Tony Stark and Steve Rogers talk rings around each other and snap and bite whenever they get the chance. It’s become the norm. The jibes and put-downs and back-talk flow with regular conversation. At first the others are amused by it, then irritated, then indifferent. Agent Coulson observes quietly from a corner as Tony makes a smart remark and Steve’s coffee trembles in his hand, seconds from launching it straight in Tony’s face. But he doesn’t, and Stark strides away, Bruce trailing behind him with a slab of paperwork.
Coulson dares himself into giving Steve a consoling pat on the shoulder before he leaves. Steve looks around, puzzled, before showing him a gentle smile. ‘L-let me buy you one of those sometime,’ fumbles Coulson, gesturing to the cold coffee still in Steve's grasp. Steve nods, his blue eyes twinkling. The effect on Phil is devastating.
Phil stares at the ceiling above his bed, his hands clasped on his chest. His apartment is functional, frigid, illuminated by the city outside through the blinds over the bedroom window. He watches the cord on the fan over his head swing listlessly in the stale circulating air.
As he finally begins to doze off at 3am, his thoughts stick on Steve Rogers and stay there. His insides pinch with frustration and longing as he replays the smile Steve gave him the day before. The memory is treasured, analysed, altered, becoming a wild little piece of fiction that will only play a part in his private dreams.
Coulson sleeps. His alarm goes off at 5.
Steve cups Peggy’s hands in his own. They’re tiny and restless, like birds. He looks into her eyes, and they’re brimming with joy.
Coulson looks on mildly as Tony throws back another bourbon before it’s even touched the bottom of the glass. Tony offers him a sip, which he politely declines. Tony shrugs and turns to observe New York from his lofty tower, the cars and people surging through the streets below like thousands of colourful insects. The glass and steel turns gold in the late evening sun.
They dance to Manhattan Serenade and Moonlight Cocktail. Steve moves carefully, Peggy holding on tight, shuffling in her slippers. Her nightgown swishes with each step.
‘Visiting hour’s up,’ a nurse informs them through a crack in the doorway.
Steve helps Peggy back to bed and kisses her on the cheek. Her skin is soft, familiar. She smooths a lock of white hair behind her ear and smiles. She still wears the same shade of red lipstick.
Phil checks his watch at the exact time Steve appears in the doorway of Tony's office, looking for him. He seems troubled and tired, but goes over to Phil and thanks him anyway, shakes his hand and thanks him for finding her. He pulls back, expression tight, and stares out at the skyline glistening with a million lights. Phil rubs his fingers together, the warmth of Steve’s hands lingering. Tony is sat on the floor by the window, watching them slyly.
Phil bids them both good night. Steve says he’ll be leaving shortly, too - perhaps he’ll see him in the lobby, and they’ll have that coffee. Phil nods calmly and tries not to take a running jump and click his heels before getting in the elevator.
When Phil is gone Tony makes a crack that Steve only catches the tail of but it's enough - he grabs him by the front of his shirt and shakes him until Tony looks like he’s going to vomit. Steve holds him up, his mouth a grim line and his body rigid. Tony groans, a drunken dead weight. His toes barely scuff the floor. Satisfied, Steve drops him and turns away into the shadows of the room. Tony lurches to his knees, hands skidding through spilled bourbon and pebbles of shattered crystal. Steve bows his head. His shoulders heave once, twice.
'What's this?' says Tony, getting unsteadily to his feet. 'Who is Captain America shedding tears for?'
Peggy had looked tiny in her bed, hunched and frail under the blankets, but Steve saw no trace of jealousy in her eyes - only wonder and gladness. She never had any visitors. There were no children. There had never been a wedding.
He hides his face in his hands. Tears slip past his fingers.
Phil rocks on the balls of his feet in the lobby and watches the floor number above the elevator expectantly. He looks at his watch. Fifteen minutes.
He knows a really good pasta place. Pasta, then coffee. Pasta then coffee then back to mine. He checks himself and smiles shyly at no-one at all.
Tony hooks a finger under Steve's chin. Steve stares past him angrily and shakes him off, jabbing the button for the ground floor on the wall panel. Moments later Tony has him by the shoulders, jerks him round, backs him up hard against the elevator doors. His eyes are bright, sober. Steve's breath snags.
'Love is love,' says Tony, the bourbon-cologne-sweat scent of him soaking the air and clouding Steve's better senses, 'but hate's a very exciting emotion. Haven't you noticed?'
The elevator hits the ground floor. Phil smiles brightly, relieved, until the doors slide open and it's empty.
Tony's teeth drag sharp and sweet over naked skin.
Steve loses. Steve forgets.