Inwardly, Steve sighs. He had paused in his sketching when he answered his phone, but now he resigns himself to put the pencil down completely.
“What did you do, Clint?”
“Hey,” Clint said, sounding less than offended. He clears his throat and it comes tinny through the phone, shot through with static thanks to Steve’s crappy connection. “I didn’t do anything. That I know of, anyway. So imagine my surprise when Mr. Stark corners me at the end of class and asks me to tell my parents to come in tomorrow after school!”
“Huh. Usually they just send you to the Principal.”
“I know,” Clint says.
There were the usual sounds of a cafeteria in full swing on Clint’s end. Steve could just picture him scuffing his already-scuffed shoes against the linoleum as he scowled into his phone.
“So, I was thinking you could come instead?”
Steve snorts. “I’m a little young to be your parent, Clint. Maybe if I had you when I was eight.”
“I don’t want to bother Sarah, okay?”
“Just call her Ma, Clint, Jesus,” Steve tells him, knowing it’s a losing battle. Clint has been with them for ten years now and he still refuses to call Sarah anything but that.
“Look, will you come or not? I’m probably being framed or something.”
I need to update my cellphone, Steve thinks as Clint’s sigh came on another burst of static.
Clint continued, “I know you’re busy-”
“I can get a couple hours off tomorrow,” Steve cut him off, already re-arranging his schedule he kept in moderate disarray in his head. He’d have to eat lunch on the subway and focus everything on his next commission, but other than that he should be fine.
“Really? Thanks, man. I owe you.”
“You don’t owe me crap,” Steve tells him. “I’ll be near the gates when your last class ends, okay?”
“Love you, too.”
Another tinny voice comes from Clint’s end- his friend Natasha, it sounds like: “Who’s that, your imaginary girlfriend?”
“No, it’s your mom,” Clint replies, his voice faraway and then coming back close as he says, “See you, Steve. And thanks again.”
Steve spends the better part of the subway ride trying to eat his sandwich and clean mud off his jeans at the same time. It ends up with a slightly dirty sandwich by the end of it, due to him forgetting which hand he was using for eating and which he was using for cleaning.
He scarfs the rest of it down as he makes his way to the gates of Clint’s high school. There, he leans against the brick and plays Candy Crush on his phone until the bell rings.
It doesn’t take long to spot Clint in the crowd of teenagers, since he’s the only one making a beeline for Steve.
“Hey,” Clint says, and accepts Steve’s hello-hug. He even gives Steve’s back a few bro-pats before letting go. “How’s work?”
“Tiring. But rewarding. How’s school?”
“Just tiring,” Clint says, grinning when Steve rolls his eyes.
“And you wonder why they’re getting your parents in.”
“Getting my awesome big brother in,” Clint corrects. “Who is never going to tell Sarah about this, right?”
“Depends what your teacher wants to discuss. What’s his name again?”
“Mr. Stark,” Clint says as he shoulders his way back through the crowd. “He teaches this weird new Mechanics class and he’s awesome. Last year he let us build flame-throwers.”
“That… sounds very illegal.”
Clint shrugged. The illegality of things had never been a big concern of Clint’s. He probably had the flame-thrower stashed in the back of his closet.
Steve pockets his hands and hopes Mr. Stark won’t want to shake his hand due to the faint mud stains that crease his palms. Steve tended to be awkward about first impressions, but even he knew it’d be taken badly if Steve smeared him with mud during their introduction.
They make their way to the labs to find a man who Steve presumes is Mr. Stark sitting behind the front desk and muttering something at the paper he’s scribbling on. Both his sleeves are shoved up and his tie is flung over his shoulder.
Clint clears his throat, rocking on his heels. “Mr. Stark?”
The man looks up and Steve has to suppress the knee-jerk reaction of oh no, he’s hot. Steve had been picturing some grey-haired professor type- Mr. Stark looks thirty at the oldest, his goatee neat and precise, his eyes bright and distracted and, quite frankly, gorgeous.
Clint darts a look over at Steve before saying, “You… wanted to see me? On Monday, you said-”
“Oh, shit, yeah, sorry.” Mr. Stark waves them over, pushing his paper to the side. He looks grudging about it.
Steve and Clint shift chairs in front of the desk and sit down.
“Right,” Mr. Stark says, looking over Steve slowly. His eyebrows raise. “Clint, you remember how I asked you to bring your parents, right?”
“He’s as good as,” Clint shrugs, chin jutting out. “He’s my big brother.”
Mr. Stark nods, steepling his fingers. “Huh. Big is right.”
Steve stops himself from squirming just as he’s about to do it- he’s still not entirely used to the body he grew into several years back after they finally put him on the right medication, one that made it so he was able to exercise without having an asthma attack after fifteen minutes.
“…Um,” Clint says.
Mr. Stark coughs, drops his gaze. “Sorry! Sorry, I’m incredibly sleep-deprived today, my brain-to-mouth filter burned out around noon. Anyway, Clint- any particular reason why you brought- I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Steve,” Steve says, holding out his hand on pure instinct. He regrets it instantly when he sees the smudges of mud, and braces himself inwardly when Mr. Stark reaches out and grips it.
“Tony Stark,” the man replies. He gives Steve a grin that gets Steve’s stomach flipping as the handshake ends.
