The first time Tony meets him, it's not really enough to consider an introduction. Tony only remembers it's him because of his eyes.
They're both in line at a coffee shop, one that Tony usually doesn't frequent. Tony is late for a meeting and this is the closest place to the office. He hurries into the shop and hates that there's a line waiting for him.
He walks forward anyway, passing the line. He hears people whisper as he passes and he knows they know who he is. His fame comes in handy, especially in times like this.
He stops just before he reaches the front and slips into line so he's only one behind the register.
"Excuse me, what do you think you're doing?" A voice behind him says.
He sounds a little annoyed, so Tony pulls off his sunglasses, ready to woo whoever it is that hasn't recognized him yet.
The man behind him is gorgeous. A little pissed off if that furrowed brow was anything to judge by. His blue eyes hold frustration and there isn't any second of realization when he looks at Tony.
"I'm getting my morning cup of coffee." Tony raises his eyebrows, not moving from his spot in line. Because it's his spot now.
"You cut the entire line." The man narrows his eyes. His very pretty blue eyes.
"I'm in a hurry and I'm late, if you must know."
"Is someone waiting for you?"
Tony laughs and takes his time replying, "Someone is always waiting for me, dear."
Blue Eyes isn't impressed. "Is it an emergency?"
"Is someone hurt? Bleeding? Sick?"
"Do you have a child waiting for you?"
Blue Eyes rolls those pretty eyes. "Yes. A child. Are you late picking them up from somewhere? Do you have a child waiting for you?"
"Oh." Tony blinks. "No."
"Alright, then you can go to the back and return to your original spot." Blue Eyes peeks at the end of the line and cringes. "Which already has two new people waiting. You better get back there before it gets worse."
Tony's never had this reaction from someone before. People always jump over themselves to give him what he wants. "Do you know who I am?"
"No. And I don't care."
Tony groans. He really doesn't have time for this. "Fine. We'll combine our order and I'll pay for your drink. You won't wait any longer."
"But the people behind us will."
"Are you really going to make me go to the back?"
Tony groans and lets Blue Eyes go in front of him. He turns to the woman behind him and offers her $100 to cut her. She complies immediately.
Tony grins and stays in his spot. He can't complain even though he can't see Blue Eyes' face because he has a great view of his ass.
Even when he doesn't get what he wants, he gets exactly what he wants.
The second time he sees Blue Eyes, it's the same not so meet-cute situation.
Blue Eyes is outside a small building that Stark Industries is in the middle of buying. Of course the toy store that was there now would be forced to close and some New Yorkers aren't too happy about that.
And Tony shouldn't be surprised when he sees Blue Eyes in the front of the protest. He's holding a sign demanding for Stark Industries to back off.
Tony isn't supposed to say anything to them, and he's not even supposed to be here now. Obadiah warned him about the bad press if he lost his cool. But it's him and Tony can't stay quiet.
"What're you doing here?"
Blue Eyes lowers his sign and narrows his eyes. "Well, if it isn't Tony Stark."
Tony raises his eyebrows, surprised once again. "So you finally know who I am, huh?"
"I looked into the company getting rid of this toy store. You were the face." There's that glare again. "I shouldn't have been shocked to find you."
"So what's the story here?" Tony gestures at the crowd behind him. It's barely a dozen people, but they're loud. "Good friend own the business and you're just trying to save them?"
Blue Eyes frowns. "I don't know the owner personally, no. But it's my son's favorite store."
Tony feels like the moment is a bit anticlimactic. "That's it? There's no big sap story behind your protest?"
Blue Eyes' voice grows angry. "There doesn't have to be a sap story. You want a reason? Fine. There's no reason for a small business to suffer because a big corporation like Stark Industries needs to get their greedy hands on everything."
"Our greedy hands? Really?" Tony clicked his tongue dismissively. "You have no idea what a business does or how they run. So why don't you do us a favor, get your hecklers, and get the hell out of here."
"I know enough to know that getting rid of this business will destroy a lot of people's livelihoods, and only get you a bit more pocket change." Tony can feel the judgment stabbing into him with every sneer. It kinda turns him on.
"It's a business opportunity. We're able to make the deal. Haven't you learned about Darwinism? Strong eats the weak. It's the circle of life. Hakuna Matata and all that." Tony waves his hand.
"That's not what that means."
"Hakuna Matata means no worries. Not the circle of life. Two different songs." Blue Eyes correcting his stupid Disney movie reference makes Tony smile. "And this is definitely not no worries. There are many worries behind this."
"Does that mean you're not giving up?" Tony asks, raising an eyebrow.
"You can bet on it." Blue Eyes smirks a little and it feels like a challenge.
Tony takes a step closer. "Well, just remember with the coffee shop. I get what I want. All the time."
"We'll see about that," Blue Eyes says as Tony turns on his heels and saunters away. He ignores the continued shouting and cursing of his name. It isn't the first time he's had people protest him and it won't be the last.
The next day, Tony tells Obadiah he doesn't want that building for the new offices. The toy store stays and they find a new place that doesn't bankrupt a small business.
Like Tony told Blue Eyes, he always gets what he wants.
And after that time, the third time...it isn’t as humorous as the other times. Tony is driving to his apartment after a long day at work and he’s through with the world. Two of his deals fell through, Stark Industries stock took a dive, Obadiah yelled at him for things that weren’t even his fault, and he spilt coffee on his favorite tie.
He’s so distracted by life sucking that he doesn’t hit the brake quick enough before he’s rear-ending the car in front of him in traffic. It’s only a light tap, but it does damage to the car, and Tony knows that when whoever he hit sees who hit them, they will play up whatever damage was done. He should grab the checkbook before he leaves the car.
The man in front of him is out first though, and Tony hurries out, hoping he isn’t hurt. Tony doesn’t need that on his conscience. Before either of them can ask the other if they’re alright though, their eyes meet, and Tony doesn’t know if this is the universe feeling bad for his shit day or trying to make it worse.
Blue Eyes stares back at him, and for a moment, neither of them say a word. Then he throws his hands up into the air. “I can’t get a break from you, can I?”
“I feel like I need to preface this conversation by saying that I didn’t know you were in that car, and I didn’t do it on purpose.” Tony takes a few steps forward until he’s close enough to Blue Eyes to make sure he’s alright. “Did I hurt you?”
Blue Eyes doesn’t hold his neck or start limping like anyone else would do if they were hit by a billionaire. Instead, he just shakes his head and waves his hand dismissively. “I’m fine. Had my seatbelt on and you didn’t hit me too hard.”
“I don’t know how it happened. I’m so sorry,” Tony says, meaning every single word of his apology. “My driver was off today and I’m not used to New York traffic, I guess.”
“Yeah, well, I’m okay. The car is another story. It’s not even mine.” Blue Eyes runs a hand through his blond locks. “I was borrowing my friend’s car. It’s been a little too cold to walk my son to school, and ever since that mugging by the bus stop last month, I’m not comfortable with taking him on that right now.”
“I’m sorry,” Tony says, unsure of what else he can say.
“No. You don’t have to be. It’s not your fault, and I was just...venting I guess.” Blue Eyes sighs. “It’s just a scratch. Barely there. Don’t worry about it.”
Tony doesn’t understand. Especially with their history. Now is when Blue Eyes should sue him for everything he has and really take advantage of his wealth. “You do remember me, right?”
“How could I forget?”
Tony isn’t sure if that’s a compliment or insult, but he chooses the former. “So you do know that I am worth a large fortune, right? Billionaire with a b. I’ll write you a check large enough to pay for a brand new car.” Tony actually doesn’t mind the idea of paying off this man. From the three times he’s interacted with him, he thinks he deserves a financial break. “You can get rid of this piece of crap. You won’t have to worry about that kid of yours walking to school. Hell, I could give you enough to buy a bus for him.”
But Blue Eyes doesn’t share the same appreciation for his generosity. His eyes narrow into that signature glare that he can’t seem to avoid. “I’m not some charity case.”
“What? I never said you were, but--.”
“But what? You think I need a fancy business man to write me a check? For what? I’m not hurt, and the car is fine. I don’t need your money or your pity.” Blue Eyes crosses his arms over his broad chest.
“I don’t understand. Doesn’t everyone jump at the chance at free money? Seriously, I don’t mind writing a check. I just have to run back to the car and get my checkbook.”
