"Hey Tony," Bruce greeted as he walked into Tony's lab.
Tony grunted in acknowledgement and continued tinkering with one of the many machines in front of him.
Bruce threw the letter from Midtown High in front of him.
"What's that?" Tony asked without looking.
"A letter from Carter's school. I don't think they've changed her information yet, you'll probably want to get that fixed."
Tony looked up slowly, then straightened and silently read the letter. "She got into a fight? Is she okay?"
"I think so. I… I called her after I read it, she said she was fine and that we shouldn't worry. That she isn't our problem anymore." He said the last part with a sort of bitterness.
Tony glared at the paper. "Remember their first day at school, how Carter came home with a black eye?"
Bruce didn't answer.
"She was being bullied the whole time and we didn't know it." Tony's voice was filled with a low rage.
Bruce sighed. "There's not much we can do about it. It's out of our hands."
"No. We're going to do something." Tony shoved the letter in his pocket and clumsily got up from his work table. "We're going to go to that conference. Since they still have us listed, evidently, one of us will get a call."
"I'm guessing there's no changing your mind is there?" Bruce didn't wait for an answer. "Well, shouldn't we tell everyone else?"
Tony began storming toward the elevator. "Nope."
Bruce quickly followed after them.
When they reached the lobby, they found Steve on the phone.
"Um, yes of course. We'll be there." He hung up the phone and looked up at Bruce and Tony in confusion. "Is there a reason we're getting calls from Midtown High about a conference?"
Tony stopped dead in his tracks, slapping a hand to his forehead. "You're coming too. But only us three." He thrust the paper into Steve's hand, then walked away.
A few nights later, they left Stark Tower and headed for Midtown High.
"What exactly are we going to do when we get there?" Steve asked skeptically.
"Yes, Tony, enlighten us on your plan." Bruce agreed.
Tony rolled his eyes in the back seat. They'd chosen to take Steve's car instead of Tony's limo, trying to be less suspicious, and Tony had been banished to the back seat. "We're getting Carter back. There's absolutely no reason we can't adopt her, and somehow I don't think she'll really mind that much."
"Okay... but that still doesn't tell us what we're gonna do when we get there." Bruce pointed out.
"I never think that far ahead Brucey," he said, patting his friend's shoulder.
"Good to know." Bruce sighed.
When Steve made a sudden turn, they realized they were at Midtown High.
They had barely pulled into a parking space before Tony jumped out of the car. Steve and Bruce quickly followed.
When they entered the classroom used for the parent and teacher meetings, the teacher present gave them a startled look. She stood very slowly, eyes on Tony.
"Uh, can I help you, Mr. Stark?"
"We're here for Carter Beckett. This is Bruce Banner, and Steve Rogers. Your name...?"
Tony used his most charming tone of voice, one that would have had Pepper seething with jealousy.
The woman shook Bruce and Steve's offered hands one after the other. "Um, I'm Mrs. Cooper. I'm sorry, I was not expecting you three. I thought I was meeting with a Mr. and Mrs. King." The woman was utterly confused.
The door opened again, and in came the Kings and Carter.
The Kings stopped in their tracks when they saw Tony, Steve, and Bruce.
Carter on the other hand, responded to situation in an entirely different way. "What are you three doing here?!"
Tony had expected to turn around and give her a smile, perhaps a devious grin. But when he turned and saw her anger, his face fell. He was wordless, and felt his lack of plan biting him in the butt.
"I thought I told you all that this was being handled," Carter growled angrily. "It's not your problem."
Bruce and Steve didn't make a move, so Tony had to. He took a bold step toward Carter and bent slightly. Being the shortest of them, he was already close to her height anyway. "Carter, you were never a problem."
Carter bit her lip and shook her head. "Please just go."
Tony was too scared to touch her, or he'd have just hugged her. He was afraid that he was only dreaming and the second he touched her, she would be gone again.
"Can I tell you something? One thing."
