He had no food.
Tony jammed the phone between his cheek and his shoulder. “I have no food,” he said, and it was so much worse when he said it aloud. He kind of wished he'd kept it to himself, but then again, he had no idea how to fix this, so saying it aloud was really his only hope.
He was working with very little sleep here.
There was a long, strained silence. “What?” Bruce finally asked, his voice slurred with sleep.
Tony stared into the empty maw of his fridge. “You know what's in my fridge?” he asked. “A box of baking soda that's seen better days, something that might once have been a ginger root, some mostly okay looking carrots and shriveled head of cabbage, and two open bottles of mustard.” He stared at them, feeling irrationally betrayed. “And it's not even good mustard, Bruce. It's two jars of French's Yellow Mustard.”
Another long pause. “I like yellow mustard,” Bruce said at last. He seemed to be coming up to speed slowly, but that was to be expected given the hour.
“Yeah, so do I, but not enough to have two open bottles! What-” Tony shoved a hand through his hair, glaring at his fridge and wishing the appliance had feelings he could hurt. “What the fuck is this, Bruce? Why is there NO FOOD?”
Bruce sighed. “Because we've barely left the restaurant in the last two weeks?” he asked. “That's, that'd be my guess, Tony. Just call out for pizza, or Chinese, I don't know, what TIME is it?”
Tony slammed the refrigerator door and stalked across the kitchen. “It's two am, and I'm hungry, and I'm out of the city, so ordering is not a possibility, and even if I wanted to, that's lazy, that's like, a sixth or seventh date thing. That's a 'it's snowing and I don't want to get out of this bed ever, so let's just eat lo mein out of the box and pretend to watch Netflix' thing, I'm not going to be that lazy, at least not this fast, Jesus, I have standards.”
A beat of silence. “No, you don't,” Bruce said.
“I like to pretend I do!” Bruce made a humming noise, and Tony's eyes rolled up towards the ceiling. “Okay, so, I have a reputation!”
“Yeah, but it has nothing to do with your food.”
“I'm a fucking chef.”
“And that has nothing to do with your reputation.”
“I like to think it does, Banner!” Tony said, tossing the pantry doors open. He yanked a shelf out. “Flour. Sugar.” He checked the canister. “Nope. Like, half a cup of sugar, max, if I scrape this thing clean. Baking powder.” He shoved everything out of his way. “Half a box of stale panko breadcrumbs. A solidified bottle of honey. What the fuck is this? Why is there nothing-” He grabbed a can and held it up. “Creamed corn. Why do I OWN creamed corn, Bruce? Jesus!”
There was the sound of fabric rustling, and then the click of a lamp being turned on. “Tony, wait, why are we doing this-”
“I brought someone home,” Tony said. “Wow. At some point, I apparently put the empty linguine box back in the pantry. Why the hell would I do this? Was I drunk? Trick question, of course I was drunk.” He tossed it in the general direction of the trash. “I brought someone home, and I'd like to have food, and I don't, and this is just-”
“Wait,” Bruce said, cutting him off. “Wait, you're not in the city? Where are you?”
“The house,” Tony said. He kicked the pantry door closed. Pasta but no sauce. Flour but no sugar. He considered the freezer door. Always the last resort.
“You brought someone back to the house?” Bruce asked, shock running through the words. “Since when do you-”
“Since tonight, and I'm supposed to be a chef, that's what it says on the menu, that's what it says in the New York Times restaurant reviews and that article in Empire State Cuisine, and I have no food.” Tony yanked the freezer open. “I'm a chef, not a miracle worker, how do you cook if you have no food?”
Bruce sighed. “Tony. It's two am, does this person even want-”
“Don't care, doesn't matter, really, it does not, I don't care if he doesn't want to eat, I want to-” Feed him. The words stuck in his throat. He sucked in a breath. “I'm hungry,” he said instead. “And I am pretending to have standards instead of a reputation, and right now, you know what I've got?” He reached into the freezer. “Frozen, mass-produced tamales, and a handle of vodka.”
Bruce made a considering noise under his breath. “I've had worst first date meals,” he said, sounding far too amused for Tony's peace of mind.
“Explains your lack of second dates,” Tony said, and it was bitchy, but he didn't care.
Bruce laughed. “For a guy who wants help, you're really, uh, you're lousy at making people want to help you,” he pointed out.
“I don't need help, I need FOOD,” Tony pointed out. “So unless you'd like to drive out here with the truck and the contents of our walk-in, you're useless to me right now.”
“Uh-huh.” Bruce yawned. “Omelet? Frittata?”
“No eggs,” Tony said.
“Okay,” Bruce said. “Freezer.”
“Nothing,” Tony said.
“Bullshit, I know you,” Bruce shot back instantly. “You freeze butter and milk if you're leaving town, don't tell me you don't have-”
“Okay, okay!” Tony shoved a few tin foil wrapped packets. “Butter, and-” He grabbed a bottle and swiped the frost away with his thumb. “Milk. No, buttermilk, there's another one back here...” He flipped a plastic bag onto the counter. “Yeah, I have milk.”
“We had, that thing a few months, I know you had a cheese tray-”
“Cheese is gone.”
“Yeah, not interested in the cheese. You bought a metric ton of nuts, do you-”
“Yeah, hanging in the basement stairs, right, you're right.” For the first time, Tony felt like he could take a deep breath. He grabbed a plastic container out of the fridge. “Praline pecans, roasted in cinnamon sugar, I can-”
“Tony.” Bruce's voice was almost gentle. Kind, in the way he got around Tony sometimes. Like Tony's pain was an echo of his own, and he didn't like it, but he knew how to handle it. “Don't. Just... Simple. Small plates. Small bites. Don't, uh, don't fuss it up. Just clean, strong flavor. It's late. Or, uh, maybe it's early. I don't even know anymore. But eat something light and-”
The mesh bag of nuts hit the counter, rattling against the butcherblock counter. “Yeah. I think I've got it.”
“Good. I'm going back to bed.” Bruce paused. “So. When do I get to meet him?”
“Never,” Tony said, and hung up the phone. It was rude, but Bruce was useless, and he had work to do.
The tray was heavier than he'd thought it would be.
Tony balanced it on his hip as he wrestled the bedroom door open. The dishes rattled, because he'd always been a lousy waiter, and Steve stirred on the bed.
“Tony?” His voice was husky and thick, and Tony wasn't sure if his name had ever sounded sweeter.
“Hey,” Tony said, his voice soft. He pushed the door shut behind him, sealing in the warmth and the smells rising from his tray. Steve rolled over, unwrapping his arms from his pillow.
“Hey, yourself,” Steve said, pushing himself upright, and leaning back against the pillows. One arm reached out, fumbling for the lamp, and managing to get it on. “Where'd you go?”
“I was hungry,” Tony said, and Steve glanced down as Tony lowered the tray onto the bed, his eyebrows arching.
“Guess so,” he said, reaching out to help Tony steady the tray. His pale hair fell against his forehead, and he pushed it back, those strong, broad fingers tangling in the strands. “Tony, what did you-”
“Hungry,” Tony repeated, sliding into bed. “Want something to eat?”
“I wasn't,” Steve said. “Now, I might be.” He smiled at Tony. “What did you make?”
