Thor's position in this whole... thing, well it's almost understandable. He's hundreds (thousands?) of years older than the rest of them, and up until his little brother figured out that he was adopted and had that little psychotic break, his family was pretty tight knit.
Steve, though, was raised half in an orphanage, half by a single mother who didn’t have time to spoil him but did have time to teach him self-sufficiency and love. And he’s older too, yes, but his own memories of family are dim childhood blurs, under a whole lot of not-family (or, the family he made for himself, like Bucky, especially Bucky, always Bucky). Somehow he'd come out without scars, though, without big walking wounds like the rest of his human teammates. He's been sad, he's been hurt, but even as a little shrimp in Brooklyn he was able to bounce back from it, just keep on ticking.
When Bruce isn't-- well, when he isn't playing this game they all play-- he says that this is why the serum worked so well on him, and Steve denies and tries to explain to Bruce that he's not any better, that he knows how strong and good and noble Bruce is, and those conversations never work out.
Today, though, they’re playing the game and conversation with Bruce will be a little limited; they definitely won’t be hitting any hard topics. He’s been waiting all day to get back to this; he’s been tied up with SHIELD for hours trying to resolve a dispute about whether the Avengers have or have not violated Latverian sovereignty, and Steve maintains that Latverian sovereignty probably stops where the robot attacks on Queens start. He’s late, and he just wants to get home to his family.
When he finally gets inside the Avengers tower, his heart’s pounding just a little faster like it always does on game days. He addresses the empty air. "Jarvis? Where are the kids?"
"Master Clint and his guest are in the living room watching cartoons," Jarvis says, reasonably, and Steve flushes just a little even though he knows that a computer program can't judge. Or at least wouldn't judge, since it's been so good for Tony. "Young masters Tony and Bruce are in the main laboratory. Mrs. Rogers is in the kitchen with young Miss Natasha."
"Great. Could you, uh, send a message to those areas?"
"Channel opened, sir."
"Hey, kids. Hey, doll, I'm home," he says, and his heart rate calms down and his chest opens up, and he feels that... that odd feeling, that other self coming down around him, fitting him snug and sure. Captain Rogers, Family Man and Devoted Husband. Suddenly he’s not blushing anymore, suddenly he’s smiling and his shoulders are rolling back confidently.
Bruce's voice crackles back across the communications line. "Daddy!" There's a grunt in the background that he recognizes as Tony's distracted greeting.
"Hey, dad!" Clint's voice chimes in, followed quickly by an incredibly shy "Hi, Captain Rogers."
"Hi, Phil." That answers who Clint’s guest is, not that he had much doubt.
"He's sleeping over," Clint says defiantly, and Steve smiles softly at the elevator wall.
"Of course, Clint. I'll be up in a second."
No response from Thor, and Natasha doesn’t talk.
The elevator whisks him up to the main common room, and he can hear a high-pitched voice from the television straight through the insulated door. He comes out of the elevator with his hands on his hips, and Clint already looks sheepish and is fumbling for the remote. He's mid-late-teens today, hair spiked up, wearing a t-shirt over another long-sleeved shirt. Phil is roughly the same age, gangly gawky thing that he is, is wearing jeans with holes worn straight through the knees, and a shirt with Darth Vader on the front.
"Clint, what have I told you about the volume?"
Clint mumbles something, which, prompted by Steve's cleared throat, he repeats at higher volume: "Under thirty."
"And I wish you'd watch something a little less grim," Steve sighs.
"Dad," Clint rolls his eyes despairingly, confronted with an Adult who Fails to Get It. "Invader Zim is awesome and deep. It has social commentary. And stuff."
"There are some really strong messages about consumerism?" Phil offers in a quick mumble, and the tips of his ears go red.
"Another half an hour, boys. And then homework. I know you have homework."
"Ughhhhh," Clint moans. "It's history. I hate history."
"It's okay, I'll help," Phil says, and gives him an adoring look that promises help with a lot of subjects that Steve doesn't particularly want to associate with his eldest son.
Clint brightens immediately, and Steve sighs. He was a teenager, too, he remembers. He just doesn't have to know all about it, thanks.
“Hey, Phil-- Nick knows you’re over here, right? You’re not going to get in trouble?”
“Uh-huh,” Phil says almost sub-audibly, but he nods fervently to make up for his complete lack of ability to talk to Steve coherently.
"Okay, boys. Remember, half an hour. And if you have trouble you know you can ask me anything, Clint. I'll check in before dinner to make sure it's done. Then we can go down to the range, how about that?"
Steve kisses him on the forehead-- to further eyerolling and complaints of not being a kid anymore, Dad-- and gives a stammering Phil a clap on the shoulder before heading labwards.
(He knows what Clint needs. To be carefree, not to be a provider before he's even a man, not to be abandoned, not to be punished into perfection, to have people around him he can trust. Cared for but not smothered. Disciplined but not crushed. Steve understands about that; he had to start out providing for himself pretty early, too, and he knows just how to give Clint a little authority and a lot of easy time to be young.
And Phil just loves being in the first flush of hormonal young love. He was the first, he started this whole thing-- well, Steve started this whole thing by being a grade-A jackass in shoes, but Phil forgave him and it was him and Clint who taught Steve how to do this, hot and sexy, chaste and sweet.
Tony is maybe twelve. It's hard to tell, generally, but the fact that he's actually wearing safety equipment and not working with anything that explodes means he's on the younger end of his scale today. He's wearing a clean white labsmock along with his gloves and safety glasses, squinting at a clear liquid in a beaker as it gets stirred by that little magnetic stirrer doohickey.
