A month into the summer, Steve and Tony find out that the biggest drama the kids are talking about is whether or not Leader Stark and Leader Rogers will ‘get their heads out of their butts and kiss already.’
It’s a pretty big deal, apparently.
“It’s not just your groups, either,” Bruce tells them through a mouthful of oatmeal. It’s well-sugared, because though they still have to eat the crap they give to the kids, the camp leaders get to add things that the kids don’t because the one time they did the camp leaders had to stay up until midnight coaxing kids down from sugar highs.
“Some of my kids have even devised plans,” Sam says, making them turn their incredulous stares on him. He nods, continues, “Yeah, I’ve heard a couple of them. Those kids aren’t geniuses, but you gotta admire their efforts. They have it written down with the steps and everything.”
“Steps,” Tony repeats flatly. “We didn’t- Steve and I didn’t even like each other until a week ago! Why are they coming up with plans that have steps?”
“What are their plans, exactly,” Steve asks.
Sam shrugs, eats another spoonful of oatmeal. “Y’know, lock you two in a room and force you to talk it out. Leave you stranded in the lake without a paddle for a while. All of them are basically different versions of ‘keep them isolated long enough so they have no choice but talk out their feelings.’ Like I said, the kids aren’t geniuses, but I told them to keep it up anyway. Encourages teamwork, or whatever.”
Steve and Tony continue to stare at him, then each other, until Steve stands up and addresses the table: “Hands up if any of you have kids in your group who have secret plans to get me and Tony together.”
Every hand at the table rises except for Clint’s, and Steve is looking at him gratefully until he looks up and says, “What?”
“Raise your hand,” Natasha tells him.
Clint does, but then lets it fall to half-mast. “What for?”
“We’re raising our hands if our kids have master plans for getting Steve and Tony together.”
“Oh,” Clint says, and sticks his hand up fully.
Steve sighs. He sits back down, picks up his spoon and then puts it down again, staring down at his bowl. “At least they’re being creative,” he says slowly. “And working in a group. Are they- are they doing this in groups?”
“Oh, yeah,” Sam says. “Not even the designated groups, just picking whoever’s interested in helping with the plan. It’s been great for inter-camp relationships, really getting the kids to branch out of who they usually hang out with.”
“They have a betting pool,” Natasha calls from a few seats away. “Whoever’s team gets you together gets a bag of candy that everyone donated to.”
“They’re not supposed to have candy,” Steve points out.
Natasha shrugs. “They’re two dozen ten year olds, Steve. They either smuggled it in, or they pulled another mission.”
“Mission,” Tony repeats dubiously.
“They snuck out of their cabins and walked four miles in the dark to the closest store,” Bruce fills in.
Steve lets his head thunk against the table, brings it up again. “And no-one stopped them?”
“We didn’t realize until the next morning,” Bruce says. “Remember how my team and Natasha’s were absent from breakfast last week?”
“How did they even navigate their way to the store in the dark,” Steve wonders aloud. “For four miles- how much dedication-”
“I don’t know if I’m proud or horrified,” Tony says.
“Go with both,” Thor says.
Sam reaches over to dole out more sugar into his oatmeal. As he turns it up over his bowl, he says, “I say go with it. It’s really improved camp morale, Eli and Kate wouldn’t talk to each other for the first week and now they’re leading group meetings after lights-out about their next master plan to hook you guys up.”
Tony laughs, unable to help it. He covers his mouth and shakes quietly. “Oh, god,” he chokes. “Is this why me and Steve keep getting into those situations?”
Natasha starts listing them off: “That time your boat flipped over for no apparent reason, that time you and your groups got stuck in the woods, that time Tommy hurt his ankle and only stopped yelling when you guys held him together-”
“Every time the kids insist that only you two can do something and they won’t go along with it unless you two specifically help,” Sam cuts in. “Seriously, you guys didn’t find it weird that the kids are constantly pairing you two together?”
“We just,” Steve tries, looking over at Tony. “We thought they think it’s funny when we argue.”
“It is,” Natasha agrees. “And they love it. But no, mostly it’s because they’ve been paying attention to your love story and they want to be the mastermind ten year olds who bring it to fruition.”
Steve lets his head thunk into the table again, and this time it stays there.
The kids, Tony decides, are devious little bastards and should be treated as such. He voices this opinion at the breakfast table the next day and gets widely ignored.
Steve sits next to him about two minutes after this declaration, and smiles at Tony awkwardly. “Good morning.”
“Morning,” Tony replies, and goes back to eating his food, trying not to notice Steve’s every motion beside him as he heaps food onto his plate.
It’s difficult, because Tony has this thing, this sixth sense, apparently, that only activates when Steve is around. For the last month, since the summer started and the team leaders all met each other, Tony has been unable not to notice whatever Steve is doing when he walks into Tony’s line of sight.
It’s been a weird month, to say the least. The first week was more or less uneventful, everyone settling in, the kids figuring out who’s going to be their new best friend until the summer’s over and then dumping said friend after two days and picking someone else, feeling their camp leaders out, learning what they can get away with.
