As a simple red apple, Steve considered himself an uncomplicated sort of fruit. There wasn’t much he expected out of life, and he was of the belief that most problems could be solved with a dose of good old common sense. All that changed the day he saw Tony.
Tony, who was possibly the most beautiful peach Steve had ever seen.
Nothing made sense anymore, because now all Steve wanted was to be close to Tony, learn his likes and dislikes, make him laugh, find out if Tony liked the idea of hybrid fruits…
The peach section was situated across the aisle from the apple cart, and Steve had spent long hours gazing longingly at the object of his affections: Tony reminded him of a summer sunset, satiny skin a delicate sfumato of vermilion and gold blending flawlessly into each other. The cleft running down Tony’s side emphasized the fullness of his heart-shaped body. And… the fragrance that arose from the peach section was absolutely decadent - Steve could only imagine how much juice was contained in Tony’s ripe flesh.
Steve’s musings were cut off by a raucous laugh, and his stem stiffened in irritation.
“...yeah, cherries are good for fooling around with, but nobody brings them home. As for peaches- now there's a fruit I could get behind.” Hodge was the biggest, most knobbly apple in the cart, who never could seem to keep his lecherous thoughts to himself.
To Steve’s disapproval, many of the apples in his cart liked to engage in locker-room talk about the other fruits, and while Steve was usually able to shut things down before the banter got too crass, Hodge was the worst offender by far.
Steve couldn’t stand him.
“Everyone knows that fresh peaches are the sweetest.” Hodge drawled. “Yellow or white flesh, I don't care. Either is better than those fake peaches that come in cans filled with syrup, I mean, talk about false advertising-”
“Nobody wants to hear this, Hodge.” Steve said warningly.
Ignoring him, Hodge continued. “Did you know some peaches have this ring of dark red meat around the pit?” Hodge nudged the closest apple to him. “I just wanna split one of those sweet peaches wide open so I can watch juice dripping out as they squeal-”
“This is inappropriate,” Steve snapped. “You shouldn't be talking about other fruits like that, have some respect.”
“You wanna go, Freak?” Hodge snarled, rolling up to Steve threateningly. “Let's see how high and mighty you are after I mess up that pretty skin of yours-”
Hodge’s path was blocked as a plum wedged itself between them.
“Get lost, Hodge, before I knock the mold out of you.” Bucky said.
“Mind your own business, plum.” Hodge sneered, but he backed down, settling for pushing past Steve roughly. “Stay out of my way, Freak.”
“I coulda taken him, Buck.” Steve said as Bucky rolled next to him. The plum had been his best friend since they both were shipped to the organic grocery store.
“I know, but why waste your time? Hodge is a bad apple if I ever saw one.” Bucky remarked.
“He was being disrespectful.” Steve replied huffily.
However, Steve now felt like a huge hypocrite, because Hodge’s words had wormed into his imagination, and he couldn't stop wondering what Tony looked like beneath his vibrant outer skin, whether he was one of those peaches with vibrant red insides. As he gazed across the aisle at the peach section, he hoped that one day Tony would let him see his secret places…
“You can keep staring, but it’s not gonna make Tony fall in love with you any faster.” Bucky said matter-of-factly, leaning on the wooden divider. “Grow some pips already, Steve.”
Jolted out of his daydream, Steve flushed. Fantasizing about Tony always made him feel restless and overripe.
“I don’t know what to do, Buck. He’s so gorgeous and I’m just a boring old apple. What do I have to offer?” Steve brooded. As a simple red apple, he knew he was as common as dirt, and there was no way a handsome peach like Tony would ever give him a second glance. It wasn’t the first time that he’d wished he were something more appealing: exotic like a mangosteen, or trendy like an avocado.
Secretly, Steve wasn't sure any fruit would accept him, not with the secret he kept locked deep inside his core.
“Ah. Feeling sorry yourself, always a great strategy. Let me know how that works out for you.” Bucky broke through his ruminations with all the tact of a falling coconut.
