Steve’s in a bad mood and it’s not Tony’s fault, for once.
Tony silently celebrates this as he keeps one eye on the suit component he’s tinkering with, and one eye on Steve, frowning a few feet away in a chair that’s too small for him. Possibly their worst press conference so far had happened a few hours earlier. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d been able to just explain Loki and his tricks and why turning most of Central Park into a compost heap was totally necessary. The reporters went for their jugulars when they were trying to calmly tell their SHIELD-authorized cover story (Did they know how much work went into that cover story? It’s hard to come up with those things in just a few hours, you know).
“It’d be nice if they could just be grateful and let us be,” Steve huffs. “That’s how it was during the war. That’s when there were things the public probably should have questioned, but they didn’t. And the only threat then was other people, not gods or monsters or aliens.
“Well, people are more skeptical now,” Tony says, transferring 86% of his attention to Steve. “Skepticism isn’t always a bad thing, we just caught the wrong end of it.”
“You’re telling me. Jesus.”
Tony looks completely away from the suit. Steve’s frowning harder and staring at the wall, but not really seeing it. Bad sign. Even though being with the Avengers had helped, Steve hadn’t quite left the bitter place he’d been in since he woke up. Tony was keeping an eye on him in case it got worse. Even more since they’d started this...thing they were in five months ago. Relationship? Romantic liason? Thingy?
“C’mon, Steve.” Tony stands up and grabs a pen off a table. “Don’t let them ruin your weekend. Here, watch the pen.” Tony starts waving it back and forth in front of Steve’s face. “You are getting sleepy, verrrry sleepy. You will not think about things that make you grumpy annnymore.”
Tony waits for Steve to smack his hand away and tell him to grow up. Instead, Steve says “Wow, that’s a really nice pen.”
Tony pauses, and for a second wonders if he actually hypnotized Steve. “What, this?” It was just a dime-a-dozen pen he’d stolen off Pepper months ago, but it wrote in four different colors, so he’d never bothered to give it back.
“Yeah,” Steve takes the pen from Tony’s hand and starts flicking the switches. “They didn’t have anything like this back in my time. This is really handy, you could color-code documents and stuff.” Click click click. “Neat.”
Tony raises an eyebrow. “Never pegged you as a pen guy.”
“Well, yeah,” Steve says, still clicking the pen. “When I was a kid, I loved going to department stores and window-shoping in the stationery sections. Looking at all the different little things they had in there. Then when I started drawing, I really appreciated any good pens or pencils I could get my hands on.” He shrugs when he notices Tony looking at him intently. “It’s a little odd I know, Bucky used to make fun of me for it.”
“Come over here,” Tony grabs Steve’s hand and guides him to a cluttered corner of his workshop. He yanks open the drawer of a messy desk and takes out a small black case, retrieving a silver pen from within and handing it to Steve. “Astronaut pen. It can write upside down, underwater, and in zero gravity.”
Steve looks doubtful, but takes a scrap of paper out of his pocket and presses it against his hand, holding it over his head as he starts writing. “Oh my god, it does.” Steve sounds genuinely awed. “Where did you get this?”
“Birthday gift from Pepper,” Tony grins as Steve scribbles his name over and over in perfect black lines. “They were kind of a thing in the nineties. It’s pretty nice though, so I only use it for really important things.” Like signing Pepper’s birthday card, when he remembered her birthday.
“That’s amazing. I didn’t think you could improve on a pen, except maybe one that writes by itself.” Steve shakes his head and twirls the two pens in his hands. “The future surprises me every day.”
“We could go stationery shopping tomorrow,” Tony blurts out, then quickly adds; “If you want. I know a little place out in the sticks. Has a nice little art supplies section, you’d like that. We could spend the afternoon looking at other marvellously futuristic office supplies. Like post-its. Did they have post-its in your day? Hang on, I’ll Google that-”
“I’d love to,” Steve cuts off Tony’s babble. “I’ve got nothing planned. We’ll have some lunch and head out in the afternoon.” Steve hands the pens back and gives Tony’s wrist a gentle squeeze. “I promised Clint I’d help him make dinner. See you later, Tony.”
Tony’s left blinking at the consecrated writing utensils in his hands. “JARVIS, put a call in to Merriam-Webster and get them to put Steve’s picture next to the definition of ‘perfect.’”
“Is it not there already, sir?”
* * *
Tony stays up a few extra hours that night clawing his way through Google Maps. See, he didn’t actually know a place in the sticks, he was just sure he’d be able to find one on the odd chance Steve said yes to his really nerdy excuse for a date. And damn it if he isn’t going to.
Tony hadn’t meant to invite Steve shopping, period. He’d only gone to a store once with Steve, very early on, way before they were together-together. Clint had needed a few extra ingredients for make his big “Welcome to the Mansion” dinner, and Tony decided to take the opportunity to bond with Steve, since they were just starting to like each other.