“Are we calling you Tony now,” Clint asks, looking between his brother and his teacher with an odd expression.
“He is,” Tony says. “You aren’t.”
“Aw, come on.”
“Teacher,” Tony says, pointing to himself. He points to Clint. “Student. Who still hasn’t told me why he brought Steve instead of your parents.”
“Parent,” Clint corrects. He straightens in his chair to look Tony square in the eye- Steve’s always had to give it to the kid, he goes full hog in any and all of his lies. “Sarah has work she couldn’t get out of. Steve’s boss is less of a dick, so here he is.”
“Uh-huh,” Tony says, with a tone that makes it clear he doesn’t buy into it. Steve finds himself wondering just how many times Clint has tried to pull one over on him. “And she’d confirm this if I called her right now?”
Tony looked over at Steve, who averted his eyes until it was safe to look back at him. Steve was by no means a novice at lying, but he was nowhere near as good as his brother.
“Uh-huh,” Tony said again. “Okay. Well, that can’t be helped, I guess I’ll have to settle with your big brother. Just how much bigger is he, by the way? Age-wise?”
“Oh my god, are you actually doing this.”
“Shush,” Tony tells him, all without dropping Steve’s gaze. “Steve?”
“I’m 26,” Steve says. His throat clicks. “You’re, you’re young. For a teacher.”
Clint kicks his ankle. Steve kicks him back without breaking eye contact with Tony, who's beaming.
“I’m going to take that as a compliment. Last year was my first year out of teaching school.”
Clint kicks him again, this time hard enough to get Steve wincing. He turns to glare at him, only to be met with Clint’s incredulous gaze and mouthing of seriously?
“Right,” Steve says, mostly to himself. “So, uh, T- Mr. Stark. Why did you call this meeting, exactly? Has Clint done something?”
A laugh makes its way past Tony’s lips. No doubt he was aware of just how many times Clint had done something. “Not this time, no. I wanted to discuss possibilities on how to deal with Clint’s hearing issues, since they’re impairing his learning in the classroom.”
“Hearing-” Steve nearly asks Tony what the hell he was talking about before he sees Clint’s face, which answered his question.
Clint is staring straight ahead, eyes tight and expression too faux-casual. His eyes are trained on a poster above Mr. Stark’s head.
“Clint,” Steve says. He refrains from reaching out to touch Clint’s shoulder- it might be okay if they were alone, but not with someone else in the room. “You told us they went away. You said you were fine.”
Clint shrugs stiffly. “I am fine.”
“Obviously not, if your teacher noticed. How bad is it, really?”
“I said it’s fine, Steve. I’m handling it.”
“This isn’t something you can handle- Clint, just look at me.”
It takes a moment, but then Clint’s chin is jerking towards him. Everything about the gesture is defiant.
“How bad is it,” Steve tries again.
Clint’s jaw clicks from side to side. He mutters something, but it’s too low for Steve to hear.
“You’re deaf in one ear,” Steve hisses. “And you didn’t tell us? We could’ve-”
“Okay,” Clint says, with a laugh that doesn’t reach his eyes, “Do you know how much hearing aids cost? ‘Cause I do. And there’s no damn way we could’ve come up with that money, not now and definitely not earlier-”
“Ma always afforded it when it came to my health-”
“Yeah, and I didn’t want to-”
“-she’ll do the same for you!”
In front of them, Mr. Stark coughs into his fist. It makes the brothers jump- they had been getting caught up in the fight.
“There’s a program in this state to help families with financial issues afford hearing equipment,” he offers. “I have some pamphlets in my desk if you want them.”
Clint starts, “That’s not-”
Steve talks over him. “That’d be great, thanks.”
Mr. Stark nods and starts rummaging in his desk like he hadn’t just witnessed any of the past thirty seconds. He slides the pamphlets across the table and Steve picks them up with a tight smile.
He tucks them into his pocket and pretends not to notice how Clint is pointedly not looking at him.
Clint continues to ignore him for the whole subway ride home.
Steve doesn’t push. He waits until they’re climbing the stairs to Sarah and Clint’s apartment, so Clint can’t escape, then says, “I always felt guilty when she had to spend money on me, too. God knows how much all those hospital visits cost. She never told me because she knew how I felt about it. One time I tried calculating them all up and I had to stop because I felt sick from it.”
They have to pause to concentrate on clearing the tricky step.
Steve chances a look over at Clint. He’s still not looking at him, but his face is less scarily-blank.
“Which ear is it?”
Clint hesitates. Then he taps his left one.
“Okay,” Steve says.
As they’re wiping their shoes on the welcome mat, Clint asks, “Are you gonna tell Sarah?”
“Not if you want to tell her instead.”
Clint makes a face, cheek tugging sideways. “Ugh. You tell her.”
“Okay,” Steve says again. He catches Clint’s arm as he’s about to open the door. “Hey, uh. Do you think you’re going to need me to come into school sometime? Later? For anything?”
Clint’s eyes narrow for a second before his gaze goes knowing. “Really? I’m about to get yelled at so hard I’m probably going to go deaf in my other ear and you’re thinking about banging my Mechanics teacher?”
Clint snorts. “Yeah. Right. I promise to try to get in enough trouble in his class that he makes me drag you in again.”
