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what you could've taught me, i could've saved some face

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Rain pattered against the windows of Steve’s apartment as he skimmed through a SHIELD file on one of his Stark tablets. Even a tablet felt strange in his hands with the knowledge that Tony had created it, no doubt on an evening like this one. Most people watched Netflix or curled up on the couch with a good book—Tony created revolutionary technology. Rhodey had once said that if Tony spent just a fraction of the time he spent drinking and schmoozing on work, the world would be years ahead of where it currently was in the technological aspect. Steve didn’t doubt it.

He flipped through another tab about some lowlife villains that had been spotted running around New York sewer systems, but he was no longer interested. SHIELD had gotten very good at handling problems on their own and Steve no longer fit into the groove they had originally planned for him. He had never really fit there; he had just forced himself to because he didn’t have a real home back then. He didn’t now. His apartment still felt like a temporary place. Home was where Peter was waiting to run up and hug his legs when he stepped through the door.

Home was also where dinners of mac n’ cheese for three were only consumed by two.

The rain picked up to a quiet roar and Steve decided to click off the tablet and turn on the TV instead. His dinner plate still sat on the side table and needed washing, but he was saving that for later. Anything to eat up the minutes, the hours, the days until Peter came over to spend the week. Fall was kicking into gear, and nothing delighted Steve more than taking Peter to Central Park to play in the leaves or carving pumpkins—something Steve had never been able to do when he was a kid.

He readjusted himself on the couch and skipped through cooking channels, reality TV, and especially the news. Cop shows didn’t interest him, and the History Channel was only interesting when the show was about a war he didn’t know about. Unfortunately for Steve, it seemed every other program was about World War II.

He thought about calling Sam, and also thought about calling Bucky, but Bucky didn’t really know the extent of what it meant when Steve called him. Bucky came by on the weekends to drink his liquor and talk, and occasionally they went out to eat somewhere. Bucky was still healing years after his reemergence into the waking world as Bucky Barnes. He still shied away from talk of homosexuality, just the way Steve had when he had first thawed out.

Sam didn’t mind talking—he wouldn’t be working at the VA if he did—but Steve always got the sense that he was annoying him when he called about Tony. Steve called him about other things too, but after nine o’clock Sam knew why Steve called and that it wouldn’t be to talk about the game.

He dimly wondered if it was acceptable to nap at ten at night without going to bed. Steve only needed four hours of sleep and could only force himself to stay in bed for five. It was a cruel sentence for someone who experienced intense loneliness for the weeks his son wasn’t around. He hung out with his friends, of course, and the Avengers kept him busy most of the time, but ever since the divorce he didn’t like hanging around everyone so much. Clint double-checked the decency of his jokes, Natasha watched him too much, Bruce cleared his throat too often, and Thor blatantly frowned at him.

When a knock came to the door, Steve froze. His chest tightened in apprehension and he slipped from the couch as quietly as he could, locating his shield near the door.

When he saw who it was through the peephole, he almost turned right around and walked back to his couch. If it hadn’t been storming outside, he would have done just that.  

Instead, he set his door chain and opened the door a few inches, peering outside as though his visitor were a stranger.

“Hey, Steve!” Tony greeted, as if he wasn’t Steve’s ex-husband showing up out of the blue on a stormy night in November.

“Is there something I can do for you, Tony?” Steve asked, his face unreadable.

Tony paused for a moment, confused. Then his smile came back. “Letting me in might be nice.”

Steve stared at Tony suspiciously for a moment, not liking this one bit. He had made a promise to himself that Tony was never to come in his apartment. Tony dropped Peter off at the base of the stairs and Steve just stepped out to give Tony a wave. If something needed to be dropped of that an eight year-old couldn’t be trusted with, Tony came to the top of the stairs and Steve stepped outside.

With a clench of his jaw, Steve unlatched the chain and opened the door, but didn’t let Tony in just yet. “Is there something wrong?”

Tony looked at him with a serious expression, emphasized by the shadow of his hood. “The penthouse is on fire.”

Steve’s eyes blew wide. “What?”

