Steve groaned and forced himself to move, stretching up out of his covers to turn his alarm clock off. He laid still for just a few moments, getting his bearings, and then, with another groan, threw his covers off and sat up.
“Do you ever actually see daylight?” Bucky asked from the doorway, giving a cursory knock at Steve’s open door while he took a swig from his coffee mug.
“That depends,” Steve mumbled in reply, rubbing at his eyes. “Is it still light out?”
“It’s 5pm and the middle of winter,” Bucky scoffed. “What do you think, pal?”
“Then why ask stupid questions, Buck?” Steve snarked back, pulling his underwear out of his butt as he got to his feet. He grabbed yesterday’s shirt from the back of his desk chair and gave it a quick sniff; it’d do.
“It’s not healthy, what you’re doing,” Bucky shook his head while Steve went about getting dressed. “Not to mention it’s driving Natasha up the wall.”
“What?” Steve asked with a frown, attempting to tug his pants on whilst following Bucky out of his room towards the kitchen down the hall. “What did I do -?”
Out of nowhere, something hard and very fast collided with Steve’s head, and he let out a squawk, tripping over his pants and falling to the ground.
“Pick up your damn underpants, Rogers!” Natasha yelled at him, and Steve just caught her heading back into her and Bucky’s room as he pulled what turned out to be balled up clothes away from his face. “Or someone will be picking you up off the sidewalk outside!”
“Because she’s going to throw you out of the window,” Bucky elaborated unnecessarily.
Sighing, Steve tugged his pants up properly and then scooped up his balled up underwear to toss into his room. Then, with another sigh, he headed into the kitchen to get some breakfast.
“I’m not that bad,” he tried once he had the protection of the fridge door between him and Bucky, who was sat at the kitchen table with a stack of papers from work.
Steve had met Bucky on their tour of Afghanistan, and they’d immediately struck up a close friendship that had continued long after they’d come home. After their tour, Steve had wanted a change of pace, so had been formally discharged with honours. Buck had lost his arm, and he couldn’t do another tour, so instead he’d gotten himself an army desk job.
Steve and Bucky had moved in together after Steve had used all his back pay to buy a bar nearby. Steve loved his bar; he’d made some wonderful friends there, and it was where Buck had met the love of his life, Natasha.
Steve and Natasha got along swimmingly, usually. They had met at the bar before Steve had introduced her to Bucky, and Steve loved her like a sister. It was just… since moving in with them, she’d made Steve very much aware of the fact that he wasn’t perhaps the tidiest of people. He couldn’t really help it; he tended to keep very unsavoury hours because of his work at the bar, and he didn’t have a lot of time between getting in and falling into bed to clean up after himself.
“You’re a pig,” Bucky replied matter-of-factly. “Don’t need Natasha here to tell you that. What happened to your military precision, pal?”
“Left it back in Afghan,” Steve replied, pouring milk onto his cereal. “Sorry for exorcising my freedoms as an American citizen –“
“Do not start that bullshit, Steve, I’m serious –“
Steve grinned as he sat down with his cereal and began to eat.
“Just… we’re not asking for miracles, buddy,” Buck sighed. “You pay rent; this is your place, too. Can you just… maybe pick your dirty underpants up off the floor?”
Steve sighed melodramatically, as though he was very hard done to. “I guess I can give it a go.”
“You’re such a punk,” Bucky shook his head, but he was smiling as he got up to wash his mug.
“Jerk,” Steve replied automatically around a mouthful of cereal.
“Try not to end up in jail tonight, huh?” Buck hummed as he passed back by Steve to head for his and Natasha’s room.
“Can’t promise that!” Steve called after him as he disappeared. “If they’re being assholes, I’m probably gonna punch them!”
Steve showered and changed into something a little cleaner (making sure to put his dirty clothes in his hamper rather than leave them on the floor in a trail leading to the bathroom), and had left the flat by 6:15, making the fifteen-minute stroll to his pub in ten by cutting down an alley instead of following the main streets.
Betty was already waiting outside when he got there to help him open up, and he smiled as he pulled his keys out.
“Hey, Bette,” he greeted, unlocking the door and holding it open for her. “How’s things?”
Betty was smart as a whip. Steve thought he remembered her saying she was involved with the university somehow – a research student, or something like that – and she only worked part time for him because of it. Steve was fine with that; he raked in enough money these days that he could afford to hire a few rotating staff, as well as his full time second in command, Clint Barton.
They didn’t really talk about it often, but Steve was sure Clint had been military, too, at some point. Special ops, maybe. Either way, the guy had a great memory for orders, and his reflexes were sound, meaning he never dropped anything.
Steve couldn’t ask for more, really.
“Can’t complain,” Betty replied, stepping into the bar ahead of him and switching the lights on. “I have a proposal deadline coming up, so that’s starting to stress me out, but other than that, everything’s fine.”
“We both know you’re gonna ace your assignment,” Steve told her, heading through to the kitchen to switch the lights on while Betty started taking chairs down from tables and arranging them accordingly.
“I hope so,” she called after him, and Steve smiled to himself.
“Oh ye of little faith,” he replied, stepping back out into the main room. “Good luck with it, anyway.”
They both settled into a companionable silence after that, tidying the bar and getting it ready for customers. Clint rolled in fifteen minutes before opening, bleary eyed and obviously having just gotten up, and headed into the kitchen to start preparing the food for that evening.
“It’s 7pm,” Steve called to them both eventually. “I’m opening up.”
He got mumbles of agreement from various parts of the bar, and headed over to the door to flip the sign. People were never usually queuing outside the door at opening, so he expected fifteen minutes to half an hour before their first customer. With nothing else to do, Steve got himself situated behind the bar, and was wiping down the surface top when someone stepped through the door.