“There is no such thing as free money, Mr. Stark,” Blue Eyes says with a huff.
Tony smiles when he says his name even though Tony already knew he remembered him. “So I see you’ve been studying economics since we’ve last met. Were you reading up on big greedy corporations?”
“You’re an asshole. Do you know that?”
“So I’ve been told.” Tony shrugs his shoulders.
“Keep your money. I have to go pick up my son.” He’s already turning back to get into his car, and Tony realizes he really doesn’t want any money. He stops by the door and turns back to glare at him. “Try not to hit any more cars. Have a good day, asshole.”
He’s driving away before Tony can get back into his own car.
This should be exactly what he wants: someone leaving him alone without trying to squeeze every last penny from him. But Tony finds himself thinking that he would have written a million checks for Blue Eyes if it meant he would have stayed longer.
For a few weeks, there’s no more Blue Eyes in his life. Which is more than a little disappointing. He kinda forgets about him almost.
Never in his dreams does he forget, but in his conscious state, he never thinks of that incredibly rude, incredibly handsome man.
Not until he’s drunk one night-- well, that’s no surprise. He drinks a lot. But it’s the date that makes this drinking not the fun kind. It’s December 16th: the anniversary of his parents’ death. He’s beyond wasted at a sketchy bar and he’s looking to start trouble.
He finds himself wishing Blue Eyes was here to stop him. Glare at him with that intense judgement. Maybe he would stop if Blue Eyes were here. But he’s not.
So Tony turns to the man sitting next to him and slurs, “What’re you doin’ here?”
“None of your business,” he grumbles back, and Tony knows this man isn’t drunk. He’s twice Tony’s size and obviously looking to be left alone. It’s perfect for Tony.
“Girlfriend cheat on you?” He prods, taking another sip of his drink.
“I said none of your business, squirrel. Leave me be or else you’ll regret it.” He’s wearing a leather jacket. There are spikes on his bracelet. His helmet is on the seat between them.
“Was that your tricycle I saw outside? S’cute.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” The man whirls around on his chair and his glare is nowhere near as pretty as Blue Eyes’. His mouth is set in an ugly snarl and Tony definitely doesn’t want those lips on his.
“Lots and lots of things.” Tony waves his hand dramatically and he really doesn’t know why.
“Keep your problems to yourself and we won’t be havin’ a problem.”
"Don't worry about my problems, mister. Your girlfriend takes care of those every once in a while." Tony smiles and he even sticks his neck out so his face is closer to the man. He's ready for the punch when it comes, but that doesn't mean it hurts any less.
He's hit so hard that he swears he spins 360° before falling, smashing his chin on the bar on the way down. He laughs when he feels his teeth bite through his tongue. He wonders if he'll need stitches.
Before he can even raise a hand to feel where blood is now steadily pouring down his chin, their fight is broken up. The guy's friends all grab the stranger to stop him, and the bartender helps Tony up.
His friends are worried because this guy just punched Tony Stark. Tony promises he won't press charges as he's dragged into a back room, stumbling over his own feet.
"Is there anyone we can call to get you home safely, sir?" The man asks, keeping his voice quiet. "I know you would want to keep this discrete."
"Yeah? You want somethin' from me to keep your silence?" Tony tries to find his wallet in one of his pockets. That's the only thing anyone ever wants from him: money.
"I don't want your money."
Maybe he said that out loud.
"I want to get you home safe. Can I use your phone? Call an emergency contact?"
He thinks about his three emergency contacts and how disappointed they were going to be when they got the phone call. Tony promised he was okay to be alone today.
"Don't know...my phone…" Tony isn't sure if it's in a pocket or on his dresser at home so he wouldn't have to read all the pitying texts.
"That's alright, sir. Do you remember a number? Or should I call a cab to your apartment?"
No. Tony doesn't want to get into a car. Not today. Especially not driven by a stranger. "No. I'll...you call." He knows a number that will always be burned into his brain. The one person that's been there with him through everything. He always picks him up, no matter how drunk he gets.
So he gives the man Rhodey's number and he hears the bartender's side of the conversation of him asking Rhodey to come pick him up. He doesn't need to imagine what Rhodey's saying: yes, of course I'll come get him in a voice full of disappointment.
"You sit here. He'll be here soon." The bartender brings him to a chair and he sits Tony down. "Will you be okay here by yourself?"
"Hhg," Tony grunts, hoping it sounds like a yes.
"Alright," the bartender replies, not sounding entirely convinced. He brings over a small waste bin. "Throw up in here if you need to."
Tony isn't sure why this guy is doing all of this for him. He doubts he does it for everyone in the bar when they get too drunk. Maybe this is that Tony Stark special treatment. The one that got him in the front of the line (almost) in that coffee shop.
Would Tony have done this if their roles were reversed? Probably not. Tony isn't a good person. He doesn't do nice things and he doesn't deserve to get nice things. He deserves to go back out there and have his ass beat by that other guy until he can't even remember his own name. He'd be doing him a favor.
He sits in that seat thinking about much he doesn't deserve this until Rhodey comes in through the door. Once he sees his best friend, he's reminded of much he doesn't deserve him either.
"Oh, Tones," Rhodey's voice is soft and almost pitiful. "Why didn't you call me earlier?"
Tony shrugs his shoulders. "Didn't wanna bother ya'."
"You're never a bother, Tony. Never."
Rhodey can tell him that until he's blue in the face, but it doesn't mean he'll believe it.
"Wanted to drink. Forget. Remember." Forget the pictures of the accident I had to see on the cover of every newspaper 13 years ago. Remember my mothers voice when she would sing to me.
"You don't have to do it alone." Rhodey kneels by him and puts a hand on his knee, squeezing it gently. "I wish you wouldn't."
"Wanted to cause trouble. Can't do that when you're around." Tony shrugs his shoulders, closing his eyes when the lights start getting too bright. "'Sides...You're better off without me anyway. Just a bother."
"Don't say that, man. In no universe would I ever be better off without you." Rhodey's voice is firm and Tony wishes he could just believe him. "Any Rhodey Tony-less is miserable. I promise."
Tony doubts that. He can't form another sentence right now to say so, but he doubts it.
"Now why don't we get you to your apartment and into bed?" Rhodey starts to lift him up, holding most of his weight.
"No car?" Tony asks, making sure they weren't driving. He usually isn't so paranoid about cars or even car accidents, but there is something about this date, December 16th, that just makes even the thought of driving downright terrifying.
"No car," Rhodey confirms. "We'll walk."
"Long walk. Cold."
"Maybe the cold will sober you up a bit so I don't have to worry about you choking on your own vomit tonight." Rhodey leads him towards the door where they walk through the bar again. Tony looks around for the man he picked a fight with but can't find him. The bartender waves with a small smile. Tony doesn't wave back.
Once they're outside and walking for a few minutes, Rhodey says, "Joey told me that you were picking a fight. That explains your face. Should have put ice on it right away."
Tony vaguely remembers ice being offered and he definitely remembers refusing it. He wants it to swell up and bruise. He wants to be reminded of it. "Joey?"
"Yeah. The bartender."
"He's nice," Tony mumbles.
Tony's eyes burn, but he refuses to cry. "Wish I was nice."
"You are nice. You were just having a bad day," Rhodey reassures him. But one bad day doesn't excuse his years of bad behavior. He wonders why Rhodey has stuck with him through it all.
Tony stops three and a half times to hurl his stomach out onto the pavement. Three times are successful, and the half time only results in loud dry heaving.
Rhodey is patient and doesn't rush him as their walk turns into almost an hour. He brings him up to his penthouse and gets him ready for bed.
Tony's reaching his exhaustion stage of being drunk and blinks his heavy eyelids for the fifteenth time that minute.
"You can go to sleep, Tones," Rhodey says with a small smile. "I'll watch over you tonight."
"Why?" Tony's voice is slurred from exhaustion and alcohol.
"Because you're my best friend. I care about you." Rhodey sets a glass of water next to his bed before brushing some of his hair from his forehead.
Tony doesn't answer, and instead, just closes his eyes. His eyes are still closed when he speaks up again a few moments later. "I like sleeping."
Rhodey chuckles. "Then why do you claim to never do it?"
