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It’s getting onto ten at night when Tony waltzes into Rogers and Sons, collapses onto one of the fancy spinning barstools and demands, “I want your manliest drink, pronto.”

Steve just stares at him.

“You’re not a very good bartender.”

More staring.

“Fine,” Tony says. “Just bring me a Strawberry Daiquiri.”

“With the umbrella?” Steve is already setting to work.

“Duh.”

“Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“And by a while you mean about three days.”

Steve doesn’t say anything and continues making Tony’s Strawberry Daiquiri, placing the umbrella just so. What a keeper. Tony wonders what the hell he drank before he met Steve Rogers, because it must have been piss compared to Steve’s artistic masterpieces.

“Don’t encourage our co-dependent relationship,” Tony says. “You know what the marriage counsellor says.”

He expects Steve to laugh, but instead Tony just earns himself an odd look. “Right.”

Tony waits, but Steve doesn’t say anything else, so he says, “Well, Christmas was, well, Christmas, which is to say there was lots of tinsels and JARVIS overcooked the turkey which, okay, I know he’s an AI and everything but I really need to stop letting him do stuff like that, and Dad rushed away at the last minute on a ‘business emergency’, so basically Christmas as usual. On Boxing Day I had a benefit to go to with Dad, which was a shit storm and somebody put turkey down somebody else’s dress– that’s a story for another day–  and then Pepper made me come over on the 27th to prepare for her New Year’s party, which, yuck.”

Steve raises his eyebrows. “I don’t understand your distrust of New Year’s Eve, Tony.”

“It’s not distrust. Distrust is what you feel towards your crazed uncle who gets mouthy on the whisky. Distrust is what a dog feels near grabby children hands. This is downright hatred, Steven.”

“Why?” Steve pushes the glass over to him, and Tony takes a dainty sip. They’ve had this conversation a billion times before, but Steve still seems to take amusement from returning to it. “I think it’s nice. A new year, a new story. The midnight kiss. It’s romantic.”

Tony makes a face.

“It is.

“It’s a load of shit, Steve, darling.”

Steve still colours at the nickname, even though they’ve known each other for nearly three years now. Tony delights in it.

“Have you ever –” Tony demands. “Have you ever, seriously, had a New Year’s kiss?”

Steve looks defiant.

Tony pauses. Frowns. Opens his mouth. Closes it again.

He feels like he’s just been told he’s being cheated on.

When?”

Steve goes even redder, but his mouth is a firm stubborn line.

Tony guesses, “Peggy Carter? Natasha? You’d have to have balls, but I’d be impressed. No? God, not Hill?”

Steve sighs. “I haven’t, Tony. It’d be nice though, wouldn’t it?”

Tony is dubious.

“Just. The idea that somebody would want to give their New Year’s kiss to me.” Steve props his chin on his hands.

“Anybody would be amazingly lucky to kiss you on New Year’s Eve,” says Tony emphatically. Perhaps a bit too emphatically, because Steve looks a bit taken aback. “Seriously, Steve.”

Steve smiles, but he still looks a bit sad. “Thanks, Tony.”

“Listen, Steve. I –” Tony begins, wanting to wipe the horrible sad look from his friend’s face. “Steve, I –”

“Hey, can I get a drink over here?”

The moment shatters like glass, and Steve rushes off, apologising, evidently remembering he actually has a job. Tony scowls at the man who had interrupted them, sloppy and drunk and eyeing Steve like a piece of meat, and swigs back his daiquiri in one.

He forgets about the umbrella.

Steve has to stick his hand down Tony’s throat. The drunken man laughs at them. It’s embarrassing.

&

Tony meets Steve Rogers, ironically, at Pepper’s Annual New Year’s “Tony You Better Come or I’m Going to Ruin Your Fucking Life, Asshole” Party. There’s a banner and everything.

It is also, coincidentally, the first New Year’s Eve that Tony can actually, legally drink (not that that stopped him before, but whatever. He’s hardly the best example of legality and, like, morals and stuff). Still, that doesn’t really explain why Tony is outside on the patio steps drinking his worries away as cheesy music plays and people laugh and it’s, like, five fucking minutes until midnight, he doesn’t know. He stopped counting about five hours ago.

But whatever.

“Mind if I sit down here?”

Tony looks up, wondering if the kid in front of him is a mirage. He’s skinny as anything, about five foot tall, and he has two beers in his hands. He passes one to Tony and just stands there. Tony thinks his eyelashes are pretty. He tells him so. The guy looks about 75% flattered, 20% confused and 5% creeped out, which definitely has to be a new record.

