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These Little Things Define Us

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Steve's been unfrozen for nearly a month before he finally runs out of excuses to avoid going shopping with Jan. When she asks him – yet again – on a sunny Tuesday morning, he takes a deep breath and then says that yes, it would be his pleasure.

Which is how he finds himself in the middle of Barneys New York, staring rather glumly at a giant display of men's cologne.

"I'm not sure about this," he says, trying not to grimace.

The shopping trip hasn't been that bad, in all honesty. Jan is wonderfully open and friendly, overlooking his ignorance about men's fashions and gently steering him toward more modern clothing that showcases his attributes. That's how she puts it, anyway. Steve lets her guide him without too much protest. She definitely know what she's talking about when it comes to fashion, and she is careful not to push him too hard when he balks at things like the hideous shoes that she calls Crocs.

They're nearly finished now, much to Steve's relief. Even though he has enjoyed spending time with Jan, shopping is just not his thing.

"Use the testers," Jan encourages. "Find something you like."

He doesn't have the heart to tell her that he doesn't particularly care what he smells like, so he dutifully starts spraying little puffs of cologne into the air and leaning down to smell them.

On the third one, he straightens up again. "This is Tony's cologne."

Standing on his right, Jan looks startled. "Yeah, it is," she says. "But how did you…?"

Steve tells himself sternly that he is entirely too old to act like a blushing schoolboy – but that still doesn't stop the heat from warming his cheeks.

Jan's eyes grow very big. "Oh," she breathes. Then she leans impulsively in and hugs his arm. "Good for you," she says.

And that's all she says. The bottle of cologne comes home with them, nestled among armloads of shoes and clothing, a tasteful black bottle with a gold label that doesn't even have a single word on it.

Later, Steve sits at his desk and writes out a note. The words flow from his pen – but only because he spent hours getting them just right in his mind first. He wants to do this right. He wants to surprise Tony and make him smile. Tony with his amazing brain and his charming smile and the hair that always falls into his eyes just so, making him seem so much younger than he really is. Tony who likes to wear expensive cologne and designer suits, because he appreciates the finer things in life.

But when he finally finds Tony in the assembly hall and he hands the black box over, he doesn't say anything at all. He just watches as Tony's brow furrows with confusion before he opens the note.

It's a short message, too short for Steve to have labored over it for so long.

Thank you for letting me stay in your home. With friends like you by my side, I'm looking forward to our future together.

Tony blinks in startled disbelief for a moment. He looks up at Steve, and for a moment he still seems utterly baffled, like he can't understand why anybody would be nice enough to get him a present for doing absolutely nothing.

Then he smiles, warm and inviting. "You're very welcome," he says.

**********

The press gathered outside the hospital are probably having a field day with his sudden arrival, but Tony doesn't care about that. He's here for a reason, and that reason definitely does not involve the media.

Steve's room is down the hall. There is no sign of Sam Wilson or Natasha. The room is not guarded, either, which pisses Tony off irrationally. He walks in uncontested, and he's scowling as he steps over to the bed. "You look like shit," he says.

It's true. He's never seen Steve looking so battered before. But on the bright side, even super soldiers look ridiculous in hospital gowns, a fact he takes comfort in.

"Hello again to you too," Steve says wryly. In spite of his injuries, he's healing quickly, thanks to the serum. According to Natasha, he should be released within a day or two.

Tony gets right to the point. "So this all happened, and you didn't even bother to call me. And here I thought we had formed this special bond on the battlefield and all that."

Steve doesn't even bat an eye. "You didn't call me first."

"Fair point," Tony says, smoothly glossing over that argument. He's been read the riot act several times for refusing to ask for help when the Mandarin came calling, and he's not in any mood to hear it again.

"Which actually brings me to the reason for my visit," he continues. "If you're anything like me, and let's face it, you are whether or not you want to admit it, you're going to get pretty sick of hearing that. So I figured it was time to change all that." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a slim card. "Here you go."

Steve frowns, and does not reach for the card. "What is it?"

"It's your very own Avengers communication card," Tony says. "My latest and greatest invention, if I do say so myself."

Steve stares at him.

Tony fights the urge to press it into Steve's hand. "For all your 'Help, I require an armored superhero who can fly' needs."

