23.12.2012 / Phil
Phil finally gets a green light to leave the hospital just before Christmas. It should have happened weeks – if not months – earlier, but an infection happened and while it wouldn't do much harm to a healthy adult, in Phil's post-surgery state, with his messed up heart and lung, it hit pretty hard. He is all right now, though. Still a bit on the weaker side and not as lithe as he used to be, but he's getting there.
He knows that the team has been living in Stark's tower for over two months now and according to everyone's reports, they are actually getting on pretty well and they've managed not to kill or harm themselves accidentally – it wouldn't be that impossible, given that there is the Hulk on the team, and a few hot-headed men – and Phil can't wait to see it with his own eyes.
Moreover, he can't wait to meet Evelyn.
It's strange because Phil has never had much contact with children and he's not sure he even likes them, but he's heard a lot of positive things about the boy from Clint and the rest of the team.
Evelyn is eleven and a half now, so it's not like he is a baby, he shouldn't be a big problem, even if he is autistic. Phil had to admit that he still didn't know enough about autism, so he's done some more research to know better what he can expect, and then confronted his new knowledge with what everyone has been telling him. Pepper answered all the questions he had, so he feels quite prepared.
It's still difficult to believe that Tony has a child, Phil can't imagine him playing a father, especially because of Howard and his relationship with Tony. Phil's been there when Tony told Nick that his father never told him he loved him, never told him he liked him, and he's heard the bitterness and the long-buried grief in Tony's voice. Though apparently, Tony is nothing like his father.
'Hey, you ready, Phil? Or lost in the nostalgia for this place?' Clint's voice cuts through his thoughts and Phil looks up to see his boyfriend staring at him with a grin. Oh. It's been a very long time since Clint managed to sneak up on him.
'I don't want to stay here even five more minutes,' he replies, getting up from the armchair and looking around his – well, not anymore – room. 'I am sure you share the sentiment.'
'Sure I do. Your bag?'
Phil gestures at the duffle waiting on the bed and before he can take a step it's already slung over Clint's shoulder.
'All the paperwork done?'
'I just need to sign one more document for the head nurse and then we can go,' Phil explains, walking out of the room. Three minutes later he is free to go. The nurses all say his goodbye and wish him good luck as he walks out of the ward; it feels like he's in some movie, the only things lacking are a cake and a song. Well, that could still happen when he comes to the tower, he wouldn't even be surprised.
'Tony let you borrow his car?' he asks Clint, blinking a few times at the sight of the perfect luxurious machine standing in front of the hospital, standing out in the sea of snow-covered normal cars.
'He knows I'll treat her like a holy thing,' Clint explains, dropping the duffle into the trunk. 'Come on, get in, it's not getting any warmer out here.
Phil obeys – Clint it very right with his comment about weather, it is cold and snowy, perfect for Christmas – and a moment later they are driving though the streets at a speed well over the allowed, but Phil knows Clint's reflexes and trusts him to drive safely. And probably no cop in New York would even try to stop a car with Stark's name on the license plate.
They arrive to the Tower in no time, or at least it feels like that: Phil is staring intently at everything around, taking it all in and reminding himself to breathe. After spending over half a year inside one building, with only a few trips to the small part at the back, the city seems huge and overwhelming, even if in a positive way.
Clint parks the car underground and takes the duffle again, gesturing at Phil to follow him, and a moment later they are in the elevator.
'We go to out floor first, I need to leave the bag and you might want to change into some lighter clothes. We're going upstairs for dinner – everyone is here – and the penthouse is always pretty warm.'
When they enter their floor, Phil immediately likes the space, quite different from what he has expected; it's much more domestic and warmer than other parts of the tower that he's seen before.
'Tony let us decorate like we wanted,' Clint explains, noticing his curious looks. 'I figured I'd use the opportunity to make this place more of what we've always wanted… You know, when we talked about renovating our old apartment…'
'It's amazing,' Phil says and he means it. Tony really doesn't do anything by halves. 'So, where is the bathroom?'
Clint navigates him through the floor and watches him from across the room when Phil washes his face and changes into some more comfortable clothes.
