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Reject Your Reality (and Substitute My Own)

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May

"What the ever loving fuck?" Tony swears, stopping short in front of the empty building. The empty building that now has contractors going in and out of it. The empty building with contractors going in and out of it, and a large sign proclaiming it the future home of a coffee shop called 'Brewed Awakening'. Tony hates it already.

"You said a bad!" comes a shocked voice beside him, and Tony feels the tiny hand in his tighten.

Tony winces. "Yeah, I did. Oops."

"You gotta put a quarter in the jar," the child informs him solemnly. Tony sighs, but nods his head in agreement.

"I will. This afternoon, when we get home, yeah? You can watch me." This seems good enough for the boy and he happily drags Tony down the block to the preschool next door. All the while, Tony glances back over his shoulder at the home of the soon-to-be-swarming-with-people coffee shop that is daring to set itself up in his quiet residential neighbourhood, right next to his son's goddamned preschool.

To be clear, it isn't the presence of the shop that upset him — far from it. The neighbourhood has an alarming deficit of establishments to get caffeine. It's the location that's got him riled up. Right next door to his son's school. And by the looks of it, they're going to be putting in a large patio. Honestly, it's like they want to have people come in, and sit, and linger. It's like they want a ton of strangers coming and going and loitering within a hundred yards of his son's school. How's he supposed to keep his son safe like this? Sure, the teachers are the best, they're diligent, but Tony can't take any chances. Not where his son's safety is concerned.

"Good morning Mr. Stark, good morning Casey," calls a friendly voice.

"Good morning Miss Julie," Casey says and lets go of Tony's hand, bounding happily up the walkway to greet his teacher, Julie Summerside. Tony follows a few steps behind, watching the easy interaction between Julie and Casey. She's really good with the kids— everyone here is. It's why he chose this place, after all. He wants what's best for his boy, and this place – this neighbourhood – is the best. Or it was until he had to deal with the threat of increased foot traffic and strangers stomping around next to his school because of a cutesy-named coffee shop. God, this is such bullshit.

"Is everything okay Mr. Stark?" Julie says, snapping his thoughts back to the moment. Casey's gone off to play on the little playground set up in the wide, fenced off yard, laughing as he flings himself down the slide. Tony smiles. It's pretty hard to be upset with Casey around. He turns his attention back to the teacher.

"Tony, please," he corrects her. "Did you know about this?" He nods his head over to the under-construction building. Julie smiles at him, obviously unaware of the catastrophic inevitabilities that 'Brewed Awakening' will have on the neighbourhood.

"Oh, yeah, the new coffee shop. We actually got a little flyer in the mail about it. This is apparently their second location – they've got one in Brooklyn already."

Oh, god, it's worse than Tony had originally thought. It's a hipster coffee shop.

He had moved to this neighbourhood on the upper east side specifically so that Casey could go to this preschool. He had done his research – he'd looked at every preschool in the city before he'd settled on Trinity Children's Centre. TCC had the best ratio of positive parent anecdotes and high testing scores. It's not even the most exclusive preschool in the city, and Tony doesn't care. He'd never wanted Casey to grow up like he had – with a silver spoon shoved so far down his throat that he choked on it when he hit his rebellious teenage years.

Of course, Tony's genius intelligence meant an accelerated education, meaning his rebellious teenage years had come earlier than most. He'd been quietly shuffled off to rehab by the time he was 14, he'd gotten his drinking and drug use under what he had referred to, at the time, as 'under control', and managed his first degree by age 19. His parents had died when he'd been 20, and at 21, he'd signed away all rights to Stark Industries to Obadiah Stane, his father's former second-in command. He'd continued to skip on and off the rails for the next 10 years, partying and taking drugs and not caring about anything but the next time he could get high, and then had eventually watched, horrified, as Stane had not only run the company into the ground, but gotten it mostly torn apart by the FBI and the SEC when it came to light that he'd been bringing in a lot of money on the side by selling weapons on the black market.

Found guilty of treason, tax evasion, and trafficking, Stane wouldn't be seeing the light of day from outside prison walls any time soon.

Tony, meanwhile, had watched Stark Industries crash and burn, and did his best to drink away the guilt of letting his family's legacy become a stain on the history books.