Tony looked down at the tray. “Buttermilk biscuits, with clover honey and butter,” he said. “Pecans and almonds. Beef consomme. Japanese quick pickles in sesame oil and seasoned rice vinegar. And-” He picked up the apple from the tray. “Apples from the root cellar.”
Steve's face split in a grin. “You have a root cellar.”
Tony gave him an innocent look and reached for the paring knife on the tray. “Of course. I mean, don't you?”
“Doesn't work with the truck, I guess,” Steve said, grinning. He reached out, snagging a nut and slipping it between his lips. “You going to share?”
“If you ask nice, maybe I can.” Tony set the knife against the red of the peel, sliding the blade beneath the thin skin. He rotated it in his fingers, the movement practiced and easy. Almost natural. The peel fell to the tray in a perfect, unbroken spiral, and Tony sliced a wedge of the sweet-tart flesh away from the core and offered it to Steve on the flat of the blade.
Steve took it with a smile. Tony gave him a suspicious look. “What?”
Steve bit into the apple, his tongue flicking out to lick the juice from his lips. “That was just a trick I never expected from you,” he said, leaning back against the pillowed. He was golden and perfect in the low light of the lamp, all sleek muscle and flushed cheeks and tousled hair. Tony concentrated on not slicing his hand open with the knife, and it was damn hard, because his hunger had shifted focus with a vengeance.
“Hey, I got skills,” Tony said, with a smirk and a look, and to his delight, a flush rolled over Steve's face.
“I noticed,” Steve said, finishing his apple slice, and Tony offered him another, pleased. “But your skills are-” His eyes narrowed as he bit into the apple. “Showy.”
“I'd object, but it's true,” Tony said, as the second perfect spiral of apple peel hit the tray. Steve picked it up, fingertips smoothing over the red of the skin. “You should see me teppanyaki.”
“I'm pretty sure that's not a verb,” Steve said, and Tony made a scoffing noise under his breath. Steve ran a fingernail across the peel, raising it to his nose and taking a slow breath, his eyes falling shut. “But this is...” He smiled. “Subtle. Small.” His eyelids slid open, just a bit. “My ma used to do this for me, when I was a kid. She was a meat and potatoes kind of cook, but she made a mean pie, when the apples were cheap, and she'd roll the peel between her fingers just like this.”
“To make you smile,” Tony said, slicing the apple.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “Did your mom teach you? Or your dad?”
Tony paused, his thumb braced on the back of the knife blade, steadying it against the apple. “No,” he said at last. “Dad taught me a lot of things, but he was a practical sort of cook. Precision and speed were the important things, not showy flounces like this.” He looked up, one corner of his mouth kicking up in a lopsided smile. “I picked this up a little later. Because I wanted to see-” He stopped, and took a step back from that particular line. Some things weren't first date material.
It wasn't that he had rules about taking lovers, or making dates, or picking people up. It wasn't so organized. It was just... He had things he didn't do. He didn't date people from work, he'd learned that lesson the hard way. He had an apartment in the city, and that's where he took one night stands, or even long time lovers. He didn't bring lovers to the comfortable little house that Obie had browbeaten him into buying.
He didn't date friends, because he didn't have many, and when things ended, and they always ended, and because it was him, they usually ended badly, he lost them.
He'd broken every single one of those rules tonight, and when he looked at Steve, warm and smiling, taking a slice of apple from Tony's fingers, and licking the juice from his own, he couldn't regret it. At least, not yet.
“I met someone I wanted to impress,” Tony said. “And he wasn't easily impressed.” He held out another slice of apple, and Steve let Tony feed him, his lips parting and his eyes sliding shut. Tony took advantage of his closed eyes, leaning in to press a soft kiss against Steve's parted lips. He tasted like apples and sugar and salt, all the elemental things that Tony wanted, and Steve's arms slid around him, pulling him down.
“Not hungry?” Tony whispered against his mouth, making Steve laugh.
“I'm hungry,” Steve whispered back. “For just what you're offering.”
Tony grinned as Steve kissed his way down Tony's neck. “Well, I can't send you home hungry...” He sank back into the bed and Steve’s embrace, everything perfect for a moment, and as long as it lasted, he was going to savor it.
-Six Months Later-
Food-trucking at TOBRU, Steve often found he faced two distinct waves of business: early in the evening, when people wanted a snack while they were waiting for a table (or waiting for someone to cancel so they could try to weasel in), and late in the evening, when people who hadn't had enough to eat at TOBRU wanted something to take home with them. In between the two, there was often a solid hour or three where the only people who came up to his truck were the odd bike messenger or the adventurous drunk leaving Mjolnir.
He was spending the downtime tidying up, oiling his cast iron and going over his inventory, when he heard a scratching noise from outside. He looked through the service hatch, saw nothing, and then looked down.
Standing on the reinforced fruit crate he put out for his shorter customers was a tiny child, with a head full of curly black hair and wide brown eyes behind a slightly crooked pair of glasses, reaching way up to grip the very edge of his service counter.
"Hiya," Steve said, subtly checking the parking lot for the child's possible parents. "You're a little young to be a bike messenger."
The boy gave him a shy smile.
"What'll you have?" Steve asked. The boy solemnly offered him three very grubby one dollar bills. "Oh, thank you. You know I'm having a special right now, anything on the menu for three dollars."
"Sandwich," the boy said. "Please."
"Sure. Hey, why don't you come around so you can see me make it?" Steve said, ducking sideways to open the back door. He set out another fruit crate. "You sit there and watch. Now, white, rye, or gluten-free bread?"
This earned him a moment of contemplation. "Rye."
"Good choice. Whaddaya want on it?"
A quick, sure nod.
Steve slathered some mustard on a slice of rye and began slicing the cheese. "What's your name?"
"Yeah? Cool name. Hey, where are your parents?" he asked casually, as he layered the cheese on the sandwich. The boy pointed across the parking lot, at TOBRU.
It made sense; TOBRU didn't have a ban on kids but not many parents brought their kids out, and when they did often the children didn't enjoy themselves. Tony and Bruce had developed several standard kids' meals specifically to soothe tearful toddlers (sparkling mac and cheese was Steve's personal favorite) but little kids weren't exactly predictable. That a child should have wandered off from the restaurant without his parents noticing wasn't so surprising.
He'd feed the kid and then take him back inside, he decided. His parents would see him if they stepped outside the restaurant.
"Okay, mustard and cheese. You want some meat on this thing? Turkey, beef?"
The boy shook his head. "Pickles!"
"Well, how European of you," Steve said with a smile, layering some sweet pickles on the cheese. "You need something to cushion the bread from all this vinegar though. How about some tomatoes?"
DJ shook his head vigorously.
"Nothing else at all?" Steve asked, holding up the second slice of rye. "Last chance."
DJ gave him a thumbs-up, so Steve topped the sandwich and sliced it nearly in quarters, laying it out in a little recycled-paper tray. "Hey, I bet if we went across the street Sam would have some potato chi -- "
Steve heard the frantic cry of a parent, but there was something unsettlingly familiar about it; when he leaned out the back he was just in time to see Tony come skidding across the parking lot and sweep the little kid up in his arms.
"DJ, I told you not to leave the office," Tony said, and Steve could see his hands shaking as he smoothed down DJ's hair.
"Sandwich," DJ said, pointing at Steve.
Tony looked up and his face went from frantic to hunted in a split second. Steve crossed his arms.
