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and they'll tell you now, "you're the lucky one"

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Tony Stark is only three years old when he’s proclaimed a genius by the papers for the first time, which probably has something to do with either:
a) Howard buying off the reporters
b) said reporters being desperate for a catchy headline and figuring STARK LEGACY CONTINUES WITH HOWARD’S GENIUS SON was as good as any, or
c) the talking and fully functioning robot he built one night when he couldn’t sleep.

After that, the reporters hound him even more than they did before when he was merely the toddling child of a filthy rich inventor. He is told not to expect too much from the people with mics who tell him they’re his friends and he learns pretty quickly that once you’re famous and above everyone else, everyone is dying to bring you back down again.

Tony skips a grade or four, and he learns the ways of the world along with how to calibrate the inconsistencies in a motorcycle’s wing clip. Maria pats him absently on the shoulder when he proudly shows her his first complete Lewis structure (it took him six minutes), and then sends him off to find Jarvis. His father is hungover and still in bed when he tries to show him. The maid doesn’t let him in, and Tony is three when he is told to expect much from his parents, either.

 

Tony turns four, and the words genius and future billionaire or prodigy child show up beside his name more often than not. He doesn’t mind, even if the other kids avoid him and his tutor doesn’t quite know what to make of this kid who barely comes up to his knee but pretty much already knows everything he can find to teach him. He keeps advancing in his studies and hopes that that’ll be good enough for Howard, and when the adults wonder how he can possibly have the motivation to keep slaving away at his school work at so young an age, he tells them, “I have to,” and he means it. He has to keep working, because someday, his father tells him, Tony’s going to be a real Stark man, and that means taking over the company and keeping up the Stark public image and he needs to be prepared for when that day comes.

“It’s the only way Daddy stops to listen to me,” he doesn’t tell them.

 

When he’s five, Tony’s inebriated father shoves his first glass of whiskey in his hand and tells him that being a Stark means learning to hold his liquor. He thinks Maria had tried to stop him (there had been shoving and a slap and some form of a stuttered apology), but honestly, the memory of the whole night is blurred.

The whiskey is sour and it stings as it goes down, but it turns off all the yelling and the strange people traipsing by and smudges them all into far away shadows until the next morning. He wakes up to a world that is sharper than usual and a hammer pounding behind his eyes. He doesn’t like the feeling, but he likes the part that came before.

 

Tony turns six. Not much else changes. He reaches higher levels of schooling, higher levels of disappointment. He sees his father dragging a woman who is not his mother upstairs, one night when he goes down to the kitchen for a drink of water. On his way back up the stairs, he sees his mother standing in the doorway of one of the many guest bedrooms with her lips pressed tightly together, watching the woman with her husband. She doesn’t see him, and he goes back to the room. He doesn’t say a word, and the next morning he pretends that he’d dreamed it.

 

Seven, and nothing much remarkable happens then either. He thinks he grows a little taller, but he slouches so much that it’s hard to tell. After a media scandal when he ducks outside to grab something in a t-shirt with a political slogan that would never make it past a censorship agent, Maria asks him to wear a suit at all times when a camera might be present. They have a reputation, and Tony is beginning to have one too. Tony’s awfully fond of the shirt, but they compromise. He buttons up the suit jacket next time.

He figures out pretty early on that he can sneak things out of the cupboards when no one is looking, and no one ever notices that they’re gone. It starts with snacks, Cheez-its and candy and all of the junk Jarvis had managed to sneak into the house for him. But one night, his father’s whiskey is right there next to the gourmet chocolates Maria got imported from Europe. Tony’s impulsive and there’s no one there to stop him, so he tries a sip again.

This time, the disconnected feeling stays a little longer with each swig he takes. The floor feels so far away and his arms don’t look like his, but the numbness takes Tony to a world where it’s all just a little bit duller and easier to process. The bottle ends up under a pile of jeans in his closet. No one ever misses it.

 

Eight, and he cusses out his teacher when he gets failed for turning in an assignment late. Tony doesn’t even know what all the words mean, but they shrink the man back down to his place and he thinks, see, Dad, I can do this, I can be like you.

Tony fires the man the next day, and after that he burns through staff incredibly fast, because as eager as people are to work for the famous Stark family, no one really wants to work for a spoiled rich kid trying to live up to his father's backwards legacy.

 

Nine, then ten, then eleven. Life moves relentlessly onward and Tony tries not to think about how much he wants it to just stop some days. “Daddy” turns into “Father,” which in turn becomes “Howard” in a cool, flat tone whenever he’s forced to talk to him.

