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It's Just a Spark (But It's Enough)

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He realized this was a possibility, being here, at Stark Industries’ quarterly presentation to highlight all of their upcoming innovations in technology. Of course Steve had considered the likelihood of running into the head of said company, the speaker of today’s event. He would have been surprised if he went the full day without at least seeing the guy. He is here to supervise the proceedings, after all. See the project he worked on so closely come to fruition.

That does not prepare him, however, for the wolf whistle he is met with when he is bending over to pick up the last box on the floor, followed quickly by, “wow, where have you been all my life?”

Steve has to take a second to let that register, he is definite in the knowledge that he has never been hit on so bluntly before. Normally he would just ignore it and continue with his work, but something about the guy’s tone puts him on edge. “Would you like an autobiography? I think I might still have the one I wrote in the 7th grade.”

“Ooh, spicy. I like that,” is what he gets back, accompanied with a quick laugh. “What’s your name?”

He sighs, puts the container down, and turns around, and ends up face to face with the man himself, Tony Stark. He freezes, mouth agape, and oh god, he just talked back to his employer.

The man before him looks like a kid in a candy store, grinning from ear to ear, his eyes sparkling with mirth. He winks, and Steve wonders if a wink can be condescending. It sure feels like it.

Steve honestly does not really know much about this man, at least not anything recent. He tries not to pay attention to celebrity gossip, but somehow it always sneaks into some news programs he likes, or a website he frequently visits. So he has inadvertently heard plenty about the guy, but he never really took any of it to heart. He knows better than to listen to some of those trashy media outlets. The guy couldn’t possibly be as bad as they portray him.

His company, at least, does good business. Ever since the last CEO was sent to prison for a laundry list of dirty deeds, and Tony Stark stepped in, Stark Industries has made a complete 180. It quit the weapons game – out of necessity or personal interest, he is not sure – and now corners the market on a wide array of technology. They offer top of the line products at reasonable prices even he himself could afford while in college. They work with plenty of charities. More than any other big business, Steve is sure. He would not have started working for them if he believed there was anything shady going on. And the guy in front of him is largely to thank for all of that, so what Steve does not understand, is why his gut is currently turned into an extravagantly patterned knot.

He forces some formality back into his features, his mouth now a tight smile.

He brings his arm out stiffly for a handshake. “Steve Rogers,” he greets. The man before him just looks at the offered hand, wrinkling his nose. Steve lowers it back to his side slowly, bitterly.

“Wait, Steve Rogers,” he repeats, and starts rubbing his chin in consideration. “As in the head graphic designer for the new line of StarkTech?” he asks with a raised eyebrow, disbelieving. Steve barely holds back an eye roll and uses the previously offered hand to flick the Stark Industries badge hanging around his neck. “Then why are you doing the grunt work? Shouldn’t you be helping make sure this thing is going to run smoothly?”

“Setup was completed over an hour ago, and everything has already been double, triple checked,” he explains matter-of-factly. “They looked like they needed help. It was the right thing to do.” He holds back the but you wouldn’t know anything about that, because he is not anywhere near familiar enough with this man to make an assumption like that, even if it might feel like it. Just because the rumors making him into a pervert turned out to be true do not mean the rest of them are.

“If I knew the Graphic Design department had such attractive employees I would venture down there more often,” he offers, blinking in faux-wonder.

“I’m sure you have more important things to attend to than ogling your staff, Mr. Stark,” Steve replies curtly.

“I assure you there is nothing I’d rather do than watch you work,” Stark promises, nodding pointedly toward the box he was carrying not too long ago. “With an ass like yours you should be on stage, not stuck back here messing with the equipment,” he comments with a leer, raking up and down the bigger man’s body, and Steve has never felt so small before, even when he was barely pushing 5’4”. Stark comes back up to look at his face, stepping closer, and now his grin is back in full force.

“Seeing as you’re going to be up there I think the ass quota is more than taken care of,” he remarks before he can stop himself, anger beginning to curl in the pit of his stomach. Stark pouts, and a less stubborn man would be blurting please don’t fire me right now, but he holds it back, because he has dignity. Unfortunately.

“I have a feeling you’re not talking about my behind,” he whines petulantly. “Which is gorgeous, by the way, in case you were wondering.”

Steve doesn’t doubt that, really. He is an attractive man, a strong face – proportionate, he thinks as an artist – with a delicately styled goatee, and on anyone else it would look ridiculous, but this man manages to pull it off. His body is lean and fitted comfortably in an immaculate dark blue suit; gliding around his wide shoulders nicely, and he is obviously hiding some muscle definition under there.

If only he would stop looking at Steve like a prize he won at a science fair.

Steve says nothing, just stands there once again feeling like the small sickly child back in Brooklyn, entirely overwhelmed but still standing his ground all the same, waiting for the inevitable.

“Would you like to see it?” Stark offers instead, smirking now.

“No,” he answers immediately with a scowl, having long ago lost control over his mouth, at the mercy of his thoughts.

“That’s a shame. We could compare,” Stark proposes brightly. “Though I think you would win. Do you even know how great yours is?”

“I put it on my resume,” he says dryly, not being able to hold back his eye roll this time, and he is about ready to shove his fist in his mouth to stop it from making decisions for him. Or Stark’s, because he just needs one of them to stop talking for a minute to get his thoughts in order.

He has a suspicion Stark might enjoy that.

The brunet seems to be finding this endlessly entertaining though, his eyes glinting with delight. It just lights the fire inside of Steve already yearning to ignite.

“Man, you are quite the firecracker. I see why we hired you.”

“You had nothing to do with my employment, which I am grateful for,” he explains scathingly. The other man frowns, and Steve wonders if he has finally gotten him to shut up. Can he just get fired already and be done with this? He keeps going, hoping to rail over whatever come on the shorter guy is preparing for him. He is already screwed anyway. “Also, I was hired because I am good at my job. Not because I’m able to amuse an indulgent billionaire.”

“Ouch,” Stark complains, but before he’s able to say anything else a voice sounds over the intercom, filling the space with powerful resonance, announcing that his presence is required on stage. His frown deepens, but in an instant he is smiling again, all teeth. “So, want to go get something to eat after this?”

Steve stares at Stark incredulously for a moment, taken aback.

“To discuss the conditions of my unemployment?” he eventually asks, hesitant.

The other man snorts. “Nope,” he assures, waggling his eyebrows.

Steve doesn’t even know what to say to that, not understanding what just happened. He insulted his boss – multiple times, no less – and instead of getting fired he gets asked out on a date. How does one go about rebuffing such a proposal from their boss?

“Uh, no,” he tries after a short pause, and the billionaire’s face falls. Steve cannot help but think that expression looks foreign on him. “Sorry,” he adds almost as an afterthought, because even though this guy makes Steve’s blood boil, a rejection is still a rejection, and he probably hasn’t had a lot of experience with those. The least he could do is try to soften the blow a little. The glint in his eyes has morphed into something akin to sadness, and Steve cannot handle that.

“Um, I should get back to work,” the blond says in an effort to get away, not at all comfortable with the rapid turn this conversation has taken. “Good luck with the presentation, Mr. Stark.”

