"Once again, I'm going to have to ask you to keep your voice down." The words sent a shiver down Tony's spine. Not out of fear, that would be ridiculous, first of all because this was a library, and nobody should fear anything in a library except paper cuts and death by boredom, and secondly because the speaker was--and Tony was admittedly shorter than he would like--a scrawny little thing with wider shoulders than he deserved.
Privately, Tony was fascinated by those shoulders. He knew something about design, and yet he couldn’t make sense of them. They belonged on a larger man, not on a twig who barely reached Tony's chin, but somehow they suited that skinny frame, like it was meant to carry more burdens than stacks of dead trees.
The voice wasn't anything to ignore either, though the first time he'd heard it Tony had tried his best. It was one of the calmest voices Tony had ever heard, even when Tony was around, which was also something worthy of study, not that Tony was about to advertise that fact. The guy hated him enough already.
On the other hand, there was really something about getting glared at by someone half his size and at least ten years younger than him.
He grinned without turning around or ending his call. Pepper was talking… about something. Tony wasn't really listening, but he assumed it was about the end date on his newest project. The whole thing, this 'benefit to the people', 'better access to knowledge' thing, was her idea, he didn't see why she was so suspicious about the personal way he'd thrown himself into it.
"Pepper, I'm working as fast as I can, there's just a little problem." He glanced over, well, down, watching the blue eyes of the world's oldest twenty-seven year old turn surprisingly steely. "No offense." Tony arched his eyebrows in what he thought was a friendly sort of way and sighed when the librarian crossed his arms.
"People are trying to work in here." With his voice now a match to the ice in his stare, the librarian--assistant librarian, Tony reminded himself, settled in like he intended to stand there until Tony got off the phone.
Tony considered his options. Pepper was now asking about the other voice, getting even more suspicious the longer he stayed quiet. He didn't know what he had ever done to earn that level of distrust, but it was worrying how much she was reading into his silence.
"Is that the librarian you mentioned?" Her voice stayed as even as Tony's new chaperone's and managed to convey the same level of displeasure at the same time. "You mentioning anyone is weird enough." She paused again. "Tony. Tony, is this why you've decided to redo the entire library? Tony? Tony? No. Let the man work. Tony!"
Tony coughed and hung up. There was no actual phone to hang up or put away--new tech--but he made a show of pausing and saying goodbye to the empty air before turning around.
The breath immediately rushed out of him, and that… alarming, right? Breath shouldn't do that. Definitely not for itty bitty assistant librarians who hated Tony with all the offended passion of a Jane Austen heroine.
He really had to stop letting Happy pick out movies when they were on the jet.
"You know, when this project is done and this decrepit relic of a building is modernized, you are going to be grateful for all the times you had to deal with me." His librarian, as always, looked unimpressed, though just last week Tony had caught him waxing rhapsodic over the new computers to a library patron. They weren't even the finished project. Pepper had sent him in here to this old property in the middle of Brooklyn with an eye to scan and make every single book available for digital readers and free up shelf space, but the place needed so much more than that. For one thing, the building was a mess.
"This place has history." The librarian scowled at him. Steve, the guy's name was Steve, Tony knew it for a fact, but had never been invited to use it, not that it really stopped him.
He tried to wipe some dust from his fingertips. "It also has mold, mildew, and cobwebs that have been here since Eisenhower was president." Tony had a thought. "JARVIS, we are going to have to get crews in here to look for asbestos." He looked back at Steve, whose eyes had widened slightly, as they always did when Tony spoke on the phone or to JARVIS without anything in his hands. The earpiece was too small to see unless someone was looking for it. "But hey, history is great too."
"Asbestos?" Steve's arms fell. A frown crossed his face, and for once, Tony didn't think it was aimed at him. "Kids play in here after school. But… we'd have to close, and the cleanup, I don't think our budget…" He trailed off, then scowled and straightened his ridiculously broad shoulders. "We'll just have to raise the money," he announced, a mask of determination very much in place, and Tony sort of, drifted closer, for lack of a better phrase.
"Look don't worry about the budget okay? I thought I made that clear on my first visit." It was a strangely difficult thing to say with those eyes fixed on him. They traveled down over his Sabbath shirt and jeans and then came back to his face before Steve gave a start and seemed to realize how close they were standing now. Pink colored his cheeks, which was, frankly, disgustingly adorable, but not nearly as interesting as the iron in his expression. He tightened his jaw and tilted his chin back to look Tony in the eye.