"It's peaceful. Quiet. Hard to fall asleep." Tony knows he shouldn't be sharing this, but he does anyway. "That's what I want for Christmas. I want to sleep."
"I'm sure Santa can get you something to help. Maybe a lavender cream. That helps with insomnia."
"No," Tony says, opening his eyes even though it's incredibly difficult. "I wanna sleep forever."
Rhodey's smile is gone and his eyes go wide. "You mean--."
"Yeah. I need the peace." He closes his eyes and lets himself get whatever peace he can get before he hears Rhodey's response.
Ever since that night, Tony finds himself dreaming of Blue Eyes a lot. Not like steamy R-rated dreams. Just weird dreams that he can't remember the next morning.
Just those blue eyes.
Unfortunately, Blue Eyes isn't the only person haunting him. Apparently, Rhodey had taken his Christmas Wish a little too seriously and he put him on a suicide watch of sorts.
It was humiliating and dramatic.
Someone is always around since that night. Rhodey, Happy, and Pepper take turns hanging out with him. He feels like those kids that have no friends at school until their mom bribes the others to play with him with candy and shit.
The feeling makes him feel even more pathetic.
"This is ridiculous," Tony says when Rhodey says he'll be waiting in the kitchen for Tony to finish his shower. "I don't need you babysitting me."
"I'm not babysitting. We're hanging out. I'm keeping you company." Rhodey shrugs his shoulders, taking a sip of the hot chocolate he made for himself.
"24/7? No one wants to hang out with me that long."
Rhodey's face falls with sadness like it's been doing a lot lately whenever Tony makes one of his typical self-deprecating jokes.
"Oh, come on. Stop that. I'm sick of you three treating me like I'm going to break any second. Nothing has changed. I said some shit while I was drunk on the anniversary of my parents' death." Tony rolls his eyes, refusing to look Rhodey in the eyes.
"Doesn't mean you mean it any less."
Tony huffs and despite the fact that he really did mean it, he doesn't admit it. So what, he's a little depressed? That doesn't mean he was going to go off himself. He's too much of a coward to do that anyway.
"This isn't a punishment, Tony. This time of the year is hard on you and no one should be alone during Christmas. We're just trying to help you."
Why was everyone always helping him? When was his chance to help someone else?
"You don't have to always be here, suffocating me," Tony argues, trying to be angry. "Give me space. Give me privacy. What if I want to masturbate or something?"
Rhodey rolls his eyes. "Like my presence has ever stopped you before."
Tony can't argue with that when they shared a dorm room for four years. "I don't need you here all the time. I'm fine."
"Do you want me to leave?"
"If it gives me some peace and quiet, yes." It'll give you a break from me.
"Fine. But I'm coming back on Christmas Eve. You're coming to Mama's house for her Christmas party." Rhodey stands up, giving him no room to argue with that.
"Do I have permission to leave the house to go Christmas shopping then?" Tony rolls his eyes.
"I don't need a gift and neither does she. Your company is good enough."
"Grace is gonna be there though, yeah?" Tony raises his eyebrows. He loves seeing Rhodey's niece at family parties. She's always more fun than the adults.
"Well, I'm not showing up to a Christmas party without a gift for her. That's just cruel." Tony turns around and starts walking towards his room.
"If you need one of us, call. Please," Rhodey calls to him as he walks away. Tony doesn't make a promise because he knows he can't keep it.
He'll always need one of them, but he'll always feel like too much of a burden to ask.
So the next few days, he keeps to himself. It's better that way.
He stays in his penthouse, now painfully alcohol free after Happy emptied it the other night. The three of them take turns checking and Tony is able to just barely muster enough of a smile to keep up a conversation without them worrying.
Christmas is always a hard time. His mom used to love Christmas. Maybe that's why he hates it.
He's so caught up in hating Christmas that he doesn't realize it's Christmas Eve until Rhodey texts him at noon saying he'll pick him up at 5'o'clock.
"Shit," Tony curses as he reads the text. He hasn't even bought a gift for Grace yet. He wants to cancel more than anything, but he knows that will only worry Rhodey, and he really doesn't want to ruin Rhodey's Christmas.
Against his better judgment, he tells Rhodey he'll see him later, and then he hurries to get dressed and go shopping for Grace.
He can go to any designer toy store or even electronics store and get Grace the best thing on the market. But instead, he goes to a place he almost destroyed. That little toy store where Blue Eyes was protesting out front not so many weeks ago.
He isn't sure what to get her. He hasn't seen her since her last birthday and she was in a unicorn phase back then. Is she still into that? He picks up a stuffed unicorn just in case.
He sees a pop up book for Christmas he figures is a safe bet so that goes in his basket too. He picks the most expensive Barbie off the shelf, her dress glitters under the light. He grabs a jewelry making kit before getting in line just in case maybe she's more of a crafty kid.
There is no such thing as too many Christmas gifts, after all.
He gets into the line that isn't very long, so he doesn't bother cutting. Most of them are parents that look to be last minute Christmas shopping anyway. Despite what Blue Eyes says, he's not that much of an asshole.
All of them are parents, except one. There's a small boy just in front of him. His jacket is thick but old, and his knit hat is a little too big on his head.
He's fidgeting impatiently in the line with his hands full of a sketch pad and paints. Tony guesses that he's probably holding his parents' spot in line while they finish up shopping. It's a smart tactic, Tony must admit.
But when it gets to be the boy's turn, he doesn't look around the store for his parents or call their name. He struts to the counter and puts the items on the top for the cashier to ring up. Together, they add up to just under $20.
Then the child begins to empty his pockets. He starts to count coins on the counter. Tony huffs a little impatiently as he realizes most of them are pennies.
The cashier actually humors the kid and counts along with him. They reach 3 dollars and 54 cents before he shakes his head sadly. "Sorry, kid. There's not enough here."
Then the boy begins to search his pockets again frantically, as if he's going to suddenly find 17 more dollars in them.
When he comes up empty, he turns back to the cashier and his voice sounds close to tears. "I need those paints, sir! Please!"
The cashier looks like a fish out of water as he glances behind Tony, no doubt at the ever growing line. "Kid, I'll put them on hold for you and you can come back with a parent, but I can't--."
"No!" The boy shouts and Tony takes a step back. He doesn't like bratty kids, can't deal with their tantrums. "My Papa needs these paints!"
The cashier doesn't say a word and the store seems to settle into a quiet as they watch the show. Tony feels bad for whoever his parents are and wonders if they're going to come and cover their kid's purchase.
But the child gets control over himself and he takes a deep breath before he speaks again, his voice calmer than before. "I need these paints for my Papa. It's Christmas Eve and these...he doesn't have any. I want him to paint."
The little boy is crying now. He's not sobbing to get his way, but he's sniffling and desperately trying to contain his tears. "Please, sir. He's sick. The doctors said he doesn't have long. I want him to have these. In case he meets Jesus tonight, I want him to paint one more time. Please."
Tony's heart breaks right there. Hearing this child, no older than eight-years-old, begging for a set of paints just to give his dying father. Tony didn't have a chance to know it was his last Christmas with his parents; one day they were there and then the next they were not.
He wonders if knowing that time is limited with your loved ones makes it worse.
Tony takes a step forward, arms still full of toys he's buying just because. He can cover this child's gift for his dying father. Money. Money is what he's good for.
"I'll buy them," he offers in a quiet voice. He wonders why there isn't a fight to pay for this poor child's gifts. They had all obviously heard his story during their eavesdropping.
"Really?" The little boy finally turns to look at him and he has big brown eyes and a set of dimples. "Thank you so much, mister!" He wipes his face with the gloves on his hands riddled with holes.
"Don't thank me, kid," Tony mumbles as he puts his own purchases on the counter. He grabs two candy bars from the counter to add to his pile.
The little boy is bouncing on his feet, watching the man wrap his paints in tissue paper before putting them in a decorated Christmas shopping bag. It's perfect for a last minute gift, or a gift for a father from his young child.
He pays for their toys, takes his bags, and walks out with the little boy by his side. He feels strange walking out of a store with someone's child, but the boy doesn't seem to be too worried about stranger danger.
Tony shivers in the cold as snowflakes slowly fall from the sky. The ground is covered in slush because it isn't quite cold enough to stick yet. "So, where is your mom?"
"She's in Heaven." The little boy looks up at him like he's got 10 heads.