"Heya, sport," Steve greets him, heading over. He has a whole vocabulary of things that Tony thinks normal fathers call normal sons, most of which sound strange in his ears, but he’s done the research-- if old sitcoms count as research-- and it makes Tony happy. There’s not much he wouldn’t do for his kids, and he’s not going to balk at something as simple as a few nicknames and a little after-his-time slang. "What are you working on?"
"Radiation detector chemicals."
"Yeah?" Steve asks, puzzled, because don't they have those? He's seen the little badges that some of the SHIELD employees have to wear.
"Better ones," Tony says defensively, and Steve nods immediately.
"Well, of course, champ. If you're making it, it's going to be the best." That cheers his son up considerably, and Tony preens under the attention. "You know your old man's not much of a science whiz, but do you think you could tell me all about it?"
Tony beams openly and scootches sideways to make room for Steve in front of the beaker. Steve throws his arm over his son, leaning in with him to look for the color change that's supposed to be happening to show that it's ready to precipitate into its crystalline form, and listens to Tony's slightly meandering, very proud explanation. It goes about a mile over Steve's head, of course, but about the gist of it is that unlike the stuff that's already being made, these will test how fast radiation is ... radiating... in a given area instead of just totalling it all up.
"And!" Tony adds proudly, "I have a much finer detection on gamma particles! Bruce is helping me test it!"
Steve's stomach sinks. When Bruce 'helps' in the lab, it's usually as unwitting guinea pig, and he looks around worriedly. There's a hunched shape inside a blanket-fort constructed over Dumm-E's helpful arm, just a curled up silhouette boy with a silhouette pen doodling on something. "Tony, you know you're not supposed to test experiments on your little brother--"
"It's not going to hurt him," Tony says, but he does sound a little uncertain.
Bruce lifts the wall of his blanket fort and peeks out. "Daddy, I have stickers!"
Little laminated strips are plastered all over him, one on each cheek and some up his arm, one lodged in his curly hair. Steve stifles a laugh and heads over, dropping to his knees and surveying the damage.
The little strips all have different ranges of numbers, labeled mSv/hr, but none of the star-shaped detector patches have changed color. Steve carefully takes them off one by one, finally finding one that has changed, on Bruce's cheek-- his little boy is apparently emitting somewhere between 1 and 2 µSv/hr.
Which is actually slightly worrying.
"Tony, is one and a half -- uh, U-S-V's bad?"
"Mu not U, Dad. MicroSievert. Just barely above the background," Tony says helpfully, and Steve nods and pretends he wasn't concerned. Because honestly, of course they would have said something much earlier if there was a problem, he just worries about his boys. Especially his curly-haired moppet. Bruce is the baby of all the boys, of course he worries.
"Thanks, champ. You're a real smart kid, you know that?"
Tony beams and goes back to his experiment.
Bruce crawls out of his blanket fort and deposits himself in Steve's lap, shoving his face against Steve's shoulder and throwing his arms tight around him.
(He knows-- it's awful-- how much it means to Bruce to have a father who doesn't hit, doesn't yell. It makes him guilty, from time to time, how much he loves to be able to fill that need up with smiles and cuddles. Bruce asks so little, and it’s so easy to give. He’s glad for his huge body, his super strength, because he can lift and cuddle and carry his youngest boy around all he needs, but never, ever hurt him. Tony gets spanked, when he’s bad. Bruce very much does not. It’s not that Steve’s afraid of what would happen-- it’s that he’d never raise a hand to a child so young.)
"Did you have a good day?" Steve asks gently. Bruce babbles against his shoulder, not entirely understandable, but apparently Mom read him a story and he watched Clint play Mario and he got stickers and he drew a picture.
"For you!" Bruce clambers back out of his arms and hands a smudgy crayon picture to Steve, big brown eyes alight.
"That's pretty!" Steve exclaims at the brightly colored-- uh, looks like maybe an atom, or a molecule. Possibly just squiggles connecting circles in a slightly lopsided lattice, but Bruce's doodles tend to have a theme. "Want to tell me about it?"
"I drew Daddy's shield!" Bruce declares proudly. "I drew it really really big! That's a little little piece, there are a million billion trillion of them."
"Oh!” Steve can actually work that one out, thankfully. He won’t need Tony to decode for him today. “Why, that's the nicest Vibranium atom anyone's ever drawn me," he says, touched, and kisses one of Bruce's dimpled cheeks. The boy giggles happily.
Steve feels eyes on the back of his head, and looks back to see Tony looking unhappily at the pair of them. The solution Tony was working on has turned a dark red, and Steve wishes he hadn't missed that, since Tony obviously wanted him to see. He holds out a hand. "Hey, kiddo, want to come over? You can tell me and Bruce about how you made Vibranium."
Tony's a jealous little guy, starved for his dad's attention, but fortunately he dotes over his baby brother and thrives on his awe almost as much as on Steve's affection. He makes a show of considering it sulkily, but comes over to flop down crosslegged next to Steve and his pout eases up when Bruce sits down against him and looks up lovingly.
They talk about things that Steve doesn't really understand much, in what might as well be a secret language. Some of the things that Tony says make Bruce giggle hugely and put his hands over his mouth. Steve doesn't have to understand; he's just happy to see his kids having fun.
After half an hour Tony's wound down and Bruce's attention span has long since failed him, sending the little boy back into his blanket tent to draw arc reactors, Steve stretches and hops to his feet, holding a hand up for Tony.
