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Struggling

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That look. Tony knew that look. He perfectly knew what that look meant. That look made him listen to alarm bells inside his head, literally. That look made him get butterflies in his stomach, but not the kind you usually feel when being excited. That look made him want to run as fast as he could to go and hide in his workshop. That I-know-what-is-happening-inside-your-head look of Steve that Tony hated so much, because no matter how hard he tried to get out of it, Steve couldn’t be gotten rid of when he got into Daddy mode.

And Steve had given Tony that look just because Tony had taken his thumb to his mouth unconsciously, intending to suck it. How could Steve have even noticed? It had been a hesitancy that lasted just a millisecond, almost imperceptible for the human eye! Tony had to think about something fast, something that would excuse him as soon as they reach the Tower. An excuse, a lie, a blackmail, a threat, anything. He still had more than ten minutes before landing. Ten minutes where he would be saved, since Steve would never try to do anything in front of everybody.

But Tony must have been thinking too loud – if that was even possible – because then Steve gave him the other look, a look Tony hated even more, the whatever-you-are-thinking-on-doing-will-just-make-you-end-up-over-my-knee look. Steve’s looks could be so explicit or Tony could get a little bit paranoid when he felt trapped, or maybe both.

Damn X-Men and their stupid idea of requesting The Avengers' help. Damn Magneto and his ability to control metal. If it hadn’t been because of him, Tony’s suit wouldn’t have been damaged, he wouldn’t have needed a ride home, and therefore, he wouldn’t have had to sit down in front of Steve where he could perfectly notice the havocs of being struggling against his Little headspace for more than a month now.

There was no worse thing than having to think being moody, exhausted, sore, hungry and during a battle against his own mind, and just because he couldn’t decide which of his two headspaces should let take over, just because his reason and his desire couldn’t come to an agreement. Half of him wanted to get out of this, while the other half wanted to stand up and snuggle against Steve.

They had been age-playing for a while now, but Tony wasn’t comfortable with it yet. On the one hand, he did enjoy some things, he wasn’t going to deny that – although that didn’t mean he was going to shout it from the roof tops either. On the other hand, there were some other things Tony loathed, things that got into his nerves in a way nothing had ever done.

Accepting Steve as a caregiver definitely had its perks. Tony loved being Steve's center of attention, the man could completely shut everything out and just focused on his needs. Tony liked how Steve could sit down with him for hours, playing with his Hot Wheels and Legos like if he was actually having fun too, making awesome noises whenever there was a crash in the toy highway or something destroyed the buildings they had built out of Legos. Tony enjoyed baking with Steve, because he actually let him help, not caring at all if Tony spilled something by accident or got his hands and clothes all dirty with the ingredients. Tony did enjoy being carried or being placed on Steve's lap, it turned out it was very comfortable snuggling against his chest, and his body emanated a very soothing warmth that made Tony feel safe and in peace. Tony was grateful for having someone there to comfort him, instead of telling him to man up, every time he woke up because of a nightmare, strong and firm hands and arms contrasting with the tenderness and kindness of his hugs and caresses.

Certainly, Tony loved how OK Steve seemed to be with the whole situation.

But then, there were the other things Tony couldn’t stand. Like how Steve seemed to not understand how difficult it was for him to slip into his Little mindset, how anxious, uneasy and panic stricken he felt – it was no wonder really, after all, Tony had spent a lot of years believing this was completely incorrect – and trying to help him with this transition would just make him moody and angry. But Steve thought that going on Daddy mode when Tony was in his adult mindset was a good idea to help him. It wasn’t. At all. That just made Tony feel much moodier and angrier. Didn't Steve know Tony was a busy man? Didn't he know he had a business to run? Inventions to develop? A world to save? Updates to make? Couldn’t he understand he did need to be an adult? Couldn't Steve just leave him alone? Couldn't he just leave him sulk and struggle with his headspaces in peace? Why did Steve have to be all over him, paying attention to any hint that told him Tony was starting to get caught between his two mindsets?

Indeed, Tony hated not being able to completely understand why Steve seemed to be OK with the whole situation.

Why couldn't he stop being a Little? Why couldn't he be a Little without all the remorse that that endured?

Hence, there was the problem. Tony wanted to things at the same time. He wanted Steve to leave him alone, and he wanted Steve to hug him and tell him everything was all right. He wanted Steve to back off every time he asked him to, but he was more than happy that Steve always stick around no matter what. He got mad at Steve for subtly pushing him into his Little mindset, but, at the end of the day, when they were watching a movie and Tony was well settled on Steve's lap, he would be grateful for being pushed. Tony wanted to tell Steve how thankful he was for getting involved in this, but he also wanted to shout at him to tell him to stop sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.

