So, I've never written anything for the Avengers fandom before, and I wasn't really planning to- I like the movie, and I've read quite a few fics for it, but nothing really struck me- when I came across a story called 'Cartoon Physics' by Wolfbane17. I seriously recommend you guys check it out, I fell in love with it when I read it, and it just sort of set the cogs of my mind spinning. It's a fill for a prompt from the Avengers kink meme, and I've decided to give my take on it.

"They're all children - between 8 and 12, maybe. They live out in the country, and while backgrounds would obviously have to be tweaked, they still have incredibly fucked up backstories. This would take place over a summer break.

Think fishing on the lake and climbing trees and sneaking Bruce in through a window because his dad's violent-drunk tonight, and putting ice on Clint's swollen lip, and Pepper always pressing food into hands, and Natasha fierce and cold and lonely, and the way they bend and give for each other, like kids are so often so eager to do.

Angstyness with dollops of sweet and a happy or hopeful ending?"

This is really different to my usual writing style, but it's sort of how the story flowed, so I went with it. Enjoy!

Tony Stark's eleven years old when the threat comes through. Pay a pre-ransom or risk him being taken hostage. He has a security team to follow him, but security teams can fail. He knows that. He's experienced it, twice before, locked in cold dark places until he worked his way out. After the first time, when he was five, he asked why no one came for him; Howard told him that only those who can escape themselves deserve to be free. Howard isn't going to pay the pre-ransom.

But, somehow, the press finds out, and now the light is shining on the Stark family, forcing Howard to act. Tony wonders if it's his mother- if she actually decided to do something for him instead of crying into a bottle every night. He hopes so.

So he's sent away, to some family of his mother's that she pretends she doesn't have, an aunt and an uncle and little cousin Pepper, none of whom he's met before. They live in the backwaters, in some crappy little country town, and he doesn't want to go, but when has he ever been given a choice?

He doesn't know anyone when he arrives, and though he's used to being lonely there's no circuit boards here. No robots, no gadgets, nothing to do. So he offers to pay Pepper five bucks a day to hang out with him and show him around, and she agrees with a smile, freckly face lighting up. He groans to himself at the thought of being stuck with his kid cousin all summer, but it's better than no one, at least that's what he tells himself.

He mentions to his aunt that he's bored, and she smiles and giggles nervously and suggests he goes fishing. He asks himself if she's scared of him, and the immediate answer is yes, because he's the boy who has it all, and she's stuck looking after him for the simple reason that no one says no to Howard Stark.

He groans again and leaves, but tells Pepper that they're going fishing. She smiles again, because she never does anything but, at least it doesn't seem like it, and grabs two poles and a bucket of worms that make him wrinkle his nose in disgust because yuck! The path through the woods is dusty, and he can feel sweat begin to bead on his forehead, but he doesn't mention anything, not when she looks so damn happy just to be out here.

The lake is big, bigger than he expected, and smooth as a mirror, the only pristine thing he's seen in the trash filled dumping ground that is the dilapidated old town. Pepper shows him how to put the worms on the hooks, and he feels a bit stupid being shown by an eight year old, because who has missile plans memorised but doesn't even know how to fish? Pepper isn't judging him, but he can still hear Howard's voice in his head, telling him he's a failure, and he snaps at her in frustration. The happy smile fades, and her large eyes fill up with tears.

"Oh, Pepper, don't-" he starts, perhaps planning on apologising, but is cut off when Pepper screams. He turns around to see a boy, about ten years old, dangling from a tree, eyes wide and panicked.

"Shush!" hisses the boy theatrically, and then Tony's on his feet, between Pepper and the boy demanding to know why they're being spied on and who are you? "I was playing a game!" the boy tries to explain, "and then I heard you coming and I was scared that you'd be looking for me, so I hid in the tree, and you can't tell anyone I was here, okay?" Pepper nods eagerly, but Tony's still suspicious.