 

Twelve. Tony’s messing around in the workbench when he makes a robot that seems to partially understand him and names it Dum-E, because hey, he’s twelve after all and it seems funny at the time. It’s also slightly fitting, because Tony burns through model after model trying to get it just right and Dum-E always seems to retain just the slightest bit of endearing stupidity no matter how many times he recalibrates.

He’s a little drunk when he makes the first model, unsurprisingly. Some of his best ideas happen in that state, or at least they seem like his best ideas at the time. Tony wakes up the next morning slumped against the workbench with a machine hovering around him curiously and beeping at him in a way that could almost be called friendly, and he wonders just how lonely he was when he made it.

 

A few days after he turns thirteen, Tony’s diagnosed with chronic depression. The reporters don’t say anything, probably because Howard instructs someone to buy them off. Tony doesn’t thank him, Howard doesn’t mention it, and apart from his now weekly therapy appointments, life moves on like it never happened. Jarvis takes Tony to his appointments and makes an effort to check in on him, which is a slight change of pace. He also takes away all of Tony’s alcohol with several stern warnings about how it’s illegal and completely improper for someone your age. Tony waits a couple days before he sneaks the bottles back into his room, so it will at least look like he made an effort in case Jarvis finds out. He’s not actively trying to hurt the older man’s pride, after all.

Tony’s therapist tells him to focus on his breathing when he gets upset, tells him that he needs to contribute to their conversations, tells him that he’ll never get better if he doesn’t even try to get help. Tony tells him that he doesn’t need to get better, tells him he’s not broken, tells him that he doesn’t need to be fixed or whatever it is that the man has in mind. Unsurprisingly, Tony ends up canceling the appointments after the first few (miserable) sessions. Jarvis attempts to talk him into going back, but Tony never does.

Tony doesn’t need to be fixed. He’s not broken.

He’s not.

 

Fourteen. Tony’s a Stark man all the time now, and he attends galas and social outings with his parents when he’s informed that his presence is required. Everyone says he’s such a gentleman and just like Howard (two phrases that really don't belong together) and Tony feels slightly sick at the thought.

 

Fifteen, and Tony graduates. From college, and an Ivy League one at that. He’s got a vague idea that this would probably make any normal parent proud, but Howard barely takes the time to acknowledge it. That stings a little, but only a little, because Tony gave up on meeting those expectations a long time ago.

He spends the night of his graduation party in a closet with a girl nearly four years older than him hanging off him. He’s not really sure what he’s doing, but she seems to like it, and it’s all too blurry and too fast to be remembered the next morning. He glances at himself in the mirror when he gets up and sees another part of his father looking back at him. There’s something panicked pounding away at him, just out of sight, and it’s not just the hangover. Tony doesn’t know how much longer he can keep up with this.

 

Sixteen, and one night it all becomes too much. Tony’s tired, he’s so tired. It doesn’t matter how much or if he sleeps at all these days. The tired feeling is always the same. He forces himself to function, chokes down some food, drinks a little water, takes a shower. He ends up spending hours in there, crouched in the corner with a towel draped around his shoulders and letting his chin rest against the cool porcelain tub. He counts the tiles and stares at the cracks in the caulk and sometimes his gaze flicks to the razor on the side of the tub and once again he thinks how nice it would be to have everything just stop.

Tony wakes up in the hospital with bandaged wrists and no one in the waiting room demanding the doctors to let them see their son. A lady he vaguely recognizes as his mother’s personal assistant sits in the corner with a guarded expression on her face, and he almost laughs. He doesn’t know what else he expected. Unless there are cameras around recording their every move, Howard and Maria barely even acknowledge that they have a son. Why should this change anything?

Tony looks at the IV cord dangling from the hospital bed and wonders vaguely if he could strangle himself with it, but he doesn’t even have the energy to lift his arms.

The lady in the corner offers him a tissue.

 

Seventeen. The word playboy starts to appear next to the words genius billionaire with his name like it’s his title now. He’s not sure he likes it, but it’s expected, even if he’s technically still not legal yet, so he makes no effort to be subtle. Every few days, Tony’s picture is in the papers with a different girl on his arm. No one tells him to stop, this isn’t healthy, because it turns out that in the Stark household, having the spotlight for something questionable is better than not having the spotlight at all.

