sam_storyteller: (Alternate Universe)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-12-12 08:37 pm

Hydrocodone Midnight Theatre: Part Two

Part One

SEX SIX: ROMANTIC POETS AND NATIONAL ICONS
Rating: R
Warnings: None
Summary: Loki needs advice, and Captain America is just the man to help.
Notes: This is a weird little appendix to my Coulson's Eleven AU.
Prompt: lisechen: while you are stoned, i feel i should shamelessly take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, and nudge you gently towards loki/natasha from your marvelous (aha!) Coulson's Eleven AU.

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

"But it’s only sex," Loki said, sitting at one of the outside tables of their favorite pizza place (CAPTAIN AMERICA LOVES OUR SLICE!) and sipping a beer. "I mean, it is only sex, yes? That’s how you mortals do it?"

"I am so thoroughly uncomfortable with this conversation," Steve replied. "Can’t you ask Tony or May or something?"

Loki looked appalled. “Ask Allmother May? She’s very protective of Natasha, I don’t even know if she would approve of only-sex. Let alone if it’s something else,” he added broodily.

"Well, no, maybe not. But Tony," Steve said desperately. "Or Peter. Or your brother!"

"Don’t be crude, I couldn’t ask Thor about my sex life, and Peter’s a child. Stark is our leader, I shouldn’t bother him with such petty trifles. No, it must be you. Besides, you’re the only one who knows."

Steve had to allow that this was true, as much as he regretted the knowledge.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like Loki. He was a decent fella most of the time and Steve had a soft spot in his heart for mischief-makers. And he liked Natasha fine too, a good soldier and a very patient woman. He even liked them together, thought they were probably keeping each other out of trouble.

It was more the way he’d found out.

He’d only gone down to Natasha’s apartment to see about getting her to help him with his hand-to-hand skills, and the door had been open, and then he’d heard her scream and he’d gone running into the bedroom.

They’d been there together, entwined on the bed, Loki bent over her with his hips moving roughly while Natasha held his head to her breast, legs locked around his thighs. Steve wasn’t a peeping tom but he’d admit to a little stab of envious lust at the way their bodies had moved, the way Loki gasped Natasha’s name and the way her fingers dug into his shoulder.

She’d seen him first and thrown Loki off of her with a deft twist of her body, pushing herself upright defensively, and the red swell of her nipples, the swing of her breasts, was not something easily forgotten.

Nor was the way Loki had laughed and leaned over her shoulder, asking, “Enjoying the view, shieldbrother?”

(Even the way Natasha elbowed him flat for saying it was intimate, somehow erotic, and Steve felt uncomfortable remembering it.)

Steve had clapped his hand over his eyes at the time, blushing deeply, stammering and bolting from the room.
He’d hoped they could all ignore it, but Natasha had sought him out to spend an excruciating half-hour discussing it with him. Loki seemed to think his knowledge of their most intimate moments made him an ideal relationship counselor.

"Look, I appreciate the respect," he said, "and I’d like to give you advice, but the last time I had a girl was seventy years ago and I never even got a first date with her. I ain’t the expert here, Loki."

Loki nodded. “But you are wise. You are the avatar of your country. You must know a little of how these things proceed.”

Steve sighed. “Fine, well, stop being a damn romantic poet about it and use the lick of common sense I know your ma raised you with.”

Loki gave him a startled look.

"You like Natasha, don’t you?" Steve prompted.

"Of course. We’re particularly well-suited and she is an extraordinary, desirable woman."

"So you’d like to be sweethearts, not just...uh...naked friends?"

Loki’s grin turned sly.

"Loki," Steve said, stern tone undermined by the blush he could feel on his cheeks.

"Yes, I suppose I would," Loki said.

"Well, then you owe her the honest truth."

"Sweet mercy, that’s a cruel thing to say, telling me to be truthful.”

Steve gave him a warning look. “If you want to be sweethearts you ought to tell her. If she wants to be sweethearts, then all’s well and happy ending. And if she doesn’t, well, better to end it now. You’re both adults; you can be civil about this, so long as it’s early enough no hearts are getting broken."

