Later, after a lot of yelling, Steve will admit that he was the one who put the idea in Tony's head.
Not that that really means anything. Tony has a lot of ideas, almost constantly, and many of them are well beyond anything mere mortals can follow. This one wasn't about brilliant new technology though. It was emotional and personal and... well. It was well-intentioned, as so many bad ideas are.
Poker night had been a tradition for exactly three weeks and it was already one of Steve's three favorite things about the future. The first was social media and how the underprivileged were embracing it as a new form of social protest. The second was the way Tony kept tracing his fingers over Steve's every time he dealt him a card.
Steve may or may not have had a stupid grin on his face. And he may or may not have thrown out two perfectly good cards and lost a hand just for the excuse to feel Tony's fingers linger against his own. Sam just rolled his eyes at him and took all of Steve's chips.
“I should have brought my American Heroes deck,” Clint said as he stared at his cards. He was a terrible poker player, not because he had a tell (Clint could do a dead-eyed expressionless stare that made Natasha look expressive) but because he honestly didn't care if he won or lost. Clint was there for the beer and the socializing and the fact that they made him play cards was the price of admission as far as he was concerned. “It's not vintage or anything – Coulson gave me and Nat and Fury one each for Christmas a few years back.”
“Pass,” Tony said without looking up from his hand. “My dad and Obie are both in that deck.”
“So's your Aunt Peggy,” Clint said. “It's the revised deck from the late seventies when they took out a bunch of the duplicates and added all the lady heroes. Except the ones of Captain America,” he added, tipping his head in Steve's direction. “I think there's about a dozen of you in there. And the little soldier boy.”
Bucky flipped him off from the couch.
“I'd rather you didn't,” Steve admitted. He kept an easy smile on his face because he didn't want to make Hawkeye feel awkward about it, but Tony and Sam were both watching him with matching expressions of concerned anticipation. It was the same look they got when he was five seconds away from yelling at a reporter, or when he talked about his mother. “To be honest, the merchandise has always creeped me out. The idea of people slapping my face on things and selling it as souvenirs is just-” He grimaced. “I dunno. Why would anyone want to stare at my face all the time anyway?”
Tony made a sound that had the smile creeping back across Steve's face, and hastily downed most of what was left of his seltzer and lime. “Refills anyone?” he asked brightly as he pushed his chair back from the table.
Carol flipped a long strand of hair over her shoulder. “We're almost out of Coke. You don't like any of the merch, Cap?”
Steve shrugged. “Not really. Half of it is just junk that no one really needs and a lot of the rest is propaganda that preaches messages I'm not entirely comfortable with. There's a church in Kansas that keeps slapping my face on their posters with headings like “What Would Cap Do?” above my face and homophobic rhetoric beneath. I mean, these people get that I fought Hitler, right?” He realized his voice was rising when Bucky turned on the couch to watch him over his shoulder. Steve put his cards face down on the table and took a deep breath. “Anyway, it's just weird and I don't like it.”
“Fair enough,” Clint said. “I don't really know where they are anyway, but I'll make sure if they turn up to keep them out of your way.”
“You can sue over stuff like that,” Sam says. “That's hate speech.”
“I stop them and someone else starts doing it instead.” Steve sighed. “You're right, of course, I just-”
“Don't have the spoons?” Clint said sympathetically.
“I don't know what that means,” Steve said, “but I think I got the gist of it.”
“It's poker night,” Carol said. “We'll deal with the heavy stuff tomorrow.”
“What heavy stuff?” Tony wandered back in, carrying a two-liter of Coke which he deposited on the table in front of Carol, and a six pack of beer which he tossed at Bucky's head. Bucky caught it one-handed without looking away from the television. Tony ran his fingers over Steve's shoulders on his way back to his own chair, and Steve fought back a shiver or desire while Sam smirked at him again.
“Hate groups stole Steve's face,” Clint said, which was an accurate enough summary that Steve didn't bother clarifying.
“Sounds like a late night horror movie,” Tony said dropped back into his chair. “All right, enough stalling. I call.”
