"Captain, if I might direct your attention…?" JARVIS trailed off in what would be a delicate pause in a human being.
Steve turned away from his contemplation of the rain-drenched skyline of New York, and looked at his laptop. "What is it?"
On the screen was a Craigslist ad, another one of JARVIS's finds. He read it with a bit of a smile, and a growing sense of confidence. Some of the ads on this website seemed to have been written by a very small child, but this one had a certain flair to it. Also, it was pretty much everything he was looking for.
If you're strong and don't mind getting caught in the rain
If you can take directions and you have half a brain
If you like carrying the heavy stuff, up and down a tall Tower
You're the guy that I'm looking for, fifty bucks an hour
In smaller print beneath the ad, it said, PS: appreciation of piña coladas is a plus.
The thing about being Captain America was, there wasn't much call for him to actually be Captain America a whole lot. Most of the time Steve found himself left to his own devices, either wandering through the city or haunting the halls of Avengers Tower.
It wasn't like he was alone, though. He had many good friends, and people always smiled to see him. He and Sam went to the same gym, he sampled new recipes with Natasha, and Tony was a lot of fun to hang out with, once you got past his innate hostility and wariness at having someone actually show an interest in what he was doing.
And Steve had to admit, the time he spent with Tony was the highlight of his week. He enjoyed sitting at the dinner table with Clint and dissecting sports teams. He liked debating politics with Jim Rhodes. But those hours he spent with Tony, not even talking all that much but just being together, were the best.
Unfortunately, hanging out was all he ever seemed to do with Tony. Back and forth they went with each other, bickering and mocking and teasing, and somewhere along the way, the lines had become blurred and the teasing had become flirting, but Steve would be damned if he could say exactly when and how that had happened. All he knew was that he was glad it had.
The only problem was, nothing ever seemed to come of it. Back and forth they went, but they never actually went anywhere. He stared at Tony's arms as he worked on the suit and Tony ogled his ass as he walked past, and when they said good night they fired off parting shots at each other about sleeping tight, but that was as far as they ever got.
And even though he wanted more, ultimately Steve told himself that he was fine with what he did have. If it came down to it, he would rather be friends with Tony than spend all the time at odds with him like they had begun their relationship. It sucked, but that was what he had, and he had to make the most of it.
That could have been enough. Maybe. What made it suck even worse, though, was how busy Tony was. Between his duties at Stark Industries, his contracts with SHIELD and other companies, and the personal tweaks and upgrades he kept gifting the Avengers with, he had very little time for anything as simple as hanging out. Some days it seemed to Steve like all he got to do was share a brief (but still coy) smile with Tony as they passed each other in the hall, each of them bound to their own orbit, one that did not include anyone else.
On his own then, looking for a way to fill the time, Steve had turned to the personal ads. Maybe it was corny, and it certainly wasn't like the old days of newspaper advertisements, but the spirit was still the same. And he honestly enjoyed helping people in whatever way he could. Often this was mere manual labor, but sometimes he got to do something more satisfying, like help an entire family move from a homeless shelter into their new house. He had answered ads for artists wanted, handymen, and one that had just said, "I need someone to talk to." (He was still in touch with that troubled young man.)
And now here was this ad, perfectly tailored to someone like him.
"Thanks, JARVIS," he said. Enlisting the AI's help had been a stroke of genius, even if he had needed Tony's permission. Not that Tony knew what exactly JARVIS was helping him with. He was embarrassed to admit that when it had come time to ask Tony, he had sort of chickened out, and instead of being honest about his motivation, he had muttered some vague explanation about wanting help on the Internet. Tony had taken one look at his discomfort and quickly shooed him away with his blessing. "Oh my God don't talk to me about looking up porn just go ahead and ask JARVIS for help now would you please get out of the way the last time I ran this simulation there may have been a minor explosion involved."
Steve had pretended he hadn't heard that last part, and hurried back up to his room, where he kept his laptop. (And for the record, he had only asked for JARVIS's help with looking up porn once. After that he had done just fine on his own.)
He gazed at the laptop now for a long time, trying to compose the perfect response. After a few false starts, he thought he had it.
Yes I am strong and can work in the rain
I can follow orders, and I use my whole brain
I can carry the heavy stuff, up and down several floors
For fifty bucks an hour, I am all yours
He was nobody's poet and he knew it, but he thought it wasn't half bad. He re-read the words a couple times, then on a whim, he added,
PS – I enjoy piña coladas too.