Loki tilted his head. “You know, I often wonder what Odin’s court would make of her. And of you.”

"Is that a compliment?"

"Mostly. Thank you, Captain. I’ll go at once," he said, and vanished.

Steve finished his slice of pizza, pretending that people weren’t staring at the guy whose companion had just disappeared in a swirl of black mist. Life was hard enough without caring what strangers thought of him.

As he was leaving, he got a text from Natasha.

Did you really call him a romantic poet?

Yes, he texted back.

Well, I owe you something nice, since now apparently I’m dating a hot god of mischief. Don’t come see me to collect for at least four hours.

Steve smiled and pocketed his phone. It was a heavy burden, being such a clever fella, but someone had to do it.




que-divertido: But now that there is all that hot Loki/Natasha going on I feel bad for Steve. Steeeeveeee, my poor bb.
copperbadge: Steve has now been witness to two separate happy loving couples (Tony/Pepper being the other) and I’m sure he’s going to walk in on Peter making out with Gwen at some point. Poor Steve is going to feel very left out until Tony and Pepper get it together and offer him a threesome :D




SEVEN: THE STARS UPON THARS
Rating: PG
Warnings: Character death, sort of.
Summary: Steve Rogers discovers the Grinch, but he already knew Dr. Seuss...
Prompt: Anonymous: You still taking Hydrocodone Theater requests? It occurred to me today that Steve's probably never heard of the Grinch, and that Tony probably references it a lot around Christmas.

Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

Theodore Geisel’s career began with political cartooning, ad graphics, and humorous illustration in 1927. By 1940 he had published several books, including the children's book Horton Hatches The Egg and the semi-pornographic The Seven Lady Godivas, publishers not being as discerning about branding back then.

Steve definitely owned a copy of The Seven Lady Godivas. It wasn't because of the naked ladies, but because of how captivatingly weird they looked.

As a propagandist for the early war effort, Dr. Seuss met Captain America when Steve was in New York at the height of the bond sales show. When Ted got to be head of a military animation department they met again so that Steve could do the voice for an animated short about Captain America’s War Effort.

One day, while Steve was recording his lines, Ted snitched his notebook out of his bag and turned to a clean page, drawing a classic Seuss-style Captain America with a puffed out chest and a strange fuzzy topknot to his helmet.

They got on swimmingly in the short time they had working together; Geisel was passionately anti-fascist and his cartoons about American complacency over Hitler were biting. Steve knew this already -- he'd always read the lefty papers where his work showed up.

So the first time Steve sat down to watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas with the team, because Clint called Tony a grinch and Thor asked what a grich was, he saw his old pal Dr. Seuss’s name on the title. He felt a stab of familiarity, like a rope thrown to a drowning man, when he saw those feathery, fuzzy, awkward-limbed creatures of Ted Geisel’s imagination cavorting on the screen. And it was totally okay to cry at the end because everyone was crying, even if they were doing it because of the Grinch’s heart and he was doing it over how much he would have liked to have laughed about it with Ted.

A couple of days later, Natasha gave him a first-printing of The Sneetches for Christmas. It was written after Steve went into the ice, but he knew when he saw it that he'd had an impact on his friend Ted.

It’s not well known that the very small collectible first edition had a dedication reading For Steve, Who Never Gave A Toot Over Who Had A Star Upon Thars.




kayquimi:



Because seriously, who can look at that today and not immediately think of Captain America? (Steve’s given up on trying to point out that it was published well before he even got the serum; there are much worse things he’s had attributed to him, after all.)

copperbadge: Erskine totally had a copy of this hanging in his office while he was working on the Serum. Tony probably found it pasted into one of Howard’s notebooks when Fury gave him back all his dad’s Top Secret SHIELD Stuff trunks.

clockways: Based on the wonderfully heartbreaking snippit by copperbadge:





EIGHT: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A ROBOT
Rating: G
Warnings: None
Summary: Dummy discovers self-expression through sculpture.
Prompt:

prostheticknowledge: MATAERIAL: A 3D Printing system that can create forms without the hindrance of gravity.

copperbadge: Well fuck, someone taught Dummy to sculpt.

knottahooker: STEVE’S FAULT.



