Tony was going to murder his father—not for the years the man spent switching between ignoring Tony to being damn right verbally abusive with his criticisms, but for forcing Tony on another date with one Tiberius Stone. Howard didn’t even like Ty.
When Howard had first learned of Tony’s relationship with Ty, Howard had threatened to disown him. It wasn’t until the media got wind of the relationship and LGBTQIA groups started scrambling to get the two to make appearances at fundraisers that Howard realized what a boon the relationship was for his public image. He was the doting and supportive father figure soon after that. So supportive that he wouldn’t let Tony break up with the abusive prick.
Howard had plans for Viastone, and apparently breaking up with Ty would ruin those machinations.
Normally, Tony would say “screw it” and dump Ty’s ass, but then Howard pulled up a few prepared court documents along with several reports created by psychologists, who Tony had never met, that declared Tony unstable and in need of a guardian in spite of being a legal adult.
He’d just gotten his adult freedom a few months ago, and he sure as hell wasn’t giving it up right away.
“Are you designing another one of those useless robots?” Ty scrunched his nose and sipped his water.
Tony paused in his rough sketch of what would be his next AI. The drawing was far more detailed than he had planned, but the cute, blond waiter (Steve) had given Tony extra napkins just in case, and Tony felt compelled to use all the napkins just to show his appreciation.
Tony flipped the napkin over so Ty couldn’t see his designs. “It’s artificial intelligence. I wouldn’t scoff at it.”
Ty chuckled, the sound grating and dismissive to Tony’s ears. “Doesn’t change the fact that so far your AI has been utterly useless. What did you name it again? Dummy?”
“After you, sweetheart,” Tony grinned.
He stretched his leg out under the table and crushed his heel into Tony’s toes.
Tony clenched his jaw, but didn’t say anything, not wanting to draw attention to himself. He distracted himself by letting his eyes wander around the room. The café was small, quaint—not at all the kind of place people would expect to see Tony Stark, but he loved the calm and quiet atmosphere of the place. He might also have a small crush on Steve.
How could Tony resist? Besides being built like a Ken Doll with a waistline and an ass with just the right balance of roundness and muscle, Steve was the stereo-type of the boy next door with an added edge of sass that made Tony swoon internally each time Steve managed to out snark him.
Tony sighed wistfully as he watched Steve take the orders of customers a few tables down.
Ty’s hand grabbed Tony’s and squeezed a tad too tight. “Tony,” Ty purred, just a hint of remorse in his voice. “Forgive me for losing my temper, but I don’t think its fair for you to stare at someone else just because you’re a little miffed at me.”
“I say it’s more fair than you going out to get your rocks off while I’m stuck attending charity banquets.”
“Tony, you know that was a lie invented by the media.”
“Because photoshop is just that good.”
“Well, it certainly has made you look better.”
Tony gripped the pen he’d been using for drawing and tapped it on the tabletop. He wanted nothing more than to storm out the restaurant and be done with Ty’s bullshit.
“Are you two ready to order?” Steve was suddenly there and glowing with friendliness and joy, his notepad in hand.
His smile melted Tony’s insides. Without any conscious effort on Tony’s part, he tilted his head back so he looked directly up at Steve and beamed like Steve was the best person on the planet, which as far as Tony was concerned, at that moment, Steve was. “Yeah, I think I’ll get a good old fashioned—“
“BLT?” Steve scribbled down on his notepad. His expression turned fond as he waited for Tony to answer.
Delight filled Tony’s chest with warmth. “Yeah, guess I order that a lot.” He handed his menu to Steve.
“You switch between five items on the menu, so really, it was just a lucky guess.”
Ty cleared his throat. In a cartoon world, a dozen storm clouds unleashing intimidating bolts of lightning would be over his head. In reality, he wore his charming façade reserved usually for business matters. “I can’t make up my mind, so I will get Ribeye—medium rare, and none of the char broiled nonsense, also, do me a favor and keep the side of vegetables separate. I can’t stand when the meat’s juices touch the vegetables. No broccoli in the vegetables too, and what kind of steak sauce do you have? I am very particular.” Ty went on, requesting more specifications and even ordering two more entrees with ridiculous demands. When Ty demanded his pasta be gluten free for no medical reason at all (and Tony knew for a fact, Ty hated gluten free products), Tony just about had a conniption. It was Steve’s determined face that kept Tony from telling Ty off.
When Steve finished writing down the order, he nodded and listed off what he had written.