A grin broke out on Tony’s face. “I’m just kiddin’. The penthouse isn’t on fire.” He squeezed past Steve. “I just knew you wouldn’t let me in unless something juicy happened.”

Steve passed a breath through his nose and shut his eyes. “Why are you here, Tony?”

“This is your place, huh?” Tony flipped down his hood and unzipped his raincoat as he looked around Steve’s small living room.

There were original wood floors scuffed with age, and a little couch and TV taking up most of the room. Vintage propaganda posters from the thirties and forties were hung on the walls, ironic because of Steve’s views, but he appreciated the artwork of the time far too much to take them down.

Four years divorced and Steve had finally let Tony inside. He hated himself for it.

“Here, you probably want to sit in the kitchen, that’s where the heater is.” Steve motioned toward the pass-through, feeling violated. Tony just absorbed everything he looked at. All of Steve’s possessions suddenly didn’t feel like his anymore.

“How much do you pay for this place?” Tony asked as he hung his raincoat over the back of a dining chair.

Steve’s kitchen was openly connected to the dining area and he’d purposely wanted a decent-sized dining table and chairs for company. It was a space big enough for five or six people comfortably, but evidently only one Tony Stark.

Steve hugged the edge of the counters and stayed as far away from Tony as he could while he ignored the question.

“Do you want anything to drink?” Steve asked, opening up the cupboard to grab two glasses.

“What’s that?” Tony asked, pointing at the bottle of Jack Daniels that Bucky kept at his place for when he decided to break in while Steve was gone.

“Bucky’s,” Steve muttered, grabbing the bottle and quickly shoving it into the nearest drawer.

“Bucky’s,” Tony repeated.

“So did you want something to drink or not?” Steve asked again, tapping the side of one of the glasses.

Tony rubbed his arms, giving Steve an incredible urge to cross the room and warm him up. Tony had always used him as a personal heater, and not just because Steve’s body temperature was slightly higher than a normal person’s.

“You have any coffee?”

Steve frowned. “Uh, no, actually.” He didn’t drink caffeine. Tony knew that. “I have hot chocolate though.”

“Of course you do,” Tony muttered. “Yeah, I’ll take some of that.”

Thankful that Tony had made a decision, Steve set about finding a pack of hot chocolate mix. He pretended to be focused on his task, when he was really just trying to get himself as far away from Tony as possible. He felt like he was being suffocated by Tony’s CO2.

“You aren’t going to ask me why I’m here?” Tony asked after a minute.

Steve paused only for a split second. “I don’t care why you’re here.”

“Oh bullshit, Steve,” Tony said. “I can tell you want me to leave.”

“I don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“I don’t.” He wasn’t going to say what Tony wanted him to say.

“It must suck to feel that obligated to be polite to people,” Tony said with a noise of disgust.

Steve finally found a packet of hot chocolate mix and placed it on the counter to go in search of milk. He hated the idea of making hot chocolate with water. Doing so reminded him of his first terrible apartment with Bucky where they’d lived on the top floor with a roof that was falling in and all they had to eat was cold soup from cans.

As soon as he pulled the milk from the fridge, Tony groaned.

“Don’t make it with milk, that’s disgusting. Water, please.”

Steve shoved the milk back onto the shelf in the fridge and slammed the door. He turned on the faucet, filled the glass, and dumped the whole of the mix into the cup. His hands were shaking.

Tony stood quietly, coming over to help.

“Sit down,” Steve snapped over his shoulder.

Tony sat down.

Steve resumed stirring the mix into the water, the clangs of metal against the glass contrasting with the dull roar of the rain against his kitchen window. He spilled a little bit of hot chocolate solution when he shoved the cup into the microwave. He punched in two minutes on the clochk then wiped his fingers on his sweatpants.

“I wanted to see y—“

“Shut up!” Steve barked, not really meaning to be so loud.

Tony blinked in surprise, then looked down at his hands.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said after a moment. “But I don’t want to hear that right now.”

“Jesus, Steve,” Tony said with a sigh of defeat. His voice was quiet, almost a whisper.

