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Striking Matches

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“They’re gonna love you. No need to be nervous, Steve. Everything’s gonna be fine.”

Steve smiled softly at Tony and gently squeezed his hand, glancing out as they slowly made their way through the streets of Manhattan. Traffic was backed up clear through the Lincoln Tunnel and they barely crawled forward more than a few inches at a time.

Next to him, Tony was slowly hyperventilating, his chest fluttering and his eyes huge and glassy. Steve squeezed his hand again before insinuating his arm behind Tony’s back and pulling him into his lap.

“Look at me.”

Tony did, his eyes like saucers and his mouth pulled in a tight line. For a moment, Steve just held his gaze, and then he leaned forward and placed a silk soft kiss to each of his cheeks. Then each of his eyes. His nose. His forehead. His ears. Then he leaned away, lifting a hand to trace the line of Tony’s jaw.

Tony slowly opened his eyes, his limbs gone boneless. “What, no lips?”

“We’re here,” Steve said, and sure enough, the car had stopped moving. Jarvis was already walking down from the main entrance, his strides sure even in his old age.

Like a bucket of ice water had been poured over him, Tony scrambled off Steve’s lap and was already making his way out the door before Jarvis could even open it for him. “Thank you, Edwin,” Steve said, climbing out after Tony.

“A pleasure to see you again, sir.”

“Likewise.” He offered a hand, and after a moment, Jarvis took it, clasping with both hands. “You will look after him.”

“I already do.”

“He hasn’t told them yet. I…I just wanted to warn you.”

At that, Steve did start a little. He nodded his thanks to Jarvis and then jogged up the path to where Tony was already fidgeting at the door. He grinned when Steve drew near, half manic, half grimace, a sheen of sweat on his forehead. “They’re gonna love you,” he said again, and then opened the door.

Steve had expected money, but he hadn’t expected…money. The mansion looked well over two hundred years old, its woodwork done up in dark cherry, huge oriental rugs spreading as far as the eye could see. And in the center of it all, Howard and Maria Stark stood, as though they’d just stepped down from a painting. Howard was in full tuxedo and Maria was in a flowing glistening gown, reminiscent of the twenties in its drape. On seeing them, both of Tony’s parents stiffened, and Steve caught the way Maria looked at Howard sidelong, anticipatory.

“Tony,” Howard said, teeth clamped around a cigar. “Welcome home.” Steve had never heard a greeting infused with less emotion.

“Mom, Dad.”

Howard frowned, his cigar glowing ominously in the low light of the foyer. “You didn’t say you were bringing company.”

“I’d…I’d like you to meet Steve.” Tony gulped and took a huge breath, and instinctively, Steve reached for his hand, holding on for dear life. “My fiancé.”

Maria sucked in a sharp breath and Howard’s face transformed in an instant. His expression grew more distant, and he looked at Steve as though he were studying some sort of bacterium in a petri dish. One side of his mouth rose in disgust.

They stood frozen in the foyer for what felt like an eternity before Jarvis emerged and rang a bell. “Dinner is served.”

Hands still linked, Tony and Steve strode past the Starks and into the dining room, Steve fidgeting at his tie. He was regretting not taking Tony up on buying him a new suit. Jarvis ushered them to one side of the table and Steve moved to sit, but Tony shook his head sharply. They remained standing until Howard and Maria made their entrance, and waited to sit until Maria was seated.

A handful of footman brought out the first course, and they began eating. Steve surreptitiously watched Tony from the corner of his eye, desperate to impress these people, his future in-laws.

“So Steve,” Howard said finally, stabbing at his salad, “how long have you and Tony been…seeing each other?” His lips stretched around the word “seeing” as though he were trying to swallow a snail whole.

“We’ve,” Steve gulped hugely and set his silverware aside. “We’ve been dating for nearly two years now.”

“And when did you get engaged?” Howard set aside his own silverware and laced his fingers together, setting his chin atop them.

“Last month. On my birthday.”

Maria’s eyes flicked between all of them, and she coughed gently. “Where are you from Steve?”

“Brooklyn, originally.”

“Could’ve guessed from that accent,” Howard muttered, purposefully loud enough for them all to hear.

“Oh,” Maria continued, giving Howard another more cutting look as she neatly cut into her carrots. “You say that as though you moved away some time ago.”

“I did, ma’am. I went into the military after high school. Spent some time in tours in Europe and the Middle East. When I got back, I decided to go to college in Boston. That’s where Tony and I met.”

Howard harrumphed and waved his hand. The footmen whisked away Steve’s untouched salad before he could protest and the soup course appeared. “And what do your parents do, Steve?”

Beside him, Tony tensed. Steve briefly considered before offering his hand under the table. Tony took it, his grip like a vice. “My father was a soldier, too. He died in the first Gulf War. Before that, he worked down on the docks. My mother was a nurse, but her health failed. She passed away just before I graduated high school.”

Howard opened his mouth to say something, but Maria cut him off. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Do you have any other family?”

“A few distant cousins in Ireland. That’s it though.”

Spoons clanked in the soup and Steve felt a drop of sweat trickle down his temple. If anyone could slurp soup angrily, Howard was managing it with gusto. Maria glanced around them all and then said, “You said you were a student. Are you still?”

“Part-time, ma’am. I take two classes a week and work the rest of the time.”

“Doing what?” Howard snapped before anyone could elegantly turn the conversation.

“Waiting tables and working in a cafe.”

Howard’s rage was instantly palpable and they all froze. After a moment, he stood, throwing down his napkin on the table. “Anthony, my office. Now.”

