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Steve putters to a slow stop, angling his moped into something that technically isn’t a parking spot, but is in actuality a convenient gap between a Prius and a Smart Car. He’s learned from experience that he has to sneak any space he can get that’s big enough to fit his bike. Parking, even in Astoria, is getting just as bad as anywhere in Brooklyn these days. So much for Queens being more low key.

He kicks the stand and then twists around to tighten the bungee latching a plain black milk crate onto the back; it’d started to rattle somewhere over the Pulaski Bridge but he didn’t want to pull over just to double-check it. After all, it wasn’t one of the crates he’d painstakingly hand-painted, since he’d sold the last one of those right off the back of his bike for thirty bucks to someone walking by on Lorimer only yesterday night.

Stepping up onto the sidewalk, he adjusts the worn strap of his messenger bag, which at this point seems held together more by the music and film festival wristbands he has wrapped around it than by actual fabric and thread. It takes him a moment to lean over and unhook the portable radio he’d snapped to the bars of the bike, but he eventually gets it loose. He turns off NPR and tucks the radio away in his bag beside the bundle of photography books he’d bought early that morning at Strand.

He grins to himself as he spots Tony’s fixed gear bike locked haphazardly to a lamp post, despite the fact that there’s a fully functional bike rack not twenty feet away in front of the restaurant. One day Tony’s not going to slide by with a mere ticket and he’s going to come back to find his lock cut and his bike impounded.

Tony is standing a few paces from the restaurant. His noise cancelling headphones are looped, unused, around his neck, but he’s still just as oblivious to the people loitering around him as he fiddles with his smart phone. Steve ambles toward him, taking the moment to just appreciate his boyfriend.

He’s wearing those tight, faded red jeans that Steve loves, even if from this view he can’t see the way they hug the curve of Tony’s perfect ass. A charcoal grey vest over a blue and white plaid shirt makes Tony look slimmer and leaner than ever, and Steve smiles at the pink bow tie. It’d been a Christmas gift from him the year before and Tony tends to wear it on days when he’s secretly in a good mood.

Tony pushes his black horn-rimmed glasses up his nose as his lifts his head, looking toward Steve like he’d felt the weight of a studying gaze upon him. He tucks the phone into the front pocket of his black pea coat as Steve closes the space between them.

“Hey, you beat everyone else here?” Steve asks as Tony grabs the bottom hem of his hoodie and pulls him forward hips first, before reaching up to tuck his other hand into the navy blue scarf looped loosely around Steve’s neck. Steve goes easily, leaning in to Tony’s kiss. He tastes like clove cigarettes, a habit Steve has pleaded with him to break. Steve opts not to say anything about it now.

When they pull away from one another, Tony pulls his vintage pocket watch from his front jeans pocket and glances at the time.

“I’ve actually been here fifteen minutes already. I should get a medal.”

“You feeling okay?” Steve runs a hand through Tony’s artfully messy dark brown hair as he lifts his own white wayfarers up to look at Tony more clearly, perching them on his forehead above raised eyebrows. He has to ask; Tony’s never early. He usually can’t be bothered to even be on time.

“Eh, shut up, punk. I had a relatively decent yoga session this morning, I was feeling up to the challenge of living within these arbitrary, imposed, societal constraints.”

Steve chuckles and lets his sunglasses drop back down. He glances through the large plate glass window of the restaurant, and then at the crowd gathered on the sidewalk.

“You get us on the list?”

“Yeah, but it’s gonna be at least forty-five. Brunch.” Tony snorts. “Remind me again why this is a thing?”

Steve pulls Tony close to him again, encircling him and tucking his hands into Tony’s back pockets.

“Because you love seeing all of our friends.”

“Nope, that’s not it.”

“Because this place has the best fair trade coffee in all five boroughs.”

“That has yet to be proven. Besides, we could easily just get some beans to take home and have it all time. Actually – isn’t that what we already do? I distinctly remember buying both a grinder and a French Press-”

“Because you know that good food makes me happy and you’d do anything to please me.”

Tony pauses, pretending to consider this.

“Nah, that’s definitely not it. Couldn’t care less about that.” Tony shakes his head, even if his smile undermines the lie. Steve pulls back anyway, throwing Tony a mock scowl. He taps one of his tattered Converse-clad feet against one of Tony’s Toms. “Hey, watch the footwear.”

“You’re a jerk.”

“I’m your jerk,” Tony retorts, digging into the leather camera case that he uses as a satchel. “Speaking of pleasing you, however, I picked up the Voice so we could look at the housing classifieds.”

He hands the rolled up paper to Steve with a flourish. Steve unrolls it to find a number of ads already circled in purple ink.

“I thought…” Steve scans the page, surprised. “I thought you wanted to stay in Williamsburg.”

“Eh, it’s pretty much over, don’t you think? Now, I don’t agree with whoever is trying to make Bushwick happen, and frankly Greenpoint is toxic – literally – and who lives on the G, really? Who does that? But Long Island City, Astoria…I could handle that without becoming suicidal.”

“I know you’d rather just move to the Village, but you know I can’t afford-“

“The Village? With all those annoying NYU kids around?” Steve would point out that Tony himself earned one of his degrees from NYU, as did half of their friends, but he’s heard this diatribe before and knows it doesn’t matter. “Trust me, Steve, I have enough pretentious, entitled, uselessness in my life without actively seeking to surround myself with it.”

“Talking about yourself?” Clint’s voice interrupts, slinging one of his tattooed arms over Tony’s shoulders, the other over Steve’s. Despite wearing a slouchy knit hat and red plaid scarf to fight off the fall chill, Clint’s wearing jean shorts and he isn’t donning his usual black members only jacket over his faded Joy Division t-shirt. The slightly tinny sound of the newest Savages album is coming from the beat up pair of headphones which Clint is still half wearing, one side pulled away so he can theoretically take part in their conversation.

