The first time Steve entered the little coffee shop it was because it was raining.
And when he says raining, what he means is that the heavens had opened, pouring forth every drop of rain that they had been holding for that summer season. He had been jogging but now he was soaked through, hair wet, dripping, and irritated.
He jogged this way everyday, had since he’d come to live at Stark tower. These streets were familiar to him, almost felt like the old city, the one he grew up in. After what had happened, the dissolution of SHIELD, the government’s dirty laundry aired in public, Bucky, Steve found it reassuring to be back in his home town. City.
He followed the same route every morning, and every morning he passed this place without sparing it much thought. It wasn’t noticeable, just another store front tucked away, walking distance from Central Park where Steve would usually finish his run before heading back to Avenger’s tower. He lived there because it was convenient, because Stark had the best toys for tracking down illusive assassins and because, despite the fact it jutted into the sky, an easy target for anyone who felt like taking it down, it felt safe. He was inexplicably drawn to the building by something he couldn’t quite explain but felt like it was hanging on the tip of his tongue anyway.
So really, had it not been raining that day, Steve never would have entered the coffee shop. He never would have thought to return. And, had that not happened, he never would have fallen in love.
Funny how fate works.
“Surprise.” Clint Barton is standing behind the counter of Tony’s favourite coffee shop and looking just a little bit too happy.
Tony came here everyday at 10:30am. Every. Day. Everyday for the past six months since his house was blown, he’d killed Killian, moved back to New York, had Thor fall from the sky again and had every single government secret of the not-so-secret SHIELD thrown out to the public. And then had the whole agency shut down. Shut down and buried. Buried and burnt. One hundred feet underground. Just in case the public caught wind that it may re-surface. Which it won’t. Or might. Tony’s not allowed to talk about it.
Tony had been… well, upset probably wasn’t the best word to describe how he felt at the death of SHIELD. Vaguely anxious or maybe ‘verging on apathetic but not quite’ would be better terms. There was no love lost between him and Nick Fury. Although he was, admittedly, sad that he was dead. He actually surprised himself with how much he cared. He almost-cried. Almost. It was probably shock more than anything. The fact that a man like Fury could actually be killed didn’t do much for his already fragile ego.
His father had helped build up SHIELD from the start. An original founder. What would have he have thought if he ever realised that it was HYDRA pulling the strings?
It would have killed him he thought.
It probably did his mind supplies a split-second after. Assassinated for knowing too much, or getting in the way. Funny, he’d always pinned that on Obie.
Tony didn’t know what happened to the SHIELD agents after it fell. Maria Hill was making herself useful in the HR department of Stark Industries, probably with some ulterior motive. Natasha, cover now completely blown, most-likely lying low somewhere. Tony wasn’t keeping tabs or anything, but his state-of-the-art Stark satellites put her last location at Belarus. Bruce lived officially at the tower spending his days looking at variations of the super-soldier serum and, more recently, Extremis. Rogers, he knew, now actually occupied his floor. Tony had seen him once, briefly, to welcome him to the tower and never again. What he does is his own business. Didn’t matter to Tony. Why would it? He has no interest in what Steve does in his free time. Like searching for shady assassins who may or may not go by the title ‘the Winter Soldier’ and be responsible for at least half the political exterminations over the past fifty years or so. Absolutely none of Tony’s business. At all.
Last he’d heard, Clint was in Afghanistan. Doesn’t quite explain what he’s doing behind the counter of his favourite coffee place.
“No,” Tony repeats “no, get out.”
“Why, aren’t you happy to see me?” Clint, the smug bastard, grins.
“Why would I be happy to see you? What is it about me that makes you think ‘ah yes, here’s Tony Stark, he will be happy of my presence. I mean, the last time I saw him he flew to his death carrying a nuclear missile on his back, and hey, I haven’t been in touch since, but now that I think about it, he’s got a weak heart, so why don’t I try to kill him properly this time?”
“I think you’re paranoid. The way you rationalise is out of whack.”
“You’re out of fucking whack.”
“Where’s my regular?” Tony grunts, making his way to the counter.
“Her mother had a heart attack,” Clint pauses “speaking of heart attacks, how’s the ticker?”
“This may not be obvious to you but I’m looking for specifics.”
“I have a 2-inch hole in my sternum that’s being kept in place with metal and skin grafts from my thigh, how do you think it is?” Tony clenches his jaw, rolls his eyes, looks to the side in obvious annoyance.
“Wow, I bet that’s making your sex life hell.”
Tony suddenly fixes him with a glare that threatens imminent, painful, death if he doesn’t shut-up.
“Okay, or not, touchy subject, obviously,” an awkward silence “so Iron Man no more? How’s that working out for you?”
“I want coffee. I came here for coffee.”
“I mean, I thought it was a bit drastic, you know? I said ‘I give it nine months before Stark turns-tail’ and no offence, but I’m running out of time, so could you maybe hurry up and suit up so I can win the bet?”
Tony studies his face “Is that why you’re here? To get me to put on the suit again?”
Clint grabs a cup, scribbles Tony’s name on the side with a thick black marker, puts some water to boil “Is it that obvious?”
“Subtly isn’t your strong point.”
“I can be subtle,” Tony smiles.
“No. No you really can’t.” He flips his pen, pours milk into the coffee pot.
“You don’t know how I like my coffee.”
Clint sighs “Yes I do.”
Tony stares at him “That’s stalkerish.”
Clint fixes him with a glare “Right, like you haven’t been tracking Natasha all over the place since she went down.”
“That’s different,” Tony says defensively “she’s a spy, she spied on me. I like to know what she’s up to.”
“You are paranoid, did you know that?”
Tony decides he’s had enough.
“Why are you here? Couldn’t get a job? On hard-times? You had every coffee shop in NYC to choose from and you picked the only one frequented by me?”
“Just because Fury’s dead doesn’t mean we’ve given up.”
Tony snarls, just a little “Oh, I’m sorry, I must of missed the memo, what exactly are we fighting against?”
Clint passes him his coffee. Gestures to a young, caramel skinned woman sitting alone by the window.
Tony misses a beat, looks at Clint, cocks his thumb behind him “Her? Miss butter wouldn’t melt? What is she, some kind of terrorist?”
“You asked why I’m here. I’m wooing her.”
“Her?” Tony asks again, this time with a trace of a smile “you’re trying to get into her pants?”
Tony takes a sip from his coffee, raises his eyebrows and shrugs, a small grin on his face “You have fun with that.”
Tony turns to leave. He turns back.
“You know, I am a regular here.”
“Good. So I can expect you tomorrow.”
“Well, yeah. But I’ve been coming here for what, five months? That girl’s always been there.”
Tony snorts, laughs “No, no nothing, you know what? Good luck. Honestly. If anyone can do it, it’s you.”