"Can we watch Bill Nye after dinner?" Tony asks hopefully.
"Well, I'm going down to the range with Clint right after dinner," Steve allows, and Tony's face falls. "BUT, since it isn't a school night, I think just this once you can stay up an extra hour and watch a movie with me and Mom, huh?"
"Cool!" Tony says excitedly. “I get to pick.”
“As long as it’s something we all can watch,” Steve adds.
"Me too," Bruce pipes from the tent.
"Of course, honey," Steve promises, well aware that Bruce will be out like a light within the first fifteen minutes. "Take care of your little brother, okay?" He ruffles Tony's hair. "You're my big guy, I know you can do it."
Tony puffs up. The kid may whine about chores, but there's something about Steve giving him responsibility that he responds to, opens right up to. "Can do, Dad."
(Steve knows, he wishes he didn't, he wishes it hadn't happened, but he knows that Howard never told Tony how great a kid he was, how many expectations he had, how proud he was. He'd waited too long and Tony had just starved for it, starved for a father who was proud of him and who trusted him to do all the big things he could do.
When it started, Tony had joked a lot about being spanked, and there’ve been a few times where that’s been necessary, but by and large he gets so wrapped up in enjoying his childhood that he just forgets to act out and try to goad Steve into discipline.)
"I love you, kiddo," Steve tells him firmly. "You're just so smart I can't even believe it sometimes. You make your old man proud."
Tony gives a little scoff, obviously practicing for when he gets around Clint's age, but his eyes gleam with suspicious moisture. Steve hugs him and pretends not to notice.
He heads out of the lab, conscious of the hour, and wishes they had more time. It's hard, dividing his attention up between three rambunctious boys and one very shy little girl, harder because they never have a whole day at a time for this-- even nights like this are rare, when they all have six hours together to get to that place in their brains where they're a family, a happy, cozy little family.
He envies Thor, who got a few extra hours with the kids-- then again, they can be a handful, too, and Thor has to juggle all of them at once with no help when Steve’s not around. Which he does with a patience so profound and so unlike his temper in battle that Steve is always amazed.
He should go tell Thor so, so he takes the elevator, passes a more rumpled Clint and Phil in front of the TV, doing what looks suspiciously like SHIELD paperwork-- their ‘homework’, somehow easier to stomach sandwiched with cartoons and youthful high spirits-- with desperate innocence. Phil needs to tuck his shirt back in and do something about the hickey showing just above his t-shirt collar, but Steve's not going to be the one to broach that awkward subject. He gives them both a nod and a smile as he heads past on his way to the kitchen.
The smell of roasting meat greets him before he even opens the door, and there's a sweet edge to it that promises one heck of a dessert.
"Honey? How was your day? Did the kids behave?" he asks, stepping into the brightly lit kitchen, inhaling another big breath of that wonderful smell.
Thor purses his lips in thought, tipping his head to one side. When he's dressed as Mrs. Rogers he wears his hair in two braids, and one slips across his shoulder very prettily right now. "I cannot say that the day was without incident," he says slowly. "But all in all with such healthy children as we have it was as good as could be expected. Not a bad day at all. There is some destruction in the pantry, as Bruce was helping me to bake, but it is only flour. I bathed him," he adds, with a wry twist of a smile that tells Steve what an adventure of squirmy, reluctant Bruce that had been. "And gave him to his brother's care."
"Tony put radioactivity sensors all over him," Steve chuckles. "But they were okay."
"Splendid. And you, my husband?" Thor crosses the kitchen and drapes his arms over Steve's shoulders. "How fare you? Did you lay waste to our foes?"
"Wish I did, but SHIELD frowns on me laying waste paper-pushers and diplomats," Steve says.
"And yet they can never defeat you, armed with red tape though they are," Thor says proudly. "My warrior husband."
(The ideas about a wife and mother that the rest of the male Avengers seem to have are as foreign to Thor as their masculine compliments are to Steve. He goes along with it like a champ, he did a lot of sitcom research with his Doctor Foster about gender roles, but a lot of it’s pretty nonsensical and quaintly Midgardian as far as he’s concerned.
Being a mother-- separate from the heels and the checked aprons and the confinement to the house-- means something to Thor, something deep and a little sad. Steve has never asked if this has anything to do with his brother being able to get pregnant because that’s pretty high up there on the list of conversations he doesn’t want to have. But the care he uses for the kids, it’s real and it’s vast.
The dressing up thing, the dresses and aprons and braids and shoes, that’s just stageplay to Thor, but he enjoys the game. And that does have something to do with the time he had to dress up as a woman to get Mjolnir back from a giant, which information Thor readily volunteered. Thor happily admits that his favorite part of the whole fiasco was murdering Thrymr; Steve considers himself pretty lucky that Thor has an entirely different agenda when he’s dressing up for him.)
Thor leans in for a kiss-- down, really, the white pumps don't have much of a heel but it's enough to make the differences in their heights pretty noticeable-- and Steve melts into it with relief. It’s home; soft and whiskery and he'd call it demure if Thor didn't have a hand on his butt.
He tweaks the straps of Thor's checkered apron. "You're biased, Mrs. Rogers."
"So speaks a man who has no stomach for dessert, Captain Rogers."
"Oh, honey, you wouldn't," Steve pleads, eyes crinkled up with a smile he can't hide, and Thor rolls his eyes.
"I would indeed, but my heart may yet be moved."
