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And Then There's You

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On his seventh birthday, Tony Stark wins his first science competition. It was for the eighth graders, really, but they let him in because he’s Tony Stark and his father is funding the whole thing, anyway. They let him into the competition expecting that he’ll make a paper airplane and they’ll coo over it and pretend it’s brilliant; he can see that look in their eyes, the pitying one, the placating one.

He builds a robot that’s supposed to be a toaster. When the announcer says, “And what do you have here, Tony?” he clicks his fingers (he spent all night practicing that, though he’d never admit it in a million years) and the toaster grows legs, straightens, and begins shooting toast at people.

There are cries from across the auditorium as people duck for cover and a few unfortunates get bread to the face. Tony begins to laugh.

He wins first prize anyway, because malfunctions aside, his toaster is still the best. He runs over to his father with his prize, says, “Daddy, I won!” and holds the trophy up proudly.

“Tony,” his father scolds. “You could have caused an accident.”

I did it to make you proud, Tony thinks as his father turns away, his heart dropping. There’s a tap on his shoulder, and he turns around. There’s a boy standing there, grinning.

“That, back there,” the boy says, “t’was brilliant. ’N hilarious. I wish my toaster did that!”

Tony can’t help but grin back. “I can make one for you, if you like.” Then he looks over at where his father is apologising to a victim of the toaster’s parents. “Well, after some adjustments, of course.” He’s already making plans for it in his head.

The boy doesn’t look at all let down by this. “Really? You’d do that?” He smiles widely and sticks out his hand. “I’m Steve. Steve Rogers.”

Tony takes it. “Tony –”

Steve rolls his eyes. “I know who you are, Stark,” he says. “Wanna come play with us?” He waves his hands over to where a group of children are gathered around the science stalls, poking at things and laughing. He recognises a few of them.

“Uh, well –” Tony shrugs. “They – er, I dun think they don’t like me very much. I don’t want to ruin things.”

He doesn’t want to have to tell this nice boy how he accidentally set fire to Maria Hill’s t-shirt a few months ago, or how Clint Barton still hasn’t really forgiven Tony since he accidentally made the boy’s basketball explosive at the beginning of second grade.

“C’mon, you’re my guest,” Steve insists, and Tony goes.

Later that day, Steve says, “Why d’you look so sad?” and Tony says, “It’s my birthday.” Steve looks horrified, disappears for a while. Tony just kind of stands there where Steve left him, confused.

Ten minutes later, Steve returns with his mother and a birthday cake. The whole auditorium sings Tony happy birthday. Tony stops thinking about his toaster reparations for a moment, startled, blows out the candles, and for the first time in his life, feels like a real child.

*

So it turns out, Tony sucks at English.

You wouldn’t believe it from looking at his grades. He’s getting As in almost everything, taking advanced classes and beating the freshman, for God’s sake, and this is an eight year old boy. But Tony kind of just stares at the word on the page, the ink all blending together into one stream of nothingness, and all he can think about is what he’s going to build next.

One day when they’re in the library doing homework together, Tony complains about this. Steve says, “I’ll tutor you,” because he’s passing English with flying colours and he’s just that kind of guy.

And Tony surprises himself by saying, “Okay,” and so Wednesday Evening English Tutoring begins.

They go to Steve’s house most of the time, because Tony’s house is cold and dangerous, like you could take one wrong step and start a nuclear war or something. That’s what Steve thinks, Tony knows, though he’s too polite to say it. He says things like My house is quieter, which is true, and My house is nearer, which is also true, so they go to his house and Steve corrects Tony’s spelling and makes him write and rewrite and rewrite again until his sentences are perfect.

Tony starts getting Bs for English, then As. He decides he wants to thank Steve, and his first instinct is to buy him something big and expensive. That’s what his dad has always told him: That’s what people want, son. There’s nothing money can’t fix or do.

But then Tony thinks about how Steve is so patient, so kind. He thinks of the way Steve’s face looks when somebody does something really special, like save a dog from a fire or some stupid rubbish like that and he thinks, I want to see that smile. So, ignoring his first instinct, he goes to a small craft shop in the city with Happy – he’d asked his parents but they’d frowned, shaken their heads, said things like Too busy and Don’t have time for such childish things – and he buys Steve several big canvases, some pencils and paint.

