"So, Bruce. That was a bit of a mess." Tony puts his tablet down, looking out the car window. He then pauses, adjusting the phone against his ear. "Want a drink?"
And that's how Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne get completely shitfaced.
Between Bane and Loki, two of America's greatest cities are pretty much in ruins. Bruce has lost everything - among the material wealth, he's seemingly also lost his life - while Tony is dealing with stocks falling - again - and funding repairs and patching his life back together.
"Explain to me again why you're pretending to be dead," Tony says, handing him another bottle of beer. No scotch, no tequila, just plain old beer from dirty bottles, the way they'd drunk it at MIT, before Bruce started on his teetotaler thing. Now a lifetime away. "It's stupid. You had the proof, man, and I'd have backed you, I'd have lent you Pepper - or maybe not Pepper, she'd kill me, for real, I'm not high on her list of favourite people at the moment, what with nearly dying and then there's the company-"
"I'm no hero." Bruce contemplates his bottle. The label is scratched, peeling off at one corner.
Tony stares. He gapes.
Bruce looks up when no words at all are coming from Tony. "You know what I mean." He gestures with the bottle. "I saved my city, sacrificed myself - except for the part where I clearly didn't - and went out on a high note." He shrugs nonchalantly.
"Hm," Tony grumbles. He isn't buying it. "Still a hero. Died a hero." He uncaps a new bottle for himself and takes a large swig. "You know. For a moment there, I thought you'd really gone."
Bruce picks at the label on his bottle. It's coming off in small bits.
"I went through every single cell phone and press footage I could get my hands on," Tony continues. "Looked for a... hint, I suppose. A shadow in the cloud, an alien teleport beam, anything that'd mean you might be alive." Tony raises his bottle towards Bruce. "It took me a while to discover that no one was on board that thing."
"I never wanted to die," Bruce says. "I saw a way out. I saw a solution to everything. The hero thing." He sighs and knocks back half of the bottle. "I'm not a hero, Tony. I never was. This way they may think I am, but I know the truth. I'm an illusion; a symbol. Something to believe in. It works. I just needed to die first."
"And then?" Tony says. "You left your city. You aren't protecting it anymore. That's pretty out of character, even for you, buddy."
Bruce's lips curl into a small smile. "Is that what you think?" He takes a large sip from the bottle. Tony is again not talking, so Bruce lowers the bottle and sighs. "I can't be the hero Gotham needs. They need a different hero now. I gave it to them. I can't be batman anymore. Instead...I do other things."
Tony doesn't say anything, but Bruce seems to know what he's thinking. It was often the case when they were young, but the years have taken their toll. Bruce has been away a lot. They don't have the same rapport they used to have, but tonight, they seem to fall into old habits, old ways. Or maybe they are pretending.
"Not every part of Wayne Enterprises was run into the ground," he says. "The charity funds still live. There's not a lot in them, but... they're doing all right. Fundraising's going well, and Selina - well." He shrugs. "I'm doing a lot of good, now."
"I suppose." Tony eyes Bruce. There are lines in his face, lines which weren't there eight years ago and his hairline has maybe receded a little. It's hard to tell. And they are getting old, Tony knows that, but Bruce isn't supposed to look like this. No hint of gray, unlike Tony, who's taken to dyeing his hair to cover up the traitorous grey at his temples. But there is weariness there, the sort of weariness that comes with the ages, that comes with despair and loss and fighting, getting broken and rebuilt and then broken again. "How's Selina?" Because of course Tony knows Selina, he's had a sort-of-run in with her once; she didn't take anything, but that was only because he'd just updated JARVIS that morning and she'd not been prepared for that.
"She's good." Bruce smiles and the lines don't smooth out; they become deeper. And softer. "I think she's happy."
Tony very carefully doesn't mention Rachel, never mentions Rachel because she is a Sore Topic, but there's a fact, and the fact is - Rachel was - still is? - idolised, an icon, something utterly unattainable, and when Bruce thought he'd had a chance, he'd let his guard down. It'd only been for a brief moment, but it'd happened, and then, well. Rachel became something more after that; a goddess, immortal, something pure in theory, and in practise - a scapegoat, an excuse, a reason.