Steve was overwhelmed the minute he stepped into Whole Foods. Tony hadn’t accounted for the variable that living at a SHIELD base and being an icon meant Steve hadn’t had reason to go buy anything yet. Everything was different from his own time. The food was different, the checkouts were different, and why are there so many labels on the packages and what do they mean, Tony? By the time they got out of there, Steve was exhausted. He moped his way through dinner, and then sprialled into his deepest, longest depression that Tony had seen. Tony had been so worried, he’d actually called Coulson for help.
Reminding himself that that was then and this is now, Tony finally finds a store that matches his specs. It’s small, has an art supply section, and is way out in Who-gives-a-fuck-dale where Steve won’t be reminded of his past so much. Tony sleeps lightly, wakes up for lunch with Steve, and they head out.
* * *
“Tony, that is so ridiculous and you know it.”
“Shut up! It’s a completely valid point, you’re just being sentimental!”
“I’m not being sentimental, you’re being obstinate!”
“Steve, come on!” Tony waves a stack of smooth office paper in his face. “Besides the decreased paper cut risk, this is much more durable than that crinkly stuff you’ve got.”
“Actually, it takes wear and tear better because it’s already crinkly,” Steve slips the package of rough sketch paper into his basket defiantly. “Besides, I take good care of my things.” Tony scowls and crosses his arms. “Oh, there’s the writing utensil aisle! Wanna go check it out?”
“Hell yeah!” Tony scampers alongside Steve as they take the corner into the next aisle.
After discussing the drawbacks of mechanical pencils, and Tony beaming over Steve as he discovers Sharpie markers, the blonde man gets talking to the saleswoman about different types of pencils and what to buy for drawing. Tony browses while Steve chats, and soon finds himself two aisles away looking at hundred-dollar pens and wondering if he should get an engraved one for Pepper’s next birthday. Coulson materializes at his side just as he’s trying to remember her favourite colour.
“Jesus!” Tony jumps a foot in the air. “It’s one thing to do that at SHIELD, it’s even worse to do it while I’m just trying to shop like a normal person. Speaking of which, you’re not normal. What are you doing here?”
“Good to see you too,” Coulson says as he leans back on his heels, examining the wares in front of him. “I lent a junior agent my good pen and it came back with teethmarks, I need a new one.”
“New pen or new agent?”
Coulson chuckles and picks up a dark blue pen that costs more than the shelf it’s on. “I see Captain Rogers is here with you.”
“Your fanboy tendencies are getting a bit on the stalking side, Agent.”
Coulson sighs and turns to meet Tony’s eyes. “How is he doing? You know why I’m asking.”
Tony returns the sigh. “He’s doing fine, it’s nothing like that one time. He seems to be having fun, even. I want to say he’s finaly acclimatized, but there’s still other things I notice. Why is it taking so long? Isn’t adaptability his thing?”
“The human psyche is a complex thing, serum doesn’t change that. Good to hear he’s still improving. It seems you’re enjoying yourself as well,” Coulson gestures to Tony’s rather full basket and Tony nods noncommittally. “That’s good. I’m glad you’ve found an activity you can both enjoy. Anyways, break his heart and that will be the end of you.” Coulson taps the pen against Tony’s shoulder. “I know twenty-four ways to kill you with this, twenty if there’s no cap. Enjoy your outing.”
“Wait, what?” Tony snaps and Coulson pauses mid-step, but doesn’t turn around. “Where the hell did that come from? Are you his big brother or something? And how do you know about-,”
“Tony?” Steve calls from the other aisle, catching Tony’s attention. When Tony turns back around, Coulson’s already gone. “Damn it.”
“There you are!” Steve bounds around the corner. “Sorry, that lady was really helpful. Look what I found!” Steve holds out a small piece of packaged rubber. “Moldable eraser! Isn’t it great?”
“Nice!” Tony perks up, death threat momentarily forgotten. “I should get one of those for my drafting table. Show me where you found it.”
* * *
As soon as they pulled into the garage, they were interrupted by Pepper demanding Tony’s signatures on some contracts and Thor demanding a sparring match from Steve. Tony pouts, he was hoping they could spend some more time together. They do spend some time together later, but it doesn’t involve much talking and Tony falls asleep right afterwards.
Tony wakes up to a thunderstorm booming and crashing right over the mansion. He grumbles and reaches for Steve, but there’s no Steve. He sits up, suddenly wide awake. The bathroom is empty as well. This is worrisome. Steve always stays the night afterwards, and insists Tony do the same because “It’s just what you do.” If he left, it’s probably because of something Tony did. Tony quickly slips on a shirt and boxers and asks JARVIS to locate Steve.
“Captain Rogers is in the living room, sir.” Uh oh, what if the noise of the storm triggered something? Combined with the shopping trip, Steve’s probably out there having a flashback. Tony races to the living room, but halts himself a few feet away from the door, inching up to it and peeking around the edge.
“Don’t bother, Tony, JARVIS already told me you were coming.” Steve’s sitting on the couch in flannel pajama bottoms, legs crossed, with a large hologram hovering over the coffee table in front of him.
