"Dad—Dad, stop it. That's not funny."
In the dim light that filtered into Tony's blanket-cave, the phone was a bright, painful glow that only made his hangover worse. He hadn't even had time to take a shot or two to dull it before the call had come in and everything had gone from bad to horrific.
"Good, because it's not a joke." Howard Stark stared up from the three-by-three screen, mustache twitching every now and then. Fascinating and disgusting, it was hypnotic. Like a cat and its tail, the mustache was an indicator of his dad's mood. Twitching was a bad sign. "Do you know how much money you wasted last week?"
Tony curled up under his comforter and tried to think back. It was all something of a blur of pretty girls, pretty boys and very pretty drinks. He'd been in an excellent mood—not unusual about three drinks in, really, but this time it had been special. The holidays were over and he was back at school for his last semester, no parents to nag him or Jarvis to give him disappointed looks. There'd been lots of reasons to party.
Memories lined up in rows, handing him fuzzier and fuzzier pictures. Then somewhere in the crush of people, he remembered a voice yelling give it up for our golden boy, and after that someone busted out a beer bong. That had pretty much been the end of conscious thought for a while. "A lot?" he offered tentatively, preemptively wincing.
"Twenty thousand dollars."
Tony stared down at the screen in shock. "Twenty thousand?" He hadn't bought that many rounds, had he? And the bar hadn't been that full. Thirty or forty of his closest friends, maybe, but that much?
"Twenty thousand." Howard took relish in the word, as if it the more he said it, the worse Tony would feel. Which, really, was fair enough. "I called the bars. You bought them out."
"Bars?" Plural? It couldn't have been plural. They'd only gone down to Mickey's. He'd woken up at Mickey's.
"Yes, bars, and God knows how you got in at all." The mustache gave a mighty heave. "This has to stop, son, and if you won't do it then I will."
"But cutting me off?" Whining wasn't mature, but what the hell, he was seventeen, not seventy. "Come on, what do you expect me to do, starve?" Tony made his best pathetic face at the phone, the one that usually got him some leeway. Back when he was seven Tony had figured out that his parents felt bad that Stark Industries kept them busy and had learned to milk it for all it was worth. Mom would have been easier to manipulate, she always was, but Dad wasn't completely unmovable.
Distressingly, this time Howard was a stone. "Your cards have been canceled," the mustache said implacably. "I've made arrangements to have food delivered to your dorm. You'll get weekly deliveries. Rent and electricity will be taken care of. Call and we'll buy any school supplies you need."
"But—but—but what if I want to go to dinner or—or a movie!" Last ditch effort, and it wasn't his best, but desperation knew no bounds. "You can't just expect me to mooch off my friends!"
"Why not? They do it to you." Howard glanced down at his watch. "Sorry, son, but this is just the way it's going to be. Now, I have a meeting in ten minutes, so if you have any final words, say them now."
Sagging back to his pillows, Tony let out an inarticulate grunt. His whole world was crashing down around his ears.
"I love you too," Howard said dryly, apparently not even having heard Tony's anguish. "Don't whine to your mother about this, just accept it. I'll call you next week." The screen flickered and faded back to its standard Stark Industries logo.
Throwing it was tempting, but with his dad in a mood, Tony had a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't get a new one in the mail. Which was completely stupid because he only ever got prototypes anyway. It wasn't like they had to buy anything.
Maybe he should throw it. Then he could tell the people down in R&D that he was stress-testing.
But no, his mom ran R&D with an iron fist and didn't bother with the velvet glove. She'd know if Tony started going over her head for replacements and then heads would roll.
Twisting around under the blankets more until they knotted around him in a cozy little twist, Tony flicked open his contacts and paged through to the Ms—Mom.
Maria answered without picking up her phone, giving him a useless picture of the ceiling and a bit of what might have been shoulder. "No."
"But Mom." From hopeful to whining in under a second. His track record wasn't looking good. "Dad's not being fair. I'm sure those tabs were falsified."
"This wasn't your father's idea; it was mine." The phone jostled, and he got a picture of the underside of his mother's chin, her face lit by a computer screen. "He wanted to get you a nanny. Be glad I talked him out of it."
"A nanny?" Tony's stomach dropped and then rose again as his hangover reasserted itself. "You wouldn't."
"And I thought you wouldn't run up a twenty thousand dollar bar tab. Guess we were both wrong, huh?" Maria glanced down at the phone. Dark hair had fallen out of her uptwist and was caught on her glasses. Tony had always thought his mother was beautiful—like a girl version of himself, actually—but the serious stare did a lot to take that away. "This is our fault. Maybe we shouldn't have let you go to school so young. You weren't ready for it."
Guilt. He hated the guilt. "Don't do this." Putting the phone on the bed, Tony folded his hands in his best imitation of piety. "Please? I won't let it happen again."
"That's what you said last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. And now it's twenty thousand dollars worth of wrong." She finally picked up the phone, holding it at eye level. "Honey, I love you, but this is for the best. It won't be so hard, I promise."
Lies and falsehoods. "You expect me to live like a monk for the next three months? No dinners out, no movies, no anything?"
Maria smiled, just the left corner of her mouth turning up. "If you really want fun money, then get a job. You're old enough, and the responsibility would be good for you."
"A job? Work?"
Cruel, sadistic woman that she was, his mother laughed. "Don't make it sound like selling a kidney, honey. It's just work. You might even like it."
It was official. His parents were monsters, willing to throw their child to the wolves at the slightest provocation. "I don't think so."
"It's your only option." Maria smacked a kiss against the camera. "And now I have to get back to my job. I'll call later to make sure you haven't starved to death, shall I?"
"Yeah, thanks," Tony grumbled. "Love you."
"I love you, too. Have a good day at school." For the second time, the screen flicked back to the logo, leaving Tony with only the taste of regret and old beer. But mostly old beer.
Road work: too hard.
Waiting tables: bad pay.
Data entry: boring.
One by one, Tony went through the local want ads. There were a lot of them, but he cobbled together a quick program to prioritize. Ones that needed weekends or evenings, were entry level, or had a uniform were discarded right from the start. That didn't leave much, and most of what was there just wasn't happening.
"Tony, this is ridiculous." Rhodey, ever the voice of reason and therefore ever ignored, peered over his shoulder. Compared to Tony's pajama pants and socks, Rhodey was the picture of college perfection in a crisp polo and khakis. He even ironed his underwear—Tony had watched him do it. "It's not like you need money. Do you know how many guys would kill to have all expenses paid?"
"Hush, Rhodey, can't you see I'm job hunting?" No, hours too long. No, pay too small. No, required an apron.
"You—wait, go back." One of Rhodey's fingers jabbed at the screen. "What's wrong with that one?"
Confused, Tony scanned back over the ad in question, then reeled back. "I'm not working as a delivery boy, Rhodey. I've seen horror movies. The slut's always the first to die."
"What are you even—you know what, never mind." Reaching over, Rhodey pushed the laptop screen closed. "Why don't you go take a job for the art department? I hear they're looking for models. Right up your alley."
"Models?" Tony perked up. Sitting around naked for cash in front of a lot of hot art students? "I can do that!"
"Yeah, I thought so." Rhodey ruffled his hair. "I've got poli sci in ten minutes, so I'll catch you later, alright? Don't let me come back and find out you did something stupid, like selling yourself for sex, okay?"
Kicking up his feet on the desk, Tony gave Rhodey—roommate and provider of the best ideas—a wide grin. "Yeah, yeah, I'll be good, Mom. I promise."
