I got this request in APRIL. That's literally how much I procrastinate. It's been almost a whole goddamn year. Anyway. This request is brought to you by mythologyrox and I hope I can do it justice. I'm so, so sorry it took this long.

The general prompt was: Clint and Nat teach the team to shoot, only to discover that Tony is a crack shot, not necessarily by choice.

Warnings for swears, nods towards potential abuse.

It started with Thor commenting on Natasha's Beretta when she was cleaning it in the main room and somehow descended from 'how does this strange device work' to 'Clint and Nat need to teach the children how to shoot straight.' Tony wasn't exactly thrilled.

Bruce had managed to weasel out of it, the git, since he'd come up with some bullshit excuse about the other guy not liking gunshots and Tony knew that he was lying because he dealt with explosions in the lab on a regular basis without even blinking. But the engineer hadn't been able to come up with anything better than 'I have work to do,' and since Pepper was out of the country visiting family in England, there wasn't much he could do to avoid being dragged downstairs to the shooting range. He'd had the room custom built for the assassins but he'd made a promise with himself that he'd never actually use the damn thing.

The agents started by explaining all the different parts of a gun, mainly for Thor's benefit; Steve had been in the army so he could handle himself and Tony… well, weapons developer anyone? He could tell the muzzle from the trigger. Once the thunder god had understood the basic concepts and they were all pretty sure that he wasn't about to accidently shoot any of them, they let him try his hand at the targets, with Clint talking him through the whole thing with a patience Tony hadn't believed him to possess.

It went about as well as you might expect. He actually managed to get two bullets in the targets – non vital shots, but hey, it was something – but the rest embedded themselves in the back wall with little puffs of dust.

"We'll work on it," Clint reassured him when the blond looked positively heartbroken. "Your technique is good." It wasn't, at all, but it seemed to cheer him up.

"Come on Steve," Nat called. "Let's see what the army taught you."

Oddly, the Captain actually looked uncomfortable at having a gun in his hand and Tony vaguely recalled his father saying something about him only wanting to fight with his shield. It was a nice principle but the truth was that in Steve's hands, that shield was just as deadly as any bullet.

"It's been a while," Steve offered, apparently embarrassed, before sinking all 15 rounds into the target without even thinking about it. His hand didn't waver once.

Clint whistled appreciatively as Natasha said, "Not bad Steve. Grouping's a little wide but considering it's been seventy years, I'd say you're doing okay." The soldier smiled at the praise but thrust the gun back towards her with a little more force than was really necessary, clearly wanting to be rid of the thing.

Tony knew what was coming, knew that they were all about to turn to him and ask him to put a gun in his hand and shoot at a target – it was always the same god damn story. Only this time they'd be expecting failure, not a perfect round with no bullet out of place. He couldn't do it.

"So, this has been fun," he told them, grinning easily as he stood and headed for the door. "We should do it again some time."

Clint was faster, getting between him and the door with alarming ease. He frowned at the billionaire. "Come on dude. It's your turn. The others did it, I'm sure you can too."

His options were limited. He could grab the gun and show them all just what he could do but that would lead to questions and he just couldn't have that. He could grab the gun and miss intentionally and just hope the assassins didn't see through the act. Or, he could try and fight his way past Clint. Wasn't much of a choice in the end.

The Beretta was a familiar, detested weight in his hand and it was all he could do not hurl it away from himself. Memories flickered in his mind of Howard breathing down his neck, pulling him this way and that to get him into a perfect shooting posture and cursing at him when he proved himself an unwilling puppet. He shook them off.

Years of growing up in the public eye had given Tony enough experience at pretending that he was fairly confident he could pull this off – slumping too heavily and putting his weight on the wrong foot, gun held just a little too tightly in hands that he let tremble. It was uncomfortable and he knew it must look ridiculous to anyone that knew what they were doing but it was necessary. If Howard could see him now he'd smack him into next week.

He pulled the trigger without caring where the bullets hit, so long as it wasn't the target and was rewarded with several puffs of dust and three bullet holes on the board, one of which catching on the arm of the human silhouette. The briefest of smiles flickered across his face but he crushed it before it was spotted.