"Even with this anonymous benefactor, I'd still have to clear it with the owner." He would too, because the actual head librarian was a nice, elderly lady who could find any book in the building with her eyes closed but was still lamenting the loss of AOL.
"Yeah, about that." If Tony had any shame, he would been blushing along with Steve. But he couldn't be blamed for the slight omission of facts. The first day they'd met, when he had impulsively walked into the property Pepper kept hounding him about and, okay somewhat loudly, expressed his dismay at what a dump of a library it was, he had found himself pinned by a stare that by all rights belonged on an old man and not a twenty-something assistant librarian who wore slacks and a button down, and who blushed whenever Tony got too close. Standing there in the Stark Public Library, Steve had demanded to know who the hell Tony thought he was to insult such a fine institution, and, yeah, normally Tony would have delighted in dropping his name to shut someone up, except this time he'd stopped long enough to wonder what would happen if he did, and curiosity had gotten the better of him.
Steve probably didn't have a television, and if he did, it was to watch PBS. That wasn't a joke; Tony had seen his pledge drive canvas bag. Steve had a flip phone that he kept on vibrate. He wore shirts with a collar every day and kept his blond hair neatly parted, and he seemed to never have a day off. Tony knew all of that because Steve was interesting. Despite that, or because of it, and Tony kept track of interesting things. The guy had balls. Maybe it was that, or Steve's faint, native born Brooklyn accent, or the fact that Steve always looked more than willing to go toe to toe with Tony despite the suit he'd had on the first day, and Happy waiting for him outside, and the obvious knowledge that he would lose, but Tony had yet to tell him the truth.
He could have, like he could have made his plans and handed them off to Pepper and never returned to Brooklyn again unless forced, but… he hadn't. Which said a lot really, not that Steve knew that, or that Tony intended to tell him.
"What about that, Tony?" Steve sighed. "I still don't understand why now, out of nowhere, the Maria Stark Foundation cares about this place or why they'd send…."
"What?" Tony dropped his grin and waited. "Say it, I can take it. If you don't want me here, then say the word." Steve's gaze darted over him again before coming back up. Tony raised his chin.
"You," Steve took a deep breath, "we're very grateful, really, but you seem like someone with more important things to do."
"No, you said there was nothing more important than a sense of community and the dissemination of knowledge." Tony had this urge to poke Steve in his scrawny little chest, so he did. Steve's wide open stare snapped back into a frown.
"I didn't realize you were listening." Steve sounded more resolute than anything Tony had ever heard in his life before, and, for a guy with his connections and money, Tony had heard a lot of pretty definite no's. He generally overruled most of them, and got around the rest, except for the time Pepper had refused to date him and when he'd tried to talk Rhodey into a less dangerous career path.
"Yeah well I was," Tony snapped back, feeling about twelve, which was not a good memory unless he considered getting beat up and rejected by every single older classmate a good memory.
Steve stared at him for another moment, more color splashing into his cheeks, then he ducked his head in a short nod. "Sorry."
Tony froze. He directed a look over the dusty stacks around them, then up to the high stained-glass windows that needed a cleaning but which had a certain old-fashioned charm, then back to Steve. There was no one around to confirm it, but he was pretty sure that had actually just happened.
"JARVIS, did Steve apologize to me just now, or have I inhaled too many dust mites?"
"Tony." Steve rolled his eyes, though he couldn't hear the dry voice of JARVIS confirming that Steve Rogers, assistant librarian of the Stark Public Library, had indeed just apologized to him. "Do you have to make a big deal out of everything?" Steve went on, using that loud hush that librarians all had perfected to shame naughty children.
Tony perked up. "You really need to get coffee with me," he answered, knowing if his schedule wasn't free he would have Pepper make it free.
"I'm working," Steve responded quickly, then suddenly gave another start and frowned so hard at Tony that it was like his eyebrows were trying to deny the blush stealing across his face. "What?" Steve glanced behind him, but they were still alone. They were in the back of a library, surrounded by old legal journals and records that looked like they hadn't been touched in years. Kind of like Steve, who would look good with a few dusty fingerprints all over him.
Tony found himself drifting closer again and did not care. "Have coffee with me." He'd already said it, no harm in saying it again until he got his answer. "I know you hate me, but I'm willing to work with that."