Tony feels like an asshole. "Oh. Uh...what about your dad? Where's he?"
"Home in bed. He's sick."
"Right." God, Tony sucks with kids. He glances around the bustling city, and would be lying if he said he wouldn't feel worried about letting this kid walk alone. "Where's home? Can I join you on your walk?"
The little boy tilts his head. "What's your name?"
"Tony," Tony answers with uncertainty.
"I'm Peter." The little boy, Peter, offers his hand up to him and Tony shakes it. "Now you can join me. My Papa says to be careful of strangers."
Tony chuckles as he follows Peter's lead down the sidewalk. "Well, you know can't always trust someone just because they give you their name. I'm not going to hurt you, but not everyone can be trusted. I don't want you to make a habit of this, and I don't think your dad would like that either."
"I know I can trust you, Tony." Peter starts to skip in the puddles, still clutching the bag tightly in his hand. "You're good."
Tony scoffs. "Good? Because I paid for your paints? That doesn't necessarily make me good, kid."
Peter rolls his eyes and says, "I know you're good because you're an angel. Duh."
"I prayed to God for help. You helped me. You're an angel."
Tony knows that's definitely not how this works, but if this kid needs to believe in an angel to help him through his father dying then he can pretend. "Alright, whatever you say, kid."
"Can you make him better?" Peter asks, sounding so chipper. Does he really think an angel is going to come down to earth and save his father?
"No." Tony doesn't see a point in lying.
Peter's demeanor changes immediately. "Oh."
"I wish I had a different answer for you, kid." Tony sighs. "I really do."
"It's okay." Peter sounds far from okay.
Tony walks besides him silently for a few moments. It's cold to the bone, but Peter isn't shivering. Is he used to this cold or is he numb to everything around him? Which is worse? "You said your mom is in Heaven?"
"Yeah...there was an accident when I was a baby."
"My mom is in Heaven too. So is my Dad." Tony stares down at the slush he's walking through.
"Both of them?" Peter asks and Tony isn't sure what he hears in his voice, but there's something there. Tony wonders if he's making it worse or better for the kid.
"Yup. Same day. Car accident."
"You don't have a mom and dad? Are you okay?"
"I lost them when I was 19. Technically an adult." He didn't feel like an adult when he heard the news. "It hurt a lot when it first happened. But the world keeps spinning and time keeps going and it gets better."
"Do you still miss them?" Peter asks, and for the first time he sounds like the tiny child he is.
"Of course. There isn't a day that passes when I don't. But...they're in a better place." Tony isn't sure if he believes in an afterlife, but the kid obviously does, and he's not going to ruin that for him. He's also not sure where his father would go, but if there is a Heaven, his mother is there.
"I miss my mommy a lot. Even though I don't really remember her. But I remember my Papa and...and he's my best friend. I don't want to lose him too." That's when Peter breaks and Tony should have seen it coming. He starts sobbing, again not fake tantrum tears, but grief filled sobs.
Tony hesitates and glances around. No one is around to help or grow concerned. They're in a bad part of the neighborhood now and crying is probably a normal thing on these streets.
"Hey...don't cry, bud."
"B-but...I don't want my Papa to die! I love him!"
Tony kneels down, getting his pants wet when it touches the ground. He still refrains from physically comforting the boy. "I know it's hard, kid, but you'll get through it."
Peter looks up at him with his big brown eyes, red from tears spilling down his flushed cheeks. "No, I won't. I can't...be without my Papa."
Tony knows that's exactly how it feels and that's how it might feel for him after he loses him. There is no reason Tony should tell him not to feel this way. His feelings are expected and completely valid. "Why don't we go see your Papa then, huh? You want to be with him all you can."
Peter wipes his face with his hand again and Tony winces when he offers the same hand he just used to wipe at his snotty nose. Tony takes it anyway and they walk together.
Peter struggles to control his crying as they walk, letting out a sob here and there. Tony doesn't mention it. They stop outside a rundown looking apartment building and Peter stands there, sniffling hard. "I promised him I wouldn't cry."
"I think he would understand."
Peter spends another moment in the cold stopping his crying anyway before leading Tony inside the apartment building. There's no key or buzzing option; anyone can just walk in. He hopes their apartment is better locked.
There isn't even an elevator to say out of order, and they head for the stairs that smell strangely of urine and rotten food. Tony tries not to gag while Peter seems perfectly content to walk up the stairs.
They're on the 11th floor because of course it can't be easy. Peter's huffing, sounding out of breath when he reaches the top. But he keeps going until they reach his floor and Peter leads them down a dark hallway, lit every few feet with a dim lightbulb.
At 11-34, Peter reaches up and twists the doorknob open, calling into the apartment. "Papa, I'm home!"
There's a cough from somewhere nearby but no voice. Tony wants to drop the kid and run before he has to see his dying father. It's selfish, but Tony is used to being selfish and getting what he wants.
Before he can ditch Peter though, the kid calls out again, "I brought a friend with me!"
This time, a weak voice answers, "Better not be Mr. Delmar's cat again."
Peter giggles and hurries forward into a small living room. There's a Christmas tree with lights and a few homemade ornaments, paper snowflakes around the ceiling, a record player, and a cot in the middle of the room. Nothing else.
There's also a person in the cot. He looks small, wrapped up in those blankets, and he's paler than the falling snow outside. He's got a hat just like Peter has pulled over his head. The apartment is freezing.
The man tries to push himself up into a sitting position when he notices Tony. He gets a hard look on his face, probably because a strange man just walked in with his child.
It isn't until Tony looks into his eyes that he recognizes him. Even then, it takes him a long moment to. Whatever illness he has, has taken a toll on his body. Tony barely recognized him, except those eyes. "Blue Eyes?"
"What?" Blue Eyes frowns, still trying to sit up. It occurs to Tony that he's never used that name out loud.
"Tony. Tony Stark...do you remember me?"
Blue Eyes is still frowning. "Yes. I remember you. What are you doing here?" Blue Eyes desperately searches for Peter before he waves him over. Peter happily obliges and uses a small step stool by the cot to climb up into it.
"He's my friend," Peter tells him as Blue Eyes takes off Peter's coat and pulls him under the blankets.
Blue Eyes ignores Tony and starts to fuss over Peter. "You're so cold, baby. I told you to stay inside and you just-- you ran off. You can't worry Papa like that." Blue Eyes' voice is full of worry.
"But I needed to go out before the store closed, Papa!" He pulls the bag back to his lap and pushes it to Blue Eyes. "Open it!"
Blue Eyes hesitates, glancing over at Tony before he pulls out his presents. He smiles and Tony doesn't miss the way his eyes well up with tears when he sees what's inside. "You got me new paints."
Peter nods his head. "Yeah. I know you miss painting. Go! Paint something to make you happy!"
"Please! For me?"
Steve sighs and he starts to unwrap the paints. His hands are shaking with each movement and if Peter didn't start helping, he would have been opening the plastic all night.
Once the paints are open, Peter pushes the canvas onto Blue Eyes' lap. Blue Eyes looks conflicted as he raises the paintbrush, like he doesn't want to let his son down, but he also doesn't want to paint.
He continues anyway, dipping his bristles into the red paint and he outlines a heart that is crooked at every part because of the way his hand shakes.
Halfway through, his hand jerks and there's a line through the canvas. Blue Eyes freezes and Tony holds his breath. He shouldn't be here. This is too private. Too personal. But he can't seem to move.
Peter hushes him softly before holding his hand and helping him finish the other side of the heart.
"Thank you, Peter," Blue Eyes whispers, his voice full of tears.
"I can help you. If you want." Peter is doing such a great job for keeping his voice strong when he was only sobbing in the street a half hour ago.
"I'd like that."
Peter keeps his hand on Blue Eyes' and their hands go towards the blue paint now. There's some red now mixed in with the blue, but Tony realizes that this might be the only time Blue Eyes paints with them so it doesn't matter if the colors get ruined.
Tony has to look away to wipe his tears. When he looks back, they're almost finished with a stick figure that started off a shade of purple and then went blue. They dip the brush back in the blue paint and then they paint a smaller stick figure by the first one. They're holding hands.
"I love it, Papa!"
"So do I, sweetie." Blue Eyes kisses the top of his head and Tony can't help but stare at the way his paintbrush shakes in his hand, splattering small drops of paint on the blanket wrapped around them. Again, Tony guesses it doesn't matter if it's ruined.