"If you were still hungry, we had food we could have given you," Tony said, turning back to DJ, who looked faintly amused by the whole situation. "I told you we were going to visit Steve's food truck later."
The last of it was clearly for Steve's benefit, and Steve softened a little.
"Hey, we can talk about this some other time," he said, bringing the sandwich to DJ. "It's no big deal, he's easy to cook for."
"He's easy to -- since when?" Tony asked DJ.
"Sandwich for you," DJ said pointedly, taking the paper tray from Steve and holding one of the quarters under Tony's nose.
Tony looked down at it. "So you heard Bruce yelling at me about not eating, huh?"
"And you remembered me telling you that Steve made good sandwiches."
"And you gave Peter the slip and came out here..."
"Three dollars," DJ said.
Tony looked at Steve, who held up the three crumpled dollar bills.
"Oh, kiddo," Tony sighed, kissing DJ on the forehead. "It's not your job to feed me, baby."
"Is," DJ insisted, pushing the sandwich at his mouth. Tony rolled his eyes and took a bite.
"Hey, are you bad in the weeds in there?" Steve asked. "I mean, I'm not a chemist but I can help out if you need a break."
"No, the rush just ended," Tony said. "We're fine, that's why I even noticed the brat had gone missing."
"Not," DJ said.
"Brat," Tony told him.
"Not," DJ laughed, shoving another quarter of sandwich into Tony's mouth when he opened it to insist.
"Well, if you're past the worst of it, take a minute, finish your sandwich," Steve said, kicking the fruit crate over to him. "DJ, you want anything to eat?"
DJ considered this. "Smoothie?"
"He lives on the damn things," Tony said.
"Well, I don't have any smoothies," Steve said thoughtfully. "I do have some green tea ice cream. Little bit of milk, little bit of ice cream?"
DJ held up his hands in a gimme motion. Steve found one of the little pre-scooped cups in the freezer, poured some milk over it, and stirred it up with a chopstick, offering it to DJ once it was more or less drinkable.
"Say thank you," Tony said, as DJ downed it like a shot.
"Nkyou," DJ said obediently.
"Now you," Steve said to Tony, who looked startled, then amused.
"Thank you for buying me dinner," he said to DJ. "Don't ever serve me a heart attack as an appetizer again."
"Good pickles," DJ told him, pointing at his sandwich.
“You FOUND him.”
“I fired you. You are fired,” Tony said, stomping through the door with DJ on his hip. “You were fired, and you are fired, and tomorrow, I’ll rehire you just so I can fire you in the middle of the dinner rush, I don’t care if I have a house full of restaurant critics and you’re the only one I’ve got who can plate worth a damn.” He pointed a finger at Peter’s nose. “This kitchen is for employees, and you are not one anymore, so why are you here?”
Peter looked down at Tony’s fingertip, going slightly cross-eyed at the attempt. “Because you fire me at least twice a week,” he said, holding his hands out for DJ. “It’s lost its sting, Tony.”
Tony’s arms tightened on his kid. “In this kitchen, you will call me chef,” he said, because he didn’t really have anything else to say and he was tired and he still wanted what high ground he could get.
“Tony…” Bruce said, cleaning his station with quick, efficient movements.
“Don’t ‘Tony’ me,” Tony grumbled. DJ kicked, twisting in his grip, and Tony relinquished him, trying not to make it look as reluctant as it felt. “I am due some respect, I am the damn boss.”
“You fired me,” Peter said, his eyes rolling up towards the ceiling. To DJ, he said, “Can you not do that, buddy? Your dad nearly came after me with a cleaver.” DJ huffed out a sigh and flopped against Peter’s chest. “Agreed.”
“Stop telling him lies, I did not come after you with a cleaver,” Tony said. “Jesus. Like I need any more problems. If he repeats that to his aunt, I’m severely fucked.”
“I’d be more worried about him repeating the f-word,” Sue said, her hands moving with smooth, controlled speed, spinning sugar strands into a stunning work of edible art.
“Think she knows I swear,” Tony said. “Pretty sure she doesn’t know I tried to kill my assistant slash intern slash babysitter slash personal servant slash useless human being whom I pay for reasons I do not even understand.”
“Probably because of all those slashes,” Bruce said.
“You,” Tony said, pointing, “shut up. You-” He stabbed a finger in Sue’s direction. “Pan scrubbing duty forever.”
She grinned. “Yes, chef.”
“Does that mean I’m off pan scrubbing duty forever?” Hank McCoy asked, the lights of the kitchen glinting off of his narrow spectacles.
“No, everyone is on pan scrubbing duty forever,” Tony said, making DJ laugh. “Even you.”
“You can’t be any worse at it than Pym,” Peter told him.
“This is true,” McCoy said, with a wolfish smile.
“Cleaver,” DJ said, leaning back in Peter’s arms.
“Great,” Tony said, throwing his hands up. “Everyone is fired, close the joint down, I’m going to be in court for the next ten years or so.”
“Peter, no one’s in the private room out back tonight,” Bruce said. “Maybe you can take DJ back there and color.” DJ peeked up at him, and Bruce smiled. “That okay with you? Your dad’ll be done soon.”
DJ nodded. “Hungry.”
“I know, I’ll make you the smoothie to end all smoothies,” Tony said, leaning over to kiss DJ’s cheeks. “It will have tomatoes and peppers-”
“No,” DJ said.
“Yes,” Tony said, grinning down at him. “Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale-” DJ put a hand over Tony’s mouth. “Yum,” Tony said, his voice muffled.
“I’ll make you a good one with blueberries and watermelon and peaches,” Bruce said. DJ nodded, and Tony straightened up. Bruce gave Tony a look. “You, let’s let everyone finish up the last seating. We have to run the orders for next week.”
“No one is fooled,” Tony told him.
“They would be if you’d pretend,” Bruce said, putting a hand on Tony’s shoulder and turning him towards the office.
“Peter, come get his cars and his crayons,” Tony said.
“Yes, chef,” Peter said, bouncing DJ in his arms. Despite his slight frame, he was surprisingly strong, with lightning quick reflexes that usually allowed him to keep up with the kid. “What do we say?”
“Yes, chef,” DJ said, smiling.
“Cute,” Tony said. In his office, he collected DJ’s bag of distractions, handing it over and pressing another kiss to DJ’s forehead before Peter beat a hasty retreat. Tony shut the door behind him and slumped against it. “Don’t start,” he said to Bruce.
“Yeah, he went straight out to Steve’s truck,” Tony said, throwing himself into his desk chair. It creaked in protest but stayed intact. He was grateful for that small mercy.
“Steve,” Bruce said, his voice flat.
Tony pressed a hand to his face. “Yeah. Big guy. Blonde. Good with a paring knife and a flat iron. And also with kids as it turns out.”
“Well, that’s good,” Bruce said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“How do you do that?” Tony asked him. “How do you say, ‘that’s good’ in a tone of voice that clearly indicates that you do not think it’s good at all, that, in fact, you think that it’s horrible and that I’m a horrible person?”
Bruce studied him, one hand smoothing over his chin. “I think you’re projecting again, Tony.”
Tony’s head fell back against his chair with a thump. “I am not. I’m-” His mouth twisted up on the impulse to swear, loud and long and in a couple of languages. “I’m fine,” he managed.