"Are you happy?" Tony asks, because he can't help himself and he's reached that stage, the comfortable drunk where hearts open and minds connect and you want to share, share, share and give and take and comfort and be.
"I don't know," Bruce answers after a moment. "I think so. Maybe." He smiles wryly, shrugs. "I'm...not afraid. That's got to be something."
"That's something," Tony agrees.
They look really deep into their bottles after that, get properly drunk off their collective tits and Tony crashes on Bruce's sofa, because Bruce has a sofa now, not a guest room. Rooms. Plural.
New York is slowly starting to look like itself again, with a few edits. The Tower is starting to look like itself, with a few edits. Tony takes down the single A, then puts it back up a day later. The remodelled floors shape up and the Avengers show up one by one to live in them. Clint is the first to move in, Bruce the last - though technically Coulson is the last as no one informed Tony that he was part of the Clint package, which, surprise. And also not acceptable, honestly. The lack of information, he means. Tony makes a few adjustments to their floor.
Pepper is still CEO. Rhodey drops by in the suit every now and then and Tony tinkers and makes jabs at Hammer and wants to tear the offending additions out and replace them with cool shit. In the end, he does. Pepper is still CEO and she is still his girlfriend and he's not dying, he's over that, and no one is trying to take over the world or New York or destroy it - there was that incident with a lizard, or something, but this Spiderman guy'd shown up to take care of that, so Tony is pretty happy with life.
Until the day Pepper doesn't go to work and instead lets Tony sleep for another hour before she gently wakes him. There's coffee and a pair of packed suitcases by the door.
"I love you, Tony," she says, and she's beautiful, but she's leaving him. "I've taken the day off for both of us."
Tony never thought breaking up would hurt this much, but it does and it's a pain he's not accustomed to. It pierces through him; pulls at him inside and he feels heavy, like he'll never make it out of bed. But he does, he puts on pants and he drinks his coffee and doesn't say a word as Pepper talks to him in soft tones, the tears hiding behind every syllable.
"It's too much," she says, and it's amazing how soft she is. How luminous. She's always been, his Pepper, shining red hair and muted freckles on pale skin, delicate hands and confidence. She can be cold; he's seen it in action - but she's never turned the coldness on him, no, there's been anger and worry and sadness and joy and love and all sorts of warm and happy things, but never coldness. Not even now. She's Pepper. "I can't do both, Tony. I'm so tired, so scared, and tired of being scared."
"I understand," Tony says and wishes for more coffee. Because he does. And then he gives her a way out so she doesn't have to say what she means. "You love this company more than I do."
"That's not -" she starts and Tony smiles ruefully.
"I know." He takes her hands into his. His hands are big and rough, there are calluses and scars and a few nicks with scabs on them. Pepper's hands are milky and soft, long thin fingers. She's got a little bump on the middle finger on her right hand where her pen rests. "Thank you for trying," he says and means it.
Pepper closes her eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispers. "I thought...this..."
"I know," Tony says. "It's okay."
But it's not okay, it hurts, but he has to say it because she's hurting too. Pepper draws in a breath and takes her hands back and stands up.
"Happy will drive you wherever," Tony says, even though she knows.
"I'm going to see my mother," she says. "It's been a while."
"Give her my regards."
"I will," she promises, but they both know it's a lie.
Tony takes her suitcases down for her while she rings Happy. The other Avengers are nowhere to be seen, which is unsettling and Tony thinks maybe Pepper arranged it. He loves her for it and it hurts, and she steps out of the elevator, all composure and beauty, and Tony kisses her.
"I love you," he says and her eyes are moist.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Tony." She squeezes his arm and slides into the car and then she's gone.
Tony calls Bruce. The Bruce of old, not the Bruce upstairs. Bruce answers on second ring but Tony doesn't say anything.
"I see," Bruce says.
"Yeah," Tony sighs.
Steve is the first person after Bruce who Tony tells about Pepper. Because Steve was in the kitchen and Tony needed coffee and Steve was being Steve - that is to say, embodiment of American values and all that jazz - and was making himself a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich.