“Who’s watching Peter, Tony? Is JARVIS watching Peter?”

Tony glared at him. “Rhodey is watching Pete—“

“So you got a babysitter so that you could some over and harass me—“

“Yes!” Tony exclaimed, slapping the table. “That’s exactly what I did!”

If Tony thought he was going to be impressed, he was dead wrong. Steve’s eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms, utterly furious. Tony had tricked him. Steve could maybe have understood if Tony was in the neighborhood and had a moment of weakness, but coming over here on purpose? Steve couldn’t accept that.

“Get out,” Steve said. He didn’t even look up.

“Steve—“

“Get out.”

Tony stood up with an angry noise of frustration, but didn’t move to leave. Instead he came closer.

Steve glared up at him, every part of his brain screaming not to let Tony any closer. “I will throw you out in the rain.”

“You threatening me, Spangles?” Tony asked, taking a definitive step toward him. His eyes were burning right into Steve’s, but Steve wasn’t going to back down. Tony had invaded his home, his privacy.

“Grab your coat and leave,” he growled. He should have seen this coming. For all he knew, Tony had called in a personal favor to Thor for the storm. That certainly sounded like something Tony would do.

“I know you hate hearing it, but you’re still everything to me,” Tony said, his voice low like it got when he was angry.  “You said you still love me. Is that true?”

Steve grit his teeth and didn’t answer.

“Is it true?”

“It don’t matter if it’s true, Tony. Get out of my—“

“It matters to me, Steve!”  Tony advanced again. Steve tensed for a fight.

This was why they couldn’t ever get married again or be together again. Peter would be here for moments like these and he would be frightened or worried.

“I’m not leaving until I get an answer, Tony said defiantly.

Steve let out a low growl. “Yes, Tony, I still love you,” he snapped. “But I’m not going to let you invade my space, my home, and come over whenever you want. When it’s Peter’s week to come here, then you can come and wait at the bottom of the stairs like you agreed to do.”

Tony slammed his fist down on the table but Steve didn’t bat an eye. “Goddammit, Steve! I want you in my life again, okay? Is that too much to ask?”

“I am in your life.”

“You know what I mean!”

Steve worked his jaw for a moment. “We had our chance, Tony. We were married for almost six years. We blew it. We blew it and Peter had to go through so much shit, Tony. He was four years old and he had to see us hate each other, but never in the same room at the same time. I’ll never put him through that again. Not as an eight year-old, not as a thirty year-old.”

“You act like we can’t possibly stay together,” Tony said, disgusted.

Steve’s eyes flashed. “You think we can? Honestly, Tony? You make sacrifices for Peter and I love you for that, but I’m not naive enough to think you could do the same for me.”

Tony looked insulted. “Excuse me? Are you saying I didn’t make sacrifices for you? Are you fucking serious?”

Steve didn’t answer. Of course he knew that Tony had made sacrifices for him during their marriage—he’d made plenty. Yet he still hadn’t been there for the little things, the moments Steve needed him the most. Peter’s first attempt at making pancakes (with Steve’s help, of course), helping Peter through his nervousness before his first soccer practice, that one t-ball game out of the hundreds where Peter had been too busy drawing in the sand in the outfield to realize the ball had landed right beside him. After that game when Steve sat down in the sand right with him and showed him how to draw stars. Sacrifices only for the big moments in life hadn’t been enough.

There were tears in Tony’s eyes as he reached out, hesitantly touching Steve’s arm as though his hand might go right through him.  Then Tony gripped hard, digging his fingers into the muscle of Steve’s bicep.

“Tony,” Steve warned.

“Kiss me,” Tony said shakily.

Steve looked at him, his eyes slightly wide. Then he shook his head.

“Please.”

“No, Tony,” Steve said quietly.

“Just do it right now. Really quick. It’ll be over in a second.”

Steve lifted his hands and gently touched Tony’s arms. “No, Tony.”

But his heart did melt a bit when Tony looked up at him with those big eyes of his, so dark and warm at the same time. “I don’t even remember our last kiss,” Tony whispered. “I don’t even remember it.”

