Actions

Work Header

Cincinnatus

Work Text:

“Ugh,” Tony grunted as he threw himself face down on the bed, suit still buttoned up.  “Kill me now.”

 

A large hand carded through his hair, but Steve didn’t look up from his tablet.  “That would be counterproductive.”

 

Tony scrunched up his nose and went to glare at him, but Steve still hadn’t looked at him.  So he poked his thigh.  Steve sighed, and turned expectantly towards him.  “Why would killing me be counterproductive?”

 

Steve slid the tablet onto the bedside table and scooted down so they were at eye level.  He tucked his arms under the side of his head, so adorable that Tony had to physically restrain himself from asking Wacha’ thinkin’?  “Because I have exerted untold energy keeping you alive for several years, and before that Pepper and Rhodey did the same thing.  If I killed you, even out of pity, they would hunt me down and kill me.  I may be a supersoldier, but Pepper’s Pepper.”

 

“And my problems would still be here,” Tony groaned, rolling onto his back and throwing his left arm over his eyes.

 

“What’s so bad that it warrants death?” Steve asked, rubbing a soothing hand down Tony’s right arm.  He rolled over, and sighed as Steve’s hands worked at the knots in his lower back.  He allowed himself a moment to revel in Steve’s more than capable hands before responding.

 

“Pepper says I have to go to a conference.  In Cincinnati.”

 

Steve’s hands didn’t falter.  “And?”

 

“Steve, it’s Cincinnati.  How can I go to a medium-sized city that has a reputation for being twenty years behind everywhere else?  For a conference on innovation, of all things.”

 

“You’re dating a guy whose only reliable frame of reference is the ‘30s and early ‘40s.”

 

“Don’t lie to me.  You’re the paradigm of American virtue, it doesn’t suit you, you shit.  And stop pretending you still get confused by the twenty-first century.”

 

“I don’t like all the changes that happened.”

 

“Says the guy who told me he preferred paper books over digital and refused a custom tablet to fuck with me.”

 

He remembered it well.  He had thought Steve was being a stubborn stick-in-the-mud (not that they were both more than capable of accomplishing that) and had tried for a couple of months to get Steve to accept Tony’s electronics, and Steve had denied him the pleasure of the object of his affections accepting his gifts.  Then one day he had come across an unfamiliar tablet in the common living room, and everyone had said it was Steve’s.  The mass of 20th century history books on it supported that, but the large amount of gay porn had been news to Tony.  Especially how most of the videos stared short men with dark hair and beards, and there were one too many mechanic / guy-with-car-trouble-who-can’t-afford-to-pay-for-mechanic’s-services-and-offers-alternative-payment scenarios.  Tony’d had to jerk off twice before he confronted Steve about lying about not wanting a tablet.  Steve had let Tony rant for several minutes, a frustratingly indulgent smile on his lips, before kissing him to shut him up.

 

“It was flirting.”

 

“You had a strange way of seducing me, Rogers.”  He moaned overly obscenely when Steve began to work on the knobs of his spine in his lower back.

 

They were silent for a moment before Steve made his offer:  “I could go with you.”

 

Tony unconsciously tensed.  “Why?”

 

Steve huffed.  “Look, I know you’re gonna be bored.  I have the ability to at least make you appear interested.”

 

Tony rolled over so his head was lying in Steve’s lap.  He schooled is feature into a mock-glare.  “What do you mean by that, Rogers?”

 

“It’s my super power,” Steve murmured before leaning down and kissing Tony chastely.

 

He was starting to get into it (the sweet, almost reverent way Steve kissed him was taking some getting used to, not that he was complaining), when Steve pulled back.  Tony was a grown man, so the noise he made could not be called a whine, no matter what Natasha said.

 

“So where is this thing in Cincinnati?  I can find a museum or something while you’re at the conference.”

 

“No need,” Tony totally didn’t whine, crawling into Steve’s lap.  “It’s taking place in some museum.  The exhibits will be closed to the public, but open to families of any reps going.”