Sarah ended up coming home at 11pm after a double-shift, and hence was too exhausted to do anything other than pointing a finger at Clint and saying, “We are talking about this tomorrow. In depth,” with enough tired authority to make Clint start fidgeting.
“Steve spent the whole time flirting with my teacher!”
Sarah squints over at Steve, who is sat next to Clint having a midnight snack of baked beans. “I’m sorry. You said Steve flirted with your teacher.”
“Steve,” Sarah repeats. She walks over to take Steve’s chin in her hand, tilting it towards Clint. “My eldest son. The man who once managed to stammer his way into one date his whole life and then cancelled at the last minute due to nerves. That Steve?”
“I’m too tired to process this,” Sarah declares.
“Yes, alien who has replaced my eldest son.”
“Could you let go of my face now?”
“Yeah,” she says, and does.
“Steve, holy shit, you have to come and get me.”
“What?” Steve takes on the same edge Clint has in his voice. The panic catches and stays: “Where are you? Are you okay?”
“Just come. Meet me at the office,” Clint says, and hangs up.
Steve curses into the dial tone and shoves his phone back into his pocket. He spares a look at the sandwich that was going to be his lunch, ignoring his growling stomach in favour of telling Sam to inform Peggy he has a personal emergency he has to take care of.
“Clint again,” Sam calls down the hall as Steve half-jogs down it.
Steve doesn’t bother with an answer- it’s always Clint.
He takes a look at the subway times and decides it’ll be faster if he just hoofed it. Then he takes a second to imagine Clint’s despairing face upon hearing Steve say ‘hoof it.’
If something happened to him, Steve thinks, and then doesn’t finish the sentence.
Steve arrives maybe five minutes before the subway would have dropped him off. He sprints to the office, heart pounding rhythms into his eardrums.
The office lady startles when she sees him. “Are you okay, sir?”
Steve holds his fingers up. “One minute,” he tells her, and then bends over to wheeze. It takes a good ten seconds for him to stop feeling like his heart is going to wrangle its way out of his chest. “Ahhhhhh.”
“Whoa, that was fast.”
Steve whirls around to see Clint, his face the picture of the realization he may have fucked up.
Next to him, Mr. Stark is blinking at Steve in open surprise.
“Hi,” Clint says. He rocks back and forth on his heels, hands in his pockets. “Ha, yeah, I didn’t think this one through as much as I should. So! I thought I owed Mr. Stark a thank you for getting me this brand-spanking hearing aid and I did not think you’d run all the way here I’m really sorry.”
He finishes the last part in a rush, the beginning of a wince on his face.
Steve straightens from where he had been bracing his hands on his knees to drag in breaths. “You got me to come all the way over here during work-”
Steve stares at him. His chest is still heaving. “I thought something happened to you!”
“I nearly got hit by a taxi! I ran seventeen blocks!”
“Really really sorry, Steve.”
“I just wanted to point out that I had no idea this was happening,” Mr. Stark says. “Clint lured me here under false pretences.”
You and me both, Steve tries to say. But seventeen blocks takes its toll on a man, so all that comes out is “Hrhhhhh.”
The full extent of what Clint said kicks in once the ache in his lungs recedes. “Wait, you’re rewarding T- Mr. Stark?”
“Yeeeep.” Clint grins in a way that hasn’t made any cops release him, but has made them slightly softer towards him. “Hey, figured you wouldn’t have any complaints.”
“I-” Steve’s mouth works wordlessly as he realizes the office lady is behind him and has heard the whole thing. He tries to put it out of his head. “You couldn’t have just given him my number?”
“You’re very awkward on the phone,” Clint reminds him. He sucks in a breath through his teeth. “Okay, so Mr. Stark’s got a couple hours until his next class! Go do something and never ever tell me about it.”
With that, Clint leaves. Steve watches him go, trying to catch his eye and communicate- in the way only siblings can do- how dead he’s going to be later.
Then the door swings shut behind Clint and Steve is left with nothing else to look at but Mr. Stark- Tony, he figures he should call him Tony at this point- who is looking much more amused than Steve feels.
“The nurse’s office is two doors down, if you need an inhaler.”
Steve barks a laugh. It’s hoarse. “Haven’t needed one in ten years, I’m not going to go back now.”
“Whatever you say,” Tony says. He pockets his hands. He’s wearing cufflinks. What kind of teacher wears cufflinks? “So, your brother’s a piece of work.”
“Yeah,” Steve says. He eyes the door Clint had walked out of. “My mother could never produce that demon spawn.”
It spurs a laugh out of Tony- it’s a light sound, in both meanings of the word. Steve finds himself wanting to paint the colours of it.
“Sorry you ran all the way here,” Tony says.
Steve groans. “It’s fine. I’ve been saying I needed to work out more for months.”
“Really?” Tony’s eyes flick down and then catch at the apex of Steve’s shoulders before moving over the bulge of Steve’s arms. “I’d say you’re good on that count.”
“Thanks,” Steve says, on reflex. He starts to cross his arms and then stops himself- it’d look like he was flexing to impress Tony. Which, okay, yes, he wants to do, but he’d prefer not to be overly obvious about it.
“Don’t mention it,” Tony says, waving a hand. “So, does your brother do this a lot? Give you to people as a thank you?”
“This would be the first time.”