The kids also started watching Steve and Tony, during that first week- giggling when they got carried away and started arguing in front of the kids, watching avidly whenever they started talking. It got to the point that they’d be talking in private and they’d look to the right to see several kids scampering away from where they’d been eavesdropping.
They had thought it was weird, but they also knew it was to be expected: ten year olds were weird, and when you corralled them into a bunch of cabins for three months of what is pretty much an extended slumber party without minimal adult supervision, ten year olds started going past weird and got into downright freaky.
It had started off with just their two teams, apparently.
On day three of summer camp, Steve and Tony had gotten a little competitive. Or, well, they had caused a camp-wide commotion by screaming at each other about how their team of ten year olds can beat the other’s team of ten year olds into the dust in the weekly camp games.
Looking back on it, they both realized it was petty and neither of them should have allowed themselves to get so worked up about it.
They even apologized a few minutes after the screaming argument. Unfortunately, somehow the apology had snowballed into another screaming match about which one of them had gotten them all lost on their morning walk, and ended with them both storming off with their kids.
This is, really, what sets the kids off:
As the two groups trade grins and disbelieving looks, Steve says angrily, “Sorry, kids- there’s just something about camp leader Stark that gets me- that gets me-”
Then he makes a wordless, pissed off noise and starts walking away, the two teams of kids still staring at each other, forming plans that they will voice that night at dinner to the unanimous agreement of the rest of the two groups, which will then spread over the weeks to the entire kid population finding out and getting in on it.
The camp leaders find out a little while after that, and of course, Steve and Tony are the absolute last ones to find out about the plans.
Along with managing their groups in the weekly camp games, Steve and Tony are in charge of kayaking, which happens daily, and hikes, which happen twice a week.
Tony hates both of these things, which he always voices loudly and with great enthusiasm every single day. To this, Steve always responds that maybe Tony should pack up and go home, at which point Tony’s complaints turn into the occasional grumble.
The morning after finding out about the kids’ master plan, Steve and Tony walk together to the lake. As they’re getting the kayaks out, Steve says, “We should tell them to stop.”
Tony says, “What,” too busy swearing under his breath at the heavy kayak he’s dragging out onto the dirt.
“We should tell them to stop,” Steve repeats. He waves a hand, because he has one free one, because he’s dragging his kayak out with one hand because Steve is built like a brick shithouse and can do things like drag heavy fucking kayaks out with one hand. “The kids mean well, but they could get someone hurt if they keep trying things like they’ve been doing.”
“I doubt it,” Tony says, grunting as he drops the kayak into its usual place. “Sure, they’ll get annoying, but I don’t think anyone’s actually going to get hurt.”
“They tipped us over two weeks ago, Tony.”
“So?” Tony brushes the dirt off his hands via his pants. “We got wet. It’s kayaking, we always get wet. What was even their plan for that, anyway?”
Steve shrugs. “Kids think weird things. They might’ve thought one of us would have to save the other from drowning and have to give them CPR which would awaken our incredible romance with each other.”
He says it lightly, but as he says it the image runs over in his head: Tony wet and slack in his arms, Steve tilting his chin back and breathing into his mouth, Tony coming awake and it turns into kissing, fast and desperate-
He clears his throat, turning away so he doesn’t watch the lines of Tony’s muscled arms as he starts hauling the next kayak out. “Still, something could go wrong,” he says. He doesn’t offer to help Tony drag the kayak out, because the first and only time he did it he got snapped at to fuck the fuck off. The kids had had a field day with that one.
“I guess,” Tony says. He drops the next kayak into the dirt. “Hey, at least now we know why so many kids show up to kayaking.”
“Some kids like it, Tony.”
“No one likes kayaking,” Tony insists. “I told you, they had an ulterior motive, and it’s wanting us to confess our red hot love in front of them.”
“If I ever confess my red hot love for you, it ain’t gonna be in front of a bunch of prepubescent kids,” Steve says, and then cringes. He looks up to see Tony eyeing him oddly, and Steve sighs. “That sounded weird. Shut up, I didn’t mean it like that, I only meant it’s not the ideal place to say something like that.”
Tony hums, looks out over the lake. “These kids have been watching far too many romcoms. People in romcoms are always announcing their love in front of all their friends and family and probably a bunch of strangers. Who have you ever known that’s actually done that?”
“No-one,” Steve says. “Sounds stupid, if you ask me. Things like that should be said in private.”
Tony nods, and then sighs when he spots the first few kids walking towards them from the cabins. “Try not to capsize me this time, yeah, Rogers?”
“Try not to stab me in the ribs with your oar,” Steve shoots back, the annoyed niggling already starting to set in. He rubs his forehead. “Look, Stark, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we’ve actually started to get along this past week.”
“I have. Noticed.”
“I want us to stop arguing, at least in front of the kids.”
Tony grins at him. “Yes, honey.”
“Stop it, I’m not intentionally sounding like your husband,” Steve says, and then grimaces as the kids laugh as they come into earshot.