 

“What’s it called?” Steve asked, moving back towards his tablet, dragging a clinging Tony along with him. 

 

“Put in something about museums and Cincinnati, should pop right up,” Tony said as he tried burrowing into Steve’s hip.  “Pep said it’s in some old train station.”

 

Steve’s hands stilled over the StarkPad above him.  “‘Cincinnati Museum Center at Cincinnati Union Terminal’?”

 

“That’s it.”

 

“Is it the same?” Steve sounded intensely curious.  “They tore down the Union Terminal in DC.”

 

“I guess.  Why?” Tony popped up, catching sight of Steve staring down wistfully at the Google search results.  “You haven’t been there.  Why would you care?”

 

A flash of something crossed Steve’s face, but the expression smoothed out into a mask of indifference.  He shrugged.  “No reason.  When do we go?”

 

Steeeeeve.”

 

“What, Tony?”

 

“This will be our first sort of vacation together.  Do you know what couples are supposed to do on vacation?” Tony grinned salaciously as he trailed his hands towards Steve’s belt buckle.

 

“I suppose not,” Steve rolled his eyes before answering with a wicked grin of his own.  “Why don’t you show me?”

 

 

 

“Well, it’s impressive, I’ll give them that,” Tony huffed, striding down the sidewalk in the shade of twisted cherry trees, tiny ripe cherries crunching under his loafers.  He quickly snapped a picture of one of the tiny songbirds picking at the ragged remains around the pips and sent it to Clint with the caption “Found your replacement”.

 

“’Impressive’?  Tony, it’s a masterpiece of Art Deco,” Steve lamented, gesturing up at the façade.  The front was massive, with two bas reliefs framing the sides of the humongous half-dome.  There was a pair of rectangular vertical bars supporting a large analogue clock in the center of the front.  Tony loved the accuracy of digital clocks, but he had to admit the strong aluminum lines backlit and accented with glowing neon were stunning.

 

Tony’s phone pinged with Clint’s response, showing a picture of the waffle iron in the kitchen with the caption “Found urs 2 he m8ks food tats EATABLE”.  He fired back with “Then get him to make you new arrows”.

 

“Well, I’m sure someone will be more than happy to show you around.”

 

Happy had offered to drive them up to the front door, but Steve had asked to be let out at the foot of the long approach.  Tony was regretting the decision to follow him, and they weren’t even halfway up the steep hill that lead to the terminal.

 

He was debating asking Steve to carry him when Clint shot back “NNNOOOOooOOOooo i tak it bak id suk ur dick if steebbe woodnt br8k my nek XP”.

 

“Clint has officially offered to suck my dick for new arrows,” Tony told Steve as he tucked his phone back into his belt. 

 

Steve frowned.  “That’s my job.”

 

“Don’t worry, I like you better,” Tony said, tucking his arm into Steve’s.  He never thought he’d be the type to love walking arm-in-arm, but Steve had changed so many of his expectations already.

 

They gradually approached the outside, skirting the large dry fountain at the center of the circle where a few passenger vans were unloading men in cheap suits and their families.  One little boy, maybe seven, examined scrutinizingly them from the distance.  In unison, Steve and Tony waved and the boy gasped, turning to tug at his father’s pant leg.  They were too far away to hear the boy’s exclamation, but “-ron Man!” and “-tan ‘Merica!” managed to drift over the still air.

 

The man straightened, looking shocked and nervous.  He strode over with the boy dragging along with wide eyes, several other children trailing in their wake.  “Mister Stark!  We’re so glad you could make it!  And Captain, sir, it’s an honor.”  The man held out a slightly sweaty hand.

 

Tony reluctantly let go of Steve’s arm, shaking the overly enthusiastic stiff hand before allowing Steve to take his turn.

 

The man was jabbering about how wonderful it was of them to come, because the conference needed more exposure, ect.  Tony didn’t have the heart to tell him that he had no idea why he was there.  Something about American innovation.  Bullshit about the past and future.

