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The Faster We're Falling (Instead of Going Under)

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Tony stared out across the ball diamond with mild curiosity and heavy lids, his car slowing to a crawl. He hadn't really meant to end up there, but his actions betrayed him and he found himself driving up the side street that ran parallel to Memorial High before he could really comprehend what was happening. The baseball team was letting out from their Friday afternoon practice and players in royal blue jerseys were jogging across the newly mown field towards the locker rooms, laughing and tossing a ball to each other under the descending sun.

Those guys were nothing like him.

Tony wasn't an extracurricular-sports-teamwork-we're-all-having-a-jolly-good-time kind of guy, and he was well aware that in a public school full of kids vying for the best scholarships to the best schools in the country, he would be surrounded by that type. They had determined their ranks, their clubs - it didn't take a genius like Tony to figure that out without having to step foot inside the eyesore of a brick building. They were like some kind of weird, screwed up ecosystem.

He glanced in his rear view mirror and noticed a white SUV approaching, picked up speed, and left the high school behind him as he made the drive back towards his house.

There was nothing that Tony could do to fix this. Like it or not, he was going to become a Memorial High Badger (Seriously? What kind of school mascot was a badger?) within the next few days.

The giant misunderstanding that had landed him there was quickly making a cameo back in his thoughts, despite the fact that he was becoming an expert in beating it down. He sighed and stared straight ahead, his hand gripping the steering wheel so hard it hurt and his knuckles turned white. He knew that it was his fault entirely; there was no one here to dump his problems on this time. Apparently polishing off a good portion of a bottle of whiskey, breaking into the Dean's office through a smashed window and vomiting on his gorgeous mahogany desk before falling down unconscious in your own puke is a bad idea. A great way to get kicked out of private school, sure, but not a good idea. Considering that it had followed a string of smaller incidents - speaking out in class, scuffing his English teachers hatchback with his Range Rover to earn himself a DUI, and getting caught in what he thought was a locked bathroom with his pants around his ankles and the captain of the lacrosse team sucking at him for all it was worth... well.

His father had been furious, of course. They had spent the entire semester throwing money at all of Tony's fuck ups, effectively forcing them away for a while, but this was different. There wasn't enough money in the world to fix the bulging, angry vein in Dean Jefferson's forehead when he found what had happened. His father had given up, anyways, his bitterness about Tony rejecting his MIT offer still fresh in his mind. So Tony was done, expelled. They sent him to the only place that would accept him.

He pressed down on the accelerator and made a vain attempt not to think about it.

-:-

Tony swung his car into the farthest parking space of the student lot on Monday morning, running a hand through his hair as he cut the engine. Hidden by his tinted windows, he knew that in just a few minutes he would have to step out and face what would inevitably be his most captive audience yet.

That's how teenagers were - they took whatever bit of excitement they could get, devoured it like they hadn't seen food in days, and when they were done moved on to whatever could entertain them next.
Tony just happened to be the next big show.

Memorial High School was not a bad school by any standards. It was in a nice neighbourhood surrounded by sprawling yards and four car garages, and a vast majority of the students belonged to respectable upper-middle class families who spent their summers tanning at country clubs or browsing the malls. The richest of the kids in the area - like Tony - wouldn't be caught dead in a public institution, so they were off at whatever specialized private school they could get into with enough zeros and freshly signed cheques (which he would be too, if he wasn't so inclined to break and enter). While the difference wasn't incredibly noticeable, Tony Stark was still determined for the first time in his life not to stick out.

Which he knew would be next to impossible - as per usual. The hand me down Mercedes from his father that he had driven into the student lot had been flashier than he had intended and it was probably less the car itself, he figured, and more the plates with the Stark family name on them.

He was the son of the biggest billionaire in the city, and he'd have to be an idiot (which he was not, he had the IQ test to prove it) to think that he could avoid the rumours that hung above him like a storm cloud.

People were constantly hounding him about something but it always lead back to one of two things - the money or the notoriety. It shouldn't really bother him. From a startlingly young age he grew accustomed to terrible half-assed friendships that only lasted until the cash cow dried up, and became well aware of why people talked to him, how incredibly fake their smiles and laughs were, and that he was just going to have to deal with no one really knowing the real him.

That was precisely how Tony had become a seasoned professional in not trusting anybody. Well, besides Rhodey, but he was something else. Of course he was — he insisted on being called Rhodey from a young age as James just didn't suit — and he was probably the only person in the universe that talked to Tony without even knowing who his parents were. They started an impromptu banter one summer afternoon while sitting on a bench outside of a high rise, which ended up being about the exact mechanics involved in building a robot that could shoot any kind of fireworks out of its ass. They were twelve years old, yes, but they had been best friends ever since. He also happened to be the only person in the entire school that Tony was familiar with.

Tony swallowed hard and grabbed his shoulder bag, finally stepping out into the parking lot and knocking the car door shut with his foot. He held his keys in the air and locked it, the security system beeping behind him.

Ignoring the gazes that clung to him like a fog as he passed, he held his head up strong, popping his headphones into his ears and turning the volume up. Let them stare, there were much worse things they could be doing. Sure, it was shitty to come right out of the starting gate with people gawking at you like some sort of screwed up zoo exhibit, yet that was how it was going to be, and Tony wouldn't be Tony if he didn't know how to roll with a punch.

So he trudged on.

He managed to find his first class of the morning — biology — just before the bell rang, and dropped himself into the only unoccupied seat in the front row to the far right. Ignoring what he knew were numerous sets of eyes staring at the back of his head, he gave a quick nod to the tired looking guy in the seat beside him who somehow didn't even seem to care that he was sitting next to Howard Stark's son. It was refreshing, and probably Tony's best case scenario.

The class itself had been everything that he had expected it to be. Boring, not all that informative to him, and his teacher, Mr. Winn, was probably old enough to be his great grandfather. He seemed as if he would probably still give you the strap if it was still legal and called everyone by their last names, peering over his glasses with cold and inspecting eyes.

It was for that reason that Tony actually bit his tongue when he wanted to correct the piss poor public school curriculum, although it was physically paining him to do so. Being quiet was a rarity for him, but the eerie way his instructor moved around his desk was enough to even make Tony Stark keep his fucking mouth shut. He had a notebook open on the table in front of him. His notes didn't pertain much to biology; they were filled with equations he had been scratching out that morning at the breakfast table, guzzling back enough caffeine to wake up a tranquilized elephant, which was about how much Tony needed despite being almost a foot shorter than most guys his age.

He swivelled his head, taking in the room behind him and catching the eyes of a few students: a chick with her hair in two long braids, a lanky boy with thick rimmed glasses, and a blond guy near the back who had biceps that could not be real, Tony noted. When Biceps glanced up at him, he also managed to see that his eyes were impossibly blue, which just made him blush even more when Mr. Winn said sharply, "Mr. Stark, if we could face the front, that would be lovely.”

From then on he only half listened to the lecture and played with his pen. Tony's thoughts drifted to how he was going to make it to his next class... surely word would have spread by then, and the hallways would become a damn nightmare... when his phone buzzed quietly in his pocket.

He unlocked it and stared at the text from an unknown contact that lit up the screen.

[9:57 AM]: I'll be late getting home tonight. Still can't believe you lost your phone.

Tony's brow furrowed in confusion and he tapped out a response, glancing up periodically to make sure the teacher's eyes had not fallen on him.

[9:58 AM]: i haven't lost it, considering it's in my hands.
[9:58 AM]: I meant your old one, doofus.

Tony resisted the urge to snort. Did anyone even say doofus anymore?

[9:59 AM]: think you might have the wrong number. my last phone was blown up, actually.
[10:00 AM]: This isn't Bucky?
[10:00 AM]: definitely not bucky, sorry to disappoint
[10:01 AM]: Sorry to bother you! Guess I screwed up the new number when I was putting it in.
[10:01 AM]: Wait a second, you blew up your phone?
[10:03 AM]: yes, i did, and no, you're not bothering me, any distraction from class is actually highly welcome

Tony looked back up at the board where an image of a root tip was being projected (yes, projected!), his expression withering. The geezer of a teacher began to point at various smudges, lifting a wrinkled hand to the slide.

[10:05AM]: I'm not a phone expert kind of guy, but I just don't see how someone can manage that.
[10:05 AM]: electrical accident, phone was too close. it was all very unfortunate
[10:06 AM]: Wow. So you're a student?
[10:06 AM]: i might be. why?

He vaguely heard Mr. Winn reprimand someone in the back of the room for having their phone out. Tony locked and shoved his own back in his pocket reluctantly, making an attempt at regaining any semblance of focus. Sure, he didn't want to be at school at all, but getting a detention for something as idiotic as texting someone he didn't even know on the first day wouldn't work any wonders for him. Staring straight at the clock hanging above the door, Tony watched as the seconds and minutes slid by until the bell rang and the room came to life again.

Students rushed around him like a herd of animals. People pushed past him to the door and zipped off to their next class, papers jostling and bags swinging.

Tony, however, could look forward to being graced by the always awe-inducing presence of Mrs. Wichita (yes, just like the Kansan city) and her lessons in English and allegory. Wichita the city, as it so happened was The Air Capital of The World and from what Tony had heard from numerous students bitching in the halls, it was appropriate. Mrs. Wichita wasn't far off from her namesake, seeing as her head was full of air, too.

From what he understood on his map the class was still upstairs, and he took his time and pulled his phone back out as he walked. There was a tiny number '1' next to his messages icon and he tapped it open.

[10:07 AM]: College?

He typed a reply, eyes darting up to make sure he kept an open path in front of him while also checking for potential threats (someone had tried to kidnap him once, it was pretty kickass). He knew that he was the subject of the many stares and not-so-hushed whispers and he heard his name more than a few times on his trip.

[10:11 AM]: if you're a hot and in college, then yes, if not try again.
[10:12 AM]: High school?
[10:12 AM]: not in college either, then?
[10:13 AM]: Not exactly.
[10:14 AM]: well shit. that's okay, i'll allow it.
[10:14 AM]: So you are in high school?
[10:14 AM]: unfortunately for me.

Tony stuffed his phone into his bag as he sauntered into English, putting forward all the bravado he could muster. He knew damn well it wasn't exactly his strong suit, but he had been an expert at stringing together words and sentences into speeches, lies, stories — whatever he needed — for a long time. He just hated the actual studying part of it. Not to mention the fact that his thoughts continually kept drifting to the completely random person and the completely random text from the period before.

It was kind of interesting, and if he was honest, kind of exciting.

About halfway through a note on the influence of the Elizabethan era on Shakespeare, that he was actually copying down because he was a physicist, damn it, and this was so not his area, he heard the vibrations of his phone get more needy and he slid a hand down to the pocket where it was hidden away.

[10:15 AM]: Why unfortunately?
[10:19 AM]: Alright, I admit, that was kind of a dumb question.
[10:40 AM]: Did I scare you off?
[10:40 AM]: You were a fairly interesting stranger, as far as strangers go. And my age.

Tony averted his attention from the front of the room where the middle aged teacher with her hair in a tight bun continued to talk.

[10:41 AM]: i don't scare that easily, just in class. don't get worked up on me.
[10:41 AM]: wait, your age? i honestly thought you were at least forty years old.
[10:43 AM]: I'm not worked up. And why on Earth would I be forty?
[10:44 AM]: a) you said doofus. b) you screwed up putting a number in your phone. c) you just sound like somebody's old dad
[10:48 AM]: A) So what? B) So what? and C) That doesn't even make any sense.
[10:48 AM]: oh phew, you answered, i was actually about to apologize for a second.
[10:49 AM]: God forbid you have manners, it might kill you.
[10:53 AM]: i can have manners, thanks. see, i even said thanks!
[10:54 AM]: You're ridiculous.
[10:59 AM]: no, you
[11:00 AM]: so i'm still not quite past this. you're in high school, not balding, and live in my area (just guessing by the area code), whoever you are.
[11:01 AM]: Why would I be balding?
[11:03 AM]: i just kind of assumed.
[11:04 AM]: Has anyone ever told you that you're like the king of assumptions?
[11:08 AM]: the king? who said i was a guy?
[11:09 AM]: (i am, but now who's making assumptions?) ;)
[11:10 AM]: Shut up. Did you actually just use a winky face?
[11:11 AM]: you shut up. you liked it.
[11:14 AM]: I can tell you for a fact that I didn't.
[11:24 AM]: did toooooo.
[11:24 AM]: Okay. So where do you go to school?
[11:28 AM]: if you're asking because you want to come find me and dismember me or drive me out to the desert and leave me there, then i'd rather not say.
[11:32 AM]: Jesus Christ, why would I do that? I'm just curious.
[11:34 AM]: you're a complete stranger, for all i know you could be a regular jeffrey dahmer
[11:37 AM]: That's the guy that ate all those men, isn't it? I'm so flattered.
[11:38 AM]: i really don't know anything about you, sorry man.
[11:41 AM]: But you immediately thought serial killer/cannibal? Apparently I'm giving off a lot of bad vibes today. Old, bald, murderer...
[11:41 AM]: yeah, you should work on that.
[11:42 AM]: You're rather obnoxious, you know that?
[11:42 AM]: i've been told.
[11:43 AM]: Yeah, you should work on that.
[11:44 AM]: you're funny

Tony shoved his phone into his pants pocket as the bell rang for lunch, sweeping his books into his bag in one haphazard movement in order to get out of there as fast as he could. There was no way in hell he was spending lunch in that place. It would be like cutting your hand off and jumping into a tank of piranhas. He had had about enough of people elbowing their friends when he walked by, eyes following him like he had suddenly sprouted an extra head.

Which he didn’t. So they could all kindly knock it off any time now.

-:-

Tony was halfway through his lunch, nearly inhaling a bacon cheeseburger whole, when his phone buzzed again. He picked it up embarrassingly fast, pointedly ignoring the hopeful flutter he felt and the odd sinking feeling when he saw "Rhodey" on the screen.

[12:01 PM]: How're you holdin up?
[12:01 PM]: i guess i'll survive, are there always this many idiots here or is it just a special day? like a convention or something?
[12:02 PM]: Hey, they aren't all that bad.

Tony rolled his eyes.

[12:03 PM]: yes, they kind of are.
[12:03 PM]: Were your classes that bad? What'd you have? Bio?
[12:04 PM]: bio and english so far. i have calculus and... history? i think?
[12:05 PM]: They put you in history? What, no hacking-for-the-US-government classes were open?? At least we have calculus together.
[12:06 PM]: ha, very funny. physics was full and that's all that was left.
[12:06 PM]: Where are you now?
[12:09 PM]: lunch in town, i'll be back
[12:14 PM]: I would have gone with you if I had known! Tomorrow. See you in calc, new guy.