"What?" She asked quietly.
"We are a hopeless bunch of weirdos without you. One more thing?"
As she did many times before she hid her face behind her long hair and even quieter, she asked once more, "What?
He leaned in very carefully. "We really want to adopt you."
Carter's voice cracked as she said, "I- I can't do this." And with that she walked out the door.
"Carter!" Tony cried.
This time all three of them made a move. They ran out of the room.
When they got outside, they saw that she already disappeared. So they split up.
"Shout if you find her." Steve said before they went their separate ways to search.
Bruce looked in every room for the girl. "Carter," He called. "Please come out and talk to me."
He continued to call her name for another few minutes before he heard sniffling coming from a nearby janitor's closet.
He tried to open the door, but apparently she had locked it. "Carter, please open the door."
"Go away!" She said weakly.
Bruce sighed. He pulled out his phone and texted Steve and Tony saying that he found her and where they were. He then turned his attention back to the girl in the closet. "Carter, can you please tell me what's wrong?"
"No, just leave me alone."
"Carter, please. I want to help, but I can't unless you tell me what's wrong." Bruce pleaded with the girl.
After a few moments silence, he heard her say, "What if you try to adopt me and it doesn't work out?"
"What?" Bruce asked in confusion.
"What if you try to adopt me and it doesn't work out?" She said louder. "I'll just get sent to another foster family. I'm tired of being tossed around. After my parents died, they sent me to you all and then they sent me to the Kings. I don't want to go back with you to Stark Tower and then be taken away again. I don't think I could handle that."
Bruce sighed, resting his forehead against the door. "Sometimes you just have to take a chance. I know that's not much in the way of solid advice... But it's true. All of us have been devastated since you and Laynie left. The tower feels empty. Everybody misses you, and I mean everybody. Clint went and just sat in your empty room the other day.
"If you don't want to try, that's okay. Your foster parents seem very nice, they were worried when you ran off. I'm... We're going home now. You know where to find us Carter."
Bruce felt Steve and Tony behind him and took a step back.
Tony touched his fingers to his lips and briefly placed them on the door.
Steve wouldn't even look up from the ground.
When all they heard were half-controlled sobs, they had to walk away.
They reconvened in the classroom with the Kings and Mrs. Cooper, who were all worried.
"Did you find her?" asked Mrs. King, taking a step toward them as they entered.
"She's safe, ma'am. Inside the school, but she refused to move." Steve answered.
"She's in a janitor's closet a few halls down." Bruce explained. "We're sorry for any trouble we caused you. We just needed to see her. And make sure she's okay."
Mr. King smiled understandingly. "We can tell she's very attached to you. We would do anything we can to help her case."
Tony nodded. "I'll hold you to that. Thank you for taking care of her."
"Of course, we've been happy to. She's a wonderful girl."
Bruce nodded. "She is."
Steve looked at his watch. "We should probably being going."
They all shook hands before leaving, very careful to avoid a certain closet.
On the way back to Stark Tower, all was silent... Until Tony's phone began playing heavy metal music. He answered it quickly.
"Where are you?"
"Hello to you too, Pepper."
"Tony, you told me you would be in the lab."
"I am in the lab," he responded quickly.
"JARVIS is simulating a holograph of you in the lab." She replied even faster.
Tony sighed, rubbing his tired eyes. "Yeah, okay, I'm with Bruce and Steve. Something happened-"
"Are you okay?"
"We're fine Pep. It's Carter."
She was silent. "You saw her?"
"Yeah. She... Wasn't too happy to see us. Look, we're almost home. I'll explain when we get there."
He didn't give her a chance to respond before he hung up.
It didn't take long for them to return home.
"What happened?" Pepper asked as soon as they walked into the living room.
Tony shook his head and put his head on her shoulder.
"Carter was in a fight at school, and we received a letter about it by mistake. They called a conference and we were also invited to it by mistake, so we went," Steve summarized.
