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Battling the Heat (Not the Heart)

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He loves the Brooklyn weather. Specifically the warmer months: the spring with its mild temperatures and rainshowers, and the summer heat bringing with it children's shouts as schools let out for vacation. It's nice; he finds himself smiling when the little girl in the apartment next door rides her pink tricycle up and down the sidewalk, her father encouraging her and praising her. The elderly couple across the street frequently walk around the block when it's not too hot. He waves at them every morning before going on his run. It's a nice little neighborhood. He and Bucky get along well with most of the residents, though Bucky swears the woman with the chihuahua in the apartment a floor below them loathes him. ("It's true, Stevie! I'm pretty sure she tried to sick her rat dog on me!").


It may not be the most ideal living arrangement for former military and an aspiring artist, but they make do. The only problem with their little apartment is its current lack of functioning air conditioning.


"Ah, hell, Steve. AC's out."


Steve looks up to see Bucky, sans shirt, with the most pained expression on his face. "Already?"


"Steve — " Bucky looks miserable. Strands of hair fall in his face, sweat nearly dripping from the ends. "I think I'm dying."


Steve rolls his eyes. He places his sketchbook aside and crosses to his clearly suffering friend. He presses the back of his hand to Bucky's forehead and feigns shock. "Yeah, you're burning up."


Bucky swats at him, but Steve only smiles. "Fuck you, punk. But seriously, if we don't get this fixed, soon even you will suffer."


"Just open a window," Steve says, already walking to the window. "There's usually a breeze. Stand by the window and you'll be — " The moment he opens it, a wall of hot air hits him. Apparently, the weather decided not to grant them this one simple luxury. " — fine."


Steve hears Bucky groan then presumably plop down on the floor. "This is it, Steve. This is how I die."


Steve chooses to ignore him, but not until he shoots him an exasperated stare. When Bucky takes to fanning himself with Steve's sketchbook, Steve rolls his eyes and looks out to the street. A group of kids are carrying on, laughing and throwing water balloons at each other. Suddenly, he's very thankful it's just a heat wave and not a drought, because he knows exactly how to survive the heat.


"Hey, Buck." Bucky is lying on the floor, sketchbook sitting on his chest. "Call Nat and Sam. I have an idea."


Bucky sits up, tossing the leather book at Steve. "I swear, if it involves physical exertion, you can count me out."


Steve, after grimacing a bit at the sweaty book cover, flashes him a smirk. "I think you'll make an exception."


Though it doesn't sit well with Bucky by the way Steve's looking at him, he shrugs and holds out his hand. "Hand me my phone. It's cooler down here."


They meet Sam and Natasha in Central Park, both parties supplying two five gallon buckets filled to the brim with water balloons.


"So, how're we doing this?" Sam asks.


"Two and two?" Steve glances at all three of them. "Me and Buck against you and Nat?"


Sam is quick to object. "Oh, no way in hell. Have you seen the way you two work? Efficient and scary. Not that Tasha isn't, but you guys make it seem like it's nothin'."


"Well, fine," Steve quips. He steps forward, right hand extended to Sam. "You and me, Wilson. Even out the odds a bit."


Sam smirks as he shakes Steve's hand. "Now, that I can live with."


"Well, now that you ladies have restored your masculinity," Natasha says, sidling up to Bucky. "Why don't we get this party started?"


Both teams each take two buckets and disperse to discuss tactics and planning. Natasha and Bucky have agreed to target them individually, separate the two and take them out.


Bucky snatches up three water balloons. "You got Steve, I got Sam. Steve'll see me comin' a mile away."


"And, what if he expects that?" Natasha counters, a smile tugging the corner of her mouth up. "He's probably planning for it."


"That's why you go for him. You're better at improvising than I am."


"Damn right." She grins as Bucky laughs. Natasha leans up to peck his cheek before grabbing her own supply of balloons. "Let's go. We're late."


