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Brooklyn Cats

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The building really was a prime piece of real estate. Tony didn't need the babbling realtor to tell him that. He could see in the firm steel weight bearing beams, open floors and the tall ceilings that this building would be perfect for a factory. It wouldn't take long to convert the space into one that manufactured his latest technology such as StarkPhones, StarkPads and the hand held game systems they were releasing in a couple months around Christmas time. The realtor was still talking, but he wasn't listening, instead walking the floor and squinting at the tall windows that bathed the place in natural light. Those would have to go. There was nothing like sunlight to ruin sensitive pieces of hardware.

He caught a movement in the corner of his eye and looked over at a doorway, one of his brows going up. He went over, wondering what it was, and he spotted a stray cat bounding up some stairs. It wasn't surprising that the building had a furry occupant. It had been out of use for nearly a year. He followed the cat up the stairs with the now silent realtor on his heels. He saw another stray once he was at the top, running down a hall and into a room.

He walked down the hall, which was dark except for the light shining in at one end. He pushed a door open and was greeted with the sight of a half circular room with walls made of windows. The brightness made him squint for a minute, before his eyes adjusted and he blinked at the sight of over a dozen stray cats of all different sizes and breeds. There was an especially fat, fluffy ginger cat curled up on some kind of cushion.

“Oh my,” the realtor said. “I assure you, Mr Stark, that animal control will be notified.”

“Right,” Tony said as he moved into the room. The cats weren't running. In fact they were looking up at him expectantly. Apparently they weren't completely feral. They were also well built for wild cats, which meant they were either all handling a rodent problem or they were being fed by someone.

There was another thing that caught Tony's eye in the room. He knelt down, running his finger over some speckles of blue and yellow on the floor. It was paint. He glanced at the walls which were made up of tall windows, finding no color. Not wall paint then. He stood, moving across the floor and finding more colors, both light and dark. He couldn't make sense of it. A cat rubbed up against his leg with an insistent noise, and he gently pushed it away with his foot, not wanting hair on his pant leg. Paint and friendly cats, hm.

Still, it was a damn good piece of real estate. Pepper would be so proud of him for actually attending to something himself for his company. She would let him slide for a while, probably a month, before she asked him to do anything personally again. “I'll take it,” he said simply, and the realtor looked ecstatic. The man blathered something about drawing up papers, and Tony just 'hm'ed. He was more interested in the spots of paint and the cats now.

Morning classes were the only thing that kept him in line. Without them, he probably would have slept all day. Steve got up, tucked the corners of his bed and took a seven minute shower. Any longer than that and someone would complain that he used all the hot water. Natasha was waiting for him like always, because she woke up at 5am on the dot when he dragged himself out of bed at 6am. She had a long, thick coat over her leotard and skirt and tall boots over her tights. Her ballet shoes were in her bag.

She tried suggesting that he eat something before they left, but he wasn't hungry and shook his head. She just gave him an even look but didn't press it, and they left to catch the L train to their school. He felt like a zombie through his first class, seeing and taking in everything but unable to feel anything but numbness about it. He felt like a spectator, viewing things through glass but never part of them.

But when he drew, he connected. It was his one thing that he always felt emotional about. Even after everything else had been taken from him, he always had his art. His instructors said his pieces had a kind of painful intensity that made them very appealing. But in turn he was incapable of drawing something light and airy. His illustration professor said it was because of his heavy heart. He just dropped his eyes and looked away.

In his hour break before his noon class, he was sitting between the art and music building, sketching one of his assignments, when a paper bag dropped next to his elbow. He lifted his eyes and tried to smile. “Hey, Clint,” he said, sitting up straighter and pulling the top flap over his sketch pad.

“Hey, man,” Clint said, leaning his cello case against the side of the metal picnic, before he sat down and reached for the bag. “Thought you might be hungry, so I bought you a really greasy burger and onion rings. Praise me.”

Steve looked at the bag. It was true. There was grease seeping through the bottom. “What would I do without you?” He accepted the burger and onions rings, moving his pad out of the way to keep the grease from getting on it and his projects.

“Probably die.” Clint unwrapped his own burger and tore into it. He was silent for all of fifteen seconds before he spoke up with food in his cheeks, “You want to go out with me and the guys tonight?”

Steve made the same tired groaning noise he used for the past year when Clint asked him that. “Nah, sorry, I've got a project I need to work on.”

“C'mon, it's Friday. You've got the whole weekend to do it. You can go out and have fun for one night.”

Steve couldn't deny Clint's logic, but it wasn't actually that he wanted to work on something that he didn't want to go. He just didn't want to go. The idea of going out with Clint, Johnny and Logan felt like it would take so much effort. He would have to smile and drink and pretend like he was having a good time when all he actually wanted was to be alone. He didn't want to feel like an outsider with his friends, but he couldn't help it. He shook his head. “Another time.”

Clint's brows bowed. “Sure.”

Steve knew that tone.

After his last class, Steve caught the train back to Brooklyn and stopped off at a dollar store to buy a small bag of cat food. He held it against his chest, breathing puffs of white above it as he walked a few blocks into the more abandoned part of the city. There were a few unused buildings here, most of them covered in graffiti. One of the buildings, even though he didn't own it, he thought of as his space. It had the most wonderful room of windows that had the best light that he had ever found in a drawing space. It even had some friends to keep him company.

There was a black car, a really, really nice black car, parked in the street by the building, and he stared at it for a long moment, wondering what it was there for. He couldn't come up with an answer and decided to just leave it, going in one of the side entrances to the building. It wasn't as cold inside. This building had one hell of an insulation, and the windows were double paned. He walked through the brightly lit ground floor, before he went through the door and up the stairs, down the hall and into the circular room of windows. The cats immediately started to meow and crowd him.

“Hello, kitties, yes, I'm here to feed you,” he said—well, cooed—as he dropped his bag full of art supplies on the floor and opened the bag of cat food. Cats were rearing up on his legs, demanding now, and he stepped over them to dump the cat food in a thick line along the floor. Immediately the cats were on it, making a column of multicolored fur and swishy tails.

There was one cat, though, that held his spot, and Steve sighed at him. “Hey, Maximus,” he said as he walked over to the cat and knelt down next to him. “You're on my cushion.” The large ginger cat merely blinked at him, and Steve took the edge of the cushion, picking it up slowly to hopefully urge the cat to slide off of it. Maximus just held on, until gravity took him and he flopped onto his side with a huff. Steve picked him up and pushed him toward the food. “Go eat, you monster.” Steve watched him prance over to the food and wedge himself between the smaller strays for his own food, before he hit the cushion to dislodge the hair and sat down on it.

Steve opened his bag and pulled out his sketchpad, flipping to the latest picture. It was a city scape, but it wasn't the cleanliness of Central Park or Upper Manhattan. It was his home, Brooklyn, and all its dirtiness. He'd grown up on those black streets, and even though he had been a scrawny kid that got beaten up in back alleys, he didn't blame his city. She was beautiful in her own way. His mother had been a strong, smart Brooklyn lady. And his best friend, Bucky, and been a scamp of a Brooklyn orphan. A city that had given him them was a gracious thing. He didn't blame her for them being gone.

He sketched the line of the buildings, the windows and the doors. He darkened them with charcoal, making shadows on the brick. The deeper the drawing went, the blacker it became. But then there was a light over a doorway, a pinpoint of brightness in the dark. He drew it almost without thinking, like it had to be there, the way it was in his memory and heart. He wouldn't tell his instructor where the door went. No one in his school needed to know about the apartment that he and Peggy had shared.

Because if he told them, they would ask where she was, and he would have to tell them that she was with another man now, because he had driven her away. He didn't blame her. How could he blame her? He loved her, so he had gone silent when she pulled away.

Steve closed his eyes, lifting his hands to rub the heels into his eyelids, blotting out the vision of Peggy's face into white. Thinking about her was not going to get his assignment done. He needed to concentrate on the task at hand and nothing else. One step at a time.

“So you're the reason there's paint everywhere.”

Steve shot up, whipping around and immediately thinking oh shit I'm going to get mugged. It was a hair trigger thought, one beat into him by back alley bullies. But then that thought was covered with a soothing one. He was bigger now, hardened by the military. He wasn't going to get mugged.

That and the man that leaned in the doorway didn't look like he needed to mug anyone. He was wearing a light gray suit with a plum wine button down shirt. His shoes were black and shiny. His dark hair was casually spiked, and his Van Dyke goatee was trimmed perfectly. His eyes were behind purple tinted sunglasses, and he couldn't tell their color. He was strikingly handsome, and what the hell was he doing in this hole of a building?

“Who are you?” Steve asked after he recovered from his shock.

The corner of the man's lifted. “Tony Stark.”

Steve recognized the name, of course. Who wouldn't? So that expensive black car outside was his. Right. “What are you doing here?”

“The better question is what are you doing here? This is my building.” Stark pushed away from the doorway and took a step inside, his eyes flicking to the cats.

Steve's brows came together. “What?” He'd been using this building for almost a year, and he had never run into Tony Stark or anyone associated with him.

“I bought it. Today, in fact,” Stark said, and that answered that question. He turned his eyes back to him, and they seemed to bore into him even through those ridiculous shades.

“I guess I'm trespassing then,” Steve said, looking away finally to the cats. He liked his space, and he didn't want to lose it. He could only imagine what someone like Tony Stark would turn it into.

Stark shrugged getting his attention again. “It'll be months before the company gets the approvals for construction to start. You can come all you want until then.” He indicated to the line of cats. The food was almost entirely gone, and they had started washing themselves or had curled up for a nap. Maximus pranced over and took control of the cushion since Steve was standing. “You'll have to figure out what to do with your furry friends.”

Steve looked at them, before he shook his head. “They're Brooklyn street cats. They'll find some other place to stay and some other moron to feed them.”

That made Stark smile, a brief flash of perfect teeth. Stark stepped closer to him, and he lifted his hand to take off his shades, revealing deep brown eyes. “I gave you my name, but I don't know yours.”

Steve stared at him, glad he was about three inches taller. “Steve Rogers.”

“Nice to meet you, Steve Rogers.” Stark gazed up at him evenly for a long moment, before he shielded his eyes with his shades again and turned away. “I'll let you get back to your drawing.” And with that he left the room, and Steve listened to him pad down the hall until he couldn't hear him anymore.

“Tony Stark? The Tony Stark?” Janet asked as they walked down the juice aisle at the Shop Right. She was pushing the cart, and Steve was manning the grocery list.

He pulled a jug of white grape juice off the shelf and put it in the cart. It was Natasha's favorite thing to drink. “Yeah, him. I know, I was surprised too. He bought my building.” He picked up a container of apple juice, adding it to their groceries as well.

“That sucks,” Janet said as she leaned over the child seat in the basket, lifting onto her toes and edging the cart forward. “But still, you met the richest, most powerful man in the country face to face. That's kind of awesome.” Steve just shrugged and she sighed. “But yeah, sucks about your space.” When Steve didn't say anything she clicked her tongue. “So how are your projects going?”

“Fine,” Steve said, and they rounded the end cap and went down the next aisle. “What about yours?”

“They're okay,” Janet said as she stepped away from the cart and picked up some broth to put in the cart. “Do you want to get some tomato soup?” She picked up a large can.

“Sure,” Steve said as he moved to pick up some angel hair pasta and sauce.

After they paid and loaded the reusable bags into Janet's car, Janet pulled out onto the main road back toward their apartment building. Steve was slouched down in the passenger seat, gazing silently out the window. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, and Steve could tell she was gearing up to say something. She always bubbled over with energy when she was thinking how best to breach a subject. “So...” she tried.

“Hm?” he answered, not looking at her.

“I know you don't want to hear this,” she said, and Steve decided he definitely didn't want to hear it, especially because she started it out that way. “But I think you should come out with me and Nat tonight. You know, to meet people.”

Steve sighed through his nose. Maybe he should let Clint and Janet plan outings together so they would leave him out of it. He knew they meant best, and he appreciated their effort, but the thought of going out made him weary. “What kind of people?” he asked.

“Women people.”

“Jan,” Steve said sharply.

“No really, you hardly leave the apartment except for school or to go to your space,” she insisted, her voice going an octave higher. “You haven't talked about a girl since—”

“I'm not listening to this,” Steve said, cutting her off and shifting to press against the car door. This lecture happened every few weeks. Janet wasn't going to let him be anti-social, and she thought it was her place as his friend to try to urge him back out into the world. He didn't want to.

“It's been two years since Peggy left,” she said, her tone gentler.

It made his voice harsher though. “You don't think I know exactly how long it's been?”

“I'm just saying, Steve, it's time,” Janet said, still using that soft voice. “Wouldn't you at least like to get laid?”

Steve was done with this conversation. “Red light,” he said, and she stopped. He had his seat belt undone and the door open with a quickness, shutting it just a bit too hard after he got out. He hopped up onto the curb and started to walk.

Janet pulled up next to him after she got past the light, slowing down and shouting out the passenger side window. “Steve! Steve, get back in the car! It's nearly fifteen blocks back to the apartment, and it's freezing out! Steve!”

Steve ignored her. Well, he ignored her the best he could as she rolled next to him, and the cars behind her honked and swerved around. He pulled up his jacket around his ears, breathing out a hot, white cloud of irritation. He didn't care how long of a walk it was, and he didn't care if he got chilled down to his bones. He preferred it to Janet trying to set him up with random women at a bar or club.

“Steve!” Finally Janet double parked and ran around the car to jog up and catch him. She grabbed his jacket sleeve, and he stopped, turning to look at her. “Okay, fine, don't come out with us. Don't walk home, please. Natasha would never forgive me if you came down with pneumonia or something else awful.” He stared at her for a moment, before he let out a sigh and nodded. “Good, 'cause I totally left the car running.” She turned and ran back to it.

Steve had to laugh at that. She was lucky it wasn't immediately stolen on these streets.

Tony was gazing silently out of his office window, lost in his thoughts. He wanted to go back to Malibu, but Pepper needed him in the New Year office a little while longer to settle the paperwork for the new manufacturing building. He wanted to look out over water, not buildings and cars and people. He wanted to feel like he was alone, not in the middle of a, well, a city.

He looked back at the papers he signed, his thoughts going back to the construction site, back to Steve Rogers the ridiculously tall and blond. Every time he thought about his new building, he thought about Steve and his cats. Did anyone in the world deserve to be so handsome? He was the perfect embodiment of the blond, blue eyed, boy next door type. His jaw was strong, and his body looked hard. An artist didn't have the right to look like he could bench press a person or two.

Tony sighed and spun his chair around in a few of slow circles. During his rotations, Pepper entered the office. Each time he came around to face her she was closer. And finally she was right in front of the desk, one hand on her hip. He came to a stop and looked up at her, and he knew his expression was pitiful because her eyes rolled skyward and she did that silent counting thing. He could see her lips moving.

“What's wrong?” she asked as she leaned over the desk and gathered up the papers. She set about checking each line he had needed to sign like he wasn't an adult and couldn't find the Xs she had marked.

“I don't know,” he said vaguely, like he didn't know exactly what was wrong. She 'hm'ed, before she folded the papers and set one packet back on the desk, picking up a pen and offering it to him. His eyes dropped to the papers and apparently he did miss an X. Damn, he must really have been distracted. He took the pen and signed, and she took the packet back, putting it in a folder.

“What's her name?” Pepper asked as she held the folder in front of her.

Tony just stuck out his bottom lip, leaning his chin on his hand. She stared him down until he folded, and he sniffed. “Steve,” he finally said, keeping his eyes on hers.

She merely lifted a brow. “Is Steve nice?”

“I guess.” Tony sunk down a little deeper in his chair, his fingers going to push against his temple. He honestly didn't know if Steve was nice or not. He imagined he was, because he looked like he liked apple pie and sunrises. At least he should, with a body and face like that.

“Steve's not someone you met online, right? You know what happened last time,” Pepper reminded him evenly.

Tony didn't want to think about happened last time. He was lucky he escaped with his kidney, let alone his wallet. “No, I met him in person. He's ridiculously good looking and an artist.”

“An artist? The most interest you've taken in the arts is stored in an temperature and light controlled storage room.” She sounded almost bitter like that, but then she would because she was the one that organized his collection. She was irritated that he preferred AC/DC posters. “Well, don't just sit there and moon over him. Do something about it or forget it.” And she turned on her heel and walked out.

He stared after her. She was right.

