“Tony! Tony, Tony, Tony, have you seen Sam’s fantastic new suit?”
“Haven’t seen anyone’s anything. Been busy.”
“Busy doing what?” Jan asks, flopping down on her stomach and propping her chin on her fists. Tony glances up from where he’s stuffing more potentially dangerous but definitely awesome chemicals into cardboard tubes.
“Just a little surprise. You know. For the Academy. Celebration. For defeating Skull.”
Jan’s eyebrow raises with skepticism and she rolls off the sofa, shrinking as she goes so that she can flit up above his head. “Tony?”
“Is that magnesium?”
“Oh my god, you’re going to kill us all.”
“No I won’t. So long as I don’t set it on fire, it’s perfectly safe.”
“But you’re totally gonna set it on fire.”
“No, I’m not.”
Jan grows back to her regular size and hovers over him, hands on her hips. “Oh my god, you’re totally going to set it on fire.”
“Well, not right this instant. It’ll be hundreds of feet in the air before it actually ignites.”
“Tony Stark, are you making fireworks? Did you fail to invite me to make fireworks with you?”
“I love playing with chemicals.”
Tony grimaces. He’s seen the state Jan leaves Pym’s lab in, and he’s not exactly eager to have her do the same thing to his lab. Not that he hasn’t done it to his lab on several occasions, but it’s different when he’s the one doing the exploding. But then it dawns on him.
“Actually, I’ve got a different job for you.”
“Ooh! Even better!”
“How are your baking skills?”
“They’re not as good as my fashion skills, but they’re better than my keeping-quiet-and-sneaking skills and about on par with my selfie skills.”
“Perfect. Can you make a cherry pie?”
Jan’s face lights up like a Christmas tree and a positively radiant smile spreads over her face, her teeth sparkling and her eyes huge. “Oh my god. I know what this surprise is. I totally know.”
“No you don’t.”
“Oh yes I do. I make it a point to know everyone’s birthday on this campus. And I know for a fact that Smmpahfth–” Over his hand and gauntlet, Jan glares at him.
“Shh! Nat is always listening. You can’t go just saying stuff like that.”
“Nat is not listening.”
“She is literally always listening and if you think otherwise, it serves you right when she tells everyone where your ice cream stash is. And she will definitely blab if she knows about this. She and…you-know-who are close like that.”
Slowly, Jan nods, and Tony removes his hands so he can go back to packing the magnesium in with clay and all the other chemicals that will make it sparkly and fabulous.
Six hours later, Tony slumps on Jan’s bed, his stash of cardboard tubes at his side, hand over his face. “Oh my god, it’s a disaster.”
“What’s a disaster? You finished them all. I made a fabulous cherry pie. It’s almost night time. Pretty sure this is gonna go off perfectly.”
“I don’t have anyone to play happy birthday.”
“His guitar is broken. Rick asked if he could try to play it and accidentally crushed the neck. Bucky is brooding on the shooting range and he’d only grunt at me.”
“The last time I asked Gamora for a favor, she threatened to string me up by Club Galaxy’s rafters and make me the new disco ball, and if she’s not playing, Groot won’t play either.”
“Did she maybe threaten that because the favor was teaching you a little tonsil hockey?”
“I’m hurt, Jan. I’d never be so crude. No, I asked her if she’d like to see my cheese collection. I think it must mean something different where she’s from.”
Jan purses her lips thoughtfully and frowns down at her absolutely perfect pie. She’s not about to let it go to waste. Then she remembers. “Maria!”
“What about Maria?”
“She plays tuba!”
“Tuba?” Tony asks with an incredulous expression. “Oh yeah. That definitely says ‘happy birthday’ all over it. I’m sure you-know-who will love the tuba. Definitely.”
“He will!” Jan insists, rising and tugging at Tony’s arm. “And Maria will do it because she's friends with him and she owes me a favor. Now, I’m gonna spread the word that there’s a super secret, super awesome show on the plaza in forty-five minutes and you’re going to get set up. Right?”
“Don’t worry, Tony,” Jan says, darting in to kiss his cheek before she shrinks and darts out the window. “It’ll be great!” And then she’s gone and Tony’s left to gather up all the tubes he’s so carefully constructed and haul them out.
Forty-five minutes later, almost the entire academy (Loki’s pretending to be king of the world on Stark Tower’s landing pad again) is gathered on the plaza, most of them looking a little confused.
“Jan said there was a party,” Masters grumbles, whipping away his face mask to wipe at his sweaty brow. July’s proving to be painfully hot and muggy and even being right on the Bay isn’t much helping to cool things off. Tony stumbles out of the bushes near him and quickly holds up his hands, trying to stave off the obvious unrest of the student body.
“Not a party exactly. More a, well, a celebration.”
“A celebration? What kind?”