“Talking about you, actually,” Tony shoots back. Clint glances at the paper clutched in Steve’s hand and then shoots Steve a look of horror.

“What is this madness?”

“We’re just looking,” Steve hedges, but Clint has already grabbed the paper from him, crumpled it up, and tossed it in a nearby trashcan.

“Steve Rogers, you are Brooklyn through and through. Don’t tell me you’re thinking of defecting. Tony, is this your Park Avenue crap influence at work?”

“Natasha, hey!” Steve cuts Clint off as he spots Clint’s best friend approaching. Her blazing red hair, pulled back by a wide green headband, glints in the late morning sunlight, as warm and fiery as the brightly changing autumn leaves still stubbornly clinging to the few trees dotted along the sidewalk. He’s grateful for Natasha’s arrival, as Tony bristles whenever Clint goes all proletariat, inevitably drawing a line between Tony and Thor, who had both grown up across the river in the lap of luxury, and the rest of their group, none of whom grew up in Manhattan or had it remotely easy. Clint had it the worst off of all of them.

Being “broke” while actually being supported by middle or upper class parents is the new normal, especially in Williamsburg, and Clint accuses Tony of it often. Steve finds the accusations baseless. Tony never pretends he’s anything but well off; he’s very aware of what he has and how he uses it, and while he is always quick to offer a helping hand, he stopped flaunting his wealth long before they ever got together.

Steve supposes it’s the fact that Tony is quietly rich that bothers Clint now. He doesn’t know what Clint wants, but he suspects that in his mind, to be appropriately upfront about his wealth, Tony would have to parade around like Tony Curtis as Junior in Some Like it Hot, Cary Grant voice, yachting cap and all.

Natasha slinks in between Clint and Tony, as always having a sixth sense about where she needs to be.

“Steve.” She nods at him coolly, pulling her ear buds and tucking them, along with her iPhone, into her carpet bag. “What’s goin’ on, you guys?”

“Was that anything good?” Tony asks, gesturing to her ears, attempting to distract her from Clint.

“Parquet Courts. Not that impressed with it.” She mumbles off-handedly, her attention not leaving Clint’s upset face. “What’s wrong?”

“Tony and Steve are leaving Brooklyn.”

Natasha tilts her head toward Steve and raises one eyebrow, arching perfectly over the rim of her oversize 80s-style pearlescent-rimmed glasses. The thick lenses are actually clear plastic; she wears them because she thinks they encourage people to underestimate her strength and beauty and overestimate her intelligence. She insists it’s not a quirk but a careful calculation.

“We’re not leaving the city.” Steve answers her unspoken question. “We’re just looking for a new apartment, is all.”

“Preferably one near a co-op market.” Tony adds.

“Oh. Well I know a guy. Got a bunch of places in LIC. I’ll set up a meeting.”

“You always know a guy.” Tony eyes her suspiciously.

“If this is the part where you suggest Russian Mob again, Stark, I may have to castrate you. I’m not connected, I have no relatives in Little Odessa, I just happen to be a popular person.” She adjusts her black and white polka dot circle skirt, checks the seam of her red stockings with an imperious, distracted air.

“Clearly that’s it.” Tony is skeptical. He takes a small, wary step away from her. Doing so gives him a better look at what she’s wearing, and he has to laugh at the t-shirt she has on under her bedazzled denim crop jacket. “I still cannot believe you went to that show.”

“Fuck you, NKOTB was amazing.” Natasha’s words have no heat, however, and her flat tone leaves Steve guessing if she really means it or not. Months later, he still has no idea if she went to that concert to enjoy it or mock it. “You have a cigarette?” She asks Clint, who obligingly flips open his pack of American Spirits and thumbs one up for her to take.

“Comrades!” Thor’s booming voice cuts through Steve’s thoughts on Natasha being a Blockhead. A moment later Thor’s huge hand claps him on the shoulder, hard enough to make him wince.

“What the…” Tony starts, eyes widening. Instantly curious, Steve turns to actually look up at Thor. A red bandana is wrapped around his head like a sweatband and his look is overall more lumberjack than usual, given that it looks like he hasn’t shaved in over a week. Which may not seem that bad except that it seems like Thor can grow a full beard in a single afternoon.

What is happening up here?” Natasha gestures around Thor’s face, and the guy only smiles wider. His brown plaid shirt strains across his chest as he throws his arms wide and then once again brings his heavy hands down on Steve and Clint’s shoulders.

“My housemates have challenged me to a beard contest! They are obviously fools.”

“Facial hair contests are totally stupid,” Tony mutters and Steve hides his smirk, ducking his head. He has to admit it’s hilarious that Tony’s still secretly bitter that he lost the great mustache contest of ’08. His facial hair, while immaculate, has always been far too calculated and modern for any contest that usually names a 70’s porn ‘stache as the winner. Bruce had won that particular round and Steve had never been so glad as when he finally shaved that big, bushy handlebar thing off his face.

“How do you even…” Clint reaches out and tugs on Thor’s long beard. “Doesn’t it drag in stuff? What, you just tie it back when you eat, or…?”

As Thor begins to demonstrate his method to Clint, the sound of a text message arriving echoes around the small group. Everyone immediately pats their pockets, pulls out their phones.

“It’s me. Bruce fell asleep in the lab last night, he’ll be late.” Steve announces. Tony rolls his eyes.

“He was working on a Saturday night?”

“Well, you know he’s working on that…thing, with the thing and the…” Steve tries, but gives up. Tony always knows what Bruce is actually working on; to Steve they may as well be speaking a foreign language. Tony smiles at him, amused by Steve at a loss.