 

Instead he focused on Steve, who had crouched down to greet the children crowding around, looking up at him in wonder.

 

When the crowd had sufficiently died down (mainly due to Tony shouting “We’ll be here all day, folks!  Might get a little more face time if you corner us later.”), they entered the rotunda through the wide glass doors, and were assaulted by color.  Steve had read off some fact to him, that it was the largest half-dome in the world when it was built, and was still second next to the Sidney Opera House.  Tony hadn’t expected it to be this bright though.  The upper portions of the dome were painted in stripes of half-circles, all oranges and yellows.  The colors didn’t mesh well with the pale stone of the columns and floors and the aluminum trim, but the overall effect with muted, recessed lighting was cheery and welcoming.  Tony followed in Steve’s wake as he drifted past the admissions desk, which was still open for people with questions, and came to rest in the center of the hall.

 

As he looked up, discerning artist’s eye mixing with childish wonderment mixed with nostalgia, Tony had to catch his breath at the man he, um, liked.  Slept with.  Cuddled and did relationshipy things with.

 

The walls were covered in twenty foot tall mosaics depicting the American journey.  Natives to settlers to railroad workers to the Age of Steel.  In the clouds were silver tiles outlining the history of transportation.

 

There was a massive American flag hanging from the ceiling as well, and Tony couldn’t resist taking the picture of Steve in the foreground and the flag behind him, tweeting it out with “#AmericaSquared”.

 

“I gotta head to my meeting in a minute.  You gonna be okay alone for a few hours?”

 

Steve rolled his eyes.  “I weep awaiting your return.  You are the most interesting man in the world, and my life is empty without you.”

 

“Stop quoting memes.”

 

“Does it bother you?”

 

“Very much so.”

 

“Then no.”  Steve leaned in to kiss him.  “I’m gonna go on the tour of the building, then head into history museum.  But who knows.  Text me, and we’ll convene.”

 

“Sounds like a plan.  Have fun.”

 

Steve took a shaky breath.  “I’ll try.”

 

 

 

The old fashioned boardroom reminded Tony too much of his father.

 

Aside from the curved wooden walls and doors, and the views of the rail yards from the high arched windows, the place was just as stiff and stuffy as the study where he had been forbidden to tread.  Thin peach-colored leather covering the structured chairs, held in place by well-rubbed machine tacks and tooling, did nothing to soften the ancient seats.  The entire place was done up in various woods, some clashing horribly, but all dark and bright.   The long table going down the center of the room was topped with a plane of glass to protect it, and there were small shelves beneath the individual seats which a representative of the historical society had tried pulling a weak joke, calling them “handy laptop holders”.  There were a collection of forced laughs and a sudden lack of eye contact.

 

Tony had been seated at the far end of the table, away from the direct glare of the sun, which was thankfully to his back.  Instead he had a full-frontal view of the Portland stone fire place, with andirons that reminded him of the Empire State Building.  The guide had gushed over how much he admired them, how a city official had “borrowed them” for his office, and his thievery was the only reason they had been recovered.  The guide had mentioned the clock over the fireplace, along with every other clock in the terminal, were mechanically synced to the large clock on the façade outside.  That had piqued his interest, but when he had asked about the logistics, the man had simply said “Oh, the engineer must have thought it was easy.”  More like a challenge that he couldn’t NOT tackle, if Tony knew engineers.

 

Around the two walls with windows, deep couches, done in bluish leather and machine tacks were set against or into the wall.  There was a model of one of the historical riverboats in the area wedged in, though no one knew why or what its significance was, and antique circulating fans mounted to cedar beams near the ceiling, courtesy of the “Antique Fan Club”.  The floors were done in cork, which was supposedly to muffle the sounds of the incoming trains.  The deep armrests to the couches had aluminum cigar ashtrays inset into the inlaid wood.

