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Thunderbolt City

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"...Why, why am I even here, Pepper, I'm cleverer than all these people combined, probably richer, I do not need to be here, can't I just write them a check, I've got, I was in the middle of something, fuck, why did I let you drag me here, I can't even get smashed properly, who holds a soiree in a cool place like this without taking advantage, there isn't even music you can dance to, this is a boring party, Pepper, why--"

He stops, freezes, just about manages to swallow the gulp of whiskey he'd tossed back before he chokes. His hand shoots out and catches Pepper's bare wrist. He thinks he might squeeze a little too hard, because his hand is smartly slapped away. He barely realises.

"Who is that?" he manages; it comes out no more than a whisper. He can't look away.

The man at the bar is--not classically handsome, but fucking hell, Tony can't look away. Stubble covers his jaw, two, three days' growth; his hair looks like he's run his hands through it in the morning and called it a day. His mouth, oh, his mouth, lips ever-so-slightly shiny, like he's just wet them with his tongue. A spike of want streaks down Tony's spine; he can't breathe past the need to kiss them, to know what they taste like, to find out if they're as soft as they look.

The man's wearing a leather jacket that hugs his ridiculously broad shoulders, almost half again as wide as Tony's, god, what they would feel like under his hands... A long, lean body follows, legs clad in worn blue jeans curled around the stool he's sitting on, that look like they'll go on for miles. Definitely taller than Tony, though by how much--well. Tony wouldn't mind finding out.

Tony's eyes trail back up over the guy, fuck but he'd like to follow that path with his hands, tuck them under the jacket to spread them over the man's sides--oh, what all that muscle would feel like against his palms, Jesus--up that neck to tangle in that golden scruff of hair, tug his head back so Tony can kiss him, taste that mouth, see those eyes--

--that are boring straight into his, a blue so bright that Tony has to fight not to take a step back. Fuck. His cock certainly agrees with that assessment; thank god for a long jacket, really. The man does a neat double-take, looks back at him, turning the upper half of that body to follow the twist of his head. Tony almost passes the fuck out when he sees how the man's tight white t-shirt clings to his chest, leaving precisely nothing to the imagination barring the colour of his nipples and what they'll look like when they're tight and needy. There's a funny design of a star, with stripes running horizontally around it; Tony only notices this at all because it's right in the middle over his pecs, and that's where his eyes have been glued for the past thirty seconds.

He thinks he whimpers a little.

Fingers snap right in his line of sight; he rears back, shocked. He looks around at Pepper's amused face, eyebrows arched knowingly.

"You're staring, Tony," she says, mouth curving in a sly grin. She's enjoying this. "And to answer your question, that would be Steve Rogers, the owner of this place."

Tony swallows dryly. When he looks back, Rogers is watching them, a small quirk at one corner of his mouth, eyebrows half-lifted in what Tony can only assume is challenge.

"I--" Tony starts--and forgets what he was going to say half-way through.

Pepper lets out a huff of smothered laughter at his expense. "Tony Stark, lost for words. I think I'd like to buy Mr Rogers a drink."

Tony latches onto the idea for dear life. "Drink! Right! I can do that, that's easy."

"Uh-huh," Pepper says. She doesn't sound convinced; normally Tony would be offended at this shocking lack of trust in his powers of seduction, but any thoughts that are not directly connected to Steve Rogers have inadvertently fled his brain.

"I'm just going to, uh," Tony tries, starting forward. Only Pepper's superhuman reflexes stop him from colliding into the ambassador from fuck-knows-where.

"I'm so sorry, Mr Landon, please excuse Mr Stark, he appears to have taken leave of his spatial recognition senses," Pepper says dryly. The man does a double-take, and looks to decide that nothing is important enough to warrant walking away again. Tony leaves them chatting, too preoccupied to even mock them a little.

Rogers has turned away again, facing the bar. Tony waves two fingers at the barman, indicating Rogers' drink and his own. He comes up to the long glass surface, leans a nonchalant elbow against it; he can be smooth when he wants to, damn it. Rogers spares him a brief look, a raised eyebrow when a fresh glass is set in front of him.

Tony opens his mouth--and completely fails to be suave in the slightest. "You look like you could use a drink, gorgeous," he says, and cringes. Oh, god, how does anyone want to sleep with him when he's this much of a dork, fuck, he's so much better than this normally. Always. Except, apparently, when trying to get into Steve Rogers' pants.