The thing went as well as could be expected. They had a few minor technical difficulties, but they were able to deal with them all in a timely manner, before they affected the flow of the event. The audience seemed to like what they saw, and Tony Stark was his usual charming, witty self, soaking up the attention. A job well done, Steve surmised.

He left as soon as he was able to, trying to avoid another run in with Stark before he finished with his post-show press interviews. He is not sure he would survive another run-in with the baffling – and yes, somewhat intriguing, Steve admits to himself grudgingly – business man.

 

 

 

“Oh my god, you called your boss an ass?” Bucky repeats after he’s finished retelling the story to him and Darcy, sitting on the opposite side of the table in the bar they’re currently situated in. The bar they go to most days after work when the three of them have no other pressing obligations.

“Well not really his boss. More like his boss’s boss’s boss,” Darcy inputs. Bucky ignores her and continues with his line of questioning.

“And he asked you out on a date? Are you sure he actually wanted a date?”

Steve feels like he is being interrogated. Even without the police uniform he’s still wearing – having just gotten off of work, and not wanting to go back to the station to change – you would still be able to tell he was on the force just by how intently he was handling these questions.

“Yup,” he answers simply, slouching against his side of the booth with a beer cradled in one hand.

“Is he even gay?”

Steve shrugs, giving the other guy a helpless look.

“Bisexual, actually,” Darcy supplies. “He confirmed it soon after he took over SI. That announcement has been the fuel to many a fantasy for me.”

“Gross,” both men chorus, but Bucky keeps talking. “More like he’s ran out of women to pursue and now he is left with the guys.”

That possibility is more likely than Steve is comfortable with.

“You’re just jealous because you haven’t gotten laid in three weeks,” Darcy comments, giggling as she grabs her drink. Bucky raises an eyebrow at her.

“You keep a disturbing record of my history.”

“You’re right, it is disturbing,” she replies, matching his raised eyebrow.

Steve disrupts the two of them by thunking his forehead down against the table. “I don’t even know if I should bother going into work tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry about it Steve, he’s probably forgotten about you already. I bet he is in his penthouse suite right now with some other hot blonde,” she consoles, reaching towards him to rub a shoulder blade. That doesn’t exactly make him feel better, so he just grunts in response.

“I don’t really see the problem,” Bucky begins, but then pauses to take a drink of his own beer. “He’s rich, somewhat attractive for a man, and you’re gay,” he lists, waving his hand around. “So get with the gaying.”

Darcy snorts. “That was eloquent, Bucky,” she notes sarcastically, and then turns towards Steve. “The Neanderthal is right, though,” she dodges a forceless punch Bucky throws her way, and gives him an unimpressed look. “Stark is fine,” she drawls out the last word dreamily, “and don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it, even if you’re not interested in the guy for anything more than a one-nighter. You haven’t been with anyone since—”

“Don’t,” Steve interrupts, and stands, setting his half-empty bottle down on the table. “I’m going home.”

He just wants this day to be over.

The others exchange a look of confusion. “Bye, Steve,” they both say a little worriedly. Steve hums back at them as he makes his way out of the booth.

 

 

 

Steve is walking into work the next day, at Stark Industries New York headquarters, feeling much better, head cleared up after some much needed sleep and his energizing morning run.

He sent texts to Darcy and Bucky earlier apologizing for how he acted the previous night, because even though they probably didn’t think it was a big enough deal to warrant such action and would most likely just brush it off and tell him not to worry about it, he still feels guilty. They were just trying to help, even if the level of help they provided was less than ideal, they still had good intentions. His unfortunate meeting with Tony Stark wasn’t their fault, after all, and he had no right taking his frustrations out on them.

The problem, or part of it, is that he actually sported a minor crush on the guy during his early teen years. He never got to see much of him, having limited access to television, and the newspapers usually focused more on his parents. It was still there though, an idle fantasy, up until Stark’s parents died when he was 18 and he disappeared off of the map soon after. Steve had been only 15 at the time. His modest infatuation had faded, and Steve thought it was long gone, a remnant of his childhood.

Now, nearly ten years later, and the guy is practically a different person from the one he remembers. He is less lanky, and his posture is now more fitting for a business man, formal and straight but with a slight openness to it that makes him seem a little more approachable. His facial hair is entirely new. The younger look has grown and sharpened into the man he is now, with a powerful jaw and broad shoulders.

The immature delinquent that was sparking new drama every couple weeks is now the head of a large corporation spanning multiple countries. And although there’s not much left of that teenager, seeing Tony Stark in person had brought all of Steve’s childhood adoration back to the surface again, and he is not at all happy about that.

Steve now understands what they mean with the saying ‘don’t meet your heroes’.

The guy is infuriating. He had hit on him relentlessly but Steve never once felt like he was getting a sincere compliment, the genius’ words leaking with derision. He felt like he was in the middle of an interview, with an employer who was never planning on hiring him, just stringing him along for his own pleasure. Steve wonders if it all just a ruse, trying to ruffle the blond’s feathers and get his jollies off before he went on stage.

Steve bristles at the thought. He’s been able to remain calm in the face of much worse, before. Various bullies, angry drunken bar patrons, and one time even a late-night mugger while he was walking back to his apartment after a party. Somehow Stark was able to get under his skin in record time, and Steve had thoughtlessly ended up saying some things he should, and will, regret.

Not right now, though. Steve is just going to get on with his life, put that event behind him. Darcy is right, the billionaire has probably already forgotten all about Steve, so he should do the same.

He exits the elevator and makes his way towards his desk, which is larger than most others on this floor. It has its own space, a distance away from the rest of the work areas around the office, since he is second in command of the department, but he doesn’t have a room to himself. A fact he is actually grateful for since his job requires him to work closely with other people. Having to move from room to room constantly would make his days abundantly more difficult.

When he gets to his workstation, he is staggered to find a small bouquet of red roses placed neatly off to the side away from his general workspace. He frowns at it, briefly wondering if it is an office thing, maybe someone is congratulating him on his work on the latest project, or on the presentation yesterday. He places his things down and takes a seat in his chair. Once he is settled he picks up the bouquet and brings it to his lap, studying it. There is a card placed between two of the stems on the side near the back. Steve plucks it out and sets the bouquet back down in front of his keyboard.

When he has the card in his hands he notices the small signature at the bottom on the front, Tony Stark. His breath catches, a feeling of dread slowly working its way up his throat. Is this how he gets fired? Well, considering the flowers, that is unlikely. It could be another attempt at asking him out on a date, but he would almost prefer the former option.

He sighs, stuffing down the urge to open the card, and grabs both it and the bundle of flowers and stashes them in his bottom drawer. Abruptly thankful he had never found a use for such a large storage space in his 3 years of working here.

Steve goes through half of the day without opening it, but before he leaves for his lunch break his curiosity gets the better of him, and he quickly swipes the card out and puts it in his pocket.

While he is sitting in a diner he frequently goes to for lunch just outside Stark Tower, he pulls out the note and opens it. There’s a picture of flowers on the top side, but on the bottom there is a few lines of what Steve assumes is Stark’s messy scrawl.

Hey, Steve. I realize I might have come on a little too strong. I’m sorry for that. Still interested in having dinner, though. Here is my number. Call me and let me make it up to you.