 

Eighteen. For the good of the Stark name and public image, Howard intervenes and makes sure that the word philanthropist appears next to Tony’s name in print too. Tony gets an allowance of money every month that he’s instructed to donate to a charity of his choice, and he can’t help but hate that his family’s stupid reputation is the only reason Howard seems to care about starving orphans in Africa or whatever. More often than not, Tony forgoes the mainstream charities and ends up giving the money to the homeless man he’d found huddling next to his car for warmth while he was inside getting lunch, or buying a pair of shoes and a coat for the girl who’d stared at his designer suit jacket with such wonder. And when he gets to see the girl’s smile right in front of him or the man shaking his hand again and again and stammering his gratitude, he can almost forget that it’s all for the cameras.

It feels good. It feels really good. But then he’ll see the homeless man’s face on the front page the next day, or the little girl being interviewed by CNN when he idly flips on the TV, and it just serves as another reminder of how fake everything in Tony’s life is.

On the screen, the girl’s makeup has been done. Her face glitters in the glow of cameras that cost more than any money Tony’s ever given away.

 

And then Tony’s nineteen, and standing to the side of his parents’ caskets, the perfect, plastic, practiced Stark smile is absent for once. Tony doesn’t know how else to arrange his face, because God forbid he show real emotions with this many cameras around. He’s not smiling, because that would be inappropriate, he’s told, because apparently it’s okay to pretend to be happy when you’re sad but not to have to pretend to be sad when you’re… well, not happy, he’s not that much of a horrible person, but when you’re not as distressed as you’re supposed to be. So he’s careful, makes sure that nothing inappropriate slips behind this suffocating mask, and it’s actually difficult because it’s become a bit of a reflex by now.

He doesn’t say anything at the service, just stands there and watches strangers lay roses on the double headstone and pretend to wipe their eyes and say nice things about the inventor and the wife that they never really knew. He can practically hear them all wondering how the inheritance will be divided.

He processes it all with a kind of numbness he’s come to associate with alcohol and wishes the weeping masses would leave already so he could go smoke.

 

Twenty. He’s making his way through a bottle of vodka a day now and he hears whispers from the faceless people around him that sound vaguely like has to be unhealthy and seriously becoming an alcoholic, Tony, this isn’t okay, but he always manages to make them go away with another swig of liquor and few hours down in the workshop. He’s barely sleeping, barely eating, barely alive, but somehow still functioning, and isn’t that what matters?

He’s a picture for the papers, a suit and a smile and a name he hates but he slaps on anyway whenever anyone’s watching. And if he falls apart when they leave, well, that’s nobody’s business but his own. He can cover up the smell of cigarette smoke with some overpriced cologne, he’s learned, and as long as he keeps flirting and being outrageous and the Tony Stark they all know and hate, no one blinks twice. Sure, there are times when the grin slips for a moment and he breaks off in the middle of a kiss with some actress whose name he doesn’t remember and the people will stare, but he always catches it and covers it up with a sarcastic remark or a witty comment, or even a few slipped hundreds if it comes down to it.

Because he’s fine, really, perfect, even, because he’s a Stark, and he has to be. And he reminds himself of that in the middle of early morning hangovers and wincing at the light and waking up in bed with a stranger.

Perfect.

 

Twenty one. Tony invents an AI to oversee security and the management of the mansion and calls it JARVIS. It’s named after the man who raised him in his parents’ stead, but he claims it stands for “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System” whenever anyone asks him. JARVIS does a pretty good job at keeping up with all the things Tony doesn’t have time to deal with, and though he doesn’t remember installing a dry sense of humor in the AI’s personality before, he likes having someone around who can keep up with him.

 

Twenty two. He honestly can’t remember the last time he was completely sober.

 

Twenty three, and he can’t remember anything.

 

Twenty four, and nothing has changed.

 

(Twenty five.)

 

(Twenty six.)

 

(Twenty seven.)

 

Twenty eight. Tony hires Pepper and after he forgets to fire her after a week and she still hasn’t quit, he promotes her to PA and calls it good enough. Pepper knows what to do without Tony having to tell her and appears to have a tolerably high IQ, which is a perk. After a few months, they settle into a routine, and Tony slowly gets used to waking up in the mornings with Advil and a glass of water next to his bed for the inevitable hangover and having someone bring food down to the workshop on the days when Tony is too caught up in a project to eat.