"So, I'm single now," Tony says as he refills his mug and contemplates just taking the whole pot. When he looks up, Steve is looking at him and there's this weird thing in his eyes; it could be pity, it could be sadness, it could be anything. "Bruce is coming over," Tony then says and leaves the kitchen, leaves Steve, because fuck. He can't deal with that right now.
"Bruce?" Steve asks, but Tony doesn't answer, pretends not to hear.
He knows he's a mess; he hasn't shaved today and he's not sure he even bothered taking a comb to his hair, and he's been in the workshop since Pepper left so he's got new nicks on his fingers and oil on his clothes. Therefore it comes as no surprise when Bruce only raises an eyebrow in greeting. Tony answers the door himself because this is the Avengers Tower now; the risk of Bruce being waylaid on his way up by any one of the Avengers - who turned out to not have been out, just scattered around.
"You're pathetic," Bruce says in the elevator and Tony makes an assenting noise.
"I'm not planning on locking myself away for the next eight years," he says and Bruce elbows him hard. Tony laughs.
Steve is in the living room when they get out of the elevator - Tony has long since come to terms with the lower floor of his own apartment having turned into some sort of Avengers Commune - and is watching what looks suspiciously much like Tangled.
"You did, though," Tony says, because he's feeling mean. "You didn't even come out to see me."
"I was busy," Bruce says, then notices Steve. "Hello there."
"Busy wallowing in self-pity and guilt and other shit," Tony interjects. "This is Steve. He has a strange taste in movies."
Steve, because he's Steve, actually stands up and gives Bruce his hand. "Pleasure to meet you," he says, then narrows his eyes. "Bruce Wayne?"
"Yes, yes." And Tony tries not to flail and bodily stop Steve from pawing at his Bruce. Bruce seems highly amused. "How do you even know who Bruce Wayne is, I don't even -"
"Aren't you supposed to be dead?" Steve asks and finally lets go of Bruce's hand.
"No," Tony says.
"Yes," Bruce says.
"No he's not." Tony glares at Bruce. Then at Steve. "Don't tell Fury, he'd have kittens."
"He probably already knows," Bruce says. "His eye patch has superpowers."
"That's what I've always been saying," Tony agrees. Then: "Wait, what?"
"Why aren't you dead?" Steve asks and Tony flails.
"You aren't even supposed to know who he is! Come, Bruce, Steve is being weird, I don't like it."
"Clint gave me the comics," Steve supplies, and of course it was Clint's fault, everything is always Clint's fault. "And Phil showed me the documentaries."
"I jumped out," Bruce explains to Steve and he's using large hand gestures to tell the story and Tony doesn't like it, because Tony doesn't share - much - and right now he wants Bruce for himself. But Steve is giving Bruce this really earnest look, the wow-I-am-really-interested-in-what-you're-telling-me look and he's so open and friendly and so Steve that Tony wonders whether he was raised on apple pie and the constitution and fucking hymns or something. He can't be angry at Steve for long but he can be jealous and impatient and why the fuck is Bruce laughing at him? "Coffee, Tony?"
"You know, you and Steve - no, I'm not telling you this. Steve is a friend stealer." He scowls at Steve and tugs on Bruce's arm. "JARVIS, lock Steve and everyone else out of the upper floor for the rest of the day. Especially Steve."
Steve looks hurt but Bruce mouths something at him and Tony doesn't even want to know what it is. He doesn't stay long enough to see the look on Steve's face change from hurt to speculation.
"Me and Steve what?" Bruce asks once they're out of earshot.
"Steve doesn't drink either," Tony says. "He's got the same kind of crazy ass diet and exercise program as you used to have. Still have?"
"Sort of have," Bruce answers. "Not as strict anymore. I'm no longer fighting injustice with my body."
"No, you throw money at it," Tony says approvingly. "I'd still be throwing money at it if it weren't for the whole Iron Man thing."
"Now there's a mess if I ever saw one." Bruce hops up onto the kitchen counter, long legs dangling. "I'm sorry, by the way. For not, you know. Being there. When all that shit went down."
Tony shrugs. "Rhodey was there. And Pepper." His lips form a thin line and he pokes at the coffee maker. "Hey, think if I throw money at Pepper she'll come back?"