“Hey, Bruce,” Steve smiled as he looked up. “The usual?”
“Yes, please,” Bruce replied, taking what they had dubbed his seat at the end of the bar. He wrung his hands nervously; he did that a lot.
Bruce was a regular. He had began coming in for the occasional, solitary beer about a year after Steve had opened the bar; that occasional beer had become a lot more frequent after Betty started working for Steve. They both obviously liked each other – were perfect for each other, considering they both worked in similar fields, as far as Steve could tell – but both of them were too shy for their own good.
“Any closer to asking her out yet?” Steve asked as he handed a beer over, and Bruce hushed him quickly.
“Not so loud, okay?” he hissed, taking a hasty sip of his beer as he peered around. It was okay; Steve knew Betty was helping Clint out in the kitchen. “I’m… I’m working up to it.”
“There are only so many conversations you can have about face melting radiation before it stops being sexy, buddy,” Steve hummed, absent-mindedly cleaning the ring of moisture Bruce’s bottle had left on the surface of the bar. “I could give her your number if you’d like –“
“No, no, it’s… I have to do this for myself,” Bruce sighed, running a hand through his unruly hair. “I just have to find a way to ease myself into it –“
“Bruce!” came Betty’s voice from the kitchen door, and they both looked up. She came over with a huge smile on her face; honestly, Steve didn’t know how they weren’t already together. “I didn’t realise you were coming in tonight! How’s your research going?”
After that, their conversation got very sciencey, so Steve excused himself to start serving the other customers that were trickling in from outside. He’d glance back over at them every once in a while, though, and couldn’t help but smile to himself.
By the time he’d cleared the bar with Sam, who’d relieved Betty halfway through the night, and stopped off for a pizza from the twenty-four-hour pizzeria down the street, it was past 7am by the time Steve got home. Cramming a full slice of pizza into his mouth, he kicked his shoes off at the door and padded into the living room, pulling his dirty, alcohol soaked clothes off one-handed as he did so. He settled onto the couch in just his underpants, and, swallowing his slice of pizza, he reached for another one, when –
“What’s your deal?” Natasha asked from behind him, and Steve turned just in time to catch a face full of his soggy clothes.
Spluttering, he pulled them away from his face and dropped them onto the sofa beside him, watching warily as Natasha took a seat in the chair opposite him with a breakfast milkshake.
“My deal?” he asked.
“I’ve been talking to Bucky,” she replied, and Steve swallowed his bite of pizza worriedly. “He said the only times you’ve ever been tidy are when you’re in a relationship, because apparently looking and being clean for strangers means more to you than being clean just because it’s hygienic –“
“Wait, what -?”
“So what’s your deal?” she repeated. “Do you like girls, guys, what?”
Steve was much too tired and possibly a little drunk from all the alcohol fumes to keep up with what she was saying. “Are you… you’re trying to find me a date?”
“Yes, Steven, keep up,” Natasha replied flippantly. “So? What’s your deal?”
“I…” Steve didn’t really know what to say. He kept such strange hours that he hadn’t really been able to date since buying the bar. He got a little lonely sometimes, sure, but he loved that damn bar.
On the other hand… if anyone could find him a date, it’d be Natasha. They butted heads sometimes, sure, but Natasha loved him, and he loved her; he knew he’d be safe in her hands.
“I like both,” he told her, wiping his pizza hands on his soiled clothes. “Tend to swing more towards guys, though, these days.”
Natasha, bless her, took that information completely in stride. “Good to know. I’ll ask around.”
“Um, okay –“
“Alright, I have to head to work,” Natasha hummed, stretching as she got to her feet. As she padded past him, she leaned in and pecked him on the cheek and whispered, “If those clothes are on the floor when I get home, they’re going up your ass.”
“I believe you,” Steve replied sincerely as she pulled away again.
“I found you someone.”
For the second time in two days, Steve tripped over his own pants and went sprawling to the ground with a squawk. Dazed and more than a little confused, he looked up and found Natasha leaning over him.
“You should stop getting dressed in the hallway,” she told him disapprovingly, though she still offered a hand to help him up.
“What?” was pretty much all Steve could manage.
“I found you a date,” Natasha clarified, and Steve felt his eyebrows raise immediately. “I asked my gym buddy Pepper if she knew anyone, and she has this friend called Tony who’s single. Dark hair and eyes, average-ish height, and he’s a photographer, which basically means he’s unemployed and can therefore stay out late for dates. He’s meeting you at the bar tonight, 10:30, so make at least a little effort with your outfit, okay?”
Steve’s head was reeling from all the new information. “Wait, wait, you’ve… you’ve already found someone? We only talked about it this morning!”
“You were really, really starting to piss me off,” Natasha shrugged, and then patted him on the cheek. “Now go pick out a nice shirt to wear, and don’t fuck this up, okay?”
“I… yes, ma’am,” Steve replied.
“You’re fidgeting,” Sam called over the music as he passed Steve at the bar with a tray of empty glasses in his hands.
“No I’m not,” Steve disagreed, letting go of his shirt sleeve that he may or may not have been fidgeting with.
“I’m not even in the same room and I know you’re fidgeting,” came Clint’s voice from the kitchen, and Steve rolled his eyes.
“Can everyone stop saying fidgeting?” he asked. “It’s make me even more nervous.”
“Aw, come on, man. What do you have to be nervous about?” Sam asked, putting his tray down onto the bar.
“I’ve never met the guy before!” Steve did not screech. “What if I don’t like him? What if I’m not attracted to him? It’s not like I can just excuse myself to go to the bathroom and then leave; this is my bar! God, it was such a bad idea to meet here –“
“Steve, buddy, you need to take a deep breath and calm the hell down,” Sam told him, resting a reassuring hand on Steve’s shoulder. “If you don’t like him, just give me the signal and I’ll kick him out, okay? No fuss, no hassle, just discreet.”
