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At age fifteen, Steve Rogers had been in love with Tony Stark.

By age twenty, he’d (mostly) gotten over it. And then he promptly became Tony Stark’s fuck buddy.

It started one drunken night at a stupid party. Steve was lonely and full of poor judgment. Tony was also there and just as drunk, although certainly not lonely—Steve didn’t think it was built into Tony’s DNA to be lonely, not with the billion and a half friends he had around. Steve bumped into Tony by accident, and when Tony smirked at him and said, “Oh hey there, gorgeous,” obviously having no idea who Steve really was, he thought, Fuck it, and kissed Tony, fast and sloppy on the mouth.

It wasn’t the ideal first kiss, but it lead to Tony breaking away and gasping, “Wow, okay, yeah, let’s do more of that,” immediately tugging Steve up the stairs and into the closest empty guest room.

Steve lost his virginity on a paisley comforter that reminded him a little too much of his grandma’s house. That was okay, though, because it was with the guy he’d crushed on since freshman year of high school. The same guy who’d taunted and teased him, but still made Steve crazy, the idiot that he was.

When it was over, Tony nipped at Steve’s chin lazily, spooned up against his back. He asked, “What’s your name, anyway? Or should I just keep calling you Gorgeous?”

“S-Steve,” he whispered, blushing in the dark from both embarrassment and pleasure. No one had ever called him that before, and Tony had said it about a half dozen times in an hour.

“Steve what?”


“Mmm,” Tony hummed, nuzzling Steve’s temple. “Knew a Steve Rogers in high school. Real scrawny guy, scrappy.”

Steve huffed out a laugh, suddenly a little too aware of how not clothed he was. “Uh, yeah, that’s—that’s me. Or, you know, was me. Sort of.”

Tony jerked back and blinked down at Steve, one arm braced over him. “You’’re Rogers? But—you’re so—” He flailed his hand at Steve.

“Growth spurt?” Steve replied dumbly. He was still kind of drunk and post-coital and distracted by the fact that Tony smelled so damn good, even with sweat and come clinging to his skin.

Tony shook his head, then gave Steve a grin that made his cock twitch. “Something like that, yeah,” he murmured just before licking back into Steve’s mouth, all filthy and slow. Steve melted into the bed again, arching into Tony and ready to go a second round, only someone started pounding on the door to announce that the cops had shown up.

“So we should do this again,” Tony said as they scrambled back into their clothes. He pressed up against Steve, mouthing at his neck as he palmed Steve’s ass. Instantly, Steve shuddered, trying desperately to form words, until he realized Tony was fishing for his cell phone.

“I’ll call you.” He punched a few numbers in, what Steve guessed was a text to his own phone, then handed it back to Steve with a lopsided grin.

He left Steve standing alone in the room, shirtless, blinking owlishly, and hard in his jeans.


Unfortunately, Steve kind of forgot to tell his best friend he’d become fuck buddies with Tony Stark.

A couple weeks after the party, Peggy looked at him over the top of her MacBook one day during their afternoon study session and said, “You got laid, didn’t you?”

Steve nearly choked on his mouthful of Pepsi. “Um?”

“You’re all—relaxed. Smiling all the time. You haven’t freaked about your mid-term project to me once in over a week. That can only mean one thing.”

“That I’m dealing with my stress better?”

“Could be, but no. I’m thinking that you got some.” She squinted at him, leaned across the library table, then swatted him on the arm.

“Ow! What the hell was that for?”

“I can’t believe you had sex for the first time and didn’t tell me. What am I, chopped liver?” She sat back and crossed her arms primly, one eyebrow raised. “So? Who was it?”

Steve swallowed, glancing around at the empty stacks. “We’re in a library, I’m not gonna—”

“Then perhaps you should’ve thought of that before you kept pertinent information from me. Spill it, Rogers.”

He took a deep breath and tried not to think about how he’d been naked and on his knees the night before, yelling things he thought only porn stars said out loud. “I,’s someone you know.”

Peggy actually smiled. “Yeah? That’s good, what’s his name?”

“He went to Southbridge.”

Her eyes widened. “Really? I didn’t think there were that many people from high school here, just you, me and—” She stopped. “Oh, no. No, no, no, not—”

“Peg, just listen—”

“How did this even happen? Tony Stark, are you kidding me?”

“It just did, okay?” Steve rubbed a hand over his eyes. He knew Peggy meant well, having seen just how pathetic Steve’s high school crush had been, but damn it, he was twenty years old now. He could handle himself. “That stupid party you dragged me to, I shouldn’t have done those shots—”

“Oh my god, you slept with Tony Stark while drunk?”

“I wasn’t that drunk! I remember everything, and it was—” He looked away, blushing. “It was really, really...great.” He bit his lip, feeling a shiver run through him at the memory of Tony sighing against his neck.

Peggy, meanwhile, dropped her head into her hands. “I thought I’d taught you better. At least you realize now that he’s a one-night guy.”

Steve pursed his lips and tapped his pencil against his notebook.

Her mouth fell open. “You’ve had sex again?”

“Six times, actually,” he said to his pencil. Seven, if you counted the time they made out in the men’s room in the student commons and Steve came in his jeans.

Peggy sighed heavily, then folded her hands on the table. Steve knew that look well, and braced himself for the lecture.

“Steve, I love you, I do. I adore you, but sometimes you can be immensely dense.” She reached over and patted Steve’s wrist. “You’re not in high school anymore—you’re not that skinny kid who got beat up after gym. You’re not Tony Stark’s punching bag.”

“He never punched me,” Steve mumbled.

“No, but he made you feel like shit, and that’s close enough in my book. My point is, you’re better than this. I know you don’t believe me, but you are. Look at how hard you’ve worked to get stronger, tougher—Tony probably didn’t even recognize you.”

He didn’t, Steve thought with a wince.

“You aren’t built for a no-strings relationship, Steve. You’re a true love kind of guy, and you always have been. Tony Stark, on the other hand, isn’t exactly waiting around for The One.”

“I don’t want anything from him,” Steve said, meeting her eyes. “This is enough for me, I promise. We’re just messing around, that’s all.” His throat got a little tight around the words, but it didn’t mean anything.

Peggy gave him a sad look and squeezed his hand. “Oh, honey. I wish I believed you. Just...swear to me you won’t let him annihilate your heart, all right? Because if he does, I’ll hunt him down like a dog without a second thought.”

He didn’t doubt that for a moment. “I swear. I’m not in love with him, though—that was the old Steve.”

“Sure it is.” Peggy kissed his cheek, sounding completely unconvinced.


He tried not to think about it much, the whole “being a true love kind of guy” thing. Steve was over that; he’d been in college for over a year and a half now, knew that all that stuff about finding your soulmate was crap, anyway. No one was a true love guy these days.

It’s wasn’t true love, anyway. Steve knew what it was like to be spread out on his back, hands white-knuckled and grasping the covers, with Tony curled over him, inside him, breath hot against Steve’s neck. He knew how Tony sounded when he came, he knew Tony liked it when Steve said please and fuck me, and he also knew Tony was a fantastic, awe-inspiring kisser. It was awesome sex, pure and simple.

He definitely didn’t think about love as it he slowly came down from an orgasm that had him seeing spots behind his eyes, his body sinking into the 800-thread-count sheets on Tony’s California king bed.

“Shit,” Tony panted before he laughed and plastered himself to Steve’s back. He felt Tony’s mouth trailing back and forth over his neck in soft kisses. “I still have class today, y’know.”

Steve grinned as he pressed his face into the mattress. “Sorry? You’re the one who asked me over.” He arched his back a little, just to see what Tony would do. The breathless, worn-out groan he made was worth it.

“I hadn’t seen you all day, I was being proactive. It’s not my fault that you’re hot as shit and I kind of can’t help myself.” Tony pulled out and slid off him with a muffled ooff, but he kept one leg thrown across the back of Steve’s legs. He kissed Steve’s shoulder, levering himself up onto his elbow as he tied the condom off and tossed it away.

“Are you done for the day?” Tony asked, and he punctuated his words with the tip of his right index finger tracing the length of Steve’s bare back, down over his ass. Steve shivered and turned his face enough to look up at Tony through the messy fall of his hair in his eyes.

“I have to go to the studio for a bit to get some stuff done on my acrylics project, but yeah, for the most part. Thursdays are my light days.”

Tony hummed softly. “Tell me again what your project is?”

Steve bit his lip as he carefully rolled onto his back. Tony knew the general stuff, that Steve was an art major and liked to paint, but other than that Steve never brought it up. It wasn’t important, just like Tony wouldn’t want to sit around and talk about his physics papers, or his grad school applications.

This was about sex, not Steve’s stupid paintings.

“It, ah...we’re doing portraits this semester. I found a photo of my mom when she was my age, a sorority shot, I think. I’m doing an impressionist rendering of it, sort of like Monet, but in his later years. It’s, um, not going all that well.” He gave a self-deprecating laugh, staring up at the ceiling. Christ, he sounded like such a dork.

Tony drummed his fingers against Steve’s hip bone. He didn’t say anything for a long moment, which made Steve grow tense and start to babble. “Anyway, yeah, so, it’s due in like a couple weeks and I’m thinking of scrapping the whole thing and maybe trying someone else, or not the whole Monet angle, because honestly, it’s kinda pretentious when everything’s said and done, and my professor already thinks I try too hard, and—”

“Your mom passed away, right?” Tony said. His hand went still, but he didn’t movie it from Steve’s skin.

Steve swallowed. Wow, this wasn’t the conversation they were supposed to be having right after orgasms and dirty talk—were they? “Yeah, yes, cancer, she—yeah. When I was twelve.” He abruptly sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, pawing around for his jeans and boxers. “What time’s your next class?”

“Three-thirty.” Steve heard the rustle of sheets behind him, then footsteps heading off toward the bathroom. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Tony’s apartment was huge; the son of one of the board of trustees of the university didn’t simply live in the dorms. His building wasn’t far from campus, but it was probably the only building with a doorman and valet parking. Steve thought of his tiny, cramped dorm room and twin bed and bio-chem major roommate—Bruce was cool, but small talk wasn’t his strong suit. There was a reason they did...whatever they were doing at Tony’s place.

Steve found his sneakers kicked under the leather ottoman in the living room, because Tony never wasted time when Steve came over. He grinned to himself, a warm flutter deep in his chest.

“See you, Tony,” Steve called out as he shrugged his jacket on. He paused at the front door, his hand on the knob.

It took a good thirty seconds before Tony yelled back, “Oh yeah, bye! Later!” He didn’t come out of the bedroom.

The warm flutter was gone by the time Steve got to his car. He told himself it was just par for the course.


It wasn’t rational, the sudden, overwhelming headlong fall Steve had had at fifteen for the student body president everyone wanted. Tony had been a walking cliche back then: popular, rich, beautiful in the way all unattainable high school guys are. Steve had known he had no business crushing on someone so completely out of his league, and yet—

—Tony had smiled at him, once, and that was all it took.

Okay, so it was really more of an absent twitch of his mouth after his shoulder had knocked into Steve’s in the hallway. “Sorry about that,” Tony had called, his eyes meeting Steve’s briefly, and Steve had just stood there, speechless around the pounding of his heart.

“Don’t worry about it,” he’d whispered to himself as Tony’s dark head disappeared into the crowd.

For the rest of that day, Steve had only been able to think one thing: He noticed me.

And maybe he had, maybe he hadn’t. Steve hadn’t exactly been the textbook definition of noticeable; barely topping 5’6” in shoes as a freshman guy had been bad enough, but he’d also weighed less than most of the girls in his class. No one wanted to start high school feeling tiny and useless, and Peggy’s constant, “You’ll grow into your skin soon, Steve, give it time,” hadn’t helped. He’d been too small for JV football, too short for basketball, and the coach of the lacrosse team had just laughed in his face when Steve showed up for tryouts.

Actually, the coach hadn’t been the only one laughing.

“You’re a walking lawsuit,” he’d heard Tony say with a laugh, because of course Tony Stark was captain. “No one wants to see a puppy in traction, kid, sorry.” He’d sauntered over, his practice jersey hanging effortlessly on his broad shoulders, and ruffled Steve’s hair with a smirk.

Steve had wanted to hate him. He’d tried really hard.

But instead of hating Tony, he’d gotten into art. And history club. And Academic Bowl. And pretty much every other club available that didn’t care whether or not Steve could bench press a hundred pounds.

For two years, Steve had pretended he was just working really hard on his college resume and not proving to Tony that he wasn’t just a puppy.

It hadn’t mattered. Every other day he got his hair mussed in the lunch line, and Tony would always smirk at him, never call him by his real name; “squirt” and “Tin Tin” were used, among other things—”Scrappy-Doo” was Steve’s least favorite. If Steve hadn’t been totally pathetic, he would have kicked Tony’s ass...or at least attempted to.