“So raise the bid,” Tony was snapping into his phone the next morning when Steve wandered into the kitchen. “We've got plenty of wiggle room still, you're low-balling it and you know it.” He switched the phone to his other hand as he glared at the coffeemaker. “I don't care who they are – the American Veterans Association? Well for god's sake, be polite when you crush them.”
“Morning, Tony,” Steve said, a fond smile curling the edges of his mouth upward.
Tony was wearing sweatpants and a black tank top that had seen better days. His feet were bare, which meant he hadn't been down in the workshop – there was no oil or grease anywhere, and he didn't smell like metal and ozone, either. He did look tired, which, at six-thirty in the morning, probably meant he hadn't been to bed yet. He leaned one hip against the counter and shot Steve a quick grin as he scratched his chest, the tank top hiking up slightly to reveal a flash of olive skin and a dusting of fine dark hair.
Steve thought wistfully of his sketchbook back in his room and then immediately scolded himself for being a pervert. He should take Tony out to dinner at least before sketching inappropriate drawings of him. Even if he strongly suspected Tony wouldn't mind.
“Yes, yes, clear it all with Pepper if you need access to more funds, but I doubt a non-profit is going to be able to outbid us. No, you are not going to hell for this. Look, I'll make a donation, all right? Yes, thank you, go do actual work now.” Tony dropped his phone to the counter with a clatter and turned his glare back on the coffeemaker. “I think this thing is conspiring against me.”
“It's probably not,” Steve said. He realized he'd been standing there looking at Tony ever since he walked into the kitchen and made himself go to the fridge to start breakfast. “It takes at least two people to conspire on something anyway.”
“It's conspiring with Pepper. She keeps telling me to cut back on the caffeine. It's like she wants me to wither away and die or something. She's in my will, you know. She's the first person the cops would look at if I died of caffeine withdrawal.”
Steve put the OJ on the counter and grabbed a carton of eggs. “Have you slept at all?”
Tony gave the juice carton a thoughtful look. “Yes?”
Steve rolled his eyes and grabbed a glass, pouring Tony some juice before he ended up swigging it straight from the carton. “In the last forty-eight hours?”
It took a moment for Tony to think about it, but eventually he nodded. “Yes.”
The twenty minutes he'd spent drooling on the table last night before Poker Night was officially called quits didn't count as sleep in Steve's mind. “Tony, go to bed.”
“Why, Captain.” Tony grinned at him. “Are you ordering me to bed?”
Steve ducked his head to hide his grin. It wouldn't do to let Tony know Steve was charmed. He'd be completely incorrigible. “Consider it a suggestion. You need to rest.”
“Are you going to help me rest, Captain?” Tony slid his hand down his stomach to tease at the hem of his tank top.
Steve had to drag his eyes away from the peek of skin that was revealed. “No. I don't accept propositions from people who are too exhausted to realize they're trying to brew coffee in an unplugged coffeepot.”
If the way Tony's face flushed with embarrassment meant Steve had to hastily excuse himself, well. Still worth it.
Pepper Potts strode into the second floor library like an Amazon in four inch heels with an Akris silk blazer instead of chainmail and armed with a smart phone instead of a sword. She was gorgeous, powerful, and a little intimidating in a way Steve normally loved. If he wasn't so worried she wouldn't approve of his intentions toward Tony, he'd probably find her a lot less intimidating.
“Steve,” she greeted. “I'm sorry, have you seen Tony?”
“Not since yesterday morning.” Steve was lounging in the widow seat that overlooked the back gardens. Tony had told him once that he'd kept everything the way his mother had originally laid it out back when Tony was young, and Steve found himself sketching intricate overlapping rosevines whenever he looked at it. The garden was beautiful and well-maintained, and sometimes when he started feeling the weight of seventy years pressing down on him, he went and studied the elaborately organized flower beds and the precisely arranged patterns of perennials. “Sorry.”
Pepper waved him off. “It's not vital. He's probably just caught up in something and not listening to his phone. Or actually sleeping. One can hope.”
Are you going to help me rest, Captain? Steve darkened the lines of a rosebud and absolutely did not think about Tony sleeping. Or anything else involving bed.