It’s nice. It’s a hell of a lot better than his old routine, at least, so he tolerates Pepper’s knowing replies and literal self-promotions, and it’s almost unsettling, having someone know his bad habits and eccentricities and put up with him anyway. Their relationship isn’t even strictly professional. Tony’s never gone this long without either firing or hooking up with an assistant (or both, sometimes in that order) and he isn’t sure how to handle it. He slips up sometimes and calls her “Pepper” instead of “Ms. Potts,” but she doesn’t seem to mind.

Sometimes, on the rare nights when he comes home from the bar alone, Pepper helps him stumble into bed, knowing that otherwise he’ll spend the night on the couch in the workshop and complain about his back pain for days. If she notices the layered scars on his wrists when she helps him take off his shirt, she keeps her mouth shut.

 

Twenty nine. He meets Rhodey and he thinks the soldier might actually care about him for more than just the billionaire perks, and for once Tony dares to think that he might have made a friend. But he’s careful, because Rhodey doesn’t know about how much crap Tony struggles with yet, and he wants him to stick around, so he watches how much he drinks around Rhodey and makes sure that he doesn’t let the Stark mask slip too often and desperately hopes that he won’t leave.

He can’t help but wait for the other shoe to drop. No one has ever stuck around this long of their own free will.

 

Thirty, which feels way too old. Rhodey manages to find out about the crap anyway, which is kind of impressive considering the spreadsheet Tony's had to make to keep track of how much JARVIS was banned from telling the soldier. He tries to help, which Tony appreciates even though it's none of his damn business, and he also doesn’t leave, which Tony appreciates even more.

Rhodey’s not always good at listening, but he’s good at calling Tony out when his friend gets in his head, and he sees enough to know that Tony could really use a support system. He tries to convince Tony to go back to therapy or something, but Tony refuses on the excuse that the media doesn’t need that to talk about too. In the meantime, Rhodey stays. They’d never interacted much outside of work presentations before, but now the colonel just shows up in sweats on a Friday night unannounced, ready to drag Tony back to the couch for a rare night to themselves. Self-care, Rhodey says, and it gives Tony a chance to eat without caring about people taking pictures of him, so he secretly doesn’t hate it.

Rhodey doesn’t give up on trying to convince him about the therapy thing, which is probably why after a few months of badgering, he introduces Tony to Sam Wilson. JARVIS’s background check on the man reveals Sam’s background in therapy and psychology, but for the sake of placating Rhodey, Tony lets it slide, and after a few Sunday morning brunches with Sam, he’s surprised to find he enjoys spending time with the man for Sam's own sake as well. He tries not to wonder how much Rhodey is paying the man to pretend to like Tony.

Therapy is… different, this time around. Sam doesn’t edge around Tony the way he’d anticipated, and it’s kind of nice to have someone call him out on his bullshit for once. Tony can’t get away with anything around Sam. He’ll make a throwaway joke about his childhood trauma or his unhealthy coping mechanisms and pause for Sam to laugh, but the other man just leans in and asks him to keep going. Sam doesn’t ask about feelings as much as Tony had assumed a therapist was supposed to, but he always seems to get to the root of them anyway.

Tony starts actually looking forward to their weekly brunches. It’s one of the few meetings he manages to show up on time for these days.

 

Thirty one. When Pepper finds out that he was planning on spending Christmas hiding in the workshop with Dum-E, she invites him to come home with her for the holidays. He tries to refuse but she’s the only person he knows who’s even more stubborn than he is, and he finds himself flying out to Nevada with her on Christmas Eve anyway. She introduces him to her parents as “my friend, Tony” and doesn’t say “my boss” or “Tony Stark” or anything, and Tony feels something foreign in his stomach every time she smiles at him the whole weekend. Her parents treat him like a person and not his brand, and that night when he’s trying to fall asleep, he hears Pepper saying the word “friend” like a record on repeat in his head.

Friend.

She’s not even getting paid leave on holidays. (He makes a note to tell JARVIS to change that.)

Huh.

 

Thirty two, and it comes as no surprise when Tony starts dating Pepper. He’s a little surprised that she lets him. It’s beautiful and foolish and goes out in a blaze the same way they’d started, but she sticks around anyway. “Face it, Tony,” she says when he tries to halfheartedly protest that she doesn’t need to feel any obligation to stay at Stark Industries and I understand if it’s just going to be too awkward and… “You wouldn’t know what to do know what to do without me.”

It’s undeniably true, but Tony doesn’t tell Pepper that.