They wait until the usual crew are here- Billy, Tommy and Cassie from Tony’s group, Teddy, Gwen, and America from Steve’s, a smattering of other kids that Steve thinks are called Kamala, Peter and Miles.
Eli and Kate are the last to show up, Eli from Tony’s group and Kate from Steve’s, and Steve addresses them first.
“So we heard you two are the lead conspirators in the plan to get us together,” he says, and they both startle before attempting to fall into the ‘cool’ act they had going on when they sauntered up with their hands in their pockets.
“Maybe,” Kate says, crossing her arms when Steve does. “Where’d you hear that?”
“Other camp leaders.”
“How long did it take them to find out,” Eli asks.
Steve looks over at Tony, who shrugs.
“I think Bruce was the earliest, he found out two weeks ago.”
Eli sniffs. “So that’s two weeks we kept it a secret. Pretty good for us. Good effort, team.”
Steve stifles a smile as the kids from Tony’s group all look gratified.
“Hey,” Tony says. “I’m the leader, remember?”
“You’re the adult leader,” Cassie says. “Eli’s the kid leader. It’s a whole different thing. Eli’s one of us.”
Tony considers this for a moment. “Fair enough. Okay, here’s the deal: we want you guys to stop trying to get me and Steve together.”
Eli and Kate trade glances. “Why,” Kate asks. “You guys can’t seem to do it yourselves.”
“If we wanted to get together, we’d do it,” Steve assures them. “We appreciate the help, but we really don’t need it.”
“I beg to differ,” Tommy mutters, and Billy elbows him in the ribs. Tommy elbows him back, and Billy steps on his foot.
“Stop it,” Steve says, and the two twins poke their tongues out at each other at the same time. It’s a little creepy, if Steve’s being honest.
Steve meets Eli’s eyes. “You all tell the rest of the camp, all right? No more interfering with our love lives.”
“Or lack of,” Tony adds.
“Or lack of,” Steve agrees. He waits until they all nod, some less eager than others, and then he claps his hands together. “Okay, let’s go kayaking!”
It’s met with a less enthused cheer than usual.
At dinner, the camp leaders all report that their groups have gotten the message: no more trying to get Tony and Steve together. They say it was met with a lot of groans.
“It had gotten really big,” Bruce says as they’re starting on dinner. “Now they have nothing to work on.”
“We give them a lot of things to work on,” Steve argues. “We keep them busy from 9 in the morning to 6 at night!”
“Yeah, but that isn’t the same,” Clint says, and pauses to swallow his cornflakes, because Clint refuses to eat anything other than breakfast food for dinner. “Stony connected the whole camp together, instead of individual groups.”
“Stony,” Tony repeats. “As in SteveTony? Like Brangelina? That’s Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,” he adds to Steve.
“Yeah, I know what Brangelina is,” Steve says, rolling his eyes.
“One of my kids actually cried,” Sam tells them. “Something about her OTPs never getting the happy endings they deserve. Really shook her up.”
“Oh my god,” Tony says loudly. “Why are so many ten years olds invested in my nonexistant relationship with Steve?”
Natasha considers. “Maybe because you guys have so much chemistry that even ten year olds can pick up on it.”
“I have chemistry with everybody,” Tony says, glaring at Steve when he snorts. “Excuse me for being compatible with everyone, Rogers, it’s not my fault you have as much sexual allure as a mop.”
Sam starts choke-laughing into his food as Steve stares at him, eyebrows raised. He stares for a while, and then, casual as anything, he goes back to his food, getting the last bit of his mashed potato on his index finger and meeting Tony’s eyes as he sucks it off slowly, cheeks hollowing around it.
The entire table watches with varying reactions as Tony stares at Steve’s lips around his finger, trying in vain not to let anything in his face change.
Steve’s finger slides from his mouth with a pop. “Well, that was a damn good meal,” he says, voice dropping as he takes on more of the Brooklyn accent that so far Steve’s only had getting thick when he’s particularly tired. “Y’know what I want now? Dessert. Didn’t we have popsicles in the freezer?”
He starts to get up but stops when Natasha leans over to the fridge and gets a popsicle, handing it down the table until Bruce hands it to Steve, who says, “Thanks, mistah,” and goes to town on the popsicle.
At this point Sam is nearly falling out of his chair with laughter, some of the others are clapping as Tony cover the bottom half of his face with his hand and tries to act casual as Steve proves his lack of gag reflex over and over again.
“Okay, I get it,” Tony says finally, having to speak up to make himself heard over the laughter and cheering. “We are at a camp for children, quit it, Rogers.”
Steve pulls off the popsicle, grinning, a faint blush on his cheeks. “You sure? Think we could find a cherry stem somewhere around here for me to tie in a knot with my tongue-”
“Stop it,” Tony tells him instead of holy fuck yes do that. “You don’t have the sexual allure of a mop, okay, I take it back, stop doing the voice.”
Steve blinks innocently. “Aw, what voice are ya’ talkin’ ‘bout, Tones?”
“Oh my god,” Tony mutters. He picks up his plate and heads over to the sink, doesn’t bother scraping off his food before dropping it there. “I’m going to bed.”