He drops the things off at Steve’s house on the way home. Steve isn’t there, but his mum is, apparently having just gotten home from her work at the local restaurant. She looks at Tony, smiles widely and says, “Hello, Tony. Steve didn’t tell me you’d be coming around today.”

“'M just...dropping off stuff,” Tony says quietly. “For Steve. To say thank you for tutoring me.”

Steve’s mum’s eyes soften. “Of course. Thank you, Tony. I’ll make sure he gets them.”

Over the next few years, Steve’s mother feels more like a mother than his own, sometimes. It’s not something he’d never admit, no, but she makes him feel like he’s loved. His mother – Tony’s mother – makes him feel like a mistake.

*

Tony’s nine when he blows up half of the science wing.

Steve takes one look at him as he comes out of the school, which had to be evacuated (oops), and says tiredly, “Tony, not again.”

“I didn’t mean t’ –” Tony begins, a little chagrined, but Steve’s already got him by the collar and is dragging him out of the school.

“If they find out it was you who did it, they’re gon’ expel you, Tony,” Steve snaps, shoving Tony into Steve’s mum’s car. He goes around the other side, scowling, and Tony thinks that he’s not sure he’s seen Steve this angry in a long time.

Tony looks up. “Hi, Ms. Rogers,” he says politely.

“Hello, Tony,” Steve’s mum says warmly. “Are you coming home with us today?”

Steve slams the car door behind him and sits down, clicking in his seatbelt and scowling, brows drawn low over eyes. “Yes, he is.”

“My dad –” Tony begins warily.

Steve looks at him then, really looks at him, eyes wide and full of far too much awareness. “Your dad won’t care,” he says flatly, and then winces at the look on his friend’s face. “Tony, I’m sorry, you know I didn’t mean –”

He finds himself talking to air. Tony’s already gone, slamming the car door shut behind him.

*

Tony isn’t stupid, no, he isn’t. He knows the rules; you try hard so they like you, they like you because you try hard. You try hard and you make it look like you don’t try hard, because that’s what makes you cool.

Tony isn’t stupid; he just doesn’t care about any of that. That's why he hangs out with Steve, see, because Steve is nice to people. He doesn't care about being cool; he cares about kindness and loyalty and all sorts of wonderful things. This is what Tony finds himself thinking as he watches Steve instead of taking notes, watching the way his pen quickly moves across the page, his perfect slanted scrawl.

“This is boring,” Tony whispers to Steve. Steve is looking up at the board and scribbling notes furiously, even though they don’t even have to, because they’re ten years old, for God’s sake. Steve is the exact opposite of Tony; organised, dedicated and smart in a gentle way, not in a gung-ho, all-guns-blazing way like Tony.

Tony, I’m working,” Steve says in that longsuffering tone of voice, and Tony leaves him alone, because he’s Steve and Tony likes Steve.

Steve is scrawny but he likes to pick fights, and later that day when some kid calls Tony a freak, Steve punches them. The kid looks completely ready to punch back, but then Natasha Romanov, with her violent red hair in pigtails and wearing all black, and, yeah, Tony’s always found her a little scary, too, steps in and glares at Steve’s would-be attacker. The boy backs down. Tony stares in mild astonishment.

“I could’ve taken him,” Steve snaps half-heartedly, small, skinny hands clenched into fists. And then, mutters, “I totally could’ve!” when Natasha snorts.

“You’re Tony Stark,” Natasha says, nodding to Tony.

“You’re terrifying,” Tony agrees.

Natasha smirks and nods, pigtails bouncing.

Later, when they’re waiting for their parents outside the school, Tony murmurs to Steve, “You didn’ ’av to do that, Stevie,” and Steve rolls his eyes and says, “You’re my friend,” and that’s that.

*

Tony’s first kidnapping happens on his eleventh birthday. He goes to chase the ice-cream truck outside their house, and two men grab him from behind, shoving him into a car. There’s pain and blood and guns pressed to his head, the cold metal icy against his skin. He gets shoved into that car an innocent eleven year old and comes out older, somehow. All the kidnappers wanted was the ransom, he finds out, and when he sees his father again he runs and hugs him, and his father actually hugs him back.

“Don’t you damn well scare me like that again,” Howard snaps, and for the first time in his life Tony feels like his father actually cares.

Steve is there, too, and he hugs Tony tightly even though they’ve never hugged before because hugging is for girls, but it’s nice and Steve is smiling and saying, “Y’made me worry so much, Stark,” and it doesn’t even matter that Tony’s crying; he’s okay.