-Tony

Steve gnaws on his bottom lip, thinking. That seemed honest enough. The man had even apologized. His behavior was inappropriate, yes, but Steve is the one who should be apologizing. He had called the guy an ass, an indulgent billionaire. It is not like Stark had said anything truly offensive, he had been uncomfortably crass, at most, and living in New York, that is something Steve has gotten used to.

He cradles his head in his head, with one still holding onto the note, now feeling the prophesied remorse for his actions.

He makes his way back to work, taking out the roses and putting them back on his desk, they would probably be dead by tomorrow, but oh well. He spends the rest of his day half-heartedly working while deliberating about how to fix this mess he’s created. Why couldn’t he just politely decline Stark’s advances and leave it at that?

 

 

 

Steve ends up back at the bar with his friends when he gets off of work. He tells them about the message and hands it to them to read it.

“I have Tony Stark’s phone number,” Darcy exclaims wondrously, eyes twinkling, while holding the note, and then Bucky plucks it out of her fingers.

“No you don’t.”

Darcy scowls. “Jerk.”

“You know that would just end up in a lawsuit, and do you really want to have to deal with that?” he asks wisely, and Darcy relents with a shrug. He gives the card back to Steve. “So why don’t you just call him?”

“He’s obviously going to ask me out on another date,” Steve explains mournfully. “I can’t apologize to him and then reject his offer, for the second time, in the same call.”

“I guess,” is all Bucky says, and they both move to pick up their respective beer bottles.

“You should go out on the date,” Darcy muses. “What’s there to lose? If it ends up being horrible you both can go your separate ways, and that is the end of that.”

Steve hates it when she’s reasonable.

“Except he’s like, head of his division or whatever, right?” Bucky directs at Steve.

“Not quite.”

Bucky lets out a quick pfft sound and waves him off.

“Point is, that doing what you do there is a large chance you’ll run into him again. You can’t expect to work for the guy and not see him at least occasionally. I mean, your designs are already getting rave reviews, and they haven’t even hit retail yet.”

He pulls out his phone – StarkPhone, of course – and taps the screen a couple times.

“This is my favorite, ‘Finally, a tablet that doesn’t look like I should be using it to prepare food’,” he reads off with a grin, and then hands the phone to Steve.

He scrolls through the page, and Bucky is right, they are mostly positive. Some of them do not even mention the aesthetic designs, more interested in critiquing the specs or packaged software. The ones who do mention the new looks however, can’t seem to find much for criticism. There are a few calling the designs boring, and there is one guy that vaguely says ‘Am I supposed to be excited about this?’ but for the most part they have gotten favorable responses so far.

“Yeah, my boss called me in at the end of the day to congratulate me, and said that they have gotten a record number of pre-orders for the first day,” Steve recounts, handing the phone back to Bucky.

“They are nice,” Darcy inputs. “I’m going to get one of each. Or seven. Do you think they would let me meet Tony Stark if I bought enough of his products?”

“Darcy, this is bordering on creepy now,” Steve says around the lip of his bottle. Bucky scoffs.

“No, it passed creepy a long time ago. Try psychotic,” Bucky supplies, and Darcy just snickers.

They sit in companionable silence for a few minutes, each just drinking their beverages, and Darcy pulls out her phone and shoots off a few texts. Bucky eventually breaks the quiet.

“Maybe this is about his ego. He’s probably never had anyone say no to him before, and now that it has happened he’s trying to fix that to heal his pride.”

And dammit, Steve had not considered that possibility yet.

“I still think you should just call him,” Darcy says, not looking up from her phone. Steve huffs, shaking his bottle, empty.

He is probably making too big of a deal out of this, he realizes. If Stark is still propositioning him he most likely didn’t take much offense from Steve’s words. Working in the business industry as he does, Steve is sure he has heard much worse. Not even taking into account all of the things he’s heard members of the media say about the man. There are a few things Steve would not repeat aloud if he was paid to do it.

What he should do for now, he decides, is just ignore it. Stark will likely get bored and lose interest. And after a few days, once the offer expires, he can call to apologize.

“Have you made any progress with that redhead yet?” Steve asks Bucky, trying to change the subject.

“Natasha? No,” he replies around a cheery grin, which Steve guesses is partly to do with the three beers he has had already. “But it will happen. She can’t resist my charms forever.”

Darcy abandons her phone to fix him with two equally elevated eyebrows. “Tell that to all of the other girls who have shot you down.”

“Hey!” Bucky protests dramatically. “We don’t speak of them.”

“Alright, never talk about any girl from New York City again. Check,” Darcy returns with a cheeky smile, Bucky grimaces.

Steve chuckles slightly, gathering all three of their empty beer bottles, and goes to get them another round.

 

 

 

Stark doesn’t lose interest. In fact, the very next day Steve comes into work with another card on his desk, this one is bigger. It has a panda hugging a heart on the front, and Steve simply stares at it for a few minutes in mild confusion trying to take in the sight. He opens it reluctantly, and is again greeted by the same near scribble as last time.

Hello again, Steve. I realized you might not actually own a phone, which, considering you work for me, would be all kinds of weird, but I’ve seen weirder things. One time a sixty year old woman asked me to sign her breast. And let me tell you, totally not an experience I want to repeat.

Anyway, here is a key card. It is specially coded for you, so no one else will be able to use it. It will take you to any floor you want to go to besides the basement ones. Just slide it into the slot next to the keypad by the private elevator and press the button you want to go to. I’m on the top floor, come by anytime.

-Tony

P.S. Sorry for the cover. That is what I get for asking my assistant to handle such an important task for me.

Steve didn’t even know this building had basement floors. And of course he has a phone. He hasn’t seen anyone without a phone for at least 5 years.

He exhales a withering breath. Well, this guy is quite persistent. Steve will give him that.

 He should probably go return this, and just get it over with. Seeing as he ended up being a half hour early, he decides to just go do it now. He grabs the bouquet of now dead flowers, as he expected, and gets up to walk towards the private elevator, throwing the flowers in the trash on his way there.

Once he gets there, he slides his card and hears a ping, the doors opening immediately. Steve enters and wonders if it was already on this floor or if it’s just that fast. Knowing Stark, either option is likely. He pushes the button for the top floor, and it starts to ascend.

Steve distantly hopes Stark is not there right now. He can just leave the key card with a note or something. He does not welcome the idea of facing the guy again after how awful their last meeting went.

Another ding sounds and the doors open. He takes a step out, and is greeted with an expansive, pristine space. There is a separate room fenced off with tinted glass off to the left with a door saying “STARK” in large bold letters. That must be his office, then. Off on the other side there is a desk, with an attractive woman with her red hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. He takes a few paces towards her and she looks up, her face the perfect image of neutrality.

“Can I help you?” He moves forward until he is standing in front of the desk – taking note of the plaque on her desk that reads 'Pepper Potts'.

“Yes, I was wondering if Mr. Stark is in right now?”

She laughs, and it’s bubbly, betraying the otherwise substantial amount of composure she appears to maintain.

