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Simple and Perfect

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Steve Rogers was always hungry. Normal people didn’t seem to understand that.

Steve’s first Halloween in the twenty-first century passed unnoticed in the aftermath of a storm so massive it hadn’t seemed natural. The Chitauri had left less damage. He remembered slogging through cold water to reach debris snarls, breaking down doors, hauling scared people on his shoulders to safety, warmth, and some kind of future. Or being too late, and holding the silent dead close to his chest as he carried them away from flooded houses and mud-choked automobiles. It was another War. He fell into the routine with startling ease. Diverting food, to the ones who really needed it, had been nothing more than instinct honed by training. Anyway, the smells and sights had made even his appetite vanish for a few weeks.

*

His second Halloween in the twenty-first century was a glittering, scandalous party a hundred stories above Midtown, with the Avengers on display to glad-hand celebrities, tycoons, and politicians. It was work, not play. Another fundraiser for the rebuilding of Manhattan after the one-two punch of the Chitauri and Hurricane Sandy. For that, Steve could be a dancing monkey again. For a little while.

“Captain Rogers!” A diminutive blonde woman and her cameraman found Steve lurking behind a ten-foot-tall champagne fountain. “What do you think of the House’s repeated failure to allocate funds for New York and New Jersey rebuilding efforts?” Then she brought the microphone up to his face.

Steve swallowed the rest of a puff pastry shell filled with ginger-garlic chicken. Ducked his face out of the camera angle, swiped his tongue across his teeth, and decided to err on safety’s side. He didn’t open his mouth fully to answer, “I think it’s a shameful display of obstructionist partisan politics, ma’am. When America went to war in my day, we came together over tragedies instead of splintering apart.”

So, he could have been more delicate about it. But people expected a certain naïve gung-ho attitude from Captain America. He’d get away with it tonight. Why did they think he didn’t remember the political infighting over Roosevelt’s New Deal? When some of it, enacted sooner, might have saved Steve’s Ma?

When the reporter opened her mouth for another question, Steve shook his head and smiled to soften the sting. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I think a politician or a businessman can give you better answers. I’m still just a soldier.”

He ducked away, using a knot of bustling waitstaff as cover. He aimed for the dessert table, since it looked like Blondie might be considering stalking him after all.

Steve Rogers was always hungry. The Depression, the serum, the War, and seven decades spent half-aware while starving in ice would do that to a man. Like Bruce’s inner anger, Steve kept his hunger off his face and on a short leash. His stomach didn’t even bother to rumble anymore unless he’d gone a week or two without food.

Apparently, that was never going to happen to any of the Avengers again, as long as they hung around Tony Stark. Given the average caloric intake of the fully-assembled team, it was a good thing Tony was a multi-billionaire.

Steve gave Tony (or more likely Pepper) points for the party food. It was all delicious. Even if he had to eat it bite by decorative bite just to keep his mouth free for talking.

“Yes, the turnout tonight is wonderful. Mr. Baldwin. I hope it does some real good for the communities still getting back on their feet. Have you met Miss Davis from CNN?”

What Steve really wanted was to divert the contents of one or two tables to his suite several floors below. Bar the door, growl at anyone who threatened the bounty, and gorge himself silly.

Best of all? The goddamn desserts. They were edible art, so lovely it seemed a sin to eat them. And then he tasted them, and wondered if he could orgasm from chili-bacon chocolate or triple-nut toffee cups filled with hazelnut ganache. He only knew what they were from reading the gilt calligraphy cards near the trays. Somehow, the gold labels made them even more enticing.

Oh, God, not here, in uniform and in front of all these people. But a small dark part of Steve’s mind wondered if he could, in fact, reach climax just from the taste of these ridiculous sweets.

If he could only get more than a taste or two of them, before some new sycophant wandered up and gabbled at him. Steve envied Bruce. The scientist had taken one look at the gathering hours ago, gone distinctly green-eyed, and hightailed off to quiet time in the lab.

At least Bruce Banner wasn’t getting his butt photographed every five minutes. It was different on a mission – Steve didn’t have time to be self-conscious then. He wondered if taking Tony up on the offer of a six-thousand-dollar suit would have offered different results than the skintight Captain America uniform. Knowing the fit of Tony’s own suits, probably not.