Maximus wanted to be on the cushion. He was sitting next to Steve's knee, staring up at him as he drew. Steve was trying to ignore him, but really it was difficult to draw with two huge eyes boring into him. He could hear his deep, rumbly purr too. Finally he set down his charcoal and turned his eyes to the huge cat. “You're just going to have to wait,” he told him, and the cat let out a low, crackly meow. “I promise I'm not going to take long.” To that, Maximus shuffled his huge feet and huffed.

“Are you talking to that cat?”

To his credit, Steve didn't jump out of his skin. Instead he turned and there Stark was with a big plastic bag in his hand. Maybe it was because his shoes were so expensive that he was so silent. “What're are you doing here?”

“I thought we covered that last time,” Stark said, and Steve just pressed his lips together in a line. Wordlessly he lifted the bag, showing him the logo. It was a shrimp with chopsticks, and Steve recognized it. It was from a marginally expensive Chinese place on Main. Janet liked to go there when she got a good paycheck.

“You brought me food,” Steve said slowly, trying to process that. Nope, he couldn't make sense of it. “Why?” He was automatically distrusting of this, because he didn't understand it.

“Why not?” Stark countered.

Steve ran his tongue over his lips, putting his hands on his hips. “Uh, because we don't know each other. Because powerful billionaires don't eat with poor art students.”

“You're an art student? It's not just a hobby then, that's good.” He was looking at the pad on the ground, where the charcoal city scape was nearly complete. “From what I can see from over here, you're pretty good.”

Sighing, Steve looked at the ceiling. “Really, Mr Stark—”

“Call me Tony.”

Steve looked back at him, his eyes widening a little. First name basis meant familiarity. “But—” he tired.

“Tony. Or else you don't get any of this food.”

Steve quietly prayed for serenity. “Fine. Tony, what do you want from me?”

“What makes you think I want something from you?”

“There ain't no such thing as a free lunch,” Steve quoted, narrowing his eyes a little.

Tony gave a loud bark of laughter, before he reached up and pushed his sunglasses up into his hair to reveal his eyes. They were crinkling at the edges, and he was smiling. Steve found his smile oddly comforting, like Tony was a man that didn't smile genuinely easy and causing him to do it breached some kind of gap between them. “Maybe I like cats.” Steve felt the corners of his mouth drawing up at that. Of course Tony immediately ruined it by saying, “Oh, I didn't know you could smile.”

Steve nearly stuck his tongue out at him, and he crossed his arms as he forced an irritated expression onto his face. He didn't get this. Why was Tony being so companionable with him? What did he get out of it?

Tony held up the bag. “C'mon. Dim sum.” Steve liked dim sum.

He was surprised to find that Tony didn't mind sitting on the dirty floor. Steve nearly offered the cushion to him, but when he looked at it he found that Maximus had already claimed it. So he sat on the hard cement floor across from Tony and accepted a set of chop sticks. He popped a dumpling in his mouth and tried not to moan at how good it tasted. He had missed breakfast and had dodged Clint at lunch. He hadn't realized he was so hungry.

“What school do you go to?” Tony asked as he was chewing.

“The Art Institute in Brooklyn Heights,” Steve said, looking at his food. “It's a great school. Both of my roommates and most of my friends attend it too. I'm in my second year.” He ate another dumpling, his eyes traveling over Tony's passive face. “You already attended college, right?” The answer was a simple nod. “Where?”

“M.I.T. I graduated when I was seventeen.” He chuckled when Steve almost choked on his food. “Don't look so surprised. I'm not just a pretty face. You're not going to spontaneously combust when I tell you I have seven doctorates, right?” He grinned broadly as Steve felt distinctly inferior all of the sudden. “It's easy when you have way too much time on your hands.”

“I can't even imagine,” Steve said softly. He set his box in his lap and looked up. “Before school, I was in the military, right from the age eighteen, and that's all I knew for a while. I was a Captain and I had a squad of my own. I was fully intending to make the Army my career. I loved the discipline and the brotherhood. I didn't like the fighting, but I don't like bullies.”

Tony stared at him for a long moment, before he squinted. “You were a Captain? Wait, how old are you?”

“I'm twenty-five.”

“How long were you in the Army?”

“Three years.”

Tony made a face like he was working out a puzzle. “How the hell did you get the rank of Captain in three years?”

“Dedication,” Steve said, and that didn't seem to satisfy Tony. “How'd you graduate college at seventeen?”

“Talent,” Tony said promptly.

Steve had to smile. “I guess I had a little of that too.” He shrugged.

Tony's lips pulled the the side, before he tilted his head. “Why aren't you still in the Army?”

Steve wasn't prepared for that question, and he didn't know why. He promptly dropped his eyes and didn't answer. That wasn't a subject that was appropriate for a first conversation, or ever, if he could help it. He didn't want to think about, and he focused on his food so he didn't have to.

Tony seemed to take the hint, and he cleared his throat, changing the subject. “Girlfriend?”

Steve shook his head, turning his eyes up. There was something in Tony's expression that he couldn't quite place. He didn't have a chance to try, because Tony kept going.

“No girlfriend? Huh, that's a crime with someone built like you. Are big blond mountains not in this year?” There was clear amusement in Tony's voice.

Steve chuckled at that, before he shoved another dumpling in his mouth. He didn't know how to handle flattering. He hoped the heat on his cheeks wasn't too obvious. “So,” he said once he swallowed, and Tony was giving him his full attention. “What are you turning this building into?”

“Manufacturing plant for my company's latest electronics.” Tony slurped some noodles into his mouth. So maybe rich people didn't all have perfect manners. Steve wanted to tell him that he had sauce on his beard or maybe just reach over and wipe it off himself, but Tony kept talking. “Computers. Tablets. Phones. All that jazz.” He waved his chopsticks, and Steve had to smile a little. “What brand electronics do you buy?” he asked, jabbing his chopsticks in Steve's directions.

Steve felt compelled to answer truthfully, and he didn't know why. “I have a WalMart brand pay as you go phone. I don't have a computer.” A brief pause. “Or a tablet for that matter.”

Tony lowered his chopsticks and took on the most hilarious horrified expression, like Steve just grew another head. He briefly sputtered. “How do you survive? What do you do all day?”

Steve's eyes flicked away before they came back to Tony's face. “I draw. Or I work out. I have weights and a pull up bar in my room.”

Tony stared at him, brown eyes a little too wide. He had huge eyes for his face. “You poor thing,” he finally said, his tone all soft.

Steve wanted to growl, all the shields he'd dropped during the conversation coming back up. So Tony just came here to mock him? Maybe he just wanted to see how the other half lived, and now that he knew it was pathetic he felt pity. “Don't give me that,” he said, a little too harshly. “I get on fine without being surrounded by technology. Not all of us need to be constantly plugged in to live comfortably.”

Tony's brows went up. “That's not what I meant—”

“What did you mean?” Steve asked, putting his chopsticks in the food box he was holding and setting it down. “We can't all be pampered billionaires with the world at our fingers.”

Tony's face hardened all at once. “Pampered? You think I'm pampered? You don't think that I've worked for what I have? I'm a genius, Steve, an engineer. Most of what's on the market is directly my design. I keep my company afloat.”

“Yeah, it helps that you're a weapons monger and the government has all the money,” Steve spat back. Did Tony honestly believe he was better than him just because he could write software and build missiles?

Tony was up like a shot, buttoning his suit jacket and patting off the dirt on his ass. “I don't build weapons anymore,” he said through his teeth, before he turned on his heel and walked off.

Steve watched him go, listening to him stomp down the hall then disappearing down the stairs. It definitely wasn't the shoes that made him quiet. He must be sneaky deliberately. As Steve sat there and stared in the direction he'd went, the heat in him quickly dissipated and left him with cold loneliness. He had actually been enjoying Tony's company there for a minute.

Okay, so that didn't work. Tony groaned to himself in the back of the car, slumping down. His ass was dirty and he was covered in cat hair somehow. And for what? Nothing. He had gotten absolutely nowhere with Steve. In fact, he'd taken a giant step backward. All because Steve had gotten offended, and Tony had taken offense to him being offended. He should have written it off. He should have made a joke. He shouldn't have called Steve 'poor thing.'

He needed an ebook on how to talk to people that didn't already love him. He was used to fawning and praise. He didn't usually have to try so hard. He didn't know how to talk to hot guys without coming on really strong and ending up in bed with them ten minutes later. He should ask Rhodey! Rhodey was a hot guy. Wait, Rhodey was overseas and not at his beck and call.

“Happy, how do you talk to people that are mad at you?” he asked, and Happy's eyes looked back at him in the rear view mirror. “I accidentally insulted someone.”

“Well, sir, I know this may be a foreign concept to you, but apologies go a long way,” Happy said, his eyes crinkling a little with amusement.

“Boo,” Tony said very maturely, before he looked out the window as he rode. He didn't like things being his fault, because then he had to take responsibility for them, and 'responsibility' was a dirty word in his book. And not the fun kind of dirty either.

Guitars screamed in his pocket, and he pulled out his phone, checking the caller ID then putting it to his ear. “Hey, Pep, tell me you have good news,” he said, putting a little whine in his voice.

Pepper actually laughed a little, and it made him smile just hearing it. “Actually I do. Approvals came back already. Construction starts in two weeks.”

Tony's brows went up. “Really? I thought it would take months.”

“So did I,” Pepper said, before she gave a little sigh. “I guess the name Stark carries some weight with the city council. But hey, that means that once the ball starts rolling and nothing disastrous happens, you can go back to Malibu.”

It took Tony a minute, but he eventually gave a weak, “Hooray.”

Pepper was quiet for a long moment, before she put on her matron voice. “Okay, what did you do?”

Tony made a sound like 'tch!', before he pushed out his bottom lip. She wouldn't be able to see it, but she would be able to hear it. “Why are you asking what I did instead of what's wrong?”

“Because things that're wrong are usually caused by something you did. Spill it.”

He actually couldn't argue with that logic. “I saw Steve again,” he admitted, and she made an interested noise. “We were talking, and everything was fine. But I said something that he didn't like, and he basically called me a spoiled brat. Then we argued and I left.”

Pepper sighed heavily into his ear. “Let me guess, you had to have the last word, and then you stormed out.”

“Maybe.” Tony toyed with the hem of his jacket.

“You drama queen.”

“I am not a—!”

“Yes, you are, don't you dare argue with me. I've been dealing with you for upwards of fifteen years, and you can throw a tantrum like a two-year-old in a supermarket. I'm sorry to burst your bubble, Tony, but you are a spoiled brat, and if you insulted him then he had every right to call you that.” There was a shuffling noise like Pepper was changing positions. “You'll just have to suck it up and apologize like an adult.”

Tony slid sideways down the seat until he was lying on it with his cheek pressed into the fine leather. “But, Pepper, I don't wanna,” he moaned out. He felt like a scolded child.

“Do you want to talk to Steve again?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he admitted, turning onto his back and putting his feet up on the seat.

“Then you have to.”

Tony sighed loudly. “Yes, mom.”

“That's my boy.”

Steve liked to sleep in on Saturdays. He usually woke up just sigh of noon or chased dreams until 2pm. It was 12:15pm when Steve woke up this day, and he could hear the high sound of Natasha and Janet laughing in the living room. Maybe they were watching cartoons, which was a rational, adult thing to do on Saturday mornings.

He pushed his covers off and immediately shivered as cold air hit his skin, and he almost covered up again. The damn radiator must have been on the fritz again. He forced himself up and pulled on thick pajama pants and a sweatshirt. He forewent socks, because he didn't feel like digging them out of his dirty clothes hamper. When he opened the door to his room, the laughter got louder, and he wandered into the living room to see what was so funny.

Immediately, he stopped dead. There, sitting in an armchair like he owned the place was Tony Stark, smiling and gesturing with his story. He stopped when he saw Steve, and Natasha and Janet, curled up under a thick blanket on the couch, both looked at him.

“What are you doing here?” Steve asked on a shocked breath.

“Hello to you too, sleepyhead,” Tony said with a smile.

“Steve,” Janet said, giggling. “Tony was just telling us about his robots.”

Tony stood up, putting his hands in his pockets and giving a small shrug. “Dummy, You and Butterfingers. I built them at M.I.T. They're absolutely hopeless. I don't know why I keep them around. Dummy likes to knock over my smoothie machine. And You tends to roll over feet.”

Steve stared at him, before he slowly turned toward the kitchen and padded off. He had not been awake long enough to deal with Tony Stark. He needed orange juice. He heard the sounds of footsteps after him and knew the man was following him. He let him, numbly going to the fridge and opening it up to get the carton.

“Your roommates are sweet girls.”

Steve stared at him out of the corner of his eye as he drank right from the carton. He didn't understand. Last he knew Tony was very nearly yelling at him, and now he was in his apartment charming Natasha and Janet. He lowered the carton and wiped the his mouth with the back of his hand. "What are you doing here?" Steve asked again, this time with more force. "How do you know where I live?"

Tony gave that leisurely shrug again, and Steve wanted to shake him. "I looked you up. There are only a few Steve Rogers...es in New York. You're the only one in Brooklyn." He said that so easily, like it wasn't stalking. Before Steve could yell at him to get out, he gave a very dramatic shudder. "Why is it so frigid in your apartment?"

Steve stumbled over his words, thrown off track. "Radiator's busted. The super's absolute crap at fixing anything." This was the hundreth time the damn thing had broken, and it was always when the cold, harsh months were about.

Tony's eyebrows went up, and he rocked on his feet. "Got any tools? I could fix it for you."

Steve blinked. "What?"

Tony smiled at him, and it was the fond kind. "I'm really handy with a wrench. Also your roommates look pitiful, and I'm a sucker for a girl in need."

Steve did manage to find a toolbox in the hall closet, and nobody had any idea where it came from. Natasha suggested that it was probably left by a previous tenant. He handed it over to Tony, who had shed his jacket and was rolling up his sleeves. He went to his knees next to the radiator, pulling out various tools and starting to take the radiator apart. Steve felt awkward standing over him, so he went to sit on the couch with Natasha and Janet. Janet threw the edge of the blanket over him, and he scooted closer to her.

It took about fifteen minutes before Tony had the radiator taken apart and put together again. The change in temperature was immediate. The apartment warmed faster than it ever had, and Steve and the girls shed the blanket.

"You're useful," Natasha said as Tony got up. He smiled at her and went into the kitchen to wash his hands.

"Can we keep him?" Janet asked, batting her eyelashes at Steve.

He gave a kind a grunt, before he stood up and moved over to pick up Tony's shed jacket before he followed him into the kitchen. Tony looked at him as he was doing up his cuff buttons. He smiled and turned, letting Steve help him into his jacket. "You didn't have to do that. But thank you."

Tony straightened his jacket. "You don't need to thank me. It was an apology. I'm sorry I was such a dick the other day."

"Oh," Steve said, leaning back against the counter. He hadn't expected that. Honestly he couldn't remember Tony saying anything intentionally rude, while Steve had said some truly awful things. "I should be the one apologizing," he said slowly, and Tony tilted his head at him. "I didn't mean what I said. I was being..." He took a deep breath. "Well, a dick."

Tony smiled like this was all going better than he expected. "Well, maybe we're a pair of dicks, but at least we admit it. My personal assistant would call that progress."

Steve's lips twitched up. "You have a personal assistant?"

Tony nodded, putting his hands in his pocket. “Pepper. I would probably die without her.”

“Are you guys talking about secret things?” Janet called from the living room, following by the muted sound of Natasha's voice and then Janet's not so muted whine that she didn't like being left out.

Steve and Tony looked at each other, before they both gave the same kind of laugh then headed back into the living room. “We weren't talking about anything exciting, I assure you,” Tony told her with a languid smile, and she smiled brightly in return.

“We feel like we owe you for fixing our radiator,” Natasha said calmly.

Tony's brow went up. “You don't owe...” He went silent, before he turned to Steve. “Actually, there is something I want,” he said, his smile turning almost predatory as it was lifted to him.

Steve made himself suppress his own smile. He was starting to like the look of Tony's face more and more. “And what's that?”

“A date,” Tony replied, tilting his head.

Very astutely, Steve asked, “With who?” Both Natasha and Janet would probably love to date a known billionaire playboy. There was chance of ending up in a magazine.

Tony looked down briefly, before he ran his tongue over his lips and stepped closer, within Steve's personal space. “You.”