It is a half-assed joke and they both know it. Bruce purses his lips and takes the mug of steaming coffee Tony hands him.
"Do you want her to come back?"
"Yes. No." Tony sighs. "I don't want to talk about it. I didn't ask you to come here to talk about my broken heart." He fills up his own mug. "Want to see the plans I've made for the new quinjet? It's super cool."
But Tony talks, later, when he's shown Bruce the quinjet plans and the upgrades on the armour and the new arrowheads for Clint, after he's dragged him to Other Bruce's lab to show off the geekery in there, after he's taken Bruce back to the workshop and they find out that DUM-E still remembers him, which, well shit, that was unexpected. He talks about Pepper and Iron Man and the arc reactor in his chest and Bruce doesn't ask to see it, but Tony shows him anyway. He talks about how things were looking up, he was doing good things, being good, being Tony but improved and about how Pepper walked away because even an improved version of Tony was too much.
He talks a lot, but Bruce is a good listener. Bruce is a good influence, sometimes, so they don't get drunk that night, but go and join the other Avengers in the kitchen for dinner. Because Steve has cooked and Tony knows Steve, knows that he gets that kicked puppy look on his face if Tony doesn't come to dinner, takes it as a personal offence if Tony isn't hungry or in the mood for people or anything. But Bruce is here today and even if Steve is a friend stealer, Tony takes him to the kitchen and there is food and not as many stunned faces as he's expected.
And it's fun. No one talks about Pepper or Tony's new relationship status, no one mentions the fact that he looks more like a bum than he usually does when he's been in the workshop, no one is being awkward. They talk to Bruce because hey, interesting new person, and Tony sees at least two people give Bruce appreciative looks which is so not on.
"There was the time Tony hit on me," Bruce tells, face alight and hands gesturing in the air; he's an excellent entertainer and conversationalist, but no. "It was very adorable -"
"No," Tony says, aloud this time. "No, I forbid it, you cannot tell them that story, it's classified, you traitor, how are you my friend?" He tries to slap his hand across Bruce's mouth, but there was that whole thing with Bruce being, like, the best martial artist in the world and Tony, well, Tony trains with Happy and sometimes Steve - never Natasha, because ow - and is therefore pathetically unsuccessful.
"We were sixteen," Bruce says, "and Tony was building a robot and I, well, I was doing a report on thermodynamics, or something like that -"
"I WAS SIXTEEN," Tony says, "I COULD NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR MY ACTIONS."
"- and he looks up from the robot -"
"It wasn't a robot, it was the prototype for DUM-E -"
"- and says, 'Do you want to see my programming?' and he had this utterly filthy grin on his face," Bruce tells and Tony faceplants into the table. "He was completely serious."
"Course I was," Tony mutters. "I'm always serious."
The table is silent, then: "Programming?" Natasha snorts. "Smooth."
"I was the smoothest sixteen year old in existence," Tony says, now straightening up, because faceplanting is sort of hurting his neck, wow, he really isn't sixteen anymore. He used to sleep on his desk like that. "It worked every time."
"Not on me," Bruce says and Tony elbows him.
"You're a nutcase," Tony says. "You don't count."
Steve says: "You hit on a guy?" and the table is silent for a whole other reason.
"Uh, yes," Tony says and then he understands. "Isn't that in my file? You've read my file. Natasha, you wrote my file, didn't you put that in there? You can't have missed it. You see everything, it's creepy."
Natasha looked pained. "I - are you kidding me?"
Tony looks at them all. Thor, who looks just as lost as Steve, Phil and Clint, who look quietly amused, Other Bruce, who looks mildly curious, Natasha, who looks like she's been forced to swallow a lemon, and finally, Bruce, who is trying to keep the laughter in.
"Jesus," Tony says. "Oh my god, I'm actually coming out to you. Seriously, did no one know? This is - this is amazing, I don't believe it, you are all Avengers and some of you are spies and you failed to notice I'm an all-options kind of guy." He flails. "Seriously!"
Thor frowns. "What do you mean?"
"He means he is bisexual," Other Bruce explains.
"Pan," Tony says. Shrugs. "Within the human species. And uh. Gods." He glances at Thor. "Er."