He looked across the penthouse now, at Tony grandstanding in front of spellbound attendees. Trim and elegant in a charcoal Brioni suit, flaunting a glimmering red silk tie and pocket square – and dear God, were those ruby and gold ear-cuffs, too? – Tony looked every inch the corporate playboy prince. The red hi-top sneakers were a finishing touch that was pure Tony.

Steve Rogers had been awake just long enough in the twenty-first century to accept the inner warmth he felt, watching his unpredictable teammate work a crowd. He just hadn’t done anything about it yet. He knew Tony was unattached, after Pepper had done the sane thing and gone for Happy. He knew Tony had a crush on Captain America, all the way back to a nearly loveless childhood in Howard Stark’s house.

Tony would be a sure bet if Steve wanted a crazy night or two. But he didn’t need a fling. After losing Bucky, the Commandos, Peggy, and an entire lifetime, Steve knew he wanted a helluva lot more from this half-liberated, half-uptight new world. Maybe more than Tony, scarred by his own decades of disappointment, could realistically offer.

And as good as the sex might be? Tony would get bored eventually, and Steve wasn’t about to jeopardize access to food like this.

A young female socialite with blue hair floated by in a skimpy costume that tried to evoke something vaguely Deco, all plastic sequins and crackling nylon gauze. According to his own body-clock, he’d seen the real thing – in silk and cut-crystal beads - in movie houses and at Brooklyn nightclubs, only a few years ago.  

Steve’s first remembered Halloweens had been lean years for nearly everyone in his neighborhood, even before the Crash. But even then, a stunted kid like him could get candy, apples, and cookies for simply being charming in a silly outfit.

He could even get chocolate.

Mummies were easy and warm. Whatever rags and greasepaint he and Bucky cajoled from the local Vaudeville players. Da’s old loose coat, that looked like a ragged cape. All Steve had to do was shuffle around the block and menace Bucky’s Flying Ace or Intrepid Explorer. Steve’s Ma had often kept him indoors anyway, fearing chills and exertion.

When that happened, Bucky snuck over later and shared his chocolates.

Steve remembered their one non-Halloween, non-Christmas decadence. Bucky often ran errands or carried packages for the wealthier folks in the borough. One time, a harried-looking matron had no small change to pay him after a three-hour job. So she’d hauled out one gold-and-purple candy box among several, and given it to him. Bucky had brought it back home, hidden inside his jacket.

Inside the box had been the most beautiful handmade chocolates either of them had ever seen. In flavors that surpassed description or experience. Smart boys would have rationed the chocolates to one a day. But the windfall had been so unexpected, so delicious, they’d gorged instead.

They'd gotten the mother of all stomach aches, but it had been worth it.

Faced with the best desserts money could buy in the twenty-first century, Steve Rogers had a moment of vivid homesickness for the early twentieth. For a Brooklyn orphanage with no damn privacy, for Bucky’s gleeful gluttony, for raspberry crème chocolates in a gold and purple box.

“Penny-candy for your thoughts, Rogers?” Tony drawled behind him. Steve wondered if he’d spit out the toffee cup or choke on it, but instead managed to swallow it while turning around.

Oh, not good, he thought. Tony’s gaze followed the line of Steve’s throat, the smooth ripple of swallowing, probably even the flush on Steve’s cheeks. Because Tony could make him color just by looking at him.

The expected arch comment never reached Tony’s face or lips. Instead, the billionaire gave him an almost shy half-smile. “You getting enough to eat at this shindig, Capsicle? No, belay that, you can’t possibly. It’s all little bites and bird food. You’ve been here for five hours, that’s enough circulating for anyone. These clowns have already donated all they’re gonna give, now they’re just here for my food and my booze. Pepper will wrap this up and smooth any ruffled feathers. Wanna cheeseburger or five? I know a place.” 

Steve’s stomach made its approval known in a low rumble.

Tony laughed and ordered, “Go change outta the monkey-suit and meet me in the garage, champ.”

*

Thirty minutes later, Steve Rogers wore street shoes, chinos, and a flannel shirt that had made Tony Stark roll eyes and mutter something about Sun City and Boca going to a thrift store. Steve sat across from Tony, in a back booth in some hole-in-the-wall diner where neither the waitress, the cook, nor the guys at the bar seemed to know or care about the Avengers. Or billionaires.

Between the penthouse and the garage Tony had taken off the ruby earrings and traded the Brioni suitcoat for a battered black leather bomber jacket a size or two too big for him. It smelled faintly of Colonel Rhodes, Steve thought, though there was no military insignia. Not for the first time, Steve wondered at the relationship between Rhodes and Stark. Not lovers. More brothers by another mother, no matter the hilarious innuendos each threw at the other.

