Steve has to rescue the newspaper from the trashcan and dust off coffee grounds and some food scraps, before he can read the unflattering Letter to the Editor about himself. Bucky must have thrown it away before he left to catch the team bus. Steve really can’t blame him. Buck has always been protective. Overly protective. And in some ways this most recent batch of hateful press has been harder on Bucky than it has on Steve.
At least Steve isn’t taking it quite so personally.
What he has taken quite personally is his temporary suspension from the team. Yes, he probably deserves it for punching Rumlow off the ice. But other people have done that before and gotten punished with less. No. This isn’t about Steve’s momentary temper flare. This is because the coaches think he’s a distraction.
And in the second half of the season, the team can’t afford that. Maybe if the NHL was still around. Things were more lenient then. But that’s not the case with the World Hockey League. The WHL system is brutal and a screw up mid-season can have a ripple effect all the way to the end. The Brooklyn Stars can’t afford even the tiniest slip in concentration.
And that’s what Steve is to them. An embarrassment. A mess. An error.
Steve leans back against the wall and tries not to think about it. It’s easier not to.
He glances back down at the paper.
Reading about himself is mistake. He thought he could handle this one. Sam had texted and said it wasn’t that bad. He was wrong.
Steve throws the newspaper back in the trash and goes to the sink to wash his hands. A look at the clock tells him he has a half an hour before he needs to leave for the Hockey for the Heart event. He should probably shower, shave and get dressed.
There’s really not much he wants to do less, but if he wants to prove to the coaches that he’s got his shit together, that’s what this is going to take.
Go to the event. Get through the night without incident. Move on.
He can do this.
“Fuck, fucking, shit, balls, asswipe!” Tony shouts down the stairs.
“Tell me how you really feel!” Rhodey calls up.
“I don’t think you want to hear it,” Tony yells back.
“It’s two hours,” Rhodey says.
Tony can hear him walking slowly up the stairs. He resists the urge to throw anything in Rhodey’s general direction.
“I don’t need a nanny to get me ready and out of the house,” Tony insists. “Dad can go fuck himself.”
“Don’t think of me as the nanny,” Rhodey says. “Think of me as the dude who shows up, makes sure you’ve showered, puts you in a suit, and gives you a shove toward a car.”
He comes around the corner and Tony glares at him from where he’s sitting on the floor.
“That makes you sound like a date,” Tony sulks. “I don’t want to date you. That’s incest.”
Rhodey laughs. “Not incest. I thank God every single day that we aren’t related. Come on. Get up. You’ve got to go to this thing. You’ve got to show the world that last week was a blip on the road to recovery. You’ve been sober for more than a year, Tones. One slip up doesn’t have to ruin everything you’ve worked for.”
“Correction. I’ve been sober for… 6 days,” Tony says. “It was a year before that. And I’m not going.”
“It’s Hockey for the Heart. How bad can it be?”
“I want to stay home and watch the game.”
Tony’s team-- the Manhattan Rampage-- is only one win away from first in their division. And even if they’re going to get there without Tony, he still wants to watch.
“Don’t do this to yourself,” Rhodey says. “What good is it going to do watching your team play without you?”
Tony shrugs. “It’s better than some stupid fundraiser where some asshole reporter is going to ask me about my new DWI.”
“Your dad will be there. And Obadiah. They’ll keep the press away.”
“Even better,” Tony says, feeling more unimpressed by the second. “Can’t you come?”
“It’s for the rich and famous only,” Rhodey says. “And I’m neither of those things.”
“Then come as my date. A bro date,” Tony says.
“M’not your date, bro. And I’ve got Jenny for the weekend. I’m picking her up as soon as I get you out the door.”
It’s the one excuse Tony can’t argue with. Rhodey doesn’t get to see his daughter enough as it. He really isn’t going to try and get in the way of that.
“Fine,” Tony says. “I’m moving. Look.”
Tony takes a step toward his bathroom.
“That’s better,” Rhodey says. “And tomorrow, Jenny and I will come by after breakfast. She’s been begging to skate. You could join us?”
Tony shrugs again. His whole life is a big damn shrug at this point.
“Fine,” he says. “At least Jenny’s not a dick like the rest of you.”
“I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear that,” Rhodey says.
Tony gets to his bedroom and turns back to his friend. “I’ll go. You don’t have to stay to watch me out the door.”
“We’ll see you tomorrow. Be good tonight.”
“I’m always good,” Tony says.