Tony curses under his breath, swears to reprogram the AI, and shuffles into the room. Once he gets closer, he can see that the hologram is a photo of the landscape outside the large windows, and that Steve has a sketchbook on his lap. “What are you doing out here? It’s the middle of the night.”
“I’ll keep the pot-kettle comment to myself,” Steve chuckles softly. “The storm woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I had JARVIS take a photo when the lightning flashes so I could sketch it. See?” Steve tilts the sketchbook so Tony can get a better look. It’s a remarkably detailed drawing of the outside cityscape all lit up by a lightning flash. The contrast is so sharp, it’s really beautiful. Tony says as much as he looks at the drawing, making Steve smile.
“Thanks,” Steve says as he goes back to the jagged edge of the lightning bolt. “Y’know, I used to be afraid of storms as a kid, but Bucky got me out of that. He’d drag me outside during big storms and we’d run around and act crazy. His mom or my mom would catch us and we’d be in big trouble, but it was worth it.” Steve pauses drawing to look at Tony. “What about you?”
“Huh? Uh, well I liked big storms actually.” Tony scratches the back of his head, unsure if Steve had a flashback and is just hiding it. He decides to put a feeler out. “I mean, sometimes they’d knock the power out and that was a pain. Me and Peggy used to watch them together sometimes. She taught me that counting thing to tell how far away the storm was. It was fun.”
“Sounds like it,” Steve ducks his head back over his sketchbook. “I had a great time today.”
“You did?” Tony sounds more surprised than he means to, the topic shift catching him off-guard. “Maybe we could do it again some time. Maybe it could be like, our thing. Oh wait, things just become things on their own, you can’t just say that they’re things. I guess I spoiled it there-,”
“Tony!” Steve’s cracking up and shaking his head. “I’d be more than happy to do that again, anytime.” Steve presses a kiss to Tony’s forehead and goes back to his sketch.
“Oh, okay, sure.” Tony’s seriously fighting an urge to do a victory dance because Steve basically just agreed to another date. Possibly more. Outside the mansion (at the stationery store!). They’ve been dating(?) since October, but it was whatever private moments they could grab inside the house between missions and business and whatever else the world needed them for.
“I’m just going to finish up here, you don’t have to stay up with me.” Tony doesn’t respond. “Are you listening?”
“Sorry, it’s a bit hard to pay attention with shirtless Captain America front of me.”
Steve snorts disdainfully. “It’s a bit hard to put on a shirt if someone else is wearing it.” Tony looks down and notices he’s wearing a white t-shirt about five sizes too big.
“Oops. Should have turned the lights on.” Tony starts taking the shirt off but Steve stops him.
“Leave it on,” Steve waves Tony’s hands away. “It’ll keep you company till I come back to bed. Now go get some sleep, you have dark circles under your eyes.”
Tony means to protest, but decides not to interrupt Steve’s art time any longer. Tony quickly kisses Steve goodnight and goes back to bed. With Steve’s scent from the shirt lingering around him Tony nods off as he plans out their next trip.
* * *
Tony’s really hoping Steve hasn’t notice how nervous he is. But Steve’s asked him if he’s okay twice already, so that was kind of a lost cause.
Much to the rest of the team’s endless confusion, Steve and Tony’s trips to the stationery store had indeed become a thing. Every time they both had time off, that’s where they went. Because hey, when do you not need another pen or some paper? And best of all, he got to do it with just Steve, and no one else (except the occasional distant appearances of Coulson, but Steve never notices so Tony was starting to wonder if he was just paranoid). So everyone else could stay weirded out, for all he cared.
Unfortunately, their last stationery trip had gone a bit awry. Tony, recalling Steve’s thunderstorm drawing, realized that Steve always drew in black and white. Which, while very pretty, was a bit limiting. The man was an artist after all, and every artist needed some coloured pencils, in Tony’s mind at least. So Tony had waited until Steve wasn’t paying attention, and picked out the largest, highest quality set he could find at the store. Tony was so excited, he couldn’t even wait to get out of the garage to give it to him.
Maybe he should have remembered to take the price tag off, because Steve’s face had twisted into a stern frown and he started lecturing. About Tony not needing to buy his affections, and how he wasn’t a dame who needed to be spoiled, he was a man, and so on and so forth. It felt pretty unwarranted at the time, so Tony felt justified in making smart remarks about cheapness and lack of gratitude. Steve marched out of the room after that. Later, when Tony went to grab a t-shirt to replace the one he’d just scorched, he found a pencil on his bedside table. It was made out of recycled newspaper, felt rough in his hand, and smelled like black cherry soda. A small post-it attached said “I bought this for you. - Steve”
Tony pinched the bridge of his nose while Steve examined paperclips. He wasn’t sure what he felt worse for, causing the spat in the first place or not being able to man up and apologize afterwards. Or getting into a shouting match with Clint, who had decided to make a wisecrack about staging an intervention for their stationery addiction right after Tony came out of his bedroom. Then Steve had caught them in the middle of it and was all disappointed and-Yikes. That was just not a good day.