It made Steve miss Bucky all the more.

Tony alternated gnawing on gigantic steak fries, or a towering double cheeseburger spiked with bacon and cheesy mushroom sauce. Steve had demolished two of the same already, and was starting in on a double order of potato skins and hot wings. There was good beer. Apparently endless beer, since this was the kind of place where Tony seemed to have an automatic tab.

“You’re not driving back if you order another one,” Steve warned, as Tony made sad puppy eyes between the empty pitcher and the waitress.

“Yeah, Cap, I won’t. You will.” A key fob clattered on the table where Tony had just thrown it. “Mr-I-cannot-get-drunk-anymore.”

“I’m not driving your Audi.”

The new pitcher arrived. “Thanks, Linda. The Audi almost drives itself, Steve. I'm just sloppy enough that it's you or a cab.” More sad puppy eyes. "You're not leaving my Audi behind, are you?"

Tony wrapping himself around a cheeseburger and a beer was an unexpectedly – Magnetic? Adorable? – sight, Steve decided. There was a shameless purity to the man’s hedonism, whatever its focus. He thought he understood Colonel Rhodes a little more.

Tony licked beer foam away from his lips. Whatever smug and provocative comment he was getting ready to make faded into a sharper, not-at-all-drunk expression. “Back at the party, you were looking at that table of sugary awesome like it was a gravestone. The toffee cups alone are too fucking good to make someone that sad. What gives, Rogers?”

So Steve Rogers told Tony Stark the story of the orphanage, makeshift Halloweens, the spoils of Bucky's errands, and chocolates in a gold and purple box.

“…and I’ve never had anything else like those raspberry crèmes,” Steve finished, crinkling greasy waxed-paper between his fingers. “Something simple. Something perfect.”

“I get it. A bridge between that time and now,” said Tony with more kindness than Steve had expected from a man with his eyes always on the future. “Gimme a few days. Between Jarvis and me, we ought to be able to find out if the company is still in business, and if they still make those damn raspberry chocolates.”

“Oh, you don’t have to –”

“Captain Rogers. Icecap. Steverino. I kinda have to, now. It’s part of my job.”

“Your job is to invent things, Tony. To be Iron Man.”

“Fuck that. I invent things for SI. I’m Iron Man for Ho Yinsen.” Tony raised his glass to a ghost, and drank deep. “I’m a professional jackass when Pepper needs me to terrify the board or the government. I make weapons for the Avengers and make sure Bruce has his lab and no goons hunting him. I give Thor a bed where he can crash without tabloids hounding him and church ladies protesting him. I give Clint and Tasha and Phil a safe place to hide whenever they want to make out away from S.H.I.E.L.D. cameras. And I feed you guys. All of you. But mostly you. Because you’re always hungry.”

The look in Tony’s eyes was warm and sure, so compelling Steve didn’t know whether to draw it or just bask in it for hours. “You shouldn’t have to. I have a salary.”

“From S.H.I.E.L.D. Save it for art supplies, Picasso. It’s my money. I spend it how I want. Do you have any idea how insanely much I make on just the patents I filed on my own? I draw a minuscule salary from SI, I’d rather see that profit go back to my company and my people. What I can do, right now, with all that good and bad money, is make people happy. That makes me happy. It all works out.”

“Feeding us makes you happy?”

Tony’s smile was a little sweet, a little sly, and blindingly beautiful. “You have no idea.”

*

Steve hadn’t forgotten that exchange three days later. Just filed it under the category of the many baffling, wonderful things about Tony Stark.

The Avengers had been called out for an alert that should have been a minor issue with a stressed-out grad student with a previously unknown magical heritage, fifty gallons of hydrogen peroxide, and a stupid bet to disprove a Mythbusters segment. It ended in an acid monster attacking a part of Staten Island that had managed to avoid both the Chitauri and Sandy. No one had died, no one had been disfigured. Once the acid monster was dealt with, the magic-using grad student pawned off on Dr. Strange & Co, and FEMA cleanup was on the way, Steve hitched a ride back to the Tower via Iron Man.

The flight was dizzying and too intimate, even with all that metal between them. Tony’s synthesized voice gave a spot-on imitation of the panicked grad student. Steve laughed too much as they flew, clung on, reveled at the strong arm holding his waist, and felt his resolve slipping away.

