Hands on hips, Steve surveyed the sprawling disaster area that was the Tower living room after the Avengers’ First Annual Big Poker Night. Tony’s idea, Tony’s party, Avenger-sized mess. But Tony had been right from the start. Poker Night had been a lot of fun, as Tony predicted.
How was it that Tony could talk him into anything? Steve wondered.
He walked around picking up the bowls of chips and popcorn left behind in the quiet penthouse. Tony would have a cleaning crew in the place first thing in the morning to get what the cleaning robots didn’t. But the mess bothered him, and a little neatening up never killed anyone yet.
Steve felt itchy from lack of action. He hadn’t worked out today, and ended up spending the afternoon helping Tony and Clint get ready for the poker night. It had been hard for him to give up the night for card games when he should be planning training routines. But Tony had specifically asked him to come, and he couldn’t find it in himself to say no to an enthusiastic Tony. Now he wondered if he had time to read and review any files before turning in. Or maybe he could get in a run.
Surprisingly, Tony came back to the living room, still dressed in his jeans, grey vest, and light purple shirt. It was an outstanding look on him. “Thought you’d called it a night, Cap.”
“It’s not that late,” Steve said. It couldn’t be much later than 10, maybe 11. Reed and Sue left early, saying something about a babysitter, and Johnny had a hot date. Peter invited Sam to play video games with his team at his aunt’s house long before the night started. The rest of the Avengers and guests had their own plans as well.
“Hey, no more work tonight,” Tony stated, flicking a potato chip at him.
“I wasn’t –“
“Oh, I know that look – the ‘do I read files or do I punch some bags in the gym’ debate. Come on, Steve, take a night off for once.” Tony slapped him on the back on the way to one of the card tables.
Steve frowned as he set the bowls down on the bar. There was so much he could be doing right now. But … he looked up at Tony smiling at him and he figured he could change his plans.
Maybe they could watch a movie or something like that. They had fallen into a habit of hanging around together when the other Avengers were out of the tower. Sometimes it was video games or pool, other times it was a movie or television show that Tony insisted that Steve had to know about. He didn't get to spend enough time with Tony outside the team.
He turned around to see that Tony had propped his feet on the table and tipped back his chair, stretching out his long, lean body. He had a speculative look on his face as he sized up Steve.
Tony shuffled the cards in his hands. “Want to play a few rounds?”
Steve had worked with Tony long enough to know that he likely had an ulterior motive to his offer. “Maybe.” He wondered what this was going to cost him this time. He grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and sat down.
Tony ran a finger around the rim of an empty wine glass. “Wanna make it interesting?”
“A bet?” Steve said with a smile.
“Hmm. I’m thinking something different. Higher stakes.”
“Higher stakes? Boot camp or living without your tech for a week are high enough stakes.”
Tony laughed. “Been there, done that.” He swung his feet off the table and sat up straight in his chair. “How about a game of strip poker?” He winked at Steve.
“Strip poker. Seriously?” Steve had the distinct feeling of being led off a cliff.
“Afraid you’re going to lose?”
“No, but you should be worried.”
Tony snorted. “Steve, I love you, but you are not a good poker player by any means. It’s that whole honesty thing you have going on.”
On paper, Steve should have excelled at poker given his tactical mind and willingness to take risks. Except he couldn’t hide his reactions to his cards or bluff convincingly for long. He had done okay, no damage to his pride, during the night. But Tony had been the poker star tonight.
“I’m not sure, Tony. Strip poker seems a bit out there.”
“Come on, it’s not like we haven’t seen each other naked before,” Tony said dismissively.
Nudity was an occupational hazard for an Avenger, and basic training had wiped away any pretense to modesty Steve might once have had. Although, in the deep dark recesses of his mind, he had stored away one memorable image of Tony’s naked backside, rivulets of water from the shower running down his beautiful olive skin and over his round, muscled ass.
Steve bit his lip. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. He also wondering if he was imagining that Tony was actually flirting with him, with all the smiles and subtle glances. Thinking back on it, he wondered if Tony had been flirting with him all evening from the start.
He countered with “Loser does a week of survival training or as a crash test dummy?”
