It might be because it’s quarter to midnight on a Thursday and Tony hasn’t slept for at least a day, but Tony spends a good eight minutes staring blearily at the rows of cereal.
He usually doesn’t go shopping. He usually orders takeout, because that’s what takeout was invented for and god knows he won’t run out of money anytime soon, but Pepper is on holiday and Rhodey refuses to take a plane all the way to New York just to do Tony’s shopping, so Tony made his way to a supermarket and now he’s contemplating cereal choices.
Who the fuck, Tony thinks distantly, needs this much cereal.
Seriously. Buying this much cereal might actually put a dent in his fortune.
He squints at a cereal box. He’s lost count of how many he’s considered by now. Fruity crunch, the box promises. Fuck it. Tony could go for a fruity crunch.
He throws it in his cart and his halfway down the aisle, aiming for the milk section because he just remembered he doesn’t have milk to go with the cereal that this whole journey was centred around, when he hears a voice say, “Hey,” and a guy appears next to the cart, one hand around the side of it.
Tony frowns at him. “What the hell-“
"You, ah, have my cart," the guy says, trying for a smile, which Tony has to admit, is nice. It is pretty late, too late for sane people to shop on a weekday, yet the supermarket is filled. The wonders of New York, Tony supposes.
Tony examines the contents of his cart, and is surprised to discover that apart from his fruity crunch cereal, none of the rest of the food is his. He lets go, taking a step away from it. “Oh,” he says. He looks up at the guy, who is shuffling.
"Sorry," Tony says. He rubs at his forehead. "I haven’t- I’m really tired."
"It’s late," the guy shrugs, like everyone he knows has taken a shopping cart from an innocent stranger. "I’m Steve."
Tony blinks. Does he look so run-down that people don’t recognize him? “Tony,” he says, and takes the guy- Steve’s- hand when he offers it.
He has a firm grip, his wide fingers calloused, and for a second Tony wonders what that hand would look like wrapped around his cock. He banishes the thought as soon as it appears- he’s just tired enough to get a boner in a supermarket after stealing a guy’s cart, and he isn’t about to let that happen.
"I don’t make a habit out of stealing people’s carts," Tony hears himself saying, and winces. "Like, it was an accident. Obviously. I wasn’t trying to hijack your," he waves at the food in Steve’s cart and lands on, "jam. Is that strawberry?"
"Yeah," Steve says after a second, and Tony realizes everything he’s saying is probably coming off really creepy. He opens his mouth to apologize, but Steve cuts him off.
"What brings you here? This late, I mean."
"Cereal," Tony says, and reaches for the box he had chucked in Steve’s cart, rattling the cereal box. "And milk. Because it turns out I don’t have either. And you? What brings a nice guy like you to the supermarket at midnight?"
Steve pauses, his eyes going over the food in his cart- pretty basic stuff, Tony notes. Bread, margarine, bananas, some lamb chops, frozen peas. And strawberry jam, of course.
"Can’t sleep," Steve admits eventually, and Tony gets the feeling there’s a bigger story there if he pried deeper. But he isn’t sure he’s welcome, so he just nods.
Then he screws it all up with his big mouth, because Tony Stark has never known where to stop, never really got taught how. “Any particular reason? Artistic insomniac? Neighbours dogs’ barking keep you up?”
Steve startles, and Tony resists the urge to hit himself on the head with his own stupid cereal box.
"I was in the army," Steve says, like he’s surprised the words are coming out of his mouth. "And after, I couldn’t. Uh. Yeah. Sleeping’s been hard."
"That sucks," is the only thing Tony can think of, and Steve shrugs again. He’s got big shoulders to go with the big hands.
"But the artistic insomniac thing kind of hits the target, too," Steve says, with a hint of a smile that Tony is innately charmed by. He wants to drag that smile out, turn it into a grin.
"Yeah? You do- art things?" Tony waves his cereal box. "You’re an artist?"
"Had to do something after I came back," Steve says. "It pays the bills."
"You any good?"
"I’m okay," Steve says after a moment, and Tony snorts.
"Sure, that’s probably what Picasso said. Oh, I’m okay, I guess.”
"Pretty sure I’m not up to Picasso grade," Steve says, stuffing his hands in his pockets, that reluctant smile still twitching.
To hell with it, Tony thinks. I’m standing in the cereal aisle, which never ends, it’s midnight and I’m sleep-deprived. Lets go be stupid.
"I could be the judge of that," he says, and Steve’s eyebrows raise. "I mean, I’ve seen some Picasso. His real works, not a picture on the internet. I have a couple, even."
"Picasso," Tony says. "I have a few of his paintings."
Steve stares. He blinks once. “You have,” he says, slow, “a few of paintings. By Picasso.”
Tony grins. “Yep.”
"The very same."
"That’s the one."
Another blink. Two more. “Why,” Steve says, struggling for it.
Tony makes a face. “My assistant says they class up the place. Apparently I don’t do that enough with my presence.”
Steve gives him a once-over, and Tony guesses what he sees- the sweatpants with worn grease stains, the oversized hoodie, the scruffy sneakers.
"I clean up real nice," Tony promises, his grin turning teasing.
"I bet," Steve says, and then shakes his head like he’s clearing it. "I, uh. Not, uh." He clears his throat. "You said something about, about seeing the paintings?"
"I did. I said I could compare your art to Picasso’s, if you’re up for it."