“Oh, yeah. Yeah. You look fine,” Bruce agreed. Tony opened one eye, and Bruce was shaking his head slowly from side to side, his mouth a thin line. “Amazingly fine.”
“I’m fine,” Tony said.
“Right. Fine.” Bruce sank into Tony’s visitor chair. “How did this happen?”
“Peter’s a sucky baby sitter?” Tony guessed.
“How did you not tell Steve you have a child?” Bruce said.
“I was working up to it,” Tony said, slumping a little lower in his chair. Bruce gave him a look. “I was. It was just… Slow going.”
“Why did you not tell him before-”
“Because before I never thought it would happen!” Tony said, at a near shout. He kicked his desk. “We didn’t date, Bruce, we didn’t- I didn’t get a chance to work around to seducing him, I just said some assholish thing to a hidden camera documentary crew, and the next thing I know, he’s like, let’s fuck!”
Bruce stared at him. Tony stared back, petulant. “Really,” Bruce said at last, his eyebrows arching. “Steve.”
“Steve Rogers said, he said those exact words to you, out of the blue, Steve Rogers just said, ‘let’s fuck?’” Bruce asked. Somehow, his voice got more disbelieving with every single word.
“Yes,” Tony said. “Okay, no, words to that effect, you know what I mean.” He exhaled, all the fight going out of him. “I didn’t even think he was interested in men, let alone this particular man, I didn’t have time to properly suss him out, to vet him, it was just a sudden chance at something I wanted and I went for it, because I’m a greedy asshole, okay?”
Bruce took a deep breath, and let it out, then reached up and tugged the bandana he always wore in the kitchen off of his head. His big hands flexed, and he ran one through his salt and pepper curls. “Tony. You had to know it was going to come up. Why didn’t you deal with it before DJ decided to do it for you?”
Tony glanced away, reaching for a pen on his desk. “I figured it wouldn’t have to come up,” he said. “He drives a food truck, Bruce. He drives a fucking food truck.”
“Are we being a snob here, or-” Bruce asked, shaking his head.
Tony rolled his eyes. “Bruce, what’s the average life span of kitchen help in this city?” he asked, and didn’t wait for an answer. “Months. If that. Everyone’s always jumping ship, to a restaurant that’s doing better, that’s in a better location, that promises better pay or a less stressful work situation. We’re half a step above migrant farm workers when it comes to staying in one location for more than a season.”
“Well, farm workers have to move along, to follow the work that’s offered them,” Bruce said. “And most would prefer a more stable living and working situation with greater protection under the law for them and their children, so I don’t think that-”
“Oh, god, right, please stop,” Tony said, rubbing his forehead. “It was a joke.”
“People aren’t punchlines, Tony.”
“No, but my love life is,” Tony said. “Seriously. I didn’t tell Steve because his entire career choice is based on a lack of commitment. I figured that we’d, you know, have a good time, and then, he’d simply move his truck to another part of the city.” Bruce stared at him, and Tony stared back. “What?”
“Yeah, that was never going to happen.”
“When’s the last time you-” Tony stopped, holding up a hand. “Never mind.”
“Neither of us have had much luck dating within the culinary scene in this city,” Bruce said, calm and easy. “But still. There was never any chance that Steve was going to break up with you by changing his selling location.” He paused. “He might break up with you-”
“Thanks,” Tony said.
“But he’s not going to do it by moving to the west side of central park, Tony. It’s not his style, and you know it.” Bruce reached out, poking a finger against Tony’s desk blotter. There was a bright blue bandage on his knuckle, and something about that struck Tony as hysterical. Bruce leaned forward, grabbing Tony’s attention. “And you know it.”
“I suspected,” Tony said.
“Right. Well, how are you planning on handling this?” Bruce asked.
Tony mimed putting a phone to his ear. “So since we have nothing of importance to discuss about our days, how about a blowjob?” Bruce stared at him, disapproval writ large on his face. “No?” Tony asked.
“No,” Bruce said.
“Well, then I’m out of ideas,” Tony said.
Bruce rubbed his forehead. “Tony…”
“Look, I was supposed to go up and get DJ this weekend,” Tony said. “There was a plan. I was going to get him, and then spend a day hitting every artisanal dairy and cheese monger in the catskills.” He leaned in. “I was going to come home with a trunk full of goat cheese, my entire menu for the next month was based on small. Batch. Goat. Cheese.” He punctuated every word with a stab of his finger. “But no. Jess and Carol had to drop him off in the middle of the damn dinner rush, and I did not have a chance to tell my latest boytoy that I’m a father.”
Bruce leaned back. “Well, then, I guess you’re fucked,” he said, his voice laconic.
“Yeah. Pretty much.” Tony opened his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of single malt scotch. “And so I’m going to have a drink.”
“I’d say that’s a stupid plan, but I don’t have a better one,” Bruce said. He stood. “I’ll get some glasses.”
The second wave of patrons that evening was intense, and kept Steve's mind off the issue of Tony and DJ, for the most part. He liked his job, but when you were not only cooking but also selling, explaining, and hustling for donations to the Sandwiches For The Hungry fund, it did take up a lot of your attention.
Once the crowd thinned out, he usually began packing it in and made a pretty efficient job of securing everything, locking down the cupboards, and doing a quick wipe-down of the counters and fixtures. He found himself lingering, however, serving every single last straggling patron and then leaving the hatch open as he cleaned so any latecomers could get at least a cup of ice cream. His reluctance must have been obvious to Sam; after half an hour of pretending he wasn't stalling, his phone buzzed with a text from Sam.
What's up, you're moving slow tonight.
He sighed and leaned against the counter, texting back. Lots on my mind.
There was a terrible knowing tone in the response he got. So the kid's Tony's, huh?
Steve leaned out the service hatch and saw Sam sitting in the cab of his truck, door open.
"Just come over here," Steve sighed, and Sam grinned, leaping down lightly, locking the truck before sauntering over.
"Lemme help you clean," Sam said, climbing into the back and starting to tidy away the last of the ice-tray and heat-tray leftovers.
"How'd you know?" Steve asked, pretending to do his tallies from the evening.
"Watching you in the TOBRU parking lot is like Days Of Our Lives, it's a neverending saga," Sam said. "Oh the drama of you and Tony Stark."
"Hey, I'm just teasing. I heard Tony yelling and saw him swoop up a kid you were feeding, it wasn't that hard to guess." Sam closed the fridge and swung the latch deftly, glancing at Steve. "He didn't tell you?"
"Did he tell you?"
"No, I had no clue, but I'm also not dating him. That's a weird thing not to tell someone."
"We haven't been dating that long," Steve said. "Not really."
"Usually something like a child comes up pretty fast," Sam pointed out. "That's before-the-fifth-date material, easy." He paused. "You ever been to his place?"
"A couple of times," Steve said. "I didn't see any pictures or anything but I wasn't exactly there to look at the walls. We pretty much -- " he blushed. Sam laughed. "Well, you know, the kitchen and the bedroom are the parts I'm most familiar with."
The bedroom was nice, that was good, but the kitchen of Tony's snug little house was in some ways even better. It was huge and full of light, with a bar just right for sitting at while Tony made breakfast, the smell of coffee perpetually in the air, herbs growing on the windowsill. The clack of a knife on a cutting board, the hiss of food in a cast-iron pan, and Tony's head bent over the stove as he cooked. Steve missed it, suddenly, wished they were there, but that was -- far off, for now.