“Can you stop making fun of me and help think of a plan?” Steve grumbled.
“Why are you asking me for help? I barely know him.” Bucky asked.
“Well, you’re a plum and Tony’s a peach, so I thought-”
“What, you think just because we’re both stone fruits we’re all alike? Racist.” Bucky scoffed. “My only advice is to get off your apple butt and ask him out yourself. Cuz if you don't make a move, some other fruit is gonna.”
Steve’s leaf swished in irritation: that asshole Stephen had been eyeing Tony like a fruit picker on harvest day. The annoying orange was always visiting the peach section to flirt with Tony, and the sight made Steve want to pummel something into pulp.
Bucky observed his agitation with amusement. “You’d better get rolling, Steve, before Tony decides he likes oranges more than apples.”
Today was the day, Steve decided. If he did nothing else with his life, this would be the day he’d confess his feelings.
Steve checked his skin for dents, buffed his peel until it shone, and made sure his leaf was well-hydrated so that it stood proudly like a little green flag. As he gave his image one last check in the reflective billboard of the apple cart, he hoped Tony would be impressed by his appearance.
Steve made his way to the edge of the fruit cart and climbed down to the floor. He checked both sides for foot traffic and rolled himself across the throughway.
Crossing the floor was the only way to visit fruits on the other side of the aisle. It was also most dangerous trip for a fruit to make - Steve had seen too many good fruits come to violent ends while attempting the perilous journey, whether by being stepped on, pulverized by shopping carts, kicked under a table to be eaten by ants… there one memorable incident involving a customer’s pet dog and, well, that certainly hadn't been pretty. Bucky still claimed to be having nightmares about it.
Fortunately, no humans were about that day, so Steve made it to the other side unharmed. As he climbed up to the peach cart, Steve ran through the confession he’d rehearsed, trying to control his nervousness.
Before he knew it, he had reached at the top of the cart where by pure luck he ended up face-to-face with Tony.
“Uh, hi? You certainly fell far from the tree.” The peach regarded Steve with some curiosity. “Whereabouts are you from? Gala? Fuji? Braeburn?”
Steve immediately forgot everything he’d planned to say, because seeing Tony from across the aisle was nothing compared to seeing him up close; the lovely peach was covered in a velvety down that Steve ached to touch, and the sweet smell emanating from Tony’s skin was tantalizing.
Before Steve’s thought processes could catch up with him, Tony turned away and burrowed deeper into the pile of his peach brethren so he couldn't be seen.
Steve gazed after him helplessly, the pain of rejection shaking him to his core.
“...and then he comes up to me, looking all red and delicious, wearing that leaf. A leaf! How did Steve even know I like a fruit with leaves? I mean, could he possibly be any more perfect?” Tony said despairingly to Rhodey. “What am I going to do now, Honeybear?”
Rhodey the honeydew sighed. “Why are you telling me all this? Go after him, you dumb son of a peach.”
“I tried talking to him but he just kept quiet, so I panicked and ran!”
“Ugh, why am I not surprised?” If Rhodey had eyes, he would have been rolling them.
“Hey, let’s see how much composure you have when the apple of your eye shows up on your doorstep without warning!” Tony protested.
Ever since Steve had been arrived at the store, Tony had been infatuated with him. From the start, Steve stood out from the other apples: flawless skin a rich red, so glossy that Tony could see his reflection in it. The apple’s figure was a classic heart-shape, strong lines that tapered down to well-defined feet. Even his leaf was healthy and crisp, standing at an angle that made Steve look especially dashing.
Tony could hardly blame himself for nearly having a pip-attack when Steve turned up in the peach cart unannounced. He regretted it now though, that his first reaction had been to flee instead of taking advantage of the attractive apple’s attention. Tony wished with all his pit that he could take it back and start over, but it was too late now.
“What should I do, Rhodey? He probably thinks I’m a typical stuck-up peach for ditching him mid-conversation.” Tony whined. “I deserve to die alone and eaten by birds.”