Years of indiscriminate casual sex with both men and women had ended the moment he'd met Rumiko. Rumiko had been the daughter of a business magnate in Japan, and she had, inexplicably, fallen as madly in love with Tony as he had with her. He quit drinking, quit doing drugs, quit partying. In short, he got his shit together.

Their whirlwind romance led to a marriage ceremony within eight months, and together they had started a company of their own – Stark Resilient.

They hadn't intended to have children, of course. They'd both been more concerned with their careers, with bringing Stark Resilient into the spotlight, with investors and research and development and networking. But they'd been careless enough to think they were untouchable, and gotten pregnant because of it.

Tony hadn't been excited about it, at first. In fact, all he could think about was what a terrible father Howard Stark had been, and how he was destined to follow in his father's footsteps and mess up his child for life.

Rumiko had been joyful right off the bat – she hadn't wanted children, but this child, the one growing inside her, was precious and perfect and a dream come true.

It had been a difficult pregnancy. Severe morning sickness, wildly low blood pressure, the whole nine yards. In the end, she began hemorrhaging when she went into labour, and the doctors had to perform a C-section to save the baby.

They hadn't been able to save Ru.

Buried deeply by grief, Tony had wanted to die, too. He'd wanted the earth to swallow him whole, wanted to trade the infant for his wife, had blamed himself for carelessly getting her pregnant in the first place. He'd been angry, so angry, and then he'd seen the baby,, and he had looked down into the face of his son, his son, and he had fallen more deeply in love than he'd ever thought possible.

He had a son.

He still misses Ru, of course, but he'd made a promise to her, as he'd held that tiny, undersized boy in his arms. He would protect Casey with his life. Nothing mattered except Casey.

Even now, as Stark Resilient is becoming a household name, Tony comes in late to make sure he can drop Casey off at preschool. He leaves early so he can pick Casey up. He'd found them a penthouse just a couple of blocks away so that they'd be close. More often than not, Tony tries to work from home after Casey gets out of school, conferencing in with his staff. He's only just recently begun the hunt for a nanny, as the business gets more and more intense.

He's been searching for a qualified nanny for six months. No one is right for the job – they're good with childcare, but not with making sure Casey is safe. He can't hire just anyone. He needs to make sure Casey is in good hands.

Casey's safety is the only thing that matters, and Tony can't keep his son safe from the countless dangers of the world if Casey is going to be surrounded by the crowds resulting from a hipster coffee shop beside his school.

"Mr. Stark? Tony?" Julie says, regaining his attention. She's looking at him bemusedly, and Tony realizes he hasn't responded.

"Don't suppose there was contact info on that flyer?" Tony asks hopefully. He needs to track this hipster coffee shop owner down, he needs to make this whole thing go away. No hipster coffee shop with an open patio, no nondescript strangers sitting at a table all day drinking coffee and watching his son's school. None of it. It's completely unacceptable.

"Sorry," Julie says with an apologetic shake of her head. "Didn't even have a name on it."

"That's fine," Tony says, mustering up a charming smile for her. "I'll let you get back to the kids."

"Alright," she says, lips twitching. "I'll see you at pick-up, then."

She turns and walks away, and Tony glances around the playground, looking for Casey. His chest relaxes as soon as Tony spots him. Glossy, thick hair, darker than his own, hanging down in Casey's face because he's overdue for a haircut. Dark eyes, wide grin, missing tooth. Casey notices Tony watching him, and runs over, crashing into Tony's legs with an 'oof'.

"Hey, kiddo, you have a good day, okay?" Tony says, going down to one knee so he can give Casey a tight hug.

Casey's little arms wind around his neck to return the embrace, and he plants a sloppy kiss on Tony's cheek before he turns around and runs back to his friends, one arm waving in the air as he calls back, "Bye, Daddy!"

Tony dreads the day that Casey decides he's too old to hug and kiss his father goodbye.

He watches Casey play with his friends for another moment before he heads off in the direction of the office. Another strategic placement, Stark Resilient's corporate offices are only a few more blocks down the street, and most days Tony walks back and forth from the preschool. So far, he's managed to only walk down the street a few times during lunch to make sure everything is okay at the school, though he'd never admit it to anyone.

