Actions

Work Header

under the rose (sub rosa in bloom)

Chapter Text

“Tones, I’m just saying that this isn’t your most stellar idea.” Rhodey tells him, that stern, worried look on his face only further prompting Tony’s stubbornness. Tony knows it sounds, well, pretty ridiculous. In fact, as Rhodey had punctuated minutes ago in their conversation, it sounds like something straight out of a failed teen movie with negative Rotten Tomato reviews.

Tony stares blankly at the mirror in front of him, his mouth half-open as he pushes the first contact lens into his eye. Blinking a few times to get it to sit right, he takes a glance at Rhodey and lets out an annoyed huff. He’d expected this when he’d first come up with the idea—Rhodey chastising him. “Like at all, dude. Just because Howard doesn’t give a shit, doesn’t mean you should do it, I mean, seriously. It honestly won’t even be that convincing.”

Tony exaggerates his next sigh, which is more of a groan, as he removes the second contact from its solution and promptly places it on his iris. He takes a moment to quickly blink with both eyes before grinning at himself in the mirror and then turning to face his best friend. “What do you think?” Tony finally says, shooting Rhodey an ostentatious wink and setting his hands on his hips.

Rhodey actually sputters for a moment, steps forward to grab Tony’s chin, and jerks his head up. “I…I don’t agree with this—but shit...you do look different.”

Tony can’t keep the smirk off his face. “Told you so, and I haven’t even dyed my hair yet.”

“And I can’t talk you out of this, can I?” Rhodey lets go of him and instead rubs a hand down his face, like an exhausted parent on the verge of giving up. Tony thinks it’s fitting—he himself knows how absurd his little plan is. The thing keeping him going though, something he can always rely on, is collected data. This disguise, no matter how simple it may seem, works better than any pair of sunglasses and baseball cap he’s ever put on in his life.

Honestly, Tony hadn’t even expected to go through with it. At first, it’d only been a passing thought, a fleeting, yet blissful idea that he’d decided to hell with it and entertained. A one-time thing. It wasn’t something he’d been so intent on following through with until he’d actually indulged himself—until he’d stuffed all his curly brown hair into a beanie and visited the Met with blue-colored contacts on.

Not a soul had recognized him.

Not a single camera flash or lingering set of eyes had invaded his personal space.

No obnoxious voices calling him out: ‘Are you that Stark kid?’ or ‘Look, it’s Tony Stark!’

No one had spared him a second glance.

It’d been pure bliss, and just in the past week, Tony had completely taken advantage of the fact that he could wear a hat and a pair of contact lenses—and as an increasingly pleasurable result—no one would give two hoots about him, where he was going, what he was doing, none of the like. He’d practically visited every tourist-y destination in Manhattan, Saturday through Friday, before he’d ran gushing to Rhodey about his absolutely brilliant idea.

He’d been digging through his mother’s things—bored and beyond irritated that she’d apparently come home while he was sleeping and immediately left without greeting him. Jarvis had told him it was because he was sleeping that she’d ignored him, but Tony would rather get spared the bullshit. He hadn’t seen his mother in two months, and now wouldn’t see her again for who knows how long. She’d just left him alone, and not even with a note this time, from what Tony could tell from looking through her bedroom.

It’d been his self-destructive tendencies—yanking open her pill cabinet after furiously rubbing away tears prompted by that itching feeling of neglect—that had instead led Tony to solemnly examining a contact lens case that had been set right next to the small bottle of prescription quetiapine he'd initially been going for. He’d sat down on the stool in front of the large, bulb-framed mirror, and thoughtlessly opened the case.

“Jesus. Don’t let me enable you any further. You’d have to be batshit to actually go through with this. Undergrad is four years! That means wearing aa costume for four whole years and just, I don’t know, pretending to be an entirely different person?”

Tony looks up from his phone once he’s finished ordering his hair dye. “What?”

