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The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

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He almost forgot how much it stung. It had been a while since he had punched someone outside of the armor. It's no picnic.

Tony looked down at his hand. He hadn’t removed the glove yet. He’d told himself he’d been waiting for the cold draft from when he’d entered the car to clear away, but by this point he was about to start sweating. They still had a few minutes before they were home.

He pinched the tips of each finger to pull the glove loose, each tug feeling a bit like sandpaper against his skin. It took a few seconds, but when he had it off it was a bit of a relief. Until he looked at it.

It was definitely going to bruise. And that was saying nothing for the cut on the knuckle that had caught on the jackass’s teeth. The others were already an angry red, but no doubt by tomorrow they’d be a beautiful collage of purple, black, and yellow. Shit.

He suddenly had a lot more respect for Nat and Clint, being the only ones who fought bare-human-handed and was already mocking up plans in his head for some kind of protective gear for them. Though knowing Nat, she probably wouldn’t wear them. She’d miss the feel of the other guys’ bones breaking.

“You didn’t tuck your thumb, did you boss?”

“Hmm?”

“Your thumb,” Happy repeated from the front seat, glancing back at Tony in the rearview mirror. He held up his hand in a fist, thumb outside along the other fingers. “You left it out, right?”

“Course I did, Hap. I know how to punch.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just wanna make sure you didn’t forget.” Happy looked back down as the light turned green. “We hardly spar anymore, you know? Now that you got your superfriends to train with.”

Tony smiled at the jealously miffed tone, mocking expression and all. He supposed he had been ignoring a few spots of training here and there, trading the close combat sparring for agility training with Thor, target practice with Clint and a few well-built bots, and strategy simulation exercises with Natasha and Steve. All of it in the suit. “I guess there is something to be said about getting back to the basics once in a while.”

“I’d say so if you’re gonna be going around punching people like that. You’re getting rusty there, boss.”

“Excuse you?”

“You heard me. It took two hits before that guy was on the ground. Couple years ago, one bop,” Happy made a jabbing motion towards the console, “and he’da been down for the count. Rusty.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed. “Not rusty, just...a little out of practice.”

Happy shook his head and he made the turn to pull into the garage at the Tower. “Just a long way of saying rusty.”

Tony sat and grumbled as he waited for Happy to bring the car to a stop and come around to open his door.

“Just make sure you get some ice on that.”

“Yes, mom,” Tony sighed as he made to stand out of the car.

“I’m just saying the sooner you get ice on that, the less it’ll swell. Least that’s what they say, I never really notice a difference.”

Tony continued nodding as he made his way towards the door, taking the time to put the glove back on, wincing as he did. Did the damn thing shrink?

“You really think you’re gonna be able to hide that from Cap?”

“Not hiding it. Just cold. It’s twenty-four degrees out.”

“Sure, boss. See you tomorrow. Ice!”

Tony waved over his shoulder as the elevator door opened and he stepped in.

“Welcome home, sir," JARVIS greeted. "Penthouse?”

Tony chewed on his lip. “Is Steve up there?”

“Captain Rogers is taking a shower, sir. Shall I alert him to your arrival?”

Tony groaned. “No.” It'd be pretty conspicuous if Tony didn't want to join him and he couldn’t very well step into a shower with his hand the way it was. He knew he couldn’t hide it for too long, but at least maybe for tonight. Just tonight, he could hold off a lecture. He wasn’t in any mood.

Well, he may at least be able to use this time to his advantage. “How long has he been in the shower?”

“Less than sixty seconds. He stepped in just as you were asking.”

“Okay. Yeah, penthouse. Do we still have gauze and wrappings somewhere?”

The elevator started ascending. “Under the bathroom sink, sir.”

“Fuck.”

“If it helps, there is a box of Hawkeye themed Band-Aids in the kitchen drawer. I believe Mr. Barton left them some days ago.”

Tony rolled his eyes, remembering the day Clint had come in, holding the box high like it was a Heisman trophy, announcing that he was officially the coolest member. Natasha had remarked that it was a reflection on his klutziness. True to form, he’d used his first bandage that night.

Tony looked down at his hand which was beginning to throb with the restriction of the glove. Hawkeye Band-Aids would have to do for tonight.