Just then, Steve and Sam arrive, both of them looking sweaty and shiny and Steve has stripped off his jacket to combat the heat. Tony’s mouth goes a little dry and then he says, “Funny you should ask. Maria! Hit it!”
On the side of the plaza seated on one of the stone benches, Maria strikes up happy birthday and Tony hits the ignition button. In the night sky above them, a rocket suddenly screams up and bursts into a sparkling white star. Then another in red. Another in blue. Fireworks crackle overhead and everyone turns their faces up to watch, but Tony keeps his eyes fixed firmly on Steve, watching as a grin slowly spreads across his face. The red and blue and white shine on his face, faint flashing fairy lights that made him look almost ethereal in the late summer evening.
“Everybody sing!” Jan commands, flitting over the crowd. She starts belting and quickly, the other students join her. It’s out of key and poorly timed, as all truly great renditions of happy birthday are, and when it gets to the name, most of the student body is smart enough to put two and two together and belt out “Steve.”
When they finish, Jan enlarges herself and presents Steve his pie with a flourish while the fireworks hit their finale overhead and everyone cheers.
Steve’s blushing with his hand at the back of his head as he accepts the pie. “Thanks, Jan. You didn’t have to go through all this trouble. Did you plan everything?”
“Me? Gosh no! That was Tony,” Jan says, innocently batting her lashes.
Steve turns on Tony with raised eyebrows, his mouth in a little surprised “oh.”
“You did all this? For me?”
“What can I say, Cap? Everybody likes a good party, right guys?” Tony raises his voice and listens as the student body cheers in response. Off to the side of the quad, Gamora strikes up her guitar and Groot joins her on his keyboard because they know a good opportunity when they see one, and soon enough, the entire student body is dancing. Tony takes advantage to sneak out. He doesn’t want to have be cornered by Cap for special attention. That would just be embarrassing. Especially since Steve made it clear he’s really not into Tony.
But twenty minutes later, sitting on top of the tower at the edge of the hot tub, arms folded around his legs and staring out over the Bay where he can just see the brightest celestial bodies, Steve finds him anyway.
“You ran off pretty quick.”
“Yeah, well. I had…important things to do.”
“Pretty important,” Steve says, settling down next to Tony. After a moment, he starts stripping off his Chucks and socks, and then he dips his feet down in the hot tub with a happy sigh.
“Isn’t it too hot for that?” Tony asks with genuine curiosity.
“I like it hot,” Steve says, leaning on his hands and tossing his head back. Tony swallows hard and looks away. “Never liked the cold,” he continues, and then frowns a little. “Not quite sure why. Guess it’s just not…not my kind of thing.”
They sit in silence for a while and Tony tries not to fidget too much. This is nice. It’s perfectly nice. Him and Steve spending time together. Alone. By the hot tub. It’s fine.
“Did you want some pie?”
“Huh?” He glances to the side and sees that Steve’s got Jan’s pie and that it’s only half-eaten.
“It’s pretty tasty. And I wanted to thank you. I didn’t…I mean I didn’t tell anyone about my birthday. Feels silly when your birthday’s on the Fourth. Everyone’s already celebrating anyway so I just figured, I’ll let that be enough. You know?”
Tony doesn’t actually know, but that’s because Steve is a better person than Tony is. He’s satisfied just training like a madman and occasionally cutting loose at the club on the weekend. He doesn’t need everyone making a big deal of him all the time.
“But it’s still nice when people remember. So thank you for remembering. And for the fireworks. They were amazing.”
Tony glances over and he suddenly realizes that Steve is a lot closer than he was a minute ago. Close enough that their pinkies are touching. Close enough that Tony can feel the warmth coming off Steve’s arm and shoulder. The sounds of the party in the plaza drift up and over them, distant and hazy as the New York skyline.
He feels stupidly frozen in Steve’s blue gaze, like this moment is just going to stay unchanging forever, a warm mid-summer night’s dream in his mind, but Steve is still leaning closer and closer and when his lips brush Tony’s, he tastes like cherries.
It’s so damn gentle and sweet that it’s only when Steve pulls back that Tony realizes he closed his eyes. He opens them again and looks with awe at the blush spreading across Steve’s cheeks. “But you don’t like me. Not like that. You didn’t even want to hug it out.”
“I like you, Tony. I like you a lot. I’m just not one to hug it out in front of the whole campus. PDA’s not really my style.”
“Yeah, oh.” Steve looks down at their hands then and inches his fingers over Tony’s, squeezing gently. “Is this…is this ok?”
“More than ok.”
They stay like that, Tony staring dumbfounded at Steve’s ridiculously long eyelashes, processing the fact that Steve’s hand is on his, until Tony has to shift because his ass has fallen asleep. Then Steve looks up hopefully, and Tony would almost call that look coy if he didn’t believe Steve was capable of coyness. “So, did you want pie?”
“I’d love some pie.”