Tony was never meant to be a teacher. Astrophysicist, molecular engineer, evil hedge fund manager - those were the things that had showed up on his high school guidance counselor’s list of recommended career paths.
The high school he finished at 13.
He blames his lack of fully developed prefrontal cortex for the following several years of his life but when he was eighteen and well into a master’s degree in forensic accounting because it took his fancy that week, he lost a bet.
It was stupid and full of bravado and completely ridiculous and a day didn’t go by in his adult life that he wasn’t thankful it happened.
His best friend Pepper was going on a date with his other best friend Rhodey and Tony was very, very drunk and it all just kind of happened.
“I bet you…” Pepper cast about the room, and Tony could tell she was trying to come up with a suitable punishment for the shit that had just come out of his mouth that she knew he didn’t mean, but he was going to be held accountable for anyway because Pepper was going to drag him into adulthood kicking and screaming, “a full day of volunteering at Happy Hearts that you cannot keep your mouth shut about the two of us for an entire week.”
“You’re on, Potts.”
He lasted exactly twenty-nine hours and forty-five minutes.
The following week, Tony found himself volunteering at the pre-school that Pepper worked at while she earned her teaching degree and somewhere around Wednesday, he realized that the thing that had been missing in his life was tiny humans.
God, he loved them. He loved how honest they were and how thoughtful. Tiny humans didn’t play games, they didn’t tell him what they think he wanted to hear, and their problems were usually either completely solvable or eminently complicated and the balance captivated Tony in a way he was never prepared for.
He finished that master’s and did a few more, and then a PhD, and every time he heard of a course or program that could help him help his students, he took that too. He’d traveled the world in search of different techniques to reach traumatized children and came to realize over and over again that the most surefire way was to simply make sure they knew they were safe and loved.
In his twelve years of teaching first grade, Tony had worked with students with lisps, students with alcoholic parents, students who were destined for so much greatness his eyes watered, students who were completely mediocre and would make fine middle-managers. And then Tony met Peter Rogers.
The kid mystified and utterly delighted him. Dropped off by a different adult nearly every day, and never appearing without at least three bracelets made of fabric on his left arm, Peter was polite and earnest and kind and smart as a fucking whip. He was also clingy and verged on anger management issues whenever he perceived something wasn’t fair.
Tony was going to earn every inch of the $50 Starbucks gift card that served as their bonus by working to help Peter understand that the world wasn’t fair according to his rules, but dear goddess in her heaven, the kid was his favorite.
This, he admitted, looking at the paper in his hand, was a curveball.
“Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,” Tony said slowly to the beaming child before him, “what’s happening here?”
“It’s my dad!” Peter said proudly.
It’s a blond man on a stripper pole, Tony thought. “And all these people? What are they holding?”
“Money!” Peter said excitedly. “My daddy makes a lot of people happy.”
I am sure he does, Tony mused internally. He’d caught a few glimpses of Mr. Rogers at pick up and Tony would certainly shed a few singles in that man’s presence.
“Well, that looks like he does,” Tony said diplomatically.
Tony was saved by any further commentary when the bell rang signaling the end of the arts and crafts period that Tony’s student teacher was supervising.
“Can I take it to show Dad and Uncle Bucky?” Peter asked.
Another piece of the Rogers family mystery - Peter mentioned a different person as the “Dad and” name nearly each week. Were they… friends? Lovers? God, I hate that word.
“Of course you can, Petey Pie!”
Peter giggled. “That’s what Daddy calls me!”
“Your dad has great taste,” Tony said with a grin. “Both in sons and in nicknames.”
Peter blushed a bit and then leaned into Tony and lowered his voice. “I like you a lot too, Mr. Stark.”
Tony bit back a wider smile as Peter skipped to his cubby to put his art away, the way the students had all been instructed to do. When there was a bit of a lull in the symphony of small children, he clapped his hands together and got their attention.
