Tony completely understood why his dad didn’t want him going to Homecoming.
In any other situation, he’d probably even agree—dumb high school event, not important to his future, waste of time, etc. What his dad didn’t understand was what Rhodey referred to as the Steve Factor, but explaining that the friend Tony’d had a crush on since the beginning of time (third grade, Steve called him ‘really sweet’ so Tony shoved him, a fistfight erupted and they’d been friends ever since) was going to be crowned Homecoming King and Tony wanted to be there for him would really only make things worse. Starks didn’t have ‘crushes’. They decided what they wanted then they went and got it.
So sure, he understood why his dad didn’t want him going. What he didn’t understand was his dad’s condition.
“You mean he wants you to clean your room, right?” Rhodey reasoned over the phone. “Or like…the main rooms of the house?”
“Nope,” Tony popped the p, throwing himself back on his unmade bed. One more thing to add to the list. “The whole. Fucking. House.”
“You have at least ten bedrooms, who in the hell—”
“Don’t you have multiple maids—”
“The team was supposed to come today, get the place spotless again before Mom and Dad get back from Milan. He gave them all the day off.”
“He actually thinks you can clean the whole thing?”
“Of course he doesn’t. He just doesn’t want me to go to Homecoming, so he made up some bullshit about ‘life lessons’ and ‘making sacrifices for what we want’, or whatever,” Tony muttered. Feeling petulant, he rolled over and squished his face into his pillow before saying, “So now I can’t go and I won’t see Steve be crowned and I’ll never get to ask him to dance and he’ll never love me back and I’m gonna die alone in my huge dirty house.”
“I’m assuming that was something pathetic about Steve, but I’m gonna need you to pull it together, get your ass up, and start cleaning.”
“Are you crazy? Homecoming is tonight and their flight comes in at midnight, I can’t—”
“Steve asked me if you were going.”
“He—what?” Tony shot up. “Really? When? Did he ask all casually, like hey, we’re all friends going to a friendly event is my friend Tony gonna be there too not that I care or anything just curious, or more like he actually—wait, are you lying to make me clean?”
“I’m not lying to make you clean. He asked me two weeks ago and seemed really pleased when I said you were going. Kinda like he wanted to meet you there. Maybe ask you to dance.”
“You’re such an ass,” Tony groaned. “You’ve seen my house, Rhodey, there’s no way one person can clean this place in half a day. All you’re doing is making me feel worse.”
“Who said anything about one person?” Rhodey scoffed. “I started a group text while you were talking. Pregame in ten minutes at your place, BYOS.”
Sometimes when Tony was being particularly hard on himself, it felt like this was all just a big joke. That his ‘friends’ were using him for his money or his brain or his access to alcohol, that it was all just a waiting game until they revealed how they really felt about him. Then there were days like today.
“Sponge, Tones. The ‘s’ stands for sponge, this is the part where you laugh,” Rhodey prompted.
“That’s a really dumb joke,” Tony said instead, rubbing his eyes quickly. “But Rhodey, I…thanks.”
“I’m the best friend ever and you love me more than everyone else combined, even Steve, I know,” Rhodey said smugly.
Tony smiled. “Something like that.”
“Well if you love me so much, get off your ass and find us some cleaning supplies,” Rhodey instructed. “We’ve got a long day ahead of us and I’m pretty sure part of it is going to include teaching you the right way to scrub a floor.”
“There’s a wrong way?”
He took the long-suffering sigh as a yes.
Everyone Rhodey invited showed up. Tony was a little worried about becoming known as That Rich Jerk Who Made His Friends Clean His Mansion, but then Nat hooked up her iPod and Thor started passing around beers and things kind of just…loosened. People were still working frantically, sure, but that was almost part of the fun. The crazy time crunch only increased the determined camaraderie, and they’d always made a good team.
By the time Homecoming rolled around they were nearly finished. Tony tried to get them to go ahead without him, but they convinced him to come with. His parents wouldn’t be home until midnight and nobody stayed much later than 11 at these things anyway. Probably. Besides, he only had his own room left, which would take a half hour to clean at most. He’d leave at 10, maybe 10:30.