The doors opened and Tony stepped out, following JARVIS's instructions to the Band-Aids that had found their way to a drawer and pulled them out. Sure enough, the box had an action image of Clint in full garb, an arrow pulled taught in his bow, and the image of the bandage showed they were decorated with purple H’s and a few arrows thrown in for design.

“You ever tell anyone and I am dismantling you.”

“Would never dream of it, sir,” JARVIS sassed back.

Okay, Steve showered pretty efficiently when alone which meant Tony only had another few minutes. He reluctantly opened the package and separated one of the bandages at the perforation and stripped it. Ugh...so much purple.

Tony removed the glove again, though it seemed the sandpaper had been replaced with razors this time, and made quick work of slapping on the bandage over the broken skin. He held out his hand to observe his less than perfect work. Because the abrasion was right on the crown of the knuckle, the bandage had to go up and over the joint awkwardly, not quite giving it the coverage it probably required.

Though even if it did, it looked almost comical amongst the still reddening other knuckles, one of which was already starting to go a little dark. How the fuck was he supposed to keep this under wraps, for lack of a better word? He wasn’t willing to add any more Hawkeye paraphernalia to his being, lecture be damned. Not like that would have been any less conspicuous anyway.

“Tony?”

“Hey! What? Nothing!” Tony swung around, making sure his hand was behind him and doing what he could to sweep the wrappers over, hidden behind his body..

Steve was standing in the doorway to their bedroom in a pair of sweats with a towel around his shoulders. “You’re back.”

“What? No, nothing’s there. What do you mean?” Tony asked far too quickly.

“Nothing’s...what?”

“What?”

“I...I was just saying that you’re back. From the thing at the hospital.”

“Oh. Yes. Yes, that I am. Back. I am back.”

Steve started walking over. “How did it go?”

“Uneventful.”

Steve paused a moment in his reach for a glass from the cabinet. “Really?”

It suddenly dawned on Tony that he had gone to the hospital to visit a Make-a-Wish kid who he had made a prosthetic for. Apparently his wish had been to build something with Iron Man (and how that had touched a part of Tony he wasn’t sure he was ready to deal with yet) so he’d made seventy percent of the arm and helped the kid, Miles, assemble it and add in a repulsor replica that shot out nurf-like darts with suction cups at the end. That most certainly would not have been uneventful.

“I mean it was great. Yeah, great kid. I just meant uneventful as in….nothing else happened.”

Steve’s brow furrowed as he began to fill his glass with water from the tap. “Was something else supposed to happen?”

“Nope. Nothing else.”

“Oh. Good then.”

“Yep. Good.”

Steve leaned against the counter and took a sip his water. “Are you okay?”

“Me? Fine, yeah, fine. Why wouldn't I be?”

“Well,” Steve placed his glass down solemnly, “it can be hard sometimes, spending time with a child who’s sick.”

“Oh. Yeah, he um...he’s a good kid. Smart. Funny.” Tony could still picture the look on his face when he held his newly assembled arm with such pride and joy. And how it fell when his dad had entered the room. “He’s got a bright future ahead of him if he can pull through.”

“Mm,” Steve hummed. “It’s always the good ones, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” The look on his face when his dad put his hand on his shoulder. “It’s always the good ones.”

“Hey.” Tony looked up at Steve who was suddenly in front of him. “You did a good thing today. You made a little boy very happy.”

Tony couldn’t do anything but nod, the throbbing in his hand intensifying as he tried to unclench it.

“Tony.” Steve’s hands came up on either side of Tony’s face, gently tilting it up until their eyes met. “I..” He leaned forward to press a kiss to Tony’s forehead. “..am very…” his cheek, “...proud…” his nose, “of you.”

Steve pressed his lips to Tony's lightly. Then again. And again, until they stopped separating and basked in the feeling of the other, the warmth, the concern, the intimacy.

Tony couldn’t help but melt into it, letting his shoulders ease until he was pliable under Steve’s hands, his thoughts fuzzy and formless. For a moment it was perfect. A moment that seemed-

“Ahh..” Tony hissed and jerked forward from the counter where his hand had started to pinch between the counter and his body.

“What?” Steve asked hastily, eyes wide and instinctively looking for injury. “What, did I hurt you?”