“Tony awake at nine in the morning? No, sorry. I think he went to sleep not too long ago actually,” she explains, and when she sees his frown of uncertainty she elaborates. “He doesn’t tend to keep a normal sleep schedule, unless it is required for business.”

He wants to be relieved, but for some reason he just feels disappointed. He sets that aside for now, though, he needs to focus on more immediate problems. This woman is most likely his assistant, so she should be able to return the key card to Stark with little problem.

“Oh, well, could you give this back to him, please?” he asks, holding the key card out to her. She takes it, and studies it thoroughly. “And, uh, can you tell him I am sorry? For the things I said the other day, I was out of line.”

She gives him a considering look, and she starts to say something, but stops herself before she gets it out.

“You’re Steve Rogers?” It is not really a question, but Steve feels the need to answer it anyway.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he confirms. She sighs, drawn out, and sets the card on the desk. He wonders if he insulted her with that title, but then she’s talking, mulling over any attempt he could make at an apology.

“He’s not really a bad guy, you know,” she assures with a half-smile. “He can be a bit much, sometimes. He tends not to make the greatest first impression, but his heart is in the right place.”

Her words carry a distinct weight to them, like they have been chosen with the utmost care.

Does she know about the whole situation? What has Stark been telling her about him?

“Just,” she begins, and gives him a brighter smile, full of warmth, and Steve feels comforted by it. “Think about it.”

“I will Ma’am,” he tells her honestly, returning the smile. “Thank you.”

Maybe he should just try it. It couldn’t make things worse, and it will stop the constant stream of advances Stark keeps sending his way.

He pushes the train of thought aside once he gets back to his desk, wanting to immerse himself in his work for a while. He was slacking yesterday, and he needs to do some catch up.

 

 

 

Steve’s focusing intently on his current project on the computer, switching between files rapidly. He hears a few shocked gasps around the office, and someone says ‘oh my god’ which catches his attention. He looks down at the clock on the computer to see that it’s been 2 hours already since he got back from lunch. He looks up from the monitor to see what all of the commotion is about.

Tony Stark is walking towards his desk, and all personnel in the office are watching him make his way over with wide-eyed awe. Steve gulps.

When he reaches Steve’s space, he leans down to put both his hands on the blond’s desk, giving Steve a thousand-watt smile.

“Hey there gorgeous,” he greets with a charming smile.

Steve pushes his chair out and stands, quickly looking around the room to confirm that all eyes are on the two of them, completely abandoning all of their current work in favor of what will likely become the next piece of juicy office gossip.

“Uh, hello Mr. Stark,” he begins, turning towards the other man. “What are you doing here?”

“Well you’re avoiding me,” he whines lamely, taking his hands off of the desk. “And you seem to have dropped this,” he clarifies, taking the key card out of his breast pocket and holding it towards the other. “So I figured I’d come down here and get it back to you myself.”

Steve inspects it for a moment before looking back up at the billionaire’s face, noting the dark circles under his eyes. “How much sleep did you get?”

Tony laughs heartily. “Aww, that’s cute, you’re worried about me,” he jokes with an easy smile. “Does this mean you’re happy to see me? Willing to reconsider about dinner?”

Tony wiggles his hand still holding the card. Steve grabs it just to get the outstretched limb out of his space, and puts it on the desk.

“I’m happy you haven’t fired me,” he rubs his forehead. “Yet.”

“I wouldn’t fire you for rejecting me, Steve,” the billionaire replies, looking genuinely sad, and dammit, Steve is doing it again.

“Look, can we, take this somewhere else?” Steve pleads, peering over the other man’s shoulder. “And, uh, let these people get back to work?” grasping for a reason besides his own obvious issues.

The genius sees through him easily.

“Why? We have nothing to hide,” he replies easily. “Thanks for the good time last night, Stevie,” he yells, spinning around the room theatrically, making sure everyone hears him.

Steve just glares at him, wishing he would disappear. The other man smiles back luminously once he is again facing the blond, and Steve feels his frown leavening slightly against his own will at the sight of it.

“Your blush is so adorable when you’re angry,” Stark comments, bringing a hand up to rub at his reddened cheek fondly.  Steve swats it away.

“Is this how you expect to win me over?” Steve inquires, not taking his eyes off of the billionaire.

“I don’t know. Is it working?” is his reply, with a raised eyebrow, pulling up the corresponding side of his mouth with it.

Steve crosses his arms over his chest, wanting to scowl but his face not cooperating with him.

The room is still, all of Steve’s co-workers watching the interaction enraptured. Steve twitches slightly, not used to complete absence of movement. This department is a lively place, people chatting casually, whether it’s on the phone or with the person next to them. There is not even a hint of noise, signifying mouse clicks or keystrokes. Steve is about to begin speaking just to alleviate the tenseness that has surrounded them when Stark lets out a puff of air through his nose, shoulders slumping.

“I don’t understand why you won’t even give it a chance,” he implores, defeated. His face has twisted into that same sad look he had during the end of their last interaction.

Steve brushes his hand through his hair. The irritation quickly dissipates, replaced with a churning guilt at his less than admirable reaction towards the other man.

“Because you are my boss—“

“Not technically,” Stark amends.

“—and you don’t even know anything about me. Or me about you, for that matter,” he explains feebly, ever aware of the attention they have gathered.

“That’s what dates are for!” he exclaims, throwing his hands into the air sharply to stress his point. “To get to know each other.”

He did tell his assistant that he would think about it. But the problem is he hasn’t had any time to think about it. He sighs, and doesn’t miss the fact that he seems to be doing that a lot lately.

“Fine,” he surrenders. “But I’m paying.”

 Stark wrinkles his face up in disgust.

“It’s like you’re trying to hurt me,” he bemoans.

“Maybe it’ll make you reconsider dinner,” Steve says glumly, and regrets it instantly. He doesn’t know what it is about this guy that always makes him say the worst things. Stark doesn’t seem to mind, though, as he just smirks and leans into the other’s space, the sorrow already having left his features completely.

“Never. It’ll be wonderful,” he states with complete certainty. “Tonight at 8 alright for you?”

Steve takes a moment to deliberate, transfixed by the guy’s magnetizing brown eyes.

“Yeah, that works,” he rasps, coughing a couple times as an excuse to pull back a little.

“Great! I’ll pick you up at your place,” Stark says as he turns away.

“But you don’t even know where I live,” Steve calls back after him. Stark turns around again and grins at the larger man, walking backwards towards the elevator, and Steve can’t help but smile slightly as he watches him go.

He sits back down, his head swimming with various emotions.

He turns the key card over in his hands as he wonders if he made the right decision.

 

 

 

“Hey Blondie,” Darcy says as she answers the call.

“He came to my department,” Steve rushes, nearly running over her introduction.

“Who?”

“Tony Stark,” he answers instantly, not trying to hide the panicked note to his voice.

“Ooh.”

They couldn’t meet after work today, even before Steve got stuck with dinner plans. Bucky is working late on some big case that he said they were close to solving. Darcy said she was planning on going out on a ‘girl’s night’ with her boss Jane Foster. She is probably at her apartment right now getting ready for the outing. Steve hopes he isn’t interrupting her, but seeing as she answered the call, she probably doesn’t mind. For which he is appreciative, because he really needs someone to lament to about the mess that has become his love-slash-work life.

