“Look, Spangle Pants, Spidey has a physics exam tomorrow,” Tony said. “I think that's reason enough to let all the kids go home. They have school If you want to improve you skills of thrashing someone with your shield, I’m still here.”
Sam shook his head but grinned. “Tony, I’m not sure you should be asking for it. Me and Redwing can totally take you.”
“I’ll be fine with the armor and I'm sorry, but you're predecessor taught me hand to hand,”
“How do you even know that about the exam?” Spider-Man asked, sounding incredulous. He was hanging from the wall to Iron Man’s right and right above Sam Wilson, who was wearing the Captain America cowl and had just now lowered his shield to look at Tony curiously, too.
“You said you were learning for your exam, Spider-Student. You better did. Because I can save you from training with grumpy-pants Cap here and I'll do my best to shield you in a fight, but I won't rescue you from an F. Especially not when it was earned.”
Spider-Man was cocking his head to the side and made no sound. Sam chuckled. “When did he tell you that?”
“When he had to leave before we finished clean up in New Haven. Remember the slime?”
Little Miss Marvel groaned loudly. She obviously remembered the slime. “It took me days to get it out of my hair,” she said and shrugged when she noticed that everyone was looking at her. “It was a pain.”
Smiling, with her pink lips the only thing visible beneath the mask that guarded her features, Thor nodded. “Indeed,” she agreed in her Asgardian lilt and “patted” Miss Marvel on her frail looking shoulders. The girl looked momentarily flustered under her mask and Tony, holding his helmet under one arm, smiled at her too. “Don’t you have school tomorrow, too, young lady?”
She nodded vigorously. “And there’s still homework.”
“Go then? All of you?” He nodded at Nova, who surly as ever kept to the back, but who seemed to immediately perk up when he realized that training was indeed not going to be continued today.
“Don’t you think we’re going easy on them?” Sam asked as they both stood there and watched them go.
“I have no idea how you define going easy, but we had Spidey pretty cornered there and the other two kids made the best of their teamwork lessons to take me down. They are making progress. And they still have school. We don't actually have to thrash them everyday to help them grow as Avengers.”
Sam chuckled. “Yeah,” he admitted. “That makes me feel very old. When did we get to be team dads?”
Tony shrugged. “Can you imagine how Steve would feel?”
They cackled together as if they’d always shared jokes like this. He was still Iron Man and these were still the Avengers, even if there was a new Cap and a new Thor and bunch of all-new superhero kids at his side.
* * *
He landed with a heavy thunk, trying to figure out exactly where Captain America was in the fray, but instead of a zipping around Sam Wilson who wore the wings proudly on his back and not the sides of his head, he found two Captains standing off to the side talking.
“It's over,” Vision informed him calmly. “Your device catapulted them out to space as planned.”
He looked up to see where they were at exactly and Thor and Nova were already hovering above them, clear of aliens. Quicksilver suddenly appeared at his shoulder and shrugged. “That was easier than I thought.”
He gestured around. “Perhaps you want to get started on clean-up duty then?” Their battle had left most of this small town in shambles, but it seemed Steve and his people had done a perfect job of getting out the civilians in time.
Ms Marvel wandered over. She looked a bit awkward for an Avenger who had just won a battle. “Clean-up duty?”
He carefully patted her head with one armored hand and she looked up at him like she didn't quite know if she needed to be ashamed or proud. “Homework? Family?”
“I promised to be home for... a thing,” she admitted. He clearly remembered her slight freak-out of insecurity when she had told him her brother was getting married and she wanted to be there.
“Well,” he said. “There are two full teams present. Go home and do your thing.” He pointed into the distance.
The girl looked confused, then she understood and grinned up at him and the next moment the elongated arms of an emotional teenager had wrapped the armor in a thankful embrace. “Thank you!”
She waved at Nova, before she jumped up and flew away.
“Why does she get to skip clean-up?” the boy asked with his usual sulky expression.
“There's no school tomorrow,” Tony said and turned to look at Nova and Spider-Man, “but if there's some big family event you need to be present for or if you're under house arrest and your parents will be upset at you if you're not home, tell me now. I know about upsetting people in your life by playing secret identity hero. So?”
“Nothing,” Spidey said and waved his hands. “Not going to use the get out of jail free card today. I'll sure need it another time.”
Nova looked from Spider-Man to him and shook his head and then they joined Vision and Thor and the Unity Squad members who were already hands deep in rubble without another word.
When Tony looked up Steve was smiling at him; grinning, really. “That was sweet.”
“When did I turn team dad, huh?” he asked and finally took off the helmet.
Steve shrugged. “I didn't think it was a good idea, but all of you are doing a good job training the next generation.”
He considered the words and the grin. “When did this happen exactly?”
“What?” Steve was still grinning and there were so many things Tony wanted to say to that.
“It's good to see you,” was what he finally said. It was still strange to think they were on different teams, despite Tony being in the classic line-up with Cap and Thor and Steve being Cap again.
“Do you give pep talks?” Steve asked and his grin had grown slightly crooked beneath the mask.
“Not like you do.”
He knew exactly when Steve's smile was one of smug satisfaction, but the mischievous twinkle in his eyes was a bit of a surprise. “Do you want me to teach you?”
“I'm sure there are lots of things you can teach me, Steve.” And indeed they had taught each other so many things over the years. “I'm not sure we need more Captain America pep talks on this team. Sam is already doing a good job being inspiring. Not meddling with this Cap.”
He could always tell, when Steve was raising an eyebrow beneath the cowl. “I could teach you, Tony,” he repeated and then in a much lower voice. “We haven't seen much of each other recently.”
His throat suddenly dry, he tried to clear it. He hadn't exactly been Steve's favorite person for a while there. “I'd like that.”
They grinned at each other and it was just like old times. Iron Man and the original Captain America. Avengers.
“I hope when you said teaching it was meant as suggestively as it sounded.”
“I haven't lost my touch.”
“I hope so, old man.”
Steve wasn't insulted in the slightest. It was an old joke between them. “Let's go then, Iron Man. Help out our teams and then we can see about the pep talk lessons.”
“Don't get sassy with me, senior. I've had a lot of training with sassy kids lately.”
They went to work bantering. Just like old times.
He was proud of his team. He loved his All-New Avengers. Especially when they were working so well together as they were now.
But damn, he had missed Steve.
He hadn't realized how much he'd missed him.
“You'll make a good dad one day,” Steve whispered later.
Steve huffed, but kissed him anyway.