Rogers' eyes give Tony a once-over. Tony is so flummoxed that he can't even work out whether he ought to be flattered or insulted. "Thanks," Rogers says dryly, and faces the front again. Tony downs what's left of his drink reflexively and picks up the fresh one the barman placed at his elbow. What is happening to him?

After a long, supremely awkward moment of silence, Rogers appears to take pity on him, turns in his seat and cocks his head to the side. The movement exposes the muscled tendons in his neck; Tony wants to lick them so bad the need is pounding at his temples.

"You appear to have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am, but I don't know your name?" Rogers says, giving Tony an opening that he doesn't intend to fumble. He is almost pathetically grateful -- until it sinks in. Rogers doesn't know who he is. It's been such a long time since he's had to introduce himself to anyone that Tony has almost forgotten how to do it. Everyone knows who he is; at least, everyone who moves in the same circles he does.

Rogers doesn't move in those circles, however. Tony swallows nervously. All those things in the papers about him; the world thinks he's a first-rate player, Jarvis reminds him often enough. Rogers is waiting, however; he grits his teeth and sticks his hand out "Tony Stark."

It's almost painful to see the way Rogers' face shuts down. Wait, forget the "almost" -- it hurts, like few things have managed to affect Tony in the years since--but that was a long time ago.

Rogers does take his hand, though Tony has a feeling it's because he's too well-mannered to refuse to shake a man's hand when offered. "Pleased to meet you," Rogers says, voice flat. Fuck. His hand is warm, so big and warm and safe, in some strange way that Tony can't even begin to understand. His heart sinks in his chest--

--He stops himself abruptly. He is Tony fucking Stark, and if this--this stranger doesn't, can't appreciate it, well, it's his loss. Tony certainly isn't going to lose any sleep over it, goddamn it. He feels his mouth curve in his practiced smile, the one he's spent almost two decades perfecting until the fakeness is all but erased.

"I see my reputation precedes me," he says, cocky, arrogant, he hates himself sometimes, but if that's what it takes...

Rogers shrugs, drains his drink. "Some of it," he says, and the ice in his voice, god.

A hand lands on Rogers' shoulder then, startling Tony into turning to follow it to another sturdy shoulder, a solid frame, up a muscular neck to-- Ohshitfuckingcrap.

"Sergeant Barnes," he says, attempting to push past the nausea in the back of his throat. It's been a long time since he'd seen Bucky Barnes, but there's no way in the world that he could ever mistake him for someone else. Suddenly Rogers' reaction makes all-too-perfect sense. "Fancy seeing you here."

"Stark," Barnes says, hand falling from Rogers' shoulder. Rogers turns into him easily; the movement speaks of long-standing familiarity, of trust, of something that Tony doesn't think he has ever known from personal experience.

Barnes' tone isn't actually what Tony expects; he was bracing for revulsion, contempt maybe, certainly disdain. But there's none of that, only a certain distance that Tony can't really blame him for. Then Barnes shocks him some more by offering him his hand. Tony stares at it for a moment before shaking it in a bit of a daze.

"It's Captain now," Barnes corrects calmly.

"I'll make a note," Tony says faintly.

Rogers appears to be staring between the two of them, not that Tony is aware of it overmuch. Barnes turns to him, and an easy smile slips over his lips. Tony kind of maybe feels sick at the sight of it. "C'mon, Steve, we'll be late," Barnes says, tugging Rogers to standing. He is... definitely taller than Tony, Tony thinks with a reflexive swallow. Oh, god.

"See you around, Stark," Barnes says, walking away. Rogers stares at Tony, doesn't say a word, just nods and turns, walking away. Tony sags against the bar once they're out of sight, waving at the barman for another drink. He tosses it back when it arrives, says "Keep 'em coming," and slides over the vacated stool, settles in for the night.

Pepper finds him there a half-hour later, all the better for almost two-thirds of a bottle of whiskey inside him, if his math is right, and it always is.

"Tony, what the hell," she snaps, appalled.

