“Hey,” Sam greeted, poking Rhodey into the side as he passed him by in the locker room. “I heard your super-nerd has won another award.”
“Yeah,” Rhodey answered, pride evident in his voice. “He had a robotics competition this weekend. No one beats him at robotics.”
“You are such a proud mother bear,” Sam remarked. Grinning, he opened his locker and started to change into his training clothes.
“Who's gonna do it otherwise,” Rhodey grumbled, angrily pulling his shirt over his head.
“Isn't his father..?” Sam started to ask, but Rhodey interrupted him.
“Sometimes I'm surprised his father actually remembers his name,” he spat, tearing his stuff out of his locker. “And Tony, too. Always trying to do everything right, get his attention. The bastard is just. Not. Worth. It.” He pulled at something that had gotten stuck in the locker door until it finally popped out, nearly making Rhodey fall flat on his ass.
Sam stared at Rhodey for a moment, surprised at the viciousness of his reaction, but then he shook his head, figuring that it was rather unwise to discuss the topic further. He knew that stubborn set of Rhodey's mouth. Honestly, he knew too many stubborn people, now that he thought about it.
“So, super-nerd won, huh?” he asked instead, grinning. “What did he build?”
“Sam, stop it with the 'super-nerd.' It's rude,” a voice from behind them interrupted their conversation. The two of them turned around and were faced by the sight of a very stern-looking Steve. Or rather, football captain Steve Rogers, renowned bully-hater. He was very well-known for not tolerating bullies among 'his' men and kicking people out of the team if they didn't behave properly. He had made their team one of the best and the most popular, and only crazy people like Johann Schmidt from their rivalling team were reckless enough to go toe to toe with him.
“Steve, it's okay, Tony is the super-nerd,” Rhodey calmed him down. “You could say it's a badge of honour. I don't think we lowly humans will every fully understand how his brain even works.”
“Tony?” Steve asked. “Tony Stark, who just won the robotics competition?”
Sam gave him a telling look, and Steve's ears turned a distinct shade of red.
It wasn't like he had a crush , okay. He was just...interested. And impressed. Younger than anyone else, Tony collected prizes and awards like other people collected detention hours. And he was always surrounded by similarly brilliant and competent people.
James Rhodes, football star that had the school achievements to match. Pepper Potts, who already had offers from several universities. Bruce Banner and Betty Ross, who were commonly known as the 'science couple,' because they had been together since the beginning of high school and were both budding scientists. Jane Foster, another budding scientist, and Thor Odinson, her boyfriend and one of the stars on Steve's team.
It was kind of hard not to feel incompetent in comparison. (Steve was, after all, just a former skinny asthmatic that had lucked out with puberty. Nothing special.) Steve had actually never spoken with Tony, but he always noticed him when they passed each other in the hallway. And well, if Steve found the overly large glasses and the constant bed head cute, he was allowed to think so in the privacy of his mind.
Earlier, during training, Rhodey had told Sam and Steve about the robotics competition with no small amount of pride, and had described the robot that Tony had built for it in detail. Not only the judges, but the whole audience had been astonished by the fact that he had managed to build a robot that actually listened to voice commands. And not just simple ones, either. The robot was capable of understanding normal human speech.
The most astonishing thing, though, had been that he had even managed to program it with a personality. (How he'd managed to do that, even Rhodey had no idea.) Whenever he did something right, the robot would beep happily. When he did something wrong, the robot would slink behind Tony and let out a few sad, dejected beeps.
Steve couldn't help but smile when he thought about a sad little robot hiding behind Tony's legs. Momentarily distracted, he turned a corner in the empty hallway of the school rather more quickly than he had intended, and promptly bumped into someone. Steve was completely okay, but his opponent, not so much. The books he had been carrying fell to the floor, a few papers flying here and there.
“Jesus, can't you-” Tony (because of course it was Tony) complained, only to freeze when he looked up and realised that it was Steve who was standing there.
“Sorry,” Steve apologised, determinedly trying to ignore the awkwardness of Tony's staring. “I was lost in thought. Let me get that for you.”
His heart hammering in his chest, he started picking up the books and papers from the floor. Most of the loose sheets were full of hastily scribbled calculations that looked extremely elaborate and complicated. Steve had never seen mathematical equations quite like that. What could they be about, he wondered. Maybe equations for the robot?
“Wow, that looks difficult.” He smiled, holding out the things he had picked up to a still silently staring Tony. “You must be really bright.”
Tony made a strange noise, kind of like a small animal that just got squished, snatched the books and papers, and ran off as if he was being pursued by the devil himself.
Steve...gaped. What had that been about? Had he scared Tony? That really hadn't been his intention. He had just wanted to...
Dejected, he turned around to head home.
“But, Bruuuuuce,” came Tony's voice from somewhere under the desk.
“No one cares, Tony,” Bruce reminded him unsympathetically. “If you like him, you should just ask him out.”
“Nooooo,” Tony whined. “Are you mad? He's the captain of the football team, and I'm just a huge nerd – ouch, don't hit me!”
“You are just a giant chicken,” Jane said, rolling her eyes. “I asked Thor out, and would you look at that, nerd and jock, it works.”
“That's because it's Thor,” Tony mumbled.
“Thor and Steve aren't really that different, are they?” Betty mused. “Big, blond, probably nicer than they should be-”
“Hey!” Tony and Jane protested at the same time. The next moment, Tony finally popped out from his hideout under the table when he realised that Jane had called out, too. The two glared at each other, gearing up for a fight.
