Tony had been pushed back against science building’s wall as he was walking to his Advanced Applied Calculus course from English—speaking of which, why did he need to know the importance of Jane Austin’s writing to women in society in the 1800s? He didn’t need to know the great female writers of the century to make ingenious inventions. But that was beside the point. This big brute had tackled him against the wall. What did he want? Tony to write a lab report? Make some ingenious project that would get an A? Give him the answers to the math test?
All in all, he had to give the poor guy kudos. The guy had class. He’d been tossed in dumpsters, given swirlies, his lunch poured on top of him and locker stuffed with garbage. The confrontation behind the school, threatening to get beat up, was actually kinda classic. He didn’t get classic anymore. Maybe that was one of the many perks of college. It stopped being about show and started being about results. Which really, was easy enough to give.
“So, what is it you want?” Tony asked coolly, not even flinching when the guy’s hand slammed against the wall, leaving him no real room to escape. Not like he would. He learned a long time ago that running did absolutely nothing. “Is this about Mr. Russo’s final in Calc? I mean, I could probably write you a whole guide, question by question, about what the answers are. And I don’t even look up the test before hand like you frat—“
He was immediately shut up when the guy grabbed his shirt by the collar. “This isn’t about some stupid math test,” the frat boy—Tony’s going to assume he’s a frat boy; he looks the type—answered.
But of course, that still wasn’t going to phase him. “But that’s kinda my thing. Look, I don’t think you know who I am, I’m Tony—“
“Stark. Right. The billionaire genius that walks around our campus,” he finished for Tony. It was then it all clicked to him. It was reason number two he had been not just bullied, but kidnapped for.
“I suggest you give me your wallet,” the guy demanded. Tony just laughed.
“Umm, how about no?” Tony answered, a smirk slowly making its way across his face. “For one, I doubt it’s what you expect. Nothing really but a few hundreds.” The frat boy wasn’t amused, rather his eyes lit slightly. Was that what it was like to be poor? A few hundred dollars seemed like a lot? “Besides, it’s not even my money. It’s my Dad’s.”
“You trying to be cute about this?” the guy asked, completely baffled and un amused.
That mischievous smile that won over the teachers and earned him so many swirlies naturally appeared. “Trying? I already am.”
Tony didn’t know why he was expecting the guy to banter back with him. He doubted with his GPA the guy’d even be able to write his own name, let alone make a better comeback. So when he felt that oh-so familiar punch in the gut, he really just wanted to laugh. But of course, that was a little hard when you’re diaphragm was being kicked like a soccer ball.
He really didn’t know when he’d made it to the ground but he remembered that oh so familiar feel of concrete in the afternoon. It took a minute before his new found friend finally stopped. Tony involuntarily coughed when he was finally given a chance for a deep breath. Oh yeah. That was going to bruise. Hurt a little in the morning, but nothing bad. Nothing he wasn’t used to.
“How about now? You going to be cute now!?” Really this guy did not know how to not sound like one of those stupid CSI shows that were so popular on TV. He doubted if he’d ever even done this before. It seemed like a first attempt. Really, it did.
Tony couldn’t help but smirk. “You really are an idiot, aren’t you?” Why didn’t Tony know to shut up and give the man what he wanted? Instead Tony had settled on insulting him. Seriously? It would have saved him so much trouble. But it was just in Tony’s nature to state what he saw and let’s face it; he’d been holding it in for a while now.
So, naturally, the guy wasn’t going to give up on just taking his wallet. No. He was going to try and make Tony regret what he’d said. But in all honesty, Tony doubt he ever would. This wasn’t anything momentous. Even if the guy took his money, it wasn’t going to mean anything. What were a few hundred dollars when you had millions?
That didn’t mean it didn’t hurt like hell.
With each kick he started to feel that bruise grow bigger and bigger. He was pretty sure he’d gotten punched in the face somewhere along the line because his jaw was really starting to hurt. Tony seriously began to wonder how long it would take before a rib cracked. It wasn’t so much as to when he would stop because he was pretty certain it wasn’t anytime soon.