Pepper glanced at her phone as it vibrated in her hand. “Would you mind giving him a message? I hate to use you as an answering service...” She trailed off with an apologetic smile. “I'm about to be late so I really don't have time to track him down in the workshop, and if I leave it on his voicemail he'll never get it.”
“Yeah, of course. Fire away.”
“Would you -” Pepper paused. “Has he told you about his latest acquisition?”
“I don't think so,” Steve said. “He hasn't mentioned anything business related in the last few days.”
“Ah. Well.” Pepper looked momentarily displease, her mouth tightening into a line. “Never mind. It's better if I let him tell you about it. But would you please let him know that the rest of the items he arranged for have arrived in the warehouse and the Foundation needs to know by nine tomorrow morning if he wants to donate or recycle. Could you remember that?”
“Thank you, Steve, I really-” she checked her phone which was vibrating almost constantly now. “I really need to go. Thank you. And if it's not to much trouble, have him text me when you find him.”
She strode back out of the library, heels clicking on the hardwood floors, long strands of strawberry blonde hair flowing behind her. Steve wondered if other people found her ability to walk that fast in heels that high impressive and a little scary. Then he packed up his sketchbook and went looking for Tony.
He was probably in the workshop – there were few other places he'd been in the middle of the afternoon, and most of them (meetings, his office) would be places Pepper would have known to look for him. Technically she probably knew he was in the workshop, but Steve couldn't blame her for sending him down instead. Steve knew how much those shoes cost, he wouldn't have worn them into a place where things were occasionally set on fire before exploding either.
He did wonder why she didn't just use the video comm, but if Tony was ignoring his phone he was probably ignoring the vidcoms too.
“Pepper says to check your phone,” Steve announced from the top of the workshop stairs.
Tony, who was currently half immersed in the engine of his favorite car, didn't even look up. “I did check my phone, that's how I knew not to answer it.”
“That's terrible,” Steve scolded. “Shirking your responsibilities.”
“Look, being stupid rich and crazy smart are good for exactly two things.” Tony straightened up and wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm, leaving a smear of engine oil across his brow. “Attracting gorgeous blond bombshells, and getting out of doing things I don't want to do.”
“You like your bombshells blond then,” Steve teased. “That's good to know.”
Tony laughed. “Oh! Now you want to play. Last night you just ran away when I propositioned you.”
Steve leaned against one of the many workbenches and shrugged as casually as he could manage – which, considering he and Tony had skirted around this conversation for weeks now, wasn't very. “I'm waiting for you to proposition me when you're awake enough to put your money where your mouth is.”
Tony's mouth curved up in a wicked smile. “Oh, Captain. I have much better plans for what to do with my mouth.”
Steve's heart kicked him in the ribs and his mouth went dry. “I-” He made himself swallow and take a slow breath before he choked on his own words. “I'd like to hear more about these plans of yours.”
Tony grabbed a rag off the edge of the hood and started methodically wiping his hands clean. He traced his bottom lip with his tongue, eyes glinting when he saw the way Steve followed the slow movement. “I think it would be a lot more effective if I just showed you.”
Steve shifted a little against the workbench, painfully aware of how aroused Tony had made him with that one slow slide of tongue. “I – Pepper!”
Tony paused halfway between Steve and the car. “Pepper?” He glanced up the stairs as if expecting to see her glaring at them.
“She asked me to give you a message.” Steve's face felt hot and flushed and it was taking more willpower than he would have expected to stay where he was and not grab Tony and push him against the nearest wall.” The items have arrived at the warehouse and you need to tell her what you want to do with them before tomorrow morning. And text her. She wants you to text her.”
Tony's face froze. “Damnit.”
“You should go take of that.” Steve cleared his throat. “I, ah. I'm gonna go.” He saw the way Tony's face fell and felt suddenly brave and a little wicked. “I've got to take care of something myself.” And he shifted his hips a little more obviously than he had before.
“You are gonna kill me,” Tony said fervently. “I don't mind at all.”
Steve grinned and ducked his head. “Go help Pepper.”
“Steve,” Tony said quickly. “Have dinner with me tonight.”
