They hit their first dry spell in March.
“What is going on,” Tony mutters, curled protectively around his third cup of coffee. He leans over Steve’s shoulder to give the newspaper a bleary-eyed once-over, hair tickling Steve’s ear. Steve clears his throat and rustles the paper until Tony loses interest and meanders over to Bruce’s side of the table. “Is everyone hibernating?”
They might as well be; the last action they saw was three weeks ago, and more misguided scientist than supervillain. She wept when they confiscated the mutant anacondas being engineered in the sewers and Steve still can’t get the stink of it out of his nose, but even that was preferable to wandering aimlessly around the mansion in mismatched socks, avoiding and seeking each other out by turns.
It’s just the three of them, right now. Thor’s in Asgard, introducing Jane to the family—the entire family—and who knows how long that’s going to take. Tony joked about a creature feature when he heard, but Thor didn’t get the reference and Steve now knows enough about Tony and his preoccupation with Loki’s alleged offspring to refrain from asking. Clint and Natasha still get called out on S.H.I.E.L.D. business (“Or they’re bullshitting us and it’s all an elaborate scheme to cash in their frequent flier miles.”
“There was ski gear, okay? Why do they need ski gear?”
“What have I told you about going through our stuff?”
“I’m not scared of you, Mrs. Smith. And don’t think I didn’t see that swim with the dolphins brochure.”) and Tony’s conspiracy theories aside, they do jump at the chance to get out and shoot things that go down and actually stay down.
(Tony’s very smug about the training room. “You said you wanted a challenge. I distinctly remember the words ‘I could do this in my sleep’ coming out of your mouth.”
“I can’t feel my arms.”)
Steve didn’t think he would mind the quiet, after the war. For a while, he thought that was what he needed: some time outside the costume, spent in busy cafes sketching ugly buildings; dreaming and daydreaming, getting used to the fact that he wouldn’t wake up in a different world every time. But he is a soldier after all, costumed or not, and the inactivity makes him itch. Peace makes him nervous.
He would feel guilty about it, because God knows the world could use a breather from megalomaniacs and lunatics and tiny women with a terrible fondness for not-so-tiny snakes, but he finds the same unease in the glint of Bruce’s glasses, the tap-tap-tap of Tony’s fingers on hardwood. The close quarters—if they can be called as such; Steve’s lived in the barracks, literally rubbed shoulders, and Tony’s mansion feels like a city, sometimes—chafe, but the constant abrasion of their vastly polar personalities is better than being alone with their thoughts.
They just need something to do, is all, and Steve wants to find it before Tony runs out of things to blow up. So when Natasha and Clint appear, silently and without warning, and announce that they’re all going camping, Steve is the first one to say, “Okay.”
“What,” Tony says. “No.”
“On paper it’s recon, but another team scoped out the place months ago,” Clint says, while Natasha tries to stare Tony into subjugation. “It’s just busy work. We don’t get paid by the hour, you know.”
“I don’t get paid at all,” Tony snaps. “And ha! I knew it! All your little missions—“ he does the air quotes, and Steve tries not to smile, “—and your confidentiality clause, and fucking Budapest--“
“It’s so nice,” Clint sighs. “Right by the beach. Like, there’s supposed to be some weird nuclear thing happening over there, but whatever.”
“We’ll take the quinjet to the border and hike the rest of the way,” Natasha says. “I’ve got a spot set up for us, so start packing. Only one bag each—minimalism is key. And don’t forget your toothbrush.”
“Have fun, kids,” Tony says, toasting them with his coffee before knocking it back like a shot. “Don’t let the bed bugs crawl up your ass.”
“No beds,” Natasha says pleasantly, “just sleeping bags.”
“I go without,” Clint says, “flat out on the ground, at one with mother nature. Nothing like it.”
“How about one of those inflatable mattresses?” Bruce says, peering at them over his glasses. “I’ve got a bad back.”
“Jesus,” Tony mutters, “not you, too.”
“Come on, you’re the one who keeps whining about having nothing to do.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t think you would take that as an invitation to put ‘be eaten alive by mosquitoes’ on the to-do list.”
“We have repellent,” Clint says. “And nets,” he adds, though the look on his face clearly suggests those are for weaklings.
“No, no, don’t bother trying to convince him,” Natasha says. “He still has some issues left over from when he got kicked out of the Boy Scouts.”
Steve looks up, surprised. “You were in the Boy Scouts?”
