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ten years too late (just in time)

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One of the things Tony loves about New York is that when they see a celebrity who is very obviously busy, they tend to leave them alone.

He’s eternally grateful for this as he attempts to coax his three year old off the linoleum where he’s sitting, crosslegged and stubborn with his arms folded, glaring at the cashier who looks like she can’t decide to be intimidated or amused.

Tony sighs, moves his trolley out of the way of the line and waves the next customer forwards. “It’s fine, we’re gonna be here a while,” he says, and sits down next to Jamie, who pointedly doesn’t look at him.

"We’ve been over this," Tony says, reminding himself to be patient as his own father never was for him. His motto for parenting so far has been think of what Dad would do and then do the opposite, and it’s been working out pretty well so far.

Jamie just pouts, hunching into his shoulders, and scoots away angrily when Tony tries to touch him. 

"If you have candy now, you won’t be hungry for dinner later," Tony says. "Remember that one time I let you?"

Jamie doesn’t answer, just glares harder at the cashier like this is all her fault. 

"You ate two bites of your dinner and then you were full," Tony points out, and this time when he puts a hand on Jami’e small back, Jamie lets him.

"Don’t ‘memba that," Jamie snaps finally, and Tony rubs a palm along his spine. 

"Yeah, I didn’t think you would. You were, what, two? Anyway, I learned my lesson, so no candy before dinner, bud.”

Jamie whines, long and loud and getting a good few people to stare at them. Tony sees a camera flash out of the corner of his eye, and turns around to glare at the guy who took a picture.

“Do you mind,” Tony asks with a polite smile, and the guy shoves his camera in his pocket and starts a guilty walk away. Tony turns back to Jamie, who is utterly absorbed in his candy crisis and is back to shooting daggers at the cashier, who is trying her best to ignore him.

Tony supposes they must make a sight: Tony Stark, sitting casually on the floor of a supermarket with his three year old who looks like he could make the building go up in flames if he glares hard enough.

“Tell you what,” Tony tries. “We can do two puzzles before bedtime if you come home with me now.”

Jamie’s limbs slowly untighten, and Tony sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Two whole puzzles,” Tony continues. “Maybe even the tricky ones with a lot of sky bits. I know I love the sky bits, do you love the sky bits?”

“Yeah,” Jamie admits sullenly, uncrossing his arms. “They’re hard to do, but that’s fun. They make my brain work stuff good.”

“They make my brain work stuff good too,” Tony tells him, and when he gets up, Jamie follows suit.

Jamie grabs up for Tony’s hand, which Tony gives him while steering the trolley with his free hand, and they resume their place in line.

“Hey, no cutting,” a woman says from behind them, and a man just behind them says in an oddly familiar voice, “It’s fine, ma’am, they just ducked out for a second.”

The woman scowls, and then her face goes pinched as she tries to figure out where she’s seen Tony, and Tony turns to the man behind him to thank him before the words shrivel up in his throat.

Oh.

“Hi,” the man says, Steve says, sheepish and confused and scratching the back of his neck like he always did when he was nervous back when Tony knew him. “I thought that was you, but I didn’t, uh. I heard about it, but I didn’t, um.”

Steve waves a hand towards Jamie, who mistakes it for an actual wave and waves back. “Hello,” Steve says to Jamie, who grins, all drama from the candy crisis forgotten.

“Hi, I’m Jamie,” Jamie says. “Do you know my dad? My dad knows a bunch of people.”

“I, yeah,” Steve nods helplessly, gaze darting up to Tony before going back to Jamie. “I used to know your dad, about ten years ago.”

“Wow, you’re old,” Jamie gasps, and Steve laughs.

“I feel like it, sometimes.”

The cashier clears her throat, and Tony turns to see it’s their turn. He starts stacking things onto the conveyer belt.

Jamie asks if he can help, and Tony says, “Of course,” and lifts him up into the trolley so he can hand Tony things, most of which Tony helps him with, since they’re too heavy for a three year old to carry on their own.

