“You’re an idiot.”
Tony yelped and nearly fell off the stack of boxes he had placed underneath the street sign. It was a little bit past four AM, he’d managed to block the (few) cameras that would have captured his art of street vandalism, and the black electrical tape that would spell out his words fell out of his hands and onto the blacktop.
“Rhodey,” he hissed, glancing around at the deserted street full of parked cars. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” Rhodey countered, folding his (to-die-for) arms and glaring at Tony.
Tony, on his tip-toes on top of three boxes (crates, really), grasping desperately at the street sign underneath the stoplight, glared back at Rhodey. “I know what I’m doing here,” he said pointedly, “but you’re supposed to be in your dorm right now.”
“I would have been,” Rhodey agreed affably enough, even if his face looked like it was carved from granite and reproach. “Only Sam stumbled in, stoned and wrapped around Natasha and Bucky, and she was wrapped around him, and so I decided since you gave me a standing invitation I’d walk over to your place. Only you weren’t there. And the jammer you built was gone.”
Tony thought about this a bit, realizing that he was working on too little sleep if it took him this long to process what Rhodey was saying and put together his response. “Yes, but that doesn’t explain what you’re doing here,” he finally said triumphantly.
Rhodey rolled his eyes. “Are you done vandalizing city property?”
“…Who said I was—”
“Tones, I am upset about being sexiled from my dorm because Sam has finally stopped dancing around Natasha and Bucky’s relationship and invited them back with him, don’t you dare make this any more frustrating than it already is. Are you done? Can we go? Or do you still have some insane plot to spring on the unsuspecting Boston populace?”
Tony pouted at Rhodey. “That’s not fair. Who really uses street signs anymore? Everyone’s got a GPS and have directions like ‘turn right at the second Walgreens’ shit.”
Rhodey paused and craned his neck around the street sign pole to look down at the next street over – which, thankfully, was too far away to see in the combination of the dim early morning light and the weak streetlights. “Street signs, plural?” Rhodey said slowly.
“Oh, look at the time, let’s go, Rhodes, chop chop, we got places to be. Your first class today is at ten, right? You got at least four hours of solid sleep waiting for you back at my place,” Tony babbled as he stumbled off his leaning tower of boxes and scooped up the electrical tape. “C’mon, honeybear, moonpie, sweetiekins, my couch is clean. Mostly.”
“This wouldn’t, by any chance, have anything to do with Bucky’s best friend hanging around you, would it?” Rhodey said.
Tony made a despairing noise. “Oh, Rhodey, you’re so suspicious all the time!” Then he paused, and realized what he said. “Wait, his friend’s name is Bucky? Who the hell is named Bucky?”
“It’s a nickname,” Rhodey sighed, and Tony loved that sigh, that sigh meant Rhodey wasn’t going to push in the direction he had been pushing, it meant Rhodey would take the topic change Tony offered. “His name’s actually James. Like mine. But his middle name is shortened to Bucky and everyone calls me by my last name, to tell us apart.”
“What’s his last name?” Tony asked, balancing the boxes in his arms as he scurried down the street, forcing Rhodey to keep up with him.
“Barnes,” Rhodey huffed behind him, and he wasn’t scurrying. In fact, Tony suspected Rhodey was just lengthening his strides, because Tony was a short motherfucker who hated being short and Rhodey was a towering pillar of strength that, for the first half of Tony’s time at MIT, he wanted to climb like a tree. To be fair, he still would climb Rhodey like a tree if Rhodey was anything but painfully uninterested, but he’d settled into giving Rhodey annoying nicknames and accepting that Rhodey was a better family member than Tony’s actual family.
“Barnes?” Tony yelped, and he tripped over something he couldn’t see with the boxes in his hands and nearly went face-first onto the pavement had Rhodey not scooped him up by the collar of his shirt.
“Let me carry those,” Rhodey sighed. “Yes, Barnes. He goes to Northeastern University. But you knew that, I thought.”
“I didn’t know you knew him,” Tony muttered under his breath. Barnes had shared the room with that asshole Loki. That was… pretty much the extent that Tony knew of him. Steve would stop by his apartment sometime, ostensibly to check up on Tony and make sure he wasn’t dead, but Tony was pretty sure Steve came because he could store extra art supplies in Tony’s front room that he rarely, if ever, used. He and Steve would meet up sometime for lunch, but Steve was always alone, and Tony never saw the group of friends Steve had been in that first meeting. Steve talked about other people, but they were random names thrown out here and there as he recounted another funny story to Tony or talked about his friends’ habits.
Tony never really thought about how he was never really introduced to Steve’s friends, and frankly, he didn’t actually want to think about that too hard. He was already in too deep to start wondering whether he was the only one that had fallen.
Well. He’d know soon enough.
Tony had already seen numerous pictures on Instagram of his work, had heard a few of the students in his System Opt class chattering about it, and now as he waited impatiently in the small Mediterranean restaurant that he and Steve loved to eat at together, he wanted to hear Steve’s thoughts on it.
He was early, for once, something that only happened rarely and only when he was nervous (as he was today). Steve had a design class that only just let out, and while this restaurant was close enough to Mass Art that Steve would be here in minutes, Tony still shifted agitatedly in his seat.
Tony’s face lit up and he turned around to smile big at Steve, kicking out the opposite chair for the taller male. “Steve, how was class?” he said, desperately hoping he was keeping his voice level and casual.
