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The Light of Our Meeting

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Steve sprinted down the hall, glad that Grace could keep pace with him. They could be apart, as far apart as they had to be, but he liked it that she could keep up with him after the serum. He hated it when they were apart. Grace was the only constant left, what with Bucky dead...

"What are you going to do when you catch up to that plane?" Grace asked as they ran.

"Stop it from killing people." Steve huffed.

Grace nodded in agreement. "And what about our people here, Mr. Hero? I doubt I'll be able to make the jump up onto that thing with you anyway. And, I mean, these guys down here aren't awesome like us." Grace teased.

"You have a point." Steve breathed. He hated the idea. They'd separated a few times on missions before though. "Alright, Gracie, protect our people on the ground. I'll stop that plane and Red Skull."

"You'll be back soon, right?"

"Promise." He chanced a smile at Grace. He could feel her fear and longing. "Go on, I'll be fine. Help them, keep them safe."

The gold-fured lioness purred and sprinted off, going to aid the rest of the troops.

"Stay safe, Grace."

Steve fought his battle and won, but he'd really lost. He was going to have to kill himself to save New York. Grace would either be really proud or really angry at him. He wished he could speak to her one last time, but as far as last voices go, Agent Carter's wasn't bad. He went into the ice, knowing he'd never step on her toes. Lucky her, unlucky him.

Across the world, Grace panicked, feeling fear and cold, so much cold. She should be dead. Why wasn't she dead? She needed to get to Steve, no matter what. Before anyone could see that Steve had, in fact, survived the wreck, Grace was gone.

Many Years Later

Grace paced in the Stark home. It was the only place she could go. She'd spent years trying to get to Steve on her own, to protect him, but wherever he was he was very cold and very asleep and very, very, out of reach to a lioness daemon. Her fur had gone from a warm honey color, to a shade of blue-tinged white with the constant cold she could feel coming from Steve. She didn't like it, and she often found herself sleepy and too cold for comfort. There was hope for her in the Stark house, she knew it. Howard had lit up when she'd arrived. She didn't like talking to other people, but she whispered a few words to Maya, the golden monkey that was Howard's daemon. Maya knew exactly who Grace was and excitedly told Howard.

They would search for Steve, Howard promised.

Grace had hoped it would be sooner, of course. Years and years passed. She watched Howard and Maya age, then watched as Mrs. Stark and her golden retriever daemon, Leonardo, began to age as well. Grace didn't feel as though she'd aged. She couldn't tell if her fur had greyed amidst all the new white, but she felt just as strong as ever, when she wasn't exhausted, that was.

It hurt, being away from Steve for so long. Her days were filled with longing and sorrow. Maya tried to provide entertainment, but it did no good.

Then the baby arrived. Anthony Edward Stark. The baby presented a large problem. A very large problem, because the moment Grace saw the daemon of the boy, she knew the truth. Everyone knew that soulmates existed, but only daemons could tell when they found them, and even then very few people ever did, considering how populated the world was. That little boy was Steve's soulmate.

As soon as the bundle was placed in the crib, Grace stood up against her exhaustion and pawed over. She tenderly nuzzled the tiny kitten daemon at the baby's side. The babe giggled and reached out for the lioness, but Grace backed away. The boy would learn one day to not touch another person's daemon. She'd forgive him for trying it, he was barely two days old, after all, and he was likely experiencing a pull towards her. The kitten however, climbed up onto Grace's shoulders and snuggled down.

A sudden wave of shock and awe came from Steve, so much so that Grace nearly fell over, but he was still asleep, still cold. He must've felt the connection though. The poor man had missed meeting his own soulmate. Grace'd shout at him for it. It was a little weird, though, the babe and Steve were decades apart in age, perhaps it was for the best that the baby never find out.

"Little one?" Grace purred up at the daemon.

"Hm?" A daemon could always understand, no matter their age. It was their job to look after their human, after all, even when they were too little to look after themselves.

"What did they call you?"

"Analise, Tony's mine." Analise answered, matter-of-fact.

"You know my human and yours are..."

"Meant to be?" Analise asked. "Yes. I feel it."

"We can't tell anyone. Even if my human weren't on the edge of death...it'd be dangerous. Until we can know it's safe, it's best not to paint a target on your Tony's back." Grace sighed. It'd be lonely, but Tony would be safer. Steve would want that. He was selfless like that. All Grace wanted to do was curl around the baby and keep him safe and warm and happy, but she also wasn't sure she ever wanted any other human to touch her. God, she missed Steve. She wanted his hands scratching her ears, they itched terribly and he'd always known how to make it better.

Analise crawled up her shoulders and scratched at her ears with tiny claws.

It wasn't the same, but Grace purred in appreciation.

"Why hide something this nice?" Analise wondered.

"My human is wanted by many bad people and if anyone knew your human and mine were soulmates they'd come after Tony. Plus...I don't want to get his hopes up. Steve might not last much longer. I feel like he's constantly on that edge of death."

"You are really cold." Analise whispered. The pair were quiet for a while, even as the babe gurgled and reached out, closing and opening a small hand. "Well, you are older than me. I'll listen, but...what'll you do when we start living our life?"

"He can live a normal life," Grace promised. She didn't care what it entailed. Little Anthony could have whatever he wanted without worry, without the burden of a possibly dying soulmate. "And I'll watch over the both of you for...however long I'm around, I promise." It was what Steve would want.

"We'll find your human. Steve, right?"

"Yeah, Steve is mine." Grace laid down and gently picked up Analise, who'd shifted into a tiger cub. She placed the smaller daemon between her paws and licked the top of her head once before snuggling down. Even with Steve freezing somewhere in the north, frozen underwater, well...the world was a little warmer. Grace took in all the warmth she could get, hoping some of it was reaching her human, keeping him warm and fighting.

But Grace knew the truth, Steve was still freezing and so, so tired.

Chapter Text

The first time Grace realized there was something different about Tony, was when he was two. She was dozing in the corner when she was rudely woken up. Howard was drunk again, and angry. Another scouting team had come back with nothing. Steve was still lost, even though they'd found some hints of wreckage. Grace opened a heavy eyelid and looked at the mess on the ground. Howard's eyes sharpened. "Anthony! What are you doing in here? Get out. This isn't a place for you."

"Toy broke. I want-" Tony's little voice stumbled over the words. There was already plenty different about the human. Though most of the time Tony didn't speak at all, he was very smart. Grace had watched the boy put things together since he could crawl. Steve would've been proud of the little one. He was clearly very smart.

"I said get out, Anthony."

The shout made even Grace wince, but she watched Tony and Analise back out of the room. Tony tripped over himself and Analise shifted into a cat and pressed up against him to keep him from hitting the ground. Grace wanted to get up to help the boy, but her paws felt frozen in place. It wasn't a good day.

"Stupid boy." Howard muttered and went back to his charts.

When Grace opened her eyes a few minutes later though, she was shocked to see that Tony was there. He was standing under a shelf while Analise flew up it, gripping a tool and flying it down to Tony. Tony was in plain view of Howard, but he didn't seem to even notice. Grace looked away from the boy and tried to find him again but it took her a moment. It was like he could make himself unnoticeable. Grace had to really work to see the boy. Analise shifted into a mouse and hid against Tony's shoulder before the boy began to toddle out of the room.

Hm. Tony was a witch. That explained why the boy didn't seem uncomfortable when Analise went what should have been too far from him. It made sense too, his mother's daemon was rarely around and they had gone on a special trip shortly after Tony had been born. Why had they taken such a young boy on the trip? It had to have been traumatic for him. There was a reason most witches waited until they were older...perhaps his parents had thought it practical that he go sooner for some reason.

The boy left and Grace longed to get up and see what he was doing. It was Tony, so she forced her numb legs to carry her weight and she followed him. Tony sat in front of a toy that was pulled to pieces. Grace flopped back down on the ground, not sure she'd be able to get back up again until the intense wave of cold left.

"Gracie? Are you okay?" Analise whispered.

Tony looked up briefly, then looked back down at his work with a nod.

Analise shifted into a puppy and walked up to Grace. The little daemon pounced on her and pawed at her. "You're cold...really, really cold." Analise licked at Grace's shoulder and grew a few sizes, as if trying to become big enough to be a living heating blanket.

Grace noticed it. Tony was rarely spoken to, save by Jarvis, and it was even rarer for him to receive affection. Tony, because of this, always seemed distant and quiet. In fact, Grace was quite sure Tony was damn near fluent in English and Italian at this point, but he didn't talk to people. Analise, though. She was always so affectionate. She'd cuddle with Grace and Azure, Jarvis' German Shepherd daemon. Though Tony was already becoming closed off and lonely, it was obvious that Analise was the expression of his heart, always wanting to be there for others, always giving. Grace wished she could do something, wished she could speak to the boy or make him happy. She wished she could tell his parents to pay more attention to him. She'd never been good at talking to humans though. Steve was the one for speeches, she was good at joking with Steve and telling him he was being reckless. But she was only open with Steve.

"I'm tired." Grace whispered.

"Silly sleepy lion." Analise pawed at her before settling down, a warm weight.

"It broke." Tony muttered. "I'll fix it."

"You know, your dad could fix it," Grace said. She'd try. She'd try to talk to Tony. Steve would want her to. And if she was the only connection Steve could ever have with his soulmate then she'd fucking try to get it right.

Tony looked up and a pout filled his face. He shook his head. "It's stupid. Beneath him."

"But it upsets you." Grace nodded to the toy.

"Babies get upset."

"Everyone gets upset, Tony."

Tony didn't respond, he just started to fiddle with the wires. He yelped and frowned He touched a wire again and let out a pained sound. He touched the next wire and smiled when there obviously came no pain. No one taught him, he just taught himself. He pulled the battery and then touched the wire, then nodded. He worked for a while, testing everything until he put it all back together. The little toy robot walked again and turned its head. Tony pressed the button, but the robot didn't talk. Tony pouted. "Still broken."

"No," Grace said. "You fixed it. It's perfect."

Tony shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. "I broke it. It was hurt and I can't fix it."

"No. It forgot how to walk and you fixed it. He's just shy, like you and me. He's just quiet, is all. Just means he's really good at listening." Grace tried to comfort the boy. He'd taught himself how to fix a fucking electronic toy, he was brilliant, but he was also a child who was already putting too much pressure on himself. The mistakes had to be forgiven.

"Just shy?"

Grace smiled and nodded. "Doesn't make him broken, just makes him different. He's probably really smart too."

"He probably doesn't like it, being smart." Tony held the toy gently in his hands and looked at it like it was a wounded puppy.

Grace felt something horrible drop in her stomach. "Why is that?"

"People like to use smart people."

So Tony had noticed. He'd seen the pictures in the paper, the ones about a kid genius and the way SI's stock went up at the very idea that the future of the company was secure. "He'll be smarter than them, smarter than all the people who'd hurt him." Grace assured Tony. She hoped he understood that she wasn't just talking about the toy.

Tony blinked up at Grace.

"He'll be okay." Grace hoped it was true.

"I like your voice, Grace." Tony said after a few minutes of silence, before he began to play, absentmindedly with the toy. It seemed Tony was alright with the silence.

Grace put her head down and let the exhaustion take her. She fell asleep to Tony humming softly.

Chapter Text

Tony was getting smarter every day, Grace could tell. They were beginning to use him more too. She wondered what had happened to Howard. He'd always been a bit off, but the drinking and the anger, it seemed so unlike him. She didn't like it and she didn't like the way Tony's parents looked at him. It was like he was the golden goose or something. He should be going to school and making friends, instead he was going to galas in suits and getting his face plastered on magazines, next to Howards or Obadiah's of course.

The people found him equally wonderful and unnerving. Tony almost never left the house with Analise. Wherever he went, Analise stayed with Grace or Jarvis. Even witches traveled with their daemons most of the time, but Grace saw it for what it was. Tony didn't want his daemon exposed to other eyes. Instead, he let Analise stay with trusted people, while he got pawed at by all the people who'd want to use him. It was upsetting, but he was managing to keep one part of himself, at the very least, safe from the pressures of his life.

Grace heard the two, Howard and Tony, come home from a said gala or something of the sort and their voices were loud.

"You were being a nuisance!"

Grace frowned and got up, walking towards the shouting.

"I just wanted to tell him his plans were wrong. They were going to blow up in his face, literally. I was helping."

"No, you weren't. Giving the competition good ideas isn't helping." Howard scoffed.

"What?" Tony asked, angrily. He couldn't stand toe to toe with his father, not at eleven, but he sure as hell must have been trying to. "I was trying to do the right thing, you know, like that precious Captain you're always going on about."

"Like you can talk about him, you'll never amount to an ounce of Steve Rogers."

"Oh, believe me, I know, I've heard that every day of my life. Maybe once you find him, you can have me shipped off to wherever the fuck he's been and you can be done with me. You'll finally have something good back in your life." Tony snapped. "But you won't find him."

"Excuse you?!"

"How can a drunk like you see five feet, let alone find one man lost somewhere in a fucking ocean? You looked over that moron's plans yourself and approved. Admit it, you had no idea that the fucking thing would've blown up. You just can't stand that I saw something you couldn't."

Grace rounded the corner just in time to see the slap. The force of the hit sent Tony to the floor with a harsh thud. Analise shifted into a fox and growled, snapping at the golden monkey instantly. Tony was on the ground, but the two daemons fought viciously. Analise clawed at the monkey, snarling and gnashing her teeth in the defense of Tony.

Grace growled angrily, but couldn't stop what happened next.

Howard bent down and tore Analise away from Maya, his hand held firm around Analise's throat. Tony cringed into the carpet, his eyes going wide as he stopped breathing. One of his small hands gripped uselessly at his own throat, trying to get air, his other hand reached out, toward Analise. The fox couldn't even fight, only stare with glassy eyes as Howard's hand gripped her throat.

"You're acting like a child. You don't get to make a fool out of people, least of all me."

The whimper of terror that came from Tony was heartbreaking. Even though he still hadn't taken a breath, he stretched both hands out to Analise, his eyes watering.

Grace bounded forward and pinned Maya to the carpet, grabbing the golden monkey's throat between her jaws and letting out a low, angry growl.

Howard dropped Analise and gripped his own throat in fear.

Analise scrambled to Tony and he pulled her to his chest. "I've got you. Sh. Come on." Tony sprinted out of the room.

Grace didn't move. When Howard did, she growled a low warning. Howard raised his hands. Grace waited a full minute. It was time enough for Tony to get somewhere safe. She pulled her mouth away from Maya, but kept the monkey pinned. "Listen to me. I don't care if you angry or drunk or upset. Don't you ever hurt Tony like that again."

Maya nodded frantically.

Grace growled once more, for good measure, then turned and left. She knew where she'd find Tony. He was, of course, in the kitchen with Jarvis. He was in the corner of the kitchen, holding Analise against his chest and sobbing. Jarvis and Azure didn't seem to know what to do or say. Grace sat in front of Tony and waited.

"Thank you." Tony choked out after a moment.

"Of course." Grace nodded. Steve wouldn't have stood for the bullying. Grace always felt strange. She'd settled as a lioness when Steve's mother died. Grace had never felt right in that skin. Steve was always so frail, but so brave and kind. She'd always been snarky, but shy. How she'd ended up as a lion and not some small house cat she'd never know. She didn't even know how to talk to her human's soulmate. "It was unspeakable."

Tony scoffed hard, the sound came out half-choked. "Got what he wanted though."

"What do you mean, Master Stark?" Jarvis asked.

"All grown up now." Tony sobbed and held Analise close.

Grace understood immediately. The fox with the beautiful red fur and the sharp brown eyes was Analise, and she had settled. Analise's form made sense to Grace. Witty, beautiful, wild, clever, protective, feisty. Grace purred gently. It was too soon, but Analise appeared to have found her place.

"Oh, Tony..." Jarvis whispered. He put his hand on Tony's head and gently combed his fingers through Tony's hair.

For the first time, Grace really wanted to cuddle up next to Tony. Part of Grace wasn't afraid if Tony reached out and touched her, but Grace beat back the feeling. It had to be wrong. So, so very wrong. And how could she do that to Steve? No. Never.

"Tony...too many people." Analise whimpered.

Tony let out a sob but opened his arms. Analise bolted. As soon as she was gone Jarvis pulled Tony up into his arms.

"I'm sorry, Tony... He was angry, he should have never hit you. Do you mind if I help you clean up your face?"

Tony nodded into the old man's chest. "I shouldn't be so upset."

"It's alright to feel, sir." Jarvis promised.

"Maybe it isn't." Tony said as Jarvis helped the boy sit in a chair.

"Tony..." Jarvis gently squeezed Tony's shoulder as Azure sighed sadly. Azure wasn't one for talking much, in fact, Grace had never heard the daemon speak before.

"Tony," Azure said gently. "We love you, you know that, right?"

Tony didn't say anything. He just stared off at nothing until Jarvis moved to get a wet rag. He cleaned the small smudge of blood that came from the ring Howard wore. "Tony..."

Grace got up and laid down at Tony's feet, brushing her tail across the side of Azure as she did so. She appreciated the kindness that Azure and Jarvis showered Tony with. His mother was always distant, Howard could be cruel when he was drunk, other times he was just distant as well, which was just as bad. Grace remembered the days back in the Depression. Back then there was hunger and starvation and pain and death. But in those times, Grace remembered that family had been there. They'd had a great family, her and Steve and friends too, with Bucky and Alisha.

Grace would have never believed that a person who had food and shelter and talent and charisma and wealthy beyond measure could be so small and scared and sad on the inside. But Tony made it a very real and tangible thing. Steve had taught Grace that a person could have nothing and everything, but Tony had everything and nothing at all.

The desire to just press a paw against the boy became overwhelming for a moment. Outside of Jarvis, no ever really touched him. No one squeezed his shoulder or hugged him or played with his hair or kissed him or tickled him. All of those childish things that Steve had gotten to experience were never given to Tony. There was no physical affection in Tony's life, save from Jarvis and Analise. Grace knew how horible it felt, because she'd been without Steve for decades and the only one who touched her was Analise. It was lonely.

Grace raised her head and stretched out a paw, thinking of placing it over Tony's foot, but she lowered it and sighed, resting her head on it. She'd have to speak to Steve about that, he wasn't there, though. Grace whined at that feeling, the distance between her and Steve. It was too much, too far for too long. She just needed a little sleep.

-

Tony looked down at Grace. She'd fallen asleep again. She kept doing that more and more. "Jarvis, may I be excused?"

"You never have to ask, Tony."

"Thank you, for looking out for me." Tony got up and left the room. He walked to his room and pulled his blanket off his bed. He walked down the stairs and back into the kitchen. He plugged the blanket in and covered Grace in it, careful not to touch her.

Jarvis worked quietly, pretending not to notice.

"You know part of me hates him, Grace. Part of me hates Captain America, your person...." Tony sat down and leaned against the leg of the table. "You know Dad talks about him all the time. I've known for a while that if Steve were my dad's son then my dad would be proud, but he got stuck with me. Stupid, big mouthed, annoying me.... He talks all the time about what a hero Steve Rogers is. It's like Captain Rogers gets all the praise and kindness and I only get to stand with my father on magazine covers. I know it isn't logical for me to hate Steve. I love those stories in the comics. I love how brave and kind he was, standing up for the little guy. I'm sorry that you're alone and I'm sorry that you're always so cold and tired, but I'm glad you're here with me. I don't think Analise and I could do this without you. I think father'd be worse if you weren't here, fighting for the little guy like Cap would. I think he's scared to really treat me bad with you here." Tony looked at the sleeping lioness and smiled gently. "Father won't be able to find him, but I'm making maps. I'm studying weather patterns and currents and all of that. I'll help you find him, Grace, and I help you get him back. It's the least I can do after everything you've done for me." Tony took a breath. "I know you don't talk much with people, so it's probably best you're sleeping. I just wanted to say thank you. I was scared and it...hurt so much. You know you can feel it? I could feel how Dad felt when he touched Analise. He was so angry and disappointed. And...he was choking her so I felt that too and...you were a hero to us. Thank you." Tony stood up.

"Sir, are you alright?"

"No. I don't think so, but I will be. Perfect face for the future, right?" Tony shook himself. "Right.... I'm not gonna eat tonight. I think I'm just going to get some sleep."

"Of course, master, sleep well."

Tony nodded and walked back up to his room. Analise was standing in front of the mirror, looking at herself. "Disappointed?" Tony asked.

"No, it's just strange." Analise frowned and flicked her fluffy tail back and forth.

"You're pretty." Tony smiled.

"Thanks." Analise hopped up onto the bed. "I like it. I'm small and nimble, but I have some bite too. It feels right, you know? How do you feel?"

"I don't know if I feel anything right now. It's all...numb, I guess."

"You took the blanket to Grace?"

Tony nodded.

"That was nice of you."

"Aren't you upset at all?" Tony snapped, angry. His face was bruised and his own father had fucking touched Analise. How was she not upset?

Analise promptly sat and glared at Tony. "Of course I am, I can just put that aside and take care of you. I know you're hurt and scared and sad and I'm just trying to be here for you."

"I'm sorry...I shouldn't have shouted. I'm sorry."

"Come here, Tone."

Tony curled up in his bed and Analise pressed against his chest. "I'm sorry."

"I know and I love you. I'm here. We're allowed to be upset. It's okay." Analise nuzzled against him.

Tony wrapped his arms around Analise. "No one can ever touch you again, ever." Tony held her close and she nipped at his shoulder gently in agreement.

"I'm not going anywhere."

They lay like that for a long time. "What's wrong?" Analise asked.

"Ana...do you think I'll end up like him one day? I mean...I shouted at you. Do you think...?" Tony sounded terrified.

"No, Tony. You'll never be like him, because I won't let you. I love you too much."

"I love you too."

Chapter Text

Tony liked school. It got him away from family. But...he missed Grace, Jarvis, and Azure. So even though he didn't like going home for breaks, he did like going to see her-them. Coming home was always difficult. There was the inevitable 'act like a normal family' façade that Tony couldn't stand. Sure, he loved his mother, but had she really ever looked after him when push came to shove? Not really. At least she hadn't been one to shove though. Nannies, tutors, and Jarvis had raised him more than his mother had. Hell, Grace slept most of his childhood and still found more time in her days for Tony.

Tony decided it was best to enter through the kitchen door. Jarvis was there, his bet payed off, but Obadiah was there too.

"Obie?" Tony asked curiously before nodding and smiling at Shade. Tony was polite with the cobra, but the daemon honestly freaked him out. Most people were opposite and still the same as their daemons, but Tony'd never seen two beings so very different. Perhaps the ruthless and cunning cobra was just how Obie managed to be good at business.

"Tony! How's MIT, my boy?"

"Easy." Tony said honestly. "But nice." He'd even managed to make a friend, though he couldn't know how true of a friend Rhodey was until push came to shove.

"Great to hear, son. If you want to visit down at SI, I'd love to chat with you. You always have great ideas for R&D."

"I try." Tony shrugged.

"Where's Analise?" Obie asked.

"Out. She likes her independence." Tony lied. Sure, it was nice to be able to go more than a few feet apart, but Analise was far away out of necessity, not choice. If Tony had it his way, she'd never leave his arms and he knew she felt the same. It was better though. No one could use them against each other, no one could try to sweet-talk or groom them, and no one, no one, would be able to tell how Tony was actually feeling. He'd gotten very good at masking his feelings, but Analise knew him too well and always knew how he felt. They couldn't be seen together by untrustworthy people. They'd both agreed upon it. The Starks were such company. "She's probably coming up with new coding for DUM-E.

"Dummy?"

"My robot." Tony smiled. "Oh, speaking of-"

"Upstairs, your room, Master Stark." Jarvis answered without blinking.

Tony turned and let a real smile light his face. "Thanks, J."

"Of course, Sir. Just be back in time for dinner. I'll prepare your favorite."

"This is why you're my favorite! You too, Azure." Tony winked and headed up the stairs.

-

Analise climbed across the roof and pressed her paw against the hidden button outside of her and Tony's room. The window opened and she jumped down onto the bed. Grace was laying on the floor, in the heated blanket-fort that Tony had made for her. Analise pounced on Grace and nipped at her ear. "Wake up, you great big thing."

"Thing?" Grace asked shyly. "I'm a thing now."

"You are when you're acting like a lump. Jesus, you're really cold. It's getting worse isn't it?" Analise nuzzled against the lioness.

"It doesn't matter what I do now. I'm just always cold." Grace huffed. "It was a nice thought, this bedding, but it doesn't help anymore."

"I'm sorry." Analise frowned and snuggled up against Grace, wrapping her fluffy tail around Grace's paw. The red was a stark contrast to the blue-tinged white of the lioness.

"You're antsy. What's wrong, little one?" Grace asked after a moment.

"You don't get to tease me because I'm small, I'll bite you." Analise snapped, but she didn't mean it. How did Grace always know when she was irritated?

"I don't doubt it, little one. You're being fidgety and a bit snarky though. You're almost acting like Tony, which means something's under your skin."

Analise frowned and climbed off of Grace's side, sitting in front of her face.

"Why do you look like someone just murdered a puppy?" Grace teased.

"Deflecting with humor is supposed to be Tony's thing." Analise put her head to the ground.

"It's a common defense mechanism for those who like to hide their battle scars." Grace shrugged and sat up, looking down on Analise. "What is it?"

Analise looked downright ashamed. "I didn't like it. I told him I didn't like it...but he's his own person and...."

Grace waited.

"Tony slept with someone and their daemon got all...touchy. I didn't like it. But I think Tony did. I mean he seemed pleased, but I...." Analise curled into a small ball. "I know we decided to let him live his life, but it felt all wrong."

"Well, it isn't like Steve's around. Everyone needs someone, Analise."

"You're...not upset that I didn't stop him? I mean...if I would've kicked up more of a fuss he would have stopped." Analise knew if she told Tony how uncomfortable she'd felt he wouldn't have done it.

"But you didn't, why?" Grace asked, her voice lacked all accusation.

"I just want him to be happy and people aren't always nice to him and... I know Steve is still lost, but, won't he be mad at me if he finds out that I knew all this time and...?"

"Steve? Nah. His answer would be just like yours. Now me? I'd be jealous, but that's because that's how I am. You didn't like being around the other daemon, though, right?"

"Hell. No. You're like, the ultimate snuggle buddy. Seriously, you're my best gal."

Grace growled.

"Okay, you're my only gal." Analise corrected. She tentatively walked forward.

Grace licked the top of her head in forgiveness.

Analise sighed happily and curled up between Grace's paws. "You're a cold lump, but you're still my favorite, old girl."

"I'm not old, pup." Grace denied, resting her head on Analise's side.

"Mmhm." Analise huffed and closed her eyes.

"I've missed you...and Tony." Grace whispered.

"We missed you too. And are you warming up to a human?" Analise asked, gently, kindly.

"It's difficult for me, you know. Steve's always been better at socializing, if you call getting the shit kicked out of him socializing....but he's always been able to just talk to people. Yeah, I guess I've warmed up to Tony. I like listening to him talk."

"If there's one thing Tony can do, it's talk." Analise snorted fondly. She opened an eye as Tony's door creaked open. "Speak of the devil." She smiled warmly at Tony.

"Like you're a saint." Tony scoffed and closed the door. He walked forward and sat down across from Grace, laying against the door. "You staying warm?"

"No, sorry. It was working, but now it isn't." Grace frowned. The lioness was getting good at reading Tony, because she lifted her head quickly. "You did a great job, Tony, it still works, it's just me. It's warm and nice, but it just won't stick to my bones, you know? I think, maybe Steve isn't fighting as hard as he was, because the cold comes through him and its...bad now." Grace said. "It's not on you, Tony."

Analise didn't like the look on Tony's face. She got up and threw herself on Tony's lap. Then she bit his arm with just enough force to pull him out of his thoughts. "We'll figure something out."

"Yeah." Tony rubbed the back of his neck. "Here, I've been working on these." He reached into his back pocket and pulled free a piece of paper. He unfolded it and spread it out across the ground. "So, all of the areas highlighted in green have been searched by Howard. I have the currents marked and everything. The thing is, I took into account your story and how fast the plane was supposed to be able to fly. I've got a good estimate of where his initial landing was, but given the shifts of the ice up there, he could be anywhere in this red circle."

"And how big is the circle in real units?" Grace wondered.

Tony rubbed his face. "Too big. It could take years to scan the whole place, and even then the currents and weather might move him again. But, it's better than the maps Howard has, and he hasn't even explored this section here." Tony frowned. "I'm sorry. I wish I had something more accurate, but...this is all I could find."

"I have no doubt you did a thorough job. Thank you, Tony. This is good." Grace nodded. "You know, you and Steve would get along. He likes clever people."

"Don't think me and the human incarnation of perfection would get on, but thanks." Tony said dryly.

"He's actually not all that perfect, I don't know what stories they put in those comics kids read these days, but he broke a lot of rules. I sometimes wish that he'd listened to me when I told him to be cautious, but...well, we helped a lot of people because of him."

Tony frowned. "Yeah." He turned to Analise. "I have to go make nice at the family dinner. Are you okay to camp out here?"

Analise nodded. "Do you need me?"

"No, besides, Obie's here and I know you and Shade don't get along."

The fox daemen made a discontent noise. "I can't stand him or that beast Shade. How do you even like being around them?"

"Well, he treats my ideas less like money grabs than dad does, so there's a start." Tony stood up and brushed his hands over his pants. He looked at Grace and gave her a soft, genuine smile. "It's always good to see you. I'm going to give Howard these plans...hopefully he'll listen and move his search."

"Not with Obie here." Analise warned.

Tony nodded. "Fine, after dinner then. But we aren't staying long. You know I can't stand it here."

"Go make nice, Mom's here, maybe you could play piano together."

"Maybe...and maybe I should just vanish into thin air."

"Go make nice. They're your family."

"Somedays...when I'm useful." Tony took a deep breath. Why did he care about people who obviously didn't care back? "Fine." Tony breathed. "Grace, you're awesome. I'm going to try to make something warmer for you, okay? Lots of layers."

"Thanks, Tone."

Tony narrowed his eyes at Grace.

"Only I get to call him that. You can call him Tones." Analise nudged Grace.

"This is exactly why I don't talk to people." Grace huffed. "Go on...and if you need us, we'll be there, Tony."

Tony folded up the paper on the ground and shoved it into his back pocket. "We'll find him, Grace. Definitely."

Chapter Text

Finding Steve definitely got pushed back a little. Tony had been numb when he had to identify his parent's bodies. He could honestly say that he had no clue how he felt about it. There were no feelings for the first week. The sorrow and anger came later. Things got crazy at about that time as well. Tony was placed at the top of the company. Everyone wanted him for something. He handled it with as much grace as he could and when his ability to manage people was exhausted he was proud of his witch abilities. Being able to walk down the street unnoticed after being chased by paparazzi was the best gift he could have ever gotten.

Grace moved in with him, he didn't like the idea of her being alone. So Tony went out alone and ran his company and handled press while he left Analise to keep Grace company.

Analise didn't like being left so much. Sure, it made sense for them to be apart for business things but...it was starting to get excessive. Analise tried to get up and stretch from her place at Grace's side, but she stumbled around drunkenly.

"He's drinking again." Grace didn't miss the signs.

"He's got a lot on his mind." Analise defended before she toppled over completely.

"He's hurting himself. Are you going to let him keep doing this?"

Analise whimpered and curled up in a ball of misery.

Grace got up and crossed the short space between her and Analise. "Are you going to let him hurt, little one? You need to help him. I don't like seeing either of you like this." Grace gently wrapped her jaw around the foxes' lean midsection and lifted her up. Grace carried Analise through the house and gently placed her down on the warm bed, meant for Grace.

Analise made a sound that held both pain and relief. She closed her eyes against the dizziness. She felt Grace curl around her and she relaxed into the cold embrace.

"He's starting to hurt you too...you need to help him, Analise. This isn't healthy."

"I know." Analise groaned. "He just has this hole inside of him that he can't fill."

"He has a hole in his chest and yet he leaves you here. He needs you."

Analise knew that. She knew she should insist to be at his side, to help him when the emptiness filled Tony. But...she knew why he left her. He thought he was protecting the only good thing he had left. He thought he was keeping from disappointing the only person he felt truly cared about him. Analise didn't want to take that from him, she knew he found comfort in keeping her safe. "I'll talk to him." Analise decided.

"Good, cause I can't." Grace muttered. "I'm not any..."

There was silence for a few moments. "Not any what?" Analise asked. A slow, deep breath met her. Grace had fallen asleep. She did that now, fell asleep for days or weeks at a time, with little to no warning. In fact, the daemon only seemed to be alert and awake for only short bursts of time before she'd collapse again. "Gracie? Don't leave me alone, not you too." Being drunk and lonely sucked.

There was a slow huff of air and it almost sounded like an apology.

Analise cried and burrowed between Grace's front legs, pressing herself to the chest of the daemon. "Please don't go. I need you. We need you. I don't think I can fix this on my own...." Part of Analise was regretting not telling Tony. He might have hope for himself if he only knew. God, Tony lived as though his life were loveless, but if he only knew there was hope... No. Grace was getting worse, fast. Analise couldn't do that to him, couldn't give him a false sense of hope. "I'll try, Grace. I'll try to get it right. You just hold on. You and Steve need to hold on." Analise couldn't give Tony the hope she had, because she knew that if Grace ever died she'd feel the most horrible of pains. The last thing she needed was to give Tony that same agony.

Grace didn't answer. It would be weeks before she opened her eyes again, let alone spoke.

-

Analise watched Tony and Pepper shout the next morning. Tanner, her white owl daemon, perched on her shoulder as Pepper shouted. "It was a scientific convention, how did you get drunk?"

Tony had every excuse. He was good at that.

"And that woman you brought home. Do you even remember her name?"

"Yeah, Mary something, brilliant scientist. Gonna change the world someday, could probably revolutionize things in the bedroom too." Tony shrugged.

"Mmhm, Mary (Fitzpatrick is that 'something' you were looking for, by the way), is engaged, Tony, or were you too drunk to see the ring?"

"Hey, I always get consent. Consent is sexy. Don't turn this around on me just because she was game for something immoral."

"That's not the point, Tony. The point is that you're better than this."

"Am I? I didn't know that." Tony scoffed.

Analise rounded the corner and Tanner glided down. Usually, when people fought Tony, their daemons would try to get at Analise, but Tanner never did. They were actually quite content around each other, calmly watching as their humans had it out. "He has a headache, Pep, could you tone it down?"

"He got himself hungover, he can deal with the damn headache. I'm sorry that he drug you into this, but he needs to get his head right."

"I'm doing just fine! Look, I've got a fucking fantastic company, stock's up, Obie's happy, America's winning wars. I'm fanfuckingtastic."

Tanner huffed as Pepper scolded Tony again.

Analise, finally, had enough. She launched forward at Tanner, only because she'd never touch Pepper. She tackled the daemon and dug her claws into the soft downy feathers. It was just enough pressure to mean business, but not bring any pain. "Enough." Analise looked up at Pepper.

Pepper took a step back, wide-eyed. "Analise?"

"Back off."

"See, even Ana is tired of this bullshit-" Tony started.

"I'll deal with him, Pep. I've let this go too long." Analise got off of Tanner and licked the poor owl gently in repentance. "Sorry, I had to stop it somehow. Go on, Pepper, I'll deal with this."

Tanner nodded. "Apology accepted. Next time, mind the feathers." He flew up to Pepper's shoulder.

"Help him." Pepper whispered before she turned and left.

When the door closed, Tony turned on Analise. "What? So now you're on her side?"

"No. I'm always on yours, Tone."

"It doesn't look like it. Jesus, Ana, I thought I'd at least always have you-but I don't, do I?"

Analise's heart broke. "You do have me."

"I thought you'd understand how it feels to be fucking trapped and unloved, wanted only for what you can do for people, not for who you are."

"Tony..."

"I just want out of it. I just want out of my own fucking mind and that's somehow some big sin." Tony shook his head. "I can't fucking feel anything. I want to just be able to feel something. I'm trying everything and my own mind just keeps seeing and thinking and noticing things, but it doesn't feel and I don't know how to make everything work."

"It's your heart that needs work, Tony, not your mind." Analise frowned.

Tony scoffed. "So I'm stuck like this, aren't I? I've seen Stark men, we're made of iron. We're Tin Men. No hearts."

"And getting drunk and sleeping around is your way of dealing with this idea that you've cooked up in your head?" Analise glared at him.

Tony narrowed his eyes. "What else am I supposed to do? There's nothing left."

"I'm left," Analise shouted, then she took a breath. "I'm here, and I made a promise to you. I promised to not let you turn into your father..."

Tony paled. He looked like he'd been slapped.

"I'm going to keep that promise."

"Ana..."

Analise sat in front of Tony and waited. She knew he was thinking about it. She hated saying it to him, but he was doing just that. He was walking down a road that would make him more like his father, more like a man he hated.

"I'm trying."

Analise stayed quiet.

"And I'm...I'm sorry. I just..."

Analise took a deep breath. "I know you're trying, but you can't do this alone. Tony, I know you think you can hide it, but you can't not from me. I know you. I know things the media and your friends don't. I know your parents didn't hold you as a baby, that Jarvis and the nanny did. Your father hurt you. Your mother ignored you and you still loved them, even though it hurt. You've been used and abused, but you still give to everyone. Now you're hurt, so you drink to try to make it numb. I know that all of the men and women are your life are just people you hope will make you feel loved, but by the next morning you know they've just used you too. I know you feel like your company uses you for your brain and those men and women use you for your body. I know how much it hurts you, how much you just want someone to give to you a fraction of what you give to everyone else."

Tony huffed and fell to the ground. "Ana, I don't know what else to do."

"I know. I'm here, though. You're not alone. Please, stop acting like you're alone. I don't care if I have to stand in front of a million cameras to be next to you. I don't care what they throw at me or us. I'll be there. You don't have to protect me and take all the heat, just let me help you. We can't change the past, but we can get better. We can do better than this." Analise climbed into Tony's arms and buried her face against his neck. "Let me be here, okay? I don't need protecting, but you need me right now."

"I'm sorry."

"I know, Tone, and I know this'll take time, but I'm here, okay? I'm here." Analise nipped his shoulder. "And that's for making me worry." She bit him again, hard.

"Ow, what was that for?"

"For this fucking hangover."

"I love you." Tony laughed.

"I love you too. Now let's get some sleep and we'll work out a game plan to work on your bucket load of issues, okay?"

Tony rolled his eyes. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Analise cheered. "And...I think we need to redouble the efforts to find Steve."

"I don't think we have that many people."

"Then hire more. I know you've been busy, but Grace is going comatose weeks at a time now. I'm really worried."

Tony nodded. "Okay."

"And you need to apologize to Pepper. You put her through too much."

"I could just send her a gift. It's easier." Tony wrinkled his nose. It was like 'I'm sorry' were naughty words to him.

"Fine, just not strawberries."

"Why not? Strawberries are delicious."

Analise glared at him flatly. "She's allergic, you moron."

"I knew there was a connection there..." Tony sighed. "Can we see Grace before we head to bed?"

Analise nodded, and the hung-over pair stumbled to Grace's room. The lioness was sleeping, curled up in a tight ball. Analise snuggled against the other daemon and shook her head. "So cold."

Tony reached out and grabbed several blankets. He knew they didn't help, but he couldn't just leave her there. He looked at her all that soft fur. He'd always wondered how soft it was. Did it feel as silky as it looked? She was always well groomed. There'd always been something, a weird pull, a need to try to rub the numb cold out of the daemon's flesh.

"What are you doing?" Analise hissed.

Tony yanked his hand back. He'd just been straightening the blankets over Grace, but his hand had gotten dangerously close to her. How could he do that? He knew how uncomfortable it was, how horrible it was. How had his distracted thoughts led him that far down the rabbit hole? "I'm sorry...I don't know what I was thinking."

Analise, surprisingly, seemed to accept it. "You're tired, we both are. Come on..."

"Yeah, let's get some sleep."

"You'll fix this, Tony. You can fix anything. Now, you're the one who got drunk, you carry me."

"Mmhm, sure, shortie." Tony sighed affectionately and lifted Analise into his arms. "Sleep time, you can be sassy with me later."

"I'll hold you to it." Analise nudged him.

"Believe me, I know."

"We just have to focus on us, right now, okay? Fuck everyone else. I need you to focus on yourself for a change. The company won't sink if you take a tiny step back." Analise spoke as they headed towards their room. "Let's just hope the world doesn't decide to throw a crisis at us."

"Now you've jynxed it." Tony rolled his eyes. "Actually, with our luck and Murphy's Law."

"I don't feel well enough to think about that. Nap time?"

"Yeah. I mean, how the hell can life get anymore complicated?"

Chapter Text

Tony wiped the sweat off his brow. Sparing with Happy was a good stress-reliever. It was part of his new routine. Analise had told him that he needed to take time to do something he enjoyed (completely for his own benefit) once a week. It could be as simple as ordering himself food or going out somewhere new, but it had to be only for his benefit. He wasn't even allowed to take Analise. He had to admit, it was working. He actually felt happier. Taking some time to care for himself was good. He'd begrudgingly admit that the therapist he saw was also good for him, Analise had been quite adamite about him seeing someone. Things were getting a better, slowly but surely.

Tony still had a firm mask on. He could be what the media wanted: cold, snarky, self-absorbed, playboy. He could keep himself sheltered from those he didn't trust. But he'd found his own family. He had an inner circle of those he could let the mask come off for outside of Analise. He was pretty sure he could trust Pepper, Happy, and Rhodey, well...and Jarvis prime, but he was sick and it wasn't looking great. Tony made a mental note to visit Jarvis and tell him all about JARVIS. He'd laugh. Things were looking up...until JARVIS spoke up.

"Sir, there is someone at the door."

Tony frowned and stepped out of the ring. "Who is it?" Tony asked. If it was Obie, again, he'd be pissed. Obie'd been hawking him about the new missile plans and Obie was supposed to be in the New York headquarters. Plus, there weren't many people with his home address.

"Sir, I ran facial recognition. Apparently, they are Mrs. and Mr. Parker of Queens. May and Ben are their names."

"Do I know any Parkers?" Tony asked.

"Not that I'm aware of."

"And how did they find my house?"

"Unclear, sir. Shall I invite them in?"

"What the hell, go for it." Tony wiped his face with a towel and grabbed a drink.

"You want me to come with, boss?" Happy asked.

"Nah, I'm good. Thanks, champ, take ten." Tony patted Happy's arm as Analise nipped at Amber's leg.

The dingo daemon rolled her eyes at Analise and let the two of them go.

Tony walked up the stairs and into his front room, making sure he was unnoticeable. A good looking woman with tanned skin, dark hair, and glasses stood in the room with wide eyes. Her husband was next to her. His hair was lighter, and he stood tall, but obviously uncomfortable. Tony walked past them and smiled when the black cat and the barn owl daemons both tensed. Tony was good at going unnoticeable, but daemons always seemed to know when a witch was around, even if they couldn't quite figure out what they were sensing. He'd learned how to walk and where to keep himself when he used his little magic trick. Tony walked over to his bar and leaned against it. Analise hopped up onto it and climbed onto Tony's shoulder.

"It's a nice place." Ben said quietly.

"He has a fucking electronic butler." May whispered in shock.

"He's actually an AI." Tony smiled when all four of them jumped and whirled to look at him. "His name is JARVIS, by the way. I don't actually think I caught your names?" Tony nodded, wondering if they'd lie.

"May and Ben Parker." The woman said after catching her breath. "Jesus, how did you do that?"

"I'm a witch, I like to assess certain things before stepping into them. Like...how two strangers came to be in my house."

"Your AI let us in." May said, gesturing to the sky.

Ben snorted. "I think he's asking how we knew this was his place."

Tony pointed at the man. "Good on you. I have a few other questions, but that's a good first one."

"We know someone who's been here. We um...have something, delicate and...important to tell you." Ben said. He was obviously the more cautious of the two. May seemed more outgoing and talkative. Ben just seem relaxed and level-headed.

"Right. So how do I know you?"

"You don't." May said, holding out her hand.

Tony narrowed his eyes and she dropped her hand. "Would you like a drink? I can get you anything."

"I'm fine," Ben said.

"Just water, if you're offering." Tony made the glass and caught sight of Amber sneaking around the corner. "I'm fine, Hap." Tony called before handing the glass over to May. "You intrigued my security guard." Tony told them when he saw their curiosity. "Come on, sit." They all sat down on the large sofas. May awkwardly took a sip of her water and stared down at her hands. "Is there a reason why you're here?"

"Um, yeah, I was just trying to think of how to start this. It's...well, it's delicate." Ben rubbed the back of his neck.

"My feelings aren't, so fire away." Tony shrugged. Analise snickered. "This is why I don't take you anywhere cool." Tony rolled his eyes as Analise stuck her tongue out and jumped onto the sofa. She watched the daemons curiously.

"This is a big deal. We're not even supposed to be here, but...." May frowned. "I guess I'll start this. Ben's brother is getting married and his wife-to-be and I talk a lot."

Tony blinked. He was only curious because they'd went to all the trouble to track him down and hadn't sold out his address to the paparazzi. They obviously had a purpose, but he had absolutely no clue what they're connection was.

"Look, it's like this. She's engaged to Ben's brother, but the two had an argument a few months ago and were briefly...what's the Friend's term?"

"'On a break,' honey." Ben wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

"Yeah, I told her not to do anything rash but...."

"It's probably best if we start here." Ben interrupted. "Do you remember a woman called Mary? Mary Fitzpatrick?"

Tony blinked. One of these. He never should've slept with a woman who had a ring on her finger, but in his defense she'd come on to him. It was a flimsy one, but the consent was clearly there. He didn't want to be in the middle of family drama. He really didn't. "Yes, brilliant scientist. She's going to go places. What about her?"

Ben nodded. "To put this delicately, we know you slept with her and we're not judging or upset, she's a grown woman and it takes two to tango, alright? But, we do need to talk about it."

"I know I've fucked up a lot of times, but I promise you there was consent and-"

"Like I said, Mr. Stark, we're not here to point fingers or anything. I'm not judging your character. I think the press does that enough and we all know the sort of integrity they have, so we figured you could use a break from the judgment." Ben said.

That was unexpectedly kind and observant. "Tony." Tony corrected. "And thank you. So what's this about?"

"Well...Mary's pregnant and it isn't my brother's," Ben said. "We're pretty certain it's not his."

"I've talked to here and the only other person she's slept with is you, so is there any chance that...there was an 'oopsie?'"

Tony tried to remember that night. He'd been really drunk. He'd never been so drunk that he'd forgotten protection though.

"It's not always 100%, Tone." Analise said quietly.

"Look, look, look. Before you freak out and think we're trying to come after your money, we're not." Ben held up his hand. "In fact, my brother and Mary want absolutely none of this to get out. My brother told me and Mary talked to May and we weren't supposed to tell anyone, but under the circumstances I couldn't stay quiet in good conscious."

"Me neither." May shook her head. "Look, I know this is a big deal, but we just wanted you to know. See...they're going to give the kid up. They weren't going to tell you and we thought that was...cruel. At least if you know, you have a chance to take the kid in or not depending on what you decide, but you should have the choice."

"We don't know you and we can't believe anything the media says, but we thought it wasn't right to take away a chance at fatherhood. We're not asking you to act right now, we just wanted you to know the truth. I mean if something like this happened with me or May we'd want to know. I don't know if you want kids or if you ever planned on them, but it's not right that they're choosing to lie to you. You can do your own research or ignore us or whatever, but we had to tell you. It wouldn't be right to just not tell you you had a son or daughter out there."

Tony looked at Analise. He couldn't speak.

"Look, you both sound very genuine and we'd have to discuss how Tony feels about this and we'd have to figure out if this kid is his..."

"We don't need you to act now." May said. "I have a card, I can give you that. It's going to be a couple months before anything happens. This is a big deal and you need to take your time and I'm sure the both of you have people who try to mooch off of you, but we just wanted you to know the truth and...what you chose to do with it is up to the both of you." May pulled a card out of her purse and put it on the table. "I just think it's fucking bullshit, what they're doing. It's all well and good that they don't want a kid right now, but fucking hell they don't have the right to just sweep this whole thing under a rug." May shook her head.

Analise nodded. "Like I said, you both seem very honest and kind. It must've been difficult to come all this way. We'll get ahold of you when we speak about this. There are...complicated feelings toward family, for the both of us and..." Analise looked at Tony. "I can only speak for myself, really...so we need to have a serious talk, but...thank you for being honest. I mean we get lots of paternity claims, and I mean Pepper has a box full of them in alphabetical order. Half the women in the files weren't even pregnant and some have never even met him, which makes me cringe to think of sex education in schools these days." Analise frowned. "You two have been very honest and we'll definitely have to do our own homework and discuss our options if this is Tony's... We'll just need to talk."

"And we understand." Ben nodded and stood. "We're sorry for barging in and all, but we couldn't keep quiet. We'll see ourselves out."

"Don't be silly." Analise hopped off the couch and walked with the two and their daemons to the door. Once they'd gone she returned to Tony. "Tony, we've been through this before, it might not be true."

"Humans can lie, daemons can lie, but they can rarely do it at the same time. Did you see them? All four of them were just so...honest."

"They suspect it's yours, Tony. The kid may very well be Mary and her fiancé's, we have to do the leg work."

Tony stared into space. "What if this kid is mine, Ana?"

"That's up to you to work out. I already know what I think, but this is all up to you." Analise climbed up into Tony's lap.

"What if the kid goes into the system?" Tony whispered. "But what if I did take them in, what then? Would I just be like Howard and fuck the kid up like I was? I don't even know where to begin to solve this problem, there are just too many fucking variables."

"Then take some time, okay? We have time. Just keep this card, just in case we have to get ahold of May Parker again..."

"Analise...you seem to know what to do. What am I supposed to do?"

The daemon looked at Tony, blinked, and shook her head. "No Tone, not this time. I'm not going to tell you my opinion, but I think if you search yourself, you'll know there's only one answer if this kid truly is yours." Analise left Tony alone.

"Fuck." Tony whispered.

Chapter Text

Analise watched Tony pace. It was a common sight now. He was always so anxious. "So, you called May?"

"Yeah." Tony paused and nodded.

"Any news?" Analise wondered.

Tony sighed and sat down on the couch. "May said that they finally got an unobstructed view of the kid, they found out the gender today. It's a boy."

Analise tried to remain impassive, but her insides were melting with happiness and warmth. "Okay...and did you ask her about the other thing?"

"I didn't." Tony shook his head and stood up again, resuming his pacing.

"You're going to end up in your workshop if you keep pacing like that." Analise frowned. "You really should have asked. We need to know if we should get lawyers involved with this."

"Maybe I should ask Mary directly. I'd feel bad putting the Parkers in the middle of this. I don't mean to rip them apart."

"Are you getting cold feet? Tony, I thought you said you wanted to raise this kid-if he's your son. Now, it could be a fucking mess if we aren't prepared."

Tony whirled around and glared at Analise. "What do you want from me, Ana? Do you want me to tell you I'm terrified? I am. I fucking am! I don't know what a good father looks like and I'm riddled with problems. I'm barely fit to take care of myself, let alone another human being. What if I fuck this kid up? I don't want him to go anywhere else if he's mine, because I don't want to be that person who abandons his kid, the way Howard basically abandoned me, but Jesus, this is insane. So, I'm scared, okay? I'm terrified. But I also don't really want to make May and Ben suffer for my idiocy. Hell, what if the kid's not even mine and I end up splitting up their family relationship? Dick move. I'm an asshole, but not that much."

Analise sighed and got up, walking towards Tony. "Tone...I-"

"Wow, I missed a lot." Grace said quietly from the doorway. "How long was I out this time?"

"Oh...um, hi, Grace." Analise looked down at the ground.

Tony frowned and looked at the lioness. "Are you alright to be moving around?"

"I've been sleeping a long time. I feel stiff, moving helps, but I'd rather talk about this. There's a little Stark on the way?" Grace wondered, prowling forward.

"Possible Stark." Tony commented.

"Hm, must be pretty plausible, you don't normally look into these issues." Grace commented as she stretched. "What? I hear Pepper talk. There's like hundreds of paternity claims. None of them have held water, so...this one must be pretty convincing to have you worked up." She walked directly to Analise and licked the top of her head.

Analise looked up with wide eyes, then pounced on Grace, curling up on her shoulders. "It's pretty compelling, yeah." Analise answered.

"Mm." Grace nodded. "You'd be a good father, I think. What's the talk about lawyers? Is the mother trying to keep you away?"

"We don't know, could be an eventuality though." Analise shrugged. "You know, maybe you should just talk to Mary. If she and her fiancé really want nothing to do with the kid... I mean if you're the biological father and the mother doesn't want the kid, it shouldn't be too hard to gain custody."

"You'd still want a lawyer to make sure no one could take him away though...right? I'm not good with these things, I've just listened to you guys talk about business and legal stuff." Grace yawned and sighed heavily, laying down. "I'm tired again." She sounded downcast about it. A few lucid minutes had taken much of her strength.

"Yeah...we should do that." Analise nodded and looked up at Tony. "If you're really sure about this."

Tony took a deep breath. "I'll make a few calls. We're going to need someone who's confidential working on this...maybe get them to sign some NDAs."

"Better safe than sorry and...if he's not yours well..."

"If he's not mine at least I won't be able to fuck up someone else's life." Tony shook his head.

"I think you'd be a good father." Grace commented. It was the first time she'd looked at Tony as she spoke.

Tony froze, then smiled. "Thanks, glad someone has faith in me."

"I do!" Analise shouted.

"Someone who counts." Tony smirked.

"You're a brat. Go make your calls. I'm gonna help Gracie to bed."

"Okay...and Grace, we're getting closer. I promise." Tony nodded, pulling his phone from his pocket.

"I trust you, Tony."

"Just found Mary's number... Wish me luck, guys."

Analise grinned, winked, and walked with Grace out of the room.

-

Tony hadn't told anyone except for Happy and Pepper. He'd only told Pepper, because she'd caught him watching a bunch of baby 'how to's' on the internet while he was in his workshop. He told Happy, because his head of security definitely needed to know that there might be someone else to watch over-that and he needed a ride to the hospital.

The baby had come two weeks early. Everyone in the department, thanks to Happy, had NDAs to sign long before Tony walked onto the floor. Tony looked through the glass. A nurse walked up next to Tony.

"Mr. Stark, we ran your blood test and..." The nurse looked through the glass. "Um, baby Stark is the third one from the right. Three hours old, born at 12:09 AM. Five pounds, three ounces, seventeen and a half inches. Got all fingers and toes."

"Isn't that a bit small?"

"He is a little early, but he's healthy and...he's yours. We triple checked."

"Was Mary okay?"

"Yeah, as much as any woman who just gave birth can be, nice of you to ask." The woman stated. "It's okay to be scared, you know."

"Do I look scared?"

"I've seen that look a million times on every father and mother's face on this day." She laughed. "You are going to raise him, right?"

Tony swallowed. "I'm going to do my best. I don't know if I can."

The nurse rubbed his back. "Want to know the best way to tell?" She nodded through the window. "Go hold him. If you don't know everything you need to know after that, then...well, maybe this isn't the right gig for you. I'll leave you alone, but...I'd like to know his name and the daemon's, for their records, okay?" The nurse walked away.

Tony chanced a glance at her. There was a ferret daemon around her neck. She was petite and her brown hair had streaks of grey. "Thanks." He muttered and then stared at the door as if it were his mortal enemy.

"Tone, you can do it. I'm here with you." Analise whispered.

Tony looked down at his daemon and tried to smile, but his lips wouldn't move. He swallowed and walked to the door. He was Tony fucking Stark, he could do build bombs that ended wars. He could open a door.

It turned out the door was the heaviest in the planet, but Tony somehow pried it open.

He walked cautiously to the third bed. The baby there was small, wrapped in a white blanket that had little blue footprints on it. Next to the blankets was a small puppy daemon with mousy brown coloring. The daemon was sleeping, same as the babe. Analise didn't hesitate at all to climb into the small cot. She went instantly to the little pup and licked her head gently, before picking her up by the scruff of her neck. Analise settled down and sat the sleeping pup between her front legs. She already had a protective baring over the daemon. She looked at Tony and nodded to the baby.

Tony suddenly had no clue what to do. He'd watched hundreds of videos, even talked to many of his employees about their children (big mistake, they never shut up about their kids now), and he'd read every book he could get his hands on. Tony took off his suit jacket, leaving him in just a Metallica t-shirt. The ward was clever enough to leave sanitizer next to every baby. His hands shook as he put on the hand sanitizer.

Support the head and neck. He repeated to himself over and over. Holding a baby was important, for bonding and stuff, right? God, what if he messed up this first fucking thing?

"Breathe." Analise reminded him. "You'll be fine."

Tony reached out and gingerly picked up the baby. The little boy snuffled and let out a little cry as his mouth stretched open. "Sh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up. Sorry, I'm new at this." Tony pulled the infant close and felt the most powerful emotion he'd ever felt in his life. He couldn't put a name on it, it was too many things at once. He wanted to protect the little boy in his arms forever, wanted to love him and cherish him and make sure he was always warm and happy and cared for. He never wanted to let go. Love. Was this how love felt? A tear rolled down Tony's cheek. How could any father ever want to hurt this? It felt too perfect, too pure. He'd never let anyone hurt his little boy, not even himself. "Hey, baby. I'm sorry, were you dreaming?"

The little boy opened his eyes and they were dark blue. Tony looked closely at the boy. The dark blue eyes, the light brown tuft of hair on his head. Rosy cheeks. The baby boy was perfect.

"I won't let anyone ever hurt you, I promise. I'm going to take care of you, okay? I promise." Tony barely got the words out as tears rolled down his cheeks. "You're perfect, aren't you? Just perfect."

The baby made another sound before blinking his eyes closed and turning his head closer to Tony's chest.

"Morgana." Analise whispered. The puppy between her paws was awake now, looking at Tony and Analise with interest while her human slept.

"What?" The pup asked, sounding confused and disorientated.

"I'm calling you Morgana, love, and we're always going to look after you." Analise promised, snuggling with the little daemon. Morgana seemed to understand and accept this as truth. She wordlessly shifted into a fox cub and fell asleep against Analise. Analise looked up at Tony.

The name Tony spoke just felt right and Tony felt the need to honor the couple who'd given him the chance to hold this little boy.

"It's a good name, Tone." Analise said.

The door opened and the nurse from before stepped in. "Look at that, not so hard, already napping with his daddy." She smiled gently and walked forward, her hands holding a clipboard. "So...what's their names."

"Morgana Stark." Analise said without hesitation.

Tony smiled with pride and love. "Peter. Peter Benjamin Stark."

Chapter Text

Tony usually walked like a man on a mission, but his mission was a little different now: let the kid sleep. He got to take Peter and Morgana home, but he was surprised to find May and Ben watching him with faint smiles. Analise looked up at him, she couldn't speak because she was carrying Morgana, but Tony knew that look. He approached the two Parkers.

"You're great with him already, look at that." May grinned and stepped forward. "Hi, buddy, I'm Auntie May." She made a few weird faces, but kept her voice down.

"May." Ben said in a low, warning tone.

"Oh, right-" She started to back up.

"No, Aunt May and Uncle Ben have a nice ring to it." Tony assured them. "If you want to...that is. I don't really have family and...you guys were very kind to let me have this."

"I'm Aunt May, and this serious lump of seriousness is Uncle Ben." May teased, then looked up. "What's their names?"

"Peter and Morgana."

"Little angels." May grinned. "Well, you probably want to go home and we need to go check on Mary, but...you both take care and if you ever need anyone to babysit, I'm totally in. He's just so cuuuute." She gently rubbed the back of Peter's little hand and grinned.

"I'm glad it worked out for you guys." Ben nodded and pulled May away. Their daemons walked close together, obviously in a loving manner.

Tony smiled after them then managed to brave digging out his phone. He dialed a familiar number. "Pepper."

"Hey, boss. Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, he's...he's perfect." Tony smiled and started walking towards Happy. "Um can you let Obie know that I'm going to be doing a stint in rehab? Say I was real bad or something. JARVIS already has the incriminating photos and such."

"Rehab, huh?" Pepper asked.

Tony nodded even though she couldn't see it. "I needed and excuse to stop working for a few months, the media will eat it up. I'll pretend I went to that private institute. I've already given JARVIS some evidence to leak over time to keep people believing it. You've seen me at my worst, Pep, make Obie believe it, alright?"

"Can do, boss. So...what's his name?" Pepper wondered.

"Peter."

"Adorable. Can I come meet him sometime?"

"Definitely, no promises that I'll let him go, though." Tony said truthfully. "I got to go, Pep. Thank you."

Pepper didn't miss a beat. "You're welcome, Tony."

Tony hung up and walked up to Happy. "This the kid?"

"Yup and if it ever is me or him, you protect him first, got it?" Tony said seriously.

"I'm your bodyguard, Tony." Happy said, confused.

"Yeah, well you're his as well. Don't worry it comes with a pay raise."

"I'm not worried about that, boss." Happy looked at the baby in Tony's arms. "Cute kid." He sounded a little awkward.

Tony smiled anyway. "Let's get him home so he can really rest. The upstate house. I got it all set up for a kid and no one knows it's my place. It'll be good for him."

"Alright, Boss."

-

A soft cry woke Tony up. "Sir, Master Stark appears to have woken up." JARVIS stated quietly, before turning on a soft lullaby, a rock song Tony'd found transformed into a soft lullaby, because why not let a baby have good taste?

"On it." Tony got up and walked over to Peter's crib. Peter had his own room, but Tony didn't like having him too far from him. Peter was typically good at sleeping through the night, but the past few he'd been fussy. Tony didn't mind all that much. He usually stayed up late anyway. Tony usually tried to function on about four or five hours of sleep, so even a fussy Peter didn't put a dent in his rest. "Hey, kid. You alright?" Tony picked Peter up and held the kid against his bare chest.

Peter still cried and nuzzled against Tony's chest.

Tony chuckled. "Kid, I appreciate that you're a breast man, but I'm not a mom, okay? I sorta can't help you there. How about we get you a bottle instead?"

Analise scooped Morgana up and walked with Tony to the kitchen.

"Sh, baby, you're alright. I've got you." Tony rocked Peter, humming along to the Sweet Child of Mine lullaby. Tony got a bottle ready, one-handed, and sat in the living room. Analise curled around Morgana on the couch. Peter stopped crying as soon as he had the bottle. "See? I can figure it out, kid. I speak baby." Tony teased.

"Sir, I believe Miss Potts has just pulled in. Shall I let her in?" JARVIS asked.

"Might as well, she'll find her way in one way or another."

-

Pepper got out of her car and opened the back door. Grace stepped down onto the sidewalk. Tony never talked about why he had someone else's daemon in his house, and Pepper didn't really want to ask. Tanner flew up to Pepper's shoulder and she walked to the front door. It was early, but her flight had been a late one. She claimed to be traveling to New York to handle some paperwork Tony wanted. Obie was on her ass trying to get ahold of Tony, but she made sure she gave away nothing. Tony was 'in rehab' she was going to make sure he was left undisturbed so he could 'get healthy.' She'd seen his party days, perhaps he needed it in real life, but he did say he hadn't had a drop since he found out about the possibility of the kid. Maybe he just needed a reason to be sober.

She walked to the door and smiled when she heard it click. She opened it and stepped inside. She kicked her heels off and hoped Tony'd let her crash on a couch. She was fucking exhausted. She paused. There was a lullaby playing. Was that Guns and Roses? Leave it to Tony. Pepper walked to the living room and froze at the sight in front of her.

Tony was holding the baby in his arm, another held a bottle. The little kid put his cute little hand against Tony's bare chest, his eyes opening and closing slowly. Tony had the softest, most amazing smile on his face.

Pepper had never seen that smile before. She'd seen Tony's fake press smile. She'd seen his smirk when he knew he'd won an argument or debate. She'd seen that genuine, happy smile when Tony has the time to work on his robots. She knows the soft smiles he gives to those he trusts. This smile was more. It was soft and warm and adoring. It was love.

"Oooh, sweet child of mine...." Tony sang softly. The baby patted Tony's chest and wiggled his feet, making a happy gurgling noise.

Even Analise looked happier than normal, curled up with a small, tawny fox.

Pepper didn't go any further. She didn't want to pop the bubble. Grace walked forward without pause and sat in front of the sofa in front of Analise.

"Hey, Peter Pan, Pepper brought Grace with her. She's gonna stay with us, okay?" Tony commented.

Grace looked from the fox to the baby. Without a word, Grace purred, nuzzled the two foxes and then curled up on the ground.

"How'd you get her here?" Tony looked away from Peter for just a second.

"She was lucid for a few hours. I'm pretty sure that she didn't want to be alone in that big house." Pepper stated. "This Peter?" Tanner fluttered to the arm of the sofa to look at Morgan, curious.

"Yeah. Come here." Tony nodded to the spot next to him. "Wanna hold him?"

"I'm uh, I don't really know how to."

"Don't worry. Just keep his head and neck up. Here." Tony pressed close to Pepper before settling Peter in her arms.

Pepper felt terrified, but Tony stayed close. Peter blinked his eyes opened and looked at Pepper. Pepper couldn't look away. "He looks like you."

Tony just smiled as Peter grabbed his finger tight.

"This looks good on you." Pepper said after a few minutes. "Better than your usual, but what in the world is that music?"

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Rockstar," Tony smirked. "Peter loves it and so do I."

"He's so small." Pepper whispered. "I probably shouldn't, I mean, I'm exhausted and I don't really know how to deal with kids."

Tony took Peter back gently. "I was scared. I still am sometimes. Still hungry, bud?" Tony asked, but Peter didn't seem interested in the bottle. He yawned a huge, round yawn and nuzzled against Tony, gripping Tony's finger in his little hand. "Alright, I get it." Tony pulled Peter upright and gently pat his back. "I promise you can go to sleep soon."

Pepper smiled. "You're good with him. You thought you wouldn't be."

"It isn't easy...and I just...need to make sure it's always right."

"I'll keep you honest." Analise promised.

"You could never be Howard." Grace assured Tony quietly.

Tony smiled and then looked up at Pepper. "The spare bedroom's down the hall, third one from the left. JARVIS will let you pick your lullaby."

"Very funny, Tony." Pepper stood up.

"He's grown fond of them."

"Indeed, I have." JARVIS said quietly, even the AI knew not to disturb Peter. "I can offer a great many classic rock lullabies. Shall I give you a selection, Miss Potts?"

"No. I'll be fine." Pepper shook her head. "Thanks for letting me crash here."

"Thanks for covering for me. I know dealing with all of the backlash is tiresome."

"Well, for the kid, I suppose I can take some backlash. He's cute." Pepper grinned and held out her hand. Tanner flew to her shoulder. "Goodnight, Tony."

Pepper didn't wait for a response. She knew it wasn't coming. Tony was too wrapped up in Peter.

Pepper had seen many, many versions of Tony Stark, but this one was new. She liked this one. It seemed as if, for the first time, he'd found his place.

Tony Stark: Genius, Billionaire, Philanthropist, Father.

Chapter Text

The large key ring was Peter's favorite, mostly because he liked to gum at the colorful, soft plastic keys. Peter lay in his crib in the living room and shook his keys before he began to gum at the red one. "You like the red one, huh? Is red your favorite?"

Peter giggled and jiggled the keys.

"I don't know as though I'd trust you with real keys, but I have a nice red car you might like. Maybe I'll let you drive it when you're like...forty." Tony teased as he tried to find his spot in his recipe. Peter was in a good mood, thankfully. He'd been a bit cranky, but Tony expected it, given the poor kid likely had teeth trying to punch holes through his gums. It had to be traumatic for the usually calm baby. Tony'd found that the best way to make Peter relax, other than to hold him every second of the day, was to give him something to fiddle with. "You just want something to do, don't you? Gotta have your keys or rattle. Maybe you like the sound, huh?"

"You were like that too." Analise commented. "You always wanted to do something, wanted to focus. Jarvis used to try and make sure you always had something to fiddle with...." There was an unspoken end to the sentence. A clear message that Tony's parents didn't give Tony what he needed. "You think he gets curious now. Wait until he starts crawling."

"Nope, nope, nope." Tony shook his head. "Not gonna happen, is it baby boy? If you start crawling then you'll start running and we'll just be in so much trouble, won't we? Let's take baby steps, I need to keep up with you alright?" Tony teased.

"Sir, your guests have arrived, should I let him in?"

"Of course, J." Tony insisted.

A few moments later Jarvis was wheeled into the room. His daughter waved at Tony with a sad smile, then kissed Jarvis on the cheek and left with her robin daemon on her shoulder.

"Jarvis, I told you you didn't have to make the trip." Tony stepped around the corner as Analise rubbed against Azure's legs. The German shepherd daemon seemed tired, but happy and bopped Analise on the head with a paw playfully.

"Nonsense. You said there was a little Stark, I had to see him. He has to meet his Grandpa Jarvis at least once, right? Can't let the chance go by before I kick the bucket. Besides, it's been too long, my boy."

Tony smiled sadly and walked forward. Jarvis was one of the few people he could openly hug without any fear, without any trust issues. Jarvis had been the only one to really look after him. "I'm happy to see you."

"Are you actually trying to cook?" Jarvis wondered in a playful tone.

"Trying?" Tony scoffed and pulled away. "I'll have you know I've gotten pretty decent at this. I can bake, ish. Cooking is difficult, but baking is science. That's easy."

"Just don't burn the pancakes." Jarvis chuckled. "His name's Peter, right?" Jarvis looked over to the crib.

Tony smiled and nodded. "Feel free to make sure he's up to standards, but I promise you he's perfect." Tony headed to the kitchen. It wouldn't do to ruin the one and probably only meal he'd ever get to make for Jarvis.

"I have no doubts." Jarvis wheeled over to Peter and lowered the railing. Peter turned at the noise and looked at Jarvis. "Hi, kid, those are fine nice keys you have there. Are they nummy?"

Peter let out a loud noise in response and shook the keys at him.

Jarvis seemed to appraise the boy for a moment before he reached forward. "Can I hold you Master Stark? You're just such a sweet little thing."

"Thanks, but I'm probably too big for that." Tony called.

"You are the Senior Master Stark." Jarvis teased.

Tony smiled. Jarvis didn't call him Mr. Stark. Mr. Stark meant Howard when it came from Jarvis and they both knew to avoid that topic. "Still too big. He's okay though. He's pretty good at judging characters. He threw his keys at Happy, God knows Happy can't stand kids, they terrify him. He's demanding hazard pay for when he has to look out for Peter."

Jarvis scooped Peter up. "You're not a hazard at all, are you sweetie? You look just like your daddy and you make lots of noises. It's nice to hear that."

The subtext was clear. Peter made noises because Tony communicated with him. Tony had lived most of his younger years in silence. "He's going to be a talker." Tony stated.

"Curious little bug too. He's got his eyes on everything, don't you Peter?" Jarvis cradled Peter against his chest. "Beautiful boy. You know, the misses and I wanted many more children. Never did have more than three though. I've always loved the little ones, they're just so precious and full of so much life and light."

"Three? I've only met Annie and Marcus."

Jarvis shot a look at Tony that was somewhere between soft and scolding.

'Ooh...right.' Tony smile shyly at Jarvis. 'He did name himself Peter's grandpa after all.'

"He looks like you, hair's a bit lighter, but he's go your curls, and your eyes were that blue once, I bet they'll turn out like yours." Jarvis let Peter play with his fingers. "So, how're you holding up?"

"I've had a few anxiety attacks." Tony admitted. There was no use bullshiting Jarvis. He'd smell it a mile away. "I'm just always worried about hurting him or messing him up. I try, but I've got problems and I just don't want him to have them."

"Tony, I saw you as a baby. Did you know you stopped crying at about three months old? Guess you learned your folks weren't coming. Analise always called me for you. Daemons are intelligent from the start to help protect us when we're small, but it still isn't natural for them to have to be so grown up so fast. Look at Morgana, though. Does she ever talk?"

"Not really."

"She doesn't have to, because she knows if Peter makes a sound you'll be there. That's a good sign already. Analise never let strangers around you, but Morgana trusts your word that I wouldn't hurt Peter. Tony, you're doing fine. Parenting always has its ups and downs. You'll fight, you'll mess up, you'll do something stupid, you'll shout when you shouldn't, and you'll stay quiet when you should've shouted. It's all a part of the process. But I can tell that Peter hasn't seen an ounce of the neglect you suffered. You're already five thousand percent better at this than you give yourself credit for." Jarvis rocked Peter gently. "You know I almost quit? That day. I couldn't stand how they treated you, but I was so upset that day I nearly left."

"I'm glad you didn't." Tony whispered, flipping the pancakes.

"Me too. Truth is, I only stayed for you. I'm glad I did. You turned out pretty alright, if I do say so myself."

"Don't say things like that until you try the pancakes. They might be horrible." Tony deflected, but he was smiling.

Jarvis looked down at Peter. "You got a good one, kid."

Tony put the pancakes onto a serving plate.

"Sir, you have several messages from Mr. Stane."

"I'm in 'rehab,' J." Tony protested.

"Sir, it is about the Jericho project, and there appears to have been a minor explosion in the Manhattan R&D department."

Tony leaned against the counter. "Any injuries?"

"Five, Sir, though everyone is in stable condition."

"It's the repulsors isn't it?"

"It appears so. It would seem that they did not follow your specified procedures."

Tony took a deep breath and looked at Peter.

"Sir, this time, I fear the urgent messages are, indeed, urgent. Not aiding this could bring on worse...incidents."

"Lots of parents work, Tony." Jarvis said. "Your first priority should always be Peter, but work helps you to provide for him, so work is part of that balance. Go make your call. I'll watch him and eat pancakes. Go on."

Tony bit his lip then nodded. "J, mask my call, won't you?" Tony stepped out of the room, pulling his phone out of his pocket as he went.

Analise carried Morgana towards the kitchen bar as Jarvis rolled over there, Peter rested in his lap and played with his keys. Instead of digging into the food, Jarvis gently played with Peter's feet.

"I've never seen anyone so adored, aren't you lucky?" Jarvis smiled when Peter giggled.

"Dad's been hurt, hasn't he?" Morgana whispered, her voice hoarse from disuse.

Jarvis looked at the little, brown fox daemon sitting between Analise's front legs and frowned. "Very much and very often. I wish I could've stopped it."

"I can tell, because he gets so upset when Peter cries, even if he's just fussing..."

"Most little ones can, it's when we get older that we start turning a blind eye to everyone's pain." Jarvis shook his head and tickled Peter's feet again. Peter wasn't giggling, he was looking around, curiously. "He'll try as hard as he can, I know he will, but he might not always be perfect. I know for a fact he'll love you both though, okay?"

Morgana nodded thoughtfully. "I think we'll make him happy." She nodded to Peter. "We need him, but I think he needed us too."

"There are no truer words, little one." Azure promised.

"You know, you're our first grandbabies." Jarvis smiled and pulled Peter close to his chest. "I'm so glad Azure and I got to meet you."

"How much longer did they say?" Analise asked quietly, sadness clear in her voice.

"Days, if we're lucky. Been fighting a long time, but it's alright. It happens to everyone in the end. Not all of us are witch who get extra long turns on this planet." Jarvis sounded content. "I bet you've got it too, little one. Suppose you'll find out. You'll probably terrify the piss out of Tony if you go vanishing on him or flying. Too bad I won't get to see that bit, but hey, this is good. You're a nice baby. My oldest was fussy, you know? Always screaming about something, but I still loved her. You know they say quiet babies gave the Terrible Twos its name though, so you'll have that to look forward to."

"He gets fussy sometimes, but he really is a sweetheart." Analise smiled. "You know, Tony has always thought of you as a father, right?"

"He shows it in his own way." Jarvis nodded. "Never needed him to say it, just needed him to feel it." Jarvis looked at the pancakes. They looked edible, though misshapen and some of them were a little bit dark. "Suppose we can't let good food go to waste. I'm not hungry much these days, but it looks pretty good. How about breakfast, kid?"

Peter blinked at Jarvis and smiled, but froze when footsteps approached.

"No, I will be handling the Jericho project personally from now on. I don't care what schedule you're on Obie, it's obvious that they can't handle it, so I will as soon as I get back." Tony's voice was sharp, all business. "I don't think you get how this works, Obie. I make these decisions and I've decided it can wait until I get through this."

Peter laughed and kicked his legs, turning his head, looking for Tony.

"Is that your daddy?"

"I'll see you in a month, Obie. -Yes, one month. Don't fucking doubt me, I can work faster than all of R&D combined. Start me a month late and I'll still finish the project before them. The plans are just theoretical, but I think I could have a working prototype by summer. I'll flesh it out from there before we roll it out." Tony rubbed his face. "Yes, I'm irritated, they took my booze and phone from me. Do you want to know how many meetings I've gone to? I've got to go before Nurse Ratched finds out I stole her phone. Bye." Tony hung up and shook his head.

"Rough at work?"

"He wanted to push the project through, when obviously my R&D can't quite handle the schematics. It's fine. He'll just have to wait." Tony huffed. "Pete, what's got you all riled up?"

"His dad just walked into the room, it's an exciting time, you know?" Jarvis smiled. "It's never fun to leave, but coming back is always the best." Jarvis held up Peter, who reached out for his father.

"I love you so much, bambino." Tony pulled Peter into his arms. "Hungry? You can't have my pancakes, but you can have some formula...maybe in a bit we can try something else. I bet you'd like applesauce, you seem the type." Tony got Peter and himself settled and sat with Jarvis. They chatted for hours, until Jarvis' daughter showed up at the door.

Jarvis smiled and took a turn at hugging Peter again. Peter giggled and lifted his arms to imitate a hug around Jarvis' neck. Tony smiled. Peter didn't get it quite right even with him, but he was trying. It was cute, watching him learn. "You're absolutely precious. You be good now, you hear? Love you, little one." Jarvis kissed Peter and put the babe back in his crib before lifting the bar and turning to Tony.

Tony kept his eyes down for a second before he looked up and smiled with watery eyes at Jarvis.

"Come here, kid. You're not getting away without a hug, I don't care what issues you've got." Jarvis teased.

Tony laughed and hugged Jarvis. If he held on a little two long, no one said a word.