"He's never had a problem staying the night at mine before, either," Steve added. "I mean, you know, in terms of having to check in with a babysitter or something."
"So either he's the world's shittiest dad, or the kid lives with someone else," Sam said. "Given what I saw, and what we both know about Stark..."
"Well, he might be a bad dad, I don't know what kind of dad he is, but he's not the kind to leave his kid alone so he can go fuck the food truck guy," Steve said, feeling a bitterness he didn't quite understand seeping into his voice.
"I cannot believe you two are still playing Who's More Insecure Roulette," Sam said. "Thor says -- "
"Why are you talking to Thor about my relationships?" Steve asked.
"Because we're part of a community so small that we have to make our own fun?" Sam offered. "Thor and I talk about a lot of shit, you're not the center of our attention, calm down."
"Sorry, Sam. I just -- this is really confusing." Steve said. He caught the milk crate from outside when Sam tossed it to him and turned it over, tucking it beneath the counter with the others. "Maybe he didn't tell me because I'm not, you know, a part of that life. His life. Or he thought I'd cut and run. Neither one's especially flattering, or a great sign for the relationship."
"You gonna talk to him about it?"
"I'm not going to force him," Steve said. "I mean, yes, he should have told me, but on the other hand, who DJ is or where he came from isn't actually any of my business."
Sam cocked his head. "You like the kid?"
"He seems sweet. Aside from ditching his babysitter he's pretty well-behaved."
"Definitely doesn't live with Tony, then," Sam said with a grin. Steve smiled, but he knew he looked tired, and probably not very sincere. "Hey, you'll figure it out."
"We will. Somehow or other. Thanks for coming by," Steve added. "You should take off, though, it's late. I'm gonna close up, I'm just..."
"Waiting for him?"
"Making sure he knows I'm here if he wants to talk," Steve said firmly.
"Uh huh. Days Of Our Lives," Sam said, dropping down off the back fender of the truck. "We good for tomorrow?"
"Sure, I'll text you when I'm on the road."
"I'm doing the thing with the gruyere tomorrow -- "
"I'll lay in some extra tomatoes," Steve said with a grin. "Seeya, Sam."
"Don't drive angry," Sam told him, and Steve waved as Sam pulled Potato Rescue away. He sat down on the back of his own truck, hands folded together, carefully not looking directly at TOBRU so that Tony wouldn't be freaked out or anything.
But he wasn't...not looking at TOBRU either, so when Tony came out carrying DJ against his shoulder, he saw it. He saw Tony stop and hesitate, and then start across the parking lot towards him.
“Okay, I know this was boring, and I’m sorry about that, but why did you feel the need to make a blanket fort out of all of our clean table linens, and how in god’s name did you talk Peter into letting you do it?” Tony asked, slipping out the back door of TOBRU with DJ balanced on his hip. “I mean, is he that weak willed, or do you have mind control abilities that I should be aware of, I don’t know how to handle this, how the hell should I handle this, kidlet?”
“Steve,” DJ said, and Tony jolted.
“What?” he asked, dumb as he ever was, and DJ pointed. Tony followed the gesture, his heart skipping a beat when he spotted the familiar blue truck parked in its usual spot. He bit back a curse, his arms tightening on DJ. DJ squirmed in his grasp, kicking at his leg, and Tony made a deliberate effort to relax it. “Sorry. Sorry, sorry, baby.” He pressed a kiss to DJ’s temple. His lips lingered there, against DJ’s skin, taking a deep breath. “You smell like laundry soap and starch,” he said, and DJ giggled. “How many of my tablecloths were on your head tonight?”
“All of them,” DJ said, with all the necessary gravity.
“Great, fantastic, you are a nightmare,” Tony said, even as he kissed DJ’s cheek with a loud smack. Giggling, DJ twisted in his arms. “If we go talk to Steve, can you behave this time?”
DJ thought about that, one leg swinging idly in midair. “Yes,” he said as Tony started humming the Jeopardy theme.
“Good answer, now we just have to actually DO that,” Tony said. “But saying it is a good first step. I appreciate it.” He took a deep breath. “So, this is difficult for daddy, but I’d appreciate it if you tried to be especially adorable right now. Can you try to be, like, sickeningly adorable?”
DJ’s mouth pursed. “Yes,” he said, and he tucked his head against Tony’s shoulder, his big brown eyes wide and hopeful.
“Good, that’s very good, you’re horribly manipulative, and I need to make a note to steel myself against that in the coming years because otherwise, I’m screwed.” Taking a deep breath, Tony headed across the parking lot with a resolute determination that he didn’t quite feel.
Steve looked up as they approached, but he didn’t stand up. Tony stopped in front of him. “Let’s try this again,” he said, and Steve’s eyebrows arched. “Steve, I’d like you to meet DJ Fujikawa.” He paused, and managed a strained smile. “My kid.” He gave DJ a bounce. “DJ, this is Steve. Say hi, mini-me.”
DJ smiled at Steve, not bothering to lift his head from Tony’s shoulder. “Hi,” he said, wiggling his fingers in a little wave.
To Tony’s relief, Steve’s face relaxed into his usual warm smile. “Hi,” he said, returning DJ’s wave. “Did your dad eat his sandwich?”
“Yes,” DJ said, his smile stretching into a grin.
“What do we say?” Tony asked.
“Thank you,” DJ said without missing a beat. He wiggled in Tony’s grip. “Truck, please.”
“You can look at the outside, do not go onto the street, and you have to stay in sight of me. Agreed?” Tony asked, and DJ nodded. “Okay.” He leaned over, setting DJ on his feet. For a second, he clung, his hands tightening on DJ’s sides, and then DJ was wriggling loose. “Where I can see you!” he said, and waited for DJ’s nod before he let go.
DJ darted out of reach, one hand coming up to brush his fingertips over the gleaming blue paint of the truck. He paused, his attention caught by the contrast, and Tony exhaled.
Keeping his eyes on DJ, he shoved his hands in his pockets. “He lives upstate,” he said, his voice quiet. “There was a schedule change, I was supposed to pick him up this weekend, but some family friends were coming down to the city tonight and thought they were doing me a favor.”
Steve was silent for a second. “But… You are happy he’s here?” he asked, his voice cautious.
“God, yes, I just didn’t expect him in the middle of the dinner rush,” Tony said, scraping his hands over his face. “In the middle of the dinner rush after a multi-hour car ride so he arrived wound up, full of energy, and bored out of his mind. I thought he could color in my office until closing, but you saw how well that went.”
Steve smiled. “He does seem energetic.”
He glanced over, keeping a sharp eye on DJ, who luckily seemed more interested in his own reflection than he was with what they were discussing. “He’s smart. He gets bored easily,” he said. He cleared his throat. “I was going to tell you. I just thought-” He shrugged. “Thought I had a few more days.”
“Okay,” Steve said. He shifted, bracing his elbows on his knees. “Does he, uh, know?”
“Know what?” Tony looked over at him, and there was color in Steve’s cheeks that wasn’t there before. Tony grinned. “That we’re-” He resisted the very strong urge to say ‘fucking’ because the super serious look on Steve’s face indicated he would not find it funny right now. “Dating?” he finished, instead. “Yes. I told him about you.”
