Peter was trying out the new costume Tony had outfitted him with (Tony still couldn’t believe how many years the kid had spent running around in just a thin piece of spandex) while Tony checked it over for last-minute faults.
“How’s that feel? Too tight?”
Peter swung his arms out, spun them round and round to test his range of motion. “Nope, feels good!”
“Great. Let me know if you have any problems in the field.”
“Sure thing. So…rocket boots next?”
“When you’re old enough to drive.”
“Aw daaaaaaad, c’mon…”
Tony dutifully ignored what was seemingly part of Peter’s usual banter and stepped round to gesture at his chest. “Now if you press here, it’ll activate the built-in police scanners. Perfect for all your vigilante needs. And I haven’t even shown you the best thing…”
Jess scribbled her signature on the bottom of the page and pushed it back across the desk. Tony picked the top two pages of the pile and handed the rest back to her.
“Alright, you should be all set now.”
Tony groaned. “Not you too.”
Jess just shrugged, a mischievous twist to her lips. She gathered her copy of the forms together and tapped them onto the desk to align them neatly, then folded them up and shoved them unceremoniously into her bag. Tony grimaced.
“Oh, also, I wanted to ask,” she said, the words half-lost as she rummaged through her bag. She reemerged with bits of paper crumpled in her hand and waved them in his direction. “I got these things in the mail a little while ago. About my salary or something? I don’t have to do anything with them, right?”
Tony’s eyes widened as they moved from her face to the papers and back again. “Is that your W2?” he asked, shocked. April 15th had come and gone not too short a while ago.
“Uhh…” Jess glanced at the papers. “…yup, yes, that’s what it says.”
He stared at her for a moment, horrified, then just stuck out his hand resignedly. Jess handed the papers over with a sheepish smile and Tony set to work with a sigh.
“Yeah, I mean they’ll tell you all that stuff about gas mileage and smartphone syncing and wireless entry but really all that matters for you guys, what with the baby and all, is safety am I right?”
Tony gave enough of a pause for Luke to nod before he barreled on. “Right so I mean, of course they’ve got these IIHS Safety Picks and I’m sure they’re great but I’ve taken a look at a few different models with the specs and price range you wanted and run my own set of tests and I’d say all things considered, I’d go with the Honda. Or the Ford if you prefer something homegrown.” Tony shrugged. “Both would do you well.”
“Great,” Luke said. He’d looked more than a little overwhelmed through Tony’s rambling speech but now his expression was nothing but grateful. He clasped Tony’s hand. “I really appreciate it dad.” And with a quick shake of the hand, he was gone, leaving Tony staring after him with his mouth hanging open.
“Hey Carol?” Tony said a few days later.
“Hmm?” Carol answered, not looking up from her magazine.
“You’ve been around a couple days now, right? Fought with the team and everything?”
“Yep,” she said, flipping the page. “Pretty sure you were there.”
“Have you ever…I mean when you were around, did you notice…” Tony hesitated, not sure if this was worth bringing up. If there even was anything to bring up.
“What’s up Tony?” Carol had closed the magazine and was looking at him earnestly, her attention focused on him now.
Oh, to hell with it.
“Why does the team call me dad?” he burst out.
Carol just stared at him.
“I mean, at first I thought it was just Peter and well, he’s Peter y’know? But then it was Jess and Luke and even Logan. Tell me I shouldn’t be even a little concerned when Logan is calling me dad.” If his voice was pleading, he’d never admit it. “‘Pops’,” he corrected, a wrinkle to his nose. The whole thing was, quite frankly, more than a little disturbing.
Carol was still just staring at him, dead silent. He tapped his fingers anxiously on the table and waited - for some kind of insight, maybe an explanation, or even just a comment on how he’d finally lost it.
“What!” he finally snapped out when none of these were forthcoming.
And all of a sudden Carol burst out laughing. Tony gaped at her, flummoxed and a little embarrassed though he wasn’t quite sure why.
“So-sorry,” she managed between fits of giggles. “It’s just…” She swallowed down her laughter and righted herself in her seat. “It’s just, your face…you look so goddamn concerned about the whole thing.”
“I am concerned!” he retorted. “If I never have to hear Luke Cage addressing me as ‘dad’ again it will be too soon. If this is some kind of joke I sure as hell don’t get it.”
He could see Carol biting back another round of giggles and he wasn’t sure if he appreciated the effort or if it just made him feel worse, like he was some sort of fragile creature.
