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"No."

"No, what?" Tony asks, looking around. Pepper's just banned him from something which means it's interesting and he hasn't even spotted it yet damn her and... hang on. "Oh my god, who is that?" he demands when all he can see is a broad back and neatly cropped blond hair.

"I said no," Pepper repeats and she's not even looking up from her book. The girl is just plain spooky.

"It can't hurt anyone to know who-"

"It can," Pepper says. "It can hurt you when I have to pin you to the table."

"Pepper, I never knew you had those kinds of feelings for me," Tony says with an exaggerated eyebrow waggle and she sighs, sounding forever put-upon. "All I'm asking-"

"It's Steve Rogers," Pepper snaps, finally closing her book and narrowing her eyes. "You know, the guy you tortured in high school?"

Tony feels his mouth completely unhinge because the kid he, well... was scrawny and never knew when to say when and carried lunches to school in a brown paper sack. The guy Tony's looking at is like, three times the size of that scrawny kid. "How did that happen?" he demands, suspicious. Tony isn't small exactly but Rogers is definitely something else.

"Some people have late growth spurts," Pepper points out patiently.

"That's not a spurt, that's a... I don't even know what that is," Tony says. He swings his legs around off the bench seat he's on. "I think I'll just go-"

"I wasn't kidding about the pinning," Pepper says, setting her book all the way to the side.

"Apologize," Tony says. "I'll just go apologize for all the young and dumb crap."

Tony's halfway out of his seat when his shirt snags on something. It's Pepper. "You've humiliated the guy in every way imaginable," Pepper says. "Don't break his heart too."

Tony sags back to sitting at that, feels wounded. "How do you know I'd-"

"I know you," Pepper interrupts, her tone gentle even though her words aren't. "I've been hanging around you for so long because deep down I know you aren't that guy."

Tony watches Steve move away from the food hall, a couple of girls trailing him and he's blushing which is just not fair.

*

"Peggy and I have discussed it and agreed it's a bad idea," Pepper announces, dropping onto the opposite chair at Tony's table. He's in the library which is the last place he thought anyone would look for him so of course Pepper does. Thor lets out a low snore from underneath the table and Tony nudges him over to his side with his feet.

Pepper doesn't look at all surprised by Thor's presence.

"What? You can't do that," Tony complains.

"You don't know who Peggy is, do you?" Pepper asks, giving Tony the narrow eyes that means she's unimpressed with him.

"Not as such... no," Tony admits after a moment.

"Peggy is my equivalent in the Rogers camp."

Tony blinks at her. "Steve has a camp?"

"You both do, hence me having an equivalent."

"I have a camp?" Tony says and Pepper sighs, hefting her enormous purse onto the table and digging through it. Tony would make jokes about her having everything including the kitchen sink in the thing but she would probably pull a kitchen sink out and brain him with it. "Shouldn't I be aware that I have a camp? Are there merit badges involved?"

"That's the Scouts," Pepper dismisses. She finally finds what she's looking for and slides it across the table at Tony. He doesn't really want to touch it because it's pink and it's also a book. He might be in a library but he's very careful to stay away from the stacks because books give him hives.

"What's that?"

"It's my address book," Pepper says and Tony raises an eyebrow. "You've only been asking for this for years."

"Hang on, is this the same address book that has the names and numbers of all those girls and guys that you deemed were out of bounds for me?" Tony asks slowly, nudging at the book with a finger.

"Sacrifices have to be made," Pepper says. "This is mine."

"Okay, this is starting to be less funny," Tony says with a frown. "I haven't done anything and I'm feeling ganged up on."

"You will though, I know you," Pepper says, taking the book back when Tony steadfastly refuses to humor her by looking in it.

"Maybe what you're doing is shooting yourself in the foot," Tony points out. "Maybe all you're doing is making Rogers more interesting to me."

It's Pepper's turn to frown. "No, that's..."

"Ha!" Tony crows so loudly that everyone around them glares and Thor wakes with a jolt, smacking his head on the underside of the table.

"Hi Pepper," he says to Pepper's knees because that's presumably all he can see of her.

"Look, I'm not going to do anything to disappoint you," Tony says and holds up a hand when Pepper opens her mouth. "He's a guy I knew in high school who grew up very nicely. If you haven't noticed, there's a lot of nice people around."

Pepper gives him a mistrustful look before she gathers her things and stands.

*

Tony is not stalking Steve Rogers.

He's not really. He just happened to find out that Steve was living in his dorm. He might not have been on the same floor, but Steve on the same floor as Bruce and Tony had been meaning to drop in on Bruce so he was only accidentally wandering up and down the hallway when Steve emerged from his room with a duffel filled presumably with laundry.

"Oh, hello," Tony says and then winces because it sounds much too stiff to his own ears and not casual at all. Steve doesn't seem to notice though because he just eyes Tony warily, the same way he used to when they ran into each other in the hall in high school. "Fancy seeing you here," Tony adds, because obviously he isn't done being an idiot.

"Hi," Steve finally says, readjusting the duffel strap on his shoulder. "Did you... were you looking for someone?"

"Oh, I live here," Tony says quickly, because not stalking. He honestly just wanted to see if Steve was as nice looking up close as he'd been from far away and that he'd been kind of building up Steve's prettiness in his mind.

Not so much, dammit.

"You live here?" Steve asks, wearing a funny expression. "Don't you have mansions or something?"

Tony feels a little side-swiped by that. "Ah, I mean, yeah. One in Malibu and one in Upstate New York," Tony says and he's babbling and it sounds like he's bragging and he's an idiot. Where's Pepper when he needs her to backspace and delete? "I wanted to live somewhere that wasn't so much my dad's." Tony's a little surprised by his own honesty, how he'd just blurted it out.

Might have something to do with impassive blue eyes just staring at him.

"Isn't this place pretty much your dad's though?" Steve asks finally. "Y'know, since it's Stark House. He would have paid for it if his name is on the building."

"Oh, well, yeah I guess," Tony says, rubbing at the back of his neck. He's usually so suave but Steve seems to have shorted out that part of his brain.

He's doomed.

