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Tony was listing to the side, head propped on the giant pokeball pillow Shuri had given him for his birthday two years ago, eyes half open as he resolutely stared Rhodey down from across the room. He was in his boxers and an AC/DC shirt, wrapped in the Sailor Moon blanket Shuri’s brother had gotten him for his birthday (jokes on you, T’challa! Tony fucking loved that blanket) , and he blamed his state of undress entirely on Rhodey and his insistence that Tony stay in and sleep for the rest of the morning. Also, he blamed the fact that he’d been so out of it Rhodey had managed to get his pants and sweatshirt off before he’d realized, but he’d been so put out he’d refused to put them back on.

There was a joke in there somewhere about how easy it was to get Tony out of his pants, but as he would likely be the butt of said joke, he let it slide.

Rhodey, for his part, merely stood at the island – peninsula? Attached-to-the-wall counter. He was slowly stirring sugar into his coffee. He only had one cup and had refused for the entire time it had taken to brew it to make Tony one. He’d even went so far as to use their Keurig machine so there wasn’t a pot left half full for Tony to pilfer when Rhodey left for work, the sadist.

Tony had only been awake for roughly two days and 18 hours, and he’d had naps , so it wasn’t even close to ‘three days straight’ like Rhodey was claiming. Besides which, Tony had a project due and if he was going to outdo Shuri and claim victory once more, he needed to work . Rhodey didn’t seem to understand how important it was to keep the engineering superiority he was barely holding onto over Shuri Wakanda, girl-wonder and general rival to Tony’s own genius.

(The girl had made sound-absorbing shoes that contoured to the wearer’s feet and the impudent little shit had had the sheer audacity to name them ‘sneakers.’ SNEAKERS. Tony was in love. Had he not been gayer than a maypole – and her brother wasn’t completely able and willing to throw his ass halfway across the city into a dumpster – he’d have proposed on the spot.)

“Go to bed, Tony,” Rhodey said, snapping Tony out of his spiral into conflicting admiration and fury.

His eyes snapped open from their half-droop and he straightened so he could glare more effectively. “I’m not tired,” he told Rhodey. “I just came back to the apartment because-”

“I forced you,” Rhodey cut in.

“I wanted some coffee-”

“I literally carried you here,” Rhodey continued.

“Which you won’t give me-”

“Because you couldn’t walk straight,” Rhodey finished, lifting the mug to his lips for a victorious sip. Tony had seen Rhodey drink coffee often, and in many different emotional situations - he knew a victory sip when he goddamn saw one.

“First of all, how dare you,” Tony said, distracted from his earlier explanation. “You come into my apartment, drink my coffee, and insult me?”

“This is our apartment,” Rhodey corrected easily. “As in, we live here together , Tones, and I’m pretty sure I bought this coffee because the last time we needed groceries, you were hip deep in a pancake SNAFU because your robot arm couldn’t accurately calculate the velocity needed to flip one without sticking it to the ceiling.”

Another sip. Even more victorious than the last. Damnit.

And there were a lot of things he could argue about in that little jaunt down memory lane, because DUM-E may not be at the same level of genius as Tony himself or have the perfection of code that was JARVIS, but he was Tony’s first and he was special , and Tony loved him and how dare Rhodey insult his robot-child? But all his foggy brain (foggy because he hadn’t gotten any coffee, not because he was tired) could focus on was-

“They’re called crepes, and you know it.”

Rhodey raised an eyebrow. “Is that why there was so much whipped cream and chocolate?”

Tony narrowed his eyes to hopefully distract Rhodey from the fact that his cheeks were heating suspiciously. “Honeybear, of course, why else would I have been covered in whipped cream and chocolate?”

Rhodey stared at him for long, highly suspicious (foiled!) moments.

Tony stared back, refusing to break because he had certainly not been practicing anything with that can of whipped cream and chocolate sauce. And there certainly wasn’t photographic proof stored in the depths of his computer that Rhodey might be able to find if given the motivation to do so. It had just been your normal, everyday instance of practicing crepe flips with your robot hand. Totally normal.

It had nothing whatsoever to do with the potential seduction of a certain six-pack-toting, chisel-jawed ruffian Tony had spotted in the mechanical engineering class he’d crashed three months ago because he’d sleep-walked into the wrong room and hadn’t realized it until halfway through class. At which point he couldn’t leave , because the TA helping out with the demonstration had been wearing a shirt two sizes too small and whatever had been left of Tony’s attention span at that point had been promptly monopolized by the man’s dazzling grin and the half-up manbun he’d been sporting that day.

“Wait,” Rhodey said abruptly, and Tony came back to the present, subtly wiping at his chin to make sure he hadn’t actually been drooling. “You took pictures?”