“I’m still a bit sore from the last bet. Besides, this is poker, Steve. Strip poker is a time-honored version of the game. Helps to put a little skin in the game, you know.” Tony ran his hand through his dark hair and stretched out his arms.
Steve groaned at the pun. He passed the bottle back and forth in his hands as he pondered his options. The idea of seeing Tony peel off his clothes appealed to him, not that he was willing to admit that to Tony. And if he felt that way, he shouldn’t be playing strip poker with Tony without having that discussion. Which he never intended to have. For reasons.
“Not up to the challenge, eh?” Tony taunted. “I can understand, given your poker skills.”
Tony’s luck couldn’t hold out forever and Steve did have some skills as a card player. “I’m only considering the damage to your pride after I beat you,” Steve replied.
“My pride? Wait until the rest of the team hears about how I beat you so bad you were left only in your undies.”
Ah, maybe this wouldn’t get out of hand. Play a few hands to blow off steam and pull out before too many clothes were removed. Steve could do this and beat Tony at the same time. “I don’t think it’s me who will be wearing the boxers the end of the game.”
“I don’t wear boxers, for the record,” Tony said. Steve coughed, as he thought of what Tony might look like in underwear.
Steve pulled out a chair and sat down across from Tony. Tony smiled brightly, like he had figured out another secret of the universe. “We’ll go with five-card draw,” Tony proposed as he dealt the cards. Steve looked at his cards. He narrowed his eyes and Tony returned the scrutiny. Steve had a flush of hearts beating out Tony’s three of a kind clubs and Tony lost his left sneaker.
Tony lost the next hand, giving up his other sneaker. “Still interested in playing?” Steve teased. “It’s not going well for you.”
“We’ve got all night, Rogers,” Tony shot back.
“We never actually talked about the stakes,” Steve said. He had a straight sitting in his hand after picking up a couple of cards. The current bet was Tony’s sock or Steve’s left shoe.
Tony bobbed his head back and forth, then discarded. “What? Keeping your clothes on not interesting enough for you?” He skimmed over what he could see of Steve.
“As you said, I’ve seen you naked before. Maybe the loser has to clean up the living room?” Steve suggested, trying to ignore Tony’s heated once-over.
“I have robots for that. Raise.” Tony tossed a chip on the table.
“Hmmm.” He looked up from his cards to Tony’s impassive face and then back down at his cards. “Um, fold.” And lost his shoe.
After another few hands, Steve had lost his shoes, socks, and watch and Tony his socks. “Bet. Belt,” Steve declared, tossing a chip on the table. He wasn’t quite sure why he and Tony were using chips. Maybe just from habit.
Tony tapped his chin. “Call. Hmm, should I bet my belt or vest?”
“Up to you,” Steve said.
“That’s assuming I have a belt on.”
The thought that Tony’s hips were holding up his pants flashed across Steve’s mind. He had drawn the sharp angle of his hips, that crease that appeared above the waistband of Tony’s pants, hinting at what lay below. A person could always dream. “We could take a break if you need to find more clothes.”
“All I need to do is keep on one piece more than you.” Tony checked his cards. “Belt.”
“You must have bad cards if you’re settling for just the belt,” Steve said. He shouldn’t be egging Tony on. He had the feeling he was in uncharted territory with this whole game.
“Fold.” Tony stood up, lifted his vest, and slowly unbuckled his belt. He tugged the leather belt out of the belt loops on his jeans. He tossed the belt on the table in front of Steve while Steve watched his pants settle a little lower on his hips.
Steve shook his head, trying to dispel his thoughts. “So higher stakes?”
“I thought I was clear -- the winner keeps their clothes on.”
“Maybe that’s not such a hard thing for some of us.”
“You wound me, Steve.” Tony kept shuffling the cards. He licked his lips, glancing briefly up at Steve.
Steve got up. “Want something to drink?” He needed the break, desperately. He knew better, he knew that he should fold in his cards, let Tony win, and walk away now with his dignity. Then his lizard brain urged him to see how far Tony was willing to go. Except that Steve knew deep down in his bones that Tony would go as far as Steve let him and then take it even farther.
“What’s in the fridge?”
“Two bottles of beer, flavored water and seltzer. And orange soda.” Steve snagged the beer and the last remaining bag of potato chips.
“I’ll take the other beer.”