Steve's whole world halted for several long seconds, before he staggered backward to put some distance between himself and Tony so he couldn't feel his body heat anymore. "Me?" he asked as Janet made a soft 'oooooh' noise from the couch. "Why?"

Tony looked like he'd never been faced with this inquiry before, and it was likely he very well hadn't. "I like you," Tony said, and it almost sounded like a question, as if he was wondering if that was the right answer.

Steve took another step back and looked at Natasha and Janet with their expectant faces. What was weirdest was a small part of him wanted to say yes. But that small part was overcome with his urge to flee. "Sorry," he said, and it hurt him to watch Tony's face fall. "I can't."

Tony only frowned for a moment, before his smile was back. Though this one didn't quite reach his eyes. "Well, it was worth a shot." He cleared his throat as his buttoned up his jacket again. "I guess I'll be going." He looked at Natasha and Janet. "Nice to meet you ladies." And without looking at him, he said, "Bye Steve." And he left.

Steve stood gazing after him. Natasha stood up and walked past him, whacking him on the arm as she went. He grabbed his arm with an, "Ow. What was that for?"

"Moron," she replied, disappearing into the kitchen.

His brows came down as he looked after her. “Moron? Why am I a moron?” he asked. “I don't want to date him. So what?”

“Why don't you want to date him?” Janet asked from the couch. She had her big, curious eyes on him, and her expression was totally serious. “I know it doesn't matter to you that he's rich and powerful. But beyond that, he seems like a really nice guy, Steve. He must have a very busy life, but he came here to see you. And he fixed our radiator like he was compelled to.”

“He said that was because you two were suffering,” Steve cut in.

“That was probably a lie,” Natasha said as she came out of the kitchen with a glass of grape juice and moved toward the couch again. “He more likely did it to impress you or endear himself to you.” She sat, pulling her legs up under her. “And even if it was for me and Janet, that's still a kind thing to do. How many billionaires do you know that get their hands dirty like that?”

Steve sighed, shoving his hands in the pockets of his pajama pants and drawing up his shoulders. “It doesn't matter if he's the nicest guy in the world. I don't want to date him. I don't want to date anyone.”

“Why not?” Janet asked him.

“Because I don't. Drop it.”

It was a lie. He knew it was a lie. He did want to date someone, and he didn't want to be alone. But he knew the moment he got comfortable he would get hurt again. And it would be his own fault, because he always screwed it up. He wasn't willing to take that risk. He knew it was cowardice, but he was more comfortable with the idea of being alone than he was with trying to trust and love and having it thrown back in his face. Being scared hurt, but not as much as a broken heart.

Tony was really and truly sulking now. He was in his office, slumped in his chair and slowly turning it back and forth with the force of his heel against the ground. He couldn't believe it. No matter how good he was at equations, he hadn't factored in the possibility that Steve just wouldn't want to date him. But now that he had Steve's answer, all the reasons why had presented themselves in his mind. Steve was too busy with school. Steve had someone else in mind. Steve didn't date men.

Steve just didn't like him.

He'd thought he was better at reading people. He'd thought that the hesitant smile that Steve had given him was more than just tolerance. He'd thought he'd felt something pass between them. He guessed he was the only one.

He heard the door open and the click of Pepper's heels. He didn't look up at her, instead crossing his arms and sinking down further so his chair so his chin was resting on his chest. He saw her stop in front of his desk out of the corner of his eye, and he imagined she had papers for him to sign. But she just stood there for a long moment. Finally he looked up at her, just tilting his eyes, and she had a concerned expression on her pretty face.

“What's wrong?” she asked, moving around the desk and sit on the corner of it by his legs.

He gave a wry smile. “Oh, it's not what did I do anymore?”

She set the folder in her hands onto the desk and nudged his shin with her toe gently. “Okay, what did you do?” she asked, softer.

Tony's shoulders sagged, and he uncrossed his arms to pick up one of his pens off the desk and toy with it. “I asked Steve out on a date,” he admitted, starting to click the top of the pen over and over again.

Pepper calmly reached over and removed the pen from his hand, putting it back on the desk. “And?”

“He said no.”

She straightened up further, swinging her foot back and forth and glancing out the window. That was her thinking face, and he liked to see it. “What did he say exactly? Did he say he didn't want to?”

Tony shook his head once. “No, he said he couldn't.” He'd replayed that moment of denial in his head a hundred times. He saw the confusion, the shock and the sadness over and over. He didn't know why Steve had been sad to say no. That was what he was stuck on.

“Hm,” was Pepper's opinion. “So you're giving up?”

“What?” he asked, drawn out of his thoughts.

“You asked him out once, and he said he couldn't, so you're just going to pout like a child and pine over him? You don't even know why he said no. You just accepted it at face value and fled?”

He made a face, his brows drawing down as he sat up and set his hands on the arms of the chair. “Well, yeah, but—”

“But what? But you're too much of a coward to pursue a relationship with someone that might become more than a fling?” Pepper tilted her chin up as his stare turned into a glare. “If you want him, don't give up immediately. Show him you're willing to put effort into earning him.”

He continued to glare for a moment, before he words sank in and his expression soften. He moved to lean back again, letting out a long sigh as he turned his eyes to the window again. “What if he says no again?” he asked.

“You won't know unless you try,” she said.

He sighed loudly, looking back at her with his eyes nakedly sincere. He wanted Steve. He wanted to see him smile. He wanted to hear him laugh. He wanted to be the one to fix things in his apartment when they broke. She smiled softly at him, before she stood up and moved over to slide sideways into his lap, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and setting his chin atop his head. His arms went around her middle, and his nuzzled his face into her neck.

“I don't like it when things aren't easy,” he complained against her skin.

“I know you don't,” she said.

“I don't know what I would do without you telling me what to do.”

She squeezed him a bit tighter around the shoulders. “When did I become your relationship advice counselor?”

“You're my everything advice counselor.” And he meant it.

Steve went through the week trying to not think about Tony. But the more he did that the more the man crept into his thoughts. And he found himself wanting him around while being equally terrified of seeing him. He didn't go back to his drawing space just in case Tony would be there. He didn't want to be happy to see him and then remember that it was a terrible idea for them to be together. It would only cause pain on both their sides.

“Earth to Steve!”

He looked up and found Clint sitting across from him at the picnic table, and he blinked at him before he looked down at his sketch pad. Staring back at him were a pair of big, dark eyes behind designer shades. He sighed and closed his sketchpad, before he covered his eyes with his hands. “Hey, Clint, how long have you been here?”

“Like forever,” Clint replied, and Steve looked at him to find he was giving him an intensely curious look. “What's up, man, you look even more spacey than usual.”

Steve folded his arms over his sketchpad. “I'm all kinds of backwards. I got asked out on a date, and I can't stop thinking about it.”

Clint brightened immediately, a smile spreading across his face. “You did? Really? Who? When? Where? Do I know her? Where are you going? Is she hot?”

Steve had to smile at Clint's enthusiasm, though there was a bitterness to it because he knew he was about to let his best friend down. “I said no.”

Clint stared at him, before his face screwed up like he couldn't believe it, and he brought up his hands, pressing his fingers to his temples. “What!” he cried, flinging his hands out. “Why!”

“Because,” Steve said, dropping his eyes and rolling his pencil back and forth with his finger.

“That is not an answer. What possible reason do you have not to go out with a girl when your plate has been clean for two years?”

“It's not a girl,” Steve told him.

Clint was silent, and he looked up to find him considering him seriously. Then he leaned in. “Look, I know that you've only dated like two guys ever, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give them a chance. The thing that we had maybe only lasted for like two weeks, but—”

“I didn't say no because he's a guy,” Steve interrupted before he could go any further.

“Then why?”

“Because I don't want to,” he said firmly, picking up his supplies and starting to put them away. “I don't understand why that's so difficult for people to grasp. Just because someone shows interest in me doesn't mean I should leap at the chance to be with them. I'm not going to fall at Tony Stark's feet just because he fixed my radiator—”

“Whoa, wait, what?”

Steve ignored him. “I don't need to be dating someone, especially a rich playboy who's probably only interested in me because I'm different than his usual one night stands—”

“Tony Stark asked you out?”

“I don't need someone. I don't need anyone.” Steve stood up, adjusting his bag on his back.

“Steve, wait—”

Steve didn't wait. And he didn't go to his next class either. He went home and to his room to drop his things and removed his T-shirt to start lifting weights. He picked up 20lbs in each hand and stood, lifting his arms out straight next to him and staring at the wall. He felt his shoulders and back flex with the effort of the extends. He keep going, switching up weights and flexes until his whole body was sore and it was dark out. Only then did he set the weights down and sit down on the floor of his room, burying his face in his hands.

It didn't help, not really. His mind was racing with his friends's words, and all he could see when he closed his eyes was Tony's face and those dark eyes. The more and more he tried not to want him, the more he did. He was so likable when he was sitting on a dirty floor in his expensive suit. He looked so handsome with his sleeves rolled up and his hands dirty. All the more, when he did that, there was nothing between him and Steve, no financial barrier, no fancy cars and no buildings bought. They were on even ground. And Tony didn't hesitate.

Steve rocked to his feet, going to take a shower. When he got out he wandered out into the living room and sat down on the couch to watch TV, his arms and back still aching, but he liked the pain. It was something he caused himself. His phone buzzed in his pocket as he was watching a marathon of old C.S.I. Episodes, and he flipped it open to find a text from Janet. She and Natasha were going out with Clint, and she wanted to know if he wanted to go to. He almost closed his phone without responding, but then he tapped out a quick 'have a nice time' and shut it.

He knew Clint was head over heels for Natasha, and he was probably going to spend the whole night trying to get her to pay attention to him. But Natasha had a talent for holding power over someone by giving a little then ignoring them. It wasn't because she was cruel. She was just smart. Clint would have to work for her attention.

He watched the marathon all night, and eventually he heard the sound of giggling outside the door in the hallways. He heard jingling keys, before the Janet stumbled into the apartment. She waved at him, before she hung up her keys and moved to take off her long coat. She was having issues, so he stood up and went over to her.

“Here, let me,” he told her as he undid the tie she forgot and slid it down her shoulders then went to hang it in the hall closet for her. As he did so, her arms came around his waist, and he turned in them to look at her.

“Heeeeeey,” she slurred with a grin.

“Hi, Jan. You look happy,” he told her, pushing her hair out of her face as she nuzzled his chest.

“I am,” she said, and one of her hand moved down to his ass and goosed him.

He jumped up onto his toes with a nervous laugh, before he peeled her arms off him and tried to put some distance between them. She just followed him though, determined to cuddle. “You had a drinking contest with Nat, didn't you?”

“I almost won too,” she said as she ran her hands along his back.

“Nat can hold her vodka,” he said, shivering as her fingers brushed sensitive places.

“Let's fuck,” she said all of the sudden.

“Jan—”

“No, let's do it,” she insisted. “You've haven't been with anyone in a while. I haven't been with anyone in a while. We're meant to have sex.” She pressed closer, nosing him under the chin.

He leaned away, catching her elbows and untangling her from him. He swallowed, looking at her face as she grinning sloppily at him. Did she really harbor feelings for him? Or was she so wasted that she was just throwing herself at the nearest person? It didn't matter, because he couldn't sleep with her. She was his friend, practically his sister.

Swallowing, he smiled at her. “Sure, but how about we watch a movie first?” he suggested, taking her hands in his.

She rocked back as she blinked at him. “What movie?”

“Your favorite.”

Immediately she brightened. “Casablanca!”

“You bet,” she said with a relieved sigh.

Steve set up the movie as Janet positioned herself on the couch, pulling the blanket over her legs. He sat down next to her, throwing his arm over her and maneuvering a throw pillow into lap in case she tried to cop a feel while the movie was rolling. She didn't, though she did snuggled closer and closer as the movie went on. Eventually she slowly leaned over his lap, lying across the pillow. And two minutes later she was breathing deep and even, and Steve leaned forward a little to find her eyes closed.

He took in a deep breath and let it out, pleased. He hadn't wanted to outright deny her, because he knew that would have made her sad. He couldn't handle her sad face. This was better. He doubted she would even remember in the morning. He edged his way out from under the pillow and eased her down onto the couch slowly. He pulled the blanket up over her shoulder and moved to shut off the movie, before he went to bed.

So that was his first offer of sex in two years, he mused as he undressed to his boxers and climbed under the covers. First a date and then sex, maybe his social life was looking up. He sighed and rolled onto his stomach, cuddling his arms up under his pillow. Of course, there was a possibility that a date with Tony could have had the added bonus of sex too.

Parts low in him clenched at the idea, and he let out a tiny moan. That idea, for no apparent reason, was wildly appealing to him. Okay, so maybe the reason was apparent. Really apparent. Maybe he wanted to see Tony's lips wrapped around his cock—

Oh jeez, what was brain doing? What kind of thought process was this? It was disrespectful to think about someone you weren't dating in that kind of position. And he could think of Tony in a lot of positions, like on his back with his legs open and Steve's tongue licking him open—

Stop! For the love of Pete, stop! He turned on his side because his hardness was at a bad angle, reaching into his briefs to pull it up straight so the head was peeking over the elastic band. What was wrong with him? Was he really so lonely that he was fantasizing about a guy he had seen a total of three times ever? It's not like he knew what he looked like under those fine suits of his. Though if his arms were anything to go by, he was more than likely toned and trim with no unnecessary muscle. He was probably strong, but Steve was taller and could cover him with his own body—

Augh! Steve rolled around on the bed, twisting himself up in the sheets. He felt hot, even overheated, and he couldn't believe his mind was being so treacherous. He untangled the sheets, pushing them off and kicking them away so his bare skin met nothing but air, and the only thing he had on was his underwear. His body arched, and he pulled his second pillow over his face and groaned loudly into it. He could feel the thick throb of want in his lower body, making his cock strain against his briefs. He wanted Tony. He wanted him so bad that the fabric of his briefs was enough to make him moan as he rocked his hips.

He gave up trying to deny it. It was too powerful, and he was too turned on. He pushed his briefs down his thighs and wrapped his fingers around his cock, closing his eyes and imagining it was Tony's hand. He was en engineer, a man that worked with his hands, so he bet he had calluses. His palm was probably rough. He probably had a firm grip, but then he probably liked to tease too. Steve held himself loosely, moving his fist up and down and running his thumb over the slit.

Would Tony want to fuck him? He gave a surprised grunt at the sudden thought, his eyes squeezing shut tighter. He could imagine it, the way Tony would push his legs apart, and he mimicked the thought, drawing his knees up and letting them fall to the side. The hand not on his cock moved down, his fingers massaging against the tight ring of muscle. He stroked himself faster, imagining the way the man would carefully, thoughtfully prepare him, using one finger and then another.

He brought his hand to his mouth, sucking in his fingers between his lips and coating them with his spit. Then he pressed one inside of himself, and the slight burn was welcome. He immediately relaxed against it and added another finger to crook them deep inside. He moved his fist fast, and he arched off the bed when the fingers inside him pressed against that perfect spot. He bit his lip to stifle his cry as he came, striping his stomach with hot white.

He was floating, his whole body tingling, and he let out a shaky sigh as he smiled a little. It was nice. He laid there and enjoyed the feel of his nerve endings dancing.

It didn't last, of course, and soon enough he came back to himself. And this time he had added guilt. It wasn't right to masturbate to someone he turned down. That was just plain rude. He swallowed as he felt his body cooling, before he threw his arm over his face.

In the morning, the guilt was still there. He couldn't get over how powerful the fantasy had been. He watched his oatmeal heat up in the microwave with a forlorn expression on his face. The worst part about it is that whacking off to Tony hadn't slicked his interest in the man at all. Now he just wanted to see him in and out of bed both. He wanted to romance him, to be romanced himself, wine and dine, and then tumble onto Tony's bed with its no doubt ridiculous thread count sheets.

“What's wrong with you?”

“Huh?” Steve asked, turning to look at Natasha.

“You look like someone ran over your puppy,” she said bluntly, her eyebrows coming together, before she walked over to the microwave and opened it. She pulled out his oatmeal and put it on the counter, and he had no idea how long it had been done and he'd been staring at it.

“Nothing,” he finally says to her inquiry. He numbly went about adding milk and sugar to his oatmeal.

“You know I don't believe you,” she told him, still fixing him with that even stare of hers.

So he decided to change the subject. “Jan tried to sleep with me last night.”

Natasha's brows went up. “Oh really? How did that go?”