He couldn’t even wait until he had gotten home. As soon as he left the tower he pulled out his cell and started dialing.

“And? Did he ask you out on a date again?” she inquires after a brief pause.

“Yes, tonight. And I said yes,” he explains miserably, because he knows that would have been her next question.

“So?”

“So?” he mirrors incredulously. “This is such a bad idea, Darcy. Three people came up to me after Stark left asking if I was sleeping my way up the ranks.”

“Well first of all, stop calling him Stark. That’s weird,” Darcy says disapprovingly. “Second, you did move up there pretty fast. You’ve only been working for there what, three years now?”

“Darcy,” he sighs.

But,” she stresses, surprisingly upbeat, “everyone who knows you should realize you are just an extremely diligent worker. Don’t worry about it, Steve. They’re not going to fire you for going on a date with the owner of the company you work for. He has thousands of employees, after all. It’s likely he would take an interest in at least one of them.”

She’s being uncharacteristically reasonable again. Maybe Steve should have called Bucky, or Sam. He hasn’t talked to Sam in a while. He just wanted someone to complain aimlessly to. Not have them try to debunk his fears, no matter how absurd they may be.

“Steve, you have to get over her,” Darcy offers sadly.

“This isn’t about Peggy,” Steve returns resolutely. And it is not about her, not really.

She broke up with him 2 years ago, figuring out he was gay before he did.

He loved her, intimately and catastrophically. He would have been able to live a full life with her. They could have moved into the suburbs, had kids, grandkids, and died content of old age. Peggy was a better person than he was, though, admitting that what they could have had together never would have truly been enough, for either of them.

That was years ago, and he’s had time to realize she made the right decision, even if it did not feel like it at the time. He would have only held Peggy back. She could be anything she wants to be, being able to move mountains with just a stern look. Steve didn’t fit into her world.

Steve has had plenty of time to move on however, and he has. All of his following relationships lasting no more than a few weeks had nothing to do with whether or not he was able to let go of the feelings he had harbored for the woman.

He is just a train wreck when it comes to relationships.

“Okay, I believe you,” Darcy says honestly.

Steve pulls the bottom of the phone away from his face to let out a breath of relief. He was preparing for more of an argument on that topic, but he is glad Darcy has enough class to let it go. Calling her was undoubtedly the right choice.

“But what is the problem then?” she presses, and the worry in her tone is clear even through the phone. “It’s obvious that you like the guy.”

“What?” he squeaks in protest, and again, Darcy shows her reserved amounts of class by not mentioning how high his voice had jumped right there.

“You can’t stop smiling when you talk about him. Even when it’s about how irritating you think he is,” she explains through a giggle. “It’s adorable.”

There’s the Darcy he knows.

“I am not adorable,” he protests indignantly.

She waits, and he gnaws on his bottom lip gently in thought.

“It’s just,” he starts, rubbing the back of his neck. “Every time we talk I end up saying the worst things to him. I can’t help it, it’s like word vomit.”

“If your date is any indication, I don’t think he minds very much,” Darcy reasons.

“Yeah but that’s the problem. Why is he so intent on going out with me when I haven’t ever actually said anything nice about him?” he wonders out loud. “What if he’s only going out with be because I keep insulting him?”

“If that were the case I think he would be dating half of New York right now,” she snorts.

He sighs again, this time making sure Darcy can hear it.

“Steve, you’re overthinking it. Stop acting like you’ve been handed a death sentence. You’re going out with Tony Stark for fucks sake. I so wish I was you right now,” she whines. Steve rolls his eyes even though she can’t see it. “Just relax, and try to have fun tonight.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he reflects. “Thanks, Darcy.”

“No problem! I have to go now. Jane has been giving me her best representation of bedroom eyes AKA glaring at me for the past few minutes. But remember, wrap your willy before you get silly,” she sing-songs, and hangs up.

Steve rolls his eyes again for good measure, pocketing his phone as he continues walking back to his apartment to prepare for his date.

 

 

 

He’s spent the last 10 minutes practicing saying Tony instead of Stark or Mr. Stark. It feels weird, unnatural, to think of a billionaire as just a regular guy. It is necessary though, because Darcy is unfortunately right, continuing to refer to him as Stark would be weird.

Currently he is standing in front of the mirror fixing his collar for the tenth time. Steve doesn’t understand why he’s so nervous. He didn’t even want this date, but now he can’t stop fidgeting. He is freaking out that he’s going to be underdressed in his dress pants and button-up over a plain white t-shirt. Tony will likely be wearing a suit again. Steve wonders distractedly if he even owns anything else.

A buzz sounds around the room, and Steve pats down his shirt while walking towards the door. His finger hits the button on the intercom, and he says, “I’ll be right down.” He doesn’t give time for a reply before he is moving to grab his keys and cell phone. He opens the door to leave, but before stepping out he looks back at the clock on his work desk: 8:17, figures.

There’s a giant black limousine parked in front of his building when he makes his way outside. Tony Stark is lounging on the side near the back tire with his arms over his chest and sunglasses sloppily perched on his nose. There is another bigger guy a few feet away from him, with short curly hair and an air of polite indifference.

He shakes his head and walks up to the billionaire, plucking the glasses off of his face.

“I feel like I’m in a mob movie,” he groans. The other guy stifles a laugh and Tony beams at the blond.

“You look amazing,” Tony comments, eyes widened fractionally.

“Yeah, you too,” Steve returns with an easy smile. He gestures to his clothes. “But are these the extent of your wardrobe?”

“If you want you can come over later and find out,” the genius replies with a wink. Steve gives him an unimpressed look and offers him his glasses back. Tony takes them and slides one of the temples into his breast pocket.

“That has got to be your worst line yet.”

Tony’s bodyguard, Steve guesses, opens the door and waves his other arm to signify that they should get inside.

“Thanks Happy,” Tony says, smiling at the other man as he ushers Steve inside.

Happy?

“It gets worse, I assure you,” Tony notes once they’re both seated comfortably in the back of the limo.

“I don’t doubt it,” Steve says through a small chuckle.

Most of the ride is spent in silence, but Steve is surprised to find that it doesn’t feel awkward.

Once they arrive at their destination Steve is once again surprised to see it is nothing like he imagined. It is a stylish restaurant, but not extravagantly so. There’s not even a valet service. Their menu isn’t ridiculously priced either, which he figures out once the two of them are seated.

They both order steaks and they spend some time with casual small talk. Tony compliments Steve on the work he did on the latest line of StarkTech. Steve tells the billionaire about his friends, the police officer Bucky and the scientist Darcy. Tony says he would like to meet them.

Steve finds he’s actually having a pretty good time, and his worries come crumbling down. He was vastly wrong about the billionaire. Tony’s nothing like Steve thought he’d be, or how the media talks about him.

In this situation, he can see Tony’s a legitimately nice guy, when the Tony Stark billionaire mask fades away. Steve’s overwhelmingly glad he gets to see it, if only just this once.

Their dishes are brought to the table and a waitress makes her way over shortly after and offers them a bottle of wine. Tony makes a squeamish face at it, and Steve doesn’t miss how he scoots further back in his chair marginally, as if he’s trying to put as much difference between him and the bottle.

