“Sir, Master Barton is in the elevator and wishes to access the penthouse floor.“
Tony glances up from the holo screen floating in front of him, unable not to smile a little at the familiar voice once again filling the workshop.
He’s going to have to thank Vision for that, one of these days. Send him some flowers or extra RAM or whatever.
“Sure, send him up,” Tony says, standing and heading for the stairs connecting the ‘shop with his private rooms. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“Only that it was an emergency, sir,” JARVIS informs him, automatically opening the doors so Tony doesn’t have to touch anything with the hands he realises are still grease-stained.
He reaches the hallway outside his living area just as the elevator dings Clint’s arrival, carelessly cleaning his sticky hands on his jeans. “So, what’s this, Barton? Miss me already? I-“
The doors slide open and Tony cuts himself off, mouth dropping open and moving uselessly at the sight of Clint Barton with a tiny, pink and very loud person strapped to his chest and two slightly bigger kids hanging off each arm, looking around the penthouse with wide eyes.
There’s a dog, too, sniffing around for a moment before flopping down on its belly, tail wagging happily.
“Oh, good,” Clint grins, “you’re home.”
Tony belatedly remembers to close his mouth and takes a step back, watching in horrified fascination as Baby Barton produces an impressive snot bubble, then smears it all over its face with an uncoordinated fist.
All right. Moving on.
“What the-“ Tony starts, interrupted by Steve, of all people, entering from the stairwell, hand twitching toward his shield and looking harried.
“Clint said there was an emergency?” Steve half asks, half explains at the same time as Tony demands of JARVIS, “So he doesn’t need my permission to come in here?”
“Personal emergency,” Clint clarifies casually as if that little detail had just conveniently slipped his mind until now, completely ignoring Tony. “My wife is downstairs in the car, wearing something she loves and looks incredible in but hasn’t been able to fit into for a good nine months now which, incidentally, is the same amount of time I haven’t been able to visit home and fit into my wife, if you catch my drift.”
Tony snorts despite himself and Steve’s cheeks flush.
Which is not cute and definitely does not draw Tony’s eye, nope, not at all.
“They haven’t had alone time in a really long time,” Boy Barton pipes up, sighing dramatically. “They always get weird when they don’t have alone time for a really long time.”
Girl Barton nods her agreement.
“They know what’s up,” Clint agrees and unclasps Baby Barton from his chest, handing the wriggling bundle over to a flustered Steve. Pointing at Boy Barton, he warns, “No big explosions, Cooper. Lila, don’t pinch your brother unless he deserves it. Nate,” he smiles, bending down to press a kiss to the top of Baby Barton’s head, “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Be nice kids and gays, I mean, guys,” he smirks at Tony and winks, the utter asshole, “have fun with the kiddies. We’ll be back in the morning. Probably.”
With that he turns and strolls back into the elevator, brushing a hand over the dog’s head on his way, both Tony and Steve gaping after him, speechless and blinking rapidly.
“What the fuck just happened?” Tony manages eventually.
“That’s a bad word,” Girl Barton, Lila, says, arching an eyebrow.
Boy Barton, Cooper, shrugs. “We won’t tell if you won’t.”
“What did he mean no big explosions?” Steve croaks helplessly.
The baby burps, entirely unconcerned.
Steve is upstairs heating a bottle for Nathaniel the baby they found in the bag Clint thankfully left them while Tony, after realising that he has absolutely no idea what to do with a kid, let alone three of them, takes the older two down to the workshop.
He’ll show them the suits because- because kids love Iron Man?
Yeah, this is going to end in tears. Most likely Tony’s.
“Okay,” Tony calls as they walk inside, clapping his hands together. “Don’t touch anything that looks as if it could burn, scratch, cut, bite or otherwise harm you because, let’s be real here, this is me we’re talking about so all of that is entirely possible.”
“Do you have lab coats?” Lila wants to know, bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet.
Cooper has, huh. Cooper has already figured out how to work the holo screens and is happily scrunching them up and tossing them into the digital basketball hoop with eerie precision.
“So that runs in the family,” Tony mutters to himself, startling when someone tugs on his sleeve and looking down to find Lila staring up at him. “Yes?”
“You know, this is a workshop, not a lab, so you don’t need-“ Lila’s lower lip wobbles, quickly making Tony change course. “Okay, yeah. Lab coats. I can- JARVIS? Do we have lab coats?”
