When he watched Tony stumble off of the spaceship at the compound, the only thought running laps around Steve's mind was about how broken and weary and tired the billionaire that usually looked so confident and indestructable looked. Steve didn't think he'd seen him that way. Ever.
And then Tony looked at him for some reason, let his shoulders collapse along with the composure he'd managed to keep on his face, and said, "I lost the kid."
Steve had no idea who the kid was. None. From what he could tell from a glance around at the remaining Avengers stood beside him, no one else had any ideas either. Apart from Rhodey and Pepper.
"Tones.." Rhodey started, and made to step forward, but Pepper beat him to it and rushed forward to wrap her arms around her fiancé, holding him together and holding him up. Her hands roamed up and down his arms as she cupped the back of his head as if reassuring herself that he was really there.
"Lost the kid." Tony repeated quietly to Pepper, his voice breaking on the last word. Steve only heard him because of his enhanced hearing, and in that moment he wished he could turn it off. The moment seemed private, and he felt like he was intruding on it.
A few minutes later as Steve watched Tony get wrangled into a wheelchair by Bruce and then wheeled into the compound, he wondered who the hell 'the kid' was.
The next time Steve heard someone mention 'the kid' was about a month later. Tony seemed to be doing better (physically, anyway) but had been having lab binges so long that even Pepper had recruited the Rogue Avengers to keep an eye on the man. Naturally, this peaked Steve's worry about the man. Their relationship was rocky, sure, but Steve still cared about Tony. He cared about him a lot, and he wanted him to be okay. He could sympathise, too. God only knew how much Steve missed Bucky; having your platonic soulmate ripped away from you only a few years after you managed to get them back hurt.
He only bothered getting properly worried after eleven days had passed. He knew Tony had supplies in the lab, and he needed time alone to grieve, but eleven days? That was a long time to isolate yourself. So, he started his trek down to the lab. He didn't really have a game plan in mind. Hopefully Tony wouldn't throw the nearest tool at him, and hopefully Tony would be willing to talk, even if it was mundane and small talk. When he reached the hallway that led to the lab, he paused. Through the window looking into the lab, he could see something that broke his heart. Tony was facing away from him, looking at a holoscreen of his computer, eyes fixated on a photograph. The picture displayed was of some lanky teenager with unruly brown curls on his head, happy brown eyes to match. And next to the kid (possibly the kid) was a Tony Stark Steve had never seen before. He was smiling so wide with genuine laughter that his eyes were crinkled up, slight wrinkles the billionaire denied the existence of showing themselves for the photo. Together, the mentor and mentee were holding a framed certificate that Steve could only read because of his enhanced eyesight. 'Stark Internship'. Definitely the kid, then.
Suddenly, Steve felt like he was intruding. He couldn't hear what was going on in the lab, but he could see Tony's shoulders shaking slightly. Maybe it would be okay to leave him for a few hours more to his grief. He knew the man would stop crying as soon as he noticed Steve's presence. So Steve started to make his way back to his room, thinking about how close Tony stood with the boy, one arm slung nonchalantly over his shoulder. They were close, clearly. As Steve waited for the elevator doors to open for him, his enhanced hearing allowed him to just about make out Tony talking to himself.
"I'm- I'm trying my best, Pete. I'm not gonna give up on you."
"I'm pregnant." Pepper finally blurted out to the Avengers, one hand gripping Tony's.
Steve's eyes flickered over to Tony, taking him in. He seemed much healthier, one year down the line. Colour was back in his cheeks, and his smile lines were starting to reappear. He thought the cabin was a nice change of pace too, even if he never could have dreamed of seeing Tony Stark in a modest cabin deep in the woods. It didn't match up with the Tony he'd met all those years ago, but he supposed the Tony sat on a couch across from him wasn't that Tony anymore, so that didn't really matter.
"How far along?" Natasha was asking, and she looked genuinely happy for the couple. A glance over at Clint, however, showed that not everyone shared those sentiments. Clint wasn't doing so well in the aftermath of Thanos either. Steve just hoped he would be able to keep it together with all of their help, and that he'd let them help him in the first place.
"I'm in the second trimester. I- We wanted to wait until there was less of a chance of... You know." Pepper hesitated, and Tony leaned over to kiss her temple in response. He seemed much more open with affection than Steve remembered pre-civil war, as well. It was nice to see.
For the next few minutes, everyone shared their congratulations with the couple, including Steve, who joked about the mini-Stark having a bunch of superheros for aunts and uncles. But Steve couldn't help but to notice how quiet Clint was. He didn't seem sadly quiet either. He seemed angry. Steve didn't want to call him out on it though, hoping this moment of everyone feeling like a family again would stick around. So he didn't. (He probably should have.)
Only a few minutes later, Clint practically exploded. It started with him huffing when Steve and Natasha said they were happy that Tony seemed to be getting better. Tony smiled weakly in response, his whole face dropping slightly at the abstract mention of the kid, and then looked at Clint with a frown.
"Why the huff, Barton? Don't like seeing your favourite billionaire happy?" He was trying to joke, but it didn't land with the archer.
"No, Stark. You know what I don't like?" He paused, but clearly didn't expect or want an answer, "I don't like that even though you have lost nothing you have been moping around like a- I don't know, like a fucking mourning parent for the past year. I am the mourning parent here! I have lost my entire family! My kids disintegrated right in fucking front of me, and here you are. Here is Mr Billionaire. Mr I lost nothing in all of this, being congratulated for being slightly happy? It's fucking bullshit. You don't deserve to act like you've lost something. Just because you lost to Thanos, doesn't mean you get to mope. You don't get that right."