Steve took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. “Okay. Thanks, Sam.”
“And if it goes well, just slip me the keys and I’ll lock up, if you know what I mean,” Sam winked.
Steve, on the other hand, had to force down a whole new wave of anxiety, because he’d not even contemplated liking the guy enough to want to sleep with him. Steve hadn’t had sex in almost a year – he was fairly certain he’d be able to last no longer than thirty seconds, and that was if the crippling anxiety he was suddenly feeling allowed him to get it up at all –
“Oh God, I’m freaking out,” he gasped, covering his pounding heart with his hand. “Don’t make me do this, oh no –“
But Sam, ever calm, just grabbed a shot glass and a bottle of vodka from the back of the bar, and poured a measure.
“It’s a date, not a marriage proposal,” he said matter-of-factly. “Now drink your courage and do it quick, because Natasha sent me a photo of the guy earlier, and I think he just walked in.”
Steve, shot glass at his lips, accidentally inhaled the vodka and choked. Spluttering and coughing, he forced himself to turn towards the door, and promptly choked all over again on his own tongue, because the guy was, well… he was beautiful.
Hair mussed in a way Steve knew meant he must have spent a long time on it, facial hair groomed to perfection, eyes the colour of molten chocolate framed by the longest eyelashes on a man Steve had ever seen, and dressed in a simple, fitted, white shirt tucked into dark slacks, he was exactly Steve’s type, actually. There was a bit of an age difference, from what he could tell, but that didn’t really bother him. He couldn’t quite believe Natasha had managed to find him on such short notice.
There had to be something wrong with him.
There was no way someone who looked that perfect could still be single unless there was something horribly wrong with them. Maybe he was a complete asshole, or a pervert, or –
“Whatever you’re thinking, stop it,” Sam hissed in his ear as he passed by again with fresh beers on his tray. “Take your apron off and go talk to him before somebody else does. Dude that trim won’t be sat alone for long.”
Even Sam thought he was pretty, and as far as Steve knew, Sam was exclusively into girls. He was right – Steve was going to have to suck it up and go introduce himself, because he’d really be the worst kind of idiot not to. And so, taking a deep breath, he pulled his apron over his head and stashed it below the bar, then signalled for Sam to take over and ducked his way over to the small table by the door where the guy had sat.
“Um, Tony?” he asked, and the guy looked up from his phone with an assessing glance that almost immediately moulded into what Steve thought was a look of appreciation.
He really hoped so, at least.
“Steve Rogers?” Tony replied, getting to his feet. He seemed to think about going for a handshake, but then realised it’d probably be a little too formal and paused halfway through the motion; Steve couldn’t help but chuckle and take his hand anyway, charmed that he seemed at least a little as nervous as Steve felt.
“That’s me,” he nodded, taking the seat opposite Tony at the little table. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Good to meet you, too,” Tony replied with an easy, confident smile that covered his earlier blunder. “I gotta admit, I didn’t really know what to expect when Pepper told me to come here.”
“She didn’t tell you anything about me?” Steve asked.
“Nope,” Tony shook his head with a grin that made Steve’s heart flutter in his chest. He was just so pretty.
“And you still came anyway?”
Tony shrugged. “Better than sitting at home by myself.”
“I guess so,” Steve agreed.
“And it introduced me to a beautiful specimen like you,” Tony told him sincerely, and Steve felt a bubble of flattered laughter bursting from his lips as his cheeks heated a little.
“Kinda forward, don’t you think?” he ventured, and got another cheeky smile for his trouble.
“You get to my age and you see something or someone you like, you tend to be a little more forward, yeah.”
“Please, you’re not that old,” Steve scoffed.
Tony seemed a little surprised by that, if the small, genuine smile on his face was anything to go by. “And here I was thinking the youth of today thought anyone over thirty is halfway to the grave.”
“I’m not that young, either,” Steve laughed. “At least, it doesn’t feel like it.”
“An old soul? I could get down with that,” Tony grinned, and Steve found himself laughing again.
He paused for a moment just to look at Tony, already feeling a connection forming between them, and this was why he didn’t date – he got attached so easily – but… Tony felt different. Maybe it was the age difference, or maybe it was just the fact that Steve hadn’t dated anyone in a while; he wasn’t sure.
“So… you like me, huh?” he asked a little shyly, and watched closely as Tony’s smile faltered for a little, as though he thought he’d made another faux pas.
Tony was a dork, he realised gleefully.
“I… guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” Tony replied, but Steve could tell he was just trying to play it cool.
Steve grinned, pleased with his answer all the same. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Sure,” Tony nodded. “A scotch, please. On the rocks.”
“No problem,” Steve nodded, and then got to his feet to head over to the bar.
He ducked behind the bar and quickly grabbed a couple of glasses, setting about getting their drinks ready.
“How’s it going?” Sam asked from further down the bar, busy pouring a shot of Jack Daniels into a glass. “Seems like it’s going well.”
“Stop spying on me,” Steve huffed as he passed to grab a bottle of their best scotch. “And it’s… it is going well. He seems nice.”
“Hey, around here, awkward first dates are the best entertainment,” Sam quipped back, and Steve rolled his eyes as he free-poured a couple fingers of the scotch into Tony’s glass.
“You’re ridiculous,” Steve replied, grabbing his own glass. “Would you put ice in that while I pull a beer?”
“Anything for you, boss,” Sam grinned, catching the scotch glass up as he wandered over to put ice in his own order, too.
“I should fire you for cheek,” Steve hummed, busy with the beer pump, and grinned when Sam gasped and handed the scotch back, now with ice.