He was brought up short by the absolutely terrifying layer of frost in Steve's eyes. "If this is a joke, it isn't funny."
"Joke?" Tony almost asked JARVIS to replay the conversation to figure what the hell had just happened. "I might not have read all seven Harry Potters, or any of them, actually, and I don't think I have a library card, though you'd have to ask my assistant, but that's no reason to…."
"I am not a joke, Tony, and neither is this library." Steve poked Tony in the chest, hard, and Tony rubbed the spot without looking away from the glint in Steve's eyes. "I don't know how we got the attention of someone like you, but if you aren't going to treat us with respect, then you can go. So the building is old, so what if I'm little, we still deserve more than that."
Tony stared back at him. "I am respectfully asking you to get coffee with me," he announced carefully, though the urge to poke Steve again and see what he would do was nearly as strong as the urge to get him out of the library and see if would soften for Tony the way he did for the kids that came in here.
Not that Tony had spied on Steve reading to children and because of that, resolved to expand the children's section and increase the budget for their books on science. He wouldn't have done that--though he would have expanded the science section anyway-- any more than he would have watched kids climb into Steve's lap and felt something that JARVIS had insisted was envy. Though he noticed that the kids got to be almost as loud as they wanted.
Tony started to ease off, just a little, when he realized that could have reached out and pinned Steve against the shelves, but Steve stood his ground with giving him the smallest inch, and something about that made Tony want to push and keep on pushing. "What do you mean, 'someone like me'?"
People thought Tony was a pain in the ass. They thought he was arrogant, self-centered, conceited, oversexed, and reckless. He'd heard all of that before. He couldn't exactly deny it, but he didn't think he was that bad. He could have been worse. He could have still been designing weapons, for one thing, and as for monogamy, it was more a matter of finding anyone willing to try it with him than not wanting it. TMZ had him all wrong. The rest… the rest he didn't let bother him. He'd been different his whole life, there wasn't anything he felt like changing about it now.
"You aren't any ordinary engineer." Steve's voice was perfectly balanced, vibrating with energy in a way that was fascinating in and of itself. It was like everything else about him. "You're rich for one thing, very rich, and you don't take orders, and some of what you're planning on doing in here, while keeping the original space… it borders on art."
"Art?" Tony echoed, blinking with the awareness that he was being surprised, that Steve was surprising him, again. Steve exhaled noisily, just on the edge of pissed, but his breath was warm against Tony's t-shirt.
"I used to draw, and studied a bit of architecture in school. Look," Steve moved the subject away from himself, "we just… I just… we're not used to this sort of attention here."
"Fair enough," Tony instantly agreed, slightly confused at the turn the conversation had taken but taking the ride anyway. "So is that a yes to coffee?"
"What?" Steve repeated himself, doing that look over his shoulder thing again, but this time, Tony nodded.
"Yeah I wasn't going to say anything but don't think I haven't noticed that you come over to tell me to keep it quiet even when there is no one around to bother. You've made a special trip over to see me when the place was closed and there was no one here to care what kind of noise I made, except you." Tony angled his head to one side, watching Steve blush from a new perspective, where it remained a sight that was interesting beyond all logical reason.
"I--" Steve started, but caught himself in the lie and shut his mouth. He worked his jaw and narrowed his eyes. The blue in those eyes wasn't cold at all. Tony must not have noticed because he'd never been allowed this close before.
"Ever screw around in the stacks?" he wondered, his pulse kicking up when Steve's focus fell to his mouth, then down to his chest, before Steve took in a long breath. "Or we could still do coffee first, your choice." Tony held up a hand in what could have been the Boy Scout salute to prove his integrity. Steve had probably been a Boy Scout. Steve probably was still a Boy Scout. Tony was going to do his best not to be turned on by that, because it was ridiculous. "You've been into me this whole time. It's okay, you can admit it."
"You're an ass," Steve bit out, not so much an Austen heroine after all. That was good. Tony didn't want to fuck any Austen heroines. "Why are you handling this library conversion yourself? You have people to do this kind of work for you, don't you?"
"Maybe." Tony had to hand it to him. "Maybe I like it here."
"Why?" Steve's chin went up.
"It has a certain old-fashioned charm." Tony had this need to cross his arms that he had to have gotten from Steve. That was fairly alarming. Usually he only picked up new bad habits. "Despite its complete lack of modern plumbing or electrical systems," he added, mostly to make himself feel better, but didn't take it back. It was true anyway.
