There’s really no sugarcoating it –Tony Stark is the biggest fuck up in the history of time. Of course he would ruin everything. All this does is prove yet again that Howard knew what he was talking about – Tony doesn’t deserve to have nice things.
As the spot beside him in bed rapidly cools beneath his hand while the filters clear the air of heat and the smell of desire, Tony finds himself faced with two options.
1) Stay in bed until morning and pretend none of this ever happened. Or,
2) Retreat to the kitchen, where he has a bottle of Glenfiddich 40-year-old Scotch whisky waiting for him. Calling to him, more like, as it does whenever anything goes wrong in Tony’s life, which these days is pretty much a 24/7 thing.
Actually, there is a third option, but he really doesn't want to do it. He really doesn’t. It involves talking, and Tony’s not quite prepared for that, not now and not ever.
In the end, surprise of surprises, he chooses option two, hair of the dog, but that does mean he has to pass the TV room, and what do you know – Steve is there. Still there, sitting awkwardly on the end of the sofa nearest the fireplace in Tony’s custom-made Dior dressing gown, looking not at all devirginized as per plan.
It’s totally not how he imagined Steve would look ‘the morning after’.
Should he have had a plan other than just bedding the guy? Some hastily thought out strategy of approach at least? He should have certainly been more thoughtful without one. From his vantage point behind Steve, he can see the remnants of a bite mark just below where the now messy blond hair meets the powerful neck, and…yeah when he thinks about it he probably could have been a bit gentler, even with the whole super-healing thing. Not exactly the best way to introduce a senior citizen to twenty-first century moral depravity and the delights thereof.
Tony stands at the entrance to the room for a moment, but he knows he’s not going to be able to sneak past. So he just goes for it.
“JARVIS, lights at thirty percent.” Startled blue eyes turn to meet his. In fact the man’s whole body is tense, like just before a fight, as if he’s not even sure if he has the right to sit on the fancy leather cushions. ‘This is all your fault, Tony, you idiot,’ he thinks, ‘How could you make Captain fucking America feel like he can’t sit on your couch?’ Steve shouldn’t ever have to feel that way.
“Do you want me to go?” the man asks, softly. Tony cringes, half at the question and half at the burgeoning pounding in his head. Cap leaving is the last thing he wants. But he also wants his cold glass of whisky in his hand, to be honest.
“Naw,” he mumbles. “At least try to get a good night’s sleep. Good American boys should get their eight hours, right?” Then he remembers the time. “Well, three hours is better than nothing.” Steve’s sets his mouth in a firm line as Tony smacks his palm to his forehead. “All right, look, I’m not gonna kick you out like you’re some…” investor, intern, escort, actor, Vanity Fair reporter, “I mean, you can sleep. Or do whatever. JARVIS, put some tea on or something-”
“No, Tony, it’s fine.”
“No, it’s not, I-” Well, actually his brain is coming up blank. Steve looks at him like he’s waiting for the explanation, but when it doesn’t come the Captain turns away again.
“I'm going to go,” he says.
“Please don’t.” At first he doesn’t realize that he’s actually said it out loud. Since when do Starks say please? “Look, I’ve got CSI and Grey’s Anatomy recorded somewhere, JARVIS can help you find it.”
“I’ve got an early start tomorrow. Err, today, I guess. Just let me find my clothes and you can have your really comfortable robe back.”
“What was it?” Slowly Tony’s coming to the startling realization that somehow he’s now on the opposite end of his usual morning after talk. It’s starting to feel like in a few minutes Pepper’s going to come in and give him his dry-cleaning and a taxi voucher, and possibly security if he gets really uppity. “Was it the blue and red bedsheets? Completely coincidental, by the way.”
“I just wasn’t comfortable,” Steve explains, just bluntly enough for Tony to get it. It’s not you, it’s me. “It was too fast for me.”
Okay, too fast. Back up.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Tony Stark and Steve Rogers aren't friends. Steve wakes up from his sleep, has his brief flip out, and Tony just happens to be one of the first people Fury decides to call in about this. God knows why; Tony knows full well that S.H.I.E.L.D. has proper psychologists for this sort of thing. He’s been ordered to see them more times than he can count.
The likeliest reason is because he is already in New York, at Stark tower, trying to work for once. It could also be partly because Coulson found the prototype shield in his workshop and caught on to the fact that he used to be the biggest Captain America fan in the world, or quite possibly the universe, now that he’s met actual aliens and can compare these things. Also maybe because they tried Sharon, and it didn’t work out so well for one reason or another, so they decided Tony was the next best thing. Because, you know, he looks more like his dad than his mom.
He doesn’t want to think about that reason.
Thing is, Tony doesn’t really want to meet Steven Rogers. Nobody should ever meet their idol – it ruins that idealistic image. But, as it turns out, Mr. Steven-call-me-Steve seems to actually be as good as the packaging would indicate. Seriously, there’s nothing bad about him at all. What’s up with that? It’s like some kind of freaky Dorian Gray business. There’s got to be something damning to be found deep down under the layers of blond-haired, blue-eyed perfection. Even Gandhi had his racist past and he’s heard Mother Teresa stole some money or something.
But no, it turns out there’s not a single mark on this guy’s squeaky-clean record, other than lying on enlistment forms to get into the army. The man lied just so he could go abroad and get shot at. Who does that?