So it surprised him when it just stopped. The guy didn’t even reach in his pocket and take the wallet. Tony opened his eyes more in surprised than it was him hoping the guy was gone. The smirk he had secretly worn fell off of his face. He didn’t believe this.
Steve Rogers, captain of the football team, homecoming king, every girl (and probably a good portion of the guys) on campus’s wet dream, was standing above him. What was even more confusing was that the guy that had recently put what had to be a bruise the size of his engineering textbook (and seriously, that book was huge) in his side, was getting beat up by the most popular guy on campus.
To top it off, said popular guy was protecting him.
Tony quickly got off the ground, more out of shock than terror. Sure, he was pretty sure that Steve was okay with him. After all, he’d spent the past month tutoring him in physics. If he was to be so hopeful, he even thought that Steve liked him.
But that was completely ludicrous. Guys like Steve didn’t associate with nerds like him. The two worlds just didn’t collide. There was absolutely no reason for Steve to be his friend. Despite the fact Tony didn’t tutor people he had agreed to help Steve. They spent at least 3 hours every Tuesday and Thursday, Steve trying as hard as he could, Tony insulting him between every explanation. Steve was supposed to get fed up with it and just not show up one day. It wasn’t supposed to last this long.
But if this act of justice was to say anything, it almost seemed like it was personal. Almost like this was Rhodey, standing by him despite the fact that the guys facing them could probably send them to the hospital. Steve was seriously laying it into the guy. Heck, these were direct punches to the face.
Then Tony saw the blood. This wasn’t just the small blood that came out of the nose. His assailant’s face was now covered in it, his skin a mix between the blue of a bruise and the red of his own blood. The terror that he had once ignored slowly began to form when he saw Steve’s hands. His fists were slowly growing red as if stained by the blood itself.
Tony realized that, as much as the guy probably deserved it, nothing was worth Steve being this angry.
“Steve. Steve, stop it!” Tony called out, trying to break Steve out of his rage. Apparently his words were unheard behind the chorus of Steve’s own anger.
“Don’t you ever—“ A firm punch landed against the side of the guys face. Tony didn’t know or even care what he was saying. This had to stop. It had to stop now.
“Steve!” Tony called out with more force. Steve was unresponsive to his calls. “He’s not worth it! Stop!”
He tried to scream reason at him, trying to make him stop. But he didn’t. Steve didn’t intend on stopping.
“—lay a hand—“
“Steve, stop it!”
“You’re killing him! Stop it!”
Unable to watch this any longer, Tony did the only thing he could think of. Before he knew it, his tiny arms were wrapped around Steve. Tears he didn’t know he was shedding were gathering in puddles in Steve’s shirt. At that, Steve froze beneath Tony’s grip.
“Stop it!” Tony cried, his voice echoing in the silence. He felt Steve tense up, as if he was about to strike again, but Tony only strengthened his grip on Steve’s waist. “I’m okay! Please, just stop. It’s not worth it! I’m fine! So stop it already!”
Slowly, his protector began to relax. Each muscle easing into something much more relaxed. Tony didn’t even hear the guy he’d been attacking drop and run away as fast as he could. He was only focused on Steve.
“It’s not worth it. You don’t need to get this angry—this violent—for me,” he whimpered out. He doubted that Steve could even hear him now, his face buried in his shirt. “I’m okay. So please, Steve. Just stop…Please.” At that point, he was just a record player skipping into the same loop of incoherent pleading.
Steve slowly began to calm down. Each word Tony whispered bringing him closer and closer back from his blinding rage into Tony’s shaking arms. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When they opened, the world was much clearer and not burning from an unrelenting anger.
“Tony…” His voice was soft, almost inaudible, as if Tony would break from his voice alone.
Steve carefully peeled Tony’s arms off of him. He was shaking, tears wracking his entire frame. As Steve turned around to face him, Tony wouldn’t—couldn’t—look at him. He couldn’t stand the idea of looking at that face; those blue eyes enchanting his soft, kind expression. Just earlier, he’d seen them cold, unrelenting. He was afraid to look up and only see the anger he’d witnessed just before.