“Uh, no, we’re good, thanks,” he says, his voice still maintaining an air of calm.

“Will that be all?”

“Yes, thank you.”

She nods curtly, and makes her departure.

“Uh, I have a bad history with alcohol. Haven’t had any for quite some time now, and I would like to keep it that way,” he explains with a self-deprecating smile that makes Steve’s insides curl. “Sorry if you had your heart set on some wine tonight.”

Steve is surprised by the admission. It must be a difficult thing to talk about, especially on a first date with someone you barely know. The curling in his insides turns into a simmering warmth at the thought that Tony is comfortable enough around Steve to tell him such a dark part of his history.

“No that’s okay. Alcohol doesn’t really affect me much anyway,” Steve offers, and Tony raises an inquiring eyebrow at him. “High metabolism.”

“That must be nice.”

“Not all the time. When I was younger my body ran through food faster than could be provided,” Steve revises, wanting to offer some of his own past in return. “But once I got into college with a full scholarship and a full time job, I was able to afford more than enough food to support my ridiculous metabolism.”

“Full scholarship?” Tony queries with a raised eyebrow. Steve smiles warmly at him.

“Mhm, courtesy of Stark Industries. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to work for you, actually.”

“Full time job and full time student, that must have been hard,” Tony reasons with an impressed look, Steve just shrugs.

“It worked out.”

Steve has certainly been through rougher. Nothing he can’t handle, though.

He starts cutting up his steak, both of them working their way through their meals.

“And when did you turn into an Abercrombie model?” Tony asks after a couple minutes of silence.

Steve would frown at the name, but in the face of Tony’s bright smile he can’t seem to make it happen.

“That was around when I got a growth spurt. And I was working jobs that required lots of physical exertion, construction and the like,” he explains, stabbing a piece of cauliflower.

A waiter passes and Tony takes the opportunity to ask for the check now that they are nearly done with their meals.

“I’m still paying, you know,” Steve says practically. Tony pouts.

“I could buy this restaurant,” he warns with a frown. “And then shut it down.”

Steve huffs a laugh.

“You won’t though.”

“No, I won’t,” Tony agrees.

The check comes, and Steve pays, even as Tony protests wildly the entire time.

“So why were you so intent on making this happen?” Steve starts hesitantly after some time, not sure he wants to hear the answer. Steve is nobody special, he’s downright boring, to be honest. Tony most definitely meets more interesting people on a daily basis. “How did you even know I was gay?”

Tony clears his throat.

“If you were straight you would have told me that, instead of just saying no. Heteros are so defensive about their sexual identities,” he clarifies with a smirk.

Steve shakes his head and waits for the other man to answer the first question, watching him tap a finger against the edge of the mostly empty plate.

“I uh—you intrigued me,” Tony tries, but then realizes that wasn’t a wise thing to say. “I mean—“

“I intrigued you?” he asks, his mouth curling downwards slightly.

Maybe it was just an amusement thing. Maybe this whole time Tony has just been stringing him along, like a cat humiliatingly invested in catching the elusive red dot.

Tony’s face is utterly dejected, but Steve can’t say he is doing much better.

“No. Not like that. You just didn’t act like what I’m used to,” he tries again. “You didn’t put up with my bullshit. I’ve only ever met two other people who can do that, and then give it back to me in spades.”

Well, there’s nothing immoral about that, but Steve still doesn’t understand how that equates to anything romantic.

“You were the first person to say no,” Tony says softly, not looking up from his plate.

And all of Steve’s worries fly back to the surface, verified. He find himself unable breathe, as if all the air has rushed out of his body, trying to get away.

All of this time. It was all just a mission in healing his pride. It was a game, where nobody could come out a winner except Tony Stark, because he always comes out the winner, no matter how high the costs.

The worst part is Steve had actually started to believe he had honorable motives in this. Steve had bought into it. He should have listened to Bucky. He should have listened to himself.

“Steve,” Tony starts, but Steve is already getting up stiffly and marching away, not listening to whatever garbage Tony is shouting behind him.

He gets about a block and a half before the other man catches up to him. He grabs Steve’s shoulder and turns him around.

“What the fuck?” he asks, his face is an amalgamation of so many emotions, a puzzle, and Steve can’t – won’t – solve it.

“Was it really that important to you? Your perfect record?” he seethes, jerking his shoulder away from the other harshly, trying valiantly to keep the tears welling up in his eyes at bay. “Well congratulations. You got it, I said yes. Now can you leave me the hell alone?”

He leaves Tony there, looking distraught and broken, and steels himself for the long trek back to his apartment.

 

 

 

Steve is just glad he doesn’t usually work on the weekends. So today he can just stay home and avoid the outside world, pitying him and his bad dating habits.

He’s in the middle of a marathon of House reruns when there is a knock on his door. He sighs heavily, knowing it is Darcy. She’s the only one who refuses to use the intercom and instead waits for someone to exit the building and uses the chance to sneak in.

He turns off the TV and gets up slowly. He opens the door and is greeted by Darcy, just as he expected. She’s wearing an obnoxious grin that soon falls away once she takes in the blond man's appearance.

“Oh no."

“What?” he questions, defensive.

“That bad?” she asks, moving into his apartment.

“What?”

“You’re wearing sweatpants.”

“They’re comfortable,” Steve mutters morosely.

“Yes they are, and you are allergic to comfortable.”

He is not. There’s just usually no reason to stay in them for long after he gets out of bed.

“I was going to ask you to tell me all about it, but now I think we’re going to need ice cream for this. Do you have ice cream?”

“I ate it all already,” he replies bitterly.

“Oh honey,” Darcy consoles, and Steve cannot stand that awful sympathetic tone she is using. “Come on,” she prompts, patting the space on the couch next to her. Steve does, reluctantly.

Once he’s sitting, he runs his hands up and down his thighs a couple times.

“Bucky was right, he was just in it for his pride,” he explains aversely, wanting to just forget about last night.

Darcy sighs, and brings a hand up to his shoulder.

“Did he say this?” she queries.

“Yes. And some other things,” Steve admits, turning his face away, not wanting to go over exactly what he said. He’s already done it in his head a thousand times prior.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry.” Darcy hugs him, and he leans in to it slightly, but not willing to be an active participant. “This is my fault. I’m the one who told you to go out with him.”

“No, he would have just kept trying until I said yes. It’s better to have just gotten it over with, I guess.”

That doesn’t mean Tony had to turn it into such a production, as if he was actually interested in Steve. The limo and the suit, telling things to Steve that actually made him seem relatable. It was all an act, bait, and Steve had been reeled in like a particularly dull fish with no self-preservation instincts.

“I’m going to have to look for a new job,” Steve sighs, lost.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding a new one. Tell anyone you worked at Stark Industries and NASA would hire you,” Darcy offers, patting his shoulder a couple times after she pulls back from the hug.

“God, I could swear he was into you. TMZ is usually showing another picture of him with some random girl every night, but ever since the press conference I haven’t seen any new Tony Stark gossip.”

Steve hums in response, bringing his head back to lie against the couch. Maybe that was all part of the act too.