He continues to just stand in front of Tony. Tony realises he’s waiting for an answer.

“Yeah, yeah, of course, sit down.” Tony motions to the space beside him. “Join me on this freezing ass patio on New Year’s Eve. Pull up a concrete slab.”

The guy looks at him a bit funny, but sits down, anyway. “You look cold. And drunk.”

“I’m actually really warm.” Tony is. Definitely more now that there’s a sexy, sexy man sitting next to him. He doesn’t tell him that. See, he does have a filter. “But probably yes to the latter. I’ve been here since seven.”

“On this concrete slab?”

“Oh, no, I’ve only been here for an hour or so.”

“Not feeling the festive spirit?” The guy smiles sympathetically. He still looks very pretty. Tony would like to kiss his eyebrows. He’s not sure he’s ever seen such beautiful eyebrows.

He doesn’t tell the guy that, either. He’s on fire today.

“Uh, no,” Tony says. He takes a swig of beer. “I hate New Year’s Eve.”

The kid frowns. “Why?”

“It’s all a load of shit. The whole romantic New Year’s experience.” Sexy Eyebrows Guy (he should really ask his name) just waits for him to elaborate, so Tony does. Let nobody say he didn’t try to restrain himself. “You see these movies, right? And there’s always this dramatic New Year’s bullshit with fireworks and kissing and probably, like, way too much alcohol. It’s all bullshit. That never happens in real life. In real life –” Tony hiccups. “In real life, you just get a glass of whiskey and shitty fireworks that set fire to next door’s house and then possibly a jail sentence where, if you’re lucky, the middle-aged policeman on duty with trust issues will give you a glass of water. But he probably won’t. Because he’s an asshole. And he has trust issues.”

“You sound like you’re talking from experience.”

Tony levels Sexy Eyebrows Guy with a serious look. “Don’t play around with fireworks, Sexy Eyebrows Guy.”

Sexy Eyebrows Guy looks at him confusedly, and then amusedly, and then just bemusedly. Lots of -usedlys. Heh. “Actually, my name is Steve.”

Huh. “Huh.”

Steve seems to be waiting for something. It takes Tony’s drunken brain to figure out what. “Oh, right. Hi, Steve. I’m Tony. Tony Stark.”

He half-expects, “The Tony Stark?” or “Wait, the one –” but instead Steve’s face just crumples and he says, “Oh, I’m sorry about your uncle.”

Tony blinks. “Uh, thanks.”

“It sucks when that happens.”

“Yeah, attempted murder is always a bit depressing.”

Steve’s face crumples even more. Tony rolls his eyes. “It’s fine, Steven. I’m over it. The guy’s dead; I’m not. He was an evil shit.”

“Doesn’t make him any less family.” He pauses. “Also, my name isn’t Steven. It’s just Steve.”

Tony doesn’t say anything for a while. Finally, the gloomy silence getting a bit too much, he asks, “What about you? Not really into the New Year’s spirit either?”

Steve shrugs. “I like it alright usually, but – my girlfriend left me this morning. For my best friend.”

Tony winces. “Ouch. Harsh. How long were you guys together?”

“Three years.”

Well, so much for livening up the atmosphere a bit.

Out of nowhere, then, there’s cheering, and Tony starts. For a moment he had forgotten where they were. Fireworks light up the sky, and there’s whooping, and Tony feels sad. Just. There’s a horrible feeling in his stomach and he wants to cry, kind of, even though he hasn’t since his mother died when he was ten and he’s not about to start again now. He hates this day, hates it more than anything.

Then he remembers that he has company and looks beside him at Sexy Eyebrows Steve, and Steve is looking at the fireworks and smiling softly, and Tony suddenly doesn’t feel sad anymore.

So yeah, that’s how he meets Steve Rogers.

(It isn’t how he falls in love with him, though. That comes later).

&

On the night of the 29th, Pepper and Natasha drag Tony out to some club and then abandon him two seconds later to make-out. Tony sits there for a while and then Natasha glares at him and he rises with a sigh.

His intention is to leave, but out of the corner of his eye he catches a familiar flash of blonde hair and, against his own will, finds himself glancing over. Steve is here, Bucky talking to a girl next to him, and he waves Tony over when they make eye contact.

“What’re you doing here?” Tony asks a bit stupidly the second he comes within earshot.

Steve cocks his head at Bucky. “Bucky’s idea.” He rolls his eyes, and then stumbles a bit. Tony realises with a shock that Steve is a bit drunk. He’s not used to being the sober one. “Hey, Tony,” Steve says, suddenly too close, so close Tony can see the shadows of his eyelashes against his cheek. “You want to dance?”

