It starts when, one night, Steve ventures groggily to the kitchen to grab a glass of milk. He catches a faint scent and stops mid-motion, his hand hanging halfway to the fridge door. He abandons the motion the next moment and turns. For a moment, he's back in the Commandos' tent. Dum Dum Dugan is staring down Gabe and Bucky over a poker game just as Steve walks in. The heavy smell of cigarette-smoke hangs in the air, makes his eyes sting.
The next second, he's back in the abandoned kitchen. He takes a moment to recover, ascertain that the world is still right-side up. Who could be smoking? He wonders. Clint and Natasha both can smoke but do not indulge in it unless it's required for a mission. Bruce handles his addictions, but he doesn't smoke anything - Steve would know. His senses have been enhanced with the serum, and any outstanding scent is easily picked up. Thor never seemed to have much interest in Earthly pleasures beyond coffee and poptarts. At least, that's what the stories say. Thor himself neither denies nor approves these tales, but he does drink coffee with an air of glee.
The thought of his new teammates around the dinner table makes Steve smile as he makes his way towards the main living area. It's not exactly like it was with the Commandos, he muses. Back then, during the war, they used to have very little to go by, and comforts were not easy to get, but now, in the 21st century… Well. There seems to be such an abundance, that sometimes it overwhelms him. Steve sees Tony, then. Standing solitary and in what seems to be either very dirty pajamas or very comfortable work-clothes. Tony is still a mystery to Steve. A man with an elusive personality. Deceptively crass and yet extremely well-meaning. He spots the slight blueish tendrils of smoke rising, dancing over Tony's head as he steps out onto the balcony.
"Jarvis tells me you don't sleep very well, Cap." Tony says, and Steve smiles. "Is it the traumatic nightmares or the depression-related insomnia?" He asks. Steve shakes his head with mild disapproval, even though Tony's facing away from him, looking out on the city. He's leaning on the railing with both elbows, the cigarette hanging loosely between his right hand's fingers. Steve considers the question. Before, when he'd only met Tony, this type of question would rile him up. He couldn't stand how accurately Tony'd jab right at the softest, most painful places in his mind. His insecurity about doning the old suit and his self doubt had been eating him for weeks at that point, and Tony was right there to point and poke and make him into a joke. At least, that's how it'd felt at the time. Now Steve knows better. Tony's mind works fast, faster than most people can imagine. He thinks of a million different things in the span of a minute, but the small things can sometimes throw him off his tide completely. He can't get his thoughts in order until these questions and issues are resolved. Knowing this, now, Steve knows there is no malicious intent. He knows that it's Tony's unrefined cut-to-the-chase attitude.
"I'd say it's none of your business, but that won't make you lay off it, will it?" Steve answers finally, smiling when Tony laughs and shakes his head. He takes two and a half steps to stand next to Tony and leans sideways against the railing to watch him. "Don't suppose you have another one of those around here, do you?" He asks. He knows the brand just by the smell of the smoke, knows it intimately, nostalgically, almost. Tony raises an eyebrow and Steve rolls his eyes, turning to face the city. "What, Captain America's image ruined again?" He asks. It's a sensitive subject, which is why Tony isn't throwing a fit at finding this out. The last time had been when Tony found out Steve played for both teams - Steve didn't see him for a week after that revelation. The first time had been when Steve turned out to know and use swearwords quite naturally. Tony shrugs, then reaches into his pants pocket and pulls out one cigarette. He hands it over, then hands him his own lit cigarette.
"Thanks." Steve says, lights up and hands Tony's cigarette back. He inhales deeply, eyes closing at the familiar burn, then sighs, the cloud of smoke puffing out and rising slowly. Tony's watching him, he can sense it, even if it's just from the corner of his eye. When he thinks about it, Steve can hardly remember ever smoking alone. Well, there were the few times after Bucky died, but he grew out of the habit soon after. It was Howard who'd first introduced him to cigarettes. He'd never really asked if Steve smoked, and just handed him one, the same movement Tony made, but instead of looking dubious or surprised, he'd offered him a lighter. Steve feels a smile creeping up to his lips. Before the serum, he'd never really tried smoking. The combination of ailments he'd carried would not allow him to live through such an attempt. After the serum, though, when Howard handed him that first cigarette all those years ago, Steve had not even coughed. He'd smoked like it was natural to him. He knows, to this day, that smoking does not affect him like it does others. Yes, for a brief instant there is a touch of calmness, but it passes quickly, almost the same as alcohol. He almost wishes it didn't do that, but knows better than to complain, now. The Commandos all smoked, and Steve was no exception there.