Tony stopped mid-surreptitious-wipe. He’d said that out loud?

“That’s not the point,” Tony said immediately.

“Then what-”

Rhodey was, thankfully, interrupted by a cheery little chirp from his phone. Rhodey picked it up, idly taking a sip from his coffee as he thumbed through whatever notification had popped up. Tony leaned further into the pokeball and tried to think of a way to trick Rhodey into making him some coffee. He really did need to work on that project.

Rhodey laughed out loud, grin infectious even if Tony didn’t know what he was laughing about.

“What?” Tony asked.

Rhodey shook his head, taking another drink before saying, “There’s some guy outside the dorms with a table and a huge sign set up and he’s just sitting there. Sign says, ‘Pop Tarts Are Ravioli. Change my mind.’”

Tony blinked. “What.”

“I said-”

“No, I heard you,” Tony clarified, head tilting to the side. “Who even…What?”

Rhodey shrugged, gave Tony a look that said ‘I know how much this upsets you, and it amuses me endlessly.’ What actually came out of his mouth was, “Guy’s not wrong.”

“Not wrong?” Tony echoed, sitting up straight. “ Not wrong? I can’t believe those words just fell from your mouth, Platypus. You are comparing a sugary pile of shit masquerading as a breakfast pastry to what is arguably the best part of traditional authentic Italian cuisine!” Tony hissed. “Where is this guy? I’m gonna beat him up.”

“Tony,” Rhodey said, his tone placating. “You’re not gonna beat up anyone.”

Tony ignored him, getting to slightly unsteady feet and marching over to snatch the phone out of Rhodey’s hands before Rhodey knew what was going on.

“Hey!” Rhodey said indignantly, but Tony just turned and pulled up the chat the picture had come through, typing out a question to – Tony glanced at the name – Blonde Goddess. Who the fuck? Whatever.

whrs ths guy? he ther now??

“Give that back, Tony, I’m serious,” Rhodey called, a little frantic as he rounded the island-peninsula. Tony started a loop around their small living room, jumping over the back of the couch and hopping around the armchair as he just barely managed to stay out of Rhodey’s reach. Luckily, when Rhodey had wrapped him in the blanket, he’d tied it around Tony’s shoulders like a superhero cape, so he stayed warm as he dodged Rhodey’s grasping hands. Rhodey really was the best.

The phone dinged and Tony had his answer – how convenient, this ravioli blasphemer was right outside Tony’s dorm. He clicked the phone off and tossed it at Rhodey before heading straight out the door. As it closed behind him, he distantly heard Rhodey yell after him, but he was taking the steps two at a time and nothing was going to stand in his way of setting this asshole straight.

The balls on this guy, trying to tell him , Tony Stark, a direct descendant of one of the most prestigious families in Italy, home of his goddamn ravioli, that Pop Tarts were even close to the same thing on any type of culinary scale!

Tony marched through the door and onto the pavement, immediately spotting the table with the huge sign (had he had it professionally printed!?) that proclaimed Tony’s precious ravioli were the same as mass-produced fucking breakfast pastries. And no. Tony did not care one bit that ravioli were also mass-produced, it was the principle of the thing.

“You!” Tony shouted, wobbling to the side when his bare feet went from solid concrete sidewalk to soft grass.

The man sitting at the table, who looked oddly familiar through the glasses of indignant rage Tony was wearing, looked up at him and grinned, hand curling around a thermos that sported their school’s logo. When Tony got to the table, he slammed both hands onto the surface, making the thermos jump before the man steadied it hastily.

“Hi,” the man said happily. “My name’s-”

“I don’t care what your name is,” Tony said sternly, holding up a finger to emphasize his points. “Pop Tarts are dumb!”

Well. That argument hadn’t come out with quite as much intelligence behind it as Tony had intended.

“But they’re tasty,” the man argued easily.

“That’s not the point!” Tony nearly screeched, arms coming up to make a gesture reminiscent of ‘WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT,’ which made his blanket cape flare dramatically. Tony thought that probably looked very compelling, and as he crouched back down to level the man with a look , he let his cape settle regally about his shoulders.

“The point is they’re not the same. They are different, super-duper different. If you’re gonna call Pop Tarts ravioli,” and here Tony pitched his voice high in mockery of the dumb pastries, hand gestures included, “then we might as well call cereal in milk soup! SOUP!”

“Are you drunk?” the man asked slowly.

“You want this world to devolve into chaos? Do you!?” Tony asked.

“It’s like 10 in the morning,” the man insisted.

“Look, you got pasta dough, not fucking donut dough - and I like donuts, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a difference - and it’s thin, super thin,” Tony said, ignoring the drunk comment. He was pretty sure (like 87%) that he wasn’t drunk.