"Anyway, I have to..." Steve shifts his duffel again, looks over Tony's shoulder like he's visualizing his escape route. Tony shuffles sideways and Steve skirts around him and then he's gone.

*

"You don't have to worry about plotting with Penny," Tony says, not bothering to lift his head from the library table.

"It's Peggy," Pepper corrects him automatically.

"You have unusually similar names. I'm starting to think at some point you were one entity but split into two distinct life forms to better cock-block me."

"Why don't I have to plot with Peggy?" Pepper says, ignoring Tony's mopey ramble which she's very good at doing. She's had a lot of practice. "I've started enjoying our meetings."

"You have meet... you know what, never mind," Tony sighs. "You can disband. Steve hates me."

Pepper's silent for long enough that Tony tilts his head so he can see her with one eye. She's looking at him with a confused expression that darkens slowly like storm clouds skidding across a blue sky. "What did you do?" she asks slowly.

"Nothing, I swear," Tony says, turning his face back into the table. "Tried to make conversation," he amends.

"Tony," Pepper says gently, lays a hand on the closest shoulder to her. "What did you expect? Don't you remember Junior year?"

Tony rolls his head sideways again. "Only parts of it."

"The St Patrick's Day prank?" Pepper prompts and when Tony doesn't give her the expression she's obviously expecting, one that shows any kind of recall, she rolls her eyes and says, "Steve was green for a month."

Tony's a terrible person. "I'm a terrible person," Tony says, voice mushy from his face being pressed back into the table.

"Oh sweetie, you're not terrible. You just have poor impulse control."

"Don't they make medication for that? I'm sure I know someone that could invent medication for that."

"You don't need medication. You just need to take it easy and not stalk Steve."

"I wasn't stalking," Tony says mulishly. "He lives in my building and as he was quick to point out, it's my building."

"Wow, I don't think I've ever seen you with hurt feelings before," Pepper says and Tony finally pries his head up at that because Pepper sounds intrigued rather than concerned. He might be a terrible person but she's a terrible friend. He really needs the girl sympathetic noise right now, the one they make when you hurt yourself and your male friends are laughing.

He could really use that noise right now.

Instead Pepper is watching him like he's an interesting bug and she's not sure what he's going to do next. "Maybe you should meet Peggy when you're like this. She might not want to kill you like this."

"I hate you."

"You don't really."

"I don't really," Tony agrees.

*

When Tony feels the need to get horrifyingly, uproariously drunk and not feel too pathetic about it, he throws a party. Tony always means for these to be small affairs, but he's not too surprised to find the entire floor of his dorm a mass of seething, inebriated bodies in short order.

Pepper is usually disgusted by these displays of excess so Tony is surprised to run into her while squeezing between said mass of bodies on the way to the keg. "What are you doing here?" he yells to be heard over the thumping of music and other people yelling to be heard over it.

"I assumed I was invited," Pepper calls back.

"Of course you are. You usually laugh at me when I invite you to these things and then list all the horrible things you would rather be doing."

"Peggy wanted to see what all the fuss was about," Pepper says, and then reels something in that's attached to her arm. It's another girl.

"I thought I wasn't supposed to meet her unless I was sad and pathetic," Tony leans into Pepper to say and she bends away from him so he can see her raised eyebrow. "Oh, I see," Tony says, although it's hard to sound hurt when you're screaming so Tony's not sure it got across.

"He's not here," Tony hears and switches his focus to the Peggy girl. She's his nemesis and he's going to inform her of that when what she says filters through his drunk brain.

"Who's not?"

Peggy rolls her eyes. "He went to the library to get away from the noise. He doesn't like parties much."

"Why are you telling me that?" Tony asks, giving up any pretense of playing dumb.

"I get a free shot if you hurt him," Peggy continues.

"A free shot at what?"

"At your face, with my fist," Peggy clarifies and then she's being tugged away, disappearing into a sea of people.

*

Tony debates the merits of just giving in and heading to the library for about twelve seconds before he's making his way over there. He reasons that he needed the air anyway and the library is only a short stumble from Stark House.

The air makes him feel more drunk unfortunately so he's really not at his best when he finally tracks down Steve towards the back of the library in the little cluster of partitioned tables that are mostly used at finals time. Steve has a chair pulled up in front of the one he's sitting on, long legs hooked over the back of it and he's got what looks like a large sketch pad in his lap.

He startles and snaps it shut when Tony clears his throat and then falls over a table.

"Are you okay?" Steve asks, setting his pad aside and rushing over to help Tony up.

"I'm fine... how are you?" Tony asks and wow, he is really drunk and this is a very bad idea. He's thinking maybe Peggy sent him over drunk as he was to ensure Steve thinks he's a complete tool.

"You're wasted," Steve observes. Confusion creeps over his features and he asks, "What are you doing here?"

"Came to see you," Tony blurts. "Why do you hate me?" Fantastic, he thinks. He's reached the maudlin part of the night.

"I don't..." Steve starts to say but whatever the rest of that sentence was going to be is lost when Tony burps long and lustily right in his face. Tony smacks a hand over his face, horrified.

"Oh my god... I'm an ass. Just kick me under a table and forget you ever saw me," Tony manages to get out and if Tony wasn't so out of it he would swear Steve looks amused rather than angry.

"Let's take you somewhere to sleep off whatever's happening here," Steve says and Tony sighs and then when he realizes that Steve has an arm around him, drops his head onto Steve's shoulder. He's not going to have an opportunity like this again and he's an opportunist.

"My room's full of drunk people," Tony whines and this time Steve laughs.

"We'll figure something out," he says and then when Tony nearly falls flat on his face trying to go one step, he feels the floor disappear from under his feet and then he's over Steve's shoulder.

He would be mortified if his face wasn't level with Steve's ass and it's "-very nice."

"Thanks," Steve says and he sounds far too amused. "I work out."

*

When Tony wakes up, he knows he's not in his room.

He knows this because he has a mirror over his dorm bed. He mostly got it for the look on Pepper's face, but it was also useful for situations such as these where he woke up and didn't know where he was. Ruling his own place out was always useful.

Tony lifts the blanket thrown over him, something knitted or quilted or whatever but warm, and is equal parts relieved and disappointed to see he's still dressed. He's missing shoes but that's about it.