“Okay my little ducklings, are we ready for math?”
“Quack, quack!” They called back, signaling that they were, indeed, ready.
Tony’s heart warmed. God, he loved his job.
Steve winced slightly - his head was killing him - as his son catapulted himself onto the couch next to Steve.
“Oh,” Peter whispered loudly, “are we having quiet time?”
“Yeah, bud,” Steve smiled and pulled Peter in for a hug and a kiss on the top of his head. “It was a loud day at work.”
“It was a loud day at school,” Peter sighed dramatically and Steve heard a snort from the doorway. His best friend Bucky was leaning against the door.
“Everything alright?” Steve asked and Bucky nodded.
“Sure,” Bucky nodded. “You got the munchkin? Nat’s got a list for me to get from Shop Rite on the way home.”
“Me and the big man will be just fine, Buck.” Steve smiled.
“Yeah, Uncle Bucky, we’ll be just fine,” Peter said in what they’d all identified as his best impression of Steve.
Bucky chuckled and saluted. “Pete, make sure to give your dad your homework folder. Mr. Stark mentioned you drew a great picture during art time.”
“OH YEAH,” Peter said and was off the couch like a shot to get his backpack from where he’d probably unceremoniously dumped it by the door.
“He asked about you,” Bucky said softly and Steve shook his head.
“Not now, Buck.”
“He was digging when he saw my wedding ring.”
Steve threw Bucky a look as this was not the first time they’d circled this topic as Peter scampered back into the room waving a piece of paper.
“This is what I drew for art time today, Dad. Miss Darcy asked us to draw our hero doing hero things so I drew you making sure everyone in the neighborhood had snow shovels in the blizzard last month,” Peter explained as he shoved the drawing in Steve’s hand.
The drawing that absolutely looked like Steve was working a pole.
Bucky made a strangled noise. “Pete, what’s your dad standing on?”
“The floor,” Peter explained slowly. “He’s just holding a shovel. I told you, this was about the shovels.”
Six-year-olds had a way of talking to people like they were dumb that just put Steve and Bucky right back in their place.
“No wonder Stark was trying to figure out if we was married,” Bucky muttered in between fits of giggles.
“Why are you laughing, Uncle Bucky?” Peter asked and Steve could tell Peter’s feelings were about to be hurt that he was being left out of adult things and he made a ‘can it’ motion to Bucky.
“Sorry, Squirt,” Bucky said, collecting himself. “Inside joke between your dad and me, nothing to worry about. I need to go get Auntie Nat some things from the shop. You good here with Dad?”
It was tradition - whenever one of the extended tribe he called family dropped off Peter, they asked Peter if he was happy and safe and okay. They never wanted Peter to think he only had one parental figure and that if he was mad at Steve he had nowhere to go. The therapist Steve and Peter had gone to after Peggy died had given them the idea and the whole group took to it with aplomb.
“I am great,” Peter affirmed and snuggled back into Steve.
After Bucky left, they planned dinner (macaroni and cheese from Grandma Sarah’s recipe) and went over Peter’s homework. Steve blanched again at the drawing and decided he had to tell Mr. Stark what his real job was somehow.
Grabbing a pen, he scribbled a note on the bottom of the drawing and put it back in the homework folder that Steve knew Mr. Stark would check the next day.
Mr. Stark - I’m not a stripper. I own Rogers Hardware down on Forrest and I give out snow shovels every year to people in our neighborhood who don’t have them and get caught in the first snowfall without them. So, what looks like stripper poles are actually snow shovels, and Peter loves passing them out with me, not going to the strip club with me, because I don’t work there. Sorry for any confusion. If you have any further questions, my phone number is 267-817-6573 and you can contact me anytime. Kindest Regards, Steve Rogers.