Except every night, when Steve was alone in his bed with lights off, it had been Tony’s name he’d always say as he came in his hand.

Why do you do this to yourself?” Peggy had asked more than once in despair. “Steve, he’s a jock, a bully. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself, and his precious popularity.”

“I know, but...I just. I can’t help it,” Steve would sigh every time. He hadn’t told her that deep down, he wanted to believe Tony was different, that he was just playing the role that was expected of him, that he’d love just to sit with Steve and let him talk for hours about the renaissance exhibit he’d seen at the art museum, or the charcoal drawings hidden under his bed in his sketchbook.

In the end, though, it was all a fantasy.

When Tony graduated at the end of Steve’s sophomore year, Steve had told himself he was done pining, that it was time for him to grow up. He’d joined a gym that following summer, started running three miles every morning, and by Christmas he’d actually started to fill out somewhat. The belated six-inch growth spurt that had come a few months later was an added bonus. He wasn’t a puppy anymore.

Girls had started looking at him with real interest, the football coach had tried to recruit him to the varsity team at the beginning of senior year, but none of that had interested Steve. If he’d happened to look in the mirror, flex, and wonder if dark-eyed, douchebag lacrosse captains would like what they saw, then so what? He was getting in shape, bettering himself physically; he didn’t care what anyone else thought.

Likewise, if he’d happened to apply to Hamilton University, the same college where Howard Stark sat on the board of trustees and had a dorm named after him, what of it? Hamilton had one of the best art programs in the country, and it was an hour away from his grandma.

Steve had started college as his own man, ready to take on the world.

Then he’d heard Tony Stark’s laughter through the roar of the crowded student commons area, and suddenly he was fifteen all over again.


Steve got a text from Tony late that night right as he was crawling into bed. All it said was coffee b4 astromny.

He rolled onto his stomach and grinned. Tony was the worst speller ever, but then, he was a science guy. They didn’t need spelling. Besides, Steve knew what he meant—Tony’s first class on Fridays was astronomy. He never liked to show up without “a coffee the size of my head” in his hand, which meant frequent morning stops at the Starbucks on campus.

Steve’s art history class was in the building next door. It wasn’t hard to meet up.

Okay, Steve texted back. He started to add, Have a good night, but stopped himself in time, hit the delete button, and sent the original message as it was.

“What’re you grinning about?” Bruce asked, glancing up absently from where his chem book and notes were scattered on the carpet.. He rarely slept in his own bed; Steve usually found him sprawled out on floor, face-down in his research.

“Nothing,” Steve said just as his phone pinged with another text from T.Stark.

gnight, it read.

“Why is Peggy texting you at one in the morning?”

Steve turned on his side, away from Bruce, and rubbed his thumb over the screen.

“It’s nothing,” Steve said again, and deleted the message.


At seven-fifty the next morning, Steve paced outside Starbucks, pretending to read over his art history notes as he sipped his cinammon latte. He’d already inhaled his blueberry muffin, because eating in front of Tony felt...weirdly intimate.

Someone pointedly cleared their throat. Steve jerked his head up just in time to stop himself from spilling coffee all over an immaculately-dressed redhead.

“Uh, hey—Pepper, right?” he asked as he juggled said coffee and his notebook.

She gave him a half-smile, but her eyes looked amused. “That’s me. I’m playing messenger today, because apparently Tony lost his phone. Again.” She sighed heavily.

“He...he lost his phone?”

“Third one this semester, I swear to god...” She reached into her gray leather bag and took out what looked like a planner of some sort, only it was sleek and glossy black, like something Hilary Clinton would carry around. Pepper thumbed through a few pages, then said, “I’m supposed to tell you sorry, that Tony got caught up doing research last night, and that he’ll make it up to you. Oh, and—” She produced a five dollar bill practically out of thin air. “This is for your coffee.”

“Um.” Steve stared at the money Pepper handed over. “Thanks?”

“I’ll tell him you said so,” she replied with a smirk that looked disturbingly a lot like Tony’s. “Now that I’ve fulfilled my friendship duties, I have an internship to get to. Enjoy your day, Steve. And the free boyfriend coffee.”

“Oh, we’re not—” He didn’t get the chance to correct her. Pepper waved him off as her phone rang, and suddenly she was a swirl of perfume and clicking heels as she rushed out the door.

He blinked after her, then back down at the five in his hand.

Very slowly, he folded the bill into a neat square and tucked it into his wallet.


Unlike the rest of the human race, Steve hated weekends. They reminded him of all the work he hadn’t gotten to during the week, and all the work that still waited for him after that. Steve thrived on having a schedule, but when he had days off, he tended to have a mild anxiety attack.

With Tony in the picture, weekends began to represent something else entirely. Instead of stressing over his projects, Steve kept watching his phone for a text. He couldn’t concentrate on Friday nights; people went on dates on Fridays, right? Which meant that Tony was probably off somewhere doing exactly that, because guys like Tony didn’t stay in and watch Hulu in their pajamas.

The Friday evening after the whole weird Starbucks thing with Pepper, Bruce was off presenting at some panel with his chemistry club over the weekend. Steve couldn’t remember the last time he’d had the room to himself, and it felt—depressing.

He wasn’t moping, though, and even if he was, Steve combated it with putting on Ben Folds as loud as he could and sprawling out on the floor with his giant sketchbook, drawing whatever he felt like. Usually that meant random objects from his grandma’s house, or landmarks on campus.

This time he’d somehow started drawing hands. Wide, slightly tanned hands with callused fingertips and bitten nails.

Steve propped himself up on his elbows and stared down at the page.

“Damn it,” he mumbled, an annoying flush in his cheeks. He ripped the page out of the book and wadded it up, tossing it toward the trash bucket by his desk.

He’d started in on a very unsexy picture of his grandma’s flower bed when his phone rang. It was most likely Peggy, who went home to her mother’s on Friday nights.

And don’t forget to give me back my black t-shirt,” Steve sang into his phone without checking the caller ID.

A deep, familiar voice decidedly not Peggy laughed and replied, “Am I interrupting something?”

Steve sat up, scrambling to hit pause on his iPod dock. “I was, uh—drawing.” He glanced at the trash, and the earlier blush came rushing back.

Tony gave another rumbling laugh that made Steve swallow. “Yeah? On a Friday night?”

“Why are you calling me?” Steve blurted out instead. This had to be a joke, right? The clock read 9:42. Tony should’ve already been at a bar, or a club, or the closest sorority party. But Steve couldn’t hear any background noise, no yelling or pulsing bass. Tony sounded like he was...well, alone.

“I just got in. Been—” His words broke off on a long yawn. “—doing fucking research since last night. My advisor kicked me out of the lab and told me I wasn’t allowed back until I, you know, ate something. Or slept. I think the sleeping part’s the one he really emphasized.”

“Wait, you’ve been in the lab since last night?” That had to have been over twenty-four hours. Steve didn’t even get lost in his paintings for that long.

“I didn’t think it was that long, but yeah. Should’ve known when Pepper started sending me those texts about eating.”

Steve shook his head as he stretched back out on the carpet, phone pressed to his ear as he went back to absently sketching. “So you didn’t even go to class?”

“All my professors knew where I was. They sort of, um, let me do what I want when I’m in zombie mode like that.” The self-deprecating tone in Tony’s voice made Steve grin. It wasn’t like Tony could see him.

“What’s so important that it requires a zombie mode?”

Tony yawned again. “Uh, it’s electrodes and currents and a bunch of other really boring shit I won’t torture you with. Basically, I’m trying to build my own generator from scratch, but using fusion energy.”

Steve dropped his pen. “Seriously?”

“Well, in theory. Like your Monet portrait, it’s not going well. Hence the zombie mode.”

“Oh.” Steve picked his pen back up and started doodling a little man eating brains. “Yeah, but, my portrait isn’t, like, science. Pretty sure you’ve got me beat there.”

“You’re creative and sensitive and in touch with your right brain. My right brain’s been in a coma for the last twenty-two years.”

Something flared up and glowed inside Steve’s chest at creative and sensitive. He cleared his throat. “So, uh, why are you calling me, exactly?” he asked again.

There was a pause, and Steve heard a slow, soft sigh. “Um. Are you—I mean, it’s fine if you’re not, but—are you alone?” If Steve didn’t know better, he’d say Tony sounded shy.

It was almost embarrassing how fast Steve got hard, and Tony hadn’t even asked him to do anything. “Yeah,” he said, already a little breathless. “My roommate’s gone for the weekend.”

Another pause. “Want some company?” Tony asked, and this time his voice dropped into a lower register, the one that made Steve grip his pen tighter and close his eyes.

“You’re not—busy?”

“For you, no. I got all the time in the world, gorgeous.”

Steve licked his lips, hips pressing into the carpet. “I’ll, uh. I’ll wait for you in the lobby?”

“Be there in ten.”


It was just a booty call.

Steve repeated this over and over in his head, even when Tony showed up in wrinkled sweats and a faded t-shirt, looking haggard and exhausted with his hair hanging in his eyes. Steve repeated it to himself even when Tony gave him a tired, lopsided grin and whispered, “Hey, beautiful,” as he cupped the back of Steve’s neck and pulled him into a slow kiss, right in the middle of the dorm lobby. And he kept repeating it even when Tony threaded his fingers through Steve’s, tugging gently.

“Wanna give me the tour or what?” he asked.

Steve was momentarily distracted by how—how warm Tony smelled, like blankets and pillows, like home. He ducked his head, carefully pulled his hand free of Tony’s grip, and forced a casual smile.

“You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all,” Steve replied. He tried his best to mimic Tony’s low purr. “But you’re not really interested in all that. Right?”

He caught an odd flicker in Tony’s eyes, a quick pinch between his eyes. It was gone in an instant. “Right,” Tony said, nudging at Steve’s chest with his knuckle. “Just your digs.”

Steve lead him up the stairs to the third floor, checked to make sure the coast was clear, then grabbed Tony by his shirt and hauled him into his room, pushing him up against the door as it slammed loudly. He pinned Tony there with his hands, his hips, groaned deep in his throat when he felt Tony squirm and arch into him, already hard.

“Yeah,” Tony gasped, “fuck yeah, totally needed this.” The words came out thin, small, like they weren’t meant for Steve.

“What else do you need?” Steve heard himself say into the skin of Tony’s neck, wanting to strip them both without having to put air between their bodies.

Tony made another high-pitched moan. “Just—you. That’s—fuck, Steve—”

They ended up sprawled on the carpet, Steve’s bare feet flat against the door and Tony braced above him, shirtless and perfect as he licked his way up Steve’s cock like he couldn’t get enough of it. Steve’s jeans were tangled around his knees, but he couldn’t form enough coherent thoughts to care. He also couldn’t stop touching Tony, his hands wide over Tony’s thighs, fingers splayed over the indentations of his ab muscles, his hipbones. Steve frequently got lost in the image of how pale his skin looked fitted into the hollows of Tony’s slightly darker complexion.

“God, I want—Tony, let me, can I—”

“Here.” Tony sat up abruptly, and with graceful ease, shucked Steve’s jeans and boxers down and off his legs, kicking his own sweats off at the same time. Steve watched, wide-eyed, as Tony licked his mouth and crawled back up Steve’s body.

“Try not to choke me, big guy,” he murmured, and bit sharply at Steve’s lower lip before swinging his leg over Steve’s chest to face away from him.

Steve made an embarrassing gurgling sound. Holy shit.

Tony looked over his shoulder at him. “This—this okay?” he asked a little breathlessly, one hand sliding down Steve’s stomach.

“Yeah, yes, it’s fine, completely fine, I—fuck.” Steve was more worried about going off the second Tony sucked him back into his mouth. And Steve was going to be—he was going to—

He shut his eyes and let his mouth fall open, let Tony guide his own cock inside with a rough, “Jesus fuck.” Steve held himself still, kept his lips soft, because he could do this, he could, he’d sucked Tony off before.

But he wasn’t prepared to have the added rushed of wet heat enveloping him at the same time, or the feel of each little groan from Tony vibrating through his entire body. Steve couldn’t keep his concentration at all, kept gasping around Tony’s cock and doing everything within his power not to fuck his (fantastic, amazing, unreal) mouth.

Too soon, Steve felt his stomach tightening. “God, I’m gonna—Tony, I’m gonna come, I’m—”

He got a growl from that, and Tony’s hips stuttered under Steve’s hand. Steve actually felt him swell against his tongue, tasted a quick burst of precome.

There was no holding on after that. Thankfully, Tony was a lost cause, too.

Steve collapsed on the carpet, dizzy and lightheaded, yet he smiled dopily up at the ceiling. A secret he would take to his grave was that he loved having the taste of Tony Stark’s come lingering in his mouth.

He startled when his thoughts were interrupted with a lazy kiss and a searching tongue, like Tony could read his mind. He’d never kissed Steve immediately after oral sex, and while Steve had always considered it highly unsanitary, he couldn’t help letting Tony inside with a soft sigh.