Ty frowned as Steve neared the end of his notes and hadn’t made an error. Ty then deliberately lied and changed the last bit of his order. If Steve noticed, he didn’t comment on it, just made the change. He then reached for Ty’s menu.
Ty moved to hand Steve the menu and knocked his elbow into his beverage.
Water splashed all over the place and seeped into the tablecloth and onto the floor.
“Forgive me,” Ty said quickly.
Tony cursed and dropped his unused napkins on the floor. He dropped out of his seat and got on his heads and knees.
He yelped when he knocked foreheads with Steve, who had joined him on the floor.
“Sorry,” Steve apologized.
Tony waved off the apology, clutching his head. “It’s fine. No worse than the time my parents dropped me on my head.”
“Oh, well, that explains a lot.” Steve’s eyes twinkled with mirth. “Most people would just let their waiters clean up the mess, but not you.”
“I was raised to—" Tony began to joke, but then cut himself off and switched to a different one. "You know what? No. Not even I can sell that line. I was raised to be a barbarian. This moment of selflessness is obviously brought upon by high stress.”
Steve offered a hand and helped Tony back into his seat. “Allow me to make things a little less stressful for you, and see about getting you two some more drinks.”
Tony was about to respond when Ty cut in, “That would be great, and getting our food on time would be too.” Ty looked pointedly at the notepad, which Steve had shoved into his pocket when he’d bent to clean up Ty’s mess.
Steve nodded. “Would you like a new table too, since this one—”
“No,” Tony answered. He refused to give Ty the chance to play magical tables and reenact Goldie Locks and the Three Bears with the tables.
Tony smiled at Steve to counteract Ty. “Just a refill, please.”
Steve nodded and went to get the drinks, put their order in, and to probably get a towel to finish cleaning up Ty’s mess.
Ty kicked Tony’s shin once Steve was out of sight.
“What?” Tony hissed.
“You know what.”
“I know a lot of things, but that I don't.”
“Playing stupid doesn’t look good on you, Stark.”
“So now it’s ‘Stark?’”
“You’re being a brat.”
“I’m being a brat? I think you need to look in a mirror.”
“I am not the one lusting after some plebian waiter.”
“No, just Ms. July from Playboy.”
“Your drinks.” Steve set the glasses of water down.
“Thanks,” Tony said.
The conversation died as Steve stuck around to towel the floor and table where the water had landed. The silence didn’t come from awkwardness though. Ty was plotting; Tony’s could tell by the glint in the man’s eye. Tony could predict just whom Ty was conspiring against, and so Tony ran through a list of defensive maneuvers to the various things Ty could do.
As Steve rose to stand, Tony didn’t miss the way Ty jutted out his foot just enough to cause Steve to stumble as he walked away.
“Don’t,” Tony warned.
Ty feigned innocence.
Tony contemplated slipping Tabasco sauce into Ty’s food, but scrapped the idea when he realized it would just give Ty more ammunition against Steve.
Steve soon returned with a tray full of food. He carefully laid out the plates of food, and winked at Tony as he rested a tiny cup of extra secret sauce for Tony’s burger beside Tony’s meal. Tony’s heart gave a happy lurch at the thoughtfulness.
The moment was ruined when Ty cut into his steak and released an agitated huff. “This isn’t want I ordered.”
Without missing a beat, Steve stepped over to Ty, and eyed the meal. “I’m sorry, it was a ribeye, correct?”
“A medium cooked ribeye,” Ty stated.
“I see,” Steve said, his tone taking on certain thoughtfulness. “I’ll get you another.” He picked up the plate and turned to go.
“Stop being a jackass,” Tony snapped at Ty.
“Me?” Ty had the gall to act offended. “I merely—”
“Don’t give me any of your bullshit.”
Ty smirked. He twirled his pasta around his fork and took a bite then spat it out just as Steve walked by to take care of another table.
Steve’s shoulders tensed.
“This is terrible!” Ty shouted.
Steve excused himself from the table he was at and returned to Ty. “Is there something I can assist you with?”
“These noodles aren’t cooked all the way through.”
“Sorry, let me get you a new—”
“What is going on in that kitchen of yours? This is terrible service…” and thus started Ty's three minute tirade. Steve nodded through the entire thing, not flinching even as Ty aimed a few well-aimed barbs at Steve. “Who is your manager, I’d like to talk to them.”
“I am the manager,” Steve stated.
The answer gave Ty pause.
