They didn’t really get it, at first.
They all thought it was some kind of trick, because of course Tony Stark would have the innocent act mastered, but from the moment they picked the kids up Tony barely said a word. He followed instructions fine and answered questions when asked directly, but didn’t otherwise speak unless spoken to and didn’t show any signs of liking or even recognizing them. Bruce tried to pick him up once, but Tony told him quietly that his father said he was too old for that. Steve chose that moment to swing backwards so he was hanging upside down off Sam’s shoulders to inform Tony that was stupid and being picked up was fun, so they didn’t hear or see Tony’s response since they all shot forward at once to stop Sam from falling over and get Steve right side up again before he fell on his head.
Steve was like that from minute one, impulsive and talkative and interested in everything. He’d warmed up to them immediately and yakked their ears off in a heavy Brooklyn accent they’d all only previously heard little slivers of, about their “funny costumes” and asking where his mom was and why they couldn’t go to his apartment instead because he didn’t want to go to any “dumb old tower”. He was a tiny little guy, probably six or so like Tony, though he looked about three in size and ten in attitude.
They went through medical first, where Steve bounced off the walls and asked a hundred more questions. He put up a bit of a fight when the doctor wanted to draw blood, demanding that she wasn’t his doctor and his mom wasn’t here so they couldn’t take his blood and he’d fight them if they tried. Put up his bony little fists and everything. It was important they get a sample so they had to hold him in place, but only after a ten minute chase through the office and out into the hallway. When they told Tony they needed to take his blood, he just held out his arm silently and didn’t so much as flinch when they pricked him.
Though they told both children they’d have to sit in someone’s lap for the car ride since there were no car seats, Steve wriggled his way out of Sam’s lap in seconds and spent the rest of the ride with his face plastered to the window. He called out every little thing he saw, chattering on and on about how he’d never seen hair like that and wow that dog was really big and look that guy’s wearing his pants wrong. Tony stayed in Bruce’s lap like he’d been told to, though Bruce noticed that as the ride went on Tony seemed to cuddle a little closer. When he put a hand on Tony’s back encouragingly, Tony ducked his head like he was ashamed and righted himself. Bruce told him repeatedly that it was fine, but Tony just gave a stiff shrug and continued not to look at him.
Once at the tower, they dug up some things for the kids to play with—the superhero action figures a toy company had sent them for approval, paper and pens, and Clint had play-doh for reasons he refused to tell them—and let them play in the rec room under watchful eye. None of them had excessive experience with children, but Thor had assured them the spell only lasted 24 hours so Bruce figured they could probably wing it well enough.
Steve tried to engage with Tony, but Tony only seemed to interpret it as him being in Steve’s space, so he kept moving away to give Steve room when Steve brought his toys over. Steve refused to give up though, just kept moving every time Tony did in a circle around the room. Tony finally seemed to get the picture after a couple tries, because he picked up the Iron Man figure he’d been playing with and turned it over in his hands thoughtfully, shooting furtive glances at Steve. He stood and turned to offer it to Steve, but unfortunately, Steve stood up at the same time and Tony’s attempt at passing the toy came across as a shove. Steve hit the ground with a thud and Tony looked horrified, but Steve didn’t seem to pick up on that.
“Hey!” Steve pushed himself back up. “Fine, I didn’t wanna play with you anyway, y’big jerkface!”
Steve went around gathering up his toys, while Tony just stood still, watching him. It wasn’t until Steve kicked the Iron Man toy before marching off that Tony’s shoulders started to shake, then before any of them knew it the little boy was absolutely sobbing.
“Hey, whoa, it’s okay, buddy.” Bruce quickly got up, went over to him. He patted Tony’s back in a way he hoped was at least a little soothing. “He didn’t mean it, he just thought—”
“He jus’ doesn’t like me,” Tony said miserably, like it had been some sort of inevitability, and Bruce’s heart twisted in his chest a little. That was the first thing Tony had said unprompted all day.
“No, no, I’m sure that’s not true.” He tried to go for comforting, but he probably came across as slightly panicked. “Tell him that’s not true, Steve.”
“I don’t like him,” Steve declared instead, puffing his little chest up and making a face at Bruce, then at Tony, “He pushed me, Ma says I don’t gotta tol’rate bullies.”
“He was trying—” Bruce started, but Tony was crying even harder now at Steve’s words and that sort of took precedence.
He crouched down to give Tony a hug and fully expected resistance, expected squirming and pushing and ‘leave me alones’, but Tony just hurled himself into Bruce’s arms and clung tightly, burying his tear-streaked face in Bruce’s shoulder.
Sam joined them, crouching down next to Steve. “For someone who doesn’t like bullies, you sure don’t seem to care that Tony’s crying pretty hard there.”
Steve made another face, more conflicted this time. His eyebrows scrunched together and Bruce could see the doubt in his expression as his mouth twisted a little. “I didn’t know he’d cry.”
“I think…” Sam paused, and Bruce could tell he couldn’t believe he was even saying it, “I think Tony might be a little sensitive. You shouldn’t say stuff like that in the future, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” Steve muttered, like the half-apology was sour in his mouth. He shuffled his feet for a minute before prodding Tony’s shoulder awkwardly to get his attention. “Hey, I didn’t mean’a make you cry.”
Tony sniffled a little more, buried his face deeper in Bruce’s shoulder and mumbled something no one could make out.
“I think he said it’s okay,” Steve attempted, but Sam gave him a look so Steve sighed and tried again.
“C’mon, it’s no big deal, I jus’ called you jerk’s all. I know lots’a worse words,” Steve said, and wow, for someone Bruce knew to be a generally kind person, young Steve seemed to be utterly horrible at apologies. Sam exchanged a look with Bruce over the kids’ heads.
“Did you mean what you said, Steve?” Sam tried to lead him in a better direction.
“Well, yeah.” Steve gave Sam an odd look. “I was tryin’a be friendly and he went’n shoved me.”
Tony started crying anew, his despondent ‘I didn’t mean tos’ almost entirely unintelligible, and Bruce gave up. He hadn’t held a whole lot of children—it wasn’t even a Hulk thing, he’d just never really been a fan—but he managed not to drop Tony as he stood up. He cradled Tony as best he could, which wasn’t particularly hard to do considering how tightly Tony was clinging to him, and glanced around the room.
“I think maybe we should separate them, at least for a bit. Give them a breather,” Bruce told the group at large, though he didn’t actually move to go anywhere.
He liked Tony, of course he did, but he’d never been good with children and it would definitely be better for everyone if he stuck to periphery assistance. No one volunteered to take Tony from him, though. Natasha had long left the room if not the state, disappearing the moment the team meeting ended with no clear intentions of returning. Bruce couldn’t blame her. Clint too was keeping his distance, not far but definitely not close, watching the kids interact with wary eyes and an expression that implied he was still half-expecting one of them to explode. Tony’s crying had sent him even farther away, and he was now on the other side of the couch. Sam had Steve and Rhodey was still another hour away, so Bruce was considering calling Pepper when Thor stepped forward.