Rhodey groans. “Knowing you, less…And lemme guess, Tony Stark just what, simultaneously disappears just as a new smug genius fucker appears from thin air? It just isn’t logical—“

“Rhodey Bear, when I told you I planned this out. I meant super thoroughly. Like, Danny Ocean thorough.”

“Danny Ocean is dead, Tony.”

“Debbie, then.”

Rhodey wants to slap him, Tony can tell. He snorts out a laugh and dodges Rhodey’s fist intended for his shoulder. After sticking his tongue out, Tony grabs his beanie off of his bathroom counter and pulls it onto his head, carefully pushing any stray tufts of hair into the maroon hat. “Now let’s go somewhere. I’m fucking starving.”

***

They end up stopping at a food truck before the start of their aimless wandering through Central Park.

In the past week, he’s grown addicted to this feeling. The feeling that he can breathe freely, that he can do whatever the hell he wants without the consequence of it ending up on tomorrow’s page 6, or worse, a Buzzfeed article written by a 30-year-old trying to relate to teens.

Tony ignores Rhodey’s disgusted face as he pigs out on his calzone, not even waiting to sit somewhere first. He doesn’t glance around anxiously when a thick string of hot cheese dips down between his mouth and the packed dough before falling to the ground, nor does he even pretend to care when some little girl donned in pink overalls yells at him not to make a mess. In fact, he crosses his eyes and sticks his tongue out at her and even gets an undignified look from who he presumes is the girl’s mother before Rhodey smacks the back of his head and pulls him towards a distant bench. “Don’t tell me you’ve been acting this stupid all week.”

Tony only shrugs. “No!” He says quickly, while using a finger to push a chunk of pepperoni back into his open mouth. He swallows before speaking again. “Contrary to popular—well to your belief, I’m not a total idiot, honeycomb.”

Rhodey just stares at him for a minute, looking right into his artificial blue eyes. “But you’re still the son of a wealthy socialite, Tones. What about that?”

Tony grins and taps at his temple. “Debbie Ocean—” He ignores Rhodey’s eye roll. “Okay, really. I’ll just dye it back or wear a wig when I’ve gotta…be me. It’s not a big deal.” He can tell he’s never going to hear the end of it from Rhodey with this, but he already knows, and Rhodey already knows, that it’s definitely happening. If it explodes in his face, Tony will just deal with it. He can’t imagine it being that bad anyway. What could possibly be bad about getting to live without being constantly badgered over? About getting to live normally?

For once he’ll finally be able focus on himself without the additional pressure of living up to a reputation. He’ll be able to be himself without worrying about those who’d otherwise befriend him for money or clout. He won’t have to appeal to anyone’s already misinformed and unwanted opinions on Tony Stark, boy genius, young heartthrob, playboy extraordinaire.

“By the way, I meant to ask you, sweet honey bear of mine.”

“What now.” Rhodey doesn’t even spare him a glance. Tony watches his friend unwrap his own calzone before he speaks up again, his teeth showing behind a sudden, sheepish smile.

“How do you do laundry?” 

***

“Carbonell. It’s my mom’s maiden name. What do you think?”

Rhodey sits with him in the corner of a small, empty Starbucks—

“C’mon Sour Patch, you know I’ve only ever been through the drive-thru. Let me have this.”

Of course, they’d walked in then, Tony had ordered an iced-coffee, and the barista had even mistaken ‘Antonio’ for ‘Tonya.’

Tony thought it was absolutely amazing and had even snapped a picture of his cup. He felt, well, fantastically normal.

“Antonio Carbonell.” Rhodey rolls the name around in his head. He refuses to outright tell Tony that this fiasco is going to be a good idea, because it’s not. And he wants all rights on the ‘I told you so’ that he knows he’ll eventually get to throw in Tony’s face. However, Rhodey also won’t just leave Tony to handle this...special breed of idiocy on his own, he’s used to it, and more often than not finds himself in the middle of whatever messes Tony Stark manages to get himself sucked into.

Besides, Rhodey knows Tony will need him when it does inevitably blow up in his face.

“So you can call me Tony, still. Smart, right?”