“She fell asleep while we watched Casablanca.” He turned and leaned his butt against the counter, bowl of oatmeal in his hand.

She stared at him, before she smiled and reached over to patted his arm. “You're a sweet guy.”

“Uh huh,” he said, stirring his food. “So what time did you get home last night?”

A smile flitted across her face. “Around two. Clint and I went to a 24hr diner over in Brownsville and chatted for a couple hours.” She lifted her juice and took a drink. “He asked me out on a date for the hundredth time.”

“And?” he prompted.

“I said yes. I figure that he's put enough effort into it finally. He was really charming last night. He walked me to the door and kissed me goodbye on the cheek.” She was smiling, a kind of sincere smile she didn't use very often. She patted Steve's arm again. “And I figure if it all goes south and you have to choose between us, you'll pick me because we live together, and if you pick him I'll kill you.” She flashed a little teeth before she went out into the living room.

“That's not fair!” he called after her.

“All's fair in war!” she countered.

“I think you mean love and war,” Steve said, following her.

“Do I?”

“Why is everyone shouting?” came a miserable moan from Janet as she sat up on the couch and squinted around. She sniffed and pulled the blanket more firmly around her. “What time is it?”

Steve glanced at the wall clock. “Almost noon.”

Janet made an unhappy noise, before he curled up on the end cushion of the couch. “Everybody talk softly. Or not at all.” She looked at Natasha, who was perched in her armchair. “Why do you always look perfect and never hungover?”

“I'm too amazing,” Natasha answered easily.

Janet looked like she was going to say something, but a sharp, loud knock on the door made her whine instead. “Make it stop,” she cried, pulling the throw pillow over her head.

Steve set his oatmeal on the coffee table and went to the door, opening it. “Delivery for Steve Rogers,” the man at the door said, and on the floor next to him was a big square box that reached his knee and a much smaller box on top.

“I didn't order anything,” Steve told him.

“I just make the deliveries, sir,” the man said, holding out a tablet and a stylus for him.

Still confused, Steve took the stylus and signed the line, and the delivery man turned and left him standing in his doorway. He looked at the boxes, before he moved out, pushed them through the door and shut it. He picked up the smallest one, and the only thing on it was his address and the postage, no return address.

“What is it?” Natasha asked, standing up and walking over to get a look.

“I have no idea,” Steve said, before he tore open one end of the small box. There was some packaging, a book that was probably a manual, and a phone. And it wasn't just any phone.

“Is that the StarkPhone 6?” Natasha asked as she took it from him and looked it over. “These aren't even out until Christmas. How did you get one?”

Steve took it back. “I didn't.” He hit the power button, and the screen came to life. Wordlessly he checked the contacts. There was only one number programmed in with a simple first name. Tony. “This is too expensive. I can't accept this.”

“I bet what's in that box is worth more,” Natasha said, pointing at the big box. “Open it.”

With a sigh, he replaced the phone in the box and sat down next to the big one, pulling open the flaps. He had a hope that Tony sent him something big and cheap, of what he couldn't be sure, but there had to be something— No, that was definitely a laptop case. He pulled it out, staring at the face of it. Written in simple silver letters on the blue case was his name. “Wow,” he whispered, pulling it closer.

Natasha patted his shoulder and pointed at the box. “There's more.”

He gently set aside the laptop and picked up the box for a LCD digital art tablet with a 24 inch screen. It advertised on the front that it was installed with the latest version of Photoshop and Painter Sai. He let out a breath he didn't know he was holding as he looked at it. He had never drawn with a tablet before, but he had always been curious. He bet it would be so much fun.

“Steve,” Natasha said, and he looked up at her. Silently she pointed at the box.

No, there couldn't be more. What could top a computer and a digital art tablet? Steve lifted on his knees and pushed the bubble wrap out of the way. Then his heart skipped a beat. “No,” he whispered as he lifted it out of the box. It was the Faber-Castell 250th Anniversary limited edition wooden case. He actually whimpered as he set it on the ground and opened it up to reveal the one hundred and twenty colors of colored pencils, watercolor pencils, pastels and pastel pencils. It also had Castell 9000 black-lead pencils, woodless graphite pencils, compressed charcoal sticks and the most beautiful, perfect erasers he'd ever seen. It was the very elite of art supplies. His sketchpads weren't even worthy of this. He wanted to spoon it.

Abruptly he was on his feet and backing away from the box and its contents. He put his hands in his hair. “This is like five or six thousand dollars worth of stuff,” he practically wheezed. He may or may not be starting to have a panic attack.

“Your boyfriend knows how to give a gift,” Natasha said.

“He is not my boyfriend,” Steve said.

“Does he know that?”

He swallowed thickly, before he started putting everything back in the box and closed it up. “I'm going to return it. I just have to get him to come take it back.”

“And to do that, you have to call him,” Natasha agreed, but she sounded almost like she was goading him.

He frowned at her. “I will.” He looked at the box with the StarkPhone in it. “Tomorrow. I have a project to do today. I'll call him tomorrow.” He carried all of the things into his room, pushing the box of stuff under his bed like he was afraid its mere presence made his apartment a target for burglary. He gazed at the StarkPhone in his hand for a long moment, before he put it in his bedside drawer.

It wasn't technically crazy if he constantly checked a tracking number for the package he sent to Steve. No, it was just protectiveness. He only wanted to make sure that the package arrived promptly and safely. Yeah, that was it. That wasn't crazy. Now all he had to do was wait for Steve to call him and tell him he loved the gift and wanted to go on that date with him. It had been a genius foresight to throw in the phone last minute, because then Steve had a direct line to him. It's not like they had exchanged numbers or anything. He could have just included his number, but Steve had a pay as you go phone, and those things are pieces of crap. He deserved a state of the art StarkPhone.

Yeah, perfect logic.

Now he just had to wait for Steve to call him. He sat at his desk and stared at his phone. Any minute now. He'd give him some leave to freak out of all the gifts. Pepper had really come through and found the best things for him to buy. So what if she thought it was a little extravagant? It's not like Steve was a flowers kind of guy. Oh, maybe he should have sent flowers too. Shit, lost opportunity.

Pepper came in while he was gazing intently at his phone. “What're you doing?” she asked when she came to stop in front of his desk.

“I'm waiting for Steve to call me and lavish me with thanks for his gifts.” Tony picked up his phone and hit the home button, thinking maybe his phone had for once in ever failed to announce the call, but no, still nothing.

“Uh huh,” Pepper said, before she opened the folder in her hand. “You need to sign off on this.” She set it down next to the phone and pointed at the line with the X.

Absently he signed and went back to staring at his phone. “Why hasn't he called? Does he not like what I sent him?”

“Maybe he would prefer a car,” Papper said lightly, and when Tony lifted his eyes to her, she frowned at him. “Don't you dare buy him a car.” She sighed and picked up the folder. “Give him some time, and he'll call you. He's not one of your engineering problems, Tony. You can't input some data and expect JARVIS to spit out some results right away.”

Tony stared at her. “What if I go over there?”

“Tony, don't go over there.”

Tony clicked his tongue and suggested, “What if I go over there tomorrow?

“You're being clingy.”

“Day after tomorrow?”

Pepper sighed and turned to go out. “Do what you want.”

Day after tomorrow it is!

Steve didn't call that day. He didn't call the next day either. He meant to, really he did, but every time he picked up the phone, which was like thirty times throughout the day, he couldn't bring himself to call the man. Natasha gave him knowing looks over take out. Janet gently asked him how his projects were going.

If he called Tony, then he would have to accept that the man had really spent a ridiculous amount of money on him, that his intent was true. Tony really wanted to date him and was doing some serious overkill spending to prove it. It was sweet in a totally overwhelming, scary kind of way. He wondered if Tony spent this kind of money on all the people he wanted to date. That thought made him jealous. And his jealousy completely confused him.

The next day, Steve was determined to call Tony. It was Monday, so he had classes. He was up super early, and he put the StarkPhone in his bag. Maybe the university would give him the courage to face up to what he knew inside. He had to let Tony down again. He had to give his gifts back and tell him that no amount of money was going to get them into a relationship. He had to prepare himself for the disappointment in his voice.

That thought dogged him through his first classes. He sat at the picnic table with the phone in his hand, running his fingers over its sleek black surface. He glanced up with Clint sat down opposite him, greasy bag of food in hand again.

“You look like shit,” Clint said slowly.

“Thanks,” Steve said, and he couldn't exactly disagree with him. He went back to looking at the phone.

“Natasha told me everything.”

“Of course she did,” Steve said with a sigh.

“Dude, I have no advice for your situation, because it's pretty messed up.”

“Thanks again.”

“But me and Natasha are starting to understand that you don't need anyone else's advice.” Steve looked up at him, and Clint offered him a half smile. “You've gotta figure this all out on your own. Eventually you'll see that you're being a total idiot by yourself.” Steve lifted his brows with a frown, and Clint cleared his throat. “What I mean to say is that you've gotta do some serious soul searching. You've been in this funk for two years and no amount of friendly advice has helped at all. You're hiding from something inside, and only you can face it.”

Steve stared at him for a long moment. “Did Natasha tell you to say that?”

Clint looked embarrassed immediately. “She sent me the script in first period, and I memorized it.”

Steve had to smile. He looked at the phone in his hand, before he put it in his bag. “Well, I can't disagree.” He accepted the burger when Clint handed it to him. He didn't end up calling Tony that day, but he made a promise to do it the next day. There was a 70% chance he wouldn't back out.

What he wasn't expecting was the nightmares he had that night. They always sneaked up on him out of absolutely no where. One moment he was settling down and feeling almost peaceful and then there was a gunshot that took out one of his brothers in arms. He thrashed in his bed as someone he'd served for nearly a year with stepped on a mine, and blood and bits of bone went everywhere. The way Bucky stopped breathing in his arms.

He shot up in bed, breathing hard as he tried to shake it, half of him still on the battle field. He could smell gun oil and blood and feel the heat of the sun beating down on him. He got up, and his body felt heavy. He was safe. He wasn't on the field anymore. That had happened so long ago. He was okay.

He looked at the clock and found it was just after three in the morning. He wasn't going back to sleep, so he pulled on some pajama pants and went out into the living room to quietly watch TV. Natasha got up two hours later and was surprised to find him awake. He just gave her a tired look. When she asked if he was going to school, he said no, and after a while she left. He continued to watch TV. Janet was equally surprised to see him when she got up around eight. She gave him a knowing look and kissed his hair before she left for work.

He was numb for hours, both exhausted but knowing he couldn't go to sleep. The nightmares floated around in the back of his head like a dark curtain, threatening to blanket him again. He watched TV, the programs bleeding into each other, and he wasn't even sure what had happened the whole day except that he hadn't moved. If Janet were here, she would have tried to get him to eat, but his stomach already felt like it was filled with stones.

There was a knock at the door, and Steve was pulled from thinking about nothingness. What was this? Another gift from Tony? What more could he get him? Maybe it was chocolates. He could probably eat a lot of chocolate right about then. When he opened the door, he rocked back in surprise. “Tony,” he said, sounding tired.

Tony's eyes widened as he took him in, shirtless, his hair all a mess, his pajama pants hanging low on his hips and his feet bare. He pushed his sunglasses up into his hair and raked his eyes up and down him without even trying to hide it. “Hey, Steve,” he said, bursting into a huge smile.

Steve seemed to remember his manners and stepped aside to let Tony in, shutting the door after him. “I've been meaning to call you,” he said, turning to him. Tony's smile hurt to look at. He looked so expectant and happy. “About the stuff you bought—”

“Isn't it great?” Tony asked, apparently unable to contain himself. “Pepper is very good at finding great gifts. I don't know the first thing about the arts or what it takes to make them.”

It was strangely adorable that Tony hadn't had a clue what to buy him and had his assistant figure it out for him. He wondered if she'd suggested the things as individual choices and he couldn't pick, so he just bought it all. The thought brought a little smile to his lips, but he was too tired to smile too much. “Tony, I...” He took a breath, gearing himself up. “It's all amazing. It's perfect and wonderful. What you bought are things I couldn't imagine buying myself, like a dream.” Tony took a step closer, his eyes fixed intently on his face. “But I can't accept it.”

Tony just blinked, before his brows came together. “Of course you can. You said it was perfect. What's the problem?”

“People don't give each other thousands of dollars worth of gifts like that,” Steve insisted. As he spoke he could fell weariness taking root between his shoulders. He didn't want to argue. He didn't even want to talk. He just wanted to go back to his numb TV watching.

“I do,” Tony told him firmly.

“I can't ever repay you for it.”

“Sure, you can,” Tony said, that smile coming back. “Go on a date with me.”

Steve felt a pain starting above his eye. “Tony, please—”

“C'mon, just one date,” Tony went on, and he reached over to take Steve's hand in his. “If it's shit, I'll leave you alone.” His expression betrayed that he believed a date between them would be magic. “You don't have to return anything. I wanted to give you those things because you deserve them.”

Steve looked at where their hands were joined. He was right. Tony's hand was rough, and it was also so warm. He didn't want to let it go, wanting to squeeze it and hold it in his forever. But he slowly drew his hand away anyway. “I'm sorry, Tony, I can't.”

There's two seconds where this horrible, unimaginable hurt covered Tony's face, and Steve wanted to touch him, but as soon as it was there, it was gone again. He put on a smile he probably used for the public. “Alright,” he said, and his voice was so light, like he didn't care. “But still, keep the stuff. I absolutely refuse to take it back.”

“But—”

“I meant what I said,” Tony told him. “I just want you to be happy.”

Steve swallowed thickly. “Okay. Thank you.”

“Don't mention it.” Tony lifted a finger. “Really, I'm serious. I have a reputation to protect.”

Steve tried to smile, but it didn't quite work. He watched Tony turn away and go out. He stood there gazing at the door and felt a weight settle on his body. Suddenly his eyelids were heavy and his shoulders were too much to hold up. He staggered over to the couch and pulled the throw pillow to his chest, wondering if he was about to cry. He waited a few minutes, and it didn't happen. So he just went back to watching TV.

He kept watching TV until Natasha came home, and then Janet, and they sat with him for a while. Janet made food and brought him a plate, and he ate it mostly because she was watching him. It felt like a sick weight in his stomach. He stayed on the couch when they went to bed, flipping the channel until he came across a marathon of Doctor Who. It was Ten, and he'd already watched the whole run of Ten, but he couldn't think of a reason not to watch it again.

At fifteen past five in the morning, Natasha came out of her room and stopped when she saw him. “You're still awake?” she asked, even though her tone suggested that she knew the answer already. “If I make you a bagel, will you come to class?”

Steve stared at her for a minute, trying to think of a reason other than 'I don't wanna.' He couldn't, so he shut off the TV and stood up. “I'll go get dressed.” He pondered taking a shower while he was at it, but he couldn't muster the motivation. He'd take one that night.

Natasha had the bagel waiting for him, loaded with cream cheese. He ate it silently as she ate her cereal. When they put their dishes in the sink, she set her hand on his arm. “Is it the nightmares again?” she asked, her tone soft, not like the direct one she usually used. He didn't look at her as he nodded. “Maybe you should call your doctor.”

He did look at her then, swallowing. “It'll pass. It always does. I'm fine.”

He went to class feeling like he was underwater. Everything seemed muted and slow around him, and he couldn't understand the words people were saying. He moved through the day slowly, and when it came time to sit at the picnic table with Clint, he almost didn't. He almost went to the library to hide in the shelves of books. But then he realized it didn't matter because Clint already knew everything anyway, because Natasha will have told him. He went to the table and sat down to wait.

Clint showed with a bag of food again, but it wasn't greasy burgers. No this time is was salads with chicken. When Steve gave him a confused look, Clint just shrugged. “You can't eat burgers all the time. You'll never have bowel movements.”

Steve wrinkled up his nose. “Did Natasha tell you that?”

Clint just smiled. “Maybe.”

Steve just shook his head. Clint looked ridiculously happy to have Natasha changing aspects of his life. Well, he was happy. And Steve was happy that Clint was happy. And thankfully Clint didn't mention his nightmares even though he knew Natasha told him. They ate their salads, and Clint talked about a particularly difficult piece he was working on. He just couldn't get his bow to go across the strings just right.

After his classes he went to his space. He stopped to buy a bag of cat food like always and walked down the street toward the building. He had a drawing he needed to do for a class, and he was planning it out in his head. He was so concerned with that that he didn't see the two trucks parked in front of his building and the people in construction uniforms milling about until he was right next to the building. There was caution tape attached to cones.