"It wasn't a nightmare." Steve says after a long drawn quiet moment. He's not used to Tony maintaining silence, and maybe he shouldn't be this surprised that the man is capable of such a feat, but it still makes him glance at Tony. "I just woke up, and then couldn't get to sleep again. I thought some milk could-" He stops when Tony snorts, then laughs for a few seconds.
"Aww man." Tony says when he finally settles down, and Steve waits to hear what he has to say now. "What is it with you and those dorky things? I mean-" He pauses, gestures at Steve. "No offense, okay? But here you are, smoking, looking all broody and masculine and badass in your PJs, and you're telling me five minutes ago you were going to get yourself warm milk so you could sleep?" He laughs again, then wipes at his eye before taking another drag from his cigarette. "What are you, five?" And it may not be said in a tone meant to insult Steve, but he still feels a bit ruffled.
"Excuse me? Mister I-can't-stay-awake-without-two-morning-cup-'o-Joes? You're judging my methods?" He shifts his attention to his cigarette when he sees Tony flinch slightly. "Besides, it's always worked in the past. I don't see why I shouldn't use a method that works." He adds, takes one last puff of smoke before looking around for the ashtray.
"Touche, Cap." Tony says, then tilts his head. "What are you looking for?"
"Ashtray?" Steve asks, looking back to Tony, who shakes his head at him.
"Ashtray? Can't you just-" He makes a motion to throw his cigarette butt over the railing but at Steve's outraged look he shakes his head. "Okay okay fine. One sec." He says, then moves over to the balcony furniture. Off to the far side of the small space a small cabinet stands, and Tony pulls a brand new, clearly unused ashtray out of it before walking over. "Here, you can christen it while you're at it." He says with an impatient wave.
"I can't believe you litter right out of your own building's balcony." Steve says, exasperated as he chokes the cigarette on the bottom of the ashtray.
"You'll find I'm full of disappointments. Captain." Tony says coldly, and Steve pauses, surprised. Tony stubs his own cigarette out in the ashtray and turns on his heels to leave. Steve gets the distinct feeling he just hit a nerve somehow. He watches Tony leave, then looks at the ashtray, where the two cigarettes rest, sad and bent. He sighs and sets the ashtray on the ground before turning to head back to his room. He's definitely not thinking at least it's not just one.
The next day had gone interestingly well. Tony acted like the previous night never happened, and Steve could've sworn there was frenetic hope in the man's eyes, like he hoped Steve would still be talking to him, or that he would ignore what had happened - maybe even forget it. Steve thinks about it for a few days, but he mimics Tony's approach and doesn't mention it. A few weeks later, when Steve jolts awake out of a dream of gunshots and people falling to their death, he finds the lights dim but lit in his room, and Jarvis intones pleasantly, "Good morning, Captain Rogers."
"What time is it?" Steve asks blearily, blinking sleep out of his eyes and shivering a little. He forces himself to push the blanket off even though he's cold, and sits up.
"It is now four forty three am. A cold front is coming in from the East and the temperature should drop within the hour."
Steve pauses. It's not unheard of for Jarvis to give more information than he was asked, but there is usually reason for it. Jarvis was programmed by Tony Stark, a man who knows all too well when to hand out information and when to withhold it, and usually does it for his own benefit. "Is that so." Steve says and goes to his closet to pull over another shirt. He's dressed pretty cosy, but he has a feeling he's going to be outside in the cold soon. "Is it going to rain?"
"No, Captain. Humidity is too low at present." Jarvis says, and Steve thinks there's a hint of a smile in the AI's tone and how is that even possible for a body-less entity? "Mr. Stark has requested you be informed that you are welcome to join him on the balcony at your leisure. He extends an apology for last time, and offers a smoke in reconciliation." Steve laughs and shakes his head.
"Unbelievable. He's using you as mediator now?" He pulls on a pair of socks and his boots, but he doesn't lace them, and on the way to the door he picks up his leather jacket.
"Mr. Stark uses whatever resources are at his disposal, Captain Rogers. I am quite happy to assist him in whatever way he requires." Jarvis says, and it's polite but pointed, and Steve gets it. Jarvis cares for his maker and would do anything for him. Maybe Steve's the only one who sees this as abuse of privilege. Maybe it's part of what makes him old fashioned. After all, Tony did make Jarvis to make things easier for him. It's not beyond reason that he'd use Jarvis as a PA of sorts. He hugs the jacket to his chest as he enters the elevator and goes to the public floor.