"Oh may it?" Steve leans up for a deeper kiss-- but Thor breaks it after only a second.
"Not in front of the babe."
Steve starts and realizes that they're being watched.
Natasha is a quiet presence under the kitchen table, a little ball of knees and suspicious eyes. She has a sipcup of juice beside her, a thick-paged cardboard book in front of her, and a thumb stuck in her mouth.
It's hard to pin down Natasha. She can use the toilet by herself, but not dress herself. She likes to be held, but only by her mother; Steve is barely allowed to touch her. She never speaks, at least not where Steve's ever hears her, although Bruce occasionally mentions 'Tasha says' and Thor reports a simple few words in Russian from time to time. The older boys never hear her speak either. Sometimes she's cranky, wordless tears only soothed by nursing, Thor holding her against his chest, solemnity deep as oceans.
(Steve doesn't know about her childhood. If he's being honest, he can't. He knows enough to understand that if he knew any more the anger would be too much for him to take. If he'd known there was that kind of evil in the world when he was younger, the serum would have turned him into as big a ball of rage as Bruce. All he knows is what she shares; that she likes Mommy, likes the safe warm house, and though she doesn't really like Steve to touch her or crowd her she doesn't mind his presence.)
"Hi, sweetie," he says, crouching down on his haunches, out of arm's reach to make sure she doesn’t feel boxed in.
Natasha pops her thumb out of her mouth and takes a sip of juice, staring at him silently.
"Did Mommy read you that book?"
When he points at it she looks alarmed: she abandons her juice and fumbles the book into both hands, hiding it defiantly behind her. Her thumb slips back into her mouth.
"I love you, Princess," he says softly. He repeats it in what he hopes is comprehensible Russian, but his vocabulary is still very basic and he has doubts about his pronunciation.
"She does love you, Steven," Thor says seriously as he stands up.
"I know," Steve says. "I do. She'll come out of her shell when she's ready. And I know you take good care of her. Of all of the kids. You're a hell of a lady, and I don't tell you that enough."
Thor tips his head so that he's looking at Steve through his fine, pale lashes. "I never doubt your regard, or your respect, my husband."
They stand smiling at each other for a second, just happy that they've got each other and their great little family and this lovely house.
Which he does know is a huge garish tower in the middle of a very high rent neighborhood, not a place they live but one they sleep in when they’re in town and exhausted, but it’s become so easy to just let his mind slip to one side and see it sort of like a home, a little brick house or something, with an improbably large lab in the basement, and a gun range, and a pool, but still a little house, a cramped, happy little place like Steve imagined as a kid.
And if he isn’t the kind of father he imagined being, if Thor isn’t the kind of woman he imagined being a mother to his children, that’s okay. That’s, that’s a little part of the game they keep separate and mostly in the bedroom, because they’re both out of touch in this world and it’s just such a damn relief to be strange on purpose.
Instead of the strange he can’t escape-- the future rushing up on him in a bright jumble-- he makes this little corner of it his own, sets the rules and gets to have a little fun breaking them. The Good Mrs. Rogers who’s secretly got a dick like a hammer, the good Captain Rogers who’s secretly more than a bit of a fairy in the bedroom.
Thor can see it on his face, and smiles indulgently.
"Now, my big man. Calm yourself. You must fetch the boys for dinner."
"Ma’am, yes, ma'am." Steve winks, and Thor tuts in mock-outrage and scoots him out the door with a swat on the rear.
He chuckles right out into the living room--
"Ew, Dad, don't get weird with Mom," Clint groans, shielding his eyes with a sheet of his ostensible homework.
Phil looks back at his own papers studiously, obviously wanting to be left out of it.
"Tuck in your shirt, Clint, wash your hands," Steve says. "And do something about your collar." He ignores Phil slapping a hand to his own neck with a sudden look of horror. "Dinner's in five. I'm getting your brothers."
But the elevator is already opening to admit Tony-- minus gloves and labcoat, plus one of Bruce's colorful arc-reactor drawings taped proudly to his chest, safety glasses forgotten on his face.
Steve plucks them off fondly, squeezes his shoulder. "Where's Bruce?"
"Asleep?" Tony says, not sounding sure.
Well, either he's napping safely or he's being dangerously quiet. That could be very bad--
“Tony, I asked you to keep an eye on him.”
Tony’s eyes widen. “I-- Dad, I forgot.”
“We’ll talk about this later. Clint, make sure your brother washes his hands I have to go--”
Clint’s already greeting his younger brother with a hearty ‘science squirt!’ and making mostly peaceful brotherly overtures that may involve some roughhousing, and Steve spares a thought for all the breakable things in the living room, but there are even more breakable things in the lab--
He skips the elevator to jog the stairs, just to let out a sigh when he finds that Bruce has colored himself out and is curled up under a lopsidedly tucked-in blanket taking a nap after all. There’s a robot hovering over him protectively, no longer doing duty as a tent-pole and going for guard dog now.
"Thanks, Dumm-E," Steve says politely, never sure how much Tony's less vocal robots actually understand. He gets what may be a wave or a thumbs up, though, and a pleased sounding whir. He thinks.
Bruce wakes up when Steve folds back the blanket, rubbing his eyes and squinting.
"M'sleepy," Bruce objects.
"I know," Steve croons, and crouches to pick him up. He's too big to just put over his shoulder, but Steve can carry him easy with one arm under his legs and the other behind his back. "But Mommy made a big dinner and there's apple pie for dessert.”
"Pie?" Bruce creaks, and yawns. “I helped make pie.”