Tony is still smiling as he walks out the door. Clint’s a fucking idiot.
He’s tilting his head back for another drink when something catches his eye, written on his cup where the thing they use to protect a person’s hand from the heat has slipped down. Black sharpie, neat letters.
Clint is still behind the counter the next day. He starts preparing Tony’s coffee on instinct.
“So where you living now?”
He presses a button and steaming brown liquid pours into his cup “I have an apartment. Building. I have an apartment building. I literally own a building in which there are apartments.”
Tony narrows his eyes “Where did you get the money for an apartment building?”
“Places. I have… sources.”
“Right.” Tony’s tone makes it perfectly clear he doesn’t believe him “Must get lonely.”
Clint shrugs “I have a dog.”
Tony rolls his eyes “Of course you do. How’s the wooing going along?”
“Fine. Great. Hey, what’s her name?”
“Clint, I don’t know how to put this but if you don’t know that you’re not doing a great job.”
“I need a head start. You’ve been coming here months. Just tell me.”
“Umm, no. Generally that falls to the wooer.”
“Ah yes, I forgot, Tony Stark, the love connoisseur.”
Tony tilts his chin “You laugh but which one of us is a) getting it every night or b) working in a coffee shop in an attempt to woo a girl whose name he does not yet know.”
“So you do have a sex life. You were vague last time.”
Tony drinks his coffee, flicks his eyebrows “Would you look at that? Time to go.”
“I’m sorry, what clock are you looking at?” Clint turns around “Nope, no clock there. You’re not wearing a watch. Is there something I’m missing?”
Tony taps his temple “Stark time. Never stops. I can tell you the hour to the exact minute without ever looking at a clock.”
“Right,” Clint says incredulously “sure you can. I’ll remember that next time you don’t bother turning up and say you were late.”
“A wizard is never late, Mr Barton, he arrives precisely when he means to.”
“That’s funny, Tony,” he says to his retreating back “nice avoidance of the subject, real smooth, it’s a gift— ” he shouts as the door closes behind him.
Steve freezes in the doorway.
Steve doesn’t know why exactly he came back to the little coffee shop. He isn’t quite sure what convinced him that it was the place to stop and get a drink after his jog. He is definitely sure that the last time he saw Clint Barton he was an ex-assassin archer working for the world’s most covertly-overt intelligence organisation. Not a barista. At a coffee shop.
“Before you ask,” Clint begins “I have not fallen on hard times. I have plenty of money. This is just a bit on the side. Also,” he beckons Steve closer “that girl is cute.”
Steve lets himself be sucked in for a moment, looks to the side “The one by the window? Reading American Psycho?”
“That’s the one.” Clint admits with a little bit of pride.
“Good luck with that.”
“Why do you keep saying that, why does everyone keep saying that?”
“Nothing, no, I mean, good luck. She seems… nice.”
Clint laughs, flips a cup and sets it on the table “Usual?”
Steve frowns “I don’t have a usual.”
“You do now,” Clint sticks out his tongue as he scribbles Steve’s name on his cup “so how’s it going in the love department?”
“You haven’t seen me in two years and that’s the first thing you ask me?”
Clint rolls his eyes “I worked for SHIELD, Cap. I know what, happened, I don’t need to ask you. I’m playing catch-up. This is what people do, they enquire over people loves lives and stuff.”
“Do they really.”
“Yeah, and I’m asking you if you’ve got anything happening. I told you about my conquest, now you tell me.”
“Aww, Steve, that’s not fair.”
“As in, no, there is nothing happening.” He clears his throat.
“Excellent,” Clint says brightly “here you go.”
He hands him his coffee and leans back on the counter, arms crossed.
“So you’re living at A-tower, huh?”
Steve sips his coffee, which is actually very good and says “I don’t think anyone calls it that.”
Clint waves a hand “Trust me, it’s a thing,” he says conspiratorially “so you’re living at A-tower—”
“I really doubt—”
“It’s a thing, Steve. So you’re living there, now. Must be fun. You bump into Banner? Say, how’s Stark? Long time no see, right? You should talk. You and him. Catch up. It could be fun. For you.”
“We talked when he moved in.”
“Wow, you certainly are a social butterfly.”
Steve drops the conversation “So where you living now-days?”
“Oh, I have an apartment building.”
“I’m pretty sure they’re just called apartments.”
Clint sighs “No, I literally own the building.” He shrugs, waves a hand “It’s a long story. I have a dog, though,” he says brightly “he’s great.”
“Great. That’s… great.”
“You should talk to Stark.”
“Really. You never know, he might know a thing or two. Might be able to help.” Clint supplies and Steve looks at him sharply.
“Help with what?”
Clint shrugs “Well, I don’t know. Whatever it is you need help with. He’s a clever guy,” he eyes the cup in Steve’s hands “drink your coffee.”
Steve sips again politely “SHIELD agents don’t just work behind the counter when times get tough.”
Clint sighs “Time’s aren’t tough. This is practically a holiday for me.”
“Why not take an actual holiday?”
Clint fixes Steve with an insolent stare “Steve. You stop worrying about me. Focus on yourself.” He rolls up his sleeves, rubs his nose “Talk to Stark, yeah? You’re living in the guy’s tower for Christ’s sake.”
Tony looks at him briefly “Stark time.” He says, but it’s lacklustre.
“What’s up, buddy?” Clint glances up at him as he prepares his cup.
Tony shakes his head. He’s tired, Clint can see. There are weak bruises under his eyes and he stands silent, hand resting on the counter.
“Tony,” he says, but there’s not reaction.
“Stark,” he says again, sharper this time and Tony jolts, blinks.
“I have your coffee.”
“Oh. Okay,” He downs it despite the heat then gestures to where the girl is sitting by the window “you get her name yet?”
Tony clucks appreciatively “Wow, you grew a pair.”
“Am I supposed to be scared of her?”
Tony grins, rubs the back of his head “Nope. Of course not.”
Clint surveys him, considering.
“What’s wrong with you, didn’t you sleep last night,” he raises his eyebrows “busy… banging it out?”
Tony has little time for Clint’s shitty insinuations about his sex life.
“You could call it that.” He smiles a watery smile.
“That’s weak even by your standards.”
He sighs “Yeah. I know.” He rubs his eyes with the back of his hand then looks at Clint appraisingly “You know what’s fucked up? Clint Barton works at my coffee shop and I don’t even question it anymore.”
“Good,” says Clint solemnly “then my brainwashing plan is working.”
“God, don’t say that I might actually believe you.”
Clint just looks at him.
“What?” He snaps and Clint holds up his hands in surrender.
“Nothing, no, nothing. You just seem a bit out of it.”