“Can you stop being such a drama queen? Nobody thinks you’re that kind of fruit.” Rhodey said, which was heartening.
Sure, Tony had a few friends of other species who didn’t discriminate, but he knew the kind of reputation his kind had: that peaches were prissy and vain, only caring about their appearance. What most fruits didn’t know was that the reason for said prissiness was because a peach’s value lay in being as unblemished as possible.
Tony hated it, wishing for the thousandth that he hadn’t been born a fruit that was so goddamn fragile.
Tony’s skin flushed an orangey-pink as he continued ranting. “But he’s an apple. Those guys are the quintessential fruit, everyone loves the classic all-American apple. And Steve is like… the apple of apples. The uber-apple.”
Rhodey rolled so that his sticker was facing upright. “Again, I’m not seeing the issue here. Why don’t you just explain it to him? That you were nervous and didn’t mean to be rude.”
“He’d just hate me. And probably dump me for being too high-maintenance: I need a controlled environment, careful handling, and I- I bruise so easily!” Tony wailed. “I’m so useless!”
“Now that’s a load of husk.” Rhodey said briskly. “You’re not some uppity peach, you’ve got a good pit inside you and there are plenty of fruits who can see it: Pepper, Bruce, that kid, and yours truly. Come on, Tones, I’m sure Steve will find something to like about you too.”
“But Rhodey, I can’t. I can’t even leave this cart because… what if I get bruised?” Tony moped.
“Life isn’t a bowl of cherries, Tony. Sometimes you gotta take risks.” Rhodey answered. “Besides, I don’t think Steve would let anything happen to you.”
Tony sighed and gazed back across the aisle at the apple section. Steve sat near the top of the pile, shiny red skin practically glowing under the lights. Tony wished with all his pit that he could reach out and touch Steve, but… no. Such things weren’t for him.
Better get used to being alone.
It took one afternoon for things to go pear-shaped.
It started when a pair of rowdy human teenagers hijacked a shopping cart and decided to make it their goal to knock over as many things as possible. The teens screamed with laughter as the cart rammed into the produce section, sending fruits flying everywhere.
Tony watched in horror as a mango was thrown against a wall, where it splattered into mess of pulp. A bunch of grapes were crushed beneath a shoe, fifteen lives winking out in an instant.
A carton of strawberries was next to go flying. Most landed safely in the nearby vegetable section, but one strawberry got separated from the others and went bouncing onto the floor.
The humans continued laughing as they turned the cart around, clearly preparing for another charge down the aisle. The lone strawberry skittered and flipped across the floor, trying to get out of the way of the speeding cart.
Tony’s insides froze when he recognized the fallen fruit.
Without pausing to think what it might cost him, Tony jumped out of his box. He slid down the tablecloth covering the display stand, landed softly on the floor and started rolling towards the fallen strawberry.
“Get out of here, Mr Stark!” Peter yelled, desperately trying to roll himself to the side of the aisle. “Don’t worry about me, save yourself!”
“No can do, shortstuff. I’m not watching you turn into jam.” Tony started pushing the strawberry out from the cart’s way.
And not a moment too soon; the cart thundered past, missing them by bare inches.
Others weren’t so lucky.
“Help me, help me!” screamed a banana before the wheels ran over it and sliced it in half. The flesh split out of the skin, smearing creamy yellow flesh across the tiles.
Peter squeaked in fright at the gory scene but Tony pushed him away. “Don’t look at it, just keep going.”
It was slow going, and Tony winced at the realisation that they were wading through the pulpy remnants of at least thirty fruits.
In the distance, Tony could hear the teens laughing as they prepared for yet another charge, and felt a sheen of sweat break out over his skin. He and Peter weren’t moving fast enough - it was now or never.
As the stampeding cart drew near, Tony summoned up all his strength and shoved Peter under the display stand. With a roar as loud as a tropical storm, the cart whooshed past.
The wheels missed him - but the feet didn’t.
