“Kids, I’m going to tell you an incredible story. The story of how I met your father.”
“Are we being punished for something?”
“Is this going to take a while?”
“Yes. And before you start complaining, I’m changing everyone’s names, okay?”
“Dad, it’s going to be obvious who-”
“Twenty-five years ago, before I was ‘dad,’ I had this whole other life. It was 2012, I was 24, struggling as an artist, living with your uncle Clint. My life was good. Then your uncle Clint went screwed the whole thing up.”
“Natasha,” Clint says, straight-faced and sweating bullets, “Will you. Marry. Me.”
“Yes,” Steve says. “And that’s all there is to it! She puts on the ring, you pop the champagne, you-”
“-have sex on the kitchen floor.”
“Don’t have sex on the kitchen floor, I just cleaned it.”
Clint pulls the finger at him, and eases himself to his feet, shoving the ring in his pocket. “No, but seriously, was that okay?”
Steve grins. “It was great, Clint. You guys are going to be really happy together.”
Clint tries for a smirk and an eyeroll, but the smile comes out shakily. “Yeah, I hope so. Just. Uh. Nervous, you know?”
“I really, really don’t,” Steve says happily. “Jeez, you guys are going to be so-”
“Steve, if you start clapping like a retarded seal again, I will cut you.”
“I didn’t clap, I just-”
“Put your hands together really enthusiastically and repeatedly,” Clint cuts him off. “Come on, let’s go to SHIELD.”
“No,” Tony says immediately.
Clint cocks an eyebrow. “Dude, this was why we didn’t tell you bef-”
“No,” Tony repeats. “No, no, no. Come on! You’re proposing? Seriously?”
Steve bites the inside of his cheek to smother the laugh. “If you put any more emphasis on any more of those words, I swear to god you’re going to dissolve in a fit of exclamation marks.”
“Fuck you, Rogers,” Tony says. “Clint, you’re killing us here. Me and Steve implore you-”
“It’s ‘Steve and I,’ and I’ve been waiting for Clint to propose to her for three years.”
“Again, fuck you,” Tony says, still not looking at him and instead channelling all of his power into the puppy-eyes he’s beaming at Clint. “Come oooon. Marriage? Really? Does she even want to get married?”
Clint starts to fidget slightly, and Steve shoots Tony a look that he pretends not to see.
Clint makes a face.“Yeee-eees?”
“Wow. That sounded certain.”
“Shut up, Tony,” Steve says, watching Clint’s shoulders fold inwards.
He kicks Tony’s shin under the table, and Tony yelps, jolting his breadsticks everywhere.
Tony has slipped into their lives without them even noticing- he just appeared a few years ago, and they still know next to nothing about him. Hell, Steve doesn’t even know his last name.
He had just slid into Steve’s booth, propped his arm up around his shoulder and announced, “Steve, I am going to teach you how to live.”
At Steve’s blank stare, Tony had grinned. “Tony. We met at the urinal.”
“Lesson one,” Tony had said, putting up a finger. “Lose the stubble. It doesn’t go with your suit.”
“I don’t have a suit.”
“Lesson two, get a suit. Suits are cool.” Tony had re-adjusted his arm so it fit more comfortably against Steve’s neck, and over the years, Steve has gotten kind of used to it- Tony fitting, almost seamlessly, into wherever he wants to be.
Steve glares, eyes flicking between Tony and Clint, who is now half-slumped over the table.
Tony just shrugs. “What? I’m stopping him from making a horrendous mistake that he’ll thank me for one day.”
“He’s just getting married, Tony.”
“You see?” Tony sits up, his sunglasses- which he still refuses to take off, even though they’re inside SHIELD, their usual bar- sliding down his nose. “That’s what they want you to think! First it’s just marriage, but then they’re moving away and having kids, and being all domestic, and wearing those horrible, tacky suits-”
“You always wear suits, Tony.”
“Classy ones. This one’s a designer brand, do you know how much it-”
“No, and I don’t care,” Steve says flatly. “Do you want to be Clint’s best man or not?”
Tony falters, something flickering in his face. “You- wait, what?”