'You'll want nothing more than a t-shirt,' Clint tells him when he starts to put on a cardigan.
'It's warm up there. You'll be hot. Trust me.'
'… okay,' Phil agrees, putting the piece of clothing back. 'If you are sure. We go?'
'Yes, boss,' Clint replies with a salute and leads Phil to another elevator. 'There is a staircase, but we're going five floors up. Steve's the only one who uses the stairs anyway,' Clint explains, winking at Phil who rolls his eyes. It's not like he'll be going up and down the stairs only because Steve happens to use them; he's grown pretty used to his idol's presence.
When they step out of the elevator, the first thing Phil notices is a loud pained wail echoing in the big open space of the penthouse; the next thing he knows is Pepper's face in front of him, offering him a small smile, and then her arms pulling him into a hug.
'JARVIS told me you finally got here,' she says as soon as she lets go of him. 'You're looking good, Phil,' she adds, eying him from head to toe. 'Ah, and sorry for the mess, Tony's taking Evelyn downstairs, he's just feeling a bit sick today – come on, let's get to the whole crowd – and no, there are no balloons waiting for you, although I had hard time talking Tony out of it –'
Phil just nods, trying to systemize Pepper's words in his head and taking in the surroundings at the same time. The penthouse is looking a bit different from what he remembers, a few changes has been made during the renovation after Loki's visit, he notes; it's nicer now. Feels more like home than an exhibition space.
All the Avengers plus Colonel Rhodes are in the kitchen, mostly seated by the big table; Bruce is stirring something on the stove and Thor is pouring wine into everyone's glasses. There at least twelve different foods on the table but Clint has warned Phil that feasts like that happen at least once a week these days; it's a different thing to hear about them than to take part though.
There is a wave of smiles and greetings when the three of them approach the table.
'Sit down,' Clint whispers into Phil's ear, pointing at two empty places between Steve and Natasha. 'Talking time later, now we eat.'
'And Tony?' Phil asks, sitting down as said and offering Natasha a small wry smile.
'Sir will be in the kitchen in approximately seventy seconds,' JARVIS states. Bruce nods to himself and takes the pan off the stove; Thor puts the empty bottle away and drops into a seat next to Steve. Pepper and Rhodey exchange a look and a soft nod; Phil notices it because it's his job to notice everything, and he wonders what exactly it might mean.
Tony does come in a moment later and before he even approaches the table, he starts talking.
'Here I officially welcome you to the Avenger's lair, Agent. We are happy to have you here instead of living a boring life in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s barracks. Fell at home, do your best at doing whatever crazy stuff comes to your mind, you will know if you cross a line – and not even Clint has managed to do that yet, so no worries – and please, when we are done, add yourself to the list on the fridge and share what food you're good at preparing since we're making an effort here not to live on takeouts and no, I don't have a chef – okay, now I am getting distracted,' he stops the stream of words for a breath and gives Pepper's a quick kiss on the forehead before sitting down. 'Anyway, welcome and all that. Happy meal, people,' he finishes and takes the pasta bowl to serve Pepper and himself.
It's like a sign before then everyone starts to move and talk and laugh at the same time and in a few minutes all the plate full. Phil has to admits the food is really good.
Then, for a few moments, the noise dies down as everyone eats.
The atmosphere here is simple and homey and Phil can't remember feeling like that for decades; sure, his time with Clint – and sometimes Natasha too – is always lovely, but three are too few to feel the special atmosphere that usually accompanies family reunions.
There is talking time after the main meal and before dessert – Phil is not sure how is this possible, but they all actually manage to eat some of it – and then everyone starts to slowly disappear, retiring to their rooms, even though it's only early evening. They are probably going to prepare for Christmas, since the whole team will be celebrating together.
In the end it's only Tony, Pepper, Clint and Phil by the table – but then Clint offers Pepper an arm and they walk out before Phil can say anything.