Steve has a very funny look on his face and Tony wonders whether he can faceplant into the table again.
"No, Tony," Bruce says, amused, and Tony thinks he probably said that out aloud. "You were telling us about the quinjet." Which is a lie, but Tony goes along with it and so does everyone else.
With time, Tony starts hurting less.
He thinks he's doing pretty well when there's another attack on New York - bloody fucking Mandarin - and Tony doesn't die, or nearly die, which is a plus, but Clint gets injured and ends up in a coma. And Natasha breaks a wrist punching the Mandarin in the face, which looked like it fucking hurt, but it was deserved; no one messes with Clint on her watch.
And then Pepper comes to the hospital to see them. She's pale, clutching her purse, and her fingers are white. She lets out a breath of relief when she sees that Tony isn't hurt - not even a scratch on him, this time - but then she sees Clint, she sees Natasha standing guard at his bed, face drawn and her arm in a sling. She sees Phil, standing guard on the other side of the bed, lips thin, jaw hard. She sees Thor, Banner, Steve and Tony - Tony still in his armour - scattered around the room. "Oh," she says, and her hand comes up to cover her mouth.
"He's stable," Tony says, because neither Phil nor Natasha look like they want to talk. "He's expected to fully recover, so long as he wakes up."
She mouths: "Coma?" and Tony nods. "Oh," she says again and Tony stands up and leads her out into the hallway, hand on her back.
"He'll be fine," Tony says because he has to believe it and if he says it, then it'll come true. Pepper gives him a soft look.
"Tony," she says, because of course she knows what he's thinking, she's Pepper and he's known her for more than ten years and she knows him better than he knows himself, sometimes.
"How are you doing?" he asks her and she smiles ruefully.
"I'm doing well, Tony, thank you for asking." She lays her hand on his arm. "I hear you're doing well, too."
"I'm sorry for not calling, but. Uhm. You know." He shrugs, as much as the armour allows anyway.
They stand there for a short while, in silence, and then Tony snaps out of it. "I'm just gonna...go be with the team." He walks away, fighting the urge to put the helmet on and take off through the window at the end of the hallway.
Clint is still in a coma and Tony hates being a superhero.
"Whoa mate," Tony says and puts down the welding torch, because this is serious business. "That's... news."
"You're a dick." Bruce laughs. "It's the good kind of news."
"Oh, good," Tony breathes. "Congrats then." Pause. "You're not going to freak out on me, then?"
"Haven't felt the need," Bruce says. "Things are good."
"Good," Tony says and wonders whether he'll ever get the wife, kid and picket fence. He'd thought that Pepper, maybe - except Pepper didn't want kids, which was fair enough, and to be honest Tony didn't think he should ever be allowed to reproduce, so all was good on that front, and he had an epic house, and...Pepper was gone, so now he really just had the house.
"...Tony? Tony? Are you still there?"
"Yes, sorry 'bout that, was, uh, distracted -" He stops talking. "I'm really happy for you," he then says and means it, and then because he's Tony, he paints it on thick. "From the bottom of my heart, buddy, I wish you angel song and happiness and beautiful babies and a dog to piss on your carpet."
"You're a dick," Bruce says again, but he's laughing and Tony can hear the happiness in his voice. "But thank you."
"No problem." Tony picks up the welding torch again. "I mean it, you know. Even if there's no hope for me anymore." He laughs, but it comes out bitter and he could bite his tongue, because that wasn't supposed to happen.
"There's always hope, Tony," Bruce says. "Even for you."
"Mhh," Tony says, noncommittally.
"Hey, how about dinner one of these days? You could pop over, it's really beautiful here this time of year."
"Can't," Tony says. "Clint's still in a coma."
"Oh." Bruce pauses. "Well, then. I'll come over with Selina, if that's okay?"
"Sure." Tony weighs the torch in his hands. "Anytime."
Bruce talks to Tony about the home improvements he's been tinkering with; nothing on a superhero scale, just painting the house and fixing the fence and they're thinking of planting some tomatoes and peppers and stuff and in a couple of months they'll start preparing for the baby.
