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Steve never backed down from a fight. And he wasn’t going to back down from this bet either. Even if it was an all-expenses-paid, luxury, all-the-frills, no-questions-asked vacation to Las Vegas. Tony suggested the bet in the middle of that fight with AIM robots. Whoever took out the most robots won the bet and bragging rights, the loser would face Steve-style boot camp or Tony’s Las Vegas weekend. A motivated Tony was a beautiful sight in a fight. Steve couldn’t compete. And Steve, being a man of his word, had to put up with it.

Clint was naturally skeptical. “Steve? Las Vegas? Right. Stark, you know that’s a complete waste of a perfectly good vacation. What would Steve do in Vegas?”

All Tony said smugly was, “You’ll see.”

Steve and vacations usually didn’t go together in the same sentence. In fact, Steve was famous for never taking time off for anything. So he had his doubts. But Tony’s infectious enthusiasm made the trip seem like it might be a great idea after all.

Right now, however, Tony was more peeved than enthused. The VIP desk clerk at the Cosmopolitan had somehow lost their reservation, and negotiations were getting testy. Professional to the core, the woman kept tapping away and replied blandly, “Yes, Mr. Stark, our booking site was designed by overworked flying monkeys who don’t know a thing about computers. May I offer you a room with a king-size bed with an excellent view of the Strip?”

At that point, two senior managers appeared to offer help. Steve judged that they didn’t want to lose Tony’s business.

“How can we help you, Mr. Stark?” one of them asked obsequiously.

Tony leant forward and said, “Say I came here with my brand-new husband, and we showed up for our honeymoon and discovered that you lost our reservation. Is this all you would offer us?”

The hotel staff blanched, and the clerk snuck a brief glance at Steve, who remained tactfully engrossed in a study of the mirrored, LED-lighted pillars.

A few whispers and rapid keyboard taps later .... “We have a room for you, Mr. Stark and Mr. Rogers. It’s one of our West End Penthouses. Our best suite,” the manager offered.

“Well,” Tony replied. “Why didn’t you say so before?” He gave everyone, including Steve, a dazzlingly smile with a charming toss of his head.

“We apologize for the delay, Mr. Stark,” the clerk said as she passed over the key cards and a sheaf of paper, and arranged for their luggage (Tony’s pile of matching Louis Vuitton suitcases and Steve’s single sensible black roll-on) to be brought to their suite.