“Well if you’re really serious about doing this, it would be best to go by a name you’re familiar with.” Rhodey rubs at his chin and takes a sip at his chai tea latte. “All right. And you’ve already registered as…Antonio Carbonell? Already?”

Tony shrugs. “Money talks. Registering was no problem. I’m enrolled. More importantly, you’re enrolled, so all that’s left is our mutual roommate applications—and we’re set. Off to Massachusetts, just like that.”

“Well then, what are you waiting for, Carbonell?”  Rhodey raises an eyebrow at him expectedly. “Let's schedule your hair appointment—and then, dorm shopping, at Macy’s like all the other plebs.”

The huge smile on Tony’s face is ridiculously genuine, and Rhodey can’t seem to find it in himself to criticize this certain something that’s seemingly making his friend so happy—it’s infinitely better than the excess substance abuse that Tony often flees to as his go-to coping method.

Rhodey takes a deep breath, hoping this doesn’t fall apart as fast as he expects it to.

***

The last four weeks of Tony’s summer contain some of the most enlightening experiences Tony can think of. Rhodey had laughed at him for a good few minutes when he’d heard those words, so Tony had since stopped gushing to his friend about finally being able to do his own laundry. Instead, with a bit of determination, had taken to also doing his dishes and had even requested Jarvis teach him how to cook a few things for breakfast besides microwaved cereal and overly-brown breakfast strudels.

The toddler-level independence towards menial tasks, Jarvis had thought, did really need at least a little upgrade before Tony had to somewhat live on his own.

Of course there’s also the fact that Tony shouldn’t have a new persona without at least seeming significantly less…spoiled, per say. Tony recognizes his privilege, and to an extent has become annoyed with how many basic things he’s been deprived of learning because of it.

Thanks Howard.

However, he's not dumb enough to ignore that growing up with wealth made his life notably easier, and for one so intent on experiencing ‘normality’—as in being out of the circle of America’s 1%—he knows he’s only able to attend MIT under a pseudonym mostly because of his father’s money.

It’s almost perverse, the way he’s manipulated the system for his benefit, but Tony can’t find it in himself to not be selfish and a bit needy about his personal space. He has the rest of his life to be Tony Stark, so this façade he’s carefully putting up is worth more to him than he can outwardly admit.

He wants, practically needs, to know how people react to him without knowing him for what can be gained by a Google search, and maybe ‘make more friends than just me’ as Rhodey had so bluntly put it.

***

Tony Stark makes sure his last indefinite public appearance is well worth the time of the gossip rags.

He calls the paparazzi himself and makes sure they get a nice shot of his disheveled clothes and middle finger flipping off their cameras as he exits a gay bar.

Chapter Text

It’s when Tony steps onto MITs campus, for the first time as an official student, that he begins to feel comfortable with Antonio Carbonell.

He and Rhodey go through orientation together, and once he’s taken the picture and given the plastic card, Tony stares at his student ID photo a bit longer than what would be considered normal. The blonde hair will definitely take some time to get used to. And besides Rhodey telling him he no longer passes as a spicy white, he does otherwise enjoy his new look. He thinks it makes him look impossibly more dainty—as if he hadn’t been called Bambi before—the pink pigmentation in his lips stands out more, and his eyelashes look darker than usual in contrast with his brighter colored hair.

Tony enjoys the way the golden curls sit on his head. They remind him of his mother, and he imagines this is what he’d look like if he’d taken after Maria just a bit more. If all those nights he’d stared at his reflection with an underlying hatred for each feature that identifies him as his father’s son could have been nonexistent.

The feeling of joy in seeing less of Howard in his reflection than he’s grown so accustomed to gives him a nice buzz of warmth. Right here, right now, he’s not his father’s son. He’s made the choice not to be.

Antonio Carbonell, he reassures himself as he stares down at the ID card, is exactly who he needs to be right now.

It’s right before he’s going to finally look up that Tony finds himself walking face first into someone’s ridiculously firm chest. He makes a small noise of shock before blinking and stepping back, and Tony has never been religious but Jesus.