Tony manages to tilt his head sideways so he can see the room he's in and the first thing he notices is someone sitting hunched over a desk. By the broad back and blond nape, Tony figures it's Steve. He lets himself admire the way Steve's shirt pulls across his shoulder blades for a moment, telling himself that he's allowed while hungover, better judgment is temporarily suspended.

"Do you need to throw up?" Steve asks, turns his head enough so Tony can see his profile. Steve has a single room but also a single bed so Tony's not sure where Steve slept last night. He'd like to think Steve just pushed him over and crawled in with him, but he gets the feeling Steve's too much of a gentlemen or some shit and probably spent a very uncomfortable night in his desk chair.

"Nah, I think I'm good," Tony says, sitting up. For a moment there he thinks he might have to revise that statement, but everything stays where it should and he breathes deeply for a moment before actually getting feet on the floor. His shoes are sitting at the end of the bed, set neatly together with the socks rolled on the top. "Hey, thanks for... making sure I didn't die in my own puke last night," Tony finally says.

"Any time," Steve says and then grimaces. Tony chuckles as Steve's ears turn pink.

"So, how did I end up with you?" Tony asks, because he honestly has no idea. He remembers vaguely meeting his anti-Pepper and then there was more drinking and a sudden urge to go to the library. He's not really sure what was so pressing.

Steve was looking amused but his face freezes, goes carefully blank and he says, "You were drunk I guess."

Tony wants to ask Steve if he did anything. He feels like he should apologize but then again, with Pepper around, he constantly feels that way. "Sorry if I said anything... weird?"

"S'fine," Steve dismisses, not elaborating. "You want me to walk you back to your room so it doesn't look like you're doing a walk of shame?" Steve asks, back to amused and Tony just grins at him, enjoying this soft, morning version of Steve more than he'd like to admit.

"I'm probably karmically due," Tony says, gets up and steps into his shoes without bothering with the socks. He can come back and get those later. He sketches a little salute and makes his way over to Steve's door. When he opens it, Peggy's on the other side and her mouth drops open. "Mornin'" he says, taking the opportunity of her shock to slide past her and escape, not really willing to stick around and see what she's capable of doing to him.

*

Tony does not scream like a teeny, tiny girl when he wakes up, in his own bed this time, and Pepper is sitting by his feet and staring at him.

"I heard," she says, "That mine and Peggy's efforts were momentarily derailed last night."

"We didn't do anything," Tony grumbles and hopes Pepper doesn't pick up the disappointment in his voice. "I was so drunk I wouldn't have been able to get it up even if Steve was wearing a Captain America costume and singing the Star-Spangled Banner."

"That's a strangely specific fantasy," Pepper says, pulling a face. She looks up, adjusts her hair in the ceiling mirror and then returns her attention to Tony again. "Do I need to invoke the eighth?"

Tony grimaces. He and Pepper had worked out a series of rules and boundaries for their friendship because Tony loved lists and Pepper loved to keep her exasperation levels to a minimum. "Y'know, maybe you guys should stop trying to protect Steve and ask him what he wants," Tony snaps, finally fed up. He knows Pepper is well-meaning and cares a great deal about him but he's starting to feel like he can't do anything right. "Maybe he wants me to bother him."

Pepper blinks at him for a second, before her eyes narrow. "Where'd that blanket come from?" she asks, tugging at the blanket tossed over Tony's legs.

Tony swallows. He didn't really mean to steal the blanket or, well, he did but only so he could return it. Plus, he was still working on hungover brain and the blanket was really comfortable, like a knitted hug.

He can imagine someone who loved Steve very much made it for him and Tony wishes he knew what that was like. Tony had mostly been the recipient of frustration or complete apathy in his formative years. His father saw him as useful when he showed signs of having a pretty good brain rattling around in his head but also annoying when Tony seemed determined to squander his gifts by being lazy.

Tony could picture some little old lady with Steve's eyes presenting him with a large, squishy bundle on Christmas or a birthday and he kind of ached for that.

"Oh my god, you're smitten," Pepper accuses and Tony's not sure how she got from blanket stealing to Tony being infatuated. She laughs, the sound like knives through his still alcohol-sodden brain, but then her expression sobers. "Oh my god, you're smitten," she says in a completely different tone.



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*

Tony spends another uncomfortable and unsettling few minutes being stared at by Pepper before she leaves him to re-burrito shamelessly in Steve's blanket and sleep through the rest of the day.

He only wakes up when the sun has left his immediate vicinity and there is a gentle tapping at his door. Tony unwraps himself and stumbles over to his dorm door, cracking it open only enough to see who's on the other side.

It's Steve, obviously come to claim back his property.

"Hi," Steve says to the wedge of Tony's face he can see and Tony relents and opens his door wider. Steve doesn't breach his threshold, just kind of jigs from foot to foot. "Don't you go to class?"

"Rarely," Tony snorts.

"Yet perfect grades, I'm assuming?" Steve says.

"Of course," Tony says and when Steve rolls his eyes, Tony grins at him and says, "I'm one of those rare people that can actually give one hundred and ten percent."

"Um, anyway, I have..." Steve holds something out. Tony's forced to leave the chair he's just lowered himself into because Steve is doing this weird leaning thing into his space like if he actually steps foot in Tony's room he'll burst into flame.

Tony retrieves the bundle of his socks that he'd been expecting but before he tosses them aside, he notices something.

"Hey, weren't these gray?"

"They weren't supposed to be," Steve says with a raised eyebrow but Tony's just staring at the formerly gray and now pristine white socks clutched in his fist.

"Did you actually wash these?" he asks. Tony washes clothes by sending them somewhere and even the so-called professionals he had his things sent out to couldn't return his socks to their former glory like this. "You did laundry for me?"

"I didn't do laundry for you," Steve corrects, his ears pinking in that completely unexpected and fascinating way that Tony finds frustratingly endearing. "I was doing laundry and I tossed your socks in too because they were about to get up and walk out of my room by themselves, probably flipping me off for good measure considering who they belong to."

"Didn't these have holes in them?" Tony asks, bewildered. He touches a reverential finger to the row of neat little stitches over the big toes of both socks. "Oh my god Steve, you darned my socks?"