Tony doesn’t really know what to say, what to lie, or how to tell the truth so he stands there awkwardly, plays with his cup.
“I’m gonna… I’m just gonna go, now. Yeah. Uh, thanks. For the coffee. Thanks for the coffee.”
Tony Stark doesn’t come for coffee the next day.
“Are you still here?”
“You want your usual?”
“I want you to tell me what you’re doing.”
“I told you,” Clint says “holiday.”
Steve makes his way to the counter “Why are you always here? Don’t these places have shifts?”
“Not the small ones.”
Steve doesn’t really have anything to say so he waits for his coffee.
“Did you talk to Stark?”
“What?” he says distractedly.
“Did you,” he breaks down “talk to. Stark.”
“No, no, why? Do I have to?”
“It’s a good idea.”
Steve can’t quite track Clint Barton or why exactly he’s currently serving coffee in Steve’s coffee shop so he says “You had every shop in NYC to choose from and you picked the only one frequented by me?”
Clint laughs “What can I say, I’m a Captain America fanboy.”
“Yeah, I can believe that,” he says, snatching his coffee.
“Ohhhhh tetchy, you don’t like that.”
“I’m going to go now.”
“Where were you?” Clint actually sounds irritable.
“I have a job. I have an actual job making money. I don’t really have time to waste in coffee shops.”
“That’s funny because you didn’t say that the last four times.”
Tony softens, just a little “Something came up. I couldn’t just drop it.”
“Hmm,” Clint says suspiciously, filling his cup “yeah right.” A beat “Did I say something? Is that why you didn’t come?”
“Would you let it drop?”
Clint rolls his eyes “You know, you’re a lot more irritable than you used to be. A lot more. You used to be a laugh.”
Tony drums his fingers on the counter.
“I’ll stop making bad jokes about your sex life.”
“Can I ask why you have an apparent fascination with what I do in the bedroom? You making a play for me? You know, you only have to ask.”
Clint grins “I didn’t know you swung that way.”
“I don’t.” He replies shortly.
Clint waves his hand “Pfft, please, I was gay once.”
“No, you are bisexual now.”
“And what, you’re an expert?”
Tony rolls his eyes; he really can’t be bothered with this right now.
“Give me my coffee.”
Clint holds it back “Ah ah ah, what’s the magic word?”
“Give me my fucking coffee.” Tony’s fist slams against the counter and Clint jumps back instinctively.
“Jesus, you’re a bundle of sunshine. Here, take it you freaking lunatic.”
There’s a small sliver of sweat working it’s way down Tony’s brow as he throws his head back and drinks. When he’s done, he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, breathing ragged.
“… Sorry. That was unnecessary.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“No you’re not. But I’m not gonna push it,” he leans away from the countertop “gotta respect a man’s privacy, you know?”
“Did you ever get my message.”
Yes, of course Tony had. He isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do exactly with the revelation that Fury’s alive.
“What about it?”
“Talk to Steve.”
Some one month after Clint started working in the little coffee shop near Central Park, Steve and Tony meet for the first time. Or, engage in conversation. Or just plain looke each other in the eyes for more than two seconds.
Steve usually jogged early, before the traffic, but for whatever reason on this particular day he decided to run just a little bit later. Maybe he slept in, or something came up, he can’t remember why exactly, it just happened.
So, at 10:30am Steve Rogers is seated in the corner of the little shop in a nook cradled in between two bookshelves, concealing him from view but allowing him a good look at the coming and going of customers.
He doesn’t usually stay, but this time he carried with him a rucksack with his notebook full of sketches, ideas, tracks, anything that catches his interest. If Tony Stark hadn’t had that sense of aura, the one that captures the attention of everyone in the room, he probably never would have seen him walk in and continued with his work.
It’s the first time Steve’s ever been so close to him without a fight or brief welcoming.
He’s wearing a suit. That seems important, somehow. Navy with a crisp white shirt and black tie. His hair is longer than Steve remembers it and smoothed artfully over his head, clean and soft. Over his arm there’s a black coat, most likely taken off due to the relative warmth of the late-November sun. Tony stands with his shoulders back, his head held high.
There are bruises underneath his eyes; his hand shakes where it clutches his coat.
“Coffee me.” Obviously, Tony is no stranger here. Seeing Clint in an apron behind the counter of a small-time coffee shop doesn’t seem to faze him. Although Steve doesn’t think much does, in fairness.
“Eh, I’m doing business, it happens sometimes,” he leans on the counter, drums his fingers on the top, adjusts his tie “A, well, a shareholders meeting. Apparently I’m actually still required to attend.”
“Imagine that, the largest shareholder going to an actual shareholder meeting.”
“Like I said, it happens.” He sniffs, raises an eyebrow. It’s one of the strange characteristics he has, almost like a tic.
“Shouldn’t you be there, like, now?”
Tony shrugs “Need to be there for 11:15, I can spare a few.”
“Well, 11. I’m going to be fifteen minutes late. Don’t tell Pepper.”
“That sounds like something you should probably be telling her yourself.”
Tony looks down, almost imperceptibly “Yeah. Probably.”
It’s a pretty effective way of completely shutting down conversation. Clint passes him his coffee and he drinks it with a sigh.
Then Clint is leaning in and saying something Steve can’t hear. Tony snorts and shakes his head.
Steve decides that now is as good a time in any and stands, appears from behind his bookshelves.
He sees Tony turn and then “Cap? What? What are you doing here?” He looks confused and Steve wonders if he notices that he cocks his head to the side.
“This is my coffee shop.”
“No,” Stark says slowly “It’s mine. I’ve been coming here for… months.”
“Well isn’t this one big happy family?” Clint is grinning from his perch.
“You planned this, didn’t you?” Tony is accusing.
“No, but it’s a small world.”
“New York has a population of eight million.” Steve says, crossing his arms.
“What, you can believe in God but you can’t believe in a little coincidence?” Clint dead-pans.
Tony turns “He’s got a point.”
Clint nods “I’ve got a point.”
Steve shakes his head “It’s a dumb point.”
“Seems like you two have been avoiding each other,” Clint inclines his head, purses his lips. It looks like he’s trying to see over the top of an imaginary pair of glasses.
“We haven’t been… avoiding each other,” Steve says with a glance at Tony “we’re both just… busy. Right?” He finishes lamely.
“Right,” Tony nods, obviously relieved.
“Well if you guys want like to get busy now, that would be appreciated,” Clint grins but it’s dark “I’m sure there’s a lot you need to talk about.”
Tony turns to Steve “Do we have a lot to talk about?”
Steve shrugs “Not that I know of.”
“No, funny, that’s what I thought and oh my goodness would you look at the time? I’m running late.”
“No you’re not.” Clint says.
“I really am, Clinton.”
“You told me you were going to be late.”