“They say I’m supposed to talk to you. You can tell me things?” is the first thing Steve says to him, before “Peggy? Agent Peggy Carter?” like he already knows the answer and he’s just hiding his heartbreak. Then he asks, “Howard?” and goddammit, both of those things feel like a punch to the arc reactor for some reason.
He’s got to hand it to Steve – the man’s pretty brave. It’s obvious that he tries to hang on to his dignity for as long as possible, and the struggle is obvious on his face. All SHIELD’s really done is stuff the soldier into a 1940s themed hotel room and hand him back his shield, like it will cure all ills (the past seven decades that he’s missed, for example). Then they expect Tony to take care of the rest. He’d probably break down too if he was in Steve’s position. In Afghanistan, Tony hadn’t had more than one or two people to care about back home, but this guy, he’s heard, cares about everybody. He can’t even begin to imagine.
So many people have cried in front of Tony, admittedly mostly one-night stands, but the sight has rarely affected him. Now he feels…responsibility. Sadness, maybe. And to be completely honest, lust. Tony’s not a good person.
“Hey, we still need you, man. We need some backup singers in the boy band.”
That’s the start of their relationship. Tears. Always a good sign.
They both join the Avengers. Only one of them is on probationary status. Tony’s teenage wank-bait unfortunately does not react well to his attitude, but they both have the unresolved tension thing down pat. They argue. A lot.
Yet their first day as a team they take down Loki, of all people, and afterwards Steve admits that Tony maybe isn’t so bad. So Tony insists that they all celebrate their victory ‘Stark-style’, since it’s something none of them have likely ever experienced in their lives, not even the Prince of Asgard. They go to his favourite club, which becomes VIP exclusive the moment Tony and his limo of superheroes pulls up. There are strippers. He gets a bit drunk – they all do, minus Steve and Thor. Thor because he can’t on pathetic Midgard alcohol, and Steve because his hands are permanently rooted nervously in his lap. The Captain’s so embarrassed that he actually pretends to draw on a napkin whenever someone’s top comes off, looking red enough to spontaneously combust into Johnny Storm at any moment. Dr. Banner and Romanoff dance on stage with the pros like they’ve died and gone to heaven, while Steve looks like a victim straight out of a school documentary about the evils of peer pressure.
Looking back on it, Tony could have introduced him to modern society a little more slowly.
Looking back on it, it was Steve’s first night with new friends and a new job and a new life, and he was probably lonely as hell, so maybe it wasn’t entirely okay for Tony to bring him back to his place at the end of the party. But he was just trying to help, not trying to take advantage of anyone. Honestly.
No wonder Steve fled Tony’s bed the moment things got a little out of hand. But what did he expect, a sleepover where they watched cartoons wearing Iron Man pyjamas?
Anyway, the lust thing, that’s obviously a no go. So he tries for friendship instead. Essentially he’s working backwards. Or maybe it is the natural order of things for lust to be the first thing to appear in a relationship. It wasn't that way with Pepper, but with Tony’s limited experience of proper relationships, he can’t really assume anything.
To cultivate this friendship, Tony starts showing Steve all the new things he can possibly think of. Basically, doing the actual job requested of him.
So he brings Steve to California as much as possible.
Tony loves it. People tend to believe that the only thing Tony loves is attention, but he loves so much more than that. He loves the expression on Steve’s face – somewhere between awe and idolization – when Tony babbles on about his work. He loves watching Steve play around with the holographic projections in his workshop like they’re little pieces of art, even if the big guy doesn’t actually understand the science behind them. He even, and this is a bit of a secret, he even loves watching Steve play catch with a Dummy that misses ninety percent of the time like a developmentally-challenged dog.
The best part of it all is that Steve looks at him like he’s special, not the Stark space tourism prototypes or the two degrees (“Were you really seventeen? I can’t imagine. Did you get to have any fun?”) or the Time magazine covers.
Strangely Tony starts to miss him when he’s not there.
But it’s not just about Tony. He also enjoys giving Steve free run of Wikipedia and later Google with the safesearch off (“I-I really thought watersports was something else, um, how do you go back again?”), teaching him how to use the StarkPhone to add all the Avengers to his contact list and to even take pictures (there are twenty of Thor making stupid faces, about ten of his coffeemaker, and five of Dummy – he’s looked). He teaches Steve how to use email and shortly thereafter expounds that one should never click on attachments unless one is one hundred percent sure they are safe, and especially not if they’re from Clint. (Steve needs to learn about current affairs, not the last fifty years of Playboy, Hawkeye, you dick.)
Steve takes to everything like Tony imagines he probably took to his new body back when he got it – in stride.
This information exchange doesn’t only go one way, either. Tony learns lots of…things. Well, okay, so he can’t remember a lot of them. But he knows that Steve likes swing music and old stuff. Lots of old stuff. There’s even a bit of archaic slang in his brain now, like ‘bobby soxers’ and ‘hotsy-totsy’. He learns that there was a time when people used to actually be able to call someone a fat-head with a straight face, and that they could (and still can, Steve hasn’t actually stopped) call almost anything that is not a criminal or supervillain ‘swell’.
