Steve Rogers had seen many interesting things in the city he called home; Brooklyn born and bred, he’d honestly thought there was nothing left to surprise him.
Then he joined the United States Army and went to Afghanistan. That’s really all there is to say about that, isn’t it?
He joined in 2008, went overseas the same year, and came back in 2013 with a captain’s bar on his shoulder, an honorable discharge and a case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He didn’t want to complain about it, really, but if the Army was going to pay for the therapist for him to complain to, he was going to make sure they got their money’s worth.
It was on the way back to his apartment after one of these therapist sessions that Steve came across a small coffee shop he’d never noticed before. “Class Act Café” looked like a nice, quiet place; potted daisies on either side of the front step, white lace curtains in the windows, an old fashioned “Yes, We’re Open!” sign hanging on the door.
“I could use a cup of coffee,” Steve thought as he strolled over to the door and stepped inside.
It’s been said that you should never judge a book by its cover; the same should be said about coffee shops.
What Steve found on the other side of the door was more reminiscent of a high class mechanic’s workshop than the quaint little café the storefront had advertised. The countertop that served a home for the cash register was topped with chrome—nothing fancy, save for the way it shined—trimmed with dark wood paneling. There were five or six tables for four that matched the design of the counter top, two or three two seaters in the same design, and one longer one in the back that was diamond plate and could easily seat ten or twelve. The walls were decked with framed posters of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Anthrax, Adrenaline Mob and other hard rock and heavy metal bands.
And Adele. Steve wasn’t sure what to think of that.
“Can I get you something, man?”
Steve turned towards the counter to find a man, likely the barista, standing there. He was shorter than Steve, though not by much, had dark eyes that were more of a weathered copper than a normal brown and shiny black hair that had a scruffy look that looked just a bit to perfect to be normal, straight out of bed hair.
He was insanely attractive.
“Ah, yeah,” Steve said, looking at the menu hanging behind the counter; it was made of sheet metal with the regular items carefully painted on, probably by hand, while the specials were on tracks, each letter and number able to slide in and out as the specials changed. One of the regular items was something called Coffee Milk, which Steve had never heard of before but it still sounded good enough to give it try. Steve ordered that, along with a vanilla frosted chocolate cupcake.
“You want any flavoring in that?” the barista asked as he made the drink. He started with a simple drinking glass that he pulled out of a small cooler behind the counter. After filling it most of the way with milk, he added a thick black syrup from a mason jar, stirring it with a long spoon. “Caramel, vanilla, hazelnut…”
“Just plain, thanks,” Steve replied. He’d never been a fan of really fancy coffee drinks, a la Starbucks. Honestly, this Coffee Milk was likely the fanciest drink he’d had in his long history of coffee drinking, and from what he could tell, an argument could be made that it wasn’t actually coffee.
“Here you are.” The man set the ice crusted glass with a paper topped straw sticking out in front of Steve alongside a small plate holding the cupcake, a grin on his face. Steve thanked him, paid for everything and took a seat at one of the two person tables by the window. He started with the cupcake, tearing off the bottom and placing it atop the frosting, eating the whole thing like a sandwich, just as his mother had taught him. Having a mouthful of delicious cake and sweet but not too sweet frosting, he reached for the drink, pulling the last bit of the wrapper off the straw before putting it between his lips and taking a sip.
It was like an iced coffee, but with less bitter hints and a smoother texture. It made him smile; he had tasted something like this before. He’d been a child and he wanted to be a grown up, wanted to have coffee at breakfast with his mom. She had smiled, put a little of her coffee in a glass and filled it the rest of the way with milk. He’d felt like an adult back then; right now he felt like a child.
“You smile any wider, your cheeks are going to split.” Steve opened his eyes, not completely sure when he’d closed them, to see the barista standing by him, a satisfied smile on his face. “I know I’m good, but come on, I can’t be that good.”