“Yeah. And I’m the damn pope.”
Tony waves him off, then closes his bedroom door behind himself so Rhodey will just leave already.
There’s really not much he wants to do less, but if he’s going to prove to the world that he’s got his shit together, this is what it’s going to take.
Go to the event. Get through the night without incident. Move on.
He can do this.
He’s just not sure he wants to.
Steve’s not expecting to see anyone he recognizes. Especially not any fellow hockey players. Considering it’s Tony Stark, the presence of another pro doesn’t really bring Steve any comfort.
When Stevewas outed in the press, his own team had been great. Supportive. Protective. Most of them had already known, so it wasn’t a surprise.
The opposing teams were a different story. Steve’s not even convinced they’re homophobic so much as they were looking for a way to get him off his game and as much as he hates to admit it, it had worked.
He hadn’t played Tony’s team in those two weeks between the news breaking and Steve’s suspension from his team, but Tony has a reputation for being an asshole. best case scenario is that they manage to ignore each other all night. He’s really not in the mood to take any shit from anyone and after punching Rumlow, Steve isn’t going to make it back on the team this season if he gets into it with Stark.
Thankfully, Tony seems to have the same plan.
It’s almost like they’ve choreographed this, seeing how well they avoid each other.
When Steve’s at the buffet, Tony’s getting a refill of what is hopefully water. (Steve might not like the guy, but he’d also been sad to hear about the drinking relapse.) When Tony’s at the buffet, Steve makes sure he’s somewhere else.
The food is pretty good, so buffet trips are plentiful. They still manage never to get within 10 feet of each other. At least until they are straight-up wrangled by a bossy old woman that barely comes up to Steve’s chest into getting a picture together with her. She grabs Steve by the hand and drags him over to Tony’s side.
“My grandchildren are all big hockey fans. I don’t know that you two are the best role models, but they’d still want to see this.”
Steve flinches slightly at the comment because up until two weeks ago his nickname had been Captain America because he was so damn wholesome, and now he’s outed as gay and he punches one guy and--
“No, you know what?” Tony asks, taking a step away from the woman. “I’m not going to be in your picture, because you’re right. I’m a shitty role model. If I had kids I’d hope they weren’t anything like me. But Rogers, here? He’s a good man. And I’m not sure what crawled up everyone’s collective asses and died but--”
“Mr. Stark, it’s fine,” Steve says gently.
Partly because the old woman looks about ready to fall over from shock and partly because Steve’s just not sure what to make of the heartfelt defense.
“It’s not fine,” Tony disagrees. “Just because she’s ancient doesn’t mean she gets to be rude.”
The woman huffs indignantly and stomps away.
“Thanks?” Steve asks. “I think.”
“S’not a problem,” Tony says. “I don’t like how they’re treating you in the press. Can’t do much about that, but I’m not going to let it happen right in front of me. Being gay’s not a crime.”
Steve can’t stop himself from smiling. Sure, Bucky would defend him to the death but this is the first time an almost stranger has stood up for him.
“Then thanks, definitely,” Steve amends. “I saw you were suspended, too. Didn’t expect anyone else from the league to be here tonight. And then I thought maybe you were avoiding me.”
“I was,” Tony admits. “I’m not in the mood for another lecture and everyone knows you’re a Boy Scout.”
“Well, a gay Boy Scout who punched somebody,” Steve says. “Think that means they’ve taken all my merit badges away.”
“Fuck them,” Tony says, loudly.
Loud enough that people skirt around them and Steve just shakes his head and smiles again because there’s a definite part of him that wishes he could swear publicly like that. Sure, he swears in his head and in private just fine, but his mum raised him for polite company. Old habits die hard.
“I think I’d rather just ride it all out and get back to hockey,” Steve says. “Though I do appreciate you stepping in. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.”
“You wanna blow this popsicle stand?” Tony asks. “I’ve got a car here, and I swear I haven’t had anything stronger than a water with lime.”
“I’m not worried,” Steve says. “But aren’t you? I mean… if you’re seen with me, people are going to talk.”
“I thought we established that we aren’t giving one single fuck what people are thinking tonight?” Tony asks with the sort of grin that can only mean trouble. But the good kind of trouble, Steve thinks.
“Okay,” Steve says. “Yes. As long as it doesn’t involve watching my team play hockey without me, I’m in.”
“Not a big fan of that myself,” Tony agrees. “But it’s just the watching you don’t want to do, right? Any problem with playing?”