Tony catches Steve smiling bemusedly at him and snorts. “I know, I was the last person to think I’d end up- like this,” he says, carefully avoiding ending the sentence with ‘as a father,’ because so far he’s managed not to let slip that for the first twenty-eight years of his life he was convinced he would never have kids, would never want kids, would only fuck up a kid if they ever came into his life.

“You’re good at it,” Steve says, sounding weirdly unsurprised, like most people who knew Tony Way Back When are when they find out that Tony is a half-decent dad.

Jamie hands Tony a jug of milk, nearly dropping it as he does, and Tony squeezes his shoulder. “Thanks, bud,” he says to Jamie, and then, to Steve: “I try.”

“I can tell,” Steve says, smiling that smile that Tony fell for so many years ago, and Tony is appalled to find that it still stirs up butterflies in his stomach.

Tony is about to say his goodbyes and pretend not to think about Steve for the rest of the night when Steve blurts that they should catch up sometime, if Tony isn’t busy.

Tony stops. Steve was never one for insincerity- if he says they should catch up, he genuinely means it, it isn’t just small talk.

The trolley bounces in Tony’s hands as Jamie jiggles it, and Tony says, “I’ll call you. Do you still have the same number?”

Steve nods, and Tony nods back. “Okay, then I’ll call.”

“Was that THE Steve,” Jamie asks as they’re leaving, and Tony winces and looks over his shoulder to see if Steve heard that. But Steve is talking to the cashier, probably answering the question of how he knows Tony Stark.

“It was,” Tony says, absentmindedly stopping Jamie from tipping out of the trolley as they walk. “But- don’t tell him he’s THE Steve, okay? He might get freaked out.”

“Why,” Jamie asks, dangling over the side of the trolley and making Tony’s nerves twinge.

“Just because,” Tony says, and Jamie frowns, because Tony always tries to give Jamie a reason, even when Jamie is on one of his ‘why’ kicks, asking ‘why’ to the most basic things. God knows how many of those he’s answered, and he guesses it’s a pretty simple question he should be answering, but he’s tired and Steve is still in eyesight if they turned around, and Tony is still put out by the fact that Steve can still make him feel butterflies after a decade of not seeing each other.

He supposes he should have expected it. After all, everyone in Tony’s life refers to Steve as ‘the one who got away.’

 

 

 

Tony does call, though it’s two weeks after seeing Steve at the supermarket.

“Sorry,” Tony says after the greetings. “I got caught up. SI, and Jamie, you know.”

“You were always so busy with SI,” Steve says, and from the background noise, Tony guesses he’s on the subway. “I don’t know how you handle a kid without keeling over from exhaustion.”

“Well, Pepper handles most of SI, nowadays,” Tony admits, and Steve hums.

“How is Pepper?”

“She’s good,” Tony smiles. “She misses taking you to museums. Says everyone else doesn’t appreciate them like you two used to.”

“God, I know just what she’s talking about,” Steve sighs. “I tried taking Sam once, he tried to look interested but I could tell he was falling asleep standing up.”

Tony resolutely pushes down the jealousy he has no right to feel. “Well, it was nice him to act interested for his boyfriend.”

“Oh, Sam’s not-” Steve laughs. “We’re just friends.”

“Then it was doubly nice of him,” Tony says, trying and failing to squash down the sudden soaring hope. He doesn’t like you, remember, he reminds himself. That thought sobers him, gets him asking, “How is everyone? Bucky still in the army?”

“He was,” Steve says. “He, uh. Lost his arm in combat, so they sent him home a year ago.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “His prosthetic is StarkTech, actually.”

“Bring him by sometime, I can make improvements, I haven’t updated the buyable ones in at least two years,” Tony finds himself saying, and winces.

Steve pauses. In the background, a baby starts crying. “Wow. Really?”

“Sure,” Tony says, balancing the phone between his neck and shoulder as he stirs the macaroni and cheese. “Always liked Bucky.”