"I bought them in the store for you but only had 3 dollars so Tony helped me buy them." Peter starts to put the paints away now that he's happy with his dad's painting.
The attention is shifted back to the almost-stranger in their living room, and Tony sees the anxiety slip back into his eyes. "Oh. Of course. H- how much do I owe you?" Blue Eyes glances around their small living room, attached to a smaller kitchen. "My wallet is here...somewhere."
Tony immediately shakes his head. "No. They're a gift. Don't worry about it."
"I--...thank you, Tony." Blue Eyes says, looking down at his lap in shame.
Tony takes a risk and sits in the folding chair by his bed. It's next to an IV drip attached to Blue Eyes' wrist. "You know, of all the times I've met you...I don't think I've ever gotten your name."
Blue Eyes looks back up at him and it's weird to see him staring at him without that painted on glare. "Steve. I'm Steve Rogers. This is my son, Peter Rogers."
"It's nice to meet you, Steve," Tony says, holding out his hand.
Steve takes a few seconds to move his hand to Tony's and Tony makes sure to gently squeeze so he doesn't hurt him. "Nice to meet you too, Tony."
He breaks off into a coughing fit and Peter rubs his back. The second he's stopped, he starts apologizing to Tony and Peter.
"Don't apologize. Please," Tony says, shaking his head.
Steve glances at Tony and seems a little relieved. Like he thought Tony was going to get upset at his coughing fit. After he clears his throat and can speak, he says, "Thank you for buying my son those paints, and for bringing him home safely. I wish I could repay you."
"You don't need to. I wasn't looking for a reward."
"He's an angel, Papa. He doesn't need anything."
Steve glanced over at Peter with a quirked eyebrow. "Angel, huh?"
"Yeah! I prayed and God gave me him!" Peter smiles that bright, hopeful smile again. "Maybe he can make you all better!"
Steve's face turns sad. He cards his fingers through Peter's curly hair, still mussed from the hat he was wearing. "Baby, we've talked about this already. The doctors are trying but...they seem just a little short of a miracle right now."
Peter's lower lip starts to wobble. "But I prayed for you, Papa!"
"I know, baby...but remember...sometimes God...He is too busy helping other people. He does His best, but maybe HLe's helping someone else sick like me. Someone young and little like you, who still has their whole life ahead of them. Their Mama and Papa need them alive."
"But I need you alive," Peter says as tears start to trail down his cheeks.
Steve lifts a hand to wipe his tears. "You're very strong, sweetheart. God knows this and He knows you're going to be okay. He trusts you."
"I don't want to be strong. I want you."
"You have me, Peter. Even when I'm gone, I'll always be right by your side."
"It's not fair." Peter pouts, scrubbing his eyes with his little fists.
"No, I suppose it's not. But at least He gave us tonight, yeah? We get to spend Christmas Eve together, safe and warm. Not many people get that." Steve pulls his son in close and lets him cuddle up against him.
"Hey, uh, Pete…" Tony turns to his bag and reaches in for the Christmas Pop Up book he bought. He hands it to the little boy. "You want to read this to your Pops?"
Peter's eyes light up as he reaches for the book. "Please!" He opens it immediately and something pops up from the book, making Peter's eyes widen in awe. "Wow!"
"I'm just gonna go make a phone call. I'll be right back." Tony whispers to Steve as he stands up.
Steve's head whips to face him and he shakes it. "No, you don't have to stay. You can go. We're fine."
Tony gives him a small smile. "I think I'd rather stay here with you two, if you don't mind." Tony isn't sure why he feels that way or why he says it, but this is the closest he's ever felt to his mother on Christmas since she passed.
"I mean, we don't have anything fabulous planned. I think you'd have more fun at one of your fancy parties." Steve's smiling, but it doesn't reach his eyes.
Right. They've met before and Tony's always been kinda of an asshole, and Steve knows he's no angel.
"I don't want to go to any party. Here sounds perfect."
Steve frowns. "You're not going to like, spend the night here and then brag about how kind you are to the press tomorrow, right?"
Tony's shoulders slump and he regrets asking to stay. "Do you really think I would?"
Steve doesn't seem guilty for making the assumption, but he isn't smug about it either. "Honestly, I don't know."
"Then let me stay just for tonight. Let me show you what kind of a person I really am."
Steve glances down to Peter, who's already reading from the pop up book but getting more distracted than anything else. "Alright. You can stay, but do you mind maybe making Peter something to eat? He hasn't had dinner and--."
"Of course, I'll feed him. And how about you?"
"Peter. Not me," Steve says with a smile.
Tony sighs and stands up, planning to make him something to eat anyway. He glances at the kitchen and realized there's no privacy anywhere in this apartment. Maybe in the bathroom, if this even has one.
He steps out into the hall, and still keeps his voice low because he knows these walls are thinner than cardboard. He dials Rhodey's number and he picks up almost instantly. "Hey, Rhodey."
"Hey, Tony...everything okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine." He rubs the back of his neck. "I just wanted to let you know I won't be making it to your Mom's tonight."
"What? Why not?" Rhodey sounds worried, and after the scare he's given them these past two weeks, he doesn't blame him.
"I was at the store getting Grace a gift, and I ran into a friend."
"A friend? Tony, I mean this in the nicest way possible, but what other friend could you have run into?"
Tony laughs. "You don't know them, but they're special and… they need some company tonight. Maybe I do too."
Rhodey sighs. "Tony, you know I'm always here, man."
"Are you at their graves?" Rhodey asks after a moment and it's funny Tony hadn't thought of that, but Rhodey did.
"Nah. Don't feel them much there anyway. My mom wants me here tonight. I know it."
"Alright. But if you change your mind at any point, call me, and I'll be there in a heartbeat to pick you up." Rhodey's voice is serious and Tony knows that offer is 100% genuine.
"Thank you, but I think I'll be alright."
"I love you, Tony. Merry Christmas."
Tony smiles and he hopes Rhodey can hear it in his voice. "Love you too, Rhodey. Merry Christmas."
He hangs up the phone and quietly walks back inside so he doesn't disturb Peter's reading. He walks through the cramped living room and into the kitchen to start making a little Christmas Eve dinner. He finds plenty of macaroni and cheese boxes, so he decides on making two of those. He cuts up some carrots to put on the side while the pasta boils.
Once it's all done, he splits the food to three plates and walks back into the living room. He hands a plate to Steve and another to Peter before returning to the kitchen. He grabs a juice box for each of them and then returns with his plate.
"Mac and cheese is my favorite!" Peter says, grinning widely. "Thank you, Tony!"
Tony smiles. "No problem, kid." He picks up his fork to start eating, but Peter stops him.
"Wait! Aren't you going to wait for us to say our prayer?"
"Peter, not everyone has to pray. He can eat his food," Steve admonishes him gently.
"No, it's alright," Tony replies, putting his fork down. "I'd love to share a prayer with you." His plate is balanced on his knees and he is careful when he lets go of it to fold his hands together.
He watches as Peter folds his own hands and bows his head before he begins to pray. "Dear God, thank you for giving us all of your love this year. Thank you for sending us your angel too! It's fun to have a friend here for Christmas."
Tony shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He's never prayed before, but he never thought it was this simple...just speaking to God and thanking him.
"Thank you for keeping up warm in our house and thank you for giving us food to eat. Thank you for giving me the best Papa in the whole entire world. If you have to take him home soon, please take care of him."
Steve chokes and Tony can see him trying not to lose control as a single tear falls down his cheek.
"This is a good Christmas Eve. Thank you. Amen."
Then Peter digs into his food, like he hadn't just emotionally gutted the adults in the room. Steve follows soon after when Peter pokes him with his fork. His bites are much smaller and slower than Peter's.
By the time they're done eating, Steve's plate is still almost full. Tony takes it to the kitchen anyway.
When he walks back in, Steve looks up at him and says, "I was wondering if you could do me a favor."
"Sure," Tony is quick to say, ready to pull out his wallet. "Whatever you need." Buy him a better dinner? Buy Peter an expensive present? Start a savings account for Peter so he'll never have to pay for a thing his entire life? He would do anything of it in a heartbeat.