“Tony. Look at me,” his voice was more forceful this time around, his command sound more like he was begging. He couldn’t refuse when Steve put it like that. Tears still streaming down his face, Tony complied and looked up.
It wasn’t what he was expecting to see; scared, terrified. There was this anguish and fear in those deep eyes, as if searching for an apology. It physically hurt Tony to look at it. More tears threatened to develop but he simply refused to let them. Instead, he tried to put on that mask. That know it all, that smart alec one that turned him into an ass.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” he began, those harsh words filled with something that resembled fear. Though he tried to hide it, even he could hear the waver of his voice.
Steve chuckled. “I know. You tell me every Tuesday and Thursday,” he answered with a small smile.
Tony wanted to retort that he didn’t but realized that as hard as it was to get Steve to understand some of the concepts, he probably had. Before he knows it, Steve’s pulling at his shirt, trying to lift it up and see the damage done. “How bad is it?” Steve asked.
He didn’t have to look to know he had a bruise as big as a basketball across his torso. If he didn’t Steve’s quick flash of anger settled it for him. “Nothing I’m not used to,” Tony answer, trying to disperse the anger in Steve’s expression but it only seemed to encourage it and the worried, upset glint in his eye.
“You always get beat up like this?” he asked curiously, looking up to see Tony’s expression.
He rolled his eyes. “You try being the smartest, richest kid in your entire school. Pubescent teenagers are not exactly nice,” he explained. The moment he finished, a sharp pain went up his side as Steve slightly pressed against the wound. He couldn’t help but wince, letting out an involuntary hiss.
“I’m glad I was there…” Steve said softly. It seemed like Steve genuinely cared about him getting hurt. That was completely ludicrous. Why would Steve—Steve Rogers—really have any reason to worry about him? To fight for hi—
His thoughts just stopped. He must have froze because it wasn’t a second later that Steve looked up at him. Tony didn’t think, couldn’t think. Steve looked up and searched for an answer in Tony’s scared, calculating eyes. But instead, Tony saw right through Steve. There was something there, hidden behind the worry, the concern. It made him hope. It terrified him.
Immediately tensing up, Tony pushed Steve away. It hurt like hell. He was using muscles he kinda forgotten was there, so he couldn’t help but make a face to hide the gasp that would have happened. Naturally Steve tried to move forward, help Tony before he hurt himself even more but Tony stepped back.
“Who asked you to do that anyways!?” he yelled, forcing Steve to almost lean back in surprise at his outburst. Tears began to well up in Tony’s eyes. Out of pain and out of fear.
“Why!? Why did you have to rush in, like some knight in shining armor!?” His mouth was getting the better of him. He really couldn’t shut up. Thankfully Steve decided to argue back, forcing him to shut up.
He looked absolutely baffled. “Tony, I had to stop him.” Like that made any sense. “You couldn’t just expect me to walk on by!”
“Why not!?” Tony argued. “Why couldn’t you be like everyone else!? Walk on by, pretend not to look; act like this hasn’t happened for the past 12 years of my fucking life!?” He didn’t mean to be so harsh nor so open. Admitting that he’d been bullied and beaten up for most of his school career really seemed to hurt Steve and spark some sort of protective instinct, like the knight he totally is.
“You think it would be obvious…” He talked like Tony should have known the reason behind such heroism. But Tony didn’t. It was starting to become clear that Tony still didn’t understand. “I just had to! I couldn’t stand do see you sitting there, taking it, already defeated. Sure you were mouthing off at him but that’s not standing up to him.
“That’s not the Tony Stark I know,” he explained, walking forward. Tony couldn’t make himself back up any further. It was as if he was stuck. Steve’s voice lowered, almost as if he was disappointed, trying to get a point across. “The Tony I know is proud, smart, lives up to his name. Sure he’s an asshole and can get under your skin, but there’s more to him. He wouldn’t just sit back and take it. He’d try to go around and change it.”
Steve was acting like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Like everyone knew this about him, though Tony was pretty sure no one cared enough to know this about him.
