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Any Other Way of Loving

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I do not love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
Secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that does not bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without complexities or pride:
I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

Pablo Neruda

 


 

“Pepper Potts was seen earlier today in the Upper East Side leaving Kleinfeld Bridal.  The CEO has been busy planning her impending nuptials to renowned environmental lawyer, Jonathan Roberts, which are expected to take place in just a couple of months.  The two met at a Maria Stark Foundation function last year after being introduced by mutual friend, and Ms. Potts’ ex, billionaire Tony Stark.”

“Speaking of Tony Stark: it looks like the self-proclaimed ‘playboy’ hasn’t been living up to his reputation all that much.  Stark hasn’t been involved with anyone since his breakup with Stark Industries’ CEO over two years ago, nor has he made many public appearances.”

“I wouldn’t say that.  He’s been photographed with his teammates and roommates often enough around the city.”

“Yeah, but I highly doubt Tony Stark is dating Captain Amer—”

“Are you seriously watching this trash?”

“You know how much I love celebrity gossip,” Steve quipped, turning the page of his book.  He continued his reading, even when he felt Tony lean against the back of the couch and rest his chin on Steve’s shoulder.

A Short History of Nearly Everything,” Tony observed. “Still trying to catch up to the modern world, I see.”  

“Bruce lent it to me.”

Tony made a sound of approval. “I won’t deny he has good taste in literature.  Don’t know if I can say the same for his wardrobe.”

Steve turned his head and found Tony’s face inches away from his.  However, he wasn’t fazed in the slightest—he had long ago grown accustomed to Tony invading his personal space. “That’s not very nice.”  

“Relax.  He already knows I’m not nice,” Tony said with a grin.  He gave Steve a casual onceover. “On the other hand, it looks like you’ve learned how to clean up pretty well.  What is this, Ralph Lauren?” he asked, tugging at the collar of Steve’s t-shirt. “Are you wearing a Ralph Lauren undershirt, Steve?”

“They’re comfortable,” Steve said with a shrug.  It was the truth.  Once Tony had shown him the pleasures of finer clothing, he’d realized he couldn’t go back. “Weren’t you the one who told me to indulge every now and then?”

“Yes, I was and I am so glad you listened to me.  I’m sure the entire female population of New York would like to thank me too.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“I know.”  Without warning, Tony grabbed Steve’s book and tossed it to the other end of the couch.

Steve sent him the most intimidating glare he could muster. “I was reading that.” 

“Oh, relax.  You can read that in your sleep, Mr. Greatest Tactical Mind in the World.”

“Not the point.”

Tony ignored him and got to his feet.  “C’mon, let’s get some pizza.  I’m starving, and I’d bet good money that you are too.”

It was just Steve’s luck that his stomach chose that exact moment to growl very loudly.

“I’ll meet you downstairs in ten!” Tony sang, already on his way to the elevator. 

 


 

“I don’t care if you’re paying for it, Tony.  I am not having live doves at my wedding.”

“Why not?”  

“It’s tacky.”

“Oh, c’mon, Pep,” Tony whined.  In hindsight, he probably should’ve asked Pepper before giving the wedding planner the go-ahead.  “Next thing I know, you’ll be calling that giant bunny I got you for Christmas ‘tacky.’”

“It was, Pepper stated, and Tony could practically hear her rolling her eyes at him all the way from the Pacific.

“Now, that’s just hurtful.”  The doors slid open and he stepped out of the elevator and out under the fluorescents of the garage. “What about—”

“No ice sculptures either, Tony,” Pepper cut in. “This is supposed to be a small, simple and classy affair.”

“You ruin all the fun.”  Okay, so maybe he still needed a lesson on extravagance, but this was Pepper’s wedding, and he just wanted her to have the absolute best. 

“I try,” Pepper said dryly. “Now go.  Don’t keep Steve waiting.”

Tony paused mid-step and looked up to find Steve casually leaning against the hood of the Bugatti and jabbing away at his phone. “You’re the one who called me,” he said into the phone. “How’d you even know he was here?”

“I have my ways,” Pepper said without further explanation. “Bye, Tony.”  

“Yeah, okay.  Bye.” Tony pocketed his phone and turned his attention to Steve. “Your fixation on this car is getting a little unhealthy,” he remarked as he approached the taller man.  

“It’s a nice car,” Steve defended as he slid his own phone into his jacket.  

“I won’t argue with that.”

“So are you evergoing to let me drive it?” 