Tony just wished this whole thing were easy. He just wanted to go with the flow. He wished his father had never found out. He wished he had never been forced to deal with all the psychologists who made him believe this was inappropriate. But apparently nothing was going to be easy for him, never, having an incredible brain and a huge wealth didn’t help him at all this time.

Sighing heavily, Tony robbed his temples, his head started to throbbed, maybe because of all the thinking he'd been doing since he got into de helicopter. Thinking which, by the way, had had nothing to do with his plan of escaping. Fuck. How would he dodge Steve? How could he make him understand that there were a lot of things he needed to take care of and couldn't age-play now? How could he make him understand that age-playing wasn’t the only way he could cope with stress? That actually dealing with what was stressing him helped too?

His breathing stopped for some minutes when he looked through the window and he could make out the Tower. Tony was running out of time and he still had no clue how he was going to get out if this.

Coming up with a fake company problem or last-planned meeting wouldn’t work, Pepper didn’t think twice about telling the truth when Steve asked her if said problem or meeting was real or not. Hiding in his workshop wouldn’t work either, Steve didn’t beat around the bush anymore when his aim had to do with taking Tony out of there – Tony had already had the glass replaced at least three times. Faking illness would just make Steve get deeper into his caregiver mode, and that was what Tony was trying to avoid. Sneaking out or hiding in his room was out of option too, apparently JARVIS had a glitch that couldn’t be solved which made the A.I. close or open any door in a way that made impossible for Tony to avoid Steve.

Tony looked around with the intention to find something that may help him, and a twinge of guilt settle in his stomach when his eyes laid on Bruce.

The first time Tony tried to prevent Steve from pushing him into his Little headspace, he had done something inconceivable. His logic and common sense tended to fail when he was trapped between his adult and Little mindset, and his despair didn’t let him realize that. Tony had had the terrific idea of provoking Bruce to Hulk out to get Steve distracted. In spite of Bruce’s attempts to remain calm, it had worked. Hulk had destroyed many rooms of the Tower, and when he decided the Tower was boring, he had gone outside. Then, the Hulk had destroyed some buildings around the block and terrorized half of the population – fortunately, there hadn’t been any casualties, but still.

Fury had been more than furious, and he would have kicked Iron man out of the team if he had known what had really happened. Bruce had been devastated when he saw the result of transformation and had stopped talking to Tony for more than a month. Tony had felt worse than crap. And Steve, well, that was when Tony found out Steve would not hesitate to put him over his knee and stop him from sitting comfortable for a week at least. And at the end, Tony had slipped into his Little mindset anyway. So, everything had been incredibly futile.

Thus, getting Bruce to Hulk out was unthinkable. Never would Tony think about it again.

Running wouldn’t be a good idea either, besides the fact that Steve was much faster than him, Tony was so tired he would probably end up falling flat on his face. Asking help to one of the others was out of the question too, what would he say? “Please, help me to hide so Steve doesn’t put me on a diaper”? No fucking way.

By the time the ship landed, Tony still had nothing.

“Good job out there, guys. Let’s hit the showers and we’ll meet in an hour in the kitchen for dinner,” Steve said in his commander voice. “Bruce, I know today is your turn to choose the dish, but I’m too tired to cook, so I guess pizza will have to do tonight,” he apologized.

“No problem, Cap,” Bruce said, pulling his torn pants so they wouldn’t fall down. Seriously, where were his spare clothes?

“OK, see you in an hour then!” Steve looked at Tony when he said this. Tony rolled his eyes boringly. He kept forcing his brain to think about something, but still nothing. Maybe if he jumped from the balcony, he...

“What the hell?!” Tony yelped when he felt a swat on his butt. It hadn’t been delivered too strongly to actually hurt, but it had stung. “What was that for?!” he asked, looking around and feeling relieved when he saw nobody there. Everybody had already left.

“Consider it a warning. Don’t think I can’t tell what you’re thinking in that little head of yours. So you better go upstairs, take a shower and come down to have dinner without even thinking on doing something you know I would disapprove, otherwise I’ll go and get you,” Steve finished saying, mussing Tony’s hair without losing the seriousness in his voice. Tony just glared at him.

- - - -

Fifty-seven minutes. That's how much time it took Tony to go to his room, wash himself and go down to the kitchen. He even arrived before anyone. Steve seemed surprised when he entered the room and saw Tony already sitting at the table. Tony glared at him again, Steve smiled fondly.

Why was Tony already there? He didn’t even know that himself. He had had one more hour to think up something, but apparently his brain was rusting, because he could literally think of nothing – or at least nothing that wouldn’t end up in a spanking. Maybe during dinner Tony would come up with a brilliant idea.

"Pizza will be here any minute," Steve informed as he started to set up the table. Tony kept glaring, slouching at the chair. “And sit up, please.”