 

Thirty three. Tony keeps messing around in the workshop and accidentally creating lethal weapons that Obie sells and advertises to people Tony doesn’t know but are even richer than he is. Every once in awhile, he gets dragged out to various galas and social outings, and he drags up his Stark mask again and always drinks a little more than is advisable considering his history with alcohol, and brings someone home and has JARVIS or Pepper escort them out of the house in the morning. It gets weary, but he deals with it.

He immerses himself in his work and tries to remind himself that he’s not going to be another Howard. He’s making a difference. It’s a little harder to convince himself of that when he looks in the mirror one morning when he finally remembers to shave and the reflection looks so much like his father with the stubble and tired alcohol eyes that Tony wants to just swing a fist forward and get rid of it.

Pepper helps him dig the glass out of his knuckles the next day.

 

Thirty four, then thirty five, then thirty six, then thirty seven. Tony keeps on being Tony Stark, because that’s the only person he knows how to be. Stark Industries is booming and Tony paints on a smile whenever he’s needed. He knows that Pepper and Rhodey can see right through it but he fights them off every time they try to mention it, because he’s fine. He’s always fine. (He’s been worse before, at least, so it counts.)

 

Thirty eight, then thirty nine, then forty, then chaos.

 

Forty one. Afghanistan happens, and Tony’s world flips like a coin. Yinsen teaches him a few things about physics and car batteries and shrapnel and also human emotions somewhere in there, and Tony almost tells him to savor the moment, because it’s not everyday you get to teach a Stark something new. But he bites it back and thinks huh, maybe I’ve already gotten the hang of this not turning people away with your unbelievable arrogance thing. (He hasn’t.)

So he builds the arc reactor and the first rudimentary version of the Iron Man suit and actually manages to escape (which, how), but it’s at far too high a cost and Yinsen doesn’t make it out of the cave with him. He almost, almost cries in front of the cameras when he has to give the official statement and he doesn’t even try to stop himself. The last of the Tony Stark mask finally crumbles and he comes home more tired than he’s ever felt in his life but he gets JARVIS to change the combination to the liquor safe anyway and never tell him what it is.

He’s going to make changes. Starting with the alcohol but leading to responsibility, to realizing the deathly implications of everything his life’s work has built. There are holes in the Stark legacy that he’d never even thought of before, and he’s really not sure how much is worth salvaging.

And when everything finally settles down- who is he then? Who is Tony Stark, when you strip away the business and the cameras and the money and the alcohol and the flirting and even the Iron Man suit and everything his father has drilled into every pore of his body? Tony decides that after the whole Afghanistan mess blows over, he’s going to find out. Pepper meets him at the aircraft when he gets home and he smiles when he sees her. It’s not the one he’s been practicing in front of a mirror since he was six, it’s genuine and it almost hurts. His face isn’t used to moving that way, because it’s not everyday that that happens, either.

“The Afghanistan mess” turns out to be a lot harder to clean up than what he’d thought. Obie betrays him and Tony can’t even find the energy to muster a fighting spirit until Manhattan, and more importantly, Pepper, is in danger and oh yeah, there it is. So Tony fights and finds out that this? This is what it feels like to be alive and care about something other than what you’ve been told to and do something that’s actually gonna matter.

He’s not sure if he likes it or not, this whole caring business, but after that it seems like he’s stuck with it. And maybe he hacks into the liquor safe despite all his promises to himself and he still hasn’t figured out how to tell Pepper how much warmer she makes the mansion on the nights he can convince her to stay, but he’s a work in progress. Cut him some slack.

 

Forty two. Tony nearly dies again and this time he knows it’s happening. He lets himself be a little reckless, chase the thrill without fear of the end, because the end is coming sooner or later and it turns out that he can’t do much to stop it. At least this way he’ll go out with a bang.

Tony lives up to his reputation as a philanthropist and starts giving away his things like they’re already reading out the will. He starts spending more and more time by himself, racking his brain to come up with a solution and trying to make peace with the fact that there might not be one. When Tony thinks about the future of Stark Industries, the only option is Pepper, so she gets a promotion and a fruit basket and everything but an explanation for why he’s doing this now.

His life feels a bit like an act again. Tony’s still got the parties and the drinks and he still knows how to keep his guests entertained, but none of it quite fills the literal hole in his chest. There’s also less women involved these days. He’d tried it, once, and it ended in JARVIS escorting the girl out of the house in some kind of preemptive walk-of-shame. Nothing feels right without Pepper. Tony just hasn’t figured out how to tell her that.

