Steve took in his surroundings, gazing at the clear water extending endlessly into the horizon. He dug his toes into the white sand and let himself bask in the sun, letting the heat permeate his senses and surround him in warmth. Aside from his other companion, there was nobody else on the beach, leaving him free to do whatever he wanted. No responsibilities to distract him, no training to be done—nothing to do but to sleep in, relax, and enjoy himself.
It was absolutely miserable.
On some level, he knew it was ridiculous to resent his situation, but that didn’t stop the restlessness from shifting into bitterness, pervading any rationale he had. It’s been three days since they arrived here, sent away by Jan to help the battle back on campus by...vacationing? With the power of friendship? Steve never quite understood what was happening at the Academy, if he was being truthful. Despite his own efforts at getting involved, it was usually Jan or Natasha or, heck, even Loki, who took charge. Still, at least when he was there he could keep an eye out, or continue training, or help his teammates strategize, or anything, really, would probably have been more productive than being stuck on a beach with Tony Stark.
Steve didn’t see how the trip was helping anyone, least of all himself. Steve knew what he was getting into, reminding himself that he was there when they planned this short getaway. He and Tony were in the dorms for hours, deciding where to go, how long to stay, what to bring, and so on, bickering about every detail. But it still didn’t prepare him for the reality of the situation.
He sighed, then walked over to where Tony was lounging, taking forceful strides. The other boy looked far more comfortable than Steve felt, sprawled languidly his chair as one of his robots fanned him and another held up his drink.
Tony didn’t move as Steve collapsed into the adjacent seat. He merely snapped his fingers as a third robot hovered over to Steve and held up a plate of cheese in offering. Steve wrinkled his nose, trying not to think about how long it’s been sitting out in the sun, and declined politely.
“You know, beaches and blonds are always my thing, but somehow this wasn’t what I expected.” Tony made it obvious that he was rolling his eyes behind his sunglasses. Steve raised an eyebrow at Tony, not sure what to make of his statement. This wasn’t what I was expecting either, Steve considered retorting, but they’ve managed not to argue since they’ve arrived, and he didn’t have any intentions of starting now.
“Honestly, can you just chill for a minute? I know brooding is your favorite past time and all, but there are other ways for you to kill time.” Apparently Tony didn’t share the same qualms about picking a fight. When Steve didn’t respond, he continued, “I’m sure there’s a checkered blanket somewhere. We could lay it out and you can dance by yourself for eight hours, if it makes you feel more at home.” Oh, for god's sakes.
Steve remained silent, contemplating on how to respond. He knew what Tony was doing, trying to provoke Steve into their usual quarreling. It was easy, really. Steve knew how to press into all the right bruises, almost as instinctively as he could throw his shield, but that didn’t mean he wanted to. He and Tony...to say that they got off on the wrong foot seemed like an understatement. But things were better between them now. They were friends, or at least, Steve hoped that they were friends. After many interventions from Jan, and Natasha, and the two of them literally fighting it out, they’ve managed to get whatever it was out of their systems. Tony even asked him for dating advice, and Steve would assume you’d only ask someone you got along with, so he supposed that boded well for the two of them.
(Steve tried to focus on the memory of Tony calling him “absurdly good-looking,” rather than the dull ache in his chest that the discussion left behind. He reminded himself that there’d be no way Tony would be asking for advice about Steve to Steve, after all. Or would be asking about Steve in general.)
“I wish we could be back on campus, helping the team.” Steve replied civilly, in an attempt to ease the conversation away from antagonism.
Tony gave him an offhanded wave. “It’s fine. Probably. I mean, the Heroes for Hire have the fighting under control, and you know how they get if we’re in their way.”
Steve supposed that was true. “Aren’t you supposed to be taking care of the dimensional rifts?”
“Yeah, about that. Fury is apparently calling in some Asshole Supreme to deal with it.” Tony snorted. “He’s annoyed that we couldn’t come up with a solution in like, a day, and decided that we’re all useless.”