“And when I saw you just give up and...” he drift off, not willing to continue playing the scene in his mind. Tony could see the anger building up within him. “I couldn’t let them do that to you… I won’t let them do that to you.” He acted like this wasn’t over, that this whole ‘protecting’ and ‘caring’ thing wasn’t going to end.
“Who do you think you are—saying you know me so well!” he screamed. He stepped back. He couldn’t help the outburst. He felt vulnerable, exposed. It was the only way Tony knew how to protect himself, with harsh words and that were nothing. Steve didn’t even flinch, so Tony continued.
“You’re not even supposed to like me. You’re popular, nice, handsome, the perfect image of what a college student is supposed to be—of what a person is supposed to be.” Tony felt as if he should be crawling back into a shell of words, but he couldn’t stop. “I’m supposed to be that nerdy kid who sits in the back, who the popular kids don’t notice, who can only sit back and dream what it would be like to have someone like you.”
His mouth clamped shut. His eyes widening in fear that he knew Steve saw. He had essentially told Steve the feelings he’d repressed so long; how much he liked him, how he dreamed of Steve being there for him, how he had fallen head over heels for him. Tony felt the shell shatter behind him. He couldn’t go and take back those words.
What was worse is that Steve saw it too. He was confused, sat there for a moment before it all just seemed to click. No wonder Tony had agreed to tutor him so quickly. Most kids had to beg for him to help. There was a reason he called him an idiot every day. He was hiding his emotions behind insults. He was so mean cover up what he was doing; how he was being so kind, how he was really feeling.
It didn’t take a whole minute before Tony turned on his heels. He tried to walk away, as if composed and like nothing had happened. But he couldn’t help it turning into a brisk walk.
When Steve tried to follow him he was flat out running. His side hurt like hell, but he didn’t care. He hadn’t picked up his backpack or his books. He could just go buy new ones. It wasn’t worth going back and facing Steve again. Steve called out for him, wanting him to stop, to talk. He wasn’t going to.
He ran all the way to the quad on the other side of campus before he crumpled up against the business building. Steve hadn’t followed him. Why would he think Steve would follow him?
“I’m a fucking idiot…”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
He didn’t go back on Tuesday.
It had been nearly two weeks since Tony had been mugged; two weeks since Steve Rogers had probably saved his life; since he accidentally declared his secret attraction to campus’ one and only golden boy. Tony realized that he had an obligation. He had been tutoring Steve for the past semester, but he couldn’t bring himself to deal with the humiliation all over again.
So he’d simply stopped showing up. The kind-hearted Steve Rogers was supposed to give up hope, be angry, disappointed, something that would make him never return, let alone willing to see or talk to him ever again. That’s why Tony was confused to see the same Steve that he was supposed to never see again just sitting there, at their usual spot, waiting.
Tony ducked behind the service desk. Why was he there? Why would he possibly be there? It had been two weeks. Two weeks was more than enough to put him behind, and with the liberal arts student’s knowledge of basic chemistry, Rogers should have his perfect blond head in a textbook, helplessly cramming for the exam next week.
Instead he was just sitting there, looking out the window, waiting for someone.
…waiting for him.
Tony shook his head. Why would the most popular guy on campus wait for him? Knowing the idiot, he probably thought that he had some duty, some obligation to dispel Tony’s fear, gently turning him down and explain why he couldn’t ever return his feelings. And that was the last thing Tony wanted. He didn’t think he would be able to handle that kind, sorry expression. Steve probably thought he had some reason to feel guilty, which Tony knew was absolutely stupid. He was the guilty one: guilty of having the slightest hope that the straightest guy on campus could ever possibly like him, for accidentally admitting such hope.
Ugh! He resisted the urge to bury himself behind his backpack and just sit there, yelling at himself. First of all, Tony realized that’d attract Steve’s attention. Then there was the whole he’d look like an idiot and Tony really didn’t want to tarnish his reputation of resident genius with absolutely insane. The truth was, he’d already thought of four different ways to get himself out of a situation like this, but letting off a stink bomb for a distraction probably wasn’t the greatest idea ever. Instead he opted for the most reasonable plan he had: to run away.
