“I told Tony you’d meet him at the coffee cart in ten minutes.”
Steve stared at Janet in dismay. “Why would you tell him something like that?”
Janet was staring at her phone again – Steve would never get over what a phone nowadays could do – and she flipped her hair without looking up at him. “Because you’ve talked to almost everyone here at least once, except him? Tony’s sensitive, though you can’t tell him I told you that.”
“But I just… hadn’t gotten the time,” Steve said, a little plaintively. He hadn’t exactly been the most social person before he’d gotten frozen, had always been a little of an outcast at his school, and he’d only just got here, got unfrozen, and was surrounded by people who were drastically different than he expected.
Janet heaved a sigh and looked up at him from where she was sitting relaxed in front of the dormitory. “Look, Steve, you want to win class presidency, right?
“Well… yeah,” Steve began.
“So, the best person here to make things happen is Tony. Go talk to him and tell him what you’re planning.”
Her eyes were glued to the small screen again, and she was tapping away. He knew that Jan planned the parties and outings and other social events, but he rarely joined in. He kept to himself, went to Club A every once in a while to dance by himself, imagining his old classmates and friends around him, and trained religiously, day after day. He had casual knowledge of all the students in his class, but she knew everyone, and managed everyone alongside Pepper.
She had seemed like a good friend, he reminded himself. It couldn’t be too bad, what she was telling him to do, right?
He didn’t really know why it bothered him to be around Tony.
(He did know, he just didn’t want to admit it to anyone, least of all himself.)
But he wasn’t going to be rude and stand the guy up – that would just make more trouble than Steve wanted. And, hell, if he could fight Hydra back in the day, he could talk to one of his peers, right? It shouldn’t scare him this much. He could – he could talk about the class presidency thing. That was a safe topic. And maybe he could get Tony to stop being so irreverent to authority – certainly Nick Fury always seemed waaaay more upset after talking to Tony than when he talked to anyone else.
He stopped at the coffee cart and swallowed. Tony was there, getting a cup of coffee, and he looked… tired. Building a robot army could do that, he supposed, and it surprised him that he really hoped Tony was actually getting rest.
Tony turned, the coffee cup in his hand, and he paused when he saw Steve. Discomfort and something that Steve would almost call hurt crossed Tony’s face before that red jacket tightened over defensive shoulders. “Jan said you wanted to meet me,” he said, and his voice was a little too offensive, a little too cutting.
Steve instinctively felt his back getting up, his shoulders tightening in response. “I just – wanted to say hello.”
Tony let out a bark of laughter, and Steve flushed, but before he could say anything, Tony spread his hands expressively. “Well, hello to you too. You talked to Enchantress a hell of a lot more than me, and we’re not even sure if she likes humans, but hell, at least I got a hello from you, right?”
“What do you want me to say?” Steve asked.
Tony shook his head and walked towards Stark Tower.
Steve watched Tony walk away and cleared his throat. He should just – he should just leave Tony be. There didn’t need to be anything more. He said hello, he made Janet happy, and he could go punch the reinforced punching bag and just… forget the whole awkward conversation.
That was the easy way out, and since when had he taken the easy way out?
He jogged after Tony and caught up to him as he was walking into the downstairs floor of the Tower. There were many computers, little moving robot arms, and flashing lights, and Steve was momentarily enraptured by the entire layout. When he refocused on Tony, Tony was standing there with his arms folded, an eyebrow quirked up.
“I don’t – I’m not good at making friends,” Steve said in a rush, then colored darkly. That had not been exactly what he intended to say; he had meant to say something about how he wanted to be friends, about how he admired Tony’s dedication… something other than how awkward he felt here.
Tony tapped a finger against his arm and then shrugged. “I’m not either. I always put my foot in my mouth, whenever I talk to any girl. Some guys, too.”
“I would like to get to know you better,” Steve said, and that was genuine, true. He wanted that, almost desperately, and that was what he hated the most – how much he wanted this, how much he wanted to be around Tony. It scared him, sometimes, and worried him others.
Slowly, Tony nodded. “I built that big beach for a reason, you know. I was thinking of just hanging out there tonight under the stars, unwind, you know. You wanna come with?”
That sounds like a date, Steve almost said, but he stopped himself, because… he wanted to, very much. “That sounds – great.”
“Good. I’ve got three hours of chatting with JARVIS, figuring out where the bugs are in the new building’s coding, and then Dr. Pym’s got me in the physics lab for two hours. Around nine?”
“Of course!” Steve said.
“I can’t do it, Jan. I can’t go.”
“It’ll look worse if you don’t show,” she said pointedly, blasting the target backwards before turning to him and putting her hands on her hips. “What is going on with you? You’ve been cagey about Tony for a long while, you know. This isn’t the first time.”