“I have an idea for a game we might play, Tony.” Thor didn’t take Tony from him, just approached slowly and bent a little so he was at eye level. Tony looked up, hesitant and shyly curious, but didn’t say anything. Thor continued as if he had. “I’m quite certain you’ll like it. It’ll be a bit of a challenge for you at first, but I think a curious fellow like you enjoys a challenge. In fact, I’d bet my hammer you’re very good at most games, aren’t you?”
“Jarvis plays with me sometimes,” Tony told him like it was a secret, little more than a whisper. Thor smiled kindly.
“And do you win?”
Tony ducked his head a little, but a small, slightly proud smile twitched at his lips. “Mostly.”
“Then I keep my hammer,” Thor teased, “But I’ll bet you’ve never played my game before. It’s not of your realm, at least not that I’ve seen.”
Tony was obviously curious now, wiping his tears with his forearm, squabble forgotten in light of a new game. Bruce expected him to ask Thor to teach him, but he didn’t. He just waited quietly, hope bright in his eyes.
“Would you like to come with me and learn?” Thor extended his hands in an offer to take him and Tony went immediately, nodding eagerly. Thor continued to talk as he lifted Tony into his arms, sparing Bruce and the others a small nod as he left the room with Tony in tow. “The ball we’ll use is from my realm, too. I think you’ll be quite fascinated by it alone. We can take it apart together, if you’d like. There are many like it so breaking it is of no concern, though you might wish to play the game first, as I only have one with me—”
There was a moment of silence once they were gone, before Clint piped up with, “So can anyone else not get the sight of Tony Stark crying out of their head?”
“He’s six at best.” Sam glanced up at Clint, a little reproving. “You didn’t cry when you were six?”
Clint put his hands up. “I’m just saying. I mean, come on, I can’t be the only one who expected a little more oomph out of the kid.”
Silently, Bruce couldn’t help but agree. He knew grown up Tony had more emotional depth than people typically gave him credit for, but Bruce would never have pinned him as particularly sensitive the way little Tony seemed to be. All Steve had done was call him a jerk, after all. Tony heard worse all the time from the press, hate mail, even passerby; Bruce wondered briefly what Tony might’ve been like if he’d grown up outside of the public eye.
“I’m gonna need more paper,” Steve announced, interrupting his thoughts. When they turned to look at him, he cleared his throat a little. “Please.”
“You wanna draw some more, huh?” Sam glanced around the living room, like there might be an open notebook lying somewhere. Steve was the only artist in the building, they didn’t exactly keep loose paper around. “I’ll find something. You wouldn’t happen to know where you kept your art stuff, would you?”
Steve shrugged helplessly. “I don’t remember.”
What the kids remembered seemed to be the kind of mishmash only magic could produce. They seemed to know they were adults once, seemed to instinctively trust the people they previously trusted—and mistrust the ones they didn’t, as Steve’s earlier attempt at a flying kick attack on Fury had shown—though they also seemed to think they’d been children for years. The timeline was a bit fuzzy, there, and details were a complete lost cause. They must have remembered some things though, because the moment Steve got a crayon in his hand he drew Iron Man. It was somewhat crude, obviously, but there weren’t too many red and gold things flying through the sky these days.
“You know who that is, right?” Sam prompted, checking Steve’s memory, and Steve rolled his eyes without pausing his drawing.
“Nah, stranger-bots fly me ‘round all the time.”
Sam put his hands in the air innocently. “I was just asking.”
“Course I know it’s Tony,” Steve elaborated, with just a hint of exasperation, “The card’s for Tony, why would I draw someone else?”
Steve continued to draw while Bruce made them all something to eat. The battle during which Loki zapped their leaders left them all exhausted and hungry, but no one seemed willing to slink off for a nap while they had unexpected kids on their hands. They could at least eat, anyway. By the time Bruce put the finishing touches on their food, Steve had turned his card into at least ten, each one with a different picture of Captain America and Iron Man together.
“How many are you going to make?” Clint asked as they shuffled the art stuff away to make room on the table for food.
“As many as it takes.” Steve tipped his chin up like he was daring someone to tell him to stop, and Bruce stifled a laugh. It was a little out of place at the moment, but Steve’s determination seemed the same as always.
“Twenty bucks says Tony forgives him with one.” Clint tapped the one nearest to him, one of Iron Man shooting what Bruce thought might be a repulsor beam, though it was purple and separated like bullets, at Cap’s shield. “That sensitive little flower we just met doesn’t seem like the grudge type.”
“You’re makin’ fun’a him.” Steve’s eyes narrowed, like he’d been challenged personally. “That’s not nice, he can’t help it.”
“You’re the one who made him cry in the first place.” Clint looked torn between laughter and disbelief.
“But I didn’t mean to,” Steve stressed, “You’re bein’ mean on purpose.”
“I’m getting a morality lesson from a six year old.” Clint snickered.
“Cause you need one!” Steve stuck his tongue out, which only slightly undermined his point.
“Why am I not surprised that Clint’s getting into an argument with a kid?” Rhodey said by way of greeting as he entered the kitchen, grinning a little until he glanced around and it dropped. “Where’s Tones? Tell me you didn’t lose—”
“Relax,” Sam assured the now somewhat panicked-looking Rhodey, “He’s with Thor.”
“Oh, thank god. If Tony as a kid has any of the wild streak of Tony in college, we shouldn’t take our eyes off him.” Rhodey laughed a little, until he noticed the room remained largely silent. Bruce exchanged a glance with Sam and Clint. Rhodey noticed, raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“He’s actually…” Bruce started, but wasn’t quite sure what words to use.
“Not what you’d expect,” Sam finished.
“Total crybaby,” Clint added, clearly only trying to rile Steve up. It worked, and Steve puffed up with indignation.
“Hey!” Steve stood up on his chair and planted his hands on his hips, like the increased height would somehow help his argument. “He can’t help if he cries easy, that jus’ means he’s got lots’a feelings. More feelings than a big dumb jerk like you.”
“Oh no!” Clint made a sound of mock pain, putting a hand over his heart. “Now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings.”
“Faker,” Steve declared. He dropped back down to his seat, pulled up a new sheet of paper and informed Clint perfunctorily, “I’m’a make Iron Man drop you off’a building.”
Clint just snorted, unperturbed. Sam, trying not to laugh, pointed out, “That seems harsh.”
“’s justice,” Steve decided, “Cause Clint made fun’a him.”
Rhodey laughed. “If that’s Captain America’s idea of justice, I’m concerned.”
“They remember bits and pieces of their adult life, but for the most part their brains seem wired like when they were young,” Bruce told him, “I doubt they’re past basic pre-conventional moral reasoning—do something bad, something bad gets done to you.”
“Huh.” Rhodey absorbed that. “Makes as much sense as the rest of this mess, I guess. What’s this about Tony crying easily?”
“He’s been quiet since he changed,” Bruce elaborated a little, “Hasn’t said much of anything. Then he accidentally bumped Steve, who took it personally and called him a jerk, and Tony just…”
“Erupted,” Clint offered.
“Kind of.” Bruce shrugged. That was how it’d felt, anyway. “He thought Steve didn’t like him anymore.”
“Pre-boarding school years.” Rhodey tilted his head, seemed to think about it. “Guess that makes sense. Tony told me once Howard sent him off because he thought Tony was too soft, I just always sort of assumed Howard had a shitty definition of what made a kid soft.”