"There. I'm going to get back to work now," he informed them as he once again spun for the door. There was a desperation clawing at his stomach to get out of that room that stunk of Howard, even though the man had never set foot there, and if he didn't leave now there was a high chance he was going to throw up. That might be hard to explain away.

He'd just managed to pull the door open when Natasha's voice reached him. "It's a good act. But you overdo it. Anyone that's been around guns for as long as you have knows how to hold one. What are you trying to hide?"

"I made guns, I didn't use them. I was always more of a missile type of person anyway." He couldn't turn to face them.

"Tony? What's wrong?" And god, Steve just had to sound concerned didn't he? Now Tony was panicked, uncomfortable and guilty. Just perfect.

"Nothing's wrong. I have things to do is all. CEO's of international companies can't sit around shooting things all day."

"And yet you can always make time to help me with pranks," Clint said dryly. "Nat's right – you're better than you want to show. Why? If this is some weird 'Merchant of Death shame thing' then you're in a room with the four people on this Earth least likely to judge you."

Tony had to glare at the archer for that, even though it entirely gave him away. Nobody got to bring up that title anymore unless they wanted to get their ass handed to them on a silver platter and Clint was no exception – he knew that. The engineer only realised his mistake when a flare of satisfaction lit the agent's eyes, an awareness that he'd incensed Tony enough to get him to play ball.

'Fine,' Tony thought to himself. 'Let them ask their damn questions. I don't have to answer them.'

There was a voice in his head that was screaming this was a bad idea but he picked up the gun again anyway, reloading it with quick, deft movements that he didn't even have to watch. Falling into the correct stance was simple, muscle memory that thirty years of absence hadn't dulled – it felt almost like coming home; except this home was bleak and dark and didn't offer any comfort to a terrified child who just wanted to make his father proud.

Fifteen rounds hit their mark at 381 metres per second, tearing a gaping hole in the centre of the head and leaving an empty wound that Tony could feel aching in his heart. 'Aren't you proud of me now Howard? Look at how well I can kill.'

He tossed the empty weapon in Clint's direction and left without a word. No one tried to stop him.

It had been two days and none of the team had tried to approach him about what had happened at the shooting range. In fact, everyone except Bruce seemed to have taken to avoiding him like the plague – maybe he'd scared them off.

He wouldn't admit, even to himself, that he was hurt. They'd pushed him, just like Howard had and now that they'd seen what he really was, they were too disgusted to stick around. Figures. Sixteen years of his own father bullying him into becoming a world class shooter and now he couldn't even touch a weapon without turning someone against him.

It was that train of thought that led to his complete surprise when Natasha and Steve came knocking on the morning of the third day, pounding on the door to the lab until he let them in – mainly so he could shout at them to go the hell away and leave him to be a monster all on his own. They ignored him.

"Tony, we need to talk," Steve announced, settling himself on one of the chairs scattered about the room.

"If you're here to ask me a load of questions, I warn you now that you won't get the answers you're looking for."

"We're looking for some truth."

"The statement stands," he shot back, natural defences rising swiftly. Attack was the best form of defence and all that.

"Tony," Steve started but Natasha cut him off.

"Look. None of us know exactly what happened down there but all we know is that you've been avoiding us ever since and Thor's starting to miss you. So you're going to talk and we're going to listen and then you're going to go upstairs and give the big guy a hug, alright?" Natasha could really be intimidating when she wanted to be.

Tony weighed up the options. He could lie, be discovered by Nat and no doubt have the crap kicked out of him. Or, he could actually tell the truth to two of his best friends who might genuinely understand what he'd been through and might be able to help him get past all this shit. If there was anyone he knew of that could empathise with this, it was Natasha.

"Okay. Ask your questions."

Steve and Nat shared a look, nodding silently. "When did you start learning to shoot?" She started smoothly.

"How old do you have to be to hold a gun?" It was as honest as it was depressing and Steve flinched slightly. "One of my earliest memories is Howard putting a gun in my hand. I think he spent every day from my birth to his death hoping that he could turn me into his perfect little soldier. Trying to recreate an old friend perhaps." He didn't mean to sound accusing and he genuinely didn't blame Steve but he couldn't help the slight anger that overcame him whenever he thought about Captain America stealing his father.

"Did you want to learn?"

"What six year old wants to know how to kill people? I wanted to learn how to throw a ball, ride a bike. Daddy dearest was less thrilled."

