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prompt: courtship

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Helen Cho's wedding was held in a building that looked like a cross between a spaceship and a nurse shark, but the sleek grey curves of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza event hall were decked in flowers.  

On every surface there were tall buncheong vases filled with long limbs of forsythia, Korean winter hazel, curling fern fronds, day-lilies in a dozen shades of red and orange. There were garlands of salmon-colored chrysanthemums and dark pink camellias twined with strings of globe lights that hung from the stair railings and between the rows of chairs.  

The whole wedding was a combination of old and new.  In the midst of the futuristic building-- second only to the erstwhile Avengers Tower in green energy efficiency-- a plain wood pavilion had been set up, and beneath it were the dressings of a traditional Korean wedding.  Helen had greeted them at the front doors, and her dress was a hanbok chima, but with no jacket, just thick bands of intricate lace wrapped around her chest, and silken white cords dotted with gunmetal-grey beads, and a white skirt trimmed in lace rosettes billowing around her.  

"Wow," said Wanda when Steve mentioned it, "you know a lot about dresses and flowers."

Steve looked up from the garland that was strung over the backs of their chairs.  "I did a lot of still-lifes in art school."

They were sitting together in the back row, near a wall with an emergency exit.  Wanda was wearing a white cloche hat that dipped low over her forehead, and blonde ringlets fell out from beneath it to frame her face.  Steve was wearing dark-rimmed glasses and a chocolate-colored suit that made him look narrower, that made use of the weight he'd dropped.  He'd dyed his hair brown, cut it short, and grown a beard.

They looked like a hip, young couple, except that Steve kept scanning the crowd, darting glances at the entrances and exits.

"Stop it," Wanda murmured, finally.  "You look like a criminal."

"The ceremony starts at five, right?" Steve asked, ignoring her.  

But before she could answer, what he'd been waiting for appeared at the entrance to the event hall: Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff, laughing with several people around them.  

They were both beautiful, elegant, cosmopolitan.  Natasha was wearing a mint-colored taffeta dress that flared out from her waist and a red-toned paisley shawl, red hair in a tight bun, red lips smiling.  She had her arm wrapped around Tony's waist, and Tony's arm was around her shoulders.  Tony looked like himself.  He was wearing mirrored sunglasses and making wry remarks to probably no one in particular, and beneath the cuff of his jacket Steve could see the edge of his armor-watch.  

Steve had Skyped with Natasha a few weeks into his exile, but not for almost a year now-- and he'd seen Tony in a dozen interviews since then-- but it was still a punch to the gut.  How could they both still look like themselves?

They made their way toward the second row of chairs, and while Tony pulled off his sunglasses, carrying on with the gentlemen on his right, Natasha looked up and unerringly caught Steve's gaze.  It must have been easy: Steve was staring back at her.  

Then she dropped her eyes, and she and Tony made their way to two empty seats.  Natasha draped her arm over the back of Tony's chair, leaned her head towards his, and Steve could see the exact moment when Tony's body tensed.  Natasha set her hand on Tony's shoulder, and her thumb pushed a long, soothing line up and down the shoulder seam of his slim suit jacket.  

"Stop it," Wanda said again.  This time it was sympathetic.

 

+

 

Like Helen's dress and the venue, the wedding ceremony was a mix of old and new.  Phillip wore a Western-style three-piece suit-- a dark grey that matched the beads on Helen's chima-- but he bowed deeply to Helen's mother before presenting her with a wooden goose wrapped in a blood-red sash.  Phillip and Helen sat opposite each other and drank rice wine from gourd halves, but Helen's cousin sang a song by John Lennon.

The officiant was an old man in a tall headpiece and a grey durumagi, speaking English into a clip-on microphone.

"Some of us have come from very far away," he said, voice low and gravely.  "But why have we come?"

The old man spread his arms, looking into the crowd.  He stepped past the couple, and Steve's eyes slid over to Tony.  He and Natasha were near the front, but several chairs to the right, so Steve could see the curve of his cheek, the dark smudge of his eyelashes.  

"In your homes, there are many troubles.  There are many matters to be settled.  At the end of this wedding, you will return to them, and you will succeed in some things and fail in others.  New troubles will arise.  And again you will succeed or fail."