"It would've driven me crazy, alright?" Steve snaps, starting to sound annoyed and maybe mistaking Tony's wonder as derision.

Tony's not sure why he can't let it go, maybe because no one's ever done anything so randomly nice for him. Pepper cares about him a great deal but bless her, Tony usually feels run-over by her affection and certainly not whatever this is.

"Look, sorry, I thought you were done being a jerk to me, but obviously not," Steve says finally, taking Tony's silence for judgment or worse, callous amusement. Tony remembers high school, remembers little Steve Rogers volunteering for things, doing stuff for people, easy as breathing.

Tony remembers vividly even though he'd claimed not to afterward, one particular night getting horribly drunk and being abandoned by his so-called friends in the middle of nowhere. He's not sure why to this day but when he'd found a payphone with a phone book on a chain, blessedly and surprisingly unvandalised he'd looked up Rogers and Steve had come and found him in his grandmother's old junker that they'd all made fun of when Steve started driving it to school in Senior year. He'd loaded Tony in the backseat without a word, without question.

Steve opens and closes his mouth a few times, obviously at a loss in the face of Tony's continued silence. Tony wonders if Steve's having flashbacks of high school himself and how Tony would trip him instead of saying hello like he wanted to and...

Hang on.

Tony Stark wasn't supposed to pay small, geeky and weird Steve Rogers attention in high school but yes, he'd wanted to, so he'd done it in the worst possible way to compensate.

Steve leaves without saying another word and Tony doesn't stop him even though he should.

He turns to see Steve's blanket still tossed over his bed.

*

"This happened way earlier than I expected."

"What did?" Tony asks. He's found Pepper in the quad, flops down next to her and demands she help him dammit. Pepper seems to be a functional human being and Tony apparently loses that ability when presented with Steve Rogers.

"You going crazy," Pepper says, pointing out that Tony is currently dressed in sweat pants, Steve's blanket and no shoes. He hadn't really thought about putting an ensemble together when rushing out of his room and he hadn't been able to face shoes because that would involve socks and... Tony tightens the blanket around himself sullenly.

"I have money," Tony points out. "I'll be going eccentric thank you."

"Hmm." Pepper's tone is thoughtful as she taps her bottom lip with a green-painted nail. "If you were a girl I would say ice cream and The Notebook are required."

"Are you going to make fun of me or help me?"

"Tony, be reasonable. I'm going to make fun of you while I help you," Pepper says with an amused shake of her head. "I can't really help you if I don't know what you did, though."

"I don't really know what I did," Tony says, morose. He's aware that he's going to have to overcome years of teenage torture with Steve, that Steve will read the worst into any of his actions, at least for a while. That Steve will have to learn to trust him and that promises to be a long and windy road.

Tony's surprised to find that he's willing to wait it out.

"Maybe you should actually ask him out," Pepper says. "Y'know, keep it simple stupid. Make yourself the vulnerable one."

"He won't buy it."

"Tony, with you I think Steve will be willing to at least take that chance. Lord knows why but that boy has always liked you far too much for his own good."

"Why didn't anyone ever tell me that?" Tony grumbles.

 

*

Tony actually gets dressed before he approaches Steve's room again. He'd thought about getting the blanket laundered but he knows the way his luck is going with Steve, it would have combusted or something so he decides not to risk it.

It smells pretty strongly of Steve anyway so he's pretty sure Steve himself hasn't risked it in a while.

Tony raises his hand to knock on Steve's door but doesn't get to. The door gets yanked open and Steve, dressed in running shorts and a tank top with one ear bud in and one hanging loose startles to find Tony right in front of him.

Tony nearly puts his neck out resisting the urge to look at Steve's bared legs because he thinks if he sees what promises to be strong thighs, toned calves and vulnerable knees even the once then he'll be doomed forever more.

"What is it now?" Steve snaps, face closing up.

"Um, here," Tony says, lifting the blanket and shoving it at Steve. He takes it and tosses it on his bed behind him. "Thanks, now-"

"Can I take you to dinner?" Tony blurts, fast so he can't chicken out. "And yes, I'm asking you out on a date so there's no confusion."

Steve just blinks for a moment. There's something fragile and careful in his expression, before it twists and Tony can see the moment Steve decides there's some kind of plot afoot, a hidden pitfall, that he won't believe that the offer is genuine. Tony puts a hand out, cups Steve's shoulder, says, "Anywhere you want, you don't even have to tell me where before. You can even come pick me up so you're not left waiting around like some teenage girl."

Tony tries to show something in his face, his voice to tell Steve that he's actually genuine but he's not quite sure how to convey that.

"Okay," Steve says finally but before Tony can even smile in relief he says, "If you come running with me first."

"I don't run," Tony says flatly. "It's..." When Steve's eyebrows just raise at him, Tony sighs, knowing that he deserves whatever punishment Steve has in store for him, and he knows there is definitely some in store. "Okay, alright," he says quickly. "Just let me get changed."

"Cool," Steve says. "See you out front in five."

*

"Is this what a stroke feels like?" Tony asks the blue, blue sky above him. At least, he tries to but he's pretty sure all he gets out is, "Hngurghagaa." He's flat on his back with rocks poking him in the ass and he can't get up because his muscles staged a rebellion and quit working for him.

Steve's head appears in his line of sight, haloed in sunlight and Tony tries to tell him that he's really just devastatingly pretty. He'll probably be grateful later that all he manages this time is, "Soooooo-urp."

Steve's frowning, a little line pinching between his brows. "The intention wasn't for you to die, despite what you may believe," Steve says.

"Really? I could've sworn that was exactly the intention," Tony says and hey, look at that, working voice. Hooray.

"You look like you'd be fit," Steve says and Tony scowls at him, probably not able to completely sell his derision flat on his back like he is.

"I don't do cardio," Tony says snippily. "Or at least, I'm not a masochist like you seem to be. People die running marathons you know."

"That wasn't a marathon," Steve snorts, but the sting is taken out of his words a little when he offers Tony a hand. "I was just putting you through your paces."

