"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?"

Given Clint's initial mistrust of Steve, Tony is surprised when the next addition to their ragtag group is brought by him. He and Pepper arrive at the lake with the usual sandwiches and this time some ice too, because Pepper heard that Steve's been beaten up again. Steve arrives a few minutes later, with a swollen and cut lip that looks like the result of a particularly nasty punch. Tony begins to mock him as Pepper gently dabs his wounds with the ice.

It takes a few minutes for Clintasha (as Tony has taken to calling them in his head) to arrive, and when they do it is with a third person, a little boy with shadows under his eyes and bruises on his arm.

"Another runaway?" asks Tony drily, because really, how many runaways can one forest hold? Clint, however, shakes his head as Pepper's attention is diverted and she starts to feed the little boy.

"Tasha was showing me how to break into people's houses," he explains in a low voice, ignoring Steve, who has opened his mouth to- once again- voice objections to that little habit. "And we heard drunk angry shouting, and when we peeked in we saw him, and I just..."

"That's Bruce," Steve realises, voice coming out oddly around the ice that he's holding to his face. "He's the kid Ross has been messing with!"

"Well, now you can both get beat up together," Tony mutters. "Hey, kid- Bruce- have you been here all night?" Bruce nods, looking scared of the amount of people closing in around him. Pepper catches on to this, and pushes them all back a bit, but Tony hasn't finished talking. "Aren't your parents going to worry?"

"My mother will," Bruce mumbles, and they don't need to ask about his father. They can see it in how he carries himself, like how Clint carries himself, but Bruce is so much shyer and so much more reserved. Steve is all for going to the police, but at the very mention Bruce has a panic attack so bad that it takes a good half an hour of Pepper soothingly petting his head, like one would pet a kitten, to calm him down. Nothing more is said on the subject after that.

Bruce is nine, ten in two months, but very small for his age, almost as small as Pepper, who is unhappy at still being the youngest. The others carry on with their normal conversation as they leave her to deal with him, knowing full well that she can get him to open up the fastest. They're right, of course, and to Tony's surprise it only takes three peanut butter sandwiches and a bottle of pop (as all these backwater kids call it) before Bruce begins to relax around them.

Tony is delighted to find out that Bruce is smart, almost as smart as he is, and they quickly become absorbed in each other's conversation. Bruce's dad, like Tony's, is a scientist, though Bruce's dad does work in physics and Tony's dad does work in weapons. Tony promises to bring his notebook down tomorrow to show Bruce some of his ideas, and Bruce nods. When the others leave to go home he follows despite Clint's protests. He is not brave like Clintasha. He cannot run away.

The next day Tony, true to his word, brings in the notebook to show Bruce who, much to everyone's delight, has brought a deck of cards. The notebook full of weapon outlines and ideas for missiles and grenades is quickly forgotten as Clint eagerly teaches them how to play bullshit. They laugh at Steve's refusal to use the word; he insists on saying cheat instead, something that Pepper thankfully copies, as Tony doesn't know if his aunt's fear of him extends to not getting mad if the little girl starts swearing around the house. Tasha, it turns out, is a master of keeping a straight face, and after losing to her eight rounds straight the others declare she must be cheating, to which she replies of course she is, that's the point.

They decide to switch to blackjack, but that ends just as badly as Tony and Bruce both count cards; they don't mean to, their brains just work too fast. Clint throws his hands up in frustration with a loud declaration of

"Well, then, what can we play?!"

Eventually it is agreed that they will play bullshit, but that Tasha is only allowed to join in every other game, something she grudgingly agrees to.

It isn't until the other four leave that Clint and Natasha realize Tony's forgotten his sketchbook, left it face down in the mud. Flicking through, they ignore the stuff they can't understand and focus instead on what they can- drawing after drawing of weapons of mass destruction. Tasha hates it, wants to burn it and never talk to Tony again, because who can be friends with someone like that? but Clint stops her. None of them know much about each other, content to pretend their home lives don't exist and to just chatter idly instead, but Tony's name is in the front cover of that notebook, his full name, and suddenly they understand why a rich boy like him is hiding out in the backwaters with his kid cousin.

Tony and Pepper arrive the next day, Pepper nearly dropping the fishing poles in her excitement to see Clintasha again, but Tony looks anxious. When Clint drops from the tree clutching his notebook, he asks how much the runaway looked through.

"Enough to know," Clint shrugs.

"You can't tell anyone," Tony warns, dark eyes wide with fear. Not only can he get kidnapped, but if Howard finds out he'd been so careless... well. Probably nothing like Bruce and Clint have had to face, but enough to scare him, badly. Tasha, however, easily alleviates these concerns.

"Easy there," she smirks, "you're not the only ones who can keep secrets, you know. Now, where's Bruce with the cards?"

Steve arrives a few minutes later with Bruce in tow, both of them bruised and bloody from Ross and his gang. Tasha gets to work on Steve while Pepper dabs at Bruce's face with a cloth and Tony resolves to nick another first aid kit next time he is in town. Clint and Tony lean back, each munching an apple as they watch the girls work.

"What happens if Tasha ever gets hurt?" Tony asks softly. As was intended, Clint is the only one to hear, and he brushes the question off with a nonchalant shrug.

"Tasha doesn't get hurt," is his reply, but that's not good enough for Tony.

"But what if she does?" he insists. Clint pauses, clearly having never entertained the possibility before.

"I suppose I would clean her up," he finally answers.

"But would you know how?" Clint is spared further questioning when Pepper bounces over, declaring that they're ready to start playing cards and didn't she do a good job on Bruce's face? But before they can start, Bruce discovers the bucket of worms and insists that they let them go, because they never fish anyway and it's just cruel to do this to them.

"Okay," Tony shrugs. "Pepper, let them out." The little girl beams and nods and tips the bucket over, and they watch in fascination as the writhing mass slowly works its way into the ground. Suddenly there's a shout, because Clint put a worm down the back of Tasha's shirt and now she's going to kill him!

Steve tries to break it up, but Tony pushes him over and starts to laugh; Tasha's gotten a hold of Clint now and is repeatedly slamming his fist into his face with a loud jeer of

"Why're you hitting yourself?"

Bruce's face crumples on itself, and for a moment Tony is worried that he's going to cry, that this fighting has somehow set him off. Instead, he laughs, and carries another worm over to Tasha, who accepts it gratefully before rounding on Clint.

"Eat it!"

"What?" he cries, and the worm is shoved in. Tasha's hand locks over his mouth, but suddenly Clint pushes her off with a strength they didn't know he had, and runs to the bushes to throw up. The group of children pauses at the sound of his retching, and when he comes back his face is tear streaked. "That wasn't funny!" he shouts, and then stops, because Bruce and Pepper are both hugging him, little arms wrapped tight around his waist.

"I'm sorry," Bruce whispers, and Clint awkwardly pats him on the head, because although he's only a few months older, he's tall for his age and Bruce... well, isn't.

"It's okay, I'm mad at Tasha, not you."

"Don't be?" Clint looks at the face, darkened by bruises, hair unkempt and uncared for, and he doesn't have the heart to refuse the other's plea.

"Okay," he sighs, and Tony gives Steve a hand back up and Clintasha reluctantly apologise to each other and they all sit down for a game of cards.