“It is really good,” Steve replied, looking for a nametag on the man, but coming up empty. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” The barista stuck out his hand. “I’m Tony. And if you like that, you should check out the specials we have on the chalkboard by the front door.” Steve smiled, casting a glance towards the door. As Tony said, there was a small chalkboard there, angled so that most would have seen it when they walked in. Its contents were simple:
Your Barista is:
1) Hella fucking gay.
2) Desperately single.
For Your Drink Today, I Recommend:
You Give Me Your Number.
“Is your boss okay with that?” Steve asked, a little bit surprised.
“Totally,” Tony replied with a grin. “Considering he’s the one who wrote it.” Steve laughed and took his hand giving it a shake.
“Steve. Nice to meet you.”
“Haven’t seen you around here before,” Tony continued, taking the seat across from Steve. “New to the area?”
“I had an appointment nearby,” Steve replied, not wanting to get into it. “You get a lot of people who are… um…”
“Shocked by the décor?” Steve nodded. “Oh yeah, happens all the time. Come in when my pastry chef’s here, that really fucks with people’s brains.”
“Clint’s from Iowa, regular Radar O’Reilly… you know, if Radar were six-ten, full of muscles and sass.”
“So besides being from Iowa, he’s nothing like Radar?”
“Pretty much, yeah. Anyway, he comes in here during the morning shift to get his baking done. From the outside, this place looks like a fancy tea parlor, on the inside it looks like a motorcycle shop.” A wide grin spread across his face. “Just imagine what people think when they open the door and hear George Jones singing about being so lonesome he could cry.” Steve, unable to stop himself, burst out laughing.
“I can see how that would throw people off,” he admitted.
From there, the conversation flowed smoothly. Tony had been a child prodigy, a whiz with robotics whom everyone expected to go far in that field, but he dropped it all and opened Class Act about two years ago. Steve would normally have asked what lead to such a drastic change, going from building robots to making and serving coffee… but there was something there in Tony’s eyes that stopped him. Instead, he talked about his life’ growing up in Brooklyn; how he’d always been fond of drawing and according to his teachers, was very good at it; how both his parents had been in the army. His mother was a nurse and his father had been a soldier before he died, and it felt it only right that he follow in their footsteps. He’d been sick a lot as a kid, but he was able to overcome it by the time he graduated high school.
“There is no way you were a scrawny kid,” Tony replied. He was completely relaxed now; he got up to service customers that occasionally wandered in, but for the most part, he sat across from Steve with his feet resting on top of a chair. “That’s just not possible.”
“I’ve got the pictures to prove it,” Steve insisted. “Not with me, but they’re at home.”
“What changed in high school? Start playing sports or what?”
“My mom died.” The words came out more freely than he’d ever spoke them before; he couldn’t explain why, at least not to himself. He saw a surprised and slightly embarrassed expression cover Tony’s face. “She’d been sick for a long time,” Steve continued quickly. “We got a pension from my dad’s death, and she’d put a lot of it into a savings account for me… it was enough for me to live off of, but she wanted real bad for me to go to college. I started working out, and I thought about going for a sports scholarship as well as one for art.”
“Baseball, actually.” Steve grinned, remembering the feel of the bat in his hands, as natural as a pencil or a piece of charcoal, and the way his glove clung to his skin. He remembered the first time he caught a ball over the right field fence, the look of disappointment on the batter’s face when he realized his homerun had been taken away. “I got both scholarships, but the war was still going on.”
“So you skipped college?”
“Not skip, just postponed. The Army’s playing for my schooling right now.”
“You’re in school then?”
“Art school; it’s always been my first love.” Steve looked at the clock; somehow almost three hours had passed. “Speaking of which, I need to get home. I have a ton of homework to finish up.”
“You should do it here sometime,” Tony said, with a tone that Steve could only describe as forced casualty. “We get a lot of interesting people in here, be good subjects for sketches.” Steve smiled.
“I’ll remember that,” he replied with an earnestness that took him by surprise. “Nice meeting you, Tony.”
