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a heartbeat drives you mad

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I’m not ready for the weight of us.

 

Steve thanks the CA—community assistant—that shows him to his room before he unlocks and opens the door, carefully stepping inside.  His roommate—another freshman named Anthony Stark—is here, but not, his things still unpacked but spread out on the right side of the room.

 

“Is your roommate a girl?” his dad, Joe, asks as he comes in and sees the sheer amount of stuff on the other side.

 

“I hope not,” his mom, Sara, murmurs as she sets one of Steve’s suitcases on his bed and unzips it, “Boys, go get the rest.  I’ll start on the clothes.”

 

“Thanks, mom,” Steve says, kissing her cheek when she tilts her head toward him.

 

It takes a few trips, but they get everything in the room fairly quickly.  They’re at the end of the hall on the first floor, down in a little corner, and though some of the other doors on the hall are open, he hasn’t seen his roommate anywhere.  They haven’t met yet, but Sara stalked his facebook, hoping to learn about him, though it had looked like Tony thought of facebook the same as Steve did—useless.  All they’d really gotten was a strange default picture of a young man in a contorted position working on a car, his face barely visible.

 

They’re nearly done with unpacking, an hour later, when the door opens.  “Oh,” Tony says, pausing in the threshold, “Hey, you must be Stephen?”

 

“Steve,” he corrects, straightening and turning.

 

Tony takes a moment to look him over, head to toe, and he finds he likes what he sees.  Steve’s big, with huge, sloping shoulders and a thin waist, his muscled thighs visible a little through his jeans, though they’re not tight, just loosely fitted.  He’s wearing a thin sweatshirt and Converse.  His hair is neat, parted but styled, blonde and so soft looking Tony wants to thread his fingers through it.  His eyes are bright and curious, and where Tony holds himself high, Steve carries his big shoulders and his strong jaw a little quieter.  “Anthony?” he asks.

 

Tony snorts, coming in and letting the door close behind him.  “Tony.”  He’s lean and muscled, with wide shoulders and strong wrists, his hands callused, hands that are always working, always busy, always dirty.  He’s wearing loose jeans, his bare feet poking out under the denim hem, and a loose, green shirt that dips in a v and shows off his broad chest and sloping collarbones.  His jaw is covered in dark, trimmed hair, curving up near the corners of his mouth, but without a mustache.  His hair is cut close on the sides and back, coming up in a mess of wild, dark hair.  He carries himself with an arrogant sort of strength, and Steve can tell, just from the way he walks in, that he’s incredibly intelligent, but also finds himself far superior to the human race.  “Oh, uh—hi,” he adds when he notices Steve’s parents.

 

“Oh, yeah, these are my parents,” Steve says, waving at them absentmindedly.

 

“Very lovely to meet you, Tony,” Sara says, coming forward with a bright smile.

 

“And you, ma’am,” Tony replies politely, shaking her hand.  His smile falters a little when Joe approaches, but he keeps his grip firm and nods once.  “A pleasure, sir.”

 

“How polite,” Sara comments, going back over to Steve and nudging him, “You could learn a thing or two.  We’ll be out of your hair in a few minutes, Tony, and then you boys can get acquainted.”  Tony just flashes a quick smile and turns to start unpacking his own things.

 

When they’re finished, Steve jerks his chin toward the door, and says, “Hallway?”

 

“Use your words, Steve,” Sara chides, though she heads for the hallway anyway.  They have a teary goodbye, Steve holding onto his parents until they’re both kissing him on either cheek and making him promise to call.

 

When he goes back inside, Tony is quietly sorting through a suitcase that doesn’t contain clothes.  “What is all that?” Steve asks, peering over the edge.

 

“Tools,” Tony says, “Most of it’s—just stuff,” he flaps his hand at the rest of the suitcases and bags, “So, uh—your parents gone?”

 

“Yeah.  Are yours still around?”

 

All at once, it’s like a switch.  Tony’s shoulders get a little sloped, his smile a little easier, and his blue eyes come alive with something akin to mischief.  “Hell no,” he laughs, “My father couldn’t split quick enough.  I doubt you’ll ever meet them.  So, what’s your major, muscles?”

 

Steve rolls his eyes at the nickname as he sits on his bed.  “Art.  You?”

 

“For right now, engineering.  We’ll see what tickles my fancy next year.”

 

“Next year?  Don’t you kind of have to be decided by then to graduate in four years?”

 

“Oh, I’ll be halfway done with engineering by then,” Tony says, shrugging one shoulder, “I’m probably going to start on physics next semester, finish engineering sophomore year, and pick something else up.”