“Wait,” Bruce says, “can you even get kicked out of Boy Scouts?”
Natasha shrugs. “It was in his file. He set a couple of cabins on fire.”
“It was a misunderstanding,” Tony says with great dignity, “and on that enlightening note, I am going to take my leave. I’ll be in the lab if you need me, so try not to need me. And you—” He points a finger gun at Natasha and scowls. “Watch your back.”
She smiles back, unrepentant, and the minute Tony’s out the door, three pairs of expectant eyes turn to Steve.
“Oh,” Steve sighs, “bother.”
It’s not that he and Tony don’t get along.
They’ve had their little upsets, said some things Steve winces to think about and wishes he could take back, but they don’t hold any grudges. There are a lot of things at stake, and they don’t always see eye to eye—which is a product of Tony being too short, but you didn’t hear that from Steve.
They tend to strike each other like flint, and Tony has apparently been a firestarter from a very young age, but Steve is used to the confrontation, even relishes it on some deep, unstable level. No one gets under his skin quite like Tony, and he thinks that might go both ways.
The team, at least, seems to have accepted that if something needs doing and Tony Stark is involved, Steve is the man for the job. He has taunted and bribed and bullied and puppy-dog-eyed Tony into doing everything from building an anti-gravity chamber (currently indisposed, courtesy of the Hulk—“Jesus Christ, do you know how much that cost? How has no one house-trained him yet?”) to being Thor’s seat buddy on his very first rollercoaster ride (and every subsequent ride therein—“Tony, you’re going to hurt his feelings.”
“I can’t hear you, on account of having gone deaf due to the God of Thunder screaming in my ear.”
“Will the ringing ever stop?”)
So no, it’s not that he and Tony don’t get along. It’s more that Tony got so drunk on New Year’s Eve that he kissed Steve full on the mouth in front of everyone and called him Shirley and then laughed until he passed out.
Steve thinks he’s entitled to feel a little out of sorts after that, even though it happened months ago, and it’s been brought up enough times that Steve should be desensitized by now. The team stopped calling him Shirley after the first few days, because they have the attention span of a gnat—small mercies—but sometimes Steve can’t meet Tony’s eyes without thinking about it, and Tony sees it on his face and laughs because he is a terrible person but a wonderful kisser. Not that Steve has much basis for comparison, and not that he thinks on it often, but—anyway.
The point is that—there is no point. Steve shakes himself off and heads down to the lab stiff-backed and square-shouldered, and blushes the instant Tony looks up.
Tony’s mouth quirks a little, but he doesn’t comment. “Don’t bother, Cap. There’s nothing you can say that will make me willingly leave the comforts of civilization for an excursion into the wilds of fuck off, I’m not going anywhere without my bed.”
“It’s not so much an excursion as it is a…brief foray,” Steve says. “Less ‘wilds’ and more ‘somewhat secluded beachfront.’”
“Semantics,” Tony sniffs. He’s fiddling with something, because when is he not, but it’s lacking that manic energy he exudes when he’s actually interested. Steve steps closer, careful not to touch anything.
“It’s only two days,” Steve says reasonably. “What will you do here by yourself?”
Tony raises his eyebrows. “I’m a big boy, I’ll find something.” He laughs. “Or someone.”
“If you wanted to, you would have already. Tony, you’re—“ Steve blinks. “You are literally trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.”
“It’s a work in progress,” Tony says, but he shuffles the doohickey aside and covers it with some haphazard sketches of the suit turning into a…car? Steve shakes his head and smiles down at the table. Tony’s tapping his fingers again, and when Steve stays silent, he speaks up. “Well? This is the part where you make it an order and I kick you out of my lab.”
“Is that right,” Steve murmurs. “I was going to try saying please.”
Steve looks up to find Tony watching him. “Is it working?”
“You haven’t tried it yet.”
“Please,” Steve says.
There’s something about the way he cocks his head, the curl of his mouth. Teasing, but—not. Steve’s pulse picks up and he goes hot all over, incapable of speaking for a long, helpless second. But it passes, and he tries again.
“Nope.” Tony leans back on his hands, hips jutting out, unimpressed.
Steve’s face is burning. This is too—strange. He doesn’t think he likes it. He shouldn’t.
“Tony. Please.” His voice comes out rough and Tony’s face goes tight before he’s whirling around, banging things together like the word isn’t still hanging in the air. His shoulders are bunched with tension and Steve waits him out in silence because his heart is lodged somewhere in his throat, beating furiously.