“Do you have any objections about being given to me as a thank you?”
“Um,” Steve says. It reaches a pitch he’d rather have never come out of his mouth. “I’m- opposed to people being bartered in general, yes. If I get given to anyone, I want it to be me doing the giving.”
“That wasn’t an innuendo.”
“I believe you,” Tony says. His mouth ticks as he steps in closer, lowering his voice. “So, I was going to ask you to lunch.”
Steve makes himself focus on the words and not how he can feel Tony’s breath faintly on his neck. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Tony says. “But Ms. Golightly has been staring at us for the past several minutes and I’d rather not have an audience.”
“Right,” Steve says. He follows Tony out into the hall, glancing over at Ms. Golightly as he leaves- she gives him a sunny grin and a wave which he returns with about a third of the enthusiasm.
The hall is empty apart from a monitor. Tony waits until they’ve turned the corner before saying, “Do you want to go for lunch?”
“Jeez, this is so unexpected,” Steve says dryly. He takes perhaps more satisfaction than he should over Tony’s delighted laugh. “And, uh. I think I have to get back to work? But lunch would be great, some other time. Or dinner. Any meal is fine.”
There is no way I could’ve been more awkward on the phone, Steve thinks.
Thankfully, Tony seems to consider it cute, if his smile is anything to go by. “How’s dinner, then? Friday night?”
“Friday’s good,” Steve says.
“Great,” Tony says. His teeth are the kind of white that only celebrities have. “Could I have your number? In case another Clint-related emergency crops up and you can’t make it.”
“Oh, I’m not coming to another of his emergencies unless I have three people validating it first.” Steve sighed, tugging at the neck of his shirt. It’s soaked through with his sweat. “I’m gonna have to go back into work all sweaty.”
“Your poor co-workers,” Tony says, in a tone that makes it clear he means the opposite. “Well, I have a few hours free. I could give you a ride.”
Steve mentally shucks his return subway ride back into his Food Budget. “That’d be swell.”
Steve comes over to Clint and Ma’s apartment after work finishes purely to slap Clint in the back of the head.
“Seventeen blocks,” Steve says. He sits down and props his feet up on the coffee table with Clint’s. Both their feet quickly retract to the floor when Sarah walks in.
She’s in her scrubs, and is in the middle of tying her hair back when she spots Steve. “Hey! What’re you doing here?”
She goes over and bends to give him a kiss on the cheek and the obligatory hug, which he returns with gusto.
“I have to have a reason to see my favourite Ma?”
“Also, Clint pissed me off and I wanted to give him a piece of my mind.”
Sarah’s gaze goes to Clint, one eyebrow raised.
“I did you a favour!”
“He ended up doing me a favour,” Steve corrects. “He also tricked me into leaving work in the middle of the day and running seventeen blocks.”
“How the hell did he trick you into that?”
“I have ways,” Clint says. He elbows Steve in the ribs. “You should be thanking me.”
Steve pauses. “Thank you.”
Clint narrows his eyes at him before shoving him away, shuffling to the end of the couch. “Aw, you actually sleptwith him? I thought you were gonna go all morals and ask for a date first, at least-”
Steve says, “I didn’t sleep with him,” at the same time Sarah says, “Who did Steve sleep with!”
“I didn’t sleep with him,” Steve repeats as they both stare at him. “He drove me back to work. We talked.”
“Was it a good talk,” Clint says, miming a handjob.
Steve kicks him in the shin.
Sarah asks, “Is this that teacher man you mentioned last week? The one who got Clint a hearing aid?”
“’S a one,” Clint says. His hand goes up to toy absently at the hearing aid- it’s purple and quite a lot bigger than Steve expected. “Thought I’d thank him for it.”
It takes a second for it to click and then Sarah is choking on laughter. “So you gave him Steve? You can’t just-”
“Well, it worked! And Steve seems pretty happy about it, once he got over the whole running thing.”
It nearly turns into a kicking war until Sarah gives them both a glare that makes them sit up and put their feet on the ground.
“So,” she says to Steve. “What’s this teacher like? Other than his habit of teaching teenagers how to build flamethrowers.”
“He’s called Mr. Stark. Tony. He’s nice. And very smart. Handsome,” Steve says, narrowly avoiding kicking Clint when he fake-gags. “Uh, he’s charming. Sophisticated. Funny. I don’t know what he sees in me, really.”
“Oi.” Sarah swats him on the back of the head. “No trash-talking about my son, you hear me?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Steve grins at her and the grin he gets back is nearly identical. “We’re going on a date on Friday.”
Clint stops slouching. “Seriously?”
“Dude,” Clint says. He slaps Steve on the shoulder. “Finally. It had got to be getting embarrassing being 26 and never having gone on a-”
“Thank you,” Steve cuts him off. “Really, Clint, thanks, we had all forgotten about that. Thank you so much for bringing it up.”
“You’re welcome,” Clint says, and starts slouching again. He puts his feet up on the coffee table only to have Sarah push them off with her own.
“I know that you make a point not to do things I expressly forbid you from.”
“I expressly forbid you from using Steve’s relationship with your teacher to get good grades.”
Clint flops sideways onto the arm of the couch, moaning like he’s been shot.
“Such a drama queen. I don’t know where he gets it from,” Sarah says.
