Steve stared into his coffee cup as though it held the secrets of the universe. If it didn’t have those, it should at least have caffeine. Which it couldn’t, because he couldn't have caffeine because his heart couldn’t take it.
“Buddy, you gonna drink it or eye fuck it?”
Steve’s eyes shot up to meet Bucky’s. “I’m drinking it.” To make his point, Steve took a long sip. Bucky continued to stare at him as Steve drained the cup, ignoring the way that it was scorching his taste buds because fuck if he was giving Bucky the satisfaction.
The smirk painted on Bucky’s face told Steve it hadn’t worked. “While I appreciate you treating my handcrafted decaffeinated-because-I-love-you macchiato like a shot of Jager, you want to tell me why you’re here and not at home with Tony and Peter?”
Steve finished the coffee and sighed. “No.”
Bucky nodded. “Okay.”
He headed back to the other end of the coffee bar to wait on another customer, but Steve knew there was no way it was going to end there.
Sure enough, a few moments later, Bucky was back with a glass of ice water. “It’s 7:30, don’t forget your nitro.”
“I can remember my own meds,” Steve snapped.
“Fourteen trips to the ER during freshman year says otherwise,” Bucky snapped.
“Freshman year of college was ten years ago,” Steve retorted.
“And yet, you boys haven’t matured a day,” Nat said as she came in from the back of the bar. She placed a plate of shortbread in front of Steve. “Snacks for the meds. Take them now before he goes feral.”
“You know,” Bucky said, as he swiped a piece of shortbread and shoved it in his mouth, “I liked you better when you hated us.”
“Your profit margins sucked balls when I hated you,” Nat replied, “and Steve hadn’t met Tony, so really, your life before me was terrible.”
Steve felt his face twist into a grimace before he could stop it.
“Oh, god, what did you do?” Bucky asked.
“Why do you think I did anything?”
Bucky ticked his fingers. “One, you’re at the shop on a Tuesday, which is usually family night. Two, you’re moping, which means you’re feeling sad and guilty. Three, I’ve met you.”
“No one has ever liked you,” Steve said.
“I am exceptionally beloved,” Bucky said with a grin, “so thanks for proving me right.”
Steve glared at him, but then sighed deeply. “I made the appointment.”
Nat and Bucky both gasped in unison.
The tone of Nat’s voice was laced with condemnation - which Steve deserved so deeply it caused him pain.
“Peter needs this,” Steve said defiantly.
“Be that as it may -“ Nat started.
“Tony said no, pal.” Bucky said gently.
Steve’s throat suddenly clogged with tears. “I know.”
It was a testament to how deeply he’d fucked up that his friends said nothing.
They’d met at Christmas time, just after Tony’s 30th birthday, five years previous. A completely chance meeting in a Trader Joe’s in Washington Heights - a place neither of them had ever been before - led to a semi-anonymous night in one of the apartments Stark Imagineering stashed around the city for various needs. Steve had nearly had three asthma attacks he came so hard, and he’d chalked the entire night up to a fever dream he’d wank off to forever.
As far as Steve knew, the only place he’d ever see Tony again would be on magazine covers or on news clips in taxi cabs. He was, therefore, completely shocked when a package arrived at his studio two weeks later with a key card to the Four Seasons in the Financial District and a note saying Tony couldn’t get him out of his mind.
Steve went, figuring what the hell. He’d had a particularly terrible cardiologist appointment that day and was looking for a distraction. His walking wet dream was a good enough one.
They talked about absolutely nothing important. The entire planet knew that Tony had a son named Peter, who had chronic health issues, and an ex-wife who liked to throw dramatic temper tantrums in the press. Neither of those were brought up when they were together. Not the first, second, or eighth times.
The ninth, however, Steve had gotten insomnia and stole some hotel paper to sketch Tony in the moonlight. Tony had seen the sketch the following morning - their trysts always occurred when Peter was with his mother - and commented on it.
“You know,” Tony said, “this was going to be our last time.”
Steve said nothing. He had a feeling about what was coming next.
“I finally have full custody,” Tony said, “so my weekends will always be about Peter.”
“They should be,” Steve replied evenly.
“You were supposed to be a distraction, from not having him,” Tony murmured. “You weren’t supposed to be something that distracted me from other things, too.”
“What do I distract you from?” Steve said.
“My commitment to staying single forever, and never falling for anyone again,” Tony said simply, and Steve’s heart tumbled the rest of the way down.
They’d started dating, privately at first, before being outed by a particularly lecherous photographer about two years in. Looking back, Steve was glad those first two years were in private, because they had to work through a lot. Steve had been fine with getting spoiled when he was a booty call, but not when he was a boyfriend. He made a fine living as a graphic illustrator for Simon & Schuster, with some freelancing on the side. He appreciated that his boyfriend did not only not know the price of milk, but had never known the price of milk, but he wasn’t about to start buying bottled water from Finland when tap was just fine.
Tony never meant to make Steve uncomfortable, and that’s why they were still together. Lots of negotiations, lots of spats, lots of full-out fights, but they’d built a life together.
And then there was the Peter of it all.
