The first time it happens is an accident. Steve will swear to that. Well, an accident on Steve’s part at least. (It’s not his fault his friends are assholes).
So yeah. The first time? Totally not his fault.
Every time after, well...that’s completely on him.
“Your friends did what?” the tech guy asks.
He looks like he’s around Steve’s age, and he’s cute. Short, cropped hair that’s spiked at the front, dark brown eyes, and just a hint of scruff. If this weren’t so embarrassing Steve would definitely appreciate the eye candy. But right now all he can do is blush and drop his phone into the outstretched hand of the tech guy, who’s replaced his real nametag with one of those godawful red and white stickers that reads “Hello, my name is” and in the space underneath he has written “INDIGO MONTOYA. YOU KILLED MY FATHER. PREPARE TO DIE.” in big block letters, which isn’t actually very helpful at all because yes, even Steve has seen The Princess Bride.
(Only because Nat and Clint forced him to watch it the last time they took over the TV for one of their three day cuddle-fests, complete with blanket forts and a food fight consisting mostly of popcorn and skittles. And since he was feeling pretty awkward as the third wheel, Steve actually forced himself to pay attention to the movie, so it totally counts.)
“They uh, changed the language,” he says, scratching at a spot on his arm. “To Russian. And it’s a new phone so I don’t really know how to change it back.”
“Yikes.” Tech Guy at least has the decency not to laugh. “Okay. Well, lucky for you that’s an easy fix. Just gotta go into your settings–” He turns on the screen and starts to poke at it. Steve leans over the counter but he can’t get a decent angle to see what Tech Guy’s doing.
“Where, uh, where’s that?” he finally mumbles, moving back away. Humiliating. That’s what this experience is, he decides. Utterly humiliating. Worse than the monkey bars mishap in third grade that Bucky still likes to remind him about every once in a while.
He knows he sounds like a complete idiot, but he’d only had the phone for three days before Bucky and Nat decided to mess around on it and not tell him how to change things back. (He knew he should’ve taken that Russian language course with them in second year.)
And now Tech Guy is definitely holding back a smirk. “Wow. You weren’t kidding about being new to this, were you? What’s the last phone you even had before this?”
“Um, a Samsung E720,” Steve admits. He doesn’t see what the problem is – in fact, he wouldn’t have even upgraded in the first place if Clint hadn’t gotten drunk and decided to try and use his old phone as a throwing dart – but Tech Guy’s eyes widen.
“Seriously?” he asks, sounding absolutely scandalized. When Steve doesn’t answer he continues, voice rising in pitch. “Oh my god you are serious. Those things went out of style like eight years ago. That’s like, prehistoric, in the tech world.” This time he is the one to lean forward, his lips tilting up in a secretive grin that Steve can’t help being drawn to. There’s just something about this guy. He’s like a magnet. Or a planet, pulling Steve into his orbit. Oddly enough, Steve finds himself very okay with that.
“Okay,” Tech Guy says, and they’re close enough that his breath is tickling Steve’s face. He smells like a mixture of coffee and cologne, which sounds gross, but Steve wishes he could bottle that smell and take it home with him. Maybe you should just take Tech Guy home instead, a voice whispers at the back of his mind. The voice sound suspiciously like Clint.
“You know what I’m gonna do?” Tech Guy is saying. “I’mma fix this baby up, and then I’ll show you how to put a passcode lock on it. That way no one can screw around with it anymore.”
He leans away, goes back to fiddling with the phone, and Steve tells himself he shouldn’t be upset at the loss of contact. He barely knows this guy. Doesn’t even know his name. Pull it together, Rogers.
“Thank you,” he says. “That’s–”
Tech Guy waves aside his praise. “Yeah yeah. I know.” He gives Steve a wink. “I’m known for my exceptional service. Really go above and beyond, if you catch my drift.”
Steve thinks he does, and his breath hitches, but before he can say anything another employee comes over – with a proper nametag, thank god – and smacks Tech Guy’s hand off Steve’s arm which, wow, Steve didn’t even notice was there.