Steve exhaled, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I figured,” he said, his voice quiet. “He seemed to recognize the truck.”
“Yeah, I sent him a picture,” Tony said.
Steve looked down at his hands. “Just asking because-” His mouth went tight.
“Because I didn’t tell you about him,” Tony finished. He took a deep breath, and wished that he was doing this over a drink, but he’d done everything he could to make sure DJ wasn’t exposed to that. “I’m… Very careful with him,” he said. “Not many people know about him, because right now, the custody situation is rather…” He sighed, his eyes closing. “It’s complicated. The last thing I need is some tabloid story making it look like I’m trying to use him for publicity.”
“His mother wouldn’t approve?” Steve asked.
“Mom’s dead,” DJ said, and Steve went still.
Tony opened his mouth, but Steve was looking at DJ now. “So’s mine,” he said, his voice quiet. “I miss my mom. A lot.” DJ didn’t look away from the side of the truck, but his chin dropped in a slight nod.
“I don’t remember,” DJ said, his voice quiet. “Don’t remember much.”
“But we do,” Tony said, holding his hands out. “I remember your mom, and she was amazing, and I’m going to tell you about her every single day. Right?”
DJ considered him for a second, and then darted into his arms. “Right,” he said, his arms going around Tony’s waist. He buried his face in Tony’s stomach, clinging. Tony smoothed his hair back, and mouthed “Sorry” at Steve over his head. Steve shook his head.
“It’s fine,” he mouthed back.
“So DJ lives with his aunt some of the time,” Tony said aloud. “Well, his great-aunt, who adores him and spoils him and makes him impossible.” DJ giggled against Tony’s stomach, his breath hot through Tony’s shirt.
“And sometimes, when I’m really, really lucky, she lets him come and stay with me for a little while, and then it’s my turn to spoil him and make him impossible, right before I send him back to the back end of nowhere,” Tony said. He met Steve’s eyes. “Complicated,” he repeated.
Steve was quicker on the uptake than just about anyone Tony had ever met. “It sounds like it,” he said. He stood up, his hands in his pockets. “Does his aunt know-”
“She has no problem with my bisexuality, and no problem with me having a boyfriend,” Tony said, blunt about it. “I think, oddly, she prefers it.” He gave Steve a wry smile. “No potential stepmother to kind of, I don’t know, usurp her? It’s hard to explain.”
“Usurp,” DJ said, his fingers sinking into Tony’s shirt. He tugged on the fabric and raised his head. “Uuuuuuuuuuuusurp.”
“I use big words,” Tony agreed. “It’s pretty funny.” He looked up at Steve. “Look, I know this is a mess, I do, I get that, but you were going to come over tonight, I didn’t know if you were still-” He broke off. “Interested?”
He tried for a smile. “I know, puts a damper on things, so I understand if you’d rather not, but, well, we were going to do my special cinnamon roll pancakes.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “The spoiling begins at dawn.”
DJ looked up. “Breakfast,” he said, drawing the word out. “Please?”
"Go on ahead," Tony told Steve, as he unlocked the door and carried a mostly-sleeping DJ into the darkened foyer. "I'm just gonna put the sleep monster to bed."
"Monsterrr," DJ mumbled into his shoulder.
"That's you, you're the monster, that's why no other monsters will come in your room," Tony told him, and Steve smiled, passing over DJ's suitcase, which was a wheely-bag decorated with a pattern of dancing cartoon fruits. He slipped past Tony and down the hall to the bedroom, digging in the drawer Tony had offered him for a pair of clean pyjamas. He didn't think anything more strenuous than sleeping was on the menu for tonight.
By the time he'd washed his face and hands, pulled on the pyjamas, and turned down the bed, Tony still hadn't returned; Steve crept out of the bedroom silently and peered through the cracked door of what he'd always assumed was a storage room, maybe an office.
It looked like it once had been -- there was a desk and a computer chair in the corner, and a huge bookcase full of cookbooks and binders next to it -- but clearly it had been recently redecorated. A nightlight threw constellations onto the ceiling, and a largish child's bed at the moment held both DJ, almost asleep, and Tony, lying on his back, legs too long for the bed, knees bent and feet on the floor. There were posters on the walls, a mix of Star Wars and animated cartoons, and a glow-in-the-dark periodic table chart over the headboard. A lamp shaped like a mushroom glowed gently on the bedside table.
"...No other Knight in all the land
Could do the things which he could do.
Not only did he understand
The way to polish swords, but knew
What remedy a Knight should seek
Whose armor had begun to squeak."
Tony's voice was slower than usual, measured, light in tone as he read from the book in his hands; DJ was on his side, staring at him with sleepy concentration.
"And if he didn't fight too much,
It wasn't that he did not care
For blips and bufferings and such,
But felt that it was hardly fair
To risk, by frequent injuries,
A brain as delicate as his."
DJ's eyes wavered from Tony, and Steve caught his gaze through the cracked door; he lifted a finger to his lips, and DJ blinked in acknowledgement, attention drifting back to Tony before he closed his eyes.
Steve backed away silently and went back to the bedroom, busying himself with folding his clothes and throwing his apron in the linen hamper. Tony returned soon enough, shed his clothes down to his boxer-briefs, and crawled into bed wordlessly, back to Steve, with an exhausted huff.
Steve slid into the bed carefully, reaching out a hand to rest on Tony's hip. When he didn't object, Steve slid it around to his belly and pulled him closer, until their bodies were pressed together. He felt Tony relax into him slowly.
"I'm gonna let this go," Steve said into his neck, and Tony tensed all over again. "I am. But I need to know if you really thought I'd ditch out on you because you had a kid."
"That's what you think this is about," Tony said.
"Well, you're not ashamed of him, you obviously love him. So either you don't think I'm a part of your life to that extent, which I am working hard to believe isn't true, or you thought I'd see DJ and bolt."
Tony was silent for a long time, until Steve wondered if he'd decided to just ignore it and go to sleep. Finally he inhaled.
"It's not that I thought you would, so much as that nearly everyone has," Tony said.
"Like who? Not Bruce or Pepper -- not anyone at TOBRU."
"No, but...do you know about me and the pizza monstrosity?"
They hadn't talked about it ever, the fact that Tony had once been head chef at the Big Star Pizza test kitchens, that he'd once been the CEO-in-training for the chain that his father had founded. "Natasha told me."
"Thought it might've been her if it was anyone," Tony agreed. "I mean I'm on Wikipedia in the Big Star entry, but you're too innocent to have gone looking for me on Google."
"Well, did you?"
"No," Steve admitted.
"Anyway, I didn't leave Big Star because of DJ, not directly, but he was the catalyst," Tony said. "When he...happened...it was sort of...a last straw. That sounds awful, I don't mean it that way."
"No, I get it. Kids change things."
"Yeah. I sold my shares to Dad's business partner, I handed off duties, I left...and nobody came with me. Nobody I talked to about my ideas for TOBRU, nobody I worked with. Most of them stopped talking to me. The woman I was seeing at the time saw DJ and ran. The only one who stood by me was my friend Rhodey, and he wasn't at Big Star to begin with. So experience has taught me that when DJ shows up, people leave, and -- I didn't want you to be one of them. I didn't want that to be something you did."