The arrangements were made via e-mail (his prospective employer was very businesslike and to the point, a fact which Steve appreciated). He definitely had a good feeling about this one.
He arrived early the next day at their meeting place, a bar not far from the Tower called O'Malleys. It was raining and he didn't trust the traffic, plus he wanted to make a good first impression, so he made sure to arrive fifteen minutes ahead of the scheduled time.
He sat facing the door, so he could see everyone who walked in. And when the door opened, and the man walked in – Steve knew him in an instant. He knew the man's smile, and the line of his jaw. In stunned but pleased disbelief, he stood up at the little round table where he had been sitting.
The man in the doorway turned, his attention caught by the movement. "Oh," said Tony. "It's you."
Steve shrugged a little as Tony walked over to his table, pretending to be casual about the whole thing. "It's me."
They looked at each other for a moment, then suddenly Steve was laughing. He couldn't help it. He should have known, he thought. Only Tony would have JARVIS write him a personal ad that rhymed – and then handle the dry details of what was essentially a business transaction.
It took Tony a moment, but then he was laughing, too. "Son of a bitch."
Steve sat down at the tiny table. "Well, this was unexpected," he said with a grin.
"Tell me about it," Tony said. Light reflected off the raindrops beaded in his hair and on the shoulders of his black leather jacket. "I didn't even know you knew what Craigslist was."
"You'd be surprised at what I know," Steve said with what he hoped was an inviting expression.
It must have worked, because Tony seemed to choke on his own tongue. For a moment he gaped at Steve, speechless. Then he was grinning in delight. "Well, well, well. Look who's finally decided to remove the stick from his butt."
"What?" Steve was outraged. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about you," Tony said. He jabbed his finger in the direction of Steve's chest to emphasize his point. "Captain Let Me Get That Kitten Out Of That Tree For You."
"That's not…" Steve spluttered. "I only did that once!"
Tony shook his head with a dramatic eye roll. "Steve. Steve, Steve, Steve."
"Congratulations, you can say my name," Steve said dryly.
"The point here," Tony said, "is that you're branching out. You took a risk, and look where it got you." He grinned again. "An afternoon with me."
Steve thought about telling Tony that he had been "taking a risk" for a while by answering those personal ads, then decided against it. "Took you long enough," he said. "I've only been waiting for this for weeks now." He saw the pleased but slightly baffled look in Tony's eyes, and quickly moved on. "And anyway, I thought this was a business deal. Where's my fifty dollars?"
"You haven't earned it yet," Tony came back promptly.
"I can do that," Steve said.
Tony swallowed hard. "Really?"
"You bet," Steve said. "Remember the part in my ad where I said I can use my whole brain?"
Tony stared at him for a long moment. After a while he said, "This is really happening, right? I mean, I'm not asleep on that ratty couch in the corner, with Dummy standing over me like some half-assed guard dog, am I?"
"No," Steve said. "You're not. You're here with me in this tiny bar. And unless we want to order something, we should probably go."
"Yeah," Tony said. He glanced toward the door and made a face. "Out in the rain."
Steve stood up. "What were you going to have me do, anyway?"
"Oh, just move some stuff around," Tony said vaguely as they headed for the door. "It doesn't really matter."
"I guess not," Steve said. "Still, I'm glad we didn't spend our first official date with me moving heavy furniture."
"Is that what this is?" Tony asked as he opened the door.
"You know, I think it is," Steve said. He stepped out into the dreary afternoon.
Tony joined him. Protected from the rain by the overhanging eaves, they stood on the sidewalk for a moment. It was rather cozy standing there, sheltered from the elements, away from the flow of people walking quickly past, almost like they were their own little island.
Steve felt a crazy happiness well up within him. He never would have expected this, but it had happened, and now here they were, finally ready to move on to the next stage.
Whatever that was.
"So," Tony said.
Just as Steve turned to him and said, "I never knew."
"Knew what?" Tony asked.
"That you like piña coladas," Steve said.
Tony gave him a wicked smile. "Steve, honey, you're going to find out all kinds of things about me you never knew."
You're the guy that I'm looking for, Steve thought, recalling the words from Tony's ad. And then they were off, walking through the rain, side by side.