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The Not-At-All-Wed Game

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I worked half my life at this, thought Tony, and it turns out the perfect weapon was an apple all along.

And with that he sent it flying, thrown overhand and none too gently, at the back of Clint’s head. The fact that it very nearly hit its mark, before the archer whipped around suspiciously and batted it out of the air, spoke volumes about Tony’s capacity to surprise - though certainly more revealing was the fact that a piece of lettuce flew from Clint's 10 and hit him lightly on the temple as he was distracted by the much larger target. Tony beamed at the assailant with delight, and of course it was Cap - already turned innocently back to his sandwich, but still meeting Tony’s gaze through those indecently long eyelashes. Really, who else could’ve anticipated his movements in battle half so well.

And who else would be just as annoyed at Clint’s current line of shit-talking as he was.

“Oh gross, Cap, there was mayo on that. Now you have to play with me” Barton whined. “Some team leader you are. What, you think you’ll lose that badly?”
Steve looked unamused, and took a very deliberately slow bite of his sandwich before answering. “I haven’t got the foggiest idea what you’re even talking about, but if it’s a doubles sport you can bet your rear end Tony and I will kick you to the curb.”

“That might actually be the worse option,” Tony interjected lightly. “He’s talking about the newlywed game again.”


Clint had - for the better part of a week and reasons unknown to absolutely everyone - been insisting they all play the newlywed game together. Tacks he’d tried had included “building camaraderie”, “getting to know my teammates a little better”, and “please, Jesus, I’m so bored and we’ve banned just about every other competitive game from this place already”. The last excuse seemed the most likely, though all three were equally untempting. Worse, as soon as the suggestion had been voiced it seemed like the teams were just assumed. Clint and Natasha, Bruce and Thor, Steve and Tony. And just as quickly as that had become evident, both Steve and Tony had declined to play altogether. Tony had no idea why Steve had objected so quickly to a game he apparently knew nothing about, but he had to admit it hurt a bit. For his part, he didn’t know that he could stand playing a game made for couples with a guy he barely deserved to be friends with. Beyond that… his private thoughts were his private thoughts, and while he’d given up on trying to quash this ridiculously persistent crush long ago, he certainly didn’t like the idea of having to sit through a lighthearted mockery of everything he so selfishly wished he could have.


Plus, at this point in the financial year he was up to his ears in deadlines and paperwork. That was a viable excuse, right?


Apparently not, because Steve was visibly softening his stance on the whole thing as Clint laid out the rules for him, and without backup Tony didn’t stand a chance of bowing out of this one.


“Essentially it’s a game of who knows who best. Obviously Natasha and I are trained spies and have a ridiculously unfair advantage, but you two can fight Bruce and Thor for second place. We ask questions to each member of the team about the other one, and whichever team gets the most answers right wins a fabulous prize.”


“A fabulous prize, you say? You have my attention” said Thor eagerly.


Always easily bought, that one. Bruce, not so much.


“Yeah, what is this fabulous prize, Barton? I’ll play, I’ve got samples that need to sit for at least another few hours, but you’ve got to sweeten the pot a little.”


Clint seemed genuinely stumped for a moment before Natasha stepped in. “The team that wins gets to go out to eat tonight while everyone else cleans the kitchen like Steve’s been telling us to for a month.”


This had been a recurring issue. Superheroes pulled long hours and lead frankly ridiculous lives, which unsurprisingly was not conducive to cleanliness. And while Tony had initially assumed he’d just pay for a larger cleaning team to accommodate this, Steve had gotten it into his head that taking care of the household chores would keep them grounded - he’d even argued with Tony about it for so long that Tony had frankly forgotten what the fight was about until a few days later when he’d found himself changing the trash lining with his own two hands. Still, good intentions didn’t give you more hours in the day, and the dishes in particular had a tendency to pile up to a terrifying extent.


The looming threat of kitchen duty was a serious one, and that brought out the competitiveness in everyone.


“So it’s settled,” announced Thor, “we will play the game of the newly wed.”


Tony, last he’d checked, hadn’t changed his stance from a hard no. But at this point it seemed it didn’t matter. The team was cleaning off the coffee table in the living room and grabbing markers and paper with an efficiency they only ever had in high stakes situations, like the battlefield.


“JARVIS?” called Natasha


“Yes, Ms. Romanov?”


“Would you do a search of newlywed game questions and compile a list of the most relevant?”


“With pleasure.” Came the AI’s response, and almost immediately after: “It is done. Let me know when you’d like me to read the first one.”