“Steve’s going to be my best man,” Clint says into the table. “You’re going to be- be- the guy who stands next to him, what’s that one called?”
“No, the other not-getting-married guy. Like a bridesmaid, but guy version.” Clint lifts his head enough to smirk. “You can still wear a dress if you want.”
Tony sniffs. “I’m wisely going to ignore that. Steve, if you’re done with this madness, we’re going to play ‘haaaaave you met St-”’
“No, Tony, I don’t-”
He holds back a sigh as Tony grabs him by his shoulders and hauls him up, steering him until he’s over by the bar.
“That nickname doesn’t even-”
“You’re the Captain of the group, and you once saved a cat out of a tree and gave it back to its owner, who happened to be an old lady. You’re Captain fucking America, whether you like it or not, now look pretty.”
“Haaaaave you met Steve?”
Steve’s smile looks painful, he’s pretty sure, and the woman he’s directing it at looks more bewildered than ‘charmed by his dashing good looks and great dick,’ as Tony always put it.
“Uh,” Steve says.
Tony claps him on the shoulder. “Steve here’s a fireman. He saved a kitten from a burning building yesterday.”
The woman looks at him doubtfully. “Uh-huh.”
“He’s- he’s stretching the truth a little bit,” Steve tries, saying it through his teeth, before pulling Tony over to the side. “Tony, seriously, can we just-”
“You’re always going on about your epic journey to find the ‘dame’ you want to spend the rest of your life with, get married, have kidlets, the whole enchilada, so-”
Steve blinks. “You were just encouraging Clint to run in the opposite direction.”
Again, Tony falters- but then there’s that smile that Steve is sure he’s learned from supermodels, and it’s as gorgeous and freaking distracting as it’s always been. “Well, duh. I said you wanted it, I’m not saying I’m helping you into that travesty. I just want you to get laid. Which would happen a lot more often if you would suit up when I told you to.”
Steve just gives him a look that Tony gets from him more often than he should- a combination of exasperation, sternness and something else that Steve doesn’t really want to know that probably shows up somewhere behind his eyes.
“I’m not going to suit up,” Steve says. “Now come on, we have to go and convince Clint not to throw away the ring that cost him a year and half of his paycheck.”
“Mmm,” Tony says. “Which is really, really sad, if you ask me. Those diamonds are tiny as fu-”
“What the heck do you even do for a job, Christ.” Steve shakes his head, but he’s smiling. It’s kind of hard not to when Tony’s looking all rumpled and bothered, with that small crease in his forehead.
But then Tony grins again, the lines disappearing and coming up near his eyes. “I’m actually surprised you haven’t figured it out yet, honeybun. Let’s go and comfort Clint and his tiny, pathetic little ring-”
“Don’t say that when he’s in earshot, Tony.”
“So sensitive,” Tony sighs. He and Steve slide into the seats opposite to Clint, and Tony props his elbows up on the table and leans on his hands. “So, Clint, about your piece of shit ring-”
It’s totally worth Steve pushing his elbows out of the way so he smashes his chin into the breadstick basket.
So Clint is bullshitting his way through not being nervous, Thor- who makes a mysterious appearance that has nothing to do with Tony getting bored and texting him halfway through Clint’s half-winded speech about how far gone he is for Natasha, because weird (and awesome) things always happen to Thor- is clapping him on the back, which is probably causing him more harm than the nervous jitters are doing, and Steve is- Steve is-
Tony follows Steve’s gaze, craning his neck, and- oh.
“Oh,” Tony says, and Clint stops long enough to see Tony’s expression, which Tony hastily rearranges.
“Uh,” Tony says. “Steve, my man, you’re drooling.”
“M’whaa?” Steve looks down and yes, he is drooling onto the table. He flushes, scrubs the back of his hand across his chin and swabs the table with a napkin.
Tony tries for one of his trademark lewd grins, but with the way Clint and Thor are looking at him- a mixture of confused and pitying- he’s failing miserably.
Not like Steve is peeling his eyes away from the girl long enough to notice, but whatever.
