By the time Steve gets to his door, the knocking has gone from polite to frantic, and he almost vindictively wishes he’d stopped to throw on his shirt and made his impatient visitor wait even longer.
“What?” he snaps, throwing open the door.
“Hi,” says the guy, and Steve freezes, now definitely wishing that he’d thrown on a shirt because it’s hot mechanic guy from next door. Hot mechanic guy waves awkwardly and then runs his hands through his hair. He’s black up to his elbows, and Steve watches in fascination as the engine grease makes hot guy’s hair spike up.
“Hi,” he responds, and fights a losing battle to keep his ears from pinking. “Can I…can I help you?”
“Have I ever introduced myself? I haven’t, have I? Name’s Tony Stark. Inventor, mechanic, and family black sheep.” He extends a hand, catches sight of the engine grease and winces, quickly hiding it behind his back like a child caught with dirty hands before dinner.
“Steve,” he responds, tongue thick, blinking stupidly.
“Steve,” Tony says, nodding once and standing up on his tiptoes to try and see over Steve’s shoulder. “Steve, you’re…wow. Your apartment is really clean. Like really clean. That’s…wow.”
“Thank…you?” Steve says, hand on his neck and blush slowly spreading down his cheeks to his neck.
“I bet you cook, too, don’t you? You’re like some world-class chef. I can see it written all over those chiseled abs of yours.”
“Right. Sorry. Stepping on the bro culture. My bad.”
“No, that’s not…” Steve stops, shakes his head, and relocates his hands to his hips. “Can I help you?” he repeats.
“Help? No! Well, yes. Maybe. See, thing is. I’m the black sheep, right? Disappointment to the Stark name, good-for-nothing layabout who refuses to do as he’s told and take up the family business like the first son ought to.”
“What’s the family business?” Steve says, interrupting without really thinking.
“Murder,” Tony says cheerfully, and then plows on, clearly unaware of the stricken look of horror on Steve’s face. “So my parents kind of disinherited me until I can prove that I can make a living doing what I want, which is making cool things. Like robots. And artificial intelligence. Clean energy sources. You know. Cool things.”
“OoooK?” Steve is still blinking, trying to make sense of the guy’s million-mile-an-hour motormouth.
“Now, see. The thing is. To prove to my parents that I’m actually worthy of my inheritance and my cut of the company, I kind of have to prove I’m a responsible adult. And apparently the way one proves one is a responsible adult is not through earning a living wage, but rather through cleaning one’s apartment properly and feeding oneself on more than coffee and doughnuts. Do you see where I’m going with this, Steve?”
Steve scratches the back of his head again, processing the monologue and finally shrugging. “Honestly, not at all.”
“Oh,” Tony says, frowning into his grease-stained hand. After a moment, he runs his fingers the length of his goatee and ends up staining his entire chin with a ring of black. “I thought I was being perfectly clear. Let me try again. My parents just called me to let me know they’re coming to Boston tonight and they’re going to drop by and give me an inspection. You know? As in check my living conditions. The ones I was just describing.”
“Uh-huh…” Steve says slowly. He has an inkling where this is going now, but he is very afraid.
“So I was hoping I could borrow some cleaning supplies and some food that is neither coffee nor doughnuts so that they think I’m actually taking care of my place and eating right.”
Steve looks at the guy, takes in his earnestly hopeful expression and his fidgeting hands, and then sighs. “Sure. Let me just…I’ll gather up some stuff and bring it over. Ok?”
“Oh my god, thank you. I really…if they’d given me more warning I would’ve…you know…been responsible and gone out and—“
Tony continues talking even as Steve gathers up supplies and starts heaping them into his fabric supermarket bags. He snatches his vacuum out of the closet, and turns to Tony, offering everything he’s got.
“Wow. Wow, that’s a lot. That’s more than I…uh…do you think you could help me carry it over to my place.”
“Sure,” Steve says, only realizing after he’s already out the door that he’s still shirtless in just his running shorts and a pair of socks. He follows Tony over to his apartment and waits while Tony fishes out his keys. He unlocks the place and Steve blinks and then blinks again. Disaster area might be too light of a term to describe the chaos inside.
