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The Auction

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"I don't think I can do this."

"Relax, Cap," Tony placed a hand on Steve's shoulder reassuringly, "It'll be fine."

"No, really, I don't think you understand…" Steve's head was spinning suddenly, "Tony, I've never been on a date before."

That made even Tony pause, and Steve absent-mindedly congratulated himself on that.

"Well," Steve corrected himself, beginning to ramble, "I mean, Bucky and I went out on double dates a lot, but the dames always kind of ignored me and Bucky ended up with both of em cause I'd run off somewhere and I've never really been alone on a date with one, y'know? What if I say something stupid? What if she wants her money back? Tony, I can't-"

"Hey, okay there big guy, take a seat," Tony pulled out one of the chairs nearby and pushed Steve into it, taking the seat next to him as he tried to get the super soldier to relax.

They were backstage at the annual Maria Stark Auction. It seemed to be a rather long affair; the first hour was socializing, the second hour was an auction of general collector's items, the third hour was the StarkIndustries pre-release auction, and the final hour, the part they were currently halfway through, was the famous Bachelor Auction. This year, in an attempt to garner some good PR, instead of auctioning the most eligible bachelors StarkIndustries would be auctioning off a dates with New York's hottest superheroes. Since all five men on the team had made the list that year anyway, it wasn't exactly a loss for the women of New York.

All the others had been fine with it; Tony said he'd been doing the it since college. Clint was overly excited about 'all the hot babes' he was sure would be bidding on him, Thor had sought and received Jane's permission and was now as enthusiastic about the idea as he was pretty much everything, and even Bruce had accepted with less bribery than they had expected. Natasha had surprised them all by agreeing to join in, though she'd simply shrugged and called it practice for future covers. Clint had said she just hadn't been laid in a while, and Natasha had thrown the remote at his crotch with deadly (or at least incredibly painful) accuracy.

Steve had tried to keep his response positive. He'd tried to be positive about it all week, and he managed to ignore the little voice in the back of his mind. The same little voice that had been piping up more and more often lately; like when they brushed hands reaching for things or when he started sketching and it turned into Tony, or when he made blueberry pancakes in the mornings because he knew they were Tony's favorite. Like when he took the corner of the couch because Tony gravitated towards the corner, meaning he ended up pressed up against Steve more often than not, or when Steve would take the remote not to really change the channel, but because he knew Tony would practically crawl on Steve's back to steal it back. Things like that were becoming more and more frequent, but Steve usually managed to ignore the voice in the back of his mind screaming at him abouthey genius, maybe you don't want to date a dame because, guess what, you're pretty much in love with your male best friend.

Yeah.

It was a pretty loud voice.

But he managed to ignore it, at least for a while. He'd watched the others take their turns; Natasha had been first. She'd dressed to kill, and smiled that dangerous little smirk that made all the men in the room swoon like schoolgirls as they rushed to place their bids. Someone in a fancy suit won, and Natasha went off with him to start their date.

Bruce was next, and he wandered onstage in his best clothes, shyly stuttering out a few lines about his interests and hobbies and where he'd take them to eat until the girls were ready to eat him up with a spoon. The woman who won him was loud and talkative and absolutely overflowing with energy. Though it seemed to startle him a bit at first, he was smiling when they left for dinner.

Clint was fun to watch, strutting out like some kind of model, cracking jokes and making faces and working the crowd for laughs. At one point during the bidding a girl screamed something about him having her babies, so Clint being Clint, made a sexy little growl noise and snapped his teeth with a wink. The girl then threw her bra onstage, which Clint then proceeded to not only pick up, but wave in the air with a huge grin like it was a flag of honor. The announcer, a shapely woman Rosie, laughed right along with him (she'd worked with Tony hundreds of times over the years after all, she was beyond used to that sort of thing), and he was eventually auctioned off and he waved sorrowful goodbyes to the rest, something about "I'd love you all if I could!"

Thor was the last before Steve, striding out into spotlight with a bright grin, even as he told the girl's upfront that he was afraid he belonged, "in heart and soul to my Other, my soulmate" but that he would love to have an evening of merriment with one of them should they so desire. And boy, did they desire.