Steve did. He remembered it because he had known it would be the last. Tony had just been about to leave for a two week-long conference in Tokyo. He’d given Tony a little peck on the lips and a smile, complete with a little wave goodbye. And once Tony had gone out of sight, he’d called a lawyer.

“Can I at least hug you?” Tony asked pitifully.

Steve swallowed hard before shaking his head. “I don’t think that would be a good id—“

Tony released his hold and slipped his arms around Steve’s waist, hugging tight to his chest. “Fuck you and your good ideas,” Tony muttered.

Steve closed his eyes, trying to keep his emotions in check. So much of him wanted to hug back, to hold Tony tightly and confess how much he fucking missed him. How sometimes he still put a hand out to feel for him when he woke up in the morning, or found himself almost buying frozen happy face fries when he got groceries because Tony liked them.

But he didn’t hug back. He was stronger than Tony. Steve relished in the warmth of someone holding him again, of Tony holding him again, but refused to return the favor. He pictured Peter in his mind, three years old with a wobbly step and chubby cheeks, thumb in his mouth and a blanket in his hand, standing there watching. Judging him with his father’s brown eyes for letting Daddy hug him again.

He imagined Tony’s arms as pincers, closing in on him. Tony’s arms were strange muscle, arms he no longer knew. A prickle of unease festered in the base of his spine.

“Damn you, Steve,” Tony whispered, his breath hot against Steve’s shirt. “Damn you. I know this isn’t who you are.”

“You’re right,” Steve said, gradually leaning back to try and edge his way out of the hug. “You don’t know who I am anymore.”

“Oh shut the fuck up,” Tony snapped, letting go as he said it. “This cryptic soap opera shit is not you. You’re doing this to be cruel to me.”

Steve blinked, his face twisting to a scowl.  “I’d expect that coming from Peter, not from you.”

“I couldn’t take it anymore, Steve,” Tony said quickly. “I couldn’t go another goddamn night without seeing you. Give this a chance, will you?”

“Give what a chance? Us?” Steve couldn’t believe what he was hearing. After four years, Tony had picked now? “Have you been drinking?”

“No!” Tony’s hands came to Steve’s shoulders, giving them a desperate squeeze. “No,” he repeated, softer. “I love you, Steve. I feel like I’m in fucking middle school right now but you aren’t listening to me. I love you. I don’t want to live like we hate each other.”

Steve tried to step back, but his heel hit the fridge. “Stop talking to me like this, will you? We aren’t kids, okay? Saying you love me won’t fix anything.”

The hope in Tony’s eyes was blown out like a candle at the end of its wick. He removed his hands from Steve’s shoulders immediately. “And you’re the guy who isn’t supposed to give up.”

Steve pressed his lips into a hard line. “I’m realistic, Tony.” He couldn’t help his voice from rising. “I’ve always been realistic about this. We’re never getting back together. I refuse to do that to Peter. I’ve explained that to you!”

“If Peter was out of the picture—and don’t take that the wrong way, I’m being hypothetical here—would you do it? Would you try again?”

“Peter is in the picture,” Steve snapped. “So it would be stupid to answer that question.”

“Humor me then,” Tony said, his eyes sharp.

Steve shook his head. Allowing that train of thought to even enter his mind would be a stupid kind of torture that he didn’t want to inflict upon himself. He wasn’t even sure that he would return to Tony if Peter “weren’t in the picture.” If Peter were taken out of the equation entirely, well, Steve would have left New York long ago.

He had stayed in the city because he never wanted Peter to feel like he had two homes. Sure, he had Steve’s apartment and Tony’s penthouse (among others), but New York was the umbrella over both of those places. Peter could find security in that he was raised in the city, not split between some other town and the bustling metropolis of New York.  If Peter had not been born and he and Tony had still gotten divorced (and they would have—the divorce was in no way Peter’s fault), Steve would have left to move somewhere with no skyscrapers and no government agencies on every corner.

Tony let out a defeated sigh—a rare sound. “Look, just forget I stopped over here.”