"Heyyy, Pepper, Pep, good to see you," he slurs, throws a hand over her shoulders, tugs her closer. "You like me, right, Pep? You don't think I'm a fucking bastard scum lowlife who ruined your best friend's career, yeah? 'Course you don't, you've only known me for what, eight years? I haven't been nearly as big of a cock since I was twenty-three, been tryin' to make amends, not that that works, because I'm Tony fucking Stark, yeah, I don't make mistakes, except that when I do they're prop--perp--equal to my ego, Rhodey says. Heyyyy, Rhodey, haven't seen him in a while, oh, best idea ever, I'm gonna call him, call him right now, he's probably in Sudan, or Afghanistan, or some other place ending in 'an', I can't keep track anymore, oh, fuck, have you seen my phone? It's not in my pocket, must've dropped it--"

A hand on his shoulder catches him before he faceplants on the floor trying to stick a hand in his pants pocket. He sprawls over the bar, blinking fuzzily at the shiny chrome side of his phone, not an inch from his face. "Oh, hey! You found it! That's why you're the best, Pep, god, I love you, I love you, Pep, if I wasn't an asshole, and if I wasn't in love with some fucking goody-two-shoes stuck-up Superman-type I would definitely propose to you, and we could get married and I could stop ruining my life all the time because you'd stop me, you're so good at that, Pep, I love you, did I tell you I love you?"

Pepper's lips are a thin ruby-red line, lipstick still intact despite numerous champagne glasses. Pepper's far too classy to get wasted, though; she's perfect. Tony wishes he could be in love with her, that would work out so neatly, except he's a fuck-up and Pepper deserves so much better.

"Okay," she says calmly, "I have no idea what you're talking about but we're going home, Tony, right now. And in the morning, you're going to explain."

Tony waves a hand, narrowly avoids sending the tower of empty glasses he's been building smashing onto the floor. "You don't want to know, it's, I don't want you to hate me, you don't hate me, right, Pep?"

"I don't hate you, Tony," Pepper confirms, still in that maddeningly calm tone. There's something off with her face, but Tony has lost the ability to think rationally at that point, thank fuck. "Come on. Happy has the car waiting."

---

Tony wakes up -- and immediately wishes he hadn't. There are metal spikes drilling through his head, heated pokers pushing through his eyeballs into his brain when he cracks his eyelids open. He can't even muster up the energy to groan pitifully, although he wants to, so much. He lies there for a while, trying to piece together what the fuck must have happened last night, gets as far as Bucky fucking Barnes showing up, and promptly derails that train of thought.

Except the next one isn't much better; his fucking eidetic memory replays the look on Rogers' face when he'd heard Tony's name, in excruciating Technicolor detail, over and over again. He feels sick.

He makes it into his bathroom just in time, empties his stomach in the toilet, slides down the side of the bathtub and sits there with his eyes closed, cheek pressed onto the blessedly cool surface. He wishes he was dead. That might stop the torture of remembering last night at all.

Faint clicks come from the direction of his bedroom door; a moment later Jarvis' immaculate head of hair pokes into the bathroom.

"Oh, there you are, sir. You appear to be awake. I have aspirin and paracetamol in the bedroom, if you'd care to step that way. Ms Potts is downstairs; she has asked me to tell you that you are not getting out of giving her an explanation."

And then there is only blissful silence again, except that the air rings with Jarvis' announcement. Tony groans. "Why, why can't I ever keep my mouth shut, Jarvis, can't you do something about that?"

Jarvis' lips twitch. "I have been trying to for the past thirty-odd years, sir. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to have taken."

Tony makes a face at him, considers whining, gives it up as too much effort. Eventually he pushes himself upright, doesn't throw up again, which is a straight-up win in his book. There is indeed paracetamol in the bedroom; Tony throws back two, washes them down with half a cup of coffee, pulls on a pair of sweats and a worn t-shirt and takes the rest of his coffee with him as he shuffles downstairs. Pepper is lying in wait at the kitchen table, legs crossed, perfectly manicured nails clicking over the keys of a sleek Stark laptop. She ignores him for long enough that Tony can refill his cup from the machine; then she closes the top and folds her hands on top of it, fixing him with a look that would put any self-respecting Medusa to shame.

"Sit," she says. Tony sits.

"Talk. I want to know what the hell that was last night, and why I was not aware of that particular potential for meltdown. You're lucky that the bar was all the way on the other side of the room, or everyone would have seen Tony Stark getting falling-down drunk at a society affair. There were photographers there, Tony. You can't bribe or threaten all of them."

Tony stares morosely into his cup. He would rather chew off his own arm than have that conversation, but Pepper is relentless. Now that she's gotten her teeth into this, there will be no escape. He grits his teeth and gives in to the inevitable.