"I’m gonna turn up lacking," Steve says, his voice coming out strangled, but still with that little smile, like he can’t believe he’s smiling at all. He suits it, that smile.
"Like I said," Tony says. "I’ll be the judge of that. So, do you have some of your art on you right now, or-"
"It’s back at my apartment."
"Lead the way," Tony says. Then he remembers the cart, and HIS cart a few meters back from them, and says, "Uh."
"I can shop later," Steve says. "This, this is- not important. Picasso is important. Picasso is always important."
"I’m an artist, it kind of comes with the job."
"You’d love my assistant," Tony sighs.
They start walking for the exit, leaving their carts behind, making their way through the crowd that by all rights shouldn’t be here right now, and emerge into the muggy winter air.
"What kind of stuff do you paint?"
"Who says I paint?"
Tony pulls his hoodie up against the wind. “You look like a painter.”
"What do painters look like?"
"Hot blondes," Tony tosses out, and is immensely gratified when Steve chokes on a laugh.
Steve’s cheek twitches against it. “I paint, uh. Lots of stuff.”
"Yeah? Landscapes, people, bowls of fruit-"
"Memories, mostly," Steve says, and they both go quiet for a few seconds, eyes on the footpath and each other. The wind cuts at their clothes, making them shiver.
"I sketch, too," Steve offers, huddling into his sweatshirt.
"Lots of stuff?"
"Lots," Steve agrees. "Have to be in a different mood to paint. It’s more permanent. You can rub out a sketch."
"Never really thought about it," Tony admits. He pauses. "Ever do nudes?"
That gets a fully fledged laugh, and Tony thinks of being drunk for the first time, that looseness, how his head spun, his fingers fuzzy with sensation.
"A couple, over the years," Steve chuckles. "And they don’t call them nudes."
"But there are naked people being drawn, yes?"
"Or painted," Steve says. "But yes, there are."
"We’re almost at my apartment," Steve says, and points. "Just up there."
Tony looks. It’s a small thing, but he wasn’t expecting much else.
Steve leads him up, and Tony grimaces at the steps, how easy it would be to slip and slam down every metal panel until you hit the ground, especially in this weather.
He’s all too relieved when he makes it into Steve’s apartment with all his limbs unsmashed.
"It’s not much," Steve remarks as he closes the door behind Tony. "Especially to a guy who owns a couple of Picassos."
"It’s homey," Tony shrugs. "Sometimes homey’s better than big."
Steve gives him a look at that, something Tony can’t identify. Then he clears his throat again and says, “Uh, I have a studio? But it’s getting cleaned, so all my stuff is in my bedroom for now.”
Tony doesn’t think he’s being flirted with, but hell, he’s been wrong before. “Lead the way.”
The apartment is cramped, and Steve has to jiggle the doorknob to make his bedroom door open, but then it’s swinging open and Tony says, “Shit, wow.”
Steve huffs a laugh, and Tony brushes past him to examine the rest, which are propped up on his bed, against the walls, on a chair next to a desk.
Steve is- Steve’s good, he’s more than good, Tony knows he’s seen some of these around when he’s been dragged around a charity event, remembers Pepper going on about one or two of them. Tony hadn’t paid attention then, but he’s going to have to call her up about them, ask if she remembers, because- shit, wow.
It’s the colours, really. The combinations, the contrast between blood and battlefield and sky in one, between pearls and an ageing hand in another. A man at a bar, gazing into a whiskey glass. In this one, the lines are blurred, the colours bright, giving it a hazy, ghostly feel.
Memories, Steve had said, and Tony can almost feel them, coasting past his eyes as he goes over painting after painting, sketch after sketch.
Steve is fiddling with his sleeves when Tony turns to him, and immediately straightens when he catches Tony’s eyes on him.
"You’re good,” Tony says honestly. “Picasso can go stick his paintings up his ass.”
"Hey, don’t blaspheme," Steve says weakly, his shoulders looser than they were when they were outside the apartment, his fingers tight in his sleeve. "Picasso did great things for the art industry."
"I’m sure he did," Tony murmurs, eyes catching on a sunset over a bloody rooftop, a pair of hands that don’t belong to Steve, a boy with his head tipped back, his eyes creasing in laughter.
"You’re good," Tony says again, hoarser this time. He swallows. This is- intimate in a way that Tony doesn’t do, tries actively to avoid. This is Steve letting Tony through a chink in the armour, someone who is practically a stranger, and Tony wonders if Steve has anyone else who comes in here and looks around and soaks it all in.
When Tony looks at Steve again, he’s taken a few steps towards Tony. He’s hesitant about it, flighty, and he swallows a few times before he says, “About Picasso.”
Tony nods, and at some point he’s stepped closer. He can see every single one of Steve’s lashes, the pale blush that has spread over Steve’s cheeks, barely setting in.
"I was wondering if we could do that later," Steve breathes, and Tony thinks he makes a noise of agreement and then he’s pulling Steve in, their mouths meeting with a warmth that makes Tony groan. He’s sure he hasn’t kissed another mouth as warm as this.
Steve’s mouth gives under his, his lips parting so he can get his tongue in Tony’s mouth, his hands coming up to cup Tony’s head and cradle him closer. “Shit,” he mutters when they draw apart for breath, and Tony gasp-laughs.
"When you said later, did you mean-"
"Tomorrow," Steve nods, his fingers playing idly with Tony’s hair as he talks. "I’ll make you cereal."
"Best shopping trip ever," Tony says, and Steve actually grins before bringing their mouths together this time.