“Kindergartners are vicious, Steve. Vicious,” Tony frets. “They are going to eat our son alive.”
Steve shrugs, flipping a page in the New York Times, which, paper, who even reads newsprint on paper anymore? Rip Van Rogers and peasants in third world countries where they can’t afford the internet, that’s who. In a tone that is not at all consoling, Steve says, “They have tiny mouths. It will take them awhile to get down to the fleshy bits.”
“Did you just make a joke, a cannibal joke, about our son? Is this a skrull invasion, or something, what is even happening in my kitchen? Jarvis, did aliens kidnap my real husband?” Tony glares up at the fleur-de-lis tin ceiling tiles, expectant, because if there are fucking aliens around and no one told him heads are about to roll.
Flat as mineral water, the ceiling replies, “Not to my knowledge, Sir.”
“I detect a hint of sass in your voice, and I do not appreciate it even a little bit. There will be some recoding in your future. I’m going to give you the dulcet rasp of a phone sex operator and no sass.”
“As you wish, sir.” If anything, Jarvis’s voice grows even more deadpan.
It isn’t fair. His AI is turning against him.
“He doesn’t take my threats seriously, Steve,” Tony whines pathetically, flopping down onto the kitchen stool.
He can’t believe he has stools in his kitchen. Pepper always warned him this would happen, but short of getting put on a leash in bed, he’d assumed he was too classy for domestication. And the leash thing only happened once, or maybe twice, but she was a Laker girl and who is Tony to say no to a woman that’s part of a national institution? Speaking of National Institutions, Steve would probably be open to role-play with dog collars, maybe, probably, so Tony asks, “How do you feel about leashes?” and Steve sighs.
“Don’t you have work to do?”
“Just a teensy tiny relay system for the…you know, the international space station thing, it’s fine, astronauts don’t need to Skype their families, they become astronauts to get away from them and- why are you giving me that look? Oh, by the way, I talked to Natasha about that meeting, uh, dinner, um, assembly thing Fury wants us at next week, and she wanted me to tell you that the bow tie she bought you for Christmas isn’t actually optional…”
“You talked to Natasha? I thought she was still on the deep cover op in Kosovo.” Steve squints up at him, and Tony notices he’s saying nothing of the red, white, and blue patriotic gag gift Natasha gave him, ha, he totally thinks he can get out of it.
Thinks being the operative word. Natasha will devour him, like the scary, scary spider she’s named after, and then maybe Tony can kick the stools and start eating breakfast in bed like normal people do.
“Nope, she’s back, and whole and…still Russian.”
“Great, I was worried that had changed,” Steve replies dryly, thumbing over another page. “Did she say anything else?”
“Just that she’s unimpressed with my existence,” Tony says easily. “And something about buying Peter a present, but I told her he can’t have an assault rifle until he’s at least seven.”
“She did not get Peter a gun.”
“Sure she did. She’s Russian, they use Berettas as pacifiers there.” Steve is giving Tony a look, a very serious, you’re-very-close-to-sleeping-on-the-cou
ch-tonight-mister look, and it’s barely even nine in the morning, way too early for threats to his manhood. Tony wises up, because he’s a genius. “Right, you’re no fun, I’ll go bug Pepper.”
“Leave her alone, Tony. At least until next season’s Manolos come out, you’ve already bribed your way through the entire spring collection.”
“I don’t think you have a fully solid grasp of how disturbing those words are coming from your mouth. Clint, sure, he’s got that whole feminine footwear fetish, but you, honey bunny? If you’ve been waiting for a pair of Jimmy Choos of your very own, you should have asked.”
“Tony,” and only Steve can make his name sound bespoke, like it was created for his mouth alone, even when he says it all exasperated and weary. On second thought, Tony decides that Natasha cannot be allowed to eat him. He nuzzles the curve of Steve’s shoulder, calming.
“Astronauts want to talk to their families. Peter will be fine. We’ll pick him up at three on the dot.”
“Two,” Tony argues, unable to help it. He always figured Steve would be the one on the verge of a nervous breakdown on Peter’s first day of school, but go figure, Tony is chock full of mother-bear instincts.
He blames his robots for this. They’ve trained him to be maternal with their sad, sad robotic eyes. Or lack thereof. Whatever.
“Two thirty, and we’ll stand outside until they let us take him.” Steve kisses Tony on the cheek, a dry brush of lips that still sends shivers all the way down to his toes. “And then we’ll go to the park.”
He murmurs, “You drive a hard bargain, Rogers,” and tries to catch his mouth.
Steve pulls back. “Go, be smart.”
“Fine, sure, whatever, I’m always smart. By the way, I totally know you’re not reading that article on Syria’s rebirth, I can see your thumb holding onto the comics section-“
“Okay, okay, I’m off, fighting the good fight, keeping parents in touch with their wayfaring, space-faring nuggets. Who doesn’t want to reminisce about that time they forget to close the milk carton when they’ve got the wonders of the universe laid out before them? Obviously.”