Tony shoved his wrappers into the paper bag his food had come in, gathering his belongings and tossing the crumpled mess into the trash on his way out.

He only had to make it through two more classes. Just two more, then he was free to go.

-:-

The next text came halfway through history.

[1:59 PM]: I wouldn't say that I'm funny.
[2:00 PM]: he's alive!
[2:01 PM]: Yeah, well, unlike some people I pay attention in class.
[2:02 PM]: ouch. are you not in class now?
[2:03 PM]: Not really.
[2:04 PM]: i don't know if you're trying to be aloof on purpose to force me into asking you what you're doing instead, but i'm going to fall for it anyways. how so?
[2:08 PM]: What? No? I just didn't think you'd find it all that interesting.
[2:08 PM]: I'm in art class and we go outside so we can sketch.
[2:11 PM]: so you took art? on purpose?
[2:11 PM]: ...Yes?
[2:13 PM]: why would you ever
[2:15 PM]: Because I like art? Why not?
[2:19 PM]: art is too all over the place. no rules, nothing to follow, no science and then you get a D because you did it wrong when they just fucking said there was no right way to do it in the first place.
[2:20 PM]: there's just no logic!
[2:25 PM]: That's the point, you get to make your own rules. It's calming, there's no pressure to find the exact measure or memorize the facts or anything, you just do it.
[2:26 PM]: man, this is really ruining my image of you
[2:30 PM]: You had an image of me?
[2:31 PM]: sort of. don't you have one of me by now?
[2:32 PM]: I might.
[2:34 PM]: care to elaborate?
[2:34 PM]: I'd rather not.
[2:39 PM]: but now i'm curious
[2:40 PM]: I think you'll live.
[2:41 PM]: i'm pouting. you should know that.
[2:45 PM]: Are you four years old?
[2:51 PM]: yes. well anyways, however you pictured me, you're probably wrong
[2:52 PM]: What makes you say that?
[2:55 PM]: just a guess.

Tony pushed through the side doors of the school at the end of the day, feeling simultaneously exhausted and proud.

He actually made it through his first day. It was surprisingly uneventful, and Tony was almost disappointed that no one had asked to take a spin in his Mercedes, even though he would have thoroughly declined. His homework was ridiculously easy, he still had a grand total of one friend (besides an anonymous face with a phone number), and he was starving.

He slid into the driver's seat, tossing his bag somewhere into the back and adjusting his mirror. He caught a glance of himself — perpetual bed head, clean shaven face, and thick-framed designer sunglasses that he knew hid the deepening bags under his eyes.

For Christ's sake, he was eighteen years old. Bags under his eyes were not a good sign. He decided to push that fact aside for the time being, instead backing up and peeling out of the parking lot. He really, really needed a coffee... or a martini. A martini craving at 3 PM was also a bad sign, but maybe he could invent the world's first coffee martini.

-:-

The longest text came when Tony was holed up in his bedroom/workshop, tinkering with the device he had started on before school came along and rudely interrupted him. He jumped a little when his phone pinged, dropping the screwdriver he was holding, and wiped his hands on a rag. He read the message, vaguely thinking that he was going to have to put this guy in his contacts eventually.

[6:29 PM]: Here's how I picture you, based on what I know: Probably a science guy, a little stuck up, maybe you're big because there's no way you can be that mouthy and not get beat up. Or you do get beat up, in which case, sorry about your luck. You probably have all sorts of friends and tell off teachers and pretend to be better than everyone else. (Which reminds me, I still want to know where you go to school. I'm just curious?).
[6:38 PM]: okay, let me clear up a few things. 1. stuck up is not a nice way to put it. 2. i do not get beat up. 3. i don't hang around the science department amateurs and 4. i don't have all sorts of friends.
[6:39 PM]: and i'm still not telling you.
[6:40 PM]: There's no nice way to say stuck up, and calling everyone amateurs is probably a good indication of why you don't have any friends.
[6:41 PM]: i didn't say i didn't have any friends, just not all sorts. difference.
[6:42 PM]: I'll tell you where I go if you do.
[6:43 PM]: sorry but that doesn't matter, i could figure that out on my own.
[6:45 PM]: How?
[6:46 PM]: i have my ways. trust me when i say that there's no being sneaky.
[6:48 PM]: And you call me a serial killer…
[6:49 PM]: Why don't you want to tell me?
[6:52 PM]: you're on a need to know basis right now, and you really don't need to know.
[6:53 PM]: I promise I won't dismember you.
[6:54 PM]: Please?
[6:58 PM]: not happening, sorry.
[6:59 PM]: Alright, alright. Fine.

Tony paused, wandering into his bedroom and plopping down on his bed. He felt mildly bad for shutting whoever this person was down, but he didn't exactly have a choice. As interesting as they were, they were still a stranger and he couldn't forget that. Holding them at arm's length was his only option.

[7:00 PM]: don't be sulky
[7:03 PM]: What makes you think I'm being sulky? I'm not.
[7:04 PM]: you sure about that?
[7:06 PM]: Pretty sure. I think I'd notice if I was.
[7:08 PM]: i don't know, you're an art-hippie-painting-flowers-and-shit kind of guy. probably pretty out of it, i'm just saying
[7:11 PM]: I don't even paint that much. I like drawing.
[7:11 PM]: And I can tell you for a fact that I'm not a hippie.
[7:13 PM]: look at you go, defying all those conventions!
[7:16 PM]: Shut up.

-:-

Tony accelerated from the red light, one hand on the steering wheel and the other arm dangling from the open window. The warm afternoon light poured into the car and Rhodey sat in the passenger seat, eyeing him sideways as they headed off for lunch.

"You look more cheerful today," Rhodey said.

Tony shrugged. "No one's talked to me, which I am perfectly okay with, by the way," he made a vague dismissive gesture with his free hand, "I'd rather be antisocial than social so that someone can get a free trip to Europe with me and ditch me as soon as the plane lands.”

Rhodey's mouth twisted into a wry half-smile as he turned to look out the window. "I guess so," he seemed to consider this for a moment before speaking again, "Oh yeah, about that Europe trip…"

Tony snorted, jerking the car into the fast food joint's mostly empty parking lot and coming to a sharp stop in front of the curb. "Shut up."

By the time they had ordered, paid, and gotten halfway through their food Tony had received three new texts. He ignored them, on account of the fact that his hands were currently occupied by a practically dripping bacon cheeseburger, but his gaze would drift every time he heard the tell-tale dinging noise.

Rhodey eyed the phone on the table, smirking and swallowing a mouthful of French fries. "For someone who doesn't talk to anybody, you sure are popular.”

Tony gave a non-committal wave. "It's nothing.”

Rhodey's eyes narrowed. "I know for a fact that your only real contacts are douche bags from boarding school, me, Pepper, and that one weird teacher you had who let all his students text him.”

"That's not true. I have some chicks from boarding school too, you know.”

"Chicks who you aren't texting right now. Who is it?" Rhodey made a quick grab for the phone and Tony dropped his burger, snatching it back just in time.

"No one," Tony said, trying to keep the defensiveness out of his tone.

"It's totally someone!" Rhodey exclaimed.

"They're just..." Tony started. How exactly did one explain his situation? "I got a text in biology yesterday from a random number. Same area code, but they put my number in by mistake and now we've started talking and... I don't know. They're not bad to talk to, but I don't even know who they are. All I know is that: one, they're a guy, two, they're from around here, and three, they're in high school. I don't even know his name.”

Rhodey nodded, taking it in and mulling it around in his head. "How much have you told them about... yourself?"

"If you're asking if I've told them that I'm self-made billionaire Howard Stark's delinquent son, then no, I have omitted that fact for the time being.”

"I see." Rhodey shrugged. "Maybe this is a good thing.”

Tony simply raised an eyebrow.

"I mean it, maybe it's... a sign, or something. You can't just spend all your time talking to robots, you know. You need some human interaction.”

Tony pointed between them. "This is human interaction.”

His best friend gave him a pointed look, crumpling a napkin along with his wrapper. "You know what I mean.”

"Human interaction or not, you can't just ignore the level of danger and risk involved with getting to close to someone who you don't have any information about," Tony explained with a shrug.

"You do plenty of risky of dangerous and risky things all the time.”

Tony sighed and looked out the window. "You know what I mean.”

-:-

Tony wandered around the empty house, his sweatpants hung low on his hips and his hair ruffled. It was one of those evenings — his father had taken off on a weekend business trip with his mother reluctantly in tow, both of them drinking heavily before they had even gotten on the jet to staunch the flow of resentment between them, just so that they could manage to sit together for a mere few hours — and Tony left behind to entertain himself for however long they were gone.

Tony had taken to fiddling with anything he could find in the workshop on nights like that, only coming out of his room to grab a water from the fridge or to take a movie break when frustration got the best of him.

He padded down the long hall in his bare feet to the kitchen, grabbing a cold slice of pizza and flopping down on the couch. His safety glasses were pushed up on to his forehead absentmindedly, and there was some sort of grease stain on his cheek that he was unaware of. He laid sprawled on the sofa with the remote and phone balanced on his chest. A shitty horror movie had been playing for about forty minutes, and it was just getting to the gory stuff when his text tone sounded, almost startling him.

[7:10 PM]: What are you doing tonight?
[7:11 PM]: a whole lot of nothin. watching a corny and not at all scary movie, you?
[7:12 PM]: Cleaning, mostly. I've run out of things to wash.
[7:15 PM]: you could come do my laundry
[7:16 PM]: Yeah, I'll get right on that.
[7:18 PM]: alright, fine. i've got people for that anyways.
[7:19 PM]: I hope you're kidding.
[7:21 PM]: yes. sort of.

Technically, Tony thought to himself, he didn't have people to do his dirty laundry... just a robot. So really, he wasn't lying.

[7:21 PM]: Have you ever done your own laundry?
[7:23 PM]: i have. not the dry cleaning, though. i mean, i have a bot that does it but to be fair, i built him, so in a way i do my own laundry, if that clears things up
[7:24 PM]: Seriously? You built a robot that can do your laundry?
[7:25 PM]: yes?
[7:27 PM]: That's insane! You can do that?
[7:28 PM]: if that's impressing you then you're in for a treat
[7:28 PM]: So you're definitely a genius.
[7:30 PM]: technically, yes? i was tested when i was little and i was playing with wrenches and circuits when most kids got rubber ducks and trains, but i had fun.
[7:32 PM]: That's crazy. Where did you even grow up?
[7:33 PM]: hey, need to know basis.
[7:36 PM]: I'll answer any question you have for me if you answer mine.
[7:36 PM]: are you proposing we play the question game? are you in eighth grade? please tell me you're not in eighth grade.
[7:38 PM]: Come on, it could be fun. Besides, you said it yourself that you're doing a whole lot of nothing tonight.
[7:40 PM]: i can't believe i'm saying this, but fine. go ahead.
[7:40 PM]: Where did you grow up?
[7:41 PM]: fine. born in ny, but also raised in cali, a little bit of paris, milan and madrid for the summers
[7:42 PM]: You've got to be joking. That's so... wow.
[7:42 PM]: you wanted to know.
[7:43 PM]: I know. Alright, it's your go.
[7:47 PM]: hmm... your name?
[7:48 PM]: ...Steve.
[7:49 PM]: short for steven?
[7:49 PM]: Yes short for Steven, but I go by Steve.
[7:50 PM]: huh.
[7:51 PM]: How old are you?
[7:51 PM]: 18, i'm a senior.
[7:52 PM]: Me too.
[7:52 PM]: favourite movie? (this one is important, answer wisely.)
[7:53 PM]: I... I don't really watch movies. I like reading.
[7:54 PM]: you don't watch movies?! not even the classics?
[7:54 PM]: Not really. Is that bad?
[7:55 PM]: yes, but fixable. my god, i must help you. it is my mission. a movie marathon is definitely in order!
[7:57 PM]: That might be tough considering we aren't seeing each other in person.
[7:59 PM]: we'll just watch them at the same time. you have a DVD player or a laptop or something, right? don't tell me you're against those too. you can't be frickin amish, you have a phone!
[8:02 PM]: I'm not against movies. But yes, I do have a laptop.
[8:03 PM]: good, i'll pick movies and we'll just start them at the same time
[8:03 PM]: Really?
[8:04 PM]: why? got anything better to do?

Tony stared at his phone and swallowed. It was a harmless question, really, but for some reason it made his stomach twist into knots as soon as he hit send. Maybe he - Steve - did have better things to do and he just wasn't saying it. Maybe this guy was just pacifying Tony, trying to let him down easy…

[8:05 PM]: Not particularly.
[8:05 PM]: awesome. next friday night good?
[8:07 PM]: Yeah, sounds great!
[8:08 PM]: ok. it's your go.
[8:10 PM]: Oh... What are you really doing tonight? Why no crazy plans?
[8:11 PM]: that's 2 questions.
[8:12 PM]: Don't dodge them.
[8:14 PM]: well, i've been screwing around with a new model of a bot i'm working on, but right now i'm ready to burn it, so i was restoring a car. and i think i've had enough crazy lately.
[8:17 PM]: Are you going to explain that?
[8:18 PM]: no, and it's my go. what kind of books do you read?
[8:21 PM]: Uh, well pretty much anything that interests me. I love history books, adventure stories, superheroes, stuff like that. I know it sounds pretty lame, my friends think it's weird.
[8:23 PM]: not lame. that's actually sort of cool, and your friends must suck.
[8:24 PM]: You don't have to lie to me.
[8:25 PM]: well i'm not, and it's your turn
[8:25 PM]: Let me think.
[8:28 PM]: Favourite place to go?
[8:29 PM]: my workshop. that or a café in paris where i used to go. what about you?
[8:29 PM]: You can't repeat a question.
[8:31 PM]: i don't recall you making any rules
[8:33 PM]: Fine, alright. There's this place outside of town where I run sometimes. It's a hill by the park and there's this rock cut you can sit on and you can see the entire town. I like to go there and think. It's the best place there is.
[8:34 PM]: you're terribly poetic.
[8:34 PM]: Well it’s true. It’s a nice spot. What did you eat for dinner tonight?
[8:36 PM]: that's a lame question, i demand another
[8:38 PM]: No, I want to know.
[8:39 PM]: cold pizza and coffee
[8:39 PM]: That's not dinner!
[8:41 PM]: it is for me, mom. it's edible and i ate it at 7 PM, which still classifies as dinnertime, so it is indeed, dinner.
[8:44 PM]: Does no one feed you?
[8:44 PM]: i'm home alone.
[8:47 PM]: You have coffee for dinner. How do you even sleep?
[8:48 PM]: i have coffee for every meal, and i don't
[8:48 PM]: I don't think you should be left home alone anymore.
[8:49 PM]: tell that to my parents.
[8:50 PM]: Maybe I should.
[8:51 PM]: do you suddenly have an evening flight to D.C. i don't know about?
[8:52 PM]: They're in D.C.?
[8:53 PM]: yeah, flew out a few hours ago.
[8:53 PM]: Without you?
[8:54 PM]: like hell I'd go on one of those trips
[8:55 PM]: I'd like travelling.
[8:55 PM]: not with them.
[8:56 PM]: Why not?
[8:58 PM]: no one in their right mind would. lots of scotch, lots of glaring, and lots of incredibly awkward silences
[8:59 PM]: I'm sorry about that. It's your go, by the way.
[9:00 PM]: don't worry about it. first kiss?
[9:01 PM]: My friend Peggy when I was 14, but we pretty much decided immediately that it wasn't going to work. She's great and all, I still talk to her, but we were better off as good friends.
[9:01 PM]: any reason why?
[9:02 PM]: That's two questions.
[9:03 PM]: and I answered 2 in a row of yours earlier, so spill
[9:06 PM]: Well I guess that... I figured out pretty early on that I was bisexual, and I had a massive crush on a guy in our grade at the time, although he really had no idea I existed, so I guess maybe that's why?
[9:06 PM]: i see.
[9:08 PM]: if it helps, my first kiss was with a girl in private school when i was 12, but it didn't exactly help that we were both sort of in the closet, so all in all it was pretty terrible

Tony knew that it was risky. As nice as he seemed, if Steve ever found out who he was (which he most definitely wouldn't) and was looking for a quick buck... well, selling Tony out to the tabloids would be a cinch.