Tony felt his skin burst as one of the teens’ feet kicked him out of the way. The force punted him under the display stand, and he dazedly rolled into a corner, trying to regain his bearings. There was a terrifying squishy sensation in his side which he tried his best not to think about.
“Mr Stark, are you okay?” Peter whispered anxiously. “You’re… oh no.”
“I’ll be fine, bud. Get back to your box.” Tony could feel juice trickling down his ruined skin. Without even looking, he knew that it was one of the huge ugly blemishes that got fruits sent to the compost heap.
It was over for him.
“It doesn’t have to be this way, we can still find help!” Peter cried, leaves spiking up in concern.
Tony leaned against the wall tiredly. “It’s alright, really. Nothing we could do. Just go, you don't have to see this.”
“I’m not leaving you behind!” Peter started trying to tug him out of the corner. “You can’t stay here, it's all gross and dusty-”
“I said, go!” Tony barked. His fierce tone had the strawberry scurrying away in alarm, and he felt a pang of guilt deep in his pit.
It was better this way, at least the kid wouldn’t have to see him expire. he told himself. This sucked, but there were far worse ways to go out. If his time had come, at least he’d gone out having saved another fruit.
Tony curled up in a corner of the dusty floor, waiting for the end to come.
Tony was still ensconced in his corner when an apple-shaped silhouette appeared at the edge of the display stand. “What do you want?” Tony demanded.
“Are you alright?” Steve asked. “A distraught young strawberry came looking for me, saying you were hurt.”
“I’m fine, just let me decompose in peace.” Tony tried to sound nonchalant, but it was hard to do with juice flowing freely from his collapsed side.
Steve ignored his smokescreening. “I saw what you did for that kid. Not a lot of peaches would have put themselves on the line like that.”
“You know why? Because all the ones that did ended up smashed to pieces.” The sight of the perfect apple made Tony huddle deeper into the corner. “Don’t look at me, I’m hideous.”
Steve came closer. “It’s not so bad.”
Tony laughed bitterly. “Not if I want to stay in this store it isn’t. You’re an apple, you know how one bad fruit spoils the whole barrel. This bruise is a one-way ticket to the compost heap.”
At least it was winter and the ants were hibernating, because Tony really didn’t want to be eaten alive.
The apple was quiet. “Wait here.”
Steve left him under the stand but came bobbing back a few minutes later with something hanging from his stem.
Tony froze, speechless. “Is that a-”
“A jacket. They had some extras in the pear section.” Steve said, slipping the mesh cover around Tony. “Once you wear this, nobody will be able to tell you've been banged around.”
Tony wiggled experimentally; the sponge netting felt a little strange against his skin, but it covered the bruised area and stemmed the flow of juice. The gentle pressure around his body made him feel warm and protected, almost like an embrace.
“Is that okay?” Steve hovered anxiously.
“This is a cool little fashion statement.” Tony admitted. “But now what? I can’t go back to the peach section looking like this. I’d stick out worse than a pineapple in a lemonade stand.”
“Well…” Steve’s stem twitched nervously. “I was thinking you could stay with me.”
“With you? With the apples?”
Steve flushed crimson. “No, not the apple cart, those guys are jerks. I know another place we could go. It's not as fancy as the peach section, but it’s nice enough; lots of sunlight, greenery… and we'd be near the music speakers so we could go dancing together… if you wanted to, that is.” he added quickly.
Tony felt like his pit had grown two sizes. “Why are you doing this?”
“The truth is…” Steve’s leaf fluttered nervously. “I really like you, Tony. I’ve liked you ever since I saw you, and after seeing what you did today, I like you even more.”
Tony shrunk back into the corner. “You shouldn’t waste your time. You could do so much better than a bruised old peach. Any fruit would be glad to be with a prize apple like you.”
“There isn’t any other fruit that I want.”
“You're kidding me. You're saying that you, with your shiny skin, that thick succulent mesocarp-”
“To be frank with you, I wasn't supposed to look like this. Can I tell you a secret?” Steve interrupted. He inched closer and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “I'm actually a GMO.”