There was silence after the words were rushed out, Clint taking many heavy breaths as he glared at Tony. And Tony's reaction was heartbreaking. He tried to keep it together at first, Steve could tell. He tried to put his media face on to hide how much the words hurt him, but after a moment he looked down at his lap, where he was still holding Pepper's hand. He sighed. Clint laughed darkly.
"Nothing to say, Stark? You know I'm righ-"
"No, Clint. I-" Tony didn't sound angry, just exhausted and sad, "You know you guys aren't my only friends, right? You're not my only family either. I may not have any blood related kids, but- but I had a kid. And he's gone. I watched him disintegrate too. He was begging me to- to stop it, like I could do something. He looked up to me so much and I couldn't even- I couldn't even comfort him while he was dying in my arms. So... So I think I did lose someone. I get the anger though. I get angry about it sometimes too."
It was so un-Tony for him to stay level headed as he spoke that Steve was shocked into silence for a few seconds.
"I- didn't know that. Sorry." Was all Clint could offer.
Tony offered back a weak smile, and told him it was okay. Steve wouldn't have believed him, but his expression was genuine.
As the Avengers grew closer again, Steve was honoured to be considered a part of the Stark family. He'd even babysat Morgan a few times since she'd been born and gotten her to called him uncle Steve (though it sounded more like uncky Steeb coming from her). So when it came to be her third birthday, he was excited to get to travel to the cabin and have a family barbecue celebrating her big day. She'd been excited all afternoon, taking to dragging Natasha around to show her all the toys her parents had gotten her, including a tent for their huge backyard that she said she wanted to have sleep overs in, and a pet alpaca? Apparently? Steve would have to check with Tony on that one's validity.
Later in the afternoon it was time for her presents. Steve got her a sketchbook and some pencils, as the last time he'd seen her she had been fascinated by his own sketches that he had showed her, including one of the little girl herself. She vowed to draw her own version of him on the first page, which he was both excited for and scared to see. Natasha got her some scrunchies and a playset, Thor got her a blanket that was apparently one of the warmest on Asgard, embroidered with fancy intricate patterns that probably meant something, Bruce got her a my first science kit, Nebula got her a paper football play set, and Clint got her a nerf crossbow. Tony didn't seem so happy about that one.
When it came to Rhodes' gift for her, everyone seemed a bit more subdued. Morgan opened the neatly wrapped gift to find a Spider-Man figure. Immediately she squealed and ran over to tony, who had paled slightly. The kid was still a touchy subjet for him.
"Look, daddy! It's Petey!" She squealed, practically shoving the thing into Tony's face. He smiled weakly at his daughter, seemingly having gotten over the initial shock of seeing the costume. "Can you tell me a Petey story, daddy? Want the one where- where he beats all the bad guys!"
Everyone chuckled at her request, but Tony smiled warmly at his daughter, and pulled her up to sit on his lap. There were lots of stories where Peter beat the bad guys, but Tony chose a funny one to tell Morgan, and by extension everyone else. A quick glance at Rhodes showed that the man didn't regret getting the toy for his goddaughter. He seemed to think he'd done a good thing. Maybe he had, Tony seemed to light up when he told stories about the kid.
"I don't know if I can do this, Pep." Steve was preparing himself for what he was about to do when he heard Tony on the phone.
They were in the compound, new suits on, about to... About to time travel to hopefully get the stones back and fix everything. It sounded insane, and Steve was worried it wouldn't work out. Apparently Tony was worried too.
"What if- I can't lose you and Morgan, you know? I don't- I don't know if this is worth it. What if I get hurt. I don't wanna do that to Morgan."
As soon as Steve heard that he could tell Tony just needed assurance. He needed to be told it'd be okay, even if Pepper couldn't really promise that. He needed to know Pepper wouldn't blame him if things went south. He needed to be reminded of what he would gain from this.
"I know," Tony paused, "you're right. Pete would go through with it. I just... I don't want to get my hopes up. Nothing else has worked, Pep. I can't take more false hope. I'm doing this for Pete, but I need to keep you and Morgan. I can't do this, and fail, and lose you guys too. I- you're right. No, you're right. Yeah. Okay. I love you. I'll see you when it's all over."
And that was that. Time to get the kid back. Time to get Bucky back.
Everyone was back. Steve couldn't believe it. But there was no time for reunions. Not after the stunt the kid just pulled.
Steve was running as fast as he could toward the kid, who was laying like a ragdoll in Tony's arms, the gauntlet seemingly stuck to his hand. Steve was pretty sure Tony was sobbing. As he got closer, he could hear him talking, voice broken with sobs.
"C- Come on, kid. Don't do this to me, I- I- I just got you back.. Please, Pete. Please... FRI? How is he?" He paused, sniffing as he shifted the kid in his arms to be in a more comfortable position, "Okay. Tell me if- if he stops breathing."
"Tony." Steve said, finally having reached the two. "The quinjet's on the way."
He felt uncomfortable looking at Spider-Man in the state he was in. His mask was off, showing his half charred face, and his eyes were open but unseeing. It was so unlike the happy go lucky kid he'd seen in the photo Tony kept with him. It was hard to see, and he couldn't imagine how Tony felt.
"O- Okay. The kid's strong, I- I can't lose him again, Steve."
"I know. You won't. He'll be okay." Steve knew he couldn't promise anything, but he said it anyway.
"W- Well. You finally get to... meet the kid." Tony said, another sob wracking him. "I just want him to meet his sister. He's gotta be okay."
With the sounds of the quinjet getting closer, Steve gained a bit of hope. FRIDAY hadn't said anything about Peter's vitals. He was sure it would be okay.
He had to be.