“Ma,” Steve says. He lowers his voice so Clint can’t hear them over his moaning. “Don’t jump the gun. It’s just a date.”
“And you don’t want to get your hopes up,” Sarah says. Whatever confirmation she needs, Steve assumes she sees it in his face. Her hand comes to stroke through his hair like she always used to do when he was sick as a kid.
“And I don’t want to get my hopes up,” Steve agrees.
Steve’s had a lot of low points- that time he broke his back and spent the entire summer watching TV in his room. Getting fired from his first job at 16 after pouring orange juice over a homophobe’s head. All those times his mother gave him a look after being called in about her eldest son getting in a fight.
Somehow, these all pale in comparison to getting first date advice from his ten-years-younger brother.
“You do realize a first date in your mid-twenties and a first date in your mid-teens is going to be entirely different, right,” Steve points out as Clint really gets going.
Clint snorts. “And how would you know? Anyway. Flowers.”
Steve isn’t sure if Clint is doing this to help or to fuck with him. He’s thinking 50/50.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
Steve tunes in again. He might’ve checked out when Clint started talking about condom myths. “We’re going to a restaurant.”
“No shit. Which one?”
“I don’t know, he picked it out.”
“So you might be going to a hella fancy restaurant and you’re showing up in a button-down and slacks? Maybe you’re going to a burger joint and he wants you to show up in jeans! Teachers get paid fuck-all, Steve!”
“You are not calming me down,” Steve hisses.
“Am I supposed to be calming you down? I’m preparing you, Steve. That’s so much better than calming you down.”
“I don’t need to be prepared! I need to be calm! I cancelled the only other date I might have had because I couldn’t stop freaking out!”
“You cancelled due to your self esteem issues,” Clint corrects him, rolling his eyes.
Steve bites down on you can goddamn talk when Clint emerges from Steve’s chest of drawers, holding two ties Steve had forgotten he owned.
“We don’t know if I need a tie, Clint.”
“I know,” Clint says. He shoves said ties in Steve’s hands. “Bring them with you in secret, just in case.”
“Two of them?”
“We don’t know which one suits you better, I’ve never seen you wearing a tie! Come here.”
Steve is busy wrestling Clint away from looping both ties around his neck and is using one of the ties to temporarily blind him when the doorbell rings.
Steve freezes in mid-action of stuffing the other tie into Clint’s mouth. It’s half an hour before Tony agreed on picking Steve up and Steve is still barefoot, his hair is a mess, they still haven’t decided if Steve’s current outfit is the one he’s wearing tonight-
“Unpucker,” Clint tells him, having spit out the tie while Steve was distracted. He pulls the other tie away from his eyes and starts towards the door. “I knew getting you ready for a date would be more than a one-man job, so I got a friend.”
Steve doesn’t have to ask who it is. “Hi, Natasha.”
“Steve,” she replies, walking in like she’s lived here her whole life. She takes it in with a quirk of her lips: the clothes strewn about the floor, Steve’s rumpled clothes and what Steve expects is his manic expression. “You look well.”
“How’s school,” Steve says, trying for polite as his brain runs a million miles an hour.
She hums. “Same as ever. Put on that tie.”
“It has my spit stains on it,” Clint says.
Natasha doesn’t ask. “Put on the other tie, then.”
Steve sighs, but does. This isn’t exactly how he’d been hoping to spend his time getting ready, but he supposes it’s better than working himself into a blind panic and cancelling on Tony ten minutes before their date.
Both Clint and Natasha tilt their heads at him, considering.
“You know nothing about clothes,” Steve tells Clint.
“Shut up, I’m helping.”
“Well, I’d prefer the other tie, but we can’t get Clint’s spit stains out of it before the date,” Natasha says, and comes to sit over on Steve’s tiny couch and looks over at Clint. “Why am I here again?”
“Because you owe me a favour.”
“And you cashed it in on getting your big brother ready for a date?”
“His first date.”
Natasha’s eyebrows raise. “That’s odd. Steve’s very attractive and from what I’ve seen, he’s unusually nice.”
“Thank… you,” Steve says. He’s unsure whether he should take that compliment from a high schooler without it being inappropriate.
Her gaze turns to him. “Don’t take it the wrong way. I was pointing out facts. Do you secretly have a shitty personality or something?”
Steve’s mouth flaps open and shut as he struggles to answer. “Not that I know of?”
“Huh,” she says. She crosses her legs and leans back. “Twirl.”
Steve frowns at her.
“Turn all the way around slowly so I can see your outfit in its entirety,” she explains.
“Oh,” Steve says, and does.
By the time the doorbell rings for a second time, Steve has been shooting nervous glances at the clock and pretending he isn’t for the last ten minutes.
Natasha and Clint look up from where they’d been squabbling over what their next Bio project is going to be.
“Do not tell Tony I had to get help from a couple of teenagers to get me ready for this,” Steve says.
“My lips are sealed,” Natasha says. She’s chewing on something Steve is pretty sure she snuck out of his cupboard at some point.
Clint makes a noise of agreement through his mouthful. He was less sneaky about taking things from Steve’s cupboard.
“Have fun with Mr. Stark,” Natasha adds.
“Ma says good luck,” Clint says, muffled through his food.
“Of course she does,” Steve sighs. “Go hide in the lounge.”
