Listening with one ear to the chatter on the Avengers comm. channel, Tony ran scan after scan over the concrete and brickwork in front of him. Each result came back within normal parameters. Normal bricks, normal air temp, normal oxygen levels and normal radiation. It was exactly as an alley on New York’s west side should look.
“Any further casualties, Spiderman?” Steve Rogers’ voice was as calm and confident as always. Not even a hint of tension or worry from the Commander despite the ongoing nature of the current crisis.
Tony began another round of scans.
“Nosireee Bossman. The ‘me’ is trying to get She-Hulk to lift the bus, but she’s a bit pissed at him at the moment. I’m keeping well clear.” Spiderman sounded equally unfazed.
Normal. Normal. Normal.
“Ms. Marvel you’re hot in one-twenty minutes,” Rogers redirected.
“She’s always hot,” Spiderman offered.
Tony acknowledged the result as Iron Man boosted five feet into the air. The sound of a thousand angry bees filled the air around him.
“Iron Man? Countdown in…” Rogers began.
“It’s opening. Mark six, seven, eight…” Tony cut himself off as a tangerine ball of light appeared against the bricks and the buzzing increased to uncomfortable levels.
“Acknowledged new countdown. They are getting closer together people, keep alert.”
Tony ran every type of scan, observation and recording Iron Man was capable of running. The tangerine ball widened into a circle and grew exponentially.
“Iron Man, this is Mr. Fantastic. The feed you’re sending us is perfect, hold position as long as possible.” Reed’s voice reflected boundless and mostly inappropriate excitement. As usual.
“As long as I don’t get eaten by a dinosaur again, I’ll keep recording.” It didn’t look like dinosaurs beyond the car sized tangerine ring. It looked like an alley in New York on a rainy day.
But the alley beyond the portal wasn’t empty.
“If you do get eaten again, can you please keep recording?” Spiderman chimed in. “That would be freaky to watch.”
Iron Man dropped to the ground as the first stumbling man fell to his knees on the concrete.
Tony looked out over a hundred desperate, weary faces.
“Refugees. Avengers, I have refugees at portal site thirteen. Iron Man requesting medical response teams and any healers we can spare. Radiation levels are high. I repeat. Radiation levels are high.” Tony lowered the man gently to the ground and stood up to steady another grey-skinned person. “Hurry.”
“We’re coming, Iron Man.” Tony didn’t like to admit that the promise in Rogers’ voice made him breathe just that little bit easier.
Retracting his helmet back with a thought, Tony leaned red and gold clad arms onto Reed’s monitor bank.
“So, getting closer together?” he asked even though his own readings had confirmed the answer.
“Incrementally,” Reed didn’t look up from the two data pads his fingers danced across like a pianist’s. “We still have nineteen portals opening at almost regular intervals. We’ve classified five random portals that Mr. Richards believes are relevant.”
If it was any other man, Tony would think they were being dismissive or even snide. With Reed it was just statement of fact.
“They are relevant,” the other Reed, from the portal that opened late Sunday afternoon, defended absentmindedly. “As you know Tony, nothing is truly random. We can force randomness but it never occurs in nature. These ‘other’ portals are the key, it’ll just take me a little bit longer to determine why.”
“Important or not, we’ve had no luck preventing a portal occurring or keeping one open.” Tony opened a link to Reed’s hardware and began downloading the results of his many scans. “The nineteen keep leaping about to other universes. I’ve lost track of all the Avengers we’re communicating with, although that’s nothing compared to the ones that don’t have superheroes.”
“Odd, isn’t it?” Mr. Fantastic’s head asked absently from underneath his knee.
With two Reeds at work in one room it looked like an excessively blue game of Twister…by Dali.
“They think we’re awesome, especially when they see McCoy. Most of the other worlds believe the portals open randomly but that’s only because no-one has found the pattern yet.” Tony held up a gauntlet to forestall a further iteration of the ‘nothing is random’ discussion. “We’re currently identifying each parallel world as it opens, but not everyone uses the same system as we do.” He grinned at ‘his’ Reed. “Your numbering system is whacked.”
“Blame the omniverse. I don’t even know who’s in charge of that at the moment. Merlin maybe?” Reed continued to type with one elongated hand and tapped his chin thoughtfully with the other.
The door to the command centre in the Baxter Building opened to admit Steve Rogers, leader of the Avengers and all-around fine example of humanity. Tall, blond and gorgeous, he was once one of Tony’s closest friends, and now they could barely stand to be in the same room together. The sun coming through a skylight glinted momentarily off the sleek, red, StarkTech headset adorning the Commander’s left ear.
Tony smothered a small grin. He just loved to see Rogers decked out in Tony’s jewellery. But the grin died as Rogers’ furrowed brow and concerned eyes forewarned of bad news.
“The refugees were gathered in the alley by their world’s X-Men. They said most of their Avengers are missing and the other superheroes are busy trying to stop the portals opening. McCoy says they all have non-fatal radiation sickness caused by exposure to acclionic particles.”
“That’s unlikely,” Reed countered because ‘impossible’ wasn’t in Mr. Fantastic’s vocabulary. “Acclionic radiation is relatively harmless. It only occurs in minute amounts when a portal event begins. That,” a white finger reached across the monitor bank to touch the headset at Steve’s ear, “gives out more dangerous radiation than any you’ll get from a portal.”
“McCoy says it’s occurring in increasingly severe levels depending on where the people are coming from. The other Reed’s et al believe it has a relationship to the crisis.” It seemed to Tony that Steve was waiting for his own personal brain trust to confirm the theory.
“It’s possible,” Mr. Fantastic confirmed.
“But unlikely,” Reed added the codas.
Tony rubbed a metal finger across his goatee. “The McCoys are finding refuges from other universes with severe doses of acclionic radiation. The Reeds say that acclionic radiation only occurs in minute amounts when a portal opens. The Bruces believe the portal crisis isn’t a natural event and the Hanks think there is a pattern to the openings, he just can’t find it. Hmmm.”
Rogers’ lips twitched into a reluctant, weary smile.
“And what do the Tonys think?” he asked.
“When we’re not busy filching each other’s armor specs you mean? Haven’t really talked much, we’re mostly being brawn rather than brain.” Because sub-space theory was cool, but not exactly Tony’s area of expertise. “Except for that one with the ZZTop beard, but he thinks we’re a hallucination so…” A shrug.
“Then what does ‘our’ Tony think?” Rogers’ was dead serious and Tony respected the other man’s ability to focus on the crisis without letting personal feelings get in the way.
Tony gathered his theories, ideas and guess-work into something coherent.
“They’re all right.” It wasn’t even a joke.
Rogers waited with the preternatural patience of an excellent soldier waiting for the enemy to come into view.
“In that yes, acclionic radiation only occurs minutely when a portal opens, we’re seeing differing rates of exposure that could be paralleled to the location of each world in the sidereal string. The portal event isn’t natural; it started somewhere, on one world.” A world that the Avengers of a dozen realities were trying desperately to find. “The cascade of portals began on that world and carried into each successive reality on the string, contaminating each one with the acclionic radiation from a greater to lesser degree.”
“No portal could cause that much acclionic radiation on the ‘event’ world.” Both Reeds seemed to agree on that statement.
“Minute levels to a fatal dose?” Tony asked. “A really big planet sized portal?” Reed looked intrigued, Rogers looked nauseous. “How about more than one portal? We’ve seen twenty-three, how much acclionic radiation would there be if a million inter-dimensional portals opened all at once?”
Roger’s paled a little under his perfect golden tan. “A fatal amount?”
“Exceedingly so.” Fortunately Reed wasn’t such a sociopath that he misunderstood the severity of the ‘event’ Tony described.
“The portals open across the world, bombard the inhabitants with radiation. Each portal is affected by the ‘event’ and triggers portals in each of their neighboring worlds,” Reed suggested.
Mr. Fantastic took over the theory. “They each take a dose of radiation. Not as severe as the ‘event’ world but still high. A portals cascade begins; each reality opens more portals and hemorrhages radiation and so on and so on.”
“We must be far enough away that we’re not absorbing anywhere near fatal levels.” Rogers nodded along to the Reeds.
“We have to find the ‘event’ world.” Tony knew he was stating the obvious, but he thought it merited being said. Again.
“We will,” Rogers assured them, finger to his headset to convey the latest theory to the other Avengers. On as many worlds as they could reach.
Tony rubbed his hands over his face and looked hopefully around the command centre for coffee. Reed would forget to eat, but surely someone would try to keep the greatest mind on earth caffeinated, wouldn’t they?
“Get some rest Iron Man; this isn’t ending any time soon.” Rogers was back, orders given and accepted without a question, Tony knew.
“Later. I’ll help Reed redesign his scanner so we can try to locate the ‘event’ world…” Tony began.
Rogers interrupted with a shake of his head.
“Seriously. This has gone on for four days and everyone is getting too frayed at the edges. You sleep now, Carol’s getting food and touching base with everyone at the tower, Luke’s co-coordinating while I’m running a search team. In six hours we swap. You co-ordinate, Carol runs a search…”
“I’m not a team leader.”
Rogers snorts a brief laugh. “You’re Iron Man.” As if that is enough.
“You want me to lead the Avengers while you sleep?” Because that can’t possibly be what Rogers means.
“Of course,” Steve says as he turns back to the door. “Who else?”
Tony woke to a noise in his bedroom. He didn’t actually register what it was, only that there was a noise. Somewhere. Sitting up, he took his Avengers comm. off the bedside table and checked to see if he was needed. Four am. That was six hours of uninterrupted sleep. Three hours longer than he’d managed in the last two months. Nothing like constant adrenalin to force a man to sleep like a baby.
Thumbing open the comm. channel, Tony said…“This is Iron Man, where am I needed?”
“In bed you workaholic.” Carol replied exasperated. “I swear I’ll call you in if we need you.”
About to answer, Tony’s eyes lit on the person standing at his window.
There was a person standing on the penthouse side of Tony’s window.
As Carol signed off with another mildly unflattering remark, for a microsecond Tony’s brain seemed to hiccup at the sudden appearance before he relaxed at the familiar height and build.
“Rogers?” Bewildered and more than a little surprised. “Do you need me to…?”
A stumble as Steve Rogers held out an imploring hand. “Tony? Oh god help me! Tony?” The deep voice was twisted by grief and longing such as Tony almost couldn’t recognize it. Instinctively, because despite his fiercest efforts Tony had never been able to maintain his self control around this man, he leaned up to take those grasping fingers in his own.
“What the hell Steve? Is it Sharon? What’s…?” Tony trailed off as the light from the ensuite fell across the other man’s face. A deep scar crossed from temple to the bridge of the nose, a costume made of burgundy and black filled with a man who is not the Steve Rogers of Tony’s world.
“I’m sorry, so very sorry.” This Steve droped to his knees by the bed, face buried in their clasped hands, pressing tears and kisses into Tony’s skin. “You’re alive, thank god. Thank you, God.”
Tugging one hand from a desperate grip, Tony quickly clicked on the bedside lamp then slid his fingers over the back of Steve’s head, pushing back the cowl to reveal brutally shorn golden hair. “It’s okay,” he soothed, “Steve, it’s okay.” A glance towards his comm. card, but he’d have to let go to reach it and nothing on earth would make him let go right now.
“No, no it’s not.” Forehead bowed low in penitence. “I killed you, I killed you. I’m so sorry Tony.”
“Steve, Steven!” Tony interrupted the guilt drenched words. “Steve? Look at me please?”
Sky blue eyes look up into Tony’s face and then flinch as realization dawns.
“There are dimensional portals opening all across the multiverse,” Tony explained quickly before the man kneeling at his bedside can jump to any conclusion but the truth. “People are falling into parallel worlds. We’re working on closing them, Reed is working on closing them but…no… I’m not your Tony.”
Steve became motionless, a war-trained soldier’s reaction to terrible news. Hold still and process the information before you act.
“Yes. Yes, that would make sense.” Slow, careful words. Still roughened by grief in a way that Tony had never seen in the man he personally knew. “I was on the roof of Avengers Tower and then a noise like a million bees…”
“That’s a portal,” Tony confirmed. “They’re opening all over the planet. We’ve determined that the cause isn’t in this universe, but a neighboring one, so we’re seeing a lot of traffic. Your world might be further away and you’ll only have a couple of events.” Steve nodded in understanding, an Avenger was rarely surprised by the weirdness of their lives. “I’ll just call in your arrival with the other Avengers.” Tension erupted across the kneeling man’s shoulders, so Tony put the hand that had been reaching for his comm. back on Steve’s neck.
“In my world I killed you,” Steve confessed, raising a hand to run the back of his fingers across Tony’s stubble darkened jaw.
“Yeah, you said that.”
“We were fighting over that cursed Registration Law and you wouldn’t back down. I pushed and pushed but you were so damn stubborn and then we got them out of that prison. I was angry at you for that, in pain from our first fight and so tired from hiding.” The words tumble out in a twisted mechanical cadence, like they have been rehearsed or repeated endlessly. ”You kept asking to talk but you wouldn’t listen to us and you’re so fucking stubborn. I lost my temper with you, you arrogant, ego manic son of a bitch. I lost it completely. Only you could drive me that crazy. Only you. Vision was supposed to keep you down and contained, but you got up. I was so angry…god…”
Tears again, this time wetting Tony’s ribs as Steve pulled him bodily into his arms, blankets and all. Curling into the embrace, Tony offered what comfort he could to this version of his once friend and ally, long strokes across Steve’s shoulders, a low hum of ‘shush, shush, it’s okay’.
“So stubborn, you should have just stayed down. Stayed safe on the ground while we showed everyone else that the law was wrong and then I could have convinced you. Forced you to come with me somewhere away from all the politics so I could…but you got up and kept coming and I hit you and hit you and didn’t stop….”
Under the penance being begged for in his arms, Tony heard the sound of the penthouse doors opening and Hank’s voice. “…localized on the balcony or roof…we’ll need to find whoever….oh.”
“Oh man.” Luke Cage sighed at the sight that greeted them.
“…you were broken. Dead. Extremis couldn’t fix you and oh Tony, I killed you…”
Tony met Luke’s eyes over the broad shoulders of a man they had never seen brought so low.
“Steve? It’s alright, I forgive you, I understand. I forgive you.” Steve slowly began to quiet as with a head twist Tony indicated the newcomers should back off towards the kitchen.
“Steve? Hank and Luke are here; they’re going to find out where your world is and get you home, okay?” Tony gasped the air was forced from his lungs by the strength of Steve’s grip. “When you’re ready, I promise. Only when you want to go.”
A slight relaxing of that superhuman embrace. “I understand.” Calmer now Steve looked up, gaze devouring Tony’s face. “He…my Tony. He was one of my closest friends and I… You’re alive.”
Guessing that it would be easier to help this Steve if they could start answering his questions Tony said, “It happened just the same, except this world’s Steve stopped at the last minute. He turned himself in. The Law was repealed and we’re all Avengers now.”
The look on Luke’s face was enough to tell Tony he thought those words a massive mistake, but Tony was relying on an idea that had yet to be proven wrong. Steve Rogers would want the truth, no matter how much it gutted him.
Understanding came to Steve’s face as he and Tony untangled from the blanket and stood, still very definitely in each other’s personal space.
“He’s a better man than me.”
Tony snagged his dressing gown and gently steered this Captain America towards his friends.
“I don’t know about that Steve. Come and let us help you.”
Nodding, Steve Rogers earth ninety-five forty-four let Tony guide him home.
“I know you’ve just woken up, but Reed’s detected another random portal event.”
“Okay. Send me the location, I’ll meet you there.”
“Actually, I’ll meet you. It’s the roof of Avengers Tower. I’m twenty seconds away.”
“Where the other ‘me’ came through?”
Iron Man landed with barely a jolt, calling up a second set of the almost routine scans as he pin-pointed the location of the portal. Rogers came through the lift doors looking sleep-mussed, a little bleary and slightly better rested. The top of his uniform wasn’t tucked in properly over his left hip and revealed a flash of tanned skin as he crossed the roof garden.
Not that Tony noticed any of that. Much.
As a sound like the hum of a million bees began to fill the late afternoon air, Carol, Jessica, Clint and a half dozen or so Avengers arrived via foot or by air. Superheroes weren’t very good at sleeping through a dimensional ‘event’, particularly one taking place on their headquarters’ roof.
“You said it’s random?” Rogers confirmed as he stopped by Iron Man’s side, eyes intent on a potted miniature fig tree.
“Mr. Fantastic says it’s random, but given it’s in the same location that the other ‘you’ came through, then it’s actually a new regular portal.” Tony watched as the typical tangerine ball of light faded into view.
“Are we giving the non-random ones a name?” Hawkeye asked. “Because we’ve got regular, random and semi-random now.”
“Like blends of coffee,” She-Hulk quipped.
“Breakfast cereal?” Spider-man offered from his perch atop the southern rose arbor.
“Wine…” Tony cut himself off as red warning lights blossomed across the HUD. He snared Roger’s arm and yanked the man backwards with a sharp pull. “Fall back Avengers! Acclionic radiation count is off the chart!”
It would startle Tony later to remember that every single hero present obeyed his yell without hesitation.
Pulling back to thirty feet, Tony checked the armor’s status, found himself unlikely to fry or become Hulk-like and focused again on the imminent portal. Now ten feet across, he saw that the usual tangerine glow was shot through with a sickly blue-black vein. It pulsed with a slow metronome beat. Beyond the ring he could see the roof of a duplicate Avengers Tower, except this one had no plants, no Asgardian spire and no crowd of Avengers loitering at the doorway.
“Iron Man?” Rogers called from his position at the forefront of the people who should be leaving but instead were trying to inch forward without him noticing.
“Acclionic radiation at least five hundred times higher than the most severe levels we’ve seen. If this isn’t the ‘Event’ world then it’s right next door.” Tony flicked his eyes away from the readings to look up as the portal finished manifesting.
A humanoid figure was walking slowly towards the portal from the far side. The steady, measured gait struck Tony as oddly familiar, a recollection that made sense when the figure came into the sunlight just beyond the portal ring.
The red and gold armor was beautiful. A combination of alloys that Tony had experimented with and rejected in favor of another. It fitted the wearer perfectly, a close skin of metals and tech that seemed to shimmer as its wearer stepped through the event horizon and almost stumbled. For a heart stopping moment Tony thought it was Pepper. Definite female curves on a smaller, slighter figure so similar in style to the ‘Rescue’ armor. But then he saw the armament ports and knew that if this was Pepper, then she certainly wasn’t the one he knew. She held her feet despite an occasional sway, one arm wrapped tightly around a large gold orb, the other raised in front as if offering a benediction.
Orbiting her hand like tiny planets, an inter-connected series of spheres spun and twirled in a glowing green light.
Tony set all his weapons systems to stand-by.
