ONE WEEK AGO
Steve put his hands on his hips, surveying the table in front of him.
He wanted to turn to Tony and say, "Well, I hope you're happy now," but when he looked over, Tony had already shed his AC/DC shirt. He had also torn into one of the dozens of packages sitting on the table and was struggling into the shirt he'd taken out of it, messy dark hair emerging from the collar, springing straight up as he tugged the shirt over his face and down around his waist.
"Tadaa!" Tony said, throwing his arms wide. The patriotic shield in place of the O in LOVE gleamed. Glitter was already adorning Tony's face. The pink made his olive skin glow.
Steve rubbed his face with one hand, sighing, and held out the other. Tony placed a packet in his hand.
"We're going to be that couple that starts dressing the same and looking like each other as they get older," Tony announced, as Steve pulled his own shirt on. "I hope this means I get your pecs."
ONE WEEK AND TEN MINUTES AGO
"You'd better get down here," Joey said. He was the Stark Tower mail clerk assigned to manage Avengers mail, and once in a while Steve got a package that was especially funny, or a big wave of fan mail, and Joey had to call him to come pick it up.
"Why, what's up?" Steve asked.
"You've got a lot of tear-stained packages with shirts in them," Joey said.
"Yeah, apparently you've touched some hearts. Bring Tony," Joey added.
ONE WEEK AND TWO DAYS AGO
"So," Jimmy Kimmel said, "Let's talk about the LOVE shirt, huh?"
Steve didn't particularly like Mr. Kimmel. It wasn't all personal; Steve didn't like talk-show hosts as a rule. (Some of it was personal. He just rubbed Steve the wrong way.) But talk shows were good PR for the Avengers and everyone had agreed you couldn't have too much good PR, especially since next week was the big Well Timed Interview he and Tony had been working towards. Besides, it was good for the causes Steve supported in his spare time, too.
"I'm really proud it's gotten so much attention," Steve said.
"Did you have any, like, any input in designing it? Because it's...very pink," Kimmel said.
"No, in fact I didn't know about it until after they made it. I mean, you know, we all have merchandise, but most of us don't take an interest in it in any commercial way," Steve said. Which was true. Tony had just come around one day with a tablet and asked what charity he wanted proceeds from his merch to go to, and Steve had listened to Bruce grilling Tony about whether their action figures were made with sweatshop labor or non-renewably-sourced plastics, but that was the extent of his interest in it.
"So how did this shirt get to be a symbol for community service?" Kimmel asked, setting one of the shirts on his desk, spreading it out so that the logo was visible.
"Well, I don't know," Steve shrugged. "It's just a really comfortable shirt, you know? I used to wear it a lot and I guess because it was comfortable, I wore it when I knew I'd be doing a lot of moving around."
"Like building houses and planting trees and other frankly vomitously virtuous behavior," Kimmel said. The audience laughed. Steve pulled up a smile.
"Helping people cross the street, rescuing kittens from trees," he agreed. "I used to wear it running, actually, which is how I got it broken in. The glitter initially got everywhere so I could really only wear it when I was outside at first. If I could go back and change one thing I'd make the shield matte instead of glittery."
"And maybe not pink?"
"Oh, no, I like the pink," Steve said. "I think it's a really good color on me. Tony -- Tony Stark -- he says it makes me look less washed out. Irish skin," he added, gesturing at his face.
"Tony Stark's giving you fashion tips?" Kimmel asked.
"Well, I mean, can you think of someone more qualified?" Steve replied. Another audience laugh, this time a little less forced.
"But you're wearing blue tonight," Kimmel said, pointing to Steve's blue dress shirt.
"Honestly? I was going to wear the LOVE shirt, but I need to get a new one," Steve said. "And then I have to break it in, so..."
"What happened, did it finally fall off your body? Are there pictures?"
Steve grinned. "No, I -- I've been doing some work with Manhattan Urban Rescue, it's a no-kill cat shelter in the city. Uh, by the way, they're looking for foster homes. Anyway, once you pay your dues cleaning out the cages and stuff, you get to play with the cats, which is nice, for you and for them. And there's this litter of little kittens..."
He trailed off, suddenly embarrassed, because maybe this was weird and also probably kind of egotistical.
"Kittens," Kimmel prompted.
"Yeah, so I, uh, there's this litter, five of them, and I play with them every time because they're -- they're so tiny," Steve admitted. "And the shelter volunteers say when I leave they cry, because they miss me," he finished, flushing. "I run warm, cats like that."
"Did they rip the shirt from your body?" Kimmel asked.
"No, I thought maybe, they'd...smell the shirt and think I was still there, so I kinda...wrapped them up in it when I left, last time," Steve said. "The shelter says they're using it as a nest now."
"You took off your shirt and gave it to kittens."
"I had a sweater, I wasn't walking around topless."