They whine about getting up, but go easily enough.
Steve makes his way to the door and definitely doesn’t stand there for several seconds psyching himself up to open it.
“Hi,” he says once he’s rushed his way through a mental pep talk and opened the door. His eyes quickly dart down Tony’s outfit in case he needs to yell at Clint later for getting him to put on the wrong outfit, but thankfully Tony seems to be dressed much like Steve is. He’s in dress slacks, a button down, a tie and a neat jacket, all of which are nicer than Steve’s, but that isn’t saying much. He’s also not holding flowers- is it bad he doesn’t have flowers?
“Hey,” Tony replies. He looks Steve up and down, but Steve doesn’t think it’s to check his outfit. “You look nice.”
“Thank you! You too.” Steve starts to continue to say- something horribly awkward, probably- but gets cut off by Clint yelling from the lounge.
“HAVE HIM BACK BY MIDNIGHT, MR. STARK.”
Steve has to close his eyes for patience. He turns his head to yell, “GO BACK TO MA’S, CLINT, DON’T YOU DARE STAY HERE UNTIL MIDNIGHT,” then turns back to Tony. “He came over and wouldn’t leave.”
Tony’s mouth is twitching like he’s holding back a laugh. “Hi, Clint,” he calls into the apartment.
There’s a pause, then: “REMEMBER WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT, SIR. ALSO NAT SAYS HI.”
“Oh, god,” Steve says.
Tony shrugs. “He might’ve cornered me yesterday after class.”
“He only told me good things, don’t worry,” Tony says, grinning. “Should we go?”
“Yes. Right now.”
“Good idea. Bye, Clint and Nat,” Tony calls. “See you two on Monday.”
“SEE YOU AT MIDNIGHT, YOU MEAN-”
Steve yells, “GO HOME, CLINT,” and closes the door behind him.
Tony is still laughing when they get down to the street.
“Sorry,” he says, shoulders still shaking with it. He wipes at his eyes. “I just- every interaction with your family has been an event.”
Steve sighs. “Please tell me my Ma hasn’t ambushed you.”
“Is she the ambushing type?”
“I like to think she has the sense not to be.”
“So should I be expecting a woman to be hiding in the corner of our restaurant watching us from behind her menu?”
Steve smiled despite himself. Tony’s laughter had been enough to lift his spirits as they made their way into the street, and his teasing is enough for Steve to shake off most of his embarrassment. “I should hope not. She’d have to ditch work to do it, and she once worked a 48 hour shift with a raging fever. The only time she ever took time off was when she got called into school. And Christmas, she always takes Christmas off.”
“Yeah? Does Clint get her called away a lot?”
Steve laughs as they come up to Tony’s car. “Thanks,” he says when Tony opens the door for him. Once they’re both sitting in the car, he continues, “Ah, not so much lately. She used to get a lot of calls about me, though.”
“What trouble could you have possibly gotten into?”
“I got into a lot of fights,” Steve admits after a second.
Tony looks over at him before he starts to pull out of his parking spot. How the hell he managed to get a vacant spot in Brooklyn close to where he needed to go is beyond Steve. “Clint didn’t mention this in his run-down of you.”
“Christ,” Steve groans, bringing a hand up to push it through his hair. “What did that little shit say about me?”
“Only good things,” Tony repeats, a delighted grin growing on his face. “I have to say, your family sure is something.”
There’s a wistful note in Tony’s voice when he says it, and Steve looks over to see Tony’s eyes have gone soft.
“Something sounds about right,” Steve says, less gusto in it than he might’ve put in if he hadn’t noticed the change in Tony. “Do you have any siblings?”
Tony flashes his teeth at him, but the soft look hasn’t fully faded yet. “Oh, no. I’m an only child, can’t you tell? Hey, speaking of siblings, how’s Clint doing with his hearing aid?”
“He says he can hear atoms,” Steve says, all too gratified when Tony laughs. “I can’t believe he kept it from us this long. Looking back, it was obvious, but I always chalked it up to him not paying attention. I should’ve looked closer.”
He twists his fingers together in his lap. Should he have brought that up? It sounds too- heavy for a first date, maybe.
“You didn’t know what signs to look for,” Tony tells him. “Hell, I only knew what to watch out for because they went over it in one of my courses. Almost missed it, too. Clint was very stubborn about hiding it.”
Steve winces. “Yeah,” he says, casting his gaze out the window. They aren’t going too fast, what with all the taxis clogging up the streets, so nothing is blurring. “I’d say he got that from me, but the kid was stubborn as shit when we met him.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Tony says. His hands flex on the steering wheel. “You and your mother were looking for an addition to the family, then?”
“God, no. We were barely scraping by as it was, let alone considering bringing someone else into all of it. Ma found Clint hiding on the top shelf of a hospital supply closet ten years ago and everything kind of snowballed. It’s- a messy story,” Steve says, and hopes Tony doesn’t pry further. That definitely isn’t first-date conversation, even if Steve glosses over the dark bits.
Tony nods. “Got it,” he says.
Steve leans back into the seat in relief. “Yeah. So, uh, where are we headed?” He twists to look out the window again to try to spot any familiar places.
“Heard of Lizmo?”
“Glamorized steak joint. Is that okay?”