“And I’ve thought better of it.” Tony hisses through clenched teeth.
Steve raises an eyebrow. This conversation had quickly derailed into painfully awkward. It’s obvious that Tony has no intention of talking, and Steve doesn’t really blame him. It’s probably better that way.
Clint, however, is obnoxious in his attempts to get him to stay. He can’t work it out but he assumes that Clint is playing this, playing them, that he’s trying to get them to talk, or scheme, and he finds it irritating, the idea that he’s some kind of hobby for Clint, that this is just a game for him.
“Well, it was nice seeing you Tony.” He holds out his hand, forces a smile.
Tony nods, shakily, and grips him back. It’s quick, and then they drop their hands to their sides.
“Uh, give me a call, if you need anything. I’m usually around.” And he says it in a way that Steve knows he’ll never call.
“Sure, why not.” Steve smiles and moves to let him pass at the same time that Tony moves in the same direction. They stay in an awkward tangle of un-coordination, each time Steve moves, Tony going the same way. Any chance the meeting had of ending painlessly has just fled.
Tony sighs “Stop. I go this way, you go that way. Right?”
Steve nods, words thick in his throat as Tony flees out the door.
He rounds on Clint.
“What’s your problem? What are you trying to achieve?”
Clint isn’t smiling “You two need to sort it out. Whatever it is, whatever problem you two have with each other it needs to stop,” he braces his hands on the counter “I am giving up my time to patch your shit up. Understand?”
He lowers his voice, looks around, tentative and says “SHIELDs not around anymore to pick up the tab. Something could be coming. Something is coming. I know it, you know it. Tony? He definitely knows it. The guy can see trouble better than I can see a target, and that’s saying something.”
“Then shouldn’t you be out there? Fighting it? Instead of making coffee and flirting?” Steve hisses.
Clint draws back, smirks “I said trouble was coming, not that trouble was here. But Steve, if we’re gonna have any chance of doing this we’re gonna need a leader.” He pauses. “When I say leader, Steve, I mean we need the both of you. You don’t see it, obviously, but I do. Fury did,” and he leans in closer “I think we both know that he still does if you get what I mean.” And Steve nods jerkily “There is no Avenger’s without you, or him. You always were going to be… the core. The victors. I don’t know, man. But we can’t do this without both of you. And let’s be honest, it’s not like we can trust the government right now to have the publics best interests at heart.”
“You believe that?”
“I think whatever life used to be is over. The Invasion changed that, Steve. If we want people to live we’re going to have to do it ourselves.”
The next day Steve goes to the shop at 10:30am. Because, this is it, really. They need to talk eventually and everyone knows the best way to get someones attention is to relentlessly stalk them until they sit down with you.
Today Tony wears a black button down over his suit pants. He’s holding car keys in his hand and there’s a smudge of what is presumably some kind of motor oil smudged on his forehead. He’s smiling, the lines of his body relaxed, and he practically bounds to Clint who is already waiting with his coffee.
“So how’s the wooing going?” he grins at Clint whose looking at him with something akin to mistrust.
“What’s got you so happy?”
“I’m not. I’m not, I’m just…” he just laughs slightly “I’m in a good mood, it happens, let’s move on.”
Clint looks at him with narrowed eyes and says “She’s playing hard to get.”
“Right. Hard to get. Or maybe she’s playing ‘not interested?’ I head that’s a new favourite.”
“You think you’re an actual comedian.”
“I know I am. I’m a funny person.”
“You have the people skills of a rabid dog when you’re in a bad mood.”
Tony looks affronted “My people skills are fucking awesome.”
“Great, because Cap’s sitting behind that bookshelf pretending not to listen to our conversation and you two need to talk.”
Steve ducks his head back to his book but it’s too late and Stark has seen. Now he actually looks like a complete lunatic, hiding behind bookshelves. He wonders how he can salvage this. He wonders why Tony Stark makes him so goddam nervous. He can take on the Red Skull on a good day but when Tony’s eyes train on his face he feels ridiculously unnerved.
“Steve,” Tony starts, cautiously “hey. I didn’t think I’d be seeing you here. Again.” In my favourite coffee shop goes unsaid. Steve makes his way over, smiles weakly.
“They do good coffee?”
Tony nods “They do,” then he shoots Clint a look “shame about the staff, though.”
Steve glances at Clint out of the corner of his eye and he’s just grinning, that infuriating grin that gives him this sudden, unprecedented desire to throw coffee in his eyes.
“We need to talk.”
“Do we? Why?” And Tony looks genuinely confused “Is this a Clint thing? I think it’s a Clint thing.”
“What’s a Clint thing?” Barton asks from behind the counter.
Tony waves a hand “It’s just… it’s a thing, okay? Don’t question it,” he turns back to Steve “If this is about… events that may or may not have transpired and my, hmm, how do I put this, absence during them, then maybe it can wait?”
“It’s not about that.”
Tony looks relieved, slightly “Right. Okay.” He drinks his coffee, looking over the plastic top, his eyes don’t leave Steve’s face. Steve raises an eyebrow.
For a moment, the tension is tangible.
Then it breaks. Tony sniffs, cocks his head “In which case, we should probably talk.”
They move to Steve’s favourite corner where they can be assured privacy. Steve takes his armchair, Tony the one opposite. They sit.
Tony drinks more coffee. Watches Steve over the rim, his eyes calculating. He sighs when he puts it down.
“So. Nick Fury. That’s a shame.”
Steve nods into his own cup “Mmm, yeah, no, I mean, awful. Awful.”
“A man like that. Dead,” he tracks Steve’s eyes “unbelievable, almost.”
Steve makes sympathetic noises “Yes. Yeah. Very sad. Died for, died for what he believed in.” He finishes. Then he takes another drink, eyes darting over the top of his cup.
“I mean, because he’s definitely dead. A man like Fury. His secrets, well, they have secrets. Makes you wonder,” Tony muses “But no, I mean, wishful thinking, am I right?”
Tony leans in “No chance of survival. Zero percent. Impossible. Defying every odd.”
Steve shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
“Makes you wonder that he didn’t leave anything behind,” Tony shrugs “weird, that a guy like Nick would do that, don’t you think?”
“He always did guard his secrets.”
“Yes,” Tony flashes a smile “to the grave.”
Steve looks left. Steve looks right. Leans closer, beckons Tony to him.
“So what I’m about to tell you isn’t necessarily… public knowledge.”
“This can’t,” he checks around the near empty store again, lowers his voice “this can’t leave here.”
“On my life.” Tony replies equally solemnly.
“Oh my god, he’s alive?” Tony shouts "Impossible, I almost-cried over that bastard!”
“Subtlety escapes you.” Steve dead-pans.
“Why do people say that? I can be subtle?” And Tony looks very puzzled.