Steve, friend stealer extraordinaire, talks to Bruce about dog races; the merits of Golden Retrievers over Labradors as family dogs and Tony can't find it in himself to be bitter or sad or jealous.
He still has Pepper, on some level. He'll never get the wife and kid and picket fence, but he has friends, he has a purpose, and he's doing good things in the world. And if he closes his eyes he can even pretend he has a family; pretend that Natasha is the little sister whose barbies you definitely did not want to steal, that Clint is her adopted stray who shows up at mealtimes and somehow ends up part of the family and then there's his boyfriend - and when did Phil become Phil anyway, and not Agent Coulson? - and no one even questions their presence anymore because they're so ingrained in the structure, Bruce is the childhood friend from across the street who's like the brother Tony never had, Other Bruce is the quirky, smart cousin who no one ever expects to show up at the Christmas parties except then he does and everyone is chuffed because there's not a single soul in the universe capable of disliking him, Thor is the exchange student who never left and somehow ended up the key ingredient in any and all gatherings, if not for anything but his perpetual good mood.
Tony thinks of all this, thinks that Rhodey is missing because he's the brother who's always busy and only sporadically makes it to the family dinners so it's up to whomever saw him last to fill the others in about his wellbeing, and Happy is missing because he's the one everyone forgets to invite but is too polite and humble to say so and shit, that is just not on and Tony is going to rectify that at once, and Pepper is missing because she's suddenly not the PA turned best friend turned girlfriend anymore, she's the ex who's still too raw but whose presence is missed all the same - and then Tony realises he forgot Steve.
He opens his eyes in surprise and looks across the table at Steve, who's laughing at something Thor has been telling Bruce, and he doesn't know what Steve is, who he is, because Steve is just Steve, once Captain America: Lost Idol, then Captain America: Jerk, then just Captain America: Avenger. At some point he became Cap and Steve, the guy who has terrible bed hair - Tony has seen it, it was so bad he gleefully ordered JARVIS to take pictures before Steve woke up properly and realised he'd forgotten to sort out his hair - and a subtle, dry sense of humour. He is Steve, mean left hook and open smile, human perfection on legs and atrocious taste in entertainment.
Yeah, Tony has no idea, but he figures he'll find a place for Steve in his little pretend family, alongside all the others.
It doesn't hurt as much as he thought it would, and he makes a mental note to tell Happy it's okay, because if he doesn't the poor man will never make a move out of respect for Tony or some such shit and that's just stupid.
Steve says something and shoves something baby blue and adorable under his nose and Tony says: "No." He looks at the thing. "Absolutely no, that thing is ghastly and creepy oh my god why would you give that to a child? Look at its eyes, they're going to suck the child's soul out before it's weaned."
"Tony." Steve frowns. He's holding the blue thing with both hands. "It's cute."
"It's not." Tony eyes the thing with distaste. "You know what, this sucks. I'll build a robot, robots I know and Bruce likes my robots -"
"No," Steve says and he uses the Captain America voice. Tony shuts up. "We are going to find something fluffy and cute which the child can't harm itself with."
"That's boring," Tony says and then he notices something awesome across the store and even Steve isn't quick enough to stop him before he's over there, gleefully picking out things.
"Does that say 'my dad used to be a superhero'?" Steve asks dubiously, when he's caught up with Tony, who has his arms full of bodysuits. Thankfully he's left the blue thing behind.
"On the back it says 'now he changes my diapers'," Tony says and shows him. "It's great, it's perfect, Bruce is going to love it. And this one, this one is just amazing." He shows Steve a white bodysuit which says My dad can out code your dad. "Actually, I should get two of those and give the other to DUM-E."
Steve looks like he's trying to suppress laughter. "Very nice, Tony."
There are aisles and aisles upon aisles of clothing, bodysuits and tights and t-shirts and trousers and hats and socks and shirts and bibs and things. Tony somehow manages to find a series of black bodysuits with various band logos on them; he buys a Guns'n'Roses one in two different sizes and an AC/DC one in three. Steve locates superhero themed t-shirts and Tony, who at this point has managed to secure two shop assistants to carry his stuff, loads a Batman one - "Brilliance, Steve, sheer brilliance" - as well as an assortment of Avengers ones, including two different t-shirts with Iron Man on the front. As an afterthought he adds a Spiderman t-shirt; the guy's pretty cool by all accounts, so why not.
