“I think we should get married,” Tony announced as he let himself into Steve’s apartment, plopping next to him on the couch.
“And why would we do that?” Steve asked, only pausing long enough for the springs to settle before he resumed sketching.
“Because we’re madly in love!”
Hmm. He tilted his head. Was there something wrong with the hands? The perspective seemed off.
“Because we’re in like?”
Maybe it was the shadowing. A little too much on top and not enough—
“Because I will pay you tons and tons of money?”
Steve sighed, lowering his pad. “Tony—”
“Come on, Steve, come on,” Tony whined, resting his head on Steve’s shoulder and looking up at him pitifully. “Can’t you do this teeny tiny favor for me?”
“I’m not marrying you,” he said, ignoring the way his heart twinged in protest, because he’d been half in love with Tony for almost a year now, and he would never have dreamed he’d be saying those words right now. Oh, stop, he thought at it, annoyed and wistful. He’s not serious, and you’re being ridiculous.
“Why not?” Tony asked, looking baffled.
“Why not?” He lightly smacked Tony on the head with his sketchpad and stood up, taking a few steps before turning around to face him. He normally enjoyed Tony’s lack of respect for personal boundaries—too much sometimes—but at that moment, he needed some distance between them. “There are so many reasons why I won’t marry you, Tony, so many.”
“How about we’re not even dating!”
“See, there’s a remedy for that! Steve, will you go out on a really long date with me that starts with dinner and ends in front of a judge—”
“I can’t believe you,” he said, even though this was Tony, so actually he could. “What is this about, Tony? Really.”
Tony’s face scrunched up. “I may have told my parents that I got married,” he mumbled.
“You don’t know my parents, Steve,” Tony said darkly. “It’s always something with them. ‘What do you mean it’s going to take you two years to graduate college and three to get your doctorate? You want to start your own company? Why would you do that when you could take over after your father? You’re only bringing in ten million a year; how do you survive? Do you have to wear sunglasses all the time? You look like a drug dealer.’” He sniffed. “As if I could ever look anything other than amazing. Seriously, it never ends with them. When they started hinting about the marriage thing, I thought—I just wanted to get them off my back, you know?”
“But . . . but what does that have to do with me?” he asked plaintively while thinking, Ten million a year? Holy crap.
“It has everything to do with you, Steve. Dear Steve. Dear, sweet, helpful Steve.”
“No. No, Tony. Why not Pepper? Or Natasha? Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask one of them?”
“Oh, I told my parents years ago that I was gay. Had to head them off at the pass about the whole grandkid thing. Stroke of genius if I do say so myself.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but . . . he really didn’t know how to respond to that. It made so much Tony-sense that Steve couldn’t even berate him.
“I’m not marrying you,” he repeated instead, trying to infuse the words with as much conviction as possible.
“That’s okay,” Tony said, still looking hopefully at him. “I don’t think they believed me when I said I eloped and got married by Elvis anyway. What if we just say we’re engaged?”
“I don’t want to lie to your parents!” he said, scandalized, and glared at the way Tony’s lips turned up. Stupid Tony. Stupid crush on stupid Tony.
“Alright, what about just boyfriends then?” Tony said, giving in so easily that Steve had the irritating certainty that that had been exactly what Tony had been hoping for all along. “That’s not really lying. We’re friends. And we’re boys. Well, men. Manly men even. So manfriends then. Except manfriends sounds a little raunchy, but maybe that’s just me.”
He rubbed his face with his free hand. “Are your parents coming to town or something?”
“No, it’s my dad’s sixtieth birthday. They’re throwing a big party, everyone’s invited, and as the only child, I’m expected to show up. We’d fly out tomorrow, be back the day after that. If you agreed,” he added, and Steve knew, just knew that Tony had already purchased the tickets for the both of them.
“Come on, Steve, you’ll love it,” Tony said, the wheedling full force in his voice. “My parents are staying in LA for the winter, and it’s beautiful out there. No black snow on the ground or people resembling the Michelin Man because of all the layers they’re wearing. Just gorgeous beaches and gorgeous people with tons of food and a tub in your bathroom so big, you could swim in it. I’ll even fly you first class. You’ll be in the lap of luxury the whole time.”
Rather than admitting the only gorgeous person or view he wanted was the one right in front of him, Steve said, “Tony, you know I don’t care about that sort of thing.”
“You’re right, I do know, and seriously, what is wrong with you? How are we even friends?”
Steve smiled reluctantly, because Tony always made him smile, even when he was driving him crazy.