The figure’s head dipped in five perfectly timed bobs before throwing her arm up, the orbiting cluster colliding with the open event horizon of the portal. Green lightening crackled across the space before the entire portal vanished in a tangerine burble.
Tony waited ten long seconds.
He caught her just as she collapsed, her arms never leaving the other object she clutched, not even to break her fall.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you.” Tony assured her as the radiation levels on the roof dropped dramatically. The woman in the armor still registered as irradiated but at levels that wouldn’t harm preventative-laced Avengers.
Tony retracted his helmet and said to Rogers as the man sank to his knees on the woman’s other side, “Is Beast nearby? Or Hank?”
“Beast’s on his way,” Rogers assured, eyes scanning over the armor-clad woman.
“Well, fuck me.” She spoke to Tony, her helmet shuttling back into her collar like a neat paper fan. “You’re a dude.”
Tony looked down into the dark fringed blue eyes that he saw in the mirror every morning and smiled.
“Last time I looked. Tony Stark.” He withdrew the armor on his hand and brushed a lock of black hair from her mouth. Her skin was almost grey, marred by red blotches and a prickly looking heat rash across her forehead. Dark circles hollowed sharp cheekbones, Tony could see she was very, very ill. “Talk to me…?”
“Tasha.” She coughed a little, clearing her throat. “Tasha Stark-Rogers. Iron Woman, leader of the Avengers, idiot, queen of leaving everything to the last minute and savior of fuck all.”
Tony felt rather than saw the minor shockwave that rippled through the collected heroes at Tasha’s full-name, but kept his eyes on hers. Just in the periphery of his vision, blue-furred hands moved carefully across Iron Woman; her armor slowly retreating with a smooth, mechanical grace.
“What happened?” Rogers asked, elbows on bent knees, hands clasped together in front of his mouth.
Tasha looked over at Rogers, her eyes lighting up for a moment. “I’d ask what in the hell you’re wearing Honey, but I guess that’s the least of my worries right now.” Her grin died as swiftly as it had risen.
“Okay, short version, because despite McCoy’s best efforts I’m gonna die in about ten minutes so… Reed Richards, yes I know of course it was fucking Reed, anyway…Reed built a super-computer called ‘The Bridge’ in an attempt to fix our world so John Storm doesn’t die. ‘The Bridge’ evolved the ability to open a portal into the realities that Reed was scanning through for a solution. Then Doom attacked, managing to critically damage the thing while it was still running. We started getting world gates, lots of world gates. Reed tried to fix it and then obviously we got a fuckton more gates. Hank and I tried to fix it, even Doom tried to fix it after Steve dragged his ass back to the US. No dice. Five days ago the device went nova and opened about three million gates planet-wide.” She stopped to take a sip of the water Ms. Marvel offered while Beast set a stretcher down beside her. “We’ve all been doused with the acclionic radiation and everyone’s dying or dead.”
Tony caught his breath at the finality in her tone. He saw Steve thread his fingers through hers, one long-fingered hand revealed for Beast to check her pulse, the other still holding the golden orb to her side like it was welded there.
“Everyone, Tasha? Are there regenerators on you world?” Steve asked with a gentleness that shouldn’t have surprised Tony but did.
“Not anymore. Logan, his girl, Deadpool and anyone who could still walk, just took a portal to somewhere and threw one of our little Hail Mary balls into it. Reed and I have been making them for the last two days and if enough of us survived the transit then it’s over. ‘The Bridge’ has been destroyed and we’ve stopped the cascade.” Some pride there, but not enough to hide the grief that laced every word Tasha spoke.
There was blood on her lips.
“What’s this?” Tony asked, hand covering hers on the orb. Its surface was smooth and almost slick like a dolphin’s skin.
“Ahh. Help me up, Honey.” That to Rogers, who without a flicker of discomfort at the endearment gently pulled the woman into a sitting position, her back against his torso. “This, Mr-Unexpected-Dude-Me, is a present. For you.”
Engineer’s fingers danced across the orb and depressed three small catches. A slight hiss and with identical technology to that used in her armor, the gold retreated to reveal a small, sleeping baby.
“This is Christopher James Stark-Rogers, born February 15th 2011.” Tasha crooned, slowly lifting the boy to rest against her shoulder. He snuffled momentarily then settled, face buried in her neck. “He’s immune to the acclionic radiation but we couldn’t work out why. Probably Steve’s super-soldier genes or something. I don’t really care, my husband is dead, my world is dead, but my baby’s alive and gonna stay that way.” Those blue eyes rose to meet Tony’s. “As long as you help me.”
“Of course,” Tony assured her. “I’ll make sure he gets everything he…”
“Not good enough Boy-Me,” Tasha interrupted. “I know my ‘appeasing the sick person’ face when I see it, even under that frankly hot beard thing you got going on. If you’ve done even half the stupid shit I have in my life then you know I’m a determined piece of work and my way is the only way this is going to happen. You will not palm my son off to a team of brilliantly capable nannies or adopt him into a worthy household and arrange a monthly bank deposit. I know it’s a massive thing to expect, believe me if this situation was reversed I’d be halfway to Spain right now, but Chrissy is everything. Everything. You won’t understand right now, but please, please don’t send him away. He’s lost his dad and he’s gonna lose me and you’re the best substitute I’ve got…” Tasha lost her breath to a rough cough. Tony had never seen his own face, softer and pretty but still a twin to his own, looking so heart-broken and desperate. “Please, Tony Stark. You know how much it fucking hurts for me to beg. Please. Please.”
“Okay, okay. I promise.” It took Tony a couple of moments to realize the words being spoken were his.
Tasha sucked in a huge lungful of air, relief evident across her entire body. She sank gratefully back into Steve.
“Thank you.” Nothing could be more from the heart than those two words.
“Beast?” Tony heard the off key note in his voice.
“Nothing I’ve got,” Henry McCoy, gentle and honest as the day is long, “can do anything but make her comfortable for a few more minutes. I’ve called Cyclops for Elixir or Angel but…” he trailed off.
“Steve, Honey? Hold my hand would you?” Tasha reached up and took the one Rogers promptly offered. One hand locked fast in his, her other cuddled the baby close, her lips nuzzling his sleeping face. “It’s okay Baby, Mommy’s here. Sweet baby, Mommy’s here. I love you Baby, I love you my beautiful baby boy…”
Then gently, in the arms of Steve Rogers, Tasha died.
Tony didn’t bother to wipe the tears from his cheeks, moving only when Tasha started to slump, lifting the baby from her loosening hold and up to his own shoulder. The boy, Chrissy, flinched and squirmed, his tiny fist still tangled in his mother’s black silken hair. Tony’s heart raced as he feared the baby would wake and cry, scream for his mother who couldn’t come. But the small fingers relaxed their grip and sought the warmth of the person holding him. His hands flailed briefly before settling into the longish hairs at the nape of Tony’s neck. A little nose, small puffs of breath against his skin. One long inhale, a quiet sigh and the baby settled back into sleep.
Tony looked up into the wet eyes of Steve Rogers over the head of an infant that combined the two of them in one tiny body.
He had absolutely no idea what to say.
Tony rode the elevator to his penthouse with an entourage of Rogers, Clint and Carol. His gut was roiling in a way that he hadn’t felt since he gave up the booze and small shiver ran up his spine despite the gold under suit he wore.
He suspected he was in shock.
“I just need clothes?” he said to Rogers and wondered about the blurred note of request in that sentence.
“Of course,” Rogers guided him from the elevator with a hand at his shoulder and into Tony’s bedroom. Hoping the others would stay in the lounge, Tony pulled out a pair of dress pants and shirt.
“Can I hold him while you change?” Rogers asked in quiet voice. Tony’s arms tightened for a moment around the baby, Chrissy, asleep on his shoulder.
“Oh.” Looking down, Tony realized that changing clothes while holding a baby was impossible. “Yeah, here.”
So many things in his life he’d never done before. This now, gently, so gently, moving the boy from his arms into Rogers’. Not up on his shoulder like Tony had held him, but rolled into the typical rocking baby position. Cradled in Rogers’ arms. If Tony hadn’t been slightly nauseous from cold and the various emotions he was feeling then he was certain he’d find the sight painfully adorable.
With new super-speed powers, Tony stepped into the pants and was hastily buttoning his shirt while sliding his feet into shoes without socks when the baby, Chrissy, Chrissy, began to frown and twitch.
Tony reached out and lifted the boy back to his neck, inserting slow fingers to flatten his collar under one softly rounded cheek.
“Are you sure you want to keep holding him?” Rogers asked. He hadn’t resisted when Tony took the infant, Chrissy, but Tony could guess that he’d been a little surprised at Tony’s willingness to have him back.
Truthfully, Tony was pretty god damned surprised himself.
“Yeah.” Settling the baby, Tony picked up the throw rug from the end of his bed and draped it around his burden.”If he wakes up I want to be the one who…you know…” He trailed off.
“I understand.” Rogers smiling at him was another thing that Tony didn’t have the mental space to deal with, so he went back into the lounge.
Carol turned from a low-voiced conversation with Clint and asked, “So where do we go from here?”
“The meeting room downstairs…” Tony answered without thinking.
“Yes, I’ve asked the others to meet there so we can work on what happens next.” Rogers spoke without even the slightest thread of pique at Tony answering in his place.
“What does happen next?” Clint asked, his eyes never wavering from the bundle in Tony’s arms.
No-one in the room seemed able to answer that question.
It was a measure of Tony’s position in the Avengers over the last three months that when the room went silent as he walked in, he barely noticed.
Increasing his step, he crossed over to where Henry McCoy stood as soon as his eyes fell on the brilliant blue fur. The bright eyes and warm, feline smile that greeted him was undoubtedly for the baby. Chrissy, but Tony felt a little of the trembling in his nerves ease.
“He’s still asleep. Is that normal?” He asked as the conversation buzz in the room restarted.
A large hand came up to rest with infinite care on the baby’s skull. “Some children do sleep a great deal, but I’d suggest that his mother may have given him a small sedative.”
“Is it safe?” Rogers questioned over Tony’s shoulder. He’d apparently followed them over although Tony hadn’t been conscious of his presence.
At this and Tony’s raised brows, Henry nodded in calmly.
“I can’t imagine, given her behavior, that she would do something dangerous to her child. Likely it was something mild. He was going to be put through a lot when all’s said and done. He’s a little old, but very young babies can be put to sleep with sugar you know?” Beast pulled back the blanket and felt the baby’s, Chrissy, forehead.
“Sugar? To a baby?” Rogers had that air of disapproval that often drove Tony insane, when he was being spoken to at all.
“Well glucose and only in a medical environment…used during MRI procedures…” Henry’s explanation vanished from Tony’s perception as one of the few people who could outrank Rogers for most-desired face at the moment came into the room.
“Thank god, Luke!” Tony turned to meet the other Avenger, relief a palpable surge through him. They’d only come close to being friends before the SHRA and Tony, made them enemies, but if there was one thing he knew with a certainty, it was that Luke Cage was excellent with babies.
“Love of heaven Stark, what have you done?” Luke stopped in front of them, chocolate eyes taking in the blanket and Tony’s air of shocky desperation.
“Chaos and mayhem as usual Luke,” Tony answered, strangely comforted by the other man not leaping forward to wrest the infant from his woefully under qualified arms. “Is it okay to hold him like this? He goes stiff and fidgets if I try to shift him…”
“Its fine Stark,” Luke actually went up on his tip-toes so that he could look down Tony’s neck at the baby, Chrissy. “I hold Dani like that all the time, she still gets a gut-ache if she has too much milk and laying her down makes it worse.”
“Okay.” Tony started to sway a little as the baby, Chrissy, snuffled into his neck.
“Yeah, that’s the baby dance.” Luke crossed his arms across his chest and grinned. “If they get colic you learn to move in three directions at once, side to side, back and forward and up and down. The baby dance.”
A little thrown that Luke was smiling at him instead of dealing painful murder with his eyes, Tony nodded and tried to absorb the advice into some unused area of his memory.
“I used to do it in the middle of the night for Dani. Grabbed a mini trampoline and got in a work-out at the same time.” Tony actually felt his own smile begin at the mental picture conjured. “I called Jess. She’s stopping in at the mansion then coming over with some stuff for you.”
The door opening to reveal Luke’s satchel and infant burdened wife made a prophet out of him.
Relief again for Tony. Help was here.
“Jarvis? Could you bring us some cooling boiled water pleased?” Jessica Jones asked without looking as she came towards them, eyes fixed on the new baby, Chrissy.
“Certainly, Ms. Jones.” Edwin looked up from where he was setting out refreshments.
Jess reached them at the same time as Tony felt Rogers hand once again find his shoulder-blade. He must have been talking to Beast, or Agent 13 and his team, all collected save Rhodey, in the room as they discussed the crisis that still reverberated around them.
The crisis for Tony had narrowed down to the little boy arching in his arms and sucking at his neck.
“He’s waking up,” he told Jessica a little desperately, watching as she opened a bag into a flat cross on a coffee table, white fluffy fabric down the middle, pockets with bottles and packets at the sides.
“He’s probably hungry or needs clean pants.” Luke offered as his daughter scrambled up onto his shoulders to pet at his perfectly smooth head.
“Okay.” Tony watched avidly as Jessica opened a small, segmented container, emptied the powered contents of one section into a clear bottle and set the rest back into her bag. He’d seen her make up bottles for Danielle in the kitchen when they’d all lived together, but the importance had never been manifest for Tony before this moment.
“Now Tony.” Jessica stood from her tasks and looked him in the eye. “We don’t know how his parents have been feeding him, but even though this is Dani’s and she’s older, it’s better than nothing. The thing we have to do is keep him fed, clean, warm and safe until matters work out. I’m guessing you’ve never changed a baby’s diaper before?”
“You guess correctly,” Tony admitted. Never before had that lack in his knowledge been something he regretted.
“So, I’ll do this one. You and Steve watch. Next time it’s you okay?” Jessica stepped closer. “Can I take him?” she asked, gently now instead of with brusque competence.
“Sure.” Tony tried to sound casual, but even though he’d only been holding him an hour, his shoulder felt cool without its tiny passenger.
Cradling the baby in her arms, Jessica rocked him for a few seconds as the boy’s eyes opened and he looked around the room.
“Hey little man, need a change darling?” Jessica asked sweetly before laying the boy down on the opened cross bag. The baby squinted and kicked a little.
“Spiderman?” Luke called.
“Yeah?” the hero answered, sounding wary. Tony didn’t blame him. He wondered if Luke was going to demand help in the diaper situation.
“Kill the lights a little would you?” Luke asked, eyes on the blinking infant.
“Sure.” A familiar whirr and splat had the overhead light dim to a softer level.
At Tony’s look Luke shrugged. “Remember what they have to look at when you do things like change them. Outside they can be staring up at the sun if you don’t pick a good place. They get squirmy if it’s boring up there too.”
“I don’t blame them.” Rogers said.
Tony didn’t risk a glance his eyes following Jessica’s swift, competent hands.
“Best thing is he’s not a freshie,” she advised. “Newborns are so tiny you worry you’ll break them, but at this age…” She grinned and caught a flailing foot. “At this age they try to kick you and roll away so you’ve got to hold on with one hand or just do all your changes on the floor.”
“Okay.” Tony’s voice seemed locked in those two syllables.
Blue fur filled the baby’s world as Beast settled to the carpet beside them.
“Hello little chap, can I have a listen to your lungs then?” Henry set a stethoscope into his ears and began a medical exam.
“What do you want to do now?” Rogers asked Tony, moving back a little as they watched the baby, Chrissy, staring raptly at the giant blue pussy cat crouched over him.
“Fuc...damned if I know.” Tony corrected himself, aware of Danielle still in her father’s arms.
“Reed’s proposed a mission to confirm that Tasha and the others have closed the portals. Noh-Varr says he can build a gate that can get a team there. I’ll need you to look at her armor, download any information she might have stored for us.” Rogers sounded completely normal. As if totally un-phased by the discovery of his alternate reality infant son.
“Should be easy.” Tony looked up briefly and caught Roger’s look. Those cool, impersonal eyes were the reason Tony preferred to be behind Iron Man’s helmet for most of their interactions these days. “If the armor can be transported to my workshop or I’ll come to the medical floor if they can’t get her…”
Tony’s throat closed at the thought of pulling Tasha’s body from the remains of her armor.
“I know.” Rogers seemed to understand Tony’s reluctance.
“You two have incredibly beautiful genes if it’s not too forward of me to say.” McCoy offered as he stood up from the table. “He’s gorgeous, hardly a surprise there, and a delightfully healthy baby boy, about eleven months old I should estimate.”
“Ten.” Rogers corrected. At McCoy’s inquisitive look, he explained. “Tasha said his birthday was February 15th so nine months last Wednesday.”
“Hmmm,” Henry made a note on his tablet, the screen filling with various information that Tony was ignoring in favor of watching Jessica apply cream to the baby’s, Chrissy, posterior. “He’s a big boy then, hardly a surprise there either, of course.”
“I’ve contacted Children’s Services,” Maria Hill told them as she walked over, eyes on the smart phone in her hand. “They’re sending someone over ASAP.”
Cold dread began to curl in Tony’s stomach, taking up battle with the pre-existing shock and worry for domination. The lack of response to her statement pulled Hill’s gaze to the small cluster of people around the coffee table.
“What?” She asked Tony. “The Avengers found an orphan at one of the portal sites. Child Services will take it, that’s their job.”
“Him,” Tony corrected, eyes leaving her for the baby, Chrissy, who was beginning to protest Jessica’s attempts to coax his foot into his purple striped pants leg. “He’s a boy.”
“Thank you Hill. We’ll speak to them in the small meeting room…” Rogers started.
“Is this an issue?” Hill interrupted, no longer clinical. “Seriously, Stark? A girl ‘you’ throws a baby at you before she dies. It’s pretty sad I admit, but you can’t keep him here. No matter what you promised her.”
Hill had apparently been one of the collected heroes on the roof.
“Why not?” Tony asked, unaware until the words left his lips that he was going to ask.
“What?” Hill sounded shocked. All Tony could see was the baby, Chrissy, now wearing pants and trying to twist out of Jessica’s hands to see around the room.
He’s looking for her.
“Christ, Stark.” Hill’s abrasive voice hit Tony like a slap. “You don’t seriously think anyone is going to let you have a baby?”
The blood must have drained from his face, either that or he wobbled because Roger’s hand once again found his shoulder in a supporting grip. Into the silence generated by that statement the baby let out an anguished scream.
It hit Tony like a sword strike.
“I know baby, I know.” Jessica stood up and tried to cuddle the squirming boy. “I’m not your Momma baby, I’m sorry baby. She’s not here.”
Jess’s words couldn’t soothe the infant, who pushed at her chest with hands and feet until he faced outwards, red face getting wet with tears as his eyes shot from one adult to the next looking for the one face that wasn’t there.
