There are two girls performing what Steve is almost absolutely sure are sex acts in the middle of the dance floor. They are maybe sixteen. One is about three inches from falling out of her dress, the other maybe two. He cannot see anyone’s hands. Directly above his super-serum-enhanced ears, speakers are blasting a song about party rocks, which he thinks might be a kind of drug.
Not for the first time, he wonders exactly what year America finally lost its collective mind.
“Leave room for Jesus!” Thor bellows, sliding to a stop in his socks directly in front of the young ladies. He shimmies, in a way Steve did not know things that large could shimmy, between them, adding belatedly “Or the deity of your choice! Hail religious tolerance!”
A lusty cry of “THOR!” goes up from the crowd and teenage girls surround Steve’s teammate. The Norse god of thunder bops along, content to just parrot the phrases Steve told him to say with no actual regard for what they mean. From his point of view, there is a party going on, and to not participate in the festivities would be a great insult to Midgardian culture, and would reflect poorly upon the celebratory traditions of Asgard, which are by all (the only) accounts, so mighty and profuse as to command epics sung in their honor after great quantities of water the following morn. Also Steve suspects Thor may have been hitting the mead before they left the Tower. It’s pretty hard to tell. But at least Thor’s involved; each time Steve’s seen something that probably falls under the vague title of ‘chaperoning duties’, he’s been too mortified to approach.
“Watch your elbows, Thor, you’ll put their eyes out!” he shouts, trying to at least make himself feel useful. It’s been an hour and he still has the nagging sense that, even at their most polite, all modern high schoolers are constantly laughing at him; at the idea that one should dance with a girl face-to-face, with at least a few inches of breathing room, with hands above her waist, perhaps to music with more than the words ‘yeah!’ and ‘shots!’ in them.
Not that he would know much about dancing. But still.
“Cap! Intervention!” Clint’s voice rings over the music as the man himself swoops from the gym rafters, and Steve jerks himself away from the sight of girls (and some boys) doing all but actually taking Thor’s clothes off and dog-piling him, to dart into a mass of tuxedoed boys, who’re ringing two more teens, each with jackets stripped off and murder in their eyes. Maybe just grievous bodily harm. Disturbing the peace in their eyes, at least. Steve can’t make out what they’re snarling at each other but he catches enough profanity to know mamas have been invoked. Even on the streetcorners of 1930’s Brooklyn, mothers were sacrosanct unless you really wanted a knuckle sandwich.
At almost the same moment Cap pushes through, Natasha appears from the other direction, and with silent coordination, each grabs a teenager by the back of his shirt and walks him quickly out of the gymnasium, ducking through a door Clint helpfully props open. He offers them a grim smile as they march their protesting charges through to the quieter, cooler hallway, lined with blue lockers and barred windows. Clint chirps, “Remember, the children are our future!” and slams the door closed behind him. The words never leave a man behind come suddenly and precisely to the front of Steve’s brain.
“Hey, I didn’t start this, it’s all him, he’s fuckin’ crazy, man-” the taller boy, whose hair could be disheveled intentionally or from the fight, protests immediately, and the other kid starts trying to drown him out, “-what, no way, he’s got it out for me, you can ask anybody in there-” They both default to ranting up at Steve, who reaches frantically for any words, any words at all, that aren’t “Now, fellas, can’t we all try and get along here?” It had not gone well last time.
“Nngrhk.” He manages by thinking of three different ways to start and apparently using them all at once, Rogers it astonishes me they let you off the boat at Dover.
“Silence.” Natasha commands, low and threatening, “You. Red bow tie.”
The second boy spins to face her, and to his credit, his eyes stay above her neck. “Michael.”
“Michael, then. Tell me why you’re fighting.”
He opens his mouth to answer, winding up with anger, and she adds, “And if it’s something stupid, I will be disappointed. I like that song. I was almost enjoying myself in there.”
The kid’s mouth freezes, and his eyes flicker towards his opponent. Between the taller boy and looking back at Natasha, Steve watches the outrage drain out of him, replaced by mute terror.
“I – you know, I think I can let it go.” He gulps, blinking very rapidly. Steve almost feels sorry for him.
“I think I can too?” the tall kid squeaks out the last syllable. His eyes are fixed on Natasha’s left hand, which is very still over the outline of a – something long and thin, Steve can’t tell what, on her hip. Long and thin and given the law of averages, very very sharp.
“Excellent. Think you can let it go for the rest of the night? And let your friends know it’s resolved?” Natasha asks calmly.
The boys exchange identical glances of resignation and fear. “Yeah.” They chime in unison, and then Natasha gives them a dismissive nod, and they are bolting back down the hall.
“That was- how do you do that?” Steve knows he’s gaping at her, and he swore he was going to stop doing it every time the SHIELD agent was casually terrifying, but that was just impressive. When Steve had led three boys to a quiet classroom earlier, to convince them they really didn’t want to get into a fistfight over the same girl (who appeared to be stringing them all along), it had taken four parent volunteers and Bruce introducing himself with his I’m-Gonna-Hulk-or-Maybe-That’s-Just-A-Sneeze face to break up the ensuing melee.
He’d almost been ready to throw in the towel then – call Fury, call the principal, the fire department, anyone, and insist that having superheroes sponsor proms at high-risk schools was tantamount to flicking lit matches at kerosene spills – but obviously that wasn’t going to fly, and unless they stuck around there wasn’t enough police presence to keep the building open. Somewhere across town the Fantastic Four were also providing security, and the X-men were sponsoring two or three as well, and the thought of having to admit I got scared of the modern youth and we went back to Stark Tower to Charles Xavier was a pretty powerful deterrent.
“Well, for one thing, I didn’t try to reason with them. Logic doesn’t really work well on teenage boys. Either they respect you or they fear you, and the song’s almost over, so I went for the quicker route.” Natasha shuffled along to the beat for a moment, re-adjusting her hair tie, then looked quizzically up at him. “Poor Cap. You’re in way over your head, aren’t you?”
“I just don’t understand them. I don’t-” he glanced towards the door, hoping it wasn’t about to burst open and reveal Tony Stark laughing at him from the other side, “I mean, I was in the Army. Contrary to what- well, I guess, everyone – assumes, it actually does take some effort to shock me. But they’re only kids. And they’re already such-”
“Adults?” Natasha supplies.
“Dicks.” Steve breathes out, exasperated. The admission leaves him, somehow, even less relieved. He kind of hates himself for it. And not just for giving in to Clint’s favorite name for anyone who so much as cuts him off in traffic.
He’s sworn to protect and serve the country, fought Nazis and gods and been frozen for it, and he’s just now finding there’s about ten percent of the population he’d rather leave to Doom, if only because it would send the man slinking back to Latveria after overhearing his costume described as “like Bill O’Reilly had a wet dream where the American flag got trashed and fucked a Speedo.” Even without context for half of their pop-culture references, teenagers are just crushing Steve’s can-do spirit, or whatever’s left of it, nowadays.