[9:10 PM]: When did you know?
[9:11 PM]: about the general fluidity of my sexuality?
[9:11 PM]: Yes.
[9:12 PM]: i was pretty young, when i was in private school.
[9:13 PM]: Now are you... you know, out?
[9:14 PM]: not to everyone. my best friends know, my mother suspects, i think. but telling my dad... let's just say I'd rather shove 9 inch nails in my ears?
[9:15 PM]: it's just complicated. what about you, Mr. Steve?
[9:17 PM]: Sort of. My friends know, but I've only ever dated girls so it's not really... public. I don't mind people knowing, I don't want to hide. It's just never happened I guess.
[9:19 PM]: it's just... weird. i never apologize for being who i am, and i don't really give a shit if people judge me, but i just don't want that to be my legacy.
[9:19 PM]: Your legacy? You must really be going places.
[9:20 PM]: i've been going places since the day i was born.
[9:21 PM]: If it helps, I'll remember you for other stuff.
[9:23 PM]: uh, thanks. it's also your go, you know
[9:25 PM]: Do you have any siblings?
[9:26 PM]: nope. favourite music genre, go. (if you say you don't listen to music i swear to god i will delete your number).
[9:28 PM]: I like classical, but I like some other bands too. Anything calming, I love piano and acoustic stuff, unplugged.
[9:29 PM]: oh boy.
[9:29 PM]: this is putting a wedge between us
[9:30 PM]: Why? What do you like?
[9:31 PM]: while you might like classical, i like the classics, baby. rock and roll, Steve. rock and roll.
[9:32 PM]: I should've guessed. Closest person to you?
[9:33 PM]: my best friend. we met while talking about robots shooting random shit out of their ass. i was hooked, of course, most embarrassing moment?
[9:35 PM]: When I was 10 I tried to join the little league team.
[9:36 PM]: sounds mortifying!
[9:37 PM]: I was asthmatic, twenty five pounds lighter than the rest of them, and barely able to pick up the bat.
[9:38 PM]: oh. so?? what happened?
[9:41 PM]: I showed up, got laughed at, tried out... And then the coach told me to come back when I ate my vegetables and got big and strong.
[9:41 PM]: he said that?!
[9:42 PM]: Those were his exact words, I still remember it.
[9:44 PM]: holy shit. is it bad that i'm laughing??
[9:44 PM]: i'm sorry but I literally cannot help it
[9:45 PM]: It's okay. Anyways, that was my most embarrassing moment. How about yours?
[9:47 PM]: i think getting kicked out of private school qualifies
[9:48 PM]: You got kicked out of school? How?
[9:49 PM]: it's a long story. let's just say lots of alcohol, a misdemeanour here, a felony there, and some vomit.
[9:49 PM]: But you're a genius, right? How did you make such a bad move?
[9:53 PM]: that's what they all say, get in line.
[9:54 PM]: Sorry, I didn't mean to sound... That's tough.
[9:55 PM]: yeah, well. my turn. worst (or possibly best?) nickname you've ever been given?
[9:56 PM]: ... My friend Sam calls me 'Captain'. It's tough to explain, but it's a mixture of my overzealous patriotism (his words), my wanting to join the army and well... the fact that he saw my American flag underwear. It was just one pair!
[9:57 PM]: i have so many questions
[9:58 PM]: 1. you want to join the army ? 2. you have american flag underwear?? isn't that like flag desecration or something? 3. exactly how did this Sam friend of yours see your underwear?
[10:03 PM]: I've kind of wanted to join for a while now. I didn't think I could, because of how small I was, but I've sort of... bulked up since then. And yes, I do. They were a Christmas present. And Sam and I were going for a run and I went upstairs to change and he burst in on me. Haven't lived it down since.
[10:04 PM]: that is just awesome, captain. totally stealing that one.
[10:04 PM]: Please don't.
[10:05 PM]: sure thing, cap. ask a question.
[10:06 PM]: You're the worst.
[10:06 PM]: Most romantic thing you've ever done?
[10:08 PM]: absolutely none, seeing as i don't do romance
[10:09 PM]: I find that hard to believe. You have to come up with something.
[10:10 PM]: in sophomore year i drank too much wine at a party and told this guy that i had been fooling around with (who was a senior, obviously, i don't do small potatoes) how i felt about him. he thought someone heard, and he punched me in the face.
[10:13 PM]: Oh my god. What a dick! I swear if I were there I would have knocked his lights out. Were you okay?
[10:14 PM]: i appreciate your concern, but i was fine, always am.
[10:14 PM]: That doesn't sound that romantic.
[10:15 PM]: hey, you asked for the romantic thing i've done. not the most romantic thing someone's done for me, they don’t always happen at the same time.
[10:15 PM]: where would you travel to if you could? you said you'd like to.
[10:17 PM]: I want to see France, mostly. Maybe travel around through Europe.
[10:18 PM]: it's not as exciting as you think.
[10:19 PM]: I bet it is. The experience would be cool.
[10:20 PM]: What do you look like?

Tony felt a panic rise in his chest. On one hand, he kind of wanted to show himself to Steve for... whatever reason. He knew that he would be instantly recognized if he even so much as attempted to, and his thumbs hovered over the keyboard anxiously.

[10:20 PM]: I don't expect a picture or anything. You can just describe yourself if you want.

With that, Tony's breath left his lungs in a relieved whoosh.

[10:23 PM]: well i'm... kind of short, kind of stocky. black hair, brown eyes, awesome ass. kind of a sex god.
[10:24 PM]: I'm sure you are. I'll just have to see for myself. Your go.
[10:25 PM]: uh... Best pick up line used on you or by you?
[10:27 PM]: Wow, oh gosh. Um... I went to a college party once, and my friend told this guy who was completely sloshed that I like history. Anyway, he walks straight up to me, a beer in one hand and another drink in the other, and calls me "Babe-raham Lincoln."
[10:28 PM]: that's good! did you go for it?
[10:29 PM]: No, but I'll admit I was impressed.
[10:30 PM]: Have you ever been in love?
[10:33 PM]: christ, steve, a little warning
[10:33 PM]: and no
[10:35 PM]: Sorry. For both.
[10:37 PM]: oh? have you?
[10:38 PM]: I mean... I don't think so.
[10:38 PM]: My mom said I'd know if I had been. So no, I guess not.
[10:40 PM]: i think its overrated anyways. everything gets boring eventually
[10:41 PM]: Hey, I don't need your cynicism rubbing off on me.
[10:41 PM]: i'd get used to it if i were you.
[10:42 PM]: what's your favourite thing about yourself?
[10:44 PM]: I have no idea.
[10:44 PM]: I try to be as honest as possible.
[10:45 PM]: that is painfully sweet.
[10:46 PM]: How did your last relationship end?
[10:48 PM]: you see, that's a tough question. how do you qualify a relationship?
[10:49 PM]: Exclusive, committed, dating, going steady?
[10:50 PM]: going steady? gee thanks gramps, i'll remember that one next time i'm at the sock hop!
[10:51 PM]: Just answer the question!
[10:52 PM]: yes, alright, pushy. technically i've only been in one relationship and i don't think it really counts.
[10:54 PM]: i fake-dated my friend Pepper in private school to cover up the whole enjoying dudes thing, mostly to throw my dad off. she was great, but it got to be too much and she vamoosed. of course i don't blame her.
[10:56 PM]: No other relationships?
[10:57 PM]: not that I know of.
[10:58 PM]: I think that you'll need to fix that.
[11:00 PM]: is that so? are you suggesting something, cap?
[11:03 PM]: Shut up. It's your turn.
[11:05 PM]: biggest lie you've ever told?
[11:07 PM]: I told my mom I was okay living with my uncle.
[11:08 PM]: and you weren't?
[11:10 PM]: Not at all. But it's okay now, it was just that I didn't want her to feel bad about it.
[11:13 PM]: Anyways, I think I'd better get to bed. Got a test in the morning. Night... I don't even know your name.
[11:14 PM]: need to know basis.
[11:15 PM]: Right. Good night, mystery guy. :)

Tony gave a weak half-smile and set his phone on his chest, which felt like it was constricting considerably. He knew this wasn't... good. He was nothing if not calculated, and he tried to keep risks - well, emotional risks, he corrected himself - to a bare minimum. Vulnerability was just so not Tony Stark, and he'd be damned if he let this ruin him just because a guy was getting mildly flirty with him, if it even qualified as that much.

There was the unavoidable fact, however, that something about talking to Steve made him not want to stop. The first conversation had been like a pressure crack; now the glass was breaking and the water rushing out. He wanted to tell his story and he wanted to explain how he felt about things. It was a feeling that was generally reserved for... no one, really.

Tony scrubbed his hands over his face and sighed. For some reason that he couldn't exactly identify, he felt utterly fucked.

-:-

As far as weeks are concerned, Tony's was not that bad.

He was halfway through and so far there had been no money-hungry shams disguised as propositions of companionship, no asshole teachers directing him like he wasn't already running circles around them, and he had ingested a wonderfully high amount of bacon cheeseburgers — more than he suspected the average human could handle without keeling over — but that was neither here nor there.

Things were going great. Peachy. Excellent, even.

Then it happened.

"Tony Stark!”

Tony heard his name as he was approaching the side entrance to the school, his messenger bag hung from his shoulder and the hood of his dark red sweatshirt was pulled up, tied tightly beneath his chin to curb the surprisingly chilly breeze of that Wednesday morning. He had one headphone in his ear, but the voice from behind him carried nonetheless, and he turned warily. He didn't respond immediately, instead quirking an eyebrow in question.

"The rumours are true, then," the boy behind him gave a slimy smile. "Justin Hammer, how do you do?”

Tony stared at the kid as he stuck his hand out fiercely, noticing that it was adorned in rings. He had greased blond hair with just enough gel to make you curl your lip, thick rimmed glasses which Tony decidedly didn't comment on the tackiness of, and an inappropriately ostentatious blazer. He looked... like a dick. Definitely a dick.

"Maybe? What do you want?”

Hammer retracted his arm, something briefly flickering in his eyes before he composed himself again, plastering on a fake smile and doing his best impression of being truly affronted. Tony tried not to gag.

"Want?" he said innocently. "Why, Tony, it's not what I want. It's what you need. I think... that you and I run in the same circles. We have similar interests, mutual intelligibility, if you will. But I'm an observer, and I notice things. I can see that you don't have many friends, and we both know how the people here can be..." he trailed off, his lips twisting into a sardonic smile. "I think we could be benefit one another, is all I'm saying. Man to man.”

Something about his tone made Tony's stomach sink. He felt sick. When he opened his mouth to speak, he found he was cut off as the other boy sauntered closer to him.

"I'm not an idiot, Stark.”

"And what makes you say that?"

Hammer laughed - a choppy, empty noise. "I said I'm an observer, Tony. And I've watched you.”

Tony bristled, swallowing hard and fighting to keep his pulse down. Today was not his day.

Justin's eyes darkened and he pressed an uncomfortable hand to Tony's upper arm that he had to resist instantly swatting away. "I know they think they know you, but they don't. I do, I know you, Tony. I know what you want and... who you want. What do you say, dinner? You could pick me up in that lovely Ferrari of yours, I've always wanted to see if it goes as fast as they say," he purred.

The brunette shook off his touch. "Just because I'm - I would rather throw myself in front of a truck - no, a bus - than go to dinner with you, Hammer," he tugged his bag close to his side. "So I strongly suggest that you stay the hell away from me, kapeesh?”

Justin's gaze had become fiery and determined at his words, which Tony chose to ignore. It didn't seem like something that he should take head on at the present moment, and instead he squared his shoulders and walked away as confidently as he could manage.

"Oh, and Hammer?" Tony called over his shoulder. "It's a Mercedes, and go fuck yourself.”

-:-

[9:54 AM]: so who is Justin Hammer...?
[9:55 AM]: I hope you're not asking me because you talked to him.
[9:56 AM]: He is not a good dude, Tony. Complete sleazebag. He makes you look like Mother Theresa.

Tony read the text, glancing up at the biology lab that was being explained at the front of the room and tapping out a response. His throat instantly tightened at Rhodey's words.

[9:58 AM]: he might have came up to me in the parking lot and tried to get me to take him out in my car, and i might have told him to go fuck himself?
[9:59 AM]: Tony, you didn't.
[9:59 AM]: why? i'm sure he'll get over it, he seemed like he should get knocked down a peg anyways
[10:01 AM]: That might be true, but you shouldn't have been the one to do it. He's dangerous. He's ruined people's lives for less and I know he'll stop at nothing. I would be careful, if I were you.
[10:03 AM]: you see i highly doubt there's anything he could do to me that i haven't already managed to do to myself
[10:06 AM]: Just watch yourself, Tony, is all I'm saying.