“And you fill it with filling ‘n shit.” He held up a fist, flipping up fingers as he made his list. “Cheese. Meat. Veggies. Know what’s not veggies?”

“Donuts?” the man asked.

“Fuckin-!” Tony threw his hand out. “Fruit,” he said definitively. “Fruits are not veggies.”

“You got me there. Fruits and vegetables are different things,” the man said easily, seemingly amused despite the fact that he was clearly losing this argument. Tony rubbed at the bridge of his nose. How could he legitimately argue with someone who didn’t understand basic concepts like, Tony Was Right and Don’t Bother, You’re Wrong.

“What do you use to make pasta dough?” the man asked, seemingly apropos of nothing.

“What?” Tony asked automatically, looking up, and blinked at him. He thought back to when he and his mother used to make noodles from scratch. “Flour, eggs, olive oil, water.”

The man grinned, leaning forward. “Right! Flour, eggs, fat, and water. Same thing that pastry dough uses,” he said, sitting back and taking a swig from his thermos. “Argument could be made that they are the same thing-”

“Pastry dough doesn’t have eggs,” Tony argued. At least, he was pretty sure it didn’t use eggs.

“Egg wash,” the man said simply, raising his eyebrows. Damnit.

“I’m sorry,” a voice said from behind Tony, and when he turned he found a huffing Rhodey addressing the barbarian in people-clothes with an apologetic expression on his face. Was he taking this man’s side? Traitor.

“My friend hasn’t slept and he gets a little-”

“Filling!” Tony yelled over Rhodey, slapping his hand over Rhodey’s mouth haphazardly. “Filling’s different!”

Rhodey pushed Tony’s hand off and tried to grab it, but Tony wiggled it out of his grasp every time.

“But that’s just a matter of savory versus sweet,” the man said, rising from his chair to lean on the table in a mirror of Tony. “Which is merely an argument over preference.”

Tony narrowed his eyes, flapping a hand at Rhodey when he tried to grab Tony by the shoulders. He flipped his cape extravagantly and crouched closer to this infuriating, amazingly handsome man – god his voice was sexy, where had he heard it before? Didn’t matter.

Focus.

“Ravioli has sauce,” he said. “What sauce can you put your stupid tarts in, huh?”

The man leaned in as well, lowering his voice, which did- uhm. Things . To Tony’s bits. Groin. Nether area. Which was nice but not now , Tony had to focus. Let’s see Mr. Hotshot Rakishly Good Looks argue his way out of pasta sauce.

“Chocolate sauce,” the man purred, and waggled his eyebrows. “Caramel sauce.”

That. That was hot. Fuck.

“Not the same!” Tony whispered fiercely, hoping his voice didn’t shake.

“It literally has ‘sauce’ right in the title,” the man said. “I could get you some chocolate sauce, if you’d like to,” and here the man’s eyes went down a little bit, then back up, smirk firmly in place, “experiment.”

Tony let out a furious exhale, because this guy was trying to distract him from the fact that Tony was obviously winning this argument and Tony, though turned on and possibly sporting a half-chub, wasn’t going to lose this fight just because his opponent had an unfair amount of sex appeal. Seriously, it should be criminal. Someone should lock this idiot up. Possibly in Tony’s bedroom.

No. Stop that.

“Pop Tarts are mass-produced pieces of shit and-” Tony started.

“Chef Boyardee.”

“And don’t you dare bring up that canned shit lazy people serve their kids, you tasteless heathen!”

The man spread his arms in a ‘what can you do?’ gesture, but remained close enough for Tony to continue hissing at him.

“You and your Pop Tart-loving hot ass just need to taste real, fresh ravioli,” Tony said, grabbing the man by his shirt collar. “Then you’ll understand why your overly sweetened, poor excuse for a breakfast pastry pales in comparison to authentic Italian cuisine!”

“You’re on,” the man said lowly, lips curving into a smirk. “I’d love to taste your fresh ravioli anytime.”

Was that a come-on? That sounded like a come-on.

“Oh, I’ll give you ravioli,” Tony hissed back, taking his own slow look up and down the man’s body. “If you can handle it.”

“Olive Garden?”

“Shut your pretty mouth,” Tony shot back immediately, pulling him closer. Any closer and they’d be kissing, but Tony was so incensed by the Olive Garden comment that he ignored it entirely. “Nonna Rosa’s,” Tony corrected firmly.

“Saturday?”

“Seven.”

“It’s a date,” the man said, and Tony could feel the warmth of his breath on his lips as he spoke, was all but lost in the blue-gray hues of his eyes as they stared each other down with matching smirks – the man because he thought he was right, Tony because he knew the guy was wrong.