They'd had dinner together before, dozens of times, both with and without their teammates. That didn't stop Steve's heartbeat from picking up as he said, “Your work-”
“This is just sorting and shipping. Most of it's already done, I just have to point to the piles of stuff I'm donating and the piles of stuff I'm recycling. It'll take a few hours, tops. So, have dinner with me. Eight o'clock?”
“Depends,” Steve said, and he waited just long enough to see Tony's shoulders get a little tense. “Do I have to wear a tux to wherever you're taking me?”
“One time, Rogers. One time!” Tony grinned. “Dress nice, but casual. I know a steak place – it's only a little extravagant and very private.”
“I don't put out for steak,” Steve said, but he paused in front of Tony as he walked back to the stairs and caught Tony's chin with one hand. “For you though. Maybe.” He dropped a kiss on Tony's closed mouth, quick and light, just enough to feel the warmth of Tony's skin and his slightly chapped lips. “All right. Eight o'clock. I'll meet you in your quarters?”
“I... yes. Eight.” Tony swallowed. “I'll be on time.”
“I hope so,” Steve said. “I'd hate to catch you in the shower.”
“Kill me,” Tony said. “Oh my god. Forget Pepper. Come here.” He grabbed for Steve's belt and tugged.
“It's more than my life is worth if you piss off Pepper.” Steve leaned in and took another kiss, this one a little slower. “Go to work. I'll see you tonight.” He took a third kiss, and then Tony stole a fourth, his hands sliding over Steve's stomach, fingers dipping under the hem of his shirt to brush against skin.
Steve shivered and pushed into the touch. “Work,” he said hoarsely against Tony's mouth. “Don't worry. I'll remember where we left off.”
It wasn't that Steve was out of practice in the dating arena, just that it had been so long since he went on an actual date that he had sort of forgotten what it was like. He'd been with people of course, but his relationship with Sharon was on-again-off-again at best before they'd agreed to be permanently off and they rarely did anything like dating in the last few months. And his brief romance with Wanda hadn't really gotten past the flirting and awkward interrupted sex stage before she'd left the team again. He'd had a small handful of one-night stands or brief affairs over the last couple of years, but nothing that he would call a relationship since Sharon left for good.
He'd forgotten the nerves. He changed his clothes three times and almost called Sam just to find out of slacks were required for a steakhouse. He stood in front of the mirror with a bottle of cologne in one hand and aftershave in the other and debated how he wanted to smell. By the time he left himself into Tony's suite, nearly an hour early, his stomach was a mess and he was sweating.
“I should have just let him skip work and fuck me over the Astin Martin,” Steve sighed. At the very least it might have eased some of the stress.
But Tony was... Tony was important. Steve had no problem with casual flings or one-night stands, but he wanted this to last. He wanted Tony to feel like Steve was invested in this. And that meant doing it right – or as right as Steve knew how to do it. So, dinner first. Conversation. They would talk about this like adults, see if they were looking for the same things out of this.
Steve nodded. And then he would let Tony fuck him over the Astin Martin.
He was too early. He should have paced around in his room a little longer before heading up. He didn't even know what he was doing there except he'd had some half-formed idea of helping Tony get ready. In the shower.
He took a deep breath and reminded himself that he was a grown man. His hormones did not care in the slightest.
Something clattered down the hall to his left and he turned to look. “Tony?”
The hallway was cluttered with boxes and shipping crates, and there was packing tape and broken down cardboard boxes and bubble wrap strewn about. He remembered what Tony said about needing to ship items and figured not everything was in a warehouse after all. “Tony?” He stuck his head in one doorway that was more heavily surrounded by packing materials than any other and spotted something small lying on the floor next to some kind of display case. He stooped to pick it up, but once he got a good look at it, he froze.
He knew this. It was an M3 fighting knife, in the scabbard, the same one he'd had in the war. The exact same one, because his name was was tooled into the leather strap of the scabbard.
He picked it up carefully, and then he saw the rest of the room.