“Can’t disappoint my best guy,” Tony replied cheerfully, slapping Steve on the back and squeezing his shoulder.

~~~~~

From the minute they had landed in Vegas, Tony was in his element. He had an extra bounce in his step and sparkle in his eye. Steve honestly did not think that Tony could get any cockier. Whatever Tony wanted, he got. Doors just opened for him, and he tipped generously and with a smile.

Dinner was no exception. He had made reservations at a very pricey steakhouse that apparently been forewarned about Steve’s prodigious appetite. Some of the best food Steve had ever eaten kept coming without Steve asking. Then they had front row seats at the Cirque de Soleil show at the Bellagio.

Tony elbowed him and hissed. “Steve, relax. This is a show, not a job interview.”

Steve guilty slumped back into his seat. Some of the acrobats might have had SHIELD agent possibilities. “Right, vacation.”

People snapped their pictures before, during and after the show. As they left the theatre, Tony threw his arm around Steve’s shoulders. He laughed. “Come on, they probably just think we’re celebrities, not superheroes out for the evening.”

Steve was not so sanguine. A couple of the photographers did not seem like fellow tourists to his eye.

When they returned to the Cosmopolitan, Tony dragged Steve to the high roller blackjack tables where he watched Tony blow through what seemed, by Steve’s standards, a small fortune. Tony continually took his breath away. He oozed charm wherever they went, drink in hand, a wink for the waitresses, looking sharp in his latest designer suit, with his silk shirt open at the collar.

Sometimes Steve thought a bit too long about the little patch of olive skin and the hint of collarbone under Tony’s shirts. He could reach out and just brush that warm skin with his thumb, imagining the hitch in Tony’s breath. Well, Steve could imagine all he wanted because that wasn’t happening in Steve’s lifetime.

Even if maybe Steve thought he saw a brief something in Tony’s eyes when Tony asked Steve to blow on his dice at the craps table. But Tony joked the rest of the evening with the other gamblers and hangers-on about Steve being his trophy husband and they had just eloped to Vegas. Like you’re supposed to do, Steve guessed. He couldn’t ever really tell with Tony.

Yawning and hooking his suit coat over his shoulder, Tony leaned heavily against Steve as he took out the key card to their fancy suite, three times the size of Steve’s childhood home. A shiver went down his spine at Tony’s breath on his neck.

“What’s holding you up, Steve?” Tony complained.

Steve fumbled with the key, but finally managed to open the door. Tony walked in like he owned the place. He stretched and yawned. Scratching his head, he said, “I should call it a night.”

Tossing the key card on a table near the door, Steve agreed. “Yeah, me too. I’m off in the morning for a hike.”

“Vacation, Steve, vacation. The point was to take a break from Avengers business, and no one needs a break more than you,” Tony stated.

“I like hiking,” Steve replied.

“Bet you’d like the spa better,” Tony shot back, with a grin on his face. “Nothing like a great massage.”

“Maybe. After a good long hike.”

Steve noticed a large, elaborate gift basket with a couple bottles of champagne on the bar. The gift had come with a note of congratulations for the newlyweds with the compliments of the Cosmopolitan. “Hey, Tony, look. Hotel sent this with their compliments. And ‘congratulations on your wedding’.”

“Probably got the wrong suite,” Tony said. He was looking out the floor to ceiling windows over the neon-lit Strip.

“I should call this in. I hate to think that someone else didn’t get their basket.”

Tony walked over to inspect the basket and picked up a bottle. “That’s good champagne. Hmm.” He yawned.

“You should go to bed,” Steve said fondly.

“Yeah, got a big day ahead of us.”

Steve called the front desk to report the basket. He hung up and said, “The basket wasn’t delivered here by accident. It’s for us. They think we’re married.”

Tony cocked his head to the side, looking thoughtful. He waved his hand dismissively. “I bet someone made a mistake in the concierge system. They’ll fix it soon enough.”

“I hope so. I wouldn’t want to give people the wrong impression,” Steve said doubtfully.

“Give me a call about breakfast before you get back. I might be lounging about the suite, you know, in my pajamas or something.” Tony patted Steve’s shoulder as he wearily went off to bed.

Steve put the note down. His mind immediately filled with images of Tony in his birthday suit lying on a couch in the sun just waiting for Steve to get back from his hike. Because Steve knew darn well that Tony didn’t wear much to bed if he didn’t have to. Tony was probably in his bedroom right now stripping off that purple shirt, letting the silk slide right down his taut, muscled arm ….

Wash up, change into sleep pants, bed, and the hike, Rogers. That’s the plan. Stick to the plan. You never go wrong with a plan. He shook his head.

~~~~~

Returning from his early morning hike through Red Rock Canyon, Steve entered the lobby, happy, sweaty, and covered in dust. He planned on a shower and, if he was lucky, breakfast with Tony. And was immediately jumped by a small group of entertainment reporters who thrust microphones in his face and asked loudly, was it true that he and Tony Stark had eloped and were on honeymooning in Las Vegas?

Steve was prepared at all times for all types of disasters. He was not, however, prepared for deeply personal questions from a perky, preppily dressed reporter with paparazzi in the background snapping pictures as she talked at him. Retreat was his only option, so he fled for the safety of his suite.

He found Tony lying on a couch in a hotel robe reading his tablet. He noticed the soft glow of the arc reactor through the robe. Which meant that Tony was naked, gloriously naked, on the couch under that thin cloth.

Tony jumped to his feet. “Hey, Steve, we have a spa appointment in an hour and a half. Grab some breakfast and a shower.”

“Tony, I was just ambushed by reporters in the lobby asking if we eloped.”

“Huh.” Tony didn’t seem all that concerned. “I’ll get the hotel to fix it. And I’ll call the PR people to issue a statement. It’ll all be over by the afternoon.”

“Your PR people can do that?” Steve said doubtfully.