“Not a chance, Rogers,” Tony said as they both got into the car and buckled up. “I’ve seen the way you drive.”

Steve looked affronted. “I’m a good driver.”   

“Your track record says otherwise.” Tony started up the car. “Of the two of us, who flew a plane into the ocean?”

“It was a Nazi plane and there were bombs,” Steve said indignantly. “I had no time and there was nowhere to land.”

“Your self-sacrificial streak is ridiculous,” Tony said. “You turned yourself into a capsicle and now you’re stuck here in the future with me.”

“I could think of harsher punishments than that.”

It took a surprising amount of energy for Tony not to dwell on Steve’s statement. “You’ve destroyed five motorcycles ever since we started this whole team shtick.”

Steve rolled his eyes, and how was it that he could make an action as mundane as that look good? “You really wanna start talking about recklessness now?” he dared. 

“Aha!  So you do admit you’re reckless,” Tony gloated.  He merged onto the street, surprised but thankful at the lack of traffic—at least they’d get to the restaurant sooner.

“Was that Pepper on the phone?” Steve asked, changing the subject.  

“Yeah, she’s on her way back from Hong Kong.”

“How is she?”

“Good,” he answered.  She hadn’t given any indication otherwise. “She’s stressing out over the wedding, but other than that, she seems okay.”

“Are you making her stressed?” Steve asked pointedly.

“Now what on earth would give you that idea?”

“You’re known for your wild and crazy ideas.  I overheard you on the phone with the man from the Cirque du Soleil yesterday.”

“Most people would jump at the chance to get free live entertainment like that.”

“I don’t think Pepper would fall under the category of ‘most people.’”  

Tony shrugged. “I’m just trying to help.”   

Steve regarded him carefully. “I know you are, and I’m sure she appreciates the thought, but you have to remember that it’s her wedding, Tony.  Not—”

“I’m perfectly aware that this isn’t my wedding,” Tony shot back indignantly.   

“You know I didn’t mean it that way,” Steve said apologetically.

“I’m not still hung up on her.”  Tony wasn’t sure why he felt compelled to say that, because it had been ages since he and Pepper were romantically involved.  She had already moved on and found someone who made her happy, and Tony found a group of friends that made him happier than he thought possible. “I know what everyone says about me, but I’m not.”

“I know.”

“Do you?” Tony challenged.  Sometimes, it was still hard to believe that he and Steve were friends—that Steve had seen parts of Tony that no one ever had, and that Tony had let him.

“I know you,” Steve said, his voice gentle.  “I know you just want the best for her—and don’t take this the wrong way—but you really need to learn when to back the fuck off.”

“I suppose I could work on that,” Tony grudgingly agreed.

Steve just smiled, not bothering to dignify Tony with a response and instead fixing his attention out the window, and the two fell into companionable silence.

Even now, Tony could be surprised at just how easily and often those silences could creep up on them. 

Admittedly, it had taken a bit of time for the two of them to finally got over their egos and actually start listening to each other.  Tony still wasn’t sure how much of a part Loki had had in their very rocky start, because yes, Tony knew he thought pretty highly of himself, but even stooping so low as to actively pick a fight with anyone other than someone like Justin Hammer was very out of character for him.

He and Steve had called a truce after Loki was sent back to Asgard, but it wasn’t until after the Mandarin fiasco, and after Steve and his ragtag team burned SHIELD to the ground, that the two of them had actually spoken in person again.  Tony had visited Steve in the hospital after fishing his shield out of the Potomac and then invited him—and the other Avengers—to live in the tower, figuring that they could all try to give the whole team shtick another try, especially since there was no one there to boss them all around anymore. 

Steve had been the easiest to convince and, within a few weeks, all of the Avengers had taken residence on their assigned floors.  It wasn’t very often that they were all home at the same time since they all seemed to split their time between multiple places, but knowing someone was around at any given time was still a comfort.

Steve left with Sam whenever they got a lead on the Winter Soldier’s whereabouts, sometimes taking Natasha with them, but they never came back with any luck.  Tony helped when he had time, despite Steve’s protests: they never spoke about the assassin’s likely involvement in his parents’ deaths, but if Tony could find a way to help, there was no stopping him.

It turned out that on the days that Steve was home, and Tony wasn’t working, the two of them actually got along swimmingly.

Tony hated labels because they were so black and white—and well, a little seventh grade—but if anyone asked what Steve had become to him over the course of the past year, the term “best friend” seemed the most appropriate (or “runner-up best friend,” as Rhodey playfully put it).