Well, it's nice until Steve takes a step back and goes, “Is that blood?”. Tony scowls.

*

When Tony’s twelve, he tries to build an AI. He’s built Dummy before, of course, but that didn’t exactly turn out so well, did it; he’d seen the look of disapproval in his father’s eyes as the robot had flailed around the living room. He sits in his workshop, which isn’t a workshop yet but just a small study in their mansion that’s been cleared for him, scrap metal piled in the corner and a Stark Technologies™ computer in the very centre of the room.

Run program.

 “Come on, damnit!”

Running...

Running...

“Tony, time for dinner,” Tony’s mother calls. She’s home today for the first time in ages, covered in jewellery and make-up and distant as ever, and whenever Tony looks at her, all he can think is I don’t even know you at all.

“Gimme a minute!” Tony yells back.

Antony.

“Fine!” Tony throws the computer once last look. No progress. He lets out a heavy sigh and storms out of the room, slamming the door behind him. Just as he’s making for the stairs, his phone beeps.

You slept lately? S

Tony grins a little. havnt had time.

Sleep.

may b later.

If it had been anybody else, he would have flat out told them ‘no’. But for Steve... Steve. For Steve, Tony will do anything.

*

Now Tony’s thirteen, and he’s in love with a girl.

Her name is Pepper Potts. She has blonde hair that falls down her hair in sheets, blue eyes sharp and kind. They’re in high school now, young and naive and yet old enough to know better. It doesn’t make sense, does it, this contradiction; Tony doesn’t get it, doesn’t get what they expect from him.

And yet he tries, tries and tries harder, getting As in everything even though he could do that with his eyes closed, and he’s even passing English now thanks to Steve’s tutoring. Steve doesn’t tutor Tony anymore, has enough on his hands as it is, but they’re still friends. They sit together in the cafeteria, with Natasha and a quiet friend of Nat’s called Bryce or something, and now Pepper Potts, too.

Steve immediately takes to her. “She’s a wonderful dame,” he tells Tony seriously, because he’s Steve and Steve still thinks he's living in the ’30s or ’40s, or whatever. And then, bluntly, “Are you going to ask her out or what?”

Tony blinks. “I...yeah. I did. Kind of. We’re getting ice cream on Friday.”

Steve grins supportively, but there’s a glint to his eye, something Tony can’t quite find a name for and won’t be able to for another few years. “That’s awesome,” Steve says, and he even seems to believe it. Only Steve, Tony thinks, because only Steve would find such great happiness in other people’s happiness. Only Steve.

And it’s funny that they’re like this, isn't it, because there's Tony, too-clever and too-fast, always having to be moving, selfish and desperate and cruel, and then there’s Steve with his kindness, his slow smile and his patience, selfless and calm and kind to everything and everyone. They’re fire and ice, good and bad, and somehow, somehow, it works.

*

Fourteen, and Tony discovers the wonders of alcohol.

He takes Pepper to a party with people older than them and alcohol pouring hard and fast. They both get a little tipsy, and then Rhodey’s there, too. Tony’s known Rhodey forever; their parents were friends back in the day, or something. He’s Tony’s best friend, a friend in a different way to Steve – Steve is kind and gentle; Rhodey tells him it straight and honest, which is something, let’s face it, Tony really kind of needs.

Rhodey’s also a year and a half older than him, and fiercely protective. Which is why Tony tries to hide behind Pepper when he sees him.

“Stark!” Rhodey calls, scowling. “You shouldn’t be drinking.”

“Neither should you,” Tony says meekly.

“I'm older than you. I turn sixteen next week, Tony,” Rhodey says. His voice says cut the bullshit. He seems to notice Pepper for the first time at this point, and raises his eyebrows. “And you are, ma’am?”

“Pepper Potts,” Pepper says flatly. “We’re going, anyway. Tony, let’s go, I have a History essay due tomorrow that I need to write.”

“Tony –” Rhodey begins, but Tony is already getting dragged away, out into the street. They begin the long walk home, wobbling a little, holding onto each other for support.

“You start essays at least a week before they’re due,” Tony pointed out, thinking of her excuse to Rhodey.

“I do,” Pepper agreed.

It isn’t the first time Pepper has saved Tony’s ass, and it sure as hell won't be the last.

*

Pepper breaks up with him.