"You were trying to put me six feet under so you didn't have to go to dinner with me," Tony sighs and Steve rolls his eyes.

"I could still get out of that," Steve says and when Tony raises his eyebrows in surprise, Steve says, "The deal was that you come for a run with me, not kind of stagger around for a bit and then fall over."

"Hey-"

"I'm kidding," Steve says and he's smiling in an open way that Tony could get very used to. "So, where are you taking me?"

*

Tony books the classiest, most expensive restaurant he can find in the immediate area, and then when he opens his door to Steve wearing a nice dark blue button-down and black jeans, he changes his mind, hating the idea of sitting across a table from him with good white linen and place settings.

He's glad he changed his mind when Steve looks relieved that Tony steers them towards the Student Union building. The on-campus social club runs old movies for a dollar on Wednesday nights. They get a tub of on-the-border-to-being-stale popcorn on the way in and steal a couple of cushions from a large pile by the door to sit on.

"I thought you might take me somewhere they'd have to lend me a jacket," Steve says, leaning into Tony's space.

"Nah," Tony says, smiling helplessly when their shoulders jostle and hands meet in the popcorn.

*

Tony walks Steve back to his room afterward and Steve tugs him inside, pushes him up against the back of his door and kisses him, tentative and unsure at first but getting bolder as Tony reciprocates.

Tony gets hands on Steve's shoulders, turns them so he can walk Steve backwards to his bed. Steve goes, pliant and dark-eyed, yanks Tony with him when he drops on the bed. There's that wonderful blush of Steve's, high on his cheekbones and disappearing under his shirt collar and Tony wants to follow it with his tongue.

"I haven't done this... much," Steve gets out, sounding a little breathless.

"Are we... we can slow down... if you need?" Tony offers even though the idea that he's mapping uncharted territory here turns him on more than he thought possible and he's going to have a very uncomfortable walk back to his own room if they do stop.

"No, it's just..." Steve continues while Tony edges his lips down Steve's jaw and then licks and bites at his neck. "I mean... just that once."

"You've only been with one guy?" Tony asks, surprised although he supposes he shouldn't be. Steve was always painfully shy and seems to still be clueless about people finding him attractive. Tony's so busy pondering how lucky he is no one swooped in and scooped Steve out from under his nose that it takes him a second to realize that Steve has gone still beneath him. "Hey, what's...?" he says, tilting his head back up so he can see Steve's face.

Steve's wearing a funny expression when he says, "Yeah, the one guy."

"Someone I know?" Tony asks, tries a smile but Steve's expression doesn't lighten, just gets tighter.

"That's not funny," he says slowly.

"I'm not... what's happening here?" Tony asks, mystified.

Something like slow-dawning horror floods Steve's face and he says in a breathy kind of moan, "Oh my god, you don't remember."

"Remember what?" Tony asks before he can think better of it, and he should have thought better of it, he sees that plain as day right after those two little words have left his mouth. Steve's horrified expression cranks right over to pure mortification and Steve scrambles out from underneath Tony, pitching himself across the room.

"I just thought it was... I thought you were... oh my god, all this time you didn't even-"

"Steve, help me out here. Complete sentences, c'mon, you can do it," Tony says, rising off Steve's bed slowly, holding his hands out.

"I'm such an idiot!" Steve cries, pulling hands through his hair. Then he's moving, herding Tony out of his room. Tony goes, taken completely by surprise and he's out in the hallway before he even knows what's happening, staring at Steve's closed door.

"Steve, what the hell?" he yells, pounding on the door. Steve ignores him, puts something on that's loud and thumping and completely not what Tony would expect Steve to listen to.

Tony feels powerless, has no idea what he's done so he gets irrationally and impotently angry, bangs on the door again and screams, "You're a crazy person, I hope you and your right hand have a nice life together!" He's two steps away when he regrets his outburst, but with Steve's music, he's pretty sure Steve didn't hear him anyway.

By the time Tony gets downstairs, not really sure where he's going but needing to be out of Stark House, Peggy is outside. "I've already been punched tonight," Tony grumbles at her. "At least, it feels like it anyway."

Peggy's expression, which was stony when Tony first spotted her melts into something more gentle. "Wow, you have no idea, do you?" she says.

"No, I really don't," Tony snaps.

Peggy holds an arm out, says, "Coffee?"

*

They find a diner just off campus and head inside. The tired-looking waitress eyes them suspiciously until Tony asks for their special pie, telling her it's wonderful. Then she's all smiles despite the hour, shuffling them into a booth by a window and getting them coffee.

"Have you been here before?" Peggy asks.

"No."

"Then how do you know what the special pie is like?" Peggy asks with a confused frown.

"Every diner has a special pie," Tony says, grins at the waitress when she returns with two plates, unasked for ice cream and cream on the side. When she moves away again, smiling absently, Peggy is eying Tony. "What?"

"Wow, you're dangerous," Peggy says. "You do that without even trying to."

"Do what?" Tony asks, feeling like it's too late for whatever this is but Peggy just waves the observation off with a hand and physically centers herself, fingers laced loosely around her coffee cup.

"I've known Steve since we were both eleven, did you know that?" she asks. Tony didn't but he supposes he and Steve hadn't reached the point of trading amusing childhood stories in their relationship. There'd been a movie, making out and then falling out, not much time to squeeze reminiscing in there. "My family moved in next to him and his grandmother."

"I know there's a point here somewhere," Tony says, wincing when Peggy's eyes narrow at his short tone. Tony's getting the feeling that whatever has happened is his fault even though he has no idea what he's done. It's usually a good hypothesis to work from.

"I watched Steve watch you," she says. "He's been in love with you since he first saw you, pretty much."

"Should you be telling me this?" Tony asks, feeling something deep down in his gut turn over slowly. He knew that, of course he knew that. Steve could have avoided Tony in high school, missed out on probably sixty to eighty percent of the bullying just by making himself scarce but he hadn't.

He hadn't.

"It was fine," Peggy continues. "Steve loved you in this distant, hopeful way that... he never seemed to lose this... optimism about you, that one day you'd actually stop being a dick and start paying attention in the right way."