Tony dropped Steve on the balcony, not looking back as he half-hopped into the disassembly rig. “Oh, almost forgot. Jarvis has a gift for you. Came in just before the alarm this morning. I took the liberty of putting it inside your door.”

The rig peeled Tony out of the Iron Man suit, leaving him in the tightly contoured black undersuit that left little to imagination. Tony canted his weight on one leg, with a trained model’s dynamic tension, and tilted his head quizzically. “What? You’ll like it, I promise.”

They weren’t talking about whatever gift Tony had left him, were they? Steve looked away, knowing his face was flaming and his own suit far too tight. “Tony! Privacy protocols, remember? And what kind of terrible joke are you playing on me now?”

Tony stalked past him into the penthouse’s opening doorway. “No joke, Hungry Man. It’s just some candy I found for you. Protocols are in place. All I did was leave a box inside, because I didn’t want Clint getting into it, the pig. No one else goes into your suite without your express permission. Jarvis won't monitor anything inside, unless you trigger your security phrase.” The shorter man turned in the door, to give Steve a sad, put-upon look that was almost certainly fake. “What the hell do you think I gave you? Sex toys?” Tony’s trademark wickedness flared back up at whatever he saw on Steve’s face. “Oh, man, that’s gotta be next.”

“You did that last year, remember?” Steve said. “Tasha called you a punk and took it away unopened. I was afraid to ask what happened to it.”

“Smart man. Seriously, Steve. It’s just food. I might be an asshole, but I am never going to prank you over food. Not you.”

*

A lavender bag waited on the side-table by his front door. Steve caught a glimpse of crisp white tissue paper printed with purple florals, nestled under rolled paper handles tied with a dull gold satin ribbon.

He was five steps past the table when memory caught up to him. Not quite. But like. A few things would surely change in seventy years. He pivoted on his heel, walked back, and tugged the ribbon free.

The tissue crackled when he drew it out of the bag. Spread out, it revealed an elegant watercolor print of lilac stems, leaves, and blossoms, all in soft shades of purple on a pearl-white background. He’d been learning about new methods of collage art for painting backgrounds; this was certainly lovely enough to keep in his handmade paper collection.

There was a small box at the bottom of the bag. He knew what it would look like before his hand closed around it, and brought it out. Dull, rich gold and purple stripes. Strong cardboard, not plastic. The unmistakable scent of really good chocolate lifted from bag and box.

The box was sealed on the bottom with gold stickers. He almost sliced them open with his thumbnail, then saw the day’s caked-on grime all over his hands. His right hand still carried white residue from the baking-soda paste the medics had smeared over his now-healed acid pockmarks.

Steve had waited decades for this. He could wait until he got cleaned up.

*

Once he was in the shower and scrubbed, the chocolates took a momentary backseat to another problem: Tony Stark, in all his glory. Steve blamed the undersuit’s elegant contours. The best solution, as had become increasingly more often the only solution, was a fast, brutal handjob under the endless hot water. He imagined an equally wet little genius, thought of working him into the same shaking release, and drinking down his cries with deep kisses until nothing remained of artful, urbane Stark. Until it was only Tony in his arms, olive-gold skin, warm eyes like dark amber, and mouth curling into a swift, shy smile.

His cock quieted for at least a few minutes, Steve dried off, wrapped a dry towel around his hips, and confronted the chocolate box again. A large part of him wanted to leave it there unopened, an abstract offering to enshrined memories.

But that’s all Brooklyn in the thirties and forties was, anymore. A memory. The box belonged to the world as it was now.

He slitted the seals and lifted off the lid to see another layer of printed lilac tissue. Under that were ten flawless chocolates arranged in an alternating pattern of pale brown and dark red-brown domes. Two layers deep. Twenty pieces.

Steve lifted out one of the milk chocolates, because he didn’t remember the dark ones. He held it just long enough for body heat to leave a slippery spot on thumb and forefinger, then bit in, and pulled away.

He tasted creamy chocolate first, then an explosion of natural, if concentrated, raspberry flavor and scent. The dark pink crème was just liquid enough to begin to slide downward out of its broken shell, onto Steve’s waiting tongue. He chewed, swallowed, waited for his brain to catch up to reality.

The serum had made him smarter, given him an eidetic memory. Like his flesh, his mind never scarred over. Things that hurt remained just as sharp and painful – losing Erskine, losing Bucky – as things that felt good.