Tony makes a list of reasons not to worry. Lists are good, according to Pepper, who is always encouraging him to make organization a close and trusted friend. Alas, he gets about as far as meticulously writing reason number one on his company tablet before he comes up with a whole new list, full of reasons the outside world is way, way too dangerous for his little boy. Headlines from the top five include corporate espionage, bullies, Wal-Mart, super villains, and bubonic plague.
Pepper is supremely unmoved when Tony tries to tell her that her godson might come home with lice or leprosy or a Hammer Industries tracking bug. In keeping with her favorite ongoing pastime of completely ignoring his very valid concerns in favor of being a grown up, she tells him, “You could use a distraction,” and buries him in a mountain of paperwork bigger than Everest.
“This isn’t the kind of distraction I’m looking for,” Tony calls, but the only response he gets is the gunshot sharp click of Pepper’s high heels against tile as she walks away.
“Just, you know, check on him, use your scary face- yes, that one, exactly-“
“Sugar plum.” Natasha gives Tony this look like hey, I-can-remove-your-nuts-via-your-esophagus-with-only-my-pinkie-finger and Tony swallows, squeezing his phone. “Okay, alright, I’m sensing you aren’t digging the endearments, but still, you could head over to Peter’s school, make sure everything’s on the up and up-“
“Peter’s fine.” Natasha is examining her nails on the other end of the screen, supremely unconcerned.
“How do you know?” The plaintive note in Tony’s voice is not a whine, exactly. It’s more of a manly, uh, whimper. “Steve said that too, but you guys aren’t omniscient unless there’s radioactive toxic whatever floating around, and kindergarten is a terrifying place, okay, there are germs and finger paints and really scary things there, so you and Steve could be wrong, and you’re the one who wanted to buy him a gun-“
“N.” Natasha enunciates, her lips flattening the consonant, rounding the next letter, “O.” And then she hangs up.
“Right, no means no, gotcha.”
He tries calling Winter Soldier, because having a badass super spy godfather is supposed to be useful.
That’s what Steve said when he conned Tony into it, and that’s why Tony puts up with Bucky’s scary-dead eyes across the table on every major holiday, conveying in one long, creepy stare that he can kill a man in fifty nine different ways with a single fork tine.
Hell, it’s the reason Bucky has a room in the Tower, even though Tony is ninety eight point nine percent certain he only uses it when he wants to have terrifying, spine-chilling assassin sex with Natasha, and isn’t that the stuff nightmares are made of? But yeah, Tony can totally cope with all of that, if only Bucky would just act like the asset he’s supposed to be.
Only, according to Bucky’s handler at SHIELD, he’s on a mission. Tony’s pretty sure that’s code for blowing off steam in Aruba. The man comes back from a lot of his missions with a suspicious tan.
“Fine,” Tony mutters to the harried SHIELD agent in charge of Winter Soldier’s day planner. “Tell him he’s not invited to our next trip to Disneyworld.”
See how much he likes the beach when he misses out on Splash Mountain.
“Steve has no idea what he’s talking about. This is terrible. It’s apocalyptic.”
“I miss it when you called him Captain Americunt,” Clint says conversationally around the shape of the hot dog Tony’s using to bribe him into going all ninja-master on Peter’s school. “And I’m not doing reconnaissance on some fancy pants kindergarten. We already swept it last week, and the place was squeaky clean. You wouldn’t have sent the squirt there otherwise.”
“Well, yeah, but- stop fellating that hotdog and listen to me, it is a tragedy-“
Clint eases off his hot dog, mouth covered in relish. He is five. He is less than five. He is four and a fucking half. “It’s not tragic, Stark. Peter’s growing up.” He’s also right.
“That sounds pretty tragic to me,” Tony sulks, but he decides to eat his hot dog in peace.
Tony tries calling Thor, but Jane is the one who picks up.
“He’s back in Asgard, Tony.”
“Of course he is. Did he say when he plans on gracing Midgard with his presence again?”
“Nah.” Jane takes a sip from her coffee mug and hey, coffee, that is a good, good, excellent idea, Tony wants some too. “He rambled on a bit about some sacred oath to cast out his miscreant kinsmen from this domicile of humankind he has sworn to safeguard. I think it was code for Loki is grounded. Again.”
Thor sends Loki to his room an awful lot. Tony tries his hardest not to think about it, because BDSM fantasies about Loki and Thor mostly end up being traumatic and scarring. He says, “Alright, so, hey, how would you feel about-“
“I bet Peter’s having the time of his life, Tony. Stop worrying.”
“Did Steve call you?” He asks suspiciously.
Jane shrugs, noncommittal as fuck. “He’s scared your face will stick that way.”