Steve put the bottle in front of Tony and sat down. He opened the bag of chips.
“I can’t believe you’re still hungry after tonight,” Tony said as he dealt out the next round of cards.
“I’ve got to keep the tank full if I’m going to beat you.” Steve popped a chip into his mouth. Tony arched his eyebrow and shook his head.
Steve pulled a card which didn’t improve his hand at all. “Call.”
Tony rubbed his hand on the edge of the table. “Are you sure, Steve? I can count cards just as well as you can. And I don’t see that you’ve got a good hand at all.”
Steve narrowed his eyes. They’d barely played fifteen cards. He had a poor hand of a pair of 4s and a mix of other cards. Tony could have anything. He had discarded three cards, which meant he was unhappy with his hand. Maybe the only way Tony could win was to make Steve fold.
He’d lose the belt if he folded. But Tony would lose the vest. Did he want Tony to lose his vest? The breath caught in Steve’s throat.
Tony flipped another chip into the pile. “Raise,” he said firmly, locking his eyes on Steve’s.
Steve took a deep breath. He had five pieces of clothing -- the belt that was at risk, a shirt, a t-shirt, jeans, and his boxer briefs. He could lose the belt easily, but losing the shirt and t-shirt would leave him in a position where he’d have to fight to defend his jeans. Now, he estimated that Tony had a vest, a shirt, maybe that tank top he usually wore, his jeans, and his underpants. Maybe. Tony could just as easily not be wearing the tank top or ...
Oh, god, what if Tony wasn’t wearing any underwear?
If he won, Tony would lose his clothes. He didn’t want to lose to Tony. It’d be all over the Tower by the morning. But did he want to see Tony lose? Did he want Tony to see him lose?
Steve stared at his cards. He glanced up at Tony, who was inspecting with his nails with a studied nonchalance. His cards were awful. “Fold,” he finally announced throwing in his hand.
It turned out Tony had a straight flush, and Steve never had a chance. He stood up to take his belt off. That’s when Tony twisted the cap off the beer and started to drink it as he watched Steve suddenly struggle with his belt buckle. Steve had been distracted by the sinuous movement of Tony’s neck as he drank.
Now Steve decided he would have to pull out all the stops to guarantee that he didn’t lose his shirt. That was his line in the sand and main defense against total defeat. Plus, he needed to buy time to finesse the situation so that he could talk Tony into something more sensible like watching a movie together.
He wondered why they hadn’t given up on the game already and resorted to watching movies. He had enjoyed watching Lawrence of Arabia with Tony last weekend. Tony had suggested the film Doctor Zhivago, by the same director, or even The Bridge on the River Kwai. They could be doing that right now. Instead Steve was watching Tony drink his beer in a vaguely suggestive way.
Surely Tony didn’t mean anything in the way he was putting that bottle up to his lips. Right? “Uh, Tony, how about a movie?”
“What, are you chicken, Steve?” Tony replied. “The card gods against you for some reason? Because you just had the worse hand I’ve ever seen.”
“There are no consequences if I just quit playing,” Steve pointed out. “I’m getting tired.” He tried to pull a fake yawn.
Tony laughed so hard tears came to his eyes. “Steve, you get by with four or five hours sleep just fine. You can’t be tired. It’s not even midnight, buddy.”
“Fine,” Steve snapped. He dealt the cards this time. As soon as he looked at his cards, he knew the odds were in his favor for keeping his shirt. Tony eventually had to fold when he couldn’t outbluff Steve.
Steve couldn’t help but watch with avid interest as Tony unbuttoned his vest, folded it carefully, and then put it on the floor next to his chair. The breath caught in his throat and his skin heated as he drank in Tony’s sparkling brown eyes and the care and efficiency Tony took folding the vest. He could imagine what Tony’s hands could do to him as they smoothed down the silk vest.
Tony settled down, collected the cards, and said, “Ready to lose, Rogers?” with a gleam in his eye and a smirk on his lips.
Right. Based on his calculations, Tony and he had the same amount of clothes on now. (Assuming that Tony was wearing underwear, which Steve really hoped he was.) He was going to fight to keep his shirt. And he would need to strategize on talking Tony out of playing the game through to the bitter end.