She takes off with Bucky at her heels.


No one is actually trying to dodge incoming fire. By the time they've spent half of their supply, they're all soaked to the bone and relieved of the baking sun, if only temporarily. Still, it's a good run. Each team thinks they're winning, and they're all playfully trash talking each other to egg their opponent on. (Bucky's the worst in that aspect).


When they opt to take a breather and dry off a bit, they all collectively agree Natasha getting the back of Steve's head in a tree was their own Play of the Day. Natasha accepts the title with no small amount of pride.


They regroup, and any pre-planned attacks are completely disregarded when Bucky challenges Steve during their break.


"Bet I can hit you more," Bucky says.


"You are on."


Sam and Natasha are left making awkward eye-contact when they both back up slowly before sprinting to their buckets.


In retrospect, maybe putting Steve and Bucky on opposite teams was a bad idea.


It's one thing to work better than a well-oiled machine together, but separate them and they just tear into each other without relenting. Both their stubborn attitudes make for an awful (and amusing) show as they chase each other down, sporadically throwing balloons at each other without regard. Eventually, they both confiscate their second bucket, leaving Sam and Natasha watching them from the shade of an oak.


"You think they'll quit?" Sam asks, watching the two pummel each other with balloons.


"You kidding? They're children. Not to mention childhood friends. Barnes is hotheaded and precise, but Rogers is persistent, patient. That's why they work so well together. They make the perfect soldier."


"It also helps that they're best friends," Sam adds. "Can't work together if there's no trust."


"Exactly."


They sit and chat for ages, not so much paying attention to the fight any more. After their little character study, they go on about menial topics: whether the heat wave will end soon, going out later that night with Sam and Bucky to celebrate a day well spent. Their attention is drawn back to the one-on-one water balloon fight when the fighting actually stops.


Sam squints, shielding his eyes from the sun. "What're they doing?"


"I don't know." Natasha leans forward. They're standing apart, Bucky watching Steve while Steve appears to be talking to someone. "Think that guy got caught in the crossfire."


"Oh, damn. I'd hate to be him."


Bucky's throw hit him square in the shoulder. "Ha! Seventeen for me!"


"I keep telling you," Steve shouts, beaning him in the leg. "That other one hit the ground!"


"It hit your foot, and you know it!" Bucky launches another one at him, and Steve barely manages to duck out of the way. Despite the heat, neither of them are willing to purposely get hit and give the other the satisfaction. It's been hard, Bucky's aim is damn impressive, but Steve's quick. He's managed to dodge enough of them, and is only trailing by two.


"C'mon, Stevie. Admit that I won, and I'll let you off the hook."


Steve shakes his head and throws. "Not on your life, pal." He throws another two. The first misses, but the second hits Bucky's thigh. "You know, I'm doing this for you."


"That's sweet," Bucky coos in faux appreciation, "but, I'm still gonna win."


Bucky stumbles, and his next throw is too wide. It misses by a mile, and Steve uses the small window to whip another two. The first one hits Bucky square in the chest, but the second —


In retrospect, he really should have been paying attention.


The second one Bucky manages to dodge, having anticipated the repeat attack, and soars over his shoulder and hits the guy walking behind him in the side of his head.


Steve's stomach drops to his feet when he realizes his mistake.


"Hell," he says, jogging over to the guy. "I'm so sorry about that. I had no idea you were there." It's a weak argument, but it's the truth.


The stranger, wearing a suit no less, takes off his sunglasses and meets Steve's gaze. He stares for a moment, probably scrutinizing, and Steve uses that time to get a good look at him.


His dark brown hair sticks up in the front, almost like a wave with few strands sticking out here and there. His goatee is neatly trimmed and Steve can see the barest laugh lines the man possesses. His eyes are that same dark brown, and though Steve expected to see anger and frustration piercing through him, he sees what he can only describe as amusement. There's a glint of mirth shining in his eyes, and somehow that takes a weight off Steve's chest, even before the guy has said a word.