Jarvis left with a smile and a fond wave.

Tony tried not to miss it.

"Sir, he's my namesake, isn't he?" JARVIS asked but didn't wait for the answer. "I'm honored, Sir."

Tony swallowed against the thick feeling in his throat. "You should be, I named you after the closest thing I ever had to family...before Peter...and I don't think he'll be around much longer. JARVIS, make sure you keep the security footage, just store it somewhere private." Tony wiped his face and looked at Peter. "I think it's nap time for now, okay? We could both use it."

Chapter Text

Peter walked up to Tony, sniffling and Morgana was at his side, a puppy with her tail between her legs. Peter was wearing his favorite outfit, a batman onesie with a cape and all. Tony could hardly get the thing off him long enough to get it cleaned.

Tony was standing at his desk, a phone pressed to his ear. Tony looked at Peter as he spoke on the phone and frowned. He gestured for Peter to come forward and Peter wrapped his arms around his leg. "Look, Obie, you handle that one. I've figured out the flaw with the Jericho, you can tell the military that we've got something big heading their way. I just need a little longer and some access to palladium. Make sure the deal is made, alright?"

"Tony," Obie said. "The deal has been handled, you'll have your shipment at R&D by tomorrow. You are coming in tomorrow, right?"

Tony didn't want to. He could get away with working from home for the most part, but SI was getting a little unstable without seeing the Stark part often enough. Stocks were getting a bit shaky. Peter was almost three, Tony could probably get away with being at work more often than twice a week. It didn't matter that he worked nearly 48 hours straight when he did go into work, it just wasn't the consistency Stark Industries needed. Tony just didn't want to leave his kid. "Probably, I just had to get some work done in my personal workshop today. I'll send over schematics. I had a great idea for tech for vets." Tony picked Peter up. "Look, I've got to go, got something time sensitive going over here."

"Tony, you gotta give me something more-" Obie started.

Tony hung up. "Hey, Underoos, are you alright?"

"I broke it, Daddy."

"What broke, sweetie?"

"The car Uncle Ben sent. I broke it. I'm sorry." Peter cried into Tony's shoulder.

"Hey, don't worry. I'm a mechanic you know? Daddy can fix that. Here, let's go look." Tony carried Peter back to the living room.

For Peter's birthday, Ben had gotten him a small model car. Peter went through a whole car phase, wanting to see how they worked and moved. Tony fostered it, but never pushed Peter. Peter was already brilliant enough, Tony wasn't going to hold Peter back from his potential, but he wasn't going to be Howard. He wasn't going to put pressure on the kid. Peter should be allowed to be a child, no matter how smart he was.

The car was beautiful, and Peter was usually so careful with his things that Tony let him take it out of the box. Accidents happened with almost-three-year-olds though. "It's just a wheel, bambino. Did you know the wheels of real cars come off too?" Tony asked as he picked up the model car. It was a Stingray in red. Tony had to admit that Ben had taste. "Here, lets take it to the shop."

Tony helped Peter fix the car on the table. He taught Peter every step of the way and relaxed as Peter stopped sniffling. "We fixed it," Peter said.

"Of course we did, see? It's fine now." Tony tried to roll the car and the wheel wobbled a little.

Peter laughed. "We fixed it weird. But it's okay."

Tony smiled. It was okay. Mistakes happened, you learned from them and you got better. "Love you, kiddo." Tony kissed Peter's temple. "Can we have a serious talk now? Man to man?"

"Uh-oh. Did Morgana tell you 'bout the speaker?"

Tony blinked at Peter. "No, what about it? Would you like to confess something?"

Peter turned red. "I just needed a wire, for-uh 'cause my train wouldn't make the sound and it's 'cause the wire wasn't working so I fixed it."

"I TOLD HIM NOT TO!" Morgana cried, shifting into a lion cub.

"Peter, please don't pull apart electronics without me, you'll give me a heart attack." Tony frowned. "Just ask, we can build things together, Underoos. Okay?"

"You're not mad?" Peter asked with wide eyes.

"No, but now we have a rule and if you break it I will be, deal?"

Peter nodded.

Tony rubbed his face, come here.

Peter climbed onto Tony's lap and snuggled against him.

"I just want you safe, okay? I know you're really smart, I was the same way, but I got hurt a lot through trial and error because no one was looking out for me. So, just let me look out for you, bambino." Tony hugged Peter close. "Okay, now, about the adult thing. Daddy has to go to work more."

"Okay..."

"Would you be okay spending maybe...four days a week at Aunt May and Uncle Ben's?"

"In Queens?" Peter pouted. "It's so far away."

"But you love them, right?"

Peter nodded, but pouted. "I just like you more."

Tony breathed. It was not easy to work with a kid who was really smart and really emotional, especially when he dropped heartbreaking lines like that. "So, how about this? On Monday morning you get to go to your Aunt and Uncle's place and you get to spend the night, like right now. Then...on Tuesday, in the afternoon, Happy comes and gets you? Then we can spend all day Wednesday together, then you can spend Thursday and Friday there, but I promise you'll be picked up by six on both days?"

Peter wrinkled his nose. "Why can't I go to work with you? I held the flashlight when we worked on the car and you let me help put things together when they don't require grown-up strength and I can help!"

"We work on different things at the lab, sweetie, and it's not safe." The last thing Tony wanted was Peter in a workshop surrounded by weapons.

"You make things that hurt people," Peter said with distaste.

"I know and if it were easy to go from guns to butter we'd change that, but we're helping soldiers. You know how soldiers protect us. Well, I make things to protect them."

Peter huffed. "I don't want you to be gone all the time. I don't!"

"Inside voice, Underoos." Tony sighed and rubbed his head. "Buddy, I don't how else to swing this, okay? If the media found you, you'd never be left alone and that isn't safe." No one deserved to be watched like that. Peter deserved a childhood where people weren't out for his fame or his money. Hell if the world knew there was a little Stark he could be kidnapped for ransom. Tony wouldn't deal well with it. He couldn't care less about giving money out to protect his kid, but Peter didn't need to ever be traumatized like that. "Do you really want Pepper to babysit you?"

"NO!" Peter and Morgana shouted at once.

Tony nodded. Pepper had watched Peter for exactly one hour before having a meltdown. She really didn't know how to deal with little kids. She loved Peter, but she did not handle the responsibility of a kid well. It shocked Tony, because Pepper was practically his mother, always on him about something and making sure he was doing what he was supposed to. "We gotta meet somewhere in the middle, kid. Happy can't be your full-time babysitter and Daddy's in trouble at work."

"But your 'upposed to be the boss."

"Peter." Tony warned.

There was silence for a moment. "What about the tower?" Peter asked.

"What about it?" Tony pulled back and looked at Peter.

"It's got houses inside-uh, apartments, like May and Ben's. I could live there. We both could, and it'd be closer to Aunt May and Uncle Ben, right? Then I wouldn't always have to stay the night and I could see you every day."

"But you've always lived here."

"But we go to Malibu for Christmas. We can live somewhere else. I just wanna stay with you and if you hafta work, then...then I..." Peter frowned.

"You'd still need someone to look after you, Peter. I'm not leaving you alone for hours." Tony clenched his fists. He knew what it felt like, being alone for too long. Sure, he'd always had Analise, but that wasn't the point. They were alone and when they weren't alone sometimes they wished they had been. It was no way to live.

"Ana and JARVIS could watch me. JARVIS! Tell him you'll watch me."

"I always watch you, young master, but I cannot replace a physical presence."

"BUT I DON'T WANNA!" Peter shouted with a red face.

"I won't tell you again to use your indoor voice." Tony raised an eyebrow.

Peter drug in a rough breath, but stayed quiet.

"Peter, how about this?" Tony raised a hand. "We do this for a few years, okay? I work three or four days a week and I do my business trips, but when I'm gone you're either with the Parker's or Uncle Happy. Then when you start going to school we can balance this all out, okay? You can go to school, stay with Aunt May and Uncle Ben for a couple hours and then come home with me, okay? It's just a little bit, Peter, just so I know you're safe and taken care of okay?" Tony had negotiated with tough people before, but it was hard to argue with Peter's pout. He was a master at it.

"Do I have to?" Peter's eyes watered as his lip quivered.

"For now, kid, yeah." Tony didn't like it either. "Look, if I can't be there, I promise Analise will never leave you, okay? She'll stay right by your side whenever we're apart, deal? And I'll call you every day that we don't get to see each other, alright?"

Peter looked down at Morgana, still pouting.

"Fine. But as soon as I start school I get to stay with you, no more sleepovers! They don't know about how to make the thunderstorms go away."

Tony smiled gently. Peter and Morgana were terrified of thunderstorms and Tony was the only person who could calm them down. It was a task even Analise couldn't handle. "I promise, if I'm ever away while there are thunderstorms you can call me, kid. It's just going to be for a little bit, until we can get this rhythm down. We just have to be really grateful that May and Ben love watching you. So we're always real nice to them, aren't we?"

Peter nodded. "And I do love them and maybe I want some sleepovers, but not all the time."

"So we've got a deal. How about we shake on it, then we calm down. Maybe we can watch a movie."

"Star Wars?"

"We can swing that." Tony ruffled his hair. "I'm not mad. I'm not sending you to your aunt and uncle because I'm upset. You understand that, right?"

"I know..."

"I love you, Underoos." Tony held Peter close, taking a deep breath and smiling at the soft smell of his kid's hair. It was shampoo and Peter, probably the best smell ever.

"I love you too, Daddy."

"I promise we'll figure this out, kiddo. I don't like it either."

"I coulda neg-negotiated better then, huh?"

"Don't get any ideas, Underoos. You could definitely convince me to work from home and fuck what Obie says about being present."

"You said a bad word." Peter giggled.

"Yes, I did. Don't do what I do." Tony sighed and lifted his kid up as he stood. "Now, want some snacks while we watch Jedis fight?"

"YES!"

Chapter Text

Tony knelt in front of Peter.

"Are you sure you have to go?" Peter asked.

"I've been trying to get out of this for weeks, but Obie insisted. It's just a presentation. It should only be a few days."

Peter looked over at the TV. It was playing the news quietly, something about an apartment fire in Queens. "But there a war over there. Is it safe?"

"There's trouble everywhere, buddy. I'll be with soldiers and Rhodey, I've told you about him, he's strong and he'll look out for me. I've done this a few times, I take pictures with the soldiers, I give them tools they need to win, and I come home."

"Okay..." Peter asked.

Tony smiled and kissed Peter's cheek. "Ana is going to stay with you and your aunt and uncle. She'll look out for you, okay? I'll call you every night before bedtime."

Peter nodded solemnly. "I just don't like it."

"Me neither, but when this is over I get a week off and we can hang out the whole time. We could even go to the Malibu house and go swimming or exploring."

"Promise?" Peter asked.

"Promise." Tony pulled his kid into a tight hug before he stood up. Ana curled up around Morgana, the way she always did when Tony had to leave. "Thank you, both, for looking after him."

"Of course, we're family, that's what we do." Ben nodded. "You stay safe, alright?"

"Always do. He's gotten into the habit of pulling things apart to see how they work, just to warn you."

May and Malik laughed. They spoke at the same time as well. "I wonder where he got that from." May turned on the black cat. "Jinx." She winked at her daemon. "We'll look after him, just go schmooze your people so you can come back. He misses you."

"It'll be a quick trip. I'll be home soon." Tony ruffled the light curls on Peter's head. "Maybe have a playdate with that nice kid a few floors down. What's his name again? Ed?" Tony'd researched the kid's whole family to make sure they were safe around Peter, and Tony was glad they were good people. Peter needed someone his age to socialize with.

"Ned!"

"That's right." Tony nodded. "Love you, Underoos." Tony kissed his cheek once more. "I'll be home soon. Analise, you're in charge, don't let them spoil him too much."

"If anyone spoils him, you do." Analise huffed. "Get out of here. The sooner you leave, the sooner you come back."

Tony rolled his eyes, waved to the Parkers and left.

-

"You're late." Rhodey complained. Ella perched on his shoulder. She was a beautiful hawk who currently was glaring a hole into Tony's soul.

"I had something to take care of, besides, it's my plane, it'll take off when I tell it to."

"I've been here for four hours, Tony!"

Tony shrugged. "Trafic was horrible." Tony stepped onto the plane and sighed. He was going to have to tell Rhodey and Ella. They wouldn't tell anyone, but he still felt nervous for it. Peter was his, even talking about him felt like sharing. "Let's rock and roll." Tony called out before taking his seat on the plane. He stared at his hands and noticed Rhodey glaring at him out of the corner of his eyes. "Hey, sour patch."

"Shut up." Rhodey sighed. "Four hours."

"Can I explain?" Tony asked. He waved away the attendant before she could approach and offer them anything.

"Will it be bullshit?" Ella flapped down onto the table and glared at him.

"No, it won't. It'll be probably the least amount of bullshit I've ever said."

Ella didn't give any indication that she believed him or that she was interested in listening to him.

Rhodey straightened up. "What's up, Tones?"

"I've been...hiding something for a while now."

"Does it explain why Obie got up my ass about how unreliable you've been recently?" Rhodey frowned. "What's up, Tony? I thought you stopped drinking and, hell, even the paparazzi hasn't caught you partying recently. What's going on?"

"I'm a father." Tony nodded.

"Shit." Ella was the only one to speak for several minutes.

Rhodey swallowed. "Okay...want to give some details?"

"I have a son, named Peter. I would've told you sooner, but I don't like sharing. He's really smart and creative and he loves comics and movies. He's a sweetheart and I'm staying away from work and things so I can spend more time with him. I haven't told anyone except for Happy, and Pepper caught me readying baby books, so she knows. It's.... I don't want him to be like me. If Obie found out or if anyone found out he'd be all over the news and he'd have all this pressure, but I don't want that for him."

"I can understand that." Rhodey nodded slowly.

"You're childhood was hell." Ella said bluntly. "It's understandable that you're protective."

"How old is he?"

"A little over four."

"JESUS! You've kept him a secret this long? How long have you known?"

"I've had him since the day he was born. His mother wanted nothing to do with him. His aunt and uncle are lovely though. They actually told me about him in the first place."

Rhodey sank into thought for a little while. "Right... I don't like that you hid it from me. I mean, I get it, but I wished you trusted me enough to keep this secret. I'm not telling no one. I'm supposed to be the cool uncle and I've got to make up so much fucking time now." Rhodey shook his head. "It explains why you stopped drinking and partying... Are you happy?"

"He's the best thing to ever happen to me. When we get back I'll introduce you guys. You'd like Morgana, Ella, she's quiet and sweet." Tony pulled out his phone and opened his locked pictures. He pulled up a picture of Peter and Morgana in matching Batman capes. Peter wore the suit to match. They'd gone out for Halloween. Tony had dressed up as Darth Vader to make Peter laugh, and so he could go out with Peter, unnoticed. "Here. It's from last Halloween."

"Cute kid. I would say he looks like you, but then you'd think I was calling you cute." Rhodey laughed.

"We'd love to meet him. Rhodey will probably buy him sweets to win him over, just to warn you." Ella said.

"Don't worry, I taught him all about stranger danger." Tony winked.

"So...I'm guessing you were late because you were dropping him off at his aunt and uncles?" Ella asked.

Tony nodded.

"Okay, I'll forgive you next time. The kid gives you a pass. No more, got it?"

He gave the hawk a thumbs up.

-

"Hey, you doing alright?" Tony asked as he stepped away from the soldier. Thankfully, they gave him his space. He respected them before, but it gave him an added layer that they let a billionaire step away to make a call without trying to listen in. "You okay, sweetie?"

"HI, DADDY!"

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. "Did they give you sugar or electronics?" Tony wondered. There was no other explanation for Peter's excess excitement. The kid was usually a bundle of energy, but this was a bit much.

"We went to a museum today. I got to see really pretty art." Peter babbled. "It was thundering, and Ben thought art would be cool. It was really loud still, but the art was distracting me."

"That's good, bud. You doing alright?" Tony asked.

"Yeah. How 'bout you? Are you coming home soon?"

"Yeah, Underoos. I'm coming home as soon as I get back to the plane. I'm going to spend some time with some nice soldiers and they'll drive me back to the plane. Do you want to meet Uncle Rhodey? I think he'll be flying in with me."

"YES I DO!" Peter called.

"Hey, it's nighttime, kid. I need you to use your indoor voice." Tony said as he adjusted his own sunglasses against the sunlight. "You got to calm down so you can get some rest."

"But you're coming home. How far away are you?"

"Why do you want to know?" Tony asked, looking out at the mountains. He couldn't wait to go home.

"Well, if I know how far I can ask JARVIS how fast the plane flies and I'll know when you'll get home."

"You know time passes faster if you go to sleep, right?" Tony suggested. "I'll be home as soon as I can, okay? Are you being good for your aunt and uncle?"

"Yeah, I am." Peter sighed. "Ana's making a funny face. She says she's gonna tell me a story tonight."

"That's awesome, kid." Tony felt his phone vibrate. He looked down and frowned. Obie was calling. "Hey, Underoos, how about you settle down? If I go get in my ride I can come home sooner. You go to sleep and I'll work on getting home, okay?"

"Deal." Peter stated.

"Love you, Peter. Sleep tight."

"Love you, Dad. Come home soon, okay?"

"Promise." Tony said before he shifted to Obie's call. A video call of all things. Why did Obie choose video.

"Tony."

"Obie, what are you doing up?"

"I couldn't sleep 'til I found out how it went. How did it go?" Obie asked curiously.

"Went great, looks like it's gonna be an early Christmas." Tony said, starting back towards the Humvee.

"Hey! Way to go, my boy. I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"

Tony paused. "Eh...no."

Obie's eyes widened for a second. "Why not? We should celebrate!"

"I'm gonna get some rest, see you in two days. Then I'm taking that short trip to Malibu, going to handle some business in Cali."

"Right. See you then?"

Tony smirked. "Why aren't you wearing those pajamas I got you?"

Obie rolled his eyes. "Goodnight, Tony."

Tony hung up and pocketed his phone. He playfully denied his chance to ride with Rhodey. He wanted to invest some time with the soldiers. If he could lighten the mood or at least make a little difference in the rhythm of their time it could help them. They did enough, serving their country, he could try to lighten even a day.

Everything was going fine.

Then the world blew up.

-

Peter blinked when he heard a sharp scream. "Ana?"

"PETER!" Morgana screamed and pounced on Peter, trying to hold him down. Morgana had shifted into a dog and attempted use her weight to keep Peter down.

Ana was whimpering, her breaths coming in gasps.

"Analise, what's wrong? Is it Dad? Let me up!" Peter sat up and pulled Morgana off of him.

At the end of his bed, Analise had collapsed. Golden dust was glowing at her chest. It was almost like the dust was bleeding from her chest....

Peter gasped and screamed. "NO! No, no, no, no!"

Somewhere out in the world, his dad was dying.

Peter reached out and pulled Analise into his arms, maybe if he could hold all the dust close to her, maybe if he could contain that light in his little hands, he could hold his dad and Analise together.

"Peter, you shouldn't touch her!" Morgana hissed in warning, but there was no bite. There was sorrow there, deeper than anything else.

Uncle Ben burst into the room and saw Peter, holding the beautiful fox in his arms, sobbing. Annie, Ben's barn owl daemon flew forward and pulled Analise out of Peter's arms.

"No! NO! I have to help! If we keep her together, they'll be okay. They'll be okay, right?"

Ben muffled Peter's cries by pulling him against his chest. "Sh, sh. You shouldn't be here. Annie will look after Analise. Come on, boy." Peter fought, kicking and screaming the whole way, but Ben managed to pull the distraught child out of his bedroom and close the door. The last thing Ben wanted in the world was for Peter to have to witness someone's death, least of all his own father's. If Tony was going to die, Peter didn't need to see that.

-

Tony pulled open his shirt and gasped. Even through the body armor, he could see his blood gushing through. The weapon, the weapon that was going to kill him had his own damn name on it. What about Peter? He wouldn't get home to see him again. Peter wouldn't have a father, just like Tony. Fuck it all.

A sudden wave of overwhelming sorrow, fear, anguish, and love overwhelmed Tony. Someone was holding Analise, he could tel. It was uncomfortable, but not wrong. There was no hatred in the touch, not the way Howard's touch had felt. There was so much love.

"Peter." Tony realized. He had to hold it together for Peter. He couldn't die here, no way. Peter would witness it and he couldn't do that to Peter. Tony tried, tried to stay awake, but the world went black with Peter's fear, love, and terror still consuming him.

Chapter Text

Tony woke up on a table. His chest felt heavy. His lungs felt constricted. It hurt. Everything fucking hurt. His eyes fluttered open and the ceiling looked oddly like a cave. There was something in his nose and something so heavy on his chest. It was hard to breathe. He pulled the irritating thing out of his nose and lifted his head. 'Why is my chest covered in dirty gauze?' Tony ripped them open and gasped. There was a metallic hole in his chest attached to.... He let his eyes follow the cord. 'A fucking battery?'

'Where had I been last? How the fuck did I get here? I could remember a blast and blood...and Peter holding Analise. Shit. I'd been captured. Was this how they were going to torture me? Why can't I breathe?' Tony reached for the wires.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." A voice warned.

"What the hell did you do to me?" Tony turned and looked at the man. He seemed vaguely familiar, as if he'd seen his face somewhere before but couldn't place it. He'd met too many people and spent too long in a drunken haze. Oddly, the man's daemon was nowhere to be seen. It unnerved Tony.

"What I did?" He asked softly. "What I did was save your life. I removed all the shrapnel I could, but there's a lot left and it's headed for your atrial septum." He reached out for something. "Wanna see? I have a souvenir. Take a look."

The little piece of shrapnel he gave Tony looked harmless enough in a hand, but if it were inside of someone.... Shit.

"I've seen many wounds like that in my village. We call them the walking dead. It takes about a week for those lovely little bits of shrapnel to reach the vital organs. The people, they look alive, but the whole time their daemons bleed, bright gold dust, just waiting for death to come." The man frowned and glanced to the corner. "That there, in your chest, is an electromagnet, hooked up to a car battery, and it's keeping the shrapnel from entering your heart."

Tony couldn't listen to him anymore. There had to be something less cumbersome. He could make something better, something safer, something that wouldn't weigh so damn much. And Peter... He'd asked Analise to never leave his side. Did that mean his kid had seen her start to bleed dust? Had Peter witnessed it as Tony was on the verge of death? He would've been terrified. Tony needed to get home. Tony needed to hold Peter and tell him that he was alright. He wanted to be home, with his kid, with this thing out of his chest. Tony glanced up, there was a camera, watching him.

"That's right, smile." The man sighed and frowned. "We met once, you know? At a technical conference in Bern."

Tony tried to put the familiar face and the conference together, but then again, he couldn't remember the conference at all. Was that the one before Grace had started sleeping a lot? It had to've been the one with before Mary. He was partying less by the time he'd had his affair with Mary. Analise had been up his ass about drinking less. He'd started to do a little better, then of course he'd still fucked up with Mary, though he'd never be upset by that decision: it gave him Peter.

"Don't remember? No, you wouldn't. If I had been that drunk, I wouldn't have been able to stand, much less give a lecture on integrated circuits." He scoffed.

Tony looked around. "Where are we?" There was a pounding noise and Tony whirled to the door. He heard someone whimper, the man's daemon, perhaps? Where was the daemon? Tony had never been freaked out by someone lacking a daemon, but witches weren't all that common, seeing someone without a daemon was strange.

"Come on, stand up. Stand up! Do as I do." The man insisted, putting his hands behind his head.

Tony watched the door open. "Those are my guns. How did they get my guns?"

Tony could hear Peter's voice in his head. "You make things that hurt people, daddy." Tony had though that his things protected his country, but here they were, hurting people, just like Peter said. God, Tony had brains better than this. He could make something so much better than this: weapons in the hands of an enemy.

"Do you understand me?!" The man demanded. "Do as I do."

Tony glowered at the guns but put his hands behind his head. It hurt to stretch, the wound in his chest pulled. The armed man at the head of a group of soldiers began to speak.

The hostage next to Tony translated. "He says he is honored. He wants you to build a missile, the Jericho missile that you demonstrated."

The armed man held up a picture.

"That one."

Tony took one look. 'I'm not going to make anything that can hurt people like this again, Underoos. Sorry.' Tony was going to stick with it. The last thing Peter needed was a father who complied with terrorists. "I refuse."

-

Peter refused to let Analise leave his sight. After the initial shock of it all, Peter had fought with all of his might, even Morgana had eventually agreed with him. They weren't going to leave Analise alone. Analise had stopped bleeding dust, but there was a strange, gold circle of light in her fur, as if at any moment the bleeding could start again. It was as if it was scar tissue and Peter didn't let her out of his sight. Morgana took as big of a size as she could manage and looked unbalanced, carrying Analise everywhere, but she soldiered through it, making sure Analise never left the room Peter was in.

A knock came at the door. Peter walked up to it and pulled it open, what if it was his dad? It wasn't Tony. There was a familiar looking man there, with a hawk daemon on his shoulder. Peter had seen pictures of this man before and heard his voice from a few doors over.

"Are you Peter?" Rhodey asked.

"I'm Peter Parker, but I'm not supposed to talk to strangers." Peter started to close the door.

"Your dad told me who you are and it's okay. I won't tell."

"Do you know where my daddy is? Cause Analise is really hurt." Peter felt tears come to his eyes as he looked at Analise. He could feel the shortness of breath coming and he pulled his medicine out of his pocket, taking two deep breaths of it. It had been a stressful weak, seeing Analise nearly die and learning he had asthma all in one go had been the wrong kind of exciting in his book. "Is he okay?"

"We're looking for him, buddy. I know you don't know me, but I'm you're Uncle Rhodey and we're going to find your daddy, alright?"

Peter narrowed his eyes. "I'm not stupid."

"I can't imagine any kid of his being stupid." Rhodey said.

"You came here to see if Analise was still alive. You thought Dad was dead." Peter took a few steps back, shaking his head. "Is he going to be okay?"

"I'm going to find him. I promise." Rhodey said seriously. He knelt and pulled Peter into a hug. "He loves you very much and he'll come home for you, okay? I'll make sure of it."

"Peter, who's at the-" May came around the corner and her eyes widened. "What are you doing here? Who are you? I know you somehow." She grabbed Peter and pulled him back.

"Colonel Rhodes, Ma'am. I'm Tony's friend."

"He was checking to see if Analise was alive. He wanted to know if he could find Dad or just...just a body." Peter turned and buried his face against May's leg, crying quietly.

"I'll bring him home, Peter, I promise. I'll call every day to give you a mission update..." Rhodey stopped talking at the rough sound in the room.

Peter pulled away from May immediately and turned to Analise. She looked like she was having an asthma attack. Her mouth was open, but she couldn't get any air. Peter ran to her. "What's happening to her? Is it like my asthma? What do we do?" Peter looked at May, who's face seemed just as curious, then he turned to Rhodey, who looked furious. "You know what's happening. Why is this happening?" Peter demanded.

"I'm going to go find your father, Peter, I promise." Rhodey left quickly, closing the door behind him with a little more force than necessary.

Peter picked Analise up. It didn't matter if May told him not to, he wasn't going to let Analise or his daddy be alone. He could feel terror and pain emanating from Analise. Peter snuggled close to her and tried to ignore the feelings and focus on his own. Love, worry, bravery. His dad would have to be brave if he was scared, and love could make people brave. Peter always felt better when people he loved were nearby. He'd make sure his dad knew he wasn't alone, wherever he was.

It was too long, before Analise took a deep breath, but when she did, she went right back to that terrified, tortured state again. Peter gripped her tighter and sobbed, wishing he could make her and his dad stop hurting.

-

Tony endured days of torture. Only because he felt it again. He could feel Peter holding on to Analise. He could feel all the fear and love Peter emanated. He could also tell Peter was trying so desperately to be brave for him. He couldn't let Peter down.

"I'm sure they're looking for you, Stark." The man said. "But they will never find you in these mountains."

Tony felt hopeless for a second, but then he felt a massive rush of love wash over him. "That's not true."

The man shook his head and looked to the corner of the cave with a meaningful look.

Tony knew the man was looking towards the wolf daemon that the enemy had caged there. It was a terrible torture. They were keeping this other man separated from his daemon, keeping the daemon caged up like some common animal. Not for the first time, Tony was glad that Analise hadn't been with him.

"Look, what you just saw...that is your legacy, Stark."

'Peter.' Tony thought. 'Peter is my legacy, and he'll be a million times better than me.'

"Your life's work in the hands of those murderers. Is that how you want to go out? Is this the last act of defiance from the great: Tony Stark? Or are you going to do something about it?" The man demanded.

Tony ran the numbers and looked down at the hole in his chest. He wasn't going to go panicking into death, not when Peter would witness every moment of it, but his odds of survival were near nil. "Why should I do anything?" Tony definitely wasn't going to help the terrorists. "They're gonna kill me, and you... Look, either way, if they don't, I'll probably be dead in a week." Tony shook his head. God, a week. What he wouldn't do to spend that week with Peter. Tony shivered. He felt something that wasn't his own. It was Peter's desire, Peter's hope that he'd come home. A week, how much could Tony do with that time? Could he find a way home? He was the smartest man on the planet, surely he could think up something. Surely he could see his son one last time.

"Well then, this is a very important week for you, isn't it?"

Tony looked around. He could build something. He could get through this. He'd see his son again, if it was the last thing he got to do. What would Peter have him do? What would Peter decide to build? Protection. Peter would always try to save, rather than fight. Peter was good like that. Tony could build something defensive and through a little bit of offense in there too. He could do it. "I'm going to need your help."

"With what?" The man asked.

"Translating. I need some equipment, I've got a project to get done."

Chapter Text

Peter sat on the sofa and stared at Analise. She looked rough. Peter had held her and tried to comfort her, but she didn't look any better. She sat still, but instead of having an empty stare, her eyes had a steely resolve to them. Peter felt better about that part. Wherever his dad was, Analise had promised that he was fighting. She had only said a few words to Peter, but they were words with some hope in them. Analise sometimes climbed onto Peter's lap, usually when her gaze lost some fire and Peter wouldn't let her go.

"Peter...." May said gently. "Peter, come on."

"I don't wanna." Peter shook his head. They were trying to get him to go to sleep. He couldn't. He had to be awake to look after Analise. He had to be there to hold her when she needed him. He needed to watch...in case the Dust came back.

"Ben, I don't know what to do. He won't sleep." May whispered.

"Hey, bud." Ben walked forward and wrapped his arms around Peter. "I got an idea. Let's go home."

"But we are."

"No, you aren't. Come on, kiddo." Ben picked Peter up.

"Are you sure that's good for him, Ben?"

"Well, he ain't sleeping here, we have to try, May."

Morgana shifted into a lynx and Analise stepped off of the sofa onto her shoulders. Peter stared at Analise the as Ben carried him out of the apartment.

-

Tony looked down at the light as it began to glow. He smiled. Peter would love the way it glowed. It would serve a more reliable replacement for the magnet in his chest, and he'd be able to move freely, without having to carry a fucking car battery everywhere he went. It was strange that his tech would keep his body alive. Witches had extensive lives and could heal many wounds, but he couldn't heal something when the cause of the damage was still in his chest. He'd tried to escape the room too, trying to go unnoticed as he normally did, but it seemed his hosts, the Ten Rings, had prepared for him to try to use that trick. Tony was alright though, he could trust his mind over any of those abilities. And there his work was, glowing with power.

Yinsen leaned in and stared with wide eyes. "Wow...that doesn't look like a Jericho missile."

Tony grinned. "That is because it's a miniaturized Arc Reactor. We have a big one powering my factory back home. It should keep the shrapnel out of my heart." Tony would survive more than a week. He'd fucking saved his own life. He was capable of building more than just weapons. Now...now he just needed to build his ticket out of this hellhole. Save the life...that's how Peter would approach the problem. 'When I get home, I'm not letting him out of my fucking sight for weeks...then we're getting rid of our weapons.' Tony thought to himself.

"But what could it generate?" Yinsen asked, as if he knew there was a second part to the plan.

"If my math is right, and it always is, three gigajoules per second."

"That could run your heart for fifty lifetimes."

Tony smirked. "Yeah. Or something big for fifty minutes."

"You've got a plan...you sound different from the hopeless man who woke up on that table." Yinsen smiled happily.

"Just needed the right motivation and focus. I've still got a lot of work to get done."

"May I ask, what is your motivation?"

"Do you have a family, Yinsen, something you're motivated by?" Tony asked instead of answering. "Isn't that the usual thing?"

Yinsen straightened up and smiled. "Yeah, I do. And I'll see them when I leave here. And you?"

Tony felt warmth in his heart, even next to that cold metal in him. Tony kept his face blank as he pulled the electromagnet out of his chest and replaced it with his Arc Reactor. He wrinkled his face. He could taste it. How was that even a thing? Tony glanced at the camera. Strangely, he felt he could trust Yinsen, still, there was a camera on him. "No. I don't."

Yinsen stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "So you're a man with everything and nothing?"

"No, I have everything I need." Tony disagreed.

Yinsen smiled. "My son...I long to see him and my wife. His name's Shaun."

"It's a good name, I suppose."

"Suppose?" Yinsen scoffed. "You have a better name?"

Tony shrugged and turned his back. He mouthed 'Peter' at Yinsen. "No, I shouldn't be allowed near kids, let alone name one. I'd probably end up killing a kid, I can't even keep myself alive." He gestured to his chest.

"Hmm." Yinsen smiled at the comment, catching the subtext. "I doubt it would be as scary as all that. Being a parent is something you learn on the job. Nobody's built for it really."

"Not sure I'm up for it. I've got some issues." Tony paused. He'd tried so hard to keep the issues of the past from hurting Peter, but this had likely fucked the kid up. He'd obviously seen Analise nearly die with him. Tony knew he felt Peter with him as he'd bled out. God...his poor baby was traumatized. Tony had hated his father, but if he'd seen Maya glow with Dust it would have made him lose his mind.

"Everyone has issues." Yinsen shrugged. "Never say never. So...what's next?"

"Rest for a few moments.... I kinda want to make sure this thing won't shut off on me." Tony needed a moment, plus he wanted to run some calculations for the suit in his head.

-

"Master Stark, welcome home." JARVIS greeted as soon as Uncle Ben carried him into the upstate house.

"Lights, JARVIS."

"Yes, Mr. Parker." JARVIS turned the lights on.

Ben jolted at the sight of a lioness staring at him. "Who are you?"

"Gracie?" Peter asked, rubbing his eyes. Peter didn't know the lioness very well, but she'd always been around, even if she slept most of the time. "You're awake."

"Peter, are you okay? Is Tony...? Analise," Grace breathed a sigh of relief. Grace pawed to Morgana and Analise. She rubbed up against Morgana in a comforting way before licking the ring of Dust on Analise's chest, as if she could fix it. "You all look so tired. JARVIS said Tony was in trouble, I've never heard a machine sound so concerned. Peter, you need rest."

"I can't." Peter shook his head. "I gotta look after her and Dad."

Grace sat down and looked up at Peter, then Ben and May. "How about we go this way?" Grace led them all down the hallway and to Tony's room. She pushed the door open. She climbed up onto the huge bed and looked at Ben and May meaningfully.

Peter sighed when Ben set him down on the bed. He grabbed one of his dad's pillows and pressed it to his face. It smelled like his dad. There was his dad's smell, layered with his soap, cologne, and grease.

"Okay, Peter. Analise is going to stay with you. We'll be sleeping in the living room, okay? I need you to try to sleep, okay?" May said gently.

"I'll look out for Analise, Peter. We'll take shifts. I don't feel so tired right now. You rest, I'll look after both of you." Grace offered.

"I don't think I can sleep." Peter shook his head as Uncle Ben slipped his shoes off.

Grace nodded and curled around Morgana and Analise. "Don't worry, if you can't sleep it's fine. I understand."

Peter lay down and reached out, gently rubbing Analise's soft fur. She leaned into him and hummed. She still looked exhausted and hurt, but better than she had in a long time. "I love you, Analise."

"We love you, Peter, so much." Analise spoke quietly, laying against Grace's side.

May and Ben slowly left the room, both Malik and Annie lingered, obviously as reluctant to leave Peter as May and Ben. They stayed until their humans got uncomfortably far from them. Malik used his long, black tail to nudge the door mostly closed as he left.

"Young Master, should I play you a song? One that your father would like?"

Peter nodded, knowing JARVIS would understand.

Sweet Child of Mine began to play, a soft lullaby.

Peter felt as though his eyelids gained a hundred pounds. He wanted to sleep, but he didn't want to look away. What if the Dust came out again? What if it spilled out and he wasn't awake to keep it all in? He wrapped his arms around his dad's pillow as May returned. She gently put the stuffed Piglet on Peter's pillow. He kissed his forehead and left quietly, Malik following in her shadow.

Peter held the Winnie the Pooh character in his left hand. There were steady stitches on a small section of it, where his dad had fixed it. He remembered his dad watching videos to learn to patch up Peter's favorite stuffed animal. Peter smiled.

"I think we'll be fine, Peter, try to get some rest, okay?" Analise wondered.

"I wanna." Peter reached out once more and gently ran his hand over Analise's side. "I love you both...do you think he knows that? Do you think he knows I love him?"

"Of course he does, Peter." Grace whispered.

"I hope so." A tear fell from Peter's cheek. He stared at Analise, resisting his heavy eyelids.

The weird thing, though, was the golden circle in Analise's changed color. Instead of a gold, hollow outline of Dust, there was a circle of blue-white light on her chest, right over her luscious red fur. All signs of gold Dust were gone. That meant.... His dad was getting better, right? His dad was healthy. Isn't that what it meant? But...that new light... It was pretty."

Peter smiled as sleep finally took him.

Chapter Text

Grace looked at Peter and sighed in relief to see the child sleeping. She liked the little boy. He had a caring and warm energy. Morgana was a little more assertive and snarky, but the pair of them were lovely and adorable. Grace rarely got to witness them, but she was convinced the little one couldn't hurt a fly. It was good to see him sleeping, resting in the time of worry. Grace turned her head and looked to Analise. "Are you okay?"

"They've waterboarded him." Analise whispered in a trembling voice.

Grace went rigid.

"It started with an explosion. I could feel it, hot shards. It didn't hit me, but I could feel it the way he did...you know what it's like."

Grace nodded.

"Explosion and shrapnel, then agony. There was a surgery." She pawed at her own chest, where it glowed blue-white. "He was awake for most of it. I have a hard time breathing. Then the waterboarding and knives and hunger and thirst.... It's a lot. It's a lot, Gracie."

Analise had the stare, Grace realized, the stare of someone that was hurt, cut too deep. It was the same stare she'd seen Bucky have, the same one Steve got sometimes. She licked the fox gently. "Do you sleep?"

"Can't sleep. He won't sleep either. I think he has a plan. I can feel him fighting back...and this." She pawed at her chest again. "I felt like I was an inch from death, but I feel stronger now. He's fighting. I just don't know what it'll be worth. I mean...I don't know if we'll make it. I hate to get Peter's hopes up...I'm so tired. Is this how you always feel, Grace? I just want to sleep. But he isn't sleeping, so I can't. I want to be awake, for him."

"I get it." Grace nodded. "All I want to do is sleep, to rest so Steve can stay strong, but I'm needed here, so I'll stay up. I'll look after you. You need to rest so Tony can fight through this and I'll look after you."

"I'm supposed to look after Peter too." Analise licked Morgana's head gently and looked at Peter.

"I'll take care of both of you." Grace promised. "Rest, so Tony can come home."

Analise nodded and curled up tightly, pressing against Grace and Morgana equally. She fell asleep in an instant.

Grace frowned and looked at the three sleeping in the bed. Never had she wanted to sleep more and never had she felt more complete. There seemed to be only two people missing now. She longed for Steve to come back, but at least he seemed peaceful. He was sleeping after all. Tony's life, she feared, was a lot more stressful.

'Come home quickly, Tony.' Grace thought. 'Your family needs you.'

-

Yinsen's eyes went from Tony to the computer.

Tony shook his head. "Yinsen, no."

"We're going to go buy you some time." Yinsen looked at his wolf daemon, who Tony was ashamed to admit he didn't know her name. She never spoke, likely due to her extensive and long torture.

The wolf daemon, however, nodded in their cage. Yinsen launched forward and unlocked the cage that Tony had de-electrified just for their escape. The wolf rubbed against Yinsen lovingly before they both ran for the gun.

"Yinsen! Stick to the plan!" Tony couldn't move as the man ran off, but he heard the gunshots. Tony re-counted the steps in his head before his suit kicked on, taking out the power. "Not bad..." Tony fought his way forward. Within the first few steps he thought of a thousand upgrades, but even he was impressed with what he could do in a fucking cave while being tortured and dying. Not bad at all. There was, however, a problem.

He found Yinsen, on his back. The wolf daemon was curled on his lap, panting as a few holes of golden Dust glowed across lovely white fur.

"No, nope, we have a plan, we got to get up, we have to go." Tony shook his head.

"This was always the plan, Stark." Yinsen disagreed.

"What about your family? You're going to see them."

"They're dead," Yinsen said. "I am going to see them, right now."

Something ached in Tony. If Peter had died...would he want to go on living? 'No.' The answer was immediate in his head. "Yinsen..."

"It's okay, it's okay. I want this." Yinsen reached out and grabbed the metal around Tony's arm, his other hand carding through his daemon's fur, blood mingling with Dust. "Don't waste your life, Tony."

"Don't waste this." A male voice spoke and made Tony jump.

It was rare for a man to have a male daemon, rare enough that the voice was startling. The white wolf, however, did have a lovely warm (and very male) voice.

"And, Tony?" Yinsen asked.

"Yes?"

"Shaun is a good name, but so is Peter. Go home." Yinsen's hand grew limp. The golden light grew more intense. The white wolf burst into a cloud of golden Dust, beautiful and tragic.

Tony straightened up. He needed to get home and that meant burning sending the whole camp to hell.

-

Tony was sure he was going to die while escaping as he fell from the sky, but the suit, remarkably, kept him safe, even though it shattered around him. "Not bad..." Tony climbed out of the remains of the suit and pushed himself up. Damn, the sun was hot, a stark contrast to the cool air of the cave. Tony pulled off the small fabric he'd scraped together to protect him from the metal of the suit and wrapped it around his head, trying to keep cool.

He looked around to get his bearings. He had a vague memory of the mountains to his left. What that meant on a map he was too tired to tell, he just knew they were familiar and if someone was looking for him, which Rhodey would until he found him or a body, then that was where he needed to be.

"I'm coming, Peter. I promise. Dad's coming home." Tony made it his mantra. No matter how hot he felt, no matter how thirsty he got, he was going home and giving Peter the biggest fucking hug of his life (so far, because he planned on many more). Then he'd hug Analise...then Peter again.

Time had no meaning. Everything hurt, but he didn't care. He had somewhere to go and he was going to get there. He couldn't linger on Yinsen or the torture or the bodies he'd left behind. He had to look to the future, that was his job. Blood was running lazily out of his wounds, but he let them be. He just needed to get home and if he didn't get spotted, he'd have to get to the mountains and find shelter.

Hours passed and though his conviction was just as strong, his knees felt weak. "Come on, come on..."

A strange sound filled the air. He turned and looked up. Helicopters, two of them. US military helicopters. The relief made him feel as if the arc reactor had been lifted out of him and he was back to his normal self, no shrapnel, just his old self. He waved upwards and shouted, though logic dictated that the occupants couldn't hear him. Logic wasn't working so well in the heat.

When one helicopter landed, Tony collapsed in relief.

"Tony!" Rhodey's voice was like cold water.

Ella flew forward and landed right in front of Tony, inspecting him with her sharp eyes.

Rhodey walked forward and smiled. "How was the fun-vee?"

'Asshole,' Tony thought as he smiled. The gentle hand on his shoulder was welcome.

"Next time you ride with me." Rhodey insisted, pulling Tony into a hug, warm and tight.

"I'm not even gonna argue." Tony agreed. He accepted the help back up and got onto the helicopter. "Phone. Now. Phone." Tony insisted.

Without a question, Rhodey handed over his phone.

Tony instantly dialed a familiar number. It rang several times before going to voicemail. He shook his head and called his own home, maybe they'd taken Peter somewhere where he'd feel safer. JARVIS answered the call.

"Colonel Rhodes. I'm afraid Master Stark is sleeping for the first time in days. If you'd like to report to him, I can take the message for you."

"JARVIS, it's nice to hear your voice."

"...Sir?" If an AI could sound confused and relieved at the same time, well, then that's just how JARVIS sounded. "You're alright?"

"Uh...mostly. Wake up Peter, please. I need to hear his voice."

"Yes, sir." Tony heard.

-

"Master Stark? Could you please wake up?" JARVIS asked.

"We just got him down," Grace muttered. "Have you not noticed us struggling with that for the past week?" Grace grumbled as Peter jolted upright.

"What is it, Mr. JARVIS?"

"I have a call for you, young sir, will you take it?"

"Yes." Peter sat up straight as he heard the speaker in his room click on, there was a loud beating noise in the background. Rhodey must've been on a helicopter again. "Hello? Mr. Rhodey?"

There was a soft gasp, followed by a wet, sobbing sound.

It was weird though...it didn't sound like Rhodey, it sounded like...

"Daddy?" Peter asked with wide, wet eyes. Morgana bolted upright and curled up on Peter's lap, as a jittery hamster.

Analise sat up too, blinking tiredly.

Someone let out a wet, sobbing sound. "Hey, underoos. You miss me?"

Peter's eyes widened. He jumped to his feet. "DADDY! I love you!"

Tony laughed and it sounded so happy and so sad at the same time. "I love you too, Peter, more than you could ever know."

Chapter Text

Tony looked at his phone.

"It says the same thing as it did the last time you checked, Tones. The flight was delayed, Peter'll be there about two hours after us." Rhodey sighed.

"The second part was right, the first was wrong. He just took off." Tony slid his phone in his pocket. Just a few hours...then he could see Peter. Two hours though...he had enough time.

Tony made a mental list of the plan.

Step one: Press conference.

(Step one-point-five): Food?

Step two: Keep Obie from demanding he reconsider.

Step three: Get the hell to the airport to pick up Peter.

Step four: Spend at least two weeks at home with his kid doing absofuckin'lutly nothing.

It seemed like a square deal.

-

The press conference sucked as much as Tony thought it would, but he was glad it was over. Obie had huffed, as predicted, but Tony shut him up and got his vacation as well. The airport was crowded as fuck. He stood off to the side, using his powers to make sure no one's eyes lingered on him. Tony waited and waited, then he saw four familiar faces. Everyone kept a few feet back from the boy who seemingly had three daemons. Grace prowled close to him, acting as his body guard. Analise was walking by his feet and Morgana was racing around him as a rather excitable retriever. Peter walked with a spring in his step, but also with some sort of nervousness. He held the straps of his backpack tightly.

Nearly everyone looked past Tony, but Peter, Peter looked right at him.

When he stepped through security he sprinted forward. "DADDY!" He shoved through the crowd and didn't ask for forgiveness when a few adults huffed at him and daemons muttered at the indecency of 'kids these days.'

Tony didn't have time to move. Peter launched himself upwards and wrapped his arms around him. "Hi, underoos." Tony couldn't stop his tears. He only had one arm to hold his son with, but he held on tight, probably too tight, but it didn't matter just then.

"Daddy, I missed you. Daddy, are you okay? I love you, 'kay? I love you so much. I was afraid you didn't know about it. I love you." Peter snuggled close then pulled away slowly, his hand moving to Tony's chest. "What's this?"

"It's...I'll tell you when we get home, okay?"

"Okay. We going to the Malibu house?"

"Yeah. Come on. Happy'll drive and we'll snuggle the whole way." Tony promised as he carried his son out of the airport.

"I saw the news. They say you aren't gonna build weapons anymore. Does that mean you're gonna stop building things that hurt people?"

"That's the plan, bud." Getting hit by your own damn weapon had that effect. Tony winced at the memories and pulled Peter closer. "I love you."

"Love you too." Peter squeezed him back.

Tony hauled his son to the car and got in. "Home, Happy, please."

Peter touched the arc reactor and leaned forward. "I'm tired."

"Then sleep, underoos, I've got you."

Peter pulled himself closer.

The weight of Peter on his chest reminded Tony. The weight inside of his chest wasn't normal. It had been put inside of him, painfully. Tony shook, his hand spasmed against Peter's back.

"It's like a nightlight." Peter whispered sleepily, then his breath evened out.

Tony sighed and his body stopped shaking. Analise nuzzled Morgana's side, then climbed to Tony. "Ana, I missed you."

"You're hurt."

"Suspect I always will be." Tony whispered. "But I'm home, that's what matters. I have Peter and you and Morgana...that's all I could ask for."

The fox daemon nodded and climbed up Tony's shoulder, and settled down.

Grace looked over at the four of them, her eyelids heavy. "Tony...you're going to be okay. It'll just take some time. It just takes time."

Tony nodded, but he didn't feel it. "Thank you."

"For what?" Grace asked, tilting her head.

"You stayed awake to look after my son. I'm glad that when I couldn't be around that there were good people looking after him." Tony kissed the top of Peter's head. God, he'd missed those beautiful curls.

"He's a good kid. I don't know him all well, but..." Grace smiled at Peter. "He's got a good heart, gets it from you, I suppose."

"I wouldn't go that far, but he does have a heart of gold." Tony agreed.

"Give yourself some credit, Tony. I'm a pretty good judge of character and you're a good man." Grace blinked her eyes heavily.

Tony had to disagree, what with all the blood on his hands. His left hand shook. How could he even hold innocent little Peter with hands like his? Tony shook himself. No. His capture had taken enough from him, he wasn't going to lose his son too. "Agree to disagree. Regardless, thank you. I know how tired you are."

"I'll always help, if I'm able. Steve would like that... He's always been the one standing up for people, I guess I just wanna do what would make him proud...since he can't."

Analise didn't lift her head from where she buried it in Tony's neck, but she spoke gently. "We'll get him. Just stay awake a bit longer, Gracie. We're almost home, then you can sleep as long as you need to. We really are grateful, I wasn't all there to look out for him."

Grace let out a purr.

-

Tony carried Peter to his room. Even though Peter had woken up, Tony didn't want to put him down. His arm was tired, since he only had one to hold his weight, but Tony didn't care. "Can you stay?"

"Yeah, bud. I'm not going anywhere. Wanna read a book and take a nap?"

Peter nodded into Tony's chest. "Yeah, then we can get up and have food."

"Square deal. Wanna go pick out a book?"

Peter nodded and walked with Morgana to his bookshelf as Tony sat down and wrapped his arm tightly around Analise. Tony could tell the grip was too tight, because he could feel the physical discomfort of it, but neither of them cared. Analise licked his neck and snuggled closer.

"I don't want to lose you, Tone. You don't get to go anywhere 'til I say so." Analise insisted.

"Okay."

"And we need to talk...when little company isn't around." She whispered seriously. "About...what happened."

"Agreed." Tony nodded and let her go as Peter climbed into the bed. His eyes seemed to linger on Tony's chest. "Does it hurt?"

"A little bit, it's just heavy and makes it hard to breathe sometimes." Tony spoke a half-truth, to ease Peter's mind.

"It's hard for me to breathe sometimes. I've got asthma, that's what the doctor said."

"I know, you're going to have to teach me how to look after that, okay?" Tony said, but he already had plans to look up everything under the sun about asthma so he could take care of his kid.

"Yeah, it's not so bad...except for when it happens."

"That's how most things are, kiddo." Tony held out his hand. He took the book from Peter and looked at the cover. "Sherlock Holmes?"

"Aunt May finished The Chronicles of Narnia with me and you promised we'd do a mystery book."

"I did." Tony nodded. "Settle in, kid, you're in charge of turning pages for now, okay?"

Peter nodded and snuggled close. The boy opened his bag and pulled out his favorite stuffed animal, Piglet, before going still and quiet, Morgan curled up on his lap as a content, sleepy cat.

"We'll start with The Study in Scarlet." Tony leaned against Peter a little and read. Peter was relatively quiet until a certain point. "'The light of our meeting determines that we MAY be soulmates, not that we MUST. I for one seek all the evidence, not just the end result, Watson. That light is like the body at a scene. Sure, it confirms someone is dead, but there is so much more that needs to be looked into before one can draw any conclusions.'

'Do you not believe in soul mates?' I asked the man, feeling rather unsettled at his harsh tone. A sane person might've been thrilled to see the light, but he hadn't been, how odd.

'Perhaps I do, but it isn't a thing to jump into blindly. I won't let a seemingly arbitrary selection of the universe dictate my life to me. Choice and motive are far to important a thing to set aside for anything.' Sherlock's hand gently pet the head of his panther daemon's head and I still hadn't the faintest clue as to her name, even though Sherlock and I had just been revealed as soulmates.'"

"Dad, does everyone have a soulmate?" Peter wondered.

Tony frowned when Analise went oddly still. For the first time in a long time, he couldn't imagine what she was thinking about. "That's what they say, kiddo, but not everyone finds them."

"Have you found yours?"

"No, sweetie." Tony shook his head. "But I have you and that's more than enough for me."

"Is it true only soulmates should touch each other's daemons?" Peter's voice was quieter.

"Well, not really. It's a very personal thing, but it's not just for those people. It can be a very...uncomfortable and traumatic experience...if done for the wrong reasons. That's why people don't do it." Tony tried to explain it all while trying desperately to not think of the anger and suffocating loathing he'd felt at his father's hands on Analise.

Peter let out a sound that sounded like a sob. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I just didn't want Analise to be alone. I didn't think it'd hurt you."

"What?" Tony asked, then realized his grave mistake. "No. Honey, you didn't hurt me. You helped me." Tony put the book down and squeezed Peter's shoulders.

"But you said is can be traumatic! I didn't wanna hurt you. She just looked so scared."

"She'd never let anyone touch her if she didn't trust them, Peter, I promise. You made me feel so safe, even...when I was scared." Tony didn't want to talk about it with Peter, not with all the gory details, at least not until he was much, much older...if ever.

Peter did not look soothed in the least. "But I don't know, does it hurt?"

"No, Peter, not when someone loves you very much."

Peter looked at Morgana and she nodded. She got up and crawled across Peter's lap toward Tony.

Tony jerked back. "What are you doing, Morgana?"

"Scientific method." Peter and Morgana spoke at the same time.

Tony winced back. Suddenly, Tony was back in his father's study, only in the shoes of his father. Would he see Peter's eyes go wide with terror if he touched Morgana? How could he touch the beautiful cat daemon when he'd know the absolute terror of his father's grip on Analise?

Soft paws pressed against Tony's chest and soft warm fur rubbed under Tony's chin, then snuggled in. Tony didn't feel panic in Peter, only worry and curiosity.

Peter's eyes went wide, then he turned and hugged Tony as Morgana climbed up Tony's shoulders and leaned against his neck. "Why are you so scared?" Peter pulled away after a moment.

"I don't want to hurt you, kiddo."

Morgana made a soft purring noise. "No, you love us too much. I can tell." She nuzzled against him once more before climbing into Peter's lap. "It's weird and kinda invasive, but safe and loving...and warm." Morgana concluded. "So you didn't hurt him, Peter, it's okay. Don't cry."

"But why are you so scared?" Peter asked.

Tony didn't know how to answer. Luckily, he didn't have to.

Analise looked at Peter. "Tony's daddy wasn't nice. He hurt me. Tony didn't want you to feel that sort of thing. It isn't nice at all."

Peter frowned. "I didn't know grandpa was mean. I'm sorry. I wish he'd been nice to you."

Morgana decided to curl up with Analise, obviously trying to comfort the older daemon.

"Yeah...you and me both, underoos. How about a nap, okay?" Tony asked.

"Mmhm."

"JARVIS, order food for dinner, have it delivered in a few hours, don't wake us up 'til then."

"Yes, sir."

Tony and Peter curled up together, unwilling to leave each other's sight. It was the best sleep Tony had experienced in far too long.

Chapter Text

Peter squirmed. It had been a while since his father had come home, even so Peter and Morgana kept sneaking into Tony's room to make sure he was still there, still breathing and alive and home. It was okay, but his dad kept having nightmares. Peter rubbed his arm where bruises were forming. He didn't blame his dad, he'd just held on a bit too tight during the nightmare. Peter snuck into the lab while Morgana slipped in, prancing like she was completely unafraid.

Peter gabbed her and pulled her back. He crouched by the stairs and watched. There was a suit, sort of like the one his dad had told him he'd built, but that wasn't right. His dad would've told him if he was building something. His dad's hands were shaking as he tried to put together a piece in the arm. "Dammit. Mother fucker, just work."

"Tony, breathe, you're okay." Analise's voice was soft.

Peter jumped when Tony threw a piece of metal at a wall and it made an awful sound.

"Do I look okay to you?! You're not fucking okay so don't lecture me, Ana." Tony shouted louder than Peter had ever heard. "I'm terrified of my own shadow, I only feel safe when I'm building this suit. I only feel happy when I'm around Peter, and I just fucking hurt him. I could have done much worse. And I...this...I thought I was through with this, but it makes me feel normal, in control, but I know it's the exact opposite of control..." Tony picked up a glass and downed the amber contents. "Mother fucker. I hate this." Tony threw the glass and it shattered.

Morgana shifted into a mouse and hid by Peter's neck when he gasped.

Tony whirled. "Peter...I...you shouldn't be down here buddy and..." Tony covered his mouth, his eyes lingering on the bruises forming on Peter's arms. "Oh my God..." Tears rolled down Tony's cheeks. "Peter..." He stepped forward.

Peter took a step back. "He's angry." Morgana whispered.

"We shouldn't've come down here." Peter said.

Tony took three steps back and collapsed. "I'm not...I'm not mad with you, Peter. I just... Fuck, I'm just like Howard." Tony let out a hurt sob. "Go upstairs, Peter. I'm not...I'm not good right now..."

Peter ran up the stairs. He made it to the living room and looked up. "Mr. JARVIS?"

"Yes, young sir?" JARVIS asked.

"Daddy's not okay. Can you call someone to help him? Maybe Uncle Happy or...um...Aunt Pepper. He's so upset and...I didn't help him. I should've helped him, but I didn't. I don't know how to help or make him smile. Maybe they can?"

"Of course, Master Stark." JARVIS answered.

-

Tony sat against the wall of his lab, his hands shaking, a bottle of scotch half-empty at his side, next to an empty bottle. It calmed him down, he didn't want it, but it helped. God, he didn't want to drink. He had done everything not to drink since Peter'd been born...but fuck, it helped make the nightmare vanish. Now there was only the stark reality. The facts that he'd hurt his son. He'd bruised his arms, held him so tightly that his little boy was turning purple and red. He'd hurt Peter.

"I've hurt him and now I'm fucking drinking. Analise...I can't have Peter around this...I can't..."

The fox walked forward and nuzzled against Tony's side. "We're hurt, but we'll get better, right? We...we couldn't really hurt them, right? We wouldn't, right?"

"But I did." Tony buried his face in his knees.

"What the fuck happened in here?" Pepper's voice was sharp.

"He's drunk." Tanner said. "And Peter, did you see him?" Tanner asked.

"Shit." Pepper shook her head. "I don't know what all of this is, Tony, but you'd better figure it out. I'm not good at the babysitting thing, but I'm more fit than you. I'm taking Peter. You sober up and you talk to a therapist or something. I'll give you some space, but..." Pepper shook her head. "That boy had me called because he thought his daddy was in trouble. He's upstairs crying because he doesn't know how to make you happy.... Tony..." She walked forward and gently put her hand on his arm. "I'll bring him home tomorrow afternoon...just get some rest. This isn't like you. I know...I know how hard you worked to get sober and I know it has to be hard being back. I just need you to get your head back on your shoulders, but if anything like this happens again, I expect you to call me, not Peter asking JARVIS to. You should be able to tell when you're not in a good place..." Pepper shook his head. "I didn't mean to sound angry before."

"You should. I deserve it." Tears fell from Tony's eyes. "I hurt him, Pepper. I hurt my baby."

"It was just a nightmare though, right?" Analise sniffled too.

Pepper sighed heavily. "Get some rest or whatever you have to do. Drink some water. I don't think you want Peter and Morgana to see you like this. We'll hang out tomorrow and...I'll bring him back okay? I know you love him and you would never hurt him...so just...rest, okay?"

-

Pepper carried Peter out of the house. "Why are you making me leave daddy? Is he okay?"

"Yeah, he just upset, he's got adult problems and kids shouldn't have to see that."

"Is it about how he got hurt? About the shrapnel? He get's scared. He has nightmares where he grabs at his chest. The thing there, that keeps him alive...it's heavy and it give him nightmares, cause he has to think about it all the time. He had a nightmare, he didn't mean to hurt me, I promise. He didn't know he was hurting me. It was...it was like he wasn't even with me." Peter froze and gasped. He pushed himself away from Pepper enough to look her in the eye. "No. You're not gonna take me away are you? My daddy would never hurt me. Don't take me away. I just got him back, Auntie Pepper. Please. I can't lose him again. Please."

"Sh, Peter, baby, I'm not taking you away forever. I know your dad loves you more life itself. He'd do anything to protect you and he loves you. I'm just taking you for a day or so so your daddy can get through some things. I don't want you to see him like this, okay?"

"But I can help."

"There are some things you shouldn't see, Peter. I've asked him to find someone to talk to. We'll go get you to my house and you can get some sleep, then we'll hang out tomorrow, you and me, okay? Then we'll see how you're dad's doing."

Peter scrutinized Pepper and Tanner. "Promise you won't take me away."

"I promise. You'll be back at home this time tomorrow. I just don't want you in that house right now...and he doesn't either."

Peter froze. "He doesn't want me?"

"I don't think it's about you." Morgana said, jumping off Peter's shoulder and becoming a confident golden lab. "When we were really little. A man told me that our Dad's daddy was really mean. Grandpa hurt daddy a lot. I think...I think it scares daddy, that we got hurt."

"He didn't mean it though. He wasn't being mean." Peter defended.

"I know he wasn't mean, Peter. But it makes him upset." Pepper put Peter down as she opened her car door. "He's afraid."

"My daddy's never afraid."

Pepper frowned as she buckled Peter in. "I think parents are always afraid, Peter, but that's what makes them great. They're afraid because they love their kids and want the best for them. Fear's a good think, Peter. Fear makes people strong. It's a superpower." Pepper closed the door after Morgana curled up on Peter's lap.

-

Tony stared at Peter from the doorway. He nodded to Pepper and took a deep breath. "Hey, underoos. Are you okay?" Pepper and Tanner left the house and Tony wanted to hold Peter, but he didn't trust himself, not just yet.

"Yeah. Are you better too?"

"I hope so, kid." Tony breathed. "I've been working on something, you wanna come down to the lab and look at it? I could use a fresh, genius, perspective."

"Really?"

"Yeah." Tony smiled.

"Can I get a hug first?" Peter asked shyly. He looked so small...so worried.

"Come here, kid." Tony sighed when Peter snuggled against him. "I'm sorry."

"I know you wouldn't hurt me. I'm glad you're feeling better," Peter said. "I love you."

"I love you too." Tony ruffled Peter's hair. "Come on, I think you'll like this." Tony led Peter down into the lab and let Peter enter the passcode. Tony had cleaned up the lab, thankfully. He had to keep the whole house a safe place, a place where Peter could feel safe in. Tony couldn't have a dark corner to drink his sorrows away in or to get angry. It had to be a home where Peter could be safe anywhere. Tony had to make it that way. "Go take a look."

"Whoa!" Peter ran forward and began to inspect the suit. "Is this what you made...um." Peter shrunk a little. "Over there, to...get out?"

"Yup, only this one's more bad ass." Tony smiled.

"You said a bad word." Peter said before he turned back to the suit. "It's so cool." Peter used nimble fingers to examine the wiring that was exposed. "What're you going to use it for?"

"Well, kid, how would you feel if...your old man used it, to help people?"

"Like a hero?"

"Yeah, kid. This idea came from you. I want to help people, to protect them. I thought I could do that by building weapons, but in the wrong hands they just hurt more people."

Peter appraised the suit. "This...has weapons on it too. But...there are real bad guys out there, right?"

"Yeah and I don't want to use them, but if it's the only way to protect someone. Peter I don't want to hurt people...but sometimes you have to stop people who won't ever stop. Cause there are people out there who won't stop." Tony rubbed his chest and dropped his arm as soon as he realized he'd done it.

"So...you wanna be a hero like Captain America, just smarter and cooler." Peter nodded. "This is really awesome. Everything you build is. But...can you promise me something?"

"What's that, bud?"

Peter looked at the suit, then his dad. He opened his mouth, then stared at the ground.

"Me and Peter don't think you should hurt people, unless it'll save innocent people or you." Morgana said. "Everyone should...get a chance. But we understand people are bad...like the ones that hurt you."

Tony walked forward and knelt in front of Peter. He held out his hand. "I can promise that, Peter. But you gotta promise to help be my mechanic, okay? Just in case the suit ever gets beat up."

Peter's eyes lit up. "Of course."

-A Week Later-

Peter jolted up in his bed. He couldn't remember what his nightmare was about, but he was worried about his dad. He reached for his inhaler when he felt his chest constrict. He took two puffs, and held them both in, just like he'd been taught. As his breathing eased, he climbed out of his bed. Everyone had acted so strange. Aunt Pepper had tried to quit and Dad had sent her into work and then cleaned the whole house and told Peter he was to stay put. It had left Peter unsettled.

"Let's go check on Daddy." Morgana stretched and got up.

"He said not to leave."

"Yeah, but you won't sleep until we see him."

Morgana had a valid point. Peter shrugged and they left their room. Heading for the living room when they found Tony's room empty.

-

Tony wished he could breathe, wished he could shout. He wanted to tell Pepper that he needed help, but he couldn't. The only thing he could do was let his eyes dart to the hallway. 'Don't leave your room. Stay in your room. Please stay safe, Peter. I love you.' Tony saw Analise trying to crawl across the floor. Tony poured all of the energy he had into healing, into stopping the paralysis from keeping him down, but he was smarter than that. He'd built tech to stop even witches from fighting back. He hated his foresight in hindsight.

Analise was still moving, sluggish, but fighting. Then a cobra daemon wrapped around her and bit into her shoulder, tightly.

Tony gasped at the pain. God, he'd always hated Shade, that stupid cobra had freaked him out for a reason and now, here it was.

Tony listened to the bastard ramble with that awful smirk. Then, the worst happened. Tony couldn't control his breathing as the man ripped the machine that kept his heart pumping out of his chest. Tony's eyes widened. The light that had kept him alive was now in Obadiah's hands.

"This is your legacy. A new generation of weapons with this at its heart." He smirked. "Weapons that will help steer the world back on course, put the balance of power in our hands, the right hands. I wish you could've seen my prototype." He stowed the arc reactor away and Shade slithered away from Analise and up his body, settling around his shoulders.

Shade didn't have to pin Analise down anymore, no. Tony could see that the white light that glowed in Analise's chest to mimic his own was gone. Now, there was a slow, steady bleed of Dust coming from Analise's chest. Shade had no reason to pin down Analise, not when she was dying. At least Peter was safe. 'Fuck...what if he finds my body?' Tony fought harder. He'd have to heal so he could get up, so he could get an arc reactor and live. The old one...there was one in the lab. He could make it if he could just get the paralysis to go away. 'Heal, dammit, come on.'

"It's not as... Well, not as conservative as yours." Obie laughed. "Too bad you had to involve Pepper in this. I would have..."

"What are you doing?"

Tony wished he could have shouted. He wanted Peter to run. To flee. He tried to lift his arm, Analise managed to stand before collapsing under her own weight.

Obie turned and looked at Peter. "Who's this?" He tsked. "Keeping more secrets, are we, Tony?"

"What did you do to Mr. Stark?!" Peter shouted. "Give it back! He needs it."

Morgana turned into a large cat of some sort and growled, her hair standing up.

"N-n-no." Tony raised his hand, but it felt like lead. "R-rrrrun."

Peter ran the wrong way. He ran toward Obie and tried to snag the case. Mid-run, Morgana pounced and turned into a hawk, snatching Shade in her claws. It was a decent tactic and it distracted Obie. Peter actually got the case free of the older man's arms, but then Shade twisted and bit Morgana, hard. Peter yelped, but kept the case in hand, dragging himself backward across the floor. Shade wrapped tightly around Morgana and dropped them to the floor. Morgana fought and struggled, but the cobra held tight and kept her wrapped up.

Obie gripped Peter's arm hard and ripped him off the ground. "Look at that...he looks just like you, Tony. Why didn't you tell your pal you had a son? We could've done such great things... Such a shame. I could have groomed a perfect Stark, but now...well, he's seen too much. Suppose he'll just have to come with me, won't he?"

"Let go! Let go! You're killing my daddy." Peter fought.

Tony stood, then collapsed on the ground.

Obie tutted. "Oh, Tony... Even a witch can't heal that fast. Valiant fight though.... Come on, little one. I have a suit to power."

"I'm not leaving my dad!"

Obie smacked Peter hard. The boy hit his head on the ground and went still. "Really is too bad, he's a cute kid." Obie hoisted him over his shoulder and carried the unconscious Peter away.

Tony tried to scream, but it came out as a whimper.

-

It was all a good plan. Rhodey was in charge of getting Peter while Tony took Obie up to max altitude. It left Pepper alone, but she'd insisted she could handle herself, especially if Peter needed someone. It was all fine...except Obie survived the fall. Tony had made a promise. He promised not to hurt people. But Obie...he knew about Peter and he was obviously willing to kill. It seemed to fall in the grey area Peter had allowed for. Now, Tony hadn't counted on blowing up a building, but hey, at least when he'd checked the remains of Obie's suit there was no sign of Shade and Obie was dead.

No one could come after Peter. No one knew he existed.

'Good riddance.' Tony thought as he pulled an unconscious Peter into his arms. Tony had one doctor he trusted in Malibu, one that he had on call. It would be rough. Tony was busted up and Peter had a minor concussion that had to be watched, but they were both alive. Tony counted it as a win.

-

Tony looked down at the cards. It was a stupid alibi. He'd have to figure out a way to make it so him an Iron Man could appear in the same room. If Iron Man was to be a body guard, then he'd have to be in two places at once. "The LMD's might need to be a reality."

"What?" Pepper asked, straightening his suit.

"Life model decoys. That or I need to program JARVIS so he can look natural and human while operating the suit in my presence. That way people can see Iron Man and Tony Stark in the same room from time to time to help alleviate questions."

Pepper took a step back. "You're going to listen to Agent Coulson?"

"Yeah." Tony nodded.

"I figured you'd just toss the cards and claim to be Iron Man."

Tony shook his head. "Maybe a few years ago...."

Pepper nodded in understanding.

"You're a good man." Tanner said, the owl's head twisted at an odd angle.

Tony smiled. "I try to be...I really do. But a bodyguard? Eh, well, I'll just stick to the cards."

"And after?" Pepper asked.

"I think I'm actually going to take a break, maybe sit and read. Sherlock Holmes is apparently the story of the month. I want to start Harry Potter next. I haven't read it so we'd both be surprised."

"Alright, sooner you go out there, the faster you get to relax."

"You're the best, Pepper. Have I told you that?" Tony kissed her cheek and headed for the door.

"Not nearly enough!"

-

"You lied on the TV." Peter said as Tony walked into the door.

"Yup. This way no one will come after me...well, more than usual...and that means you're safe."

"You told me I'm not supposed to lie. You're not setting a very good example." Peter folded his arms over his chest.

Tony laughed. "Come here, underoos." Tony picked Peter up and hugged him tight. "I think I'm allowed this lie, alright?"

"I'll let you slide this time, mister, but next time you're getting a time out." Peter mocked his father's voice, then giggled. "Are you gonna stay home for a while?"

"Yeah, want to pick out a book? I was thinking of Harry Potter or more Sherlock Holmes."

"Holmes first! We have to finish it before we start a new one." Peter insisted.

"Alright, go get the book, meet you on the couch with juice and snacks?"

"Square deal." Peter bobbed his head and ran off.

Tony chuckled and headed to the kitchen, then his cellphone rang.

"This is Stark."

"Sir, this is Captain Brackett."

Tony paused and thought on it. "Of course, what's this call about?"

"You said to get ahold of you if we found anything. I'm pretty sure a massive plane frozen in the ocean is a big thing. I'm assuming that's what we're looking for, right, sir?"

Tony froze and looked to the corner of the living room where Grace slept.

"Yeah...we're looking for that exactly. Excavate it, but be careful."

"What, exactly, are we looking for?"

"You'll know when you find it, just be careful, and let me know your progress."

"Sure thing, sir."

"Thank you for your hard work, Captain."

"Of course."

Tony hung up and smiled at Grace. "I think you're about to be a lot less tired...at least I hope you will be."

Chapter Text

The radio was on, playing softly. Steve took a deep breath. "Grace? Gracie?" He called out, but he didn't hear her approach. Were they still separated? Where had he ended up? Were they on separate continents? That was a horrible thought that Steve didn't want to linger on. He'd get back to her again. This game though...it was wrong.

Steve opened his eyes and looked around. The air didn't smell right. The light looked like it was the wrong color to be sunlight. The bed was too soft for a hospital bed. And the game. It was wrong, all wrong. A woman walked in, a black lab daemon at her side. She was dressed like a nurse, but the details were wrong. As if her clothes and hair were mimicking something, but not real, not genuine.

"Good morning," she looked at her watch. "Or should I say afternoon?"

Steve sat up and narrowed his eyes. He wished Grace were with him. He felt safer fighting with her at his side, stronger. "Where am I?"

"You're in a recovery room in New York city." The fake nurse said.

Steve looked at the radio and shook his head. "Where am I really?"

She looked stunned. "I’m afraid I don’t understand."

"The game, it’s from May, nineteen forty one. I know, cause I was there." He stood up and she took a step back, looking afraid and caught. Steve knew something was off. The dog daemon stepped in front of her. "Now, I’m gonna ask you again. Where am I?"

She took a deep breath. "Captain Rogers..."

Men rushed into the room and she ran out of the way. "Who are you?" Steve demanded and reacted when they came forward. He threw them and they...went through the walls. The very fake walls. 'What is going on? Where the fuck am I?' Steve ran even as people shouted. He needed to go, to get out, to find Grace. He needed something normal, home.

He ran out into the street and it took him a few moments to see all the lights all the strange cars. It was wrong all wrong. Steve froze as he looked around. There was too much. Everyone was surrounding him and all he wanted was Grace. He needed something real. None of this could be real.

A door to a black car opened and a man stepped out, an eye patch covered one of his eyes. "At ease, soldier! Look, I’m sorry about that little show back there, but… we thought it best to break it to you slowly."

"Break what?" Steve demanded. 'Gracie, where are you? I need you. This is all wrong. Where are you?' Steve took a deep breath when he felt a wave of reassurance wash over him, a wave of calm. That simple feeling from Grace made him feel safe. At least she was still okay.

"You’ve been asleep, Cap. For almost seventy years."

Steve's eyes widened in horror. It explained the lights and the noise and the strange cars. Then he heard something. It sounded like a fucking missile heading his way. Maybe the war hadn't ended. Seventy years and the war still wasn't fucking over. Steve got into a stance, waiting for the attack. The men surrounding him reacted, but the man with the eye patch just raised his hands.

"Hey, there's no one here who's going to hurt you, Cap."

"Something big's coming."

Nick looked up and turned his head to the sound he must've just been hearing. When he turned his head, Steve could see the spider daemon that was camouflaged against his collar. "Right. He's not a threat to you, just a man in a tin can."

-

Grace was up, the white in her fur slowly changing color, replaced with a honey blonde that looked beautiful. It was like watching her thaw. Her eyes became alert and she looked strong, like force personified.

Tony looked at the lioness. "I'm glad he's back too, Grace, and I'm going to fly you right to him, but I need to set some ground rules."

Analise stepped in front of Tony. "I'll talk to her. Daemon to daemon. I'll settle this, okay?"

Tony nodded. "I'll go get on the suit and make sure Rhodey knows not to give Peter all the snacks he asks for."

"His pout is hard to resist." Analise agreed as Tony walked away. As soon as he was gone she turned and looked at Grace, wrapping her fluffy tail around her body. "I'm glad we found Steve and that he's okay."

"Me too, so let's go. You don't understand how hard it is to just sit here-"

"I don't, but...we have to talk first." Analise looked at her paws and Grace prowled forward.

"I want to go, don't you too?"

Analise shrunk under Grace's shadow, then straightened up, tall and proud. "I know we've been lying to Tony. We both know what Steve and Tony are, but that's for them to work out, agreed?"

Grace sighed and sat. "Yeah."

"Tony doesn't trust anyone easily, you know why. You know what we went though. You didn't see all of it and I wasn't there when the Ten Rings had him, but he won't trust anyone and he won't trust a soul mate. That's how it is. You understand."

Grace's head drooped.

"I'm sorry, but I have to ask you to lie to Steve. Our cover is yours. As far as Steve knows you don't know about Peter, Peter doesn't exist. Iron Man is a body guard. You stayed with Tony because Howard died and Tony looked after you, but our secrets are ours to give out. As far as you know Tony is just a genius billionaire who let you sleep in his home, who designed a suit for a body guard to wear."

"Ana..." Grace shook her head. "But...I was here all this time and I know things. You're all family...even if I slept through so much of it. I can't just unsee it all."

"I'm not asking you to, I just don't want you to tell Steve."

"I can't lie to him."

"Then don't...just leave out the details." Analise pawed forward and nuzzled Grace's chest. "I'm sorry. I know how much it hurts to lie, but...we have to protect Peter and that means protecting his and Tony's identities. Please, Gracie, for Peter. One day I'm sure Tony'll tell Steve, but it's not our secret to tell. Can we agree on that?"

Grace slouched, then nodded and licked Analise's neck. "Promise."

"Thank you." Analise buried herself further in the warm, golden fur. "You're so warm...it's lovely."

Grace chuckled. "I'm happy to be warm...finally."

-

Something mechanical, shaped like a man landed in the middle of the street and set Grace down. Steve's eyes widened. "Gracie?"

"Steve!" Grace ran forward and pounced on Steve.