"You gave your shirt to kittens."
Steve shrugged haplessly. There was a wave of sniffles from the audience.
When he got back to the green room, he had a text from Natasha.
You made Clint cry, she said. I have video.
THREE WEEKS AGO
"Congratulations," Tony said. "Your totally stolen t-shirt is a meme."
"I didn't steal it!" Steve insisted.
"You stole it!"
"Oh my God, I myself will buy you another pink glittery LOVE shirt," Bruce said.
"I can buy myself a pink glittery shirt of any kind if I want!" Tony snapped. "It's the principle of the thing."
"It was my shirt, it was in my room," Steve said stubbornly. "And it's not a meme!"
"Do you know what a meme is, Steve?" Natasha asked.
"He's just arguing for the sake of hearing himself," Tony said, making a semi-arcane gesture at the television on the kitchen wall. JARVIS registered the motion and popped the news on.
" -- LOVE is taking over," said the anchor, and Tony shot Steve such a look. "The bright pink LOVE shirt, manufactured and sold by Stark Avengerwear, has grown in popularity after Steve Rogers, Manhattan's own Captain America, was seen out and about in it multiple times, at rallies, charity events, and sometimes even on a grocery run."
Steve cringed as papparazzi photos of him came up on the screen, one after another, all in the pink LOVE shirt. It wasn't that the shirt itself embarrassed him, but he was almost always making some kind of awkward face in photographs.
"Some conservative groups are appalled at this latest demonstration of what they claim is the effeminizing of America," the anchor continued. "Most charities, however, just want to know where they can get them. LOVE shirts with volunteer organization logos printed on the back are in huge demand as handouts at events, and Stark Avengerwear is having trouble keeping up with orders for the shirts."
There was a sequence of on-the-street interviews, young women and middle-aged men and college-aged bros with backwards hats, all talking about what they thought the LOVE shirt meant to them.
"It's just a shirt," Steve said, bewildered, as someone onscreen said It makes me feel good to know Captain America would be proud I'm raising money for colon cancer.
"It's my shirt," Tony informed him.
"Well obviously it's everyone's shirt now," Steve said, gesturing at the television.
Tony threw up his hands and stomped off, leaving his coffee behind. Steve gathered it up.
"I'll go talk to him," he said.
"You do that," Natasha replied knowingly.
Steve gave her a frown as he passed, then followed Tony down the stairs to the workshop. The glass wall was frosted for privacy, but the door was open, so he ducked inside and closed it firmly behind him. It frosted over and the lock clicked shut.
"You forgot your coff -- mmmmh," he managed, as Tony yanked him forward and turned them, backing into the wall. "Are you still mad at me?" he asked breathlessly. Tony took the mug from him and threw it aside with a splash and a clatter of broken crockery. Steve thought about objecting but it was an ugly mug anyway.
"Yes," Tony said. "This is angry sex."
"Oh, okay, good," Steve replied, hitching Tony up until his legs were wrapped around Steve's hips. Angry sex was his second-favorite kind of sex.
TWO MONTHS AGO
Steve came back to the tower from his usual Saturday soup-kitchen breakfast in a foul enough mood that the others nominated Tony to go find out what was wrong. Tony found Steve in Tony's suite, going through his closet.
"Hey, buddy, I don't actually need to Kondo my closet this month -- " Tony dodged a handful of band shirts as they flew past. "But if you need something, that's cool -- "
"You have a bunch of pink shirts," Steve said.
"Yeah, you're wearing one of them."
"This isn't your shirt!" Steve growled.
"It is, but that's fine, let's table that for some other time."
"I need some pink shirts and some pride shirts and you have one that says IT'S STARS AND STRIPES, I've seen you wearing it. I need to borrow it until I can get some of my own."
"Are you sure you want to borrow my Bisexual Pride shirt?" Tony asked. "I mean, if you really want to kick down your closet door right now, be my guest, but usually we do this with well-timed interviews done by sympathetic reporters."
Steve stomped into the bedroom, pulling the IT'S STARS AND STRIPES shirt on over the LOVE shirt. "I have some points I apparently need to make," he said.
"Well, okay," Tony said. "Should I ask?"
"No." Steve exhaled, looking around. "Sorry about the mess."
"It's fine, you're due a few messes." Tony rested a hand on his chest. "Hey, do me a favor, take a deep breath."
Steve nodded, visibly calming himself, and then tilted his head down and kissed Tony.
"We'll do the well-timed interview thing," he said. "We will. That's a better idea, you're right. I just...needed to prove something. Maybe to myself."
"Consider it proved, you look smokin' hot in that. And you can have it if you give me back my -- " Tony began, but Steve kissed him quiet, curling into him like he was the best thing in Steve's world, and honestly, maybe now wasn't the time to negotiate for the return of the shirt.