“Sweet dreams, Tony,” Steve calls after him, and Tony flips him off without looking back.
He misses the simple days, back at the start of the camp, before Tony realized Steve was a sarcastic asshole instead of the stuck-up goody-good he thought he was originally. Being around Steve has gotten infinitely harder when he realized Steve could be kind of a dick, because Tony has a type, okay, and Steve may or may not be starting to fit that type to a tee.
A week later, they give in and tell the kids they can keep trying to get Steve and Tony together.
It’s mostly because the kids had stopped hanging out with different groups when the secret Stony meetings stopped, and the camp leaders started noticing too many kids sitting out on their own.
“It does encourage teamwork,” Steve points out the night before the announcement happens. “And the candy keeps them motivated.”
“And they organized everything themselves,” Tony says. “Which is pretty impressive.”
“It gives them something to get excited about,” Steve says.
“There’s still that one girl who starts crying every time she sees us.”
“Her parents are going through a divorce, she’s projecting.”
“Hey, what would happen if we actually got together?”
Steve looks over at him, surprise evident in his face, and Tony backtracks: “I mean, not that we’re going to, obviously- I was just asking, what would it do?”
Steve considers it for a second. “Well, it depends how far into the summer it happens.”
“There’s only six weeks left.”
“Yeah, and if it happened in the next couple of weeks they’d get excited about it for a few days and then they’d get bored. If it happened in the last week or even the last two weeks, I think they’d keep spending time together until the summer ends. And it’d be a good send-off. They’d probably still talk about it years later, like, remember when we got those two camp leaders together?”
“It could end in some long-lasting friendships,” Tony muses.
“Mm.” Steve looks at Tony, and Tony looks at him.
Tony sighs. “We have to lift the ban on them making plans, don’t we.”
“I think so, yeah. As long as they aren’t dangerous.”
Tony sighs again, louder this time. “Well hey, if we pretended to get together, we’d help them even more,” he says sarcastically.
“We’ll discuss it later in the summer,” Steve tells him, meeting Tony’s droll look with a stern one. “Come on, like you said, it’d help them.”
“It’s a stupid idea.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Steve says, and stands up to tell the rest of the camp leaders to tell their kids that the ban is lifted.
The ‘incidents’ start happening again- Steve and Tony get locked in a room for two hours and have to wait until one of the other camp leaders walk past to get them out, only for it to happen again half an hour later.
They’re pretty blatant about it, mostly- one kid asks them about their ideal romantic partners and then stares pointedly at them both until they politely ask him to please go and help with the dishes. At least three times a day, an assortment of kids will come up to Steve and say something like, “Isn’t camp leader Stark looking awesome today,” or “Tony’s so kind, don’t you think, Mr Rogers?”
Steve smiles through it and goes along with whatever the kids are saying, because that what he’s here to do: help kids have a good and safe time. Even if helping them have a good time sometimes means he has to overdo it with being affectionate with Tony.
They both agree, it’d fan the flames and get the kids more excited, so they start touching each other more, laughing at each other’s jokes when they’d usually snort. This isn’t a problem until Steve starts feeling the telltale twist in his stomach that signifies he’s developing one hell of a crush.
If anything, this helps things. Steve doesn’t have to fake it when his gaze lingers on Tony too long, when he laughs a little too loud at a joke. He finds himself craving Tony’s touches, leans into them when they come and pretends it’s to watch the kid’s eyes light up when it happens.
The touches come a lot, a hazard of working together most days. Kayaking becomes one of the camp’s most popular activities, and no-one pretends it’s for anything other than the kids watching Tony and Steve argue in their kayak.
Not that they argue much anymore- or, well, no, they do, but it’s good-natured more often than not, punctured with laughter and sarcasm that doesn’t bite like it used to weeks ago.
Steve tells himself he has it under control, tells himself to hold it together for just another month and then he and Tony can go their separate ways. But then that idea starts twinging a little too much.
They start going out on the kayak after the activities have ended for the day, when the sun is sinking in the sky and sending out its final rays that bake their shoulders and freckle their faces. On one of these evenings, Steve asks Tony if he wants to keep in contact after the summer ends.
Tony looks over at him, a smile blooming on his face. “Really?”
“Sure, if you want to,” Steve says, trying for casual. He stretches out- their paddles are at the bottom of the kayak, they’re just floating now.
“Okay,” Tony says. “I’ll, uh, give you my number before we leave.”
“Good,” Steve says. “Where do you live?”
“Yeah? I’m in Brooklyn.”
“I noticed,” Tony says. “You get a bit of an accent sometimes, Steve.”
Steve grins and leans back, closes his eyes. It’s peaceful here, out on the water with the fading sun on his skin, the lake lapping at the sides of the kayak. He drops his hand into the water, lets his fingers skim the surface a few times.
It’ll be better, after the summer. He won’t be constantly exposed to Tony, and his feelings will eventually fade until Steve can be Tony’s friend without it aching. Because he wants to be around Tony, even if he isn’t able to be with him like he wants.
Three weeks before summer camp ends, the camp leaders get drunk in their meal room.