Steve huffed and fell back as two paws pressed him to the ground. He sighed in relief and pet the soft, warm fur behind Grace's ears. She purred and nuzzled against his neck. There were a few white flecks in her fur. In the dark she'd look solid golden, but in the daylight her fur was a flee-bitten across her chest and face, full of little white specks. She was beautiful and warm and real. Steve wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. The lioness purred louder. Steve jolted when he heard someone move toward him. He leapt to his feet and Grace growled lowly at the soldiers in warning. The soldiers went still, a few daemons took steps back. "Stay back." Steve warned, keeping an eye on the red and gold thing.

The machine raised it's arms. "Whoa, Cap, I'm not here to hurt you, just following the boss' orders. I just carried Grace here for him." A mechanical voice came from the suit. "These guys won't bother you alright? They just need you to stay calm. You're superpowered and stressed and confused-rightfully so. They just want to make sure there isn't collateral damage."

Steve raised his fists. This thing, it looked like something Red Skull could have concocted.

Grace stepped in-between Steve and Iron Man and sat down. Steve looked down at her and she looked back at him and nodded subtly. Steve slowly lowered his arms and heard the guns around him disengage. "Who are you? What are you?"

"I'm...like you. I'm not really super-powered, but my boss he's really smart. He made this suit, hired me to run it. He'd probably do it himself if his heart wasn't in piss-poor shape. I'm Iron Man."

"There's a human under that?" Steve asked.

"Brave new world, Cap." Iron Man nodded.

"And your daemon?" Steve's eyes narrowed on what he couldn't find.

"Not all of us have a big lioness that can't be easily hidden." Iron Man nodded to Grace. "I'm sorry for carrying her. I didn't touch her though, if that helps any."

Steve looked down at Grace. "How did you have Grace? Why?"

"She lives with my employer, or had for many years."

"And who is that?"

"Mr. Stark, of course."

"Mr. Stark...but... If it's been seventy years, he's nearly a hundred."

Iron Man shook his head. "No. I work for his son, Tony Stark."

Grace looked at Steve. "Tony looked out for me, he's the one that found you, then SHIELD decided to intervene. As soon as Tony realized you were found he had Iron Man bring me to you."

"That's the whole of it." Iron Man agreed.

Steve nodded and looked stepped up to Grace's side and idly scratched her ears. It seemed to relax her and he felt calmer as well. He took a deep breath and felt his heart rate slow.

"You don't have a place to stay. I imagine SHIELD will offer one, but if you and Grace want a place with more than just four walls and a flat surface to sleep on."

"Watch it, Iron Man."

"What? I've been to SHIELD, ya'll are as spartan as it comes." Iron Man shrugged and pointed at a building. "Stark Tower. Boss'll probably let you stay as long as you want. It's got loads of empty rooms."

"That big ugly thing?" Steve asked, wrinkling his nose.

Iron Man laughed. It was mechanical, but still somehow full of humor. "Yeah, that one. Bit overdone if you ask me, my boss has a thing for going big, I mean look at me. Hotrod red. Not exactly inconspicuous, especially for a hero who...you know, wants to survive and should probably be stealth to do so."

"The red was a bit much." Grace said to Iron Man.

Steve turned and looked at her. Grace didn't usually speak to people. It meant that she trusted Iron Man. Grace didn't trust people, not easily, she was shy. So Iron Man had to be safe. Did she know who he was? Steve whispered the question, low enough that only she could hear.

"No, but I trust Tony Stark and if he trusts this guy then he's fine. Besides he carried me across the country without making me feel weird or trying to touch me." Grace shrugged subtly. "I think we can trust him."

"And this Tony fella?" Steve asked.

"Now him, I do trust, completely." Grace nodded. "I lived with the Starks ever since... Anyway, Tony Stark is a good man, no matter how much he tries to bury it."

Steve looked from the man in the eye patch to the man in the metal suit. Howard had got him this far, perhaps he could trust the Starks a bit further. "If your boss is alright with it...I could use a place to stay."

"I'll get ahold of him. I'm sure one of these guys'll give you a lift. You just woke up, flying probably won't be the best for your nerves." Iron Man paused for a moment, muttering under his breath, low enough that Steve couldn't hear. Then he lifted his head. "Mr. Stark is glad to see you up and around, Grace. He also says if Steve's as good of a house guest as you are that you're welcome to stay in the tower. He says JARVIS will let you up to floor 89. It's an apartment built for guests, lots of space, should be cozy. I've got to head off, I can't very well look after Stark from here and he's got a meeting tonight."

In a blink, the man in the suit flew off.

"He's strange."

Grace scoffed. "You should meet the guy that built the suit. I think I could define eccentric with one person."

"Well, I guess Stark always gets what he wants, shocker." The guy in the eye patch drawled. "My name's Fury, Nick Fury. We'll be talking again, Captain Rogers, but I think you could use some time to...decompress."

"Yeah...that'd be great."

-

"There's a guy in the ceiling. Is that normal?" Steve asked Grace as soon as they'd been left alone. The 'apartment' they'd been loaned by Mr. Stark was massive. Not to mention the huge kitchen that apparently had been stocked right before his arrival.

"JARVIS? No. It's not normal. Most people don't have AI's, but it is normal for Tony. He built him, he's like...an almost human computer. He looks after things for Tony. Um...I slept a lot, but I know some things about tech, thanks to Tony. I know how confused and scared you are...I can feel it...but I'm glad I can feel it, I haven't gotten much out of you since..."

Steve knelt down and wrapped his arms around the beautiful lioness, tears leaking out of his eyes. "I love you, Gracie. I'm so sorry I left you alone for so long."

"I'm just glad to have you back...I thought... I thought you'd be gone before, before I got to see you again."

"I'm here." Steve promised, then pulled back. "You aren't hurt anywhere are you? No one touched you?"

"No one. Tony was good, he just let me sleep and Analise kept me company when I was awake."

"Analise?"

"Tony's daemon."

Steve looked around. "Is this Tony Stark anything like Howard? I mean, I liked him. He was brave and pretty smart."

"I got to know a...different side of Howard and no, Tony Stark is nothing like his father."

"You seem fond of him, that isn't like you."

"Well, he did let me camp in his home for years. And Analise was always around, suppose I know her better."

"Is he a shut-in or something?" Steve asked, looking at the Mr. Stark had given him. He did have everything a person could need in one place. Hell, the man owned a tower with a talking robot in the ceiling.

"No, he's a witch. He and Analise almost never go out in public together."

Steve shivered. He didn't like that. He could go a long ways from Grace, but he hated it when they did. He couldn't imagine a person who was willing to walk away from their daemon on a consistent basis. Steve hugged Grace again. "I don't like it here, Grace. Everything we knew...everyone we loved..."

"I know."

Steve closed his eyes.

"It's okay to be sad. It's okay."

Steve cracked a small smile, his eyes watering. No one outside of Grace had to know that Captain America got afraid, that Captain America cried.

-

"Daddy!" Peter called out as soon as Tony stepped free of his armor. "Did you really meet THE Captain America?"

"Sure did, underoos."

"Is Grace better now?" Morgana asked.

Tony nodded as he pulled Peter close. He looked at the sofa and shivered, thinking of how he'd had to crawl away from that place to get an arc reactor. There were still drops of blood from where Peter'd hit the ground. They just wouldn't come clean. New York though...it didn't have those things attached to it. "Hey, bud, can we have a talk, like adults?"

"Uh-oh. What's wrong this time?" Peter pulled away and fidgeted.

"Nothing, Peter. I just have to ask you if you like it better here or in New York."

"New York." Peter answered without a second to think. "It's just... It's nice here and I like being here when New York get's cold, so it's nice around Christmas...but I miss Aunt May and Uncle Ben when we're here. And Ned's my best friend.... It's nice here, but I like New York better."

"That makes this easier." Tony sighed in relief.

"Are we moving back?"

"Yup." Tony chuckled. "You're such a smart kid."

"I get it from my dad, I hear he's pretty smart too." Peter smiled. "Did you think I'd be upset?"

"I hoped not. Plus, I there are some really good schools in New York, I think we're coming up on that time." Tony said sadly. He wasn't ready for Peter to go to school. What would he do without the sound of Peter and Morgana running around, playing and having fun?

"So...not in the upstate house either? That's really far away from everything."

"I'm thinking about the tower, bud. I'm having JARVIS working on security there. We're going to have to work on some ground rules though."

"Like no toys outside of my room unless no one's around and stuff like that?"

"Sort of. We'll work it out." Tony frowned. "I'm sorry there has to be so many rules, underoos."

Peter pressed closer. "It's okay. I know you're trying to keep me safe, from people...like Mr. Stane."

"You should still get to be a kid though, hell, there should be pictures on the fridge and crayon marks that I can't get off the walls and a blanket fort full of nerdy legos." Tony didn't have that as a kid. He didn't have a proud father or even a childhood. But Peter...Peter was losing that too, just in a different way.

Peter made a gesture with his hands, so Tony knelt in front Peter. The young Stark grabbed Tony's face. "Dad. I know you love me. You don't cook so much, but your tool box is full of my pictures, so that makes more sense then having them on the fridge. It's okay... Morgana says grandpa hurt you...a lot. Is that true?"

Tony closed his eyes and leaned forward, resting his forehead against Peter's shoulder. "Yeah, Peter, it's true."

"Don't be upset, Daddy. I know you love me and you'd never hurt me. I'm happy, you know." Peter ran his fingers through Tony's hair.

"You know, I'm supposed to be the one looking out for you."

"But you never ask for help, Dad, so someone has to watch...for when you need it."

"I love you, Peter." Tony turned his head and kissed Peter's cheek.

"I love you too. You're the best dad ever. I promise." Peter insisted. "Now can we go pack? I wanna pack. And do I get to pick out a new room?"

Tony laughed. "Yes, bud. You can have any room you want in the penthouse and I promise you can cover the whole place in drawings if you want." Tony would make it so no one, no one could get on that floor without Tony giving them permission. That list would be very short. Peter was going to have a childhood, dammit. He'd make sure of it. Sure, he'd have to be hidden, but it wouldn't take away the simple things, not anymore. "Go pack, Peter. I'll have the jet readied and Uncle Happy'll be on his way in a bit."

"I told you the tower was a good idea."

"Yeah, yeah." Tony chuckled as Peter skipped off.

Chapter Text

Steve got up off the floor. He'd been staring at the wall for too long again. He looked down at Grace. "Wanna come with me to get food?"

"Yeah."

Steve headed out of his apartment and to the large kitchen that was on his floor. Someone was already in it and a fox daemon was on the counter.

"All I'm saying is that you should do your own shopping instead of raiding the guest's fridge." A female voice spoke.

"I'm hungry, and it's still my fridge when it comes down to it. I'll get food later." The man at the fridge waved his hand.

"At your six." The fox spoke lowly, but Steve could still hear her.

The man turned around. He was handsome and looked younger than his years. Then again Mr. Stark was a witch, he had a very long life expectancy and he'd probably look youthful and fresh for a long time. "Captain Rogers," he looked down at his watch. "You're up early." His hair was a mess, there was grease on his forehead, and there was a sliver of metal showing under the collar of his tank top. There was light glowing from his chest, as well as the daemon's.

"You are too." Steve recognized the man from the catching up he'd been doing. It would've been rude to not know his own host.

"Actually, I'm out late, haven't gone to bed yet. Probably won't tonight. You like the place?"

"It's...big." Steve looked around. He walked forward and held out his hand over the counter. "I mean, yes, thank you, Mr. Stark. Mighty nice of you to share your home."

"Eh, drop the hand please." Mr. Stark's nose wrinkled.

Steve dropped it and frowned. What kind of man was this guy?

"It's not you, I just don't do the touch-y thing..." Mr. Stark rubbed his chest around the glowing circle. "And Mr. Stark was my father, call me Tony."

Steve looked at the wound then realized. 'This guy was tortured, probably explains why he doesn't like people touching him.' "Of course, thank you for this, Mr. Stark."

"Well, when Iron Man told me you'd woken up. I figured time travel was hard enough to swallow, best not to add house-hunting to the list. I have more than enough space."

"It was generous of you to offer it."

Tony shrugged and turned pouring himself a cup of coffee. "I'm actually going to steal some cereal and milk, if you don't mind. I just moved back from Malibu and haven't had the time to shop just yet. I could run on coffee alone...but I probably shouldn't. I'll replace it later."

"You don't strike me as a billionaire."

"Sorry, too tired to be my normal asshole self, jetlag'll do that to you, so will fixing a multi-million dollar super-suit while jetlaged." Tony's voice dripped sarcasm. Then he straightened and seemed more sincere. "Seriously, though, I hope it's decent here for you. I know it can't replace a home but...at least there's a place to sleep." Tony turned and his face filled with a smile. "Good to see you up and about Grace. You're looking fierce."

"Yeah...I probably can't tackle her anymore." The fox, likely Analise, lamented. Still, she leapt off the table and pounced on Grace's back.

Steve tensed, but Grace snorted and shrugged the fox off like it was a playful gestured they'd shared more than a few times. "You need bigger claws to take me down, Ana."

"Meanie."

Steve felt something strange when Analise brushed fondly against Grace, a warm contentment.

"Glad to see you on your feet, Gracie."

Steve's jaw set. No one called Grace that, except him and Buc-

"Analise! Enough! You're making the Capsicle uncomfortable."

The fox didn't seem too shocked that Tony had shouted at her. It made Steve wonder about the kind of relationship the man had with her. But she stuck her tongue out at him, then walked away.

"Sorry about that...those two got close over the years. I think Analise has spent more time with Grace than me." It sounded so cold the way Tony said it, like he didn't care that his daemon was closer to someone else than to him.

"How could you live like that?" Steve asked before he could stop himself.

Grace turned quickly and glared at Steve, letting out a low growl, but Steve didn't know why.

"It was best...for both of us. Still is. She's better off far away from me." Tony looked down at his watch. "Damn, almost five. I might be able to get a nap in before breakfast if I really try. Hope you get settled in, Cap. If you need me or anything just ask JARVIS, he'll call for me, though Iron Man is probably more useful to you, given his area of expertise. JARVIS's also pretty knowledgeable about the past events, so...if you want to play catch up he can help. I'll make sure you get some more milk." Tony walked away, but then paused. "JARVIS, if what you said happens again, order a different one based on your assessment."

"Of course, Sir."

"And get some regular milk along with the groceries today."

Tony left, he got onto the elevator and went up.

"What floor does Mr. Stark live on?" Steve wondered.

JARVIS answered. "The ninty-third, sir. The highest level labs and Iron Man's quarters are between this common floor and his. There is also a space below this floor for flight access to the tower."

"Is he the only one allowed up there?" Steve had tried to go to as many floors as possible, just to see what sort of space he was in. He was denied access to all the floors above the one he now lived on.

"Only those with Level 10 access may go to all floors. There are currently only five people with such access: Sir, Ms. Potts, Mr. Hogan, Iron Man, and Col. Rhodes. You seem curious as to available floors."

"I like to know where the exits are to a place."

"Given your access and your ability to survive falls from high places, this is the best image I could give your for available exits, should the need to flee arise." A colorful display appeared.

"What is that?" Steve asked, walking around the image of the building. His hand went through it when he tried to touch it.

"Holographs. It's like a floating picture of light." Grace answered.

Steve frowned, there were lots of ways out...that meant lots of ways in. "How secure is this place?"

"It's the most secure building in the world." JARVIS said. "It is monitored inside and out and houses Iron Man as well as yourself."

"Right..." Steve sighed.

"If it helps, those five and yourself are the only ones with access to this floor as well." JARVIS said. "Sir is very particular about who he lets into his home."

"And why is that?" Steve asked.

"Probably because his former business partner attempted to have him killed, not to mention the guy tried to kill Miss Potts too. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The guy is paranoid." A metallic voice said.

Steve turned and looked at Iron Man who waved casually. "I didn't know that."

"Lots of things about my boss aren't found online. He likes his privacy."

Steve scoffed. "Not really." There were things online about that man that no one should make public. Love affairs, drug addictions, parties, a long stint in rehab...

"Well, we all had our rough twenties." Iron Man laughed. "Some more than others. I try not to judge. You adjusting alright?"

"Yeah, bit worried about all of the...space." Steve looked around. "I assume you understand."

Iron Man nodded. "You know, you can have any room on this floor. There are a few internal ones if that makes you feel more comfortable, ones without windows."

"Is it safe here?"

"JARVIS lets me know if there is anything remotely dangerous in the area, plus we have a few of our own satellites. Missile or plane, I'll know if anything is heading this way before the baddies do." Iron Man shrugged. "Wait, I forgot, you didn't have to live through 9/11."

"What's that?" Steve asked.

"A lot of sad news for a lot of people. It was...let's just say it's a day where everyone remembers exactly where they were when it happened." Iron Man walked to the window and pointed out at the skyline. "There were two buildings over there, before Mr. Stark built this one. A pair of planes hit them...they collapsed, killed a lot of people. People were afraid of big cities, afraid to be a target. So Mr. Stark built a big ass tower, plastered his name on it and lit it up like a Christmas tree, then hired a thousand of the smartest people in the world to come work in it. Hell even paid for most of their moving costs to get here. Might as well have called it the 'challenge accepted' building."

"He's sort of stubborn then?"

"Very stubborn. He doesn't take too kindly to threats either." Iron Man agreed.

"Can I ask something about him?" Steve wondered.

"I may or may not answer. I'm his body guard so...there is a limit on what I can say. He pays me a lot to keep my trap shut."

Steve figured his next question would go unanswered then. "His heart...it's got a...thing in it?"

Iron Man straightened up. "That's a question for him...at least...the story is. But it's there to keep him alive. He has shrapnel in his chest trying to kill him, so he built something to make it stop from slicing his heart open." Iron Man tapped the light in the chest of the suit. "Put one in here too, and he's working on a big one for this building. Can power almost anything for a long time with minimal effort. Are you adjusting?"

"It's all so...bright. It's just so much."

"Yeah... I get that. It's gotta be tough. Sorry for barging in, just wanted to make sure you were alive and...doing okay."

Grace tilted her head and Steve could feel her curiosity. Her eyes weren't straying from Iron Man.

"Can I ask a personal question?"

"Sure. I do have an identity to protect though, so be careful."

"Your daemon. It sets me on edge that I can't see her...or him."

"She's a cockroach, we settled that way young. Had to be tough when I grew up so we became unsquashable, if you know what I mean. We both fit in the armor nicely, it's a good advantage. Her name's Morgan, that's all I can give you. Only Mr. Stark and Analise know who we are, we plan to keep it that way. I get it, not being able to see someone's daemon is unsettling. Mr. Stark's always running around alone, I think he does it on purpose to make sure everyone's off balance but himself. He likes to be the one in control of the room."

Steve looked down at Grace. Who could just...abandon their daemon? It was hell every second Steve spent away from Grace. He hated himself that he'd left her alone for so long.

"Take it slow, you have a lot to adjust to." Iron Man turned and left in the elevator. It went up and Steve heard it stop one floor up.

"What do you think about Stark and Iron Man?"

"Tony is an M&M. Iron Man is an enigma."

"M&M?"

"Tough shell, sweet center. I hear that they're quite good." Grace shrugged. "You should eat. Breakfast?"

"Breakfast." Steve agreed. He disagreed with Grace though. Iron Man seemed to be pleasant, more so than his boss.

-

Tony took off his suit and went up to his floor. Peter was sitting on the couch. "Hey, are you alright, bud?"

"Yeah, just had a nightmare." Peter rubbed his eyes.

Tony got on the couch and let Peter climb onto his lap. He folded his arms around Peter. "You okay?"

"Yeah."

"Wanna talk about it?"

Peter shook his head. "Not right now...it'll make it more real. How is Captain Rogers and Gracie?"

"They're doing alright. I don't think they're sleeping great."

"Why'd you visit as Iron Man too?"

"Because people sometimes talk easier with people who don't have a face." Tony pulled Peter closer and kissed the top of his head. "I only went down there in the first place to get you some cereal for you. You hungry?"

"A little."

"Alright, champ, let's get you some breakfast and maybe talk about school choices, okay?"

"Okay." Tony stood up, hefting Peter with him. "Food and coffee, and then we'll get some work done."

"I want to try your coffee."

"You won't like it, but I'll let you have a sip." Tony said. Peter would likely never need the energy caffeine offered, but if he wanted to try it he wouldn't stop him. He was still obviously upset from his dream, it'd distract him from it. It seemed to be a theme. Peter wasn't sleeping and neither was his house guest. It seemed Captain America was only comfortable on the floor. "JARVIS, on second thought, don't wait another night, just order the firmer bed."

"Yes, Sir."

Chapter Text

Steve threw his shield and it smashed against an enemy, throwing them back into a wall. He could hear Grace fighting behind him and the sound of Iron Man fighting the floor above him. The Hydra bunker was nearly clear, at least, Steve had to imagine it was. "You alright up there, Iron Man?" Steve asked over comms as the cement ceiling above cracked, dust falling through the air.

He'd fought with Iron Man several times and caught the man in the armor walking around a few times in the tower. He liked Iron Man. He was quick on his feet and he always put others first. It was almost to a level of self-sacrificing idiocy, but Steve knew he could trust Iron Man with his life, because Iron Man would prioritize it. Hell, Steve would even trust the man in the suit with Grace. Bucky had been the last person to earn that amount of trust.

"Hey, Shellhead, you good?" Steve repeated when the silence stretched a bit too long. Iron Man was chatty, snarky, sarcastic, but full of a sage wisdom that had a quiet pain hidden under on it. Still, Iron Man was rarely quiet for this long.

A grunt responded, the voice filtered through something that distorted it and made it metallic and mechanical. "Sure...just some botched super soldiers, no problem."

Steve knocked out the last man and looked up. "You need my help up there, Shellhead?"

"Actually gonna bring it to you, Winghead, back up." Iron Man warned.

Steve and Grace backed up just before the ceiling collapsed and five enhanced people landed on the ground. The tares in their flesh and the redness beneath the torn skin wasn't nearly as unsettling as the fact that none of them had daemons.

"What are these things?"

Iron Man landed next to Steve. "I've heard of people like this. They train them to be soulless killers then...you know...they Cut away any protest their souls might have left. Perfect soldiers. Sure it makes them mindless, but damn they pack a punch."

Steve shivered and stepped in front of Grace. He glanced at Iron Man and saw that his left gauntlet had been crushed. "You alright?"

"I'm fine. It'll take more than them to take me down. You got my back, Cap?"

"Sure thing." Steve agreed.

They fought together, wonderfully, even took out three of the baddies, but not without casualties. Steve's ribs hurt and his breaths were labored.

"JARVIS says you have several broken bones." Iron Man commented as he threw a punch.

"I can do this all day." Steve hissed back, his ribs were screaming at him.

Iron Man made a non-committal noise. "I actually have somewhere to be today, so I'm gonna have to take a raincheck." The sounds of fighting prevailed for a moment, until he spoke again. "Hey, Cap, how much can you lift?"

"I don't know my max really, why?" Steve grunted.

"Well, we're ten stories down and there's more above the surface. JARVIS calculates there's about seventy tons above us. Could you lift that?"

Steve glanced at the metal-covered man. "You're insane."

"It's been said before. Is that a 'no' then? Too heavy I'm guessing."

"Yeah, definitely too heavy. And if you drop this building how do we get out?"

"How do you feel about flying?"

"No." Steve answered. He looked at Grace. How would she get out?

Iron Man obviously knew his concerns. "I can carry you and Grace, come on, we can't keep fighting like this."

Steve looked down. He was beat and Grace looked exhausted. He could feel it when she was brutally kicked. "Let's go."

"Grab Grace." Iron Man ordered. Steve slid to her and pulled her close. "Shield."

Steve tossed his shield to Iron Man. Iron Man caught the shield in his left hand and wrapped his right around Steve. Then Steve's stomach dropped as they shot upwards. The cement above cracked as his teammate used the shield to break through the floors above them. As soon as they were out in the sky, bombs began to go off, dropping the building on all the life that remained below. Damn, Steve hadn't even noticed Iron Man leaving the charges behind. It was quick work.

They landed and Steve put Grace down, checking her over for any injuries he couldn't feel. Lucky for both of them, the serum had effected her too. She was hard to take down and rarely kept her wounds long. Still, Steve always worried for her. He took off his cowl and held her close for a moment before he stood up, satisfied that she'd be alright. "Good thinking, Iron Man."

"I can come up with good ideas from time to time." Iron Man shrugged and held out the shield.

Steve's eyes widened. The left gauntlet had been crushed around Iron Man's arm, but most of his hand was exposed. Except it was kind of hard to see under all the blood and bruising. It had obviously taken a beating during the fight and on their way out. "Are you alright?"

"Been better." Iron Man admitted.

Steve reached out to take the shield out of the no-doubt broken hand and his fingers met the blood-soaked ones that gripped the shield. Steve felt the hair on his arm stand up. His heart raced in his chest. Warmth rushed through his veins and then...light. White light burst into the air, then threads of gold, red, silver, blue, brown, purple, gray, and orange swirled out like little tendrils around their fingertips, winding up their arms before slowly fading away. The white light slowly faded as well, but there was still that hum of energy, of warmth at the touch. Steve could feel the ache in his ribs receding. He'd heard that soul mates were stronger when they were close to each other, but he'd never known it would effect him that much, that his broken ribs would already start feeling better.

Grace purred happily.

Iron Man ripped his hand away, even as the blood flow slowed. He pulled the hand to his chest and took a step back.

"Iron Man... I...we... Whoa." Steve didn't know what to say. "God, we should...probably sort this out." He never imagined he'd find a soul mate. Part of him had always wondered that it might never happen, given how sick he'd been as a kid. He never thought he'd live long enough to meet a soul mate, but this...this was real. He also had no clue who his soul mate was...he wore a rather impressive mask.

"Sort what out?" For the first time, Iron Man's voice sounded more like a machine than a man's.

"Well...we're soul mates and I know that's gotta be difficult...on you, what with the secret identity and all-"

"This means nothing." Iron Many took another step back.

Steve felt his heart drop. "What?"

"'The light of our meeting determines that we MAY be soulmates, not that we MUST.'"

Steve frowned. "I understood that reference." Steve searched his brain. It was a Sherlock Holmes quote. When Holmes'd met his soul mate he'd insisted that it was something to study, to figure out cautiously before laying everything out on the line. The fictional character had a valid point and Steve wouldn't force Iron Man into anything he wasn't comfortable with. "Iron Man, I'm not... I'm not going to ask you to go against anything. I don't want you to be uncomfortable or to feel unsafe. I mean, back in my day you never even said if your soul mate was a fella...and I don't know if you're...comfortable with that or...whatever. I just...don't run away entirely, I'd like to at least try for...something."

"You being a man has nothing to do with my apprehension, Cap." Iron Man almost seemed to have some humanity back in his voice. "This though...I need some time, some space."

Before Steve could respond, Iron Man flew off.

"Well, shit." Steve whispered.

"Yeah...that sounds about right." Grace sighed heavily, then rubbed against Steve's legs comfortingly. "Give him some time. I'm sure he has a lot on his mind."

"Nothing like in the pictures, huh?" Steve sighed. In the movies, books, poems, and even in art, soul mates met and they were drawn together like magnets. The thing was, Steve could feel it, light a magnet was pulling him toward the metal man, but, instead, they were pulling away.

"Give him time." Grace repeated. "Shall we call SHIELD for a lift home?"

"Mmhm..." Steve nodded. Not exactly the fireworks his mother had talked about. But it would be okay. They'd work through it, step by step.

-

Tony landed at the tower and stepped out of his suit with a huff. Analise came out onto the landing pad and he glared at the fox. "You knew, didn't you?!"

Analise took a few steps back, then sat, wrapping her tail around her body. "Yes." Her ears drooped. "Grace thought it was a good idea."

"You knew Steve was my soul mate and you never told me?"

"Well, in our defense, we didn't think Steve would survive, so we thought we were saving you from possible anguish and...you're really pissed about this, aren't you?"

"You know damn well how alone I've felt my whole fucking life."

Analise sighed. "I know...but if I'd told you we might never have had Peter."

Tony froze. He couldn't imagine his life without Peter. Peter was his son, he needed Peter like the world needed the sun. And what if Steve had died? He would have felt worse, knowing that he'd lost his one and only soul mate. "I don't like it...but...it was probably the right call. But I have no clue how to deal with this."

"Dates, dinner, candles, wooing, kissing, cuddling..." Analise's nose wrinkled. "OTHER stuff."

"With a secret identity and a son I need to protect, yeah, real easy, Ana." Tony walked into his building. "I'm not happy with you."

"I figured as much."

"Sir," JARVIS started.

"Not right now, I'm busy being angry at Analise, J."

"Sir, this is rather urgent."

"More urgent than having a super soldier soul mate who has no clue who you are? By the way, I'm pretty sure he likes Iron Man and hates Tony Stark, so that's fun. Plus there's the fact that I have Peter and-"

"This is about Peter, Sir. I was under the impression that all matters to do with Peter are to come first." JARVIS said. "Though that does seem like a predicament."

"Peter?" Tony asked. "Is he alright?"

"Master Stark is quite safe. It's about his mother."

Tony paused. "Mary, what's going on?" Tony thought the worst, was the woman finally coming to her senses? Had she decided to not let Peter go so easily? Did she tell someone about Peter? How much damage control did he have to do?

"Sir, Mary and Richard Parker have been in an accident. They are both dead."

Tony squeezed his eyes shut. "Fuck this day." Tony looked at Analise. "Temporary truce. How the fuck do I explain to Peter that his biological mother just died. And JARVIS, please check on May and Ben, see if they're doing alright." Tony said as he pulled his phone out and texted Ben.

'You two doing alright? Anything I can do?'

Tony looked at Analise. "Please tell me you know something to say?"

"Well, Peter's never met her and he knows about her but...I don't know how he'll take it. He's never told me if he's ever wanted to meet her, has he said anything like that to you?"

"No, but that doesn't mean he hasn't thought about it." Tony rubbed his face. "Okay, one massive problem at a time." Tony looked at his arm and was at least glad that the gashes and fractures were healing. Being a witch sure had its perks. He hoped Peter was one too, sure, genetics were on Tony's side, but he couldn't imagine living centuries when his son couldn't.... "One problem at a time." Tony shook his head and headed up to his floor. "Take me home, J."

When he stepped out of the elevator he looked at Pepper, who was building legos with Peter. Tanner was curled up with Morgana, who was a playful ferret at the time. Tanner's head twisted all the way around, then he turned to Pepper.

"Tony, you alright?" Pepper asked.

"Daddy!" Peter got up and ran forward to wrap his arms around Tony's legs.

"Hey, bud...we need to talk real quick. Pep, mind giving us some space."

"Are you okay?" Pepper got up and walked over to him, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"It's fine, head out, okay? I'll tell you about it tomorrow."

"What's wrong, daddy?" Peter asked after Pepper left.

Tony sighed. "I don't know how to say this, so... We've talked about your mom before..."

"Well, yeah. I mean you couldn't hide her from me. Everybody has a mommy, even if they aren't around. It's biology."

"Yeah, and we're still not talking about how that biology thing happens." Tony tried to joke, but it fell flat. "Your mom...she...she died today."

Peter blinked and took a few steps back. "What?"

"There was an accident, with her plane and she and Mr. Parker didn't make it."

Peter frowned. "But I thought..."

"What is it, buddy? What are you thinking?" Tony asked when Peter went (very oddly) silent.

"I thought maybe one day she might want me...that maybe we could meet. You said she was really smart and pretty and...I thought maybe if I was really good she might...care someday."

Tony barely kept his tears from falling. He knelt and pulled Peter to his chest. "Oh, sweetie, it wasn't you. It isn't your fault she wasn't around. That was her choice. You are the best kid in the world. She wasn't ready to be a parent and that is not your fault. If she would have met you, I'm sure she would have loved you, Peter."

"You said you weren't ready to be a parent either! I thought she might change her mind, like you."

"It's not you, I promise. I wasn't ready to be a parent, but I held you and I knew I could never let you go, no matter how scary being a parent could be. But I need you to know that you are never a problem. You are so wanted, Peter. You are so loved."

"I know, but Ned has a mommy and she's so nice and I just...I thought maybe one day."

'This is not the time to tell him my soul mates a man.' Tony thought to himself with dark humor. "Is there something I can do, buddy? Are you missing something?" Maybe there was something Tony couldn't give his son. A female perspective of life would help balance everything out and Peter was a bit more sensitive than Tony, maybe someone more emotionally available would be good for Peter.

"No," Peter squeezed tighter. "I wouldn't trade you for ten mommies, no matter how much better Ned's mom is at baking cookies."

"Well, I'm glad you want to keep me." Tony sighed. "I'm sorry, Pete."

"I just thought I might meet her someday and she might like me. I just don't understand why she wouldn't want me, dad."

"I don't know, sweetie. I couldn't live in a world without you."

The questions kept bubbling up and Tony had never known that Peter doubted his own worth so much. He'd have to make sure his son never felt like he was a second priority. No. Peter would always be his first priority, he'd make sure of it. He'd make sure Peter knew every day that he was the most loved kid in the universe. Because Tony Stark knew exactly how it felt to feel worthless and no son of his should ever feel that way...never.

-

Steve walked out to the communal kitchen on his floor and paused when he saw Tony Stark pouring out a glass of alcohol. Steve really didn't want to deal with the billionaire. He could be so callous and careless. Sure, there had to be some goodness in the man who opened his home to a stranger, but seriously, what kind of person purposefully went across the world to conferences and left their daemon behind? What kind of person sent their body guard out to take the heat even when not necessary?

"Help yourself." Steve commented dryly.

Tony started and turned, his eyes looked dark and tired. "Thanks, Cappy. I don't have any booze on my floor so I thought...maybe I could have a little bit down here."

"Why don't you have any on your floor?" Steve asked, walking to the fridge and pulling an apple free.

"I'm trying to stay sober."

"You're doing a great job." Steve said with a drop of sarcasm.

"Fuck you." Tony snorted and took a gulp of the amber liquid. "I think I've been drunk once in the last five years. I used to get blackout drunk every couple days. I just want a little bit, just to take the edge off my nerves. It's a nervous coping tick. If I give my brain the illusion that I'm giving in, maybe it won't fucking consume me."

"Bad day?" Steve asked, trying to be a little more gentle. The man was trying, after all, to do better than he had been.

"Yeah...couple people I knew died today. It's been...tough. I can feel it tingling in the back of my mind. If I don't control it and just have the one glass it could turn into a bottle just to make all the issues from today disappear for a bit. I know that's no solution, but habits die hard."

"I'm sorry you lost someone." Steve frowned. "That's the only bottle down here, you know?"

"Yeah, it's the only one I keep in the tower. It makes it so I have to consciously get on an elevator and go get it. It gives me time to change my mind and think it through. You never just get sober, unfortunately. Cold turkey worked for a while, but when you do something over and over again, your brain just wants you to keep doing it. It's gotten better...just on bad days it's rough." Tony fidgeted.

Steve grabbed the bottle and poured himself a large glass, leaving hardly any left in the bottle. Even Tony wouldn't be able to get drunk even if he polished off the remainder in the bottle. Steve downed the liquid and winced at the taste. "I guess we both had shitty days."

"I thought you can't get drunk, Capsicle?"

"True, but now you can't either, win-win." Steve shrugged.

Tony smiled at the ground. "Thanks...so what's wrong in Captain America's world?"

"Met my soul mate, I have no clue who they are and they want nothing to do with me."

"Who wouldn't want Captain Fucking America?"

"Language." Steve scolded.

"No, seriously, blonde hair, blue eyes, Dorito body, artistic, smart, and a superhero. Kinda the whole package, if you're into the artsy-super-soldier type."

"Iron Man." Steve answered and instantly regretted it. He probably shouldn't have told Tony that. What if Iron Man didn't want anyone to know?

"So that's why he was short with me today..." Tony sighed. "It's not you. He talks about you, he likes you...so if it's anything it's an external force of some kind. Don't know if that helps, but since I'm miserable I think that's enough for one tower."

"It does. I wish he would've stuck around though... I don't care if he needs time or whatever, I just want him to take the chance, you know? Not bury it. I'd be content just...being better friends...for a time."

"'For a time'? Never took you for wanting the romance thing."

"No one wants to be alone." Steve shrugged. "It was part of our bond...in the light...it's a romantic bond so...I hope one day, but I don't want to push him. You don't keep a secret identity unless you're protecting something so, I know it could be a while for him to open up."

Tony sighed. "I'm betting you're wishing you could get drunk right about now."

Steve nodded. "It's not the worst idea." Steve didn't understand it. Maybe a buzzed Tony meant he was more...human. Then again, Analise was still out of sight. Grace though, she was at Steve's feet as she usually was when he was upset. She never left him alone when he was stressed or tired. What did it mean that a daemon was alright with leaving their human to obvious turmoil and pain? Something about Tony Stark screamed untrustworthy or dangerous or just plain wrong. "Sleep seems a better option though. I'm sorry for your loss, Stark. I hope you feel better. Try not to finish off that bottle. You gotta keep the progress up."

"Oh, I know. I won't allow myself to get buzzed...never again. Got to stay in control of this thing or nightmares spring loose." Tony pointed to his own head. "Goodnight, Steve. Give Iron Man some time, I'm sure he just needs to sort through some things."

"Thanks. Goodnight." 'Since when had Tony Stark called anyone by their real name?' Steve wondered.

Chapter Text

Sorry that it's been a while. I've felt guilty about not writing anything new, so this is my way of addressing it. I'm going through a rough patch with my mental health and instead of getting better it's been getting worse. I've been fighting a few things for a while now and usually I can get over the hump in relatively short order, but that doesn't seem to be the case this time.

I hate not writing for you guys, but I have to admit that guilt does nothing to help me actually write.

I'm not leaving, I just need to take a break for my own wellbeing. I'm trying to change some things and figure out why everything is so bleh right now so I can work through it and get back on my feet. If I'm being honest I have struggled with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and self-harm for a long time. I've gotten so much better since they started, so having them all drop on me at once left me breathless. One battle front is easy, but this is more than one right now. I tried to push through and post a bit more for you, but it didn't feel right and left me more stressed than anything, though I hoped it would give me some sort of purpose or drive.

I'm sorry this isn't the update you probably hoped for. Believe me, I wish I had the drive to tell these stories right now, but I don't. So, I'm going to take a few steps back, take care of myself, and come back when I'm fresh and can (somewhat) trust my own mind again. I'm sorry if this upsets you, but I've been learning that if I don't look after my own health, well, there's no one else who will. I'll put in the work on my end and get through this as soon as is healthy for me. I want to give you guys my best, but I can't do that if I'm nearing my worst. I just didn't want to leave you all without knowing what's going on on my end.

I miss writing for you all and I hope you'll be alright with my hiatus. I just need a little time to figure this out and battle through.

Please have a good day.

Chapter Text

Tony stared at the reading. No, it couldn't be right. There was too much forward progress going on for it to be right. Peter was in school and brilliant and talked endlessly about his best friend Ned. He was so happy to be in a learning environment, even if it was small to him. Peter, unlike Tony, had the patience to be humble and kind with his genius, helping his classmates get better at forming letters and numbers and short words without letting them know that he'd was already reading and writing things several grades more advanced...in two languages. Tony had helped to finally solidify the direction of Stark Industries. Stock looked great. Iron Man was a hero and had a...friendship with Captain America that was edging toward something more.

No. This reading had to be wrong.

JARVIS didn't let that thought settle in Tony. "I'm sorry, Sir. But the test does indicate that the palladium is poisoning you. Given your ability to heal, it may take some time, but you cannot win a fight against something that is being constantly poured in your body. A replacement for the palladium must be created or, eventually, it will kill you."

Tony sat still for a moment. He looked at the picture on his desk, the one of a tiny Peter sleeping on his chest shortly after Tony had brought him home. It was Christmas in that picture, Peter's skin was lit red and green by the lights of an out of frame tree. "How much time do I have to figure this out?"

"By the rate this is going and your healing abilities...I'd say you may make it a few months after your birthday."

"So at best I have seven months to figure this out and save my life. At worst this is my last Christmas with Peter and he's going to lose his father."

"Yes, Sir. Bluntly put, but yes."

"Well, the second option isn't even an option. Peter's going to have a father, I'm not leaving him. So let's start figuring this out. I need to know every alternative. I don't care if it is less efficient. I can make do. As long as it runs my damn heart. I can always put a different power source in the suit."

"Yes, Sir, but then running the suit would be more taxing."

"Don't care. Try every element, every combination, figure out what can replace this. I have to go get Peter from school. We'll work on prototypes as soon as you have a list. Let me know. Priority Alpha 2, only thing before this project is Peter."

"Yes, Sir."

-

Steve let his feet dangle off the edge of the tower. It was landing pad, rather than the roof. Steve didn't want to even try to convince JARVIS to let him go up there. It seemed Mr. Stark was very particular about who could go where. It was one thing Steve didn't dislike about the man, he seemed very cautious. Steve could understand that part of him, the rest...not so much. The strange thing, though, was Steve found himself very much disliking the man, but also curious about him. He didn't like the strange magnetism the man had, even when he was an arrogant, pompous, know-it-all, selfish, asshole (like he was all the time).

Steve shook his head and brought himself to the present. He'd been spending lots of time with Iron Man. Steve adored his soul mate. He was funny, smart, clever, and just so giving. It was lovely to get to spend time with him, even though he didn't know who he was under the mask. He loved the time they spent together, as friends. Steve wanted more though... God, Steve wanted to see the smile behind those metallic laughs. Steve hadn't felt at home since the ice...except for when he was with Iron Man. Somehow, the weight of losing his whole life felt lifted when he was with Iron Man.

But...Iron Man hadn't been acting like himself recently and...the quiet was getting disturbing.

"You've been quiet." Steve said.

"I have a lot on my mind...I'm sorry." Iron Man sighed. "I'm just tired."

"Yeah, you didn't look so good during our last fight. Are you alright? Do you need a break? I know Mr. Stark works you ragged, but you can rest, you don't always have to be out there fighting."

"So says Captain America." Iron Man scoffed.

"Look, I'm sorry, but I see you out there. You're fighting more than I am. And with all the traveling Mr. Stark's been doing for the expo, I know you've been all over the place. I just, worry. I mean, I can't see you, but I see how you're moving and...you look tired. I'm just worried."

"Momma bear." Iron Man shrugged and laughed hollowly.

Steve slowly reached out his hand and hesitated. They'd gotten closer but...he didn't want to overstep. Iron Man hadn't indicated that he was looking for anything beyond friendship, hell, they hadn't discussed anything past friendship. Steve put his hand over the suit-covered hand next to him. "I don't want you overextending and getting hurt. Hell, I'd take a turn being Stark's bodyguard if it would get you some time off. You need rest, you're human, unless there's something you're not telling me." Steve tried to joke.

"I'm just tired." Iron Man shocked Steve, by moving his metal-clad hand and holding onto Steve's in a loose hold.

"You can talk to me, about anything. I'll listen."

Iron Man remained quiet for a few minutes, as if debating with himself, staring out at the light of the sun. "Tony is dying."

"What?" Steve asked.

Iron Man sighed and tapped his chest. "This arc reactor that powers my suit and helps me fly...well, he has one buried in his chest and because he has it in his chest, the palladium...it's poisoning him. He doesn't have long left and...he's been searching for an answer, but he told me he's almost out of time and he can't find a way to keep the shrapnel out of his heart and not poison himself. I've been trying to help him, but...he looks bad. He puts on a good face, but he looks really bad."

"You're worried about him."

"I know you hate him, but he's not half bad...most days."

"I don't hate him, I mean...he's a weird enigma. He's a witch though, he could heal from poison, right?"

"Most poisons, yes, but you can't heal around something that's still in your body, because it's always there, fighting back. Eventually the poison will win, no matter how hard he fights." Iron Man slouched. "I...I'm sorry."

"Why? What for?"

Iron Man got up and turned his back on Steve. "Would you be there for me...if you knew who I was?"

"Of course." Steve promised.

"I just...I'm tired of pretending that everything's perfect. The people closest to me...who know the real me, outside of this suit. I just smile at them and pretend, but I'm tired."

"Look, I'll be here, Iron Man, I promise. Whoever you are under the mask, it doesn't matter. Because the mask doesn't hide the fact that you're one of the most generous, selfless, strong, and protective people I know."

There was a sound of the suit coming open and Steve held his breath. He didn't push or pry the man to step around the suit, but he knew from the windows that the suit was open, that a man was standing inside of it, but Steve couldn't make out his features.

"Probably my last chance anyway...damn it."

Steve knew that voice. That was...

Tony Stark stepped around the suit. He was wearing a tank top and Steve could see it, see the darkness in Tony's veins and the glow of the arc reactor. "Sorry, Steve, I'm not what you wanted, but...I just... I thought maybe I'd give you more time to warm up to...well, me, but I don't have much time left. So I figure, I could end up alone and let you reject me to my face or I might just have someone in my corner as I die."

"You're..." Steve stood up and stared at the man.

"Sorry, winghead, look I'll just leave."

"No one knows you're sick?"

"No. I've got my affairs in order though."

"That's why you gave the company to Pepper Potts. I thought that was a bit...sudden."

"And why War Machine is out and about. I'm phasing myself out, I guess. The last bit is...going to be hard though." Tony's hands shook. "Maybe I should've kept this simple. Less goodbyes to say. Fuck I'm selfish. I just wanted to not die alone or thinking that I could just disappear and no one would fucking know what happened to Iron Man and..." Tony shook his head. "I just...need a friend right now and I know...I know I'm not that person to you, but..."

Steve walked forward and reached out tentatively, then he wrapped his fingers around Tony's wrist. Light bloomed at the touch, glowing faintly. It was true, this was real. Tony Stark was Iron Man and Iron Man was his soul mate. Steve stood still for a moment, trying to process it. Tony Stark, arrogant and snarky and always abandoning his own daemon. Iron Man, willing to die for his teammates, quick witted, generous. Then again Tony Stark was constantly being stared at, constantly being pried into. Iron Man had a suit of armor between him and the world. Tony Stark put up walls to be safe, but Iron Man could be himself because the armor was protecting him. Maybe they were one in the same.

Wait. Tony Stark was Iron Man, Iron Man was his soul mate, and Tony Stark was DYING. His soul mate was dying.

"Come here." Steve pulled Tony into a hug.

Tony let out an awful sound and clung to Steve.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you who I was, but I have reasons."

"I'm...confused, but I'm not mad. I knew you were protecting something, and I respect that, okay? I get it."

"Thank you, for not rejecting me right off the bat."

"Of course not."

"Sir, I have a Priority Alpha 1 alert." JARVIS called out.

"Oh, shit." Tony pulled back and straightened himself up. He wiped his eyes and looked very much like he was putting up a front. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sending the data to your phone now, Sir."

Tony picked up his phone and looked at the screen. "I have to go."

"Iron M-Tony," Steve started.

"I definitely will talk to you later, but this is important." Tony turned to the suit. "JARVIS, send the suit back. I need to get to a car."

"Make sure you take a drink with you, sir, your toxicity levels need some help."

"Thanks, J."

"Tony-"

"Steve...I'm sorry, I have to go, but...I'll be back...if you even want me around."

Tony was gone then, racing out the door, sounding short of breath before he got there.

"He really is sick."

"Sir is actively dying. I've been prohibited from telling anyone, even those who would care most. He's been dying...alone. It worries me." JARVIS spoke in an almost sad tone.

"Is he always doing things like that?" Steve asked.

"If he thinks he can protect someone from pain, then he will. It has always been Sir's way. I know you have not always seen eye to eye with Tony, but I promise you, he's more like the Iron Man you've come to know then the Tony Stark he puts up for the world to see."

Steve looked down. He didn't know how such different people could be the same person. It explained the hell out of why 'Mr. Stark' was always sending Iron Man out to do work without caring. It didn't explain how Steve had seen them both in the same room at the same time though. But why would someone want to be so cold? How had he been so cold to Analise?

"You're really confused." Grace prowled in and Analise followed her.

"I just don't understand." Steve shook his head.

"I kept telling you to give Tony a chance. I kept telling you that he was a good man and you should have trusted me." Grace sighed.

Analise nuzzled against Grace.

"Look, I forgive you Steve, but I know things about Tony and I know why he acts the way he does in public. It's for you to find out, for you to ask him about...but I promise you, he's good."

"I just found out who my soul mate is, Grace, and he's dying."

Grace came forward and rubbed against Steve's legs. "Then don't waste any time. Never waste any time, because it's always slipping away." Grace turned to Analise. "Have you told them yet? Has he...told them?"

"No, I think part of him is still trying to find a way to save himself so...he doesn't want them to worry. He wants them to be happy while they can be." Analise looked down and then swayed, as if she were dizzy. "I'm tired, Gracie."

"I'm sorry, honey. You watched over me as I grew tired, I'll do the same for you. And Tony will be okay, I promise." Grace ducked her head under Analise's frame and stood up, hefting Analise onto her shoulders. "It's okay, honey, you can rest, I have you." The lioness promised.

"I don't know how Tony's still standing... Don'... Don' let Morgana see me like this...please."

"Of course." Grace answered and Analise went limp.

"Who's Morgana?"

"A friend of ours." Grace frowned. "My poor, sweet Analise."

"You've been with her, whenever I've been with Iron Man." Steve realized.

Grace nodded. "I told you to get to know him...but I've known Analise for a while and...we're really close. How do you feel...about Iron Man?"

"You already know how I feel, Grace." Steve said.

"Have you told Tony?"

"No, but..." Steve shook his head. "This is..."

"Does it change anything that Iron Man is Tony Stark?" Grace demanded. "No. That's the answer: No. He's still the same man. I'll let you in on something. Tony Stark wears a face and builds a wall so high so no one can ever hurt him again. Iron Man, the guy you feel love for, is the same as Tony. In fact, if you think Iron Man is a good man, then you should be excited to know Tony, because the real Tony, is the greatest man I've ever known. You better learn that before it's too late. Time is precious. God knows I'm spending every second I can with Analise." Grace turned, then looked over her shoulder. "You know, there are very few people who have ever told him that they care for him...so maybe you should tell him. No regrets this time around, Steve."

Steve watched as Grace walked away.

-

Steve stepped out of his room. Tony was in the common floor kitchen, mixing some sort of green smoothie. He watched Tony down it and wince at the taste. "Sir, I fear those won't help for much longer." JARVIS said quietly.

"It takes the edge off for now though. Jesus, JARVIS, what am I supposed to do?"

"Maybe spend time with friends?" Steve asked.

Tony turned his head. "So, we're talking still?"

"Why wouldn't we?" Steve asked.

"You're not exactly in my fan club. The last time we spoke as Steve and Tony well..."

Steve winced. He'd shouted at Tony the last time they'd spoken. Steve walked forward and held out his hand.

Tony stared at it for a moment, before he took it, his warm calloused fingers had a firm grip. A dim glow shinned between them.

"I feel like we got off on the wrong foot. I'm Steve Rogers, sometimes I'm a stubborn idiot."

Tony snorted. "Tony Stark, sometimes I'm an asshole." Tony dropped his hand then laughed. "Who am I kidding? I'm usually an asshole."

"You wear it like a shield, don't you?" Steve asked quietly.

"Yeah, most days." Tony nodded.

"Are you alright?"

Tony's shoulders slumped and he shook his head. "No...I'm tired."

"It's late, why aren't you sleeping?"

"I'm trying to work the problem, trying to solve this. I have limited time, I can't sleep it all away."

"Maybe sleep is what you need, to give your brain a reset." Steve commented. Tony's eyes did look heavy.

Tony looked up at Steve and nodded. "Maybe..." He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I've lied to you and I...still am. There are things you don't know about me and-"

"It's okay. You don't know everything about me." Steve had to listen to Grace on this one. Normally he liked transparency, but that would be hypocritical, wouldn't it? He hadn't told Iron Man, Tony, about Peggy or Bucky, not really. Steve was trying to keep parts of his life hidden, surely Tony had things he wanted to keep his own too. Steve could understand, it wasn't that he didn't trust Tony with Peggy or Bucky, it was just that he wanted to keep them his for as long as he could. "I know I can be judgmental, but it's fine. Grace says there are just some things we can leave to mystery."

"Grace is a wise woman." Tony smiled. He looked at the elevator, then gently squeezed Steve's arm. "Thank you..."

"Of course. Sleep well, alright?"

Steve watched Tony walk to the elevator, unsteady, and get in. He should have told Tony that he had fallen in love with Iron Man. Why hadn't he said it?

-

Peter woke up when he felt his bed shift. His dad was there. "Did you have a nightmare, daddy?"

"Yeah."

"Wanna talk about it?" Peter asked. His dad did look so tired and scared and sad.

"No, kid, I don't." Tony whispered, ruffling Peter's hair.

"Okay..." Peter whispered. "Piglet helps when I have nightmares. I can share." Peter offered his stuffed animal.

"Thank you, Peter." Tony took Piglet gently in a hand. Peter could swear there were tears in his dad's eyes.

"You can stay here too. Like when I get nightmares and you let me stay. I always feel better when I'm with you. Even in the really bad thunderstorms." Peter pulled back his sheets.

Tony sniffled and climbed under the sheets. Peter sighed when his dad wrapped him in a warm hug. He didn't know what to do when he felt his dad's body shake with a choked sob, so Peter hugged him back. "You're okay, daddy. I promise the nightmare will go away."

"I love you so much, Peter, more than anything. Remember that."

"I love you too, daddy." Peter promised. He wondered what kind of nightmare made his dad so sad, but if it could make his daddy that sad, maybe Peter wasn't ready to hear about it.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up and went on his run. He knew Mr-Tony, tended to sleep in and, with how ill he obviously was, Steve wasn't going to deny the man some sleep. Steve came back from his run and got showered and changed. There was still that surprise. Tony Stark was Iron Man? It was hard to connect the two. Sure, there had been some moments when Tony Stark's guard had been lowered and he'd seemed softer and kinder, like when he'd ordered a firmer bed, somehow noticing that Steve couldn't sleep on the soft one...but Steve had seen the man many, many times, fought with him too, and it was hard to see him and Iron Man as one in the same.

Was it possible for a man to wear a more intricate mast as himself then as a super hero? Apparently, yes.

Steve wanted to know more. He'd been itching to know about Iron Man, a guy he'd genuinely felt love for, and now he did know his big secret and it seemed like the puzzle had gained a million more pieces that he'd have to put together.

"So, what are you doing today?" Grace wondered as she jumped up onto a sofa.

"I'm planning on going out."

"Oh, where? Somewhere fun, I hope."

"With Tony, if he's got the time."

Grace smiled, showing off lots of sharp teeth. "I approve of your plans for the day. I thought I would have to beat you over the head until you stopped being stubborn and judgmental."

"Well, like you said, I may not have the time to judge this." Steve frowned.

"Possibly. I don't know, he's pulled through a lot....too much even. Sometimes I don't know how he hasn't just given up." Grace shook her head. "I would have in his shoes, especially after the Ten Rings thing, but no, he came out a super hero."

"Actually, he's a vigilante, but he'd totally dig being called a super." Analise said, walking out of the elevator and then running at a sprint to Grace. She pounced, but Grace didn't even flinch.

"Honey, it's cute, but no...just no. You realize the serum worked on me too, right?"

"Yeah, but you used to be such a pushover." Analise sighed.

"That was because I was basically a block of ice." Grace rolled her eyes and then licked the top of Analise's head.

"Ugh, you messed it up! I just got the knots out, Gracie."

"Oh, hush, you look fine." Grace huffed. "You seem more energetic today."

"Eh, got some sleep. I feel like shit, but at least I'm mostly awake while I feel like shit now." Analise sighed.

Steve was amazed, watching the two of them interact. They obviously had a very close bond, teasing and caring all at the same time.

"Don't worry, Gracie, I'll still keep you on as my personal pillow." Analise winked. "Ugh, I just sounded like Tony."

"Yes, you did." Grace laughed.

"It's not funny..." Analise his her head against, Grace's side for a moment before looking at Steve. "Hi."

"Hello." Steve replied. Most daemons didn't talk to other people. They usually spoke quietly with their own human, quiet enough no one else could hear. Most of them only interacted when they were comfortable with someone else or if they had to. Grace, for instance, barely spoke to anyone. She had rarely said a word to Bucky back in the day. So it had been a surprise when Steve had caught her speaking to Iron Man on occasion, and Tony.

"So, you figured him out. He was afraid, but I'm glad you didn't give him too much grief. Look, I know better than anyone that he can be an asshole, but...trust me, he'd put everyone before himself, even if he had to be an asshole to do that. Maybe I'm a little biased, but he is a good man, if flawed."

"Everyone's flawed." Grace shrugged.

"I'm not." Analise shook her head, but the fox had a playful smirk on her face.

"No, doll, you're perfect." Grace rolled her eyes.

"You better believe it, sweetie."

"So, is Mr-Tony here?" Steve asked.

Analise turned and narrowed her eyes slightly. "No, it's 9:15, he'll be out for about another half-hour. Why?"

"Because I-"

"I think he wants to have coffee with him." Grace nudged Analise.

"Ooh, coffee? Sounds nice. Tony loves coffee." Analise nudged Grace back.

"Yeah, I think Steve, like-likes Tony."

"Oh, really? That's so cuuuute." Analise smirked.

"What is with you two?" Steve asked. Grace never acted so, conspiringly. They were practically giggling like school girls talking about first crushes. Grace did not giggle like that.

"Oh, come on. I've known about you and Tony for just about three decades now. Cut me some slack, we're excited."

"Yeah, I don't have much to giggle about right now, let me have this." Analise added.

"Okay," Steve raised his hands. "You win, girls."

"Damn right." Grace chuckled. "Seriously, ask him out already. Like, right now."

"Hey, JARVIS?" Analise asked.

"Yes, Ma'am?" JARVIS wondered. "How may I help you?"

"Send a text to Sir from Steve's phone. Say something like: 'I'm not hungry, let's get breakfast.'" Analise snickered.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Steve wondered.

"No," Grace shook her head, "be nice, Ana."

"Fine. JARVIS just send a text asking Tony if he's free for breakfast."

"That does sound more reasonable, Ma'am." JARVIS said.

"Woah, I can text." Steve grabbed his phone.

"Yeah, and it'll take you an hour to figure out which words you want to use, no thanks. This way's better."

"You're supposed to be on my side, Grace." Steve leveled a disappointed look on her, but she was used to it and withstood it.

"I am on your side. I'm getting you an actual date with your actual soul mate."

Steve's phone buzzed and he jumped. The text was simple: 'Yes, I'll be free in about twenty minutes and I could use some more downtime if I'm being honest with myself. Have something in mind?'

"Um..."

"JARVIS, text Tony this: How about Led Zeppoli? I'll meet you there in thirty?"

"What's Led Zeppoli, is that like the band he likes? I think I've seen a shirt like that." Steve didn't think it was Zeppoli though, wasn't it Zeppelin?

"It's a pun and a damn good cafe and bakery. Tony loves it. You will too." Analise insisted.

"He's dressed appropriately, right?" Grace wondered.

"Yeah, it's a casual place. He doesn't need to worry about anything."

Steve's phone went off again. The text made Steve laugh: 'Don't let Analise boss you around, Cap.' He contemplated the text for a moment and then smiled as he tapped out his own message. 'I trust her judgement. I'll see you there, shellhead?'

'Sure thing, capsicle.'

"Aw, look at that blush, so cute." Grace purred. "You two boys go get to know each other, we'll stay here."

"What? I don't want to leave you here, Grace. And, don't you want to go?"

Analise's ears dropped. "No."

Steve had to wonder why though. Why didn't she seem to want time around Tony? But Analise wasn't done speaking.

"I don't like being in public and Tony doesn't like me being in public either, for many reasons. I don't like the crowds, too many people, too much trouble. And the eyes never leave us. Led Zeppoli isn't bad, it's actually a safe and lovely place, but I don't really have the energy to be out and about right now, much less put on my people-pleasing face. Tony's always been so much better at being the public's dancing monkey. I can't, I won't."

"I'll stay with her. You two go be all cozy."

"Um...alright." Steve agreed. Maybe there was more behind the distance Tony and Analise seemed to have built between them.

-

Steve was a little early, but the place smelled divine. It was a humble place too, not he would've expected if he was honest. A billionaire could go anywhere, and yet this quaint little cafe was apparently one of his favorite spots. Like Tony, the choice was a conundrum. "You waiting for someone? Oh." A familiar brunette walked forward, a cat daemon following her quietly, without any fuss, seeming curious. Her nametag said 'May.' "Come this way, over here." She led him to a booth in the corner. Steve liked the spot, he could see the entrance, but the seats were obscured from the rest of the cafe and near the exit through the kitchens. "Good morning, Mr. Rogers. I'm sorry I sort of dragged you over here, but I figured you wouldn't want the possible attention."

"I know you...don't I?" Steve wondered.

"Yeah, I think we met briefly, you looked after my nephew."

"Peter." Steve recalled. "Cute kid, is he doing alright?"

"Yeah, sweetheart as always. In school showing everyone who's boss by now." She said after glancing at her watch. "Anything I can get for you to get you started?"

"I'm actually waiting for someon-"

"Hey, May, you look nice, did you cut your hair?" Tony Stark was suddenly there, but, where had he come from? Steve hadn't seen him come in the door. Witches and their trickery...

"Tony, I'll sick my husband on you."

"Nah, he knows you're cute too." Tony kissed her cheek in a polite, friendly way before sitting down across from Steve. "Hey, Steve." His greeting was a little more shy.

"You know her?" Steve asked.

"Best waitress in the world, seriously, she needs a pay raise."

"Shush, I don't need you kicking up a storm like last time." May swatted Tony with a menu and he laughed.

"Ah, you know me too well. I'll have the usual drink to start, but two extra shots and like three extra pumps."

May looked at Tony, concerned. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, just a little tired. Need rocket fuel today."

"Okay then, you've got it. And for you, Mr. Rogers?" May asked.

"Coffee, black is fine."

"You got it, I'll have those out in a minute."

"Thank you, dearie." Tony called.

May waved as she walked away.

"You come here often?"

"Yeah, the food is great and May's a sweetheart with enough sass to keep me in line." Tony chuckled. "She's working toward a nursing degree. Decided to get a job and pay her way all on her own, wonderful woman. She's going places. But she can't cook worth a damn. She tried to bring in homemade cookies once...eek."

"I met her at an art museum. She seemed nice."

"And very good at keeping high profile people out of the limelight, another reason why I like it here. No one kicks up a fuss if 'Tony Stark' shows up." Tony shook his head. "I'm sorry if Analise pressured you or anything."

"It was Grace more than anyone, but I already intended to ask you out."

"Oh..." Tony rubbed his face. "This is a date?"

"Yeah..." Steve nodded. "Did I not make that clear? I'm sorry."

"No, I just wouldn't have blatantly flirted with Aunt Hottie if I'd've known that."

May showed up just then. "He would have. He like to make me feel uncomfortable and knows flirting does the job, the asshole." May swatted him lightly. "Besides, I think he flirts when he's anxious."

"I do not."

"Well, you certainly tell jokes when you're scared." May huffed.

"Okay, that one's true, it's a self-defense mechanism, can't control it."

"Alright, Mr., you drink your rocket fuel and...maybe get some more sleep?" She actually had an edge of concern to her voice then. "And you guys call me over when you're ready, okay?"

"Yes, Ma'am." Steve nodded.

May blushed and walked away.

"Wow, you got her to blush with two words, nice moves, Cap."

Steve felt his cheeks heat up a little. He wasn't really used to it still. He could better remember the times people looked right on by his scrawny frame. He'd been a weak nothing for far longer than he'd been Captain America...well, at least consciously. He suddenly felt a wave of strangeness. Here he was, nearing a hundred years old, sitting across from someone who looked barely into their late twenties. And Steve himself was only in his twenties. It was weird. Steve suspected though that it would be a long time before Tony ever looked older than his twenties. Witches aged slowly and lived a very long time...well, unless they were being killed by poison in their chest, apparently. And Steve suddenly wondered if he'd last as long as Tony, if Tony found a way to save himself. How long would the serum hold up?

"Woah, did I just lose you?"

"Sorry, just felt the craziness of this all again." Steve said. He knew Tony would understand what he meant. He had talked to Iron Man at length how crazy his life had felt since coming out of the ice.

"I get it." Tony nodded. "In a different way, but I get it. So...why ask me out all the sudden?"

"Well, I figure, me and...Iron Man have sort of had a relationship going for a few months and I know you and I haven't had a good one, not as Tony and Steve. Maybe a fresh start, clean slate. Plus you looked like you could stand to have a day to relax."

Tony watched him for a moment, as if trying to find anything hidden in Steve's words or posture. "A reset button, sounds good to me."

"I have one condition, though." Steve said bravely, before trying to hide himself in his cup of coffee to get away from the sudden sharpness in Tony's eyes. He'd went from half-asleep to perfectly alert.

"Oh? Do tell." Tony's voice was a little more weary and tight.

"No more masks, from either of us. Come as we are." Steve said after a sip of very good coffee.

Tony was staring at him blankly when Steve finally got brave enough to look. As soon as they made eye contact, Tony sighed and closed his eyes. "I don't know how well I can do that. I've always worn a mask, I've always had to, but I can try."

"That's all I can ask." Steve nodded. "So, what's good here?"

"I'm partial to doughnuts myself, but the buns are amazing and I wouldn't say no to anything on their menu, it's all good." Tony smiled softly. "They have apple pie." He added with a teasing glint in his eye.

Steve cringed. "It's too early for pie, and you know I don't like apple pie."

"But it's 'Merica."

Steve rolled his eyes.

"Fine, keep your blueberry pie. I'm going to have the Glazed and Confused...and none of the music references on this menu mean anything to you, do they?"

Steve looked at the menu, obviously full of puns. Because who would write something like Knead it Out, Breaking B[re]ad, Separate Wheys, Bunhemian Rhapsody, or Macaroona? Then, Steve noticed one. "I know this one: I Got Ryethm."

Tony laughed and it was a lovely, infectious laugh that he cut off too quickly. "We're going to have to upgrade your taste in music."

"Whatever you say." Steve shook his head.

"Give music a try, Steve, you'll never know what you might end up liking. Except country, please don't be a country fan. I wouldn't be able to stand it."

Steve thought for a moment. It seemed Tony really liked music and this was a date...not that Steve had ever had success with them before. "Okay, so aside from AC/DC, because I've heard you mention them before, not to mention your collection of shirts...what's your favorite band, album, singer, and song?"

"Oh, shit. You're already breaking out the tough questions?" Tony leaned back. "I'm going to have a crisis sitting here trying to figure this out." He took a couple of gulps from his coffee. "Okay, this answer will likely change from day-to-day: Aerosmith, Back in Black-don't judge me, you put me on the spot-, Chester Bennington, and Africa. Don't ask me to explain, because I can't." Tony laughed. "What about you, favorite paintings?"

"Now I have no clue how to answer."

"Turnabout is fair play." Tony smirked.

Steve sighed and thought about it for a few moments, then he tried and failed to describe his favorite paintings to Tony. It was a failed attempt, of course, just the same as it must have felt for Tony, trying to explain the finer points of rock and something called nu-metal. They laughed and ate and somewhere in the middle of it all Steve realized that, yes, Tony Stark was very much the Iron Man he'd come to love. He also noticed that somewhere in the middle of it all, Steve's fingers had linked with Tony's. A soft, almost invisible glow of light filled the air around them.

Steve opened his mouth, to say the words he'd wanted to say to Iron Man, but then he swallowed them. He'd only known the man for a few months. Surely it was too soon to say those three words, right? Then again, Tony was sick, possibly a dead man walking. Steve didn't know what to do.

"Alright, you two, here you are." May arrived with the check and stopped the debate cold. "You guys have a great day."

Tony snagged the bill quickly and didn't bother looking inside before opening his wallet and sliding a hundred into it. "May, you know what to do, sweetie. Thanks for the lovely food as always."

"Yeah, yeah." May sighed in a way that a fond but annoyed mother would. "Have a good one and get some rest."

"No rest for the wicked, Aunt Hottie." He winked and got up. He held out his hand to Steve.

"I um..." Steve looked around. It wasn't that he was ashamed to be with Tony, no. Tony wasn't someone to be ashamed of, hell he was a hero, brave, and smart as a whip. Steve just didn't want that attention. He already drew enough as Captain America. He hated all of the eyes on him. Maybe... Shit. Maybe that's why Tony was always putting on a face, a persona in public. The persona kept the real Tony sheltered away from scrutiny while the mask took the blows. But a daemon...they couldn't hide who they were, maybe that's why Analise was never with Tony in public.

"Trust me?" Tony asked.

Steve nodded. "Okay." He took Tony's hand and he felt something strange settle on him, almost like a tingling feeling. Steve's eyes widened as they walked out into the street. There were people everywhere and nobody looked at them. Steve even noticed a few people with cameras out and about, obviously looking for celebs. Steve turned and looked at Tony. "How do you do this?"

"Being a witch has some perks. I can hide someone with me, if they're close to me." Tony shrugged. "You just have be subtle. You have to act like a normal person. Talking is fine, but walk, don't run and don't shout or look around like you're being watched. If you look normal, my little trick can hide you."

"That has to be nice."

"Yup. I'll get you to your bike." Tony promised.

-

Tony road up the elevator with Steve, feeling tired. Maybe he could get a nap in before getting Peter from school. He didn't think that getting a little sleep would make him want more. He'd thought the coffee would work, but it didn't. Tony felt the pressure on his hand grow tighter. He straightened and looked at the taller man.

"You look tired."

"Yeah, I'm feeling it. I guess I really do need the rest, but it was really nice, getting to spend some time with you. I...thanks for giving me a chance, I know I didn't earn it."

"You did." Steve promised. "I had fun. I'll have to look into some new music."

The elevator came to Steve's floor and stopped. The doors opened. Grace sat up and carried Analise toward the elevator. Analise was sleeping. Tony reached out for his sleeping daemon and realized if he grab her he might touch Grace on accident. "I...um."

"It's okay." Grace said.

Tony, very carefully, pulled Analise up into his arms. He managed to not touch the lioness. "I think I'm going to try to get a few more z's."

"Good, you could use it. Then, fresh eyes for late and if I can help at all, even if it's just moral support while you do your science thing, I'll be there."

"Thank you and thanks for today." It was refreshing that someone wanted to be around him without wanting his money or fame or ideas.

"Any time." Steve said, one hand on the doors to keep the elevator open. After what seemed like too many seconds of debate. Steve leaned in and pressed a kiss to Tony's cheek. "Rest well."

Tony pretended that his cheeks didn't warm at the sweet gesture. Most people he knew went instantly in for the kill. Hell, Tony'd usually go right in for the lips. That was just too sweet, too innocent...so kind. Tony pressed a gentle kiss under Steve's ear, keeping Analise close to his chest so Steve couldn't touch her. He liked Steve, but that would be too much far too soon. Tony didn't know if he'd ever let anyone touch her outside of Peter and even with Peter he didn't like the idea of it.

"I'll see you soon, Steve."

Steve nodded and stepped off the elevator.

"Top floor, J."

"Yes, Sir."

As the elevator moved, Tony checked his phone. He ignored the business calls and his forehead wrinkled when he saw texts from Ben Parker. He called the man as he stepped onto his floor.

"What's going on, Ben?" Tony asked.

"May texted me and wouldn't shut up, what's going on with you at her work? She said something about a and I quote 'Dorito, super-hero, god' that she'd 'love to climb like a tree.'"

"Wait, what?" Tony wondered.

"Yeah, she used to say things like that about you, until she met you and found out how annoying you actually are, but now she's got this Captain Rogers to talk about. So what were you doing in a cafe with Mr. America, didn't your dad used to like...torture you by comparing you to him?"

"Well, yeah, but it turns out life has some humor to it."

"Oh?" Ben asked. "What do you mean?"

"This stays between you, me, and May, right? I'll tell Peter myself, but this has to stay between us three. Alright?" Tony asked. Ben wouldn't tell anyone, except May, but he knew Ben would also make sure May didn't go blabbing.

"Am I supposed to shake your hand over the phone or something? Yeah, it's between us."

Tony smiled, this was why he liked Ben. He was always honest and straightforward, with a touch of sarcasm. "Captain Steve Rogers is my soul mate, there were sparkles and everything."

"OH MY GOD!" May's voice squealed.

"Annnd I'm on speaker, nice." Tony sighed.

"She wanted to know and she figured that I could get it out of you easier than she could." Ben sighed.

"Conniving woman." Tony huffed.

"Well, I'll take you off speaker phone now, while she freaks out. I'm happy for you, not everyone finds their soul mate and you've been alone for too long. You deserve it. Now...I have a more personal question." Ben sighed. "Tony, are you alright?"

"I'm fine."

"Are you lying to me?"

"Ben..."

A disapproving sound came from Ben. "I won't ask, but you should talk to someone. Whatever it is that's bothering you, you need to fix it. Get help, do something about it."

"I'm trying." Tony promised. "How did you know something was wrong?"

"I'm Peter's uncle, Tony, and when he's worried about his dad he's going to ask someone close to him for help."

"He's worried? Shit." Tony'd have to do better to hide the sleepiness. He wouldn't be able to visit in the night crying either.

"I told him I'd ask you, and I did. I'll let him know you're just stressed at work, but...figure this out. If it's the PTSD again or the anxiety, that's fine, but don't be afraid to ask for help. There are people who love you, who want you to be healthy and happy. Just ask, we'll be here for you." Ben said, his voice sure and kind.

"Thank you, Ben."

"Get some rest, Tony, you sound tired. I'm going to try to calm May down. She thinks you and Captain America are rather cute together, in case you couldn't hear the girlish shrieks and giggles."

"Talk to you later, Ben."

"Bye, Tony."

Tony sighed and hung up. He needed to figure this out, but first a nap, hopefully one with Analise cradled against his chest.

Chapter Text

Tony sat in the common room in the armchair. Steve was sitting on the couch with Grace at his feet. Analise was sleeping against Grace's side, obviously exhausted. He frowned at her. He wanted to wrap her up and hold her close, but he knew how comfortable she was with Grace.

"Any luck so far?" Steve asked quietly.

Tony shook his head. "The rest cleared my head though, so there's that." Tony rubbed his face.

"Have you still not told anyone?"

He shook his head again. "It's too hard, I don't want to be the person who tells people that, when there still might be a chance. Why put them through that stress?" Tony still felt bad about telling Steve, but Steve had already scolded him for worrying about it, so he didn't mention it again. "I mean, I survived torture I can...find a way out of this too."

"They're your friends. They'd want to help."

"All the more reason not to tell them. I think Rhodey suspects something already, and Happy sure as hell does, but no use making them worry about me before the bad thing even happens." Tony rolled his shoulders back and sat up straight. "So let's talk this out...here's the thing, there are no elements or combinations of elements that could replace palladium, it just won't work sustainably, which means I either have to build something different from an arc reactor or do some deep space travel and find a new element."

"Oh, is that all?" Steve shook his head.

"There are thousands of things I don't know, millions. Adapting is what a futurist does, I just have to adapt to this and I'll be fine." Tony shrugged. "If a species doesn't adapt, they die out, plain and simple. I just have to change in the time I'm given, not so hard. I did make this when Yinsen and I were sure I only had a week left to live. I just need to find the right thing."

"Sir, the service elevator has brought the delivery you were expecting from California." JARVIS said. His voice made Analise get up and stretch.

"Thank you, J." Tony said as Analise walked over to him and nuzzled against his legs. He smiled and gave her a pat on her shoulders before heading for the elevator.

Tony sighed when the elevator opened. Pepper was cleaning out the California offices for sure. She was excited to make them her own, to finally really be the boss instead of being the boss behind the scenes. Tony was proud of her and a little upset at how easily she could handle all of the pressure. She was born to be in business, that was for sure, Tony felt more at home behind the scenes. There were boxes everywhere and big panels. Tony sighed and looked at the model of his father's perfect city. It was a model Tony hadn't been allowed to touch...another thing his father yelled at him for. Tony started pulling on it and Steve was there, helping him to lay it out on the floor. Tony stared at it with a frown. There was something too strict about the pattern of it.

"Remember when we tried playing with this?" Analise asked, edging forward.

"Yeah, well, it wouldn't've been perfect if I put my grubby hands on it." Tony frowned, thinking of the shouting. "I should just throw it out, one less damned reminder..." He started to walk past it, then froze and looked at it again. "Does that look like something to you?"

"What do you mean?" Steve asked. "It looks like that section of city where the expo has been going on, nothing strange about it."

"Yeah, there is something...about it. Howard was really particular about this and...it looks like circles and circles within circles...like a." Tony shook his head. It couldn't be. He counted and it didn't match any element in existence. If it were an atom, it definitely was of an element that didn't exist. Howard maybe just made it look that way by chance. Tony shrugged and started to walk away. "Fuck it, JARVIS, give it a scan. I'm out of ideas, if I'm right about this, well, then maybe Howard might've done something good for me after all."

Minutes later, Tony had rediscovered a new element...

Maybe he would get to see next Christmas with Peter after all...and what if Steve joined them? Could Tony share Peter with Steve yet? He wasn't sure.

"JARVIS...could this do it?"

"Sir, if my calculations are correct, this could solve your current health situation."

"Really? It's just a bunch of circles though." Steve commented.

Tony laughed. "Yeah, it's just a bunch of circles for now, but when I'm done with it it'll be something real... JARVIS, protocol Babysitter's Club 2.0."

JARVIS was silent for a moment. "Yes, sir, Happy Hogan has confirmed the protocol. Is there anyone else you'd like to be distracted?"

Tony smiled appreciatively at a camera. JARVIS was damn good at keeping a secret. "No, that should be fine. I need my lab ready, and send out a request for the necessary parts for a particle accelerator."

"Yes, sir."

"A what?" Steve asked. "What are you planning to do?"

"No existing element is capable of running my arc reactor...so I'm going to make a new one." Tony smiled. "Don't worry, should be a piece of cake. If Howard could think this up, then I can sure as hell take it the next step and make it real."