"When I was twenty-three--it was my birthday party, actually, I'd just gotten my PhD a week before. It was a hell of a do, we invited like a bunch of co-eds, and Rhodey brought in half of his class from West Point. There was booze, drugs, you can't even imagine the parties back then, fuck. Anyway, there was this guy from his class, I swear, I took one look at him and that was it -- I wanted him. I wanted him bad enough to get him drunk -- although I gotta tell you, Barnes can hold his booze, I was as smashed as him; anyway, we made out a bit, then I took him up to my room and we-- well. You know.

"The thing is, you have to remember, that was back ten years ago. A guy from their class, don't know his name, he saw the whole thing. When all of them went back the next day, he ratted Barnes out to the board for being gay."

Pepper winces, and he knows that she's worked out the rest of it for herself. "What happened to him?"

Tony sighs, runs his hands through his hair, down his face. "I haven't seen him since that night. Rhodey said he got thrown out of West Point without appeal, then he disappeared. He kept in touch with Rhodey, though, you know how Rhodey is, everyone loves him. Word was, he moved to San Francisco, became a cop, a damned good one at that."

Pepper is quiet as she digests this. Then she frowns. "I don't understand. What has that got to do with last night?"

Tony cringes. This is the worst. "You remember Rogers, yeah?" He doesn't wait for her to do anything but nod before he ploughs on, dying to get it the fuck over with. "He's Barnes' friend. They're pretty close, from what I saw."

"...What you saw?"

Tony closes his eyes. "Barnes turned up at the bar."

There's a sharp inhale from across the table, then silence. Then: "Oh, Tony." Her small, strong hand curls over his, squeezing tight. "What did he say?"

"Nothing. Not a damned thing. He said hello, told me he'd been promoted to Captain, then he said he'd see me around, and they left."

Pepper waits. Damn, she knows him far too well. Tony sighs, slumps against the polished wood of the table. "Rogers asked me my name. I gave it to him. Didn't know to avoid it until later. God, Pep, the look on his face."

Her hand squeezes his again; when he looks up, her expression is kind. He stares at her in confusion. She rolls her eyes, sighs. "For goodness' sake, Tony. The man got a tough break, but it wasn't your doing. You didn't out him; his supposed friend did. I'm not saying you're blameless, but it wasn't all you. It takes two to tango."

Tony's mouth cracks in a smile; it's painful, but it's real. It feels almost foreign. "Did you just say 'two'--"

"Yes, all right," Pepper cuts him off and sits back with a last squeeze of his hand. "My point stands."

They sit there in silence that surprisingly doesn't grate, each lost in their thoughts. Then Pepper stirs, leans forward again. "There's one thing that doesn't make sense, though."

Tony doesn't say that half of his life doesn't make sense; it was Pepper who'd pointed that out in the first place, anyway. He hums in question instead.

"What you said last night," Pepper says thoughtfully, eyes narrowed. "You said that you were in love with a goody-two-shoes stuck-up Superman-type?"

That... makes a frightening amount of sense. Tony can practically feel the blood drain from his face. "Aw, man," he complains, thunking his head against the table. "This is bullshit. I don't believe in all that romantic love-at-first-sight crap."

"Looks like it believes in you," Pepper says with a smothered laugh, before sobering up. "What are we going to do about that?"

Tony groans, banging his head down twice more for good measure. "Nothing?"

Pepper snorts. She does it so rarely that Tony raises his head a bit, enough to look at her face. "Tony Stark, you are not walking around for the next month pining for Steve Rogers like some lost puppy. We are sorting this out right now."

"I don't pine," Tony grumbles, incensed. "Men don't pine."

"Yes, they do," Pepper argues, and Tony knows that tone of voice. Pepper has Made A Decision. "All right. Here's what's going to happen."

---

First point of action is, apparently, spying on Bucky Barnes' love life. Tony likes it even less now than when he'd first heard it. Still, Pepper is glaring at him from across the table, so he takes out his phone and dials Rhodey, expects (hopes) it'll go straight through to voice mail. It doesn't.

"Tony, this really isn't a good time," Rhodey says. He sounds strained, but he also picked up his phone, so it can't be that bad of a time.

"You want me to hang up, or pretend to be sorry, or what?" he says instead.

A long sigh filters through from the other side. "This whole meeting is death by bureaucrats," Rhodey mutters. "For the love of god, distract me."

