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Learning to fly

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Tony got the call during a shareholder meeting.

It was a cloudy Thursday afternoon and the sun was hidden behind thick clouds that promised more rain in the evening. His joints and wings ached. It was a dull kind of pain that he had gotten used to. Tony didn’t like the wet weather.

Secretly, he pulled his phone from his pocket and frowned at the screen. Next to him, Pepper cleared her throat pointedly, and her auburn wings twitched annoyed. Her gaze was disapproving when Tony looked at her, but then he showed her the name of the caller and she immediately softened.

“Go, Tony, I’ll take care of everything here,” she whispered then and patted his arm under the table.

“Thanks, Pep.” Grateful for her understanding, Tony stood up and swiftly excused himself.

The eyes of the old geezers followed him out of the room, but Tony couldn’t care less. His shoulders and wings were tense as he tried to reach the elevators as fast as possible without breaking out into a run. JARVIS, bless his wires, had already prepared the armor when he reached the penthouse suite of Stark Tower.

The rooms were empty as Tony hurried to the balcony, shedding his suit jacket and throwing it over the back of a chair as he went by it. Steve wasn’t home. The captain was at SHIELD HQ. Tony was pretty sure that the preschool had tried to get to him as well. As if on cue, Tony’s phone buzzed again, this time it was a text message from the aforementioned Captain.

> I received a call from the preschool. I’ll come home as soon as possible, promise.

Tony stepped into the suit and the HUD lit up, showing the same message that the brunet had just read on the screen of his phone. He smiled, imagining the frown on his husband’s face and the cute wrinkle between his eyebrows that he always got when he tried to type out a message on his own smartphone. He always complained that those things were too small for his hands.

“JARVIS, be a sweetheart and let Steve know that I’m on the way,” he ordered and two seconds later a text, sent from his phone by the AI, appeared on the HUD. “Thanks, J.”

“My pleasure, sir,” JARVIS said, firing up the thrusters and the Iron Man armor shot up into the sky. “The preschool teachers are already awaiting your arrival.”

“Wonderful. I hope nothing happened to Peter. I hate the fact that I can’t tap into their surveillance cameras. I swear, they wouldn’t even notice it,” Tony muttered under his breath. He’d had this discussion with his husband and AI countless times before, so JARVIS wisely didn’t respond.

Tony stretched his wings out, the metal plates supporting him clinking slightly as he sped up. In less than two minutes he touched down on the lawn of his son’s preschool. Under the wide eyes of the children playing on the playground a few feet away, the armor folded back and Tony stepped out of it. The engineer folded his partially mechanical wings against his back and walked up to the entrance of the building, where two teachers already awaited him.

The private school Peter attended combined preschool, kindergarten and elementary school. Steve, old-fashioned as he sometimes was, would have preferred to send their son to a public school, but Tony, the secret mother-hen that he was, had insisted on their only child going to a private school. He knew from experience how shitty private schools could be, but Peter was the son of not just one but two Avengers. On top of that, Tony was also the CEO of a fortune 500 company. And he hadn’t been willing to let their child go to a public school that couldn’t guarantee Peter’s safety.

The dry leaves of the trees around him painted the ground yellow, orange and red. He saw children playing with them, saw them collecting chestnuts and acorns, and jumping into puddles. The father in him involuntarily smiled at the picture, but then he remembered why he was here in the first place and he refocused on the two teachers. Between them he finally spotted his son. Peter held on tightly to his little tsum plush, and as soon as the four year old saw his father, he burst into tears and came running towards him. Tony knelt down on the slightly wet grass and embraced his child tightly when Peter crashed into him. The boy pressed his face into his shoulder, hiccuping.

“Shhh, it’s okay, Peter. I’m here. It’s okay, baby,” whispered Tony and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. The fluffy white wings of the boy were muddy and wet, just like the rest of him. He looked like he'd fallen into a mudhole. Tony frowned and hugged him tightly, not caring about the dirt. Together they stood up again. His son wrapped his small arms around his neck and Tony’s wings shifted forward trying to wrap Peter up to keep him safe.

“What happened?” Tony asked the teachers that had come forward, looking a little nervous.

“Thank you for coming, Mr Stark,” the young man started. His own wings that matched the color of his fair hair twitched in uneasiness. “We’re sorry for calling all of a sudden, but… well, Peter, he got into a fight and beat another boy.”

“What?” Tony stared at him, unbelieving. “Peter? What did you do?” he asked his son, but the boy only shook his head, where he was crying into his crimson dress shirt.

“We’re sorry, Mr Stark, but maybe it’s better Peter if went home for today. The other child was sent home as well,” said the woman with dreadlocks. She looked just as uncomfortable as her colleague and Tony tried to soften his expression, even though he felt rather upset.

Tony knew his son, and Peter was just like his other father, placid and surprisingly diplomatic for a four year old. He was sure there must be a misunderstanding. Tony couldn't believe that his son injured another kid. But arguing with the teachers would do him no good. He hadn’t been present and therefore couldn't prove his theory. So he nodded in understanding and took Peter's small backpack that the man offered him.