Tony knew their breakup was inevitable, someday. But he wanted it to end because Steve had finally realized he could do better than Tony, not because of a silly lover’s tiff that had snowballed. Tony wanted to have Steve for just a little longer, as long as he could.
Tony suddenly feels like a stupid, lovestruck teenage girl, prolonging something doomed to fail and fretting over meaningless BS. He’d even spent 20 minutes that morning picking out which t-shirt to wear. Just because Steve said he liked the way Tony looked in t-shirts one time, and he wanted this shopping trip to go well. Oh god, why did love make him act so stupid?
“Hey Tony!” Steve looks over with his shining blue eyes and that about answers Tony’s question. “What’s this for?”
“Huh?” Tony forces his eyes away from Steve’s flawless face and down to the object in his hand-holy crap. “Oh wow, a long-handled stapler! These things are so damn hard to find! I had to order my last one off the Internet, and then I ended up dismantling it for parts. Man, this is like buried treasure!”
“Oh, nice,” Steve looks more than a little proud of himself for finding it. “But what would you need to staple with this?”
“Anything!” Tony chirps, running his thumb over the stapler’s fine construction. “These are usually snapped up by you know, artsy types who are into making zines and stuff. If you don’t buy this, I will. Or maybe we could go half and half? We’ll share custody of course, but I call dibs on weekends and holidays-”
Steve laughs a breathless, delighted laugh at Tony’s ramblings. “Where’s your off switch?” Another laugh and a pause. “What’s a zine?”
“Oh,” Tony chews on his lip and tries to recall his MIT days. “They’re like magazines, but smaller, and college kids make them and-ugh. You’ll have to Google that, I really don’t know much about them. There was just a girl I went out with a couple times who was really into them.”
“I thought Tony Stark knew everything.” Steve sing-songs as he puts the stapler in his basket and takes out his phone.
“Don’t give me lip, Capsicle.” Tony glances at Steve’s phone. “And you’re spelling it wrong.”
* * *
“If April showers bring May flowers, what do sudden May downpours bring?”
“Hell if I know, I’m just glad we didn’t put the top down.” Tony peers out from under the store’s awning, large droplets hitting his nose. As much as he’d enjoyed their earlier long walk to the store, he was seriously regretting parking five blocks away. “We’ve been standing here for ten minutes and it hasn’t let up. I’ll call Happy and someone can pick the car up later.”
Steve wrinkles his nose. “Are you kidding me? Are you made of sugar or something?”
“What?” Tony mimics the gesture. “You’re the one who called it a downpour! Also, I would like to point out you have an open bag mostly full of paper products. Water plus paper- what are you doing?”
Steve finishes yanking his shirt out of his pants (oh hello Steve’s abs, nice to see you again) and shoves his shopping bag up and under it. He leans forward a bit and looks in the direction of the car, as if formulating a plan of attack. He flashes a gorgeous, smarmy smile at Tony.
“Run for it?”
Steve dashes off before Tony can say no. Tony immediately shoves his own shopping bag up his shirt and takes off down the street like some kind of crazy, pregnant ostrich. He’s proud of himself for keeping up with Steve for a moment. Before realizing Steve’s going easy on him because Tony has the car keys, so there’s no point in beating him. Hmph.
They reach the car, or at least Tony’s pretty sure it’s his car. He can’t see through the raindrops stuck on his eyelashes. He reaches for the keys as he steps towards the door, but ends up stepping in a puddle that has no business being as deep as it is. Not willing to compromise either the easily-damaged stationery or the tiny, losable car key, Tony twists and tries to stick some kind of landing. Instead, he just spins in place on the slippery sidewalk. Steve reaches to catch him, one arm still around the bundle under his shirt, but slips in the puddle at their feet. He manages to wrap one arm around Tony’s back before they slam into the hood of the car.
Once Tony gets his breath back, he has one of those sudden, third-person perspective moments. Here he is, bent over the hood of his car with Steve pressing him there. Their arms are are jammed awkwardly between them to protect the bags under their shirts. They’ve just legged it down the street like they’re little kids whose baseball game was suddenly rained out. Except they’re grown up and superheroes but still, here they are. And Tony laughs.
He laughs the loud, squawky kind of laugh he only does when he thinks something is really, really funny. He shakes underneath Steve and his back jabs into the hood of the car and Steve’s arm, but he’s still howling. Steve’s momentarily confused, but then he starts laughing too and he can’t stop. And Steve’s laugh, though he doesn’t like to admit it, is a cute little-boy laugh. Bubbly and genuine and uncontrolled. He lets out an honest-to-god squeal before dipping his head to kiss Tony.