-

Steve did not, in fact, think it was a piece of cake. He'd never been in Tony's personal lab before, but the fact that one of the support beams had to be knocked out for this project was just unreal. And Tony, he had this focus about him that was...gorgeous. His gaze was so intent and he didn't look so tired, as if working toward a goal gave him energy. Even with the dark lines across his chest and the obviously fatigued muscles, he just kept working. Steve caught Tony struggling several times with heavy pipes, so he helped lift them into place. Steve didn't know what else he could do. All of the things in Tony's lab looked out of the world complex to Steve. He could barely understand electricity, let alone the science babble Tony spoke as he worked.

"Sir, Alpha 1 reminder. You asked me to set a reminder for when you're logging extensive hours in the workshop." JARVIS said after several hours at work.

Tony immediately dropped everything and went to his phone. He tapped out a message and waited. His phone went off and he smiled and sent one more message. Steve wondered who the messages were for, but didn't ask. "Alright, that's handled. Okay, so I need a-oh, thank you, Ana, you always know exactly what I need." He grinned at Analise as she carried a level to him in her mouth.

Steve watched the two. It was strange, that Tony and his daemon never seemed to be around each other, yet they acted so close when they were together. It was odd.

"Hey, Steve, since you're here, can you get me something relatively short, this is unlevel just a bit. It needs to be sturdy though..."

Steve went off in search of a proper object, but nothing seemed quite perfect even as they tried a couple things. Then Steve saw something strange in the corner and jumped. Tony's body was standing in the corner completely still. "What is that?"

"Oh, an LMD." Tony wasn't fazed by the fact that there was a robot that looked just like him, standing in the corner, looking as if it were sleeping.

"LMD?" Steve asked.

"Life model decoy. When I need to be in the suit, JARVIS controls that robot. It's how you could see Tony Stark and Iron Man in the same room at the same time. It kept my cover, it still will moving forward."

"Wait, so whenever you two were in the same room...?"

"I was in the suit and that was 'being me,' yes. More specifically, JARVIS is controlling it and pretending to be me. J knows my speech patterns and reactions better than anyone, so he's great at it. We even tricked Pepper once when both of us were in the same room, she thought the LMD was me." Tony wiped his grease-stained brow. "Nothing down here fits the bill, do you think there's something on the common room floor?"

Steve tilted his head. "Maybe my shield."

"That would be perfect, now that I think about that, could you go get it?" Tony continued to work, obviously absorbed in the project.

Steve chuckled and went off to grab his shield.

It really was the perfect fit to level everything out.

"Alright, let's do this."

Steve couldn't begin to imagine how it all worked, but he understood it was a big deal, that thing glowing in the triangle. It was obviously something new and Tony'd created a new freaking element! That was big, even if it didn't do the trick. But it had to do the trick, right? JARVIS said it should.

"Okay, time to test this bad boy."

"What?" Steve asked sharply.

Tony paused, holding a reactor with the new element in it. "What do you mean? We did the work, now you have to test the hypothesis."

"You can't just shove that into your body. You don't know if it'll work." Steve reached out, concerned

"Can't work worse than what I'm wearing now." Tony grunted as he pulled the reactor out of his chest.

Steve nearly felt his heart stop. Tony just, willy-nilly, pulled out the very thing that was keeping him alive (even if it was also poisoning him) and put in something completely foreign in its place. Then Tony smacked his lips.

"Huh, this one tastes different." Tony commented.

Steve frowned. Tony could taste the thing in his chest? How did that even work?

Analise bolted upright from where she'd fallen asleep against Grace. She turned and looked at Tony with wide eyes, her fur growing brighter blue-white across her chest, brighter than ever before. "WOW! That's like an energizer bunny that never stops."

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Tony pulled off his shirt, exposing toned muscles and...black lines fading as Tony obviously combatted the poison within him. The poison had no ground to fight back anymore, so this time Tony won the fight. "I think we did it, Ana." Tony smiled. "We get another Christmas after all... I mean, so long as this one doesn't start poisoning me too."

"Don't even joke about that." Steve shook his head. Though he was relieved that the darkness had left Tony's flesh. His, really toned, tan, and warm-looking flesh. 'Head out of the gutter, Captain.' Steve thought to himself.

Tony pulled his shirt back on. "What, it's something I have to look out for, we'll keep a closer eye this time, right JARVIS?"

"Yes, sir." JARVIS agreed.

"Well, that settles it. I'm starving and I want this taste out of my mouth. Plus I need to have it under observation for a couple days, so here's hoping no wars start. It's best to not put it through the ringer until I make sure it's not doing anything to me." Tony shook his head. "Would you like some dinner?"

"I thought you didn't do dinners?" Steve wondered. They'd had breakfast and lunch dates, but Tony was never available for dinner. He didn't question it, everyone needed their own time.

"It's a rare night, I'm free. So, do you want to order in? I thought you mentioned never having real ramen, we should change that." Tony spoke as if he hadn't just created a new thing or pulled something life-saving out of his chest. He just acted like it was another day.

Steve shook his head. "You give me whiplash."

"Gotta keep moving forward. I'd be dead about fifty times over if I didn't keep moving forward."

Steve frowned. He knew about a few close brushes with death, but how many times had Tony been this close? Steve never saw him in that much trouble on the battlefield, so when did these near-misses happen? "I think you learned that rest is important too."

"Yeah, that's why we're getting ramen. What was it...God worked for six days then rested on the seventh? Same principle, just with more me." Tony walked forward and kissed Steve's cheek gently. They'd never done more than that, hand-holding, and hugs and Steve was both alright with that and sooo not okay with it. What did Tony's lips taste like? Steve found himself wondering that all the time...too often, actually. "Come on, we rest and celebrate, deal?"

"Yeah, deal."

"J, get some takeout from that place a couple blocks over, they have five ramen options right?"

"Correct, sir."

"Get one of each and some starters or whatever. Do you like sushi?" Tony asked.

"Never had it."

"Okay, get the rainbow roll too."

"Done, sir." JARVIS answered.

Steve stared at the ceiling. Somedays life didn't quite feel real. Then Tony's hand wrapped around him and the warm callouses grounded him again.

-

The food was amazing, and in the middle of dinner and a show (Empire Strikes Back) Tony got up. "Priority Alpha 1 alert, it is currently 7:30pm." JARVIS said.

"Yes, I know, I'm on it." Tony grabbed Steve's plate. "I'll be right back." Tony walked away and dialed Happy. He put on the sound muter on his phone to make sure Steve couldn't hear him talk. "Hey, Hap, sorry about the unexpected call earlier, is everything okay?"

"Yeah, picked the kid up from school. He said he had a good day. I made him food, we watched a movie, and he talked non-stop. Literally, this kid has to be yours, he doesn't know when to shut up."

"That's my boy. Put him on please."

"Sure, boss." Happy said. "Hey, kid, come here, Dad wants to talk to you."

"Hey, underoos, how was school?"

"Good, I thought tonight was going to be us, though."

"Sorry, kid. I had some work to get done."

"Are you still sad?" Peter asked after a moment of silence.

Tony shook his head. "No, Peter, I'm happy, I'm very, very happy. And tomorrow I'll come pick you up from Uncle Happy's, but it's bedtime for you, isn't it, kid?"

"Yeah, Uncle Hap and I watched Back to the Future. It was cool." Peter sounded happy.

It warmed Tony's heart. "Cool...I'll see you tomorrow morning, baby. I love you."

"I love you too, daddy." Tony smiled and hung up, turning off the sound muter. He'd tested it on Steve during a fight. It dulled the noise of his speaking that even the super soldier couldn't hear or react to it. For now, he'd use it for Peter. He wasn't sure he could tell Steve about Peter yet. Even though he knew, logically, that Steve would never hurt Peter, Tony had done everything in his power to keep Peter secret and safe. He didn't know how to stop that, especially when all he wanted was for his baby to be loved, safe, happy, and healthy.

-

The day had been wonderful, but what Steve really liked was the laughter he'd shared with Tony. He also loved the way that Analise was moving. She was so high energy, in her own way. She was whispering with Grace, laughing happily, and pouncing and pawing at her. Grace played back, lightly. They were just so playful together, but Grace didn't put in much effort, obviously aware of her strength verses Analise's.

Steve could feel their contentment together and those feelings made him want to press closer to Tony. They were side-by-side, it would be so easy to push their shoulders together, to lean against him. As it was, Steve could feel the warmth from the man next to him, could smell the cologne and scent of him. He just wanted to lean in and-

Grace suddenly had Analise captured between her paws, nuzzling against the smaller daemon. It was a possessive, but uncontrolling stance Grace adapted. She loomed over Analise and buried her head against the fox's lovely fur at her sides, nuzzling and licking gently.

Tony took a sharp breath and turned to Steve with wide eyes.

"I'm sorry-"

Tony smirked. "It's okay, I know I'm irresistible."

Grace still stood over Analise. This position, however, left Grace's throat wide open to anything Analise wanted to do. No claws came out, no biting, no form of protest...no. Analise snuggled up to Grace's undefended throat and licked her gently and rubbed her face against the white-speckled fur there. Analise nipped at Grace playfully, before both of the daemons flopped down in a tangled, cuddled mess of fur and limbs, cuddled up close to each other, no longer whispering together.

"Very humble." Steve rolled his eyes.

"I am, I could have said I was a weapon of mass seduction instead."

Steve laughed and took the words and the way Analise curled closer to Grace's chest as a sign. He leaned in, turning his body toward Tony and when his nervousness made him freeze, Tony made the first move. It was awkward, as probably all first kisses are, both parties trying to figure each other out, but the awkwardness didn't last long. Tony's hand found Steve's hair and that felt so nice to feel his hand there. Steve made a noise in his throat that he didn't know he could make.

Tony smiled and their foreheads pressed together for a moment as they caught their breath. "You like that, huh?"

"Shut up." Steve blushed, liking the sound of Tony's voice, it was a little lower than normal.

"Why don't you make m-"

Steve kissed him again and Tony laughed into it.

It wasn't long until Steve found himself pressed into the sofa, his back leaning against the arm, Tony straddling him. Steve felt warm from head to toe and he gripped Tony's back, one hand settling between his shoulders, the other finding the base of his spine. One of Tony's hands found the small of Steve's back and Steve could swear he felt electricity shoot through him like lightning, but his other hand never stopped playing with his hair and Steve adored it. Somehow they'd gone from eating and celebrating avoiding Tony's premature death to...making out like teenagers on a sofa in the middle of a living room.

Steve slid his hands down and gripped Tony's ass, pulling him closer and... Well, Steve had to amend his thought. They were making out like horny teenagers on a sofa in the middle of a living room, because Steve could feel it against his lower abs that he wasn't the only one effected. He could hear Grace purr loudly and happily when he made the discovery.

Tony made a lovely, husky sound in his throat and pulled away from the kiss, only to trail kisses down Steve's jaw, then throat. Steve tilted his head back, exposing more of his neck and doing the exact thing all of his soldier instincts told him were unsafe, but damn Tony's lips just felt so nice. But then, Tony slowed down.

"Sorry, got us all riled up."

"Are you sorry?" Steve asked breathlessly. God, when had the room gotten so hot? And...damn, they were glowing, actually glowing with that blinding light. It wasn't bright, really, not like the first time. In fact, it was only seemed to be there when you focused on it. It was light white and strands of warm colors dancing on the air around them dimly until you really looked, then the more you focused, the brighter and warmer the light became. And Steve could stare into that light for an eternity.

"Well, I didn't really intend to get us both so... I'm all about the consent, if you know what I mean and I got a bit...handsy."

"I'm not going to say no if you want to get more handsy." Steve promised, lifting his hips just enough and oh that felt nice.

Tony moaned and pressed against him. "Can we take this somewhere a bit more comfortable than a sofa?"

"It's your home." Steve laughed and nibbled at the hollow under Tony's ear.

"It's your apartment." Tony countered.

"Bedroom's this way, shellhead."

Steve had no clue how they got to his bedroom. Along the way shirts had come off and shoes had been discarded. There was so much skin and Steve didn't know how he'd gotten them to his room amidst all that distraction, but he had. Tony took control from there and pressed Steve against the bed. Steve felt goosebumps on his flesh as Tony ran his hand over his bare chest.

"You're fucking gorgeous."

"Look who's talking, darlin'."

Tony's whole body shivered. "Okay, you can call me that whenever you like." Tony's hands continued to explore Steve's bare chest, tracing muscles and stopping briefly to play with his nipples. "You sure about this, Steve?" He asked, stilling his hands.

"Yes. Please don't stop, Tony." Steve smirked then. "Come on, darlin'."

"That's so unfair, my dear, so unfair." Tony tugged on Steve's hair and Steve didn't miss the pleased smile Tony had on his face when Steve couldn't help but let out a soft hum of pleasure. Tony pushed against Steve's chest.

Steve complied and lay back on the bed, letting Tony stand over him. "You're wearing too much."

Tony didn't say a word, but bent forward and began to kiss down Steve's chest, seemingly giving every spot attention as his hands traced lower. Steve shivered when he felt Tony's skilled hands trace his V, then found his belt. He needed something to grab onto. On hand found Tony's hair, the other gripped his shoulder. Tony groaned and leaned into the tug on his hair with a soft sigh.

"You like that too, huh, darlin'?" Steve mocked then sucked in a breath as Tony lightly grazed his teeth over his left nipple, sending fire and electricity through his body.

Tony laughed when Steve's back arched and got exactly what he wanted.

The air felt cold against Steve's overheated body and he suddenly worried if he was inadequate as Tony moved and pulled his clothes off of him.

"You going to make room for me or not?" Tony asked.

Steve moved to the center of the bed and watched as Tony took his own pants off and...lord. What didn't Tony have? He was brilliant enough that even if he weren't a billionaire, he could have made that money on his own. He was a hero. A good man. And...that body was something to be worshiped. Toned, tan, strong, but not bulky. Then Steve noticed that Tony's eyes hadn't left him and there was hardly any brown left in them, they were blown wide with lust. Steve had done that. Steve had somehow gotten that gorgeous man to look at him with eyes that looked starved.

"Beautiful." Tony said. "Now, only thing that could make this better is if you're beautiful and naughty." Tony turned and opened Steve's side table.

The soldier almost protested, not wanting Tony to see what he had in that drawer and yet he caught Tony smiling when he pulled a bottle of lube out and put it on the bed next to Steve. "Yup, just got better, we'll discuss the rest at a latter date." He tapped the drawer and closed it. Then he straddled Steve again. "God, you're beautiful." Tony let his hands trail up Steve's body before he leaned forward and resumed kissing Steve.

Steve gasped and involuntarily bucked his hips when he felt the firm length of Tony's erection against his hipbone.

"Sh, babe, I've got you." Tony looked down, between the two of them. "Mind if I give us a hand?"

"Please." Steve would never admit that his tone was almost a plea. He was a superhero, dammit, he didn't beg...except with Tony, apparently.

"Should take the edge off, can't say I'm patient enough for much more right now. We can...explore more later. We do have all night if you're up for it."

Steve liked the sound of that, and the sound of a cap opening even more. How the hell could Tony form words? Steve was forgetting what the letters meant. What even was language? He just knew he needed Tony closer. He pulled Tony close and helped to balance Tony at the same time, so he could keep his hand free without fear of collapsing. Steve squeezed one of Tony's arms, keeping a hand there as he wrapped a leg around Tony's and slid a hand down to squeeze Tony's ass.

"Fuck," Tony hissed and thrust his hips forward. "Jesus, Steve, just give me a damn second."

"Better be longer than a second." Steve teased.

Tony laughed. "You're an ass-" Tony's words cut off in a groan as Steve's hand squeezed again.

"Always a talker, huh, darlin'?"

Instead of trying to come up with a witty reply, Tony grinned and captured Steve's lips in a kiss.

Steve tried to memorize the taste of him, the feel of his lips, the lovely way his beard scratched just right, sending his nerve endings into overload. Then a warm, calloused, talented hand gripped his cock and moved. "Ah, oh, oh f-fuck." Steve thrust up into that lovely, tight fist.

"That's the general idea, sweetie."

Just when Steve thought is couldn't get any better, he felt the grip change and felt Tony's cock and his slide together in Tony's hand. "Ooh, God."

Tony let out a low, lovely moan. "Tony'll do just fine."

Steve wanted to let out a witty response, but then Tony began to grind against him and Steve's brain shut down. All he could think about was how to move his hips to meet with Tony's, to feel those callouses just in the right spot. All he could do was us his hand on Tony's ass to help set the pace. His other hand was gripping, probably too tight, on Tony's free arm to keep Tony from having to worry about his own weight, but Steve couldn't loosen his grip. His mind was too busy thinking about the lips and teeth and tongue that he was combatting with his own. God, it was delicious.

Tony's thumb moved just right, finding a sensitive spot, just as Tony's free hand found Steve's hair. "Yes, more, Tony, God! Like that." Steve's voice sounded breathless to his own ears, but he couldn't stop to be embarrassed, not when Tony thumbed that spot again. "Ah! Oh, please, yess."

"I've got you Steve, I've got you."

"More, Tony." Steve hips shuddered and he groaned. He could feel it in the pit of his stomach, hot and urgent and so good. Steve bit his lip as Tony pulled away from his mouth. He had to hold back, to wait for Tony. He opened his eyes and was stunned at the adoration and the intensity of Tony's stare. Steve thought he was gorgeous in his workshop, but this was a whole new level of passion and passion was fucking sexy.

Tony complied, grunting as he moved a little faster, finding that spot again and again. "That's it, so beautiful, Steve."

"Fuck, Tony... I-I'm." Steve was sure he was about to draw blood or bite through his own lip and was certain that his grip on Tony's arm was going to leave bruises. "I'm so...fuck, I'm close. Tony," that time the name was a plea. A breathless, needy plea.

"Let go, baby. I want you to let go. I want you to feel good. I've got you, just let go, I'll catch you."

Steve trusted him. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt Tony would always catch him, in more ways than one. "Ffff-uck. Oh." Something coiled tight, like a spring.

"Listen to those sounds you make, so beautiful. Now, just let go."

Everything exploded in Steve's world. His whole body convulsed and he swore he could feel every cell in his body catch fire. Tony's hand rubbed him through it as he made a mess of his own abs, painting them white. Steve could tell Tony was whispering lovely, filthy, beautiful things, but he couldn't pick out words. What even were words? Steve was just pleasure, fucked out of his mind to where he could only feel the quivering of his own muscles, the glide of Tony's hand, and the tug of his fingers in his hair. Steve didn't know how long he stayed in that state, it felt like an eternity, a lovely, beautiful eternity. Was this what sex was supposed to be like? Hell, they hadn't even...well, done anything in-depth, as it were.

Steve opened his eyes to the light of their soul-bond filling the room, the light of Tony's arc reactor lighting their sweaty bodies, and Tony's smile.

"So fucking gorgeous, baby." Tony pressed a kiss to Steve's cheek.

"Fuck that was...fuck." Steve didn't have the words to say, then he noticed Tony was still hard and rutting slowly against his hipbone, as if his own pleasure were an afterthought. That wasn't going to fly. No, he needed Tony to feel as good as he'd made Steve feel. "Your turn, darlin'." He pushed Tony's hand out of the way and ran his hand over Tony's cock. The warm weight felt foreign but right.

"Yes..." Tony hissed and let out a moan as he began to fuck into Steve's grip.

Tony was a man of control and looked so damn beautiful when he was losing it. "Just like that, Tony, come on, darlin'."

“Shit. Steve, Steve...” Tony braced himself with his now free hand as his hips shuddered, then his head lulled forward, his face pinched in pleasure. He let out a filthy sound and his body convulsed, his eyes fluttered shut.

Steve caught him when his arm gave out and he lightly continued to stroke him through his orgasm, until Steve knew he was wrung out.

Tony let out a long sigh and buried his head against Steve's chest. "Fuck, Steve...that was..." Tony hummed in pleasure. "Fuck, I don't think I can move to get us cleaned up."

Steve chuckled and kissed the top of Tony's wavy-haired head. "Why get cleaned up if we're just going to get filthy again?"

Tony groaned. "I love the way you think. You're naughtier than you let on, I like it." The genius laughed lightly. "Just, give me a little bit, okay? I'm not a super soldier."

"Take your time, we have all night, darlin'." Steve chuckled when he felt Tony's dick twitch in interest again.

"Stop saying that word, I swear, it's like a superpower."

"I like my new superpower." Steve grinned when Tony lifted his head, he kissed Tony on the lips, gently. Out of the corner of Steve's eye, he could see Grace and Analise on the ground in the room. They weren't sexually intimate, no, that's not how daemons operated, but they were intimate. Grace had her belly and throat exposed as Analise pressed nearly her whole body against the lioness' chest. Analise's back was to the only exit, as if she knew Grace would watch it for her the same way she'd watch Grace's soft underbelly. Analise licked gently at Grace's throat and Grace would occasionally lap at Analise's head, gentle and sweet.

The words bubbled up again.

This time, Steve didn't stop them. He couldn't stop them even if he tried.

"I love you, Tony."

Tony took in a sharp breath and sat up. His arms shook as he held himself up to look at Steve with wide, frightened eyes.

Steve lifted a hand and pressed a finger to his lips. "Sh. Don't say anything. No masks. I don't want you to lie to me just because you think I want to hear those words back. I don't. I want you to only say those words when you mean them, when you feel them. I know you don't open up easy and it's alright. I can wait. I just want you to know that I love you. I've loved you for a while now, this isn't just my fucked-out brain talking. Grace has been trying to get me to tell Iron Man I loved him for weeks now."

Grace purred loudly, as if to confirm.

The fear eased out of Tony's eyes and muscles. Then a soft, genuine smile warmed his face. In return, Tony said three words of his own that might have been just as powerful as Steve's. "I trust you, Steve."

Chapter Text

Tony had never felt so warm or safe in his life upon waking. How had he had some of the best sleep of his life when he hadn't actually slept that much? He could feel Steve pressed to his back and his arms and legs tangled in his. It felt safe, peaceful. He took a deep breath and pressed back slightly, wanting to feel more. Steve stirred slightly at the movement, but his slow breathing didn't change pattern. Tony smiled and glanced at the clock, he could rest a little while longer. He stretched his muscles as much as he could without waking Steve, feeling the pleasent, warm burn in them.

Steve had been wonderful, though a little tentative and unsure. Tony could tell that while Steve hadn't exactly been new to sex that he wasn't very experianced, or maybe had had a bad experiance somewhere in his past that made him so cautious. It didn't fucking matter though. Steve was attentive and always seemed to be looking for what Tony liked. Tony could make sure Steve's future experiences were good, no matter what his past might've been like.

Tony cautiously rolled over and looked at the man. He looked soft, sweet in his sleep. Tony pressed a gentle kiss to Steve's forehead and snuggled against Steve's chest, closing his eyes again. He drifted, not quite asleep or away, just happy to be in those warm, strong arms. It could have been minutes or an hour, but Tony grew more alert when Steve took in a sudden breath and his arms constricted, almost becoming too tight.

Steve seemed to realize he had a non-serum human being in his arms in quick fashion, because his arms loosened and he opened his eyes. "Good mornin'."

"Morning," Tony responded. "Sleep alright?"

"Eh, it was a bit touch and go." Steve shrugged.

Tony laughed, light and happy. "You're rediculous."

Steve hummed non-commitally and brushed his lips over Tony's forehead. "You feeling alright, fella?"

"I feel fine." Tony said and nearly rolled his eyes when Steve pressed him back to look at him.

Steve's brow wrinkled and his hand slid over Tony's upper arm. "Shit, sorry."

Tony followed his gaze to the yellowing, finger-shaped bruises there. He focused and his healing mended the splotches of color, making them fade away. "No harm no foul. Trust me, if I wasn't enjoying it I would have said something. I'm pretty vocal."

"Oh, you don't say?" Steve snarked playfully.

"Shut up, I think you wouldn't argue against the fact that my mouth is a rather lovely feature on me." Tony smirked when Steve blushed. "See, I knew you liked it."

Steve kissed him, obviously trying to get him to shut up and Tony went along with it. The kissing devolved into something more, something slow and gentle. It turned into a quiet round of morning sex, neither of them making more than soft gasping noises, not wanting to break the peaceful bubble. They showered together afterwards and had breakfast, which Steve cooked.

"We never finished that conversation we started during dinner." Steve said as he refilled Tony's mug with coffee.

"Which conversation?"

"The one about you not running around as Iron Man for a little bit, until we make sure your new reactor's alright."

"Yeah, I'll just lie low for a little bit, I'll be fine." Tony shrugged and waved it off, taking a sip.

Steve shook his head. "I can look after you. I mean, I know you can handle yourself, but with that guy at the track a while back and the expo coming up, I'd like to look after you while you're taking some down time."

Tony paused and then smiled at Steve. "If you don't mind. I'd trust you to watch my back, even though, yeah, I probably could kick your ass."

"Oh, is it a competition now?" Steve grinned and Tony was glad he picked up on the teasing tone.

Tony tapped his chest. "This one's got more juice in it, want to go a few rounds and find out who'd come out on top?"

"I think we did that last night, didn't we, four or five times? I think we both got our chance on top, so to speak."

Tony burst out laughing. "That was horrible."

"It was an easy set up is what that was." Steve shrugged, laughing with him.

Tony shook his head and looked down at his phone. He put his coffee down and stepped around the counter. He wrapped his arms around Steve from behind and pressed a kiss below the super soldier's ear. "I have to head out. See you later?"

"Sure thing, darlin'."

Tony shivered. "I gave you permission to call me that, I know, but damn... You need to decide whether to use your powers for good or evil."

"Always for good, Tony." Steve winked over his shoulder.

"Why do I feel like that's going to bite me in the ass someday?" Tony rolled his eyes. "Have a good morning, Cap." He headed to the elevator. His steps fumbled when he heard Steve's reply.

"Love you, Tony, stay safe."

Tony, thankfully regained himself, even though his face felt hot. "JARVIS, garage please."

"Yes, sir."

-

Tony let himself in to Happy's place. Just as he suspected, he heard Peter talking sleepily, but happily. He could hear the sounds of dishes being done and went into the kitchen, leaning against the frame. Happy was washing breakfast dishes and Peter was sitting on the counter, drying them and putting them up as he talked about Iron Man animatedly, because apparently, he'd had a dream about Iron Man and how to make the suit better with some sort of camo.

Amber leapt in front of Peter and let out a sharp growl, obviously noticing something was off.

Happy turned suddenly and looked at Tony. "Jesus! How many times do I have to tell you not to sneak up on me like that?"

Peter dropped the plate in his hand and it broke against the counter. His eyes widened. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to, Mr. Happy. I didn't mean to break it."

"It's okay, kid, just don't move." Happy soothed, extracting the kid from the mess of broken glass, trying to be careful.

Tony's heart seized when he heard Peter hiss in pain. He rushed forward and pulled his son into his arm when he saw the tears well up. He gently put him down on the other counter and found the spot on Peter's knee where he'd been cut by the glass.

Tony pulled the small, offending, sliver of glass out and waited for just a second. But there was nothing. Peter didn’t start healing. Tony closed his eyes, grit his teeth, and then got to work cleaning up the blood and kissing Peter’s tears away. “All better, kiddo?”

Peter nodded and flung his arms around Tony, squeezing tight. “I’m sorry.”

“It was an accident. I don’t get mad about accidents and neither does Uncle Happy.” Tony soothed.

“No, but I am sorry about that too.” Peter leaned into Tony’s shoulder.

“What is it, bud?”

Peter shook his head.

“We’re sorry we don’t heal like you. We know it makes you sad.” Morgana explained, quietly.

Tony froze and pushed Peter back, brushing his son’s hair off his forehead before grabbing his shoulders. “It’s okay. I promise. It’ll all be okay.” But Tony wouldn’t. There was no way of knowing if the witch genes in Peter were dominant or not. There was no way of knowing if his baby would be a human or a witch until he presented as one. Tony wasn’t sure he wanted to live an extended life without his son. Somehow, Peter had caught that. “You’ll get it. I know it.” Tony whispered and pressed a kiss to Peter’s knee. “Now, how about you get your bag, okay?”

Peter nodded and Tony helped him out of the kitchen before setting him down. He went into the kitchen again to help Happy clean up.

“Sorry, boss. He said he wanted to help. Didn’t think a glass might break.” Happy frowned.

“It’s not on you.” Tony waved him off.

“I’ve done some research, you know? Most witches present in their teens. And there’s no way in hell Peter’ll heal himself right now or go invisible.”

“Why not?”

“It usually happens under stress, Tony.” Happy put the glass in his trash can. “You went invisible to hide from a drunk father. You healed because no one was there to kiss the cuts better. Peter has that, Peter has you and he knows you’ll be there to protect him so it might take him a bit longer than it took you.” Happy put his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Now, I saw that look on your face. You got laid, didn’t you?”

“Little ears!” Tony hissed in warning.

Happy laughed. “Like the kid knows. You did, didn’t you? You’ve been dumpy lately, you must’ve needed it. Anyone I know?”

“It’s...personal.” Tony admitted after a moment.

“Like a full-blown relationship? Who is it? Is it Pepper?” Happy wondered.

“No. She and I tried that road and it didn’t take.”

“So who’s the lady or guy?”

“Later, Happy, it’s still...fresh.” Tony shrugged and he was grateful when Happy didn’t pry.

“I’m glad to see you smiling, though. You’ve seemed down lately. Even Peter could tell.”

“Yeah. I’m good, now.” Tony smiled and squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “Thanks for everything and for looking out for Peter. I needed a day.”

“A whole day? Just to get laid?” Happy teased. “Well, I guess you probably have had a dry spell. Probably took you some time to get back in the groove.”

“Shut up. I revoke the gratitude.”

Happy smirked and punched Tony’s shoulder. “You really don’t. He was good, even ate his veggies.”

“Good.” Tony smiled.

“Daddy? I’m ready.” Peter walked into the room with his backpack on. “Do we get to go home now?”

“Yeah, bud. Gotta say goodby to Uncle Happy, though.”

Peter hugged Happy’s legs and Happy ruffled his hair. “Bye, Uncle Happy.”

“By, kid. I’ll see you at the tower okay? And maybe we can sneak some more ice cream when daddy isn’t watching.”

“Deal!”

Tony rolled his eyes and picked Peter up, kissing his temple gently. “Stop conspiring against me you guys or I’ll ban ice cream from the tower.”

“Noooo!” Peter whined, then giggled when Tony tickled his side.

“Alright, underoos, time to head home.” Tony grinned and carried his kid out with one last grateful wave toward Happy.

-

Tony lay on the floor with Peter, working on a new Lego set. Analise and Morgana were playing together, pawing at each other and laughing. Tony smiled at that, then sighed. “Peter, I’ve got something I need to tell you.”

“Is it about why you’ve been so smiley? Your smiling more today. Like, by seventy six percent.”

“Wow, that much, huh?” Tony ruffled Peter’s hair and sat up.

“Yeah. You weren’t smiling much lately...not when you thought people weren’t watching. But I still saw. Are you better now?”

“Yeah, kid. I’m better.” Tony kissed his forehead and patted his lap. “Come here, bud.”

Peter dropped his Lego and climbed into Tony’s lap, snuggling in against his chest. “I’m glad your better.”

“Me too, kid.” Tony kissed his son and held him close. “Peter, I found my soul mate.”

Peter went still. “What does that mean?”

“It means I’m dating someone. We’re trying to get to know each other and we like each other a lot.”

“Does this mean I’ll get a mommy? But what if she doesn’t like me because I’m not hers? Will you have new kids that are better than me because you had them with your soul mate?”

“Sh, no, no. Never, Peter, never. You will always be my son. I will always love you more than anyone else.” Tony shook his head and pressed his lips to Peter’s temple, holding him tighter. “No, Peter. You’re always going to come first. And...my soul mate...well it isn’t a lady.”

“Like Holmes and Watson from the stories?” Peter asked.

“Yeah, Peter, like that.”

“Do you love him?”

“I don’t know. I feel like I could love him, but it’s not there yet.” Tony rested his chin on Peter’s head.

“Do I get to meet him? Will he like me? Do I get another daddy? But why would I want another daddy? You’re the best dad in the whole universe.” Peter somehow snuggled closer.

“Your relationship is going to be up to you two. I’m not going to let him meet you just yet. I trust him with my life, but you are more important than I could ever be. I’m going to make sure before you meet him, okay?” Tony sighed. He just hoped Steve wouldn’t end up hating him for trying to keep his baby safe. Tony just couldn’t let go yet. Not yet.

“But if your his soul mate...you’re gonna really love him. Won’t you want him more than me?”

“Never ever. Besides, you can love more than one person. Just like you love me, Ben, and May. You love us all lots and lots, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but I love you most.” Peter promised, gripping Tony’s shirt.

“And I love you most.” Tony responded. “Always have. Always will.”

They stayed like that for a long time before Peter nodded. “He makes you happy. And so he can’t be bad. I’m glad you found your soul mate, daddy. Make sure he’s super nice before I meet him?”

“I promise.”

“He won’t be mad though? That I’m not his.”

“If he is, he can only be mad at me. That’s not on you, kid. And he’ll love you. Everyone loves you, Peter.” Tony tickled his sides.

“Does this mean you’ll be away more?”

“Not really. I’ll try to make sure we do dates in the morning while you’re at school, that way all the time you’re free, I am too.”

“Okay. It doesn’t sound so bad.”

Tony looked at Morgana who could hide nothing from him. Morgana was a tiny fox, pressed against Analise. She looked somewhere between content and needing reassurance that everything would really stay the same.

Tony couldn’t promise that the dynamic would remain unchanged. But he could promise that Peter would always be the first and most precious love of his life. “I love you, baby. And I’d sooner toss my soul mate out the window than let them ever come between me and you, got it?” Never mind that it would have to be a very high window to hurt Captain America.

“You can’t just throw someone out the window, daddy!” Peter giggled suddenly as if it had finally sunk in that Tony really would keep him first in his life.

“I can and would, underoos. Can and would for you.” It wasn’t an idle promise. “No one messes with your dad and no one will mess with my baby.”

“I’m not a baby and your squishing me.” Peter giggled as he tried to escape Tony’s grip.

Tony was relieved when he saw Morgana’s playfulness return. She tried to slink away from Analise, but Analise pounced on her playfully. “Oh, am I squishing you?” Tony held on tight and used his free hand to tickle Peter’s side. “How about now?”

“Daaaad!” Peter squealed happily and wiggled. “S-stooop. Daddy!”

Tony could hear the rasp in Peter’s words and new he had to stop. The last thing he wanted was his baby to have an asthma attack. He loosened his hold, but kept Peter in a hug. “I love you, Peter.”

“I love you too, dad.” Peter kissed Tony’s jaw and settled in his arms.

“Is it lunch time or nap time?” Tony asked.

“Napunch time. It’s when you eat in bed and fall aslee with crumbs everywhere.” Peter explained.

“Sounds messy. How about we eat at the table, then get you tucked in?”

“Okay, but can we come back and finish the Legos when I wake up?”

Tony smiled. His living room felt like home. There were coloring books on the coffee table. A half-finished Lego set on the ground. Drawings and designs for machines that Peter dreamt up stuck to the fridge and Piglet was even sitting out on a chair. Tony had it good and now he’d get to stick around and keep it.

“We can build as many as you like.”

Chapter Text

Tony looked in the mirror and adjusted his jacket. He hated these stupid things. Why he'd thought bringing the Expo back was a good idea, he'd never know. Well, they did allow people with all sorts of ideas to come together to help build a better future, which was fantastic, but the press and the showmanship of it was just draining. Hammer Tech had the floor tonight and Tony really didn't want to be there to witness the train-wreck, but he had to go anyway. Pepper was making him.

"Do I get to wear a cool suit one day?" Peter asked from the bathroom door.

"Maybe." Tony looked down at the kid. "Really, that's what you're wearing?" Peter was in jeans and a Expo shirt. He'd even made repulsors-fake ones, Tony wasn't going to let his kid go around with weapons in his hands. Still, Peter went all out for the authenticity. He was close enough to the real ones, he knew how to make them look real. "You're basically cosplaying your old man."

"What's cosplay? Anyway, Uncle Ben said he got me one of those awesome Iron Man masks. I get to wear that too." Peter grinned. "I want to see all the cool things."

"I know, just remember not to drag your aunt and uncle too fast. You got to give us adults a break."

"Because your old?" Peter grinned.

"Because we're adults." Tony narrowed his eyes at Peter.

Peter smirked and a dimple showed up. "You're only adults because your old, you know?"

"You punk." Tony rolled his eyes and ruffled Peter's hair. "Just be good for them, like always."

"I will. Aunt May said she was going to cook first, so that means Uncle Ben is gonna buy dinner. He said next time he'd let me try churros."

"What's wrong with cheeseburgers?" Tony chuckled.

"Nothing, I love them, but I wanna try a churro." Peter shrugged.

"Okay, I approve the costume, but go put on your jacket."

"But Dad, that will ruin the aesthetics."

"Yeah, and it'll keep your skinny butt from getting a cold and possibly having your asthma flair up."

"Ugh, fine. But it'll ruin the full effect of the lights."

"Yeah, so does wearing grey when you should be wearing hotrod red, kid."

Peter's eyes widened and he looked down. "Oh no! I should have worn red. I gotta support Iron Man. They're saying all these things about you and-"

"Kid, it's fine. I'm an adult, I can take it. Go put on your sweater, and don't worry about the red, those repulsors look amazing and I didn't even have to help much, so they're twice as special."

"You only helped because you won't let me work with electricity on my own."

"Where is all this sass coming from? You know the rules." Tony held up his hand to his sternum. "This high to work with electricity alone, or age twelve, whatever comes last."

Morgana came around the corner and frowned. "That's literally the worst and most backwards rule ever."

"Mmhm, I know. I do it on purpose. Scoot, Happy's going to be here any second to take you to your aunt and uncle's."

"Okay." Peter started to walk away.

"By the way, nice word choice. Aesthetics?" Tony wondered.

"Dictionary, found it in a book and wondered what it meant." Peter responded.

'Brilliant kid.' Tony smiled, feeling his heart warm with pride. Six years old and Peter was just...growing up so fast and so smart and so kind. Tony swallowed back the emotions, but he could still feel them in his throat, like a lump of food that just wouldn't be swallowed. Tony stepped out of his bathroom and then out of his room.

Happy was in his living room, looking at Peter's arms. Peter was moving around animatedly, making sound-effect noises. "See how cool they are?"

"Yeah, sure thing, kid." Happy smiled awkwardly.

"Yeah, almost as cool as you'll be if you don't put on your sweater." Tony folded his arms over his chest.

Peter shrunk a little. "I'll put it on, I just wanted to show Uncle Happy first."

Morgana whispered something and Tony could tell by her form as a cat and by the way she flicked her tail that it was something sassy. Morgana had been becoming more assertive, slowly but surely. Peter remained shy, even though he wasn't quiet around people he knew in trusted. Sometimes he joked around and edged toward sass, but Morgana was a bit more strong willed, a bit more prone to back-talk.

"No. Uh-uh. Morgana Stark, he'll be wearing a sweater, because Dad said so and don't think I won't tell Aunt May and Uncle Ben about the ruling, because I will. Thems the rules."

Morgana made a face and Peter scolded her quietly as he quickly pulled on his jacket. Tony didn't hear much of it accept for a hissed: "already in enough trouble, don't sass him."

Tony watched as Morgana shifted a little sheepishly into a rabbit. "Okay, kid, come here." He knelt and held open his arms.

Peter turned, his eyes wide, then he rushed forward and hugged Tony. "I'm sorry we sassed you."

"It's okay. I know you worked hard and they're really awesome, if it were a warmer night you could run around all you want. I just don't want you getting sick, underoos, okay? I'm not mad." Tony never wanted to let his kid walk off thinking his dad was angry with him. It was probably an impossible hope, but Tony never wanted to leave things on a bad note with his son, because he knew how quickly life could be snuffed out. He pulled Peter into a hug and kissed his cheek. "I love you."

"Love you too, dad." Peter kissed his cheek back. "I promise to keep my jacket on. I don't like being sick."

"No one does." Tony laughed. He kissed Peter's forehead once more and stood up. "Go have fun, fill your head with all the wacky science-y things you like."

"Even biochem?"

"Whatever you want." Tony ruffled his hair. "Go on now, don't make them wait."

"Okay." Peter beamed and headed for Happy. "But I still wanna learn engineering with you too."

"Well, I am Tony Stark, who'd pass up that chance?"

"Daaaad." Peter sighed and rolled his eyes. "Bye." He waved as he got on the private elevator.

"Bye, Peter..." Tony smiled fondly, then he headed for the other elevator. He went down to the common room floor and walked into the living room.

"Uh...wasn't I supposed to meet you there?" Steve asked. He was wearing a pair of snug-fitting jeans that hugged him just right and a nice sweater that left no muscles unappreciated.

"What? Yeah, probably. But look at you, please tell me you're wearing those jeans for me and not for Hammer, because damn, that ass looks really nice right now."

Steve looked down. "Why would I wear these for someone else? Do they really look nice?"

Tony smiled and walked forward. He wrapped his arms around Steve and kissed his cheek. "Yes, they do and I think they'll look great on the floor tonight as well."

Steve shook his head. "You were supposed to be there already. Pepper's going to be furious."

“She’ll be fine.”

"Tony, you're late and as your bodyguard for tonight-"

"You know, you are really good at not mixing business with pleasure, it's kinda killing my vibe, but it's fine." Tony joked. " Why should I go alone? I should totally be with my bodyguard at all times, don't you think? Wouldn't it be silly of a billionaire to just walk out there with a bad heart and people wanting to know how to build the next Iron Man without his bodyguard present?"

"You think you're cute, don't you?"

"I think I'm adorable, and you do to." Tony nodded over to Grace and Analise. Analise kept bopping her paw against Grace's nose and Grace took it for a few moments before licking the top of Analise's head and purring. "See, look at that, adorable."

"Shut up," Steve huffed out a laugh and pulled Tony close, kissing him. "Now come on, you have to go be Tony Stark now."

"But I don't wanna."

"But you have to."

"Mm, okay, fine." Tony rolled his eyes and straightened up. Then his phone rang. "One more second." He pulled it out of his pocket and stared. "Blocked number... J, I need you to be ready."

"What is it?" Steve straightened up.

"Yes, sir." JARVIS responded.

Tony held up his finger to Steve and answered the phone. "Hello? Is this Coulson? Forget to hand me some more speech cards on your way to the Land of Enchantment?" Tony asked with as much snark as he could muster. In SHIELD, he knew that four people knew the identity of Iron Man: Fury, Maria Hill, Phil Coulson, and Steve Rogers. If it wasn't one of the three people not in the room, then someone untoward was calling. Tony didn’t get blocked calls, not unless it was SHIELD.

"Tony, how you doing? I double cycle."

Tony froze. He knew that voice. "You what?"

"You told me double cycle's more power. Good advice."

'Who?' Steve mouthed to Tony. 'Ivan?'

Tony nodded. "You sound pretty sprightly for a dead guy." Tony walked over to a computer and began typing. He muted his phone. "Trace him, J, now."

"Yes, sir."

"You sound good too."

"Well, turns out I'm not dying. What's your play here?"

"I hear your bodyguard is on mission for the week, something in Korea. Now, the true history of the Stark name will be written and your little suit won't be around to hide what your family is, what it's done."

"JARVIS, where is he?"

"Eastern Seaboard."

"What your father did to my family over forty years, I will do to you in forty minutes."

"Sounds good. Let’s get together and hash it out."

"Tri-State area. Manhattan and outlying boroughs." JARVIS narrowed it down.

"I hope you're ready." The call went dead.

"Call trace incomplete. Sorry, sir."

"Dammit." Tony rubbed his chin, then froze. "He calls tonight of all nights. Shit, he's working with Hammer." Tony straightened up, his eyes widened. 'Peter was at the Expo.' "JARVIS, get me my suit."

"Tony, we haven't run tests on your new reactor, we do not know how it'll fair running a suit yet."

"Tony, it's crazy, let me go." Steve argued. “You haven’t tested that yet. What if something goes wrong.”

"You can suit up too, we'll need you. I'm getting in a suit though, you won't stop me. JARVIS, sometimes we gotta run before we can walk, let's go."

As soon as Tony got in his suit, he called Ben, but it went straight to voicemail. May's phone rang and rang and rang. "Shit...come on, come on, come on." He called Happy next. He couldn't use plain terms, not when he was flying Steve to the Expo with him. He had to find Peter though and get him clear.

"What's up, boss?"

"Where's the Asset?"

Happy's voice instantly changed. "Asset is with the Guardians, last I saw, safe and sound, boss. What's wrong?"

"Expo is compromised. Get the Asset clear now, do you understand me?"

"On it, Boss." Happy answered.

"What was that about?"

"Trying to get Pepper clear." Tony lied and he hated it. But he and Steve had already talked about it. Tony had told Steve that he had secrets and Steve said he'd wait for the answers. He still didn't like the idea that he had to lie to his soul mate.

Tony dropped Captain America off outside, knowing he'd look for any threats and take them out before he headed onto the stage to talk to Rhodey. It kicked off with a bang, Ivan's plan. Tony hoped Happy had already gotten his hands on Peter and the Parkers, hopefully he'd gotten them to safety. And Pepper. Happy would have alerted her as well, she'd be safe.

Tony flew from the main stage, hoping to draw the evil, aesthetically lacking robots away from as many civilians as possible, but then he spotted a child. All Tony could imagine was Peter. He dove for the kid and shot the robot the kid stared down. "Nice wo-" Then Tony saw the lights on the kid's hand and the daemon that had a familiar form...and that fucking sweater he told the kid to put on. "Get the hell out of here, kid. Now."

Peter turned and lifted his mask. "I just wanted to help-"

"Zip it an move your ass, now." Tony growled out before taking off, again. Staying with Peter would mean drawing fire. He had to make all the guns point toward him, not his son. Amidst all the anger though...there was a burning hot pride, a pride he wanted to squish with his boot.

-

"All the suits are going to explode, Cap, get out of here, now." Tony warned over coms.

"On it." Steve ran to the nearest building and climbed, hoping he'd gotten far enough away. He leaned against the access doorway and pulled off his cowl. His arm burned where one of the bullets had got him. He looked at it and grimaced. He'd have to pull the bullet free. Maybe Tony'd help. Steve had always had a hell of a time of it. Tony had steady hands though, he'd probably manage it easy, if he was in any shape to. For now, Steve just needed to catch his breath.

Then there was the sound of repulsors and a worried voice. "Peter? What the hell are you doing here? Weren't you supposed to be at your aunt's house today? Oh, sweetie, are you alright?" It was Pepper and she sounded panicked and concerned. Steve glanced around the corner. He saw Pepper let go of Tanner to reach out to a little boy and touch his face. The boy was obviously holding his daemon tight to his chest.

"I'm okay, Aunt Pepper, I'm okay."

"Oh, thank God." Pepper held him.

"What were you thinking?"

If Steve had considered going out there, the ice in Tony's voice made him stop cold. He'd never heard that much fury in Tony's voice before, never.

The little boy gasped and turned. He shrinked against Pepper's legs and stared up at the Iron Man suit with wide eyes. "I...I thought."

"No! You weren't thinking, not at all!"

"I thought I could maybe make it run away or maybe make it look away from all the other people."

"NO! That is not your job, Peter. Do you understand me?" The suit flew open in a fury and Tony stepped out, gripping the little boy's arms and shaking him. "Why in the hell would you do that? Why weren't you with May and Ben?"

"When everything started blowing up there was this stampede of people and I got knocked down and Ben's hand slipped out of mine and I couldn't find him. Then the bad guys came out and I thought-"

"We've discussed this Peter, what you did wasn't thinking! When everyone is running, you run with them!"

"But, but-" There were tears streaming down the boy's cheeks, his eyes were wide and his chest heaved.

"No buts! Jesus, my fucking heart hurts." Tony gripped his chest.

"I just wanted to be like you, Dad, I wanted to be a hero."

"I want you to be better than me, Peter, and to do that you have to fucking live, do you hear me?"

Steve's eyes widened. 'Dad?' Steve wondered to himself. He stared at the two, at the obvious anger Tony was radiating, the worry, the fear that dripped off of him. Then the boy...the boy looked like he'd let down his biggest hero...his father. And God, the boy-Peter-even looked like Tony, even if his hair was a few shades lighter. It made sense, why Iron Man's identity had to be a secret. It made sense why Tony texted and called someone at certain times every day. It made sense why no one was allowed on Tony's floor. Tony was always busy in the afternoon, right when schools would let out. He had a protocol called 'Babysitter's Club 2.0.' Analise only spoke about leaving Grace's side to look after a daemon called Morgana...Peter's daemon, no doubt. But that meant. Shit. Grace knew about Peter too.

How could a billionaire have a son that no one knew about unless he made sure no one ever found out? How much work and time had Tony put in to make sure no one knew his son existed? Why go through that trouble at all? Tony hadn't known he'd be Iron Man whenever the kid had been born, so why was Peter's existence hidden? Why would Tony not tell him, though? The answer became clear.

"Come here, come here, Peter, please." Tony sobbed and reached out.

The young boy threw himself into Tony's arms. "I'm sorry, Dad, I'm sorry. Please don't be mad. I just wanted to help. I'm sorry."

"I love you. Do you know how scared I was? What if I'd lost you? Peter I couldn't...I couldn't live in this world without you. Please don't ever do that to me again. I love you so much. You can't run into trouble like that. What if I hadn't gotten there in time? Do you understand? You could have died. I could have lost you and Morgana. I could have lost you." Tony sobbed.

"I'm sorry, Daddy. I'm sorry." The kid was obviously having a hard time breathing as he cried.

"Please don't leave me, kid." Tony pulled back a little and held up an inhaler. “Breathe, Peter. Come on.” The boy used the inhaler and immediately buried himself in Tony’s arms again.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’ve got you. I have you.”

It was clear. Tony'd jump in front of a bullet for his son. He'd do it without hesitation. Tony was protecting Peter the same way he tried to protect Analise. He kept them from prying eyes, surrounded by trusted loved ones who cared for them unconditionally. He kept them away from the monsters that would rip and tear them apart. He kept them in the shadows so they didn't have to put on a cold and calloused mask the way he did.

Steve heard enough and he'd wait. He'd give Tony time. Steve didn't know how it felt to have a child, but he knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a parent's love. He'd give Tony all the time it took for him to become comfortable with sharing his son. That kid though...he'd stood up to a robot. Steve smiled as he ran off the roof, out of sight of the family. He jumped and landed in the street and ran to put as much distance between him and Tony as he could.

'The kid has heart...and I know just who he got it from.' Steve thought with a smile.

-

Steve woke to knocks on his bedroom door. He walked over to it and pulled it open. Tony looked like shit. He visibly looked shaken and Analise instantly bolted past him to bury herself against Grace. "Tony?"

"I... I don't know why I'm here... I..."

"It's alright." Steve opened his door all the way.

"My instinct is to find a liquor store and drink it."

"Well, let's not do that, you've been doing well." Steve thought back, many, many months earlier. When he'd first met Tony he said he'd been sober for practically five years. Was that the age of Peter? Five? Six? "You can come here, come on. It's okay, I've had missions like this too, when they shake you up real bad."

"You have no idea."

"No, because we all handle things differently and we all have our own weights to carry, but I know what it feels like to be terrified. You shouldn't be alone right now, Tony, come on." It was like looking at a someone with shell shock. Tony was panicking, losing himself to the fear and terror of what could have happened. The only problem was Steve didn't know where Tony was. Was he about to shut down or shatter? "Hey, come on. Let's get that shirt off."

"Steve, I'm not in the mood. I can't."

"Sh, skin contact is good for you. It'll help you calm down easier. It's nothing sexual, I'd never take advantage, it's just chemical, helps relax the brain a bit." Steve tugged Tony's shirt off and lifted the smaller man. They climbed into bed and Steve pulled Tony close to his chest. "Breathe, you're alright. Everything's alright. I need you to breathe and be here with me. I've got you, you're safe. The bad guy's gone and you did everything you could."

"It's not enough. I'm not enough."

Steve pressed a kiss to Tony's head. "You are more than enough. You did good, you're alright...breathe." Steve spoke soothing words over and over again as Tony shook and sobbed. It took over an hour for Tony's body to finally give, relax and fall into an uneasy sleep. Steve stayed awake though, gently running his fingers through Tony's hair, soothing him every time he shifted and whimpered.

Steve fell asleep holding Tony, then woke to sleep talking, terrified sleep talking.

"No...Peter, no, not him, please." Tony whimpered and tensed in his sleep. "Take me instead."

Steve blearily opened his eyes and ran a hand down Tony's back. "Easy, it's okay. It's okay." Steve muttered sleepily. The wound on his arm itched and ached under Tony's weight, but he pushed it out of mind and rolled onto his back, pulling Tony on top of him. "Sleep."

The nightmare passed and Tony slowly relaxed into a deeper slumber.

"Good..." Steve closed his eyes and fell asleep.

-

Tony woke and didn't remember how he got into Steve's bed, but at least he could tell where he was.

"Hey, are you alright? You seemed shaken up?"

"How did I get here? Fuck, my head hurts."

"You didn't sleep well, you had a few night terrors and you...um...were crying, pretty hard. You're probably a bit dehydrated and just exhausted. That's probably where the headache is from."

"I didn't drink did I? I feel like I blacked out."

"No...I checked, I couldn't smell it on you." Steve rubbed Tony's back gently. "You alright?"

"No, no I'm not." Tony pulled away and sat up. "JARVIS, time?"

"It is 5:57am, sir."

"Fucking hell." Tony rubbed a hand through his hair. "You ever feel like the one thing you're working for is the one thing you're failing at most?"

"Yeah, I have, it's not a good feeling." Steve sat up too and gently put his hand over Tony's. "You can lay back down, get some more sleep."

"No, no, I have to go. I...I'm sorry. I...There's something I have to do." Tony hated it. Steve had obviously taken him in and held him through something bad enough that Tony had actually blocked it out. But he had to go upstairs, had to see Peter, had to make sure that he was alive and alright. He needed to hold Peter, keep him safe.

"It's okay, but if you need me, I'll be right here." Steve pressed a gentle kiss to Tony's shoulder blade. "Do what you have to do...look after yourself, though, okay?"

Tony knew he didn't deserve Steve, not in the slightest. "Sorry." He whispered and got up, fleeing the room and feeling Analise follow behind him, just as urgent. Tony wished the elevator went faster. He ran to get to Peter's room. Peter was asleep, under his covers, his face red from obvious tears. Tony pulled the boy into his arms as Analise wrapped around Morgana.

Peter stirred awake and looked at Tony with sleepy, big brown eyes. "Dad? Daddy, are you okay?"

"Yeah...I just needed to make sure you were okay. You can go to sleep, I've got you."

"I'm sorry..."

"Sh, it's okay. Can I hold you?"

"Yeah." Peter said sleepily.

"Alright, just sleep, Peter. I love you. I'm just going to, hold you for a bit, keep you safe."

Peter climbed fully into Tony's arms and snuggled in before falling asleep.

"I’ll never let anyone hurt you, not ever."

Chapter Text

Magnolia sat in the chair, waiting for the doctor to say the words she knew was coming. Three weeks of tests and tests and tests to tell her what she already knew, what her teachers knew, what her classmates knew...what her mother knew: she was stupid, an idiot, a moron, incapable of the easiest things. Six years old and she already knew the world had cast her out as useless. It didn't matter how hard she worked, she'd always be laughed at, mocked, hated. Soon, her dad would know it too and he'd hate her. Then...maybe Thomas would leave her too.

Thomas was a moth daemon, currently. He sat on her shoulder, blending into her white dress.

"Mr. and Mrs. Chase, we spoke on the phone, you can call me Scotty." The doctor held out his hand and shook both of her parent's hands. The doctor's daemon was a praying mantis, sitting on his shoulder. "Hello, again Magnolia, you don't need to be upset, okay?" He pulled out a file as Magnolia looked at her feet. "Now, we took a bunch of tests together, didn't we?"

Magnolia nodded reluctantly.

"I've looked over your results. We talked about her experiences and how she sees things. Now, Magnolia here is gifted. We gave her many verbal tests, including an IQ test. She scored in the high one-thirties. She scored as a gifted individual. She's very intelligent. When we gave her verbal tests, she excelled. So, sweetie, before we talk about anything else, I want you to know you are very smart. You got a 138, most people in the world get right around 100, you're smart." He smiled gently.

"I'm...smart, Mr. Scotty?" Magnolia asked.

"Very. You did very well." The doctor smiled.

"So what's going on with school then?" Her mother asked.

"What you're seeing with her grades and her teacher's remarks, is that she has a problem processing information. Given the tests she took I can say pretty definitively that it's dyslexia. She scores very high verbally, but doesn't score well when presented with what should be her level of written questions."

"So how do we help her?" Her father asked, gently putting his hand on Magnolia's arm and squeezing gently. "I know she's smart, but how do we help with this? How do we help make it so that genius translates?"

"It's a matter of knowing how she perceives the world. She has a hard time reading because she can't focus on the letters. We talked about how she looks at a page, tell them what you told me, sweetie. Here." He opened a book and held it out to Magnolia.

She took it in a small hand and began to trace all the white spaces on the page. The more she tried to focus on the black letters rather than the white spaces, the more they seemed to move and shake. "It's getting shaky now."

"She doesn't have an eye problem, it's just difficult for her to focus on the letters and numbers. She understands numbers and shapes and very deep ideas and constructs, but if it's on paper she has difficulty processing it. It's not that she'll never be able to, it's just that she'll need some more time and energy to help her learn how to process them. I've seen great turn-arounds, she just needs the proper teaching and guidance. I have some information you can look at to help you get started and I have some people who could really help her. She's intelligent, she understands things people much older than her can't. We'll have to see just how much work is ahead of her, and you'll have to be very strong and put in that work, kiddo, but one day I know you'll be able to look at this book and understand all the black marks too, the same way you can see all the white ones."

Magnolia shook her head. "But they don't make sense."

"I know, but they will, someday. It'll be a struggle, but if you put the work in you'll make it. You'll be able to read, it'll just take a different set of processes than other people, that's all. You brain just takes in information differently, so you have to learn how it works and help it sort everything out."

"Thank you for, trying to put it in our terms, I'm not good with doctor-speak." Her father said.

"Most people aren't. I think the terminology can just get confusing, even to me. I think it's easier on everyone when plain language is used." The doctor chuckled. "It's just a difference on how she views the world. We see the black letters, she sees all the spaces. Many people use different methods to shift that attention. My sister is dyslexic. It took her a few years, but she learned strategies to help her and she uses those strategies every day and they work. Now she only really notices the struggles sometimes, when she's tired or stressed. It's not something that'll vanish entirely, but there are ways to function around it."

"You mean I'll always be like this?" Magnolia asked, shrinking a little.

"It'll get better, it just takes work. It's like learning how to walk, you can learn it, but you're never too old to trip over your own feet."

"He seems nice, still. And we still trip sometimes, do you think reading will be like that?" Thomas whispered.

"Maybe... Do you think I'm good enough to learn?"

"I think you are." Thomas shifted into a golden lab and curled up on her lap.

"I know you can do it, Mags." Her father promised, leaning in a pressing a kiss to her forehead.

Maybe, just maybe, her dad was right. She felt a spark of hope bloom in her chest.

-

After the day with the doctor, Magnolia got used to going to a specialist after school. The walk home from there was right around ten minutes. Usually, her dad's squad car drove down the road beside her as she walked or he'd pick her up, but today she didn't see him. She pulled her backpack on tighter and started walking toward home. She paused when she felt something, like something bad was going to happen. It was the same feeling she got when the bullies were sneaking up behind her or right before she tripped. Somewhere in the middle of all the cruelty children dished out on her for...well, being an idiot, she'd learned that she could feel it whenever something bad was going to happen.

This felt like that, only she didn't feel like something bad was going to happen to her. She felt...safe. Was something whispering to her? It was like something spoke her language, one that didn't need black or white letters. It was intuition, it was knowledge and instinct. It whispered in a way that made more sense than anyone else had ever spoken, outside of Thomas.

"Do you hear that, Tommy?" Magnolia looked down at Thomas.

"Yeah, Maggie." Thomas turned into a crow and flew up to her shoulder, tilting his head toward the alleyway. "Can we go see?"

"Mm-hm." Magnolia walked into the alley and followed it. She never felt like anything bad was going to happen to her, even though there was a sense of foreboding, so she didn't stop. That voice was still whispering. She ran and turned where they alley split.

Someone, dressed in yellow robes held strange orange circles in their hands as they faced a nightmarish creature. "Return. You will find no welcome here on Earth." A strong woman's voice ordered.

"Who's that?" Thomas wondered.

The woman whirled. Around her neck was a strange eye-like necklace that glowed green in the center. "Child, what are you doing here? Run!"

But nothing bad was going to happen, Magnolia knew it, so she didn't run. Magnolia was certain the voice was coming from the green light. And it was. Long wisps of green light suddenly reached from the strange eye, like tendrils from an octopus. They reached out, like long lost friends sought out a hug after a time apart. "What is that? It sounds so familiar."

"Run, child!"

The beast pounced and the light shot into Magnolia's eyes and temple. Her blue eyes turned green with light. Then huge claws stretched out for her.

The woman in the robes, lunged and held up her hands. Throwing the orange circles at the beast and slicing it to ribbons. As soon as the beast was dealt with she rushed to the little girl who was prone on the ground. "Oh no..." She lifted the girl up into her arms, seeing the deep claw marks in her flesh, thankfully the daemon was still alive and...not bleeding Dust. How? How was the daemon not actively dying while the girl lay there, bleeding. But she wasn't bleeding either. Green light circled the girl's wrist and the cuts in her flesh and clothes faded, as if...as if the girl were turning back time. The girl's eyes opened slightly and green shined in them for a moment.

"'m tired. Five more minutes." Then the girl fell asleep, her daemon sitting on her chest.

"What is she?" The Ancient One asked, looking over the girl. The strangest thing was happening. Green light passing from the girl to the time stone, as if they were...communicating. The Ancient One had heard of some of the infinity stones being able to communicate or bond with certain people, but she'd never heard of the time stone doing such a thing. That seemed more like the mind stone or the soul stone's area of expertise. The Ancient One looked at the child and pushed her astral form out of her and her daemon. Her daemon looked like golden Dust, the way all daemons did. But the girl had certain markers. She was a witch, though that hadn't caused the healing of the gashes. The hue of silver around her also indicated a mutation. The girl was a mutant and somehow, something about her mutation had called the green light. The green light was bright and swirling with the silver of her mutation, as if they were dancing, siblings. Perhaps her mutation had to do with time and the stone had sensed a kinship and bonded with it.

The child had been born with the mutation to effect time somehow, the Ancient One knew it, but that had somehow allowed her a connection with the time stone and...she didn't know how it was possible. A siren went off down the street in an odd rhythm. The Ancient One closed the eye, but the green light still was bound to the girl's spirit, as if some of the stone's power had latched onto her. This girl needed further study. The sleeping girl's astral form returned to her and she sighed. The girl's eyes fluttered.

"Magnolia? Maggie? Mags?!" A man shouted.

"I'll be looking out for you, child." The Ancient One said before turning and walking through a ring of golden light.

Magnolia sat up and looked at Thomas as he shifted into a puppy, looking confused. She felt exactly how he looked. "Weren't we heading home? How did we get here? I don't remember coming down here. Do you?"

"No." Magnolia shook her head.

"Mags? Where are you?" The sirens stopped.

"Daddy?" She got up and ran back toward the street. She found her dad standing outside his car on the sidewalk.

"Petal, I thought you were lost. I didn't see you on your walk. Why'd you go into the alley?"

"I...don't remember." Magnolia shrugged.

"Is my little girl lying?"

"No, sir." She shook her head. She knew she could never lie to her dad, he always knew. He was a cop and she could never get away with lying to him.

"You keep doing that...did you hit your head at school or something? You've been awful forgetful lately... I've read forgetfulness can be a part of dyslexia but...I'm not sure it's supposed to work like that."

Magnolia thought about it. She had hit the ground hard when a bully called her stupid and pushed her off the monkey bars. "I fell off the monkey bars, maybe that's it."

"Fell, or got pushed?" His daemon a white wolf asked, leveling her with a stare.

"I got pushed."

"We need to get you out of that school, kid. And we'll get your head checked out. I don't like the forgetfulness. It might be a concussion. When did they push you?"

"Yesterday."

"Does your head hurt?"

Magnolia shook her head.

He sighed and rubbed his head. "I know a doctor, a good one. He'd check on you as a favor. We'll stop on the way home."

"But you're working."

"I have a lunch break, petal, come on, let's make sure you're alright."

"I'm always alright, daddy."

"Get in the car, petal. And next time you tell me when things like this happen. I'm worried about you." He opened the front door for her and took her backpack.

-

Peter huffed and flopped down on the living room floor. "There's nothing to do."

"That's the point of being grounded." Analise leveled a sharp look at Peter.

"Can't we just play with Legos?" Morgana grumbled.

"No, against the rules." Analise commented.

"But can't we-?"

"Morgana, don't push your luck." Grace advised gently.

Peter sniffled. "I never seen daddy so mad."

Morgana huffed. "I don't get it, we did the right thing. You're supposed to stand up for other people. Dad always says you're supposed to stand up for the little guy."

"You both ARE the little ones." Grace said with a sigh. "Look, I know your heart was in the right place, you two, but you can't do that. You're young and you should have run away. There's no shame in living to fight another day. I've done it."

Morgana rolled her eyes. "Yes, because Captain America and Grace Rogers run away from fights."

"Well, I do, Steve, not so much." Grace sighed. "He's always been braver than me. It's just the way we all level out."

"I've never been grounded before."

"I know, that's probably why Tony gave you two such a light sentence." Analise commented dryly.

"LIGHT?!" Morgana protested. "Two weeks isn't light!"

"Well, considering you could have died, two weeks is nothing."

"Yeah, calm down, Morgana, we can find something to do to occupy us." Peter frowned.

"How about we play a guessing game." Grace suggested as Analise curled up against her. "That way you're not breaking the rules. You get to focus on something and not get out any toys or experiments. Sound okay?"

"Okay." Peter nodded.

Morgana shrugged.

Grace rolled her eyes and gently licked Morgana's fur. "You're alright. I know you don't like being in trouble and I know you think you did the right thing, but let's save trying to be the hero for a later date, trust me, I speak from experience, it isn't an easy life and you're too young for all that weight."

"Okay."

-

"You've been a bit distant since the Expo." Steve commented over dinner.

Tony looked up from where he was decidedly not eating his pasta. "It's just a bit rough. People got hurt, you know? A lot more could have been hurt."

Steve sighed. He knew who Tony was talking about, but he couldn't let it on. He'd found himself curious though. Peter Stark, was that the boy's name? Was he the same kid from the art museum? Who was the mother? Was she still in the picture? No. Tony wouldn't do that. Did she visit though or have any rights to Peter? Was he smart like his dad? Steve wanted to know, but...he couldn't ask. "It wasn't ideal, but you can't predict these things all the time. Even I thought he was dead. Dead people don't usually attack like that."

"I know." Tony rubbed his temples. "It's just been a lot to deal with, the stress and the press."

"You've been handling it all pretty well though."

"You should see Analise when I give public speeches, it isn't pretty." Tony shook his head. "I handle it because I have to. I handle it because I've been wrangling the press ever since I can remember, but it never goes 'pretty well' it's always a hellhole, even if we get the best outcome."

Steve had seen Analise during a press conference once. She was a fidgety, frantic, mess every time. She jumped at every sound and backed herself into a corner. She acted the exact opposite of Tony. Tony took to the stage, cool and confident while Analise cowered in fear. It was strange though, in every other area, it seemed the two could enter a room and own it with complete confidence, but when the public eye landed on either of them, Tony put on a mask and Analise ran for the hills. "It's got to be hard. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No..." Tony shook his head. "I'm sorry for droning on about my problems, this is a date and we haven't really talked in a while and I'm fucking it up."

"We should be able to talk about these things. We're friends too, you know?"

A shy, warm smile filled Tony's face. "Thank you."

Steve reached out and grabbed Tony's hand. "You're welcome." Steve felt the warmth of the light growing and making the flesh of his hand itch. It was something he'd noticed. It had to be a soul mate thing, because whenever he touched Tony, he found himself wanting more. It was something he'd have to learn to control.

Tony must've felt it too, because Steve could see his pupils dilate and hear the sharp intake of breath. Tony threaded his hands with Steve's and smiled.

Sirens blared in an odd, sharp pattern. Steve jumped and turned.

Tony, on the other hand, opened his phone and looked for any nearby emergencies. "It's no big deal, Cap, probably just a traffic stop."

Steve relaxed and, sure enough, the sirens stopped shortly. "How about dessert?"

"Can I have it at home?" Tony asked after a second, trying to test the waters.

"I think it would be illegal for us to have dessert here." Steve said plainly. "Indecency or something like that."

Tony laughed. "Naughty. I like it. And yes, I'm game for dessert." They left then, dinner and sirens forgotten.

Chapter Text

Tony looked down at the files in front of him. He didn't like all the showmanship of SHIELD. He was stuck in a damn warehouse in the middle of nowhere, which would have been a good hiding spot, except for all of the cars parks outside (they totally weren't suspicious at all). 'Avengers initiative?' Tony thought curiously, reaching out for the file.

"I don't think I want you looking at that." Nick Fury's voice said. Tony looked up. Fury may not have been a witch, but the man was damn good at appearing out of nowhere. He was the only one in the room though. "I’m not sure it pertains to you anymore. Now this on the other hand, is Agent Romanoff’s assessment of you. Read it." He handed a separate file over to Tony.

"You know, I noticed your goon following me. I don't appreciate it. If you wanted to know more about me, you could have just asked."

"Yes, because you're an open book." Nick raised an eyebrow, a tarantula daemon climbed down his shoulder slowly.

Tony tilted his head and looked down at the file. "'Personality overview. Mr. Stark displays compulsive behavior.' In my own defense, that was last week. 'Prone to self-destructive tendencies.' I was dying at the time. I mean, please. Aren’t we all?" Tony made a face at the next line. "'Textbook narcissism?' Agreed. Okay, here it is. 'Recruitment assessment for Avenger Initiative. Iron Man? Yes.' I gotta think about it." It was a big deal. He already had a lot on his plate being Iron Man. It would take more time away from being with his son.

"Read on." Fury spoke.

"'Tony Stark not… Not recommended'? That doesn’t make any sense. How can you approve me but not approve me? I got a new ticker. I’m in a stable-ish relationship." 'Built on half-truths, but stable-ish.'

"Yes, with Captain Steve Rogers. He's given us a few reports on you too, though we never asked him to spy on you, if it makes you feel better." Nick said. "He said Iron Man was a hell of a guy to have at his back. He thinks you're a bit reckless, but he says you're a good partner. I have to take into consideration that you're his soul mate though."

Tony narrowed his eyes.

"Yes, I know. I'm the only one who knows. I have my ways." Nick said.

Tony bit his lip. "And Peter?"

"Natasha did find out about him. You did good shaking her, but she caught you and him at the doctors when he got his new inhaler." Nick frowned. "He's not in our file on you. We didn't put him anywhere. I have another high-ranking agent here, no one knows that they have a family, kids. I'm not going to tell anyone about your son, Natasha won't either. I understand the need to protect loved ones. Even Agent Coulson doesn't know about Peter, so Iron Man's identity is safe and outside of your band of friends me and Nat will keep our mouths shut."

"Good, cause if you weren't going to keep your mouth shut, I'd have to kill you."

Fury laughed. "Whatever you say, Stark."

"If you think I wouldn't kill for that kid, then you're wrong."

Nick nodded. "You're attached, very attached. It's not a bad thing, it makes you human. You want to keep it all close to the chest... Which leads us to believe at this juncture we’d only like to use Tony Stark as a consultant. As far as we're concerned, Iron Man, is a separate person...and only I need to know who he is. If he wanted in...from time to time, that'd be up to him. I suppose we could get ahold of you if we wanted to speak to your bodyguard."

Tony stood up and held out his hand and smiled when he shook Nick's hand. "You can’t afford Tony Stark." He put on his usual bravado. "But...Iron Man has this thing for...helping out. So if you need him from...time to time, I guess you'll have to give me a ring."

"Fair enough." Nick nodded. "And should I say congratulations? For meeting your soulmate. Not everyone gets that." Nick folded his arms behind his back. "Have you told him?"

"None of your business." Tony shrugged. "And speaking of, I have a date, can't miss it. Later!"

-

"I'm not saying you don't look good on it, but isn't it kind of a death trap?"

"Get on the damn bike, Tony." Steve rolled his eyes. Tony opened his mouth, looking like he was going to protest again. "Tony, you fly around in a suit and get shot at. This is a motorcycle, it's nothing compared to that."

"Statistically speaking there are less accidents in my suit than there are reported motorcycle accidents."

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose and walked forward. He wrapped his arms around Tony, pressing on the small of his back and resting his chin on Tony's head. "What if I told you that you could hold onto me real tight the whole time?"

"You're manipulative."

"Is it working?" Steve smirked.

"Dammit, fine. I'll get on the death trap."

"Thank you, darlin'." Steve kissed his head and let go. He got on the bike and patted the back seat. Tony shook his head and climbed on the back. Steve smiled when he felt warm arms wrap around him. "We aren't moving yet, but you can hold on as tight as you like, love."

"Shut up." Tony pressed his head against Steve's shoulder blades.

Steve smiled softly and stood the bike up. "Don't worry. I'd never let anything happen to you."

"You know it's the law to have a helmet." Tony commented.

"Eh, I'm not a saint, but if you'd like one to protect that genius brain of yours...then we're going to have to stop and buy one."

"You're insane."

"It's been said." Steve started the bike. He felt Tony tense so he took one hand off the handlebar and grabbed Tony's wrist. He didn't know why Tony Stark of all people was nervous on a bike, but Steve supposed that everyone had something they were afraid of. Steve put his hand back where it belonged when he felt Tony relax, then he took off.

It took a little while to get out of the city, but Tony had said they had time today. Steve wondered what that meant. It wasn't a school day, maybe Peter was staying with someone. Pepper and Rhodey obviously knew about the kid, Happy probably knew too. Peter was probably with one of them if Tony had the free time. It didn't matter, they were together and that's what counted for now, he didn't need to ask why, he just needed to enjoy it.

Steve smiled when he felt Tony's arms loosen a little bit and heard his voice in his ear.

"It's almost like flying."

Steve took one hand off the handlebars and pulled one of Tony's to his lips. He pressed a kiss there and turned his head. "Feel better about it?"

"Jesus, Cap, eyes on the road." Tony pulled his hand free and gripped him tighter.

Steve laughed and shook his head. "I'll get you there someday."

-

Magnolia looked down at the number on the flash card and focused.

"What does that one say, Mags?" Her father asked gently. "You're doing good. You can do a couple more."

"Th-three, five-"

"Not that one, try again." He said.

"Three, oh! Two. Seven. So, three-hundred-twenty-seven"

"Good!" He put the card down and stood up, strapping on his duty belt, then holding up the next card. "This one?"

This number had eyes, white ones that stared at her. Magnolia shook her head and tried to look beyond the blank white spaces. "Um. Three. Zero, zero, zero. Three thousand?"

"Very good, you got through most of them this time."

"The numbers are easier than the letters." Magnolia pouted.

"We'll work on it every day." He patted her head. "Chin up, petal. You've got this."

"That was a big number."

"The biggest of all the numbers." Her dad agreed. "You be good, I'll call you before bed, okay?"

"Okay, daddy, you stay safe out there."

"I will, kiddo." He kissed her forehead. "I love you."

Magnolia looked up and smiled. "I love you three thousand." He said three thousand was the biggest number, after all, so it had to mean the most love. She smiled and watched her father start to walk away. Something painful stirred in her. Something bad was coming. She ran from the table and threw her arms around her father. "Wait, don't go. Something bad'll happen."

"I'll be fine, sweetie. I'm going to go out there to keep people safe, same as always. Maybe I'll rescue a cat from a tree, wouldn't that be special? Worst I'll get is claw marks, petal."

"No! It'll be real bad." Magnolia shook her head. "I can tell."

He frowned, and he looked at her the way he sometimes did, the way he always looked at people when he wanted to know if they were telling the truth. His jaw tightened slightly. "I know you think something bad's coming, but I'll be fine, promise." He kissed her cheek. He looked down at his watch. "I'm running late, girly, I gotta go. Love you three thousand too, petal."

Magnolia watched her father walk out of their apartment for the last time, a knot of worry in her stomach.

-

Tony swore he felt his stomach drop around that last corner. He was just glad to finally be off the death trap, on which Steve seemed to have absolutely no qualms about speeding. "Again, you're insane."

"Noted." Steve grinned.

Tony took note of his surroundings. It was beautiful, secluded. It wasn't a place he'd normally go, but damn it was breathtaking. The rolling hills, the trees, the river. "Where are we?"

"Middle of nowhere." Steve shrugged. "It's a habit I got into when I first woke up. Used to get big bike so Grace and I could go. Riding a bike was normal. I could drive and drive because a road was a road in my time and this one. It helped me feel normal. So I'd just drive to feel like everything was okay again. Or I'd go find Iron Man, oddly enough, because somehow a man in a machine suit seemed more real than everything else."

Tony's heart warmed. That smile was enough to make his day. "It's nice out here. Worth the death trap."

"Oh, stop overreacting. That bike is perfectly safe. Less scary than what you do in that suit."

"I made my suit, the suit is safe." Tony scoffed.

Steve rolled his eyes and kissed his cheek. "I have food, want a picnic?" Steve pulled a backpack out of the saddle bags and pulled it over his shoulders. "I know a really nice spot."

"What? Food? It's like you know the way to a man's heart."

"I figure we can do food, hiking, motorcycles... If you don't like riding the bike you got to at least like the motor, right?"

Tony walked forward and knelt next to it. "Well, it is a thing of beauty. One of the first real engines I worked on was a bike, it was such a long time ago. Still a deathtrap though."

"You don't talk about your childhood."

"Pot. Kettle." Tony said, standing up. "My childhood wasn't all sunshine and daisies, Steve, I doubt yours was either."

"I'm not going to argue that." Steve held out his hand.

Tony took it and used it as a lifeline. They walked off the shoulder of the road and into the tree line. He wasn't one for hiking, he'd never really done it before, but it was about three-thousand times better than the time Steve had tried to get him to run. Tony had to admit that it was nice to get into the fresh air and look at the untouched outdoors.