'I thought I could spare you the guessing and all the jazz,' Tony says, looking at Phil curiously over table covered with empty plates. 'Wanna meet Evelyn? I was hoping he'd eat with us, but he's not feeling too well today, so I thought better let him rest…'
'Yeah, I heard him shouting when we came in,' Phil replies, observing Tony's reactions closely. Tony closes his eyes for a second and makes this tiny nod, and when he looks at Phil again, his eyes look tired.
'Yeah, you know, winter's a thing here,' he offers, shivering slightly. 'Sensory stuff. Evelyn hates the cold and hates having to wear so many clothes. And now he's got a cold and a headache and he's just overstimulated. And that usually ends up in a loud meltdown, but at least those don't last long. Usually.'
'I wondered why it's so warm here,' Phil tell him, glancing unconsciously at Tony's mostly bare arms – he is wearing just a thin t-shirt, the reactor shining through it easily. 'My first thought was that you wanted a personal Malibu here, I must admit.'
'I can't say I'm not enjoying this. And ugh, Agent, feelings here, I miss Malibu like hell. It's the only good place to be in the winter.'
'Then why don't you – Evelyn, right?' Phil realizes mid-sentence. Tony nods.
'Yeah, he's had a hard time getting used to being here, so travelling there and back in not really an option. But you see, we're short a palm tree – whoa. An idea. JARVIS, make note – thanks, Agent. Phil. Whatever. Sorry. I seriously didn't get enough sleep within the last few months,' he babbles, making Phil smirk a bit, 'He should be all right now. Was calm when I left him in his room. He's been waiting to meet you, Clint told him all the stories about you.'
'I must say I was surprised that Clint is so crazy with your son.'
'I know, I told him the same thing!' Tony exclaims happily. 'I believe I asked him if he was an instant buddy machine… I don't think he replied to that. But yeah. Evelyn loves that he's so straightforward and that he signs, and well, you have to agree that the man is like a big kid himself.'
'I have to,' Phil agrees. Tony stands up and heads for the elevator, Phil follows. 'I thought you were a big brat just until a few months ago,' he adds.
'Oh boy, sometimes I really am,' Tony laughs as they enter the elevator. He doesn't press any buttons, but it starts moving as soon as the doors are closed anyway. 'I know it might be hard to believe, but I am still the very same person that you've known for some time. Evelyn changes things, but not that drastically.'
'Weren't you afraid?' Phil asks, trying to stifle the twinge of nervousness; it's not like him to be anxious, but he really wants the kid to like him. Clint would be disappointed otherwise.
'Man, I was terrified,' Tony admits, stepping out of the elevator. 'I know Clint told you a lot so you know I knew about him from the beginning, but being a once-a-month visitor didn't qualify you for being a parent… Then things happened and I found myself with a non-verbal kid whose world has just been turned upside down sitting in my living room. But I didn't have a choice and then – it turned out I was not that bad with him, even for longer periods of time,' Tony continues, stopping in front of a white door. 'We're best buddies now, seriously, and the best way to bring up a child – what am I saying, I can't believe I'm moralizing like that, let me rephrase it – the best way that works for us is being friends. Come on,' he adds and the doors open by themselves. JARVIS' doing, Phil is sure. Tony's being himself so much; he doesn't even make a pause to draw a breath.
'I brought our newest housemate to meet you, Evelyn,' Tony says into the thick darkness that fills the room, and a shy giggle follows; a second later the room is filled with soft greenish light and Phil can see the boy sitting in the middle of the room, half undressed, quickly putting something into a small box in front of him. 'Say hello?'
'Hello,' the boy repeats after Tony, staring at his hands. Not that Phil has expected eye contact when he is still a complete stranger.
'Hello,' he says, crouching in front of the boy, but keeping a safe distance so that Evelyn wouldn't feel uncomfortable. 'Clint has told me a lot of things about you.'
The boy beams when he hears Clint's name and looks up at Phil for a brief moment.
'You feeling better now?' Tony asks, walking up to the boy, sitting down on the floor and scooping him into his lap in one fluid movement.
'Yes,' Evelyn signs. Phil is not as good at ASL as Clint, but he knows his share of signs.
'So, what do you have in the box? Hiding something from us?'