-:-

[11:01 AM]: You're not very talkative today.
[11:03 AM]: yeah, sorry.
[11:04 AM]: Something wrong?
[11:05 AM]: i'm fine
[11:06 AM]: No, tell me. What's up?
[11:09 AM]: it's no big deal. just some asshole in the parking lot this morning, tried to get me to take him on a date, and not in a pleasant way
[11:10 AM]: Did he hurt you?
[11:11 AM]: no, nothing like that, he just had... ulterior motives and i called him out on it.
[11:13 AM]: I'm guessing he didn't take that too well?
[11:15 AM]: i don't really know, actually. that's what i'm worried about
[11:17 AM]: Do you think he might try to hurt you? Because if that's the case, I can do something. I know we don't, you know, see each other. But still, I want to help.
[11:20 AM]: eaaasy there tiger, i think i'll be alright, i don't think that there's anything you could do.
[11:21 AM]: I can try.
[11:22 AM]: Just... look after yourself.
[11:23 AM]: yeah, yeah. on it..
[11:23 AM]: I'm serious.
[11:24 AM]: i know you are.

-:-

The rest of Tony's week seemed to crawl by.

The euphoria of the success of his first few days had since worn off. After the slap in the face by cold hard reality in the form of Justin Hammer, he just felt like going home, working on one of the cars until he collapsed from exhaustion, and cocooning himself in bed.

Or texting Steve. That could work too.

Steve and Tony's texts had become increasingly frequent, and as Friday approached Tony found that a lot of his waking minutes were spent reading, replying, or thinking about texts from a guy that he barely knew. Almost every (okay, every) night that week had been spent awake far later than intended, bantering about anything as trivial as the fact that Steve only drank herbal tea — because really, herbal tea? — and occasionally swapping innuendos that Tony definitely wasn't reading into. Not at all.

As much as Tony hated to admit it, it was all... incredibly comforting. Coming to the realization that everyone in your school will ever only want you around for your money is shitty, and that's ignoring the fact that Justin Hammer was the first romantic advancement Tony had gotten in years aside from quickie fuck or sucks. Having your only real option appear to be the biggest scumbag on Earth can do some serious ego bruising.

But Tony shoved that aside, locked it away and kept his head screwed on. That was what he did.

As reflexive as it was for Tony to stuff his problems into the back recesses of his mind, talking to Steve was probably as near as he was going to get to dealing with them. It made his week bearable.

So he picked up his phone when his alarm went off every morning, checking for a text.

-:-

[9:04 AM]: kill me?
[9:06 AM]: Funny, I was kind of just thinking the same thing.
[9:07 AM]: why is it my least favourite subject is the first one? 9 AM can suck my dick
[9:08 AM]: You're so eloquent.
[9:10 AM]: i try. can it just be lunch already? because seriously, i'm going to smash my head into a desk.
[9:11 AM]: Maybe getting some sleep instead of staying up all night with a stranger would help?
[9:14 AM]: nooo. not doable. still keeping you awake with me. don't even bother trying to worm out of this now.
[9:15 AM]: Head-smashing it is.

-:-

[10:58 AM]: steve is school making you as homicidal as me right now? please tell me yes. i can't do this alone
[11:00 AM]: Uh, I'm not there today.
[11:01 AM]: wait, ok. why not?!
[11:05 AM]: It's kind of complicated.
[11:06 AM]: i like complicated. so where are you? vigilante justice? impromptu road trip? flu?
[11:07 AM]: You really don't want to hear about it.
[11:08 AM]: of course i do! unless it's the flu, then maybe you can spare me the gory details of your vomit.
[11:11 AM]: Today's my mom's birthday. I brought some flowers to her grave this afternoon and ate lunch there, I just felt like I should... I don't know, do something. I didn't really feel up to school.
[11:13 AM]: oh. i bet she would have loved that. even if you had to miss a few dumb classes.
[11:15 AM]: what was she like, your mom?
[11:19 AM]: She was... really kind. Strong head on her shoulders. And I don't think she ever really raised her voice at me, which must have been pretty tough because she was taking care of me on her own. She was stage four when they found the cancer, there was nothing they could do about it. I was 12.
[11:21 AM]: shit. i'm sorry..
[11:21 AM]: she sounds like you, though.
[11:22 AM]: That's nice of you to say, but I'm way more impatient than she ever was.
[11:23 AM]: well still.
[11:24 AM]: what about your dad?
[11:26 AM]: Didn't really know him. He died when I was a baby.
[11:28 AM]: But in some ways I think I didn't want to know him, if what my mom said and how my uncle acts is anything to go by. My uncle was a homophobic, angry binge drinker. Real treat.
[11:28 AM]: and you have to live with that?
[11:29 AM]: Nah, not anymore. I live with my friend Bucky now.
[11:30 AM]: Bucky. he's the one that you were trying to text when you texted me, isn't he?
[11:31 AM]: Yeah, he is.
[11:33 AM]: so you guys just live on your own? no one else?
[11:35 AM]: We got an apartment together when I turned 16. I was planning to tough it out until 18, but he kind of insisted. My uncle was just glad to be rid of me. Buck's in college here, but he's well... not fond of his major, wants to join the army with me when I graduate.
[11:36 AM]: so you guys get to have one long slumber party?
[11:37 AM]: Yes, that's actually exactly why I moved in with him.
[11:39 AM]: and you can totally eat whatever you want for dinner?
[11:40 AM]: I could, but I generally tend to stick to actual meals. You know, instead of caffeine.
[11:41 AM]: you're the one missing your main food groups. cheeseburgers, pizza, Jack Daniels and caffeine
[11:42 AM]: Please never say that Jack Daniels is a food group. You're frightening me.
[11:43 AM]: alright, grandma. i'll have an apple today, just to keep your little heart from giving out
[11:45 AM]: I don't think it's my heart that's in danger of giving out.
[11:45 AM]: god, touché!

-:-

[6:19 PM]: Plans for this evening?
[6:20 PM]: throwing this prototype out the window. why? whats up?
[6:23 PM]: Nothing in particular.
[6:23 PM]: just one of those nights?
[6:24 PM]: Pretty much.
[6:26 PM]: I just feel like talking, I guess.
[6:28 PM]: me too. something wrong?
[6:29 PM]: Just tired. How are you?
[6:30 PM]: in general? not too bad. right now? hungry, exhausted, mildly horny. the ushe.
[6:31 PM]: Uh. I see. I guess I can relate.
[6:33 PM]: i just realized something.
[6:34 PM]: What's that?
[6:36 PM]: you must just jerk off like crazy, being in your own apartment and all
[6:39 PM]: Oh my god.
[6:39 PM]: I do have a roommate, you know.
[6:41 PM]: but he's in college, so i bet he'd be a busy guy
[6:43 PM]: Yeah, he takes a couple night classes. Still.
[6:45 PM]: you didn't really deny it, though
[6:47 PM]: Shut up.
[6:48 PM]: i bet it's one big jizz party at your place
[6:50 PM]: It's really not. Sometimes I can't believe I'm still talking to you.
[6:51 PM]: oh you so love me
[6:53 PM]: Debatable. Really debatable.
[6:54 PM]: ok, fine, if it isn't a masturbation celebration yet then i have just unearthed a golden opportunity of living alone, congratulations!
[6:55 PM]: Just because I don't have a 'masturbation celebration' (seriously?) doesn't mean I wasn't already aware of this, you know.
[6:56 PM]: aha.
[6:57 PM]: I am a guy after all.
[6:58 PM]: you've got needs!
[7:02 PM]: This is so not what I meant when I said I feel like talking.
[7:05 PM]: and yet i am just so charming
[7:06 PM]: I'm practically swooning now.
[7:07 PM]: try not to faint
[7:08 PM]: so i'm also curious about something
[7:10 PM]: I'll bet you are. Do I want to ask?
[7:11 PM]: we talked first kisses, but how far has my little Stevie gone?
[7:13 PM]: Stevie? And ...One really terrible blowjob?
[7:14 PM]: that, ladies and gents, is the most unfortunate thing i've ever heard
[7:16 PM]: Well I wasn't exactly the king of that stuff.
[7:18 PM]: because of the whole looking like a noodle thing?
[7:20 PM]: That, and I'm just... bad at it. Awkward.
[7:20 PM]: hey, i don't think so. even so, that can be fixed!
[7:21 PM]: How so?
[7:23 PM]: practice, my friend
[7:25 PM]: Uh huh. Well when you find someone willing to 'practice' with me, let me know.
[7:26 PM]: oh I will, don't worry

-:-

[12:12 PM]: Steeeeeeeeeeve
[12:13 PM]: Stevie
[12:20 PM]: Steven!
[12:23 PM]: Sorry, sorry. Eating lunch. Something you desperately need to tell me?
[12:25 PM]: have you ever seen Big Hero 6?
[12:26 PM]: That's what you wanted to ask?
[12:28 PM]: well our movie date is coming up tomorrow
[12:29 PM]: don't tell me you forgot? i'm scandalized!
[12:30 PM]: I didn't, don't worry.
[12:32 PM]: anyways, i can't decide what you need to see. on one hand, i thought forrest gump because well, classic and you like history. but on the other hand you think that my bots are cool and everyone needs to see Big Hero 6. also, don't try and tell me it's a kids movie thanks
[12:33 PM]: I've seen neither of those, so it's your pick.
[12:34 PM]: well shit. we could do both... although a mash-up of a robot in space and tom hanks running for-fucking-ever seems like it could mess you up
[12:35 PM]: Both sounds good, actually. Do you mind?
[12:36 PM]: absolutely not. for you, cap, anything

-:-

Tony, after having his phone unceremoniously snatched from his hands that had been not-so-hidden underneath his desk, was burning holes through his teacher and the blackboard behind her with his eyes. Or at the very least was giving his best attempt.

He breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the bell signalling the end of the day rang, and gathered his belongings hastily into his bag. He swung it up on his shoulder, ran a habitual hand through his hair, and approached the front of the room where Ms. Palmer stood. She was dangling his smart phone in front of Tony like a worm on a hook.

"Don't let this become a regular thing.”

Her warning tone was about the last thing Tony needed as he reclaimed the device and shoved it in his pocket, giving her a wry sideways smile. "Got it.”

He passed his teacher without a dismissal, instead waving to her over his shoulder as he sauntered into the hallway, hanging a right towards the staors and his locker below. He could just picture Rhodey impatiently tapping his foot in the student lot, leaning against Tony's car in a way that he despised, but he got out his phone again and checked the unread messages as he walked.

[1:57 PM]: What time are we starting the movie? I'm busy until 5:30 but any time after that is good.
[2:39 PM]: You there?
[2:49 PM]: Wait, are you okay? I hope nothing happened. Especially with that asshole of a guy you were telling me about.

Tony's expression softened at the concerned texts.

[2:59 PM]: i am here and all in one piece. you can chillax now cap, just got my phone taken away in history, probably made that teacher want to kill me (as always)
[3:00 PM]: Oh, okay. So what time?
[3:01 PM]: 6 good?
[3:02 PM]: Perfect.

Tony grinned despite himself, barely registering what he was doing as he grabbed a textbook that he didn't really need from his locker and slammed it shut again, the lock clicking in place. He started forming a reply in the stairway questioning what exactly Steve was busy doing this evening. His fingers were still flying across the keyboard as he started towards the side exit.

Of course he didn't look up until it was too late, and he just barely saw a flash of blond hair before he received a sudden face full of deep blue sports jersey, which smelled... surprisingly non-sweaty. Man, maybe things were starting to turn around after all.

"Oomph!" Tony exclaimed, shaking his head as he stumbled backwards lamely and found himself face to face with the kid he had recently nicknamed Biceps. Biceps from biology class, dressed in a full baseball uniform, a cell phone in one hand and a glove in the other.

"Shit, I'm sorry!”

Tony, for the briefest of moments, was speechless. He stared up at the apologetic smile, and when their gazes met he opened and closed his mouth like a fish. Awesome, Tony, you're doing fucking awesome. He had meant to bite out some sort of witty retort at the thick gorilla of a jock - okay, Christ he was thick in more than one way - but all that came out was a strangled "Ok. Uh, no, my fault.”

"No, I really shouldn't text and walk," the blond admitted, holding his phone up sheepishly.

Tony mimed the action with his own. "Me either.”

The pair grinned at each other momentarily, before the other boy's face lit up with recognition. "Hey, I know you—,” he started.

Oh. Oh. Tony had been fully aware that the slight, unwarranted flutter in his chest had been stupid - so stupid that he almost laughed when it was replaced with the always familiar sinking feeling. “Yes, don't they all," he said with a tight lipped, formal smile that formed all too quickly. With that he moved past the baseball player, staying completely composed as he headed for the door. If he had gotten any farther he might have ignored the voice that called from behind him.

"I do! You're Tony, right? Biology?”

Tony paused, turned, and met the friendly expression in those excessively blue eyes. Okay, that was not how people usually started conversations with him. They usually involved a whole lot more of his last name. "Uh, yeah. That's me," He tried to keep his posture and tone even. "In the flesh," he added, and gestured down at himself, dressed in dark wash jeans and a grey Led Zeppelin t-shirt that was probably a wash or two away from becoming nothing but string. “Why?"

"No reason," the blond said simply, playing with the glove in his hand. "Just noticed you, is all.”

Tony's expression remained neutral, but as he chewed that over he was frowning internally. His thoughts then jumped to Rhodey, and the tirade of impatient texts he was probably angry-sending from outside. "Listen, I'm sorry, this has been great, but I've really got to go. I've got someone waiting on a ride," he said apologetically, nodding to the door.

"No, yeah," the guy waved his ball glove, walking backwards and still facing Tony. He was smiling. "See ya later, Tony." When he turned, Tony could see the crisp blue lettering on his jersey that spelled out 'Rogers' across the back.

Tony, who was generally the king of getting the last word in, stayed silent and gave a quick salute with his phone in hand. He pushed through the double doors as fast as he could without looking panicked, and his mind was still whirring as he resisted the crazy urge to look back over his shoulder.

He didn't even know the dude's name.

Seriously, what the hell?