She actually smiles at that. “Welcome to the millennials. They’re not actually all that bad, you know. Remember, this is the troubled school. They don’t sponsor violence-reduction reward programs for Bed-Stuy or Jefferson. We’re here because they’re dicks.” That last bit is almost cheerful, “And because the ones who aren’t complete tools deserve a nice prom where they feel safe to boogie down.” He has never heard the word ‘boogie’ come out of any SHIELD agent’s mouth before, but suddenly he can almost hear Fury saying it.
“Yeah. Yeah, I know. You’re right.” He exhales heavily, makes himself smile – so much practice, and he still can’t quite make it reach his eyes - and gestures back to the gym, “Shall we?”
“Once more into the breach. Try not to kill any of ‘em, I might need to use your quota.” Natasha claps a hand on his shoulder and opens the door before Steve can get it. He fumbles for a second, manages not to hit his head on the lintel, and plunges back into the overheating, painfully loud gymnasium.
He gives himself mental ‘teenager points’ for convincing several hyperactive guys that, no, trying to hang off the basketball hoops is probably not going to end well. He adds a few for taking a not-too-cheesy photo with the senior class officers, then promptly slides into the negative digits four minutes later by unthinkingly using the phrase ‘a real ducky shincracker!’ when a gang of girls comes by for autographs and asks how he likes the dancing. Apparently the phrase now is ‘cool’, ‘hot’, or ‘sweet’, which makes absolutely no goddamn sense to Steve, but he smiles and nods as the girls give him identical looks of pity, take their autographs, and run.
He slinks off to a dark corner, attempting to gently scold some groping kids behind the bleachers without using actual language, and tries to decipher the latest song until he realizes there are no actual words to it. He has a good view of Thor, who is now twirling like a girl in a chorus line, and roaring “Everybody let’s have some good clean fun!” and “Verily, henceforth grinding should be a gender-neutral activity!” He knows he told Thor the first one, but the second part is unfamiliar and just kind of beguiling, though suddenly all the kids start dancing differently.
“Hey, sugar, are you rationed?” There’s a mechanical voice from around the corner, and he leans forward to see Iron Man almost skipping towards him, visor snapping up so he can munch on a chocolate-chip cookie from the snack table, “What’s buzzin’, cousin? Ready to flip your wig and have a gas?”
“You’re using that Google thing to try and talk to me again, aren’t you.” Steve says wearily.
“Okay, first, Google is not a catch-all term for the internet, and we are going to have words and maybe a PowerPoint about that later because even Thor’s got a Twitter now, and second, I thought you would appreciate the effort I’m making at enjoying this ‘festive occasion’.” A giant iron suit performing quotation fingers is, delightfully, the least weird thing he’s seen tonight. It’s Tony’s thinnest armor, the briefcase set, and for once he’s not looming over Steve – no jetboots – and he looks almost proportional under the relatively small shielding. The cookie still seems sort of ridiculous, though.
“I’ve just talked at least seven at-risk youth out of a life of crime by showing them before and after photos of those muggers we caught yesterday, and I let a bunch of very lovely girls take photos with me in the suit, and I buttered up some of those teachers supervising the ticket table, and now I’m here talking to you and fuck, hang on a second, that kid’s got tabs of E, hold this-” he shoves the cookie at Steve and does a little shuffling dance coolly into the crowd, accepting high-fives and shutting his faceplate so it glows, before ever-so-smoothly escorting the kid off the dance floor, chatting so it doesn’t even look like he’s about to walk the girl over to the police officers.
Steve is so frustrated with himself for not catching whatever tip-off must have been obvious to Tony, he just shoves the cookie into his mouth whole, chewing as he stalks the perimeter of the gym one more time, maybe pretending Hitler might be in there somewhere. He tries to smile obligingly at the parent volunteers manning the punch, but – nope, yeah, he definitely just grinned with a mouthful of mashed cookie, and now that’s ten more people in New York who think Captain America is a total spaz.
(Spaz is his latest favorite new word. Clint writes them, with attributions, on Post-Its (coincidentally, one of his favorite new inventions) and sticks them to the big back wall of the living room, where Tony had once had a massive Mondriaan before spiriting it covetously away to somewhere the Hulk was unlikely to ever go. Last week was clusterfuck, courtesy of Nick Fury’s voicemail message. He’s feeling like both are appropriate for tonight.)
He retreats out in to the brightly lit main hallway, where the ticket tables and coat check are set up. Bruce had been installed at the coat check almost immediately upon arrival, when it was apparent that, yes, every person in Brooklyn under the age of eighteen was intent on seeing the Hulk in person tonight. Once he had control over whether or not the kids were able to get their belongings back, things went much smoother. The last time Clint checked in with him, he’d been teaching a bunch of the volunteer moms those Zen breathing exercises.
“Hey Steve.” Bruce is playing the Angry Birds game on his phone, and there’s a girl perched on the stool beside him, a tiny furrow between her eyebrows as she stares at the little screen. She appears to be directing the Angry Birds assault. “This is Louisa. She’s bored so she’s helping run the coat check. Louisa Dean, Steve Rogers.”
“Hi.” She shakes his hand, smile bright against her dark skin, and something warm kindles inside Steve when he realizes it’s sincere. She asks, “Do you want to check your shield?”
“Er- no. No, thank you. Sorry.”
“Okay. It’s just been quiet for a while now. Oh, man, I hate the green birds, skip this level if you can.” She directs the last to Bruce, who obliging shuffles past it.
“Do you not like the dancing?” Steve asks, politely.
Louisa rolls her eyes. “That? Isn’t dancing. That’s sex with your pants on, and it’s reinforcing negative gender stereotypes that already run rampant in this school, never mind the bias against gay and lesbian couples who don’t want to dance like they’re mating.” Steve nods and ‘hmm’s while he parses that sentence, and when he looks over her shoulder he sees Thor’s cloak hung carefully on one of the racks, and suddenly some things slot into place.
“I really, really agree with you on that.” He says slowly.
The kid doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so Steve figures he should just be a man and ask, “Er- Bruce, I should probably already know this, but what kind of drugs am I watching out for? Tony just cornered a kid with something I’d never even heard of, I forgot to read up before we left.” Honestly, he’d assumed chaperoning school dances probably hadn’t changed much in seventy years and hadn’t done any research other than remembering the rote phrases the nuns at his school always used when boys and girls were hanging out a little too close at recess. Thus Thor’s rather limited retinue of ‘responsible adult’ lines. He’d mostly been on the lookout for hip flasks, but ever since two dozen freshmen showed up drunk as skunks in the parking lot half an hour in, he’s had to adjust his tactics.