“You want to go to a rink at this time of night?” Steve asks.
Not that he hasn’t spent long, long nights in ice rinks before, but he’s lost his privileges to his home ice for now and nothing else is going to be open.
“I’ve got us covered.”
By ‘got us covered’ Steve had assumed Tony meant he had the keys to a rink somewhere. It hadn’t occurred to him in any way that Tony might have an ice rink at his mansion. Or that Tony would take him to his mansion. Basically, mansions did not factor into Steve’s thinking, ever.
He makes a good living. He earns his money doing the thing he loves. What Tony has is well beyond that.
It figures, really. The Starks are a Hockey Dynasty. And the Stark family owns everything from a skate factory all the way up to a professional hockey team, and a piece of the pie everywhere in between. Plus they’d had money even before hockey was in the picture. That’s why they have a fancy skyscraper named after them in downtown Manhattan.
Knowing all that doesn't make the experience of spending time with Tony any less surreal.
They take Tony’s crazy expensive car to his crazy expensive house that has a state of the art ice rink and even a zamboni. A zamboni.
Tony catches Steve eyeing it enviously.
“You want to take it for a drive?” Tony asks.
“Seriously?” Steve asks. He knows his face is probably lit up like Christmas morning.
Sure, he’s ridden on zambonis a few times. He has never, ever gotten to drive one.
“I’ve got to warn you, it’s not as fun as it looks. It can be a little complicated at first.”
“Don’t care about fun,” Steve says, because he’s pretty sure if it was the worst thing in the world it was still going to be fun. “I’m a lot more worried about wrecking it.”
That gets a laugh out of Tony. “When I was younger I drove through a wall or two. Nothing that can’t be fixed.”
Steve shakes his head. “I’d never stop feeling bad about it if I did that.”
“I’ll hop up there with you,” Tony offers. “Show you the ropes. Then we can skate.”
It turns out, for about an hour and half, they do a bit of both. Mostly because Steve confesses that apart from driving a zamboni he’s always wanted to try and skate being pulled along behind one. So that’s a thing that happens. Steve even manages to do it without breaking his neck in the process. He does fall once, but since he’s put on a few of Tony’s extra practice pads it’s actually a whole lot gentler than falls that happen in a game.
And once they’ve grown bored with their zamboni games, there’s still some hockey to be played. It’s been years, maybe, since Steve’s laughed this hard. His sides ache as he collapses at center ice. He stares up at the roof and wishes life could always be this easy. Effortless happiness. He could get used to this.
Tony’s never been happier with a decision to bring someone home. At least a decision that wasn’t entirely based on sex.
It had been years since he’d had so much fun in the rink. Sure, Rhodey and Jenny are a lot of fun but Tony has to be careful with them. He can skate into Steve as hard as he likes and Steve is like a brick house on ice skates. They master the zamboni, skate hard into walls, hip check each other at every opportunity, wrestle over the puck like four-year-olds and break just about every hockey rule in the book.
They might even invent some rules in their one-on-one game, just so they can break those too.
Tony collapses next to Steve at the center of the rink and enjoys the chill from the ice below him. He’s sweaty and gross and still wearing a few parts of his fundraiser suit underneath his hockey gear. It’s great.
“And just think. This is only the end of the first period,” Tony teases.
Steve groans. “Does that make it time for the Dance Cam or the Kiss Cam or the Hockey Hockey Hockey song on your home ice?”
It’s only just out of his mouth when suddenly Steve seems to realize what he’s just said and he jerks up abruptly.
“Shit. Not-- I mean, that wasn’t... the crack about the Kiss Cam. I’m not gay for you or anything. I didn’t come back here for that,” Steve rambles.
He sounds so apologetic that Tony feels weirdly bad for him. Especially because Tony’d gotten the joke right away. He hadn’t taken it wrong. There’s no reason for Steve to feel like he’s made things awkward.
“You could have meant it,” Tony says. “And I still wouldn’t have been offended. I’m-- I know I have a reputation for being an asshole, but I’m not that kind of asshole. Honestly...”
Tony trails off. So many people don’t know this. And usually if they find out it’s after a whole stack of paperwork. But he trusts Steve. Trusts him implicitly.
“I’m bi,” Tony says. “It’s just never come up in the news because before I even think of asking a man back to my hotel room he’s got to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement that would give Rumplestiltskin a hard-on. I’m pretty sure they’d owe me their firstborn child or something if they broke it. I’ve never actually read it beginning to end, but since my PA, Pepper, put it together I’m gonna guess it’s brutal.”