“Yeah, that.” Tony nods, agreeing. “Big project, big deal, you’re exactly right.” He bumps Steve’s hip with his own, his smile widening over Steve’s faint blush.

“Aren’t you two fucking adorable,” Clint states. “I’m starving, how long ‘til we get a table?”

“Awhile yet.”

“Urgh. Brunch.” Natasha grunts. Tony throws up his arms.

“Exactly!”

*******

“So I have a spare ticket to see Disconnect at BAM on Friday.” Natasha sips her iced toddy delicately from an old fashioned glass canning jar, peering around the table at all of them like she expects everyone to jump on the offer.

All four guys sneak glances at one another, unsure which one of them will be willing to go along with Nat this time. Tony figures it will be Steve, as it’s almost always Steve. He’s the only one who finds dance performance moderately interesting, even going so far as to take one of Natasha’s classes once. Dance may be Nat’s profession, but Tony came to the conclusion early on that being her friend only required attending anything she was actually in and nothing more. Steve feels the need to be more supportive.

As expected, Steve opens his mouth to reply. Tony jumps in first.

“Steve, I was going to go see the Rosemary’s Baby restoration at Film Forum that night.” Tony says quietly, surreptitiously reaching to tug on the end of Steve’s scarf and get his full attention. “Or, you know, Gideon’s Army is up at Quad - you wanted to see that, right?” Steve turns to look at him, blue eyes bright and grateful, and Tony finds himself inexplicably caught off guard by just how beautiful his boyfriend actually is. It’s somehow surprising to him, every damn time he stops to think about it, that this man is his.

He’s wearing the shirt Tony bought for him at American Apparel last week; the deep vee of the dark maroon tee is partially covered by his scarf, but Tony can still see a hint of his sharp collarbone, the fabric clinging deliciously to the muscular cut of his pecs. A threadbare grey hoodie is zipped halfway up his wide chest, and a brown corduroy blazer somehow sits un-rumpled over the whole ensemble. Despite his broad shoulders, his waist is impossibly narrow, and Tony slips his hand down to rest there, sliding underneath the layers of his clothing to touch the warm bare skin of Steve’s back, just above the top of his dark wash jeans.

With his other hand, he takes one of Steve’s, twining his oil-stained fingers with Steve’s paint splattered ones. He folds their combined grasp on the top of the table between their place settings and stares at his boyfriend’s pale lips, remembering how swollen and lushly pink they’d looked last night when they’d been wrapped around his cock. He flushes with heat, thinking of Steve on his knees.

Steve smiles back at him warmly now, all too innocent and wholesome for what Tony is currently recalling. He holds Steve’s gaze, remaining silent but smirking until Steve seems to pick up on the tenor of his thoughts. When Steve unconsciously licks his lips, Tony knows they’re now both on the same page.

“Yeah…okay, I don’t know what just happened there.” Clint shakes his head at his two friends; Tony knows he just kind of wandered off into a world that centered almost entirely on Steve, but he can’t be bothered to care. “But I can’t go either. I was going to go check out the Rain Room at MoMA. I think there’s an Oldenburg show too.”

“Really.” Natasha drums her fingers on the tabletop, bright yellow painted nails tapping a steady rhythm against the worn wood.

“Uh, yeah.”

“On a Friday night.”

“Yep.”

“Exactly how long have you lived in New York again?” Natasha sounds as disbelieving as Natasha can sound. She glances at Thor, who is currently downing his second glass of fresh squeezed orange juice as if he were chugging a beer at Oktoberfest. It’s clear that Clint is her only hope. “Trust me. Going with me will be better than going anywhere near that place on a Friday night.”

“I was also going to hit the ICP Triennial while I was up in that area, so-“

“Clint.” Natasha sighs knowingly, and Clint gives in.

“Yeah, I know, that was stretching it, even for me.” He picks up his mug of coffee and offers her a bitter toast. “Dance it is.”

“Here is Bruce!” Thor waves out the window, gesturing for Bruce to come inside. Clint opens his mouth to try and withdraw his acquiesce, but Natasha smirks at him.

“Like Bruce is going to save you?” She asks and Clint slumps in his seat.

“Guys, so sorry I’m late, I just…I got caught up and then…” Bruce apologizes, flustered, as he squeezes in to the last seat left open at the long communal table, across from Natasha and beside Thor. His thin tie is hanging loose, his purple-checkered shirt half-unbuttoned, revealing a hot pink t-shirt with a unicorn emblazoned across its front. He’s carrying his dark green grandfather cardigan folded over one arm and his thick glasses sit crookedly on his nose. His curly hair is rumpled, like he hasn’t combed it in days. “I don’t know where my brain is at lately, it’s like I’m two different people and I can’t keep things straight. I didn’t even mean to stay that late, I hope I didn’t hold you all up too much.”

“It’s okay, Bruce. We ordered your usual for you, hope that’s okay.” Steve breaks away from Tony’s gaze, turning to offer their friend a sympathetic smile. Tony knows it’s rude, but he begrudges Bruce that smile. He’d liked that moment he and Steve were having just then.

He slips his hand around Steve’s waist toward his front, fingertips dipping dangerously below Steve’s belt. He feels Steve tense; he doesn’t want to take it too far – okay, he wants to, but he’s learned over the years not to – so he opts to slide his palm down over Steve’s thigh instead.

Tony leans in and brushes his lips against Steve’s ear.

“You know, if we’d skipped brunch, I could have come home right after yoga, all stretched and limber…we wouldn’t have left the bed for the rest of the day…”

“Tony…” Steve whispers back warningly, covering Tony’s searching hand with his own and stopping it from moving somewhere it shouldn’t.

“You’ll be interested to know, I can now put my legs behind my head…” Tony quirks an teasing eyebrow at Steve and smirks knowingly when he sees Steve’s Adam’s apple bob as he swallows hard.