 

When he had first entered the room, Tony had been assaulted by the bright sunlight and the scent of cigar smoke, which hadn’t faded but had leached into the wood of the room, staining it darker brown.  Fat cigars, smuggled from Cuba to seal deals with emphysema.

 

When they were done with the meeting (about nothing, really, why was his presence so important?), the group of reps headed towards the ice cream parlor off the rotunda.

 

It room was small, overly crowded, and reminded Tony of an old subway stop.  The entire room was covered with a pale lime green tile, with accenting panels done in lavender, covered with flowers and dragonflies.  There were snotty kids dripping mint chocolate chip everywhere.

 

Tony was pushed up against the wall, near the potters mark tile and the counter that was probably a maitre d’s desk.  There was a printed sheet of paper in a cheap silver frame.

 

He stepped in close to read the sign.

 

A FLASH IN THE PAST

 

            THE ROOKWOOD TEA ROOM WAS AN ORIGINAL FEATURE OF CINCINNATI UNION TERMINAL WHEN THE BUILDING FIRST OPENED IN 1933.  IT WAS DISIGNED BY WILLIAM E. HENTSCHEL, A WELL-KNOW ARTIST AT ROOKWOOD POTTERY, AND FEATURES A TILE FLOOR, FLOOR TO CEILING TILE, AND TILED PARTITIONS.  COFFEE, TEA, AND LIGHT REFRESHMENTS WERE SERVED.  DURING WORLD WAR II, THE ROOM WAS USED BY USO VOLUNTEERS, WHO SERVED COFFEE, COOKIES, AND DONUTS TO GIS PASSING THROUGH THE TERMINAL.  AFTER THE WAR, THE ROOM SERVED AS A GAME ROOM.  IT BECAME AN ICE CREAM AND CHILI PARLOR IN 1980, AND IS STILL OPERATED AS AN ICE CREAM PARLOR TODAY.

-CINCINNATI MUSEUM CENTER

 

Behind the counter were mirror-backed shelves filled with black-and-white photographs and a folded flag in a frame.  One of the most prominently displayed was one of Steve, in the ridiculous uniform he had worn during the USO tour.  He had the cowl off, and looked exceptionally uncomfortable as he posed with what looked like several railway officials, a couple of the Star-Spangled Singers sitting smirking around spoons in the booth behind them.

 

“Sorry – I gotta –“ Tony motioned outside.  The crowd parted, concerned looks on their faces.

 

Tony sprinted out into the rotunda, fussing with his phone to get JARVIS to activate the tracking device on Steve’s phone.  Signals were always crap in older buildings, but after a long moment, JARVIS was able to trace the location to the Amtrak waiting area.  He jogged past the glowing argon signs indicating with arrows “TO TRAINS”. 

 

The Ominmax show was starting in a few minutes, so a bunch of people were milling around, but Tony was able to duck past them and the doors leading back to the terminal offices.  Amtrak was covered by the TSA, so the door should have been locked when no trains were incoming, but when he tried the door, found it unlocked.  Shaking his head, he stepped in, closing the door quietly behind him.  The thick wood and glass muffled the noise outside, making the echoy nature of the room all that more prominent.

 

Tony cautiously walked up the stone ramp, the room all dark wood and tall windows, shafts of sunlight capturing the dust motes in their stillness.  Steve was sitting in one of the many hard burgundy benched chairs, staring at a spot on the floor near his shoe.

 

Sitting framed by the light, Steve looked so washed out, almost like it was another of the black-and-white photos that were auctioned off at ridiculous prices.  He looked lost, a relic from another time.

 

It hit Tony how much Steve was a relic.  As well as he had adjusted to life in the 21st Century, the fact still remained that he was from another time, and would never fully be integrated into modern society.  He was too honest, too trusting, too optimistic to survive in any time.  Least of all now.

 

Tony very carefully approached him, and plonked down in the seat next to Steve.  He put an arm around his shoulders, and Steve buried his face in Tony’s shoulder without resistance.