Tony wants to protest, but Steve is already pulling him onto the dance floor so he really has no choice but to follow. He expects Steve’s version of ‘dancing’ for a moment (old-fashioned, shuffling feet, Steve’s hands on Tony’s waist, humiliating but also kind of tempting), but then Steve crowds up all in his space, pressing against Tony in every place. He does grab Tony’s waist, but not in any sort of old-fashioned way, fingers digging into Tony’s hipbones, probably leaving bruises. The idea isn’t really an unpleasant one.

They rock to the music, which is mellow but with a humming bass, and Tony gets a bit lost in it. He forgets about leaving. Steve presses his face into Tony’s neck, and Tony jerks when he feels Steve’s lips against his neck.

“What’re you doing?” He’s surprised he even has the ability to speak after that.

Steve just laughs. He doesn’t kiss Tony’s neck anymore, though, his face pressed to the fabric of Tony’s shirt. Tony doesn’t really mind. Not really.

Later that night, sober of both alcohol and adrenaline, he realises it had just been the space, the heat, the proximity – the alcohol. Steve hadn’t realised what he was doing.

Tony doesn’t sleep at all that night.

&

Tony falls in love with Steve Rogers like this:

It’s before his whole muscly transformation thing, before Natasha takes him out for a new wardrobe, even before he has the belated growth spurt and grows about ten inches. It is, weirdly enough, at a children’s birthday party.

Because Steve is the nicest freaking guy in the world, and because apparently he actually stays friends with his exes, not just in a ‘let’s remain friends’ way, he goes when Peggy invites him to her son’s first birthday party. And he takes Tony with him.

Thor is an adorable little thing, grinning cheekily even at one year old, stumbling up to Tony as soon as he walks in. He has curly blonde hair already past his ears and twinkling blue eyes. Peggy steps up behind him, beautiful as ever, and says, “Steve, you came! Tony, a pleasure to see you."

Tony picks up Thor and blows a raspberry on his tummy. Thor laughs delightedly and bats at Tony with his tiny fists. Tony grins.

Somebody laughs and Tony glances over to find Steve’s fond smile, Peggy’s sparkling eyes. Bucky comes up behind Peggy and drops a kiss onto her hair and she smiles. It’s like the sun coming out.

See, he can’t hate Peggy for breaking Steve’s heart. Not even a little bit. She’s so genuine, so honest. Bucky and Peggy had both felt awful for what had happened, and they had promised Steve they wouldn’t act on it, but Steve had ordered them to be together if it made them happy. Because that was how Steve was: even if something ruined him, ripped his heart to pieces, he would still agree to it if it meant making somebody else happy.

Tony searches Steve’s face for any remaining heartbreak, resentment. He finds none. He’d known Steve had moved on, but he still has to check. He doesn’t think that he could stand a reappearance of the tired and sad stranger from the New Year’s party those years ago.

He passes Thor to Steve, and Steve laughs as Thor plants a wet kiss on his cheek. “Hey, little buddy,” Steve coos. “Is Uncle Tony being silly?”

Thor nods very solemnly. The kid is creepily advanced for a one year old. Tony is so proud.

After Thor has ran off after his parents, Steve says in Tony’s ear, “I’d like to have that one day, I think. I can’t think of something that would make me happier than having a huge brood of children.”

Tony thinks, Have my huge brood of children.

He starts and genuinely looks around as if somebody’s projecting the message into his brain.

Is that what this is, then?

He looks at Steve, feels the butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

I’m in love with him. Christ.

&

On the 30th, they look after Thor while Bucky helps Pepper with the party preparations and Peggy goes to visit her sister.

Tony wonders when they started being a them.

They take him shopping, of course.

“Tony,” Steve calls over the changing room door. “Stop teaching Thor about the mafia.”

Tony tries to look contrite. “Sorry,” he says. To Thor he whispers, “We’ll finish this later.”

Thor nods solemnly.

I heard that, Tony.

“I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”

Steve takes this moment to come out of the changing room in the tightest pair of leather pants Tony has ever seen. “What do you think?”

Tony blinks.

“They’re not really my style, are they?” Steve turns around self-consciously, eyeing himself in the floor-length mirror. “I would never have chosen them if you weren’t here, Tony.”

“I know, I’m a bad influence, but.” Tony tries to find the words, hefting Thor in his hands as he begins to slip a bit. “You have to get those. I’ll buy them if you won’t. God, I’ll buy out the whole store if that’s what it takes. Get the pants, Rogers.”