Steve snorts.

“Okay, well, I ended up liking him,” Tony corrects, fighting down a grin. “He’s the bastard who put pink dye in my shampoo. He started it.”

“He started it because you wouldn’t leave me alone, so technically you started it.”

They both laugh, and it’s easy and then suddenly it isn’t.

Tony stirs the macaroni, pausing to turn down the heat. “Hey, Steve, I’m sorry about that.”

“About what?”

“Chasing after you. Flirting with you relentlessly. Not taking no for an answer. I was a real asshole, I just-”

“It’s fine, you were going through things.”

“That’s no excuse,” Tony sighs. “I was a dick to you, Steve.”

Steve is quiet for a long second. “Only sometimes. I actually enjoyed spending time with you ninety percent of the time.”

Tony blinks. “Seriously? That’s an awfully high percentage.”

“Yeah, well,” Steve says, and then trails off. He clears his throat. “So, do you want to catch up for real? At a diner, or something?”

“What is it with you and diners?”

“They’re good, family owned establishments, Tony!”

Tony laughs. There’s the Steve he fell in love with.

 

 

 

 

They meet at a diner, and end up having to cut it short because Rhodey called saying he had to fly out in an hour and couldn’t look after Jamie.

This ends up with Steve following Tony home, making a face when Tony hires a limo to do it.

“Really,” Steve says despairingly, hunching so he has to touch the last amount of plush seat as possible. “I’m having flashbacks to college.”

“Remember that time I got you to ride in a helicopter with me?”

“That was fun,” Steve admits. “But also so, so unnecessary.”

“You were stressed about finals!”

“So you take me out in a helicopter?”

“To each their own,” Tony says, and Steve shoves him, lightly, like he always used to. He pauses after he does it, like he’s just remembered they’re not teenagers or in their early twenties anymore, they don’t hang out every day like they used to, they’re more-or-less adults who haven’t seen each other for ten years.

Steve keeps his hands to himself after that, all through dinner, which he ends up staying for. He gets this look on his face when Tony talks to Jamie, Tony notices, but he denies it when Tony asks about it.

At the end of dinner, Tony carries Jamie to the door to see Steve off.

“It was nice to see you again,” Steve says. “Yes, and you,” he adds when Jamie pouts. “Let me tell you, you’re a chip off the old block.”

“What’s that mean,” Jamie says, craning his head backwards to look at Tony.

“It means you’re a lot like your dad,” Tony tells him, and a warm, proud feeling starts in the pit of his stomach when Jamie grins and squirms happily in his arms.

 

 

 

 

Most of their communications are over snapchat, after that. Tony sends pictures of paperwork and selfies and Pepper looking all sort of harried and Jamie, always Jamie, Jamie doing puzzles and brushing his teeth and drawing and eating and climbing things.

In return, Steve sends back selfies, of Bucky with his new and improved arm, of Sam and Natasha, who Tony meets once or twice. He sends Tony views of what he passes on his morning run, the view of the city from the rooftop of his apartment building, he sends pictures of his art studio and his works in progress.

Jamie loudly tells Tony that he’s been smiling at his phone a lot, why is he smiling at his phone, and then tells Tony what to reply when he sees the snapchat.

Tony takes a picture of Jamie and sends it to Steve with the caption, My son says Bucky is a cool robot dude, and Steve replies with a picture of his face with Bucky’s hand in the shot, flipping off the camera.

Tony doesn’t show Jamie that particular snapchat, but he takes a screenshot.

 

 

 

They meet up for coffee, they go to movies, they hang out in Steve’s studio, Tony working on his tablet as Steve paints, but mostly Steve comes around and they spend time with Jamie.

Steve takes it well when he finds out that a three year old is as good as him, if not better, at puzzles.

“He’s your kid, I should’ve expected it,” he says, and politely accepts Jamie’s help when he’s offered it.