That earns him a little chuckle, and finally Steve reaches up and takes the card. It has his picture on it, and a stylized capital A. "What does it do?"

"It's voice-activated," Tony says. "Keyed to your voice only. Just speak into it and I'll be on my way. Well, the other Avengers too, but mostly me. I'll be there."

Steve gazes at the card for a long moment before he looks up. His expression is softer than Tony has ever seen it. "Thank you," he says quietly.

"Give it a spin," Tony says. "You're the first one to get one of those."

Now Steve looks almost flustered, like he doesn't know what to say. His hair is shorter than Tony remembers, and his jawline is harder. His eyes are just as blue, though, and just as disconcertingly handsome.

He has to clear his throat before he says, "Oh, and if you decide that you're sick of the smog in DC and you want to trade that in for the pollution of New York City, there's always a place for you in the Tower."

Steve stares up at him, still touchingly bewildered. Then he smiles. "I will," he says.

"Square deal," Tony says, and he smiles back as they shake hands.

**********

"President Cap," Tony says with a grin. "Am I supposed to salute you now or something?"

"Knock it off," Steve growls. "What did you want to see me about? I don't have much time. You wouldn't believe the schedule they gave me for today."

Teasing Steve is too easy, and anyway, that's not why Tony came here. He hands Steve the slim business card he's been carrying for the past three days. "I wanted to give you this."

Steve looks down at him, and his jaw clenches. "The Mandarin Oriental Day Spa," he reads. He glares up at Tony. "Is this a joke?"

"Not at all," Tony says. "I just know how stressed out this job is making you, and I thought I could do something to help."

"No thanks," Steve says shortly. He holds out the card.

Tony has no intention of taking it back. He's pretty sure he knows why Steve is refusing to go. "It's fine," he says. "Trust me. Guys go to spas too, you know." He smiles again, light and easy. "I do it all the time. And do you think there's anything girly about me?" He pauses, then deliberately flutters his eyelashes. "Darling?"

Almost unwillingly, Steve laughs a little. Warmth uncurls in the pit of Tony's stomach at the sound. It's been a long time since he heard Steve laugh and mean it.

"Go visit them," he says. "Trust me, Steve. It'll relax you and help with stress."

"I'm not stressed," Steve says, but there's hardly any force behind the words. He's always been a terrible liar. Even now, walking in the footsteps of countless politicians before him, he hasn't picked up any of their sly tricks.

Which is exactly what Tony was hoping for. He wouldn't want Steve to change just because he's become the leader of the most powerful country in the world.

"Of course you're stressed out," he says. "Anyone would be in your shoes."

Steve scowls again, suspicion forming two lines between his eyebrows. "Why do you even care?"

That hurts, more than he bargained for, and Tony falters a little, unable to play it off with his usual dissembling charm. "You're my President," he finally says, "my leader, and my friend. Why wouldn't I care?"

Then, before Steve can say anything else, like pointing out that they aren't really friends, he adds, "Just go see them. I promise you won't regret it. And no one needs to know. They're very discreet."

Steve doesn't respond right away, and Tony can see how torn he is between wanting to accept, and wanting to appear strong and in control. Something undefined flickers in his blue eyes, and then he says, "Fine. I'll go." He sounds a bit sullen about it, but that's okay. Tony knows he's just trying to make himself sound more reluctant than he really is.

"Great," Tony says. "You'll have to tell me all about it." He winks. "After all, discretion is my middle name."

That earns him another short laugh from Steve, but there isn't any rancor in it. Pleased by his success, Tony turns to go.

He's nearly at the door when Steve stops him by calling his name. "Thanks."

Tony smiles at him. "Any time."

************

Jan and Ororo are nearly as helpless in the kitchen as Steve is, so it falls to him and him alone to make dinner. It's a daunting task, but he is nothing if not persistent. Besides, it's Tony's birthday, and he wants this to be a dinner to remember. And not just because he accidentally set off the smoke alarm.

After three hours in the kitchen, he feels like he's been taking heavy fire for days. Everywhere he turns, he sees an unholy mess. The sink is full of dirty dishes, and there is flour on the countertops and on the floor; he's tracked through it and gotten white footprints all over the room. A sad little pile of raw meat sits on a carving board, and potato peels are heaped in the trash. Sticky strawberry glaze is dripped over the edge of one counter, and down the cabinets beneath it. But the smell coming from the oven is mouth-watering, and Steve dares to hope that he got it right.

