass in he barely scraped up a passing grade on."
"Banner has a genius IQ," Coulson pursed his lips, slightly disappointed, but interested in the new development. "Why would he flunk on all of his assignments?"
Barton shrugged again, trailing his gaze over the figurines cluttered on the edge of the desk. "He was protecting himself."
Clint scratched his temple with the end of his pen and squinted at his math book, trying to force himself to focus. He had another ten math problems to do, not to mention an English essay and a Chemistry worksheet to fill out, and he had no drive to do any of it. He leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms above his head, yawning widely.
The sound of a car rolling up the gravel driveway caught his ear. He sighed irritably and pushed his chair back to rise to his feet. He slipped out of his room and tiptoed down the hallway towards the front door. He padded by his dad's room, pausing to listen at the door for a moment. He relaxed slightly when he heard deep, heavy snores coming from inside the bedroom.
The doorknob was rattling when he reached the front door, and he could hear Barney outside, cursing and jamming his key at the lock. His voice was slurred, and, if his aim with the key was anything to go by, he had almost no control over his fine motor skills.
Clint unlocked the door and pulled it open. Barney stumbled over the threshold, toppling forward without the support of the door he'd been leaning against heavily. Clint caught him and managed to maneuver him to he could slide a shoulder under his younger brother's armpit. Barney wrapped his arms around Clint's shoulders and smiled goofily, "Clint! When d'ju get here?"
"I live here, idiot," Clint grunted, hauling Barney towards his bedroom. He reeked of alcohol. Barney stumbled over his own feet, detaching from Clint and collapsing in a heap on the couch. He laughed, groaned, and moaned lowly, "I feel sick."
"How much did you have?" Clint asked sharply, forcing himself to keep his voice low so they didn't wake their father.
Barney covered his eyes with his hand and shrugged, mumbling incoherently, "Dunno…five…six…"
"Damn it, Barney," Clint hissed angrily, his upper lip curling. "You can't do this every weekend. You're fifteen; you're going to kill yourself."
"I can take care of myself," Barney muttered, rolling onto his stomach and dropping his arm off the side of the couch so his knuckles brushed the soft shag carpet. "You're such a buzz kill…just because you and your loser friends are lame…"
Clint sucked in a sharp breath through his nose, trying not to be impatient, but it got progressively more and more difficult to deal with this shit weekend after weekend. He reached out to prop Barney up and help him stand. "You need to get to your room before Dad wakes up."
"Whatev'r," Barney grumbled, allowing Clint to drag him down the hall towards his bedroom. Clint shouldered the door open and hefted Barney onto his bed. Barney flopped onto the mattress and stayed sprawled out on his stomach, motionless.
Clint rolled him onto his side and tugged the comforter over him. He moved to remove Barney's shoes and place them next to the bed. Barney followed him with glazed eyes.
Clint tucked the corners of the comforter under Barney's shoulders and pushed his younger's brothers hair out of his eyes, his heart softening. "If you have to throw up, please try to make it to the bathroom."
Barney nodded shortly, and squeezed his eyes shut immediately afterward, his forehead creasing as if he was in pain. Clint stood up and took a step away from the bed. "Goodnight. Shower and brush your teeth before you come downstairs tomorrow; you reek."
Clint started for the door, but froze when he felt Barney's fingers wrap tightly around his wrist. He glanced back at his brother, trying to bite back the mixture of irritation and concern he felt rising in his chest.
Barney smiled at him, a wide, innocent smile the reminded Clint of when they'd been little, and said quietly, "Thanks, Clint…"
Clint bit the inside of his cheek and nodded shortly. He tore his wrist from Barney's grip and strode out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
I'm sorry if it seems a little boring; the plot will pick up, I just want to establish some character background (which gets more in depth next chapter).
Please leave a review if you have a second! I really appreciate it, and it would make my week:)
Thanks for reading!