Tony stops laughing right away and kisses back hard. Even as his brain buzzes with Wait, what? because Steve doesn’t kiss him in public. Understandably so, since the whole gay-acceptance thing threw Steve for a real loop when was first unfrozen. And Steve hasn’t officially told the other Avengers about them yet (though they’ve all figured it out, and Tony might have said something, maybe). Tony thought that was because Steve wasn’t as invested in them as he was. But here he was; drenched, messy, and kissing Tony like the world could be watching and he didn’t care.
They finally pull apart and manage to stand up and get in the car. They’re breathing hard and soaking wet and cold, but Tony feels exhilarated. Judging by the glint in his eyes, Steve might feel the same way. After a moment, Steve removes the cloth bag from under his shirt and inspects the goods inside, smiling.
“Hey, it worked,” Steve says a bit quietly. The inside of the car is eerily soundproofed from the noise outside. “Is yours okay?” Tony checks and nods affirmatively. Steve grabs both bags, sets them in the backseat, and starts tugging Tony’s shirt over his head.
“Even geniuses can catch cold, Tony,” Steve says over Tony’s half-worded protests. Tony complies, then watches appreciatively as Steve sheds his button-up. The tight white t-shirt underneath is damp and a little see-through from the rain. “Wow, I can’t even see the hood anymore. We better wait a bit before going home.”
“Ah huh,” Tony mumbles, too distracted to bother mentioning that nearly every car he owns could probably drive itself through a blizzard. Steve reaches back into his bag and takes out his new sketchbook and a pencil. Tony smiles, appreciating Steve’s boyish tendency of opening packages before he gets home. They sit silently, Steve sketching to the tune of the rain outside and Tony relaxing and watching. It’s a perfect moment, so of course Tony has to wreck it a bit.
“So, what did you want to do before the whole war thing?”
Steve’s eyebrow arches quizzically. “What?”
“Uh, I mean, did you want to go to art school or what? I mean, you’re so good, you must have gotten interested pretty early. Was it a career for you, or just a hobby?”
“Hmm,” Steve pushes his head back into the headrest and looks off into space. “Well, being an artist full-time was sort of an off-in-fairyland kind of plan I’d dream up as I was going off to sleep. In real life, I just wanted any old job so I could have enough money to help out Mom and pay my share of the rent for mine and Bucky’s apartment. But then Mom died, and Bucky became a Sergeant and-,” Steve shifts. “All I was concerned about then was getting into the military, drawing was just a private thing for me. I never took it seriously. I had a hard enough time catching girls’ eyes as it was, starving in a garret wouldn’t have helped.”
Steve huffs disdainfully at his memories, and Tony’s mouth runs over with sentimentality before he can stop it. “Even if you’d been sketching in a cardboard box, if I was a girl back then, I would have snapped you up in a second.”
“Oh really?” Steve drones incredulously. “What, would you have taken me away to your mansion and made me your kept man?”
“Hey, no! I would have moved into the cardboard box with you! You’re what’s most important to me here.” Oh, whoops. Steve was just teasing and Tony went all soul-baring there. Steve’s looking at him really strangely now, oh god. Tony’s eyes dart for an escape route, but Steve leans in.
“Do you mean that?”
“Huh?” Oh great, now Steve’s all serious too. Good job, Tony. “Well, I meant- You see, argh, screw it. Steve, of course you’re that important to me. I’m soaking wet and shirtless in a car and having this conversation aren’t I?”
Steve leans in and kisses him. Not hard and rushed like the last time, but soft and dedicated. He pulls back for a moment to look Tony in the eye. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Tony returns, even though there’s a billion alarms and buzzers going off in his head. He means it, of course he means, it, he’ll always mean it. He wasn’t supposed to let Steve know how much he cared, but at the same time he’s a bit discouraged that Steve got to say the words first. Wait, first? Oh god, this is the first time they’ve said it for real. In a conversation, not as a breathless, half-phrase during sex. And there’s so many implications Tony should be worrying about, but Steve’s kissing him again, quickly and enthusiastically.
It’s not very comfortable, making out in the front seat of a car like he’s just made it to first base for the first time. Their damp undershirts keep sticking in irritating ways. Steve’s arm is stuck in between the seats. Tony has to stay aware enough not to hit the horn with his elbow. But Steve’s warm hands keeps pushing negative thoughts away and Tony doesn’t mind anything at all.
Steve is the first to ease off, and Tony happens to notice the rain has nearly stopped. “Sorry,” Steve mumbles into Tony’s neck. “Just- No one’s ever told me something like that before.”
“Really?” Tony’s legitimately surprised. He knew the actual romance part with Peggy was a bit last-minute, and that Steve’s previous love life didn’t really exist. But damn, talk about greatness going unappreciated.
“Really.” Steve moves back into his own seat, ducking his head to hide a little blush. “But I didn’t just say it because of that, understand?”
“Understood, sir,” Tony teases and Steve blushes more. The car is finally put in drive and they head for home. Steve’s hand finds its way modestly onto Tony’s thigh, and Tony takes time between shifting gears to brush it lightly.