“That’s what I like to see,” Tony laughed, idly palming Steve’s side. He was still the only shirtless one between the two of them.

“What?” Steve blinked at him.

“You smiling after I made you come. It’s like an added bonus. Plus...” He ran his thumb over Steve’s cheeks. “It adds something to your blush. A triple threat, I guess.”

“A threat to what?”

Tony shrugged, but his smile faded somewhat. “To my sanity?”

Steve took a deep breath. Now was not the time to start reading into things. He was still half-stupid from coming, and Tony probably wasn’t much better. “I think your sanity’s safe.”

“So you say. You’ve got a mouth that could start wars, Rogers, seriously.”

“Yeah, you say that to all the girls,” Steve drawled before he could think it through.

Tony cocked his head to one side. “Sorry, were there girls involved in this metaphor? I missed that memo.”

A hot flush that had nothing to do with post-coital stupidity ran up Steve’s neck. “You know what I meant, okay, don’t—” The ring of his phone cut him off.

Steve rolled out from under Tony, crawling around on his knees in nothing but his t-shirt until he found his cell shoved under his sketchbook.

It was Peggy. Of course.

He winced and tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder as he quickly grabbed his jeans. “Hey!” he answered with a bit too much punch. “D’you make it to your mom’s all right?”

“Yes?” Peggy replied with obvious suspicion. “What’s wrong with you? Are you drunk?”

“What, no! I’m fine, I’m great! Just...ah...” Steve nearly lost his balance he struggled into his jeans, carefully averting his eyes from where Tony still sat in the center of the room naked, arms folded across his knees. “Just hanging out in my room. Alone.”

“Why do you sound out of breath?”

“I was—doing push-ups?”

She sighed. “Steve. Is Tony there?”

Against his will, he glanced over and met Tony’s eyes. “Um. Nope. Like I said, it’s just me.” His chest went stupidly tight as he took in Tony’s sex-rumpled hair and the fading pink across the bridge of his nose.

“Fine, then I’ll just assume you were jerking off to imaginary Tony.”

Peggy, Jesus.”

“You leave me no choice, Steven!”

“Right. I’m hanging up now.”

“Uh-huh. Tell Tony I said hello, and also, that you’re a jerk. A lovable jerk, but still—”

Bye, Peg.”

“Love you, too.”

Steve rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes as he hung up, tossing his phone on his bed.

“Peggy Carter, yeah?” Tony asked.

“You remember her?”

“Sure. She was your bodyguard most of the time.”

Steve automatically bristled, but Tony’s voice was gentle, affectionate. There wasn’t the teasing tone Steve was used to. “She’s my best friend. She...looks out for me. I do the same for her.”

“I know, I got one of those myself. They kinda come in handy.” Tony slowly got to his feet, and Steve definitely did not watch every shift and pull of muscle as Tony straightened.

He fidgeted, waiting for Tony to finish dressing and head out with his usual, “Thanks, gorgeous,” only Tony paused with his shirt in his hands and said without looking at Steve, “So...Peggy doesn’t know you’re—that we’re—doing this?”

“No, she does. I mean, she sort of does, I don’t tell her details or anything.”

“But she’s not thrilled with it, is she?”

“Um.” It was hard to concentrate with Tony standing there still half-naked. “It’s just. She’s protective of me, I guess.” He didn’t add, She kind of hates you and the shit you put me through in high school.

Tony sighed, a deep pull of air into his lungs that made his shoulders expand and contract. Steve wanted to touch him. He always wanted to touch him. “That...yeah,” was all Tony said, then glanced up at Steve through the messy dark fall of his hair, mouth quirked up to one side.

Stay with me tonight, Steve desperately wanted to say, but he was stronger than that. He wasn’t that weak little kid anymore.

“I’ll catch you later, Rogers,” Tony said, then skimmed his fingers over Steve’s cheek as he leaned up to kiss him almost chastely on the mouth. Steve let his eyes close, just for a second, not long enough for Tony to see.

He also let himself whisper, “Have a good night,” which made Tony laugh softly for some reason and kiss him again.

Steve waited until Tony was out of sight and the door was shut before throwing himself face-first down on his bed.

Fuck,” he groaned into his pillow.

If Peggy were here, she’d totally kick his ass.


And so it went for the next few weeks. Steve’s life consisted of class, studio time, and Tony.

It wasn’t always in that exact order, unfortunately.

Still, he managed to get his portrait done in time, only to learn that his professor had decided to hold an impromptu gallery show for the entire class as part of their grade.

Steve hated gallery shows. He hated being judged.

“And have fun with it!” his professor added with sadistic glee. “Bring a date! We’ll have wine!”

Fantastic, Steve thought as he slumped down further in his seat and frantically texted Peggy.

Are you busy this Saturday night?? Please say no.

My brother has a soccer tournament, why, what’s up? came her reply a few minutes later.

Steve groaned in despair and waited until he got out of class to call her.

“Dr. Farris is making us do a gallery show,” he said.

“Oh my god,” Peggy said in a sympathetic lilt. She’d watched him have enough anxiety attacks in the past. “I’m so sorry, Steve, I already promised my mom I’d go or I’d completely be there, you know I would.”

“I can’t go by myself. I’ll look like a goddamn idiot. I’ll—shit.” He stopped in the middle of the quad and pinched the bridge of his nose. Of all the pieces he’d created in his college career, this portrait was the most personal, and it was just going to be out there for everyone to see.

He heard Peggy take a deep breath. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but...maybe you could ask Tony to go with you?”

Steve’s eyes flew open. “What? Are you serious?”

“He knows about your art, it wouldn’t be such a stretch for him to—”

No,” Steve hissed, “no way. It’s bad enough I have to deal with this crap, let alone Tony politely telling me to fuck off because he’s got better things to do that hang out with some pathetic art major at his gallery show.”

“Steve, you are not pathetic, and your art is lovely. Your portrait is lovely, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a tool.”

He rubbed at his neck. “I can’t ask him, Peg,” Steve said, softer this time. “I don’t—I don’t know what I’d do if he said—”

A voice called, “Yo, Rogers,” just as a hand landed on Steve’s arm.

“I’ll call you back,” Steve said, and hung up to give Clint Barton a friendly smile. They weren’t close friends, but they were both art majors, and Steve liked Clint well enough.

He was also in Steve’s acrylics class, so right now Steve kind of viewed Clint as a kindred spirit. “What’s up?”

Clint huffed out a frustrated breath. “This last-minute gallery bullshit, that’s what. It’s Wednesday, for fuck’s sake.”

“Yeah, I know, right? How does Farris expect to even get the space for it?”

“You know the gallery, they bow down to Farris whenever he fucking wants.” Clint snorted, then his expression went oddly tentative. “Personally, I don’t think it’s Farris’ goddamn business if we bring a date or not, but whatever. We’re both in this shit together and I’m, ah--in kind of a bind. I was thinking maybe we could possibly, maybe, sorta—”

“Go together?” Steve supplied, an awkward heat spreading across his cheeks.

“Whoa, hey, not like that!” Clint said quickly, holding up both hands. “No offense, I just figured it’d save us both the trouble of lining someone up. Unless you’ve already got someone—”

“No, I’m free. Perfectly free.”

Clint’s blew out a loud breath of relief. “Sweet. I owe you one.” He was hot in a wiry sort of way; Steve remembered something about him being into archery, that he’d gone out for the Olympic trials his senior year of high school. Clint was definitely attractive, he just wasn’t really Steve’s type; but then, Clint wasn’t an ex-lacrosse playing physics major with a trust fund who built generators from scratch.

And that, thought Steve, was a definitely point in Clint’s favor.

“Really, I don’t mind,” Steve said, but Clint had already took off toward the student commons, throwing Steve a thumbs up over his shoulder.

He texted Peggy, Got a date 2 gallery show.

She replied, You asked Tony??

Steve bit his lip. Nope.

He put his phone away before he could see her response.


Steve skipped his last class of the day to go running. He normally tried to get a few miles in every day, but this time he hit the road and just kept going until his chest hurt. There was a park about ten miles outside of campus; Steve came to a stop at the merry-go-round and braced his hands against the bars, pulling air back into his lungs as the sweat ran in his eyes.

It was just some stupid gallery show, and if he were dumb enough to mention it to Tony, there wasn’t any reason for Tony to go. That was something people did who were—who meant more to each other than just routine sex.

He closed his eyes, thought of the pitying look in Tony’s eyes. ”Aw, Steve, you’re too cute, but this isn’t like that. Sometimes things are just for fun, y’know?” He’d pat Steve’s cheek, and then probably figure out the quickest way to get the hell away from him.

Steve felt the same sickening swoop in his stomach from when he was in high school and daydreaming about Tony pushing him up against his locker and kissing him soundly, only to be brought back down to Earth by the sight of Tony smirking at him, or shoving at his shoulder as he passed Steve in the halls with all his student council buddies.

It was the feeling of embarrassed, humiliating regret. Steve hated it more than anything.

You’re the one who kissed him first, a nagging little voice in the back of his brain said. You got yourself into this mess, buddy.

“And I should be the one to get me out of it,” he mumbled to himself, pushing off the merry-go-round as he glared up at the late afternoon sky.

Before he lost his nerve, Steve dug his cell out of the pocket of his shorts. He’d call Tony, just this once, and it would be the last time they did—their thing. Then Steve would walk away. Simple enough.

”This is Tony. I’m busy with world domination at the moment. You know what to do.” Voicemail beeped in Steve’s ear, and Steve opened his mouth to leave a message.

But nothing came out.

He tried to think of something, anything, that wasn’t I want to see you. What Steve ended up with was, “Hey. It’ Um. Call me.” He hung up with a grimace, feeling like the world’s biggest loser.


Steve ran the rest of the way back home without a call back from Tony, which was fine. He wasn’t even sure what he’d say if Tony did call.

He wasn’t, however, expecting a text just as Steve staggered through the doorway of his room and stripped off his soaked t-shirt.

u rang?

Steve dropped down onto his bed with a loud huff. He kicked his sneakers off, thumb hovering over the text box. Finally, he shoved a hand through his wet hair and typed, Don’t worry about it, sorry to bother you.

For some reason, that made his phone ring a minute later.

“So what’s up?” Tony asked. He sounded a little distracted.

“It’s nothing,” Steve sighed, “I was just...I didn’t mean to interrupt anything if you’re—”

“Come by the lab. I’m kind of wrapped up in some shit at the moment that I can’t really get out of—experiments are a bitch sometimes, Jesus—but if you wanna talk I can work something out.”

A part of him wanted to say no. It was obvious Tony was busy, but...he hadn’t seen him since Sunday night and, well. “You’re sure?”

“Absolutely. You’re the best kind of distraction.” Tony laughed, but it was off somehow, with an edge of frustration.

Without thinking, Steve said, “You—need anything? Like, Starbucks, or maybe White Castle or—”

“Oh god, if you got your hands on a venti triple shot hazelnut latte, I’d love you forever and ever. I haven’t had caffeine all day, okay, I’m dying here, science wasn’t meant to be done without stimulants.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Steve said with a grin, already looking around for a dry shirt. He really needed to get a shower in, but that could wait.

He’d sort of forgotten what he wanted to tell Tony, anyway.


The lab reserved for senior science majors was virtually the entire basement floor of the science building. Steve hadn’t been in the building much himself, except for his required freshman biology courses, and he definitely hadn’t been to the bottom floor. It was more or less restricted to the elite seniors whose work would get them published and into grad school.

Basically, the lab was Tony’s, since it was paid in full by his father. No one really said so out loud, but the plaque beside the huge glass door that read Stark Research Facility said enough.

Steve held Tony’s coffee in one hand, his other fidgeting with the strap of his messenger bag; his story would be that he was on his way to the library to study. The library was on the complete opposite side of campus, but it was better than pathetically showing up with a latte and nothing else.

A long, brightly lit hallway stretched out in front Steve, until it abruptly turned to the right and brought him to another glass door. Beyond it was a virtual sea of research equipment and computer screens.

He couldn’t see Tony anywhere as he gingerly nudged the door open with his shoulder. He was, however, greeted with the blaring sounds of “Fortunate Son.”

Steve stood there, blinking in surprise as a lopsided grin spread over his face. “Hello?” he yelled over the music.

Instead of Tony, a girl popped up from behind a gigantic Mac screen. “Can I help you?” she asked, pushing her glasses up her nose as she pulled an iPod earbud out of one ear.

“I was—is Tony Stark—?”

“Oh.” She smiled at him, rolling her eyes. “You must be Steve. Tony said you were coming over. I’m Jane, by the way.” She held her hand out to him.

“Nice to meet you, but what’s with the music?”

Jane sighed and shook her head in long-suffering exasperation. “It’s all Tony. We share lab hours most of the time, and let’s just say this—” She waved her hand around, indicating the seventies classic rock. “—doesn’t exactly match up with Rilo Kiley.”