Briefly the baby fixed on Steve, a cry of recognition becoming angry as Steve’s proffered hands were batted away.
The thing that occurred to Tony as he watched the baby, Chrissy, become hysterical as he searched for his mother, was that he was so obviously Steve Rogers’ son. The nose, jaw and chin were a miniature copy of his father’s, even as the wavy midnight hair and blistering eyes mirrored those of his mother.
As the baby nearly twisted into a fall when Jessica tried to hand him to Steve, Tony couldn’t take it anymore.
A low sound issued from him as he walked between them and lifted Chrissy into his arms.
“Chrissy darling, it’s alright baby. I’m here, it’s alright baby…” The words Tasha had spoken fell easily from his lips; the cadence matched his own even though his voice was so many levels deeper.
Chrissy leaned sharply back against his hands, causing Tony to tip backwards to avoid cracking the baby’s head on the wall. Small hands batted at his face and shoulders, squirming as he had in Jessica’s arms.
“…I’m sorry baby, she’s not here. I’m here baby, it’s okay Chrissy, I’m here….”
Something in the tone must have registered in the distressed little mind, because Chrissy reached out and caught Tony’s hair, yanking hard until they were pressed together cheek to cheek.
“…I’m here Chrissy, I’m here….”
Chrissy took one great lungful of air then leaned back again, blue eyes finally focusing on Tony’s.
“Bar bar bar,” Christopher said.
“I know baby, I know…” Tony replied.
“Yar yar bar bar oooohhhh.”
Tony smiled and realized his eyes were damp. Chrissy was still hiccupping sobs after every word, but his breathing was calming and the heartbeat fluttering against Tony’s palm was slowing.
After one last piercing look into Tony’s eyes and a hard smack at his mouth, Chrissy settled against Tony’s shoulder and started chewing wetly on his collar.
“Bar bar bar, yar yar yar, bar,” Chrissy mouthed into the damp fabric, tiny fingers fisting in his shirt.
‘It’s okay baby, I’m here, it’s okay Chrissy…” Tony continued the litany of soft words, Luke’s advice sending him into a gentle dip and sway which decades couldn’t erase from his hips after years of dance lessons.
As the baby quieted into low sucking noises and the occasional sob, the silence in the rest of the room became apparent. Skin a little flushed from the sudden surge of heat and conscious of all the eyes on him, Tony kept murmuring to Chrissy until a warm hand on his elbow brought his head up.
“His bottle is ready Tony, it’s easier to feed sitting down,” Jessica said, a warm smile in her eyes that he hadn’t seen in nearly a year.
“Okay, thanks.” Tony ignored the outside world and settled Chrissy across his lap.
“The thing is to get as much of the nipple in his mouth as you can….”
Chrissy just stared at Tony while Henry took a DNA swab but screamed as he drew a blood sample. Tony apologized over and over into the downy-soft hair under his chin.
Unfortunately neither Hill not Kahreem Anderson from Children’s Services had been as gentle. Tony had the wherewithal to let Rogers and Henry do the talking. He kept his mouth shut, texted Pepper, googled Family Law practitioners in New York and focused on burping Chrissy as he’d been instructed.
“Until the paternity results are released you cannot be allowed….”
“Is it really ethical or economical to place him in the system when he’s got a perfect…?”
“I cannot allow you to simply buy an innocent…”
“When has anyone mentioned any kind of payment…?”
“Mr. Stark would need to demonstrate that he is fit to…”
“I will be hoping for temporary custody as well…”
“If we bring lawyers into this then the situation will get ugly and put a strain on….”
“I can assure you every single Avenger will be looking out for this boy’s best…”
“You found him; you don’t just get to…”
“Several experienced parents will be on hand…”
“Mother’s final request…”
“Please, give us time to confirm his parentage and we’ll accept any requirements you feel…”
“Let me make this clear Mr. Stark, if it weren’t for Captain Rogers personally making this request then I would have deep concerns about your motivations here.” Anderson didn’t bother to conceal his distaste.
Rogers seemed about to move, but Henry’s claws dug a little into the fabric of his uniform.
Tony raised his chin and met the man’s eyes squarely. “If your only concern is for Chrissy’s welfare then I support your decisions one hundred percent.”
That seemed to mollify the man a little. “I’ll need to inspect the living space.”
“This way sir.” Jarvis spoke from the doorway, impeccably timed as always. After the door closed Hill rounded on them.
“He’s going to put you two through hell, you know that right? Another famous celebrity buying a baby and ignoring the red tape.” Tony couldn’t tell which side Hill was on most of the time, let alone in this fraught situation.
“I’m not buying him,” Tony snarled from the sofa, Chrissy still snuggled into his chest. Because honestly, the idea was disgusting.
“We know,” Rogers assured him, a hand rubbing tiredly at the back of his neck.
“I’m getting a lawyer.” Tony showed them the company name on his phone.
Maria sighed and entered the details in her tablet. “You’ll need one.”
The grip Pepper Potts had on her Smartphone was just shy of cracking the screen. Given that Tony had been present at the actual stress tests of the device he was impressed and intimidated in equal measure.
“Tony. What is…I don’t even…” Pepper’s gaze hadn’t strayed from the infant sleeping not ten feet away in a padded portable cot.
Knowing that as soon as his friend and business partner regained the ability to form a coherent sentence, he was going to be on the end of an ass reaming that didn’t include any fun parts, Tony thought it best to go on the offensive.
“It’s not like I planned to be given a baby Potts.” His voice low, because if anything woke Chrissy now it was going out the penthouse window. Tony had never been so grateful to be surrounded by super-efficient people with experience in child-rearing. A quickly scrawled list by Jessica given to Jarvis with Tony’s now solvent platinum card had produced a veritable mound of clothes, diapers, tins, equipment and a small kidney shaped bath.
Pepper swallowed once in a way that looked like it hurt and then took in a great lungful of air.
“Only you, Tony Stark, could become an instant parent two weeks before our first car shipment is due.”
“It’s a gift.” Tony grimaced, still operating on some kind of autopilot as his brain continued to turn over ‘baby, me, what, me? A baby, what me?’ over and over.
“You can’t possibly…”
Now Pepper of all people should know better than to apply disbelief to any of Tony’s actions.
“I promised.” At the moment, it really was a simple as that.
Irritation pulled Pepper’s ginger brows into a scowl. “You promise a lot of things to a lot of people Tony.”
Yeah, true. “And I do my very fucking best to keep them Potts.”
A small bloom of color on her pale, freckled cheeks. “I know you do, but hell Tony.” The last said with a hint of exhausted laughter. “How can we even make this work?”
“Simple. You take over Stark Resilient.” As she would have been doing in two years time anyway when they changed the name.
“You’re doing this to me again?” Definitely amusement. “Of course you are.”
“Because you’re awesome and far better at running things now the company has some bank to play with. I’ll be able to back you up, just…” Tony looked over as Chrissy shifted a little. “…I can’t be the lead on it anymore.”
“Okay.” Pepper voice had firmed, conviction replacing the surprise. “Okay, I can manage this. If I can destroy your empire in one week, I can build one back up the next, but this time, Tony, there are rules.”
“Anything you need.” Because Tony didn’t know what he was going to be doing tomorrow, but if Potts was running a part of life, it would be the smoothest part bar none.
“One, I’m your boss and if I need you, you better come. I’ll do as much as I can to leave you free but you’ve got to back me up when I call. I will not chase you.”
Tony knew it would bite, but he’d do it. “Fair enough.”
“Okay.” Pepper rubbed a hand across her face; she must have dropped everything in Broxton to be in New York so quickly. “Oh hell, Tony. This is insane.”
“You’re telling me.” But as the hours progressed and night had fallen, Tony had calmed down, the shock wearing off and started thinking.
“Well, I guess…” the Smartphone went into her suit pocket. “…congratulations.” Her arms went around his shoulders in a warm hug.
Tony sagged a little into her embrace. “I’ll need you in Broxton but hell Pep; I wish I could keep you here to help me.”
Pepper gave a hard squeeze before leaning back. “He’s also Steve’s yes?”
“No-one could doubt that jaw line.”
She caught his eyes with a serious look. “Is that a problem for you?”
Yes, because of course Pepper Potts knew every fucking thing about Tony Stark, including his pathetic decade-long unrequited love for Captain Rogers.
“Probably,” he conceded. “But right now I can’t get past the idea he’s got my DNA let alone anyone else’s.”
Her look narrowed before relenting. “Okay. God, I’ve so many calls to make.”
“Go ahead.” Tony prodded her into his office. “I’ve got some more freaking out to do over here.”
Pepper had retired to her guest suite two floor down just before midnight. Tony felt that her near-indestructible competence must have been on slightly shaky ground when Chrissy woke and demanded his mother and some milk in increasingly distressing volume. Her and Happy’s brief period as foster parents, while leaving her with a continued desire for her own children one day, had also resulted in some raw emotional wounds.
Steve had followed her out the door for a brief conversation while Tony started lapping the room, wondering if Luke hadn’t been right about the trampoline.
“Barrrrr, barrrr….” Chrissy had refused the bottle, opting instead for sucking on Tony’s bristling jaw line and pulling at his shirt front.
“Sorry Chrissy, that’s one thing I cannot provide. Hush Chrissy.” Tony watched Steve came back into the lounge.
“Okay,” Tony said when Chrissy finally grabbed at the bottle and began sucking. “As a card-carrying hero and all, I’m only going to say this once…”
Rogers stopped in the process of picking up a fallen bunny blanket and stood almost to attention.
“Yes?” Completely calm.
“This whole situation is completely on me,” Tony acknowledged. “I know you were stepping up for us with the Child Services guy but I’m the one that made the promise, not you.”
Tony knew the rest of his life was going to be incredibly fucking difficult, but he was going to start off being a parent the best possible way.
“You don’t need to stay Rogers. You have a life. You have a girlfriend and a job to do. Go.” Tony gave the permission easily because freeing this man was the right thing to do. “I got this.”
Rogers dropped his eyes to the frog embroidered fabric in his hands. With military precision he folded it into a neat, compact square.
“Thank you Tony.” Still no eye-contact. Tony braced himself. “I understand you felt you had to say that, but don’t ever look at me again and tell me to abandon a child I’m responsible for.”
The cutting words were softened by Roger’s slow approach and the big hands that reached over to take Chrissy.
“I belong to him as well.” Words steady and sure, just like the man himself.
“Thank fucking god,” Tony whispered in relief, causing Rogers head to snap up, censure for the language in the sky blue eyes. “I had to give you a chance,” he offered by way of explanation.
Rogers shook his head and settled into a chair with Chrissy across his lap. “I know.”
One a.m. saw Tony and Rogers backing quietly away from Tony’s bedroom door, breathing in slow synchronized puffs, not daring for even a sigh until they reached the kitchen.
Tony scrubbed his hands over his face. “What in fucking Christ am I doing?” He asked the world.
“Dammed if I know.” Rogers picked up his boots. “But you’ll be getting a swear jar if you can’t mind your language around the baby.”
Tony couldn’t even muster a grin. “Sorry, I think I’ve passed through shock, embraced fear and am now moving into exhausted disbelief. There is still a baby in my bedroom isn’t there?”
“Yes,” Rogers confirmed, one hand clasping Tony’s shoulder briefly. “I’ll be back tomorrow. Get some rest.”
“Okay.” Tony watched him leave with a small bemused smile. “I’ll try.”
At 8 a.m., Tony forced one eye to open as Rogers returned. Clad in his uniform pants with a loose long-sleeved white t-shirt and socks, he was the epitome of vigorous good health.
And he was alive. Tony would never stop being thankful for that fact.
The uniform top, boots and holster arrangement were dropped onto the table by the door before Rogers padded to the kitchen. Wide-awake blue eyes took in Tony’s state of not particularly artful dishevelment, Chrissy’s position in a slick new high chair, chubby fingers firmly encircling Tony’s left ring finger and Edwin Jarvis’ presence at the stove with a frying pan and carton of eggs.
“What time did he wake up?” the blond asked, taking a seat on the other side of the baby at the breakfast bar.
“Five a.m.,” Tony replied hoarsely, clutching his recently refilled coffee mug to his cheekbone. “I’ve decided to marry the coffee machine.” A nod at the cheerfully steaming silver device near Jarvis. “We’re thinking of a long engagement, but I’ve a ring picked out.”
Rogers chuckled a little, accepting a cup from Jarvis with a polite “Thank you, Edwin. How are you this morning? Coping with the new ‘situation’?” His eyes wandered over to meet Chrissy’s beautiful blue-eyed gaze.
“I’m very well Captain, thank you for asking.” Jarvis added some diced bacon to his culinary creation. “I’m delighted by the arrival of Master Christopher and not the least surprised by Master Anthony’s intention to wed a kitchen appliance. Would you like a Spanish omelet?”
Rogers laughed. “Yes, thank you Edwin.”
Tony’s smile warmed his lips against his coffee cup.
“Are babies allowed to have eggs at nine months?” Rogers asked, eyeing the fluffy yellow mass Chrissy was cautiously mouthing. Tony raised a brow at his life-long friend, butler, advisor and uncle.
“Yes indeed.” Jarvis placed loaded plates before them before settling in front of a third. Tony was pleasantly surprised; Jarvis rarely joined him for meals despite repeated invitations. “Recent research in Australia suggests that egg allergies are less likely to develop in infants given cooked egg between five and nine months. We must still wait till after twelve months before allowing him nuts, strawberries, shellfish and honey.”
“Honey?” Tony and Rogers spoke in unison.
“Naturally occurring botulism.” Jarvis answered, taking a sip of tea.
Tony’s eyes narrowed. “Did you stay up late surfing baby info web sites?”
“Just a few. I’ve joined several message boards on your behalf in case we have questions that no-one in the building can answer.” He reached over to tap a StarkTech reading device near the fruit bowl. “I’ve downloaded several excellent parenting books, highly recommended and very modern in their approach to caring for young babies.”
Tony was surprised at his complete nonchalance at the man’s internet savvy and unflinching enthusiasm.
“Worth your weight in gold Jarvis…gold.” Tony used a tissue to wipe scrambled egg from the palm of his hand.
Rogers just smiled.
Henry McCoy presented them with the results of the paternity tests in the middle of the baby shower the doctor had taken upon himself to throw. Declaring that ‘everyone’ wanted to meet Christopher and offer their congratulations, Tony, mildly traumatized by three broken nights and several of Chrissy’s diapers, just gave a shrug and offered the lounge on the ninth floor.
Eyeing a rather startling mountain of blue beribboned gift boxes and lifting Chrissy a little higher on his shoulder, Tony tried to forget the moments the previous night where he’d wanted to give in. Wanted to quit, to call Pepper and tell her he couldn’t do it. Wanted to beg someone to find a nanny because Tony wasn’t good enough. He couldn’t stop Chrissy from crying, he couldn’t make him stop grieving for his mother, he couldn’t replace her, and he was barely capable of taking care of himself let alone a tiny little boy.
Finally, he’d fallen asleep, upright on the lounge. Pillows and bolsters cradling him, supporting his elbow so that Chrissy could sleep with his face pressed to Tony’s neck, cheek on his collarbone.
And now Henry was giving him punch, talking about buying breast milk from donating mothers in Canada and showing him test results that said he was ‘technically’ a father. So was Rogers.
“I’ve forwarded copies to your lawyers and to Mr. Anderson.” Henry bared his fangs in a pleased grin.
“Thank you, Henry.” Rogers shook his team-mate’s hand.
“How did we explain the presence of two fathers’ DNA?” Tony asked, allowing a squirming Chrissy to turn, facing outward so the baby could curl his fingers into Beast’s hair.
“Oh I didn’t.” Henry let the boy poke him in the mouth. “I simply stated that the DNA results indicted you were the biological parents. They can’t legally ask for more information than that.”
“So he’s ours?” Rogers cupped the back of Chrissy’s head before trailing down to tuck in the tag of a newly presented knitted sweater in shades of aqua and purple.
“All yours gentlemen. Congratulations, it’s a boy.” He chortled a little at his own joke.
Tony shook his head. “You’ve been waiting all week to say that haven’t you?”
“Oh yes my Dear. May I have a cuddle?” Blue hands clapped and opened wide in front of Chrissy.
Tony hesitated. Not in fear that Henry wouldn’t know how to hold the baby, his baby, but more in uncertainty over Chrissy’s reaction.
So far, only Tony could hold him for anything longer than ten minutes. Rogers, Jarvis, the carpet and his high chair being optional furniture for brief periods, but only if Tony was in sight.
He’d even set up a bouncer in the bathroom so the baby could watch him shower.
Deciding that he could always snatch him back in a moment, Tony pressed Chrissy forward and watched as Henry cheerfully bounced (on his feet) around the room, showing off the man of the hour to their guests.
“I feel lighter.” Tony rolled his neck and considered booking a chiropractic appointment.
Rogers turned so that they stood face to face. “You’re doing a brilliant job with him.”
Tony couldn’t hide the shock on his face. Because, well, there was being civil for the sake of their child, good god they have a child together, and then there was this.
“I …thanks? He thinks you’re great as well.” And so do I, Tony thought, but he didn’t have the balls to say it.
Rogers cut his eyes to the floor then seemed to bring them back to Tony’s face with an effort of will. “I know it’s too soon to tell for sure, but I think you made the right decision with Chris. You’ve stepped up and taken on parenting him like you were born to it. I didn’t think…” He broke off awkwardly.
“That I had it in me?” Tony finished with some small bitterness. But he didn’t blame Rogers, he couldn’t really, there was only one person responsible for everyone’s belief in Tony as a failure of a human being. “Neither did I.”
“No...I…” Rogers’ eyes roamed over the crowd, alighting on Henry offering Chrissy’s feet for Sam to blow raspberries on before coming back to Tony. “We need to thrash some things out, now that we know for sure.”
“Yes.” Tony couldn’t keep his voice from being decidedly cool. He and Rogers had been such vicious adversaries less than a year ago, Tony a pariah then suddenly an Avenger again. ‘Some things’ was an understatement. “I need to change my will and get you to sign some documents. In case I get arrested or something.”
It was a bitchy, nasty little jab. Exhaustion was no excuse.
Rogers went white in either shock or anger, Tony didn’t know.
“That is why we need to talk,” he gritted out. “Can I come up after this?”
Tony sighed, his rage draining away. “Yeah, if we’re gonna fight I want it to be after he’s asleep.”
“We won’t fight.” Rogers was adamant.
Tony smiled mirthlessly. “Wanna bet?”
“I’m sorry,” he blurted out before Rogers could even open his mouth. Once that came out, Tony couldn’t continue. He just looked at his former friend with identical surprise at his words reflected in his eyes. Rogers paused for a few seconds then, as Chrissy began to squirm, walked past Tony and the sofa to set the baby down on the plush carpeting in front of the windows.
After the unexpected chaos of the party below, it seemed Chrissy was quite happy to crawl around and fondle the toys they’d acquired over the past few days.