"Thank you, Jarvis." Steve says finally, when the elevator doors slide open and he steps out into the main entrance.
"My pleasure, Captain."
Steve walks directly to the balcony, and finds Tony standing much like he did last time. The smoke hanging in the air stands to prove this isn't the first one Tony's smoked here tonight.
"How long have you been standing out here in the cold?" Steve asks quietly as he approaches Tony and drapes the jacket around the man's shoulders. Tony's in his T-shirt and slacks, and has been standing out here in the cold for some time. He stiffens at Steve's touch, but doesn't draw away from it, and he shivers slightly as the jacket helps warm him. He deposits the cigarette between his lips, slides his arms into the sleeves and pulls the jacket closed. It's huge and Tony feels small in it, regardless of how muscled he really is. He takes the cigarette in hand and takes a deep breath through his nose, letting the mixture of smells go straight to his head: faint cigarette-smoke, cologne, gunpowder and earth.
"Dunno." He says, handing Steve a fresh cigarette with a questioning look. Steve takes it and the lighter Tony hands him next and lights up. "But the sky is lighter now than when I got here." He admits, contemplating the sudden sharp memory the smell of cologne jolts in his head. He's very young. His father is about to go for a business trip, and it's one of those rare occasions when he's in a great mood. He hugs Tony and promises to be back in time for his end-year ceremony. Tony's very excited. His breath hitches and he shakes himself before he remembers any more. He burrows into the jacket and tries not to pull a face. "Thanks for the coat." He mumbles, and can see Steve smiling as he smokes with slow, elegant motions.
"I figured I'd find you here fresh out of the workshop because you never plan ahead." Steve teases lightly, glances at him. Tony feels warmer but doesn't really want to consider the sensation. He runs the tips of his fingers over the jacket's sleeves, taking in the nice, worn texture. "Like it?" Steve asks.
"Oh it's too big for me." Tony looks up and finds Steve watching him admire the leather. "But it's super-effective." He adds hastily. "Smells like-" He wants to say my father, and then he wants to say my childhood. He even considers saying something cheesy like you, but he ends up blurting- "a warzone." And he knows it's the worst thing he could say when Steve tenses and turns to look at the slowly brightening horizon. "I mean-"
"I know what it smells like, Tony. It's okay." Steve stops him, pulls his cigarette up and takes a short drag from it. He visibly relaxes, and Tony wonders if it's a technique Steve's learned somewhere or if it's a genetic trait, the ability to relax even when dealing with a most annoying nuisance. "I wore it during the war so it makes sense."
"I didn't mean… It's not only that." Tony says, takes a deep breath again. He sets the cigarette he's been smoking on the ashtray he's taken to using, and he considers the other smells he can detect. "Old Spice cologne, Camels…" He considers this and then tilts his head, his eyes closed. "You smoked these back then, too?"
"Yeah it's…" Steve pauses, and Tony opens his eyes to look at him. It seems like Steve's not sure if he should bring it up. He reaches some resolution, though, and says, "it was your father who gave me my first one, actually."
"Is that so." Tony answers the statement, caressing his chin thoughtfully. "Well, that makes both of us." And he remembers it clearly. It's his sixteenth birthday, and his mom is at some function or another. His father's been sitting in his work-room ever since he got home, and Jarvis sits with Tony, feeding him cake and attention. He's not a child anymore, and he tells Jarvis this, but Jarvis just smiles and offers another slice, and even though Tony acts dismissive, his heart swells. At least someone cares.
His father comes in at some point, holding two glasses and a bottle. Sets everything on the table and pats him on the back, congratulates him, and tells him he's a man now as he settles in a chair next to Tony. He pours him a glass of whiskey and hands him a cigarette, and when Tony stares at him with clear distaste, Howard scowls. "Come on boy, drink up. You're going back to boarding-school tomorrow, aren't you?" And Tony wishes he'd never come home to begin with. He grabs the glass and tosses back the drink. It burns all the way through his mouth and down his throat and he thinks he might gag as his eyes prickle. Jarvis is standing next to the door, and the look of pity on his face sends tendrils of shame down Tony's back - a sensation he remembers well to this day. Next, Howard lights the cigarette and watches as he tries to take a smoke, then coughs and chokes, and Howard laughs.
"Tony, are you okay?" Steve asks, a hand resting carefully on his shoulder and a worried little smile on his face. "Did I lose you somewhere?" He asks, and Tony stares at him. He's not back there anymore, is he? He's not helpless in front of a father who only showed affection when Tony acted a certain way. He's here with Steve, who's come up here at his request, even though Tony'd acted like an annoyed child last time. He nods once.