 

“Dude,” Steve says, staring at him in disbelief, “What are you, a genius or something?”

 

“Certified,” Tony says, winking at him, “My father has had my IQ tested every year since boarding school started at six, reached genius IQ at—thirteen, I think?  Anyway—what kind of art are you interested in?”

 

“I work primarily in charcoal,” Steve says, bringing his legs up to fold them under him.  He starts to ask Tony more about his planned double major, but there’s a knock on the door.  “Come in!” Steve calls.

 

The door opens, admitting a beautiful, tall, raven-haired woman, smiling brightly.  “Hey!” she says, waving.  A man walks in behind her, with dark curls and soft, brown eyes, giving a little, halfhearted wave.  “Tony, remember I was telling you about Bruce?  Ta da!”

 

Tony smiles and straightens, coming over.  He curls an arm around Betty’s waist, looking Bruce up and down, curls to toes.  “Oh yeah,” he says, nodding, his grin sliding wider, “I could swing that.  Guys, this is my roommate, Steve.  Say hi, Steve, these are other human beings.”

 

Steve gives Tony a strange look before waving.  “Hey, nice to meet you.  Do you live on this floor?”

 

“Just down the hall, little bit round the corner.  This room is so much bigger.  Oh, Bruce,” Betty sighs, “They have three windows.  We only have one.  It’s huge, but I wish there were more.  Tony!  You said you were going to unpack!”

 

“I’m trying,” Tony whines, pulling away from her and going back to his things, “I got distracted by Steve’s shoulders.”

 

“What?” Steve says, alarmed.

 

“Honey,” Tony says, looking over at him, “You’re hot.”

 

“Oh my god,” Bruce says, turning away as he tries to contain his laugh.  Betty smacks him, though she’s smirking, as well.

 

“Uh—thank you?” Steve says, looking bewildered.

 

Tony waits a beat and then huffs, turning back around.  “Wow, not even going to return the compliment.  Whatever.”

 

“I’m, uh—I’m straight,” Steve says, trying to keep his voice even.

 

“So am I,” Tony chimes, shrugging as he goes over to open his closet door.

 

“So am I,” Betty says, “But did you see that redhead a few doors down?  I could turn for that.”

 

“Who, Pepper?” Bruce asks, and Betty turns on him.

 

“You know her?”

 

“Not really.  She was talking to one of the exchange students earlier, and she introduced herself when I walked by.  She is kind of hot.”

 

“Are you two—dating?” Steve asks.

 

“Just over two years,” Betty says proudly, reaching for Bruce’s hand.  He squeezes her hand, smiling.  “Alright, kids,” she says, glancing back at them, “We should finish unpacking.  We should all get dinner later.”  She waves as Bruce leads her out, and then it’s just Steve and Tony again.

 

“God, if she wasn’t taken,” Tony sighs, pulling a suitcase up onto his bed, this one full of clothes, “Or him.”

 

“I thought you said you were straight,” Steve says, frowning.

 

“I don’t like to label things,” Tony says, lifting an armful of clothes up and carrying them over to his dresser, “Sexuality is a fluid and ever-changing thing.  I could be attracted to that chair if I wanted to.”

 

“Are you?”

 

“Not yet.”

 

Steve just sighs and falls onto his back.  He wonders how long you have to keep your current roommate before you can request a switch.

 

——

 

They’re just coming back from dinner when Tony’s phone starts ringing, and he digs it out, smiling when he sees his mother’s name.  They leave Betty and Bruce at their room, drop Pepper and Peggy off at theirs, and then continue on down the hall toward theirs.  Steve unlocks the door while Tony answers the phone, “Hey mom.”

 

“Hey sweetie,” she says, her voice warm and so familiar, it makes Tony ache a little, wanting to be back with her, snuggled up on the sofa doing his homework while she read a book.  “How’s everything so far?”

 

“It’s great.  A lot different than I imagined, but really fun so far.”

 

“And your room?  Is it an okay size?” Maria asks, and Tony smiles.

 

“It’s huge, mom.  I mean, not as big as mine back home, but definitely bigger than the ones we saw in the other halls,” he says, flopping on his bed even though half of it is occupied by clothes.

 

“And your roommate?”

 

“Steve’s cool.  He’s an art major.  He said he’s interested in charcoals mostly.”

 

“Oh, any theme in particular?” Maria asks, and Tony smiles at the excitement in her voice.

 

Stephen,” he sings.