Steve tallies last week’s paycheck and attempts to remember how much he’s going to have left over after paying bills. “Sounds good.”
Tony looks relieved. “I thought about taking you to a gallery opening, but Clint said that was more of a second date thing. Said you’d feel too self-conscious to geek out over the art until you were sure I wouldn’t judge you about it.”
Steve stares at him. “When I see my little brother next, he is getting the noogie of a lifetime.”
The steak joint is a little more than Steve can afford, but he thinks he can splurge just this once. It’s probably the first time he’s gone out since Sam dragged him out for drinks last month.
Steve wants to ask just what the hell else Clint told Tony about him- like the fact that this is Steve’s first date, for one- but he bites it back. Instead, he asks, “So what made you want to become a teacher?”
Tony pauses in chewing the complimentary breadsticks. He swallows his mouthful and says, “Kids are people with all the bullshit taken out. Teenagers less so, but still.”
“You prefer teaching teenagers?”
“They’re better at keeping up with me,” Tony says. He bites into another breadstick. “So! Clint told me you’re busy with a lot of art commissions at your work lately.”
“I am,” Steve says, and then gives in. “What else did Clint tell you?”
Tony spins a half-eaten breadstick around in his hand like a drumstick. It makes Steve wonder if Tony is musical, and he makes a note to ask that next.
“He said you were the best guy he’s ever met,” Tony starts, “and that he wasn’t just saying that because you were brothers. He said you were an artist, that you would start ranting about baseball if someone mentioned it, and that you would’ve joined the army at 18 if your family hadn’t talked you out of it. Uh, he said your cock is porn-star material.”
Steve mutters, “Jesus fuck,” under his breath.
“I didn’t ask how he knew that, but I assume siblings walk in on things,” Tony continues, grinning a little at Steve’s reaction. “He said I might need to be overly obvious about liking you, since you need to be hit over the head with it to get it sometimes. I think that was it.”
“Okay,” Steve sighs. “Could’ve been worse.”
“I could tell you some more things about me, to even the playing field.”
Steve gestures for him to continue. “Go ahead.”
“Right,” Tony says. He clears his throat. “Okay! So I’m 25, I grew up in Malibu and moved to New York when I was 17 after getting disowned. I can speak… 8? Nine languages, most of them fluently. Once or twice a month I get really intense tunnel vision when I’m working on things and my friend has to come over and drag me into work, because I’ll forget I even have it. Sometimes I forget to eat for a few days, that problem’s mostly gone away since I started teaching since lunch is scheduled. Very helpful.”
Steve takes a moment to process all of it. Suddenly asking if Tony is musical isn’t even on his list of questions.
“Uh,” he says.
“Yeah,” Tony says, and grimaces. “It’s- yeah. Uh, you don’t know who I am, do you?”
“You’re Tony Stark.”
“That I am,” Tony says. He’s picked his breadstick to shreds as he talked, so now it all lies in white fluff on the tablecloth. “Of Stark Industries.”
“Stark In-” Steve’s mouth closes as the name registers. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Tony says. “Oh.”
Steve has vague memories of watching a documentary on Tony’s father’s success story- there had been a boy in there, hadn’t there, a kid at the time of filming who smiled shyly at the camera under a mop of neat black hair.
He doesn’t say that. What he does say is, “I think I jerked off to a photoshoot of you when you were a teenager.”
Tony blinks. Then he bursts out laughing, loud enough that the table next to them looks over.
“Oh, god,” Steve says. “Shit. I didn’t- that was really inappropriate- I was a teenager when I did it, I don’t-” he lowers his voice, “masturbate to teenagers’ photoshoots.”
Tony’s laughter is punctured with hiccups until it finally subsides into a silent laughing fit.
Steve sits there stiffly until Tony’s shoulders stop shaking.
“Fuck,” Tony says, wiping his eyes. “I haven’t laughed like that in years.”
“I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Steve mutters.
“No, no, it was great,” Tony says. A small giggle works its way out of him. “Best reaction I could’ve hoped for. You’re a godsend.”
Steve doesn’t know quite how to respond to that, so he doesn’t.
“I take it you didn’t follow my dramatic disowning when it happened,” Tony says.
“I think I was in university at the time. I was probably too busy doing homework.”
“That’s too bad. If they followed it, that means I don’t have to explain it,” Tony says, a dark twist to his mouth.
Steve shrugs. “Even if I did, I bet the media got it more wrong than they did right.”
“You got that right,” Tony says with a sigh.
A waiter comes up, smiling politely and holding a notepad. “Are you two gentlemen ready to order?”
There’s a pause as Steve and Tony realize they haven’t even opened their menus.
The waiter reads the look that gets exchanged correctly and clicks his pen. “Right! I’ll just come back later then. Wave if you need anything.”
Steve says, “We will, thank you,” at the same time Tony says, “Thanks, got it.”
There’s a brief interlude where they discuss the menu- mostly steak, Steve didn’t know what else he was expecting- until the waiter comes back and takes their orders.
“Did I drop all that on you too fast,” Tony asks as the waiter ducks into the kitchen.
“All of what?”
“The disowning thing.”
“I don’t think so,” Steve says. “Do you usually wait until after the first date to mention it?”