"Grace told me you had it rough."

"Probably not as rough as the depression."

"Doesn't mean it wasn't bad, just means it was different. You don't talk about your family." Steve shrugged, soothing his thumb over the back of Tony's hand.

"What do you want me to say? I don't like thinking about it, I want to live in the now and make the future better." Tony didn't know why Steve was bringing it up again. It was hard to talk about. "Why don't you ask Grace? She was there."

"She slept most of that time and it's a personal question. I want to know about you from you." Steve stated.

Tony sighed. He could understand the curiosity. He was curious about Steve's past too, the parts no one knew about. "I'll trade you."

"Question for question?" Steve wondered, then nodded. "Okay. How'd you learn you'd inherited you're Mom's genetics?"

Tony nodded. "I needed to fix a toy. It broke and my dad was drunk so I had to get into his study and take a tool without him noticing and shouting. So I vanished. He didn't catch me. Grace did though, she followed me." Tony smiled gently. "How'd you meet Bucky?"

"I was always a scrawny kid. I was sick all the time, thin and bony and goofy-looking. Could kids from school ganged up on me, started kicking the hell out of me. Then all the sudden there he was. He beat them back, stood up for me. He and Alisha were there and so strong. We lived half a block from each other, went to the same school, and that was the first day we met. He took me to his house, taught me how to throw a punch and told me to never do it because some big fella would end up laying me out if I tried. He said I was a piss-poor fighter. We were friends ever since, I always started fights and he finished them." Steve laughed. "What was your mom like?"

"Beautiful. Talented. She taught me how to play the piano but, she...wasn't around much. She was always trying to do good with what we had. That's I started the Maria Stark Foundation, she was always trying to give. She was good, sometimes she'd kiss me goodnight. She read me a story once...Winnie the Pooh. I only remember it the once though... I think deep down she felt scared. I don't know though. She wasn't around much." Tony shook his head. "Your mom?"

"She loved music. She took care of me and didn't care that I liked to paint. I think she knew, even back then that I wasn't...socially acceptable-at least not back then. I always like ladies and fellas, I even had a crush on Bucky at one point and she knew and didn't ever care. Most people coulda strangled me for that sort of thing but she always smiled at me. I must've been so much work for her, always needing medicine and certain foods, but she looked after me, even though it wore her out. I think in the end it might've killed her. I always thought if I'd been less work, less stress, she might've been able to take care of herself better. But she had a lovely singing voice."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it."

"It wasn't your fault, any half-decent parent would do anything to make sure their kid was happy." Tony promised.

"Favorite class as a kid?" Steve asked suddenly.

"Orchestra." Tony answered with a fond smile. "It was the one thing I got to do that no one cared about. I wasn't ever pressured or pushed, it was just something I loved and I got to do for me." He thought about his next question as they came alongside a river. "It's a beautiful spot."

"It is." Steve nodded.

"What's the thing you miss most about the past?"

"The people, I still visit Peggy when I'm able to."

"It's hard to see her like that." Tony agreed.

"That and I miss these franks, they tasted amazing. I still can't find their equal."

Tony laughed and shook his head. "Food..."

"You'd love them, totally a hole-in-the-wall. But life really stays the same, it's people that come and go. Life is still life no matter what century you're in. There are ups and downs and good vs evil. World turns, just with new people." Steve shook his head. "Favorite memory?"

"Um...it was about three in the morning." Tony smiled and felt all of the emotions overwhelm him again, as if they were fresh. August 10th, 2001. Peter was so tiny back then. The moment he pulled Peter into his arms. It was the best and warmest feeling ever. Every memory with Peter was a favorite. Memories with Steve were starting to get that treatment too. They were starting to show up among his happiest moments, moments when he felt the most love, the most safety. "You know what, I need to tell you something."

"What do you mean?" Steve asked.

Tony took a breath. "How about a picnic with...probably a massive side of forgiveness?"

"What do you need forgiving for?" Steve paused.

"I've been keeping something big from you...you might say I've kept everything from you."

Steve looked down at him, but there wasn't a hint of judgment or anger in him. "It's okay, Tony. I love you."

'You might not after this.' Tony thought to himself. He looked out at the pine trees that curved around the edge of the river. Seemed like a pretty enough spot for a picnic and a distant enough place to speak without being heard by anyone else. 'No going back now.' "So, aside from revelations, what's for lunch?" Tony joked, because he was scared and when he was scared he laughed. You couldn't be scared if you were laughing.

Chapter Text

"How is it, Peter?" Ben asked.

Peter took another bite of the meatloaf and nodded. "It's good, Uncle Ben."

Annie preened a bit on Ben's shoulder as he grinned. "I'm glad you like it, bud." He squeezed Peter's shoulder. "Now, I was going to try to bake, but your Dad informed us that you're still grounded. That means no sweets."

"Thanks for reminding me."

"Hey, I don't get sweets either...I let the most precious person ever slip through my fingers." Ben frowned and ruffled Peter's hair.

"It wasn't you're fault. I did the stupid thing. I get it, why daddy was mad. I get scared sometimes too, when he's gone. Sometimes I think it'll be like Afghanistan. Like he won't come home for a long long time. I guess he felt like that when the robots came."

"Yeah..." May nodded. She gently rubbed his shoulder. "He's always going to come back for you though, Pete, he loves you too much to stay gone."

"I know." Peter smiled.

Ben looked down at his phone with a furrow of confusion. "Looks like you're not staying the night, buddy. I think Happy's picking you up before dinner."

"Why? Daddy said I was staying here tonight. Wasn't it an anniversary of some sort or a half-year something? He asked me if it was okay to go out with his soul mate for the day. Isn't he having fun? You can tell him I'm fine-I don't want to be a burden. Sometimes he gets worried and comes home early. I want him to have fun. I mean, he's been lonely. I know he gets lonely. I mean you and Ben have each other and Ned's mommy has his daddy.... I mean, I wish I could make him not lonely."

"Peter, no. He loves you and it's not on you. It's..." May trailed off, searching for the words.

"We all love people different ways. Our hearts are really big and they have a lot of love and we need to love in many ways. Like I love Aunt May romantically and I love you like a nephew, and I loved my brother like a brother, and I love my friends like friends." Ben said. "Sometimes it takes us a while to open up to certain kinds of love. Your dad being lonely had nothing to do with you, Peter, he just opened a new part of his heart and needs feel that love. You'll understand someday."

"So it's like a puzzle that has lots of pieces?"

"Yup, and you are a perfect fit. And just because there's more to the puzzle doesn't make you any less perfect. You make him very happy and I promise you that if he's coming back home to spend time with you it isn't because you're a burden, it's because he misses you and wants to see you." Ben grinned and poked Peter's nose. "Let's finish lunch, kiddo."

"Okay." Peter smiled.

-

Tony bit into the apple slice as he stared at the river. Where would he start? How could he explain why he kept Peter such a secret? How could he explain how much needed to protect Peter? "I was on the covers of magazines before I was out of diapers, Steve. I owned my first tailored suit when I was four. If I spoke I was expected to use full sentences. I was expected to stand up straight, to put my best foot forward. If I didn't behave I'd get backhanded for making our company look bad, making our name look bad. I'm actually indebted to you, well, to Grace. One time I made a fool of my father because I saw something he missed in front of a competitor. When we got home he... When I got home that day he grabbed Analise, by the throat."

Steve gasped.

"I've never felt so much anger and disappointment and hatred directed at me before. And Grace stopped him. She attacked Maya and I took Ana and ran. After that day, Ana settled and I kept her safe. I went out and put on the mask to be the perfect son, the perfect Stark, but I protected her. I let her be who she was by keeping her as far away from everyone else as possible. I needed some part of me to be free, to be who I was. I knew I could take whatever beating the media could throw at me if I could just keep her safe, if I could have just one part of me that was happy."

"Grace never told me that, but I'm glad she was there for you. I might've killed him if I saw someone do that."

"That's the thing though. My whole life everyone pushed their expectations onto me. They stalked me, they demanded things of me, they defiled my name and spit in my direction. It does things to you. I knew at a young age I didn't have a family I could rely on. If Dad was in the mood for it he'd backhand me and Mom...for as much as I love her...she watched. All that weight and pressure. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, eating disorders, then drugs and alcohol and sex...anything to fill what was missing. That just made people come after me more so the cycle just kept getting worse." Tony shook his head. "I protect what's precious because I know what it's like to have those things that should be sacred and good stolen and broken."

"You drug yourself up out of that though, that's very strong. I knew...about the drugs and...other things. I figured there was a reason, but I wasn't going to pry. I wondered why you kept Analise at a difference, but when you're together I see how close you are, how alike your true faces are." Steve reached out and wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders.

"I'm keeping something from you, because I want to protect it more than I've ever wanted to protect anything. I've known for a while now that you're the sort of guy who would never put anyone else at risk, but it's so hard for me to not protect what I love. It's the one thing I have. It's the only ability I have left, and that's to protect other people from the sort of pain I've felt." Tony wiped his face and pulled away from Steve. He got up and walked to the river. He wasn't going to look at Steve when he said this. Even if Grace were here he couldn't judge Steve's reaction based on her's, because Grace already knew about Peter. "I've been hiding someone from you...and given what we are you should know, you have the right to know. And I'm not trying to shove off the blame or anything, but I need you to know that I had no clue we were soul mates. I had no clue I'd ever have this...but if I had known, I still would've done it. I know that sounds bad, but I couldn't live in this world without him...he's everything to me.

"You asked about my happiest memory." Tony said. "It's a memory that never stops. It started on August 10th, 2001. He took his first breath a month early at 12:09 that morning. I had him in my arms for the first time three hours later." Tony took a deep breath. "I have a son. His name is Peter Benjamin Stark, but if you try to look him up well, you won't find anything. I hid him from the world. The nurses and doctors that were there were sworn to secrecy, the lawyers I involved to keep his mother from ever trying to take him back are hip-deep in legal jargon so they can't say a word. I made a mistake, the best one of my life. His mother didn't want him and was going to give him up. If it hadn't been for May and Ben I would have never known about him, but I'm so glad I know."

Steve was silent, unnervingly so.

"Peter is brilliant. He's so smart and so much better than me. He's happy and free. He goes to school an no one follows him with cameras. He has friends who don't want him for his money. He isn't afraid to go out and fail and start again. He's brilliant and kind and loved and safe. I do everything I can to keep him safe. I would do anything to protect him. Steve, I know we've been in this relationship for a long time, I mean back when it was just Cap and Iron Man we sort of started this relationship so it's been...months and months since we knew we were soul mates and all this time and I didn't tell you. I've wanted to for so long, but I've been protecting him for so long from outside eyes. I just didn't know how to turn it off. I mean, I still background check his teachers and friends when he makes new ones... I'm just... I love him, so much." Tony shook his head. "I'm sorry I lied. I don't know how else to keep him safe but to keep all unknowns away from him. I don't know what to do but to make the world think he's a Parker and not a Stark. I can't explain how I feel, there aren't words for it, but I just can't let him suffer the way I have. I'm just sorry... I'm so-"

Tony gasped when he felt warm, strong arms wrapped around him from behind.

"Sh, it's okay." Steve whispered. "Tony, it's okay. I love you."

"Forgive me."

"No. There's nothing to forgive." Steve promised, kissing Tony's throat and leaving his head buried there. "You're right though, I can't understand how you feel, because I don't have a child, I never have. I don't know what it's like to be responsible for a child's life and wellbeing. I don't know what that weight's like so I can't judge you for how you bare it. I can understand not wanting to expose him to the life you had and I know you don't have a lot of people you feel you can trust. I'm one of them though. You can trust me. If you're worried about me judging you for having relationships before me, I won't. I had relationships too, some casual, some not. I can't judge you for having relationships, because I did. We didn't know and you can't live your life on eggshells just because the future is unknown, you have to live in the day your given. Tony I'm seventy years in my own future, who knew I'd ever meet you?" Steve scoffed. "So I'm not angry about that, not even for a moment."

"But I lied, you hate liars."

"But I love people who stand up for others and all you've been doing is standing in front of your son, like a shield." Steve let out a breath and Tony could feel the warmth of it against his throat. "Grace knew?"

"Grace lived it." Tony nodded and froze when he felt Steve's hand wipe the tears off his cheeks. "How can you be so kind about this?"

"What's wrong with you having a family?" Steve asked. Then he turned Tony around and pulled him to his chest. "I'm not upset at all. Don't ever think that." Steve cradled Tony's head in his hand.

Tony gripped him back. "I thought I might lose you if I told you. I didn't want to lose you..."

"I'm not running anywhere. And...you don't have to bare the weight of all these things alone anymore. If you need to talk about anything, your past, your present, hell, the future, I'm here." Steve promised and turned and kissed below Tony's ear.

Tony sighed in relief and pulled back just enough so he could plant his lips against Steve's. "Thank you. I know of less things that have ripped relationships to shreds."

"Well, I'm different from most people." Steve promised. "I do have a question though."

"Yeah?" Tony asked.

"Do I get to meet him? Peter? I get it if you want him to have some space or...whatever but-"

"I trust you, Steve."

"This was a little less...romantic than I intended, a little more heavy." Steve chuckled. "You look like you could use some rest."

"And...what if I wanted you to come home with me?"

"What do you mean?" Steve asked, looking genuinely confused.

"Well, there's nothing on my floor that you don't know about already now. What if you came home with me?"

Steve smiled. "I'd love that."

Tony nodded. He needed to send a text.

-

Steve could tell that Tony was still nervous on the elevator. Steve had never been on this elevator, it was Tony's private elevator and no one got on it without his permission.

"JARVIS, update Steve Rogers' clearance to Level 10."

"Yes, sir." JARVIS responded. "Does this mean he knows about Alpha 1, sir?"

"Yes, he does." Tony nodded.

"Of course, sir. Master Stark is home and Mr. Hogan is waiting for your arrival."

"Thank you, J." Tony said. "I've told Peter that I found my soul mate, but I didn't tell him who it was. He's a bit sensitive. He's always had me all to himself. He's worried about me maybe replacing him. I'd never do that."

"I'd never ask you to." Steve assured him.

"I told him I'd throw you out the window if you did. He comes first, Steve, he always will. I just need you to know that."

Steve squeezed Tony's hand. "That's okay. And I really want meet someone who's so important to you, because he's got to be one hell of a kid." Though, Steve was nervous himself. This kid was Tony's world. What if Peter didn't like him? What if he thought he wasn't good enough for his dad?

"Just be yourself, he'll adore you." Tony said as if he could read Steve's mind.

The elevator stopped and Steve let Tony exit before him. The door opened to a spacious home. There was a kitchen to the right, drawings were posted on the fridge. Happy was sitting on the sofa, flipping through channels. Tony looked at Happy. "Hey, thank you, you can head out, I need some time with the kid."

"What's he doing up here?" Amber growled when Steve stepped in.

"He's fine. I told him. Thank you." Tony put a hand on Happy's shoulder. "Where's Peter?"

"He went right to his room. Ben said he was feeling a bit...like he was a burden to you." Happy frowned.

"I'll talk to him, go ahead, thank you so much, Hap." Tony pulled him into a short, manly hug.

"Sure thing, boss." Happy nodded and left, getting on the elevator.

"Make yourself at home, Steve." Tony gestured to the sofa and headed down the hallway.

Steve sat down and waited. And it felt like hours.

Then Tony walked out with a child on his hip. The little boy was familiar. His hair was light brown, but had the same waves to it as Tony's. His cheeks were round and rosy, slightly damp, as if he'd been crying, but he didn't look sad. Then there were his eyes. He had the same eyes as Tony, bright, sharp, intelligent...kind. He was wearing an Iron Man shirt and shorts. His hands were gripping Tony tightly. Tony kissed his curls, gently.

"Hey, underoos, this is Steve, my soul mate. I thought you might want to meet him. Do you want to see if he'll have dinner with us?"

Peter looked at Steve with wide eyes and then buried his face against his dad's shoulder. Obviously shy. He was talking to Tony and Steve saw a mouse daemon hiding against Analise's shoulders. Grace prowled past them and stood by Steve's side.

"Isn't he Captain America, daddy?"

"Yeah, buddy, he is." Tony chuckled.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't think you'd believe me, squirt." Tony laughed. "So how about it, kid? You want to see if he'll stay for dinner with us?"

Peter nodded against Tony.

"Well, ask him." Tony put Peter down and gripped his shoulders. "Go ahead, don't be shy. He's nice. You asked me to make sure he was nice, remember? I made sure he was nice, you'll be safe around him. I made sure, just like I promised."

"And...he won't hate me?"

"Why would I hate you?" Steve asked before Tony could speak.

Peter looked up and blinked at Steve with wide eyes. "You're my daddy's soul mate. You're going to want to live with him and maybe have your own family. I'm not yours...and maybe you'll hate me because I'm not yours."

Steve looked from Peter to Tony, suddenly realizing how complex this situation really was. How could a child think that he'd be unloved, simply because of how he happened to come to be? Peter had no control over it. Steve took a breath, trying to think of how to navigate it. "Peter, I love your dad and I really want to get to know you. If it's alright with you, I'd like to be his family one day, for real, and if you want I'd like to be your family too."

"You'd want me around?" Peter asked, looking confused. "But you don't know me..."

"Then, maybe we could get to know each other, right?"

"How do we do that?" Peter asked, leaning against his dad.

"We can start with dinner," Tony suggested.

Peter thought for a moment before he seemed to perk up. "Do you like pancakes? Dad makes good pancakes. I know it's a breakfast food, but dad says you can have breakfast for dinner sometimes. He makes them with chocolate chips sometimes and blueberries."

"I love blueberry pancakes." Steve smiled. "That sounds good."

"Captain America likes blueberry pancakes?" Peter asked with wide eyes. His daemon shifted into a ferret and clambered up Peter's shoulder. It was a testament to how close Peter's relationship was with his father, because the daemon didn't even seem to care when her tail accidently brushed Tony's arm.

"You can call me Steve." Steve said.

"Okay, Mr. Steve. Daddy, can we put blueberries in the pancakes? I know I'm grounded though, so it's okay if we can't."

"You can have blueberries, buddy. Go wash up, you can help make the pancakes with us."

"Really?" Peter beamed and Steve felt his heart melt at that bright, warm smile. The child radiated admiration when he looked at his dad.

"Yeah, it's chemistry, that's your field of expertise. Now, go on, underoos."

"Yes, sir!" Peter ran for the kitchen.

Tony looked at Steve. "He'll be shy," Tony whispered. "He's not used to this sort of thing. But he'll warm up. Just be yourself, you'll sort it out...whatever relationship it ends up being...you'll figure it out."

"Dad! Why do you leave the flour on the top shelf?"

"It's not on the top shelf, bud, and if you explode another bag I'll make you clean it all on your lonesome, kid. Let me get it."

This was going to take some time to figure out, but Steve wanted to. He wanted to know Peter and this softer side of Tony that he was already starting to see. Steve would start with dinner.

Chapter Text

The doorbell rang and Magnolia looked up from her plate at her mother. She looked past the woman at the door, then began to shake her head. At the movement, her mousy red hair fell into her face. "Don't answer the door. It'll be bad."

"Honey, not everything is doom and gloom. I know you're struggling with a lot right now, but chin up. Everything is easier with a pinch of optimism." Her mother said.

"I don't like it." Magnolia shook her head again, but followed her mother to the door.

A police officer was standing there, looking at them both with wide, sad eyes. "Mrs. Chase..."

"No, no not my husband." Her mother's voice was firm as she shook her head and stood up straight, but her lab daemon slouched and put his head down.

"Ma'am... I..." He reached into his pocket and held out a watch, a watch that Magnolia's father had worn her whole life and maybe even before then.

Magnolia snatched it when her mother remained still. On the watch face there was a dried smudge of blood. Magnolia stared at it, it wasn't as if she could use it to tell time, no, she couldn't read the numbers, but she wanted it. It was her father's and, unlike his heart, the watch was still ticking. Magnolia backed away as her mother collapsed, crying. Magnolia found her own corner and held the watch tightly in her hands. Thomas turned into a tiny white wolf-puppy, too small for the world.

But there was no massive white wolf to come and lift him. There was no father to look of for them. And their mother too was stricken by grief to leave the doorway.

Dinner went cold and uneaten.

-

"Peter, will you actually catch it or not?" Tony asked.

"I can do it." Peter said holding out his plate.

"Alright..." Tony tossed a blueberry pancake and Peter caught it on his plate. "Nice work, kid."

Peter beamed and took off for the table.

Steve chuckled quietly. He'd barely been in Tony's home for half-an-hour and he was already starting to fall for Peter's happy smile and enthusiasm. The strange thing was, that every time the boy seemed to get excited, he'd look down sheepishly. It was as if he was afraid to be fully himself.

"Inside speed." Tony warned.

"Okay." Peter put the plate down. "Do you want coffee or milk or...um... One second." Peter went to the fridge and looked inside. "We have grape juice too and orange juice. What do you like?"

Steve flipped a sausage patty, assuming it was a question for Tony. Then the genius elbowed him. "What?" Steve wondered.

"He knows what I drink. What do you want?"

"Oh... You don't have to get me anything, Peter, I can do it."

"But you're a guest." Peter's brow furrowed and he looked at Tony. Tony nodded subtly. And it was strange, like the two of them could speak without saying a word.

"Right...um, orange juice."

"Okay." Peter grabbed a container of orange juice, set it down, then promptly climbed onto the counter. He was careful to keep his feet off it before he reached up and grabbed two cups. "Daddy, what mug do you want?"

"Mm, the one you got me last year."

"Alright." Peter reached up higher and pulled a mug down. It said: Super Dad. The mug was red and had golden script on it. Peter set it down and didn't get off the counter, instead he dangled his legs off the edge and reached for the coffee pot. He poured coffee into the mug with extreme caution and...damn, the golden script turned blue and glowed and new words appeared first two.

My Super Dad, long before things got weird.

Steve laughed.

"Do not laugh at my mug. It's my favorite." Tony grabbed it in one hand and pulled Peter down safely with the other.

"It's so cute."

"And accurate. Things got a little crazy, didn't they, bud?" Tony ruffled Peter's hair.

"Yeah, but we handled it like pros." Peter shrugged.

"Speak for yourself, kid." Tony sighed. "Get the rest of the table set up, bud. I'll finish the pancakes."

Steve helped Tony still, but couldn't help to notice that Peter adjusted the seats at the table. Tony's place was obviously at the head of the table and Peter had set places on either side, but Peter took a sip from one glass of orange juice, then promptly moved that whole setting (cup, plate, fork, knife, and napkin) closer to the head of the table. In fact, Peter's chair was closer to Tony's by almost a foot than Steve's was.

Peter didn't even look upset when he caught Steve looking.

Steve made a mental not to not subconsciously scoot closer to Tony. With the bond he always wanted to be closer, but he could give Peter his space. Peter was being gracious enough to let another man in his home, after all. Because Steve could tell that if Peter ever told Tony he didn't want Steve around, then Tony would promptly ship Steve off to some very far away place...like the moon or something. Peter was being kind enough to try to share his father, it had to be hard. Peter didn't have siblings to share his dad with or even another parent. His whole life he'd been the center of everyone else's world and yet he was still welcoming Steve in, or trying to. It was more than what most kids would do in his position.

"I'm not sure if that was unconscious or passive aggressive." Steve said quietly.

Tony looked up and snorted. "Definitely passive aggressive. He knows exactly what he's doing."

"Are you going to fight for my honor?" Steve teased.

"Nope, he's a force to be reckoned with. I'd rather fight Hydra." Tony shook his head. "I told you, he'll warm up. He's good and sweet, but he's scared." Tony kissed Steve's cheek. "Don't burn the sausage. I could do that myself."

"Yeah, but not as bad as Aunt May." Peter was back at the counter, holding out a serving plate. Tony put a stack of pancakes on it and kissed Peter's forehead.

"Yeah, May's...she's a train wreck in the kitchen."

Peter nodded and took the plate of pancakes to the table. "I'm pretty sure she can burn water. Sometimes I worry about my health when Ben isn't there."

"I do too, kid."

Food made, they gathered at the table. Steve felt like a stranger. Tony and Peter laughed about Aunt May's horrible cooking, then Tony grew serious. "I actually got an e-mail from May, kid."

"An e-mail?"

"She forwarded it from your school." Tony nodded.

"Okay, I know I'm already grounded, but don't extend it. I promise I didn't do anything bad. Is it gym again? They keep acting like I can keep up and I try, but then I can't brea-"

"I'm not concerned with gym and I sent them a rather pointed e-mail about that particular teacher. When were you going to tell me about the tests they had you take?" Tony asked.

Peter began to pick at his food, looking down. "I don't know..."

"Okay, how about a different question: why didn't you tell me about the tests?" Tony rephrased.

"Because I didn't want you to be disappointed in me."

"Why would I be disappointed?"

"I saw my IQ score."

"Yeah, and you're a flipping genius, I don't need a three-digit number to tell me that kid."

"It's-!" Peter bit his lip. "It's twenty-five points lower than yours."

"Jesus." Tony rubbed his forehead then put down his fork. "Peter, you scored over two-hundred. Do you know how many people do that? And the number doesn't matter. I know you're bright, kid."

"I don't...I don't wanna disappoint you."

Steve wanted to get up and leave, but he didn't want to make a noise to interrupt their very private family matter. But he felt uncomfortable, out of place.

"Peter, you could have two braincells and you wouldn't disappoint me. You are brilliant and just so... Peter you don't have to compare yourself to anyone, ever, especially not me, because I have made so many mistakes. The only person you can compete with in life is you, only competition you can have is yourself. Got it? You are never a disappointment."

Peter blinked, his lower lip wobbled and he nodded his understanding.

"Alright, back on topic. They suggested you move up a few grades in school."

"How far?" Peter asked with wide eyes.

"Well, to be honest, kid, you'd probably handle yourself quite fine in middle school, even in your specialized school. I mean, the writing might struggle a bit, but your reading is good enough that you'd probably absorb grammar by osmosis at this point." Tony said. "But that's not what I'm worried about. Do you want to skip ahead?"

"You're asking me?" Peter asked, as if he were stepping around a trick question.

"No one ever asked me." Tony said. "I went to one class one day and was the tallest kid, then the next day I was the smallest in a sea of new people."

"I don't want to. I have friends...but if you want me to-"

"No, this has nothing to do with me." Tony raised his hands. "It's all you, kid."

"If it were just a year or two maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but I don't want to jump ahead. I have friends and I already get picked on for being the smallest and...other things so it'd only get worse, right?"

"Peter, Iron Man would personally visit your school to stop the bullying if you'd let him."

Peter shrugged. "I just...like where I am. I have good teachers too."

"Okay. I respect it and if you ever change your mind, let me know, but just because you're smarter doesn't mean you can slack off, okay? If you're going to go the slow route, then you need to put the effort in."

"I have perfect grades, except in gym." Peter nodded. "I'll keep them."

"I don't need a perfect GPA, kid, I just need the effort. Let's just shoot for A's okay."

"Can I get a pass for gym?" Peter wondered.

Tony pursed his lips and pondered for a moment. "Yes and no. Try where you can."

"Deal." Peter nodded.

"I'll be teaching you some at home, like usual so you don't get bored, alright? We'll keep on this at home so you can keep things normal." Tony smiled.

"Thanks, dad, for not making me."

"Of course, you have to do what's best for you. God, I wish I would have. Finish up, we'll watch a movie tonight. Capsicle here hasn't seen any good movies, so you'll have to pick out a good one."

"Indiana Jones?" Peter asked with wide eyes.

"Sure, kid...the third one?"

"Yes! It's the best one." Peter nodded enthusiastically.

"Couldn't agree more." Tony grinned.

Steve wasn't sure how he should handle the movie time. He sat at the end of the sofa and Tony sat next to him. He went to grab Tony's hand as he was accustomed to, but Peter rested his head on Tony's lap. This action, did not look intentionally possessive, more like it was an ingrained behavior, like Peter always watched movies while using his dad's leg for a pillow. Tony's hand settled quickly too, proving that it was normal, one hand in Peter's hair, the other on his arm.

At the start of the film Tony seemed to notice the dilemma. He smiled at Steve and nodded his head toward his shoulder. Getting the picture, Steve wrapped his arm around Tony's shoulders and smiled when Tony slouched into his hold, resting his head on his shoulder. Steve grinned at the warm weight and kissed Tony's forehead.

Movie night was a tradition, apparently, one that Tony gave Steve an open invitation to that night.

Chapter Text

Steve quickly learned his place in the Stark Household. It wasn't a bad place, per se. But It all became really clear when Pepper'd come to movie night and she'd been allowed to get her own drink and sit wherever she wanted to. Peter viewed her as trusted, a friend, he even called her Aunt Pepper. Steve, however, had come to realize he was only a guest when he visited Tony's floor. Tony even went along with it, because that's how Peter viewed it.

In the Stark house, a guest was someone you treated with respect and kindness, but not necessarily with trust. For instance: Pepper, who was viewed as a friend/family, was trusted with being able to dig through the fridge to get her own drink, or to even go into Peter's bedroom when he wanted to show off a Lego project he was working on. A guest, like Steve, should ask for a drink or snack, because it wasn't his home or his place to go and get what he wanted, because he wasn't trusted with that.

Steve got it. He was a soldier and he didn't much like the idea of anyone going through his things. He could understand how Peter would want to keep his home safe and accessible only to those he trusted. Peter didn't treat him poorly, at all. He was kind and giving, but shy. And he still kept a possessiveness over his father, but it seemed more and more subconscious as the weeks went by, then blatant. Steve only came up on Friday nights and occasionally Thursday nights, but he never went up to Tony's floor when Peter wasn't there, and he never went into Tony's room. When he and Tony slept together it was in Steve's apartment, because Steve wasn't going to invade a sacred space when Peter was still, obviously, very skeptical of him.

Peter seemed to like these rules, even though they'd never, outright, talked about them. Steve could manage it. Hell, he bet he probably would have been a handful himself if his mother had started dating again after his father died. She never had dated again, but Steve probably would have been an absolute ass to anyone who came near her. Peter, however many walls he put up, was still kind and warm.

In many ways, Peter reminded Steve of Tony. They were both smart, warm-hearted, giving, protective, and selfless. But Peter was unconfident in it. Tony sometimes wore a bravado, but he was a very confident man who owned every room he walked into. Peter was shyer, frail almost. And sick, which Steve could sympathize with. The asthma and, more recently, the glasses the boy wore and his lack of much athletic ability brought Steve back to a time when he himself had been frail. But Peter never seemed to let it get him down. He was always high-energy, even when he had limitations.

Darlin':

Steve, I need you upstairs, ASAP.

Steve frowned at the text and quickly got up and went to the elevator. Grace paced the elevator as the doors closed. He didn't even need to touch a button or tell JARVIS where he was going, because JARVIS took him straight up. When he stepped out, his eyes widened. Peter looked very sick and sounded even worse. His breath was rattling, even from where Steve stood. "Are you alright?"

"U'm fuine." Peter's voice was muted and distorted.

Tony gave him a sharp look. "No, you're not, kid." He shook his head and looked at Steve. "I would never ask this normally, but May and Ben are out of town. I took him to the doctor last night when he started coughing up his lungs-"

"M fiiiiinnnne." Peter protested, then began to cough, wet, horrible coughs that Steve knew all too well. Tony rushed forward and rubbed Peter's back, trying to help him through it.

"Pneumonia?" Steve asked.

"Yeah." Tony offered Peter an inhaler and he took breathes from it greedily.

"And you're due in California today." Steve realized, finally understanding why Tony was in a suit of all things. Hell, Tony didn't even have his usual rock T-shirt on underneath it.

"Yeah..." Tony sighed, still rubbing Peter's back. "Look, I'm sorry for asking, but Happy is so not qualified for this and I know you went through a lot growing up with asthma and such, but could you look after him?"

"Of course." Steve nodded.

"I'd stay if I could and if it gets any worse, I need to know, but he's been through this a few times, we know the drill, don't we?"

"Sweep, fooids, medsin, and no wunin' 'round." Peter said, his voice all wrong.

"I'm going to pretend that was English." Tony sighed and kissed Peter's cheek. "Are you sure you'll be okay?"

Peter nodded. "I hab uh babysidder. Yoo gona be late to pwain."

Tony took a deep breath. "I'll be home tomorrow night, baby." Tony kissed him again and pulled him into a hug. Tony then walked up to Steve. "I'm so sorry."

"No, don't worry about it. I can watch the kid. Plus, I'm sure medicine's come a long way since I went through all this. He'll be fine."

"If you need me, just call me... I, um, left a list of things. JARVIS is having groceries delivered. I have his medicine set out and organized by time and-"

Steve kissed Tony gently. "I'm sure you've thought of everything. I can look out for him. I know your plane takes off soon, though."

"Jesus, why do you have to be practical right now?"

"Because your son is sick and your worried, so you don't have any logic right now. Go on, I'll look after him, okay?"

"Okay... Analise will stay with you guys. Just...just rest, okay? Soup, medicine, rest. I'll be back in a little bit, okay? Negotiations shouldn't take too long and..."

"Go." Peter would have glared rather impressively at his father, if he didn't look so sick and (oddly) adorable trying to glare at him.

"Fine, fine. Love you, kid."

"Lub yoo."

"I'll look after him, okay, don't worry about it."

Tony sighed, nodded, and kissed Steve on the cheek. "Thank you, so much."

Steve was secretly a bit terrified when Tony left. Sure, he knew a hell of a lot about how to get through sicknesses, but this was just a little kid. Tony's kid. The last thing he wanted to do was make anything worse. He took a breath and walked over to Peter. "You alright, kid?"

Peter shook his head and collapsed against the sofa. As soon as his father left, so did his bravado. The kid obviously didn't want his dad worrying about him.

"I used to get sick all the time, my mom used to always make me soup. You think you could try some?" Steve knelt in front of the boy and put a gentle hand to his forehead. It was crossing a line, that was sure, but Peter seemed to deliriously ill to care much, in fact, he leaned into Steve's hand a little bit. "You're a bit warm, kiddo. How's your throat feeling?"

Peter wrinkled his nose.

"You got it bad huh? I used to get it that way. Pneumonia was never enough, I had to have a cold and sore throat at the same time. It's alright though, I know all the tricks. Do you like tomato or chicken soup better?"

Peter seemed to think for a minute. "Tch'kin."

"I can handle that. Do you like tea?"

Peter tilted his head to the side, then shrugged.

"Yeah, I don't think Tony'd keep much tea in his house. I'll make some for you, mint and honey help with the throat and breathing. How about I make you something to eat and while I do that you get some rest, huh? Did you already get some medicine?" Steve glanced at the side-table and saw the medicines for the morning were missing from their cup. A quick glance at the writing had Peter's next bunch of medicine's scheduled for dinnertime.

Peter nodded in confirmation.

"Cool." Steve smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way. It was only a day, he could look after a kid for a day. Lots of people looked after kids for far longer. He pulled the blanket that Peter was wrapped in up over his shoulders. "I'll get something cool for your forehead alright? Try to get some rest."

Peter shook his head and reached out a hand, making a gripping motion. "Pegwet."

"What?" Steve wondered.

"Pigwet."

"Piglet?" Steve asked. He could remember Winnie the Pooh and the characters. "Where is he?"

Peter pointed down the hallway wordlessly, then looked at Analise. "Help?"

Analise licked Morgana's head gently and stood up. Analise had been curled around the smaller daemon, who was currently shaped like a miserable looking puppy with big, sad, brown eyes. "Come on, soldier."

Steve followed Analise down the hallway, stopping in the bathroom to wet a washcloth with cool water. He met Analise at a door further down. Steve turned the handle for her and he stayed in the hallway. But the room was adorable. The walls were red and the room was neatly chaotic. Everything was put away for the most part, but there were some clothes on the floor and a Lego project left half-done. It was shaping up to be a really large city. Along the walls there were bookshelves, stuffed full. There was a TV stand with a gaming console of some sort on it, Steve knew that much but couldn't tell what it was. On it though was a sticky note with Tony's handwriting.

'No more than one hour on weekdays, kid! JARVIS will shut it down!'

Analise pounced on the bed with blue covers and dug through the messy blankets until she emerged with a stuffed animal in her mouth, gently. She hopped back down and led Steve back to Peter. She put her front paws up on the couch and held out the toy to Peter.

He took it gently and then pulled it close to his chest, snuggling in.

Steve smiled. Peter was adorable, even sick out of his mind. And he was a snuggler, just like his dad. Steve gently put the wet washcloth over Peter's forehead. "Get some rest, kiddo."

Peter was breathing a bit too quick, but he closed his eyes and his body went limp with sleep quickly.

Steve went to the kitchen and began making soup from scratch. He made sure to cut all of the vegetables up into small pieces, knowing just how little energy he'd had when he got sick as a kid. He decided on his mother's chicken and rice soup. It was easy to eat, warm, broth-y, and perfect for sick days. Plus, the cook time would allow for Peter to get in a little nap.

Steve made sure to use care going through the kitchen. He wanted to be quiet for Peter and to not be obviously invasive. He had little choice, because he couldn't just leave the child to go and make food on his own floor, but he could try to not just dig through everything. He used only what he needed and put it all back where it had been before. He kept an eye on Peter. Between chopping carrots, he'd looked up at the kid. He'd slid down onto the couch and was snoring softly, his mouth wide open. His chest rose and fell a little too rapidly for restful sleep, but Steve expected that.

He started the carrots, celery, and onions to sauté, then walked over to Peter. The washcloth had warmed. He pulled it off and gently put his hand on Peter's forehead. He was still a little warm, but not alarmingly so. Steve went and soaked the cloth again and draped it over his head again.

Steve returned to his work, flipping the chicken in it's pan, before stirring the vegetables in the pot. He added broth and rice to the vegetables, then paused. He couldn't hear Peter's labored breathing. "Peter?" Steve asked.

Peter didn't answer.

Steve walked to the sofa. Peter's eyes were wide, panicked. He waved and then pressed his hands to his chest. His chest was trying to move and his throat was making small crackling noises, but his chest wasn't rising. He couldn't breathe. "Hey, hey, you're alright." Steve helped Peter sit up and began to pat the boy's back.

It took a few pats, but Peter coughed hard then sucked in a few rapid breaths.

"You're alright, you're alright, breath, kiddo." Steve soothed, but damn his heart was pounding. It was worse than being on a damn battlefield. Tony's son had just stopped breathing. Steve rubbed Peter's sternum. "We're going to have to make sure you stay propped up, so everything moves the way it should." Steve remembered times when mucus got stuck in his lungs. It had been the scariest feeling, not being able to breathe. "It's okay."

Morgana leapt into Peter's arms and he squeezed her tightly. "I's 'appened bifore. Scary."

"It is scary." Steve agreed. "You want to stay up? Soup is almost done."

"Scared to seep, might 'appen 'gain." Peter's voice sounded hoarse, painful. Probably raw because of the coughing fits he'd had.

"Okay." Steve nodded. What did kids do in the future when they were sick? Movies? Music? "Do you want a movie on or something?"

Peter nodded and pointed to Piglet.

"Winnie the Pooh?"

Peter smiled faintly, tiredly.

"Uh, JARVIS, could you put on Winnie the Pooh?"

"Certainly, Captain. I believe Master Stark's favorite is The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Should I start that?"

"Yes, please." The TV clicked on and a movie began to play. "I'll have soup in a little bit, kiddo. Try to stay sitting up, okay? It'll help you breathe easier."

Peter nodded with a look that clearly stated he'd obey those words religiously.

Steve sighed and went back to the kitchen. He brewed tea as he waited for the rice to fully cook. He'd had to really dig to find tea, so far that he was pretty sure it was for Pepper. It was mint tea so he just added a little honey to it and a couple ice cubes. When he was pleased with the temperature, he took the mug to Peter. It was Peter's favorite mug, it said: Carry On My (Awesome) Son. Mugs, were apparently a sign of affection in the Stark house. Peter had hand-made Tony's favorite mug, or at least altered it so it had lettering affected by the heat.

Steve took the mug to Peter and he took a sip, then smiled.

"Danks."

"You're welcome." Steve sat at the end of the sofa and shook his head. Morgana was basically smothered between Grace and Analise, but Morgana didn't seem at all upset by it. Steve let himself focus on the cartoon and actually found himself fond of it. It was cute and childish and nothing bad seemed to happen, which were all great qualities. Maybe Tony had a point about Steve liking escapism.

"Pigwet's my favorite. Daddy likes Twigger."

"I liked Kanga, growing up. She reminds me of my mom." Steve said.

"Mm." Peter hummed. "I don' go' a mommy. She di'n' wan' me."

Steve froze and looked at Peter with wide eyes. The boy just delivered a gut-punch without looking even a little bit worn by it, as if he'd come to except that someone could live with not wanting. As if he believed he was unwantable to begin with.

"S'okay. I go' da bes' daddy ever." Peter smiled. "I's why I don' trus' yoo so mudch."

Steve blinked at Peter. It was so strange, though. Looking at the way Morgana, Analise, and Grace were and then seeing the distance Peter put up between them.

"'gana trusts yoo. I wanna, bu' 'm scared."

Steve took a breath. "I don't dislike you, Peter, not at all. You're a good kid. If I'm honest, I just don't know how to deal with kids very well. To be honest, I'm a bit scared of you. But if you're worried about me not liking you or treating you wrong. I wouldn't do that."

Peter shook his head.

Morgana got up, sluggish and tired. She nuzzled against Analise, then jumped onto the sofa. She pawed at Peter then huffed and sat, still looking like a miserable puppy. "We've seen too much, is what Peter means. I've known, ever since we were little. Dad's parents, who should have loved him, hurt him. His friends his entire life used him. We know it, we see it. He gets so sad sometimes...we don't like seeing him sad." Morgana frowned. Peter's eyes watered and she climbed up to him, snuggling against his chest.

"We were dere..." Peter sniffled.

"Has dad told you about Obadiah?" Morgana asked.

"Only that he was a business partner who was selling weapons to terrorists and...well wanted to use the Iron Man concept for his own purposes." Steve said.

Peter's eyes hardened and Morgana suddenly shifted into a bobcat.

"Obadiah was his friend, the one who tried to talk dad's dad down from hitting him. But all this time, Obadiah was a snake, just like his daemon." Morgana snapped. "He came to our home. Someone our dad trusted came to our home and tore the arc reactor out of his chest. He kidnapped us and left our daddy to die."

Steve froze. Peter, a child, had watched a family friend pull the thing that kept his father alive out of his chest. Peter had watched someone who was supposed to be on their side betray them. It made sense that Peter would take time warming up. "Peter, Morgana, I'd never... I love your father."

"Obie said that too." Morgana said, then shifted into a fox. She looked at Grace and Analise. "But I know Grace and I know Analise. You two are so close, so comfortable with each other. I know you're not against dad. Peter'll take a little bit. He doesn't hate you and we don't think you hate us, but he's scared...and a bit jealous. We're not used to daddy paying attention to other people like that..."

"Hey!" Peter protested, then began to cough uncontrollably.

Steve gently patted Peter's back until Peter could breathe again. "Peter, I'm not going to get between you and your dad. I don't ever want that. And I know. I'm not going to try to take him away. You and Tony are a package deal, I know that."

"And wha' 'appens when yoo wanna family?"

"Aren't I already getting one? I mean...if you'd want that. You're a good kid, Peter, and if I'm being honest I already care a great deal for you and I've barely known you a month and a half."

"But I'll never be yours."

"Not unless you want to be." Steve answered with a nod. "Let me tell you. I had a brother named Bucky, but he and I didn't share a single drop of blood, and I loved him as a brother, I still love him and I always will. What makes you think that I couldn't love you as family too?"

Peter blinked and narrowed his eyes. "I have a grea' daddy."

"I know you do, the best. And if you don't ever view me in that light, it's up to you, but...to be quite honest I can already feel...something that seems parental toward you." Steve shook his head. "None of this is coming out right. I'm not here to replace anyone, I'm not here to overstep. I don't want to make you uncomfortable and I certainly don't want to hurt you or Tony, ever. I just hope one day we can be on better terms, at the very least, I hope you can trust me one day." Steve smiled gently. "Can we at least agree on soup for now?"

Peter had a strange look on his face, but he nodded.

Steve got up to grab a bowl of soup for Peter, but he didn't miss the fact that Morgana had buried herself against Grace. Steve didn't really know how to be a family. The whole idea both made him happy and terrified, but he loved Tony and he was already starting to feel love bloom in his chest for Peter. He'd never been a parent, but he was certain that this concern, this protectiveness came with the package. It seemed Grace had had the loving instinct for a while and Morgana did too... It just seemed that the humans needed get in line with their daemons. Steve had to admit, Grace was right about these things more often then not, and she absolutely adored Morgana.

Steve needed time to get used to this, he wouldn't judge at all if Peter needed time as well.

-

Tony stepped off the elevator and came to a halt. Steve was sitting up on the couch, holding Peter upright as he slept. It was a bit shocking. "What happened while I was gone?"

Steve turned and smiled gently. "He fell asleep lying flat and had a hard time breathing. He was afraid if he fell asleep he'd lay flat again and have it happen again. So I'm holding him up. He's a squirmy little guy."

"Always has been." Tony walked forward and kissed Peter's forehead, then Steve's. "Is he alright?"

"Sick is never fun, but he's okay. He's a tough little guy."

"Thank you, so much, Steve." Tony leaned his head against Steve's. "Did you two bond at all?"

"I think we came to a mutual agreement."

"And what's that?"

"We're both scared."

"So silly." Analise rolled her eyes and bopped Grace and Morgana with a paw. "The both of you boys, idiots."

"Be nice, Ana." Tony sighed.

"What? You're the biggest of the idiots."

"I think I do pretty alright for myself." Tony sighed. "I'll go get changed, and get you boys something to eat."

"Okay, I'll stay with him, he's finally sleeping well."

"How many hours of cartoons have you watched?"

"They haven't stopped since yesterday. But I'm quite fond of Winne the Pooh."

"Me too." Tony smiled and ruffled Peter's hair. "I'll be back, my boys."

Chapter Text

Magnolia reached out and traced the letters, her eyes closed. She couldn't look at them, but she could feel the ridges, maybe it would help. It was her routine. She didn't get to talk to her dad until she read his name, actually read it. "C. H. Um...A. S. E. Chase...just like me." Magnolia opened her eyes and frowned. "I'm sorry. I'm not getting better at reading, Dad. Momma tries, but she gets frustrated. She doesn't have your patience. She thinks I'm lying sometimes, when I say I don't know. She can't tell the way you could. She's doing okay...she goes to a group therapy thing, she's there now. It's all for people who've lost loved ones, for them to talk. I still go to my therapist. She's nice. You'd like her.

"Mom's at group so I snuck out of the house. I don't like being there. Lots of officers come by to check in. It's loud. I've always liked it quiet. I miss the quiet. You and I could be quiet together. Momma's always got to talk." Magnolia looked at Thomas and he nodded. "I sat at the wrong grave last week, on accident. It took me a few minutes. I saw the daemon coin, it was a sheepdog, not a wolf so...that's when I found out. I was so stressed that I couldn't find you, because I couldn't even think of letters anymore. I'm sorry."

"He'd forgive you, he forgives honesty." Thomas assured her, resting on her shoulders as a mouse.

"Yeah, he did." She nodded. "I've been working on that. They want me to use past tense when I talk about you. I'm trying. It's hard sometimes." She drew her knees to her chest and rested her chin on them. She could feel the damp grass over his gravesite making her pants wet, but she didn't care. It would still be an hour before her mom started heading home and she needed her quiet time with her father. "I miss you a lot. Every day. I sometimes with I could lay down here with you and just stay and not get up. I told my therapist that, she didn't like it too much, I could tell by her face. Sometimes I get angry at you too, for not listening to me, but you went and you saved someone so, I guess that's what matters." She looked down at the watch on her wrist, it was clean now. "I can't read the numbers, but it's yours and I like having part of you with me. I know some things about it though, like every tick is a second. I know the big hand goes around and around faster than the little hand. I know how to tell when it's been an hour, but it takes me a while to read it properly. I'll work on it, I promise." She took a few breaths. "Maybe we can have some quiet time? I think I'd like that."

It was a short time later when the silence was broken by a stick snapping. Magnolia didn't turn, she didn't need to. She wasn't in any trouble, she'd be able to tell if she was.

"Would it be a bother if I joined you, sweetie?" An older man's voice asked. It was weird, he sounded British.

She turned and looked at the man in the wheelchair. "It's okay. Did you know Officer Chase?"

"I knew Mr. Chase, he went to my school for a time, a lovely young man. I was sorry to hear he passed." The man rolled closer and looked on quietly. On his lap he had a hare daemon, who looked somber. "You look like him, are you related?"

"I'm his daughter, Magnolia, he called me Maggie." She held out her hand then narrowed her eyes. There was something in her mind, like a tickle. "What are you doing?"

"Sorry, you call tell, your father could too." He shook her hand gently. "You take after your father in more ways than one."

"Well, sorta. He always said I was like Grandma Rosie, but I've never met her.... She's a witch, but it skipped his generation. I wish it hadn't." Magnolia frowned. Maybe then he would have been able to heal from the bullet that killed him.

"No, I mean you're gifted. I have a school for gifted children."

"I'm not that sort of gifted. Dad was smart and gifted, I'm only called gifted because that's the polite way to say special ed."

"Dyslexia, hardly a massive deal, and not the gifting I was speaking of."

"How do you know about the...?" The tickle was back in her head.

"I can read minds, it's a mutation. Much the way your father could always tell wen someone was lying...among other things. It seems you have a mutation. You don't seem aware of it yet...well, not all of it."

"Like how I can tell when something bad is going to happen?"

"Exactly." He smiled kindly. "Collin and I, here, teach at a school meant to help children like you. We taught your father for a few years, before he decided to come back to New York." He frowned. "You would get in, we accept everyone, even people who are struggling...especially them."

He looked so kind and genuine and Magnolia didn't feel even a bit of danger around him, though the tickling in her brain was annoying.

"Apologies, I stay out of your mind, my dear." He raised a hand placatingly. Then he dug into his pocket. "I meant to come here and pay my respects, but the least I can do is offer this as well." He held out a card. "This is the phone number to my school, someone will always answer, day or night. If you ever need help, for anything, gifted or not, you can call us. I find that it's usually right around the teen years, you'll start to understand why you can feel the bad things coming before they happen...and we'll be able to help you with that...and the other things too. Your father would have liked that, you getting at chance to go to his school. He always liked it."

"He said it was his favorite place, aside from home." Magnolia agreed and took the card. "I can't read this though."

"Yes you can, it just takes you a little longer, that's all." He smiled gently. "I'll leave you to your peace and quiet. I just thought I'd say hello to a friend. Take care of yourself, Magnolia."

"What's your name, Mr.?"

"Xavier, Charles Xavier. It was lovely to meet you, Magnolia Chase. I hope next time our meeting will be under better circumstances." The man rolled away.

Magnolia felt something turn in her gut. It didn't come from Mr. Xavier though, it came from a source she couldn't place. "No, next time we meet will be sad too. Or...scary, I can't tell."

-

Peter flopped his head back on May's couch. May was in the kitchen, burning something while Malik laughed at her feeble attempts at food prep. Ben was due home any minute. Peter was just glad he'd finished his homework. It had been boring, especially compared to the math problems his dad gave him. The news was playing quietly. Peter only half listened to it. Morgana played idly on the floor with Analise. It was something Morgana did, whenever Tony had to make a speech. Analise usually got so unnerved by the pressure that Morgana stepped in to take her mind off of it.

Then Analise went stiff and jumped back. She took a labored breath and then began to pace.

"Ana, are you okay?" Morgana asked worriedly.

"Something's happening. I'm not...hurt, not really, but I'm...scared in a different way than a speech. And, there's something heavy on me. Right where the reactor is. I kinda want to lay down."

"Maybe something on the news." Peter sat up and flipped through the news stations, but there was nothing, and then the emergency bulletin went out on the TV. Peter watched as his dad cracked a joke on stage, then Tony went oddly still, his eyes darting around the room the way he did when there might be a threat.

"Everyone get down!" His dad's voice shouted in warning, his eyes narrowing on something out of sight of the camera.

Suddenly Steve Rogers, not dressed as Captain America, launched himself onto the stage from behind the curtain. He'd been acting as Tony's body guard for the occasion and he must've taken that role literally, because when the bomb went off, Peter watched the larger blonde wrap Tony in his arms and take the brunt of the blast before the ceiling caved in on both of them. The camera shook like mad, but Peter caught sight of Grace running toward whatever his father had seen off camera, looking very angry and powerful.

The clip ended and the news anchors began to speculate as to the cause of the bombing and why the conference or Tony Stark had been targeted.

"Dad?" At least this time Analise wasn't bleeding Dust.

-

Tony laughed at his own joke and opened his mouth to continue his lecture, but then he saw something, someone out of place. The pin on their jacket was familiar though and they had a remote in there hand. 'Bomb.' Tony realized. If he was the target then the audience would be in trouble too. "Everyone get down!" Tony's eyes flicked to Steve's.

Steve was already running, as if he'd gotten Tony's vibe before he'd said anything. "Go get him, Grace, I've got Tony, go!"

Tony heard the shout just before he heard the bomb explode. Steve's arms wrapped around him and Tony hit the ground with a huff, Steve was holding himself up over him as concrete fell from above. Everything went dark, and Tony felt something warm dripping on him. And there was pressure on his arc reactor, enough to make him squirm. The dim light through his suit was enough to reassure him it was still running, but he couldn't see by it.

"Y-you alright, darlin'?" Steve's voice shook as he strained, obviously holding the weight of the concrete that had fallen on them, because Tony didn't feel any weight on him at all, save for the pressure on the reactor that ached, but that was nothing considering what could have fallen on him.

"Yeah, shit that went sideways fast. Quick on your feet as usual." Tony sighed, still unable to see, so he reached out a little bit and touch Steve gently. The light grew between them and Tony lifted his head as much as he could. "Jesus!" Steve was hovering over him, almost in a push-up position. He bore a crushing weight on his back. His head was bleeding and sticking through his chest was rebar. The piece of metal went through Steve and stopped right above the reactor. If Steve hadn't been there, Tony'd have another hole in his chest, one he wouldn't survive. "Steve, you're..."

"In a little pain, been through worse." Steve said through gritted teeth. "I think I can get this off, there isn't too much."

"If you jostle that though, what happens to you?" Tony asked.

"Guess that means it has to come out first, right?" Steve grimaced.

"Wait, don't do anything, just give me a second. JARVIS, you still there, buddy?"

"Always, sir."

"Call for emergency medical, one of mine."

"Yes, sir. Estimated arrival four point five minutes."

"Thank you, how long does he have before he bleeds out if we take that out?"

"I detect no vital organs hit, however, it needs to go out the way it came in or I fear major internal damage will be done."

"I like JARVIS, have I told you that?" Steve asked. "How do we get it out the way it came in? I don't really have that kind of leverage right now."

"How about we put something to the test?" Tony asked after a moment of consideration.

"What is that?"

"This." Tony nodded to the light around them. Everyone always said soul mates got stronger when they were close to each other. Nobody had cracked it as to how it happened, but maybe it was some sort of shared strength. "You're going to have to trust me."

"I do, shellhead. I'll keep this off you, you get that thing out of my chest."

"Okay, just like operation. Be glad I have steady hands." Tony took a deep breath and grabbed the metal.

"You won't hurt me, it's okay."

Tony tried to push it, but it wouldn't budge. He shook his head, he needed to do this, to get them both out, because if someone tried to shift everything from above without knowing how Steve had been skewered, then they'd probably kill him. He needed this to work to protect Steve. The light between them condensed around Tony and he felt a surge of strength. He pushed and the metal lifted, along with some concrete above. He moved his hand over Steve's back and gripped the bar where it came out, pulling carefully and quickly. The bar came free and as soon as it did, Steve moved and hoisted the metal and concrete off of them.

Steve staggered and Tony shot upright to grab him. The light faded from around Tony and he quickly helped Steve lay back and put pressure on the bleeding hole in his chest. "That was fun."

"I thought only I made jokes at bad times." Tony laughed and looked around. It didn't appear that anyone else had been hurt too badly. A few people here and there cradled broken limbs and bleeding cuts, but at least he didn't find any mangled bodies. "You okay?"

"I've had worse." Steve smiled. "Sorry, I got you all covered in blood."

"It's okay. I'll forgive you. I didn't like this suit anyway." Tony grinned back.

Grace slinked up and sat next to them. Her chest had a faint glow of Dust, but it wasn't a fatal wound, Tony could tell, and it put him at ease. Grace casually licked blood from her fur. "I stopped the baddie. He's unconscious over there, I told the first responders about it. You look like a squashed bug, Steve. Pick on too many bullies?"

"In my defense it was a really big ceiling." Steve laughed, then groaned. "Shit, that hurts. I'm...I'm tired."

"Just stay awake for a few more minutes, okay? Help's almost here." Tony soothed.

Grace straightened. "He'll be fine. He can take a nap."

"Grace-" Tony protested.

Grace rolled her eyes. "I would know if he was dying. He's not. He's just lost some blood. He can sleep it off. We'll have him somewhere safe soon enough, I can hear the helicopter. I suspect it's yours, given the response time."

"Well, yeah, good instincts." Tony shrugged. "You can take a nap, I suppose. Grace and I will keep watch, okay?"

"Alright." Steve sighed and passed out.

-

Tony sat outside the semi-improvised ER in Stark Tower. Sure they had a medical floor and a few medical research labs, but they weren't used to getting emergency patients, even though qualified. He'd have to get a staff, what with him and Steve always out fighting crimes and coming back bloody. He sat in his chair and leaned against the wall, staring down the hallway as people moved. He needed to give these people a raise. They hadn't been expecting it and they were still handling taking care of an injured super hero like a fucking boss.

"You've got blood on your chest, are you okay?"

Tony jumped and turned to the chair next to him that had suddenly become occupied. "Peter?"

"Are you okay? I saw the news."

"I'm fine, it's Steve's blood. I'm, I'm okay." Tony sighed. "Wait, how are you here?"

"Aunt May dropped me off at home when we got the news you were okay. I snuck out to come and find you."

"You could have been seen." Tony stood up and grabbed Peter's hand, dragging him into the nearest empty room. "Did anyone see you?"

"No, I'm okay. People...sort of looked the other way, actually, it was weird, wasn't it Morgana?"

"Mmhm." She nodded.

"Wait a minute..." Tony breathed. Peter had snuck away from Happy somehow. He'd appeared out of nowhere in a seat next to Tony without him even noticing. "Oh my God..."

"What is it?"

Tony sighed in relief and yanked Peter into a warm hug. His baby boy was a witch. Under duress he'd managed to walk past everyone without them seeing him. He'd finally presented as a witch. His son was going to have a very long life. Tony wouldn't have to live a long life without his baby boy, without his everything. "I love you."

"Waaaaiiiit! Does this mean I'm a witch like you? Awesome! Do you know how many cookies I can sneak after dinner now?"

"Peter, you gave it away!" Morgana hissed petulantly.

"No sneaking cookies, Mr...but I'm so freaking happy right now."

"Yeah, well, your shirt smells like blood and it's kinda gross."

"Oh, sorry." Tony pulled away and ruffled his boy's hair.

"Um...I saw Captain Rogers protect you...is he okay?" Peter's eyes were actually watery, despite of the joy he'd just had in them.

"Yeah, they're stitching him up, he got uh...sorta stabbed a little. He's going to be fine. He's a super hero. Grace doesn't even look scratched."

"When he's better, can I see him with you?"

"Yeah, bud, you can." Tony nodded.

-

Steve woke up to Grace resting her face on his abs. "Hey, girl." He gently itched her ears and she purred.

"Captain Rogers?"

Steve turned his head to the side and his eyes widened. Peter was sitting in a chair next to his bed. "Bud, you should be at home."

"It's okay, no one saw me. Turns out I'm like daddy." Peter shrugged, idly petting Morgana, she was a tabby cat at the moment.

"You're dad will be really happy about that...and you can call me Steve, kiddo."

"Okay, Mr. Steve..." Peter said.

"That's not what I meant, but that works."

"Daddy's upstairs changing and showering. He should be down soon. We thought you'd sleep longer."

"Pain killers and sedatives don't really do much for me." Steve shrugged, wincing a little at the pull in the stitches. They'd be fine by tomorrow, he'd endure it.

Peter sat up straight, suddenly looking very business-like. "You saved my dad."

"Of course I did, Peter, what else could I do?"

"You could have been killed."

"I could take it better than he could." Steve barely avoided shrugging again.

"Dad would be very sad if you got killed. Don't make my dad sad."

Steve laughed and winced. "I can't win with you kid, can I?" He was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.

Peter got up and walked forward. Morgana paced at his feet, less in worry, more in excitement. Peter stood on his toes and leaned forward. He gently kissed Steve's head, the same way Steve had seen Tony kiss Peter's head when he wasn't well. Peter leaned back. "I don't know what you are and I don't know how you'll end up feeling about me, but I know I can trust you with my daddy, so that makes you some sort of family, Steve. Just don't know which kind yet."

Steve froze, not knowing what to say. "Kid-"

The door opened and Tony walked in, Analise at his feet. "Oh, you're awake, you feeling okay?" He strode forward and kissed Steve's forehead, the same, gentle press of lips Peter had just used, kind and caring.

"He's alright." Peter nodded.

"Thank you, Dr. Peter." Tony grinned and ruffled Peter's hair. "Really, though, how are you?"

"I'm fine. Kinda want to go home to my own bed."

"Just woke up and already wants out..." Grace huffed. "Yup, Steve's fine, this is how he always is."

"Dad's the same way." Peter whispered.

"Oh, and you aren't? Thin ice, kid." Tony warned teasingly. "I think I can convince my staff to let you go home, it's only a few floors anyway. I gotta ask, though, is that gown backless?" Tony winked.

"You are horrible." Steve made a face.

"Why would that matter?" Peter wondered.

Analise sighed heavily. "Adult stuff, Peter, please ignore them."

"Okay, adults are weird anyway." Peter shrugged. "Do you want me to sneak back upstairs?"

"I'll go with you, to make sure they don't see you, okay? And don't run away from Happy like that, you nearly gave him a heart attack, but I'll forgive you this one time."

"Okay." Peter nodded. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Steve."

Tony paused and looked at Steve. 'Steve?' He mouthed at his soul mate.

'New thing, I think it's good.' Steve mouthed back.

"Yeah, I agree." Tony said, both to Peter and Steve.

Chapter Text

Peter lay on the ground with his feet in the air. Tony sat next to him and Steve was across from him.

"Like this?" Steve asked.

Peter examined the building Steve was creating with his Legos and wrinkled his brow, trying to find something to say. "It's...um...good?"

"Yeah, good, except it belongs in a completely different era. I mean, this is New York 1999, Cap, not Hill Valley 1885. The whole feng shui is off now." Tony said in a dead pan.

"Shit, there are rules to this? I thought we were just building."

Tony covered Peter's ears. "Whoa, language, Cap, little ears present."

"Sorry Peter." Steve said sheepishly.

"Dad says worse, but you did kinda go off theme." Peter wrinkled his nose.

"I didn't realize there was a theme, I just found this cool door in the box and I though, why not a saloon?" Steve looked at his creation with pursed lips.

Tony and Peter burst out laughing. "You're fine, Steve, there's no theme. Dad's obviously building his tower, I'm building something from LA, and I had this idea to build an alien spaceship. Anything goes. It's actually nice...except the door's off center." Peter grinned at Steve.

"You two are horrible." Steve sighed. "Here I was thinking I ruined it. So, where's Hill Valley? Is it some place you two have been to? Is it one of those preserved towns?"

Tony and Peter shared a look and began to laugh uncontrollably. "I know what movie night is!" Peter said as soon as he caught his breath.

"Yup, me too." Tony nodded.

"Sir, the package that you ordered has arrived. I'm sending it up now."

"Thank you, JARVIS." Tony called, standing up and going to the elevator. Analise jumped up from her place with Grace and Morgana and began to practically dance around Tony's feet.

"What are you so excited about?" Peter asked. "Did you get something for a new suit? Dad, you're supposed to tell me these things, we work on that suit together."

"You only get five percent of my suit, Peter."

"Five?" Peter pouted.

"Fine, six, and I'm being very generous, Mister." Tony commented. "No, this is for us, not any suit." The doors on the elevator opened and Tony leaned down to pick up the two thin black cases on the ground. Tony smiled and walked back to Peter, sitting with him.

"Do you want me to head out?" Steve asked.

"No, you're fine." Tony nodded before he handed one case over to Peter. "I've had this reserved for a long time, hoping...well, just hoping. And I lost mine back at MIT so mine needed to be replaced, not that I'll use it much, given I have a suit, but I think you might want it."

"Is this real?" Peter asked, holding the box tenderly in his hands, but not opening it. "How did you get it?"

"Cloud-pine is very hard to get, but not impossible. Go ahead."

Peter opened his box and found a simple bracelet within. It was red and woven neatly of a strong fiber.

"I know someone who makes simple jewelry out of the fibers in the branches. It should be fine in a pinch."

"How do you do it?" Peter asked, gently touching the bracelet.

Tony looked puzzled. "It's like going unseen. You have to want to, but not rush it, don't force it, it'll happen." Tony shrugged and put on a very simple brown bracelet around his own wrist. "I haven't actually done this sense college. You know I think I was drunk the last time, I'm probably better at steering a suit." He laughed, then his body lifted off the ground by a few feet. "It's like riding a bike or fixing an engine, you don't forget." He lowered back down.

Peter took his bracelet in his hand and Tony gently fastened it for him. "Can I try?"

"Yeah, there are going to be some rules for your new gifts, but yeah, go ahead." Tony smiled proudly.

Nothing happened for a moment.

"Breathe, Peter."

Peter relaxed and lifted into the air. Morgana shot up after him, becoming a blue jay and flying around him. Peter giggled as he neared the ceiling, then his eyes widened. "Uh, how do I get down?"

"Think grounded thoughts." Tony shrugged.

Then Peter began to fall with a shriek.

Tony caught him before he could hit the ground. "Not that grounded. More like floating, less like falling, kid." Tony chuckled and kissed Peter's cheek. "Let's only use the flying for emergencies, okay or under supervision."

"Okay."

"And no sneaking out of the house or anywhere else for that matter." Tony added.

"Oookaaaay." Peter huffed and hugged his dad. "Does this mean I have to go to that place?"

Tony froze and set Peter on the floor.

Morgana turned into a fawn and buried herself in Peter's arms, obviously terrified. "I don't want you to go. Please don't go, Peter."

"What place?" Steve asked.

Tony looked at Steve. "I can go as far as I want from Analise because I went there. There's this place no daemon can set foot in. I had no choice, my mother took me there when I was a baby."

"It was..." Analise frowned. "It was painful, terrifying, but I'd say worth it. It's nothing you should do when you're young."

"You're not going to make him go?" Morgana asked.

Tony shook his head. "No, never. It's something you two need to decide to do. If you think you want the ability to have space like Grace and I. For me and her it helps, but it comes at a price too. It's for you to decide. I've known some who never do it, who never fly, who never go invisible. It's for you to decide."

"Thank you, dad..." Morgana whispered and shifted into a cat. She remained snuggled close to Peter though.

"I won't let you go until your at least thirteen though, that's the rules and I will go with you. I'm not sending you there alone."

Analise nodded in agreement with Tony.

Steve couldn't imagine the willpower it took to go somewhere a daemon couldn't. When he was a kid seven feet was pushing it, he always wanted his daemon close and any further than that became uncomfortable, borderline painful. Now, when Grace went long distances away he felt a different pain, less physical and more emotional, but it was still there. He didn't understand it all, but witches had their own customs, he supposed. If the serum hadn't allowed him and Grace the strength to withstand being separated, he never would have asked for the ability. It just seemed...wrong.

"We'll talk about it." Peter whispered and pulled Morgana closer.

"I won't ask, if you ever want to talk about it, just...go ahead." Tony leaned forward and kissed Peter's forehead. "You have no idea how happy I am."

"You thought you might have to live without us, didn't you?" Morgana asked, her voice muffled by Peter's shirt.

"Yeah..." Tony and Analise sighed.

"Nah, we're stickin' around to bother you forever." Peter smirked. "So...can I build a spaceship and beam up your unknowing citizens now?"

"Please do."

"I don't know, I think my saloon looks pretty sturdy." Steve said as he idly put on some finishing touches.

"Maybe the saloon has a force field or something." Peter agreed with a shrug as he started to build something round and green. "And, Dad, I'm glad too, but that flying thing is kinda scary."

Tony laughed. "Yeah, the first few times it is. I hope you know that superheroes live in my tower and they'll stop all baddies from beaming up innocents."

"Bring it on." Peter challenged.

-

Peter sighed and conceded that their Lego game was probably a draw. The saloon had some sort of energy shield, so all the civilians went there to hide, but now was so overrun by people that the supplies had dwindled and the people resorted to cannibalism to survive the apocalypse. The tower, though now demolished by aliens, had sent out two fighters that had disabled the spaceship, and apparently LA had been destroyed up by a completely unrelated and unexpected tidal wave. The game had really gone sideways, and very dark, at some point. He yawned and stretched.

"Sleepy?"

"Mm-hm. I think I'll go to bed early." Peter commented.

"Night, kid." Steve smiled.

"Goodnight, Steve, Grace." Peter waved as he got up.

"I love you, bambino." Tony pressed a gentle kiss to Peter's curls.

"I'll head out. It's getting late."

"You always leave when I do." Peter sighed. "It's okay, you know? You can stay here. I know you want to. Is it an adult dating thing? Whatever, it's fine."

Tony scoffed under his breath and covered his mouth to stop himself from laughing or telling an inappropriate joke. Analise nipped at his hand with a pout on her face.

"Thank you, Peter."

"Goodnight, Steve." Peter shrugged. "Goodnight, daddy." Peter hugged Tony tight before he and Morgana headed for their room.

"Um...that's new." Tony commented. This wasn't a line Peter had ever blurred. Steve never got to stay if Peter wasn't there to watch and Steve had really been good about it, never putting up any protest. Tony had really appreciated that about Steve. The super soldier basically let a six-year-old boss him around, just because he wanted the kid to feel comfortable around him.

"He's been different since the explosion." Grace said. "Morgana has been too, they've been closer, less guarded."

"He said he trusted me with you." Steve added.

Tony turned sharply. "He said what?"

"Yeah, I was shocked too. I don't think he quite trusts me with him yet, but he said he trusts me to look after you, to not hurt you."

Tony opened his mouth and closed it again. "That's a big damn deal, Steve. I don't mean to brag or anything, but I'm his favorite person...like ever."

"I thought so too. I think he still thinks I'll reject him or something, but he seemed to get that idea from his mom, I think?"

Tony sighed heavily and shook his head. "Yeah, that's a fear he's got rooted in him now. That he's disposable, easy to give up. His self-esteem really took a hit. I try to help where I can, because he's so smart and sweet and kind and just the best son anyone could ask for, but he can't see it. I don't know how to help with that. I tried to explain that she wasn't ready for kids, but he's always tried to logic around it. He thinks that he was a 'mistake' (which, I prefer happy accident, myself) or that his mom wanted a 'real' family with her 'real' husband."

"That explains why he can get so timid." Steve realized. "I wouldn't do that to him, you know? Even if we did decide to adopt or, whatever, I'd never treat him as less than your son."

"That's the problem, though." Tony sighed.

"What is?"

"My son. He's already made a million connections in his head. He already knows that 99.9% of known romantic soul mates marry. He's miles ahead of us. He's already got it figured that we're going to be married, and he believes he's always going to have to live with the fact that he's MY son and that you'll always only see him as MY son, a separate entity only lumped into the family because of genetics, not love or genuine care. He's convinced himself that most couples have children and would do anything to protect their own children and he believes he could never be 'ours' only mine. Yet he says he trusts you with me, even though he thinks our being together will eventually phase him out of the picture. That kid, so fucking selfless. JARVIS, mental note that whatever Peter asks for next, within reason, he gets, he's just so fucking good." Peter didn't often ask for things, but Tony'd make sure to go above and beyond the next time. Peter deserved it. His son was scared of being left lonely and still trying to be kind and giving, that deserved a reward.

"Noted, sir."

Steve shook his head. "I wonder where he gets that from?" He asked rhetorically.

"I have no idea, he's too damn good for this world."

"Tony, I know I probably don't help him much. I don't know how to be fatherly even a little bit. And I don't want to step on anyone's toes."

"Both of you are idiots." Analise huffed, jumping onto the table and sitting, wrapping her tail around her. "Peter can't see himself as a son, Steve can't see himself as a father, but you both are so figure it out already."

"It's not easy as all that, Ana." Tony chided. "It took me a long time to figure out this father-thing and I'm still learning, everyday." Then Tony paused and looked at Steve. "Step on my toes? I'm a futurist, Steve. I knew from the moment our hands met that someday you'd be a part of my family and that that would mean having to share my baby with another parent. I knew that. And damnit, my son deserves two loving parents, because sometimes I feel like I'm just not enough for him, no matter how much I love him. I was terrified, but I knew where this was going from the start. I've seen you with him. I trust you to never hurt him. I've seen you with him, you turn into mushy goo when he's being adorable the same why I do."

"Wait, you...what?" Steve asked, looking confused.

"One day, Cap, you're going to be that kid's father one day, I can't believe you haven't figured that out yet. We're going to have a weird family, but that doesn't make it any less a family. It's like that movie Peter loves so much: 'This is our family, little and broken, but still good.' I can see it in you around him already, you freaking panicked that one time he had an asthma attack. And that one time you had to stop hard in the car and you threw your arm out to keep him from hitting the dash and he was nowhere nearly falling that far forward, that's definitely a dad-move." Tony froze, then folded his arms over his chest. "No, uh-uh. I don't care how you feel on this one. I have one very important rule and you must stick to it."

Steve didn't seem capable of speech.

"Sorry, Steve can't speak right now. I'll take the message for him. What's the rule we have to abide by to be in this family?" Grace wondered idly, as if she'd already figured it all out (which she had, before Steve even came out of the ice).

"I get to be 'Dad.' I've been Dad since he started talking so I call dibs. You can be Pappy or Pops or Papa or fucking Mom for all I care, but I get to be Dad."

"Seems fair, right, Steve?" Grace asked, but Steve still resembled a fish, gapping in confusion. "I'll agree for him. You're definitely 'dad.'"

"We'll get the two of them there." Analise sighed. "But honestly, must we drag you boys everywhere? You're both such stereotypical men, it's gross."

Tony scoffed. "Come on, moron. I think I know how to reset your brain, or at least shut it off for a bit, then you can think yourself to death in the morning after you reboot. Come on, I don't think you've ever seen my bedroom." Tony winked.

Steve let out a sound that wasn't quite a word.

Tony grinned. "Nope, bed, sex, and sleep now, thinking later, champ."

Steve allowed himself to be steered to Tony's bedroom, his mind still reeling...then pleasantly distracted from his inner panic.

Chapter Text

Tony smiled as he woke and pressed a kiss to the back of Steve's neck. "You know I don't run at...JARVIS, what time is it?"

"Three-forty-two, sir."

"Jesus, it's too early." Tony snuggled in closer.

"I'm sorry, did I wake you up?" Steve whispered.

"You get a little shifty when you're waking up, it's okay."

"Do you mind if I ask you a question, since you're up?"

"Yeah, then you can go run like a moron and I'll get some sleep like a normal human being."

"It's a technology question."

"Ouch..." Tony sighed. "Reduced to an IT person. Go ahead, but first, have you tried turning it off and on again?"

"I don't understand what you mean by that...look, I figured out how to uh get one of those apps and download books, but for the life of me I can't get these headphones to connect."

Tony scoffed. "I bought those for you a month ago... You could've asked me, you know?"

"I thought I could figure it out, eventually, kinda like the phone, I figured that out." Steve defended.

"It's fine to ask these things. I don't mind being your IT person from time to time." Tony stretched his arm and sat up so he could see over Steve's shoulder. He walked Steve through the Bluetooth settings. "See? Now there are no strings on you."

"I got that reference." Steve turned and kissed Tony lovingly. "Thank you."

"What are you going to listen to then?"

"Audiobooks. I found some on parenting and adoption and blended families. I thought cover all the bases."

Tony smiled and kissed him. "I think I read every book on babies and parenting when I found out about Peter, so welcome to the club."

"It's almost four, I should head out."

"Okay, just don’t be too paranoid about this. It's got to be organic and every situation is different, just be prepared for change."

"Alright," Steve nodded. "Get some rest." He kissed Tony's forehead. "Come on, Gracie." The lioness snuggled against Analise for a moment more, then hopped down and followed Steve.

Tony turned and buried his head against what was now Steve's pillow. He hoped to fall asleep before the warmth left it.

-

Steve stopped by his place only to get a quick shower and change his clothes. He then tried to do one of the many things that seemed impossible, just act like everything was all normal. He went up to Tony's apartment and did the most logical thing he could think of: make breakfast. His mother had always done that, even when they hadn't had much, she always made sure breakfast was on the table right when everyone got up. He'd start with little things like that, hopefully it would help him see his own place in the lives of the Stark's as well as help Peter see that Steve wasn't going to abandon him or hate him. Steve loved the kid, though how he'd fallen so fast, he couldn't tell, perhaps it was because he was so similar to Tony.

Peter was just like Tony, except Tony had become cool and distant because of his harsh upbringing. Peter had been loved unconditionally, so he was just as smart and kind and giving, but softer, more vulnerable, and more honest with his feelings. Peter was childlike, as he should be. Perhaps that's what made him so easy to love, so easy to care for. But how in the hell did you even begin to parent?

"Breakfast, breakfast, breakfast." Steve whispered to himself.

"Calm down, you're fine." Grace soothed, laying on the floor by the table.

"Mmhm, says you, Miss I-Got-This-All-Figured-Out."

"Well, I do." Grace sighed.

"Hush, you." He put his headphones back in to listen to another chapter and began to search through the fridge. There, he found blueberries and smiled. Blueberry pancakes, bacon, and eggs, it sounded balanced enough. Peter liked pancakes, maybe it could be a good first step toward a different relationship.