 

Steve rolls his eyes as he shrugs out of his jacket.  “Yes, Anthony?” he counters.

 

“Feisty already.  I think I pissed him off, mom,” he whispers conspiratorially before raising his voice again, “My mother is curious if you work in any particular themes.”

 

“Realism, mostly.  Why?” Steve asks, confused.

 

“She’s a professional painter.”

 

“Tony,” Maria laughs, “Stop it.  Have you met anyone else?”

 

“Yeah, actually,” he says, putting as much enthusiasm as possible into his voice to make her happy, “Pepper and Peggy live a few doors down.  I think Peggy might be a lesbian, but I’m not sure Pepper’s swaying either way definitively.  I’ll have to make some rounds by there.  Bruce and Betty live around the corner.  Mom, Betty—oh my god.  She’s majoring in biology, right, but she has all these crazy plans, like me, and she was talking about evolutionary genetics, and it was just so far out, I’m in love with her.  Her boyfriend, Bruce, is majoring in physics right now, but he was saying that he’s trying to focus in, and he interned for a nuclear physicist over the summer, so he thinks that’s what he’s going to try for.  They’re like this beautiful, intelligent, adorable super couple, I want to keep them.”  Maria laughs, clear and bright.

 

It cuts off too soon, and Tony stiffens, waiting.  “Anthony, your father would like a word.”

 

Tony sits up, legs hanging off the bed.

 

“Anthony.”

 

“Father.”

 

“How have you settled in?”

 

“Well, thank you, sir.”

 

“Good, good,” Howard pauses, and Tony holds his breath, “I expect you to excel here, Anthony.  Your GPA should be above a 4.0 each semester as you’ve chosen to attend a lesser school.  Though that does not mean I won’t expect excellent performance once you attend MIT.”

 

“Of course, sir.”

 

Howard makes a small noise like clearing his throat, and then the line goes dead.

 

Tony sits there for a moment before he sighs and gets up, moving around the room as he finishes unpacking.  He starts playing with wires until he makes a soft, satisfied noise, reaches for a set of wireless earphones, and plugs in.  He taps in and says, “Up and at ‘em, Jarvis.”

 

“Good evening, sir.  How does college suit you thus far?”

 

“Eh, it’s alright.  Take a warm up lap around the room, and then find me a hot spot, darling.”

 

“Who are you talking to?” Steve asks, looking around when a blue light flickers over the walls.

 

“My main squeeze,” Tony says cheerfully, “Jarvis and I met about four years ago.”  Steve just blinks at him.  “He’s a self-improving artificial intelligence.”

 

“Sir.”

 

“What’s up, home slice?”

 

“There appears to be two prime locations, both located in your general vicinity.”

 

“Score!  Hey,” Tony turns, flapping a hand at Steve, “Wanna watch a movie tonight?”

 

“On what?” Steve asks, “We don’t have a TV.”

 

“We don’t need one.  Just think about it, don’t make any hasty decisions.  Jay, where the hell is my laptop?”

 

“Which one, sir?”

 

“Sassy little bastard,” Tony mutters as he starts rifling through his things.

 

A few hours later, after Tony has finally finished unpacking, he comes over and flops on Steve’s bed, gives him a little tap with his foot, and says, “Come on, movie’s starting.”

 

Steve looks behind him in bewilderment, jaw dropping open at the sudden projection floating mid-air.  “How’d you do that?” he asks even as he climbs over to sit next to Tony.

 

“Certified genius,” is all Tony says before he falls quiet.

 

They spend the rest of the night like this, watching something called Pacific Rim, which Tony pauses multiple times to yell about the engineering of the jaegers, which in turn makes Steve groan and shove at him until he lets it play again, which really just turns into Steve laughing at him.  It turns out to be quite a fun night, and certainly not something Steve expected.  In the end, Tony’s stretching, cat-like, and he bumps shoulders with Steve before the projection cuts out, and he goes back over to his side.  “You can shut the lights whenever, if you wanna go to bed,” Tony says even as he sets up camp at his desk, starting to put together his station.

 

“You sure?” Steve asks as he yawns.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be quiet, and you can always yell if I’m not, though yelling at me never seems to work in anyone’s favor, so good luck figuring out a method of—”

 

“Shut up, Tony.”

 

“Okay,” he hums, and it does the trick.

 

Though there’s the occasional shuffle of noise, Steve drifts off to the sound of Tony’s fingers tapping on keys, his voice murmuring softly to Jarvis, and he thinks, maybe, that he could get used to living with him.