“Don’t bother with weed.” The girl says flatly, “The amount of punishment a minor gets for a first offense is so minimal it’s hardly even worth the report time. And those kids generally aren’t too bad, they’re just sort of coasters. Worry about the gang initiates and the angry drunks, they’re the problem children tonight.”
“She’s probably right, but on principle we can’t really ignore anything that we see. Cigarettes that look hand-rolled – well, if they’re smoking anything in general, check it, they shouldn’t have it if they’re under eighteen. Honestly, Tony’s probably best at catching that stuff, he hung with a pretty hard-partying crowd back in the day.” Bruce explains, pausing his game. “If you see kids with needles, or trading pills back and forth, or – I don’t know, are high schoolers still into cocaine? That was big when I was an undergrad, I think by now everyone’s realized it’s stupid.”
“I dunno.” Louisa shrugs, reaching under the desk to pull off a pair of shimmery high heels and wiggle her toes, “I’ve never met anybody who said they’d tried it, but my friends aren’t really the druggie type, they’re more the take-all-the-APs sort. But, considering it’s here? Almost definitely. If anyone’s doing anything they’ll go to the bathrooms, though, they’re not idiots.”
“Am I even allowed to patrol in bathrooms?” Steve asks. He’d been drilled very carefully by SHIELD that old ladies were not to be approached for street crossing, lost children were to be taken directly to police officers, and New Yorkers should on principle be left alone at all costs. He had a feeling adults in student bathrooms were, as Tony eloquently put it, sketchy as balls.
Bruce shrugged, “Ask the parents. It’s a new era of safety. When I was in high school we still had our own smoking lounges, I don’t think they even cared about strangers in the building.” Louisa looks over at him in shock.
“Dude. You are not that old. My parents are way older than you.”
“When I was in high school we would duck out in the middle of the day and go to baseball games. Or go and grab a beer at lunch.” Steve says gleefully, just to watch the girl’s eyes go even wider, “But that was in junior and senior years, after they repealed Prohibition.”
“Nuh-uh.” Louisa grins, “That’s – I guess I never really thought about it. I mean, I know, from the news and all, but you just don’t seem that old.” Steve has to laugh at that, because it’s the exact opposite of the way he’s felt all night, and okay, maybe not every New York public school student will be left to the mercies of Victor Von Doom.
“And when Thor was in High School, you could battle frost giants on the way to class and get wooly mammoth nuggets in the cafeteria.” Bruce keeps a straight face but Steve can see his eyes twinkling a little – Banner is better with people than he thinks he is, and his quirky, too-often stifled sense of humor never fails to make Steve laugh. It’s a shame the public so often fails to distinguish Bruce from the Hulk, and Hulk’s good deeds from the city’s carefully tallied property damage records.
“Can you believe it, fourteen millennia and still the only thing on the menu worth eating.” Louisa cracks up, spurring him to make yet more outlandish claims about Thor’s youth, and Steve ducks out gracefully, because very few things make him happier than seeing Bruce Banner with an open smile, talking to someone who isn’t one of the Avengers or SHIELD. He forces himself to go back into the gym, where he’s needed, where he’s supposed to be. He actually kind of likes this song, he’s heard it on the radio at the grocery store – it’s repetitive but catchy, a chorus about love in a hopeless place, and it kind of speaks to him, enough that he’s bobbing his head to it.
“Having fun, Cap?” Clint shouts from a story above, swinging down by one arm and making a whole cotillion of volunteer moms gasp. He keeps insisting the rafters are giving him good surveillance on the whole room, but Steve has to wonder if he just likes swinging around like a monkey, getting dirty and not having to make chit-chat with the students. Some of them had seen him at the gates and called him a ‘hipster’ for his sleeveless purple hoodie and black jeans, and for once he hadn’t even snapped back at them, just mumbled something about color blocks and retreated.
“Yeah. Anything to report, Hawkeye?”
“Eh, some girls getting their Regina George on in the far corner by the stage. Just go stand there looking muscle-y, they’ll probably get all flustered before any shit goes down.”
“What’s a Regina George?” Steve calls back.
“Cultural reference. Groundbreaking documentary about adolescent behavior.” Clint says, but there’s that snarky tone that tips Steve off whenever Clint’s really excited about something and being sarcastic, “Movie night’s tomorrow, you’ll like it.”
“If no one attacks the city.”
“If Loki himself shows up out of the sky, I’ll make him sit down and watch with us. He’ll probably identify. His hair is full of secrets.” Clint hisses maniacally, flips around on the strut like it’s a parallel bar – one of the volunteers actually screams this time – and launches himself back up into the darkness.
“Er- sorry about that. I’m sorry, I really can’t explain him. Government Issue.” Steve apologizes vaguely towards the refreshments table, and wanders back into the heart of the party. The situation with the girls is defused less by Steve’s attempts to have them resolve their differences and recognize common ground, than him removing his mask because it’s so damn hot by the dance floor, but they all walk away looking happy and sort of glazed, so he’ll take what he can get.
Thor commandeers him for all of about thirty seconds, hauling him into the mad, constantly moving sea of bodies, where Steve throws his hands in the air (“like you just don’t care, my shield-brotha!” Thor yells, grinding in a really awkward way against Steve’s back) mostly so he doesn’t accidentally touch anything underage that he shouldn’t be touching. He gets back out as soon as he can, and flings himself at the back wall behind the massive speakers and sound system, where at least no one can see him. It’s a really good thing the Nazis never had dance parties like this to infiltrate, because aside from subtle infiltration not really being his style, Steve’s pretty sure he would’ve volunteered to go back to Alamogordo first.
“Hey. Surviving? I just confiscated enough uppers to knock the Hulk off his ass, I think those kids were in a legit gang or something.” Iron Man asks, sidling up to him. Before he can answer, an impossibly short Latina girl runs up with her prom ticket and a Sharpie and asks them both to sign it – they oblige, snap a photo on her cell phone, and wait a few moments to make sure no one else is coming. Tony snaps the faceplate up and grins at him, saying something that, without the armor’s voice enhancement, is unintelligible.
“What?” Steve yells back.
“I said, not so much Glenn Miller as you remember from your prom? I promise, you get used to the Gaga after a while, it’s like background noise eventually.” Tony smirks.
“I don’t really know - I never went to a prom.” he shouts, “My high school had to cancel it the year I graduated.”
“What?” Tony says again, though it’s clear from the look on his face he means he’s confused, not that he couldn’t hear.
“It was the Depression, Tony.” Steve leans closer, lips brushing almost against the helmet, tired of having to yell, “Most schools didn’t hold dances for a couple years. Even if they’d rustled up some decorations and punch, none of us would’ve been able to afford nice clothes to wear. Sometimes there were more casual dances at people’s houses, but- well, I was kind of shy. Didn’t get invited much.”
Tony just stares back at him.