But Steve's request has nothing to do with money. "There's a box next to the tree. It has an angel in it. Every Christmas Eve, I always help Peter put it at the top." His voice breaks, but he continues. "I can't exactly lift him right now."
After a moment, it clicks in Tony's head. "Of course." He walks over to Peter and scoops him up in his arms, noticing the jealous look in Steve's eyes for the first time. He's not jealous of Tony's money or his fame. He's jealous that he can lift up his son.
Tony carries Peter carefully to the box and Peter takes the angel in his hands. She's beautiful and Peter is so gentle with her, even though her wear and tear is obvious.
"Her name is Maria," Peter says as he cradles the angel.
"Maria?" Tony feels his heart skip a beat. It can't just be a coincidence.
"Yeah. Saint Maria. Isn't she pretty?" Peter combs her hair gently.
"Very pretty." He smiles down at the angel. "My mother's name was Maria."
"I bet she was an angel too," Peter says.
"She was," Tony confirms.
"Saint Maria is the saint for forgiveness," Peter tells him as Tony lifts him in the air to place her on the top. "You can pray to her to help you with forgiveness."
"I need a lot of forgiving," Tony says, lowering him back to his chest.
"We all do sometimes. I prayed to her when I broke Papa's music disc and lied about it. And guess what, he forgived me."
Tony chuckles as Steve corrects him. "I've done a little more than lie."
"There is nothing you can't get forgiveness for. That's what Jesus tells us." Peter pats Tony's face softly as Tony carries him back to Steve.
"You raised a great kid," Tony whispers, smiling softly at the pair curled up again.
"Don't give me all the credit. He was this great on his own. He'll continue to be this great on his own."
Right. Steve's dying. Peter's losing his father.
He wonders if Steve has a plan for Peter after he passes. Well, he probably does. Tony just wonders what it is.
"Do you mind me asking...what you're sick with?"
"Kidney failure. I've been sick for a few weeks, waiting on a transplant. Peter isn't a match, my friend isn't a match. No one at church was able to help." Steve sighs and shrugs his shoulders. "I've come to peace with me leaving." Then he glances down at Peter, who's already starting to doze off in Steve's arms. "Leaving him though...I don't think I'll ever be at peace with that."
Steve doesn't have an apartment big enough for him and Peter; he doesn't have enough food to fill his small cabinets; he doesn't have clothes that aren't hand-me-downs for Peter; he's dying...and he's still more grateful than Tony has ever been in his privileged life.
"I'm sorry," Tony says, unsure of what else he can say in this situation.
"What are you sorry for?" Steve tilts his head, and Tony has a great view of his sunken face. He's skin and bones now. His blond hair is thin on his head. He's sorry that he's healthy, and Steve isn't.
"I dunno. Everything."
"You don't have to apologize for things you can't control." Steve places his hand over Tony's. "Thank you for coming here. Making sure he got home safe and staying."
Despite the chill in the apartment, Steve's hand on his feels like fire. "Have you been alone in here?"
"Pete's here. I have a friend I met after the service that lives nearby. He brings Peter to school, joins us for dinner sometimes."
"I served in the Army and when I came home...well, I was here physically but not mentally. I wasn't really living for much until my wife found out she was pregnant. I couldn't live like I was and be a father. I went to a group therapy thing...and met a good man through it."
Steve is a veteran and still, he's sitting, dying in his home without a care from anyone. If it weren't for Peter, he would have been in here alone with Peter. No dinner and no star on the tree. Tony would have been partying all night, without a care for Blue Eyes-- Steve-- in the world.
"Thank you for your service."
Steve's pale cheeks flushed. "Thank you…"
"I wish...there was more I could do. I'm used to being able to solve problems by...throwing money at it," Tony admits. "And for once, there's a problem that money won't fix."
"I'm not a charity case anyway. Why should I get special treatment when so many others are suffering worse?"
Tony huffs and sits forward on his seat. "I don't really know you, Steve. But I know that you will always put others before you. And yes, there are thousands of people much worse off than you. But for once...be selfish. You deserve to be better, if not for yourself, then for Peter."
Steve turns his head to stare down at Peter. When he speaks, his voice is quiet like he's afraid it will break. "But I can't get better. So there's no point in thinking about that."
Tony deflates slightly when he says that.
"I just wanted one thing for Christmas, Tony. To make it to Christmas."
And isn't that heartbreaking?
"I wanted to be alive so I could hold my baby and wish him one last Merry Christmas. I wished for snow too because I love seeing Peter's face staring out the window, but this slush is good enough." Steve rubs Peter's back gently. “We used to play my Frank Sinatra record and dance around the living room.”
Tony eyes went to the record player on a small table against the wall. He stands up and walks over. There’s already a record in there, so Tony carefully lowers the needle until music starts to fill the room. He looks over his shoulder and sees Steve smiling.
He walks back over and leans down to lift Peter from Steve’s arms. Steve doesn’t have the strength to fight him even if he wanted to, so it’s easy for Tony to move Peter to the other side of the bed. Then he takes Steve’s hands. “Do you want to dance one more time?”
Steve’s eyes widened. “I--I can barely stand, Tony. I can’t dance--.”
Tony doesn’t listen to him as he puts his hands on Steve’s hands and starts to lift him. Steve is shaking harder now as Tony helps him sit up, and then stand to his feet. Tony watches Steve’s eyes as they fill with hope. He laughs through a breath as he looks from his feet to Tony. They take a step away from the bed, and Steve falls to the floor.
Steve immediately looks up at the bed where Peter is still laying down. He looks embarrassed. Tony soothes him as much as he can. “Peter is still sleeping. Let’s try again.”
After a shaky breath, Steve nods his head. “O-Okay.”
Tony lifts him up and holds him closer. “Rest your weight on me.” Steve puts his head on Tony’s shoulder and wraps his arms around him tightly. Then Tony begins to dance with him, careful to not move too fast. Frank Sinatra’s voice is slow and soothing as they waltz around the floor. It’s messy and wouldn’t win any dancing awards, but it’s prefect. Almost magic.
The song is only halfway through when someone joins them at their feet. Peter is awake and is rubbing the leftover sleep from his eyes. “Papa, you’re dancin’!”
Steve’s hands grip Tony so tight that he feels his nails dig into his skin. Tony refuses to let him fall in front of Peter. “Yeah, bud. I’m trying to.”
Peter doesn’t understand. Of course he doesn’t. So he raises his arms above his head, silently asking to be lifted up as he wiggles his fingers.
Steve’s breath hitches. “Oh, baby.”
“You wanna hold him?” Tony whispers.
“More than anything.”
“Hold onto my shoulders,” he says while he leans down slowly to lift up Peter. Then he transfers Peter to Steve’s arms. He looks panicked until he realizes that he’s not really bearing the weight of Peter. Tony slips around so his chest is pressed against Steve’s back and he holds Peter against Steve’s chest.
“Will this work?” Steve asks, wrapping his arms around Peter too.
Tony tries not to let his struggling show as he not only has Steve’s weight under his armpits but also Peter’s. “For the rest of the song maybe.”
Please God, Tony prays for the first time in forever, let me hold them through this song.
The song plays and they don’t waltz, but swaying on their feet is enough for Steve and Peter. Tony hopes that Steve forgets that he’s right behind him and can pretend like it’s any other Christmas Eve. He feels Steve shake in his hold and there are moments when he thinks they’re all going down. But he stays up and sings softly to Peter.
They even make it a few seconds into the new song before Steve says to Tony in a low panic, “I’ve got to sit.”
Tony gets him to the bed in two steps and Tony takes Peter from his arms before helping him sit. Steve’s sweating, and so is Tony by the time they’re back in their original positions. But Steve is smiling and knowing he is responsible for putting the smile there, Tony finds himself smiling too.
“That was the best Christmas present I could have gotten,” Steve tells him.
Tony thinks life would have been a better gift.
Somewhere between then and Peter falling asleep again, this time snoring soundly, Tony’s hand finds its way into Steve’s. He’s rubbing it soothingly as Steve just stares over at the Christmas tree. Tony kept the record player on low, just low enough for Steve to still hear the hustle and bustle of New York City at Christmas time outside his window.
“Can you stay?” Steve whispers, and for a moment, Tony isn’t sure if it’s to him or not. Then he turns his head to look at him. “After I go, I mean. Can you stay in Peter’s life? I don’t want you to throw money at him or-- or feel like he’s a charity. But you’re good with him. I want him to have a good father figure growing up.”