“Ma says that’s a bad word,” Steve informed Rhodey.
“Well.” Rhodey ruffled Steve’s hair as he passed him to steal a roll off the table. “Tell your Ma that you swear more than I do these days.”
Steve gaped indignantly. “I do not!”
“Oh, you definitely do,” Clint hummed his agreement, getting up to start setting out utensils while Bruce carried the food over.
“Nu-uh, Ma’d wash my mouth out if I did!”
“For real?” Clint made a face. “Soap and everything?”
“Soap and everything,” Steve confirmed with a nod.
“The thirties sucked.” Clint snorted.
“You joining us for lunch?” Bruce offered to Rhodey.
“Sounds good.” Rhodey looked over the meal. “But I want to see Tony first. JARVIS?”
“Young Sir is on Thor’s floor,” JARVIS relayed, “I have informed them food is being served, they will be down momentarily.”
“Is he feeling any better?” Bruce asked.
“Young Sir seems to be enjoying himself mightily, yes,” JARVIS answered, a hint of amusement noticeable even in his modulated tone. Little Steve suddenly deflated, looked truly upset for the first time all day.
“What’s wrong, Steve?” Sam leaned over, squeezed his shoulder. Steve didn’t answer, just jerked his shoulder away and stared down at his latest picture for a moment before angrily balling it up and throwing it on the floor. “Hey, that was a really nice one, what are you—”
But Steve ignored him, shoved his chair back from the table and hopped off, storming away moodily.
“What was that about?” Rhodey stared after him.
“Dibs on not going after him.” Clint touched his nose. “Nose goes.”
Bruce didn’t touch his nose, naively assuming Sam or Rhodey would be responsible and go after the kid. He turned to pick up the serving platter; when he turned back, he was faced with a kitchen of adults with their fingers on their noses. Bruce sighed, shooting a half-hearted glare at Sam and Rhodey.
“You know, I expected this from Clint.”
“I came to help with Tony,” Rhodey said, “I made no promises about baby supersoldiers.”
“’m not a baby!” Steve shouted angrily from the hall, and they all exchanged a glance, unaware he’d been nearby enough to listen in. Bruce waited for Rhodey or Sam to change their minds, but they both guiltily looked away. Clint unashamedly met his eyes and mouthed fuck that, man.
Bruce deposited the platter on the table, with admittedly slightly more force than necessary, before going after Steve. He didn’t have to go far. The boy was just a few feet from the doorway, back pressed to the wall and knees curled up to his chest. Bruce joined him on the floor. Steve said nothing.
“So, you seem angry.”
“Am not,” Steve mumbled into his knees.
“I know a little something about being angry,” Bruce told him, “And the part where you crumpled up a perfectly nice drawing and stomped out of the room? It seemed a little angry.”
“How come Tony likes Thor but not me?” Steve asked without looking at him. “I wanted to play with him, I tried to play with him, but he jus’ pushed me down.”
“He didn’t push you, Steve,” Bruce corrected gently, “He was trying to hand you a toy and you bumped into each other.”
“Oh,” Steve said quietly. Bruce nodded and let him take that in. Steve turned to him, asked dismally, tears in his eyes, “He’s never gonna wanna be my friend now, huh?”
“Of course he wants to be your friend,” Bruce assured quickly, leaning over to wrap an arm around Steve’s tiny shoulders. “Tell you what, you’ve still got a lot of pictures back in the kitchen. Why don’t you give them to him when he comes down?”
“They’re dumb.” Steve wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, still scowling at his knees.
“No, they’re nice, and Tony will love them,” Bruce told him honestly. He knew full well that they could look utterly awful and Tony at any age would still be completely thrilled. “Trust me, alright?”
“Yeah.” Steve nodded resolutely, drawing himself up with a big gulp of air and a determined sort of look. “Yeah, okay. I'll give him the pictures, an' say sorry f'real, an' then we'll be best friends and draw a whole bunch'a new pictures together.”
Bruce smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”
“Dr. Banner, Thor and Sir are approaching,” JARVIS informed him.
“Good.” Bruce stood. “We’ll have some lunch, and—”
Bruce heard the duo before he saw them, a whoosh of air and a child’s whoop of delight, then Thor came quite literally flying down the hall with his hammer extended in one hand and the other holding Tony secure. Thor skidded to a stop in front of them, eyes light with amusement while Tony all but vibrated with excitement in his arms. The boy didn’t verbalize it, which was still so strange to Bruce when he thought of how incessantly Tony talked now, but he was clearly having the time of his life.
“Me next!” Steve leapt to his feet, grabbing onto Thor’s pantleg. “Me next me next me next! Can we fly outside? How high can we fly? Can you fly into outer space? Aren’t you from outer space? Can we fly t’your planet? Please please please—”
Thor laughed. “I’m afraid not, little friend, it is not so simple. Though I can certainly give you a turn after lunch if you’d like—”
“Inside,” Bruce was quick to add. Unlikely though it may be, it seemed he was the designated responsible adult in this ridiculous situation. “You can have a turn inside. Maybe in the gym, since it’s nice and big?”
Thor nodded, understanding and a little amused. “The gym it is. How does that sound, Steve?”
“Aw, I wanted t’fly outside.” Steve pouted a little, but Bruce was quick to steer him back towards the kitchen and food, which might lighten his mood before they had another meltdown on their hands.
“We can’t let the media know you’re children, they’d have a field day,” Bruce told him. It was half true, at least. The Avengers also didn’t need any press that involved headlines like “demigod accidentally drops and kills superchildren”, but Steve didn’t seem particularly concerned with his own safety at this age. Or any age, really.
“I guess,” Steve mumbled a little, but his disappointment was overshadowed as they entered the kitchen and Tony caught sight of Rhodey. He jerked in surprise, almost bonking his head against Thor’s chin, and his eyes lit up like it was Christmas come early as he sucked in a breath.
“You remember me then?” Rhodey grinned.
Tony nodded eagerly while Thor let him down. The excitement of flying and playing with Thor must’ve rubbed off on him because he started to break into a run, before he seemed to remember himself and awkwardly stopped halfway across the kitchen. He looked up at Rhodey with a questioning expression, clearly trying to gauge if his excitement was allowed or not. Bruce’s heart twisted a little at the thought of how many times people had to have been unreceptive to Tony’s enthusiasm for him to act like this. Rhodey’s expression shifted as well, something close to angry before he swallowed it down and put on a smile for Tony’s benefit. He met Tony the rest of the way, scooping him up in his arms and squeezing tight.
“What’d you stop for, huh?”
“Nothin’,” Tony mumbled quietly, nuzzling closer and squeezing Rhodey back. He buried his pleased smile in Rhodey’s shoulder.
“I got somethin’ for you, Tony,” Steve announced, interrupting the reunion by tugging on Rhodey’s pantleg. Tony blinked down at Steve curiously, but didn’t squirm or otherwise attempt to be anywhere but Rhodey’s arms. “C’mon, get down and come see.”
“No thank you,” Tony said politely, still clutching Rhodey’s shirt in his fists and beaming up happily.
“You don’t wanna see?” Steve’s eyebrows furrowed together, confused and inching towards hurt again. Bruce quickly intervened.