“You too.” Steve walked out, smiling to himself as he walked towards his building.
It wasn’t until he got home that he realized he hadn’t given Tony his number, wondering if the man had really wanted it.
Steve found himself back into the Class Act Café less than a week later, and many weeks after that. It had been a few months since he first went to the café. It was usually right after his appointments with his therapist, so he’d never gotten there as early as he did today. The café had likely only been open for an hour or so, and he was heading in along with his sketchbook and a few pencils, ready to do some work. One of his classes was on realistic figure drawing, which had never been his strong suit. He could draw people just fine, but they tended to look like they’d just leapt out of the Sunday morning funny papers. So, here he was, sitting at the same table he’d been at for his first visit, planning on sketching people as they came in and out. He came in during the early hours when Tony said the pastry chef would be working.
“You must be Steve,” a voice said from the back. “Boss man said you might pop in with your sketch book.” A man came out through a pair of swinging saloon doors that separated the kitchen and the dining area, and… well, he was six-foot-ten and full of muscles.
“And you must be Clint,” Steve replied with a smile. “I had one of your cupcakes recently, it was amazing.”
“Thank you. Up for another one or are you a muffin in the morning guy?”
“Depends on the muffin, really.”
“Barton, are you trying to seduce the good captain?” Tony’s voice came from the other side of the café, sounding rushed and anxious. As if someone was taking away something that he didn’t have but already decided was his.
“Stark, you wound me,” Clint replied, his smile morphing into a grin. “If I were attempting to seduce him, his pants would already be off.”
“And I’m pretty sure my pants are still firmly fastened,” Steve added. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best response, but Tony started to laugh, followed by Clint, and that was good enough for Steve.
“Order anything yet, Cap?”
“No,” Steve said, getting up from the table to meet Tony at the counter. “I just got here.”
“Coffee, tea or me?” Tony asked, wiggling his eyebrows up and down with a grin. It was such a forward, in your face flirt that Steve wasn’t sure if it was genuine or it Tony was just teasing him.
“Well, that is the cheapest option.” Tony got out a mug, filled it from a glass carafe, and handed it to Steve. “Working on something for school?”
“Yeah, figure drawing.” Steve took a sip from the cup; the flavor was rich and bitter, and it made him think of some of the Navy guys he’d known, the ones that drank ‘submarine coffee’; coffee so strong that the spoons that didn’t disintegrate upon contact stood straight up inside the cup.
It was pretty great.
“What’d I tell you, Hawkass,” Tony said, the grin still plastered on his face. “My coffee is orgasmic.”
“Your coffee is about to end up all over the floor,” Clint replied. He nodded to Steve, who looked like he was about to choke to death. He barely managed to not spit coffee everywhere, but he couldn’t hide the blush coming to his cheeks.
“The coffee is really good,” he sputtered. Very smooth, he thought to himself. But, Tony was smiling at him and that was okay, wasn’t it?
“Well, there’s not many people here right now,” Tony pointed out as he sat in one of the many empty chairs. “You want to draw me like one of your French girls?”
“Sure, why not?” The response came so readily that Steve hardly believed that it came from him. Tony looked pleased, about to say something else…
“Do not get naked in here, Stark,” Clint said firmly. “I don’t care if you own the place, I just waxed those fucking tables.” Now glaring slightly, Tony again opened his mouth to say something, only to be cut off by swarms of people coming into the shop. Steve watched with interest as Tony vaulted over the counter and came up grinning, ready to serve everyone that came in.
Steve spent most of the morning sketching anyone that caught his eye. First was the young person with the silver spiky Mohawk; Tony had called them Sage, using gender neutral pronouns when talking to them. They had multiple piercings in their right ear and wore a black t-shirt ringed at the sleeves and collar with green and sporting a cartoonish green T-Rex in the center. They also wore a green kilt with a fancy steampunk styled belt, green laced black boots that went up to their knees, and a pair of green tinted glasses. Steve made sure to note which greens were darker or lighter than others; a painting of Sage would be lovely, if they were okay with it.