Framed World War II propaganda posters lined the walls, some of them propped up against it because there was no more room to hang them, and all of them had his face or his shield plastered across them. Plastic wrapped comic books were displayed with titles like The Super Soldier and Captain America's Howling Commandos. Framed photos of him and Bucky and Peggy, the rest of the Commandos. Pictures of bases he'd served on. Blood chits just like the ones his team had carried. A mess hall pass. Medals, displayed on a velvet case with his photo inlaid amongst them. A metal matchbox cover Bucky had given him – looted off a German soldier, if he remembered, during a particularly rainy month in France. His artwork – sketches he remembered drawing seventy years ago, framed and hanging on the walls. Weapons that, if they weren't his were exactly the same as the ones he'd carried. Early version of his shield. There were uniforms on mannequins against the back wall and a framed portrait of his mother that he'd drawn of her the week before she died.
All of it taking up space in Tony's personal suite.
Confusion bled into shock. Which turned into anger.
And that's when he heard Tony come in.
He turned on his heel and retreated back into the main room.
Tony looked up, blinked at him. “Hey, you're early. Decide you wanted to catch me in the shower after a- oof.” His breath left him in a startled rush as Steve shoved the knife against his chest.
“Dinner's off,” Steve said coldly. “And fuck you.”
Tony grabbed for the knife before it could fall to the floor. “Wait. Steve, wait.”
“I'm not interested in being one of your collectibles, Tony. And if you'd cared about me at all, you'd have already known that.”
“Wait, Steve, no-”
Steve didn't look back, just pulled the door shut behind him while Tony called his name.
His phone rang four times on the train ride to his apartment in Brooklyn. He didn't answer. Tony didn't leave a message.
His apartment was musty from disuse, so he distracted himself for a few minutes by opening windows and turning on the ceiling fans to get the air moving. He didn't come out here much. When he'd been with Sharon they'd mostly stayed at her apartment close to SHIELD HQ and afterwards he'd lived almost exclusively with the Avengers. Sometimes he'd wondered why he even kept it, except it was nice to know he had a space that was his alone, if he ever needed it.
That was a cold sort of comfort now, as he stood in the center of his unstocked kitchen and stared at his reflection in the window over the sink. He was still dressed for a nice dinner and he shrugged off his sports jacket almost violently, tossing it over the back of the closest kitchen chair.
He'd been so excited. So happy. He'd wanted this for – years, if he was honest with himself. But it had never been right, he and Tony had never been at points in their lives where they could make this work at the same time. These last few months had been- he'd been so ready for this. For tonight. For Tony.
Well, he thought with a surge of bitterness. And see where that had gotten him. He should have known better. Tony had never made a secret of the fact that he had hero worshiped Captain America as a boy and young man. Steve had just thought that Tony had come to care for Steve Rogers more than the secret identity.
Well, he wouldn't make that mistake again
His phone rang again. Steve threw it across the room where it bounced off the wall with a sharp crack and went abruptly silent.
It was early, but he was abruptly tired. Tomorrow was early enough to decide how he was going to handle this. For now he just wanted to forget tonight had ever happened.
He was woken by someone knocking on his front door.
He reached for his phone only to remember he'd left it on the living room floor. There was no alarm clock in the bedroom; he vaguely recalled that his old one had been destroyed when Bucky had been staying there for a couple of weeks. Snooze alarms had not been made to put up with an irritable super-human with a metal arm.
It was still dark, and judging by the lights outside, nowhere near morning. Steve sat up and scrubbed his hands over his face. If it was Tony, he was afraid he's say something he'd regret. Or do something he'd end up regretting. Like letting him inside. Or shoving him against a wall.
Whoever it was knocked again, sounding somewhat impatient. They weren't actually pounding on it yet, but they were definitely getting louder. It would disturb the neighbors soon if Steve didn't go out there and stop them.
He ground his teeth together as he pulled on his jeans and shirt, padding to the door barefoot. If it was Tony Steve was going to slam the door in his face, after telling him to stop disturbing the entire building.
It was Sam.
That was so far from what Steve had been expecting that he stood there for a second, the door half open, and gave Sam plenty of opportunity to shoulder past him into the apartment. “Close the door,” his friend said. “Seriously, before we wake your neighbors.”
Steve rolled his eyes and shut the door. “What are you doing here, Sam?”
