If someone had asked Antonio Stark at any point in the past to imagine the ultimate combination of things that would make him the happiest man on Earth, he would have likely laughed off the question with a quip about wine, women, and song, or maybe just a really good bottle of scotch.
If you had caught him after the inception of Iron Man as a superhero, the verbal answer would have remained the same as before, but beneath the surface there would have been an almost painful, violently churning sea of desires -- peace and safety and health and please take this tumor away from me oh god please I'm not ready not yet not enough and so much more.
After the fracture of America, it might have been a pithy, one-word answer, carefully thought out and specially designed to go over well with the media. Strength. Unity. Rebirth. Reconstruction. And quietly, to himself, where no one else but his ever-present hallucinatory companion could hear, redemption.
It would still have been a one-word answer -- a single name -- in the final moments before his death.
His first death, at any rate.
Later on still, the single name became a list.
Oh god, Steve.
Well, Tony Stark might have been a self-proclaimed futurist (and certified genius, and superhero, and so many other things), but he could honestly say that what he had now wasn’t something he could have come up with even in his wildest dreams.
“--ony Tony Tony Tony Tony wake up wake up wake up, wake UP!”
A small body threw aside the bedsheets and flung itself on top of Tony enthusiastically, driving the air from his lungs in a surprised, abrupt rush. Groaning, he automatically brought his arms up to encircle the invading body as it did its level best to nuzzle its way into his pajama-clad chest.
“Tony, c’mon, you gotta get up, it’s Breakfast Day and it smells so good and I wanna eat it right now, but he says I can’t have any unless you come too, come on please! Didja forget? It’s Breakfast Day and Breakfast Day is special because it’s only once a week and it’s his turn today, wake uuuuup -- oof!”
Tony, unable to keep a silly grin from spreading its way across his face, seized the advantage and suddenly rolled over into a mass of pillows, bringing the wildly babbling child with him and muffling the noise in the mountain of fluff. “What have I told you about waking people by jumping on them, buddy?” he scolded teasingly, giving the dark head of hair snuggled under his chin a quick double tap with his knuckles. “I am sure the phrase ‘thou shalt not leap upon those in their beds’ has been said to you before, and recently, too…”
There was an impatient wriggle from the middle of the pillow pile. “But -- ”
“No buts from you, mister,” Tony interrupted, pushing himself upright to a sitting position and scrubbing a hand over his face to rid himself of the last hazy vestiges of sleep. “If you’re told not to jump on a sleeping god, then jumping on little ol’ breakable human me is very rude, isn’t it?” There was a disappointed grumble, and Tony’s grin softened into something approaching painful fondness.
“Breakfast Daaaaaay,” came the plaintive whine, and he couldn’t really help but chuckle.
“All right, all right,” Tony acquiesced with mock resignation as he swung his feet down to the floor. “Breakfast Day it is. Up and at ‘em! Let me grab a robe and we’ll be on our way.” A small head popped out of the pillows, clapping excitedly.
“C’mon, Tony! Hurry up! There’s gonna be toast!” Tony paused, halfway to his closet. What?
“Why are you excited about toast, kiddo?” he asked, finishing his trek and snatching his favorite red and gold silk robe down from its hook just inside the closet door. “Didn’t realize you were such a fan of slightly burnt bread.”
The head shook from side to side in a vigorous negation. “Noooo, Tony. He’s making special toast.”
One of Tony’s eyebrows slowly inched its way up his forehead as he shrugged on his robe. “Is that the same kind of special as Thor’s special baked goods?” If that were the case, Tony needed to get downstairs immediately. He wasn’t going to miss that show for the world.
The answer was slow in coming. “No?” It was more a question than anything else, slightly hesitant and more than a little unsure. “I don’t think so? It’s special, though. But I’m not supposed to tell you what kind of toast it is, because he says -- ” and the voice took on a distinctly lower, rumbly tone as it imitated the original speaker -- “They’re all dumb and can go pretend to be fancy somewhere else.”