“Let him have some time with Rhodey, Steve,” Bruce advised, taking Steve by the shoulders and steering him towards a seat at the table, “Let’s eat, huh? Tony will definitely want to look at your pictures after.”
“Oh,” Steve considered this. The promise of food seemed to satisfy him for the moment, because he hopped up into a chair and pulled his plate closer. “Yeah, okay.”
They all pulled up chairs and started in on the meal. Steve absolutely devoured everything they put in front of him, even starting stuffing food into his pockets until they intervened and told him he didn’t need to, that he could have as much as he wanted. He froze, his eyes going as wide as the plates in front of them.
“What d’you mean, as much as I want?”
“We have lots of food,” Bruce explained, “And we can always go buy more if we need to.”
“You can?” Steve looked uncertain for probably the first time all day. “Ma says t’be real careful about food. I’m s’posed t’eat as much as I can and save what I can’t for later, I need it if I’m gonna grow big.”
“You don’t have to worry about food here, bud.” Sam squeezed his shoulders. “There’s plenty to go around.”
“That’s so great!” Steve enthused. He kept the food he’d already crammed into his pockets, but didn’t try and stash any more. “So you can just eat all day?”
“Clint sure tries to.” Sam snorted.
“Hey, Thor eats more than I do.” Clint jerked a thumb in his direction. Thor grinned, no signs of disagreement.
“Hi there,” Rhodey said to Tony, who had gone from a few feet away to plastered against Rhodey’s side. Subtlety wasn’t usually a word Bruce associated with Tony, but no one had noticed him inching his chair closer and closer to Rhodey’s until Rhodey had spoken and brought attention to it. “You know you can just come sit in my lap, if you want.”
Tony brightened for a minute, before the expression dropped and he stared down at his plate guiltily. “That’s against the rules.”
“Hey, buddy?” Rhodey turned in his chair to face Tony better, who still wasn’t looking at him. “You dad’s not around right now, so don’t worry about his rules. They’re stupid anyway. If you want to sit with me, come sit with me.”
Tony picked at his food for another minute, before glancing furtively around the table. He gestured for Rhodey to bend down, and when he did, Tony cupped his hands around Rhodey’s ear and whispered something.
“Nobody here will tell your dad.” Rhodey squeezed Tony’s hand. “I promise. Okay?”
Tony nodded, finally mollified, and climbed up into Rhodey’s lap with another wary glance around the table. The adults all smiled encouragingly. Steve just looked confused, tilting his head at Tony curiously.
“How come we can’t tell?”
Tony fidgeted under the scrutiny. “I’m not s’posed t’be coddled, I’m too big.”
“That’s dumb.” Steve’s eyebrows furrowed. He glanced at the adults, concerned. “Am I gonna not get hugs an’ stuff when I get bigger either?”
“Of course you are,” Sam assured, “He just—”
“Then how come Tony doesn’t get any? That’s not fair.”
“No, it’s not,” Rhodey agreed, squeezing Tony a little tighter.
“Ma says everyone needs hugs sometimes,” Steve informed Tony.
“My mama hugs me sometimes,” Tony said quietly, “She says I’m still her bambino even if I get as tall as Daddy.”
“But you’re not a plant.” Steve squinted at Tony. “Bamboo’s got leaves and stuff.”
Clint snickered into his palm. Sam elbowed him before correcting, “Bambino means baby in Italian, Steve.”
“Oh.” Steve considered that. “That makes more sense. D’you speak Italian, Tony? Is that how come you’re not talkin’ in English so much?”
“Mama mi parla in italiano,” Tony told Steve. Mama talks to me in Italian. “But I know English too.”
“What’s that first bit mean?” Steve leaned across the table, intrigued enough that he nearly planted an elbow in his mashed potatoes. “It sounds like when my Ma talks to Helen, they have a secret language.”
“Italian’s kinda secret,” Tony said thoughtfully, “Daddy’s not s’posed t’know cause it makes him mad when he doesn’t know what Mama’s sayin’ t’me.”
“Ma says she and Helen talk like that so I can’t be a snoop.” Steve grinned unabashedly. “She found me ‘round the corner listenin’ in a couple times and switched t’garlic.”
“Garlic?” Tony looked understandably confused.
“Yeah, but joke’s on her cause I’m learnin’ real fast,” Steve insisted, sticking out his chest a little proudly as he announced, “Sei palabras.” I know words.
“What’s that language?” Tony was engaged now, food forgotten as he leaned across the table a little too.
“I told you, ‘s garlic.”
Sam and Bruce exchanged a confused glance. Thor chuckled. “He means Gaelic.”
“Yeah!” Steve nodded, enthused. “That!”
“Gaelic,” Tony repeated thoughtfully.
“Yeah, Ma and Helen are from Ireland. Ma says they spoke Gaelic all the time there.” Steve waved his fork to accentuate his point before stabbing more food and taking another big bite. He didn’t stop talking for so much as a second. “Ma says I’d like it there but America’s better cause we got more opportunities. She says if I work real hard an’ pay good attention in school, I’ll be able t’do anything I want so I wanna be a soldier like Dad was, cause he fought in the big war an’ got t’shoot guns an’ beat up bullies an’ defend America!”
“Breathe,” Sam warned with a laugh, patting Steve’s back, “If you’re going to talk with your mouth full, at least take smaller bites. You don’t want to choke like Clint, do you?”
“It was once,” Clint groaned, “And it was Natasha’s fault!”
“Natasha?” Steve perked up at her name. “When’s she comin’ back?”
Clint snorted. “Not until you’re potty trained again.”
“Hey!” Steve scowled, clearly still a little angry with him about earlier. “I’m already potty trained, only babies gotta wear diapers.”
“Aren’t you a baby? You’re pretty small…” Clint teased, intentionally trying to rile Steve up again. Unsurprisingly, it worked.
“I am not!” Steve insisted, standing up in his chair.
“Hey, he’s just teasing you, Steve, let’s sit back down—” Sam started, but Clint just had to keep going.
“Maybe we should get him a high chair?”
“I’m not a baby an’ I don’t need a high chair an’ I do not wear diapers!” Steve announced, choosing that moment to drop his pants and demonstrate to Clint exactly what he wasn’t wearing.
“Okay!” Sam quickly reached over and tugged Steve’s pants back up, while Clint laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. “I’m pretty sure you’re the one who made the ‘no nudity at the dinner table’ rule in the first place, buddy—”
“Well, I’m finished eating now.” Rhodey pushed his plate away.
“I think we’re all finished,” Sam decided, scooping Steve up and tucking him sideways under his arm.
“Hey! I wasn’t finished tellin’ Clint what’s what!” Steve protested, squirming to get free, but Sam just patted his head.
“You’ll thank me when you’re big again,” Sam assured.
“How come Steve took his pants off?” Tony asked Rhodey.
“When in doubt, it’s Clint’s fault,” Sam answered. Tony looked at Rhodey for confirmation. Rhodey shrugged, nodded.
“Rhodey?” Tony looked shy again, glancing at the currently somewhat chaotic group before tugging on Rhodey’s shirtsleeve to get him to lean in closer. “How long do you have?”
“Until what, Tones?”
“Until you gotta get back t’work.” Tony fidgeted. “I jus’—can you play for a minute?”