“You could just ask him to turn it down.”

“Yeah, I could, but it’s been this way for almost three years now. I’m used to it. Besides, Tony makes it up to me.” She laughed, a light, pretty sound, much like the rest of her. He couldn’t help but wonder if Tony noticed, too.

Steve suddenly felt dumb standing there with a stupid latte in his hand. “Should I wait until the song’s over or—”

“Pssh, go on back. I don’t think Tony has seen sunlight since yesterday. At least I bring my boyfriend down here more than once in a blue moon to keep my sanity.” She smirked at Steve as she put her earbud back in. “Nice to meet you, Steve. Glad I can finally put a face to the name.”

He didn’t know how to respond. “Thanks,” Steve yelled awkwardly over the music, nodding as he made his way to the back of the lab.

The first thing he noticed were the scrap parts gradually littering the floor, until they began to pile up, like Steve was entering a junk yard. He saw a bright spark, then another, until he heard a loud, “Goddamn it,” followed by a crash and what sounded suspiciously like a small explosion.

The song ended right about then, and in the momentary silence Steve called, “Tony?”

Another crash, and then Tony came storming out from behind a bay of computer screens surrounded by cables and scrap metal, skin blackened and smudged like he’d been working in a garage.

“Oh god, hey, sorry, I was just—fuck, coffee.” Tony made an obscene groaning noise and lunged for the Starbucks cup in Steve’s hand. For a second he just held it in his hands, breathing in the scent, which gave Steve ample opportunity to stare at the pull of his ratty black t-shirt against the muscles of his shoulders.

“I was on my way to the library,” Steve said dumbly, but Tony was too busy inhaling his coffee. His free hand flailed out and curled into the front of Steve’s shirt, tugging him close. Steve’s messenger bag slid unceremoniously down his arm and landed on the floor at their feet.

“You’re my hero right now,” Tony said before taking a long sip, licking the foam off his lips.

Steve refused to get hard in a science lab. He laughed a little too breathlessly. “It’s just coffee.”

“Coffee and you. God, you’re a sight for sore eyes. Now I know why Jane makes that big blond puppy of a boyfriend bring her ice cream here in the middle of the night.” He set the cup down and slid both hands up Steve’s chest, resting his thumbs in the dip at his throat.

“I-I met Jane,” Steve stuttered, the inside of his mouth growing wet. Apparently he had a thing for Tony all filthy and rumpled.

“Yeah, she’s a sweetheart.”

“She seems to...ah, like you a lot.” His breath caught as Tony flicked his fingers into the hair at the base of Steve’s neck. God, he wished he weren’t so easy sometimes.

“We’re kinda those crazy science kids your mom warned you about, but y’know, I’d really rather kiss you than talk about my lab buddies.” He nipped at Steve’s lower lip. Tony smelled like grease and smoke and something vaguely metallic. All Steve could think was that he wanted to soak it all up and devour him.

Tony leaned back and raised an eyebrow. “You’re all sweaty, did I miss something?”

“Went for a run, sorry.”

“Don’t be. I like you a little dirty.”

Steve shivered, heard himself breathe Tony’s name, and Tony murmured, “Mmm, yeah.” They sort of melted into each other, Steve’s lips parting against the slick push of Tony’s tongue. Steve leaned his weight into Tony, walked him back a few inches until they hit the edge of a work table. His heart thudded fast when Tony’s legs spread automatically and Steve pushed harder against him.

They were, unfortunately, interrupted by the intro to “Back in Black.”

“Jesus, Tony, how are you not deaf?” Steve gasped. It was hard to sound irritated when he was laughing.

“It helps me think!” Tony said, twisting around in Steve’s arms to paw at the closest keyboard. “Caffeine and rock n’ roll, that’s what makes this world go ‘round, gorgeous.” The music stopped after a few seconds, and the silence echoed around them.

From the other side of the lab, Jane called, “Thanks, Steve!”

They both dissolved into giggles. Steve dropped his forehead to Tony’s; he realized absently that his hands had somehow found their way to Tony’s waist and had started to inch up under his shirt. “Are you here all night?” he asked, kissing the corner of Tony’s mouth.

“I should be. No, I need to be, seeing as how I just, uh, blew up my latest prototype and my advisor wants my progress by Friday.” Tony made a tiny whimpering sound, one Steve secretly craved. His hands tangled in Steve’s hair as Tony squirmed against him.

“Then I guess I’d better let you get back to it.” Steve let his voice drop a little lower, let his teeth graze against the sensitive skin at the curve of Tony’s jaw, let his hands splay over Tony’s hips.

Tony made another keening noise. “You could. That would be the—oh, fuck—logical, rational thing to do.” His hips shifted, and suddenly they had a rhythm going, slight as it was.

Steve sucked at Tony’s ear. “You’ve got—god—caffeine now, you can go back to saving the world.”

“Or I could make you come in the name of science.”

“Or that, too—oh, shit, Tony—”

A month ago Steve would never have imagined he’d end up shirtless and sprawled on the floor of the Stark Research Facility with his jeans around his ankles and come on his stomach. But then, Steve never imagined he’d do a lot of the things he’d done in the last month or so.

“I’m never gonna get any work done now,” Tony mumbled against Steve’s cheek, all sloe-eyed and sated. Steve’s hand was still wrapped around their cocks, and when Tony licked slowly into his mouth, Steve felt himself twitch again.

“At least you have coffee now,” Steve said, glancing up at the forgotten Starbucks cup on the table above them.

Tony nuzzled his stubble over Steve’s neck and shoulder like a cat. “That I do. If I could just keep you naked in the lab on a full-time basis, I’d be set.”

“Jane would probably object.”

“Please, like her and Thor haven’t banged all over this fucking building.”


“He’s European. Exchange student. Nice guy, also very vocal during sex.”

“Oh my god, Tony.”

Now you see why the music is necessary.” He waggled his eyebrows at Steve, who rolled his eyes and tried his hardest not grin. “By the way, what was it you called me about earlier? You sounded—tense.”

Steve traced his index finger over a scar on Tony’s right bicep. “Don’t worry about it. I worked something out.”

Tony leaned back down and kissed Steve’s chin. “Sounds serious,” he replied, and if there was a hint of something earnest in his tone, it was all in Steve’s head.

“No,” Steve said, eyes fluttering closed as he leaned into the kiss. “It’s really not.”


He left the lab over half an hour later, even though Tony kept pulling him back to kiss him and say things like, “Just five more minutes? It’ll help me concentrate.”

“You said that thirty minutes ago,” Steve said. He was still loopy and blissed-out from coming, which meant his brain wasn’t up to speed yet; he honestly paused for a moment and considered asking Tony about Saturday night.

Even worse, he actually opened his mouth and said, “So...I was thinking—”

“One sec,” Tony said, holding up a finger as he grabbed his cell, which vibrated against his keyboard. “I’d totally ignore this, but Rhodey always gets so touchy when I don’t answer after seven—yeah, hey, what’s up, can I call you—what, seriously?”

Steve swung his bag onto his shoulder as Tony flailed his hand at his phone. God, had he really almost asked him?

“Dude, I will bet you one gazillion euros that shit is not going down on Saturday—yes, I realize we’re not in Europe, I’m using hyperbole, look it up—you know what happened last time you guys tried that shit, I’ve still got the proof on my hard drive.” Tony looked over his shoulder at Steve and mouthed sorry with a chagrined smile. “No, Rhodes, you being president-elect doesn’t mean there’s going to be ‘law and order,’ okay, it’s a goddamn frat. No, I’m—if you say honor and duty one more time, I’m deleting you from my phone.”

Steve took a step back, waving his hand toward the exit. “I’m just gonna—”

“Fine, yes, I’ll be there, but I’m not paying your’s a joke, you know I love you.” Tony hung up and sighed loudly. “Sorry, sorry, one of my best friends has it in his head that he can single-handedly turn his frat into, like, a gentleman’s club. And not the fun kind with strippers.”

To be polite, Steve asked, “Which frat?” even though he was clueless about anything pertaining to the Greek system.

“Tau Sigma Kappa. They nearly got shut down last year for throwing a party over Christmas break, and now Rhodey thinks he can redeem them all. Hence this soiree on Saturday night.” Tony made lazy air quotes.

Steve went very still. “It’s, uh—this Saturday?”

“Yeah, I know, worst timing. I’m gonna get shit all done in the lab this weekend, I can just feel it.” He smirked at Steve, but there was a tentativeness in his eyes Steve had never seen.

It took a second before Steve realized he was holding his breath. Before he realized he was waiting for an invitation.

Tony shrugged carelessly. “Whatever, I’ll deal with it. Rhodey’s put up with enough of my shit, I owe him one.”

“Yeah.” Steve tugged at the strap of his bag, a slow, uncomfortable sinking sensation in his stomach.

“You headed off to the library now?” Tony leaned against the work table, arms crossed as he looked up at Steve like everything was cool, everything was fine. They were just two guys hanging out in a lab after having sex on the floor, no big deal.

Steve wanted to punch his fist through a wall. He was so fucking stupid.

“I don’t know,” he replied, and he did his best to sound indifferent, casual, as he bit the words out. “Might go by and see Clint, go over some stuff.”

Tony cocked his head to one side. “Clint Barton? Didn’t know you guys were friends.”

“We have class together. He asked me to hang out this weekend.” Steve grinned; the corners of his mouth hurt.

“Oh. Well—cool. I don’t really know him, but he seems like a nice enough guy.”

“Yeah, he is. Great guy. Good artist, too, we’re doing our project together.” He didn’t know why he turned that little half-truth into a lie, but it didn’t matter. Tony looked almost bored, like he couldn’t care less about what Steve did on his weekends. Or with whom.

“Guess I’ll just...see you around, then.” Tony turned back to his computer screen, fingers flying over the keyboard in a mess of codes and commands Steve would never understand.

“Sure.” He forced himself to add, “Have fun with Rhodey.”

Tony’s response was an absent grunt, his eyes narrowed at his screen, his mouth twisted to one side. He looked frustrated, but then, he’d just blown up his research project not two hours earlier.

Steve nearly tripped on a piece of scrap metal on his way out of the lab. He didn’t bother answering when Jane called after him, “Night, Steve!”

He was out the door and down the hall before noticing that his fly was still open.


It wasn’t Steve’s intention to get drunk that night. He never drank on a school night, because he was weirdly paranoid that he could feel his grandma’s eyes watching his every move.

So when he decided to hide out in the one spot he knew he’d have privacy—the art studio was never occupied after dark—Steve definitely didn’t expect to find Clint already there, pacing in the semi-dark in front of a blank canvas with a bottle of Wild Turkey in his hand.

“Rough night?” Steve asked awkwardly as he flicked on the rest of the lights.

Clint blinked hard, holding one hand over his eyes. “Rough isn’t the word I’d use,” he drawled, and set the bottle down on a side table with a loud clank.

“How long have you been here?”

“Lost track of time. Gettin’ caught up in my inspiration, see?” He slapped the blank canvas and laughed. He sounded way past tipsy.

Steve took a deep breath, huffed it out in a long, weary sigh. “I was sort of hoping this place would be empty,” he said, smiling ruefully. It wasn’t Clint’s fault he was having a slight mental breakdown because he couldn’t make himself be a proper fuck buddy.

“Sorry to disappoint. We can’t all be fucking drunks and school felons on a week night.”

Steve started to back out of the room. “I’ll just, um, leave you to it—”

“However, this drunk felon is more than willing to share.” He held the bottle out to Steve.

“You’re not a felon,” Steve said with a small smile.

“You gonna argue fucking semantics with me or take the damn booze? No offense, but you look like you could use this just as much as me.”

He wasn’t a whiskey drinker, but Steve wasn’t about to get picky. Three hard pulls later, he was coughing against the burn and remembering why he normally stuck to beer.

“So.” Clint hoisted himself up onto the closet empty table and pointed a finger at Steve. “What happened, boy scout?”

Steve swiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “Nothing,” he replied automatically, but he took another drink as the memory of Tony’s indifferent smirk flashed through his mind.

“Bullshit. You’re drinking like a fifteen-year-old girl after a bad date. Someone dumped you.”

“No. There wasn’t anything to—dump.”

“You’re in a goddamn art studio at nine o’clock on a Wednesday night getting shitfaced. There was something.”

Steve set the bottle on a stool beside him, spun it by the neck and watched the light reflect off the amber. “I thought—I thought I could be something I’m not.”

“Which is?”

He glanced up at Clint, who watched him with curious, cautious eyes. “Have you ever just—been with someone for the hell of it? Just because the sex was great?”

The caution suddenly turned into a stricken look, but Clint cleared his throat loudly, turning his head away. “Your talking fuck buddy shit, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.

“Have you ever been one?”

“Yeah. Once. Didn’t take.” He held his hand out for the bottle, not meeting Steve’s eyes.