Also available at AO3. The original draft of this story may be found here.

***

Steve didn’t feel this could accurately be called his fault.

After all, Tony was the one who’d given him access to the workshop after Steve had asked (perhaps one too many times) to be let in to use the grinder. He was experimenting with metal sculptures, and wanted to smooth down rough edges; it was just expedient to let him have access whenever he wanted, since he never touched any of Tony’s works in progress or got in the way.

And Tony was the one who had installed a 3-D printing apparatus onto Dummy’s arm, so that the next time Dummy broke a mug (or a tool or whatever else he broke) he could print a replacement on the spot. There were only a few fixed designs in Dummy’s database, but Tony had shown Steve how to work the printer’s program.

Admittedly, Steve suspected Tony had shown him that purely out of biological interest: the notes on the Serum’s effects had somehow found their way into Tony’s hands, and he and Bruce often looked at Steve like they wanted to poke his brain. He knew Tony had probably only started teaching him computers to gauge his ability to absorb knowledge and synthesize conclusions from it. That was okay; either way, Steve got to learn a new skill.

So it was really only the natural result of converging events, all instigated by Tony, that led to what happened next.

Tony was at a tech conference in Atlanta, and Steve knew the bots got lonely; he didn’t have any metal he was working with at the moment, but there was no reason he couldn’t bring a lump of clay down to the workshop, cover a bench with plastic, and do a little sculpting while he kept the robots company. U buzzed around, officiously cleaning, while Butterfingers and Dummy watched over his shoulder as he worked.

"Get off, Dummy," Steve said, mildly annoyed after the third time Dummy poked a hole in the sculpture he was working on. "Go print your own sculpture."

Dummy whirled his claw around and around, beeping curiously.

"Well, you have a printer, get going," Steve said. Dummy buzzed, the robotic equivalent of a raspberry, and kept poking at Steve’s. "Dummy! Stop it!"

He was met with a pathetic whine. Steve sighed and scratched his nose with his arm, trying not to get clay on his face.

"Look, you’ve got a reservoir full of...whatever it is you print with, and you can work the printer, I’ve seen you do it. Print something, if you want to sculpt so badly," Steve said.

Dummy bent over and began rapidly printing a coffee mug.

"No, you don’t have to -- " Steve sighed as Dummy beeped mid-print and Butterfingers hurried off to the coffee machine. "I don’t need any coffee, thank you," he called. Butterfingers made a reassuring noise and started up the machine.

"No wonder Tony keeps threatening to dismantle you. It’s like toddler time at the bond sales rallies. Here," he said, breaking off a lump of clay and holding it in one hand until Dummy paid attention. "Watch, see? I can make a mug," he explained, pinching it into the time-honoured five-year-old-makes-a-pinch-mug shape. "But I can make other things too," he continued, folding the mug in on itself and rolling the clay out into a long rope, twisting and squaring it until he had a decent if someone limp approximation of Dummy’s claws.

Dummy made a shrill noise like a tooth drill. Steve winced, and even Butterfingers startled. Dummy plucked the clay out of Steve’s fingers and whirred away with it at top speed, while Butterfingers dragged the coffee pot over, splashing hot liquid everywhere, and poured out a full helping into the half-printed cup Dummy had been working on.

Cleaning up the coffee and reassuring Butterfingers that “I don’t hate you, Butterfingers, I was just startled” took long enough that by the time Steve got back to his clay he’d forgotten Dummy’s interest in it entirely. He finished his sculpture, left it in a corner to dry, and went about his business.

He’d forgotten about the sculpture too, more or less -- JARVIS would let him know when it was dry enough to be fired -- when he was awoken sometime past midnight, two days later, by an incessant pounding on his door.

"JARVIS, do I need to kill someone?" he asked, as he rolled out of bed.

"I would prefer if you did not kill Sir," JARVIS answered.

"Is that who’s trying to break in?"

"He is very perturbed," JARVIS said tactfully, and Steve opened the door on Tony, looking weary and rumpled.