Steve was making French toast.
“Oh for the love of -- ” Tony sighed, exasperated. “I still don’t know what he has against the French, kiddo, the French are lovely.” Dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, he added with a wink, “They really do make excellent toast, but the good Captain is just too much of a stubborn old man to admit it, hmm?”
The boy in the bed giggled and raised his arms toward the now robe-clad Tony, silently begging to be carried downstairs perched on Tony’s hip, which had become his favorite spot for everything from carries to cuddles. Tony rolled his eyes good-naturedly, but stepped towards him and swung him up into his arms.
“Aren’t you getting too big for this, buster?” he asked, feeling the small body settle itself in the notch of his waist and wrap its arms around his neck. Without waiting for an answer, Tony made his way out of the bedroom, using his free hand to balance himself on the railing as he began to carefully step down the flight of stairs.
“Never too big for you” was quietly muttered into the bare skin above his collar, and with a pang, he found himself stopping, another phrase ringing through his memory.
Tony, I promise I won’t grow any bigger!
“Yes, I know,” he managed, a wholly inadequate response, but it was all he could do to get the words out without having his voice quaver with the onslaught of emotion behind it. “You’re not. You’ll never be too big, Anthony. Never.”
He cradled the small synthezoid body to his chest, feeling the residual warmth from the glowing orange Infinity Gem at its heart. For all that power, he thought, he was just a child. His child. His Anthony, safe and sound and in his embrace where he belonged as they descended the stairs together, approaching the kitchen where the superpowered former President of the United States (and the love of Tony’s life) stood in front of the stove in a novelty flag apron, wielding a spatula to flip what he staunchly refused to refer to as French toast.
“Good morning, darling,” Tony purred, and reached out the hand that wasn’t wrapped around Anthony to touch Steve’s stubbly cheek and pull him down into a disarmingly sweet kiss.
“Mornin’,” came the usual grunt, but Tony could see the corners of Steve’s lips quirking upwards, and returned the smile.
Even now, the sight of Steve was enough to evoke a twinge in his heart. His presence here sometimes seemed so impossible, and yet there he was, standing in front of Tony, whole and hale and hearty and alive. The smug bastard was still clinging onto the threads of life like an ornery old cuss after being buried in the rubble of what was once New Jersey for three months, his body falling into a near-hibernation state as it slowly repaired itself and waited for rescue.
He had never expected to find Steve’s body in the wreckage of that building.
He had never expected to find him alive.
And he had never expected for Steve’s first act after blinking open dust-covered eyelids to be grabbing the sides of his open helmet and yanking him down into a messy, bruising, tearful kiss, but --
Well. He wasn’t going to complain.
“I hear you’re making us some very special toast today,” Tony commented, bringing his mind back to the present with somewhat of an effort. “Despite your refusal to call it by its proper name.” Steve’s only response was a grumble, but Tony grinned at him anyway. “You know it’s childish, and yet you keep doing it,” he tossed out, turning away to set Anthony down at the table and grab three sets of utensils.
“Just one of the many things you love about me,” Steve retorted, and Tony was forced to stop in the middle of the kitchen, clutching three forks in his hand, as the truth of those words struck him to his core.
Wordlessly, he placed the forks down on the counter and came up behind Steve, sliding his arms around his waist and nestling his face between Steve’s massive shoulder blades.
“Yes, I do,” Tony murmured, placing a small reverent kiss over Steve’s spine. “I really do.”
If you asked an unguarded Antonio Stark today what would make him the happiest man on Earth, he wouldn’t be at a loss for words.
“Everything I have right now,” he’d say, the naked honesty in his voice almost too much. “I couldn’t ask for more than this.”
A home, a life, a love, a child. A family. It didn’t sound like much, but to him? Knowing everything it had taken to get where they were now?
It was everything.
And that was more than enough.