“Have you met me? They’re miracle workers, Steve. I don’t pay them nearly enough.” Tony steered Steve over to the bar. “See, all the sesame seed bagels you could want.”

~~~~~

Steve had no idea what Tony had ginned up when they arrived at their spa appointment. Catching sight of the terror flash on Steve’s face, Tony reminded him, “Bet, Steve.”

“Um, right.” Steve never ever imagined he would ever go to a spa willingly under any circumstances. He should never have bet Tony. Turned out that Tony was motivated to win, driven by a desire to see Steve completely out of his element. “I think you’ve proven whatever point you wanted to make.”

“Bet, Steve. You made your bed and now you have to lie in it.”

“I’ve lasted longer that you did over that bet over how long you could go without your electronics.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “I don’t think --”

“Ninety-six minutes before you gave up.”

“Don’t remind me of the worst ninety-six minutes of my life,” Tony said. “But I survived and kicked ass in the Savage Land. I think you can survive four hours in Spa Land.”

Steve had no idea what they were going to do. Except that Tony had already lined up a series of treatments and a lunch in the spa suite. The spa consultant who was the master of ceremonies handed them both new, fluffy bathrobes and flimsy sandals. She directed them to a changing room and suggested that Steve start with the whirlpool bath while Tony had a facial.

He eyed the whirlpool like he did attacking HYDRA agents. It was good thing that Tony was cute, or else he’d be on his way back to New York. Shrugging out of his jeans and shirt, Steve folded them with care and put them with his shoes where the consultant told him to. Then he slipped under the hot water of the bath.

When the jets turned on, it was honestly one of the best experiences he ever had. Tension melted from his body. The consultant returned and offered him a mineral water. She also gave him the remote to the television on the opposite wall. Cold drink in hand, hot water on the skin, and a football game on the television, Steve could not imagine how it could get better.

Except for Tony joining him in his bath. Imagining Tony’s bare, muscled back as he settled into the churning water, turning to give Steve a teasing smile ….

Steve abruptly sat up. He was already uncertain about this whole experience. He didn’t need to add to his embarrassment by sprouting a hard-on. Not in front of Tony.

Tony had carefully orchestrated their spa day, Steve realized. He hadn’t arranged for anything that Steve wouldn’t have liked. He loved the whirlpool and sitting on the couch in his robe watching television with fruit and vegetable snacks. The consultant was attentive, but not pushy. A barber came to trim Steve’s hair perfectly and give him an old-fashioned shave. Tony joined him on the couch in between treatments.

The final service was a double massage. Tony stripped off the robe and Steve tried to stop staring as he maneuvered his completely nude body under the covers on the massage bed. “I can close my eyes if you don’t want to offend me with your nakedness,” Tony generously offered.

Steve snorted. Snapped back to his senses, he undid his robe and got on the table. He thought he felt Tony’s eyes on him. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been naked in front of Tony; it was an occupational hazard after all. But this was different. It felt intimate unlike the locker room or hospital.

The room was warm, the massage therapists were lovely, professionally dressed women and Steve almost drifted off under the persistent touch of his therapist. Until his relaxed thoughts drifted to thinking of Tony, wondering if he was enjoying his massage ….

He turned his head and saw Tony smiling at him with, a little, Cheshire-cat-like smile.

He had a fleeting thought wondering what Tony did think of him. Did he ever think about Steve that way? The way that Steve did?

After the massages, Steve was escorted to the couch again, joined by Tony this time. “By the way, I’m having some clothes delivered here for you to try on.”

“What?”

“I saw what you packed, and to be honest, you could do better.” Tony sipped his water. “Do you just order the entire Lands’ End catalog and wear whatever fits?”

Steve shopped for clothes because he had to wear clothes, and he didn’t think he did too badly on his own. “My clothes are fine.”

Tony patted his leg. “Have I ever steered you wrong? Wait, don’t answer that. Trust me on this.”

A woman and her assistant showed up with several bags. Steve had the terrible feeling that he wasn’t leaving until he tried on everything in those bags.

“I should feel bad, robbing people of an excellent picture of us newlyweds shopping for clothes together,” Tony said. Steve groaned.

~~~~~

With a smile, Steve nursed a micro-brew while he listened to Tony’s rendition of the latest Stark Industries board meeting. The bar was comfortable and quiet and the appetizers were spectacular. He enjoyed spending time with Tony. These moments when they could just talk and joke came rarely, just Tony and Steve at a bar.

A waiter swung by to drop off another drink for Tony. “Thank you,” Tony acknowledged.

“You’re welcome, Mr. Stark-Rogers,” the waiter replied.

Alarmed, Steve said, “Tony, I thought this was fixed.”