“Make me,” Tony mumbled, annoyed by Steve’s habit of scolding him like a child.

“Pardon?” Steve asked, raising an eyebrow at Tony.

“I said nothing,” Tony lied as he straightened up.

“That’s what I thought,” Steve said, turning around to fetch some glasses from the counter. Tony bit his tongue to keep himself from talking back, he didn’t need a pissed off Steve on the top of it all.

Dinner went uneventful. Clint made jokes about Wolverine while Natasha kicked him under the table every time one of his jokes went too far. Thor talked about how this battle had been very alike to one he fought back in Asgard. Bruce asked slyly between talks if the Hulk had destroyed too many buildings or hurt somebody. And Steve compliment every one of them, lying his eyes on Tony every once in a while.

Tony squirmed on his seat and tried to ignore him, focusing his eyes on the pizza like if it was the most interesting thing in the world. Those looks were even worse than the others, because those looks were so full of affection and care that got him to feel Little, and that was the last thing he needed when he was still trying to figure out an escape. What if he choked with the pizza? OK, Tony got the feeling that that was one of those not-so-brilliant ideas he usually got in this situations.

When all the food had been eaten and the table had been cleaned up – seriously, nobody understood why Steve made them do that themselves if Tony had a lot of people take care of the cleaning of the Tower – they decided to move into to the living room. It wasn't movie night, but somehow they had made the habit of watching a movie after a difficult and long battle.

Natasha picked up the movie this time. A spy movie. She actually didn't like them, but Clint and she did like to point out all the mistakes and unreal things that happened in them. Thor was just happy to see whatever everybody else was watching and Bruce stayed there even if he preferred to sit down on a corner a little far from them and read a book. Tony thought about excusing himself and go to his room, but Steve nudged him discreetly towards the couch when he noticed Tony’s intension. He didn’t even think about complaining, after all, the movie might give him an idea of how to sneak out. Hope springs eternal.

Thirty minutes after the movie started, Tony’s mind was still blank. What if he just let Steve have his way? After all, it was kind of Tony’s way too. What if he just accepted this was something he needed? Something that he wanted? What if he just let himself enjoy it and save himself all the drama he usually caused? Tony could actually do that. He wanted to do that. But what if Steve took that as a green light? What if Steve thought he could push Tony into his Little headspace whenever he felt it was necessary? Tony certainly didn’t want that to happen.

Half way through the movie, his eyelids began to feel very heavy; all the tiredness, stress and worries of the last month overpowering him. By then, Tony has pretty much given up his pursuit of finding a way to escape. Now the only thing that he was focusing on was trying not to fall asleep right there. Besides the fact he didn’t want to wake up with ink on his face – damn Clint – the mere fact of imagining Steve carrying him out of the room like a damsel in distress made him shudder. Or even worse, what if Steve scooped him up? – Tony doubted Steve would do such a thing when being in the same room with the others, but Tony couldn’t really help his paranoia sometimes.

Tony started to blink more and more often. Perhaps if he closed his eyes just for a few seconds once in a while, Tony would cheat his body and make it believe he was already resting. He shut his eyes and opened them again after counting mentally to ten. Tony repeated this action for a while, eventually closing them more frequently and for more time without even realizing it. Needless to say it didn’t take much for him to totally doze off.

- - - -

“Tony… kiddo… wake up kiddo, come on, let’s go to bed,” Steve said, rubbing circles on Tony’s back. Tony grunted. “Come on, movie’s over, stand up,” he ordered, but Tony just snuggled closer to the cushion he was holding. “Let’s go Tony, it’s late,” Steve talked again, after waiting some minutes to see if Tony got up.

“Dun wanto,” Tony babbled.

“C’mon, you can’t sleep here, the couch isn’t that comfortable,” Steve lied, it’s was more than obvious that Tony had furnished all the Tower with the finest and most comfortable furniture on Earth, but there was no way Steve would let him sleep there.

“Can,” Tony babbled again.

“No, you can’t, so let’s go.” But Tony just covered his face under the cushion. Steve chuckled.

Without more delay, Steve stood up and took the cushion away from Tony, sliding his hands under Tony’s armpits and lifting him up. Steve expected his boy to complain about it as he usually did, what he didn’t expect was the frightened expression that appeared on his face as his eyes desperately asked him why he had done such a thing.

“Kiddo, relax, nobody’s here. Everybody left an hour ago. And I already checked with JARVIS, there’s no one awaked anymore,” Steve informed, tightening his grip as a way to soothe him. It took Tony some minutes to relax, drowsiness making his brain take more time than usual to process the information.

“Are you sure?” Tony asked, stopping himself from leaning on Steve by keeping both hands holding Steve’s shoulders, arms not bending at all.