Tony vaguely hears someone speaking above his head, but he’s too concentrated on the exquisiteness of Steve’s stubbled jaw line for it to really register.

Guys.” Natasha interjects, throwing a sugar packet across the table and hitting Tony in the face. They both snap away from each other and look around.

“Excuse me,” the waitress states, reaching between them to set down their plates. Steve’s cheeks are flushed, color high. Tony smiles up at their server, murmuring a thank you.

“Do you remember when they couldn’t stand each other?” Clint asks no one in particular as he snaps a picture of his food with his phone, then leans over to take a couple photos of Natasha’s plate as well. He makes a noise of approval at the finished shot and nudges Natasha’s food back toward her. “I think that was better, when they couldn’t stand each other. Definitely.”

“Was there ever really a time when they couldn’t stand each other?” Bruce inquires, leaning back in his chair to allow the waitress to reach over him and fill his coffee. Tony gives Bruce his attention, curious, because he can certainly remember a time when he and Steve were at each other’s throats constantly, kept from writing each other off only by a shared group of friends that necessitated moving in the same circle.

Bruce pauses, digging into his free range, organic scrambled eggs. He swallows a bite and then continues, gesturing with his fork.

“There was just unresolved sexual tension. And now there’s resolved sexual tension. It’s a slight difference, really. No hatred involved.”

“Just untapped, unadulterated lust that is now very, very much tapped.” Tony comments, his hand moving to rub suggestively between Steve’s legs. The table would have totally hid the move if Steve hadn’t reacted reflexively, jerking his knee upward and cracking against the wood with a thud that sends the silverware rattling. Steve’s face is bright red, now.

“Tony, seriously.” Natasha says, though she’s biting back a small smile. “Just drink your kale & wheatgrass, eat your Greek yogurt, and stop molesting poor Steve.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Tony salutes her with his spoon, fully intending to disregard the warning.

At the end of the table, Thor lets out a moan that is near orgasmic.

“I do not understand how not a one of you eat meat. This bacon is delicious!” He groans again as he enthusiastically shoves another piece into his still full mouth, earning him a few looks from people sitting around them.

Tony shoots Natasha a look as if to say And yet you allow this? and Natasha just shrugs, like whatchagonnado?. Thor doesn’t know the meaning of blasé, never quite mastering detached disregard.

As Thor continues to praise his breakfast meat, Natasha spears a piece of cantaloupe on her plate and wordlessly drops it onto Clint’s beside his cottage cheese. She hates the orange melon while he loves it. He gives her his watermelon in trade; it’s a system they have worked out.

Tony turns back to his breakfast, already over his goat cheese and spinach omelette and eyeing Steve’s gluten free vegan French toast. He contemplates how long it will take Steve to notice his wandering eyes and offer him some. It won’t take long, it never does.

While he waits, he thinks back on Bruce’s statement, wondering if he really had wanted Steve from word go. Way back when Steve was studying graphic design at Pratt and Tony was getting a computer science degree to keep his earlier mechanical engineering degree from MIT company. Steve, who was best of best friends with Barnes, who studied drama at NYU and dated Natasha, who was pals with Clint, who partied with Thor, who roomed with Bruce, who took class with Tony…

They easily could have never met, and when they did, Tony had irrationally wanted to punch Steve’s perfect, perfect face. Everything about the guy was naturally, effortlessly amazing and Tony could not stand it. He was cynicism’s kryptonite, seemingly inspiring unabashed love and admiration from everyone at a time when no one wanted to admit to liking anything or anyone.

Steve also seemed designed as his exact contradiction, from the big things – Steve firmly Green Party, while Tony refused to vote on the principle that the whole system was corrupt – to the tiny things, like how Steve swore by Stereogum and Tony was diehard Pitchfork. They argued about everything.

Steve liked jazz and the blues and depressing 80s bands that sang about dying in double decker bus crashes; Tony liked classic rock and heavy metal and the occasional rapper whose talent matched his ego. Steve liked Hawks and Wilder, Capra and Ford; Tony liked Truffaut, Cassavetes, Herzog, Roeg. If forced to choose an Anderson, Steve went Wes – Tony, Paul Thomas. Steve compulsively read the classics – Dickens, Tolstoy, Austen, Fitzgerald – Tony dug Vonnegut, Kerouac, Bukowski, maybe some Updike. Steve lived and breathed art while Tony couldn’t tell the first thing about the many expensive pieces sitting in his family’s deep storage. And Steve didn’t see the beauty in a circuit board or a perfectly soldered joint, didn’t love cars or jets, and was hopeless around an engine. The only thing they could agree on was the awesomeness of Battlestar Galactica - one of the few television shows worth anyone’s time – and even then, Tony started to re-consider the sci-fi drama’s merits. After all, the stuff with Kara, at the end…?

Then, one night, after smoking too much pot, drinking too much PBR, and getting fed up with the group doing free association poetry in his kitchen, he cornered Steve on a fire escape and kissed him instead of fighting. Steve had pulled back and looked at him, totally stunned, and then when Tony turned to leave, Steve grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back.

He woke up the next morning in Steve’s arms, and that, as they say, was that.

He’d often seen it as a switch clicking from off to on, a change of heart due to the mind-blowingly amazing sex, but it really wasn’t. Nothing had changed except his willingness to admit the truth.

“I wanted you from the moment I saw you.” Tony blurts just as Steve is slipping a piece of French toast onto Tony’s plate. Steve stops in the middle of what he’s doing, a bit surprised by the seriousness of Tony’s tone. “I’ve wanted you always.”

Steve smiles softly, this look in his eyes like maybe he actually hadn’t known that, like maybe he thought there had really been a time when Tony hadn’t adored every inch of his being.