“I actually don’t think you can.”
“And,” Tony says, fixing Steve with a glare “talking of subtly, you should have told me that our favourite director was still hanging around. I mean, I knew, but that’s not the point.”
“You knew?” Steve is incredulous. This is one of the world’s biggest secrets and Tony just knows.
He shrugs “Sure, Clint told me.”
Steve fumes inwardly “Did he, now?”
“Yeah, I mean, I wondering when you were going to tell me,” he says evenly “you sure took your time.”
“I took my time?” Steve looks at him like he’s grown tentacles from his eyes “I took my time? Me. As opposed to you, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Tony says like it’s the simplest thing on Earth and he hadn’t made excuses to avoid him just days ago.
“Then why did you run yesterday?”
Tony eyes are guarded, his movements are made with an air of purpose “I told you. I had business. It happens sometimes.”
Steve has a feeling Tony’s rehearsed this.
“No you didn’t. You told Clint you didn’t.”
Tony sighs “I needed you to come to me. You needed to be the one to tell me that Fury was alive otherwise I couldn’t be sure if I could trust you.” It makes sense, but Steve still has a feeling he’s lying.
“Trust me, huh? Because what, New York wasn’t enough?”
“The battle field is different and you know it,” he snaps, and then runs fingers through his artfully disheveled hair, puts his coffee on the table “there’s something going on. At the top. You made them look bad.”
Steve is silent, makes a movement with his head telling him to continue but Tony looks uneasy.
“You made them look bad. We all did. I… didn’t help,” he admits “I’ve never been the government’s biggest fan, you know? And then there was the whole Senator Stern thing. He was Hydra? God, I can’t believe he was Hydra,” he taps a tune on the couch arm “what an asshole. He was going to take my suit.
Hydra were going to get my suits.” He shudders.
“Could you possibly keep on point?”
Tony shoots him a look, looks like he’s going to say something else but then closes his mouth, drinks some coffee.
“How do I know I can trust you?”
“You don’t.” Tony says shortly “And you’d be an idiot to.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Well isn’t that just the question of the day,” Tony says, shooting daggers at Clint from where he can’t see “I don’t know. Clint obviously seems intent on hooking us up.”
Steve pauses for a moment, because the thought— no, anyway, he says:
“He told me there was trouble coming and you can… see it. That they need us. Together.”
Tony shrugs “Well, he’s not wrong. There… you always have to be ready, always be on your guard.”
“I know that.”
“I don’t think you do, actually,” Tony muses “I really don’t think so, not like I do. Nobody sees things like I do.”
“No,” Tony says, annoyed “I’m not, look, I’m not paranoid, I can just see things coming. I can predict that shit. Take into account the variables, weigh in the anomalies, it’s math. Life is math, you just need to get the right equation.”
And he’s not saying it patronisingly, or smugly, he actually sounds sad. Or not sad. Resigned.
“Life isn’t math, Tony. You can’t treat people like numbers.”
“Yeah, no, I’ve been told that before.”
Steve shakes his head in disbelief, that this man thinks he can predict life in the form of ones and zeros, that humanity is just complex binary written out over the face of the Earth. That a man like Tony can be so cold. Calculating. It doesn’t quite match up with the smile he flashes, the warm brown eyes, rough hands and coffee breath. That a man so frighteningly human could think in such a way. For the first time, Steve sees Tony in a new light, as a three-dimensional being rather than a flat 2d cut-out of a billionaire. He sees a man who prefers the company of machines to humans because at least they can be predicted without fail. Humans, well, they must have too many anomalies. It must scare him, Steve thinks, to be around those arbitrary beings.
And he sits drinking his coffee, all the while his mind calculating things Steve will never be able to see. He wonders how he sleeps at night. Probably doesn’t.
“Why do you come here?” Tony asks, finally “Was it Clint? Did he tell you that you could catch me here? There are eight million people in this city. The odds of you bumping into me are,” he calculates, Steve can see it in his eyes “wait, actually, take into account that this is near the tower, that’s got to narrow it, right? Still, there are loads of places you could stop, why here?”
“It was raining,” Steve shrugs “I needed to keep dry.”
Tony nods “How practical.”
“Why do you come here?”
“It’s small. Tucked away. No one notices it. I like that. The only other regular is Ms Zoe,” he smiles, laughs a little “I like that it’s kinda just… ignored. You only notice it when you really need it.”
“Like when you need shelter from the rain,” Steve says
“Or coffee.” Tony finishes with a smile.
“Or coffee.” Steve finishes with a sigh.
Steve decides, then, that he actually doesn’t mind Tony Stark. That maybe his fondness of non-organic life forms verges on disturbing and he can’t string a sentence together without going off on a tangent but it makes him endearing, somehow. Interesting. Someone who, despite being slightly intimidating, Steve would be happy to call a friend.
Steve jumps when Tony throws himself into the chair opposite him.
There is no grace in the movement. He gives no welcome. He simply throws himself down like a killer whale into the ocean.
“I haven’t slept,” he says, stretching his limbs out in every direction, sliding down the chair “in…” Steve can see him counting, he must be out of it because his lips take the form of numbers “in forty-nine hours. Forty-nine,” he squeaks, grinning madly “forty-nine whole hours.”
It accounts for his sudden familiarity.
“Shouldn’t you be in, I don’t know, bed?” Steve says, eyebrow raised.
“Bed? That is, no. I’m getting coffee.” He leans forward on his chair, rubs his hands though his hair, shakes it loose.
“Where is it?”
“Where is what?”
“Your coffee.” Steve says patiently.
Tony blanks “I had it a minute ago.”
“Did you really.” He murmurs and looks back at his book, flicks the page.
Tony sits there, staring at the ceiling, counting. Steve pretends not to look, but he can see his mouth moving and making the shapes of numbers.
“Okay, bye.” He says suddenly, jumping up.
Steve blinks, slightly disorientated.
“I am going now, bye Steve.” And he just walks past the bookshelves, past Clint and out the door without looking back.
Steve looks at Clint who shrugs; obviously, he has no idea what just happened either.
“So I have decided to trust you.”
Steve looks up from his book “I’m sorry?”
“I have decided to trust you,” Tony repeats magnanimously.
“That’s very generous of you. To what do I owe this honour?”
“Don’t snark, Steve, it’s not a nice look on you.”
“But it is on you?”
“Everything looks good on me.”
Steve huffs a breath through his nose, smiles slightly and puts his book to the side.
“Can I ask you question?” Tony says.
“Something tells me you’ll ask it anyway.”
“Are you dating?”
“Why, what is it with you people? Why are you all so obsessed by the idea of me dating?”
