So here's the next chapter! It is almost close to finishing, by the way. I'm trying to wrap things up in the next few chapters. Thank you all so much for your support in writing this. You're all amazing, and I really appreciate the reviews and encouragement. Also, one portion is formatted oddly (there are no indents), but I typed it on here at the last second because I was too lazy to copy and paste from word), so I apologize! It still shouldn't be too difficult to read, I hope.
WARNINGS: child abuse, mentions of rape, language, slash.
Ross crossed his arms over his chest and regarded Bruce wit distaste. When Bruce didn't speak up, he snapped irritably, "What did you want me here for?"
Bruce's gaze flickered from the door to Ross for a moment before returning to the door. He plucked at his bottom lip and sank back down onto the couch. He dropped his hands into his lap and said, "I need you to tell them what happened."
"What do you mean?" Ross tensed immediately and leveled Bruce with a glare. "I'm not—"
"I need you to tell them what you've heard coming from my house," Bruce cut him off to continue, praying silently that his voice wouldn't break. "I need you to tell them what you saw when my mother died, I need you to tell them you've seen what my dad's done to me, and I need you to tell them that I need help."
Ross narrowed his eyes at Bruce and said incredulously, "That's what you called me here for? Why the hell do you need me to tell them that? You can tell them more than I can."
"They won't believe me," Bruce replied through gritted teeth. He clenched his hands in his lap and cracked his knuckles nervously, glancing at the door as if he expected his father to burst in and drag him home. He felt like he was going to be sick; the words seemed to stick in his throat. "They don't know anything about him besides the fact that he's one of the most renowned nuclear scientists in the country. And they don't know anything about me besides the fact that I'm the town basket case."
Ross gave a slight nod of agreement, and Bruce continued on. "I just…they won't believe me. I need your help."
"You've been stuck here all day lying to them," Ross raised an eyebrow. "This seems like a sudden change of heart."
Bruce felt a flush of anger rise to his cheeks. He wanted to scream; how fucking easy did everyone think it was to just say 'yes, my father, the man who raised me, the man who taught me how to ride a bike and drive and helped me with my homework all my life, beat the crap out of me because he was sick and wrong and broken'? After repressing and lying his entire life, Bruce wasn't sure he could even say the words. His father had always told him it was no one else's business, and pointed out that no one would believe him anyway.
I mean, what are you, Robert? A C- average, teenage kid who can't even talk without stuttering. Why the hell would anyone believe what you tell them about me? I'm a genius, I've amounted to something in my life, I matter. That's more than anyone can say for you, you ungrateful brat.
Bruce pursed his lips and shook off the memory, trying to ignore the sound of his father's voice echo in his head. He returned his attention to Ross and said, "Yeah, I guess it is. Will you do it?"
"Why should I?" Ross demanded, smirking down at Bruce. "It's your own fault for not doing anything about it for this long."
Bruce rose to his feet and fixed Ross with a serious glare, fuming. He dug his phone out of his pocket and said lowly, "Do you remember that night a year ago? You were pretty drunk."
"Yeah, I remember it," Ross snapped, shifting uncomfortably and shooting a furtive look at the door to the counselor's office. "I'm surprised you do."
"Yeah, I was pretty out of it," Bruce agreed, laughing bitterly. His lips curled into a frown quickly when Ross met his eyes again. "Considering one of your friends drugged me. But I guess they took that into consideration, because they kindly sent me a video the next morning."
The color drained from Ross's face. He spluttered, "You…you wouldn't. You'd show that video to a bunch of cops?"
"If I have to," Bruce said calmly, meeting Ross's gaze challengingly.
Ross poked his tongue against the inside of his cheek and contemplated Bruce for a long moment. His lips curled into an indulgent smile. "I knew I saw it in you."
Bruce quirked an eyebrow questioningly.
"You're always so calm," Ross elaborated, shaking his head and smiling ruefully. "And you fly under the radar. But you're a firecracker, aren't you? You're a lot more than you let on."
"I'm just me," Bruce gave him a lopsided smile.
Clint toed off his boots at the back door and wandered through the kitchen, absentmindedly picking up the stack of mail on the kitchen table to flip through it. He drifted into the living room, and jumped when Barney's voice came from the couch. "Hey."