“For a minute?” Rhodey made an exaggerated face. “Tony, I can’t possibly play with you for only a minute. We’re going to need at least a couple hours to put together all the model planes I brought, not to mention the dinosaur robot that I’m pretty sure has more pieces than I have bones in my body—”
“Wait, what?” When Rhodey had said they couldn’t play, Tony hadn’t looked crestfallen or upset, just resolute, like it was exactly what he’d been expecting. Now, he looked like Rhodey had fried his little brain. “You brought planes? An’ a robot?”
“A robot dinosaur,” Rhodey corrected, “Much cooler. Why’d you think it took me so long to get here, huh? I had to stock up.”
“I…” Tony couldn’t take his eyes off Rhodey. “But…Daddy says—”
“Hey.” Rhodey got both arms around Tony and squeezed. “What’d I say about your dad’s rules?”
Tony giggled a little, smile itching at his face. “You called ‘em stupid.”
“That’s right I did.” Rhodey grinned. “So do you want to build the planes or the dinosaur first?”
“What about me?” Steve piped up, excited, “I wanna build stuff too!”
“We’ll find something for you,” Sam assured, “We can go to the store and—”
“Steve could play with us,” Tony said quickly, glancing almost furtively from Rhodey to Steve, then back, “Can Steve play?”
Rhodey eyed Steve as distrustfully as was possible for a grown man to distrust a six year old. “I heard Steve made you cry earlier.”
“He didn’t mean—” Tony started, but he was too quiet and was quickly overridden by Steve telling Rhodey insistently, “I didn’t mean to, Tony jus’ stood up at the same time I did and we bumped on accident, ‘cept I thought it was on purpose so I got mad an’ called him a jerk ‘cause Ma says I don’t gotta tol’rate bullies an’ I—”
“Yeah, this is exactly what I don’t want.” Rhodey cut Steve off with a glance at Tony, then back at Steve. “How good are you at the quiet game?”
Steve made a face. “Real bad.”
“Thought so. Well, if you want to play with me and Tones, you’re going to have to let him talk too.”
“But he doesn’t like to talk,” Steve pointed out.
“That’s why it’s important to listen when he does.” Rhodey ruffled Tony’s hair. “And I think he’s got a lot more to say than he lets on. So if you want to play with us, we’re playing by Tony’s rules. That gonna work for you, Steve?”
Steve’s eyebrows scrunched together as he gave Rhodey’s proposition serious consideration, then he nodded confidently. “Yeah, okay. That’ll work. D’you wanna build a plane with me, Tony?”
Tony brightened a little at being addressed. “Yeah.”
“Great! You ever build one before? Bucky’s ma got him one once with Christmas money, an’—oh.” Steve paused, seeming to realize what he was doing. “So didja ever build one?”
Tony thought it over. “No, but Daddy lets me build circuit boards sometimes for practice. An’ he let me try an engine once.”
“Like a car engine?”Steve gaped.
“Yeah.” Tony fidgeted. “It didn’t work though, so Daddy said I couldn’t try again until I could do better.”
“That’s so neat!” Steve enthused, “If you almost made an engine you can pro’ly figure out a plane, right?”
“Maybe.” Tony shrugged a little, scuffed a shoe against the carpet. “I’ve never made one before though, so—”
“But you’re real smart, I bet you can figure it out,” Steve decided, turning towards Rhodey. “Can we have the plane now?”
Rhodey eyed Steve again, looked at Tony. “You want to play with him, right? You’re not just saying that because he asked?”
Tony nodded, glanced shyly at Steve out of the corner of his eye. Steve beamed at him, and Tony smiled back. “Yeah, I wanna play with him.”
“If you’re sure,” Rhodey agreed, ruffling Tony’s hair again before going out to the hall to retrieve the toys he’d brought.
Though they all hovered nearby to make sure the boys played nicely, there were surprisingly few problems. Steve seemed to have taken Rhodey’s warning to heart about letting Tony talk, and Tony seemed encouraged enough by Steve’s attention that he came out his shell a little. They put together the planes in what must’ve been record time, mostly Tony and Rhodey’s doing, though Steve turned out to be a fairly good listener when it was Tony doing the instructing. He was a little hasty at times, which resulted in a few pieces getting mixed up or put in the wrong place, but Rhodey helped them along so nothing went horribly wrong.
The boys and Rhodey sufficiently distracted by playing fighter pilot, Bruce and the others turned on the TV in the background. Hardly anyone noticed the hours passing by, until Steve started yawning. Once Steve started so did Tony, and it occurred to Bruce that kids this age were probably still supposed to nap. Not to mention they’d all had a rather rude awakening that morning, alarms blaring at something like three or four in the morning; even if kids that age didn’t typically need naps, between the early morning battle call and their earlier transformation, these two probably did. It was childish and a little petty of him, but Bruce put his finger on his nose.
“Nose goes on putting Cap down.”
Sam and Thor were quickest, Clint just a second behind them; Rhodey was last, but he just scoffed. “I’ve got Tony. Sucks to be you, Clint.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Clint complained, “We’re talking about the same kid who pantsed himself to me at the table? If I try and put him down, I’m pretty he’ll stage a revolution.”
“Are you talkin’ about me?” Steve’s head popped up. He eyed Clint suspiciously. “Put me down where?”
“Nowhere,” Clint lied, “Somewhere, I don’t know. Stop snooping.”
“’s not snooping.” Steve jut his chin out. “I’m sittin’ right here, s’not my fault you talk loud.”
“I don’t—whatever, Steve, just play with your toys,” Clint grumbled.
“They’re Tony’s toys,” Steve informed him perfunctorily, “I’m jus’ borrowin’ from him.”
“D’you want to keep one?” Tony glanced up at Steve and held out his own too, quick and eager to please. “Or both? You can have both if you want.”
“Tony, you don’t always have to—” Rhodey started, but Steve talked over him.
“Nah.” Steve waved Tony’s offer off. “’s okay, I jus’ wanted t’play with you.”
“Really?” Tony’s eyes went a little wide, but Steve was already moving away, toys abandoned as he raced over to the table.
“I forgot, I made pictures for you!”
“You did?” Tony looked completely bewildered now, but got up too and trailed after Steve tentatively.
“Yeah!” Steve sorted through the stack they’d placed aside earlier, clearly looking for one in particular. “This one’s best, but you can have ‘em all if you want.”
He passed Tony the sheet of paper. Bruce caught a glimpse; Iron Man was soaring through the sky, Captain America riding on his back. Bruce couldn’t recall Tony ever giving Steve a ride into battle quite like that, but it certainly made for a picture.
“This is me an’ you.” Tony looked stunned. He held the picture at arms length for a minute, like he was surprised he was allowed to touch it, then held it closer. “An’ I can keep it?”
“Course you can, I drew it for you.” Steve looked immensely pleased that Tony wanted it. He sidled closer, leaning over Tony’s shoulder to point things out. “See, we’re flyin’ to the Tower back that way, an’ Sam an’ Thor are flyin’ with Nat and Clint behind us. I was gonna add the Hulk next, but I ran out of time an’—”
Tony turned and all but vaulted into Steve. The hug ended almost as quickly as it’d started, Tony stepping away again before Steve could actually hug him back. Steve seemed unhappy with that so he tackled Tony determinedly, squeezing both arms tightly around him and locking his elbows in an attempt to block Tony from squirming away. Tony of course didn’t fight him at all though, just smiled wider than Bruce had seen all day and hugged him back.
