"Daddy?" Peter asks, turning towards Tony who's sitting next to him at the kitchen table.
Tony looks up in response. His plate is practically empty, yet he keeps picking at remaining bits of macaroni and broccoli in front of him. The noise of the scraping fork seemingly gets louder with every stroke.
"Tony stop that... it's getting annoying. And eat your vegetables, Peter," says Steve, noticing his son's plate has an incredibly uneven ratio of pasta to broccoli.
"What is it, Pete?" Tony asks, ignoring his husband's requests.
"What's a 'fag'?" Peter asks innocently, picking at a piece of broccoli with his fork while tilting his head in curiosity.
Tony's utensil slips from his hand in surprise, and Steve looks up from his dish in shock as well.
A sudden fear runs over Steve, as he suddenly realizes the situation he's in. He always knew one day he'd have to explain the concept of same sex marriage being a minority to Peter, but not this soon. Although he didn't particularly want to know, he had to ask where Peter had heard this word. Fear strikes again as he realizes Peter could be being bullied. But… at only four years old?
"Peter," Steve says, trying to make his voice sound as calm and friendly as possible. "W-Where did you hear that word?"
Peter looks down in shame, understanding that anything referred to as 'that word' couldn't be good. "Nowhere," he mumbles.
"Peter, answer your father," Tony cuts in. Peter remains silent, his head pointed down in disinterest at his now unappetizing food. "Hey, bud. Come on. Look, we're not mad at you kiddo. We just want to know who said it, that's all."
"Derrn Rrusr-" Peter murmurs softly.
"What?" Steve asks, hoping for a more understandable repeat.
"Dylan Russell," Peter says a little clearer, but still quietly.
"Is that a boy in your class?" Tony asks sternly as he removes his dirty folded napkin off his lap and onto the table.
Peter nods with a little more confidence, realizing his parents would be getting mad at his classmate instead of him. "He said that about you. He said I was dumb 'cos you and papa were fags."
"Can we please say 'f word' instead of 'fag', honey?" Steve coughs, nearly getting a nauseous from hearing his little boy say something he considered so dirty.
Peter nods again, the feeling of embarrassment returning. "He said, 'Peter your gonna be dumb 'cause your daddies are'... The f-word."
Tony and Steve exchange looks. "Uh, Pete, why don't you go to your room? I'll clean up your dishes for you, just go and play," says Steve, placing a hand on his son's shoulder while leading him up from his chair and out of the room. "We'll call you in later and we'll have ice cream, okay?"
"Are you mad at me?" Peter mewls right before leaving the kitchen.
"No. No, of course not. I just want to talk to Daddy alone."
"Are you two gonna fight?" Peter whispers, trying to speak out of Tony's earshot.
"No," Steve laughs, and ruffles the boy's hair. "Now, go on. Maybe JARVIS'll play with you."
"Okay..." Peter says, slightly unsure. He was a very smart kid. But instead of worrying or persisting, he did as he was told. He turns around, and scampers down the hall towards his room.
Steve sighs, and turns around to face his husband.
Tony is standing, gathering dirty plates as he clears the table. He emits an awkward cough to break the silence.
"I can't believe this..." Steve says, running a hand nervously through his hair.
"What? That a bratty little kid said the word 'fag' to Peter?" He asks, turning on the sink and rinsing all of Peter's uneaten food down the drain.
"Well... Yes," Steve says, a tad surprised by how nonchalantly his partner acts.
"Come on big guy. The kid's the only one in his class with two dads. I'd say this whole situation was pretty inevitable."
"But he's four years old!" Steve remarks loudly, placing a stern hand on a corner of the kitchen counter, his knuckles turning white.
"Look," he licks his lips as his voice slows and decreases in volume. "You know how I feel about... bullies."
"Do I?" Tony snorts. "You became Mr. Steroid because of it."
"I'm serious, Tony." Steve says, enunciating every word with forcefulness in his throat. "And I don't want my child going through what I did!"