The team settled themselves with suspicion, each pair as far from their rivals as possible. Clint and Natasha plopped down on the ground at the head of the coffee table, game faces at the ready. Bruce and Thor settled into a pair of loveseats, looking no less ready to rumble. Steve plopped right down on the couch, and Tony - seeing no way out that didn’t leave him looking like an aloof asshole - followed, phone in hand and fully ready to distract himself through the whole ordeal.


After a moment of competitive posturing - mostly between the first two teams, while Steve glance over at Tony and Tony maintained careful eye contact with his screen, Clint said “Let’s start off with… Tony, Natasha, and Thor guessing. Alright JARVIS, shoot.”


“Absolutely sir. The first question is: If the guesser were to describe the answerer in one word, what would it be.”


The room fell silent aside from the sound of markers scratching across paper. Everyone took their time, Bruce and Steve looking particularly stumped, while Tony wrote something down with no hesitation and quickly returned to his phone.


“Ok,” said Clint, “have we got our answers?”


They all nodded.


“Then let’s start with Bruce. If Thor described you in one word what would it be.”


Bruce turned his pad of paper around to show his answer. “I said Green. Wasn’t sure if we meant me or the other guy, but I figured he makes a bigger impression.”


Thor turned his pad around in response, where a completely different word was written: “Intelligent.”


Bruce’s eyes went wide, and he ducked his head, but had no chance to respond as Clint hollered “That’s zero points for you suckers! Keep note of that JARVIS. Now for us, I know mine is right, I wrote Annoying.”


Natasha smugly flipped her own paper around, and of course Clint was dead on.


“So that’s a point for us, one step closer to dinner at Shake Shack and a night on the town. How do those dishes smell you guys?”


“Don’t get so cocky,” Bruce warned, “Steve and Tony might beat you.”


“Oh sure,” said Clint, clearly not worried, “ok Steve, what did you say.”


Steve turned his card over where he’d written “Antique”. He looked confident.


Tony flipped his card over as well, doing his best to project his annoyance at this whole game, and showed everyone he’d written “Good”.


He covered his embarrassment with chatter, like he always did. “I hope you all know I’m going to make Dummy do whatever work you try to make me do, and he’ll probably just make the mess worse” He said, not taking his eyes off the Wall Street Journal app despite the fact that Steve was clearly looking at him with surprise in those puppy dog eyes, and if he was honest he wasn’t retaining anything from the article he’d been trying to read all morning anyway.


“Well that’s what I call coming out of Round 1 with a lead” Clint said, breezing right through the awkwardness it appeared Steve was feeling and high-fiving Natasha smugly.


“You know it," she smirked, "Ok JARVIS, round two.” 


“Question 2: Who is grumpier in the morning.”


“Oh this is an easy one,” complained Natasha, “Fine. Steve, Clint, and Bruce guess this time.”


The second round went much more smoothly. Bruce and Thor agreed easily on Bruce being the grumpy one, while Natasha and Clint lost their lead when they both insisted the other was much worse. When Tony’s turn came he gave Steve a cocky smile before flipping the card with his own name on it, and Steve returned it quickly - if sheepishly - while he flipped his pad to show he agreed.


“Dammit,” said Clint, “Round 3 JARVIS.”


“Question 3: What is the answerer’s favorite comfort food?”


“Ah, good, a challenge!” said Thor.


Having gotten the hang of it at this point, Tony, Natasha, and Thor began their guesses. The room was silent for the longest moment yet before everyone had their answers.
“Alright Bruce, what is it?” asked Natasha after what was likely at least 3 minutes.


Bruce revealed his answer: “Sun Chips”, and Thor dejectedly flipped his own paper, which read: “Pop Tarts”.


“That’s not my favorite, that’s yours!” cried Bruce with annoyance.


“It should be everyone’s,” replied Thor, not put off in the slightest, “they are a delightful treat.”


Clint rolled his eyes at that as he showed his own answer: “Burger from Wendy’s and fries from McDonald’s”. Natasha almost simultaneously revealed her guess, which was of course correct.


“He’s weirdly specific about it,” she said, “he says he can tell the difference.”


“I like a soggy fry, it’s not a crime.”


“It is a bit,” said Tony sardonically, still looking down at his screen. 

“Mine is tough,” Steve said, “sorry, I think we’re about to lose another point Shellhead.”


He showed everyone his pad of paper, which read “Ham sandwich on wheat bread with honey mustard.”


Tony didn’t hesitate at all and flipped his own answer, which said the exact same thing, word for word.


Their opponents all booed with annoyance, and once again Steve looked at Tony with poorly hidden shock, while Tony studiously read an email that couldn’t be less urgent. The tips of his ears burned, and he hoped they weren’t betraying him with a blush. 