“Of course baby boy, I promise this is between just you and me,” Steve assured, pulling him closer in a gentle way. Tony hesitated a little, looking around to verify the room was empty before he let his head rest on his shoulder and enclose Steve’s neck with his arms. “Let’s go and get ready for bed,” said Steve when he started to walk toward the elevator, patting Tony tenderly on the back.

By the time they reached the elevator and rode it to Tony’s floor, the breathing Steve felt against his neck became rhythmic, Tony had undoubtedly gone back to sleep. Steve was grateful for that, it was always easier to deal with Tony when he was already asleep.

Steve went straight to the nursery. In case of causing a bigger issue, the A.I. hesitated to give him access to that room when Tony was taken there against his will – something that Steve would never try to do again, twice had been more than enough, thank you very much – otherwise JARVIS didn’t even ask him to identify himself anymore to be able to get in.

Restraining himself from putting Tony down on the changing table to get him ready and put him to bed as soon as possible, Steve walked slowly around the room, bouncing Tony a little with the intention of sending him further into dreamland.

Even if Tony hadn’t really complained or fussed about Steve going into Daddy mode when he was evidently avoiding to slip into his Little headspace, Tony would do it and he may even try to get away if he woke up now. This wouldn’t happen if his boy was far too deep in his dreams. Steve had found out that, when being Little, Tony literally slept like a baby, which meant that he didn’t wake up that easily and was barely aware of the way Steve manhandled to get him ready for bed. So, hopefully, Tony had already gotten into his Little mindset.

After some minutes, Steve put Tony down on the changing table and hurried to gather all the supplies needed to proceed in stripping him off.

“No,” Tony told him as he grabbed the waistband of his jeans, preventing Steve from pulling them down. Steve got a little bit surprised, he really thought Tony was more than asleep.

“It’s OK sweetheart, I’m gonna hurry so you can go back to sleep.” Steve tried to move Tony’s hand away, but Tony didn’t let that happen.

“No,” Tony repeated.

“Are you going to let your teddy down? You know he doesn’t like when you don’t listen to me,” Steve recalled as he grabbed the said Teddy bear – which had been bought not long ago – and placed it on Tony’s chest.

Tony looked at the stuffed animal and then at Steve, hesitating. But when Steve moved it closer to his neck and rubbed the Teddy against it, making him giggle almost imperceptibly, Tony took his Teddy away from Steve’s grip and held it tighter against his face, giving him free access to his jeans.

Not wanting to waste time and give Tony the opportunity to stop him again, Steve unfolded the diaper and placed it under him, spreading some powder before fastening it together. Tony whimpered a little as Steve pulled him into a sitting position and whined a bit louder when the Teddy was taken from his hold, making Steve to feel guilty, although he needed to do that in order to manipulate him into a onesie. The Iron Man onesie, which was one of Tony’s favorites, even if he disagreed. As soon as Steve snapped it at the crotch, he gave Tony his Teddy back and this time he didn’t think twice about holding it.

With ease, Steve scooped Tony up and walked to the rocking chair, sitting down and swinging Tony’s legs up so he ended up sitting sideways, his back braced against Steve’s arm. Before Tony could take his thumb to his mouth, Steve grabbed the red pacifier clipped to the front of the onesie and pushed it into Tony’s mouth. Tony frowned at first, but soon started to suck on it.

“I’m so proud of you, kiddo. Thank you for agreeing to this,” Steve praised as he leaned forward and kissed Tony on the forehead, making him squirm a little, but his eyes couldn’t hide the light of gratitude that overwhelmed him.

Steve stared at him for a while, as he started to rocking them both back and forward, until Tony couldn’t stand his sight and hid his face against his chest, snuggling closer. Steve chuckled before he began to hum, tightening his grip. His heart always melted whenever he saw Tony trying to hide, still feeling too ashamed about this whole situation. Letting his eyes closed, Steve kept rocking and rubbing Tony’s tummy with his thumb, enjoying the moment of serenity.

When Steve opened his eyes again, Tony was already fast asleep, the pacifier had fallen out of his mouth and a thin stream of drool had trailed across his cheek, dampening Steve’s t-shirt. Steve just shrugged and pull Tony a little bit closer. He could have stood up and lay Tony on the crib, but he wanted to enjoy more the closeness. He was hardly ever lucky enough to put Tony down without having the experience a huge tantrum before, and he was determined to take advantage of it.

Steve was sure he would have to put up with a moody Tony the following day, anger – as well as avoidance – was a common side effect when he pushed Tony into some Little quality time. No matter how much Steve had tried to make him comfortable, Tony still got pretty embarrassed when his adult headspace took over again. Eventually, Steve knew, Tony would come to terms with his Little side, but until that happened, Steve was more than willing to be there for him.