“Sorry…” He gets out as he takes in the sight in front of him. He sees, well, a whole lot of pecs and biceps that he immediately can imagine smooshing his head. Tony can’t help but blush as an unexpected flight reaction kicks in.

He’s not Tony Stark, but how does Antonio Carbonell react to people?

How is he supposed to talk to people he doesn’t know without insurance that they’ll eat up anything and everything he says regardless? Tony has been so caught up in enjoying his newfound freedom in his own personal bubble that he has no clue what to do if someone new gets near it. Tony mentally groans. He’s so used to people just knowing the illustrated version of him, he hasn’t had the time to figure out how to deal with people who don’t know anything about him at all.

“Watch where you’re going next time.” Tony blurts, not knowing what else to say in the moment. He realizes he was the one who hadn’t been paying attention, and he sounds much ruder than intended, but he tries not to dwell on it as he quickly walks away without giving the guy any time to respond. He has an entire life to figure out and scrape together in record time—triangle-torso can fuck right off.

Tony lets out an exasperated sigh. He could really use Rhodey right about now.

***

“Honey, am I an asshole?”

Rhodey turns his head from where he’s placing a folded shirt into their closet. Tony hasn’t even opened his bags yet, and had noticeably began sulking as soon as he’d entered their dorm room, having collapsed onto Rhodey’s bare mattress to stare up at the ceiling.

“Skip the dramatics and tell me what you’re overthinking about this time.”

Tony props himself up on his elbows and huffs. “I’m not overthinking. Just tell me. Give it to me straight.”

Rhodey turns around, and Tony can tell his friend knows that he is in fact, overthinking, and that he’s already answered his own question.

“Tony, you’re my best friend, and I’m not just telling you this because you obviously need to hear it. I’ll be completely honest.”

Tony sits up straight now, staring at Rhodey expectedly, as if he’s waiting to hear words of confirmation. He hates how easy it is for him to picture his best friend just outwardly responding with a ‘yes, you’re really just all around awful.’

“If you’re going to give into what the media says about Tony Stark, or give Howard some fucked up satisfaction by shitting on yourself for no reason, then honestly, your Mensa membership should be revoked effective immediately.”

Tony blinks.

“You aren’t an asshole. Whether or not you acted like one? I came up here after pictures, so I got no clue man, but what I do know is this,” Rhodey waves his hands to motion to Tony’s hair, “this thing you’re doing. It’s a fresh start, right? It’s your chance to let people know what you’re really about. Use it.”

***

It’s nearing midnight when Tony grudgingly finishes unpacking everything and making his bed. Rhodey was out like a light after complaining about having to go straight through orientation right after they’d arrived on campus. They’re both used to flying, Tony more so with longer distances, but he’s also convinced that Rhodey somehow has the soul of a grandma, because he can always manage to fall asleep before eleven regardless.

He’s getting ready to brush his teeth so he can settle down in bed—Tony had promised that he’d try and get accustomed to sharing living space by actually sleeping at appropriate times—when he hears his phone ping with a message. Before he even picks up the device, he gets a foreboding feeling that his anticipated resting hours may be eaten up by counting dots on the ceiling.

When he sees the message is from Howard, his heart drops to his stomach in confirmation.

While his father obviously is aware of his attendance at MIT, Tony had gone great lengths to actually register himself under a different name. Besides Rhodey and Jarvis, the one other person who knows about his little secret is his admissions counselor. Bringing up, in exact numbers, previous donations from Stark Industries to the university had ceased any prompted questions about what his goal was regarding the odd name request.

Tony supposes he’s glad Howard hadn’t made him go public with what school he’d be attending.

“I don’t need you embarrassing me.” Had been his words. And there’d been no congratulations or praise prior to them when he’d discovered his son was accepted. Not that Tony had expected any.

He’d learned a long time ago that expecting anything from Howard that may bear resemblance to something the average father would do, was simply a waste of his time. Once Tony realized that, it’d become a lot easier to deal with him. His father is, and always has been a man who prioritizes his image and his capital over all else, including his family.