Tony’s already shoving his way over scattered mechanical parts and at least three laptops, dropping the bags on top of his coffee table, which is also covered in a layer of circuit boards and soldering wire. “Jesus fucking Christ,” Steve says as he steps in, glancing around. In spite of Tony’s grimy state, nothing in the apartment seems particularly filthy. Just incredibly disorganized and haphazard. Steve can’t even locate the doors that would lead to other rooms, since there are several pieces of sheet metal propped against the walls. “Where do you even sleep?”
“Sleep?” Tony says, and Steve groans, dropping his head.
“Do you even know how to use any of this?” Steve asks, gesturing to the cleaning supplies.
“Uh…would it help or hinder my case to know that my parents are rich and I’ve had a butler and cleaning service literally my entire life until moving out?”
Steve’s not sure whether he should laugh or cry. He takes another glance around the room and finally locates the sink. “Hold on just a second,” he says, carefully tiptoeing back out. “I need to make a call.”
Steve dashes back across the hall and calls Sam, Bucky, and Natasha. “I need the cavalry,” he tells them and then exits again, locking his door behind him. He makes his way back into Tony’s place and finds Tony standing in the center of the chaos looking profoundly confused. Steve points imperiously at the sheet metal and says, “First thing’s first. Let’s get this shit organized. Do exactly what I tell you.”
“Holy fuck, man,” Sam says, flopping down on Tony’s sofa. (It turns out Tony has a sofa and three chairs, but hell if Steve would have known at first glance.) Natasha is laying boneless across the back of the couch and Bucky is on the floor, spread-eagled and eyes closed. “You are so lucky I owed you a favor.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” Tony is still repeating ad nauseum, flitting between all of them, a cleaning rag still tossed across his shoulder. “I ordered pizza. It’s going to be arriving at Steve’s in half an hour. I’d invite you to eat here, but my parents are showing up in forty minutes and…well…god I’m an asshole.”
“Yes, you are,” says Bucky, flinging his hand over his eyes. “Where did you even find this guy, Steve?”
“He found me,” Steve replies, leaning against the wall and grinning at them all. Now that all the mechanical wares are organized into plastic tubs and drawers in the guest room, Tony’s place is actually pretty large, and the windows make it nice and sunny. Steve is wishing he was on this side of the building just for the great light.
“Beers! I can get you guys beers! Or something stronger? Do you guys drink?”
“Tony,” Steve says, reaching out and catching him. “Breathe. And maybe hop in the shower. You’re filthy.” Steve pauses for a moment, looking him up and down. “Are you even old enough to buy alcohol?”
“Maaaaaaaaaybe,” Tony says, dancing out of Steve’s hold. “I mean, I can just give you money. You’re old enough, right?”
“Jesus, how old are you?” Sam asks, lifting his hand from his face to look at Tony.
“Twenty, thank you I’m not a complete baby.”
Steve breathes a little sigh of relief, because with Tony’s slight frame, he’d been worried the kid wasn’t even eighteen yet. He inhales and says, “Shower. Impress your parents. Come over after they’re gone and have some of the pizza.”
“Come over? Really?”
Steve grins at that. “Really really.” Reading his signal, Natasha, Bucky, and Sam all rise and make for the door. Steve trails them with Tony at his heels.
“You saved my ass. Seriously. I don’t know how to thank you. How do normal, non-rich people thank each other?”
Steve turns in the doorway and catches Tony’s eye, leaning against the doorjamb and crossing his arms. The movement has the intended effect when Tony freezes, his eyes trained on Steve’s biceps and pecs.
“You could let me take you out for dinner,” Steve says, smiling just a little.
“I could…” Tony says slowly, and then his eyes dart to Steve’s face. “Wait. What about bro-culture?”
Behind him, Bucky slaps Steve’s shoulder. “This guy majored in studio art and spent his off hours getting into fist fights with bros who didn’t know how to take ‘no’ for an answer. I don’t think you need to worry about bro-culture.”
“So what do you say?” Steve says, hope tipping his lips up. “Date?”
“I…yes. Date. Nice date. I’m paying. Let’s…details. After.” Tony’s phone starts vibrating across the table and he jumps a little, eyes darting back. “Parents. Shower. Thank you! Bye!”
He closes the door, just shy of a slam, and Steve blinks at the little silver 204. Bucky smacks him again and says, “Come on Casanova. Pizza is calling.” Steve turns and fishes out his keys, and even with Bucky’s ribbing, he can’t seem to erase the dumb smile on his face.