“How’d you do it?” Steve asked softly as Clint took a long drink without so much as pausing for air.

When he was done, Clint let the bottle dangle from his hand between his legs. “It’s just sex. You just...start fucking and enjoy the ride. Simple as that. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.”

Steve closed his eyes and sighed. “Some of us aren’t built for that. I tried, I fucking tried, but—”

“It starts to get to you,” Clint said to the bottle in his hand.

“But then it’s like—you’re trapped, y’know? You’re trapped in this cycle, like a, a damn crack addict, telling yourself just one more time—”

“One more time and I’ll quit—”

“One more time and I’ll leave.” Steve slumped onto a stool and scrubbed a hand over his face.

Clint smirked at him. “I said it was simple, not that it was fucking easy.”

Steve hugged his arms to his chest. “So what do you do?”

“It just gets to a point when you know,” Clint shrugged.

“Know what?”

“That it’s not just fucking anymore.” His shoulders drooped a bit. “Then you...try for more.”

“But that’s not an option for me. I can’t—I just can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because...” Steve huffed and swiped the bottle back. “Because I want him to think I’m a stronger person than that. That I’m not that pathetic little kid from high school who—” He took a drink to stop himself from babbling.

Clint’s eyes narrowed. “‘Him,’ huh? Can I get a name?”

Steve laughed as his chest tightened. “Sure, what the hell. It’s Tony Stark.”

He expected Clint to make some comment about Steve being a masochist. Instead, he worried his lower lip for a second and said, “Okay. That makes sense.”

Steve blinked. “What?”

“You don’t seem like the type of guy to tie himself up in knots over some average dude. Of course it’d be someone like Tony Stark. Shit, Rogers, you’re like some romcom cliche.”

“Screw you, I’m not some cliche, I just made some bad decisions at a party a month or so ago.”

“You just admitted you liked him in high school. Let me guess, he was prom king?”

“Homecoming,” Steve muttered.

“I rest my case. So you decided to have your first fuck buddy experience with the guy you crushed on in high school that everyone else wanted, too? That’s like the Mount Everest of fuck buddy scenarios, my friend. And I thought I was fucking crazy.” The thing was, Clint actually sounded impressed.

“Yeah, well, who was yours?” Steve shot back, not liking being read so easily by a drunk guy. “If you’re so smart, who the hell’s got you drinking in an art studio on a week night?”

Clint leaned back on his hands and defiantly held Steve’s gaze. “My RA.”

It wasn’t exactly the answer Steve expected. “Seriously? But isn’t that—”

“Against dorm rules? Yep, sure is. But it didn’t matter, anyway, since we were just messing around. His room was off limits, though.” He winced. “Not like our Resident Director wouldn’t look in my room, but whatever.”

“How long?”

“Since August. I didn’t want a boyfriend, anyway, but it got me laid on the regular, so hey, why not?”

Steve swallowed. The whiskey was making his skin too hot. “But?”

“You know the rest.” Clint shook his head. “Only—only I asked him. To the gallery show, I fucking asked him even though I knew—” He broke off and kicked his foot out at the blank canvas, hitting the easel legs and sending the whole thing crashing to the ground.

Steve’s heart began to race. That could’ve been me. “It’s not your fault.”

“The hell it’s not. I’m the one who kissed him first, okay, I’m the one who—God, he wouldn’t even fucking look at me when he said—”

“You had to know, though. To make it real.”

He snorted. “D’you ask Tony?”

Steve ducked his head.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. It sucks knowing, Rogers. But then, it sucks falling for the guy you were only supposed to fuck.”

He didn’t reply, just took another drink before silently passing the bottle back to Clint.

“Thanks for being my date on Saturday,” Steve finally said.

Clint finally gave him a grin without any bite, but he also looked painfully sad. “We’re a couple of poor bastard saps, but at least we’re poor bastard saps together, yeah?”

He held his fist out to Steve, who bumped it without hesitation.


Tony didn’t call or text him the following day; Steve pretended not to notice. Friday came and still no word, but by then Steve could lose himself in the chaos of the gallery show prep process.

His phone was out and in plain sight at all times. Steve just wanted to be sure he didn’t miss a call from his grandma.

However, he mostly forgot about his phone once the news set in that he’d been chosen as the first presented portrait.

“Are you really sure that’s necessary?” he asked Dr. Farris as his palms started to sweat. “I mean, it’s not the most eye-catching one, I bet there are others who would—”

“Steven, your portrait is truly inspired, and I think it would behoove you to have the attention of everyone who walks through that door,” his professor replied.

“I don’t think that’s the word I would use,” Steve said under his breath. The gallery walls for the show were a pale yellow; his portrait was all blues and violets. It stood out like a neon sign.

“Is it really so bad?” Clint asked once Farris wandered off. Steve appreciated his sympathetic tone. “Farris is right, yours is probably the best one in the class.”

He shook his head. “It’s just...private.” Having his mother’s face on display was like framing pages of his journal, if he had one. He waited for Clint to push for more details; instead he surprised Steve once again.

“Most art is,” he replied with a shrug.

For some reason, that made Steve smile.

It was short-lived, however, when he heard a familiar female voice say, “Interesting concept. Monet?”

As if materializing out of nowhere, Pepper stood at his right elbow, staring down his painting with a contemplative frown.

“Uh—yeah. Hi?”

She leaned forward and squinted. “You went for the later part of the waterlily phase, didn’t you? That’s quite ambitious, and for a portrait, too.”

“What are you—?”

“Work study. I’m one of the gallery assistants.” Pepper crossed her arms and finally turned to him. “Also, I think there’s a few things you need to be made aware of.”

Steve felt instantly wary. “I’ve done gallery shows before, I know—”

“About Tony. I know you guys have a history.”

Clint coughed into his hand and pretended to be extremely interested in the ceiling scaffolding.

“We don’t have a history,” Steve said in a low voice. “We just went to high school together.”

“Where you apparently cultivated a lot of erroneous ideas about the kind of person Tony is.”

Thankfully, Clint said, “Oh hey, Farris is callin’, be right back,” and made himself scarce.

Pepper raised an eyebrow; she didn’t look angry, just...resigned.

Steve said, “You don’t know what I think of him.”

“I have a pretty good idea. For one, you think he doesn’t give a crap about anyone, especially you.”

“I never—”

“He likes having a persona, okay? It’s a lot more fun being everyone’s favorite than his dad’s afterthought.”

It was like getting a punch to the gut. “...What?”

Pepper rolled her eyes. “Wow, you really don’t know him at all, do you? He works out of the lab his dad built and paid for, he goes to a school partially funded by his dad’s research. Howard Stark even raised the money for the lacrosse field at your old high school. You think it’s easy running around in a shadow like that?”

“I...didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t, because all you wanted to see was Happy Go-Lucky Jock Tony, or Student Council President Tony, or Ultimate Partier Tony. And you still only see that.”

Steve swallowed hard. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because...” Pepper huffed out a breath, and for a second she looked less than her perfectly composed self. “I have never seen him so completely, desperately into someone as he is with you.”

He did the only thing he could think to do. He laughed. “Right. Now who’s the one with ‘erroneous ideas’ about Tony?”

“How can you even say that?”

“Look at me, look around you! I’m not the type Tony falls for, I’m just the guy he—he distracts himself with. Whatever issues he has, it doesn’t change the fact that I was a joke to him in high school, the scrappy little puppy who tried to run with the big dogs. He doesn’t want me, Pepper. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

She pursed her lips. “Do you know how many times Tony normally sleeps with someone?”

Steve grimaced. “I don’t need a body count, thanks.”

Once, maybe twice. And how many relationships do you think he’s had in his life?”


“None, Steve. Absolutely none.”

“Are you saying I’m an anomaly because he’s fucked me more than once?”

Pepper didn’t flinch at all. “No. I’m saying you’re an anomaly because Tony’s in love with you.”

Of all the things Steve expected to hear out of her mouth, that was the last one. “That’s not possible.”

“For God’s sake, he had me buy you coffee.”

“Coffee isn’t love!” Steve cried.

“Then what is? How many times to you think Tony’s asked me to come meet him while he’s knee-deep in research? I don’t even know what the inside of the lab looks like.”

“So, what, Tony just—just told you that he’s—that he’s—”

Pepper sighed. “He hasn’t said it out loud, no, but I can read him like a book. Also, he called me blackout drunk last night.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“The last time Tony called me that wasted, his dad had just had a stroke and Tony was terrified he’d have to drop out of school and take over Stark Industries. Last night, he just kept going on and on about how he’s not meant to have ‘good shit’ in his life.”

Steve hugged his arms to his chest. “So?”

So?” Pepper shoved him. “You’re that good shit, Steve, even if you’re too damn oblivious and lost in your own self-pity to see it.”

His professor took that exact moment to call, “Steven! Your presence is needed please, we’re discussing appetizers!”

“Yeah, coming,” he yelled back. Appetizers he could handle; Pepper insisting Tony was in love with him, not so much.

He held up both hands, said, “I have to go,” and turned away from her with his heart in his throat.

“He’s got a heart, too, you know, don’t break it,” Pepper called after him.

Like I ever had that power, Steve thought.


He didn’t sleep that night. The last month was on a constant loop in Steve’s head, every moment spent with Tony, every touch, every look, with Pepper’s voice saying over and over, Tony’s in love with you.

Steve rolled onto his stomach and buried his head in his pillow. He wondered how his fifteen-year-old self would react, if he’d hold on desperately to some blind hope that Pepper’s words were true, even if they made no sense. He could see himself wanting it, believing it, and that more than anything made Steve grit his teeth and tell himself, No.

Pepper didn’t know everything. She might’ve been one of Tony’s best friends, but best friends were fallible just like everyone else. A drunk-dialed phone call in the middle of the night didn’t mean shit; Tony had never even said Steve’s name, Pepper had admitted that much. For all she knew, Tony could’ve been having a meltdown over his research.

He thought about Tony standing rumpled and exhausted in the dorm lobby, smiling crookedly as he reached out to tug Steve close, like that was all he needed. Not the sex, not Steve naked and begging, just...closeness. A connection.

You think it’s easy running around in a shadow like that?, Pepper’s voice echoed in his head.

Out of all the friends Tony had, all the admirers and teammates and everyone else who got pulled into his orbit, how was Steve the special one? A part of him didn’t want to know; he was afraid figuring it out would somehow make it no longer true. If it ever was.

No matter how hard Steve tried to pretend he’d grown up, he’d always be that scrawny little kid no one noticed.


Peggy called him an hour before the gallery show opened.

“Are you still breathing?” she asked.

“Yeah, ‘m fine,” he replied as he glared into his closet. Steve hated dressing for these things; his only suit was the one he saved for monthly trips to church with his grandma. It had been altered three times since his senior year of high school, and by now the thing looked ratty as hell.

“You don’t sound fine.”

“I didn’t sleep much.” He’d held off telling her about Pepper’s insights. He didn’t need Peggy’s come-to-Jesus talk again about how Tony Stark didn’t fall in love with people.

“Aw, sweetheart, you’ll be a hit, just wait. When have you ever crashed and burned at one of these things?”

“Never,” Steve smirked affectionately, then hissed in satisfaction when he finally found his good blazer stuffed behind his winter coat. The pocket square was a little wrinkled, but it would do. “Really wish you could be there.”

“I know, I know. Goodness, if only you had a boyfriend to accompany you.”

Steve paused in the middle of searching for his blue button-down. “He’s not my boyfriend, Peg,” he said softly. He’s not my anything. Not anymore.

“Right, yes, my mistake. So have fun with—Clint, right? Hottie archer boy?”

“We’re classmates, and it’s just for logistical purposes.”

“You’re not denying he’s hot.”

“He’s all right. He’s sleeping with his RA, though.” Steve bit his lip and winced. At least Peggy could keep a secret.

She gasped. “Oh my god, wait. You mean Phil Coulson, don’t you?”

“I don’t know his name, just that Clint said he was his—”

“I’d heard a rumor, but I didn’t think—oh, wow. Nat is going to die.”

“Peg, don’t tell anyone I told you. Clint and I, we sort of...bonded the other night. And by bonded, I mean, uh, drank a lot of whiskey. And he told me him and—this guy were sort of over. They were just fuck buddies.”

“Uh-huh. Fuck buddies who reportedly play footsie in the library when no one’s looking. Nat saw them like a week ago in Starbucks being all couplely, but I didn’t believe her. I mean, I’ve had class with Phil, he’s hardly the most demonstrative guy. I’d hardly peg him for a fan of PDA.”

Steve’s eyes widened. “Are you sure? Because Clint said he asked him to be his date to the gallery show and Phil totally blew him off.”

“Yes, but being blown off can mean a vast variety of things to you boys. From what I’ve heard about those two, I’d say it wasn’t as simple as that.”

“You...think so?” Why was he suddenly so hopeful for a couple of guys he barely knew?

“Emotionally-stunted relationships run rampant on this campus. Not that you would notice.” He could hear the smirk in her voice.

