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Kiss the Canvas

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Somehow, perhaps by sheer force of will, Steve managed to arrive on time for work.

It had been a close thing. The walk from his apartment to the arena wasn’t terrible, and he knew all of the shortcuts to make the trip easier. He would have been early, if he hadn’t come across a man hassling the flower vendor on the corner.

He’d roughed Steve up a bit, but in the end he left her alone. She’d offered Steve a rose as thanks, but he politely declined. A florist didn’t make any money giving away free flowers, and he wouldn’t have anyone to give it to, anyway.

Besides, a rose would look a little out of place here, and he didn’t need to draw any more attention to himself as he tried to sneak in without his boss noticing. Luckily, he wasn’t really needed until the fight started—only one of the many perks of having the glamorous a job of making sure the boxers didn’t slip in their own blood during a match.

Steve didn’t particularly like the job—even getting it had been more accident and desperation—but it could have been worse. There wasn’t a lot of work for a guy his size, and he’d been lucky enough to find something that paid well enough that he could afford to take a few art classes on the side, even if he did feel guilty parting with the money every time tuition bills rolled around.

Steve hadn’t liked boxing before he started working here—hadn’t particularly disliked it, either—but it was impossible to go more than a few matches without picking up an appreciation, at least, for the sport.

When he heard that they were planning a charity boxing match, he’d instantly volunteered, expecting a couple of glass jawed rich men to throw a few punches, and then probably break for Champagne. Short, easy, and not much of a mess to clean up afterwards. Maybe even the chance to go home early and get a head start on his figure drawing assignment.

When they found out later that it was the Tony Stark from Marvels who was boxing for charity, and that tickets were going for a hundred dollars a piece at the cheapest, Steve had gotten half a dozen offers to trade shifts, but there was no way he was going to miss this, no matter how good their offers were.

Stark’s opponent was supposed to be one of the best boxers in Germany. They’d flown him in for the sake of the match, and it was actually going to be televised for those who couldn’t attend themselves. Steve had caught sight of the man on the way inside. He was built like a brick house, all blond-hair, blue-eyed and solid muscle. Personally, Steve didn’t think he liked him, but the boxer was apparently very popular back home.

The seats were filling quickly. Steve sat down on one of the fold-out chairs meant for the press, the coaches, the referees and everyone else that needed access to the ring.
A few minutes later, the arena was nearly packed as more fans were let into the stadium.

“Is anyone sitting here?”

Steve jumped, and was already shaking his head no when he caught sight of the woman who’d asked. She was a stunner, dressed to the nines in an all-white dress and not looking at all like she belonged at a boxing match. Steve sincerely hoped her dress wouldn’t be ruined by the end of the night.

She dropped her bag into the seat between herself and Steve and sat, propping a notebook on one knee, and if Steve had to guess he would say she was probably a reporter.

“Have you ever been to one of these?” she asked suddenly.

“I work here,” he said. She hummed, and he was about to ask why she asked when she said, “Who do you fancy?”

“Stark, of course,” he said, almost without thinking, and he could see that she was laughing at him for the haste of his answer, but it didn’t make it any less true.

Marvels fan?” she asked.

“I like the art,” he replied. She, surprisingly, seemed put off.

“But not the writing?”

“No, no," he said hastily. "I like the stories too." He wasn't quite sure why that would upset her. “Finlay’s a hell of a writer, uh, pardon the language, ma’am, I just—” He wasn’t sure how to explain that he like the art because he was an artist without sounding arrogant, or giving her more information than she probably wanted or needed, “like the art.”

Suddenly the noise in the arena intensified, quickly resolving itself into cheering. Steve’s head shot up a little more eagerly than he’d intended, and he might have been embarrassed if he hadn’t been distracted by the sight of Tony Stark stepping out of the tunnel. Tony was wearing a dark red robe, loosely cinched by a gold belt. He wasn’t posturing the way some of the boxers did, though he did wave to the crowds, enticing another bout of screaming. Steve recognized Rhodey and Mr. Jarvis walking in behind him. They’d both made regular appearances in Marvels over the years, and while they didn’t look exactly like their illustrated characters, Marvels occasionally published photographs when the opportunity arose.