"You know Bruce will take revenge once you get a child of your own," Steve says as the shop assistants unload all the things into the Ford.
"What makes you think I'll ever have a child of my own?" Tony asks and if he sounds a bit more snappish than usual, then it's, well, not his fault.
"I..." Steve looks down. "Why not? Isn't that...well. Don't you want a family?"
"Pepper left me," Tony points out. "And she isn't a mother type of person anyway. It's just not going to happen, Steve. I'm just me and it's going to be that way, so." He shrugs. "I'm going to be an uncle. That's good enough." He's resolutely not looking at Steve now, instead overseeing that the shop assistants do their job, knowing that Steve is probably frowning, because Steve frowns a lot, it comes with thinking and Steve thinks so much that Tony can sometime hear him. Well not really, but close.
"I think you'll be a great uncle," Steve says eventually and Tony turns to face him, huge smile in place.
"Damn right I will. Burgers now. Do you think Natasha will stab me if I ask her to wrap this stuff up?" Tony opens the door for Steve, gesturing at the pile of bags in the backseat.
"Ask Clint," Steve says instead and slides into car. "I can help too."
"Hum," Tony says and walks around to the driver's side. "Do you think Clint and Phil...?"
There's a pause as Tony starts up the car and Steve thinks. After a while he says: "I don't think I want to imagine it."
"Neither do I," Tony answers and speeds out of the parking lot.
They don't even know Spiderman's true identity and Tony wonders whether he's moving into the Tower.
"Uhm, no, I. I live with my aunt," Spiderman says and Tony not only realises that he'd said that aloud, he realises that Spiderman is just a kid.
"You're just a kid," he says. And then: "Wait, is that a backpack? Jesus, you're not even out of school, how can you even be a superhero, you're just a kid."
"I'm in college," Spiderman says. "Freshman year."
"Baby," Tony says. "What's your major?"
Spiderman looks at Fury, who remains impassive, and then back at Tony. "Science-y stuff," he says, evasively.
"Tony, no," Steve says, but Tony's already lightened up.
"Another scientist! I knew I liked you for a reason. So -" He shuts up abruptly when Steve covers his mouth with his hand.
"Welcome to the team," Steve says and reaches around Tony to offer his hand to Spiderman. "Nevermind Tony."
"Uh, okay," Spiderman says. He sounds a bit faint, but he takes Steve's hand and shakes it. Tony is about to say something, but Steve's hand is still firmly clasped over his mouth, so he settles for crossing his arms and huffing. "Nice to meet you, Captain America. It's, uh, a great honour..."
"Just Steve," Steve says, because he's Steve and Tony is far too amused by this whole situation.
Later, he tells Bruce about Spiderman and his fanboying. He also tells Bruce about the difficulties at first; adjusting to a new team member, the mission that nearly went wrong that one time, the other time when Spiderman got Natasha's back and the third time when Hulk had decided Spiderman was his favourite bug - that story was hilarious, Tony loved it, and he'd saved every single video feed onto his private server - and he realised, as he was telling Bruce about all these things, that he kinda liked being a superhero.
Of course Bruce just smiles and lets him hold his daughter, who is tiny and frail but has a lovely smile and beautiful eyes and Tony is scared to shit of breaking her every time Bruce unexpectedly hands her over.
He likes being an Uncle and he likes being an Avenger.
"You'll be my best man?" Bruce asks and Tony doesn't even have to think about it and says yes immediately. "I thought so." Bruce laughs, then says: "I asked Steve for back up, though. Just in case."
"What." Tony frowns and when little hands paw at his trouser legs he bends down and picks up his niece, because she's totally his niece, shut up, he's an Uncle.
"You're funny about some things, Tony. Especially responsibility." Bruce punches his shoulder.
"No, I mean. Steve." Tony makes a noise. "He's such a friend stealer, oh my god, I'm going to have to murder him or something -"
Bruce shakes his head in amusement. "Come on, I asked your boyfriend because I knew he'd say no and then subtly work you up towards it," he says, and Tony freezes.