“Well maybe I’ll quit – how about that?” Sam replied.
“You do that, buddy,” Steve laughed, and then raised the scotch in thanks as he headed back out towards his and Tony’s table. “Thanks for the help.”
“No worries, boss,” Sam called after him, and Steve could practically hear the laugh in his voice.
Sam was lucky Steve liked him so much.
“Here you go,” he smiled, handing the scotch over to Tony as he got back to their table.
“Thanks,” Tony replied, taking a sip. “And… I didn’t know it was really acceptable to pour your own drinks, these days.”
“Perks of owning the bar,” Steve laughed, and watched as Tony’s eyebrows rose. “You… you didn’t know I owned the place?”
“Well, like I said – Pepper didn’t tell me anything about you,” Tony shrugged, and then grinned. “So far, you’ve fully exceeded my expectations.”
“Good… to know,” Steve smiled, taking a sip of his own beer. “So, you know what I do now. Natasha said you’re a photographer?”
“Yes,” Tony nodded, “of classic vehicles, mostly. Cars, bikes, and planes, usually.”
“That’s gotta be interesting,” Steve hummed, intrigued.
“Some of them sure are pretty,” Tony nodded, and then held up a finger as he rummaged around in his pocket. “I’ve got a few shots in an email, if you’d like to –“
“Sure!” Steve nodded, holding his hand out for the phone probably a little too quickly. “I mean…”
“Classic car guy, got it,” Tony grinned as he handed the phone over. “I may swoon.”
“It’s motorbikes, actually,” Steve mumbled, feeling his cheeks heating up a little in embarrassment. “But… sure.”
He flicked through a few of the photos and quickly realised some of them looked familiar. There was a mixture of black and white and colour shots, all artfully composed, but it wasn’t until the fifth photo, the subject a vintage Harley Davidson motorbike, that he realised why they seemed familiar.
“You’re Tony Stark,” he gasped, staring down at the image. “I have this print on my bedroom wall.”
Tony snorted into his scotch and came away choking out a surprised laugh. “You know my work?”
“My buddy Bucky bought it for me as a gift when I officially signed the papers for this place,” Steve replied, still staring down at the image. “You really took this?”
“Few years ago, yeah,” Tony nodded. “So you like photography?”
“Art in general,” Steve murmured vaguely. “I like to sketch sometimes, when I have any spare time.”
“Well, I showed you mine,” Tony grinned cheekily. “You should bring some to our next date.”
Steve’s head shot up, surprised. It seemed like Tony had felt the spark between them just as he had, if he wanted a second date. Steve smiled, liking the thought of that.
“Maybe I will,” he nodded, and Tony practically beamed.
They talked for hours after that, though it only seemed like minutes. The bar gradually filled up around them, but Betty arrived at midnight to help Sam, and food orders stopped half an hour later so Clint could help out front of house, too. Meanwhile, Steve and Tony stayed tucked away by the door, laughing, drinking, and sharing stories.
“I knew you had to have been a soldier or something,” Tony grinned into his third scotch. “Had to be. No offence, but there’s no way a barkeep could be that buff –“
“It’s been years since I bought the bar, though,” Steve reasoned. “And I was stick skinny as a kid. Guess my metabolism just caught up to me.”
“I refuse to believe that. No, I refuse – there’s no way you were a skinny kid. I need photos –“
But then, out of the corner of his eye, Steve spotted something and he momentarily tuned out of what Tony was saying. A man, big, brutish looking, was heading towards them and the door, a girl on his arm. Actually, she was hanging off it, because she appeared so drunk that she could barely stand. She did, however, appear to be weakly trying to tug herself out of the man’s grasp.
As they got closer, Steve caught the end of what the guy was whispering into her ear, and he began to feel sick. He very obviously wasn’t going to put her in a cab and make sure she got home safe.
“Sorry, Tony, just a second,” he found himself saying, springing to his feet without even waiting for a reply. “Sam!”
He raced for the bar, weaving between people, and Sam’s head popped up over the crowds as he neared the counter. “What’s going on?”
“Call the police, and give me Redwing,” Steve replied quickly, grateful when Sam didn’t even question him, just leaned under the bar and pulled out a baseball bat with the word REDWING etched into it. “I think he’s taking her to the alley out back –“
“Jesus,” Sam croaked, and then nodded. “Yep, cops, okay. On it.”
Steve just nodded, and then span on the spot and headed for the door again, snagging his coat from the hook on the back as he left. Cold hit him in the face, but he paid it no mind as he looked around for any sign of the girl. When he couldn’t immediately spot her, or the guy she had been with, he took a left and jogged towards the alley beside the bar.
He could hear her cries before he even turned into it, and immediately saw red.
“You better step the fuck away from her, buddy,” he growled, spotting the guy pinning her against the side of his bar.
At the sound of his voice, the guy looked up with a foul expression on his face. “The fuck outta here, man –“
“I don’t think you heard me,” Steve replied calmly, and then slammed Redwing against the dumpster they used to dump trash as hard as he could to get the guy’s attention. “Get. The fuck. Away from her.”
“Help,” the girl slurred, and that was it, really. Steve blacked out as he swung for the guy the first time, and didn’t really come round again until he felt slender hands tugging helplessly at his upper arm.
“Wha-?” He looked around, realised it was the girl who was trying to pull him away, sobbing, and then realised the man was lying on the ground, broken, bleeding, and whimpering.
“Stop, stop,” the girl sobbed. “Y’gonna kill ‘um.”
Steve lowered Redwing immediately, dropped it to the ground, and then took his coat off and wrapped it around the shivering girl. Damn, she couldn’t have been much older than the drinking age, if of age at all.