They made their way over to the corner closest to Steve, where several chairs were set up for them. They would be starting soon—the referee was already in the ring waiting. Tony’s opponent exited the tunnel on the other side of the arena, amidst a mixture of cheers and jeers from the crowd. Stark was clearly the fan-favorite here, if not because of Marvels, then certainly out of patriotism. Most people wanted to root for the American, in the end.

Tony dropped the robe and hefted himself up into the ring. Both the announcer and his opponent gave him an odd look but quickly looked away again. Tony didn’t pay them any attention, turning and draping himself over the ropes to say something to Rhodey.

Steve’s eyes widened marginally, gaze going straight to Tony’s chest. There was a shining circular disk embedded in his chest, right over his heart. Steve had never seen anything like it.

Steve leaned forward in his seat to get a better look, and the reporter leaned back at the same time. He glanced at her a little curiously. She wasn’t even looking at Stark, still scratching away at her pad. Steve wondered for a moment if maybe she’d missed it, but no, she cast a quick glance at the ring and then back down again.

That was odd, to say the least. That metal plate in his chest seemed exactly like something a reporter would be interested in, but she had already moved on to observing Tony’s opponent. Steve cast a furtive glance down at her notebook.

November 14th, 1941, it read, with our last expedition leading to a dead-end—quite literally, for what resistance we encountered along the way, and nearly so for us—we returned to New York with the promise of new information on the location of the gauntlet. In exchange: a favor…

Steve looked up in shock. He recognized the writing style, the content. This woman was writing a Marvels story, he was sure of it. He glanced around, but...there didn’t seem to be anyone else with her, so that must mean…Steve looked at the page again, careful not to let her notice. It did look like Frank Finlay’s handwriting, from those rare snippings that made it into the magazine for authenticity. He tried not to let his surprise show on his face.

He supposed it made sense. Steve knew plenty of people who were quick to exclaim that journalism—and for that matter, adventuring—was not a good fit for a woman. Steve didn’t agree, and Finlay was clear proof of it, but he figured writing under a pen name would certainly make publishing a lot smoother.

She glanced up at him then, perhaps feeling his gaze on her or perhaps just by chance, and Steve quickly looked away. He suddenly had so many questions for her, but...he probably shouldn’t have looked at her notes in the first place. It felt like prying. After all, he hated it when people leaned over his shoulder to watch him sketch, and he imagined writing would be similar. He tried to look casual and not give himself away.

He turned back to the ring. It looked like they were about to start. In his corner, Tony bounced on his toes energetically, gaze shifting around the ring from the ref to his opponent and back. He flicked a little glance over toward the reporter, but his gaze caught Steve’s instead. He smirked, and Steve blushed, a little embarrassed to be caught staring.

Stark was much more handsome than he’d ever looked on any magazine, even in the photographs, and he was surprisingly light on his feet. Tony looked like he was itching to go, not in the least concerned that his opponent had a fair few pounds on him. Maybe it was just bravado, but if the stories in Marvels meant anything, it was that Stark shouldn’t be underestimated. Stark’s opponent didn’t seem at all concerned in his corner as he watched Tony impassively. The ref stepped up, ready to begin, and Tony's opponent took a fighting stance while Tony seemed content to watch him, arms loose at his sides.

The bell rang, and Stark’s opponent sprang forward immediately. Tony let him come, stepping back into a fighting stance at the last moment.

Steve grinned, and the fighter faltered as he moved to throw his first punch. He’d leapt forward too quickly, hoping to get the drop on an inexperienced opponent, but in doing so he’d moved to attack what he thought was his weaker side.

But the stance Tony took wasn’t an orthodox one. Tony was a southpaw.

By the put-out surprise on his face, his opponent hadn’t known that. It was poor planning on his part. Your opponent’s fighting style was definitely something you learned while training, so Steve guessed he hadn’t prepared for the charity match as well as he should have. (Steve was fairly sure there was an issue of Marvels that mentioned that Tony was left-handed. He had a copy, somewhere. He assumed this guy wasn’t a fan).