“Uhm,” someone said, and Tony suddenly noticed it was very, very quiet.

“Is that a Sailor Moon blanket?” someone else asked.

“I like that he tied it so the short side was going down,” yet another voice commented, though this time it was followed by the sound of a hard smack. “It’s a nice view, is all I’m sayin’!”

Rhodey cleared his throat. “Excuse me,” he said loudly. “Ladies, gentleman.”

And with that, Rhodey spun Tony around, put a shoulder in his stomach and lifted him in half a fireman’s carry. Tony was only just beginning to feel heat creep into his cheeks as Rhodey hauled him back towards their dorm when the man called out to him.

“Can’t wait to have some authentic raviolis with you, Tony!”

And that was it. The end of rational argument. That was as much as Tony could stand to hear, the man had officially stepped over the line. He smacked his hands onto Rhodey’s belt and used his grip as leverage to push his top half up so he could glare murder at the man as he pointed a menacing finger right at his stupid gorgeous face.

“Ravioli is already the plural form!” Tony shouted, furious. “Read a book, you lepton!”

The man just laughed. God he had a gorgeous laugh.

Damnit.

-d-b-

“What was that?” Clint asked, watching as the screaming lunatic was carried away by what he assumed was the guy’s friend and rubbing his shoulder where Sam had hit him.

“What? We were flirting.”

“You’re weird, Bucky.”

-d-b-

On Thursday, Tony woke up after a glorious eight hours of sleep, only to realize what had happened the previous day.

“What have I done?”

Rhodey, scrolling through headlines on his tablet while he relaxed on the couch with a cup of coffee (from a pot this time, yay! Tony swooped in to grab himself a cup) , looked up and smirked.

“Well, I’m not sure if it was your boxers, your magical girl blanket-cape, or the fact that you called him a tasteless heathen, but it seems you charmed him into an actual date. Congrats.”

“I don’t even remember half of it?” Tony said, taking his first sip before slouching over to sit on the other end of the couch, head tipped back so he could look at the ceiling in low-key distress. “I have a date with a stranger. Was he as good looking as I thought he was?”

“Yes,” Rhodey said. “I think he’s what is colloquially known as ‘your type.’”

Tony heard rustling and tipped his head back down to watch as Rhodey dug into his pocket for his phone, clicked it open and found whatever it was he was looking for. He held the phone out to Tony. “Here,” he said easily.

Tony took the phone with his free hand, frowning until he realized Rhodey was showing him the picture that had started the whole fiasco yesterday. That fucking sign was front and center in the picture, and Tony could feel his hackles rise just looking at it, but what really caught his attention in the next second was the man sitting at the table.

“Not possible,” Tony muttered.

“What’s not?” Rhodey asked dutifully.

“It’s the guy,” Tony said, still staring at the photo. He’d recognize that cleft chin and stubbled jaw anywhere, even on a small grainy cell phone picture. He’d had his hair up in a full manbun yesterday, but there’d been wisps falling out to frame his face and Tony could absolutely not believe he hadn’t recognized who he had been arguing with.

“What guy?” Rhodey asked.

Tony looked up, tossed the phone onto the cushion between them and pointed at it, hysterical. “That is Mechanical Engineering Guy !”

“Wait,” Rhodey said, picking the phone up to look himself. “This is Sleepy Crush Guy?”

Tony nodded.

“Sexy TA Guy?” Rhodey continued, voice rising.

Tony nodded vehemently, hand gestures and all.

“This is the guy responsible for your four times a week at least, indecently loud masturbation sessions!?” Rhodey roared.

“Yes! Wait- What?”

“Come on, man, I have ears,” Rhodey said, pulling a face. “All I’m gonna say is, you have some incredibly stereotypical gay fantasies, Tones.”

Tony was just… not going to address the fact that his roommate had overheard him beating his dick to thoughts of Mechanical Engineering Guy doing a striptease on the hood of a car before straddling Tony and riding him like a goddamn mustang. That’s probably the one he was talking about.

“Focus,” Tony said instead, trying to will his burgeoning erection into submission. “What am I gonna do about Saturday?”

“What’s on Saturday?”

“The date!” Tony said loudly. “With Masturbation Fantasy Guy!”

“Oh yeah, Nonna Rosa’s, right?” Rhodey asked. “Better make reservations, that place gets crazy on Saturdays.”

“No, I’m not-” Tony started. “I can’t actually go on a date with him.”

“Why not?” Rhodey asked innocently. “I thought you liked Delicious Manbun Guy?”

“Why not?” Tony echoed. “How about because I’ve spent the past three months objectifying him in my mind to the point that I’m not sure I can even look at him without getting an instantaneous boner and, oh yeah, yelled at him about ravioli and Pop Tarts and called him tasteless .”