“I was also ninety-eight pounds, five-foot-seven, and had a smart mouth like you wouldn’t believe, so that didn’t do me any favors.” He adds. Tony is still gaping. “Uh- are you okay? Is this that green-screen thing? Bruce said-”
Tony shakes himself, unfreezing, “Green what- blue-screen, Steve. Blue-screen of death. No. I just figured – you’re the All-American Hero, right, like, apple pie and ‘save the last dance for me’ and dames waiting on the home front or whatever, and you didn’t get a high school dance? That’s just fucking sad.” He has to shout to be heard over the next song that comes on, something something boots with the fur, Steve doesn’t even want to know any more, so he just focuses on Tony’s chatter, “What about after school, though? From the movies you’d think World War Two was an extended musical sequence with brief interludes for the Blitz and mustache grooming. Oh, remind me when we get back, there’s a meme I gotta show you, you’ll love this. Just remind me, ‘Hitler Reacts’, okay, ‘cause I’ll forget otherwise-”
Steve breaks in because he knows Tony’s likely to wind up six miles from the original topic, and by then Steve’ll be too confused to remember what he was supposed to answer. “Listen, I spent the first year trying desperately to get into the war, then the next year being paraded around like a trick pony, then the two years after that on the front lines. We weren’t in the – musical sequence - part of the war, I don’t even know what- it was a lot of soggy forest campouts and shelled-out villages, to be honest. Swell guys, but no Fred Astaires, y’know?” He swallows against the sudden tightening in his throat. “I had meant to – there was this girl. My girl, really. Peggy. She was going to teach me how to dance. We had a date and everything, and then I got – you know. Frozen. So, no, I’ve never been to a real dance. I guess this is the first.”
Without missing a beat, Tony shouts back “Cap. That…sucks.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
Tony grabs his shoulder, “No, seriously – this is unacceptable. It sucks hard. Like, golf ball through a hosepipe sucks. And blows, and bunch of other metaphors. I am actually pissed at the universe for you.” Steve can’t help but snort at that, and the earnest look on Tony’s face as he says it. “Come on. C’mon, come with me, the delinquents probably won’t kill each other for fifteen minutes. If they do we’ll say it was affirmative action Darwinism.” Steve puts up token protests as Tony tows him towards the back doors, but as soon as he can smell the hint of fresh air from outside, cool and free of perfume or that horrible AXE stuff or sweaty teenager, he gives up. Steve’s frankly kind of astonished there’s no kids out behind the gym – maybe there’s a better place to do some heavy necking these days? Or they just don’t need to hide any more – and he takes a few deep, refreshing breaths, tipping his head back against the cool brick wall. It’s nice out, a little chilly, but nice.
“Hey, hit the release for me? Forgot to fix the shoulder joints in this suit, they’re still all fucked up from that stealth drone thing.” Tony asks once the helmet snaps back, and Steve has to fumble a little in the low light before he snags the catch that lets Tony’s briefcase armor manually collapse. “Ugh! Tony, that’s disgusting, you’ve gotta be dying in there,” he yelps after getting an involuntary palmful of sweaty hair at the base of Tony’s neck. He wipes his hand on the wall and it’s still damp.
“Yeah, always. Better A/C’s on the top of the list for this summer’s projects. I didn’t really build it for long-term use, didn’t think I’d want to be on the ground for extended periods. But most flooring doesn’t stand up to the Mark Six, so…” Tony shakes his shoulders, and the top half of the armor starts folding in on itself, sliding up his arms and clicking open at the back, “It’s a priority, but first I want to work on the new Quinjet plans, at least something to show Fury, and I’ve got some ideas that need to be finished for end-of-year budget with R&D, and there’s the Kopasik contest submissions-” As he shimmies out of the armor still listing off his projects, stepping out in stocking feet and kneeling to finish sliding all the pieces together, neat and quick as those little robot toys Clint likes to futz around with, Steve gets a better idea of how uncomfortable it has to be in the Iron Man suit. Tony’s sweating straight through his white t-shirt, and even the glow of the arc reactor is a bit misty. He has a pair of jeans on, too, so old and worn they’re almost gone at the knees and pockets, but they’re also old enough to be tight-fitting at the hips and thighs, probably not that great when it’s 90-plus degrees inside the armor.
“Are you wearing Bugs Bunny socks?” Steve finally notices, as Tony snaps the briefcase together and pulls his tiny, science-fiction-looking mobile phone from his back pocket.
“What? Oh, yeah. Happy’s got this – I don’t know, this thing, about really terrible Christmas gifts. The tackier the better. He bought me a whole pack of these Looney Tunes ones a few years ago, I think mostly for the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote ones, y’know, genius perpetually confounded. It’s laundry day, or it was sometime last week. I gotta get my shit together.” Tony rambles, all the while tapping out words on his little touch screen. Steve finds it a little hard to believe that a man who owns what’s probably the smartest ‘smart phone’ in the country is down to his last pair of socks, but that’s either the most Tony Stark-ish thing he can imagine, or as usual, Tony’s just bad at admitting how much certain people matter to him. He’s seen Happy Hogan and Tony together, and Agent Coulson’s simple explanation of ‘Hogan’s his body man’ had been as much an understatement as ‘Pepper’s my PA’ or ‘Rhodey and I went to college together.’
“Okay.” Tony announces after a solid minute of what looks like texting, “We’re going to teach you how to dance. At least one recognizable move, hopefully more, and then we’re going to go back in there and you, Steven Something Rogers, are going to have attended – and danced at – your first senior prom. Actually, what is your middle name? I feel like that’s a thing I should know, maybe not as, like, a principle, but if you’re going to spend-”
“I haven’t got one.” Steve catches up to what Tony was actually saying there, “Wait, what? Tony, I don’t think this is the venue for – I mean, this isn’t my prom, there’s tons of cameras in there, and I’m almost definitely a dead hoofer, besides, I don’t think Captain America should be seen dancing to anything, much less songs about drinking or drugs or s- having relations, I mean, at least not in uniform-”
Tony holds up a finger, “Okay, I’m gonna stop you there, because – first of all, you just kept yourself from saying the word ‘sex’ out loud and went with ‘relations’ for my benefit, which was, just, precious, especially because I’m such a delicate flower of whateverhood, and I’m not wearing the suit so I can’t Google what a dead hoofer is, but it sounds gross, and also, who the hell cares? We’re here out of the goodness of our hearts and the absence of Nick Fury’s. Showing the Avengers being kind of goofy and relatable is probably the goal here- ‘Look, we dance all funny, just like you, mortals!’ More so in Thor’s case. Anyway, you’re ninety-five fucking years old, Steve, and you’ve never been dancing before. If I didn’t rectify this situation it would be like watching a puppy fall down an escalator for a century. I mean, it would never stop being cute, but eventually, everyone goes to the circus, am I right?”
“I honestly have no idea.” Steve answers helplessly.