As Steve watched, Tony slowly turned his head until his gaze landed on Steve in the last row.  When he saw Steve looking back at him, his eyes widened, but he recovered himself.  Steve's eyebrow drew together, but their gazes held.  

"There are a thousand forces that push us and pull us… circumstances bring us together, and circumstances direct us away.  We are happy to believe that we are trees-- setting down roots, shedding fruit, only at times transplanted-- but in truth we are leaves in the wind."

When Tony stayed turned toward Steve, Natasha tapped her thumb against his shoulder.  He shifted, maybe a stilling hand on her leg, maybe a reassuring pat, and Natasha glanced behind them. Her face softened, then she looked away; she stayed leaned in close to Tony, but she withdrew her arm, maybe to set a reassuring hang on his own leg.

"In such a world, for two people to cling to each other is a great labor."

At that, Tony's eyes dropped, but he didn't turn away.  Some of the neutrality of his expression broke when he lifted his eyes again.  It was hard for Steve to remember what Tony had seemed like when they'd first met, when Steve thought Tony didn't take things seriously.  

"In such a world, love is a miracle--"

Now he could see the resolve there, the grim devotion that was the primary substance of Tony Stark.  Steve could only imagine what Tony saw when Tony looked at him.

"--and it deserves a great labor."

Then the old man moved back toward the ceremonial table and said, "We are gathered here today to celebrate the marriage of Helen Cho and Phillip Park."  Steve and Tony turned away to look back at the couple, then, at Helen, whose beautiful face was lit with fierceness and pride.

"We are gathered to see the miracle, to see if it has really happened.  We are also gathered so that Helen and Phillip can see us and know that we are here, all around them, to support them in this great work they have undertaken."

A bridesmaid and a groomsman set small tubs of water on the table, to begin the ceremonial washing of the couple's hands.  The officiant gazed out at the guests with a look of calm solemnity.  

He said, "We will remember it when we return to our own work."

 

+

 

After the ceremony, Wanda and Steve stood behind their chairs and waited.  Tony was standing near the front, deep in conversation with the man he'd been talking to before the wedding, but Natasha gathered her purse and her shawl and came over to them.

She hugged Wanda first, squeezing her shoulders and pressing a kiss to her cheek, then tenderly smoothing the lipstick off Wanda's cheek with her thumb.  "It's good to see you, myshka ."

Then she hugged Steve and kissed his cheek, pulling away with a wink, leaving him to clean his own face.  "Good to see you, Steve," smiling.

"Good to see you, Nat," Steve said, grinning back, relief moving through him like blood.  Then Wanda pulled Natasha toward her again into another hug, and after a long moment, she pulled away, blinking her wet eyelashes, scowling down at Natasha's arm.  Of the Avengers who'd left, she and Steve were the only ones who hadn't smuggled themselves back to the States; they were the only two who didn't have anyone to go back to, but they were also, probably, the two anchored by a guilt they couldn't quite metabolize.  

"Come on, little one," Natasha said, hand falling to Wanda's.  

She tugged, drawing Wanda away, and glanced at Steve.  It was dangerous, probably, but Wanda could defend herself, and she had her phone with her-- and he trusted Natasha.  All the lessons Steve had learned over the last year were against mistrust and not for it.  He watched them disappear into the long throat of the nurse shark corridor.  

Steve couldn't bring himself to wait stolidly, oafishly alone, after that, and watch Tony talk animatedly with engineers and investors across the room-- so he pushed through the emergency exit to wait on the promenade.  

He pulled his tiny, battered notebook out of his suit jacket and made sketches of the Seoul skyline until finally Tony appeared in the doorway.  

By then, the sun was setting.  The concrete of the promenade was lit by streetlight and the neon glow of the city, but the orange light of sunset covered all of it, and Tony.  His jacket was tucked over his arm, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up.

He sauntered over with his hands in his pockets.  Steve smiled, sliding his notebook back into his jacket, and Tony nodded behind his mirrored sunglasses.  "Looking good," he said.  He didn't call Steve anything-- not Cap, not Steve, and (thankfully) not Rogers.

"Thanks," said Steve.  "You too."  

In fact, Tony looked tired, but he looked healthy beneath his slim white dress shirt and dark slacks.  