“Will do,” Steve replied curtly.

Tony shot him a glare. “Great.” There was a pause. “I learned something today.”

“I bet you did,” Steve said, crossing his arms again.

Tony’s nostrils flared indignantly. He was clearly hurt, but Steve forced himself not to pay any attention to it. “I learned that either you’re more fucked up than I am about all of this, or you don’t love me at all.”

Steve crossed the room to where Tony’s raincoat was hung over the back of a chair. He lifted it, as though testing the weight of it in his hands. There was a small Iron Man helmet design made of plasticy rubber sewn into the back that caused Steve to nearly drop the coat altogether. The bright yellow and red reminded him of years ago, when Peter had been nothing but a giant chub of a baby.

Steve remembered burying his nose in the peach fuzz of Peter’s hair as his son slept against his chest. It had been raining that day on the tarmac, but Peter had never been frightened by thunderstorms or even by the rain hitting his round cheeks. And his little raincoat, made to look like a red duck with the beak as a little visor had been about the cutest thing on earth.

He remembered waiting that day. Waiting until his sweatshirt had been soaked through, until he had been shivering. And Peter had just slept, content and drooling on his shoulder, protected by his little raincoat until Tony had appeared, furious that Steve had decided to wait outside in the goddamn rain (“What the hell is this? A movie? Jesus, Steve!”) but nonetheless home.

“It’s from that raincoat that Peter used to wear. The duck one,” Tony said quietly.

“I know,” Steve murmured, even though he hadn’t known at all.

Tony let out a sad chuckle. “Every time I remember it’s there, I remember that day you waited with him on the tarmac during a rainstorm like a pair of idiots.”

Moments like these made Steve’s heart twist up on itself. He licked his lips, gripping the jacket a little tighter. He wanted to lift it to his nose, to smell that scent of Tony again and not feel pressured by it. No pressure to hug back or say the right thing or end the conversation. Moments like these reminded him of how great it had been to love the man in front of him, how he had felt like the luckiest person alive.

“I thought you threw this out,” Steve murmured.

“Peter’s coat? No way. I keep all of it in a storage container in Tucson with some old weapon machinery.”

Steve looked up, trying to discern the joke there.

Tony shrugged. “I’m not kidding.”

Steve turned his gaze back down to the raincoat. Tony kept Peter’s old clothes in a storage container somewhere. That was just so…Tony. Steve could see the look that had to be on Pepper’s face every time she had to send another box of things to Tucson, another stage of Peter’s life tucked away for some later time.

He didn’t realize that there were tears leaking down his cheeks until Tony was there, guiding his hands to put down the jacket and then pulling them around Tony’s waist.

“Come on, big fella. I know you’re just as much of a sap as I am, I know,” Tony said gently.

Steve’s hands stayed this time. He hugged tight as Tony’s arms came around him, closing his eyes just to breathe, just to remember what this felt like so long ago.

“You kept the raincoat,” he whispered pathetically.

“A raincoat that cute? I’d never throw that away,” Tony replied. “I still have all of your stupid sweatshirts too, y’know.”

Just like that, Tony’s arms became sinewy pincers again.

Steve always had an authority about him when he wanted it there, and when he turned it on even Tony Stark was rendered powerless. Steve swiftly pulled himself away, untangled himself from the trap he’s nearly fallen into.

“You were leaving,” Steve said stiffly, retreating.

“Steve—“

“Oh.” He thrust the raincoat out toward Tony. “Here.”

He’d almost fallen for the trap, he couldn’t believe it.

Tony looked at him with glassy eyes before reaching out and taking the coat from Steve’s hands.

“Do you ever really miss me?” Tony asked quietly.

Tony always thought Steve had much more self-control than he really did. He gave off that impression to a lot of people. Only Bucky really knew that Steve usually just acted on the first thing that popped into his head that might work.

Usually.

Tony was always the exception.

“Sometimes,” Steve said easily, heading through the pass-through and into the little foyer. He opened the door before Tony could get any ideas.

The rain still poured outside, a torrent of big fat drops pointed like bullets as they fell.