“I don't care who's the bigger, blonder, better one,” Bruce cut in before they could start arguing. “If you don't shut up now and let me do my experiments, I'm going to drag you out the lab and throw you down the stairs.”
Wisely, all of them shut up.
“Why did Rhodey want me to come to the game?” Tony asked for probably the fiftieth time. “I mean, sure, I'll support him, but I have no idea how this game actually works. I'll probably start shouting at precisely the wrong time.”
Pepper and Natasha exchanged a glance while they mercilessly pushed past others to get to the best seats before anyone else could snatch them away. Huffing and puffing (these kind of crowds were not his style, okay), Tony quickly followed, squeezing himself onto the bench next to them.
“He asked you to, so you come. It's really that simple,” Pepper explained, handing him a soda she had somehow managed to acquire while Tony had been fighting with the crowd. “Just sit there and shout when I tell you to.”
Their team won, which was obviously great. Tony wasn't quite sure how they did it, and he still had no idea how the game actually worked, but he did have some fun, mostly thanks to Natasha's and Pepper's sarcastic comments. Tony had cheered for Rhodey when Pepper had ordered him to, and all in all, it had been a success.
When he thought it was over and he could finally go home, though, Nat and Pepper grabbed him and dragged him along with them.
“Hey, I thought the game was over?” he complained. “Let me go, I have to get back to my lab!”
“Tony, how about you live a little for once?” Pepper suggested with a look. “The team won, we're going to have a little feast. Come on, for Rhodey?”
Tony grumbled, but he came along without putting up too much of a protest. Rhodey was his best friend, and he did like get-togethers with people he liked. That was, until he realised that their little party wasn't supposed to be just Rhodey and them, but that Jane, Thor, Sam and Steve were also planning to come with them.
“Are you mad?” Tony hissed, pulling Pepper aside. “You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?”
“Don't be a baby, Tony,” Pepper said, rolling her eyes. “The world doesn't revolve around you.”
Tony kept whining at Pepper, but he received no mercy. They dragged him off to the diner, where they all squeezed into a booth. Luckily, he managed to squeeze in between Rhodey and Jane, which meant he was safe. Steve was sitting three seats over, far awy enough so Tony couldn't really see him (and far away enough so it wasn't considered rude that he wasn't really interacting with him). Instead, he badgered Jane with questions about her current project.
At some point during the meal (and valiantly ignoring Steve), he realised he had to go to the toilet. So he wiggled out of the seat, squeezing past Jane and Thor.
“It's going to be alright, you can do this,” he told his reflection in the mirror above the sink. His reflection didn't look too convinced, but Tony only had to keep on ignoring Steve, and all would be well.
On his way back to the table, however, he realised that someone was waiting in the hallway between the toilet and the restaurant itself. For one moment, he startled rather badly, but then he realised that it was only Steve.
“Hey,” Steve smiled, sticking his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I wanted to apologise for last time. I hope the books and everything were fine?”
Tony nodded and prayed to all the gods he didn't believe in that the blush that was currently spreading over his face wasn't visible in the dim light of the hallway. He was cool, he was smooth, he was Tony Stark, he could do this.
Or not. He swallowed nervously.
“And...sorry, do I make you uncomfortable?” Steve asked, the smile slowly sliding from his face. “I...sorry, it was probably rude to wait here for you.”
Tony quickly shook his head. It was his own fault that he was making Steve uncomfortable, really. Just looking at him made his throat close up and his heart start beating wildly. He was so screwed.
“It was my fault, I don't...I shouldn't...” he stammered.
Steve smiled and shook his head. After a moment of
really awkward silence, he spoke up again. “I heard you built a robot?”
“Dum-e?” Tony asked, surprised. “Oh my god, no, not you, I mean, the robot is called Dum-e because he's not the brightest bulb-”
“A robot that can follow voice commands seems pretty intelligent to me,” Steve observed with a small smile.
“Oh god, don't tell him that, he'll get all conceited,” Tony couldn't help but babble. He should stop. Now. He blabbered on. “He's always getting stuff wrong, it's horrible. And he's stubborn. He hates getting updates and always tries to hide from me when I try getting any work done on him. Dumbest robot ever.”
Steve's smile was steadily growing the more Tony rambled on, and Tony knew that he should stop babbling, but somehow, he couldn't.
“So erm, yeah, robot, I built him,” he finished lamely, trying desperately to think of anything semi-intelligent to say.
“That sounds pretty awesome,” Steve replied. “I kind of wish I'd seen him.”
Tony was dumbfounded, because how do you reply to a thing like that? From a guy like Steve?
“Eh...we should maybe get back to the others?” Steve suggested after another moment of silence, pushing away from the wall. “They're are probably wondering where we are.”
Tony dejectedly followed Steve back to the table, desperately wishing that his default reaction when it came to Steve wasn't turning into a mute.
Rhodey raised one of his eyebrows when the two of them finally came back, but the conversation at the table was so lively that no one really seemed to notice that they had been away for longer than just a toilet break, and that for some reason, they came back together. They had moved closer together, though, so the only two places that were still free were next to Thor. Which was how Tony somehow ended up squished in between Thor and Steve. And Steve kept, for some reason, smiling at him.
“Do you want something to drink?” Steve asked, and Tony, surprised by the sudden question, blurted out, “Coffee.”
“Coffee?” Steve laughed. “Really?”
“I don't actually like soda that much,” Tony confessed before he could stop himself. “I mean, I can drink it just fine, but I like coffee best.”
Steve tilted his head, considering, but then he ordered coffee, the others joining in.