TWO MONTHS AND FOUR HOURS AGO
"Hey, so are you gay or what?" the young guy in the blue jacket asked, stacking flats of canned vegetables on the food pantry's storage shelves.
Steve blinked at him, then went back to inventorying the bread supplies. "Are you asking me?"
"You see anyone else in a pink shirt yelling LOVE around here?" the kid said. "I mean whatever, I guess it's cool if you are, but you don't need to, like, advertise it."
Steve was about to cross his arms, which normally shut people up either because of the size of his biceps or the general way it pulled the shirt tight across his chest, but he realized that might make it look like he was trying to hide the shirt.
"I wasn't aware heterosexuals didn't feel love," he said.
"Well, it's just kind of gay, you know? I mean I can't imagine Captain America actually likes dudes wearing pink shirts," the kid said, and Steve realized he didn't know who he was.
"I'm a hundred percent sure Captain America doesn't think any given article of clothing makes you gay," Steve said. "I know he thinks it's inappropriate to ask someone if they're gay. And I'm pretty sure he's happy that queer people think he supports them. Because he does."
"Shyeah, right," the kid scoffed. "He's about patriotism, dude, not taking it up the ass."
"He can be about both," Steve said.
"Yeah? How would you know?"
The kid's expression when Steve effortlessly picked him up by his belt buckle and held him against the wall with one hand was priceless.
"Because I'm Captain America, you stupid punk," Steve said. The kid's eyes widened. "And I'll wear a rainbow shirt covered in glitter while hosting a salsa dance party at a gay bar if I want to, and no pissant little bigot like you had better open his ignorant mouth. Are we clear?"
The kid swallowed and nodded, and Steve set him on his feet.
"If I hear you speak to anyone else here, anyone else about their clothes or their sexual orientation, I will make sure you spend the rest of your community service hours cleaning porta-potties after Pride," Steve said. The kid bolted.
Steve rubbed his face with his hands, set aside the anger for after breakfast service, and began stacking the cans the kid had left behind.
FIVE MONTHS AGO
"Hey, hang on a second," Tony said, and Steve stopped in the kitchen doorway, stuffing a handful of reusable grocery bags into the messenger bag slung over his shoulder.
"Yeah? You want to add something to the grocery list?" Steve asked.
"No, I'm -- actually wait, yes, get some red Jello, like a lot. We're teaching Thor about Jello shots," Tony said.
"Done. Was there something else?"
"Yeah, I just remembered, I want to get that shirt back from you, it's really comfy," Tony said. Steve looked down at his shirt. It was really comfy, mainly because he'd been running in it for two weeks and the repeated washings had finally gotten all the loose glitter off.
"This isn't your shirt, Tony," he said.
"It's totally my shirt," Tony said. "You borrowed it and that's cool, I'm actually kind of pleased my shirts also fit the paragon of human perfection, I'd just like it back."
"This is my shirt," Steve said. "It was in my apartment."
"I got it in a box of swag samples, it's totally mine," Tony said.
"Okay, well, we'll figure it out later, I have to go," Steve said, and bent across the kitchen island to kiss him. A hand tugged the hem of his shirt, and he batted it away. "You can get me naked later," he said, and jogged towards the elevator, where Clint was waiting to go grocery shopping with him.
"Does that mean you're admitting it's my shirt?" Tony called after him.
"It's not your shirt!" Steve called back, and most of Tony's shouted obscene reply was muffled by the elevator door closing.
FIVE MONTHS AND TWO WEEKS AGO
Steve woke to sunlight creeping in through the windows of his apartment, making dust motes dance in the air. Everything felt soft and warm, and he drifted cheerfully in a half-waking state the way he hadn't done in a really long time. Possibly since before the war.
He couldn't pin down the source of his self-satisfied good cheer at first, until it moved and snuffled against his chest, hair tickling his shoulder. Steve looked down to find Tony Stark, head planted into Steve's pectoral, drooling in his sleep.
Yes, this was -- this was so good, this was absolutely reason to be smugly pleased with himself, he had not only asked Tony on a date but survived the date with most of his dignity intact and clearly done so well that they'd ended up in bed even before he'd intended, not that he was complaining.
He did, however, have to pee, and his breath was probably terrible. He eased himself out from under Tony, who rolled over into the warm spot he'd left behind, catlike, and slept on. Steve found a pair of pyjama pants and pulled them on commando, then cast around for a shirt, grabbing the pink one lying in a lump by the door. Must be one of the merch samples, he thought, as he caught sight of the glittery shield in the logo. He took care of nature's call, brushed his teeth, and decided that while curling up with Tony for another few (decades) minutes would be nice, breakfast would be even nicer.