Breakfast was almost done when Tony walked into the open living space. "I thought I smelled bacon."

Steve paused his book and pulled his headphones out.

"Please tell me that coffee is as black as my soul." He gestured to the pot.

"Blacker." Steve promised, pouring Tony a mug.

"You know me so well." Tony walked forward and snatched the mug. He took a sip and smiled. "I could kiss you for that."

"I wouldn't say no to that." Steve grinned.

Tony leaned over the counter and pressed a kiss to Steve's cheek. "You'll make a good wife-y." He teased good naturedly. "Maybe you need an apron."

Steve rolled his eyes. "God help me."

"If you want me out of your hair, then I'll go get a quick shower." Tony smiled. "It's a good start, babe. Peter loves breakfast." Tony took his mug and went back to his room. Their room? They hadn't really discussed it, Steve would have to ask. They'd been together for over a year, maybe it was time for that progression, but Steve would have to figure out where that line was with them.

Five minutes later, Peter shuffled down the hall, rubbing his eyes before slipping on his glasses. Morgana was on his shoulder, a kitten, fast asleep. "Dad, it smells really good. I thought you had meetings to get to today." Peter's voice was small, then he seemed to notice Steve. He stopped in his tracks, looked shocked, then understanding, then confused. "Oh, good morning, Steve. Whacha doing?"

"Breakfast. I have pancakes, bacon, and eggs, how do you like your eggs, kid?" Steve tried to ask it casually, as if this were completely normal to him. He'd seen Tony ask similar questions with ease, he could do it too, right?

"Scrambled, daddy ruins the other ones. You should see his omelets, their ugly." Peter paused as he caught a glimpse of a plate. "What is that?"

"Over easy eggs, they're my favorite."

"Dad tried that once, then he shouted words I'm not supposed to say when the yolk popped. Are they good that way?"

"Do you want to try one? I can make you one that way." Steve offered. He breathed. This was easy, it was just a conversation. A terrifying conversation, but he'd talked to villains, so one kid couldn't be that bad...right?

"Sure, I'll try anything once. Uncle Ben taught me that, he likes to try new foods." Peter walked to the fridge and looked inside, pulling out a carton of orange juice. He put it down on the counter and reached up. Steve opened the cupboard for Peter. "Ooh, let me try this." He took a slow breath and lifted off the ground, he grabbed a cup and then lowered down again, slow and steady, without even stirring the sleepy Morgana.

"You're already better at it." Steve smiled, closing the cupboards for Peter.

"I'm a fast learner...and I did some research before bed. Don't tell Dad, I'm not supposed to be on the internet before bed." Peter whispered.

Steve remembered this from his book. Be trustworthy and consistent. He was usually pretty good at both. He could keep this secret for Peter. "I won't tell, kid. I stay up late sometimes too."

"Really? You kinda seem like a stickler for rules."

"I seem that way...but sometimes doing the right thing means breaking rules-do NOT tell your dad I said that, he'd think I was trying to corrupt you or something." Steve smiled, they could do it, trade secret for secret.

Peter put a finger to his lips. "What do you stay up for?"

"Sometimes my mind won't go quiet."

"I know that feeling. You stare at the ceiling for hours and it never shuts up, it just keeps thinking." Peter nodded.

Steve paused. He wondered what thoughts kept Peter up at night, he hoped it was just that brilliant mind racing, and not sadder things keeping him up. "Yeah, just like that. Sometimes I go to the gym, smash a few punching bags or paint. Both calm me down in different ways."

"I heard you painted. I color sometimes, I've never done much painting."

"It's fun, I can show you sometime if you want. I have a studio of sorts."

"Okay." Peter shrugged. "Sounds cool."

Tony walked in with Analise at his heals. His hair was slightly wet and he was in nice dress pants, but a Metallica shirt. He didn't have his mug. "What have you been up to? Ooh, food, I like it and approve. Do you have coffee?" Tony asked like he had no clue Steve had been making food.

Steve scoffed. "Yeah, I'll get you a mug." He turned to pour Tony a mug.

"Hey, kid, how did you sleep?" Tony asked.

"Pretty good." Peter said, his voice a bit brighter, more alert. "How about you?"

"I slept fine. Looks like we get breakfast today. You wanna help out by setting the table?"

"Sure."

Steve turned and handed the mug to Tony. "Here you are."

"Thanks, babe." Tony frowned at the stack of blueberry pancakes. "How did you do that? You didn't over-brown any of them."

"It's called burning them, Dad."

"Thin ice, kid." Tony warned, raising his eyebrows at Peter.

"You just take them off before they get two dark." Steve said.

"Must take a genius to figure that out." Tony said sarcastically. He grabbed the plate of food and hauled it to the table.

Steve filled a bowl with scrambled eggs, then made one over-easy, taking it directly to Peter's plate. "There you go, see if you like it, bud."

Peter looked up and smiled shyly. "Thanks."

Steve smiled back. "You're welcome."

"Did you wash up, Mister?" Tony asked.

"Yeeees, Dad." Peter sighed a little snarky.

"Ooookaay." Tony snarked back. "Mind the tone, kid."

"I learned it from the best though." Peter said in a teasing tone.

"Fair. But you can be better." Tony nudged Peter.

"I doubt it." Peter mumbled, likely too quiet for Tony to hear, but Steve heard him loud and clear and smiled gently.

They ate in relative peace until Tony looked at his phone. "Pepper's going to be angry if I don't head out soon. You okay for a couple of hours, kid?"

"Yeah."

"I can stay with him, I'm sure we can find something to do." Steve suggested.

"Square deal, just don't ruin the house while I'm gone, troublemakers." Tony stood up and pointed to Peter. "No flying too high and no sneaking out, got it?"

"You act like I'm Rapunzel, locked in the Tower. I like it here." Peter commented.

"Yeah, and don't think I haven't noticed your interests in the labs. Be good, JARVIS won't let you into any of them. You're not allowed in them alone until you're this tall." Tony held his hand up to his chin. "Or eighteen, whichever comes last." He winked at Peter, then kissed his forehead. "Be good."

"No, I thought today I'd branch out and be a rotten, spoiled brat. You're ruining my plans for world domination. It's a fifteen-step plan. Step one is to lure everyone into a false sense of security." Peter deadpanned sarcastically.

"I want to hear the rest of the steps later. You're a Stark, Peter, world domination should take six steps at most. We need to streamline your evil plot, okay?"

"Deal, I'll take you on as my henchman. Consider yourself spared from the plot." Peter smiled.

Tony scoffed. "Please, I'm Iron Man, you could have never brought me down. I'll get you a villain cape while I'm out."

"NO CAPES!" Peter protested in a strange voice. "You're trying to over-throw me, aren't you?"

Tony laughed, and raised his hands. "Fine, no capes. I'm your humble servant." Tony gave Peter a hug and dropped a kiss on his head. "Love you. Have fun. I'll be home soon."

"I'll work on my evil laugh." Peter promised. "Love you too, don't be too bored at the meeting."

"I'll try." Tony walked to his room, came back out in a blazer and sunglasses, Analise was with him. "We'll be back, have fun you two, don't do anything I would do." Then Tony, and Analise, were gone.

Peter went quiet, shy and then continued to eat. "You make better pancakes. What do you do different?"

"I don't know, it's just a different recipe I think, then the one Tony uses." Steve shrugged. "And he does sometimes burn his."

Peter giggled. "Yeah, he gets distracted, usually coming up with ideas. He has a hard time focusing on one thing at a time."

"Yeah, I can see that." Steve had seen the Iron Man head's up display before. Tony always had so much information going in and out and he never seemed to be bothered or over-extended by it. He seemed more at ease with lots of input, Steve couldn't understand how he did it. "How'd you like the egg?"

"It was different, but good. I think I still like scrambled best."

"That's fair." Steve smiled. "I'm glad you liked it."

"Do you want some help cleaning up?"

"Sure, thanks, bud."

-

Steve got onto the elevator with Peter. "JARVIS, could we head down to the common floor?"

"Yes, Captain Rogers."

"JARVIS, clear common room floor with the Alpha protocols." Peter added.

"The floor is secure, Master Stark."

"My dad always wants me safe in the Tower."

"It must be weird, being isolated."

"But I'm not." Peter shook his head. "I know what it looks like, but I go to school, I have friends, I play at parks, I have family. I live a normal life, really, I just live that life under the name Peter Parker. There are only a few people who know I'm Peter Stark and it's better that way. If I went around being Peter Stark, then, well that would be real isolation, like being alone in a crowded room."

Steve thought about it and what he knew of Tony's childhood. Peter had a valid point. Steve just hadn't seen Peter much outside of the Tower, he'd seen him as a hidden secret. "I suppose it makes sense." The elevator doors opened. "Come on, it's this way." Steve led Peter onto the floor and to the room Tony had assigned as Steve's studio. Unlike his bedroom on the common floor, this one had large windows that let in light and the outdoors.

"Woah." Peter's eyes widened as he walked in. He immediately walked to the canvases that lined the walls. "You're really good."

"It's just a hobby." Steve shrugged it off.

Peter shook his head and stared at a portrait of the ocean with wide eyes. "Yeah, and my dad's hobby is engineering. Wow..." Peter looked at all of them and Morgana darted from his side to go view another one.

"Look at this one, Peter." Morgana whispered.

Peter rushed to her side and covered his mouth. "Oh my gosh! You're painting daddy?"

Steve looked and smiled at the painting of Iron Man. He'd done a lot of those, especially back when he hadn't been aware of the man behind the mask. Now, he had some less...innocent images of Tony in his studio and he was glad he kept those in a sketchbook, rather than out on display. "Yeah, I thought about giving that to him someday."

"He'd love it." Peter said, then turned and looked at the next painting. "What's that?"

"It's abstract, it's not really anything, just a feeling mostly, shapes and colors." Steve said.

"I probably couldn't even do abstract half as good as you, it's really pretty."

"You want to test your hand at it?" Steve asked.

"I don't want to ruin one of your canvases."

Steve laughed. "Bud, I've ruined so many canvases and sketchbooks it isn't even funny. You should have seen me when I first started. I couldn't do a stick figure justice. It takes practice."

"Like everything else." Peter nodded and looked at the collection of paintbrushes. "What would I even paint?"

"Whatever you feel like, that's how I do it. Sometimes I just end up with nothing at all, just blotches of color. It's whatever happens in the moment." Steve got two canvases down and put them on the floor, rather than on an easel. He figured it would seem less scary that way, more inviting. "How about water colors?"

"Sure...okay...you promise you don't mind?"

"Not at all, I even have a tarp down and everything. Do you see all those paint stains? It's fine, you can't make more of a mess than I do."

"Cool." Peter sat cross-legged with Steve.

Steve gave some gentle instructions, how to hold a paintbrush, how to clean it, how to mix paints and shades, but he didn't tell Peter what to paint or how, he let Peter figure that out on his own. Peter looked adorably focused at first, his tongue sticking out slightly in concentration as he tried to make sure everything was perfect. He seemed so bent on getting it right that Steve 'accidently' put a large stroke of brown out of place on his own canvas.

"Oops," Steve sighed. "Guess that was a happy accident."

"You know Bob Ross?"

"Are you kidding? Your dad had me watching him when I was fresh out of the ice. Bob's amazing." Steve smiled.

"He's really quiet and soothing. He makes me think even I could paint something that good." Peter grinned, his posture relaxing.

"You can, anyone can, you just got to go with the flow. Painting isn't really a science, you know?"

Peter seemed to think about that and returned to his painting, more relaxed and at ease.

-

"I'm home!" Tony called out, then paused. "Well, don't greet me all at once."

"Sir, Master Stark and Captain Rogers are not here. They're in the studio a few floors down. I have kept that floor in lockdown as you would wish, no unauthorized personnel in or out." JARVIS said.

"The studio?"

"Indeed, it appears the two are bonding quite nicely."

Tony smiled and headed down. When he opened the door, what he saw made his heart grow warm. Steve and Peter were both covered in paint. There was an obviously intentional spot of blue on Steve's nose and forehead, and then it seemed to have devolved into a paint war from there. Peter even had green in his hair. The two were laughing.

"S-see? It looks so weird!"

"I think it's beautiful, don't impugn my good work." Steve teased.

"What are you boys doing? I leave for a few hours and this is the mess I get?"

"It's his fault!" Peter pointed to Steve. "He said he looked better in blue than me, so I made sure he had to wear blue forever."

"Well his Captain America suit is mostly blue and it flatters his ass-assets"! Tony covered for his curse word. "Flatters his assets."

Steve died of laughter, flopping back onto the ground and laughing a full belly laugh that Tony found adorable and a tad sexy.

"I think he pulls of the blue just fine, Pete. So, what did you guys paint?" He asked.

Peter lifted his canvas. "It's supposed to be the ocean, but it doesn't look like an ocean, so I've decided it's abstract and those grey blobs are definitely not my attempt at sailboats." Peter gave a toothy grin. Jeez, even his glasses had paint on them. "It's abstract and it represents...um...futility?" Peter laughed. "And he made a happy accident, so his painting is a forest where all the trees grow the wrong way because gravity changes from place to place."

"Hey, respect this planet's wonky gravity." Steve defended his painting and it was strange. The trees were all growing the wrong ways, ways that no tree would physically be capable of and remain standing. It was odd.

"Looks like you were productive while I was gone." Tony grinned. "How about we get you both cleaned up and presentable? We can go out, get some fresh air, maybe some food."

"Really?" Peter beamed.

"Scoot, kid, and we'll go out together, anywhere you want."

"Can we go get those really greasy burgers at that place four blocks over?"

"Of course, kid. HEY! No hugging, you're covered in paint, go get a bath you dirty little gremlin."

"Okay! Okay! I'm going!" Peter ran off.

Tony smiled at Steve. "Look at you, you're doing it. He looked so happy and he was having fun."

"The book said to share hobbies and be honest and consistent and act normal, so I'm trying. It's a lot of work." Steve looked a little tired and doubtful.

Tony strode forward and reached out.

"Hey, I'm covered in paint, you totally taught Peter to fight dirty by the way." Steve took a step back.

Tony rolled his eyes and grabbed Steve by his belt loops, pulling him down into a kiss. "You're doing great, breathe, you're fine. I love you, and he's going to love you too." Tony leaned in for another kiss and felt Steve's whole body go rigid. Grace was purring loudly. Then, after five seconds of them awkwardly standing still, not kissing, Tony realized what he said. He'd said 'I love you' for the first time. God, it had just rolled off his tongue, so easy, like breathing. How in the fuck had that happened? Tony didn't say things like that, except to Peter...and...now Steve.

"Tony-"

"Nope." Tony leaned away and put a finger to Steve's lips. "You can have your emotional freak out on your own, let me have mine on my own. I'm a Stark man, I'm made of iron, and nope, I'm not going to deal right now. Let's just leave it as it was and continue like nothing happened."

Steve grabbed his hand and pulled it away from his lips before pulling Tony's full body against him and kissing him senseless. "I love you too, darlin'." Steve smiled, resting their foreheads together. "By the way, paint looks great on you."

"Fuck, I'm going to have to get a shower." Tony pulled back and looked down at his shirt. "Though, maybe we shouldn't waste this opportunity."

"To what? Save water and the planet by sharing a shower?" Steve suggested.

"You know, I really admire where your head goes. That was my idea exactly."

"Did we really have the same idea? Because I imagined having you up against the wall of the shower." Steve smirked and nibbled at a sensitive spot under Tony's ear.

Tony sighed at the feeling and grinned when he saw Analise pounce on Grace. "You know, I was thinking of something a little different, but I wouldn't be opposed to that plan."

"What was your idea?" Steve asked, running his hands down Tony's sides.

"Well, a bit of a role reversal."

"Can you hold my weight long enough?" Steve asked teasingly.

"Oh, fuck you." Tony hissed.

"If you're up for it." Steve smirked.

"You know, you are fucking heavy, you may have a point about the improbability of me being able to hold you up against the wall that long..." Oh, but the idea was a lovely one.

"I'll make a deal with you. I get you against the wall in the shower and you can have me any way you like tonight."

Tony pretended to consider. "Square deal. Come on, you've got paint everywhere."

"I'll follow you anywhere, darlin'."

"Only because you like my ass."

"Well, it is one of your best assets." Steve teased.

"Shut up, let's go shower. Less talk, more action."

"Sure thing, darlin'."

Chapter Text

"Why do I need to sift the flour?" Tony shook his head.

Steve turned and sighed. He wrapped his arms around Tony from behind and rested his chin on the genius' shoulder. "Because you asked for my help and I said so."

"You know, I've made cake before."

"Yes, I saw the picture, JARVIS said it was inedible."

"Yes, sir had to go buy a cake for Master Stark's last birthday."

Tony frowned up at the ceiling. "You're a traitor, JARVIS."

"Sorry, sir."

"I'm not a cake expert, Tony, but I can read a recipe and follow it."

"Yeah, Tony struggles with following rules." Analise commented dryly.

"Oh, I noticed in the field a long time ago. It can be frustrating."

"You're not the boss of me, Cap." Tony snarked, only half-teasing.

"Let's not get into that today." Steve straightened up. The last time they'd gone out Tony'd decided not to listen. Sure, he'd managed to help a few more people, but he'd also been injured, his left arm was still bruised to hell. He'd nearly been right in the heart of the blast. He didn't want to fight about it again, they'd already argued about it. Tony was told not to go because it was going to blow. He'd been told there wasn't enough time, to live to fight and save more people another day. Steve had learned that the worst part of the job was realizing there would be losses. Tony, obviously, hadn't come to understand that yet, or at least, he didn't accept it. Steve didn't want to open that up again, not on Peter's birthday. "I'll work on the wet ingredients." He kissed Tony's neck, thankfully on the right side so he couldn't see the bruising he'd gained.

He could hear Tony's arguments echoing in his head. 'It was a risk, yes, but do you think I'd ever do anything to keep me away from my son? No. I knew I could do it. I saved those people and I knew I could heal in ways they couldn't so I did it. I was fast enough and I knew it. I couldn't just leave them there.'

'And what if you hadn't made it? What is something you couldn't account for went wrong and something had happened to you? What then? Who do you think has to tell Peter his dad isn't coming home?'

'Captain Rogers, I would never leave my kid. I know what I'm capable of, I designed my suits and I know how fast they can move and how much they can take. You just didn't trust me to get it done.'

Steve shook his head to dispel the memory. They'd disagreed, they'd shouted, they'd agreed to disagree. Tony had reluctantly agreed that Steve had more experience on the battle field and he should take his leadership to heart, but things had been a little tense. Ironically, Grace thought Steve had been too harsh and Analise had agreed whole-heartedly with Steve, which didn't make it easier.

"I can hear your gears spinning, Steve. I get your point of view, I really do, but there was a family in there, maybe you can see my point too." Tony whispered. "I'm going to try to listen to you, I just don't like the nightmares that come with losing...with failing."

Steve frowned and turned. He walked to Tony, spun him around, and pulled him into his arms. "I understand, I just want you safe. It scared me. I know how bad the nightmares are. I like knowing how my teammates will react though. I need you to trust me when I give orders, because I can't trust you if you go the opposite way and then we're out there blind. I have to know we have each other's backs in the small things. We'll stay alive longer if we can work well together. Which we do, most the time...but..."

"Didn't you go against your CO's direct orders to go rescue people?" Tony whispered into Steve's shoulder.

"Yeah, I know. I see your point. Nothing happened." The bruises were already almost gone. "Let's just work on it for the future. Truce?"

"Truce." Tony lifted his head and smiled. "You sure you don't want to be here today?"

"It's Peter's day with his family. We're not there yet, it's alright. I um, left a present though." Steve nodded and pulled away. He began to add the wet to the dry and whisk them together.

"It's too bad, Aunt Hottie wanted to meet you properly, so did Ben." Tony commented. "But if you feel more comfortable, I can understand that."

"I'll be back later for dinner, but he should be with his family today...besides, I wouldn't feel right invading the Parker's space."

"Aunt Hottie would probably faint if you did, bless her." Tony smiled. "What can I do to help?"

"There's a recipe for frosting over there, I'll get these in the oven, could you get it started?"

"Yeah." Tony nodded.

-

"Happy Birthday, Pete!" May grinned.

"Thank you, Aunt May!" Peter hugged her tightly. "Ned! You're here!" He ran and hugged his freind. So many people were there. Aunt May, Uncle Ben, Pepper, Happy, Ned, and Tony. There was a lovely cake on the counter. But it was strange, the patterns on it looked too messy to be made at a store, but...Tony didn't bake, yet he'd brought it. There were two layers, frosting on top and in the middle, chocolate drizzled over the top and seven candles on it.

"Yeah, I didn't know your dad was Tony Stark, dude, that's cool."

"Dad told you?"

"Yeah, but don't worry, I won't tell anyone, bro, plus, he said he'd sick Iron Man on me if I blabbed." Ned grinned.

Peter smiled at Tony. He'd known Ned since before he could crawl. He was glad he didn't have to lie to him or Samantha anymore. "Sorry I couldn't say."

"It's alright, bro." Ned hugged him tighter. "Dude, your dad can be scaaaaary."

"Yeah, but he's harmless...well...mostly." Peter corrected, then turned to look at his dad. "Did you actually follow a recipe for once?"

"Me? Follow rules? Why would I do that?" Tony asked.

"Steve?" Peter asked quietly.

"Yeah, I told him I burnt last year's cake so, he helped out."

Peter nodded and frowned. If he helped then why wasn't he there? He thought he and Steve were starting to become friends, so why wasn't he there? Peter looked down at his feet. He only looked up when he felt hands on his shoulders.

"You okay, Peter?"

Not even good enough for his dad's soulmate. But they'd been having so much fun, right? They'd been getting along. Peter straightened up and put a smile on. "Yeah, it looks good." Why didn't Steve want to be there or see him? "Better than yours."

Tony frowned and stood up straight. "Well, that's true. What's really up, kid?"

"Did I make him mad?"

"...what?"

Peter felt his jaw tighten and his eyes burn. But he didn't let any tears fall. He'd been trying hard to get along with Steve. He and his dad were so close and his dad hadn't smiled so much before. His dad was so happy. Peter hadn't seen that all the time. His dad had always been happy with him, but now his dad seemed happier, more relaxed. Even Peter could tell there was a different sort of love his Dad felt for Steve. Ben had explained it, that hearts needed lots of people and lots of different types of love. Peter could see it changing his dad and not in a bad way. He liked how more open his dad had become. Now he was screwing it up somehow. He was screwing up his dad's happiness somehow. What had he done? "Did I do something wrong?"

Tony pulled him into a hug. "No, baby. Not at all. He was worried you wouldn't want him here today. He thought you wanted your family."

"And friends." Peter whispered. "Aren't we even friends?"

"Of course, Peter, he loves you."

Peter paused and looked up. "Really?"

"Yeah, he just didn't know how you'd feel having him here. He didn't want to impose." Tony smiled gently. "Do you think Captain America makes cakes for anyone? He wore an apron and everything. He cares a lot, Peter. He just doesn't want you uncomfortable. He doesn't want you to feel like he's stepping on your toes."

"But...we're friends."

"We can save a slice of cake? He says he's going to be home for dinner."

"Okay, but we have to save a slice and you need to tell him not to be silly. He's my friend, he doesn't need to stay away." Peter wasn't quite sure if his dad was telling the truth. Analise looked honest enough, but he knew his dad could lie. What if Steve really didn't like him? But, what about painting or that one time he'd taught Peter a few sparring moves? What about all of that? Did Steve mean it? It had felt like maybe... It had finally started to seem like maybe Steve cared for more than just his dad. He thought maybe Steve might want Peter as family too. Maybe, though, he was just being polite. Maybe it was like his mom all over again. His mom hadn't wanted him, only her new husband. She'd left him, maybe Steve would too. What if he took his dad with him? Or worse, what if he left him and his dad? His dad would be so upset.

"He'd love to hear that." Tony smiled. "I think you should talk to him, Peter. He really does care about you. I'd never let anyone close to you who'd hurt you, Peter. He loves you, he just doesn't know how to sort it all out. It's difficult on all of us, but we can sort it all out." Tony wiped Peter's cheek. "This is a party, kid, let's be happy."

-

Steve didn't understand the text he'd gotten. It was just so strange. 'You're going to have to fix this mess, Steve. Peter's too smart and logical for his own good, you're going to have to treat him like an adult. His logic and emotions are not mixing well at this point.'

What had happened with Peter? It was his birthday, a time for celebration with family and friends...so why did the text make it sound like Peter wasn't happy at all? How would he deal with this? What was the 'this' he needed to deal with? He'd just wanted to give Peter space with his family. It was part of the tips in his book, give the kid space with his family, make it feel like he wasn't taking over or forcing himself into sacred relationships. The past few months had been going great. Ever since Steve had made breakfast and painted with Peter he'd found himself more and more comfortable with the kid. Months of just playing and learning about each other had been good. They were closer. Where had it gone sideways?

Steve worried about it for hours, even ruined all the punching bags on the training floor thinking about it, but nothing clicked. And then JARVIS was alerting him that Tony and Peter were on their way home. Steve sighed, answerless, and went to get a shower.

Twenty minutes later Peter walked into his house, holding a plate with a single slice of cake, and an unopened present under his arm. Tony had a bag of presents Peter had obviously gotten from his family in his hand. Analise was leaning against Morgana, comfortingly.

"Hey, you have a good birthday, bud?" Steve asked cautiously.

"Yeah..." Peter didn't sound very convincing.

"I'm going to let you two boys talk." Tony rubbed his face. Steve had been so focused on Peter that he hadn't noticed the red around Tony's eyes, the exhaustion in them. "Remember what I told you, be honest, Peter. You don't get anywhere without being honest, right? Tell him what you told me. If you need me I'll be in my room, okay? Run right in, love." Tony pressed a kiss to Peter's head. "You be honest too." Tony shot a hard look at Steve. "I mean it, only honesty, if you don't think it or feel it, don't say it."

Analise sighed and walked away from Morgana. She swished her tail briefly against Grace's as she went by, but Grace lowered her head, seeming to understand exactly what the gesture meant. Grace sat as Tony and Analise left the room.

Peter fidgeted and looked down at the cake. "You didn't get any."

"It would have looked weird if a chunk was missing, I'm afraid." Steve tried to make light. He was not as good at making light as Tony was, nowhere near. "Thank you for saving me some, that was nice of you."

Peter shrugged and put the cake on the kitchen counter, next to the unopened present. Steve knew the wrapping paper. It was the present he'd gotten for Peter. It'd been a silly little sketch, really, but a meaningful one, he'd thought. And Peter had never opened it. Why hadn't he opened it? It didn't make sense. "Why didn't you come?"

"I didn't want to take any time you could have with your family and friends, Peter, that's all." It was the wrong thing to say.

"Am I not a friend?" Peter asked.

"No, that's not what I meant, I just thought you would want to be with them, you know? I'm kind of around a lot."

Peter stared at his feet, by the way Morgana shifted into something tiny and hid in his sweater pocket, Steve could tell he was feeling scared and sad. His shoulders were shaking slightly. As if he were holding back tears. "It's okay. You don't have to be so nice, you know? You don't have to bake cakes and get presents and pretend to like me. I don't like it that way. I know you love my daddy and I know you won't hurt him, so you can be with him. You don't have to pretend. I know you didn't ask for me to exist or anything, it just hurts more when you pretend like you're okay with me. You didn’t ask for your soul mate to have a kid. Just don’t pretend like it’s all okay. That hurts the worst. At least with my mom I know she didn’t want me, but you I can’t ever tell if we’re getting closer or you can’t stand me and I don’t like it.”

Steve stared, horrified. How could he even begin to unpack that or explain? God, what did you even say? Steve walked forward instead of speaking and knelt in front of Peter. “Can...can I hug you?” Steve hadn’t really done that before. High fives and arms around the shoulders were one thing, but Steve hadn’t wanted to overstep until Peter had warmed up.

Peter shook his head. “You won’t mean it. So don’t.”

“I’m mean every second of it.” Steve promised and wrapped Peter in his arms, careful not to put pressure on his pocket where Morgana was hiding.

Peter shook and cried quietly, but didn’t hug him back for several minutes as if waiting to see if the hug was real.

“We’re going to have to have an adult talk, okay? But it’s okay. Get it all out. I promise I’m not going anywhere.”

“Do you hate me?” Peter asked, his voice stuffy and sad.

“No, Peter. Never. I love you very much.”

“Why didn’t you come? Why do you always leave on big days?”

“I’ll try to explain it, bud, but just breathe and get this put okay? I need you able to focus.”

It was so hard to see a usually exuberant child cry. Peter was always so happy. Yet here he was sobbing uncontrollably for a stretch of time that seemed too painful to count. Once the shaking stopped, Steve pulled back.

“Let’s go sit on the couch, okay?” Steve guided the small boy over to the sofa. They both sat on opposite sides, facing each other, though Peter didn’t lift his eyes. “Okay, buddy. First thing’s first. You can never ever blame yourself for the choices other people make. We all make our own choices and if you blame yourself for someone else’s then you will never find peace.”

“You mean that about Mom, right?” Peter wiped his eyes.

“Yes. No one knows why she chose what she did or if she regretted it or anything. We can’t know those things. But it wasn’t your fault, Peter.” Steve reached out and took Peter’s hand as Grace cautiously walked forward and lay down between them. “Can I explain why I wasn’t there today now?”

Peter nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“I woke up from the ice and I had nothing. Everyone I loved was dead. Everything I fought for was over. The people I wanted to protect were long gone. Even Grace wasn’t there when I woke up. And even when I got her back there was this empty hole in my chest. Because I lost my family and my friends and someone that I was starting to like, not quite in the same was as I like your dad, but I liked her a lot. I lost all of it.

“Then I met your dad. He made some of the warmth come back. Do you know about different types of love, Peter?” Steve asked.

“Uncle Ben talks about them.”

Steve nodded. “Okay, well, your dad causes a certain type of love. One you get to feel when you get a little older. You know every love feels different. You love your friend different than an Aunt and you love a father different than you love a favorite teacher. And none of those feelings are wrong, they’re just all different. And sometimes you love the same type of person different ways. Like, I bet you feel different about Aunt Pepper and Aunt May, don’t you?”

Peter pondered it for a moment and his eyes widened. “Yeah.”

“Well when I met you I felt a new kind of love and it scared me because I’ve never felt it before. It took a while, but your dad told me it was fatherly love.”

“Don’t lie.”

“I’m not.” Steve shook his head. “Look at me. I’m not.”

“It’s fine! Dad is happy with you and it’s okay, you don’t have to lie for me.”

“Your dad is happy with me, but he’s happier with you. And you know what? I think he’s happiest when he’s with both of us. I know he is, because I feel it too.” Steve rubbed his neck. “Peter I’ve been trying to figure this new love out. I look at you and I feel so much happiness. My heart gets warm and fuzzy and when you laugh it’s the cutest thing ever and I get so scared when you have an asthma attack. I’ve felt for a few months this fatherly love to you, but i know I can’t force anyone to love me back and I don’t want to.

“I want to be apart of your family. I want to be with your dad and you, Peter. Someday I want to be his husband and your father, but I feel like an outsider, bud. I came from a different time and just stepped into your life and I feel so out of place some days. I don’t want you to feel like I’m taking over. I don’t want you to think that I want to replace someone or one-up someone. I know Tony is always going to be your dad and I k ow that if you ever see me as a father part of you will always love him more and that’s okay. But I didn’t want you to feel like I was taking him away from you or you away from him. So I didn’t go today so you could have the day with him.”

Peter seemed to think about the words. Morgana popped her head out of his pocket as a mouse. “You see me as like a son?”

“Yeah and I didn’t want you to feel overcrowded by me. I’ve already stepped into your home and life when you never asked for that. You didn’t ask for me to show up and I didn’t want to be any trouble to you. I love you as a son Peter and I’m not going anywhere unless you tell me to. Now I don’t need you to pretend to love me as a father. If you feel that I want it to be real. But don’t think I don’t love you, kid. I really do.”

“But I’m not even yours.”

“And Bucky and I weren’t related, but he was my brother. Love doesn’t stop for science or genetics, Peter. Love just is what it is.” Steve took a deep breath. “I’m very happy with Tony and he is happy with me, but we’re both happier when we can be with you. Maybe we could all be happiest together as one family.”

“You want us all to be family?” Peter blinked.

Morgana slinked free and turned into a ferret, sliding down to Grace.

“Yup. You, your dad, and me.” Steve promised with a smile.

“You want to be my dad?” Peter tested the words.

“If you’d have me.” Steve squeezed his hand.

“Dad’s don’t miss birthdays unless it’s real important.” Peter said though the words didn’t have any real bite.

“I’m sorry, bud. I’m new to this. I think I’m going to make lots of mistakes.” Steve squeezed Peter’s hand gently.

“I’ll forgive you.” Peter mumbled. “My dad makes mistakes too.” He frowned. “I don’t know...this is strange. I didn’t think you’d want me around, not genuinely. Then we were talking and having fun and I thought maybe you did. I’m confused.”

“That’s okay. Just know that I do love you. Ive just never been great with emotions and I’m all new to this.”

“You’re not my dad. Dad is my dad and you’re...I don’t know what you are yet.” Peter looked down.

“Take you’re time, bud. And it’s okay if you never see me that way. It just matters that you know you’re cared for. I can’t ask you to have feelings you don’t have. Do what you have to do.” Steve reached out and gently brushed Peter’s curls off his forehead.

Peter nodded and looked down. “Well, don’t be stupid and stay away. I’ll tell you if you’re hogging my dad.” Peter stood up. “Have some cake. It was really good, so, thanks. I’m tired and...we’re going to go to bed.” Morgana got up with him and turned into a sloth, clinging to his leg. Peter waved and walked away.

“Peter?”

“Yeah?” Peter paused in the hallway.

“Happy birthday, buddy.”

“Thanks, Steve...”

-

Steve wrapped his arms around Tony. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize...I thought he’d prefer time with you.”

“He does, but he was getting used to you being consistent in his life too.” Tony turned, his eyes were red in the light of the arc reactor. “I’m starting to worry about how much he dwells on his mother. I didn’t realize how rough it was on him. I think he might need to talk to someone, because I don’t know what to say. He just keeps blaming himself.”

Steve rubbed Tony’s back gently as rain tapped on the windows. He was worried too. The kid worried so much about something out of his control. Tony was broken up about it too. “Maybe a therapist?”

“Maybe... I’ll make some calls tomorrow...” Tony dropped his head against Steve’s chest. “Did you tell him?”

“Yeah, it’ll probably take some time to sink in. I told him I wanted to be his father. I’ll try to do better showing it and acting on it, but it’s up to him if he feels the same.”

“He’ll come around. He really likes you. He only gets that broken up about people he cares for.” Tony promised.

“Thanks.” Steve kissed his forehead.

“Sir, Master Stark is up and heading to your room.”

“Let him in.” Tony said. He turned to the door and Peter opened the door shyly.

“Dad?”

“Come on in, kid.”

Lightning flashed and Peter scampered forward. Morgana jumped onto the bed and buried her head under Analise’s chin. Tony threw back the covers and draped them over Peter once he got settled.

“Nightmare or the storm?”

“Lots of stuff.” Peter mumbled.

“Okay. Get some sleep, kid. I’m here.”

Steve considered giving them their space, but instead, wrapped an arm around both of them.

Chapter Text

Magnolia sat in her room and stared out the window at the car parked below. Thomas sighed and hopped up onto the window seat as a cat. Five solid seconds ticked away on her father's watch, loud in her quiet space. "I don't like it, Tommy."

"Me neither." Thomas hissed. "Dad hasn't even been gone a whole year and she's already dating? How can she just...?" Thomas flopped down, angry and huffy. "It's wrong."

"She met him at that grief consoling meeting too.” He lost someone and her mother lost someone and they just both moved right on. “I don't like it."

"We don't have to." Thomas shrugged. "Hopefully it won't last.... What's his name anyway?"

"I..." Magnolia frowned. "I can't remember, can you?"

"No...I'm not very good at remembering names."

"Me neither, I'm good at faces though. I don't like his face." She frowned. Dark blond hair, handsome, blue eyes. Most people were fond of that sort of thing. Her mom was blonde with blue eyes, hell, Maggie had the same coloring (though she wished she would've gotten her dad's auburn hair). But this man wasn't handsome, despite his looks. There was something wrong with him and the way he smiled, she could tell even from her window he smiled in a wrong way. "And did you see his daemon? It was a python."

"You know, not all snake daemons are bad omens, that's a stereotype... It's like Slytherins, sometimes they're just flexible or shrewd businessmen...but...yeah, I get your point. Stereotypes start somewhere...even if they're generalizations. And I didn't like the look of either of them." Thomas agreed.

"I want dad back." This would all be better if her father were still alive.

"Me too..." Thomas whispered. "Don't worry, though, we still have each other."

"Yeah, at least I'll always have you, Tommy." Magnolia wrapped her arms around him. The apartment was chilly, the frigid air from the outside was seeping in. Mom must've lowered the thermostat to save money again. Winter had arrived, that was sure, and winter didn't care who had the money to pay for heating. "Wanna cuddle under lots of blankets and watch bad comedies?"

"Yup."

-

Peter sat in the living room. Tools were spread out in front of him, along with wires.

"Bud, I thought your dad said no electricity on your own." Steve commented.

"It's only electric if it's turned on." Peter shrugged.

"Would your dad see it that way?" Steve asked, leaning over the back of the couch.

Peter turned and looked at him with the most serious expression ever. "Yup. No current, no shocking, means Dad's Stamp of Approval."

"Somehow I buy that." Tony would be the sort to let the kid win on a technicality. "What are you doing?"

"Christmas present. It's a rule. Daddy knows we have enough money to have basically anything. He grew up empty though. Things don't make you happy, it's the meaning behind them, the warmth and love that goes into them. We home-make a gift for each other every year, whatever pops into our head. I made him that mug last year...well I altered it. We'll always need certain material things, but money can't amount to real meaning."

"It's very true." Steve agreed. "My family had a similar tradition, in a way."

Peter sat up and looked away from the bits and pieces in front of him. "What is it?"

Steve smiled at how Peter dodged the past tense. "We didn't have much money, so, for birthdays and Christmas we'd share experiences."

"Like what?" Peter wondered.

"The last Christmas my...my mother was well for, she took me dancing for the first time. I took her to my art class. She painted a flower, she thought it was horrible, but it was lovely, a water lily. She taught me how to dance, I wasn't one to gain much attention, it's still strange for people to look at me. I'd never danced before and I wasn't good, lanky and thin, stepped on her toes, but I had fun. I don't think I've danced since...not really."

"Dad can dance, I think... You could ask him to take you. He would." Peter looked down. "It's a good tradition. Maybe we could do it too...if, if you'd want."

Steve smiled gently. "That would be nice. So, what are you making your dad?"

"A robot. I'm going to call her Carie. When he gets too focused on a project he forgets to take care of himself and Analise gets distracted too, so I thought I'd make him something to look after him."

"That's very thoughtful of you, Peter. He does let his ideas consume him sometimes." Steve looked down at the bits and pieces. They didn't mean anything to him, but Peter seemed to know exactly what they could do. "You're a smart kid, it always shocks me...though it shouldn't now."

"I'm not as good as dad with these things...I try though. He teaches me a lot. I'm better at chemistry."

"Either way, you both are sharper than me."

"You're smart in other ways. I see it when you enter a room. It's almost like you know everything happening in that room."

Steve shook his head. "Just a soldier's paranoia, I'm afraid."

"Fear can be a super power, you know? It makes you faster, makes your mind clearer, and even makes you braver."

"Braver?" Steve asked.

Peter nodded. "You can't be brave if you aren't afraid first."

Steve grinned. "You're smart as a whip."

"It's been said." Peter smiled cheekily and went back to his work. Morgana climbed up his shoulder as a mantis, looking rather thoughtful.

"Does the inventor want anything to eat or drink?"

Peter pursed his lips. "Apple juice?"

"Apple juice it is, then, and I want to hear more about Carie, is that alright?"

"Mmhm." Peter agreed, though he seemed a bit more distant, so like his father as he worked.

"Be right back, bud."

-

Tony walked into his bedroom, leaving the door slightly open a sighed in relief as he loosened his tie. "Stupid monkey suit. Seriously, how is a suit made of metal more comfortable than a tailored suit. Who thought tying something around your neck would be comfortable. I want to go back in time and kick their ass."

"Rough day?" Steve asked from the bed.

"It usually is. I'm clearing things up at work, so I have a double work-load for R&D, then I have meeting all week and if JARVIS sends me one more piece of evidence, I'm likely going to be needed as Iron Man in Georgia of all places. It's going to be a rough week."

"What's going on?"

"It's always difficult for me to get time off for holidays, it's worth it, but... I haven't told you. I don't stay in New York for Christmas."

Steve nodded. "I noticed that last year."

"Peter and I go to Malibu to spend a few weeks in the warmth and celebrate Christmas. We usually head out right when school gets off, so I have to run around getting people ready for me to disappear for a while. It's gotten easier since Pepper took over, but I still have to get quite a bit done to leave and not have people bother me the whole time I'm gone." Tony knelt down to untie his shoes. "Speaking of, Peter and I would like to see if you'd come with us this year."

"You and Peter wanted to know?" Steve asked cautiously.

"Yes, and I think Peter seemed more adamite about it than I was, if Morgana being a puffed up, unrecognizable fur ball was any indication. I tried to explain to him you might have other plans or not feel comfortable and I think that's the closest I've seen to a temper tantrum since I told him I'd have to go back to work when he was a kid. Be glad you missed the terrible twos. He was a lovely baby, but man that kid got feisty for a while." Tony, for some reason, said it with a smirk.

"He still is feisty, just in a more thoughtful, clever way." Steve laughed. "I have no plans...if you'd have me I'd be honored."

"YES!" Peter and Morgana's little voices squealed from outside the door.

"Bedtime, kiddo, you had your fun, now go to sleep."

"Okay! Night, Dad, night, Steve."

"Goodnight," Tony and Steve called in unison, then shared a small smile. Tony walked to the door and shut it all the way as Analise went to her place with Grace at the end of the bed. The two snuggled together and Tony needed to get his clothes off faster to join Steve.

Steve smiled playfully. "In a hurry to get somewhere?"

"Shut it."

"Make me."

Tony pounced.

-

"Holy shit." Steve breathed.

"Language!" Tony warned.

"Yeah, don't say a bad word in front of the kid." Peter teased and then ran off with Morgana.

"This is a house?"

"Well..." Tony shrugged. "Technically it's a mansion. But yeah, it's also a house."

"Jesus... I thought the tower was ridiculous. It looks tame now."

"You should see the house in Upstate....or the one in Italy...or the one in Tokyo. I like the Upstate house, it's the smallest of the lot. It's gorgeous...you should go, sometime. Peter lived there a good chunk of his childhood, it's a happy place. I think it's the house we really lived in best. There are even crayon makes on some of the walls."

Steve looked at Tony blankly. "It's so much."

"Yup, it is...I've never gotten used to it." Analise sighed. "But there's more important things to worry about now. Three, two, o-"

"DAD! I FOUND ALL THE DECORATIONS! WE NEED TO GET STARTED IF WE'RE GOING TO GET THIS DONE IN TIME!"

Tony took a steadying breath. "DON'T GET TOO EXCITED, BREATHE!" The last thing he needed was for Peter to have an asthma attack, it always dampened the mood. Then he turned to Steve. "That kid isn't going to sleep until this whole house looks like Santa and Baby Jesus vomited all over it. I should have warned you ahead of time."

"YOU ORDERED PAPER TOO!!! THANK YOU!"

Tony smiled fondly down the hallway. "I envy him sometimes."

"Why?"

"I know it's wrong, I know he has problems of his own, but at times like this...I wish I had an upbringing half as warm as his. Seeing him at Christmas, how unrestrained and happy he is, how much he loves giving and how much thought he puts into it... It's just beautiful. We have our wounds, but he's surrounded by people who love him, who don't want to use him, who want to see him happy."

Steve walked forward and wrapped his arms around Tony from behind. "You know, you have people like that around you too. You're not alone."

Grace nuzzled against Analise.

Tony gently grabbed Steve's hands. "Thank you for that. It's hard to remember sometimes. I've always just done this all on my own." He sighed. "Now, let's get some hot chocolate started."

"Shouldn't we unpack?" Steve looked down at their bags.

Tony burst out laughing and turned. He gently patted Steve on the ass. "You're cute. If you think you'll get in a word while Peter's stuck in decoration mode, well...you're wrong. JARVIS, Christmas classics please, and did the groceries arrive?"

"Yes, sir. Are you referring to the cookies?"

"Exactly." Tony said. "I'll start hot chocolate and the preheating. He'll want something to eat eventually."

That was when Peter walked into the massive living area. He was carrying masses of garland and tangled lights. Morgana was a dog, wagging her tail as she carried a manger in her mouth, by the roof. Steve smiled fondly at the pair.

"Here, let me help you get untangled." Steve knelt and began to pull all the garland off of Peter.

"Do you wanna help? We got to get the tree and decorate it. And we have to do the windows and the rails and the counter to do. Plus dad lets me handmake lots of snowflakes to hang from the ceilings. You'd be really good at making snowflakes. You're good at art." Peter looked so excited, so happy.

Steve couldn't say no. "I'd love to help."

"Awesome! Dad doesn't stay up all night, because he's OLD-"

"Watch it, kid!"

"But if we stay up and work together, we can get everything done and watch lots of Christmas movies! How many have you seen? We got to watch lots of the good ones. Like Peanuts and A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life and Santa Clause and Home Alone and Elf and The Polar Express and Die Hard."

"I thought I told you that we don't talk about you watching Die Hard." Tony said, disapprovingly.

"I know, it says bad words and I'm not allowed to see it again until I'm older." Peter sighed. "But you were the one who was watching it."

Tony rolled his eyes. "And you were supposed to be in bed."

Morgana giggled in a way that spoke of troublemaking. "But we weren't."

"Mmhm." Tony hummed, unimpressed.

"Are you going to help too, Dad?"

"I will, but I'm not staying up the way you do. Some of us need beauty sleep." Tony shrugged.

"Okay, but you got to promise to help me reach the top of the tree."

"You can fly on your own, now." Tony chuckled.

"Yeah, but it wouldn't be right if you didn't carry me."

Tony smiled fondly, remembering the first time he'd lifted Peter to the top of the tree so he could place the angel on top. "No, it wouldn't be the same. The last touch as usual?"

Peter grinned and nodded. "I got to get more stuff." He ran off again with Morgana rushing ahead of him.

Tony shook his head. "You just signed yourself up for so much glitter that you'll never get it out of your hair." He smirked at Steve.

"You could always help me get it out again, maybe in a nice, long bath?" Steve suggested with a playful smile.

Analise batted Grace face with a paw.

"And risk me getting covered in glitter? No."

Steve took an exaggerated gasp, scandalized. "You'd forgo sex because of a little glitter?"

"You underestimate how much glitter that kid uses. I still feel phantom glitter from last Christmas. Never again. You clean your own luscious locks." Tony grinned and ran a hand through the blond strands while they were still glitter-free. "I'm going to miss them, but the glitter will ruin them." Tony poked Steve's chest. "At least four showers before you come to my bed, got it?"

"Isn't this one our bed too?"

"Well, yeah, but not until you shower four times."

Steve shook his head and pressed a kiss to Tony's lips, sliding his hands down to grip his ass and pull their bodies together. "I think I can give you a convincing argument."

"Oh, do you now?" Tony smiled.

"Very convincing..." Steve squeezed him a little tighter.

"Mm, as tempting as you are, let's think this through. Muscles, legs for days, boyish charm, baby blue eyes, blond hair, a hero...or glitter for months. Sorry, I can't be tempted by you." Tony laughed and pulled away.

"I bet you can." Steve snagged him back and began giving him a very convincing kiss.

"Eww, you're being gross." Peter commented.

Steve pulled back from Tony, squeezing him one last time. "You won't mind it so much one day, bud."

"No, it's gross! Adults are gross."

"Yeah, we are, it's part of our charm." Tony shrugged. "By the way, Steve, I hear we have a new family tradition, kind of different, but with the same spirit as ours."

"What do you mean?"

"Sharing experiences, Peter told me all about it. He's super excited."

"Oh, you both want to."

"Of course, you're apart of this too." Tony wrinkled his nose. "Ew, the Christmas spirit has gotten to me. I'm being mushy. Analise, save me. I need to go find my inner Scrooge."

"SCROOGE!" Peter cheered. "We need to watch A Christmas Carol too! I forgot that one."

Tony shook his head. "I'm going to go work on a car or something."

"Hey, I don't like grease. Four showers first, Tony." Steve called after him teasingly.

Tony held up the finger as soon as he was out of Peter's sight.

"That's actually kind of the point." Steve laughed.

"It's not happening." Tony said as he vanished out of sight.

Steve looked down and saw the way Grace and Analise were playing together. There was no way in hell Tony'd hold out, glitter or not. It was shocking though, when Peter brought in the box of glitter, because damn, there was so much glitter.

"Look! Now our snowflakes will shine like real snow does."

"Yup, I'm sure they will." With that much glitter, the front yard of the mansion could glitter like snow.

Chapter Text

Christmas vacation was a wonderful experience and for the first time Steve felt very at home...almost as if he'd belonged from the start. Steve made breakfast as the boys slept, but he was left thinking of more special gifts they'd had already. They'd been taking turns giving each other new experiences since arriving in Malibu.

Tony had taken Peter surfing for their experience. Steve hadn't even know Tony could surf, yet he'd taken Peter out. Morgana had loved it, playing around them as a dolphin. Steve had loved every second of it, watching how happy Peter was trying something new. Even watching the two boys stumble and get swept into the waves was amazing, because they popped up for air, laughing. They'd played on the beach together afterwards. It had been a lovely day and Steve was glad for the swim, it helped get some more glitter out of his hair. It just kept showing up everywhere.

Peter drug Tony to the observatory. Steve went with them and marveled at the stars. It was strange though, but Peter had explained that Pepper took him once when he was little, on a bad day (whatever that meant) and that his dad hadn't gotten to go. It was a lovely experience, either way.

Steve taught Tony how to paint. They spent hours together, working. Tony seemed to want too much perfection though, so Steve got him a new canvas half-way through and decided abstract would be better. If there happened to be paint on each other's clothes in inappropriate places or telling signs that they'd gotten up to no good after the painting was finished, then only them and the shower knew about that.

Steve took Peter to LA, to the Dodger's Stadium and may or may not have gotten them in using his name (though how he could name-drop himself, Steve didn't freaking know). Peter had never been to a baseball game and they couldn't really go to one then, but Steve promised to take him. He and Peter played catch and Peter'd run the bases with Steve, though, admittedly Peter got tired, so Steve carried him around the last two, letting Peter down at each base so he could touch them as they went by. Peter seemed enamored by the whole thing, by the smell of the grass and dirt and leather. It was a great time.

Peter, on Christmas Eve, had sat Steve down at the grand piano in their Malibu home. Peter played something wonderful and Steve was left breathless at how well the child played. Steve hadn't even known Peter could read music, let alone play so skillfully on a piano. Then, to Steve's surprise, Peter began to teach him. He went over sharps and flats and notes and time signatures, though most of it went over Steve's head. He taught Steve the right posture, then started helping him with a simple version of Greensleeves. He taught Steve the melody of it and Steve pecked his way through it until it actually sounded right. Then Peter had sat on his lap and put his smaller arms on either sides of Steve's. Four hands on the keys, the song became something grand and complex, all with Steve's simple melody holding it together. He could remember Peter's big grin. "See? Easy as that." Peter had said, like he hadn't somehow done super complex lines with his much smaller hands when Steve was barely capable of the melody, but...Steve had to admit there was something magical in it, in the way the keys felt, their texture...the way he could feel the piano strings vibrate when they were struck. It was lovely.

Tony had promised he had an idea for Steve, but that it wasn't ready, but Steve didn't mind. He knew how thoughtful Tony was, so it'd be amazing.

Steve lifted his head from the cookies he was icing when he heard little feet rushing down the hall. He heard a door fly open, then heard Tony's grunt and Peter's "WAKE UP IT'S CHRISTMAS SLEEPY!" Steve laughed when he heard a tired: "I don' wanna go to school, five more minutes." from Tony.

"STEVE, I know you can here me. Help me get Dad up!"

Steve smiled and walked to his and Tony's room, Grace walking at his side. He found Peter trying to pull his dad off the bed and Morgana nibbling at Analise's ears. "Looks like a tough spot, bud. Do you need reinforcements?"

"Yes!" Peter giggled, still tugging on Tony's arm. "Come on, Dad! Get up!"

"But I don't wanna." Tony said, his tone playful as he buried his head under a pillow. "I think I'll nap for another few hours."

"I have coffee, blacker than night." Steve offered.

"Nah...still tired." Tony shrugged and laughed when Peter gasped. Tony never refused coffee, never.

"We need a new strategy, Captain!" Peter huffed as he let go of his dad and folded his arms. "I smell cookies!"

"I don't want cookies." Tony shook his head.

"There are presents." Steve suggested.

Tony laughed. "I can't be bribed. I own a super suit."

"Oh! I know!" Peter crawled into the bed and grabbed his father's hand, turned it over, then began tapping on it, but it wasn't Morse, it was some other kind of code, one that Tony obviously understood, so likely a computer code.

Tony pulled his pillow away and sat up slowly. He looked at Peter with wide eyes, smiled and pulled him into a tight hug. "I love you, Peter."

"You too, Dad. Now come ooooooonnnnn! It's Christmas!"

Peter hopped up and ran with Analise to the living room. Tony got up, looking so excited and perfectly tousled from a night's sleep. Steve wanted to kiss the man and put him back on the bed, but Tony rushed forward and kissed Steve's cheek. "Let's not keep him waiting, it's Christmas. Let's go!" Tony ran off.

"That was a change in attitude." Grace commented.

Analise giggled.

"You're hiding something." Grace narrowed her eyes.

"A lady should always have her secrets." Analise rubbed against Grace in an intimate way and Steve wanted nothing more than to go find Tony and wrap him in a warm hug. It really did have to be a soul mate thing. Every time their daemons got close or any time they got touch-y with each other he always wanted more and more, like he couldn't get close enough if he tried. It was a good feeling, almost consuming at times.

Steve went to the living room and found Tony drinking coffee out of a mug and Peter reaching under the tree. "No, bud, breakfast first. Your dad's rules." Steve corrected gently. He knew he was allowed to correct Peter, but he never wanted to push it too much. It wasn't really his place just yet.

"Daddy said it was okay." Peter shrugged. He brought a small square package over. "Besides, it's not for me." He held out the neatly-wrapped box to Steve. "Go ahead." Peter whispered. "It's for you, it's the special one that I made. But you got to read the card first, like all presents."

"Okay." Steve took the box gently and though the package was light, he had a feeling that he'd just been handed something very heavy.

-

Magnolia sat in the middle of her bed. Thomas was a wolverine, growling lowly. She couldn't agree more as she sat on her bed arms folded over her chest.

"Control Thomas right now, young lady, I won't have this attitude." Her mother snapped.

"Control him? I think our reaction is pretty spot-on."

Her mother glared. "Oh, is it, now?"

"You brought a stranger home at Christmas. There is a stranger outside my bedroom." Magnolia hissed, pointing to her door.

"William is not a stranger-"

"He is to me and he doesn't belong here." Magnolia snapped and Thomas snarled. 'William.' Magnolia thought, that was the blond-haired, blue-eyed beast's name. She'd forgotten again. But she remembered that face, that serpent daemon from all the times he came to pick up her mother.

"Well, guess what, his wife and daughter died so he doesn't have a place to go for Christmas. Couldn't you be a bit accepting of him? He's had a hard year just like us."

"No, I seem to be the only person here who's had a hard year. Dad wasn't in the ground for even two months before you started seeing someone new, it couldn't have been too hard on you."

Her mother raised her hand as if to strike her, then covered her mouth and sat on the bed, tears in her eye lashes. "Don't ever say something like that. I love your father and my heart aches every day. I'm trying to hold it all together and I can't, Maggie. I can't do it on my own. We lost our house because my nurse's salary can't pay for it. I have my father's medical bills to pay. I have classes I have to complete if I want to keep my job. I have your therapy to pay for and tutors and my therapy and I'm tired, Maggie. It's so much, you have no idea how much it is. I tried to hold it all up on my own and I can't. Will is a nice man, he's kind, and he helped me through so much. And we didn't even start getting romantic until recently, it's been almost a year, Maggie. Dad's not coming back and he'd want us to be happy, he'd want us to move on with our lives and you have to move on."

"I don't like him and Dad wouldn't like him either. He would be able to tell."

"You've never met Will, young lady, so don't judge him. And believe it or not your Dad wasn't magic like he told you...and your Dad would've liked Will. He kind and sweet and you need to give him a chance."

"I don't want to." Magnolia shook her head. She could feel it in her gut, even now with that man in her apartment, he'd do something bad, something terrible to her. She didn't want William anywhere near her, no matter what her mother thought. Magnolia new the truth. Her dad had been special and she was too, she could tell things about people and she knew there was something wrong with William.

Her mother stood up. "I can't force you to like anyone, but you will be well behaved. You will treat him well and with respect because he is an adult. You will act like a good young lady, got it?"

Thomas growled.

"Enough, Thomas!" Her mother snapped and she never spoke to Thomas, and never like that. It was a shock to all of them, even her daemon Ferris seemed startled by her outburst. "Both of you, straighten up or you can stay in here, even on Christmas I can still ground you. You're being a brat. Now you have ten minutes to get yourself collected and if you're not out there and acting nice, consider yourself grounded until school starts again." Her mother walked to the door and closed it behind her.

Magnolia cried. "I want Dad back."

Thomas softened and changed into a rabbit. "Me too. Did you notice how she brought it up?"

Magnolia nodded. Her mother had been bringing up finances and how Maggie's expenses seemed to take up a chunk of them. "I can't control my stupid brain, it's broken everywhere."

"You're not broken, Maggie." Thomas whispered. "It's not your fault." He climbed onto her lap and burrowed into her neck.

Magnolia stopped crying, horrible thoughts began to take root. They'd been doing that, taking deep roots. The strange thing, though, was that she was starting to stop reacting to them. She used to fight them, used to hate them. Now, the terrible thoughts were just...true, a fact she'd have to live with. The nasty thoughts were even starting to strip away her emotions, which, well, that was okay. Not feeling was better than feeling all the pain.

"I got to face it, Tommy. Dad's never coming back. He's dead and we'll never get that back. Part of Mom went with him. Now we're nothing more than a burden, all because I'm stupid and broken and useless."

"You're calling me stupid too, you know? Don't do that." Thomas protested weakly, but even his ears had drooped.

"If we keep fighting her on this Will guy...we'll be a burden and be getting in the way of her happiness."

"But you could tell it! I can too. He's going to hurt us."

"We're not special enough to know things like that, Tommy. It's just our imagination." Magnolia wiped her eyes and sat up straight, her face devoid of all it's normal warmth and color. "We're just going to let her have her life. We're already ruining enough of it by existing."

"Maggie?" Thomas sounded so sad, so hurt.

"Let's go, Tom. We're being stupid. Once we lose something we can never get it back...not really."

Thomas stared, wide-eyed as Magnolia walked out of the room. Even as the pain of her distance began to tear at his insides, he staired. Something different had broken in her this time, something deep. He ran away from her, and agony filled his whole body. He turned into a monkey and snatched up the card Mr. Xavier had given them. Then he ran after Magnolia, relieved when the space between them was lessened. He climbed her shoulders and held on, staring at the card all day. He couldn't read it very easy, but he worked hard. He'd memorize the number on it no matter how long it took: 1-800-312-9951. Someday they might need it.

It had to be the worst Christmas ever.

-

Steve held the package in his hands for a moment before pulling the card out from under the neatly tied bow. He saw Tony grip Peter's shoulder's gently and pull him close. That just made the package feel heavier. He put it down so he could open the small envelope. He tried not to look up at either of them as he read it.

'You said you wanted to be family, so, if you still want that and if you love me, open the present. You don't have to though. Merry Christmas -Peter'

Without taking a second to think about it, because Steve didn't need a second (he knew he loved Peter). He put the card down and picked the package up. He tore open the immaculate paper. There was a white, cardboard box inside, taped shut, neatly. Steve gently opened it to find tissue paper protecting whatever was inside. When he picked the item up he froze. Without unwrapping it he knew what it was. It was a mug. It was a MUG. Steve's breath caught in his throat. It took him a second to unwrap the tissue paper.

Tears made his eyes burn.

Like Tony's mug, it was superhero themed. It was black with the New York lights in the background. On the inside, the bottom of the mug was painted like Steve's shield. Steve couldn't tear his eyes away from the inscription on it.

'Have no fear, Papa is here.'

Steve covered his mouth and his eyes watered. He didn't think his vocal cords would work if he tried to use them. He looked at Peter who seemed nervous. Then, just like his father, Peter started talking, because he WAS nervous.

"You know, I was thinking about it. I don't know if you like it. I thought of lots of things, you know. You couldn't be Dad though, that'd be confusing. So I was trying to think of all the other ways to say Dad and none of them sounded right except for that one and-"

Steve put the treasured mug down gently on the counter and stepped forward. He wrapped his arms tightly around Peter. "I'd be honored to be your papa, Peter. I'll do my best to be an awesome papa, the best I can be."

Peter hugged him back, tight. "You'll do just fine, you're already doing good. A little rough around the edges, but we'll whip you into shape." Peter even joked like his dad when he was nervous and it was adorable.

"I love you, son." Steve whispered, trying not to sob uncontrollably.

"I love you too, Papa." Peter said the words a little cautiously as if he were tasting them and savoring them. "Yeah, I like that one best, Papa." Peter snuggled in against Steve's chest and he could feel the wetness of Peter's tears. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas." Steve whispered back.

"Aw, look at my boys." Tony wrapped his arms around both of them. "One happy family. Oh my gosh! We're a superfamily. I'm Iron Man, you're a super soldier, and this guy's super smart and super adorable. We're literally a superfamily."

Steve laughed and looked up at Tony, who's eyes weren't wet, but were full of emotion, happy, warm, loving emotion.

"Welcome to the family, Papa." Tony leaned forward and kissed Steve's forehead. "I think we found ourselves a good one, kid." Tony kissed the top of Peter's head.

Peter nodded, obviously content to be in the middle of one of the safest and warmest hugs on the planet.

"I love you, boys." Steve whispered, kissing them both gently. "I love you both, so much."

"I know." Peter answered.

Steve sniffed and wiped his eyes when they finally split apart. "We should get some breakfast, so we can open presents. I need to try out my new mug too."

The day was full of laughter and joy. It ended with Tony, Steve, and Peter all lying in the same bed. Grace, Analise, and Morgana were all curled together at the foot of the bed, dozing lightly. Peter had been reading a story to them when he yawned extra loud.

"It's bedtime, kid." Tony smiled, gentle and fond as he combed his fingers through Peter's hair.

"I don' wanna." Peter mumbled. "I don' wanna go. Can I stay?"

"Of course, sleepy." Tony reached out and grabbed the book as Steve gently pulled off Peter's glasses. "Merry Christmas, Peter." Tony pressed a kiss to his temple and Peter reached out until his hand rested over the arc reactor.

"Night, Daddy."

"Sleep well," Steve whispered and his heart skipped a beat when his small hand grabbed his arm.

"Night, Papa." Peter fell asleep between them, then and there.

Steve's whole world tilted around that four letter word. He didn't know if he felt more over-joyed and proud or more terrified.

Tony seemed to know exactly what Steve was thinking and reached out. He pulled all three of them together into a lose cuddle. Tony looked over Peter's head at Steve and smiled. "You're going to be a fantastic father. Now trust me and don't waste the moments like this worrying. Just drink it all in, take every second you get. It's the first rule you're going to learn...love every second of this."

"I do." Steve promised, wrapping his free arm around both of them. "I love you both."

"We love you too, Steve. Welcome to the family, Papa."

It had to be the best Christmas ever.

Chapter Text

The awfulness of Christmas extended. Because William stayed around all the time. It seemed like he was always there to pick up Magnolia's mom for dates, then it turned into him babysitting in the afternoons before her mother came home, then it turned into him staying the night, then it turned into him having a drawer...and finally, in April the man moved in. It was the most horrible experience.

Magnolia tried to insist that her powers weren't real, but she felt sick all the time, like doom was drawing near. And the feeling had gotten so much worse. He was just too nice, always smiling, always hugging and laughing. Something was just wrong about it and her mother just didn't see it. Every night, before Magnolia went to sleep she had this awful feeling. She'd hear a loud creeeeaaak outside her door, then silence for a moment. That's when the feeling of sickness came the worst, like something really bad was going to happen. Then he'd call out 'Love you, flower, sleep well.' in a voice loud enough that Magnolia's heart would nearly jump out of her chest.

She hated it and in those moments, she clung to her father's watch, hoping the ticking noise would sooth her. Between the gentle tick-tock and Thomas, they were the only things that helped ease the panic in her.

-

Peter liked having two Dads. It made everything better. He got two kisses goodnight, sometimes two bedtime stories, double the hugs... It was all pretty good. Plus, he didn't have to stay with other people all the time. He loved May and Ben and Pepper and Happy and Rhodey, but he liked being home most of all. With Papa there he could go home more often than normal.

Papa was getting better at being a father too. One time, Papa showed up at the school in the middle of the day and signed him out and taken him to a Dodgers Vs. Mets game. It was the first time Peter had been on a motorcycle, Steve had even gotten him a helmet. They'd had food and watched the game and Steve had even gotten Peter a jersey.

He was getting better about being present, but he was also getting better at setting rules. He was a little more strict about how much time Peter spent in the lab with his Dad. Peter understood it, but it was rough at first. He was used to spending long hours in the lab, but on the upside it meant they had more family dinners and sometimes Papa would let them stay if they were in the middle of something important.

There was something he didn't like as much, though. When there were bad guys both his dad and his papa left, sometime for days at a time. That meant he stayed at his Aunt and Uncle's, but now Aunt May was working as a nurse, so she wasn't at home after school. He missed having time with her, instead he had a babysitter for the few hours until Uncle Ben and Aunt May came home: Skip Westcott.

Skip was...different. He seemed really nice and he praised Peter for how smart he was but...there was something off about that smile, something that made Peter's gut feel sick. Morgana didn't seem to like him or his chimpanzee daemon. But...he was nice, even if his smile was wrong.

"Do you want to play a game, Peter?" Skip asked.

"What kind of game?" Peter asked, looking up from his homework. He really should get it done first, but it was easy, he could get it done really fast. There would be no harm in taking time to play a game.

"It's a fun one, I can teach you. But it's a secret. Can you keep a secret, Einstein?" Skip asked with that smile.

"Yeah..." Peter said cautiously. Part of him wished Analise were there today, she'd be able to tell what the smile was about. But it was Skip, it couldn't be all that bad.

"Cool, let's go play. We can play it on the couch if you like. You just have to lay down."

Peter looked around, wanting to find Morgana, but she wasn't in sight. He felt a little unsettled for a moment, but got up and headed for the couch.

Under the side-table, the chimpanzee held Morgana in his hands and no matter how hard Morgana tried to slip away, the chimp kept a smothering hold, petting her in a crass attempt to keep her calm, subdued...comfortable in her confinement while Skip got to play his favorite game.

-

In May, Magnolia's mother started working nights. Two weeks after her mother started working, Magnolia lie in bed. She heard boots walking down the hall. The floor creaked and Thomas jumped up into her arms, staring at the door with wide eyes. "It's okay, we're going to be okay." She whispered, running her fingers over his soft fur. He was a rabbit, panting and terrified. The feeling, the knowledge that something terrible was going to happen was stronger than ever before.

"Maggie, Maggie, I don't like this feeling." Thomas shook his head.

"Just keep walking, please keep walking." Magnolia whispered.

The door opened and light poured in from the hall. "Are you still awake, my little flower?" He stepped into the room and Magnolia winced back as far as she could. "Oh, flower, are you scared? Did you have a nightmare, Magnolia?"

"Um...yeah..." Magnolia's voice shook. There was no other legitimate excuse. No one would believe if she told them she knew something terrible was going to happen. "I'm okay though."

"Where's his daemon?" Thomas whispered, worriedly, his eyes darting around as William walked into the room, closed the door, and sat on the edge of her bed.

Magnolia held her breath. "I don't know." She whispered back.

William smiled that horrible smile and put his hand on her knee. "You know, you remind me of my own little girl... She used to have nightmares and they made her feel so bad."

"Where is his daemon?" Thomas demanded in a terrified whisper.

Magnolia tensed as William began to rub her knee through the blankets in an unsettling way. It was just wrong and his smile, something was wrong with his smile, his too soft voice. And where was the snake? Where was it?

"My little girl was a pretty flower too, her name was Lily." William's hand inched up a little. "She used to have nightmares too and they made her feel so bad, but I was her daddy. I knew how to make her feel so good when she felt bad. You're my new, sweet little flower. I can make you feel better too."

"Let go of me." Magnolia whispered.

"It's okay, flower, it's okay to be scared, but I'll make it better. I want you to feel good. I can make a deal with you, little flower. I can help you feel better when you feel bad, then, later on..." His hand moved again to Magnolia's lower stomach and pressed down.

Thomas turned into bobcat and lunged for William.

The python daemon struck from the ground and bit into Thomas' shoulder, dragging the bobcat down to the floor.

William looked down impassively, his hand still pressing down on Magnolia's lower stomach.

Thomas turned into a mongoose and fought and fought. It carried on for a full minute, before the python got ahold of Thomas and bit deep into his flesh. Then, the python wrapped around Thomas, constricting around the smaller daemon.

Magnolia could hardly breath and couldn't move, not when Thomas was restrained so tightly. She breathed heavily and stared up at William with wide, terrified eyes.

"Where was I?" William asked thoughtfully. "Ah, here," he pressed down a little more. "I'll make you very happy, I'll do it just for you and I won't ask for anything, just for one little thing. When my little flower blossoms, you get to make me feel happy too, just like my Lily did." William frowned. "But you need to be better than my Lily. She tried to tell her mommy and her mommy got really hurt. You don't want your mommy to get hurt, do you?"

Magnolia shook her head.

"Good, my good little girl. My little flower." He pulled back the covers. "You don't have to be scared, you'll be so happy. I'll make sure of it."

Paralyzed she turned to look at Thomas. He was struggling, trying to break free, but the python had such a grip that no matter how he wiggled or bit or clawed, he couldn't get free. Even when he shifted shapes, he couldn't get free. It was a horrible sight, terrifying. It hurt too, she could feel the way Thomas was bound, so tight. It was so hard to breathe.

"Such a sweet flower, I wonder if one day you'll have little flowers for me too? Perhaps a Rose..." He smiled a sick smile as he pulled down her shorts. "We can find out later, little one. Now, you just need to relax."

Magnolia squeezed her eyes shut tight and wished she could scream, but she couldn't, she couldn't even whimper, not even when his fingers touched her where she was sure none ever should.

-

Peter stared down at his plate during dinner. It was take out, Ben had brought it on his way home from work. "Peter, are you alright?"

"Hm?" Peter looked up and squirmed. His body felt wrong and gross. He didn't know how to describe it. Perhaps the word 'violated' was a good one. They'd just been playing a game though, right? Except it seemed to be the only game Skip liked. Peter didn't like it all that much. The weird thing was it sort of felt good, but it also felt very bad and wrong. It was confusing and gross and Peter didn't like it, not at all.

"It's just you and Morgana are usually chatting." Ben said. "Is everything alright? Are you feeling ill?" Ben reached out and touched Peter's forehead with the back of his hand.

Peter pulled back and looked down. "I'm just tired. I miss Dad and Papa." And Analise. He wished Analise had stayed this time. It was weird, every time Analise wasn't there Skip liked to play his game lots and lots. And this last time he'd done something weird and gross with his fingers and it had hurt-a lot. He said next time the game would be lots more fun, but Peter didn't believe him. "When are they coming home?" Peter wanted to go home, wanted to get away, wanted to never play any games ever again.

"They should be on their way home tonight." May said. "Are you sure you're okay, sweetie? Did something happen? Was it at school? Are you feeling okay?"

"I just feel a little sick...can I go to bed early?" Peter asked.

May frowned in sympathy. "Of course, get some rest, baby."

"Thank you." Peter got up and went to bed. Morgana shifted into a dog and stood watch over him dutifully, even as he fell asleep.

-

Magnolia sat at the breakfast table, Thomas was in her lap. She'd hoped maybe it'd be an isolated incident, but William came into her room all the time when her mom was at work. It all started with a creak of noise and she'd hold her breath, hoping that that night he'd go away. But he didn't. He always insisted he wanted her to feel good and he forced her to feel good. She hated it, hated the way her body betrayed her. And Thomas, Thomas had changed.

Thomas didn't shift shapes anymore. Before she'd even turned eight, Thomas settled. He was a golden jackal, watchful and fiercely protective...but even given his size and strength...that python always wrapped him up so tight.

"Maggie, are you alright?" Her mother asked.

"Yeah, flower, did you have a nightmare?" William asked, an edge of threat in his voice and that word: Flower, it sent a chill down her spine. He said it so sweetly but there was venom in it.

Magnolia nodded and gently pet Thomas on the head.

"Oh, honey, is it about Thomas settling?" Her mother wondered. "I know it happened young, but it happens."

"I talked to a therapist friend of mine," William said and Magnolia didn't need her dad's powers to know he was lying, snake-oiling her mother. "He says children who lose parents can have their daemon's settle young. They say it isn't a comfortable thing. She's probably in a funk, but our little flower will spring back and blossom nice and pretty, won't you Magnolia?"

It was so sickly sweet, just the way he spoke when he did horrible things to her. "I'm going to miss the bus to school." Magnolia shot out of her chair and rushed to get her backpack, Thomas ran at her side, anything to get out of the house, anything to get away.

-

Peter sighed in relief when his Dad and Papa arrived at the Parker's. He stood by the kitchen table and smiled when he saw both of them. Papa had a bruise on his cheek and Dad's left arm had a brace on it, but they looked otherwise unharmed. They did look tired though.

"Hey, bambi." Tony grinned. "Come here." He opened his arms. Peter beamed and ran forward, throwing his arms around his dad. Tony gently rubbed Peter's back. "Miss me, kid? We came back in one piece, as promised."

Analise and Grace walked into the room and curled around Morgana in greeting. Morgana felt smothered. Morgana hissed and turned into a mountain lion, growling at them as Peter yanked away from his father.

"Peter?" Steve sounded worried.

"Hey, what's the matter, Peter?" Tony asked gently.

"I..." Peter suddenly felt silly. He knew he shouldn't feel smothered by his dad or Steve. They'd never do something like that. Morgana shifted into a kitten, her furry cheeks were wet. "I don't-I don't know why I did that." Peter sat on the floor and curled into a ball suddenly fighting the urge to cry.

"Tony, has he ever acted like-"

"Steve, be quiet." Tony's voice sounded sharp as steel, he sounded less like Tony and more like a very pissed off Iron Man. "How long has he been acting differently?"

"Um, a couple days." May said. "He um said he wasn't feeling well and he did have a bit of a fever, we thought it might've passed, but he has been...strange."

Tony covered his mouth and took a deep, shaky breath.

"Tony you don't think...?" Steve asked in quiet horror.

"That's exactly what I think." Tony walked forward and knelt in front of Peter. "Hey, kid, you want to get off the floor. It can't be comfortable. Maybe you want to sit on the couch?"

"No!" Peter protested. He knew his daddy wasn't going to be mean or try to play bad games, but he didn't want to be on the couch, it wasn't safe.

"Okay, we can sit here." Tony sat in front of him, but didn't touch him. Steve came and sat next to Tony. "Do you need to tell us something, Peter? You can tell us anything, you know that. You're always safe with us. Papa and I will never hurt you."

"It's a bad game..." Peter whispered after a few minutes. "He likes to play a bad game on the couch. I don't like it."

"Who?" Tony asked gently.

"Skip. He said it's like doctors, but it isn't."

Tony's jaw tightened. "Skip, the babysitter?"

Ben seemed to get it in that horrible moment. "Oh, God. Tony, we didn't...I didn't think... We didn't know."

"My dad's best friend tried to kill me, these things happen. We trust people we shouldn't, we can't blame ourselves..." Tony shook his head. "Give us some space. Now."

Ben took May and left. By the time they reached the door, May was crying, finally understanding.

"Peter-" Tony couldn't speak.

Steve squeezed Tony's arm gently. "Hey, Peter. I need to ask you a question and I need you to be honest, can you do that?"

Peter nodded.

"Did Skip hurt you?"

Peter nodded again. "He said I wasn't supposed to tell. He said it would be fun. I didn't like it."

Tony's face was one of fury.

Steve spoke, his voice shaky but he tried to convey calm, safety. "Where did he hurt you? We can help, we can make it stop, but you have to tell us."

"You'll make him stop?"

"I promise." Steve nodded, his jaw tight.

Peter cried and through his sobs, began to talk. Dad and Papa would protect him, they always would, he knew that. He just had to be brave and tell them the truth, so he did.

Chapter Text

Peter sat in the waiting room with Steve and Tony. Morgana was in his lap, trying to calm him down and amuse him by switching shapes and making faces at him, but it wasn't working. Steve had his arm around Peter's shoulders and Tony kept one of Peter's hands in his. It was Peter's doctor's office, one of the only outside places that knew Peter was a Stark. It was a safe place, but Peter still felt nervous.

"Peter?" A woman called.

Peter tensed.

Tony held up a hand to the nurse and knelt in front of Peter, grabbing his son's hands. "Hey, it's okay."

"What's gonna happen? What are they going to do?"

"They're going to ask you some questions first, okay? You have to tell them what you told us. You have to be very brave and honest and tell them everything that happened, everything that he did and you have to be honest. It's okay if your upset by it too, you're allowed to be upset, they won't get mad."

Peter sniffled and Steve held him a little tighter.

"They're going to run some tests and they aren't going to be fun. Some of the tests are going to hurt a little, and they're going to draw some blood too."

"Why?" Peter asked. "I don't like needles."

"They just want to make sure you aren't sick, sometimes...when things like this happen they can get you sick and they're going to want to make sure you aren't sick, that's all."