This? Tony’s goddamned chocolate, found on nothing more than Steve’s half-remembered pre-serum childhood ramblings? It tasted exactly the same.

Steve sat down heavily in the nearest chair, head spinning from too much emotion. He cradled the open box between his hands, on his toweled lap, his whole body shivering over a taste.

“Jarvis?” he croaked when he could speak again. "Stork Club."

“Security phrase recognized. Yes, Captain Rogers?"

“Get Tony for me, please.”

“He will be on speaker momentarily, Captain Rogers.”

“No. I mean, get him here. Right now.”

“Are you suffering from an allergic reaction or poison, Captain Rogers?” The AI sounded almost worried, and Steve had the sense of titanic forces switching gears with sudden urgency. An Avenger, attacked in the very Tower?

“No, wait! I’m all right. They’re perfect. I just need to speak to him in person.”

Forty-eight seconds later, Tony Stark barreled through the self-opening door into Steve’s suite, and stumbled to an ungainly halt in front of his chair. “Are you okay, Steve? God, I swear I didn’t mean to poison you.”

Steve looked at Tony’s bare feet, his soft black T-shirt and old sweatpants, and still-dripping wet hair. Then down again, swiftly past the clinging pants. “I’m fine, Tony. They’re fine. Everything’s fine.” Dear heavens, Tony had beautiful feet.

“You’ve been crying, Steve.”

“Yes. Because they’re perfect. They’re exactly how I remembered them. Tell me you didn’t buy a chocolate factory and bully them into making these for me?”

Tony’s left eyebrow shot up. “I hadn’t even thought of that. Didn’t need to. They’re from Li-Lac Chocolates. Jarvis and I figured that was the most likely brand still remaining in business in New York City, from before. The colors haven’t even changed. They swear the recipe is the same, too.”

“It is. Here.” Because Steve knew enough about Tony to know he liked dark chocolate, he fished out two of them, and held one up. “Try this.”

Tony rocked away on his heels, his hands making no move forward from his hips. “I bought them for you.”

“And I want you to taste one. C’mon, Tony, before it melts in my hand?” Tony gave him a suspicious look, and Steve added, “Oh, the ‘not liking things handed to you’ thing again? Get over it. You’re missing out, here.”

When backed into a corner, Tony Stark relied on bravado and bullshit to hide his vulnerabilities. Tony bent at the waist and leaned in. His lips took the chocolate without touching Steve’s fingers, then his tongue caressed away the melted residue with a delicate flutter and curl.

Damn, Steve thought, there went any possible good the shower had done him. Tony closed his bewitching mouth for a long time. A strange expression crossed his face. He swallowed the morsel, then sat abruptly, crosslegged on the floor.

“That. That was fucking wonderful.”

“Yeah.” Steve popped his own dark chocolate crème into his mouth, and closed his eyes. If anything, it tasted even better than the milk chocolate version, the bitter and sour-sweet notes melding into a harmony of flavor almost like very good wine. Tony gave a soft groan, and Steve couldn’t help his answering grin. “Want another?”

“Not exactly.” He felt Tony gently pry the box out of his hands. It was Tony. Steve allowed it. “Can I try something?” Tony whispered.

“What?” Steve opened his eyes to find Tony Stark kneeling in front of him, damp and flushed and trembling.

“Let me feed them to you. Please.”

Oh. Steve’s brain processed that for about a millisecond, his serum-enhanced tactical genius assessing the only possible way this was going to end. All the ways this could go incredibly right or horribly wrong. “All of them? At once?” he asked, not sure how to ask the real questions.

Tony held up a milk chocolate raspberry crème. “All of them. And then I am going to buy you more. As many as you want, as long as they keep making these damn things. Even if I do have to buy the factory.”

“Why?”

“Because they seem to make you happy.”

Steve laughed then, startled out of his spiral of confusion and need. “It’s not the chocolates making me happy, Tony.”

Tony eyed the growing tent under Steve’s towel, not with his usual smirk, but a gentler kind of pride. “I know. But it’s a good way to track results, until I figure out all the other ways.” He leaned on Steve’s knees then, lifting the chocolate to Steve’s mouth.

Steve caught it between his lips, tasting Tony’s skin as well. Memory and loss fought against simple joy for a moment, then stepped aside. Not forever. But long enough.

Steve Rogers was always hungry. It was nice to finally find someone who understood that.