"And I bet it’s going to be delicious,” Steve says cheerfully. He carries Bruce upstairs, gets him ensconced on his seat-- one of the low chairs from the living room-- which lets him boost Bruce up on two thick Manhattan phonebooks-- and everyone else gets settled for dinner around them. Natasha perches carefully on Thor’s massive lap, to be half handfed and half-trusted with a spoon. Which is usually a bit of a mess.
Clint complains about the hearty meat pie basically on the principle that it's neither pizza nor a burger, but eats two servings and potatoes and nearly a plateful of the green beans-- which taste suspiciously like they've been cooked in bacon fat. Just about everything involves meat with Thor. Steve should probably say something about nutrition to the lady of the house, but he just really likes having bacon whenever he wants and as many servings as he wants and they don't do this often enough for anyone to have a real health problem.
"Did it again, honey," he says, beaming at Thor. "It's perfect."
"Is it not my wifely duty?" Thor asks, irony crackling at the edges in his bright smile. "To make a house and home and feed my children and husband?"
"I can think of another wifely duty," Steve says, reacting to that smile, so it comes out a little less innocently than he meant to, and Clint gags and theatrically falls off his chair.
Natasha and Buce ignore this, concerned with picking at their food, Phil goes red, and Tony looks confused.
"Ignore your father, my dear ones," Thor says loftily. "He is a man and they are oft consumed with a single thought."
Tony wrinkles his nose. "What thought, Mom?"
"I will tell you when you are older, little scholar," Thor says solemnly, to Tony’s protest and Clint’s renewed gagging.
Steve can't help it. He just laughs, so happy. He loves his family, so much, and they love him back, even when he's an embarrassing old man.
First order of business after dinner is that he takes Tony to his room. It’s still Tony’s ridiculously vast room, on Tony’s private floor, but Tony looks small perched on the edge of the big bed and hunched over himself.
“Tony, I asked you to watch your little brother. The lab can be dangerous, and Bruce is little. He can’t be down there unless somebody looks after him.”
“Dumm-E can’t get me if something’s wrong.”
“I asked you to watch him.”
Tony’s eyes track to the side, nervous, and his fingers are plucking at his pants legs. “But I made Jarvis and Dumm-E.”
Tony juts a jaw at him and scowls. Steve lifts a brow.
“Something you want to say?”
“Bruce isn’t a baby. He’s four and the house can talk. He would be okay. You don’t have to spank me.”
Steve stands over him, trying not to loom too much. He shakes his head. “Tony, we all have to do our parts around here. We’re a family. And when I ask you to do something, I need you to do it, okay? I don’t want Bruce in the lab alone, and I didn’t want him to wake up alone and be scared. I make these rules for a reason.” And he enforces them for a reason. Because Tony really does have to be reminded that there are people outside of his work, because he feels better afterwards.
Tony’s cracking around the edges, less defiant at this age, eyes darting towards the door. He’s visibly afraid, the anticipation of being punished worse, really, than the actual thing. Steve draws it out for a second, looking stern, before he points at the bed.
“Trousers down, Mister, and over the bed.”
Tony still looks like he’s contemplating a dash to the door, but he complies with a shaking jaw and a defiant look on his face, eyes all watered up. He lies with his torso over the bed and his legs out behind him to support him, his white briefs looking thin and insufficient.
Steve brings his hand down, a smack across the rear that’s more sound than hurt, and Tony gives a horrified little gasp, but he stays silent through the next dozen, solid blows, but Steve has made very sure they aren’t hard enough to do real harm. The skin of his upper thighs has gone red but there won’t be much bruising under the white briefs. It was a small infraction and a small punishment.
“Pull your pants up.”
Tony does, wiping a hand across his face, smearing a faint sheen of snot and tears. Steve wordlessly offers a tissue from his nightstand.
“How are you doing, son?” Steve asks, not gentle, but the lecture’s gone out of his voice.
Tony just glares wordlessly, bottom lip shaking and eyes leaking little tracks along his face. Steve pulls out a hanky and dabs it dry.
“You know I don’t do this because I’m angry,” he says, tucking the handkerchief away, putting his hands on Tony’s shoulders.
“You hate me,” Tony says sullenly, his voice tight and hitching.
“Son, you know that’s not true.” Steve tips his chin up. “I love you. I know it’s hard, because you’re so smart and you want to do so much, I know it’s hard to remember, but it’s important.”
“A-are you still proud of me?” Tony asks, and his voice breaks.
“Of course I am. Come here.” Steve wraps his arms around him, and Tony smushes his face against Steve’s chest and starts to cry in earnest as the fear and the pain subside.
“My brave little guy,” he says. “You did good, Tony. You took it like a man.”
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you,” Steve repeats, and kisses his forehead, stroking his hair. When the crying subsides, he lets Tony go. “Go help your mom do the dishes, all right? And then after I take Clint and his friend down to the range, we’ll watch that movie.”
Tony hugs him tight, tight enough to bruise ribs if Steve weren’t a little chemically enhanced, and then the boy bolts.
Steve stands there, letting Tony go and trying not to worry too much that he hasn’t been giving enough attention to his unruly little genius, that he should be around more-- but then he heads out, because he promised Clint.
Phil comes to the range too, as a family guest. Nobody under twenty-one is allowed in without an adult-- Steve is very strict about this-- and since it means some quality time involving both his dad and ranged weapons, Clint has abided by that so far.