“Why can’t you ask someone else? Clint, I bet, would love to have an all-expense-paid weekend in—”
Tony waved his hand dismissively. “Are you kidding? Me and Clint? Alone? For a whole weekend? We’d kill each other. Besides, my parents would never buy it.”
“But they’d believe you and I were together?” he asked, a last ditch effort to get out of going.
“Well, I don’t know if they’d do that either, but they’d certainly hope,” Tony said, laughing. “Come on, Steve, you’re like a mother’s wet dream, polite, handsome, sincere. Any girl—or guy—would be lucky to take you home to the family.”
Steve tried to resist, he did, tried to ignore Tony’s hangdog expression and harden his resolve, but it was pointless. He’d known he was going to go along with whatever Tony wanted as soon as he’d barged into his apartment.
“What about Rhodey?” he asked in a last-ditch effort to foist the problem onto someone else.
“They’ve known Rhodey for years. They know he knows better.”
“Or, or Bruce? Or Thor—yeah, okay, not Thor.”
“C’mon, Steve. When do I ever ask you for anything?”
“You’re right, wrong tactic. Please,” Tony said, brown eyes large and soulful, and damn it, why couldn’t Steve say no to him? “It would mean a lot to me.”
“This is such a bad idea,” he said, shoulders slumping.
“Great!” Tony sprang to his feet. “You won’t regret this, Steve, you’ll see!”
“I already regret it,” he muttered.
“I’ll text you with the details for tomorrow,” Tony said, already heading for the door. While Steve would’ve liked to think Tony hadn’t heard him, it was more likely that he’d chosen to ignore him since he’d already gotten his way. “Don’t worry about taking anything nice. I’ve got it covered. Thank you, Steve, love, darling, light o’ my life!”
“See you tomorrow!” he called, slamming the door behind him and leaving Steve’s apartment that much dimmer in his absence.
“I guess I’m going to LA,” Steve said to the empty room after a long moment and went to go pack.
Steve was standing outside his door at seven in the morning when Tony—scratch that, when Tony’s driver came by. He said good morning to Happy and peered into the backseat where Tony was sprawled, nursing a huge cup of coffee, sunglasses firmly in place.
“Did you sleep at all?” Steve asked, voice heavy with resignation.
“Sleep is for wimps,” Tony said, handing Steve a blueberry muffin and a cup of chai tea and simultaneously avoiding the question.
“If by wimps you mean normal, sane people, then yes, you’re right.”
“Who wants to be normal?” Tony asked, taking a large drink of what Steve knew was not his first coffee of the morning. He shuddered to think how much caffeine was probably flowing through his bloodstream at that moment.
“You should take a nap; otherwise you’ll scare your parents when you land. You know how you get when you’re tired.”
“Pffft, you think they aren’t used to this by now? Where do you think I got it from in the first place?”
“Oh no,” Steve said, dawning horror plain in his voice. “Are there three of you?”
Tony started snickering, which wasn’t encouraging at all actually. “Don’t worry, Steve, we’re only going to be there one night. I’ll protect you from those big, scary workaholics. Ooh, speaking of which, you know they’re going to want to grill you.”
“Don’t remind me. I don’t know how you convinced me—”
“It’s not going to be that bad! I’ll be there too, and I’ll field all the difficult questions. Just . . . be yourself. It’ll be fine. And, um, don’t flinch or anything when I kiss you. Okay, so that’s it then,” Tony said, leaning forward to put his cup into a holder
“Tony,” Steve said, dragging him back by his collar. “What do you mean when you kiss me?”
“It’s not a big deal, just a few smooches here and there. You won’t even notice.”
“How am I supposed to not notice when you’re kissing me?” he asked, his voice coming out strained even to his own ears, because seriously. Seriously.
“Hey! Don’t make it sound like such a hardship! I’ll have you know I’m a very good kisser!”
The last thing—the very last thing—Steve needed to think about was Tony and his mouth and how good he was with it.
“As a matter of fact, I can tie two cherry stems into knots at the same time, so—”
Thankfully, Happy chose that moment to lower the privacy window, because who knew what Steve would’ve said to that.
“The pilot just called. They’re expecting an hour’s delay because of the weather. You want me to stop somewhere, or would you prefer to keep going?”
“Mmm, let’s just keep going. The chef said he’d make those cream puffs Steve likes so much, so we can munch on those while we’re waiting. And before you ask, Happy, don’t worry, I told him to pack an extra box for you.”
“Oooh, cream puffs,” Steve heard as the screen went back up, the car picking up speed.
“Wait, pilot? Chef?”