“It was great – you’re really early, you realize that, right? Did something happen?” Steve asked.
“No, no, just – hey, you know, you never met my friend Rhodey, have you?”
Steve gave Tony a sheepish look. “Actually, I kinda did. He’s roommates with Sam Wilson, right? Air Force guys, right?”
Tony stuttered to a stop. “Um,” he said intelligently.
“I mean, I think it’d be great; we could hang out at your place? If you wanted?”
Tony absolutely did not squirm in his seat or pout. “Oh. You want to meet him at my place? We could go out somewhere to eat, you know.”
The look Steve gave Tony was not one he was used to seeing, and not one he could accurately decipher. “You want to eat out?”
“Well, I mean.” Tony swung his foot back and forth nervously. “If you want to?” Before Steve could reply, and because Tony was never good at waiting, he twisted in his chair to look out the window that was set behind him and said, “Did the street sign look funny to you?”
“I want to do what you’re comfortable with,” Steve replied, even as a waiter came by with a tray of grape leaves, their regular appetizer. “I don’t want to put you out.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Tony grumbled under his breath, turning away from the window and slumping on top of the table.
A tentative brush of fingers ran over Tony’s shoulder, and then Steve patted his back. “You okay? Your semester’s got to be really stressful.”
Tony lifted his head enough to glare balefully at Steve through his bangs. “You cannot – I just – argh, okay, yeah, my semester’s been rough, but I’m fine. How’s your semester going?”
“Well, it’s not going badly,” Steve said, smiling uncertainly at Tony.
Behind Steve, the door opened and a group of girls came inside and sat down nearby, discussing the changed street sign in giggling voices.
“—every street that intersects Longwood, from Huntington down up to the river, I heard.”
“But do all of them say the same thing?”
Steve glanced over at the group and then back at Tony with a faint smile. “They’re discussing the – someone changed the street signs—”
“I know,” Tony growled. “I wondered whether you noticed.”
“Of course I noticed,” Steve said, brow furrowed. “Why wouldn’t I? I live around here, I notice when things change like street signs.”
“What do you think?” Tony demanded.
Steve glanced out the window behind Tony and smiled, face soft and eyes warm. “I think it’s ridiculously sweet and romantic.” Then he blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I mean, I know you think romance is ridiculous, but—”
“I did it.”
“—I just think it’s sweet that someone would do that for…” Steve trailed off, and his gaze refocused on Tony with laser-like intensity. “What did you say?”
Tony knew he was red, cherry red like a tomato or an apple, and he hunched his shoulders. “You heard me.”
“You… did that?” Steve asked slowly.
“Yes, I believe that’s what I said, do keep up, Rogers,” Tony said testily.
“Oh.” Steve’s face fell, and Tony felt his heart stutter in his chest. Did Steve not think of him that way? Was this – did Tony make a fool of himself at four in the morning for no good goddamned reason? See, this was why he eschewed romance; every time he tried, with Sunset, with Rumiko, with Ty, he got shut down so fast that—
“Who’s it for?” Steve asked, trying and failing to sound uninterested.
For a long moment, Tony stared at Steve, and he knew his mouth was open, gaping unattractively (close your mouth, Anthony, we are not uncouth, what would your father say?), and he supposed he should thank Steve for the fact that the shock stole the blush from his cheeks.
“What do you mean, who’s it for?” Tony finally croaked.
The noise at the table next to them had quieted, and it felt like the whole restaurant had faded away as Steve looked down at the grape leaves and hitched one shoulder. “I mean – I mean I didn’t know you were seeing anyone. I just thought – I thought we were friends, and you’d tell me, but I mean I don’t want to pressure you—”
Tony was moving before he could quite consciously realize what his hindbrain had decided to do, and he found himself standing on top of the table, feet planted on either side of the appetizer tray. “Steven Grant Rogers, I fucking used up three rolls of electrical tape for you.”
“You…” Steve stared up to him, eyes wide and face slack with shock. “What?”
“I, Tony Stark, at fucking three in the morning decided it would be a good idea to try and tell you outright that I am interested in pursuing a fucking intimate relationship with you because you’ve ignored every single one of my motherfucking hints and so at four in the goddamn morning I risked life and limb to fix every single one of those fucking signs and if there is another way to get it through your thick skull I would try it right now but goddamn it, Rogers, you make it fucking hard and I guess I know why since I made a fool of myself for no god-fucking-damn reason!”
With that, Tony turned and jumped off the table (ouch, ankle) and stormed out of the store.
A hand grabbed Tony’s shoulder and spun him around, and Tony was ashamed that his eyes were tearing up, he hated that he was so much shorter than Steve, and he opened his mouth to snarl something hotly at Steve.
Steve kissed him.
There, at the corner of Louis Pasteur and Longwood, in front of the whole world. When Steve pulled back, Tony stared at him dazedly.
“Hints?” Steve asked, and he sounded sheepish again.
“So many motherfucking hints,” Tony agreed breathlessly.
“I thought you didn’t do romance,” Steve said, and his voice was a bit hoarse.
Self-consciously, aware that everyone from the restaurant was staring at them from the window, and they did in fact have a few pedestrians looking at them curiously, Tony hitched one shoulder. “Well. It was for you.”
Steve kissed him again.