“Maybe it’s a good thing you’re moving out of Williamsburg,” Clint interjects. “You’re getting far, far too earnest. You’ll be exiled.”

Steve leans forward, presses a gentle kiss to Tony’s lips.

“Wanna be exiled together?”

“Sure. After all, you are nice to look at. Not bad company either.”

Their friends fall back into pleasant chatter as Tony forgets his breakfast, content to lose himself in Steve’s maple syrup-tinged kiss.

“Who is this, playing now?” Clint is asking. Everyone is quiet for a moment as they listen to what’s playing over the speakers.

“BOY.” Natasha identifies.

“Don’t you think in the lower register she sounds like Aimee Mann…like, if Aimee Mann weren’t miserable?”

“I actually rather like Aimee Mann, I don’t find her miserable at all.”

“Thor, you like everything,” Clint disregards him entirely. “Bruce, I’m going to St. Mark’s tomorrow, gonna do some digging for vinyl-“

“Is there anything worthwhile even left on St. Mark’s these days? Fucking Pinkberry,” Natasha snipes venomously. “And there’s a god damn Jamba Juice in the Bowery, what the hell.”

“Maybe hit Other Music afterward?” Bruce suggests, talking over Natasha. “I’m desperate for something experimental, electronic.”

“Blocking up patio walls at B-Bar…”

“Have you heard the new Boards of Canada?”

“Luxury condos and sushi bars, Chase ATMs and Norman Foster bull shit,” Natasha is still muttering to herself, stabbing her fruit. Clint reaches over and takes her fork from her, shaking his head no. “Seriously, Clint. Whole Foods. CBGB? Gone! Yet there is a Whole Foods just down the street. Why?”

“Uh-oh, Nat’s on about the Bowery again.” Steve mumbles against Tony’s lips, causing Tony to chuckle into their kiss.

“I think that’s our cue to leave.” He grabs Steve’s hand and stands up. He digs out his wallet and tosses more than enough money down for their share of the bill and tip. “Excuse me, but I simply have to go home and do dirty things to my boyfriend now.”

“Enjoy yourselves!” Thor offers them each a fist bump as they shuffle down between the crowded tables to get to the exit.

“Don’t forget kickball Sunday in McCarren. And Ultimate Frisbee on Monday!” Clint’s voice chases after them.

“We will need Steve’s talents!” Thor points out.

“He is talented,” Tony says, hooking a finger through one of Steve’s belt loops and placing his other hand on Steve’s hip to steady him, wanting to keep in contact even as they stumble over someone’s purse left on the floor. He cops a feel of Steve’s firm ass. “So very talented.”

“Y’know, I want to make fun of them, always, forever, but I think I’m also confident enough in my masculinity to say I’m just straight up jealous of their sex life,” Clint announces to the table, speaking as if the pair has already left. “I’m telling you, no one is having more sex than Tony and Steve.”

“I can back that up with hard data if you want,” Tony tosses over his shoulder as he opens the door for Steve. Steve pulls him outside before he can divulge anything further.

*******

“The Waterfront show was so 2001, I mean…honestly, have they really done anything good since Zach Braff acted like he discovered them? Dude can suck my balls.” Clint tugs angrily at the ripped hem of his Wolf Howling at the Moon t-shirt.

“And here I was, thinking that I missed you and your dulcet tones,” Bucky says by way of greeting, tapping the visor of Clint’s trucker hat. He insinuates himself into the group by wrapping an arm around Natasha’s shoulders. She looks like she might want to rip the limb off.

“I made you a mix, darling.” He holds a cassette case by her face, rattling it in offer, and she takes it reluctantly.

“The lovebirds have reconciled?” Thor asks, gesturing between the pair and Natasha shrugs, shaking off James’ touch and fixing her black pork pie hat that he’d jostled askew. “Or perhaps not.”

“We’ll see.” She eyes her sometimes-boyfriend askance, and then looks down at the list of tracks on the mix critically. Steve had offered a few suggestions, Lord Huron, Joywave, and A Silent Film among them, but he doesn’t know what Bucky eventually went with. When Natasha doesn’t offer much of a reaction, Bucky steps back, decides to go stand by Steve.

“Anyway, forget the Shins, we’ve gotta plan on the New Order show. Right, Stevie?” He ruffles a hand through Steve’s immaculately combed hair.

“C’mon, Bucky…” Steve bats him away then tries to smooth his hair back into place. A Canarsie-bound train screeches into the station. The car doors slide open to unleash a torrent of fellow twenty-somethings onto the Bedford Ave platform.

“I found their new album underwhelming, James,” Natasha states, looking like her estimation of her quasi-boyfriend is withering with every passing moment.

“So? They’re New Order. Who cares if the new stuff is lame.” He leans on Steve casually, his fedora sitting at a jaunty angle that matches the mischievous slant of his mouth. The sweater he’s wearing looks like it may have been stolen from the closet of Cliff Huxtable and it appears he forgot to pull off the handwritten price sticker from Salvies. Steve tugs it loose, taking some lint with it. Bucky winks in thanks.

Steve looks away as Tony slides an arm around his waist to pull him closer, a proprietary move that he always uses if Bucky is around. When they hang with his best friend, Tony has to find a way to touch whenever possible, as if constantly both assuring himself and warning Bucky. Tony insists he is above jealousy – far too aloof and cool for such trivial nonsense – but it doesn’t change the fact that ever since he found out that Steve and Bucky had briefly fooled around in high school during a period of shared bi-curiousness, he becomes pretty grabby when Buck’s there.

It hardly seems to matter that Bucky came down firmly on the side of liking ladies and has been letting Natasha dance him around like a puppet for years now.