“Best wishes,” Tony muttered without thinking, hoping that the ending was a Schitt’s Creek reference because that would just be too perfect. He pulled his phone out of his desk drawer.
iMessage: Steve Rogers
Tony Stark: Mr. Rogers, I hope it’s okay I’m not using the official parent communication platform, but you gave me your cell. This is Tony Stark, Peter’s teacher, and you are welcome to use this number at your leisure. Anyway, I have nothing against sex work as an honest trade, but I am admittedly relieved that you own a hardware store.
He put his phone back down - all the kids were at lunch and he was supposed to be using this time to prep but he always used it to play at least ten minutes of Animal Crossing as a stress relief while he drank his smoothie. Twice a week he’d go to the teacher’s lounge to socialize, but that was his limit of peopleling that didn’t involve his students or his two best friends.
Tony picked up his phone again to see that Mr. Rogers had texted back.
Steve Rogers: Steve, please. Mr. Rogers is either my useless father or a literal saint among men.
Steve Rogers: I was so mortified by Peter’s picture. Please tell me if I need to speak to anyone else at the school.
Tony Stark: No, I kept that one between me and Peter, so you’re safe, Steve.
Steve Rogers: Thank goodness. I’m picking him up today, so if I needed to sign anything, I’d just come early.
Tony Stark: Well, you’re welcome to come early today anyway. Their cycle has them at recess at the end of the day and Peter always loves when one of you comes to that.
Steve Rogers: Yeah, my friends were telling me.
Tony nearly dropped his phone. There was no way it was possible he was friends with all of the people on Peter’s approved list. Tony fired up the parent communication software they used and pulled up Peter’s profile. Which is where, for the first time, Tony truly absorbed the death date next to Margaret Rogers’ name. James Barnes, Natasha Romanova, Clint Barton, and Sam Wilson were all listed as approved guardians and Tony suddenly had more questions than his brain could contain.
Steve Rogers: I’m taking on a new partner at the store so I can pick Pete up more days than not. I’ll see you this afternoon.
Tony Stark: I’ll be the one legally caring for your kid.
Steve Rogers: And doing an amazing job. So thank you.
Tony felt himself blush a bit and typed back a ‘see you then’ before putting his phone back on the desk.
Upon seeing him, Peter ran full speed from his corner of the playground to where Steve climbed out of the car.
“Whoah buddy, you gotta slow down,” Steve called, knowing that Peter was at that age where his feet were just that much too big for his legs and tripping was a thing.
“But I’m so ‘cited,” Peter called. “You never come get me on Tuesdays.”
“I know, but I can now!” Steve said as Peter launched himself into Steve’s arms and Steve felt everything in him settle a little bit at having his son so close. His ma had always said that having kids was having your heart walk around outside your body and he hadn’t believed her until the first time Peter was out of his sight. “Remember I told you about Mr. Scott? He’s going to work afternoons for a little bit so you and I can do homework together.”
“Oh, I like Mr. Scott. He likes ants.”
“He does,” Steve confirmed, not understanding how that piece of information mattered to Peter, but parenthood was 90% about just rolling with it.
“Come see Mr. Stark,” Peter said as he scrambled out of Steve’s embrace and dragged his father across the playground.
Arcadia Elementary had what they called a semi-permeable campus. Approved teens and adults could come and spend time with the children to foster a multi-generational education experience. Not every parent was approved, nor did they want to be, but Steve had gone through the vigorous background checks and interviews to get there when Peter had entered kindergarten. As far as Steve was concerned, they were all a team of making sure Peter had the best life possible, so he had to play his part fully if he expected them all to play theirs.
But in the seven months since Peter had started first grade, everything at the store had gone completely pear shaped and he’d barely had time to participate. This was his first open playground time that calendar year, actually, which meant he’d only met Mr. Stark at Back to School night in September, and then he’d had Nat with him because she was better at questions than he was.
He remembered Tony Stark as handsome, charismatic, and clearly in love with his job. He’d been on the heels of a terrible break-up and hadn’t clocked more than that.
When he clocked a whole lot more than that.