As he walks toward the office, he already has his phone out, searching for more information on Brewed Awakening. He's going to find a way to nip this whole thing in the bud.

 

+++++

 

Tony spends half the day hacking into the city zoning office servers to get ahold of blueprints, permits, anything he can get his hands on to try and find some cut construction corners or regulations that would keep Brewed Awakening from opening their new location. There's nothing – everything is on the up and up, so far. All the permits have been filed correctly, the location is correctly zoned for food and drink establishment, the bastards had even sent out that memo to all their neighbours on the block.

Renovation of the existing space is set to be completed in two weeks' time, according to the development permits. Which means Tony has two weeks to convince them they've chosen a terrible location, and that they should back out of their expansion plan.

He pinches the bridge of his nose and looks up the business itself.

They don't have their own website, but they do have a Facebook page. Tony browses it – mostly, it's photos of coffee and pastries. The latte art is impressive – Tony's not sure he's ever seen such skill. Every few days, there's a ridiculous meme about coffee, or some sort of pun, and it makes Tony want to grind his teeth.

But each post has impressive reach. Whoever their social media consultant is, they're good at what they do. The problem is that, the more reach and social media success Brewed Awakening gets, the more people will be around to pose a threat to Casey.

He sits down and types out a list on his tablet, trying to come up with reasons why the owners of Brewed Awakening might want to alter their plans. By the time he's come up with what he thinks are bulletproof arguments, it's time to pick Casey up from school. Tony leaves the office and walks down the street, a solid 20 minutes early, of course. He stands outside the gate of the property, watching the traffic and pedestrians while he waits. He spends some time staring at the empty building next door. The contractors are still busily working away – Tony's not sure what the space used to be, but clearly it hadn't been set up as an eatery of any kind. The contractors are having to install the counter, build a kitchen, the whole nine yards.

He decides that if he has any hope of convincing the owners of Brewed Awakening to change their plans, he'd better work fast – the further those contractors get, the lower the chances they'll back out of the location.

He turns to look back at Casey's school, and he doesn't have to fake the wide grin that graces his face when Casey bursts out the school doors, running toward him and happily shouting about all the cool things they'd done today in class.

Tony kneels down to catch him, wrapping his arms tightly around his child and breathing in the smell of him.

He'll do whatever it takes to keep Casey safe.

 

+++++

 

Because Tony had spent the better part of his day looking into the city's zoning office and one ridiculously-named coffee shop, he hadn't done much actual work for Stark Resilient. He ignores it as long as he can; he plays with Casey, makes dinner – he's not a great cook, but the food he makes them is nutritious and edible, and most days Casey doesn't even whine and ask for Mac N' Cheese. He could certainly afford a personal chef to do the meal preparation for them, but he thinks Ru would have wanted him to do the cooking, if she couldn't do it herself. Hiring a chef just seemed too impersonal.

Besides, who's to say he could trust a personal chef to be as diligent about Casey's health and nutrition needs as he is?

They eat dinner, and then it's time for Casey's bath. They play in the tub for a while, with Casey making use of the brightly coloured bath crayons. Casey uses shampoo to turn his glossy hair into a ridiculous mohawk, giggling and squealing happily, and Tony really, really loves this kid.

He reads Casey a couple of books before bed – he always tells the kid he'll read him just the one, but Casey normally manages to wheedle two more out of him before lights out. Tony doesn't mind – he loves this part of the day, when it's just the two of them. Casey is curled into Tony's side in his little race car bed, blinking sleepily as Tony reads to him. Casey is out halfway through the fourth book.

Tony stays right where he is for a while, watching Casey's breath even out, his little eyelashes flutter and twitch as he falls deeper and deeper into sleep.

Finally, when Tony definitely hasn't had his fill but knows he has to stop staring at the boy and get some work done, he carefully extricates himself from Casey's wiry limbs, and silently leaves the room, closing the door half way.

Tony runs a hand through his hair, then scrubs it over his face tiredly. It's only 7:30, he shouldn't be this tired. But he's got seven nanny resumes to go through and a full day's worth of Stark Resilient work to finish. He needs to get this nanny situation sorted out, Casey will be out of school for the summer in less than two months.