“In the second cupboard on your left, sir.”
With Lila bundled up in her lab coat, sleeves rolled back and most of it dragging behind her, and Cooper busy playing fetch with DUM-E and an old rag, Tony’s back to square one with his Entertain but Do Not Accidentally Hurt or Lose Barton's Kids mission.
Thankfully, Lila is one step ahead. “Can we build something?”
“Yes!” Cooper shrieks from where he’s hanging over the back of a chair, using DUM-E as a crutch-slash-ladder.
“Uh,” Tony considers, then shrugs and says, “Yeah, why not?”
There’s more screaming and that is definitely worse for Tony’s ears than his music, no matter what Steve has to say about the latter.
Cooper discovers Tony’s secret stash of Lego which are totally a grown up toy and help Tony concentrate when he’s stressed, okay? He upends a few boxes, plops his butt down on the ground and goes to work.
Lila insists on building something real, though, poking her tongue out at her brother when he squawks indignantly at that.
Tony’s just glad it doesn’t escalate further than that because he hasn’t got the first clue what he would do if they ended up fighting, apart from calling Steve.
So far he’s going with doing the opposite of what Howard would’ve done were he in Tony’s place and not yelling at or making the kids feels inadequate and worthless seems to be going well.
He rummages through one of his spare part boxes, digging out a couple of scraps and screws he figures they can solder together into a figure or something, maybe a dog. The kids have a dog so they must like dogs.
Speaking of which. “I didn’t see that dog when Clint brought us to the farm.”
“He’s new,” Lila says and clambers up onto the bench where Tony’s sitting down at one of the workstations, then slides into his lap because that’s apparently a thing. Okay, then. “His name’s Lucky. Daddy brought him home after fighting the robot.” Tilting her head back, she looks at Tony upside down, nose scrunched up. “He eats pizza. Mummy says dogs aren’t s’pposed to eat pizza, but Daddy says that’s what he’s used to and gives it to him anyway. It makes his breath smell like basil.”
“It’s better than dog breath,” Tony points out, smiling proudly when that earns him a giggle. Brushing some of Lila’s hair off the table, he asks, “Do you have a- a hair thing? A tie or something?”
Tony may not be the strictest follower of safety protocols, but he’s not intent on setting a five-year-old on fire, either.
“I want pigtails,” Lila declares, fishing two kitty scrunchies out of her pocket and handing them over to Tony with an expectant look.
Several YouTube videos and two failed braiding attempts later, Lila’s hair is tamed and she’s guiding the soldering iron, Tony’s hand curled carefully around hers for support, the tip of her tongue peeking out of the corner of her mouth in concentration.
It is, hands down, the single most adorable thing Tony has seen in quite a while. Which he will admit to himself and absolutely no one else.
After they’ve created something that vaguely resembles a dog, or any other four-legged animal, Tony carries their masterpiece over to the cooling station, then to a free table where he sets out brushes and paints, leaving Lila to colour the thing and joining Cooper and his spaceship, as Tony’s informed, instead.
He doesn’t notice how much time has passed until JARVIS announces, “Master Rogers has prepared lunch, sir.”
There’s some grumbling and half-hearted whining, but after promising that they can come back later to finish, the kids realise that they’re actually hungry and readily follow Tony back upstairs where they immediately dart over to the table while Tony stands frozen in the doorway because holy shit.
Steve has Nate cradled against his chest, holding him up with one arm, a dish towel slung over his shoulder and bowl of steaming pasta in his free hand and it’s damn good look on him.
Not that Steve has any bad looks, but something about the domesticity of the picture in front of him makes Tony’s heart sing and his stomach flutter in a way he isn’t entirely comfortable with because those are not the platonic feelings someone has for a platonic friend.
But then Steve smiles at him and nods at one of the free seats and Tony simply ceases to care, sitting down at the head of the table and handing out bread rolls with what he knows must be a ridiculously dopey expression on his face.
Nate falls asleep after lunch.
Cooper and Lila insist that they don’t need to take a nap because, unlike Nate, they’re not babies. Tony calls bullshit on that but doesn’t want to argue with them because he’s pretty sure he’d lose.