"I can do that, sure, I can do that just fine, hey, so guess who I ran into last night?"

"Guessing games, Tony, really? Did you actually regress to an eight-year-old this time? Or no, wait, eight for you was robotics already, smartypants. So who was it?"

Tony swallows. He considers briefly blowing Rhodey off and hanging up, but Pepper is still glaring. "Uh, a blast from the past. You never told me Bucky Barnes moved back to New York."

The silence from the other end is deafening. It stretches until Tony thinks about checking whether the line is still connected; then Rhodey mutters something that his phone's mic can't pick up. "I didn't think you moved in the same circles," he says, but Tony can hear the apology in his tone. A heads-up would have been nice.

He says so. Rhodey hums, non-committal. "Where did you see him?" he wants to know.

"I was at the Atari party last night; it was hosted in the Howling Commandos club, it's new, I'll take you to it when you get in next--although maybe not, considering Barnes' friend owns it and I'm probably banned for life; at least I think it was his friend, could be his boyfriend, the two of them were pretty cozy last night--"

"He's not his boyfriend," Rhodey states; the noise behind him has dropped off, to be replaced by the howl of wind in the speakers. He probably stepped outside for some privacy.

"He's not?" Tony repeats stupidly, because Rhodey sounds pretty damn certain about that. "How do you know? You don't even know who I'm talking about."

Rhodey huffs. "I know because I'm his boyfriend."

Tony thinks he probably should have avoided drinking anything during that particular conversation, as he's fighting to breathe through the coughing fit of coffee down the wrong tube. "Fuck," he rasps. "Fuck, Rhodey, you can't just drop a bombshell like that, Jesus Christ. How come you never said anything before?"

"About the gay thing or about the Bucky Barnes thing?"

"I don't give a rat's ass about the gay thing and you know it."

Rhodey sighs. "I didn't say anything because I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable. I know it still eats at you, Tony, don't pretend it doesn't. He doesn't hate you, you know. You hate yourself. He got over that a long time ago."

Tony scrunches his eyes closed, runs a hand through his hair. "It was my fault he got fucked over, literally."

"No, it wasn't. It was the fault of the little shit who sold him out so he could take his place. You were as much collateral damage as him."

Silence falls between them. Tony looks down at the table, traces the grain with a finger. "How long?" he asks at last.

Rhodey hums. "Six years. We haven't been able to spend as much time together as we'd have liked, though. At least now DADT is history."

"Six years?! Fuck, man. I can't believe you hid that from me all this time."

"I know, Tony. I'm sorry." Rhodey sounds weary, but also kind of relieved. "For what it's worth, I'm glad I don't have to anymore."

"Yeah, me too, fucking hell. He--" Tony hesitates, but hey, he's in this now, no walking away. "He looked good. He and his friend were going somewhere, I think."

There's a grunt of realisation from the other end of the line. "Oh, you mean Rogers? Of course you mean Rogers, I should have remembered, Bucky mentioned it a couple weeks ago. They're both volunteering for that gala of yours, I'm surprised you don't know."

Tony frowns. "What gala?"

A beat of silence, then Rhodey actually growls. "You're still going with that anonymous bullshit? It's a good thing you're doing, Tony, you ought to take some credit for it."

Tony looks blankly at Pepper, mouths "Gala?" Pepper rolls her eyes, turns the laptop around so Tony can see the screen. 'The Alan Turing West Point Scholarship', it reads, and below it the explanation: for gifted students in the fields of engineering, mathematics and computer science. Nowhere does it say exactly what the criteria is for applying for it, however; no one is aware other than those who set it up (a number that includes certain decorated members of the US Army) and school counselors throughout the tri-state area. It's not easy, admitting to everyone that you're gay and want to be a soldier, not with prejudice still so wide-spread, so the details are kept highly confidential, and all involved have to sign waivers to that effect. Which apparently includes Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers, even if they don't know it's Stark Industries that's bankrolling the endeavour -- and Tony is starting to have his doubts as to that last.

"Oh," he says. "The Gala. Wait, so, they volunteered for it?"

"To help out, yeah. Say hello to Pepper for me, by the way, I assume she's there?"

Tony ignores him; the grin on Pepper's face says she can hear him just fine for herself. "...Both of them?" he asks instead.