Still, Steve has to admit he might get a little more touchy-feely whenever he’s in the presence of Tony’s ex-girlfriend and current business partner, Pepper, so it seems neither he nor Tony are really as imperturbable as they pretend to be.

“Tone, deck suspenders,” Bucky, always attuned to the undercurrent of tension between himself and Tony, never misses a chance to push Tony’s buttons. Looping his arm over Steve’s shoulders, he reaches across to Tony and snaps one of his navy and red striped suspenders sharply. Steve can practically feel the pain of its thwap against his own skin. He doubts Tony’s white button-down dress shirt helped cushion any of the sting.

Tony’s mouth twinges and he adjusts his thick grey cable knit cardigan over his shoulders, pulling it tighter to his body.

“Well now I know what to get you for Christmas, Barnes. That and a new personality.”

Steve dips his head to press a calming kiss to Tony’s temple, pausing to breathe him in. His scent – coconut and mint organic shampoo and expensive scented body oil and a vague hint of gasoline - is infinitely better than the stench of the stuffy subway station. Steve considers just continuing to nuzzle his face against Tony’s soft hair until the train finally arrives.

But the rats down on the Manhattan-bound track are starting to scurry back to their hiding places, signaling the rumbling train approaching, so Steve reluctantly pulls back from his boyfriend.

“Where are we going, anyway?” Bucky asks as they pile into the subway car. It’s crowded, but not too crowded; it doesn’t stop Tony from pressing every inch of his body along Steve’s, hands fisting just below the stand collar of Steve’s unzipped grey moto jacket rather than grabbing one of the overhead handrails.

“He doesn’t know where we’re going?” Tony murmurs to him, bemused, and Steve chuckles slightly.

“He’ll just meet up and go anywhere if both Nat and I ask,” Steve remarks, and then looks over Tony’s shoulder to explain their destination to Bucky. “L’s got a magic show at a club in the East Village.”

“L?”

“Thor’s brother.” Natasha intones flatly. “He calls himself L and he does these…tricks, or whatever.”

“Uh, I thought that dude hated us,” Bucky recalls now, probably thinking back to his last house party when L sat in the corner, drinking martinis from a flask and scowling at everyone for three hours straight. It wouldn’t have been too weird if he’d at least been drawing caricatures or taking notes for his Great American Novel, but there was nothing but staring and scowling.

“He hates everything.” Clint corrects.

“Except magic,” Steve points out.

“Well, who could hate magic?” Bucky asks, and Tony promptly lifts his hand.

“I do, I hate magic. His tricks are transparent, his illusions a joke, and forgetting L entirely, we all know that ‘magic’ is just a lame way of talking about stuff that science hasn’t explained yet.”

“I believe in magic.” Thor states and Steve hears both Clint and Natasha humming the Lovin’ Spoonful at the exact same time. Sometimes he’s positive those two share the same brain.

“Well, you shouldn’t. If Bruce were here right now, he’d back me up.” The train jostles as it rises slightly, air pressure changing as it finishes going under the East River and Tony slips his hands downward to steady himself, palms warm against Steve’s stomach through his thin Kill Rock Stars t-shirt. Steve looks down, vaguely amused, as Tony’s voice trails off, finger tracing down the centerline of his ab muscles. “Okay. You might be magic. I could possibly buy that.”

Someone works past them in the crowd, weaving their way down the train car and handing out flyers for the next March against Monsanto in Union Square. Steve takes one, but Tony doesn’t look enthused.

“The last one didn’t feel all that useful,” he comments, but Steve shrugs and pockets it anyway. Tony sighs. “I guess I’ll go if you want to. Maybe in ten years when we go shopping, we won’t have to keep checking all your favorite soy products to see if they’re still non-GMO.”

“There’s a ‘we’ in ten years?” Steve catches, trying not to sound hopeful but not entirely succeeding. As overtly affectionate and demonstrative as Tony can be, he usually shies away from any concrete talk of commitment. Especially since marriage became an actual, legal option for them. He knows Tony loves him, but he also knows Tony’s a restless kind of person. He’s definitely into the physical, and he’s into big romantic gestures and the overall idea of having someone, but the day-to-day details tend to bore him.

They’re only 25, so Steve tries not to think about the future too much. After all, it’d taken all of college for him and Tony to even progress beyond casually hanging out and screwing around and into a real, defined, Hi, this is my boyfriend, Steve type of relationship. He’d nearly melted down when they finally moved in together, even after Steve had waited for Tony to suggest the idea on his own.

Tony needs time, and space, to work up to some things. He doesn’t like labels; he doesn’t like boxes and Steve knows better than to force him.

Even so, some mornings when Steve wakes up and Tony’s sleeping beside him, beautiful in the early morning light, he so badly wants to know it will last forever.

But sure enough, Tony sidesteps his question with a lighthearted joke, completely missing or choosing to ignore that Steve’s question had been serious.

“Long as you have those abs, hell yeah.”

Steve forces a tight smile. Over Tony’s shoulder, he can see Bucky listening, reacting, and he’s sure his friend saw everything as plain as day all over his face. Being friends for their entire lives means he can’t hide much if Bucky’s paying attention.

He quickly looks out the window, watching the dark tunnel pass by in a blur.

“Hey, Steve – Handsome Family, Knitting Factory, Saturday, just you and me, man, you in?” Bucky asks over the din of talking and the tracks. Natasha turns to look up at him, the invitation piquing her interest.

Steve coughs slightly before replying, clearing his throat of other things left unsaid.

“You bet.” He can feel Tony shift against him, maybe wondering why their usual Saturday night game of Scrabble has been shunted aside in favor of a bro outing with Bucky, but Steve doesn’t look down. He reaches over both Tony and Natasha’s heads to bump Bucky’s fist.

Thor, hearing plans in the making, leans forward to contribute an idea of his own.