“How about we bake cookies?” Steve suggests when they come back from putting the baby down in the middle of Tony’s bed, surrounded by all the pillows they could find to keep him from falling off the mattress in his sleep. Despite JARVIS’ reassurances that the bed is plenty wide enough and Nate too young to roll over by himself. “You can give some to your mom and dad when they come to pick you up.”
The kids, of course, are delighted.
“Why are mine so flat and thin?” Tony whines an hour later, pouting down at his tray of miserable-looking wannabe cookies. He picks one up, making a despairing sound in the back of his throat when it breaks in half. “See?”
Steve glances over, then slides closer so they’re pressed together from shoulder to hip and he can see what’s going on. “Did you use granulated sugar and brown sugar? Half and half?”
Tony stares at him, uncomprehending.
“Did you read the recipe?” Steve asks, mouth quirked up in obvious amusement.
Tony sniffs and tosses his head. “I skimmed it.”
“Uh-huh, sure,” Steve teases, playfully knocking his arm against Tony’s, but he takes the other half of Tony’s lost cookie and pops it into his mouth where Tony’s gaze lingers for a long moment before he catches himself and quickly looks back at his tray. “They still taste good, Tony, don’t worry about it.”
“Whatever,” Tony mumbles sulkily, but leans into the touch when Steve laughs and ruffles his hair.
After Nathaniel wakes up and Tony has given him his bottle, only ending up with about a third of it back on his shirt after burping him, all five of them head back to the workshop to finish their projects.
Cooper seems more interested in the sketchbook Steve brings down with him, however, and agrees enthusiastically when Steve offers to draw with him.
Meanwhile, Tony sits with Lila as she finishes colouring the dog that is now a pig, Nate gurgling and cooing contentedly in Tony’s lap.
They take the dog for a walk in the afternoon, Steve holding its leash in one hand and Cooper’s hand in the other, Tony pushing Nate’s stroller and carrying Lila on his shoulders.
There are a few people who stop to gawk and whisper, but no one approaches them. Still, Tony can imagine how they look, chatting and laughing and generally having a good time, and he has to repeatedly remind himself that this isn’t his family, that he doesn’t have this, that Steve isn’t his.
So Tony isn’t in the best mood when they get back, excusing himself to his office for a moment as soon as they get back to the tower.
It’s easy pretending that his feelings for Steve aren’t real when Steve’s on the other side of the state training the Baby Avengers, but with him here and being all gorgeous and perfect and so good, that’s completely impossible.
“This is just a crush,” Tony tries to convince himself, ignoring the fact that he’s liked Steve for literal years now, that he’s been half in love with him even before things with him and Pepper had finally turned sour shortly after the whole Killian debacle. “Get a grip, man.”
Steve comes knocking a couple of minutes later, concerned frown on his face. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” Tony smiles without much conviction, going by how Steve’s mouth turns down. “It’s nothing, I’ll be fine. Just, you know. Kids, not really used to that.”
“Tony,” Steve says softly, reaching out to give Tony’s upper arm a gentle squeeze. “You’re doing great, you’re good with them. They like you.”
“Sure,” Tony chuckles humourlessly, “because I give them stuff and feed them.”
Steve glares at that, shaking his head. “You know that’s not true. They like you because you care, because you give them your time and pay attention to them. You’re very likable, Tony.”
“Oh, shut up,” Tony snorts, shoving him and then stumbling because right, super soldier. “Come on, let’s get back out there before they burn down the house or rewire everything and make all the lights flicker whenever someone uses the stove.”
“Why do I get the feeling that you’re speaking from personal experience here?” Steve laughs, easily dodging the poke Tony aims at his ribs.
“Shut up,” Tony repeats fondly.
Clint texts that he and Laura will be back to pick the kids up in the morning just as Steve finishes loading their dinner things into the dish washer.
Tony volunteers to take Lucky out again because overseeing bath time sounds messy and scary.
When he gets back, the kids are in their PJs and Steve is wearing sweats and a new shirt, his hair still dripping.
“Not a word,” he warns as he carries four mugs of hot chocolate over to the coffee table, pulling a face at Tony when Tony mimes locking his lips and throwing away the key.
Lila curls up in Tony’s lap again and this time Tony doesn’t hesitate to wrap her up in a hug, Cooper snuggling up against Steve’s side with Nate lying in a cushion between them.
“Are you going to tell us a bedtime story?” Cooper asks and Lila adds, very seriously, “You have to, it’s the law.”