Steve raises his eyebrows. “You could have just said ‘those look nice’.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t have believed me.” God, Steve’s ass. It’s going to be the death of him.

No, scratch that. He wishes he were that lucky.

“You don’t think Pepper will think they’re too – I don’t know – revealing for her party? She might get offended.”

Tony levels him with a look. “Pepper will love them. Everybody will love them, Steve. Get the fucking pants.”

Steve gets the pants.

Thank God.

Also, fuck his life.

&

When he turns twenty, Steve starts working out more. He fills out. He gets taller. Natasha claims him as her victim. And suddenly everybody wants Steve.

Wants him like Tony does.

Tony gets jealous. Of course he does.

There might be some self-pitying drinking parties with Pepper involved. (Then she gets sick of his pining and refuses to attend, so he has them alone. That’s okay. At least nobody will judge him for watching too many Rachel McAdams movies, then.)  

“I wonder. Well,” Steve says one day during one of their movie nights. They’re biweekly. “Sometimes. I mean – well, I’m afraid – I’m afraid that people will only ever want me for –”

“Your super sexy muscles and stunning good looks?” Tony is so on-tune with him. It’s why they’re best friends, really.

Steve shrugs. “I guess.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Steven,” Tony says. He drops his head to rest against Steve’s shoulder. “You could be horrendously ugly, covered in, like, horse manure and wearing a bright green kilt, and people would still adore you. Because you’re the nicest guy ever. You’re funny, you’re sweet, and you’re frankly kind of adorable. It’s a bit sickening.”

Steve looks down at him. “Thanks, Tony.” He smiles, and Tony wants to kiss him.

For the longest moment, he actually seriously considers it.

And then the door crashes open, and Daddy “Just Call Me Joe” Rogers yells “FOOD!” and Tony nearly falls off the sofa. Then the entire Rogers family is standing there laden down with Chinese food, and even though Steve protests that “Dad – it’s movie night!” Tony still has the best time laughing over embarrassing stories with Steve’s sister, watching Steve go red and wondering how far down that blush really goes.

&

Pepper’s Annual New Year’s “Tony You Better Come or I’m Going to Ruin Your Fucking Life, Asshole” Party is packed, as usual. Tony gets there late, having spent the day clearing up another of his dad’s business messes, still dressed in his suit. The second he arrives, he accepts a beer from Clint Barton (“the guy from Peggy’s wedding – you remember that dare?” “God yes, you don’t still have the tattoo, do you – Oh, Jesus.” “Yes. Basically.”)

Steve is nowhere to be found. After a while, Tony forgets about trying to find him, going from person to person and actually making an effort. Because he knows Steve would want him to. Because he knows Steve doesn’t like it when he sits on the patio alone like a miserable git.

Because Steve knows the real reason Tony hates New Year’s so much. Not because of the cheesy kissing, the fireworks, the overeager cheering like he insists – but because he hates being alone. More than anything.

And he never feels more alone than on New Year’s Eve.

The thought strikes him then, and it’s a ridiculous one, but he can’t help but pursue it. Politely excusing himself from the conversation with Clint, “Beer Pong King” Bruce and Natasha (“I’m going for a piss” “Avoid the vomit on the first floor toilet; go to the private one upstairs. Just don’t throw up anywhere” “Thanks, Nat”), he slips out the patio doors and finds Steve sitting on the steps.

“You sentimental asshole,” Tony says affectionately, sitting beside him.

Steve smiles at him. “It’s nearly midnight.”

Tony shrugs. “Okay.” He rests his head on Steve’s shoulder. In the distance he can hear the countdown. And the overeager cheering. Christ.

“Hey, Tony?”

Tony raises his head to look up at Steve. “Yeah?”

The cheering escalates. Fireworks go off.

Steve kisses him.

It isn’t like the movies, no. It’s an awkward angle and Tony accidentally bites Steve’s lip at one point. He nearly falls off the step and Steve's leather pants are the sexiest things ever but they are so squeaky at innappropriate times, dear God.

So - not perfect.

But it’s still the best kiss Tony’s ever had.

“Happy New Year, Tony,” Steve says, pulling back.

“You –” Tony blurts. “You, uh. So. I maybe - you know. Well. Love you?"

Steve raises his eyebrows. “Are you asking me or telling me?"

Tony says, stupidly, "Do you...?"

Steve rolls his eyes, grabs Tony by the lapels and reels him into another kiss.

That’s answer enough.