As Tony shuffled the cards, Steve pointed out, “We never settled what the bet is for this game.”
“We’re playing for our dignity, Steve. High stakes,” Tony said. He was raking his hand through the unused poker chips, the whiny sound of plastic on plastic setting Steve’s teeth on edge.
“But no consequences if I choose to walk away right now.”
“Oh, so you think I wouldn’t tell anyone about our little game and how the great Captain America walked away because he was scared of a little nudity?” Tony asked. The corner of his mouth quirked up as he dealt the cards. “Captain America never gives up, does he? No surrender, yada, yada, yada.”
“That doesn’t work when Red Skull tries it. And it isn’t going to work for you, Tony.” No matter how many times you bat your eyelashes at me, Steve added.
“I’m just pointing out, Steve, that if you were as good at playing cards as you are at Ultimate Frisbee, then you would have nothing to fear. And I’m sensing fear on that side of the table,” Tony teased, his eyes twinkling.
“I don’t play Ultimate Frisbee.”
“You’d be a natural. Just sayin’.” Tony reached out to pat Steve’s arm. “I bet you’re a natural at a lot of different things.”
Steve considered how he could use Tony’s overconfidence and cockiness against him. He picked up his cards, trying to think of how to unsettle Tony. He unbuttoned a couple of the top buttons of his shirt, and caught Tony’s involuntary jaw twitch as he did it. Oh, that was interesting.
He took a deep breath as Tony dealt another round of cards. He was going to fight this round out if he could. Tony tried to bluff his way through the hand, unable to convince Steve that he had the better hand.
“I can’t believe you out-bluffed me on that hand,” Tony said, tossing his cards on the table. Steve’s three of a kind had eked out a victory over Tony’s flush only on the strength of Steve barely able to keep a straight face.
“I’m a man of many surprises,” Steve said.
“What kind of surprises, one might wonder?” Tony stood up and returned his bottle to the bar counter.
“You say that like you haven’t see me in action before.”
“I’ve seen you in action on the battlefield, but there are so many other areas I haven’t seen you,” Tony said. He put a hand on Steve’s shoulder, warm and heavy, and squeezed. Steve nearly jumped out of his skin at the touch. He caught the sly smile that stole over Tony’s face.
Tony returned to his chair. “Guess I have to lose this then, eh?” he said, reaching for the top button on his shirt.
Steve’s mouth ran dry as Tony began to slowly unbutton his shirt, giving little flashes of his olive skin and the black tank top he always wore. He pushed the shirt off his left shoulder, leaving the shirt hanging just for a minute as Steve restrained himself from touching the smooth taut skin over Tony’s muscled shoulder. Steve felt desire pool in his stomach as Tony shrugged off the rest of the shirt, this time not even bothering to pick it up from the floor.
He caught the look in Tony’s eyes and immediately knew that Tony knew exactly what he was doing to Steve.
“Your deal,” Steve finally said, barely recovering his voice. Because Tony reclining back in his chair, his dark hair unruly, his tank top loose and showing hints of the defined chest underneath, was the hottest thing Steve had ever seen. And Steve couldn’t ignore it at all. Or stop imagining what it would be like to kiss those plump red lips and peel that tank top off.
“Right. Sure you’re ready for this, big boy?” Tony asked.
“Just deal the cards.” He could win this hand and Tony would have to lose that tank top.
The betting was tense. After another draw of the cards, Steve had a full house, three 10s and a pair of eights. A nice hand, but not the best and it didn’t buy him the margin of safety he wanted. Tony countered his bet, raising another a couple of chips. Steve was mesmerized by the tip of Tony’s pink tongue sticking out as he rearranged his cards.
“Raise,” Tony said, throwing a chip on the pile. He was betting like he had royal flush in hand.
Steve studied his eyes, reluctant to meet Tony’s eyes. Except that Tony tapped the table, drawing Steve’s attention. He leaned forward, his brown eyes burrowing into Steve’s, and said huskily, “In case you’re wondering, I’m wearing boxer briefs. They might be tight -- shrunk in the dryer or something.”
He lost every rational thought in his head at the image of Tony in tight boxer briefs riding low on those sharp hipbones. He blinked in shock as Tony slunk back down in his chair. Finally getting a grip on himself, Steve growled, “You play dirty, Stark.”