Steve helps Phil with target practice for a while-- if it's Phil's crush on his boyfriend's dad throwing off his aim instead of any lack of skill, well, Steve kindly ignores it. It's not the night for that, by agreement.
Clint doesn’t need the help; he outshoots both of them, of course, with his dad's gun, with his own pistol, with his bow, and Steve just whistles and slaps him on the shoulder.
"Great job, Clint."
"Yeah, whatever," Clint says, hiding a pleased smile.
"You're so amazing at that," Phil says, and Clint stands a little straighter.
"All right, boys. You know, you don't have to finish all your homework tonight-- it's the weekend. Do you want to watch a movie with the family?"
"Uh," Clint says, eyes darting to the side. "We have a big-- test. Next week. So we're going to. Uh."
"Study!" Phil interjects.
“In my room. For a while.”
"Study," Steve says dubiously, and gets Clint’s bad pokerface and Phil's wide-eyed cringe in return. "...All right, you boys. Keep it down, up there."
"We will!" Clint grabs Phil's hand and yanks him bodily towards the door.
“Clint,” Steve says firmly, stopping them in their tracks. “I didn’t raise you to leave a mess.”
Clint juts his jaw and reluctantly comes back, and Steve takes the broom off the wall and hands it to him with a no nonsense expression.
“Fiiiiine,” the teenager huffs, and starts to sweep up the spent shells.
“You don’t have to do that, Phil--” he says as their guest grabs for the dustpan.
“It’s okay, Captain Rogers,” Phil promises. “I do this at home, too.” Steve nods approvingly at him, and quickly breaks down the guns to clean them up .
The boys are done before he is, dashing out the door hand in hand, and this time he lets them go, doing the last tidying and locking the guns away.
By the time he makes it up to the livingroom, Thor, Tony, Bruce, and Natasha are already installed around the widescreen. There's a golden crawl slowly making its way up the screen: Tony's mouthing along, "Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents," and Bruce is sliding off the couch and trying to crawl back up legs first because he thinks it's all pretty boring until the robots show up.
Thor is on the couch too; he has Natasha curled up against his chest, rocking her in time with the bass-line of the score. She’s sucking on her thumb sleepily, probably will be really asleep before too long.
Steve reluctantly takes the armchair. He'd been hoping to cozy up to Thor, but this is mother-daughter time and it is sacred. He blows his wife a kiss instead, and Thor gives him a little nod that promises quality time when the kids are in bed.
The Star Destroyer comes into view on the big TV, and Bruce stops fidgeting to watch. He looks bright-eyed enough that Steve wonders if he’ll make it to the half hour mark, but then again, he knows how quickly his son’s energy burns down this far past his bedtime. Steve settles in, because he loves this one.
After the movie Steve put a softly snuffling Bruce to bed and Thor settled Natasha in; Tony was already napping with a book under his cheek, the older boys were studying, and all together that means Captain and Mrs. Rogers have ten minutes to themselves. They’re not letting it go to waste.
Thor is making little whimpering noises, overly affected but even more stimulating because he's pretending to be so soft and ladylike, and Steve is riding over him, straddling his massive thighs and just slamming down onto his dick over and over as hard and as fast as he can stand.
"Is it good, honey?" he grunts. "Oh, I just can't get enough of you. You're. So. Good."
"Oh, oh, Steven," Thor coos, his hands bruisingly tight on Steve’s hips, a growling edge on his voice that means he's close to breaking character, falling apart. "Oh, husband. Oh-- by the Norns! Steven, stop."
"What?" Steve groans, and then follows Thor's pointing finger. "Oh my--" horror puts a quick damper on his mood very fast, because Natasha is standing in the doorway. “Sweetie, you’re supposed to be in bed--”
Natasha stares piercingly at him as he disentangles from Thor, wincing a little, and hops into the nearest pants.
“I will put her back to bed,” Thor groans, wrangling a blanket over himself as he casts around for his robe.
“вода,” Natasha says abruptly, and jams her thumb in her mouth again.
‘Vodah’. Steve knows that one, fortunately, because he’d hate to screw up a calendar event like this-- Natasha actually speaking to him. “...You want a glass of water?”
“Yes,” Thor confirms quietly. “My littlest, will you permit your father to fetch it for you? Your mother is yet... somewhat indisposed.” Has to go put an icepack on his crotch, he means.
“We should check on the kids anyway,” Steve says, trying not to sigh. “It’s late.” They check on everyone. Anyone who’s actually gone to sleep will probably wake up tomorrow clear-headed, but they like to be sure-- and considering how Tony was looking tonight, he may need more aftercare than usual.
“Indeed,” Thor says glumly; it echoes Steve’s own reluctance to let the scene end. “But let Natasha have her water. I will look in on the younger boys, will you see that Clint and his guest are well?”
“Let me talk to Tony? He was feeling down earlier.” And that means brutal cutting sarcasm coupled with a need to be held afterwards.
Thor nods again. “Then I will see to Clint. Be well--” he glances at Natasha. “Husband.”
Ten, twenty more minutes and then things go back to normal around here. It’s probably for the best, these scenes (Clint taught him ‘scenes’, he can’t help but think ‘games’), they can’t last forever. It would probably start to get stressful. But Steve sort of wishes they had long enough to actually find that out first hand.
Natasha actually lets Steve walk her down the hall, to the kitchen for a glass of water, and by the time they hit the kitchen she’s herself again.
“Sorry about barging in,” she says, flat and uninflected, in a way he’s learned isn’t rude. Emotions are something she puts on like any other costume or prop for espionage; not something she bothers with when she’s at home. “I don’t really impulse control much.”