He stormed away, and Steve felt helpless as Tony stood and followed without a word. He managed to gather his wits and call after them, but if Tony heard, he didn’t acknowledge it. Steve jumped when he felt a touch on his shoulder. “Come on, dear. We’ll need to be there,” Maria said, her hand slender but strong. The footmen watched them go with confusion and after a moment, Jarvis appeared beside them, his wrinkled face grim.

Maria led them through a labyrinth of corridors and up a creaking flight of stairs until they arrived at a heavy oak door. Through it, Steve could hear shouting. Holding a finger to her lips, Maria slowly cracked it open.

“It’s bad enough that you’re…that you’re a…”

“What, Dad? A bisexual? God, can you even say it?”

“It’s bad enough that you’re a queer,” Howard snapped, and Steve stiffened, reaching for the door. Maria placed her hand on top of his arm and shook her head. She leaned up to his ear and whispered, “Let Tony try to handle him first. Then we’ll intervene.” In the room, Howard continued, heedless. “But now you bring home some…some third-rate soldier washout—”

“He has a purple heart! He’s anything but—”

“—to desecrate this family’s legacy!”

“Oh yeah, Dad. ‘Cause that’s what it’s always been about, right? The family legacy. Gotta keep that Stark name plastered all over those Stark weapons. Gotta keep the money in the family. Can’t give it away to charity, oh no. Gotta stay in the one percent, never mind how many lives we take in the process.”

“You shut your mouth. Don’t you dare talk about this family’s legacy. I built Stark Industries from nothing—“

“From dirty money, more like.”

“—and you’d damn well better remember that your education, your precious robots, those wouldn’t have happened without my money and my legacy.”

“Well fuck your legacy! Did you ever think that maybe I wanted something other than a pile of blood money?”

“Apparently what you want is to run off with some jobless gold-digger—“

“He has a job! He has two jobs!”

“—and live in the gutter!”

“Steve’s twice the man you’ll ever be. I’m marrying him. Disown me. Take away my inheritance. Cut me out of the family. See if I care. I love him and I’m marrying him and you can’t stop me.”

They all backed hurriedly from the door as Tony stormed out, chest heaving and fists shaking. He crossed the hall as though he hadn’t even seen them and buried his knuckles in the wall, the crack of his bone sharp in the eerily quiet hall. Steve sucked a breath between his teeth, wavered a moment, and then went to Tony, placing careful hands on his shoulders.

Tony shuddered under his grip, and when he peeled his hand away, his knuckles were bloody, already swelling.

“Come on,” Steve said, rigid, drawn like a bowstring. “Let’s get some ice on that.”

He gently turned Tony away and headed back down the stairs, blindly hoping to find the kitchen. Jarvis jogged in front of them and motioned, leading the way. They stumbled into the kitchen, Tony losing steam with every step. By the time he was seated on a bar stool, he was sobbing.

Steve fluttered helplessly, alternately staring at Tony and glaring out the door, as though he expected Howard to appear at any moment and continue his tirade. He was so caught up in his inaction that he didn’t see Jarvis until the butler pressed an ice pack and a first aid kit into his hands, nodding once and then disappearing.

“Come on, Tony. Let me look at your hand.”

Tony didn’t move, but Steve gathered up his fist and dug an alcohol swab out of the first aid kit. He ripped the package and pulled the cloth out, gently dabbing at each patch of broken skin. Tony hissed through his teeth, sniffling and hiccuping and rubbing at his face with his free hand. Once all Tony’s knuckles were clean to his satisfaction, Steve brought the them to his lips and kissed them one by one, catching Tony’s gaze and holding it. Then he carefully placed a light layer of gauze over the whole mess and pressed an ice pack to it.

“I’m so proud of you,” he said finally, and Tony gasped and hiccuped again.

“But he—“

“Doesn’t matter what he did. I’m talking about you. My number one guy.”

Tony snorted and hiccuped and laughed all at once and the resultant snotty mess made them both grimace. Steve reached for the paper towels on the counter, snagged one, and gently dabbed at Tony’s face.

“Boys?”

Steve turned, half placing himself in front of Tony, hands already partially raised. Maria stood in the doorway of the kitchen, her ghostly gown glimmering in the low light. She looked otherworldly to Steve, like a specter.

“I’ll talk him around, bambino mio. For tonight, why don’t you take Steve and stay at the Plaza. My treat. Show him a good time and come back tomorrow. I want to get to know my future son-in-law.”

“Are you sure, mama?” Tony asked, standing and taking a step toward her. Maria swept into the room, almost gliding. She was so much smaller than Tony, but somehow she still seemed tall, the same way Steve’s mother had seemed tall.

“Let me handle your father,” she told him, and then gently kissed both his cheeks. “Now, off you go. I’ve already had Jarvis bring the car around.”

Tony nodded and returned her kisses, and then, after a moment he wrapped his arms around her and lifted. He said something to her that Steve didn’t quite catch, and then set her down and stepped away. They stared at each other a moment, and then Tony extended his hand, caught Steve’s and led him out back through the grand, cold foyer.

They slid into the car, and the moment Jarvis closed the door, Steve took Tony by the lapels and kissed him hard, pressing as though he was seeking Tony’s very soul. “Fuck ‘im,” Steve whispered against Tony’s lips, and Tony gasped, half laugh, half shock. But after a moment, he pressed back in, grinning, eyes wet, and said, “Damn right. Fuck ‘im.”