Fuck Tony’s inevitable failures as a partner and as a human being. As long as they could keep having these trips to the stationery store, he doesn’t care about anything else.
* * *
A few weeks later, one of those failures shows itself when Tony forgets to sleep for about 48 hours.
No big deal to him, he’s stayed up longer before. And he’s made some great improvements on the armour that are so worth whatever ill effects he’s going to suffer from the lack of sleep. Surprisingly, Steve hasn’t come down to the workshop to lecture him yet. Or maybe not surprisingly, Steve hasn’t come to see him much at all recently. In between the stretches of hard work in their lives, they’ve fit in one day outing and some nights together, but that’s not nearly enough for Tony.
Especially since Steve isn’t necessarily busy, just frequently out by himself doing whatever. Not a good sign. That’s the sort of thing that usually precedes the “Maybe we should spend some time separately” speech in relationships. Maybe he’s overthinking it, but what if he’s not? Tony near shudders at the thought. That’s when he notices the long-handled stapler they bought is nowhere to be found, so he blunders up the stairs. On the chance that they are splitting up, he’s getting that kid in the divorce.
Tony walks into Steve’s room without knocking and realizes belatedly that hey, that’s a bit invasive, isn’t it? Steve’s not even in there, he’s sparring with Natasha, but still. Oh well, Tony’s just grabbing the stapler and heading right back downstairs again. It’s not like he’s going snooping for Steve’s diary or something.
Tony spots the stapler on Steve’s desk and grabs for it, knocking over some papers as a result. Oops. He starts picking them up and notices they’re all the same booklets. Weird, why would Steve have a bunch of identical pamphlets in his room? Being invasive again, he opens one and starts looking closer.
Oh. Wow, Steve had taken that little throwaway comment and ran with it. These aren't random pamphlets, Steve made these. Little booklets of his artwork. Fully coloured, richly detailed, and all Brooklyn-related. Rowhouses, the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Arch, Coney Island at night. About fifteen different drawings, and they all looked like you could touch them and feel rough brick or soft tree leaves. There‘s also a couple simple, observational writing bits, and oddly enough, a cartoon of the Avengers fighting Loki. Tony snickers at that one. He flips back to the cover, which is simply titled “Brooklyn, by S.R.”
Tony looks from the single copy in his hand, to the twentysomething copies on the desk, and makes a decision. He carefully arranges the stack just as it had been originally, tucks one copy under his shirt, and hurries back downstairs. Sleep? Unnecessary. Creating a romantic surprise for his boyfriend? Totally necessary.
* * *
And that’s how Tony ends up awake again at two a.m. the next night. He had gotten a few winks in, but had to go into some meetings early that morning so he could spend the afternoon making some copies. He’s holed up in his bedroom, surrounded by paper, and for most likely the only time in his life ever, praying Steve doesn’t get frisky and decide to stop by.
Fold, fold, fold, fold, staple, ad infinitum. He made 750 copies, he can fold and staple about 1.75 a minute, meaning 105 per hour. He’s already finished about 200. So if he keeps his pace and minimizes bathroom and coffee breaks, he’ll be finished just in time to get all of these into the car and out of the house while Steve’s still on his morning jog. In the midst of his calculations, Tony knocks the stapler loudly off the bed just as footsteps go by his door. The footsteps pause, shit.
A couple quick knocks. “Tony?” It’s Clint, not Steve. Small victory. But wait, Clint’s going to see all this and there’s no way he’s going to keep his smart mouth shut. Shit shit shit.
Tony somehow manages to remove himself from the paper fortress he’s created, turns off the light, and opens the door just a few inches. “Hey Clint, sorry about that. Tablet slipped out of my hands. I really need to improve the gripping surface on those things, it’s terrible. Anyways, I’ll just- What? What are you looking at?”
“Is that Steve’s artwork?” Clint points to Tony’s hands. Oh damn, he’d forgotten to put down the zine he’d been working on. He was just batting a thousand tonight.
“Pffft, no,” Tony says, tossing it over his shoulder and internally wincing. “How would you know what Steve’s art looks like anyways?”
“He did a drawing for my room when we moved in here,” Clint’s not paying attention to the conversation, he’s trying to peek around Tony. Tony attempts to block him, but you don’t outmaneuvre a SHIELD agent in pajamas. Clint manages to pop his head over Tony’s shoulder and his eyes widen at the mountain of paper behind him.
“Oooh boy,” Clint whistles and promptly strides off down the hall. Tony’s about chase after him, but knows any noise will attract Steve’s attention. The surprise is ruined no matter what. Damn it.
Tony goes back to folding and stapling, twice as fast and more careless than before. Clint soon returns with a plate in his hand, and somehow moves from the doorway to Tony’s side before Tony can say anything. Impressive, but still annoying.
“Here,” Clint holds the plate in front of Tony’s face. It’s a grilled cheese sandwich.