Rogers straightened and came back around to confront his former enemy, still not saying a word.
Feeling defensive even though he’d been the one to apologize, Tony crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the sofa back with forced casualness.
“I am, and not just because I lost and everyone hates me,” he clarified.
Rogers’s mouth tightened. “No-one hates you.”
“Liar.’ Tony smiled to take the sting from the word. “I’m surprisingly fine with it, because even though I can’t remember what I did, I’m feeling guilty for it and guilt is a great way to keep my ego in check.”
“You don’t remember?” Rogers put enough of a lilt on the last syllable to make it a question.
Tony looked at him like he was an idiot and made a vague gesture with his hand towards his temple. “Yeah. Brain-delete to protect the real names of the registered heroes? I know we filled you in on that. I was there.”
Rogers tilted his head a little. “To quote Clint, ‘I call bullshit’.”
Tony’s faltering smile dropped completely. “What am I lying about then Captain…sorry Commander?”
“You did do the brain-wipe, I know, I was there.” Just the faintest trace of mockery in the repetition of Tony’s words. “But I’ve known you long enough to read what’s going on in your head Tony Stark. It’s all there…” Steve lifted two fingers towards the top of his nose, “…it’s all in those eyes.”
Tony forced himself not to blink for thirty seconds. Then he caved with a sigh.
“It’s only coming back in bits and pieces. Flashbacks, nightmares,” he confessed with a shrug of nonchalance that he didn’t feel in the slightest. “Some of it is tying in with the reports and footage I’ve seen, so it’s all a patchwork. I didn’t lie.”
“Just didn’t mention your memory returning?” Rogers asked without even a trace of sarcasm.
“Yeah, no,” Tony laughed bitterly. “But I want it on the record that I’m a coward, not a liar.”
Rogers took three sudden steps right into Tony’s personal space, eyes intent but not angry.
“You’re not, and never have been, a coward,” he said in a calm, clear voice. “What you did was act like an arrogant tyrant who thought he knew what was best for everyone, without consulting them.”
Tony drew in a deep breath, because here it was, here was the fight he’d been putting off for as long as possible.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, but held up a hand to forestall Rogers’ response. “I should have come to you, come to the Avengers when I first heard word of a registration bill. It was just an idea, some Senators with gripes about superheroes stirring up hate. It happens more often than you might think. But I thought I’d have more time, I didn’t expect…those kids…”
Rogers relaxed his posture a fraction, down from military perfection to stable, immovability. “You know that I never disputed something had to be done, don’t you?”
“Do I?” Tony asked. “We never got a chance to talk until everyone was yelling. I couldn’t even stop for breath and then I find out Hill opened fire on you in the helicarrier. It just went so wrong so quickly. Extremis had an option to suppress emotional stresses and allow cognitive function; I didn’t know it would…”
“Turn you into an asshole?” Rogers finished sharply.
Tony wanted to agree, but most of his memories were just glimpses of events, walking down hallways, begging people to not fight them and the constant near paralyzing state of worry.
“It was like someone was pulling my strings, forcing decisions from me that in my right mind I wouldn’t make,” he offered as an excuse, but at Rogers shocked expression quickly corrected. “I don’t mean an actual ‘someone else’. It was all me, no alien control or robot death spore.”
“Except for extremis,” Rogers pointed out.
“Maybe,” he acknowledged. “All I know is right now I don’t think registering everyone is a great idea, certainly not imprisoning heroes if they don’t. I don’t know how I got to that mind-set, but I don’t deny it was me. I don’t ask to be let off because I can’t remember why I did what I did. I’m just trying to not fuck up again anytime soon.”
For long moments Rogers read Tony’s face, seeing what he didn’t know. Then with a long sigh, he moved forward and pulled Tony into an embrace. Shocked to his very core, Tony lifted weak arms to take handfuls of the other man’s shirt.
“I…” He began.
“It wasn’t all you,” Rogers offered, cheek pressed to Tony’s, words a warm caress at his ear. “You may not think so, but it wasn’t Tony Stark Supervillan versus the rest of us. I know that even if you don’t.”
“Rogers.” Tony searched desperately for appropriate words for when a man he’d resigned himself to being loathed by for the next decade was hugging him while their son pressed the crown of his head into the carpet and lifted his backside up to ‘shake his booty’.
“And please stop using my last name to try and distance yourself from me,” Rogers continued. “I’m not calling you Stark, so quit it.”
“Okay.” One word responses couldn’t hurt.
“For my part, I’m sorry I wouldn’t listen when you tried to talk. I’m sorry I got so caught up in the battle I was fighting I forgot you weren’t my enemy. I’m sorry I threatened you with arrest when Congress would rather just pretend SHRA never happened and mostly…” Rogers…no Steve, Steve…paused. “I’m sorry I didn’t trust that you might know what you were doing and that with my help you could have made everything turn out differently.”
“You…how can you just put it all out there like that?” Tony asked in astonishment. “I stumble trying to even understand where I fucked up and you just give it away like that. Jesus.” Tony lifted his arms to pull Steve into a tight hug. “I missed you so much, Steve.”
Steve’s only reply was to squeeze the breath out of Tony’s lungs. He didn’t mind.
“I nearly killed you.” The words were murmured into the cloth at Tony’s shoulder.
Hauntingly familiar, Tony thought of embracing the other Steven Rogers, sobbing in his arms over the killing of his friend.
“You didn’t,” Tony whispered back. “I never thought you would, I wasn’t afraid. I’ve never been afraid of you.”
His friend? Could they be that again? His friend nodded, their ears brushing.
“Now I just have to suck it up and go talk to Luke,” he joked.
Steve pulled back. “Maybe give it a few months?”
“I can do that,” Tony agreed, because Steve was his friend again. Steve had forgiven him and with that, Tony could do anything.
The invulnerability that came from his resolution with Steve lasted until he had to get Chrissy to go to sleep.
The baby would not let Tony put him down in the cot. Whether it was the change from upright on Tony’s shoulder to being horizontal or the loss of body heat, he didn’t know. Scouring Jarvis’ research, Tony had tried rocking, waiting till Chrissy’s eyes were just closing to put him down, waiting ten to fifteen minutes after he fell asleep to put him down and patting his back in time to Tony’s heartbeat.
None of it worked. If Chrissy was lying down without being in physical contact with Tony for more than five minutes, he woke, crying his little heart out for one of the adults that he’d been supplied with to keep him safe.
But propped up, again, on pillows in the bed with a snoring infant Tony decided that he had to do something. Much as he was discovering an instinctual love for the baby, he couldn’t hold him like this all night. What if he slumped and Chrissy got trapped in the pillows or, god help him, Tony rolled in exhausted sleep and dropped him?
Eyeing the abandoned crib at his bedside, Tony crept his fingers to his bedside table and snagged his phone. Directing the screen away a little so he didn’t flood Chrissy with light, Tony called up a search engine and wondered what term to enter. He tried baby in bed with parents first. That found several terms including co-sleeping, SIDS and coddling. Frowning and suspecting that he was about to be disappointed, Tony read for twenty minutes and decided that coddling wasn’t going to do Chrissy any damage but that all pillows and comforters in Stark Tower were going to be tossed from the roof first thing in the morning.
Finally he hit on an excellent blog that listed specifics including the risks involved and what do about them. Given that he hadn’t been drinking, wasn’t on any medication, didn’t have sleep apnea, wasn’t overweight and was planning to sleep under a sheet and light blanket then he was going to do it.
An advertisement in the sidebar on the blog confirmed that decision when Tony was struck by the sudden memory of seeing one of those things somewhere before.
Sliding off the bed, Tony walked into the living room and over to the unsteady tower of boxes still unpacked from the party. It had been a brief glimpse, a thank you to Monica and a surprisingly warm hug then the gift had been forgotten. Scanning through the white, blue and smiling well-slept faces adorning the various products, Tony found the one he needed. Sliding it out one handed wasn’t a problem. Opening the box was another. By the careful raising of his right leg, foot braced on an end table, Tony was able to wedge the box between his hip and another gift, leaving his right hand free to fumble with the closure. Victory was his as with a small shift of folded cardboard the potential life-saver came free.
The size of a large, fat briefcase, the unit was padded all around and decorated with what Tony determined in the half-light to be ducklings embroidered onto the side. Back in his bedroom, Tony sat back down and pulled open the unit. The sudden harsh tearing of Velcro caused him to quickly stand and rock Chrissy gently, but eventually he was able to lean down and examine the co-sleeper.
A padded u-shape with mesh along each side and a small light set into the crown. While he’d have preferred to conduct some stress testing, the need for rest was dragging at him so hard that he was going to take the risk. A firm push showed that the low wall wasn’t going to collapse even if Tony lay on it, and it was hard enough that even exhausted as he was, he doubted he could sleep with it rammed into his armpit.
So…lying down in as horizontal position as possible, Tony incrementally shifted his son from the numb spot on his shoulder and down into the padded mini-cot.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Tony slid down the bed until his head rested on the pillow, sat one hand on the sleeper and promptly passed out.
Tony and Chrissy slowly, desperately ‘snail-paced of slow’, came to an understanding. This truce involved Tony surrendering every single moment of his life, along with at least seventy percent of his conscious thoughts and the chance of ever being alone again. Ever. To a man who flirted with depression over the lonely and soulless life he’d sometimes created for himself, he might have thought that a constant living presence in his life might have been a solution to this. But on those rare daydreams of life-long companionship, Tony had normally envisioned a stunning blond or petite brunette partner, but always an adult.
A ten month old bundle of flailing arms, determined crawling and overwhelming need had never factored into Tony’s life plan. It seemed like every day he wanted to give up. He would rehearse conversations in his head, explanations for Steve and Pepper, rationalizing his faults and weighing them against Chrissy’s best interests.
Then his baby would be asleep in his arms, small fingers clutching Tony’s t-shirt with startling strength, breath a warm puff against his chin and Tony knew he would rip out the lungs of anyone who tried to take Chrissy away from him.
Rhodey watched as Chrissy crawled to the edge of the picnic blanket and started chewing on some grass.
“This,” he said with a calm that Tony couldn’t help but admire. “…is so very weird.”
“I know.” Tony agreed wholeheartedly and with vehemence.
Chrissy stuffed a dandelion in with the grass.
“I mean,” Rhodey toed of his shoes and crossed his ankles on the red plaid blanket. “I just never thought…”
“I know,” Tony repeated.
“Because you just…”
“Believe me, I know.”
“I guess I just always thought if you ended up having kids with a guy…” Rhodey contemplated his socks. “…it would be me.”
A pause that Tony could only describe as flabbergasted.
“What?” He just managed to soften his voice from piercing to manly at the last second.
Rhodey’s guffaw of laughter was diluted by the distant barking of dogs and the cheery whistle of Central Park birds enjoying the warm spring afternoon.
“I’m sorry…” Rhodey choked a little, but Tony knew he was totally, totally not. “…you having a kid isn’t that strange Tony. We live the most bizarre lives anyone can imagine. You and Rogers on the other hand? That I cannot get my head around.”
Tony’s sympathetic laughter died a quick, cold death. He knew his voice was a little off when he spoke but couldn’t help it.
“We’re not actually Chrissy’s fathers you know.” He pointed out, eyes on the children playing on the climbing equipment.
James Rhodes was, of course, completely familiar with any and all nuance in Tony’s voice. As was Tony in return, so he could hear the low burr of surprise as his friend explained.
“Yeah, but a Tony Stark, girl Tony sure, but still Tony Stark got busy enough with Steve Rogers to produce this little guy,” Rhodey wiggled his toes for Chrissy to grab at with short, chubby fingers. “You haven’t been with a man for years so you and Rogers together is just…” He broke off as a conclusion slotted into place behind steady brown eyes.
Tony was more than a little unnerved, both at Rhodey’s knowledge of his sexual history and witnessing his friend’s contemplation of his team leader in that context.
“You really didn’t know?” He asked, because even though he’d been an Olympic competitor at self-control when around Captain Rogers, there were very few secrets he could keep from his best friend.
“No.” Rhodey was now grim in face, voice and posture. Chrissy moved away from the frozen feet and selected a brightly colored toy from the myriad Jarvis had packed into the second picnic basket. “I didn’t actually know that you were in love with Captain America.”
Tony’s mouth curled in a self-mocking grin. “Hardly the first or last person to be so.”
Rhodey didn’t reply.
“Anyway,” Tony breathed out in a rush. “He’s on your team and BuckyCap is dining with Natasha these days, so no Captain for me.”
“He and Thirteen are…” Rhosey began with concern furrowing his brow.
“I know.” Tony cut him off swiftly, a curl of cringing jealousy riding him. He hated that he was so very envious of the woman, jealousy in any form a festering thing that he wanted gone. “They’re great together and very much in love. Agent thirteen is smart, deadly and has that goofy laugh thing that stops her from being too perfect. Don’t fret now Rhodey, I’m an asshole but I’m not ever going to go there.”
His friend sighed. “One day I’m gonna start punching you if you keep interrupting me. No, no…” he held up one hand to forestall Tony’s not-very-witty-but-trying quip. “…I was going to say before you started your rhapsody about how awesome Sharon is; that they’ve been pretty cool towards each other lately. Like, they’re having some issues.”
“That is completely none of my business.” Tony warned because hope used to end at the bottom of a bottle and he would never go that way again.
Rhodey sat up to catch Chrissy’s exploring hands and helped the boy up to an unsteady stand.
“Probably,” he agreed. “But he’s your babydaddy Tony and if he’s in your ‘not hero’ life then so is Thirteen.”
“Again, I do not need to know.”
“Okay.” Rhodey seemed content to let the matter drop, hands dancing up and down as the boy bounced excitedly.
Somewhere a busker played the violin.
“I could put in a good word for you at mission briefings is all I’m saying.”
Tony dropped to his back on the blanket. “Oh god, what are you? Twelve? This isn’t junior high.”
Rhodey’s laugh was back, bright and brilliant as always.
“Just being buddies. I’ve got your back.” Quick pilot’s fingers plucked blades of grass from soft black hair.
Both the words and the action caused a lump in Tony’s throat that took a few moments to swallow. “Thanks.”
Tony was going to have to talk to Steve soon about getting their baby Christened. His first Godfather was already stepping up to the plate.
A month passed and weirdly things became easier. Tony found that while he still longed for time to himself, space in his brain for a thought other than what Chrissy would wear the next day and if he’d eaten enough solid food at dinner. While he still ached to get to his workshop, or to use all his brass and front to coerce financing from dubious investors, he was getting into the habit of having a baby in his life.
Leaving Chrissy with Steve so that Tony could conference call with Pepper or grab a shower was starting to leave him with that ‘I’ve forgotten something’ feeling. Once he found himself swaying back and forth while talking to Rhodey on the phone. He hadn’t been holding Chrissy at the time.
Settling down, not being so fearful of breaking the tiny human he was caring for and devoting small increments of time to non parenting things still didn’t give him any insight of how to deal with copious amounts of mucus and a refusal to eat. Jarvis had bought paracetamol and several over the counter naturopathic remedies for children’s colds. These had been diligently scrutinized, had their ingredients googled and parent companies vetted before Tony risked his son’s biochemistry on them.
It was seven am on day three of the ‘Whichever Supervillian Breathed On My Kid Is Going To Pay’ illness when Tony, after coaxing fluids into the grumpy baby, settled onto the sofa with a sleeping Chrissy in his arms, when there was a polite tap at the door.
Steve had taken the evening shift of consoling and mucus clean-up and managed to just stumble from the guest room before another knock could wake Chrissy.
“Ahhh.” Henry’s cheerful blue gaze took in the disastrous state of the penthouse. “Jarvis mentioned young Christopher was behaving poorly. Shall I have a look?”
Steve nodded and tiredly waved Henry in while smothering a yawn.
“Wake him and I’ll do something nasty to your equipment,” Tony threatened. It wasn’t much of a threat given he was whispering and that Chrissy was half bent backwards over Tony’s arm, snoring like a foghorn.
Settling his great furred self beside Tony, Henry bared his canines in a wide smile and gently inserted a digital thermometer into Chrissy’s ear.
The exam was quick, Steve bringing coffee before leaning his hip on the back of the sofa to watch. Chrissy, of course, slept his oblivious way through the entire thing.
“Not fair,” Tony groused quietly as he pressed the snaps of the baby’s pajama onesie together. “I so much as pick up a book and he wakes up, you prod him for ten minutes and he sleeps straight through.”
“Let me take him Tony?” Steve asked in his ‘not really a request more of an order’ voice.
“Okay.” Tony transferred Chrissy to Steve’s shoulder, hands hovering uncertainly for several seconds until he was sure the baby wouldn’t wake.
“Hey little fella. How ya doing little fella?” Steve crooned as he wandered slowly around the room, a duplicate of Tony’s sway in his step.
“Hmph.” Tony sighed; skin bereft and about a million pounds lighter. An ache made itself known in his left forearm. He rubbed it absently.
Large blue eyes blinked at him from behind spectacles and a concerned feline expression.
“Hey handsome.” Tony tried a charming smile and must have failed miserably if the sharpened worry in Henry’s face was anything to go by.
“You need to sleep Tony. You’re out on your feet.” Big clawed hands cupped his head and it was a measure of Tony’s exhaustion that he didn’t even flinch. “Your glands aren’t swollen but you’ll likely catch what Christopher has simply because you’re in such close contact. Have you thought of getting some help?”
Tasha’s pleading voice rolled across his memory. Tony shrugged noncommittally and collapsed back onto the sofa. Reaching under his spine, he pulled out a half-mauled red circular teething ring.
“Chrissy can barely stand to leave the room with Steve, let alone a stranger. He needs me.” It was as simple as that. Tony couldn’t stop taking care of Chris because Chrissy needed him. It was incredibly flattering and a horrific responsibility all rolled into one cute, snotty, grieving baby boy.
“Okay then.” Henry settled in next to Tony and reached over to gently take his pulse. “I presume you have a score of staff taking care of this penthouse, cooking your meals, doing the laundry yes?”
Tony managed a proper smile this time.
“I’m a martyr for my son, Henry, not for our dishes.” He watched as the dexterous blue digits lifted the thermometer to his ear. Instinctively he tipped his head to the opposite side until Henry righted his skull. “It’s almost a military exercise in here at six p.m., I swear they’d have me straightened and folded if I didn’t make a mad dash for the bedroom with Chrissy every night.”
“So he’s just a very restless baby?” Henry asked curiously, checking the display on the thermometer.
“I have no idea;” Tony gave in. “Isn’t this what most babies are like? He’s eleven months old, he’s got more teeth about to erupt and he’s probably got an ear infection. He feels like shit and thus, so do I.”
“Only you can soothe him?”