“Talk to Steve,” she said finally, her voice still a little strangled.
“Tony,” she said. “Just do it. I think you’ll find he understands what you’re feeling.”
And before Tony could ask what that meant she was gone, the echoes of her laughter trailing behind her.
Tony, of course, did not talk to Steve because bringing up the issue once had been uncomfortable enough, thanks. He had no desire to embarrass himself even more than he usually did in front of the man he’d spent years carrying a torch for.
He thought he maybe understood why Carol had made that suggestion though when he and Steve were watching TV one day. Well, attempting to watch TV. They were ostensibly catching up on the latest episode of CSI: Miami but it had been a ridiculously long day. Steve was a comforting warmth beside him on the couch, the dip of the cushions bringing their bodies together from shoulder to knee, and Tony found himself drifting off before David Caruso had even finished his dumb pun about dead bodies (the sole reason Steve even watched this version of CSI, Tony knew).
The clatter of something small hitting the ground roused him from his light doze. He sniffed lightly but didn’t open his eyes, reluctant as he was to disturb his comfortable position. Tony knew it was pathetic but he took these moments where he could get them, few and far between as they were. Somebody had thrown a blanket over their legs and there was a slight rise and fall in the broad shoulder that was his pillow, a steady rhythm that told him Steve was still fast asleep.
“Shhh,” a voice chastised in a whisper somewhere in the room. “The parents are sleeping.”
Tony’s breath caught but he stayed frozen until the sound of footsteps trailed off into silence. He gave it another moment or two, then lifted his head and shuffled sideways on the couch, putting some distance between Steve and him. He threw his hands over his eyes and rubbed until stars were exploding, then just rested his face in his hands.
So apparently it wasn’t just him that was ‘dad’. Well, that made sense. If ever there was a parent on the team, it was Steve. He was who you could turn to, who everyone relied on to keep them on the straight and narrow. He was their guiding compass.
But what did that make Tony? After all, Iron Man aside, what was he to the others but a financial backer and glorified I.T. guy?
The next thought that struck him left him with a horrible pain in his chest. Because what if he was just dad because Steve was? What if, and the more he thought about it, the more it seemed likely because of course he wasn’t subtle but what if they all knew? He’d been deluding himself to think that he could keep his feelings about Steve to himself. It was probably impossible to feel that much about someone and not have it show on your face.
Oh god, they’d probably all known for ages now. And they probably thought it was hilarious - Tony the pathetic loser mooning over their dear Captain like a starstruck teenager. And Steve - sweet, kind Steve, was just humoring him. Probably felt sorry for him. Looking back at all their interactions, even looking at tonight’s, that was the only explanation that made sense. God, he was such an idiot.
He dropped his hands to his lap and turned his head. Steve hadn’t moved - he was still sitting there in his sweats and t-shirt, his long legs stretched out in front of him and arms folded across his chest, head tipped back onto the couch. His body was angled so that he was resting his weight more on his left side, curled in towards where Tony had just been sitting. It’d been awhile since he cut his hair and a piece of it was flopping down into his eyes, something that was probably driving him nuts when he was awake. Tony wondered why he hadn’t trimmed it down, though he sure as hell wasn’t going to complain. He liked seeing Steve like this - the little signs that he was human peeking through all the supersoldier perfection. Slight stubble creeping in around his jaw, too-long hair mussed by sleep and even that little bit of drool trailing out of the side of his mouth. They were all signs of a Steve at ease, and that was something that he didn’t see nearly enough.
“Get it together, Stark,” he murmured to himself, the words less a whisper and more a breath. “Just fucking get it together.”
By this point of his life, Tony was an expert at hiding his feelings, especially when it came to Steve. For all that his best friend knew him, this was one big thing that Tony still held on to (and probably always would). So it wasn’t hard for him to shove it all away, all this ‘team dad’ crap, back with the rest of the nonsensical thoughts that entered his brain. If the team kept calling him ‘dad’ hoping to embarrass him, well, there were a lot of things a person could do worse than having a crush on one Steven Captain America Rogers. And Tony had done most of them.
He’d given Jarvis the weekend off and since they were having an early Avengers meeting, Steve had suggested they make some breakfast. Most of the team were sleeping or out, leaving just Steve and Tony to a peaceful morning together.
As they pulled down pans and set up ingredients, all the while conversing in easy low tones, it was easy to forget all the doubts he’d been having and to just relax back into the familiar pattern of being around Steve.