“Well then. Question 4, JARVIS. Make it something we can win” said Bruce.


“Question 4: Who hogs the covers in bed.”


“JARVIS,” Tony cut in with annoyance, “I believe we asked for questions that were relevant to all of us”


“Yes sir, and I have endeavored to deliver exactly that.”


Tony could swear the AI was being a smartass. He knew Steve and he had - very occasionally - shared a bed, because they both had nightmares and a knack for knowing when the other needed comfort. But it wasn’t more than that, and he hoped this wasn’t making Steve feel uncomfortable by adding a romantic overtone to his attempts to be a good friend. As for the rest of them…. Who really knew what they were up to, but they were all pointedly ignoring each other and writing down answers without much hesitation.


When everyone stopped writing, Thor showed his answer: “Bruce”, and was visibly offended when they were all shocked that he was right. “I would never treat a bed companion in such a manner!”

Bruce shoved his shoulder with annoyance, but didn’t argue.


Clint showed his answer: “Natasha”. Natasha agreed.


“He tries his hardest too,” she stipulated, “but he never gets away with it.”


Tony was running out of things to pretend to be doing on his phone, and was now anxiously wondering how Steve would handle the question. Would he pretend he had no idea? Would he act as if the thought alone embarrassed him? He watched from the corner of his eye as Cap turned his pad around matter-of-factly to show the word “Tony”. 


“What?!” he interjected, his worries lost to annoyance, “you bastard, I do no such thing!”


“Yes you do,” Steve replied with a polite attempt to hide his smug smile, “I have super strength, I know how to get them back before you notice. But you always do.”


Tony turned his paper around with annoyance, where he’d written “Neither”.


“This is slander Cap. I’m a very giving bed companion, ask anyone.”


That wasn’t what he meant, but he didn’t miss the look his teammates gave each other, as Steve just scoffed.


“Well…” said Clint, “If we want to make it to Shake Shack before their ridiculously early night rush we better wrap up, why don’t we have one final question. Natasha and I are leading, so you guys better get those cleaning supplies ready.”


“Question 5: Name one thing that is in the answerer’s pocket.”


“Going Lord of the Rings with it, huh?” muttered Bruce, looking pressed.


“Let’s say answering “Phone” or “Avengers ID” is out, that’s too easy” added Clint, and they all agreed, none of them the type to pass up a challenge.


The room was silent for a moment, interrupted only with occasional noises as they wrote an answer or scribbled one out. Tony didn’t move at all, and Steve gave him a confused frown. Five minutes later they all gave in, knowing they’d get no further.


Thor went first. He showed his answer: “Nothing.”


“Oh c’mon buddy, at least try” complained Bruce, as he flipped his card which read “Stress Ball/wallet/pencils”


“I am not to be blamed, my friend! I have no pockets at all!” Thor replied dejectedly, already looking at the dauntingly messy kitchen. Tony looked at his friend's armor with interest, resolving himself to get to the bottom of where he kept his things at some point.


Natasha revealed her guess next: “chewed gum wrapped in a receipt.” She was, of course, right.


“Looks like we’re eating like kings tonight!” said Clint with a grin.


They all turned to Tony.


“How about a secondary bet,” he said, “I can tell you every single thing in Cap’s pockets. If I’m right we get double the points. If I’m wrong, we do the kitchen, just us two.”


The rest of the team raised their eyebrows in disbelief, Clint with a wicked grin on his face.


“I’ll take that bet, that fine with everyone else?”


They all agreed, Thor and Bruce with nothing to lose, Clint and Natasha with competitive confidence.


Tony turned to look straight at Steve for the first time the whole game. He was returning his gaze carefully, his expression both trusting and confused.


“Alright Cap. Front left pocket, your phone and headphones.”


Steve reached into his pocket and turned it inside out, putting his phone and headphones on the coffee table in front of him.


“Back left pocket, a handkerchief.”


Steve twisted back to pull out a clean white handkerchief, folded into fourths, and placed it on the coffee table.

 

“Back right pocket, a few spare dollar bills, a small notebook, a drafting pencil.”


He reached back, pulled out loose change and art supplies, and set it in front of them. Clint was starting to look nervous. 


“Front right pocket, your keys. A Starbucks gift card. Your Avengers ID. Your credit card. And, wait what time is it?”


“Almost 3 o’clock” supplied Steve, oddly quiet and face now unreadable. 


“Scratch that,” said Tony, “no Starbucks card, but there’s a receipt in there. I don’t think I have to get the place right but either way, it’s for 2 Bros Pizza. He got two slices and a fountain drink.” 