"Have you been fucking around with my bots?" Tony asked, without preamble.

"I see you’re back. How did the conference go?" Steve responded.

"I’m not joking here, did you program Dummy at all while I was gone?"

"I wouldn’t have a clue how," Steve said, a little alarmed by Tony’s vehemence. "Why, is he broken?"

"Come see what you somehow did," Tony replied, walking away.

Steve followed him down the hall, around the spiral staircase, and into the level of Stark Tower that housed the workshop. When he reached the open doorway he stopped, delighted.

"I just got home," Tony said, leaning against the door. "I come down to check in on them, make sure they haven’t burned anything down, and I find this."

The entire workshop was filled with color — long strands of green dangled from the ceiling, sweeping waves of gold rose up from the floor, and there were stripes and blobs of various other colors in precise, almost fractal sculptural shapes. All of it was constructed out of tubes that looked not unlike the widest nozzle setting on Dummy’s 3-D printing apparatus.

Butterfingers audibly yelped when he saw them; he was trapped in a large swirl of brown thrusting up from the floor like a tree. U was trumpeting cheerfully from atop a twisting green construction of some kind. And Dummy was carefully printing the finishing touches on what was clearly a life-sized statue of Iron Man.

Steve started to laugh.

It’s not funny,” Tony yelled.

"It’s your fault," Steve said, reaching out to pick up one of ten identical gold swirls. Dummy rushed over and made him put it down. "Oh, I’m sorry," he said to Dummy. "I didn’t realize you had a vision."

"It’s not my fault! I haven’t been here in days!"

"Exactly. You left them alone, and you should know better," Steve said, carefully stepping around more golden waves and starting to pull apart the strands that held Butterfingers in place. Dummy protested but Steve batted him off. "Dummy! Art is meant to instruct and delight, not imprison."

"This is your fault! You did this to them, JARVIS says so."

"I merely noted that Captain Rogers may have led by example," JARVIS said. To his credit, he sounded apologetic.

"Wait a minute," Steve said, as Butterfingers rolled free and Dummy immediately began repairing the damage Steve had done, even though Tony swatted at him and tried to prevent him. "This all looks...familiar."

"Familiar?" Tony demanded. "Yeah, it’s my workshop under all this crap!"

"It’s not crap," Steve said absently. "JARVIS, can you create a virtual vacuform and -- yes, thank you, colors too please," he added, as JARVIS began digitally copying and then shrinking the workshop, presenting Steve with a much smaller projection of what they were standing in. Tony glared.

Steve reached out, rotated the model slightly, tilted it up, and then spun it, putting out a hand when it was about halfway through its spin -- the view of someone standing in Dummy’s charging station (now adorned with small red polyhedrons that looked a bit like stars).

"Ah," Steve said, smiling. Tony squinted at it. "Look. Look at it from this angle and pretend it’s flat. He built a painting."



Tony’s eyes widened. “I own that,” he said. “Pepper bought it to start rebuilding the art collection after -- uh, anyway. I own that painting. Where did you see this?” he asked Dummy.

"My records show that directly after completing his smaller prototype sculptures, he accessed your art collection database," JARVIS said.

"And he put Iron Man in instead of van Gogh," Steve said, voice full of wonder. "Now that's pop art.”

"Okay, well, this is very...something," Tony said, but his usual brisk tone had mellowed. "Dummy, you’re going to have to learn one of the most pleasurable parts of artistic expression." He offered the bot a sledgehammer. "The passing nature of all things. No, look, we took a picture, it’s very beautiful, but now it’s time to take down your installation."

Dummy tilted the hammer back and forth, as if considering, and then with a trill of joy he ran full tilt at the tree he’d built in one corner, battering it to pieces.

"They are definitely your kids," Steve said, as Butterfingers and U gleefully joined in.

"They are not my kids, they are robots, and you are a bad influence, get out," Tony said. "With your art and your humanism and your liberal ideas, next they’ll be smoking weed and going to poetry slams in communist coffeehouses."

"It’s not my fault you gave them imagination."