“Would you believe I had a sudden flash of intuition that you needed a friend to talk to?” Sam spotted the broken cell phone on the floor and gave Steve a knowing look.
“No,” Steve said sourly. He dropped down on the couch, ignoring the dust that went flying up. “Why are you really here?”
Sam shrugged. “Tony called me.”
Steve rubbed his fingers over the bridge of his nose. “I'm sorry.”
“You're not his keeper. Why should you apologize for what he does?” Sam had slipped into his therapist voice a little. “Anyway, I'm kind of glad he did. Look, I don't know the whole story, but Stark says you didn't let him explain.”
“That's because there's nothing to explain,” Steve said.
“Ah.” Sam nodded. “You caught him in bed with someone else.”
Steve frowned. “No.”
“He hit you.”
“Is he selling drugs to schoolkids? Did he start building bombs again? Has he killed anyone and then laughed maniacally over their mutilated corpse?”
Steve stared at him. “Are you always like this after midnight?”
“It's ten-forty-five, you old geezer. Look.” Sam sat down on the edge of the recliner. “I don't know exactly what happened, but I know Tony Stark and he is crazy good at putting his foot in his mouth. Is it possible that hearing him out would make this right?”
“I don't really see how.” Steve leaned back against the couch. “And since when are you on Tony's side?”
“Don't try to make this about me,” Sam said. He leaned back a little in the chair. “You know I have your back, hell even when I thought you were wrong I've had your back. But I've watched you moon over Stark for-”
“I do not moon-”
“You're right,” Sam snapped. “You don't moon. You pine. You long. You've been in love with Tony Stark for almost as long as I've known you and
that is why I'm here. Because for the last few months you two have been doing your weird little mating dance and I haven't seen you this happy in literally the entire time I've known you. That is why I'm here. I don't want to see you lose that if you don't have to. I care about you. Jackass.”
“Thanks, honey,” Steve said dryly. “I feel the love.”
“Idiot. Look, Stark told me his side of the story and I think you should hear him out.”
Steve sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Fine. What's his explanation?”
“Not from me. From him.” Sam stood and crossed the room to rest his hand on Steve's shoulder. “If you gotta dump, then you do it. But you've waited years to be with him and I think he actually makes you happy. And speaking as someone who cares a hell of a lot about you, Steve, seeing you really happy is just rare enough that I'd do almost anything to make sure you stay that way. Talk to Tony. Let him explain. If nothing else, maybe he'll stop calling me.”
“All right,” Steve said. He was a little aback, and more than a little humbled by the emotion in Sam's voice. “Let me sleep on it and tomorrow I'll let him explain.”
“If you two end up doing more than talking, I don't want to hear about it,” Sam said. “I want you happy, but I don't want to be emotionally scarred by it, you know?”
“I was going to let him bed me over the Astin Martin and-”
Sam slammed the door so loudly on his way out that two different neighbors came to complain.
Steve thought it was worth it.
The collection wasn't any easier to look at the next day.
Maybe Steve shouldn't have let himself into Tony's rooms, especially after the way he'd left the night before, but he had a key and – hopefully – years of friendship outweighed one bad fight. And he wanted to get a second look at it, see if he could get some perspective.
It was still upsetting. Creepy, really, to see bits and pieces of his life on display like that. The personal things were almost worse than the rest. He'd seen some of his military possessions in museums before so at least he had a context for that. But there was a vase at the back of the room that had belonged to his mother and Steve couldn't understand why Tony would have that.
He couldn't understand why Tony would have any of it, not when Steve had always been uncomfortable with this aspect of his fame. Not when he'd said, flat-out, not a week ago that all the merchandise and propaganda made him uncomfortable.
Bad enough that Tony had it at all, but the fact that he'd kept it a secret... Steve felt like someone he trusted had been peeping in his windows without his knowing about it.
Actually, he might have handled that better. At least then it would have been about him and not a hero fetish.
His stomach twisted and he resisted the urge to knock some of the displays over. It wouldn't solve anything and as much as it hurt to think about, these bits and pieces of his life belonged to Tony.
Unbidden, his feet carried him to the back of the room, where the portrait of his mother hung.