Pepper sighed. "I miss her too, but we're not even supposed to have contact with her anymore. What did you expect to happen?"
Tony lifted her head up off Pepper's shoulder. "Well, like I said we went to the conference, she wasn't exactly happy when she saw us." Tony started, "We told her that we wanted to adopt her and then she ran off. Bruce found her in a janitor's closet a few minutes later." And with that he looked to Bruce to explain.
"She told me that she didn't want to try the adoption process and then have it fall through. She's scared she'd just be sent to another foster family." Bruce told her.
Pepper frowned. "And you weren't going to tell me?"
Tony looked at his feet like a shamed puppy. "I guess we had the same thought as Carter. I didn't want to get your hopes up."
"That's stupid." She patted her boyfriend's cheek. "If anyone's going to figure out how we can adopt her, it's me."
Tony "I think we'll have to wait and see what Carter wants first."
Everyone fell silent.
"Okay no, who are we kidding. Let's get this show on the road."
And then, the phone rang.
Pepper quickly grabbed the phone and put it up to her ear. "Hello?"
"Hand the phone to Stark."
"Nice to hear from you too, Director Fury." She muttered before handing the phone to Tony.
"Fury, what do you want?" Tony asked.
"I want to know why you, Rogers, and Banner were at Midtown High tonight." Fury growled furiously.
Tony sighed, shoulders falling. "I blame Bruce," he said heavily, turning around as quickly as he could, literally throwing the phone at Bruce, and running to the other side of the house.
Bruce amazingly caught the phone. He sighed before putting the phone up to his ear, "Yes, Director Fury?"
He cringed and held the phone away from his ear as Fury shouted profanities at everyone in the room.
"He wants to talk to you," Bruce said, handing the phone to Steve.
Just before Steve took it, Pepper groaned and snatched the phone away.
Fury stopped her and shouted some more incoherent things, and she just held her tongue in her cheek as she listened.
"Okay, it's my turn. You listen to me, I am not one of your Avengers, or your agents. I am no puppet of anyone, you hear me? As a citizen that held legal custody of a foster child for over two months, I have a legal right to fight for permanent custody of that child, AKA, adoption."
"You weren't in custody of either of those kids, SHIELD was!" he shouted.
Pepper set her lips in a firm line. "It's technical custody. It's what home she stayed in Fury, not who technically "owned" her at the time."
Fury was silent on the other end, no doubt getting someone to check Pepper's facts.
"What I'm saying is, I'm going to pursue adoption for Carter, and Laynie if she wants it. One of us are, and there's nothing you can do to stop us. You, quite frankly, aren't the boss of me. Any questions?"
Steve and Bruce blinked in astonishment. From the back of the house, Tony whooped, "That's my girl!"
There was an angry grunt on the other line, and JARVIS announced the call had been disconnected from the other end.
"Well, I never expected that..." Bruce murmured.
Steve nodded speechlessly.
"Now, that's taken care of I have things to do." Pepper quickly left the room, most likely to start gathering information on adoption.
Tony appeared a minute later, and Bruce and Steve were still on the couch, absorbing the fact that there was a large possibility they could adopt Carter, and making a million mental notes not to mess with Pepper.
Tony plopped down between them, propping his feet up on the coffee table. "She handled that well," he commented quietly. There was a cartoonish grin plastered on his face.
"We may actually be getting her back." Bruce said with a smile.
Steve nodded with his own smile, "Hey, shouldn't we tell Thor, Natasha, and Clint?"
"The last time I tried to wake up Natasha, she judo flipped me onto her bed and broke half the springs," Tony muttered.
"So what I'm hearing is that we should wait until morning?"
"Yes, definitely." Tony answered.
Bruce chuckled. "Well, unless there's anything you two need from me, I'll be going to bed now." He stood and retired his room.
Steve stood as well. "I'll be going too. Have a good night, Tony."
"You too, Cap." Tony stretched out on the couch with a yawn.