Up until recently, Tony had always found friends pretty hard to come by.  He’d lucked out on his first day at MIT when he’d found Rhodey was his roommate.  He wouldn’t have met Pepper if any of his first three personal assistants had been remotely competent; and if he hadn’t gotten into that bar fight in Austin over fifteen years ago, he would never have met Happy (who was kind enough to drive him to the emergency room).

But being on the Avengers had given Tony the opportunity for so much more.  They were a group of people that Tony genuinely cared about—a group of people he didn’t even know were missing from his life until the night they were all moved in and Clint corralled them into the living room to watch the new Bourne movie.

So Tony found poker buddies in Clint and Thor, had Bruce as his partner-in-crime in the lab, and chatted about the latest episode of Game of Thrones over breakfast with Natasha.  He even found himself going to bars with people like Maria Hill and Sam Wilson.

Then there was Steve.

Tony couldn’t pinpoint when exactly Steve had become a permanent fixture in Tony’s life, but he was just glad that it had happened at all.  Steve was always around, to the point where it became rare for Tony to go through a day without seeing or hearing from him. 

He and Steve were perfect complements, constantly keeping each other in check on the battlefield and off.  They grounded each other, never afraid to knock each other down a peg or two when necessary.  He and Steve could engage in a shouting match that nearly ended in physical blows in the morning and be perfectly fine by night, lounging in the living room and laughing at absolutely nothing.  

Talking to Steve was easy.  Listening to Steve was easy.  Sharing space with Steve, eating meals with him, watching television with him, leading the team with him—it was all so second nature that Tony felt like he had been doing it his entire life.  

And if Tony had developed a silly crush on his teammate along the way, then no one but him had to know about it.

Tony initially blamed it on decades of hero-worship, but part of it could probably be attributed to the fact that Steve was ridiculously good-looking and Tony would have to be blind not to see that.

He had heard stories about Steve since he was a child from his father, his Aunt Peggy, and even from the Commandos when they would accompany Howard for poker night.  Tony was thrown for a loop when he realized that Steve was everything they all said he would be.  Steve lived up to his namesake every minute of every day, and Tony found it both intimidating and admirable.  

Luckily, Tony flirted like he breathed, so it was easy to dismiss his crush in front of the others.  He had ignored his feelings for Pepper for over ten years before they got together, and despite the rocky romantic aspect of their relationship, they were okay now.

It didn’t take long for Tony to suppress his feelings—to bury them so deep down inside of himself that he had forgotten what it was like to think of Steve as anything other than his friend.

There was no way in hell that Tony would jeopardize his friendship with Steve over something so insignificant as a crush

 


 

“You weren’t kidding when you said you were starving,” Steve remarked, watching Tony finish his second slice of pizza while Steve had barely started on his first.  He debated making a comment about having manners at the table, but in truth, Steve was glad that Tony was eating at all.

The man had a hard time taking care of himself, but it wasn’t by any means deliberate.  Tony just got so wrapped up in his own genius that he’d sometimes forget to perform basic human functions like eating and sleeping, but he had been doing better ever since Steve and the team made themselves his personal alarm clocks.

“We should get milkshakes after this,” Tony suggested.

“If you can move after this.”

Tony just took another bite of his pizza.  Some sauce dripped onto his chin, and Steve stifled a laugh, thinking of what the press would say if they saw the self-proclaimed genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist in such a state.

“What’s so funny?” Tony asked.

“You’ve got sauce in your mustache.”

Tony’s eyes widened comically before grabbing a handful of napkins and dabbing at his mouth. “Better?”

Steve nodded. “Good as new.”

“Did everything come out okay?” their waitress—Nicole, according to the name sewn onto her apron—asked.

“Everything’s great,” Tony replied. “But I was wondering if I could get another drink?”

“Of course!” She then turned her full attention to Steve. “And what about you, hon’?” she asked sweetly, her hand brushing against his shoulder. “Can I get you anything?”

Steve politely shook his head. “No, thank you.”

It may have just been a trick of light, but the smile on her face seemed to falter momentarily. “Alrighty, then.  I’ll be right back with your Coke,” she said to Tony before walking away.

The old man at the table next to them gave Steve a disapproving look. “Moron,” he muttered. “Why didn’t ya get her number?”  

“Wait, what?” Steve glanced between the man and their waitress before settling his confused gaze on Tony. “What just happened?”