Steve hesitated. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you tell him he’s a great guy when you have to interact with him, but half the time you walk past him without ever smiling or acknowledging him and it’s really noticeable since you smile at everyone else.”
Steve’s shoulders fell, and he hung his head. “I… what do you know about where they found me?”
“I know we found your shield in the time fog. That Pepper said only good things about you, and that’s pretty much impossible to get her to do for any of us since she deals with chronic headaches because of all of us. I know you have a deep fascination for really retro stuff.” Jan jumped up into the air and twirled, blasts coming out of her stingers, sending the target to the back again before landing lightly on her feet. “You haven’t exactly been chatty about anything beyond training. Which – we get it, it’s a great idea to be physically fit, but even Mr. Ares has nothing to critique you on. He’s the literal god of war.”
Steve blew out a frustrated breath and folded his arms, his shield pulling uncomfortably tight against his back. “I didn’t make this shield, you know. It got taken from me, and I love it dearly, but I didn’t make it.”
“It does look pretty high tech,” Janet conceded. “It also hasn’t gotten scratched once, and with the amount of robots you demolish at the dojo? Yeah, that’s pretty amazing.”
“I was frozen for… a long while. I didn’t expect to wake up. And I went to school with the kid – the man – who made this shield for me,” Steve said in a rush, determined to get it all out.
Janet flipped her hair and put her hands on her hips. “You’re being mysterious and very unclear, and I hate both of those things.”
“Geeze, alright, I – I got this shield from Howard Stark. From – from Tony’s dad.”
Janet seemed to freeze, eyes wide and shocked. “Seriously?”
With a tight swallow – Mr. Fury had been very clear not to tell anyone about how old he really was – Steve nodded.
“Well, then you really ought to be talking to Tony. I know he misses his parents badly. You could talk about that,” she said, and returned to blasting away.
The answer from her was strange and unexpected enough that it took Steve a moment to process it before tapping Janet’s ankle.
“Go make nice with Tony,” she sighed. “Stop bugging me.”
“It’ll be weird to talk to someone about their own dad, you know. I can’t just start talking about him,” he complained, voice suspiciously close to a whine.
Landing on her feet again, Janet whirled to him and put her hands on his shoulders, reaching up to do so, and gave his shoulders a little shake. “Look. You need to just deal, okay? You can do it. I’m rooting for you.”
Steve furrowed his brow at her, but she returned to her training, and with a sigh, Steve decided to go punch the punching bag a while and get his nerves out that way.
Because it was true, he had known Howard Stark – a skinny kid in threadbare clothes with big ideas, a fast-talking, bright-eyed teenager who had taken a rare metal offered by a visiting prince and fashioned it into something Steve could use to protect others. Sometimes, when he was tired or when Tony tilted his head in just the right way, he could see Howard inside Tony, see the stamp that genetics left on Howard’s descendant. Other times…
See, it was those other times.
Times where the sun glowed in Tony’s slightly darker skin, times when Tony did something brilliant and all Steve could do was stare. Times that Steve kept to himself because Tony couldn’t possibly want to – to have that with Steve. Steve had watched Tony try – and strike out – with almost every girl on campus.
He wouldn’t really want Steve.
But, then again, it was Tony who was inviting him to that beach…
He shook his head and his next punch was much harder than normal, trying to drive his thoughts out of his mind. He could do this. He’d be fine.
Nine o’clock was awfully dark, and Steve was deeply glad for that fact when he realized that Tony was wearing nothing but his iron shoes, one iron glove, and a pair of boxers that hugged the tight curves of Tony’s ass. The darkness – even with the lit paths and soft lamps around the pool – hid Steve’s deep blush and he coughed as Tony stretched, arms above his head.
“I gotta be honest, Cap – I didn’t think you’d show. Aren’t you normally curled up in the dorm by now, dreaming patriotic dreams?”
He certainly got his cutting tongue from Howard.
But then Tony turned back to Steve, eyes dancing, and that – that right there was already different than Howard and Howard’s inability to soften any of his blows, pull any of his punches. Tony tried to joke with you, even when he was saying things you’d rather he not say; Tony laughed and giggled and boasted, but his humor was always attempting to include instead of exclude.
“I don’t normally go to sleep this early,” Steve said, reaching for the middle ground.
“Yeah? You never come to any of the parties I throw. Hell, I don’t even remember you at parties Janet threw. You seem pretty determined to stay away from us.”
Steve hunched his shoulders. “I’m not trying to stay away… I just know there are more important things. There are big dangers in this world, especially with Red Skull walking around, and until we find proof of their wrongdoings, they’re loose in the world to create more havoc.”