Tony sighs. "Oh Steve, everyone gets harassed at some point. You did... I did. Peter will. It's just the way life works-"
"But it's shouldn't be… not if it's our fault! Anthony, he's being ridiculed and alienated because of us. Because we are married."
"Oh we're breaking out the big scary full names now, are we Steven?" Tony keeps a serious tone, even though he tries to lace his voice with a trickle of kindheartedness. "And, by the way, who said anything about alienation? Look, this 'Dylan' or 'Darren' or whatever the prick's name was, said we were fags. That's all. It's not much to be worried about."
"But what happens from there, huh?" Steve forgets that he was in the middle of putting away the placemats. "W-What happens after he goes to elementary school? And middle school and high school? When he brings his friends over for playdates and sleepovers? They'll think he's different. What happens when he starts to understand bad words and the kids get meaner?
I don't think you get it Tony... In school you were always either under the radar or admired. You had money, and you were famous, and you were smart and there was nothing to hold against you. But I wasn't! I was sought out and beat up. And for the record darling; I was in war. And I saw things... things I dare not repeat. Things that have haunted me for years. And out of everything I've see and been through... Bullies are what stick out as the worst. Do you have any idea how ruthless kids can be?"
"Of course I do-" Tony begins even though both know he isn't speaking from experience.
"No. You don't," Steve says with a painful laugh. "You had it so good. You were always on the sidelines, away from the drama. You have no clue how bad it can get!"
"Well I sure as hell didn't have it perfect!" Tony shoots back, moving closer to Steve so he can look him straight in his glistening blue eyes. "My childhood was pretty fucked up, thank you very much. Maybe not from the school bully-"
"Well, I meant in terms of bullying," Steve spits, his voice sounding almost toxic. "I want him to be liked… like you were."
"Okay, okay fine... we'll give Peter my childhood. Only this time it can be two dads ignoring him instead of one."
Tony didn't realize he had raised his voice until Steve says, "Could you quiet down? I don't want Peter to hear you yelling... I told him we wouldn't fight."
Tony eases his suddenly tense shoulders. He didn't mean to snap… he just wants Steve to understand how important raising Peter is to him. He keeps his gaze on the blue eyes (which still look pissed off to high hell) and softens his own.
"He won't hear us. He's probably busy quizzing JARVIS on animal noises," Tony jokes in a hushed tone, remembering the time he walked in on JARVIS telling Peter that he was 'well aware a cow says moo'.
Steve relaxes his still-clenched hand, and takes a step closer to Tony. They're not touching, yet they're so close it's intimate. Even though he doesn't say anything, Tony realizes he should apologize to the blond for his outburst.
"Look I-I'm sorry... I shouldn't have brought my dad into this." Tony exhales as Steve wraps both arms around his husband's waist, laying a chin on his shoulder.
"I just don't know what to do," The blond sighs. "If we're not to supposed to help him... and we're not supposed to ignore him... then what are we supposed to do?"
Tony runs both his hands up down Steve's back, applying pressure on the muscles in comfort. "Are we bad parents?" Steve whispers intensely close to Tony's ear.
"Of course not. At least you're not. You always seem to know what you're doing," Tony chuckles, not taking a break from massaging his lover. "Listen... Don't forget what I said. When we first brought him home I said I was going to give him the best damn childhood imaginable. That I wouldn't allow him to end up like me… without a dad. We agreed that we'd always be there for him... And we will. But, Hun, he can't live his whole life with his dad and pop standing behind him. We gotta give him a little leash."
Steve removes his chin from Tonys shoulder and looks his husband in the eye, a glimmer of discontent in the pools of blue.
"And, hey," Tony's voice regains optimism, "if anyone messes with him too badly... They'll have Captain America and Iron Man to deal with."
Steve smiles, feeling slightly better. He's still incredibly angry... but not at any one in particular. Kids could be harsh... but they were just kids. They only knew as much as their parents allowed them. He wasn't necessarily upset over what this Dylan had said, but more so over the fact that Peter had heard it. It was the first time he'd been picked on... even in the insult wasn't directly aimed at him. He was four years old and already headed on the road to corruption. That's what makes Steve angry.