“Relax, Steve. It’s all under control. The PR people sent out a press release saying that we’re not married. It takes time for the news to get around.” Tony checked his phone. “Oh, Stark-Rogers eloping is trending on Twitter. Must be a slow news day.”

Steve had tremendous faith in Tony. But his unease about the situation kept growing. “I hope so.”

“Some celebrity is bound to do something ridiculous any minute. This little mix-up will be forgotten in no time.” Tony drank his bourbon. “Vacation, Steve.”

“Right. Vacation.”

Tony chuckled. “Got to admit it’s a funny mistake -- thinking you and I are married.”

Steve looked mournfully at the empty nacho basket. “I prefer Rogers-Stark if it came to that,” he said.

“Really?” Tony said. “Stark-Rogers has a nice ring. Considering you’d be my trophy husband.”

“Trophy husband?” Steve snorted. “What about me robbing the cradle?”

“Let’s work on our married name preferences over dinner.” Tony stood up, tripping over a low table in the process. Steve immediately reached to steady Tony before he fell.

“Thanks, Steve,” Tony said with a flash of his best smile.

“Sure, any time,” Steve replied. He paused a second before letting Tony go, suddenly mesmerized by Tony’s lively brown eyes. Then he realized how awkward the moment was and he coughed to hide his embarrassment.

~~~~~

After an exclusive, VIP tour of the Neon Museum, Tony took Steve to a high-end Italian restaurant. Over fresh, hot bread and dipping oil, Tony told Steve about his family vacations in Italy. Unlike Tony’s warm summer memories of playing outside in the sun, Steve’s were full of mud, cold, blood and Nazis.

“We should go there sometime,” Tony suggested. “You’d love Florence.” He leaned against the back of the booth, his arm along the top of the seat.

“I didn’t ever get to Florence,” Steve said.

“We should take a great car, maybe a convertible,” Tony continued.

“I’d like that.” He glanced up at Tony in his dark suit and white shirt. The white brought out the olive tones of his skin, the rich brown of his eyes, and the crimson of his lips. Steve had sketched Tony in this exact pose many, many times. His fingers itched this time to peel off Tony’s suit coat, to slide into his hair, to lift his chin …..

“There are a lot of terrific drives through Italy. We could have a lot of fun.”

“I didn’t get to see Italy at its best,” Steve reflected.

“That would be more your type of vacation, wouldn’t it? Seeing museums? You really liked the Neon Museum.”

“I loved the design of the signs.” Steve had been studying a old casino sign while Tony stood close, his hand brushing Steve’s. And Tony didn’t pull away. “I wish I had more time to visit them.”

Tony said, “Before the arc reactor, I used to come here a lot. Spend a lot of money, party until dawn, wake up with strangers.”

“Do you want that?” Steve asked. He thought he knew Tony well. Maybe this was what Tony wanted to do. Maybe he should offer to go back to the suite and cut Tony loose?

Tossing his napkin on the table, Tony got up. “I’ll be back.”

While Tony was away, Steve got a chance to check his phone. Besides the innumerable text messages from friends asking if he really did elope with Tony and congratulations on getting married, he saw a text from Sam about a picture Tony took. He had posed in front of the gift basket with the congratulations on your wedding note, snapped a selfie, and sent it to Sam with the caption, “We went to Vegas and guess what!”

Steve texted a single word back to Sam’s question: “No.”

“Great. I see that they served dinner so we won’t miss the show,” Tony said cheerfully when he returned.

Steve held up his phone with the offending selfie. “Tony, is this why all our friends think we got married?”

“Oh, I was just having some fun with it, nothing serious. They all probably think it’s a joke anyway.”

“The bridge crew of the Helicarrier collected money to make a donation to a charity in our honor and they want to know where to send the donation.”

“I’ll throw them a party and it’ll be okay.”

“Tony, this is getting out of hand. My phone full of congratulations and questions about where and when. Sam’s mother even sent a text saying ‘it’s about time’,” Steve said.

“Steve, this is all going to blow right over. Especially after the coverage of all the New Year’s Eve parties. Cross my arc reactor, hope it shorts out,” Tony promised. “Don’t worry your pretty, little head about it.”

Steve did worry. He couldn’t quite enjoy his excellent veal as he thought about the messages. But Tony smiled at him, nudged his foot and told him stories about traveling through China and Japan. Eventually Steve forgot the gossip and enjoyed Tony’s company, thinking this was as close to a date he was ever going to get.

Under the warmth of Tony’s eyes, he nearly forgotten about all the annoyance. At least until the dessert arrived -- a whole New York-style cheesecake with ‘Congratulations, Tony and Steve’ piped across the top in red, gold, blue, and white. Sweet, well-meaning but hideous looking.

“If we get married, I know now what not to use for wedding colors,” Tony quipped to a chagrined Steve.

After dinner, they headed to yet another Cirque de Soleil show. Steve was convinced that every casino had their own version. Tony didn’t disagree. But Steve was liking less and less of Vegas the more he saw; the idea of spending the night back at the suite catching up on reading SHIELD files grew more appealing. Especially if Tony came back with him.

“You know, Steve, if I went to the show without you, the new rumor will be that we broke up already. Are you saying you’d let people think I dumped my husband of a couple days?” Tony wheedled.

Steve should be angry, should be in hiding in his room, hoping this whole thing would blow over. But it was so hard to say no to Tony when he smiled in that way. “Sure, let’s go.”