“You’re safe,” he told her, trying to get his breathing under control. “It’s okay, it – can you walk? Go back into the bar and stay with the barman. He’s called the police; they’re on their way.”
Steve could actually hear sirens getting nearer even as he spoke, and turned towards the end of the alley to help the girl inside when he realised they had managed to draw quite the crowd of whispering, jeering drunks. Shit.
“Step aside, step aside!” he heard a booming voice that had to belong to a cop suddenly vibrate through the crowd, and a few seconds later two police officers had entered the alleyway cautiously. Steve just looked down at the trembling man at his feet and realised the true extent of what he had done, and how much trouble he was probably going to be in.
Worse, when he looked back up, he spotted Tony’s shocked face amongst the crowd, and realised just how badly he’d fucked up there, too.
Twenty-four hours later, Steve stepped out of the police station with slapped wrists and a warning that, had the guy pressed charges, it could have all been a whole lot worse for him. Bucky was waiting outside for him with his banged up car, shaking his head disapprovingly; Steve, actually, didn’t know how it could get any worse.
“You’re late for work,” was all Buck said as he slipped into the driver’s seat, leaving Steve to scoot into the passenger seat.
“I called Clint; he’s taking care of the bar tonight,” he replied wearily. “I need to sleep.”
“You need to sort your priorities out, buddy,” Bucky replied bluntly as they pulled away. “You… you beat the shit out of that guy –“
“He deserved it!”
“- while you were on a date!” Bucky continued as though Steve hadn’t spoken at all. “Did you just not like the guy and were looking for a way out?”
“No,” Steve sighed, rubbing a hand across his face. “I… I actually liked him. I really fucked up.”
“You don’t say,” Buck rolled his eyes, and then sighed. “Sorry for not coming to get you sooner, by the way. Natasha said paying your bail would just encourage you –“
“I get it,” Steve waved away his apologies, because after everything that had happened, he had deserved to rot in a cell for a day. “It’s fine.”
“Think your date will call?” Bucky asked after a moment, and Steve scoffed out a laugh.
“I think it’s more likely the guy I beat up will call me,” he sighed. “Besides, I never even got Tony’s number.”
“Idiot,” Bucky shook his head, and then focused on the road for the rest of the way back to their apartment.
Steve sat in silence for the rest of the journey, stewing in his own feelings. He didn’t regret what he had done, so much as he regretted Tony having to be there to see it. He understood that not everyone resorted to violence in the face of injustice as fast as he did, had always figured it was the soldier in him, and that he had probably come back from Afghanistan a little broken, but he couldn’t help it.
He was sad he wasn’t going to get that second date with Tony, though. He had genuinely really liked him.
Bucky pulled into his regular parking spot outside their apartment soon after, and Steve got out of the car without a word. Buck let him into their apartment after Steve realised he must have (hopefully) left his keys at the bar, and Natasha was waiting in the hallway for them, arms crossed and obviously not impressed.
“Can you please yell at me after I’ve had a chance to sleep?” Steve asked wearily, passing her with a pre-emptive wince in case she decided to punch him in the arm, or something.
Thank god, she took pity on him.
With a groan, Steve padded into his bedroom and closed the door behind him. Still fully clothed, he collapsed onto his bed and covered his head with a pillow, seriously considering just burritoing himself in blankets and never leaving the apartment again.
His life was stupid.
Steve actually took a couple days off to first mope, and then piece his life back together again. He trusted Clint and the rest of his employees to take care of the bar, and it wasn’t like he had a whole lot else going on that would take up his time, so he didn’t even really get out of bed for at least a day and a half. If the mumbling in the hallway was anything to go by, Sam even stopped by to drop off his keys, which Steve had dropped at the bar.
Natasha and Bucky were mad at him. A little worried about him, too, if their whispering out in the hall was anything to go by, but mostly mad. It wasn’t until his third day of solitude that Natasha burst into his room and threw a couch cushion with startling accuracy at his head, though.
“Go to work; rent’s due,” she told him when he pulled the cushion away, but her expression gave away just how worried about him she really was.
Glancing over at the clock, Steve realised that, if he got up and quickly showered (which was a necessity after three days in bed), he’d still have time to make himself something to eat before heading out to work. He’d not called Clint yet to say he wouldn’t be coming in; he thought he might as well.
“I’m going, I’m going,” he decided, and then frowned when Natasha’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “What?”
“Nothing,” she replied as he padded towards her to head for the shower. “I just… Steve?”
He paused when she caught his arm. “Yeah?”
“Do you…” she stopped for a moment, obviously thinking about how to word what she wanted to say. “Do you think you might need to talk to someone again?”
Steve stared blankly at her for a moment, not sure what she was talking about, and then when it clicked he felt himself take a surprised intake of breath.
“I’m not depressed,” he insisted.
“Really?” Natasha hummed. “You’re obviously not happy, either.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m depressed,” Steve repeated, but was starting to feel a little more unsure.
Was he depressed? He didn’t think so, but then again, he hadn’t realised he had been the first time, after he’d come back from Afghanistan. But he had his bar this time; his shrink had told him to set a goal, to do something for himself. Buying the bar had been for himself. He got to socialise, make friends, had a steady income, the responsibility helped him control his anger, and it got him out of the house everyday.
Except the past couple of days. And the anger, the few months before that.
Maybe Natasha had a point.
“I don’t need to talk to someone,” he shook his head decisively. “I’m just in a bit of a rut, is all.”
“And what do you think will get you out of it?” Natasha asked, not unkindly. “What makes you happy, Steve?”
“Tony,” Steve replied, almost without thinking, and then realised what he had said.