“Oh, in that case,” Tony nods, choking back a laugh. “Any wishes?”
Lila yawns, tucking her head under Tony’s chin. “Daddy has been telling us about Pietro. Nate’s name is Pietro, too.”
Tony’s breath hitches, arms twitching a little around Lila, and Steve rubs a trembling hand over his face, but recovers first.
“Why don’t you tell us a story? Tell us what your dad told you about Pietro?”
“He was really, really fast,” Cooper starts, sounding envious. “And he had a sister, just like me. They were twins, but he was still older.”
Lila aims a lazy kick at her brother for that, blowing a raspberry at him. “Pietro and his sister were all alone in the world, but they loved each other very much and always stayed together. When they were older, they met a bad man who told them lies to make them do what he said.”
“He told them he’d help them get revenge on the person who took away their parents,” Cooper cuts in and Tony’s really glad for Steve’s hand sliding into his and holding on tightly. “But then they met the Avengers and realised sometimes bad things happen even if people didn’t mean for them to happen and that sometimes it isn’t anyone’s fault that they happen. So they joined the Avengers and defeated the evil Ultron together. But during the fight Ultron was trying to hurt Daddy and Pietro sac- sacrificed himself so Daddy could come back home to us. Daddy says he was very brave and he’ll miss him a lot, but that he won’t be gone completely as long as we remember him.”
“The end!” Lila adds and everyone falls into silence until Steve clears his throat, quickly swiping a hand across his eyes.
“That was a very good story,” he says, voice rough. “My turn now?”
Steve talks about Brooklyn as he remembers it, about all the adventures and mischief him and Bucky used to get up to until both Cooper and Lila are fast asleep and Nate’s eyes are starting to droop, too.
“Wow,” Tony sighs, “that was, wow.”
“Yeah,” Steve agrees, knowing exactly what Tony means. “I’ll carry Copper and Lila to the guest room if you get the mugs and Nate?”
The kids don’t wake up when Steve picks them up and Nate is tired enough that he doesn’t fuss while Tony puts the mugs in the sink and then changes into sweatpants and an undershirt himself.
He lies down on his bed with Nate at his side, stroking a hand over the soft fuzz on his head, then rolls onto his stomach so he can bury his nose in his hair and get a dose of that weirdly soothing baby smell.
He only notices Steve when the mattress dips and Steve’s smiling face comes into view as he shuffles around into a position he likes. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Tony whispers back, pressing his lips against the inviting expanse of Nate’s chubby cheek, chuckling a little when the baby sleeps on undisturbed.
And then Steve is right there, doing the same to Nathaniel’s other cheek, his nose brushing Tony’s own, and Tony’s brain short-circuits at the contact and his hand shoots out to cradle Steve’s face as he leans in and brings their mouths together in a kiss.
It’s chaste and sweet and lasts for only a moment before Tony jerks back, mortified. “Shit, Steve, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean-“
“I was rather hoping you did mean it,” Steve interrupts and kisses him again, fingers sliding into Tony’s hair and tugging, guiding Tony to where he wants him and moaning into Tony’s mouth when their tongues touch for the first time, nipping at Tony’s bottom lip and-
They both startle and pull apart when Nate lets out a disturbingly loud snore in the otherwise quiet room.
“I,” Tony pants, licking his lips, “I had no idea, Steve, how- why- since when?”
Steve flushes, making a little self-conscious hand gesture, eyes vulnerable when they meet Tony’s again. “For a while now.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You were always talking about leaving again,” Steve says, not accusing but sad. “And you did. Leave. After Ultron.”
Tony winces but feels the need to mention, “You didn’t stop me.”
“I didn’t feel like it was my place to do so.”
“I didn’t feel like it was my place to stay,” Tony groans, pulling a pillow over his head so his voice comes out muffled when he adds, “We’re idiots.”
“Speak for yourself,” Steve quips, but his expression is open and tender when he pulls the pillow away again to kiss Tony’s forehead, so Tony decides to forgive the sass.
“And?” Clint demands, turning around to raise his eyebrows at his kids in the back of the car. “Tell me everything!”
Lila and Cooper glance at each other, then break out into identical grins, exclaiming in unison, “It worked!”
“Kids, please,” Laura cautions, sending a stern look back at them before pointing a warning finger at her husband. “That includes you, mister.”