The teachers apologized again and Tony promised that he’d talk to Peter about the incident. Then he turned around and carried his son back to the armor that already awaited them. Everyone present watched fascinated how the armor enveloped Tony. Peter, already used to it, waited next to him until his father was clad in metal, before he raised his arms again so Tony could pick him up. Whirring quietly, his reinforced wings unfolded and the father and son duo rose above the roofs of the quiet neighborhood in Queens, and slowly they flew back to the tower.

If Tony had known that he would have to take Peter home, then he’d taken the car. Being carried by the armor without any kind of protection was neither comfortable nor safe. Unfortunately it was the only way that allowed Tony to fly at all. His damaged and weakened wings could no longer carry him without the support of the armor. Sighing, Tony shot a message to his husband, letting him know that their son was agitated but not injured, and that they were on their way back home.

A few minutes later Tony landed with whining thrusters and flapping wings on the landing pad of the penthouses' balcony. Peter climbed down and stepped back to give his father the space he needed to shed the armor once again. He was sniffling softly and his little wings were dropping. Tony's heart ached at seeing his son so upset. He stepped forward and knelt down in front of him as soon as the robotic arms that helped him cast off the armor were out of his way. Tony brushed the big tears away that ran down the boy’s face and kissed his forehead.

“Do you maybe want to tell me what happened, Peter?” he tried again, softly. The autumn wind ruffled Peter’s hair and wings gently.

“You- you have t-to promise that you- that you won’t be angry. Please, daddy,” Peter whispered, not daring to look into his father’s eyes.

“I promise, peanut. I know my son. My boy would never hurt someone, right?” Tony smiled at him, trying to cheer him up.

But Peter burst into tears once more at his words, and flung himself forward, right into his father’s arms. Between hiccups and choked off words, he told his daddy what had happened and Tony… Well, Tony had to pull himself together so that he wouldn’t start crying as well.

The engineer lifted his son up and placed him on his hip, and together they aimlessly walked up and down through the penthouse, while Tony rubbed over his son’s back, trying to soothe him with gentle words. Peter cried and cried until it seemed that he had no tears left to shed. He buried his face in his father’s neck, seeking the unique warmth and comfort that only a parent could give. His tiny fingers found the soft down feathers of Tony's wings, and he carefully stroked them. Tony shivered at the touch. His injured wings were sensitive, but he knew that his son needed this right now.

After almost half an hour, the boy had calmed down enough to let go of his father long enough for Tony to take him to the bathroom so they could both change out of their dirty clothes. Peter didn't talk and neither did Tony. His son's words from earlier echoed in his head. JARVIS filled the silence with slow music without being asked to, and Tony hummed along to the song playing. With gentle touches and a warm washcloth he cleaned Peter's face and his white feathers. His son held perfectly still, enjoying the proximity and his father's care.

Then the father took his little hatchling with him to their living room. Tony knew exactly what they both needed right now. Mere minutes later the duo was sitting on the giant couch with steaming mugs of hot chocolate and watched Disney movies that were older than Tony himself. The distraction worked and Peter lost himself in the colorful pictures.

When their mugs were empty and Peter could no longer keep his eyes open, he turned towards his father and climbed into his lap once more. “Daddy, I love you, daddy,” the boy told him sincerely. “You’re the best daddy in the world.”

“I love you too, peanut,” Tony pressed his lips to his son’s hair, inhaling his familiar scent, a combination of his husband and himself. “Take a nap, little one, you're so tired, aren't you? Papa will be home when you wake up again.”

Peter hummed into his dad’s stomach and promptly closed his eyes. He curled up into a tight little ball on top of Tony. The father wrapped his arms and wings around them. Gently he rocked Peter until his breathing evened out and Tony could be sure that he was sleeping. On the screen one hundred one little dalmatians played in a little shed, but Tony didn’t really see it. Absentmindedly he carded his fingers through his son’s hair and thought about what he- about what they would do now, about what they could do for Peter.

Tony had dreaded this day from the moment when he’d first laid eyes on his positive pregnancy test. It had been a possibility, and -even if it was far from likely- they had been ready to accept the risks that came with their backgrounds and pasts, praying to whichever gods were listening that Peter would be spared this fate. In retrospect it felt selfish. It was their son who now suffered under the decision that his parents had come to almost five years ago. He didn't blame Steve. How could he? Tony loved him. Steve had given him a family, a home, a place where he could rest his head.

A tear ran down his face. Angrily he wanted to brush it away, when he felt a warm hand on the side of his face. Tony blinked through the dimness around them and was face to face with his husband. He hadn’t even realized how much time had passed. He’d been too engrossed by his memories to even notice Steve's return.