His heart was thudding hard for some reason. Steve blinked a few times, stared down at the shirt and tie in his hands, and said, “I—I gotta run. I still need to get dressed.”

“All right, ignore me. Go break a leg, and if you start to have a panic attack, text me. Or cling to Clint.”

Steve rolled his eyes, but he was grinning. “Whatever. Night, Peg.”

Ten minutes later, he was out the door in his nicest jeans, blue shirt and nazy blazer with the slightly wrinkled pocket square. He’d even found his dress shoes.

He paused in the vestibule of his dorm, rubbed his palms on his thighs, and said, “Okay. Let’s do this.”


The gallery was already filling up by the time Steve arrived. Strains of Frank Sinatra filtered out into the night air, and he could see the catering staff Dr. Farris had insisted on hiring already milling about with toasted ravioli and pot stickers.

A small crowd had gathered around his portrait, but Steve hurried past them in search of Clint. He found him cornered by his painting, looking hilariously awkward as a tiny old lady gushed over his portrait.

“You have such tremendous talent!” she cooed. “Is this your grandmother?”

“Uh, no, just, ah...a photograph I found. I don’t actually know who the lady is.” He glanced up and caught Steve’s eyes, giving him a helpless look. Steve covered his mouth and blinked innocently.

“Oh well, it’s absolutely lovely. I would be willing to buy this if it were for sale, but I’m sure your professor wouldn’t want that.”

Steve could see it in Clint’s eyes, that he’d love to make some money off his art, but there was the issue of taking advantage of little old ladies who kept inappropriately rubbing Clint’s arm. “Dr. Farris still has to give us our final grades, so—”

“Hey, Clint? Can I see you for a sec?” Steve asked, finally taking pity on him.

Said little old lady turned and immediately beamed at Steve. “Do you have a portrait here, too, soldier? I call you that because you look just like my darling Daniel, God rest his soul, he was First Infantry in Berlin—”

“Thank you, ma’am, but we gotta take care of something, be right back.” He nodded politely—living with his grandma for six years had taught him all the best manners when it came to his elders—and grabbed Clint by the elbow, neatly steering him away.

“Jesus Christ, thank you so much,” Clint sighed once they were out of earshot. “It was seriously starting to feel like Fatal Attraction for a second there. Old broad didn’t know how to take no for an answer.”

“I think you were relatively out of harm’s way, but no problem.” Steve took in Clint’s sweater and gray chinos and started to feel a bit overdressed. “So, uh, how’s it been?”

“Fairly crazy. Farris won’t let any of us near the bar, the squirrley bastard.”

Steve grinned. “He wants you sober to flirt with the gallery donors.”

“Fuck that, the Golden Girls can keep their money.” He raised an eyebrow at Steve. “Last time I checked, you had quite a crowd.” He jerked his head in the direction of Steve’s portrait.

“Yeah, I saw, I just...uh, wanted to check in with you. Say hi.”

“Steve, c’mon. Go take some goddamn credit! Be a self-centered douche for a night, it’s okay!” He nudged at Steve’s shoulder.

“Fine, all right, but since I saved your ass, you get to be my wing man.”

Clint burst out laughing. “Rogers, you crack my shit up sometimes, for real,” he said, slinging an arm around Steve’s shoulders as they made their way back to the front of the gallery.

There were half a dozen people gathered around the painting, squinting and murmuring amongst themselves. Steve squared his shoulders, cleared his throat, and said, “Hi. That’s—” He flailed his hand at the portrait. “—mine. My mother, actually. It was originally her sorority portrait photo.”

A woman clutched her chest. “That’s so lovely. I love the softness of it.”

Steve felt the tension start to ease out of his shoulders. “Yeah?”

“It’s like a hazy memory,” an older man added. “Like you’re looking into someone’s dream.”

“Yes, exactly that—that’s exactly what I was going for,” Steve said with a goofy grin.

A girl he recognized from one of his freshman composition classes said, “You’re really good. This should be in a museum or something.”

He laughed awkwardly. “Naw, but thanks. I put a lot of sentimental value on this.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Clint give him a thumbs up, then slip back into the crowd. Apparently he didn’t think Steve needed a wing man anymore.

The next hour went by in a blur. Steve had a constant audience, and the more people responded to his art—really responded—the more relaxed he became, until he was actually excited to answer questions about his process.

“Where did the Monet waterlilies inspiration come from?” someone asked.

“I saw it on display last year with my grandma, and I couldn’t stop staring. It’s so...peaceful and zen-like in person, you have no idea.” He looked up at the violet-hued rendering of his mother. “I wanted to convey how I feel when I look at her.” It felt cathartic to say it out loud, even if it was to a group of virtual strangers. Steve had never talked about his art so candidly before, or his mother.

For one brief, startling moment, he wished Tony was there to hear it.

Eventually his throat got sore from all the talking, so Steve excused himself from the group and grabbed a water from one of the waiters. He’d downed half the bottle before he heard someone ask tentatively, “Hey, uh, could you tell me where I’d find Clint Barton?”

Steve swallowed and started to point in the direction of Clint’s portrait, until he got a good look at the guy asking.

“You’re...Phil, aren’t you?”

The guy ducked his head sharply. “And you’re his date tonight, I take it. Rogers?” He didn’t sound angry, but there was something off in his voice. He met Steve’s eyes, a definite tick in his jaw.

He’s jealous, Steve thought, and promptly laughed.

“Something funny?”

“No, actually, it’s—kind of awesome, really. Sorry.” Steve composed himself as best he could, but he couldn’t stop smiling.

“Look, whatever he told you, it’s...I made a mistake.” He fidgeted, shifting from foot to foot.

“I get it. Trust me.”

Phil jerked his head in a stiff nod. “Okay, so. Just so we’re clear. Clint’s not—not—”

“Single?” Steve asked.

“Yeah. That. Like I said, mistakes were made and I was...” Phil ducked his head again, and Steve swore he saw pink in his cheeks. “Anyway, do you know where he is or not?”

Steve pointed over his shoulder. “Clint’s back that way, around the corner and to the right.”

“Thanks.” Phil shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and sighed heavily as he walked off, like a guy headed to the firing squad.

“Hey, Phil?”

He turned but didn’t say anything.

“Just so we’re clear—he’ll be glad you came.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up, a hint of a smile. Steve wondered if maybe Phil’s full smile was reserved for Clint only. “Hope so,” he replied softly.

There wasn’t a doubt in Steve’s mind, especially when he covertly followed Phil and watched Clint’s reaction unfold; his expression went from startled surprise to cold indifference, until he leveled a glare at Phil that was razor sharp and fierce. He looked absolutely terrifying, but Steve knew better—the pinch above Clint’s eyes showed his hand, gave away the hurt he was trying so desperately to hide. They faced off, staring each other down with a good six feet between them, not saying a word, until finally Phil gave the tiniest shrug.

And that simple submission made Clint completely crumble.

“Seriously?” he whispered, all his fierceness vanishing instantly in the young vulnerability wrapped around that single word.

Phil didn’t shrug. He nodded instead, and Clint huffed out a loud breath before storming toward him. He grabbed Phil by the neck of his shirt and kissed him in plain sight of everyone.

Phil didn’t fight him. Steve had never seen anyone melt so completely into another person, like he was sinking into Clint, merging with him. Clint’s hand dug into his back, holding on for dear life. He jerked out of the kiss, breathless and panting, and whispered something in Phil’s ear. Steve couldn’t hear them, but he saw Phil’s eyes flutter closed and his mouth form the words, I’m sorry, babe.

Steve’s palms started to sweat, his heart stuck firmly in his throat. He had to get out of there.

He had to get to a party.


The Tau Sigma Kappa house was a few blocks from the art gallery, and Steve ran the whole way there. By the time he arrived at the front door, he was panting, his tie crooked and rumpled, hair hanging in his eyes, water bottle still clenched in his right hand. Steve didn’t care if he looked more than a little crazy; he had to find Tony.

He grabbed the first guy he saw and asked breathlessly, “Is Tony Stark here?”

The guy’s eyes widened. “Stark? Haven’t seen him.”

Steve let him go as he swore under his breath. “Okay, okay, is—is Rhodey around?”

“Sure, he’s in the common room. Are you in my pledge class? ‘Cause dude, I must be wasted if I can’t even fucking remember—”

“Nope, not quite,” Steve mumbled absently as he pushed past the guy.

He remembered Tony saying something about the party being more high class, but as far as Steve could tell, it appeared to be a standard frat party, right down to the keg stand in the kitchen. Which, now that Steve thought about it, Tony had also called.

It wasn’t hard to spot Rhodey; he was the only guy in the common room wearing an outfit almost identical to Steve’s, along with an expression of utter dismayed chagrin.

“I said take it outside, for fuck’s sake, how hard is that?” he yelled, flailing his hands at a group of guys huddled around a bong. He grabbed the bag of weed off the coffee table. “I’m confiscating this for the rest of the night.”

“The fuck, Rhodes!” the group whined.

Outside, now!”

As the stoners grumbled their way out of the room, Steve weaved his way through the crowd and yelled, “Rhodey?”

He turned around with a loud sigh, like this was only one of several hardships in his life at the moment. But he frowned once he got a look at Steve. “Yeah?”

“Is Tony here?”

The frown faded into a guarded look of annoyed wariness. Steve had seen the same expression from Pepper. “Oh, I get it. You’re Steve.”

“Yeah, hey, we’ll do proper intros later, I just need—”

“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve showing up here, y’know.”

Steve scrubbed a hand through his hair. “I know that, okay? I don’t need the lecture, I just need to know where he is.”

Rhodey shook his head. “I don’t think he’d want me to tell you.”

“I left my gallery show. I’m in serious danger of completely fucking my grade.”

He gave Steve a steely-eyed, you-better-not-fuck-with-him glare. “Fine. He’s up on the balcony. You have to take the ladder to the attic, on the top floor. Don’t let anyone catch you going up there, I can’t deal with pledges acting out Dark Knight scenes again.”

Steve started to clap him on the shoulder, but figured touching Rhodey probably wasn’t the best idea. “Thanks. I mean it.”

“You better.”


The only entrance to the attic was a ladder folded into a door in the ceiling; Steve remembered his parents’ house having one just like it. The door nearly disappeared into the white ceiling, probably done on purpose to keep drunk fat guys from killing themselves. The fourth floor was pretty much deserted, but Steve held his breath as he stretched up on tip toes to pull down the hidden cord attached to the door.

The attic was eerily quiet for a frat house. Decades-old chapter portraits lined the walls, dust and cobwebs obscuring the faces of young men who had inhabited the house ages ago. Forgotten homecoming signs, party decorations, and a dilapidated Christmas tree littered the floor.

But through the filter of dust motes, there was the dim glow of moonlight coming from a window at the far corner of the room. A window that happened to be part of a door, which was propped open. Steve could smell cigarette smoke.

He tried his best to not make a sound as he crawled over the junk, but his foot caught on a wad of Christmas lights. Steve tripped into a stack of old paintings and sent everything crashing together, himself included.

“Shit,” he muttered, trying to untangle himself from the lights, the dust making his eyes water.

“Smooth,” a voice said, and when Steve looked up, Tony was leaning against the doorway, a cigarette dangling from one hand and a glass tumbler of something that looked like whiskey in the other.

Steve blushed and scrambled awkwardly to his feet. His blazer was fairly filthy now, but he didn’t care. “Hey,” he said articulately. He thought of Clint’s face right before he’d kissed Phil; Steve kept reminding himself he was doing the right thing.

Not a single emotion flickered across Tony’s face. He was completely unreadable. “How hard did you have to twist Rhodey’s arm to get up here?”

“Not hard. I told him I had to see you. That I—I ditched my gallery show.”

That got a reaction from him, a single twitch between Tony’s eyes. “Must be important, since you also ditched your date.” Then he turned and disappeared through the doorway.

Steve hurried after him, but he paused once he got outside. The “balcony” Rhodey had referred to was no more than a ten foot by four foot space surrounded by an iron cast railing that looked out over the back yard of the frat house, over the pool and the retaining wall, the lights of campus glowing in the distance.

There were two folding chairs, a half-empty bottle of Knob Creek sitting between them. But Tony didn’t sit—he curled himself into the far corner of the railing, tapped his cigarette into the ash tray balanced precariously at his elbow.

“It’s really peaceful up here,” Steve said, gazing out into the night.

“What do you want?” Tony asked without looking up.

He took a deep breath. “Clint wasn’t my date. It wasn’t like that.”

“But you wanted me to think it was.”

“I don’t know what I wanted—”

“Look, it’s fine. I understand what we’re doing here, I’ve done it a thousand times before.”

“And what is it we’re doing, huh?” Steve felt angry heat in his cheeks. “If you’ve done this a thousand times, why are you hiding up here, why haven’t you called me?”