“I guess it's kind of almost a requirement for scientists to like coffee,” Jane mused. “It's our fuel.”
Thor nodded, draining his cup in one go. “It's almost a stereotype by now, I'd say.”
“I guess most scientists are okay with that kind of stereotype,” Jane laughed. Then she bent over the table so she could look past Thor, and grinned at Tony. “The more annoying stereotype is the prevailing view that we're all excessively socially awkwaaaaaard.”
“Oh, shut up,” Tony grumbled back. “I can be super smooth.”
Jane only cackled. Next to him, Tony also heard a faint chuckle. When he turned around to see what was going on, he realised that Steve was holding in a laugh.
“Really?” Steve asked. “When?”
Tony, humiliated, blushed and turned around. Oh god, Steve was actually laughing at him. Because he was such an idiot. He was caught between wanting to bang his head into a wall repeatedly and wishing that the earth would open up and swallow him without a trace.
Still fighting with his mortification, he didn't quite understand what happened next. But suddenly, there was a hand in his lap, wrapping itself around his own and squeezing lightly. Shocked and confused, he looked up and found Steve still smiling at him. Only now, there was something nervous in his smile.
“Okay?” he asked, whispering.
Tony was dumbfounded. On one hand, he felt he was pretty close to a tiny meltdown, because Steve Rogers was holding his hand. On the other, he had no idea what Steve was actually trying to do. Was this...was he..?
In the end, he nodded once, not sure if it was the right thing to do. Steve squeezed his hand again and then turned towards the others, effortlessly joining the ongoing discussion. His hand stayed right where it was, resting on Tony's lap and lightly wrapped around Tony's own. From time to time, his thumb would stroke over the back of Tony's hand, making Tony shiver lightly every single time.
Speaking of which, when had Steve moved so close?
disappointment relief consternation, nothing else happened. He was mostly confused, because their conversations this far had almost solely consisted of awkward attempts at talking on Steve's side, and confused silence on Tony's side. He had not idea what Steve actually wanted.
If it had been anyone else, he would have quickly filed it away as another attempt to use his name (there had been enough of these people, their attempts quite often foiled by mother bear Rhodey). But this was Steve. The Steve that had gotten into trouble because he had saved him from bullies. He wouldn't do that kind of thing. Right?
After their little party, Rhodey took him home, just like he always did. Tony had tried to rid him of the habit of always making sure that Tony was fine (because seriously, Rhodey, not a kid anymore ), but no such luck. During their drive home, Rhodey looked over to Tony from time to time, a contemplative expression on his face.
“Did he do anything?” he eventually asked.
Tony sighed, because there was apparently nothing that slipped past Rhodey's attention. “He held my hand. Under the table,” he confessed, blushing a little at the memory. It had been both exhilarating and frightening, and Tony could still feel the slight callouses in Steve's hand. A hand used to work. A nice hand, large and warm, but also careful and gentle.
Something fragile, like it was made of glass, slowly bloomed in Tony's chest.
“He's a good guy,” Rhodey commented. “And if I'm reading the signs right, he's honestly interested in you. Stop blushing, idiot, I'm neither dumb nor blind. But there's one thing I want you to know. If he does anything untoward or makes you cry, I'm going to break his neck without a second thought. Co-signed by Pepper, by the way, although she added that it would be a pity since he's good-looking and nice and all. Well, at least I don't care how good-looking he might be, he's going to suffer if he breaks the rules.”
“Sometimes, you're really scary, Rhodey.” Tony smiled.
“Around you, I have to be,” Rhodey said, the corners of his mouth turning downwards.
Tony kept quiet. He knew fighting was useless, because that was a topic that they never, ever agreed on.
When Steve returned home, his heart was still beating wildly. He'd gone and done it. He'd been slightly nervous and on edge all evening (more than usual after a game), because Tony had been in his vicinity. And when he had seen a chance, he'd jumped on it.
Okay, he'd been slightly creeper-ish. He felt kind of bad for that. But he had also found out that mentioning Tony's robots was a surefire way to get him to talk, so he kind of didn't feel bad about it at all. And when Jane had made that little jab at Tony for being excessively awkward, he had decided to take a chance. And held Tony's hand.
The thought made him blush. It wasn't like he'd never held anyone's hand before, but he had been so nervous, expecting Tony to reject him at any moment. But Tony hadn't. He had sat there, that cute blush never quite leaving his cheeks, and before he had finally let go when they'd left, he had even squeezed back softly.
The thought made Steve break out into another sappy grin. It felt so much like wishful thinking, but maybe, maybe Tony actually liked him? Maybe he was just as nervous as Steve was?
When Steve went to bed that night, he couldn't really calm down enough to fall asleep. Instead, he kept tossing and turning all night, smiling into his pillow whenever he remembered the red tips of Tony's ears just visible in the dim light of the diner.
“A little bird told me you made a move on everyone's favourite super-nerd yesterday,” Sam teased, playfully punching Steve in the shoulder. “Come on, man, you need to tell me these things!”
“It was nothing,” Steve mumbled, trying to will away the heat he could feel rise in his cheeks. “I'm still trying to figure out whether he actually likes me.”
“He does, believe me.” Sam laughed. “If he didn't, you'd probably have Rhodey around your neck by now. He's very protective when it comes to Tony. Don't look at me like that, I'm just giving you a fair warning. Rhodey is the guard dog, and Pepper is the one that will stab you in the back while you're distracted. Ah wait, I forgot you don't care about rumours, so you wouldn't know.”
“Rumours?” Steve asked, wrinkling his eyebrows. “You know that kind of stuff is mostly idle chatter for people that have nothing better to do.”