“Hand me that spatula, would you?” Steve said, gesturing behind Tony as he pulled out some spices. Tony passed it over and went back to rinsing the fruit.
“Thanks,” Steve said absently. “Hey, you wanna go see a movie later?”
“Sure,” Tony replied. “Got one in mind?”
Steve shrugged. “Don’t really care. You pick.”
“Okay,” Tony said, mind already racing ahead to what he thought Steve would like. “I’ll check out listings later.”
“K. Look at late shows, then we can grab some burgers first.”
Tony nodded because that was what they always did. “Got it,” he said, picking a knife and turning to the chopping board.
They were in the middle of prep when Peter came in and went straight to the fridge. He reappeared with a cup of pudding but barely made it two steps before Tony snagged it out of his hand.
“Steve’s making eggs,” Tony chastised. “If you’re hungry, eat this.” He tossed Peter half of the apple he was slicing and Peter’s hands moved automatically to catch it.
“Thanks,” Peter said, momentary surprise gone with a blink and leaving a wide grin in its place. Tony nodded and went back to slicing fruit, Steve next to him beating some eggs.
He glanced up again after a moment. Peter was still just standing there, eyes dancing as he looked from Steve to Tony and back again.
“What?” Tony said, a part of him already cringing at the remark Peter would surely make. He was painfully aware of how domestic this scene was but if this was as much of Steve as he was going to get, well he wasn’t going to complain about that.
Peter, however, just shrugged and took a loud crunch out of his apple through his grin, then sauntered over to the bar stool across the counter.
It was scarcely a couple minutes later that Logan appeared, trailed closely by Jess who was rubbing her eyes with a yawn. Logan spotted the pudding cup still sitting on the counter and made a beeline for it.
“Better not eat that,” Peter said, halting Logan in his tracks. “Mom and dad are making breakfast.”
“Ow, jesus.” Peter’s words had sent a jolt through Tony that been enough to make his knife slip and fucking hell was that painful. He instinctively stuck his thumb in his mouth but pulled it away as the taste of blood overwhelmed him. He barely had time to look at the damage before Steve was there, catching Tony’s injured hand in his.
“God, Tony, are you okay?”
He peered at the cut, his face pinched with concern and his big hands were warm over Tony’s fingers and then when he ducked his head, taking a closer look, the smell of his shampoo filled up Tony’s nose to brimming and it was too much, it was all too much and he just had to--
“It’s fine, Steve,” Tony snapped. “For god’s sake, stop mothering me.”
He froze a second later as his words sunk in. There was someone giggling somewhere behind him but he could barely hear it through the roaring in his ears. He snatched his hand back and turned away. “It’s just a cut, I’ll deal with it,” and he fled from the room, trying to forget the look of shocked hurt on Steve’s face.
He was making a third attempt at wrapping the towel tight around the wound when there was a knock on the bathroom door.
It was Steve. Of course it was.
The knocking persisted. “Tony, are you okay?” The door handle rattled as Steve attempted to open the locked door. “Let me in.” Knock knock knock. “Please Tony? I’m worried about you. That cut looked pretty bad.” There was a pause and Tony let out a breath. Maybe he’d given up and-- “I’m not leaving until I see your thumb so you may as well open the door.”
Tony sighed but reached out with his unhurt hand and turned the lock. The door immediately flew open.
“Tony, what the hell…” Steve trailed off as he caught sight of the bloodied towel. He dropped whatever else he was going to say and hurried forward into the bathroom. Tony suddenly felt all the energy and anxiety drain out of him; he just slumped against the counter as Steve took his hand up again.
There was silence punctuated only by Steve’s huff of exasperation as he carefully unwrapped the towel Tony had just spent so long trying to keep on.
“Tony,” he exhaled. Tony let his eyes flutter close in response; he couldn’t look at that face anymore. Steve’s gentle touch, his worried frown, it all filled Tony up with too much that he didn’t want to feel.
He could feel Steve turn his hand back and forth, then lift it gingerly up to his eyeline. “This probably needs stitches. What were you trying to do, tourniquet it?”
Tony just shrugged tiredly.
“Tony,” Steve repeated. “Tony, will you look at me please.”
It wasn’t a request and Tony always had a hard time saying no to Steve anyway. He opened his eyes only to find Steve’s bright blue ones staring right back at him.
Steve just held his gaze for a moment, not saying a word. Tony itched to turn away but there was a part of him that was morbidly curious, that thought that maybe this was it. Maybe this was when Steve would say something about how inappropriate this whole thing was.