“I’d just like to interject and say that I think this place is fantastic and I promise never to bring this asshole again,” Tony said.
Steve’s eyes twinkled with mirth, but he wisely kept his mouth shut.
Ty scoffed and sat up a little straighter. “I’d like to see your manager.”
“As I said, I am the manager.” Steve smiled cheekily. “Sorry, highest manager here.”
“Then I’d like to talk to the owner.”
Steve shrugged. “I’ll let them know. In the meantime, would you like me to replace your entrée? Or perhaps you would like to order something new?”
“No, just take it away.” Ty waved away the plate.
Steve smiled and took away the pasta.
Pleased by the exchange, Tony couldn’t help but watch Steve walk away. The sass and the confidence drew Tony in like a magnet.
“It really is cute how you like to roll around with the trash.”
“I wouldn’t roll around with it if I wasn’t being strong-armed into it.” Tony punctuated his statement with a glare that conveyed just who Tony considered trash.
Ty wasn’t the least bit insulted, or if he was, he covered it with a predatory grin. “Aw, poor baby Stark. He has the same worth as a princess back in medieval times. In other words, nothing more than a glorified hole for sex and political ties. I’m sure in a few years your father will be passing around a marriage contract at meetings just to see how much people are willing to offer for a chance at your ass and his company.”
Tony stiffened. The words however untrue still stung like a whip, because while half of Tony was quick to dismiss something so archaic and straight out of a dime store romance novel, the other half pointed out that in a lot of ways Howard was doing something very similar by forcing Tony to keep dating Ty. It was just a few steps away from what Ty was suggesting.
Tony scowled. “That will be hard for him to do, considering I get to decide who I end up with.”
“Like you do right now?” Ty’s smirk stretched across his face. “Face it, Tony, whatever he’s got hanging over you right now ain’t going away. It will be there until the day he dies. Probably even after, knowing him. You’re just your dad’s cheap prostitute, and once he and Viastone finish business, you’ll be passed along to the next business partner or investor. Just the perfect little—" Ty screamed as he was doused in scolding hot tea.
He leaped out of his seat, almost hitting Steve, who was half-kneeled on the ground and clutching the table for purchase like he had just tripped and caught himself.
Steve stood, picking up the tray and empty mugs of tea. “Must not have cleaned up that spill from earlier very good; I slipped.”
Ty lunged at Steve.
Tony moved without thought. The next thing he knew, Ty’s fist had slammed into his cheek, and Tony was stumbling backwards into Steve’s chest as customers gasped and murmured in shock and awe. Two corded arms of muscle wrapped around Tony’s waist, holding him in place. One of the arms slid up and a hand touched Tony’s unharmed cheek.
“Tony, are you okay?” Panic tinged Steve’s voice.
Tony groaned but batted his eyelashes at Steve. “Tell me the truth, doc. Will I ever be beautiful again?”
For the briefest second Steve smiled fondly at Tony—the smile tainted by a cloud of sorrow. Then like a blood hound that had caught the scent of its hunt, Steve turned his attention on Ty. He radiated strength and determination. “Sir, I believe it is time for you to leave.”
“Once you let go of my boyfriend, I’ll be delighted to,” Ty spat.
“I don’t know where you come from, but where I'm from, we don’t hit our boyfriends.”
“I wasn’t aiming for him. I was aiming for the punk ass manager of this atrocious place who purposefully poured tea on me. You can bet you’re paying my dry cleaning and medical bills; I have a second degree burn, you ingrate.”
“Yeah, no," a new voice joined the group and Tony managed to focus through his still spinning head to get a look at the new arrival. It took a second, but Tony recognized the brunet as one of the chef’s Steve bantered with. Tony hadn’t gotten to see the guy much since he was always in the back, but the few times he’s seen Steve with the guy it was obvious that the two were best friends.
The new arrival held up a cell phone with a video geared up to play. “Besides, our security feed, I got this nifty little video of you trash talkin’ your boyfriend and then hitting him, which I’m sure you’d hate to see uploaded online. So you’re going to get the hell out of here and never come back.”
“And just who the hell do you think you are?” Ty sneered.
Steve’s friend nonchalantly raised one eyebrow and hit the upload button. “I’m Bucky, I’m the owner of this establishment, and I’m the guy who called the cops five minutes ago, which means…” sirens blared down the road, signifying the rival of the police. “Right on time.” Bucky perked up.
Ty sputtered and his fist clenched. His eyes darted about, looking for an escape. His eyes landed on an emergency exit and he made a dash for it.