'No,' Evelyn says, starting to play with his hands. He is executing the movements surely and quickly as if it was a practices ritual, and maybe it is. 'Gifts,' he adds in a whisper and Tony's eyebrows shoot up.
'I though I helped you with packing all the gifts?' he asks curiously, eying the box, and then gestures at Phil to sit down.
'Can we see?' Tony asks softly, moving the boy slightly in his lap to meet his gaze; Evelyn doesn't look away.
'Special,' Evelyn offers. Phil wonders if it means something, but Tony's surprised face tells him it doesn't. 'J?'
'Evelyn decided that there are three more people that he needs to find gifts for,' the A.I. explains smoothly and Phil almost flinches at the sudden voice. 'It was a few weeks ago and we worked on making his project real.'
Evelyn has this shy grin on his face now that Phil is familiar with – Clint does something similar when he does something he shouldn't have done, but knows that the result is a good thing. Then the kid gives thumbs up at the ceiling.
'May I suggest you look into the box?'
'Evelyn, can Phil look into the box first?' Tony asks the boy and he nods in response, his eyes focused on his hands again.
Phil moves over to reach the box, slowly takes off the lid, giving Evelyn the possibility to change his mind, but when there is no sign of protest, he looks inside and – he smiles in amazement.
Clint has explained that living in the Tower might mean encountering strange things quite often, and robots appearing out of nowhere are pretty normal. Phil has been instructed in what he can expect and he was showed photos of Tony's three favorite bots that the genius apparently calls his kids as eagerly as he calls Evelyn his son.
There are replicas of the three bots inside, made out of legos, obviously custom-made and them hand-adjusted, as if painted, and they look exactly like the real things.
Evelyn is throwing Phil unsure glances, so Phil hands the box over to Tony.
'It's amazing,' Phil tells the boy with a smile and Evelyn beams at him. 'It was a very good idea indeed,' he adds and observes Tony's reaction at the contents of the box.
Tony looks inside, freezes, takes a slow deep breath, and then bites his lips and smiles at the same time, eyes shining; he really looks happier than Phil has ever seen him.
'JARVIS helped you with making these, hmm?' Tony says, his voice low, and Phil feels a bit like he's interfering a scene too intimate for him to observe, but Tony doesn't seem to mind. 'Phil is right, you are amazing,' Tony kisses the boy on the forehead, making him giggle. 'You are such a big boy now, doing things all on your own,' he adds, sounding damn proud, and it only makes sense; that is a big thing for autistic kids, learning their independence, Phil knows.
Then Evelyn whispers something Phil can't hear into Tony's ear, and his face immediately changes into half-stunned and half-awed.
'Can Phil stay and see?' he asks, giving Phil a look, and when Evelyn signs yes, he adds, 'JARVIS, give up a window here. Three minutes.'
Nothing seems to change – but there is no answer, so Phil assumes the A.I. is already disengaged within the room.
'Show me that thing, Evelyn,' Tony encourages the boy, and a second later the three lego bots are on the floor and Evelyn is working on something inside the box with his little fingers – oh. The box has double bottom, it seems, and under the fake one apparently he hid a folded piece of elegant stationery paper.
'Made 't in car,' the boy explains, handing the paper to Tony, and Phil understands: whatever is hidden inside is a Christmas gift for JARVIS that Evelyn had to hide because the A.I. is almost omniscient inside the tower.
'Oh,' Tony breathes, looking stunned, and puts the paper back into Evelyn's hand.
The boy gets up, walks up to Phil – this itself is a great achievement, given his general dislike for strangers – and shows him the paper with one word written in deep blue ink, in a much neater handwriting that he would have expected from a kid, and it says Anien. Phil immediately recognizes the pattern, Tony himself has told him about the names and the secret code he uses sometimes with his son. He'd like to ask what this one means, but it's not that important now.
'You – you gave him a name,' Tony states, bewildered, looking at the boy with a wide smile.
'Yesss,' Evelyn replies, crouching in the middle of the room and grabbing the box, quickly stuffing the paper underneath the fake bottom and putting the lego-bots inside. When it's done he goes back to sit in Tony's lap. 'J is – ah – family,' he in a whisper.