“That’s okay. You know that’s okay, right?” Steve Rogers, Family Man is evaporating, like he has to, making way for Steve Rogers, Captain America, Kinky and Slightly Worried Right Now.
“Yeah.” She gives a tiny smile, a little head tilt that’d be a sloppy kiss on the cheek and a declaration of eternal brotherhood from anyone else. “I know.”
He leans against the counter as she gets her own water, draining the cup in slow, measured swallows. She puts it neatly in the sink when she’s done, and gives him a shrewd look. “How are you?”
“Am I ever not fine?”
“Yes. Sometimes you even say so.”
All right. That’s fair. There was a while there, a few sessions at the beginning where he assumed he wasn’t supposed to have help readjusting to normality because he was in charge of things. Bad tendency.
“I’m good. I just wish we had longer. I think everyone was happy tonight.”
“You’re the neediest service top,” Natasha says blandly. “I was happy.”
“I’m glad.” He doesn’t say ‘it’s hard to tell’ because that would be cruel and it isn’t his right, but she reads it right off his face and shakes her head.
“You’ve been very good about not asking why I do what I do.”
“Keep doing that.” She purses her lips. “But I want you to know that it is very good for me. You, the orphanage, you’re Catholic?”
“In the beginning, Natasha was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of Natasha. And Natasha saw the darkness and said that it was good.”
The mild blasphemy surprises him into a smile, a chuckle that he hides in a cough. “It doesn’t go quite that way.”
She shrugs casually. “It does for me.”
“Thanks.” If he can figure out for himself what she means by that. It’s hard with her. She can undo layers of herself, she was trained to do that, but how and why she chooses to do it when she doesn’t have an assignment is sort of a terrifying mystery to him.
She nods, chin first. “Go check on Stark.”
“Will do,” he says earnestly, and she pinches him on the rear as he goes. A man could wonder what it is about this kitchen and his butt.
“You’re barely an adult,” is the first thing Tony says when Steve comes into his bedroom. “I could have fucking babysat you.”
It’s worse than he thought. Tony’s sitting in a desk chair, staring at the wall, his back very deliberately towards Steve. His shoulders are tense, he’s tense, his hair is stuck up in patches where he’s had his hands in it.
“Sure,” Steve says, feeling it out. Tony goes one of two ways, when he’s feeling let down after a scene. He either wants some sense smacked into him and be cuddled, or he wants to be allowed to vent and be cuddled, and the line between them is thin as a tripwire and about as dangerous.
“If it got you off, that would be one thing, but no. Not you. You’re Ward fucking Cleaver, you’re this sexless giving paragon--” Tony spits it.
“If I were sexless I wouldn’t be walking funny,” Steve says mildly, which at least makes Tony spin around from the desk.
“I don’t need your charity, Rogers!”
“Good, because I’m not giving you any.”
Tony makes a disgusted, angry sound.
Steve thinks that Tony just-- has trouble coming up, sometimes, gets stuck around 16 (or with Tony possibly 22, who knows) awkward and embarrassed and desperately in need of compassion that he doesn't want.
He steels himself; he walks a fine line here, and more than he's afraid of getting in trouble with Pepper-- which is not a fate he wants to court-- he doesn't want to break Tony's trust, not ever.
He strides over, Tony's eyes widening, and grabs the other man by the shirt. He hauls him out of the chair, dumps him in his massive bed, and stands over him.
"Mister, I don't appreciate that tone. This is important to me, and I'm not going to sit here and listen to you tell me I'm just in it for a laugh," he says, stabbing an accusing finger at Tony.
Tony stares at him wide eyed a second, huffs out a breath and now he's Tony-Tony, more rational, less full of paranoia, snapped out of his spiral. Though as full of piss and vinegar as ever; Steve would worry otherwise. "Did you just call me 'mister?' Come on, Rogers. Get out of character already."
"You're a jerk," Steve says mildly, and sits down on the bed beside him, flinging an arm over his shoulders.
Tony leans into him subtly, and Steve judges it both appropriate and safe to lean over and kiss him. Tony deepens it instantly, twisting around and pulling them both backwards onto the bed, pliant and clingy.
"Lightning-y," Tony says brightly, once it breaks, and crawls on top of him. "Spank me some more."
"Only if you promise not to call me Daddy," Steve says easily. "Spend tonight with Thor and me?"
"Mmm." Tony considers this with eyes lidded, but then slides off of him, rolling onto one of Steve’s arms instead. "...actually, no. Pepper's getting in tomorrow, and I don't want to be completely useless for her."
"You're a good boyfriend," Steve tells him, to get a snort of laughter from him, and wraps his arm around the other man’s shoulders. "Tell her hi for me if I'm out, all right?"
"Will do. If she has any notes about your technique I'll bring them back."
Steve's turn to chuckle disbelievingly. He lies with Tony for a few more minutes, watching and feeling him relax, his eyes lidding.
“You’re all right?”
“Yes, Dad,” Tony says longsufferingly, and Steve can’t help but smile.
“Don’t fall asleep in your clothes.”
“...And you wonder why you’re the father when we scene.”
“No, I don’t,” Steve chuckles, and kisses him on the forehead. And he does wait until Tony gets out of bed with a grumble and starts shedding clothes before he actually gets up himself. Because he knows exactly why they started calling him the ‘team dad’ and it’s got plenty to do with how much he wants (needs) to look out for his team.