Peter’s teacher was wearing suit pants that absolutely had to be illegal because no one should look that good in fabric, a dress shirt and sweater combination that made Steve’s mouth water slightly at how it set off the man’s skin, and a smile so wide that Steve could lose himself in it. He let his son lead him to the other man.
“MR. STARK,” Peter called, “MY DAD IS HERE.”
“I SEE THAT, PETER PAN,” Mr. Stark called back and Steve chuckled. One of Peter’s favorite things was Mr. Stark’s nicknames for everyone.
When they were finally face to face, Steve stuck out his hand. “Steve Rogers, I’m so sorry I haven’t been to campus in months.”
“Your band of merry men and women more than made up,” Mr. Stark said with a warm smile. “Ms. Romanova explained everything when she dropped Peter off this morning. I’m glad he’s got such involved aunts and uncles.”
“Well, military breeds family in weird ways, Mr. Stark.”
“Tony,” he said firmly. “You have be under five foot to call me Mr. Stark.”
“How tall am I now?” Peter piped in.
“Definitely not five feet,” Tony said and he crouched down to Peter’s eye level. “Your dad and I have a quick thing to chat about. I see that MJ is on the monkey bars.”
“Oh, I better go make sure she’s safe,” Peter said solemnly and then took off running again. “MJ, I’M COMING.”
Steve chuckled. “You picked up on that, huh?”
“Your son’s need to make sure everyone he cares about is safe at literally all times? Yes, and I’ll admit we exploit it a little,” Tony laughed. “If we focus him on keeping others safe, he doesn’t take as many risks himself.”
“Yeah, kid thinks he’s invincible and everyone else is about to shatter. His ma’s cancer taught him some very specific lessons,” Steve admitted.
“That must have sucked,” Tony said and Steve exhaled a breath he didn’t know he was holding. To have that response without pity was refreshing. “Cancer blows and I can’t imagine meeting it so young.”
“It’s not what we would have picked for him,” Steve admitted, “but it’s been a few years and he’s bouncing back. His memories of her are odd, but the rest of our family helps balance and this is a really deep conversation to get into on a playground.”
“Hey,” Tony said, slapping a hand on Steve’s shoulder, “I’ll have you know that just yesterday Roger Stalwart’s mother and I solved world peace.”
Steve snorted and Tony joined and soon the pair were giggling so much that they were getting looks from a few other teachers. Steve calmed himself a bit and said, “I’m sorry my son made you think I was a stripper.”
“It’s okay,” Tony said, “I was mostly wondering where I could go to see you perform.”
The way Tony froze, Steve realized quickly that he hadn’t meant to say that. Because he can’t flirt with me because he’s Peter’s teacher, or because he thinks I’d have a problem with him liking men?
Steve decided to test the second option first. “My last boyfriend would tell you that I have the rhythm of a dying horse, so it’s probably for the best that I sell tools and not…”
Steve snorted and then Tony snorted again and they were off on the giggles once more.
Three years later, at their wedding, Tony would give Steve a bag with a stuffed horse, a toy tool set, and a few single dollar bills while they were both getting ready to head down the aisle and Steve would laugh so loudly that Bucky wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between laughing and crying.
But for now, they collected themselves and made some innocuous small talk before it was time for Steve to take Peter home. His phone buzzed later that night.
iMessage: Tony Stark
Tony Stark: You’re not a stripper, but you flirt like one, but I don’t take parents out for drinks, so June 11th is the last day of school.
Tony Stark: What are you doing June 12th?
Steve Rogers: Having a drink with you.
Tony Stark: Perfect. I like that answer.
Steve Rogers: I think I like you.
Tony Stark: Let’s test that theory in person in June.
Steve Rogers: I’ll work on my dance moves.
Tony Stark: I’ll save some singles.
Steve laughed and started looking up Magic Mike gifs and felt himself fall into something that felt like love.
Turns out, it was.