It’s good to have a third person he can count in his list of friends. Because, um, well just because. Sadly, this is not to say that the sexual tension goes away. Oh no, it only gets worse. With Steve offering to train him whenever he’s in New York, all tight white shirts and sweatiness and throwing him all over the place, how could it not?
There’s even a bit of lust reflected back at him from the prim and proper face, and he wonders if Steve even realizes it’s there. Tony’s sure the good soldier’s never going to act on it, so Tony’s the one who’s going to have to be the liberated modern man. But he’s already screwed it up once, so he holds himself back from asking.
They don't actually talk about what happened that first night as Avengers until months later, when Steve approaches him in private after a team meeting with an awkward, “Hey. I guess I’ve never thanked you properly for helping me out.” Then he looks around as if he's forgotten that what he’s about to ask for is no longer illegal. “Also I…I was wondering if you'd like to try again.”
“Maybe,” he replies cheekily, with no small amount of inner glee that he didn’t have to be the one to make the first move. The sheepish golden boy smile returns and at the sight of it Tony’s boner returns in full force, quite literally.
That long story short, he’s not going to mess it up again.
“I hear we have vacation coming up. Did you see the memo? I didn’t even think we had vacation time,” Tony overhears Bruce telling Steve after the meeting. The man sounds positively ecstatic, or at least as ecstatic as someone high on downers can sound. “Anything you want to do? I recommend visiting Tibet.” A travel brochure changes hands and Steve thanks the doctor graciously. “Once, I did a meditation retreat in the mountains there and it really helped me connect to inner serenity.” ‘Sure it did,’ Tony thinks. ‘You only destroyed three walls today, real poster boy for Buddhism.’
“We could go to a strip club again. That was a good night, anyone remember that?” Clint reminisces.
“All too well.” Ouch, Steve. “I was thinking of going to California,” he continues, briefly glancing at Tony questioningly. Actually they haven’t really discussed anything yet, but Tony’s always open to negotiation (at least where Steve is concerned).
“Always California,” Thor adds his booming voice to discussion. “What is there that holds your heart, my friend? Have you found your own Jane?” Steve blushes, and it looks so goddamn adorable. How can he still do that after the super-soldier serum? “I do not blame you. I too am weak to these mortal pleasures. Last week I spent hours with my head buried between my sweet Jane’s-”
“Pop Tarts?” Coulson offers from the leftovers. Good old Coulson. Always knows how to shut someone up.
“Well, Natasha, she-” Steve looks around but she’s already gone, as usual, “she told me about Disneyland. I might go there,” he says, not entirely genuinely. He’s not a very good liar.
“Disneyworld is better,” Tony interrupts. “I could buy it. Want me to buy it?”
“I think it’s a bit big for me,” Steve jokes.
And just like that Tony’s thoughts sink into the gutter, and his sunglasses slip down a bit further on his face.
“Just make sure it’s within S.H.I.E.L.D. budget, whatever you do,” Coulson says, slipping annoyingly into his line of sight to Steve’s ass in order to grab all the doughnuts. Man, why do they have so much food at meetings? This is all Thor’s fault.
“Who do you think I am?” Tony asks. “You think I’d let a good friend coming to Malibu pay for anything?” Well, Steve didn’t exactly say he was going to Malibu, but their entire relationship seems to be based on things unspoken. Maybe that’s not a good sign.
Bruce moves closer to put his hand on Steve’s shoulder, and while he doesn’t say anything, his look says, ‘I see, you’re the one stuck hanging out with the asshole this summer, good luck,’ and Tony makes a mental note to call Banner’s chamomile tea factory and get them to caffeinate the teabags.
Eventually they’re left behind in the room, just the two of them, and Steve walks up to him and says, “I guess I should have asked. I mean we only have four days, provided Loki doesn’t decide to rally all those wild horses to do his evil bidding again, so I thought maybe we could spend it together.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
“I’ve got an interview with the Brooklyn Historical Society on Monday, and then I have to do the usual weekly reading at the elementary school, but I should be able to come out on Tuesday. Are you free?”
“For you?” he smiles his best winning smile. “Always.” Pepper’s going to kill him.
“Then, it’s a date.”
“A date. Seriously, Dummy, can you believe this?” he asks when he’s rearranging the walls with a sledgehammer yet again simply because he wants to be able to see the sofa from the bedroom just in case he doesn’t get Steve into bed in the first couple of days and the prude happens to end up there because it’s ‘respectable’. “What do people even do on dates? What do I wear on a date?” Dummy perks up and drops his hoodie from the grand piano to the floor. Like father like son. Normal clothes aren’t a bad idea.
Soon he hears the elegant click of designer shoes on marble and some very talented screeching. “What are you doing? ”
“Small redesign. I want this wall gone – can I get this wall gone? Hey could you get me that crew who did the workout room? It’s a rush job.”
“No! No I can’t. And you cannot just take three days off! Do you know how many events you’re scheduled for this week?” He just hands Pepper his extra pair of safety glasses in return and kneels to brush aside some of the debris.
“What are you talking about? I do it all the time.”
“By the way, did you get me that Vogue cover?”
“They're not going to put you on the cover-”
“I said I'd do it for free. I'll even take off my shirt.”
“Tony, this is important.”