Stark wasn’t going to let him get away with underestimating him. Before he could recover from his mistake, Tony stepped into his space. Leading with two quick jabs from his right, he forced him back, and his opponent brought his glove up just in time for a left cross to glance off to the side. His opponent backed off quickly, and Stark flashed a sharp grin and laughed—actually laughed, and okay, that was asking for it.

His opponent bristled, and Tony just shrugged.

Tony looked...well, he looked like he was just messing around. Steve glanced back over to Tony’s corner, where the rest of his team was. Mr. Jarvis didn’t look at all surprised, though Rhodey was scrubbing at his forehead, looking every bit the long-suffering cornerman. Finlay was still scribbling dutifully in her pad.

His opponent came back at Tony fiercely, trying with several quick jabs before shifting to come at him from the side. Tony bobbed and weaved beautifully, but everything he threw at the man was blocked. After his mistake, his opponent was keen on using his size, as well as his extra reach, to his advantage. Tony was doing a good job of rolling with the punches, lashing out whenever he was given an opening and managing to drive him back a good few feet.

They circled each other for a moment, and then he came at Tony again, aiming a strong jab right at Tony’s face. He didn’t quite manage to bring his glove up in time, and a shocked gasp traveled through the crowd as it connected solidly with his nose.

Steve sucked in a little breath and winced sympathetically. For a moment Tony looked like he was about to hit the mat, but he somehow kept his feet under him. He stumbled back a bit, came so close to dropping that the ref was already moving in to give him the Eight Count, and then managed to get his legs under him again. The ref backed off, and Tony brought his gloves up. He smiled. His teeth were stained pink around the mouth guard.

His opponent didn’t back off, jumping into the fight the moment the referee was out of the way. He had a solid right hook, but it was somewhat less effective with Tony blocking with his dominant side. Tony was getting a little lazy with his right hand, and he rolled a few punches off the shoulder. His guard slipped, and he took two solid jabs to the ribcage. His opponent stepped into the punch, and when Tony moved to step out of range his back hit the ropes.

The bell rang, signaling the end of the round. Steve let out a relieved breath. That hadn’t looked good for Tony.

Tony staggered back to his corner. Mr. Jarvis was apparently cutman today, because immediately after the round ended he had Tony planted on a stool so he could fix him up. Finlay hopped up from her seat and hurried over to the ring, and Steve followed her.

Rhodey and Tony were already bickering while they approached. Tony was breathing hard, and the way his chest rose and fell was mesmerizing. Steve shook his head and forced himself to look anywhere else. He wasn’t exactly being subtle.

"You need to quit screwing around, Boss. This guy's a professional boxer. He'll do worse than break your nose if you don't shape up," Rhodey said.

"My nose isn't broken," Tony said indignantly, though he prodded it lightly as though to double-check. Jarvis swatted his hand away.

"Your ego's gonna be in a couple of minutes," Rhodey predicted, "and then where will we be? You know Nick's not gonna tell you shit if you lose."

"Just having a little fun, Rhodey. That's all," he said. He glanced to the side and smiled at Steve (okay, probably at Finlay), though the gesture seemed to signal he was done arguing about it. There was a rag and pail next to the ring—clean this time, thankfully—and Steve picked it up before ducking under the ropes.

Miraculously, hardly any blood had actually made it to the mat. Steve set about cleaning it away quickly. Most of it was in the middle of the ring, where Tony took the hit, but there was a bit over by Tony’s stool, too.

Steve stole a glance at Tony as he worked. The cut didn’t seem so bad once Jarvis had cleared the blood away. He stuck a little butterfly bandage over Tony’s nose, then gave him a solid slap on the back. Tony huffed.

“How’s the pain, boss? Scale of one to ten,” Finlay asked. Steve gave her a confused look, because she sounded almost...pleased. Which was ridiculous—she was probably just concerned.

Tony scoffed, and Steve couldn’t help but stare. “Pepper, ask me after, or use your imagination.”

“I want it to be authentic,” she replied smartly, and then when he only scowled at her, she said, “At least a nine, then.”