Clearly sensing that Tony was up to something, but also staring down the barrel of a class, Rhodey gave Tony the hairy eyeball before grabbing up his bag and running out the door. Tony took the time to wave at his back, but most of his attention was on the plan slowly coming together in his head. It was absolutely perfect.
Hot art students.
Publicly acceptable nudity.
And best yet, he'd be getting paid for all of it.
Suddenly, Tony's future weekends were looking up.
Steve set up his easel with shaky hands, carefully peeling the protective covering off of the charcoal piece and clamping it down. Having life models always made him nervous, even though this was far from his first class that used them. There was just something embarrassing about staring at someone without their clothes on. This one was worse, though, because it was Tony.
It was the third time Tony had modeled for them, and the last according to the schedule. Which might have been for the best, because Steve couldn't think around him. In the normal course of things he'd get into the flow and be okay, the naked body just another set of shapes and lines and interesting shadows, but Tony made it impossible. He was just so gorgeous, all lean lines and interesting places, better suited to ink than charcoal. Steve caught himself sketching the angle of Tony's hips on a napkin or the shadow between his shoulder blades in the margins of his notes, but when the man was actually there, in the flesh, nothing. Unless he could get some real work done on it, Professor Aching was going to have words with him.
Good thing he'd skipped breakfast, because his stomach was twirling through loops-de-loops. Throwing up all over his work would probably get him a chance to try it again, but Steve hated the thought of ruining so many hours of work, even if it was terrible.
To calm his stomach, he concentrated on laying out his charcoals and smudge sticks, arranging them how he'd use them, and then again by size, and then back again. The can of fixative he'd use when it was done switched places three times, even though he probably wasn't going to need it anyway. The colorwheel he put up on the easel, black and white be damned.
Reasons why it was stupid to feel so nervous played through his head, a practiced litany. It was just a class, and Tony did it at least once a week. No reason he should even notice the scrawny blond guy in the back, not when Julia McNivens was up at the front with her big doe eyes and big—other things.
A guy like Tony was probably straight anyway.
He got so good at not paying attention that when he looked up and Tony was suddenly there and shrugging out of his robe, Steve nearly broke his charcoal stick. It had to be his imagination that Tony winked at him. Probably he was just winking in that general direction. Just Tony being Tony—he didn't have to say a word for his personality to come out, it was written in the line of his neck and the slow smile. That was one of the reasons the art profs loved him so much, Steve bet. Life models with that much life didn't really grow on trees.
Somehow, Steve got through the session, though when he looked at the work under his hands it didn't look anything like what he wanted. Lines. It was just lines and shapes, a person-figure that could have been anyone at all. Later, he'd have to go in and add detail before he had to turn it in. Maybe if he worked without Tony to distract him, he'd get something that wasn't horrible. The sketches he did when he was supposed to be doing something else weren't too bad. The piece wasn't due until Monday, and he could probably stretch that to Wednesday with some effort.
The robe went back on, and Steve could breathe a little again. Not much, but he didn't break anything as he put away his supplies, which was well done. It was just a lucky thing that charcoal didn't need to be in perfect condition to use, or he'd have had to scrounge up money for replacements. All around him, people grabbed up their things and left, some at a saunter, some running, but everyone streamed out of the room. Steve took his time, letting them go. He didn't have anywhere he had to be, and it would give him a chance to get his feet under him.
"Hey." Robed arms folded over the top of Steve's easel, and Tony was there again, like he'd appeared out of the ether. He grinned down, blue eyes bright and dancing and God, Steve wished he could use color on this piece. They flicked down to the rainbow wristband Steve wore as a habit, then back up to his face. If anything, Tony's grin got wider. "So, I noticed you looking at me."
There. Tony was there. Talking to him. To Steve. Talking to Steve while he was still wearing that bathrobe and everything that wasn't under it, even that tattoo on his hip that Steve had never gotten close enough to make out but still wanted to run his tongue over.
It's an art class, Steve tried to say. We're supposed to look at you. What ended up coming out was closer to wark, and also a lot like an oncoming asthma attack.
Tony's nose wrinkled up in a laugh, and it made him look impossibly young for a college student. "Do you squawk like that to all the boys?"
"No, I—" Shaking his head, Steve put down the supplies he'd been putting away before he dropped them. "I don't talk to many boys—many people." Well, there were Wanda and Carol. And Sam. And Bucky. But they were more like family than anything else, people he shared a flat with for cheap who didn't mind taking care of him when he got sick or posing when his fingers got the itch. They definitely didn't make Steve's knees turn to jello and his chest seize up.
"People don't have any taste these days." Tilting his head, Tony rested his cheek against his arm, lashes low and flirty, and it had to be deliberately casual because there was no way the easel would actually support someone leaning on it. "If you've got the time and the money, I could have some taste."
Steve's brain froze up. He couldn't even make chicken noises.
"Breathe!" A strong arm swatted his back, and Steve took a great, gasping breath of air. Tony went from smacking to rubbing his back, firm circles that did absolutely nothing to make breathing easier. "Wow, if I'd known you'd react like that, I'd have had an inhaler ready," he joked, but his eyes were a little wild around the edges.
Inhaler. That was a good idea that Steve immediately dismissed. Bad enough being completely useless in front of Tony; he didn't want to be any more of an art nerd stereotype. Even if he did think he might be about to have an attack. "Did you really just...?"
"If I say yes, will you choke again?"
Shaking his head, Steve forced himself to relax. Nerves weren't the same as an attack, but they were damned close, and if he started to have a real one he wasn't going to have a choice about that inhaler. The door clicked shut as the last person left, and Steve really, really hoped Tony didn't know CPR because that would probably kill him faster than an asthma attack. "I think I'm good now. You just—startled me. You don't look like the kind of guy who would... you know. For money."
One of Tony's shoulders moved in a shrug that made his robe slip a little. "Well, you know. Guy's got to make money somehow, and senior year doesn't leave much time to make it. Between you and me, it's not really what I expected, but it pays the bills. You interested? Don't make me chase down the prof."
"I don't know..." He'd gotten his paycheck that morning, cash in hand, and he could feel the numbers turning over in his head. Rent was already paid for the month, and Sam had him covered for the electricity since Steve had covered for him a while back. Water bill was due, but split five ways it wasn't that much. But what was left he'd need for food.
"You can't spare fifty dollars?" Tony batted his eyelashes, like some starlet from the forties. "Come on, I bet you could if you really wanted to."
And there went air again. Only fifty? Almost popped out of his mouth, but this time Steve bit his tongue first. He didn't want to imply that Tony was cheap—though really, that did seem cheap, and Tony was selling sex so he pretty literally was cheap and—but fifty. He could spare fifty. Cut back on groceries, a little more ramen and cereal.... "Um—I think—I could do that..."
Tony grinned like the world had just exploded into flowers and kittens and Steve was pretty sure he was going to have a melt down before Tony even touched skin. "You've got a place we can go?"
"Not on campus—no wait—" The studio was empty. No students, no teacher, nothing. "Here? I stay late sometimes to work and lock up after. No one comes in here."
If he'd thought the nerves from before class had been bad, it was nothing to the new ones. He couldn't believe it was actually happening, that he was doing this. Paying for sex wasn't anything he'd ever considered, but it was Tony, and deep down, Steve couldn't believe he'd ever get a chance at someone that hot twice.