Tony should say no. He’s only just met Peter, and Steve too, officially. He has a business to run. He’s not stable himself. He has never raised a kid before. He should say no and run. But he smiles and finds himself nodding his head. “Of course.”
Steve nods his head too and he tries to say something, but he struggles. Tony is patient. When he finally speaks, Tony can tell he’s struggling around a lump in his throat. “You can let him be as mad at me as he wants...just...don’t let him ever be mad at Christmas. This is his favorite time of year, and I know I don’t have much longer left. I don’t want to ruin this for him. I don’t want it to be just a reminder.”
“I want to, but I can’t promise that. How he reacts. It would be hypocritical of me to tell him not to let this ruin the holiday season. But he’s a better kid than me, so maybe I won’t have to.”
Steve squeezes his hand weakly. “It’s okay to find happiness after someone is gone. You’re allowed to give yourself that.”
“Easier said than done.”
Steve hums under his breath and then goes quiet. Tony thinks maybe he’s done for the night. But then he says softly. “You’re a good man, Tony Stark.”
This surprises Tony. “What?”
“All of the other times I met you, I was convinced you were just another arrogant, spoiled, asshole. But the yous I met all those months ago, that’s not you. If I were lucky enough to live another hundred years, I wouldn’t remember you from those times. I’d remember you from tonight, holding me and my son so I could dance with him one more time.”
Tony looks down at the floor, not feeling worthy of Steve’s words.
“You’re a very good man. I think Peter was right when he said you were an angel. My very own Saint Anthony.”
Tony looks up with watery eyes. “Saint Anthony?”
“Patron saint of lost things. He finds things...people that are lost and he brings them home.” Even when the rest of Steve’s body is weak and frail, his eyes are as bright as ever.
“Well, I’ve never prayed to him before, but I do feel like he’s brought me home.”
“You were lost,” Steve whispers. “But now you’re found.”
He has been lost. He’s been lost all his life. He’s never known where he was supposed to be. He never felt like he actually belonged. Not until tonight with this tiny family. He feels horrible when for a moment, he’s angry at the world for showing him exactly what he’s been looking for, only to rip it away soon after. Steve is the one dying. Peter is the one losing a father.
“Feels like it’s a little too late.”
Steve lifts Tony’s hand to his mouth and presses his lips to his knuckles. “It’s never too late.”
“Will always be with you.” He uses a shaking finger to poke Tony’s chest, just above his heart. “Right here. Just like I told Peter.”
“I promise you, I’ll look after him,” Tony says in a low but urgent voice. “He will never need anything in his life. He will never want.”
Steve laughs through a cough. “It’s okay if he wants. He doesn’t need the world handed to him. Just make sure he’s loved. That’s all I ask.” Steve glances down at Peter. “He doesn’t have anyone else ‘sides for my friend. I know we’ve only just met, but I trust you. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m in love. But I look at you, and I see good for my son.”
“Steve…” Tony says, his eyes welling with tears.
“I know I asked you to stay for him. But could you stay tonight? With me? Just in case...I’d like for you to be here.”
“Yeah,” Tony says with a voice thick with tears. “Of course.”
“Thank you,” Steve whispers before his eyes flutter shut.
“Merry Christmas, Blue Eyes,” Tony presses a kiss to his cheek and watches his lip turn into a smile.
“Merry Christmas, Tony.”
"Oh shit," Tony curses as he hurries into the kitchen. Something is definitely burning.
"Hey, Tones. Is something on fire?"
Tony groans as he hurries into the kitchen. He opens the oven and sure enough, their lasagna is burning. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," he mutters as he pulls out the pan, not using a thick enough towel to block the heat.
"That's why we have those pot holders."
Tony nearly jumps a foot in the air as he turns to see Peter watching him from the other side of the oven.
"We need a bell for you-- shit fuck! That's hot!" He drops the pan to the counter with a clang.
"Those are bad words."
"Don't repeat them," Tony warns, giving him a look that he dares Peter to challenge.
Peter opens his mouth and Tony us afraid he's going to repeat one just to be a little shit because that's what he's good at. But he closes his mouth and shrugs his shoulders. "You need aloe?"
"No. I need more time. People will be here any minute and this place isn't ready for a party."
"I finished the living room," Peter says, shifting from one foot to the other. "Wanna see?"
"I would love to see, squirt," he says. He knows Peter was hesitant to get ready for their party without Steve, but Tony is glad he decided to in the end.
Peter gives him a small smile and Tony drops his towel next to the pan. Yelling over his shoulder, he calls for Rhodey, "Honeybear, come finish the lasagna please!"
Then Peter grabs his hand and drags him out of the kitchen into the living room. The living room looks nice, and all Peter really added is decorations made from construction paper, the bowls of chips and pretzels for the party. He also brought in some board games from the closet for him to play with some of the other children that would be coming.
This is going to be the first full house Tony's had during the holidays since his parents passed. He wants it to be perfect, and he wants it to be especially perfect for Peter. But they're already off to a bad start with the burnt lasagna.
"You know," Tony says quietly, kneeling down next to Peter. "There's one thing missing from our Christmas decorations."
Tony and Peter both look to the top of the tree where there's an angel missing. They're quiet as Frank Sinatra croons from Steve's record player. "I miss Papa," Peter whines softly.
"I know, peanut, but--."
Tony turns around and sees Happy walking into the living room with armfulls of presents. He stands up and smiles back at his friend. "Merry Christmas, Hap!"
Tony takes some gifts from Happy so he doesn't drop them and puts them under the tree. Happy keeps one of them and kneels by Peter. "Hey, bug. Merry Christmas."
Peter gives him a small smile.
"What, no hug for your Uncle Happy?"
Peter giggles quietly and takes a step forward, crashing into Happy's awaiting arms. He giggles harder when Happy starts to blow raspberries against his cheek.
"I got you something."
Peter pulls back with a gasp. "For me?"
"Just for you. Wanna open it?" He looks up at Tony. "Is it okay with Dad?"
Peter turns to him with his big puppy dog eyes and his lower lip out in a pout. Tony can't even pretend to fight that. "Ugh, fine! You can open this one early. No other ones."
Peter is bouncing as he takes the gift from Happy's hand and falls to the ground to unwrap it. He throws the wrapping paper over his shoulder and Tony shakes his head as he picks it up.
"Oh, my gosh! Look!" He shakes a box of Lego, a set that he's been asking for for months.
Tony ruffles his hair. "You're getting spoiled before Santa even comes."
I promise he'll never need. He'll never want.
"Thank you, Uncle Happy!" Peter squeezes Happy in a tight hug.
"You're welcome, bug." Happy kisses the side of his head and lets him go. He stands up, ruffling Peter's hair on the way up. "I've got some kids coming with family. They'd love to meet Peter."
"Yeah, that sounds good, Hap." Tony pats his shoulder and lowers his voice when Peter is focused on the Lego box. "He's a little down...you know how he is sometimes…"
"Missing his Pops, huh?"
Tony sighs, wishing he can bring him back now for him. "Yeah."
"Poor kid. How long has it been?"
"Too long," Tony says, shaking his head.
"Yeah. How you holdin' up?" Happy frowns. "I know how hooked you are."
"I'm fine," Tony says quickly. "Just doing what I can to distract the kiddie."
"Want me to help while you finish up getting ready? I think Rhodey was looking for help in the kitchen." Happy jerks his hand over his shoulder. "The kid and I can work on this Lego set."
"You don't mind?"
"Not at all." Happy is already sitting down next to Peter. "You're gonna have to find your way back here though to help me back up."
Peter's climbing into Happy's lap within a second and asking him to open the box.
"Alright, I'll see you soon, buddy." Tony laughs before walking to the kitchen to help Rhodey. He knows that Rhodey can handle dinner just fine, and is probably requesting Tony's help to distract him, but Tony doesn't find himself caring.
This year is going to be different.
"What are you doing all the way over here, bud?" Tony takes a seat next to Peter on the window seat.
His head is leaning against the window as he watches the snow fall. It covers the city streets in a blanket of white.
"Watching snow," he mumbles quietly.
"It's pretty." Tony lifts him up so he's sitting on his lap.
"Papa loves snow on Christmas."