Ah. That was clearer. Tony hadn't wanted to find out if Steve was the kind of person who would run. He hadn't wanted Steve to be someone who did that.
"People who leave me because of DJ don't deserve to get to stay," Tony added. "He comes first. Forever."
"That's how it should be," Steve agreed.
"Anyway, the jokes on all of them, DJ's their boss now," Tony said, dry amusement in his voice.
"What?" Steve asked.
"Dad left me fifty-one percent of Big Star Holding Group's voting rights stock when he died. Thirty percent went into a trust in case I had kids. Dad was...dynastically minded. I control it, but only until my oldest child turns eighteen. I couldn't sign that over when I left, only the other twenty-one percent."
"So DJ owns thirty percent of the biggest pizza chain in the country."
"If he wants it. If he doesn't, we'll sell it and blow the proceeds," Tony said. "It's already accruing dividends for him, they're going into a college fund. If he wants to go to college, anyhow."
"What does he want to be when he grows up?"
"At the moment? A rocketship."
"Like an astronaut?"
"No, an actual rocketship," Tony said. "In the meantime, he's the Pepperoni Heir."
"The Prince of Mozzarella," Steve suggested. Tony snorted a laugh.
"The Extra Large Baron."
"Duke Of Delivery."
"Tyrant of Takeout."
"Lord High Extra-Cheese Executioner," Steve said, and Tony made a high, half-suppressed sound that was distinctly giggle-like. "If it helps, I'm not going anywhere. I like him, Tony."
"Good, because he really likes you. You've made an indelible first impression."
"Hmm. I suspect his dad talked me up a little."
"I told only the truth. I don't know why he thinks you're so great, he knows you abandoned your restaurant and spend all your time making ethically-stir-fried seitan for the homeless."
"Well, unethical stir-fry is just the worst."
Tony let out a sigh that was not unlike DJ's, and relaxed that last inch. Steve closed his eyes.
Tony hated mornings. But he found them to be slightly more tolerable when they involved fresh brewed coffee, fresh baked pastries and/or a warm, willing body in his bed.
He pried one eye open, sniffing hopefully. The first hints of dark, rich coffee aroma hung heavy in the crisp morning air. He considered getting up, but the heavy arm around his waist and the solid body curled against his back was far more tempting.
It said a lot about Steve Rogers’ charms that Tony was willing to put off coffee to enjoy them.
He shifted, pressing back into the solid resistance of Steve’s body. It didn’t take much; Steve was a light sleeper by nature. Tony arched his back, nudging his ass into Steve’s hips, pleased with the immediate and gratifying response that got.
“Morning,” Tony whispered, and Steve’s arms tightened around him. He mumbled something into Tony’s hair, sleepy and incoherent, and Tony grinned. “Isn’t your arm asleep?”
“No,” Steve said, nuzzling at the short hairs at the nape of Tony’s neck. Tony tipped his head forward, giving him better access. Heat curled through him, his breathing going rough, his eyes falling shut.
“Sleep well?” he asked, and Steve’s fingers were slipping under the hem of his shirt, rough, calloused fingertips sliding over the sensitive skin of Tony’s stomach.
“Mmmm,” Steve said, and Tony took advantage of the fact that he clearly wasn’t awake yet, twisting in his arms and pushing him over. Steve went onto his back easily enough, his blue eyes dark and his face flushed. He smiled up at Tony, so adorably happy that Tony wanted to pin him down and do such dirty things to him.
He had a problem.
“Mmmm,” Tony said, his fingers tugging on the waistband of Steve’s shorts. “Why are you wearing clothes?”
Tony’s breath left him in a sound perilously close to a yelp. Steve jerked backwards, his head slamming with an audible thump against the headboard. They both rolled over with a complete lack grace, arms and legs tangling in the sheets. It took an embarrassingly long time, but Tony managed to himself into a seated position, the sheets racked up against his belly, with Steve sprawled out on his stomach next to him. His face was bright red, his arms wrapped tight around his pillow.
“Pancakes,” DJ repeated, his arms folded on the edge of the bed, his big brown eyes peering over the edge of the tumbled blankets. He looked hopeful.
“Right,” Tony said, a little too loud. “That’s RIGHT. Pancakes. Pancakes for my kid, who is here, right now, who got dropped off last night, and who is here now and would like some pancakes. And with whom I will be having a long discussion about the importance of KNOCKING in the near future.”
DJ blinked up at him, his brow furrowed. “Promised,” he pointed out.
“I did. That is something I did. I promised you pancakes,” Tony said, yanking the sheets a little higher on his belly, one fisted hand holding the fabric in place at his waist. “And pancakes you shall have.” He exhaled. “Can you go to the kitchen and pull down the red recipe file for me and choose the pancakes you want?”
DJ’s eyes lit up. “Blueberry,” he said.
“We had blueberry last time,” Tony said. “Remember? You got blueberry…” He shuddered. “Everywhere.”
“Blueberry,” DJ said, and bounced towards the door, his bare feet slapping against the polished wood floor.
“There are other kinds of pancakes, brat!” Tony called after him.
DJ’s head poked back into the room. “Nope,” he said, and disappeared again.
“Brat,” Tony mumbled, as Steve buried his face in his pillow. Tony glared down at him. “Are you laughing at me right now?” he asked.
What was obviously laughter floated up to him, and Tony grabbed a pillow, smacking Steve in the head with it. “I’d like to see you do better,” he said, as Steve rolled over, laughing out loud now as he tried to fend off Tony’s pillow.
Steve’s big hand closed on the pillow, tugging it out of Tony’s hand and tossing it behind him. “I don’t know, you never made me pancakes,” he said, grinning up at Tony. “I was lucky to get eggs.”
“Your fault,” Tony said, leaning over him. Steve’s cheeks were still pink, the flush extending down over his chest, and Tony set a hand there, over his breastbone, where his skin was hot to the touch.
Steve arched an eyebrow. “Yeah?” he asked, and his mouth was the sweetest temptation Tony had ever seen.
“You wear me out,” Tony said, his head dipping down, until his lips were almost touching Steve’s. “I need protein, after a night with you.” Steve’s laugh was soft and breathy, a physical pressure against his skin. “I need salt, and fat, and protein,” Tony said, and Steve arched up, covering the last inch between them to kiss him. “You wear me out, Rogers.”
“I don’t know,” Steve whispered against his mouth, making Tony shudder. “You seem to bear up just fine to me.”
“Yeah, that’s because-”
“PANCAKES,” DJ yelled from the kitchen, and Steve choked on a laugh.
Reluctantly, Tony pulled away, and Steve’s hands slid along his shoulders, down the length of his arms, to cup Tony’s wrists. THere was something intimate about that, about the slow, languid sweep of Steve’s thumb on the inside of his wrist, that threatened to undo him. Tony caught Steve’s hand in his, cradling it in his palm as he brought it to his lips. “I love your hands,” he whispered, burying the words against Steve’s skin, making his breath hitch and his fingers twitch.
“Tony?” Steve asked, his voice rough. “What-”
Tony released his hand. “C’mon, you want pancakes? I’ll make you pancakes. Pancakes that’ll make you cry and beg for mercy.”