 

They were quite for a while, before Tony said “I’m sorry.  I should have known you’d been here before.”

 

“Not your fault,” Steve croaked.

 

“Do you wanna . . . ?”  Tony winced at his awkwardness.

 

Steve managed a laugh.  “I thought it would be good, y’know?  Thought that a place like this would be good for me.  I can’t stand going to my home anymore, it’s changed so much.  I try to get it, but it’s just . . . jarring.  The streets are the same, but nothing else is familiar.  You said this place was preserved, and I thought maybe . . . .   They have an exhibit from my war, ya know?  ‘Cincinnati Goes to War’.  Pride of the service the people did in World War Two.  We didn’t even call it World War Two.  The name came after I was frozen.  And people ask what World War Two was like, and for a second I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.  It was just ‘the war’ to me.  And there’s this sixteen year-old volunteer telling me in monotone about scrap drives.”  Steve let out a half laugh, half sob.  “Like it’s ancient history.  Like I didn’t live it.”

 

Tony squeezed his shoulders.  “Like I’m ancient history.

 

“And the name Cincinnati.  It’s weird, yeah?  It comes from Latin.  A farmer, retired general, who was needed to lead the Romans to battle.  Cincinnatus was declared dictator, and led the army to victory.  Then he renounced his title and went back to the field.  When they make sculptures of George Washington in Classical dress, they almost always equate him with Cincinnatus.  He was a member of the Society of Cincinnati.  People who stepped up when their country need them, but afterwards went home.”

 

Tony examined the inlaid train outlines on the wooden walls.

 

“And I’m left wondering if I would have ever have gotten to go home.  I never really wanted to be a soldier.  I wanted to prove myself while helping my country where I could.  Bucky said that to me a thousand times, but I didn’t get it until I had Hydra blood on my shield.  If I hadn’t been frozen, I still would have had to work.  I would have been sent to Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf.  Maybe the USSR.  I would have never been allowed to quit, to hang up my shield.

 

“And when I woke up, it was an opportunity.  I could move on, head back to art school.  Maybe on the GI bill.”  Steve paused for Tony’s strained laugh.  “But the Avengers.  I was needed to serve still.  Not only my country, but the world.  And it would have been selfish to try and leave it behind.”

 

“Not so selfish,” Tony murmured.

 

I would have felt guilty for not helping.  For not doing my part.”  Steve met Tony’s eyes for the first time, red-rimmed but fiercely determined.  “And I wouldn’t have you.”

 

Tony couldn’t help himself from pressing a firm kiss to Steve’s lips.  It was over quickly, but did its job: assured Steve of how he felt.

 

“You wanna go?  I’m done here.”

 

Steve straightened up.  “No.  I wanna finish looking at the exhibit, get ice cream, and show you something special.  In that order.”  He looked at Tony worriedly.  “Okay?”

 

Tony tangled their fingers together.  “Sounds like a plan.”

 

 

 

“Oh my god, I have got to make that my slogan,” Tony said as he pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of a sign that said “I’m the Girl Who Makes the Little Gizmo That Screws Inside This Bigger Thing That Goes on Top of Something Else . . .”  He would put it on a t-shirt, and give one to everyone for Christmas.

 

Steve snickered.  “Well, that’s what a lot of people working in factories saw themselves as.  They had no idea what the hell they were making.” He gestured vaguely at the entire section of the exhibit, which was about war industry.  There were a ton of black-and-white photos of men and women, mostly women, pulling finished products off assembly lines, as well of examples of the finished products beneath Plexiglas.

 

They moved on to a look at another of those creepy white plaster casts of people, this one of a man cutting camo cloth.  Steve was complaining about how women made up a huge part of the war industry but weren’t allowed to do certain jobs, like run the fucking fabric cutter, and Tony was laughing about the simple humor that parachutes had been manufactured by a company called Fashion Frocks, when a nervous-looking woman in her mid-fifties with a teenage boy trailing behind her interrupted them.