“It’s not you,” she begins, and Tony winces.

“No, not this one,” he complains. “Not this line. Anything but this line.”

Pepper ignores him. “It’s not me, either, dumbass,” she says, because she’s his friend and even as she’s breaking up with him she’s still Pepper. “It’s us. We just don’t work anymore. We’re moving apart, I think. As...a couple, I mean.” She smiles a little sadly. “But, look, we lasted two years. Pretty sure that’s the longest you’ve ever upheld any sort of relationship that’s not with Rhodey, ever.”

“I’ve been friends with Steve for eight years,” Tony points out.

“That’s Steve,” Pepper says, like that explains it, and there’s this odd tone to her voice. Tony raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t say anything.

Clint Barton joins their group not long after Tony’s fifteenth birthday. He has apparently forgiven Tony for the Basketball Incident in second grade, and he’s friends with Natasha, which is admittedly impressive, so they welcome him in. Not that Steve wouldn’t have made them, anyway, but this way’s a lot easier.

It turns out Natasha’s friend is actually named Bruce, and he knows a lot about science, so Tony likes him. They talk robotics a lot, and Clint more often than not mutters about ‘those fucking algorithms’ and walks off to talk to Steve, who talks about much more normal things. None of their group are particularly normal, but that’s okay, because they get on, somehow.

Last of all comes Thor, with his booming voice and contagious cheerfulness. He’s a kind of package deal with Jane Foster, his girlfriend, and with Jane Foster also comes her best friend, Darcy. Thor has an adopted brother, Loki, who, quite frankly, scares the hell out of Tony. He’s smart and morbid and, quite frankly, fucking creepy. 

Steve says, “He is not an alien,” and Tony believes him, but that doesn’t make him any less wary of the boy.

Still, Loki is the only one out of the family who likes Buffy enough to sit through a marathon of it with Tony, so Tony kind of finds himself liking the guy, completely accidentally and with no conscious effort. Also he doesn’t try to tell Tony he needs to eat and sleep and all sorts of stupid, useless things like the others do, so that definitely helps.

Steve comes up to Tony after Calculus one day, and as they walk to the bus station (Steve’s mum works late shifts now, and Tony’s parents never picked him up from school, anyway), he gently lays his hand on Tony and says, “I’m here for you, you know.”

Tony looks at him. Steve’s hair is wet from the light rain that’s beginning to fall, eyes bright and concerned. He’s changing, growing up, Tony realises with some shock. Somehow, he’s gotten used to Steve being there, the one constant. Now he looks at Steve, and where he used to see a skinny boy, stupidly brave and wide-eyed, he sees rippling muscle, tanned skin. He still has the same warm eyes, though, Tony notes with relief.  Then he realises he didn’t hear a word Steve just said. “Sorry, what?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “The break up, you idiot,” he says, looking vaguely amused. “I’m here for you because of the break up. Between you and Pepper? You guys broke up a week ago? Remember?”

Tony nods a little dazedly. “Um...Yeah. It’s fine.” He shrugs. “We... we should have broken up a long time ago, I think. We weren’t like that anymore. It was more of a teenage romance, right?”

Steve looks amused. “We’re still teenagers, Tony.”

Tony waves a hand dismissively. “Yeah, yeah, you get what I mean.” He’s been trying not to think about the break-up, to tell the truth. He wasn’t lying when he told Steve that they should have done it a long time ago, that it had been over for months, really, but – it still hurts. Pepper was – and still is – a huge part of his life, and he loves her, even if he doesn’t love her in the same way anymore.

He looks at Steve – or looks up at Steve, God, when did the guy grow so tall – and his heart jumps a little at the sight. It isn’t the first time he’s ever thought anything like that about Steve, but before he could push the thoughts away by saying he’s still with Pepper. Now, he has to face his feelings. Well, he should, anyway.

But he’s Tony Stark, after all, and if there’s one thing Tony Stark is absolutely excellent at, it’s repressing his feelings.

*

Sixteen, it’s summer break, and Tony has spent the day with Steve doing homework. Homework, for God’s sake. Who knew that somebody would have Tony Stark doing homework when he could be doing something fun, like making things?

He gets home, finds his mother and father arguing. They don’t see him hovering in the doorway, feeling like he’s just accidentally stepped onto a minefield.

“You knew damn well what you were getting into when you married me, Maria!” his father yells, each word as sharp as a knife.