Tony dropped his chin onto his hands, his elbows braced on his knees as he sat down on the beach chair. The light behind him turned his skin a warm gold, edged his hair in light, and Steve’s eyes were good enough to pick out the concern and even worry in Tony’s eyes when Tony said, “I know you’re trying to keep us safe, Cap, but all work and no play makes Cap a dull boy. Not just dull – a tired boy. What do you have to fight for, if you won’t let yourself have anything?”
For a few moments, there was nothing but silence, and then in almost an instant, Tony seemed to become very upset and antsy, because he was up and striding towards the water.
“Tony – the electronics, they don’t go with—”
Tony let out a whoop and dove into the pool, creating a huge splash. Sam, on his way over to the dorms from his late session with Dr. Pym, paused and raised an eyebrow at Tony before turning that look on Steve.
Steve squirmed underneath it but didn’t do anything else.
Flashing Steve a brief thumbs-up, Sam continued walking, and that was about the time Tony resurfaced from the pool like a dolphin, hair dripping wet. “You coming in, Steve?” he asked.
With a small shake of his head, Steve moved to sit cross-legged near the edge of the pool but not in any danger of falling in. “I don’t have swimming clothes,” he said.
“Is that all? Ask Jan; she’ll make some for you, pro bono,” Tony replied, then kicked off and began swimming laps.
Steve watched him circle the pool a while, letting sand trickle through his fingers and watching the light of the weak moon struggle to break past the fluorescent lights that illuminated the campus and the city beyond. The minutes ticked by, and it didn’t seem like there was anything Tony wanted to say. Steve thought it was going well.
On a return circuit, Tony stopped at the pool’s edge and braced his forearms on the edge of the pool, meeting Steve’s gaze steadily. “You don’t like me very much, do you?”
“That’s not it,” Steve sighed. “I don’t… I don’t fit in here, Tony. And you very much do fit in.”
“That’s an easy fix, though—” Tony began.
But Steve shook his head. “No, this isn’t an easy fix, Tony. I don’t fit in. You can’t tell me that that’s not true.”
Heaving a sigh, Tony ran a hand through his wet hair, making it spike up in an even more unruly manner. “Okay, say you are. Say you’re so different from us that you can’t fit in. Have you even tried? You use the computer at the Archives? Do anything to try and fit in? It’s a two-way street, you realize. You have to want to fit in and then try. You’re always punching away at that punching bag, or holing up in the dojo. Even Loki takes breaks from being a complete dick to be just a little bit of a dick. You know?”
Steve grunted and hunched forward, dropping his gaze from Tony. Tony’s words… they hit hard. Beyond Jan and Sam, and maybe Jessica, he didn’t really try to open up to the other classmates here. He wanted so badly to remember the past – the past, that wiped from his mind with each time he went to sleep, that seemed more washed out and faded every day.
Steve took in a shuddering breath.
“Hey, Cap. Steve. Hey.”
A wet hand curled around his wrist, and Steve looked up to see Tony’s brown eyes staring at him, deeply worried. Tony was wet, water dripping down his body, and the sand was sticking to his skin, and the cold metal of Tony’s gauntlet was reassuring and grounding.
“Hey, Cap. I’m sorry. I know it’s – it’s hard to deal with things that, that happened in the past. But I just – I want you to be okay, you know? Even if – I know Jan forced you, okay, I know you’re here because Jan told you that you should come, but you don’t have to. I just want you to be good here, yeah?”
Before he could really think about it, Steve practically lunged forward, mouth crushing against Tony’s mouth, the most awkward kiss he ever had his entire life.
Tony fell back on his ass, eyes wide and round.
“Sorry,” Steve said, humiliated. “T – Tony, I’m – sorry. I didn’t mean—”
Tony’s skin was rough with sand sticking to the dampness, and he was beginning to shiver in the cold air, but he leaned into Steve’s space, callused fingers cupping around Steve’s jaw. “You wanna, you wanna try that again?” he breathed.
Steve bit his lip and nodded.
Slowly, as if scared Steve was going to pull away, Tony leaned forward and brought their lips together. It wasn’t entirely chaste, not at all – the minute Steve opened his mouth to Tony, Tony’s tongue dove in. It was heat and warmth and everything Steve hoped for, and he fell back, Tony pressing down on top of him.
Steve had no ability to tell the time, to say how long he kept his arms around Tony’s waist, how long Tony pressed over his chest and thighs, how long he breathed Tony’s air and Tony breathed his, but finally Tony pulled back, gasping for breath, the arc reactor lighting up the space between them. Tony was still dripping wet – and Steve’s shirt and pants were now wet as well, sandy, a bit uncomfortable, even. Those bright brown eyes shone in the gentle blue light, and Tony’s cheeks were flushed.
“If that’s what my beach gets me,” Tony breathed, a smirk hovering around the corner of his lips, “what does my hot tub get me?”
Steve shoved Tony back into the pool.
(Steve loved the hot tub.)