Suddenly the English voice of JARVIS spoke up. "So sorry to interrupt, but Master Peter would like to know if he's permitted back in the kitchen."
"Uh... Yeah sure. Let 'em in." Steve answers for the both of them, removing himself from Tony and stroking his chin as if to regain his composure.
They can hear Peter coming before they see him, his sock clad feet pattering against the hardwood hallway that led into the kitchen.
He looks shy when he arrives, his head is down and his arms are pressed together, a folded sheet of drawing paper is tucked under his left.
"Are you still mad at me Papa?" He says in the familiar quiet whisper.
"No," Steve whispers with sympathy. He goes down on one knee and looks Peter straight in the eye. He lightly grasps his son's shoulder. "No of course not. I never was."
"Hey sport, what'cha got there?" Tony says, acknowledging the sheet of paper Peter had been carrying. He slowly reaches forward gently takes the folded paper from under Peters arm. "May I?" He asks before opening it.
Peter nods, a little smile beginning to appear on his face. He's excited to see the reaction his parents will get from something he'd worked so hard on.
Steve gets back up on his feet so he can look over Tony's shoulder as he unfolds the crease.
In the center of the page are three childishly drawn stick figures. The one of the left is the tallest, and has yellow crayon scribbles over his head with a body that is colored over in blue. This figure's arm met at the end of another, slightly shorter, figure's arm. This one has brown squiggles for hair and black crayon marks made up the facial hair. He has a light blue circle right in he middle of his stick figure chest. Lastly, there's a very small stick figure in the center. His brown hair sticks up, and he's wearing a red shirt. Around them are straight lines of green and only the top of the paper had blue streaks to represent the sky. Over all three of the little figures' heads, Peter had written "dady and papa i love u", only the 'e' in 'love' was backwards, and the capitalization was random and not exactly grammatically correct.
"Do you like it?" Peter chirps, in a seemingly much better mood.
Steve is busy marveling at the drawing. To anyone else, it'd just be another child's drawing. A messy job of coloring outside the crooked lines. But to Steve and Tony... It meant so much more. It was symbol of their family; a representation of unconditional love and commitment. It was a small effort, Peter had probably whipped it up in ten minutes, but to Tony and Steve, it was a masterpiece.
"It's beautiful Pete." Steve says with difficulty, for he suddenly realizes a lump's formed in his throat.
"Whose this blond one?" Tony says, pointing to the Steve stick figure.
"Papa!" Peter answers, slightly annoyed as if it should be obvious.
"Really?" Tony says in a teasing tone. "This guy looks way too handsome to be Papa... But wow! This guy" -he points to the brunette figure with a mustache and goatee- "What an incredibly detailed portrait of me! Remarkable resemblance."
Peter giggles, realizing his father is joking and takes the compliment with pride.
"It's a really nice picture Peter. Gosh... I wish we could put it on the fridge... But it's steel and not magnetic," Steve says with an apologizing face.
"Screw the fridge, we'll frame it. Put it up in a giant gold frame over the mantel," Tony smiles as he picks up his son. Gently rocking him in his arms he says, "How'd you like that kiddo?"
Peter grins and nods as an answer, clinging on to Tony's shirt, even though he's perfectly supported by his arms. His head is rested against the arc reactor, the hardness that contrasts his chest not seeming to bother the child. "Papa," he whines, fondling his tiny fingers over the shirt fabric he's been pinching. "What does that word mean? The 'F word'?"
With two pairs of brown eyes staring at him, Steve takes a moment to prepare his answer. "Peter," he says, running a hand gently on the back of his son's neck, "That word… is a very, very, mean thing to call a boy who loves another boy… like how Daddy and I love each other." He tries to make the answer as simple as possible, even if it weren't technically politically correct.
"Oh… but-" Peter says, his face crinkling in confusion, "I don't get it. How can there be a bad word for love?"
Steve bites his lip as a reaction to stop his melancholy smile from spreading.
"I don't know Peter." He places a delicate hand on his son's young face. "I really don't know."