Clint narrowed his eyes at his younger brother suspiciously and demanded, "Why are you home so early?"
"Everyone was busy," Barney shrugged, not looking away from the television. He was sprawled out of the couch with a bowl of chips propped in the curve of his elbow. He reached into the bowl and pulled out a handful. "So I came home. I do live here, you know."
"Sometimes it's easy to forget," Clint retorted, taking off towards the hallway.
"You don't have to be such a jerk all the time," Barney called after him, frustration edging into his tone.
Clint whirled around and glared at his little brother, shocked. "Me? I'm the jerk? Have you even looked at yourself lately?"
"Can you please stop acting so goddamn high and mighty?" Barney snapped, sitting up straighter and fixing Clint with a steady glare. "I don't need your crap, not with all the other crap I'm dealing with right now."
"All the other crap you're dealing with?" Clint repeated, his voice rising slightly. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize that it was so hard to spend all your time partying. Excuse me for thinking it's difficult to balance school, homework, friends, and a brother who calls drunk off his ass for a ride home three times a week. If Buck ever found out-"
"I don't give a fuck what either of you think!" Barney jumped to his feet, sending the bowl in his lap to the floor. The chips skittered across the hardwood. "It doesn't even fucking matter, Clint! Buck is an asshole, and I don't give a fuck if he finds out."
"What?" Clint asked, confused by Barney's violent reaction. "What do you-?"
Barney dropped back onto the couch and ran his hands over his face. It was a long time before he spoke again; Clint crossed his arms and shifted uncomfortably in the doorway. Finally, Barney sighed and said softly, "He's going to send us back."
Clint stepped back into the living room, sure he'd heard wrong. He swallowed hard and asked hoarsely, "What?"
"He's going to send—"
"No, I heard you," Clint cut Barney off before he could finish. He scrubbed a hand over his mouth and asked through his fingers, "I…how do you know?"
"Last time I went to the job site with him I heard him on the phone outside," Barney said softly. "He was…he didn't notice I was listening. He was talking to the foster care agency, told them that business had been bad lately and he couldn't afford to take care of us anymore. He might have to shut down the business." He lifted his gaze to meet Clint's, his eyes wide and desperate. "They want to put us back with Mom."
"If they want us back with Mom, she must have cleaned up," Clint pointed out, his chest tightening. He was having a hard time breathing. He couldn't get the image of his mother lying on the floor and seizing with a needle still in her arm out of his head. It was the last time he remembered seeing her before they took him and Barney away.
"Or they think she has," Barney snapped irritably. "It's not hard to fake, trust me." Clint's mouth twisted into a frown. Barney sighed and continued softly, "I don't want to go back, Clint. She…what if she…"
Clint stared at him from where he was rooted to the floor, torn between anger, disbelief, and hopelessness. "I…no. There's no way…"
"I knew you wouldn't believe me," Barney mumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. He rubbed at his eyes irritably and turned away from Clint.
Clint chewed on his bottom lip, regarding Barney with exasperation. "I don't…I'm not saying I don't believe you. I just don't want to… jump to conclusions."
Barney snorted derisively and flopped back on the couch. "Whatever."
Clint crossed the living room to drop onto the couch next to Barney. "Listen, we don't know for sure that that'll happen." Barney didn't look reassured. Clint took a deep breath and added quietly, "If it does, at least we'll be together. It's not like I'll just leave you with her."
Barney's eyebrows drew together and he stared intently at the opposite wall. "I…I'd rather you did. I've put you through hell. You deserve to get out of here."
Clint shook his head. "That's not how being brothers works."
Barney looked up at Clint, and for the first time in months his eyes weren't clouded by alcohol. He smiled sadly and rested his chin on his knees, hugging his arms around his legs. Clint didn't like the resignation he saw in his baby brother's expression, but had no idea how to fix it.
Natasha smiled politely at Michael, the forced grin feeling fake and foreign on her lips. She attempted to slip her hand out of his, but he kept a tight grip on her fingers under the table. She cleared her throat and glanced at the clock on the opposite wall of the restaurant. "Wow, it's getting late. I should be heading home soon. I promised Dmitri I'd clean the basement by this weekend."