“You’re not useless.” Steve frowned. It was true. Even if Steve didn’t agree with all of Tony’s methods, he could admit that they were effective. He asked Tony for help once before, didn’t he? (“I like it better when we get along,” Tony had said back then.)
“I’m over it. Whatever. Want a mojito?” Tony jerked his shoulders in a shrug and fiddled with his drink, staring resolutely into its contents.
Steve shook his head slowly at the offer. If he was being honest, it did make more sense for Director Fury to ask a magic expert to close the magical rifts. But he understood Tony’s need to take matters into his own hands, and to try to find a solution using his own approach. It’d be hypocritical of Steve to say otherwise, considering his own penchant for trying to punch all his problems away.
Still, Tony always felt like he had to prove himself, and that was reminiscent of Steve’s younger days, before the serum. But fortunately for him, after the serum, Steve’s competence no longer came into question. Everyone looked up to him and relied on him. Even his more...villainous classmates spoke of the admiration they felt, no matter how begrudgingly.
And all Tony got after receiving his arc reactor was a hole in his chest and an incapacitating sense of self-worth.
“I’m sure if you told the Hulk what happened, and he’d probably sit on the Sorcerer Supreme. Or on Director Fury.” Steve mused, in an attempt to cheer him up.
Tony jerked his head back at Steve, staring at him. Steve responded with a pleasant grin and luckily for him, Tony burst out laughing after a moment. Steve tried to ignore the warm feeling growing in his chest at the reaction.
Tony caught his breath and beamed at Steve. “Oh man, you don’t know how much money I’d pay to see that.” A part of Steve was willing to tell the Hulk himself if he knew it could brighten up Tony’s face like that. He didn’t feel remotely apologetic to Director Fury either.
The mood felt lighter after that. For a good fifteen minutes. Steve tried to relax, he really did, but after the serum it’s been more difficult, if not impossible, for him to be inactive. He kept fidgeting, sitting up in his seat, sighing, flopping back down against the headrest, considering going on his fourth swim of the day, sitting up again, swinging his legs off the chair, deciding that he really didn’t want to swim, leaning back down into the chair, sighing again—until Tony let out an aggravated cry and forcibly closed the magazine he was perusing.
“Didn’t we just do this, like, ten minutes ago?” Tony gritted out, and Steve felt a little bad for being disruptive.
But he didn't feel too bad. “I’m sorry for offending you with my presence,” he deadpanned. He waited a beat for Tony to retort, and when he didn’t, Steve lifted himself off the chair with finality. Tony bolted out of his seat and grabbed Steve by the wrist, then let go, surprised by his own actions.
“Woah, hey, no—look , I don’t want you to go, I mean. You don’t have to go.” Tony darted his eyes away when Steve turned to regard him properly. “Sorry. I just felt kinda useless that I couldn’t solve, uh, whatever problem you’re having.” A careless shrug. “Unless the problem is me, then, sorry dude, I was here first.”
“No, it’s not you, it’s me—” Steve ignored the look that Tony gave him “—you know what I meant. It’s hard for me to unwind. Do you know I only have fifteen non-training, non-sleeping hours a week?”
“That really doesn’t surprise me,” Tony considered. Steve thought the two of them were similar in that aspect, except that Steve wasn’t certain that Tony had time off at all. Sure, he had a rather strange sense of priorities, but Tony was the type of person who could get invested in whatever petty pissing-contest-of-the-week he was up to, without falling behind on his responsibilities.
Steve noted that Tony didn’t bring any of his work with him on this trip, and while Steve envied him for being able to relax, he had a feeling that Tony would be locked up in his workshop for weeks as soon as they got back. Steve thought ruefully that if anybody deserved some time off, it was Tony. He’d admit he was starting to feel bad again for getting on Tony’s nerves.
“I think I should get up anyway. Stretch my legs, maybe go on another run.”
“And go back to moping? Yeah, no. Somehow the thought of that is stressing me out more than your fidgeting. I did suggest dancing before...”
“No. Try again.”