It’s a good night, all of them laughing and talking with the comfortable conversation that comes with being put together in close quarters for two months, and it only gets better when Thor sighs and says, “If only we had something stronger to drink than hot chocolate.”
Sam makes a noise into his hot chocolate, puts it down. “There’s a liquor store a few miles out.”
This is met with a series of interested noises from around the table, all of them turning to look towards Steve.
“We really shouldn’t,” Steve starts, but Natasha cuts in with, “We dare you, Steve.”
Steve stares at her, his mouth twitching. She meets his gaze steadily, expectantly- the kids found out about how Steve can’t turn down a dare a few weeks ago and have been exploiting it ever since, yelling at him to kiss Tony, mostly, but Natasha had found out a few days into the summer after daring him to jump into the lake with his clothes on.
“Fine, but the rest of us have to go around and check the kids are all in bed as a couple of us go and get it,” he says finally.
They store the liquor on the highest shelves, because even though their meal room is off limits that doesn’t mean a few rebellious ten year olds aren’t going to see that as a challenge and break in.
Drinking turns into body shots as the night progresses, having to remind each other to shut up as everyone gets drunker. Steve ends up lying on the table with his shirt off as his fellow camp leaders do body shots off his abs, having to force himself to stop laughing so they can do it easily, without his abs shaking.
“No phones,” he tells Natasha when she gets one out. “No evidence.”
“I’ll just have to burn it into my memory, then,” she says, and then stares at Steve’s abs until he bursts out laughing.
“Stop it,” Tony says, and Steve looks down his body to see Tony sprinkling salt over Steve’s stomach, just above his navel. “Quit moving.”
“You quit moving,” Steve tells him, and watches as Tony does a shot, sucks on a lemon wedge- when the hell did they get lemons, Steve wonders blearily- and then runs his tongue through the salt on Steve’s stomach.
Steve’s stomach tenses as this happens, and Tony straightens up and wipes his mouth. Steve resolutely doesn’t imagine Tony wiping it for another reason.
“So since this is summer camp,” Clint announces, loud enough that everyone turns to look at him, “I think we should play a summer camp game.”
“Definitely won’t go well,” Bruce says from where he’s lying facedown on the floor.
Clint waves him down. “What do you guys say? Spin the bottle? Truth or Dare?”
“We all have to look each other in the eye, Clint,” Natasha points out.
“Hey, if a bunch of ten year olds can play, so can we!”
“Ten year olds come up with harmless dares and chicken out on them anyway, and unlike ten year olds, spin the bottle will probably go further than kissing if a bunch of twenty-somethings play it.”
“Huh,” Clint says. “Right.”
“TRUTH OR DARE,” Thor yells, starting a chant: “TRUTH. OR. DARE. TRUTH. OR-”
“Okay, okay,” Steve yells over him. He sits up, brushes the remaining salt off his bare chest. “But nothing outside this room, okay?”
“Aw,” Clint sighs. “Then what are we supposed to do?”
“We’ll come up with something.”
“Not gonna go well,” Bruce slurs into the floor. Steve props him up against a wall and starts feeding him water as everyone gets into a circle near him.
It doesn’t go well. No-one is surprised.
They make a dent in the wall when Natasha jumps from the table to it and then bounces off in a double flip that everyone swears at, but other than that the room doesn’t accumulate much damage. The camp leaders, however, get several bruises from the drunken wrestling matches that start somewhere around midnight.
Steve gets everyone to drink at least three glasses of water each before heading to bed, but most of them are still pretty hungover when they all trudge to breakfast, which is a very quiet affair.
Natasha and Sam are avoiding each others’ eyes, probably because they spent most of their wrestling match making out. Bruce is still vomiting quietly in the bathroom. Thor is deleting pictures from his phone and wincing as he does it. Clint is asleep next to his cornflakes, snoring loudly.
Tony is wearing sunglasses, slogging his way through his breakfast, and Steve is trying to focus on anything that isn’t how hard his head is pounding.
“Please pass the sugar,” Sam says.
Natasha does, wordless and awkward, and Sam says, “Thanks.” Neither of them look up from their bowls through this entire exchange.
Steve nudges Tony, who turns his head sluggishly. “The kids couldn’t have tried to get them together,” he says quietly, and Tony snorts.
That morning is dubbed ‘quiet kayaking’ and Steve doesn’t know what he was expecting when the kids proceed to be noisier than usual.
“I think I’m gonna jump into the lake,” Steve tells Tony about half an hour into the kayaking, and Tony blinks blearily at him.
“I’ll join you,” he says, and then Steve’s standing up and yelling not to jump in with them, just keep kayaking, the camp leaders are just going to float for a while.
Then he stands up and promptly gets shoved into the water. He yelps, falls and hits the water with a splash, closing his eyes when the cool lakewater washes over him. He surfaces, sees a splash beside him and waits a few seconds before Tony pops up, grinning.
“You’re a jerk,” he tells him.
“Back at you,” Tony says, and then starts floating on his back.