"You stimulated it! What’s wrong with you, haven’t we shown you the Terminator movies?"

JARVIS made a delicate coughing noise.

"I’m going upstairs," Steve said loftily. "If you’d like someone to teach Dummy about form and composition, I charge by the hour."

"You -- ! I -- ! By the hour -- !" Tony sputtered, as Dummy raced past with the sledgehammer. Steve let the door click shut behind him and ran upstairs before he collapsed with laughter.




APPENDIX: GOOD DECISIONS
Rating: G
Warnings: None
Summary: Ian and Anthony's first holiday season on Earth 616 is a little rocky, but the Rogers boys and the Stark boys can survive anything if they stick together.
Prompt: Sam: I took some drugs. I should do a hydrocodone midnight theatre, I’m dozy enough.
Knotta: IAN AND ANTHONY AT CHRISTMAS
Sam: GDI KNOTTA

Based on an unfinished story about Ian Rogers and Anthony Stark here.

Also available at AO3.

***

At first, the boys -- Ian more so than Anthony, who had lived if not on this Earth then on an Earth -- wanted to experience everything about their new home. They explored every inch of the mansion, and tried to explore every inch of everywhere else whenever they left the mansion, which Steve tried to arrange on a somewhat regular basis.

Tony might be content to hide in his workshop with his dark-haired little charge, building and bickering and visibly straining to do everything right his own father had done wrong, but Steve knew that the boys needed external stimulus.

As the autumn wore on, however, it became evident to the adults that there was some kind of information fatigue setting in. Ian became stubborn about not going out, and Anthony slept more than was normal, even for a growing boy who had only just become physically tangible. Halloween was difficult. And while it was nice to have a lot of Avengers in the house over Thanksgiving, Tony quietly disappeared with both boys shortly before the meal.

Steve found the boys in their shared room, in Ian’s bottom bunk, curled up on either side of Tony. Anthony was asleep, head tucked against Tony’s chest, and Ian his his face in a book when Steve came to the doorway.

Steve studied Ian’s hunched shoulders, the faint smudges under Anthony’s eyes, and Tony’s wary look.

"I have to go to the dinner," he said gently. "It’s a duty. I’m expected and people look to me as a leader."

Ian didn’t look up.

"Tony’s going to stay with you here," Steve continued, and a little tension in Ian’s shoulders eased. "Jarvis will be up in a couple of minutes with some dinner for you. Do you want white meat or dark?"

"Dark please," Ian said softly. Steve looked to Tony.

"Just send up a drumstick for the kid and me, we’ll share," Tony said. "Extra mashed potatoes."

"Okay. If you want to come down anytime, Ian, you can come sit with me. I’ll come up when I can," Steve said, and went back to Thanksgiving, where he really did have certain duties as one of the founding Avengers, especially if Tony couldn’t be there. It was good, too, to show that duty mattered, but this kind of duty was for adults, not for little boys who were already too old for their years.

Ian came down around time for pie, sat next to Steve quietly and ate wordlessly -- but he did eat three slices, and he smiled at people who said hello, laughing at Logan when he ruffled his hair. Anthony slept until late that evening and then had a restless night, which meant Tony had a restless night, and it was a good thing no supervillain would dream of disrupting Black Friday because it took most of the day to get everyone settled down.

Steve made note, and planned for Christmas appropriately. He and Tony cleared their calendars and arranged for a quiet, duty-less day. It would be Anthony’s first Christmas as a corporeal being, and while Ian was familiar with a similar holiday among the Phrox, Steve had never worked out how to celebrate Christmas in Z.

Ian had formed some kind of private mythos about it; he knew that it was Jesus Christ’s birthday, and had decided that Santa was some kind of foster father to Jesus, who had come with the Wise Men to bring him presents, which was why parents gave their children gifts in the name of Santa. Steve let him believe what he liked; it wasn’t that important.

Christmas had been overwhelming for Steve when he’d come out of the ice, and he’d been a grown man with combat experience, not to mention actually having celebrated Christmas his whole life. It was just so much louder and brighter than when he’d been younger.

If Thanksgiving was hard on the boys...