He works on the Stark Resilient stuff first – not because it's a higher priority, even though, technically, it probably is. More because the thought of leaving Casey in someone else's care for the better part of every weekday has his heart clenching painfully in his chest.

He probably shouldn't be this dependent on the kid, he knows. But Casey is his son. He's the only link Tony has to Rumiko, and he's the most important thing in Tony's entire world. He is Tony's world. The idea of someone else getting to have all the hours of Casey's day, his giggles and his smiles and his hugs, is like a knife in Tony's gut.

But he has to do it, because Rumiko had cared about Stark Resilient so much. Her dream had been for the company to revolutionize the world's energy industry, putting an end to carbon emissions, non-renewable resources, all of it.

If Casey is the most important thing in Tony's world, Stark Resilient comes in second. Ru would want him to make sure it succeeds in all the things she'd wanted for it. For them.

He works on business for a few hours, and then he moves on to the resumes. He throws the first five out immediately – nothing special, no reason to believe they could protect Casey from any threats, real or imagined. There are two that look interesting, though, so he pours himself a cup of coffee and takes a second look. Then he does a little background research on them to help him make a decision.

He realizes he's a little wired from the coffee, so he cues his tablet up to the NannyCam app he'd created, and watches the feed from Casey's room for a few minutes, as Casey sleeps. He's still, but Tony can see the rise and fall of his little pyjama-clad chest. He knows he's got a soft smile on his face, and he knows he's a ridiculously sappy dope, but he doesn't care.

He takes the tablet with him and hits the workshop. He'll do a little bit of work here while he waits for the caffeine to work its way out of his system, he decides.

But as soon as his attention hits the project he's been working on, he loses all sense of time. He checks the NannyCam feed from time to time, and Casey is still fast asleep, so Tony keeps working away.

It's four in the morning before he realizes he should have gone to bed hours ago.

It's not his first sleepless night, and it won't be his last. He makes his way to his bedroom, and flops onto his bed fully clothed, face mashed into the pillow, and falls asleep almost instantly.

The alarm wakes him at 6:30, and more than anything in the world, he wants to throw it out the window.

But he doesn't – he has to get up, get Casey's lunch packed, and make breakfast before Casey goes to school. Then he has to make his way to Brooklyn and be as charming as possible to persuade Brewed Awakening to change their mind about their new location.

He'll sleep later. Probably.

 

+++++

 

Tony finds himself in Brooklyn later that day, after a couple of hours put in at the office for appearances. The coffee shop is disgustingly nice. It's all clean, modern lines and warm, rich textiles. There's free wifi, half-price refills, and Tony can smell the from-scratch pastries as soon as he walks in the door. The shop is busy, but everyone is chatting at a quiet level, making the whole space seem intimate and homey.

It's awful and Tony hates it.

He strolls up to the counter, hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels as he waits in the horribly patient line of customers. There's a haggard-looking guy running the register, his longish brown hair tied up in a hipster man-bun and his left arm hanging somewhat limply by his side. His smile is bright and warm and Tony wants to smack it off his face.

There's an even better-looking guy actually making the drinks and putting together the orders. He's fast and accurate, and Tony sneaks a peek at each and every cup put on the pick-up counter, and all the names look like the correct spelling of the actual names that the customers had given with their order. Each latte is done up with a deceptively fast, beautiful piece of latte art.

The coffee-making barista is huge, tall and broad and blonde. His waist is tiny – he looks positively triangular. When he hands people their drinks or their pastries he gives them a plush, pink-lipped smile that Tony thinks is pure sin. He looks somehow wholesome, but at the same time Tony can imagine him looking debauched and well-fucked, laying across a satin-sheeted bed.

Where the fuck did that come from?

Tony hasn't thought about anyone in a sexual way since Rumiko died – since Casey was born. To feel desire for some barista in a coffee shop owned by Tony's newest arch nemesis? It would be underselling it to call it 'unexpected'.

When Tony gets to the front of the line, Man-bun aims that thousand-watt grin at him. "Hey there, what can I getcha?" he asks.