“You don’t even care anymore,” his mother snaps. “Look at you! You’re always disappointed, never satisfied. I know you’re not happy with our son! For God’s sake, Howard, he’s been named one of the smartest kids in America by the New York Times and you think he’s a failure!

“I don’t think he’s a failure,” Howard says, looking surprised.

“Well, you damn well act like it!” Maria hisses. “That kid, he works and works and works, always in that stupid workshop, all to impress you. It’s pathetic how much he wants to be like you. God only knows why.”

She turns a little then and sees Tony standing in the doorway, frozen. Her face falls. “Tony, love –”

He spins around, runs up the long staircase to his room, and slams the door. Then he presses his back to the door, slides the floor, and puts his face in his hands.

He isn’t going to do it at first. He looks at the alcohol cabinet, thinks Steve wouldn’t want me to do it. But then as soon as he thinks of Steve, his mind grabs hold of the boy, and all Tony can think about is Steve's hands, Steve's smile, his white picket fence idea of life, wanting a wife and kids and children and never, never Tony –

He stumbles over to the alcohol cabinet, and drinks himself into oblivion.

-

He wakes up hospital five hours later.

For a moment, he just lies there. It isn’t the first time he’s woken up in hospital, not by a long shot, but he feels like it’s the first time he’s done something really, really stupid and woken up in hospital. This is stupid even by Tony standards. He considers closing his eyes and pretending he’d never woken up in the first place, but then he turns and sees Steve staring at him, wide-eyed and accusing, and grimaces.

“What are you doing here?” he croaks, his voice like gravel, and then he sees the rest of them. Natasha, Thor, Rhodey, Pepper, his mother, for God’s sake, standing around outside, looking awkward and worried and angry.

“I fucked up, didn’t I?” Tony says, and winces as pain shoots through his head at his own voice.

Steve looks at him. “Alcohol poisoning, Tony.” He shakes his head. “You could’ve done some real damage.”

“I was having a bad day?” Tony offers. It’s kind of true.

Steve runs a frustrated hand through his hair. “What happened, Tony?” he wants to know. “I mean, you’ve always had it hard, I get it. We’re not normal, you and I; we never have been, but that’s us – you just – this just – this was goddamn stupid, that’s what it was!”

Tony doesn’t say anything.

Steve shakes his head, and stands up. “I don’t understand what happened, Tony,” he says, and his voice is low, dangerous. “I don’t know what’s going on with you!”

I think I might be in love with you, Tony thinks, his lips already forming the words, but Steve’s already gone.

They keep him in for observation overnight. It seems he managed to get himself drunk and alcohol poisoned before six o’ clock, and wake up by ten o’ clock. His friends come in to his room to say hello; Natasha swears at him in Russian, Clint rolls his eyes but looks kind of relieved despite this, Bruce just nods and says ‘Glad you’re alright,’ and then ‘Bastard’, and Thor hugs him so hard Tony feels like his ribs are being twisted into shapes they shouldn’t be able to twist into.

They leave eventually. His mother stays with him for a while, but then she gets called away with work and he’s alone again. It’s not long before his painkillers kick in and he falls asleep.

An hour or so later, he wakes up to find Steve there again. Tony’s surprised, admittedly; stunned, to tell the truth. Everybody’s left, gone home, because there’s nothing more they can do here, really, but Steve’s still here. Tony had been sure that his friend had left in his rage earlier, but there’s food next to Tony’s bed, food and a bottle of juice that Tony presumes is Steve’s (health freak).

Steve is still wearing his tracksuits and a loose top, one that shows his arms, lines of muscle and smooth skin. Tony desperately wants to reach out and run his hands along Steve’s arms, up his neck and into his hair, kiss him like –

Steve raises his eyebrows, and Tony realises that he’s been staring at Steve this whole time. Also that he’s got an, er, problem, but the many layers of hospital blanks cover that, so apparently there is a God.

“Hi,” Tony squeaks.

Steve looks amused. Steve seems to look amused a lot when he’s around Tony, like Tony’s some sort of dancing monkey that he finds endearing or something, which Tony sure hopes isn’t true because then that means he definitely doesn’t –

“You’re still here,” Tony adds, a little unnecessarily.