Phil suddenly remembers that Tony asked JARVIS for three minutes; Evelyn seems very aware of the limited time.
'I am so, so proud of you,' Tony says into Evelyn's hair, hugging the boy tightly.
So, when JARVIS said there were three more people that Evelyn thought of, he called the bots people. The A.I. is his family as possibly his best friend the way he seems to understand Evelyn completely. It's – it's so obvious that he boy is Tony's son, even forgetting the appearance similarities, given how the boy seems to treat the world around him.
'Keep them hidden until tomorrow, little prince,' Tony tells the boy after a few moment of comfortable silence. 'J, call Flavie, we'll be going,' he adds and Evelyn gets up from his lap immediately without prompting. 'It's his bath time in a few minutes,' Tony explains, standing up, and Phil does the same. 'I will come tuck you in,' Tony assures the boy who is putting the box into a drawer he's just opened. He nods in agreement without looking at Tony, and then Tony and Phil leave the room. Phil can just guess the French woman will come any moment.
'Sorry we got a little teary there and there was no proper introduction or something,' Tony says as soon as they are outside the room, 'but you know, you just have to go with the flow sometimes, whatever happens – god, he is so fucking smart,' Tony adds, shaking his head in wonder, walking towards the elevator absentmindedly.
'He does seem like a smart kid,' Phil admits lightly. 'It was very thoughtful of him, what he did.'
'You know,' Tony starts, sighing, 'I just start realizing now that he's really growing up, and you know, the team moving in only speeds things up – he has to deal with all those new people and new challenges and he's adapting to it quicker than I would have ever expected… He's starting to be more independent – you do realize it was him and JARVIS who ordered the custom Lego pieces, really, I knew nothing – and he'll just never cease to amaze me.'
'I can only imagine,' Phil offers, entering the elevator after Tony. 'I look forward to getting to know him better.'
'You know what?' Tony asks, suddenly smirking amusedly. 'I can't wait to see everyone's when we exchange the gifts, and boy, I can't wait to – you know,' Tony adds, looking up at the ceiling for a second and ten winking.
Phil knows because Tony doesn't finish the sentence aloud. He can't wait to see JARVIS' reaction. The A.I. has known Evelyn for years, but it seems that only now he's become Evelyn's friend and confidant of sorts on a new level that gains him a new rank in the boy's personal hierarchy – or maybe it's to distinguish him from all the new friends Evelyn is making these days… Either way, it's more thoughtful that Phil would have expected from an eleven-year-old.
'Your level,' Tony tells Phil and he realizes that the elevator took them the few levels down instead a level up, to the penthouse, like Phil expected it to. 'Well, do some sightseeing, Agent, or help Clint wrap his presents, watch Supernanny, do whatever it is that you like to do when there is no paperwork pending – yeah, you know… It's good to have you here.'
'Thanks for having me here,' Phil says earnestly. 'And thanks for letting me in,' he adds and steps out into the dark corridor. 'Until breakfast?
'We eat pretty early,' Tony says, rubbing his nose. 'Go on, indulge yourself and sleep in. You've earned it. And Thor doesn't go up until afternoon, so it's not like waffles will suddenly disappear,' he laughs, salutes, and then the doors close.
'JARVIS, could you please give me some light here?'
'Of course, Agent Coulson,' the A.I. replies smoothly and soft light immediately appears in the corridor.
Phil makes a mental note to practice some ASL with Clint, and maybe show Evelyn his comic book collection, if the boy is interested, since he knows Tony is not such a big fan. He can expect that, as long as he's staying in one space with Clint, being around the boy a lot is inevitable – but he thinks he can share. And he realizes that living here will be something else – something more – than he has expected, even after hearing stories from all the Avengers.
He can't wait to discover what other surprises are waiting for him back in the real world.
A/N: Yes, this chapter was never supposed to happen, but then it did :) It just felt like something was missing here. In my head I call it a bonus (and I think there might be more sometime...)
Thank you all for reading! I hope you enjoyed this little chapter, please let me know?
(And feel free to suggest who you'd like to see, I can't promise anything but I might get inspired, who knows ;p)