Bucky cursed and looked like he was going to tear after Ty, but he stopped himself. He shook his head, muttering under his breath. He noticed all of the stares from the customers and cursed again. “Sorry for the inconvenience everyone. We will do our best to make certain the rest of meal here is pleasant.”
“Free drinks on me,” Tony raised his voice.
Excited murmurs came from the patrons.
Steve shook his head, unwrapping his arms from around Tony. “You do not have to do that.”
“It’s the least I can do, since I brought that asshole here.” Tony rubbed his tender cheek, wincing as pain shot through his face.
Bucky sighed, shaking his head. “Steve, take your crush to the back and get him some ice for that.”
The tips of Steve’s ears pinked. “Right...” He clamped a large hand on Tony’s shoulders and urged him toward the back office area.
Tony squeezed Steve’s hand, halting Steve’s movements so he could talk to Bucky. Bucky raised a curious eyebrow at Tony, which Tony took as an invite to talk. “Do me a favor, and post any footage of Ty being an asshole online. I want it from every angle. And if you are worried about getting sued then just give me a copy of the footage. I want to create a PR nightmare so bad no one will want to be affiliated with him.” Not even Howard. Ty may not have realized it, but he had given Tony the perfect opportunity to end things without garnering Howard’s wrath.
The scandal that would occur if Tony stayed with Ty after the footage made it online would have Stark stock plummeting. After all, if Howard couldn’t control his son/couldn’t keep his son safe, how could anyone expect him to keep anyone safe with his weapons? It was pure stupid logic, and Tony for once loved it.
Bucky nodded, and relief swept through Tony.
Tony let himself be led to the back. The office was cramped and could use a fan and an extra window. Steve helped Tony in a plush and torn chair then fetched an ice pack from the mini fridge in the corner. He wrapped the pack in a paper towel.
Tony expected Steve to hand the ice pack to him. He was stunned when instead Steve bent over him and gently pressed the pack to Tony’s cheek. Tony shuddered from the cold and jerked away, but Steve used his free hand to keep Tony’s head in place.
“So am I really your crush?” Tony asked and mentally kicked himself.
Steve smiled. “Yeah.”
“Oh.” Tony’s fingers scrunched the knees of his jeans. “You may not believe this, because I was dating dumbass out there, but me too.”
“You have a crush on yourself?” Steve teased.
Tony mock huffed then gestured to himself. “Have you seen me? I am the perfect human specimen.”
“I’m sure you are,” there was a laughing lilt to Steve’s voice. Steve lifted the ice pack. His face pinched with distress. “The bruise is going to be huge.”
“Feels like it.” Tony tapped his foot nervously. “Guess that means you are the hottest guy in the room by default.”
“I’ll wear that title with honor.”
Tony frowned. “So do you want to go out with me, since, you know, you have that crush and all?”
Steve smiled, rubbing a soothing thumb against Tony’s temple. “I was going to wait a few days, since you literally just broke up with your boyfriend.” Steve paused in his ministrations and Tony had to stop himself from whining like a petulant child. “I assume that was your break up. You never actually told him you two were through.”
Tony scoffed. “Steve, my sexy man, I’ve been done with that guy for over a month now, but due to business and family reasons I was obligated to keep dating the bastard.”
Steve frowned. “That sounds terrible. Why would your family—”
Tony held up a hand to silence Steve. “You have to reach level ten to unlock my tragic backstory. However, to go on a date with me you have to reach level three.” Tony grinned. “You’re at level four.”
The corner of Steve’s mouth lifted. “Now I feel really special.”
“You might make it to level five, if you go out with me.”
Steve burst with laughter. He pressed his forehead to Tony's as he tried to muffle his laugh, something Tony desperately wished Steve wouldn’t do; he loved Steve's laugh. After such a terrible date, Steve’s laughter was so refreshing and sweet to his ears he wanted to keep it going all day.
“You could also kiss me better and see if that gets you to level five.”
Steve’s eyes darted to Tony’s lips then Tony’s eyes. They sparkled with challenge and delight.
He pressed his lips to Tony’s in the softest and sweetest kiss Tony had ever received. It had Tony smiling from ear to ear even as Steve pulled away.
Steve’s grin matched Tony’s as he said, “So am I at level five?”
Tony reached for Steve’s face, cupping his cheek. “Inconclusive findings. I’ll need another kiss to be sure.”
Steve happily kissed Tony again.