It’s a miracle. Steve, Tony, and Jaime have the mansion all to themselves, and a whole afternoon to enjoy it.
Bruce is at a research conference for the day. Natasha’s keeping Pepper company at work. Thor has gone on a shopping expedition with Jane and Darcy. Clint and Coulson went on a “quick” lunch date, but the way Clint winked meant they wouldn’t be back anytime soon. There’s nothing trying to destroy or take over the world. Jaime has a day off school. Even Fury seems to be giving them a pass for the day. It’s really quite spectacular.
And Tony would happily take advantage of this wonderful opportunity, if he could just close this deal and get the hell off the phone.
He’s been pacing in the bedroom for close to two hours. The deal should have been closed yesterday, but no, the suits on the other end are being stubborn for no good reason. As much as Tony would like to flip them off and go have fun, it’s a really important deal, so he’ll just have to hold out and hope it doesn’t take too long.
Jaime seems to be entertaining himself for the time being. He silently races in and out of his parents’ bedroom at top speed, grinning wide at whatever adventure is happening inside his head. Steve is sitting against the headboard, working away on a gift sketch for Pepper and Natasha’s upcoming anniversary. He’s bemused both by Jaime’s and Tony’s antics. Tony has finally learned not to swear in front of the kid, so instead he expresses his frustration with his hands. Right now, with one arm holding his phone and the other gesturing frantically, he looks like he’s doing some kind of elaborate rain dance.
Steve smiles, shakes his head, and goes back to working on the drawing. Tony’s anger continues to rise, his pacing becoming more frantic and his arm is nearly dislocating from the effort. Steve gets focused on a particularly difficult part, nearly tuning everything out, when his thoughts are disrupted by a loud WHAP.
Steve jerks his head up, and sees the source of the noise as a tableau in front of him. Tony is completely still and silent, looking down at where his hand accidentally caught Jaime across the cheek as he ran by.
Jaime blinks in surprise once, twice. His face contorts into surprised sadness and he starts to wail at an impressive volume. Tony pitches his phone over his shoulder, where it breaks into several pieces against the wall, and he practically falls over to wrap Jaime in his arms. Steve frowns a bit as he waits for Tony to finish apologizing. Hopefully whoever was on the other end of the call doesn’t make things more difficult for Tony, or they’ll never enjoy their day off.
Except maybe they aren’t the big problem, because Tony hasn’t stopped apologizing yet. He just keeps holding Jaime tightly and saying “I’m sorry, oh god, I didn’t mean to” over and over in a rushed, high-pitched voice that sets off warning signs in Steve’s head. The apologies show no sign of abating, so Steve decides to intervene.
Steve’s hand on his shoulder quiets Tony to muttering. The taller man uses his other hand to tilt the child’s head up and run a thumb over the offending cheek. Just a red mark, it’s definitely not going to bruise. The tears have nearly stopped, and Jaime seems more startled than anything else.
“You’re alright,” Steve says calmly, firmly. “Daddy didn’t mean to do that, it was just an accident. Nobody’s fault.” He kisses Jaime’s cheek, earning a small giggle. “There, all better. How about you go play downstairs for a bit? JARVIS will keep an eye on you. Okay?”
“Okay!” Jaime rubs his face on his sleeve and takes off at full speed. Steve briefly wonders where he gets his energy from, and if he could bottle it somehow.
Tony silently watches his son race off. He then gets up, walks over to the bed, and slumps across it like his bones disappeared. Steve eyes him nervously.
“Uh, Tony, your phone?”
“Fuck my phone.” Tony says hoarsely, curling up and away from Steve. “I’m taking a nap.”
Steve frowns and reaches to close and lock the bedroom door. “Tony-”
“No, Steve. Just-just leave me be for a bit, okay? I’m fine, I just have a headache, that’s all.”
“Oldest trick in the book, not gonna work on me.” Steve walks over and sits on the edge of the bed, just beside the huddled mass of Tony. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Nothing to talk about,” Tony’s voice is muffled by the bedding, but there’s a clear edge to it.
“That’s alright, I can wait.” Steve grabs his discarded sketchbook and goes back to work. Tony, despite himself, looks back over his shoulder at Steve and there it is. That set to his jaw and the darkening in his eye that means he can wait all day, possibly much longer. That “I care about you, but I’m not going to get off your back just because you say so” presence. Tony huffs and decides he might as well rip the band-aid off as quickly as possible.