Tony unlocks his phone and allows himself to hesitate just a little longer until he finally reads it.

The message is short, simple—

I’ll be calling you later this week to discuss the stunt you pulled with the paparazzi.

No matter how much he’d expected it, Tony still feels himself choke up.

It’s Howard, so nothing about talking with him is going to be anywhere near positive. Not to mention, Tony thinks he can feel the tone of unadulterated disappointment radiating from the words on his screen.

Careful not to wake Rhodey, Tony makes sure he has his key and his wallet before slipping out of the room. He exits the residential hall not long after and forces himself to feign ignorance about the message he’d just received. He’d much rather deal with it when he willingly has to listen to Howard’s voice.

***

Tony finds himself instinctively wandering closer to the student café, as it’s nearest to his dorm and he can still see the LED lights through the large glass windows that make up most of the wall of the little building. He’s perfectly aware of how late it is as he approaches the glass entrance and tugs on the door handle. It’s locked, which he expected, but he’s also hungry and he and Rhodey have yet to go grocery shopping.

Tony can see someone, very clearly wearing an apron, stop wiping down a table to look back at him through the door.

They stare at each other for a good minute until Tony tugs again at the door, and again when he sees the blaring grimace on guys face, and once more before the rag in the poor guy’s hand is harshly thrown onto the table and the door is being pushed open in Tony’s face. He’s forced to take a step back, not wanting to get smacked in the face by the door.

“Dude. It’s 12AM, what the fuck are you doing?”

Up close, the guy looks tired. He has bags under his eyes, and the lack of natural light and his stubble-covered chin isn’t making him look any less exhausted. Interestingly enough, he also wears what looks to be a pretty convincing bionic arm prosthetic that Tony, not wanting to make this scenario any worse than it is, puts significant effort into forcing himself not to stare at. Tony already feels bad, but it’s too late to just up and walk away at this point, and he’s already probably ruined whatever semblance of peace and quiet that’d been present in the room just by approaching the place.

Tony steels himself with a deep breath and looks at the apron. Hooked onto the left side of the shoulder strap, is a name tag reading ‘Bucky,’ written in all caps.

“Um. I’m hungry.”

Tony almost cringes at the way the words leave his mouth, and he can picture Jarvis waking up in a cold sweat right about now. Bucky, on the other hand, looks even less amused than he did when Tony had been pulling at the door. In fact, Tony is so caught up with looking at his deadpan expression that he almost misses Bucky beginning to close the door again.

“Wait!” He scrambles to shove his foot into the remaining opening of the door. Ignoring Bucky’s groan, he manages to force himself into the café. “Please? Just a granola bar or something. I’ll leave right away.”

“Again. It’s 12 in the morning. Café closed two hours ago. Obviously, no one’s in here and you decided to just—”

“You’re in here.” Tony cuts him off easily. “You’re in here and I’m hungry. Honestly, by now, you could have given me a granola bar or maybe even something a little better, like a leftover muffin or stale coffee cake and I’d be gone. But here we both are, and it’s getting late isn’t it? Kinda late for you to still be—”

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ. I get it! Okay!”

Tony grins and follows him over to the counter, watching as Bucky steps behind it and reaches into a cabinet. He pulls out a basket and unceremoniously drops it in between them. Inside it, Tony sees, is an assortment of multigrain granola bars. He takes two.

“Four dollars.”

Tony takes out his wallet and pulls out a five bill. When Bucky hands him his dollar back, he sticks it into the tip jar.

Then, Tony holds out one of the two bars in Bucky’s direction. “Eat it with me?”

Bucky stares at him like he’s grown two heads, but Tony holds his ground until a hesitant hand finally takes the snack from him. He counts it as a win when Bucky joins him to sit at the nearest table.

“I’m Tony, by the way. Uh, short for Antonio.” He introduces himself as he tears open his granola bar.

“James...Call me Bucky.”