“Our waitress was blatantly flirting with you, and you didn’t flirt back,” Tony informed as he inspected a piece of pepperoni on his pizza.

“She was?”

Tony looked at him dubiously. “She was what?”

“Flirting?”

“Yeah.” Tony put his food down. “Wait, are you telling me you couldn’t tell she was flirting with you?”

“No?”

“What?” Tony sputtered. “She was batting her eyelashes at you and everything!”

Steve must have really been out of it to not notice that

“Wha—Do you really—You go on dates all the time!  How the hell could you not know—”

Steve shrugged. “To be fair, most of the dates I’ve been on were set up by other people.”

“What about that guy last week?” Tony asked. “What was his name, Adam?  Andrew?”

“Alex,” Steve corrected. “And that was a blind date too.  Courtesy of Sam.”

“Didn’t work out?”

Steve fidgeted in his seat. “Not… exactly?  We went out again the other night but… he kind of bailed.”

Tony raised a brow. “Kind of bailed?”

“He made up some excuse after a while and left,” Steve explained.  He had actually thought they were getting along pretty well, so it was disappointing when Alex never called again as he had promised.  “It just… got really awkward? I don’t know, but I couldn’t blame him.”

“Unbelievable,” Tony muttered.  

“What?”

“You’re just wasting those good looks of yours, Rogers.  You could literally get anyone to date you.”

That was a nice sentiment, but one that Steve didn’t think was very likely.  His terrible streak of dates over the past year were testament to that.  “I’m not looking to just date anyone.”

“I know that, but you still should go out and meet people.  You can’t just sit around, waiting for the right person to come along,” Tony reasoned. “It doesn’t work like that anymore—”

“You don’t think I know that?” Steve immediately regretted his outburst when Tony visibly shrunk in his seat. “I’m sorry.  I just… I’ve been trying, but it’s hard.”

Tony twirled the straw in his glass. “No one ever said it was easy.”

“You’re telling me,” Steve muttered. “I can barely flirt—let alone tell when anyone is flirting with me.  Natasha, Sam and Clint have been on my case as it is.”

“I don’t think you’ve learned the meaning of ‘persistence’ until your buddy calls you while flying in a weaponized suit of armor to tell you about someone he met at a Senate hearing who would be absolutely perfect for you.”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “Jim did that?”

Tony nodded. “Multiple times.  The man’s insisting I get back out there.”

Steve smiled in response, but even he knew that it didn’t quite reach his eyes.  

The month following his break up with Pepper had been a particularly trying time: for Tony, Steve, and all of the team.  Steve had initially found out about Tony’s palladium poisoning from Natasha, albeit accidentally.  It wasn’t until after Steve had moved into the tower—after a late night conversation with Tony himself—that Steve had found out the severity of the entire situation.  When Tony and Pepper finally broke up, Steve hadn’t known what to expect, so he’d braced himself for the worst.  

Tony, however, had never sought solace from a bottle, instead choosing to immerse himself in his work.

Steve had lost count of how many times he’d found Tony passed out in his lab from pure exhaustion. 

The lack of care for his own personal being culminated about six weeks after the break up when Tony insisted he was well enough to suit up for the battle, when in reality, he had been going on over sixty hours without sleep.  A slight miscalculation landed Natasha in the emergency room with a mild concussion, an injury that would have been much worse had Thor not swooped in and carried her off to safety.

Steve had sought out Tony in his bedroom later that night to have a talk with him, and instead found the guilt-ridden engineer sitting on his bedroom floor with a tumbler in his hand.

He wasn’t drunk, but he was definitely getting there.  What had scared Steve the most, however, was how defeated Tony had looked. 

Steve had gently pried the glass from Tony’s hand before enveloping the man in his arms, letting him cry into his shirt.

Never in the two years that they’d known each other had Tony ever shown any signs of uncertainty, but that night, Steve’s heart had broken when he had heard Tony’s sobs of what am I even good for?

Steve had camped out on the couch in the room after tucking Tony into his bed, keeping an eye on him to make sure he didn’t get sick.  Tony had apologized profusely for his behavior the next morning, too embarrassed to even look Steve in the eye.  Steve had assured him that it was all right, making Tony promise to find him if he ever needed to let his frustrations out.

Tony had gotten rid of every ounce of liquor in his suite and stayed clear of the stash on the common floor.  He began to work less, ate and slept normally, and spent more time with the team. 

They’d never had a repeat of that night, but Tony did live up to his promise to Steve and came to him whenever he needed to talk, and eventually, Steve found himself doing the same thing.  

