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Every month, Tony pays an exorbitant fee to an extremely discrete company that makes sure he is never without companionship when he wants it.

He’s always been impressed by the employees they send over. Attractive obviously, but that’s the least of their qualifications. They’re well-read, knowledgeable on politics, philosophy, pop-culture, fluid dynamics, whatever he could want, he’s never been disappointed, and that’s saying something considering Tony can be a demanding son of a bitch, or so he’s been told.

Steve though, Steve is special, and the fact that he thinks so is enough to make him bury his head in his hands and groan.

Somehow, he’s developed a little bit of a crush on an escort, and isn’t that the biggest laugh in the world?

He blames Steve completely. It’s his fault for being so good-looking and funny and kind and hell, stubborn and opinionated and sexy—did he mention the sexy? Because damn. Damn. He once spent the whole time he’d reserved having Steve try on one outfit after another—with Tony in the room the whole time, he’s not stupid—and they’d never even gotten to the sex.

Well. Okay. Maybe he’s a little stupid.

But he still doesn’t regret the fashion show.

Steve had been reluctant to accept the clothes afterward—it was against company policy or something else equally inane—which Tony had found oddly endearing (but then, he finds everything Steve does endearing, and he’s going to make himself gag, he really is), but he’d insisted. He likes seeing Steve in nice clothes, likes peeling him out of them even more, and Tony can admit that he gets a bit of a thrill knowing Steve’s wearing them especially for him.

Besides, if nothing else, it’s something for Steve to remember him by.

Tony’s not naïve enough to think Steve feels the same way. He's exchanging money for a service when all is said and done, and while he likes to think that Steve’s enjoyed himself during their time together—actually Tony knows he’s enjoyed himself because Steve comes like a fucking geyser—he knows it can’t last.

That’s why he’s cancelled their appointment tonight. Rather than wait for Steve to notice he’s gotten too attached, he’s decided to end it. Time to move on to bigger and better things. Or if not that, then at the very least, it’s time to move on to something else.

Tony takes a sip from his tumbler, staring into the fireplace and reminiscing about the first time Steve had come over. They’d ended up sitting in these chairs, drinking and talking, and after a couple of hours, it’d somehow turned into a drinking contest, with Tony confident that he could put Steve under the table without too much trouble because while Steve was bigger, he’d had years of practice on his side. The next thing he’d known, he’d been waking up in his bed with the mother of all hangovers and a note on the pillow saying Steve had had a wonderful evening but maybe Tony should learn how to handle his liquor.

It was that cheekiness that had gotten Tony to ask for him again. And then one thing had led to another, and suddenly they’re spending nearly every day in each other’s company, and they’re fucking over every conceivable surface, and Tony has to remind himself that they’re not dating, he’s paying for this, and Steve’s smiles aren’t meant just for him.

It’s nice to pretend for a while though.

He raises his glass in a silent toast to the vacant seat across from him. It’s the only reason he sees the shape out of the corner of his eye.

Tony dives out of the chair at the same time as he hears the muffled shot, and he lets out a pained gasp at the sudden intense burn in his shoulder, rolling as far away as he can, knowing his chances of getting out of this with just a scar to impress the ladies are slim to none.

“Tony? Tony?”

Well, this is unexpected, he thinks, as Steve comes barreling into the room wearing skin-tight leather, and maybe it’s shock setting in, but the foremost thought in Tony’s mind is that he didn’t buy him that.

Steve throws himself at the gunman, dodging the first bullet and deflecting the second with a—is that a shield? The assassin doesn’t have time for a third, and wow. If Tony weren’t bleeding out on the floor, he’d be so turned on right now.

“What are you doing?” Tony grits out as Steve kneels next to him, talking into a little radio that Tony really wants to get a closer look at, although maybe not right this second, the wound like another heartbeat in his shoulder, pulsing and pulsing. He’s putting as much pressure on it as possible, and perhaps he’s biased against watching his blood run through his fingers, but it doesn’t look good.

“What am I doing?” Steve asks, and Tony shouts as Steve covers his hand with his own, pressing down, and shit, that hurts. There goes Steve’s tip for the night, fucking hell. “What were you thinking canceling tonight? I was already downtown by the time I got the call! I could’ve been too late! I could’ve been—”

“Hey, I’m fine, it’s okay—”

“You are not fine!”

Steve tears at Tony’s shirt with his free hand, something Tony would normally be down with, but what with having just been shot and all—oh, ha, yeah. He groans as Steve applies the makeshift bandage, everything turning hazy around the edges from the pain, and it’s all he can do to not throw up. When Steve lifts him off the ground, it’s a relief to let go, the blackness sucking him under, down and down and down.

-----

“So,” Tony says. He stares at the flowers in Steve’s hand, at the clothes he’s wearing that have spent more time on the floor of his house than on Steve whenever he’s come over, and he doesn’t know what any of it means.

He’s been briefed. Death threats, corporate espionage, possible terrorists, the need for a bodyguard, blah, blah, blah. He gets it.

What he doesn’t understand is the guilty, vaguely hopeful look on Steve’s face.

“Tony. I’m sorry.”

“For what?” he asks and wonders if he could play the “recuperating from a near-fatal bullet wound card” and pretend to fall asleep. “You were just doing your—”

“I’m sorry,” Steve repeats, taking a step closer to Tony’s bed. “I wanted to tell you the truth—”

“You don’t have to apologize,” he says, plucking at the thin hospital blankets. “You saved my life—”

“It wasn’t all fake—”

“Which parts, Steve?” he bursts out, and he doesn’t mean to, he wasn’t going to get into this. Tony knows that he shouldn’t be angry, or at the very least, he shouldn’t be this angry. It’s not like it was ever real considering he’d been paying Steve to spend time with him, and in the end, Steve had saved his life. He knows, but he can’t help feeling deceived, can’t stop thinking that even though it’d been a business transaction, it’d been an honest one, something he’d entered with his eyes open, and if he’d been crazy enough to fall in love, well, it was no one’s fault but his own. But this? “Which parts weren’t a lie?”

Luckily for him, the nurse comes in just as Steve’s about to respond. Unluckily, she tells them that it’s just a standard checkup and that Steve can stay if he wants to, but Tony says, “No, he’s done. He was just leaving.”

And Steve goes.

-----

“I’m going to bring the car up,” Happy says, and Tony nods, signing the last of his discharge papers.

Except when he walks outside, it’s not Happy waiting for him, but Steve, standing in front of a Prius, and of course he drives a Prius. Of course he does.

“Hi, Tony,” Steve says, wearing clothes that Tony definitely did not buy him because they are ugly, like seriously ugly, and really, that's what Steve buys with his own money? He looks like an overgrown puppy, staring at Tony with big, soulful eyes and a downcast expression and damn it.

Damn it.

“I can’t believe you’re picking me up in a Prius,” he sighs, and the dawning happiness on Steve’s face makes his heart clench in his chest.