He quickly exited the library, heading in a direction he didn’t even care. Tony fumbled for his phone, still shaken over his near chance encounter with what would have been the most embarrassing, awkward, horrible moment in his life. When he finally found it, he was already calling the only person who could handle a situation like this:
“Tony! I’m in the middle of a—“ she answered, her voice calm though strewed with a layer of annoyance. He couldn’t blame her. She was about to begin her infamous speech about why he wasn’t supposed to call during a session but he cut her off.
“Meeting. Yeah I know. Student Council, whatever,” he finished for her. “But this is important.”
He could practically hear the roll of her eyes. “What is so important that you had—“
A momentary silence. “…Steve?”
“Rogers. Steve Rogers. Captain of the football team? I just saw him at the library.”
“Ooooh, right. The guy you’re tutoring,” she finally realized. Tony slunk against a wall as she spoke. “Tony, this might be a surprise to you, but he’s supposed to be there. It’s Tuesday. You’re supposed to be helping him with his chemistry, remember?”
“No he’s not. He’s supposed to hate me.”
Pepper sighed. “Why is Steve supposed to hate you?”
Tony didn’t answer, hesitant to admit the most horrible mistake in his pathetic little life.
“Tony.” It was all she had to do. Her voice was armed with the authority that not even his parents held. Tony groaned in protest, feeling a blue eyed glare.
“I may or may not have told him that I am madly in love with him.”
The line was silent. While Tony initially feared that she was going to hang up on him, hardly believing him, he knew she wouldn’t. This was Pepper. She had stuck with him throughout everything; the bullies in middle school to their horrible, yet now hilarious break up in high school. She was the only person who knew he was even gay—she’d found out first hand. If anything, she was just slowly taking the time to process the information he’d just laid at her feet: that had a horrible crush and that he accidentally told said person.
“You told him you’re in love with him?” she finally asked, relieving the weight that had, unknowingly, been holding him down. Tony relaxed, stretching his feet out across the grass.
“Maybe it wasn’t those exact words.”
“But you told him you liked him?”
Tony heard the sound of a door closing. Pepper had left her meeting in order to deal with Tony’s, more important, emotional emergency. He should have felt touched if he wasn’t already wracked with the horrible realization that Tony’s most embarrassing moment was officially public.
“Where are you now?”
Tony took a quick survey. In all honesty, he hadn’t picked a destination when he jumped ship. He just kinda took off. It didn’t help that, when nervous, Tony tended to pace, ultimately leaving him somewhere he had no idea. “Next to this business building?” he answered, though it was more of a question than a statement. He practically hear Pepper smack her forehead.
“Stay where you are, I’ll come and get you.” It was almost as if she thought a grown man of 21 couldn’t find his way back to his dorm while still on campus. But the truth was, a nervous, upset Tony was like a lost child. He would be wandering the grounds for hours, lost in the equational thought of figuring out where the hell everything went wrong.
So, instead, Tony let reason take hold as he found the nearest bench and sat down.
“You were mugged!?” she redhead screamed at him, almost choking on her coffee. When Pepper had found him, they’d walked over to a nearby coffee shop to sit and talk. Needless to say, Pepper was mad. Beyond mad really. For multiple reasons really: the fact he was mugged, the fact that said criminal got away but the most important of all that Tony hadn’t even told her.
Pepper practically leapt over the table to examine the now yellowing (yet healing) bruises on his torso. Tony sighed, exasperated, pulling his shirt down and pushing his friend away. “I’m fine okay. It was two weeks ago,” he reasoned. “I’m obviously still alive.”
“Thanks to Rogers,” Pepper reminded him.
“Yeah thanks to Steve. Who we’re supposed to be talking about, not the broken ribs.”
“There are broken ribs!?”
Tony snapped his fingers, grabbing her attention before she called Rhodey and demanded that they go to the hospital. “Pepper, I’m fine. I got myself checked out, okay? Focus here. Rogers. We’re talking about Rogers.”
“And the fact that you ditched him,” she accused.