For two people who appeared to be no more than polar opposites, they’d both shared very similar life experiences, and Steve figured that’s what made it so easy for them to just… talk.

“Maybe, it…” Steve started to say, but he shook his head.

Tony looked at Steve curiously. “Maybe what?”

“Never mind,” Steve insisted. “Forget I said anything.”

“Out with it, Rogers,” Tony ordered.

“I’m just thinking… he may have a point?” Steve ventured carefully, not wanting to push Tony too far. “Maybe it is time for you to get out there…”

Tony opened his mouth to reply, but their waitress chose that moment to return to their table.

“Here’s your Coke,” she announced, placing the drink in front of Tony. “Do y’all need anything else, or should I just bring the check?”

“Just the check is fine,” Tony said easily. “But I wouldn’t mind getting another one of those thousand-watt smiles you’ve got there,” he added.

“Sure thing, fellas,” she said, her cheeks rosy red, no doubt from Tony’s comment. “I’ll be right back.”

“See?” Tony said, turning to Steve once she was out of earshot. “That wasn’t difficult, was it?  I’m sure you’re capable of doing the same thing.”

“I highly doubt that.” Steve reached for another slice of pizza, leaving the slice with more pepperoni on it for Tony.

“C’mon, Rogers,” Tony badgered. “Have a little faith.  Flirting is easy.  Anyone can learn it.”

Steve snorted. “Why don’t you teach me, then?”

“Fine.”

Steve paused, the pizza halfway to his mouth.  He eyed Tony skeptically. “What?” he asked, unsure if he had heard right.

“I said I’ll help you,” Tony clarified. “Flirting, dating… whatever.”

Okay, so he had heard correctly. “I was—Tony, I was kidding—”

“I wasn’t,” Tony replied. “Look, you’re right—you and Rhodey.  It’s probably well past time for me to start dating again, and Odin knows how much help you need.  This could help me get back into the swing of things.”

“You… you’re serious?”

“I figure it’s a win/win situation,” Tony said nonchalantly. “Although I’m still failing to see how someone like you can be bad at dating.”

“Talking to people has never been my strong suit, Tony.”

Tony sat back and appraised him. “You seem to be doing just fine.”

“It’s you,” Steve pointed out. “You’re one of my best friends; of course it’s easy for me to talk to you.  But back in my day, any occasion where I opened my mouth usually ended with me getting my ass kicked all the way to Queens.”

“And the ladies?”

“No self-respecting da—woman,” he amended, “No one wanted to talk to some little guy like me.”

“Peggy Carter did.”

That certainly wasn’t the response Steve was expecting.  Steve knew that Tony had met Peggy a few times when he was younger, but he had never explicitly mentioned her in front of Steve before.  “Peggy wasn’t like everyone else.”  

“Then everyone else was an idiot,” Tony said, point blank. “I saw pictures of you from before Project Rebirth.  You were fucking adorable.”

Steve was mortified when he realized he was blushing.  As far as Steve knew, Tony lacked a brain-to-mouth filter and said whatever was on his mind.  Steve had gotten used to it, having learned when to take Tony seriously, but comments like that could still throw him for a loop . “Twelve-year-olds are adorable,” he mumbled. 

Tony rolled his eyes.  “Whatever.  The point is: you were a looker before the serum, big shot,” he said, clapping him on the back. “You’ve even got a winning personality to boot.  Anyone would’ve been lucky to have you then, and they’d be lucky to have you now.”

Tony sounded so sincere—so different from the usual sarcasm and witticisms that he normally spoke, and Steve didn’t know how to handle it.

So Steve did what any other person would’ve done in his situation: avoided eye contact.

“Aw, no need for that, Cap.  I’m just telling it like it is,” Tony said before taking another bite of his pizza. “You’ve got the whole package,” he said with his mouth half-full.  It was kind of endearing, which Steve found strange. “So you’ve just gotta make it work.”

“Now you’re Tim Gunn all of a sudden?”

“You need to cut back on the Project Runway,” Tony said, picking off a piece of pepperoni and popping it into his mouth. “Here, I’ll give you your first dating tip: pizzerias are not ideal first date locations.  Yes, pizza is wonderful and delicious and basically the food of the gods, but getting sauce and grease all over your face is not the best way to make a first impression.”

 


 

Upon returning to the tower, Tony and Steve parted ways and went back to their respective suites. 