Now, Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes is about as far from a stupid person as it's possible to get if you're not Tony Stark and therefore technically a genius. Tony knows this; he has no excuse. "Wait, wait. Is this--is this about what I think it's about? Anthony Edward Stark, are you pumping me for information?"

Tony lets his head thump against the table again. Busted.

"I really did want to talk to you," he says earnestly.

"Yeah, I'll just bet you did," Rhodey snorts. "Steve Rogers, really?"

"Uh," Tony says cleverly.

Rhodey laughs, long and hard. "Oh, man. Oh, man, just wait until I tell Bucky."

"No!" Tony yelps, panicked. "No, Rhodey, you can't. Rogers hates me. He can't know."

"Rogers hates you?" Rhodey parrots, disbelieving. "I know you can be a bit of a dick, Tony, but I don't think everyone who meets you immediately hates you."

"He does," Tony confirms morosely. "I told him my name, and his face just completely shut down. And then Barnes turned up. He hates me."

Rhodey tsks over the line. "Tony," he starts, but suddenly there are voices in the background, and the phone's mic gets muffled. A moment later Rhodey's back. "I have to go. Rogers doesn't hate you, I promise, but I won't tell Bucky if you don't want me to, not just yet."

Tony thanks him, and lets Rhodey hang up first. He drops the phone and crosses his arms over the table, buries his head in them. He feels utterly drained, like he's just gone twenty miles on the treadmill, not spoken to his best friend for fifteen minutes. Pepper is quiet, but she's not glaring any more, at least, so that's a plus.

"So Rhodey's going steady with Bucky Barnes," he says at last, still into his arms. Pepper makes an amused sound.

"So I gathered. We can torture him for keeping it from us later. Now, phase two has also been neatly taken care of with Rhodey's help -- we know that Rogers is not opposed to a relationship with another man. We're free to proceed to phase three -- making sure Rogers isn't opposed to a relationship with you."

Tony groans. "Yeah, good luck with that one," he grumbles. God, isn't that just his luck? The one time the whole thunder-from-the-sky thing happens to him, it has to be for someone completely out of his league, who takes one look at him and decides he wants none of it, thanks.

Pepper huffs, but says nothing. Tony suspects it's because she knows just as well as him what a lost cause it is. Pepper is nothing if not stubborn, though, so Tony can forget about forgetting about it any time soon.

Fuck, he needs more coffee for this.

The main entrance doorbell goes off about an hour later, when Tony has his cheek pillowed on the table and his arms hanging loose underneath, fed up with all of Pepper's elaborate plans that are bound to get nowhere -- because they all assume some level of attraction and/or good faith on Rogers' side, which Tony knows they aren't getting. Frankly, at this point he is prepared to just hole himself up in his lab until this whole thing goes away. It's bound to eventually, right? No one meets the love of their life like this, yeah? They don't, do they? Pepper?

Jarvis clears his throat at the doorway to the kitchen, back uncharacteristically stiff. Tony straightens in response, foreboding curling in his gut.

"What is it, Jarvis?" he says cautiously.

"A Mr Steve Rogers to see you, sir. I have taken the liberty of inviting the gentleman to wait for you in the study."

Tony swallows dryly. "You let him in?" he croaks. "You told him I was here? Jarvis, goddamn it."

Jarvis' face remains impassive. His eyebrow quirks, the equivalent of a shrug. Apparently even Jarvis thinks that Tony needs to tackle this thing head-on. Tony looks down at himself, at his stained pants and threadbare t-shirt whose original colour has been long lost to thousands of washes. Then he looks up at Pepper.

"Help?" he whimpers.

---

When he makes his way to the study fifteen minutes later, he feels a little bit less like dying, or hiding until this isn't happening to him anymore. For a long minute he had panicked, thinking Rhodey had told on him anyway, but even Bucky Barnes couldn't have arranged this whole thing so soon after their conversation -- which means that Rogers had intended to come here long before Tony had even picked up the phone. He stuffs his hands in the pockets of his loose jeans, shrugs his cotton sweater (sweater! He didn't even know he owned any! He'll marvel at Pepper's unacknowledged magical powers when he doesn't feel like throwing up from apprehension) more firmly into place over his shoulders, and pushes the door open.

Rogers is standing in the middle of the room, almost at parade rest, eyes snapping away from the Escher original Tony keeps hanging behind his desk when Tony walks in. Unfortunately, they snap to Tony, who feels the look like a drill straight through his lungs.