“JARVIS?” Bruce prompted quietly. Though an adult Tony would undoubtedly deny it, Bruce was certain he’d want a copy.
“Saved, Dr. Banner.”
“Can I have the other ones too?” Tony asked Steve, hope obvious in his voice as he looked over Steve's shoulder to the other pictures.
“Yeah!" Pleased that Tony liked his art, Steve quickly went over to scoop up the rest of the stack and deposit them in Tony’s arms.
Tony neatened them a little, tucking them carefully against his chest. “Thank you, Steve."
“Now you gotta make me some!” Steve enthused, searching through the table drawer for the crayons he’d been using. “We can make more t’gether.”
“Oh, I don’t…” Tony dropped his gaze guiltily, looking at Steve’s art. “I’m not good like you.”
“You’ll be better than Bucky.” Steve snickered, leaning into Tony like he was sharing a secret. “He colors the sun red. An’ his trees look like eggs on sticks. But I still like drawin’ with him.”
“Really?” Tony’s smile ticked up, relief evident.
“Duh, he’s my friend.” Steve nodded confidently. “An’ so are you.”
“Really?” Tony echoed, eyes wide.
“You say ‘really’ a real lot.” Steve grinned. “Yeah, really.”
“Maybe instead of drawing together, you two new besties could take a nap together, doesn’t that sound fun?” Clint tried, an absurd amount of fake cheer in his voice.
“What?” Steve wrinkled his nose. “I don’t gotta nap, I’m not a baby.”
“I take naps,” Sam offered, “Naps aren’t only for babies, Steve.”
“Here, let’s let Tony lead by example,” Rhodey told them under his breath so the boys didn’t hear, then, louder, “Tony, why don’t you come with me while they deal with Steve, huh?”
“I…” Tony froze a little, conflicted. He looked up at Rhodey for a minute, then glanced furtively over at the still-scowling Steve. Bruce could see him examine the expression, mimic it on his own face. “No, I don’t gotta nap. I’m not a baby either.”
Rhodey sighed, rubbed a hand over his face. “Great.”
Tony leaned into Steve, whispered something to him. Steve nodded assuredly, answered, “Oh yeah, they’re real bad. You gotta just lie there and do nothing. Or worse, sleep.”
Clint rolled his eyes, squatting down to tell Tony, “Listen, just because pipsqueak here says so doesn’t mean—”
“Pipsqueak?” Steve gasped, enraged. He puffed his chest up and sucked in a breath like he was about to go on a rant, but before he could, Tony shot forward and shoved Clint hard enough that he lost his balance.
“Leave him alone!” Tony demanded, louder and surer of himself than he’d been all day. “He’s not a pipsqueak, he’s my friend and you’re a buttface!”
“A what?” Clint laughed.
“Buttface!” Steve chimed in, “Cause—cause your face looks like a butt!”
“Yeah!” Tony agreed. Steve held up his hand for a high five. Tony accepted gleefully.
“Okay, it’s definitely time to separate these two,” Rhodey decided, bending down and scooping Tony up before there could be further protest.
Both boys began shouting in protest immediately, Tony while squirming to get over Rhodey’s shoulder and holding his hands out back in Steve’s direction, Steve while taking off after him and kicking at Rhodey’s ankles.
“You can’t take him!” Steve proclaimed, “I’ll fight you!”
“Calm down, honestly. I’m not abducting him.” Rhodey snorted, then told them both firmly, “It’s naptime. Steve, if you want to stay with Tony, then you’re coming for a nap too. Got it?”
Steve scowled deeply, but took one look at Tony’s pleadingly hopeful expression and started trudging along after them with a moody grumble of, “Fine, whatever, I’ll take a dumb baby nap.”
“Kids, man,” Clint muttered when they were gone.
“Fourteen hours,” Thor encouraged with a chuckle, “In truth, perhaps only six or seven; they ought to turn back while they sleep later tonight, so we shall not see them come morning.”
Everyone turned to look at Natasha as she entered the room and swung onto the couch, easy and casual like she’d been with them all day. Bruce half-wondered if it was somehow possible she had.
“Uh.” Sam blinked at her. “Hey.”
“Hey.” She nodded in his direction, picking up the remote. “Bride Wars? Who let Clint pick the channel?”
“Steve asked for you,” Bruce told her.
“I’d drop him. Or he’d drool on me.” Natasha gave a little shudder. “Either way, better not.”
“He doesn’t require carrying,” Thor pointed out, “Nor does he drool, that I’ve seen.”
“Eh.” Natasha shrugged a shoulder, tossing him a look that implied she heavily doubted him the latter. “Pass.”
Thor chuckled, settled back into the armchair. “Whatever pleases you.”
That was that.
Rhodey was gone for about an hour putting them down. Initially Bruce felt a little guilty for leaving it to him alone and considered going up to help, but then he pulled up a JARVIS-provided videofeed and saw that the delay wasn’t Steve causing problems; it was Tony, asking for chapter after chapter of the book they were reading together. They were in Rhodey’s guest suite so most of the books weren’t really naptime material, but he’d found an old copy of Harry Potter and was reading that. It probably wasn’t entirely suited to Steve and Tony’s current age, but neither seemed to mind. It was a cute scene, really, both boys curled up around Rhodey, sleepy and cuddly and listening avidly. Bruce kept waiting for Steve to twitch or fiddle or get bored, but he stayed utterly entranced by the story and barely moved a muscle.
The kids didn’t sleep long, maybe an hour and a half, but it seemed better than nothing. Steve woke up calm and passive, so they left him be; he seemed content taking some paper out of Rhodey’s printer and a pen off his desk to draw some more. They told JARVIS to inform them when Tony woke, but otherwise left Steve to his own devices.
Which was, as they should’ve known by then, a rookie mistake. It took five minutes for Steve to find a sharpie, half a minute to wake Tony up, then two more to slowly and studiously “fix” Tony’s face. The team headed up as soon as JARVIS alerted them that Steve was headed towards Tony with a sharpie, but in the end they were too late: by the time they burst into the room, Tony already had a bushy mustache and crooked beard.
“Steve did art on my face!” Tony enthused happily, “Look!”
“Perfect,” Steve decided. He squinted, started to lean in again. “Wait, one more spot—”
“No more spots,” Sam said quickly, rushing over to take the sharpie from him.
“It smells funny.” Tony wrinkled his nose.
“If you survived palladium I guess you’ll live through ink poisoning too.” Rhodey sighed. “Steve, no more sharpies for you.”
“I was done anyway.” Steve stuck his chin up a little, but relinquished the sharpie without a fight.
They kept the kids in eyesight after that, brought out the dinosaur Rhodey had purchased and spent some time figuring out what all the buttons did. Tony knew an astounding amount of dinosaur facts, to which Steve listening in surprisingly quiet rapture. Between Rhodey’s toys and fly-time with Thor and a couple episodes of kid’s TV, the rest of the day slipped right by. Bruce wouldn’t exactly say he’d miss having them around as kids, but on the whole the experience hadn’t been half bad. Certainly entertaining, anyway.