"I'd like to speak to the owner, actually, is there a way I can get in touch with him?" Tony replies, proud of how detached and not-at-all invested he sounds.

Man-bun raises an eyebrow, then his eyes flick to Hunka Burnin' Lover over beside him.

"Can I ask you what you want with the owner of this fine, upstanding establishment?" Man-bun asks, mouth twisting.

"I'd like to speak to him about his development in the upper east side."

"Oh, that, sure," says Man-bun, turning to Hunka. "Stevie, you got an admirer. I was the manager yesterday, today is your turn."

Hunka – Stevie? – rolls his eyes at Man-bun and turns his ridiculous knee-weakening smile in Tony's direction. "Hi there," he says, voice warm and rumbling and honey-smooth. "What can I do for you?"

Tony is so, so proud of himself when his answer isn't 'unzip your pants and let me suck your dick right here'. He's on a mission. He has a goal.

"I'd like to talk to you about your new coffee shop on East 67th," Tony says, trying to put as much gravitas in his tone as possible.

"Oh, yeah! We're expanding! We're pretty excited about it – I wanted to be a little closer to the MoMA, but you take what you can get with real estate, am I right?"

Tony blinks at Hunka-Stevie. What?

"Yeah, right, listen, you're gonna have to move it," Tony says, shaking his head a little.

Hunka-Stevie stares at him with confusion. "What do you mean, move it?"

"Well, it's not really the kind of thing we want in that neighbourhood," Tony tells him. "You understand."

"Uh… I really don't. Buck, you got the counter for a sec?" Hunka-Stevie turns to Man-bun, but he's already untying his apron from around his waist as he speaks. Man-bun rolls his eyes and mutters under his breath.

"Sure, Steve, I got a bum arm and we got a line-up to the door but no, by all means, take a little break to talk to the crazy person," Man-bun grumbles.

Hunka-Stevie – Steve, Tony reminds himself, because he is observant and paying attention to more than the man's pecs as he reaches around to his back to deal with the apron – walks out from around the display case full of pastries and motions for Tony to follow him. Tony really does not want to follow him because if there's one thing he knows, it's the value of a strong negotiating position. On the other hand, this is giving him a chance to get a look at Steve's ass and that's an opportunity Tony is glad not to miss.

Steve actually leads Tony outside onto the sidewalk, and for a moment Tony actually has a sharp stab of fear – this guy is way bigger than him, and if Steve wants to beat the shit out of him on the sidewalk for what Tony thinks is a completely reasonable request, there's not a lot Tony can do to stop him.

Steve crosses his arms over his chest (which makes his biceps bulge somehow even more ridiculously) and blinks at Tony.

"Alright, then, sir, what's this about?" he says.

Tony blinks, not expecting to have been called 'sir'. Well, maybe there's a chance to salvage this negotiation after all.

Tony sticks out his right hand, giving Steve his best thousand-watt publicity grin. "Tony Stark," he says, finally introducing himself, "of Stark Resilient."

"Steve Rogers," says Steve, uncrossing his arms to clasp Tony's hand. He has a good, solid grip, but Tony purposefully keeps control of the handshake. "Of Brewed Awakening."

"So like I was saying," Tony says, resisting the urge to slip his hands into his pockets because if this guy throws a punch, Tony should probably be ready for it, "you're going to have to find a different location for your coffee shop."

"I checked with the zoning office, that's a residential commercial zone," Rogers says, brow furrowed. "I didn't have any trouble with my permits."

"No, that's – it's not that, it's that the neighbourhood isn't, you know, a good fit for you."

"Excuse me?" Rogers' eyes take on a sparking, stormy blue.

"It's just, you know, a really nice, quiet family neighbourhood, and we just don't think that –"

"Excuse me?" Rogers is starting to look really angry now, his jaw twitching and clenching.