Tony sits up and drags himself over to lean heavily on Steve’s arm. Steve immediately puts his sketchbook to the side and waits.There’s no annoyance at the inconvenience, no fear, just unguarded concern. For the billionth time in his life, Tony sends up a silent “thank you” to whoever’s listening, steadies his voice, and starts talking.
“I know making mistakes as a dad is inevitable,” Tony avoids Steve’s eyes as a measure of maintaining some dignity. “Especially for me. I know I will- or already have, even -fuck up in some really big ways that the kid will always hold onto, in one way or another. I’ve accepted that. With all the crap I’m carrying, he’s bound to get some of it too. But there was one thing, just one thing, that I promised myself I would never ever do, and I just did it. Couldn’t even hold out for eight years, now that’s just pathetic.”
“Tony, it was just an accident-”
“Of course it was!” Tony snarls and turns away from Steve. “I’m the one that did it, I should know. But Jaime’s not going to remember the circumstances, or why it happened, or anything like that, he’s too young. He’s just going to remember getting hit by his own dad and that-” Something weak sneaks into Tony’s voice and he swallows it down. “That’s the worst feeling there is.”
Steve suddenly feels really slow for not putting it together sooner. “Tony, what happened to you as a kid is completely different from what just happened. It’s apples and oranges. No, more like apples and TV remotes. They’re not even close to the same thing.”
“Aren’t they?” Tony asks, a defensive, sarcastic tone creeping up. “Lots of times my dad hit me accidentally. Just drunk and klutzy, probably couldn’t even see that it was me. I was just a thing that was in the way. Didn’t make a goddamn difference to me, mind you. I still cried myself to sleep that night. Still wondered what I’d done to deserve it. Still could picture it clearly, years after it happened.”
Tony goes silent and Steve knows he’s fighting with himself not to cry. Steve turns him around and presses Tony’s face to his chest. Holding him, feeling the tremors as Tony weeps angrily but silently, Steve honestly feels a bit dumbfounded. On the one hand, he owes Howard Stark everything that’s a part of his life right now. On the other hand, his best friend continuously reaches out of the past and re-opens Tony’s scars, so often that they’ll probably never fully heal. It’s been years, and Steve hasn’t made any more sense of it now than he did a week after he was unfrozen.
Tony’s shaking slows down a bit, and Steve rubs soothing circles on his back. He’s trying to come up with something comforting and meaningful to say when Tony mumbles, “It doesn’t add up. The math isn’t right.”
“What doesn’t add up?”
“Logic-wise,” Tony sits up and smooths his hair with one hand, still avoiding Steve’s eyes. “I mean, it wasn’t like he knocked up my mom and married her out of propriety. I was definitely an on-purpose kid, he told so himself. That’s why he was always so disappointed with me, because he had expectations right from the beginning and I wasn’t living up to them, you know what I mean?”
Steve nods. He’s taken the bits and pieces he’s learned about Tony’s life over and the years and patched them together enough to understand.
“But with Jaime-,” Tony’s voice cracks but he’s past caring and just soldiers through it. “I never even wanted to be a father! I didn’t want to give myself a chance to fundamentally screw up another human being like that! That’s why I took care of that permanently, really early on, so I’d be sure not to.”
“But you just brought home this totally random baby one day. And not only was he not biologically my kid, we weren’t even sure if we’d be allowed to keep him, and I fell so damn hard for him. I loved him, and I still love him so much, he’s my son. I could never hurt him on purpose, even if he joined up with Loki or something. I don’t understand how anyone could want to-,”
Tony loses it at that point. Steve scoops him into his lap and just lets him let go, not at all minding the growing damp patch on his shoulder.
“I get it now,” Steve says softly. Tony makes noises of confusion that are supposed to be words. “You felt really bad when you accidentally hit Jaime and upset him, of course. But you felt so bad, and it brought back when your dad used to hit you on purpose, and you can’t understand why anyone would want to do that to their own child. You just realized you still feel unloved all these years later.”
“I can’t get a good, private self-loathing on anymore, with you around,” Tony wheezes. “This is so stupid. I’m in my fifties, that is way too goddamn old to have daddy issues. I hardly even get flashbacks to Afghanistan anymore, and that was actually kind of recent.”