“Okay, I'll take Rolling Stone again. It’s just a shame to waste this summer tan-”
“Pepper,” he looks at her, just for a minute, to admire her impeccable makeup and bright hair pulled back into an elegant bun. She’s beautiful. Good lord, he’s given her frown lines. “Just handle it this time, for me? It’s Steve. Divide up the labour, hire some paper pushers for a week, call a few temp agencies, anything.”
“I already did all of those things,” she says, with an air of defeat. “But I’m still upset with you.”
“So I came to see you because I'm booking Captain Rogers' flight over here, because you personally requested that I do it myself so that it’s perfect even though I have much better things to do like run your company. When do you want it to get here?”
“I dunno, when can I have my bed made by?” He looks up again to smile innocently at her, and her face melts into that look, the look that she’d used so many times in the course of their brief relationship. Women have so many looks. It’s scary that he’s starting to understand them all.
“The Captain also wants to know if he can bring his motorcycle this time.”
“He could use one of mine. I did fix up like seven for him.”
“He’s not going to ride around on anything with flames painted on it.”
“Also you can’t actually request that the flight attendants wear USO uniforms. They’re unionized-”
“Pepper?” He says, putting his dusty gloved hands on the sides of her stockinged legs because he’s too lazy to stand and also because if he touches the Armani dress she’ll probably chop his arms off.
“Just tell me when he gets here.” She sighs one last time and turns to walk away, but just before she climbs the few stairs to leave the room, she stops, looks back at him again, and says, “It’s good to see you happy.” She shakes her head fondly. “You’re like a little boy at Christmas.”
It does feel like Christmas, or what Christmas should have been like for him as a child. This is Christmas in July, basically.
Tony meets him on the landing strip. Usually he has a driver pick Steve up, but this time he wants to make a good impression. Hence, he’s also dressed in his finest suit. Blocking his eyes from the sun, he watches as Steve steps off the plane, backed by what seems to be the whole crew, male and female alike, who are all waving goodbye and who all seem to be more than a little bit in love. It seems like he’s only brought one thing, a medium sized army duffel bag that he has thrown over his shoulder.
At the sight of him Tony feels…something. A little bit lighter, you could say, like when he takes off the Iron Man suit.
“That all you brought?” he asks Steve when he gets closer. “For three days?” Seems like they both don’t know whether a handshake or a hug is more appropriate, so they just stand there staring at each other.
“And my bike,” Steve replies.
Tony scoffs. “We’ve got to take you shopping.”
So it’s the first thing they do after dropping Steve’s single bag into the back seat and climbing into the Audi. He spends a while driving extraordinarily fast along the coast (until Steve reminds him of the speed limit), hoping to show Steve a bit more of California than usual. Steve admits that he’d only been to the state once on his national tour in the 40s, and the other times he’d visited he’d basically just been at Tony’s place. Tony realizes now that he should have probably at least have had Happy take Cap around for some sightseeing, but Tony doesn’t have much experience being a host (at least not the type of hosting that doesn’t involve over a hundred people and professional catering), and Steve had never asked.
“Isn’t it weird to have winter styles out already?” he asks, when they stop at one of Tony’s regular ritzy stores. “Besides, I already have a coat. ”
“Yeah, one coat. My point exactly.”
They’re getting some strange looks. Tony’s pretty sure the employees would be pulling a Pretty Woman routine and scoffing at Steve’s simple clothes if he’d tried to go there by himself, unaccompanied by one of the richest men in the world. He doesn’t know if that should reflect badly on his lifestyle in general.
“Listen, I grew up in the depression. We didn’t have a lot of stuff. This is…kind of surreal. I’m really fine, Tony, I don’t need anything else.”
Okay, so maybe shopping isn’t the best idea.
Later on he tries to impress Steve again with food, three thousand dollars worth of food to be exact, at the finest restaurant in town. Called ahead and booked the whole place privately, of course, so Steve wouldn’t have to adhere to the dress code. Not that he doesn’t want to see Cap break out the dress uniform once in a while, but he’s not sure if it was even in the realm of possibility for it to fit in that tiny bag.
“I’ve never tried most of those things before, but it was pretty good,” Steve says afterwards, and even after all of Tony’s efforts chooses (insists) to sleep on the couch. But at least Tony can now see the couch from the bedroom. It’s a start.
By the time JARVIS wakes Tony up in the morning, telling him that Stark Industries stocks have risen and that it’s going to be ridiculously sunny, Steve has already gone for a run, showered, gotten fully dressed and fixed breakfast (“I wasn’t sure what you eat, but I made you some toast and eggs.” Tony can totally get on board with this). He’s dressed in a simple checkered shirt and plain brown pants. The rest of his clothes are still neatly folded in his bag, not unexpected for an army guy. It also appears that he’s washed all the dishes himself, even the ones in the dishwasher. With his hands. Who does that?
Anyway, it being noon already, Tony decides to take Cap to Disneyland. Actually, he’d planned to buy out as big a section as possible for their own private use, until Pepper reminded him that Steve would probably absolutely hate it without people; that, as much as Tony can’t grasp it, people are required for the happy atmosphere and all. Thankfully, Goddess that she is, she does hire a few goons to dissuade most of the tabloid press, so he and Steve manage to fly pretty much under the radar in the end.