Darcy jumps up vigorously from where she was seated. “Let’s go get hammered,” she offers with a grin, wiggling the fingers of her outstretched hand enticingly. Steve lets a faint smile make its way onto his face, ignoring how unnatural it feels.

 

 

 

Steve is making his way out of their preferred bar, followed shortly by Bucky, after a few hours of solid drinking. It is dark now, and Steve is about as drunk as he can get without shotgunning an entire bottle of vodka.

He turns to see another figure marching towards him briskly, and he seems to be dressed in some type of military uniform? Steve squints, this must be a hallucination brought on by his muddled brain. The figure continues its approach until it is just a foot away, and punches Steve on the jaw, hard.

He falls like a rock, because his body lost its sense of balance long ago. Fortunately, it still has enough sense to send an arm out to cushion the fall for his head.

“You’re an asshole,” military man spits.

“That’s probably true,” Steve murmurs, choosing to just stay on the ground.

Bucky moves into action though, throwing out profanities and lunging at the other man.

“Bucky, stop,” he gets out before the other man has a chance to do anything, which probably wouldn’t work out too well for him in his current state. The mystery man can throw a mean punch, Steve thinks absently, as he rubs his bruising cheek.

Darcy meanders out of the bar, giggling. She notices something is wrong belatedly and takes a few seconds to process the situation. She starts giggling again, louder this time.

“Who the fuck are you?” Bucky demands.

“Bucky, I think military beats NYPD,” Darcy throws in, still giggling uncontrollably.

“James Rhodes,” he states, still glaring at Steve on the ground.

Rhodes? He thinks, that sounds familiar.

Steve halfheartedly picks himself up from the ground. “Can we talk? Alone?” he asks the new guy, Rhodes, and he nods. They both start walking the way he came.

“Steve,” Bucky says, worried.

“I’ll be fine, Buck,” Steve replies gruffly.

“If you do anything to him, I’ll beat you into the ground,” Bucky yells at Rhodes as they are walking away. “I don’t care if you are part of the government!”

The soldier stops at the end of the block, and turns back towards Steve, his glare holding strong.

“Is this about Tony?” he asks, massaging his cheek.

Rhodes mouth moves silently in thought for a minute.

“Tony’s been sober for six years,” he stresses the last couple words, leaking with outrage. Steve stares blankly, until realization hits.

“Oh god,” he gasps. “He relapsed?”

“Yes, and now Pepper and I have spent the better part of today cleaning up the mess you’ve created,” he snarls, showing teeth.

Well, that makes no sense. Steve wonders if his alcohol addled brain his playing tricks on him again.

“Me?” he asks, dumbfounded. “How is this my fault? Tony doesn’t even care about me. It was all a game to him.”

“Did he tell you this, word for word?” Rhodes scowls at him skeptically. “I can’t say I would be surprised. He is notoriously bad at communicated his feelings, a trait that you two apparently have in common.”

Steve’s head is too jumbled to try and take offense at that, pre-occupied with once again going through their last encounter word for word.

“I asked him why he wanted this so much and he said it was because I was the first person to say no to him,” Steve whispers. Is there another meaning he missed there?

Rhodes groans. “I have known Tony for 13 years, and you know how many times he has said sorry to me?” he requests. Steve just keeps staring at him in confusion, not sure what this man is getting at. “Twice,” Rhodes clarifies after he receives no answer. “And one of those times was after my father had just died.”

Steve frowns in thought, his mind quickly clearing now that it has something to focus on.

Then it comes to him, Tony’s first note.

Hey, Steve. I realize I might have come on a little too strong. I’m sorry for that.

Tony had apologized to him.

But could that really mean as much as this guy is implying? Tony made it abundantly clear that his interest in Steve was only fleeting.

Maybe Steve misunderstood the genius, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time he had come to a wrong conclusion about the man.

He did chase after Steve when he left the restaurant. There would be no reason for him to do such a thing if he was only after his ego. If Tony wanted sex surely he would have had no trouble finding an outlet elsewhere.

“He has trust issues, but they’re rightfully earned. Tony doesn’t let people in easily, and when he does it’s a slow process. He’s afraid of commitment, and not because of the usual, shallow reasons, or any of the ones the nutjobs like to spew about him on TV. But with you,” Rhodes trails off, looking off in the distance as his fists clench, knuckles whitening. Then he snaps back to Steve with a sudden fierceness. “With you he was trying.”

Steve feels like his skin is on fire, his world turned upside down, and not because of the alcohol barely rumbling in his system now.

He fucked up, again. Tony telling him about his drinking problems wasn’t a tactic. It was a sincere attempt at humility. And Steve had taken that and thrown it back into his face. He had given Tony one more reason not to trust people.

Steve likes Tony. Steve enjoys his company, his endless wit. The guy is filled with heart, and compassion, even if he won’t acknowledge it. Steve had found himself falling for the guy. He was afraid to admit it, afraid of all of the things it would mean. And now he has pushed the man away, pushed Tony back into a forbidding place he crawled out of years ago.

He takes a moment to compose himself, not letting self-pity worm its way into his thoughts. He doesn’t deserve pity. All of this is his doing, his mess.

He hardens his features, preparing to tame the chaos he has unleashed because of his stubborn stupidity, any trace of alcohol within him now long gone.

He fixes Rhodes with a stern look, ready to face an alien invasion.

“Rhodes, I realize this is probably asking too much, but I made a mistake, a big mistake. And I have to make this right,” he explains resolutely. “Please take me Tony. Please let me try to fix this.”

Rhodes jaw ticks, and for a moment it looks like he’s about say no, and Steve would live with that, for now. He and Tony are best friends, and when it comes to the billionaire this guy knows better than anyone, and Steve would have no choice but to accept his answer, no matter what it is. But then he huffs, his body losing some of its rigidness. “Yeah, I suppose that would be best.”

Steve sighs in relief, feeling a sense of hope begin to replace the unpleasant emptiness that the liquor has left behind.

They take Rhodes’ car back to the tower, and Steve sends Bucky a text telling him where he’s going and that there is no need to worry about him.

 

 

 

Before they head to Stark Tower, they make a quick pit stop at Steve’s apartment to get him some mouth wash and a new set of clothes, because even though the stuff is basically out of his system by now, you can still tell he has been drinking. So anything he can do to negate that somewhat is exceedingly helpful. The last thing he wants to do is confront the ex-alcoholic-recently-setback billionaire when you can still smell the shots on his breath, and on his clothes.

When they get to the Tower, Rhodes follows Steve up to the top floor. The man’s posture is impeccable. He spends the entire elevator ride up in parade rest, and Steve has to resist the urge to refer to him as Sir. His gait is impressive, every step he takes is with absolute purpose.

 He feels like a delinquent being escorted to his jail cell, or the corner of the room where he is going to be presented with a dunce hat and rickety chair.

When they get to Stark’s floor, Steve finds it empty, and for a fleeting moment he is distressed, thinking that Tony must have fled. To somewhere Steve would not be able to find him.

Rhodes just walks to the left, towards a spiraling staircase Steve hadn’t noticed before. It leads to a lounge type area, with a bar off to one side, but the shelves behind the bar are barren, holding only a few empty glasses stacked precisely upside-down.