 

“Excuse me?  Captain?  Hi, I’m Caroline.  Uh, my father was in the war, and, well, he passed away in the eighties, and my son,” she shot a glare at the boy, who had good sense enough to look sheepish, “he knows nothing about his grandfather’s history; he only cares about body counts.  Could you, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble . . . ?”

 

“No trouble at all,” Steve face had smoothed out from where it had wrinkled at the phrase “body count”, but he looked determined to set things straight.  “What regiment?”

 

“83rd Infantry,” Caroline beamed.  “He was always so proud of his service.”

 

“The Ohio Division,” Steve mused.  “Got into Normandy about a week after D-Day?  Omaha Beach?”

 

“Yes,” she nodded enthusiastically.

 

“But he wasn’t in actual D-Day,” the boy whined.  “He got in after the best of the fighting.”

 

Steve looked like he was trying really hard not to punch the kid.  Tony knew.  No matter how much Steve tried to down play it, D-Day was less than five years away in his memory.  “What’s your name?”

 

“Jeremy.”

 

“Well, Jeremy, consider yourself lucky.  Had your grandfather been with us storming the beaches, the likelihood of him surviving to have your mother would be a lot slimmer.”

 

Jeremy went bug-eyed.  “You were at the D-Day invasion?”

 

Steve set his jaw and averted his eyes.  They were starting to draw a crowd, and Tony knew how painful it still was for Steve to talk about the war.  Tony wanted so badly to know himself, but Steve hadn’t had time to process everything yet, so he didn’t push.  “They wanted footage of Captain America storming the beaches.  Symbolic, good for morale, and all that.”

 

Jeremy had come out of his carefully-positioned slump, eyes shining.  “No way, that’s too cool, did you kill anyone?”

 

Caroline made a distressed-embarrassed sound, and pulled him away lambasting him about “sensitivity” and “being considerate of others”.  Steve had closed his eyes, and was breathing deeply, nostrils dilated and clutching the steel railing behind him in a death grip.  The people looked about ready to bolt, fearing whatever Steve would do.

 

“Steve?” Tony asked gently, gingerly placing a hand over this chest, with the flat of his palm pressed flat against Steve’s collarbone, a touch that was grounding but non-threatening.  Steve’s hand shot up, gripping Tony’s wrist tightly.  His breathing evened an increment.

 

“Sorry-“ Steve chocked out.  “Just need – ah – moment.”

 

Tony rubbed a thumb along the side of Steve’s hand.  “We’re in no hurry.  Just breathe.”  A thought occurred seeing Steve’s dilated nostrils.  “Any one smuggle any food in here?  Come on, no one pays any attention to those rules.”

 

A guy in his thirties shamefully pulled out an orange.  “My kid didn’t want it, and I didn’t want to throw it out.  I wasn’t going to eat it in here, though-“

 

“Man, that orange will help save America.  Hand it over.”

 

The little girl who didn’t want the orange grabbed it from her father, skipping over and presented it to Tony proudly.  Tony dug his thumb into the peel, pushing until he was squishing the pulp, releasing the scent of citrus.  He shoved it under Steve’s nose.

 

Steve grabbed for it with fumbling fingers and pressed his none almost entirely into the orange, focusing on the scent to chase away the memories.  Steve wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get the scent of burned bodies and explosions out his nose.

 

There was a relieved silence aside from Steve inhaling and the clickety-clack of the model trains next door.  After a moment, he barked out a sharp laugh.  He looked at daughter of the man with the orange.  “You’re never going to eat an orange again, are you?”

 

The girl beamed at him, and her father groaned while everyone else lost it.

 

 

 

Caroline and Jeremy came back, and Jeremy was apologizing profusely for being inconsiderate, and was really sorry about making Steve remember something painful, and if he could still please talk with Steve, if he was forgiven?

 

“Did you threaten to take away his social media privileges?” Tony asked Caroline.

 

She snorted.  “And post a message saying he defiled a national treasure.”