Tony comes to realize many things at Disneyland, like the fact that someone can fight Nazis on a train heading through the mountains at death defying speeds and still somehow be scared of Space Mountain.
“You don't want to hear about Coney Island,” Steve says afterwards in a tone that implies he doesn't want to elaborate, looking green. Soon after, Captain America the hero comes out again and he puts his brave face back on to pat some kid (who seems to be having as much trouble as the 220 pound man with keeping his French fries in his stomach after the ride) on the shoulder and say, "Hey kiddo, you did good."
He feels that feeling again in his chest and wonders why he ever thought Disney without people would be a good idea.
It doesn’t result in sex though (Should he just trash the sofa? Seriously, it’s doing him absolutely no favours), but there’s one more day left and he doesn’t lose hope.
The next morning, while shoving cold pizza in his mouth, Tony suggests they get a private section of beach, and it’s totally not just because he wants to see Steve’s body in only swimming trunks (preferably the teeniest of speedos), really, it isn’t. But when he does this, Steve turns to him with a serious-Pepper-Potts-face and says,
“You don’t have to buy everything. I just want to spend time with you.”
“Beach is spending time,” he defends. “It’s the best way to spend time, you don’t even have to do anything but swim and sit in the chair.”
“But we only have one day left. Can’t we go out on a date? You know, the old-fashioned way? I can take you out somewhere.”
“A Captain America date. I can do that. Is it going to involve patriotism? I’m a huge patriot, I vote Republican every time.” Steve’s mouth sets in a frown.
“Pepper said you were busy, so maybe I can meet you later on at your workplace?”
“I’m busy?” he asks, with genuine surprise.
Steve shakes his head at him and rolls his eyes a little. “I’ll come by later to the office.”
So Tony ends up going to work. Steve’s such a killjoy.
It’s around 3:30 (well, not around, with Steve it’s exactly 15:30 hours, let’s be real) when Steve shows up at the office. It’s such a quiet, polite entrance that Tony doesn’t notice him come in until Pepper looks up at the door and her face suddenly lights up.
She's never looked at Tony like that – like she’s actually impressed. Then he sees why.
“Oh god, he dressed up," Tony says, and trust Steve to take that as a compliment. They did that in the Forties, dressed up for things. It was cool. Gnarly. Hip. Whatever the hell they called shined shoes and a pressed shirt tucked properly into pressed pants back in the day. The bashful look takes over his face and his smile widens slightly.
Tony hadn’t really bothered to dress up today, seeing as they’ve passed first impression stage by this round of dating, so he's still in an old Black Sabbath T-shirt and a shabby pair of jeans. Come to think of it he usually only dresses up for business, not for things he really cares about. Has he ever had a date that didn’t have at least a little to do with business? Maybe this is actually the first time the two things haven’t crossed paths. Steve doesn't seem to mind, though, going by the appreciative look he’s sporting.
Again, it feels weird not to have to try to be appreciated. He shrugs off the strange feeling.
“Ms. Potts,” Steve nods to Pepper politely.
“Captain Rogers,” she says, with a flirty subtextual undertone that he's so rarely heard from She-of-high-standards. Tony huffs.
“Yeah, Pep, hold the fort will you? I'll continue with...whatever it is when I get back.” Pepper turns to look at him incredulously. Maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say. He’s just implied that he was actually participating in the work and not sitting with his feet on top of her desk, pestering her for attention like a spoiled Chihuahua. He should stop messing around with women who’ve been wearing stilettos all day. Fortunately, Pepper cares about him deep down, and maybe that’s why she lets it slide just this once. Bless her. ‘Pay raise,’ he mentally notes. ‘One of those two hundred dollar perfect melons from Japan, definitely not strawberries.’ See? He's remembering; he can do this. He can do relationships.
“You open doors too?” Tony asks, when Steve chivalrously holds the door for him as they leave. “What else do you do?”
“Play your cards right and I'll show you later,” Steve replies.
Tony points at him, throwing him a proud look. “You're learning.”
Together they enter the hot summer air and walk to Steve’s motorcycle, which is parked outside. Tony looks around because it’s entirely too quiet; is there some kind of Avengers business going on? Then Steve looks at him and says, “Luckily for us, Thor has challenged the entire Brook-, sorry, Los Angeles Dodgers team to a baseball game. You'd be hard pressed to find a photographer that wants a ‘Tony Stark walking around’ picture today.”
“Plus, no one’s expecting you to be riding on the back of a motorbike driving off into the middle of nowhere. I get that that’s not your usual style.”
“You calling me showy? I don’t call the paparazzi every time.”
“Sure,” Steve says, and Tony’s already starting to relax. He likes their witty banter; he’s good at witty banter, and Steve playing along bodes well for this dating business. Steve passes him a helmet and he climbs on behind the huge Captainy mass. He has to remember to keep his hands where they won’t be tempted to get up to anything indecent. It’s a struggle.
“Where are we going, anyway?” he asks over the noise of start-up.
“It’s a secret.”
“That's what serial killers say,” he mutters to himself.
They drive for a while, almost all the way back to Malibu, Tony looking wistful whenever they pass a doughnut shop. Eventually Tony’s thoughts are forced to settle down and he relaxes into Steve and just enjoys feeling the breeze as they travel. It’s really strange to not to be doing anything.