Steve follows suit, and they end up doing this until it’s time to get back to the shore, at which point they both climb in, sopping wet and dripping, and start rowing back with the kids.
Then it’s lunchtime, but Steve and Tony let the kids go and hang back to lie on the shore instead, waiting for their clothes to dry and their hangovers to recede.
At one point Steve gets tired of being damp and strips his shirt off so it’ll dry faster. There’s a squeak from up ahead and Steve looks up to see one of the kids from Tony’s group, Billy Kaplan, blushing hard and staring at Steve.
“Oh, hey, Billy,” Steve says, standing straighter. “Is it time for the next kayaking session already?”
“Mrgh,” Billy chokes, and then turns on his heel just as Tony bursts into laughter.
“What,” Steve says.
Tony has to wait a while for his laughter to stop. “I think you were Billy’s sexual awakening,” Tony chokes finally, and Steve raises his eyebrows at the retreating boy’s back.
“Oh. Should we talk to him about that?”
“About what, sex?”
“I- would really prefer not to,” Steve admits. “But no, I was talking about his sexuality. We should make sure he knows it’s okay.”
“I think we should worry more about Teddy, honestly.”
“Yeah, Altman. He and Teddy seem to have this- thing, it’s adorable. But they’re both being ten year olds about it-”
“-and Teddy gets this look on his face sometimes,” Tony shrugs. “Just saying, you should bring it up, you being his group leader and all.”
“I will.” Steve smiles, and Tony eyes it suspiciously.
“I knew you cared about these kids,” Steve says, and Tony immediately makes a face, opens his mouth, but Steve cuts him off, “No, you’ve denied it this long, you can’t do it now, I know you too well now, Tony.”
Tony’s mouth closes. His throat clicks. “Uh, yeah.”
Steve’s smile fades. He shrugs his shirt back on mostly for something to do, looks out over the lake. “Yeah, so I’ll talk to him about that.”
Steve clears his throat, hooks his thumb over his shoulder. “I might go get lunch. You coming.”
Tony hesitates. “Think I’m just gonna sit out here for a bit, actually. I’m still a little hungover.”
“Okay,” Steve says, and has to stop himself from looking back at Tony too many times while he walks away.
Steve talks to Teddy about it when he sees him in the lunch hall, pulls him aside and talks quietly and firmly about how it’s perfectly okay if he’s having feelings for other boys and that he hopes Teddy knows that.
“I- I know,” Teddy says haltingly, hands in his pockets. He hasn’t looked up at Steve once.
“Then what’s the problem?”
Teddy shrugs. The kid is stocky, the kind that grows into a linebacker when they go through puberty. “Dunno.”
Steve nods. “Okay. It’s just, you can tell me if you want. I’d love to help, if I can.”
“I like someone,” Teddy blurts finally. His hands twist together. “And I think he might like me, but I don’t know.”
Steve holds back a smile. “Can I ask who it is? I won’t tell anyone, promise,” he says when Teddy looks up at him, all wide eyes and hunched shoulders. “Not even the other camp leaders.”
“…Billy,” Teddy says finally, mumbling it.
Steve nods. “I think you might have to talk to him about it, Teddy.”
Teddy squirms. “But- what if he doesn’t like me?”
“Then you work through it and try to stay friends.”
Teddy chews his lip, considering. “What do I say?”
“Just explain how you feel, and what you want.”
“I don’t… really know what I want?”
“That’s fair. Maybe you should write it down first, so you know what you’re going to say before you say it.”
Teddy takes a deep breath and nods, finally meeting Steve’s eyes. “Thank you, Mr Rogers.”
“It was my pleasure,” Steve says honestly.
Later that day, when he’s walking back from the second round of kayaking with Tony, he sees Teddy walk over to Billy, flounder a bit, stuff a piece of paper into a bewildered Billy’s hand and then take off running.
“What was that about,” Tony asks him, sounding knowing.
Steve huffs a laugh. “That wasn’t exactly what I told him to do.”
“I think it’s working, anyway,” Tony says, and Steve looks over to see Billy’s eyes getting wider as he reads the paper Teddy gave him.
Steve finds himself thinking about it that night, unable to sleep. The moon shines directly on his face no matter what he does, and finally he leans over and gets a pad of paper out of his bag, props himself up against the wall and writes, Dear Tony.
Then he stops, wondering what the hell to write next. He stares at Dear Tony until his vision starts to blur.
“Fuck,” he mutters finally. He puts the pad down and gets out of bed.
Tony startles when Steve opens the door.
“Hi,” Steve whispers for Bruce’s benefit, since the man is snoring a few feet away. “I was just- wondering if you wanted to go kayaking? I’m restless.”
Tony blinks, and Steve fully expects him to say no, but then Tony says, “Sure,” and slides out of bed. He pulls sweatpants over his boxers and then a hoodie over his bare chest, but then he starts sweating immediately so he strips that off and follows Steve out the door half-dressed.
The moon is high in the sky, providing more light than Steve thinks there should be, but he isn’t complaining. They walk barefoot down to the lake and then get a kayak out with minimal noise- no-one can hear them out here, but it feels strange to be anything other than quiet.