“And with that vote of confidence, we’re off.” Tony says, just as the door swings open behind him. Steve jumps to attention in case he’s about to have to separate lip-locked teenagers, but it’s just Clint and Natasha, ducking out into the dim alley like they’re casing the joint.
“Emergency?” Clint asks dryly. He’s covered in dust and grit from hanging out in the rafters, but looks deeply pleased with himself. Natasha just quirks one eyebrow upward.
“Were you aware,” Tony says grandly, for someone who is literally dripping sweat onto his Looney Tunes socks, “That Steve has never been to a dance before? Has never even danced before?”
They both look at him in surprise. “Never?” Natasha says softly.
“I always thought you had, like, secret swing-dancing powers.” Clint blurts out, “Like in the movies.”
“What in the hell are all these musical war movies you two keep watching?” Steve demands, looking between Tony and Clint accusingly, “There was no dancing, the only singing was really filthy songs about prostitutes and Hitler-”
“White Christmas?” Tony volunteers, like he knows it might not count.
“South Pacific.” Clint says more confidently.
“Name one more and I’ll believe you.” Steve insists, and neither of them says anything, shuffling their feet abashedly on the concrete.
“You texted.” Bruce’s head pops out of the door, followed by Thor’s, which has considerably more contact sparkles on it.
“Don’t you have a coat check to dutifully guard?” Clint squints at him.
“I got a minion, she’s running the show.” Clint gives him a suitably impressed look, “I know, right? I’ve never had one before, it’s nice. I finally see why Victor has so many Doombots.”
“What task would you have the Avengers assemble for?” Thor asks, “For I have promised to meet many of the children in armed combat before the night is over.”
“Combat-?” Steve gapes.
“Arm wrestling match.” Natasha explains.
“The local tradition to test a man’s valor.” Thor beams.
“I think locally, that’s probably more like knocking over a liquor store.” Bruce throws in, gesturing to the rusty chain-link fence and grimy street beyond.
“Back to the point, Team ADD. We’re teaching Steve how to dance, because of reasons, which are both valid and lengthy. Slight problem; I pretty much only know how to ballroom dance and do that mosh-y flailing thing from rock concerts.” Tony ticks the two options off on his fingers, leaning back on one foot and staring up at the opposite wall. “Since Steve can’t get drunk he can’t really appreciate the moshing thing. And I really don’t think I should teach him to follow in a waltz, it would just look really ridiculous.”
“I’m going to look ridiculous anyway, Tony, really, this isn’t the time or place for me to-”
Natasha talks right over him, “I’ve had some ballroom classes.”
“Guys, you’re not listening, here, because I’m not actually going to do this, I’ll just humiliate myself and whoever’s dancing with me- ” Steve insists.
Thor nods contemplatively, shedding glitter. “No. It is true, Captain, you should not dance with a partner.”
“Thank you, Thor,” Steve breathes, “Now can we please go back insi-”
“We must all dance together. It is the best way. That way our triumph will be shared in the bonds of brotherhood. And sisterhood, Natasha, I apologize for the inherent patriarchy of the English language.” Bruce is elbowing Clint, pointing at their newly politically correct teammate, and mouthing ‘the best minion.’
“Um- thank…you?” she says, visibly disturbed, “Ballroom isn’t fast to learn, through, especially if he has to lead. And I know for a fact Clint failed the SHIELD class, so we wouldn’t all be able to.”
“Tasha!” Clint hisses.
“In all fairness, the instructor is…exacting.” Natasha adds with a wicked sparkle to her eye, one that if Steve suspects, if pursued, might lead straight to Director Fury in a black leotard, which is something he never, ever wants to have inside his head.
“Not ballroom. Not salsa. Swing? I tried swing back in college.” Bruce suggests, but everyone shakes their heads, “We should. Take a class or something, I mean. It’s fun. Easy.”
“Or we could forget all about this nonsense?” Steve suggests again, dying a little inside. He can’t do this, not in the costume, when he’s supposed to stand for things, instead of falling over like an idiot and crushing innocent people with his massive klutzy self. The serum had given him superior reflexes but, when flustered, he still tended to think of himself as five-four and toothpick thin, and smash into narrow spaces and low doorjambs accordingly.
“Am I the only one who’s going to suggest the obvious?” Clint drawls, hopping up on top of the Dumpster and kicking his boots against the side. With all eyes on him, he says “Square-dancing.” Bruce actually winces. “Common denominator. Staple of public education since fuck knows when. Little do-si-do, little box step-”
“Ah- private, all-boys academy. Like I said, ten years of ballroom dancing, French, and pervasive homoeroticism. No do-si-do...ing.” Tony says, waving his hand in the air with one of those unique Stark eyebrow-shrugs that say why haven’t I upgraded all the people to robots yet.
“What is square dancing?” Thor demands, “I want to learn.”
“We didn’t even have to learn that when it was popular.” Steve shudders.
“No.” Natasha says flatly, and that matter is closed.
They run through a half-dozen ideas, stymied by time constraints, some very different skill sets and cultural backgrounds, and Steve’s pleas for them to stop talking about this like it’s a real thing they should actually do at a high school prom they’re meant to be chaperoning. Clint also pulls out two water bottles he’d confiscated from students, which turn out to be full of, respectively, Everclear, and something that smells like the bathtub vodka Steve’s downstairs neighbors used to brew during Prohibition. It’s a mark of his desperation that he stays focused on halting the ‘Steve must dance’ plan and doesn’t get on his teammates for drinking when they’re supposed to be responsible adults here. It’s just barely enough they’re noticeably more giggly and suggestible afterwards. Tony claims sneaky back-alley drinking is part of the prom experience Steve stop giving me the stink-eye.
“The YMCA!” Bruce suggests, “Everyone knows that. And the dance is in the name, it’s dead easy. Lots of arm-waving, Thor, you’ll love it, it’s the same four letters over and over.”
“Wait, I- you just spell letters with your arms? I could do that.” Steve insists, but Tony shakes his head like a wet dog, eyes wide and serious.
“Trust me, Steve, and if you ever trust me, do it now - I will show you when we get back, but there are very good reasons you shouldn’t go out there and perform the YMCA in your costume. There is historical and cultural context you know not of, okay, there is an Indian and a construction worker and a policeman-”
“Okay, fine, Tony, yes. I mean, what did you even dance to at your proms?” he demands eventually, and there’s a moment of awkward silence, which Tony uses to knock back the last of both bottles.
“Has anyone here even been-” He gapes.
“No.” Natasha says, pointing to Clint, then herself, Thor, Bruce, and Steve, “Classified, definitely no, I somehow doubt it, and, well, obviously no.”
“There was a feast for the day I faced the rites of manhood in tournament.” Thor says, “We slaughtered a fattened calf and the ladies of my mother’s court danced around it.”