“Well it’s not like he knows you’ve been regularly putting him in maid costumes in your mind with the express intent of bending him over a desk in your imagination.”

Oh god. That’s the one Rhodey had overheard?

“Personally, I would’ve gone for sexy cop, but that’s just me,” Rhodey said, smirking.

“Shut up,” Tony muttered, burying his face in his hands. He did not mention that that particular fantasy - the cop one - had played out when Tony had known he’d been alone in the apartment and thus he might’ve gotten a little carried away while relaxing on the couch. And anyway, he’d gotten the cushions professionally cleaned, so there really wasn’t anything to talk about, was there.

“Look, Tones,” Rhodey said, tone going soft with support. “Just go, enjoy the food, and be yourself. I distinctly remember him as an enthusiastic participant in that clusterfuck of an argument yesterday, which can only mean this guy was made specifically to handle your particular brand of crazy.”

Tony looked up at his friend.

“It’ll work out,” Rhodey added, giving him a smile. Rhodey really was the best.

“Just don’t mention salads or the fact that you’ve already imagined tossing his.”

He took that back.

Rhodey was the worst.

-d-b-

“I think I would’ve gone for the black oxfords.”

Tony glanced up from where he’d been judging his choice in clothing (i.e., regretting his choice in clothing) in the window’s reflection, only to find an all too familiar face grinning back at him. He scowled on pure instinct.

“Oh my god, Darcy, why are you here?”

“I work here, remember?” Darcy answered, grin still firmly in place as she leaned against the host’s podium just inside the doors. Saturday night at Nonna’s was a pretty easy gig, nobody came in without a reservation, so it was mostly waving them on their way with the next available waiter or waitress.

“There’s a reason I only ever come here on weekends, Darce,” Tony said easily. “And it’s because you don’t work weekends.”

“Oh, but how could I resist?” Darcy asked lightly, drawing up a slip of paper and acting as if it said something damning, even though Tony was pretty sure it was just that night’s list of specials.

“Tony Stark, reservation for two at seven,” she said, emphasising the number, and set the paper down dramatically before pegging him with a smirk and raised eyebrows. “And I know for a fact that Pepper is abroad this semester.”

“I go out with Rhodey all the time,” Tony offered, which was true. He decided to ignore the part where Darcy seemed to know more about his social tendencies than he himself did, because that was a level of creepy he was unwilling to deal with at the moment. Where did Thor manage to pick up these people? First his family adopts that crazy brother of his, then he gets a totally black-hole obsessed (thought very smart, Tony had to give her that) girlfriend, who apparently came as a set with the world’s most sarcastic astrophysics assistant.

Darcy made a tutting sound. “Nope. You’ve never taken Rhodes to Nonna’s, I checked your reservation history.”

“You what. ” Again with the creepy. What did Darcy want from him?

“You’ve got no one to blame but yourself, for that one, T-Rex,” Darcy grinned obnoxiously. “The security on their reservations system wasn’t even that hard to hack, anyway.”

Oh right. He’d spent an afternoon teaching her how to hack in return for coffee and donuts because he’d forgotten his wallet at home and had been in dire need of caffeine. Darcy had kindly offered to buy him the elixir of life for a short lesson in how to get past security setups and firewalls. He’d figured she was trying to facebook stalk a potential romantic partner, or perhaps a nemesis, not Tony himself.

“I can’t believe you’d stoop to this level of snooping-” Tony started.

“You mean your level,” Darcy interrupted gleefully.

“Just to figure out who I’m taking on a non-date to-”

“Nuh-uh. Don’t lie. Nonna’s is fancy dinner, dim lighting, and candles. Nonna’s is romantic .”

Tony could feel his cheeks heating despite himself.

Darcy leaned over the podium for a quick moment, taking him in. “Fifteen minutes early when you’re compulsively late for everything else, a shirt that is distinctly not sporting references to your favorite rock band, a suit coat for heaven’s sake, and,” Darcy squinted, then smiled. “Hair gel. It’s a date.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “I’ve seen your grades, Darce. Since when did you become Sherlock Holmes?”

Darcy leaned back, buffed her nails on her shirt in that classic show of superiority and one-upmanship everybody was familiar with, and gave him a knowing look. “I have a Ph.D. in the Science of Dating. S’not my fault my astrophysics prof doesn’t understand my true talents.”

“Clearly it’s his fault you chose a study so widely outside your natural talents,” Tony deadpanned.

Darcy waved a hand dismissively. “Enough about me. What I wanna know is who the lucky guy is.”

Tony was rather abruptly brought back to his present dilemma. He glanced at his watch – ten minutes and counting before his mind-numbingly gorgeous date was due to appear and Tony was still unsure about whether or not it was a good thing.