“Nah. This time there seems to be some actual truth behind it,” Sam said. “Rhodey won't talk about it, but it seems there have been people that have made trouble before.”
“That's for sure.” Steve shrugged.
“Wait, you do know something?” Sam asked, eyes growing wide.
“Well,” Steve coughed. “I did beat up his bullies once.”
“You're kidding!” Sam laughed. “When was that? I don't remember that kind of thing at all!”
“It was pretty long ago,” Steve reluctantly confessed. “I was in middle school and super skinny then. And he was even tinier than me, but it seems he was already a genius then. So they picked on him, and I caught them. Can't say I looked very pretty after that encounter, but they looked worse. Three against one, I won.” He grinned a cheeky smile, remembering how they had eventually slunk off, tails between their legs. It had been one of his prouder moments. Even though he had gotten into major trouble for it.
“Pretty wild in your young days, huh.” Sam smirked. “Would've loved to see you then.”
“I wasn't that different?” Steve mused. “Just a lot skinnier?”
“Whatever you say. Come on, class is starting,” Sam said, shaking his head and dragging Steve off to their classroom.
Tony knew it was dumb, and yet he couldn't help but expect something to happen all morning. He tried to tell himself repeatedly that it was silly, that nothing had changed from yesterday, but his heart somehow didn't seem to get the message. Both Rhodey and Pepper kept sending him meaningful glances, but he shook his head and smiled reassuringly every time it happened.
“Am I that bad at acting?” Tony wondered after a while.
“No,” Pepper denied, tapping her pen against her desk. “But we've been around you for a while. We know when something's up.” She gave him an assessing look. “He didn't do anything he shouldn't have, did he?”
“No, Pepper, no!” Tony exclaimed. “Nothing like that!”
“Would you guys at least pretend to listen to the lesson, please?” came the annoyed voice of the teacher from the front.
“Sorry,” they both mumbled, grinning at each other as soon as he turned around again.
Obviously, just when Tony was stuffing his mouth with his lunch in a rather undignified manner, Steve decided to pop up. Carrying a tray with his own lunch, he smiled at Tony and then proceeded to sit down next to Tony, his friends following after him. Sam and Rhodey grinned at each other and fist-bumped, and Natasha and Pepper immediately immersed themselves into a discussion about Very Important Things. Thor went over to Jane and gave her a passionate kiss, making everyone at the table gag demonstratively. That left Steve, who kept smiling at Tony radiantly.
“Hey,” he greeted Tony quietly. “How was your morning?”
“I...I got scolded by a teacher,” Tony stammered with a shaky grin. (Come on, Tony, he reminded himself. You're supposed to be smooth.) “I tend to get scolded a lot.” (Way to go, Tony, you dumbass.)
“You probably don't need to listen to them, huh,” Steve guessed with a grin.
“...not really, no,” Tony admitted a little hesitantly, because yeah, bragging about that kind of thing was obviously a brilliant idea.
“You're really something,” Steve said, shaking his head.
“I'm sorry,” Tony apologised reflexively, staring down at his tray. He suddenly didn't feel hungry anymore. He should know people never reacted well when he was honest.
“Hey, no,” Steve said gently, leaning over and taking one of Tony's hands into his, squeezing lightly. “You shouldn't apologise for that. I think it's awesome. You are awesome. You were blessed with skills few other people have, and that's nothing you should have to apologise for.”
Tony felt dangerously close to crying. He stared at Steve's fingers, softly stroking over his hand. “I'm just a spoiled brat,” he mumbled.
“A little spoiled, maybe,” Steve conceded. “But you're so much more than that. I think the awesome part pretty much makes it up for the rest. More than, probably.”
“Are you hitting on me?” Tony suddenly realised.
“A little?” Steve said, shrugging. “Which doesn't mean I'm not completely serious.”
“I...oh my god, you are hitting on me,” Tony stammered. “Oh my god.”
“Is that a problem?” Steve asked, his expression growing serious.
“You're hitting on me in the middle of the cafeteria and in front your friends?” Tony reminded him, dumbfounded. Because honestly, no one but extremely confident or extremely committed people hit on someone where everyone else could see them.
“Isn't that...embarrassing?” Tony tried.
“They all know I like you,” Steve replied easily.
Tony was blushing so hard that he thought he might just spontaneously combust in the middle of the cafeteria.
“And what if I rejected you, right in front of everyone?” he asked.
“I'd cry.” Steve smiled. “But I guess I'd survive.”
“You'd cry?” Tony inquired, unable to keep a smile off his face.
“Very much,” Steve assured him.
“Oh my god, guys, just kiss already!” Sam suddenly intruded into their little bubble, waving his fork around. “God, this is unbearable, I've never seen two people flirt this awkwardly, you guys make me cringe! What is this, a romcom?”
“You should get dinner together,” Natasha suggested, inspecting her fingernails. “That way, we don't have to watch you anymore, and you actually manage to go on a date.”
“Hey, don't just decide things for us!” Tony complained. “That's rude.”
“If we didn't, you would be mooning over each other until you're old and grey,” Pepper interjected, getting up and gathering her things. “So suck it up and do what we tell you.”
“Oh, and Steve,” Rhodey added, following Pepper's example and getting up as well (and probably towering over Steve deliberately). “I hope you are aware what will happen if you hurt Tony in any way.”
“You have my word that I only have the best intentions,” Steve promised. “And I intend to protect him with everything I have.”
“Oh my god,” Tony groaned, slapping his hands in front of his face. “Guys, I can totally hear you.”