“That absolutely does not count as a prom, but rent Carrie sometime and we’ll talk, big guy.” Tony crosses an arm across his chest, covering the glow of his reactor, tucking one thumb just under his lip as he stares at the lot of them. “There is one solution here that I see.”
“Surrender this impulse and go about our duties?” Steve suggests, wondering when his life followed his country down the fucking rabbit hole.
“The one dance to rule them all. The one dance I am absolutely sure all of us know, and that can be taught in moments to our temporally challenged friends. The catchiest dance of nineteen ninety-five.” Tony’s eyes are glowing with something almost inhumanly gleeful, demonic in the dim, grimy light of the little alley. “Steve, your first dance is going to be the Macarena.”
This, to Steve, sounds sort of Latin and maybe even a little sophisticated. Like Rudolph Valentino or something. Maybe this won’t be as bad as he’s thinking. Maybe, for once, he will be suave.
“Oh God.” Natasha moans, dropping her forehead into an open palm, “Really?”
No, apparently not.
“Deny you know it. Deny its hip-shaking lust for life.” Tony is already flipping through his phone for music, and kicks Clint off the dumpster to set it up on a little pop-up tripod, speakers sliding out from the sides. Natasha glares but doesn’t say anything. “Exactly. Clint, Bruce, you were conscious and not paralyzed at the time, right?”
“Yeah.” They chorus, Bruce adding, “Also, and I get the sense you don’t care about this, a doctoral candidate. With dignity.”
“Absolutely right, my dear Doctor Banner. Lots of waving, Thor. Tons of movement. Spinning. You’ll love this.” He promises, and hits ‘play’. A synthesized beat spills out, louder than Steve thought possible for such a small device.
And as if by magic, four Avengers line up together facing the back wall of the gymnasium, Steve and Thor standing in front of them. Bruce is shaking his limbs out like he’s about to go running, and Clint cracks his knuckles ominously. The bad lighting makes it all look far more dramatic, Bruce and Tony in sharp contrasts of light and shadow, Clint and Natasha to the edges, softly lit.
“Watch closely, padawan. Today you are a Jedi.” Tony winks at him (he thinks he’s being a smartass, but Steve knows how the remote works now, he’s seen all six movies even though Tony told him there were only three), and then there are women chanting in Spanish-accented English to a second beat and handclaps. Natasha counts down like she doesn’t even know she’s speaking, tapping her foot in time, “Three, two, one-”
To the rhythm of the music they holds their arms out, then flip their palms up – Clint is lagging a little by the time they’ve gone from crossing their arms from shoulders to neck to hips, swears and skips a step to catch up as they put their hands on their lower backs, the male chorus chants “Heey, Macarena!” and they swivel their hips, jump and spin, facing left, and clap. Again, they’re throwing themselves into the moves, and this time Steve thinks he might vaguely remember the order by the time they’re all facing back towards the gymnasium wall. Bruce lets out a surprised bark of laughter and Tony calls “pause!”, stopping the music. Natasha’s almost grinning.
“See? Simple. Straightforward. Timeless.” Tony beams up at him with those manic eyes. Maybe it’s the Everclear he polished off. “And let me tell you, those kids? Love it.”
“Were they even born in ninety-five-?”
“It was generational. Lasted for years. Still popular. C’mon, line up, Capsicle, feel the nineties burn through ya. In a friendly way, I mean, not, like, awkward…burning sensations? There shouldn’t be burning sensations. If there’s burning you’re doing it wrong. Or so Pepper says.”
Steve flushes bright red, he can feel the heat rising across his nose and burning on his cheeks. “No, guys, listen, this is a terrible idea. I’m really, really, not– I mean, and this is the kids’ night, and I’m going to interrupt it, and-”
Tony looks actually kind of serious as he steps over, snags Steve’s wrist and half-circles it with his thumb and pointer finger. “Hey. Hey Cap. Look, prom is – it’s just supposed to be fun. Hang out with your friends and dance like an idiot because you feel like it, not because you’re impressing anybody, that’s why they stick it all the way at the ass-end of high school.” He squeezes gently, “And listen, as someone who’s had a decade of professional dance lessons forced on him from the age of five, can I just say, I still can’t tell the difference between good and bad dancing. Not even that capable myself. Unless you actually fall over and bleed on things, we’re good, the Macarena’s all kinds of forgiving.”
Steve can feel his resolve melting at the plea in Tony’s voice, the totally illogical part of his brain that howls he’s all you got for a best friend and you know it, just loosen up for once would you. It sounds a lot like Bucky. But this is tonight, and tomorrow he has to lead these people into goddamn battle. He’s wearing the costume, for God’s sakes. Can he afford to let them see him being a miserable failure at something so basic as dancing?
“Steve, I don’t know anyone who deserves a high school prom more. I swear, these kids won’t mind sharing with you. Letting you have one dance at a real prom is a pretty small price to pay for Fury making all of us drag our asses out here tonight.” Tony smiles up at him, encouraging and unguarded, not even a little sarcastic or smug. That hits him hard, shuts up the logical part of him faster than any argument could. It even quiets the voice in the very back of his head, the one that whispers I’ll show you how, just be there-
“Yeah, Cap, if none of us except Tony have even been to our own prom, isn’t it time we all – whatever, did it? I mean, we’ve gone dancing since then, but technically it’s everyone’s first prom. Some kinda dumbass team building exercise. We can get SHIELD credit hours for this or someshit. Maybe skip the next leadership seminar thing they do.” Clint shrugs like he couldn’t care less, but his eyes are solemn as he steps back into the line, waves Thor in behind him, “You got this?” Steve knows he’s just sort of standing there, mouth moving like a fish trying to come up with anything that doesn’t sound completely idiotic.
“Listen, you wanted to learn how to dance, right?” Bruce calls at him, “Here’s your chance.”
“Here, I’ll manhandle.” Tony says, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively and just about wrestling Steve into their little formation with a wiry strength Steve didn’t know he had outside his suit. He plasters himself over Steve’s back and arms, hands clasped around his forearms, and calls “Restart- play!” The beat starts again, and Tony sways against him in time.
“Your shirt is still disgusting.” Is all Steve can really process, because he can actually feel how gross and sweat-soaked is it through his own costume. He’d swear he can even feel Tony’s half-stubble half-goatee beard thing prickling between his shoulder blades. Soft, nice-smelling Peggy Carter, he’s not.
“Whatever, Pretty in Pink. You’re going to love this. Three, two one-” and Tony’s steering him rapidly through the steps, just jerking his arms around, Steve trying not to resist, trying to remember each move, and maybe committing to memory the sensation of a really damp, hard chest against his back, the feel of the reactor. All too soon Tony shouts ‘Heey, Macarena!” with the music and slaps Steve’s ass, sending him jumping.