It was at this point that Steve realized he was going to be up soon, and started to panic. Because now he was backstage with Tony, backstage alone with Tony, and there was a peek of the stage lights coming in through the curtain and it was hitting Tony's eyes and they were so freaking beautiful,like somehow brown and green and gold were melted together and lit on fire and Tony was talking to him but all Steve could see were his lips moving, open close up down and wow now he was licking his lips and that was really kind of distracting, what was Tony saying?

"-going to be alright, really. Why don't you want to do this, Cap?"

"They're not going to like me." Because none of them are you.

"I'm pretty sure that's a crime against America," Tony rolled his eyes, then, with a touch of what Steve might let himself believe was fondness, "Listen to me; anyone who wins that date with you is one hell of a lucky woman. She's going to like you just fine."

"You don't know that. She'll think I'm…"

"What?" Tony pressed, and Steve almost winced, because all the doubtful thoughts of what Tony probably thought of him were running through his head now, and he couldn't help but say them.

"I'm just…I'm not particularly interesting. I'm old-fashioned, and boring, and…" Steve paused, glancing to the ground, "Well. Kind of dorky, frankly."

Tony, for reasons Steve couldn't fathom, stared at him.

Like, openly stared.

"Are you medicated?"

"Excuse me?"

"Are you kidding me? Jesus, Steve, anyone on the planet would kill to go out with you, how do you not understand that?"

"I just don't get why."

"Do you want a list?" Tony exclaimed, "Jesus, I mean, okay, first off, interesting? Steve, do you know how often I so much as let people in my workshop, much less talk to me while I work? All of pretty much never. What do we do pretty much every day?"

"Talk in your workshop," Steve considered it a moment; it was true.

He spent almost all of his time down there, sketching while Tony invented, talking for hours about their lives and their interests and the Avengers business and restaurants they wanted to try and movies Steve still needed to see. It was his favorite part of the day, but he'd always sort of thought he'd been encroaching on Tony's space.

"Exactly," Tony emphasized, then, "You know me, I don't talk to people I don't find interesting. I don't even pretend to listen to them, much less talk back. And, okay, old-fashioned? Kind of great. Seriously. Everyone loves the whole sweep-em-off-their-feet shtick, whether they admit it or not. And it's even better when it's sincere, which, hello, they don't come more sincere than you, buddy. And boring? Steve, you fight aliens on a regular basis. You're on a team of two totally deadly master assassins, a Norse god, the freaking Hulk, and, of course, the single richest and sexiest man alive in a weaponized iron suit. But none of us lead the team, you do. That says something, doesn't it? Something about courage and leadership and all sorts of very not-boring things?"

"Tony, I'm the leader because I was the first-"

"Oh please," Tony scoffed, "No one buys the first Avenger should lead bullshit. You're the leader because you're best at it. Any one of us tried to lead, we would end up driving the team into the ground; you bring us together. That's hardly boring, now is it? Now, the other thing you said was dorky, but I'm not even touching dorky, because that is my single favorite thing about you and if you change I swear I'll never speak to you again."

Tony was very clearly serious, and he was leaning in quite closely to Steve to emphasize his point. His eyes were on Steve's now, and Steve didn't have a clue what to say in response to any of that. I think I love you popped into mind, but Steve was quick to swallow that particularly disastrous idea. Luckily for him, Tony wasn't quite finished.

"You're going to go on that date, and knowing you she'll fall madly, wildly in love with you because you're just so damn irresistible. I know this, because you're you, and you're amazing, okay? So stop worrying so much and just relax already."

"I wouldn't say 'irresistible'," Steve rolled his eyes, a faint blush on his cheeks.

"I would," Tony declared, looking at Steve with something in his eyes Steve couldn't hope to identify.

Bright light from the stage leaked in from behind the red curtain, and it cast a light over Tony again. Suddenly entranced by the sparkling luminescence in Tony's eyes, Steve almost tricked himself into leaning in.

"Next up, for all you ladies looking for a true gentleman, have we got the man for you-"

Rosie was warming him up, and Steve startled, his attention drawn away from Tony's eyes long enough to break whatever delusions he'd let settle over himself. He stood, inhaling deep.

"Right. Um. I think, that's-?"

"Hey," Tony stopped him, and the brush of his fingers against Steve's wrist pretty much hit the pause button on his brain, "Just…"

"Yeah?" Steve asked, meeting Tony's eyes and trying to uncover the thoughts behind them while his own ran in circles. Why did it have to be you? Not just straight, not just my best friend, but potentially the single most impossibly out of my league person to ever exist? God you're gorgeous.