Thor laughed out loud, his laugh infectious. Soon, all of them were laughing, the other people in the cafeteria wondering what was going on and giving them odd looks.
With a lot of blushing on Tony's (and Steve's) side, and a lot of sniggering on the side of their friends, they eventually managed to agree on meeting up after school was over.
When Tony returned to class, he was simultaneously on cloud nine and almost shaking with nervousness. Disconnected thoughts kept flitting through head quickly.
Steve has just declared his intentions right in front of all of our friends. What if this is all an elaborate joke? I'm going to fuck this up so badly. He held my hand! Oh god, what am I going to do, how am I going to make him like me? He can't be serious, I'm sure this is a joke. Is he going to kiss me?
Pepper elbowed him in his side rather viciously, startling him out of his frenzied thoughts. “Earth to Tony? I know you're excited, but we still have classes this afternoon, so could you please try to reign it in?”
“Pepper, I'm going to die,” Tony declared with wide eyes. “What if he doesn't like me? What if he's not serious?”
“Tony, you're like a particularly stubborn kind of mould,” Pepper said with a grin. “You grow on anyone, unless they're already rotten. Just be your usual, adorable nerdy self. And do you really think either Rhodey or me would even let him into your vicinity if we had any doubts about him? We checked on him as soon as we realised that you liked him.”
“You did what?” Tony gasped. “Pepper, what the hell?”
“Tony,” Pepper hissed, lowering her tone so no one would accidentally overhear them. “Have you really forgotten so quickly? I won't allow something like that to happen a second time. You were thirteen, for god's sake.”
Tony stayed stubbornly quiet. Pepper might seem more mellow than Rhodey on the surface, but he knew better. She could be just as vicious, if not more, if she felt it was needed.
Because Steve had still training after class, Tony wandered up to the labs to get some work of his own done. Building Dum-e had given him new, much bigger ideas, and he was playing around with a new kind of coding for an artificial intelligence. And actual artificial intelligence, not a beeping bot like Dum-e, that silly metal strut. He couldn't concentrate on the coding, though, and his mind kept straying away from the letters and numbers currently being displayed on the screen.
So he kept puttering around the lab, poking at this and that, digging through old drawers. That was, he kept puttering around until Bruce had enough and threw something at Tony (he managed to duck in time), shouting for him to get out or so god help him.
With that, Tony snuck off, heading towards the training grounds because he had no better place to go. He still had no idea how football actually worked, but it was fascinating to see the team interact with each other. He could easily see that the team members depended on Steve, and that the team worked together pretty much flawlessly. He waved at Rhodey and gave him a thumbs up when he caught his eye, and Rhodey grinned at him before turning his attention back to training once more. Steve also waved at him, and Tony blushed and waved back shyly, his heartbeat picking up when Steve suddenly became much more enthusiastic at his reaction.
After training was over, Steve ran over to him, sweaty and exhausted, but smiling brightly.
“Hi,” he greeted Tony.
“Hi.” Tony smiled back, nervously pulling at the seams of his sleeves. He was probably stretching them out, but right now, if he didn't do something with his hands, he felt he would keel over out of sheer nervousness.
“Still up for dinner?” Steve asked. He looked at Tony, smiled a little, looked down at his helmet, turned it in his hands, and then looked at Tony again. As if he didn't really dare to look at him, but then he also couldn't not look at him.
Tony, staring at the seams of his sleeves, realised he was doing the exact same thing. Blushing, he nodded.
“Great.” Steve beamed, waving his helmet. “Just wait here, I'll be out in a sec, okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” Tony smiled back. Then they stood there for a moment, nervously looking at each other. Steve had a light flush on his cheeks, probably from the exercise during the training, and his sweaty hair was sticking up in messy spikes.
Tony suddenly felt the urge to card his hands through that mess, pull Steve down and kiss him for all he was worth. The intensity of the feeling hit him like a sledgehammer.
“Great,” Steve eventually croaked. “I'll just be...going then. Wait for me.”
And with that, he was off.
Tony let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding in. That had been...unexpected. That had been...he looked down at his sleeves. He'd liked Steve, yes, he had known that, but this had been...he had never felt such a magnetic pull towards another human being before.
Someone suddenly wrapped his arm around his shoulders. For a moment, he thought Steve had returned, or maybe that it was Rhodey, there to check up on him. But when he turned around, he stared into the face of a man he had never seen before. Tony's internal alarm went off. This man was not supposed to be here.
“Hey, babe,” the man greeted him with a smarmy grin, letting his hand slide lower until it was firmly placed around Tony's waist.
“What the fuck?” Tony spat, immediately grasping the hand and trying to get out of the man's hold. “Get your hands off me, you creep!”
The bastard easily grabbed one of his wrists and twisted his arm mercilessly until Tony thought something would break any moment. It hurt so much, he couldn't even make a sound.
“Don't act coy, you little whore,” his abuser whispered wetly into Tony's ear, rubbing his own face against Tony's cheek. Tony shook with a wave of utter disgust. “I saw you making eyes at that big, blonde guy. That's what gets you hot and bothered, huh. Spreading your legs for the football jocks. What a disgusting little slut you are, Stark.”
Panic-stricken, Tony tried to twist out of the tight hold the man had on him, but he was suddenly yanked back and punched in the face. He stumbled and fell to the floor, seeing stars in front of his eyes. The man, however, kept his tight grip on him.
“I've been watching you,” the man informed Tony casually, making his stomach twist. “They talk so much about you. Tony Stark, the boy genius, Tony Stark, future saviour of us all. But look at you, you're just a common little slut. A whore who thinks he can wrap adults around his finger with his cheap little tricks.”