Steve sat still for a moment, before turning out his front right pocket and dropping exactly that on the coffee table. 


Everyone else stared.


“Stark, if you’re using JARVIS to cheat I think you’re cleaning the kitchen by your lonesome” Clint said finally.


“No JARVIS, I promise. Steve’s just a guy for routine, and I… know him.” Tony replied, his stomach filling with dread as he realized he may have revealed something he hadn’t intended to in this stupid attempt to avoid manual labor. 


Steve said nothing.


“Well, I’d say they won.” Natasha said after a moment of silence. “You two better enjoy your meal, the rest of us will be cleaning all night.”


The rest of the group took that as their cue to file out, each giving them looks on varying levels of the scale between “confused and apprehensive” and “knowing and pitying”.
Steve still said nothing, and they were left in silence.


Tony returned to his phone, not wanting to see whatever thoughts he was having play plainly across his friend’s face.


A few minutes later, Steve spoke up. “Shake Shack sound good enough?”


Tony looked up, Steve didn’t look mad, or disgusted, or uncomfortable. He looked determined, which was somehow worse. Suddenly Tony was certain the meal was going to be a whole lot of “I appreciate it, but I don’t see you like that” and “it’s not you it’s me”, and knowing how much Cap would hate to do that to him was the only thing that would make the whole ordeal even more terrible.


But when Steve’s face looked like that, and hamburgers were involved, he couldn’t very well just say no.


“Yeah sure,” he replied, trying his best to project indifference.


They were quiet as they grabbed their coats, and walked out the door together. The silence continued as they trekked around the block through the cold. Steve wasn’t keeping his distance, still bumping up against his elbow every few steps like he always had. But his silence was horrible.


The line was long, the wait for food was unbearable, and even after they sat and began to dig in it took half of Tony’s burger before Steve said a word.


“How did you know?”


Tony took his time swallowing, trying to come up with the most excusable reason he could.


“I told you, you’re a creature of habit. To like, a ridiculous extent. You always keep everything in the same place. And possessions are what I know, I’m a billionaire, I’m all about ownership.”


“No you’re not.” said Steve with certainty, “But I meant specifically… the receipt, and the Starbucks card. You knew because it was 3 o’clock I wouldn’t have them anymore. How?”


Because I pay attention to you? Because everything you do is important to me? Because I could never hope to live my life half as well as you, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t always impress me anyway?


None of those were viable answers, but he didn’t really have one that was any better.


“I.. look, it’s nothing. I just pay attention. I was with you yesterday when that girl gave you the gift card. And I know you don’t like sugary coffee… And I was with you the rest of the day, which means I definitely know you didn’t use it, and that I also know you had a stressful day. Really, really, this is all nothing. But... I obviously didn’t see you this morning but I knew you’d go on your run, and you’d put everything in your pockets then you went, because you always do, and it’s ridiculous by the way. Who runs with their pockets full. I also knew because you were stressed, you’d go on your long run, which will take you into Brooklyn. Which means you’d pass that area that has a big homeless population, and you’d give one of them your Starbucks card. And because you were in Brooklyn - which is your favorite place - you’d stop for your favorite pizza, and you’d keep the receipt because you’re an old man. So, you know.. not a big deal. Not really a magic trick if you know how it’s done. I just have eyes.”


He stared pointedly at the remains of his burger for what felt like forever.


“Tony” Steve’s voice finally broke through the embarrassment. “Tony. I disagree.”


Tony looked up with confusion.


“It’s magic. Well it feels like magic. I can’t believe- well I didn’t know you were paying attention at all.”


“I’m always paying attention Cap. I can’t help it. Especially with you.”


Dammit. Might as well give him the full truth huh?


And for the first time in probably half an hour, Tony met Steve’s eyes once more. Really met them. He’d thought he’d seen every look of passion this guy was capable of, and he was capable of a lot. He had a look for leadership, a look for battle, a look for caring for the downtrodden. But this one was new, at least on Steve. The feeling behind it wasn’t, though. Not to Tony. It looked like the same one he’d kept in his heart since the first time he realized Cap was always around, always there for him with a smile, and what’s more he didn’t seem like he was going to leave.


It was a really private kind of love, and it played across Steve’s face as plainly as he’d felt it himself for a year.


“Oh.” He said.


Steve smiled sheepishly.


“Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel. Please, can you just - tell me if I’m wrong about this and I won’t bring it up again. But if I- uh. Would you want to go on a date with me, Tony?”