“Because that’s not what you want. Everything ends once the sex is over, right, gorgeous? There’s nothing outside of that.” He smiled tightly, took once last drag before flicking the cigarette away.

“You never asked me what I wanted. You can’t read my mind, Tony, you don’t know—”

“Oh, I don’t?” He gave his full attention to Steve, raised his whiskey class as he said, “Pepper told me about your show on Wednesday. Since she works at the gallery, she finds out all that shit ahead of time. And I’d been waiting, God, I’d been waiting for you to—but, you know, deep down I knew. And you proved me right.”

“It’s not like you asked me to Rhodey’s party,” Steve shot back.

“Why the hell would I? You made it real fucking clear this thing between us isn’t supposed to be—out in the light of day or whatever. I’m not gonna waste my time, Steve.”

“What was I supposed to think? We hooked up a party, you give me your number, and for weeks all we ever do is, is fuck, and somehow it’s my fault we’re not—not—” He couldn’t say boyfriends out loud, not in front of Tony.

Tony threw back the rest of his whiskey. After a long, painful pause, he looked down at the glass in his hand and said quietly, “I remembered you. You probably don’t believe me, but I did.”

Steve blinked. “What?”

“That tiny kid who showed up for try-outs, who wanted to be so tough even though he was like a buck fifty, tops. But he was so fucking fierce, like a lion trapped in a—”

“Please don’t say ‘puppy,’” Steve said. He held on to the railing tight with both hands and closed his eyes.

“I was going to say ‘kitten,’ actually, but yeah. You fascinated me.”

“I fascinated you? Are you kidding me, Tony? You spent almost two years constantly mocking me, acting like I was some big joke to you, all the nicknames, and now you want me to believe you were fascinated by me?” Steve barked out a laugh, humiliation curling in his stomach. “God, you must still think I’m pathetic.”

“I never thought you were pathetic,” Tony hissed. “Jesus, you really do think I’m a piece of shit, don’t you? I know I was a douchebag back then, but I was a douchebag to everyone. If I teased you it was because I just—I wanted your attention.”

Steve felt like he was going crazy. “You don’t even know how much you had my attention,” he whispered. “But it never felt like you wanted it.”

“I was seventeen, okay, we all do dumb shit at seventeen—”

“And I was a skinny kid with asthma who lived with his grandma and played Scrabble with her and her friends on the weekends. No one wanted me, especially not a star like you.”

The pinch between Tony’s eyes came back. “I wasn’t a star. I’ve never been one, never wanted to be one, except with—” He glanced away, fidgeted with the glass in his hand. Steve almost asked him for a drink.

“Two things happened tonight,” Steve said, and took a couple slow steps toward Tony, who stayed hunched against the railing. “I talked about my art and my mom, together, with strangers, and it was an amazing feeling. But more than that, the only think I could think about was that I wanted you there. I wanted to share that feeling with you.”

Tony raised his eyes, and he looked terribly young for a moment; an image of Clint, staring in desperate disbelief at Phil, flashed through Steve’s mind. “What was the second thing?” Tony asked.

“I watched two people finally realize they’d been stupid about each other, and it—it made me want to tell you something.” Steve licked his lips. “That skinny asthmatic kid was in love with you. I mean, he is in love with you.”

He watched Tony’s throat bob. “I’m sorry.”

Steve’s heart all but stopped. “You’re...sorry?”

Very slowly, Tony set his empty glass down on the closet folding chair. Very slowly, he straightened and reached his hand out, until it rested over the wrinkled pocket square of Steve’s blazer. Right over his heart.

“I’m sorry I didn’t see it back then,” Tony whispered. “I’m sorry I made you feel like you weren’t worth anything, or that you aren’t worth anything to me now, because you are, fuck, you so are, I could stand here all fucking night and tell you how perfect you are, how utterly fucking amazing and kind and sweet and talented and sexy you are, and how if anyone isn’t worthy it’s me, because next to you I’m just a dim little speck. You’re the star.”

Steve wanted to pinch himself. It was like every deep secret fantasy he’d ever had, only this was real, Tony was real and standing there telling him things Steve had never let himself believe.

“I don’t want to be your fuck buddy anymore,” Steve breathed.

Tony laughed and pressed closer. “Honestly? I don’t think you ever were,” he replied, nudging his nose against Steve’s.

“There was a lot of sex involved.”

“Yeah, ‘cause that’s what boyfriends do. They fuck each other like rabbits, then cuddle. I just kept waiting for you to want the cuddling part.”

Steve leaned back. “You were waiting on me?”

Tony pulled him back in, kissed Steve’s chin gently. “I was pretty much waiting on you from the beginning, beautiful,” he murmured against Steve’s mouth. “After everything I’d put you through in high school, I wanted you to want this just as much as I did. I wanted it to be your choice.”

He stood in stunned disbelief for a second, until Steve felt a dorky grin spread over his face. He reached up, cupped both hands over Tony’s cheeks. “You were always my choice,” he said, sighing as he parted his lips to let Tony lick inside.


They kissed for what felt hours, Tony pressed up against the railing and Steve holding him there with gentle hands. Nothing was hurried, and they barely touched each other below the waist. Steve was hard, of course, had been since the moment Tony kissed him, but it was only a low-grade buzz in the back of his mind. He was completely content to stay draped over Tony, letting him control the kiss; occasionally he would break away, lean his forehead against Steve’s, and simply smile.

Eventually they were spotted, and the catcalls got to be a little too obnoxious to ignore.

“How ‘bout you show me this infamous painting of yours,” Tony said as he traced his thumb over Steve’s lower lip and casually flipped off the frat boys down below.

Steve dug out his phone to check the time. “They’ve probably already locked up by now. My grade is more than likely fucked, knowing the way Farris—”

He had one text message. It was from Clint, and it read, You came down with a stomach bug. Farris says get well soon.

“What’s up?” Tony asked after Steve spent a good thirty seconds grinning at his phone.

“Nothing, I...stand corrected. Looks like my grade is fine.”

Tony rested his chin on Steve’s shoulder. “And it just so happens I know the pass codes to every building on campus.”

“Shut up, you do not.” But Steve believed him. It was Tony, after all.

“It was an accident, I swear. An accident I never bothered to fix, but still.” His hand slid down Steve’s arm and circled his wrist. “C’mon, Monet, show me your masterpiece while I’m still young.”

“I’m not—” Steve laughed, but Tony silenced him with a loud, smacking kiss on the mouth and pulled him off the balcony and back into the attic.


As expected, the gallery was closed and dark by the time they arrived.

“Observe, young padawan,” Tony said with gusto as he punched a code into the keypad beside the main doors.

“What if security shows up?” Steve asked. He couldn’t stop smiling.

“Then we’ll give Happy a high five and carry on. He owes me five bucks, anyway.” The key pad flashed green, and Tony held the door open for Steve, bowing like sort of Victorian gentleman. “After you, Master Steven.”

“First I’m a padawan, now I’m ‘master’?”

“I’m mixing genres, sue me.” Tony flicked on the lights, and suddenly his demeanor turned oddly shy. He folded his arms over his chest and asked quietly, “So...which one’s yours?”

Only the main overhead lights were on. Steve took a deep breath and went to the panel that controlled the display lights.

“This one,” he said, and turned the first dial. Instantly, his painting lit up.

Tony didn’t move at first. He stood very still, hands folded behind his back. He tilted his head to one side, eyes narrowed in thought as he chewed at his lower lip. After a few minutes, he walked closer, until he was within arm’s reach of the portrait.

Steve’s heart was pounding. “Um. It’s...I know I told you it was, like, an experiment, so—”

“It’s beautiful,” Tony said. He sounded reverent.

“Oh.” Steve ducked his head, a pleased flush heating the back of his neck. “Thanks.”

“Seriously, really are insanely fucking talented.” Tony’s voice dropped into a whisper. “And your mom was gorgeous. I can see the resemblance.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “You can’t even see her face.”

“I don’t have to. I can see her smile and that’s enough.” He turned to face Steve, reached up and skimmed his fingertips over Steve’s eyes. “She’s probably where you got your ridiculous eyelashes. Were her eyes blue like yours?”

“Yeah. Darker, though. I used to think they were the color of the ocean.” They were still whispering and he didn’t know why.

“Hmm. Yours are more sky blue, like a clear day.” Tony’s fingers moved up to brush through Steve’s hair, then trailed down over his cheek. “Do you miss her?”

Steve closed his eyes and leaned into the touch. “Every day. That’s what my art’s for, make her happy. She always liked me to be creative.”

Tony leaned in until they were nearly chest to chest, his free hand splayed low over Steve’s chest. “But does it make you happy?”

“Yeah, a lot,” Steve said. You make me happy, too, he thought, because Tony was looking at him like a precious artifact he wanted to treasure, his expression all soft and warm.

“Thanks. For showing me, I mean. You could’ve just told me to go fuck off, and I would’ve understood.”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “You would’ve snuck in here by yourself anyway.”

“True. Getting your permission is way better.” He curled his hand into the lapel of Steve’s blazer. “Can I, um, make another observation?”

Steve’s hands had made their way to Tony’s waist, one hand steadily sliding up Tony’s back, thumb tracing the ridge of his spine. “Have at it.”

Tony huffed out a breath, and then bit his lip in a horribly distracting, devastatingly sexy way. “You look hot as fuck in a tie,” he said.

The erection that had mostly disappeared since Steve left the frat house came back with a vengeance. His mouth was suddenly very, very wet. “That’s...thanks?” he croaked, because they were still in an art gallery, and technically his mother was staring down at them.

“I know a few things we could do with said tie,” Tony rumbled against Steve’s neck, biting softly at the edge of his jaw, licking the tendon that ran from his ear to his shoulder.

“Yeah?” Steve’s voice broke. God, he’d missed this. Had he really only gone a few days without it?

In that eerie way he had of reading Steve’s mind, Tony breathed, “Fucking missed you,” into Steve’s ear, and Steve could only take so much. He kissed Tony, hard and fast and messy, reminding him of that first kiss they’d shared. Tony groaned, loud enough that it echoed through the empty gallery, and clung to Steve like he’d vanish into thin air if Tony didn’t hold on tight enough.

“Let’s get out of here,” Steve panted, and Tony groaned again and gasped, “Absolutely.”


It was different this time. Some things were still the same: the shedding of clothes in Tony’s living room, the sounds Tony made when Steve cupped him through his boxers, the way Tony backed Steve up against the hallway wall and mouthed at his chest before sinking to his knees. They’d done this all before, only this time—this time it was with Tony knowing Steve loved him, and Steve knowing Tony had missed him.

Tony sucked him with a ferocity Steve hadn’t witnessed before, and it didn’t take long at all before he was shaking and pawing at Tony’s hair. “S-stop, don’t make me come yet, wanna—”

He let Steve go with a filthy pop and slunk back up Steve’s body like some sex-starved jungle cat, eyes dark and so fucking gorgeous Steve could barely catch his breath.

“What do you want?” Tony growled.

“You,” Steve gasped without a second thought. “I want you in me. I want you to fuck me.

Tony shuddered at that, burying his face against Steve’s neck in a strangely tender moment, given he’d just had Steve’s cock down his throat.

“Do you even know,” Tony murmured, “what you do to me? I can’t even—no one’s ever driven me crazy like you.”

Steve bit his lip around a stupid, breathless grin, sliding his hands down to palm Tony’s ass. “I didn’t know, but I like hearing you say it.”

“You’ve ruined me for the rest of the human race. No big deal.”

“You’ll survive.” The words died off in a thin gasp as Tony shifted against him, dragging his cock along Steve’s hip.

“I want to ask you something,” Tony whispered through half-kisses while reaching down between them to tease his hand over the head of Steve’s dick.

Steve was too close to let that last. He hissed, pulled Tony’s hand away and linked their fingers together. “Okay,” he managed to say.

Tony made a low groaning sound and nipped at Steve’s ear. “That night at the party—was I your first?”

A sudden instinct to curl away and hide welled up inside Steve, but he resisted. He didn’t have to hide anymore. He closed his eyes, whispered, “Yes,” and arched his body into Tony. Steve had to feel him, remind him that everything he touched was his and always had been.

His answer made something come undone in Tony. He yanked Steve away from the wall and dragged him to the bedroom, where he shoved Steve face down on the bed. Steve wanted to be a little embarrassed at how hard he was from just spreading his knees on the familiar black and white bedspread. He reached down between his legs, skimmed his palm over the tip of his cock and found himself slick.

“Yeah, you’re close,” Tony purred in his ear, draping himself over Steve’s back until his own cock slid over the crease of Steve’s ass. “But you’re not gonna come yet. Not until I say.”

“Fuck,” Steve gasped, dropping his hand. He swore he’d felt another spurt of precome, and Christ, when would he ever stop being so easy for Tony?

“That’s the idea.” Tony licked at his shoulders, his neck, nuzzled Steve’s temple like he was breathing him in. “Wish I could fuck you bare,” he added wistfully.