He nearly loses Rhodey in the middle of it all. That’s the worst part. Tony lets him steal the suit and he thinks maybe it’ll be in safe hands, thinks maybe Rhodey will do better things with it than he ever managed to. It’s not the legacy he imagined, but he hopes it’ll make up for a few things. The suit doesn't go exactly to plan but they handle it, together, and Tony gets Rhodey back, so he counts it as a win.

Tony finds the video, hears Howard telling him everything was for you. It’s about all he can do not to scream. He spends days trying to rewrite his memories and make room for that thought, but all he can seem to remember is the tequila and the strange women and the distance in his father’s eyes, and it hurts his head to try. JARVIS buries the file.

 

Forty three. New York is a mess that Tony tries really hard not to think about. After Nick Fury finally gets them all to commit to the Avengers, the life Tony leads is suddenly almost unidentifiable as his own. Stark Tower becomes Avengers Tower, and Tony slowly gets used to the changes that necessarily go along with that.

He gets used to Clint being in the kitchen at all hours of the day and the archer’s heretical approach to toast. He gets used to Steve hogging the coffee pot in the mornings like some kind of grumpy grandpa and the way he sometimes trails off in the middle of a sentence like he’s somewhere else. He gets used to helping Bruce break out the breathing techniques each time Clint tries to sneak up on him (not the smartest move, in hindsight), and he even gets used to sharing his lab. He learns how to handle Thor’s rib-crushing birthday hugs and ungodly enthusiasm at all hours. He even gets used to Natasha coming too quietly around corners with more knives than he likes to think about strapped to her body. (That one takes the longest to adjust to.)

And in fairness, it probably takes them a while to get used to him, too. Tony still likes to be able to control things, and living with multiple genetically enhanced supersoldiers and ex-assassins does not usually add up to a controllable situation. He and Steve butt heads pretty often, but Tony’s trying to learn to ease up a little. Other people are allowed to have ideas besides him.

But he likes the perks that come with this new life, as weird as it turns out to be. He likes going for a fly around Manhattan when everything becomes too much. JARVIS reminds him to breathe even though the heights he tends to hover at make that hard, and he gets his head back on right. He likes sparring with his teammates and trying out the different tips everyone has to offer (because it turns out that he’s not quite in the shape he needs to be to lead the life of a superhero over the age of forty). He likes watching Bucky chase Clint around the room when he steals his cereal, and introducing Steve to Urban Dictionary as a totally reliable way to figure out twenty first century slang, and talking to Bruce in scientific jargon that goes way over everyone else’s heads, and watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. with Thor, and having Natasha teach him how to blend concealer to hide some of the inevitable bruises in the aftermath of battles for when he doesn’t want his damaged face splashed on the front of every newspaper in New York.

And yeah, it’s undeniably bizarre. Tony walks into his living room to find an Asgardian god complaining about the fritzing television channels to the sympathetic ear of a supersoldier that was supposed to be dead seventy years ago (who also happened to be friends with his dead and negligent father). He starts focusing the brunt of his inventions on things like making arrows that will only explode when Clint wants them to or pants that won’t rip when Bruce Hulks out. Natasha’s sleep schedule is concerning and Bucky’s hyperfixation on plums takes some getting used to, but it’s a good kind of bizarre.

It finally hits him about six months after everyone’s moved in together, one morning when he slumps his way down to the kitchen and watches them all good-naturedly squabbling and just co-existing, that Tony doesn’t quite know what to call this new arrangement. Team is what comes to mind first, but it sounds too stiff. Friends, he thinks next, and though the word still puts a warm glow in his chest that isn’t the arc reactor for once, it doesn’t feel quite right either. Family, he decides, and it’s slightly alarming at first, considering his past encounters with the concept.

And it’s right about when Natasha makes an off-hand comment on movie night that turns into an all-out debate about whether or not Tangled can be considered superior to Frozen and if Elsa technically counts as a villain in the story and what do you mean you don’t know all the words to Let It Go, you utter barbarian, he thinks, yeah, family. This is what family is supposed to look like.

Steve notices his far-off gaze and touches his arm. “Hey, you okay there, Tony?”

Tony lets his grin loosen a little bit, and it’s not even sarcasm when he says, “Yeah, never been better,” and goes to help Clint steal the rest of Bucky’s granola and tease Natasha relentlessly about the fact that the famed assassin-turned-Avenger and notoriously hardcore Black Widow is definitely in love with Elsa.