“Tony,” the guy – Bruce, according to his nametag – says warningly. “Better not let Coulson catch you flirting with the customers. Remember what happened last time?”
Bruce shoots Steve a smile that’s one-thirds apologetic, two-thirds resigned before reaching down beside Tech Guy and pulling out some sort of phone contract from beneath the counter. Tech Guy – Tony – ignores him, attention still on Steve.
“Don’t worry about Angela Martin over here,” he announces, making a lewd hand gesture at Bruce’s retreating back. Steve is sure Bruce can’t have seen it, but Bruce gives Tony the finger anyway. “He just doesn’t want another lawsuit.”
Steve blinks. “Another–”
“Like I said,” Tony interrupts, “don’t worry about it, Baby Blue. Now is there anything else I should know about?”
“...with the phone?” Tony prompts once he realizes Steve isn’t going to answer. Tony grins, practically bats his eyelashes, and it takes all Steve’s willpower not to throw himself over the counter right then and there.
But almost as soon as the words are out of Tony’s mouth, before Steve can even have a hope of formulating a coherent answer, “Anaconda” starts playing, full blast from his phone.
“Well...” Steve mutters, feeling the tips of his ears go red. He is going to kill Bucky. Then Nat. Clint too. And not necessarily in that order. “...there’s that.”
The next time Steve comes in it’s to buy an armband, because Peggy finally showed him how to put music on his phone so he can listen to it while running, but now he’s paranoid about dropping the damn thing. Honestly, he misses his old phone more than he thought possible. He regrets letting Bucky talk him into getting this kind. His old one might’ve been a dinosaur, but it was a lot more durable. Although... Steve is starting to think he might be able to use that to his advantage soon enough.
But for now all he wants is an armband. And if he walks by the store every day, waiting to go in until he sees Tony working, well, who’s going to know?
“What happened this time?” Tony asks, amused but not annoyed, which Steve counts as a win.
He holds out his phone, equipped with the new black and gold OtterBox case that Tony convinced him to buy last time because it looked “just the right amount of ostentatious.”
“The screen cracked.”
“How??” Tony asks, aghast. “That case is basically indestructible. It should protect your phone from everything!”
Steve shrugs, doesn’t say a word, because he’s pretty sure Tony definition of “everything” doesn’t include hitting the phone seven times off the bathroom counter until it cracks.
“Clint lock you out of your phone again?”
“Actually, it was Peggy this time."
Tony motions with his fingers. “Gimme.”
Steve just smiles.
It’s become routine.
Over the next few months Steve starts to learn more about Tony. About how he drinks nearly 50 gallons of coffee a day; how he’s too much of a technophile for his own good (he was bouncing off the walls the day the new limited edition Iron Man phone came in); how he’s an expert at pretending to pay attention to you, but if you look close enough you can tell his eyes are actually focused on a spot a little above and to the left of your head (that happens a lot when Coulson comes in and gives one of his trademark speeches about the glitches in the new iPhone, or employees abusing their discount, or proper workplace codes of conduct. He usually delivers the last one in a monotone voice while glaring at Tony. Steve never manages to stay long on those days; his record is 20 minutes before he sneaks out while Coulson is discussing new product placement strategies with Bruce.)
Everything is going well. At least, it is until the day Bucky catches him.
He takes in the scene: Steve, standing at the top of the staircase, arm still raised, and the phone, sans case (it really was a nice case, and Steve didn’t want to dent it. His preference had nothing to do with the fact that Tony was the one who chose it in the first place. Definitely not), still falling down the steps until it lands, with a small thud, on the tiled floor at Bucky’s feet.
Steve winces, already prepared for a lecture, or for Bucky to chastise him about not being more careful (“these things ain’t cheap you know.” Which, yeah, Steve does know, thanks; he’s the one who bought it in the first place.) What he isn’t prepared for is the knowing glint that enters his friends’ eye.
Bucky doesn’t even say anything, other than mumbling “Pathetic” under his breath, which Steve doesn’t think he was supposed to hear, but before he can relax, Bucky is thrusting the broken phone into his hands and dragging him to the car.