"Art student in an art studio. Nice." Tony swung a leg over the pommel horse. Hooking his knees over Steve's thighs, he settled in close. White terry cloth slipped off his shoulders, puddling down behind him, leaving absolutely nothing hidden. Which was alright, because Steve had seen it already, and it didn't really excuse how warm Steve suddenly was. "So, what'll it be?"
"I don't know—I've never..." Steve felt himself flush up to his hairline. "Not like this, I mean. Not with money—oh God." Dropping his head to Tony's shoulder came naturally, and once he was there it was too late not to.
Bastard, Tony laughed, arms wrapping around Steve's shoulders as he pressed a kiss to his ear. "Relax. It's only weird if you let it be."
"I don't think I have much choice." Steve glanced down; he could see the tattoo centered over the sharp edge of Tony's hipbone, a stylized slash of jagged lines, and some sort of circle that looked almost like it came from the astrology pages in the newspaper. Swallowing back his nerves, he pressed his thumb to it, watching the skin go pale. He wondered what it meant.
Another kiss, and then a slow nuzzle to his neck. "How about a blowjob?" Tony whispered against his jaw, lips sliding against skin in a hot line. His hand pressed against the front of Steve's jeans, squeezing his half-hard cock. "And if you like that, maybe you can hit me up for more later."
"I—okay, yeah." Just then, Steve would have agreed to almost anything. He'd never had a blowjob, but guys talked about them and the sounded good. Certainly picturing his dick between Tony's lips was enough to make his breath short. "Yeah, that sounds—good."
Tony chuckled. Clever fingers made quick work of Steve's fly, button popping open and zip lowering in under a minute. His hands were warm where they wrapped around Steve's cock, the calluses little sharp points of friction on otherwise smooth skin. "You're cute."
Steve choked on something witty, watching Tony's hand work him, tan skin against northern pale, smooth gold and the darkening head. It was an amazing study of contrasts, and for a second his thoughts almost derailed into this would be a good color piece before his body shut it down. He let Tony push him back to the edge of the pommel until his shoulders pressed against the wall, let Tony lean forward and press a kiss to shaft, tongue flicking over the big vein.
Then his lips sealed around Steve's cock and took it down until Steve bumped the back of his throat, hand wrapped around what wouldn't fit. Up and down, with a hard suck before Tony pulled off Steve's dick with a wet pop. His hand kept working the shaft, thumb occasionally brushing over the head, but not with nearly as much attention that his mouth had given it. "Good?" Tony asked, bowing his head to drag his tongue over the head of Steve's cock, then down around it like it was a lollipop. "Wouldn't want you to think you're being cheated."
Words were not on Steve's side, so he nodded and croaked out, "Yeah. It's good."
"Oh, good." The lips came back, harder, firmer. Steve melted, praying that the wall would hold him up.
It was practiced and perfect, with those impossibly blue eyes watching Steve's face as Tony's mouth worked him up and down. Tony's shoulders arched, muscles tight as if he'd physically drag Steve to orgasm if he had to, and it really, really shouldn't have been hot as it was. All Steve could really do was thread his fingers through dark hair and try to muffle his groans with a fist.
He came embarrassingly fast, biting down on his knuckles as he spilled on Tony's tongue. And Tony lapped it up, sucking hard, hand working to milk the last shudder from Steve.
By the time Steve's dick slipped out of Tony's mouth, he was boneless, too relaxed to even be nervous. Thoughts chased themselves lazily around his head, from someone had had his cock in their mouth and ending in oh my God that was amazing. Kindly, Tony put Steve's cock back in his pants and patted his thigh, waiting for his brain to unscramble.
"Worth a fifty?" he asked, after Steve's eyes uncrossed. His cock jutted up against his stomach, hard and slightly curved, less red than Steve's got, and he looked happy—that was weirdly comforting. If Tony enjoyed it, maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe Steve wasn't completely disgusting or just another fifty in the bank.
"Mm—yeah—wait, the money." The reminder kicked Steve into motion. Reaching down, he used the few muscles he could get working to haul his bag over. In one of the pockets, tucked deep back where it wasn't easy to get, the wad of money that was Steve's paycheck sat waiting. He didn't even mind counting off bills, though he knew he'd be wincing at the loss later. It was a week of food if he stretched it right, gone in thirty minutes and one orgasm.
Worth it, Steve thought, handing them over.
Tony accepted it with good grace, tucking it down into his robe without counting. Scooting forward, he propped his elbows up on Steve's thighs, looking up at him with a smile. His feet swung back and forth, bare toes dragging over polished concrete with little sweeping noises. "You know, you really are cute. And I'm not just saying that because you paid me to."
Much as he didn't believe that, Steve flushed anyway. "Thanks."
"No, really. Here." Reaching down into Steve's tote, Tony rummaged for a second before pulling out a stick of charcoal. Black smudged his fingers as he held it up to eye level. "Will this work? Never mind, it'll have to." Without warning, he grabbed Steve's arm and wrote on it in large, blocky print. Seven numbers. "Call me next time you've got some cash to spare, huh? I wouldn't mind making this a regular thing."
"I..." Carefully Steve held out his arm, doing his best not to smudge it. "I'll think about it." He wouldn't. It was insane to even have done it once.
With a wink, Tony slipped his robe back on, tying it tight around his waist. "You do that." And then he was gone, out the door at a trot, leaving Steve with an ache that only had a little to do with his dick.
Tony fumbled at the lock at dark o'clock in the morning, sore, exhausted and sticky in the worst places. He'd always been careful to insist on a condom no matter who his client happened to be, but there were some things that couldn't be helped.
Like chocolate sauce. He was going to be scrubbing that out from between his toes for a week.
No one had told him prostitution was going to be so much work. His back ached, actually ached, and he'd gotten bruises on his knees once. Everyone, everyone pulled on his hair, whether he was going down on them or just letting them fingerpaint with chocolate. It wasn't the hot young art students he'd expected, either. For some reason, they all thought they could find sex for free instead of paying him. No, most of his customers were older, with—God help him—wrinkles and lumps in strange places and kinks that he had to look up on the internet afterward. Being too picky didn't get him any money, but not picky enough could get downright unfortunate.
Julia Roberts had lied to him. Tony felt distinctly cheated.
When he finally got the door open, Tony dragged himself into the dark dorm and straight to the sofa, throwing himself down with the desperation of a drowning man.
"OOF!" The sofa yelled in Rhodey's voice, squishing up unpleasantly. It squirmed, pushing and prodding. "God damn—Tony, get off of me, man!"
Rather than give in to the sofa's callous whims, Tony clung harder. "No," he growled, digging his fingers into the cushions. "You can't make me. I claim this couch in the name of hookers everywhere. Viva la revolution!"
"That is so offensive, you have no idea."
Elbows and knees and one headbutt finally forced Tony off to the side, where he sank into the cushy space between the back and the seat. His knee was trapped, but as long as teeth didn't close on it, he was too tired to care. In the morning, he'd probably be stuck and even more sore, but Tony hadn't gotten anywhere by caring how things would work out in the morning.
Rhodey—who had been the sofa all along, the sneaky jerk—sat up and flipped on the table lamp. "... Do I want to know why you have chocolate in your hair?"
"Mr. Benedict. It's sugar-free?" Faint silver lining—that just meant Tony was being slowly poisoned with Nutra-Sweet. He should probably start charging extra for anything not organic.
He was in his boxers and a white t-shirt, which Tony took a second to scowl at. One chance to see a hot guy all day, and Rhodey had to ruin it by being Rhodey. Not that he would have done anything about it, even if Rhodey had stripped down naked and begged for a chance. Tony didn't want to see another set of genitalia for at least twelve hours. Maybe thirteen; it had been a rough night.