Tony shrugs “I don’t know, man, it’s weird. Like, you are the pinnacle of American society the thought of you dating’s a bit… I don’t know,” he holds up his hands, shrugs again “whatever, just a question.”
“Are you dating?”
“You know I am.”
Steve blinks and cocks a shoulder “Just a question.”
“Oh my God, Steve, why are you so, like, obsessed, with the idea of me dating?” Tony mimics.
He sighs again. He’s doing that a lot, recently.
“So,” he starts again “you have decided to trust me.”
“Yes,” Tony says with a touch of pride “I have.”
“Can I ask why without a deviation into my love life?”
“I would say yes but I can’t make any promises.”
“Tony,” Steve frowns “speak.”
He exhales “No particular reason. I just figured if I can’t trust you then there aren’t many people I can.”
The answer throws him off. It’s the implication that Steve is the most trustworthy person Stark knows that makes him stop and think. What’s he done to deserve that level of faith?
Tony looks amused “You don’t get it, do you?”
“What don’t I get?”
“You. The…. effect you have on people.” There’s a touch of wonderment in his voice and Steve feels like he’s been pushed out to shore.
“Yeah. You… you really don’t know, do you?” Tony scoffs “Unbelievable.”
“What effect, Tony?”
“I have fulfilled my quota for educating you today, Steven. I want to drink my coffee.”
“Well then why don’t you,” he’s irritated, he can hear it in his own voice “I’m not stopping you.”
It doesn’t quite understand this man.Tony Stark may be a genius, a futurist, a billionaire, one of the greatest minds of this time but it doesn’t stop him from literally being one of the biggest assholes Steve has ever met. Maybe it’s genius thing. He read somewhere once that they don’t quite get life like normal people. Not that Steve is normal. More normal, maybe. Than Tony.
Tony is drinking from his coffee when Steve looks at him and says “So hows your heart?”
“It’s an organ in your body.”
“You think you’re funny but you’re not.”
“If it’s annoying you then it’s working.”
Tony considers “It’s… fine. It’s working. Which is good. For obvious reasons.”
“For obvious reasons.” Steve repeats.
“I mean, it’s not much better,” Tony admits “so the shrapnels gone but it’s all held up by a hunk of metal. And skin grafts. It’s not… well, it’s not exactly attractive, you know?” He snorts, flicks through his phone and then his face darkens.
“I need to go,” he stands, brushes imaginary lint off of his clothes “I’ll… same time to tomorrow?”
Steve shrugs “See you then.”
He leaves and Steve thinks a good job this place does such good coffee or there would be no point to return.
“So, hows the 21st century holding up for you?”
Steve looks at him from across the small table in the small corner of the small coffee shop that by some small coincidence they have both decided to frequent. It’s a small world, after all.
Tony rolls his eyes “You’re going to have to give me more than that, unfortunately.”
Steve smiles, his hands slap against the armrests and rub the material there “Honestly? It could be worse.”
Tony toasts his coffee, raises it up and says “That’s the spirit.”
Steve holds his up and they touch, briefly, before they both tilt their cups back, chugging the hot liquid.
Tony has to wonder why exactly he lets himself sit here and be drawn in my this man. This Captain. He enjoys the company, he realises. He actually enjoys sitting here and talking to someone who isn’t Happy or Rhodey or Pepper because this feels like a fresh start. A new person to impress upon. Honestly, it’s been a long time since Tony’s made any new friends.
Now, he figures, is as good a time as any.
“So,” he starts causally “the Winter Soldier. Interesting name.”
Steve shoots him a look, guarded, almost like a predator and says “How do you know that?”
Tony snorts “How don’t I, Steve, it’s not exactly a secret.”
Steve stares at him cautiously “…What do you want to know?”
“Is he going to be a threat?” Tony puts bluntly “because if you traipsing the world for him is going to end with a bullet in your brain or the destruction of, I don’t know, civilisation as we know it I would genuinely appreciate if you told me first.”
Steve narrows his eyes “Why not just stop me now?”
Tony sighs, looks away “Because I’m not an idiot. I’m not under the opinion that I can actually stop you doing something if you really put your mind to it. Which I’ve heard happens, sometimes.”
“Fine,” Steve says “if I feel that I’ve triggered World War III at any point you’ll be first I tell.”
“It’s all I ask.” Tony grins and stands. He pulls his trench coat over his shoulders, it’s getting colder and summer is finally on it’s way out. This time last year.
This time last year he had been in Malibu, with Pepper. Things had been okay, considering.
“I’ll see you around, then.” Steve says casually and Tony nods, waves a hand.
As he leaves he sees Clint pressed against the counter, arms crossed, talking in animated tones to the girl he’s apparently decided he is going to marry. Tony decides not to burst his bubble and snorts, walking out of the door.
Steve was packing up his things to leave when something on Tony’s chair caught his attention, it must has fallen out when he’d stood to leave.
A metal container, small, flat in Steve’s palm and inscribed with the initials MCS in looping cursive on the silver face.
Inside were coloured little pills in pretty blue and white.
Steve had thought long and hard about the best way to broach the topic with Tony.
“Hi, Tony did you drop these yesterday?” Wait, no, not these that would suggest he’d looked, he should say this, that makes it sound like he thinks it was just a box.
“Hey Tony, did you drop this yesterday? I think it slid out of your pocket or something?” Is that trying to hard? It sounds forced.
Maybe he should leave it on the armchair in the hopes that Tony will find it and think that Steve was none the wiser. But surely Clint would have found it before Tony came back.
And what if Tony doesn’t find it? Then Steve just has to do the whole thing all over again.
So when Tony collapses with his coffee in the chair opposite Steve he blurts out “Are you on medication?”
For a second time holds still. Steve can measure each second in the minute movements of Tony’s eyes, the twitches in his hands. And then he says:
“Yes, actually. Did I leave them here by any chance?” He sounds relieved.
Steve holds the container out to him and Tony takes it gratefully “Thanks. We would have had a problem if someone else had found them.” And then he flips it open, picks up two and swallows them with his coffee.
We would have had a problem.
He notices Steve’s face and laughs, a little “What? I’m not gonna go psycho on you, Steven, relax, you’re making me tense.”
“What are they for?” Steve is compelled by a sudden desire to know, because the idea that someone like Tony can be brought down by something so… emotional draws conflicting feelings from him. He remembers when Tony talked about predicting life through math, how Steve had thought him clinical, cold, and yet so basely human. And now, how this revelation clicks another part to the puzzle. Adds more tone on a three dimensional rendering. Everyday they meet here Steve finds something new about this man.