"Just, um," Tony's grip on Steve's wrist tightened a moment, then he released, "Take your time with your speech, okay?"

It might have been advice or it might have been some kind of a Tony plan, but Steve couldn't be sure, since the next thing he knew he was out on stage, the bright lights blinding as he remembered. He blinked, and saw Tony's eyes when he closed his own; he opened his eyes and they were gone, replaced by an eager crowd. Rosie was babbling away about the lovely soldier, the perfect gentleman, and then it was Steve's turn to speak.

"Um. Hello," he smiled into the microphone, his smile wide and plastic and he briefly wondered if Tony would know before he cast out the thought entirely, "I'm just, uh, here for a good cause. Y'know. I mean, I punched Hitler in the jaw 200 times for war bonds, pretty sure I can handle a date for charity."

It wasn't really a joke, but the audience didn't know the difference, so of course they laughed. Supposedly, that's what this was for, charity, though really they all knew it was just for the good PR but of course it wouldn't be a good idea to say that.

"Anyway. I'm Steve Rogers, and I'm Captain America, but I'm sure you knew that. Um, well, when I'm not training I usually like to draw a lot. Not like Tony does, the complicated graphs with all the mechanics and the tech work and things, I draw, uh, people," Oh God, did he really just start talking about Tony? At least he'd said 'people' instead of 'Tony', but of course, he wasn't out of the woods yet because God Almighty he was still talking about Tony, "When I'm not in the workshop sketching with him, we'll either explore New York or catch up on movies because, well, I've kind missed a lot of both. When I'm not with Tony, I'm usually training or reading. Or, y'know, we're all out fighting in the streets, so there's, um, that."

Steve tried to blame the bright red of his face on the bright lighting, but he couldn't even convince himself. The bidding skyrocketed anyway, to staggering amounts that almost gave the poor kid from Brooklyn in him have a heart attack. It turned into what Rosie called a bidding war, between an rather insistent blonde and a poised redhead.

Eventually, the redhead won. She was in the back row, and he went to meet her while Rosie began calling Tony out. There was silence, and though he knew it was a bit rude to his new date, he found himself looking back. Tony wasn't coming out.

"Um, I'm sorry, I know we just met, but I don't…do you mind if we wait, I just, I'd like to see Tony's speech, if you don't mind?" Steve questioned, pausing their departure.

"I don't mind," the woman smiled, "I'm Virginia, by the way."

"Steve," Steve replied, then, with a sheepish grin, "But I'm sure you knew that, of course."

"I did," she just gave him a sly smile that he might have been more curious about had Tony not strode out just then.

He captivated the audience in an instant with just a single smile. He was dressed to the nines, of course, all glitz and glamour and charm. He waved to the crowd, apologizing for the brief delay, if they would be ever-so-kind to forgive him. Steve smiled softly as he watched; Tony was in his element.

He was going on about a day in the life of a billionaire now, but it wasn't Tony on that stage, not exactly. It was Anthony genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Stark up there, preening and basking in the spotlight. He could see the that certain crease in Tony's eyes that meant his smile didn't ring true, the way his shoulders pulled back like they did when he was trying to make himself look at ease, the way he smoothly tucked his hands away in his pockets so he didn't gesture too much; he knew how to play the game they wanted him to play. Regardless of the fact that he was faking it, he still managed to be effortlessly charming.

"Okay gals, whaddya say…who wants to marry a millionaire? Or at least date one! We've got ten thousand over here for the super-sexy Tony Stark, do I hear eleven?" Rosie was rattling off the numbers, jazzing up the already pumped crowd.

"Ladies, ladies," Tony addressed them, a charming smile dancing across his face, "Surely you can find it within your hearts to give for such a worthwhile cause?"

The numbers, of course, promptly went through the roof.

"Wowza yowza, all the gals just want a bite, don't they? And why not? So confident, so gorgeous, so rich…come to think of it, ditch the runway and marry me!" Rosie declared, playing it up and placing a hand on Tony's chest.

"Oh Rosie, you know I'll always love you," Tony played it up in return, covering her hand with his, "But what about the charity?"

"Darn my compassion! I suppose I can give you up. But just you wait, I'll have my way with you one of these years!" Rosie winked at him.

"A man can dream, can't he?" Tony flirted in reply, "But for now we need to raise these numbers! Such a worthwhile cause, really, Rosie, my heart just aches."