Michael reached for the check with his free hand. "Of course.
"Here, let me get half," Natasha pulled her hand free of Michael's grip and snatched the black book from his hand.
"I've got it," Michael insisted, reaching to take the check back.
Natasha held it out of his reach and dug in the pocket of her coat for her wallet. "You've always got it. I'll pay this time."
"That's not how it works," Michael argued, glancing around the restaurant to make sure no one was watching them. "I'm the man, and I can pay."
"That's not how it works for me," Natasha replied tersely. "I'm a woman, and I can take care of myself, thank you very much."
"But you don't have to," Michael suddenly rose from his seat. Natasha scooted her chair back from the table, watching him warily. He dropped down onto one knee in front of her and fumbled in his pocket for a small velvet box. Natasha's breath caught in her throat. She couldn't believe this was happening, this wasn't happening.
He popped open the box to reveal an elegant diamond ring and asked, his voice choked with nerves, "Will you marry me?"
Natasha gaped at him, shocked speechless. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, but no sound came out. Finally, she managed to squeak, "I…I'm seventeen."
"You turn eighteen in a week," Michael pointed out, still not rising from his knee. "I love you, and I want you to spend the rest of your life with me."
Natasha lurched out of her chair to her feet, catching herself on the edge of the table. She managed to force a smile and asked shortly, "I…will you excuse me for one minute?"
Michael stared up at her, bemused, but nodded. Natasha tried to ignore the sad, resigned look lingering in his eyes.
She turned on her heel and strode towards the bathroom, her hands shaking uncontrollably. Operating almost on autopilot, with no thought in her mind about anything besides getting the hell out of there, she locked the bathroom door behind her and crossed the room to the window. She pushed it open, tossed her high heels out before her, and hauled herself up to straddle to frame before dropping to the ground a few feet below on the other side. She picked up her shoes by the straps and padded down the alleyway, not paying any mind to the cold slush soaking into the feet of her tights.
Tony cursed under his breath when he opened his bedroom door and ran straight into Dummy. After his initial pride of successfully building a robot, he'd gotten pretty sick of the stupid thing following him around everywhere. He pushed the robot arm out of the way and snapped irritably, "Damn it, you're worse than a dog. Go sit in your corner and stay there."
Dummy whirred lowly and complied, rolling over to the tile floor on the opposite side of Tony's bedroom and settling itself in a corner, looking almost disappointed. Tony rolled his eyes and strode over to his closet to grab a jacket and his keys. He managed to make it to the front hall before he ran into his mother, who was wearing a long, elegant blue dress. Her hair was pinned up in elaborate twists and curls, and she rifled through her purse for her hand mirror to check her makeup. She paused when she caught sight of Tony and beamed at him. "Hello, dear. Your father and I were just leaving. He's got an important dinner meeting tonight with some investors."
Tony shrugged, unconcerned, and tugged on his jacket. "I'm going out anyway."
"Not tonight," Howard breezed into the front hall, adjusting his tie and fidgeting with his jacket lapels. "I don't want you out driving this late. It's dangerous out there of Friday nights."
Tony snorted incredulously. "You can't be serious."
Howard raised an eyebrow in response and continued, "Anyway, Obie has to drop by to leave some files for me, and you need to be here to let him in."
"He has a key," Tony pointed out.
"Did I ask that question?" Howard replied snappishly, picking up a thin folder from the mudroom table. "What's so important that you have to go out for?"
"I was going to see if Bruce was busy," Tony replied tersely. "He's been pretty quiet and stressed since, you know, he watched his mother die."
Howard pursed his lips disapprovingly. "Don't turn this on me. I just think that he lays a lot of pressure on you, and it's unhealthy for you to have to deal with it."
"He has been there for me more than I've ever been there for him," Tony said lowly, his tone laced with anger. "He was there for me when you weren't, and he put up with a hell of a lot a couple years ago; he fucking deserves someone who cares about him just as much."