Steve laughs, passing Tony a coffee he seems to have pulled out of his ass (or off the table behind him, whatever). Tony doesn’t care either way, because fucking coffee, and he drinks it back so fast he burns his lips and swears colourfully. This causes Steve to throw him a very disapproving look, but even he can’t help but be a bit amused (what the hell is it with this amusement?) and grins widely.

“You’re my friend,” Steve says, like that’s all that matters. And Tony thinks of a small, skinnier, more innocent Steve walking next to him and laughing, looking at Tony and saying, matter-of-factly, “You’re my friend.

Tony grins into the coffee cup. “Why the fuck would anybody want to be friends with me?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Honestly, Tony.” He leans back in the armchair next to Tony’s hospital bed. “You know what? When we were seven, at the science competition, you know what made me come over to talk to you?”

“My amazing robotics?” Tony guesses, and Steve snorts. “My stunning good looks?”

Steve smiles. “I looked at you and all I could think was that If he’s that smart, what’s he doing in a town like this? And I thought there must be something more to you, that you must care about something more, that you must have things tying you to this town. So I thought you must have a big heart, to ignore something you love like that, and so I wanted to be your friend.” Steve shrugs. “It made sense to my seven year old mind.”

Tony’s voice is strangely rough when he says, “I was thinking about it. I got this offer for some fancy ass university...” His voice trails off. “I didn’t want to take it, didn’t want to leave Manhattan and the place I knew, my family, but I was considering it. And then...”

Steve frowns when he’s silent for a few long moments. “And then what?”

Tony doesn’t mean to say it, he really doesn’t; the words just kind of tumble from his lips unbidden, shattering the silence like glass. “And then I met you.”

Steve doesn’t quite smile, but his eyes light up so brightly that Tony leans back a little in surprise. “Just so you know,” Steve says quietly, playing absentmindedly with the cuff of his jacket, “in all the years I’ve known you, I never once regretted being your friend. Not once.” He stands up, stretching like a cat (muscles rippling; skin stretching, taut over veins; t-shirt riding up and revealing smooth, angular planes of skin, and Tony thinks beautiful). “You better get some sleep.”

“Steve –” Tony begins as his friend makes for the door.

Steve turns, eyebrows raised. “Yes?”

Tony opens his mouth to say something, but his voice catches and no words come. “Never mind. It’s not important,” he says, shaking his head. Steve nods, carefully opening and closing the door behind him.

Tony lies back in the hospital bed, stares at the blinding white ceiling, and wonders just when the hell his life spiralled so out of control.

*

Seventeen, and this is it. This is the age of decision, Tony thinks; the age of growing the fuck up. Not sixteen, not sweet stupid sixteen. He thinks of the seven years that have passed, exactly seven years since he stood next to that stupid toaster, next to Steve. Now he’s seventeen and he’s graduating school in two months and going to some smartass university halfway across America, for fuck’s sake.

Seventeen, and has he really grown that much in ten years? He still can’t tell Steve just how he feels about him, he still hasn’t outgrown his ‘daddy issues’, he still hasn’t stopped blowing things up and he’s still a fucking mess.

There’s a party, and his friends come and it’s great, he gets absolutely smashed, but the thought is always there, like a looming shadow: Time passed.

Time passed and I wasn’t even paying attention.

After everybody else has gone home, after his father has gone to some work benefit and his mother has gone to bed, it’s just him and Steve. Steve with his full mouth and honest eyes and warm hands. They’re sitting on the floor together now, backs against the wall. Tony has his head on Steve’s shoulder, staring at the intricate patterns on the opposite wall; Steve has his head rested on top of Tony’s, eyes closed and breathing regular. Tony’s almost positive he’s asleep.

“I want to show you something,” Steve says suddenly, and jumps to his feet.

Tony stares.

“No, seriously,” Steve says, pulling Tony to his feet effortlessly, muscles tensing pleasantly. “C’mon!”

“I’m drunk,” Tony pointed out. Some little voice in his head that sounded scarily like Steve said that this was something he should remind Steve. He wasn’t even going to begin to think about the semantics of that.

Tony lets himself be dragged out of the house – grabbing his jacket on the way out; he’s drunk, not suicidal – and shoved into the passenger seat of Steve’s car. Steve slides into the driver’s seat.