 

Tony frowned.  “That’s my job.”  Steve shook his head, but his face was crimson.

 

Steve basically ended up as a tour guide, moving through the exhibit, reading every little placard and making comments and corrections.  The major theme was Cincinnati’s involvement in the war, so most of the information was on industry and the home front.  The USO tour stop had been for only a couple of days, so Steve was doing that thing where he lit up as he learned more about something.

 

He was indignant at the treatment of women in the workforce (“Never met a dame who couldn’t manage three times what a man could.”), reverent and respectful at the mention of lost soldiers or whenever he saw the little flag with a blue star hanging in a mock window (“Yeah, you never wanted to see the Western Union guy.  No matter who he was delivering to, it was never good news.”), enthusiastic about explain scrapping and minimizing use (“I was poor anyway, so it wasn’t a bad thing.”), and self-deprecating at the list qualification for enlistment (“It says healthy male.  Where is my unhealthy male column?”)

 

He pointed out things that he knew: propaganda posters he recognized, equipment he had used with the Commandoes, a pack of playing cards that doubled as ID cards for different makes of planes, enemy and friendly.  He was funny and smart and perfect.  He cried listening to the audio from V-E Day, which he had never seen.

 

Tony just stood beside him, beaming at the man he, well, liked.

 

One guy in the crowd was filming the entire thing, and Tony was pretty sure they would need to have a meeting with PR when they got back to Manhattan after the video was posted.

 

 

 

After the four-hour “Captain Tour Guide” show was over, Steve and Tony headed back to the Rookwood Parlor.  Steve consented to being photographed with the museum management (“At least you’ll let me wear my civvies.”), and graciously signed the old photo they had pulled out of the frame.

 

After their socializing they were allowed to get ice cream (Steve got Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip while Tony tried the Dark Chocolate Truffle Gelato), and of course they got pulled away from each other again, as everyone still wanted to talk.  By the time Tony resurfaced, Steve had disappeared.

 

He was about to ask if anyone had seen him, but his phone buzzed with a message from Steve.  “Right outside the door, there’s a thing that looks like a water fountain.”

 

Tony obligingly exited the ice cream parlor and found the pink granite structure set into the wall to the right of the exit.  There was a placard posted above the dry-looking fountain, and Tony leaned in to read it when Steve’s voice echoed from the basin.  “I see you got my message.”

 

“Is this a whispering fountain?” Tony looked over at the other side of the rotunda, where Steve was stationed at the other basin.  He waved.

 

“Yeah, thought you’d like to play with it.  It’s physics and all.”

 

Something in Tony’s chest squeezed the way it did whenever Steve did something especially thoughtful that left Tony wondering why he was the one that Steve had decided to be with.  He could have anyone.  “Yeah, sound waves ripple along the arch of the dome, and when reflected with the basins, we can hear-“

 

“Tony.”

 

“What?”

 

“Nervous rambling.”

 

“Sorry,” Tony laughed hollowly, clutching the sides of the fountain.  “You know me too well.  How’d you know about this thing?”

 

“Last time I was here, I really wanted to have a discussion through it, but there wasn’t anyone I wanted to tell any secrets.”

 

“You don’t have to tell secrets to have a discussion.”

 

“But I thought it would be nice.”

 

“Okay.  Got a secret you want to confide in me?”

 

Steve met his eyes across the hall and whispered into the fountain.  “I think I love you.”

 

Tony couldn’t breathe.  His heart had crawled into his mouth, and he had to restrain himself from throwing it at Steve’s feet.  “Gotten to the Partridge Family, I see.”

 

“Stop fretting.”

 

“I’m not-“

 

“I know you, you’re fretting.  I’m not asking you to say it back; I just wanted you to know.”

 

He was not crying.  “Steve-“

 

“Worth a trip to Cincinnati to hear that?”

 

Tony laughed so hard, it echoed around the entire terminal.  “Yeah.  Most defiantly worth it.”