“Friends – Father John Misty is playing Terminal 5 in-“

“No,” Natasha shakes her head.

“Over it,” Clint frowns.

“I’ll go with you if you want, Thor,” Steve offers, even though he’s admittedly tired of both Fleet Foxes and Misty. Thor responds with an incredibly pleased smile.

“Nat, I dig your hot pink bra, by the way,” Bucky abruptly changes topic, looking down pointedly at the shock of neon color showing through her black crocheted dress.

“That’s as close as you’re getting to seeing it tonight,” Natasha retorts, tossing him a taunting look as the subway rolls to a jolting stop and the doors open on the 1st Avenue platform.

“Man, Barnes, you just never give up, do you?” Tony asks, probably wondering if this game between Bucky and Natasha will ever come to an end.

“Hey, Stark, once I’m in it, I’m in it. You gotta love something.” He states simply, then reaches for Natasha. She ducks under his arm and off the train. He shakes his head, chuckling.

“Did I tell you I’m going to name my band after you? I’m hopping on the no vowel bandwagon - NTSH!” Bucky shouts as he follows her toward the stairs, her only response being to extend her arm back and flick him the middle finger without looking.

“I think that might need that last ‘A’ on the end if he wants anyone to fill in the blanks correctly.” Tony might have a point there but Steve doesn’t do anything to acknowledge it.

“So…Thor, tell me again why is your brother doing a magic show on a Thursday night?” Clint and Thor move next, as Thor is quite the barrier for anyone else looking to get out.

“Is there a better night for magic?”

“Maybe I should’ve asked why he’s doing a magic show on any night.”

“Hey.” Tony catches his arm as Steve steps onto the platform, pulling him back slightly. His brown eyes are wide and questioning. “You okay?”

“Totally fine,” Steve replies. He reaches down and takes Tony’s hand, not wanting his personal angst to ruin the evening. “Let’s go, don’t want to miss the magic, right?”

*******

It’s one in the morning when Tony stumbles in the door, wiped out and looking forward to his soft mattress and hopefully, Steve’s waiting arms.

Except Steve’s been a little off since Thursday night – it’s not anything that Tony thinks anyone would notice except for him. It’s like he’s 90% here, and a tiny sliver of his thoughts are elsewhere.

That morning Tony woke up cold for the first time in months, finding Steve curled up on the opposite side of the bed. The small space between them felt like the distance between galaxies, leaving him feeling unsettled the entire rest of the day.

So while Steve went off with Bucky for the evening, Tony had rung up Rhodey and Pepper and met his friends – and they are his friends, not his and Steve’s – down in Tribeca for a few too many drinks. He never felt badly throwing his money around in front of his best pals, didn’t feel weird wearing one of the specially tailored Italian suits that he only wears to important meetings as of late. He might restore vintage cars and motorcycles as his main hobby these days, but he’s still a shareholder in the family business. It’s not a lifestyle he misses but it never hurts to occasionally pop back into that world in order to keep his business sense sharp.

Three shared bottles of the bar’s most expensive scotch later, he’d ordered a car and gratefully returned to the Williamsburg loft he and Steve have shared for the past year and a half.

To his surprise, all of the lights are blazing and the atmospheric orchestration of Sigur Rós echoes loudly through the small apartment. There are a three empty bottles of Miller High Life on the kitchen counter that must’ve been drained by Bucky, as Steve is really into homemade microbrews right now. Stalwart standbys from the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Elliott Smith, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Neko Case and the Decemberists have been pulled from Steve’s crates and are laying open and scattered on the floor around the turntable, the most recent Beach House left to attract dust on the deck. The scene is surprising, as Steve’s usually more careful with his vinyl.

The music isn’t coming from the record player, however, which Tony realizes means Steve must be busy doing something dirty with his hands. It’s the only time he opts for the iPod dock over vinyl while at home.

For one brief, horrific moment, Tony worries that he may turn the corner and look up to the loft, find Steve running those amazing, strong hands of his over Bucky’s body, but he quickly dismisses the thought. As a fear, it’s downright insane, because Steve would never do that to him, and he understands that as surely as he understands gravity and mechanics and the speed of light. But it’s still a fear that won’t go away for good, maybe because he wants to be Steve’s person and he can’t be, not entirely.

His eyes lift toward their bed as soon as he drops his keys in the bowl on the counter and enters the main room. The bedroom is empty, the mattress on the floor probably just as rumpled as he left it this morning.

Steve is in the small area by the windows set aside as his makeshift studio, his broad back to Tony as he leans in toward the large canvas. He’s wearing his favorite shirt for painting, a stretched and faded Sonic Youth tank that he’s had since he was a teen, and the loosest and oldest pair of jeans he owns, back pockets torn and knees ripped, edges frayed. Paint, charcoal and dirt seem blended right into the dark denim. Tony watches the muscles in his arms shifting appealingly as Steve makes broad, sweeping brushstrokes in bold red.

Tony approaches him slowly, pausing to circle down the volume as he passes the speaker. The change in the music must alert Steve to his presence, though he doesn’t stop what he’s doing and he doesn’t say anything.

He wraps his arms around Steve from behind, burying his face against his back and breathing in turpentine and sweat.

“How was the show?” Tony mumbles into Steve’s shirt, feeling Steve’s whole body stiffen up almost imperceptibly in his hold.

“Didn’t end up going. Buck came over for a while and then I got to painting. Haven’t had much time for that lately.”

Tony knows that if Steve’s still awake and working this late at night, he’d probably like to be left alone to continue. It’s usually how it goes. But Tony wants nothing more than for Steve to come to bed with him.

He presses a kiss to Steve’s shoulder and then rubs his thumb over the spot gently in a small circle. He wishes he could get his name tattooed into Steve’s skin.