It was true, though. Now he was really thinking about it, meeting Tony had been the first time he’d felt truly at ease and outside his own head in months. It sounded cheesy, but Tony had come in and Steve’s otherwise very grey life had somehow seemed new and shiny and colourful. They’d connected like Steve hadn’t connected with anyone in years, and he’d spent the last three days thinking about him.
“You’ll find someone, Steve,” Natasha sighed, reaching out to rest a hand on his shoulder. “But in the meantime, you need to find something independent that makes you happy, because you can’t rely on another person to do that for you.”
Hanging his head in disappointment, Steve swallowed thickly and nodded his head. “Okay, I – okay.”
“Taking a few days off work a week to do something for you wouldn’t be the end of the world,” she suggested with a shrug. “These past few days have proved Clint can man the fort while you’re gone. Just… think about it, okay?”
“I… will,” Steve promised, and then sighed. “Okay, I gotta go shower and eat something before I keel over.”
“You’re an idiot,” Natasha chastised, but she still leaned up to kiss his cheek as he moved past her.
Steve vehemently ignored the part of his brain that immediately lit up at the simple touch, and told himself that his loneliness would pass.
Clint seemed just as surprised as Natasha when Steve called him to tell him he’d be coming in for opening time, and that he wouldn’t have to come in until his usual time. Did everyone think he was depressed, or something?
After inhaling a bowl of pasta courtesy of Bucky, and then three of the cookies Natasha had apparently made sometime during his self-induced isolation, Steve stepped out of their apartment already feeling better than he had in days. He was looking forward to catching up with everyone at the bar and getting back into the swing of things. Sure, sometimes the monotony of his life got him down, but Steve thought he kinda needed the structure, too, so he could never really win.
He was whistling as he turned the corner onto the street where his bar was situated, and was within spitting distance of the front door when he heard someone familiar calling his name.
He turned and almost ran straight into the very last person he had ever expected to meet again.
“Tony?” he gasped, almost dropping his keys again in shock. “I – what are you -?”
“Finally,” Tony panted, as though he had been running, and he was really there, in the flesh. Steve could barely believe it. “I’ve been coming by every day since our date, but the guy said you weren’t coming in. What gives, Rogers?”
“I – “ Steve, honestly, had no idea what was going on. “What?”
“I never got your number!” Tony explained further, as though it were obvious, and when Steve looked down he realised he was holding his phone out for him. “How else was I supposed to arrange another date?”
“You want another date?” Steve squeaked, feeling simultaneously drugged and more alert than he had in a very long time as he took Tony’s phone and keyed in his number. “Why?”
“Um… because you’re sweet and sincere, you’re intelligent, business-headed, and, I mean, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but you’re one of the most attractive people I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’m serious; you’ve got this less is more vibe going on, and it’s been driving me crazy for days,” Tony blurted out as he sent Steve a text for his number absent-mindedly, and then visibly paused and swallowed heavily. “Unless… I mean, that’s only if you want another date?”
“Of course!” Steve replied immediately – most definitely too fast to retain any of his dignity. “I, I just… what happened – it didn’t bother you?”
“I mean, it wasn’t ideal,” Tony sighed. “I was hoping for a kiss at the end of the night at least –“
Steve felt his face immediately heat as he almost choked on his own tongue.
“- but I’m willing to chalk the incident up to a freak act of well-intentioned-but-probably-excessive-violence, and give the whole thing another try. I enjoyed spending time with you,” Tony admitted. “I don’t enjoy spending time with many people.”
“I enjoyed spending time with you, too,” Steve murmured, and then took a deep breath. “I… I get angry, sometimes. Never usually at people like that, not so violently, but… but it happens. I told you I was a soldier, spent a tour in Afghanistan a few years back, and I… I guess I’m just telling you, because, well, I don’t want to start this under false pretences, and… where are we going?”
Because Tony had just taken his hand, and was leading him down the street.
“I know a cute, twenty-four-hour coffee place a few blocks from here,” Tony informed him casually. “This kind of sharing needs to happen in a date setting, and there’s nothing more date-like than a coffee place.”
“We’re going on a date right now?” Steve asked, finding himself laughing. “I was supposed to open the bar.”
“Get the other guy to do it,” Tony waved his concerns away as though it were completely reasonable to call in emergency cover at the last minute. “He seemed to have his shit together when I called in the last few nights.”
Steve thought he should really go back to at least open the place up for the others to take over, but then again… Tony’s hand was really warm, and his smile was so bright and happy, and Steve…
Steve was a weak, weak man.
Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he typed a quick Change of plans – can you open up? Sorry to be a dick x to Clint, and then almost immediately got a ffs rogers fine w/e in return. He grinned, unable to stop himself, and let Tony lead him into a quaint little coffee shop at the end of the next street they turned onto.
There were a couple of what looked like college students scattered around with laptops and slightly crazed expressions on their faces, their tables littered with coffee mugs, but other than that, the place was relatively empty. Tony pulled him over to a sofa tucked up at the back of the room, and then pushed him down onto it.
“Okay, what are you having?” Tony asked, and Steve couldn’t help but grin again, because he was adorable.
“I don’t mind,” Steve replied. “Whatever you’re having.”
Tony just smiled at him, and then nodded. “Excellent. Two mocha-frappa-shitta-everything-sugar-extra-large-on-a-stick coffees, here we come.”
Steve laughed again as Tony darted away to the counter across the room, and tried not to stare at him too much while he placed their orders; he didn’t want to seem like a creep if Tony happened to turn around, but he found his eyes repeatedly drifting back to Tony’s ass, because damn.
Tony was still grinning (and honestly, Steve couldn’t imagine him doing anything else) as he came back carrying a tray with their orders on it.
“I got some snacks, too,” he told Steve as he sat down. “I’m not very good at heart to hearts, but I feel like cookies will make it easier.”