“Really? Aren’t you the one who tells us about using every advantage at hand?” Tony looked like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. “Going to call, Steve, or fold?”
Steve took a deep breath and reviewed the situation. He couldn’t shake any more tells out of Tony. He ran a few card combinations through his head taking into consideration the cards discarded on the table. The odds were in his favor with the full house. He now knew that Tony had the tank top, the jeans, and the boxer briefs. He prefered to have the advantage on his side so he was ready to fight for his shirt.
“Raise. You know if we were betting money, you could lose your shirt.” Tony smiled broadly at him. “Unless that’s the point, not to lose your shirt.”
They ended up revealing their hands and Tony actually won with the better full house (3 queens and a pair of sevens). “Off with the shirt, Steve.”
Steve gritted his teeth and removed his shirt unceremoniously, tossing it to the floor. Catching the look of fascination flashing across Tony’s face, Steve tried a little experiment. He flexed his arms while he shuffled the cards. And he saw that same look of intense fascination on Tony’s face.
He needed to reassess the situation. They were on equal footing now. Except that there was no margin for error for Steve. He had to keep the t-shirt on. But now he faced even fewer options. He could see how his cards turned out to determine the odds of keeping his clothes. Or he could set the Tower on fire and bring this whole mess to complete stop. Setting the place on fire seemed an excellent option.
Tony was humming to himself as Steve deliberated and kept shuffling the cards. “Please don’t set the Tower on fire. The remodeling will take forever,” he said.
“Oh, you just had that look on your face that seemed to indicate that you were thinking of fleeing somehow.”
Steve groaned. “Don’t tell me you ran poker game simulations through the Stark Probability Engine and this whole game was some sort of experiment.”
“What? No!” Tony said emphatically. “That’d be pointless. But interesting.” Tony frowned a second. “It would work, you know, for poker as well as predicting the Cabal’s next move. All it would take is an adjustment of the variables, a new algorithm --”
“Okay.” Steve dealt out the cards again.
They made their bets. Again, he couldn’t get a good read on Tony. His own cards were a bad mix of face and number cards that he would have to shape into something usable if he could draw the right card or two.
As he calculated the odds, he realized that this round was different -- this was an ‘imminently naked’ situation that didn’t involve a supervillain fight or medical emergency. This was nakedness in the living room of the Tower past midnight where it was only Tony and himself.
Tony blithely discarded half his hand and drew new cards. It hit Steve like a ton of bricks that Tony didn’t care much if he won or lost. Because if he got naked in front of Steve, it wouldn’t bother him. But if Steve lost his clothes, Tony could count it as a win.
How Steve felt about the outcome of the game totally depended on how Steve felt about it. Did he feel it would be a win if Tony lost his clothes? Would he feel like he lost if he pushed Tony to that point of taking off the last of his clothes?
Tony knew all that. He knew that Steve would draw a line at some point. He just didn’t know when Steve would draw. And when Steve drew the line, Tony could step right over it and chalk up another win in his column.
Dammit. They could have been watching Doctor Zhivago all night instead of playing mind games with each other.
He bit his lip, suddenly feeling completely miserable. He had a lot fun tonight, even enjoying the strip poker game. He had a lot of unresolved feelings towards Tony, and he had to admit that some of those feelings were romantic. Maybe his pride made him think that Tony was flirting with him. That could have been part of the game too. Tony wasn’t exactly above manipulation when he wanted something.
“Stop,” he snapped. “Just stop.” Alarmed Tony dropped his cards. “Tony, what’s going on here?”
Startled, Tony stammered, “J-just a friendly game of strip poker.”
“How long were you going to let this go on?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t really think it through. Developing a plan as I went.” Tony flashed one of his most charming smiles.
Ordinarily, Steve would have melted like ice in July at that smile. He ran his hand over his face. Right now he wanted to be anywhere but here. He felt embarrassed and wrong-footed. And he felt naked even though he still had his pants and a t-shirt on.
“Steve? What’s wrong?” Tony asked.
“This was a bad idea, Tony. I shouldn’t have let you talk me into this. We should just call it a night, okay?” Still seated, Steve bent over to pick up his shirt. He could get everything else in the morning.