He'd done it in watercolors, because he'd thought the lighter color scheme would help conceal how pale and wan she'd become in her sickness. Even her hair had been dull, her bright, sharp eyes gone flat, her skin pale and waxy. Seeing her like that had hurt him bone-deep. When she'd asked him to paint her one last time, he'd almost refused. He was glad he hadn't, though. He'd painted her for hours, deliberately drawing it out, refusing to let her see it till it was done. They'd talked the entire time and for the first time in a long time it hadn't been about her illness or his money problems or anything like that. Some light had come back into her eyes, some color to her cheeks, and when he'd shown her the portrait she'd almost cried.
It wasn't right that it was there, with everything else, locked up in some fetishist collection. It wasn't right.
Tony stood in the doorway, his hands in his pockets, his shoulders hunched and his expression wary. “Well, I guess my collection's finally complete now that you're here.”
Steve turned away, bit back the angry sound that tried to come out of his mouth. “Tony.”
“Yeah. I know. Sorry. That wasn't really funny.” He took a couple of steps into the room, then stopped. “I guess Sam called you?”
“My phone died,” Steve said. “He came by last night. Asked me to hear you out.”
“I'm glad you did,” Tony said. “After last night I was afraid-”
“That you'd blown it?” Steve said evenly. “Because you kind of did.”
Tony flinched as the verbal shot landed. “Look, it's not what you think, I promise. Or, if it is then it's not as bad. I just -” he sighed. “Shit. Pepper told me to tell you but I thought I should surprise you.”
“With this?” Steve said, gesturing to the remnants of his old life. “What part of this did you think would make a nice surprise for me? The tacky war propaganda? The cheap merchandise? My dead mother's portrait?”
“The fact that it's yours. I got it for you.” Tony flinched a little as Steve turned on him. “I bought out a bunch of collectors, and some of it was in back rooms in museums. Ebay. I spent the last week getting as much of it as I could in one place.”
The fight drained out of Steve, leaving him shocky and a little numb. “You what?”
“Well, not all of it. Some of this was my dad's, so technically it is mine. I – didn't keep it around, so it was all in storage in the Mansion's attic.”
“You didn't keep it around,” Steve echoed.
“Well, no. I admired Captain America, true enough, but my dad was- anyway, I didn't really want to be reminded of his interest, so after he died I had a lot of it donated or put into storage. That Smithsonian collection was mostly his, except for some of the Howling Commando stuff.”
“I – you bought all of this.”
“Except Howard's stuff. Yeah.”
“Is that – in the kitchen the other day. You were bidding on something.” Steve gestured to the room behind him. “This?”
“No. Oh. Yeah. Um. Look. I bought more than this stuff.”
“More.” Steve was starting to feel a little tired. “How much more can there be?”
Tony laughed a little unevenly and ran a hand through his hair. “A lot. This is the classy stuff, you know? The historical things and anything that belonged to you personally. The crap – the Captain America boxer shorts, the playing cards, the condoms-”
“There are condoms?” Steve stared at him, something like hysteria starting to bubble up in his chest. “Oh, please tell me they don't have my face on them.”
“No. The shield though, yes.”
“Great. That is – that is the worst thing I've ever heard.”
“Are you sure?” Tony asked. “Because that's not really all of it.”
Steve lowered himself to sit on an old wooden barstool with a metal plaque that read “Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, sat here on Nov 3, 1943.” Steve had no idea where he'd been on November 3rd, 1943, but he had spent a fair amount of time in bars, especially in France, so it was probably true. “What else is there?”
“What I was bidding on that morning wasn't this stuff. It was the rights to your name and image.”
Steve frowned. “You what?”
“You said how much it bothered you that people were always slapping your face on stuff. And Carol told me what you said about the crazy Hitler bigots with their church signs and – and it was an easy fix, Steve!” Tony spread his hands out like it was obvious and not a borderline invasion of Steve's rights. Like it wasn't kind of creepy for him to own the rights to Steve's face. “You're just one guy but I have a fucking battalion of lawyers and enough money to convince almost anyone that fighting me in court is useless. I know how trademark and copyright works. All those playing cards and pornographic comic books and racists with their hate-filled signs – I could stop that. It was easy.” He took a couple steps closer and held his hands out to Steve as if offering his words up. “I've already sent out the cease and desist letters to a half-dozen hate groups and I've sicced my lawyers on as many of the people manufacturing the Captain America merch as I can. Some of it's going to be impossible to stop right away, but I've got people working on it. The sweat shops and the factories using child labor – we're going to make them stop. And all the stuff they'd made already, I bought it all.”