Steve stretched, pushing himself up as Tony rolled out of bed. For a moment, he seemed content to just sit there, and watch Tony pull on a pair of ragged, worn sweatpants. “I can make hash browns,” he said, running a hand through his hair. Tony paused, glancing back over his shoulder at Steve, who gave him a hopeful smile. “If I won’t get in your way, I mean. I make a mean plate of hash browns.”
Tony shifted, ignoring the heat that pooled low in his stomach. “I think I can make space for you,” he said. “You and your giant shoulders.”
“I’ll try to stay in my corner of the stove,” Steve said, pushing the blankets back. “You’re the one who’s all over the place constantly.”
“I have a kitchen. A big, broad, open kitchen that I run and where everyone flees from me at all times,” Tony said, spreading his arms. “I am the master of my domain. You, meanwhile, have a flatiron grill on wheels.”
“And I make a mean plate of hash browns,” Steve said, unbothered. “Also, I like blueberry pancakes.”
“Well, good, because mine are fantastic,” Tony said. He shoved a hand through his hair, considering a shower, and discarding the idea. Expecting his still-new-to-this lover to keep an eye on his son was probably a bit high handed. He grabbed a shirt, yanking it over his head. “I use a sprinkle of cinnamon in the batter, and some lemon juice to-” He stopped, his hands still locked on the hem of his shirt.
“What?” Steve asked, glancing at him. “Tony?”
“Why do I smell bacon?” Tony asked, a split second before he sprinted towards the door, his heart in his throat. “DJ!”
He took the hallway at full speed, skidding around the corner and into the kitchen. “Don’t touch the-”
Tony stopped dead, his heart still going a mile a minute, his hands braced on the door frame. “How the hell did you two get in here?”
“Language!” Jessica said, mock horrified. She was sitting at the worn kitchen table, DJ perched on a stool next to her. Her black and red motorcycle jacket was thrown over the chair behind her, her long black hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. It was tipped with red, flickers of flame on the edge of her dark locks. An open bakery box was on the table in front of her, and she was working her way through a cinnamon bun almost as big as her head.
“It’s okay, I’ve heard worse.” Carol was at the stove, wearing one of his crisp red and yellow aprons over her black tank top and leather pants. Her blonde hair was trimmed close on the sides, the longer center drawn up and back into a faux mohawk. Bright gold star earrings swung against her neck with each movement of her head. “I found your bacon.”
“And your coffee,” Jessica said, holding up a coffee cup.
“Who let you in?” Tony asked, knowing the answer.
“Me!” DJ said. He was bent over the table, his shoulders hunched, kneeling on his stool. Bits of metal and mechanical innards were spread out in front of him.
“Don’t open the door,” Tony told him. “And is that my toaster?”
“It was,” Jessica said, amused.
“He’ll put it back together,” Carol said, looking up just as Steve pulled up short behind Tony. Carol looked him up and down. “Oh, God, you were right.”
“I told you,” Jessica said. “He’s dating the hot hipster food truck chef.”
“His name is Steve. Be polite,” Tony told them.
“Did we just get a lecture in manners from Tony Stark?” Jessica asked.
“It wasn’t much of a lecture,” Carol said, grinning.
“He doesn’t know much about manners, so-”
“Why are you here?” Tony asked.
Jessica made a pouty face at him. “DJ left his tool kit in the back of the van. We figured we’d do you a favor and bring it by.”
“And cinnamon buns!” Carol said. She flipped the bacon. “Are you planning on making breakfast at any point here?”
“No. Get out,” Tony said.
“I told them. About pancakes,” DJ said.
“Why would you do that?” Tony asked him. He leaned over, pressing a kiss on DJ’s head. “Don’t do that.”
“Too late,” DJ said, gleeful.
“I got that.”
Jessica leaned an elbow on the table. “Hi,” she said, giving Steve a wide, brilliant smile. “I don’t think we’ve met.” Her eyelashes fluttered. “I would’ve remembered.”
Steve smiled back, his arms crossed over his chest. “I think I would have remembered that, too.”
“Steve, meet Carol Danvers and Jessica Drew,” Tony said, waving a hand in their direction. He considered kicking them out, but it wasn’t worth the fight. “They’re problem caterers.”
“Hardy-har-har, Stark,” Carol said, grinning down at her pan. “You’re cute.”
“This is true,” Tony said, throwing open the pantry doors.
“Problem caterers?” Steve asked.
“We specialize in difficult jobs,” Jessica mumbled, her mouth full of cinnamon roll. She licked a drip of icing off of her thumb with a flick of her tongue. “Stuff other catering companies don’t want to touch.” She grinned. “We come highly recommended by a lot of wusses.”
“And there are a lot of wusses in this city,” Carol said, propping one hand on her hip. She somehow managed to make Tony’s oversized apron look chic. “It’s like people don’t want to work for their pay.”
“What makes it a difficult job?” Steve asked.
Jessica shrugged. “Wedding where one family is vegetarian and the other isn’t, but they only want one unified menu, and dad’s new wife will notice if there’s tofu in anything. But Aunt Leslie will definitely notice if there’s chicken.”
“Or Great-Uncle Stu’s going to give you a hell of a wedding present, but he wants to have the reception on his yacht,” Carol said with a grin. “His yacht, which doesn’t have a kitchen or even much room for a reception.”
“Or you want to feed everyone Nana’s special lasagna, but she’s too old to cook for two hundred guests, and she won’t give anyone the recipe,” Jessica said. “That one was a disaster.”
“What’s your newest gig?” Tony asked, piling ingredients on the butcher block island, laying them out with precision.
“Political fund raiser,” Carol said, flipping the bacon with quick, easy movements of her hand. “We’re their third try to get a caterer, and pretty much their last hope. They’re trying to look eco friendly, so they only want ingredients sourced from within fifty miles, all recycled place settings, bamboo tablecloths.”
“All that shhhhhhi- Stuff,” Jessica said, casting a quick glance in DJ’s direction. “It’s going to be a pain.”
“Yeah, but that’s almost common now,” Tony said. He pulled a bin of eggs, washed and stacked, out of the fridge, and tucked the milk in the crook of his arm. “What’s the real problem?”
“The candidate hit on me,” Jessica said, yawning.
Tony winced. “Well, that’s-”
“And his wife hit on me,” Carol said.
“In front of each other?” Tony asked, laying everything out on the counter.
“Don’t be gauche,” Jessica said, flipping a hand through the air. “They did the decent thing and kept it behind each other’s backs.”
“Still, it’s a powder keg, and if we get through a sit down dinner for two hundred without a food fight or a tabloid scandal, it’ll be a miracle,” Carol said. She sounded gleeful, her eyes dancing as she drained the thick rashers of bacon. “I’m pushing hard for things that are soft and non-staining so when the inevitable happens, at least the dry cleaning bills will be under control.”
“Nothing else will be, but the dry cleaning will,” Jessica said. She grinned at Steve, who looked a little shell-shocked. “We get paid in advance.”
“Preferably in cash,” Carol said. She threw up a double v-for-victory sign, hip cocked and head tossed to the side. Her hair barely moved.
“I guess I would, too,” he said, a smile curling the edges of his lips.
Tony, giving in with something approaching dignity, went for the recipe file. “Fine, you may have breakfast.”
“Aw, thank you, your majesty,” Jess said.
“Only because the kid likes you,” Tony told her. “no other reason.”
“Does it get me pancakes?”
“Then I don’t care why.”