Tony opens his mouth, although he's not sure what he can say to that but Peggy holds up one hand. "Then something happened in Senior year, something that crushed that kind of hopefulness right out of him. Do you know what that was?"

Tony remembers being shitfaced, being alone and certain no one gave a damn about him. Calling Steve Rogers and being amazed when that old junker had pulled up beside him, Steve leaning out with exasperation and affection on his face and saying, C'mon, get in here. You're a mess.

Tony's not sure why, but he's certain that's the turning point. Whatever happened, it really did a number on Steve afterward.

Did Steve make a pass at him and Tony reject it... or worse didn't?

"No, do you?" he asks, hoping with everything he has that Peggy does, has brought him here to enlighten him, tell him how he can fix all of this.

"No, he'd never tell me," Peggy says with a sigh and downcast eyes. "I got the feeling he was hurt though, and badly. That's when he started running, lifting weights, anything."

"I don't know what to tell you," Tony says and usually he would just walk away from this. It's too messy, too much. He's Tony Stark, all surface and no depth. He doesn't usually mire himself in this way, has never really wanted to.

Now, god help him, he wants to.

"Prove to me that I gave up on you too early, that Steve did. Prove to me there's a decent human being under all that deflective charm."

"How do I do that?" Tony asks.

"That's what you're going to have to figure out."

*

It takes Tony the better part of three days to work up the nerve to approach Steve again. He's still not sure what he's done which is bad, and he's not sure how to fix whatever it was without knowing, which is worse. He doesn't want to run into Steve while still formulating a plan so he stays with Clint who is having what he calls a gap year and Tony calls hanging out in his parent's basement playing World of Warcraft.

Clint's not very demanding attention-wise and doesn't ask questions so he's perfect to lay low with.

Tony finally decides that he's never going to come up with a perfect plan because there is no perfect plan. Pepper's always been a straight shooter and he's going to try that approach. Usually he tries to handle things with schemes and plots and he always ends up worse off.

Honesty might be a completely foreign concept but it's the best chance he's got.

Tony returns to Stark House, even gets to Steve's floor before he falters. He's about to turn tail and run, aware of just how unprepared he is for all this when he notices something that stops him cold.

Bruce heading into Steve's room with a loaded box.

Tony nearly bowls over another guy he doesn't know coming out of his room in his haste. When Bruce spots him coming, he smiles and bops his chin, unable to wave a greeting with his hands full. "Hey Tony."

"What the hell are you doing?" Tony blurts because he can see Steve's room beyond Bruce's shoulder. He can see the stripped bed and the posters gone from the walls. There's a pile of boxes in the center of the room and Bruce moves inside so he can set the one in his arms down on top of the pile.

"Finally got a single," Bruce says cheerfully. "No more of Thor's naked Wednesdays." Bruce seems to take Tony's shocked silence to be about his revelation about Thor because he huffs a laugh and says, "I know, right? He keeps trying to tell me that it's his culture or some shit, that I'm disrespecting his heritage by wearing pants. I think he's just an exhibitionist."

"Where's Steve?" Tony manages to get out in a strangled whisper. Bruce looks around for a second, like he's expecting to spot him and then shrugs.

"You mean the guy that was in this room?" When Tony nods mutely, Bruce shrugs again. "Don't know. Dropped out or something. I wasn't going to let a single sit around to be snapped up by someone else though."

Tony stumbles out of what used to be Steve's room in a daze. This can't be about him can it? He can't believe that he's so important, that he screwed up that much that Steve felt compelled to leave school. He knows what Pepper would say about that kind of thinking, that he better not step out into a stiff breeze because the tickets he had on himself would blow off.

Tony inwardly curses himself for not getting any contact details from Steve. He's left without so much as a cell phone number to ring obsessively and find out just what the hell is going on.

*

"It's not about you."

Tony fights the flash of disappointment at Peggy's pronouncement because he shouldn't be put out that Steve didn't leave school for him. Maybe he'd been building this whole thing up in his mind, inflating his importance in Steve Rogers' life. It's ridiculous that he could think that Steve would do something so drastic just because they had a falling out, right?

Right.

"You should be relieved right now," Peggy says and Pepper, who's lying with her head in Peggy's lap, and they are going to revisit that one later, is also eying him curiously. "Mostly because I don't have to hurt you, a lot. So, why don't you look relieved?"

"I am," Tony says quickly, because he is. Steve isn't out there somewhere cursing his name, or he is but he doesn't feel the need to leave Tony's vicinity because of it, or he's not thinking about Tony at all.

Pepper sits up, shades her eyes with one hand. "Tony, didn't you talk to Steve before he left?"

"I wasn't around," Tony huffs, feeling defensive. He'd run away like a coward, avoided Steve. If he hadn't he might not be feeling this lousy and he definitely wouldn't have been surprised by Steve's empty room which was a kick in the gut he never wants to revisit.

Peggy scowls at him and he feels like any bridges he'd mended with her have been washed away by a strong but inevitable tide. She doesn't trust him, he finally settles on with a pang, at least not as far as Steve is concerned. "I can't say I'm not enjoying this," Peggy says and Tony sees Pepper stiffen beside her, Pepper's loyalty and seemingly unfailing capacity to defend and forgive him as automatic as breathing.

"After everything you've done," Peggy continues, apparently on a roll, probably having saved this stuff up for years. "After how long Steve waited for you to pull your head out of your ass, maybe it's time for you to do a little waiting of your own."

"Peg, please tell him where Steve is," Pepper says in a tone of voice Tony rarely hears.

"Why should I?" Peggy asks, and Tony gets the impression that she's genuinely wanting an answer. "After what happened in high school, what happened in senior year-"

"You don't know what happened in senior year!" Tony finally explodes. "Neither do I and that sucks because I would make all kinds of amends if I could but I can't. Steve's holding me hostage to something I don't remember." Tony breathes hard while Pepper and Peggy just blink at him, stunned by his outburst.

"Okay, alright," Peggy huffs, digs into her bag and pulls out a scrap of paper and a pen. "He's at his grandmother's place. She's not doing so well and he wanted to spend some time with her. He's only dropped the semester, he's going to be back next year."

Tony takes the offered scrap numbly, sees an address scrawled on it. Pepper is smiling, rubs Peggy on the shoulder and says, "You won't regret this."