The man had to be at least six to eight years his senior to be a TA, unless he was on Tony’s level of grade-skipping genius. Would he want to date someone who was only just barely able to drink legally? And what about the fact that Tony had rather enthusiastically yelled at him about ravioli and Pop Tarts? God, what a start to – what, a relationship? It was the first date and Tony was already caught in a vortex of conflicting emotions. On one hand, he hadn’t even technically met the guy yet, to say nothing of whether or not he was truly interested in Tony romantically. On the other, he was definitely already imagining them being fiercely in love well into old age; he was practically drawing their names inside a fat pink heart in his notebook like a schoolgirl.

Mechanical Engineering Guy + Tony = Loooooove!

Tony let his face fall into his palm as he muttered, “I actually don’t even know his name.”

Darcy made cooing noises at him. “Don’t you worry,” she said confidently. “I’ve got it all set up for you, and I’ll be serving you personally, so you can relax.”

Tony whipped his head up to stare at her in horror. “Relax? Relax? Lewis, you are the least comforting person on campus, how the hell am I supposed to- Wait. What did you do? Where did you seat us? Darcy, I swear to god if you-”

“Tony?” came a deep voice.

Tony froze. Darcy grinned, gaze darting over Tony’s shoulder before returning wide-eyed. ‘He’s here!’ she mouthed to him, to which he responded with an exaggerated, ‘No shit!’ Then, as if that weren’t enough, she held a hand up to block her mouth delicately, ‘Oh. My. God.’ And fanned herself as she half-swooned where she stood.

“He can see you!” Tony hissed quietly.

“Good evening, sir!” Darcy said out loud suddenly, lowering her hand as she clearly tried to suppress her excitement. “You must be…” she trailed off, pretending to try and find his name amongst her papers. Tony was caught between frustration and utter gratitude at how sneaky Darcy could be.

“James Barnes,” he said, and Tony finally turned.

“Mr. Barnes, of course,” Darcy said behind him. “I have a reservation for you under Stark?”

Was-? Was that a fucking line? Had Darcy just implied-? He was going to kill her. He was going to kill her dead and he’d risk being flayed alive by Thor The Overprotective, because Darcy was-

“Yep,” came the answer and- wow.

Mr. Barnes was smiling an incredibly amused, charming smile, and he was dressed impeccably. Black jeans cuffed just above messily tied boots, a plain white v-neck under a red and black plaid shirt that he’d left unbuttoned. The sleeves were rolled up and Tony could see just a bit of a tattoo peeking out from under the left sleeve, something mechanical in design. Tony let his tongue slide across his bottom lip idly – he was a big fan of ink. When he raised his gaze again, he noticed he’d left his hair down today – a stark contrast to the manbun he’d sported every other time Tony had seen him. It was messy and jaggedly cut, fashionable without the air of trying to be. It was sexy as hell, and Tony couldn’t quite decide which style he liked better.

“Mr. Stark?” Darcy asked, and her tone suggested it wasn’t the first time she’d said his name. Tony blinked at her. “This way, if you will?”

Darcy gestured for them to follow her, and Tony tried his best to act normal as he glanced at James quick before following her. She took them to the back of the restaurant, to the secluded booths that had wrap-around benches where a party of two could sit facing each other, or sidle up for a more cozy sitting arrangement. The table she brought them to had candles already lit, a single rose in a crystal vase, and the place settings were neat, the table cloth tidy. The only reason Tony didn’t glare outright at Darcy was because James might see.

“Here we are, gentlemen,” Darcy said softly, barely containing her grin.

“Thanks,” James said easily, sliding into one side of the booth.

Tony took the other and they both sat there a little awkwardly as Darcy just smiled at them. Tony caught her gaze and tried to use his eyes to say, ‘Leave!’ It must have worked, because after another short moment, Darcy said, “I’ll go get you some water!” and left.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, James,” Tony said into the quiet, tasting the sound of his name as it fell from his lips. He liked that name. James . James the Mechanical Engineer. That was Rhodey’s name too, but James Rhodes had never been James or Jim to Tony. Always Rhodey. Tony hadn’t used his first name in years.

James laughed, low and sweet as honey. “Most people actually call me Bucky,” he said, fiddling with his fork as he raised his gaze to Tony’s. “But either is fine. And it’s nice to meet you too, Tony. Officially.”

“How do you get Bucky from James?” Tony asked, trying to relax. “Jimmy would make more sense.”

James - Bucky - made a face, sticking his tongue out comically. “Ugh, no thank you. Middle name’s Buchanan, so- Bucky,” he explained with a shrug. “Parents were kinda weird.”