-:-

[5:59 PM]: we said 6 PM, hurry uppppp cap
[6:03 PM]: Sorry, making popcorn.
[6:03 PM]: wow, you're really going all out
[6:04 PM]: Well yeah, I thought it was necessary.
[6:05 PM]: okay, ready yet?
[6:05 PM]: Yep.
[6:06 PM]: at exactly 6:07 hit play
[6:07 PM]: So far so good.
[6:07 PM]: i have a feeling you'll like Big Hero 6, just trust me
[6:08 PM]: I do. Shh, I'm watching.
[6:16 PM]: This kid is cute. He reminds me of you.
[6:16 PM]: how so?
[6:17 PM]: Just does. Kind of how I've started imagining you, you know?
[6:19 PM]: if i'm hiro then you're baymax
[6:20 PM]: Who?
[6:20 PM]: just keep watching.
[6:51 PM]: Are you kidding me? I so didn't sign up for this.
[6:52 PM]: any great movie needs angst, steve
[6:53 PM]: But Tadashi!
[6:54 PM]: i know. trust me, i know
[6:58 PM]: This movie is way too cute for you.
[6:58 PM]: And why am I Baymax?
[6:59 PM]: ouch. and you just are.
[7:16 PM]: why don't i have a group of friends like this? i could totally be hiro, you're right
[7:17 PM]: Do you want me to be Baymax just so you can fly around on my back and tell me what to do?
[7:18 PM]: just one of the perks.
[7:25 PM]: More Tadashi sadness?
[7:26 PM]: unfortunately. need a tissue, cap?
[7:30 PM]: ...
[7:31 PM]: i so hope that you're crying.
[7:32 PM]: Sadist.
[7:39 PM]: You know what? I'm okay with being Baymax.
[7:45 PM]: ...What?! Baymax!
[7:46 PM]: oops
[7:47 PM]: No. What the hell was that?
[7:49 PM]: If you don't answer right now I will find you.
[7:50 PM]: shh.
[7:54 PM]: Oh thank god.
[7:55 PM]: verdict?
[7:56 PM]: I liked it! I mean, I was planning to kill you for a minute, but I might even be starting to trust your judgement now.
[7:57 PM]: good because we've got a helluva lot more movies to go
[7:59 PM]: Can we stick with just Forrest Gump for tonight?
[8:00 PM]: yeah, yeah. hit play at 8:05, i've got to take a bathroom break. coffee kills me

-:-

It was the following Sunday, which Tony had spent the majority of at Rhodey's, that he came home late. His best friend's couch had been way comfier than he expected, and the cushions were just springy enough to let you sink into them, the pillows just soft enough to pull your head in, the wool blanket unsurprisingly placed on him later by a fussy mother was just warm enough to make you snuggle deeper.

He had woken up at five to ten and threw the covers aside. His eyes were glued to the illuminated numbers on his watch (which couldn't be wrong, it synced with the atomic clock every night at 12 on the dot) and drew in a sharp breath. "Damn it.”

Rhodey sat at the end of the sofa, seemingly unconcerned. “What?"

"I've gotta get going," Tony said while scrambling to pick up his belongings, snatching his hoodie from where it was draped over a chair. "I'll see you tomorrow.”

"Whoa, what's the big hurry?”

Tony, ignoring the question and smiling in what he hoped was a calm manner, dashed to the door. "Nothing! Tomorrow!" he called in his retreat.

That, of course, was how his evening went to shit.

He had driven home with a nervous lump in his throat and the radio blaring until he cut the engine on the other side of the Stark mansion gates, placid and almost eerie silence surrounding him. He thought vaguely about a universe — a faraway, alternate universe — where he didn't go inside his house, but instead put the keys back in and floored it without looking back. Or maybe he'd open the door and bolt out into the darkness (but there were raccoons out there, no fucking thank you).

His father was going to be mad, there was no doubt about it. Tony was gone all day, missed his newly enforced curfew that had been put in place after the break-in incident, and left no further indication of where he would be. Any parent, even a normal one, would definitely be peeved. Even worse, though, said the little voice in him that never shut the hell up thought, would be if his mom and dad didn't realize he had gone in the first place, which was another very real possibility.

It wasn't like they hit him or anything, but they weren't winning any parenting awards either. He had a charmed childhood, but even jetting off to Italy and attending the best private school could only do so much to hide... the other things. The nights where his father drank too much and his mother, a shell of her former self, pretended it wasn't happening. The pressure got so much that Tony thought he might explode.

So no one could say that he didn't do a hell of a job of pretending to be happy. Which at one time, Tony thought they all were.

He had seen his mother and father's wedding pictures, and while his mom didn't look like she had aged a day, there was something different about her smile. They genuinely looked like they were in love, and now... they just looked exhausted, finished. Maria Stark had become nothing but a ghost in their house, barely leaving her room and only drifting where Howard told her to go. She hardly even spoke to Tony, not how she used to, and he almost never saw them purposefully in the same room. Tony guessed that the pressure of running a multi-billion dollar international company, desperately trying to keep weapons tech out of the wrong hands, and attempting to stay impressive among the high-status socialites could do that to a marriage.

A few minutes later Tony finally slipped through the front door, depositing his car keys in the crystal bowl and listening for sounds that would inevitably echo off the high ceilings and walls. At first he heard nothing, save for the soft TV voices coming from somewhere in the mansion.

He wandered through the empty hallways and rooms, the small hope that he might get to his bedroom without incident sparking inside him.

“Tony."

Before he even inhaled the whiskey's scent that hung in the air, or spied the half melted ice cubes tinged with brown at the bottom of a glass set precariously close to the edge of a table, he knew.

Howard Stark stood at the open door to his basement workshop. He had a confident, sharp stance to him despite the slur on the edges of his word and his shirt remained as perfectly tucked and pressed as ever, his hair smoothed back. Tony simply stared.

"I didn't see you here today."

Tony gripped the hem of his t-shirt, fighting back any nervousness defiantly. "I was at Rhodey's."

Howard sighed, picking up his glass from the table and staring at it, almost as if he could will more drink into it. "You know how I feel when you waste time with that boy.”

"I wasn't wasting it-," Tony started, before being cut off.

"You're home now, Tony. I expect more from you. I've given you a whole workshop... a whole house full of supplies. It's wasted potential.”

Tony tried in vain to keep the sour expression from his face. "I'm allowed to have a social life—,”

"You lost that right a long time ago," his father said, his voice warning. "I know you're capable of better work than you've been producing, but spending all your time with that kid and always on your phone... I will not stand for you disobeying our rules now, too.”

"I lost track of time!”

His father's glassy eyes bored down on him with a scary focus. "There is no excuse.”

Tony felt his fists clench instinctively at his sides.

He didn't hate his father, no, that would be too easy. He... he didn't really know how he felt. When his dad had showed him how to put together a circuit board when he was four, Tony had thought that he was a God. When he got to sit in the workshop and watch plans be sketched out and pinned to the walls, he felt like he was in the safest place on Earth, surrounded by the blueprints for every weapon that he would ever need to protect himself. Now he was staring at a grown man with too much liquor in his veins and so much frustration towards Tony that he couldn't even keep it together.

"I'll get to my work when I get to it," Tony said shortly.

Howard took a hard step forward. "You'll get to it when I damn well say you will, I don't spend money for it to all sit in your room and rust!”

Tony's jaw tightened, a red hot flash of anger swelling and his teeth grinding together. His voice was venomous when he blurted, "That's a tragedy, you might need to cut back on the booze budget.”

His dad squared himself, clutching the glass so tightly Tony feared it might actually break in his fist.

"How dare you speak to me like that. I've given you everything you could ever need, and you know what you've done, Tony?" he paused, gesturing wildly. The ice cubes in his cup clinked. "Thrown it back in my face, gotten yourself expelled, for Christ's sake! I have been trying so hard for you, and all you want to do is..." he trailed off, shaking his head.

Tony swallowed back the hollow laugh of disbelief that threatened to escape, looking away. "Oh, well, I'm sorry I'm such a screw-up, dad.”

He saw something — hurt or anger — flash in his father's eyes as he stalked off, his heart thudding and his blood rushing in his ears. He was a sort of one track mind, and at that moment all he knew was that he had to get out.

When he got back in his car he took a deep, faltering breath. The white hot anger that had encompassed him moments before had settled to a burning irritation in his gut, but his flight response had taken over and he jammed the keys into the ignition. Tony hadn't really thought through where he was going, but he had to go somewhere. He didn't want to run the risk of punching something (especially if that something was his father) and he couldn't stand to be trapped in his room like an animal. He hated the feeling of having his back against the wall, of having to barricade himself in.

He drove at a steady, high speed when he got out into the street, unconsciously making his way towards the edge of town.

The street lights passed him in a blur, and the humid night air rushed in through the open window and sunroof. The farther he drove out of the streets and suburbs the sparser the homes became and the clearer the night sky was.

He was just on the city limits when he took the winding exit up to the park. He could see a cliff face from where he parked his car, the tires crunching on the gravel as he pulled up to the wooden post that marked the edge of the hill and parking lot, turning the key. He didn't really know how he had gotten there, only that he felt a wave of relief crash over him when he did.

[10:50 PM]: i'm at your spot
[10:51 PM]: Where?
[10:52 PM]: the rock cut. where you go running and... whatever it is you do there
[10:53 PM]: Isn't it amazing? You can see everything from there!
[10:55 PM]: well i'm not really up there yet, i'm just in my car right now
[10:56 PM]: Go up there, then. There's a path on the side.

Tony slowly climbed out, shutting the door and taking in his surroundings. He could hear the chirp of crickets and the distant buzz of traffic on the highway. The moon was partially shrouded by clouds and the stars burned the brightest beyond the general curtain of city smo. He gazed up at the sky with a small smile.

He crossed the parking lot and took the small dirt path up to the top of the rock cut. When he broke through the trees to the flat top of the cliff, the view almost made him stop short. From his high ground he could see all the twinkling buildings of downtown, surrounded by the soft golden glow of all the neighbourhoods. Beyond that were the faint lavender and dark blue shapes of forests, fields, and country roads where the only soft specks of white in the distance came from porch lights.

Tony walked to the edge, brushing some dirt off the rock with his foot and sinking down. He let his legs dangle over the side, glancing down at the tangled thicket of trees and rocks below. It was oddly relaxing. Despite the height, he felt at ease.

[10:59 PM]: Are you there yet?
[11:00 PM]: yeah, i am
[11:02 PM]: So... why exactly are you at the park at 11?
[11:03 PM]: fought with my old man.
[11:04 PM]: What about?
[11:06 PM]: long story short, he was drunk, i was tired, i accidentally stayed out too late, so i just kind of took off afterwards
[11:07 PM]: I'm okay with listening if you want to keep talking.
[11:14 PM]: he just expects so much of me, you know? work 24/7, be prepared to follow in his footsteps, go to MIT when i wasn't even old enough to vote and hell yeah, i'm sick of it, especially since the whole private school thing. he's been on my ass like there's no tomorrow. i just want space to breathe, but then he gets drunk and starts yelling and i just... run. like a coward. it's what i do best, anyways.
[11:16 PM]: First of all, you're not a coward. And you don't deserve that, okay? I'm sorry.
[11:17 PM]: don't i, though?
[11:17 PM]: No, you don't. He sounds like a real asshole.
[11:19 PM]: when he's not drunk, he's just cold, but give him a bottle of scotch and he becomes someone else entirely
[11:20 PM]: You're smart. Real smart. You can do so much better than that, you've got years ahead of you where your dad won't control your life anymore.
[11:22 PM]: right, and do what? live on the streets? it's go broke without his money or wind up just like him
[11:23 PM]: Those aren't your only two options and you know it. I know you're going to make something of yourself.
[11:26 PM]: you're a good guy, steve
[11:27 PM]: i wish i could stay out here, but i might get mauled by a bear, which would really put a damper on the whole 'your favourite spot' thing
[11:28 PM]: Just a little. Do you need somewhere to stay? I'll give you my address if you want.

Tony's heart leapt at the offer, before the sinking with resignation as he realized that that would be a terrible, awful idea. He had put in so much effort in disguising who he was, and going to Steve's simply because he didn't feel like dealing with his dad would be idiotic.

[11:29 PM]: thanks, but i'm good. i can deal.
[11:30 PM]: You're sure?
[11:30 PM]: i'm sure. but i appreciate it, seriously
[11:31 PM]: I know I don't know much about you, but the door's always open. I kind of suspect you aren't a serial killer.
[11:32 PM]: way too trusting, cap, it's going to get you killed someday
[11:33 PM]: If you were going to murder me, you'd be doing a pretty shabby job.
[11:34 PM]: maybe i'm just luring you in. i get off on you trusting me.
[11:36 PM]: I think I could take you.
[11:38 PM]: is that a dig about my size?
[11:39 PM]: Just an assumption.
[11:41 PM]: i'm offended. very offended. you know what? i was going to tell you how much i liked your spot, but now i think i'll revoke it and tell you that it sucked and my ass hurts from sitting on a rock for an hour. i want a refund.
[11:43 PM]: I think you'll survive.
[11:45 PM]: nope. dying
[11:46 PM]: So you liked it though? I told you it was nice.
[11:48 PM]: it's just as peaceful as you said. you run all the way out here?
[11:50 PM]: Yeah, I go up there and run back on the trails. I like it better than in town where everyone can see me.
[11:51 PM]: i suppose that could be fun, you know, if you're into torturing yourself
[11:51 PM]: which you very well could be
[11:53 PM]: Shut up, it's a good challenge. It gives me time to think.
[11:55 PM]: what the hell can you even think about besides 'help me god i'm about to pass out or die'?
[11:56 PM]: Plenty of stuff. And generally not that.
[11:57 PM]: oh, right, i forgot about 'jesus christ my lungs are coming out my mouth and ass'
[11:58 PM]: Running might not be for you.
[11:59 PM]: you think?
[12:00 AM]: oh holy shit, it's midnight. i guess i'd better get going.
[12:01 AM]: Okay, good night. Drive safe, please.
[12:03 AM]: nighty night. no promises

-:-

Tony let out a long, heavy yawn. For once it was not a by-product of Mr. Winn's torturous teaching techniques, but instead from being up until the wee hours of the morning the night before. It probably wasn't a good idea, and he only partially blamed Steve for his exhaustion. Tony slumped down, resting on his arms which were folded on top of the desk. He was irritable, on edge, and by the time the class was half over he was thoroughly ready to shove toothpicks under his eyelids. Seriously, the mere thought of having to continue with his day was making him a homicidal maniac.

Tony picked up his phone, checking for new messages. For the first time in a long time he hadn't answered immediately when he first woke up, being a bit preoccupied by how extremely late he had been running. Yes, he slept in, and yes, he looked like hell, and yeah, everyone else was at fault.

[7:25 AM]: Good morning. Sleep well?
[8:20 AM]: I'm going to go with no? Sorry if I kept you up last night.

Tony shook his head. Steve really was unbelievable sometimes.