~~~~~

In retrospect, Steve should have gone with his gut instinct and returned to the suite. Because what happened next did not help the marriage rumor go away, only fanned the flames into a hyped-up, social media inferno.

Tony wasn’t ready to turn in quite yet. They were walking through the video slot machines and Tony was trying to convince Steve to go out to a nightclub. But Steve noticed the crowd staring at them and taking pictures.

“Don’t let it bother you,” Tony said. “New Yorkers are better at ignoring celebrities than they are here. They probably think you’re the latest hot male model.”

“I don’t know, Tony, this just feels wrong.”

“No one will care at the nightclub.”

What Tony wanted, Tony had a way of getting, Steve thought grumpily as he sat at the VIP table covered with drinks, surrounded by people he had sort of met. Tony was on the dance floor whooping it up with the other clubgoers, while the loud, repetitive bass beat dinned against Steve’s skull.

Tony looked glorious as he shimmied and swayed across the floor. He came over and dragged Steve to dance with him. Steve was mesmerized by the glow in Tony’s face and the occasional flash of skin above the waistband of his pants. And at the table, Tony ran his hand up Steve’s arm, pressed in close, his arm resting on Steve’s thigh. Tony told everyone they met that they were on their honeymoon and quipped about how lucky he was before Steve could correct him.

And, even worse, Tony was now well on his way to being roaring drunk.

“Come on, Tony, let’s call it a night.”

“Not ready yet,” Tony said, slurring his words.

Steve still managed to extricate him out of the booth. Tony clung to him like a remora, hands everywhere. Not exactly what Steve had ever fantasized about Tony. Steve maneuvered Tony to the club entrance near the crowded blackjack tables, where a long line of people waited, hoping to get into the club. And where a group of paparazzi were lying in wait.

Tony looked over at Steve, then leaned in and planted a big wet one on his lips. He shouted, “We got married! I’m the luckiest guy in the world!”

Steve all but face-palmed. Now no one would believe him. The simple statement by the Stark Industries PR team’s that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were not married was buried so far under the deluge of celebrity gossip news, it might just as well have not been published.