"What could you possibly have put him through?" Howard demanded, rolling his eyes. "You've practically fed and clothed him, he apparently has spent most of his life here, and you—"
"I tried to kill myself!" Tony shouted, his voice echoing off the high ceiling and resounding through the house. His father was struck speechless, and Tony pressed on, enjoying the power he held over his father with that statement is some twisted way. "My asthma was acting up, I was having attacks every other day. Obie dragged me to the hospital and they thought that my lungs were too weak to last much longer. Remember that? When they thought I was going to die and you were 'stuck in Italy on business'?"
"It turned out to be a false alarm," Howard defended himself.
"But we didn't know that for months!" Tony snapped sharply. "They told me that they couldn't do anything for me, that I either had to stay in the goddamn hospital or leave and spend the rest of my short life doing what I wanted." He swallowed hard, his words sticking in his throat. He'd never had to explain this to anyone before, and it was proving to be more difficult than he'd anticipated. "I didn't want to just…to just leave. I didn't…I was stupid and reckless and I didn't care if I hurt myself, and Bruce stuck with me. He dragged me to a therapist and he forced my meds down my throat for the first couple weeks. You didn't even call." Tony's voice broke and he cleared his throat before adding harshly, "He never…he never left. So I'm sorry, if you don't like him, and I'm sorry if I don't spend time with someone as perfect as Steve Rogers, but I will not apologize for wanting to help him."
Maria gaped at her son wordlessly, her hand covering her mouth. Howard opened his mouth to say something, his expression somewhat softer than it had been before, but was cut off by his phone ringing. He picked it up, his gaze still trained on Tony. "Hello? Yes, I'm on my way. We'll be right there. See you soon."
He slipped his phone back into his breast pocket and drew in a deep breath, tearing his eyes from Tony. "We…we will talk about this when we get home."
Tony watched in disbelief as his father gripped his mother's arm and led her out the front door without another word.
Before the door could close behind them, Tony caught it and called out over the front stoop, "I hate you, you know."
Howard's shoulders tensed, but he didn't stop walking. Tony slammed the door and immediately snuck down it to the floor, curling into a ball and biting his lip hard in an effort to distract himself from the pain in his chest.
Steve and Tony both looked up when the door to the office opened. Ross stepped into the hallway and pulled the door closed behind him.
"What did he want?" Tony demanded, jumping to his feet. Steve stood as well, casting a wary glance at Tony.
Ross shrugged and replied, "He wanted someone to back up his story. He told them his dad hits him."
Tony blinked, surprised. "He...he did?"
Steve let out a sigh of relief, and felt like a weight had been lifted from his chest. He sagged against the wall, allowing relief to overtake him for a moment.
Ross snorted derisively, noticing Steve's reaction, and said, "Yeah, took him long enough. Not like either of you two did anything to help."
Tony tensed and Steve reached out to grip his arm again. They didn't need a fight breaking out in the middle of the hall. Tony shook him off and regarded Ross coolly. "Unlike some people, we didn't want to pressure him into something he didn't want. Now I suggest you get the hell out of here before I have Roger's punch your face in."
Steve sighed, "Tony..."
Tony swatted his arm and said, "Hired muscle doesn't get paid to talk."
Ross shook his head and rolled his eyes. He started to push by Steve, but paused for a moment and jabbed his finger into Steve's chest. "Good luck with your mess of a boyfriend, prick. You two deserve each other."
Ross stalked down the hall and disappeared out the front entrance of the school, letting the door slam behind him.
"Boyfriend?" Tony turned to Steve, and regarded him with interest.
Steve frowned at Tony and shook his head, trying to keep the blush from rising up his neck. He muttered, "Ross is just being a jerk, don't worry about it."
Tony eyed him doubtfully, but pulled out his phone and started scrolling through his contacts. He motioned for Steve to go into the office and said, "You go see when they're going to let Bruce go, I'll call the others. He's probably starving, I don't think he's eaten since Clint brought him that sandwich."
Steve nodded and turned the door handle to the office. He hesitated for a moment, turning back to look at Tony. Tony had his phone pressed to his ear and was talking animatedly, waving his free hand in the air as he berated Clint for ignoring his texts earlier that day and commanding him to meet them in the town square in an hour. He smiled a little bit, despite himself, and pushed the door open to go and find Bruce.