Tony had told him that it would take months to start construction. But this was only a week and a half. He sighed, looking at the cat food he bought then back at the building. There was a pretty tall redhead talking to a man in a suit—a man that was not Tony—and he realized he was staring when she looked over at him. He took a step back, before he turned and started to walk off. Okay, now his space was gone. That was... well, not okay, but he'd live.

He heard the sound of fast foot beats behind him. “Excuse me,” a voice said, and he stopped to look over his shoulder. The redhead was catching up with him, jogging in heels. “You wouldn't by chance be Steve, would you? Steve Rogers?”

He blinked at her, turning toward her. “Um, yes, ma'am, that's me.”

She smiled widely and her a slim hand out for him. “I'm Pepper Potts.”

He dimly took her hand, and it felt small in his. “You're Tony's assistant,” he said slowly.

She nodded. “I am.”

“He said he'd probably die without you,” he found himself saying, and he wasn't sure why.

She blinked rapidly, before her smile turned warm and sweet. “Did he? That's probably true. I never knew he was aware enough to know it.” She shook her head and took a deep breath. “I'm glad I have this chance to talk to you. I know that Tony has asked you on a date. Twice.”

He swallowed. “Yes, and I told him I couldn't,” he told her.

She took a step closer. “Yes, I know, but I want to know why. Tony may be a bit of an idiot when it comes to expressing his feelings, and he tends to go over the top with presents, but I promise he means well. He is honestly interested in you, and it's not the kind of attention he shows a one night stand.”

Steve took a deep breath, swallowing, and the action hurt his throat. “I know, he just—he's nice, and I do like him, I just don't think...” He shook his head, getting choked up all of the sudden, and he yelled at himself in his own head for being emotional. “I'm not good for him,” he decided to say. “I'm not good for anyone.”

Pepper's eyebrows went up, and her lips parted slowly. “Oh, Steve, that's—”

“It's the truth,” he said, cutting her off, before he took a step back, then another one. “Sorry, I've got to go. Nice meeting you.” And he turned away, using his long legs to take long strides to get away from her as fast as he could. He could feel emotion welling in his throat, and he swallowed it down thickly. Usually he had more control than this, but when he was tired, he tended to slip and let things out he didn't mean to.

Steve didn't sleep that night either. He went to school, feeling numb, and when he got home he went back to his spot on the couch. Janet and Natasha were obviously concerned for him, but they probably realized he was an adult and could completely ruin his sleeping schedule and mind if he very well liked.

On the next day he realized that thought was incorrect. Natasha grabbed his ear and jerked him off the couch with all the force of ten mothers. He gasped and couldn't really do anything but stumble along after her and whine out pathetic little 'ow's over and over again. She turned him toward the bed and put her hand on the side of his face, pushing him down onto it with surprising strength. He crawled onto it completely it to get away from her.

“Nat, what're you—”

“If you get up, I will tie you to your bed,” she said, putting a threatening finger in his face. He stared at it, before he slowly nodded. She turned and went to the door, though she paused with her hand on the knob and turned narrowed eyes over her shoulder. “I have the right tools.” And then she walked out.

He stared after her, before he sank against the pillows. “That explains a lot,” he mumbled, before he sighed. He guessed he was grounded to his bed. He fell asleep before the thought of getting undressed even came to his mind. He didn't dream, and that was a blessing.

Things returned to normal. Steve went back to sleeping, and the nightmares didn't return. He guessed his exhaustion had fulfilled the amount of suffering required for them to pass. The week ended, and Natasha went out with Clint on Friday night. She looked super pretty in her little dress with her hair down and flowing over her shoulders. And Clint had managed to find a suit. He and Janet saw them off, and Clint promised to have her home at a reasonable time like they were her parents. And Natasha slapped his arm and said she'd come home whenever she damn well pleased. Or maybe not at all. Clint's smile was big and stupid.

Natasha didn't come home that night, and Janet had giggled about it before she went to bed. Steve had to admit that things were going well for those two, and they deserved each other.

Steve slept in on Saturday morning, enjoying the fact that he had no responsibilities for two days. His projects were done, and he was pleased to do nothing.

Then his cellphone started ringing, and he moaned, turning over and reaching to paw at his bedside table. He opened it and put it against his ear without looking at the caller ID. "Hullo?" he slurred.

"Steve?" came a soft, shaky sob on the other end of the line.

Steve sat up so quickly that the room tilted. "Peggy? What's wrong? Why are you crying?"

She gasped in a breath. "Steve, can you come over? I need you."

"I'll be there as fast as I can," he promised her. And he was up and out of bed instantly, leaving it in disarray instead of making it up like he usually did. When he went through the living room, Janet was there on the couch.

She looked up at him. “Steve, you're up. Where are you going?”

“Out,” he answered shortly as he got his jacket out of the hall closet.

“Nat and I have been trying to get you to go out for ages,” she said, standing up and giving him a smile. “What's the rush?”

“It's Peggy,” he said, and her face immediately fell. “She called me, crying. She needs me.” He went over to the door, and Janet met him there, putting her hand on his arm.

“Steve, don't do this. Don't go to her. You don't have to be her hero.” She squeezed his arm a little. “You need to get over her.”

He pulled his arm away. “Don't tell me what I need.” He went out, shutting the door hard when he went.

On his way to Peggy's apartment, his mind conjured all of these terrible scenarios as to why she would be crying and need him. If her boyfriend hit her, he was going to kill him. He would track him down and end his life, and no jury in the world would blame him for it. That dark thought shadowed his mind the whole trip, and he was feeling murderous by the time he knocked on her door.

When she answered it, he had expected to be taken aback by the sight her, since she was his perfect woman, and while she looked pretty in a high, messy ponytail, no make up and simple clothes, seeing her wasn't like coming home. She gave him a smile, before she stepped aside to let him in, and when she closed the door she leaned into him, and he wrapped his arms around her. She was warm, and she smelled nice, but he couldn't shake this feeling that it was all kind of wrong.

Peggy sniffed against his chest, her eyes closed. “We had a fight,” she said against him. “We've had fights before, but never like this. He's never stormed out before. He's not answering my calls. I think he's really left.”

Steve should have felt some kind of warmth that Peggy had called him in her time of need. And he definitely should have felt comfortable with her in his arms, but awkwardness and a distinct amount of guilt were setting up home in his mind. He didn't know what to say to her, whether to offer words of comfort that any man that loved her would return or that she was better off without him. All words felt incorrect on his tongue, so he said nothing, just held her a little tighter.

“Thank you for coming over,” she said, drawing back a little to look up at his face.

He swallowed as he looked at her, before he lifted his hand to swipe his thumb over her damp cheek. “Of course, Peg,” he told her, and his voice was thick and wrong. He didn't understand. He should have been happy to be so close to her again. His friends's words hung heavily in the back of his head.

He stayed with her all day, sitting with her and listening to her talk endlessly about her problems with her boyfriend. He held her, kissed her hair and promised that everything was going to be okay, though he didn't offer any actual advice. How could he? The Steve of the past would have told her to forget him, that he was better for her, but now he couldn't say that. He didn't believe it, and and he didn't know why. Peggy was supposed to be his perfect woman.

And that night when she kissed him, he didn't draw back or push more insistently against her. The numbness was returning, the feeling like he was watching his own life from behind glass, like he had no control over it. He let her lead him to her bedroom, and he pulled off his own clothes with slow, sluggish movements. He knew this wasn't right, that he would regret this, but he couldn't stop himself when she pulled him into bed.

He would have liked to feel love and pleasure, but he watched her face, and she kept her head turned away with her eyes closed, obviously thinking about someone else. The amount of pleasure he did feel quickly soured, and he rolled over to lie next to her. They didn't touch again. She turned on her side and put her back to him, pulling the covers up to her ears. He got under the covers himself and draped an arm over his eyes, falling asleep with his muscles in his shoulders tensing and his stomach feeling sick.

He dreamed about his space, his room made of windows, and all the cats. He was drawing. The dark eyes were familiar, and so was the purposely messy spiked hair. He sketched out his nose with care, then his full lips. The sound his pencil made when he filled out the Van Dyke goatee was the only sound he heard. Skritch, skritch, skritch. He set his pencil aside, lifting the pad up to his face. And the lips on the paper smiled.

Steve opened his eyes, turning to look where Peggy was only to find that she wasn't there anymore. He sat up, turning his eyes to the door, which was cracked open and a light spilled in across the floor. He could hear her voice in the hallway, clear as a bell in the silence. “I know. I'm sorry too,” he heard her say, and he couldn't hear anyone else, so he assumed she was on the phone. “Our fight was stupid. I love you.”

He didn't know the right emotion to feel, but he was actually surprised to find his shoulders sag in relief. That must have been inappropriate. He shouldn't have been happy that the woman he loved was saying 'I love you' to someone else. But he was, and he found he was comfortable with that.

Looking at the clock on the bedside table, he found it was just after one in the morning. It was time to go home. Quietly he got out of bed and located his clothes, and he was dressed when Peggy came back into the room, wearing a robe. He looked at her, and her wide eyes were on him. She looked sad, but not the same kind of sad that she had been when he arrived several hours earlier. He tried to smile at her, and he actually managed it.

“I was just about to wake you,” she said, taking a step toward him. She was cradling her cellphone against her chest.

“I know, Peg. It's okay. I'll go.” He moved for the door, shifting around her without touching her.

“I'm sorry, Steve,” she said after him.

He looked over his shoulder at her. “Me too.”

"Who are you texting?" Pepper asked as she sat across from him on his private plane.

Tony had been tapping away on his phone for about five minutes. He finished a thought and looked at her. "I'm not texting anyone. I'm recording an idea for an improved StarkPhone's memory board." He went back to tapping out ideas.

"StarkPhone 7?" Pepper asked, looking like she approved that he was planning ahead.

"No, eight," he said simply. "I had seven planned out a month ago."

"Six isn't even out yet," she replied with a half a smile.

"It's not my fault that my company can't keep up with me." Tony sank down a little in his chair, his mind full of numbers, software and hardware components. There was a demand to make his phones smaller and slimmer each year, and it was like a game to him. Putting more power and processing speed onto smaller components was like a puzzle.

"I met Steve," Pepper said.

Tony forgot all about the phones. He lowered his to his lap and gazed at her with wide eyes. "What? When?"

"A few days ago. I was at the site, and he came around. You said he was a tall, handsome blond. He also had a bag of cat food." She crossed her legs, letting her high heel shoe slip off her heel to dangle from her toes. "He is very good looking."

"Yeah, he is," Tony said, sitting up. "What did he say to you?"

Pepper smiled. "He called me 'ma'am.' What's more important is what I asked him. I asked why he turned you down."

Tony leaned forward, his hands gripping the arms of the chair. "Did he answer you?"

She nodded. "He did. He said he is no good for you."

His brows came together. "What? That's stupid. People usually think I'm the one that's no good for them. I was afraid he thought he was a conquest."

Pepper set her foot down, slotting it back into her shoe. "He's depressed. I could hear it in his voice. I think he was about to cry while talking to me."

Tony touched his fingers to his lips. He couldn't imagine Steve crying. The very idea made his chest ache. "I guess he didn't say why?"

She shook her head. "He walked off before I could ask anything else. But even so I wouldn't have been comfortable probing into any sensitive subjects." She reached over and set her hand on Tony's. "But now you know that it's nothing you did that made him reject you. He wants to be alone because he's comfortable wallowing in sorrows."

Tony curled his fingers around hers. "Why didn't I see it, Pep?"

She gave his hand a squeeze. "You didn't ask the right questions."

Steve knew what he had to do now. The dreams he was having now made it obvious. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Tony. It was always those same eyes, big and inquisitive, and that same perfect smile. And when he woke up with thoughts of the man fading comfortably into the back of his mind, he felt at peace.

There was a problem though. How do you call a man you turned down twice and say that you can't stop thinking about him? This was the dilemma that hounded Steve now. He sat on his bed and stared at the phone that Tony gave him for several long minutes each day. When he drew, it always ended up as him. And his friends even told him he was sighing like a lovesick teenager.

Finally when he opened up the Faber-Castell case, he drew his most realistic portrait yet. The first time he saw Tony was his most vivid memory of him. So he drew that gray silver suit with the plum wine shirt, his purple tinted sunglasses in his hair. The portrait was only a bust, and he was very careful about the line of Tony's shoulders. They weren't broad, but they were sharp. There was just a little blush along the cheekbones. His smile was almost kissable, with his perfect teeth. He wondered what it would feel like to have his facial hair brush against his skin.

He was going to call Tony. That much was for certain. He just needed a plausible reason to engage him in a conversation beyond 'I miss you.' He didn't want to act desperate. For all he knew, Tony could have moved on by now, and he wouldn't have blamed him. Being rejected twice was a good reason to start looking for other prospects. So Steve needed a good reason to call him. And eventually he did come up with one. There was probably asbestos in the building, and he needed to warn Tony to have his inspectors be extra diligent in searching. Yeah, that was a good reason to call him.

Even with that reason in mind, it still took him another day to build up the courage to call Tony. He was sitting in the middle of his bed, gazing at the contact number in the StarkPhone. Finally he hit the call button before he could back out and put the phone to his ear, listening to the ringing. One ring and Steve was still determined. Two rings and he was worried that he was going to interrupt Tony's busy schedule. Three rings and he hoped he got his voicemail, because talking to a machine was easier that talking to—

“Hello?” Steve's heart leapt into his throat, and he forgot all of his language abilities. “Hello?” Tony asked again, and Steve couldn't find his words. “Hm. Okay then.” And there was a click and then nothing.

Steve kept the phone to his ear for a long while, before he dropped his head to his knees. Why was he making things so difficult for himself? Calling someone had never been such a terrifying endeavor before now. He straightened up again and selected Tony's name, pressing the call button again.

It only took one ring this time, and Tony answered. “Hello, creepy mouth-breather. You have three seconds before I block your number entirely. One.” Steve's eyes widened. “Two—”

“Tony, wait,” Steve finally said, sounding a little more desperate than he meant to.

There was silence for two agonizing seconds. “Steve?” he asked.

“Hi,” Steve said, very lamely.

"Hey,” Tony replied with a soft, surprised laugh tacked on. “I wasn't expecting to hear from you.”

Steve swallowed, tilting his head up to look at the ceiling. “Yeah, I—I want to tell you something.”

“Yeah?” Tony sounded curious and just a little hopeful.

“I—The building—the one you bought, I mean—I think it has... mold. I just wanted you to know.” Ugh, way to flail about then crash and burn.

Tony didn't say anything for a moment, and Steve was sure he was about to start laughing. But instead, he said, “Pepper told me she met you.”

And Steve didn't know how to respond to that with anything but, “She did?”

“Yes,” Tony said. “She said she asked why you didn't want to go out with me, and you said that you believe you wouldn't be any good for me. She said you looked sad. Depressed.”

“I'm not...” Steve tried, but then he couldn't really disagree with her assessment.

“I'm sorry I didn't realize it. I'm kind of self-centered that way.”

A slow smile spread across Steve's face, and he laid back against his pillows. “It's not your fault I have so many problems,” he told him with a soft sigh.

“Do you want to want about them? I give absolutely shit advice, but I've heard it's therapeutic to talk about things. And I'll give vague noises of assent at the right places. I can always call Pepper on conference, and she can tell us how stupid we are.”

Steve touched his fingers to his mouth, biting his lip as his smile went wider. “That's okay, Tony. Thank you.”

“Well, for what it's worth, I think you would be good for me.”

His cheeks were hurting him for all the smiling, and Steve nearly covered his face with his pillow. “Maybe—Maybe we can find out.”

“Yeah?” Tony asked, and he could hear the grin in his voice.

“Yeah. If you still want to.” Steve fought the urge to fidget.

“I want to,” Tony told him, and there was the sounded of rustling, like he was shifting around and the phone was sliding against his face. Maybe it was brushing against his goatee. Finally it stopped, and he went on. “How would you like to go to California?”

Steve blinked. “What's in California?”

“Lots of stuff. There's the gorgeous beaches. The Walk of Fame.” He paused very briefly. “Me.”

“You're in California?” Steve asked, immediately seeing all of the problems that came with that.

“I'm in Malibu. It's where my house is. I have tower for business in New York. There's also my mother's mansion there. But I spend most of my time in California.”