Within the hour, pictures of Tony kissing a stunned Steve were all over the internet. There were pictures of Tony and Steve on the town! Eating at a restaurant! Out at a show! Steve blowing on Tony’s dice! Everyone agreed, it had to be real love.

~~~~~

Even though they had stayed out late the night before and Tony was feeling a little under the weather, Tony insisted on eating breakfast out, to Steve’s surprise. Steve had never gone to a restaurant where he needed reservations for breakfast, but it had been that type of vacation. His omelet was worth it, and he enjoyed the basket of croissants.

“This place could use a coffee menu,” Tony observed. He was recovering nicely from the night before, and his eyes looked less puffy and shadowed.

Steve looked up from his fruit. “Coffee menu?” He had been actively avoiding discussing why Tony kissed him. But he felt a slow-burning anger about Tony’s encouragement of the marriage rumor.

“I had hoped for something other than black in a coffee pot.” Tony put down his menu. “So what are your plans for the rest of the day?”

“I need to find a place to work out. The fitness center is not exactly what I hoped for,” Steve said.

Tony chuckled, the sound grating against Steve’s raw nerves. “No hotel ever stocks their fitness room with equipment designed with Captain America in mind. Take the day off.”

Steve had been antsy all morning because he hadn’t worked out since New York, and the six-mile hike he done the day before had only taken the edge off. “No, I have to.” He needed to work out like other people needed air. He caught the deep frown on Tony’s face.

“I know, vacation,” Steve muttered.

“I’m starting to think you’re not taking our fake marriage and honeymoon at all seriously.” Tony picked through the croissant basket.

Steve bit his tongue, not sure what to say next. He looked around the packed dining room, thinking a paparazzo was lying in wait. His sense of wariness, finely tuned to HYDRA and AIM and a dozen other super villains, couldn’t seem to suss out photographers wanting to snap a photo of the happy couple at breakfast.

Unconcerned, Tony finally decided on a pastry and put it on his plate. He continued, “I bring you to Vegas to show you a good time, an amazing time, and you spend it wondering when you can get on a treadmill.”

“I’m not saying that -- I’m saying that I need a workout. I’m having a good time.”

“And yet, I have to drag you around to the fun stuff. You have no idea what to do in Vegas, do you?” Tony asked.

Tony had a way of getting under Steve’s skin and irritating him like no other person in the world. Steve could tell that Tony was peeved over something he had said, but for his life he couldn’t tell what.

“I didn’t think we were joined at the hip, Tony.”

“We’re not. And we don’t have to put on a show for the reporters and gossipmongers. I was having fun, even if you weren’t.”

“But you did last night!”

Tony shrugged. “Go big or go home, I always say.”

“I’m having fun. I would just prefer to have fun without an audience. Which you apparently feel is necessary for our trip.” Steve could feel the argument escalating. Tony wasn’t stopping and neither was he.

A sneer distorted Tony’s handsome features. “I don’t need an audience. But it would be great if I was vacationing with someone who actually wanted to be here and not because he lost a damn bet!”

“I’d be having more fun if you weren’t insisting on telling everyone around us that we eloped and we’re on our honeymoon! We’re friends visiting Las Vegas, that’s all. And you’re not bothered in the least that everyone here and our friends in New York think we’re married. We’re friends, Tony! Friends,” Steve insisted.

Tony’s eyes turned dark. He pinched his nose and gave a harsh bark of laughter. “Yeah, that’s right. We’re just friends, out for a wild New Year’s in the city of sin! Having the best time of our lives.”

Steve threw his napkin down, and pushed his chair back table. “I’ll see you later, Tony.”

“Yeah, Cap. Don’t hurry back on my account.”

As Steve stalked away from the table, he could see the flash of a camera. Great, just great. He was right. There was a paparazzo in hiding. He gave the man a dirty glare in the hopes he would feel ashamed of himself. But Steve probably just gave him more fodder for the gossip mill.

~~~~~

The car service delivered Steve to an old-fashioned boxing gym the concierge had found for him somewhere off the Strip. Steve noted the broad streets lined with homes behind concrete walls and low stuccoed strip malls. He guessed that this was how people really lived in the city away from their jobs on the strip. He felt at a loss in the alien landscape, so different from New York.

The gym turned out to be perfect. No one bothered him as he beat up on punching bags and lifted weights for two hours. Usually he could clear his mind during a workout. But his thoughts kept coming back to Tony and their argument. They had a great time out the night before until the nightclub incident, and he had started thinking, maybe again.

Now all he felt was a vague disappointment about the whole trip, like he had been on the verge of something wonderful happening, and it had been snatched away from him.

After a strenuous workout, a shower, and a few punching bags billed to the Avengers, Steve stopped by the pizza and sub place next door. He liked the small restaurant with its black-and-white photographs of New York, check tablecloths and the unpretentious menu. The extra-large pizza with everything hit the right spot. Munching away, his thoughts turned to Tony. He knew he would have to return to the suite eventually and face him.

The waitress, an older woman who had been pleasant to Steve, came by to deliver his cheesecake dessert. She put the check down. Then she put her hand on her hip.

“Honey, I’ve been watching you since you got in here. Hope you don’t mind a bit of advice. My grandsons are just like you -- they suffer in silence, passing up on good things because they don’t know how to ask. Whatever made you come here looking like a wet puppy in the rain probably can be fixed if you just put a little effort into it.”