“So far.” He looked towards the bedroom door where he could hear the sound of rain falling and Steve’s occasional murmur. A suggestion to play ‘white noise’ to help infants sleep currently in the early stages of testing. “He thinks Steve is…it’s like…” Tony searched for the right comparison. “Steve is the bestest, most awesome toy a little baby could ever have.”
“And you?” Henry prompted.
“I think I’m like his right arm. I must be there. Always. He can’t actually understand when I’m not. I don’t mind.” And wasn’t that the revelation of the century? Tony Stark was at the beck and call of an emotional ball of needs with little logic and zero patience… But he wouldn’t be anywhere else in the universe than with his son.
Henry’s smile had far too many teeth. “I am actually looking forward to being a parent one day.”
Tony smiled back. “You’ll be great Henry.”
“Why thank you my Dear. I’ve been taking notes whenever I see you, so I’ll be well prepared.”
Shaking his head in denial, Tony pulled a sweater on over his suddenly chilly torso. “Don’t copy what I do Henry. I think I fuck something up every day.”
“Somehow I doubt that.”
Henry’s words were lost as Steve came back into the room.
“I think he’s okay.”
“Thanks.” Tony stood and stretched. “I’ll go in a second. When will you get the results?”
“I’ll use Pym’s equipment, so tomorrow? I’m sure it’s just an infection. Some antibiotics and he’ll be fine.”
“Thank you Henry. I’m sorry you had to come up for such a little…” Tony began.
“Shut it Tony, It’s my honor. Go. Sleep. Now.”
With a tired nod, Tony bumped shoulders with Steve as he passed and crawled into his greatly longed-for and rarely seen bed.
The test results were indeterminate, but that was normal for most babies under 12 months.
“They can pick up all sorts of little bugs,” Henry explained over the phone. Steve’s ‘not-really-secret-because-everyone-knew-about-them’ Avengers team were somewhere in France investigating a glowing green mass. “Just keep him warm, use the paracetamol if you think he’s in pain and watch his temperature. He’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
Tony glared at the phone resting on the coffee table and avoided the bottle of water his baby was trying to ram into his ear. Last night Chrissy had woken every thirty-five minutes with a coughing fit, becoming distressed at the spasms and throat pain then crying himself back to sleep in Tony’s arms.
Tony had never before wanted pharmaceuticals so much in his life.
“I can’t give him anything for the cough?” he asked, trying to keep the desperation from his voice.
“He’s too young and it won’t work anyway. Lemon and honey in warm water ~ I don’t think that’s going to stick but it might be wise to get back a few…oh dear that’s unfortunate ~ get some saline spray for his little nose. He’ll be able to breathe then with his mouth closed and it’ll stop the irritation to his sore throat.”
“Okay, thanks Henry.” Tony reached for the phone as Chrissy slid from his lap to the couch.
“Never a problem, my Dear. I’ll try to get the other half back as soon as possible.”
Tony knew Henry hadn’t meant it like that. He’d meant the other half of their parenting team, not, you know, Tony’s other half. Romantically.
Mores the pity.
Either way, Tony longed for Steve, not just for his emotional support but also for the precious few hours of sleep he could get if Chrissy’s other father was hovering while the baby rested.
“Well little boy.” Tony used a lotion moistened tissue to wipe gently at the baby’s red, little nose. “It’s just you and me till your soldier dad gets home.” He looked around the penthouse without interest. “Maybe we should watch the soaps.”
Tony poured himself a generous measure over ice and contemplated the darkened lounge. Edwin had come up for dinner—well, made them dinner, to be honest, and then had unsurprisingly set the penthouse to rights as Tony got Chrissy down to sleep.
Padding towards the massive windows, Tony raised the blinds and looked out past his reflection onto the brilliant city below. Taking a deep drink, he tried to push his weary mind into planning the next day, but found that anything beyond ‘getting up’ and ‘feeding Chrissy’ was a little beyond him. Glancing back into the room, he spotted his tablet and resolved to try and complete some work for Pepper. She knew his normal recalcitrance was magnified by Chrissy’s existence, but if Tony could help he would. He’d dumped Stark Resilient in her lap after all. Least he could do was a little R&D supervision.
He’d barely put finger to screen when the front door unlocked and Steve came in. Uninjured despite the rather fiery battle Tony had watched on CNN that morning, but the broad shoulders were tense, that confident walk weary and slowed.
“Bad day?” Tony asked quietly, unsure if Steve had spotted him, given the man’s somber countenance.
“Not really.” Fortunately Steve’s voice was normal, a little softer in consideration for the sleeping baby, but not reflecting its owners ‘down’ aura at all. “He’s asleep?”
“Nearly an hour now so you shouldn’t wake him. Go in.” Tony gave the permission easily, still unnerved that he was asked to do so.
“Thanks.” Steve went into the bedroom under Tony’s watchful eye and returned fifteen minutes later softened and a great deal less unhappy.
Normally very conscious of his appearance, particularly around Steve, it didn’t occur to Tony that the picture he presented could be construed as anything less than innocent. The sleep pants and white singlet were certainly ones that Steve knew he slept in and the touch screen tablet a superior version of the one the other man had likely left in his office three floors below.
“Is that gin?” If that voice had been normal before, it sounded like crushed glass speaking those words.
It actually took Tony three long seconds to understand the question and that it was being directed at him.
Only Steve goddamn Rogers could give Tony a punch in the gut without moving a fingertip.
In answer, he simply held the tumbler up towards Steve and returned his eyes to the blueprints in front of him. Steve came over to take the glass, a deep inhale and the tinkle of ice cubes as he swallowed.
“Lime and soda,” he deduced, slipping the drink back into Tony’s hands. “Dammit! I’m sorry Tony it’s just….” Steve collapsed ungracefully onto the sofa next to him.
“Shut up,” Tony said, weirdly calm considering how hurt he felt. “If an alcoholic was in charge of Chrissy, I’d be demanding a blood test every hour too. It’s fine.”
“It’s not,” Steve argued, unbuckling his boots. “I trust you and I know you wouldn’t. Not just for you, but with Chris now…I know you wouldn’t.”
Tony relaxed a little at the honest ring in the words. “Not a bad day you say?” He could be forgiven a little sarcasm couldn’t he?
Several minutes of silence as Tony kept working and listened to Steve’s thinking noises.
A small sigh.
“Sharon’s been assigned to run the Avengers team we’re starting in Europe.”
Ah, so that’s where the unhappiness comes from.
“Long distance isn’t impossible given the tech we have and she’s too good a field commander to be wasted as your team’s chauffeur.” Because any issue Tony ever had with Agent 13 was entirely the fault of his own stupid, longing heart and nothing to do with the caliber and talent of the woman herself.
“I know. That’s why we created the position and why she’s taken it. But we’re not…” Tony looked up as Steve pulled his feet onto the sofa and lay down. “…we’re taking a break.”
Tony weighed up his juvenile, bitchy delight against his once-again friend’s heartbreak and gave himself a hard mental kick in the nuts.
“That sucks, Steve. She’s an amazing woman.” Stick with small honest sentences and he couldn’t go wrong.
“Maybe,” Steve told the ceiling. “I mean, Sharon’s amazing yeah, but it doesn’t actually suck. We’ve some bad stuff that we’ve been avoiding and it sort of reared up to bite us. She needs space from me and so do I. I think.”
“That is remarkably and yet unsurprisingly adult of you Steven Rogers,” Tony complimented. “I still think we should go to a strip club or something to drown your sorrows.”
Steve huffed a small laugh. “You go anywhere near a strip club and I’ll kick your ass.” Tony knew it was about the ‘drowning’ part of the suggestion but it still gave him a small thrill to hear Steve so adamant about keeping Tony clean and sober. “Plus, we have a baby.”
We do, we do, something began to sing in the back of Tony’s mind.
“Speaking of…” Steve lifted onto one elbow and stared intently into Tony’s eyes. “I wanted to make a suggestion. About Christopher.”
Tony swore a little under his breath.
“Okay Steven, I’ll try to keep it to words of one syllable.” He infused his voice with just enough irritation to make it real. “You are Chrissy’s father too. You get to make decisions about him too. You don’t have to approach me like we’re divorced and I’ll cut your visitation. You can see him whenever you want. You don’t have to ask me. He’s mine, totally mine. But he’s yours too. Understand?”
Steve’s sudden pallor at Tony first words disappeared to be replaced by a rueful smile. “Okay.”
“And stop knocking.” On a roll now Tony decided to finish it. “I know you’ve got rooms downstairs but you’ve got one here too. Just do me the courtesy if you’re taking him out somewhere but otherwise, stop with the tip-toeing.”
Steve was silent for a little while.
“Really?” He asked.
“Right then. You need help.”
Tony sniggered. “People have been saying that for years Steven.”
“With Chrissy.” Steve wasn’t smiling now.
Tony returned the look unflinchingly. “Jarvis came up for dinner, he’s helping.”
Steve shook his head. “Edwin is looking after a dozen Avengers and a full staff. He loves Chris like a grandson, but he’s too busy to be a babysitter. We need someone you can trust to back you up if I’m not here.”
“There’re a dozen Avengers thirty feet below us,” Tony pointed out.
Steve shook his head again. “Most of whom have never changed a diaper or made up a bottle. I’ve been talking to Luke…”
“One superhero dad to another,” Tony interrupted.
“Yes.” He refused to be derailed. “He and Jess have Squirrel Girl looking after Danielle at the mansion in case one of them is called away or working…”
“I’m not giving Chrissy to a nanny.” As far as Tony was concerned that was the end of it. So much for Steve being an equal voice in parenting.
Of course Steve Rogers had never backed down from challenging Tony’s opinion.
“Tasha never said you couldn’t have help,” he countered.
“I have help.”
Tony simply glared, refusing to budge. He was fine. Chrissy was fine. Getting a well meaning stranger in to care for him would only destroy whatever security his baby had found in this upside-down world. No, no, no.
“How about this,” Still remarkably calm despite being shot down, Steve offered, “not a nanny but back-up in more areas than sitting Chris?”
Suspicious, Tony thought for a moment. “I’m listening.”
“Let me guess, you had what? Two hours while Chris slept to yourself?”
“You’re doing work for Pepper now so I’m thinking you went to the workshop and did something manic to Tasha’s armor.”
A tad thrown at being read so easily, Tony nodded again.
“What if you had an assistant? You’re used to working with Pepper or someone at your right hand. You could get them to help with work, take calls and keep an eye on Chris if you need to be elsewhere.” Steve had an almost honeyed tone in his voice.
It was…actually not a bad idea.
“I do need to spend a week in Broxton soon. I was going to ask Jarvis to come…” Tony ventured thoughtfully.
“Tony.” The warn hand on his knee knocked his train of thought completely off the rails. “I’m not suggesting you leave Chris with a stranger all day. You simply have someone with you, helping you. Someone who can mind him if you’re in a meeting, up to your elbows in grease or out punching robots with me.”
It could work. If they could find someone that Tony trusted and that Chrissy liked. A person who could be Tony’s gopher and ready at the drop of hat to care for a baby while his daddies saved the world.
“Does this person even exist?” he asked, already suspecting that Steve had someone lined up.
“I have a few ideas.” The commander of the Avengers was a pretty awful liar.
“Well, as Jess and Luke already nabbed Squirrel Girl it’ll have to be someone with a power.”
“You’ll see.” Steve smiled smugly before dropping his head back and lifting his feet onto Tony’s lap.
Knowing he’d been out-played but deciding that Steve wouldn’t risk Chrissy for the world, Tony resisted slipping ice into Steve’s sock and went back to work.
“A juvenile delinquent?” Tony asked, eyeing the goggles adorning the silvered head of his potential back-up.
“Accidentally,” Thomas ‘Tommy’ Shepherd, aka Speed, corrected, slim body held uncomfortably straight, arms defensively crossed but eyes curiously hopeful. “My power came in and the government was hunting me. I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.”
“It’s okay Tommy,” Steve assured the teenager, hand a bracing strength on his shoulder. “Tony knows that. He’s just a little surprised I asked you to come over.”
“Well.” The kid’s expression became mulish and oh, did Tony know a look designed to cover hurt when he saw one. “Billy and the others are all at school or working so it’s me or no-one from the Young Avengers. Sorry.” The word wasn’t spoken with even the faintest trace of repentance.
Tony slipped the phone he’d been reading the boy’s record on back into his pocket and tried not to wince at Steve’s censuring look.
“That,” he said in a regretful tone. “Was a truly shitty thing for me to say, Mr. Shepherd. I’m the one who’s sorry.” He didn’t censor himself as Chrissy was at his feet, determined to unlace his shoes, not paying the slightest bit of attention to the adults above him.
“S’okay,” Tommy shrugged. “It’s true, I’m a punk. But I spend all day hanging around the tower most of the time, so if you need help with the baby, I’m offering.” Another uncaring shrug.
Tony was beginning to suspect that Steve wasn’t just making this match-up for Tony and Chrissy’s sake.
“Super-speed?” He questioned, eyes narrowed.
“Yeah,” Tommy seemed to force himself not to shrug again. “And I can agitate atoms enough to cause explosions.”
“If Dr. Doom tried to kidnap my baby what would you do?” Tony asked.
This caused a wide grin to spread across the young man’s face. “Depends if you prefer Anchorage, Prague or Melbourne?”
Steve must have sensed Tony’s delight at this answer, because his not-at-all-concerned-really expression melted into one of cautious pleasure.
“I’ve a house in each so we’ll rotate through them. Does the idea of answering a phone politely or playing horsey with a little boy freak you out Mr. Shepherd?”
Bright, young eyes looked down at the infant lying on his back kicking at Tony’s ankle with what was likely amounting to super-human strength and slowly smiled.
“Not sure how good I’ll be at either, but hey, it’s gotta be more fun than bugging Billy.”
Steve cleared his throat. “On the off-chance that Tommy is called for a Young Avengers mission, while you’re working or fighting…”
“I whisk the kidlet to Cap, sorry Commander Rogers, Jarvis, Jess or Luke Cage, then Colonel Rhodes, Ms. Potts, then….” Tommy seemed ready to list the entire Avengers roster.
“We’ll work out a priority alert for you Tommy,” Steve assured the youth, smiling with genuine glee at the culmination of his plan.
“Seriously?” Tommy said in a shocked voice. “You’ll trust me with your baby? Your baby?”
Tony knew then, that Steve, as usual damn him, had been absolutely, one hundred percent right.
“It won’t come to that anytime soon Mr. Shepherd,” Tony smiled and lifted Chrissy up to meet his new baby-sitter slash PA. “First thing you’ll need is one of my latest Smartphones.”
With surprising deftness for a youth with no younger siblings, Tommy held out his arms for the baby and tolerated his goggles being wrenched forcefully through his silver-blond hair.
“Cool, can I have an expense account as well?” he asked, adjusting the baby so he wouldn’t lose an eye.
“Let’s see how you manage making a coffee run before we get too serious shall we?” Tony censured but with a small smile.
“Sure, Mister Stark.” Tommy poked his tongue out and then coiled it into a pipe for Chrissy’s awed gaze. “Whatever you say, Boss.”
Steve smile was incandescent.
Spinning into a neat dive to avoid the second barrage of missiles, Iron Man pulled up just sharply enough to allow the weapons to impact on the engine-room of the commandeered battleship. The alarmingly brutal alien scout team had slaughtered most of the crew and turned the ship’s arsenal onto the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Steve’s team was in Chicago and Luke’s coming off a vicious encounter with some former HAMMER operatives. The Avengers at the tower had all been well-rested and looking for something to do.
It was only the third time that Tony had left Chrissy with Tommy, the first time for an Avengers mission as Iron Man. Tony was fortunate enough that the armor was an unconsciously controlled part of him and not something he had to focus too much attention on.
He was woefully out of practice.
His sensors told him that BuckyCap and Hawkeye were dealing with the guards holding the few surviving crew members, while Thor was currently beating the living daylights out of the alien’s massive guard dog. Hawkeye suggested it looked like a ladybug with spikes.
“Dude, that is one fierce mofo of a ladybug,” had been Spiderman’s response.
Tony had confined himself to aerial recon and handling any of the battleship’s arsenal that the Alien’s managed to launch. So far the only thing being blown up was some water, Tony’s NotActuallyPaint armor coating, and now, the engine room.
“Was that a bad thing to do?” he asked Hawkeye over the comm. as he ignored some scattered machine gun fire aimed his way.
“I don’t know,” the archer replied. “Probably? Maybe not. They’ve already messed things up so badly down here I’m worried this boat will sink before we get the prisoners out.”
“Ship,” Protector corrected from his position on the rescue boat they’d anchored alongside the hijacked vessel.
“Mind your language,” Iron Man reproved cheekily.
“I don’t understand,” Protector replied, confusion evident in the unusual cadence of his voice. “I said ship not…”
“I know you did Noh-Varr,” Tony conceded, making an unnecessary figure eight in the air. “I was joking. Can you see the prisoners?”
“Not yet, but my scanner indicates they are only fifty feet from the life-raft.” The Kree soldier seemed pleased to be focusing on his task rather than deciphering the intricacies of human humor.
“Thor?” Tony asked, switching channels.
“Yes?” A grunt as the God of Thunder took a hit from one of the alien ladybug’s four foot long face spikes.
“The prisoners are almost at the rescue boat. Are you just playing around or do you need a hand?” Iron Man conducted a flyover and found that Thor had the giant bug backed into a corner.
There was a pause, either from thought or effort Tony wasn’t sure. “I’m playing around,” Thor admitted, voice layered with some small amusement. “I shall knock the beast out and then attend to their leader. I feel she is the one whose blood thirst did create this tragedy.”
“Cool.” Tony relayed everyone’s positions, repulsor blasted the last of the alien gunmen and hovered over the rescue boat as Protector steered the humans to safety on the shore.
The comm. chatter revealed the alien leader’s refusal to surrender, despite being cornered on the bridge and Thor’s dislike of any door that got in his way.
“She tried to gut herself with her pincer-thing,” Spiderman observed. “Thor’s having none of that. He’s doing the ole’ ‘drop the hammer on their chest move’. I love it when he does that.”
Hawkeye spoke cheerily. “Everyone is accounted for down here. We’re officially clear on the boat.”
“Ship,” Spiderman, Tony and Noh-Varr corrected.
“Are we finished here?” Tony asked the rest of his team, not thinking about the thing he wanted to think about and speculating on alien badass ladybug origins instead.
“We’re clear Iron Man,” Thor replied. “I will assume command, return to your son.”
Now Tony could let himself think. Chrissy.
“Thanks Thor,” Tony changed course and headed back to the US. He opened a new comm. link.
“TonyStark. I’mnothimbutyoucantellmewhatyouwantandI’lladdyoutothelist…oh sorry Tony, I didn’t look at the screen. Didja get ‘em?” Tommy still spoke with mercurial speed but Tony knew he was trying not to rush and trusted him to do his best.