“Pause.” He calls, “And then you clap and do it again!” He looks so pleased with himself, even grungy and tousled, Steve can’t help but chuckle, as Tony throws himself back into the line and jumps in where the rest of them are, wiggling his hips and crossing his arms over his chest. Steve follows, if only for the sheer surrealism of the moment, because that’s his team there, making idiots of themselves for his sake.
When they jump and spin again he almost tips over into Natasha, but catches himself. He can see Thor from this direction and the guy is going to town, singing along atonally and shaking his head like a huge golden retriever, and Clint is intent on perfecting his rhythm, while Bruce doesn’t even seem to care, he’s just going through the motions as fast as he can, face split by a huge smile. They go through the second verse, Natasha calling directions for Thor and Steve’s benefit, and by the third time, he’s actually got it. He can dance. Not that well, but he’s doing all the moves in the right order and not crashing into anyone, and Steve finds he’s shaking his hips and bobbing along to the beat.
“Heey, Macarena!” six Avengers wail in unison, spinning and clapping their hands and starting all over again. He doesn’t even know what the words are, but somehow he’s almost singing along. It’s his first dance and it’s actually fun.
That’s when Steve realizes he wants nothing else from tonight, than to say he learned how to dance from his best friends, that it was ridiculous and embarrassing and the most in the world he’s felt for a long while. It’s not a week next Saturday at the Stork Club, not something slow; it’s not what he expected from his life, the future’s nothing like he dreamt. But it’s where he is, and he’s startled when the song ends, sure it’s over too soon. He’s breathing hard from jumping around and laughing at the same time.
“You see?” Natasha mutters, punches him in the arm.
“Dancing’s swell.” Steve gasps out, astonished, and Tony’s shouting “Duh!” halfway to the door already, ushering them back into the noise and the black lights, into a wave of heat and B.O.
“It will be an honor to celebrate alongside you, my friend.” Thor claps a bruising hand to his back as he ducks through the entrance.
“And now you know. A public service announcement from the tipsier half of the Avengers.” Tony adds, waving him up. On the concrete step he’s taller than Steve, and he just leans forward, and Steve’s eyes go huge before Tony kisses him with dry lips, lightning-quick, sending that red flush coursing over him almost instantly.
“Happy prom. Gotta, y’know, the thing- a date, sorry we don’t have one for you. But anyway. Covering all your tropes, here. Save the next dance, Cap, it’s all yours. Ours. Avengers…es? You get it.” Tony tells him, grinning like an idiot, and Steve hasn’t the slightest clue what that was even about.
Before he can move, Tony and his hefty armor briefcase are up on the stage, talking to the DJ, while Thor tows them all out towards the raging center of the dancing. Kids just part like the Red Sea for Thor as the last song slides off and a short whine of static comes over the massive speakers.
“Children of the nineties!” Tony shouts into the microphone, and oh God he’s actually making a whole thing out of this and Steve is not looking forward to the meeting he’s going to have with Director Fury tomorrow, “It is your duty - as Americans - to dance the Macarena with Cap, because he missed it the first time around. For America.” Steve thinks he sees one boy, with tears in his eyes and a poorly concealed flask in his pocket, salute.
If they’re all still laughing at him and his ridiculously outdated everything, they’re hiding it pretty well. As a familiar rhythm starts to swell and the lines form themselves in a moment, the kids – weird hair and too many piercings and what the hell are they wearing nowadays and all – are chattering with excitement about dancing with Captain America. At the very least, now they can laugh at him about his absurdly bad dancing instead. Some stalk off disinterested, but most stay, and out of the corner of his eye Steve sees Bruce run back in with his ‘minion’, who looks absolutely elated to line dance with the more graceful half of the Hulk.
Then Tony’s darting into line at his side, the beat is winding up towards the beginning of the dance. Steve’s stomach does one last flip-flop in token protest.
“Oh hell.” He breathes out, and then Tony shouts the countdown and he’s dancing, making an ass of himself in front of a couple hundred teenagers and enjoying it, hands crossing from shoulders to neck to hips and doing the stupid hip-swivel before yelling “Heeey, Macarena!” jumping and spinning the wrong direction, and having to turn back around as he claps.
“Cap! Cap! Cap!” some of the kids are chanting, and Clint wolf-whistles from somewhere behind him, but he doesn’t stop to look, he just keeps up with the song, ignoring the camera flashes. He’s dizzy and elated when it finally ends, and he stumbles sideways, right into Tony, who just barely manages to shove him back upright.
“You were great!” Tony shouts over the cheers of the crowd and the beginning of a new song he doesn’t recognize, “Wasn’t so bad, was it? Now you’re outta your shell, it’s on to tequila, Disneyland and strippers!”
“You too!” Steve gestures wildly, “You know, your armor. Out of it. Wait, wha- no tequila, no, Tony, no-” They get off the dance floor with the rest of the team, accept congratulations and laughter from the other chaperones, and then they kind of have to get back to work, because while Steve was having a little existential crisis in the back alley, people were smoking in the girls’ bathroom and Natasha has to go scare those same two boys from earlier into behaving again. The crowing of a Prom King and Queen is unexpectedly contentious and he has to restrain a bunch of girls in massive puffy ball gowns from tearing each other’s hair out. But the rest of the night he’s still riding the high, feels like he might have a handle on modern teenagers, and the spot right between his shoulder blades never stops tingling, his lips still feel hot and strange.
By 1 AM, when they finally shut down, the arrest count is fourteen, and the police have issued 30-some alcohol violation warnings, but no one’s been hurt, no fights actually got to the point of fisticuffs, and the building is still standing. While janitors start sweeping up debris from the gymnasium Steve ducks out back again, into the cool, silent alley, just to breathe for a moment. Tony’s already there, with some of the little half-pint water bottles from the refreshment tables. Thank God, Steve was a little afraid he might’ve died of dehydration by now, bunkered away in the suit the rest of the night.
“Oh, hey, Steve. We got everyone out of the place? No fire, no explosions, no killer fish creatures left behind?” he chatters, sitting cross-legged against the far wall. His briefcase is folded up beside him again, and his shirt’s nearly translucent, the reactor shining clearly through to cast the alley in a dim blue glow. “’Cause that’s would’ve made this a prom to really remember, aliens attacking only to find all of us doing the fucking Macarena-”
“Jesus, Tony, do you ever stop talking?” Steve asks fondly, slipping down the wall beside him.
“Mostly no.” Tony looks up at him from under dark lashes, “But that’s why you all love me. Running commentary on this modern world of ours, insight into the human condition, blah blah blah genius ramblings. People pay me for this shit, you know. Big bucks.” He hands Steve one of the little water bottles, “Hey, listen, if that was, like, embarrassing, if that was one of those boundary things again, I can, ah, well, Jarvis can remember for me-”
“It was fantastic, Tony. I actually really enjoyed myself tonight, I didn’t expect to.” He cuts him off, and then he places one massive hand over Tony’s mouth to keep him from protesting again, “No, seriously. I had a good time. It was embarrassing, but...well, I’d- I worked dancing up in my mind as this huge, scary rite of passage and you guys just made it fun. Which I think is what it’s supposed to be. It’s better than having my own dance to go to back in 1935, because now- this one’s here. The memory’s with people who matter to me.”