So, so worth it. It was worth it just to watch Steve get crowned, of course. Worth it to watch how surprised he seemed even though everyone else saw it coming, the way he blushed and thanked everyone so genuinely, the brilliant smile on his face…Tony would move mountains for that smile alone. But even without watching Steve get crowned, Tony was surprised to find he was kind of having the night of his life. He had amazing friends, the music was surprisingly awesome, and had he mentioned how stupidly, ridiculously good Steve looked in a tux? His brain was kind of stuck on that part, not to mention that smile—
A smile that turned his way right as the principal announced it was time for the King and Queen to pick their partners and have their first dance.
And that—that had to be coincidence, right? There was someone behind him Steve was walking towards. Had to be. Someone apparently directly behind him because it really looked an awful lot like Steve was walking right at him, smiling and extending a hand and—
“May I have this dance?”
You can have anything you want, raced through Tony’s head and almost out his mouth.
“I, uh. Me?” Tony gave in to impulse and glanced behind him. Still just the wall.
Steve blinked, taken aback. “Yes?”
“Are you sure?”
“What? Of course I’m sure, who else would I—why do you keep looking at the wall?”
“You want to dance with me?”
The music was starting now and Jan’s hurry it up waving had gone from anxious to frantic.
“Just—” Steve bit down a grin as he shook his head, taking Tony’s hand and leading him out on the floor. “Come on.”
Steve probably just didn’t have anyone else to dance with. He wasn’t dating anyone, the Homecoming Queen was dancing with her girlfriend, and he knew Tony had practice from his mom’s charity galas, that was all. This was a friend dance. Nothing to read into here, Tony reminded himself firmly. Just two friends dancing together. Friends danced together all the time. Never mind that Steve’s hand settled around his waist like it belonged there, gentle and steady and warm. Never mind that Steve squeezed a little when they linked hands, like he didn’t want to let go anytime soon either. Never mind that Steve was so close Tony could smell him, see the speckled blue of his eyes and the faint, usually invisible freckles that dotted the bridge of his nose.
Other people were starting to filter onto the floor around them, and that…should’ve helped. Distracted him at least. Instead it just meant he and Steve had to press a little closer together, lean in to talk and be heard over the noise.
“I’m really glad you came,” Steve told him, voice soft and low by his ear in a way that absolutely did not help Tony’s mental chant of friend dance friend dance friend dance.
“Rhodey told you I would, didn’t he?”
“Uh, well.” Tony had always liked watching Steve blush, but it was even better up close. “Yes, Rhodey mentioned that maybe—but I know this isn’t exactly your scene, and there was some stuff on Instagram about a party, so I—well. I’m glad you came.”
“A party?” It took him a minute to realize what Steve was talking about. “Oh, that was—no, I mean, I guess it kind of became a party? We were mostly cleaning, though. My dad threw down this ultimatum that the whole house had to be clean if I wanted to go to Homecoming, so—”
“What?” Steve looked appropriately startled. “Your house is huge!”
“Right? So Rhodey offered to help, then he corralled a bunch of our other friends into helping too, and it just kind of…became a thing, I guess. We would’ve invited you,” Tony added quickly. “I just, you know. You were getting crowned tonight, it seemed weird to ask you to clean my house beforehand.”
“You didn’t know I was getting crowned—”
“I did, and I was obviously right—”
“—but I would’ve helped, anyway.” Steve squeezed their linked hands. “Crowning or not. You need me, I’m there. You know that, right?”
Tony bit down on his cheek to keep from smiling like a crazy person. It didn’t really help. “Well…y’know, same. Obviously. I mean, this is a school-sanctioned event, Steve. My reputation may never recover.”
“I appreciate you taking the risk.” Steve smiled like Tony had personally elected him with a vote of one, soft and warm in a way that set off a whole new round of butterflies in the pit of Tony’s stomach. “It means a lot to me that you’re here.”
It’d take no effort at all to kiss that smile. He’d barely even have to move, the way they were swaying, just a little extra lean on a turn and…
Tony straightened up, subtly put a little more space between them. A strange expression flickered across Steve’s face.
“So, um.” Steve cleared his throat, suddenly the picture of awkward. “Did you bring anyone? I know I sort of just dragged you out here and—well, I know you brought friends, I saw you come in, I just meant, you know. Did you bring anyone to dance with at the, uh…dance?”