Tony pondered over this, before listing out more possible solutions. “I don’t know, you draw, right? That’s a thing you do? I’m not going to say reading because knowing you, you probably brought some boring history book. Are you sure you don’t want that mojito? Or some cake? I definitely have some cake somewhere, and you can sit in the hot tub with it—” Steve kept shaking his head at each idea, slowly tuning out until Tony’s next suggestion plummeted him back into the conversation.
“—and I brought some water-proof lube if you just wanna jerk off in it, although you should tell me if you do, because, y’know, hygiene and all that—”
“I said, you should use the hot tub?”
“No, Tony, why would I masturbate in your hot tub?”
“It’s not my hot tub, it’s an egalitarian hot tub, why wouldn’t you be allowed to? I mean, I’ve been finishing outside the water, so it’s not gross and stuff, if that’s what you’re worried about. It’d be cool if you did the same thing, too.”
“I’m asking why you think I would do that in there.”
“Because it’s a hot tub?” Tony quirked his eyebrow. “Obviously, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, just a thought.”
“That’s not what I...” Steve shut his eyes in exasperation. “This conversation isn’t happening.” Steve was determined not to think about how apparently Tony masturbated in hot tubs habitually. (That would explain his fondness for them.) He hoped that Tony would drop the conversation, but unfortunately, Steve’s discomfort only encouraged him to keep going.
“What’s wrong? Talking about jacking off? C’mon, Cap, you can say it aloud. I know sex didn’t exist in the forties or whatever, but it’s a brave new world now. This does explain why you’re so pressed all the time, though.”
“Of course I get off, Tony,” Steve objected. He was a guy in his twenties (give or take seventy years), what else did people expect? “But it would be weird to do it now after you’ve ordered me to.”
Tony flushed at his words, but barreled onward. “Well, now you’re considering it, aren’t you? It’s fine if you are, you can admit I have good ideas sometimes.” Tony smirked in triumph. “You can go inside and I’ll stay out here, if you’re worried about performance issues. Or you can stay here if that’s your thing and I’ll go inside. Or not.”
That last part was weighed with undertones, but Steve quashed down any hope he felt building up. “I already did this morning,” he countered weakly. He felt like he was dissuading himself more than anything.
Tony’s tapped his fingers against his lips, making a show of his deliberation. After a moment, he took off his sunglasses and gave Steve a loaded look, the same one he’d use when inviting people to ‘check out his tower.’ (And his hot tub, Steve’s traitorous mind supplied.)
“It doesn’t seem like it,” he teased. “Maybe you’d be able to loosen up more if someone else gave you a hand.”
It was impossible to misinterpret that, but if Steve was anything, it was stubborn, and he continued on feigning ignorance. He heard the words and the way Tony said them, and he knew the context of the whole damn conversation, but, why would Tony possibly—there was no way that he’d…
“Uh?” Steve articulated.
Tony’s responded by holding up his hand and wiggling his fingers.
Steve swallowed thickly. “I still don’t understand why you’re offering in the first place.” He was proud of himself for keeping his voice in its usual timbre.
“Why not? I’m not doing anything right now. And I told you it was bothering me that I couldn’t help, so here I am. Helping you out.”
“Helping me out,” Steve echoed numbly.
“You can’t really be surprised that I’m offering. I know what people think of me,” Tony smiled slyly, but with less enthusiasm than before. “But really, this shouldn’t have been the first time someone propositioned you. Everyone on campus is half in love with you anyway, of course anybody would be willing to go down on you.”
“Go down.” Steve hated himself for fixating on those two words.
“Oh. I mean.” Tony bit his lips, before raising his shoulders indifferently. “Yeah, I could do that instead, if you wanted me to?”
Steve wasn't sure how to respond. His brain was still reeling over the fact that Tony Stark just offered to perform oral sex on him. He always had a feeling that—actually, he and everybody else knew that Tony wasn’t straight. But there was still a huge misstep in logic between knowing that Tony wasn’t only interested in women and Tony offering to give him a blowjob, that Steve never considered this would happen to him, ever.