Tony isn’t at the counter when they get there, and for a brief instant Steve thinks he might actually make it out of here without dying from embarrassment. That is, of course, until Bucky starts harassing the new guy.
“Where’s Tony?” he growls, and it's only because Steve’s known Bucky practically all his life that he’s able to tell the difference between a pissed-off, grumpy Bucky, and a truly murderous one.
Sam Wilson, poor kid, doesn’t have that same experience, so he scrambles away, ducking into the back office without saying a word.
Steve frowns reproachfully at his friend. “What the hell, Buck? Way to give the poor kid a heart attack on his second shift.” He turns towards the door. “C’mon, let’s go before he sends Thor out to yell at us. That guy’s got a set of lungs like you wouldn’t believe...”
Bucky grabs his arm before he has a chance to move even one step further. “Oh no you don’t,” he scolds. “We aren’t leaving until you sort this shit out, because if I have to hear about Tony’s eyes one more time... Or his dimples. Or about a single hair on his big, fat–”
“My big fat what?” Tony’s voice comes from behind Steve. “Oh please,” he says while Steve gapes at him in horror, “don’t stop on my account.”
He settles himself on top of the counter, adjusting his name tag. Ever since Steve met him, he’s never seen Tony use the same name twice. He’s gone from the likes of Clive Bixby, and Jean E. Yuss, to You Know Who I Am, and, among others, Steve’s personal favourite: Regina Phalange. (What? He’s allowed to like Friends. And besides, Phoebe is awesome!) Today the tag reads None of Your Business, and Steve gulps. Tony only uses the really sarcastic ones when he’s in a bad mood.
But right now he seems fine, eyeing Steve up and down like he does every time. Steve doesn’t read too much into it at this point; he’s sure Tony does that with all the customers.
“Hey gorgeous,” Tony purrs. “No wonder the sky’s so grey today. All the blue’s in your eyes.”
Bucky snorts. “Yeah. Okay, no. That’s it. Time for you losers to say whatever it is you need to say to each other so we can all get on with our lives.”
Tony shifts until he’s sitting cross-legged, one eyebrow raised. He’s the picture of nonchalance and damn if Steve isn’t jealous. He wonders what it must be like to look so suave all the time. Wonders why Tony feels the need to project himself that way.
“James Barnes, I presume?” Tony questions, poking a finger at Bucky’s chest, which Bucky immediately bats away before glaring at Steve. Steve can practically see the betrayal in his eyes, can almost hear his friend saying You told him my real name what the fuck, how close are you with this guy and why aren’t you two fucking already?
“Bucky,” he corrects. “In the flesh. But you can marvel over my magnificence–”
“ –Well now there’s a tongue twister.”
“ –later,” Bucky continues, ignoring Tony's interruption. “Right now, Steve’s got something he needs to say to you.”
Steve is too busy sputtering to notice the way Tony is suddenly sitting much straighter, every line of his body indicating a heightened interest.
“Wha– Buck, I don’t–”
Bucky sighs, runs his hands down his face in exasperation. “Jesus. It’s like dealing with a bunch of five year olds. Okay.” He slams his palm down on the counter next to Tony’s leg, making Steve jump. Tony doesn’t even blink. “I’m gonna break it down for ya. Real simple. Steve, you like Tony–”
And at that, Tony chuckles. But it’s not a laugh Steve’s ever heard before. This one is dark and abrasive and sounds more like Tony is choking, like his throat is filling with stones; rough, angry things that he won’t ever let see the light of day.
“Yeah right,” he scoffs, hopping down and sliding on the sunglasses he always hangs from the collar of his shirt. He pulls a thick black binder from underneath the counter and starts writing something down. “If that’s your idea of a joke, here’s a tip: not funny. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got work to do.”
His body language is closed-off, radiating waves of dismissal that stab straight through Steve, and he knows without a doubt that he’s somehow managed to wreck any chance he might’ve had with Tony, despite having barely said two words since walking in. He shoots a helpless look at Bucky, who quickly intervenes, raising his hands.