Steve sounded like he was choking. "Howard… Howard made you do this?"

"It was his idea but I think in the end… I guess I wanted to impress him. Make him proud," Tony admitted glumly. "I never wanted to do it but he didn't exactly tie a gun to my hand."

"But it's not just that you can shoot," Natasha argued firmly. "You can shoot. Tony, I'm not sure I could beat you and that's really saying something. How much practice have you had?"

"Every night he'd take me down to the range. We couldn't leave until I'd reached whatever score he'd given me. By the time I hit my teens, I needed to be getting perfect rounds on repeat." He could vividly remember nights when he hadn't been allowed to leave until it was time for school the next morning when his hands were shaking so badly from exhaustion that he could barely even hold a gun, let alone use one.

"You never mentioned it."

"How exactly do you drop that into conversation?"

"Do you hate him?" Steve asked suddenly. He'd fallen silent temporarily, apparently trying to come to terms with this new Howard, who would willingly make his son miserable to serve his own desires. "Howard. Do you hate him for what he did?"

Tony didn't answer that immediately, thinking it over. "I'm not sure. I hate what he did. But then… he was my father. No matter what he did, he'll always be that." He shrugged as though it didn't matter; it wasn't like he had a final answer to give.

Natasha was watching him closely. "You know, we're more alike than I thought. I guess I never realised… you didn't have much of a childhood either, did you?"

"I don't think Howard teaching me to shoot can compare to your shitstorm of a family, Nat."

"So maybe you didn't grow up in a warzone. But a father who wants you to grow up before your time? Who puts weapons in your hands and expects you to use them? That sounds pretty familiar. And I'm pretty sure there's something more to your story than you're saying."


"You have tells when you're hiding something."

"Care to tell me what they are?"

"That would ruin the fun. And you're changing the subject."

Tony risked a glance at Steve, eyeing the pale skin and wondered just how much more he could hear before his rose tinted memories were shattered. "Howard thought I needed… testing. When I was seven. I was the only child of a very wealthy man – it was bound to happen eventually but…"

"Woah, hold on," Steve stopped him. "What exactly did Howard do?"

There was a very long pause. "He paid some men to 'kidnap' me. He wanted to know what I'd do."

The soldier had to pull away then, twisting sharply and throwing up over the clean floor. Even Natasha with her iron stomach looked a little ill at the prospect. "You were seven? боже мой."

"I wasn't hurt. Howard made sure of it. I think that to him, that was enough – that it made everything okay. He really was just curious as to how I would react. As it so happened I was kidnapped two years later by someone else and the lessons I learned helped me. That's all he wanted to do."

"That doesn't make it okay."

"No, it doesn't. But I can understand it at least."

"Christ, Tony," Steve muttered, recovering just slightly. "I… I had no idea that he could… He would…"

"Steve," the billionaire cut him off. "This is not your doing. The man you knew was not the man I knew. We've been over this." He wasn't about to let Steve suffer a guilt trip through some sort of misplaced blame.

For a long while they sat in silence, drinking in the knowledge of all they'd learned. Tony didn't feel as exposed as he'd thought he would – he felt almost safe. His friends understood, weren't smothering him with hate or pity, just accepting the truth and coping with it.

Eventually though hunger started to gnaw at them and Tony stood, stretching our muscles that had started to crap. "Didn't I say something about hugging Thor? Can I retract that? I'd really rather not end up with broken ribs before dinner."

"Nope, sorry," Nat told him lightly. "A deal's a deal and I made a bet with Clint."

There was a faint groaning from the air vent in the corner, followed by "Don't do it man. I can't lose another fifty."

"Eavesdropping Barton? I thought I'd told you to stay out of there."

"I don't remember that."

"Of course you don't. Well, sorry, but I have a big blond beefcake to hug. I'll see you later."

"This is punishment, isn't it?"


Natasha was snickering even as she helped a slightly green Steve to his feet, supporting his weight with ease. "I feel like pizza. Any objections?"

Of course, there weren't. If Natasha wanted pizza, then they were damn well getting pizza.

Is this even vaguely what you wanted? I don't know. It's shorter than I intended but I actually want to go to bed before midnight at least once this week. I'm dying over here.

So there you have it. It's unbeta'd. Tell me what you thought?