"I don't want them to touch me there."

Tony barely held it together. His son, his little boy. Some monster had raped his little boy and left him like this. Who in the damn world could be that cold? Who could not only do it once, but multiple times? Tony'd feel bloodlust if he didn't feel anguish for his son. "I know, but you have to be brave. They won't try to hurt you, they just want to make sure he didn't hurt you in a way that needs extra care. It's going to be rough, kid, I'm being honest here, but your papa and I will be right there for you. You're being very brave coming here, baby. So brave, braver than a superhero." Tony ran his fingers through Peter's hair. "And it's okay if you get upset, it's okay to cry or be mad or sad." Tony didn't understand it. His little boy had been touched repeatedly, pene-no Tony couldn't even think the whole word through-and now he was being forced to relive it again and he sat with only a lip quiver and scared eyes as tells that he was upset. He needed Peter to know it was alright to let out the pain. The last thing he wanted was for Peter to bottle it up. "We'll be right there, the whole time to look after you."

"Don't leave me in there alone."

"Never, baby." Tony pressed a kiss to Peter's forehead. "Are you ready, love?"

"And if I do this, he won't be able to hurt anyone else?" Peter eyed the nurse, looking scared to get up.

"Never again." Tony promised. If the system let the teen slide, then Iron Man would certainly have no mercy. He knew that Captain America felt the same. "We'll make sure of it."

"Okay. I'll do these tests so no one else needs to get hurt." Peter stood up and kept ahold of one of Tony's hands and grabbed one of Steve's.

Peter was the bravest person Tony had ever known. That moment solidified it. That he had the strength to stand up and have such resolve in his face to go through something painful and traumatic to make sure no one else got hurt again...at the age of seven. Peter was so damn strong. "I love you, Peter, I'm right here." Tony promised.

"I love you too, son. I'm here." Steve promised as they walked toward the nurse.

Tony could tell that the nurse was putting on a brave face, the same way they were. She tried to smile, to soothe Peter, but it didn't come out as a smile, not when a tear escaped her eye.

"Hey, Peter, we just have a couple tests for you to take, then you can go home. Okay, sweetie? Come on in, is it okay if your daddies come with you?"

Peter squeezed them both so tight his hands turned colors. "They're staying with me."

The nurse nodded and tried to pull herself together. "Come on in, Peter."

-

Steve felt physically ill as they examined Peter. There were bruises on his hips from when he'd been gripped. Peter kept a straighter face than either him or Tony when they did an internal exam. The fucking monster had ripped Peter open with his fingers and had planned to do worse. Steve very nearly threw up when Peter winced at the probing. He couldn't lose it though, not when Peter needed his Papa to be there and be strong at his side. It took everything in Steve's strength to stay in his chair, to not go find the son of a bitch and pull him apart piece by piece.

Rage later, Peter needed him now.

When everything was done, Peter quickly pulled on his clothes and Morgana turned into a moth, hiding against his shoulder.

"We'll send you Peter's blood work when it comes back, Mr. Stark." The nurse promised. "We have a few notes on a diet he should eat while he's healing and we've got some medicine for him. I suggest therapy and lots of love and support, I know you guys can provide that. We'll get this in the hands of the police, along with everything Peter's told us...um it should be more than enough."

"If it isn't I'll kill him myself." Tony said without a hint of a lie in his voice.

"I didn't hear anything." The nurse said. "If you need a hand with disposing of a body, call me." She added. "Go home. Get some rest... It's been a long day."

"Damn right." Tony nodded and took the paperwork. "Thank you..."

"He's a very brave boy... I know adults who can't sit through that."

"He doesn't want anyone else to hurt." Steve said. He turned to Peter. "Can I pick you up, bud?"

"Yes, Papa." Peter nodded.

Steve scooped up the small boy and held him close. "Let's get you home, maybe a bath and sleep?"

"I have school though, it's Friday." Peter said, looking at the clock. It was indeed Friday, just past midnight.

"I think we can all stay home, you feel alright about that?" Tony asked.

Peter nodded and buried his head against Steve's chest.

They were out of the building before Peter began to sob, clutching tightly to Steve's shirt and shaking. He worked himself up bad enough that he had an asthma attack, and thank God Tony kept a spare inhaler in his car for Peter. Even after the attack ended, Peter continued to sob. He refused to let go of Steve, so Tony drove them home as carefully as possible.

Once safely at the tower, Tony gently rubbed Peter's back as he still clung to Steve. "Hey, kid, do you want to eat?"

"I don't want food." Peter shook his head.

"Do you maybe want something to drink?" Tony asked, knowing the kid most definitely needed sugar after what he'd been through. The tests and retelling had obviously taken a toll and Ben had said Peter hadn't been eating well. Tony wouldn't force the kid to eat food, but he needed something, even if just some juice.

"Can I have hot chocolate?" Peter asked after a moment.

"Of course, bambino." Tony kissed his forehead. "Do you want a bath too?"

Peter nodded.

Tony took a breath and nodded. "We can have Papa run you a bath and I can make some hot chocolate, okay?"

"No!" Peter protested.

Tony fully expected Peter to say he didn't want anyone to help him clean up. Normally, Tony didn't need to watch Peter in the bath, he was old enough to handle himself, but given that it was nearly one in the morning and Peter looked just so exhausted, Tony wasn't going to let him be in the bath without someone to make sure he didn't fall asleep. Drowning wasn't something they needed to add to their list of problems. "Baby, no one will touch you if that's what you want, but someone needs to be there, you look like you might fall asleep-"

"No, Papa doesn't do baths." Peter elaborated through his fresh, quieter round of tears.

Oh, that made sense. Tony'd been around longer. He'd done lots of bath times with Peter. Steve hadn't done any, really. Peter wanted something normal, something he was used to, something he knew was safe. "Okay, kid, I'll go with you and Papa will make some hot chocolate, okay? Do you want marshmallows or whipped cream?"

"Marshmallow fluff."

"Ooh, fancy." Steve said gently stepping closer to Tony, who opened his arms to take Peter, but Peter didn't move. "Buddy, you got to let go so Daddy can help you get a bath."

It was a painful minute, but Peter turned and reached out and Tony pulled him into his arms. "Alright, Peter, let's get warmed up and clean and then hot chocolate."

-

Tony was glad, in part, that Peter refused to let either of them go. Peter seemed to need to have one of them in his grip at all times. It made it very clear that Peter still trusted them, which was good, it meant he'd be alright, that all of his trust hadn't been shattered, but it was heartbreaking to see how bad he seemed to get in those rare seconds where he couldn't grip one of them. Peter insisted he sleep in the middle and Tony wasn't going to say no, not as long as that was what Peter wanted.

Tony and Steve wrapped around Peter on either side in a hold that might've been smothering, but for the first time that night, Tony saw a hint of a smile on Peter's face for a moment. Peter closed his eyes briefly, then opened them and stared at the ceiling. "You can get some rest, baby, we're here." Tony reassured him.

"Whenever you're ready, son, but we're going to stay right here." Steve added.

A soft weight made Tony turn and he saw Morgana crawl up him, away from Grace and Analise who were watching with attentive, pained eyes. The kitten daemon reached out and Tony prepared for the touch. Morgana and Peter did this some times with him, to see what Tony was feeling. Tony didn't know what Peter was looking for, so he let himself feel everything he was feeling as Morgana put the pads of her paw on Tony's face. After a second she pulled away and looked at Peter, then Steve.

Peter nodded and Morgana crawled to Steve and bopped him on the nose. Steve went tense, but allowed it. Peter didn't tense either time, in fact, he seemed to relax more when he felt his parent's feelings. Morgana nodded slowly and curled up between Analise and Grace again.

"What were you looking for, kid?" Tony asked.

Peter stared at the ceiling. "I thought you might be upset with me...but you aren't. You're just sad and angry and worried and you love me so much. I can tell."

"We're not upset with you, not at all, Peter." Steve promised. "None of this is your fault. It's...an unspeakable thing that happened, but we're here for you, okay?"

"I know that now." Peter nodded, his eyes still boring a hole into the ceiling. He was silent and neither parent moved to tell him to sleep. Sleep was a vulnerable position and they weren't going to make him sleep until he went willingly. All they could do was be there to make it as safe as possible for him. "Dad?"

"Yeah, Peter?"

"I don't understand all the books. In the stories, like in detective stories, they say sex can be a motivation for things, but it's horrible, isn't it? Why would anyone be motivated by that pain and...shame?"

Tony took a breath. This was something for someone more skilled to handle. This was something for a therapist to help him work through, but Tony had to say something, he was Peter's father and Peter would listen to him. He just had to know what to say. It was natural, of course. Sex and sexualization was everywhere in the culture. Hell, Tony was in the news enough for his sex appeal and past recklessness. Tony couldn't exactly hide it from Peter, but, then again, he'd never given Peter the Talk. It was natural for him to be curious, but how was Tony supposed to explain it all in this context?

"Why would anyone want that?" Peter added. "I don't understand. It doesn't make sense."

That gave Tony the words to say. He could appeal to Peter's logic. He could teach him two different concepts and maybe help Peter see that they were indeed two very different things. Sex and rape were not the same, he could teach that. "Sex, like in the detective stories isn't like that, Peter."

"But I saw the sheet they were filling out when they were asking me those questions, it had that word on it."

"What happened to you is called sexual assault or rape, Peter. That is very different from sex." Damn, Tony had really wanted to have this talk when Peter was older, maybe when he was already starting to try to figure these things out on his own, not when his baby was still...just a baby. "Sex can be a very good thing, Peter."

"Really?" Peter asked, sounding doubtful, but his eyes didn't move.

"Yeah. Sex is all about trust and love, Peter. Sex is something for adults, a way that they show love to each other. It's a very vulnerable thing and that's why it's so nice when you're with someone you love. For example, me and Steve have sex and it's very good because we trust each other and love each other a lot, and we take care of each other. It can be a great thing, Peter. With consent and understanding, sex is a beautiful experience that consenting adults share with each other, but it's supposed to be safe and decided on together." Tony said. "Rape is different. It's when someone bad doesn't get consent. It doesn't have trust or love in it and that's why it hurts so much. It's a violation of safety and trust and it hurts the body and the mind and heart when it's rape or assault. Rape is a way terrible people hurt others."

"Why do they do it?" Peter asked, his voice tiny. "Why would anyone do that to someone else?"

"Some of the rapists want to feel powerful and some of them are very sick and just like hurting people. Either way, they're monsters, Peter. Monsters who hurt good people."

"He was bad." Peter blinked and seemed to be confirming to himself that the problem wasn't with him, but with Skip. "What he did was wrong."

"Yes, baby, very wrong."

"And not everyone uses sex like that, right?"

"No, not at all, baby. And this shouldn't have even been something you worried about until you were much older, like...thirty, or taller than me, whichever comes last." Tony tried to make Peter smile with the familiar joke.

Peter did, a little. Then he took a breath. "I'm going to have to talk to Ms. Melody about this, aren't I?"

Melody had been a wonderful therapist for Peter, she'd been helping him a lot, walking him through his problems with his mother and helping him adjust to his new family dynamic. Tony loved that woman, she was spectacular with Peter, and he'd pay her ten times what she asked for if only she'd let him. "Yeah, but you can trust her, just like with everything else. And she helps you feel better about things, right?"

"Yeah." Peter nodded, not seeming too upset that he'd have to talk to her. "Can we not tell anyone else? I don't want to have to talk about it to anyone else, not Pepper or Rhodey or Happy or anyone...not even Ned."

"You don't have to tell anyone, baby." Steve promised. "And we won't tell anyone. If you ever want to tell someone or need to, that's on you."

"Except for Ms. Melody." Tony said.

"I can tell her, she won't look at me weird or so sad." Peter whispered. "I'm tired."

"You can sleep, Peter, we're here."

"Okay...I love you."

"I love you, Peter." Tony kissed Peter's temple.

"I love you too, son." Steve swore, kissing Peter's cheek.

Squished in the middle, Peter fell asleep.

Peter safely asleep, both Tony and Steve began to cry, silent, agonized tears for their son, for Peter.

-

Magnolia had no safe places. At school she was an idiot to be laughed at. With her tutors she was a frustrating burden. She no longer felt safe in therapy. She was worried that if she told her therapist what was happening that William would find out and that he would hurt her mom or her...worse. Then there was home...home wasn't safe at all. Sometimes she wanted to sneak out to the cemetery, but it what if he found out where she was going and forced her to stay? What if he took away her ability to visit her dad too? At least he couldn't take Thomas away...but he had done that too right? Now Thomas couldn't change anymore...not ever.

"Magnolia, pay attention. Why are you so distracted?" The tutor asked.

"I'm sorry." Magnolia frowned. "I'll try to focus. I'm just tired."

"Excuses won't help you move forward. This only gets better with effort every day."

Magnolia nodded and sighed. She looked down at the paper again. She started to write her letters again, slow and steady. Some of the letters looked wrong, she could recognize when they looked wrong, but for the life of her she didn't know why they weren't right. It was alright though, at least she could tell.

"Look, you're getting the S right. That's good, we're making progress."

Magnolia paused and frowned. That was one of the letters that looked wrong to her. She looked up at the sample alphabet and frowned. Her S looked the same as the other S...but they both seemed wrong. Maybe she wasn't making as much progress as she hoped. She finished up her lesson and walked to the bus stop. The new apartment was too far away to walk to. She sat in the back and listened to music on her dad's iPod shuffle, trying to drown out the world.

When she got home she paused, seeing her mother in the living room. Magnolia slowly pulled out her headphones. "Mom? You're up early."

"Yes, we're going to dinner tonight before I go to work." Her mother said in a bubbly voice. "How about you get dressed up in that cute dress you like? I don't know why you've started wearing all those baggy clothes. Don't you like your dresses anymore?"

Magnolia shrugged. "Why are we going out?"

"We're celebrating, sweetie."

William and the python were suddenly there. "Aw, did you not tell our little flower? Magnolia, your mommy and I got engaged. Isn't it lovely?"

Nothing would ever be safe again. Not ever.

-

Peter watched Star Wars with Steve as Tony made a phone call to Ms. Melody. Tony stayed out of hearing range for Peter, but Steve could still hear Tony speak, Steve could even faintly hear the soft voice on the other end.

"Melody, it's Tony..."

"Mr. Stark?" Melody asked.

"Yes, I'm sorry about this, it's just about Peter. I know we're usually twice a month, but I need to get him in as soon as possible...he..."

"Is Peter alright, Tony?" Melody asked, then there was silence. "Take your time, Tony, breathe, take your time."

"Peter was ra- He was...sexually assaulted by a baby sitter, repeatedly over the past week and...I just really need to make sure we jump on this."

"Tony, breathe. That's horrible and it's alright that you're upset, it's healthy to be upset, but I need you to breathe. I can see him for a full appointment tomorrow morning, I'm open from nine to eleven. If he's up for it I could do a short phone appointment today too. Is he doing alright?"

"He's clingy which I think is good, but he's...he's not alright."

"It means he has some trust. That's good, we can work on that and it's okay for him to not be alright. This is something he'll have to process and that's going to take some time. How are you holding up? And Steve? I saw you added him as an emergency contact. Are you both doing okay? People rarely realize that it isn't just the victim that's effected. Are you holding up?"

"No, not really." Tony shook his head. "I'm angry and I'm..."

"It's okay. It's good for you to think of getting Peter help, but you and Steve need to get some help too. Perhaps you should get an appointment with Connie? I can see if she's open, she's just down the hall. Does Steve have someone he can talk to?"

"Not that I know of." Tony shook his head.

"Okay, I'll see if Connie will look in on you as a couple, while I speak with Peter. Do you mind if we schedule for tomorrow?"

"Yeah, we can do that. Um...just, send me an e-mail confirmation and we'll be there."

"Okay, good. We'll see you then. And, Tony, breathe. Peter's a strong kid, he's going to be alright. You're doing the right thing. You're doing everything you can. You are doing amazing. Just keep being there for him. We'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Thank you, Melody."

"Of course. Take care."

Tony walked back into the room with red eyes. Peter looked up and frowned. "Are you okay, Dad?"

"Yeah, bud. Will you be up to seeing Miss Melody tomorrow?"

Peter shrugged. "Yeah, she always helps me feel better."

"Steve, did you hear?" Tony asked, a second layer obvious in his tone. Was Steve coming to therapy too?

Steve nodded, he felt so drained. It wasn't really something he'd had back in his time, but it seemed like a damn good idea to be able to have help to sort through the war of emotions in his chest. The anger, the sorrow, the failure, the bloodlust, the need to keep Peter safe forever... Somehow he needed to figure it out. It all felt like too much. "Yeah, I'll come with you." He stretched out his arm and Tony came over, joining them on the sofa. Peter leaned against Tony, but kept his hand in Steve's.

"Sounds like a plan." Tony sighed.

It was all too much. Steve had healed from his wounds, but though Tony had taken his arm out of the brace he still seemed to treat it gingerly. The mission hadn't been easy and then to add all of this on top of it. God, it was a horrible week. Steve wrapped his arm around both of them. They were going to be alright though, they'd make it. They just had to work through it together.

They could make it right again. They'd be safe, because they had each other.

Chapter Text

It took a couple months for Peter to start smiling and laughing the way he used to, but in those months Skip got sentence to ten years in prison, which wasn't enough in Tony or Steve's opinion, Peter was, thank God, given a clean bill of health, and May and Ben got a new apartment in a new building...with new living room furniture.

For the most part, Peter had bounced back, except he and Morgana were both a little...different. Tony and Steve could both notice it. Peter had always been bubbly, he'd talk anyone's ear off and he still did. He was still bright and happy and brought warmth to every room he was in, but he didn't let people touch him. Unless he trusted someone completely, he didn't let them get close. For instance, Ned was allowed to hug Peter, but when his teacher tried to give him a hug Peter had launched himself backwards, fallen, and sprained his wrist, all while Morgana shifted into a wolf and growled at the teacher's daemon. That had been a rough call to get...

Peter also refused to lay down on any couch, unless Tony or Steve was there. When he watched a movie by himself in the living room, he lay down on the floor instead. It had to be uncomfortable for him, but Peter didn't seem to care. Unless he had someone he trusted completely at his side, he didn't stay on a sofa alone. Finally, though, Peter never let Morgana out of sight when other daemons were around. He didn't want anyone influencing her when he couldn't see it. When he was at home, it was fine, Morgana played with Analise and Grace without a care in the world. But Morgana wouldn't be caught with even Samantha out of sight of Peter.

Ned and Samantha didn't seem to take offense to it. In fact, Samantha made it a point to be visible at all times. Right there as the two friends played with Legos, Ned's daemon kept a careful distance from Morgana, while still being friendly and happy. It was strange to see how well in-tune the young boy could be. Tony was grateful to Ned. It was good to know that Peter had found such a good friend, one that wouldn't make him uncomfortable or hurt him. Tony, in fact, was just glad to see Peter smiling again. They were genuine, happy smiles and Peter deserved to have all of those.

"Today's been a good day?" Tony whispered to Steve as he wrapped his arms around him. Steve was cooking something and it smelled divine. Tony stood on his toes to kiss the side of Steve's neck before resting his head on Steve's shoulder blade.

"Yeah, I think I've seen every Star Wars movie now and they've decided on something called Lord of the Rings for dinner. Peter's been having fun...no odd moods today either." Steve responded quietly. "He's having more and more good days, less nightmares. It's good."

"It is." Tony sighed and smiled when Steve turned his head and kissed his temple.

"Want a taste?"

"Mm, I'd love one." Tony smirked and nibbled under Steve's ear.

"Stop it, naughty."

"Do you really want me to?" Tony asked, not needing to look at Grace. He could hear her purring all the way in the living room.

"Later, darlin', we have kids to look after." Steve scolded then made a soft, content noise in his throat when Tony ran his hands through his hair, then tugged gently. "You're cheating."

"Grace doesn't seem to mind all that much." Tony chuckled, hearing another loud purr. They'd both decided that it was alright, healthy, even to show some romance in front of Peter, nothing explicit, of course, but intimacy was natural between people in love. Normal parents would express that and it would do Peter good to see that there was something good to be had in the way of intimacy, not just the horror he'd seen. Tony hadn't hid his flirtations with Steve before and he wouldn't hide them now, though they were a bit more tame.

"You are trouble."

"Might as well be my middle name." Tony smirked.

"Dad, Grace and Analise are being weird."

"That's because your dad is being weird." Steve called back. "Knock it off... We can do this later." Steve whispered. God, once they started touching it was hard to stop. Once they started touching, then Analise and Grace got so cozy and intimate and Steve could feel their love and need to be close, then Steve felt it all the more until he just couldn't stop touching, couldn't get close enough. It could be a slippery slope. "Later, promise...many times. Now, do you want a taste or not?"

"You and your innuendo." Tony huffed and let go. Then he held out a spoon with a bit of broth on it. Tony took a taste and smiled. "That's good. You're a great house wife. I definitely won the lottery, you got a genius who keeps weird hours and can't cook."

"I did get someone who is very passionate and giving, that feels like a win."

"You forgot to mention that he's an ass too." Grace commented, walking into the kitchen.

"Oh, stop it, you." Analise batted Grace on the nose with a paw.

"Anything I can do?" Tony wondered.

Steve chuckled and kissed Tony's cheek. "Stay away. The last thing I need is the bread to burn. Go set the table and wrangle the boys. Translate what movie they wanted, I think Ned started speaking in a different language."

Tony perked up and called out in a strange language, it didn't sound like anything from Earth.

Ned shot up to his feet. "You speak Elvish, Mr. Stark?"

"Of course he does. My dad's like a super-nerd." Peter laughed.

Tony said something and Ned hopped up.

Ned responded in a strange tongue and rushed in, Samantha at his heels as an excited ferret.

"Peter, help translate the weirdness." Steve requested.

Peter giggled. "Dad asked us to help set the table in a fictional language that only the biggest nerds know about... It's kinda like Klingon for fantasy fans."

"What's Klingon?"

"An inferior language for an inferior series to Star Wars, Captain America...sir." Ned responded instantly.

"I'll just roll with it." Steve shrugged. "Continue on your way. And you can call me Steve, Ned, I've told you that."

"Dude, your other dad just told me to call him Steve. Captain America just told me to call him Steve!" Ned tried to whisper to Peter, but it didn't come out as a whisper.

"Bro, he can hear you. Be cool, man." Peter muttered back.

Steve chuckled and began to take the food to the table. "So, is this Lord of the Rings good?"

Peter frowned and thought for a moment. "Did you read the Hobbit? I think it came out before you started fighting."

Steve thought back. "I think so. Middle Earth, right?"

"Oh my gosh! Captain America is a nerd! Yes! NERDS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH. ALL SHALL LOVE US AND DESPAIR!"

"I'm not sure I got those references." Steve looked to Tony for help.

Tony rolled his eyes and patted Steve's shoulder. "Good luck, slugger. You're on your own. I'm already in on the nerd culture."

"One of us! One of us!" Ned chanted and Peter grinned.

"We'll convert Steve, eventually." Tony promised. "JARVIS, The Fellowship of the Ring, please."

"Original version or extended?"

"EXTENDED!!" Ned and Peter shouted at once, then high-fived.

JARVIS responded instantly. "Certainly, Master Stark."

-

Magnolia sat in front of her father's grave. "Dad, I'm scared. I don't want to be here anymore. Can't I just lay down and stay with you forever? I'd crawl into the ground if I could. I can't do it...but she likes him so much and... I think he did something horrible. I have these nightmares sometimes. He touches me real bad, but I get these dreams about him with this little girl... Then I get these nightmares and I see that little girl dead and...and a fire. It's bad. It's scary and there's so much blood. What if he does that to mom? Dad, I think he killed his family. I can't tell though. You always knew the truth, but I don't know anything. I just know I'm scared. And I did some research, it took a long time, but the internet said girls can start having periods at as young as eight and...dad I just turned eight and I'm scared. I can't...I don't want him to hurt me anymore...and it's going to get worse." She looked down at the stone. "Why did you leave me? Why?"

She stood up and brushed off her knees. "I have to go now. If I stay too long, he'll find out. He doesn't like it when I visit you. He gets meaner when he finds out I come here."

"We should run away." Thomas said.

"Where? What if he hurts mom?"

Thomas slouched. "What if he keeps hurting us, though? I feel it too, you know?"

"Well, maybe it's better that it's us than some other girl...or mom."

"But why do we deserve this? We don't! We need to go."

"I don't know...it's just too much." She sighed and pulled her hoodie up. "I'm just tired." She walked home as quickly as she could, it was a longer walk, but she knew if she spent money to travel back home, they'd find out. Mom would ask, and William, he'd be worse in his sickly sweet so wrong way. When he got mad, he stayed extra long, for hours, sometimes.

She couldn't wear any of the cute clothes her mother kept buying. She was growing in bursts, she didn't like it, but it seemed to make him so happy in that sick way. Every time he came into her room he'd track every way she was changing. She hated it, the way it made him smile. She wanted to stop growing, to stop 'blossoming.' He seemed so pleased that she was an 'early bloomer.' She would rather die than have another growth spurt, because every time her body changed even a little bit it was marked as some gross, sick, special event.

Magnolia lived for sweatshirts and baggy pants. It made her mother upset that her little girl was becoming a tomboy, but she really just wanted to hide, forever. It didn't matter though, no matter how ugly her clothes were, no matter how many layers she wore, they didn't deter William...the beast who would be her step-father in a few short weeks.

That night she held her breath in her bed. She didn't bother hiding, she'd tried that and it only made him mad and he'd stay longer. She'd tried fighting, but he was stronger, he'd always win. Thomas could've taken the python, but she was a weak link, if he wanted to stop Thomas, all he had to do was pin her down and it didn't take much.

Creeeeeeaaaak.

Magnolia didn't move, didn't breathe. Then the boots walked past her room. She let out her breath and put her headphones. She'd be safe for the night. Her mother always got angry at her for putting headphones on while she slept, but the noise helped her sleep. And Magnolia secretly hoped that one day her mother's fear would be realized. Maybe one day the headphones would strangle her as she tossed and turned...then she'd never have to hold her breath, waiting for that creaking sound.

-

Peter sat on the floor and sketched idly an idea for a new machine before he turned and looked at his Dad. "What happens to other kids?" Ned was asleep on the floor next to him, under a blanket, so Peter kept his voice down.

"What do you mean?" Tony asked.

"You know...kids who get hurt like me? What happens to them? I can't be the only one."

"Well, some of them have therapists and such, like you." Steve said.

"There should be more...like a safe place they can go and talk and not feel alone. Are there places like that? I don't think all kids have got family like you guys." Peter whispered.

Tony smiled, proud of his son. Again, Peter was thinking of others. "There are places like that, but you're right...there could be a lot more."

"I wonder what the Maria Stark Foundation will be donating to this year?" Steve asked quietly, idly, but with a soft, knowing smile.

"Could we?" Peter asked. "We have enough money, we could help out a lot of people, cause not everyone gets help, right? We could help more people."

"How did I get such a good kid?" Tony leaned forward and planted a kiss on top of Peter's head. "I love you, and we will definitely figure out a way to help as many people as we can, alright?"

"Thank you, Dad."

"I think you and Ed might need to get to bed, it's bedtime." Tony smiled.

"His name's Ned! You know that."

"His birth certificate says otherwise." Tony teased.

"Ew! Stop stalking my friends."

"I prefer helicopter parenting, kid. Stalking sounds creepy." He grabbed Peter and hoisted him up from the ground. Had Peter gotten heavier? "Alright, underoos, let's get you to bed, all tucked in."

"We're sleeping in the blanket fort, not in a bed, silly." Peter shook his head.

"My mistake." Tony said as Steve got down and gently woke Ned up. "To the blanket fort!" Tony announced and carried Peter to his room. The whole thing was a mess of pillows and sheets, but the fort did look impressive. "Which room is yours, kid?" Peter pointed to one of the sheet-enclosures and Tony gently slid him into the space, covering him up with blankets. "You make me so proud, kid, every day. I just want you to know that, alright?"

"Thanks, Dad." Peter smiled.

Tony kissed his neck then pulled away. "Love you, kid. Sleep well."

"Love you, Dad." Peter called before accepting a hug from his Papa.

Tony looked at the very sleepy Ned, who was wearing a Yoda onesie. "Some good sleep you get, nerd."

"What is your life, Peter? Mr. Stark just spoke like Yoda." Ned smiled sleepily, a toothy grin. "Goodnight, Mr. Stark. Thanks for letting me sleep over."

"Of course. Night, Ned." Tony took Steve's hand and they left.

"You have a good kid."

"We have a good kid." Tony corrected. He opened their bedroom door and shucked off his shirt, the arc reactor lighting the room.

Steve let out a breath, watching Tony's muscles move in his shoulders as he walked. Damn, Tony was a good looking man, just the right amount of muscle, not too much at all. Steve glanced to the side and saw Grace and Analise already cuddling close. The soft glow in Analise's chest, the same as Tony's was muffled because she was pressed up against Grace. Steve smiled, stripped his own shirt off, and strode forward. He turned Tony around and pressed his lips to his. Tony huffed out a breath, then returned the kiss.

"Oh, to what do I owe the pleasure, Captain?"

"You started this, you mind if I finish it? I think I promised you a few rounds."

"You know, I think you did." Tony smiled and kissed Steve again. "Look at you, being all 'I take control' it's really sexy, you know." Tony let out a breath when Steve pushed him back onto the bed and put himself between Tony's thighs. "I think I'd very much like you to be the boss today."

Steve laughed. "Shut up, darlin', you talk so much."

"That's not what you said the other night. I rather think I talked you into a very good time-mmph." Tony laughed into a kiss.

Steve pulled away and put a finger to Tony's lips. "Sh...let me take care of you."

"I'm all yours, Captain." Tony said, lifting his hands over his head and letting them rest on the bed.

Steve smiled and kissed Tony's jaw, before kissing down his neck. He paused to place a loving, gentle kiss to the arc reactor, the creation that kept Tony's heart beating and safe, then continued to trail kisses downwards. He slid a hand under the small of Tony's back and lifted his hips, using his free hand to unbutton and drag Tony's pants and underwear off of him. Steve kiss his hipbones and nibbled on the inside of Tony's thigh.

"Steve," Tony's voice was low with arousal. His hand reached out and threaded in Steve's hair.

Steve looked up and smiled, loving the gentle pull of Tony's grip. "Yes, darlin'?" Tony's whole body twitched at that simple endearment.

"You don't have to."

"But I want to." Giving head wasn't particularly Steve's favorite, not that it was a hard no either, he just had never really enjoyed it. But Tony loved it at either end of it and, from time to time, Steve would make sure to treat Tony. It always warmed Steve's heart that Tony always asked, even when Steve offered, he always double-checked.

Tony's fingers threaded tighter for a moment as he looked at Steve, then past him to where Grace and Analise likely were curled together, then Tony nodded and let go with a lazy smile. "Well, how can I say no to that?" He let his hand drop back to the bed, a silent surrender to let Steve know he could do as he pleased, stop any time he wanted.

"You don't." Steve smiled, gripped Tony's hips, and swallowed Tony down, taking in as much as he could and loving the sharp gasp that escaped Tony's lips right before he let out a needy moan. It was going to be a long, wonderful night, and Steve wanted to fill it with sounds just like that.

Chapter Text

Sweatshirts did hide the budding breasts Maggie sported, but William still knew, of course he did. And at nine-years old, Maggie sobbed in her school bathroom. How would she hide the stain? She'd noticed her back had been tight, but the little stain, she hadn't found it in time. A tiny, tiny brown patch of dried blood. She felt sick, so sick. She threw up into the toilet, then continued to cry, sobbing into her arms, barely able to breathe. But she couldn't stay like that. If anyone in the school caught her they'd send her home early and he'd find out. He'd find out and hurt her real bad.

Maggie opened her eyes and took a few deep breaths. "What do I do, Tommy?"

"I don't know..." Thomas shook his head.

"We can't hide it. He'll find out...he'll find out." Her heart hurt as it pounded.

"Maggie, I don't know what to do." Thomas was the only one who didn't call her Magnolia anymore. He never called her by her full name. Magnolia was a flower and a flower was what William called her.

She stood up and flushed the toilet. She'd go back to class and try to enjoy her last few hours of freedom. Maybe she wouldn't bleed much more. Maybe it was just a spotting thing. She could throw away the underwear and put on new ones, couldn't she? Maybe that would work...maybe...

It didn't work. Well, the plan did, but her mother was not supposed to find the tossed out underwear and comment on it...over dinner, in front of William. Maggie grabbed her bag and bolted to get to her tutors. There was no saving her now.

-

Maggie hid under her covers. She'd fight with all her might. She'd bite and kick and scream, she wouldn't let him paralyze her ever again. She couldn't...but then, what about her dreams? If they were true...hadn't he murdered the last little girl who fought him? She wore five layers, at least then it would take him time, give her time to try to get out.

William had insisted on taking her mother to work, that meant he had the car, that he was the only way her mother could come back home.

Waiting was the worst. Magnolia could feel the terror building up in her. Then the car door slammed below her. "Maggie?" Thomas asked, breathing hard.

"Sh!" She warned as Thomas jumped onto the bed, looking ready for a fight, ready to die to protect her. She tried to listen to her father's watch tick, the sound always calmed her down, no matter how worried she got.

"Maggie...what's that?"

Maggie looked down at herself. She felt the impending doom settle over her and as it did she saw a faint red light glow off her skin. She instinctually knew that it was yet another warning, a way for her mind to process that danger was coming. She looked down at her watch. 10:23. She got up and searched her room, trying to find something, anything to fight him off with, anything heavy. She counted the ticks in her watch, it was easier to keep track of the time that way, it kept her from having to read it. She found a heavy book and waited. Three minutes ticked by.

Creak! Slam! The door flew open.

There was no slow approach this time. No. The python lunged forward and Thomas fought, clawing and scratching, biting and snarling. She tried to slam the book at William, but he grabbed her wrist tight in his.

"Tsk, tsk, why do you insist on fighting, little flower? You should have told me, I would have been nicer, gentler, but you had to lie, didn't you?"

"Let go of me! Let go!" She fought, but he was so strong.

William put his hand on her throat and squeezed. "Now be good. If you get loud you might stop breathing and your mommy would be so upset if she came home and found out you fell asleep in the bath, wouldn't she?"

At her breathlessness. The snake gained the advantage over Thomas. William smiled and brushed her hair back. "Good girl..." He gently, sickeningly gently bound her hands with his belt. With the snake in place, he didn't have to stay on top of her, no, she couldn't move, she could barely breathe. "It's too bad...you're body's probably not all the way ready, yet. But it will be soon, don't worry. Then we can have a whole garden, can't we? You'll do that for me, right? Lily didn't. She was a bad girl and cried for her mommy when she found out she was going to give me a Rose. But I don't need them...maybe we could have a Daisy or a Petunia. Wouldn't you like that?"

Silent tears leaked down her cheeks, Maggie couldn't move. That red glow seemed brighter now, so fucking bright. The danger warning inside of her was as loud as a bomb threat warning.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

"Now, baby, it's okay, until your body's all ready, we'll get you some practice. I promise the seeds will take root though...they always do." He smiled a dark, terrible, pleased smile.

"Stop, p-please."

"Oh, honey, if you're going to be loud, we're going to have to keep you quiet." He cut up a strip of her shirt and gagged her with it, tying it behind her head. He pulled off her sweatpants and glared at her when he found out she wore three more layers underneath them. "Why do you insist on being a bad girl? Don't I make you so happy? Bad girls don't get to feel good, you know? I was going to be gentle, but I can't now, I don't want you to be spoiled when you're bad." He tsk'd and then began to undress himself.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

Maggie tried to focus on her dad's watch, somehow, it was still helping her keep her sanity. 'God, please help. Dad, send an angel. Please, someone, anyone help me.' Thomas whimpered and she could feel that the snake had sunk teeth deep in him to keep him quiet. The python was wrapped around his throat, threatening death.

"Stop being bad, flower. My little Magnolia..." He climbed onto the bed and forced her legs apart so he could sit between them. "You're going to look so beautiful...and don't worry it'll only hurt a little bit."

She braced herself for the agony.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

'I want to go back when it's safe so he can never do this to me.' Something twisted inside and felt like cool water rushing through her veins.

Tick. Toc-

The pain didn't come, in fact, it went away... The gag was removed. She was wearing all her clothes. Her hands were unbound and Thomas was there, on her bed. Somehow she was even under the covers, back how she had been before it all started.

"What just happened?" Thomas asked, looking around with wide eyes. "It's like deja vu."

"What...did we have a nightmare?" Maggie asked, looking at her hands. Then she realized. She couldn't hear her watch ticking. She glanced at the digital clock next to her bed. 10:23. She looked down at the watch on her wrist. It had stopped ticking at 10:33. Somehow she knew it, she'd manage to reset everything. She knew she had three minutes to get out, to run. She got up and grabbed her backpack. She tossed her books on the ground and shoved a few pairs of clothes in. She left her phone and shoved her dad's iPod in.

"What's happening? I remember it so clearly. And his car's outside. I've seen this before."

"We're going, Thomas. I got a second chance and I'm not wasting it. He's never going to touch us again."

"But what about mom?"

"I can't, Thomas...I can't do that again." Maggie shook her head, tears rolling down her cheeks. She had to save herself this time.

Thomas nodded. Maggie threw open her window. She climbed onto the fire escape and helped Thomas out. They quickly ran down the stairs into the alley way, then ran off into the night. Maggie pulled her hood over her head and made it half-way down the next block before her watch started ticking.

-

Maggie ran through the night, taking mostly alleyways no matter how scary they were. No one would look for a runaway girl in an alleyway. Girls were afraid of alleyways. They'd look for a young girl in stores or familiar parks. She knew that. She had to run and run and go where Maggie would normally never go. She wasn't afraid of New York, she'd had lived with a monster. She ducked into an alleyway after the red of danger faded from her skin and she hid next to a dumpster, taking a breath.

"Well, yeah, Yellow, I get that she's a cute little girl but we can't just keep her like a puppy, we don't know if she's had all her shots..."

Maggie sat up straight. She didn't know where the voice was coming from, but she didn't feel the impending doom, so it wasn't a threat. She still wanted to know where the person was.

"That's exactly what I wanted to know, White. Why is a little girl all alone in an alleyway?" The voice sounded light, teasing. "Hm, you have a point, Antoinette, I'll ask."

Maggie stood up, looking all around.

"Up here, sweetie pie."

Her head snapped up and she took a step back into the wall. There was a man, dressed in red and black. He had swords on his back and his gloves had blood on them.

"Oh, honey, trust me, I look better with the mask on." The guy jumped down from the fire escape and looked at her. "You look like you had a rough night, sweetie. Running away?"

"You can't tell anyone you saw me." Maggie insisted. "Please."

"Look, go home, get over the petty feud you and your mommy had, trust me, we've all got mommy issues. It's rough out here at night. I mean I just killed two gangbangers and they shot me. Can you believe it? They shot me...and didn't even ask me on a date first. Rude, if you ask me, that's what it is."

Maggie snapped. She'd been holding it all in for so long, too long and she was done. "I don't have 'mommy issues.' My step-father has been raping me for almost two years and I'm done! I'm done...I can't... I can't take it anymore. I'd rather die out here on the streets. I finally had the ability to get away and I'm not going back."

"Ooh...tragic backstory, you must be a hero." The man said, but there was no longer a light teasing tone to it. He sounded...angry. "How's about this? I get you somewhere safe and I don't tell anyone I saw you. I have a place you can stay, if you don't mind a blind lady who smells funny."

Maggie looked down at her hands. There was no red glow and she didn't feel even the littlest bit in danger. "Okay."

-

"I'll make up the couch for you." The red-clad guy said.

"Where's your daemon, Mr. Deadpool?" Maggie wondered.

"Oh, me? My spirit animal is a chimichanga." He teased, squishing his face in his hands, trying, no doubt, to look cute. "Actually her name's Antoinette. It's ironic because she settled as a cockroach. I call her Ant. It pisses her off. But she, like me, can't be squished. I would monologue and do the whole backstory thing, but this universe is already confusing enough. I mean, there was this weird time when my lips were sealed. Seriously, who would try to silence the Merc with a Mouth, it makes no fucking sense. This universe is a clusterfuck. Long story short, I'm a mutant and I can't die." He sat down on the couch he was supposed to be making up for her and crossed his legs on the coffee table. "So, how'd you get away? You said you escaped. How'd you do it?"

"I think I'm a mutant to... I felt this thing...like I could go back to somewhere-no, somewhen safe. So I did. Then I ran away before he...before he got there."

"You're a freaky mutant too? Cool, very cool."

"Mutant..." Thomas whispered. "Maggie, the card."

Maggie pulled her bag of her shoulders and searched. There it was, Mr. Xavier's card. Maggie tried to read it, but she was too exhausted, it all looked wrong to her. "Help. He said he'd help me. I can't stay here...but I can't read this." She held out the card to Deadpool.

"This guy? You want to run off with the X-Men? But they have no fun. They have these things called 'rules.'" Deadpool sighed and looked down at the card. "Yeah, kid, you'd probably fit right in. They're good people. They'd make sure you were safe. They'd never let anyone hurt you. And they'd help you figure out your freaky-power thing."

"Help me...please?" Maggie asked. "I can't, I can't read it. I'm too tired. It gets hard to read when I'm tired. I can't focus enough."

"Oh, alright. You're just so cute and I have a soft spot for damsels in distress." He waved her off and grabbed his phone. He dialed the number and tossed it to her.

She hit the green button and waited. A tired, rough voice answered, but it was female, it didn't belong to Mr. Xavier. "Hello, this is Storm, how may I help you?"

"Is Mr. Xavier there?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Is Mr. Xavier there? He said I could call if I needed help. I need help."

There was silence for a moment. "I'll go wake him, stay on the line, sweetie, we're here to help, okay?"

"Okay..." A faint green color glowed over Maggie's skin and instead of feeling impending doom, she felt like it was about to be the best day of her life. For the first time ever, she felt like luck was on her side.

"Hello?" Mr. Xavier's voice asked, sounding tired and alert at the same time. "May I ask who's calling?"

"It's Maggie, Maggie Chase. I need your help."

"Maggie Chase, huh?" Deadpool grabbed his laptop and began typing. But she didn't think he was trying to send her back, she would have felt worse if he was.

"Okay, my dear, where are you? I'll come get you. You don't have to tell me what kind of trouble you're in, just let me know where to find you."

"I...I don't know. I can't read street signs. I'm in New York. Someone named Mr. Deadpool found me and took me to his house. I don't know if he's a super hero or a super villain just yet."

"I prefer the term 'anti-hero' if we're going with labels." Deadpool said.

"Deadpool?" Mr. Xavier sighed. "We know where you are, we're on our way. Try to get some rest. Hand the phone over to him, please."

"Okay, thank you." Maggie whispered. She tossed the phone back. "He wants to talk to you."

Deadpool lifted the phone. "Why hello, Mr. Wheels. Lovely to talk to you... Well of course she's safe with me, silly. I only kill bad guys." Deadpool covered the phone. "Would you believe this guy? Insulting my morals just because he isn't about the 'killing.'" He pulled his hand away. "No, don't worry about you future X-Man, I'll keep an eye on her, but you better get here quick, I have a pressing appointment with a dickless monster. White says we have to maim and Yellow is actually in agreement. It's lovely, they never agree on anything! Isn't it great? My fracturing personalities are agreeing. I think this is progress, Prof... Yeah, yeah, that's why they call me the 'Merc with a Mouth' have you not read this story, old man? The nerve of some people, not even reading their own stories... Just sos yah know, I cried over Logan, wait until you hear that story- Hello? He hung up on me. Stuffy old bastard. Now...Ant says you should have a place to sleep and some apple juice. I only have booze and White says kids can't have booze, so we're going to skip refreshments and go straight for bedtime. Do you want a bedtime story? All of mine have maiming in them, though, probably not relaxing."

"I'll just go to bed...but I don't think I can sleep."

"Alright, fair. I'll get you a blankie." Deadpool skipped off and returned with a thick blanket. He seemed to soften when he draped it over her. "Are you okay?"

"No. I haven't been for a long time."

"At least you own it. The first step to getting better is admitting you have a problem." Deadpool said. "I'll protect you, kid. I may look mean, but I only hurt assholes. No one will hurt you with me around."

"I can tell." Maggie reached out and grabbed his wrist. "Thank you, for helping me."

"Yeah...no problem, sweetie. The X-people will be here soon, try to get a nap, okay?"

-

Professor Xavier rolled into Deadpool's apartment. "And what sort of time do you call this?" Deadpool asked sarcastically. "I told you I had an appointment with a dickless monster. I'm going to be late now and Yellow likes to keep a tight schedule or else we end up rushing the fun bloody parts."

"You're not going to go run off to kill som-" Professor Xavier paused and looked at him with wide eyes. "You looked up her step-father, why?"

Deadpool tilted his head toward the girl on his sofa. "I like kids and, contrary to popular belief, I'm not evil...just morally ambiguous. I'm not a Sith or a Jedi...I'm Gray."

Professor X looked at Maggie and his eyes widened. He covered his mouth to keep himself from vomiting, but Collin made a horrified sound. What sort of monster could do that to a little girl? What sort of sick bastard could ever...? His jaw tightened and he looked at Deadpool. Deadpool has seen more. It seemed that Maggie wasn’t the first victim...not even the second. "I could stop you. I don't much like killing or violence...but I think I'll let you go take care of this. We'll keep her safe."

"Ooh, I get to go have fun." Deadpool cheered. "Yeah, Yellow, the old man gave us permission to play. Yes, White, we'll do it in order, if we did it out of order he'd bleed out before he got to feel the REAL pain. Cheerio, Prof. One double-dead pedophile coming right up... Oh...by the way, nice rims."

Professor X glared at Deadpool, who waved and jumped out the window. "Oh you poor girl, I promise I won't let anyone hurt you ever again."

-

Deapool hummed to himself as he sat on the cement barrier, swinging his legs. He turned his head. "Oh, you're here. You know, we were going to leave it at that last line, up there ^ and be all hopeful and happy, but I like to hear myself talk. I'm so glad I have an audience. Where am I? You ask." He spread his arms out wide. He was in an abandoned factory that looked like it was about to be torn down. "Cliché, I know, but they're classics for a reason."

Deadpool looked over at the man sitting in the chair, bound. And then at the python he’d tied up and tossed in a cage. “See, abandoned factories work so well because they’re universal. Because if you wake up in one and see a badass with swords staring at you, your very first thought is going to be: I fucked up. Then you’re gonna start sweating bullets. True story.” Deadpool grinned. “Yes, Yellow, we can wake him up now. Do you think he answers to dickless?” Deadpool shrugged and hopped down, skipping over to the man and shaking him awake.

“What the...?!” William opened his eyes, then looked around. He didn’t sweat though and Yelliw didn’t like that. Baddies were supposed to get scared. “Whatever this is about, I don’t have money, but I have a family and I need to get back to them. Please.”

“Whoa, and people think I’m a sociopath.” Deadpool whistled. “You know I did some research on you. Your name isn’t really William, is it? It was Marcus before, and before that it was Jake. You know, that first one, Jake, really caught my eye. See, Jake was suspected in killing what, fifteen women? What’s your grudge against girls named after flowers?”

The man smirked and opened his mouth.

“Don’t answer that, asshole. I don’t actually care. I don’t want some fucked up guy getting the chance to monologue. You’re one sick fuck and smoothe as Ted Bundy, but I don’t much care for assholes like you.”

“You know where my Magnolia is, don’t you? Where is she?”

“Well, about as far away from where you’re going as possible. Now. I’m not going to send you to hell quickly, but I’m very curious as to how much I can make you scream before you get there. Yellow wants me to shove your own dick up your ass and you know that might not be a bad idea.” Deadpool looked away from the man.

“What are you looking at? Are you insane?”

Deadpool sighed. “I was looking at the audience. You’re don’t get to be high and mighty, you’re a rapist and murderer. I don’t like those.” Deadpool looked at his audience. “Cover your eyes, sweeties, this could be graphic.” He pulled a sword free, flicked his wrist, and smiled at the first scream.

Chapter Text

Tony sipped a coffee (decaf, only because Steve hid the good stuff between 10PM and 4AM) and listened to the news. Steve would likely be up any moment to go for his run and Tony'd been up all night in the lab, so he wanted to at least see Steve before he crashed for a few hours.

"...families across the country can finally have closure for their lost loved ones. In a video deemed too gruesome to show publicly, a serial killer and rapist, named Jake Martin, confessed to forty-five murders. Twenty-nine of the names he listed were of girls between the ages of nine and twelve, and sixteen mothers of those children were confirmed among his victims. He has been dubbed as the Gardener by authorities, as all of his victims were young girls who's names we also the names of flowers. He confessed to targeting single women to gained their trust before raping their daughters and murdering them, as well as murdering any mother who fought back. A mass grave, planted in rows, was found on his parent's estate in Upstate New York. Medical examiners have confirmed that all-" The news woman swallowed and covered her mouth, as if to contain bile. She took a breath and continued. "Confirmed that all of the child victims were in varying stages of pregnancy at death. Police have confirmed that his last victim, 37-year-old Amy Chase of Brooklyn, was killed by him and then he staged her in a car wreck. Mrs. Chase's daughter Magnolia is currently missing." A picture of a tiny girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a toothy grin filled the screen. "If anyone has seen Magnolia Chase, please contact the police. Jake Martin was killed after his confession by a mercenary, police cannot confirm the merc's identity. Back to the weather, please." The woman requested, obviously distraught.

"Jesus." Steve whispered.

Tony shivered and turned off the news. "It's horrifying. At least they stopped him."

"Sometimes I wish we could fight it all." Steve shook his head. "There are monsters out there." Steve frowned.

"You sleep okay?" Tony asked.

"Yeah, what kept you up? I missed you."

Tony shrugged. "Suit update, lost track of time. I've been so busy as Tony Stark it's hard to get Iron Man stuff done."

"But Iron Man is Tony Stark."

"The world doesn't know that. Maybe I should have an LMD do all my normal work. I'd trust JARVIS to pretend to be me."

"I'm afraid Miss Potts has already yelled at you for that, and there are some things a machine just can't mimic." JARVIS retorted.

"Eh, I'll just update the machines, they'll eventually get it right." Tony shrugged. "We have this big thing going down tonight. I finally got the arc reactor finished. We're going to be completely off the grid tonight after everyone goes home. It'll be pretty awesome. Pepper wants to claim the initiative, but I built the damn thing, and I'm doing the heavy lifting."

"And she's doing everything else. Cut her some slack, give her some credit, genius." Steve patted Tony's back. "I'm going to run. Need anything while I'm out?"

"No, I'm good. I'm going to get a nap in before Peter wakes up and goes energizer bunny on me."

"Sleep in." Steve kissed his cheek. "You've got a big night and Pepper will be pissed if you don't get this done. I'll make sure Peter gets fed and doesn't destroy the place."

"Square deal." Tony squeezed his hand. "Sorry about last night."

"It's just a hazard with you, but one of these days I might just have to come and distract you from your work down there." Steve winked and headed to the elevator.

"I do hope that's a promise, Rogers."

"Sure is, shellhead." Steve smiled as the doors closed between them.

Tony nodded and turned. Grace was standing there. "Aren't you supposed to be running or something?"

Grace shrugged. "I wanted to cuddle with Analise."

"Fair enough, she is cuddly. Just stay on your side of the bed." Tony teased and reached out to scratch Grace's ears only to realize what he almost did and yank his hand back at the last second. "Shit...I must be really tired. I'm sorry."

"For what?" Grace asked.

"You know what." Tony rubbed his head. "I need sleep. Big night tonight."

-

"Try it." Steve commented.

"Peanut butter and bananas on bread?" Peter eyed him.

"It's good, just try it. If you don't like it I'll make you a new lunch and eat it myself." Steve wouldn't let the food go to waste though. His phone went off and he looked down at it. A buddy from SHEILD had texted him.

'Shit is about to hit the fan, be prepared to suit up, and you might need to get ahold of your Iron friend.'

"Is something wrong, Papa?"

"Hm? I don't know, could be nothing. We'll figure it out as we go along." Steve shrugged. Everyone tended to inflate problems. They'd figure it out at SHEILD and likely wouldn't need him. Steve was taking leave anyway. They tried to make sure someone would be around for Peter, especially when things picked up at work with Tony, because balancing everything really became difficult then, and neither of them liked to leave Peter alone for long stretches of time. Still, Steve felt something settle in his gut, something heavy.

"This isn't bad." Peter commented. "I like PB&J better though."

Steve smiled faintly and ruffled Peter's hair. "How about you finish up and we go visit Aunt and Uncle Parker, huh?"

"Why, is something bad happening?" Peter wondered. "Is this about your text?"

Steve didn't want to lie. "I don't know, bud, I just have this feeling in my gut. I think it's best you head over there, okay? But don't worry, take your time."

"Does Dad know?"

Steve shook his head, "I won't bother him over a gut feeling...he worked all night and it's...probably nothing. Plus, you were going to visit tomorrow right? Head start."

"Okay, I'll pack an overnight bag, just in case."

"Sorry, Peter."

"It's okay, your soldier instincts are just kicking in. Dad sorta does the same thing. He's usually right." Peter shrugged and took another bite of his sandwich. "Needs honey."

"Like you need more sugar." Steve scoffed.

-

Steve dropped Peter off and went to the gym, texting Tony to let him know where he and Peter were. He didn't mention his feeling, he knew Tony had enough on his plate and it was probably nothing anyway. Grace paced the gym as Steve brutalized the punching bags. He didn't like feeling on edge, it gave him too much energy and he never really had a good way to direct it except fighting. Tony had suggested vigorous sex for stress relief, but Steve hated it when his strength got away from him. He'd left bruises on Tony's hips once and not the light 'squeezed you too hard' bruises that kind of hurt in a good, possessive way, no, he'd squeezed too hard and it had hurt, Tony. Steve wasn't about that, he couldn't do that to anyone, least of all Tony. He refused to sleep with Tony when he was hyped up on adrenaline, no matter how many times the witch promised he healed quickly and that Steve looked sexy when he lost control. There was losing control in a good way and in a bad way. Punching things helped him keep from loosing it in a bad way.

He punched and punched and...where did all the people go? Steve's fist shattered another punching bag and he sighed and got another one. He looked at his phone and frowned. It was late, Tony had texted him, the Tower was going off grid soon.

'Sorry, I'll try to be there to see it light up, working out some energy. Love you.' Steve sent. He wasn't going to ruin Tony's moment with his stress.

'Are you alright? Flashbacks or something?' Tony immediately responded.

'Just a feeling. I'm alright, thank you.' Steve smiled and got back to his work out.

"Trouble sleeping?"

Steve huffed and punched the bag one more time. If Nick was here, his gut was right. Something was wrong. "You here with a mission, sir?" Steve wondered.

"I am." Nick answered. "I still say it would be easier if you took up the digs we offered you in DC...but I see New York suits you."

Steve looked up and saw that Nick had a smile on his face, as much as he could smile anyway. His spider daemon gave away nothing, hidden against his neck, almost invisible. "New York is home, sir." Steve said, throwing another few punches.

Nick nodded.

"I'm actually on leave from SHEILD right now, so are you trying to get me back out there early or what? I have commitments."

"What, like Peter's piano recital next week?"

Grace stopped pacing and snarled, fierce and angry.

Steve froze and turned, narrowing his eyes. "You don't get to talk about him, we made a deal, he stays hidden and that means you don't get to go around talking about him in public like that."

"Sorry, he's good though, a prodigy, not unlike his parents." Nick conceded and held out a file. "We're trying to save the world, Cap, and we need you with us."

Steve sighed and grabbed the file, his eyes widening and jaw clenching. Why was this back? It couldn't be, not around Peter, not around anyone.

"Hydra's secret weapon. Howard Stark fished that out of the ocean when he was looking for you. He thought what we think, the Tesseract could be the key to unlimited sustainable energy. That's something the world sorely needs."

"Tony's more then capable of doing that on his own power, you don't need this thing."

"Stark Tower going off grid is one thing, but a whole world? That's another."

"Give him time and ditch this-" Steve froze, reading the file. They didn't have the Tesseract anymore. "Who took it from you?"

"He's called Loki. He's not from around here." Nick said. "I understand this is a personal thing and I know you've earned your downtime. I respect it every time you ask for time, I do, so it's up to you if you're in." Nick nodded. "We'll bring you up to speed if you're in. The world is stranger than you know."

"I was frozen in ice, thawed seventy years later, found my soul mate in a flying tin can, and have fought an army of robots. At this point, I doubt anything would surprise me."

"Ten bucks says you're wrong." Nick chuckled.

Steve turned and looked at Grace. He'd talk to Tony about this and see what he thought.

"There's a debriefing package in the saddlebag of your bike." Nick called. "Is there anything you can tell us about the Tesseract that we ought to know now?"

"You should have left it in the ocean." Steve stepped outside and his head turned as he hear Tony's suit fly above him. He turned and smiled as Stark Tower lit up. It's wasn't half bad, for a big ugly tower. He couldn't help but feel proud, even with the rumble in his gut. "We're going a bit faster than normal, you prepared to keep up, Grace?"

"Please, I could outrun that bike any day of the week, give me a challenge. I'll race you home." Grace quirked a smile and ran off.

-

Tony held up his glass to Pepper's. His was sparkling apple cider, and he was glad that he didn't feel too tempted by the champagne, though a little upset that Steve wasn't there to have the third glass he'd prepared.

"Really, though, only twelve percent?" Pepper asked, shoving Tony's shoulder, but Tanner's feathers weren't ruffled so he knew she wasn't truely upset.

"I did a lot of heavy lifting. I was up all night last night. I missed date night and all of that."

Pepper laughed and shook her head.

"Don't shake your head, missing date night with Steve is a big deal. He doesn't like it when plans don't fall through..."

"He can be pretty particular." Analise nodded and jumped up onto Tony's lap. She snuggled down, the light in her chest glowing softly against his knee.

"Good, Tony here could use some structure." Pepper grinned. "I'm really glad you're happy, Tony, truly, you deserve it." She kissed his cheek in a friendly way.

"I had no clue you cared so much, thank you, Pep." Tony teased, but his final words had warmth and true gratitude under them.

"Now, about that twelve percent, I really think I earned more."

"Ha-ha, nice try, Pep."

"Sir," JARVIS broke in, "the telephone. I'm afraid my protocols are being overwritten."

Tony rolled his eyes as Agent Coulson began to speak on his phone.

"Stark, we need to talk."

Tony held up his phone and looked into the camera. "You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark, please leave a message."

"This is urgent!"

"Then leave it urgently." Tony huffed, then his elevator opened. "Security breach." Tony commented. Agent Coulson was lucky Tony was on the common room floor. If Tony had been upstairs, no amount of fiddling with JARVIS would have let Agent Coulson in.

"Phil, come on in."

"Wait, his first name is Agent, I remember these things." Tony insisted.

"Oh, like how you remember I'm allergic to strawberries?" Pepper rolled her eyes. "Come on, Phil, celebrate with us."

"We need you to look this over, as soon as possible."

"SHEILD and Tony Stark don't really do business, you know. And I don't like being handed things." Tony commented. Not by people he didn't trust. They were always handing him bad news or worse, bombs or threats or...something.

"That's alright, because I love being handed things." Pepper grinned, took the folder, than handed it to Tony and snatching his glass while giving Phil hers. She downed Tony's glass. "Yours tastes better than mine." She sighed.

"Official consulting hours are between eight and five every other Thursday, I sent your pal Fury a memo, it had pirate pictures on it to make him feel more at home."

"This isn't a consultation."

Tony straightened up. Coulson knew he was Iron Man, did they need him for something less technical and more...hands on?

"Is this about the Avengers?" Pepper asked. "Which I know nothing about."

Tony walked away, needing to get to the bottom of this. Maybe this was why Steve had been so stressed. "The Avengers Initiative was scrapped, I thought. I did some digging on your system, heard Fury got turned down for this 'grand idea.' And last I recall, I didn't qualify."

"Really?" Pepper asked.

"Apparently I'm volatile, self-obsessed, and don't play well with others."

"Which isn't a shocker." Analise said dryly.

"This isn't about Tony Stark, nor is it about personality profiles. Though, we're going to need both Tony Stark and Iron Man on this, if you understand my meaning. We're bringing in a lot of smart minds to help with this, Tony Stark can help with that, but we're also going to need some brawn."

The elevator doors opened and Tony looked up from the briefing to se Steve, holding a file in his hands.

"Tony..." Steve nodded, Grace looking fierce, prepared for a fight at his side.

Tony looked down at the screen and closed his eyes. Then he looked up at Steve. "Seems SHEILD really wants a piece of me. They want me and Iron Man, are you going to let them get their grubby hands all over me?" Tony flipped up all of the profiles for possible Avengers, and...did that say Thor was a 'god of thunder?' What even was that?

Steve had his 'this is serious, Tony' face on.

"They got us both...didn't they? Well, shit..." Tony sighed and nodded. "Alright, I've got homework to do, guess we're not all celebrating tonight after all..." He smiled and looked up. "Hey, it was supposed to be a birthday surprise, but I made a few modifications to the suit."

Steve smiled then. "You gonna have my back, shellhead?"

"Always, winghead."

Chapter Text

Tony held up the phone so it faced him and Steve. "Hey, kid!" Tony smiled.

"Hi, bud."

"You two are going on a mission, aren't you?" Peter responded instead of greeting them.

Steve and Tony shared a look then Tony shrugged. "You caught us."

"How long?" Peter wondered, not looking upset.

"Shouldn't be too long, just finding stolen property and a baddie. We've got this." Steve promised.

"Okay. Stay safe and win, heroes always have to win." Peter smiled. "I love you, Dad."

"I love you, Peter." Tony beamed.

"I love you, Papa."

"Love you, son." Steve promised. They always made sure, always to say I love you...just in case. There were no guarantees in their field, after all. "We'll be home as soon as possible."

"Be good for your aunt and uncle, kid." Tony blew him a kiss, then ended the call. "JARVIS, I'm taking the suit. I'll run point, but you're going to be doing the heavy lifting for my LMD. make it look convincing, yeah?"

"Always, sir." JARVIS responded. "The LMD will meet you both by the jet. Shall I send you the suit as well?"

"Yes, and bring my Cap suit, too. It'll give more protection than that flimsy SHEILD one I saw in their files." Tony said, then paused. "Jets. Warm up two planes."

"Of course, sir."

"Two?" Steve asked.

"Iron Man and Captain America may live in the same building, but Tony Stark likes to arrive fashionably late, so...two planes. Better cover."

Steve conceded that it was a good idea with a nod. "Meet you there, Iron Man."

"See you soon, Cap."

-

Grace seemed amused with Coulson's swooning. Steve just felt a little uncomfortable. Coulson's dalmatian daemon seemed just as uncomfortable with his antics. Steve stepped off the plane as soon as possible and looked around. They'd landed in the middle of the ocean. A red-head walked toward them, there seemed to be no daemon in sight. Steve looked for one. This woman looked familiar...hadn't she been working for Tony at one point?

"This is Agent Romanoff." Coulson introduced.

"You're needed on the bridge." She nodded to him, then turned to Steve and held out her hand as Coulson walked off. "Captain."

"Ms. Romanoff." He shook her hand.

"Looking for someone?" Natasha asked, then a raven daemon flew from it's perch almost fifty yards away and landed on her shoulder.

Steve narrowed his eyes. "How?"

"I'm not a witch, it takes a long time and lots of hard work, but you can train yourself into being able to put some distance between you and your daemon." Natasha shrugged.

Grace looked up at the raven and nodded. "Grace."

"Ivan." The raven answered in a smooth, dry tone, not unlike Natasha's. Pretty and pleasant, but with danger underneath the surface.

"Has Coulson gotten you to sign his trading cards yet?"

Grace laughed. "Not yet."

"They are vintage, he's proud and they'd be a complete set with a signature." Natasha commented.

Steve let his eyes wander and saw a familiar man, familiar, mostly because Peter never shut up about him. "Dr. Banner?" Steve asked. If Peter were here he'd be the one begging for an autograph. Peter could talk on and on about Banner's research and seemingly understand it and Steve couldn't understand half the words Peter used, but he knew Dr. Banner was a hero to Peter, so he smiled at him. Tony admired the man too, so that was high praise.

"Oh, yeah...um, hi." Bruce walked forward and a mouse daemon hid sat on his shoulder, looking around calmly, completely opposite of Banner himself. His eyes were shifting everywhere, obviously trying to avoid things that might make him stress out.

Grace seemed to notice the energy, and while she wasn't (usually) intimidating, she took a few steps back and lay down on the ground.

Banner noticed this, and smiled gratefully, wringing his hands a little less. "Nice to meet you." He held out his hand.

Steve shook it and smiled. "I heard you were going to be on board. Word is you can help us find the cube."

"Is that all you heard?" Bruce asked sheepishly.

"It's all I cared to hear." Steve nodded.

"All of this must be a bit strange... I mean, I know you've had some time to adjust, but still..."

"Army's still the army, a war is a war." Steve shrugged. "I think after working with Iron Man the big ships and stuff don't freak me out as much."

"Speaking of, where is he? I thought you two were both flying in from New York." Natasha commented.

"They called in Mr. Stark and Iron Man. Shellhead takes his job seriously so he's with his boss and Stark well...he does like to be fashionably late."

"Always one for a show." Natasha snorted. "We're gonna want to head inside, guys, it's going to get hard to breathe."

-

Steve opened his bag and smiled. Tony still wasn't there yet, but in a way he was. The suit up on the display rack looked bright and...thin. He pulled the suit out of his bag and smiled. Dark blue, Steve's favorite shade, a few faded red and white stripes across the abs. It was simple and beautiful. It felt light-weight, but strong. There was a note tacked onto it.

'Created a new fabric for you, should hold up to all the wear and tear. Also added some extra armor to the vital areas. I may have taken it down a size around the backside...you know, to show off that ass of yours. I kept the wings on the helmet, not everything can change, Winghead. Love you, stay safe. Happy birthday. -Shellhead'

Steve smiled and began to get dressed. Tony had, remarkably, stitched in an inside pocket to his jacket. Steve slipped the golden coin into it. He couldn't keep a picture of Peter or Tony with him, on the off chance he was caught, but Peter had given him the gold coin, it was a Galactic Credit, from Star Wars. Tony had made it for Peter and Peter had given it up to Steve once he'd finished all the movies. In a way, it was from both of them, and he'd carry it with him, right over his heart. He put his helmet on and slipped his shield onto his back. He kissed the note gently and put it with the coin.

"Thanks for the present." He made a mental note to give him a proper 'thank you' when all this was over and headed out.

Natasha was outside. "That's not the one SHIELD made you."

"Brought a suit from home."

"It looks good." Natasha smiled as they walked the hall to the ship. As soon as they were on board, alone with just them and their daemons, she continued. "A present from Iron Man?"

Steve didn't say a word.

"Hey, Captain, I know about...all of it. I spied on him for a while for SHEILD, don't worry, secret's safe with me...or I'm pretty sure Iron Man would have killed me by now." Her smile actually seemed genuine this time, though not quite friendly. "Only Fury and I know, we intend to keep it that way. It's good to have found your soul mate, huh?" She asked as she got strapped in.

"You found yours too?"

"I have two soul mates." Natasha commented. "Oh, don't look so stern, one of them is a platonic soul mate and the other is romantic."

"Oh, I've never heard of someone finding more than one in a lifetime. Are they nice?"

"Well, my platonic soul mate is currently AWOL, and my romantic soul mate didn't even flinch when he shot me...as far as I'm concerned I'm at fifty percent on soul mates." She chuckled, then shrugged.

"Clint Barton." Steve realized. "We'll get him back for you."

"Thanks. Strap in, Cap, time to go."

When they arrived, Natasha flew just low enough so Grace could leap out of the plane with Steve, without injuring herself. Steve lifted his shield to protect an old man and Grace growled at the figure dressed in green.

"Oh, look, they sent a soldier in to fight me." Loki smirked. "A man out of time."

"I'm not the one who's out of time."

Steve's earpiece crackled to life. "Really? That's your one-liner," a familiar, distorted, metallic voice asked. "Pathetic, winghead."

"Everyone's a critic." Steve said rushing toward Loki. Grace circled him, but there was no daemon for her to attack.

"Looking for someone? Oh, I don't have a pet like you. I'm an Asgardian, a god, I don't wear my soul on my sleeve like a pathetic human." Loki scoffed.

"Doesn't matter." Steve rushed in and threw a punch. Loki barely reacted to it. This person really wasn't human. Steve would have to go all out. He fought with all his might as Grace helped clear the civilians, but he was outmatched.

Music began to play, loudly, in the streets. "Shoot to thrill, play to kill, I got my gun at the ready, gonna fire at will, yeah." AC/DC? Steve sighed and looked up, that could only mean one thing. For real, though, did Tony always have to have intro music. He could be so dramatic.

Then again, the music had made Loki look up, away from Steve. The ulterior motive mad Steve grin.

"Incoming, winghead."

Steve stayed down and grinned when Loki was blasted back and Tony stood in front of him. He collected his shield and stepped up next to Tony, Grace striding to stand with them.

Loki stood down at once, outnumbered and likely out gunned.

"Iron Man. Nice timing as usual."

"You know, the more time I spend with the boss the more dramatic I seem to get, is it like a disease or something? I should probably get tested."

Steve turned and leveled him with the 'this is serious' look.

"We should probably restrain him, right, Cap?"

"Are you two done flirting? I'm more than willing to go back to fighting, this is sickening." Loki drawled.

Iron Man's repulsors whirred in warning and Loki held up his hands and lowered his head.

"Nice suit, by the way, Cap."

Steve didn't need to see Tony's face to know he'd winked as Steve walked forward to restrain Loki.

-

"I don't like it." Steve whispered to Tony.

"Me neither." Tony responded, glancing at Loki. "It was too easy."

"He barely even flinched when I hit him and I wasn't pulling my punches."

"I'm threatening, but not that threatening."

Steve shot a look at Tony. "Be serious, Iron Man."

"I am. If he didn't flinch against you, then how the hell did I get him to surrender, it smells, that's all I'm saying." Tony shook his head, then the jet shook and lightning cracked through the air.

Grace growled, looking toward the back of the jet and...upwards.

"Where did that come from?" Natasha asked.

Steve turned, looking where Grace had, then spotting the nervous look on Loki's face. He looked genuinely afraid for the first time. "What, afraid of a little lightning?"

"I'm not overly fond of what follows."

Steve looked to Tony, confused.

"Shit, Thor." Tony hissed, then the whole jet shook. Tony marched toward the door, looking ready for a fight.

"What are you doing?"

"I actually read the profiles SHEILD did, this guy's coming in here and I'm not letting him fuck this up." Tony opened the back door, likely to encourage the god of thunder to not bust through it.

A man with long hair and a longer cloak stepped in and shoved Tony aside like he was nothing before grabbing Loki and flying off.

"I'm on it."

"Iron Man wait, we need a plan of attack."

"We don't have time for that." Tony hissed before he was gone.

Steve huffed and looked at Grace. "I though we were past his disobedient phase."

"He's not a puppy, you can't train him." Grace laughed. "He still rough around the edges. He always will be." Grace shrugged.

"Great, this is going to go so well." Steve didn't mean it though. He knew this would all go to shit. Still, he'd have Tony's back, even when he was stubborn. He put on a parachute and jumped.

Chapter Text

Steve listened as Thor described his brother's plan. It seemed rather grim, facing an army of aliens. And where the hell was Tony? He was flighty, but damn, he should show up. Steve knew he cared, so why wasn't he there? And what was this about him building a portal? Why? It all seemed so unreal, so...sci-fi, like one of Peter's favorite movies or shows. Why would Loki get caught on purpose if he had such grand plans, wouldn't he want to be out there, doing he work? And Natasha, she'd looked so uncomfortable when she spoke of Clint being taken over by Loki, it was, perhaps, the first time she looked truly uncomfortable in her own skin, even Ivan shifted around.

Steve shook his head. Where was Tony? He felt irrationally angry. Tony would know what to do with all this sci-fi craziness, and yet he wasn't there to help. Then Steve perked up as Thor defended his brother. Steve could hear the footsteps of the Iron Man suit.

"He has killed eighty people in two days." Natasha glared at Thor. She obviously wasn't a fan of Loki and Steve could understand. He'd be furious if anyone tried to take his soul mate from him.

And Thor shrugged. "He's adopted."

Steve wasn't sure he liked it. He couldn't get a read on Thor, he didn't have a daemon to watch. Grace came onto the flight deck ahead of Tony and moved to Steve's side.

"Oh, aren't you a beauty?" Thor moved forward quickly, reaching out to touch Grace.

Grace lowered into a defensive stance and let out a terrifying growl as Steve jumped to his feet, ready to stop the god of thunder from touching his daemon. "Back off."

Thor didn't look phased, but he took a step back. "She's beautiful. I must admit I know little of your daemons. Jane informed me that touching them was person, I forgot, I apologize. She just looks like such a fierce warrior."

Steve stayed standing for a moment until Thor took one more step back, then he sat again and Grace sat next to him, her tail twitching in irritation. "We don't touch daemons."

"Sorry, but I can't see what's so wrong about it. They're a part of you, isn't it just like a handshake? Jane couldn't describe it really."

"Have you ever been at someone's mercy before, well and truly? Imagine that feeling and multiply it by thirty, that's what it feels like. You give that sort of power to the wrong person and it's...painful." Bruce said, his mouse daemon hiding at the very idea of it.

"It seems an intimate thing then, the vulnerability, not unlike lovemaking." Thor shrugged.

Bruce blushed and shifted. "Anyway! Um, the mechanics of this. I wonder if that's what this is about. The iridium, what's it for?"

"It's a stabilizing agent." Tony's voice cut through Bruce's and... That was not an LMD.

Steve could tell just by looking. The LMD didn't move like that, didn't mutter the way Tony did to Coulson. The LMD put on a show, the way Tony did when he was on stage. This Tony was real, because he had a little bit of discomfort about him, a muteness under all the confidence that consumed everyone and everything around him. Tony was out of his suit and the suit next to him was likely being piloted by JARVIS. The question was, where was Tony's decoy?

"It means the portal won't collapse the way it did at SHIELD." Tony said, walking forward.

Iron Man followed silently, before pausing at Thor. "No hard feelings, Point Break."

"Who are you? You do not have a daemon like the rest of your kind." Thor looked at Tony as if he were a different creature entirely.

"I do, she's just not here right now." Tony looked at all the computers.

"Can you shed any light on this, Mr. Stark?" Steve asked.

"Hm? Oh, this would be a bit sci-fi to you, sorry." Tony waved his hand and looked around. "That man over there is playing Galaga, just saying. And how does Fury even see all of this?"

"He turns." Hill sighed.

"Exhausting and time consuming." Tony rolled his eyes. "The iridium will help Loki keep the portal open for as long as he wants. The rest of the supplies will be easy enough for Agent Barton to get his hands on. After that he'd just need a power source of high-energy density."

Steve's eyes narrowed as he saw Tony slip something onto a computer. "What for?"

"Oh, to kick-start the process of bringing aliens to kill us all."

The irritation came back, why? This flippancy was normal and, admittedly, it annoyed Steve from time to time but he was finding himself really annoyed this time. 'He gets this way when he's nervous.' Steve told himself to try to ease the anger. Tony wasn't intentionally callous, he just fell back on humor and emotional emptiness when he got scared, it was normal, not malicious. But if Tony was scared....

"When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?" Hill asked.

"Last night." Tony said as though it were obvious. That did explain why Steve hadn't seen either Tony or Iron Man last night, not even at the debriefing from the capture of Loki. "I read Selvig's papers. Am I the only one who did the reading?"

There it was again, the irritation...only it was edging toward anger and Grace...did she just growl?

Tony seemed to notice it to, looking at Grace with a hurt expression on his face.

"Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?" Steve asked, put-out.

Bruce spoke up. "He'd have to heat the cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier."

"Unless," Tony corrected, "Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the quantum tunneling effect."

"Well, if he could do that, he could achieve Heavy Ion Fusion at any reactor on the planet."

"Finally, someone who speaks English." Tony walked forward and held out his hand to Bruce.

"Was that English?" Steve asked Grace, who shrugged unhelpfully. Sometimes it was like Tony spoke in Tongues, Peter was doing it more often too as he got older.

Bruce shook Tony's hand and both of them froze. A soft, green and gold glow flowed from their hands. Bruce seemed to finally relax and he smiled warmly. His mouse daemon climbed out of his pocket and tilted her head, looking at Tony with interest.

"Huh." Nat laughed.

"What does that mean?" Steve asked. He didn't understand. Did Tony have two soul mates...like Natasha? But the light looked different than his and Tony's. It was one solid color, not the bright white with tendrils of color the way Tony and Steve's light was.

"Platonic soul mates, interesting. Two pair of them on one team." Natasha muttered.

"It's lovely to meet you, Dr. Banner. Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled...and I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster." Tony teased.

The mouse daemon laughed, even though Bruce seemed uncomfortable, he looked down at the light again and then relaxed again, letting go and smiling. "Thanks...."

"It's not as much fun as it looks." The mouse said.

"Oh, forgive me, this is Amelia." Bruce nodded to his daemon.

"I think you and Analise would get along swimmingly." Tony muttered. "So, I have to ask, do you, like, Hulk-out too?" He leaned in to look at Amelia's little form. "That has to be an interesting inquiry."

"Dr. Banner is only here to track the cube." Nick warned. "I was hoping you might join him."

"Well, that's why I'm here." Tony shrugged. "That and my body guard wants to help you lot for some unknown reason. I told him to ditch the morals, but he didn't bite."

Iron Man let out a sigh, but didn't say anything. Steve figured it was likely JARVIS that was put-out, rather than JARVIS' interpretation of how Iron Man would feel in the moment.

"I'd start with that stick of his." Steve suggested. It seemed like the best strategy. "It may be magical, but it reminds me a lot of a Hydra weapon."

"I don't know about that, but I am curious as to how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys."

"Monkeys? I do not understand. Is this like daemons as well?"