"... Yeah, I don't want to know." Sitting up on the edge of the couch, Rhodey reached for his phone, flicking the power button. Which was funny because Rhodey's phone looked a lot like Tony's, all red and shiny with the gold flecks he'd badgered R&D into putting in. "Do you realize it's past three? I was worried sick. If you hadn't come back by dawn, I was going to call the cops."
"It was just Mr. Benedict—he's harmless. Weird, but harmless." Way too fond of food, though.
Rhodey's face set in those very Rhodey lines, the ones that said you're being an idiot, but I'm too tired to argue, and really, dude, go take a shower, you've got chocolate everywhere and I'm not scrubbing another piece of furniture for your lazy ass. It was an expression Tony saw more often that most people might expect. "You left your phone," Rhodey finally said, clicking the phone off and dropping it to the couch. "It rang a bunch of times."
Oh. That explained why Rhodey's phone looked familiar. Reaching over, Tony picked it up and started thumbing through the log. Alicia—no, smelled like cats, Tony wasn't doing that again. Mr. "Snuggles", who thought choking Tony with his dick was the hottest thing since jalapenos, but at least he got it over with fast... "Did you answer?"
"Once. Never again."
"The answer is 'red lace panties', 'yes' and 'fifty dollars'," Tony reminded him absently. "It's on the fridge. Hello, who are you?" Tony eyed the new number. Local, at least, which was a good sign. Dragging open a map, he traced it to one of the cheap, pay as you go cell phone companies. "Huh. Well, can't hurt." With a quick flick of his thumb, Tony pressed dial.
"Are you calling someone? At this hour?" Rhodey crossed his arms. "You're not going out there—"
Flapping his hand like a mouth, Tony waved Rhodey off. "Nag, nag, nag, of course I'm not, I just want to—"
The phone clicked over, and a sleepy voice with a thick Brooklyn accent murmured, "This's Steve, whaddya want?"
"Steve!" Popping free from the jaws of sofa-based death, Tony sat up, exhaustion temporarily forgotten. The name wasn't familiar, but Tony recognized the voice. His memory called up a picture of the cute art student, with his clipped blond hair and too-big ears and weirdly adorable scrawny arms and dick that was at least three sizes too big for him, to go with the hands and ears. Steve. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. This is Tony."
"Tony!" From the sound of Steve's voice, he'd just woken up with a jolt. "I—you said to call you if I—you know, money, and I have some, I got a double shift last week and some overtime, if you're still, you know..."
"For rent?" Settling back into the sofa, Tony let his voice take on that rolling purr that people seemed to like. It got their blood pumping, at least, which got their minds off questions like his age, the price, and whether he'd really call them back. "Yeah, I'm still available. Especially if you're the one who's booking."
Rolling his eyes expressively, Rhodey stuck his fingers in his ears and took off for his room, muttering something about bleaching his ear drums.
The breathing on the other end picked up, just a little, and really, it shouldn't have been sexy to be able to hear some scrawny art student get hard. "You say that to everyone, don't you?"
Tony could picture him, snuggled under a pile of blankets thicker than his mattress, blue eyes foggy with lust. Not the hottest person he'd slept with, but better than the rest of the ones who were willing to pay for it. Maybe he was hard, rubbing himself through his pristine little tighty whities. "No, not everyone," Tony admitted, actually honestly. "Just you."
Steve swallowed, the sound too loud over his cheap, scratchy phone. "So when do you—I mean, when can we meet?"
The edge of the couch was digging into his hip, Tony rolled over, pulling himself all the way free from the blue cushions of doom and settling on his side. "How much time do we need?"
"What do you want to do?" Telling silence, and a slow smile crept over Tony's face. He glanced over at Rhodey's door, but it was shut tight, with a towel shoved under the crack. Safe. "Or don't you know?"
"I—thought I'd—like last time."
"Come on, you're going to have me all to yourself, to do whatever you want, and you'll settle for a quick blow? It's your money, but don't you have any other ideas?"
"I—didn't—" He could hear Steve getting more flustered, his breathing getting harder, and yeah, that was the sound of creaky old bedsprings in the background. "I didn't really think about it."
Probably blushing like a schoolboy watching his first porno, Tony thought fondly. Too cute for his own good. "How about you bend me over Prof Aching's desk?" he suggested in a low whisper. "Spread me out and just fuck me open with that big dick of yours?"
And really, that wasn't a bad idea. Tony wasn't a size queen, but just thinking about Steve's dick made his own take interest, and that was with Mr. Benedict's chocolate sauce all over him. He could stretch himself good before-hand, make sure he could take it.
A groan, and yeah, Tony was already earning his fifty bucks. "I've never topped—not with a guy," Steve confessed, voice lower and a little husky. "My old girlfriend—Peggy—she had a strap-on she liked, so we did that sometimes, and I'd only—you know—with her."
Hot. Steve bent over, maybe hands and knees, while a chick pounded into him from behind. One hand holding the phone, Tony let his other wander down to rub himself through his jeans. "Did you like it?" Tony had to ask, squeezing his balls. "Get you off, having a girl do you?"
"Yeah, I liked it. It was—she was good. Real good. Miss her." Slick sounds, like Steve had found some lube, dirty and fast and Jesus, Tony was damn near willing to do him for free if he could just see what was happening. Why the hell hadn't his father marketed the vidphone feature for prepaids? Or was it even to market yet? "But I want to do you. I want to—to try it out."
"You sure? I'm good too." The button on Tony's jeans wouldn't pop quietly, so he threw it open and ripped down the zip, listening for the pause that meant Steve recognized the noises. "I could bend you over, think of that? Pin you down on your face and let you have it."
A shuddery breath and a needy little noise that made Tony's throat clench. "Next time?" Steve asked, sweet and innocent and just begging to be debauched. "I really want to do you."
How was it that Tony was the one for rent, and Steve was tying him in knots? It was definitely supposed to be the other way around. Tony's hand worked his dick in long, slow strokes. "You want me to come prepared then? Or do you want to lube me up?"
Whatever it was about that, it did it. Steve groaned, long and loud. Tony's stomach did a flip and splashed down right in the middle of his libido. Jesus fuck, that's—He squeezed down low, keeping himself from going off yet.
"I guess that's a yes to doing me yourself?" Tony asked, when he thought he could speak.
"Six o'clock tomorrow good for you?" Squeeze, flick the wrist, hold. He wasn't going to come over the phone. He was a goddamned professional covered in chocolate; he wasn't giving in that easy.
"Great, I'll see you then." Have to get off—of the phone, have to get off the phone— Wrist already working, Tony's thumb reached for the end button.
Hold, God damn it. "Yeah?"
"Are you going to charge me for this?"
He was going to die. His dick was going to explode, and he was going to die from phone sex with a guy who was half his size and paid for strangers to blow him. His parents would bury him in secret and tell people he ran off to be a professional crash test dummy to cover the shame.
Closing his eyes, Tony offered up a quick prayer to whatever deity looked out after the young and pretty that Steve would hang up the phone. "Call it a freebie. Because I like you."
"That's—thanks. Good night, Tony. I'll—" And there was that pause, like Rhodey's faces, and Tony just knew Steve was blushing. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah. See ya." As soon as the call disconnected, Tony threw his phone to the couch and set to work, pumping his dick like he was trying to give it rug burn. Three jerks was all it took before he came, digging his heels into sofa as his back arched, come splattering up onto his stomach and sweater, which was luckily already stained with chocolate and would probably have to be burned and buried in an unmarked grave anyway.