Who would ever have thought that following the deceptively simple steps of a recipe would be so difficult?

He's nervous as he lays the table and pours sparkling cider into their glasses. Everything looks right, as far as he can tell, but his experience with formal dining is far less extensive than Tony's.

He must have gotten it right, though, because Tony's eyes widen a little when he comes into the dining room at Steve's request. He's obviously come from the workshop; there's still a smudge of grease on his forehead that he missed when he was cleaning up. The sight of it makes Steve feel warm all over, because he knows that later he will get to wipe it off. "What's all this?"

"It's for you," Steve says.

Tony shakes his head. "But why? And where's everyone else?"

"I gave them the night off," Steve says. "This is for you. Now sit."

Still a little bemused, Tony sits. He peers at the covered dishes with growing interest. "Certainly smells good."

Hoping it all tastes as good as it smells, Steve lifts the silver lid from the first dish. He's rewarded by Tony sucking in his breath. "Steve. Is that…?"

"Your favorite," Steve agrees as he scoops some of the food onto Tony's plate.

Tony looks up at him. "You didn't have to do all this," he says.

"It's your birthday," Steve says simply. "Besides, I wanted to."

Across the table, their eyes meet.

"Now eat," Steve says. "You get your present later."

Hiding a grin, Tony starts to eat.

*************

It's not quite night anymore, not quite morning yet, either. It's that in-between time, when sleep seems both impossibly far away and tantalizingly close. For Tony, these are some of his most productive hours, when he can get a lot of work done without any interruptions. But today he isn't holed up in any of his workshops or labs.

He's on his way back from the kitchen, bagel in hand.

It's a bit early, but he knows Steve is up. Maybe a round of bad dreams, maybe just some excess energy in need of a longer run to bleed it off. Either way, Tony hopes to catch him before Steve leaves the Tower.

Luck is with him. He's just passing one of the smaller living rooms when he almost runs right into Steve. "There you are."

"Good morning," Steve says. He's holding a large mug of coffee. "I'm glad to see you out of the workshop. I was going to bring this to you."

It smells heavenly; Tony can't help but inhale deeply, savoring the aroma. "Oh," he says. "Here. This is for you." He holds out the sesame seed bagel.

They exchange items. Tony sips at the coffee, murmuring in contentment. "I needed that," he says. He's been at work for nearly twelve hours straight without a break.

"I thought you might," Steve says. He turns around and walks into the living room.

Tony follows him without even thinking about it, still sipping at his coffee. It's incredibly hot, but he barely notices, he's so eager to get the caffeine into his system.

Steve sits on the couch facing the glass windows. Outside, the sky is just beginning to grow lighter. He tears off a chunk of bagel and chews it thoughtfully.

Tony tucks his bare feet beneath him and cradles the coffee cup in both hands. He should be getting back to work, but it's growing harder to remember the urgency that kept him at it for an entire day without stopping.

"It's a good day for a run," Steve observes.

"Mmm," Tony responds.

Despite his comment, Steve doesn't get up. He just sits there eating his bagel and watching the sky start to fill with rosy dawn colors.

Tony takes another sip of his coffee, then holds the cup out. "Want some?"

"Sure," Steve says. He takes the cup and drinks, then hands it back. He tears off another hunk of his bagel and offers it up.

Tony eats the bagel, seeds grinding between his teeth. He washes it down with another sip of coffee. Morning continues to advance on the city, the sunrise blazing through the sky now.

"I should probably get back to work," he says.

"And I should get started on my run," Steve says.

Neither one of them moves. Tony glances over at Steve, just as Steve sneaks a peek at him. For no reason at all, it suddenly strikes Tony as incredibly funny, and he starts to laugh.

Beside him, Steve shakes his head, laughing along with him.

Tony shifts his weight a little on the couch, moving a tiny bit to his right. Steve picks a seed off his bagel and barely moves to the left. Their shoulders touch, contact that sends warmth rippling through Tony like the colors unfurling in the sky.

Utterly content, he smiles. They might have places to be, but right now, they're right where they should be.

************