"A decrepit old relic is what you called it. After you called it a dump." Steve probably could recall conversations as well as JARVIS, with the same level of sarcasm.
"That was before I got a good look at it." Tony shrugged, not liking where this was going. Not even for Steve was he going to be pushed into sincerity. "Look it's a library, I am doing the community good. It's in my interest to have a new generation of well-read kids going to college and then coming to work for me." He tightened his mouth. "It's just business."
A statement that would have had a better ring to it if Tony hadn't seen the honest-to-god smile forming on Steve's face. He hadn't thought Steve could smile, but there it was, relaxed and warm and more inviting than a scotch on the rocks after a really shitty day.
"No," Tony instantly denied everything, "I've changed my mind. Libraries breed sedition and dangerous ideas. We should replace them with arcades. Galaga, not Gatsby!"
"Tony, shh." Steve shushed him, and Tony, embarrassingly, let himself be shushed. Steve was still smiling at him, which might have been the reason.
"I'm not a great guy," Tony heard himself saying, in some kind of horrible seduction misfire. Steve's eyebrows went up. That only made it worse. "I'm different. But you're different. Let's be different together." He had a feeling JARVIS was monitoring his blood pressure, because his voice was in his ear, loudly asking if Tony felt all right. "I'm fine!" Tony told him, then looked at Steve. "I might have been lying to you. But not about anything big. Just my name."
Steve's smile vanished. Tony watched his eyebrow draw together, watched him sweep another look over Tony's face, and then he raised his eyes up to the stained glass window, donated by Maria Stark decades ago. He looked back at Tony. Tony went cold, colder than he should have for someone he hardly knew.
"You bastard," Steve pushed out.
"I'm sorry?" Tony really didn't mean to make it a question.
"All those times I worried about the money…" Steve's expression was, to put it mildly, furious. He also wasn't moving away. Tony took that as a good sign. "All those times you came around when you shouldn't have, and I convinced myself…" He let that go unfinished, sadly, just to glare at Tony for a solid twenty seconds. "You're Tony Stark."
"So very guilty." Tony did the Boy Scout thing again. Steve remained visibly unimpressed. It was the best trick Tony had ever encountered, probably because it wasn't a trick at all. His name and reputation did not impress Steve Rogers. That was such a turn on.
"You asked me out." Steve took another moment, though his glare lost some heat. Possibly his blush stole it. God Tony wanted to touch him. So he did. He had nothing left to lose.
Steve went completely motionless when Tony's palm slid over his jaw, except for his mouth, which softened until his lips parted. He had nice lips too. Tony traced them with his thumb and Steve wriggled against the stacks and gave him this look of intense frustration, as if no one had ever done that, or as if no one like Tony had ever done that before, not that there was anyone like Tony.
"Technically I asked you to coffee. I tried to hint around to some sex in the stacks, but now that I think about it, you are the kind to take things slow, aren't you? Old-fashioned and--"
Steve opened his mouth to let Tony's thumb inside, licking the dust from the tip. Tony forgot every single word he'd ever learned.
"I was wrong," he finally got out, his voice strangled and high, making Steve pull his mouth away. Which was, Tony decided, a crime.
"I'll have to ask you to keep your voice down," Steve whispered, his skin hot to the touch, his stare absolutely serious. It was the sexiest shush that had ever been shushed. Tony nodded, and leaned in to shudder against Steve while Steve did things with his tongue that an assistant librarian just shouldn't know but Tony was so grateful he did. He even tried his best to obey, managing something like quiet until Steve took a hold of his wrist and Tony caught a glimpse of his dusty fingerprints all over Steve's face.
"Sex now," he gave in, probably loud enough to shake the stained glass, and tugged his hand away to kiss Steve, verging on desperate. Steve made a shocked sound beneath him, trembling for the first seconds when their breath mingled, and then surging forward. The next question, when Tony could even think about speaking, was soft, and not at all what he meant to say, or how he meant to say it. "Coffee after?" It was a plea.
"Coffee after," Steve agreed breathlessly, and kissed him, hard and commanding, with one hand at the back of Tony's neck, convincing Tony in one second that he had spent far too much time outside of libraries, and that he should spend more time in them in the future. For the good of the community, even if that community was Brooklyn.