Steve grit his teeth and shuddered. “God, I—I want you to, please—”

“I will. Someday. I promise.” He gave another tiny thrust. “Fuck, you’d feel so good, so tight for me, shit, Steve.”

Rational thought was quickly leaving his brain. “Do it. Just—just the tip. Let me feel you.”

He felt Tony press his face against the top of his spine and groan. “God, you’re gonna kill me.”

“Please, Tony.” Steve rocked back just as Tony made another abortive thrust, and the head pushed inside a fraction of an inch. They both froze, Steve panting into the bed sheets.

“Don’t move,” Tony said tightly, almost desperately. “Fuck, just—just—” He curled his hands around Steve’s hips, held him steady as he pushed in further. It was too dry, Tony’s precome wasn’t enough, but the burn was more than Steve had ever felt before, even that first time. He could feel the blunt head stretching him, filling him up, with nothing between them. Nothing at all.

Steve didn’t realize he’d clenched his ass, unconsciously needing to be filled, until Tony moaned loudly, “Fuck, you’re gonna—stop, stop, oh, f-fuck—” He pulled out, and Steve looked over his shoulder to see Tony squeezing the base of his cock, eyes shut and head tilted back.

He looked so painfully gorgeous, Steve wondered if he could come just from looking at him.

“Someday,” Steve said in a voice he didn’t recognize.

“Fuck, yes,” Tony gasped, opening one eye and grinning shakily at him. “But for now, I’m getting a goddamn condom and lube and you’re going to try very hard not to make me come in five seconds.”

Steve licked his lips and flipped over onto his back. “Would riding you help?”

Tony slammed his eyes shut as he scrambled off the bed. “You are trying to fucking kill me, aren’t you?”

He tried his hand at a filthy smile and trailed his fingertips over the underside of his cock. Tony deliberately ignored him, grabbing a handful of condoms and lube from his sock drawer and throwing them at Steve’s feet.

“Are you sure I defiled a blushing virgin a month ago?” Tony asked softly when he knelt over Steve and ripped open one of the packets.

Steve’s filthy smile got wider. “Never said I didn’t practice,” he drawled, and poured a generous amount of lube over his fingers. He didn’t pause, didn’t ease into it; Steve went right for two fingers, slid them inside himself up to the second knuckle.

He never looked away from Tony, whose eyes went hazy as his mouth fell open, the condom in his hand forgotten.

“C’mon, Stark, I don’t h-have all day.” Steve tried to laugh, but it got lost in the sensation as he tried to add a third finger. He put his feet flat against the bed, arched his back, and God, yeah, it felt amazing.

“Shit, someday I’m also gonna film you and sell it on the fucking internet and make a goddamn fortune,” Tony groaned, shoving his way in between Steve’s knees as he fumbled the condom on—and Tony never fumbled. He put both hands on Steve’s thighs and pushed up, until Steve’s ass was in the air.

“Thought I was—oh, god—going to ride you,” Steve gasped.

“Later,” Tony said, “right now, I kinda want to just fuck you into the bed.” Then he lined his cock up and slid inside, all the way, clear to the hilt, Steve’s legs wrapped around him.

Steve was never quiet with Tony, but this time he didn’t hold back one bit. He screamed, he begged, he told Tony exactly how amazing his cock was (”so fucking big, God, yes, I feel so full”), and Tony didn’t let up. He nearly folded Steve in half, held Steve’s thighs wide open, watched himself pound inside.

“So perfect,” Tony moaned, his rhythm starting to falter, “so fucking perfect, Christ, I could fuck your ass all night, Steve, you’re so—so—”

“I need to come,” Steve whined, gasping as his swollen, untouched cock bobbed against his stomach. “Please, please, Tony, can I—”

“Yeah, okay, touch yourself, gorgeous, let me see you come for me.”

Nothing got Steve more than Tony calling him gorgeous just before he came. It took only three short, jerky strokes and Steve shot all over himself, high enough to hit his chin. He heard his voice crack, heard Tony’s name mixed in there somewhere.

“Oh, fuck.” Tony’s voice when high, rough, and he slammed into Steve one more time, shuddering hard. His shoulders sagged a few moments later, and Steve watched, starry-eyed, as Tony leaned back and placed a dorky little kiss against the arch of Steve’s foot.

“Still with me?” he asked Steve breathlessly.

“Yeah.” His voice was wrecked. “That was...yeah.” Steve smiled at the come on his chest like a dope.

Tony let his legs drop to the bed, then braced himself over Steve’s body. “You’re covered,” he said with a soft chuckle. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you blow a load like that before.”

Steve smirked. “That’s romantic, Tony, thanks.”

“It is romantic, because this?” He drew his index finger through the come. “Is all for me.”

Steve had another snarky comeback, he really did, but it was derailed by Tony licking said come off said finger. All coherent thought in Steve’s brain evaporated. “Oh,” he said.

“I love it when you get all stupid after sex.” Tony ducked down and kissed him, a simple languid push of his lips, but Steve could still taste himself there. He was so caught up in this fact that he almost missed Tony adding in a whisper, “I love you, period.”

Steve blinked, his brain still fuzzy. “I—what?”

“Nope, sorry, only one time per night.”


He kissed Steve again, sucking gently at his lower lip. “Hey, it just means you’ll have to come back here every night to hear it again. Maybe if I get enough practice you’ll start hearing it in the daytime, too.”

Okay, so Steve could live with that.





Bruce stood in the middle of the room, frowning at a computer mouse that sat at the foot of his bed, its cord neatly wrapped around it.

“Are you sure that’s mine?” he asked Steve.

“Dude, yes, you loaned it to me at the beginning of the year when mine died, remember?”

“It has a cord, though. I don’t like cords.”

Steve rolled his eyes affectionately as he dumped the last of his art books into a plastic bin. “It has your initials engraved on the bottom.”

Bruce picked up the mouse and turned it over. “Ah, okay,” he said, and finally smiled. “Sorry. Guess I forgot how to, you know, tell our stuff apart.”

“Art stuff mine, chemistry and/or anything remotely sciencey, yours.” Steve sat back on his heels and surveyed the half-empty room. His art books were the last thing to go; Bruce wasn’t leaving for another couple of days, and it felt strange to only see a periodic table poster on the wall and a handful of Isaac Asimov paperbacks on the floor.

“I’ve never been to New York,” Bruce said wistfully. “I bet it’s really great in the summer.”

“That’s what I’ve heard.” He swallowed past the now-familiar swirl of anxious dread in his throat. It still didn’t quite feel real to him, and Steve still wasn’t totally sure he wasn’t making a huge mistake.

Bruce smiled. “You’ll be fine. I mean, it’s the Met! Who gets an opportunity like that?”

“Is that the last one?” Peggy asked, flushed slightly breathless from running back up the stairs. “I think we’ve got room for a couple more in the back.”

“No, this is it.” Steve put the lid on the bin and got to his feet.

She raised an eyebrow. “Hey, you all right? You’ve got that pale ‘oh god oh god’ look about you again.”

Steve figured he probably had that look a lot these days. “Yeah, I’m good. I can take this one, Peg, you don’t have to.”

“Excuse me, do I look some damsel in distress?” She stuck her tongue out at him as she hoisted the bin up in her arms, grunting loudly. Steve laughed and held up both hands, let her have her way as she heaved the thing out of the room.

“Well.” Bruce bit his lip, awkwardly scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Good luck, Steve. Email me?”

“Sure thing. Remember to have fun sometimes, okay?”

“Got it,” Bruce laughed. He held his hand out to shake, but Steve huffed and went for the bro hug instead. A year of living together deserved it.

When he finally got downstairs, Peggy was waiting by his packed car. “Banner’s going to miss you.”

“He’ll be okay.” Steve bit his lip. “So...I guess we’re set.” He looked back up at his old dorm, up to the third floor window of his room. He wondered when he’d see it again.

Steve felt her arm slip around his shoulders. “You’re getting the chance of a lifetime here. Don’t back out now.”

“I just wish I didn’t have to leave,” Steve said softly. “I want to finish school, I want to graduate—the internship was just a fluke, I applied on a whim—”

“You can finish later, when opportunity’s not banging down your damn door.” Peggy kissed his cheek. “Your mother would be so proud of you for taking a leap of faith like this.”

“But what if I...what if everything goes wrong? Then what do I have? I’m stuck in New York City with no job and no college degree. I’ll have nothing.”

Peggy smiled knowingly. “I’d hardly say you’ll have nothing, Steve. And I’ll come visit you as much as I can.”

“I’ve never even ridden the subway before! I hate the Yankees!”

“Yeah, that’s something we’ll have to work on,” a voice said from behind Steve, and suddenly a warm, broad hand close around his wrist, thumb at his pulse.

Immediately, Steve felt calmed. Tony’s touch never failed to ground him. “The Mets are all right. I’ll give you that much.”

“You wound me in the worst ways sometimes, Rogers,” Tony said. He tilted his head toward Peggy. “Is our boy here all set?”

“Just having a mild meltdown, no worries,” Peggy replied smoothly as she winked at him.

“Hey, no, no meltdowns, we’re only having meltups from here on out!”

Steve groaned. “That doesn’t even make any sense.”

“Sure it does.” Tony kissed his nose, and he had a stupidly endearing look in his eyes. “We’re gonna be roommates,” he added, just loud enough for Steve to hear.

It wasn’t as simple as that, of course, although Steve liked to fantasize that they were just running off to New York together. In reality, Tony was going to be starting his PhD in physics at Columbia University, while Steve—at the insistence of Dr. Farris and rest of the Art Department—had somehow landed a year-long internship doing art restoration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The two of them wouldn’t exactly be hanging out playing XBox all day, that was for damn sure. Steve wasn’t going to be Tony’s kept boy, either; he was going to have a side job and earn his keep (even if paying his half of the rent wasn’t quite realistic, given the condo Tony had found in Brooklyn). Which, on top of the forty hours a week at the museum, wasn’t going to be an easy feat.

Every bit of it scared the living hell out of Steve, who hadn’t been more than an hour away from home in his life. But deep down, Steve knew he could do this if he had Tony with him; and while Tony never said so out loud, Steve knew he felt the same.

“Did you get your stuff?” Steve asked.

Tony held up the plastic-wrapped package that held his cap and gown. “My work here is done.”

“Nu-uh, you’ve got a speech to write, remember?”

“And Jon Stewart monologues don’t count,” Peggy chimed in.

“Jesus Christ, it’s a summa cum laude speech, not a state of the union.”

Steve poked him in the stomach with his knuckle. “You wouldn’t even go to your own graduation if they weren’t making you talk.”

“I mean, I can get my diploma in the mail, right? It’s just for show, ceremonial tradition started by, like, the Romans so they could get their exhibitionist rocks off, and I don’t get why the fuck it’s so—”

Steve silence him with a kiss. “I want you to go,” he whispered. “I want to point at you and yell and let everyone know that I’m proud of you. And I want you to see how many other people are, too.”

Tony went all hazy-eyed and soft like he always did when Steve kissed him out in public. “Fine, okay, but Jon Stewart’s back in, yes?”

Peggy rolled her eyes. “Oh, for God’s sake, aren’t you supposed to be a genius?”

“Does Bill Gates write his own speeches? I’m just saying.”

Steve chuckled and kissed him again. “You’re way hotter than Bill Gates.”

“Thanks? I would think that’s a given.”

“C’mon, you two, I’m starving and Steve’s stuff isn’t going to unpack itself.” Peggy looked thoroughly exasperated, but Steve knew better; she loved knowing Steve was happy—finally, truly, happy.

Tony gave her a salute. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and headed to the driver’s side.

“We can take it from here, if you want,” Steve told her. He’d temporarily store his things at Tony’s apartment until the majority of it went back to his grandma’s before the final New York packing happened in another couple of weeks.

“I’ll take that as code for ‘boyfriend time,’” Peggy drawled. Her eyes grew a little sad for a moment before she put her arms around Steve and hugged him tightly.

“You’ve got me for another few weeks, you know,” he whispered into her hair.

“I know,” she mumbled into his chest. “I’m just jealous, is all.”

Steve close his eyes and smiled as he held her. “I love you, too.”

Her eyes were suspiciously damp when Steve finally let her go, but Peggy held her chin up and waved him off. “All right, all right, get out of here. I’ll call you later.”

Tony had his arms folded on the steering wheel, his cheek resting on his hands. “All I got from Pepper was a stern lecture on subletting and a ‘don’t get shot,’” he said when Steve got into the car.

Steve shrugged. “That’s pretty much the same thing coming from Pepper, though, right?”

Tony laughed. “Touche.” He turned the ignition on and shifted gears. “Are we ready?”

Steve glanced out the window. After a long moment, he sighed and smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “Ready.”

Without glancing over, Tony reached across the seat and took Steve’s hand, threading their fingers together as they pulled away from the curb.