“Well, that’s because you’ve been doing something about it,” Steve shifts Tony around so that he’s finally looking at him. “You’re doing what Yinsen told you to do, every day. You get closure from that, you can still fight that demon because it’s still here.” He taps Tony’s arc reactor pointedly. “But your dad’s dead. Unless you end up inventing a time machine, you’ll never be able to have a second chance to talk with him, figure out why he did what he did. So it just hurts.”
“Jesus, did you get your PhD in psychology when I wasn’t looking?” Tony swipes at his red-rimmed eyes with the back of his hand. “Seriously, where did that come from?”
“The war,” Steve shrugs nonchalantly. “When you’re in charge, you have to make sure morale stays up. To do that, you have to know what makes people tick. Believe me, I’m no stranger to the darker areas of the human mind.”
“No, I guess not. So do you know how I can stop feeling guilty for accidentally smacking our kid across the face?”
“Nope, unconditional love is just a bitch like that.” Tony snickers to himself. “Stop laughing every time I curse, honestly. You’re ruining the moment.”
“Sorry,” Tony grins and rests his head on Steve’s shoulder. “Hearing Captain America swear is cute, I can’t help it.” Steve rolls his eyes and falls backwards on the bed, taking Tony with him. They lay sprawled out and silent for several minutes.
“Hey,” Steve taps Tony’s shoulder to get his attention. Tony turns his head and Steve kisses him. It’s slow and gentle and comforting. Tony doesn’t even stop to be self-conscious of his face being sticky with tears.
“I love you,” Steve says when they pull back. “And you’re a good father. Do you really think I would tolerate anything less? He’s my kid too.”
“I know, I just don’t always remember.” Tony kisses him again. “I love you too.”
Steve smiles brilliantly, but suddenly frowns. “Hey, what did you mean back there about ‘taking care of it permanently’? Is there something I should know?”
“Huh? Oh, right, that. Um, you see,” Tony searches for words and taps out rhythms on Steve’s chest. “Well, I never told you because it doesn’t really affect you, or it would have come up sooner. See, I went out with this girl a couple times way back when I was like, eighteen or nineteen, and we had a bit of a pregnancy scare. Turned out to be a false alarm, but I was so freaked out. Like I said, I was definitely not interested in being a father, especially at that point in my life. So I went out and got a vasectomy.”
“What’s a vasectomy?”
Tony returns Steve’s puzzled look. “You haven’t learned- no of course not, you’d have no reason to. One sec.” Tony awkwardly sits up and grabs his tablet off the side table. After a few clicks, he passes it over to Steve.
“Oh,” Steve says as he scrolls down the WebMD page. “Oh, oh wow. How did you get a doctor to do this for you when you were so young?”
“No one said no to Tony Stark,” Tony holds his hands out palms-up in an encompassing gesture. “Especially not to Tony Stark’s money. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, it just never came up.”
“No, it’s fine,” Steve closes out of the somewhat disturbing cutaway diagram. “Bit of a shame though, you’d probably make really cute babies.”
Tony pales in fear. “You don’t want another one, do you?”
Steve cracks up. “No, no, I’m just teasing. Jaime’s all I want.” Steve pauses again. “I guess that explains that little scar you have there.”
“It’s still there?” Tony stares down at himself, briefly considering dropping trou right then and there to check. “Not surprised, that doctor was a quack. What did you think it was?”
“Syphilis scar.” Tony tries to glare, but is really just confused. “The war, remember? Also, I shared an apartment with Bucky. A one-bedroom apartment.”
“Okay, wow, too much information,” Tony rubs his eyes and Steve just smirks. “I’m derailing this conversation, and you’re never allowed to accuse me of going off on a tangent again. JARVIS, locate Jaime, I need to go be with something pure and wholesome for a while.”
“Master James is in the living room, sir,” the AI responds. “He’s constructing some type of fort out of the furniture and his bedsheets.”
“Okay, thanks,” Tony lets out a deep breath. “I was worried he might be...” Tony trails off and heads for the door, but pauses to look back at Steve, who’s wearing a look of concern.
“Oh Steve,” Tony sighs, hand still on the doorknob. “Look, I know I just feelings-barfed all over you, and you learned more about me in an hour than you have in a month, and I just threw away a big business deal to do all that. But, can you just trust me when I say don’t worry about it? I’m not going to go hide away in my workshop or anything, I just want to go build a pillow fort with Jaime. Okay?”
Steve nods and slowly smiles. “Okay.” He walks over to Tony, wraps a protective arm around his shoulders, and they go to enjoy their afternoon off.