Steve picked at the dry chicken on his plate with little interest, casting a glance towards the phone. He hadn't heard from Bucky in a couple weeks, and he was starting to get worried. The only other time he hadn't called, he'd been hurt in some kind of away mission he wasn't allowed to tell Steve anything about. He could feel Rick and Sharon looking at each other and then at him with concern, but elected to ignore them.
He started in surprise when the doorbell rang.
Rick set his napkin on the table and stood up to answer it, casting a curious glance at Sharon. She shrugged, obviously not having any more of an idea than Rick of who could be there.
If Steve leaned back far enough in his chair, he could just barely make out the strip of green uniform in the crack of the front door. Rick's shoulders stiffened and he asked gruffly, "Yes?"
"Mr. Jones?" one of the men at the door held out his hand. "I'm Lieutenant Rand, and I believe you know Father Mitchell?"
"Yes, good to see you, Father," Rick reached out to shake the hand of the priest. "What can I help you with?"
"Would you mind if we came in?" Father Mitchell asked softly.
Steve's blood turned to ice. His eyes grew foggy and he stared at Sharon blankly for a moment before he managed to say softly, "He…he's dead."
Sharon lifted her gaze to meet Steve's sharply. "You don't know that. They may just want—"
"It's the same officer who told me about my father," Steve cut her off, his voice hoarse with shock. He tried to swallow, but his spit seemed to stick in his throat. He shook his head in disbelief and mumbled, "He can't be…"
"Steve, we don't know," Sharon repeated more firmly, her voice shrill in Steve's ears. He pushed his chair away from the table, feeling detached and numb, and stood up.
He could hear the men in the living room, speaking softly. "…pronounced dead. I'm sorry for your loss."
Steve gripped the back of his chair tightly, suddenly off balance and dizzy. When he felt steady enough, he pushed off the chair and propelled himself to the front hall, stumbling over the shoes by the front door. He fumbled for his jacket and pulled on the first coat he grabbed.
"Steve!" Sharon snatched the back of his coat and tried to drag him back towards the kitchen. "I think you need to calm down. Come into the living room and let's talk to them…"
"There's nothing to talk about," Steve turned on his heel to face his adoptive mother, tearing out of her grip and leveling her with a glare. "He's dead; nothing they can say to me will ever, ever be able to fix that." His voice broke before he could complete his sentence, and his eyes stung smartly. He pressed his hand over his mouth and turned from Sharon so she couldn't see his face, feeling like his heart was being torn out of his chest. He felt cold; a horrible, sickening cold that seemed to sink down into his bones and freeze the marrow.
"What's going on out here?" Rick appeared in the hall, looking strained and red eyed.
Steve took advantage of Sharon's momentary distraction to take off out the front door.
Natasha glanced up from the box she was sorting through to get a look outside through the sliding glass door of the daylight basement. It was still snowing outside, and the howling wind shook the glass in its panes. She placed a few dusty knick knacks on the table and absentmindedly toyed with them, her mind wandering to Michael. Her chest tightened immediately at the thought of him and she forced herself to focus on cleaning instead.
As she ducked her head to return to her project, she caught a glimpse of green out of the corner of her eye. She set the box aside and stood up, approaching the door slowly and peering through the heavily falling snow.
There was definitely a person plodding through her backyard; she could make out their outline well enough. After a few seconds, she realized who it was and yanked the sliding door opened, shocked. "Steve? What are you doing out here?"
"What?" Steve started and whirled around to face her, startled. His eyes were puffy and his cheeks were streaked with dried tear tracks; he looked miserable.
Her stomach sank; she had a feeling she knew what had caused him to wander out of his house and through the streets aimlessly. She stepped aside and beckoned him towards the doorway. "Come inside for a minute, you must be freezing."
Steve considered her offer for a few moments before trudging through the snow towards her. He kicked off his feet before he stepped into the basement, getting most of the snow off of his boots. Natasha pulled the door closed behind him and rubbed her arms, trying to generate some warmth. She shivered and muttered, "God, it's freezing outside. What are you doing?"
