Bucky sat the cup of coffee near Tony’s elbow. “There’s Irish Cream in there,” he cautioned Tony. “And none for you. You’re too young.” He put another cup down by Steve. The two of them were sitting at Steve’s computer while Tony walked him through the applications for the various STEM academies and magnet high schools.
Steve stuck his tongue out at his father, but sipped at his mug anyway, then looked vastly offended. “This is cocoa.”
“You have school in the morning,” Bucky reminded him. “If I let you have coffee now, you’ll be up ‘til 2am.”
“I’ll do that anyway,” Steve muttered, but took solace in the fact that Bucky had put a double helping of marshmallows in there.
“Well, there’s a difference between self-inflicted abuse and chemically induced insomnia,” Tony pointed out. “We’re almost done here, anyway.”
Bucky leaned on Tony’s shoulders and looked over at the applications that all blurred together after a while. A few years of private school had improved Steve’s grades and his opportunities a lot. Applications for the Science and Tech high schools, pre-med academy, various advanced degree programs and…
“Mendez Academy of Visual and Performing Arts?” Bucky hadn’t even known that one was on the list.
Steve blushed and tucked his chin down on his chest. “I just… want to see if I can do it, if I can get in,” he muttered. “I don’t have to go, I know you want me to--”
“Stevie, aw,” Bucky said. “I want you to have opportunities.”
“I know, I know, what you didn’t have, and I’m trying.”
“But you want this,” Bucky finished for him. Art. He’d always known Stevie liked to draw, even when he was using crayons, and his work had gotten better over the years. He ran a little web-comic about misfit superheroes that had gotten a fair number of followers.
“Mendez students still have a really high level of college acceptance,” Tony offered, running one hand through his hair. He sounded a little flustered. Bucky drew back and looked at Tony, a little sharply.
Tony had been all gung-ho at the various open houses for the STEM and advanced mathematical track schools. Of course, dozens of schools were courting Steve; as Tony Stark’s adopted son, Steve Barnes-Stark was an attractive student; good grades enough to make the cut easily, but came with a huge package of a father, who could be counted on for sizable donations.
Bucky knew his son was into art, but he hadn’t really thought it was anything other than a hobby. And Tony was all in for the tech. “You’re encouraging this?” That came across sounding a little more hostile than Bucky meant it to, by the way both his husband and son flinched. “No, I mean… you’re okay with it? You don’t want Steve to--”
“What? Follow in my footsteps? Hell, no, not if he doesn’t want to,” Tony said. “Howard tried to force me into business and I resented it, every step of the way. Steve can go to any of these schools and succeed. But I want him to do what he wants.”
“It’s just an application, Dad,” Steve said. “I don’t have to go.”
“Oh, Stevie,” Bucky put one hand on his son’s shoulders and kissed his hair. Steve didn’t quite shake him off, but Bucky knew it wasn’t much longer before Steve wasn’t going to allow his sap of an old man to hug and kiss on him like he was a pre-schooler. “I want you to have opportunities. That’s all. If art’s what you want to do, and you can make the cut, then that’s fine! You’ll still get out of high school with a diploma, still be able to go on to college. High school’s supposed to be the best time of your life. If art school is what you want, you can go. Absolutely.”
It wasn’t, honestly, like Steve needed the head start for math or science; he was a bright kid, quick and eager, and there were trust funds set up for Steve’s life. He’d never need to have a grinding, soul-killing job to keep a roof over his head and food on the table. If Steve wanted to make a webcomic, let him. The world needed more joy.
Steve turned around in his chair to stare up at his dad. “You’re okay with it?”
“Of course,” Bucky said.
Steve grinned, that smile that lit up the whole room (Bucky might have been biased, since Steve was his son, but other people had remarked on it, so, there was that.) and then he looked past his father at the window. “Oh, hey, it’s snowing!”
Tony made a grumbling noise in his throat. “It’s New York,” he said. “Snow is not that much of a miracle.”
“Grouch,” Steve accused him, then bolted for the back deck.
“Watch out for the--”
“Too late,” Bucky finished, because there went Loki, eager as always to be out of doors. The gray abyssinian pounced into the small drift of snowflakes that had already accumulated on the rubberized cement that surrounded the outdoor pool.
Tony stood up and wormed himself into the crook of Bucky’s arm. “You’re not mad?”
Bucky blinked. “Why th’ hell would I be mad?”
“You want him to go to the STEM schools,” Tony pointed out.
“I want him to not have t’ go into the military,” Bucky said, “because that’s all the shit job he can find. I want him to be safe, I want him to learn and be enriched. I want him to never have to set foot inside a soup kitchen, and I want him to never have to weigh the need to go to the hospital over having money to pay the bills. We have all that. If art’s what he needs for his soul, I’m happy to let him have that.”
Tony let out a sigh of relief.
“Did you think I was gonna be, babydoll?”
Tony shrugged. “There’s knowing a thing, and then there’s knowing a thing. Howard would have shit a brick if I wanted to do something as useless and wasteful as art. His words, not mine.”
“Yeah, well, bein’ a better father than Howard Stark’s a pretty damn low bar,” Bucky said. He slid his arm around his husband’s shoulder. “Steve’ll be great, no matter what he decides to go.”
“What are you two still inside for?” Steve leaned in the door, letting a blast of wintery weather into the room.
It took a little tugging from the Barnes contingent to get Tony out onto the porch, but they managed it. Loki gamboled around in the snow like a kitten, and Bucky took Tony into his arms and spun him around in a few dance steps. Tony looked up at him, snowflakes in his hair, sticking to his eyelashes. “If I freeze to death, I’m blaming you,” Tony teased.
“You look plenty lively to me,” Bucky noted. He lowered his mouth, planted a kiss on his husband’s laughing mouth.
And the two of them were smacked in the head with a well-placed snowball.
Tony swore and immediately started brushing snow out of his hair before it melted and trickled down the back of his shirt. Bucky just laughed, scooped up his own handful of snow; he’d played baseball back in high school, so even with his son dodging around on the patio, he managed to get in two good ones.
Before Tony poured a handful of snow down the back of Bucky’s jeans.
They were all wet and freezing by the time Bucky shooed them all inside to make more cocoa, change clothes, and warm up. They all piled together in front of the fireplace, shivering and giggling. Steve poked at his phone and sent texts and photos of the snowball fight to his best friend, Peggy, and Bucky played with the damp ends of Tony’s hair.
Tony shivered, cuddled back against Bucky’s chest. “We should go to Malibu for Christmas,” he suggested. “We’ve got two weeks, and I’d like to be warm for a while.”
“I’ll keep you warm,” Bucky promised. He gave his husband a searing stare, then, “time for bed, Stevie, you’ve got school tomorrow.”
Steve didn’t complain about that, for a change. He must have been more nervous than Bucky would have thought, about the art school.
“Night, Dad, Tony,” Steve said, scrambling up and headed for his bedroom.
Tony waited until the door shut, then tipped his head back to look up at Bucky. “What was that about keeping me warm?”
Bucky didn’t bother to answer with words; pushing his husband gently down to the floor in front of the fireplace, fingers already busy with buttons.
“God, I love you.”