The weather cools down a bit by the time they get to where they’re going. Steve takes a few smaller roads and then goes completely off-map on a path just big enough to ride on before he finally stops.
It turns out to be what Tony would refer to as a lover’s point. Steve has totally brought him to a lover’s point.
“Come on,” Steve calls to him and they walk up the hillside a bit. It’s kind of a rocky area, but there are more trees than usual to provide them with a bit of privacy and shade. It’s not an official lookout spot, but it’s just flat enough for the two of them to be comfortable. There’s a pretty nice view of the ocean.
Steve is vibrating with excitement; he can almost feel it. Clearly the Captain does not know how much this kind of location has come up in both slasher films and cheesy romances during the time he’d been frozen. The naïveté of the location is kind of charming. Tony’s not going to say anything about it; he’s not going to let his mouth ruin things.
“I’ve always wanted to take someone to a place like this, but obviously nobody would give me the time of day. I found it today while I was jogging.” He shows Tony the picture he took of the spot on his phone.
“What do we do here, make out?” Tony jokes.
“I...what?” Steve replies, freezing and beginning to flush heavily. Did Tony say something wrong already?
“It means kissing. Did it mean something else in the forties?”
“Uh yeah, a little. I thought...never mind. I'm not good with euphemisms.” This is true. Tony suspects that Steve actually understands the arc reactor better than modern slang. Being forced to watch reality TV with Coulson must be hell for him.
“Is it like the fondue thing?”
“You heard about that?” Steve cringes. “That was a long time ago.”
“I think Thor got that one wrong too. Maybe it’s just a dirty sounding word. Then again, Thor thinks everything’s a euphemism. I blame Foster, personally. Never teach an alien god about vibrators before important things like world history.”
“What’s ‘vibrators’?” Steve asks as he makes his inquisitive and puzzled scrunched up face.
Riiight, they went underground in the twenties. “I’ll show you sometime.”
As Steve sets about unpacking the things he brought in his holy crap that is a real basket he’s made us an honest-to-god picnic, Tony’s phone beeps with a text from Pepper.
Don’t stay out too late – JARVIS expects you home by midnight.
That isn’t really fair. Steve’s the one orchestrating today’s date, so really he should be going by Steve’s schedule if anything. He watches the man bend down to spread out a blue and red blanket across the flat bit of rock.
Steve’s virtue intact, she adds almost immediately. Now that’s just cruel, he thinks, but he supposes it’s true that they didn’t really do sex on first dates in the 1940s. Not that that’ll stop him from trying.
Slow, Tony, comes the third message, as if she knows what he’s thinking. She probably does, he’s not that complicated. He sets the phone to vibrate.
When Steve moves aside, Tony sees that he’s set out a bunch of containers of food. He was right; he’s made them a picnic dinner. Who does that?
“Clint suggested I bring McDonald's. I'm not sure if it was a joke, but it looked really unappetizing, so I decided to make dinner myself. Although, I’m not sure what you like. I should have asked Pepper, but I didn’t want to give away the surprise. I hope you don’t mind – it’s a bit simple. I grew up simple.” Tony can see that. It looks like a lot of normal food: sandwiches, some dish that looks like it’s made with eggs, not sure what that one is, some fruit and vegetable salad with beans and things, and what looks like grilled fish.
When Tony wants simple he orders pizza. This is cool. “You can cook?” he asks.
“Mom taught me a bit before she died. I can cook as well as any dame, I’d like to think.”
“Don’t let Natasha hear you say that. I think she’s started three fires now at HQ just using the toaster. Pretty sure she’s banned from the kitchen.” Steve chuckles.
“Well, we’d better eat before the sun goes.” He sits and Tony takes the spot beside him on the blanket. It’s close enough that Tony can feel Steve’s warmth. Cap runs hot. “These are for you,” Steve says softly, pushing some of the containers in his direction. Geez. It’s like getting a gift. A gift that he didn’t pay for himself. This is nuts.
“Where’s all this from?” he asks.
“Mostly your fridge,” Steve says.
“I have fruit?” It’s genuinely shocking.
Tony eats his food pretty quickly, and yeah, it’s good, like everything Cap does. His portion is so small compared to Steve’s, though, and for a moment he wants to ask if he thinks Tony’s a bird or a European or something, until he remembers that the man probably needs to eat like Thor because of the super strength and crazy metabolism. He's seen Thor easily eat an entire turkey by himself at Thanksgiving. He hopes Steve hasn’t been going hungry at dinner the past couple of days.
Finishing first, he spends the rest of the time watching Steve eat his own food. Steve’s watching the ocean looking entirely at peace, his blond hair blowing in the wind. For a moment, Tony’s reminded of those old propaganda posters he used to keep in his room.
Steve’s impossibly handsome.
He wants to...
A buzzing sound. Slow, Tony.
No, not just sex. He actually wants to kiss the guy, because he looks really kissable right now. Maybe there’s something to be said for this kind of date, where they can just sit, doing nothing but admiring the view. When Steve finally notices him staring out of the corner of his eye, the Captain begins to look vaguely embarrassed. The atmosphere between them is crackling with energy; he can feel it. Even the hair on his arms is almost standing on end.