Oh my god, Tony thought. He's going to kill me. He's going to...
Ignoring the fact that Tony was still crouched on the floor, the guy started to drag Tony along with him. Tony scrambled for purchase, trying to avoid being dragged along, twisting and turning in an attempt to escape the vice-like grip.
“Let. Me. Go!” he shouted. The ground was empty right now; the guy had obviously waited for a chance where Tony was on his own, but Steve had said he would be here as soon as he could, so if he could delay just a little...
“Shut up!” the guy screamed, kicking him into his side. “Shut up!”
The next second, he went down like a sack of potatoes, and Steve stood there, breathing heavily, his fist still raised. For one moment, he looked down at the man, his face distorted in fury, but then he turned towards Tony, his expression softening and becoming worried.
“Oh my god, Tony,” he whispered, bending down and carefully touching Tony's beaten face. “Oh my god. What did he do?”
Instead of answering, Tony burst into tears.
Steve kept hugging him. He had let go of him shortly when Rhodey had arrived, and later when Pepper had arrived, so they could check up on him and make sure he was okay. (He was, apart from a few scrapes and bruises.)
As soon as they had checked up on him, though, he was back in Steve's embrace. Not that he minded right now. Quite the opposite, really. Steve kept muttering variations of oh my god and I can't believe this, but he kept holding on to Tony, lightly swaying him back and forth and gently stroking his back. At some point, Tony realised he had burrowed half into Steve's jacket. It was warm, and the smell was calming. Steve, apparently reading his thoughts, fully opened the jacket and wrapped them both into it.
“That's not how it went last time,” Tony mumbled into Steve's chest.
“You remember that?” Steve laughed, sounding surprised.
“How could I not, you were vicious,” Tony grinned.
“Well, I was skinny and pretty far away from being able to knock someone out with a punch then,” Steve mused. “I figured you wouldn't know that was me.”
“You were amazing,” Tony confessed. “I would recognise you no matter how you'd look now.”
Steve didn't answer, but he pressed a kiss to the crown of Tony's head.
“I told you this shouldn't happen again, Tony,” Rhodey said with a grave expression on his face. “I told you not to wander around on your own.”
“Wait,” Steve interrupted Rhodey's lecture, eyes widening. “This has happened before?”
“Yeah,” Rhodey confirmed with a frown. “Kidnappings, creepers, bullies. One of the creepers nearly succeeded when he was thirteen.”
“Oh my god,” Steve whispered, looking distinctly shell-shocked.
Tony curled a little more into himself. Great job, Rhodey. Now his almost-boyfriend would probably hightail out of here as quickly as he possibly could (which was pretty fast, actually).
A warm, large hand dug his own out of where it was buried in his sleeves and squeezed it.
“Tony,” Steve said with a sad look in his eyes.
That was it. “Tony, you need me to tell these things. I would have never let you wait out there on your own if I had known.”
For a moment, Tony stared into Steve's eyes, uncomprehending.
Then he remembered. All those times Rhodey had stuck to his side stubbornly. All those times Pepper had unobtrusively made sure that he wouldn't cross paths with certain people. Those times when Tony had no ride and Natasha had driven him all the way home despite the fact that she lived at the other end of town. Jane and Thor always making sure that everyone was taken care of when they went out, despite the fact that it was obvious they would rather ride home together. All the tiny little things.
“I should get things done by myself,” he choked out, hanging his head. “I'm supposed to be an adult.”
“No, Tony, you're not,” Pepper disagreed. “And even if you were an adult, no one would expect you to take care of these things on your own.”
My father would , Tony thought, but he couldn't say the words out loud. Rhodey, probably guessing his thoughts, made a frustrated sound. “Seriously, Tony, when will you finally realise that we want to take care of you?” he asked. “For some people, it's actually kind of important to make sure you're fine!”
Tony didn't know what to say to that. On an objective level, he understood what Rhodey was trying to say. He felt the same. If something happened to Rhodey or Pepper or anyone else that he liked, it would make him both angry and sad. And yet...he couldn't bear to ask for help. He just couldn't.
His eyes were suddenly stinging, and he realised that he was crying.
“I can't, Rhodey,” he sobbed. “I can't.”
“I think that's enough for today,” Steve said, and Tony realised that Steve was still holding his hand. Or rather, Tony was doing his best to squish Steve's hand.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. Steve shook his head, smiling.
Rhodey came over and gave him a hug, tousling his hair. “I'm sorry for shouting at you. I know it's not your fault, okay? Want to stay at my place today? Mum's going to cook something nice.”
Tony hesitated at first, but then he nodded. He didn't want to go home, when all that was waiting for him there were empty rooms. And even if his parents had been around, he wouldn't have wanted to face them. Especially his father. He knew he was a giant disappointment; he didn't need to be told that again.
Sighing, he let go of Steve's hand. Before he could stand up and leave, though, Steve held him back, pulled out a block of paper, scribbled down a number, and handed it to Tony.
“Here,” he said, pressing the note into Tony's palm, wrapping his fingers safely around it. “Call me, okay? Even if you just want to talk. Take care.”
With a nod to Pepper and Rhodey, he disappeared.
“Would you look at that?” Rhodey teased Tony gently. “Captain Rogers is, surprisingly, not scared off by a few bullies and creeps.”
Mama Rhodes was her usual resolute but caring self. While she whipped up a delicious late dinner, she kept telling Tony that he really should come over more often.