It was too much.
“I understand if you don’t want to see the movie anymore,” Tony finally said, turning away.
“Don’t want to-- why wouldn’t I?” Steve asked, surprise evident in his voice. “Do you not want to?”
“Of course I do. I always want to.” He turned on the sink and ran his thumb under it, rinsing off the blood for the fifth time. It looked like it might finally be slowing.
There was no reply from Steve. In fact, the bathroom had become so quiet that Tony thought he might actually have left. He turned off the tap and spun slowly on his heel. Steve was still there, his brow furrowed the way it was when he was looking over a particularly complex set of plans and trying to find the best entrance and exit strategy.
“Is this,” Steve said slowly, as if still puzzling the words out, “is this about the mom and dad thing?”
Tony thought he did a good job at catching the surprise before it made it to his face. “Is what about the mom and dad thing?”
“This,” Steve said, gesturing vaguely at Tony. “You. You’ve been acting kind of strange lately and I thought maybe it was because--” He bit off his next words, leaving Tony eternally curious about what they might have been. “They’ve been calling me mom for awhile and it drove me nuts at first. But then Carol said they’ve been calling you dad too. Is it-- does it bother you?”
“Doesn’t it bother you?”
“I-- not really.” Steve shrugged. “It’s kind of adorable, in a way,” and the way he said it made it sound like he was confessing something he shouldn’t have. He rubbed the back of his neck and in the small space, his face was close enough for Tony to make out every line. It still didn’t make it easier to understand the expression he was wearing. “But if it makes you uncomfortable, I could say something--”
“No!” Tony burst out. “God no,” he continued, a little softer this time. “It doesn’t-- I guess I don’t mind. You really think it’s adorable?” Tony asked, a little bit of wonder in his voice.
“Well,” Steve said, a flush rising in his cheeks, “at first I was kind of annoyed. But they’re not wrong. I suppose I can be a bit of a mother hen. And you - you’re always helping them out and they…” He smiled then, a slight tilt to his lips and a warmth in his eyes that could only be described as fond. “They all look up to you, you know.”
Tony huffed out a laugh. “Sure,” he said. “Who wouldn’t look up to an alcoholic workaholic fuckup.”
“Hey,” Steve frowned. “Don’t talk about my husband that way.”
It struck Tony then, just how absurd this whole thing was. Because here he was, standing in a bathroom, blood dripping down his hand, and discussing his roles as parent to a bunch of superheroes, one of whom was probably older than the rest of them combined. And Steve was here too, way too close for there to be any sense of personal space, and glaring at Tony for saying things that were yes, unflattering but completely true.
Really, what was left to do but laugh?
So he did. Tilted his head back until it hit the medicine cabinet behind him and just laughed and laughed. And he couldn’t see Steve anymore, all that was in his line of sight was the ceiling at this point but he could feel it when Steve stepped forward, could definitely feel it when Steve wrapped one hand around Tony’s uninjured one and lightly caught Tony’s face with the other.
Tony’s laughter petered off. He tipped his head back down to find Steve looking at him with that intense gaze again. He was maybe going to have to get the lights in here checked because there was a strange buzzing sound in his ears. Steve’s eyes searched his face. Tony had absolutely no idea what he was looking for so he just stared back, his heart beating at triple-time and his breath growing shallow and--
KISS BACK, his brain yelled and Tony did because this was really happening, Steve’s lips were on his and oh, there was his tongue, yes, that was good. Tony opened his mouth and Steve’s hand slipped to the back of Tony’s neck to pull him closer, changing the angle a little and there, right there, holy shit how did Steve get so good at this but of course he was good at this, he was good at everything and oh man, if he was this good now, imagine that tongue on his dick, fuck, Tony was too old to come in his pants, he was but Steve’s other hand had released his and was moving to said dick and cupping and oh, it was making him dizzy.
Air, his brain said and then AIR it yelled when he completely ignored it and finally Tony pulled back, his cheeks flushed and panting for breath.
Steve, of course, wasn’t gasping at all and god, Tony was going to have so much fun with him. But first:
“What was that?” he said.
The goofy grin that had filled Steve’s face immediately slid off. “You didn’t like it?”
“Uh, no,” Tony said emphatically. “No, no, that was great. But what…” He scratched his ear, feeling all kinds of uncomfortable. “What was it?”