“What way? My face isn't sticking any way. Jane? No, seriously, what-“
Jane hangs up on him.
Coulson tells him that he can’t repurpose SHIELD agents to monitor a kindergartener’s naptime.
Tony tells Coulson that no one wanted him back from the dead anyway.
Steve and Clint force Tony to apologize less than ten minutes later. Hat in hand, Tony chokes out a, “Sorry, I really am glad Thor’s idiot brother didn’t murder you for realsies,” but apparently sorry in government speak also involves agreeing to a sleeker, faster redesign of the quinjet. Tony feels strangely manipulated, especially when he sees Coulson and Clint high five out of the corner of his eye.
“Were they waiting for me to say something stupid?” He asks Steve suspiciously.
Steve shrugs, folding an arm around Tony’s shoulders. “It’s not like they’d have to wait all that long.”
Tony is about to protest that no one appreciates him, but Steve preempts it with a kiss, and his mouth is so delicious that Tony sort of forgets how to be irritated.
Tony thinks about asking Bruce for help. He thinks about it.
And then he thinks about it some more. Bruce is less than five feet away, tinkering with the schematics to Stark Enterprises’ newest prototype in handheld communications.
It will revolutionize the industry, according to Tony’s marketing team. Tony isn’t even a little bit surprised. Everything he does is revolutionary; he’s been saying so for years. Bruce though, he likes new toys. He’s pressing each button in turn with great care, navigating his way through the slick, intuitive user interface like he might accidentally crack the screen.
“Careful, pumpkin. You break it, you buy it,” Tony calls out from beneath the hood of his Aston Martin.
Right now would be the perfect time to segue into a teeny tiny plea for help, to ask Bruce if he wants to walk over to Peter’s school and confirm all’s well. He has to physically place his hand over his mouth to stop the words from tumbling out, the engine grease on the inside of his knuckles smearing across his lips.
As tempting as the idea sounds, Uncle Bruce is even jumpier about Peter’s welfare than Tony is. The last time he took the kid out for ice cream, the poor, poor vendor made the mistake of giving Peter a cone-ful of pistachio instead of mint-chocolate-chip.
That particular establishment now has some big, Hulk-shaped fist holes in the walls.
Tony’s got Rhodey halfway convinced that Peter is in the gravest of all the grave dangers when Steve peeks his head into his workshop.
“How are the astronauts doing?”
“Oh. Uh. Oops,” Tony says sheepishly, wrench falling by the wayside. Steve gives him this finely honed stern look that probably makes true patriots snap to attention and Nazi wannabes cry, but mostly it has little to no effect at all on Tony. Hopefully, he asks, “Is it time to go pick Peter up?”
The victory dance Tony performs when Steve nods yes is basically some of the best choreography Earth has ever seen, but there’s no time to get Jarvis to put it on Youtube.
“C’mon, c’mon, keys, where are my keys, oh whatever, let’s just gogogo-“ He’s caught by the collar of his t-shirt, fabric strangling around his throat. Indignant, Tony squawks, “Hey!”
“Walk, don’t run,” Steve instructs primly.
“Is my kid whole and healthy?” Tony demands of the teacher. “Because his uncle’s the Norse god of thunder and I swear to god he will rain hellfire and brimstone down on this school, and then eat all of your poptarts.”
“Tony,” Steve warns, his tone all fond exasperation.
“Uhhhh.” The teacher snaps her gum. “Your son’s good, I think.”
“You think? What do I pay you for?”
Tony doesn’t actually hear the woman answer, because racing at him a million miles an hour is a little beast of a child, all crazy hair and the biggest, brown eyes and a smile that lights up the whole entire block. And then Peter is in his arms, going, “Dad, dad, look what I made,” and waving around a piece of paper that showcases a sparkly unicorn or some kind of weird abstract drawing of anthrax, but whatever it is deserves to be framed and put on display in MoMA, simply by virtue of Peter having created it.
Steve extricates the finger painting from Peter’s hands and oohs and ahs over it while Tony clutches Peter to his chest, a knot beneath his ribcage loosening for the first time all day.
“Did you like school?” Steve asks, ruffling Peter’s hair, and for the first time Tony notices the pinched line between his eyebrows, slowly fading. Has Steve looked like that all day?
“School was the best!” Peter cheers, crawling over Tony’s arm like a tiny little spider monkey, swinging right on over to Steve and rambling all the while. He starts in on a detailed retelling of the story they heard before their naps while Tony leans into Steve’s side. Grinning so hard his teeth hurt, he hisses lowly, “You were totally worried too.”
“Shut up,” Steve replies out of the corner of his mouth, the rest of his attention focused on Peter’s fast-paced, imaginative retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. The words pack no heat, because he wends his fingers through Tony’s while he says them, heartbeats twinned through the palms of their hands and the little boy that exists at the center of their universe.