"Look, man, I like coffee as much as the next guy – actually, okay, I may have a slightly uncontrolled addiction to coffee but that's neither here nor there – but we just don't want that kind of –"

"Okay, look, pal," Rogers says, and suddenly Tony feels like the man is eight feet taller than him, glaring down at him in indignation. "I don't know who you think you are that you can tell me where I can or cannot set up my coffee shop, but if you think I'm just going to let you – let you discriminate against me because of my sexuality, and keep the homos out of your quiet family neighbourhood, we're going to have a problem –"

"WHOA." Tony's eyes pop wide, and he puts his hands up immediately in a placating gesture, shaking his head forcefully. "No! No, no, no way, that's not – fuck, no, sorry, that's not why," Tony says, cheeks heating furiously. "I don't care if you – I'm a little – it's about the traffic."

"What?"

"The foot traffic," Tony says, backpedalling for all he's worth. "All the people! You're right next to a preschool, for god's sake, and do you know how many people congregate around coffee shops?" He's feeling a little hysterical right now because whoa, that is definitely not what he wanted this very large, very big (very attractive gay) man to think he was saying.

Rogers blinks at him and glances over his shoulder at – oh, yeah – the busy coffee shop they're standing in front of. "Yes."

"Right!" Tony says, knowing he's lost the high ground. "So, I mean, preschoolers don't drink coffee, and there's basically nothing else there that –"

"Isn't Stark Resilient just up the street?"

Tony aggressively ignores rush of pride at the fact that Rogers knows about his company and where they're located because he has to focus here. "Sure, but, I mean, we don't drink coffee."

"Didn't you just say you drink a lot of coffee?" Rogers' face is starting to switch from the angry self-righteousness of earlier to mild amusement.

"I did, didn't I? Doesn't really seem like it right now though, let me tell you." Tony shakes his head to clear it. "But there's a coffee cart a couple blocks up from us, so we don't need a coffee shop."

"Ours is better," Rogers shrugs.

"How can you possibly –" Tony splutters.

"It's definitely better. Anyway, Mr. Stark, it was nice to meet you," Rogers says, and now his tone is pure dismissal. "I've got to get back to the counter, we're about to see the mid-afternoon pick-me-up rush. I'm sure I'll see you around the neighbourhood."

Just like that, Rogers slips back into the coffee shop, leaving Tony on the sidewalk feeling very much like he's lost this round.

And badly in need of a coffee.

 

+++++

 

Tony's little sojourn out to Brooklyn means that he has to stay up even later to catch up on Stark Resilient work after Casey's in bed sleeping. He falls asleep on the couch with his tablet in his lap at around five. He gets Casey off to school, glaring daggers at the renovations at Brewed Awakening Jr., then drags himself to his office. He deals with a few shareholder memos he'd rather not deal with, looks over fourth-quarter projections to put himself in a better mood, then starts working on some of the very thorough background checks he'd started on the (very) short list of possible nanny candidates. Casey will be done school in just a few weeks – Tony doesn't have much time to waste.

When he's done with the background checks on the two candidates he kept – for which he definitely didn't use any questionable computer remote-access skills he may or may not possess – he decides to send an email to the first one, if only because she's got recommendations from two separate high-profile private security firms and a masters degree in early childhood education. He's not sure what kind of person has that kind of disparate experience, but whoever she is, he wants to meet her.

By the time he finishes, he's feeling a bit better about things over all, even though he can feel fatigue tugging behind his eyes, and he could definitely use a cup of coffee. He pours himself one, but grimaces at the first sip. His beautiful caffeinated nectar of life, and all its would-be delicious taste is doing is reminding him of this other impending crisis he has yet to solve.

Asking nicely didn't work, so it's time to move on to plan B.

He's already familiar with available commercial real estate in the neighbourhood, so it's blessedly easy for him to pull up a shortlist of viable locations. One of them even already has a half kitchen built into it, so renovating would be easy. He keeps half an eye on all of his incoming e-mails as he throws together a portfolio of proposal overviews, highlighting the pros of each place. He can conduct multi million dollar business negotiations in his sleep, surely he should be able to sell a coffee shop owner on the benefits of one of these alternate locations.

He closes up the files, and by the time he's got them ready, there is a response from the nanny applicant sitting in his inbox. The promptness of her reply is another point in her favour. God, he really hopes she is a good fit. He can't bear the idea of having to start the search all over again. He was lucky enough that the school was willing to take Casey on for the last couple of months of this year after the move, even though technically Casey isn't old enough yet. But the school just simply isn't an option for the summer.