“I keep telling James to invite you, but you never come,” she complained. “He's so useless. You come by whenever you want to, you hear me?”
All Tony could do was nod along while Rhodey kept rolling his eyes, arguing that he most certainly wasn't useless. His mother gave him a tap with her ladle and told him that they would be talking about that once he would actually earn money instead of using it all up. When Rhodey saw Tony's worried face, he told him with a laugh that she always said that, and that he was pretty sure she wasn't serious.
Meanwhile, Rhodey's little sister, Jeanette, had crawled into Tony's lap as soon as Tony had sat down at the dinner table and refused to be moved, hugging him tightly. Tony completely indulged her, unable to say no. He had always wondered how it would be, having a sibling. On the other hand, he was also kind of glad he didn't have a sibling. It would just be...he shook his head, hugging Jeanette firmly back, making her squeal in excitement.
“Why does she like you more than me?” Rhodey whined, but he couldn't keep an affectionate smile off his face.
After dinner (Jeanette had finally agreed to being pried off of Tony and let him eat), he was sent to the bathroom and to the bed. To Tony's neverending surprise, there were toiletries and even a pyjama waiting for him in the bathroom. They must have been prepared just for him, because the pyjama definitely wasn't Rhodey's. Rhodey was taller and more muscular than Tony, and he definitely wouldn't fit into these relatively slim-fitting pyjamas. That meant they had bought them at some point, always expecting Tony to stay with them sooner or later.
Tony didn't know why, but something inside him started to hurt. It hurt so badly he had to sit down on the toilet seat and and started to cry, careful not to make any weird noises. Why had they done that, he wondered to himself, carefully wiping away his tears. Why would anybody make room in their home for someone that wasn't family?
Once he felt a little calmer, he brushed his teeth and splashed his face, making sure he didn't look like he had been crying. He felt like an idiot, crying because of every tiny little thing, clinging to Steve and Rhodey and Pepper like a particularly tenacious limpet.
When he came out of the bathroom, Rhodey was already waiting for him in front of the TV in the living room, getting up when Tony entered. He led Tony through the house, showing him to a small guest room.
“Here,” Rhodey said, giving him an additional fluffy blanket. “If you need something, tell Mum, okay?”
“Good night,” Rhodey said, giving him another hug. (That was a lot of hugs today.) “You're always welcome here, okay? Whenever you want.”
“Night, Rhodey,” Tony said instead of an answer, but he smiled into Rhodey's shoulder.
He had, after all, a pyjama here.
Staying with Rhodey's family had somehow considerably lifted Tony's spirits, but once he was lying in bed, he found that he couldn't sleep. He turned and tossed for a while, trying to find the right position that would lure him into sleep, but he couldn't really calm down. He had been dumb. He had bothered his friends. Steve had probably decided by now that he really didn't want to be part of this, no thanks. His father was right; he was a failure, only good for making trouble.
Because he was a glutton for punishment, he got up and dug through his things, looking for the little paper that Steve had given him. Steve probably hadn't even written down his real number, but the thought that Steve had given him something (even if it was just a lousy piece of paper with something scribbled on it) made him inexplicably excited.
When he opened the little paper, though, he realised that it wasn't just the phone number that was written on it. A short message was also written in neat script below the number.
If you thought this made me change my mind – you thought wrong. Call me. Love, Steve ❤
It might have been the little heart at the end that made Tony type the number into his phone and press the call button. Before he knew it, the call had already connected.
“Tony?” Steve asked in a sleepy voice. “Is that you?”
Tony swallowed nervously. “Yeah.”
“Good,” came the answer, and Tony could hear Steve's affectionate smile. “Great.”
“Oh honey,” Mama Rhodes sighed the next morning during breakfast. “You don't look too good. You should have told me if you couldn't sleep.”
“Don't worry, Mum,” Rhodey said while he stuffed his face with waffles (which earned him a light slap to the back of his head, because manners were still well and alive in this house). “I have a hunch that the reason why he didn't sleep is because he was busy calling his boyfriend~”
Tony blushed hotly, while Mama Rhodes straightened up, looking down at Tony sternly.
“Young man,” she asked, making Tony shrink in his seat, “why have I not heard about this before?”
“He's not my boyfriend,” Tony denied, but Rhodey started cackling, kicking him under the table.
“He is so your boyfriend,” he said between fits of laughter. “He keeps looking at you with those yearning eyes – he's just waiting for you to give him a bit of attention!”
The whole discussion sort of devolved from that point, and Tony ended up having to promise Mama Rhodes to bring Steve along at some point. Hell if she wouldn't put him through his paces before she approved of him. (Tony was worried. A bit. But Rhodey had already approved, so chances weren't too bad. Maybe.)
Steve did finally get his date, a few days later. That night, when he'd gone home, he'd worried a lot. Not about his date, but about Tony, about the way Steve had been acting, wondering if he hadn't been too much like a creeper, if he hadn't really frightened Tony. But Tony had hugged him too, right? Or maybe that had just been his panicked reaction? Steve kept running in circles, eventually falling into an uneasy sleep.
And then Tony had called. Steve had thought he must be dreaming at first, unable to believe that any of this was happening. But then they'd kept talking over the phone, and Tony had finally shown his true colours, a boy full of humour and snarky comebacks.
Steve was so far behind a crush.
The following Friday evening, they had finally made a date after calling each other every day. When Sam had heard, he had cackled loudly and wouldn't stop making jabs at Steve all day, and by the time Steve finally headed out to go pick Tony up, he was a nervous wreck. When he arrived at the spot where they'd promised to meet, Tony was waiting for him with a very stern-looking Rhodey in tow. Tony rolled his eyes, but Rhodey stepped in front of Tony before he could say anything.