Tony jumped to his feet and rushed over to him. Putting a warm hand on Steve’s arm, he said, “Okay, okay. I might have pushed things a bit. You know that whole frozen man from the 40s thing -- should’ve thought of that.”
Steve could have been born yesterday and he’d still feel confused and conflicted about Tony and tonight. And now Tony, the source of countless fantasies, was caressing his arm, clearly worried about him. His brain was short-circuiting from the tender touch.
Tony continued. “Just forget what happened, Steve. Shouldn’t have pushed you like that. But you looked great tonight, looked real happy and I thought that maybe, you know, with a little incentive --”
Steve put his hand over Tony’s and tipped his head up to look into Tony’s eyes. “Was this all just a trap?” he asked warily.
“Um, icebreaker?” Tony offered. He offered Steve a smile and patted his arm.
“Wait, I’m confused. Icebreaker for what?” Steve felt jazzed up and still reeling from the game. Tony’s closeness was not helping him figure anything out. “What is going on here?”
Tony rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, I thought with a little flirting and a little alone time and some advertising that you might consider the possibility of a ‘me and you’ thing.” He waved his hands as he spoke. “I thought you were flirting back. Maybe that’s not what happened.”
“I’m not good at flirting,” Steve blurted out. “And I’m not good at knowing when someone is flirting back. Not my superpower.”
Tony’s shoulders dropped. “Oh. Well, no harm, no foul.”
“Wait a minute, Tony.” Steve stood up and put his hand on Tony’s shoulder, feeling Tony lean into the touch. “That doesn’t I’m not interested. Just that you have to be direct with me. So, was this whole thing just some sort of setup --”
“To ask you out?” Tony finished. “I’ve been wanting to ask you out for months, but I kept chickening out. But tonight -- after that great movie night -- I thought I’d finally take that chance -- and, okay, strip-poker wasn’t the best thing, but I wanted your time and attention and, bingo, playing cards jumped to mind. And being me -- of course, it had to be strip-poker.”
Steve didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But it was finally sinking in that this smart and amazing man in front of him was interested in him. Which seemed rather shocking. “Why me, Tony? You could date anyone, any time. I’m not --”
“Seriously, Steve, if you give me the ‘I’m not good enough for you’ speech, I’ll -- I’ll -- I’ll come up with something. Maybe reprogram your workout routines to super hard. Except you’d probably like that.” Tony grabbed Steve’s hand and held it tightly. “Steve, you are the most amazing person I’ve ever met. I have no idea if someone like you could be interested in someone like me. So, yeah, will you -- will you go out with me?” Tony looked at Steve hopefully, a tentative smile sneaking across his face.
Steve darted forward, pulling Tony close and tight and kissed him as hard as he could. He could hear Tony’s yelp, then felt Tony melt into him, pressing into Steve with messy kisses, all lips and tongue and teeth. Steve slid his hands underneath Tony’s jaw and into his hair, wanting to show Tony how interested he was. “There. Have your answer?” he said, settling his hands on Tony’s hips.
“Not sure,” Tony replied. “I’m a man of science and an engineer, Steve, I need proof. And data, lots of data.”
“Let’s start slow then,” Steve suggested, rubbing a circle into Tony’s hipbone. “Maybe coffee?”
“Lunch. Dinner. Or we could go away for a three-day weekend.”
“We’re not going to get into competitive dating,” Steve said with a laugh. He kissed the top of Tony’s head. “We could watch a movie tonight. I think that there’s still popcorn in the house.”
Tony squeezed Steve’s hand. “Okay, I can do that.”
“You make me happy, Tony.”
“I thought that my video and sound system made you happy.”
After throwing his shirt back on, Steve sat down on the couch while Tony set up the movie. “So, exactly how far were you willing to go with the poker game?”
“Honestly? I thought you were going to bolt as soon as the watch came off. I can’t believe I talked you into going that far.”
Steve said, “You bet me, and I’m not going to back down from a challenge.”
“Huh, maybe I should have tried that tactic instead. Bet you to go on a date with me.” Tony brought a bowl of popcorn and settled down next to Steve.
“That’s not high stakes, Tony, all you ever had to do was ask,” Steve said, wrapping his arm around Tony’s shoulders.