Tony hadn’t moved form the kitchen, still gripping the raincoat and staring at Steve with Peter’s eyes, only bigger and with some sort of knowledge in them that Steve secretly hoped Peter never gained. It scared him sometimes, that Tony knew so damn much about everything.

“Tony, please. I’ve had a long day,” Steve said, as though he hadn’t been thinking out how many bites he could make his dinner last just before Tony showed up.

“Yeah. Okay.”

Tony didn’t even take the time to put on his coat as he headed for the door.

Steve stepped aside so Tony could walk past and they didn’t look at each other. They didn’t even say goodbye. There was no reason to. They would see each other in four days, fourteen hours.

Steve closed the door and gingerly pressed his fingers to his ribcage, as though Tony’s arms might have left some sort of imprint there.

He returned to the couch and curled up again, his eyes distant as he stared into a past where he’d had a family. A home. A life.

Four days, fourteen hours. Then his life would be running up the stairs to meet him.

 

****** 

 

Days later, Steve woke to the sound of creaking floorboards. The sound didn’t alarm him, though maybe it should have. He just stared at the black TV screen, dimly wondering what pose his skeleton might be in right now and what it might look like.

He listened at the intruder moved around his kitchen, noting each clink of glass and noises of rummaging. There was the sound of something unscrewing—metal—then pouring liquid.

Boots clunked toward him and Steve stayed motionless on the couch, his thoughts turning to what his fingers would look like if they were just bone. Their rounded shape was really misleading. Underneath his skin and muscle were pointed little—

“Jesus Christ!”

A bit of Bucky’s whiskey sloshed from its glass and landed with a splat on the floor as Bucky stumbled backward.

Steve only moved his eyes to look at him, and all he could see were black boots.

“What the hell are you doin’ here?” Bucky asked, angry. He hated being caught off guard.

“I do live here, you know,” Steve muttered, closing his eyes.

The couch shifted as Bucky sat down. Steve heard him swallow, then the sound of the glass and bottle being places on the side table.

Bucky moved differently now. The Winter Soldier was certainly a cause, but Steve also knew it was because Bucky thought he was supposed to act difference around a man who liked other men. It wasn’t from a homophobic origin, but one of the unknown. Bucky assumed that acting normal around a gay man wasn’t something done in this century. In their century, the protocol was to pretend homosexuals didn’t exist. Even if they made themselves known, if you cared about that person you just ignored it.

“What’s wrong, Steve?” Bucky asked, shifting closer on the couch and carefully placing his hand on Steve’s thigh. A heartbeat later he moved it higher, to Steve’s hip, as though touching his thigh had indicated something more than it was.

Bucky never called him Stevie anymore, he realized.

“Nothin’,” Steve muttered, keeping his eyes closed.

A warm hand came to his forehead a moment later.

“ ‘M not sick, Buck.”

“You never know,” Bucky said, dropping his hand away. “C’mon. Sit up. Let’s talk.”

Steve gave a minute shake of his head. “I don’t want to talk.”

Bucky sighed. “It’s Stark again, huh.”

The sound of Tony’s name twisted up a ball of anger in Steve’s chest, but it was small and caught up in the ocean of nothingness inside of him that made him not want to do anything but lie still and never move again.

“He came over two days ago,” Steve murmured, his eyes slitting open. “Came inside.”

“You let him inside?” Bucky asked, genuinely shocked.

Steve gave him a look. “No. He let himself inside.”

“Fucker.” Bucky let out a snort.

Steve watched the dust in his apartment filter down through the air for a moment. He didn’t know what to say.

On one hand, he desperately wanted to tell Bucky what happened so that someone would know, and Bucky would affirm that he was supposed to stay as far away from Tony as possible. On the other hand, he knew Bucky hated talking about his relationship with Tony. He pretended not to mind, to enjoy Steve talking to him about his personal life, but Steve read Bucky like an open book. It made Bucky uncomfortable to talk about Tony.

“He didn’t…” Bucky trailed off. “Nothin’ happened, right? He didn’t hurt you or—or somethin’?”