[9:19 AM]: seriously? if anyone kept anyone up it was my fault, i'm a generally sleep deprived person so i just like to drag others down with me, it's kind of my thing now if you hadn't noticed
[9:20 AM]: I don't mind.
[9:20 AM]: you will.
[9:22 AM]: Nah. I'd feel way worse if you were just awake by yourself feeling terrible.
[9:24 AM]: how chivalrous. my hero.
[9:25 AM]: You're welcome.
[9:27 AM]: yeah, i know. thanks and all that. at least i keep you up for a noble cause, you usually keep me up with your very un-flirty version of the question game
[9:29 AM]: Are you saying you want it more flirty?
[9:31 AM]: it's just offensive, is all i'm saying. to play the question game and not even ask what i'm wearing??
[9:33 AM]: What were you wearing?
[9:35 AM]: sweatpants, but i figure that's a moot point now
[9:36 AM]: Just sweatpants?
[9:38 AM]: steven! i'm scandalized!
[9:40 AM]: Hey, you wanted me to ask.
[9:42 AM]: i'm not admitting to anything
[9:55 AM]: for the record, it was just sweatpants

Tony tucked his phone under his leg and leaned farther on the desk. The warmth of the classroom due to the apparent lack of air conditioning coupled with the soft breeze of the fan that rotated in the back only added to his fatigue and he let out another unrestrained yawn. An exact imitation of the sound came from three rows behind him, and Tony resisted the urge to whip around and stare down the culprit.

Either someone was definitely making fun of him, or he was contagious.

Regardless, when the same yawn echoed twice in the minute that followed, he was ticked.

Not only was he about to pass out in class, but Tony was slowly being pushed over the edge by the droning voice of his teacher, the shitty/non-existent cooling systems, and some jackass who was probably equally as tired as him, but Tony ignored that last bit.

By the third time he physically could not hold himself back from craning his neck and spying through the heads behind him. Finally, he spotted none other than blond-haired blue-eyed Biceps himself, clapping a hand over his mouth in a terrible effort to conceal how worn out he was.

Tony shook his head in amazement and faced the front, frowning. He was beginning to wonder if that guy was going to keep following him and his problems around for the rest of the semester, and his final thought before the bell rang had something to do with the fact that hey, at least the guy was good looking and hey, that idea should probably die right on the spot.

-:-

The rest of Tony's week passed in a blur of text messages, scribbles of English notes, and the occasional pestering freshmen in the hall (because they apparently all had grown enough balls to approach him instead of staring at him in some sort of weird shock from halfway across the cafeteria).

[2:04 PM]: what are you doing?
[2:07 PM]: Art? In art class?
[2:09 PM]: overruled, you're texting me now. what's up?
[2:10 PM]: Doing my work like a normal person, unlike some people.
[2:12 PM]: first of all, if you're into normal you've come to the wrong guy and secondly i could do this work in my sleep
[2:15 PM]: Always so humble. What class is it?
[2:16 PM]: calculus
[2:17 PM]: Really? Seriously?
[2:19 PM]: hey, what? need a calculus tutor?
[2:21 PM]: No one likes calculus.
[2:21 PM]: i didn't say i liked it, i said it's easy
[2:23 PM]: Right. My mistake, big-brain.
[2:24 PM]: seriously, do you need help? i heard i can be very motivating...
[2:27 PM]: You're shameless. And it's too late now, I had it last semester and barely scraped by.
[2:29 PM]: what a bummer, the schoolgirl look might've been for you
[2:30 PM]: Jesus Christ. I'm going back to ignoring you now.

-:-

[1:49 AM]: I know you're probably not awake right now, I just need to talk for a minute. It's fine if you don't see it until tomorrow.
[1:50 AM]: what's going on, cap?
[1:51 AM]: Shoot, I didn't mean to wake you up. I'm sorry.
[1:52 AM]: already up, insomnia's a bitch. talk.
[1:54 AM]: This is going to sound stupid.
[1:54 AM]: I had this dream...
[1:55 AM]: let me guess, not a particularly good one?
[1:57 AM]: Yeah, but it was just a dream.
[1:58 AM]: you alright?
[1:58 AM]: I'm ok. This is stupid, they happen all the time.
[1:59 AM]: nothing you say to me right now can sound stupid, it's about as far from stupid as you can possibly get, keep talking
[2:03 AM]: I get these dreams sometimes, mostly about losing Bucky, sometimes about my mom. It's like going back to being scrawny and twelve. It's just... not nice?
[2:05 AM]: and when you wake up it feels like you can't breathe?
[2:06 AM]: Yeah. Exactly.
[2:07 AM]: i drown in mine.
[2:08 AM]: just trust me, okay? i get it
[2:09 AM]: I feel bad for keeping you awake.
[2:11 AM]: are you kidding me? if you weren't texting me i'd probably be fucking with some useless wiring (which reminds me that i really need to fix that before my dad comes to look at it, so maybe it will be all your fault and i can blame it on you), but still. it's worth it.
[2:12 AM]: aaand i'm rambling. regardless i'd be awake anyways, but i'd much rather spend it this way
[2:16 AM]: Why can't I know who you are?
[2:20 AM]: Sorry, that sort of just slipped out.
[2:39 AM]: You there?
[2:52 AM]: Night.

-:-

[6:02 PM]: jaws or the exorcist?
[6:04 PM]: Pardon me?
[6:05 PM]: please tell me you're not going to wuss out on me for the exorcist because it's not even that scary, you just have to soldier through, but if you insist we can watch jaws because jaws is a cinematic masterpiece
[6:06 PM]: You want to watch Jaws?
[6:08 PM]: yes? tomorrow is friday?
[6:09 PM]: Oh. I thought... Yeah, Jaws sounds good.
[6:13 PM]: yeah? good. i hope you didn't think that i was going to bail on you since i am still very determined to get you to see every goddamn movie on the face of the planet
[6:15 PM]: Then I'm prepared to watch every goddamn movie on the face of the planet.
[6:16 PM]: (Given I'm not watching them alone.)
[6:17 PM]: well you don't have to worry about that. i must really like you because i'm willing to watch all of them again, even the shitty ones
[6:18 PM]: Is that so? Well I guess I must really like you because I'm willing to deal with your running text commentary on every one.
[6:21 PM]: hey! any good movie needs a commentator. you're just mad because forrest gump made you into a human fountain
[6:24 PM]: You said you weren't going to talk about that anymore!
[6:24 PM]: You're mean, that was terrible.
[6:26 PM]: it was cute!
[6:27 PM]: Shut up.
[6:28 PM]: not likely
[6:30 PM]: try to contain your anguish for Jaws, though, yeah?
[6:31 PM]: You're the worst.

-:-

The ping of Tony's text tone pulled him from sleep. He was having a delightful dream involving a rather built blond who looked like some sort of walking Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement when it started, and he rolled over and poked his head out from under his duvet to glower at the clock.

It was 7:04, and Tony patted his blankets down until he found his phone to unlock it.

All of his notifications were from Rhodey, which would be weird enough without adding on the fact that it was seven in the morning and his best friend knew better than to wake him up before his alarm. He opened the texts and stared.

[6:59 AM]: Dude.
[6:59 AM]: Please, for the love of God, tell me this isn't you. [Attachement Included: 1]
[7:00 AM]: Because seriously, it's everywhere
[7:02 AM]: Justin did this, man. I told you not to screw with him.
[7:04 AM]: And I know this is probably a bad time, but is it true? You know you can tell me anything. I wouldn't care.

Tony blinked at the screen in his hands, his stomach dropping. He felt a sick twist of fear as he opened the link that Rhodey had attached. The article loaded quickly, and he watched as a grainy but indisputable picture of himself from sophomore year, hair mussed and half naked while being ravished by an incredibly sexy senior lacrosse player behind a supply shed appeared before his eyes.

He remembered the day well (Who wouldn't? That guy had been a fucking great kisser.) and Tony had been positive that they were alone. The shakiness of the image indicated it was probably taken from quite a distance, but the thought of being so wrong made his skin crawl.

Tony tried desperately to breathe against the rising swell of panic in his throat. The article, chocked full of 'first hand accounts' provided by Justin Hammer himself, detailed to the press how Tony had left private school, arrived at Memorial High, and promptly began to flirt with the quasi-popular heir to Hammer Industries. He was sure that on its own the story would be written off as complete bullshit, but with the picture looking back at him... well, that was it. It was like a slap in the face.

Swallowing hard, Tony pushed back the covers and headed for the bathroom. He flew through his usual morning routine, barely paying attention to what he was doing. He was on auto-pilot, and by the time he headed out the front door it was almost as if he didn't know how got there to begin with.

He thought about school briefly, and the idea was almost laughable. As quickly as that thought came it left him, and Tony ducked into his car and pulled out into the quiet morning streets.

He had no real objective in mind when he pulled up to the first, the second, and even the third intersection, and before he knew it he was on his way to the edge of town.

-:-

[9:55 AM]: I saw a Ouija board in some store window this morning, I had a strange urge to burn it. The exorcist is definitely on the 'do not re-watch' list...
[10:50 AM]: Bucky's making frightening horror film suggestions. Thanks for nothing.
[11:03 AM]: You two should just watch stuff without me. This is ridiculous.
[12:34 PM]: You busy today?
[1:57 PM]: Now I know you're ignoring me because you're in calculus right now and you just love to show off your big brain and text the whole time.
[2:05 PM]: Just let me know you're okay, yeah?

-:-

Tony woke up somewhere around 4 and found himself staring up at the inside of his car. He blinked groggily, groaning as he rolled over and pushed aside food wrappers, his wallet, and a half a bottle of Dr. Pepper. The entire morning had been spent - or wasted, he guessed - in his car stuffing his face with shitty burritos and listening to his music loud enough to make his ears ring. That was all before he fell asleep, face pressed against a napkin and drool running down his chin.

He felt around on the floor with one hand, cursing consequences as his head began to pound. When he finally found it and turned it on he was assaulted with the tsunami of notifications that he had been hoping to avoid all day, and the instant pang of regret washed over him.

Tony picked through the texts, assuring Rhodey that he hadn't died and finally tapping on his and Steve's conversation.

[4:21 PM]: i'm okay

He exhaled, the setting sun splashing across his face as he clutched his phone to his chest. It vibrated a few seconds later.

[4:22 PM]: You're not hurt?

Tony thought briefly how very Steve it was to get ignored all day and just assume that the other person must be hurt before replying.

[4:23 PM]: no, not hurt. just sleeping
[4:25 PM]: Are you sick?
[4:25 PM]: not really.
[4:26 PM]: Do you want to talk about it?
[4:26 PM]: not really.
[4:27 PM]: You know, I thought about you a lot today. Just hoped everything was alright.

Tony felt something weird and vulnerable wind around his chest and tighten, and he bit back a smile.

[4:28 PM]: that's actually kind of adorable. you're being adorable.
[4:30 PM]: Honestly. I'm starting to think I might need your griping comments throughout the day to keep me sane.
[4:31 PM]: i care to think of it as offering helpful suggestions to improve how everyone else goes about their day instead of griping. it's not my fault everything's flawed
[4:33 PM]: See what I mean? I don't talk to anyone else the same way. It's just... you're different. Special.
[4:34 PM]: i won't even tell you my name and you're calling me special
[4:35 PM]: Maybe you've got a good reason.
[4:36 PM]: that trust thing. it's dangerous
[4:36 PM]: Not with you.
[4:38 PM]: see what i mean?

-:-

The first few stars were beginning to make their appearance when Tony slipped through the front door. There was no way in hell his parents had noticed that he had skipped his classes, but the gnawing unease he felt was far from related to that. As he entered the house he heard the faint sounds of his housekeepers music drifting from the far off study. He peered down the empty hallways and ran an anxious hand through his hair, wondering vaguely if he could make it to bed without even encountering his father.

If only life were so fair.

Tony heard footfall and bristled, pausing mid step at the slurring but stern voice behind him. "Don't move.”

He remained silent as his father rounded him, coming to a stop face to face with him. Tony kept his gaze level with the floor, expression smooth and unreadable. The very absence of shouting or sharp reminders gave him the chills, and shit, this was so much worse than he thought.

"Let's pretend," Howard began, starting to pace back and forth in front of his son. Tony noticed that his shirt had come untucked. "That you weren't late. Let's pretend... that you were working like I asked you to. Let’s pretend that you've been keeping up with the demands that will soon be yours some day, shall we?”

Tony swallowed hard at his words, and he noticed the song change in a room that seemed a thousand miles away.

"Even then," Howard said. "Even then, what would make you think that this is okay?" He thrust a tabloid, rumpled as if it had been handled over and over again, towards Tony. He tried to remain still, recognizing the exact printout of the article that he had read online dangling before him. The clench in his gut made the urge to run from the room very real.

Howard was almost shaking with anger. “This isn’t… I didn’t… You’re not some sort of deviant, I didn't spend all this time for you to be like this. You’re not one of them. You’re not going to be like them, do you hear me?”

Howard turned sharply, and a brief waft of hard liquor filled the air.

Tony didn't speak. He couldn't, any words he might've formed were trapped and the catch in throat that he always suppressed threatened to betray him. He fought desperately against the sting in his eyes.

"The Stark name is what we have, I've put nothing but my money, blood, sweat, and hard work into this company, into making sure people knew the quality of the name on the product... do you think this was a game, Tony? Hm? Do you think I've been fucking around with this? Answer me!”

Tony flinched at the hand raised near his face, a glass tumbler in its clutches. He took in a raggedy, quick breath and held it, watching as his father's glossy eyes searched his face. They were ghostly.

"You don’t care.You really don’t."

"Dad, come on, I—,”

Howard twisted a fist in the front of Tony's shirt, and for the briefest of moments Tony wretched his eyes shut and anticipated a fist to the face before his father pushed him backwards. "No. No, you don't get to call me that. Not now. Forget about going out, forget about your car. Forget about it. I'm not supporting this lifestyle of yours.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but was cut off once again by his father.

"Get out," Howard said.

“I..."

“Now!"

The severity of Howard's tone rang through the room, and Tony bit back an argument and instead dug his teeth into his lip as he turned towards his room. He was so angry — so fucking angry — that he could barely take those steps.

It wasn't like he had expected anything less than that, but the words, God the words... they rattled around in his head long after he had taken a scathing shower, gotten into bed, and turned the lights off. He knew he wasn't sick. He wasn't a deviant, and he'd be damned if he was choosing any lifestyle.

Not being straight, he thought to himself spitefully, was hardly the same as not being sober. He didn't choose anything.

Tony pulled the blanket over his head and turned on to his side, feeling around the bed for his phone, the one thing that he had left. He clutched it like a lifeline.