They row out to the middle of the lake and Steve sighs, stretches out, puts his hands behind his head and feels the lakewater slap against the side of the kayak as it rocks. It’s nearly silent, and Steve feels infinitely peaceful for a few moments.
He opens his eyes to see Tony’s head tipped back, admiring the stars.
“We should tell the kids to sneak out one night and see these,” Steve says softly.
“Not that we condone sneaking out,” Tony says, and they grin at each other.
“Of course not,” Steve says, and sits up slowly. The kayak rocks.
Tony butts their shoulders together when Steve is fully sitting up. “So what’s with the impromptu night kayak, Rogers?”
Steve shrugs. “Just restless. Couldn’t sleep.”
“Lot on your mind?”
“You could say that,” Steve says.
Tony goes back to looking at the stars, and Steve does, too, for a moment, but then his gaze catches on Tony and he can’t look away. There’s something about Tony’s face as he looks at the stars, something Steve wants to keep forever, and he tries to put a finger on what it is as his eyes go over Tony’s face, the sharp light of the moon across his cheeks, the slats of light and dark peppering his skin.
Steve suddenly wants a pencil, wants to get this down, wants Tony to stay like this until Steve has it all on paper, so he can get it out whenever he wants and look at it and remember this, remember Tony beautiful and glowing in the moonlight as they sat in the middle of a lake on a kayak after lights out.
Steve can’t think of a word that describes Tony right now, and he isn’t even doing anything, but he wants to paint a thousand easels of this, right here: the slope of Tony’s nose, the silhouette of Tony’s chin, the shadows thrown across Tony’s face, the shape of his parted lips.
There’s a moment when Tony turns, mouth opening to ask something, but then he sees Steve’s face and he stops, staring.
Steve stares back, nerves humming, the impossible electric charge of their gaze somehow too big, too loud for such a quiet night. It’s only a few seconds that they stare at each other, but they pass like minutes until they start drawing closer.
It’s not clear who leans in first, but Steve thinks it’s both of them, gazes going from each other’s eyes and lips before their eyes are closing and they’re kissing, openmouthed, nothing touching but their knees and their lips.
It’s a light pressure at first, then the kiss deepens and Steve’s hands come up to touch Tony’s cheeks, brush at the hinge of his jaw, thumb a line down it as their tongues meet. Tony makes a noise in the back of his throat and it sends sparklers down into Steve’s bones.
He shifts, trying to get closer, but he leans too far and Tony slips under the pressure and as they’re trying to right themselves the kayak flips over.
Steve wakes up and everything’s fine for a moment before he wonders why he’s damp and remembers everything.
He moans softly, presses his palms over his eyes. He kissed Tony and then capsized the goddamn kayak, and they had to get back in and row awkwardly back to shore as Steve apologized and Tony assured him it was fine.
There was a moment after they had walked back, when they were in the camp leaders’ cabin and they were going to go to their separate rooms- Steve had turned to Tony and opened his mouth but Tony talked over him, saying, “It’s fine, Steve, really, lets’ just not talk about it,” with a stiff smile that made Steve’s heart sink.
“Okay,” Steve had said. Then he had gone back and taken off his shirt and pants and climbed into bed in damp boxers and laid there staring at the ceiling until blissfully falling asleep at three in the morning.
Breakfast is the same as ever, except Tony won’t look at him and everyone keeps shooting the two of them questioning looks until it’s time for the weekly games.
Steve is glad, he doesn’t think he could handle being in a kayak with Tony for the day, especially since Tony refuses to meet his eyes.
Steve has to assure his group, along with several others who aren’t in his group, that he’s fine, really. The kids don’t look like they believe it, and when one of them asks if something happened with him and Tony Steve has to close his eyes for a moment.
The kid gasps, and Steve opens his eyes in time to see the kid march over and kick Tony in the shin.
“Hey,” Tony snaps, and looks up, his face closing when he sees Steve marching over.
“Sorry,” Steve says, trying to remember the kid’s name. Finally, he just says, “Kid, why on earth would you-”
“You hurt Mr Rogers’ feelings,” the kid yells, and because every child there is attuned with Steve and Tony’s ‘dramas,’ almost everyone in earshot turns to see what’s going in, including several of the camp leaders.
Tony’s face twitches and then crumples slightly, holding his leg. “I,” he says. “What?”
“I didn’t say anything,” Steve manages. He bends down. “Even if- even if he did hurt my feelings, that’s no reason to kick him! Don’t kick people if they hurt your feelings, you have to talk them out with them.”
“Did you talk them out with Mr Stark?”
Steve flounders. “Uh,” he says, glancing up at Tony, seeing him look as helpless as he is, and looking back down at the kid again. “Yes, I did. And he made it clear he didn’t want to talk about it, so lets’ not make him talk about it, okay, let’s get you back to your group, who’s your leader-”
“Nuh-uh,” Eli says, emerging from the now-growing crowd. “Rogers’ fucked things up with Stark!”
“Language,” Steve says weakly.