Tony woke up with a pounding in his head, the smell of something sharp and acidic practically burning in his nose, and at least two hundred extra pounds weighing him down.
He tried to roll over and found he couldn’t. He opened his eyes, frowned in confusion. What was Steve doing in here? They weren’t even in Tony’s room, they were somewhere Tony didn’t recognize, a hotel, or—no, definitely the tower still, he recognized Pepper’s style in the décor. It looked like it might be one of the guest suites, tasteful but generic. Yesterday was a murky mess of fog and haze in his mind, nothing linear or even particularly clear. What the hell was he doing here?
“Steve, wake up.” Nothing. Tony poked him. “Steve.” Still nothing. Tony jabbed him harder. “Hey, star spangled suffocater, you maybe want to roll off me?”
It wasn’t his best line, but he’d just woken up in a strange room with someone on top of him and no memories. He’d have felt great about that ten years ago, but these circumstances seemed significantly different.
“What?” Steve mumbled into Tony’s shoulder. In spite of everything, the feeling of his mouth against Tony’s skin was kind of arousing. If they’d had sex last night and Tony didn’t get to remember, he was going to be pissed.
“Air is what,” Tony grunted, “Maybe you could get off my lungs and help with that.”
Steve huffed, but rolled over and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Why does my head hurt so much?”
“Join the club.” Tony sucked in a deep breath, tried to even out. “Why are you not concerned about where you are and who you’re with?”
“I’m a little more concerned about not remembered how that came to be.” Steve’s brow furrowed in confusion. “I can’t remember anything, yesterday all feels…muddled. Is this what a hangover feels like?”
“A little bit, except you can’t get drunk and in thirty plus years of abusing the shit out of my liver I’ve never had a hangover that blocked out the entire previous day.” Tony rubbed his forehead, still trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Belatedly, Steve’s phrasing niggled at him. “Wait, seriously? We wake up in bed together and you’re not at all concerned about that?”
“Considering I don’t remember it, yeah, I’m very concerned—”
“Right, about how we got here, but not that we’re actually here?”
“I guess, but…I mean, if I’m being honest, I’ve always sort of—oh, God!” Steve turned to look at him and startled, flung himself back a little. “What on earth did you do to your face?”
“What?” Tony clasped both hands to his face. Please, not the beard, not the beard…no, he felt the same familiar scratch. “It’s still there, what’s wrong? Is it because I haven’t shaved yet? I just woke up, asshole, I’ll get to it, what were you saying about honesty and—”
“No, it’s…” Steve made a vague gesture to the lower half of his face. “There’s…I can’t tell if that’s your skin or not, but there’s discoloration everywhere.”
“Crap, seriously?” Tony started to get out of bed and head towards the bathroom, but Steve caught his wrist.
“Wait, it’s sort of…” Steve pulled him back and rubbed his thumb over Tony’s cheek. He knew Steve was just checking out whatever was wrong with his skin, but the intimacy of the action didn’t escape him. He did his best not to react.
Steve pulled his thumb away, showed it to Tony; black. “I think it’s marker.”
Tony stared at Steve’s thumb dumbly. “Why the hell is there marker all over my face?”
“I don’t…” Steve trailed off to stare at Tony. He was staring at the mess of marker on Tony’s face, probably, but it felt a lot like Steve was staring at his mouth. “I think I did that.”
“Did what, draw on my face?”
“Yeah.” Steve’s brow furrowed together another minute, then went completely clear as he sat up straighter. “I did! I—your face looked strange without the beard and—”
“What do you mean, without?” Tony quickly put his hands back on his face, felt to make sure.
“No no, before, as kids, yeah, you didn’t have the beard but I found a sharpie and we—”
“Wait, kids? What are you…” It took half a second to click into place, then the haze was gone and his memory crystal clear. He was never, ever going to live this down. “What the fuck.”
Steve stared back at him. “I’m not crazy, right? You remember that too?”
“Yeah, we…you were…” Tony made a face. “Different.”
“I was different?” Steve made a face right back. “Tony, I called you a jerk and you burst into tears, I’m not the one who was different.”
“Whatever! We were kids, it doesn’t matter.”
“Aw, are you holding back tears?” Steve teased, “You can let it out if you need to, this is a safe space.”
“Jackass.” Tony rolled his eyes. Steve just grinned, put a hand over his heart and started singing dramatically.
“Okay, one?” Tony held up a hand, because good god, Steve was worse than alleycats. “Stop. Forever stop. Two, who showed you that song? Was it Clint? I bet it was Clint.”
“Natasha.” Steve chuckled, bumped Tony’s shoulder. “You want to talk about it?”
“Not in the slightest.” Tony rubbed a hand over his face.
Steve nodded. They sat in silence for a minute, before he blurted, “Howard was kind of a dick in my time too, you know.”
“What part of not in the slightest—”
“He hit on Peggy in front of me all the time.” Steve continued as if Tony hadn’t said anything, wrinkling his nose distastefully. “He knew I was sweet on her but it never stopped him. If anything, I think he thought of it as some kind of challenge.”
Tony meant to say something like thanks, but apparently he felt like being a dick too. “Not sure how that’s relevant.”
“Well, you thought Howard and I were these great pals or something, right?” Steve insisted, “We weren’t. He built me a couple toys and flew me into one warzone, one time, during which he asked Peggy out for fondue while I sat two feet away. It’s just cheese and bread, apparently, but I mean, still—Howard wasn’t my friend. He was an ally, sure, but even if he’d been a friend he wouldn’t have continued to be, the way he treated his kid.”
What the hell was Tony supposed to say to that? He shifted uncomfortably. “Relax, Steve, it’s not like the guy beat me.”
“That’s not the only way to—”
“Look, Clint was right, okay?” Tony dismissed Steve tersely, because the last thing he wanted to do right now was quibble with Steve about what constituted emotional abuse, which was almost certainly where Steve was going. “I was a ‘sensitive’ type kid who cared too much what my old man thought, then I grew up and got the hell over it. It’s old news, so can we just—”
“But you deserved better,” Steve pushed forward stubbornly, “And you know that, right? Even if he was a half-decent parent—which, frankly, it sure doesn’t sound like—you still deserved better. You deserved someone who cared and encouraged you and didn’t treat you like an adult at six. Who the hell tells a little kid they’re being coddled too much? How does that even cross someone’s mind to say? You’re supposed to coddle your kids!”
“Maybe you want to take it down a notch,” Tony pointed out, steadfastly ignoring the stupid warmth he felt at Steve’s defensive anger. Whether or not Steve was right, the care behind his rant was clear; Tony just didn’t know what he was supposed to do with it. “The guy’s dead anyway, remember?”
“I just…” Steve’s shoulders sagged for a minute, then he shifted onto his knees and leaned closer into Tony’s space. He was doing that intense eye contact thing he tended to do when he wanted to convey sincerity. As always, it made Tony feel vaguely uncomfortable and more than a little aroused. “You deserved better.”
“You said that.”
“I meant it.”
“Anyone ever tell you it can be kind of disturbing how sincere you get?”
“Only you.” Steve snorted a laugh. They were close enough Tony could feel the huff of breath. “Mostly when you don’t believe me.”
“You mean mostly when you get ridiculous.”