He sucks in a breath. “Whoa, she’s a babe. Want me to introduce y-”
“No,” Steve cuts him off. “No way. I can talk to her myself, I can-”
“Go do it then.”
Steve looks like an adorable, fluffy, scared shitless deer caught in the headlights. “I will. Give me a second.”
Clint, Thor and Tony all stare at him, until Steve swallows and unclenches his hands.
“Okay,” Steve says. “Any minute now.”
Another seven seconds pass, and Clint snorts into his beer. “Dude, you’re so-”
“Lucky you have a wingman like me,” Tony says breezily, and hoists Steve up by his elbow. “Come on, lets go meet the future Mrs. Rogers.”
Steve, however, literally digs in his heels. “No, Tony, I can- I can- oh, god, please don’t make me, I’ll make an idiot out of myself, please, Tony, don’t-”
“You’re adorable,” Tony shoots at him, and then skids him to a stop in front of the mystery woman who he hates on principal, with her stupid brown hair and stupid brown eyes and stupid green fucking dress, making her look stupidly pretty and Tony hates everything, holy shit.
He dangles Steve in front of her, and tries not to think you better appreciate the ever loving fuck out of him, you frigid bitch, go die in a pit of lava. “Haaaaave you met Steve?”
Steve looks like he’s going to swallow his tongue. “Hi,” he chokes.
The woman looks- amused? “Hello,” she says, and she’s British, fuck, of course she’s British, Tony hates every British person, ever-
“Hi,” Steve says again, his blush staining his entire face an embarrassing shade of red, and Tony resists the urge to wince.
“He’s intimidated because you’re so hot,” he offers, and Steve whirls on him, hissing, “Tony, don’t disrespect her like that, you can’t just-”
“No, no,” The woman says, biting down on a smile. “It’s fine. I’m drop-dead gorgeous, I know. I’m Peggy, by the way.”
Peggyyyyy, Tony seethes silently, and in the corner of his eye, he’s pretty sure he can see Clint and Thor trying not to burst into hysterical laughter.
Peggy holds out her hand, and Steve stares at it for a few seconds before snapping into action and shaking it.
“Steve,” he says.
“Uh,” she says. “I know. He said.”
“Who said,” Steve says, dazed, and ouch, that was a kick to the nads. Then: “Oh, Tony! Oh, yeah, he’s- yeah. Tony. He’s. Great.”
Peggy nods. “I’ll take your word for it, then.”
A pause, and Peggy looks at him expectantly, not even bothering trying not to smile. Or rather, at this point, laugh, because Steve is still staring gormlessly, and Tony is just grateful that he’s not gaping.
“This young man,” Tony cuts in, “would be ever so grateful if you’d accept his invitation for a coffee date. Right now.”
Steve says, “I would?”
“You would,” Tony says through the corner of his mouth, and smiles at Peggy. “Come on. Gorgeous guy like this? He’ll treat you like a lady, open doors for you, the whole thing. He’ll probably pull a sweeping, grand gesture in the middle of your date. Come on, you can’t turn those baby blues down.”
Peggy tilts her head, considering. “They are very blue. And I do love grand gestures.”
Damn straight, bitch. I mean, nice person. Fuck. You seem like a nice person. I loathe you and everything about you. “Great! So, that’s a yes?”
She shrugs, pretty and perfect and the personification of everything Tony has ever hated, ever. “Might as well. Can’t turn down those baby blues, as you said.”
Tony grins. “You won’t regret it, I promise.”
He links Steve’s arm into hers, which jolts Steve out of his head- he starts stammering nervously, and Peggy can’t hold back her laugh this time. She squeezes his hand. “Don’t worry; I’ll be gentle with you.”
Tony wants to bite her.
She leads Steve out of the bar, and Steve doesn’t stop staring the entire way, and Tony has to physically stop himself from running over, grabbing Steve, and saying, ‘nope, sorry, I take it back, you can’t have him.’
But he lets them leave, and the door closes, and he stands there awkwardly for a few seconds before making his feet move and walking back over to the booth.
He grins again, but it comes out as a cringe of eternal pain. “I request the highest of fives.”