Did Steve just ask if he brought a date? That probably meant something, right? He should text Rhodey and ask—nope, he should not pick up his phone right now, he should open his mouth and— “Nope. No date. Dateless, that’s me, I—not that I don’t date! Because I definitely do, I would date all day long if you wanted to, uh, if I wanted to, if anybody, um. Wanted to. Did I say—I meant—”
A freshman-looking little guy chose that exact moment to approach them and Tony was so grateful he could’ve kissed him.
“Hi, Jan sent me to collect Steve Rogers, we’re doing the royalty photographs. That’s you, right?”
“Nope,” Steve lied with an entirely straight face despite the golden crown still on his head, smoothly spinning them around and away from the freshmen to focus back in on Tony. “What did you say, about dating—”
“What? No, he—” Tony tried to grab the freshman’s arm as they passed, desperate for anything at all to distract from this conversation. “This is definitely Steve Rogers, he’s just messing with you, if you need him you should take him—”
“I’m not going anywhere, you said you would date ‘all day long’ if I—”
“Steve, have some perspective, Jan clearly needs you right now—”
“Jan can wait, what did you mean, if I wanted to—”
“It sounded urgent, I think, isn’t it urgent?” Tony tried to snag the messenger again but the guy had gotten Steve’s entirely unsubtle hint and slipped away into the crowd. Tony called in his general direction, “That was urgent, right? He’s definitely nodding, you should probably—”
“Tony, do you want to date me?”
“I meant ‘you’ like the collective ‘you’!” Tony brushed him off weakly. “Like when you’re referring to ‘you’ but it’s not you you, just a you, the imaginary, hypothetical you that would want to date me—”
“You really actually have to come now.” The freshman was back, edging between them and managing to look both stubborn and awkward at the same time. “Jan says sorry not sorry but you need to be getting photographed right now and if you don’t come she says she’s gonna ‘sick Bucky on Tony’, and I’m not, uh. I don’t know if dogs are allowed at Homecoming or who Tony is, maybe you, but that’s what she said, so let’s go. It’s almost midnight and we were supposed to—”
“It’s almost what?” Tony interrupted. He looked at his phone and oh shit, shit shit shit— “I have to go, I should’ve left an hour ago—”
“What? No, Tony, don’t—”
“—god, they’re going to kill me, I’m going to die tonight—”
“—go, please, I didn’t mean to—wait, Tony!”
Tony was already slipping away into the crowd. This was fine, perfect actually. Space would be good. Steve would forget exactly how everything had been phrased, and then the next time they saw each other Tony could play it off, insist that between the music and the other people Steve had simply heard him wrong. Of course he didn’t want to date him, specifically. Of course he hadn’t been in love with him since the third grade, don’t be silly, Steve.
Tony weaved through the crowd and out the doors of the gym without looking back. He raced home, dodging through traffic and leaning heavily on the gas, but in the end it didn’t matter. A voicemail on the home phone explained their flight had been delayed. He had three extra hours. He shoved what he could into the closet and collapsed on the bed.
It’d been a good night up until he went and stuck his foot in his mouth. Even so, it wasn’t irreparable. They’d take some space and Steve would forget exactly what had been said and Tony could play it off later, no harm no foul. Even if it took more than a little damage control, god, it was worth it. They’d danced. Friend danced, sure, but it was still far more than Tony had ever truly hoped for. Just the memory of it was enough to make him feel warm and tingly now, thinking of the way Steve had walked straight for him, smiling like they were the only ones in the room, taking him by the hand to pull him in close…
Tony allowed himself to cling to it all a moment longer, pretend it had ended a little differently. That he’d leaned in on one of those turns like he’d wanted so badly to, that Steve had let him, had wanted him to, that the dance had ended as magically as it had begun.
A pebble bounced off his window.
At least, that’s what it sounded like. Tony didn’t exactly have a frame of reference. Just when he was about to contribute the sound to too much fruit punch and getting lost in a daydream, he heard it again.
Tony sat up, whirled around to face his window. Another pebble. He saw it this time, quickly followed by two more. He moved to the window and stared down in disbelief. He opened it, then had to duck the next round of pebbles at the last second.
“What are you doing here?” Tony asked, bewildered.
Steve’s suit was rumpled now and his crown nowhere to be seen. He looked more than a little breathless, and…was he carrying a shoe?