Thinking about the school reminds him to check the clock, and he finds it's nearly time for him to make his way over there again to pick Casey up. He quickly sends an e-mail off to the prospective nanny confirming an interview time for the following day — early afternoon, so he has time to bring his new proposal out out to Brooklyn first thing in the morning — and packs up to head out, a small smile on his face and a light bounce in his step as he leaves the building for the day.

 

+++++

 

The morning does not start off well. His sleep is broken, and he wakes with a start from a dream that he can't quite remember, but that leaves him feeling out of sorts, a little disconnected, and unsettled. It gets worse when he goes to make breakfast and discovers that he forgot to stop at the store last night, so he's completely out of coffee at home, and there isn't a drop of milk to be found. Casey valiantly puts up with eating toast and peanut butter when he really wanted cereal, but his little face still looks disappointed. Tony feels a bit like a failure.

He feels even more like a failure when he drops Casey off at school, and instead of running off to play after giving Tony his customary hug and kiss goodbye, he stays and looks up at his dad seriously.

"Are you okay, Daddy?" He asks. Tony's heart twists. His kid shouldn't be worrying about him. Pull it together, Stark.

"Couldn't be better," Tony replies.

Casey squints at him. "You promise?"

"I promise," Tony assures him, kissing the top of his head.

This seems to satisfy Casey, who hugs his father one more time and runs off giggling.

By the time Tony gets out to Brooklyn, he's in a truly shit mood. It probably would have been smart to delay what's about to come next, but he's running out of time. The core of the renovations have wrapped up and they're working on details, paint and interior now. He's got to get the shop moved before they start loading stuff into the new space, or he's not going to have a chance of succeeding.

The shop is empty inside when he arrives — thank god for small mercies. The few patrons at the establishment are sitting outside, enjoying the early summer sun and Steve is standing behind the counter, his back to Tony, talking quietly to Man-bun and looking every bit as gorgeous as he had the last time that Tony had seen him. Of course, Man-bun spots him first. Tony sees the instant it happens, because the guy's eyes narrow and shift to stare directly at him. Steve stops whatever he's saying mid-sentence and turns around to greet him.

"Mr. Stark. How lovely of you to stop by again," Steve says, pleasant and nonchalant. Tony would absolutely love to wipe that stupid smile off his stupid face, preferably with his own face, but he's got bigger problems to deal with.

"I have a proposition for you," Tony announces without preamble, sauntering up to the counter and dropping the folder down in front of him. Steve's eyes pinch a little in the corners in a hint of a tell, but he stays smiling and polite. "Hear me out," he continues before Steve can object.

"Here we go again," Man-bun mutters, turning away towards the other end of the work space to go stand by where another employee – another blonde guy, though maybe not as tall and jacked – is standing. Tony ignores them both and flips over the folder.

"I figured we could compromise, so I did some research, and I think I've found a couple of other locations nearby in the neighbourhood that would be great."

"Your idea of compromise is you getting your way and us moving?" Steve says flatly. Tony waves him off and pushes on.

"There's this one, it's a few blocks north, but it's a great corner location –"

"It's too small, and it won't accommodate the layout that I need. I looked at it." Steve cuts him off before he can finish, but Tony isn't dissuaded. It was a bit small, but how much space does a coffee shop really need, anyway? He pulls the next file open.

"Okay, but this one, there's lots of space, great natural light, it's just on the other side of the Stark Resilient building, close to a main intersection so lots of foot traffic."

Steve shakes his head. "The wiring is outdated, the wires themselves are old and degrading, and the current set up doesn't have any capacity for the 220. I'd have to quite literally rip out and redo everything in the walls. The walls which, incidentally, given the age of the building, are full of asbestos, so once they're open, I'd have to deal with the abatement before I could even consider the electrical issue."