[5:59 PM]: Next week we should watch an animal movie. (Not Shark related.)
[7:04 PM]: I know you're not answering because something's going on, but I just like texting you anyways. I hope you don't mind or anything.
[7:25 PM]: You know without you answering me I might actually fall asleep early tonight. Funny story: I actually started passing out in class the other day. I bet you're just bright eyed and bushy tailed.
[7:30 PM]: See that's an expression you'd make fun of me for.
[10:03 PM]: sometimes i swear you're 70 and wear sweater vests
[10:04 PM]: Sweater vests aren't all that bad.
[10:07 PM]: they're fine if you're a mathlete
[10:09 PM]: Maybe I am.
[10:10 PM]: you suck at calculus!
[10:11 PM]: Ow. No need to get personal about it.
[10:14 PM]: what makes you keep texting me?
[10:15 PM]: I'm sorry?
[10:18 PM]: i mean... why do you bother to keep talking to me when i disappear randomly, don't tell you anything about myself, and just kind of suck in general?
[10:20 PM]: For a genius you're pretty stupid sometimes, you know that? I told you how I felt, that you're something else entirely and talking to you keeps me normal. Sure, I don't know where you go sometimes, but that's none of my business. You'll tell me if you want to, and if you think you haven't told me anything about yourself then you're very mistaken.
[10:21 PM]: I know way more about you than you'd care to admit.
[10:25 PM]: my name's anthony.
[10:30 PM]: if you could answer sometime in this century, that'd be awesome
[10:30 PM]: Sorry, just thinking about it is all. Anthony.
[10:31 PM]: don't laugh, my dad named me that. it's dweeby, i know
[10:32 PM]: It is not. It fits.
[10:32 PM]: thanks?
[10:34 PM]: I've gotta get to bed, I'm about to drop my phone on my face. Goodnight, Anthony.
[10:37 PM]: goodnight, steve

-:-

Tony couldn't focus on the mitochondria of the cell in biology the next morning. Instead, he spent a good chunk of the class staring at the window, deciding the best way to go about escaping through it without killing himself, and with enough preparation, perhaps getting away with minimal injuries. It was a medium high drop, and with enough momentum he might make it to the greenhouse roof below. From there it was an easy shimmy down and dash to the student lot without ever being seen.

School had been one of those things, kind of like going to the dentist or bullshitting an exam, that he just had to do. Tony had been well aware that he couldn't hide out with piles of junk food in his Mercedes forever, but the very thought of holding his head up in the hallways of Memorial High was... sickening.

Of course it had been everything he had expected, and worse.

Up until then he had managed to fly under the radar, keeping to himself and pretending that everyone there didn't know who he was. He had a fucking Wikipedia article about himself, for God's sake, but that didn't mean he couldn't go to class and have a life. The second the story by Hammer hit the web, however, his personal life — sexuality, past, even the very private school he had gone to were all fair game.

People not only whispered, now, but they shouted from across the hall. They drew a scarily detailed penis on his locker, even followed him into the bathroom to ask seriously, between you and me, is the picture real? and to top it all off, they thought he was dating Justin Hammer, as if he would ever touch that sleaze.

It was barely 9 AM and he had already slammed his car door, flipped off half the football team, and screamed "I like dick, sue me!" in or around the general vicinity of his principal. Twice. It was a morning he wasn't going to forget, no matter how desperately he wanted to, and he sat slumped down in his first period class, chewing on the inside of his cheek while fighting off nausea.

[9:14 AM]: Is today going better than yesterday?
[9:15 AM]: that depends how you define 'better'
[9:17 AM]: Ok, sorry. If it helps, I'm probably going to start snoring in class any minute now. You can laugh at that image.
[9:20 AM]: well, it really is sort of a consolation that mister "paying attention in class is important" is finally following in my footsteps
[9:21 AM]: (drool on the desk for added effect, by the way, teachers love that)
[9:22 AM]: It's not my fault. I've never seen a teacher knock out a class more effectively.
[9:24 AM]: i'm with you, buddy
[9:24 AM]: planning my escape route now
[9:25 AM]: It can't be that bad.
[9:26 AM]: trust me when i say that it definitely can be
[9:28 AM]: What's going on?
[9:29 AM]: you mean besides wanting to smash a beaker over my head to get out of class?
[9:33 AM]: i guess its just the whole high school thing? i haven't really gotten the hang of it, and there were people on my case this morning. i'm just sick to death of justifying everything to everyone
[9:34 AM]: Well you don't have to justify anything to me.
[9:35 AM]: You do you, Anthony. I just hope you're happy.
[9:37 AM]: christ, are you real?
[9:39 AM]: Uh, as real as they come, yeah.
[9:42 AM]: what are you doing tonight?
[9:43 AM]: Nothing that I know of.
[9:43 AM]: Why?
[9:44 AM]: i thought we could watch a movie. you pick.
[9:47 AM]: Oh, yeah. That sounds great. How about 6ish?
[9:48 AM]: 6ish is perfect


-:-


Tony came home to an empty house that afternoon. Even the housekeeper had come and gone, leaving nothing but a half empty bottle of furniture polish and a feather duster in her wake. He considered this a small miracle as he fished around in the kitchen cupboards for a package of beef jerky, finding some crammed in the back and deciding that maybe luck was on his side that day as he ripped a piece in half with his teeth.

His eyes eventually wandered around the ginormous kitchen, trailing over the gleaming stainless steal appliances, the sprawling granite island, and the multiple oven doors. They landed on the only thing out of place — a small piece of yellow paper stuck on the fridge.

Tony wandered closer to inspect the note, finding his mother's flawless cursive staring back at him in the form of a reminder to the housekeeper about the upcoming gala.

The gala. Oh, shit.

How in the hell had he managed to forget?

Tony groaned inwardly at the thought, head falling back. It was just what he needed: dozens of upper class dicks with their heads up their ass, all gathering at his house while his parents plastered on their perfect family appearance for the world. After his fight with his father the day before, he wasn’t sure how they would even manage, but he was sure they’d find a way.

Tony stalked to his room, trying his best to fight back the worrisome thoughts that had begun to circle through his head. There was no way in hell he could do this. He couldn’t stand around and act like everything was fine; that he didn’t want to get in his father’s face and scream. He was usually good at putting on a show. Something was aching at him this time, however, and it made him want to throw up. He sat on the edge of his bed as his thoughts cycled.

His dad. The gala. His mom. The gala. Steve. School. Justin Hammer with a broken nose. His dad. Steve. The gala. Steve… Steve. His phone pinged.

[4:09 PM]: I suck at Biology. Like seriously suck.

Tony swallowed.

[4:10 PM]: my tutoring offer never left the table
[4:12 PM]: I know. I don’t want to bug you. I’ll get it. I’m just… ranting.
[4:12 PM]: What are you doing?
[4:14 PM]: having a mild crisis
[4:15 PM]: okay not so mild
[4:15 PM]: i hate everything, cap

Tony flopped back on his bed, rubbing at his eyes furiously, wishing he could just… see Steve. He wasn’t really sure where the urge was coming from, but it made his chest hurt, and he really didn’t want to overanalyze it.

[4:17 PM]: Want to talk about it? Or we could push our movie forwards? Or we could talk about something else if you want?

Something inside Tony tightened as he stared at the text before him.

Steve was good. He was way too good to even be friends with Tony, let alone talk to him 24/7. He was pure and nice and was the kind of person that always asked about everyone’s day, even if they didn’t do the same. He was funny, too, and smart, but he never rubbed that in people’s faces like Tony did. He was Tony’s antithesis and it was driving him absolutely fucking crazy, all at the worst time.

He made Tony happy.

A random stranger with a random wrong number made him happy, and he didn’t really care. This realization crashed in around him, and God damn it, he was in too deep. He had fallen for this guy. He had… he shook his head violently.

[4:20 PM]: i don’t know what to do
[4:21 PM]: Why’s that?
[4:24 PM]: everything’s all screwed up. everything. there’s shit with my dad, and my family’s having this party tonight that i would rather die than attend, and…
[4:25 PM]: And?
[4:29 PM]: i like this guy. he’s really funny, and charming, and smart even though i call him stupid, and he’s interesting and i never get tired of talking to him. he’s he’s never going to feel the same way about me and even if he did, i don’t deserve him, he shouldn’t be stuck with someone with me.
[4:34 PM]: I see.
[4:36 PM]: If it’s any consolation, I think you’re funny. And smart and interesting and fun to talk to. Whoever he is, he would be lucky to have you.
[4:39 PM]: thanks, cap
[4:49 PM]: No problem.

-:-

It was nearing 10 PM, the night of the gala.

The only way that Tony had managed to avoid the dinner guests for so many hours was by locking himself away in the workshop, which incidentally was the only place his father allowed him to escape to. Maybe it was for the best anyways, Howard likely didn’t want his son ruining the event with whatever scandalous implications he brought along with him, and Tony wouldn’t have been able to sit still in the dining room with the stuck up snobs surrounding him.

He wiped at his forehead with the back of his arm, grease rag in hand. His formal shirt was unbuttoned — and amazingly, unstained — and he had long ago shrugged off his dress jacket. An uncapped bottle of stolen whiskey sat by his feet and as he worked the tiny circuits and wires began to blur together. From above him came a dull roar of laughter and clinking of glasses, and Tony shook his head, tightening his grip on his wrench. He reached around the back of the robotic arm, struggling to find the piece he wanted to grip, swaying dangerously on his stool.

So maybe he was a little drunk. Or fairly drunk. Or, on the path to really, horribly, terribly, fucking drunk. If his father was allowed to get pissed at every given opportunity, then so was he. He grabbed the bottle by his foot and took a long swig. The burn of alcohol hit his throat and he exhaled heavily. It felt nice. It felt liberating, really. He didn’t have to try to push back that anger that was always bubbling in the pit of his stomach, instead he could let it flow freely through his veins. And he was pissed.

Tony stood up to test his balance, taking another long drink. The room spun slightly around him, but he was able to put one foot in front of the other, and that fact gave him enough confidence to head for the stairway.

His shirt was still unbuttoned at the top and his hands dotted with dark grease stains, while his hair remained wildly disheveled. It was certainly not a look that screamed professional, together, Stark, and thus it was perfect.

Tony pushed through the door at the top of the stairs and the muffled party sounds became clearer. He balanced himself, clinging to the doorknob. Eventually he shuffled through the dim rooms, following the booming, slurring voice of his father as he told one of his favourite grandiose jokes, and he could imagine Howard tossing his glass around as he spoke. The smell of duck l’orange made Tony’s stomach growl, and for a moment he regretted missing supper, but at the sound of fake laughter and appreciation from the dining room he pushed the thought away with a disdainful sneer.

When Tony appeared in the doorway the room fell into an awkward hush.

“Anthony,” his dad said, his stare boring through him across the heads of his guests. Tony cringed, hating when his father addressed him by his full name when he was in front of associates.

“Father.”

Howard licked his lips, and coughed. “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t be joining us.”

“I was in the shop.”

“You’ve missed dessert.”

Tony despised the crisp civility in his dad’s voice, and he suddenly wanted to just get him to crack, to break and stop pretending that he wasn’t on the verge of knocking Tony out whenever they spoke that week. He wanted a rise, and maybe it was the alcohol, but he just wanted him to fight back. “Like I said, the shop,” he explained, leaning against the doorframe.

Howard picked up his napkin and dabbed at his lips before giving Tony a cool smile. “I see. Well I’m sure some can be set aside. Is there something you’re needing?”

Tony snorted. He was so transparent. “Jesus, dad, can’t a guy socialize around here? Ohh, wait, I get it! You’re trying to get rid of me, huh pops?” He steadied himself against the wall and laughed too loud.

By this point the table had gone from hushed to deadly silent, and Tony could see his mother’s eyes frantically darting between the two of them, one hand on her wine glass, the other clutching at the edge of the table. She didn’t speak.

“Anthony—,”

Tony took a brave, drunken step forward. A small voice was telling him hey, maybe this isn’t the best idea, but he beat it with ease, letting his frustration and whiskey do the thinking for the time being. “It’s okay, dad, really! I get it, I do,” he chuckled, throwing his hands up. “I wouldn’t want to embarrass you, I mean after all… who’d want their faggot son making a spectacle of himself at their dinner party?”

Howard's glassy eyes were blazing. The cups and silverware jumped when he stood, slamming his hands down on either side of his plate.

“Oh right! Shoot, that was supposed to be a secret!” Tony slapped a hand against his forehead. “My bad!”

“Get the fuck out of my house.” His father's voice was shaking.

Inside, Tony was trembling. He was still the scared kid he always was, the kid that hid under tables when his father had been drinking, who cried when he heard him breaking apart his creations in the workshop in an unrestrained fury, the creations that Tony had loved. He wanted to run, he wanted to apologize, but something inside him forced him to push his chest out and his chin up. “Make me.”

Howard pushed back from the table, his chair crashing to the ground. He was charging his son within seconds and Tony stumbled backwards into the darkened parlour, trying to keep his footing. The closer he got, the stronger the stench of scotch became. Tony could feel his father towering over him, and he shrunk back.

“You ungrateful piece of shit, you…” Howard snarled. “Fucking deviant, fucking disgusting, how dare you make a fool of me!”

Tony’s breath was laboured, and he balled his hands into fists. “You make a fool of yourself, you piss tank. Nothing but a god damn drunk!” he cried.

“You’re going to get your ass the fuck out off here, and you’re never going to come back, you hear me?!” Howard roared, pointing towards the entryway. “You’ve screwed up for the last time, and I’m done. I’m done, I don’t care where you go, I don’t care! Pack up your shit and go!”

“You’d rather see your son on the streets than put down the bottle, pathetic,” he spat.

“No,” Howard grabbed a fistful of Tony’s shirt, and was holding him close now. Tony could see the quiver of his lip. “I’d rather see my son on the streets… than being a good for nothing faggot.”

Time sort of stood still in that moment. Tony didn’t think — how could he, really? Instead, he let absolute primal instinct take over, and all he felt was angry, defensive, scared. It was swirling through his head, and the panic made his heart thud against his ribcage, and his whole body shook. He wound up, tightened his fist, and swung, connecting directly with his father’s jaw.

Howard dropped him to the floor, and as soon as he hit the hardwood Tony found himself scrambling and running for the front door. Maybe someone had called after him, he wasn’t sure, but if they had he wouldn’t have turned. Adrenaline kept him moving and he took the front steps two at a time, sprinting to the street.

His own gasps and feet hitting the pavement were the only sounds that filled the silent night. The streetlights cast an orange glow across him as he ran onward, and he was almost at the edge of the neighbourhood before he allowed himself to slow to a jog, and then a walk. Tony’s mind was spinning. It felt like the past twenty minutes had been some kind of twisted dream that he might wake from any second. If only he could be so lucky.

He kept walking, and realized soon he had crossed through the suburbs and was nearing the drag that the high school was off of. He still felt buzzed and groggy, and reality was slowly beginning to set in about his situation. He knew he needed to call Rhodey, but he didn’t want to face what had happened… not yet.

Suddenly, his phone buzzed from his back pocket, surprising him. He had almost forgotten he still had it.

[10:29 PM]: How’s the party?
[10:31 PM]: long story…
[10:32 PM]: Are you okay?
[10:33 PM]: not rlly
[10:34 PM]: i’ll tell you in a bit, dn’’t worry about me
[10:36 PM]: I was just doing some late night batting, I’m about to be driving in a minute but I could maybe… call you or something? (I’m still going to worry).