“Agreed,” Steve nodded, helping Tony to unload the tray onto their table. He pulled a mug of steaming coffee and a cookie towards him, and hummed as he took a sip. “This is really good.”
“Only the best for my second date rage monster,” Tony hummed, stuffing the empty tray onto the table next to them as he sat down. “Speaking of – you were talking about being a soldier.”
“I’m not really sure you wanna sit and listen to me whine,” Steve shook his head, unsure, but Tony just waved his concerns away with the hand holding his mug of coffee.
“Don’t give me that,” Tony huffed. “I want to hear about all the tanks you had to lift to get into and still be in that shape.”
Steve laughed and shook his head, charmed. “You’re incorrigible, you know that?”
“I might have gotten that comment a few times before,” Tony huffed, and then took another sip of his coffee. “But that’s beside the point. Spill.”
“Well…” Steve took a deep breath, because he didn’t usually talk about his time overseas. “I joined the army straight out of high school. Back then I was a skinny runt, picked a lot of fights and got beaten up a lot, and I thought maybe the army would be a good way to find some discipline, do something good for my country.
“I met my best friend, Bucky, at basic training, and he and the army doctor helped me beef up,” he continued. “Felt invincible, for a while. Had a bunch of friends for the first time, felt stronger and healthier than I ever had, and I had a structured life.
“But then we were actually shipped out,” he sighed. “And I saw, first hand, that it wasn’t as simple as black and white. We were told not to get attached, to look at even the civilians with calculation, but… but it felt wrong. My regiment was stationed near the front line, in a little village, and the people there were just as afraid of the fracture groups as everyone back home was, only it was happening right on their doorstep.
“Lots of kids died, towards the end,” he murmured, swallowing thickly. “Lots of people, full stop. They found out where we were based, and they bombed the whole town. Their own people, too. Buck lost his arm, and he was one of the lucky ones.
“I was over there six years, and I came back to ignorance and hatred for those kids – those civilians who had done nothing wrong, who died just because we were there,” Steve sighed, running a hand over his weary eyes. “I couldn’t go back again, felt… responsible, I guess. I was honourably discharged with a couple of medals, though God knows why I deserve them, and… and a bubbling rage and helplessness that’s just never really gone away since.”
Steve didn’t dare look up at Tony. Instead, he stared down at his mug of coffee and wondered if it would be possible to drown himself in the six-ish inches of liquid. After a moment of holding his breath, he felt the couch shift as Tony moved, and then he was being pulled into an awkward side hug that he actually really appreciated.
“Sounds like a really shit time,” Tony murmured against his shoulder, and Steve found himself nodding. “I, um –“
And then Tony’s stomach made a really peculiar sound.
“Oh, crap,” Tony croaked, looking pale as he pulled away from Steve.
“What is it?” Steve asked, frowning in concern.
“What side of the tray was the mug you took on?” Tony asked urgently, and then grimaced in pain as his stomach made another alarming noise.
“Um… the left?” Steve replied, starting to panic a little.
“Double crap,” Tony groaned, hunching forwards. “I should have said something – I’m highly lactose intolerant. My mug had soy milk in it.”
“Crap,” Steve agreed. “I… what do we do?”
“Nothing to be done,” Tony hissed through gritted teeth. “Just gotta let it run its course. I, fuck, I’m sorry, I gotta go home.”
Steve immediately swallowed down the disappointment that bubbled up in his gut, because Tony’s health was more important than anything else right now. “Of course. Do you want me to call you a cab?”
“I have a driver,” Tony huffed out a groan as Steve helped him to his feet. He hunched over himself and stopped, just breathing for a few moments.
“You have a driver?”
“Photography’s pretty lucrative when you know how to sell yourself,” Tony told him, and pulled his phone out of his pocket. He sent out a quick text, and then nodded to Steve, who wrapped an arm around him and helped him to he door.
By the time they got outside, Tony was trembling, and paler than Steve had ever seen him.
“Are you sure you’re going to be all right?” Steve asked, worried beyond belief. “Do you need to go to the hospital -?”
“They’ll just send me away and tell me to sleep it off,” Tony stuttered, pointing Steve towards a black sedan that had just pulled up.
Steve tried not to be too in awe of how expensive it looked.
A man climbed out of the driver’s side and hurried towards them. “Had a little too much fun, boss?”
“Definitely,” Tony agreed weakly, and let Steve transfer him into the other man’s grip. “Had a little run-in with some dairy produce.”
“Lovely,” the driver grimaced as he helped Tony into the back of the car. “I’m sure your toilet’s gonna appreciate –“
“Oh my God, Happy, we’re in company,” Tony complained, and Steve just snorted out a laugh.
He took a few steps forwards as Tony settled himself as best he could into the car, and peered in. “I’m so sorry. I really hope you get better soon.”
“Don’t worry about it; it wasn’t your fault,” Tony waved away his concern. “I’ll call you?”
“Okay,” Steve nodded, smiling. “I’ll look forward to it.”
With a final smile and a little wave, Steve closed the door and then stepped back as the car drove away. Honestly, he wasn’t really sure how to feel; everything had happened so quickly that he had been working on autopilot, but now Tony was gone… he felt a little lost. Glancing down at his watch, he realised he wasn’t that late for work.
Well, he had nothing else to do now.
Feeling a fresh kind of vigour, because Tony had, at least, said he’d call him, Steve took a deep breath and then began his walk back towards the bar. It didn’t take him long – fifteen minutes at the most, once he got his bearings – and the bar was just starting to fill up with their usual punters by the time he had stepped through the door. Clint, at the bar, looked mightily surprised to see him as he made his way over, and Steve offered an apologetic smile.