To get his thoughts moving in another direction, Tony stops staring and takes a deep breath of the fresh air, listening to the ambient noise of the brush around them, fingers twitching. He can see the Stark residence from here, lights on as the sun’s starting to go down. Maybe Pepper’s driven there, or maybe it’s JARVIS just being JARVIS.
Things are, in fact, going very slowly on this date. There’s no alcohol, no fast cars, no fast machines, no fast women. It’s odd. It’s so quiet.
Steve eventually packs away the leftovers in the same plastic containers. Then he moves a little closer to him. Their hands are almost touching, and he wonders if Steve is going to actually attempt to hold his hand.
“Oh! Hang on,” Steve says suddenly, jumping up and walking back down to his bike, “I almost forgot.” He returns with a portable mini stereo, which is labeled with Bruce’s name. Hulk must label everything to find his belongings after he de-Hulks. Someday he’ll have to check Banner’s sneakers, and then he can make fun of it when he needs a wall smashed for quick renovations.
Tony lets Steve fiddle around a while before he hears a frustrated noise and some kind of muttered statement about gramophones. He leans over on the blanket, so he can feel the heat again, close enough to Steve that the other man inhales a shaky breath.
“Um…I…I can’t…” Steve explains. Tony looks at the iPod in his hands. It’s a hand-me-down from Clint, he sees (a little contemptuously if he’s honest – the Stark line of mp3 players is about three decades more user-friendly, stylish and intuitive).
“I’ll do it.” If he just moved a little bit, he could kiss Steve. He hasn't felt this kind of tension in a long time. You don’t, really, when both parties are aware that it's a love ‘em and leave ‘em kind of evening. “What song do you want?” he asks, with an unintentional huskiness.
“Moonlight serenade, maybe?” Tony exits the settings and circles to the ‘M’s.
“Glenn Miller?” Steve makes a small noise of affirmation. “You can put music this old on an iPod?” Tony asks, and Steve laughs, pulling him up by the hand to stand and move closer. It makes Tony feel very small. He’ll have to get used to that. He’s pulled in even closer as the music starts, the band playing a gentle rhythm.
“Hey I know this one, I think. Maybe my mother played it a few times. Did Sinatra do a cover?”
“How would I know?” Steve smiles, cuddling him closer. It’s like a hug. Hugs don’t happen to Tony, except when they’re from Pepper, and even then he’s often focused on other things – he can’t help it. Steve is so big, though, it kind of feels like he’s blocking out the world. Cool.
“Touché,” Tony mumbles into the shoulder.
“You know, I've always wanted to dance to this. I used to watch Bucky with the girls, how he was so good at getting them to dance with him. It looked so easy, but I could never manage. So I just thought I’d wait to share a dance with someone special, someone I could say I was going steady with.”
“We're going steady,” he says. Actually he meant it to be a question, but it comes out as a statement instead.
“Yeah.” Steve sounds pleased. Going steady. This is a good sign. Tony uses the celebratory opportunity to slip his hand down and onto Steve’s ass, but Steve simply pulls it up without a fuss and places it on his shoulder. “Oops,” the man says as if it’s his fault. Knowing Steve he probably actually thinks so. Unreal. “I’m kind of a dead hoofer.”
“Huh?” Tony mutters.
“Oh, sorry, I should have figured no one says that anymore. I mean, I can't really dance. I just thought I'd play it by ear when the time came.”
“Looks like you’re doing fine to me. I’m pretty sure this is what passes as dancing these days.”
“What are you talking about? Swaying back and forth is fun.”
“Tony, stop talking,” he says, leaning his head into Tony’s. Then it’s quiet for a long time until the first song ends, and something else equally ancient sounding starts up in its place. “I was counting on Peggy to teach me how to dance,” Steve says off-handedly but slightly choked.
Something about that hits Tony the wrong way. Suddenly the whole mood changes, at least on Tony’s side.
Thing is, Peggy’s always been a sore spot. He’s read a lot about her, but other than their first meeting, they haven’t really broached the subject. In fact he’s not even sure if Steve has even really dealt with that loss, not that Tony allowed him time to grieve properly. It’s just that Tony…he’s never liked being second best. It’s like Dad all over again.
‘If he’s still hung up on some woman why’s he here?’ is what he thinks as Steve’s long fingers move from his back and sneak up into his hair. It should feel good, it does feel good, but something about his disappointment must show. Maybe it’s the lack of clever retort.
“Sorry,” Steve says softly. “You must be bored.”
“No,” he lies. “Not bored. Who said that?”
“Well, we still have a bit of light left.” It’s sunset. It’s beautiful. Tony hates it. “I thought you might like to see my sketchbook. There are a couple of pictures I’ve been working on that I think you’ll like.” He releases Tony from the confines of his arms, and even though the evening is warm it now feels cold, for multiple reasons. A moment later he comes back with the sketchbook and draws Tony down to sit again.
Strangely enough, Tony’s never really seen Steve’s art before, but then he realizes that he’s never asked to.
“Clint,” Steve chuckles flipping to the first picture, but Tony’s face is dark. ‘Clint, who gives you hand-me-down iPods and sends you emails everyday,’ he thinks. ‘That Clint?’ In the picture, Hawkeye is shooting practice arrows at Black Widow. “They’re like little kids on a playground. He’s basically just pulling her pigtails, isn’t he?” Steve smiles fondly. Tony remembers that day too. Clint had had a few toes broken by Natasha, fingers spared only because Fury would have been too angry about losing the archery skills even temporarily. Steve managed to capture Natasha’s angry face incredibly well.