"Why would we be looking for you?" The other boy looks around nervously, and makes them promise, triple pinkie wear to never tell anyone, because he and his brother ran away from home! Only now his brother is missing, and he can't let anyone find him.

"Why'd you run away?" It's Pepper, wondering why someone would want to leave their parents behind, and Tony and the other boy share a look. It's a look of understanding, of knowing the other person knows what you know, and in that moment they trust each other.

"What's your name?" asks Tony, and the boy's name is Clint, he's ten years old. They talk for a long while on the shore of the lake, both determinedly avoiding the topic of home, because Tony's not allowed to tell anyone who he really is, lest the kidnappers find him. When it's time to go, a thought occurs; "are you hungry?" Clint hesitates, before nodding eagerly. Tony and Pepper leave with promises to come back tomorrow, and this time to bring food.

"Catch anything?" his aunt asks eagerly, and Tony doesn't bother answering, mind too wrapped up in this new development. He's silent all through dinner, and when his uncle announces


he cannot get to sleep. Instead he lies awake and stares at the ceiling, thoughts for once not preoccupied with wires and software and Howard's approval, but an actual human being who wasn't his father. It's a novel experience to say the least, as is knowing another boy his age that he likes, but it's not unpleasant. No, it's not unpleasant at all.

It's as he's lying awake, thinking of his new... friend? Perhaps... that he hears the noise in the kitchen. A soft, scuttling noise. Perhaps the shack has rats he thinks to himself, but then there's a muffled curse. His brain is on red alert now, whirring quickly. He knows he should go and wake his aunt and uncle, but what they can do? What can they do they do other than get hurt? It's much better if Tony handles this, takes control of the situation. That's what he tells himself, but he's frozen stiff, terrified at the prospect of being locked up again in cold little rooms with grown men jeering at him from above. Then a muffled thud echoes through the house and he realizes that if he doesn't do something soon, Pepper might wake up and look to see what's going on. Pepper...

The though spurs him into action, and he pads down the stairs, clutching a screwdriver as a weapon. He opens the kitchen door, and is met with a startled porcelain face and a shock of flaming red hair before the figure that was rooting around in the fridge vanishes back out the window. Tony feels like he's about to collapse in relief. Not kidnappers. Burglars. Burglar, he corrects himself, and a girl one at that. Somehow the idea has never occurred to him before. He shuts the fridge and heads back to bed, heart still pounding. This time, despite the fright, he manages to get to sleep.

"We're going fishing again," he announces the next morning, Pepper standing eagerly at his side, trying to hold the poles upright in her tiny little arms. "And we'd like a picnic."

"Isn't that nice?" his aunt flusters, immediately preparing sandwiches. It looks like enough to feed an army, and Tony wonders how much this family is being paid to house him. Probably a few thousand; maybe ten. Barely anything in the eyes of his father and the kidnappers, but a king's hoard to this family, in their little wooden house that- as he had grimly noted- doesn't even have an AC, only fans in the corners. "Have fun!"

The journey to the lake feels much quicker this time, and Tony wonders if it's because he isn't internally dreading it or if he's actually physically walking faster with anticipation. He glances to the side and realizes it's the latter, Pepper's little legs trotting along to keep up. He feels a bit guilty at making her carry everything, but by the end of the summer she'll be several hundred dollars richer, so he convinces himself it doesn't matter.

"Clint?" he calls once they arrive. "Clint? We're back! And we brought food!"

"Clint?" Pepper's voice joins, little voice much higher than Tony's. "Cli-" she leaps back in fright as Clint's head appears from under the pier they were standing on. "Don't do that!"

"Sorry," mumbles Clint, before looking around shiftily. "Can you keep a secret?" Tony raises an eyebrow because haven't they already been over this? but he and Pepper both nod anyway. "Good," grins Clint. "Pepper, Tony, I'd like you to meet Natasha." Another head pops up next to the first, full of flaming red hair and porcelain white skin and it's the burglar from last night!

She is clearly just as surprised to see Tony, and Clint is surprised to find out that Tony is the one who caught her (because no one's ever caught her before, normally she's very good), while Pepper is surprised to find out someone broke into her house last night.