Tony laughed at that. He could commiserate about weird parents, his own were eccentric at best, and the Stark fortune only made it worse. “Well, I guess you can call me Eddie, then, if we’re going off middle names.”

Bucky laughed outright, and Tony decided it was the best sound he’d ever heard. Deep and sincere, heart-achingly beautiful when matched with his smile, Tony could die happy hearing this man’s laugh. Jesus, he’d only just learned the man’s name and he was already totally gone on him.

“How about sweetheart instead?”

Tony blinked, heat rising in his cheeks as he realized what Bucky had said. He lowered his gaze to the table for a moment, trying to think of what best to say. When he looked up again, he could tell that Bucky, too, was blushing just a bit. They were a matching set of besotted idiots and weirdly enough, that was what made Tony finally, finally, relax.

He gave Bucky a smile, told him, “I’d like that.”

Bucky let out a breath of relief, chuckled at himself and nodded. Darcy swooped in again to deliver their water and explain their specials for the night, answering Bucky’s very pointed questions about the ravioli with only a slightly confused look as Tony laughed through the whole thing. Bucky ended up ordering the three-cheese ravioli, because he had to try it, that was the whole point of this date, right? Tony ordered the mushroom ravioli with a side of bruschetta because Nonna’s did the best tomato topping Tony had ever had, and he wanted Bucky to enjoy himself to the fullest. He let the sommelier choose their wine, too caught up in is date to put much effort into recalling his mother’s teachings.

Despite the argument that had gotten them into this date in the first place, it didn’t come up until they were finished eating, having sampled each other’s dishes and made appropriately impressed noises, feeding each other bits and pieces through stifled laughter. Now, they were sipping the rest of their wine as they thought about whether or not to get dessert (Bucky was all for it, but Tony was almost too full for any more food, even Nonna’s deliciously famous chocolate cake).

“I’ve gotta ask,” Tony finally said, setting his wine glass down. He was relaxed and happy, no longer worried about whether or not Bucky was interested – he clearly was. The date had been going very well so far, and Tony had high hopes of another one in the near future. It may have been the wine talking, or the fact that he was still newly enamored with his date, but Bucky was damn near perfect. Tony would do almost anything to spend another night out with him.

“Yeah?”

“What was the sign about?” Tony asked, almost at a loss for how to ask the question. “What compels someone to think, ‘You know what, I got nothin’ else going on today, let’s just make a giant sign insulting Italian cuisine and see what happens?’”

Bucky laughed, draining his glass before setting it to the side. He leaned back in the booth and ran a hand through his hair, distracting Tony’s train of thought for a moment as he admired the picture Bucky made.

“That’s kind of a funny story,” Bucky told him, biting his lip as he struggled with a decision of some sort.

“Okay, here’s the thing,” Bucky said, blowing a stray strand of hair up and out of his face before settling his gaze on Tony’s. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for months.”

“What?” Tony asked, stunned. Months? Tony had only noticed the guy three months ago, how could-

“The first time I saw you was in the class I TA for, Thermodynamics One? You’re not even on the roster for that class, but one day you came in fifteen minutes late, sat in the first seat you found and just…stared at me. Ignored everybody else. For the entire class.”

Tony’s cheeks flamed . Bucky grinned.

“I thought you were cute, all sleepy with mussed up hair and those great big doe-eyes,” he continued. “The fact that you kept staring at me gave me a little courage and I tried asking you a question when the demo was over.”

“Did I get the answer right, at least?” Tony asked, letting his face fall directly into his palm.

Bucky laughed. “Dunno, you never answered. You just asked me how deep a pan could be until it was considered a pot.”

“I what ?” Tony moaned, looking up to find Bucky was actively trying to tone down the utterly shit-eating grin he had going on. It was a good look on him, Tony would consider being the butt of any joke if it got that reaction out of Bucky.

“At that point, I figured you were either drunk or high,” Bucky said. “So I told you that the fifth edition of the Buchanan Engineering Manual stated that anything deeper than two point five inches was considered a pot.”

“And?” Tony prompted, caught between being impressed with Bucky’s quick wit and horrified that the idiot in this hilarious story was, in fact, Tony himself. He didn’t even remember the first half of that class, let alone being asked a question by the only thing he was paying attention to.

Bucky shrugged through another bit of laughter. “You believed me, I guess. Started writing notes like it would be a question on the midterm. Rest of the class thought it was hilarious.”

Tony groaned and slid down a bit in his seat. “I wasn’t drunk or high,” he muttered.

“Just sleep deprived?” Bucky asked. When Tony raised an eyebrow at him, Bucky confessed, “I may have run into Rhodes yesterday afternoon. Recognized him from our little, ah, spat? On the quad.”

“Traitor,” Tony grumbled, then frowned. “But why the huge sign? You couldn’t just come talk to me?”