He laid back, staring at the ceiling through the lovely haze that came from a really amazing orgasm. If Steve was going to be a regular thing, he'd probably be able to drop Mr. Benedict and Mr. Snuggles. He could get by with Steve, Debbie, and Aaron, plus what he got for modeling and one or two that he could pick up in passing.
It was a workable idea. Less buying drinks, more letting other people buy for him. It was a plan, and it was a plan that would have him fucking Steve regularly and getting paid for it.
Things were looking up.
Steve squirmed, checking the time every few seconds, as if it would magically make the minute hand move faster, but no, it stayed stubbornly at five forty-something, only ticking forward occasionally. He and Bucky had taken over one of the low brick walls that hemmed in the plaza. Students wandered back and forth on the mall with the lazy energy that came at the end of the day, when the sun was setting and the only people panicking were the ones with evening classes. It was too cold for most people to linger, snow sharp and crisp enough on the ground to encourage hurrying.
"Are you okay?" Bucky eyed over his coffee—his iced cinnamon dolce latte, specifically, which was something Steve thought they might need to stage an intervention for. One of his holiday presents had been a Starbucks card, and he'd already zipped through it and had to be forcibly restrained from buying another with money that was meant for textbooks. "You keep looking at your watch."
"I'm fine," Steve said automatically, reaching for his inhaler, then putting it back unused. It was just the cold and nerves making his chest clench up, and inhalers were expensive. If he used it up and had to buy a new one, he'd go from eating ramen to eating nothing.
Or not seeing Tony again, and thinking about that made him think he might have another attack anyway. He didn't want to examine it too much. It was just sex; he wasn't that hard up.
Ice clinked as Bucky took another long draw at his favorite drug. "Don't give me that. I haven't seen you this nervous since you started dating Peggy—" He paused in the middle of sucking whipped cream from the rim of his cup. "Steve, have you got a date?"
"No!" Five-fifty. "Not really. Not a date." Sinking down on the ha-ha was practically impossible, since Steve was already on the edge and his feet didn't touch the ground. He gave it the good old college try anyway. For good measure, he fidgeted with his wristband. "I might be meeting someone. But it's not a date."
"Whatever you say, buddy." Bucky's shoulder bumped his. "So, who is she? She hot?"
"He's just a model for my life drawing class. I've got that project due Monday, and he agreed to sit for me so I can finish it." A terrible, total and complete lie. Steve had already given up and turned the thing in. He was pretty sure that Professor Aching was going to Have Words with him (probably including the big one, Disappointed) over the poor quality, but hopefully it wouldn't bring down his grade too much. Lie or not, the subject of patronizing a prostitute was never going to cross Steve's lips in Bucky's presence.
"Oh-ho, a model, huh?" A totally reasonable explanation seemed to spark Bucky's interest even more. He edged closer, until their hips were wedged together on the cold cement. "Is he hot, then?"
A blush crawled up his cheeks, which weren't nearly pink enough from cold to hide it. Five-fifty three. "Maybe. If you like that sort of thing. Don't you have class at six?"
The last of the latte vanished down Bucky's throat, and he tossed the cup into a trash can with sniper-like precision. "Five after. You're trapped. Spill the beans or I'll tell Sam where you hid the fuzzy blanket."
Steve stared in outraged shock. "You wouldn't."
The fuzzy blanket. There was only one blanket like it in the house, old and worn until the pattern had faded to muddled gray. It was made out of that weird furry material that wasn't really thermal but almost, and was probably the warmest thing any of them had ever seen that hadn't been in a crib. Steve liked to use it under his sheets, but Sam had started stealing it to cover his feet when he was on the sofa instead of using slippers like everyone else. The resultant conflict of interests had sparked a small war and a prolonged game of Hide the Blanket. Just then, Steve was ahead by a cardboard shoebox at the bottom of his laundry basket. All it would take was one slip, and Sam would have it again.
"You're a terrible person."
Pointedly, Bucky reached over and grabbed Steve's wrist, checking the time. "You've got six minutes until I have to leave for class. If I don't have details by then, I'm texting Sam."
Steve huddled lower in his coat, quickly rearranging facts in his head to cut out as much of the and I paid him fifty dollars for oral sex as possible. It was going to be hard. Bucky had a lie detector built in that Steve had never managed to slip by. "Okay, he's hot. Gorgeous."
Bucky nodded, obvious having anticipated that Steve would admit that much. "And he's going to sit around naked for you in an empty classroom."
In a very technical sense... "Yeah."
"Have you kissed?"
No, because his mouth was too busy— "No!" The blush, which was already bad enough without help, went from rosy to fire engine. "No, we haven't kissed."
Rogers, if you're going to pay someone to blow you, you should at least be able to think about it without turning into a tomato. But thinking about it inevitably reminded him of how Tony had looked, with his lips red and swollen and that little smear of come at the corner of his mouth and what they were going to do—
He slammed a mental lid down on those thoughts as fast as he could.
Lips flat, eyes narrow, Bucky stared at him, and Steve could see the lie detector beeping away in his head. Steve held his breath and prayed that he didn't look too guilty.
"No kissing, then," Bucky said slowly, like he could taste the words. "You're not lying, but... not on the mouth?" Biting his lips, Steve shook his head. "Cheek?" Shake. "Forehead?" Shake. "Nose?" Shake. "Lower?" Choke, and Bucky's eyes lit up with the perverse joy of discovery. "Steve, you rascal! Did you really—? Without kissing him first?"
There wasn't air enough to answer, so Steve hid his face in his arms and nodded. At least Bucky hadn't figured out the money part yet. As a saving grace, it wasn't much, but Steve would take whatever he could get.
"I didn't think you had it in you." Next to him, Bucky's body heat vanished. "I've got class, and you've got a hot not-date."
Panicked, Steve looked down at his watch. Six oh-one. "Damn it!" Grabbing his bag, he dropped the six inches to the sidewalk and took off at a sprint. Behind him, he could hear Bucky laughing hysterically.
"Get a kiss this time, bro!"
The art building wasn't too far, but Steve was panting by the time he fell into the classroom.
Tony looked up from where he'd sprawled over the professor's desk. Instead of something sensible and warm, he was wearing a pair of jeans that were practically made of rips and a thin t-shirt that showed off exactly how cold it was. The way he'd stretched out had caused his shirt to ruck up, showing a tiny sliver of skin and the dark trail of hair that dipped down below his waistband. It was obvious he'd set himself up for display. "Thought you weren't going to make it."
Steve braced himself on his knees and focused on breathing. Air in, air out, steady and deep and why had he run all the way across the mall? His lungs were on fire, but at least he could breathe. I need to start working out.
Pushing up on his elbows, Tony swiveled around so he was facing Steve, legs dangling off the desk. "Hey, you okay? You're not going to die on me or something, are you?"
Shaking his head, Steve tried to straighten, and was pleased when he could. "No—no, I just ran," he said, between deep, slowing breaths. "Didn't want to miss you."
"Aw, that's sweet." Tony's legs swung, heels knocking into the metal side of the desk with a hollow noise. "I was waiting, you know. Got no one else to do tonight."
The stretchy, tight feeling in Steve's chest eased, and he let himself lean back against the wall. "No one? It's a Friday. I kind of thought you'd have plans—things to do, people to see." Tony didn't seem like the kind of guy who sat at home and read on a Friday night, even if he wasn't working.
"I do." One of Tony's shoulders moved in a shrug. He tilted his head sideways and smirked, clearly knowing exactly how appealing he looked. "You."