Watching his son show Steve where the next sky bit goes makes Tony grin like a dope. I could get used to this, he thinks.  

 

 

 

Steve calls one day when Tony’s making macaroni for lunch, yet again. He can’t cook for shit, hired cooks to make most of their meals, but macaroni, he can do.

They set up plans for going to the movies tomorrow night, and then Steve takes a big breath and says quickly, “Y’know, the only reason I didn’t take you up on any of the offers ten years ago was because even though you insisted you could if you tried, I didn’t think you could commit to me. I didn’t think you’d find me more important than that party lifestyle you lead back then.”

Tony realizes he’s stopped stirring, and takes the pot off the heat altogether, setting it on the bench as he answers. “Huh.”

“Mm.”

“Well.”

“Yep.”

“I thought you didn’t like me,” Tony admits, and Steve makes a loud sound in the back of his throat.

“Then why did you keep coming on to me?”

“Because back then I thought I could smother people into liking me? Hence the buying you things and trying to get you into bed.”

“You stopped after you realized it made me uncomfortable.”

“I stopped after you yelled at me about it.”

“True.”

“You were also three years younger than me,” Steve points out. “It doesn’t matter much now, but it sure as hell did when I was eighteen and you were fifteen. It was kind of creepy when you hit on me back then.”

“Oh my god, I remember when I finally became legal,” Tony groans, covering his face with his free hand. “Fuck, didn’t I wait naked in your bed for you?”

“You did,” Steve laughs. “You even brought silk sheets along. I still have to convince myself I was doing the right thing by turning you down, sometimes.”

“But I was eighteen.”

“You were,” Steve agrees. “But I thought you wouldn’t be able to handle a relationship. It- if I went to bed with you back then, I knew I would have eventually regretted it. I wanted the real deal with you, not just a roll in the hay.”

“You are literally the only person I’ve ever met who uses that phrase,” Tony says, and then pauses. He closes his eyes as he says the next words: “Do you still want that?”

“Want what?” Steve sounds just as nervous as Tony feels, which is- good? Awful? Tony is so bad at this.

“The real deal,” Tony clarifies. “With me. Because, okay, I would have probably fucked it up if I actually got you to go out with me back then, but I’ve matured and I have a kid and I think that’s a pretty fucking big commitment. I can handle you. If you wanted me to handle you. And see, I didn’t even make a dick joke about that, I’ve truly matured-”

“I still want the real deal with you,” Steve cuts him off, thankfully. “I think I always have. You always did have a way of getting under my skin and staying there.”

Tony smiles. “You get that you’re going to have to do a bit of committing yourself, right?”

“I do. Jamie’s a great kid, Tony.”

“It’s his genes,” Tony says, and then: “Speak of the devil,” as Jamie comes scooting around the corner, bumping into the couch before rolling around on the floor.

“Whatcha up to, bud,” Tony calls, and Jamie doesn’t even look at him as he yells, “Angel Princess and Sailor Moon are fighting,” and Tony notices the dolls in his hands.

“Make sure they don’t knock over the furniture, please,” Tony says, and then, back into the phone: “You sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure if you are.”

“Good,” Tony says.

 

 

 

A month later, Tony walks into the lounge to see Steve and Jamie covered in more paint than the paper in front of them is.

“I’m teaching Jamie how to finger paint,” Steve says when he notices Tony. “It could be going better.”

“Dad, look,” Jamie says, and smears paint down Steve’s cheek. “’M finger painting!”

“He’s using me as a canvas,” Steve explains, and Tony grins as he sits down next to him.

“I could get used to this,” he says, and Steve eyes him.

“Me being covered in paint?”

“Well, yeah,” Tony says, and then loops an arm around Steve and Jaime’s shoulders. “But mostly this.”

Steve and Tony have a second of tender eye contact before Jamie bolts up and yells, “I’M GONNA PAINT YOUR WORKSHOP, DAD,” and they have to follow him down to make sure the bits he paints are walls instead of millions of dollars’ worth of technology.