“The warehouse,” Steve said. “Pepper said your items had been shipped to the warehouse. She wanted me to ask you about it, but – I was distracted.”
“I wanted you to be able to decide what happens to all of this,” Tony said. “It was all taken or made without your permission, but I wanted you to decide what happened to it next.”
“Happened?” Steve asked. He looked around the room. “What do you – shipping and recycling?”
Tony nodded. “This stuff, here, I thought some of this you might want to donate, or auction off or – or keep. I tried really hard to get as much of your personal stuff as I could find on short notice. I thought – I don't know, apparently I wasn't thinking very well at all.”
“And the warehouse?”
“Some of it we can donate. There's a lot of stuff that's actually kind of useful, like kid's sneakers and toys and fleece blankets. I was going to see if you wanted to donate it to homeless shelters. And the junk – the posters, the porn – we can recycle it. Or set it on fire and watch it burn.”
“You should have told me first.” Steve closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was... it was better than he'd hoped, better than he'd thought possible. This was something he could deal with, as long as Tony could understand why he shouldn't have done it. “You knew people using my face and history upset me, that it made me uncomfortable. Did you think it would be less upsetting if I thought a friend – someone I love – was doing that to me?”
Tony's face was pale. “I didn't think of that.”
“Things like this – I need to know that you're going to talk to me before you make big decisions that affect me. I can't be in a relationship with someone who tries to make my decisions for me.”
Tony nodded and took a step close. “I will. I – I might screw that up a little. I'm not always good at-” he gestured at the room. “Emotional stuff. Boundaries. I trip over them a lot. But I won't mess up like this again. I promise.”
“Okay.” Steve rubbed his hand over his mouth. “Thank you. For what you tried to do. For what you actually did do. I'm upset at how you handled it, but... This was incredibly thoughtful, in a way. It had to be a lot of work.” And expense, but he knew better than to say so to Tony. “What are you going to do with the rights to the Captain America name?”
“It's for you,” Tony said quickly. “I bought them to give to you, so you can control what happens to your image from now on. As much as possible anyway, I mean, I don't own the internet yet. But, the paperwork is already drawn up. I was going to give it to you once the last few shipments came in.”
God. Steve closed his eyes for a moment to block out Tony's earnest expression. He'd never wanted to kiss someone and punch them at the same time so much. “All right. Here's what's going to happen.”
Tony nodded, but didn't interrupt.
“This stuff all goes to a museum. If – you mentioned auctions. If there's a good charity and a reputable auction house, I'll donate some of the items there. Someone at the Maria Stark Foundation should be able to help me with that, right?” He waited for Tony's nod. “Okay. Any of this stuff that used to belong to you or your father and you want to keep it, fine. That won't bother me as long as I don't catch you in here stroking an old Cap action figure in the middle of the night or anything.”
Tony choked on what sounded like a laugh. Steve grinned.
“I'm keeping that portrait,” he said, pointing to the watercolor. “And the medals. Those shouldn't be auctioned off. Most of the rest of this is going. Deal?”
“Deal,” Tony said quickly.
“And you're going to take me to that warehouse of yours so I can see what we're dealing with. Someone at the Foundation can help me get a list of local shelters and charities, though. So we'll start deciding what to get rid of.”
“I'll call Pepper and have someone meet us there.”
“Good. And then you and I are going to go have dinner and we're going to talk about lots of things that have nothing to do with my image.” Steve crossed the last few feet between them and cupped Tony's face in his hands. “And I am going to think how lucky I am to have someone who cares about my happiness so much, even if he does fuck it up sometimes.” He kissed Tony, slow and sweet and felt the tension drain out of Tony's body with each passing second. “And if all of that goes well, I'll tell you about my plans for the Astin-Martin.”