"I was…" Steve gestured vaguely in the direction he'd been going. He looked completely lost. He shrugged and cleared his throat. "I…I don't know. I just…I needed a walk."
"In a snowstorm," Natasha nodded slowly. "That…that makes sense."
Steve sighed and ran his hands through his hair, tugging at the short blonde locks in frustration. Natasha watched him warily, evaluating what must be running through his mind. Steve didn't just go wandering around the neighborhood when he was a little upset. He was calm and rational and calculating. There wasn't a lot she could imagine that would throw him. She'd been fearing this moment ever since Bucky left. She and Bucky had dated a couple years before, but broken it off amicably. She'd still seen him around, but she couldn't claim to feel much of a connection between them; at least, she reminded herself, it was nothing like the connection he and Steve had.
Steve rubbed his hands over his face, scrubbing away the tears and moisture from walking through the falling snow, and fixed Natasha with a curious look. She raised an eyebrow at him challengingly and asked quietly, "What?"
Steve closed the distance between them and kissed her, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close. Natasha kissed him back, one hand cupping his neck and the other laying on his chest. She could taste his tears on his lips.
When they drew apart, he looked down at her with an odd look of desperation and helplessness on his face and asked, "Anything?"
Natasha considered a moment before shrugging and replying honestly, "No."
Steve let go of her and paced back and forth in front of her, digging his hands into the pockets of his damp jacket. "Me neither."
"Why did you do that?" Natasha asked. She didn't inject any blame into her tone, simply interest. Kissing Steve was infinitely better than kissing Michael, but it was nothing like she imagined kissing Clint.
Not that she had imagined kissing Clint. That would be a waste of time.
Steve shrugged and paused in his pacing in front of her. "I just thought…I liked Peggy a lot. She was a great girl, and I wanted to love her, but I never…I never felt anything."
"So you were hoping I would make you feel something?" Natasha asked, still not completely understanding. With anyone else, she would have been suspicious of the sexual undertones of the conversation, but somehow Steve didn't seem to be implying them, or even noticing them at all. For him, they may not have even been there. Natasha never failed to be amazed by how innocent he could be.
"I was hoping it was just Peggy that wasn't right," Steve mumbled, red creeping up his neck and staining his cheeks. "But I guess it's not…it's not you, or her, it's me."
"It's you?" Natasha repeated, hopelessly lost.
Steve sighed and rubbed his eyes irritably. He said frankly, "Actually, it's mostly Bruce."
"Oh," Natasha said, comprehension dawning. "I understand." She paused a moment before adding hesitantly, "There's nothing wrong with being gay."
That was the wrong thing to say; Steve's shoulder stiffened and he set his mouth in a thin line, spluttering, "I'm not…I mean, I don't think…"
Natasha raised an eyebrow at him expectantly, waiting for an explanation.
Steve shrugged helplessly and flapped his hands uselessly, frustrated. "I…I really don't have time to worry about that right now. Labeling is—"
"Are you going to lecture me on labeling?" Natasha asked, amused. She allowed a small smile to cross her lips. "I guess that's what happens when you fall for a hippie."
"Bruce isn't a hippie," Steve said tersely, his reluctant smile betraying his harsh tone.
"He survives mainly on tea, granola, and flax seed bread," Natasha pointed out dryly.
Steve actually laughed a little but at that, but it came out more like a sob than anything, and a few seconds later he was crying. He buried his face in his hands and turned away from Natasha, trying to hide his tears from her and apologizing through the hiccupping sobs racking his frame. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't…I should…"
Natasha put a hand on his shoulder and turned him back to face her, wincing sympathetically. Steve blinked a few times, trying to force himself to stop crying, but more tears quickly fell to replace the ones he blinked away. She hugged him tightly, wrapping his larger frame in her arms as best she could. His forehead pressed against her shoulder and his fingers dug into the back of her shirt. His body shook with sobs, and she rubbed his back, not speaking.
There was nothing she could say.
So there it is! I hope you all liked it. I'm working hard to edit this as fast and as thoroughly as I can, though I ideally want to include a few more scenes. I just have to actually write them:)
Leave a review if you have a second! You all keep me going:)
Thanks for reading!