The guy's gorgeous.


Steve's so captivated that he almost misses it when the guy speaks, and wow even his voice his perfect.


"You know, any other time I would be mad, but after the day I've had and this heat, I'm almost willing to let you do that again."


Steve's at a loss. "Ah, yeah. Doesn't change the fact that I'm sorry."


The guy shrugs, as if he wasn't just hit with a water balloon in the face. "Didn't think it would." He extends his hand. "Tony Stark."


"Steve Rogers." They shake hands briefly. Tony smiles at him, and Steve just laughs.


Tony raises an eyebrow, but otherwise doesn't appear offended, just very confused.


"That's not normally the reaction I get, but alright."


Steve smiles at him and shakes his head. "Sorry, but — " He turns to Bucky, still fighting off giggles. "How many people do you know have hit Tony Stark with a water balloon? I think I won."


Bucky glares at him. "You are so lucky he was here, otherwise I would've kicked your ass, Rogers." He rolls his eyes and punches Steve's arm. "You're still a punk."


"And, you're a jerk."


Bucky just winks and ambles over to Sam and Natasha's tree.


Steve sighs, turning to Tony again. "My friend, Bucky."


"Ah, yes. The much adored best friend. I couldn't tell from the way you two were chasing each other around the park."


Now, it's Steve's turn to be surprised. "You were watching us?"


Tony shrugs again, giving off an air of nonchalance. "Mm, a little. Mostly you, though the girl was impressive. Pretty sure she's a spy, but I'm willing to forgo that."


Steve feels the heat rising in his face. It's the first time he's been grateful for the hot weather. "Mostly me? You know that sounds creepy, right?"


"Yes, yes it does, and I don't mean to creep you out further, but what say I make it up to you? I'll buy you dinner."


Steve's breath catches, but he plays it off. "A date, huh?" The look of genuine surprise on Tony's face spurs him to keep going, feeling bold. "I mean, I just met you, but you're pretty cute, so I might consider."


Tony stares at him like he's still processing what Steve said. A moment passes, and Tony smiles, small and open. "You sure know how to make a guy feel pretty, Rogers. Gimme your phone."


Steve reaches into his back pocket, holds out the device. "It's easy when you mean it." His voice is small, and Steve is sure Tony misses the sentiment completely, but he notices the way Tony's fingers still briefly from where he's adding himself as a contact. Steve allows himself a shy smile and counts it as a victory.


"There you are, my good man." Tony hands the phone over. "I took the liberty of putting in the address to a little place in the area. And, a little something else in there, but you'll figure it out. Meet me there at seven, alright?"


"Seven," Steve echos. "I'll do that."


Tony smiles and turns to walk away before he says, "oh! Almost forgot something."


A lone water balloon (mostly left by Bucky) sits on the ground, and Tony reaches down to pick it up. "Hold still." Tony holds the balloon over Steve's head and, before Steve can object, he pops it, water soaking his hair and dripping down his face. Steve is unimpressed. Tony just beams.


Steve sighs and gives his head a little shake, spraying Tony with water droplets. "You're unbelievable."


"You bet I am." Tony pats Steve cheek and walks away. He doesn't get too far for he turns around and shouts, "Remember our date!"


Steve finds himself smiling after him. He allows himself to soak in the only comfortable warmth he feels. It isn't until Tony's out of sight before Steve looks at his phone. Sure enough, the address is there, followed by a message underneath it.


Thanks for hitting me. Now I can say I was struck by the most gorgeous specimen I've met.


A blush creeps up to color his cheeks when he notices the picture Tony took for his contact photo.


That same reserved little smile Steve caught a glimpse of earlier tugs at his lips, and Steve decides he can stare at it all day.


"Hey, Casanova, what're you smilin' at?"


Bucky snaps him out of his daze, and he quickly puts his phone away. He can't hide his smile when he says, "I have a date."