"Mr Rogers," he says evenly, doing his best to keep any and all observations about broad, square shoulders and tapered, lean waist away from the front of his mind, because they hurt, knowing as he does what Steve thinks of him. "Can I help you with something?"

Rogers' eyes trail over him from his head to his toes. Tony feels like he is being weighed, measured, but the jury's out on whether he has been found wanting just yet. Which is a marked change from the night before, when Rogers hadn't even needed a look to make up his mind.

Then Rogers clears his throat and says, "I came to apologise."

Tony goggles. "What the hell for?" he blurts, because he honestly can't even imagine what Rogers is thinking there.

Rogers ducks his head, bites at his lip. Tony aches with it, all the more when Rogers looks up and meets his eyes again. "For acting the way I did last night. I... appear to have gotten the wrong end of the stick. You see, all I knew about you was what Bucky told me when it happened, and we haven't spoken of it since -- until last night, that is. Bucky explained everything, and I feel pretty bad that I reacted like that. I'm sorry."

Tony stares at him, trying to work out if the guy could possibly be for real. Rogers looks squarely at him, though, nothing hidden, completely without guile. It kind of makes Tony want to hide his face. "Thank you," he says, for lack of anything better.

This appears sufficient, however, and Rogers gives him a tentative smile. It--breaks Tony a little. He swallows dryly, returns it as best he can when he's trying to keep himself rooted to the spot, and not to give in to the need to find out what it tastes like on those lips . Rogers' stubble has deepened, another day without shaving, and it's doing very, very uncomfortable things to Tony's cock.

"You didn't need to come all the way here to tell me that, though," he adds, just to break the silence, derail that train of thought. "You could have called, or emailed, or something. Not that I don't want you in my house--I mean--not that I don't want to see you, because I do--aw, hell," he grumbles. What the fuck happened to all that swank everyone always accuses him of? Rogers looks confused, sort of half-uncertain and half-pleased and trying not to show it.

"Would you have picked up the phone if I'd called?" he asks, cutting straight through to the heart of Tony's evasion tactics. Tony considers lying, but Rogers looks like he knows what Tony's thinking. It's disconcerting, looking into those eyes and trying and failing to marshal a coherent sentence at the same time.

"Probably not," he says instead, conceding the point. Rogers' smile dims a little. Tony feels it like a stab in the chest. Oh, fucking hell, what is happening to him?

"So," he says, because change of topic, right the fuck now. "Your best friend and my best friend, huh?"

Rogers' smile reappears, widens. "Apparently," he says, giving Tony a glimpse of straight white teeth. Tony refuses to think of those teeth closing on a finger, a nipple, sinking into skin and muscle. "Speaking of," Rogers says, and that smile turns abruptly shy. Tony is... intrigued, that's all. Especially when Rogers blinks and throws him a glance from under those spectacular lashes of his. "Bucky and I are volunteering at a charity event. The gala is next week, and we have both been invited. I was wondering--I mean, Bucky is going with Rhodey, he told me last night. Would you--um." He trails off, looks at the floor, looks back up at Tony again. "Would you like to go with me?"

Tony's heart nearly fails. Rogers is looking at him through his lashes again, blue, blue eyes tempered by gold, shy and daring at the same time. "Unghyes," he manages, before biting the inside of his lip in embarrassment. "Uh. I mean. I would like that, very much."

Steve smiles, this wide, happy thing that, god, Tony wants to see all the fucking time. "Great," Steve says, and he just sounds so happy to have secured a date with Tony, no one has ever sounded like that about going out anywhere with him. "It starts at eight. Pick you up at seven?"

"Sure. Seven's fine, seven's good, do you want to stay for coffee?" Tony blurts, because apparently Steve Rogers smiling at him like that causes irreparable damage to his brain-to-mouth filter.

Steve nods, smiles again, smaller, so undeniably pleased it sends something painful twisting Tony's chest. "Thanks, Tony. I'd like that. I... I can call you Tony?"

His first name, twice in rapid succession from Steve Rogers' lips. Is Steve trying to break him?

"Only if I can call you Steve," Tony returns, which, ugh, so cliché, but it gets Steve to give him that shy smile again and fuck, Tony is willing to do any number of dubiously legal things if it means Steve will keep doing it.

He takes stock as he smiles back, for once without the need to fake it: he has a proper date with the object of his affections, and he has just managed to talk him into coffee, too. It's shaping up to be a damn fine day.