He sighs, folds his coat over his knees “Anxiety,” he murmurs “but it’s not, like, a big deal. It’s okay, mostly. Taking two every morning just…” he clears his throat, starts again “look, Steve,” he says bluntly “New York fucked me up. They were telling me PTSD, anxiety, depression, all that crap, right? And I mean, I couldn’t sleep,” he takes a sip of his coffee, raises his eyebrows “still can’t, really. But living here is messing me up. I keep thinking that shit’s gonna happen and I won’t—” he breaks off, sighs “look, I know that nothing’s going to happen, intellectually speaking,” he raps his knuckles against his head “but by brain doesn’t agree. I told you, I see trouble coming from a mile off. And I over-think. Always have.” He exhales “So, yeah. That’s it, really.” It’s a blasé show. But Steve appreciates that it must be difficult to talk about.
Steve opens his mouth, once, shuts it. Thinks.
“You’re scared of New York?”
“Not… not of New York, just… stuff.”
“You are scared of New York. And yet you live in New York,” Steve repeats slowly.
“Yes,” Tony snaps, then softens “look, I don’t really have a choice.”
Steve nods “Can I ask… what exactly it is you’re scared of?”
“I don’t… I can’t… wormholes. New York. It freaks me out, Okay? It freaks me out.”
“What,” he snaps.
“You’re living in New York.”
“Under the place where a wormhole opened.”
“I know that.”
Steve holds out his hands in supplication “Okay, not gonna push it.”
Tony relaxes slightly, drinks his coffee. They sit in a remarkably comfortable silence.
“Can I ask what exactly it is you’re reading?” Tony starts.
“What I’m… reading?”
“Yeah, I come here everyday and everyday you’re reading that same book. I wanna what it is.”
Steve blinks, once, twice. What is he reading?
“I don’t,” he laughs “I don’t actually know.”
“So you come here everyday, and you sit in that same chair, and purposely bring a book that you have no idea what it’s about. Okay, cool, I was just, you know, clearing that up.” He smirks as if he’s caught Steve out.
“I keep getting distracted, you see.”
“I have that effect on people.”
“Not just you,” then he re-thinks “not you. I like watching people. It’s hard to concentrate when I can watch people walk past.”
Tony looks at Steve like he’s in the process of growing a new head on the side of his neck “You watch people. You stalk people. I just want to clarify, right, that you sit here, everyday, and you don’t read because in you are, in fact, a massive stalker. Captain America is a stalker, oh my god. That’s not weird at all, if anyone goes missing from this area I’ll know who to set the cops on, Jesus.”
Steve is laughing, genuinely laughing, “No, no it’s not — stop looking at me like that, it’s not like that — the world’s changed, it’s nice to know that people haven’t.”
“So you watch them. You come here everyday and you watch them.”
Steve meets Tony’s eyes and smiles.
“That’s nice, I guess.” But Tony’s eyes have got a small sadness to them, Steve doesn’t know why.
“You come here and watch people, just to make sure that they stay the same,” he says, softly “instead of going out and experiencing yourself.”
“It’s… well, no, I mean, yes, actually, yes that is what I do.” Steve is shocked at how easily he let that slip, something he’s not sure he even knew himself.
“It’s okay, Steven,” Tony is putting on his coat, pocketing the pills, flipping the collar to protect against the cold November air “I’ll keep your secret.” He yawns, then, and in this new light Steve can see where under his eyes are bruised, slightly “I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
“Sure.” Steve nods encouragingly.
Tony isn’t sure when it happened, or why, but after that moment any remaining awkwardness between the two of them finally fades. In the weeks leading up to Christmas they meet everyday in the little coffee shop, sometimes just sitting in silence while Tony works and Steve draws, or laughing, or arguing, a lot of arguing. And yet Tony feels himself drawn back anyway.
It takes his mind off things. Off Pepper. And he knows that that sounds bad, in his head it sounds bad. Hell, it sounds bad saying it, too. And it’s selfish, he’s being selfish. He wonders if he could talk to Steve about it.
Steve doesn’t know when it happened but the daily meetings have become the highlights of his weeks. With little else to entertain him but the search for his long lost friend and with Steve officially on civilian status he finds himself looking forward to Tony Stark’s presence with surprising gusto.
“Okay, okay, hold on — wait, don’t look, give me a chance — don’t turn around, you’ll make it obvious.”
“Describe him, Tony,” Steve says.
“Is lumberjack a color?” he says, eyes trained on his phone and then up to the man waiting for coffee in the queue
“You’re joking?” Steve dead-pans “Come on, I need to look, this isn’t — we need to swap places, this is ridiculous, I never get to see them—”
“Stop being such a baby and — oh my god, he has a wife!”
When Tony sits opposite him one day in late February, Steve can see that he is shaking. Shaking, and tired, visibly so. He drinks coffee like a man parched in a desert and when he sets it on the table he makes not effort to hide his distress and just buries his head in his hands.
Steve waits. He waits for Tony’s rasping breath to stop and in the mean time pulls his chair so it blocks the small entrance to their bookshelf-covered hold. The shop is empty apart from Clint who has tactfully ducked out and put a ‘closed’ sign on the door.
“Tony,” he says, softly “Tony, are you okay?”
“Fine,” he hisses “I’m fine.” And his fingers clench, fist in his hair.
“I don’t think you are.”
Tony looks up, blinks, exhales, swallows. His eyes are sad but free of tears.
“I ended it. With Pepper. I. It’s finished, now.”
Steve stares at him “Are you out of your mind?” He gasps, almost “Why would you, what is, Jesus, Tony— ”
“I was being selfish. I was being so selfish, keeping her with me, you don’t understand…” He takes another shaky breath “I didn’t tell you, I couldn’t tell anyone. I just…” He swallows and his throat bobs beneath his collar.
Steve sits back in his chair, watches him carefully.
“She… well, when we first… got together, it wasn’t going to be a problem.”
“What wasn’t, Tony.” He speaks softly.
“Kids,” Tony bursts “Children. It wasn’t going to be an issue, because Pep can’t have kids. Couldn’t. She couldn’t. But then… Extremis.”
Tony has told him about this. About the Extremis virus, what it does, or did. And Steve puts two and two together: she couldn’t have children, it wasn’t an option. Now she can. And Miss Potts has always known what she wants.
“Time is… running out, for her,” he shakes his head “I don’t want children. I can’t have kids, Steve. Never. I would never bring a child into this world to have a father like me,” he holds up a hand “and don’t give me that daddy-issue crap, that has nothing to do with this, okay? I’m a business man, I’m busy. One day I might get back in the hero thing again. That child would have a target on their head from day one,” he sighs “and I would just never be around.”
He closes his eyes, sinks back against his chair “And it was selfish of me. To keep her around. We had this discussion, I told her my views. We argued, again and again and again. But I couldn’t let her leave. I didn’t know how I could live without someone…” his throat moves again as he swallows hard “It was selfish of me, but I finally… I figured it out. We’re not willing to compromise. Neither of us. And we shouldn’t have to, right? Not on something like that. Not on what will be someones life. I wouldn’t want my kid to be a… compromise.” Tony opens his eyes, looks at Steve almost pleadingly.