“Dude,” Clint says.
“I would give you said five,” Thor says, and he’s looking at Tony pityingly, Thor is looking at Tony pityingly, how low has he sunk, “But something tells me this is not the time for it, friend Tony.”
“Duuuude,” Clint says again. “I thought I had the biggest issues in my love life, what the fuck, man?”
Tony’s mouth twitches. “She seems- nice.”
“You looked like you wanted to brutally maim her for a second there, man.”
“I have no idea what would give you that idea, Barton.”
“Maybe how your eyes turned red and started glowing.”
“Lies,” Tony says, and almost reaches for Thor’s bottle of beer on default before stopping himself, because he-llo, not going down that road again. Besides, it was his fault, anyway- he’s the one who set them up. If it weren’t for him, Steve would have just drooled in her direction until she had left.
Fuck, why didn’t he just let him drool?
“I’m going to check everything’s okay with them,” Tony says suddenly.
Clint grabs at him as he starts to get up. “No, Tony, holy shit, you’re going to fling yourself off the Brooklyn bridge when you see them making out, Thor, stop him-”
Thor gets up, but Tony ducks and weaves and does a fucking ninja-roll out the door, and is sprinting- sprinting, in his multi-thousand dollar suit, the things he goes for love- uh, friendship- bros- fuck his life, seriously- before either of them can catch up.
He runs until he sees them at a streetlight, before he stops, panting- they turn the corner into a coffeeshop- cental perk, or some shit- and Tony presses himself up against the wall, trying to get his breath back.
“Fuck my life,” he wheezes, and tries not to die on the sidewalk.
He peeks around the corner, and they’re- sitting at a table, chatting innocently.
Peggy adjusts her earrings and it makes Tony hate her even more for no fucking reason.
“I,” Tony declares, “am a fucking idiot.”
He pulls out his phone and hits the second number on speed dial- the first is Pepper, because she fixes things, like getting sued and alcohol poisoning- and watches as Steve apologizes- he can’t hear him, but come on, it’s Steve- and flips his phone open.
“Grand gesture,” Tony says, and tries not to wheeze too much. “I promised her a grand gesture. You, by extension-”
“Why the heck-”
“Do you want to impress this girl or not?”
A pause, and then: “Of course, but what are you-”
“What has she said so far?”
“She- sorry, Peggy, can I just-? Thanks so much, I’m so sorry-” a rustle, and Tony watches as Steve slips around the corner of the shop. “I don’t know, she told me that she’s a journalist, she likes black coffee, she moved here when she was fifteen-”
“Nothing I can use, big guy, come on-”
“I don’t know! She- she’s an only child, she loves that stupid blue French horn hanging in the window of that place a block back, she hates green tea-”
“Wow, you actually listen to shit. French horn, got it.” Tony snaps his phone shut before he hears the rest of Steve’s ‘Tony, what are you-’ and vault himself over a homeless guy’s sign, moving towards the shop with the blue French horn in the window.
It’s a- a smoothie shop? Why the fuck-
I’m never going to need this smoothie shop, Tony assures himself, and gives the shop assistant his best ‘leave me the fuck alone’ smile when she approaches him.
“Hello, sir, can I help you?”
“Nope,” he says, making his mouth pop on the ‘p’. “Hey, what’s that?”
He points towards the shelf behind them, and when the woman looks, he makes a run for the window. He grabs the horn, gets his tie stuck on the hook, rips it out of the wall and leaves with the horn and the piece of the mantle it was attached to, which also has his tie shredded in it, making it out the door before he starts getting chased by a pissed-off Asian guy who probably owns the place.
“PUT THAT BACK, YOU FUCKING-”
“PEOPLE DO CRAZY SHIT FOR LOVE,” Tony yells back, and does the same duck-and-weave thing he used to throw Thor off his trail, getting lost in the crowd and eventually losing the angry Asian guy in midst of a fat woman wearing jeggings who spills ice cream over his already fucked-to-shit tie.
He runs until he’s at least a block away from both them and the coffee shop he needs to get to, and then he’s standing in the middle of a zebra crossing, panting and holding a fucking blue French horn.