At least, he never thought Tony would be interested in him in that way. Besides, Tony flirted with everyone. Steve always assumed that was just the way Tony liked to interact with others. And he was sure that Tony was attracted to a lot of people just as well. He must have found Steve attractive too—he talked about how handsome Steve was more than enough times. And his proposition proved it.
But there were times when he hoped that Tony might have liked him more than just that. Tony helped him run for class president, he wanted to dress up as Captain America for Halloween, he would always help him no matter what the situation was, even if they were arguing… But between the two of them and their pride, neither of them seemed to be willing to set aside their ‘friendly rivalry’ facade and explore their other feelings, if they existed. Steve’s feelings were there, he knew, even if he couldn’t label them properly. And it’s not like he never considered being with Tony in a physical sense. But more than that?
Oh, Steve realized. That would be…nice.
He liked spending time with Tony, no matter how few and far apart those opportunities are. His pulse picked up at the thought of being with Tony, not merely because of whatever enemy they had to team up against, or being whisked away on a private island where he had nothing to do.
And he didn’t want the start of this to be because Tony was tired of him fidgeting. If something was starting.
Steve rubbed his neck nervously, not sure how to broach the topic. He realized a little too late that he’s never been the one to initiate anything. He’s always managed to attract assertive people, it seemed. Tony was the one who made the first move, too. It would’ve been easy to just follow his lead, but Steve had to make sure they started this properly.
“Tony, listen...thanks for the offer. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that with someone, unless I had intentions of…” Steve struggled to find the right words. “Wooing them?”
Tony snickered. “So what? You want to give me flowers before I blow you?”
Steve gaped at him. He was used to Tony’s lack of decorum, but hearing Tony say it like that made him wonder if he was being idealistic, too outdated. He was worried he was just embarrassing himself, but he pressed on.
“That's not exactly what I had in mind. I guess it makes me old-fashioned, but I was thinking less ‘flowers and blowjobs’ and more ‘dinners and movies.’” Steve tried to give a casual shrug, but he could feel the heat of his face betraying his demeanor. He hoped Tony wouldn't laugh at him or mock him or anything. “I would rather date someone properly than just hook up with them, so not like this.” He finished by gesturing vaguely at the two of them.
Tony was nodding along as he listened, but by the time Steve was done speaking, he noticed that Tony had dropped his gaze, the smirk no longer present on his face.
Before Steve could investigate further, Tony slid his shades back on and sank into his lounge chair. “Hey, it was just a suggestion, don’t worry about it.” He signaled at his robot to fetch him a new drink as he returned to reading his magazine.
Tony seemed decidedly done with this topic, much to Steve’s disappointment. Steve had more to say, but every time he looked over to Tony, he would bring his magazine closer into himself, persistent in making sure he was unapproachable, and that there were no openings to pick up the conversation again. Steve felt an uneasiness settle deep in his gut as his cheeks burned with humiliation. He considered that he might've gotten ahead of himself. Maybe Tony wasn’t interested in anything more than a hook up? Or maybe Steve just ruined his chances. It wouldn’t be the first time that he’d made that mistake with Tony… He winced at the memory of the hug incident.
He didn’t realize how deep in his own thoughts he was, mulling over what had just happened, until Tony jerked him out of his introspection by shoving his phone in front of him. Steve got a blurry glance of a block of text, in all capitals.
“Just got a message from Fury,” Tony grumbled. “Looks like we’re taking the Quinjet back to campus now. At least you’ll be able to get back to work, right?” Steve supposed Tony said the last part as a joke, but he wasn’t sure he heard any jest in it.
Steve nodded mutely as Tony turned away and walked back towards the beach house, his robots following him fervently. He scrubbed his face with his hands. Part of him was glad to have the distraction of the Academy again, but at the same time…
Maybe he could talk to Tony during their flight back. If not, then Steve resolved to settle things between them when they’ve returned to campus. And if Tony seemed to reciprocate his feelings, he’d ask Tony properly, and do this properly.
It’d be fine, Steve reassured himself.