“Why do you want me to come so badly?”
It’s thrown at him like a challenge. Steve thinks he might have missed a turn somewhere, because he no longer has any idea where this conversation is going. But he’s not about to back down, and he’d be stupid to take the bait, so instead he crosses his arms and tilts his chin up.
“Yes or no,” he says firmly.
“Depends on your answer,” Tony shoots back.
“Because,” Steve grits out, and there it is, that familiar rush of irritation. He welcomes it like an old, particularly difficult friend. “We’re a team and—“ Tony scoffs and Steve takes a deep, steadying breath. “Because I would—we would miss you.”
Tony looks at him. “It’s just two days.”
“Yes,” Steve says slowly, because this has already been established. Then he catches on and bites the inside of his mouth. Tony---Tony makes him want to curse. He’s about to turn around and leave, because that’s enough humiliation for one day, but Tony lets out a huff and picks up a dirty rag for the sole purpose of throwing it back down in disgust.
“You owe me,” he tells Steve as he stalks out. “Big time.”
Steve’s too pleased to wonder when and how he’ll collect.
Tony spends the entire ride on his phone, jaw set mutinously, and refuses to participate in the time-honored tradition of playing ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong.’ Steve sees him open his mouth a few times, clearly inspired, but he always snaps it shut with a click and goes back to sending Pepper whiny texts. Or so Steve assumes, but really, what else could he be doing?
“There could be bears,” Clint says thoughtfully. “Horny bears.”
“Are you going to start recollecting your circus days,” Tony says without looking up, “because if yes, I want out. I want out right now.”
Bruce leans in, looking interested. “Do tell.”
“There’s nothing to tell,” Clint sputters, batting Bruce away. “It’s a hypothetical situation!”
Steve sees Tony grin out of the corner of his eye and smothers a grin of his own. By the time they dismount and start hiking toward the camping site, they’ve exhausted the game and fallen quiet, but the silence is a companionable one. It’s nice, Steve thinks, even though Tony’s still buried in his phone (he laughed at the no electronics rule Clint tried to institute for a good long while, before balling up a piece of classified document and bouncing it off Clint’s forehead.
“But it’s not really camping if you’re just going to be playing Angry Birds the entire time!”
“Clint, please. I’m watching porn.”) and Clint’s attempt at cartwheeling to their destination means Steve has to carry three bags (his, and Clint’s, and Natasha’s, because she couldn’t resist the challenge. Steve politely refrains from joining the betting pool that starts up, because, he says, cartwheel races cannot end any way but badly—but really it’s because Clint is faster and Natasha is meaner and it could go either way.)
It’s near sunset when they hit the beach, and the dying light makes everything beautiful, even the sharp, structured silhouette of the power plant in the distance. They all sigh when their toes dig into the warm sand, and Tony takes a breath so deep and reverent that Steve turns to watch him, mesmerized.
“Ahh,” he says, “nothing like the sweet scent of radioactivity,” and Steve chokes on a laugh.
“Shut up, Tony,” Natasha says, but she’s laughing too.
“The findings were inconclusive,” Clint reassures Bruce, who looks a little nervous, and Steve shakes his head and starts putting up their tents. The last time he felt this light, he’d been cornered in the middle of a loud, busy party and kissed until he thought he was floating.
But Steve doesn’t much think about that. Not often, anyway.
It doesn’t get as chilly as Steve thought it would. They don’t need the fire, but they build one anyway, and Steve crawls into his tent to change out of his over-warm clothes. He comes out in board shorts and a thin tee, because he was prepared—take that, Boy Scouts—and doesn’t wonder why Tony barely looks at him. He’s so busy not wondering, in fact, that he doesn’t notice Tony’s going through his bag until it’s too late, and all the contents have been upended onto the sand.
“Tony,” he snaps, with more force than was maybe necessary, but those are his things scattered all over, his sketchbook and pencils and floss and dammit, Tony. “What are you doing?”
“Sorry,” Tony says, and he couldn’t sound less contrite if he tried. “Wanted a blanket.”
He shakes out the one he found in Steve’s bag and raises his eyebrows at the small sound Steve makes.
“That’s—where is yours?” he asks, because that one is his, grey and soft and just starting to become worn. Steve isn’t attached to it or anything—it’s just a blanket—but the way Tony’s touching it makes him twitchy.
Tony shrugs. “Forgot.”