“Uh, didn’t I mention?” Tony asked, eyes going all shifty. “We’re taking my personal jet.”
“Tony,” Steve groaned.
“I told you I’d fly you first class—”
“There’s first class, Tony, and then there’s having a whole airplane to ourselves!”
Tony folded his arms, his expression indicating Steve was ruining his fun. Not that Steve cared.
“I don’t want you spending money on me—”
“I’m not spending it on you! I’m spending it on me! You just happen to be coming along for the ride.”
“Tony,” he began, rubbing his face.
“Look, it’s just a preference thing, alright? I like my own space. I like following my own rules. I’m not the type of person who takes ‘you are now free to move about the cabin’ and ‘turn off all cellular and portable devices’ well. Do I seem like that type of person? Because if you think I am, we really need to reconsider whether we can pull this off.”
“Fine, alright, fine,” Steve sighed, because when Tony put it like that, he couldn’t disagree. “I get it. I’ll stop complaining.”
“Thank you.” Tony drummed his fingers against his knee. “In the interest of full disclosure, I should also probably warn you about the stripper poles. Not to worry though, I’ve told them no in-flight entertainment is needed today.”
“Tony,” he began in an appalled tone of voice. “You don’t have—”
“No, no, no, there’s no actual stripping!” Tony said, holding his hands up. “They just dance! I dance too! We all dance. Together! As a matter of fact, if the mood hits you, I could have them play something especially for you—”
“I am not going to dance on the plane!”
“Of course not. I wouldn’t dream of asking you to,” Tony said, adjusting his sunglasses and avoiding Steve’s gaze. He eventually pulled out his phone and started tapping away at it, leaving Steve to entertain himself.
Try as he might though, Steve couldn’t stop himself from eventually saying, “Stripper poles? Really?”
“Would you believe I was very drunk?”
“Good, let’s go with that then.”
Tony did finally end up sleeping when they were an hour into the flight, slumping down in his chair even though he’d told Steve the seats reclined to a completely horizontal position. Steve tried to focus on the book he’d brought, but it wasn’t long before he was turning his seat toward him and watching, taking it all in.
There’d always been something about Tony that got to him. The first time they’d met had been at Pepper’s birthday party, Tony stumbling in as most people were getting ready to leave. Steve had thought he’d been drunk from the way he was acting and had pulled him aside, telling him off for being rude and obnoxious on Pepper’s special day.
Tony, it had turned out, had been caught up in one of his fits of genius, going without sleep for almost seventy-two hours and not realizing what day it was until the third time JARVIS had reminded him he was late. He’d gotten two tickets for speeding on his way over and almost gotten another one for annoying the second officer so much. He’d also been the one paying for Pepper’s party as one of his many gifts to her. It hadn’t excused him, but it’d been enough to make Steve feel guilty when he found out, and the next time they’d run in to each other, he’d approached Tony to clear the air.
It hadn’t gone well. Steve had later discovered their mutual friends had talked at length about him to Tony, being far too kind and complimentary, so that Tony had constructed a larger-than-life version of Steve in his head that Steve had carelessly toppled over by being unfairly judgmental. At the time, though, Tony’s sarcastic response to his overture had just reinforced Steve’s opinion of him, and it had taken months of their friends throwing them together at various gatherings before he and Tony had had a civil conversation.
Now, two years after their first meeting, they had the keys to each other’s homes, saw each other two to three times a week, and texted who knew how many times a day.
It should’ve been enough for him, having Tony depend on him, getting all those little bits and pieces of Tony that no one else ever got to see. And in many ways it was, because Steve valued their friendship so much, he would never have done anything to jeopardize it.
Not even telling the person he was in love with that he had feelings for him.
He didn’t know when he’d started wanting Tony. When he thought about it, which he did more frequently than he’d like, he couldn’t pinpoint a time or an occasion that had cemented it for him, hadn’t even realized what was happening until it’d been too late. Maybe if he had, he could’ve guarded against it, spent less time with Tony, protected his heart better, done something to keep it from happening, because in all the time Steve had known Tony and seen him hit on pretty much anything that moved, Tony had never once indicated he thought of Steve as anything other than a friend.
Steve had never been the type of guy to give up on something, even when it was a hopeless case. So he took these stolen moments and savored them, even if they resembled something like torture, and he let himself get talked into doing one crazy stunt after another simply because Tony asked him to. Because he always wanted to be the one Tony turned to, be the reason Tony lit up with happiness, and Steve couldn’t even bring himself to care that his heart ached that much more every time it happened. Even a little bit was better than nothing at all.