Bucky was really trying.

“No, Buck. He’d never do anything like that, you know that.”

Bucky didn’t, but Steve liked to pretend his best friend knew his teammates as well as he did.

That seemed to settle Bucky down a little. “Okay. Good.”

Silence shoved its way between them and Steve’s eyes closed once again, daring sleep to find him. Bucky’s flesh fingers tapped at the rim of his glass of whiskey like the ticking of a clock.

“I know…” Bucky swallowed loud enough for Steve to hear it travel down his throat. “I know that I’m…I know I’m a real piece a shit to you—“

“Bucky,” Steve sighed, tired.

“No, Steve. I mean it. I never…I don’t talk to you anymore. I come over here and drink booze and dance around you.”

“And that’s okay,” Steve whispered. It wasn’t. It wasn’t. He missed Bucky so much. “It’s hard for you. It was hard for me t—“

“But the worst thing about it is that it’s someone else causin’ you to hurt, not me. It’s Stark.”

Steve finally moved, lifting his hand to scrub the side of his face. “That’s not it. I just miss Peter.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky said. “Don’t talk to me like I don’t know how you are. Your kid’s only half a this.”

“Turn on the TV,” Steve said abruptly. “The remote’s on the table by you.”

“Steve—“

“It’s my goddamn house, Bucky,” Steve snapped. “Turn on the TV.”

He remembered why he didn’t talk about this stuff with Bucky. It just made him feel worse about literally everything involving Peter and Tony.

The TV burst to life, throwing an image of a grisly old man onto the screen who was talking about some sort of medication.

“It’s like every other week you die,” Bucky whispered.

It was true, and Steve knew it.

 

****** 

 

“Papa!”

Steve’s grin threatened to crack his face clean in half. He pulled his hands from his sweatshirt pocket as Peter bounded up the stairs, his little tennis shoes plocking on the concrete.

Steve stooped down as Peter reached him, letting out a little puff of air when Peter’s familiar weight crashed into his chest. His arms instinctively wrapped around his son and held him tight.

Pete smelled like the penthouse. He smelled like Tony.

Steve buried his nose into the collar of Peter’s jacket, wishing this little hug could last forever and that Peter wouldn’t be leaving in seven days. He’d grown taller, he’d definitely grown taller.

Steve scooped Peter up as easily as he had when Peter was a toddler. As far as Steve was concerned, Peter was still a toddler. Eight years old was nothing. Peter was still a baby. He’s just grown out of his chubby folds of baby fat and into a skinny little kid far too reminiscent of Steve. Thankfully, Peter had no blood relation for him to legitimately worry over.

Nothing hurt more than the look on Peter’s face when he remembered that coming to Steve’s apartment meant leaving Tony. Steve recognized it immediately and turned so that Peter could see Tony.

Steve finally allowed his gaze to settle on his ex-husband, and his heart clenched when he saw Tony was wearing sunglasses. Dark ones. Tony didn’t have many pairs that hid his eyes. He was leaned against his fancy car (Steve was pretty sure it was a Rolls Royce, but he didn’t really know), watching them.

Peter’s little arms tightened around his neck. Steve rubbed his cheek against the crown of Peter’s head. Maybe it was an action of possession because Tony was watching. He didn’t let himself think about it.

“Papa,” Peter said quietly, his voice sounding a little muddled from the beginnings of a cold. “Can we hab pancakes?”

Steve’s eyes remained locked with Tony’s as he answered, “Yeah, we’ll have pancakes.”

“Can we hab da big ones?” Peter asked.

Tony pulled his hands out of his jacket and lifted one in a wave. A terribly feigned smile came to his lips as he did so.

“Say goodbye to Daddy, Pete,” Steve said.

Peter lifted a hand and waved his hand around in a crazy little motion that made Steve smile.

When Peter was done with his wave, Steve lifted a hand the same way he might do to greet a neighbor he’d never met.

Tony just nodded his head once, lowered his hand, and rounded the car.