Tony wasted no time in stripping down and stepping into the shower that JARVIS had prepared for him.  He didn’t realize how much he had been working lately until he felt his muscles start to relax under the hot water. 

He braced himself against the slippery tile and let the water sluice over his back as a million thoughts ran through his head.

Okay, so Tony could admit that deciding to help Steve was a little impulsive, but he was a man of his word, and he was going to follow through with it.

However, he wasskeptical as to how to go about the process.  It wasn’t as if he had been very active in the dating pool himself: he and Pepper didn’t exactly get together under conventional circumstances, and none of his relationships before that didn’t exactly end well.

Tony was good at charming people.  He knew how to win them over and grab their attention long enough to get them into bed with him.

But dating them?  Tony was disappointed to realize that while he had more knowledge about the subject than Steve did, he didn’t have much practice.

“JARVIS, when was the last time I went out on a date?” Tony asked as he lathered his hair with shampoo.  It was getting a little long; maybe it was time for a cut.

“Twenty minutes ago, sir,” JARVIS responded.

Tony paused. “Excuse me?”

“According to the dictionary’s definition of the word, you and Captain Rogers just engaged in one earlier this evening.”

Huh.  Interesting.  

Tony rinsed his hair and then grabbed a bar of soap off the shelf and began to scrub down his body.  

“Who was my last relationship before Pepper?”

“Ms. Whitney Frost in 2006.”

“I… don’t think a drunken weekend getaway in Palm Springs counts as a relationship,” Tony remarked.   “Did I date anyone for longer than… I dunno, a month?”

“You were romantically involved with Kathy Dare for three months in 2004, and Tiberius Stone for almost six months in 1999.”

That certainly explained why Tony didn’t do relationships. 

Based on his track record, Tony was surprised he and Pepper lasted as long as they did, and that’s what scared him the most.  Pepper was definitely not like any of the people that Tony had previously dated, and for a while, he had honestly thought they would last.

They had worked well together until they didn’t, and that day, Tony had gone home to find Pepper sitting on their bed, her suitcases already packed.  She’d apologized, kissed him on the cheek, and left for the airport.  Tony had seen it coming, of course, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.  He couldn’t even step foot on their floor, having since converted it into a state of the art gym, and instead taking up residence in one of the suites on the floor above.

Yes, the break-up had been painful, but Tony knew when to let go.  He wanted Pepper to be happy, and if he couldn’t give her that, then he wanted to give her the freedom to find it.

The problem was: if Tony couldn’t make it work with Pepper, then who else was there?

Tony rinsed off and stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around his waist before returning to his bedroom.  He rifled through one of his drawers for a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt.  He slipped them on and dried off his hair, before grabbing his tablet and walking down the hall to Steve’s room.

“Steve?” Tony called out, poking his head in the room.

“I’ll be out in a minute,” Steve responded from the en suite.

Tony let himself in, the door closing behind him with a soft click.  He padded over to the bed and settled himself on top of the covers.  Turning on his tablet, he got to work. 

By the time Steve emerged from the bathroom, dressed only in a pair of threadbare pajama pants, Tony had already compiled a list of potential date locations in the city. 

“What are you doing?” Steve asked, flopping down on the bed next to Tony.  

“Making reservations.”

“What for?”

“Us,” Tony replied. “How do you feel about Thai food for dinner tomorrow?”

“How could you possibly be thinking about dinner?” Steve said dubiously. “We just ate.”

“You want help with dating, don’t you?  JARVIS is helping me come up with a list of the most romantic restaurants in the city.”

“How long is this list exactly?” Steve asked, glancing over Tony’s shoulder.

“Twenty-one… and counting,” Tony added. “Let’s just say you’re booked solid for the next month.”

“A month?”

“Maybe two months,” Tony corrected.

“Is that necessary?”

“You’re not gonna learn everything overnight,” Tony replied, which was the truth.  What Tony neglected to mention was that he needed that time to relearn the basics himself.

Steve settled back against the headboard. “Look, I appreciate what you’re doing for me, Tony, but what if we picked this up tomorrow?” he suggested. “I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of beat.”

“I guess we can resume planning in the morning,” Tony relented, placing his tablet on the nightstand. “Do you want to watch a movie?”

“Sure, but I can’t promise how much of it I’ll actually get to watch.”

“That’s fair.” Tony made himself more comfortable, leaning against Steve’s side. “J, put on whatever is next on Steve’s Netflix queue, would you?”

“Certainly.  Legally Blonde will start playing now.”