Tony stared at the message and chewed on his lip. He had been fighting against something exactly like this for weeks. This was the kind of thing that could get him caught, that could let Steve too close. It was exactly the kind of thing he needed to say no to. But how could tonight get any worse?

[10:37 PM]: ok

He kicked at a rock. A sharp breeze made leaves laying in the gutter rustle, tossing them in the air across the sidewalk. Tony shivered pulled his arms in tighter, silently cursing himself for not grabbing his coat off the rack, but it had all been a blur, and his main focus had been getting out alive. It was ridiculously cold, however, and his teeth were starting to chatter.

Tony had just began to reach for his phone to give in and call Rhodey when a squeak of tires and a voice interrupted him.

“Hey!” A white impala trailed slowly beside him. Hanging from the window, a bright smile on his face, was… Biceps from biology. “Need a ride?”

“I’m f-fine, s-super even!” Tony bit out between body-wracking shivers. He attempted a weak smile.

The other boy laughed. “Clearly. Come on, get in.” He patted the side of the dented, chipped car door and grinned.

Tony tried to hestiate, but caved almost instantly. It was a mix of circumstances, really. Firstly, he was freezing his balls off, and secondly, well, this guy was kind of cute, everything else aside, and he looked so innocent and helpful. And he was still kind of drunk.

“C-can you turn up the heat?” Tony asked once he had climbed into the passenger seat, arms still wrapped around himself. “Please?”

The other boy obliged, pulling the car away from the curb. “So… er, Tony, right?”

Tony nodded.

“What exactly are you doing wandering around in the streets in the middle of the night?”

“S’a long story,” Tony said, his voice croaking as he gained his strength back. “It mostly has to do with my dad, my life, and the amount of whiskey I’ve drank.”

“I see.” Biceps said.

“And a guy.” Tony finally sighed. He knew he should stop talking, he barely knew this guy and hell, he could even lose his ride, but the words came up inexplicably. He couldn’t help himself.

Biceps raised his eyebrows. “A guy?”

“Yes, a guy,” Tony groaned. “He’s perfect. I think. I don’t know, I haven’t even met him.”

“So how do you know he’s so perfect?”

“I don’t have to see him in person,” Tony explained, “I just know. He helps me when I’m upset and makes me laugh and entertains me and… you know?”

Biceps nodded solemnly, his gaze focused straight ahead on the road. “Yeah, I guess so.”

They rode in silence for the next few minutes, and Tony stared straight out the window. The other boy hadn’t asked him for an address yet, but instead chose to drive along the outskirts of the city and leave him undisturbed, taking the long way back to the suburbs. Eventually, Tony pulled out his phone.

[10:57 PM]: can you call me

He leaned his head against the window, letting his eyes flutter closed. Maybe if he fell asleep, he could wake up the next morning in his bed, and it could all be some kind of sick, twisted nightmare. The car jerked suddenly and he saw Biceps, phone in hand.

“Sorry,” the blond said sheepishly. “Can you just… hold on one second, I just have to do something quickly.” He turned the car into an empty lot of a dilapidated former strip mall. Tony stayed completely silent and still as Biceps killed the engine and hopped out, phone in hand as he furiously punched some numbers in. He eventually resumed his former position, his eyes shut again, realizing suddenly that he was really quite tired. He was on the verge of drifting off when his phone began to vibrate in his lap, jolting him awake. Steve’s name looked up at him.

Tony took a deep breath. At the very least, there was the convenience of being alone while he gathered himself. Finally, with a gut-wrenching jolt, he pressed accept and lifted the phone to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Anthony! Are you alright?”

That voice.

Tony knew he knew that voice. It belonged to someone he knew, he had heard it before, he was sure of it. He sat wordlessly, unable to form a coherent thought. He was drunk, confused, and finally he spluttered out, “I’m… alive.”

Biceps paced back and forth in front of the car, and Tony watched him carefully, blinking. His eyebrows were threaded in confusion, and he was chewing on his thumbnail.

“That’s good,” came the voice through his phone, but it didn’t seem as if it had come from his phone, it seemed as if…

Oh. Wait.

Holy shit.

Holy fucking shit.

Tony dropped his phone on his leg, gawking. There was no way.

It couldn’t be possible. Tony was sure now that he was dreaming, or someone was playing a sick joke on him. Maybe it was a gang prank at Memorial High. It all seemed too coincidental to possibly be true. He had never even for a moment suspected the equally irritating and beautiful boy from his biology class to be the very same person he was stupidly, head over heels for, but now the facts were staring him in the face.

The air was strangely heavy. It felt as if his world were crashing in around him, and it took him a few seconds to catch his breath again.

He grappled for his phone again. “Sorry, can you… can you turn around?” he practically begged.

“What?”

“Turn around.”

Biceps turned, eyes locking on with Tony’s, and the sudden realization spread across his face as quickly as it had came to Tony.

He stuffed his phone into his pocket and Tony heard the call disconnect as he flung the driver’s side door open. “You’re—,”

“And you’re…”

“Oh my god.” Biceps — Steve — breathed.

Tony stared down at his feet, unable to shake the feeling of being frozen in fear. “Yeah.”

“I can’t believe it’s you, I didn’t even think…” Steve said, climbing into the drivers seat again, eyes wide.

Tony simply shook his head. They sat together, the silence of the mutual shock heavy, and finally, Tony managed to let the whirring thoughts in his mind settle long enough to say something intelligent. “Thank you for rescuing me. And uh, not letting me freeze to death.”

Steve let out a long breath, and smiled fondly. “No problem, Tony. I… I can’t believe it’s you. I’m really seeing you.”

Tony laughed, but it didn’t meet his eyes. “Yeah, it's me, Tony Stark. Disappointed?"

“No! God, no, not at all,” Steve replied, nervously rubbing at the back of his neck. “Are you? Disappointed, I mean?”

“Are you kidding? You’re… well you’re you. Do you seriously not care that I'm... me?"

"Should I care?" Steve asked curiously.

Tony wasn't sure how to react. He was filled with absolute relief. Steve had never really known who Tony Stark was, it had never really mattered to him to begin with. When they had run into each other in the hallway he had just been Tony From Biology, and now he was just Tony. The worries were melting away as he let these memories churn through his head, and it occured to him that maybe he should have trusted Steve... even just a little bit. "No, I suppose not," Tony finally whispered.

They were quiet again for a minute, before Steve pushed his seat back and swivelled. “Are you okay, Tony? You actually had me scared, you know.”

Tony gnawed on his lip. His buzz was really beginning to fade after their sobering realization, and the emotions tied to everything that had happened that night were starting to flood in. He really, really did not want to do something incredibly stupid like cry in front of this guy he knew, but barely knew. He had nowhere to live, he didn’t know if he even had a family anymore. There was also the ever present issue of being in love with a total stranger, who was now the boy sitting mere feet away from him. Not sure how to respond, he finally settled on, “I don’t know.”

“Your dad?”

Tony felt his face grow hot and his eyes burned. He looked away. “I might have punched him in the face," he admitted.

“Jesus Christ,” Steve said.

“We were drunk… and he kicked me out. Where the fuck am I supposed to go, Steve? I’m so royally screwed it’s not even funny,” he wiped violently at his eyes with the back of his hand.

Steve’s eyes were so concerned, it was the exact same tone that all of his texts had held, and it was eerie to see it play out in person. “What about the guy you were talking about? Could you… I don’t know, could you ask him?”

Tony laughed, a bitter, harsh laugh. He sniffed and shook his head. The universe was cruel, so fucking cruel, and he really couldn’t believe this was all happening at once. “Steve,” he laughed, because it was all he could do, “Come on.”

“What?” Steve looked vaguely offended.

“The guy is you,” Tony spat out, wondering how long it would take him to walk home from here. He was at least a few miles from home, and it was so, so cold out.

Steve blinked, and Tony could have sworn his face filled with relief. “Me?”

“Yes, you. How could it not be you?”

“I didn’t…”

Tony shook his head. “I get it, you don’t feel the same way. I just wanted to get it out there so I can go—,” he reached for the door handle, fighting back what would likely be an ugly, choked sob, all while wishing the ground would swallow him whole. Steve grabbed his wrist.

Steve was smiling. It was a warm, comforting smile that made Tony want to wrap him up in a hug. Or cry. Or both.

“I was right about you. For a genius, you really can be an idiot.”

Tony didn’t know how it happened. It was like most of his night — blurry, sudden, there. One second he was biting his lip to keep from breaking down, and suddenly Steve’s mouth was on his, and Steve was kissing him, and Tony was kissing him back. Logic and reasoning be damned, he couldn’t stop himself. Tony couldn’t think about anything. He just let himself feel, and he threaded his fingers through Steve’s short hair, and Steve tugged at his shoulder. Finally, they split apart.

“I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” Steve whispered harshly in the darkness of the car.

Tony smiled, looking away, but not removing his hand from Steve’s shoulder. The silence was companionable, and was a blatant contrast to the chilling emptiness that usually filled Tony’s life and home. Both of them were reluctant to say anything. There was a soft blue glow coming from the clock on the dash that just barely illuminated their faces.

When the quiet ended, it was Tony who spoke up. “What am I going to do now?”

His voice was barely a whisper, but Steve turned to him, a look of determination flashing across his face. “Come with me, Tony.”

“I can’t — I don’t want to like, impose, or bug your roommate, or—,”

Steve grabbed his arm. “Stop being ridiculous.”

“But—,”

“We’re going,” Steve’s voice was commanding, and assured, with no room for argument as he started the car back up.

Tony leaned back into his seat uncomfortably. The drive was silent once again, but this time it was different. Tony was wide awake, and every once and a while he would sneak a glance at the blond boy sitting beside him. He wasn’t sure if it had really settled in yet. This was Steve, this was Cap. This was the guy he had been talking to for weeks, who he poured his soul out to, who cried at movies with him, who told bad jokes and loved to draw. This was the guy that made Tony check his phone every morning when he woke up, and every night before he went to sleep. He was real, in front of him, in the flesh. Fuck.

When they eventually pulled into a back lot behind a dingy three story building, Tony smiled. “Are you sure you’re not about to axe murder me like I predicted?”

Steve shot him a look. “Yes, it’s crappy, but no, I’m not going to dismember you. And neither is Bucky. C’mon.”

Steve led Tony up two creaking flights of stairs, which did not sound all that structurally sound under their weight, before fighting with a rusty lock. The door in front of them was a dark green with black numbers reading ‘3C’, but was chipping considerably. Finally, the door swung in, revealing a surprisingly cozy apartment.

Tony wandered in behind the other boy and looked around in awe. The walls were decorated with posters, most of them related to bands or comic books. A small TV in the corner of the living room showed a cooking show, and an older brunet man in a dark green wool sweater and pyjama pants stood at the kitchen counter.

“Hey, who’s the friend?” the boy, who Tony presumed to be Bucky, asked.

Steve shrugged off his windbreaker, tossing it over the couch. “This is Tony from biology, he’s gonna crash here tonight if that’s cool with you.”

Bucky turned, a chefs knife in hand. “Since when do you make friends at school?” he questioned.

Steve frowned. “Since today. I, uh, I’ve been talking to him for a while,” he explained, and he was doing the same nervous-scratching-at-his-neck thing that seemed awfully habitual.

“He tried to text you, but then he texted me, and then he didn’t stop texting me,” Tony chimed in helpfully.

“Oh, holy shit!” Bucky exclaimed, waving the knife a little to furiously. “This is him? This is him! How’d you find him?!”

Tony glanced between the two of them nervously. He was unaware that he had been such a hot topic of discussion for Steve and his roommate, but found that he didn’t really mind. Steve was flushing a brilliant red, and it was endearing.

“I was and still am slightly tipsy, and I was walking around in the street and I hopped in his car,” Tony explained, seeing as Steve still looked slightly stupefied, “Then he tried to call me, but he didn’t know it was me, and the rest is history.”

Bucky laughed. “Well, you’re totally welcome to stay here, y’know, once Steve regains the ability to function like a normal human being.”

“Shut up,” Steve mumbled, and Bucky laughed as his roommate grabbed Tony by the hand.

Steve led Tony down the hallway, sighing once they were out of earshot inside his room. “Sorry about that, I may have mentioned you to him a few times, and Buck has no filter…”

“It was cute,” Tony smiled. “I like your room,” he added, eyes drifting.

Steve looked around with him at the various artwork that decorated his walls. Between it all was a single framed photo of his mother, and his desk was littered with papers, pencils, and paints. Clippings from the newspaper hung from his shelf. “It’s a bit of a mess,” he conceded, kicking a stray sock under the bed.

Tony shrugged, and fell back on the blue and grey duvet. The bed was lumpier than his own, and the sheets certainly weren’t Egyptian cotton, but in that moment it felt absolutely perfect.

“Are you tired?” Steve asked.

“A little bit.”

Steve flicked off the overhead light so that only the yellow glow of the lamp filled the room. “We can sleep,” he said, peeling off his socks and sweater.

“Hmm. Sleep is nice.”

“Do you mind?” Steve gestured down to his pants, about to strip them off. Tony shook his head no, and soon they were laying side by side in their t-shirts and boxers under the warmth of the comforter. Steve reached around and flicked out the lamp, plunging them into darkness. The alcohol induced sleepiness that had been plaguing Tony disappeared when he realized just how closer together they really were. Steve’s leg was brushing his, and he could feel him breathing.

“I still can’t believe it’s you,” Tony finally croaked out.

“Me either.”

“This is crazy.”

They were quiet, laying shoulder to shoulder in the quiet of Steve’s room. Tony couldn’t seem to form a truly coherent sentence, laying there like that, and finally pulled his long-forgotten phone out of his pants pocket, heart pounding as he opened his conversation with Steve.

[11:41 PM]: hi cap

Steve’s phone buzzed on the bedside table, and he reached for it, his puzzled frown melding into a smile as he read the text.

[11:42 PM]: Hey there.
[11:43 PM]: can’t sleep?
[11:43 PM]: No, not really.
[11:44 PM]: i think i’m in love with him. the guy i told you about.

Steve was positively grinning now.

[11:45 PM]: I think he’s in love with you too.
[11:45 PM]: goodnight cap.
[11:46 PM]: Goodnight, Tony. <3

Tony locked his phone and turned over, his face dangerously close to Steve’s. “You know what?” he whispered, heart lodged in his throat.

“What?”

“I think we need to see a movie. But actually corporeally be in the room for said movie.”

Steve shook his head, giggling. “Is this your strange way of asking me out?”

Tony cocked his head, and enjoyed the fluttering feeling in his chest as he leaned in for a goodnight kiss. “You know, it just might be.”