Steve was silent, his arm covering his eyes. This was just his luck. He finally gets up the courage to potentially open up to someone, and there's an entire country between them. It didn't make him want Tony any less, but it was one hell of an obstacle. Did he want a long distance relationship? Would that work? Did Tony want that?

“Steve? You still there?” Tony asked.

“Yes, I'm here,” Steve told him with a sigh, dropping his arm to the side to look up at the ceiling. “Malibu, huh? That's a little far away.”

“Just a bit,” Tony agreed with a dry chuckle. “You could still come visit. I'll send my private plane for you.”

“Oh my God, a private plane,” Steve breathed out, before he closed his eyes. Of course, Tony had a private plane. He was supremely rich and probably traveled the country or went overseas all the time.

“It's a little plane,” Tony said.

“I bet it's not.” Steve swallowed, before he turned on his side with the phone laying on his ear. Tony didn't disagree with him. “I can't just leave for California. I have school.”

Tony heaved a sigh. “Well, I can come back to New York. I just need to move some stuff around and dodge Pepper. It'll take me a couple days, but I can swing it.”

“Is that okay?” Steve asked, pulling at the corner of one of his pillows. “Don't make any special arrangements just for me. If you're busy and can't come, I understand.”

“Psh!” Tony replied instantly, startling him. “You don't know me very well. I've been know to leave the state or even the country just to avoid board meetings. I could hop over to New York, grab you, then disappear to Europe for a few days.”

That sounded like a lot of fun, and it made Steve smile. “I can just imagine your assistant tailing you. We would have to wear thick sunglasses and fedoras while we see the Eiffel Tower and the Lourve.”

“I assume we'd both look amazing with thick, fake moustaches while we walk under the archways of the Colosseum,” Tony agreed.

Steve snorted, rolling onto his back again. “We'd have to be on the look out for all security cameras, so we'd steal down the narrows alleys in Venice. Or hide under umbrellas while we rode in the boats.”

Tony chuckled. “And I would give a different name at each hotel we stayed at. Edison. Da Vinci. Bell.”

“Don't you think giving famous engineer names would be a clue for Pepper?”

“It's not fun unless there's a risk we'll be caught. I could always use the pseudonym 'McLovin' for all the lovin' that's going to happen behind closed doors.”

Steve wasn't prepared for that and exploded with laughter, covering his eyes with his hand. It was just so sudden that he couldn't handle it.

“We'll have to steal some extra Do Not Disturb signs. In every language. Just in case.”

“Tony,” Steve tried to say, but it was broken on his tongue.

“I'll pay the hotels extra under the table in advance for the noise complaints.”

Steve wheezed. “Stop!” he cried, because his stomach was cramping for all the laughing he was doing, and it was increasingly harder to breathe. Tony chuckled deeply into his ear, and it was so a nice sound. “You're incorrigible.”

“I'm a lot of things,” Tony said, and it sounded almost like a purr.

A shot of heat went right to Steve's groin, and he licked it his lips. “I bet you are.”

Thankfully then Tony changed the subject, because he didn't think he could stand it if he continued down that path. He'd probably embarrass himself. More. “Have you played with the things I sent you yet?”

That was a safe subject. “Oh yeah. It's been a trial by fire learning experience with the art tablet, but I am very thankful for the Undo button.” He smiled as Tony chuckled. “The laptop is great, though I spent like three hours the other day watching cat videos. I was trying to write my paper, but some how research turned into that.”

“YouTube claims another soul,” Tony said with a breathy sigh. “What about the other supplies?”

“The Faber-Castell stuff? I can't even begin to tell you how much fun they are to work with. The colored pencils are so smooth. The very first thing I drew with them is probably my favorite drawing I've done.”

“Oh yeah? What's that?”

Shoot. It was a fair question. He just wasn't sure how Tony would like the answer. But he couldn't lie. He took a deep breath. “You.” He put his hand over his eyes again, holding his breath as he waited for Tony to be weirded out.

“Oh,” Tony eventually said, and his tone was light and a little confused, before he just laughed. It was a kind, sweet laugh, not a mocking one, and that had to be a good sign. “Do you draw me often?”

“Just sometimes,” Steve admitted.

“Hey, I'll take it. I've never been inspiration for an artist before. Maybe when I come to New York, I can pose for you. Then your work can be featured in art shows, and you'll become famous because you were inspired by Tony Stark, world's handsomest man. I was Man of the Year twice, you know.”

Steve gave a sputtering laugh. “Oh my God, shut up before you suffocate under the weight of your own ego,” he told him, even though he was smiling widely as he did so. He couldn't chastise Tony very well, because while he was obviously narcissistic, he was also aware of it and took humor in making fun of himself. Steve wanted to kiss his grins and swallow his laughter. “I wouldn't mind, by the way,” he eventually said.

“What's that?” Tony asked after a 'hm.'

“If you posed for me,” Steve said, pushing himself up.

“Naked?”

“Stop.”

“Okay.”

They continued talking for a couple hours. Steve told Tony about Clint, his best friend, and how he was in a relationship with Natasha. And that Natasha definitely controlled him, but that he also liked it and needed a strong, smart woman who was probably into BDSM, but Steve wasn't sure and didn't want to ask. And Tony told him about Rhodey, a Lieutenant Colonel of the US Marines, and his best friend. They had gone to M.I.T. together and had been inseparable afterward. Apparently he was another person that Tony would probably be dead without. At the end of the discussion, they were both interested in meeting each other's best friends.

Steve didn't want to hang up, but his stomach was cramping, and he hadn't eaten in several long hours. And it was his night to cook. “Can I call you later? Tomorrow?” he asked as he swung his legs off the bed to stand up.

“Sure. Call me any time.”

Steve smiled, licking his lips. “Okay. Bye, Tony.”

“Later, Steve.”

He hung up and put the end of the phone against his lips, smiling, before he put it in his pocket just so he could feel the weight of it and went out of his room. Janet and Natasha were on the couch, watching some attractive men punch each other against the side of a beautiful classic '67 Chevy Impala.

Janet looked at him. “Hey there, Giggles. We could hear you through the wall. What was so funny?” she asked with a smile.

He gave a small cough. “Nothing. I was on the phone.”

“Who with?”

Steve thumbed the counter edge, standing half in and half out of the kitchen. “Tony,” he finally said, not looking at her.

Janet started making a noise, soft at first, a kind of 'eeeeee' that ended in a scream of delight. “Holy shit, Steve's got a boyfriend!” she cried, before she hopped up and ran over to wrap her arms around him, squeezing him tight. “I'm so proud of you!” Steve just patted her shoulder as she constricted him like an anaconda.

“You're not denying it?” Natasha asked from the couch.

He just shrugged, his lips pulling up at one corner. “I don't know if I would call him my boyfriend, but he's my... something. More than a friend now.” That earned an extra tight squeeze from Janet, and he huffed. “I require oxygen to survive, Jan.”

“I'm sorry,” she said, muffled against his chest. “I'm just so happy for you. It's been such a long time since I've heard you laugh like that. And you're smiling. You're happy. I can't hold it in.” She leaned back and lifted her hands to cup his face. “When you're living in his mansion, remember to invite me to all the parties, okay?”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Okay.”

Tony didn't have to go into work that next day, since Pepper pretty much ran the company for him anyway, but he wanted to see her. The things he wanted to tell her were better off said in person, that way he could spin excitedly in his awesome office chair. She looked up from her desk when he walked by, talking to someone on the phone, and he shook the bag of food in his hand at her. He heard her say “Sorry, I'll have to call you back,” as he went and sat down at his desk.

She poked her head into his office, and he grinned at her, already setting out the take out containers from that Italian place she liked on his desk. She narrowed her eyes, obviously suspicious. Then she walked in and sat down in one of the chairs in front of him. “What's all this?” she asked.

“What, a boss can't treat his assistant to lunch?” he asked with an easy shrug.

“It's 10am,” she told him with a blink.

He had the decency to look a little guilty. “I got eager. I wanted to talk to you.” He handed her a fork, and she accepted it with a sigh.

“What about?” she asked, picking up a bowl of salad and pulling off the plastic lid.

“Steve,” he answered, tapping a plastic spoon on the table. His smile was big and just a little dopey. “He called me yesterday. We talked for hours.”

Pepper paused mid-crunchy bite of crisp salad. Then she smiled and swallowed. “Really? What did he have to say?”

“He said something about there being mold in the building we bought—”

“What? There's no mold. The inspection already came back.”

“I know, I know. I think that was just an excuse to call me. It's total bullshit, and that's what makes it adorable. But then he said that we could give dating a try if I still wanted to.” He peeled the lid off of his soup, watching the steam rise as he thought about what all Steve had said. “And I do want to.” He looked at Pepper, and she was gazing at him with a soft smile. “You'll never believe it, but he's been using the art supplies I bought him to draw me.”

“Aww!” Pepper cried, unable to help herself.

He didn't blame her. He beamed. “I know. It's so sweet. He wants me to pose for him too.”

Pepper sighed sweetly, before she set the salad in her hands on the desk top. “So are you two going to have a long distance relationship?” she asked, leaning back. Tony's smile changed to something kind of sheepish grin, and Pepper narrowed her eyes. “You can't just run off to New York to date your attractive artist.”

“Oh c'mon!” Tony whined. “I thought the whole point of being rich and famous is being able to do whatever I want.” He huffed and crossed his arms, puffing out his bottom lip like a very mature adult.

“You have responsibilities, Tony.”

“Why can't you do them? You end up doing them anyway.”

Pepper gave him a level stare, but in the end Tony's puppy dog eyes won out, and she rolled her eyes up before taking a breath. “Why don't you invite him to Malibu?” she suggested evenly.

“Tried. He's an art student, so he has class.”

“Oh, so he understands responsibility. Maybe it'll rub off on you when you're around him.” He pouted at her, and she simply smiled. “You can get together around Christmas. You'll both have free time then.”

“Ugh!” Tony complained, slouching down in his chair. “That's so far away.”

“Good things come to those who wait,” she assured him, and he mumbled about how that was the dumbest thing he had ever heard.

Days passed, and Tony and Steve talked to each other for at least an hour each one. They talked about pretty much everything and a whole lot of nothing, and Steve was just enjoying the sound of Tony's voice through the calls. Tony talked about boring board members and how he'd perfected playing Tetris on his phone while still listening for key phrases and giving brilliant insight on a dime. He also talked about cars, which Steve appreciated because he was into the classics and apparently Tony had several. He promised to show Steve his 1932 Ford Flathead Roadster if he ever came to visit, and even take him out for a drive.

Tony also had a couple motorcycles, even though he wasn't as much into them as he was cars. Steve informed him that he actually owned a Harley-Davidson Softail Slim, but it had been in storage for the past two years, and he'd let the insurance expire. Tony moaned about how that beautiful baby must be collecting so much dust. To that Steve promised one day he'd take Tony for a ride on it. Tony's opinion on that was 'That's hot.' And now Steve was going to be thinking about a motorcycle roaring between his legs with Tony clinging to his back, his arms wrapped around his waist.

Steve told Tony about his classes and how his projects were going, and Tony asked if Steve could upload his art somewhere so he could see it. Steve, embarrassed because most of his drawings were of Tony himself, declined because he didn't have a scanner or a digital camera. And then he had to turn down Tony's offer to buy him both of those.

Tony let him go because he had to 'sign documents or something, Pepper's glaring at me,' and Steve chuckled as he hung up, wondering if Tony had been talking to him for the past two hours while he was at work. He shook his head and wandered into the living room. He stopped when he noticed the people. “Hey, Clint,” he said, before he looked at Natasha and Janet.

“Hey, dude,” Clint said as he helped Natasha into her long coat. “We were about to go out to dinner. Want to come with us?” He lifted his blond brows at him.

“Um,” Steve started to say, and his friends's faces all went just a little bit disappointed, like they did every time when he turned down an offer to hang out with them. He took a deep breath. “You know what? Sure. Let me grab my coat.”

As he walked to the closet, Clint asked, “Who are you, and what have you done with Steve?”

Dinner was comfortable and companionable. He and Clint traded bad jokes as Natasha sighed and complained that her boyfriend was possibly ten-years-old. Janet talked about her work and how the comic she was inking was coming along really well. And Steve, well, he talked about Tony.

“Wow, you've really got it bad,” Janet told him with a smile, leaning her chin on her palm as she looked over at Natasha and Clint, who were dueling with forks over the last bite of the pie they shared.

“Yeah, I guess I do,” he agreed.

After dinner they walked to a nearby bar for a few drinks. While they were there, Clint challenged Natasha to shots, and she just lifted her brow at him and asked if he wanted alcohol poisoning. He asked Janet if she wanted to join, but she shook her head vigorously, perhaps remembering the last alcohol contest she had to recover from. Steve turned down an invitation because he wanted to be able to walk later.

Steve got a beer and sat with Janet on the other side of the booth from Natasha and Clint as they stared intensely at each other and drank their shots. As he pondered that maybe Clint could give her a run for her money, his pocket vibrated and he pulled the StarkPhone out.

“Is that him?” Clint asked suddenly, before he reached across the table. “Give it! I wanna talk to him!”

“Absolutely not,” Steve said, shrinking away from Clint's hand and putting the phone to his ear. “Hey, Tony.”

“Hey, what're you up to?” Tony asked with a sigh like he was settling into a comfortable chair. Or maybe bed.

Steve was not going to think about the possibility that Tony was in bed and thinking about him. “Oh nothing. I'm out with my friends at a bar, and Clint is being really annoying.” He said the last part through his teeth and he made an angry face at Clint, who was going 'gimme, gimme, gimme!' over and over again, increasing in volume. “I'm not giving you the phone, Clint!”

Tony laughed into his ear. “Why not? I want to meet him anyway.”

Taking a deep breath and letting it out, Steve thought about it. What actual harm could it do? “Okay, I apologize in advance for anything he says.” He gave Clint a look that clearly said 'don't embarrass me' before he handed over the phone.

“Helloooo, Tony Stark!” Clint said happily, nestling into the booth and grinning. “I'm Clint, Steve's number one best friend ever, so I need to tell you some facts if you're going to date him. Then I'm gonna set some ground rules.”

“Oh my God,” Steve said, burying his face into his hands.

“His favorite ice cream is strawberry sherbet with the bits of fruit in it. His favorite color bounces back and forth between red and blue. He was born on the Fourth of July and really likes fireworks, because on the inside he is a little kid. He likes old cars and motorcycles—” Clint paused for a moment. “He already told you? Crap, I had a whole thing about them planned out. Oh well, skipping over that. He's kind of boring and loves museums. He's never been to a beach before. So, if you want to date him, you have to keep all of this stuff in mind. He's a pretty classy dude, so he'd probably be down for the whole romantic date thing, complete with flowers and candle light. Now, for after a date, uh, well, I'm not sure if he tops or bottoms, but—”

“Give me that phone!” Steve shouted so loud, other bar patrons turned and looked at him. He sank into the booth as Clint relinquished the phone, and he put it to his ear to find Tony laughing on the other end. “I'm so sorry,” he said, looking around.

“It's okay. That was actually a lot of useful information.” He could hear the smile in Tony's voice. “Fourth of July, huh? You really are the true American blond boy next door.”

“Am not,” Steve insisted, still glaring at Clint.

“Are too. Don't argue with me.” Tony 'hm'ed through the line. “So which is it?”

“Which is what?”

“Top or bottom?”

Steve went quiet, his face heating up, and he watched as Clint grinned ear to ear. “I...” The tips of his ears were burning. “Gotta go, bye!” And he hung up without waiting for Tony to say anything. He pressed the phone to his face as he hid it in his hands, listening to Clint laugh wildly. “I hate you!” he hissed to him.

After that he joined in on the shots contest, but after three he remembered he really didn't like vodka and made a face at Natasha as she drank it like water. He went back to beer after that. When he got home, he was well and truly tipsy. He got out a bottle of water for him and Janet each, hopefully to avoid hang overs. Natasha went off with Clint, who smiled the most goofy smile at her.

Steve drank his water and dropped the bottle in the bin, before he rolled onto his bed and snuggled against his pillows. The StarkPhone was a pressure against his hip, and he smiled as he thought about Tony. There was no one thought about him, just Tony in general made him happy. He twisted and pulled the phone out of his pocket, looking at the face. It was just past one in the morning. What time was it in California? He turned over and Googled that one his phone, an ability he didn't know he had desperately required until the first time he did it. So it was just after ten at night where Tony was. Would he be asleep? Would he be about to go to sleep? Would he want to talk? Hm. One way to find out.