...There’s never enough time for them to relax together, just these little grabbed moments, but it’s better than nothing. Tony curls up in bed and Steve pauses at the door and watches his eyes close, the reactor in his chest throwing light across his face and casting little shadows.
He finds everyone else in the kitchen-- Bruce has some of his tea supplies out and there’s water boiling in that sleek electric kettle that looks like a rocket. Clint is in an a-shirt, rumpled and looking extremely pleased and extremely well exercised as he holds up a wall. Natasha is sitting in a chair near him, a pillar of calm and interest, talking about something (maybe the tea?) with Bruce and Thor.
Coulson is waiting near the doorway in his shirtsleeves; where he was hiding the crisp white button-up, Steve doesn’t know. He does know that it helps him draw a clear dividing line between scene and not scene.
“Agent,” Steve says, offering a handshake. “Didn’t see you come in. Welcome to the tower. I’m afraid Tony’s gone to bed, or I’m sure he’d welcome you himself.”
“Thank you, Captain, but I’m not so sure of that. I’ll make my peace with it somehow,” Coulson says dryly.
Steve smiles politely at him and taps a spot just under his own ear. Coulson looks for the nearest reflective surface, sees the dark red mark, new and incriminating, and slaps a hand over it in an echo of his teenage self.
“Dammit, Barton-! Below the collar, is that so hard?”
Clint grins unashamedly from his lounge against the far wall. “Sorry, boss.”
“He isn’t,” Steve says disloyally.
“I know,” Coulson agrees with a groan. He sighs deeply, exasperated, and there’s a hitch there that catches Steve’s attention.
“How’s your chest, Agent-?”
Coulson gives him a wary look. “Fine.”
“You sure? You’ve been keeping up with your appointments?” Steve tries to ply him with his most earnest expression, but Coulson is made of pretty stern stuff, and Steve’s already squandered any leeway he had as a national icon or childhood hero. He knows. But he worries about their SHIELD agent as hard as anyone.
“I’m only the Avengers liason, Rogers. I’m not actually part of the team. I should be exempt from Team-Dad authority.”
“That’s right,” Natasha agrees. “Giving him hell about his recovery is our job.”
“I’ve seen your job description, Agent Romanoff--”
“It’s in the fine print,” Clint says, and Coulson mutters something about insubordination and gives Clint a look that implies he thinks the man’s never even met fine print.
Steve can’t keep the fond smile off his face, and when he catches Coulson looking, he leans in to peck him on the cheek.
“I like it when you can make it to family night, Phil,” he says, earnestly.
Coulson’s eyes flicker away and he tries to stifle a pleased look. “So do I.”
They all chat for a while and Bruce does his magic with the milk steamer and gets tea ready for everyone. It’s Chai again tonight, spicy and rich, supposedly decaffeinated although why you’d do that to perfectly good tea Steve doesn’t know. It’s good, anyway, and it comes with a kiss from Bruce that could put a kick in well water, so he’s not complaining.
He lets the team’s chatter just happen around him, hands wrapped around his mug and soaking up the heat. Thor meanders over. “Captain,” he says, bending over him to speak privately, loose blond hair brushing Steve’s cheek as he murmurs in his ear. “I wonder if you would join me again tonight.”
“Try keeping me away.”
Later-- much later-- the tower has finally settled in for the night.
Thor's room is something of a disaster area, strewn clothing and sturdy furniture turned over, but it's all quiet now, except for the blood rushing in Steve's ears as he comes down. A big hand traces his back, rubs from the bottom of his ribcage to his hipbone and back, soothing in the face of an ache that's going to make sitting down tomorrow really difficult.
Thor's murmuring something to him-- he focuses on it, hears a gentle nonsense litany of praises, and gratefully tunes back out, drifting in the happy afterglow of the sex and the sense of peace that family nights give him.
He knows this isn't all normal-- that plenty of things came out into the light while he was frozen, but this wasn't one of them. Heck, a few of them managing to have sex together would be something past ordinary, but all of them falling into these games with each other from time to time, it isn't a thing that happens often.
They're a unique little bunch. It couldn't work if anything was any other way-- if Pepper was a little less willing to loan out her boyfriend for a spanking and occasional sex, if they didn't all have rooms in a house that could talk to them when they came in the front door and say things like Pardon me, Captain Rogers, you may wish to avoid the gym, as Agent Barton and Mister Odinson are participating in a scene outside of your limits. If SHIELD were stricter about fraternization within ranks or with dangerous aliens, if Coulson filed reports about this more diligently. If Doctor Foster put her foot down about Thor. If any of them weren't comfortable or willing it'd make this impossible, because Steve just can't imagine leaving one person out while the rest of them got into it. It was always going to be all or nothing, and it’s pretty swell that they got 'all'.
He's glad they did, sudden and fierce. He feels like that from time to time, just breathlessly grateful that he's got this little core of happiness in a world he doesn't always fit well into.
"It's good," he says, suddenly, eyes flicking open. "Isn't it?"
"Indeed, Steven," Thor rumbles, rubbing a circle onto his lower back. "Fine and rare. I speak of our team and our family, not of your arse, but it is fine and rare as well."
"Shaddup," Steve says with a grin, and closes his eyes. Thor lies down beside him, the hand that had been soothing him settling over his hip. They don't bother with the blankets, because both of them put off heat like the sun.
His little family’s evaporated for another few months until they have the time and everyone’s in that space where they need to be someone else for a while. But he still has something, still has the connection-- his team. His people. And they’re a little like a family at that.