Steve set Peter down and the moment Peter’s shoes hit the porch, he was dashing inside. Tony’s car door slammed shut, and Steve turned around.

He wished he hadn’t.

Tony was sitting back in his seat, his sunglasses already discarded on the dashboard. He rubbing at his temples, exhausted, and suddenly the world looked so small around him. Steve felt a pang in his chest, but he steeled himself and turned back toward the house. Tony could handle himself. He had for four years.

Peter had already grabbed the pan they were going to use and was throwing open every cabinet door in search of pancake mix. Steve smiled and headed into the kitchen.

“Slow down there, Petey,” he chuckled. “You’ll get your pancakes in just a sec.”

He went over to the fridge and grabbed the mix from on top of it. He liked to keep it there so he wouldn’t see it unless he was looking for it. During the weeks when Peter wasn’t there, it was painful to be reminded of this kind of thing.

“Grab the spatula, okay? Remember where it is?”

“Yeah!” Peter hurried over to the utensil drawer.

Steve kept a little smile on his face as he got out the mixing bowl, relishing in the sounds of family filling his empty little apartment. This was what made him happy now. His son made him happy. Maybe he still loved Tony, but this was the way things had to be. Tony could handle it. If Steve could, Tony could.

“Papa, let me mix! Let me!”

Steve stepped back before grabbing Peter and lifting him up so he would be high enough to start mixing.

Peter’s tongue peeked out between his lips as he focused, his brow furrowing exactly the way his father’s did when he was putting together a piece of highly important machinery. Steve wondered if Tony ever noticed those looks, if he ever recognized that they were his.

“Get the powder off the sides too,” Steve instructed. “Mix it in there. There you go.”

No, he realized. Tony didn’t see those looks because Tony didn’t make pancakes on Saturday mornings with his son. Tony took Peter to the zoo or to the movies and spoiled him rotten. That was just how he was, and Steve knew Tony tried his damnedest to be a good dad. He was a good dad—a great one. Tony was the cool dad, Steve was the nostalgic one. Those two things just didn’t go well together. They were better separate.

Peter started humming, and Steve cocked a brow, recognizing one of Tony’s trademark rock songs.

“Whatcha singin’?” Steve asked absently.

Peter grinned one of Tony’s grins, wrinkling his nose. Then he began to recite the song like it was a challenge, bobbing his head to a nonexistent beat: “They. Think. That your early ending,” Peter sucked in a breath, “was all wrong.” He hummed the guitar, only a little off-key. “For the most part they’re right but look how they all got strong.” His face went serious, like he’d watched to many rock n’ roll music videos. Knowing Tony, he probably had.  “That’s why I say hey man nice shot.” Peter shook his head wildly in that kiddish way as he hummed out the beat. “What a good shot, man.”

Steve laughed.

“That’s why I say hey man nice shot.”

“Okay, okay, you know the words—“

“Shh! ‘M not done!”

Steve shut his mouth and his gaze turned pretend-expectant.

Peter smiled. “What a good shot, man!” He looked at Steve with a wide grin. “Okay, go! Your part!”

Steve knew the words, but didn’t sing them.  He could see this same scene taking place in Tony’s lab, Peter sitting on the edge of Tony’s work table with his legs dangling over the edge, kicking to the beat of the music JARVIS was blaring. He could see Tony taking his wrench or hammer or screwdriver and holding it up to his mouth like a microphone to lip-sync the rocker’s shouted singing.

Instead, Steve just gave Peter a sheepish smile. “Daddy sings the words, not me.”

Peter shook his head. “Well Daddy’s not here,” he said, like Steve was an idiot.

Then pancake batter was flying past Steve’s head as Peter brought the end of the spatula to his lips and whisper-screamed with his eyes screwed shut and his mouth wide open. Exactly like his father.

Steve and Peter made pancakes in an apartment. Tony and Peter sang rock song duets in a penthouse lab.  It was like the song: they all knew the words, but only two of them would ever be singing.

 

Aaaaaaaaaay man.
Haaaaaas gun.
Heeeeeey man, haaaaave fun.
Nice shot!

 

It was just the way things had to be.