'Are you still up?' he sent in a text message. He laid the phone against his chest, closing his eyes. The phone buzzed in his hand a moment later, and he smiled to himself.

'Kill me if I ever go to sleep before midnight. I have my best ideas at 2am.'

Steve snorted, and he tapped out another message. 'I just got home and fell into bed.'

The next message came quickly. 'You're thinking about me in bed?'

Steve couldn't even begin to deny it. 'Yeah.' He stared at the phone and waited for a witty, teasing reply, maybe something about Tony being flattered that he was all Steve thought about. But instead, the phone rang, and he nearly dropped it in surprise. “Hello?”

“Hey, so how are we going to fix this?” came Tony's voice, and his tone was strange, one that Steve couldn't read.

“Fix...what, exactly?” Steve asked, brow furrowing.

“You, thinking about me in bed.”

Steve blinked and worried at his lip for a second. “Why? Is that bad?”

“Fuck no!” Tony laughed out, and Steve immediately relaxed. “Are you kidding? This is awesome. I'm amazingly flattered.”

“Oh, okay,” Steve said.

“So, obviously, the logical step here is for you to tell me what you are thinking about me doing to you while you're lying there in that lonely bed of yours.”

For the second time that night, Steve's face burned. “Tony, I don't think I can—that's just—” He took a deep breath, swallowing. “Isn't that kind of backwards? Phone sex before regular sex?”

Tony chuckled darkly, and the sound rolled down Steve's spine like a caress. “C'mon, how is our relationship in any way typical?” He took a deep breath as Steve was forgetting how to breathe. “Are you still wearing your clothes?”

“Yeah,” Steve said, his eyes going a little wide.

“Well take them off.”

Steve snapped to, dropping the phone on the bed and quickly removing his clothes down to his briefs, stumbling just a bit because the alcohol was still affecting him. Heat was already pooling in his stomach, slowly hardening his cock. He didn't have time to think about how embarrassed he was to do this. He just wanted to follow Tony's orders. That was a familiar, comfortable sensation. He got back onto the bed and picked up the phone again. “Okay, they're off.”

“All of them?” Tony asked.

“Well, not my underwear,” Steve said, reaching down to palm himself through his briefs. The sensation made him take in a sharp breath.

“Mm, that's fine,” Tony said, his voice low, and it sounded like his lips were right against his ear. “Have you thought about me in bed before?”

“Yeah,” Steve breathed.

“What do I usually do to you?”

Steve arched his neck back and swallowed, closing his eyes as he conjured up his fantasy. “Well, usually it starts with your hand on me, around my—” His breath catches, and even with the alcohol in his system, he can't say the word without falling all over himself. “Ah, and your hand is rough. It feels good.” He dipped his fingers underneath the waistband of his briefs, rubbing over flesh that was almost completely hard now.

“Hazards of working with machinery,” Tony agreed, and his voice had dropped an octave.

Steve gave a chuckle, before he sighed as tingles of pleasure rolled through his belly. “I'm surprised you don't moisturize.”

“Yeah, the lube I use when I stroke my cock doesn't do much in that department.”

Steve's hands halted, and he let out a shaky breath as things tightened low in his body. He swallowed, imagining it now. Did that mean that Tony was cut? He, himself, didn't need lube for that because of his foreskin. He could see it in his head. Tony's cock standing tall and cut with a deep red head that begged to be kissed, licked, sucked.

“Do you ever imagine my mouth on you?” Tony asked, soft and dreamy again. He could hear the sound of a tongue wetting lips. “I don't have a gag reflex, y'know. You could grab my head and fuck my mouth, and I'd be all for it.”

Steve let out a high noise of surprise, because that was one hell of a mental image. He could just see those slick, full lips wrapped around his cock and his nose against his pubes, breathing hard. “Jesus, Tony,” he moaned out, before he pushed his briefs down until they were caught around one of his ankles. Then he heard the distinct sound of a zipper being pulled and gasped.

“And my fingers, do you ever picture them opening you up?—Wait, do you bottom?”

Steve laughed as he reached over and pulled open his bedside drawer, fetching the lube from its depths. “I do both,” he said as he flipped the cap. He laid the phone on the pillow, just turning his head so it was in the right position.

“Hallelujah,” Tony said with a chuckle. If Steve listened really hard, he could hear the sound of skin against skin. “I would use my fingers to spread you apart. One finger at first, just moving in and out.” He paused for a second, and that was when Steve let out a little whimper as he pressed his own fingers inside himself. “Then two, spreading them, stretching you. Are you doing it to yourself, Steve?”

“Yeah,” he groaned out, pushing another finger up inside him and hooking the ring of muscle to pull it open. Then be began to move his fingers in and out. “You know, it's not always you doing things to me that—that I think about,” he said, his breath catching in the middle.

“Oh yeah?” Tony asked after a second, and there was the brief sound of shuffling. “And what do you do to me, huh?”

“I—” Steve cut off with a little whine as his fingertips brushed that place inside him. “I get you on your back and push your knees to your chest. And I lean down and use my tongue on your ass.” He started fisting his cock faster at the thought.

Tony gave a strangled kind of noise like he wasn't expecting that. “Ah, yeah, Steve, rim me good. Open me up for your cock.” He was breathing harder now, and Steve would have smiled if he weren't so busy driving toward orgasm.

“And—and I lift your hips up and push inside you, and God, Tony, you're so tight—” He was so close. His toes were curling. Imagining he was pounding Tony while his own fingers worked his hole was mind-blowing.

“Oh, shit, Steve, fuck me!” Tony cried in his ear, and it was music.

“I am, Tony, I—” Sensation exploded through him, ripping up his spine and making his arch off the back with a shout. His vision went white, and he felt himself floating as if on water. And when he came back Tony was still panting in his ear.

“Shit, that was hot,” Tony moaned, and Steve could hear his hand working fast. “Don't stop talking. Please, I'm so close.”

Steve smiled dreamily as he ran his hands up his stomach to his chest, his skin feeling sensitive and tingling. “I'd wrap my hand around your dick and stroke you in time with the movement of my hips,” he said on a sigh. “I want to see you come, Tony.”

Tony keened before it broke off in a loud groan, and he could hear the rustling of fabric before there was a loud thump and total silence. Steve blinked, sniffing, before he picked up his phone off of the pillow and pressed it to his ear. “Tony?” he asked the quiet.

There was shuffling again and then the high, light sound of Tony's laughter bubbling through the line. “I dropped the phone,” he explained with a giggle.

Steve had to laugh, mostly because he was giddy and lightheaded and because Tony was ridiculous and wonderful. “That was...” He didn't know what to say as he shifted up onto his elbow and looked at the cooling ropes of white on his stomach.

“Yeah, it was,” Tony agreed with a contented sigh.

“I should probably take a shower, but I don't think I can move,” Steve told him as he shifted and stretched out his legs.

“Amazing orgasm from across the country. You're welcome.”

Steve snorted out a laugh. “Oh, yes, thank you, almighty master of sex, I don't know how I survived before now.”

“Hey, hey, I'm a puddle of happy goo over here too. I'm in a chair, so I'm at a disadvantage. I have to move to get to my bed.”

“Your life is full of hardships.” Steve rolled his eyes and lazily went about pulling his briefs back on.

“Damn, you're sarcastic after sex.”

Steve licked his lips. “Only because you're not here to shut me up.”

Tony gave a very dramatic whine at that. “You're mean, and I like it. We'll have to do this again.”

“Well it's three weeks until Christmas. We'll have plenty of opportunities.”

Two weeks passed in a blur of wonderful conversation and late night heady moans. And it was all totally perfect. Tony was amazing. His friends were happy that he was being social again. And Steve could finally draw something light, airy and full of joy. Everything was looking up.

Then the nightmares came back. Steve woke up in a mess of tangled sheets and cold sweat, smelling sand and blood. When he came to himself, he rolled out of bed and dragged himself into a shower. As he stood under the hot water beating down his back, he realized something. If he was going to be with Tony, really and truly with him, then Tony was going to find out about his flashbacks. Even if he had been out of the Army for a long time, that stayed with him. He didn't want him finding out when they were asleep together and he started flailing around. He needed to tell him, warn him what he was in for and see if he still wanted it.

He waited until the afternoon to call Tony, and the man picked up with his usual greeting, and Steve smiled tiredly. "Hey, are you busy?" he asked him.

"For you? I have all the time in the world. What's up? You sound worn out."

Steve laughed half-heartedly, before it became a sigh. "I am. That's actually what I want to talk to you about." He swallowed, slouching down on the couch. "It's a really long story though, and it doesn't have a happy ending. Are you cool with listening to that?"

"I'm all ears," Tony replied instantly, his voice worried.

"Okay. Here goes." Steve took a deep breath, before he rubbed his forehead. "God, where to begin. Okay, when I was younger, I had this friend named Bucky. He was more of a brother really. We did everything together. We even joined the Army together. And when I became a Captain and got my own squad, he was my right hand, my sharpshooter. We were the Howling Commandos, and we were the best at what we did."

He shifted, sitting up straighter, tension taking root in his back and shoulders. "Then we went on this mission, and everything went to hell. Our intel was wrong or something, and we got slaughtered. I lost two guys to mines. One of them lost their leg, and the other guy was just gone, nothing left of him but bloody red pieces all over the place."

"Jesus," Tony whispered.

Steve's hand was trembling against his forehead. "I called for the retreat and lost another soldier to rapid fire. Bucky and I were running together, and all of the sudden he fell. So I picked him up and carried him on my back to cover to wait for reinforcements. All I could hear was gunfire and Bucky's labored breathing as I held him. More troops and medics came, but Bucky had gone so still in my arms. I remember that I heard screaming over the ringing in my ears as they took him away. My screaming. He was dead. Punctured lung. He drowned in own blood."

He went quiet, letting Tony take that all in as he relived it vividly in his own head. He'd begged Bucky to stay with him, told him he couldn't go on without him. But Bucky just gave him a wide-eyed look, unable to talk with blood bubbling from his lips, before he went limp.

He heard Tony take in a ragged breath. “I'm so sorry, Steve,” he said, and his voice sounded pained.

Swallowing a lump in his throat that was as hard as a rock, Steve went on. “I just wanted you to know that—that I have PTSD. I was in therapy for a while after I was discharged, but I stopped going because I was just so angry, and I didn't think it was helping. I wasn't sleeping, and I snapped at everyone. It's why...” He didn't want to say it. He was only adding to the reasons why Tony should go running for the hills. “It's why Peggy left. We were engaged, but I was so out of sorts that I drove her away. That was two years ago. Since then I have gotten better. Time heals all wounds or something. But I still have these nightmares sometimes, and they're really bad. They mess me up for days. “ He swallowed, and his voice was tight. “I had one last night, and it got me thinking. I want you to know just how messed up I am before we go any further.”

He stopped talking, listening to the sound of Tony's breathing on the other end of the line. For some reason it was a comforting noise, and he let his eyes fall shut as he listened to it. This was a lot to take in for someone going into a new relationship, but he had to lay it all out on the table. He wanted Tony to know everything.

Finally, Tony said, “You know, usually I'm the one with the baggage.” Steve gave a dry laugh, before Tony continued. “I'm glad you told me though. And it doesn't change anything between us. If anything, it...” He went quiet for a moment, and Steve felt like he was balancing on the head of a pin, anxious to hear what he was going to say. “It brings us closer. Now that you've shared your story, I have one for you. It's not a nice one either.”

Steve leaned back against the couch cushions, his chin trembling as he forced himself to be quiet. Tony still wanted him. Tony understood. He didn't know how he could understand, but he was about to find out.

“I told you I don't make weapons anymore,” he said, and his voice changed as he went into story mode, sounding a bit distant. “There's a reason. A few years ago, I was in Afghanistan for a weapons demonstration, showing off my latest toy. It was all going just fine. I had just made an ass load of money for my company. Then our convey got ambushed.” Steve's eyes went wide as he listened, lips parting in silent terror. “All of the Marines escorting me went down. I went for cover, and then a missile landed next to me. On the side, it said 'Stark.' You can imagine my surprise, which lasted for a half a second before it exploded and riddled my chest with holes right through the vest I was wearing.”

“The insurgents had your weapons?” Steve breathed out slowly.

“Oh yeah. And then—and then! I got captured. I don't remember the actual capturing part, though I do have flashes of getting operated on. I had shrapnel in my chest from the missile. Thankfully the doctor that was also a prisoner—his name was Ho Yinsen—was able to remove it all. But I have some pretty fucked up scars, so I guess it's good I'm telling you now, that way you can prepare yourself for when you see them.”

Steve longed to touch Tony as he spoke. He wanted to run his fingers through his hair and hold him against his chest. He just wanted to chase these memories away for him. He stayed silent.

“Anyway, when I was able to talk again, my captors demanded that I build my latest missile for them. They showed me this stockpile of my weapons, all the parts I would need. And, well, as it turns out, when you refuse to do as a terrorist says, they don't like that, so they tortured me.” He paused, whether to let that sink in or to prepare to continue, and Steve had his own mouth covered with his hand. “Eventually I agreed to build them the Jericho missile. And I built something for them alright. I was able to compile a bomb out of the supplies they gave me, one big enough to take out the whole cave and all my weapons so no one could use them. Yinsen helped me. He had steady hands. I didn't care if I died as long as I took them out with me. I was ready to do it too. I made my peace.”

Steve had stopped breathing at some point, and when Tony paused he drew in a ragged, painful gasp of a breath. He would never have guessed that under the sharp, witty exterior, Tony was holding something like this inside.

“The bomb was almost done when Yinsen and I heard shouting and gunfire. And everything that happened next was a blur of smoke and bullets. Though I remember distinctly when Yinsen moved in front of me, then everything was blood. I don't—I think I blacked out, because the next thing I recall I wasn't in the cave anymore, and Rhodey was there, holding me close to him as we ran for a helicopter. Yinsen didn't make it. I remember the first coherent thing I could think to ask was how long I had been in that cave. Three months. I thought it was weirdly funny, because it had felt like years. But finally I went home. Everyone told me to take it easy, but I held a press conference immediately and told thems that Stark Industries wasn't going to make weapons anymore. I had enough blood on my hands. There was an investigation as to why the terrorists had my weapons, and it turned out that Obadiah Stane, my father's friend and kind of like my uncle, had been double dealing.”

“What happened to him?” was the first thing Steve could ask.

“He's in prison for treason and conspiring with known terrorists.”

“Oh,” Steve said, going quiet again as he brought his feet up to put them on the cushion, wrapping his arm around them. After hearing Tony's story, he felt strangely at ease. Of course, it was a terrible thing for the man to go through, and he still wanted to hug him and tell him how glad he was that he was okay. But both he and Tony had experienced some true tragedy of the likes no one should have to carry. But now that they knew, maybe they could help each other by sharing the burden.

“I have nightmares too,” came Tony's soft voice, before he swallowed. “Sometimes it feels like I'm back there in that cave with Yinsen's blood over over me. It makes it hard to sleep.”

“I know,” Steve agreed, because he did.

Tony gave a little laugh. “Hey, we're both a bit broken,” he said, and it was almost fond the way he said it. “And we broken people have to stick together, right?”

Steve smiled slowly, feeling moisture well up in his eyes. “Right,” he said quietly, and tears streaked down his face.

Tony and Steve's nightly routine changed, but only just. Instead of hanging up after their brilliant sessions of phone sex, they kept talking. It was never anything important, just Steve babbling softly about a drawing or Tony explaining some software he was writing. The subjects didn't matter. Steve fell asleep listening to Tony rant or to him breathe if Tony fell asleep first. The sounds were soothing, and when he drifted off, he didn't dream. It was more than he could ask for.

On Christmas Eve, the day Tony was flying in, Steve was both ridiculously excited and absolutely terrified. He wanted everything to be completely perfect for when he and Tony were together. He had dressed up in a nice sweater that Janet swore up and down brought out his eyes, a pair of pressed khakis and dress shoes. His hair was styled neat and simple, and he somehow managed not to mess it up, even though he wanted to nervously run his fingers through his hair every five seconds.

“So where are you two going on your date?” Janet asked as Steve helped her into her coat. She was going to see her family, and she was dressed nice and cute for it.

“I don't know. He wouldn't tell me,” Steve answered, worried about that. What if he was dressed too well or not well enough? Knowing Tony, it was probably a restaurant without prices on the menu, but Tony would just say it was casual. He fought not to wring his hands.