“JARVIS, lights at seventy percent,” Steve said quietly and leaned in to kiss Tony gently. The AI did as he was told and immediately the living room became brighter, but not bright enough to wake the sleeping child in Tony’s arms. The brunet met his husband's lips in the middle and another tear ran down his face. He inhaled his beloved’s scent deeply, wanting to be even closer to him. Tony was so relieved that Steve was here. He was Tony's anchor, his bastion of calm.

They broke the kiss after a few heartbeats and rubbed their noses together in an intimate gesture. “You’re home,” Tony told him, smiling sadly. “Welcome home, sweetheart.”

“Hey, love. I’m back,” Steve responded and pecked Tony on the lips once again. Then he sat down next to Tony and gently pulled the brunet into his side, hugging him loosely. Tony went willingly, taking Peter automatically with him. He was glad that Steve was here. The blonde brushed his fingers over Peter's forehead for a moment, a soft look in his blue eyes. “What happened? Did he tell you?” Steve asked after a while, sensing that there must have been something. Tony didn't cry easily, so it must have been bad.

Tony looked from Steve to Peter and back at Steve once again. “Yeah,” he then told him. “He-he was rather upset and urged me to promise that I would not be angry. I was suspicious at first, not gonna lie. But…”

“What is it, Tony? You can tell me, I won’t rat you out to our own child,” Steve assured him with another kiss. And who was Tony to ever deny his husband anything? He trusted Steve with his life, he trusted Steve with Peter's life. Their son was their everything.

“He gets bullied at preschool, Steve.” The words hurt Tony on a level that he hadn’t expected at first, but saying them out loud made it much more real somehow. “He gets bullied because he can’t fly! He gets bullied because of us. The other children tell him he’ll never be able to fly because of us. His one father can no longer fly without orthesises and his other father was born with wings so weak that they couldn't carry him. And- and his wings… they're so small. But he’s already four, Steve. Most children learn how to fly at the age of three. He’s scared, Steve, he’s so scared that he’ll never be able to fly. We did this to him, Steve...”

Steve stared in shock at Tony for a moment before he looked at their child. And suddenly shadows edged deep lines into his handsome face. Steve had feared this just as much as Tony had, if not more. It was his poor genes that their son had inherited, his weaknesses. It was only thanks to two crazy scientists with an experimental and untested medical procedure that his husband could fly at all. But Peter couldn't.

“Oh, doll, no, please, Tony, please don’t cry…” Steve tried to soothe him and kissed the tears away that rolled down to vanish into his Van Dyke, even though his own bottom lip quivered.

“He gets bullied because his parents are weirdos. And today, do you know what he did today?” Tony asked Steve, even though he knew that Steve obviously couldn't know what had happened at preschool today. Still, Steve shook his head and waited for Tony to continue. And Tony smiled through his tears. “He punched another kid," he told Steve, and for fuck's sake, Tony was so proud of his son.

Steve’s eyes became wide and Tony could almost smell Steve gearing up for a lecture, but Tony beat him to the draw. “Peter beat up another kid, because the other boy insulted you, Steve, and me. Our child wanted to defend us, he wanted to protect us. He chose getting punished for punching someone over letting some random seven year old insult his parents. How are we so lucky, Steve?”

Tony saw how his husband’s ire and sadness thawed and melted, making space for the softest expression. “Oh, Peter…” Steve whispered and bent down to press a kiss to the boy's curls. Sitting up, he kissed Tony again and again, as if they’d never kissed before.  And if he cried, then Tony didn't address it.

The soldier pulled Tony's legs up on the couch, placing them over his thighs. His right hand found Tony's feet, rubbing small circles into the soft skin of his ankle, while his left arm sneaked around Tony's waist to hold him close. Steve's enormous, dark blue wings came forward to envelop Tony and Peter.

The brunet placed his head on his husband’s chest, pressing his forehead into Steve's neck. He could hear his strong heartbeat, feel his warmth, smell his scent, and it was a mixture so familiar and beloved that it never failed to calm him. Here in the circle of Steve's arms and wings, Tony knew that nothing could hurt them. Slowly the tears stopped.

"We’ll need to talk to Peter about what happened today," Steve told him quietly after he'd regained his composure. His voice rumbled deep inside his chest. "I am the proudest father on earth knowing that he wanted to protect his family. But that doesn't mean that he can just punch someone if they say something that he doesn't like."

"Says the man who earns his money punching other people," teased Tony weakly. He yelped when Steve pinched his side playfully. "Stop it, you dummy, your son's gonna wake up."

"Oh, so now he's suddenly my son again?" Steve shot back, chuckling. His fingers massaged the spot where he'd prodded Tony.

"He's always your son when he does something stupidly heroic like that," Tony decided and kissed Steve's throat.

The blonde snickered at that. “Can't argue with that… He’s gonna fly, Tony, I know it for sure. He’s gonna fly. He’s just a late-bloomer,” Steve promised him, nuzzling and scenting him lovingly.

Tony hummed, deep in thought, hoping that Steve was right. His husband never lied to him and if he promised him that everything would be fine, then Tony believed him. One day Peter would learn to fly. And their boy would fly to the stars.