“Quit moving,” Jarvis said, placing an ice pack over the spot, “and breathe through your mouth.”

Tony rolled his eyes and sent a sly look Steve’s way, as though he’d been a part of the conversation the whole time. Steve felt his face heat, worried he’d been caught looking. Tony started to smirk, and then winced as the movement pulled on his split nose.

Steve jerked back to cleaning the ring, and he was probably flushing an embarrassing shade of red—it was hot in here, no one would notice, he’d deny it if they did.

Tony's opponent was on his feet immediately once Steve stepped down from the ring. Tony batted Jarvis's hands away and stood quickly, so as not to give the ref any ideas that he wasn't fit to continue, and settled into a fighting stance.

Tony’s demeanor had changed, Steve noted. He wasn't bouncing around quite so much, gaze focused forward. Steve didn't know what that meant, whether Tony was on the ropes or not.

He hoped it didn't. Steve had been pretty confident that Tony was going to win the match, and he hadn't even known if he was any good. He'd looked like he knew what he was doing during the first round, at least. Steve wondered if he'd had any training in boxing. It seemed like the kind of thing that would come in handy during his travels, but then, Steve knew first-hand that something as structured as boxing wasn't necessarily the best way to scrap in the real world. Tony probably knew that, too.

When it came down to it, he wasn't a professional boxer regardless of what kind of training he might have. Tony could actually lose. But then, Tony had seemed pretty confident. Finlay… no, Pepper had a little knowing smile on her lips.

The bell rang, and Steve turned his attention back to the ring.

Tony closed on him quickly, no hesitation in his movements. He lead with his left hand, following two jabs with a right cross. If his opponent was caught off guard he didn’t show it, blocking then pulling back and moving in again deftly. Tony kept advancing, refusing to give up the advantage, pummeling the man with quick punches meant to wear him down.

His opponent was trying to find an opening, but Tony wasn’t letting him have it. They were only into the second round of the match, but Tony was completely in command as he weaved in and out of his opponent’s reach, forcing him to keep up with him as they danced around the ring.

The give-and-take dragged on, each of them delivering a few blows and taking some themselves, but Tony was on the offensive now, steadily backing his opponent into the corner of the ring.

Tony feinted left, then crossed right with a staggering blow to the abdomen. His opponent sagged under the blow, as the breath left him, and Tony saw his opportunity. He reeled back for a wild punch, put all his weight into one final haymaker straight to his jaw.

Steve imagined he could hear the impact of his fist even above the screaming cheers. Tony’s opponent went down in a heap. Tony swayed as he watched him fall, hair mussed, sweat-streaked and glistening, but he didn’t get back up.

Steve leaned up in his seat to look. He was out cold.

A deafening roar swept the crowd as the ref raised Tony’s glove in victory. Tony turned his gaze up and sent a smug look up toward the boxes. Steve wondered who he knew up there, but the look didn’t last long before he turned his attention back to the crowds.

Steve waited for Tony to look his way, but he didn’t.

It was stupid to be disappointed. Tony didn’t even know him, and Steve was just...projecting, probably all through the match. He sighed and watched as Tony made his rounds through the congratulations, showboating just a bit, before Rhodey and Jarvis dragged him away to the locker rooms.

Pepper reached underneath her seat to pick up her purse. “A second-round KO,” she said, nodding approvingly. “That’ll be good for magazine sales.” She gave Steve a nod and stood up from her chair, brushed the imaginary dust off her dress (still pristine white) and followed Tony out into the tunnels.

Steve hopped up to climb into the ring, waiting only long enough for everyone to clear out of his way. By the time he’d finished and dropped the dirty pail and rag beside the exit to the back rooms, the arena was much quieter, with only a few straggling fans and the janitorial staff left dotting the stands.

Steve headed back to his seat to grab his jacket, when he saw the notebook still sitting beneath the chair two away from his own. He stooped to grab it, flipped it open to the first page, and sure enough it was full of scribbles in the same swooping handwriting he’d seen before, some pertaining to Marvels and some just random observations.