Janet chuckled as she did up her coat. “Don't look so nervous, Steve. The hard part's already over, because you know he likes you.” She grabbed her earmuffs. “My mom invited someone she met to set me up on a blind date. The worst part is that we'll have to be awkward at each other around my whole family.”

“That sounds terrible. Do you even know his name?” Steve asked her.

“Yeah, Henry. He's some kind of scientist or something, which to my mother means he's worth money, so I should have all his babies and be a housewife.” She sighed loud and dramatic, before she lifted up on her toes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Have fun tonight. I want all the details later.”

“Sure thing,” Steve told her with a smile, before he opened the door for her and waved as she walked down the hall. He shut it and turned, leaning against it. He was alone in the apartment now, what with Janet gone and Natasha at Clint's. If there was a time to panic, it was now. He pulled his phone out and checked it for the millionth time that day. There hadn't been a single call or text from Tony. The last he'd heard from him was the night before. He'd said he was coming, so he must be. Tony wouldn't lie to him, and he would have called if something came up.

Steve took a deep breath. No, he was not going to doubt Tony. He was going to sit and wait for him, because he was coming. Yes. He moved over to the couch and sat down, his eyes moving over the sketch pads on the coffee table. He'd been agonizing all day over which drawing to give Tony, but he liked all of them, and there were so many. He he'd decided he was going to let Tony choose, and that would be his Christmas gift. What else could you give a man that has everything but a picture of himself?

That was perfect logic.

There was a knock at the door, and Steve heart seized. He stood up and walked over to open it up before he realized he was doing it, and the sight of Tony standing there split his face into a wide grin. “Hi,” he said.

“Hey,” Tony said, lifting his brows. He looked gorgeous in a dark suit that, as it shifted in the light, was not black but in fact a deep purple. His shirt was the same color, and his tie was black striped with silver. He was practically edible. And Steve was staring. But Tony's eyes were roaming over him slowly, and eventually he gave a Cheshire smile. “You look hot. Are you going to invite me in?”

Steve started. “Oh, right, of course, come in.” He stepped to the side to let him in.

Tony walked inside, and his hand, which Steve hadn't noticed had been behind his back, came up with a bouquet of bright red roses. He grinned over the top of them. And when Steve gave him a surprised, confused look, he said, “Clint said you're a classy guy. So here's some classy flowers.”

Steve just smiled, before he took them and pressed them to his face, unable to help himself. They smelled amazing. “Thank you,” he said, gazing at him over the petals. “I'll go put them in water.” He walked into the kitchen and set about finding something to put the flowers in. He eventually decided on a large glass because he had no other options. When he went back into the living room, he found Tony by the coffee table, sketchpad in hand. He went over to stand next to him.

“Don't mind me,” Tony said as he flipped a page. “Just being nosy.”

Steve just laughed. “Actually, I set them out for you. I wanted to give you a drawing for Christmas, but I can't decide on one. So you can pick any one you want, and it's yours.” He moved to stand next to Tony as he flipped through the drawings, all of them of Tony from different angles and positions.

“Oh, decisions, decisions,” Tony mused, and he spent several long minutes looking through the drawings. “Damn, you're talented. I think you make me look better than I actually do.”

“Impossible,” Steve said without hesitation. He ran his eyes over Tony's face. “I'm glad you're here.”

“Same.” Tony's smile was bright and lovely, and he nudged Steve's side with his elbow before he went back to looking at the drawings. “Well, I can't decide, so I guess I'm just going to have to take all of them.” He shrugged.

Steve laughed. “Greedy.”

Tony looked at him, before he extended his hand. “Hi, have we met?”

Smiling, Steve took that hand and pulled Tony close, their faces mere inches apart. The amusement in Tony's dark eyes changed to something else, and he lifted up on his toes to brush their lips together. It was a soft, chaste thing, and Steve was surprised to realize that it was actually their first kiss. That seemed silly since they had pretended to explore each other's bodies so many times over the phone. He made a soft noise as his eyes fluttered closed and he lifted his hand to brush against Tony's cheek, the hairs of his goatee lightly scratching his fingers.

Tony dropped back down flat on his feet, and Steve opened his eyes to gaze into Tony's huge ones. “We should go to the restaurant,” Tony said, sounding a little unsteady. “We have reservations.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed on a soft breath. And they stared at each other.

Tony grabbed his head and pulled him down into a fierce kiss, and Steve welcomed it, wrapping his arms around him and moaning at the bruising force. He opened his mouth, and Tony's tongue shot inside, questing, counting his teeth and causing him to groan. He sucked on his tongue, and Tony surged up against him, pressing their bodies together. He could feel how firm his body was even through the layers of clothing.

Steve forced himself to draw back. “Bedroom?”

“Yes, please.”

Steve took Tony's hand and led him into said bedroom, anxious enough that his stomach was doing gymnastics. He had to get his clothes off, had to press his bare skin against Tony's, or he would possibly die. His shoes didn't want to come off though, and he stumbled as he was pulling them off. Tony's warm, sure hand reached out and grabbed his elbow to steady him, and he looked to find him smiling, his suit jacket on the ground.

“Here's let's get this off you,” Tony said as he pulled the hem of Steve's shirt out of his pants and helped him get it over his head, dropping it to the floor. His fingertips ghosted over his skin, and he drank in the sight, liking what he saw if the way he bit his lip was anything to go by. “Well, I must have done something right in my life,” he said, waggling his brows at Steve and making him laugh.

Steve could feel the heat on his face. He would have thought it was impossible to be embarrassed around Tony given the weeks of phone sex, but this was understandably different and more vulnerable. “Right, sure, what about you?” His hands went to the buttons of Tony's shirt.

And Tony grabbed them, making Steve look at his face, which was way too serious for what they were doing. “Remember, I've got some really ugly scars. So don't get your hopes up.”

Steve's lips parted, and he nodded, keeping to himself the feeling that nothing about Tony could be ugly. Tony released him, and he unbuttoned the shirt to reveal his chest. And he swallowed when he saw the scar tissue stretched right over Tony's heart. It was about as big as a hand, with raised lines stretching out and around. He very gently touched his fingertips to the middle of Tony's chest, feeling the roughness of it, before he looked at Tony's face again.

There was something there in those eyes, a mixture of emotions like expectation and worry, as if Tony was waiting for Steve to either accept or reject him. Steve laid his hand flat over the scars, feeling Tony's heart pound against his palm. He didn't say anything, but Tony relaxed and let a smile play across his lips, which Steve leaned in to kiss.

That kiss went from gentle to desperate in absolutely no time at all, and they clutched one another, backing toward the bed. Steve couldn't believe this was finally happening, but at the same time nothing felt more real then Tony's hands sliding over his back and causing him to shudder. He was already tenting his khakis when the backs of his legs his the edge of his bed.

Tony nibbled on Steve's bottom lip as he popped the button on his khakis, and the sound of the zipper was almost deafening. He looked down as he hooked his thumbs over the band of his briefs and pushed those and his pants down over his thighs. Steve's cock slapped up against his stomach, making him grunt, and Tony's eyes turned greedy. “Oh, now I know I've done something right,” he said as he wrapped his rough fingers around him and gave him a tug.

Steve sighed, his hands gripping Tony's shoulders, before he was abruptly pushed to sit on the bed, and Tony knelt down to tug his undies and pants off of his legs completely before he pushed his knees apart to nestle between them. “Tony,” he whispered, and the man looked up at him with a fierce look of want, before he sucked the head of his cock between his lips. And God it was better than any fantasy than he had ever played out in his head.

He kept his hands on Tony's shoulders as he worked, watching and feeling his lips stretch over him, taking him deep into his mouth. Heat rolled in his stomach as Tony's tongue worked over his slit. Then he took him completely, and Steve felt the tight constriction of him swallowing around him. He closed his eyes, savoring the feeling, before he shivering as he felt Tony's goatee against his balls. He opened his eyes, and Tony had his head tilted to look up at him. The asshole was smiling.

“Come here,” Steve gasped, pulling him up by his shoulders, which unfortunately meant he had to let go of his cock, but his mouth was quickly replaced by his hand as Steve mashed their lips together and flopped back on the bed. Tony was a comfortable weight on him, and he never wanted to stop kissing him. Okay, well, when Tony squeezed his cock, he wanted to rut against him like an animal, but anyway. Finally he broke the kiss, and breathed against his mouth, “You're wearing too many clothes.”

Tony pulled away, shifting to sit beside him and undo his trousers, before wiggling out of them and kicking them off his legs. Then he turned on his side, and they were brought face to face again. They stared at each other, wide-eyed, before Tony swallowed. “Lube?” he asked.

“Bedside table,” Steve answered, and he watched Tony sit up, running his eyes over his toned, lean back. Tony fished out the lube and a condom, before he turned back and handed both to him. “You sure?” he asked him as he took them.

“You kidding? I need that cock in me yesterday,” Tony answered with a wide smile, before he made a show of licking his lips.

Steve had to laugh, before he sat up and pushed Tony onto his back, watching him spread out like he owned the place with his eyes going half lidded. God, he was beautiful. This vision was going to haunt him. Now his drawings were going to become distinctly no longer safe for work. He dropped the condom next to Tony's hip as he opened the lube, oozing it out over his fingers. He took hold of Tony's cock—cut like he'd thought—as he slid his finger in the cleft of his ass, and Tony sighed, folding his arms under the pillows.

He slid a finger inside of him, biting his lip at the heat, before he looked back at Tony's face. His face was relaxed, and his full lips were parted. It was such a pretty sight that he couldn't help but lean in to kiss him as he pressed another finger inside and stretched them apart, swallowing his moan. He wanted to make him do that again, wanted to draw all kinds of noises from him. He crooked his fingers, taking a moment to find and press against the change in texture in side of him. Tony's arms came up around him, pulling him down as he kissed him like it was his lifeline.

Then he arched his neck backward, groaning hard, and Steve peppered the exposed skin with kisses. He stroked him as he massaged that place inside, enjoying the chorus of moans that flowed from Tony's mouth. He felt his hands dig into his back. “Steve,” he groaned, rocking his hips down hard on his fingers. “Please, I'm ready, c'mon, I need it.” Steve lifted his head to look in his eyes, and Tony murmured, “Need you.”

And Steve needed him too. He sat up and grabbed the condom, fumbling to tear it open because his fingers were slick, and finally he used his teeth as Tony chuckled. He rolled it onto himself before he slicked it further with more lube. He moved into position as Tony helpfully lifted his hips, and he glanced at his face as he pressed the head against his hole, holding his gaze as he slid in. They let out synchronized noises once he was fully seated. It was an immeasurable feeling.

He stayed put, just getting used to the heat and tightness around him, and Tony's hands squeezed his arms. “Move. God, move,” he said, and he probably had meant as a demand, but it came out kind of like begging. Steve obeyed anyway, starting up a pace of long, deep strokes. He wasn't in any kind of hurry. This was just fine by him. He dropped his mouth to Tony's chest, kissing over his scars before he pulled one of his nipples gently with his teeth, dragging a groan out of him.

“More, harder,” Tony forced out, arching his back and stretching out his neck again. He couldn't get over how beautiful he was. He obliged again, picking up the pace but keeping it controlled. He dragged the tip of his tongue along Tony's neck, tasting sweat and something that could only be Tony's flavor. He liked it. He sealed his lips over the spot where Tony's neck met his shoulder, biting, licking and sucking at his skin. If he left a mark, like a juvenile, Tony could cover it with his shirt. There was something primal about it that made it appealing, making Tony his in a way that showed.

He felt Tony's hands squeeze his arms again, and he looked at his face only to find some kind of mischievousness in those dark eyes. Then Tony pushed his foot against the mattress, and all of the sudden Steve found himself being flipped onto his back, slipping out of Tony in the process. He stared up at him, and Tony just grinned. “Let me teach you what 'harder' means,” Tony said, reaching back and grabbing Steve's cock so he could slide back down onto it, drawing out a grunt.

And then Tony taught him a lesson. He braced his hands on his stomach and lifted himself, before he started driving himself down onto Steve's cock over and over again. He was moving so fast that Steve could barely catch his breath. He was answering Tony's moans with his own, digging his feet into the bed so he could snap his hips up to meet him. Tony was merciless, and he could barely keep up with him, but he found he loved trying to.

Steve reached to grab Tony's cock, causing his hips to stutter for a second before he continued. The look of blissful concentration as he alternated between thrusting into Steve's fist and fucking himself down on his cock was a brilliant one. He wanted this to last forever. He wanted to watch Tony move his body and gasp between parted lips until he died. He tried to push away the rising, boiling pleasure so that he could keep looking on. Tony's movements were changing, turning a little erratic, and his brows had come together. Was he close too?

He fisted Tony's cock hard, biting his lip as he felt his pleasure mounting to that point where it would be impossible to draw away. “Tony, I'm—” Then Tony clenched down on him. The last thing he saw before his world went white was Tony tossing his head back. Everything was floaty, tingling colors and shapes, and he couldn't discern one thing from another. Except that sound in his ear was definitely Tony's breathing.

He opened his eyes slowly as his senses came back to him, and he smiled at Tony draped over his front, lifting his heavy arms up to wrap them around him. His own breathing was labored, and he wasn't sure if that hammering against his chest was his heart or Tony's. He was pretty sure his lower half was numb.

Tony swallowed against his ear, before he said in a kind of slurred voice, “I don't want to move.” He shifted a little, legs sliding out a little bit, before his muscles squeezed down on Steve's softening cock, and fuck. “Scratch that, I can't move. I'll just sleep here. You're as comfortable as any bed.”

Steve chuckled, and he couldn't disagree with him. He just wanted to close his eyes and sleep with Tony in his arms. But still, they had plans. “We still have the reservations.”

Tony puffed a laugh into his ear, and it was a little ticklish. “We missed those for certain.”

“Oh,” he said, gazing up at the ceiling.

“Don't worry,” Tony said, nuzzling closing and kissing him under his ear. “I can still buy a table at any joint in this city. Anywhere you want.”

“How sweet of you,” Steve murmured back, turning his head to look at him.

Tony just grinned lopsidedly. “I aim to please.” Then he kissed him.

Eventually they got up and went on their date. It was perfect. Steve didn't know why he had waited this long.

Tony was second guessing his idea to blindfold Steve in the car as they made their way inside and maneuvered haphazardly through the machinery that all looked pretty sharp suddenly. He kept his hands on Steve's hips, and Steve gripped his forearms as they walked. Every time Steve stumbled a little, he pressed closed and said, "I've got you." Now the stairs were a different beast all together. Tony was almost sure they were going to die at one point.

Steve was getting exasperated, his fingers digging into Tony's skin. "I know where we are," he complained, his hand reaching out to touch the wall of the hallway he must have walked down a couple hundred times.

“Patience,” Tony told him, realizing the irony of that coming from him but neglecting to comment on it. He stopped Steve at the door and reached around his waist to open it, before he urged him inside. Immediately the sound of meowing filled the air, and Tony sighed as he undid Steve's blindfold. “Way to kill the surprise, kitties,” he complained as the cats came over to rub against their legs adoringly.

Steve rubbed his eyes with his fingers then looked down, smiling at the cats lifting up to put their front paws on his legs. “You're letting them stay here?” he asked, looking over at the pile of multicolored cushions and pillows. Maximus was oriented on the top, his huge body spread out on the old cushion Steve had brought in a year ago.

“That's not the surprise,” Tony said. “Well, it's not the whole surprise.” He lifted a hand and set a finger on Steve's jaw, pushing his face to look at the other side of the room. And he smiled at Steve's slow gasp.

Set up in the optimal lighting area—he'd checked over and over again—was an easel with a padded stool. Around that were shelves filled with pencils, paints and other such things, so Steve didn't have to bring any from home. And against the wall was a desk with his latest desktop computer, available for all the researching and YouTube videos that Steve could ever want. There was a comfortable looking couch too.

Steve turned to him, looking owlish with his eyes so big. “Tony, I—but this is your factory.”

“The rest of the building is my factory. This is your space,” Tony told him with a smile. “You and the cats. It's always been yours. I just fixed it up a little.” He tapped his heel on the hardwood floor.

Steve's lips slowly spread into a brilliant, grateful grin, before his arms came around Tony. He didn't say anything, just buried his face in Tony's neck, letting out a long sigh. Tony wrapped his arms around his waist and kissed his ear.