“So. This is the park. It has park things. And nature.” Tony sniffs, stifles a sneeze. “Lovely.”
Peter, swinging from monkey bar to monkey bar with Steve spotting him, whoops, which dims Tony’s enthusiasm for being a downer. He likes this whole thing where he has a family.
He’s better at it than he ever thought he would be, too.
One of Peter’s hands slips from a bar, and Steve accidently drops the explosion of glitter and construction paper Peter made in class (Dad, Pops, it’s supposed to be you guys!) as he reaches out to steady him.
Peter doesn’t need the help, already scrambling up to the top of the monkey bars, perching as easily as a bird. “My picture!”
“Oh, uh,” Steve scrambles to catch the painting, flapping his hands in the air. “Wingrandium Levitate,” he declares a second before he’s made the save.
“Popssss,” Peter grinds out, crossing his arms. He totally inherited that prissypants glare from Steve. “You’re not doing it right.”
Tony snorts. “Yeah Steve, it’s obviously Wingardium Leviosa.”
Steve rights himself, dusting sandbox grit off his knees. “Says the man who refuses to watch Prisoner of Azkaban.”
“Don’t judge, those dementors are some scary sh- uh, shoop.” Tony rolls his eyes skyward, biting down on the curse.
“Thas’not true, daddy, you’re not scared of anything.”
Peter emphasizes the point by vaulting off the jungle gym, and fuck, okay, Tony is scared of that. He clutches a hand to his wrist, checking to see if he still has a pulse.
Steve manages a laugh that doesn’t quite disguise the furrow in his forehead when he scoops up their junior acrobat and checks for scrapes, cuts, and bruises with all the surreptitious grace of a mother hen. Peter’s always been unnaturally steady on his feet, but it never fails to freak either of them out when he pulls stunts like that.
Once he’s sure that Peter’s still in one piece, Steve’s shoulders slump in relief. “You are absolutely right,” he agrees, “Your dad’s the bravest man around. Except when it comes to rats, which-“
Tony elbows him. “Hey. Don’t poison our son against me.” To Peter he confides, “I’m only scared of big rats. Really big rats. In my defense, one swallowed me on its way up the Empire State Building, so-“
“You got swallowed by a rat? Yuck.”
“Mega-yuck,” Steve agrees.
Tony sighs. “Full disclosure, I’m also scared of Bellatrix Lestrange, but that’s because I think she’s your auntie Natasha in disguise.”
Steve is casting Tony another one of those stern looks, but he gets distracted by Peter squirming and wiggling his way back down onto the ground. Steve swings Peter around in the air, flipping him head over heels until he giggles before gently lowering him until his sneakers touch grass. The two of them standing there are haloed by a corona of golden sunlight, smiles huge and unrestrained and Tony’s favorite sight in the whole wide world.
“I’m thinking ice cream,” Steve announces, his eyes reflecting the blue, blue sky. “Who wants ice cream?”
Peter jumps up and down. “Me, me, me.”
“Me, me, me,” Tony echoes happily.
“You’re not allowed to have ice cream,” Steve says. “You didn’t do all your work today.”
“Yeah, dad.” Peter crosses his arms and puts on the most intimidating scowl a five year old can muster. “You didn’t finish all your work today.”
“You know he only likes you more because you bribe him with penny candy,” Tony tells his husband, sticking out his tongue. “Peter, hey, Peter, I can buy you a Baskin Robbins. Not the ice cream, the whole store, how would you like that?”
Peter stomps his foot emphatically and says, “Finish your work.”
Tony’s mouth drops open. “Steve, have you been instilling our son with morals and values and a belief in the rewards of hard work? That’s so…un-American.”
Steve rolls his eyes, even though the corners of his lips twitch in amusement. “You’re still not getting ice cream, Tony. Think of the astronauts.”
“They have freeze dried Rocky Road, they’re fine. Hey, c’mon- no?” Tony pouts. “You are both blood traitors and I’d disown you if I didn’t love you more than anything.”
“How much is anything?” Steve asks, eyes sparking with amusement.
“A number that is not even scientifically quantifiable.”
“This much?” Peter stretches his arms wide, puffing out his tiny chest.
“Mmm, more, I think,” Tony says amiably, and it’s true. It took a long time before he could say a word like love, but now whenever he looks at Peter and Steve, it’s like it’s the only word on his lips.
Steve softens, and Peter begins scaling one of Tony’s legs like it’s a particularly skinny tree. “Well. When you put it that way. You can have a single scoop.”
“No sprinkles. Astronauts don’t get sprinkles.”
“Don’t worry, dad,” Peter says, now somewhere around Tony’s waist and clinging like a baby koala. “You can have some of my sprinkles.”
Tony grins at Steve over Peter’s head, and yeah, okay, maybe the park isn’t so bad after all.