So, the night before Christmas, he brought home a tree and they set it up in the living room, just him and Tony and the boys, with Jarvis hauling in boxes of baubles and ornaments from past years. Ian and Anthony decorated it (Anthony sitting on Ian’s shoulders to reach the high branches) and they spent a quiet evening watching movies and checking Anthony’s Instagram, where he’d posted a picture of their tree for the Avengers who followed it to admire.

The boys disappeared into their room briefly and brought out badly-wrapped presents that they put under the tree with protestations of don’t look! and then went to bed, and Steve felt himself relax just a little at how easily that had gone.

"Did we wrap everything? Is it done?" Tony asked, carrying two cups of coffee into the room and passing one to him.

"I wrapped everything," Steve reminded him.

"Well, when I say we , I mean you with my supervision, that’s how this works," Tony replied.

"Then yes, ‘we’ have wrapped everything." Steve sipped his coffee. "It’ll be good to have a quiet day tomorrow too. I can’t remember the last time I had a Christmas this nice. Usually it’s, you know, all or nothing."

Tony tilted his head, curious.

"You know how it is, Tony, you’ve done it. Either there’s an Avengers party, or there’s PR stuff to do, or I’m doing the Santa-at-the-shelter thing, or...well, sometimes you just end up alone, right?"

"Most years I’ve skipped Christmas. Cuts into productivity," Tony said. "But yeah, I get what you’re saying."

"So? It’s nice, right? Having family. Not that the Avengers aren’t family, but it’s different with Ian. And with Anthony too. I’m so glad they get along," Steve said earnestly.

"I feel weird about it, sometimes," Tony said. "Domestic. It's strange. Being a dad. I didn’t get a lot of warning."

"You do fine, though."

"I feel like I’m in some kind of sitcom sometimes and there just hasn’t been a punchline yet."

Steve grinned. “I think we are the punchline.”

"Maybe." Tony set his coffee aside. "This was smart, though. Keeping things quiet."

"They’ll settle in again after the new year, I think. We should probably appreciate the downtime while we get it."

"I don’t know who I am," Tony blurted suddenly, and Steve looked at him, startled. "I don’t -- I’ve had this -- identity my whole life, the engineer, the genius, and even when things were slipping, you know, I had a word for it, being an alcoholic. I had precedent. And I just don’t...I like who I am for the first time in maybe ever. I really like being me almost every minute of the day now. But I don’t know who that is, I don’t know how to hold onto it. How do you do this? How do you keep being Dad?”

Steve blinked at him.

"He’s your child," he said. "You’re Dad for the rest of your life, Tony, that never changes. Even if he dies. You’re still his dad."

"Yeah, but good dad, I mean, not daddy-issues dad."

"I don’t think you need to worry about that."

"I just, I need a reality check, I’m glad you’re here to do that," Tony said. "Because you’d tell me if I was sucking at this and you actually know what you’re doing." He inhaled. "So actually that’s what I was trying to say with the whole breakdown just now about personal identity. Thank you. For being example dad."

Steve grinned. “You’re welcome, learner dad.”

"Okay now we are totally a punchline."

"Yeah, maybe. I’m going to go get the presents and put them out."

Steve stood, and he saw Tony stand too out of the corner of his eye. He turned to ask if Tony was going to help or just supervise again, and Tony was right there, closer than he expected.

"You have almost always been my example," Tony said. "And I have until now almost perpetually failed to live up to it."

"Tony -- "

"You have to stop me if I fuck this up," Tony said, and kissed him.

Steve leaned in, instinctively, finding the center of balance for them, one arm coming up and around Tony’s waist to steady him. The hilarious thought bubbled up in his mind that really they should have waited until they were under the mistletoe, but it was drowned out by the taste of coffee in Tony’s mouth and the feel of Tony’s callused hands, one on his neck, one sliding up through his hair.

Iron Man had been one of the first things Steve had seen when he woke up from what he’d thought would be his last breath. Tony had been a constant -- sometimes an antagonist, usually a friend, but always there in some form. No other person in his entire life, save perhaps Bucky, had been so perpetually present, and the low-simmering constant attraction he had spent years dressing up as brotherly affection boiled over with startling speed.