Off to another side is an entertainment area, and when he looks to Rhodes he nods towards the large plush couch located in the center, in front of a giant widescreen TV. Steve moves toward said couch, and Rhodes stays put, settled, observing from a distance.

He gets within a few paces behind the sofa, barely able to see a few tufts of dark hair sticking from the odd angle, when Tony’s voice sounds from where he is laying awkwardly on his stomach.

“Dammit Rhodey, I told you I’m fine. Will you stop hovering? You’re worse than Pepper.”

Steve clears his throat to make his presence known, and Tony jumps, turning to look at the blond man over the back of the couch.

For a split second Tony’s face lights up, fondly. His eyes shine with relief and his mouth curves into an adorably lopsided smile. It’s the sweetest thing Steve has ever seen. But it falls away immediately, replaced with an utter bareness, guarded. Steve has never seen anything resembling this on the genius’ face, even when he was in front of business man Tony Stark. There was always an inviting quality to the man. Now Steve sees nothing, has no idea what is going through the other man’s head. It makes him itch.

Tony’s eyes flick over momentarily to where Rhodes is still standing a few feet away from the stairs, and back.

“Did Rhodey drag you here?”

“No. I asked, actually,” Steve assures with a sheepish smile. “I was afraid he would refuse.”

“Should I have?” Rhodes interjects across the room as Tony takes a step towards Steve.

“No, no. We’re good,” he says, then stops as he takes in Steve face, seeming to notice the large blue-ing lump on his left cheek. “Oh my god, did he punch you?”

“I deserved it.”

Tony takes a couple more steps, and then stops, uncertain.

And he does own more than the perfectly tailored suits, Steve thinks forlornly as he takes in the billionaire’s appearance. He’s currently in a too-large sweatshirt and baggy jeans, but he still looks great. He could walk into a boardroom or a press conference and steal the audience with one look. Sweatshirt and jeans would become the new fashion trend.

“No, you did not,” he says briskly, then snaps around to Rhodes again. “Fuck, Rhodey. Isn’t that against army code or something?”

The guy just shrugs, his posture not losing any of its formality.

“You can leave now, you ass,” he says, but it’s not angry exactly.

Rhodes grins at the billionaire, and it’s the first time Steve’s seen him not look completely menacing, but then he levels another glare at Steve before he turns around. “Yeah, I’ll just leave you two idiots to work out your own problems.”

They avoid each other’s gaze. Steve holds back the urge to rub at his neck.

“I know what you’re going to say,” Tony starts. “But this—That,” pointing at the now empty bar. “None of it was your fault. You didn’t force me to drink the scotch.”

Steve opens his mouth to object but Tony holds up a finger, his features molding into a stern resolve.

“I don’t need you to fix me. To mend your broken morals because you feel you’ve done me wrong and wish reclaim your boyscout honor.”

Steve feels small again. In the face of this brilliant personality, but all he can see is the hurt flashing through his eyes. And Steve wants to say that’s not what I was going to say at all, or I made a mistake. That’s not what he does end up saying, unfortunately.

“I was never in the boyscouts.”

Tony looks surprised for a second, and then refocuses. He laughs, sharp, mirthless.

“Of course not,” he states. His face is entirely unrecognizable, as if Steve is speaking with a different person. “You lived a hard life. Had to work for what you got. And all the while I was up here, living the life, abusing my free ride.”

Steve’s shoulders slump, eyes meeting the pale grey carpet.

“You worked for what you have just as much as I did,” he says, nearly a whisper.

It’s true, even if the other guy had a bit of a head start. He doesn’t exactly know what he was doing during the three years after his parents’ death where be basically stopped existing in the public’s eye. But he came back. He took on the mess that Stark Industries had become, near bankruptcy, struggling to hold on, firing employees left and right. He had taken that and made it into the thriving center of technological revolution that it is today.

Tony stops short, fumbling with the retort that was on the tip of his tongue. Steve decides to press his advantage while he can.

“I was wrong,” Steve admits. Tony meets the other’s eyes, his face a blank canvas. “About everything, pretty much. I assumed a lot of things about you. Few were true. I told myself I wouldn’t let what the media says about you get to me. But it did.”

“Yeah well, I haven’t made the best decisions lately either,” the genius offers cautiously. “But when did I ever make good decisions?”

Steve smiles. “I’ve been dealing with a lot of my own issues, and somehow they ended up transferred to you. I tried to pretend that I didn’t want this, that I didn’t want you. But really I was just scared, and I kept looking for easy outs.”

Tony laughs, but this time there is some humor in it, even if it resonates bitterly.

“You sound like me a week ago,” Tony rakes a hand through his hair, looking for anything else he can say, but Steve doesn’t give him the chance, trying to get everything on his mind out in the open.

“I’m sorry, for everything. I’m a dumbass,” Steve resolves, suddenly feeling self-conscious. He takes a step towards Tony, making sure their eyes meets. Steve gazes at him carefully, and Tony is smiling timidly back at the blond. “And I know I don’t deserve it, but if you could forgive me I’d like another chance.”

Tony is grinning by this point, and it’s infectious. There’s a light tingling sensation making its way up Steve’s arms, and before he realizes it Tony is in his space, kissing him.

Steve steps back out of surprise, and the other man is about to pull away. Steve is not having any of that, though, so he wraps a hand around the billionaire’s neck and tugs him back in.

The kiss is nice, warm. It’s not heated or energized, both just enjoying the company of each other.

“Yeah, I think I can work with that,” Tony says once they part. Steve laughs, light. “You’re not the only one at fault here, you know. And I’m sorry too.”

“I know,” is all Steve says, and pulls the other man back, cutting off any further apology, because he doesn’t need it.

Steve finally understands what Tony is trying to say.

They pull apart once again, and they just smile at each other wondrously for a few minutes.

They eventually make their way onto the couch, where they sit, for hours, talking.

Tony explains to Steve where he disappeared to during his early adulthood. A secluded house in Malibu, where he spent most of his time drinking and creating miscellaneous inventions that will never see the light of day, if he can help it.

Steve tells him about his time working at Stark Industries. How he began as an intern while he was still in college and quickly started his staggering climb up the lines.

Tony discloses that he thinks Obadiah Stane, the previous SI CEO, is responsible for the car accident that killed both his parents. And if he ever sees that bastard again he is going to drop a forklift on the guy. Steve knows he shouldn’t be enabling that train of thought, but he can’t help but agree.

Steve admits that he used to have a crush on the genius when he was a kid. Tony teases him about it relentlessly, but the affection in his eyes is clear, and Steve takes a moment to be thankful that he can have this. And Steve is going to hold onto it for as long as he can. Forever, if possible.

Eventually, they start to nod off, both their bodies seeking the comfort of sleep. The two of them are cuddled close together on the end of the couch, Tony lying on Steve with his head nuzzled into the larger man’s neck. Steve has an arm wrapped around Tony’s waist.

“So, when do I get to meet your friends?” Tony asks as the early stages of morning light make their way into the room. Steve groans, which turns into a yawn. “What? You got to meet mine, it’s only fair.”