He nods. He understands.
“Pep… she can have it all. She can have the career, and she can have the kid,” he smiles softly “she’ll make a great mom. But I can’t do that with her. And I can’t hold her back.”
“So you broke it off?"
“We both… it was amiable, I guess. You could call it that. We decided… whatever. I can’t hold her back anymore.”
They sit quietly for a while.
“So what are you going to do?”
Tony manages a smile “Life goes on, I guess. Keep on chugging,” but then his eyes slip close.
Today, Steve is drawing and Tony is typing.
He knows business is difficult these days for Tony, he can tell from the way he types rapidly, answers calls and texts, the way the shadows under his eyes never go away.
One day, Steve had left at 12pm to go home and come back the next day at 10:30am to find Tony, unmoved, still working, presumably not having moved all night.
He asked Clint who said that he closed up shop at 6pm but Tony had been in a phone call. He’d waved a hand and promised to leave later except he never did.
And so today, when Steve finally becomes aware that the clicking has stopped he looks over and finds Tony’s eyes shut, his head pressed back against the cushy armchair.
He gently takes the laptop from Tony’s lax grip and places it on the table. Quietly, he drapes Tony’s long coat across his body and props a pillow behind his neck.
If his finger’s linger too long on Tony’s thick hair then nobody is there to notice.
He tells Clint to close up shop and then he says "Aww" before doing so. Steve then sits back down. Drinks his coffee. Occasionally, Tony will frown, or flinch. Eventually, he curls up on the couch, his head falling down to the armrest, his arms clutching the pillow.
Steve begins to sketch.
He’s in no rush. He’ll just wait until Tony wakes up.
Tony comes to with a feeling of warmth. Also, the sound of deep breathing next to him.
His first thought is Pepper but it takes only a second to think no and also Pepper doesn’t sound like Darth Vadar when she sleeps.
He props his head up on his pillow — no, not a pillow, armrest, oh god, he didn’t, did he?
Steve snorts in his sleep.
Oh god he so did.
“I’m hungry,” Tony moans, stretches his legs and arms in his chair until one limb ostentatiously hits Steve.
“Good for you.”
“You’re worse than a dog, Tony.” He says, still looking at his book.
“Stop pretending to read and get me food.”
He looks up, grins “How does sushi sound?”
They get ten minutes down the road and both decide that they would rather eat the shit sandwiches at their coffee shop.
“So Clint still thinks he has a chance?” Steve shakes his head.
“I think we should tell him,” Tony says “it’s getting embarrassing.” He makes to stand and says “I’m gonna tell him—”
Steve tugs him down “Don’t. Let him figure it out for himself.”
“How can you let him suffer like that? Oh my god, I can’t. You’re Captain America, it’s your duty to help those in need.”
Steve shrugs “I kinda just want to see the outcome.”
It’s early May and Steve and Tony are discussing current affairs.
Steve realises that he's feelings for Tony are more than friendly. And it scares him, briefly. But then he gets over it. The problem here isn't that Tony is a man, it's that Tony might not love him back.
Sometime that month, Tony laughs loudly, ridiculously, at some joke Steve made, but it’s the first time Steve has seen him so genuinely happy since he broke up with Pepper.
That June, Clint’s perpetual conquest, young Ms Zoe, walks in with her partner, a pretty young girl called Amanda. They’re both moving to Boston in the Fall.
"Aww," Clint says "Zoe." And he's heartbroken for all of ten minutes.
That same day, Steve tells Tony he thinks he might be bisexual. Tony nods and asks him if he's okay, does he need support? But Steve just laughs, runs his fingers through his hair.
"It's not... back then, it was a problem, you know? I couldn't... I never admitted to myself. But now," he smiles, laughs high and loud and it's unlike Steve to show his emotions so readily "now it's just a world of opportunity. Nobody cares. It's brilliant." He adds.
Tony smiles but there's a tenseness in his jaw, a controlled feeling to his movements.
In July, Tony panics. Truly panics, and he’s gasping and clutching his hair and shaking and Steve doesn’t know what to do but tell him to focus on his breathing, to follow him, in and out, in and out.
Steve holds his head in his hands, ground him even as he tries to squirm away, mistaking Steve for a stranger, he doesn't know who. And slowly, as he comes back to himself, he kisses him softly on the cheek.
Tony's eyes widen "No," he says "no, I'm sorry, I can't." And then he's gone, fled, and it all happens so fast Steve barely has time to process it but when it's finished he's aware that he just lost one of the best friends he ever had.
Tony doesn't come back the next day.
Or the next.
Or the next.
Steve waits for him everyday in their same spot.
Until finally he walks in.
"So... I may have over-reacted," he starts "I... I'm sorry. You... surprised me." His voice is wooden, he's rehearsed this.
Tony blurts "I'm not gay." And Steve nods and says "It won't happen again."
Things aren't awkward after that but their dynamic has changed. Steve can't stop looking at Tony without seeing the way his button down curves around his chest, the slope of his ass, his thick hair. And it hurts that Tony will never feel the same way.
It hurts that Steve has fallen so completely for his best friend.
Steve is getting coffee when Tony spots the pictures.
They're peeking out of Steve's folder, the one he carries everywhere, and curiosity means he pulls them out.
They're of him, mostly. Him working, sleeping, a study of his hands, his eyes, his hair. The workmanship is fantastic.
Steve is talking to Clint and he hope he won't notice if he keeps just one of him curled up in his coat from that time months ago.
It's proof that someone cares.
A few weeks pass and Tony come to the stunning realisation that he is in fact in love with Steve Rogers.
Later that week, they’re sitting in their usual spots. The whole thing has become frighteningly domestic.
In the thick hot air, thunder cracks. The room is humid, their little hideaway thick with it, with a hint of sweat and something else.
Tony moves, draws something from his pocket. Slowly, he hands it to Steve.
It's a scrunched up picture, crumpled from so much time spent in his pocket, from being constantly taken out and looked at, clutched in his fist and pressed against his chest.
Steve leans forward and kisses Tony, deep and hard, and Tony kisses back, their pulses one and skin sliding. There’s a deep warmth inside Steve’s chest and Tony makes the smallest of moans beneath his mouth, the vibrations travelling down him until they settle in his fingers, make his body hang heavy.
“Wow,” Tony breathes “let’s do that again.”
"Subtlety, Tony," Steve grins "it always escapes you."
And they kiss, and kiss, and then talk, drink coffee.
Clint smiles behind his counter and puts the ‘Closed’ sign up for the final time.
When they leave, they hold hands, and never look back.