Well, okay, so maybe Tony doesn’t have to be so envious that Clint sometimes likes showing Steve modern things too. It’s petty.
“Here’s the neighbourhood I grew up in, then and now. Well, this is just from memory, but…that there was my favourite diner. I got beat up behind it all the time, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t have the best hamburgers I’ve ever tasted.” His tone is wistful. Steve getting beaten up? Hard to imagine, but he sort of can after seeing the pictures of him before the serum, and knowing that Steve wouldn’t ever back away from a fight. “It’s a Burger King now.”
“Too bad.” He starts to wonder if there’s any accusation in that. After all, Steve doesn’t always like progress, and that’s all Stark Industries stands for – it doesn’t really matter what gets in the way, especially not ‘mom and pop’ diners.
Are they really that mismatched?
No, he needs to keep himself in check. He shouldn’t ruin it. This is a good chance to get to know Steve’s inner workings better. He’s a really fantastic artist.
And then Steve flips to the next page, and it’s “Your dad.”
There’s an awkward pause, before Tony finally says, "Lovely." He’s not sure if Steve detects the sarcasm. They haven’t really discussed this subject before either. The fact that Steve thinks of Howard Stark as some kind of ‘nice, friendly guy’ bothers the hell out of him.
Steve looks at him just a little, tilting his head to the side like he wants to say something, looking a bit worried. Maybe he’s catching on. But he looks at Tony’s face, and then seems to decide to move on. There are a couple of landscape pictures after that. Tony’s front yard. One of Times Square, all product placement intact.
Then Steve blushes furiously. “Lena Horne. She was an actress, from Brooklyn.” He flips a little too fast for Tony’s liking, so Tony catches the page mid-turn and puts it back.
“Sexy,” Tony leers. Steve cringes uncomfortably and tries to put it back up, and then Tony’s really annoyed. Does he have to compete with multiple dead women or only one? What is this? He can’t help it if that makes him get a bit catty. “It’s okay, Cap, you don’t have to hide. You’re allowed to find black women beautiful now, Obama’s president.” Okay, that was snarkier than he intended, of course he knows Captain America wouldn’t ever be intentionally racist or anything. Howling Commandos and all.
Steve looks stricken. “That wasn't why...I didn't mean-”
“Of course not.”
“You know what,” Steve replies finally, “never mind.” As the book closes Tony catches a glimpse of what looks to be red and gold coloured pencil on some later pages, but Steve shuts down, face hard.
They both sit in silence. Well, not really silence, because Tony's classic rock comes on next from the speakers – a blaring contrast to Steve’s smooth, classic big band. That’s Tony’s fault; he’d told Clint to introduce Steve to some real music.
This is why dates are not a good idea. See? Tony was right all along.
“Hey,” Steve says, clearly trying to salvage the mood. “I think the stars are starting to come out.”
“Twenty-first century, buddy. Hard to see stars in America.”
“Really? Even so far out?” he seems sad. “Well, then, we can just sit…and-”
“And what? Listen, I have a morning conference call,” he deliberately takes out his phone and stands up, stretching, “with some partners in Dubai. With the time difference and all-”
“Tony, I'm trying to make this work,” he says, following him up. As if Tony himself hasn’t been trying as well.
“Make what work? What are we doing here, huh? Dancing? Sitting down? What is this?”
“Will you get off my case? I thought you might like to get away from things for a while. If it’s not exciting enough for you we can go somewhere els-”
“I'm not on your case, you're on your case.” Good one, Tony. “What the hell am I doing?”
“For crying out loud!” Suddenly Steve shrugs and shakes his head, before it seems to dawn on him. “Is this about Peggy? You know, it's hard to tell when you're being a jerk just because you want to be or if you're genuinely upset about something. Did I say something wrong?”
“No, it couldn't possibly be because you're hung up over somebody who's been dead for years-”
“I can't help it, Tony!” he finally snaps. Honesty, come on out. “It's only been a year! Do you know what it's like to wake up and see your girl’s obituary? I didn't even get to see her grow older! I thought we were going to be together, have a family. I can't just entirely forget about someone just because you've come along and I like you too.” There are tears forming in his eyes, and they annoy Tony more than anything. “You know I loved her.”
“Of course you did,” he sneers. “Everyone loved everyone – it was war time. You never knew when you'd lose the chance to get it in-”
He feels the impact before he sees it coming.
Fuck it hurts like hell. He’s still clutching his cheek, bent over and checking his bleeding nose as Steve stalks off back to his motorcycle, leaving the blanket and everything, sketchbook too. It makes Tony want to yell something about littering, and he probably would have if his face weren’t on fire. When Steve gets to the bottom of the hill, the big guy turns to him and starts up with a voice darker than he’s ever heard it, even when talking about Nazis, and he doesn’t want to think about what that says about him.
“I’m a gentleman, so I won’t drive off and just leave you here, but by god I want to.”
“I can call the armour. You forget I'm Iron Man?”
Then there’s only dust in his face and a fading motorcycle roar.