Tony fell back into his chair. “I can’t believe it. I’m having an emotional crisis, and you are judging me. You’re supposed to be on my side.”
“No, Tony, I’m your friend. That means I get to point out when you’ve done something stupid,” she retorted, making him wince slightly. Pepper sighed. “When did it start?”
“What start?” he asked, feigning ignorance.
Pepper however, was unconvinced. “Steve. When did you start liking Steve?”
Tony shrugged. “I don’t know… last semester? We had math together and well… I don’t know. It was cute how he struggled with the basics of algebra, and he shyly asked for my help. From then I just...” he stopped. “Why the hell does this matter, anyways?”
“Because I need to know, Tony.” It was an open response, as if Tony was supposed to realize that friends are just supposed to know this shit. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I’m not stupid. I know Steve could never like someone like me. I’m a nobody,” he admitted. It almost hurt to hear himself speak the excuses he’d repeated in his head over and over again. “Sure I’m Tony Stark, smartest, richest kid on campus. But I’m also an arrogant asshole who pushes people away like the plague. “
“But you didn’t push Steve away…”
“Because for some strange reason I don’t understand I happened to really like him. And I wanted him to like me. I just admitted it to two people now. ”
Tony wanted to scream, tear his hair out and run away. He didn’t have to deal with this. But Pepper was his friend. He knew she was only trying to help. So instead he opted for hitting his head against the table, laying there motionless for a while, pretending hopefully that he was dead to the world and they’d just leave him alone.
“I’m a fucking idiot,” he finally muttered, his voice strained with the hopelessness he felt deep inside of him. “How did I manage to fall head over heels for the straightest, best guy on campus when I know I can’t have him. I know he doesn’t look at me that way, so why did I have to say that? He probably hates me.”
Pepper let out a gentle sigh, reaching over and grabbing Tony’s hand. “Tony, you can’t help something like that. It’s something that even your ingenious mind can’t control.” A small smile crept on her face. “Besides, if he hated you, why would he be waiting for you still after all this time?”
Tony didn’t answer. Instead they just sat there for a while, Pepper holding his hand while he was face down, refusing to look at her. When he finally looked up, she could see the pain, fear and confusion in his eyes. “So what do I do?”
“Steve’s not waiting there to tell you he hates you. From what you tell me, he’s just not that kind of guy,” she reasoned, offering a gentle smile. “He just wants to talk. He saved your life… isn’t that the least you can do?”
It seemed as if he had sat there for hours, the ticking of the clock reminding him minute by minute that he’d not shown up yet. Steve glanced down at the pad of paper before him. He had drawn a thousand sketches; the scenery, people both fictitious and real, none of them any credit. He was just passing time. But it was better than the alternative. The more he stared out the window, searching for a glimpse of a certain someone, the more his hopes deflated.
He just needed to talk, to figure out what he did wrong.
“Still waiting?” a voice questioned. Steve looked up from his sketch book to see his leather clad roommate, holding out a paper cup of coffee at him.
“Thanks. ” He took a sip as Clint took the seat across from him. Steve knew that look. He was growing tired of the sad, pitiful expression that graced the face of every friend who passed him here.
They sat there in silence for a while, Steve trying to avoid Clint’s worried gaze. Steve didn’t want to talk about it. They always wanted to talk about it—they wanted to reason him out of it. Remind him he had a test that his tutor had abandoned him on that he should be studying for. To tell him that it doesn’t matter what was said between them, he couldn’t wait forever.
“You know he’s not going to show up, right?” Clint asked, breaking the silence between them. Steve tried his best to ignore him, but couldn’t help but look at him when an exasperated sigh left his lips. “You’ve sat here in this same chair, every day at the same time, for what, two weeks now? He’s not going to come, Steve. Why are you doing this to yourself?”
Steve looked away from Clint’s tired, worried expression. Instead, he looked out at the crowding streets of campus, eyes still searching.
“Because he will come,” he answered determinedly. “I know he will.”
Edit: Please read this post in regards to the delay in writing: Knight in Shining Armor Update