Tony gaped in simple, uncomplicated horror at the headline. There was usually an element of pride, or comedy, or anger at a bad headline, but this was pure oh God no. He fumbled for his coffee mug and took a swig. It was too damn early for this. On the weekend, too.
"Pepper?" he bleated, and she nodded, her fingers already tapping at the touchscreen of her phone. "Okay, just - can we hide the papers from him?"
"I'll unplug the TV." Pepper strode towards the door, then backed up fast before two hundred and fifty pounds of gorgeous blond morning person.
"Good morning Ms Potts," Steve stopped for pleasantries, of course, which gave Tony the chance to hide three copies of the paper under the tablecloth. "Are those new shoes?"
"Why yes," and he could almost hear Pepper blush. "You're so observant!"
"That's right," Steve said gravely. "I'm a natural observer. It's not at all because I like to stare at ladies' ankles." A giggle, and then Pepper's heels were tapping down the hallway and Steve advanced to take his seat.
"Good morning, Tony," and Steve gave him that small, fond smile Tony liked to think was just his. Everyone got the wide, sincere toothpaste smile, but that goofy little quirk of the lips was all Tony's. It never failed to lift his spirits; even now, his mouth was curving in response. Steve loaded his plate with toast, and Tony sipped his coffee and watched the muscles in his arms shift as he assembled his breakfast. It would be all right. Pepper would slap suits and gagging orders on absolutely everyone, and they'd keep Cap away from the news for a day, and no harm done.
"Say, is the paper here?" Steve turned his head, vaguely, as if Jarvis might have decided to leave the papers stuck to the refrigerator door for a change.
"No," Tony said with elaborate casualness. "I checked a news site not long ago, though; nothing much happening."
"Oh," Steve looked a little put out. "I like the cartoons. I suppose I can go pick one up after breakfast."
Tony was just mentally running through a list of distracting things they could do after breakfast, when the voice of doom spoke behind him, in soft, feminine tones.
"I have a paper, Captain; I've finished with it now." Storm laid the paper down at his elbow, and gave Tony a quizzical look. "Is everything all right?"
"Of course," Tony gritted out.
"He's always grumpy in the mornings, you know that." Jan patted his head as she went to the coffeemaker. Every Saturday, Jan and Storm got up, fetched the papers, bought pastries and elaborate coffee concoctions, and retired to Storm's bedroom to 'discuss politics'. It seemed to involve a lot of giggling.
Still, perhaps he could distract Steve before he looked at it.
"Have you guys seen the headlines?" Peter wandered in, clutching his own paper. Tony briefly regretted not possessing a death ray. "Because, um."
"Sure," Jan lied unconvincingly. "Read the whole thing. Gosh. What do you think?"
"Well, I, it, um." Peter said intelligently, and Steve reached out and shook the paper out, exposing the headline Avengers Love Match above a large photo of Captain America clasped in Iron Man's arms. In a purely airlifting capacity, of course.
"It's all nonsense," Tony gabbled. "Tabloid garbage. Don't worry, Cap, we'll soon get retractions printed and sue for enough money you can buy a new shield."
"That's a lot of money," Peter shuffled forward to grab some toast. "I wonder why they thought they were safe to print it?"
Steve was still staring down at the paper. His ears had flushed red. Tony bit his lip. Steve was - well, Tony was sure he wasn't homophobic or anything, but he was from a different time, and Tony hadn't felt the need to tell him he was bisexual, and maybe he'd feel Tony should've told him so headlines like this didn't happen, and oh God Steve wasn't going to want to be friends anymore.
The future was a bleak, empty, Steveless desert. No more hanging out on patrol, or going for basketball and burgers; no more Steve handing him screwdrivers while he worked; no more movie nights; no more Steve coming to wake him up with coffee and sitting on his bed and chatting until Tony had picked the morning goo out of his eyes.
"Seriously, Steve, don't worry about it. It's so ridiculous, no one will believe it for a second."
"Well." Steve finally looked up, and gave him a wavering, uncertain smile that made Tony's heart plummet. That smile said comfort me and right now Tony didn't dare hug him. "Um, this is awkward."
"No it's not," Tony insisted. "We'll get the papers to print a retraction and everyone will forget about it."
Steve opened his mouth, but was forestalled by the entrance of Pepper, looking as if she'd seen a ghost.
"What's wrong?" Tony jumped to his feet. "What now?"
"I spoke to the papers," she said. "Three of them. They said their source -"
"It was me," Steve blurted out, and Tony turned to stare. Was - that was a really odd joke. Sort of cruel, really, if he'd noticed the way Tony looked at him. "I'm sorry. They - there was a robbery - anyway, there were some reporters there, and they asked some questions - "
"What have I told you about talking to the media alone?" Tony said despairingly. And this proved he'd been right.
"It was just a few questions. What I liked on television, what kind of cereal I liked. And was I seeing anyone." He hung his head, red from ear to ear. Tony became aware his mouth was hanging open; he shut it. Then he opened it again.