“Hey, Steve,” Tony says warily, “you haven’t been drinking, right –”

Steve gives him an irritated look. “Of course not. I don’t drink, you know that,” Steve points out, matter-of-factly. Tony shrugs. He trusts Steve. He trusts Steve more than he trusts himself, which, actually, yeah, he doesn’t trust himself all that much at all, bad comparison. “Oh, wait.” Steve pauses, leaning over Tony and grabbing a bottle of water from the glove compartment. “I put it in this morning for my jog. Drink. I want you sober.”

Tony’s drunk enough that instead of just thinking it, he actually says, “Why, planning on having your wicked way with me?”

Steve smirks and doesn’t answer, and Tony thinks, through the thick fog of his thoughts, I’m screwed.

It doesn’t take long, but Tony has been paying more attention to peeling the sticker of the bottle of water than to where they’re actually going, so when he looks up, he has no clue where he is. Steve doesn’t say anything as he gets out of the car, and Tony feels like this is different, somehow. They’ve done stuff like this as friends, of course they have, but this is like – this is spontaneous and risky and brilliant, like fireworks at 2AM in the morning from your back garden on a cold night. Except perhaps more legal. But whatever.

Tony throws the door open, and feels instantly significantly more sober when the cool air hits his face. He grimaces. The water had been bad enough; what was the point of it being his birthday if he couldn’t get absolutely smashed off his face? But then there was Steve, with his innocent smile and too-honest words and you don’t just deny Steve, like, seriously, Tony doesn’t even think that’s humanely possible.

“Steve!” he calls into the dark, looking around and finding nothing. A hand on his arm makes him nearly jump a mile, and Steve reaches out to steady him, which is how Tony somehow finds himself in Steve’s arms. “Hi,” he says meekly.

“Hello,” Steve says, and the bastard is positively grinning. And then he lets Tony go, and sets out for the building in front of them. It’s a tall business building, looks like it has been newly built but nobody seems to be around so evidently nobody’s actually living in it yet. Steve opens a door, and then there’s a fire escape, and Steve is pulling Tony up step after step after step and Tony thinks woozily don’t look down don’t look down – whatever you do, don’t look down.

And then they’re at the top, and it’s beautiful. The whole of New York is spread out before them, a map of lights and people and buildings, scattered all across the landscape like tiny dots and lines and figures. “Wow,” Tony says, and yeah, he’s not one to get impressed easily, but damn it.

Steve grins, looking pleased at Tony’s reaction. “I come up here to draw,” he explains, sitting down gingerly and motioning Tony to sit down next to him. Tony does, a little dazed, and he looks out over the city. He’s sobering up now, but he still thinks there can’t be much of anything more beautiful than this view.

And then he looks over at Steve, and thinks, Maybe that’s not so true.

“It’s been ten years,” Tony says suddenly, the words tumbling from his mouth unbidden.

Steve raises his eyebrows. “Ten years?”

“Since we met,” he explains quickly. “You know. Exactly ten years. We met on my birthday, remember? Ten fucking years. Jesus.” He shakes his head. The alcohol’s gone, but the urgency is still gripping him, holding him tight. “Ten years is a long time to wait,” he hears himself say. Stop, stop, stop. Stupid!

Steve looks at him, curious, thoughtful. “Wait for what?” he prompts.

Instead of answering, Tony kisses him.

Steve doesn’t move for a moment, his muscles rigid with surprise. Tony’s ready to pull back, ready to apologise (stupid, stupid, stupid), but then Steve is on him, mouth hot and insistent. It’s nothing like he expected; Tony expected that in some strange universe where he would be kissing Steve Rogers, Steve would be gentle and slow, ever the gentlemen. But no, Steve’s lips are urgent against his, desperate, like he’s worried Tony will disappear from beneath him.

Tony hooks his fingers through Steve’s belt loops and pulls him impossibly closer. Steve gets the idea and wraps his hands around Tony so they’re resting right on his butt, and Tony lets out a groan. Steve begins to kiss his way down Tony’s neck, warm and softer now somehow, eliciting another moan from Tony’s mouth, low and guttural.

“Ten years is a long time to wait,” Steve agrees finally, resting his forehead against Tony’s. “Especially when you didn’t have to wait in the first place.”

“I didn’t?” Tony laughs, incredulous.

“Never,” Steve whispers, pressing his lips gently to Tony’s. “You shouldn’t have to wait for somebody who’s waiting for you, too.”

*

Seventeen, and long mornings with Steve, coffee in the dead of winter, walks through the bustling city. This is it, Tony knows, because it is; this is what he’s been waiting for all these years.

Steve.