His hair had grown out, and it curled over his ears.  Steve had always liked Tony with longer hair-- it gave him more of a mad scientist look, which, for all the conflicts they'd had over Tony's mad science, was probably the truest and best Tony Stark.  The huge grin, the unshaven face, the gracefully gesticulating hands. Steve smiled again, thinking of it.  

Tony waved at his own chin.  "See you're getting with the beard program."

"Yeah," said Steve, reaching up to touch it.  "It helps with traveling."

"Well, seems like you been keeping out of trouble, so whatever you're doing is working."

Steve nodded.  What to say to that?  Everything around them was incendiary: Steve had to take care with travel because he was a wanted man.  Rhodey wasn't present because he was recovering from another round of surgeries.  Vision wasn't present because-- with the exception of Sam and Clint, who were in reserve at best-- he was the only Avenger left to hold down the fort.

"Beautiful wedding," he said, at last, nodding at the building behind Tony.  

"Yeah," Tony said. "Where's Barnes?"  Tony had never been properly intimidated by the incendiary.  His mouth crooked.  "Were you worried I might cause a scene?"

Steve sighed.  He slipped his hands into his pockets but kept his gaze steady on the shifting light of Tony's sunglasses.  "No, he went back under.  He's in cryogenic stasis."  Steve had assumed that Tony was watching him, possibly at the request of the Security Council, or at least that T'challa had spoken with him-- but maybe he didn't care.  "And Sam, Scott and Clint are back in the States, so it's just me and Wanda."

Tony grimaced and looked away.  "Thanks, truth serum.  You shouldn't be telling me that."

Steve shrugged.  In the worst way possible, he had learned to trust Tony.  "Figured you knew anyway."

"Yeah, well," Tony said.  "I've had bigger things on my plate."

Steve's eyes did drop, at that, and his hands in his pockets curled into fists.

Tony was still charging into the explosions, but Steve was unarmored, now; with not even a shield anymore.  He stood in silence for a long moment.  The only things to say were I'm sorry and let me come back then and you fucking did this to yourself .

After a long moment, Tony released a long breath and looked down at the pavement.  He shook his head, and he pulled off his sunglasses and tucked them into the collar of his dress shirt.

"Did you see the rose garden?" he asked.

Steve shook his head.

"Come on, you'll like it."  

Then Tony sauntered away, and after a pause Steve followed, and they walked quietly side-by-side with their hands in their pockets, the space between them filled with familiar city sounds.  

After several minutes, they rounded the strange oblique edges of the building, and thousands of dots of lights came into view.  

Spread out beneath the curved flank of the building was a shallowly rolling garden of white LED roses. The two men followed the sidewalk into the midst of the waist-high flowers.

"They're LEDs," said Tony, nodding at the glittering expanse.  "There are over 25 thousand. They were installed individually, one at a time."

The flowers were cut to different lengths and set at different angles, their stalks long and flexible enough to sway a little in the evening breeze.  Steve pinched one coarse fabric petal between his fingers; the rose was white and illuminated from within, a warm white glow at the base of the flower.

"Wow," Steve said.  

Tony glanced over at him, and his mouth curled slowly into a smile.  "Pretty cool, huh?"

It was pretty cool-- the waterproof fabric, the insulation around the diode mechanism, the resilient curving stem, a garden glowing in the cement courtyard.  It was just like Helen's wedding: pretty and strange, traditional and innovative, made of nature and machines.  Tony was looking sideways at him, and his expression reminded Steve of the first couple of years of their acquaintance, after Tony's prickly defensiveness had mellowed and he'd begun to watch Steve discover the 21st century with a sweetness and a muted excitement that even this pale, grim, fatigued Tony Stark had not quite shaken off.  

There was so much hurt between them, so much that seemed unapproachable-- and unresolvable even if it could be approached.  But Tony's hair fell over his eyes, and the city lights slanted across his broad shoulders in the white shirt, and he was a hero, and Steve knew he would contend with him forever.  Would cling to him forever.

"Yeah, I like it," said Steve finally, looking out at the swells of light around them.  "I like the idea of flowers you can't pick.  They're not yours, and you don't get to take them home."  He touched a hand to one slender wire stalk.  "But they're beautiful, and they last longer."

Tony's gaze dropped from Steve's face, down to his hand, and hung there.  "Yeah, they are," he said quietly.  "And they do."  

 

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