And they have to laugh at this, at the little girl's indignation at Tony for keeping her out the loop, but the laughter dies when said girl turns to Natasha, already fondly nicknamed Tasha, and asks

"so you're a runaway too?" Tasha nods, face closing off, and Tony resists the urge to make kissy faces as Clint slings a comforting arm around her. Instead, he shifts and leans forward and asks

"Mental or physical?" Both runaways look at him in confusion and he ploughs on, already scared of the consequences of his question, "because mine are mental. They don't talk to me, and I'm never good enough. Mental or physical?" And both of them look upset and angry at being asked. Clint stands up and takes his shirt off, and Tony can see scars crisscrossing his back, most likely from a belt. Tasha spits on the ground and turns to him with bitter eyes.

"Try door number three," she murmurs. It takes Tony a moment to understand, but when he does his stomach clenches, because he's heard about things like that, but he never imagined this. They say no more on the topic, because Pepper's too young to know about these things, and instead eat their sandwiches and talk about safe things, like fishing, something which Tony and Pepper have yet to actually do.

"Where are you sleeping?" he asks when they are once again getting ready to leave, and Tasha and Clint shrug and admit to just on the ground, just anywhere really, it's warm enough now that it's the summer. They promise to come back tomorrow with more sandwiches, and the two runaways nod, eyes barely daring to be hopeful.

Three days later finds Tony and Pepper walking through town to the local dollar store. Pepper's plastic flip flops slap against the hot asphalt while Tony's designer leather sandals are silent. Yesterday, when asked, Clint admitted to not having any shoes, so Tony and Pepper are going to buy some. Tony would just give him a pair, but, although they are the same height and Tony is a year older, Clint's feet are bigger. Instead, they are on their way to the dollar store, Pepper trying to convince Tony that Clint really would like pink shoes; somehow, he doubts it.

It is on their way back, Pepper clutching shoes and both of them happily slurping on popsicles that they come across a boy who Pepper tells Tony is called Steve Rogers and is twelve years old. Steve is nursing a cut lip and sporting a very impressive black eye, curled up in the shadows of an alley. Before Tony can usher Pepper away, she's already invited him to come to the lake with them. Tony angrily hisses that they don't know if they can trust him, to which Pepper simply responds

"He goes to church every Sunday, and mama always says you can trust someone who goes to church every Sunday." Steve drily replies that the boys that did this to him go to church on Sunday too. Tony still doesn't like the idea, but Pepper is adamant that Steve should join them, and so he does.

Clint and Tasha are also wary of Steve at first, Clint maybe more so, but he seems like a nice enough guy, even if he and Tony are always getting under each other's skin. As the oldest, Steve's a bit bossy, which Tony doesn't take well too. Tony is quick witted and insulting, something that Steve doesn't like. Clint tends to side with Tony while Tasha helps Steve, voices raising louder and louder until Pepper jumps in the middle and yells at them to STOP!

Despite this, Steve starts accompanying them to the lake every day, where they talk and laugh and pretend to fish. He often arrives beaten up, having taken on a gang of teenagers torturing a cat or stood up to someone called Ross who was bullying a boy five years younger than him. Seeing these injuries, Tasha sighs to herself and begins fixing them up as best as she could with a first aid kit Tony and Pepper nicked from a store while Clint calls him a dumbass for picking fights he can't win. Steve's reply is always the same, however:

"What am I supposed to do? Lie back and let it happen?" Tony argues that perhaps he should, seeing as he isn't changing anything, only getting himself hurt. Steve just shakes his head to that, and then arrives again the next day with a bloody nose and fingerprint shaped bruises all down his arm, physical proof of a particularly nasty Chinese burn. Pepper thinks he's a hero. Tony thinks he's an idiot. Clint and Tasha quietly agree that maybe he's both.

Sooooo... love it? Hate it? Any OOCness? Drop me a review, I read and love them all!