"But why did you tell them we were dating?" he didn't quite wail.
"Because I thought we were," Steve mumbled. "I'm sorry. I'll - I'll tell them it was a joke. I'm sorry, I misunderstood." He scrambled to his feet, knocking his chair over and not stopping to pick it up as he fled the room.
Tony blinked at his fallen chair until Peter helpfully picked it up and set it on its legs. Then he turned to Pepper, hoping she would have some sense to make. She stared back at him with the expression of a personal assistant tried beyond reason; it was an expression she wore quite often.
"You have about five minutes until you're not dating Captain America any more," she informed him. "You might want to go after him."
Tony found Steve in his bedroom, sitting on his bed, holding his mobile phone. He gave a guilty start when Tony poked his head round the door.
"Sorry, I - I'm doing it, I just, I don't have the numbers... I'll call Pepper and get her to send them to me - "
“Hey,” Tony sat down beside him, close, and put his hand over the phone. He’d kind of hoped Steve would let go of it, but he clung on. “Um, no, I just - “
“I’m really sorry.”
“I don’t, but why did you think...”
“We go on dates,” Steve’s voice had a touch of plaintive indignation now. “I hold your hand in the park. I put my arm around you when we watch movies!”
“You said you were cold.” Tony hadn’t really analysed that comment at the time; he’d been distracted by the fact that Steve was practically cuddling him. Oh. “You weren’t cold, were you?”
“Of course I wasn’t.” Steve’s lower lip pouted out. “I thought you liked me.”
“I do like you,” Tony tugged at the phone again. “Give me that.”
“What? No. I’ll fix it, Tony, I promise.”
“It doesn’t need fixing, it’s okay, we can be dating,” and that had to be his least elegant proposition ever; he deserved the glare he got in return.
“I don’t want pity dates, Tony!”
Tony tried to kiss him, which ended up with him bumping his nose quite painfully on Steve’s cheekbone.
“Ow,” he let go of the phone, and Steve started scrolling through to Pepper’s number. “No. No, don’t you dare. I’ll go and tell Pepper not to give you the numbers.”
“Then I’ll call information and get them,” Steve turned his back as Tony grabbed for the phone again.
“If you do I’ll call them back and tell them we are dating and you’re just being all weird about it.” How was this his life, seriously. Ten minutes ago those headlines were the worst thing in the world. He got a grip on Steve’s wrist and tugged, hoping to at least impair his dialling skill.
“Then I’ll - I’ll sue them because it’s not true.”
“Sure it is.” Tony gave up the phone as a bad job - Steve’s arms were steady as a marble statue’s - and wrapped his arms around Steve’s broad back, and kissed the back of his neck. “We hold hands in the park, even.”
He snapped the phone shut, and peered doubtfully over his shoulder.
“I really didn’t mean to.” Guilty look in his soft blue eyes. Tony hugged him tighter.
“It’s okay. Really. You want to go out to lunch today? We can hold hands in a restaurant for a change.”
“Yeah?” Steve eased round, until they were nose to nose, and he put his arm around Tony’s waist. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to, or anything.”
“I definitely have to. All these dates - how long have we been dating? - and I haven’t gotten so much as a kiss.” He leaned in invitingly.
“About two months. I asked you out to dinner, remember?” There had been dinner. It had been very nice, and Steve had insisted on paying despite Tony’s best efforts. He’d also pulled out Tony’s chair and opened the car door for him, which made a lot more sense now he knew it had been a date. It was also, in retrospect, a little embarrassing, but they could have the ‘not your girlfriend’ talk later.
“So that’s why you were wearing a suit. It looked good. Uh, did you get the hint about kissing?”
“I don’t know, Tony, maybe we’re moving too fast. By your clock, we’ve only been dating for about five minutes.” He dimpled, and Tony grinned back, dizzy with relief.
“Five whole minutes? We should be at second base by now.” Steve’s smile dimmed a little; oops. Perhaps reminding Steve he was a notorious playboy wasn’t his best move. “I can totally wait. Maybe not a whole two months. I mean I can wait two months if you want, because we will certainly be dating for many months. Years, even. Unless you don’t want to. Please kiss me so I stop talking.”
“You’re so cute,” Steve told him fondly, and kissed him before he could protest. Which he would have done, but. Kisses. Steve kisses. Oh, this was just perfect.
They managed at least ten glorious seconds of uninterrupted kissing before there was a knock on the door, and another five before a second, louder knock on the door.
“Tony?” Pepper called. “Tony, I’m sorry, I’m getting calls from the Board - “
“I have to go deal with it,” Tony muttered against Steve’s lips. “Maybe in future, you talk to me before making these little announcements?”
“I didn’t think it would be a big deal,” Steve gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence that shouldn’t have been worn by anyone over the age of ten, and Tony suppressed the urge to sigh noisily and roll his eyes. He gave him a quick kiss instead, and what he hoped was a stern look.
“Don’t talk to any reporters. I’ll see you for lunch.”
“It’s a date,” Steve said, and laughed when he rolled his eyes.