Steve had met Peter when he and Tony had been official for about six months. Peter knew his dad had a boyfriend - he was ten and not stupid, as he casually informed Tony - and was most excited that Mr. Steve knew how to draw. Born with underdeveloped lungs, Peter was always looking for new indoor activities to do while his breathing treatments ran their course.
Over the years, Steve had taught him how to draw, Peter had taught Steve how to be a dad, and they’d both taught each other how to love Tony the best. They’d formed a family, and Steve wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Until he was an idiot, and almost did.
“Why’d ya do it?” Bucky asked quietly, about three hours later. They’d closed up the coffee shop and retired upstairs to Nat’s apartment.
Steve was quiet for a while, before voicing a confession he’d been afraid to say out loud. “I was sure he’d see my side if I just made the appointment.”
Bucky barked out a dry laugh. “Stevie, explain to me when that would ever work on your boyfriend.”
“I know, okay?” Steve nearly wailed. “I know. I just… Dr. Simonian is the best, and this clinical trial is so exciting. Regenerative lung tissue? I mean, Petey wouldn’t have to have a nebulizer at all. At all, guys! His life would change and…”
“And the risk factor for the treatment is 10% above what Tony deemed was worth it,” Nat finished.
“He has no idea,” Steve snapped. Another thing he hadn’t meant to say out loud. “He doesn’t know what it’s like to have a body that fails you all the time, to have to fight for every breath sometimes, to know that you’re carrying around a ticking time bomb, and that you’re only….”
Nat wound her fingers through his. “Then you have to tell him.”
Steve blinked at her through the tears that had formed. “I did.”
She was quiet, but he heard what she didn’t say.
“Okay, I called him a privileged asshat who was willing to let his son miss out on freedom because of his own fear.”
“Bit of a different vibe, there, Stevie,” Bucky commented from his chair.
Steve flipped him off with the hand that wasn’t grounded to Nat and let out a deep sigh. “I need to go home.”
“Yes.” Nat’s reply was kind, firm, and still carried undertones of ‘you fucking idiot’.
“I’ll get you an Uber,” Bucky said, pulling out his phone.
Tony’s eyes snapped from the tablet to Steve’s, and Steve could not read the expression on his face.
“I overstepped, and that was wrong, and I’m sorry.”
Tony let out a breath that seemed to deflate his entire body. “Two years ago, that woulda taken you about six days, so I’ll take six hours as a real win in our adulting scorecard. You head to Soliloquy?”
Steve nodded, but didn’t move from his spot by their bedroom door. “Buck was on tonight. Something about Wanda having a date.”
“They’re your family.”
“You’re my family,” Steve emphasized. “You and Peter, and I…”
“And Nat, Sam, Clint, and Bucky,” Tony said with a slight smile. “You brought a traveling circus with you, sweetheart, and I’m glad.”
Tony held out his hand, and Steve moved to take it. He sat next to Tony on the bed. Steve had always loved the way that Tony felt solid in contrast to how light Steve often felt. His own body often felt a breath away from disintegrating - his doctors said he was alive mostly due to sheer spite. When people described Steve, they used words like ‘slight’ and ‘delicate’ and Steve hated both of them. With Tony, however, they’d shifted to ‘cherished’ and ‘safe’.
“I know it’ll help,” Steve said.
“I’m sure it will,” Tony said with a sigh. “But it could damage his liver in the process, and that’s a big organ to have fucked with.”
“I know,” Steve said.
They were quiet for a few minutes, simply holding hands and sitting in the silence. Finally, Tony spoke.
“You’re right that we should see a new pulmonologist now that he’s older. See if there’s a second opinion on treatments or tissue transplants,” Tony said. “But experimental shit is gonna be a bridge too far for me, I think. Not for him. Me? If it were me? Throw me on the table, do whatever you want. But him? And you? Absolutely not. I want at least nine peer-reviewed articles and a personal call from the director of the FDA before I’m comfy with that.”
“He gets to make his own choices soon, and you get to make all your own now, so I know I’ve got borrowed time to have that opinion, but it’s the one I have,” Tony finished. “You two are my entire world, and the idea of experimenting happening anywhere near you makes me break out in hives.”
Steve laid his head on Tony’s shoulder. “I love you, too. All I saw was that he’d have a better life than I do, and that blinded me.”
“How many inhalers do we have stashed around the apartment?” Steve asked.
“I don’t want that for him,” Steve confessed. “The idea that he could live a life not governed by albuterol was just so intoxicating, I lost myself a little.”
Tony was quiet for a few beats. “Well, that you were a dickhead out of deep love for the kid helps smooth the way a little.”
Steve laughed. “What did you tell me once? My heart is always in the right place, even when my brain isn’t?”
“Sounds like a genius analysis, so it has to be me.”
Steve pinched Tony’s side, which elicited a giggle shriek.
“Where is he now?”
“Pep’s,” Tony said. “He knew we fought and it was becoming a whole thing, so he went there to finish his homework and not be distracted by our quote negative vibes.”
“So this is a good time to tell you that Nat sent shortbread home?”
“An exceptionally good time,” Tony said. “What did I do to deserve pity shortbread?”
“Something about putting up with me,” Steve said.
“Like I said, sweetheart, family.”