“WHAT?!” shrieked Tony.
“It’s true. Everything special about me came out of a test tube.” Steve gave a hollow laugh.
“Steve, that’s… I didn't know.” Tony whispered. He couldn't believe that the beautiful apple had been hiding such a secret beneath his peel.
“The other apples don’t like me because of it, they say a genetically-modified freak like me shouldn't be in an organic supermarket. I don't even know how I ended up here. Call it fate, I guess.” Steve rocked on his feet nervously. “So, if you like, we can be outcasts together.”
Tony growled. “I don’t give a fig about your background. Steve, you’re a goddamn work of art. I’ll fight anyone who calls you an outcast.”
“You don’t think I’m a freak?” Steve asked, and he sounded so plaintive that it wrenched at Tony’s pit.
“A freak? I've never seen a fruit as perfect as you in my life! You’re amazing, Steve.”
“Nobody’s ever said that to me before.” Steve murmured, his skin taking on a rosy blush.
Tony huffed. “Well, it’s true! Apples are like the mascots of all fruit-kind! You’re the first fruit that comes to mind whenever anyone says the word ‘fruit.’ And they have a long shelf life - you could last a year under the right conditions.” Tony regarded him thoughtfully. “You'd probably last even longer than that, since you were modified.”
“I don't want a long life if it means spending it alone.” Steve replied, stalk straightening resolutely.
“And you're sure you want to throw it away for me? The fruit that's one bump away from becoming fertilizer?” Tony choked. “I wish- I wish I were as strong as you.”
“You don’t need to be,” Steve said softly. “I like you just the way you are.”
Now that they were closer, Tony could finally take in the apple’s aroma. While Tony had always found his own scent to be overly cloying, Steve smelled delicate and fresh, crisp as a cool day in spring.
“Steve, I… I’ve liked you ever since I saw you, and nothing would make me happier than to be with you. But,” Tony confessed, and though Steve brightened at his words, Tony was unable to hide the insecurity welling up from within him. “I’ve gotta warn you; I’m a handful and I don’t have a lot of time, especially with this big ol’ bump on my side. Are you sure about this?”
“As sure as the Creator made little green apples.”
Tony paused. “...Isn’t that racist?”
“Only if you’re not an apple.” Steve said drolly.
It took a beat for Tony to realise it was a joke, and laughter bubbled up inside him, popping the tension like a bubble. After a second, Steve began chuckling too, and the sound filled Tony’s pit with a warm sensation that he’d never felt before.
“Jokes aside, you do know my days are numbered, right?” Tony said, turning melancholy again. “Eventually, they’re going to find me and send me to the compost heap.”
“Then we’ll go together.” Steve answered, without a hint of hesitation. He moved closer to Tony so that they were almost touching, skin to skin. “Until then, will you let me love you?”
At this distance, Tony could see Steve wasn’t so perfect after all: there were a few pale spots speckling over the lustrous red skin like tiny constellations, and the tip of his stem was slightly crooked.
But Tony found he didn’t mind it at all.
“I… I guess we can give it a try. Carpe diem and all that.” Tony leaned against Steve, slightly self-conscious of how his juices smeared against the apple’s smooth skin.
Steve didn’t seem to mind, in fact his leaf quivered as if barely holding himself back. He curled up up next to Tony, careful not to press too hard against the red-and-yellow skin.
Tony twitched. “Careful, I bruise easily.”
Steve lowered his stem so that his leaf trailed across Tony’s skin, soft as butterfly wings. “Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.”
The flower section was right next to the window, which meant it received plenty of sunlight.
Tony found it peaceful and airy, the environment bringing back fleeting memories of being a young fruit ripening on a tree. Steve liked it for being far away from the judgemental apples.
Best of all, their new home was only a hop, skip, and a roll away from their friends.
Sometimes, when music was left on after hours, they’d dance together in the darkening store, spinning slowly between the shade of colorful petals.
Sure, life wasn’t always going to be a bowl of peaches and cream, but for now? They were happy. It was enough.