"There'll be dire consequences if I do," she promises and Tony believes her. "In fact, there better be a nauseatingly sweet wedding and hundreds of babies in your future."

"I think the babies thing would be anatomically impossible," Tony points out and then grimaces. "The hundreds probably for anyone."

"There’ll be disgustingly cute adopted babies that Pepper and I can load up with sugar and toys that make noise before handing back to you."

*

Steve's grandmother's house is pretty much exactly what Tony pictured, as far as you could get from where he was raised. It's a single story, weathered in a way old houses always are but obviously cared for. Steve's absence is written in the chipped paint in the shingles, the front lawn gone a little wild.

It's there Tony finds Steve, grimly pushing an ancient-looking lawnmower at grass grown strong and determined. All the moisture in Tony's mouth evaporates when he realizes Steve isn't wearing a shirt, has it tucked loosely into the back pocket of his cargo pants. Steve's swearing like a sailor, words Tony could have sworn he doesn't know. Steve's so engaged that he doesn't notice Tony at first, nearly runs over his own feet with the mower when he does.

"Christ, warn a guy!" Steve huffs, leaning down to switch the mower off. Tony doesn't stare at the way Steve's back bunches and releases with the movement, but only by pure force of will. Steve yanks the shirt out of his pocket, runs it over his face and then hangs it over a shoulder. "Wasn't expecting to see you."

"I aim to be unpredictable," Tony says with a grin and he sees Steve almost return it, before he catches himself and forces his expression back blank.

"What are you doing here?" he finally asks, tentative but not angry.

"When a guy throws me out of his room when I think we're having a perfectly nice time, I tend to want to know why."

"Happen to you a lot?" Steve asks and now he is grinning, just the tiniest bit, like he's helpless against it.

"Stevie!" A small, raisin of a woman calls from the porch."Are you finished dear?"

Steve looks around at the half-done lawn and grins. "Not quite Nana," he says.

"Who’s your friend?"

Steve hesitates and Tony can see the denial lurking under the surface, the urge to say that Tony is not a friend of his but Steve seems to catch it, replies, "This is Tony. He was just leaving." Tony tries not to let his disappointment show when Steve pulls his shirt back over his head.

"Nonsense," the woman, Steve’s Nana says with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Bring him inside. I made roast beef sandwiches."

"Nana, I don’t think-"

"Roast beef is my favorite," Tony gushes, slipping the sunglasses he’d been wearing to the top of his head and grinning. Charming adorable little old ladies is something Tony can do quite easily, and he suspects if he’s in with Nana, he’ll have an easier time of it at least getting Steve to listen to him.

"Eloise," Steve’s grandmother insists when Tony takes her arm to lead her back into the house, Steve trailing them and grumbling all the while. "You boys sit at the table, no Steve on the same side as Tony there so I can look at the both of you, such a handsome pair," Eloise prattles, busying herself around the kitchen. Tony can’t really see the not doing well part of the woman as she fusses with plates and a pitcher of honest-to-god homemade lemonade.

"What are you doing here?" Steve asks again, but he’s asking around a generous mouthful of roast beef with thick-sliced tomato and Tony suspects, homemade bread too. He sounds curious this time instead of impatient. There’s still an edge of wariness in the way he’s only looking at Tony sideways, but it’s more like he doesn’t believe Tony is sitting in his kitchen than that Tony is there to do him harm.

"I wanted to try and offer a blanket apology," Tony says as Eloise, probably more canny than a woman a third of her age, makes herself scarce. Tony gazes around the kitchen while Steve mulls this over, at the cookie jar shaped like an apple and the small, smiling cartoon kittens on the curtains. Tony thinks about little Steve Rogers sitting at this very table, swinging legs with scabby knees and asking his grandmother why the other boys in school are mean to him, just because he’s smaller than them.

"If you don’t know what you’re apologizing for-" Steve starts and Tony huffs a sigh.

"I don’t know what I’m apologizing for," Tony interrupts to agree. "That’s the whole problem. If i knew what happened that night then maybe-"

Steve takes a turn to interrupt, says, "No, you don’t have to apologize for what happened that night."

Tony stares at the side of Steve’s face, at the way he’s resolutely not looking back at Tony but a blush is spreading up his neck and across his cheek bones.

"That’s... you don’t have to for that."

"Now I really need to know," Tony says, narrowing his eyes at Steve, who’s still not looking at him. Steve takes up his glass of lemonade, finishes the lot off in a series of long swallows and Tony watches the bobbing of his throat in hot fascination, feeling his dick swell in his jeans and feeling really inappropriate about that considering they’re in Steve’s grandmother’s kitchen.

"Can we... do you want to go for a drive?" Tony asks quickly and is relieved more than he can say when Steve wipes off his mouth with the back of his hand and nods.

As soon as they’re outside, Steve heads for Tony’s car, but Tony has other ideas. He catches Steve’s shirt, reels him back and turns him around. "That... does it drive still?" Tony asks, pointing at the ancient relic in Eloise’s driveway. Tony’s certain whatever happened in Senior year happened in that car and nostalgia might just make Steve talk.

"Um, sure?" Steve says, offering a half shrug and heading for his old car instead. Tony follows silently, slides into the passenger seat and grins at the bench seat, at the radio with a dial. Steve leans down with one forearm braced on the roof of the car for a moment to just look at Tony before he gets in himself. "Where to?"

"Just... somewhere else. You know this area better than me."

*

Steve drives to a street where there are a row of houses with boarded up windows and grass more overgrown than Eloise’s yard. He bumps his way into a vacant lot squeezed between a place with a definite lean to the right and another that’s just a skeleton of a house. "Nana always said we lived on the posh side of Woodlawn," he comments.

He stops the car and then turns to Tony, hitching one leg up on the bench seat between them and cupping his knee with a hand. "Look, you don’t have to apologize for stuff from high school. It’s my own stupid hang ups."

"No it’s..." Tony takes a deep breath, thinks fuck it. "I’m sorry I didn’t do this when I should have, a long time ago." Tony reaches across the bench seat, fast because he’s expecting Steve to pull away but he doesn’t. Steve lets Tony get hands on him, pull him across and down, mouths mashed together fast and messy.