Steve just stares at him. His mouth opens and closes a few times. “What?”
“I’m bi,” Tony repeats again slowly. “I’ve just been reallllllllllly good at hiding it. And now I kind of wish I hadn’t. All this bad press-- I should have taken that hit. Made the way for guys like you.”
Steve shakes his head. “Don’t say that. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
“And that's not me?” Tony asks.
Steve takes a few seconds to meet Tony’s eyes. “I was hoping maybe you would be a friend. And don’t worry. I won’t say a word. Not to anyone.”
Tony runs a hand through his hair to brush it away from his forehead. “I’m not ashamed,” Tony says. “Howard just thinks it would be better for my game to avoid distractions.”
Steve gives a sad chuckle. “He may have been onto something there.”
“I will never tell him you said that.”
They skate again after their chat. More slowly and without all the playful checking from before. It’s comfortable. And it’s late. Steve only realizes it when he yawns.
“You want to bunk over?” Tony asks. “I have a couple of guest rooms. I promise it won’t be a problem.”
“Not even if the press finds out?” Steve asks.
He hates that this is his life now. Can’t even crash at a friend’s house for fear of damaging their reputation.
“It’d probably do worse things to your reputation than to mine,” Tony says.
Which settles it. Steve stays. The guest room is huge and the bed is comfortable and Steve sleeps better than he has in weeks.
He expects Tony to be a late riser and isn’t exactly sure how he’s going to get home, but Tony is awake and he’s making coffee and toast when Steve walks into the kitchen.
“I’m surprised you’re awake,” Steve says.
Tony places a mug in front of Steve. “I’ve got a car coming for you in half an hour. I’d have taken you home myself but I’ve got company coming.”
Steve nods. “I should get going anyway. I left some dishes in the sink and if Bucky gets back before I stick them in the washer I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“You live with Barnes?” Tony asks.
Steve laughs at Tony’s surprised expression. “I do. We could afford nice places of own just fine, but we both like the company. He grew up in a big family in a noisy house, so he’s used to a crowd. I grew up alone and always wished there was someone around. I dunno. It just works for us.”
“I had a roommate in college,” Tony says. “He and his daughter are the company I’m expecting. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but do you think you could do me a favor?”
Considering Tony’s got the nicest car Steve’s ever been in, a mansion, and his own ice rink, Stave has no clue what he could want. Still, Tony’s been nothing but nice to him since they properly met, so he nods.
“It’s for my sort-of-niece. Rhodey’s kid, Jenny. She calls me Uncle Tony like I’m something important to her and she’s a big fan of Barnes. His biggest fan, maybe.”
Steve cocks an eyebrow.
“Trust me,” Tony continues. “I’ve done what I can to re-educate her, but she’s determined. And I would hit epic levels of cool if I could get her an autographed puck. I know I could buy one on ebay, but that’s not the same. Not to her, anyway. She’s a goalie for a traveling team. The Wildcats. And there’s no one for her but him.”
Now it’s Steve’s turn to be surprised. Sure, Bucky has more fans than just about anyone. He’s good-looking and hilarious and he’s the best goalie in the league. (Steve’s a goalie, too, but he won’t begrudge Bucky his talent, even for a second.) It’s more that Tony’s admitting he needs help with this. And that he wants to go out of his way to get something special for his sort-of-niece, even if it means asking Steve for a favor.
“You said her name’s Jenny?” Steve asks.
“J-E-N-N-Y,” Tony agrees.
“When do you need it?”
“Whenever,” Tony says. “Her birthday isn’t for another few months and I promised her a new pair of skates I’ve been working on for that. This is a gift just because she’s awesome.”
Steve smiles. “What about tomorrow? There’s a chance I’ll be reinstated Monday and I don’t want you to miss out. I could come back. Drop it off.”
“Let me see your phone,” Tony agrees. “You can text me when you know you’ve got a free coupla hours. As long as you’re sure it’s not an imposition.”
“It’s not,” Steve says, handing over his phone.
Tony taps across the screens expertly-- like he writes phone manuals in his free time-- and then hands the phone back to Steve.
“Gave myself a ringtone, too,” Tony says with a smirk. “That way you won’t have to wonder if it’s me.”
“Thanks?” Steve asks.
The car arrives a few minutes later, and Steve smiles the whole way home.