“It’s a long story,” he called over the music, before ducking behind the bar to grab his apron. “I had a date, but he… I accidentally forced him to drink milk when he’s lactose intolerant.”
“Well, fuck,” Clint rolled his eyes. “You sure know how to pick ‘em.”
“No, this was the same guy as last time,” Steve hummed, already starting on his first order.
“The same guy?” Clint squeaked, staring at him. “Shit, I thought he’d given up when he didn’t come in tonight.”
“That’s because he ambushed me outside and took me for coffee,” Steve replied, “where I then poisoned his insides.”
“Ah,” Clint nodded, looking at him oddly. “You seem… oddly calm about it?”
“I had a nice time before it happened,” Steve shrugged. “He said he’d call me.”
“Right…” Clint hummed, turning back to his own order. “Well, good.”
“No, what’s with that face?” Steve asked, frowning, because Clint was hiding something from him. “What are you thinking?”
“Nothing. Nothing!” Clint insisted. “I just… you’ve had two dates that have both been ruined? Are you… are you sure you want to keep bothering?”
Steve paused, taken aback. “I… yes? Why wouldn’t I? I like him –“
“Just… are you sure it’s not a sign, that they’ve both gone so badly?” Clint asked gently. “You ended up in jail after your first date, Steve. That’s pretty fucking bad –“
“What is it recently with everyone butting into my personal life?” Steve asked, what felt like betrayed anger welling up inside him. “I like him, okay? I feel happy when I’m with him, and I think he likes me, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken me out again tonight, and –“
“Okay, okay,” Clint put his hands up defensively. “Okay, I won’t say another word. Sorry, man.”
Steve took a deep breath, calming himself down, and nodded his head. He knew Clint didn’t mean anything by it. Deep down, he thought there might be a little bit of truth to his words, too, and that was why he was mad; he liked Tony, and he wanted it to work between them. Was he asking for forever? No, of course not, but he’d like to see where it went with him.
“Where’s Betty, anyway? Isn’t she supposed to be working tonight?” Steve asked, clearing his throat.
Clint, surprisingly, grinned at him. “You missed the show. Banner finally built up the courage to ask her out, so I gave her the rest of the night off. They’re over there.”
He pointed across the bar, and Steve craned his neck to look. In the far corner, Bruce and Betty were tucked against a tiny table, laughing over what looked like a shared basket of chicken wings. Steve suddenly found himself grinning, beyond happy for them both, and consciously forced back the tiny slither of jealousy he also felt.
Instead, he decided that, if Clint could point out the bad signs, Steve would take this as a good one. If Bruce and Betty could finally get it together after pining after each other for so long, he was fairly certain there was hope for him yet.
Tony didn’t call for a couple of days, but Steve had googled the symptoms and side-effects of lactose intolerance and discovered that it could take days at a time for the lactose to completely leave someone’s system, so he wasn’t too worried.
He did a lot of thinking over those few days, too. He was stubborn, certainly, but he valued his friends’ opinions, especially when they were trying to help him, so he took a little time just to try and sort through his feelings.
“So… you might have been right,” he murmured one evening as he sat with Natasha and ate his breakfast.
“I know,” she replied distractedly, focused on her paperwork. “What was I right about?”
“I might not be dealing with some stuff quite as healthily as I had originally thought,” Steve mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand.
Natasha put her pen down and seemed to assess him for a moment, before nodding her head. “Then yeah, I was right.”
Steve rolled his eyes, but smiled. “Thank you for caring about me.”
“Don’t ever thank me for that,” Natasha replied. “That’s what friends do. What I would like you to thank me for is washing your clothes, buying your groceries, making your bed –“
Steve’s cell phone cut her off when it began to ring, and a quick glance at the caller ID told him it was Tony. Immediately, he felt his heart jump into his throat excitedly, and he gave Natasha a wheedling look.
“It’s Tony, I –“
“Take it,” Natasha rolled her eyes, and patted Steve’s arm as he passed her on the way to his bedroom. “Tell him you’re not allowed out past 6am.”
“Yes, mom,” Steve grinned as he bounded down the hall.
Their third date, in a turn of events, went without a hitch. Tony invited Steve to model for him at his studio one evening before Steve had to go into work, and they ended up making out on the chez longue Tony had laid out for the shoot.
“So… you’re actually really rich?” Steve hummed between kisses, unable to keep a smile off his face. Tony’s studio was part of a penthouse, after all.
“Eh, I get by,” Tony replied with a cheeky grin, leaning up for yet another kiss.
“Hey,” Steve mumbled, and then gave in and kissed Tony again; kissing Tony was quickly becoming his favourite thing. “Hey, wait a second.”
Seemingly reluctantly, Tony pulled away from him with an anxious expression. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Steve took a deep breath. “Yeah, yeah, I… I just wanna tell you, I guess. I… I decided to start seeing my shrink again.”
“You did?” Tony replied.
“Yeah,” Steve nodded, swallowing past a lump in his throat. “Yeah, I… I haven’t been truly happy in a while, and with you I, I think maybe I could be, so I don’t want any of that… stuff to ruin this.”
Tony’s eyes flicked over Steve’s face for a moment, and then he smiled gently and leaned up for a chaste kiss. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Steve repeated, feeling something tight in his chest start to ease.
“Okay,” Tony nodded, reaching into Steve’s hair to gently draw him down for another kiss. “I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself.”
“Yeah?” Steve grinned.
“Yes,” Tony rolled his eyes. “Now gimme more kisses.”
“Yes, sir,” Steve nodded, leaning back in, and snorted out a laugh when Tony’s nostrils flared and his pupils dilated. “That’s a thing for you?”
“Not until just now,” Tony mumbled, tugging him back in for more kisses.
Steve was almost a hundred percent sure he was going to be a-okay.