"Okay, but what about –"

"Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do," Steve says in a tone that suggests he very much does not appreciate what Tony is trying to do, "but we have done our research. We considered a lot of different spaces before deciding on the one that we did. We considered a number of locations, we did the market research, we have the neighbourhoods stats, we chose that location specifically because it's what we need, and we think we can provide a service that will help the neighbourhood. You said yourself, there is no place nearby for coffee, and it's a lively, vibrant neighbourhood. We're giving people a place to come together. We want to be a part of the community. "

"Look I get that, I think that's great, totally. I'm jazzed. But I need you to do all of that somewhere that isn't right beside my son's school –"

"Mr. Stark, I understand your concern –"

"– because I seriously cannot deal with that on top of everything else right now, okay?" He barrels forward, completely ignoring Steve. "I am up to my neck in R&D for a new initiative that needs to be ready to present to the shareholders in a few weeks which is bullshit because I fucking told them the timeline was unreasonable, and I have bigger shit to worry about. Because school lets out in a couple of weeks and I've been spending the time I should be spending asleep catching up on new projects and looking for childcare, and I cannot for the life of me find someone qualified to watch Casey. I mean, how hard is it? I'm not asking much. All I want is someone who, you know, is competent and trustworthy, and can actually keep my son safe, but I'd have an easier time getting the moon than getting an actual, decent nanny. So look, I know you're just trying to run a business and do good or whatever the hell else you're trying to do. But you need to do it somewhere else. Because this? Worrying about this? I literally –" he instinctively takes a sip of coffee from the cup that's just magically appeared in his hand, and his eyes widen. "– Holy shit. What. Is. This."

"It's coffee," Steve responds flatly.

"No. It's not," Tony objects, taking another gulp, not caring that it burns his mouth a little. "Coffee is great. This is ambrosia."

Steve shrugs with forced casualness. "I know coffee."

"You know witchcraft," Tony corrects. "I swear to god this is the best fucking coffee I have ever had in my life and I need more of it in my face."

Steve takes the cup back, and Tony only relents because Steve has a coffee pot in his hand to top it off before handing it back. He's still clinging onto the cup like his life depends on it while Steve guides Tony to one of the small tables and sits him down. He can't bring himself to care, because this coffee is restoring his soul.

"So you've got a lot on your plate," Steve says, sitting across from him with a cup of his own.

"You have no idea," Tony mutters.

"Well, I kind of actually do, now."

Yeah, okay, Steve might have a point, what with the way that Tony just unloaded on him like that. He's not sorry, but he'd apologise if it got him more of this coffee. And more of Steve's attention – which, no amount of perfect caffeine can fully distract him from the way Steve's intense blue eyes are totally focused on him.

"You're really just worried about your son?" Steve asks.

Tony half nods, half shrugs. "I mean, it's not unreasonable. Kids get scooped from busy places all the time. I just. Look, I don't care if it is unreasonable. I'm not taking chances. It's nothing personal."

"Well," Steve said thoughtfully. "Would it help to know that the three guys running this place are all former combat veterans?"

Tony snorts at that, half in disbelief, because what are the odds? But he looks up at Steve and glances over his shoulder to where Man-bun and the attractive-but-not-as-attractive-as-Steve blond are still standing behind the counter, watching them without bothering to hide that they're watching.

"Captain Steve Rogers," Steve continues with a wry smile. "Bucky, Clint and I served together. Long story short, we got out at the same time, needed something to do. So we opened the shop."

"Oh my god… you're actually serious?" Tony says in disbelief.

Steve nods. "I'm serious. So if security and sketchy kidnappers skulking around is what you're worried about, trust me when I say, we have better security than any other establishment would have. And, we have the best coffee. Just think about how nice it'll be in the autumn to drop your son off to school and get a cup of the best coffee in the city in one stop."

"Okay, now that's just manipulative. But, also it sounds somewhat acceptable," Tony admits, against his better judgement. "And… I do feel a little better knowing you're not just a random civilian."

"You're just a random civilian, you know," Steve points out, lips ticking up in a smirk, but Tony waves him off.

"Fine, fine. I won't fight. I'll give it a shot. But," he stands from the table and grabs the cup and his bag. "If the coffee in Manhattan isn't as good as it is here, I will bury you in a mountain of legal paperwork so deep, you will never again see the light of day."

With that, he turns and walks out of the shop. He can still hear Steve's musical chuckle as the door swings shut behind him.