Tony makes a noise into his hand. He’s resting his elbow on the table and his chin in his palm. “You know, I don’t tend to go on many dates? I sleep with people, sure, ‘cause of the whole semi-famous thing, and, well-”
He waves a hand over his face and Steve can’t hold back a grin.
“True,” he says.
“Yeah,” Tony says. He rests his chin in his hand again. “But other than falling in and out of people’s beds, I think this is the first date I’ve gone on in a few years.”
Steve can’t think of any way to answer that apart from but you’re stunning. “The people of New York are missing out, then,” he says instead.
Tony says, “Thank you,” ducking his head. If Steve didn’t know any better, he’d say Tony was blushing. But he doubts someone who falls into as many beds as Tony does would blush at the random compliments Steve dredges up.
Tony’s throat clicks. “What about you? Do you date a lot?”
Either Clint didn’t tell him or Tony’s letting Steve admit it himself. Which is… nice?
“Not a lot, no,” Steve says, deciding evasion is the best tactic. As an excuse to avert his eyes, he picks up a breadstick and starts chewing at it. “I usually wait until my little brother wants to thank someone and then step up as an offering.”
Tony laughs, pleased. “I have to say, it’s a change, getting set up by my student.”
“Can’t be as weird as getting set up by your little brother with his teacher. Oh, not weird- well, it was weird at the time. It’s not weird now.”
“It’s not weird now,” Tony agrees.
Their food arrives and Steve is saved from fumbling his way through another sentence. The steak is good, bloody and tender, none of the tough texture Steve always gets when he treats himself at the supermarket.
They’ve lapsed back into comfortable conversation as they eat when Steve’s phone buzzes in his pocket.
He ignores it until it starts to ring.
“Sorry,” he says.
“It’s fine,” Tony says. “Check it, someone could need you.”
“He’d better not,” Steve says, but checks his phone. “It’s my Ma.”
He looks over at Tony in a silent question, to which Tony says, “Answer, it’s fine,” with a smile that Steve hopes like hell isn’t fake.
“Sorry,” Steve repeats, and clicks ‘answer.’ “Hello?”
“Hi, Stevie,” Sarah says. She sounds exhausted, but this isn’t new. She’s sounded exhausted for 80% of Steve’s life. “Just found out I’m working a double shift, could you make sure Clint eats dinner? You know how he gets, and he isn’t answering his phone.”
“Sure, I’ll check up on him.”
“Thanks, love.” She sighs into the phone.
“I’m fine,” she says, like always. “How’re you? You aren’t still at work, are you? The hours they make you work-”
“Hey, you can talk,” Steve says. “And no, I’m not at work. I’m, uh. Out.”
“You’re out,” Sarah repeats, the confusion clear in her voice. “Well, that’s great. Where are you- oh, shit. Friday.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, Ma.”
“I’ll let you get back to your date. How’s it going so far? No, wait, tell me later, go get back to it.”
“It’s going good,” Steve says.
Tony perks up, raising his eyebrows at him in question. Steve avoids his gaze, smiling.
“Is it? That’s so great, Steve! Okay, I’ll stop bothering you now. Love you.”
“You too, Ma.”
He hangs up, meeting Tony’s bright eyes after he puts his phone back in his pocket. “Sorry. What were we talking about?”
“Flamethrowers,” Tony says. “What was going good?”
“You told your mother something was going well,” Tony says, his eyes warm.
Steve cuts off another piece of steak and tries not to let his smile get too loose. “Oh, that was completely unrelated.”
“So unrelated to this date,” Steve nods. It’s hard to chew with a grin, but he thinks he manages it.
They’re walking to Tony’s car when Tony stops.
“Hey, quick question.”
“How would you feel about going to that gallery opening after all?”
Steve glances at his watch. “Would it still be open?”
“Should be. Anywhere else to be, Rogers?”
Tony holds out the hand that isn’t in his pocket and Steve valiantly pretends he isn’t getting butterflies. He’s a grown man, for god’s sake, and it’s just handholding.
Still, something warm zings down his spine as he slips his hand into Tony’s. “A gallery opening, apparently.”
Tony smiles, looking absurdly pleased. “Glad to hear it. It’s only two blocks, I thought we could walk.”
“So good,” Tony agrees. His thumb rubs at Steve’s as they walk. “Feel free to geek out, by the way. I promise not to judge you.”
Steve sighs. “Clint Barton-Rogers is living his last night on earth.”
Steve’s been to gallery openings before, thanks to a few friends in the business, but he’s never had more fun at one. He supposes he has Tony to blame for it- the art is about as captivating as Tony is, Steve is shocked to find.
He feels like he does sometimes after a night out with friends, a few drinks in and walking through a lit-up New York to their next destination: that the world is full of endless possibilities, that the skyline shot through with diamonds is solely for him to see, that there are millions of masterpieces Steve has yet to see and he can’t wait to see them all.
“Well, there goes my idea for our second date,” Tony says as they’re leaving. “What the hell are we going to do for it now?”
Steve’s mind vibrates with Tony wants a second date, loud enough that he lets himself say, “I don’t much care, I just want to spend time with you.”
This time, Steve is sure of Tony’s blush. He ducks his head and grins, asks, “Yeah?” almost shyly.
Steve remembers that little boy in the documentary who showed the camera a robot he had made. “Yeah,” he says.