“What’s this?” Tony refuses to take the plate. “A snack before you hold that intervention you keep talking about? Listen, this isn’t what it looks like and you are not going to say-”
Clint sighs like Tony’s the one being exasperating here. “Just take the damn sandwich,” he shoves it closer to Tony’s nose. “I’m not going to tell Steve anything. I’ve been where you are, okay? That awkward stage where you don’t know what they’re thinking, and you just throw yourself at them because you’re afraid they’ll leave if you don’t? Done that. And there’s nothing you can do but just let nature take its course. For now, just enjoy the ride, and don’t kill yourself.”
Tony looks at Clint for a few long moments and takes the sandwich from his hand. He swallows his first bite just as Clint reaches the door.
“What?” Clint looks back over his shoulder.
“S’good sandwich, compliments to the chef.” Clint nods a reply and shuts the door behind him.
* * *
Miraculously, it’s not until the middle of the afternoon on the day afterwards that Steve finds out.
Tony’s slumping over some paperwork at his desk downstairs. Just 20 more signatures and Pepper won’t murder him in cold blood. However, Tony’s vain attempt at not getting bludgeoned with a high-heeled shoe is interrupted when a tall blonde man barges into his workshop and spins his chair around.
“Tony,” Steve says in a tight voice. “I happened to have a meeting with Agent Coulson today. And when we were finished, he showed me something he bought at a bookstore the other day and asked me to sign it. I don’t suppose you’d know exactly what it was that he showed me, would you?”
Tony closes his eyes briefly. “I love how you kind of emulate my elaborate sarcasm when you’re pissed off.”
“No, yeah. I know.” Tony rubs his eyes with the heels of his palms. “Invasion of privacy, technically taking your stuff, I know. But you’ll be glad to know that I arranged some really nice consignment deals with those stores, so trust me, you’ll be reaping the benefits of this.”
“Stores? Plural?” Steve keeps a firm hand on the chair, but bends down to look Tony in the eye. “How many copies did you make?”
“Well, conservatively estimated-” Steve glares and Tony cuts himself off. “Seven hundred and fifty, with about ten copies at each store. So if you do the math-”
Steve sighs hard enough for the hot air to brush Tony’s nose. “Tony, why?”
“I thought you’d like it?” Tony replies, squirming unconsciously under Steve’s gaze. “When I went in your room and saw those copies- Which I never would have seen if you hadn’t hogged the stapler, I’d like to add -I knew you were just going to give them away to us, or to public libraries or something. You should share your art with the world. Making some cash off it as a fringe benefit, also.”
“Those were my things. You should have asked-”
“-You would have said no-,”
“-And it’s my right to say no. I’m sorry, but I really don’t get your motivation here. Why did you do it?”
“I like doing nice things for you,” Tony drops his eyes and pretends to be very interested in his own knees. “I thought it’d be y’know, big and romantic or something. And I really do like your art, I don’t just say it to flatter you. Like they say, you shouldn’t hide your light under a bullfrog.”
“I think you mean bushel,” The hint of a smile glances over Steve’s voice. “And it was a nice, though extremely misguided attempt at a grand romantic gesture. I forgive you, so long as you promise to never do it again.” Tony looks ups and nods in agreement, but Steve’s brow furrows again. “But that’s only half of why I’m here.”
Tony doesn’t bother to hide the whine in his voice. “What else did I do?”
Steve stands up and crosses his arms. “How many hours of sleep have you had in the last four days?”
“Uh, less than five but more than three? Why?”
“Tony,” the tightness is back. “Romantic relationship or not, I am still the captain of this team. Therefore, it’s my job to make sure you’re all safe out on the field. Right now, you’re not fit for duty. What if we got called out on a mission right now? You’re risking yourself and everyone else.”
“Mostly myself. And unfit for duty? Really? Isn’t that a bit much?”
“Have you looked in the mirror at all today?” Steve snaps, pointing at Tony’s face. “The circles under your eyes are so dark, Bruce asked me if you’d broken your nose!”
“No, I’ve been a little too busy to go admire my own reflection,” Tony swats Steve’s hand away. “Wait, Bruce is worried about me?” Tony grabs his phone off the desk and dashes off a quick text before slipping it into his pocket.
“Tony, I don’t think you get how serious this is,” Steve growls after Tony finishes typing. “When you pointlessly deprive yourself like this, you delay your reaction time. You could die out there! Do you understand?”
“Of course I understand!” Tony stands up, shoving his chair back and standing toe to toe with Steve. “You think that I, of all people, don’t understand that? That’s why I don’t waste my time sleeping! That’s why I didn’t wait to ask your permission before doing that stuff! I don’t wait and do something tomorrow, because I’m very aware that there might not be a tomorrow for us!”
There’s anger on Steve’s face, an urge to continue the argument. Then a hint of confusion, and finally solid, sad understanding. He tentatively reaches his arms out, like he’s afraid Tony will slap them away. They reach Tony’s waist, and immediately slide up and around him, pulling him close. One hand comes up to Tony’s hair and presses his face into Steve’s neck.