“You smell like the bottom of a bottle,” Steve comments, not exactly criticizing, more observing. Tony nods, knowing Steve can feel the inaudible response. Steve sighs softly and then reaches to set his paintbrush down on the easel’s edge. “Have you eaten anything tonight? Let me heat up that leftover lentil chili.”

He starts to turn, pull away, but Tony tightens his arms, holding fast.

“Steve…” Tony starts, the words starting to come even if he’s not sure he’s okay with saying them.

“What?” Steve asks quietly, waiting. He brings a hand up and places it over Tony’s forearm. Tony lets out a long, deep breath and closes his eyes.

“Just…don’t ever leave me, okay?”

“Tony?” Steve is insistent on turning to face him now and Tony keeps his eyes closed against Steve’s concern. A hand goes to the side of his face and Tony is helpless to lean into the touch. “Tony, the thought’s never crossed my mind. Why would you even ask that?”

“Because I don’t think I ever have.” Tony forces himself to look at Steve now. He looks devastated, which Tony’s not sure he understands. “I really mean it, don’t look at me like that.”

“I’m not…” Steve pulls back slightly, casting his gaze downward. “Tony, I just thought…” He rubs his hands over his face, getting a streak of paint across his cheekbone.

“What?”

“I always thought you’d be the one to leave me. In the end.”

Steve meets his eyes and Tony sees it then, that hidden fear suddenly all too evident. He wonders how long Steve’s been like this, waiting for the other shoe to drop. A rush of self-loathing swells up within him. He’d doubted Steve, vaguely, for two days and could barely stand it. He’s getting the sense Steve has been doubting him for much longer than that.

“You know I love you.” He has to know that by now. Tony had spent long enough learning how to say it, to keep saying it, despite being programmed from birth to keep his cards close to his chest.

Steve’s smile is gentle, a bit tired. He doesn’t have to reply; Tony gets it.

Steve’s had to fight him for every inch of ground in this relationship, from the day they met up until right now. Steve always has been better about the honest emotions, about making the effort, about the straightforward, straight up love that has no use for ironic distance. Steve doesn’t love with the safety on.

Tony puts his hands on Steve’s hips and puts everything into kissing Steve as deeply and as thoroughly as he can. There aren’t enough words to tell Steve everything he feels. Steve sinks into the kiss, softening and slowing it down. His hands come up to cradle Tony’s face, those broad palms and long, strong fingers so careful as they touch.

There’s a sense of acceptance in the kiss, as if Steve knows this is as close as he’ll get to what he needs.

Tony pulls back just enough to speak, resting his forehead against Steve’s and drawing only the breath necessary to say what he needs to say.

“It’s forever, Steve.” He whispers, lips brushing Steve's with every word. “I don’t say that lightly, ironically, casually…I mean forever as forever. Yours. I couldn’t be anything else. Ever.”

Steve’s smile is beautiful, brilliant with relief. He presses one brief, fleeting kiss to Tony’s lips and then hesitates, eyes catching Tony’s as if looking for direction. He must find what he needs because Steve lowers again to meet his mouth and the whole mood of the kiss shifts. Steve pulls him in tightly and they slant together, tongues sliding deep and mouths seeking more than is possible with a single kiss.

Tony bunches his fingers in the bottom of Steve’s shirt, tugging. Steve breaks just long enough to pull the tank over his head, reaching immediately to get Tony’s clothes off. His hands move quickly but ineffectually, shoving Tony’s suit coat off his shoulders and then pulling his tie loose, then starting to unbutton his shirt without finishing either earlier task. Tony helps him follow it all through, scrambling to get undressed even as Steve’s mouth drives him to distraction.

He tries to move Steve toward the stairs, grabbing hold of his hips again and edging him to turn, but he only succeeds in jostling Steve backward. He knocks against his easel and then his worktable, his painting tumbling to the floor and his paintbrushes rattling. Tony fumbles for a second, instinctively wanting to save Steve’s work, but Steve yanks him back.

“Leave it,” Steve mumbles into his mouth, following Tony’s lead toward their bedroom. He ends up colliding with the wall at the foot of the stairs, both of them chuckling breathlessly as their hands work at each other’s pants, Steve tugging at his belt eagerly. Tony gets Steve’s jeans open, shoves them down over the sharp cut of his hips.

Tony drops to his knees and mouths over the bulge in Steve’s tight blue hipster boxer briefs, his cock hard and heavy between his legs and straining against the thin material. He looks up at Steve and finds him already wrecked, his eyes dark and his sculpted chest and stomach rising and falling quickly as he struggles to catch his breath.

No one else will ever get to see Steve like this. Touch him like this. No one else will share his bed, or share those easy early morning smiles or late night embraces.

He stands up, needing to kiss Steve again, needing to kiss him always.

“God, I love you,” he whispers, backing up the stairs and bringing Steve with him. Steve echoes his sentiment, mouthing endearments and promises along his jawline and throat as they finally manage to find the bed.

Afterward he lays in Steve’s arms with their legs tangled together, his head pillowed on Steve’s broad chest, sweat and come cooling on their bodies and sheets twisted in a mess by their feet. He doesn’t want to move, his mind and body for once perfectly at ease, contentment thrumming through his veins.

“I don’t think even Queens will have us now,” Steve breaks the silence, his voice used, throat raw. Tony lifts his head, rests his chin on Steve’s shoulder to look at him inquisitively.

“Hmmm?”

“We’re just way too happy and way too in love. We’re not very New York.”

“Yeah, I don’t think even I could fake an ounce of cynical disdain now,” Tony replies. “You’ve fucking ruined me.”

He can feel Steve’s laugh rumble through him, their bodies are pressed so close.

“That means we only have one option left.”

“Chelsea?” Tony supplies, grinning.

END