Steve fiddled with the notebook for a few moments, waiting to see if she would come back looking for it, but he was pretty sure that she wasn’t going to—she probably wouldn’t have even forgotten it if she valued it too greatly.

He could chase her down, try to catch her before she left the building, but if he’d been planning on doing that, he wouldn’t have wasted so much time waiting. Steve headed toward the locker rooms. He knew the way by heart, having had the pleasure of cleaning those, as well. Tony’s locker room was closed, but he could see light spilling through the crack underneath the door.

Steve knocked once.

“Door’s open,” Tony shouted immediately, voice muffled by the door. Steve hesitated only a moment before he let himself inside.

Tony was at the closet in the back corner of the room, still wearing the robe he’d left the ring in, and although Steve couldn’t see his face, he was probably bruising spectacularly, judging by the size of the ice pack he had in his hand.

“I knew you couldn’t stay mad at me forever—” He turned, and dropped off immediately. Tony had been expecting someone else, Steve realized, and suddenly he felt like this was an enormous intrusion.

“Oh,” Tony said dumbly. “I’m sorry, I thought you were...” Steve was seriously considering dropping the notebook and running, and maybe Tony realized that, because he shrugged casually.

“Well, come in. And close the door, I don’t need any photographers snapping a photograph of—” he motioned to the whole of his face, which was indeed bruising spectacularly, and then backtracked, squinting suspiciously, “You’re not a photographer, are you?”

Tony gave him a long, sweeping look, like he was searching for a hidden camera, and it was wishful thinking to believe anything more, but Steve couldn’t shake the feeling, anyway. He stepped fully inside, pulling the door shut behind him, and held up the notebook.

“I was sitting next to, uh—”

“Pepper,” Tony said, sounding amused. “I know, I saw you.”

“Right. She left this at her chair,” Steve pressed on. He held out the notebook for Tony to take, but he just kept looking amused. “I thought maybe you could get it back to her.”

“Maybe,” Tony agreed, but he still didn’t move from his seat in the corner. He was packing ice into a towel, and didn’t pause in what he was doing either. “Depends on what she’s written about me. You can just set it on the desk.”

Steve dropped it where he was told, and then hesitated, not sure if Tony would want him to leave (he certainly didn’t want to) or if he wouldn’t mind if he stayed. He could see the metal plate on his chest quite clearly through the robe, and he couldn’t help but wonder what it was for.

“A repulsor pump,” Tony said. Steve frowned at the non-sequitur.


Tony tapped on the plate with a fingertip. “It’s a repulsor pump,” he said, “and you’re staring.”

“Oh,” Steve said. Tony probably thought he was something else, with how many times he’d been caught staring in the past hour alone. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“It’s fine,” Tony said. “I’m not ashamed of it.”

“I don’t think you should be,” Steve said. “But...” He hesitated, and Tony urged him on with a look, “do you really think it’s safe to just leave it uncovered? To let people see it and everything?”

Tony hummed. “The way I see it, if anyone is close enough to get at the repulsor pump, they’re close enough to know it’s there. And more importantly, I don’t want anyone to think I have something to hide—that would make it a target.”

“Oh,” Steve said. “I guess that makes sense.”

Tony nodded. “So,” he said, with something just short of a leer slipping into his expression, “you know me. Do I get the pleasure of your name?”

“Steve Rogers,” Steve said. Tony smiled.

“Steve,” he said, musing. “Okay, who are you, Steve?”

“I just work here,” Steve said. Tony snorted, and Steve didn’t even have time to grow defensive before Tony continued.

“I find it hard to believe that you’re just the kid who mops up after the boxers and their rowdy fans,” Tony said. Steve hesitated, not really expecting a question quite so… soul searching. Tony was an eccentric fellow, he’d give him that, but weren’t the rich usually?

“I... paint,” Steve offered, “and draw, some. I go to art school.” Tony made an interested noise.

“You any good?” Tony asked, pressing the ice pack against his shoulder. Steve shrugged. “Modest, okay. Well, I’ll tell you what: if you ever get tired of wiping blood off the floors come down to Marvels. I can get you an interview, at least and if you are any good, I’d wager we pay better than these schmucks do.”