“I said what I meant.” Steve smiled, just a little crook of a thing. Something much more dangerous than lust burned through Tony, and he couldn’t help himself.
“You said you didn’t care we woke up together, just how we got here. Did you mean that, too?” Steve blinked, a little startled at the subject change—they’d been talking about Tony’s dad, of all things, what the hell wrong with him? Too late to take it back now—but didn’t move away. Tony pressed his luck. “You started to say something, about being honest, about how you ‘always’ something. Then you saw the marker on my face and freaked. What were you going to say?”
Tony fixated on the bob of Steve’s throat as he swallowed, the dilation of his eyes, the slight part of his lips; Tony knew all the signs, knew precisely how desire betrayed itself, but that didn’t mean he could quite believe he was seeing them on Steve.
“I was going to say…” Steve hesitated. When Tony restrained himself from filling the suddenly heavy silence, Steve continued, “I guess I was going to say that I always thought…that is, I wanted to—not that I only wanted that, but I wasn’t opposed—or, that’s not right, what I’m trying to say is that I—”
The little signs he’d seen giving him an impulsive sort of hope, Tony cut Steve’s rambling off by leaning into his space, cupping his jaw and bringing him into a kiss. Tony had approximately half a second of deluded happiness before Steve jerked back, wiped his mouth.
Tony hadn’t been this embarrassed in decades, not since his boarding school years, but he kept it together and quickly slid off the bed. Best to beat a quick retreat and do damage control later once he’d dealt with his disappointment—and mortification, how in the hell could he have read the signs so wrong?—in private.
“Welp, alright then, I’m just—”
“—going to go, glad we tried it—”
“—can’t expect a spark every time, right? So—”
“—what you thought, it—”
“—don’t call me I’ll call you, or not, as the case may be, and—”
“—was just because of the—”
“—I’ll just see you at the next team meeting, or, you know, never—”
“—taste, would you stop moving for a second?” Steve beat him to the door, bodily throwing himself against it to stop Tony from getting it open. “Or running, or whatever you’re doing?”
“We’re not talking about this right now.” Tony tried to elbow past him. “Move. Maybe never, let’s go with never, now move.”
“I’m not moving.” Steve’s jaw did its stubborn little tick. “Can I kiss you again?”
“You forcing yourself to kiss me again in hopes that you might not need to wipe the taste of me from your mouth this time is really not as flattering as you think it is.”
“That’s not—God, Tony, no, I meant the taste of the marker.” Steve’s determination softened as he realized it was the wrong tactic, and he leaned into Tony’s space to wipe his thumb over Tony’s mouth. “You’ve got marker on your lips, you tasted like ink.”
“Oh,” Steve echoed, smiling now as he tentatively touched his hands to Tony’s waist. “So can I kiss you again?”
“Yes,” Tony answered, far too quick. Steve laughed a little, and Tony amended, “I mean, if you want. I’ve still got marker on me, probably, and that obviously doesn’t taste very—”
Steve kissed him quiet. When they parted this time, Tony could see the little smudges of marker along Steve’s lips.
“Can I wipe away the ink, or will you make another break for it?” Steve teased him. Tony rolled his eyes, but wiped Steve’s mouth for him with his thumb. Steve’s arms closed around him a little tighter, and Steve pressed his forehead to Tony’s. “I always kind of thought we were moving in this direction. That’s what I was trying to say.”
“You weren’t saying it very well.”
“You were watching me so intently, I just got a little…”
“Did I make you nervous?” Tony asked gleefully.
“Yeah, Tony,” Steve answered, far more sincerely than Tony had anticipated, “I like you, I got nervous. Are you really so surprised?”
“Uh, yeah.” Tony laughed. “Someone’s told you lately that you’re kind of the peak of human perfection, right? That hasn’t escaped you?”
Steve’s expression fell a little, his mouth twisting to the side before he said, “You know that I’m not.”
“You were kind of prick,” Tony admitted with a grin, clarifying, “As a kid.”
“Hey.” Steve looked torn between being affronted and pleased. Weirdo.
“Yeah, Steve, I know you’re not perfect.” Tony bumped Steve’s nose with his own. He’d known that before, too; Steve was stubborn and quick to anger and could be more than a little idealistic. Still. He sure seemed a lot closer to perfect than Tony. He hesitated, but said it anyway because it would only drive him crazy if he didn’t bring it up, “And you know I’m not either. I’m a decade older than you, I’ve practically got issues about my issues—”
“We’ve all got issues. And if you want to get technical, I’m over a hundred.” Steve just shrugged, soft smile betraying the sincerity behind his casual words. “You okay dating a centennial?”
“Dating?” Tony tried and failed to stifle his smile. “Is that what we’re doing?”
“It’s what I’d like to be doing.”
Tony’s mouth felt strangely dry. “Yeah, that—yeah. Works for me.”
“I should probably—”
“Wash your face, maybe—”
“I think that door’s a bathroom—”
“Yeah, give me—”
“A couple minutes, sure, yes. Yeah.”
They maneuvered around each other a little awkwardly, Tony slipping into the bathroom to scrub at his face. He wasn’t able to get as much of it off as he’d have liked, but he got enough off his lips that he couldn’t taste marker anymore, which meant Steve wouldn’t either, and that was kind of Tony’s only real priority for the moment.
Because Steve would be kissing him.
The dopey smile on his face was even harder to wipe off than the ink.
“Hey, if you’re still—” Steve started to call from the other side of the door. Tony quickly schooled his expression into something slightly less ridiculous before opening it.
“I was going to head down and check in with everyone, if you thought you’d be a while.” Steve seemed to be biting down on an amused grin. “Though I guess it’s just gonna take a day or two to come off, huh?”
“I can’t believe I let you do that to me.” Tony rubbed at his chin, where most of it was concentrated now. “You’re lucky I like you, Rogers.”
“Yeah.” Steve’s amused grin turned to something brighter, more sincere. “I sure am.”
“It’s too early for you to be this sincere.” Tony waved vaguely at Steve’s expression. “Put the face away.”
“I was under the impression you sorta liked my face,” Steve said slyly, and there was a little Brooklyn slipping in, wasn’t there?
“That’s cheating,” Tony declared, “I’m banning that.”
“What?” Steve asked innocently, but he was moving steadily closer, “I’m jus’ talkin’.”
“Oh come on, that’s too thick, even for you—”
“Don’tcha like it when I lay it on thick?” Tony was very quickly making his way to turned on, right up until Steve threw in a, “Mista?”
Tony wrinkled his nose, moment effectively ruined. “Gross, now I feel like your creepy great uncle or something.”
“Nix on ‘mister’, got it.” Steve laughed, voice returning to normal. A hint of red along his cheekbones was Tony’s only clue to Steve’s nerves. “Can I kiss you again, or would that be ‘gross’ too?”
“You don’t have to ask, Steve.”Tony cupped the back of Steve’s neck, pulled him into a kiss without further hesitation. He was eager, sue him. “Consider yourself invited to kiss me pretty much anytime you want.”
There was an interesting sort of gleam in Steve’s eyes now, though all he actually did was say “okay” and kiss Tony again.
Tony had the feeling he was going to have that invitation used against him in the near future.
He definitely had the feeling he was going to like it.