"Yeah I might've drifted…" Tony says with a dismissive wave of a hand, smiling back nervously. "Sorry. What were you saying?"
"Oh, nothing special." Steve answers, going for a casual air as he removes his hand from Tony's shoulder. "I was just wondering when you started." He admits and quickly adds, "but if you don't want to talk about it…"
"I was sixteen." Tony answers, shrugging when Steve falls silent. "That's it, nothing else to talk about." He dismisses, turns to look at his cigarette. "This is what I started with and I never really tried anything else. There was never a need." Tony says and retrieves the almost-finished stick from the ashtray to take a slow inhale.
"That's awfully young, Tony." Steve says, but his tone is tentative, like he's not sure if he should say it at all. He flicks some ash off the edge of his cigarette before taking another drag. "You know, these don't affect me like they do… other people."
"You were gonna say 'normal people'" Tony deadpans. Steve nods his head.
"It's like a short relief, and then it's gone. It's a bit better than alcohol, but not by much." Steve wonders absently if he has enough red, yellow and white in his color collection to blend the exact shade the sky has taken on. "But I like the taste of it, the smell. It reminds me of…"
"The war?" Tony suggests when Steve doesn't say anything more, but Steve glances sadly at him and shakes his head.
"Friendship." He says instead. It feels it like a punch to the gut. Here they are, Tony seeing the worst of it, and Steve just brings up the most positive things he can come up with. Typical.
"Oh." Tony says, feeling oh so very smooth and sophisticated. "You don't smoke alone, do you?"
"Never really felt right." Steve says as he looks towards where the sun will rise if they stick around long enough to see it.
Tony doesn't know what else to say. He stubs out his cigarette and pulls the jacket closer around himself. If he concentrates, he can detect a touch of something that's not the cologne, not cigarettes and not the warzone smells. Something more personal, intimate, clearly Steve. He pretends like he's deep in thought, eyes closed and a frown scrunching his eyebrows.
They stand in silence until Steve finishes his own smoke, and then for a couple minutes more, the silence stretches, morphs into something heavier, until Steve clears his throat and glances at Tony.
"Want an early morning snack?" Tony speaks at last. Steve doesn't answer and Tony doesn't open his eyes to see what kind of expression he's wearing. "There's this nice place not far from the tower. We don't have to call it a date." And now he has to steal a peek. Steve's wearing a mostly unreadable expression, except for the slight quirk of his lips that looks like a smile.
"Sure. Not like I can get back to sleep." Steve says, sets both hands on the railing and pulls his shoulders back. Tony can tell he's not using even half his power, but it sure looks like he's stretching. Steve lets out a groan and rolls a shoulder. Tony realizes Steve hadn't answered his date-bait, and now he's curious, but he can't ask without looking desperate. He is Tony fucking Stark and he will not appear desperate if he can help it. And yet, he doesn't give the jacket back until they get back to the tower, several hours later.
Over the course of the following weeks, they meet more frequently. It becomes a habit to meet on the balcony, smoke together, then go for an early breakfast. They talk a lot, more freely, and they hurt each other less. It doesn't surprise Steve when Tony kisses him. It surprises Tony when Steve tugs his belt open. Tony learns Steve is a lot less "pure" than his Captain America image might suggest. He enjoys every minute of it.
Steve laughs when, one time, Tony nearly chokes on his inhale after Steve tells him he does, indeed, jerk off sometimes. Tony in turn grins when Steve wraps him in a tight hug after he tells him of his charity donations to orphaned children's institutions. They spend a lot of time on the balcony, and they spend more than that between the sheets, but they still do not share a room.
"It's beautiful." Steve says when he walks onto the balcony. It's rained for the majority of the evening earlier, but by now the clouds have cleared and visibility is great. Tony turns to glance at Steve when he walks over. It's not exactly a hug, but Steve has a hand on either side of Tony on the railing and he presses close as he rests his chin on Tony's shoulder.
"Dork." Tony says fondly and tilts his head against Steve's. "Here." He says, handing over a pack of Camels. Steve takes it but doesn't pull a cigarette out yet. Instead, he leans over to kiss Tony's cheek, and Tony takes his own cigarette out of his mouth to hold it away from Steve's face. He then turns to kiss Steve properly.
"You can't deny how you love that about me." Steve says as he pulls away and leans against the railing. He props a cigarette in his mouth and leans over. Tony raises an eyebrow but puts his own back in his mouth before turning just so. The tips of the cigarettes touch and the men's eyes meet. There's a smile in them that doesn't even go all the way to their lips.