Steve knew for a fact that he wasn’t going to do that—he didn’t need the charity, and if he was going to get a job he wanted it to be because he’d earned it, not because the boss had strong-armed them into hiring him. He also didn’t think that Tony would agree with his reasoning, so he just nodded.

“I’ll think about it,” he said. “Maybe after I finish school.” Tony looked satisfied with that answer, at least, and Steve thought he was going to leave him alone on the matter.

“Not one for charity, huh?” Tony prompted after a beat, obviously teasing. “Not that that’s what I was offering. If you aren’t any good you certainly wouldn’t get the job.”

“I’m fine with charity,” Steve said. “Just for a cause that actually needs it. Like the match tonight.”

“The match was for charity, sure,” Tony said. “The Red Cross will be pleased. But it was a propaganda stunt more than anything. You have to know by now that it’s only a matter of time before we join the war in Europe.”

“Propaganda?” Steve frowned sadly. “You mean he took a dive?” Disappointment dropped heavily in his chest, and he quickly pushed it down. It hadn’t even occurred to him that the match might be rigged in Tony’s favor, but it made sense. A rich novice beating the best boxer in Germany was a little far-fetched, even if you considered his exploits in Marvels.

“Of course not,” Tony corrected quickly. “I just knew I would win. I don’t really care about propaganda stunts and the like—not really my shtick—but I do believe in a favor for a favor.”

“Oh,” Steve said, trying to ignore the relief that admission brought. “Like what?”

“I know someone who specializes in public opinion, and they know where I can find something I’ve been after for a very long time.”

Steve’s interest piqued. It was definitely something for Marvels—something old and valuable and probably rumored to have mystical powers. “What is it?”

“A gauntlet,” Tony replied. He shrugged off his robe, dropping the ice onto the desk beside him, and hung the robe over the back of the desk chair. “You’ll forgive me if I can’t tell you more.”

Steve shrugged. “I’ll read about it when the issue comes out, probably.”

“Probably,” Tony said. “If it carries on for that long.”

“What do you mean?” Steve asked, with a little more alarm than he’d intended to convey, “You’re quitting?”

“Well,” Tony said at length, “if we go to war like I know we’re going to, I’m not sure the magazine will be able to continue past the censors. Or at the very least, there’ll be changes. But no, I’m not quitting the game, even if we do go to war.”

“You’re not going to help?”

“I already help. I’m not going to be put under anyone’s thumb,” Tony said. He must have seen Steve’s disapproving look, because he added, “Well, what would you do?”

“I’d join up, of course,” Steve said.

“Little on the small side to be a soldier,” Tony said.

Steve bristled. “Size isn’t everything,” he said. Tony chuckled, and Steve got the distinct impression that he’d missed the joke.

“I’ll give you that,” Tony said, a little knowing smile on his face. Steve wasn’t sure if he should be offended or not.

“Maybe I should go,” Steve said, ignoring the way Tony’s gaze snapped back to him at the admission. “It was nice meeting you.”

“No, wait,” Tony said, and Steve, despite himself, hesitated at the door.

“Actually, I need your help, first,” Tony said, and Steve tried to resist the little thrill that thought gave him. It wasn’t like he was going to go help on some Marvels-worthy adventure.

“Help me hook up,” he said. “Jarvis designed the repulsor pump to be easier to charge with two people, and since both he and Rhodey are still angry at me for showboating, I’ve got no one else to help me out.”

“I don’t—think… Can’t you do it yourself?” Steve stumbled. As interesting as it was, Steve wasn’t particularly keen on messing with something he didn’t understand, especially when it was the only thing keeping Tony’s heart beating.

“Well, it’s delicate work and my elbow doesn’t bend that way,” Tony said. He made a show of demonstrating. “I’m a leftie, but you already knew that, if you watched the match.”

“Yeah,” Steve said reluctantly. “Okay.” He took a half-step closer, peering at the little metal plate and the hole it used to be covering. He didn’t recognize any of the parts inside, and his hands stayed firmly at his side.

“Kid, unless you’re telekinetic, you’re not going to do much good all the way over there.”