“Mrghmphf.” Tony says agreeably, then squirms and licks his palm.
“Oh- Stark, uck, what is wrong with you-” Steve tries to wipe his hand off on Tony’s shoulder but the t-shirt’s sweaty and only leave his hand wetter, and they get into a sort of lazy shoving match, Tony cackling as Steve tries to find somewhere dry on Tony’s jeans to clean his hand. He winds up with his head tipped back against the wall, staring up at the sliver of sky, hand resting warm on Tony’s knee.
“Hey, we’re already out here like a bunch of gossipy Tiger Beat-lets, you ah- you wanna know a secret?” Tony nudges him with one pointy elbow. Out of the suit he’s surprisingly angular, compact even. Steve’s suspicion that the great Tony Stark wears lifts is edging towards fact.
“I didn’t go to my prom either. Well, for about ten minutes. Made an appearance, spiked the punch, tried my first joint in the coatroom. But by then everyone was eighteen and I was still fourteen, and that was just awkward as hell, and all the other guys had dates and I’d thought for some reason there would just be some stray girls there to hit on, and, well- yeah. I got out of there pretty fast, told everyone I had another party to go to, and I hid out in the greenhouses the rest of the night. Didn’t even dance.” Tony shrugs, and Steve can feel it against his shoulder.
“I mean, I went on to a rollercoaster of sex, drugs and killer robots at MIT the next year. I lived in this dorm, Tetazoo- no, just remind me to tell you stories later, that place is still awesome. But yeah, it took me another two years to try dancing again. Bruce Springsteen concert in Jersey. It was – good, actually. You’d like Bruce Springsteen. Here, listen-” he fumbles the phone out of his pocket again.
“You need a slow dance to finish the night?” Steve offers, only half-joking. He feels buoyant, unearnedly confident, like he could manage a slow dance, even if he has to make most of it up.
Tony just groans. “Man, rain check. The briefcase armor’s murder, I’m too sore to stand any more. Definitely need to make some adjustments before I try wearing it for four hours straight again. Maneuvers like a goddamn paddleboat.”
The song that starts up is great, actually – Tony’s right, he loves the guitar riff and strong drumline, the rich brassy saxophone and the sharp piano piece.
“I can see why you like it.” Steve says after listening for a minute, “I can’t tell if he’s talking about a dame or a motorcycle.”
Tony’s humming along, mouthing baby I’m just a scared and lonely rider- but his lips quirk up at that. “Eh. Guilty pleasure. Springsteen’s kind of the workingman’s rock’n’roller, y’know, singing about the factory and the small town, anti-Vietnam and all. I don’t know why I got so into him in college. Always felt sort of stupid, actually.” He winces, and Steve gets the feeling he’s talking more to himself now. “Scion of Stark Industries, born with a silver wrench in my mouth, not like I had a lot of claim on the lower-working-class struggle. I dunno, it spoke to seventeen-year-old me, but I couldn’t tell you why. Used to hide the records in my room, even from Rhodey. My parents thought I didn’t know any bands that weren’t thrash metal.”
“You can like whatever music you want.” Steve says firmly, perpetually surprised at how dense Tony can really be, as the singer howls we’ll live with the sadness, I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
“Thank you, Captain First Amendment.” He snarks back.
“Stop it, no, I meant - just because you grew up better off doesn’t mean you don’t get it. He’s singing about people who’re…” we’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go, and we’ll walk in the sun, but ‘til then, tramps like us, baby we were born to run, “They’re just people. That’s all. They’ve got places they want to be, things they have to change, people they need. That’s not exclusive to one class, that’s the whole dang country. Always has been. Here, play it again, I like this.”
“Oh my God, you are an American cliché. Seriously, we’ve got to get you an advertising deal with Ford, it’ll just be you making eyes at a bald eagle on top of a pickup while Jesus sings the national anthem.” Tony snarks, but he hits repeat.
“I like how your comic books conveniently forgot I was a New Yorker, first. From Brooklyn. Honestly, Tony, we had smart alecks and jackasses back then, and I was often both.”
“Oh, don’t worry, you still are.” Tony says cheerfully, earning himself another elbowing match. This time, when the song starts, they both sing quietly along, staring up into the black sky and the thin yellow streetlight.
They’re still there, listening through Tony’s catalogue of Bruce Springsteen and working up the energy to move, when Clint comes to collect them. “Thor’s asleep in your car, Tony. I think we finally found something capable of wiping him out.”
“He wasn’t drinking more of the confiscated stuff, was he?” Steve asks. He’d been by the police’s lockup bin earlier, and he was almost sure someone in this school was actually running one of those Prohibition-era potato vodka stills. He just hoped no one had gone blind yet.
“Dude, no. Teenagers. The nuclear reactors of human energy. Oh, and Bruce and Natasha want to stop for Chinese on the way home. You in?”
“Mmm, yes.” Tony says with a look in his eyes that approaches lust, “Cap, help,” he flexes his fingers like a toddler demanding up, “There are eggrolls in desperate need of my love and attention. I have a duty and stuff.” Steve drags himself off the ground and hauls Tony up, cracking joints and moaning about stiff muscles. In a rare show of sympathy (though it’s tinged with a mutter of “old men and their joints”), Clint takes the heavy briefcase as he ducks back through the gymnasium doors, and Tony lets him.
“You alright?” Steve asks, as Tony dusts himself off. He looks – not younger, but more alive, this way, with his ridiculous socks and his hair in awkward spikes. Steve can never get over the fact that the only thing keeping Tony alive is that little light, that it’s just shining through a cruddy white undershirt. It’s vibrant and fragile at the same time, it’s damn well impossible. It makes Steve’s breath catch.
“I am so awesome.” He says, stretching his shoulders one at a time.
“Honestly.” Steve insists.
“What’re you, Pepper?”
“In loco parentis. They sent me to chaperone.” He grins smugly.
“Fine, mother. Yes, I’m tired. Hungry. My feet hurt. It’s definitely been one helluva prom night. Did you see when I averted, like, a freaking knife fight? It was like if West Side Story had robots instead of cops, like some weird dystopian stage adaption– wait, you know what West Side Story is, right, when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet and I feel pretty-”
“Let’s go home, Tony.” he proposes before Tony can wander any further from the point, and they do just that.
If Steve’s still humming the Macarena in the shower later that night, no one’s the wiser. And if he can still feel the warm echo of lips pressed against his own...well, it was his first dance partner, after all. Everyone deserves a little sentimentality for their prom night.