"Please don’t assume this is because it’s hard to find a date as a single father," Tony said into his mouth.

"Wasn’t planning on it," Steve replied, nosing against his cheek.

"Because it is, I don’t know if you have any idea, but I’m trying not to suck as a person for my kid and part of that is sacking up and admitting that I have probably been in love with you for like. I don’t know. Two or three days after you woke up, how long is that now?"

"Love isn’t really news," Steve said, and Tony sucked in a breath. "The kissing is new."

"Bad new?"

"I’m sorry, am I sending mixed signals?" Steve asked, pinning Tony’s head in place and kissing him again. "If I didn’t love you in at least some respect, I don’t think we would find ourselves here now."

"So this is okay."

"Well, let’s give it a try and find out, huh?" Steve asked, leaning back to study Tony’s face. "The boys come first."

"Of course."

"But this could be good for us."

"I think so. Which is a new feeling for me, making good decisions," Tony said with a grin.

"You make fine decisions all the time," Steve replied, brushing Tony’s cheek with a thumb. "Let’s go get the presents."

"Speaking of good decisions, I may have bought Anthony an advanced model rocket kit and stashed it in the workshop and not told you."

"I let Clint talk me into buying Ian a recurve bow and wrapped it before you saw it."

"We are such good dads," Tony sighed, dropping his head onto Steve’s shoulder. Steve patted the back of his head.

"Come on. Once we get everything set out, we can go to bed, because I suspect there’s a five am wake up call in our future." He kissed Tony again and pushed him back gently. "We’ll talk more after Christmas."

***

"So," Ian said, nocking an arrow on his new bow and sighting along it, testing the draw, "you think they figured it out yet?"

Anthony, who was sitting on the ground with a control board in front of him, covered in switches, gave it some consideration.

"I think so," he said. "Something’s changed, anyway."

Off to their right, Dad and Tony were standing on the back porch of the mansion, shoulders touching, and Ian was pretty sure Dad was actually glowing. Which he supposed could be because of Christmas, but he suspected was because of Tony.

"How do weddings work on Earth?" Ian asked. He had three more arrows in a hip quiver, ‘borrowed’ from Clint’s storage closet (Clint wouldn't mind; he'd cast himself as Ian and Anthony's Fun Uncle Clint, much to Dad's amusement). About forty feet away, four large but low-fueled rockets waited for Anthony to set them off, and for Ian to shoot them down. It was nice, Ian thought, when your friends had complimentary skills to your own.

"I don’t think they’ve figured it out that far," Anthony said. "We probably have about a year."

"Oh. Well, that gives me some time to study." Ian grinned. "Bet you anything they kiss when you set the rockets off."

"Grownups are weird," Anthony said, wrinkling his nose.

"You’ll understand when you’re older," Ian said confidently.

"Oh yeah?"

"Well, so I’m told. Anyway, get on with it," Ian said. "You look at them when the rockets go off, I can’t."

"Fine. T MINUS TEN, NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN, SIX," Anthony chanted. Ian did sneak a quick glance at his dad, who beamed proudly at him. "FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE -- LIFTOFF!"

All four rockets went at once, though Anthony had sneakily set it so that not all of them lifted off at the same speed. Ian, focused tightly, drew and fired -- one two three four -- and three of the four rockets fell to earth, arrows sticking out of them. The fourth was struck, but instead of falling it exploded spectacularly, the debris tumbling into a distant tree and setting it on fire.

"Ohmygodtheytotallydid,” Anthony said urgently to Ian, as Tony took off running for a fire extinguisher and Dad started towards the tree, scooping up snow over the burning wreckage on the ground. “They kissed!”

Ian, pleased with the chaos he’d wrought, put his hands on his hips and watched as Tony joined Dad in an urgent attempt to douse the last of the flames.

"Well, two dads are better than one, and it’ll be nice to have a brother," he said. Out by the tree, the firefighting had devolved into a snowball fight. "Let’s go inside and see if Jarvis has cookies for us."

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