Steve’s brow furrowed and he took a step back, releasing his hold on Tony. Tony immediately felt the loss of warmth. “I don’t follow.”
“Look Steve,” Tony started. “The truth is…” Tony scanned Steve’s face. Fuck it, he thought, and took a deep breath.
“The truth is I love you.” Once he’d said it out loud once, the rest came pouring out. “I’ve loved you for a long time. And not in a ‘let’s go get some burgers and shoot some hoops, fist-bump and call it a day’ kind of way. More like a ‘let’s go get some burgers and shoot some hoops and, well, dick-bump’ kind of way.” He coughed because Steve’s expression right now was not was he was going for.
Tony swallowed hard and tried again. “I love you, Steve. I love you in the morning, when you make your gross smoothies for yourself and the team but also brew two cups of coffee because you know I don’t function without them. I love you in the afternoon, when you’re rubbing your head and groaning over the mountains of Avengers paperwork you’ve let build up, but knocking your knees against mine as you sit by me while I tackle my own. I love you in the evening, when you pop your head into the lab and ask me out for a bite to eat because you know it’s been awhile since I’ve eaten and it’ll be awhile more if you don’t come by. And I love you, Steve, I love you at night, when your guard drops a little and your heart opens up and we just look at the pathetic New York stars and talk about anything and everything that drifts through our heads.”
Steve was gaping at him, his eyes wide and mouth hanging open.
“So, uh, there it is,” Tony finished, somewhat lamely. “And if this is just some pity thing, some sort of sad way to try and make me feel better, well, I’ll probably take it because that’s how far gone I am but I just…” He tried to smile but he was pretty sure his lips weren’t making the correct shape. “I just love you. That’s all.”
Steve stared and stared. Tony tried not to fidget, tried to wrack his brain for something else to say but he seemed to have used up all his words in that trainwreck of a speech. And still Steve stared.
And just when Tony was tensing his muscles and planning an escape route, Steve fisted his hand in his shirt and pulled and suddenly his mouth was crashing down onto Tony’s, nothing tentative about it this time, just Steve’s tight grip holding him in place and his lips moving against his own.
And just as suddenly as it started, it was done.
Steve, panting this time, tilted his head so his forehead pressed against Tony’s and murmured, “I love you too, you idiot,” the words an exhale against Tony’s lips. He grinned, his chest heaving. “I love you too.”
They were tangled together on the couch a week later, Tony’s legs draped over Steve’s lap and Steve’s hand resting lightly in Tony’s hair. The TV was on in the background but neither was watching, too focused on each other.
“Argh! My eyes!”
Tony reluctantly pulled away from Steve’s lips as the rest of the team came piling in, Peter leading the group with his hand clapped tight over his eyes. Predictably, he walked straight into the armchair and fell headfirst over it. The others, laughing, scattered through the room and found their usual seats.
“Save it for the bedroom, guys,” Luke said. “Nobody wants to see their parents doing that.”
“We weren’t even doing anything,” Steve objected, sounding, quite frankly, disappointed by it.
“You know,” Tony grumbled, “If you hadn’t distracted me, I was gonna tell you that I’d designed some car seats for Dani too, depending which vehicle you went with.”
“And I’m sure I’ll still get them,” Luke replied with a shrug. “It was worth it not to have to see you two making those sad lovelorn faces at each other anymore.”
“Yeah, now we just get them making out everywhere instead,” Jess said.
“You think that was making out?” Steve said. “I’ll show you making out,” and before Tony knew what was happening, Steve’s tongue was in his mouth. He let Steve take the lead, trying not to laugh so as not to ruin the show. He was surprised, however, when Steve hooked an arm around his waist and all but threw him back onto the couch cushions.
“They’re gone,” Steve explained as he straddled Tony’s hips and bent over him to capture his lips once more. Steve’s mouth moved down his jaw and Tony turned his head, partly to give him better access to his neck and partly to see if he was telling the truth. Sure enough, the room was completely empty.
“You think they’ll come back?” Tony asked, somewhat breathlessly as Steve mouthed at his collarbone.
“Well if they do,” Steve said, raising his head slightly and looking at Tony with a wicked grin, “they’ll get a hell of a show.”
Tony snorted. He let his head flop back onto the cushions and grinned at the ceiling, suddenly feeling an overwhelming gratitude for everything that had brought him to this place, this moment in time.
And when Steve’s head continued to move downwards, leaving openmouthed kisses along the way as he set a path for Tony’s groin, well…
who wouldn’t be thankful for that?