“Stark’s all sad and shit,” Eli continues. “The kind of sad that don’t happen if you were the one who did the screwing up!”
Kate Bishop pushes her way through two people to confront him. “Excuse you, Rogers has been making the sad-puppy face all morning, clearly Tony did something!”
“Um,” Tony says.
Both Kate and Eli yell, “Shut up,” at him, and then continue yelling, complete with frequent pointing towards Steve and Tony, who stand there staring and trying unsuccessfully to butt in.
More and more kids start joining in until Steve can hardly hear his own voice, lost in the squabbles of a couple dozen ten year olds screaming about his nonexistant love life.
“I think this could start getting violent,” Tony yells, and Steve nods in agreement.
“Do we start pulling them away from each other?”
“Probably,” Tony yells.
Steve sighs. “At least look me in the eye now, this isn’t the time to get embarrassed, I’m not going to confess my feelings again-”
“What? When did you do that the first time?”
Steve glares. “When do you think?”
“You didn’t-” Tony shakes his head, confused. “What are you talking about, you just kissed me!”
“I don’t go around kissing people at random,” Steve scowls. “What did you think that was?”
“A friend kiss? I don’t know, I figured-”
“Why didn’t you ask if it was a friend kiss?”
“Hey, you didn’t explain, so I assumed! Why didn’t you say you had feelings for me?”
“I THOUGHT IT WAS OBVIOUS!”
“WELL, IT WASN’T! YOU SHOULD’VE SAID SOMETHING INSTEAD OF RANDOMLY KISSING ME, WHO EVEN DOES THAT?”
“FINE,” Steve roars, throwing his arms out. “I LOVE YOU, OKAY, ASSHOLE?”
The kids have mostly stopped screaming by now, and the din is replaced by sudden gasps and chatter, which is when Steve realizes the kids mostly quietened down when Steve and Tony started yelling, so Steve’s declaration of love was heard around most of the camp.
Tony stares at him, lips parted as a blush creeps up Steve’s neck, his ears, burning his cheeks. Shit. Shit, he just said he loved Tony and he said ‘asshole’ in front of a large amount of ten year olds.
“I mean,” Steve says, and swallows. “Uh. I, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to just- blurt it out like that-”
“KISS,” a kid shrieks from the sea of heads, and then it becomes a chant echoed by most of the camp: “KISS, KISS, KISS-”
“No,” Steve yells back at them. “Hey, come on, that’s not polite- SAM, NAT, THOR, STOP CHANTING WITH THEM.”
“WE’LL KISS LATER, SHUT UP NOW,” Tony yells across the crowd.
Steve turns to him, and Tony shrugs. “You should’ve said it off the bat,” he says, and then goes back to attempting to corral a bunch of ten year olds.
Steve blinks at him, an uncertain smile twitching on his lips.
The weekly games get postponed to later in the day due to the fact that none of the kids can concentrate on anything long enough to do anything that isn’t talk about Steve and Tony and how their heroic efforts finally got them together.
“They aren’t going to shut up about it for the entirety of middle school,” Tony tells Steve as they walk along the treeline after getting the kids to go back to their cabins.
“Yeah, go us,” Steve says, rubbing the back of his neck.
Tony nods, pocketing his hands. “Hey, uh. That wasn’t just for the kids, was it?”
“You were always saying we should pretend to get together so the kids felt like they did something,” Tony says, gaze locked on Steve’s shoulder. “So I was wondering if, y’know, that was some impromptu thing for them. The kids.”
“Oh,” Steve says, and laughs. Tony jerks slightly, and Steve coughs to cover the next laugh, smothering it. “No, it wasn’t- it wasn’t for the kids.”
“Huh,” Tony says. He cocks his head at Steve. “I understand why they got so frustrated about it.”
“Yeah. Even ten year olds can see we’re being idiots about each other.”
Steve can’t hold back his smile. “Yeah?”
“Mm,” Tony says, looking down to Steve’s lips, then back up to his eyes.
Steve grins, starts to lean in when he hears a rustle from the bushes. He straightens up and there’s a hissed shushing noise.
Tony sighs, cranes his head back. “Get back to your cabins, guys.”
There’s a guilty silence before Billy, Eli, Tommy, Cassie, Kate and Teddy stand up and slink back in the direction of the cabins.
“Hey,” Tony says, and gestures towards Billy and Teddy, who are holding hands. “Looks like they got their shit sorted out, too.”
“Good for them,” Steve says. “It’s a wonder, though, with such bad role models on that front.”
“We got there in the end,” Tony shrugs, and this time when Steve leans in the only sound he hears is Tony sighing happily.
And the sound of an iphone camera, because apparently ten year olds now have iphones and can climb trees and wait for their camp leaders to walk past.
“Back to the cabins,” Steve calls.
There’s a rustle of branches, and then a high voice saying, “Um, you guys probably won’t find this funny and I’m totally sorry but I sort of can’t get down?”
It takes two hours and several attempts from the other camp leaders to finally get Kamala down from the tree, and as first dates go, it’s lacking, but Steve and Tony can’t stop smiling the whole time.