Bucky scratched the back of his head in that terribly cliché way that said he was about to potentially embarrass himself. “Well, you’re- ah. You’re really cute. And a student, and technically I’m not supposed to date students, even though you’re not my student, and- I guess I was nervous about talkin’ to ya.”

Imagine that. Bucky. Nervous. About talking to him.

“So I asked Steve for some advice, and he said go for it,” Bucky said.

“Who the hell is Steve?” Tony asked, because he apparently needed to send Steve a fruit basket for convincing Bucky to give Tony a shot.

“Oh, he’s my roommate. He’s in your Oceanography class,” Bucky answered easily, and ignored Tony’s ‘Ugh, generals’ to continue with, “but I don’t think he’s a huge fan of yours. When I asked him for help and actually told him who it was I liked, all he said was, and I quote:

“Tony Stark? All he likes to do is argue about pointless shit and waste entire class periods when the rest of us need to actually learn shit so we can pass the tests!”

Tony stared.

“End quote,” Bucky said happily. “Apparently you brought up how Oregon Trail promoted communism?”

Tony continued to stare.

“In an oceanography class ,” Bucky emphasized. And after another significant pause, ended with, “You took up half the class arguing with the professor over it.”

Tony decided to see if he could slide past that incident entirely by asking, “And you got ‘insult ravioli’ from that?”

Bucky shrugged, smiling. “That was the only advice he had for me, so I ran with it. Figured if I made a ridiculous enough statement, put it on a sign and then sat outside your dorm, there’s a good chance you’d have to come yell at me about it.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my entire life,” Tony said immediately, downing the rest of his wine. When he finished, he set it down firmly on the table, watched Bucky’s eyes widen, then said, “I cannot believe it actually worked.

Bucky’s face transformed, going from shocked and worried to happy and a little bit smug as he scooted toward Tony in the booth slowly, giving him a chance to signal a ‘no.’ Instead, Tony met him halfway, enjoying the warmth when their thighs pressed together and the arm that Bucky threw across the back of the booth behind his shoulders, curling his hand slightly around Tony.

“I gotta hand it to you,” Tony murmured. “You are one smooth operator.”

“Oh yeah,” Bucky agreed with a grin. “Only took me three months to work up the courage to be enough of a dick to get you to yell at me. Plus one whole day of research.”

“Research?” Tony asked, and he could feel the warmth of Bucky’s breath on his face, they were so close. He wanted so badly to kiss that mouth, but he held back, curiosity getting the better of him.

“Well, yeah,” Bucky said, inching closer. “I couldn’t start an argument with Tony Stark without researching my side of it first. I’m not an idiot.”

And with that, Bucky closed the distance, pressing his lips to Tony’s gently before letting his tongue stroke across Tony’s bottom lip. Tony opened and Bucky took his cue, filling Tony’s mouth with his warmth and breath, nipping briefly at Tony’s lip before pressing in again. Tony melted against him, enjoying the way Bucky’s hand curled more firmly around his shoulders, bringing him in as their tongues twisted, as they breathed each other in. Tony’s hand came up to grip at the edge of Bucky’s plaid, tugging even as he pulled back.

“I can’t believe you did research,” Tony said, then went back in for another long kiss, licking at Bucky’s teeth. “That’s the kind of dedication I like in my men,” Tony said between breaths, grinning into Bucky’s mouth.

Another firm press of lips and Bucky was huffing with laughter. “Yeah,” kiss, “I think,” kiss, “I’ve got a pretty,” kiss, “solid argument to backup my,” kiss, “thesis.”

Tony let go of Bucky’s shirt so that he could grab both sides of his face and pull back to look directly into his eyes without distraction. “Your thesis?” he asked as he tried to catch his breath, licking the taste of Bucky off his top lip slowly. Bucky’s eyes followed the motion, his pupils blown as his hand, still curled around Tony’s shoulders, moved to grip the back of Tony’s neck.

“Pop Tarts,” Bucky said, equally as breathless but grinning nonetheless, “are totally and for sure ravioli. That’s the title.”

“Oh my god,” Tony huffed. “What do I have to do to make you shut up about the Pop Tarts?”

Bucky pressed forward and Tony let him, loosening his grip on Bucky’s cheeks and letting his hands sink into Bucky’s hair instead. They kissed again, breaths heavy and movements slow as Bucky explored Tony’s mouth with his tongue. When he pulled away, Tony followed for half a beat before opening his eyes to see Bucky was smirking.

“You’re a genius,” he said lowly. “You’ll figure it out.”

-

Ravioli

ra·vi·o·li /ˌravēˈōlē/

noun

small pasta envelopes containing ground meat, cheese, or vegetables.