“You, uh—” Steve sucked in a breath. “So I had to—oh god, air.”
“Did you…did you just run all the way to my house?”
“Isn’t it like three or four miles?”
“Sounds about right, yeah.” Steve wheezed. “But Bucky drove me to Homecoming and he—they weren’t leaving yet, so—but I had to—oh, gosh.” Steve bent over, sucked in a couple more breaths. Eventually he waved the shoe. “You left this.”
“I…what?” Tony glanced back in his room. Both his shoes were still by the door, right where he’d left them. “That’s not my shoe.”
“Of course it is, that’s—I had to return it, that’s why I’m here—”
“Steve, I’m pretty sure you just stole someone’s shoe.”
“I, uh…maybe. Probably.” Steve tossed the shoe aside. “I’m not done with that conversation.”
“What conversation?” Tony feigned ignorance.
“The one where you implied you would date me,” Steve answered earnestly. “Can you—could you come down here? Or could I come up?”
“That’s a nice thought, but, uh…” Tony faked a yawn. “I mean, it’s pretty late, I was headed to bed, so maybe we can talk tomorrow? Or next week, I think I’m free sometime next week—”
“You’re really difficult sometimes.” Steve huffed, pushed up his sleeves. “You know that?”
“It’s been mentioned once or twice, but I don’t really—wait, what are you doing?”
“If you won’t come down…” Steve shrugged, then casually took a running leap at the side of Tony’s house. He managed to get a handhold and hoist himself up, making his way up the side of the house like a damn rockclimber.
“Don’t, god, be careful, you’re gonna—”
“Fall?” Steve finished as he wiggled his way up to the ledge. Tony backed away as he swung one leg over the edge of Tony’s window and tumbled in. He wound up sprawled on the floor, still out of breath and now grinning like a loon. “Nailed it.”
“I may be difficult, but you’re a crazy person,” Tony accused defensively. “Who climbs through windows at one in the morning? Murderers, that’s who.”
“Also maybe people with crushes?” Steve shrugged helplessly, still on the floor.
Tony sat back on his bed. “People with…what?”
“Crushes,” Steve said, talking faster now and aiming most of it at Tony’s ceiling. “You know, that thing where you really like someone so you do incredibly stupid things in the hopes that they like you too, like asking them to dance in front of everyone and then maybe stealing a shoe when they leave so you have a reason to follow them home and throw rocks like in the movies and climb through their window so they’ll talk to you and maybe kiss you?”
“You’re a crazy person,” Tony said breathlessly. Then, because he couldn’t help himself, “Kiss you?”
“Hopefully.” Steve bit his lip. “Back in the gym it kinda sounded like you might be open to that.”
“I didn’t mean…but you’re…wait, so, ‘people with crushes’, that’s you in this scenario?”
“Ideally it’s both of us?”
“But definitely you.”
Steve blew out a puff of air, drew out the word, “Yep.”
“So you have a crush. On me.”
“Oh, is this your room?” Steve sat up, pretended to look around. “Shoot, I was aiming for Dum-E’s, I must’ve climbed through the wrong window—”
Tony threw a pillow at him. “Not funny.”
“Kinda funny.” Steve fidgeted, his fingers tightening reflexively around the pillow. “So…now that we’ve established who I have a crush on, could we maybe move to the part where you elaborate on what you meant when you said you’d date all day long if I wanted to? Cause I…I would want to. If you wanted to.”
“If you make me repeat myself anymore, Tony, I swear to god—” Steve was starting to curl in on himself now, blushing in embarrassment, and Tony instantly felt horrible.
“No, I’m sorry, I just—I’m trying to figure out if maybe I passed out when I got home and this is some kind of punch-induced dream or something.” Tony shook his head and moved off the bed, tentatively came to sit next to Steve. “Because I want to date you too. And I would climb through your window, if the opportunity presented itself, because I’m also a person that has a crush. On you. To be clear.”
“Glad we’re clear.” Steve smiled brightly. He bit his lip again, and wow, if that was distracting before— “Can I kiss you now?”
“Yes,” Tony blurted. “Let’s be very clear that the answer to that is always—”
Steve was kissing him before he could finish. Out in the hall, the clock chimed midnight.