“Steve,” Rhodey greeted him. “I admire you as the captain of our football team, and I value you as a friend. But I hope you're aware that none of that will stop me if you hurt Tony in any way.”
“I will repeat myself as often as I have to: I'm willing to protect him with everything that I have.” Steve smiled. It was something that he had vowed to himself, too. (Not to mention that his mother had raised him better than that.)
“Oh my god, can you please stop that already?” Tony groaned. “That's kind of like I'm the spoiled daughter waiting for her partner to pick her up for prom, while the father stands behind the door with a rifle in his hands.”
“That's essentially what it is,” Rhodey said, giving Tony a hug. “Behave.”
“Yes, mother,” Tony teased him, giving him a slight shove. “Now leave.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes, but with a wave of his hand, he was off. Steve tried not to feel too relieved that Rhodey apparently accepted their relationship. He knew, if Rhodey or Pepper had a problem with him, we would probably never even get into shouting distance with Tony.
“So,” Steve said with a happy smile, turning towards Tony and holding out his hand. (Stay cool, he told himself. Just act as if you do that all the time.) “Shall we go?”
“Uh, yeah,” Tony stammered. He looked very nervous, but he took Steve's hand without hesitation. Steve floated off, already pretty firmly seated on cloud nine. He was holding hands with Tony. They were going on a date. Dating.
After they had walked a short distance, Tony cleared his throat. “You...you always seem to be so confident,” he observed.
“Does it look that way?” Steve chuckled. “I'm actually really, really nervous.”
Tony looked up to him, making a surprised sound.
“I'm still afraid you're going to reject me,” Steve confessed, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. “I'm not really...people tend to call me boring.”
“You're not,” Tony said with sudden vehemence. Surprised, Steve lifted his eyes. Tony was looking at him with a peculiar expression on his face. Serious, open and absolutely confident. Steve's knees went kind of weak at the sight. This wasn't Tony Stark, the geek, or Tony Stark, the heir of an empire. This was someone completely different. And he made Steve's heart beat like wild.
“You're really not,” Tony repeated, and then he pulled Steve down, wrapping a hand around the back of his head, and kissed him with vigour.
Steve thought he must be dreaming. Or dying. One of the two. Not that it mattered. He kissed back just a vigorously.
“See?” Tony grinned once they finally parted again. “Not boring at all.”
Steve groaned, enveloping Tony into a firm hug. “You're killing me.”
Tony, smiling, hugged back just as firmly.
The kisses quickly multiplied with the duration of the date, in a far away corner of a diner that looked very antiquated but made delicious food. Steve discovered with delight that Tony was very weak when it came to kisses, and that his kisses were highly addictive. Not that Steve minded. He was all for a bit of addiction.
And Tony's smile whenever he leaned in for another kiss was completely irresistible anyway.
The food was good, but tucked away in the corner of the diner as they were, they could freely snuggle, which was much more interesting than the food at the moment, really. They should be eating, but it was hard to look away from Tony, to not kiss those lips again and again, to not delight in the cute noises Tony made whenever Steve kissed him behind his ear.
Steve would feel bad about it if he wasn't practically floating with happiness right now. Honeymoon phase , he told himself, giving Tony another kiss, determined to enjoy it as much as he possibly could. He deserved it, he told himself. And Tony deserved it, too. He looked so blissfully happy right now, and so adorable, with that cute blush all over his face. Steve wished he could keep him like that for ever.
Eventually, they had to finish their food and leave the diner (very reluctantly), and Steve walked Tony back home. They were rather slow, in no hurry to reach their destination quickly, mostly because they stopped at every opportunity to hug and kiss again.
No matter how long they tried to delay it, however, they eventually reached the gate of Tony's house. Steve couldn't help but sigh, because that meant that the date was now over. He looked over to Tony.
“I guess that's 'Good Night,' then,” he said, smiling but unable to keep his disappointment out of his voice.
Tony considered their hands that were still wrapped in each other. He looked just as reluctant to let go as Steve felt.
“Say, Steve,” he suddenly spoke up. “Am I your boyfriend?”
The unexpected question made Steve laugh out loud. Tony shot him a panicked look, immediately trying to pull his hand away.
“Sorry, sorry,” Steve quickly assured him. “I didn't mean it like that. I...I would love to be your boyfriend. If...you want that.”
Tony studied him for a moment, gauging his intent.
“I could get a tattoo?” Steve suggested. “'Property of Tony Stark.' So it's all clear?”
That made Tony laugh, and he leaned into Steve's side. “So I'll get another date?” he asked hopefully.
“As many as you want,” Steve mumbled, giving him a last kiss. “Just give me a call, and I'll be there.”
“Tomorrow?” Tony asked. He looked up at Steve, looking deliberately innocent and hopeful. (That would become a problem in the future, Steve just knew.) “It's Saturday.”
“Oh god, please yes,” Steve exclaimed, glad that he wasn't the only one who just couldn't wait.
“I'll introduce Dum-e to you,” Tony mused, slowly unwrapping himself from Steve's embrace. “I have a hunch he'll like you a lot.”
“Not as much as you, though,” Steve remarked, sneaking in another kiss. And another.
“Not as much as me, no,” Tony replied, and then he was gone.
Two minutes later, a message arrived.
10 a.m., don't you dare be late. Good night. ❤
Steve ran all the way home, grinning like a lunatic and wishing it was tomorrow already.
No way he was going to be late.