It’s inelegant, awkward as all hell. The car might be a monster but it’s still a car with a steering wheel and gear shift that snag clothes and bump elbows. Tony makes a frustrated noise until Steve reaches back and down and suddenly the back of the bench seat falls away from underneath him and they’re lying flat.

"Jesus, what kind of car is this?" Tony asks, laughing and Steve’s grinning too, mouth red and used and lovely.

"I have no idea," Steve admits. "Possibly something my grandfather cobbled together from all different cars."

"So a Frankenstein," Tony observes. "I like it."

"You didn’t once, made fun of it," Steve says and then groans, rolls his eyes. "Sorry, I don’t know why... it’s like it’s automatic."

"It’s okay," Tony assures. "I called it the Losermobile because I was an idiot."

"I’m not going to make you apologize for the rest of our lives," Steve says, shaking his head, then stills, possibly runs back and replays in his head what he’s just said. "I mean, ah-"

"Good, because I plan to make so much amends that you’ll forget you were ever mad at me, that I ever mistreated you," Tony says quickly, captures Steve’s mouth in another bruising kiss. "Hey, this will be a great story for the kids."

"Kids?" Steve pulls back long enough to get out.

"Hundreds of... never mind," Tony shakes his head, probably thinks mentioning Peggy will break the mood and Steve had been heading south before Tony said anything. He needs that mouth on him and quickly. When Steve just gives him a confused look, Tony shoves a hand in his hair and ruffles it. "Jesus, I’ll explain later okay?" he says because Steve has halted around the level of Tony’s sternum and that just won’t do.

Steve finally seems to decide that Tony’s just being loopy and continues downwards. He gets Tony’s button fly undone and reaches inside Tony’s jeans. "Commando, really?" he asks. "You’re so classy."

"Laundry service was late," Tony says but he doesn’t miss the way Steve’s breath goes unsteady despite his words. He also doesn’t miss the way Steve just gets down to it, grips Tony at his base with one hand and drops his mouth over the tip of Tony’s cock.

Steve comes off with a spit-lick grin, is still gazing at Tony’s cock when he says, "Oh hi, I remember you."

Tony just stares at the top of Steve's head, then groans long and loud. "Okay, you really have to tell me what went on when I was too drunk to remember dammit."

"I remember you passing out and snoring," Steve says with a wicked grin, rubs his slightly stubbly chin on the side of Tony’s shaft and Tony nearly loses it right there, edge of pain and a little too much stimulation almost tossing him over the precipice.

"Lies!" Tony cries, aghast.

"That was afterward," Steve allows and gets his mouth back on Tony, hot wet suction that rips the orgasm right out of Tony without any warning. Tony flops backwards, boneless and almost insensate. "Déjà vu," Steve says, appearing in Tony’s line of sight.

"I’m not asleep," Tony snaps, gets a hold of Steve’s shoulder and uses his surprise to toss Steve over himself and onto his back. Steve hisses as he hits the handle on the car door, despite the impressive bench-seat-bed dealie it’s still a car but Tony uses the distraction to slither over Steve’s prone form, edge his hips with his thighs and roll, Steve’s very obvious erection trapped in the groove of Tony’s exposed hip.

"Ah... gah!" Steve gets out eloquently, doesn’t manage much else as Tony brings him off with another few rolls of his whole body. His own over-sensitized cock makes a valiant twitch to get back into the proceedings but then Steve’s coming, not even out of his own pants. Tony will mock him mercilessly later for it but not until he’s got Steve somewhere he can’t easily escape and also after he’s taken Steve apart a few more times for good measure.

Tony tips off to the side, ends up uncomfortably wedged between the top edge of the front seat and the front edge of the back, but he wouldn’t move for the world because Steve is panting damply against his shoulder, has a proprietary hand clamping down on his bare hip in spasms that probably match his racing heart beat.

"If you’re trying to blot my horrible high school memories out of my brain with orgasms then... well done, keep going," Steve says.

"Don’t worry, that’s part of the plan," Tony says. "There’ll also be ridiculous gifts and swish dinners and me calling you honey banana in front of our friends."

"Um, yay?" Steve says uncertainly and Tony laughs.

*

Steve uncertainly leaves Tony in Eloise’s company when he heads for the shower. She’s sitting with knitting in her lap, something unfurling from her needles that could be a scarf. "We all thought he was going to take after my poor Joseph," Eloise says, shaking her head. "He was a tiny man. He was lucky Sarah saw past that."

"He’s definitely grown into himself," Tony says, nodding.

Eloise eyes him for a moment, then smiles. "I do know who you are, you know," she says and Tony blinks at her, a little startled. "Tony Stark. Stevie carried such a torch for so long. He would come home with dirt rubbed into his hair and scrapes all over his legs and he wouldn’t be crying about the pain."

Or he would, Tony thinks. Just the pain of caring so much for someone that apparently cared so little. Tony swallows, wonders at Eloise’s kindness when she must have witnessed the aftermath of many pranks. "I still don’t understand how you turned him green," she says with a shake of her head and Tony grimaces. That one actually was an accident. "That took a lot of home remedies and so much scrubbing Steve actually got smaller."

"I’m sor-" Tony starts to apologize, thinks despite his and Steve’s assurances that he will be doing that a lot but Eloise holds a hand up.

"No one ever made that boy so miserable," she says. "But also no one ever made that boy so happy."

*

"Next year, really?" Tony says again, he’s not whining dammit.

"Time will fly by, I swear," Steve says, squeezing Tony’s knee.

"I’m going to get drunk and forget your room isn’t yours anymore and end up dry-humping Bruce," Tony complains, and when Steve laughs adds, "If you haven’t noticed, guy has a bit of a temper. He’s not going to be as nice about throwing me out as you were."

Steve winces and Tony supposes they both have stuff to make up for. It’s a good thing they have plenty of time.

"Eloise told me to call her Nana," Tony adds with a little smirk.

"My god, Peggy was right. You’re dangerous," Steve says and tackles Tony backwards, Peggy’s shrill cries of get a room, my god in their ears.