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."
"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."
"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.
"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."