Steve did step closer then, and the hole in his chest seemed even less natural up close, where he could see the walls were lined with metal (not that he would have preferred the alternative) and laced with wires.

“See the terminals in the back?” he asked, holding up a white and a red clip. “They’re color coded—piece of cake.”

He took the opportunity to step a little further into Tony’s personal space than was strictly necessary, because what better excuse than this? Tony smelled like good cigars and cologne, and beneath that faintly the smell of sweat and blood from the fight, but it was oddly charming, and even more so, oddly appealing.

Steve clipped the first lead on without a problem, even though he could feel Tony staring at him so intently the top of his head started to itch, but the second one was a little more difficult—Steve didn’t know how Mr. Jarvis did it, if his hands were any bigger than Steve’s.

“Okay,” Steve said, when he’d finally clipped the second one in place, “I think I—”

“Steve,” Tony said, and Steve had scant a second to glance up before he was kissing him.

It was rough, the scratch of Tony’s mustache against his skin, and not at all like kissing a dame. His lips were soft though, and warm. Steve’s brain stalled for a moment, hands frozen in place, and it wasn’t until Tony put a patient hand on the back of his neck, gently, almost encouraging, that he finally moved. Steve pushed up on his toes to deepen the kiss, both hands against Tony’s chest to steady himself.

Tony made a pained noise, and Steve jerked back so quickly that he nearly threw himself into the desk. He recovered himself a second later, both hands framing the repulsor pump.

“Oh, god, your heart, did I—”

“No,” Tony laughed, just a shade of self-deprecating, and nudged Steve’s hand out of the way so that he could close the casing as far as it would without removing the cables. “My nose. Just—getting a little over-enthusiastic.”

Steve felt himself flush at the words. “Sorry—I—”

“Tony,” someone said, as the door slammed against the far wall. Steve jumped at the bang, and he didn’t miss Tony shuffling backwards a few inches, not that it would take a genius to figure out what they’d been doing. Oh, god. That was stupid. They were both men. They’d been kissing, not in public but in a public place, at least, and they hadn’t even locked the door. He felt panic rising in his chest.

And for some reason, Tony grinned, completely unabashed.

Steve turned toward the door to look, stepping further away and trying to subtly smooth the wrinkles out of his clothes. It was Pepper, standing just inside the doorway with her hands on her hips, an oversized jacket now draped over her shoulders. He let himself relax, somewhat.

Pepper sighed, and leveled Tony with a glare. “Again. Why am I not surprised?”

Steve felt a little beat of jealousy at that, again, like Tony had done this a thousand times. He probably had. Every reputation had some truth to it, after all, some more than others.

It probably didn’t mean anything.

“Steve was just dropping off your notebook,” Tony said. He grabbed the pad off the desk and tossed it to her from across the room. “Be careful where you leave that thing, Pepper. Don’t want the wrong person getting a hold of it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Pepper said flatly, but she tucked the notebook into her bag. “Thank you, Steve,” she added, a clear dismissal if he’d ever heard one. She was giving him a peculiar look, not at all approving, like she was trying to size him up.

She tugged her jacket up a little further around her shoulders, and it just slid back down. The size was too big on her—it looked more like a man’s blazer than something to wear over a dress. Steve glanced at Tony, humiliation flaring hot in his cheeks. Tony didn’t glance away once from Pepper, leaning against the desk familiarly, then to the coat-rack in the corner—empty—and suddenly it struck Steve, like a physical blow.

They were together.

And he’d just been…

“Excuse me,” Steve said, ducking around Pepper to head for the door. Neither one tried to stop him, though Pepper quickly shut the door behind him on his way out. That was horrible.


Steve clenched his fists, temper flaring. Tony knew that Pepper would be coming back, and soon. She had his jacket for Pete’s sake. And...and, he did it anyway, so that she would walk in on them, with Steve none the wiser. He probably thought Steve was some joke, too, running out like that. It was wrong to play with people like that. Steve felt sick.

Guess it was true what they said about meeting your heroes. Steve didn’t think he would be following Marvels anymore.