“Hold on a minute. Dude, trust me, I know. I live with Steve, remember?” Tony doesn’t look up, but he stops writing. “I’ve had to hear him blabber on about you for months. Months, Tony. I can’t take it anymore. None of us can. Peggy and I have spent weeks trying to figure out the best way to murder him and get away with it. Plus,” he adds, when Tony remains unresponsive, “I totally saw him break his phone – again – this morning.” Bucky’s eyes narrow. “On purpose.”
Tony’s mouth drops open into a perfect “o” that’s so adorable Steve wants to kiss it right off his face. He manages to reign in that particular urge because he knows it won’t be appreciated, and instead, he lifts up his phone sheepishly.
“Um–” is all Tony can muster. Steve thinks that about sums things up.
Bucky mutters something under his breath that sounds a lot like, “Honestly. Fucking ridiculous.” Then louder, “And Tony, I’m pretty sure you like Steve too.”
Now that Steve definitely did not see coming. He looks over at Tony, waiting for him to deny it. Or worse, to laugh. But he doesn’t. For some reason he is blushing, identical spots of crimson highlighting the light spattering of freckles on his cheeks.
He stays mute so Bucky continues, voice filling the stunned silence. “Don’t even deny it. I know how much it costs to fix a cracked screen. Three times. And I’m pretty sure it’s more than $45.”
“Tony?” Steve asks, not quite able to comprehend the sudden turn this conversation has taken, not quite daring to believe it.
Tony chuckles again, this time sounding more like his usual cocky self. “Let’s just say I gave you the WTF discount for being Way Too Fine.” Bucky growls. “Okay, okay!” he amends, raising his hands. “I might...be a tiny bit interested...”
“Go on,” Bucky prompts.
“...in Steve,” Tony finishes, dropping his eyes to the table.
“Oh,” Steve says succinctly. Smooth, Rogers, he thinks to himself. Real smooth.
“Yeah, ‘oh’. No shit, ‘oh’. Children,” Bucky grumbles, smacking Steve upside the head, but he sounds amused so Steve doesn’t mind too much. “You’re both goddamn children. Now I’m going to be over there,” he points to the front display, “looking at the tablets. I’ve had my eye on that Nexus for a while.”
And just like that he’s gone, leaving Steve and Tony to their stupidity and their silence. Tony goes back to flipping through the binder, but he’s turning each page too fast to actually be reading it.
“Tony?” Steve begins, stepping forward tentatively. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
Tony snaps the binder shut with a loud crack that makes Bucky’s head whip around, but he doesn’t come back over. “I thought you weren’t interested!”
Steve swallows. Can Tony really be that dense? “I’m in here at least once a week!”
“Yeah, so?” Tony argues, stepping out from behind the counter and putting his face right up against Steve’s, close enough that Steve can see the scar on his chin that he said came from a mishap in robotics class when he was sixteen. Close enough that Steve can see himself reflected in the lenses of Tony’s sunglasses. He doesn’t want to think about the expression he sees on his own face – a cross between terror and desire. He tries to school his features into something more neutral, but doesn’t think he actually succeeds.
“You’re not our only regular customer, Steve,” Tony says.
Steve bristles, crossing his arms. There’s so little space between them that his arms end up resting against Tony’s chest, tingling at the contact. “So you thought I was just–”
“Reeeeally clumsy?” Tony finishes for him. “Pretty much. Or that you have super strength. Those were the two running theories in the office pool. Thor bet on the second option.” He shrugs. “Which isn’t all that surprising. I mean, have you seen him? Sorry Steve, even you’re not at his level. Although...” he pauses. Strokes his chin. “Maybe you two should have a contest, just to be sure. I’ll be the impartial judge, of course. You could do push ups. One handed push ups. Wait, no. Idea!” he shouts. “Let’s see which one of you can lift me. Ooh, that’d be fun...” He rambles on.
After taking a second to translate the Tony-babble – and absorbing the fact that apparently the staff were betting on him now, which, great, that’s gonna do wonders for his self-image – Steve interrupts. “And no one guessed I might actually be coming here all the time because I wanted to?” he asks. Tony stops mid-sentence, mouth gaping, arms still raised enthusiastically from whatever point he was trying to gesticulate.