"Mhmm," Tony says, kissing the top of his head.
"Christmas Eve is almost over," he says, still looking outside.
"We've got a few more hours. Don't worry. Everyone will be home and you'll be in bed before Santa comes."
"Our angel isn't up yet," Peter says sadly, turning to look at the top of the tree.
"You wanna put her up?"
"No!" Peter yells. "We can't without Papa…"
"Okay, peanut. Do you want to go play with the kids? They're starting a game of Clue." Tony bounces Peter in his arms slightly.
"I don't really wanna play," he says, shrugging his shoulders slightly.
"You wanna go get ready for dessert then?"
"I want Papa."
Tony scoops him up in a big hug and cradles him against his chest. "I know, bambino."
"He promised that he'd be here." Peter sounds close to crying, and Tony doesn't want him to. He promised Steve he'd keep him happy during the holiday season.
"I know, and if he could be, he'd be here right now with you and me." Tony rubs the top of his head gently.
"Why did he hafta go?"
"Aw, squirt. You know why he had to go." Tony brushes a curl behind Peter's ear as he stares down at his lap sadly.
"Tears on Christmas Eve? That's not very jolly."
Peter gasps in Tony's arms and sits up straight. "Papa!"
Tony turns around and sure enough, standing just behind them is Steve. Tony pulls him into a hug, resting his head on his shoulder. Peter jumps from Tony's arms to Steve.
Steve catches him easily and chuckles. "Hey, sweetie. Sorry I'm late."
Peter looks at him with a pout. "You said you were going to be here by this morning!"
"I know, I know," Steve says, trying to calm Peter down. "I got stuck in the storm and had to wait a few hours for the snow to clear up before I could drive."
"Did you get to pick them up?" Tony asks, not wanting to look away from Steve to see if they were in the party.
"Yeah. Buck and Sam are in the kitchen heating up some food from dinner." He gives Tony an apologetic frown. "I'm sorry I'm late, babe. I didn't think picking them up would take so long."
"As long as you're here now, that's all that matters." Tony leans forward and kisses Steve's cheek.
"We hafta to put up the angel!"
"Of course. How can we forget Maria?" Steve spins him and Peter in a circle before going to the tree, where their angel is still in the box.
Steve leans down and lowers Peter so he can pick her up before he stands up straight again. He lifts Peter up effortlessly, even though over the past year, Peter has gained some weight since he and Steve had a good access to food.
No more paying for paints in pennies anymore.
Steve gained some weight and his muscle back too since he gained his appetite back after his surgery.
Watching Steve hold Peter without a shake as he puts their angel on the tree makes Tony's eyes well with tears. The angel is up and he even dances around the room for a few seconds to the music before heading towards the kitchen.
Everyone in the living room is watching the two with a smile. They know the story. They know how much of a miracle this is.
"Excuse me, everyone, but I have to steal this little munchkin for a few minutes." His eyes go to Tony and he grins. "I'd like to steal you too."
Tony laughs and walks over, letting Steve take his hand. He guides them out of the living room and into the kitchen.
Sam and Bucky are sitting at the table with a large plate each. Their legs are entangled underneath the table and Tony rolls his eyes, wondering how much longer they're going to try and keep this a secret.
Steve literally picked them up from a cabin upstate that they were hanging out in for a vacation holiday. Yeah. Sure.
"Hey, Tony," Bucky says with a mouthful of food.
"Hello, you two. Thank you for hogging my husband all day."
"He didn't wanna drive in the snow. He was bein' all protective," Bucky says, his voice thick with a Brooklyn accent now that he's swallowed the food.
"Good. I always want him coming home safe to me." Tony pulls Steve in close and kisses him. "Woulda been a waste of a perfect kidney."
Steve laughs hard at that. "You know I can't stay away from you, love. Part of you is in me. Wherever I go."
"I know you're trying to be sappy right now, but you have no idea how hard it is to not make a joke about how much I want part of you in me."
Steve's face turns bright red. He tries covering one of Peter's ears, but it's too late. "Tony! He's right here!"
"He doesn't know what we're talking about," Tony defends himself. "And when he does learn about the nocturnal activities we get up to, he'll be old enough to know his fathers are in love and healthy and very active--."
"Are you guys talkin' 'bout sex?"
Now it's Tony's turn to laugh. "I swear-- I swear I didn't teach him that."
Peter tilts his head. "No. I learned it from them." He points his finger towards Bucky and Sam. They freeze. "Last month when they were babysitting. They were making a lot of noise in the night. I asked them if someone was breaking in and they told me not to worry."
Steve whirls around to face the two of them. "You taught my eight-year-old son about sex?!"
Sam looks like he wants to deny it both for their safety and to keep their relationship a secret but Bucky rolls his eyes. "He was gonna learn about it anyway."
"And on that note," Sam says, standing up and grabbing Bucky's hand. "We'll be going."
"Do not lock yourself in a bedroom! I don't want to wash any sheets tomorrow!"
"Ew," Peter mumbles.
"Yeah. Ew," Steve agrees.
"Hey," Tony says with a grin. "You brought them here. Not me."
Steve looks around the kitchen before looking back to Tony. "This is nice...I like having everyone around. And, there's snow." Tony sees his eyes tearing up. "Ane this year...did you see me lift him? Hold him to dance?" He holds Peter closer and takes in a shaky breath as he presses a kiss to Peter's curls. "Look at me still holding him."
"You're holding him," Tony says encouragingly. "No shakes. No falls."
Steve turns his head to Tony and whispers, "All thanks to you, angel."
Tony feels his cheeks blush. "I'm not an angel…"
"But you are. Peter prayed last year and you found us and ever since then… life has been so much better."
"For me too," Tony says.
Steve and Tony laugh before they each press a kiss to each of Peter's temples. "You're our angel," Steve whispers into his curls.
"Merry Christmas, Papa. Merry Christmas, Daddy." He takes turns giving them a kiss. "I love you."
"You know," Tony says with a grin. "Before you two, I never wanted to hear Merry Christmas again. But now, I want it to be Christmas every day."
"If you want, we can keep the tree up all year long. I'm sure Peter would love it."
"Peter would love it," Peter says with a giggle.
"Alright, then let's get you back to the Christmas fun. That pop up book is waiting for us. Maybe we can even ditch the party and head to bed early." Tony winks.
"Blech!" Peter gags. "You better not be talkin' 'bout... sex!" He whispers sex in a harsh whisper.
"No, I'm not talking about sex." Tony tickles Peter's side until he's squirming in a giggle fit. "I'm talking about all of us, hot cocoa, cuddling under blankets, and a Christmas movie."
"Not too late! Santa is gonna be here soon!" Peter kicks his feet until Steve puts him down and then he runs out to the living room.
"Do you think he's saying goodnight to everyone to go to bed early?" Tony asks, leaning against Steve's side.
"But it's only 8:30."
"Well," Tony says, turning towards Steve, placing a hand on his chest. "If he falls asleep, that'll give us a lot of time to see if Santa has any present for you. Because I think you've been a very good boy this year."
Steve pulls him closer so they're chests are pressed against one another and they're hearts are beating together. "I think now is a good time for that joke."
"Which joke?" Tony murmurs.
"C'mon," Steve says, his cheeks blushing adorably. "You know which."
"Hm," Tony pretends to think. "Do I?"
"Yeah…the one with some part of me in you. I thought it was clever because you know...I have a part of you in me. Your kidney. Because you donated your kidney for me."
"Yeah," Tony chuckles, enjoying how flustered Steve is getting. "I get the joke, babe. No need to explain."
"Okay. Good. So we're on the same page."
"Yes," Tony confirms. "A page I'd like to explore after Peter falls asleep."
"That's good. I'd like that. Though we better be careful… you know what they say about being naughty this close to Santa coming."
Tony pushed himself up on his toes to catch Steve's lips with his. "I don't think we have to worry about that though. I don't know about you, but I've got anything I could have wanted already."
"Yeah. I know what you mean."
"Merry Christmas, Steve."
"Merry Christmas, Tony," Steve whispers against his lips, kissing him again.
Moments later, their make out is interrupted by Peter running back in and dragging them out to the living room with everyone else.
Surrounded by his family and his closest friends, Tony couldn't feel anymore secure in the fact that he really does have everything he could have ever asked for. And more.