The reminder made Steve's mouth go a little dry. "You make it sound so simple."
"Why should it be complicated?" Tony looked genuinely confused. "It's just sex."
"Flat rate. The post office is more complicated than that."
"Snow, rain, sleet, hail or gloom of night?" Almost in spite of himself, Steve started to relax. Tony was easy to talk to. It wasn't hard to just not think about the money. He was just a guy who apparently liked Steve enough to have sex with him. Why didn't have to come up until later. "That's pretty impressive."
"I always deliver on time, too." Sneakers drummed the desk as Tony spread his legs and patted the surface between them. "You going to stay over there all night and chat me up? Not that I'm judging, if that's your thing, but I thought you had something you wanted to try."
"No I—" Catching himself with an apology on the tip of his tongue, Steve laughed and pushed his bag back against the wall with the tip of his toe. He shrugged out of his thick winter coat next, and the sweater under it, leaving him in just a long-sleeved thermal shirt and his jeans. "I'm just nervous. You're—you know. Sexy."
"Most modest guy you'll ever meet." Tony grinned and patted the desk again. "C'mere."
Nerves and want jostling for place in his head, Steve fitted himself between Tony's thighs. Cold as the rest of the room was, Tony was like a furnace, heating him right through his clothes. Letting out a breath, Steve turned his face up and, before his anxiety could stop him, brushed his lips over Tony's. It felt like a first kiss, no matter how ridiculous that idea was. Kisses that were bought and paid for didn't count.
Tony really was gorgeous, slim curves of muscle covered in what had to be a mostly natural tan, all elegant lines and long limbs, like a young thoroughbred that was still growing. Which might have actually been the case; Bucky was only a couple years younger than Steve, and he'd been short and skinny until he was nearly twenty, when he outgrew his clothes overnight. Tony was probably Bucky's age, Steve estimated—twenty-three or twenty-two. He couldn't have been much younger and been a senior.
Swallowing, Steve kissed him again, letting his hands slide along those long legs, feel the bend of the knee where his pen could have lingered for years and not captured the perfect angle of it. "So," Steve asked, "how do we start?"
"You're the customer." The tip of Tony's nose dragged over Steve's cheek. "You get to call the shots."
Choices. Steve really had hoped to avoid those, but he guessed he should have known he wouldn't be able to. "Then—I guess turn around? Over the desk?"
"You sound so certain," Tony laughed, making Steve's embarrassment just deepen.
"I've never—not for money," Steve tried to explained, pulling his hands off Tony. "It's not like it was with Peggy." It was awkward and weird, that was what it was. He didn't have it in him to just get on with things, no matter if Tony was just someone with a job to do. Steve just didn't work that way. "Maybe this was a bad idea. I'm sorry I wasted your time."
"Hold hold hold it." Tony's knees tightened, catching Steve around the waist unless he wanted to try and fight for freedom. He pulled Steve back in close, this time enough that their hips pressed together. Warm, soft lips dragged over Steve's, just a feather-light touch of skin to skin. "Let's try it your way before you back out on me, huh? Sex is supposed to be fun, not all tense. Come on."
"I..." What would it hurt? Steve asked himself, staring at Tony's eyes. Maybe he wouldn't be able to relax, and it would just be money wasted, but maybe... "Alright."
Another kiss, less fragile than the last, and then another as Tony's fingers slid up into his hair. The kisses stayed mostly soft at first, Tony coaxing him into responding with little sighs and nudges. Almost, Steve could believe that Tony actually wanted to be there, that it wasn't just for some quick cash. His hands skimmed under Tony's shirt, feeling the faint outline of his ribs, less prominent than Steve's but still visibly lean. Tony let Steve strip off the shirt entirely.
For all that Steve was the skinnier one, his palms were huge against Tony's chest. He ran his thumbs along the sharp jut of Tony's hips where black ink peeked out, nuzzled a kiss to the hollow at his throat. When Steve's tongue darted out to lick it, his nose wrinkled at the sharp, bitter taste of cologne.
"Better now?" To Steve's delight and surprise, Tony sounded breathless. He squirmed, rocking against Steve. Thin denim did nothing to hide the hard length of Tony's cock. "Please tell me you're better."
"Yeah. Better." Nervous still, but not so stiff. He could do it; Tony was just another guy. Whatever happened after was after. As long as Steve kept telling himself that, the butterflies were manageable. "Turn."
Eagerly, Tony wiggled around, planting his feet on the concrete and his elbows on the desk. Steve's hands shook a little as he popped the fly on Tony's jeans and rolled them down his hips. Up close, Tony's ass was just as nice as Steve had always thought, the dip of his back turning into a perfect curve, just slightly lighter than the rest of his skin. Even though it wasn't easy to see at that angle, Steve still rubbed his thumb over Tony's tattoo. It got him a shiver in response that made Steve's heart give a funny flip.
Tony had brought lube and condoms in a little paper grocery bag, both still new and in their boxes, which was a huge relief—Steve hadn't even thought of that, and he really should have. The lube was water-based, nice and slick when Steve spread it on his fingers. Rubbing it between them, Steve shook his head and squirted a larger handful, working it between his hands while Tony watched over his shoulder, eyebrows furrowed.
"You're really—what are you doing?" One leg twisted around Steve's to bop the small of his back. "Are you delaying, or do you have a thing for lube, too?"
"It was cold," Steve explained, frowning a little. Peggy had done it back when they were together, before she'd gone off to the army. Sometimes she'd even just boil a pot of water and then drop the bottle in, like milk for an infant. He'd never really thought it was weird, but maybe Peggy had just been different. "What, no one ever did that for you before?"
"No, it's..." An odd, wistful expression flickered across Tony's face before he turned back around. "Whatever makes you happy, I guess."
Weird guy. It didn't take more than a minute to warm the lube up to body temperature, and by then it had lost some of its gel-like gloopiness, so it ended up being a good thing that he'd poured a handful. Steve smeared it over his fingers generously, sliding it along Tony's crack before pushing one finger in. Tony made a soft, strange noise, back arching a little. He opened easily, without really any fight for the first finger. Still, Steve took his time, making sure to work him slowly, massaging the muscles from the inside. Paid or not, he'd never forgive himself if he'd hurt anyone just because he was overeager and impatient.
When Tony started squirming, Steve took it as a good sign and pressed in a second finger, easing them back and forth in slow, loose motions. The tip of his finger brushed against a spot with a lightly different texture, and the impatient wiggles froze.
Tony let out a high, urgent-sounding noise in the back of his throat. "You can do that again any time."
"I'll remember that." Steve curled his fingers against it again and trying to mark the spot in his memory. He had a feeling it might take a few tries.
After that, easy turned to downright loose, Tony's muscles relaxing and swallowing Steve's fingers to the last knuckle without a problem. Suddenly, Peggy's interest in this made a lot of sense, even if she had used a strap-on instead. Each little squirm made Steve's cock tighten or his breath pause until he was afraid he'd go off just from getting Tony ready. There was something fascinating in the way Tony's muscles trembled around his fingers and the arch of his back when he rocked his hips.
Leaning forward, Steve dragged his tongue along the dip of Tony's spine. His fingers curled again, fumbling for that spongy little place—prostate, he remembered faintly—when Tony's whole body jerked.
"Fuck," Tony groaned in frustration, pushing his hips back with a needy whine. The flat of his palm slapped against the desktop and he did it again, jamming himself down onto Steve's fingers. "If I get more ready, I'm going to be done."