The second was a man who looked like he’d come straight out of an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger; long hair pulled back into a braided ponytail, a bit of unkempt stubble for a beard, a green bandanna around his neck, red flannel shirt and dusty brown jeans. He carried a worn cowboy hat in his hands, and the spurs on his black boots jingled a little as he walked. Tony called him Justin, asked about his son and fixed him up a cup of coffee that looked like a sort of thick black syrup. Steve wouldn’t have been surprised to see a spoon or something standing straight up in it.
The rest were Tony. So much Tony. Tony at the espresso machine, laughing at something Clint had said; Tony restocking the pastry case; Tony hanging a new framed poster of Imagine Dragons next to Adele…
“Hey Tony, I’ve got an appointment to get to,” Steve said quickly, getting to his feet. “I’ll see you later. Nice meeting you, Clint.”
“You too, man!” Steve heard Clint say as he walked out the door. He didn’t have an appointment; hopefully his therapist would see him anyway.
Ms. Karin Castle was good at her job. She listened when someone just wanted to be listened to, gave advice when it was requested, and insisted she would never look down on anyone’s problems, no matter how small they seemed.
Most people would reconsider this policy when a soldier came in and stated that they were worried about a crush they were developing on someone. Ms. Karin Castle was not most people.
“What are they like?” she asked instead. Steve, sitting across from her in a large plushy chair that made him look much smaller than normal, had his head in his hands.
“He,” Steve said softly. “His name is Tony… he owns a coffee shop I’ve been going to…”
“Is that what’s causing the issue? That you’re both men?”
“I don’t know, maybe? I don’t think so? I’ve always thought that I was straight, but, you know, shit happens.”
“I believe that’s called ‘heteroflexable’,” Karin replied with a smile. “So you don’t mind he’s a guy? What’s the problem then?”
“He flirts with me like crazy, but he seems to do that with everyone… what if he’s just being him, and I’m reading this wrong, and he flips out and then I can’t go there anymore, and…”
“And you’re alone again.” Steve let out a sigh, nodding his head.
“And I’m alone. Again.” Both were silent for a second. A second turned into seconds, into a minute, into minutes. “What do I do?” he asked finally.
“If you really think he’s going to abandon you over something like this,” Karin said kindly, “then he’s not someone you want in your life anyway. There will be other coffee shops, and other people to meet.” He looked up at her; she was smiling. “But you’re never going to know if you don’t give it a try.”
“We’re closing!” Tony’s voice called from behind the pastry case, where he was removing the pastries not sold that day and placing them into Tupperware containers. “Unless you’re going to buy the rest of these cookies so I don’t have to pack them up, come back tomorrow.”
“Wouldn’t you still have to pack them up?” Steve asked, grinning a little. “If you’re closing, I can’t eat them here.” Tony turned towards him quickly, grinning happily.
“Hey! What brings you here?” Steve took a deep breath, letting it out as casually as possible as he walked over to the counter.
“You have dinner yet?”
“Nope, was going to grab something on the way home.”
“Come to dinner with me?”
“Yeah, really.” Steve rubbed the back of his head, absently. “I mean, unless you’re not interested.” Tony’s jaw dropped.
“Not interested? I have been throwing myself at you since day one, where would you get the idea I wasn’t interested.”
“You kinda throw yourself at everyone…”
“Not as hard as I was at you! Did I really need to spe-”
Steve figured that was as good a point as any in the conversation to grab Tony by the collar of his shirt and kiss him with everything he had. There was a surprised yelp, followed by a happy, breathless moan. Oh, and kissing. Kissing happened as well. Tony tasted like coffee and Clint’s Apple Cheesecake Danishes, and Steve loved every second of it.
“So,” he asked once the kiss had ended and Tony was gasping for air. “Dinner?” Tony blinked a few times, as though he was trying to reboot his entire cranial system. A moment later, he smiled.