“Figures,” Natasha says. “Hope you remembered toilet paper, Stark, because I’m not sharing.”
“Uh,” Bruce says. “Um. You didn’t say anything about toilet paper.”
“It’s not even cold,” Steve says helplessly, but Tony has already spread the blanket out and sprawled on top. He gives Steve a look, as shrewd as only Tony Stark can make it, and then he smiles.
“It’s big enough for both of us, Cap. C’mere.”
“That’s okay,” Steve says, but Tony crooks his finger and the set of his mouth tells Steve this is the big time. He crawls over, brushing off the sand before settling. “At least put my things back.”
Tony pulls out his phone and hums. “Later. I’m a little busy experiencing mother nature right now.”
Steve sighs and moves to do it himself, but Tony grabs him, fingers cold on the bend of Steve’s arm.
“Later,” he says, and pulls until Steve gives in. He glances at the others, but they’re engrossed in—something (on closer look, Clint appears to be sliding into the most provocative yoga poses he knows, and Bruce and Natasha are heavily critiquing his technique) so Steve lets himself fall back onto the blanket, and is certainly not disappointed when Tony removes his hand.
From this angle, he can make out Tony’s phone.
“Oh,” Steve says, because that’s not porn. “That’s—“
“Yeah,” Tony says, and lies down, close enough for their shoulders to brush. He holds the phone up between them, and Steve’s eyes flicker from the stars on the screen to the stars in the sky. “It’s faint, but.”
“No, I see it.” There are so many stars Steve isn’t sure which he’s seeing at any moment, but he thinks he’s got it. “What is it?”
Tony taps the phone. “The head and shoulders of Centaurus.”
Steve laughs and feels foolish, because that wasn’t funny, but there’s something hot and giddy expanding in his chest. Tony’s warm where he’s pressed up against him and Steve doesn’t think he’s tracking the right stars but the centaur takes shape anyway, bright and brilliant. “What about the rest of him?”
Tony doesn’t answer, so Steve turns his head to look at him. He’s looking back.
“Steve,” he says, so quietly it doesn’t sound like Tony at all. “I wasn’t that drunk.”
Steve’s smile freezes on his face, and his insides go through a strange little convulsion. He can’t make himself move, and he realizes he’s waiting for the laughter (the look on Tony’s face when he pulls back, mouth wet and shiny, that split second when he looks as dazed as Steve feels, and the absolute silence before he says, “Shirley, sweetheart. Why are you wearing a suit?”
“Tony, for God’s sake—“ Pepper, pulling him back, and the way Tony shakes his head and blinks and begins to laugh.) but there’s just the sound of their breathing, and nothing else.
Steve gets up and goes into his tent. He doesn’t care if the others are watching, if they saw. He doesn’t know if there was anything to see, but if they ask he’ll tell them, he’ll say, Tony Stark is cruel and he—
“Is everything a joke to you?” Steve doesn’t turn around. “Remember when I asked you that? And you said, you said—funny things are. Was I funny, Tony? Was I the punchline?”
Tony doesn’t say anything for so long, Steve’s sure he’s left. He feels petty satisfaction at the thought that he's made Tony uncomfortable enough to back down, but then there’s the rustle of movement, and Tony stops in front of him, hands twitching on his knees. Steve looks up despite his better judgment and Tony cocks his head the way he did in the lab, the way he’s done every time Steve catches his eye and remembers and turns bright red.
“You have the biggest fucking crush on me, Steve Rogers,” he says. “It’s written all over your face.” He shrugs at the way Steve’s jaw drops in outrage. “But I’m in love with you, so. The joke’s on me.”
Steve sucks in what feels like the last bit of air in his tent. He’s shaking the way he used to, back when he was a scrawny kid with more guts than brains, when he’d get an adrenaline rush just from looking someone in the eye. He should say something, he thinks. Tony’s barely breathing, not even blinking, and Steve should say. Something.
“That’s not funny,” he manages, and Tony’s eyes crinkle up at the corners.
“I’m not laughing,” he says, and then they’re kissing, like at that party on New Year’s Eve, and Steve cups Tony’s face in his hands and pulls him in and they don’t stop, not even when Natasha catcalls and Clint whistles and Bruce shouts at them to turn out the lamp; not even when Steve gives in and laughs into the press of Tony's mouth.
(They never do agree on who wins the cartwheel race, because Steve was too busy staring at Tony to pay attention. There's something awfully poetic about that, but none of them have any idea what it is.)