Steve left a generous tip.

~~~~~

Quietly walking into the living room of their suite, he found Tony standing in front of two holoscreens, coding and checking data. Tony moved his arms and hands elegantly across the screens in a ballet of typing, flicking and swiping. Steve could watch Tony at this all day. Tony ran a hand through his thick hair and shut down the screens.

“Hey,” Steve said. “Don’t stop.”

“I wasn’t getting much done anyway.” Tony closed his laptop. “For what it’s worth, the latest Twitter is that there’s trouble in paradise for us. And one gossip site posted a fantastic picture of you storming out of the restaurant.” He looked defeated, unlike the usual ebullient Tony.

Steve put down his backpack. “So what’s on the agenda for the rest of the day?”

“We’ve got reservations on the High Roller. Private car and everything. If you still want to go, you know, after last night.”

“It’s that ferris wheel, right? I -- I would like to do that,” Steve said. “We’ll be able to see the fireworks?”

“Of course,” Tony replied, a bit flatly. “You don’t even need to dress up if you don’t want.”

“Anything else?” Steve asked, knowing Tony.

Tony twisted his hands, eyes downcast. “I got carried away last night, Steve. Reliving the past, dealing with crushed hopes. I can’t explain what got into me. But I’ll make it right.”

Steve put his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “We’ll just deal with the press later. They’ll forget eventually.” He smiled. “I’m having a good time on vacation with my friend. Let’s ignore everything else.”

Nodding, Tony let out a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m glad we’re friends, Steve.”

After changing into jeans and a sweatshirt and grabbing his moleskin, Steve joined Tony on the couch in front of the large television. Tony had found a marathon of bad sci-fi movies. Steve put the chips and dip and popcorn he found in the kitchen on the coffee table. He sat down on the leather couch and swung his legs up on the cushions, his toes touching Tony’s thigh.

After a while, Steve toed Tony. “We’re good, right?”

“Of course.” Not missing a beat, Tony added, “What’s a little fight between two lovebirds on vacation? I’m sure gossips already have us rushing back into each other arms, sweetheart.”

Steve threw a couch pillow at his head. Tony barely ducked in time, and the pillow took out a lamp.

“No doubt we’re heading off to another honeymoon to reconnect and overcome our recent tragic estrangement over unflaky croissants.” This time Steve smacked him right in the face with another pillow.

“Ooo! Maybe you’re secretly pregnant and that’s why we had to get married .…” Tony choked out through his laughter.

Steve was doubled over laughing, tears coming to his eyes. He looked over at Tony laughing just as hard.

Then Tony stood up and took out his camera to snap a picture of the lamp and pillows on the floor. “I’m sending this to Rhodey -- ‘Captain America trashing a hotel suite’.”

Settling back on the couch, Steve watched Tony pick up and put the lamp back on the end table. If he needed any reason for his heart skipping and his palms getting sweaty, he didn’t need to look any further than Tony laughing.

Tony straightened up. “Got to get ready for tonight.”

“For date night?” Steve asked. Asked probably too eagerly, he worried.

“Yeah. Date night,” he replied, his shoulders dropping. He smiled at Steve, but Steve noticed that the smile never reached his eyes.

Steve nodded and opened his sketchbook. But he couldn’t pick up where he left off. He had returned with every intention of saying something to Tony. But Tony seemed so subdued, distracted and consumed with worry over something. Steve would just have to wait for the right moment, assuming that moment ever came.

~~~~~

Steve had not become any more comfortable with the bodyguards Tony had deployed to keep the paparazzi away. He was sure that their presence drove up interest in Tony and Steve just by being there. He had been happy back in the hotel suite with just Tony. Out in the New Year’s Eve crowd reminded him about the gossip frenzy surrounding them.

Tony sailed giddily above it all. He smiled and waved at the passing crowd as they made their way over to the High Roller after they were dropped off by the town car. He waggled his eyebrows at Steve after a woman yelled at them to kiss. Steve blushed fiercely.

He was trying his hardest to be happy. He had even worn that deep blue silk shirt and charcoal pants that Tony told him to buy. Thinking about it, Tony had only wanted to share something with him and show Steve a good time. Steve should make an effort to enjoy the trip, even if he didn’t like the gambling and nightclub scene.

Once up in the air, Tony pointed out all the buildings on the Strip. Steve took in the view from the top of the Strip to all the way downtown. He looked over at Tony and the lights passing over his face. Tony smiled back at him.