“Got ‘em all over the deck Tommy,” Tony replied. “How’s…”
“AlienscanbesuchassholessometimesandoneofmyonlyfriendsislikeaprinceofthemsoIhaveexperienceinthesematters. Kidlet is fine. He’s pushing the dining chairs around and getting pissed when they hit the wall and can’t go any further.”
This brought a smile to Tony’s face. Chrissy was just shy of taking his first, unaided steps, but until then the furniture in the penthouse was rearranged on a daily basis.
“Great. Good. I’ll be home in an hour,” Tony promised.
“No problem, Boss. Jeeze, who knew such a little guy could produce so much snot?” Tommy disconnected before Tony could answer.
The trip out to the Aegean had been spent mostly in scanning, readying weapons and updating the team on the beleaguered ship’s status. The flight home was peaceful.
Tony thought it typical of his contrary personality that in all the long days of the last three months, all those hours longing for a break from his baby. Now that he had one, he was anxious to get home.
“He drives me mad and breaks my heart every day.” Tony spoke into the muted roar of the wind. “But I actually miss him.”
Tony’s rueful smile remained even as he landed on the roof of Avengers Tower and accepted the tight grip and squirming bundle that was his son.
The following week he landed once again on the roof, but this time gently lowered a limping Spiderman to his feet as well.
“I know you have a super-special spider healing thing, but I heard bones break when that cyborg bit you.” Iron Man kept a scan running on his team-mate just to be sure the other hero wouldn’t black out from the pain or anything.
“Yeah but…” Spiderman hopped briefly on one foot while he shot a web at the ground for stability. “…it’s just a flesh wound.”
He’d only been in physical contact with Tony for the minimum amount of time required to get back to New York. Tony tried not to be offended at that, his memory still a patchwork of experience, written accounts and things that just had to be hallucinations. Given the other man’s body language, somewhere under that mask was a deep and abiding distrust of Tony Stark.
“The medical bay here is the most sophisticated…” Tony began cautiously.
“I’ve got my own place. Thanks anyway.” A careless hand wave and Spiderman was tumbling off the edge of the building, only the softest sound of his webbing leaving any trace of his passing.
“One day I’ll remember what I did and apologize.” Tony retracted the armor and made his way down to the penthouse.
Blessed silence reigned across his tasteful décor, the only sign of habitation a hand-written note on the breakfast bar, the news muted on the television and a super-soldier drowsing on the sofa.
‘Hey Boss, I think the Iron Baby’s cold is better as I’m not as drenched in as much mucus as usual. He ate the food Jarvis bought up and Cap got home just before bedtime. I’m training with my team in the morning but I’ll come up after lunch for that meeting thing you have. Bye. Speedybro.’
Smiling again at Tommy’s completely in-character turn of phrase, Tony changed into comfortable clothes, checked that Chrissy hadn’t flung himself onto the floor and went to wake Steve.
The guestroom in the penthouse was no longer the domain of Pepper or Rhodey. Both his friends had, in fact, taken rooms on one of the Avengers levels and courteously left the luxuriant space to Steve. Given that paint brushes, a new canvas, some sketchbooks, brightly colored crayons and uniforms were arrayed in painstaking formation across the room, no-one could doubt that Steve had officially moved in.
Tony was waiting for the pleased little thrill he got every morning seeing Steve come back from his pre-dawn run, all sweating and flushed, to subside. Three weeks now and no sign of such a change. Obviously despite everything they’d felt for each other, including massive frustration and disappointment, nothing could erase Tony’s adoration for the other man. Having him in such close proximity again, spending nonsense time together with their son was only cementing Tony’s slide back into all that love he’d been feeling for Steve for nearly a decade.
Dropping quietly to his knees, Tony rested his forearms on the cushions under Steve’s back and took a good, long look. Handsome face turned towards the back revealed the strong arch of Steve’s neck and the unmistakable beauty in his super-human body. Tony had no doubt that he was in deep and serious lust for his friend’s physique, but he had also slept with a lot of beautiful people in his life and his feelings for Steve were way more than sexual.
He badly wanted to reach out and run his fingers through golden hair, press a kiss to the strong jaw line and breathe in the scent of recently showered Steve.
Instead, Tony traced the slightly ragged sleeve hem of Steve’s t-shirt.
“Still loving you beyond belief Mr. Rogers,” he whispered, eyes on Steve’s averted profile to detect the slightest hint of waking. “Don’t you ever think of dying again you son-of-a-bitch. I can only break my heart over you so many times before the pieces are too jagged to mend. Even for me.”
Tony looked down and smiled at both the beautiful upholstery as well as in rueful acknowledgement of his emotional recklessness.
Strong fingers closing around his wrist had his gaze fly back up to meet very wide awake, astonished baby blue eyes.
“Fuck.” Tony couldn’t keep back the obscenity as he quickly calculated how much Steve might have heard. But really, there was no way to spin this, no way to make Tony’s words seem brotherly rather than romantic.
Deep in Tony, a small voice that sounded remarkably like his father decided to comment. ‘You knew this might happen. Whispering sweet nothings to a guy with enhanced hearing? Did you really think he would wake up and reciprocate? Idiot, idiot, idiot.’
As Steve took in a deep breath to speak, Tony cut him off. “Hey, it’s okay. Don’t freak out,” he pleaded before making an offering. He could give Steve this much without regret. A way out. “We can just delete the last few seconds, it’s fine. This isn’t a new thing for me, it’s under control. I’ll keep my hands to myself…promise.” If his smile didn’t contain any mirth, he could be forgiven for that surely.
A large warm hand closed over that smile, effectively silencing him while Steve smoothly rolled up into a sitting position. A thoughtful expression rose on the blonde’s face, lower lip caught in fine white teeth.
“You just confessed you’ve been in love with me for…? Years?” Steve asked, his even voice giving no indication of his feelings on the subject whatsoever.
Strangely thankful that he didn’t actually have to talk, Tony just nodded, the smooth palm over his lips following the movement.
“You also just promised not to mention it again and to never make a move on me. Right?”
Tony lifted a hand to lower Steve’s fingers, just enough to allow speech. “Right.”
Steve pinched his extended forearm with his other hand, and then tangled his fingers into a tight grip around Tony’s.
“Even before Christopher, I had resigned myself, with rueful pleasure, to one rock-solid fact about my life,” Steve said, not the faintest trace of expression to indicate where this might lead.
“What’s that?” Tony asked with a slight tremor in his voice, because Steve was holding his hand like it was some great privilege.
Steve smiled then, his genuine, honest ‘golly-gee wow’ smile that had adorned the pale face of a boy winning an art prize at nineteen years old. “Anything I do, anywhere I go; I always seem to come back to this. Revolving around you like a planet around the sun.”
The air in Tony’s body left him in an almost pathetic little whistle. “But not by choice.”
Laughter bounced around the lounge, fortunately unable to enter the rainfall drenched master bedroom. “Tony, you gorgeous fool. Always by choice, always….”
He didn’t finish the sentence. Tony had concluded that while being on his knees in front of Steve held all kinds of wonderful possibilities, being in his arms was an even more spectacular option.
“I want to be here,” Steve murmured at one point, lips pressed to Tony’s beard.
Tony smiled. “You need sleep so badly. You are here Commander.”
Steve’s fingers still hadn’t untangled from his despite two large scale men lying horizontal on a sofa and indulging in what can only be described as cuddling. Those fingers pulled until Steve was kissing each of Tony’s solder scarred knuckles.
“I mean,” he said. “I want to be here, with you and Chris, in the apartment, all the time.” Each phrase punctuated by lips on skin.
It was such a charmingly romantic thing to do that Tony almost snorted his amusement but managed to control himself at the last minute. He slid his other hand up the truly fantastic musculature of Steve’s back and played with the hair at the nape of his neck.
“I repeat, you already are.”
“No, I mean…” This time Steve stopped kissing to look Tony in the eye with a deadly serious expression. “I want to move in with you.”
Tony’s eyes narrowed. “Do you actually have any stuff that isn’t in that room?” A hand wave towards the guest suite.
A sheepish expression on his face, Steve shrugged. “I think Sam has some boxes from before I…” he trailed off.
That guaranteed Tony was the one with the serious demeanor now.
He couldn’t help the tension that took him as one of his first returning memories emerged.
Steve so cold, his color wrong. Not tan and healthy but grey and yellow through Tony’s tears.
Warm breath and a gentle kiss brought him back to the here and now.
“I’m here, I’m okay,” Steve vowed. “Can I bring the rest of my things over tomorrow?”
“Of course.” Tony shook off the chill of horrible past events. “Mi casa es su casa.”
“Great.” Steve pushed and wriggled until they lay comfortably entwined on the plush sofa. “I’ll hold you to that.”
Falling asleep on the couch, fully clothed and unconsummated. Not exactly Tony’ smoothest moment, truth be told, but kind of romantic nonetheless. He woke to Steve’s face mashed into the back of his head, the pleasant ache of morning wood and Chrissy’s displeased cry echoing from the bedroom. This third event naturally ended the first two, but Tony couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he picked up the frowning baby and danced them back into the living area.
Without Tony’s body as ballast, Steve had rolled onto his front and was in the process of pulling a cushion over his eyes to block out the morning sunlight.
“Good morning, beautiful boy.” Tony peppered Chrissy’s face with kisses until he got a cute chuckle then made his way to the sofa. “Good morning, beautiful man.”
He leaned over and carefully balanced the baby on Steve’s kidneys.
“That wet diaper is all yours. I’m taking a shower.” Tony smiled, ignoring Steve’s groan as Chrissy thrust his fingers into his father’s golden hair and bounced.
They’d made promises late last night and Tony intended to keep all of them.
Twenty-three hours later, Tony returned from a press conference in Broxton to a worried Tommy and Chrissy with his third bad cough in as many weeks.
“Is he just not throwing it off, Henry?” Tony asked, arms cuddling Chrissy on his knee while Henry tried to pry open the baby’s mouth to see his throat. “I’m an amateur at being a dad, but even I know that kids don’t get sick this often. He’s on antibiotics all the time.”
“That wouldn’t be any good for his system at this age either, would it?” Steve asked, his own concern obvious in the clean lines of his face.
“It is unusual,” Henry agreed, checking Chrissy’s ears. “I’m going to take some blood this time and we’ll see if we’ve got something more concrete than just flu symptoms.”
Tony knew the expression on his face must have been fairly clear, because Steve crossed the room to sit next to him.
“Take blood?” Tony confirmed, voice strained.
Henry looked at them over his spectacles. “You’ve both given enough blood to know it isn’t that bad. Hardly much worse than the immunizations we gave him last month. We took blood on that first day, remember?”
At the twin looks of concern, he offered a reassuring smile. “I’ll be very quick and gentle. He won’t even remember after five minutes.”
Chrissy screamed absolute murder in Tony’s ear for ten minutes, then settled fractionally to suck on Tony’s neck while Steve prepped a bottle. Sitting on the kitchen island, Tony winced as Chrissy punished him with rampant use of his teeth.
“He’s giving me hickies again,” he complained, unable to drag his eyes from the delicious line of the other man’s back as he tested the milk.
“Well, he better stop.” Steve turned, caught Tony’s look and offered a somewhat smug smile. Stepping close, his eyes roamed from Tony’s own then down to the collar of his shirt. “That’s my job now.”
He nearly had the bottle torn from his fingers by his angry son, who wasn’t even remotely interested in the flirtatious behavior going on over his head.
“Yes,” Tony breathed, sitting up a little straighter, deftly catching Chrissy’s foot as the baby kicked out at Steve’s interloping presence during his snack. “That’s your job now.”
This kiss was nothing like the slightly frantic ones from the day before. They were certain now, not so nervous of rejection; not worried the other would pull back with apologies. Tony was just parting his lips to accept the gentle push of Steve’s tongue when a small hand fisted the skin at his jaw and pulled.
Snatching Chrissy’s hand from his throat Tony shot a mock glare down at the angry blue gaze trained on him.
“I think there’s something coming between us,” Steve joked, hand darting forward to caress Chrissy’s wavy black hair.
Tony laughed. “I like that he’s pissed because you’re kissing me, but I’m the one who gets assaulted.” He rubbed at his jaw and decided that a nail-cutting session was in order.
“Your attention should be on Chris, all the time. No exceptions.” Steve was still smiling, eyes adoring the little boy snuggled so closely to Tony’s chest.
“He can’t complain, it usually is.”
Steve’s gaze came up to Tony’s face, the expression not changing one iota.
“I’ll just have to use my enhanced skills to steal some of that attention then won’t I?”
“Oh yes.” Tony grinned back. “I’m sure Chrissy can be convinced to let…me…”
Tony trailed off, an instinctive twist pulling his eyes back to Chrissy, just as the baby’s eyes rolled to one side, closed.
Only Steve’s supernatural reflexes caught the bottle before it hit the floor.
“Baby?” Tony pressed his hand to Chrissy’s forehead and cheek then lifted him up to press their faces together. “Chrissy baby, c’mon baby?”
The gentlest of shakes.
“He’s really hot,” Tony said, eyes meeting Steve’s over the slumped, raven head.
Steve’s hands were on Chrissy’s throat, feeling for a pulse that his relieved expression told Tony was there.
“Henry?” Steve turned to get the diaper bag off the bench where they’d put it just minutes earlier...
Tony carefully slid to his feet and tried to quench the sickening fear rising in his gut.
“All of them. Something’s wrong Steve. Terribly wrong.”
He was thankful of Steve’s supporting arm at his back while they raced to the elevator.
When Stark tower was undergoing one of its many remodels after damage, Tony had expanded the medical bay to two floors with intensive care facilities and a triage bay for when the cosmic level shit hit the Avengers fan. He knew without a shadow of doubt that he would never have authorized that particular shade of depressing grey and concluded that Hill was most likely to blame.
Chrissy had regained consciousness during Henry’s high-speed yet ultra calm assessment. He’d cried a little through Hank’s exam but calmed when the man had shrunk down to the size of a cat and sat beside him on the bed to play ‘this little piggy’.
Seventeen hours after that, Reed was helping the two Doctors with their tests while a small trickle of blood fell from Chrissy’s nose.
It was in that moment, when Tony could have given in to panic and joined his voice to the slowly growing number in the laboratories, that he made a concrete decision about what was happening. Unless he was needed to design, build or fix something that Reed couldn’t then Tony was staying right here.
A sterile tissue crumpled in his hand with his son’s blood on it meant that Tony wasn’t Iron Man, wasn’t a genius and wasn’t a superhero. He was the arms around Chrissy and that was enough.
He suspected that his friends were doing everything they could to help. Tony knew that even with the problems his colleagues had with Tony Stark, they would never abandon Steve Roger’s child, or any child they had a chance to help. They were heroes after all.
So he shouldn’t have been surprised when he woke from a light doze, upright on a hard chair, Chrissy asleep on his lap, to Susan Storm lifting his baby away. Tony managed not to risk harming Chrissy by grabbing, but it was a near thing.
Sue looked him in the eye. “Let his other father have a turn okay?”
At Tony’s nod, she turned and gently deposited the baby into Steve’s arms. Baby blue eyes that seemed lost to worry the last two days met his and summoned a small smile from god knows where.
“Come on.” Sue pulled Tony to his feet, the sleek muscles in her arms shifting under that iconic uniform. “You need a break.”
“I’m fine,” Tony protested, because honestly, he’d functioned on less sleep for most of his adult life.
“Sure, I know you are.” Sue spoke in a low, soothing voice as she led him towards the elevator. “But you could be finer and Steve’s just come off the bench so…”
They stepped into the lift.
Wrenching his thoughts from the tiny bundle in that horrible sterile room, Tony couldn’t help but think over his last remembered conversation with Susan Storm. During the Civil War, when she’d asked him to get Reed clear of the conflict. Was he the only one who was feeling how awkward the mood in the lift was?
As the doors opened and they stepped into the penthouse, Sue once more took his arm.
“Three hours sleep, a shower and then Jarvis is getting food. You have to,” she ordered.
“Do I?” Tony bristled at the tone, because he was here wasn’t he? He’d followed her rather than told them all to fuck off while he stayed with his baby…
“When I was pregnant with Valeria the first time…” Sue offered, her voice losing that calm rationality. “…she...we gave off so much radiation…Reed did everything but…well…” She released Tony’s arm and wiped gloved hands down her hips. “…I lost her.”
“Susan.” Tony couldn’t even imagine, and he’d been imagining a lot of worst case scenarios in the last few hours. “I’m sorry.”
“Of course. It’s not the same.” She patted him on the chest. “I’m just telling you because you have to keep yourself together for your baby. You know that, but when they’re sick and you’re going to kill anyone who suggests to just up and leave, you don’t care. But you stay healthy because they need you. Okay?”
“Okay,” Tony acquiesced.
“Reed will do everything he can. I promise.” Sue turned towards the elevator. “I’ll see you in three and a half hours.”
Tony watched her leave and then stripped of his soiled shirt.
Three hours, he’d give her that.
The faces of his three friends and the specialists they asked in were always so perfectly noncommittal. Tony could just imagine the number of times the collected medical personal had given soul-rending news to concerned loved ones. He imagined it would be something like sacking someone from their job. Times eleventy billion.
Nevertheless, being unable to give any answers and a refusal to speculate was slowly driving Tony up the wall. His baby, his beautiful, heart-stealing, gummy-smiling little darling was so very sick…and no-one could tell him why.
Frustration was not the word.
“If it is radiation poisoning…?” He prompted Hank.
His old friend was hopelessly conflicted. “I’m sorry Tony, we just can’t confirm that. We’re doing frequent blood studies and cell counts. We know he had acute exposure to acclionic radiation, but there were no symptoms or indicators since the very first test Henry conducted. There is no reason…”
“…for it to make him suddenly ill three months later.” Steve finished the sentence they’d both heard a dozen times.
“But we’re treating him for radiation sickness. It doesn’t seem to be having an effect,” Reed explained, again, voice sympathetic. After the pain of Sue’s second pregnancy, Tony knew that the feeling was genuine. He was a scientist speaking with a father’s voice. “Exploring other possibilities is our only chance.”
All fathers were different Tony knew, but the thing he and Reed had in common was a commitment to unvarnished scientific truth. Even if it hurt.
“Before he dies.” Tony finished, eyes on the baby wrapped in his arms. Four wires and two tubes trailed from various parts of Chrissy’s small form. Tony had learned to arrange the leads over his shoulders and under his arms as he passed his way around the hospital room they now lived in.
A sudden, harsh sound from Steve.
“Never give up hope my Dear,” Henry’s claws delicately moved the soft blanket back into place over Chrissy’s feet. “There are always options. I have a line on stand-by to Utopia in case Elixir awakens and we’ve samples of Angel’s blood here for testing. Not all hope is lost.”
“Okay.” Tony nodded and resumed his walk. From the humidi-crib in the centre of the room, past the heart monitor and over to the lime and orange striped bean-bag Spiderman had installed during those first frantic days. When Chrissy was awake and the pain medication under control, Tony could lie him down on the soft, plush surface to play with his toys.