"C'mon gals, who wouldn't want a little bit of this hunk in their evening? Let's see if we can get just a bit more, what do you say?"

Eventually a winner was settled, and Steve looked to see who it was, only to discover it was the exact same woman he'd just been paired with. He was confused; could that even happen? But in the chaos no one seemed to notice it was the same woman. She'd cleverly switched number signs, and was now wearing a rather large hat and jacket. He himself wouldn't have known, if not for the red hair and the lack of Virginia where he thought she'd been behind him.

Unsure of what to do – was this like a double date now, or had she simply already grown tired of him and upgraded? – Steve wandered over to her. Tony was exiting the stage in their direction, but was being swamped by women, so they had a moment.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ignore or upset you. If you'd prefer to go with Tony, I understand, I can-"

"Steve, relax," the woman merely laughed, "Just wait."

Steve blinked, perplexed; then, accepting the fact that he was just never meant to understand the fairer sex, did as he was told. Tony sauntered up to them after a long moment, freeing himself from the crowds clutches to grab Steve and Virginia and drag them out of the crowd.

"C'mon, let's blow this popsicle stand," Tony grinned.

"Tony, you realize this was a ridiculous waste of money," Virginia commented airily as they reached the doors, though there was a smile on her face.

"Pep, c'mon, it's charity," Tony insisted as they escaped the clingy crowd and burst out into the rain. While they were doing their best to keep from getting soaked, however, that wasn't Steve's primary concern. Instead, he frowned as the wheels started turning, clicking into place.

"Pep? As in…Pepper? Pepper Potts?"

"That would be me, yes," Pepper gave that same sly sort of smile he'd seen earlier, while Tony started to fidget.

"You seemed stressed about the date," Tony wasn't looking at Steve anymore, playing with his cuffs instead, "I dunno. Figured I'd spring you, since it's my fault you got dragged into this in the first place. So I called Pep, had her come in and bail you out. Thanks for that, by the way."

"Show up at the board meeting on Monday for once, and you can consider us even," she just nodded efficiently.

"Pepper, you're bleeding me dry here."

Pepper rolled her eyes and went off in the direction of car pickup, so Steve was left alone with Tony and still very, very confused.

"So you…that…that was your money, that paid for me? Won't they know?"

"Well, yeah, when the card goes through."

"You don't think…you don't think someone's going to wonder why you paid for a, well," Steve stammered, unsure quite how to phrase it other the obvious, "Date with me?"

"Steve," Tony shot him a glance, "That's offensive."

"What? Sorry, I-I just-"

"I'm a perfect gentleman, of course I would pay for the date. Also, I'm kind of filthy rich."

Maybe it was the situation, maybe it was the silly joke, but Steve couldn't help but laugh at that, and when he looked up Tony was smiling at him. It was a crooked, lop-sided sort of smile, not an Anthony genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Stark smile, but a Just Tony in the pouring rain with his best friend laughing at something stupid smile. A real smile.

Steve liked that a hell of a lot better.

In fact, he'd kind of like it pressed against his, and before he could think or breathe or do anything that might make him stop himself, he moved into Tony's space and kissed him.

He'd meant it to be a short kiss, just to get his feelings out in the open, but somewhere between the tongue in his mouth and Tony's hands grabbing at his shirt to pull Steve up against him, it wasn't really all that short.

He wasn't entirely sure how long they were kissing exactly – somewhere between "wow Tony's tongue is in my mouth" and "I really wish I didn't need air" – but Tony pulled away first, that Steve knew.

"Date," he said breathlessly, "I owe…you, me, a date. That was…I had a plan."

"Best date I've ever had," Steve shrugged, before his mouth returned to Tony's like a magnet. They continued a moment, before Tony's words registered, and they parted again, "You had a plan?"

"Well, yeah," Tony grinned, "You didn't think I was going to buy a date with you and not use it to shamelessly attempt to get you to fall for my wicked charms, did you?"

"You didn't have to buy a date with me, you know," Steve chuckled, "You could have just asked."

"Yes, but that involved the possibility of rejection, and I think this had a much better chance of-"

"You thought I would reject you?"

"Yes?"

"Tony, I haven't been able to stop thinking about you in months."

The look on Tony's face was both completely priceless and wonderfully happy, so Steve kissed him again to capture some of Tony for himself.