Tony staggered out while the coffee was percolating, wearing a pair of boxers and what looked like Steve's sweater from the night before. Steve, nudging french toast around on a griddle, watched in amusement as he fumbled his way half-consciously through the process of locating, pouring, and gulping down coffee. Eventually Tony retreated to the kitchen bar, sliding onto a stool and yawning, eyes beginning to track Steve's movements as he woke fully.
When Steve caught him sweeping him head-to-toe with a dark, lazy gaze, he smiled and said, "What?"
"Nothing," Tony replied, sipping his coffee with a slow, lascivious grin, and Steve barely heard You look good in my clothes, that's all over a sharp rush of arousal.
FIVE MONTHS, TWO WEEKS, AND TEN HOURS AGO
"Hey, easy cowboy," Tony said, as Steve held his waist firmly with one hand and tried to pull off his shirt with the other. His shirt that had Steve's shield on it and that he had clearly worn just to torment Steve during their date. "I'm flattered but be careful, I like this shirt."
"You're so difficult," Steve told him, getting a hand under Tony's frankly magnificent ass as Tony started trying to climb him. "You always have to be so difficult -- "
"You like difficult. Difficult gets you off," Tony retorted. "Jesus, you smell good," he added, burying his face in Steve's throat, biting kisses across his collarbones. "This was such a good idea, you asking me out, full credit for good ideas there, Captain -- "
Steve shuddered, because, well, Captain. Tony leaned back.
"Oh, you like that?" he asked. "Captain?"
Steve got his hand under Tony's shirt and lifted, Tony helping this time, until he could pull it off over his head and throw it aside; it hit the door and landed on the floor with a soft flumph. Steve, carrying Tony to the bed so he could drop him there and get his uncomfortably tight pants off, didn't even hear it fall.
"So," Anderson Cooper said, and gave Steve a reassuring smile, and Steve was so glad they'd picked him for this. "I know, and I'm sure you know, that coming out is a very personal decision, and a lot of factors can influence it. I'm sure everyone watching this is going to want to know, why now?"
"I spent a lot of time thinking about it," Steve said. "The tension between wanting to keep my life private and knowing I could be a symbol for a lot of people was really hard. But this -- I was wearing this shirt, actually," he said, pointing to the LOVE logo on his chest, "and this kid I met, he didn't know who I was, he said he thought Captain America wouldn't approve of me wearing this. He really believed wearing a pink shirt meant you were queer, and that Captain America would think queer men were...I don't know, gross? I lost my temper, pretty badly. And I knew I never wanted anyone else to think that I was ashamed of them for wearing my shield."
"You had a moment of clarity."
"Yeah, I guess I did. Didn't feel like it at the time, but, yes. I'd call it that."
"Okay, I need to ask, on behalf of gay and bisexual men everywhere...are you seeing anyone?" Cooper asked with a grin.
"Yeah," Steve said, ducking his head.
"Are they okay with you being out? Were they part of the process of deciding?"
"Yeah. He's out, he's been out for a long time."
"And what does he think of you coming out like this?"
Steve looked up. "Well. I kind of wanted to just walk out of Stark Tower wearing a Bi Pride shirt and start shouting. He convinced me to be a little classier about it. But I think he's proud. Pretty sure he is."
"Will he be joining you in public appearances?" Cooper asked. It seemed like a delicate way of asking oh my God who landed Captain America.
"He already does -- he's here now, actually," Steve said. "We didn't know if it'd be...if you'd want to talk to him..."
Cooper looked startled. "Yes, absolutely. Can we bring him out? Can someone get him a mic?"
"Done and done," said a voice behind Steve, and he felt Tony's hand on his shoulder as he sat down. He left it there, and Steve reached up and touched it, grinning at him. He was wearing the IT'S STARS AND STRIPES shirt. "Good to be back. Glad not to be grilled about my war work this time. At least I assume that's off the table."
"Tony," Cooper said, looking both delighted and predatory. "Tony Stark. You're dating Steve Rogers."
"Yep," Tony said, popping the end of the word.
"Superheroes in love. This is actually amazing. Like, I'm ten years old again watching the Super Friends, wondering if Batman is going to kiss Superman," Cooper said. "How long?"
"Six months? Ish?" Tony said, looking at Steve, who nodded.
"Still in the honeymoon period?"
"Except for how he keeps stealing my clothes, yeah," Tony said. "That shirt he's wearing was mine first."
"Oh my God, Tony, I'm not -- this is national television!" Steve said. "It's my shirt!"
"It's sweet you seem to really believe that, honey, but it's not," Tony said, and before Steve could protest, "Anderson, come on, you are softballing both of us here. Let's have some of that really hard-hitting journalism. Ask Steve what he thinks about the Yankees."
Steve, in a gesture that went around the internet as a .gif image before the interview was even over, put his head in his hands, shaking it gently. Tony patted the back of his head, then leaned over and kissed it.
"You earned that, you shirt-stealing patriot," he whispered in his ear.