“What the fuck is my life, seriously,” Tony pants, getting to the other side of the road to lean on a streetlamp.
When he finally gets back to the coffee shop- without running into the angry Asian guy, thank god- Peggy or Steve aren’t there.
Tony looks down at the blue French horn and considers how pissed the Asian guy will be if he gives it back now.
Tony startles, and whirls around. “Steve, what-”
Steve looks like he’s going to either throw up or fling himself off of something, and Tony snaps his mouth shut. “I- fuck, what happened? Did she touch your no-no places?”
Steve doesn’t even have the sense to glare, which means something’s really wrong. “I- god, I’m an idiot-”
“ItoldherIlovedher,” Steve blurts, and at any other time, Tony would congratulate him on rendering him speechless.
But he gets it together in a few seconds, caught between kneeling over laughing and running over to that fire hydrant and bashing his head in. “You- you what? Steve, you’ve known her for half an hour-”
“I know,” Steve moans, putting his head in his hands. “Jesus, I- she said that my jacket looked nice, and I said that her dress looked nice, and she asked how my coffee was, and I said, ‘I think I’m in love with you.’ Who does that, oh, god, she’s never going to talk to me again-”
Laughing. Definitely laughing. And then bashing his head in. “What did she say?”
“She said, ‘what,’ in this really surprised voice, and god, I don’t blame her, it just slipped out, oh, my god-” he stops, frowns. “Why are you holding the blue French horn?”
Tony doesn’t know what he’s talking about before he looks down and oh, yeah, he’s holding it. “Oh. Oh, that’s, uh-”
And then Steve’s looking at him with this incredulous, disbelieving grin. “You didn’t.”
Tony shakes it slightly. “I, uh. Had to get the pieces of mantle off of it-”
“Hey, I got chased down the street by a small, angry Asian guy, you better be thanking me-”
And then Steve’s laughing, bending over and bracing his hands on his knees, practically vibrating with it. “You- oh, god, you- you stole- Tony, Jesus Christ,” he chokes, eyes watering.
“I’m going to take that as a thank you,” Tony replies triumphantly. “And I got my fucking tie destroyed for it, don’t think we’re not going to have a funeral. So, you’re telling me I got this stupid fucking horn for nothing?”
Steve deflates, and Tony wants to backpedal. “No, I mean- you can still-”
“I don’t know,” Steve says. “She- well, she walked out pretty quickly, so I don’t think she’ll-”
“We’ll call her,” Tony says, fast. “We’ll totally call her, apologize for accidentally telling her you loved her less than an hour after meeting her. She’ll totally understand. Totally.”
“Totally,” Steve giggles, and takes the horn when Tony holds it out. “I- thank you, Tony. We’ll have a funeral for your tie.”
“Damn fucking straight, we will. She was called Bonnie. I’ve had her for three years.”
“That’s not creepy at all.”
Tony grins, and this time it’s genuine, and he doesn’t really know what the fuck he’s feeling at the moment.
Steve is trying to get the lighting right on his latest drawing when there’s a knock on the door.
“Just a second,” he calls, distracted, and blows the pencil shaving off the paper before getting up and walking, barefoot, to the door.
He opens it, and blinks.
“Uh,” the guy says. “Is Tony around?”
“Oh. No, he moved out a few months ago- he’s in an apartment a few blocks away, I can give you the address if you want. I’m Steve, by the way.”
Bruce smiles sort of hesitantly. “Thanks. I’m Bruce.”
Steve holds out his hand, and Bruce takes it after a second, shaking it with a firm grip.
“Nice to meet you,” Steve says. “Okay, so Tony-”
“And that is how I met-”
“Great, can we go to bed now-”
“-your uncle Bruce.”
“Uncle Bruce? What the hell, dad, you said-”
“Will you relax? I’m getting to it.”
Steve smiles to himself, feeling his smile lines crinkle, looking at his kids faces, the woollen jumpers that Thor had knitted them, the watches that Natasha had given them: a few of the many mementos of the story that he’s lived and loved.
“Like I said- it’s a long story.”