"I understand!" Steve smiled at Tony. "I understood that reference." He felt proud, but then frowned. Usually Tony would smile at something like that, but Tony wasn't smiling. What was going on?

Tony rolled his eyes and turned to Bruce. "Shall we play, Doctor?"

"Sure." Bruce nodded.

"I'm coming with you." Iron Man (JARVIS) turned to follow.

"Uh, is that necessary?" Bruce fidgeted.

"I don't leave Mr. Stark's side unless I'm ordered to do otherwise."

"It's nothing personal, I don't like SHIELD much, is all. I feel like I walked into a den of lions you know? Besides, with my weak heart someone needs to be around for me." Tony tapped his chest. "I'm kinda like you, Dr. Banner, got to mind how fast my heart beats." It wasn't exactly untrue. Tony's heart was weaker and he was likely to experience complications, but his lungs were far more taxed by the reactor than his heart was. Hell, even his spine took a beating for carrying around the added weight and awkward pressure. His heart was protected by the reactor and weakened by it in equal measure.

"I never considered that." Banner muttered.

"Oh, did that alter your daemon?" Amelia wondered, returning Tony's earlier curiosity about her.

"Yeah, Analise glows in her chest, it's faint, but in the dark it's impossible to miss. Both of us had a chunk taken out." Tony whispered, shivered, then shook his head. "Time to go, Iron Man, with us and for God's sakes, keep a loose follow, I need at least five feet."

-

Tony didn't understand, why had Grace growled at him. It just wasn't right, it was...wrong on every level. Grace rarely lost her temper. Steve was far more prone to it, Tony and Steve had fought enough for Tony to know that much. What had he done that even Grace was upset? He walked with Bruce into the lab and froze. Shit, when he'd asked JARVIS to sweep the place he hadn't thought he'd run into his LMD.

Bruce looked between the LMD and Tony, pointing a finger at both of them. "Uh, what's going on here? Didn't that Loki guy multiply?"

"That isn't one of that's asshole's puppets." Tony sighed, trying to reassure Bruce. How in the hell had he found another soul mate? It wasn't the same as Steve, Tony could tell. It felt warm and safe, not unlike how he felt around Rhodey or Pepper or Happy. It was like being with a dear friend, like they'd known each other their whole lives. "It's an LMD: life model decoy." Tony walked forward and pulled on a seam in the LMD's neck that revealed the mechanics within. "Decoy, keeps me safe. Currently I have JARVIS running him and looking around for any secrets SHIELD may be hiding. We weren't suppose to meet." Tony glared, then put the flesh back where it belonged.

"Sorry, sir." JARVIS answered from in Tony's LMD.

"Why would you need a dec-" Bruce looked from Tony, to the armor, then tilted his head. "Is that empty right now?"

Tony looked at his suit, then at Bruce. Well, they were soul mates so... "Yeah."

"I thought the cover story was a bit weird." Bruce took it in stride. "Very cool suit by the way."

"You think so? That's high praise, thank you." Tony grinned. "J, get in the suit, it'll be no fun if someone else catches us..."

"Does Captain America know?"

"Yeah, he found out a ways back, but he's it." Tony shrugged and began to wake up all of his computers. SHIELD was so outdated, he'd had to bring a lot of his own things along if he had any hope at getting actual work done.

"You brought so much with you, I just brought a toothbrush." Bruce shook his head.

"I travel in style." Tony shrugged. "If you think this is something, you should come see Stark Tower. Top ten floors of the workspace are all R&D, you'd love it, it's like candy land. Actually, my personal lab is candy lab, you'd love that one, it's in the living space though. You could stay in an apartment if you wanted." He said to the doctor, picking up a tool. It seemed pointy enough.

"Ooh! That sounds like fun. We should go." Amelia cheered. "I'd like to meet this Analise lady, she sounds lovely."

"I don't know, the last time I was in New York I kind of broke Harlem."

"I promise a stress free environment." Tony smiled, stepping around Bruce. "No tension, no surprises." He jabbed Bruce with the tool and he jumped in shock. Tony looked into Bruce's eyes, trying to spot any change, but there wasn't one. "Wow, you've got it on lock, don't you? What's your secret?"

"I like him, lots, Brucie." Amelia whispered. "He treats us like a person...a real person."

Bruce smiled gently in agreement with Amelia.

"Are you fucking insane?" Steve stepped into the room. Grace was at his side, growling again.

Tony grit his teeth but ignored Steve and Grace's growling. Something wasn't right with them. "Jury's out on that." Why were they so angry with him? "No, really, what is it though? Mellow jazz, bongo drums, a huge bag of weed? I'm not judging, by the way."

"Is everything a joke to you? Threatening the safety of everyone on this ship isn't funny."

"It's fine." Bruce defended. "I wouldn't be here if I couldn't handle a few pointy things."

"I think he's tiptoeing. He should strut." Tony patted Bruce on his back. "You're fine."

"You should be focusing on the problem, Mr. Stark."

Tony glowered at Steve. "What the fuck is wrong with you, grumpy-gills?" Tony threw his hands up. "I'm multitasking here. I'm trying to help with this and trying to figure out what Fury is hiding and you... I told you all of this smelled funny and it does so I am looking for the reason why. What did I do wrong that you're so pissed at me?" Tony snapped, raising his voice.

"I'm just-" Steve started to shout, but then he took a deep breath. "I'm...I'm sorry. I don't...I don't know why I'm so angry, it's just.... I'm sorry."

"I'm on edge too." Tony sighed after a moment. "Truce?"

"Yeah...um, maybe I should go get some air." Steve rubbed his head, looking tired. "I just, I'm so angry about everything and especially with you."

"Interesting. Look, I'll keep working on this. I'm decrypting all of their secrets and trying to figure out what they're hiding about the cube while Bruce and I find the Tesseract. Maybe give us some space?"

"Yeah, I'll go see if I can dig up any dirt." Steve shook his head and reached out, then lowered his hand. "Sorry, Tony."

"It's alright, we're stressed, I won't hold it against you. Still got my back, Winghead?"

"Always, Shellhead." Steve nodded and strode off.

Bruce looked at Tony. "Your relationship seems a bit...complex if you don't mind me saying."

"You don't know the half of it." Tony sighed. "I don't know why he and Gracie are being so huffy...heck even I'm getting into a mood. Let's just find this thing and save the world, yeah? It's probably just the stress."

"It's my observation that people who are the closest can fight the hardest." Bruce whispered. He looked around then dragged his eyes up to Tony's. "Soul mates? Like...romantic ones?"

"You got a keen eye, Banner." Tony patted his arm.

"And a wired jaw." Bruce assured him. "I know what it's like...to want to keep parts of you hidden...safe."

Tony smiled gently. Bruce wasn't going to tell anyone, not about Iron Man, not about Steve being his soul mate. He knew he liked Bruce from the start, but his appreciation shot up. "Thank you, Brucie Bear."

"And thank you...I think you're the first person to treat me like I'm a normal person since... It's just nice, thank you."

Tony nodded. "Let's work the problem."

"Yup."

-

"Shit..." Tony whispered. "They're making weapons."

"What?" Bruce asked.

Tony moved the screen and walked up to his suit. "JARVIS, switch." The LMD stepped free and the suit wrapped around Tony. This wasn't something he wanted to face outside of his suit.

-

Everything went to hell after they confronted Nick.

"I don't understand this." The LMD said. It was strange. Thor had become so above them all, acting high and mighty. Bruce was on the defensive, getting angry as Amelia paced on his shoulders. Natasha was backing up slowly, her eyes narrowed, she looked like she was getting ready to fight her way through the room as Ivan flew to the ceiling, finding a perch. The LMD of Tony wasn't heated at all though, calm. In fact, it was the only calm thing in the room. Even Nick had begun to raise his voice. But by far, the worst of them was Steve and Iron Man.

"Yeah, I get it, why not let the big guy blow off some steam?" Tony snapped in his suit.

"You know damn well why, back off, Iron Man." Steve glared and Grace, who had been on guard was low to the ground, ready to attack, growling and snarling at Tony.

"Make me." Iron Man egged him on, taking a sure step forward.

"Oh, look at you, so big in your suit of armor, but you just put it on to hide how scared you really are. Take it off and you're just small."

Tony flinched in the armor. It wasn't untrue. Not at all. His suit was his armor, his safety. It stung to have his own weaknesses, his own insecurities thrown at him by someone he trusted, someone he loved. "Fuck you, Rogers."

"Some hero you are. You don't put that suit on for other people, you put it on to give yourself comfort. You'd never be the one to make the sacrifice play or lay down on the wire."

"No, because I fucking have a brain. I'd cut the damn wire." Tony snapped back, clenching his fist.

"So smart, smart enough to lord over all of us, aren't you?"

"Well at least I'm man enough to make myself, everything special about you came from a bottle that Howard STARK made, in case you forgot."

Grace roared in anger.

"Boys, knock it off." Natasha warned.

"What the fuck is wrong with you two?" Nick demanded. "Of everyone here you two should work best together. You've fought side by side for years. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Take off the suit and we'll see who's still standing at the end." Steve threatened.

Iron Man scoffed. "A true hero, everyone. He gets to keep the science project in his veins, but heave forbid someone use their God-given talent and genius to become something more, no that would be just too damn bad. You were given everything you've got and I bled for mine."

"Oh, what? Mom and Dad were mean to you? Oh, how sad. Try living through a fucking war sometime, your little family feud was nothing compared to holding bloodied bodies of friends in my hands."

"Boys, enough!" Nat shouted.

"Iron Man, stand down." The LMD warned, even JARVIS knew something was very, very wrong.

Bruce let out a shaky breath.

"Natasha, get Bruce out of here." Nick warned when Steve shoved Iron Man.

"Oh you are going to regret that." Iron Man's repulsors whirred.

Then the computer chirped.

"I just found the Tesseract." Bruce said.

Iron Man turned and looked. "I can get there the fastest." He said after taking a deep breath. God, he was so angry, why had he been so angry? He looked at Steve and found him rubbing his head. Tony wished he could rub his, he had the worst headache.

"Steve? You don't feel right, you don't feel normal." Grace whispered. "I'm tired. My head hurts. It's all so confusing, you're so angry and it makes me angry, but I'm not angry and...I'm tired." She collapsed onto the ground.

"Grace? GRACIE!" Steve knelt and wrapped his arms around the lioness. But she seemed to just be asleep, beaten down, wrung out.

"I'm going." Tony insisted, turning.

Steve bolted upright. "You're not going alone." He gripped Iron Man tight enough that the metal began to flex.

"You gonna stop me?" Tony demanded, shoving Steve's arm off of him.

"If I have to." Steve snapped.

Then the ship blew up. Steve fell and Tony felt his brain clear up, the headache lift. He threw his body over Steve's and held him down so his body wouldn't slide across the ground. "Shit, there goes my cover." Tony muttered to himself. He should have protected the LMD, but, then again, the LMD was fine, sitting against the base of a lab table, looking unharmed. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Grace was nearly in the LMD's lap, still asleep. "Cap, you alright?"

"Uh...yeah. Shellhead, I'm...I'm sorry. I don't know why I-"

"Yeah, accepted, get up. We have a fight to win."

"I'm with you." Cap got to his feet and helped stabilize Tony.

"JARVIS, order me to go fight and get you and Grace somewhere safe."

"Iron Man, go fix this mess. I believe and engine went out, I'll walk you through it from somewhere safe and...I'll get Miss Grace somewhere safe." The LMD said.

"Let's go." Tony and Steve rushed off. "Steve, I don't know what that was, I'm sorry."

"It's okay, one problem at a time." Steve countered.

"I know you're more than just the serum, Steve. I don't know why I'd say something like that. I don't even think that."

"And I know you're an amazing man with a wonderful heart. I feel like...almost like I was a puppet for a moment."

"Is Grace alright?" Tony asked, concerned. How had he thought it alright to just walk away when Grace had just collapsed? He was just going to leave her there, to walk past her to get the. What was wrong with him?"

Steve nodded. "I think whatever happened up here messed her up." He pointed to his head. "Did you notice everyone seemed off? Maybe it was a trick Loki used. Nat said he was trying to make Dr. Banner angry, maybe it worked on all of us.... It seemed to work best on you and me for some reason."

"Maybe because we knew how to cut each other the deepest... Maybe?"

Steve pushed Iron Man into a dark alcove in a hallway. "Helmet." He nodded. Tony's helmet opened. Jesus. Tony's eyes were red, his lashes slightly wet. Steve had cut deep. He never wanted that. He never ever wanted to do that to Tony. Enough people had hurt him in the past, Steve didn't want to be one of them. He pulled Tony into a kiss. "I'm so sorry, and I love you. I don't know what happened, but I'm sorry."

Tony kissed him back and hugged him as much as anyone could in a bulky suit made of metal. "I love you too and we'll figure this out, okay? It...I don't think that was us back there. We wouldn't do that. I mean we argue like cats and dogs...or...foxes and lions, but... We don't do that, not like that."

"Never." Steve shook his head before resting it on Tony's metal-clad shoulder. "Ready to kick some ass?"

"I follow your lead, Cap." Tony nodded and stepped back, his helmet covering his face. "Let's go."

-

Nat tried to pull her leg free and then looked at Bruce. He was obviously fighting, but Amelia was growing and changing... "We're gonna be okay. Listen to me. We're going to be okay. I swear on my life I will get you out of this, you'll walk away and-"

"Your life?" Bruce shouted, but his voice was wrong, different. His skin was green.

Amelia wasn't a mouse anymore. She was a honey badger.

"Bruce?" Natasha whispered, just as the last of that kindness began to flee from his eyes.

Shit.

-

"Sir, the Hulk is now on the ship." JARVIS warned.

"Jesus..." Tony shook his head. "One problem at a time."

"Shellhead! I'm here!" Steve called.

"Good, get over there to that panel and tell me what it looks like in there."

"I don't understand any of this, not like you."

"Doesn't matter, describe what you see and I'll understand it. Go."

"Okay..." Steve nodded and threw himself across the gap. Peter would be so pissed if he saw what his parents did...then again, he'd probably be proud too. 'Gotta get home to find out.' Steve thought to himself.

-

Steve looked down at the floor. Everything had gone so far sideways. "Is this the first time you've lost a soldier?"

"We're not soldiers! I am not a soldier, Steve." Tony snapped. "I'm not marching to Fury's fife. Never again. Not me, not Iron Man, none of it. I'm out."

"Tony..." Steve stepped forward.

"No." Tony raised his hands. "I can't trust him or them, I'm done taking my orders from him. I do better on my own."

"Even without me?" Steve asked quietly, looking at his feet.

Tony took a breath. "That's...not what I mean. I'll always trust you to have my back, but all this. The secrecy, I'm not down for it. It got Coulson killed and he...he was an ass, but he was a good man. He didn't deserve that."

"Okay, I understand...I get it." Steve walked forward and gently wrapped his arms around Tony. "I'm sorry. I know it's hard, breathe, please breathe." They took a few moments, holding each other. They kept a good hold onto one-another until they both relaxed. "Alright, grief later, Tone, we need to work the problem. Loki needs a power source, so if we could get a list together-"

Tony's eyes widened. "He made it personal."

"I don't understand, that's not the point, Tony." Steve commented.

"That is the point. That is Loki's point. He hit us all right where we live. He took Barton from Natasha. He turned Banner into the Hulk. He turned on his own brother. He made us fight. He took out the one man that looked after all of us." He winced, thinking of Coulson. "Why?"

"To tear us apart. That would be the fastest way." Steve nodded. "But what is it about?"

"Divide and conquer is great. He knows he has to take us out to win, that's what he wants. He wants to bet us and be seen doing it. He wants an audience." Tony realized. There was a pain in his chest. His mind was moving so fast, his thoughts were twenty steps too far ahead of him he had to wrangle them in.

"Yeah." Steve realized. "Like that act in Stuttgart."

"That was just previews, and this'll be opening night. He's a full-tilt diva. He wants flowers and parades and he wants a monument built to the skies with his name plastered-" Tony finally caught up with his thoughts. Loki needed a power source and wanted all eyes fixed on him. Eyes were always on Stark Tower and there was a power source capable of doing exactly what he needed there. He's have his power and his audience, all at once. "Son of a bitch..."

"Tony?"

"We need to go. He's going to use the Tower."

"We need to get to New York." Steve took a sharp breath. "At least HE'S not-"

"If he opens a portal and lets in an alien army, it won't matter if HE is in Queens." Tony whispered, his eyes glossy, his voice trembling. "We need to go, now and stop him."

Steve pulled Tony into a quick hug. "We'll stop this. It's going to be okay." Steve kissed his temple.

"I need to go, my suit needs work and I need it to fight."

"I'll get the others. Hopefully Grace is back on her feet."

"I think it was that staff. I think whatever it does it effects daemons more than humans. She should be alright now that it's gone. Gather a team, wheels up in ten. I think I can fix the suit by then."

"Got it."

Chapter Text

"Iron Man, what do you think you're doing? You don't have back-up." Steve called over the headset.

"I need a new suit, this one is on its last leg. Besides, I have to make sure Analise is safe."

"We won't make it in time, you'd be on your own."

Tony laughed. "Oh, I know, but you know I'm good at talking. I'll stall."

Steve sighed. "Be careful, Shellhead. We'll be there in a few minutes. Stay safe, do not engage alone. Do you hear me?"

"Yes, sir...no guarantees."

Steve laughed. "I guess that's the best I'm getting, isn't it?"

"From me, basically, yeah." Tony responded. He watched New York approach. He locked down the coms so only Steve could hear him. "I love you."

"We'll be there in seven, Iron Man, don't do anything rash."

Tony laughed. "Oh, you know me too well. See you soon, sexy, that suit really makes your ass look great. I think I need to make like, ten more for you."

Steve huffed. "Head in the game, Shellhead."

Tony nodded and cut the coms. He looked at his Tower and Loki standing there, smug as can be. Thankfully, Loki was outside the common room floor. He wouldn't be able to find any evidence of Peter there. JARVIS warned him about the barrier and Tony slowed. If they were going to win he'd need a new suit...to get a new suit he'd have to sacrifice his identity.

"Well, it was a good run... Get Mark 7 ready."

"Sir, it is not ready."

"Skip the spinning rims, I don't have time. Get it ready." Tony snapped. "I have to stop him, J." Peter was in New York and if New York became a warzone Peter might become a casualty. Tony wasn't going to let that happen, it didn't matter what he had to lay on the line. He'd do anything to protect his son. "Get this thing off me." Tony insisted as he landed. He walked into the building as his suit came off. He never let his eyes leave Loki. He stepped into the Tower and sighed in relief. He could see the faint glow of Analise's chest reflected in a glass on a shelf. She hopped up onto the counter and looked at Tony with a smile, then growled, sharp and angry at Loki.

"Tony Stark is Iron Man. Now, that isn't such a big shock. It was clever though, seeing you and Iron Man in the same room. You wouldn't make a half-bad trickster." Loki muttered.

"High praise." Tony shrugged, he pet Analise's side gently.

"Please tell me you're going to appeal to my humanity." Loki smirked as he walked forward.

"I'm actually planning to threaten you." Tony shrugged.

"You should have left the suit on for that, mortal."

"True, but that one's toast. Drink?" He offered. "I don't have any good stuff in, I quit drinking, but this sparkling cider isn't bad, you know? It burns less and is less expensive, Cap likes that."

"Ah, yes, you and the Captain. Soul mates, lovely."

Tony looked at Loki with sharp, narrowed eyes as he slipped the bracelets on. Analise crouched and snarled at Loki.

"So protective of him. You know, I'd hoped you'd all turn against each other, but having soul mates on your team made it so much easier. You lot think love makes you stronger, no, it just makes you all more vulnerable. Did he cut deep, your captain, once I started playing with your minds? Did he know exactly how to attack your heart?"

"Ah, so that's what the glowstick of destiny does. Well, if you think Cap and I can't survive a few fights well, you've got us wrong. We fight all the time...just usually with less violence and more make-up sex." Tony sighed and tapped his watch, activating his coms again. "Which reminds me, I have a hot date tonight."

"There in four, Iron Man, glad to hear your voice again." Steve responded, knowing exactly what Tony needed to hear. Too bad though, everything was going to come out of the woodwork.

"You're stalling and it won't save you, Stark." Loki scoffed.

"Did he just say Stark?" An unfamiliar voice crackled over the coms. "Wait, Iron Man is Stark? How'd I not see that one?"

"Shit." Steve whispered. "Get it together, he's still our teammate, same as always. Get ready."

"No, I'm threatening you, remember. Are you sure you don't want a drink?"

"The Chitauri are coming, nothing will change that. What have I to fear?"

"The Avengers." Tony shrugged. "That's what we call ourselves, sort of like a team. Earth's Mightiest Heroes, sort of thing."

"I've met them, and torn them to pieces." Loki smirked.

"Takes us a bit to get traction, I'll give you that, but let's do a head count here." Tony laughed and stepped around the counter, waving his hand at Analise. She stood down from her defensive stance and scampered off, heading to a safe place, just as she was supposed to. "Your brother, the demi-god. A super soldier, a living legend who definitely lives up to the legend, I mean...trust me, he's the whole package."

"Shellhead..." Steve hissed over the coms and Tony could tell he was blushing.

"A man with breath-taking anger management issues and two master assassins. Now you, big fella, you've managed to piss off all of them. You tore apart soul mates and friends and that was the wrong thing to do."

"That was actually the plan." Loki smirked.

"Not a great plan. When they come, and they will, they'll come for you."

"Two minutes, Shellhead, nice stalling." Steve said. "Do you have a suit?"

"I have an army!"

"We have a Hulk." Tony countered.

"That isn't an answer. Tell me you have a suit. Shellhead, you have a suit right? You're safe?"

JARVIS answered instead. "Working on it, sir."

Tony stepped toward Loki, unafraid. "There is no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army comes and maybe it's too much, but it's all on you. Because if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damn sure we'll avenge it." But Tony would protect the Earth, he had to. They didn't have time for avenging, he had a son to keep alive.

"How will your friends have time for me, when they're so busy fighting you?" Loki asked, pressing the glow stick to Tony's chest. It made a metallic sound. The arc reactor, yet again, protected Tony's heart. "It should work."

"Well, performance issues aren't all that uncommon. I mean, you are up there, one out of five men have trouble with it. Not that Cap does, he's up there, but everything works better than fine wi-" Tony cut off when Loki's hand wrapped around his throat. He was tossed to the ground.

"Shellhead? Please tell me you have a suit." Steve called over coms, his voice concerned.

"JARVIS, anytime now, bud."

Loki ripped him off the ground and Tony's eyes widened. Loki was saying something, but he couldn't focus on that.

"Deploy. Deploy." Tony's back blossomed with pain as he went through the window. He tried to stop his brain from calculating just how much force his back had taken to go through the glass, but his brain supplied the painful numbers regardless as he began to fall. He focused on healing, feeling it kick in a knit the cuts back together again.

"Tony!" He heard Steve shout.

"Oh, be calm, Steve. I can fly without the suit, you know." Tony slowed his fall and smiled as the suit shot after him and wrapped around him. God, how was it that he liked flying in his suit more than on his own?

"I'm here, sir." JARVIS spoke and Tony sighed in relief, now he had armor and power. Now he could do some real damage. He flew up the Tower and got a good shot at Loki before he looked up.

The sky had opened and creatures were flooding in. "Right, army..." Tony whispered. "JARVIS, private coms."

"Yes, sir."

"Send an urgent alert to May and Ben, tell them to take shelter."

"Got it, sir."

-

Steve got off the ship and his eyes widened as he saw the monstrous beast that escaped the portal. It was bigger than a damn building, how were they supposed to stop it? Grace growled angrily and settled down into a fighting stance. Natasha and Clint followed him out, along with their daemons, Ivan and Denise. It was funny, how alike the soul mate's daemons were. Ivan was a raven and Denise was a crow. Hell, if they weren't perched on their human's shoulder's, Steve wouldn't have been able to tell the difference at a glance. Both daemons took to the sky instantly, observing the fight.

"Shellhead, are you seeing this?"

"Yeah, still working on believing it. I'll find a soft spot and...Cap?"

"Yes?"

"Can we do our best to keep this fight in Manhattan?"

Steve's eyes widened. If that thing went anywhere near Queens...shit. Steve had to swallow the bile in his throat. His heart ached for all the innocents, but he could not lose Peter, it didn't even seem like an option. "Yeah, let's keep the fight here." Steve agreed.

"Where's Banner? Has he shown up yet?"

"Banner?"

"He'll turn up, I have that feeling about him. Just keep me posted. I'm a bit busy, trying to get the big guy's attention."

"Good, I'll get a perimeter set up...promise."

"And come up with a plan of attack while you're at it...that seems to be your area of expertise." Tony called back. "Toddles, bit busy now."

Steve nodded and looked to Black Widow and Hawkeye. "You guys ready?"

"Yup." They answered as one.

This was going to be a long day. Steve took a breath and began to fight.

-

Peter rushed to his window and stared with wide eyes. The sky was open, he could see darkness and stars in the middle of the day. And things were coming out. An alarm started to ring out and Morgana leapt onto his shoulder in fright, shifting into a bluebird.

JARVIS spoke as the alarm silenced. "Parkers, this is JARVIS. Sir, has requested that you find a safe place. I suggested the basement. Please lay low until the situation is handled."

"Come on, Peter, away from the windows." May grabbed his shoulders and Malik rushed to her side, looking terrified.

Red and gold was zipping through the air and those things...the bad things were blowing up. "My dad's out there!"

"Peter, your dad wants you safe, come on."

But if his dad was out there, then his papa was too. "My dad and papa are out there, May..." Tears filled his eyes.

"They're going to be okay, baby, now come on." She scooped him up and began to carry him away.

"No! No! No!" Peter fought back for a moment, his eyes lingering out the window. What if the last he ever saw of his dad was this? Red and gold fighting to save the city? He had to keep his eyes open. As soon as they were in the hallway, Peter closed his eyes and buried his face in May's neck. "They're gonna make it. They have to. Daddy and Papa are strong. They'll win. Right, May?"

May was obviously fighting very hard to keep her voice steady as she carried him down the stairs in a rush to get to the basement. "Yes, baby. They're the strongest people in the whole world and they're going to be alright."

-

Nick stared in terror as the plane took off. He couldn't stop it. The only one left who could was... Nick froze.

"He has to do it. His son loses a father, yes, but the fallout would take Peter anyway. Calculated risk, Nick..." His daemon whispered. "I'm sorry."

Nick swallowed, hard. "Iron Man, do you hear me? We have a missile headed straight for the city."

"How long?" Tony responded immediately.

"Three minutes, at best... It's a nuke."

"Oh shit. JARVIS, put everything into the thrusters, now!"

Nick closed his eyes and huffed out a breath.

"It was the only way, Nick."

"Sometimes I wish the world presented more than one option." Nick snapped.

-

"I can close it!" Natasha's voice filled Tony's ear. Oh it was grand and terrible news. "Can anybody copy? I can shut the portal down!"

"Do it!" Steve shouted, sounding labored.

"No, wait."

"What do you mean, Shellhead? These things are still coming."

Tony looked at the nuke and began calculations, factoring in the wind speed and direction. Shit, if it blew up Queens would be hit with radiation... Tony wasn't even sure if a witch could heal from that sort of poisoning. "I've got a nuke coming in and it's gonna blow in less than a minute."

"A what?" Steve gasped. "But that means..."

"I know just where to put it." Tony grit his teeth and began to control the nuke...he had to do this right. He started calculations in his head, the odds of him being able to turn it around in time to escape. The numbers weren't in his favor this time. "Close coms, just me and Steve, J."

"Yes, sir."

"Tony, don't do this, that's a one-way trip." Steve whispered.

"JARVIS, I'm going to need you to save some for the way back, as much as you can." Tony whispered. "Steve, listen to me."

"Please, Tony, don't do this-"

"Steve... You're at ground zero and Peter's within fallout range, I have no choice here. I can make this turn, I can do it. Just promise me, promise me you'll be there for Peter if I can't be. He needs a father who's all there, don't let yourself get lost to pain, Rogers, you hear me?" Tony had to consider it, consider how he'd feel if he lost Steve. The pain would be so much and he didn't want Steve buried in that. Peter would need someone there, a rock to keep him strong. "Don't worry about anything. I know we didn't get around to the adoption, but Pepper will make it happen, okay? It's taken care of...just promise me you'll take care of him and yourself."

"Tony, please..."

"Please, Steve." Tony begged, his eyes watering as he made the turn, bolting upwards.

"I promise, Tony. I love you, darlin'."

"I love you too, Steve." Tony breathed. "JARVIS, start a recording and cut coms."

"Yes, sir."

"Hey, Peter, it's Dad. I just want you to know that I love you more than anything, forever and always. I'm so proud of you, every day, every single day you amaze me. You are kind and brave and strong and so selfless and brilliant and you make me so proud. I am so glad to be your father. It is my greatest joy. You're my universe, kid. I know you will grow up to be a good man. I need you to be a good boy in the meantime, okay? Mind your Papa, he's a good egg and he'll take care of you, just as I would... I love you. I love you so much. Peter, I love you." Darkness enveloped Tony. JARVIS faded away and Tony was left to stare in horror.

There was so much out there in the universe, so many threats and terrors.

Tony shook his head. No. If these were his last seconds, he didn't want to spend them in this blackness. He closed his eyes and thought of Peter's smile, Steve's gentle touch, Morgana's playful strut, and Grace's happy purr. Yeah, that was better than the darkness and terror.

Except...God...it was true. You could hear your daemon's scream of pain when you died. Those terrifying rumors were true. Analise screamed in pain and terror, but she wasn't screaming for herself, that was the worst part. Her last scream, shouted in pure anguish and worry was a simple name. "TONY!"

Then there was nothing.

Chapter Text

Steve felt Thor's eyes on him, but he couldn't look away from the hole in the sky. Then Grace let out a terrifying, heart-wrenching sound. Less than a second later, Steve felt the worst pain of his life. It was like his heart stopped beating, except it didn't. Perhaps it was like his heart was trying to beat around another one, one that had suddenly gone as still as stone. It hurt, it was agony beyond anything Steve could describe. The pain brought him to his knees. Thor gently put a hand on his shoulder to steady him. Tears streamed down Steve's cheeks...this pain, he instinctually knew what it meant.

"Close it." Steve whimpered.

"Steve, are you sure?"

"Close it, Natasha..." He whispered, clutching his heart. He could feel it, the pain. And it got all the worse. He was wearing his suit, the one Tony had made for him, the one that had protected him this whole fight. It had love in every seam, there was even a paper with his handwriting in a pocket, pressed to his chest...and a coin. Jesus, how was Steve going to tell Peter? Steve sobbed. How was he going to tell Peter? How would he even stand again? This pain was too much.

"Holy shit!" Hawkeye called out in shock.

Steve looked up and his breath caught. Red and gold was falling to them. If...if they had him, maybe... People'd come back before, back from death. Maybe if they could just...

"He's not slowing down." Thor began to spin his hammer, ready to catch the falling Iron Man.

Hulk roared into action instead, snatching Tony out of the air and pulling him safely to the ground. He set Tony down in front of Steve as his honey badger daemon strode up, blood in her fur, her eyes wide.

Grace made an uneasy noise as Thor ripped the faceplate off of Tony. It seemed so wrong, seeing someone strip away his mask. Tony had always kept his identity so hidden, but...well, the Avengers knew now.

Steve bowed over him and listened, for any breath, for any heart beat, for anything. He heard nothing and his gut instinct told him to start chest compressions, but the metal was in the way. When his hand grazed over the arc reactor, he looked down. It was dead. The light was gone. Not only was Tony not breathing, but the thing that held back the shrapnel had stopped working. They'd have to fight multiple attacks on Tony's life now. "No...no, no." Steve shook his head.

Hulk roared, but Tony didn't even twitch.

"Tony..." Grace whimpered, curling against the legs of the iron suit in her sorrow.

"No...no way. You've got too much left to do, too much left to live for." Steve protested and touched Tony's forehead. God, there was still warmth to his flesh. He couldn't leave, he couldn't. Light. White light warmed the air softly and tendrils of it reached out toward Tony, but unlike normal, no light reached out from Tony in return.

"Never have I seen such lovely warmth...it's powerful." Thor whispered, looking at the light with wide eyes.

"Power." Steve whispered. Soul mates were stronger together. His mother had always told him that, hell, the whole world knew that. When soul mates worked together they did insane things, hell there were fairytales about it. There was still light, reaching out for Tony, that meant there had to be something left of him or the light would have gone out, even from Steve. That meant Tony was fighting, he just needed help. And hell...Steve had more than enough strength to lend. If there was a shred of life left in Tony, he'd find it and he'd make it stronger. Steve leaned down and forced the light out. He'd reach with all his strength and bring Tony back if that's what he had to do. He held Tony's face in his hands. "Come on, darlin', I'm not going to let you leave me." He rested his forehead against Tony's. "Don't you dare leave me."

Steve pulled back slightly and stared. The glow he emanated was brighter than he'd ever seen and it reached out and wrapped around Tony. He'd never felt more exhausted in his life, when suddenly, light flashed back at him, and threads of colorful light began to weave toward him.

Tony gasped and his body jolted. The light between them faded, but the arc reactor began to glow again. "What happened? Did someone kiss me? It had better have been you, Cap or I'll be disappointed. I'm a classy lady, you can't just pimp me out."

Steve let out a grateful sob and pulled Tony into his arms. "We did it, you're okay.... And we won."

"Yay, go team." Tony muttered, hugging Steve back. "It felt pretty close there for a moment."

"Yeah, about that...let's not ever go through that again, I don't think my heart can take it." Steve let out a shaky laugh.

"Hey, hey, don't cry, I'm okay. I'm okay." Tony soothed, ruffling Steve's hair. "I'm here." It didn't seem to be working. "You know what? We should all call in sick tomorrow. How about shawarma? Have you had it? I heard it's good from a friend of mine and there's this place around the block. Could be fun, team bonding and all."

Steve laughed. This was real. That was Tony cracking a joke to make him happy. It was real. Tony was alive. He was okay. "I love you."

"I love you too, winghead." Tony pressed a kiss to his temple.

"This is truly a touching moment. It makes me upset that I have to break it up... I'm afraid this isn't over." Thor said.

Steve and Tony pulled apart slowly and Steve nodded.

"But shawarma after, right?"

Steve laughed. "God, I love you. Let's go, shellhead, let's finish this."

"We'll meet you there." Natasha said over the coms. "And Stark, glad to hear you're alright."

"Thanks, Natasha. On our way up."

-

Thor detained Loki and Tony finally relaxed, got the suit off, and took a deep breath.

"TONY!" Analise screamed, and dear God that scream mad his head swim. He'd heard it before and he never, ever wanted to hear it again. She leapt at him and he caught her. She sobbed in his arms and he held her close, crying himself as she trued to bury herself in his chest. "Don't do that again. Never ever."

"Sorry, Ana. I'm sorry." Tony whispered, running his fingers through her soft, red fur. "I love you, I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"You know," Analise sniffled. "If you go and get yourself killed, you get me killed too, right?" She clawed his shoulder, not enough to draw blood, just enough to tell him off. "Stop being an idiot, okay?"

"Okay." Tony pressed his head to her shoulder as he felt her face against his neck. His stomach growled and Analise laughed.

"Shawarma?" Analise wondered.

"Yeah, I'm good with that." Tony nodded and kissed the top of her head. He wouldn't let her go though, not now.

"What is this you speak of? I'd like to partake in it." Thor said.

"Steve and I will meet you downstairs. Nat could you lead them down there?" Tony asked.

She smiled and linked her elbow with Clint's. "Yeah. Hey, big guy, you want to come with us? We're going to need you to calm down a bit, alright? I'll teach you a lullaby, it might help. The sun's getting real low." They left in the elevator.

Steve pulled Tony into a hug from behind so he wouldn't touch Analise. "Let's not do that again." Steve buried his head against Tony's shoulder blade.

"Which part? Because a lot of that was pretty badass and we saved the world."

"Tony..." Steve sighed.

"Sorry." Tony shrugged and let go of Analise with one hand to dig into his pocket. He opened his phone and hit the call button.

"Daddy?" Peter answered instantly. "Are you and Papa okay? There was this big hole and bad guys everywhere and I could feel the ground shake and it was scary, but me and Aunt May went to the basement and Uncle Ben met us there and we're okay, but it was scary. Dad? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, kid, me and Papa are alright, a bit bruised, but we're fine."

"I wanna hear Papa."

Tony chuckled and held his phone out in front of them, changing it to a video call. Peter looked at them with wide eyes. It was obvious that the kid had been scared, his face was red, he'd been crying.

"Hey, buddy. We're okay." Steve said. "Just tired."

"Okay. Good. I love you both." Peter promised, wiping his face. "Can I come home?"

"Well, about that..." Tony looked around. "I'm gonna make sure this place is structurally sound first. We'll come to you, okay, baby? You're safe to go back upstairs, but I want you to stay there. The streets are going to be bad. Papa and I are going to get some victory food and come get you, okay?" He wanted to see Peter, more than anything, but he needed to breathe, to decompress. He didn't want to bring all the stress he was feeling to Peter. He could tell Steve was just as tense.

"Bring leftovers?" Peter sniffled.

"Of course." Tony nodded. "We're gonna try some shawarma, like you said."

"It's really good." Uncle Ben called from off-camera.

"Thanks, Ben." Tony smiled. "We'll be there soon, kid. You and Morgana get some rest. Maybe pick out a movie. We can all cuddle and sleep, alright?"

"Okay. Love you." Peter blew each of them a kiss.

"Love you too." Tony and Steve spoke as one.

-

The food was good, but, truthfully, the best part came after. Tony, Steve, and Peter all lay on the floor together, curled around each other. Grace kept Morgana close, but Analise stayed buried against Tony's chest. They turned on a movie and all went to sleep, just happy that they were all still together, safe, and alive.

May snuck into the room at some point and draped a blanket over the boys, taking a picture of them curled up together. It was an adorable sight.

"Something bad happened." Malik whispered, looking at Analise.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean it's like she cracked into a million pieces and got put back together again. Remember when they brought that guy back in the ER during your rotation there? His daemon turned to Dust and got put back together...it's just... You can sort of see the cracks if you pay attention." Malik shivered and frowned.

"Is she going to be alright?"

"Yeah, just takes time. She'll be alright, clingy for a bit. It just doesn't look pretty to a daemon's eyes. It's like she got all clawed to ribbons. It's healing already though." Malik rubbed against May's legs. "They'll be okay. Let's let them sleep."

"Yeah." May nodded and lifted the black cat up before gently closing the door behind them and leaving the super family to sleep. They deserved some rest.

-

Stark Tower was, beyond all reason, safe. Sure they'd have to do some repairs, but most of it was cosmetic really. Tony was just happy to be in his own home, their personal floor was untouched, perfect, and safe. Steve carried Peter on his hip and Grace had Morgana by the scruff of her neck, gently. Tony just rested a hand on the back of the sofa. It was all okay. Peter's report card still hung on the fridge next to drawings he and Steve made. The little sticky notes Steve left to remind Tony to eat real food and not just coffee were still there. It was still home, still safe.

Two floors down, Tony had offered Bruce a place and he'd taken him up on it. The others had scattered off, but it was okay, because things could return to normal.

Tony was glad, and Analise sighed, content in his arms.

"I'm going to put Peter to bed." Steve whispered, pressing a kiss to Tony's cheek and heading off to Peter's room.

Tony leaned sat on the back of the couch and gently itched Analise's ears. She snuggled in tighter. He just couldn't put her down, what if they got separated again...what if she turned to Dust? What if he had to hear that scream again?

The couch shifted as Steve got onto the couch behind him. Tony groaned in pain and pleasure when Steve squeezed his shoulders. "You're tense, maybe we should get you to bed."

"I'm not really tired."

Steve nosed at the back of Tony's neck. "Come to bed anyway. I don't want to sleep either."

"Is that your way of trying to ask for sex?" Tony laughed. "You don't need to be coy." He tilted his head to the side and his lips parted as Steve began to kiss and nibble at his neck.

"Come to bed, darlin', I want to feel you." Steve whispered, then pressed his lips to Tony's pulse point.

Tony shivered. He knew then and there, Steve wanted to know, wanted to feel that he was alive, whole. "Okay."

"Up." Steve nudged Tony, then got off the couch. He stepped around it and grabbed Tony's free arm, pulling him to the bedroom. Steve closed the door. "JARVIS, lights at fifteen-no-twelve percent."

The room dimmed enough that everything was still visible, but that it wasn't abrasive on Tony's eyes. It was a little brighter than normal, Tony wondered why.

"Bed." Steve's voice wasn't bossy, nor soft.

Tony had heard both a rough, demanding voice in the bedroom, as well as a soft, needing voice. This was neither. This voice was an anchor, no, a lighthouse, guiding him, gentle and firm. He listened to it and walked to the bed, sitting, then laying down on his side of the bed. He kept his eyes on Steve's even when Steve shrugged off his shirt.

Steve walked to the bed and looked down at him. "I need you to let go."

"What?"

"I want to take care of you, but you need to let go and trust me."

"I do trust you." Tony said, not understanding. He'd trusted Steve for a long time, trusted him with his life, his home, his heart, his son, his body, his mind, all of it.

Steve bit his lip and put his hands on Tony's hips. He looked down at Analise and then up at Tony. "Let me take care of you. I know you're scared, but you don't have to be. Trust me. You can let go, I'll hold you together." Steve squeezed him gently and then pulled back, his hands empty and unmoving. He was waiting.

Tony followed his eyes down to his own hands. He was holding Analise to his chest still. He hadn't let her go, not once. He had to hold her, to keep her safe, close...together and whole. His eyes shot back up to Steve, wide. He understood it now, understood what Steve was asking.

"Tony, I know you can't let go, I know you're scared, but if you let me, I'll hold her together. I'll hold you both together. I'll take care of both of you." Steve held his hands out, waiting.

Tony looked down at how he cradled Analise to his chest, then up at Steve again. The last time he left Analise, she'd turned to Dust, screaming for him. The very thought of letting her go was terrifying. What if she left his sight and then they were both gone again, Dust and dead...? But...could he let someone else hold her? Could he let Steve...? He looked up at Steve and stared into those blue eyes before he let his arms go slack.

Chapter Text

Steve had the softest look on his face before he took a single step forward, his hands stretching out.

Tony's breath caught in his throat, his mouth fell open, and he felt absolutely paralyzed when he watched Steve pull Analise away and into his arms. It wasn't fear or loathing or pain that paralyzed him. It was an overwhelming warmth, like the warmest, safest blanket had been hefted over him and the weight of it made him too comfortable to move. It was love. Tony knew that feeling. It was just as pure and raw as the first time he'd held Peter, but this love was different.

"I've got you." Steve whispered, pulling Analise to his chest.

She didn't fight, didn't struggle. Instead she relaxed and made a content sound in her throat.

Steve's chest glowed slightly at the light that passed through Analise's own chest, where a ring of light faintly remained a reminder of the pain she and Tony had gone through and their strength to walk through it. Steve smiled gently and began to run his fingers through her fur.

"Steve." Tony gasped. His whole body lit on fire, every nerve ending coming to life, goosebumps blooming across his flesh. But it wasn't a warmth like arousal. This was different. It was intimate beyond that, as if Steve had somehow managed to pour love, safety, and trust into his every cell.

Steve continued to run his hands gently over Analise, holding her safe against his body in his strong arms. He gently pressed his lips to the top of Analise's head and she honest to God, purred. It was deeper and throatier than most normal purrs, but it still was a purr. "I love you, both of you. Me and Gracie love you both, so much. We're going to take care of you. You're safe. Gracie's going to look after you and I'm going to take good care of Tony and I promise you that you're both safe, okay? If you let him go, I'll take care of him...and Gracie will look after you, she's good at that."

Analise lifted her head from his chest and licked under his chin. "You love us so much."

"Of course I do." Steve smiled gently and kissed her head again. He turned and started to walk her away from Tony.

She was out of sight, but Tony didn't feel the need to chase after her. She was safe, he knew that. Steve had her, he'd never let anything happen to her.

"Grace, here." The golden lioness leapt onto the bed at Steve's voice. She placed herself in the far corner, away from Tony. Steve gently scratched her ears and lowered Analise into the curl of the lioness' body. He kissed Analise's head once more, gentle and kind.

Tony thought the feeling would vanish, but he could still feel it, even as Grace began to smother Analise in gentle kitten licks. It wasn't the way it was before, not so tangible that it stole his breath and made him freeze, but he still felt it, safe, protected, loved...cherished.

Steve walked to him and grabbed the hem of Tony's shirt.

Tony sat up and let Steve pull it over his head. Tony reached for Steve's belt, but Steve caught his hand. "Steve, I-"

Steve pressed his lips to Tony's. "I love you, let me...let me take care of you."

Tony let go, literally and metaphorically. He'd felt like he was falling apart. The darkness found him when he closed his eyes, but Steve, he could pour light into that dark place.

"That's it. It's okay to let go, I'll catch you." Steve whispered, mirroring the words of their first time together. He lovingly undressed Tony and rid himself of his own clothing. He grabbed a bottle of lube from the side table, but didn't open it, instead he put it on the sheets, then set about kissing Tony. His forehead, his cheeks, his eye lids, his chin, his lips.

Tony didn't feel rushed, but his whole body felt warm with love and arousal. He didn't know what this was, but he felt like he was floating. The only gravity he could feel came from Steve's hands, his body, his voice.

"How do you want this, darlin'?" Steve asked in a whisper. He kissed the arc reactor as his fingers traced Tony's torso, finding all the lovely spots that made Tony squirm and heat grow in his stomach.

"Mmm. Oh!" Tony gasped when Steve nibbled lightly at his collarbone. "Oooh. Please."

Steve hummed gently in question, working his way up to Tony's throat as his hands traced Tony's hipbones. "Use your words, beautiful. You can have whatever you want."

"I want you."

"You have me." Steve promised, nuzzling Tony's neck.

Tony felt Steve smile against him when he arched up into him. "Fuck me, take me apart."

"And put you back together again?" Steve finished, pulling back to look down at Tony.

Tony nodded.

"I can do that." Steve smiled.

Steve shifted his weight and got between Tony's legs. He imagined that Tony thought he wanted it rough, but Steve knew better. Tony was vulnerable, exposed. He didn't need someone to be rough, to use him. He needed someone to love him. Then again, Tony always had a hard time letting people care for him, always too busy trying to do what was best for the other person. He never knew how to sit back and let someone else take care of him.

He devoured Tony's lips in a kiss, slow and sensual, using his hands to lift Tony's legs so his knees were over his shoulders. He then pinned Tony's hands to the bed.

"Let me take care of you. If you need something, you let me know, but I've got you, okay? Just let go." He waited for Tony to nod before he shifted and began kissing his way down Tony's torso. Steve swallowed down Tony's cock and hollowed his cheeks. Tony groaned and bucked up. Steve felt hands in his hair and he was happy to let them pull on him. He bobbed his head a few times, letting Tony tell him what he wanted before pulling off and nuzzling against Tony's hipbone, peppering a few kisses as he opened the bottle of lube with his spare hand. "Beautiful. I love you."

Tony let out a sinful groan. "Steve."

"Perfect." Steve whispered, licking up the length of Tony's cock again as he slipped lubed fingers over Tony's hole.

"Oh, fuck, please!" Tony's body arched up. "More, please, Steve."

"Easy, darlin', I'll give you what you need." Steve busied his mouth again. He licked and sucked the warm, thick length of Tony's cock, slower than Tony probably liked if the press of Tony's heels on his back and the tugs on his hair were any indication. But Steve didn't speed up, he was going to take Tony apart slowly. He slipped a single finger past the tight ring of muscle when Tony arched up into his throat.

"Aah-! Oh, f-fuck!"

Steve had to pull off of him to avoid gagging. He gently rubbed his free hand over Tony's abs, gentle, soothing.

"Shit...sorry."

"It's alright, love. You make such pretty sounds." Steve went back to gentle licks as he continued to work Tony open, slowly, still just one finger.

"Be careful, I'm...mm... I'm close."

Steve smiled. "Good. Don't be afraid to let go, I want you to, more than once tonight." Steve added a second finger and curled them just enough to hit Tony's sweet spot, the way he knew made Tony see stars.

Tony moaned and arched up. "Please, fuck me."

"We'll get there, darlin', but I'm going to make sure you're good and ready for me." Steve fucked Tony open on his fingers, making Tony writhe and groan until he finally arched up, his mouth falling open as he cried out Steve's name. Steve slipped a third finger in then and kept Tony right on the edge of having too much stimulation until Tony's cock twitched back to life, ready for more. "You're so beautiful... I love you."

Tony bit his lip and tugged on Steve's hair. "Pleasepleaseplease, I'm ready." Tony was rarely like this. Steve could tell Tony was floating a little bit, his brain wasn't firing completely. It was good, though. Steve wanted to get Tony out of his head, to make him stop over-thinking...maybe make him stop thinking at all.

Steve decided he'd have mercy and pulled his fingers free, wiping them off. He turned and kissed Tony's knee where it rested on his shoulder. "Condom?"

"No, wanna feel you."

Steve nodded and gently helped Tony lower his legs. He ran his hands over Tony's thighs, massaging them gently. "How do you want me?" Tony bit his lip and Steve shook his head. "Nope, let me hear all your lovely noises. They're beautiful, just like you."

Tony turned over, on his knees, lifting his ass and lowering his head and shoulders to the bed.

"You are lovely...so good for me." Steve ran his hands up Tony's back, then up his arms until he could thread his fingers with Tony's. He let go with one hand to tug Tony's hair so their lips would meet. "I love you, I'll take care of you, promise. Just let me, okay? You trust me?"

"Yes, Steve...please."

Steve kissed his cheek as he slicked himself up. Steve sat up and gripped Tony's hips. He lined himself up and slowly pressed in. He loved the sounds that came out of Tony, begging and mewling and moaning. Steve could tell, he'd done it. Tony was no longer in his own head. Tony'd given up trying to control anything, given up all control to him. Steve was flattered by the sheer amount of faith Tony put in him. All that power and Steve just wanted to make sure Tony felt good.

He set a slow pace, but powerful. Tony's body snapped forward at the power of the thrusts and he tried to push back, tried to speed up the pace. "Easy, I'll give you what you need."

"Faster...please." Tony pleaded.

"Of course, darlin'." Steve obliged him. God, Tony felt so good. It was all so much. Tony was so open, so trusting and it was just so much. It couldn't get better.

Then something unexpected happened. Grace and Analise pawed forward. Analise swished her tail against Steve's thigh, then she curled up against his leg and wrapped her tail around him, holding tight.

"Ooooh." Tony's whole body tensed as he groaned. "Oh, Steve...fuuuuck." Tony's fingers curled and uncurled. Then Grace nuzzled at Tony's chest.

Steve felt the upmost love and trust and pleasure, and light exploded through the room, brighter than lightning. The slow pace was forgotten. Steve fucked into Tony and he screamed in pleasure, reaching out and gently grabbing Grace. Tony came undone and Steve followed him over the edge. He buried himself deep in Tony as he came and rubbed Tony through it.

"I love you, I love you..." Steve whispered into Tony's ear, pulling them down onto the bed and holding Tony in a tight, warm embrace. "You're so beautiful..." Steve praised, running his hands over Tony's flesh. Grace curled right up against Tony and Steve could feel the pure, powerful love that Tony emanated. Analise pressed against his back and he couldn't help but smile at the warm light that filled the air. "So perfect, love." Steve promised, kissing Tony's shoulder.

Tony muttered something unintelligible in response and gently began to card his fingers through Grace's fur and damn that felt nice. So intimate and somehow not at all sexual despite the context. It just added another layer, another layer of trust and love. Steve sighed, content as he continued to rub Tony's back and arms, anywhere he could reach.

"I'll go get us cleaned up, wait just a bit."

"No, don't leave, stay..." Tony pleaded and Steve was tempted.

"You'll regret it in the morning when you wake up all sticky, I know how you are, love." Steve laughed and kissed the back of Tony's neck. "I'll be right back, I promise." Steve got up and wobbled a bit before he got his bearings and headed for their bathroom. Damn, he'd had sex before, wonderful, mind-shattering sex, he'd made love in ways that were earth-shattering and he'd fucked until he was wrung out...all with Tony, of course, but nothing had ever felt like that before. Perhaps because it wasn't just about their bodies. It had become more intimate than that. Steve knew that if anyone else touched Grace he wouldn't have felt that good, that safe, but it was Tony, it was his soul mate...and it was the greatest sense of love Steve had ever felt.

He wet a wash cloth and cleaned himself off before grabbing another one and heading back to bed to finish taking care of Tony. By the time Tony was clean he seemed a little more with it, staring in awe as he scratched Grace's ears.

"Thank you..." Tony whispered.

Steve kissed him and pulled the covers over his naked body. "I love you."

"I love you too, Steve."

There hadn't been any doubt before, but Steve could never have a doubt. He could feel just how much Tony loved him, because Analise was still snuggled against him. All of their boundaries had come down in a glorious, wonderful fashion. Steve sighed happily and pulled Tony close before closing his eyes and letting sleep take him.

Chapter Text

"Sir, Miss Potts is insisting she speaks with you."

Tony grumbled and turned, burying his face in Steve's chest. He didn't want to get up yet. He felt so good, so safe. He didn't want to have to pop the bubble. "Go 'way, JARVIS."

"It is rather urgent, sir. And she's currently on her way up. I do believe she said that if you ignored her she 'didn't care what state of dress you were in she'd storm in and grab you by your ear.'"

"I'm on holiday. I just saved the world." Tony groaned and pressed closer to Steve.

"Tone?" Steve's arms tightened around him as Steve woke up. "What's going on?"

"Tell the mean lady to stay away."

"What mean lady? Did you have a weird dream?" Steve chuckled sleepily and kissed the top of his head. "You feeling alright? Got a little rough there at the end."

Tony blushed, head to toe, the nodded. "I feel fantastic, A+, Rogers. You sure know how to show a guy a good time."

"You're cute when you're flustered." Steve nuzzled Tony's neck.

"Miss Potts is currently on her way to your room, I did try to stall her, sorry, sir." JARVIS warned.

"You better be half-decent!" Pepper snapped then the door flew open. "We've got a problem."

"Yes, she's shouting at me when I could be having perfectly good morning sex." Tony said as he twisted to let Steve hold him from behind. Pepper looked exhausted and Tanner was ruffled, obviously distressed. Tony froze and slowly sat up. He made sure his lower half stayed covered, but...hell, Pepper'd seen him worse off before. Shirtless in bed with a lover was acceptable, in the grand scheme. "What happened?"

"It's all over the news. I tried. I tried really hard to get a handle on it, but I just couldn't."

"A handle on what?" Steve asked, a bit more modest, staying down and keeping the blankets up over his shoulders, ever a gentleman.

Pepper bit her lip. "They got pictures of the battle." Pepper shook her head. "JARVIS, just turn on the TV, all the channels are covering it anyway."

Sure enough a channel that was normally dedicated to movies came to life with a picture of the Iron Man suit, limp in the street. Tony's mask had been ripped off, his face exposed to the world. Crouched over him, crying, was Captain America, gently touching Tony's unresponsive face. It was a damming picture. It revealed Tony's identity, his and Steve's relationship, and there were tendrils of light caught on the camera. Everyone knew now that Tony Stark was Iron Man and that his soul mate was Captain America.

"Shit." Steve hissed under his breath.

"At least they got my good side." Tony shrugged.

"That isn't funny." Pepper sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Okay...maybe it's a little funny, but still I can't contain this. There is no fixing this, Tony. I don't know what to do."

Tony lifted his hand and then looked at Steve. "Our private life is private. Peter is still private."

Steve blinked, then nodded in agreement.

"You alright to do this with me or do you want me to handle it?"

"Together." Steve insisted instantly.

"Okay." Tony nodded. "Pepper, schedule a press conference for tonight, around six-ish. They can sweat it out until then. I want at least a few hours to spend with my family before I have to deal with this mess, okay?" He looked up at Pepper and smiled gently. "Don't worry, it was going to happen someday. I'll handle it. Thank you, Pep, you're the best."

"I'm sorry. I tried to get ahold of the pictures before they got out but..."

"It's okay. Not your fault. We'll handle it. Go get a nap yourself, you look like you could use it. There's a guest room, no one would ever know where you vanished to."

Pepper smiled. "Thanks, Tony. You two go back to all your...snuggling." Her eyes flashed to where Grace and Analise were curled up together, content. She nodded and left them alone, closing the door behind her.

"Did you mention morning sex?" Steve asked after a moment.

Tony laughed and spun around, pulling Steve into a heated kiss.

-

Maggie slowly stood up and wiped her eyes.

"Try to work on practicing some good self-care this week and if you need to come in sooner than normal, it's fine, just get ahold of me okay, Maggie?"

She sniffled and nodded. It was the best and worst part of her week, therapy. It hurt and healed and sometimes there was no knowing which it would do. "Thank you." She waved gently and left the room. She stepped out of the office to see Professor Xavier waiting for her. She liked him. He'd taken her in without any questions. He took her into his school, let her have her own, private room, bought her new clothes because all she had was a tiny backpack, and even got her set up with the school therapists. What she liked best, though, was he'd agreed not to read her mind without her permission. He was kind too, not in the creepy scary way. She liked him, but she didn't want to talk to him at the moment. She was wrung-out by therapy.

"I don't really feel up to talking right now. I kinda want a nap." Maggie fidgeted and Thomas stepped up to her side, ready to protect her, even if only from having to talk.

Professor X smiled gently, understanding. "It's alright. I don't need you to talk. I just wanted to tell you that we've got paperwork to do when you're up for it."

"The papers came in?"

He nodded and his daemon, Collin, spoke in agreement: "Yup. We can have you all set whenever you're ready."

"Thank you."

Collin's ears perked up and Professor X hefted out a sigh. "I don't think now is a good time-"

"Well if it isn't my favorite X-Person."

Maggie perked up at the sing-song voice. "Deadpool!" She turned and paused. He wasn't in his suit, but the face shape was still the same.

"I know. See, I told you I looked better with the mask on, but the effect is stunning, isn't it? Do you know how many hours and how much glue it takes for the make-up crew to make my face look this bad?" Deadpool grinned. He was always saying weird things like that, Maggie'd learned to ignore the quirk or laugh at it. "You can call me, Wade, sweetheart. I thought we were past the formal superhero stuff. Are you crying? What asshole do I need to punch?"

Maggie rushed forward and wrapped her arms around him. He froze for a second before wrapping his arms around her. "Thank you."

"For what, kiddo?"

"I know what you did. Thank you."

Deadpool laughed. "Well, he deserved every last cut. You probably only saw the news version, but trust me, the extended cut was real pretty, and by pretty I mean a bloody mess. He cried real pretty though. I liked it lots." He pulled away from her and held up a hand. "High-five for murdering a baddie?"

Maggie frowned. "Only this time." She raised her hand and hit his, then they both paused. Violet light spread in tendrils between them. A calm filled Maggie. She felt safe, protected, cared for.

"Did we just become best friends?" Deadpool asked in a teasing tone.

Maggie didn't know what to say, so she smiled and nodded.

"Alright! Well, then you, my girl, need ice cream. Crying sucks, but the little girl inside of me really likes ice cream when she's upset." Deadpool cheered. "Just be glad you got out of New York when you did, sweetie pie, it's a shitstorm up there. Get this: Aliens are real! And they're assholes."

"Please stop filling her mind with vulgarity." Professor X sighed. "And please don't take her off campus."

"Aw, you're no fun. Do you not trust he with me? She's my bestie-soul mate. I won't hurt her."

Professor X sighed and looked down. "Yes, well, it's not unheard of. My 'bestie-soul mate' as you call it, put me in a wheelchair."

"And you still have tea and play chess. That's on you, Wheels. I'm just gonna borrow her for a few minutes. And by a few minutes I mean I'm taking her to the nearest ice cream shop and we're eating until all the tears are gone. Toddles."

Maggie looked at Professor X and smiled gently. She could tell, neither of them would hurt her. She waved and took Deadpool's hand. It was nice...feeling safe. She hoped it would last.

-

Tony straightened Steve's collar. "You're fine. I'll handle most of it, just don't let them catch you looking weak. They'll eat you alive."

"I don't know how you do it." Steve sighed.

"You'll be fine." Tony promised, then kissed his cheek. "Grace, stay close to Analise, okay? She doesn't like cameras." Grace nodded dutifully and Tony smiled at her. "You ready?"

"Yeah." Steve nodded. "I've been a dancing monkey before, I can do it again."

Tony kissed him again, put his hand on the small of Steve's back and walked out to flashing lights. He kept the protective hand on Steve's back and helped guide the super-soldier to the podium. Tony let himself be more exposed, he was far more used to the press. Tony held up a hand and waited for the noise and lights to die down before he began to speak.

"Hello again. Is it just me or do you guys just love being here? It's like a home invasion every other week, I swear." Tony only half-joked. It was a home invasion and it was upsetting, but they laughed at his antics, some of them laughed uncomfortably, as if they knew they were doing something wrong. Good for them. "Well, I'm going to come right out and say it. That is me in the picture and I am Iron Man. Always have been." People started shouting and Tony raised his hand. "Nope, no questions unless I say." He snapped, knowing it would be difficult for Steve to be bombarded with so much at once. "I am Iron Man. I hid it for many reasons. Before you get all high-and-mighty about me lying to you, let me remind you that before I told you I had a body guard posing as Iron Man I'd spent months being held captive and tortured. the last thing I wanted was to give someone another reason aside for my brain or money to come attack me. I went through a lot and I didn't want to add another target to my back, but I'm pretty sure I've proved I can handle myself as of late." Tony looked down.

"Now, that's probably not the only detail you've seen in that photo and taken interest in." Tony looked up at Steve, who nodded. "Captain Steve Rogers and I are soul mates, we've known for years and have had a relationship for several years. I figured it was nobody's damn business. Now, I'm used to people following me around and trying to pull off stupid shit, but I think you all know how I deal with it. I think we should all come to a mutual understanding and respect. I don't want, nor will I tolerate the media getting into my personal life. All the public needs to know is we're happy, they don't need to know every time I hold his hand in public. I won't stand for being stalked or him having to deal with the publicity, he didn't sign up for that. So I think we need to come to a mutual agreement. If you want pictures, you ask, if you want interviews, you ask. Don't go pouncing on us in the streets or hiding in bushes like the professional stalkers you are. We're people, just like anyone else, let us have some semblance of normalcy." Tony looked between him and Steve. "We're pretty good at taking out unwanted threats though, so piss us off if you like."

"Tony, you can't just threaten people." Steve hissed.

"What? It's a mutual respect thing, it's fine they're used to my antics by now." Tony shrugged. "They know what I do to people who don't respect my privacy, I've made it very clear how that works." He turned and looked out at the people, none of which seemed too ruffled by Tony being borderline threatening. Most of them had gone through it before. They knew Tony had grown to like his space. Gone were the days where they snapped photos of him or cornered him at parties. All that had ended over nine years ago, back right around when Tony found out about Peter. He didn't deal with that bullshit anymore. Tony let people approach him with respect or he'd vanish or he'd ruin their lives, that was it. "So, if you have any questions, I think we'll take a few, and we get to veto." Hands shot up in the air. "Miss Markov." Tony called the safest of the press first. She was good at her job, probably because she knew boundaries and put people at ease.

"First off, congratulations."

"Thank you." Tony nodded.

"I have to ask, how long have you two been together?"

"Um, a couple years." Steve answered. "I think we...sort of started dating a few months after I came out of the ice."

"The date's a little fuzzy." Tony shrugged. "Still debating on the definition of dating."

"For sure three years. Can we agree on that much?" Steve offered.

Tony thought about it. Their first official face-to-face date had been about three years ago. Damn that year had been hell, trying to start a relationship and convince a six-year-old kid that he'd always be loved first and foremost. Damn...had it really been three years? "I guess we can agree on that one."

"Three years." Steve answered, looking a bit more at ease, but Tony still kept a hand on his back, rubbing soothing circles there.

Tony pointed at another raised hand.

"Are there any wedding bells in the future?"

"Woahwoahwoah, woah. Easy there, killer. Too soon." Tony teased, getting a laugh.

"Too soon?" Steve asked quietly.

Tony looked up at him and saw softness in his eyes. 'Do not blush, do not blush. And do not think about the ring hidden in Peter's room.' Tony told himself.

"We haven't discussed it." Steve said after a second. "It's never come up. We're together, we're happy. It's perfect. Maybe in the future."

"You're taking my name." Tony insisted.

"Says who?" Steve demanded.

"Says the building. Do you know how hard it would be to change the lettering?"

"Aliens just did half the work, they took the signs down for you."

"Okay, too soon on that, Cap. And no. That would be a shit-ton of rebranding and I'm just not a hyphenator, okay?" Tony stared at Steve and Steve narrowed his eyes. They stood still for a moment until Tony turned. "Annnd that's how the fight started, thanks for that, you guys." Everyone laughed. "Next question?"

"How do you balance your company, Iron Man, and your private life?"

"Easy, he doesn't sleep or eat unless I force him to." Steve rolled his eyes.

"I was going to say something better, like 'awesome time management skills' or 'I'm just a badass' or 'I'm magic.' But you had to go for that, didn't you?"

Steve shrugged. "It's the truth. Time management is not one of your super powers."

"Ouch. Tough but fair though... Next question."

-

"That was less painful than I thought it would be." Steve sighed. The news already had headlines, some of them good: Super-Power Couple, Super Cute, Tony Stark: I am Iron Man...and some of them rougher, targeting their sexualities and secret keeping. "Still, don't know how you do it."

"Pretend I'm made of iron." Tony shrugged. "This is why I don't want Peter in that. I want him to be able to just be who he is."

"I get it, now more than ever."

"I gave them a fair warning. If anyone bothers you, let me know. They won't find paid work ever again. But, be prepared for some people to try to sneak pictures of you or corner you. They'll get over it when the next celebrity fucks up. For now, just say 'no comment' or ignore them. That works best."

"So...about the questions they asked..." Steve started.

"What about them?" Tony asked.

"Well, I'm just wondering if you'd maybe consider hyphenating legally, even if not publicly. I think Stark-Rogers has a nice ring to it."

Tony paused. "Are you asking me to marry you, because if you are, your game is weak."

Steve quirked a brow and grabbed Tony by his hips, pulling their bodies flush. "Is it?"

"Yup. You're terrible at this. The 8 Ball says ask me again later." Tony laughed and kissed Steve's nose. "I mean come on, no ring, no mood lighting, no food, no candles. It's all pretty bad. I'm a diva, you got to spoil me." Tony rolled his eyes and pulled away.

"Peter?" Steve called out.

"Yeah, Papa?" Peter shouted back.

"Remember our zombie plan?" Steve said. It was a codename: Peter's idea. It had been a few months since they spoke about it. But he'd talked to Peter about it, he had to. He wasn't going to just plow through without Peter's permission.

"Yes! Be right out." A second later, little feet ran out and Peter held out a ring box to Steve. "Want me to get the lights and candles?" Peter asked excitedly, Morgana was fluttering around in the air as a bird, happy and light.

"No, it's fine." Steve started to lower himself to one knee, then paused. "Kid, this isn't the ring." He could tell. The ring box he'd gotten was navy, the one in his hand was black.

Peter snatched it and scrunched up his face as he looked through his glasses. "Oh! You're right!" He handed it to Tony. "Wrong one, be right back!"

Steve and Tony looked at each other in disbelief.

"Really, Rogers, you steal my confidant?" Tony demanded with a teasing smile.

"I had to ask his permission and he said he was good at hiding things."

"Yup," Peter came back another ring box in his hand, this one nave. "I know I'm good at hiding things, because Daddy bought that ring for your first Christmas with us after I told him I was okay with you being Papa. You were in my room lots and you never found it and you're super."

"What? That long?" Steve asked with wide eyes.

Tony shrugged. "Yeah..."

"So, you guys gonna kiss or not?" Peter asked. "Because I've had those a long time and I think they mean grown-ups are supposed to kiss."

"Can't say no to that." Tony said, before tugging Steve into a kiss, passionate and consuming.

"Yay! I'm gonna have two daddies for real!" Peter cheered and flopped down on the couch, kicking up his legs in celebration. "My work here is done."

Steve and Tony only pulled away to surface for air. "I guess we can hyphenate legally...but I am totally not rebranding, Captain Steven Grant Stark-Rogers. Not worth all that mess."

"Did you just full name me, Anthony Edward Stark-Rogers?"

Tony wrinkled his nose. "Okay, never again. Tony Stark-Rogers is fine."

"Agreed." Steve chuckled, kissing Tony again. "Hey...I think there was one more thing we needed to handle, right?"

Tony's face softened and he nodded. "Yeah...then we can go on facing whatever's next."

"Eh, one step at a time. I'll go get them." Steve kissed Tony once more before heading out of the room.

Chapter Text

Maggie sat in Professor X's office. The papers were on his desk, ready and waiting. She just had to think of something. She didn't want to have her step-father's name anymore and she didn't want to be a flower, but she wanted to keep Maggie, her dad had called her Maggie. She stared at the papers.

"Margaret. Margaret Ann Wilson." It seemed good. She could still be called Maggie, but she wasn't a flower. She took her mother's middle name and the last name of the man who'd saved her. She wouldn't be chained in that person anymore, that little girl who was treated like property. "I want to write it down. I know Ann and Wilson. How do I spell my name? M. A. R. G. R. E. T?" She asked.

"There's an A in it. MargAret, it's difficult because most people don't enunciate the second A." Professor X said gently.

"Thanks." Maggie began to write it down. Margaret Ann Wilson.

"I'll push the paperwork through, Margaret. You can start fresh, Maggie."

"Thank you."

"Now are you feeling up to practicing today?"

"Which thing, my powers or my spelling and reading?" Maggie made a face.

"How about your powers?"

Maggie looked down. "What if I don't know how to do it and I end up just standing there?"

"It's okay, sometimes we all just stand there, but we have to stand there to learn anything."

She thought for a moment, then nodded. "Alright, let's do it."

-

Tony sat on the sofa, a ring box in his hand. He and Steve could exchange rings later. He put the box in his pocket and looked at Peter. Peter had his legs slung over the back of the couch and his head was hanging, up-side-down off the edge. His glasses were nearly falling off and he was talking animatedly to Morgana about how finally his parents were going to be married.

"Hey, pipsqueak, right side up, that's got to be uncomfortable."

"No, it's fun. All the blood is in my skull now."

"And that's why you need to sit up." Tony hefted Peter up. "You're getting heavy, baby, when did you start getting so big?" He would be nine in a few months. Jesus, his son was almost nine, then came double digits, then teenage years, then all the 'I hate yous' and then eventually the moving out. Tony's heart shattered at the very idea. He wanted his baby to stay his baby forever. Why was time going by so fast? "Big conversation time."

"I already told you and Papa that it's okay to get married. I want you to." Peter promised.

Tony watched Steve walk in with the papers and put them down.

Steve sat down in front of Peter. "Do you know what those are?"

Peter shrugged and reached out, beginning to read them. "You wanna change my name? Look, I've already got one alias to track. I mean sometimes I'm Peter Parker sometimes I Peter Stark, it's kinda confusing." Peter teased.

"Read the next page, baby." Tony said.

Peter picked up the next one and his eyes widened. "Are these...real?"

"Yeah, got them finished up yesterday. It's official." Tony nodded.

Peter looked up at Steve with wide, watery eyes. "You adopted me."

"I said I would, didn't I?" Steve smiled back.

"You adopted me!" Peter flung himself at Steve and clung.

Steve closed his eyes and took in the warmth of his son, his legal son. It felt good to say that. Sure it was just a legality thing, but it really was nice. It made it feel official, that even in the eyes of the law would see him as Peter's father. It was just...real. "You know, you get to be a Stark-Rogers before me or your dad, if that's what you want."

"It is what I want." Peter said, tears in his voice. "I love you."

"I love you too, son." Steve whispered.

"Peter Benjamin Stark-Rogers." Peter tried it out. "I like it." He squeezed tighter with one hand and the Peter reached out for Tony. Tony stood up and joined them in their hug. "Now you two need that last name."

"We'll get right on it, kid." Tony promised.

They held onto each other for a while until Peter's stomach growled.

"How about we get some food?"

"Okay!" Peter nodded into Steve's torso.

"Love you, son." Steve promised as Tony pulled away. He kissed the top of Peter's head.

"Love you, Papa."

-

That night, Tony walked into the bedroom to find Steve watching a video. It was a collection of videos of Peter as a child. Tony had collected all of them over the years and for Christmas he'd given Steve access to them. Tony paused in the door to watch Steve watch the video.

"You can do it, Peter Pan." Tony heard his own voice call out. On the screen, Peter was standing, holding onto the sofa at the upstate house. He was staring at Tony with wide eyes. He bounced up and down a few times, still holding onto the sofa. With his free hand he reached out to his dad.

"Da!"

"Yeah, baby, come on. You can do it, Bambino. I'm here. Daddy's here."

"Dadadada!" Peter reached out, closing and opening his hand.

"I'm right here, come on, you can do it. I know you can, and if you can't, I'll catch you."

Peter put a tentative foot forward, then stepped back.

"Come on, Peter."

Peter let go of the cushion and boldly took three steps forward. Then he started to fall. Tony scooped up the baby and kissed his neck over and over, spinning him in circles. "You did it! You did it, baby! You can walk, you did so good!"

Little Peter giggled and squealed.

"Oh I miss those days...so tiny." Tony sighed. "I picked him up today and he's gotten heavy, it's so weird. On the plus side he does clean up after himself now...and sleep through the nights...usually."

"I think I've watched these videos a hundred times." Steve said as another one began to play. This one was just of Tony laying on the couch with Peter on his chest. Steve sighed and paused the video. He sat up and looked at Tony.

"Oh no, I know that look." Tony commented.

"What look?"

"That's the, 'Aww, cute baby' look. I've seen that look in the mirror and if both of us have it we're in trouble." Tony sighed. "I've thought about it myself. Peter would be a great big brother."

"He would." Steve nodded.

"You know, most people get married before they start talking about adding kids to the mix, but...then again, I started this with a kid so...there goes that plan." Tony looked down. "It's just, complicated...with everything..."

Steve nodded. "Yeah, I know...I just.... Back before the ice I never thought I could have something like this...you know? Family. Now, I have you and a son and..."

"I know the feeling." Tony got onto the bed and straddled Steve's lap. "Let's put a pin in this one for right now. I feel like we should talk to Peter about it and then we have to figure out how we'll do this, because I don't think I could...I can't live longer than my child or children, I just can't. I won't do it." Tony shook his head. "I mean, by all of my calculations, you're going to live much longer than the average human, but... Call me selfish, I want to keep my family. I would not have made it if Peter weren't a witch, like the very idea that I could lose him to old age before I even start to grey is just-"

Steve grabbed Tony's face. "I know. I just wanted to be honest with you...I've been thinking about it. It doesn't have to be right now...but I have thought about it. Peter would be a great big brother, I always wanted siblings growing up."

"Me too." Tony nodded.

"Statistically speaking if a witch's first child inherits it is almost 90% likely that every child they have thereafter would also inherit the genes..."

Tony sighed and put a finger to Steve's lips. "Don't say things like that. I already miss all the little little days. Besides, wouldn't you want to be responsible for the next one?"

"Serum." Steve answered with a shake of his head. "We can't know what that would do." Steve frowned. "Think about it though..."

"I've been thinking about it, for a while and it's just freaking adorable. Peter would be so cute and protective and you'd get to go through all those lovely firsts and...Okay, no, new rule, no baby talk until after we've talked to Peter and we've got the whole married thing down. Which, by the way, you never did give me that ring." Tony changed the subject.

"Ah, let me remedy that." Steve opened his ring box and held it out. "Will you marry me?"

"You offer it to me freely?" Tony asked.

"No, do not make this a nerd thing." Steve huffed and rolled them over, pushing Tony's back onto the bed. "Yes or no, nerd?"

"Fine, but only if you marry me." Tony pulled out his ring box and held it out to Steve. They switched boxes. Tony pulled his ring out and his eyebrows pulled together. The simple silver loop had a blue gem in it with etchings around it that looked like the arc reactor...and it was on a chain.

"You work with your hands, I didn't want your ring to get caught in a machine or something. People have lost fingers that way." Steve opened the clasp. "May I?"

Tony nodded and let Steve hook the chain around his neck.

"I also thought ahead, got a chain that would snap before it could ever strangle you."

"How romantic. Yay superhero problems. They're like first-world problems only everyone wants to kill you." Tony laughed. "I considered things too. Funny how paranoid we are now." He opened his ring box to a silver band with a simple shield etched in it. "Vibranium. It'll pack a punch."

Steve beamed as Tony slid it onto his finger. "Thank you, love. It's beautiful." Steve kissed him, gentle, loving. "I think we should celebrate."

"Me too." Tony smirked and flipped them over, commanding the kiss between them. Steve, more than happily let Tony take control.

-

Tony jolted awake and breathed heavy. It was there, in his sleep. Space. So many threats. So many stars with so many possible people living out there, ready to attack. And around all of it, that deep blackness. That endless, overwhelming possibility that death was coming for them. Tony he knew it...the attack on New York, there was more too it. Something big was coming, something worse. His heart pounded in his chest, then he sat up.

"Tone, you okay?" Steve mumbled sleepily.

Tony ran his hand down Steve's spine. "Sh...just need the bathroom."

"Mkay." Steve sighed.

Tony hated lying, but if he told Steve he'd had a nightmare, he be keeping Steve up too. Tony got up and pulled the blankets up, he knew how much Steve hated the feel of cool air as he slept. "I'll be back." He gently pressed his lips to Steve's shoulder and quietly walked away.

Tony walked to the door, but not for the bathroom. Instead he left their room and headed for the stairwell. He didn't feel like taking the elevator down, not just for a single floor. He walked down to his lab and all the lights flicked on.

"Sir, shouldn't you be asleep?" JARVIS wondered.

"It's fine, just had an idea for a new suit." Tony had work to do. He was a futurist and in his gut he knew there was something out there, something horrible waiting for the future and he needed to be ready for it, for himself, for his (possibly) growing family, and for the world. He had to be ready for the fight that would inevitably come.