“Uh. No, actually. They did not.” It seems like there’s something else Tony wants to say, but he remains, frustratingly, silent.
“And you never thought it strange that I only came in when you were here?” Steve presses.
Tony acts surprised, as if the thought never occurred to him, then frowns. “How was I supposed to know that?”
“Oh please,” Steve protests. He notices the hand that isn’t still holding his broken phone has unconsciously started stroking a soft line up and down the hideous vomit-green work shirt Tony has to wear. He wills it to stop. “I’m sure Bruce must’ve said something to you.”
Tony shivers, a look of something that could almost be interpreted as longing crossing his face once Steve stops caressing him. Then he steps back, putting space between them. Steve hates it; he realizes that he wants Tony pressed up against him forever, like an extra layer of skin, something he can never take off.
“You know, we actually do have better things to do than gossip about our customers,” Tony says. “Believe it or not.”
Steve snorts. “Office pool,” he mutters under his breath.
Tony ignores him. “Besides, it’s not like you said anything either,” he accuses, jabbing at Steve. “Don’t try to put this all on me. I’ve been flirting with you for months!”
Steve freezes. “Wait, you– What– I thought you acted that way with all the customers!” He distinctly remembers Bruce dropping hints about it the very first time they met. And pretty much every time after that.
“Jesus Steve!” Tony exclaims, shaking his head. “If I did we’d have no customers left. Either that, or I’d be out on my ass faster than you can say ‘harassment.’ Despite what Coulson thinks, I pretty much save my best stuff for you. You never seemed to mind, even though you never texted me, so I just figured you for a guy who appreciates a good pick-up li–”
“Wait,” Steve interrupts once Tony’s words have sunk in. “Texted you? How was I supposed to do that? You never exactly gave me your number.”
For a brief instant Steve thinks he sees a flash of something dark and ugly and full of doubt cross Tony’s face but it’s gone too quickly for him to be sure. “I put my number in your phone after like the third time you came in here,” he snaps. “And you never texted. Never called. Not to sound like a whiny date here, but I actually am capable of taking a hint, Steve.”
Oh shit. Oh shit ohshitohshit.
“No, Tony, no,” Steve quickly backpedals. Fuck. This? This right here is why he hates new technology. Why he never wanted this stupid phone in the first place. It’s caused so much more trouble than it’s worth.
“I never meant– That’s not– ” He takes a breath. “At the risk of sounding like a complete moron, would you believe me if I said I didn’t actually notice? I’m still learning how to use this damn thing.”
He frowns down at the phone in his hand; he really did a number on it this time. The screen’s shattered and half the back is hanging off. It might not even be fixable.
Suddenly Tony barks out a laugh, then another, until he’s doubled over, trying to catch his breath. “Wh-whoa there...grand...pa,” he manages to get out between bouts of laughter. “That is...literally...the saddest thing I-I’ve ever heard.” He presses a hand to his mouth, trying, and failing, to reign himself in.
Steve waits, tapping his foot – not impatient, but amused – until Tony quiets down and straightens up. There are tears running down his cheeks and he’s clutching his sides, but his eyes are warm and Steve knows not to be offended. That this time Tony isn’t laughing at him. Not really. More like he’s laughing at what idiots they both are, somehow able to find amusement in their colossal fuck-up.
Steve is glad at least one of them can see the bright side of things. Because Steve himself? Well, he’s trying not to think about all the time and money he wasted on breaking his stupid phone over and over again. Time that could’ve been better spent making Tony laugh like this, golden and happy with no trace of the dark clouds that had been hovering over his head a few minutes earlier. Steve is pretty sure he wants to spend the rest of his life making Tony look like this.
“What am I gonna do with you?” Tony says fondly – possessively – making Steve’s heart race. “Besides,” he continues, “haven't I taught you by now that everything’s fixable?”
Oops. Steve didn’t realize he’d said that part out loud.
“We’ve got all the time in the world to fix ‘er up.” Tony covers the phone, and Steve’s hand, with his own. “And I’ve got all the time in the world to teach you how to use it.”