“You’re right,” Steve says quietly and wow, Tony’s not used to hearing that during arguments. “Life is short, especially for us. But it’ll be even shorter if you don’t take care of yourself.” Steve’s arms squeeze tighter. “That’s all I want you to do.”
Tony opens his eyes, he doesn’t remember closing them. “Well, I might find that easier to do if I didn’t have to hide my displays of affection under cloak of night.”
Steve pulls back, but keeps his hands on Tony’s back. “Wait, you didn’t put those together by yourself, did you?”
“Sort of,” Tony holds his hands out, palms up. “I made an emergency paper order, and I really put that poor girl at the Kinkos through her paces- Don’t make that face, I tipped generously. But I’ve been told handmade things are more romantic. So, yeah.”
“Oh my god,” Steve slaps a hand over his eyes and blushes. “What am I supposed to do with that? Next time you want to make something for me, just stick with an omelette, okay? Christ.”
“I only make people omelettes if I’m giving them bad news, I’ll make you hashbrowns instead.” Tony taps at the hand covering Steve’s face. “C’mon, at least I can’t truthfully accuse of you of hogging the stapler anymore. I mean I just did a few minutes ago, but from now on-”
“Okay, first things first,” Steve grabs Tony’s flapping hand. “I’m going to give you-Wait, you probably already kept a copy for yourself didn’t you?” Tony nods, two actually. One for reading and one for display purposes. “Alright, second order of business. Come with me and let me make this up to you.”
Tony’s tugged along by Steve’s strong hand. “Steve, you don’t need to repay me. I did it to make you happy.”
“And you did, eventually. But this is for different reasons.” Steve stops and kisses Tony’s forehead, then yanks him along again. “Though I’ll make that up to you too, with a gesture of my own. But that’s going to take some more planning.”
“Ooh, is it going to be candlelight dinner at sunset? Or maybe a serenade in the park?”
“I was going to do something with that huge bathtub you installed in my rooms, but if you prefer-” Steve gives a playful squeeze to Tony’s hand. Tony smirks and squeezes back.
They arrive at Steve’s bedroom just as Tony quickly runs off another text. Steve closes the door behind them and starts removing Tony’s shirt. Tony suddenly realizes exactly how tired he is. “Uh, Steve, I’m not sure if I can-”
“No, no,” Steve laughs and keeps removing Tony’s outer clothes. “We’re going to take a nap, then have dinner, then settle in for the night. You need your sleep.”
“Okay,” Tony frowns, but watches appreciatively as Steve strips himself down to boxers and undershirt as well. “But what about you? I’m sure you got your eight hours of shut-eye like a good boy, this day plan doesn’t sound fun or beneficial for you.”
“I like being near you,” Steve smiles an 8000-watt smile and leads Tony to the bed. “Holding you. Even if you’re asleep, it’s nice. So I’ll just enjoy that, or sit up and read or something. But I want to make sure you stay here and rest.” Steve leans in close to Tony’s ear and lowers his voice. “I was also thinking after dinner we could, you know.”
Steve rolls his eyes and pushes Tony onto the bed. “I swear to every god in every dimension that from now on, I will find out the actual definition of a word before I start using it in front of other people.”
“Forever and ever, amen. Though it was pretty cute.” Tony repositions himself as Steve gets in and pulls the duvet over both of them. Tony gets JARVIS to darken the windows and dim the lights before stretching across Steve and resting his head on his shoulder. Steve’s desk is in his eyeline, pencils scattered across an unfinished drawing in a new sketchbook. Tony grins and lifts his head up. “Love you.”
Steve smiles back, eyes soft under half-closed lids. “Love you too.” His tilts his head a bit awkwardly to kiss Tony gently before laying back down.
With Steve’s hand rubbing light circles on his back, and the tune of an old, slow song humming through his chest into Tony’s ear, Tony’s out before he knows it.
Bruce is just about to head down to the lab when his phone buzzes with a text.
“Nose not broken, just lack of sleep. Don’t come downstairs. Stress levels elevated. - Tony”
Bruce shakes his head and retreats to the living room. He finds Clint stretched across the couch, upside down, and absentmindedly watching TV. He decides “Why not?” and flops down beside Clint.
Less than half an hour later, once he’s surprisingly gotten into the show that seems composed of dramatic shots of exotic locations with semi-scientific narration, his phone buzzes again. He glances at it, and glances back again quickly.
“Crisis averted. Feel free to use lab. If Pepper comes looking to kill me, tell her I was interrupted by civic duty. P.S. Steve is 100% perfect, alert the media. - Tony”
Bruce sighs, and makes a mental note not to go near Cap’s or Tony’s rooms for the rest of the afternoon. He’s pretty sure civic duty is a terrible euphemism. Though “fondue” might beat it, but he isn’t sure if that’s a euphemism or something else entirely.
Clint tilts his head up and notices Bruce pursing his lips at his phone. “Is Tony being a lovestruck dumbass again?”
“Yeah. Cap too, it seems.”
“That’s Tuesdays for you.”