Sometimes Chrissy was too dozy or unhappy to play. Those times made Tony want to lie down and howl. But he didn’t. He lifted his little boy into his arms and started to walk, explaining how each of the machines worked and offering upgrades until Chrissy fell asleep or someone came in to do a test.
Steve, of course, had been an absolute rock. His own distress palpable, but never affecting his actions or decisions. Where Tony had simply taken hold of Chrissy and tried to will him better, Steve and Pepper had begun a global search for anyone or anything that could save their son.
When Chrissy was asleep in his special container, and the lights were low, Steve would turn off his phone, sink down to sit beside Tony with his back to the wall and just be there.
One night Tony had snared Steve’s hand in his, lacing their fingers like they were sixteen and watching a movie.
“You are amazing.” He pronounced, looking at one of the frankly frightening number of teddy bears that had amassed in the ‘toy’ corner. “He’s so lucky to have you for a father.”
A snort. “Hardly,” Steve demurred. “I’m so dammed scared. You, Tony, you have it together. You’re like a machine, I swear. I know what you’re like when you commit to something but…you.” Admiration and regret in equal measure.
“A stubborn bastard who won’t let anyone tell him different? Not even you?” Tony agreed. He’d been forced, by his own actions and by others to accept that he was fundamentally flawed. Like most human beings.
“Not even me?” Steve repeated carefully. “Why do I get a special mention?”
Tony wondered if the superhero community had created a text chain to overwhelm them with bears. “You know why.”
The grip on his hand became just shy of painful.
“When he gets better…” Steve began.
“When he gets better.” Tony repeated with full emphasis.
“…we leave him with Tommy one night and you come out to dinner with me.”
That startled a small laugh out of Tony, his first in days. “That sounded like an order Captain.”
“It was.” Just the faintest trace of smugness in his tone.
Tony couldn’t resist. “I suck at following orders. As demonstrated. Repeatedly.”
“To excess.” Steve agreed.
“With prejudice.” Tony chimed in.
“And full disregard for protocol.”
“I don’t even know why you even put up with me.” Tony joked, although once he’d have meant the words in earnest.
“I can think of a few reasons.” Steve leaned closer until their sides pressed warmly together.
They remained that way till morning, holding each other up.
Because Tony’s life was doomed to be a work of artistic pain, Chrissy did not improve. He deteriorated over the following days to the degree that he rarely woke and couldn’t be allowed out of the crib for fear his compromised immune system would make him vulnerable to a fatal infection.
Only being able to touch his son through two hand holes was like ants chewing at Tony’s spine. Watching his baby fade away, akin to emotional torture and likely to bring Tony finally out of the sanity he’d prided himself for retaining despite some of his life’s more ‘interesting’ moments.
The gentle, silvered sound of raindrops continuously falling smothered the repetitive beeps and hums of the machines. Normally Tony enjoyed the audible evidence of technology at work, but when the sounds were indicative of the measure of his son’s life…Tony had found he hated them.
Chrissy slept better with his ‘comfort noise’ anyway.
The rain also seemed to work on Steve, who lay, sans boots, upon Tony’s bed. He didn’t mind. The two beings he loved most in this world were within arm’s reach and even though Tony couldn’t physically take either one into said arms, at least they were close enough to look at unhindered.
Chrissy was asleep, or had been sedated, with his fingers curled around Tony’s thumb. The grip had been tight at first, he found it hard to judge whether it bordered on superhuman strong as Tony had rarely been the beneficiary of such childish affections. Now, the delicate fingers were lax and it was Tony who maintained the constant contact.
Stroking the pads of his fingers over Chrissy’s tiny, dimpled knuckles, Tony listened for Steve’s not-really snores under the sound of rain.
They had maybe hours left.
“Jan?” Tony whispered the name into the still room. “Could you scoop him up and hold him for me please? He gets so scared when I’m not there, but if you pick him up and rock a little he’ll hold on tight.”
Tony moved his gaze over the sleeping baby to the fine midnight hair. “If you could just cuddle him for a while, to keep him from being scared. Only for a little while…not long…I...it won’t be long and I’ll be there too.”
A slow, painful breath to his left.
“You’ll steal yourself from me as well?” Steve’s strained voice sounded painful in its despair.
Tony closed his eyes on the peaceful face of his son and rested his head on the cool, hardened shell between them. “You’re never asleep when I think you are.”
Steve didn’t respond. Tony knew he had to give the man something, a reason.
“I think...I know...this will be it Steve. I want to be sorry; I want to feel bad for thinking it, for saying it. But,” a brief, painful shrug of his shoulders. “It’s true. Even with you and me. Us. This will be the end of me.”
“You...you can’t think like that.” Tony knew Steve was reaching for something to say to counter Tony’s certainty. “Please don’t...”
“I’ve had an excellent life, I know that.” Tony interrupted. “So much better and more fortunate than most, more gut-wrenchingly wretched than some. But it doesn’t matter. If Chrissy dies…” He had to swallow on that because while his mind had never shied from the possibility, his voice still tried to. “If my baby dies, then I don’t want to be here anymore.”
A small scrape as the bed frame protested the shifting of Steve’s weight.
“Tony? We don’t know…there always a chance we can save him.”
“I know there is.” Tony agreed, opening his eyes to see Chrissy roll onto his side with a weak kicking of legs and a not exactly controlled diaper roll. “But if we don’t, I needed to ask Jan for some baby-sitting time.”
Steve didn’t answer, but the arms that slid around Tony’s waist from behind and the chin on his shoulder responded for him.
“I didn’t think I’d love him so much.” A whisper this time, Steve’s own pain added to the never ending terror in Tony’s heart.
Tony’s reply was lost as the two Henry’s stepped out of the elevator, twin expressions of cautious hope forcing new words into his throat.
“You’ve found it?”
“I’ve said many times your son has some beautiful genetics, and I don’t just mean the pin-ups he has for parents.” Henry McCoy didn’t pretend the joke was anything other than feeble. “We’ve a theory that Steve’s enhanced healing has been passed on, but that Christopher’s body is too inexperienced to function against such a huge dose of acclionic radiation.”
Hank took over the explanation. “It is well known that infants receive increased immune efficiency when being breastfed by their mothers, and this coupled with super-soldier genes kept Chris mostly protected from the effects of the radiation.”
“Till Tasha bought him here,” Steve concluded.
“Exactly.” Hank held up his tablet to show a test result. “While milk formula is perfectly adequate for any baby and has, in fact, saved the lives of many children who couldn’t receive nutrition from their mothers, neither it nor the milk you purchased from donors, could do what Tasha had done for her child. And so the radiation exposure began to take hold.”
Tony clenched his fingers into fists. “What can we do?”
“We have an idea. If we can get Christopher’s DNA analysis, before he was exposed to the portal cascade—” Henry spoke with less certainty now. “—we think we can tinker with it and Steve’s DNA, causing it to manifest the healing ability earlier than it might have done. But right now, his system is so devastated by the radiation we can’t risk this procedure without the original analysis.”
“Before he was exposed?” Tony repeated, just to be certain.
“From when and where he was born,” Hank confirmed in a quiet voice.
“Three-four ninety is saturated with acclionic radiation,” Reed informed them unnecessarily. “Survival on that world is limited to hours.”
“Wolverine, Deadpool, X-23 and Daken are the only people with even a chance of surviving for longer. The information may not be in the Avenger’s headquarters. It could be hours from the portal. It’s not just suicide, but pointless suicide.” Maria Hill argued emphatically.
“Pointless?” Tony hadn’t even known his voice could get that cold.
“Of course finding a cure is reason enough to go…” She began hurriedly.
“I’ve already said I’m going.” Logan cut the woman off gruffly. “Laura’s coming too, we’re leaving Wade here for a second try and the kid says he’ll consider it if the rest of us die.”
Tony returned the shorter man’s bright stare, unable to decipher anything from his completely neutral expression.
“Noh-Varr is in the testing stages of his World-Gate and I retrofitted the suit Tasha was wearing; it should fit X-23.” Tony opened a schematic on his tablet. “Then I built a second one thinking we’d want to go back for recon at some point. It’ll fit you by the end of the day.”
“Need I remind you that Tasha Stark’s suit…” Hill began.
“Stark-Rogers.” Steve corrected.
“…Stark-Rogers’ suit was incapable of resisting the radiation. Even when worn by a regenerator like Wolverine, there is no guarantee they’ll survive long enough to find samples of the boy’s DNA prior to the catastrophe.”
“Are you suggesting I shouldn’t go?” Logan asked gruffly, eyebrows lowering in that distinctive ‘what-the fuck’ expression.
“I’m suggesting we think a little more logically. We’ve asked for help from the superhuman community, perhaps a telekinetic can create a bubble that keeps the radiation out…”
“…have to keep air out too…”
“…so perhaps a SCUBA device within the bubble….”
“…how many can a teke keep safe, or should they go alone…?”
The comments and suggestions began to flow freely around the conference room once more. Hill and McCoy began gesticulating while Steve and Reed went over the layout of Avengers Tower for the fifth time.
Tony knew the layout like he knew his own workshop.
There were so many things that could go wrong. The suits could fail, the data could be corrupted or not even exist. Chrissy’s supposed immunity may have been documented early and then ignored for the more pressing needs of the disaster strewn planet. Tasha had said he was immune, but was it a factual conclusion or an observed one?
She had been wrong either way.
Tony was halfway to the hospital room before Logan fell into step beside him.
‘Where’s the suit?” the mutant asked.
Tony stopped at the doorway and turned to the shorter man.
“You won’t be able to get it and you’ll die trying.” Because Tony always ran the numbers and these ones sucked. Tasha would never have left such vital information about her son just lying around for anyone to reach.
“I’ll make it further than you will,” Logan pointed out.
Tony opened the door and walked to his son’s bedside. Pushing his hand into the sterile space, he cupped Chrissy’s head and trailed a finger down to the tip of his nose.
“Thank you for offering, but my armor is far more sophisticated than Tasha’s. She never injected extremis or implanted an RT in her chest. I’ll go.”
Logan considered him. “You’ll die.”
Tony shrugged. “Don’t care. As long as I get the analysis in the next few hours, Chrissy will live.” With an effort of will, Tony pulled his hand away from perfectly soft cheeks and star-like little hands. He looked at the man who’d once considered him a friend. “Cover for me?”
Logan huffed a harsh laugh. “Rogers is gonna punch me in the throat.”
“You’ll live.” Tony smiled grimly.
“Okay, get moving. I’ll be at the gate if ya need a last-minute save.”
Turning on his heel, Tony brought his armor out. Encased in the greatest barrier he’d ever built against the world, Tony took one last longing glimpse of his son.
“Of course I’ll need a save, that’s how we roll right?”
Despite his joke, Tony knew that Logan wouldn’t be able to save him. The acclionic radiation was so severe that the armor began to flash warning signs before Tony even finished grounding the other side of the world gate he’d taken from Noh-Varr’s lab. The sky of three-four ninety was a clear, brilliant blue, the air totally silent. Tony carefully did not look at the red, white and blue clad corpse that lay against the wall of the stairwell.
Seventeen floors later, Tony walked into a workshop that was mirror to his own and said “Voice recognition or bio-scan?”
Please any god that was listening let it be a bio-scan.
Every single item of machinery came to life in a blinking, humming whirl of lights. On the main screen a small white arrow blinked, beside the screen there was a retinal scanner.
He would have to take off his helmet.
Maybe? “Computer, conduct full biological identity scan.” He’d had one installed after Osborne’s Iron Patriot bullshit, but they’d never had the Civil War on this world.
A harmless pale yellow laser fanned out over him. More lights came on.
“You are not Natasha Stark.” The voice was low, female and English.
Tony smiled against the headache that made him feel as if his helmet were three sizes too small.
“J.A.R.V.I.S? You’re a girl too?” he asked, fingers flying over a nearby keyboard.
“Correct. You are not Natasha Stark. Identical DNA markers indicate sibling twin, but Y chromosome…” The AI began.
“Alternate reality. Anthony Edward not Natasha.” The computers refused him. “I’m trying to save Christopher. I need a birth DNA analysis, any medical files and everything you have on treatment of acute acclionic radiation poisoning.”
A long pause. “You could be an evil alternate reality Natasha.” J.A.R.V.I.S’s carefully modulated voice was laced with suspicion.
“Obviously these Avengers lived the crazy life, just like us.” Tony looked imploringly towards the monitors even though the cameras couldn’t pick up his face. “What can it hurt? Please, he’s mine now and the radiation has made him so sick. It’s killing him. Please?”
“Would you like an upload to your armor, Mr. Stark?” she asked, somehow replacing the suspicion with intense sorrow.
“Copy to a USB drive as well, just to be certain.”
When the tiny bright blue drive was ready, Tony turned towards the stairwell. “Thanks J.A.R.V.I.S.”
“You’re welcome Mr. Stark. I’ve added some extra files as well.” The AI was powering down most of the systems in the room, lights flickering into nothing.
“Really?’ Tony asked absently, his entire focus now on getting to the roof before the pain twisting in his stomach became too much to bear.
“I thought you might like some baby photos. Goodbye Mr. Stark.” The workshop once again lifeless.
“Goodbye.” He began to climb.
Tony tried to calculate the exact distance in feet to the portal. If he could get to within ten feet, he could throw the drive through. Logan was waiting on the other side. Logan would catch it and give it to Reed and then they could save Chrissy.
A great heave had Tony move up another step; he estimated the distance and came up with one seventy-seven. One seventy-six steps now. One seventy-five steps until he was close enough to the portal to throw the tiny device.
To distract himself from the pain now chewing up into his lungs and the endless blur of the stairs, Tony pulled up the recording of Steve playing with Chrissy back before he was sick. He set it to repeat and continued to climb.
Sudden panic had Tony looking down at his hand. He couldn’t feel his fingers, but his gauntlet was still closed, a glimpse of metallic blue at the edge of his palm. He still had the drive, but now he’d lost count. About one fifty now.
Slowly Tony made the walk, legs like slabs of wood, the high pitched giggles of his son and the sound of Steve making raspberry noises keeping him moving inexorably upward.
At the portal it was strangely anti-climactic. Tony stopped walking, lifted his arm and watched as two inches of blue spun into another world.
“Okay then.” Settling to his knees, Tony upped the volume on the recording and waited.
What could have been hours but was likely just minutes had passed when two solid arms wrapped around Tony and lifted.
Rolling his head back Tony looked at Steve’s furiously desperate expression behind the faceplate of the retro-fitted recon suit and tried to smile.
“Did you throat-punch Logan?” he husked, vocal cords critically damaged.
“And the rest,” Steve gritted out as he stumbled them through the portal.
When Tony woke up he couldn’t open his eyes. Some flailing with a weak arm produced fingers beings laced with his and Steve’s voice saying, “Tony, it’s okay…”
Then Tony stopped paying attention as he was vomiting up the thin contents of his stomach. In the muted aftermath of that delightful event, he heard Henry’s voice and felt the cool touch of a wet cloth over his mouth and face.
Forcing his gummy eyes open, he blinked away the fine black spots that danced across his vision and looked for Steve. Because as soon as he could speak, as soon as the raw, scraped tunnel that was his throat could operate like it was supposed to, he had to…
“Tony? I’m here, look at me.” Warm hands cupped his jaw, angling his thrashing skull into place and that handsome, square-jawed face came into view. Tony opened cracked lips.
Either Steve had developed telepathy or maybe he just knew Tony well enough to understand exactly the first thing he would need to know.
“He’s alive, Tony. Chrissy’s alive. It worked, it worked. He’s alive, love.” Steve repeated the same phrases over and over, likely reassuring himself as well as Tony.
Lids fluttering closed, Tony tipped sideways until his forehead rested against the unmovable strength of Steve chest.
Relief like nothing he’d ever felt, not when Steve returned, not even when his heart was finally whole after so many years, the sweet, cooling water of relief flooded him, forcing wet trails down his cheeks to soak into Steve’s shirt. Steve threaded fingers through his hair and supported his weak body with his other arm.
But Steve had come through the portal as well.
“You?” Tony croaked. Obviously in far better shape than Tony, but still, he’d never be able to quench that small, painful fear that he could lose either of them.
“I’m on antibiotics and rest but I’m okay,” Steve reassured him, voice a low, sweet tone in Tony’s ear.
“You, however, are in pretty bad shape my Dear.” Henry’s voice on Tony’s other side, deft clawed hands pressing a stethoscope against his naked back. “We’re trying to avoid too many blood transfusions and your medication is going to make you a walking chemistry experiment but you’ll live to be given the mother of all dressing downs from…well…everyone, but mostly Steven here.”
Steve’s fingers tightened but he said nothing.
“You managed to download the exact file that Reed needed amongst all the other information from thirty-four ninety. We were able to isolate Christopher’s original DNA profile and with both of your DNA, we created a stem cell transplant that began reversing the radiation damage. It’ll take some time, but your boy’s healing factor is working again.”
Henry’s hand rested on the back of Tony’s bent neck. “He’ll make a full recovery. You saved him.”
Tony didn’t quite quench the sob that tore from him. Steve’s palm rubbed a comforting circle over the base of his spine.
“Now. You have to rest.” Between them they gently laid him back against the mattress and then Henry continued his examination.
Taking a deep breath, Tony opened his eyes again. The expression on Steve’s face was one of such calm joy that it caused an unknown knot of tension to uncoil in Tony’s chest.
“How angry at me are you exactly?” The painful rasp in his voice prompted Henry to offer a handful of ice chips from a plastic cup.
Steve leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the corner of Tony’s eye.
“Terribly.” Another kiss to his forehead,
“On a scale of one to ten?” A kiss to the bridge of his nose.
Tony felt another twist in the region of his heart. “God, I love you.”
Steve pressed their temples together, his left to Tony’s right, eyelashes tickling Tony’s ear.
“I love you too.” Those delicious words so soft. “I wanted to scream at you for hours for doing that. But I won’t, because you saved him, you didn’t die and nothing else matters.”
“Nothing else matters,” Tony repeated on a whisper.
“And anything I can do to you will pale in comparison to the next three weeks.” Steve pulled back, but Tony’s vision was dimming quickly with fatigue.
“Why?” He asked with a last effort at awareness.
He fell asleep before Steve could answer.
“Because you’re a fuckwit,” Clint informed Tony with relish as he and Rhodey wheeled the sick man closer to the huge window.
“Thanks.” Tony nodded absently at the insult, his entire attention focused on the scene beyond the highly polished surface.
“I mean Beast already had the cute ninja with the purple hair on her way from San Fran and apparently Prof X was coming over with his kid, who can make the world into cheese or something ‘cause he’s so powerful so...”
Tony didn’t pay the other men even the slightest bit of attention.