"Already?" A little bit of pride might have touched Steve's voice, not that he'd ever admit it.
"Already? What do you mean, already? You've been—" There was a thump as Tony's forehead dropped heavily to the desk. "Look, if you don't get your dick in me right now, I'm charging extra."
It wasn't Steve's fault that he laughed, but he did reach for the box of condoms as ordered. "Yes, sir."
The condoms were one of the super, ridiculously large sizes that guys mostly got to cater to their ego. Ripping the foil, it didn't really look any different from most, but Steve still grinned a little. "Super Soldier Magnum? Really?"
"Hey, I've had your dick in my mouth. I know what size it is." Another pop of Tony's heel against his backside, like it would make Steve roll on the condom faster. "Come on, counting down to a ten dollar upcharge."
It was too much. Steve pressed his forehead between Tony's shoulders and started laughing. Every few seconds, Tony's heel would bounce against him again, just when he was starting to get a grip, and it would set him off again. He tried to tell Tony that the kicks weren't helping, but he barely managed a couple of words before the next would come.
After about three minutes of it, Tony got fed up enough to reach behind and grab Steve's cock for himself. A second of fumbling and he sank backward. Warm, tight muscle wrapped around Steve's cock, and suddenly he was breathless for reasons that only had a little to do with the snickers that still escaped him.
"When I said sex is supposed to be fun, I didn't mean laugh at me," Tony grumbled, grinding back against Steve.
Swallowing back the last bit of his amusement, Steve kissed Tony's back, right over his bumpy spine. Strangely, the laughter had relaxed what the kisses hadn't. Maybe it was just Tony, but he suspected that most hookers didn't start getting demanding. "Sorry."
"No you're not."
"You're right. I'm not." Another kiss, and Steve started to move. It was different than being inside Peggy—tighter, mostly. Even though he thought he had worked Tony over pretty good, he could still feel Tony's muscles dragging at him, see him cling. A few slow thrusts opened him up more, but it was a tighter fit than Steve had expected.
He wasn't the only one who thought so. Tony lifted up on his elbows with a groan, pushing back with a gasp that Steve hoped was a good one. It was slow going at first, a little too tight.. He couldn't fight Tony's muscles enough to move actually freely, so he did the best he could with slow, deep thrusts Tony seemed to like it at least, making little noises that clenched him even tighter around Steve.
"Maybe the soldiers weren't big enough after all," Tony groaned, throat visibly working as his head tilted back.
Steve hesitated, fingers digging into Tony's hip to keep him still for a second. He wanted to move, to slam in but he couldn't and it was driving him mad. "Do you want—is it too much—"
"Stop and I'm charging you triple," Tony threatened, pulling free of Steve's hand and pushing back again.
Only needing a couple of hints, Steve started moving again. He tried speeding up to give Tony what they both wanted, but he couldn't find a pace. There was no slap of skin, no quick build of tension, just a slow burn that he was pretty sure was going to kill him.
Rising from elbows to hands, Tony braced himself against the desk, rocking back harder, fighting to make Steve go faster. "Steve," he whined, reaching pitches that could really only be called needy. "Please—please, come on, just a little...?"
Biting his lip, Steve tried to think back through the fog of frustration. He slid lower, pressing his forehead against Tony's shoulder and thrust—
Tony rose up on his toes, choking off a sound that might have been Steve's name. Reaching around, Steve fisted his cock, flicking his wrist in short, hard strokes that had Tony coming in less than a minute. His whole body tightened, arching back into Steve and clamping down. The vain hope Steve had of relaxing Tony more died as it practically dragged his own orgasm out of him, milking him right along with Tony.
They both fell forward against the desk, Tony face-first and Steve catching himself with his arms. Steve was too skinny to do any crushing, but he had a feeling that if he fell he'd keep falling. Concrete floors hurt. Pain wasn't a friend he cared to have visit often.
"Well?" Tony asked, voice muffled by the desk. "What'ya think?"
Slow, was Steve's first thought. Sometimes slow was good, but he hadn't had a choice. There just hadn't been room to move, not the way he'd wanted to, and he was pretty sure not the way Tony had wanted him to, either. "I think next time, we'll do it the other way," he decided, dropping his head in exhaustion.
"So there's going to be a next time?" Tony's head rolled, a hint of blue peeking out from the corner of his eye.
Steve hadn't actually decided that there would be, but he nodded again and closed his eyes. "Sure, why not?" It wasn't that much, really. And he liked Tony.
"Oh, good." Underneath him, he felt Tony's back heave in a sigh. "No upcharge, then."
"I don't know what you hear when I say things, but when I told you not to become a hooker, I meant don't do it." Rhodey was sprawled out on Tony's bed, dressed for class other than his blue fuzzy slippers. As soon as Tony had told him what his plans were for the night, he'd thrown himself down, hidden his face, and not come out. Not even peek-a-boo had worked, and Tony was a master at peek-a-boo.
"Go be a hooker, got it, Rhodey." Tony held up two shirts, trying to decide. Neither had seen their best day, but he'd figured out fast that whatever he wore out had a pretty good chance of being ruined. But it was Steve, not some freak with a hard on for hot young Stark ass—which, granted, was most people, but Steve wasn't weird about it, at least. "Which is better, the blue or Motley Crüe?"
"Motley Crüe," Rhodey answered without pulling his head out of the pillow. "Tony, come on, I'm really worried about you here."
Discarding the blue into the dirty clothes pile, Tony pulled the band shirt over his head. "What's to worry about? It's Steve—he's about as dangerous as a puppy. One of those little cuddly ones with the big eyes and way too much fur." No cologne, Steve never said anything, but he always wrinkled his nose when Tony wore it. Maybe one of the girly body mist things Rhodey used?
"Maybe a rabid puppy. Tony—Tony." Rhodey sat up, holding the pillow to his chest. "Listen to me, man, I'm serious."
Huffing, Tony turned around and crossed his arms, leaning back against the dresser. "Listening."
Nearly as earnest as Steve on an off-day, Rhodey said, "This Steve guy calls you every week. You text him dirty messages in physics—yeah, I saw it, shut up and listen—and I know you've had dinner with him last month, and sometimes you don't come home until the asscrack of dawn, and I worry about you. That's not safe."
Okay, when Rhodey put it that way, it did sound a little weird. Shuffling a bare foot against the carpet, Tony shrugged. "It's just business. He just doesn't think I eat enough, so he started buying me meals."
"Tones... it's not normal. Sex—even paying for it, yeah, I get that. I don't like it, but I get that. But this is way more than that."
Judgey. Rhodey's expression was getting judgey, and while he was allowed to do that to Tony, Steve didn't deserve it. Bristling, Tony set his jaw. "Steve's a nice guy—an actual nice guy, not like that asshole last month. You know how many nice guys I know? You. So give him a break, okay?"
Over the top of the pillow, Rhodey stared at him hard. "If I didn't know he paid you, I'd think he was your boyfriend." Ouch. Tony winced, and the pillow dropped to the floor. "Is he? Is he paying you to date him? That's just messed up, Tones."
"It's not like that!" Defensive didn't look good on anyone, but what the hell, it wasn't like he had much to defend left. "Look, he's just—it's not what you think, so can it with the holier than thou."
Awkward silence descended, and Tony turned his back to start digging through Rhodey's stuff for a body mist that wasn't too girly. There had to be something that wouldn't make him smell like he rolled in an issue of Cosmo. Or maybe he'd just mix some cologne with water to dilute it; he was pretty sure it was the strength that got Steve's asthma going.