"What," he says again. "What did you just say." Tony blinks. "Did you just say boyfriend?"
"Yes," Bruce says, nonplussed. "Do you prefer the term 'partners'?"
"No -" Tony blinks again, then all of what Bruce said catches up with him. "Wait - subtly work me up towards it what even, have you met Steve, he doesn't do subtle, the man can't keep a secret to save his life, or you know, he can, but jesus, not this kind of stuff, oh my god this explains so much about the last two weeks -"
Tony abruptly cuts himself off when his niece tugs hard at his hair. He yelps, mentally cursing himself and the fact he didn't go to get that haircut he meant to get last week.
"- and by the way, he is not my boyfriend, I don't even, jesus, why would you think that?"
"You aren't seeing each other?" Bruce raises an eyebrow. "I'd have sworn under oath you are."
"Nope, never and anyway that's completely random. Steve? Steve is...Steve." Tony frowns. "Well, he's pretty hot. He's a nice guy. Infuriating at times. Oh my god, you should've seen last week, he was sparring with Spiderman -"
"Ask him out," Bruce says and takes his daughter back.
"Okay," Tony says.
So he goes back to New York and asks Steve out and Steve is delighted. It's so adorable and he's so happy about it and Tony thinks he should've asked him out forever ago and wonders why he didn't. They go out and it's no different from their regular outings, but they have fun and the evening ends with a heavy make out session in the Saleen S7.
Dating Steve isn't much different from being friends with Steve except there is more touching and more kissing and more sex, which there hadn't been any of before, a crying shame, that. They plan to go to Bruce and Selina's wedding as a couple, in matching suits because Steve insists and Tony is too besotted to say no. Okay, so he does protest a little bit, just because, but Steve is very convincing.
It's a small wedding, mostly due to Bruce's status of being officially dead; Selina's mother and sister are there and Alfred is there. Tony wonders briefly - not for the first time in his life - whether he should introduce him to JARVIS, but decides for the sake of his sanity that this is an experiment better left alone. That is it for guests, except for Tony and the Avengers, who seem to have adopted Bruce & co. into their pretend family and vice versa.
Somehow Clint and Phil become the designated babysitters during the party, taking it upon themselves to entertain Tony's niece. Natasha stays as far away from the child as she possibly can, which is not a new occurrence, but at least this time she doesn't outright flee the scene. It's kind of cute, if Natasha can be called cute, and Tony smiles. He thinks about his pretend family and the most recent addition - Spiderman eventually took off the mask and told them his name, which was so much better; having him hang out at the tower as the only one in costume was just plain weird. He's a good kid, and Tony tells Bruce this and Bruce smiles and asks if he remembers the first time Peter met him and Tony cracks up and tells the story to Selina's mother, because it's a hilarious story.
Even later, when Clint and Phil are slow dancing on the humble dance floor and Natasha is talking to Steve and Selina about movies and Tony has lost track of everyone else - except for his beautiful little niece who's asleep in his arms - he tells Bruce about Peter's latest scores in college because Peter isn't here and Tony is oddly proud of the kid, and he tells him about the new suit Tony made for him which isn't just spandex, jesus spandex, the kid could just well have been naked.
Bruce is smiling fondly at him and Tony's eyes wander over to Steve every so often and Tony knows now who Steve is in his pretend family. Steve is his.
"Are you happy?" Bruce asks and Tony is so unprepared for the question that he doesn't know at first what to say.
It doesn't take long to think about. "Yeah," he says and thinks that he may not have a wife and kid and picket fence, but he has Steve and the Avengers and a niece and a fucking awesome tower. He thinks that he's doing good by life, now, that he's happy with his place in the world.
He doesn't tell Bruce this, but Bruce seems to know what he's thinking and he raises his glass to Tony. "To the good life," he says and Tony rolls his eyes because he's not that much of a sap. Bruce laughs and then says: "To being a superhero."
And Tony says: "Traitor, retired son of a gun and shut up, Steve's to blame for that."
"Blame for what?" Steve asks as he slides into the seat next to him.
"My language," Tony answers and then says to Bruce: "He set up a goddamn swear jar."
Bruce laughs and Steve puts his arm around Tony's shoulders.