Steve lay on his back on the green shag-pile rug with Chrissy on his chest. The baby climbed up to his father’s neck, planted his face for a kiss, before reversing and sitting on Steve’s elbow. The boy was drooling a little and gnawing on a forefinger wedged deep in the side of his mouth. His eye teeth were coming in.
Tony wanted to claw at the glass.
“Two more days and you can go in,” Hank offered from his observation post. “If your radiation levels are low enough, the nausea settles and you stop bleeding from unpleasant places that is.”
“Is there any place to bleed from that is pleasant?” Rhodey asked.
“Ask Logan,” Clint suggested as Hank came over to rest one regular sized hand on Tony’s shoulder.
“His levels are completely back to normal and we’ve taken out the last of the saline lines. He’s nearly ready to leave.” The Avenger offered a relieved smile.
Tony watched Steve make wide eyes at the baby, mouth open in warning before pressing close to blow a raspberry on Chrissy’s belly. The high pitched giggles were easily heard through the speaker system in the wall.
Tony put his hand on the glass and forced himself not to call up the armor and blast a hole through to his baby.
It was anti-climactic for anyone but the three people involved.
As Henry put the last vial of blood into the fridge and made one last exam of Tony’s person, Steve paced the hospital room with a crying Christopher at his shoulder. They’d considered asking one of the telekinetics to come anyway. To maybe cover Tony in a shield so that he could hold Chris, but they decided the risk was too great. Even a separate set of armor wouldn’t be useful. Chrissy might enjoy seeing Iron Man, but he’d likely scream when Tony wouldn’t come out to hold him.
“Alright, go.” Henry gave the permission, careful to stay out of Tony’s path to the doorway.
All he could see, all he wanted was to hold his baby close. To feel those tiny hands pulling at his hair and that small wet mouth pressing against his face.
“Chrissy baby, I’m here.” The moment the door opened and Tony spoke, Christopher nearly threw himself from his father’s arms, only Steve’s superhuman reflexes and Tony’s speed saving the boy from a painful fall.
“da, da, da, da, da.” And then Tony was holding Chrissy, arms tight around that too slim body, but the strength in the grip on his neck reassuringly powerful.
“I’m here baby, Daddy’s here.”
It wasn’t until Steve stepped close and embraced them both, swaying with Tony’s rhythm that he realized. It was the first time he’d ever used that word.
It wouldn’t be the last.
Watching the condensation on his bathroom mirror slowly fade away as the inbuilt warmers did their job, Tony avoided eye-contact with himself for as long as possible. The sound of the shower had muffled Chris’ irritated complaints, so Tony had been able to enjoy the hot deluge for longer than his usual ninety-four seconds.
As soon as he was dry, he’d given in. Cracking the door slightly to allow in Steve’s gorgeous – and totally off key- rendition of ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ soothing their son off to sleep. Steve living with them the last few days had resulted in Tony getting a lot more relief from the constant on-call of parenting. It’s what he’d been longing for during those first hectic months, some time to himself, some time in his workshop. God help him, Tony ‘insomniac by choice Stark’ had even longed for sleep with a deep ache and now…
Finally meeting the deep blue eyes in the mirror, Tony scoffed at himself.
The man who looked back at him was so very similar to the one Tony remembered, but also completely different. He’d lost weight, obviously from his radiation exposure, but it wasn’t a dangerous loss. Two hours daily in his gym room were an impossible task in post-Chris life, so most of the extra muscle he’d been working on rebuilding after his ‘death’ was gone. Tony had accepted that he’d never be a physical powerhouse like his friends, but by ego and luxury he’d kept himself as strong as possible. His armor didn’t care; it would encase him at two hundred pounds or five hundred.
Now Tony looked less like a pro-athlete and more like…a regular guy. Slim, healthy, good muscle tone, but hardly a calendar model like Steve.
Steve. Perfect, delicious, beyond compare Steven Rogers.
Silence from the hallway.
Tony was better rested, better fed and not nearly so high strung. If only he could crush the ridiculous, unwarranted, unbelievable jealously he had for Steve then everything would be just aces.
“It’s Steve for fuck’s sake, you idiot.” Keeping his voice low so as not to compromise his son’s vitally important bedtime routine. “If you have to learn to share Chris with anyone it’s him.” He raised his brows in enquiry. “Did you like being a martyr that much Asshole?”
“He’s down.” Steve politely spoke from the other side of the door.
“Thanks…err..” He couldn’t say ‘Babe’ or ‘love’ because making out for an hour five weeks ago did not warrant pet names yet. Except Steve had called him…something…those days after saving Chrissy were a little blurry. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Take your time.” Quiet footsteps as Steve moved towards the kitchen.
Tony sighed and tried for a pep talk. “Tonight Mr. Stark you are going to make your move. Do you understand? You are going to watch for the cue, it’ll be there, you know it will. You’ll spot that perfect moment, maybe after he smiles at you. Hmmm. So make a joke, say something about how when Chris gets his little red angry face on, you think of Steve. That’ll make him grin at you. Then get all those slick moves of yours going on and kiss the guy.”
Tony thought of the lube and condoms in the drawer beneath his hand. Too soon. Way too soon. Steve said ‘love’ and Tony believed him, but declarations after near death experiences never ended well. Heightened emotion and all that. There wasn’t much heightened emotion in Tony’s lounge with squeaking toys on the coffee table and the dishwasher humming in the kitchen as the final chorus of the penthouse staff’s after-dinner clean up opera.
“Domestic sex life. I would never have thought you’d get there.” Feeling hopeful and really, what harm could it do? Tony opened a bottle of lube from the cabinet and reached back to prepare himself. He hadn’t had sex with a man in over a year and even if Steve did succumb to Tony’s charms there was also the distinct possibility that Tony’s ass wouldn’t be something he was interested in. But hey, if there was nothing more than kissing, then he’d enjoy some ‘private time’ later with everything raring to go.
Pulling on his red silk sleep pants and a black t-shirt, Tony gave himself a devilish, if mildly freaked out, wink and padded quietly to the kitchen. He’d never be silent enough to surprise Captain America, but he could do his best not to disturb his friend’s concentration.
Steve was making cocoa.
Suddenly wishing he’d gone for boring cotton and an unlubed ass, Tony quickly re-evaluated and concluded that tonight was not going to be ‘date night’. In the language of beverages, hot chocolate drinks did not signal getting funky, tequila signaled ‘funky’, whiskey said ‘getting laid’. Hot chocolate said ‘snuggles’ and ‘heartfelt discussions about feelings.’
Mentally stomping all over the wash of disappointment in his gut, Tony turned for the sofa and dropped gracelessly onto his face.
“Feel better?” Steve asked, voice muffled by the dense, suede upholstery.
“Million, billion times better.” Turning his head so that he could breathe, Tony asked. “How is it that I could come up from the shop, grease encrusted in every pore, and still not feel as grubby as after dinner with my son?”
“I’m not sure.” Steve’s denim clad legs walked past, set a mug on the coffee table and then turned. “Maybe because you chose to get greasy, but Chris wiping his runny nose on your neck wasn’t….” Steve trailed off.
Tony looked up from where he’d propped himself on his elbow, trying not to scald his stomach with hot liquid. Baby blue eyes were running down Tony’s body, from where the t-shirt had ridden up a little, over red silk to his bare feet.
It was a pity really. The cocoa tasted quite lovely. Maybe he could reheat it later, because at that particular moment, as Steve’s cheeks went just a little bit pink and his eyes went all burning hot, Tony thought ‘fuck it.’
“Steve. I really want to have sex with you.” He pitched his voice as low and smoky as possible.
Steve eyes snapped to his face, the blush deepening. “Tony…I...”
“If I know the look in your eyes—and fuck me Steven, I’m all turned inside out that it’s aimed at me—then you want to have sex with me too. If I’m wrong…” Tony set his cup a safe distance away on the floor. “…I’m sorry but I don’t have the mental energy to tip toe around seeing if you’re interested or not. So I’m just gonna throw that out there.”
Steve sat down on the low table and tucked his own mug safely beneath it. Tony sat up so they were of a height, knees almost brushing.
“I love you.”
Tony’s breath left him in a rush.
“Of course I want to have sex with you.” The heat in Steve’s eyes seemed to have a direct connection to Tony’s cock. “I just don’t want to rush anything. You’ve been through a lot…”
Tony sucked all that air back into his medically perfect lungs. He stood up.
“Well thanks Babe, but right now the thing I want to go through is my Egyptian sheets with a naked you and some lubricant. How’s that sound?”
Steve leaned forward until his face pressed gently into Tony’s stomach, strong hands slid over warm, red clothed skin.
“It sounds just like you. Sexy, clever, hot as hell and guaranteed to make me hard.” Steve’s lips tugged at the hem of Tony’s t-shirt.
Pressing his long fingers through honey-wheat hair, Tony tugged gently.
Steve’s hands tightened on Tony’s ass and his teeth bit gently at his hipbone. “No, here.” And pulled.
Tony swayed forwards, grabbing at Steve’s shoulders as his feet left the floor, peak of human strength rippling through the muscles under his hands, Tony’s knees gently coming to rest on the hard glass table. Straddling Steve, Tony crossed his arms across the back of Steve’s neck and leaned forwards to ask in a murmur, “You want our first time to be on a coffee table?”
Warm hands slid under Tony’s t-shirt and dragged fingertips up the ladder of his spine.
“Or the couch, I’m not fussy.” A lustful burr as Steve licked the hollow between Tony’s collarbones.
He wasn’t, actually. If Tony had ever been known to speculate on what Steve would be like in bed, he would have gone for terms like ‘courteous’, ‘understanding’ and ‘respectful’. All traits Tony had observed he demonstrated in every other facet of his life, so why not in the bedroom?
Admittedly, he’d speculated a lot. He should have known better.
‘Biting’, ‘neck fetish’ and ‘bossy’ seemed a better fit as Steve tormented Tony’s nipples with his tongue while Tony tried to pull his elbow from the tangle of his t-shirt. The just on the good side of painful fingers in his hair when he slid to his knee to pull off Steve’s jeans and mouth a unsurprisingly large erection were closer to ‘rough’ than anywhere near ‘polite’. Thankfully, as long as everyone involved wanted to be where they were, Tony Stark was willing to go with just about any sexual flow that was on offer.
“You’ll break me in half if we fuck on that glass,” he argued while trying to drag Steve onto the sofa instead. “Or at least break the table and you know, the mood.”
“If it wasn’t for Chris,” Steve acquiesced slowly, kissing with deep, languorous intent between words as he settled down with Tony in his lap again. “I’d like to break all kinds of furniture with you.”
Tony’s laugh became a husky groan as he slowly lowered himself onto Steve’s cock. “I’ll buy us…some…just for that…” He trailed off, eyes closing, fingers bruising on Steve’s shoulders.
“You’re already? In the bathroom? You…” His own hands curved over Tony’s ass, Steve waited with incredible patience for Tony to relax. “Next time,” Steve whispered into the long column of Tony’s throat. “You let me do that, okay?”
Tony shuddered down another inch and swallowed at the idea. “Okay babe…anything.”
Minutes later as he shuddered though a white hot orgasm and Steve made a massacre of his neck, Tony knew without a shadow of doubt that adding sex to their already codependent relationship was the very best idea his genius mind had ever conceived.
When Tony woke the next morning he was alone. A small kernel of panic started in his stomach, before common sense knocked and reminded him that his partner was a morning person, his son was most definitely a morning person and that Tony himself would never ever greet the dawn with a smile on his face.
If five months of parenting couldn’t change his body clock then he suspected nothing would.
He felt surprisingly good. Not ready to challenge MODOK while redesigning extremis and making a billion good, but almost. More like a …he could take Chrissy and Steve to the beach today and maybe some work in the afternoon type of energy level. Such a nice change from his former default state of harassed, over-worked and borderline depression.
A big, leisurely stretch that felt like it popped several ligaments in his neck and an unhurried wander into the ensuite were the first things achieved. It was only when Tony chose a pair of jeans from the perfectly sorted garments in his massive closet that he reconsidered his outlook on the day.
He was sick of comfortable clothes. Such a stupid thing to think really, because comfort equaled good in anyone’s vocabulary, but right then and there, Tony didn’t want to be sensible and comfy. He wanted to be Tony ‘fucking’ Stark, father, engineer, genius, superhero and playboy billionaire. The lifestyle wasn’t something he would miss, since Chrissy was far more important than parties and jet flights.
That didn’t mean he couldn’t look the part.
A sharply pressed white button-down shirt, charcoal dress pants, leather belt and Bulgari watch turned him from ‘too tired to care’ dad into ‘can I take a picture with you?’ dad.
Smiling ruefully at his never-fail arrogance, Tony pressed the spring clip closed on the ridiculously expensive watch band and found his family in the living area. Steve had just finished wrangling a pair of socks onto Chrissy’s reluctant toes and in reward for sitting still, lifted the boy up until he stood proudly on his father’s lap.
Small fingers gripping Steve’s thumbs for balance, Chrissy bounced joyfully, Steve’s low chuckles a lovely bass underneath delighted baby guffaws.
When he caught sight of Tony over Steve’s shoulder, the boy let out such a high pitched squeal that an Irish X-Man would be jealous of and then chanted, “da, da, da, da, da, da….”
Steve twisted around until their eyes met, holding the squirming baby and raising one appreciative brow at Tony’s attire.
“Hey,” he greeted, smile warm and welcoming.
Tony let his gaze wander over the two beautiful creatures that made his life worth living.
Epilogue – Twenty years later.
Everyone was on hand to help with the latest crisis. While no-one would argue their merit in battle, Tony knew the value of veterans like Steve and himself was in protecting civilians so all the younger heroes could save the day.
The dinosaurs currently going apocalyptic on New York were the work of one of Steve’s old nemeses, a violet extremist called Danrue Valcoure.
“He’s not French?” Tony confirmed as he fired a repulsor blast at a pterodactyl strafing run.
“No.” Steve wrenched the twisted metal door out of its slanting frame and began shepherding relieved New Yorkers towards the SHIELD evacuee station. “Just pretentious. He’s from Pittsburg. I think.”
“Okay.” Tony launched Iron Man into the sky and calculated the distance to the next crumbling building.
He caught an anti-tank rocket in the mid-section that blasted him into several tons of concrete.
“Ahhh Captain, finally I have removed that wretched consort of yours. Now, we may speak as like-minded men of the old nobility.” A faux French accent accompanied the sudden arrival of the current destroyer of New York. There’ve been quite a few.
Steve watched the villain ride up on the back of a veloceraptor. He seemed distinctly unimpressed.
“There isn’t any royal blood in my family tree, Valcoure, so I don’t think we have the slightest thing in common.” He didn’t once take his eyes off the approaching creature, not even to look at the tumbled wreckage where his husband had crashed.
“It is nobility of spirit, rather than blood dear Captain…” Valcoure began, holding aloft the magical crystal that gave him his time-warping abilities.
“Not the Captain these days,” Steve corrected.
Valcoure continued on blithely. “…soon you will realize that the wanton, diseased creature you took as a paramour is beneath even the tread of your boot heel. Cast him away as the whorish, lust-driven thing that he is and join me in purifying yourself from his wicked touch.”
Steve gave the concept a moment of thought.
“You understand that given you’ve just called my husband a slut and a whore, I think my answer is…”
“Fuck you!” Captain America screamed as he flew directly into Valcoure, knocking the man violently from the dinosaur. Superfine armored plates retracted from his body into the distinct red and gold boots that held him aloft, Valcoure’s rather eye-watering purple and green costume clenched in a super-strong fist. “You get the hell away from my Dads, you piece of….”
“Language Chris,” Steve admonished from the sidewalk as he approached the raptor cautiously.
“I’ve known a few sex workers in my time,” Tony offered as he pushed away the last huge steel girder that had temporarily imprisoned him. “I’m sure their views on American social responsibility would be a million times more relevant than yours, Val. So, you know...”
Tony’s son dropped the purple garbed villain at his feet. “…Not really insulted here.”
“When you and all the scum of the earth burn in the fiery pit of your degradation….”
“La, la, la.” Iron Man waved a hand dismissively. “Captain America?”
“Yeah?” Chris’ handsome face was flushed with either anger or excitement.
“Shouldn’t you be helping Scion?” Tony asked, deceptively mild.
Chris shrugged. “Frankie’s got it covered. As soon as Dani gets the diamond in place….”
A harmless shockwave of lime-green energy rippled through the city.
“…he can send the dinosaurs back to their own time,” Chris finished triumphantly.
“Awesome,” Tony acknowledged, ignoring Chris’ eye-roll at his retro speech patterns.
Steve took an assessing glance around them.
“SHIELD can take Valcoure into custody. Perhaps Captain America should go back to the Fantastic Avengers war-room and make sure his mission is completed?”
A small flush rose on Chris’s sharp cheekbones. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
Tony wanted to give Chris a hug or an encouraging smile, but he didn’t want to endure the embarrassed complaints such an action would generate.
“See you at home,” Tony said instead. He’d bug Chris for a hug there when all his friends weren’t around.
“Bye.” A quick wave and Chris leaped into the sky, his anti-grav boots sliding instinctively into place, glove stabilizers a fine golden stream behind him.
Steve stepped close and pulled Iron Man into an embrace.
“I think we should check that the dinosaurs are really leaving,” he suggested.
“You’re the boss.” Tony lifted them into the air and towards the dockside warehouse in which Valcoure had opened his time-rip.
“They do seem to be heading back towards the origin point,” Steve observed from their vantage point high over New York. Several other super heroes flew back and forth over the skyline, cajoling suddenly more complacent lizards towards their home timeframe.
“Uhhh Dad?” Chris’ voice over the comm. had a slight undercurrent of worry. “Could you come to Frank’s place? I don’t think the flow-regulator should be going a sorta bluish color…”
The transmission cut off.
Tony immediately changed direction away from the time-rip and made towards the Baxter Building.
“Do you think it’s serious?” Steve asked, squinting into the wind.
“Not sure.” Tony shrugged as well as he could in the armor. “They only call me when something breaks.”
After a few moments of breeze filled silence, Tony laughed. “Thank you for defending my tarnished honor.”
Steve shook his head. “Chris beat me to it.” His arm tightened a little, even though Tony couldn’t feel the embrace. “I would have socked him one for you Sweetheart.”
Tony sniggered. “My hero.” His gauntlet lowered until he could grab a nice handful of Steve’s still perfect ass. “He wasn’t exactly lying, you know.”
Steve laughed and pressed back a little into Tony’s grip. “About you being a lust-driven wanton?”
“And proud of it.” Tony pulled Iron Man into a low hover over the Baxter Building, landing them gently. He reluctantly unhanded his husband.
“Let’s see what the children have done this time shall we?” Steve offered, looking into the retinal-scan lock on the elevator door.
Tony retracted his helmet and grinned. “I hope it’s just as much fun as dinosaur herding.”
They stepped calmly into the chaos.