“No, no of course not, just um...I-” In his effort to keep the wrappings blocked from view, he brushed them too far until they trickled to the floor. Steve bent down to pick them up.

“Are these...did you hurt yourself?”

“Yes,” he answered, drawing the word out into five syllables. The evidence was found, no point in lying now. May as well just try to carefully steer it from here. “Um, yes. I did. Just a small-”

“Can I see?”

“Uhh…” Shit. “You don’t need to-”

“Please? At least let me make sure you cleaned it properly. Is it bad?”

“No...I just...I…”

“Tony…” He looked up to see the kicked puppy eyes and knew he was fucked. “Please?”

He held out for as long as he could, until he sighed and presented his pitifully bandaged hand.

“Oh my god.” Steve gingerly held Tony’s fingers in his own, looking over the deep red-turning-dark skin with deep concern. “Tony, what did you do?”

Okay, he could think of something. What could cause this? What could cause this? Where had he been? It could have been an injury from assembling the arm...no, Steve knew he’d never have let the kid work on something that had any potential to cause injury. Plus the hospital would have supplied actual bandages. He’d been in the car, maybe he'd slammed his hand in the door. Yeah, that sounded plausible, right?

“This looks like...Did...you hit someone?”

“Yes.” It was out before Tony could stop it.

They stood staring at each other for a solid several seconds before Steve’s face dropped into something resembling displeasure and Tony steeled himself for what would come next.

“What did they do?”

Tony said nothing.

“Tony,” Steve asked sternly, “you don't hit people without good reason. What did-”

“He’s eight years old.”

That seemed to catch Steve off guard.

“Eight. Stars in his eyes, wants to do something great, change the world. He’s funny. Hell, he had me in stitches. And so damn smart. The questions he was asking, the way he just absorbed everything so quickly. He could really be something great.”

“Okay, how-”

“So why the fuck is he the one with the shitty dad? Hm? Why him? It’s not enough that he was in a car accident and may die unless he gets that transplant? It’s not enough that he lost a fucking arm, but he has to have an asshole for a father, too?” Tony took his hand back and didn’t try to stop it from clenching this time no matter how much it ached. “You tell me you could have stood by and done nothing. You tell me you could have just walked away.”

There was another silence as they each continued to stare at the other. Tony’s face pinched in defensiveness, Steve’s somewhat unreadable.

Steve finally nodded slowly and Tony readied himself for the scolding, the lecture of how he can’t be so reckless, that it was irresponsible and pig-headed, and then sigh with that ‘I’m so disappointed,’ fall of his shoulders.

“Do you think he’ll try to press charges?”

That...was not what he had been expecting. “No,” Tony answered with a little more force than was probably necessary, but it was hard to get out of his defensive mindset once in it. “No, I told him to not even think about it because if he doesn’t keep his hands off his son, my lawyers will be coming for him first.”

Steve nodded again. “Good.” He took a breath and reached forward to take Tony’s hand again, gently peeling the fingers away to ease the pull on the skin. “We should get some alcohol on that cut. I think our first aid kit is in the bathroom.”

He started to pull Tony in that direction but Tony dug in his heels. “That’s it?”

Steve turned back. “What’s it?”

“No yelling? No lecture, no ‘You can’t go punching people like that, Tony. We’re public figures. We have to set a standard’?”

Steve took the one long stride back till he was close enough to wrap his unoccupied arm around Tony’s waist and pressed a kiss to his lips that put the previous kiss to shame.

“You made a little boy’s wish come true, protected him from further harm, and, knowing you," he added with a teasing smirk, "you're most likely already planning on setting up a trust for when he goes to college so you can hire him in the future. I think you set one hell of a standard today.” Another press of lips. “If anything, I am even more proud of you than I was before.”

Tony could only gape as he ran that over in his head a few dozen times before it finally managed to set in. He had once wondered at what point it was that people stopped the falling part of falling in love. It had to end at some point right? So why then did it seem like he was always falling deeper and deeper in love with this man?

“I love you.”

Steve beamed. “I-”

Tony shook his head. “I mean thank you. I mean I do love you, but also thank you.”

Steve chuckled. “You’re welcome, and I love you too. Now come on. We better trade that purple sticker for some real bandages or Clint is never going to let you live it down.”