After a second, Rhodey spoke again. "Do you like him? Like—would you date him? No money involved?"
Tony's hands paused over Body for Men. He thought about Steve's eyes, and how he curled up inside his hoodie even though it had started to warm up because he had less meat on him than Tony, and that took work. How his whole face lit up when he laughed. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Are you even seeing anyone else?"
Double ouch. He picked up a different bottle and gave it an experimental sniff. How many of these things did Rhodey have, anyway? "Not really. I make enough from the art school thing and..." Tony shrugged and let the second bottle drop. "You know, it just wasn't what I'd thought it would be." There'd be a few close calls, people who thought they could get away with crap, and a lot of people who just weren't worth his time. It'd been easier to cut down on partying.
And there was still Steve, anyway.
Another silence, and then a sigh. "Dude, you are so in deep shit."
Steve's hands on his hips and the smudge of color that was always somewhere on his face after art class and the way he talked about American History and how he'd held that kitten he found behind the pizza place like it was made of spun sunshine and the way he frowned when Tony said he wasn't hungry—
"Rub it in, why don't you?" Tony wasn't going to think about it, wasn't going to even ask if Steve might want for free what he was paying for, because the chance of no was just too damned high. Steve just felt sorry for him, thought Tony was some poor kid having trouble putting food on the table, so he was nice to him, hired him out, made sure he ate. That was all, and pretending there might be more to it was just stupid. They'd get through the semester, Tony would graduate, that that would be the end of that.
—and the way he blushed when Tony finally got his pants off and the sound of his voice when he came and how he always came too fast and how damned much he always wanted Tony to come too even if he was already done and the way the sunlight hit his hair in the morning the few times Tony had snuck into his room and and and...
"You're going to regret this."
"Yeah." Body for Men was just going to have to do, even if it did smell like dead flowers and baby powder. Tony sprayed it on lightly, one careful squirt at a time, and hoped it wouldn't be too much for Steve's nose to handle. "Yeah, I know."
Steve collapsed to the bed, dragging Tony with him into a kiss, hands running up his back to strip off his t-shirt with a practiced move. The thin, patched comforter bunched up under their legs until Steve kicked it to the floor.
It felt perfect and weird, bringing Tony back home, so he only did it once in a while. It was a thousand times better than a string of empty classrooms or closets or—most memorably—the thick bushes back behind the library. No one was around to ask who Tony was, either, since they'd all gone out to some ridiculous pseudo-historical drama. There was plenty of time.
Tony groaned and straddled Steve's hips, grinning. He'd chopped his hair short, so it didn't fall in his eyes the way it used to, but it was still soft when Steve ran his fingers through it. "Eager, aren't you?"
"Been two weeks," Steve muttered, yanking him down for another kiss. Two incredibly long, frustrating weeks, but he'd put away enough in overtime to see Tony at least three or four more times. Steve had gotten used to seeing Tony every payday, whether it was a quickie or something else. He'd also gotten used to eating a lot of cheap stir-fry.
Clever fingers flicked open the buttons on Steve's shirt, then spread it open so Tony could run his hands over Steve's chest. Muscle had finally started to pad his ribs after months of working stock for the art store, and Tony took his time examining them, thumb flicking over the peaked nipple, then drawing down over the faintly defined pecs. "Looking good there. Where'd my scrawny art student go?"
"Still here, just slightly less scrawny." Wrapping his hands around Tony's waist, Steve pressed his thumb against the tattoo that he still didn't know the meaning of. The bones that poked out under Tony's skin bothered him, but Tony swore he wasn't starving, and some high-energy people did stay skinny without being unhealthy. No telling which Tony was without knowing more about him than he'd ever let Steve find out. That didn't stop him from trying. "What about you? Eat dinner yet?"
Laughter huffed against his skin. "Yes, mother. Fruits and vegetables and three ounces of meat, I promise." Tony peeked up at him with bright eyes, and Steve really, really hoped that was real happiness and not just making rent. "I stay warm, too. Roommate pins mittens to my sweater every morning."
"That's—good," Steve smiled, running his fingers up Tony's spine. "You need someone to look out for you."
The loose, lazy set of Tony's shoulders went stiff. He pushed up, locking his elbows, pride and panic and something very close to shame in his eyes. "Steve, no. I'm not some kitten you can take in off the street. It's a lot more complicated than that."
"I know." Swallowing back his nerves, Steve thought about asking Tony to move into the flat for the umpteenth time. Their rent was cheap, probably cheaper than whatever Tony was already paying, and Steve was already practically giving Tony his share of the bills already. But Tony would never go for it, and asking just might send him running. And if that was bad, saying I love you probably meant he wouldn't stop for his shirt. "I just worry about you."
Tension eased from Tony's expression. Dipping his head, he pressed a slow kiss to Steve's mouth. "Don't. I've got everything under control. Now why don't we—"
Something buzzed against Steve's hip, a sharp vibrating rattle that made him jump.
Why won't you answer me? Hello? This is your cell phone! What, you think you can just keep me in your pocket like some dirty little—beeeeeep!
They froze, staring at each other. Then Tony collapsed forward, laughing as he dug into his pocket. The phone he pulled out was shiny and sleek, glittering in the lamplight, and looked like it might cost more than Steve's tuition.
"Sorry," Tony snickered, flicking it open. "I thought I'd turned that..." His expression fell. "... Off. Sorry, I've got to take this."
Twisting his hips, Tony slid off Steve and turned his back, lifting the phone to his ear. He hunched forward, as if Steve couldn't hear every word he said. "Dad, what the hell, you never call this late—Jarvis? No—no, I'm at a friend's... What do you mean, an accident?" As Steve listened, Tony's voice got quieter and quieter, until it had nearly vanished. "Are they..? Oh. Okay. Yeah, I'll—yeah. Yeah. Bye."
After the call ended, Tony didn't move. Cautiously, Steve edged across the bed to sit by him. "Did something happen?"
Sagging sideways, Tony leaned his temple on Steve's shoulder. His eyes were closed, but the lashes had clumped together. "There was an accident. My parents..." Tony's throat worked in a hard swallow. In a burst of energy, he pushed off the bed and reached for his shirt, yanking it on over his head. "I have to go. My uncle's got me a plane ticket home for the—I have to go."
Buttoning up his shirt, Steve reached for his wallet and scooter keys on the bedside table. "I'll give you a ride—"
Steve's hand paused just above his keys. "Tony..."
Jaw tight, Tony forced out a smile, lips pressed together. The rims of his eyes were suspiciously red, even though his cheeks were dry. He sat down to shove his feet into sneakers that he hadn't even bothered undoing the laces on. "It's not that far. And I need—I just need some space, you know?"
"Yeah. I know." Steve had lost his mother years before, but he still remembered what it was like. Deep down, he hoped they were just hurt, but he didn't think so. Not by the way Tony was acting. "Call if you need someone to talk to, alright? I mean that."
"You're a good guy, Steve." Crawling up the bed, Tony sat himself on Steve's lap and dragged him into a kiss, slow and sweet and just a little desperate. Tony's fingers dug bruises into his shoulders, and against his chest Steve could feel him shaking. "I'll call, okay? Save that fifty for me."
Dread curled in Steve's stomach, but he just nodded and swallowed back his doubts. "I'll keep it in my wallet."
Steve gave it two weeks before trying himself, sitting on the edge of the bed clutching his fifty dollars in one hand and his phone in the other, listening to the voice over and over again.
The number you have dialed is no longer in service.