A date? A date with Steve? Captain America wanted to go on a date.. with him?


“Isn’t that what we’re in the middle of right now?” Tony said jokingly, though he could hardly hear himself over the anxious rush of blood in his ears.


“If you want it to be…” Steve replied seriously, not to be deterred, “But you know what I mean. A real one. I want to take you out to a nice restaurant where we get a corner booth, and we dress our best, and I want to get you flowers Tony. Are you ok with flowers?”


Tony wasn’t sure if Steve was even aware of this, but his hand had gone across the table to grab his own in a gentle but enfolding grip. Man, that guy had big hands.


“I could be persuaded to like flowers. This sounds like a very specific date you’ve got in mind. Can’t believe you have a standard plan, I thought you were a gentleman” Tony said teasingly.


“I don’t” replied Steve earnestly, “I’ve just - I thought about it a lot, actually. But I never thought I’d really ask you. I thought you’d hate the idea. I mean, do you? I can’t really tell.”


And that was when Tony well and truly lost it, he gaped at Steve openly as the anxious rush faded into shock and warmth. Steve had thought about this. He’d wanted this the whole time. And he’d though, wait-


“You thought I’d say no?! Have you even met me, you gigantic moron? Of course the answer is yes. I’ve had a crush on you since I could walk, and I’ve been more or less in love with you since we met. I’m an idiot too, because I know I’m not good at hiding it, and.. Oh shit, I just said-”


But before he could continue digging himself into a proverbial hole, Steve raised the hand that was on his own just a second ago, and covered his whole mouth with it. Tony gave a muffled protest but made no move to fight him off. Steve wasn’t finished either, it seemed, because he stood and grabbed Tony’s wrist with his other hand, dragging him toward the door and leaving their trays of half-eaten food and a number of confused patrons in their wake. It was probably the most impolite thing Tony had ever seen him do.


They stepped out into the cold night air, and Steve finally dropped the hand that was over his mouth, though the one on his wrist remained. He looked around them, still surrounded by people, all covertly giving them glances as they clearly recognized them but didn’t want to interrupt whatever was obviously happening right now. Very possibly they thought Steve was going to murder him, which was a thought that crossed Tony’s mind as the guy started to drag him toward the park across the street and then to the riverfront. It was late enough at this point that it was getting dark and wasn’t crowded, and those who were there had well enough attuned New York instincts to know they should probably avoid these two men who were walking with purpose to the least populated area one of them could find.


Finally Steve stopped, at the edge of the water, and turned Tony by his shoulders so he was facing him once more. The look of determination was back, though this time there was something softer to it.


“I love you too.”


And with no other word and no further hesitation he dove forward and pressed his lips to Tony’s.


Tony was shocked, just enough that he didn’t start to lead on instinct. He let Steve take the reigns, and for that reason the kiss remained tender and chaste for a moment, before a hesitant tongue probed forward. The shock of it almost made him jump, but instead he opened his mouth in return and finally gave it his all.


Steve responded almost instantaneously, muttering something unintelligible and rough and pushing him back with force - one hand at the nape of his neck and the other on his lower back, neither grip all that gentle. Tony backed up until he felt the barrier between the sidewalk and the river press into him, and Steve stepped forward even then, spreading his legs slightly to fit Tony’s between them as if they couldn’t possibly get close enough to satisfy him.


It was hardly decent, Steve’s decision to seek privacy was turning out to be a good one.


Minutes later, and looking slightly disheveled, Cap was the first to pull back. His cheeks were flushed, and his hair was a bit rumpled. Had Tony been running his hands through it? Probably. He’d daydreamed of doing just that for who knows how long.


“I love you Tony.” he said again, as if it was something he needed to tell him as many times as possible. As if it was just that important.


“I love you too Steve.” Tony replied. And somehow it was probably the easiest time he’d ever had saying those three words. It wasn’t complicated, it wasn’t an accident. It was just the truth.


Steve slipped his hand gratefully into Tony’s and squeezed, as if he knew.


And really, if anyone was going to know what he needed to say without his even needing to say it, it would always be Steve.


“We might have to let Clint pick for family game night more often, if this is how it ends” said Tony, and Steve laughed. He wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulders and pulled him forward into a hug. Anywhere else and with any other person it would’ve felt like a disappointing step back from what they’d just been up to, but with Steve it just felt like another way of getting as close as possible.


So Tony buried his face in Steve’s chest and let himself smile, knowing without looking that Steve was doing the same thing right then, as he nuzzled his nose into Tony’s hair. And for just a moment, right there in the open, they let themselves hold each other and be happy. Just like they’d always wanted.