“The PR team promised to work harder at squashing the rumors. But they won’t be able to do much until later.”

“That’s okay, Tony. They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them and it’s a holiday.”

“It wouldn’t be that bad, if I hadn’t made the whole situation worse.”

“You’re taking our fake marriage too seriously,” Steve said.

Tony laughed. “Maybe. You saw the news?”

“I lived without the internet for most of my life, and I can live without it again for a while,” Steve said. “Until it all blows over.”

“Better man than me,” Tony stated. “There’s a fully stocked bar over here. And your favorite beer.”

Steve always had a soft spot for fireworks, ever since his mom loved to tell him that fireworks on the Fourth of July were also for him. This was a perfect evening for them -- clear and calm. Tony handed him the beer.

“Sorry, I couldn’t get the package for the top of the wheel. Moved too slow for that one. We’ll still be near the top.”

“That’s okay, Tony. This is great.”

More than perfect. Steve could watch the crowds below, the lit building, the night sky. A person he cared the most about right next to him. Even if Tony didn’t know how he felt. Steve drank his beer, hoping to find that courage he had earlier. “So, this is what it must be like to be Iron Man.”

“A little. We’re missing the HUD screens. And JARVIS.” Tony took out his phone. “I could put him on the phone if you’re missing him.”

“I’m fine with the way things are now.” Steve swallowed. He turned to Tony. “With just us.”

The ferris wheel moved again, slotting the cars into place for the fireworks. But Steve wasn’t looking at the cityscape any more.

Fear flashed briefly across Tony’s face. “Just us?”

“Yeah,” Steve said.

“Oh.” Tony thought for a second. “Just us, as in, just us as friends? Or more? Because your 1940s sincerity is too confusing for me. 21th century boy here.”

Steve turned to face Tony, his dark eyes sparkling in the neon light. “I didn’t say --”

“You mean too much to me, Steve, to mess anything up.”

“Too late for that.” Steve put his bottle on the floor.

Tony froze and then laughed. “No, no, you’re right. I helped convince everyone on Earth that we’re married. I can’t top that.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you to try.”

He reached out to take Steve’s hand. “I could always could use a project.” He held Steve’s hand cupped between his own.

A shiver ran down Steve’s spine while Tony played with his hand. “Did -- did -- did you think it was strange how easily everyone believed that we eloped?”

Tony rubbed a circle on the back of Steve’s hand. “Hmmm, and were enthusiastically happy for us.”

“I couldn’t convince anyone it was just a mistake,” Steve continued.

“I wanted this vacation to be perfect. And if you were happy, relaxed, and not thinking about the Avengers, then, maybe, you’d think about me.”

Steve lifted Tony’s chin. “You don’t need to take me on fancy vacations to get me to think about you. I’m always thinking about you.”

“I get the sense that you prefer a tent in the wilderness for a vacation.”

“Not so much the camping as hiking. And Death Valley’s not far from here.” Steve brushed Tony’s skin with his thumb, smiling at the hitch in Tony’s breathing. “Great hiking in the winter, I hear.”

Tony put a hand on Steve’s arm. “How will we ever find the right place for a honeymoon?”

“I can go anywhere if we can do this.” Steve put his thumbs under Tony’s jaw, his fingers sliding into Tony’s thick hair. He pressed his lips against Tony’s warm lips.

“Hell yeah,” Tony murmured against Steve’s mouth. “I’d go anywhere for this.”

Tony kissed him again, and again, and again, finally deepening the kiss and slipping his tongue into Steve’s mouth. His arms went around Steve’s broad shoulders and squeezed.

Breaking away to catch his breath and letting his fingers tangle in Steve’s hair, Tony put his forehead against Steve’s. “I’m glad I don’t have to file fake divorce papers to get out of our fake marriage.”

Steve laughed and kissed him again, this time his hands landing on Tony’s waist to pull him closer. “Fake annulment.”

“You didn’t see the racy blind items then. Anyway, the gossip sites will have us divorced within the week.”

Steve kissed him again. This time Tony didn’t talk. The fireworks started to explode behind them in bright and lurid bursts of red, green and gold, bathing them in sparkling light.

“Happy New Year, Tony.”

“Happy New Year,” Tony whispered back. “Now and forever.”